Archive for September, 2010

Mount Pleasant Baptist Church in Swansea are running another theology day – this time on the atonement.

Paul Blackham will speak on The Atonement through the Former Prophets then The Atonement in the Gospels.

Paul Mallard will address ‘The Atonement and the Church.’

Martin Downes is speaking on ‘The Atonement in Church History.’

Looks like a brilliant day!


When:  23 October 2010; 10am – 3(ish)pm

Where:  Mount Pleasant Baptist Church

Cost: £10

Contact: administrator@mountpleasantchurch.org.uk for more info.


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The Problem of Freedom [repost]


An evocative word.

What does it mean to us?

Usually it means a freedom from some kind of power so that we can realize our true potential.  ‘I’m free to do what I want any old time.’  That kind of thing.

The question of ‘Who is this “I” who can do these things?’ is usually considered to be a restatement of the freedom mantra: I am the one who can do what I want.  “I am who I am / I will be who I will be”, as Someone famously once said.

The link between such an account of freedom and the divinisation of the self becomes obvious in a thinker like John Stuart Mill.  He said this in On Liberty:

In the part [of the conduct of an individual] which merely concerns himself, his independence is, of course, of right, absolute.  Over himself, over his own body and mind, the individual is sovereign.

Now notice that Mill is concerned here with conduct that ‘merely concerns ourselves’.  He’s well aware that the independent exercise of our wills can harm others and diminish their freedom.  He’s no dummy.  He has a whole apparatus of ‘rights’ with which to negotiate the competing claims of our own absolute freedoms.

When Christians argue against Mill, the argument should not be: “Hey, if everyone thinks they’re sovereign they’ll ride rough-shod over everyone else.”  That would be a very pragmatic objection and one to which Mill has a whole raft of pragmatic solutions.

No, the problem is not what humanity does with their self-rule (they could be thoroughly virtuous with it).  The problem is self-rule.  Mill effectively poses the question, Who has the absolute claim over my life?  He answers: I do.  Mill’s philosophy here (which is the air we breathe in the West) is nothing less than the enthronement of man upon Christ’s throne.

But in critiquing such ‘freedom’ we can do more than simply denounce it as blasphemous.  We would do well also to expose it as the worst kind of bondage.  Why bondage?

Well let’s ask the question,  Who is this self who is exalted to the throne?  Who is the “I” that can do whatever “I” want?

Tellingly, this ‘freedom’ cannot positively give you an identity.  In fact, to be true to itself, this kind of ‘freedom’ must refuse to tell you who you are.  All that such ‘freedom’ can offer is the protection of a sphere in which you can pursue your desires.  It gives you a kingdom (of one!) and a throne and it operates a strict immigration policy.  Yet this border-patrol must not only exclude impediments to your desires, it must also exclude forces that would seek to direct those desires.  It must repel all foreign claims upon you and leave you with an absolute and unquestioned independence.

You have your kingdom and your throne, but who are you?  Well, You will be who you will be.  And so, left to rule your own kingdom, you are a prisoner of your independence.

Consider this piece of advice being given to millions of men and women around the world right now:

“Don’t let anyone tell you what to do.  You’re your own man / your own woman.”

Now aside from the inherent contradiction on show here, notice how you are to be directed in your sovereign rule.  You must direct yourself.  And the reason?  You belong to yourself.   This is the infuriating circularity

I direct myself.

Who is the I who directs?

The one with power to direct.


I belong to me.

Who is the one who belongs to me?

The one belonging to me.

What’s missing in all this is an environment in which to exercise our freedom.  We have been treated as though the choices we make in expression of our self-hood are grounded only in ourselves as individuals.  Yet we are who we are in a network of dependent relationships.  The expression of our identity through responsible living and choosing necessarily occurs within an environment.  Divorced from this environment, any experience of ‘freedom’ will actually take us away from our true selves.

This is the experience of the ant-farm in this famous Simpson’s clip…

The ants may have longed to be free from their glass case, but ‘freedom’ from the ant-farm proves to be “horrible” indeed.  It destroys their very selves to be ‘free’ from the environment supportive of their own life and being.

