Archive for March, 2011

There is a slavery on the near side of sonship.  (Galatians 4:7)

And there is a slavery on the far side of sonship.  (Galatians 1:10)

On the near side it’s death.

On the far side it’s life.

On the near side it’s flesh.

On the far side it’s Spirit.

On the near side it’s your righteousness on show.

On the far side it’s Christ’s righteousness in you.

On the near side you don’t know who you are without it, so you step it up.

On the far side you do know who you are without it, and you keep in step.


There is no way from slavery to sonship.

And there’s no way to true slavery except sonship.


All of which means…

We must refuse to be slaves ascending to higher degrees of slavery.

We must look away from any schemes of progressive slavery.

We must proclaim sonship.

And not because we we’re not into works.

If we want true works, we must strip away works.

We must be left bare in the presence of God with nothing but Christ for our justification.

We must know who we are without our works – sinners clothed in Christ.

We must know our sonship not in ourselves but in the Son.  This means by grace alone.

And now, in Him, we can do no other than gladly take our place in the Father’s business.

But it is the Father’s business.

The only gateway to true work is sonship.

The only Gate is the Son.

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I first posted this after attending the 2009 London Men’s Convention.  I’m genuinely looking forward to the 2011 London Men’s Convention (with Mark Driscoll!) and will be going with 25 guys from our church.  I’m sure I’ll learn loads and be encouraged.  But I’ll still be asking the same questions I did two years ago…


It’s an age-old question, but it’s taken the Flight of the Conchords to pose it again with aching poignancy:

What man?  Which man?  Who’s the man?
When’s a man a man?
What makes a man a man?
Am I a man?
Yes… technically I am.



On reflection there were two models of masculinity on show at the London Men’s Convention on Saturday.

The first was communicated in mainly non-verbal ways.  As John has put it, there was, at times, a ‘Top Gear’ spirituality (Top Gear is a popular British TV programme where middle aged men salivate over an array of sports cars).  You can guess the kinds of things – jokes about sports teams, jokes about baldness (lots of them!), jokes about scrotums.  All the usual stuff.  There was an uncomfortable insistence on making fun of the main speaker (Tim Keller) in a laddish kind of, ‘Hey, you big bald son of a gun.  Not much hair on you is there? Baldy.  You big bald son of a bald man. Ha!’  That kind of thing.   Graciously Keller did not call down bear attacks as was his right as prophet of the LORD.  Now that really would have sorted out the men from the boys.

(Just as an aside – British men, the cruelty that passes for ‘banter’ among men is quite shocking for foreigners to cope with.  On one hand I speak as someone who’s lived here half his life and, for better and for worse, speaks the lingo.  I also speak as an Australian male.  But I confess that even we hard-headed convicts gape in wonder at the incessant jibes about ‘Fatty’ and ‘Who ate all the pies?’ when the man in question is only slightly overweight.  Or ‘baldy’, when we’re really dealing with a high forehead.  Or – and I dare not even name what red-heads are called in this country.  I would try to dissuade anyone with auburn hair or lighter from stepping foot in the British Isles.  The word “Ginger” could be followed by any number of appellations, most of them four-letter.  And this kind of culture is rife in the church too.  Last night in the pub I heard two Christian men speak about another Christian friend in shockingly unChristian ways.  But it was completely in keeping with this lads culture.)

Under this first model of masculinity we’re told that we have a God given masculinity to be lived out.  Which is true.  We’re told what a huge problem it is when men aren’t real men.  Which is true.  But then it’s basically assumed that everyone knows what a real man is.

So Mark Driscoll bemoans the prevalence of ‘chickified’ men in church.

Apparently the real men are those “watching a ball game, making money, climbing a mountain, shooting a gun, or working on their truck.”  And these are the men that are getting it done in the world.  So Driscoll wants these kind of men in the church.

Well.  Alright.  It’d be great to have them in church.  And yes, in some limited sense they’d make a welcome change from the other kind of false masculinity that abounds.  But let’s be clear – all natural masculinity is wicked.  Masculinity as it occurs in its natural state is horribly and dangerously perverted.  Whether the perversion occurs in the cowardly retreat direction or the aggressive domination direction, it’s a perversion.

The other model of masculinity came in Keller’s talk on the cross.  He took us to Gethsemane where Jesus was at His wits end, craving the support of friends, crying, sweating blood contemplating the cross.  The furnace of God’s wrath lay ahead of Him.  He begged His Father for another way.  But there was no other way to save us.  The prospect was simple: It was Him or us.  And so Jesus said ‘Father, Let it be me.’

That’s a man.

Laying down His life for others, bearing shame in their place, accepting weakness to strengthen them.  None of these things looked impressive.  He looked like a total failure, naked and choking to death on a cross.  He did not look manly.   And men from all sides told Him so.  They had all sorts of opinions about what Jesus needed to do to be a real man.  They were all wrong.  He reigned from that tree.  Here was the manliest thing ever done.

And it has nothing to do with back-slapping dudesmanship.  It’s not about being mechanical or sports-loving.  And it’s not threatened by aesthetic sensitivity or quiet thoughtfulness.  It’s defined by heart-felt, loving, sacrificial service.  It’s stepping into the roles Christ has for us and saying ‘My life for yours.  My weakness for your strength.  Father, Let it be me.’

