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Archive for January, 2010

Part 1

Part 2

Michael D. O’Brien: Click for source

Part 3

As we’ve noted, the temptations of the wilderness were a battle, not the whole war.  Luke 4:13 states, the devil left only to return at an opportune time.

What times were opportune?

Well in Matthew 16 we have another heavenly declaration of Jesus’ identity.  This time it comes through the lips of Peter – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (v16).  But as with the baptismal declaration, this would be immediately tested by the question, What sort of Christ?  What sort of Son of God will Jesus be?

Verse 21: From this time on Jesus begins to show His disciples that He must suffer and die.  As soon as His divine identity becomes clear like this, Jesus immediately seeks to combat our natural theology of glory.  He ‘shows’ them that He must suffer.  That’s interesting isn’t it?  He doesn’t simply tell them, He shows them – obviously from Scripture.  For the bible has never revealed a theology of glory – it has always revealed the theology of the cross.  Jesus makes this plain.  And Peter, who one minute previously has been a mouthpiece of heaven (v17), is now a mouthpiece of hell.

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”

Immediately Jesus recognizes the devil’s assault:

“Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling-block to me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.”

Peter thought the things of God were the things of power, prestige, safety and comfort.  Jesus says, No, those things are the things of men.  And, shockingly, the things of men are the things of Satan.

It couldn’t be clearer could it?  Satan’s way is the way of all men – the way of comfort, the way of self, the way of safety.  Christ’s way (which is God’s way) is the way of the cross, and He calls every follower to it (v24ff).

The next time ‘temptation’ is mentioned in Matthew is in the garden of Gethsemane (26:41).  Here again the way of the cross was brought into an agonizing contrast with the way of all flesh.  Would Jesus let the cup pass (v39)?  Would He save Himself or save us?  Again He resolved to let His Father’s will be done.  This is not something different from His resolve to save us – it is precisely the same thing.

At His arrest, again the chance came for the angels to rescue Him (v53), but the Scriptures must be fulfilled (v54).  Both the Father and the Scriptures speak with one voice – the Christ, the Son of God must suffer and must die.  And Christ submits.

So as He pours out His life on that cross, here is the final ‘opportune time’.  The religious leaders called out to Him:

Come down from the cross, if you are the Son of God!41 In the same way the chief priests, the teachers of the law and the elders mocked him. 42 “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! He’s the King of Israel! Let him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in him. 43 He trusts in God. Let God rescue him now if he wants him, for he said, `I am the Son of God.'”  (Matt 27:40-43)

Do you recognize those words?  “If you are the Son of God” began each of the wilderness temptations.  Here is Satan again using his mouthpieces to offer Jesus a way out.  Contrary to Martin Scorcese’s imagination, the last temptation of Christ was not some lustful fantasy.  It was the much more seductive, much more truly carnal, temptation to save Himself.  Thank God He resisted.  For He did not come to be served but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many.

And when He died, the most unlikely man of all suddenly got it.  A Roman centurion declares: “Truly this was the Son of God!” (v54)

That’s been the issue ever since the baptism.  What does it mean to be the Son of God?  Satan threw everything at Jesus to make Him live like Adam, like Israel, like every other son in the history of the world.  But Jesus refuses to live for self.  Instead He dies for others and in this astonishing reversal a power is unleashed.  There’s life from the dead (v51-53) and the man most likely to love vainglory and flesh and the way of Satan is turned around.  Even in the eyes of this Gentile, the wonder of the cross becomes the definition of true Sonship.  This is a power to overturn the world.

Satan is crushed.

Part 5

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What do you see when you look up?

This?

or this:

ht Mark Meynell

A theological revolution occured early last century when Karl Barth turned from his liberal protestant heritage to jump with both feet into “the strange new world of the bible” (the title of an early book of his).

Have you jumped in, or only dipped your toe?  It’s a very hard thing to do.

It’s so hard, you might just need Mike Reeves, Michael Ward and CS Lewis as guides.  So if you haven’t listened to this brilliant podcast – do so forthwith.

