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Archive for September, 2009

Not just Passover, but Red Sea crossing.

Not just saved by the blood, but delivered over to new life.

Not just baptised into His death, but sharing in His resurrection

That’s the gist of this sermon on Exodus 13 and 14 – preached last night.

We looked at Passover last week.  We rejoiced in the fact that we are saved by our Passover Lamb, Christ, apart from works.  But commonly these are the kinds of responses people make to that message:

Great! He’s handed me a blank cheque to sin

Well, maybe, but He doesn’t love me now or He’d save me from these troubles

Fine, but I’m still stuck in sin.  His salvation doesn’t seem to help me today.

But as we look at Exodus 13-14 we see that each of these responses is faulty.  Rather, we are SAVED… FROM THE OLD LIFE… THROUGH HARDSHIPS… WITH DIVINE POWER.

Sermons so far:

Church in the Wilderness 1 – Introduction

Church in the Wilderness 2 – Passover

Church in the Wilderness 3 – Crossing the Red Sea

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From Halden:

“I do not seek my own glory” (John 8:5). With these words Jesus set a precedent for all those who claim to follow him. Fundamental to the call to discipleship is the renunciation of seeking to glorify, to magnify, to enhance and promote oneself.

It is often thought that this calling is based on the distinction between God and humanity. God should be glorified, not us. Therefore we refuse to glorify ourselves and instead glorify God. Indeed, aspects of the Reformed tradition insist that God’s whole aim in being involved with the world is to glorify God’s own self. Thus, we glorify God rather than ourselves because God wants to glorify God’s self rather than humanity.

However, this is all entirely wrong. Jesus, according to the Christian confession is God’s very self come among us. Thus, when Jesus reveals that he does not seek his own glory, he is stating something that is not only to be true about us, but preeminently about God’s own life. God’s life consists in the refusal to seek self-glorification. Rather, the life of the Godhead itself consists in the loving mutuality of the trinitarian persons who only seek the glory of one another. Thus, Jesus seeks the glory of the Father rather than his own, and so also the Father seeks to glorify Jesus (John 7:18). Finally, God also fundamentally desires to glorify humanity: “those he justified he also glorified” (Rom 8:30).

So, we do not reject the quest of self-glorfication to somehow “make room” for God’s desire to self-glorify. Rather we reject self-glorification because that’s precisely what God is like. To reject the quest for self-exaltation is, counterintuitively, the very epitome of what it means to be God-like. We don’t reject self-glorification because self-glorification is reserved for God alone. We reject it because self-glorification in any form is demonic.

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1) How does Piper square his love of Jonathan Edwards with his own pre-mill and credo-baptist theology?  Is there anywhere where he talks about parting company with Edwards?

2) Does anyone see the irony of two young guns bumping fists behind Piper just as he lays into the dumb guys that surround Wilson?  Or was that irony intended by said young guns?

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Anthropogenic?

There’s a mouthful of a word.

Perhaps we’re aware of the term ‘anthropogenic’ to describe climate change?  The climate is changing – climate always does – the question remains, is man (anthropos) the cause (genesis)?

A lot of people say yes.  Some say no.

This guy says “maybe… some… but that’s not really the issue.”

h/t The Old Adam

I’m entirely unqualified to make any scientific adjudication, but I make two observations.  One is that the Kiwi presenter seems a really lovely guy.  Just lovely.  The other is that something like Professor Carter’s position sounds psychologically and theologically very plausible.  It sounds like the kind of explanation in which fear and pride play the kind of role we know they do in people and in societies.

Well how might fear and pride lead to a view on anthropogenic climate change?

On the fear point – we love to conceive of our problems as anthropogenic because we find it intolerable that things just happen. If the economy goes down, show me the banker and let’s make him pay.  If we get sick, show me the diet, exercise, medicine regime and I’ll take back control.  Don’t whatever you do tell me that economies just fail, or illness just happens, or volcanoes just erupt or climate just changes – that’s way too frightening.  We’d even rather that the blame fell on us if it meant taking back some measure of control over this scary world.

And as technologies and affluence advance in certain parts of the world we become increasingly used to comfort and control.  And, ironically but demonstrably, we become increasingly fearful and so demanding of such comfort and control.  Fearful hearts need control – we need to be in charge of things, even things as impossible as the future!

