Friday, December 31, 2010

God in the present tense (download with footnotes)

Here's the complete version of the Bible Overview I've been posting this week, with it's footnotes to reference where everything is drawn from. It was an assignment for a course I'm doing to write a 1500 narrative Bible overview.

Download full version of GOD IN THE PRESENT TENSE as pdf with footnotes

God with us

When Jesus dies the curtain of the temple is torn open and Jesus enters the heavenly tabernacle to offer his once for all sacrifice of himself, so all God’s people may come with confidence into his presence . He is raised from the dead. Before returning to his Father, he breathes on his people and fills them with his Holy Spirit sending them out as he was sent, in his Father’s love. They will know God with them, when they’re persecuted , as they go to the ends of the earth, and to the end of the age, sent with God to fill all nations with his love. God with us.

This loving people are built together into a new temple where the Father makes his home on earth by the Spirit . They are called the church, a people who make their home in God and ‘God’s seed’ (Jesus) makes his home in them; as he fills everything with himself . The church is an ever present foretaste of a day when God will come and dwell in a renewed creation where there will be no temple, for God himself will be the temple .

Once unable to see God they now gaze upon Christ with unveiled faces, seeing the glory of God – that is his love - in the gospel , as the Spirit shines his light into their hearts and transforms them . They thirst for the day when they will see God face to face in his renewed world where they will not come to a mountain but to Jesus , though some still desert God .

In the gospel God has come to us and will come to us, in his love he is with us, and will be with us, and when we finally see him face to face we will be truly be like him, participating in the loving community of God. The renewed universe is a place where God lives with a people who live to ‘taste and see that the Lord is good’ .

Thursday, December 30, 2010

Robert Jenson's Systematic Theology

Enjoyed Systematic Theology: Volume 1: The Triune God: Triune God Vol 1 so I thought I'd spend some of my Christmas money on the second volume. Not expecting to agree with everything, really not expecting to understand all of it - but am expecting to be encouraged by it.

I'd also highly recommend Song of Songs (Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching & Preaching) which is stunning, and his On Thinking the Human: Resolutions of Difficult Notions is worth a look though I didn't understand most of it.


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God in people. People in God.

Then, at just the right time , God comes to dwell again with his people . Not in a canvas tent or a stone temple but in a human body and now people begin to see more than Moses ever saw, as the One who had dwelt with his Father comes to walk our streets . He is called Jesus, and he is called God with us. Heaven is torn open and we see that he lives in the present favour of his Father, and is anointed with the Holy Spirit. This man calls himself the true temple, the dwelling place of God, and promises that if he is destroyed he will be rebuilt to intercede for his people by the power of his indestructible life .

As he prepares to face destruction on the cross he promises to prepare a place for his people where they will live with his Father . Seeing Jesus they have seen the Father . Jesus sends one like himself who will not just live with them, but within them catching them up into the Son’s own relationship with his loving Father where the will cry ‘Daddy’. God in people, people in God.

The Son must die so his people can live through him, knowing himself and his Father forever . No love is like the Father’s love to send his Son for us in the power of the Spirit. In the Son’s death the Triune God becomes eternally favourable toward his people, bearing the jealousy that should have burned against humanity and lavishing great love upon us.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010

God in relationship

This is the third of five posts telling the Bible's story, God in the present tense.

In the tent the LORD meets with his people, via priests, who will repeatedly offer sacrifices and cautiously go into the presence of God on behalf of the people . They remain outside of the land, but God meets them in the tent . God at home with his people.

In the land, David their king has designs to build a temple in place of the tent . His son will do it, and God chooses to make his dwelling there, though he is not confined to it . God in relationship.

King Uzziah charges into the temple uninvited . When Uzziah dies the prophet Isaiah sees a vision of Jesus on the throne , high and lifted up . Refusing to listen to those God sends to them. God removes his presence from the temple , and the model of heavenly reality becomes an empty building. God-departed.

In exile God still meets with some of his people, appearing in visions, with his people in their trials, but it’s all a shadow of what they’d seen before. When the exile ends, a foreign king sends them back to rebuild a temple which is never more than a shadow of what came before.

Will God ever dwell with his people again?

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

God in close proximity

Seth and Enoch and Noah walk with God but as they spread the world is filled with violence rather than the goodness and love of God . Noah’s family are gathered into a box to escape judgment and everything begins again as they stand at the centre of a formless and empty world . God remembers his new humanity, though Noah is soon shamed in his tent - and we wait for God to do something deeper in his people.

As the world is repopulated men seem keener to dethrone God than to know him . The LORD appears to Abram sending him to look for a city built by God , where his offspring will live. While he waits he meets with God as he builds altars. One night the Word comes to him , reminding him of promises, and walking between the divided pieces of sacrifices. In fire and smoke Abram knows God.

His family becomes a nation, exiled and enslaved, until God remembers and returns to meet with them. Jesus saves this people out of Egypt and brings them to his Father at the mountain . He speaks with his people to prepare them for his Father to shows Moses the pattern for a tent where they will meet with him. This tent looks like a garden , with curtains embroidered with angels , all very evocative of Eden.

The leaders get a taste of meeting with God, eating a fellowship meal with him , while Moses sees Jesus face to face, talking to him as with a friend , he longs to see the Father and gets a glimpse of his back. While it is impossible to see the Father and live yet it is the loving and personal presence of God with his people that makes them distinct from all other peoples. The Holy Spirit is among them . God in close proximity.

Monday, December 27, 2010

God Involved. God estranged.

This is the first of five posts this week in a series God in the present tense, designed to tell the story of God and his people.

Some paint a picture of a distant god who might ‘spiritually’ be with us but who will finally dwell in heaven while we dwell on a peaceful earth. Others say the physical is evil and so god is disinterested in us. And others suggest that if god did come near it would evidently be to smite us and therefore he should be disbelieved.

The Bible tells a different story.

