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Archive for October, 2008

… in any sense of the word.

Cindy Jacobs mobilised a Day of Prayer for the Global Economies on October 29th.

So these Christians went down to a Wall Street statue symbolic of the global financial system.  They laid hands on a metal image of a bull and prayed.

 

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And they sang ‘God Bless America.’

 

Yikes!

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Source Wonkette via Jesus Shaped Spirituality.

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Freed will

Previously on Christ the Truth…

We discussed the impossiblility of a humanistic account of freedom. To say ‘I am who I am / I will be who I will be’ is both idolatrous and, ironically, makes us slaves of our own desires.  Such “freedom” enthrones the self and simultaneously locks the self off from the claims of others in whom I find my true self.  Satan rules us precisely where we seek to rule ourselves.

So then, rather than begin with Adam in the garden exercising his will to disobey, we decided to think freedom from the perspective of Jesus – the Other Adam in the other garden. As the Son He is beloved, obedient and free.  And yet in Gethsemane He definitively proved that these things are not competing realities but perfectly expressed in Him.  The One who calls God ‘Abba’, submits Himself entirely to the unbound will of the Father and in so doing expresses supremely His identity as the Son.  The Son was never more gloriously Son-like than in this act of supreme obedience.  To have chosen disobedience would not have been the exercise of freedom but the abandonment of His own Self.  The decision for obedience was simultaneously the decision for freedom.

From this way of thinking we have a quite different definition of freedom.  Perhaps something like:  “The responsible use of the will in expression of ones true self.”  Or perhaps “Keeping in step with your grace-given, relational identity.”

When we have this kind of definition then the capacity for evil cannot create or increase freedom but only thwarts the responsible use of the will.  We realize that freedom is not expressed but forfeited in the choice of evil.  It is only mantained in obedience to God.

So then, “Am I free to sin?”  By no means!  Free to sin??  Such a statement should strike us as completely confused and confusing.  I’m free to be His slave, and in this way only is my freedom upheld!  (cf Romans 6!)

Once this understanding of freedom is in place then we can side-step a lot of unfruitful theological discussions.  We don’t have to argue about the when, the how and the how much of our supposed ‘freedom’ to rebel against God.  How could we recognize disobedience as freedom or freedom in disobedience?  It can only ever be slavery.

And yet what does Ephesians 2 call us in our natural state?  ‘Sons of disobedience’  (Eph 2:2).  By nature our identity is given to us through our fallen head Adam.  We cannot please God (Rom 8:8) but can only live out our rebellious desires.

Into this situation Jesus comes as Redeemer.  And He purchases us for Himself.  More on that next time.

But here’s the point for now: The Christian does not believe in free will.  Not in the abstract and certainly not by nature.  We believe in freed will.  (I got this phrase from Casey.)  We are not free to choose or not to choose Christ.  We are liberated by Christ now to be free in Him.  To walk in freedom we must begin from our redemption in Christ.  We simply cannot work towards this freedom but receive it from the outset.  Whatever else the doctrine of election is trying to uphold, this must be central – we do not choose ourselves into Christ but rather find ourselves chosen in Him.  We have not exercised our freedom to make Christ ours, He has accomplished our liberation to make us His.

So then Rousseau’s famous statement, ‘Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains’ is exactly wrong.  Man is born a slave but everywhere he walks free since Jesus has loosed our chains.

Next time we’ll consider what freedom means for the Christian.  How does this account of freedom help me to live out my discipleship day to day?

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Eating with Jesus.  What a privilege!  And what danger!  There need to be warnings.

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I preached this sermon at a service of Holy Communion in another church. 

It was essentially an extended warning to all would-be communicants: If you eat with Jesus you are confessing to Him and the world that you are a sinner.  Jesus eats with sinners.  Only with sinners – He has not come for the righteous.  The righteous must go hungry. Only the needy, the sick, the outsiders, the unclean, the powerless, the guilty will find Bread.  You are qualified by your unworthiness.  Entirely unfit and therefore welcome. 

So come.  And let your coming be your contrition, let it be your confession, let it be your repentance and your faith.  Come and eat with Jesus.

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It’s the kind of sermon I want to be preaching until I die.  Listen here – the text is Mark 1:40-2:17.

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Advice please

This is for everyone – both preachers and hearers of sermons.

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Imagine you had three minutes with a young preacher to pass on advice.  And imagine that they would take to heart what you had to say for the rest of their ministry.  What, from your perspective, would be the most important things to say?

I’d be really glad to hear your comments – a) as a young preacher and b) I’m writing something on the topic.

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Meditating on Mark 4 has made me think about genuine Christian growth.  Gospel transformation is not like manufacture.  It’s agriculture.  It’s the word planted deep – fragile but potent, internal but outgoing, gradual but multiplying beyond all expectation.   

Anyway I wrote this kids song on the theme.  Fake Plastic Trees (Country Hoedown) (again, recorded on handheld voice recorder with Yamaha keyboard late at night trying to keep it down!  Anyway, you get the idea.) 

