Friday, January 29, 2010

you can't say "your God will be my God" without saying "your people will be my people" Christ & his church always come together

Some studies I've put together on one of my favourite Bible books. It's a book replete with the gospel of grace, and one in which we find a deep association between Christ and his church, and the senselessness of thinking of one without the other. A great story told in a great way.
The Book of Ruth: A Story of Gospel Kindness

See also Esther: A Gospel Story

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

The Essential Gospel by Andrew Wilson

Andrew Wilson's paper - The Essential Gospel is now on the newfrontiers theological papers. Seventeen very helpful pages.

The Bible preaches Jesus as the climax of every story, the fulcrum on which the whole of Scripture turns, the Gospel in every worldview. As those with the profound privilege of preaching the Gospel, we shouldn’t settle for anything less.....  To be honest, so-called ‘preaching’ that simply expounds a Scripture passage, without showing how Jesus is the good news of God, isn’t really ‘preaching’ at all....  I should never stop preaching the Gospel to people.  hen someone becomes a believer, that’s the start of them understanding God’s story, not the end; Paul was eager to preach the Gospel to Christians (Romans 1:15), so I should be too... the Gospel needs to be continually preached to them so that they grasp ever more of its splendour.



Also online, Newfrontiers is publishing it's vision & values over the next year

I'm currently reading Andrew Wilson's GodStories which is an excellent look at the gospel as revealed throughout the Bible. I highly recommend it. It comes in short sharp chapters which I'm reading slowly, day by day and enjoying very much. I like the title too - sounds like a name we could use for a CU mission week someday. Having reflected on CS Lewis' Meditation in a Toolshed I'm keen to invite people to step inside the world of Christianity, into the "GodStories" and see how Christianity feels and thinks and looks.

More from Andrew Wilson, guest speaking at Grace Church Chichester
More from Andrew Wilson at his own church, Kings Church Eastbourne

Friday, January 22, 2010

The Concrete Jesus is No Jesus


I mean obviously, but it's strange how we're prone to think of him. Hum this one in your head and see what comes to mind:

EVERLASTING GOD, The years go by but You're unchanging.
In this fragile world, You are the only firm foundation.
Always loving, always true, Always merciful and good, so good. Yesterday, today and forever, You are the same, You never change.

An unseen, dependable, unmovable lump of concrete is not what @vickybeeching had in mind when she wrote the song about our firm foundation, but what do we mean when we use these words? The who is Jesus but is he just solid, reliable, unseen and just for getting us started with building? A concrete foundation on which I build 'my faith'...

He is the one who the writer to the Hebrews says is the same yesterday, today and forever (13:8). The whole letter is about Jesus, and is very concerned with his foreverness and some very specific senses in which he is brilliant. We open Hebrews with the Jesus vs. the angels celebrity death match. And we're likely to get to the end of chapter 1 and cry out, Jesus is greater than the angels 'woo-hoo... who cares'. But, turns out it's important. the angel delivered the law and when Israel disregarded that they died. Jesus is more important than the angels, drift from him and it's a fate worse than death. Pay more attention to the big man.

We go on, shaken and drawn to Jesus. He, greater than the angels, became less than them for a while - why? To taste death for us and be the wrath-bearer (chapter 2). In all this we find he is our high priest and apostle. He's the one who rules the house (and he's better than Moses). Ergo, pay attention to what he says - hold on to confessing Jesus and not hardening your heart, on a daily basis. In all this we begin to find that this great high priest, the Son, has done his work and gone in to his Father where he intercedes for us - and he is the one who can help us when we're tempted and offers his mercy in our time of need. His is the throne of grace. Far from being concrete, God's ultimate revelation is very much personal, involved and with us.

Then (chapter 5) we begin to be told that he's a Melchizedek-priest. Eh? The line is repeated a third time before we reach the end of chapter 6 (via those apparently scary warnings). The writer doesn't think they'll quit but wants them to grow up - which means holding on to Jesus and not shifting from him. There's already evidence in their lives of it - and why would they want to go elsewhere?