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I love how the word “BIBLICAL” is used here.  “BIBLICAL” means NOT JUNK.  (In spite of how Scripture loves “fat portions”).

Of course it all depends on which Scriptures you choose.

What about sour grapes, bitter herbs and ashes?  Now with 30% more locusts!  That’s also biblical…  Or, what about… No, there are too many ingredients I can’t mention on a family blog like this.

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T4G Cribs

What’s all this T4G Cribs nonsense?  There’s a growing number of these videos.  Just watch the first minute of this one and you’ll get the idea:

I’m saying nothing about the men featured.  I am questioning the pedestal on which they’re being placed.

I mean the opening credits are a massive turn-off for me.  Am I misplacing my angst here or are these preachers being set up like rock stars?

And the whole series of “come see my study” seems designed to make 20-something hot-prots salivate with envy.  It’s aspirational TV.  And it’s majorly unbalanced.  We do not need a whole generation of young evangelicals aspiring to this. Where are Dever’s congregation members who work hard at their jobs, share the gospel with workmates, teach and pastor their homegroups and serve in countless unseen ways?  Where’s their video?  Where are those who pour out their lives for their families and friends in the name of Jesus?  Where’s their video?  What are we holding out to people as the epitome of Christian superstardom?

I don’t need to see Mark Dever’s study.  If I were in his congregation I might want to “consider the outcome of his way of life and imitate his faith” (Heb 13:7).  But the T4G cameras do not need to show us where the magic happens.

This is not where the magic happens.

Am I being unfair here?

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25 During the fourth watch of the night Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. 26 When the disciples saw Him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear. 27 But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” 28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” 29 “Come,” He said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. 30 But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” 31 Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “why did you doubt?” 32 And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. 33 Then those who were in the boat worshipped Him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”  (Matthew 14:23-33)

Here Jesus walks on water – He treads on the abyss. But Peter walks as Jesus walks (cf 1 John 2:6). How?

Notice he doesn’t just step out. He asks for Jesus to command him. He’s been in a storm with Jesus before (Matt 8:23-27).  Peter knows the power of Jesus’ word – His word is obeyed! So Peter wants a word from Jesus to command him. And the word is powerful to enable that which it commands (Jesus’ word is like that). Peter does the impossible because Jesus commands it.

Of course he sinks (looking at the waves and not looking at Christ). But in His grace, Peter only ‘begins’ to sink.  This is not gravity acting on Peter or he’d sink like a stone. How slowly Jesus lets him down!  But when Peter calls out, ‘immediately’ Jesus saves.

His words of rebuke tell us how we can walk like Jesus: ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’  Now what is Jesus referring to here?

Peter did not doubt that Jesus could walk on water.  And it wasn’t self-belief that Jesus was recommending (Peter has no ability to walk on water!).  Peter’s problem was that he doubted Jesus’ word to him.  He doubted the word which both commands and enables what it commands. Peter doubted that he truly had been made into the person Jesus said He had – one who walks like He walks.  That was Peter’s problem.

When Christ speaks a word to us then trusting Him involves trusting that we are the people Christ says we’ve become.  Jesus says to you:

“I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.” (John 5:24)

So, don’t look at the wind and waves.  Don’t look at your heart and your abilities.  Trust the word that Jesus has spoken to you.  His word is powerful to make you who He says you are.  You can’t make yourself into this person, but neither can anyone or anything else prevent you from being it.  The word of the LORD is supreme, you can trust Him.  You will not be condemned.  You have crossed over from death to life.  And now, you can walk as He walked.

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Stephen Baldwin has been ridiculed for his comments on Celebrity Big Brother regarding evolution.  He said:

If we’re descended from apes, how come there are still apes?

Ok, a misunderstanding of the theory.  But is the theory more or less silly than the misunderstanding?

Here’s Richard Dawkins answering the very objection Baldwin makes.  See if you can watch it with a straight face:

What we have here is a Professor of Zoology faced with a line up of four apes and an accountant from Swindon.  And he refuses to identify the odd one out.  The whole story he invests his life in says that none are superior to any other – all are equally well adapted to their environment.  It’s just 4 monkeys and Pam sitting in a tree –  M-U  T-A-T  I-N-G.

