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Archive for December, 2009

Hear the whole bible in a year

http://www.esv.org/blog/2008/10/all-podcasts/

Happy New Year

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Marriage wisdom

My wife and I are running a marriage course over the next three Monday nights. What should we cover?

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Dying

“You need to repent”
– sure

“You must put that practice to death”
– true

You must die”
– more like it

“You have been crucified with Christ, the world is crucified to you and you to the world.”
– now you’re cooking with Holy Ghost power.

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Meditating on Galatians 6:14 this morning I reckon we need to be much more radical in our language about ‘sanctification’. Even talking about ‘mortification’ can get us off the hook if we imagine ourselves as some tutting fashionista putting off the old man like a bad suit. It is a bad suit. But it’s also me. Taking it off is like flesh peeling from bones. It’s me that has to die not simply some habit or attitude.

But then I’m reminded – I’m already dead. I’m already crucified with Jesus. From baptism onwards I’ve been united with Him in His death. I’m carrying my cross daily – it’s Christ’s gift to me, releasing me from every worldly claim. I owe this world exactly what a corpse owes it – jack squat.

Realising this again is repentance (change of mind). I am realigned with reality – living is dying; dying is living. But when united with Jesus it’s always a fruitful death – pruned branches bearing fruit for God.

So don’t give up your sin, don’t reorder your priorities, don’t resolve to try harder. Realize, you’re dead already.  That’s the very essence of your life.

 

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I’ve just listened to a seminar on hospitality.

  • Some verses on why we should
  • Some more verses as examples from the bible.
  • Then testimony after testimony from couples who grew up in hospitable homes, who rejoice to welcome people into their families and can’t help smiling even at the thought of hospitality.

And in the midst of my admiration, bemusement and self-condemnation, the penny dropped. Ohhh, I thought, so this is how most people feel sitting through those evangelism courses I lap up!

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All age Christmas sermon

For some reason my preaching rises by an octave in all-age services.  Here’s my Christmas morning falsetto sermon on Galatians 4:4-7.

Christmas turns slaves to sons because He shared in our life so that we can share in His.

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Happy Christ-mas

Here’s Paul Blackham’s wonderful Christmas Eve sermon on Genesis 3:15

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This post first appeared last year in a series of three on the incarnation.  The other two are: Incarnation and trinity and Incarnation and salvation.

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Christ is “The Beginning”, “The Alpha”, “The First”.  His Person is itself the basis for creation.  He is the One who is eternally Other from the Father and the foundation for all else that is other than Him.  Because of Him, through Him and for Him flows a creation.

Christ is by nature and eternally from the Father in the Spirit.

Creation is by grace and in time from the Father through the Son and in the Spirit.

This shows us

a) the spreading goodness of the triune God, Whose being is outwardly curved.  Creation is not necessary to God.  But God’s being, like a fountain, by nature overflows.  It is a being going out towards the other.

b) creation is not a free floating reality but something beginning in the Son, crafted by Him, cohering in Him and headed towards Him as His inheritance.  While God’s being reaches out towards the other it is simultaneously a being that draws the other in bonds of love.

These twin tendencies – the going out and the drawing in – find fulfilment in creation and incarnation.

Let’s think about Genesis 1.  The heavens (masculine) and the earth (feminine) – like head and body, husband and wife – set the scene for this theatre of God’s glory.  And centre stage is man – Adam made from the Adamah (the ground).  He is not spoken into being.  This man of dust (Gen 2:7) is made of the very stuff of the earth – drawn up, pinched off like clay and breathed into.  The earth-man is strongly united to the earth over which he is placed as head.

Adam means

a) that particular bloke;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (as a whole).

This central actor – man – is king.  He is God’s ruler, through whom He exercises dominion.  From the outset God’s rule is a mediated rule – through man.

Now when man is disobedient you may have thought that God would renege on His determination to rule through man.  But no.  He takes this mediation through man very seriously.  It is because of the cosmic kingship of man that man’s fall entails the fall of all creation.  The ground (adamah) is cursed because of man (adam).  Man remains king.  But while man is perverse, so is his world.