Chapter 7 is all about Melchizedek and begins to explain why the writer cares so much that Jesus is a priest of the order of Melchizedek (who makes a cameo in Genesis 14). The chapter is complex but 8:1 tells us what the point is. This is the kind of priest we have - sat in heaven, job done, completed - not just in the toy temple but in the real thing - and so 8:12 sin is properly dealt with. In all this the key is that he's an eternal priest - unlike the old toy priests he doesn't die and have to be replaced - he lives forever so his priesthood lasts forever. That's the kind of unchanging we're talking about - unfailing, unending, everlastingly for us.

He's the one who comes at the time of reformation and it's the shedding of his blood that deals with sin. By his blood we can be made perfect forever (10:14) not that we would ever have contributed to this, but the really good news is that he hasn't got anything more to do. We can have total full assurance and 10:19 come on in boldly to the presence of the Father where the Son is seated. Like the old heroes (ch11) we then ought to look to Jesus (12:2) considering him. We don't presume on his grace, or trust in our sorrow (like Esau - ch12) - it would be easy to do that, but it's unthinkable too.

Instead we come to Jesus, by his better blood that can and will never fail because his priesthood, in which he offered himself for us, is never going to fail or end. It's this Jesus who is yesterday, today and forever, the same. And it's true that he's our foundation, and it's true that you can't see him at the moment - but he's very much alive, and very much coming back - and in the meantime let us go to him who came to us, (ch13) outside the camp, bearing suffering on his behalf, not quitting on loving his people, and hanging on to the gospel word that Jesus blood never fails me. Not yesterday. Not today. Never.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Interview with Michael Ward (Planet Narnia) by Mike Reeves

The lastest Theology Network Table Talk Podcast is with Michael Ward. Michael Ward, author of 'Planet Narnia: The Seven Heavens in the Imagination of C. S. Lewis', talks with Mike Reeves about what we can learn from Lewis's use of medieval cosmology in his writings.

Take note of the implications for evangelism, inviting people inside Lewis' beam of light...

More at PlanetNarnia.com

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

God and The Problem of Pain, Evil and Suffering

One of the five talks I'll be giving at Plymouth University in February is on the subject of suffering. To help me prepare I've been digging into the way that other apologists have approached the task. I've been feeding my heart from Richard Sibbes' The Bruised Reed. For time reasons I limited myself to five approaches, three books and two mp3s....


Nicky Gumbel - Suffering (chapter 1, Searching Issues).
The Alpha Course
This is the number one objection to Christianity. Suffering is experienced globally, in our communities and individually. It's not a problem for all religions but it does arise in Christianity because Christians say God is good.
1) Human Freedom (or the free will defence), it's our sin or the sin of others that directly or indirectly causes much suffering, the rest is probably due to the fallen nature of the world.
2) God works through suffering - to draw us to Christ, to bring Christian maturity and to bring about his good purposes e.g. Joseph.
3) God more than compensates for suffering. God has all eternity to make it up to us.
4) God is involved in our suffering - the story of Joni Earekson Tada and The Long Silence.
How will we respond to the suffering in our lives. Ask if it's because of my sin? What is God saying through this? What does God want me to do in this? And then hold onto hope - suffering is an alien intrusion into God's world.
The Cross fits with all of this. Human sin put Jesus on the cross. We see God working through the suffering of the cross of Jesus. See at the cross Jesus dies for the joy ahead of him. See God come into our suffering at the cross.

Michael Ots - "Rape, child abuse and AIDS- What kind of God doesn't prevent suffering?" (chapter 3, What Kind of God?)
Michael Ots Evangelism Trust
We begin with examples of suffering which aren't just statistics they're personal to us. If we deny God's existence we don't necessarily deal with the problem - does atheism have a better answer? Should we deny God's goodness?
1) God allows suffering - a more nuanced form of 'free will' argument than Gumbel. God gives us a choice which makes our life real, unlike The Truman Show. We ask, who is to blame? Is it a manufacturing fault (no), or misuse by the owner (yes).
2) God will end the suffering - we can talk about getting rid of the bad guys but where do you draw the line? We are in danger but God is patient.
3) God has experienced suffering - not just empathy but acting to do something about it, and so suffering isn't the end of the story.