Oh for real men!  Oh to be a real man.  But not like those ‘real men’ we’re told to be.

More posts on masculinity:

Three thoughts on headship

He said – She said

Is the fruit of the Spirit too sissy for real men?

What real men look like

Larry Crabb on gender

Spouse speak

Arian misogyny


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CrossReference+ Episode 1 from HeadHeartHand Media on Vimeo.

I can’t imagine these kinds of video being produced and then widely propagated in evangelical circles in Australia or England.  Not right now anyway.  But Scots and Americans (and the Welsh?) seem to be far more open to Christ in the Old Testament.  Why is that?

Anyway, look out for more videos from David Murray’s blog.

And to give a flavour of his position, here he is reviewing Alec Motyer’s Roots: Let the Old Testament Speak

I would also have preferred more Christ-centeredness. While Motyer’s first chapter is “Starting with Jesus,” and he says that the book will show how the Old Testament moves “forward to the climactic flowering in Jesus,” there is not much of Jesus nor of the Gospel in the rest of the book. There are some good Messiah-centered expositions of a few key themes (e.g. the Servant of the Lord), and of a few passages such as Isaiah 53 and Psalm 110, but not much else of that nature. In fact, in one place (p. 77), Motyer denies that the Old Testament believers believed in the coming Messiah through the typology of the sacrifices. Instead, he says that “the sin-offering provided for forgiveness,” and traces their salvation to the offeror’s faith in the promise of forgiveness through that sacrifice. Only from Isaiah 53 forwards, says Motyer, did believers understand that the sacrifice was to be a person. I strongly disagree. “Person-centered” faith was present from Genesis 3:15 onwards, as God focused all attention on the promised seed (offspring) of the woman.

In a rather confusing paragraph, he also denies that the Old Testament appearances of the Angel of the Lord were pre-incarnate appearances of Christ, or in any sense “a divine condescension – God taking human form to ‘accommodate’ himself to mankind” (p. 84). He seems to link these theophanies to the image of God in man and the dignity of the body.

I suppose this all comes down to the frequently unanswered (even unasked) question in Old Testament studies. How were Old Testament believers saved? By faith, by works, or by a mixture of both? By faith in the sacrifices, by faith in God (in general), or by faith in the Messiah (in particular)? If Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are sitting at the same heavenly table as New Testament believers (Matt. 8:11), are the New Testament believers giving all glory to Christ while the Old Testament believers are polishing their own medals? Or getting to know Christ for the first time?

He’s also got audio on Preaching Christ in the OT here.  I look forward to listening to it.

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About 10 years ago I wound up in the office of a Christian counsellor.  I couldn’t believe I was about to confess to depression.  Me, a church worker!  Me, conservative evangelicalism’s next big thing!

The cause?  Several very stressful things were happening in my life, but the tipping point into depression was a frustration with the gospel that was being preached around me.  And I fell flat on my face in despondency.

My counsellor took me to Jeremiah 2:13 and said (very graciously) I’d been digging some kind of broken well which had dried up.  Now I was slumped at this false life-source with a mouth full of mud.  He asked what the broken well might be.  In an instant I knew: “I need everyone to read the bible the same way I do”.  Not for the glory of Jesus, but to be right!

I asked “What should I do?”  He said, “Give up on it and turn back to Jesus.”  As soon as he said “Give up on it” my whole flesh rose up and said “Never!”  Instantly I knew that this idol had its hooks in me.  And it shocked me.

My theological paradigm had become my god.  And it was so subtle.  Because here’s the thing: I prided myself on the fact that my paradigm was uniquely Christ-centred.

But when I identified the pride issue a weight fell off my shoulders.  The issue was not the idiots out there, the issue was the arrogance in here.  I’d been thinking of it as a complicated issue of theological debate with no way through.  In fact it was a simple (but very ugly) issue of plain old sin.  And the gospel has a solution for sin.

Someone has wisely said that if you diagnose your problems as requiring anything less than the blood of Jesus for their solution, you haven’t diagnosed your real problem.  My hour with the counsellor cut through to the real problem.  But thankfully the real problem has a real solution.  And it’s already mine.  Or rather, He’s already mine.  I left that office with a massive weight off my shoulders.

Not that I didn’t think the issues mattered any more.  They did matter.  They still matter.  But I looked at them through a different lens.

For one thing, I started pitying the Christ-lite Christians around me – not despising them or competing with them.  But genuinely feeling sorry for them and wanting something better for them.  I gave up on being the one who would crush them in theological debate and started to think more in terms of sowing seeds and trusting the results to God!

I get this wrong all the time and there’s still much of the arrogant young man to me.  But I also think God’s been teaching me some things about how to live and minister among other Christians with whom I disagree.  I’ll share a few thoughts in no particular order:

* I love the saying (which I think goes back to Wesley?) that the way to handle opponents is “to out-live and out-love them, out-preach and out-pray them.”  That’s got to be the way forward. And I think it begins with repentance.  I repent of trusting in my christocentrism.  I turn to Christ!

* If I’m tempted to pride it’s good to turn to Elijah’s example in 1 Kings 19.  And to laugh at myself.  “I, only I am left!!” he says, exhausted by his own righteousness! “Ummm” says the LORD “I think you’ll find there’s thousands like you. Get some rest!”