To say that Dawkins has put Baldwin right is like saying:

Ohhh.  Sorry for thinking your theory was nuts.  I thought you believed in alchemy.  Now I realize you have a magical goose to lay your golden egg.

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Christ in the Wilderness 3

source

As we’ve seen, Satan’s three temptations concern Christ’s identity as Son of God.

Round 1:

3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” 4 Jesus answered, “It is written: `Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matt 4:3-4)

The devil assumes that Jesus is able to produce miraculous bread in the wilderness.   That’s what the Son of God has always done (e.g. Exodus 16).  And it’s what He would do again (Matthew 14 and 15).  But in those cases the Son of God provides bread for others and in so doing proves Himself to be the true Bread, torn apart to feed the world (John 6:48-51).

But Jesus will not feed Himself.  He has come to die – and a death far worse than starvation – to feed others.  And so He says: I entrust Myself utterly to My Father, knowing I can abandon everything to My Father and live.  That’s round 1.

Round 2 is fought along similar lines:

5 Then the devil took Him to the holy city and had Him stand on the highest point of the temple. 6 “If you are the Son of God,” he said, “throw yourself down. For it is written: “`He will command his angels concerning You, and they will lift You up in their hands, so that You will not strike Your foot against a stone.'”  7 Jesus answered him, “It is also written: `Do not put the Lord your God to the test.'”

The devil, like so many of his servants, is a preacher.  And he knows enough of the bible to know that the Psalms proclaim the Son of God.  So he says to Jesus – “Psalm 91, as everyone knows, concerns the Son of God.  Well then if you are the One of Psalm 91, you’ll be able to do this celestial bunjee jump and the angels will catch you.”

In a future post we’ll consider Christ’s rejection of this kind of PR stunt.

But the bottom line is, Jesus won’t cave.  He has come to hurl Himself down, and not simply to be dashed on the stones of the temple courts.  He had come to hurl Himself into the great Abyss for us.  And explicitly at His arrest He refuses the help of angels to prevent it (Matthew 26:53-54).   As Son of God He must die on that cross and though 12 legions of angels are on 24 hour stand-by, the Scriptures must be fulfilled.  The Son of Man must go as it is written of Him – He must be the One who dies.  Jesus will not test His Father but obey Him, even to the point of death.

Round 2 resisted.

Round 3:

8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their splendour. 9 “All this I will give you,” he said, “if you will bow down and worship me.” 10 Jesus said to him, “Away from me, Satan! For it is written: `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'”

Satan is the prince of this world (John 12:31; 14:30; 16:11) – not by right but by popular choice.  The world does indeed follow the devil and his lying, self-serving, death-dealing ways.  So Satan offers Jesus the chance to form a coalition government.  Satan says, “Let’s not be enemies here.  You know what it will cost you to dethrone me (Gen 3:15) – it will cost your life.  Let me offer you another way.  Let’s rule the world together.  Forget the painful business of eradicating evil, compromise with it and you can avoid the whole way of the cross.”

But Jesus will receive the Kingdom from His Father, not the devil.  He will not bow to Satan, He will crush Him.  Though it cost Him His life, Jesus will not compromise with evil.  His heart is wholly for God His Father and so His heart is wholly for the cross.

Christ proves Himself to be exactly who the Father had declared.  He is the beloved Son of God because through every temptation to the contrary He resolves not to serve Himself but others.  He will not save Himself but save others.  This is the only power to defeat the ultimate Egotist.  Everyone else in the history of the world has failed Satan’s tests.  No-one has ever walked the way of the cross like this. But the True Son of God did.  And Satan must depart.

But as Luke says, Satan limps off only to regather his strength for future assaults (Luke 4:13).  We’ll consider these in the next post (here).

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Instant Bravery

In a bible study yesterday the subject of courage came up.  Someone mentioned the courage of David versus Goliath.  So the question was asked “How were the people meant to be brave in the face of Goliath and the Philistines?”

One person answered:  “Look at David!”

