Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Moved

Just a quickie to say, we have now moved to Exeter.
No landline/internet yet - I'm borrowing access from a friend this morning.
Hopefully online in the next couple of weeks!

Monday, August 20, 2007

I ♥ UCCF

Today I start my new job as UCCF's South West Team Leader. Basically, that means overseeing the regional Staff team and seeking to effectively advance the gospel among students in Bath, Bristol, Exeter, Plymouth and Falmouth by serving the mission teams (Christian Unions) in each location.

In this I have the extreme priviledge of supervising the South West staff - Kenny, Claudia, Jim and Su Ann who have been wonderful colleagues and partners in the gospel who have taught me many things. They're joined by new staff member Alex and also Andy who starts our Relay programme next week. Eight other Relays are on our team. Together we stand with our local mission teams, serving them as they live and speak for Jesus, serving the church.

My desire and prayer is to see a generation of students equipped and empowered. A generation who are passionate about enjoying God's grace, revelling in the cross, tasting the sweetness of His word and the power of the Spirit and so wholeheartedly making Jesus famous as they live in the student world and who'll go on doing so for the rest of their lives.

The LORD's comission to Jeremiah has rung in my heart this summer - "Now, I have put my words in your mouth. See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant." This is the power of God's word - how great should be my expectation of what he will do as students preach Christ? Jesus will build his church!

UCCF's vision is in my blood really. I became a Christian 10 years ago just before I began studying at Bath Uni. In the time that has followed I've been a UCCF student, Relay, supporter, CU staff worker and now a Team Leader. We're a fellowship of Students, Staff and Supporters - it appears that I'm sucked in for life!

As I start I want to pay tribute to my predecessor, Emma Brewster. Emma was a CU staffworker when I was a CU leader, interviewed me for Relay and has been Team Leader for the past seven years. I'm thankful for her example of passionate, energetic service focussed on equipping students for mission.

This evening I go to Orientation in Northampton, some six miles from where I grew up, to feast on God's word, to think hard about the vision for the years ahead, to pray, to meet with other new staff and hopefully learn a little more about the detail of doing my new job. By the time the conference is over Em will have moved us into our new home in Exeter and I hope to join her there on Friday evening. Initially I expect to be offline whilst we get things sorted so this could the last post for a little while.

I ♥ UCCF. It's true. But not for it's own sake, but because it is a missionary fellowship where the glorious gospel is guarded and treasured and enjoyed and made famous.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

No distraction

Today was the final Sunday of our journey between Arborfield Church, nr. Reading and Trinity Church, Exeter. On the way over the last few weeks we've enjoyed fellowship with Reading Family Church, St Neots Evangelical Church and today, Avenue Community Church. We walked in and immediately recognised about a quarter of the congregation which was nice. It was great to catch up with Alwyn, Roz, Mike, Rich & Ruth, Kate, Dave & Rachel and Graham.

This summer I've kept running into the end of Luke 10. I've preached it and heard a few sermons on it in different contexts. Graham Beynon preached the same text today and gave a piercing and encouraging word:
Graham Beynon - Luke 10, Mary & Martha

Next Sunday, God willing, we'll join with our new church in Exeter!

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Reformission

Reform/mission... Paul writes to Timothy when everything is falling apart around him - people are deserting the gospel - even from Paul's closest colleagues, Paul himself is on death row and Timothy is plain terrified in the face of a congregation that don't entirely embrace their young pastor.

How do you respond to Pastor Tim? Paul reminds him that he's a genuine Christian. You'd think he wouldn't need to do that. Tim is the pastor of the Ephesus Community Church, one of the flagship churches of the New Testament. But, he needs to hear that Paul sees evidence of genuine Christianity in him. Consequently Tim has no reason to be scared rather he has the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead of cowering in the dark he should stand up and be counted, facing opposition and suffering with Paul for preaching the gospel. This will fan into flame the gifts God has given to Tim.

To further empower Tim Paul reminds him of what that glorious gospel is. Of grace. Of the abolition of death and the introduction of immortality. Of the resurrection of Jesus the great King forever.

Teaching this message is Tim's job. Teaching reliable people who will teach others. The last few of the first apostles will be gone before long and it's time for the next generation to ensure that future generations will go on. The church needs teaching, and the world needs to hear about grace. Tim needs to reform his life to who he is and get on with doing mission.

On the road Tim is going to encounter much false teaching but he must be different. He's to handle the word rightly which must mean with right content - unlike those teaching funny doctrines, but also with right character that is free from the youthful passions of quarrelling that tear the church apart, even when the message is correct. Grace and immortality come from God, and so does repentance. The Lord's servant is liberated by knowing that and can trust that God can guard the gospel and his people - he knows them.

False teachings will abound. Some are saying that the resurrection has happened. Paul agrees that Jesus is risen. And he would agree that Christians are in some real sense risen with Christ - but its not everything yet. Nonetheless false teachers prey on the church and persecute it. The godly must face this opposition in religious clothing. But Tim can trust that scripture is all God speaking and is the only weapon he needs. The word needs to keep on being preached - even when people scream for relevance it's reformission that Tim must do.

And when the race is done - glory awaits, immortality awaits. The race is well worth running even if the journey is going to be really really hard.