* I find it very tempting to try and be John the Baptist – a voice crying in the wilderness.  But that’s not our calling.  We’re to get around others with the aroma of Christ.  And the aroma of ‘young hot-prot’ is not quite the same.

* When relating to church leaders, get a vision for what’s already good about their preaching, leading and ministry.  It’s so tempting to look for what they do badly and to miss the hundred things they do well.  Anything and everything we can rejoice in, we should.  Loudly.

* People can change.  Not through grand-standing argumentation.  But through a drip, drip, drip of gospel juiciness.

* I’m only beginning to learn this one:  Usually change happens when people taste the gospel dishes you serve up.  If you consistently serve up Christ-exalting stuff that releases hearts into gratitude and love, then people will ask you about the recipe.  Don’t start with the recipe: “Right, here are the ingredients you need – you’ve been doing it all wrong.  This is the order…”  Start by dishing out gospel goodness – then they’ll want the recipe.

And now, for the real wisdom on these issues – check out the comments… (don’t let me down guys)…

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“All prophets prophesied only for the days of the Messiah”

“The world was created only for the Messiah.”


Answer: The Talmud.

In particular: Sanhedrin 99a; 98b.

Christ alone is the meaning of Scripture and the meaning of the world.  The Hebrew Scriptures themselves teach this!

Source: here – a fascinating read!

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Last month I asked people to submit questions they might have regarding faith in Christ in the OT.  Here’s 22 questions that have been generated.  If I’ve missed yours, please add it in the comments.

I’m going to open out the answering of these questions to others.  (Otherwise, at my current rate of blogging here I won’t be done before 2015!)If you’d like to have a go at answering these, please email me: glenscrivener [at] gmail [dot] com

I’m thinking the answers shouldn’t be too long – after all you can thrash things out a bit more in comments.  Perhaps I’ll put an 800 word limit on it?  Something like that.

Drop me a line and tell me roughly how you’d go about answering the question and I’ll assign them to people in the next week or so.


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

2) What is the message of Job?

3) What is new about the new covenant?  Is it better?  In what way?

4) Were OT saints worse off, or have anything ‘less’ than NT saints?

5) What was the ministry of the Spirit in the OT?  Has it changed?  In what way?

6) How do we deal with the promises of the OT – especially of physical prosperity and revival?

7) Is John the Baptist ‘least of all the saints’ because he was from the OT era?8) Isn’t it obvious that we have progressed in sanctification since the OT since today we would never invite a Samson to preach?

9) What is the mystery that Paul speaks of which was not revealed in OT times?

10) The answer to Israel’s backsliding is often presented as the New Covenant ministry of the Spirit.  Why then has the church seemed to be just as bad?

11) In what sense does the new wine burst the old wineskins?

12) Why does the gospel appear much clearer in the NT?

13) Does the incarnation give us any more revelation about God?

14) Does this position downplay or even reject the special role of Israel?

15) How should we get folks to love the OT as Christian?

16) Why don’t we get the clear Trinitarian formulations in the OT that we get in the NT? eg Matt 28:19, 2 Cor 13:14.

17) If the Old Testament is clearly and overtly Christocentric, then why isn’t it all that obvious to most people?

18) Can you show that in the OT the God who saves, and the human/people through whom he would save would be the same person?

19) In what ways does Jesus fulfil laws that seem not to apply to Him?  (e.g. the uncleanness of women after childbirth).

20) Would contemporary Jews have understood the temple of Ezekiel 40-48 to represent the Messiah and His work?

21) If OT saints trusted in Christ, what kind of knowledge of Christ did they have?  And how, if it was through types or symbols, is it not idolatry?

22) When I see LORD in the OT how do I know whether it’s referring to the Father or to the Son?


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I’ve posted up other versions of “The Calling of Levi”, but here’s one I preached last Sunday at St Wilfreds.

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Happy Friday

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Having thought last week about the vicarious worship of Jesus, I’ve been reflecting on examples of vicarious hope in our marriage.

There have been a few times in our marriage where one of us has turned to the other and said something like this:

— I really can’t imagine a way forward here.

— Oh but there is.

— I don’t see it.

— I do.  I promise I do.

— …Ok.

The feeling of hope is not there.  But it’s enough to rest in the hope of another.

Sometimes Christian hope is like this.  “Jesus, I don’t see a bright future.  But I know that you do.  And that’s enough for me right now.”

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Sermon Audio

Do you ever worry that you’re not a proper Christian?  Do you fear you might not be a child of God after all?

Do you ever struggle to pray?

Do you worry about friends who are caught in certain sins?

Do you wonder what to do about those who once said they were Christians and now they’re speaking against Christ?

Do you ever find your heart wandering from Christ, and falling for other things?

John is going to address all these questions as he concludes his letter.  And his answer to all these questions is to bring us back to Jesus.  If Jesus is at the heart of our thinking then we’ll be able to handle these question.


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Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea is holding another Trinity Day.

10am-3pm, 2nd April 2011.

This time the topic is Heaven and Hell.

Paul Blackham will speak on heaven and hell in the former prophets.

Richard Bewes will discuss the pastoral importance of the subject.

And Martin Downes has prepared (as ever) a brilliantly incisive talk on heaven and hell in church history.

No doubt Bells Hells will get a mention.

Cheap at twice the price – £10

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

Anyone going should comment below – perhaps there could be some rendez-vouses.