We are the same. We don’t exist as free floating individuals to whom the greatest gift would be independence.  We are truly free when properly related to the environment in which our personhood flourishes.

And this is why Mill’s definition of freedom does not help the exercise of responsible choice, it radically undermines it.  Because I have been stripped of all claims upon me, all direction from outside, all sense of a context wider than me, I am left with a self that can only be defined in reference to itself and its own decision-making capacity.  I have a naked self exercising a naked power, cut free from all that’s actually constitutive of my identity.

Therefore, necessarily, I’m going to have to go outside myself in order to live out my irreducibly relational existence.  I need, so to speak, to make an alliance with a foreign kingdom.

Now our experience of this will feel like it falls into one of two categories:

Either A) I embark on an alliance as a dispensible means towards my self-determined end.  In this case I’ll drop it as soon as it’s inconvenient — I’m in charge using you.

Or B) I genuinely give myself over to the foreign power and am determined by it — You’re in charge using me.

But the bible says, in practice A) is our sinful intention but it always collapses into B).

Let’s think about Ephesians 2:1-3:

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience- among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind.

In our natural state we ‘carry out the desires of the body and mind’.  You might think that sitting on the throne of your little kingdom is the definition of freedom.  But no, precisely as we ‘gratify the cravings’ (NIV) of the body and mind we are following the devil.

Just as we think we are exercising our self-rule, in that act we are being ruled by Satan.  We imagine we’re strong enough to pull off A), in reality we have no bargaining power with the world, the flesh and the devil – they’re in charge using us.

The similarity between Mill’s quotation on freedom and Ephesians 2:3 is chilling.  To exercise ‘sovereignty’ over our ‘body and mind’ is not freedom at all.  According to the bible that is slavery.

If we’re going to find a true freedom it will have to be on an entirely different footing.

More on that later…

Rest of series:

Where to begin?

Freed will

Living free


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End on a song?

A short evangelistic talk given during the interval of a church concert.

This is our final lunchtime concert of the season.  And in the best show biz tradition we’re going to end on a song.

But why?  Why is singing such a fitting ending?  Why do our great stories finish with weddings, feasting and singing?  What is it about a song that sums things up so nicely?

It might feel an obvious thing, but when you face the reality of our lives, you have to ask questions.

You see all our bright, bold love songs end up fading.

Our green salad days don’t last do they?

Kingdoms rise, but then they fall.

And if you believe the scientists, the universe is headed for a deep freeze or a big crunch.  But either way their forecasted ending is not happy.  It’s not weddings, and feasting and joy!  So why sing?

This comes close to home in our own lives.  We may bloom for a season, but it doesn’t last.

As Psalm 103 says:

15 As for man, his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field; 16 the wind blows over it and it is gone, and its place remembers it no more.

I said those words at the crematorium on Monday, taking the funeral of a woman who spent the last decade of her life lost in a fog of dementia.  That’s hardly ending on a song is it?

And yet – we did sing.  Many from the church here who knew Betty sang and sang loud, with hope filling our hearts.  Why?  Just to keep our spirits up?  Defiance against the harsh realities of life?

No.  We sang because we knew, and Betty knew, a deeper reality to life.  There’s a deeper story than the blooming-then-dying story.

The bible begins with perfect harmony.  That perfect trio of Father, Son and Spirit – a major chord of life and joy.  And so they wanted their trio to spread – they wanted a quartet – us!

And so creation – the overflow of their exuberant life.

Then the dischordant note of the fall – human beings ripping up the music, singing their own tune, bringing disharmony, chaos, darkness.  That’s what we see when we look out on our world.

What was God to do?  Well Jesus, that Second Note of the Divine Triad, He descended into our mess.  And when the second note of a major chord descends, what do you get?  You get a minor chord.

Our God has entered into our sad songs.  And He’s sung them Himself.  All those Psalms in the Old Testament were the songs of a people – so often suffering in this dischordant world.  And Jesus took all those heart-felt cries on His own lips.  And He carried our sorrows and our sins to the cross where He sang that bleakest of all songs; the one that begins “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Ps 22:1).  He truly entered into the depths of our sorrows – knowing our sufferings from the inside.