Good answer.  Instant bravery, just look at your King’s victory.  You don’t even have to think about it.  Once you see the Giant fall there are no further mental processes required, no negative automatic thoughts to conquer, no re-framing of core-beliefs.  You see the victory of your Champion and you will be brave.

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I just heard again that song: ‘Shout to the North’ (lyrics here).  Great tune huh?  What do we think about the lyrics?

Years ago I led the music in a church (a very small church you understand, but my knowledge of four guitar chords made me a relative virtuoso).

Well happily enough, Shout to the North has only four chords.  So it went straight onto the ‘playlist’.  The only issue was my troubled conscience.  You see, while I only knew four chords of guitar, I knew a whole six doctrines of theology (neat diagrams to boot).  And something grated.  The lyrics say “Jesus is Saviour to all.”  Now we can’t be singing that can we?

I can’t remember, but I think I used to hurry on through that line – Jesus is Saviour to those who call… or something.

Because here’s my unexamined, gut-level assumption – Jesus is Lord of all and Saviour of some.  Isn’t that what all right-thinking evangelicals believe?  Lord of all, Saviour of some.  Which is basically to say that Jesus is fundamentally Lord but secondarily and more narrowly Saviour.  He’s Lord through and through, He’s partially Saviour.

And this gut-level assumption is strengthened by the fear of universalism.  (Fear is a wonderful tool to prevent us examining our beliefs).  Surely if we sing “Jesus is Saviour to all” we’re demolishing any distinction between saved and unsaved, aren’t we?

Well no, that’s not how the bible argues.  Jesus is constantly called Saviour of the world (e.g. John 3:17f; 4:42) and Paul says:

We have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.  (1 Tim 4:10)

So actually Jesus is Lord of all (but especially those who believe) and Saviour of all (but especially those who believe).

There is a distinction.  It’s there in the word ‘especially.’  But it’s not in the scope of Christ’s Lordship versus His Saviour-ship.  He is equally both.

This has implications for many areas, but let’s just think about evangelism.  If I go with my gut-level assumption, how do I offer Christ to the unbeliever?  Well I can’t presume to offer Christ as Saviour can I?  After all Jesus might turn out not be Saviour to this individual.  So perhaps I conclude: it’s safer to confront the unbeliever with His Lordship.  And, on this understanding, this is a ‘Lordship’ that’s considered somewhat apart from His Saviour-ship.

So I speak more of His hands raised up against us than His hands stretched out towards us.  I define sin far more as rebellion against His rule than resistance against His grace.  I offer salvation as submission to His sovereignty much more than resting in His rescue.

Now I will certainly mention those latter aspects.  But they are deviations from the norm.  They are potential fringe-benefits – not the main story.

In all this, I understand that there’s massive overlap between Lordship and Saviourship.  In fact that’s really my point.  When you say ‘Jesus is Lord’ you are saying ‘The Saviour is Lord’ (for ‘Jesus’ means Saviour!)  His Lordship is expressed and established precisely in His cosmic salvation.  Therefore we must not divide these aspects up and we certainly should not favour one over the other.

But if this is so then it can’t be true that a preacher is good on ‘Jesus is Lord’, but not as strong on ‘Jesus is Saviour’.  If we’re not holding out the Saviour-ship of Christ then we’re not properly holding out the Lordship of Christ either.

So what if we took the song seriously?  What if we really believed that Jesus is the Saviour of the world?  Imagine that loved one who you pray for – you desperately want them to turn to Christ for you know that Jesus is their Lord.  Do you know equally powerfully that He is their Saviour too?

In my conservative evangelical constituency we bang the Jesus is Lord drum very loudly.  I’m just not sure we hold Him out as Saviour with equal passion.  And it flavours our evangelism in some unhelpful ways.

Thoughts?

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Christ in the Wilderness 2

Who is this Spirit-Anointed Champion?

The Baptism and the Temptations go hand in hand.

Just as Israel passed through the waters and into the wilderness (and this was a baptism – 1 Cor 10:1ff), so the True Israel, Jesus, would pass through the waters of baptism and into the wilderness.  Note also that the Spirit takes charge in both cases (see, for instance, Nehemiah 9:19-20.  Interestingly the Spirit and the pillar are mentioned in the same breath…)

The devil’s fiery arrows are aimed directly at the baptismal declaration.  The Father had said:

“This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.”

