Archive for February, 2011

Name in vain??

What’s it mean to take the LORD’s name in vain?

I’m blogging on it tomorrow for the King’s English.

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Any questions?

I’ve written a fair bit about the bible being a thoroughly Christian book.  (See for instance the Christ in OT tab above).  My position might be summarized like this:

Jesus is the one Revelation of an otherwise unknowable God.  It is therefore Christ who has always been the appearing, hands-on LORD and He has always been the true and consciously-trusted Object of faith for all believers in all ages. Saving faith has always been personal trust in the Person of the Mediator.  And whatever progress in explanation or understanding there may have been throughout the OT – it is the progress of the LORD Christ Himself marching towards His own incarnation.

As far as I can see the good guys in church history have agreed. But unfortunately, at least in the circles I move in, people are more familiar with a kind of pop-biblical-theology that has lost touch with this historical position.  And so people naturally enough have questions.  One reader has emailed me a number of them and I’m sure others of you have more.  I thought I’d compile a list of FAQs and then I (and hopefully some others) would have a go at answering them.

Here are the questions emailed to me:

– Is Jesus The Wisdom in the wisdom literature? Or is Wisdom heavenly information to help us live for God?

– What is the message of Job?

– Is the New Covenant better than the Old?  In what way?

– Were OT saints more worse off, or have anything ‘less’ than NT saints in any way?

– It is clear throughout Romans that without the Spirit of God indwelling man he cannot know Him. Do you think this is solely a New Testament prerequisite? Surely King David (with all his sin) was only kept because he had the redeeming, indwelling Spirit which would not let him go, and wasn’t this the definitive difference between him and Saul?

-How should we deal with the physical prosperity promises in the OT? Are they promises that can be claimed today? What about the revival promises of the OT e.g. 2 Chron 7. If my people humble themselves etc. Can these be claimed today?

– Should a result of us having the NT and, therefore, more detail of certain doctrines of God be that we can know more of Him? Is this how we are better off?

-Is John the Baptist ‘least of all the saints’ because he was from the OT era?

– Isn’t it obvious that we have progressed in sanctification since the OT since today we would never invite a Samson to preach?

Please add other questions you would like to see answers to, and/or tell me which of these you’d particularly like to hear about…

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Audio Powerpoint

A few days ago I was strolling along the beach with my wife.  We bought some amazing tropical fruit from a roadside vendor, I went for a swim and then lay down on a deckchair sipping a cold beer.  I said to Emma “This is the life.”

When have you said that phrase?  “This is the life”?  You might not like hot holidays. Maybe you’d rather go skiing with friends and then sit down by a roaring fire with a big hot chocolate, extra cream.  “This is the life.”

Or you go out and celebrate some success at your favourite restaurant with your favourite people. “This is the life” we say.

It’s funny how rarely we use that saying isn’t it?  We live for awfully long stretches of time without saying “this is the life”.  Apparently most of life isn’t “the life”.  Evidently only very rarely is life THE LIFE.  We have to stop doing everything we have been doing and fly halfway around the world before our life starts to be THE LIFE.  Is that right?  Is it the case that most of our lives aren’t really “the life”?  That would be a real shame wouldn’t it?

Because 36 hours after I said: “this is the life”, we were locked outside our house in the freezing rain, rummaging through our suitcases before concluding our house-keys were somewhere on the continent of Australia. Was this “the life”?  “The life” seemed far away at that point.

But I wonder whether for most of us “the life” seems out of reach.

But John, the author of this letter, thinks very differently about “the life.”  For John “the life” is not a time or a place.  “The life” is a person – a person who was there in the beginning.  A person with whom we now have fellowship.  Look at the first few verses of the letter:

That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched–this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. 2 The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.

This is the life.  Not a time or a place.  A person.  This is the life: Jesus.  He was there in the beginning.  There with the Father.  He came in the middle to live out “THE LIFE” on full display to the world.  John had seen THE LIFE.  He’d walked the dusty roads of Israel with THE LIFE.  When he saw Jesus saying and doing His thing, John said to Himself “THIS is the life.”  Jesus is the life.  And so John wants to tell the whole world about THE LIFE.  Verse 3:

3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

It’s John’s greatest joy to pass on THE LIFE to us.  So that you and I can enjoy THE LIFE, not just when we’re sunbathing by the pool or having drinks with friends, but when we’re locked out of the house in the freezing rain, when we lose our jobs and our health and our friends, our family, even our own lives.  We can lose everything in life and still have THE LIFE.  Because we have Jesus: the Author of Life, the Word of Life, the Meaning of Life.