On the pride point – we’d love our problems to be anthropogenic because then our solutions must, almost by definition, be similarly man focused.  We take back control of our destiny when we cast the problems of the world as lying in man’s power.  And with renewed vigour we set off on our own salvation project.  The is the ‘feel good factor’ that Professor Carter speaks of.   There’s the feel good factor of a works righteousness based on reducing my carbon footprint.  There’s the solidarity of a global movement mobilising for change.  There’s the sense of significance that comes from saving the planet – taking charge of our destiny.  These can legitimately be described as religious affections and they have a massive effect.

Now you may ask: Would fear and pride play so significant a role that the assured findings of the scientific community would be affected?  Well, again such mis-perception and mis-interpretation sounds theologically plausible to me.  If you’ve hung around this blog for long enough you’ll know something of my deep suspicion of the fallen mind!

I raise this as a little thought on our human nature in the context of a debate that is, admittedly, way above my pay grade.  I’m sure you can shoot me down as a red-necked, anti-science, conspiracy theorist.  I’m just saying that I see Professor Carter’s position as theologically very credible.  And I hope that counts for a lot among my reader here.

The desire to see our problems as anthropogenic is as old as Adam.  He thought nakedness and shame were the problem.  So he thought sewing fig leaves was the solution – simple human problem with an attainable human solution.  All the while his Real Problem was walking in the garden in the cool of the day.  But he didn’t want to face his Real Problem (who was also his Only Solution).  So he hid.

And ever since, the race of Adam has continued to put ourselves at the centre.  We would love to be this world’s problem, we really would.  But this world’s problem is not us – it’s Jesus who is coming on a day set by the Father and subject to nothing but His own gospel patience.  Be advised, our problem (and solution!) is in the highest heaven.

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Happy Friday

Here’s a literal take on Take On Me.  But I bet you’ll smile more because of the original.

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This is a Thawed-out Thursday Re-post.  There a reason why I’ve chosen this one, but I’ll let you in on it later…

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Once I was in a preaching seminar with 15 other young guns.  We were being taught by someone you might call a living legend.  One session was on how to preach Romans 3:21-30.  The point came when the living legend asked us what we thought the application should be.  Now aside from my various misgivings about application I reasoned to myself that if an application was there in the passage it was probably worth flagging that up.  I looked down and sure enough I saw what I thought was a pretty clear “”application”” of Paul’s teaching:

Where then is boasting?  It is excluded. (v27)

So I stuck up my hand and suggested that the application might be humility.  More particularly it seemed that, since Christ had taken the work of salvation entirely into His own hands, it was out of ours and therefore we ought gladly to shut up about ourselves, our morality, religious pedigree etc etc.

“Wrong!” said the preacher.  “The application should be ‘Repent!’”

“Oh”, I said. “Why?”

I immediately regretted asking ‘why.’  Dagnammit we’re evangelicals, we’re supposed to preach repentance, it’s union rules.  Besides, I don’t want to appear soft in front of the 15 other young guns and this living legend.  The living legend was more than a little irked by my question and replied: “Because, dear boy, verse 23 says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.  Sin is the problem, therefore I would have thought that repentance would be a very good idea!!”

Those who know me may be surprised to learn that I didn’t answer back to this one.  Oh I wanted to.  How I did want to!  But judging by the alarm in the preacher’s voice and the mood of the room it felt wise not to imperil my standing any further among such sound folk.

But sometimes I fantasize about what would have happened if I’d said what I really thought.  The fantasy goes something like this:

I stand slowly, deliberately, with all the solemnity of the lone, faithful prophet.  All eyes are upon me as I bellow with righteous ardour:

“Sin is not the problem!   S i n   i s   n o t   t h e   p r o b l e m !!!

All hell breaks loose.  Outrage.  Pained howls.  Torn garments.  Hurled stones.  I am immovable in the midst of the storm.

“… Sin is not the problem… God’s wrath at sin is the problem!  Nay… moreover… God’s wrath at us in our sin – this!  this is the problem!”

At once they are felled by Truth as by lightning.  Cut to the heart, the stones drop to the floor first.  Then the men.  One by one they slump to the ground, the hand of the LORD heavy upon them.  In breathless awe they ask: “Brave herald, what is this teaching you bring us?  It resounds from the very heights of Zion against our presumption and folly.”

