Archive for December, 2008

New Years Encouragement

 Here are Paul Blackham’s wonderful new year’s sermons from All Souls, Langham Place.

Galatians 4:9

Matthew 11:25-30

2 Corinthians 5

1 Corinthians 15:20-26

John 3:1-21

His Matthew 11 is a personal favourite (surprise surprise).


And here’s my new year’s encouragement to our Wednesday communion service this morning.  A little ten minute sermon.  It’s David and Goliath again.  Here’s my conclusion…

We are the fearful and faithless Israelites, standing behind our brave Champion.  But friends, He has won!  And we have not contributed a calorie of effort – all we’ve done is flee from Goliath and deride our King.  Even so – His victory is our victory.

And so, as in 1 Samuel 17, we LOOK, we SHOUT and we ADVANCE.  Of course we don’t advance killing Philistines, but we do make in-roads into enemy territory as we spread the gospel.  That’s a wonderful consequence of Christ’s victory.  We LOOK, we SHOUT and we ADVANCE.

 But perhaps you don’t feel like shouting this morning.  Perhaps you’re not looking forward to advancing into 2009.  Well what would you say to an Israelite at this battle who remained unmoved by David’s victory?  Clearly they haven’t seen it properly.  Or they don’t realise how it affects them.  What would you tell them?  You’d say LOOK – LOOK to your Champion.  Don’t grit your teeth and advance anyway.  Don’t look to your own strength and convince yourself you can take on Goliath.  LOOK at Christ.  Your champion has won the battle for you.  And He won it for you when you were weak, faithless, sinful and cowering in fear.  Doesn’t matter.  He has done it.  You might still be weak, sinful, cowering, faithless.  Doesn’t matter.  He has won for you salvation, forgiveness and new life. 

So LOOK, SHOUT and ADVANCE into 2009.



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Summing up

Let me take this end-of-year opportunity to sum up what this blog has been about…


Christ the Truth means Jesus is not just the one Way or one Life, but the one Truth of God.  Truth – all truth – is in Jesus. This means all our thinking about God must begin with HimNot some Christ-principle but Jesus of NazarethNot some divinized ideal but the actual Jesus of the Gospels.

When we do this we realize the cruciformity of the Christian GodThe Lamb is at the very centre of the throneHis glory is the glory of self-giving and not the glory of self-centredness

How can this be?  Our God is trinity.  He is One and ThreeGod’s One-ness and Three-ness are not un-coordinated perspectives.  Rather the Oneness of God simply is the communion of these concrete and particular Persons.  To approach God’s oneness in this way guards against many errors and brings many benefits.

Of course this christocentric, trinitarian approach is not a New Testament novelty.  Christ has always been the object of faith and hope for Old Testament believersRevelation has always been on a trinitarian dynamic.  The Hebrew Scriptures themselves give us a trinitarian witness on their own terms and in their own context

From this it becomes obvious that there are no true understandings of God that are not Christ-centred, trinitarian revelations.  Neither reason, nor creation, nor religion (be it biblical or unbiblical) can offer us stepping stones towards true knowledge.  We either begin with the Christ, the Son of God or we don’t begin at all.  Yet from Christ we can reason truly and understand the wealth of God’s revelation in all the universe.  This is faith seeking understanding and is the proper method for all enquiry.

All of this is to say that the God with Whom we have to deal is never an abstract deity but always the very concrete Jesus with His Father and Spirit – He is always and at all times irreducibly the God of the Gospel.  And His being is unfolded and expressed precisely in the gospel economy.

From the Father has come His Son to lay hold of our humanity in incarnation, and to die our death in crucifixion.  This has always been the way of the LORDHe rose again as Head over creation and ascended to the Father’s right hand in glory

Humanity is not free to choose participation in this life.  Rather we are freed by the Son to enjoy His status.  We find ourselves as those already embraced by this triune God.  We find ourselves participating in this divine nature – loved with the eternal love of the trinity.  

Faith is not a thing we contribute to this salvation. It is a looking unto Jesusthe very opposite of self-regard

In this we find our identity – not in personality types but in Jesus.  We find our assurance – not in personal piety but in our perfect Priest.  We find our encouragement – far above and beyond ourselves, in Christ who is our righteousness. Since this is so, sinning really isn’t the worst thing – refusing His forgiveness is.   We respond to sin by looking away from self to our Champion.  This is not cheap grace, but the true grace of God

Such a gospel overflows in our hearts with singing.  And with proclamationwe believe therefore we speak.  Preaching is basically the heralding of our Champion’s victoryThis proclamation is itself the Word of God.   And it is our sole task as we await the return of Jesus – not the moral, social or political reformation of society (or even ourselves), but the proclamation of King Jesus.  And its point (it’s application if you will) is not moralism but always to look to Him.

That’s basically what I’m on about. 


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You’ve gotta read this!

…Ted [Haggard], gentle readers, is now living proof that “it” doesn’t work the way “it” is supposed to work. Ted is now a living demonstration that, darn it, we aren’t fixable. A good church with a kickin’ band? Great shoes and suits? Sermons researched by assistants and delivered with the proper film clips and jokes? Nope. Tear filled illustrations? Prayer groups? Sermon series on mp3? Book? Seventeen verses of the latest “I love you Jesus” song? A big smile?

All worthless for real sinners like Ted and yours truly.

No Ted, it’s resurrection or nothing. It’s Jesus does the whole deal or there is no deal.


Read the whole thing.


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Thinking about the last post

Why does Matthew Parris see God as the hope for Africa but not for Europe?