The devil keeps asking, “If you are the Son of God…”

So what does it mean to be the Son of God?  Well the words at baptism are reminiscent of at least three OT Scriptures.

First, Genesis 22:2

God said, “Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.”

The beloved son is to be the atoning sacrifice on the holy hill.

Second, Psalm 2:6,7

“I have poured out my King on Zion, my holy hill.”  I will proclaim the decree of the LORD : He said to me, “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.

The beloved son is to be the King poured out like a drink offering on the holy hill.

Third, Isaiah 42:1

“Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

The beloved son is the suffering servant who will bring justice to the world through weakness (see the rest of the servant songs).

The devil’s words in the wilderness go to the heart of Christ’s identity as Son of God.  Satan – ever the theologian of glory – tempts Jesus to be the Son of God who avoids sacrifice and weakness.  Jesus – the true theologian of the cross – embraces this sacrifice and weakness precisely because He is the true Son of God.

As we’ll see…

(next post here)

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Truth for sale

As spotted yesterday in an airport bookshop.  Sorry for the blur, I was in a hurry.

Note the section.

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In Matthew 4:1-11, Christ is driven by the Spirit into the desert. In His battle with Satan, Christ is like Adam, like Israel and like David.

Like Adam, the devil confronts Him with audible temptations to doubt God’s word and eat.  And like Adam the fate of humanity rests on His shoulders.

Like Israel, He is called ‘Son of God’, and goes through the waters straight into a wilderness trial.  Where they caved in to temptation over 40 years, Christ would be the true Israel, resisting temptation over 40 days.

Like David, He’s just been anointed and now faces a giant, man-to-man, whose 40 days of taunts reproach the God of Heaven.  And like David, Christ’s victory would mean victory for His people.

Adam failed.  Israel failed.  But Christ, the anointed King goes to battle for His people.  He steps up as Adam – the True Man.  As the Son of God – the True Israel.  As David – our Spirit-filled Champion.  And through apparent weakness He slays the giant who has dismayed and defeated us at every turn.  His triumph is our triumph.

Christ’s temptations are not in Scripture to model for us a three point primer in spiritual warfare!  They narrate for us the actual victory of our Anointed Champion.  This is not Jesus your Example.  Not primarily.  This is Jesus who has taken your humanity to Himself, who has become Himself the true people of God and who has waged war on our behalf.

If you only see  ‘Jesus our Example’ you lose the gospel and put yourself at centre stage.  If you see ‘Jesus our Champion’ you get the example thrown in.  But fundamentally your eyes are taken from yourself and fixed where they should be:

When Satan tempts me to despair

And tells me of the guilt within

Upward I look and see HIM there

Who made an end of all my sin

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Christ in the Wilderness 2

Christ in the Wilderness 3

Christ in the Wilderness 4

Christ in the Wilderness 5

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Happy Friday – Sleep Talkin Man

From Sleep Talkin Man.

I choose to believe these are the genuine nocturnal ramblings of one Englishman as recorded by his American wife.  I believe this in spite of the fact his wife records him using words like “douche-bag” and “doofus”.

By the way, he also uses some more choice words, so if that kind of thing offends perhaps don’t visit the site and just enjoy the highlights I’ve gathered here:

“No, not the cats. Don’t trust them. Their eyes. Their eyes. They know too much.”

“I want to be a cowboy. I don’t want to be a panda. Pandas are boring, stupid and boring. Bad panda!”

“You can’t be a pirate if you don’t have a beard. I said so. MY boat, MY rules.”

“I’m baking pillows. Burn them slowly, keeps them fluffy! Mmmmmm, pillows.”

“Your mum’s at the door again. Bury me. Bury me deep.”

“Oompa loompas don’t sing in heaven. They tidy up the clouds.”

“Legs time! Everybody get your legs!”

“You can stop clapping now if you want. Really. You’ll need your energy for cheering me later. Shhhhhhhh. shhhhhhhh.”