But all of this looks towards the Man of Heaven (1 Cor 15:47-49).  Flesh and blood could never inherit the kingdom of God.  Men of dust were never the intention.  The intention was always the union of heavenly Man and earthly man.  The intention was always for the Logos to take this flesh and as Man to rule as God’s true king.  This rule was not to be a divine rule over and against man.  It was to be a heavenly rule in and through man.

And so came the eschatological Adam (1 Cor 15:45).  He is

a) that particular bloke, Jesus;

b) ‘a man’ (a true human being) and

c) ‘humanity’ (an eschatological humanity to answer Adam’s)

He sums up the man of dust, his being and life.  He takes His very flesh and retraces the steps of his disobedience, hammering out instead a being and life of perfect faithfulness.  Then, exalted as the pinnacle of all creation, this eschatological Adam is lifted up between heaven and earth – absorbing the curse of both and reconciling one to the other.  As Priest He ministers by the Spirit, offering to God the true worship of earth (Heb 9:14).  As Lamb He receives the curse of God on behalf of man (Gal 3:13).  As King, He reigns from the tree, manifesting God’s righteous rule to the ends of the earth.

Ascending as Priest, Lamb and King to the Father’s right hand, Jesus has lead captives in His train and sat down as Head over all things for the church.  The True Man, our Brother, sits in heaven as ruler of earth, not over against earth.  Rather, having taken Adam (and in him, adamah!) to Himself, He rules as and for man for all eternity.  When the heavenly Husband (masculine) moves house with His Father to earth (feminine) there will be the Marriage to end all marriages.  The manifested union of Bridegroom and bride will be at the same time the manifested union of heaven and earth.  Christ and creation will be consummated that day.

As Alpha, Christ has crafted a creation and granted it a gracious otherness.

As Omega, He has entered in and drawn back that creation to a gracious oneness.

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Why do two people end up marrying?  Love at first sight?  Spiritual discernment?

I just came across my new favourite phrase: “interlocking neuroses.”

Bully seeks victim for ongoing abuse and re-abuse

Emotionally detached seeks career obsessed for parallel existence

Noble rescuer seeks troubled soul for noble rescuing

Damaged soul seeks jovial baffoon for shallow comfort

That kind of thing.

No marriage is free from this.  To some extent all of us married our spouses to fit in with our neuroses.

Which is yet one more reason why the phrase “We promised we wouldn’t change each other” is death to a marriage.  Our only hope is continual repentance of these flesh dynamics.

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Athanasius… declares that Christ the eternal Son is the “living will” of the Father, and as such His Advent is the advent of the decree, God’s choice, in human flesh.  (Peter Leithart)

Is God’s election secret or revealed?  Both.  It’s hidden.  But hidden in Christ – Matthew 11:25-28:

25At that time Jesus said, “I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. 26Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure.

27“All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

28“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.

Christmas is the advent of God’s eternal decree – Christ Himself.  Lay hold of Him and you lay hold of God’s eternal choice.

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Jesus shows up as the God that everyone else just talks about.  And He’s very different.  He demands that we begin again with Him.

Sunday’s sermon on John 1:15-18

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The verse the early post-apostolic church probably turned to most to guide their understanding was Hebrews 2:14, ‘Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil’. In other words, the incarnation was, quite specifically, about the Son of God taking to himself the flesh he had created for Adam so that he could heal it of all that had been inflicted on it at the Fall. In Christ, real flesh and blood would be taken through death into the hope of bodily resurrection…

…The who of the incarnation is perhaps the most extraordinary thing of all. That is, this baby is Immanuel, God with us. He is not just some divine ambassador. He is God: God in the flesh. But if so, what an unexpected God! He does things that God really ought not do. We all know perfectly well that God belongs on a throne, not in an animal’s feeding trough. But he seems not to be aware of such protocols…

…when we see the incarnate Christ we see a very specific person. We do not see a system of thought or a religious principle, but a man – a man who personally is God, salvation, truth and life. And that entirely alters the very shape of Christianity: conversion here cannot then at root be about exchanging one set of beliefs, practices or perspectives for another, but abandoning other loves for love of this person.