But then, on Easter Sunday, He rose.  He went through the tragedy and into a divine comedy.  There is a happy ending.  The minor fall gives way to the major lift.  Jesus ascended back up to God and He invites us up with Him – to sing with Him.  He descended to sing our songs in a minor key.  Then He ascended and invites us to sing His songs in a major key.

There is a way through the sad songs and into triumph and joy.  At the end of all things is not death and decay, but when He returns it will be a feast – a wedding feast – where we are invited to join Jesus in the eternal song: the Hallelujah chorus,

Hallelujah – for the LORD God Omnipotent Reigneth  (Rev 19:6)

That’s the deep story, the original story.  And I submit to you that it’s the only story that makes sense of our desire to end on a song.  Otherwise every song we sing is like whistling in the graveyard to keep up our spirits.

So why do you love singing?  Are you fighting against the inexorable pull of the grave?  When you enjoy music, are you trying to make merry in face of the inevitable?  Or are you tapping into the deepest reality – that Jesus has secured a future of victory, joy, immortality, feasting and singing.

At the crematorium that’s why we sang.  Not a grim determination to make merry in a dying world, but a defiant proclamation that Jesus has won the victory and that when we see Betty again we will sing!

So what about you?  What is reality as far as you’re concerned?  Does death have the final word or will you sing the Hallelujah chorus?

Come to All Souls on a Sunday and find out how you can participate in the real story and end on a song.


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Exodus 7-10 – The Plagues


We saw last time that the LORD is a God of Promise.  Read Exodus 6:6-8 to remind yourself of His seven-fold “I will” to the people.


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Harvest Song for Kids

I recorded the song (along with these) a couple of years ago on a handheld voice recorder.  Since then my ancient Yamaha keyboard broke, so there’s no re-recording the music I’m afraid.  Here it is, warts n all!


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What does the phrase “Jesus is Lord” mean?

I’ve heard people go on about the Lordship of Jesus at great length, but in every statement in which the phrase appears I could have easily swapped “Jesus is Lord” for “God is big” and there’d have been no material change in the meaning.

So go and ‘do evangelism’ because God is big.  And He says so.  … And also hell is hot …and time is short.  No back-chat now, off you run.  Remember Who’s Boss!

Sound familiar at all?

Well what does ‘Jesus is Lord’ mean?  And how does His Lordship relate to evangelism.

Well first of all, “Jesus is Lord” literally means “‘Yahweh-to-the-rescue’ is Yahweh”.  Which is a statement worth meditating on!  Yahweh-to-the-rescue is Yahweh!

And now meditate on its implications for evangelism!  To abbreviate the above (at the risk of causing misunderstanding): Our God is Jesus who is Rescuer.  Therefore the Lordship of Jesus and His saving passion are not two different things.  And obedience to this Lordship is not so much to be submissive to an edict as to be swept up into this passion.

Second of all, it means the true God of Israel and the true Lord of the universe is Jesus.

Therefore if you hadn’t already seen it, you need to go back and read the Old Testament properly (ie in the way it was intended).  And also, if you haven’t already, you need to revisit your notion of God.  He is entirely Jesus shaped.  That Nazarene who bled for me is Lord.  Not some ancient explosion or some foreign god.  Not even some familiar theistic god of popular understanding.  And certainly not little old me.  No if we’re going to talk about God, let’s talk about Jesus.  He is Lord.  This will mean very different gospel conversations to the regular “Let’s first agree there’s a Higher-Power” chats.

Thirdly it means that the universe I’m in and the universe my friend is in is Christ’s universe.

Imagine you and your friend have been teleported into the tabernacle (and no-one’s said “Oi, goy, get outta here!”).  But you’re surrounded by goats and bulls being slaughtered and priests with special clothes and holy spaces specially demarcated and furniture arranged just so.  Imagine you lived there.  Imagine you’d never lived anywhere else.