(The underlined word is the first beat of the bar):

Years ago my daddy said
You my son was born and bred
To grow the greatest fruit seen in the state.”
He left me seeds and plenty land
Fertiliser, by the bag
But that just takes too long, and I can’t wait (no sir)

Well – a short cut must be found
I aint diggin’ in the ground
Maybe fruit trees I can make
Don’t really matter if they’re fake

I’m stapling fruit upon the tree
Apple, mango and kiwi
Folks are laughing but I don’t know why
I’m glueing grapes onto the vine
Nailing up a clementine
While people laugh and holler, point and sigh.

Well – my fruit trees look okay
If you’re standing half a mile away
But – it makes it hard to chew
When your fruit is dipped in superglue

Once I thought to “grow” a plum
Stuck it on a pole with some chewing gum
My daddy saw me and he shook his head
Son you’ve gone and lost your mind
You’re an apple short of a crumble pie
Your tryin to create life from what is dead.”

Well – he looked me in the eye
He said “Son, I’ll give it one more try
Here’s my best advice to you
This is what you need to do”

Fruit takes time, leave it on the vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The life within will sprout, you can be sure
The seed has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you’ll reap and so much more

Well my Pa is kinda wise
So I heeded his advice
I took my time and planted all his seed
Six months on it grew up slow
A hundred fold of what I sowed
More than all the fruit I’d ever need

Well – success I’d never had
When I listened to my dad
These the words that made a hit
Learn them well and don’t forgit

Fruit takes time, leave it on the vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The life within will sprout, you can be sure
The seed has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you’ll reap and so much more

Well Jesus spoke about His word
It’s like a seed and when it’s heard
It goes down deep, get’s planted in our heart
Later on it sprouts up new
In joy and peace and goodness too
So listen to His word to play your part

Fruit so tender and so choice
When you listen to His voice
Learn the lesson from the seed
These the words that you should heed:

Fruit takes time, stay in the Vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The Life within will sprout, you can be sure
The Word has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you’ll reap and so much more

Fruit takes time, stay in the Vine
Plant it deep, it grows up high
The Life within will sprout, you can be sure
The Word has power, let it flower
Through the sun and through the shower
What you sow you’ll reap and so much more

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Do you believe these words from Jesus:

Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, welcome it, and produce a crop–thirty, sixty or even a hundred times what was sown.  (Mark 4:20)

Christ’s promise for Christian fruitfulness is out of this world.  3000%, 6000% or 10 000% is an incredible yield.

Do I dare believe in this kind of growth?  To put it another way, Will I hear and welcome this word?

We would believe Jesus if He said “five times what was sown!”  We marvel at 300% yield.  We settle for two-fold growth.  But Jesus promises something so supernaturally grand we must ask, If I believed Jesus’ words about Jesus’ words how would I treat Jesus’ words? 

Well Mark 4:20 means I’d hear them and welcome them. 

Mark 4:10-12 means I’d hear them with Jesus at the centre – allowing them to draw me to Him.

Mark 4:15 means I’ll hear them prayerfully, recognizing the spiritual battle undertaken every time they’re heard.

Mark 4:16-17 means I’ll cling to them when trouble comes – allowing the trouble to drive me deeper into Christ in His word.

and

Mark 4:18 means I’ll be vigilant against wealth, worry and wanting as powers competing in my heart for attention.

But Jesus promises — PROMISES — that hearing and welcoming His word in this way will produce a transformation in our lives beyond belief.

How will the word produce transformation?  The way a seed produces growth.

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It will be:

Weak Looking but Powerful

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Internal but Outgoing

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Gradual but Multiplying

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First, Weak Looking but Powerful

Tim Keller tells the story of a man from the middle ages who was so terrified of meeting Jesus at the judgement that he commanded a giant marble slab to be put over his grave.  Apparently he did this so that, when everyone else was resurrected, he would stay down.  Well before the burial was complete and the slab was laid, an acorn fell into the grave. Over the years, a great tree grew, split the slab in two and moved it off the grave.

You might have thought, What chance does a little acorn have against a giant marble slab?  No contest, the acorn wins.  It looks so weak but it is more powerful than a team of horses.  Weak but powerful. 

Just like the Word.  You say a few words about Jesus, you speak truth into another person’s life and it looks pathetic.  And yet eternities are changed and lives are transformed. 

Second, Internal but Outgoing

Last week a friend of mine told me of the worst pain he’d ever felt in his life.  In the midst of it the words came to him: “My grace is sufficient for you for my power is made perfect in weakness.” (2 Cor 12:9)  It enabled him to handle that pain with an astonishing peace.  Where did that word come from?  It had been planted there.  And it grew up later with an amazing power to comfort.  The word goes in and it comes out organically.  

This is not the parable of the Brick Supplier who drops off masonry to four different builders.  That would be a story about externals and effort and easily measurable growth.  But no, the word goes in like a seed and later, organically, it comes out.

Third, Gradual but Muliplying

Think of this: within a single acorn lies all the genetic information required to produce not only an oak, but from that oak will come scores of new acorns.  And from them more trees with hundreds of acorns and so on.  Given enough time a single acorn could cover the whole earth in wood.

Luther knew this gradual but multiplying power.  When explaining how he opposed the whole Roman church he said this:

I simply taught, preached, and wrote God’s Word; otherwise I did nothing. And while I slept or drank Wittenberg beer with my friends Philip and Amsdorf, the Word so greatly weakened the papacy that no prince or emperor ever inflicted such losses upon it. I did nothing; the Word did everything.