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There are thousands of great blogs out there which I haven’t come across, but for my money Dave Kirkman’s 48 Files is the second best blog in human history.  (Ok maybe third – it goes, A New Name, daylight, then The 48 Files.  But third is still pretty good.)

Just check out these from the last week alone…

How to consider faithful followers of another religion? A brilliant analogy

Why university years are so fruitful for the gospel. (No, not because there’s a magic receptivity-window of four years in the life of the middle class!)

What is faith? Faith is receiving the gift.  NOT a condition for receiving the gift.

The outgoingness of God’s glory.  Father to Son to church and out.

And many, many more

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David Matcham has a brilliant blog called Swivel Chair Theology

I’ve particularly enjoyed his posts on The Three Repentances where he exposes the dysfunctionality of cycles of sin and abjection before God (we want to be abject!), and The Problem of Homosexuality in the Light of the Trinity.


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Happy Friday


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Following on from last Thursday’s post – Psalms are about Christ.   They tell of the interaction between the LORD, the King through Whom He rules, the righteous who hide in Him and the wicked who rebel.

These interactions are pictured from many angles.  But one key perspective is for the King Himself to speak.  This most often happens in the Psalms ‘Of David’.

Of course all the kings reigned under the knowledge that they were simply throne-warmers for the King to Whom universal tribute was due. (Gen 49:10)  But David was the most idealized of these kings.  The Messiah is often spoken of simply as David.  (e.g. Ezekiel 34:23f; 37:25).  And David himself is aware of his idealized role.  Just before his death he said: “The Spirit of the LORD spoke through me; His word was on my tongue.” (2 Sam 23:2)  He didn’t speak better than he knew, but he certainly spoke better than he lived. In the Psalms the king most often spoke as The King.  The anointed one spoke most often as The Anointed One.

Peter confirms this for us in Acts 2.  Even when David spoke in the first person he was speaking the words of Christ (see Acts 2:25).  Quoting Psalm 16, Peter makes it clear that David was not describing his own experience. (Paul underlines this in Acts 13:36-37).  Rather, David “was a prophet and knew that God had promised him on oath that he would place one of his descendants on his throne. Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ” (Acts 2:30-31).

Does this mean that such Psalms have no application to David?  No of course they do – but such application runs from Christ to David rather than David to Christ.  This is the nature of the whole of David’s life –  from shepherd boy to rejected ruler, to reigning king to his death, he is a shadow of the Coming King.

This is my understanding anyway.  Whether you take the Psalms from David to Christ or Christ to David, I hope we can all agree that the emotions and experiences of ‘The King’ are ultimately taken up and owned by Christ.

All of this is just a precursor to what I really want to discuss…  What do we do with the Psalmist’s intense desire for the LORD?

On one level that’s simple – copy it.  Be challenged by it.  Be inspired by it.  Seek it for yourself.

Well, yes, ok.  But here’s the question – what do I do when I don’t earnestly desire the LORD?  Because maybe once or twice in your life your white hot devotion to God has dipped below the zeal of the Psalmist.  What do you do then?

Here’s the first level of my response:  When I don’t desire God, first I need to see that Christ does.  And He does so for me.

What do I mean?

Well take a favourite Psalm of mine: Psalm 63

Here the Psalmist says:

1 O God, you are my God,
earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you,
my body longs for you,
in a dry and weary land
where there is no water.

2 I have seen you in the sanctuary
and beheld your power and your glory.

3 Because your love is better than life,
my lips will glorify you.

4 I will praise you as long as I live,
and in your name I will lift up my hands.

Now be honest, doesn’t some part of you go “Really?  Have I really beheld His power and glory?  Really?  Have I in the past and will I in the future praise Him so wholeheartedly?  Really?  As long as I live?  Am I perjuring myself here??”

But friend, read on to the final verse…

11 But the king will rejoice in God

These are the words of the king – the king on whose lips are the words of The King.  And He has beheld the power and glory of the LORD in the ultimate sanctuary.  He is the ultimate, white-hot Worshipper of God.  These words are not a guide to human worship so much as a window onto divine worship.

So what should be our response?

Sit back and be awed by The King’s desire for the LORD.  You don’t yet feel such intense passion.  Well alright.  In the deepest sense you never can match His devotion.  But let the King’s worship be enough for you.  Don’t despise his devotion like Michal (2 Sam 6:16).  Simply allow your King to offer what you cannot summon up yourself.  Know that He offers in your place a worship you could never initiate.  And if the Praise-Worthy does not elicit your praise, let the Praise-Giver show the way.  In ourselves we could never work up the right response.  In Christ we see what reckless and joyful abandon to God looks like.

He is like the first Dancer onto the floor, moved by the Music, laughing and clapping and dancing as we never could.  The more you watch Him dance, the more your foot starts to tap, then you start clapping.  Pretty soon you’ll link arms and join in.  The Music itself should get you on the dance floor.  But in fact the Music never does – not really.  It’s the Dancer who inspires, who links arms and who leads.

Read Psalm 63 again.  And add your own Amen.  For now that is enough.  If these words were simply the prayer diary of an ancient near eastern ruler, your Amen would mean nothing.  If these were just passionate words from an inspired and inspiring devotee they could only judge your apathy.  But they’re not.  This is the worship of The King.  Your King.   This is Christ your Substitute, your Priest, your Vicarious Worshipper.  He bears your name on His heart as He comes before the LORD in joyful abandon.  For now just allow Him to offer the praise you cannot find in yourself.  In time you’ll join the dance.