The Times

A little late in the day I finally picked up The Times. Some cracking letters and comment today. For example : Be proud to be from England, Europe... Where are the normal curves in exam marks. And for all my very dearly loved Welsh friends:
Sir, David Webb (letter, August 16) refers to “a scandalously absent Welsh dimension in the Union Flag” and views the impending departure of Scotland from the Union as an opportunity to address this oversight.
There exists a Welsh dimension in the form of the flag of St George. Wales is part of the United Kingdom through it being annexed by England hundreds of years ago when it became part of the kingdom of England. While that may be unpalatable to some, the way to address it is not to go along with the fad of rewriting history, but rather to ensure that pupils have a basic understanding of the structure of the UK.
DENIS AYERS, Inverness
I also got through both of the Sudoku in good speed. Things you do on a wet and dark Saturday afternoon in August!

Seven Days



I'm not going to get into the current credo/paedobaptism discussion that kicked off after Wayne Grudem rewrote a page in his Systematic Theology. It's not an issue I'm entirely resolved upon at the moment, having begun to consider the arguments for baptising the children of believers about 18 months ago.

That said, I think these thoughts from Abraham & John Piper are well worth considering... Are paedobaptists unrepentant - posted by Abraham Piper.

As part of UCCF we have a doctrinal basis of fellowship that we require Christians to believe to have fellowship with us. The form of baptism is not specified. What do we say about those with whom we differ on other points - be they the specifics of sovereignty, the continuation of charismatic gifts, or baptism?

I'm inclined to say that a brother or sister can, like me, have imperfect theology and still be humbly repentant. Otherwise we exclude everyone. The question remains - where do you draw the line? What is appropriate to include in a doctrinal basis of fellowship? Is it appropriate for a church to specify baptism within it's DB?

This, we do agree upon - revelling in the supremacy of Jesus!

Link: David Field highlights Peter Leithart's book:
The Baptised Body (pdf extract)

1. Heroes
A wonderful few hours with my oldest supporters, Oliver & Daisy. We could have talked all day - I want to be like them.

2. Bourne Ultimatum
Orange Wednesdays and an evening with my sister & brother-in-law.

3. Office
A few minutes in the office.
Pod on the phone.
Every desk should be like Dan's.
And that's where I recognised Heather Begg from.

4. Exchange
No more calls to the Lawyers. All sorted.

5. 24
What else do you do when you're waiting to move house during a wet August. Days 1 & 2 rewatched (over the course of three weeks not seven days). Sadly Pod has the rest so we can't watch any more for now :(

6. Bed
Buying a new one. And it not being the most expensive thing we bought that day. Beds are cheaper than houses.

7. Funky Pancake of the Week:


Friday, August 17, 2007

His loud cries and tears have prevailed for us

Edmund Clowney on prayer, from BeginningWithMoses.org
The very expressions used to describe God's self-revelation show that the initiative must come from him. Man cannot ascend into heaven to look upon the face of God, nor can he build a temple-tower to bring God down to the box of his religious specifications. This was the sin of the builders of the tower of Babel. Rather than calling upon the name of the Lord, they sought to make for themselves a name, and to build a tower that would establish communication with God on their terms. The phrase that describes the tower of Babel (the top reaching to heaven) is repeated in a different context when God reveals himself to Jacob at Bethel (Gen. 11 :4; 28: 12). The stairway of Jacob's dream is set up by God, not by men; it is God who takes the initiative. He descends the stairway to stand beside Jacob in the dream and to repeat the promises that he had made to Abraham. By God's initiative his presence is made known. Jacob marks the spot as Bethel, the 'house of God', exclaiming, 'Surely the LORD is in this place, and I was not aware of it!' (Gen. 28:16).

When Jacob returns to the land of the promise after his long exile in Haran, God again takes the initiative in revealing his presence (Gen. 32). Jacob fears the encounter with his offended brother Esau, but he is taught to fear rather his encounter with God. The threat comes, not from the encampment of angels that meets him as he enters the land, but from a single antagonist who challenges him: the Angel of the Lord. The desperate wrestling match that follows should be understood as trial by combat: an ordeal in which Jacob prevails even as he is crippled by the touch of the angel. Jacob emerges as the lame victor: he has seen the face of God and has prevailed to receive the blessing (Gen. 32:28, 31; Hos. 12:4). The deep mystery of this incident is illumined by its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. The touch of the Angel on Jacob's thigh has reference to his descendants. The stroke of judgment falls upon the Seed of Jacob; it is the Suffering Servant who is smitten of the Lord, but who strives with God and wins.

Jacob's struggle reflects his prayer recorded earlier in the chapter (Gen. 32:9-12). He confesses his own unworthiness, prays for deliverance from Esau, and claims the promise of blessing that God had spoken at Bethel. Jacob's victory is by faith: in his crippled condition he is no match for a human adversary, much less the Angel. Yet he clings with desperation to the Angel, claiming the promised blessing. When the Angel asks Jacob to release him because the dawn is breaking, we are not to understand that the Angel feared the dawn. The danger was to Jacob: the danger of seeing, in the light of the morning, the face of the One who was none other than the Lord. This is clear from Jacob's words after the encounter. He calls the place 'Peniel' ('the face of God') because in the dim light he saw God's face and yet escaped death.