Your friend couldn’t help but be fascinated by some aspect of the tabernacle.  Perhaps she’s besotted by the 12 precious stones in the high priest’s breastpiece.  Or the cherubim woven into the curtain.  Or the fire burning on the altar.  It’ll be something.  And she’ll no doubt have some ridiculous notions about what these things are all about.  But whatever you talk about with your friend you’re actually in a gospel presentation.  And the very terms of your discussion and the raw materials of her values, hopes and fears are derived from that gospel.

If you didn’t know how to “have a gospel conversation” in that environment it could only be because you yourself hadn’t grasped the gospel meaning of the tabernacle.  You’d need to study the Scriptures more, understand the gospel more.  In short you’d need to see how the whole tabernacle proclaims “Jesus is Lord.”

Well you know the application.  We do live in a gospel presentation (Psalm 19; Rom 10:17ff; Col 1:23).  And if we don’t know how to bring a conversation about a bullying boss or a wayward teenager or ongoing depression or state education or economic inequality or marital troubles or politics or mid-life crises around to the gospel then we need to take the Lordship of Jesus more seriously.  We need to go back to the Scriptures and in His Light to see again.

I used to think evangelism was inserting trite presentations into trivial conversations.  But ‘Jesus is Lord’ changes all of that.  Jesus is not a foreign intruder into a conversation that’s about something else.  He is the One who makes sense of it all.


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Just three little tidbits that struck me from this sermon.

1) Romans is a fundraising letter!

If our fundraising letters don’t look like Romans (and they don’t) it’s a sign that we don’t think about money or the gospel the way Paul does.


2) Galatians 6:6-9 is about giving

Check the context – v5 and v10 are clearly about contributing to the needs of others.  Therefore financial giving is a way of sowing to the Spirit.  It’s investing in Spirit-life (i.e. word-life; gospel-growth) and not flesh-life (i.e. this-world life; gratifying-my-selfish-cravings life).


3) Philippians 4 – the joy of gospel partnership through giving.

Financial giving is ‘partnering’ (v14 – an important word in Philippians –  1:5; 2:1; 3:10) in gospel ministry.  To partner with Paul in this way is even more for the congregation’s sake than for his. (v17)


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Happy Friday


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Oh how He loves you and me

That’s what it’s all about


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The Glory of the Bloodied God

A re-post of a hymn that fits with any common metre tune


The glory of the bloodied God
His fruitfulness in shame
Stooped lower than all men have trod
In torment in the flame

The writhing worm, disjointed dry
Rejected from His birth
Thrust groaning into Satan’s sky
Accursed by heaven and earth

Hell’s blackest cloak enfolds with death
From Pinnacle to pit
To choke the Source of Living Breath
Extinguish all that’s lit

The Mighty Man at war cries out
It echoes ‘gainst the sky
Resounding as a futile shout
Within a victory cry

Creation torn from Head to toe
His body out of joint
The Rock that splits is split in two
Creation to anoint

Our Jonah hurled as recompense
Into abysmal depths
The beast that swallows Innocence
Is swallowed by His death

Divine appeasing blood poured out
Divinely pleasing scent
While man appraises with his snout
Declares it death’s descent

Then crowned in curse, enthroned on wood
My God nailed to the tree
The reigning blood, that cleansing flood
Is opened up for me.


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Exodus 4-7: Bible Study

Exodus 4-7 Bible Study


In chapters 1-2, how was God at work through the suffering of the Israelites?

Every hardship was turned by the LORD into some kind of blessing:

1:1-14 – they multiplied under oppression;
1:15-22 – the midwives were blessed for helping the Israelites;
2:1-10 – Moses was
saved by being cast into the Nile;
2:11-25 – Moses fled Egypt but found a wife.


In chapter 3, what was the LORD’s response to the suffering of the Israelites?

The LORD comes down to rescue them from the Egyptians with a mighty hand and bring them out to a land flowing with milk and honey.


Moses and His Calling

Moses is a reluctant leader to say the least.  How does he react to God’s call and what then is God’s response?

Moses’ reaction God’s response
Exodus 3:11-12

Who am I??