For more on Christ offering worship on our behalf, here’s a half hour talk I gave recently.


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Onya Patto

…as we’d say if Patrick was Australian.

Tim’s got some good links on what a great evangelist Patrick was:

Patrick gave his life to the people who had enslaved him until he died at 77 years of age. He had seen untold thousands of people convert as between 30-40 of the 150 tribes had become substantially Christian. He had trained 1000 pastors, planted 700 churches, and was the first noted person in history to take a strong public stand against slavery.  (Mark O’Driscoll)

Here’s a video from Veggie Tales people:

And as a Christ the Truth exclusive, I have a poem dedicated to Patrick by my new online friend Michael Mates.  He explains the poem first:

“In 1982, I completed my doctoral thesis, The British Church from Patrick to Gildas, at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena California.  For St. Patrick’s Day, I reduced the thesis to a shorter form, to fit the tune “The Wearin’ o’ the Green.”

“Both the thesis and the song recapitulate Patrick’s birth in western Britain (c 390 AD), his capture by Irish pirates, his time spent as a slave in Ireland, his escape, and his eventual return to Ireland to preach the Gospel to the natives, despite the opposition of the British church.  The British church in the late 4th century was following the practice that non-Christian tribes really ought to become Roman (i.e., wear togas, speak Latin) before they could think of becoming Christian.  Patrick thought that was backwards, and defied his home church in returning to Ireland.”

When Patricius, born in Britain,
Saw the ships upon the shore,
He little knew his future
Or the life we’ll underscore.

‘Twas about the year 400,
Roman Britain’s crumbling fast,
When the lad was taken captive
By ship-borne iconoclasts.

O those ships were full of pirates
Who enslaved poor Pat for years,
On the isle now known as Eire,
O those rotten buccaneers.

But their evil had a purpose,
For when Pat escaped to home
He took an altered heart within;
He’d prejudice outgrown.

When the call to preach in Ireland
Came, young Patrick volunteered;
The British Church front office
Though, was mightily afeared:

“Why preach the Word to pagans
Ere they speak the Latin tongue
Or wear a toga rightly?
Pat, it simply isn’t done!”

But Patricius answered boldly
“So you think they’re troglodytes?
Well that’s why I’m pros’lytizing
For religious freedom rights.”

And so boldly back to Eire
Strong-willed Patrick made his way,
To preach to slaves and chieftains
Who converted day by day.

When at last his life was over–
That is, having lost his starch–
Old Patrick breathed his final breath,
The seventeenth of March.

‘Tis the most ironic situation
And not one bit counterfeit:
That the patron saint of Ireland
Was a stubborn-minded Brit!


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Sermon Audio

Where is this world headed?  This weekend we’ve seen the power of the natural world.  Tectonic plates shift and millions are affected.  Earthquakes, Fires, Tsunamis, Explosions, threatened nuclear melt-down.  It all reminds us that planet earth is not a safe place to make your home.

If the earthquake doesn’t get you, maybe the tsunami will.  If not the tsunami maybe radioactive contamination.  Or further afield, maybe a cyclone or a bushfire or a drought or a volcano.  Or something less spectacular – a car accident or a virus or cancer.  One way or another this world will be the death of us.  Whether in Japan or here, disaster and decay surround us.

So where is this world headed?  Could it possibly be headed anywhere good if buildings can collapse in a heart-beat and walls of water can sweep away cities?

Will chaos have the last word?  Will death have the last word?  Whether quickly or slowly, won’t we all get swept away in the end?

When you watch a devastating tidal wave sweep buildings and cars and people into oblivion, how can we have any hope in a happy ending for this world?  Aren’t those images just a picture of our own lives?  Won’t chaos catch up with us all?  Surely death will have the last word.

There’s a verse in Psalm 29 that says:

The LORD sits enthroned over the flood; the LORD is enthroned as King for ever. (v10)

Surely this weekend disproved that.  Surely the flood is king, not the LORD.  Chaos rules.  Not God.  The highest power is not the LORD, it’s death.

Well if we say that, we cheapen the deaths of those who have perished this weekend.  Because if this world is ultimately ruled by natural forces then nothing tragic has happened.  One tectonic plate has grinded against another and one building has collapsed onto another and hundreds or thousands of hearts have stopped beating.  If the LORD is not enthroned over the flood then impersonal forces are god.  And all that’s happened is that one force has impacted on another.  And the fact that a tidal wave crashed into a school is no different to it crashing into a rock.

No, see it won’t help to give up on God.  Not only will it not solve the tragedy, it won’t allow you to call it a tragedy.  Without God this is just “stuff that happens” while we all decay on the cosmic compost heap.  No, giving up on God won’t help.

So what about listening to the One who is God.  The One who came into this world, who knows our sufferings and who’s taken them for us.   What does Jesus say about such tragedies?

In Mark 13, Jesus calls earth-quakes: “birth pains.”  (v8)  Not “death throes”.  “Birth pains.”  Oh they’re painful alright.  They are beyond tragic.  Our hearts go out and we pray and give towards the relief efforts.  But they are not simply pains.  They are birth pains.