 That’s the power of the word. 

So do we believe Jesus when He says, Thirty, Sixty, a Hundred-fold?

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This is from a sermon I preached on Mark 4:1-34:

Listen here

Read here

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Justin Taylor points us to a very helpful book review by Andy Naselli, whose blog looks great!  What follows is taken straight from Andy’s blog – do check it out for yourself.

Three views on the New Testament use of the Old Testament outlines the following three positions:

Walter Kaiser Jr: “Single Meaning, Unified Referents: Accurate and Authoritative Citations of the Old Testament by the New Testament”

Darrell L Bock: “Single Meaning, Multiple Contexts and Referents: The New Testament’s Legitimate, Accurate, and Multifaceted Use of the Old”  

Peter Enns: “Fuller Meaning, Single Goal: A Christotelic Approach to the New Testament Use of the Old in Its First-Century Interpretive Environment”  

 

The book orbits around five key questions:

  1. Is sensus plenior an appropriate way of explaining the NT use of the OT?
  2. How is typology best understood?
  3. Do the NT writers take into account the context of the passages they cite?
  4. Does the NT writers’ use of Jewish exegetical methods explain the NT use of the OT?
  5. Are we able to replicate the exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the OT that we find in the writings of the NT?

And the general editor, Kenneth Berding, helpfully tabulates a summary of their answers:

 

 

Kaiser

Bock

Enns

Sensus plenior?

 

No, the prophets knew where their prophecies were heading.

 

Yes, but only in the limited sense of acknowledging that the OT writers could not always see fulfillments that emerge later.

 

Yes, because Christ-as-telos holds it all together. This, however, is not the way to resolve the “hermeneutical tension.”

Typology?

 

Yes, but it must be seen ahead of time and possess “divine indication” that it is a type.

 

Yes, and fundamental for resolving difficult cases; can be either prospective or retrospective.

 

Yes, but again not the way to resolve the hermeneutical tension.

Context?

 

Yes, both the immediately literary context and the antecedent “promise-plan” context are important.

 

Yes, the immediate “exegetical context” is drawn upon but the “canonical context” is the key.

 

Sometimes yes and sometimes no.

Use of Second Temple exegetical methods?

 

No, such comparisons are misguided.

 

Sometimes yes, but constrained by the NT authors’ commitment to canonical reading.

 

Yes, and this is the central issue in the discussion.

Replication?

Yes, because the NT authors are careful interpreters just as we should be. Yes, but particularly in terms of their overall appeal to canonical themes. Yes, but less in terms of their exegetical methods and more in terms of their “Christotelic” goal.

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Though I’ve not read the book, the first comment on Andy’s blog puts well my gut reactions to this issue:

 

From Tom Keiser:

One thing consistently missing, or at best, minimalized, is the question of the proper exegesis of the OT texts. Kaiser seems to best deal with this idea, although not always directly. The tendency is to see OT exegesis as primarily historical. Little consideration seems to be given to the possibility that OT writers were speaking primarily theologically, and applying theological principles to historical situations. If that is the case, than proper exegesis should be focusing on the theological ideas presented rather than simply their historical application. This perspective has profound implications when trying to ascertain the NT writers’ understanding of the OT. If they understood the OT texts as presenting primarily theological principles, then many of their applications to Christ would no longer be problematic, but rather reflect accurate “historical-grammatical” exegesis. Of course, this consideration does not resolve all issues, but does alleviate many tensions.

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Seriously, Happy Creation Day everybody.  Hope you’ve been enjoying the festivities.

The other day I started talking about freedom: Beginning with ourselves will never get us to a sustainable or satisfying account of freedom.

When we say: “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, it is both blasphemous (Exodus 3:6) and the very expression of our bondage.  We become trapped by an identity that can allow no foreign claims.  We simply become identified as one with a capacity to choose.  And yet in maintaining that capacity as an absolute sovereignty we are defined in abstraction from the relationships that form and direct us as choosers.  I’m a slave to my desires.  Ephesians 2:1-3.  In the very act of gratifying the cravings of my flesh, right then I am enslaved.

We can’t begin our thinking about freedom with ourselves.

So where should we begin it?

Well it’s very popular to begin with man choosing in the garden.

Yet if we begin in Eden, what account of freedom results?  We effectively define freedom as the ability to choose or not to choose certain paths.  The ability to act otherwise is seen as the very ‘freedom’ which the LORD grants humanity.  And so of course the decision to eat the forbidden fruit becomes an expression of free will (defined as a power of self-direction).  On this account Adam exercised freedom in disobeying the LORD even though it was a freedom with a cosmically heavy price tag.  And so in this very popular telling of the freedom story, “Freedom” (which is now almost by definition the ability to disobey!) is some unquestioned Good that is traded off against the consequences of its exercise – “Heck, the fall was bad, but that’s the price of freedom!”

Hmmm.

What kind of “freedom” is this?