Tim Keller - How could a good God allow suffering (chapter 2, The Reason for God)
Redeemer Presbyterian Church, New York
1) Evil and suffering isn't evidence against God - just because we can't see a reason why he should permit suffering doesn't mean there isn't one - e.g. Joseph.
2) Evil and suffering may be (if anything) evidence for God. God came to earth not to get himself off the hook but to put himself on it.
We should ask why Jesus suffering seems to be worse than other people's? Jesus is introduced as the one who was always in the bosom of the Father but at the end of his life he is cut off. We see God with us in our suffering at the cross, and the resurrection promises consolation and restoration. Sam Gamgee - "is everything sad going to come untrue?", Dostoevsky "suffering will be healed and made up for", Lewis: "heaven...will work backwards and turn even that agony into glory".

William Lane Craig - Cambridge Lecture in The Reasonable Faith Tour.
MP3 from Bethinking.org
It's a big step to abandon God over any objection. The issue is two-fold, partly intellectual and philosophical, partly personal and pastoral.
1) The Logical Problem. We can't see how a good God would permit suffering but the objection exposes our own hidden premises about God.
2) The Probablistic Problem. It just seems unlikely that God would allow suffering.
a) But we're not in a good position to judge things - think about the butterfly effect or the film Sliding Doors, who can tell what's good in the long run?
b) Christian doctrine makes it more probable that you can have God and evil in the world. i) Life isn't for our happiness but for knowing God. ii) Our rebellion makes us more culpable and we're given over to our evil. iii) Knowledge of God spills over to eternal life. iv) Knowledg eof God is good, incomparably better than suffering.
3) There are other reasons to believe in God even if suffering is a hard one to swallow.
We end with a brief 'pastoral' response that expounds the Trinity and the cross as the explanation of how God is not the problem to be got rid of, but the solution to the problem.

Andrew Wilson - Why does God allow suffering or evil?
MP3 from Grace Church, Chichester
Evil and suffering feels wrong - if the atheists are right we shouldn't blink. We want God to stop people from doing evil. Genesis 3 - a story about a piece of fruit? Not eating isn't the first command (that's have sex and go travelling) to people God makes in his image. And the issue isn't the fruit, it's not a petty rule like not walking on the grass.
1) We ran off with another woman - sin is an affair, a breaking not of legal restriction but relational.
2) We threw off the safety of that relationship - nakedness becomes a problem. We end up having to compare and climb and this causes a lot of suffering.
3) We wrecked it by trying to be God - we abdicated responsibility and everything has gone wrong. "What just happened?!" - it wasn't always like this, it's not meant to be, and one day it wont be. We said "I did it my way" and it ruins things.  Until the image of God is restored it's ruined. God comes to us to do that - to overcome physical and spiritual death and make the affair right, securing us from nakedness to be sons of God.

SOME OBSERVATIONS
1. I found Gumbel and Wilson very helpful on how out of place suffering is - that it feels so wrong is a positive things. It is alien, and it makes us cry out "what just happened?". The Dawkins "pitiless indifference" answer is unsatisfying.
2. Wilson's was the only one doing an exposition of the Bible and this was helpful - by contrast Craig was almost all philosophy which was also good and in a lecture setting probably appropriate. The other three had similar approaches from present problems through some points and ending with the cross & resurrection which are vital to understand suffering, consolation and restoration.
3. The logical problem comes from who we think God is - when we begin with attributes it is difficult to resolve because we attach so many assumptions to saying "God is good" and almost rule God out by definition. If we speak of the Triune God and what he is like then it's probably easier, and more obvious to speak of God coming into our suffering.
4. Given I'll have 15 minutes plus Q&A I'm really going to have to select what to say carefully. Michael Ots chapters are based on such talks so give me a good idea of what's possible. I'm also aware that in person I want to approach the topic at least as much pastorally as intellectually.