See, Jesus doesn’t think the world is headed for the compost heap.  He doesn’t think that earthquakes are death throes.  He sees a joyful future for the world.  New birth for creation.  That’s not to minimize the pain of this tragedy.  It’s to open our eyes to the colossal hope which Jesus Christ brings to the world.

Even in the face of earth-quakes, Jesus says this world is heading for rest, for perfection, for Sabbath.

Sabbath was the seventh day of creation.  In the beginning, the LORD created the heavens and the earth.  For six days He worked, He divided light from darkness, and waters from dry land.  He laboured to make the world very good.  And He finished His work on the sixth day so that He could rest on the seventh – the Sabbath.

He was setting up a profound pattern.  God’s world is heading towards rest.  It’s heading towards perfection – seven is a number of completeness.

And the week preaches to us God’s purposes for the world.  God is working all things towards perfection.  There will be labour pains, groaning and toil in this life, but then there’s rest.  After all the disorder and chaos of the world, there is rest.  The world is headed for a cosmic Sabbath.

And so in the Old Testament, God told His people to enter into the spirit of Sabbath.  The Israelites were told to do all their work in six days and rest on the seventh.  So written into their calendar would be this hope-filled pattern that preached to them.  Every week they were reminded that toil and pain and labour will give way to perfect rest.

Sabbath is a beautiful thing.  It preached that God would remake the world – God would bring rest.

But here’s what happened?  People turned Sabbath on its head.  It was supposed to be God showing them His goodness.  They made it an occasion to show God their goodness.

The religious types among them were going to keep Sabbath.  And I mean REALLY keep Sabbath.  Over the years they developed more and more things they refused to do on Saturday.  They weren’t in the bible, they were rules they made up to show God and the world just how obedient they were.

And over the next thousand years it got seriously twisted.  How twisted?  Just have a read of Luke 6.  Verse 1:

One Sabbath Jesus was going through the cornfields, and his disciples began to pick some ears of corn, rub them in their hands and eat the grain. 2 Some of the Pharisees asked, “Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

So here are the Pharisees – these are the arch-religious do-gooders.  And my question here is: Where did they come from?  Were they lurking in the field?  Hiding behind a hay-stack?  It’s like that Monty Python sketch: “No-one expects the Spanish Inquisition!”

You can picture them can’t you, these moral policemen in their flowing robes.  Binoculars.  Clip-board and pen.  Frowning madly:

“Why are you doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath?”

Now they weren’t upset because the disciples were picking grain in someone else’s field.  That’s not unlawful.  In fact there’s a verse in Deuteronomy 23 that says, if you’re walking through a field, you can help yourself along the way.  I’ll read it to you.

25 If you go into your neighbor’s standing grain, you may pluck the ears with your hand, but you shall not put a sickle to your neighbor’s standing grain.

That’s a good law isn’t it?  You can grab a handful of grain or seeds or whatever.  But if you take a sickle, you’re taking the mickle.  That’s the law.

And it’s a good verse to have to hand next time you’re in Asda and want to sample the grapes isn’t it?  Break out Deuteronomy 23 next time you’re in the fruit and veg section!  “Read it and weep.”  Or “Read it and reap” if you like.

So picking the grain was lawful.  But what was unlawful, according to the Pharisees, was doing it on the Sabbath.

You see, according to these moral policemen.  This is work.  They were harvesting: first plucking is reaping, then rubbing it in their hands is threshing, and throwing away the husks is presumably winnowing!  It’s work!  Now the bible never outlaws this.  It never even comes close to it.  But the Pharisees are adamant:  Jesus, you are presiding over Sabbath-breaking, how could you!?

How would you respond to these idiots?  I love Jesus’ response

3 Jesus answered them, “Have you never read [the bible]

Isn’t that great?  He’s dealing with men who think they’re spiritual heavy-weights and Jesus says “You might want to check out the bible some time.  I’m guessing you’ve never read it because you seem to be completely biblically illiterate to me.”

I love that…

“Have you never read what David did when he and his companions were hungry?  4 He entered the house of God, and taking the consecrated bread, he ate what is lawful only for priests to eat. And he also gave some to his companions.”

This is the incident that Ian read out to us from the Old Testament.  It happened in 1 Samuel chapter 21.  And it’s brilliantly illuminating actually.  Let me give you the context:

King David had been anointed by God as the true King of Israel.  But, King Saul was the one who sat on the throne and who everyone looked to.  Now Saul and his men were hunting down and trying to kill David.  So David is on the run along with his companions – guys called “mighty men.”

So there’s David, the true King of Israel, but people don’t acknowledge him and the authorities are trying to kill him.  He and his companions are hungry and they go to the temple.  The priest gives Jesus the holy bread that only priests are meant to eat.

It’s this acknowledgement that David is a very special guy.  Not only is he kingly, he’s also priestly.  David is very much like the Christ who would be descended from him.  And so David has this special bread and gave it to his companions.

So this story is very appropriate.  Because Jesus is exactly like David.  He is the true King of the world, but not acknowledged to be so.  He’s running around with these companions – the mighty men.  And the Pharisees?  Who are the Pharisees here?  They are the enemy, they are like Saul’s men, hunting down God’s True Anointed King!