Before the beginning, the Son is present with his Father, given love and glory . They know and enjoy one another’s presence before anything is made, before anything else they know us and give us grace . Against this backdrop God comes into the dark, empty and formless world, announcing his presence in person as the ‘Light’ to spread beams of love into his world and divide the darkness.

God takes man out of the dust and put him in his garden. The Father and Son and Spirit were never alone, and so it is not good for man to be alone . He must have a bride, just as the Son will have a bride. Together they are sent to fill the whole of God’s good world , to cultivate a global Eden, a temple in which they will enjoy intimacy with one another and with God. God involved, personally.

They live together with God, without shame , until the serpent leads them astray from their pure devotion to Christ , and they turn on one another and hide from the face of the Word who walks in the garden. They sought to be like God on their own terms instead of receiving from him. Even as they hide he seeks them , before sending them away from his face back to the dust , barring the way to the mountain with the swords of angels . Cain will be driven further from the presence of God. God-estranged.

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Reading Jesus into the Bible?

Any decent evangelical reader of John's gospel knows that 20:31 is the key to the book - it's where John gives his "author's purpose" to be giving us good cause to believe in Jesus the Christ & Son of God. Consequently we're happy to use this to interpret events many chapters earlier. It's sensible, right?

So how come, when Jesus says in John 5 (Bible chapter 1002) that Moses wrote about Jesus we're afraid to let that shape our reading of things in Bible chapter 1 (Genesis 1) or countless other parts of the Old Testament. We're told when it's done within John it's considered to be reading in context, but if you do it to the Old Testament you're reading into the text?

What's the difference? Ok, multiple human authors involved, but it's the same Holy Spirit inspired Scripture which is meant to make us wise for salvation? And that's the kind of salvation that only comes by calling upon the name of the Lord who came to give his life up and to die so that forgiveness would be preached to the nations. If Moses didn't write about Jesus he has no business being a Scripture writer, and if he did then we should probably notice and pay attention rather than pretend he's not there...

"Hang on a minute! That was a bit unexpected"

This was the catchphrase of the church we visited on Christmas day where the Scriptures were open at Luke 2:1-12. The point being that the LORD coming in the way he did was a bit of a surprise... and I do see where that's coming from. And I am thankful the Scriptures were open, songs full of gospel were sung among a people who I trust know the Father, Son and Spirit - likely far better than me.

Yet the notion that the Christmas story was a surprise, that Christianity is a surprise doesn't quite ring true.

If you're the god-of-this-age or believe in a philosophers-god (god = people but very big) then it's not what you'd think 'god' would be. This is a distinction worth remembering. But Luke's point in his gospel, along with the other evangelists, seems to be exactly the opposite - that this Jesus came as he did is exactly what we should have expected, after the LORD had spent all history setting the stage and writing the grammar of the gospel, laid out in the Old Testament. This is no new idea. The Christ had long been expected, and this Jesus is that Christ.

So, "a bit unexpected"? No, methinks not. Part of what makes Christianity so different from pop-religion, this is the way of the Triune God, it always was. No surprise if you have the books of Moses open and your eyes open. God does what he gives us reason to expect he would do. He gives and serves and blesses and loves, which is unlike us but very like him.

He has always been doing this, and he wrote it in Moses and the prophets. He doesn't do things unexpectedly - he's not unreliable and unpredictable - he shares his plans with his prophets. This isn't 'putting God in a box' but about knowing God to be one you can cling on to and whose love wont fail you. The Triune God can be trusted, and when God promised that people would find the Christ in Bethlehem, the Saviour, it wasn't a shock but exactly what he'd promised he would do - and his promise rings onward and outward, even to save stupid, arrogant people like me, to bring me to himself forever.

The unexpected thing to do with that is to receive this love, and pour myself out for others, which is senseless if you have a different gospel, but the only reasonable thing when it comes to the Christian gospel.

Come, Thou long expected Jesus, Born to set Thy people free;
From our fears and sins release us, Let us find our rest in Thee.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas is the story Moses wrote

We had a tour of a Synagogue as part of our Newfrontiers Leadership training a couple of weeks ago. Our Jewish guides assumed that we would know nothing of the Old Testament. Ironically five of our previous six study days had been on Biblical Theology and The Prophets, and more obviously if Christianity is anything it the message of the Old Testament (though many Christians do run scared of the OT).

Our guides clearly revered the Scriptures, and particularly the books of Moses, but seemed to have no notion that they testify about Jesus (or particularly much sense of Messianic hope at all...). This isn't ironic but tragic, and something that Jesus himself ran into on many occasions. We could have been in John 5 where Jesus challenged the Pharisees for being Moses experts but missing him or John 9 where the Pharisees claimed to follow Moses and not Jesus or Luke 16 where Jesus laments the way the Pharisees have Moses & the Prophets and still miss him.

I preached part of Zechariah's prophecy last weekenend (Why Christmas?). Earlier in the prophetic word we see that the coming of Christ is, 1v70, what God spoke by the holy prophets and is 1v72 the mercy promised to their fathers and 1v73 the oath sworn to Abraham. This was not new, rather it is, 1v1 the accomplishment (fulfillment) of what had been promised before.

Moses and the prophets had said it was necessary for the Messiah to come, die and rise so that forgiveness could be preached to the nations.
" [44] Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you, that everything written about me in the Law of Moses and the Prophets and the Psalms must be fulfilled.” [45] Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, [46] and said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, [47] and that repentance and forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem." (Luke 24:44-47 ESV)
Jesus opened their minds to "understand the Scriptures" to see that "it is written that..."
They had not seen in the Scriptures, not because it hadn't been in the Scriptures, but because their minds (hearts) hadn't been open to see and believe. They'd missed good news that was written long before.

This is Jesus who had said, Luke 16v31, "if people wont hear Moses and the prophets they wont believe if they see someone raised from the dead". And, 20v37, "Moses showed that the dead are raised". Kings and prophets longed to see what child-like disciples have revealed to them by the Son from the Scriptures. They knew what was coming. They knew what they spoke of and modelled to the world.