Can Jacob's wrestling with the Angel be made a model for prayer warriors of the new covenant? Certainly not if it is torn from its context in the history of redemption, and therefore from its fulfilment in Jesus Christ. It is Christ who delivers us from the judgment threatened at Peniel. His loud cries and tears have prevailed for us (Heb. 5:7). He has endured the ordeal that accomplished our salvation, the ordeal of Gethsemane and Calvary. God's revelation at Peniel teaches the grace of his plan as he intervenes to bless the heir of the promise. Yet Jacob is not just an actor in a sacred drama. His fierce grip on the angel expresses his desperate faith. In that respect Jacob, like the host of saints surveyed in Hebrews 11, bears witness to us. We have received 'the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ' (2 Cor. 4:6). That light is the supreme blessing of grace. The prayer of faith lays hold of that gift with a persistence that will not be denied (Lk. 11:8; 18:5).

Light Force

Brother Andrew's story continues began in God's Smuggler in Eastern Europe, Bible smuggling to communist nations. That book was so successful that he couldn't continue to work in the region - the update of the book notes that it had become standard KGB reading. He relocated to the middle east.

Light Force tells of his visist to different parts of the middle east, meeting with Christian leaders on boths sides of the conflict, and with many Muslim leaders. The story has a very different feel to his covert operations in Europe but is nonetheless eyeopening.

Where God's Smuggler testifies to the high value of God's people having God's word, Light Force shows the powerful effects that the gospel must have in reconciling peoples to God and one another. The story is honest and realistic about the struggle to see lives changed by God.

Brother Andrew speaks at UCCF Forum student leaders conference, September 3-7 2007

The final piece in the jigsaw

Today we exchanged contracts and so will be moving out of housesitting and into Exeter on Thursday. On Monday I start my new job.

As I reflect on the last weeks I'm thankful for God's help in quashing my anxiety and helping me to trust that he actually does have all things in his hands, even lawyers and housebuying. I'll miss the first day at the house since I'll be at Orientation learning how to do the new job. But, I look forward to getting down there next Friday and starting our new life in the South West.

Thursday, August 16, 2007

Stories of grace

Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded.
On what principle? On that of observing the law?
No, but on that of faith.
Romans 3:27
So concludes Paul having shown us the majesty of his justice in the death of Jesus. The glorious day in which it was proven that God wasn't neglecting justice when he forgave sin. Rather, he was leaving unpunished sins that would later be punished in Jesus' death. This is the free justification by grace that comes through Jesus. Unrighteous people righteously counted as righteous. Because of this all boasting is excluded. God's people cannot boast in status or reputation, possession or money, achievements or anything. If we must boast then we boast in Jesus.

Paul modelled this as he told the story of a remarkable visit to a Macedonian church. He'd travelled around preaching to the churches and collecting money to support the famine struck churches of Jerusalem, just as he had promised he would. What happened at Macedonia was a story worth telling, a story so extraordinary that it is recorded for all time in the pages of scripture, in 2 Corinthians 8.

At Macedonia Paul met with a poverty-striken church. Yet they begged to give. They begged for the priviledge of sharing in giving. And they gave beyond their ability. Which I think is to say they gave so lavishly that they must have gone without things we would all consider basics. Christians in Macedonia went hungry that day/week/month so that other Christians could be fed.

But, when Paul retells this to the rich Corinthian church its not to draw attention to the Macedonians. Rather, he wants to tell of the grace given to them by God. Overflowing joy (a dominant theme in Paul's letter to Philippi) met with extreme poverty and resulted in rich generosity. This was bad economics, wrecklessness with what they have and yet a magnificient story of grace.

Paul longs that the same grace to give would be present in the Corinthians though he wont compel them to it. Only he tells them of the example of Jesus. Rich beyond imagination yet becoming poor as he came to die for our sins. A story familiar to the Macedonians from the letter to Philippi telling of the humility of Jesus. A story familiar to Corinth as they recall the gospel of 'Christ and him crucified' that Paul always preached.

The grace of God thwarts all the ways of the first century and the 21st century. It ends boasting when self-promotion is the theme tune. It ends selfish hoarding when having the latest gadgets and best holidays is the mark of success. Grace makes people do extraordinary things, even wreckless things because their own interests have fallen by the wayside. Grace humbles men and glorifies the God who gives it.

There was no need for Paul to insist that Christians give or to impose recommended levels of giving, he need only tell them again and again about God's free grace to them in the wrath-bearing life-giving death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Grace-changed hearts and minds learn to walk in the footsteps of Jesus. Grace-captured hearts treasure Christ and display that treasure in the strange ways that they live in this world.

There are no simple rules for what grace might do in our lives. God will cause one to give out of extreme poverty beyond their means. Another he'll call to give up their freedom or their lives to preach Christ where no one else is doing so. A third might be called to keep their head down, work 9-5 with honesty and humility whilst raising a Christ-loving family. Whatever the details of the story, the overarching theme will be one of no boasting in self and of a lavish display of God's unmeasured grace through Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Literary Sins of the Bible?



