Archive for July, 2009
For the next 48 hours the Listener’s Bible’s having a sale.
You can get the entire NIV, ESV or KJV read by Max McLean on mp3 CDs for $40 (£25).
Or how about this for a nifty little product. The GoBible is an mp3 player with the NIV preloaded on it. You can go directly to any verse and bookmark where you’re up to. There’s a topics index that’ll take you to relevant verses, a stories index with 225 preloaded bible stories and there’s also a Bible-in-a-year plan you can follow on it.
During the sale it’s $90 (£55).
I haven’t been asked to plug this, I just think they look like good resources.
For thawed-out Thursdays. First posted in Jan 2008…
How should we attain humility? Determine to think low thoughts of yourself? You’d be defeated before you began. Self-deprecation is still self-deprecation. No, to be humble we need to be humbled.
Daniel 4 gives us a great picture of this. Nebuchadnezzar, the most powerful man in the world, is humbled by the triune God who is ‘able to humble’ ‘those who walk in pride.’ (Dan 4:37).
As a young(ish) Australian male I know a little something about walking in pride. What can I learn from Daniel 4 about humility?
First, the hero of the piece, Daniel, accomplishes his work only in the power of the Holy Spirit.
“I know that the spirit of the holy gods is in you and that no mystery is too difficult for you.” Dan 4:9 (LXX has ‘Holy Spirit of God’ – translating the plural ‘gods’ as elsewhere in Scripture)
“None of the wise men in my kingdom can interpret it for me. But you can, because the spirit of the holy gods is in you.” Dan 4:18. See also 5:11,14 (LXX translates them all as Holy Spirit of God)
Without the Spirit, Daniel has nothing to offer. With the Spirit, Daniel is wiser than the wisest men on earth.
Second, the promised King of God’s Kingdom is described as the Lowliest of Men.
“the Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the Lowliest of men.” (Dan 4:17)
In the great inversion of all our human expectations, God’s choice for King is not simply a lowly man, but the Lowliest of men. The King of all kings is the One who says “I am gentle and humble in heart.” (Matt 11:29) How can Nebuchadnezzar exalt himself when the Chosen One of the Most High is the Servant of all?
Third, Nebuchadnezzar learns humility when he worships the Most High God:
34 At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes towards heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified Him Who lives for ever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; His kingdom endures from generation to generation. 35 All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No-one can hold back His hand or say to him: “What have you done?” 36 At the same time that my sanity was restored, my honour and splendour were returned to me for the glory of my kingdom.
With his eyes turned upwards, Nebuchadnezzar praises Him Who lives forever. The sovereign glory of the Omnipotent Father draws out of him awed worship. I’m told (and I can believe it) that the Grand Canyon will take your breath away – no-one stands on the rim with high thoughts of themselves. And no-one can confess the majesty of our Father and not be correspondingly humbled in the process.
So how do I fight pride? The doctrine of the trinity of course. I need to know that anything I have of worth in God’s service is a gift of the Spirit – “What do you have that you did not receive? And if you did receive it, why do you boast as though you did not?” (1 Cor 4:7).
I need to know that the Lord of Glory is Himself the Lowliest of men. His glory is His service. So how can I exalt myself above Christ?
I need to know that the Most High Father is awe-inspiring in His heavenly power. As I worship Him I find a grateful ‘nothingness’ by comparison which is, at that very moment, my restoration to honour.
To be enfolded in the life of these Three is to be well and truly humbled.
I’m starting a new intermittent series. Just some incidental acts or assumptions in the bible that make you think…
Here’s the first:
Hannah was praying in her heart, and her lips were moving but her voice was not heard. Eli thought she was drunk. (1 Sam 1:13)
The expectation was that Hannah would pray out loud. And even when Hannah prayed silently, she still mouthed the words.
Reading that recently made me feel a little less stupid about my practice of walking along the seafront praying with my mobile phone pressed to my ear. The phone is to stop modern day Eli’s thinking I’m drunk, because today expectations are reversed. Today we’re crazy if we do pray out loud!
But I have to pray out loud or my brain wanders quicker than you can say ‘Our Father.’ Good to know that ‘out loud’ was the OT assumption.
People pray out loud. And even if they’re quiet, they mouth the words. If your brain is a wild wanderer (and whose isn’t?), then here’s a top tip brought to you by Bible by the bys.
Try saying that out loud!
Maybe your earthly father had short arms and deep pockets. Or long arms and shallow pockets. Or crossed arms and closed pockets.
Your Father in heaven is different.
He’s rich beyond your wildest imaginings. 6 times Pauls says it in Ephesians (1:7,18; 2:4,7; 3:8,16).
He’s rich – rich I tells ya. And it’s just the normal word for wealthy. Loaded. Rolling in it. Stinking, filthy rich. Like Abraham (Gen 13:2), like Solomon (1 Kings 3:13), like ‘the rich man’ (Mark 10:25). Your Father is no pauper.
And neither is He a miser. He lavishes His children with every treasure at His disposal. First, He commits all things into the hands of His Son (John 3:35). The nations are His inheritance (Ps 2:8). The whole creation is a love gift for Him (Col 1:15-16). But for the sake of His Son, and so that He might be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29), the Father brings us into His inheritance. We become objects of the Father’s lavish philanthropy.