Those who will believe Moses and the prophets will see the one raised from the dead and will have their hearts burn within them. Hearts warmed by the coming of Messiah who comes with forgiveness, pouring out life to those in the darkness, like the sun rising on Christmas morning.


See also - Glen debunks the myths of Pop-Biblical-Theology which I've been guilty of believing and teaching at times:
Myth #1 – The prophets spoke better than they knew.
Myth #2 – No-one expected the kind of Messiah that Jesus was
Myth #3 – The Apostles read Messianic meaning into Hebrew texts that weren’t intended by the original authors.

Friday, December 24, 2010

He bore the burden to Calvary

After reading Tim Keller's Generous Justice and spending (inevitably) time in Galatians I've been pondering what it means to 'bear one anothers burdens'. Keller's book shows what the implications of the gospel might look like in defending the oppressed though doesn't perhaps always show the way the gospel drives that, though his earlier The Prodigal God does that stunningly.

To bear one another's burdens...
On the one hand I could give from an excess that I have to meet someone's need. I think that's valuable but not the same thing. Carrying one another isn't just about money but perhaps can be made sense of in that way. If I am rich and my riches can cancel your debt that is good but not quite the same as the gospel. God could have upped the blessings he was lavishing upon us, but he did something more.

If I can clear your debts but the result is that I'm now in debt then I'm carrying what you were carrying. That is costly. That might me I'm long term indebted to set you free from it. Scarred and marked by love. I can't help but wonder if that's more the mark of the Christian community. After all, Jesus bore my burdens and it was fatal to him. I should have died but he died. I should have been broken but he was broken. He loved me and that meant he gave himself up for me. Not just casting me some of his riches but giving himself for me. Would I do the same for the church family? 


I need the Spirit to lead me again to the cross to die to my self, to know that the me with all its concerns that I'm so bothered about died with Christ to live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me - to bring me into a new family, a new creation existence, a whole new world with whole new ways of doing things that if embraced wont make a whole lot of sense to the watching world and will make perfect sense. A life lived within the community of the Father, Son and Spirit where loved abounds and gives, never more than the way that it was given for me at the cross of Christ.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The Father would intervene

ht: Chris Oldfield from Episode 2 of The Nativity, BBC. 22:00-23:40 mins. Available til 30th Dec. A bit of Galatians 4, a twist of Luke 15...?

Wise Man: Do you believe in God, Balthazaar? as what? a presence? an intellect? someone who created the world & moved on or someone who stayed, watching over us, as a Father? There was a time when it seems the God of Abraham intervened…[sodom, manna, exodus]

Balthazaar: but the days of God's intervention are long past - little more than stories

Wise Man: but isn't that how you deal with a child? nurturing them with constant presence; teaching them to make their own way in the world; making rules so that when the time comes, you let the child go. Because the Father no longer intervenes in the lives of his children, does that mean he's no longer there?

Balthazaar: No of course not

Wise Man: But what if the child had lost his way, or forgotten the things he was taught?

Balthazaar: the Father would intervene

Wise Man: Wouldn't you?

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Haggai

At our last Newfrontiers Leadership training we looked at Haggai as part of a study on the prophets and prophetic. I've been camped out there a bit since then with the help of Bob Fyall's work.
Bob Fyall's BST The Message of Haggai & Ezra. And two mp3s of the same material - mp3 Haggai (part 1) and mp3 Haggai (part 2)

more audios from Rutherford House. ht: Dave Kirkman

Haggai is a great little gospel book.  (though that's true of the whole Old Testament however many Biblical Theology myths might abound.) Haggai's concerns seem to centre upon God's presence with his people, the immediacy of his word to them, with an eye to a glorious future and David's throne. Haggai surely knew what was coming. Much to ponder.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Why Christmas? Tender Mercy & Sunrise

Download Sermon mp3 - 25mins

2. Tender Mercy
JESUS THE LORD COMES BECAUSE OF HIS TENDER MERCY – v78a

What motivates the Lord to come? Is he motivated by our good deeds, our brilliance, our rubbishness? No: “because of the tender mercy of our God” or “because of the heart of mercy of our God”.

The language here is immediately warm and positive isn’t it? He comes not to give us what we deserve – but with mercy. And not just a cold let off but with tenderness, with a heart of mercy. This is a depth of compassion and love for us. It’s the tenderness of a parent comforting a child, not harsh, not dismissive, not cold, but gentle, restoring, enfolding. Pleading our cause, and ultimately the baby born at Christmas gives his life in our place.

This is how God comes in the person of Jesus whose life and death display the tender heart of God. In tender mercy comes “from on high to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death.” -- to those who “sit in darkness” and in “the shadow of death” – it’s the language of life in the valley of the shadow of death in the famous Psalm 23. To those in danger & gloom, under curse & oppression, knowing injustice and despair.

Those he comes to are not those whose lives are easy and straightforward and full of confidence and success. Some say, scornfully, that Christianity is a crutch for the weak. Only those who think they’re strong and victorious make such accusations but the Lord’s heart is mercy for those who are poor and oppressed, struggling and suffering.

Christianity isn’t for the middle classes and the respectable – people like that tended to dismiss Jesus. Christianity is for the orphan, the fatherless, the weak, the sick. It is to such people, that God comes, to whom Jesus the Son of God is sent. And he comes with tender mercy for us to receive..

SALVATION, TENDER MERCY AND:


3. Sunrise
THE SUN RISES IN OUR DARKNESS – v78b-79

He comes to us at our lowest and darkest as the sunrise, v78b. On the night that Zach was born Em was in labour all night – I wont give you any more detail than that - at 4am I was advised that there were still several hours to go, I went out to get some air. It was cold and dark – it was mid March. I sat in the car and fell asleep for an hour. I awoke in the darkness – initially in fear, have a missed the birth and then with a massive shiver. I don’t think I’ve ever been as cold as I reached for my phone to check what the time was. I had to stick my head under the Resuscitaire heater in the delivery room to warm myself up. It’s cold in the darkness.