Well let’s ask – how does it compare to divine freedom?  Is the freedom of the Father, Son or Holy Spirit a freedom that would be expressed in choosing evil?  Well the Scriptures continually tell us that the Almighty, who can do whatever He pleases (e.g. Psalm 115:3), cannot sin, lie, deny Himself.  He who is free does not define His freedom as the ability to do evil.  For the divine Persons to choose any course of action contrary to their Personhood would be an expression of slavery not freedom.  For the Trinity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is it enhanced by such opportunities.

This holds also for humanity in the new creation.

In the New Jerusalem the forbidden fruit is gone, the tree of life alone takes centre stage. (Rev 22:1-3).  Not only will humanity never fall, there won’t even be the option for us to do so.  That’s a wonderful thought (unless you’re eye-ball deep in the humanist version of freedom!).  But more than this, the bible calls this new creation state of affairs freedom.  Galatians 4:26 says the Jerusalem above is free.  The saints in glory now and the redeemed earth then will be characterized by mind-blowing freedom (cf Romans 8:19-21).  So for glorified humanity, freedom is not the ability to do wrong, nor is freedom enhanced by such opportunities.  Freedom flourishes even (and especially!) when there is no option but to continually serve the Father in the Son and by the Spirit.

So then, we’re going to have to get a different definition of freedom.  Where from?  Well perhaps our initial instinct wasn’t so bad after all.  Maybe we do need to begin with man choosing in the garden.

Gethsemane is the garden.  And Jesus is the Man.  He will show us what true freedom looks like.

Think first of who He is – the Son.

This speaks of many things – let’s highlight three:

  1. Christ’s Sonship means He is loved.  He is the eternal Son of His Father’s love (Colossians 1:13).  He is the Object of the overflowing love of the Father – the Original recipient and goal of all the Father’s omnipotent grace.
  2. Christ’s Sonship means He is obedient.  As Son, Jesus always does His Father’s will (John 5:17ff).
  3. Christ’s Sonship means He is free.  Sonship is consistently contrasted with slavery by Jesus and Paul (e.g. John 8:31-36; Galatians 4).  He is the Liberator who is Himself the True Free Man.

These three aspects of His Person are perfectly coordinated in Jesus.  We can never play off grace, obedience and freedom.  In our thinking we may consider them to be opposed but when we trace these things back to their centre in Jesus we see that they perfectly inform and explain one another.

And so how does this Man in this garden show us true freedom?

Let’s consider Mark 14:36:

“Abba, Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.”

First He acknowledges His filial relationship with God – ‘Abba, Father’.  All the shades of sonship we’ve just discussed should be in the forefront of our minds.

Next He acknowledges ‘everything is possible for You.’  The Son doesn’t go to the cross because the Father is ‘all out of options.’  No-one is holding a gun to the Father’s head – not the Son, not some necessary logic of redemption, nothing.  What happens happens in the Father’s will – a will unbound by any forces beyond Him.  The Father is indeed free from compulsion (though this is not our final definition of freedom).

But finally, when Jesus says ‘Take this cup from me, yet not what I will but what you will’ He confesses a different will to that of the Father.  In all of history, in all of theology this is unparalleled.  It is stunning, shocking, scandalizing… I could go on.  The Son, even if only for a moment, is considering an option other than obedience to His Father’s will.  Even though He is the obedient Son, even though He is the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world (Rev 13:8) and the Son of Man who must die (Mark 8:31), He contemplates another way.  It seems like no-one is holding a gun to the Son’s head either.  He must die, because He will die.  And He will die voluntarily.  In a reversal of Eden, the last Adam submits His will to the Father’s and in this submission expresses true freedom.

It is not rebellion that demonstrates freedom but obedience.  This is the great difference between popular notions of freedom and Christ’s.  Choosing does not make us free – choosing submission (paradoxically!) does.  When we view things in the Son we see that obedience and freedom, rebellion and slavery are inextricably linked.  The only free choice is the one for obedience.

Ans so where Adam chose self-rule and brought slavery, Christ chose submission and brought redemption.  It’s at Gethsemane that we see true freedom for there we see the true Son, truly loved by His Abba, Father and truly obedient to His will.  “Everything is possible” is not the definition of freedom.  It’s the use of these possibilities that demonstrates true freedom.  And this use is only a liberated use when it is obedient.

From this we get a different defintion of freedom.  It’s not about options, it’s about responsible use of the will in expression of your grace-given, relational identity.  The capacity for disobedience is not a criterion for freedom and choosing to disobey can only be slavery.  Instead true freedom is found in Christ and by the power of the Spirit, living out your blood-bought sonship (daughtership) in obedience to the Father’s will.  To choose anything else is the bondage of the will.

In future posts I’ll look at the implications of this for the non-Christian and the Christian.

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Happy Birthday to you

Happy Birthday creation!!

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(h/t Archbishop Ussher)

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Also Happy Birthday Weird Al Yankovic

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Coincidence?

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15 Steps

Love the song.  Love the animation (a finalist in a Radiohead competition)

 

 

.What verse springs to mind for you?  For me it’s the curses for disobedience in Leviticus 26:36-39:

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“`As for those of you who are left, I will make their hearts so fearful in the lands of their enemies that the sound of a wind-blown leaf will put them to flight. They will run as though fleeing from the sword, and they will fall, even though no-one is pursuing them. They will stumble over one another as though fleeing from the sword, even though no-one is pursuing them. So you will not be able to stand before your enemies.  You will perish among the nations; the land of your enemies will devour you. Those of you who are left will waste away in the lands of their enemies because of their sins; also because of their fathers’ sins they will waste away.  (Lev 26:36-39)

 

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Freedom

An evocative word.