In case you were tempted to think the issue isn't one people are asking about... BBC publishes philosopher David Bain's thoughts... "But, as for those who believe in an all-good, all-powerful agent-God, we've seen that they face a question that remains pressing after all these centuries, and which is now horribly underscored by the horrors in Haiti. If a deity exists, why didn't he prevent this?"

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Making Gravy to the Glory of God?


Noted author and apologist Tom Price post on how to make great gravy.

Possibly one of his most significant pieces of writing. Just as coffee must be made right, the art of making good gravy is to be pursued with much diligence.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Is a Christian a Sinner or Saint? by Terry Virgo


This post is taken from Terry Virgo's blog, as the article indicates this is a somewhat controversial subject, though it seems a shame that it is. Reposted here for your thoughts and interactions.

I was surprised on two occasions this year when preaching to what I will call ‘conservative evangelical constituencies’ and declaring the joy of our freedom in Christ, to encounter the response that followed.


On the first occasion I had been speaking about the glorious freedom proclaimed in Romans 6. On the second I was expounding Ephesians 2 and celebrating the fact that we are new creations, created in Christ Jesus. We are called ‘saints’, holy ones, and are certainly no longer regarded as ‘sinners’.

In Romans 6, Paul celebrates the truth that, whereas we used to be slaves of sin, God has made us ‘slaves of righteousness’ (Rom. 6:18). I deplored the fact that I had seen a poster when in the USA saying that a Christian is one sinner telling another sinner where to find bread. It saddens me not only to see Christians failing to accept the new identity that the gospel provides, but even fighting to defend their ‘right’ to be called ‘sinners’ when God has called those who are in Christ Jesus ‘saints’!


Such were some of you
Paul provides a horrific list of the evils that had formerly characterised the believers at Corinth, such as fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, thieves, drunkards and so on, but clearly adds, ‘Such WERE some of you, but you were washed but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ and the Spirit of our God’ (1 Cor. 6:16). Surely he is telling them (and us) that they are now set apart saints of God. When Christians deplore their sinfulness to the degree that they actually argue that their essential identity is ‘a sinner’ they shoot themselves in the foot!

After one of my previously mentioned sermons, a handsome young man approached me with, ‘Surely we are essentially still sinners aren’t we?’ He then began literally shedding tears and confessed to serious problems in the realm of sexual temptation. I opened Romans 6 with him for 15 minutes, asking him Paul’s robust question, ‘Are we to continue in sin …?’ and showing him Paul’s even more forthright answer, ‘By no means!’ (King James, ‘God forbid!’). followed by his clear argument, ‘How shall we who died to sin still live in it?’ The young man seemed surprised, maybe expecting the answer, ‘Well of course we do still struggle with sin because essentially we are still sinners.’ Paul did not take that line!

He who has died is freed from sin
I took him to Romans 6:6, ‘Knowing this that our old self was crucified with Christ … that we should no longer be slaves to sin, for he who has died is freed from sin’ (Rom. 6:6-7) and reminded him that Jesus said that you will know the truth and the truth will set you free. Clearly this was a truth that this young man did not know. I then led him on to verse 11 where Paul tells us what our attitude should be to ourselves, namely to ‘consider ourselves to be dead to sin’. We must line up our thinking correctly and eagerly adopt our new relationship with sin, namely, dead to it.

Finally, I underlined his responsibility not to allow sin to reign in his members (Rom. 6:12-13). As a new creation he has the power to rule his members. He was called to live free from slavery to sin because he was not a sinner but a saint. After our chat his countenance changed, his eyes looked brighter and I think a flicker of hope had replaced the inevitability he had felt that as a sinner he was still bound to sin.

Sadly, as I turned from him a girl was waiting to speak to me and she asked exactly the same question and received exactly the same 15-minute Bible study as my answer.

In the second meeting that I addressed, I was challenged that if I don’t regard myself as fundamentally still a sinner surely I would not value the Cross. But my amazement and huge appreciation for the Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure!