From The Guardian, yesterday and already generating lots of comments, here is part of the conclusion:
However, these are rare flashes of light in 1,000 plus pages of opaque, dull, greyness. Can anyone honestly tell me that they enjoy reading all those lists of endless genealogies that take up such huge portions of the Old and such hefty chunks of the New Testaments? Has anyone got the stamina to read the entire tedious work from cover to cover? To keep up with all those hundreds of characters that appear from nowhere and disappear without explanation, rhyme or reason (the greatest story thereby displaying ignorance of the most basic storytelling rules)? Do all the cubits, marriages, lists of names, departures, camps in the plains of Moab across from Jericho and offerings of goats say more to you about the human condition than, say, The Great Gatsby? Would you even prefer to read all that bunk about demons in the New Testament, unleavened as it is by humour or the intriguing possibility of the lead character finally losing his virginity, to Harry Potter? In short, does anyone sincerely believe that the vast majority of the Bible is anything other than crashingly dull? Personally, and with pun fully intended, I doubt it.
Sam Jordison is not the first person to ask these questions, and I'm sure many Christians often struggle with them too. They're questions I asked internally in my teenage years, before I was a Christian - having struggled to read even a small amount of the good book.

Here I am wanting to say that all that apparently unnecessary detail shouldn't have been edited out. Though by contrast I really think some of the Harry Potter books could have been edited a bit more rigorously. In the Bible, the names matter. The genealogies matter. The journeys matter. The cubits and other measurements also matter. I don't doubt that JK Rowling would defend her books the same way!

The big picture of what's missing from this writer would appear to be believe in Jesus who says that anyone who doesn't notice that the Old Testament points towards him and so believe in him is already missing the elephant in the room.
Genealogies? The genealogies are frankly fascinating. They trace out the greatest story through its people, walking generation by generation towards Jesus. The details along the way giving great insights into the kind of people God is interested in.

Cubits? I presume a reference to the measurements for the tabernacle that represented God's home with his people. Hebrews 9 tells us why we need all these - they were a copy of the real place where Jesus would go to offer himself as a sacrifice to cleanse our consciences of sin.
A taste of this read by Ryan Ferguson
The translations we have may or may not be great literature - Jordison is probably better qualified to comment than me. They should however be evaluated on their own terms. That is to say they should be evaluated as offering eternal life, as tasting sweeter than honey and being more precious than gold. I can only hope that the Mr Jordison might take another look and hear that his experience of reading the Bible is neither unique nor universal.

Single column, A5 ESV



Single column, paragraph format. Words of Christ in black. Size: 5″ × 7.25″. Type size: 7.4 points. Outside margin: 0.36″. Cross-references on the inside margin., due January 2008.

Monday, August 13, 2007

The Enemies of Reason

Tonight on Channel 4, Richard Dawkins took on 'the enemies of reason' - by which he means superstitions and non-organised spirituality. He does so because he wants to guard against the effects of fundamentalism that ignores evidence and reason.

My impression is that this less rabid programme is just a reincarnation of his 'the root of evil' which attacked organised religion and was mostly reproduced in The God Delusion. Whilst it seems softer its another attempt to tell us we just need pure scientific reason. However, it's a straw man because once more he fails to engage with the evidential claims of Christianity.
(We know why he wont engage with these 'unscientific delusions'.
1. Because the Bible is the evidence and it presumes God's existence and is therefore not something he's prepared to consider.
2. Because the book he ignores says that the gospel looks foolish to him, which is what it does to those who trust in their reason alone.)
Back to tonight's programeme... His study is interesting though because he claims that a quarter of the population believe in horoscopes. Appalling to the pope of science and his hope of an enlightened society. And so this unthinking superstition is actually more popular than Christianity - and so perhaps a bigger enemy of Dawkins' reason. Dawkins would never beg the question so naturally he introduces his subject as"irrational nonsense", a primitive fog of pseudoscience. I can't help thinking that he has a point - the difficulty is he thinks that I'm as dimwitted as those he features.

He notes that psychologically people believe that very general statements in horoscopes apply specifically to the circumstances of their lives. Once more he has a point. Sadly people sometimes do the same with the Bible, twisting it's meaning to their situations. One still has to wonder why Dawkins cares so much, other than that astrologers ramblings distract us from the real 'triumph of human intellect' (?) that we can see in the night sky. Though what that really testifies about us is hard to see.

Then we're told that half of the population believe in paranormal stuff. And we're given an example which looks absurb. From it Dawkins concludes that psychics claims are nonsense and can be harmful. How can they be harmful? He doesn't say, but just moves on to look at Derren Brown who endorsed Dawkin's bestseller who diagnoses the linguistic tricks that pyschics use. Then we're on to the spiritualist churches and their seances. The main problem seems to be that gullible people are being conned. I agree this isn't good and it's nice that Richard cares about the vulnerable who might be exploited. As Dawkins assesses the experiences that people have I find myself again wanting to read get back to Religious Affections and Edwards' qualifications of real spiritual experiences. Sadly, my copy is in storage so I'm thwarted for now.

Dawkins challenge would appear to be that we evangelicals are just like the spiritualists with our non-rational claims of absolute truth based on private feelings that can't be tested. Then he found some dowsers who were prepared to be tested. So he gets the opportunity to show that scientific reason is best. He confesses that he has to be agnostic about claims of a spiritual realm but that as a good scientist he will happily test any claim. The Dowsers don't do very well and aren't able to accept his refutation of them. They wont adapt to new evidence, which is 'primitive' apparently. We, apparently, want to believe in meaning because we can't face up to life without meaning in an indifferent universe - "wanton storytellers creating intention in the randomness of reality". He observes an inescapable human condition that seeks meaning and self-delusion. These spiritual people sell more books than scientists - maybe that's Dawkin's biggest frustration!