This is a devastating Scripture for Jesus to wheel out.  And while they’re reeling from it, Jesus delivers the death blow.  Verse 5:

5 Then Jesus said to them, “The Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath.”

This is awesome.  He might as well say “I AM the Law!”  I don’t bow to the law, the law bows to me.  Because I am LORD of the Sabbath.  Now when was the Sabbath instituted?  From the beginning!  The Pharisees were treating Jesus like some Jonny-come-lately rule-breaker.  Jesus is saying, “Don’t give me that.  I was in on the ground-floor of Sabbath.  I am the LORD who instituted the Sabbath.  I am the Creator of Genesis chapter 1 – the Eternal Word of the Father, the Lord, the Son of Man.”

Which means Jesus is not just the author of this law.  He’s the author of the universe.

The Pharisees have no answer to this.  They are utterly silenced by Jesus.  And they have to regroup for another assault on Him.  So they wait for another Sabbath (because they’re obsessed).

So, verse 6:

6 On another Sabbath Jesus went into the synagogue and was teaching, and a man was there whose right hand was shrivelled.  7 The Pharisees and the teachers of the law were looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, so they watched him closely to see if he would heal on the Sabbath.

So here are the Pharisees again and you might think there’s some hope for them because they’re in the synagogue.  But they’re not there to worship God.  They’re not there to listen to His word.  They’re certainly not there to help this disabled man.  Why are they there?  To accuse Jesus!  To catch out and accuse the LORD of the Sabbath.

They seem sure Jesus will heal a man.  I wonder if even the disciples had that much faith.  They seemed to know that Jesus would heal – they’d obviously seen His powers many times before.  But instead of saying “Wow, Jesus calls Himself LORD and acts with all the power of the LORD, maybe He IS the LORD.”  Instead of concluding, “Hmm, I wonder if Jesus is the LORD God!?” All they can think of is their precious rules.  And whether the LORD might break them.

So there they are in the synagogue, just waiting to be infuriated by a miracle.  Isn’t this ridiculous?

And of course you have to ask, How restful do they find their Sabbaths really!!?  With their binoculars and clipboards, and their constant frowning – isn’t that the most exhausting work actually?  It seems to me that all this moral policing is incredibly taxing, and yet they do it all in the name of Sabbath rest.

But friends, before we dismiss them, how are we like them?  Because there are real temptations for us in this direction.  Rules and rule keeping is tempting, because rules keep score.  And they show everyone that I’m better, and you’re worse.  They help you justify yourself.

Rules can make you feel better about yourself – at least when you keep them anyway.  But if you buy into rules they will end up ruling you.  You will find your identity in keeping them and suddenly they will become more important than anything.

Think of these Pharisees in that synagogue.  They were surrounded by such important things that should have had priority.  They were in a house of worship, they were listening to the word of God, there was a real hurting person in their midst and there was God in the flesh about to unleash the powers of heaven.  But they completely failed to respond to the needs around them appropriately.  All they could see was their little rules, and horror of horrors, they were about to be broken.

Are you convicted by this?  Maybe the Holy Spirit is convicting you of moralistic rule-keeping.  Our rule-keeping ways usually go unnoticed but occasionally we’ll get caught out when we encounter someone in need, like this man with a withered hand.  Perhaps we’ve failed to meet someone’s need. We’ll think “Gosh, I should have gone to visit that person, or I should have been a lot more compassionate when they told me their problems.”  That’s usually a good sign that there’s some rule-keeping going on there that’s keeping us from the real needs.

These Pharisees are just extreme examples of what can happen to anyone if you try to prove yourself through rule-keeping.  Rules become rulers and you get closed down to the real needs around you.  But Jesus stands opposed to that kind of living.  Verse 8:

8 But Jesus knew what they were thinking and said to the man with the shrivelled hand, “Get up and stand in front of everyone.” So he got up and stood there. 9 Then Jesus said to them, “I ask you, which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to destroy it?”

Don’t you love that Jesus asks this as a question?  If He just said “It’s more lawful to do good.” It wouldn’t have the same power to expose their hearts.  No He puts the ball firmly in their court and He wants an answer.  So verse 10

10 He looked round at them all,

Whoah.  How long did that take?  Let’s say there were the same number as are here this morning – there were probably more.  But how long would it take for Jesus to look at each and every worshipper in the synagogue.  What do you think?  Is it lawful to do good or evil?  What a moment!

There’s just no answering Jesus.  So Jesus turns to the man

and then said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.”

Isn’t that a strange thing to say to a man with a withered hand?  He can’t stretch out his hand Jesus – that’s the problem.  Ah, but the word of Jesus is very different to the word of the Pharisees.

Think about the commands of the Pharisees.  The Pharisees had hundreds of little commands that mapped out what you should and shouldn’t do.  They had all sorts of rules for rest.

But their commands didn’t bring rest.  They just told you how you should go about getting rest.

Jesus’ word is different.  His word actually brings restoration.  He doesn’t give us a 12-step plan for life.  He gives us life.  He doesn’t communicate rules for rest.  He communicates rest itself.  There is a divine, creative power to the word of Jesus.  So He says “Stretch out your hand”

he did so, and his hand was completely restored.

Here is the LORD of the Sabbath in action.  Here’s what Sabbath is all about. Here we see the work of RESTORATION.  That day it was a hand.  One day it’ll be all creation.  COMPLETELY RESTORED.  Here in the synagogue is a token of His cosmic powers of restoration.  A miracle.  A completely appropriate Sabbath miracle.  Surely this miracle will change the hearts and minds of the Pharisees.  Wouldn’t you think?