I will be with you

Exodus 3:13-14

Who are you??


Exodus 4:1-9

What if they don’t listen?

3 signs

Exodus 4:10-12

I’m a poor speaker!

Who gave man his mouth? I’ll help!

Exodus 4:13-17

Please send someone else!

Burning anger – provides brother


Thinking back over Moses’ life, why do you think he might have been reluctant to ‘take up the reins’?

He’d tried to save his people before (Ex 2:11ff; cf Acts 7:25) and it ended in total failure and 40 year exile!


How would you characterize God’s response to those who resist His call?

Patient, reassuring, equipping, but in the end our resistance deserves anger.  Even so our disobedience doesn’t thwart God – He always has His own ways (eg Aaron).


Are there areas of service God has called you to and for which you feel unprepared?  What do these verses say to us?




Exodus 4:18-31

We haven’t got time to go over these verses but people may have questions, especially about vv24-26.  If they are raised, here’s my best stab at those verses:

  • Moses was about to lead the nation of Israel and declare God’s word
  • Yet he’d not been leading his household properly nor keeping God’s word
  • He should have circumcised his boys or been cut off himself.  (Gen 17:10-14)
  • The LORD has sacraments (external signs of His gospel) in both testaments:
  • In the OT: circumcision and Passover; In the NT: baptism and Lord’s Supper
  • The LORD clearly takes these outward signs seriously and so should we.
  • Moses is shown yet again to be a very flawed and weak vessel!
  • Verse 26 reveals the nature of circumcision: “Bridegroom of blood”
  • The LORD pledges Himself to us in blood as our true Bridegroom.
  • Circumcision is the sign of this and the LORD wants us to honour His signs.
  • As an analogy: being careless with your wedding ring will anger your spouse!


Read Exodus 5:1-23

Any idea how old Moses and Aaron are as they address the most powerful man in the world? (Have a guess – the answer is in chapter 7:7)

80 and 83 respectively


How did their demands sound to Pharaoh’s ears?

First of all, absolutely ridiculous (v2).  Then as cover for idleness (v4ff)


Later, when the Israelites were rescued and living in the wilderness with the LORD, they would reminisce about their time in Egypt: “we sat round pots of meat and ate all the food we wanted” (Ex 16:3).  But what are their conditions really like as described in this chapter?

Labour, work (v4)
Slave-drivers (v6)
“don’t reduce the quota, They are lazy, that’s why they’re crying out” (v8)
“Make the work harder for the men so that they keep working” (v9)
“Your work will not be reduced at all” (v11)
The people scattered (v12)
The slave drivers kept pressing them (v13)
The Israelite foremen were beaten (v14)
“Lazy, that’s what you are, Lazy!” (v17)
They were in trouble (v19)
“We are a stench to Pharaoh” (v21)
Trouble (v22,23)


Jesus said that we are naturally slaves to sin (John 8:34ff).  How is this chapter a good description of that slavery too?

Egypt is the place where harsh taskmasters make you work harder and harder for less and less.  And even as you do more and more, you are branded as idle.  Our bondage to sin and Satan is just like this.  We chase after moving targets and never get the verdict we’re looking for.


Under pressure, the Israelites would later re-imagine their life in Egypt as ‘a land of milk and honey’ (Num 16:3).  Are you tempted to think of non-Christian life as ‘the good old days’?   What should we remind ourselves of?



Let’s read about the LORD’s response…

Read Exodus 6:1-12

When someone vows “I will” over and over again, what does it bring to mind?



Find all the “I will”s in verses 6-8.  What are the promises attached to these “I will”s?

I will BRING you out (v6)
I will FREE you (v6)
I will REDEEM you (v6)
I will TAKE you (v7)
I will BE your God (v7)
I will BRING you (v8)
I will GIVE it to you (v8)


Are there any conditions attached to these promises?

None!  The LORD WILL do it!


How were these promises received at the time?

V9: the people are too discouraged to hear
v12: Moses is unbelieving again!


What is the point of declaring promises to discouraged and disbelieving people?