Read the whole of this excellent short article here.

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From Tim Ambrose and his youth club:

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Ron Frost has written a cracker on some of the domesticated gods we Christians buy into:

…There is the fire insurance God. His greatest concern is to find as many policy holders as possible. His premiums vary, depending on the Christian community that sells his policies, but the payments are usually behavioral: mainly church attendance, a monthly tithe, and a midweek Christian book discussion or prayer group are the cash he requires. This is a pragmatic God, with pragmatic followers. For policy holders the real ambition is to avoid the fires of hell—a negative goal—rather than to know and enjoy God above all else. What God gets out of this arrangement isn’t clear but he seems to be a bit needy, looking for as large a following as possible. Lower premiums are always possible if an additional follower or two can be coaxed into the community that way.

Another much rarer version of God is the brainiac deity. His greatest capacity is intelligence so that his ideas and doctrines are great, complex puzzles. He invites chess champions, debaters, and logicians to compose and compare doctrinal statements about him. He is altogether different to the fire insurance version of God in that he is more interested in compelling ideas than in numbers of followers. His audiences are small but impressive, even if most of what they do is talk and write. Access to this God comes through Christian versions of the Mensa Society—churches, parachurch groups, and theological centers that elevate intellect over practice; a knowledge about God over a love for God and people.

Still another small version of God is the self-absorbed deity. He can think only of himself and wants everyone else to think only of him. The biggest fear for this God is what philosophers call “contingency”—that he is not fully in charge of everything but in some manner has a real involvement with his creation. If, for instance, he actually loves his creatures in a way that causes him to respond to them, he has somehow lost his mojo and is less than truly God. Instead he wants glory at any cost. Access to this God is virtually impossible because we are products of his will and live downstream from his first decrees and plans—a bit like dominoes that are now being tipped over by other dominoes, all started before the creation. He looks on with some sort of pleasure because everything is under his glorious control and control is his greatest ambition.

One additional, and final, version of a miniscule God is what we might call a stubborn Genie. He has a bag of tricks and powers to tease us—offering promises to heal us, to make us wealthy, to make us wise, to make us more powerful—but we first have to learn how to rub him right. What kind of rub is needed? At a minimum he looks for effort from his followers, real effort! Disciplines, devotions, tasks, duties, and best-efforts are needed. Accountability is the name of his game: the harder we work, the more likely it is that we can finally coax a benefit or two out of him. Some seem to get more out him than others, so he is not a very fair God, but ours is not to question him but to keep rubbing the jar of his being and to hope for the best…

Read the whole thing here.

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Finally.  The success they deserve –  Rage Against the Machine have the UK’s Christmas number 1.

And for those who have been following the exploits of this feisty four-piece, it’s more apt than you know.

It all began when Zachary Ragg formed his little beat-combo Ragg and the Be Cleans.  They hit the road, playing the usual tent crusades and church picnics.  But while their lyrics were outstanding, soaked as they were in the best of Patristic and Reformation theology, their rap / heavy metal fusion (birthed in the Anfechtung of their Lutheran heritage) was often lost on the good church folk.

Their career took a decisive turn when Sony snapped up the talented young boys and re-branded them as Rage Against the Machine.

From that point onwards, young Zachary’s profoundly Christian lyrics were altered by cynical producers riding the wave of 90s angst.  But Christ the Truth can now reveal the original words to ‘Killing in the Name.’  We reproduce them here with comments in the hope that its Christmas wonder can be reclaimed.