As I consider the eternal God living in everlasting bliss and mutual delight within the Trinity, the incarnation amazes me! That God should become a man! And not only that, but should also experience death, and what a death! Death on a cross in bloody agony and imputed guilt, separation and rejection. I don’t always have to bring me into the picture! The Cross amazes me and fills me with wonder and worship, praise and thanksgiving!

To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel. The Greek word which we translate ‘to proclaim the gospel’ was not originally a religious word; it is borrowed from elsewhere and actually means the announcement of good (great!) news. The original ‘Marathon Runner’ ran his 26 miles and proclaimed the Good News. We won the battle! We triumphed! It was a victory!


Has anybody got some better news?
If I insist on teaching that Christians are still essentially sinners, what is the Good News? Has anybody got some better news? To quote John Bunyan:

            Run John run the law demands
            But gives me neither legs nor arms
            Better news the gospel brings
            It bids me fly and gives me wings!

To quote Paul again, ‘If any man is in Christ he is a new creation. Old things are passed away, behold all things are become new.’ The great Dr Martyn Lloyd-Jones added, ‘A new principle of life has been put into the Christian. He has a new disposition – the life of God in the soul of man! That is Christianity!’


‘Terry, are you saying that you never sin?’

Sadly in this age of conflict with the world, the flesh and the devil I do, but I sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it – not as a sinner with all the inevitability that that suggests.

...your comments? 


[When I posted this on facebook some came back saying that it was "sin-lite"  this is clearly not the case and it seems to me that it takes sin more seriously by taking more seriously what the Cross of Christ has accomplished...]

Friday, January 15, 2010

Plymouth CU Mission Week


Christian Unions do mission all year around using their most strategic resource, the CU members (often about 1% of the student population), in clubs & societies, in corridors, in courses and making use of key calender moments (like Christmas, Freshers Week etc).

Many CUs have annual "mission weeks" where they put on extra events to build momentum and offer friends the opportunity to engage their questions and meet with Jesus... and to reach beyond the fringe to the 90% of students they probably don't know.

I'm speaking in February at Plymouth University CU's mission week. The subjects we're looking at (selected by the CU members from conversation with their friends) are (roughly)...

How Atheists Are Right (monday lunch)
How Religion Makes People Judgemental (tuesday evening)
Where Is God When It Hurts (thursday lunch)
Christianity: The True Myth (friday lunch)
Burn Your Plastic Jesus (friday evening)

...subjects set, titles a bit more provisional at this stage. Please pray for me as I spend time writing these and preparing with the students. And if you have better ideas for wording the titles do comment! I'm ripping off a Mark Driscoll title on the Friday evening, and I'm shooting for CS Lewis' "Myth Became Fact" and some stuff on historicity of Jesus on Friday lunchtime.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Modern Christians need to re-discover their roots, if only to prevent them poisoning the church's new shoots with ancient heresies.


Seems to me there are two ways to avoid being a fish who doesn't know he's swimming in water. One is to travel around the world (or at least read widely), and the other is to drink deeply from church history.

Two great ways to do that, Read Lex Loizides' Church History Blog. I heard some great stuff from Lex and from Greg Haslam on Calvin at the Newfrontiers leaders conference last summer.

Another great way is to read and listen to some Mike Reeves at Theology Network. His latest book The Breeze of the Centuries is out soon. See what Greg Haslam has to say about it:

'High school history bored many students to tears. Their idea of visiting the past is like a trip to Chernobyl - grim, and possibly life-threatening! A big mistake when that past is full of insight, and the guide is Michael Reeves. This fascinating volume covers the massive influence of great thinkers, apologists and 'death wish' martyrs like 'food for wild beasts' Ignatius, the courageous alleged murderer and 'black dwarf' Athanasius, the fat friendly giant Aquinas, and the planet-sized mind of Augustine of Hippo, who all faced the challenges we face. Reeves breathes life into dead men, with historic writing that's about as good as it gets - full of interest, burningly relevant, and totally scinitillating. Modern Christians need to re-discover their roots, if only to prevent them poisoning the church's new shoots with ancient heresies. This is as good an introduction the reader could find. Ignorance is not bliss. Let Reeves tell you why.' - Greg Haslam, Westminster Chapel, London

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes...