It shows us what kind of God the LORD is!  The promise making God!  And He will declare His marriage-like promises even over completely unresponsive people.


Application time:

We know that Jesus is our LORD and Bridegroom and He has promised us salvation through His mighty redemption from sin and Satan.  But sometimes we can be too weighed down with sin or suffering to really hear His word of promise.

Split up into pairs and spend a couple of minutes discussing a current struggle you have with sin or suffering.  In what ways do you feel the oppression of chapter 5?

Then take it in turns to read out Ex 6:6-8 to one another – personalizing it if you like:

`I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the yoke of ________. I will free you from being slaves…, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with mighty acts of judgment. 7 I will take you as my own… and I will be your God. Then you will know that I am the LORD your God, who brought you out from under the yoke of ________. 8 And I will bring you to the land [of promise]. I will give it to you as a possession. I am the LORD.’

Pray for each other.


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…or at least Pharasaical in your Christianity
(taken from this sermon on The Two Sons: Luke 15):


1)    You’re in church

Luke 15:25 – the field is the older brother’s natural habitat.  Not the far country.  Close to the banquet.  But not in it.


2)    You’re angry

v28 – older brothers have volcanic anger.  Which is difficult for you if you’re an older brother type because you are a good boy or girl.  You’re not supposed to be angry, but you are.  Furious actually and it bubbles beneath the surface.


3)    You’re self-promoting

v29 – “Look!” says the older brother.  Look at my record.  Look how good I am.


4)    Life with God feels like slavery

v29 – “All these years I have been slaving.”  You feel like God is a slave-driver and you are one of his billions of minions trudging along.


5)    You can’t admit to sin

v29 – “I have never disobeyed your orders.”  You think of sin as simply disobeying direct commands from a heavenly slave-master.  Or you think of it as not being as externally bad as the next guy.  You would never think of sin as a matter of the heart.  You don’t think of sin as a relationship problem with Jesus and others.  And so you never admit to sin.  You cannot admit to it because your whole identity is founded on being better than others.


6)    You don’t allow yourself to celebrate

v29 – a young goat with one or two friends, maybe.  But I don’t think this elder brother even asked for a goat.  He’s not into extravagant celebration, he’d rather slave.  He’s not into cutting loose, he’d rather scrimp and save.  He’s not into asking for things, he’d rather earn.  Is that you?


7)    Everything’s unfair

v29 – he got more than me! You’re always looking over your shoulder at what the other person has and crying foul.  Life has the audacity NOT to follow your work ethic.  Good things happen to bad people, bad things happen to good people and you hate that.  Because you’re all about ‘fairness’ and you despise the grace of God.  The thought of really bad people being forgiven and ending up in heaven seriously disturbs you.


8)    You cannot associate with sinners

v30 – he can’t even bring himself to say “my brother.” It’s “this son of yours”.  If there’s a party with sinners you just wouldn’t go.  What on earth do you have in common with these people?  You can’t relate to sinners outside or inside the church.  You’d never think of joining an outreach to the homeless, or drug addicts or prostitutes – they are a different species after all.  And if Christians confess sin to you, you have advice but no real understanding or empathy.


9)    You’re wracked with superiority

v30 – Jesus defines it as ‘wild living’ (v13) but the older brother spins his own interpretation, ‘squandered your property on prostitutes.’  The older son needs to be better than his brother.  Therefore his brother needs to be worse.  Is that you?  Are you better?  And do you need to be better, and others need to be worse.


10)   You don’t know the grace of Jesus and the love of the Father

This is the heart of it all.  This underlies all the other signs.  The older brother is outside the banquet as the parable ends.  He is a stranger to his father’s love.  And it’s his own goodness that keep him out of the feast.  His goodness doesn’t get him into the baquet.  His goodness keeps him out.  And remember this feast represents heaven!

Are you an older brother? When people talk about relationship with Jesus and the love of God do those phrases just pass you by?  Do you know what it is to be a sinner celebrated by Jesus?  Do you know what it is to be welcomed by Jesus and eat with Him?  (Luke 15:1-2; Rev 3:20).   Do you know what it is to be adopted by Jesus into the divine Family and call on the Most High God as Father?