As he draws to a close he begins to preach about how 'science is the poetry of reality'. His devotional appeal is a touching adoration of the indifferent universe. The god of Richard Dawkins 'science' has achieved everything in the last 50 years... the lack of science students is perceived as prejudice against science and betrayal of the enlightenment. We observe religion declining because of postmodernism, he sees his god under attack by the same foe! Society stupifies people into gullibility and private belief... Wikipedia worldTM presents opportunity and great danger in the world of fundamentalist bloggers (ahem) who devalue evidence. Undeniably some of this happens - but I have to ask whether Dawkins TVTM is more reliable than the private hunches that the rest of us have? I do agree that we need to value verifiable evidence ahead of private experience... strangely when I do that I find myself becoming a more convinced Christian.

Dawkins continues next Monday...

Christianity straight and undiluted

This God saves to make His name known
(read Exodus, or Ezekiel!).
This God has created us to display
His own power and glory, His holiness and mercy
to His creation. Creation is a theatre for His glory.
This is the God of Genesis 1 and Revelation 22.
Even as the book of Revelation came not from
John’s philosophical discussions in the king’s court,
but from the crucible of persecution by worldly powers
opposed to God, so this world’s increasingly
open and categorical denials of God and His power
will likely be met not by retreats, compromises,
edits and revisions, but by awakenings and rediscoveries
of the majesty and power of the true God who reveals
Himself in the Bible, the God who made us
and who will judge us, the God who in love pursued us
even to the depths of the incarnation and humiliation of the cross.
This is Christianity straight and undiluted.
And the questing, probing spirit of
the rising generation has, by this God’s grace, found this Rock.

Mark Dever - Where have all the Calvinists come from (part 10)

Colin Adams indexes the series

Justification: no middle way

There isn’t a middle way
between the reformed
and Catholic positions:
you’re either saved entirely by God,
or you’ve got something to do with it.
If you’ve got something to do with it -
then you’re trusting a dead guy to save you…

Tim Suffield

Loungers and weather balloons

"...what Galatians teaches is that if you seek to create or maintain your relationship with God based on your obedience
to the 10 commandments that is not a blessed way to live. Rather it will put you under God’s judgment. And the only way to escape that judgment is to trust in Jesus"
Andrew Evans - Galatians 3:15-25

Sunday, August 12, 2007

I ♥ the church

Image- HT: Tim Chester

Spending some time with a few people from The Crowded House on Friday I was reminded of conversations I've had with members of Reading Family Church. What they had in common was a love of the church. A love that can make people stay in a place, regardless of their employment, and simply because they know they belong to the local church. It's brilliant.

And the question arises, how do these churches do this?

One thing seems to be that they include church in the gospel. There's none of the it's just about me and Jesus stuff that thrives in an individualistic culture. The future has a church - God's plan is to gather a people. It always has been that way since he gave Adam & Eve the cultural mandate on page 1 of the Bible.

I recall Michael Griffiths' Cinderella With Amnesia pointing out that the you's in Ephesians are plural not singular. I'm reconciled to God and to his people, and if I miss the second part of that I'm really missing something glorious about the gospel.

The other seems to be that they require commitment, they promote involvement in the church. The members of these churches have a stake in the church - they don't go to church, they are church.

I'll let Tim Chester continue:
"I learnt early on in church leadership that the way to involve people is to involve them. Do not wait for them to take initiative or ask for responsibility. Give them a job. If you want someone to attend a prayer meeting, hold it in their house! ...I have learnt that many Christians are inspired by having high expectations laid upon them. They want to be part of the battle, not idle onlookers. It is not simply pill on expectations from on high, but giving people a sense of ownership of the mission of the church. We expect everyone to see themselves as a church planter, a gospel worker. We expect everyone to make life decisions with regard to the church and in consultation with the church. We expect people to disciple one another throughout life. We expect people to share their lives with one another. We expect people to be involved in developing the mission of the church. And in our experience people are attracted to this. They want to be part of this kind of community. As for the new believers … they just assume it is normal - which is how it ought to be."
And Steve Timmis too, with reference to their new book Total Church (IVP, 2007):

Seven Days




Mark Lauterbach - with some stunning words on preaching the gospel

Mark Lauterbach's sermons
1. Reading Family Church.
Was great to meet with the church a week ago, to praise God together and to catch up with Nu, Ed, Neil & Emmie.

2. Phonecalls
To lawyers. And finally making *some* progress.

3. Jeremiah
Fresh words from God's word.

4. Tom & Caroline.
Dinner on Thursday night before finally moving out of Reading. Thankful for the last seven years of serving there, priviledged to have been there.

Good conversations about critical thinking and spiritual formation. And about living justly.

5. Earls Barton
Housesitting for my parents.

6. Tim & Sarah's wedding
Time with Dave & Saz, Ceryn, Jess, Johanna... and the hills in Castleton. I ♥ the Peak District. Photos to follow.