When the sun begins to rise, at first it doesn’t seem to make much difference but slowly but surely the darkness is chased away and the cold is replaced with a growing warmth. As the sun warms the birds they begin to sing and before you know it the day has come and it’s hard to believe that it was ever cold and dark. It’s this daily experience - accessible to all of us - that God chooses here to describe both our experience and the effect of his visit to humanity.

The Bible evokes the rising of the sun repeatedly to speak of the coming of God’s favour, of his benevolent rule, of the coming of life, of unstoppable progress, of wrongs exposed and of comfort and warmth. The claim is bold – though it may feel like 4am in the middle of winter, the morning comes. For people in this city, for people in this room.

What will this mean for you and for me? The cold and darkness is with us in different ways. For some life has been the 4am darkness and you can’t imagine it ever being anything else. Perhaps in:
• Hardship and difficulty has come into your life – and perhaps it was self-inflicted, you made a mistake, and that makes it doubly hard because you know that it didn’t have be this way, you could have done it differently but now there isn’t a way out.
• Or perhaps it’s not self-inflicted, the circumstances, or someone else overcame you and got you into this cold darkness.
• For others the darkness is that of avoiding God, one way or another.

And now the preacher says – the sun rises and shines into your cold darkness. Hope for us doesn’t come from within us but from outside us. We cannot chase our darkness away, but with a tender heart of mercy God comes to us. “Christmas is for people in dark places. There is darkness all-around but a light dawns.” The message of Christmas is not to find cause to be festive in ourselves but to look to that light – to the sun rising.

This brings us comfort and warmth and lifts us from ourselves to truly enjoy the good gifts of Christmas, to feast and celebrate even in the midst of our darkness. Christianity doesn’t tell us to search for the hero inside or in our circumstances – but to look to the Saviour who is the sun rising in the dark.

Jesus came to those whose lives had not turned out the way they planned, to the sick and the grieving, and to those who were his enemies. He came to warm us in our shivering coldness of our circumstance and of our hearts with his tender mercy. When God comes he does not come as our accuser or our enemy. The feeling that he is against you is a lie.

The coming of Jesus is good news: he is full of mercy and his coming is the sunrise. He has come to us and for us, but we’re faced with a choice – hide under the duvet and stay alone, or welcome the new morning and know that Jesus is the proof that God is both with you and for you. God did not come into the world with an answer or a system of beliefs, but in flesh and blood to live with us, to bring light to the darkness, and v79, to lead us into the way of peace.

Biblically, peace is about setting right what is out of place, a returning of us to relationship with our Father in heaven, with one another, and with the world. That means: an end to striving and an end to fear. Not to say that in Christian homes there are no family stresses at Christmas – but that there is a freedom from needing to religiously host the perfect Christmas, freedom from raging against God and freedom from having to go it alone.

Ultimately, the sunrise that begins at Christmas speaks of the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, of the moment on the third day after his death, a group of women went at dawn expecting to find a dead body, their hopes dashed, and their spirits broken… As the sun rose that Sunday morning they were faced with an empty tomb, and a living person. The Sunrise speaks to us daily of Jesus who drew near to his people and said that it was necessary for him to come and to die and then to rise so that forgiveness of sins could be announced to people in all nations, even here.

Those who first heard this, whose story is told at the end of Luke’s account, spoke of their hearts burning within them – very different to the experience of shivering in the darkness. So as the sun rises on your Christmas day - feel the warmth of God’s tender heart of mercy to us in the salvation that comes to us in our darkness in the person of the Son, Jesus.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Why Christmas? Salvation

Download Sermon mp3 - 25mins

At about 8:02 next Saturday the sun will rise and it’ll be Christmas Day. Except for most of us it will have begun much earlier, as all the pent up enthusiasm and excitement that the retail industry has been building up since August finally bursts through the damn at 4am and someone in the house - especially if there’s anyone under about four foot high - will have kicked off the festivities. We’re taught to wish it could be Christmas every day-ay-ay and some of us really do!

But some of us would rather bury our heads under the duvet until Christmas is over. It might be the stresses of catering for 18 people, it might be the ominous and inevitable moment when the awkward uncle says or does something inappropriate that wrecks the whole day, again.

Or, more seriously, the pain of the year and memory of those who aren’t with us. The winter is cold and cruel. This time last year I was speaking at my uncle’s funeral and we have another family funeral tomorrow.

Christmas is a time for light but the darkness weighs on us too.
Christmas looms yet we feel it is “always winter and never Christmas” – always dark and never light.

Bringing God into your Christmas compounds the sadness, doesn’t it? What after all would the arrival of God mean but more shadows? Isn’t God where Dickens got his idea of Scrooge from? We imagine god is out to condemn us, to smite us, to extinguish any hope of drowning our sorrows and having a moment of happiness.
Whatever our expectations, the striking Christian claim, marked by Christmas, is exactly that it is about God turning up, on planet earth, in human history. It’s an audacious and astonishing claim that warrants some examination, Let’s turn to this prophetic word from Zechariah, the last few verses:

76 you, child, will be called the prophet of the Most High;
for you will go before the Lord to prepare his ways,
77 to give knowledge of salvation to his people
in the forgiveness of their sins,
78 because of the tender mercy of our God,
whereby the sunrise shall visit us from on high
79 to give light to those who sit in darkness
and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.”
(Luke 1:76-79, ESV)

I want to pick out three little phrases here:
SALVATION, TENDER MERCY, SUNRISE.

1. Salvation,
THE LORD COMES TO SAVE – v77

Is God the scrooge of Christmas? Is it the one who comes to cast a shadow and steal Christmas, the divine Grinch? Christmas of course is the festival that has been appropriated to mark the birth of Jesus, 2000 years ago at the town of Bethlehem. It’s not that December 25th is Jesus’ birthday – he was probably born sometime in March – and Luke tells us this was during the reigns of Caesar Augustus and Quirnius.

Christmas gives the opportunity to recall this event, to ask Why Christmas – not so much why Dec 25th, but why did the Lord come?