In all of life we can have THE LIFE.

But it’s a different kind of life to “THE LIFE” we enjoy sitting by the pool.  THE LIFE we seek is usually pretty self-indulgent.  THE LIFE that Jesus gives is self-giving.  THE LIFE we pursue is about sitting back and relaxing.  THE LIFE of Jesus is an outgoing life.

Did you notice in these opening verses: Jesus goes out from the Father into the world.  He “appears” to the disciples who receive THE LIFE and then they go out and tell others.

THE LIFE is Jesus and it’s not a self-indulgent, sitting-back kind of life.  It’s a self-giving, out-going kind of life.

And with that as background, come now to a crucial verse in our passage – chapter 3, verse 16:


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Levi becomes levitical

Something that didn’t make it into this morning’s sermon on Luke 5:27-32:

Levi’s parents must have named him with high hopes.  The Levite’s in the Old Testament were the priests.  A Levite was meant to be God’s go-between.  Levi is meant to be the human face of a loving LORD.  He’s meant to bring people under God’s influence.

But now look at him.  He’s Rome’s go-between.  The Jewish face of a tyrannical empire, bringing people under Rome’s influence.  He’s kind of an anti-levite Levi.

But when Jesus calls him he is freed into being his true self.

In his joy he throws a banquet, invites his co-workers and friends and secures a great speaker – Jesus.  He turns into a brilliant go-between, drawing people under Jesus’ influence.

Levi becomes levitical.

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I’m sure many of you have done similar things, I’d appreciate your feedback…


Following on from this post….


Who Do I Know Who Needs to Know?

There’s no science behind this.  It’s just an opportunity to sit down and think prayerfully about our friendships.  Think of family, friends, neighbours, workmates, club members, children’s friend’s families etc!

Before the Lord ask yourself where you are with the people around you, and where they are with the Lord.

How open are they to me?

1)    Nodding acquaintance / rarely see them
2)    We talk, not very deeply
3)    A friendship is there
4)    We could talk about most things
5)    We talk about everything


How open are they to the gospel?

1)    They don’t know I’m a Christian / Don’t want to know
2)    They know I’m a Christian but not much more
3)    We’ve spoken about gospel things once or twice
4)    They’d come to something / read a book / have a deep conversation
5)    They’re open to exploring Christianity in a deeper way


List the people you know – the more the better.  Think through their current levels of openness (not where you wish they were).  Pray through them and ask the Lord to lay on your heart one or two.

Perhaps with these in mind you could form a prayer triplet in which you pray regularly for three non-Christians to come to faith.

Just an idea.


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This is something I’m using with churches to help them think evangelistically…

Building a Family

Again Jesus said, “Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” And with that he breathed on them and said, “Receive the Holy Spirit.  If you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.”  (John 20:21-22)

God our Father is building a family.  He has always enjoyed His eternal Son, Jesus, in the fellowship of the Spirit (John 17:24).  And effectively they’ve said to each other “This is too good to keep to ourselves.”  The expansive love of this Family is the reason for everything, from creation to new creation.  Here’s the meaning of life: The Father wants many brothers and sisters for His Son (Romans 8:29).

So the Father sent Jesus into the world to share in our life so that we might share in His life.  The Son of God became man so that men and women might become sons and daughters of God (John 1:12-14).  Believers are those drawn by the Spirit into union with Jesus.  Now we call on His God and Father as our God and our Father (John 20:17).

But God isn’t finished yet, and neither are we.  From before the world began He has forever been outgoing. That’s what our Father is like and so that’s what His family is like.

In our verse from John 20 this is what we see: The outgoing Lord Jesus breathes His outgoing Spirit onto His followers.  Why?  So that they will be outgoing.  We carry on His life of reconciliation to the world.

Which means three things:

1)    Mission is God’s thing.

Our God is more evangelistic than we’ll ever be.  We don’t have to whip up evangelistic fervour, we only need to catch His!  As we go, we have Him behind us and for us and in us.

2)    Mission becomes our thing.