Outstanding wedding preach by Steve Timmis from Genesis 1-2. The more time I spend in Genesis 1-2 the richer it seems. Great to spend time with people from The Crowded House church who love the word and truly value community. Even in the detail of pluralising the lyrics in In Christ Alone and King of Kings Majesty. Brilliant.

7. St Neots Evangelical Church
Finally hearing Rich preach, and some stretching words from Titus 2 on the adorning of the gospel of grace.
Seeing Rich & Sally with baby Libby (now 3 weeks old).

ps: Photo of the week

The Church who did not obey God's voice?

How will we be remembered? What would God say about us, his church? As Jeremiah preached to God's people these were some of his words...
For in the day that I brought them out of the land of Egypt, I did not speak to your fathers or command them concerning burnt offerings and sacrifices. But this command I gave them: 'Obey my voice, and I will be your God, and you shall be my people. And walk in all the way that I command you, that it may be well with you.' ...you shall say to them, 'This is the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God, and did not accept discipline; truth has perished; it is cut off from their lips.
Jeremiah 7:21-28:
The simplest thing seems the hardest. God asked one thing of his people. Obedience. Sacrifices were part of the package but only necessary because they wouldn't obey - a gracious advance provision. Five hundred years after they'd been rescued the lamenting prophet has to label this people as 'the nation that did not obey the voice of the LORD their God'.

We see this on the ground in 2 Chronicles 35-36. Josiah's ministry has discovered the lost books of God and read them to the people yet he dies because he wont obey God. His sons equally fail to obey God. They have the voice of God through Neco and Nebuchadnezzar and Jeremiah yet they cover their ears and refuse to hear.

The story of God is all about the voice of God. The first recorded event in all history is God speaking and obedience happening. Let there be light. And there was. It's no coincidence. Light happened because God spoke. And if God's people had stuck to obeying everything would have remained 'very good'. Sadly man is (falsely) creative and imagines to know better.

Why? Jeremiah identifies a false trust. They trusted in heritage. They said - 'We have the temple of God... We are delivered!' They presumed to have an existing relationship with God by putting their confidence in the trappings and priviledges of their life. For all the patterns and traditions they persisted in not listening to God. The decor was right but they were walking the wrong way.

When Jesus gives his disciples their final comissioning they are to teach all nations to 'obey' everything Jesus has taught. Not just to know it. But to live it. Jesus carries the full authority of God in his words, words with the universe-creating power. The impact of teaching his words should be vast, and the evil of disobeying them all the greater. God's people in Jeremiah were so wrapped up in their disobedience that they weren't fussed about it. But, how tragic it would be for the church in our day to be labelled the same way: 'The Church who did not obey God's voice'
Grace teaches 'no' to ungodliness... and 'yes' to godliness.
Grace that is manifest in the life and death of Jesus.
Grace that required the death of Jesus to rescue me from my sin.
God's grace, my teacher.
What is God saying to me about Himself and about living in His world? What must I then change?

Thursday, August 09, 2007

In praise of... waiting

As of yesterday we've been ready to exchange contracts. Everythin is ready from our side. We're waiting for the seller. We've been waiting for various bits of things to do with the house purchase to go through since the morning we put in our offer and waited in Exeter Starbucks for a reply.

Waiting. It's not exactly a popular thing in our instant culture. I've realised this summer that I'm not very good at it. But, I've also been realising in the last few days that it's been increasing my hunger to be in Exeter.

Tonight we move out of our housesit in Reading and actually further away from Exeter for a few days. The next move after that should be into the house - hopefully in the near future.

Throughout the story of God people wait. Kings waited. Prophets waited. And today we wait. 1 Thessalonians 1:10 says
we wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath
Titus 2:13
we wait for the blessed hope—the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ,
Hebrews 9:28
so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.
Christian Martyrs wait, Revelation 6:11
When each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
Creation waits, Romans 8:19
The creation waits in eager expectation for the sons of God to be revealed.
Even Jesus waits, Hebrews 10:13
Since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool...
While I wait for a house in Exeter I want to be waiting for Jesus to return, joining in the waiting of the church throughout history and Jesus himself. It will be a happy day when we pick up the keys. The day Jesus returns will be even greater. A major difference of course is that the housebuy isn't certain until we've exchanged contracts. The contract securing Jesus' return is certain though the date is unknown.

We wait for the house. We wait for the greater day. That day when Jesus' victory is complete, when sin is gone and all will see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

Rest for our souls

I'm a Christian hedonist so you'd expect me to see this verse, Jeremiah 6:10, jumping off the page into my life (that'll be the word: "pleasure")
To whom can I speak and give warning?
Who will listen to me?
Their ears are closed
so they cannot hear.
The word of the LORD is offensive to them;
they find no pleasure in it.
God speaks through Jeremiah to his people. Jeremiah has been told that God's words are able to destroy and plant nations. And yet, as he seeks to speak to the people he finds no audience. He ponders, who can he speak to? Roger Carswell says evangelism is speaking the gospel to non-christians who are listening and by that definition Jeremiah is being thwarted. Why? Because the ears of the people are closed and unhearing. Blocked up by sin. And so here is the verdict that they refuse to hear: The word of the LORD is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.