What does it mean to us?

Usually it means a freedom from some kind of power so that we can realize our true potential.  ‘I’m free to do what I want any old time.’  That kind of thing.

The question of ‘Who is this “I” who can do these things?’ is usually considered to be a restatement of the freedom mantra: I am the one who can do what I want.  “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, as Someone famously once said.

The link between such an account of freedom and the divinisation of the self becomes obvious in a thinker like John Stuart Mill.  He said this in On Liberty:

In the part [of the conduct of an individual] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of course, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Now notice that Mill is concerned here with conduct that ‘merely concerns ourselves’.  He’s well aware that the independent exercise of our wills can harm others and diminish their freedom.  He’s no dummy.  He has a whole apparatus of ‘rights’ with which to negotiate the competing claims of our own absolute freedoms. 

When Christians argue against Mill, the argument should not be: “Hey, if everyone thinks they’re sovereign they’ll ride rough-shod over everyone else.”  That would be a very pragmatic objection and one to which Mill has a whole raft of pragmatic solutions.

No, the problem is not what humanity does with their self-rule (they could be thoroughly virtuous with it).  The problem is self-rule.  Mill effectively poses the question, Who has the absolute claim over my life?  He answers: I do.  Mill’s philosophy here (which is the air we breathe in the West) is nothing less than the enthronement of man upon Christ’s throne.  

But in critiquing such ‘freedom’ we can do more than simply denounce it as blasphemous.  We would do well also to expose it as the worst kind of bondage.  Why bondage? 

Well let’s ask the question,  Who is this self who is exalted to the throne?  Who is the “I” that can do whatever “I” want?

Tellingly, this ‘freedom’ cannot positively give you an identity.  In fact, to be true to itself, this kind of ‘freedom’ must refuse to tell you who you are.  All that such ‘freedom’ can offer is the protection of a sphere in which you can pursue your desires.  It gives you a kingdom (of one!) and a throne and it operates a strict immigration policy.  Yet this border-patrol must not only exclude impediments to your desires, it must also exclude forces that would seek to direct those desires.  It must repel all foreign claims upon you and leave you with an absolute and unquestioned independence.  You have your kingdom and your throne, but who are you?  Well, You will be who you will be.  And so, left to rule your own kingdom, you are a prisoner of your independence.

Consider this piece of advice being given to millions of men and women around the world right now:

“Don’t let anyone tell you what to do.  You’re your own man / your own woman.” 

Now aside from the inherent contradiction on show here, notice how you are to be directed in your sovereign rule.  You must direct yourself.  And the reason?  You belong to yourself.   This is the infuriating circularity

I direct myself.

Who is the I who directs?

The one with power to direct.

or

I belong to me.

Who is the one who belongs to me?

The one belonging to me.

What’s missing in all this is an environment in which to exercise our freedom.  We have been treated as though the choices we make in expression of our self-hood are grounded only in ourselves as individuals.  Yet we are who we are in a network of dependent relationships.  The expression of our identity through responsible living and choosing necessarily occurs within an environment.  Divorced from this environment, any experience of ‘freedom’ will actually take us away from our true selves.

This is the experience of the ant-farm in this famous Simpson’s clip…

The ants may have longed to be free from their glass case, but ‘freedom’ from the ant-farm proves to be “horrible” indeed.  It destroys their very selves to be ‘free’ from the environment supportive of their own life and being.

We are the same. We don’t exist as free floating individuals to whom the greatest gift would be independence.  We are truly free when properly related to the environment in which our personhood flourishes. 

And this is why Mill’s definition of freedom does not help the exercise of responsible choice, it radically undermines it.  Because I have been stripped of all claims upon me, all direction from outside, all sense of a context wider than me, I am left with a self that can only be defined in reference to itself and its own decision-making capacity.  I have a naked self exercising a naked power, cut free from all that’s actually constitutive of my identity.

Therefore, necessarily, I’m going to have to go outside myself in order to live out my irreducibly relational existence.  I need to, so to speak, make an alliance with a foreign kingdom. 

Now our experience of this will feel like it falls into one of two categories:

Either A) I embark on an alliance as a dispensible means towards my self-determined end.  In this case I’ll drop it as soon as it’s inconvenient — I’m in charge using you. 

Or B) I genuinely give myself over to the foreign power and am determined by it — You’re in charge using me. 

But the bible says, in practice A) is our sinful intention but it always collapses into B). 

Let’s think about Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

In our natural state we ‘carry out the desires of the body and mind’.  You might think that sitting on the throne of your little kingdom is the definition of freedom.  But no, precisely as we ‘gratify the cravings’ (NIV) of the body and mind we are following the devil.  Just as we think we are exercising our self-rule, in that act we are being ruled by Satan.  We imagine we’re strong enough to pull off A), in reality we have no bargaining power with the world, the flesh and the devil – they’re in charge using us.

The similarity between Mill’s quotation on freedom and Ephesians 2:3 is chilling.  To exercise ‘sovereignty’ over our ‘body and mind’ is not freedom at all.  According to the bible that is slavery. 