The Risen Jesus could have leap-frogged the church and just zapped the nations with eternal life.  But no, He uses us.  In fact He insists on using us sinful and weak believers.  We are His missionary body to reach the world.

3)    Mission is personal.

When Jesus sends us with the divine power of His Spirit, He tells us what it will look like.  Not a laser-light display.  No, as Jesus was sent, so we are sent.  Our life of mission will look like His life of mission.  It will be a personal, costly, time-intensive investing of ourselves in others.

What does this mean for us corporately?

Our Father loves the world and wants billions to share in His family life.  But He does it through us and He does it personally.  The Father sends the Son.  The Son sends the church in the power of the Spirit.  And the church reaches the world.  Personally. If God wanted to beam people up into some blissful state en masse He would send down some impersonal zapping.  BAM – India’s converted! But He’s not impersonal.  He doesn’t send zapping.  He sends persons.  As a church we seem to have forgotten about “personal evangelism” but according to the bible all evangelism must be profoundly personal.

What will this look like in my life?

It will look like going out to others.  Not in grand, dramatic ways but in everyday, ordinary life.  Jesus equips me with His Spirit to go person-to-person with the love of God.

In the next post there will be an exercise to help us think about the people in our lives.  Whether they know it or not, they exist to be drawn into God’s Family.  And we exist to reach out with His invitation.


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Happy Friday

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What is the bible for?

I’ve just read a prominent UK evangelical blogger answering: “Application”!

Time to repost this one then…


Like coathangers, we own a hundred bibles but have no idea how they came to be ours.  One of them is called a “Life Application Bible.”

As far as I can tell, it exists in order to footnote every biblical indicative so that a moral imperative may be added.  This is, we are assured, the cure to our spiritual malaise.  Just listen to this endorsement on the back cover:

Evangelical Christianity is suffering from an acute case of spiritual malnutrition.  The symptom is well known – defection in personal standards of living.  The cure – Vitamin A – application of God’s Word.

This remedy is both refreshing and realistic, calculated to change the will.  Not merely satisfying curiosity or making us smarter sinners, the Scriptures were given to make us more like Jesus Christ.


What’s the understanding of the bible here?  The Spirit’s testimony to the Son?  Christ’s love-letter to His bride?  The deposit of faith given to the church for the sake of proclaiming Christ to the world?  No.  At base the bible is, apparently, given for individual piety.

What kind of anthropology is this?  Change the will and you’ll correct the ‘defection in standards of living.’  !

What kind of salvation is offered?  Apparently we are not to become merely ‘smarter sinners’ – well what then?  Do we become subtler sinners?  more self-righteous sinners?  self-satisfied sinners?  There’s one option that is assuredly closed to us – that of ceasing to be sinners!  So why not a smarter sinner?

This approach to Scripture and to Christian faith is not good.  And yet, doesn’t this kind of thinking throb away beneath much of what passes for evangelicalism?  Isn’t the majority of ‘evangelical’ preaching informed by just such beliefs?  I’d say our spiritual malnutrition is not because of a lack of this kind of application.  We’re spiritually anaemic precisely because we have turned the Scriptures into moralistic or therapeutic self-help.  No wonder other Christians deride us as simplistic legalists.

For a thought on what good application is, go here.


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Evangelicals believe in conversion.  It’s absolutely foundational.  The human race is either in or out.  We’re born out.  We need to come in through Christ.

But then, what are we coming in to?  Because if you only think in terms of “in or out” then it might start to sound like the Christian community is the safe-house and the world is going to hell.  And the church says: “Bring em in, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.”  It’s us against the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the safe-house.

This sounds like the conservative Christian picture.  But it’s missing a key element.  God.

You see God is out-going.  The Father is a Sender – of His Son and Spirit.  We need to be in.  But we need to be in on the One who is ever going out.  Therefore, with Christ, the church says: “Get on out there, reach into the world in order to bless.”  It’s us for the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the outsider.

We must, by all means, believe in conversion.  But let’s understand what we are converted to.  We want people in, but we want them in on radical out-going-ness.

So it’s not so much in or out, it’s in on out.

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We need a good evangel.

Thankfully we’ve got one.

But here’s what this means:

Evangelists don’t need to study evangelism

They need to study the evangel.

But you try telling that to evangelist types!


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“Ok here’s the deal…”

(How much of it essentially does!?)