V76: Zechariah, filled with the Spirit, prophesied that his child, v76, John the Baptist would prepare the way for the Lord, for Jesus the Lord. Pointing to Jesus to say – this is God come to earth.John gives knowledge of salvation as a prophet of God & preacher…. Like me this morning. John isn’t the point. I’m not the point– the point is who we point to. We point to Jesus the Lord who, v68/78, “shall visit”.

When I think of the visit of someone important my mind goes back to the day the Queen Mother visited the village I grew up in to open a new shoe factory. I was at Primary School, we got the day off, she arrived in a helicopter in the park, but beyond that the whole thing was fairly irrelevant. This visiting is not that visiting.

Visiting is Bible language for God coming to save his people – in the liberation of God’s son from slavery and oppression in Exodus, in the end of famine in the book of Ruth, and here.
• to save from our enemies – v71/74 but don’t think of a one who comes wielding weapons of war.
• This Jesus brings, v77 – “salvation to his people” which is “in the forgiveness of their sins”.
He will not come with all guns blazing to save, but rather to shed his own blood for us (for this is necessary to bring forgiveness). To give up his life for us, in our place. His salvation brings rescue and forgiveness.

Whatever else we want for Christmas, nothing is more precious than this relational gift of forgiveness is it?
• Perhaps you sense the need for you to forgive,
• Or more likely you wish you could be forgiven for what you’ve done – and yet the person you hurt doesn’t seem able to release you.

Ever wished for a fresh start? Already written your new years resolutions? And said to yourself: “next year it’ll be different”? Yet a new year doesn’t do it, I need a whole new life. And it’s this that God came to make possible. Not to condemn us or make us feel guilty and miserable, but to lift the weight of all of that off our backs once and for all – to wipe away all that stains and ruins us.

THE LORD COMES TO US WITH THIS KIND OF SALVATION. AND:

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Christmas is for the healthy, beautiful and successful?

Matt Redmond has some excellent thoughts on who Christmas is for:
"Jesus came for those who look in the mirror and see ugliness. Jesus came for daughters whose fathers never told them they were beautiful. Christmas is for those who go to "wing night" alone. Christmas is for those whose lives have been wrecked by cancer and the thought of another Christmas seems like an impossible dream. Christmas is for those who would be nothing but lonely if not for social media. Christmas is for those whose marriages have careened against the retaining wall and are threatening to flip over the edge. Christmas is for the son, whose father keeps giving him hunting gear when the son wants art materials. Christmas is for smokers who cannot quit even in the face of a death sentence. Christmas is for whores, adulterers and porn stars who long for love in every wrong place. Christmas is for college students who are sitting in the midst of the family and already cannot wait to get out for another drink. Christmas is for those who traffic in failed dreams. Christmas is for those who have squandered the family name and fortune – they want ‘home’ but cannot imagine a gracious reception. Christmas is for parents watching their children’s marriage fall into disarray."
That'd be a gospel Christmas.

The Tender Mercy of our God (mp3)

Download mp3: The Tender Mercy of our God - Frontiers Church Exeter - Dave Bish - 25mins

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Welcome the sunrise

Tomorrow I'm preaching for our church on Luke 1:67-80, Zechariah's  prophetic word concerning the ministry of his son, John the Baptist. In preparing I've found these words helping me from two who came before me:
"Zacharias intended, I doubt not, to represent Christ as the author of perfect blessedness, that we may not seek the smallest portion of happiness elsewhere, but may rest on Christ alone, from a full conviction that in him we are entirely and completely happy." John Calvin

"To me they gleam with kindly light: I see in them a soft radiance, as of those matchless pearls whereof the gates of heaven are made. There is an exceeding melody to my ear as well as to my heart in that word "tender." "Mercy" is music, and "tender mercy" is the most exquisite form of it, especially to a broken heart. To one who is despondent and despairing, this word is life from the dead. A great sinner, much bruised by the lashes of conscience, will bend his ear this way, and cry, "Let me hear again the dulcet sound of these words, tender mercy." If you think of this tenderness in connection with God, it will strike you with wonder... We read of his gentleness and of his tenderness towards the children of men; and we see them displayed to their full in the gospel of our salvation. Very conspicuous is this "tender mercy of our God." Charles Spurgeon 

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Calvinism vs. Arminianism: A debate in another country?

Two blogging church leaders in my family of churches have been pondering the question of God's sovereignty. I confess it was a debate that used to interest me, but I find myself cold to it today. Adrian Warnock lays out a spectrum of beliefs for Calvinists and Arminians and Phil Whittall has responded from another angle. This seems to be how the debate normally happens and what it's focuseed upon.

My problem is that it has begun to feel like a debate in another country, in which I used to live very happily.

What's happened? Years of relentlessly attractive Trinitarianism from Mike Reeves & others that have shaped my basic consideration of who God is.

Now I start by considering God as Father, Son and Spirit and the language is all of love and superabundant overflowing of that love. Previously I thought of God in terms of omni's and attributes and Trinity as important, necessary and impractical. I stand corrected substantially, and humbled and loved more than I'd imagined previously. I don't mean to say that those who love these debates lack such things - this is just my story.

I feel like I've been re-wired, or perhaps like the experience of moving from using dried herbs in your food to freshly cut - in some ways its just the same, but in others the effect is beyond compare.
On Saturday night a student who isn't a Christian asked me
"Is God omnipotent?"
To which the answer is: "kinda yeah but it's the wrong kind of question. Instead let me tell you about how he reveals himself to us, through his Son who was sent into this world in love to a people created in love, and who gave himself in love for us who have not loved..."

My old view of God was concerned with his divine decrees and the amount of sin in me and the amount of atonement in the cross. Now I find myself cut deeper by my spiritual adultery, blown away by the boundless love of God shown at the cross.

Am I less Calvinist? I've read more Calvin and more Sibbes to get to where I am today, but maybe I've stepped aside from the framework of some of the Systematics I'd run with previously. If Calvin was about articulating afresh God's concern for his glory (See "Piper" or gospel?) and the fundamental conviction that Jesus Saves then I'm not sure I care to ask about how much free will I have, by what mechanism I might have been chosen, and whether I can get away with not passionately pursuing my Father and still be saved and many other questions...