That is the only kind of Christian there is.  Heaven is only for sinners reconciled by the blood-bought redeeming love of Jesus.

Jesus says in Matthew 18:3: “Unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”

Lay down you pride.  Be reconciled to Jesus who died to welcome you.  Come on in and join the joy.


More from this sermon.


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Luke 15: Younger Brother sermon here

Luke 15: Older Brother sermon audio here

The world is naturally divided into sinners and slaves.  Sinners seek freedom.  Slaves seek reputation.  And they hate each other.  Sinners think the world would be so much better without the slaves.  Slaves think the world would be so much better without the sinners.  We all exist somewhere along this spectrum.

Jesus comes and says – You’re both wrong.  You’re both wretched.  You’re both equally far from heaven’s banquet.  That’s the meaning of Luke 15.

Jesus comes to bring a new kind of humanity.  Not half-way in between but something else.  Not sinners, not slaves but sons.

Sinners wish God dead by taking His stuff and leaving.
Slaves wish God dead by despising His grace.
Sons are brought from death to life in His embrace.

Sinners are strangers to God in the far country.
Slaves are strangers to God in the field.
Sons are sinners in the Father’s arms.

Sinners seek freedom yet find deeper slavery.
Slaves seek righteousness yet find deeper sin.
Sons seek Christ and find both freedom and righteousness.

Sinners are wretched in their rebellion.
Slaves are wretched in their righteousness.
Sons are wretched in His robes.

Full sermon text below….


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Download here.


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Sermon audio

“Who am I, that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?” (Exodus 3:11)

Here is Moses full of self-doubt.  So what does Moses need?  Ask anyone today and they’ll tell you: the solution to self-doubt is self-confidence.  That’s the modern cure-all for whatever ails you.  Have more confidence in yourself.

That’s what the world says.  What does the LORD say?

Verse 12: I will be with you

Do you see what the LORD is doing?  Not trying to instill self-confidence, but God-confidence.  “I will be with you.”  The LORD doesn’t say “Moses, don’t do yourself down.  You were such a beautiful baby, and a powerful prince, and you’re in my top three all-time shepherds.  I think you’ve got what it takes.”

The LORD doesn’t turn Moses’ eyes back on himself.

Do you ever do that when someone’s full of self-doubt?  We often say, “Have more confidence in yourself, you’re so talented, you’re brilliant…”   But if someone’s fishing for compliments, how many compliments are enough?  The WORLD is not enough to fill our need for affirmation.  Just speaking for myself: the WORLD could not satisfy my black hole of self-obsession.  If you get me started, I’ll never be satisfied.

Which is why God does something very different.  He fights self-doubt with GOD-confidence.  Essentially the LORD says, “Who are you??  Who are you??  That’s not the point Moses.  I will be with you.”

There used to be a saying in tennis that the greatest doubles team imaginable was John McEnroe and anyone.  John McEnroe and anyone could win Wimbledon.

Well imagine if you were that anyone.  Imagine if you were John McEnroe’s partner going into the Wimbledon final and you spent the whole pre-match press-conference saying “Who am I to win a tennis match?  Who am I to win Wimbledon?  I am not a brilliant tennis player!!”

What would John McEnroe say?  Apart from ‘You cannot be serious?’  He’d say, “I will be with you.  I will be with you.  Enough about yourself, really it’s irrelevant.”…

…In a deep sense Moses is going to be just like that staff in his hand.  The staff by itself is nothing.  We call it a staff, that’s just fancy name for a stick.  But through that stick, miracles would be wrought.  Through that stick the plagues would fall.  Through that stick the Red Sea would be divided.  By that stick the Rock would be struck and the waters would come out.  Why, because it’s such a great stick?  Because the qualities inherent in the stick can call forth the powers of heaven??  No it’s nothing to do with the stick and everything to do with the eternal I AM who uses the stick.