“I haven’t put on weight. Your eyes are fat.”

“I’d rather peel off my skin and bathe my weeping raw flesh in a bath of vinegar than spend any time with you. But that’s just my opinion. Don’t take it personally.”

“Elephant trunks should be used for elephant things only. Nothing else.”

“Fluffy bunny + twitchy nose + big ears = great stew.”

“Do you like what you see? No? Well, bloody look harder. Strain your eyes!”

“I can’t control the kittens. Too many whiskers! Too many whiskers!”

“You keep looking at the sun until your eyes dry up like raisins and fall out of your skull.”

“Robots making sweets? But they’ve got no taste buds! Metal smarties.”

“This fish has got big floppy lips. Floppy lips. Fishy kissy fishy kissy. Oop, took one on the mouth! Not nice.”

“Don’t talk to me like that. I’m just gonna throw up in your face. Eat the carrots.”

“Hey I know you, but I don’t like your face. Take it off… That’s much better, much better.”

“Yeah. Don’t forget to dry-clean the baby.”

“Look. Look at my left foot. Look at my left foot. Smack you in the face!”

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They’re doing it again.  And it looks a winner.  Another Trinity day at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea.
Saturday 30th January: 10.30am-3pm

This time they’ve got Mike Reeves and Stuart Olyott as well as Martin Downes.

Stuart Olyott “Why doctrine matters”

Mike Reeves “The Trinity in the writings” and “The Trinity in the gospels”

Martin Downes “Fighting to keep the Trinity clear”

Please book with Jo Smallacoombe by calling the church office: 01792 412128

Crèche facilities and lunch provided.  And if you need a place to stay, ask Steve Levy on the office number and tell em Glen sent ya.  There might be some floor-space for you somewhere.  (That’s as close as you get on this blog to a freebie).

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Since the earthquake – more than one million have died worldwide.  150 000 per day.  Every day without fail a Haiti-sized disaster strikes.  This is not to play down the horror of this crisis.  It’s to awaken us to a daily horror that we accept all too readily.  56 million people – that’s almost the whole UK population – return to dust every year.  And I will be one of those statistics.  Sometime this century.  I live on a fault line every bit as treacherous as the Enriquillo-Plantain Garden fault zone.  No house could ever be structurally sound enough.  This world will be the death of me.

‘Not one stone will be left on another, every one will be thrown down’ said Jesus about the house of God (Mark 13:2).  This was just the start of a top-down judgement.  First the flesh and blood House of God was torn apart on the cross.  Then the brick and mortar house of God in AD70.  One day it will be God’s house – the whole cosmos – that comes crashing down.  The stars from the heavens, the sky torn in two, the moon turned to blood.  It’s scheduled for demolition.

Can you imagine how the disciples would have viewed the temple after Mark 13?  For the next 40 years they would visit the temple (e.g. Acts 2:46) but they would never again be taken in by its ‘massive stones’ and ‘magnificent buildings (Mark 13:1).  They knew it was about to be shaken to its foundations.

We know that earth and heaven will be shaken (Heb 12:27-28).  And in the meantime, we see portents.  Earthquakes (Mark 13:8).  This is the world that we know.  Tsunamis destroy, volcanoes erupt, plagues devour, cyclones flatten, wildfires rage and the very earth upon which we stand quakes.

But here’s a surprise.  Jesus doesn’t call these ‘death-throes’.  He calls them ‘birth-pains’. (Mark 13:8)  Because the demolition to which we are heading is, in fact, a palingenesia – the renewal of all things. (Matt 19:28)  This top-down judgement is for the sake of a top-down resurrection.

We’re heading towards ‘the end’ – the goal of all things (Mark 13:7,13); summer (v27); the cloud of His presence (v26); gathering (v27) and the power and glory of the Son of Man (v26).  We’re heading for a new heavens and new earth – a kingdom that ‘cannot be shaken’ (Heb 12:28).

May this earthquake awaken true compassion in us – (here are some places to give money).  May the Body of Christ speak boldly of the Redeemer from all evil (Genesis 48:16) and demonstrate His suffering love in the midst.