In December my uncle died. To the best of my knowledge he wasn't a Christian and he wouldn't have wanted a Christian funeral, so it was a brief secular ceremony. His death at 60 reminded me of the fleeting nature of life, and that our only hope is found in the mercy of God. My Dad spoke of his older brother, and I gave this reading, which was as close to Ecclesiastes or Psalm 78:33, Psalm 103:15-16, James 4:14 as I could be without citing scripture.

When I remember my uncle I remember him at forty. I remember a man who was fun to be with. I remember the man who let his ten year old nephew sit on his motorbike in the garden at The Dingle and imagine the air blowing through my hair. And then I awake from my memory and I'm not ten anymore, I'm thirty with a newborn son of my own and my uncle isn't here anymore. I remember that life is so fleeting. Everything changes so quickly. It's with this in mind that I've selected this poem, Mutability by our distant cousin Percy Bysshe Shelley. Mutability, the old word for how we're subject to change. He pictures us like clouds in the night sky and the notes that ring out from an instrument and then are gone. Everything changes. Mutability.

We are as clouds that veil the midnight moon;
How restlessly they speed, and gleam, and quiver,
Streaking the darkness radiantly! -yet soon
Night closes round, and they are lost for ever:


Or like forgotten lyres, whose dissonant strings
Give various response to each varying blast,
To whose frail frame no second motion brings
One mood or modulation like the last.


We rest. -A dream has power to poison sleep;
We rise. -One wandering thought pollutes the day;
We feel, conceive or reason, laugh or weep;
Embrace fond woe, or cast our cares away:


It is the same! -For, be it joy or sorrow,
The path of its departure still is free:
Man's yesterday may ne'er be like his morrow;
Nought may endure but Mutablilty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

"A Missionary isn’t someone who crosses the sea, but someone who sees the cross"


Quote apparently from Leonard Ravenhill, cited by Ben Powell when our church sent him and his wife and 16 month old daughter to Bolivia a week ago, they fly later this week.

It's a helpful way of saying that whether you go by staying or go by going, a Christian is a missionary, and one who should keep in close sight of the cross of Christ.

Follow The Powells with Newfrontiers in Bolivia

Monday, January 11, 2010

The god of Aquinas and Aristotle: Reasonable but Unrelational?


I had the pleasure of sitting at Mike Reeves' feet last week listening to him teaching on Anselm and Aquinas, essentially from his new book The Breeze of the Centuries which covers the last three years of historical theology at our staff training conferences. Mike tries to hide his own feelings about these theologians as he introduces us to them. Whereas there is much in Athanasius to inspire, Anselm and Aquinas rather show us better how not to approach theology. It's an excellent book, with a second volume to follow (since this one finishes with Aquinas and a monk who found Aristotle's disciple (Aquinas) to give us darkness instead of light...

What's striking about Aquinas is his level of influence on the church (in 1998 John Paul II said that the angelic doctor gives the model of how to do theology) and the way that he's a reason-first Aristotlelian kind of theologian.

I was struck that his view of God begins with reasoning which attributes God should have, like unchanging, everlasting, firm foundation, unoriginate, uncreated etc. Arguing essentially for God as that than which nothing greater exists.... Eventually Aquinas talks about the God who reveals himself as Triune, in which Jesus is more the Father's conception of himself (a thought) than personally his beloved Son. It's all troublingly unpersonal and worringly familiar.

It's a pattern followed by most Systematic Theology following Aquinas that we begin with attributes of God rather than meeting the Father of the Son and the Son of the Father (as we might if we followed Athanasisus). Even the mighty Wayne Grudem does this...

I've been reminded that reason only really gets us to a distant divine, whereas revelation gets us to our relational, personal God - the Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit who love one another and overflow in love to catch us up into fellowship with themselves. That's not to say we should be anti-reason, nor that we should view God's revelation as some kind of verbal-magic - when God speaks he speaks persuasively and clearly.