Maybe that's just a different kind of Calvinism, maybe I've lost the plot a bit, or maybe God is more good and more attractive and more loving that I'd seen before. Yet I don't feel like I've moved on to something clever, but gone back to something utterly basic, to the gospel and seen it filled out by the Triune God.


Mike Reeves: Enjoying the Trinity - A Delightfully Different God from TheologyNetwork.org

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Another 'love the gospel' weekend

Here's the mp3s from the Bath Spa CU Weekend. I really enjoyed the time together to get to know the CU, to preach Christ to our hearts and strategise together for some frontline mission we'll be seeking to do together in February 2011.

Main Sessions:
Do you know the welcome of God? 36mins
What is Christian Maturity? 53mins
How is your relationship with God? 30min
Your new heart's desire 44mins

Roughly the same as the previous weekend though I preached from outlines rather than scripts. Some bits were probably not so clear this time, but I think others were much sharper. Mp3s from Cardiff CU Weekend.

The Narnia Books and Films: Two ways of understanding power

Hollywood knows power as bloodthirsty lust for more, but Christian power is sacrifice - something yielded rather than wielded, something that makes us more noble rather than crushing others.

On Theology Network Steven Boyer writes on How the new films subvert Lewis's vision:
"I always felt . . . how hard it must have been, particularly for Peter, to have gone from being high king to going back to high school, and what that would do to him, do to his ego. . . . I always thought that would be a really hard thing for a kid to go through." Adamson acknowledges that this emotional turmoil was “not something that C. S. Lewis really got into,” but as director he wanted “to create more depth for the characters, more reality to the situation.” He wanted “to deal with what all the kids would go through having left behind that incredible experience and wanting to relive it.”  This emotional realism was Adamson’s explicit aim, and as a result, the screenwriters who put this scene together were actively encouraged to think about what it would be like to go from “king” to “schoolboy”—not a pleasant prospect, of course, and one to which any of us might react with bitterness and resentment, just as Peter does.
Any of us might react that way—but that is because we have not breathed the air of Narnia. We are thinking like ordinary persons (and worse, like self-sufficient, twenty-first-century, Western intellectuals) instead of like knights or kings. In Lewis’s telling of all of the Narnia tales, the children’s experiences as kings and queens in Narnia consistently transform them into nobler, more virtuous people in their own world. They are not spoiled children wanting to be kings again; they are noble kings who carry that very nobility back into their non-royal roles as schoolchildren. But not so in Hollywood. To be a king at all is to hunger for power forevermore, like a tiger that has tasted human blood and ever afterwards is a “man-eater.” To lose imperial power by being transported back to England is to become a bitter, sullen, acrimonious brat. That is just what Peter has become, and his folly is the driving force behind most of the action in the movie.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

I've found a love greater

The heaven's display the glory of God - and the sun most of all in the sky. But what is that? Is it the power of uncountable nuclear reactors pumping out the greatness of God brighter than a very large number of floodlights? Is the glory of God infinite power and oomph? Or, might the glory of God not be told of by the sun by it's relentless walking like a bridegroom, full of purpose, and of it being a source of life, pouring out life (and love) day after day unceasingly, giving of itself for our good.

How is it that Jesus displays his glory? Is it in his impressive acts and miracles, his power to create? Or is it more in the hour in which he was high and lifted up to death? The moment where he gave himself up for us?

How is it that Jesus defeats the devil? What is the power we have if we cast out a demon in the name of Jesus? Is it that Jesus packs a bigger punch? Did Jesus wrestle the devil to death? Or, was it that in the very moment the serpent thought it had struck Jesus down, that through a self-giving death that Jesus triumphed over evil? Wasn't the snatching and accusing enemy overthrown by the pouring out and giving of God for us? Wasn't the devilish way always to grab where God would teach us to receive?

And when I look sin in the face, or at least an opportunity to use my freedom to indulge the flesh by 'sin' or 'religion' or in loving service, is the answer to ask for strength to defeat sin, or is it to go with Jesus to die again to my old sinful self and rise to a new life in him? Isn't it the gospel that shames my response in such situations? And if so then isn't the answer not grow stronger but to be given up? And if I obey isn't it to obey the gospel - to die with Jesus so that he is now my life, and I live by looking away from me to him.

And isn't the richness of Jesus found in him giving up the riches he had to become poor for me, that I might share in the riches he has in his relationship with his Father. He is not the rich man who uses his riches to acquire strength, but the one who gives all he has to gather us up. Not by forcing himself upon us but by sacrifice and by wooing us, and by offering himself for us and to us. So that I come to Christ as I see him and am persuaded, contrary to everything people have sought to teach me, and yet in deep resonance with everything his world has been telling me day after day.

In the upside down economy of God I build my church best not when I cling on to people but when I give. And don't I get further when I give away my best for free and seek to pour out blessing on others, even my enemy, just as the Father freely gave his best, and the Son gave his life to give life to us. Isn't love always a giving thing, that goes beyond itself, takes me beyond myself by taking me to the cross.

And at the cross I see that "God looks on the believer wrapped up in Jesus, and loves him with immeasurable love..." (Henry Law), and love is stirred in me.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Frustrated Reality: Inception vs. Alice in Wonderland

Recently we re-watched Inception and saw Alice in Wonderland for the first time. Both are attempts to deal with suffering in similar and different ways.

Inception's Cobb is a man trying to deal with guilt and loss in his life, while Alice is a girl trying to escape from the social turmoil she finds herself in. Both are drawn into worlds that seem like dreams, and left to wonder whether they're in reality or not. Cobb has his spinning top while Alice can pinch herself to wake up.

The films are both outstanding cinematography, taking us into the creativity of Christopher Nolan and Tim Burton. Both offer great performances, from Leonardo Di Caprio, Ellen Page or from Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter particularly. Both are entertaining.