But may we also reconsider our own precarious position.  This ground is not solid.  Not right now anyway.  It will be shaken and it groans under the weight of sin and curse.  It will rise up to strike me down and swallow me whole.  Yet so often I marvel at the ‘massive stones’ and’ magnificent buildings’ of ‘this present evil age.’  I cosy up in the demolition site.

May we wake again to the reality of a whole world under judgement.  May seeing these deaths re-ignite our hatred of death.  Every day the tragedy of Haiti is repeated the world over.  But mostly we try to ignore that the last enemy is swallowing everything we love!  Let us wake up and snort with indignation at the grave the way Jesus did (John 11:33-38).

And then, through the lens of His resurrection may we look to the most audacious hope – a new Haiti, secure, prosperous, radiant, gathered under the wings of the Son of Man, every tear wiped away by the Father Himself.

The non-Christian can hope for nothing greater than ‘safer’ buildings on the same old fault line.  And as they labour admirably for this, many will ask why God does not seem to be cooperating with their desire to pretty up the demolition site.  They plan to build some lovely houses on this sand and they imagine God to be standing in the way of their saving purposes.  Of course it’s the other way around.  And of course it’s we who have a small view of redemption.

The Lord has a salvation so audacious He can call earthquakes ‘birth-pains’.  (As can Paul – Rom 8:22).  Certainly they are birth-pains.  But they are birth-pains.  Jesus has a redemption so all-embracing that it will include even these evils.  It won’t simply side-step Haiti, or make the best of a bad situation, it will (somehow!) lift Haiti through this calamity and birth something more glorious out of the pain.

We know this because Jesus began the cosmic shake-down with His own destruction.  And He was perfected through this suffering (Heb 2:10).  His death (Matt 27:54) and His resurrection (Matt 28:2) were attended by earthquakes – they were the original earth-shattering events.  And through this death and resurrection was birthed a new creation reality beyond death and decay (1 Cor 15:54-57).  Where the Head has gone, we will follow, and the whole creation with us.  And as Christ bears and exalts the wounds of His own suffering into eternity, somehow the evils of this last week will also be caught up into resurrection glory.

I don’t pretend to know how and I don’t pretend that this answers our grief or our questions.  It’s the answer of faith and not sight.  But, unlike the answer according to ‘sight’, this answer takes us deeper into the tragedy – we all face this fate (Luke 13:4-5!).  And it points us much higher to its redemption.

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My sermon on Mark 13 from last year

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I was recently discussing original sin with some people who disagreed with it.  It seemed to them something like the doctrine that ‘God hates babies’.  Fumbling around for what to say, I eventually settled on this.

If you buy into the ‘born neutral’ position, you’re living in a world in which performance is everything.  God’s waiting with a clip-board to assess how you develop the ‘blank slate’ He’s given you.

If you go for the ‘born in sin’ position, you’re living in a world in which God’s grace to sinners is everything.  It’s all about His forgiveness, not our good behaviour.

The bible says “God has bound all people over to disobedience so that He may have mercy on them all.” (Romans 11:32) Original sin is actually all about the mercy of God.

Initially original sin may sound like the harsh option.  Actually the ‘born neutral’ position is the really harsh doctrine.  Especially once you become aware of your own sin.

If I’ve failed to convince you that ‘original sin’ is what the bible teaches, can I at least convince you that ongoing sin is true in your own life?  And if you realize that ongoing sin is a problem for you, let me ask you which world you’d rather live in – the world of performance or the world of grace?

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I first wrote this 2 years ago.  The comments here are well worth reading – especially Missy’s, for whom door-to-door was her way into the Christian life.  I’ve slightly updated the post.

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A friend of mine recently asked which was better – 5 sessions of 5 pairs spending two hours door-knocking; or those 5 pairs having neighbours round five times in a season?

Some responses:

  • Good thought!  See especially here where Rory Shiner discusses Gospel intentionality as a good ‘third way’ between cold-contact and friendship evangelism.  He (like my friend) has been very impressed by the Crowded House churches.
  • The personal investment involved in such hospitality is often far greater than the fear factor involved in door-to-door.  In this sense door-knocking, though appearing to be the more impressive, can often be more of a cop-out.
  • A deep sharing of life is surely a far superior context for sharing the faith!