The destructive and life-giving word should be beautiful to man and yet it offends, it should delight us and yet many find no pleasure in it. What should taste of life taste of death. We see this supremely as Jesus is on the cross. The Cross-word is one that should show us the pleasure of God as the Son is punished for the sins of his people. It towers and the most precious and beautiful event ever to have occured. And yet to so many it is outright offensive or unimaginably irrelevant. When that word is rejected what can do but pour out wrath (Jeremiah 6:11)?

Yet still he pleads for us to come to him. He is pleased to reveal himself.
This is what the LORD says:
"Stand at the crossroads and look;
ask for the ancient paths,
ask where the good way is, and walk in it,
and you will find rest for your souls.
But you said, 'We will not walk in it.'
Rest that is found in Jesus (Jeremiah 6:16 & Matthew 11:29). The word of the cross tastes sweeter than honey to the believer, delighted by the word.

For me, be it Christ, be it Christ hence to live...
O that mankind might taste and see the riches of His grace!

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

God's Smuggler



God's Smuggler by Brother Andrew.

This is the gripping story of Andrew, an ordinary dutchman, who found himself smuggling God's word into Eastern Europe 30-40 years ago.

It's very inspiring from a missions perspective seeing the way he took God at his word and lived believing that Jesus was king.

It also deeply challenges how seriously I take God's word. So easily I take for granted that I have access to the scriptures and so I ignore them. Yet, these are the universe-creating, nation-destroying, heart-exposing, life-transforming words of God, written.

Half price at St. Andrews Bookshop

Power for living

He was timid. His mentor was about to be martyred. Reports were coming in of people deserting the gospel. On balance, Timothy's situation was considerably worse than mine. Into the middle of that God spoke, through Paul, to empower and embolden him. How? With a clear reminder that God has manifest himself. He has revealed good news in Jesus Christ. Good news that God rescues people not because they're good but because He is. Good news that his plan is to save those who ignore and oppose him. More than that, this good news means the abolition of death and the introducing of immortality.

When Wilberforce tried to abolish slavery they said it couldn't be done. The empire and the politicians had too much to gain from keeping slavery going. But he did it. Death is a vastly more powerful foe and yet God has abolished it. People still die but death is need now only be a door to the new creation. This new world order is ruled by a new king, Jesus David's Son who himself rose from the dead and leads a risen people. Furthermore, God has put his Holy Spirit in us - a taste of future union with God today. The Spirit who gives us gifts - in Timothy's case to teach. The Spirit who gives us power and who is more than capable of guarding the gospel.

And so Timothy was to rise from his fear, to open his mouth and not be afraid to contend for this good news. To face the inevitable suffering that comes from Christian living. The Christian rises with Christ, but also suffers with him - and you can't have one without the other. Suffering and resurrected. Resurrected and suffering. Like a serving soldier. Like an athlete in competition. Like a farmer at work. Timothy is to be confident, like his mentor Paul, because they know whom they have believed. The news comes from Jesus. He can be trusted. So too should I believe. And believing speak. And speaking face suffering.

Lift your eyes to Jesus.

Lawyers Christian Fellowship

Monday, August 06, 2007

Gaze on Glory

GAZE ON GLORY
BIBLE STUDY RESOURCE

These are Bible Studies I've written in service of Reading University Christian Union between 2003-2007. They're written on the conviction that the word of God is living and active, capable of destroying nations, of creating universes, of awakening the soul, of raising the dead, of exposing motives and of causing God-glorifying transformation. To come to the word of God to simply learn is to miss the point. We come to taste and see that which is more precious than gold. Come and gaze on glory!

Undoubtedly they're not the best studies the world has ever seen and they're not really designed to be used straight off the page - further preparation intentionally required, but if they can be of some service to the wider church then that's great. Feel free to edit and adapt but not sell them...

Saturday, August 04, 2007

'Bulgaria went to sleep in the 1300s, and woke up just before the first world war'

Ed posts his reflections on his second trip to Bulgaria. Having had the priviledge of mentoring Ed over the past three years since a few months before his first trip to that wasteland I'm thankful for the work of God in his servant. God has called Ed back to Reading and me off to the South West but we remain partners in the gospel.

Last week I read Brother Andrew's book God's Smuggler - there's something irresistible about getting the gospel to Eastern Europe. My four journeys out that way (Poland x3, Bulgaria x1) have left a mark on me. Andrew is due to speak at our leaders conference in September, something tells me that'll be a significant time. That week the practical work of leading the SW team begins for me - a region linked with Poland as the SE is with Bulgaria. God has given us work to do here, and there.

I've struggled over the last week waiting to move to Exeter, moping around and anxious. Why?! As Andrew reminds me I'm supposed to be serving the one who rules all things. He can handle this stuff. Who am I to be so faithless and fearful? As I've read Jeremiah I've also been reading the first chapter and a half of 2 Timothy. There is Timothy, timid and fearful. Many were turning from the gospel. Paul was on death-row. It was time for Timothy to step up to the mark. How did God set his feet to walk? By reminding him that in Jesus God's great purpose and grace are manifest. A purpose to save by grace not works. A purpose to abolish death and bring immortality and life to light. A purpose centred upon the raising of Jesus from the dead. A purpose of setting him as the king forever on David's throne. The king of all things. A king to not be ashamed of. A king worth suffering for wherever he calls.