If we’re going to find a true freedom it will have to be on an entirely different footing.

More on that later…

 

 Rest of series:

Where to begin?

Freed will

Living free

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Titus 1:9 in my amplified translation:

[An elder must be] Continuing to hold fast / grasp / embrace / protect the word of faith according to The Teaching, so that he is able, on the one hand, to encourage in healthy teaching and, on the other, to prove to opponents their error.

The word for ‘holding fast’ is elsewhere translated “grasp” (Dt 32:41); “embrace” (Prv 3:18) “protect” (Prov 4:6); “hold fast” (Is 56:2,4,6); “make refuge in” (Is 57:13); “be devoted to” (Matt 6:24). 

Interestingly enough the teaching which we are to embrace is (Rom 6:17) the teaching which embraces us.  We hold fast this gospel and at the same time it is this gospel over to which we have been handed.

The Christian’s (especially the Christian teacher’s) relationship to the gospel is portrayed in almost marriage terms of mutual cleaving.  We serve, honour and protect it – and it serves, honours and protects us!

But why?  My almer mater’s motto was “Be right and persist.”  Not the warmest, fuzziest motto you’ve ever heard!  And even if you agree with the sentiment, why be right?  For the sake of doctrinal precision itself? 

Titus 1:9 continues… To what end do we ‘cleave’ to the apostolic gospel?  So that

1) we can encourage with healthy teaching and

2) we can prove the error of those who would corrupt it.

William Taylor, speaking on this verse, gave a striking illustration of both the gospel’s health-giving quality and the need to guard against all corruptions.  I have adapted it a little:

Imagine you get a job as a courier for a pharmaceuticals company.  And one day you are called to the lab to pick up a very special delivery.  You arrive at the lab and you are told ‘We have discovered the cure for AIDS.  Here it is in this vial. We want you to take this immediately to Africa so they can duplicate it and save the lives of millions.’  Well you take hold of this fragile vial which is covered in yellow tape saying ‘Do not open’ and ‘Do not break the seals.’  And you get on the next flight to Johannesburg. 

But imagine sitting on the plane and thinking: this cure doesn’t look very promising.  I’m not sure it’ll be attractive to the folk in Africa.  So you think ‘I’ll spruce it up a bit.’  You tear off the yellow tape, break the seals, open the vial and decide to pour in the rest of your drink.  You stir your Coke in and put some sweetener in for good measure.  Shake it up, lose a bit.  Doesn’t matter, you’ve made the whole thing much more tasty.

As you arrive in Johannesburg you’re met by a scientist desperate for this cure.  She sees that the seals have been broken and her face falls.  You’ve turned the health-giving cure into a toxic poison- and lives are lost.

That scenario is just unthinkable isn’t it?  And yet many people entrusted with passing on the gospel tamper with it in just this kind of way.  They add or they subtract or they sweeten according to their own tastes.  They feel it is their job to concoct their own elixir, rather than pass on the bona fide cure.  But no!  It is the job of the elder NOT to mess with the bible’s teaching.  It is the job of the bible teacher to simply embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and deliver it unadulterated.  The bible teacher must be absolutely and utterly unoriginal.  We must treat the good news about Jesus like the health-giving cure for AIDS – embrace it, rejoice in it, protect it, and never, ever change it!  And if you see anyone else changing it you say ‘In the Name of Jesus Christ stop.  Return to the original, life-giving message!’  Because the gospel saves people from a fate far worse than AIDS.

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This is adapted from a sermon on Titus 1:5-9 I preached yesterday. 

Audio file hereRead it here.

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Who said the appendix is redundant?  There’s some brilliant appendices to Bible Overview

How about this from Paul Blackham – he answers 24 frequently asked questions about an explicitly Christ focused Old Testament.  Here are the questions – if you want to read his answers – buy the book!

Appendix I – Frequently Asked Questions (Written by Paul Blackham)

 1. Do we need the New Testament?  If the gospel was set out in the Old Testament and the ancient church was saved by that revelation, then is the New Testament ultimately necessary?

 2. Weren’t the writers of the Old Testament trying to work out what they had written, according to 1 Peter 1:10-12?

 3. Did the writers of the Hebrew Scriptures understand what they were writing?

 4. How much did the Old Testament saints really know about the person and work of Jesus Christ?

 5. According to Hebrews 1:1-3, didn’t God have a different revelation in the Old Testament?

 6. If the Old Testament church knew so much, what was the point of the incarnation?

 7. What difference did the incarnation make to God the Son? How did the incarnation affect Him?

 8. In Hebrews 11:40 doesn’t it seem as if the Old Testament church was imperfect until the New Testament church came along?

 9. According to Exodus 6:2-3, did Abraham know the name of the Lord?

 10. When Jeremiah spoke about a ‘new covenant’ was he looking forward to a different way of salvation?

 11. What are the differences between the church in the Old Testament and the church in the New Testament?  What are the areas of continuity and discontinuity?

 12. We just speak about ‘Jesus’ all the time, but what name did the Old Testament saints use to refer to God the Son?

 13. What is the meaning of the day of Pentecost in Acts 2?  Is it ‘the birth of the church’ or perhaps ‘the coming of the Spirit’?