That said, Alice left me wanting more. Alice goes into her dream world, wins and comes out able to overcome all the troubles, bold and confident, defiant of social pressures in a way that seems deeply unrealistic. Cobb seemingly makes more progress in exorcising his demons but we're left to wonder whether he's even able to return to reality. Cobb's world is less utopian, less hollywood, and we'd think that would make it seem hollow, but it feels more real to me. It's bleaker picture is more appealing because suffering and guilt and loss are not easily dealt with, pain and hardship, oppression and frustration are not quickly removed or thrown off.
Alice on the other hand, inspired by Lewis Carroll did have more humour, Johnny Depp being Johnny Depp and futter-wacking is the kind of absurd relief from reality that we need some of. The ability to have fun and laugh ridiculously and take life less seriously is underrated.

Inception appeals to something in me that doesn't want an easy answer and takes frustration seriously. Alice appeals to something just as real that feels the need to laugh at life, and at myself.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A different kind of 'gospel'

Spent the weekend with the Bath Spa University Christian Union, getting into The Gospel together.

Everyone has "a gospel" of course... On Friday lunchtime I'd been on a tour of a Synagogue in London. Positively it was great to see their priority for community and family, and yet in may ways it was so empty. A devotion to the Pentateuch with no Messianic hope. Like Jesus said - they read but miss him, or in Paul's words the veil remains and they're blind to see the glory of God in the face of Jesus the Christ.

This weekend my hope was that we'd come with broken and repentant hearts to behold Christ in the gospel. And by the grace of God I think that's what happened. I'll reflect more on it but I was helped to remember that God reveals his power and glory most of all not with a punch-your-lights-out display of strength nor a god who is our accuser or adversary but rather the Triune God who sends and gives and loves and lays himself down for us.

How different the Triune God is to any other god. How different the gospel is - not a lifestyle choice, not a system of beliefs, but the answer to the problem of sin and answer to the problem 'that it is not good for man to be alone'.

In the gospel we hear an invitation into relationship from the Father who loved and so sent his loving Son and the Spirit of the Son to us. An invitation not to be snatched and taken and forced but received freely. Received by faith. What is faith? Not intellectual assent but a response to the heart to seeing beauty. Call it trust, call it beholding, call it worship, call it being apprehended by the Triune God as he comes to us in the gospel.

MP3's to follow.

Thursday, December 09, 2010

Finding your sweet spot in ministry

I spent Wednesday with my UCCF colleagues being trained by James Lawrence from CPAS. It was a provoking day to think about how to help people find their ministry 'sweet spot'.
"A sweet spot is a place, often numerical as opposed to physical, where a combination of factors suggest a particularly suitable solution." (Wikipedia)
James kept us first focussed on the nature of Christian leadership as grace-founded servant heartedness rather than having to be an alpha-male personality.

He helped us think how various tools can help us to see who we are and how we might best do the things that we're made to do. We were given us a matrix to think about ourselves as leaders as a combination of innate talent (developed before adulthood), spiritual gifts neither of which we can do much about, then skills and knowledge which we can do things about, shaped by our temperament and our passions which shape the style and context of ministry. Fit these together and we're at our sweet spot for ministry, which is likely to be energising. I'm looking forward to following some of the leads he's given us, especially to think through our 'talents'.

As I think about my desire to train leaders, to strategise for mission, to see Christians discover freedom in Christ this excites me. Certainly I feel most alive when I'm doing those things - but do I have the skills and knowledge to excel in that? Are there other things I might better employ my energy in? Are there gifts I'm neglecting or which are under-developed - what about evangelism and prophecy, two gifts I'm pursuing at the moment?

All of this sits in a context where we all have to operate outside of our sweet-spot sometimes, and none of us can do everything ourselves which is why we need to operate in team contexts. We're pointed to some Gallup research of talents which identifies 32 talents, 20 of which relate to leadership - and yet the very best leaders only have about 12/20 of the leadership talents (and an average leader only 4) - team has to be the way forward!

He also gave us some useful thinking about how to deal with weaknesses, limitations and flaws - which again all of us have to live with. I want to be playing the best part I can to build the body, I want my team able to do that, I want our church to be operating effectively - to grow the church and bless our city. I want my home group doing that, I want to see students released for that. Character and convictions are key but there is more to think on too. 





As an aside, I found James to be an excellent trainer and felt myself learning from his content and his methodology and attention to detail.

Monday, December 06, 2010

If you could ask God one question what would it be?

The members of the Cardiff University Christian Union asked their friends and this is what they said:

SUFFERING & JUSTICE
How can people who live good lives go to hell and people who have done awful things in their lives get saved and go to heaven? Why is there evil? Why do bad things happen to good people? Where is God in suffering? If you knew people would sin when they were created, why did you let it happen? If there is a God and he is in control why is there so much suffering in the world? Why do some people suffer more than others? Why does God allow people who appear not to deserve it to suffer and those who do deserve it don’t? Why has God abandoned me? If God is real why do bad things happen in the world? If all my friends and family are not Christian why would I want to go to heaven? Why does God let bad things happen? Why does God allow suffering? If God has the power to heal, why are so many people sick? If God can heal everyone why did my brother die when he was 8? Why are some people not healed? If God has the power for peace, why does he not use it? If someone dies of illness God has got it wrong!

SCIENCE
The creation of the world, big bang and Genesis? Can you believe in God and evolution? If you can how can we trust Genesis and the rest of the Bible as a whole? Genesis can’t be true? How can creation be true when all the evidence points towards evolution? Doesn’t that make the rest of the Bible unreliable? Don’t you believe in Evolution? Is it possible to believe in Christianity and evolution? Wouldn’t the big bang and evolution prove God doesn’t exist? Why have I seen half-human half-ape bones on the BBC? How can God and science be compatible? What place does science have in Christianity? Science has all the answers, so why do we need God? Can you believe in science and religion? How do they relate to one another? How does science fit into faith?