Christopher Ash was also with us, to warm our hearts from John's Gospel and he did so wonderfully by showing us just this kind of Trinitarian vision of salvation and life where God makes his home with us and catches us up into the fellowship of the Father and the Son, something truly beautiful. More on that another day.

Friday, January 08, 2010

What if Matthew's Gospel was about Jesus? (Because sometimes I can't see the wood for the trees)

I find it really easy to treat the Bible as a mirror to try and find myself in rather than a window through which to see Jesus. I know I'm not alone in this - I heard a preacher recently on Matthew 2 doing just this - it was a valiant attempt and I'm not critiquing him here at all. Lots of attempts at application and call to worship Jesus without actually telling us who Jesus is. A bit like chasing the wind. I'm all for application, but we have to start (and continue, and end) with Jesus. My wife and I spent some time reading Matthew over Christmas, not something we often seem to make the time for. Assuming that The Gospel of Jesus Christ According to Matthew is about Jesus then, these are some of our notes...
  • We open with the genealogy of Jesus (1:1) to tell us that Jesus is both son of David and Abraham. Any son of David is a son of Abraham so some of that seems a bit redundant... unless Abraham is going to be important to understanding who Jesus is, he the one who will bring his blessed rule to all nations (28:19-20)? The genealogy isn't actually that of Jesus but of his adopted father Joseph, and it's a royal line. Matthew is trying to tell us that Jesus is the royal heir to David's throne. He's not irrelevant and neither is his genealogy - he's the king forever! 
  • We're told that he'll be called Jesus because he'll save his people from their sins. This is to fulfil the promise that the Christ would be called Immanuel meaning God with us. Which begs the question why he's not called Immanuel. There must be some connection between the Christ saving us from our sins and God being with us. God saves and welcomes us. It's not just cool that he fulfils prophecy, it's the gospel.
  • In the incident with the wise men and the star (which seemed to distract the preacher), we're told that the one who was promised to be born in Bethlehem is the one who is shepherd and ruler of his people. King forever, saviour, God with us, shepherd and ruler....  David was the prototype, Herod an anti-type, Jesus is the good King who looks after his people. 
  • The wise men come "from the east" - in Genesis when people head east they're always going away from God's presence... could it be that they show us something of the nations being gathered in by Abraham's son?
  • He flees to Egypt to fulfil the promise that God's son would come out of Egypt. And yet he doesn't come out of Egypt, he comes out of Israel... Has Israel under King Herod become like Egypt under Pharaoh...  this baby King flees to safety by God's word. On top of which, Matthew is telling us Jesus is like Israel - he is God's son, he is the true Israel, the true people of God. It's not about us - Jesus is the faithful people of God.
So, worship Jesus- the eternal king who saves his people from their sins so that God will be with them, the good shepherd of his people who is God's son who comes out of the oppressive slavery of tyrants, to bring life to all the nations of the world! Jesus does it all just as promised in the Father's Spirit-breathed word - and this is amazingly good news. I want to know this Jesus, increasingly in all his revealed splendour. I know myself so prone to wander and just jump to me when I open the Bible, rather than seeing the one who the good book is all about.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

History as a Christian: This ends BETTER than it begins

I consider myself honoured to know the elders of Reading Family Church, doubtless men of whom the world is not worthy. Hear what a couple of them have blogged recently about history considered Christianly.

Sean Green observes "...heaven as a better place than pre-fall Eden."
Richard Walker: "...the end is better than the beginning. We find this difficult to follow because we labour under the delusion that history is all about us. Put in simple terms, the next time a loved one gives you a gift (e.g. a box of chocs) and you share that love gift with them, you are, in a tiny way, mirroring the divine eternal love of the Father and the Son and summing up the whole of history."

Peter Leithart says that this makes history a deep comedy. Not just a comedy where all ends well, but a deep one in which it ends better than before. Granted there is frustration and curse in this universe, the gospel keeps sounding its hope-filled melody.