He can use a stick to unleash the powers of heaven, He can use an octogenarian shepherd to defeat the most powerful man in the world.  Later in the bible He uses a bunch of fishermen to turn the world upside down.  Because where does the great I AM really show His power?  On the cross.  (John 8:28)  The great I AM bleeds and dies on a rugged wooden cross, and that’s the power that saves the world.  Can He deal with weakness?  Can He use weakness?  That’s His speciality.  2 Corinthians 12 verse 9, the Lord says to a weakened Paul, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Full script below


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Recently I quoted Dick Lucas on the duty of preachers to be waiters not chefs.  We don’t cook up its material, we serve it up.  Thus…

The Bible is not asking us to interpret it. The Bible is an interpretation.

Some might wonder at that statement.  Surely we’re always interpreting. Isn’t that what Kant taught us?

Well it’s interesting what Barth has to say about interpretation.  He sometimes gets tarred with a Kantian brush (bizarrely in my opinion).  But just listen to him blow away that kind of dualism in his Romans commentary:

Preface to First Edition:  ‘Paul, as a child of his age, addressed his contemporaries. It is, however, far more important that, as Prophet and Apostle of the Kingdom of God, he veritably speaks to all men of every age. The differences between then and now, there and here, no doubt require careful investigation and consideration. But the purpose of such investigation can only be to demonstrate that these differences are, in fact, purely trivial. The historical-critical method of Biblical investigation has its rightful place: it is concerned with the preparation of the intelligence – and this can never be superfluous. But were I driven to choose between it and the venerable doctrine of Inspiration, I should without hesitation adopt the latter, which has a broader, deeper, more important justification. The doctrine of Inspiration is concerned with the labour of apprehending, without which no technical equipment, however complete, is of any use whatever. Fortunately I am not compelled to choose between the two. Nevertheless, my whole energy of interpreting has been expended in an endeavour to see through and beyond history into the spirit of the Bible, which is the Eternal Spirit. What was once of grave importance, is so still. What is today of grave importance – and not merely crotchety and incidental – stands in direct connection with that ancient gravity. If we rightly understand ourselves, our problems are the problems of Paul; and if we be enlightened by the brightness of his answers, those answers must be ours.”

Preface to Second Edition:  ‘By genuine understanding I mean that creative energy which Luther exercised with intuitive certainty in his exegesis; which underlies the systematic interpretation of Calvin…How energetically Calvin, having first established what stands in the text, sets himself to re-think the whole material and to wrestle with it, till the walls which separate the sixteenth century from the first become transparent! Paul speaks, and the man of the sixteenth century hears. The conversation between the original record and the reader moves round the subject-matter until a distinction between yesterday and today becomes impossible. If a man persuades himself that Calvin’s method can be dismissed with the old-fashioned motto, ‘The Compulsion of Inspiration’, he betrays himself as one who has never worked upon the interpretation of Scripture. Taking Julicher’s work as typical of much modern exegesis, we observe how closely he keeps to the mere deciphering of words as though they were runes. But, when all is done, they still remain largely unintelligible. How quick he is, without any real struggling with the raw material of the Epistle, to dismiss this or that difficult passage as simply a peculiar doctrine or opinion of Paul! How quick he is to treat a matter as explained, when it is said to belong to the religious thought, feeling, experience, conscience or conviction – of Paul!’

Preface to Third Edition:  ‘The commentator is thus presented with a clear ‘Either – Or’. The question is whether or no he is to place himself in a relation to his author of utter loyalty. Is he to read him, determined to follow him to the very last word, wholly aware of what he is doing, and assuming that the author also knew what he was doing? Loyalty surely cannot end at a particular point, and certainly cannot be exhausted by an exposure of the author’s literary affinities. Anything short of utter loyalty means a commentary ON Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, not a commentary so far as is possible WITH him – even to his last word.’


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An extraordinary recent talk from Mike on John 20:19-23: Join the sending love of God.

And if you missed this one from four years ago, listen now:  Why Go?


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Marriage is glorious…


…but you have to acknowledge differences between the genders
(warning: one swear word)


…differences in how we approach relationships


So men, don’t say any of these things to your wives…


In all the give and take, you’ll have to make priorities…


…and find glory in the ordinary.


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