LIFESTYLE
Why should I live for God when living for myself is so fun? Why do I need God, I’m perfectly happy with my life? What’s wrong with getting drunk? What’s the relevance of God in my life, it’s not for me? I don’t want someone else in control of my life? Why do I have to change my lifestyle? Does God want me to change who I am to be a Christian? Sex before marriage? Where and why in the Bible does it say Christian shouldn’t get drunk? What does God think about gays? Why are Christians homophobic? Does God love gay people?


CHRISTIANITY 
Who is Jesus? Who made God? How do I believe in God? Why did God chose to come in the person of Jesus when he did, and not earlier? What is unique about Christianity? What’s the difference between Catholics and Protestants? Why is Christianity better than other faiths? Are other religions as good as Christianity? What’s the difference between religion and the God of Christianity? I believe in God and Jesus but am reluctant to ‘die to the world’ – is there any incentive for me to make the sacrifices Jesus asks for? Why are Christians so nice? Why do they do the good things they do? Why do Christians care for people? Why aren’t Christians perfect and sinless? How do we build a relationship with God? Why do Christians believe in God? My theology course has disproved Christianity for me, how can this be? How can Christians believe the impossible, like Jesus rising from the dead? Why are Christians the chosen ones to be saved? Are all Christians just mad – believing in things that are imaginary? How is Christianity different from cults? How can good people who aren’t Christians be sent to hell?


RELIGION
Why do you go to church? Why do I need religion and God? How is religion relevant? Why do we need religion? I was christened as a baby, am I a Christian? Why are there so many denominations? Why do they disagree on so many things? Why constrain yourself to a set of rules? Why do Christians need to pray together, can’t God hear them when they pray on their own? Why isn’t it enough to be a good and moral person? Can I go to heaven for being a good person?


PSYCHOLOGICAL QUESTIONS
How can we tell that religion and worship aren’t just social pressures and coping mechanisms? If you’re brought up in a Christian family how can you claim not to be brainwashed? How can you suddenly change your mind and become a Christian? Isn’t it just a crutch to be a Christian? Isn’t it just social pressure to be a Christian?

BIBLE
Isn’t Christianity just a spin off of other ancient stories? How come we still need to study the Old Testament? How does it apply to my life today? How do we know the Bible isn’t just made-up stories? Why did the God of the Old Testament appear to be violent and angry but in the New Testament he’s the opposite? Does the Old Testament point to Jesus? Is the Bible sexist? Should the Bible be read literally in every context? Why should I believe the Bible is God’s word when it was written by men? How can I trust the Bible if it is written by Christians? How can you prove that the Bible is historical evidence and trustworthy? Can you trust what the Bible says? Why read the Bible? 


KNOWING GOD
How can you have a relationship with an abstract notion who may not exist? God, why don’t you show yourself to us more clearly so we can all believe you and not just imagine? Why can’t I see or hear God? Why doesn’t God reveal himself so I can see him and believe? How do you know God? Can you physically hear God’s voice? How do you know it’s God and not just a coincidence when a tough situation gets sorted? Why doesn’t God show himself to me? How do we know God is real? What’s the proof? How can you prove there is a God? How can we know that Jesus is the true God? How does God exist to me? How can I know and understand God?

Sunday, December 05, 2010

A Love the Gospel Weekend

Home from a weekend of preaching Christ to my own heart in the company of the Cardiff University Christian Union. Four sessions aiming to be a love the gospel weekend. Mp3s:

1. Do you know the welcome of God? (Mark 15) - 34mins
2. What is Christian maturity? (Galatians 2/3) - 53mins
3. How is your relationship with God? (Galatians 3/4) - 40mins
4. Your new heart's desire (Galatians 5) - 42mins

I was speaking from outlines instead of scripts. This gives an extra freedom in speaking but I think it tends to add about 15% to the length of the talk. Here I also added a 5min intro mini-sermon each time on the purpose of preaching to set our expectations for the weekend, and illustrate where I'm coming from. Whether I made either of those calls right is up for grabs. I'm working through them again for another CU next weekend.

Friday, December 03, 2010

The Grace of God (Terry Virgo)


3a. The Gospel of Grace from Terry Virgo on Vimeo.

Transformission mp3 Series (Mike Reeves)

Over the past four years we've been gathering students for our one day Transformission conference in Exeter. We've dealt with some weighty subjects but not for the sake of increasing our knowledge but to hear the good news about Jesus again, to repent and believe and to have our hearts warmed and by the Spirit, to be transformed for mission. Each year Mike Reeves has joined us as our speaker.

Load up your iPod with these 12 mp3s. Why not get some friends to do the same - work your way through them together, feed your heart and mind and life with the gospel.

1. Enjoying the cross (1)
2. Enjoying the cross (2)
3. Enjoying the cross (3)
4. The Word of God (1): The Most Valuable Word
5. The Word of God (2): The Christian Word
6. The Word of God (3): External Word
7. Union with Christ (1)
8. Union with Christ (2)
9. Union with Christ (3)
10. Love of God (1): The Loving Father
11. Love of God (2): The Glorious Son
12. Love of God (3): The Heart-melting Spirit

Wednesday, December 01, 2010

Who is God?

Ron Frost reflects on our relationship to God as Father:
"In what he shared of his faith there was no reference to God as one who is personal to him—of God as his Abba, Daddy. Instead the man spoke of his confidence in his training and his devotion to the truths of the faith as the measure of a sound Christianity. My thought, by contrast, was that a new life in Christ has a real impact on someone."
It's a common enough observation of much Christianity - confidence in truth and truths, and yet rare sense of personality and relationality in Christianity. I talk with Christians who can speak readily of God as Creator, as Sovereign and yet is God not fundamentally love? Didn't his love precede his creating? And isn't any authority and power he has formed by his gospel-shaped love that makes it less power-wielded and more power-yielded through the potency of a life-giving Father, the self-giving of the Son and the intimacy that we have through the ministry of the Spirit living within us?.

Frost ends with more questions:
"So let me ask this question: what are the true marks of a Christian? Is a sense of personal intimacy with God among them? Or is it just an option for some of us but not for all?"