Today I'm in the Coffee Republic internet cafe in Reading. My possessions are in storage. Housesitting in the professors house. At several times in the last week my sinful heart has tried to ruin me with that stuff, but actually it's really liberating. Jesus is king. My treasure is in heaven. In him I have a better home than any earthly home. I'm two weeks away from a new job and it's time to step up to the mark with God's power for the fame of Jesus.

Thursday, August 02, 2007

Our provisional existence

We've been homeless and housesitting since Monday. We're waiting for a housebuy to exchange so we can move to Exeter. It could be today. Could be tomorrow. Could be some other day...
It's a strange way to live... waiting... this word appears pertient:
Come now, you who say, "Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit"— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead you ought to say, "If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that." (James 4v13-15, ESV)

The death of Absalom (Christopher Ash)

The death of Absalom - a biblical theology briefing by Christopher Ash:
David spoke better than he knew, when in v33 he said, "Would I had died instead of you..." A thousand years later great David's greater Son did just that. He died instead. And as he died the demands of justice were satisfied forever. And the longings of love could be fulfilled at last. The story of Absalom's death ends at the Cross of Jesus Christ. There is a Saviour, who because he has dealt with sin can deal gently with sinners. A Saviour whose Father longs to be Father to you and to me. We shall never plumb the cosmic depths of what Jesus achieved at the Cross. But our lives should be shaped by gratitude for what he did there.

On playing the whore

Jeremiah is sent to confront Judah's kings, priests, officials and people in the days before their exile. His message is far from popular and yet however much they oppose him, the rebellion will not prevail. It will finally end in bitter exile but at all times God's word triumphs. The opening word from the prophet begins with great comfort. Judah are the Lord's bride. Once they were deeply in love, and the Lord protected his bride from all who attempted to eat of her. Those early days were a glorious honeymoon. Sweet days of marriage. (2v1-3) Now however all is perplexing. Jeremiah speaks the word of God with all authority to diagnose the sin of his people. It gives us an anatomy of sin.

SIN IS LOVE BETRAYED 2v5-8
They have known the help of God and yet they have turned away. Given the land by their lover they have turned aside from him. Given a land to enjoy they have defiled in a relentless pursuit of unprofitable idolatry. In the cold light of day it is inexplicable. We hear the bewilderment of the sovereign Lord. Was there something God failed to do for his people? Was he somehow found wanting in his saving love? The answer of course is no, yet without cause his people strayed and chose lesser lovers.

SIN IS SENSELESS EVIL 2v9-19
The lense is focussed more clearly on the folly of sin. They are unique! Would another nation change gods? The heavens should gasp in shock as they hear about it. They universe standing back in shock and the sin of God's people. If the greatest minds on earth took a moment to consider it they would be left speechless. Offered life they embraced death. Offered living waters they chose to drink in the dust of drought. Set free at great cost they go looking for ways to become slaves. Sin is inexplicably stupid. It defies reason. It defies common sense.

There is more. Spurning God isn't just stupid. It is evil beyond all evils. Our maker calls us to obey his word and stakes his claim on our lives, how dare we look elsewhere? How dare I claim to know better than him? How dare I have such ingratitude? How dare I worship any other? The obvious thing for the Lord to do here would be to abandon his unfaithful wife and yet he persists. The groom goes to death on a roman cross to wipe the slate clean, atoning for the sin of his runaway bride.


SIN IS DECEPTIVELY DENIED 2v20-37
A thief caught in the act confesses his sin with shame (26) but this people feign innocence. They will be ashamed when judgement comes. Such is the nature of a sinful heart that it is self-deceiving. Caught in the act it will do everything to hide or claim extenuating circumstances or perhaps return to it's first manifestation as a blameshifter. When I'm exposed the natural thing seems to be to cover up the crime yet God's eyes are open. He sees the crime. Who am I kidding with my denial?

SIN IS EXCESSIVE WHOREDOM 3v1-5
The verdict is desperate. A people married to the Lord have played the whore (3v1) with many lovers. Whereever they have gone they've sinned to the extreme. They could nt be more evil than they are. They've made it an extreme sport in which they excel. The base nature of sin is whoredom. Jeremiah isn't the only prophet to put it in these terms (Hosea, for example). The Lord's love for his people is vast and yet spurned. How great is his saving love to set her free and yet they/I persist in spiritual adultery, in unfaithfulness. We love to play the whore.

The spurned lover persists. He speaks. He puts life before her once again. His love magnified as he bears the penalty of such great sin upon himself, giving his all to purify his bride. And having knowing the love of Jesus Christ for his church how I ought to leave such sin behind. No longer to stupified by my sinful heart but led by God's Holy Spirit. No longer in denial but able to make an open confession of my sin and receive grace.

Too often, like Israel, I've played the whore. I've covered my eyes and not seen his blessings. I've covered my ears and not listened to his word. I've lived as if my not seeing him means he can't see me. I've been a stupid fool and made a fool of him. Enough now. Enough.

About ten years ago this week an arrogant, ignorant, hypocritical teenage sinner got 'married' to God. It was arranged it in eternity past but was a total surprise to me. It certainly wasn't deserved but simply because Jesus blood was shed 2000 years earlier. There is no earthly reason why God should have lavished his love upon me. Looking back what I know is that it shows once more the great reach of Jesus' death and by that I'm humbled and rejoicing.

My sin is stupid and evil, his love is immense.