 14. Why does Paul speak about the ‘mystery’ that was not revealed to people in the past as it has now been revealed in the New Testament?

 15. Why do so many Christians think that the Angel of the Lord is God the Son?

 16. Is the Word of the Lord in the Old Testament the same as the Word of God in John 1?  Is the Word of the Lord a title for Jesus in the Old Testament?

 17. Are we in a more privileged position today than the Old Testament saints?

 18. Is the revelation of God ‘progressive’?

 19. In Matthew 11:11, doesn’t Jesus say that even the least New Testament Christian is greater than the greatest Old Testament prophet, John the Baptist?

 20. Can the gospel of Christ really be understood from the Old Testament as well as the New Testament?

 21. Did every believer in the Old Testament have a personal meeting with the Angel of the Lord?

 22. How can we speak of the ‘church’ in the Old Testament when that word is never used in the Old Testament?

 23. Why did the early church think that Jesus was in Proverbs 8?

 24. Do all Christians understand the Old Testament in this way?

 

This is followed, in appendix 2, by a list of quotes from the greats of church history.  All of them uphold conscious faith in Christ from the very beginning:

JC Ryle
CH Spurgeon
RM McCheyne
John Newton
George Whitfield
Jonathan Edwards
John Bunyan
Richard Sibbes
John Owen
Francis Turretin
The Geneva Bible notes
Church of England homilies (1562)
John Calvin
Martin Luther
Cyril
Leo the Great
Jerome
Augustine
Ambrose
Chrysostom
Eusebius Pamphilius
Tertullian
Clement of Alexandria
Irenaeus
Justin Martyr
Igniatius

.That’s some cloud of witnesses eh?

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Christless Christianity

Mike Horton is promoting his new book “Christless Christianity“.  Listen here to the podcast from the ever-helpful Issues etc.

A couple of great quotes from Horton:

Christians need to hear the gospel preached not only once in their christian life but throughout – each week – because (as Calvin said) “We are all partly unbelievers throughout our lives.”

 

If I could say one thing to my fellow pastors, Sunday school teachers and to parents: we have to realize that the gospel isn’t just foreign to us when we are unregenerate. It remains astonishing, it remains surpirising, it remains unbelievable apart from the Spirit.  It is still something that takes a miracle to believe. We have just got to remember that and not take the gospel for granted.

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If there’s one thing I love in hearing preachers it’s astonishment at the strangeness and wonder of the gospel.  God save us from the world weary tone that introduces each point with:  “Of course we all know, don’t we…”   No we don’t!  That’s why we need the Word.  Constantly!

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Some mission talks

Here’s a talk I did in the middle of a pub quiz (audio here).  I posted up the script in advance here.  In the end I modified it a bit.  Essentially the original talk boiled down to ‘Go and live for Christ!’  The changes I made were basically to say ‘See how He lived and died for you… Now don’t you want to live for Him.’  An improvement I think!

Here’s a talk I did on John 4 (audio here).  If I’d known about it, I’d have definitely included this quote from Malcolm Muggeridge (thanks Marc)   

I may, I suppose, regard myself, or pass for being, a relatively successful man. People occasionally stare at me in the streets-that’s fame. I can fairly easily earn enough to qualify for admission to the higher slopes of the Inland Revenue-that’s success. Furnished with money and a little fame even the elderly, if they care to, may partake of trendy diversions-that’s pleasure. It might happen once in a while that something I said or wrote was sufficiently heeded for me to persuade myself that it represented a serious impact on our time-that’s fulfilment. Yet I say to you, and I beg you to believe me, multiply these tiny triumphs by a million, add them all together, and they are nothing-less than nothing, a positive impediment-measured against one draught of that living water Christ offers to the spiritually thirsty, irrespective of who or what they are. What, I ask myself, does life hold, what is there in the works of time, in the past, now and to come, which could possibly be put in the balance against the refreshment of drinking that water?

Sermon delivered at Queen’s Cross Church, Aberdeen, 26th May 1968, reprinted in Jesus Rediscovered (Garden City NY, Doubleday, 1969) pp76-82 and also in Seeing Through the Eye: Malcolm Muggeridge on Faith edited by Cecil Kuhne (Ignatius, 2005) ‘Living Water’ p97

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I preached on Romans 3:21-26 recently.  It’s a dense, theologically loaded paragraph on the vindication of God’s justice in justifying the unjust through the cross.  Leon Morris has called it perhaps the most important paragraph ever written.

So how to preach it? Well it’s Paul, so then clearly a strong didactic form is called for.  Verse by verse, commentary in one hand, a greek lexicon in the other.  Unpack the massive theological freight piece by piece and if you’re lucky some doxology tacked on the end (if you’re unlucky, an exhortation to evangelism).

Well, perhaps you’ll think that’s more the model I ended up with.  But close to my heart throughout the preparation was this desire simply to meditate on the three scenes Paul gives us. The law court (v19-24a); the slave market (v24b) and the temple (v25). 