The song is introduced with its own title:

Carolling in the Name of…

So sacred is the divine Name the Be Cleans dare not speak it.  And yet they unfold His majesty with a moving ode to His divine kenosis:

Now the One who works forces

Is the same who bears crosses

So taken is Zachary with this Christmas meditation that he dwells on the theme at length.  Then, with a discernably Lutheran slant, he launches into a stunning exegesis of Galatians 3.  He addresses Israel under the law, hammering down upon them the slavery in which they are bound:

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

And now you do what they told you

Soon the antiphonal response will be added, pronouncing the divine judgement:

And now you’re under a curse

And now you’re under a curse

And now you’re under a curse

And now you’re under a curse

The tension builds until we find release in Christ’s marvellous exchange:

He Who dies – He justifies

He wears your bad – now the chosen: white

He justifies – He Who dies

He wears your bad – now the chosen: white

After this chorus of exultation in Christ’s substitutionary work, the Be Cleans recapitulate their meditations on Galatians 3.  Soon all is resolved as they turn to Galatians 4:4.  With ever increasing certitude, Zachary takes on the role of the incarnate Christ, born of a woman, born under law.  Now, from within our humanity He fulfils the law and reverses the curse.  He pronounces His benediction in words reminiscent of Hebrews 10:7 –

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

Bless you, I now do what I told you

The excitement of the Be Cleans reaches fever pitch and who can blame them?  Christ has come, He now shoulders the burden, the curse is reversed, slaves are turned to sons.  The final line from Zachary proves le mot juste – what else can we do but adore the condescension of this Great Shepherd of the brethren!

Brother-Flocker!

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Huh??

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From a letter to an American woman, 31.7.62

I have a notion that, apart from actual pain, men and women are quite diversely afflicted by illness.  To a woman one of the great evils about it is that she can’t do things.  To a man (or anyway a man like me) the great consolation is the reflection “well, anyway, no-one can now demand that I should do anything.” I have often had the fancy that one stage in purgatory might be a great big kitchen in which things are always going wrong – milk boiling over, crockery getting smashed, toast burning, animals stealing.  The women have to learn to sit still and mind their own business: the men have to learn to jump up and do something about it. When both sexes have mastered this exercise, they go on to the next.

A clarification written 03.09.62

[this] is simply my lifelong experience – that men are more likely to hand over to others what they ought to do themselves, and women more likely to do themselves what others wish they would leave alone.  Hence both sexes must be told “mind your own business” but in two different senses.

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Huh?

from defending contending.

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I’ve been listening to sermons from the web on Luke 14.  It’s Jesus at a banquet.  He heals on the Sabbath, He teaches about refusing the seats of honour, He calls us to invite the poor, crippled, lame and blind to dinner and He speaks of the kingdom as a great feast.  Wonderful stuff.

But do you know, in all the sermons I’ve listened to from the web, what’s been the number one application of Luke 14??  Quiet times!  From both UK and US pastors, the predominant take-home message was ‘make sure you get alone with God every day.’  I’m not going to name names but I listened to some big hitters.  And they preached on the feast.  The feast where Jesus tells us to throw feasts and then speaks of the kingdom as a feast.  And what’s their conclusion: ‘We need to get on our own more!’

??!

Usually the logic was: Don’t take the places of honour => Therefore get humble => Therefore get on your knees => Therefore commit to quiet times.

Now there were two notable exceptions:  John Piper was good.  And so was the Australian (obviously!) Mike Frost.  (Those two aren’t usually positively lumped together but there you are).  But the rest took Luke 14 and boiled it down into some very individualistic applications.

Now I’m all in favour of ensuring that our doing flows from a lively relationship with Christ.  But why does that equate to ‘getting alone with God’??  I mean how do we get from the feast to the prayer closet??  Are conservative evangelicals that afraid of getting our hands dirty in mission, in rubbing shoulders with the poor, crippled, blind and lame?  Are we that individualistic and moralistic?

Anyway…  I do think a healthy relationship with Christ means talking and listening to Him daily.  But why is the quiet time the touch-stone of evangelical spirituality?  Why is it the default application for every sermon?  Why do we reach for the privatized exhortations so readily?

And how many times have I heard Robert Murray McCheyne’s daunting challenge:

What a man is alone on his knees before God, that he is and no more.

I mean it’s right to be challenged by that.  But is it true?  And is it right to aim for this as the very model and highpoint of Christian maturity?  What about: “By this all men will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”  (John 13:35)

I dunno.  Bit of a rant really.  What do you think?

Here’s the Luke 14 sermon I ended up preaching.

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