Wednesday, January 06, 2010

When I'm a gospel-Christian (a call for Christian Tautology)

Having looked at the very familiar funny-walking version of me, here's someone I'm keen to meet more often this year.

I'd like to be better acquainted with being in step with the gospel (Galatians 2:14). Defined not by endless labels and associations (3:29) but holding fast to the true gospel (5:1) which issues not opinion and meanness but in kindness and patience and love (5:16-25) that carries the burdens of others (6:1-3). This isn't doctrinal softness (1:8, 2:11) but a life marked by parental anguish (4:19) for others whose joy and maturity is sought. Increasing depth of gospel-knowledge is then not wielded against others but displayed in a self-giving love and pursuit of the unity that comes from being together in Christ (3:29). This kind of person seeks to make much of the cross (6:14) and is not so interested in error (5:6, 15) as in new creation life and love. Such a person looks like one who has been adopted into Christ, made a son in the divine family. The kind of person who will be humbled and devastated and bursting with Spirit-given joy at the grace that is theirs simply by hearing with faith (3:2-5). The more seriously such a person takes the gospel the less seriously they'll take themselves - for a high consideration of self (2:21) leads to a low consideration of Jesus, and vice-versa. Such a person would be refreshing and joy-inspiring to be with.

I'd like to be this kind of person more this year. I can't make that happen - I need the same Spirit with whom this new life began to continue his work. If you happen to meet me along the way, please encourage this pursuit by reminding me again of the glories of the gospel of the Son of God.

Tell me again of Jesus who loved me and gave himself for me, the one in whose death I've died and whose resurrection has given me a new life that is lived by faith as a Spirit-filled (4:6), righteousness-wearing (3:27) inheritor of God's kingdom in Christ. Only because the Father made a promise to Jesus (3:16).

Please don't make much of me, but do make much of the cross and the Christ who was crucified for me. Remind me again and again of the new life that I have, caught up in the family of God, by his magnificent grace.

Monday, January 04, 2010

When I'm a non-gospel "Christian" (as if such a person makes any sense)

Let me tell you about a guy I know. He works for UCCF and he's a member of a Newfrontiers church - and he loves those labels (Galatian 3:28), they matter a lot to him, and he cares which labels you wear too. He's interested in what you make of him almost to the point of anxious fear (1:10, 2:12) and will make much of you (4:17) though strangely you'll feel your gospel-joy lessened for being with him (4:15). He tends to be critical of others, even biting, devouring, provoking and envying (5:15,26). He takes it upon himself to sort things out and leads the line against others (1:13, 4:29) and can tell you where all the latest problems are (2:4). He takes himself very seriously, he is after all very zealous and thinks himself better than everyone else (1:13). In public he looks very religious and pious, privately he's pretty unpleasant (5:19-20) though he can play the game and put on the right front like any pharisee would. He looks like a slave (4:30), the kind of person who wont inherit God's kingdom (5:21). His way of life is not in step with the gospel (2:14) and though he wouldn't say so he really doesn't think the death of Jesus was worth anything much (2:21).

I know this person all to well because he's me, living by my sinful nature, and once again in 2009 I saw too much of him. This is particularly unpleasant because he has long since been crucified with Christ (5:24) and so has no place showing up at all - and it's my fault for indulging and attempting to revive him by not walking by the Spirit (5:15).

I'm thankful for the way that the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are changing me - through his word, through my marriage, through the observations of friends and colleagues, through the family of our church and others in the last few months. But, this remains a work in progress - I'm still prone to relate to others sinfully, but longing for change.

If in 2010 you have the misfortune to run into this person, and I imagine you might, then please watch yourself (6:1) and gently restore me back to gospel living. Be astonished (1:6) but not too surprised, see how foolish I am (3:1) and take the opportunity to laugh at yourself because you too could be so foolish. Be in perplexed and in hopeful anguish for me (4:19). Remind me that I have been crucified with Christ and that the life I now live I live by faith in the risen Christ, Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (2:20) and encourage me to put all my confidence in the Christ who was crucified (3:1), the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ (6:14) in whom I'm a new creation. That would be a great service to me and to others.