It begins with the phrase “Ok here’s the story…”

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The Father gave Jesus to us.

Jesus gave Jesus for us.

The Spirit gives Jesus in us.

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In Australia I heard a worship song that was new for me:  “There is no-one like you.”

Not the Dave Crowder one.  This one is, almost note-for-note, sung to the tune of “What if God was one of us.”  To the point where the urge to sing “…just a slob like one of us” became almost unbearable.

Do you struggle with other songs like this?  I find it difficult not to break out with “Go West” on the rare occasions we sing “Give thanks“.  Other examples?

But actually “There is no-one like you” and “What if God was one of us” is an interesting juxtaposition.  And quite a biblical one.

Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

What is it that sets the living God apart from every other deity conceived by the imagination of man?  This God works while we wait.  That’s the difference.

Every other god waits while we work.  But this God works while we wait.  “His own Arm works salvation for Him” (Isaiah 59:16).  The Arm of the LORD (Isaiah 52:10) who is the Servant of the LORD (v13; 53:1) – He achieves our redemption for us.

When we think of the utter uniqueness of God, where do our thoughts take us?  When we conceive of the transcendent glory of God, what do we imagine? And how biblical are those conceptions?

From “There is no one like you” so often we take a left and descend a flight of stairs to “God is just really, really, completely and utterly different.”  Ok, but then we cross a barbed wire fence and enter a haunted wood… “He’s so totally other, we can’t even begin to relate.”  And we continue wandering down such darkened paths with the especially religious among us revelling in the murk.

People take a similar journey when discussing concepts of “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence.”

Ah yes, now we’re talking about the real Godness of God.

Indeed.  But if God really is so different then it won’t be obvious what that Godness consists in will it?  Or don’t you believe in His difference after all?!

You can’t just take some bog-standard definition of deity, pump it full of steroids, and then call that “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence”.  You’ll have to study how this utterly different God shows Himself to be utterly different.

And – surprise, surprise – even His difference turns out to be different to how we’d imagined it.  His difference is not in some alien detachment but in intimate engagement. His glory is not His self-obsession but self-giving.  His holiness is not His shut-off-ness but His committed devotion.  His transcendence does not keep Him from us, it’s a transcendent love that moves heaven to earth to save.

There is no-one like this God.  The God who comes as one of us.  Just a Slob like one of us.  Just a Stranger on the bus, come to bring us all Home.

That’s what makes Him really different.

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In the world’s eyes, it’s okay to be blind drunk, but it’s not okay to be fat.

From my favourite blog in the whole world



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I’ll be back

I’ll return to this blog next week.

In the meantime, I’m blogging at the King’s English

e.g. “Stranger in a strange land” or “Burning bush



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Go on – make us laugh.


I’ll see you in the comments

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Here’s the audio of my talk on the subject

All this began here.

Then I had some initial thoughts on the usefulness of comedy here

There’s an excellent CS Lewis quote here

Here is a very expanded early version of the talk: part one, part two, part three, part four.

Then some follow up thoughts on blasphemy here and here.


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I’ve been listening to some thought-provoking lectures by Vishal Mangalwadi on how the bible has shaped the West.  This one entitled, “Why Are Some Rich While Others Are So Poor” speaks of how traditional cultures have handled wealth.  Those without the influence of the bible have only known two responses.  Either you horde it or you display it.  You either stock-pile it for a rainy day or you show-case it for prestige.  In neither case will your economy grow.

But, in the west, Christians did this new thing – they re-invested it.  Mangalwadi points to things like “the parable of the talents” or the injunction to “love thy neighbour” as giving Christians this new idea – to put wealth to work.  He also points to the impact of the priesthood of all believers, releasing believers to work at all things “as unto the Lord.”  This gives rise to the protestant work ethic and incredible wealth-creation.

I’m sure all those ideas should go into the mix.  But I wonder whether the Protestant Grace Ethic needs to have a hearing here.  The bible is always linking grace and money (see these examples in Ephesians for instance).  It is the peculiar “idea” of the gospel that heavenly wealth comes down upon us not so that we may boast, nor that we might keep it to ourselves.  (And not even that we should repay the Benefactor (some kind of spiritual feudalism?)).  We are given an overabundance of undeserved grace in order that we might overflow.  Isn’t this the most fundamentally liberating “idea” to grace the West?


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