To be honest, if I’d had my time over I think I would have ditched everything else and just gone with a simple meditation.  I’d have gotten the congregation to close their eyes and come with me on a journey…

You are in court. Standing in the dock. You and all humanity. The arms dealer is to your left and the amnesty international human rights lawyer is to your right. In front of you is a paedophile, behind you is Mother Teresa. But there you are in the dock.  The court room intimidates you, everything in it is against you.  You know that your very life hangs in the balance. You dread the verdict that is about to be announced.

The judge reads out these words. As he reads, you know that every charge is unquestionably true:

You are not righteous.

You have no understanding.

You do not seek for God.

You have turned away.

You are worthless.

You do no good.

Your throat is an open grave.

You use your tongue only to deceive.

The venom of vipers is under your lips.

Your mouth is full of curses and bitterness.

Your feet are swift to shed blood

Ruin and misery mark your way.

You have not known the way of peace.

There is no fear of God before your eyes.

The whole court-room is silent but the words ‘not righteous’, ‘no understanding’ and ‘worthless’ still ring in your ears. Your mouth is stopped. You cannot answer a single charge. It’s all true and the weight of condemnation is crushing.

The judge raises his gavel. There can be only one verdict. The hammer crashes down. The judge declares it:

I find you not guilty.

The court-room changes in an instant. Smiles everywhere. The judge steps down off the bench to congratulate you.  You are lost for words.

“How?  Why?  What…? 

Large doors are opened and great light comes in. The guards usher you through the doors and out into the light.

The scene has changed.

You find yourself in a first-century market-place. You are hungry. You have no shoes. Instead you stand in iron shackles – owned by a cruel master.  You have never known any different.  You stand in front of the mob and the bidding starts for you.  The price goes up and up and you dread the reasons why anyone would pay so much. 

“Sold!” you hear.  And you peer into the crowd to find out who.  Suddenly a man emerges.  He smiles, bends down and unlocks your shackles.  He stands up, looks you in the eye and says “You’re mine now.”  You reach for words but they don’t really come…  “Why?  How?  What did you pay?”

“Let me show you” He says and takes you by the hand out of the market.

Immediately the scene changes again. You are at the temple, standing – like all the other sinners – in the queue for the altar.  You are carrying a young lamb in your arms just like the law tells you.  At the front of the queue someone lays their hand on the head of their lamb, confessing their sin.  Then, holding its wriggling form down on the altar, they slit its throat – the blood gushes out.  You see the blood and you know that’s what you deserve as a sinner.  You shuffle forwards towards the altar.

Suddenly, from deep within the temple a voice booms out ‘Stop the sacrifices.’ You drop your lamb in fright, as does everyone else.  They all scurry away. Then you see the most shocking sight of your life.  The LORD God Almghty emerges from within the innnermost sanctuary.  You are stunned.  But not half as stunned as you are about to be.  In His strength the LORD strides towards the altar. He lays down on it, and carrying the sins of all the people the LORD is slain and His blood is spilt.

And now you know – the verdict you didn’t deserve, the freedom you didn’t earn – it was purchased by the blood of the LORD Jesus Himself.  You look to the altar to see your God now become your Lamb and His blood now become your atonement.  Shaking your head in wonder you leave the temple, the weight of your sin gone – the weight of His glory upon you. 

Go back to the dock.  Remember your guilt.  Now feel the wonder of the verdict.

Go back to the slave-market.  Remember your bondage.  Now feel the joy of your freedom.

Go back to the temple.  Remember the queue for the altar and whose blood was really required.  Now feel the awe as you behold the Lamb of God bleeding for your sins.

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I should have just preached that don’t you think?

Anyway – I went for a bit of a compromise.  Didactic with a touch of meditation thrown in.

Read it here

Listen here.

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From Baranabas Fund:

Hindu extremist violence against the Christian community in Orissa State, India, which started on 24 August (see previous articles : 12/09/2008, 01/09/2008), has continued almost unabated since then. At least 50 Christians have been murdered, some cut to pieces and others burnt alive. Many fear that the death toll is even higher, with one estimate suggesting that 120 Christians have been killed. About 18,000 people have been injured, many of them severely; numerous Christian women have been raped; some 4,400 homes have been destroyed; 300 villages have been cleansed of all Christians; and several orphanages and hundreds of churches and church buildings have been torched and razed. Relief camps, where Christians have fled for safety and shelter, have been attacked and drinking water has been poisoned.

 

Over 50,000 Christians are thought to be homeless, and around 30,000, more than half of them children, are hiding in the jungle, many without any food and water. Starvation is a very real danger for many of them, especially for the children, the elderly and the sick. Christians wanting to return to their homes have been told by the Hindu extremists: “Come back as Hindu or don’t come back at all.” Many who dare to return to their villages are forcibly converted to Hinduism. Sometimes the Hindu extremists pour petrol over the Christians and then ask them to convert; if they refuse they will be burnt.

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Go here for more including prayer points and ways to give financially

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Bible Study Helps

Here’s a brilliantly helpful resource for New Testament study: Links for Expository Preaching

For every NT book there are stacks of links to online resources under the following headings:

Introductions, Overviews, and Short Commentaries

Full-Length Commentaries

Historical Commentaries and Sermons

Expositional Studies

Expository Sermons

and

Other Links

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In fact between this resource and his excellent blog, Milton Stanley may just be the one stop resource for all your blogging and bible study needs! 

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