But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. (Eph 2:4-5)
In Christ we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that He lavished on us (Eph 1:7-8)
And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. (Eph 2:6-7)
But perhaps you don’t feel able to appreciate this wealth. Maybe you’re not feeling the benefits of this incredible union with Christ? Well God’s riches aren’t just for the bestowal of grace, they enable you to appreciate these blessings too:
I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith (3:16-17)
You know what this means? God even has riches that awaken us to the riches He’s already bestowed! Talk about grace upon grace.
And if we despair that we don’t already possess these riches in their fullness, Paul has another prayer:
I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in the saints (Eph 1:18)
What a day of sumptuous opulence and overwhelming prosperity when we are heirs of God, co-heirs of the cosmos with Christ and when God Himself inherits us His saints.
What can we do in the meantime except…
…to preach to the nations the unsearchable riches of Christ (Eph 3:8)
Christ is the storehouse of the Father’s overflowing bounty. We beggars, who’ve gotten rich quick, tell the world where to find true wealth.
Friends, rejoice. Daddy’s rich.
Something I think the Lord has been teaching me recently is to prize both these truths:
I am in Christ
Christ is in me
I am clothed in an alien righteousness but also filled with an outworking Power. My standing before God is entirely outside myself – in Jesus. Yet my walk in the world is enabled by an energy that is no less heavenly in origin but that springs from a new core within – the new heart. Will’s sermon on the New Birth is a great help in this direction.
Here are some more thoughts from Watchman Nee’s little book on Ephesians – Sit, Walk, Stand. In this section he is moving from our ‘seated’ reality with Christ in the heavenly realms (Eph 1-3) to our ‘walk’ in the world (Eph 4-5).
God has given us Christ. There is nothing now for us to receive outside of Him. The Holy Spirit has been sent to produce what is of Christ in us; not to produce anything that is apart from or outside of Him…We have been accustomed to look upon holiness as a virtue, upon humility as a grace, upon love as a gift to be sought from God. But the Christ of God is Himself everything that we shall ever need… Our life is the life of Christ, mediated in us by the indwelling Holy Spirit Himself.
No wonder that this is Paul’s prayer as he transitions from the ‘seated’ reality to our earthly ‘walk’:
14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge–that you may be filled to the measure of all the fulness of God. (Eph 3:14-19)
Thinking and preaching through 1 Corinthians recently, it’s so stark what a mixture the Corinthian church was. Successful and troubled. Their congregation contains former male-prostitutes, idolaters, thieves, drunkards and swindlers (6:9-11). What a work of grace to convert this lot from their dark past. As this motley bunch meet together, called saints by the Father (1:2), in fellowship with the Son (1:9), a temple of the Holy Spirit (3:16), they lack no spiritual gift (1:7). Paul always gives thanks for them (1:4). And yet they are foolish, divided, litigious, permissive, immoral, selfish, drunken and unbelieving. If your friend was moving to Corinth, would you recommend this church?
Well perhaps you wouldn’t recommend moving to Corinth full stop. Here’s a sailor town full of all sailor town vices. Here’s an overwhelmingly pagan culture that not only has no Christian memory, but never had one to begin with. Yet here Paul planted the gospel seed, Apollos watered it and God grew a church (3:6) right there in the midst of a culture about as unChristian as you could possibly imagine.
But what a reflection of the gospel that Paul proclaimed to them. Here are unwashed heathen who are now washed, sanctified and justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God (6:11).
In line with his gospel, Paul is able to address them as dearly loved brethren and to deliver stinging rebuke. The Corinthians really are genuinely loved and they really are genuinely wrong, foolish and sinful. And the intensity of this dual reality is increased by the very success of their church.
I heard Tim Keller say in a 1 Corinthians sermon that we don’t experience the degree of trouble they did because we’re not as successful as they were. It’s the churches that really confront the culture and really grow in the midst of opposition that will produce these kinds of problems. If we don’t know these kinds of discipleship issues in our own churches it’s probably because we’re not reaching the people the Corinthians did and/or not growing or seeking to grow like them.
Of course this made me think of our friend Mark Driscoll. And how I need to be far more public in saying ‘Thank God for Driscoll’. And far more praiseworthy of the gospel ministry that seems to be happening through Mars Hill and Acts 29 .
The gospel means we are simultaneously righteous and sinner. And it means gospel communities and leaders can be critiqued and critiqued harshly (just read 1 Corinthians) without ever implying that they’re not a gospel community. No, because they’re a gospel community there will be sin (just as there is deep and dark sin in me). But there is also much to give thanks for and much to praise.
I thank God for Mark’s incredible gifts, his passion for Jesus, his gospel-focussed preaching and his mission-mindedness. Which is quite a list! I wish those things could be said of me with even a fraction of the same intensity.
On the other hand I’m very uneasy about his macho-christology, his macho-manliness, and what I perceive to be a major lack of humility. These things are problems. I happen to think they really need pointing out and cautions raised, especially given his popularity.
Now I know I have a whole bagful of my own problems. In fact if I had a hundredth the gifting and a thousandth the success of Driscoll I’d be just as proud, probably much more so.
But what I get a bit tired of is the all-or-nothing approach to Driscoll. Either he’s Satan himself, leading thousands astray, or he can do no wrong – any criticism justified immediately by his success or explained away as an understandable reaction to a wicked culture or liberal Christianity. Paul never said to the Corinthians ‘Yes you’re getting drunk at communion, but I understand your missional context and great giftedness so I’ll forget about it.’
Please, let’s believe the gospel. We are simultaneously righteous and sinner. Mars Hill can be successful and troubled. Driscoll can be loved and critiqued. And we don’t have to collapse one into the other.