Sporting a fresh cut across my chiselled jawline, I am otherwise unruffled.  Ever magnanimous I continue:

“Dear friends” (the dust in the air has now leant a husky tone to my rich, commanding voice). ”Dear friends, let us not define our predicament so anthropocentrically.”

I leave this dread word hanging in the air.  The mere mention of ‘anthropocentric’ elicits groans from the already contrite gathering.  Here was their shibboleth used against them.  It stung.  Yet they could not deny that they were indeed guilty of this greatest of liberalisms.

“I commend you friends…”  They look up nervously – could there yet be grace for them?  “…While many have merely scratched the itch of modern ears, you have refused to pander to felt needs. You have proclaimed the problem of sin and for this I commend you.”  I pause.  “And yet… and yet… you have defined the problem so poorly, so slightly.  You have defined the problem from below.  You have told them that the problem lies in their own hands.  How can they not then imagine that the solution also lies in their hands?  Should you not have told them that our problem is above us – as indeed is the solution.  The problem is not fundamentally our sin, the problem is the Lord’s wrath upon us.”

“What’s the difference?!” cries out one of the younger preachers, “Our sin, God’s wrath, it’s all the same…”  He is hushed by the living legend who slowly shakes his head.  It is clear now how wrong he has been.

He stands, still shaking his head, unable to look at me or the others.  Eventually he speaks, “Glen’s right. He’s always been right!”  It looks as though the living legend has been hung from the ceiling on meat hooks.  In great anguish he exclaims, “You must understand…  We faced such terrible dangers in preaching.  We still face such dangers.  I wanted – we all wanted – to resist the me-centred pulpit.  I was so sick of hearing about ‘filling the Jesus-shaped hole in your life’.  I couldn’t stand the invitations to ‘let Jesus into the passenger seat of your life’.  I wanted people to turn.  I still want people to turn.”

I put a re-assuring hand on his shoulder. He meets my eye for the first time and continues.  “I just thought, if we can show them that ‘fulfilment’ isn’t the issue – that sin is the issue, well then maybe they’d come to their senses.  Maybe they’d see their errors and turn from them.”  I give a look to the living legend, he nods, “I know, I know, that’s the problem.”

“What’s the problem?” asks one of the young guns.

The living legend sighs deeply and turns to the others.  “It puts the focus on us.  If we just preach sin and repentance the whole focus is on us.”

“It’s anthropocentric” mutters a young gun, latching onto his favourite word.  He looks around to see if anyone else has noticed his firm grasp of the issues.

“I don’t get it” pipes up another, “I thought sin and repentance was God-centred preaching?  Isn’t that what you taught us??”

The living legend is speechless.  I break the silence.  Crouching down to their level, I ask, “If we simply preach sin and repentance how exactly is God at the centre?  He may well be over and above our conceptions of sin and repentance – but how is He in the middle?  In such a sermon isn’t God actually on the periphery?  He’s hardly the principal Actor!”  At this stage the one who muttered ‘anthropocentric’ is nodding the way failed quiz show contestants nod when they’re told the right answer.

I go on, “It’s like our passage from Romans 3.  Sin is certainly there!  Sin is certainly a problem.  From verse 9, have we not been told that all are under sin?  And has not verse 20 proclaimed that observing the law can never redeem us.  But since this is so, would it not be strange if Paul then told us that ‘repentance’ was some new work that was better than the old Mosaic works?  And yet Paul does not mention our works in this passage, not our obedience, not our repentance.  No, what does Paul point us to?  Verse 25, the blood of Jesus – a propitiation for our sins.  Now we all know what propitiation means…”

Young noddy blurts out “A sacrifice turning away God’s wrath!!”  I gesture with my hands, trying to calm his wild-eyed enthusiasm.

“Ok, yes. Well done.  It turns away God’s wrath.  Because that’s the real problem.  The problem is, chapter 1 verse 18, the wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against us.  It will culminate in, chapter 2 verse 5, a day of wrath.  And Paul is at pains to say we all deserve it, we are all unrighteous and there’s nothing moral and nothing religious we can do to turn aside this wrath.  We are helpless.  BUT, a righteousness beyond us has come.  And He is the sacrifice who turns away God’s wrath.  Through His redemption we are justified freely.  That is the gospel.  That’s what we preach.  And who is at the centre of this story?  Not us.  Him.”