Well his diagnosis of Africa’s problems boils down to this: too much crushing passivity and collectivism.  And so…

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

While he makes excellent points about the need for Christian evangelism in Africa, we must ask: Is Africa the only place that needs ‘liberation’?   Surely to avoid an awful colonial condescension, we’d want to answer no!  But the alternative is to say that the Christian God needs to liberate both the African animist and the Western atheist.  Wouldn’t it?  But Parris is a western atheist.  So what’s going on?

Effectively Parris wants Christianity to convert Africa to the Enlightenment!  You see Parris has his own gospel of fearless individualism that will transform Africa’s fear-bound collectivism.  The great trouble for Parris (and for all secularists) is that he has no basis for bringing this philosophy to Africa.  He’s not allowed to proselytise.  The very autonomy that he prizes is incapable of crossing cultures.  How can the individualist enforce individualism?  Simply modelling it will not be enough as he himself admits.  The group-think, the tribalism, the spiritual bondage to fear is too great.  So what does he need?  He needs a stronger spiritual power that can proclaim freedom for the captives.  But what he also needs (yet doesn’t own up to) is the warrant to cross cultures with such universal truth claims. 

He’s wants to piggy-back on Christian evangelism to bring one aspect of the gospel’s fruit to Africa.  This really shouldn’t surprise us.  The Enlightenment itself had to come via this route.  It didn’t have the power of its own rational cogency to birth itself!  It flowed out of a distorted Christian gospel, and could only have done so. 

You see, Parris’s fearless individualism based on unmediated access to God isn’t the Christian gospel.   What’s it missing?  Well, notably – the Mediator and the community – Christ and His church.

Why has Parris missed such obvious elements of the gospel?  Because this is precisely what the west collectively misses.  If Africa’s problem is ‘fear-bound collectivism’ who could deny that the west has an equally dire problem: ‘me-first individualism’?

And from this problem the west, equally, needs liberation.  And for this problem there is only one solution – the Christian Gospel.


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It’s been a busy week.  I’ve only just read this from the the Saturday papers and now realise it’s all over the blogosphere anyway – nonetheless…

Whenever evangelicals lose their nerve, Matthew Parris (columnist for the Times) can be counted on to set us straight – atheist though he is.

There was this famous piece in 2003, declaring that Evangelical Anglicans were right to oppose gay bishops.

As it happens I do not believe in the mind of God. But Christians do and must strive to know more of it. Nothing they read in the Old and New Testaments gives a scintilla of support to the view that the God of Israel was an inclusive God, or inclined to go with the grain of human nature; much they read suggests a righteous going against the grain…

Revelation, therefore, not logic, must lie at the core of the Church’s message. You cannot pick and choose from revealed truth.

Or there was this brilliant aside here when comparing climate change advocates with Christians:

British ministers talk about climate change in the way many Christians talk about their faith. If they believed only half of what they profess, then the knowledge would surely have galvanised them, shaken them rigid; they would be grabbing us by our lapels and begging us, imploring us, commanding us, to repent.

But his Saturday piece on Christian evangelism as the hope for Africa was just excellent:

Now a confirmed atheist, I’ve become convinced of the enormous contribution that Christian evangelism makes in Africa: sharply distinct from the work of secular NGOs, government projects and international aid efforts. These alone will not do. Education and training alone will not do. In Africa Christianity changes people’s hearts. It brings a spiritual transformation. The rebirth is real. The change is good…

Christianity, post-Reformation and post-Luther, with its teaching of a direct, personal, two-way link between the individual and God, unmediated by the collective, and unsubordinate to any other human being, smashes straight through the philosphical/spiritual framework I’ve just described. It offers something to hold on to to those anxious to cast off a crushing tribal groupthink. That is why and how it liberates.

Those who want Africa to walk tall amid 21st-century global competition must not kid themselves that providing the material means or even the knowhow that accompanies what we call development will make the change. A whole belief system must first be supplanted.

And I’m afraid it has to be supplanted by another. Removing Christian evangelism from the African equation may leave the continent at the mercy of a malign fusion of Nike, the witch doctor, the mobile phone and the machete.


Of course in among all those “M” words there’s a glaring omission – but the point is well made no?


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David and Goliath sermons



Preached on 1 Samuel 17 twice today.  I tried to make them fairly different (for all the twicers).

The morning was a more detailed look at the text (audio).

The evening was a bit more drawing out some implications (audio).

A lot of this first saw light of day in this series: Five Smooth Stones.


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ok the Christmas clock is against me.

So let me just say that for all the talk about incarnation manifesting the triune glory and incarnation giving coherence and consummation to creation, the biblical emphasis falls overwhelmingly on salvation as the reason for incarnation.  (Though of course the interconnectedness of God’s outgoing being, creation and salvation ought to give us much to chew on!)

But let’s realize that Jesus comes as Saviour.  And Saviour from sin.

John 3:17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. 

1 Timothy 1:15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst.

 1 John 3:8 The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.

How’s it all work?  Well due to time constraints, let me simply link to a sermon I preached last year from Hebrews 2Audio here

Christ as the Seed of Abraham (singular) lays hold of us, the seed of Abraham, (plural).  He sums us up so as to be our substitutionary Lamb and merciful High Priest.  He lives our life, dies our death and now presents us to the Father in Himself.  Therefore…

“As you look into the manger this Christmas, look with irrepressible hope.  There, in the face of Christ, you see not only the Father’s self-giving love.  There also you see yourself.  There in the manger is your humanity laid hold of by Immanuel.  There is your life, hidden with Christ.  And His victory is your victory, His future is your future, His righteousness is your righteousness, His joy is your joy.  God has gotten hold of you, permanently, irreversibly.  Christmas guarantees it.”

I wish you all God’s blessings in His Son.  Rejoice that they flow to you because today He became our Brother.  Happy Christmas.


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