But having said that

  • The context for sharing my faith is, fundamentally, not my friendships (though clearly that is ideal).  More fundamentally the context for sharing the faith is resurrection, pentecost and second coming. Christ is risen – this is my authority to speak of Christ.  The Spirit has been poured out – this is the power to do so.  He is coming – this is the urgency.  I realise my friend would not wish to disagree with this but it’s still good to remember what is, at root, my authority for speaking.
  • There are millions in this country alone who don’t have Christian friends (at least Christian friends who are willing to share their faith).  Friendship evangelism will not reach them.
  • If it’s a question of ‘effectiveness’ – stranger evangelism ‘works’. I have prayed with people on the street to receive Christ.  I have seen them continue on with the Lord.  And this is precisely what we should expect given the point above regarding resurrection, pentecost and second coming.
  • Think of the beginnings of the Salvation Army or David Wilkerson (Cross and Switchblade) – there was no bridge upon which they built their ministry apart from the declaration of the word.  Now they committed themselves to those who responded and very meaningful relationships blossomed (along with ministries that often lost their confidence with the power of the word proclaimed plainly!).  But the footing on which those relationships were placed was the proclamation of the gospel to strangers.
  • Jesus did both – He did blow into town and speak to strangers.  And He also went to dinner parties and built into very significant relationships.
  • We are to sow on all the soils (Mark 4).

The advantages of cold-contact evangelism seem to be:

  • It mirrors the urgency of the message.  To me, this is absolutely vital.  Will people really understand the nature of our message if we don’t communicate it in a ‘Wisdom cries aloud in the streets’ kind of way?
  • It mirrors the summoning nature of the message.  We communicate the gospel powerfully when we call people to Christ.  Immediately it becomes apparent that we’re not discussing a moral philosophy or religious programme but summoning people to a Person.
  • It more closely reflects the profligacy of the gospel offer.  None are disenfranchised, you go after everyone in your area!
  • It gets down to brass tacks fast.

Dinner-table evangelism has these advantages:

  • It’s more corporate.
  • Church life is modelled in front of the unbeliever.  (John 13:34-35)
  • The gospel’s less likely to be seen by the unbeliever as a gnostic, disembodied teaching.
  • It models 1 Thes 2:8 and 2 Cor 4:5 – sharing life and serving those we evangelise.

This doesn’t mean you can’t have life-sharing, serving, door-knocking nor a dinner party that quickly gets down to brass tacks but these seem to be the considerations.

We need to make sure that those who we invite are not simply our friends (Luke 14:12-14!) and that we target those who are not only beyond the walls of the church but beyond our friendship groups and comfort zones.  Door to door is never to be an end in itself but the basis on which a relationship will ensue.  It should never be “Gospel apart from relationship.”  But if it were ever a choice between “Gospel => relationship” or “Relationship => Gospel” (and many people want to make it a choice) then I can’t imagine how, theologically, we could ever justify the latter over the former!

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Heart warming sermon by Rich Owen on the Lord’s Supper. The middle 20 minutes are pure gold!

Dave K nails it on reason.

Our old heart… invents, borrows and distorts logic… to fit our desires. You cannot reshape that distorted reason with more reason. It requires a changing of the heart from which our reason flows.

Ron Frost writes some very juicy stuff on affective theology.

The will and the mind are only instruments of the heart, never its directors, so that once a love for God is present in us our thinking is reoriented and our choices are redirected.  It is in this affective primacy that spirituality takes a very different pathway to other spiritualities.

And if you like Ron Frost (which you do), you’re gonna love this:

Ron Frost and Peter Mead have launched Cor Deo in the UK.  They want to mentor and train Christian men in ministry (preaching, discipleship, leadership) who are ‘gripped by God’ and who want to ‘share His heart’.  Mike Reeves is a trustee and advisor.  I think the whole thing looks an absolute winner.  Go to the website to learn more.

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