“So we shouldn’t preach sin and repentance?” asks another.

“Of course we should.  But those are comprehended within a much more profound perspective.  Wrath and redemption are the deeper truths.  Let us leave behind the moralistic sermons regarding committed sin and sanctification.  Instead let us preach original sin and justification!  Let us plunge them to the depths and then take them to the heights!  Enough of this middle of the road preaching that puts us at the centre!”

A couple of young guns knowingly mouthe ‘anthropocentric’ to one another.

I continue “Take Islam.  It’s a classic religion of repentance.  God remains far above, it’s down to us to clean up our act.  In fact all human religion is man justifying man before a watching god.  But the Gospel is God justifying God before a watching humanity.  He takes centre-stage and we need to move off into the audience to watch Him work salvation for us.  Christianity is not a religion of repentance, it’s a religion of redemption.  And that’s quite a difference don’t you see?”

As I speak, the young guns have been picking themselves off the floor one by one.  The room has been won to the side of Truth.  I look upon them with fatherly benevolence.

“So now friends – now that you know these things: What would be a good application of Romans 3?”

In unison they reply “Humility!”  And for a moment all is right with the world.

Until, that is, one of the young guns speaks up:

“Hey, if humility is so important, how come you’re so proud?”

Harmony is shattered.  Another piles in “And how come you’ve been dreaming us up for the last 10 minutes to feed your ego.”  Here’s where the fantasy turns pretty nasty.

“What kind of egotist spends his time winning theological debates in his head??”

“Yeah, debates he never actually won in the real world!”

Another pipes up: “I think I know ‘Where then is boasting?’ – he’s standing over there with a fatuous, smug face!!”

From here on the fantasy is basically unsalvagable.  So then, I hate to do it, but sometimes you just have to pull rank.

“Quiet all of you!  This is my fantasy.  Either you submit adoringly to my theological genius or you can get out now.”

Faced with those options they instantly choose non-existence.  One by one they vanish, though somehow their looks of betrayal and disgust seem to linger on.

“You’ll be back” I say to the departed phantasms.  “Pretty soon I’ll need to feel right about something else and you’ll be right back in my imagination, bowing to my unquestioned brilliance.

“Ha!” I say.  The laughter echoes around my empty head.

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Dawkins was asked in an article – Where does evolution leave God?  He answered:

“Before 1859 it would have seemed natural to agree with the Reverend William Paley, in “Natural Theology,” that the creation of life was God’s greatest work. Especially (vanity might add) human life. Today we’d amend the statement: Evolution is the universe’s greatest work. Evolution is the creator of life, and life is arguably the most surprising and most beautiful production that the laws of physics have ever generated. Evolution, to quote a T-shirt sent me by an anonymous well-wisher, is the greatest show on earth, the only game in town.

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“Where does that leave God? The kindest thing to say is that it leaves him with nothing to do, and no achievements that might attract our praise, our worship or our fear. Evolution is God’s redundancy notice, his pink slip. But we have to go further. A complex creative intelligence with nothing to do is not just redundant. A divine designer is all but ruled out by the consideration that he must at least as complex as the entities he was wheeled out to explain. God is not dead. He was never alive in the first place.”

Again ask the question – who or what has Dawkins taken aim at?  He’s railing against a divine designer entirely dependent on its own creation.

Rail away Richard.  Christian theology does a far better job, but if it makes you feel better – go for your life.

And if you want to lay the smackdown on some god-of-the-gaps who is posited simply to explain the inexplicable, then please don’t let us stop you.

And if you’re invigorated by venting splenetic rage on a god ‘ruled out’ by the logic of its own creation well Richard, who isn’t?  I’m regularly energized by such disdain.  And we certainly have no wish to spoil your fun.

While you heap adolescent contempt on those gods, we’ll be over here – stoning modern-day Paleys for providing you with such irrelevant and idolatrous targets.

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By the way – if you read the Dawkins quote and thought to yourself ‘Aha, but who created the laws of physics!?’ – you are Paley.  And I’m coming to get you.

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