I’m always hearing people say, “I’d believe if only I saw a miracle.”


Let’s see how they reacted in verse 11:

11 But they were furious and began to discuss with one another what they might do to Jesus.

How chilling.  These are church-going people (if you like).  Synagogue worshippers.  They are religious, very religious.  Moral, very moral. Bible-students who knew about the power of God.  But when they SEE the power of God up close and personal they are FILLED with FURY.

Jesus must die.  Why?  He healed someone.  On the Sabbath.  He broke our rules.  He’ll have to pay.

And by the end of Luke these Pharisees get their way.  Jesus dies not at the hands of an angry pagan rabble.  Jesus dies not at the hands of mobsters.  He dies at the hands of moralists.  He dies at the hands of these guys with the clip-boards and the binoculars.  The most religious, ethical and upstanding members of society killed the Lord of Glory.

What a reception for Jesus!  He comes to bring life and peace and restoration to the world, and what does He get for His efforts?  Death.

But here’s the irony.  Through that death He would bring life.  Through His work on the cross, He would bring rest.

You see Jesus would be killed on a Friday – the sixth day.  And He got His work done before nightfall.  With evening coming and the Sabbath closing in, He cried out from the cross, “It is finished.” (John 19:30).  You see Jesus was taking all that is broken and cursed in this world and summed it up Himself.  The LORD of this world, took its pain and suffering and sin to Himself to put it all to death.

You know the earthquake and tsunami – they disprove a lot of gods.  Suffering disproves a lot of gods.  But not this God.  Not the true God – the One who suffers.  He enters in.  He knows it from the inside.  And He suffers Hell to brings us through to perfection.  He’s not just enthroned over the flood.  He knows what it is to get swept away too.

But it’s by entering INTO that chaos and death that Jesus will bring us ultimately to perfection.  And He accomplishes this cross-work on the sixth day.  Therefore He rested on that holy Saturday.  He took the ultimate Sabbath rest in the grave.

And then wonderfully, on the next day, He rose up into a whole new week – a whole new world!

And He offers His new life to all.  Now we can know spiritual rebirth today.  And when He comes again He will RESTORE the whole world.  Just as this man’s hand was restored, just as Christ Himself was restored from death, one day heaven and earth will be restored.

Where is this world heading?  Not the rubbish dump.  We are heading for perfection.  For COMPLETE RESTORATION.  We’re heading for Sabbath when Jesus gives the whole world new birth.

But how do we come in on this perfect future?  Not like the Pharisees.  Not through our efforts.  Not through our stupid little rules.  Not through our rituals.  Not through our obedience.  Not through our work.  Through His work.  Through His obedience.  Through His efforts.  Through His cross and resurrection.

We get life through His death and rest through His work.

So Jesus is calling us out from the Pharisees, just like the man in this story.  He calls us out of our self-righteous rule-keeping, and to stand with Jesus instead.  We don’t work towards life and peace.  It’s a gift, purchased by HIS work.  So now hear the words of Jesus:

28 “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. 29 Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. 30 For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”  (Matthew 11:28-30)

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Emma’s posted up 22 reasons she nags.  Twenty two!  She must suppress her urges a lot because that’s not how I experience things.  But given that she might not be alone in harbouring such urges, and given that men are responsible for birthing and exacerbating many of those urges I thought I’d post 7 thoughts on how I relate to nagging.

You’ll think our marriage is locked into a thousand vicious cycles.  It’s not.  But we do know our flesh.  And hopefully spotlighting the darkness can chase a bit away.

So.  How I relate to nagging…

1. I create it

We really do need to think about scheduling our holidays, and booking the car in for a service and fixing the back gate, etc, etc.  But I naturally flee responsibility.  The needs build up.  Something needs saying.

2.  I invite it

On a very foolish level (one that I’ll later despise in myself), I’d like to be mothered.  “You’re so much better with that detail stuff” is code for “I’d like to be kept as a little boy.”

3. I provoke it

Given my fear of responsibility, I will affect an exaggerated air of ease.  I project an image of stoner-cool (occasionally backed by Scriptural “fear nots”) so that I can label every sense of urgency (legitimate or otherwise) as uncool and ungodly.  It will be seriously tempting for Emma to burst this bubble with a good sharp nag.

4. I fear it

It’s not just that I’m being asked to engage with the thorns and thistles.  It’s not just that I’d rather withdraw and serve myself.  It’s that, deep down, I fear I don’t have what it takes to forge ahead in this world.  When she says “Can you fix it?” I hear “Can you be a man?” She doesn’t realise it but, in the male imagination, her simple requests are loaded with the weight of a thousand gender insecurities.

5. I withdraw from it

I tune it out the way a teenager tunes out his mother (see 2).  Of course this only provokes more (see 3).

6.  I hate it.

It confirms my deep suspicion that I am a little boy.  Yes, I know I wanted to be a little boy earlier.  But that’s why it grates so much!

7. I silence it

Anger works best.  Sometimes it just takes an exasperated sigh or a withering look.  Anything that shifts the focus onto her and how she’s being unreasonable, uncool, ungodly.  Other women aren’t like this.  Have you read Proverbs recently?

Men have locked up women as hysterics for centuries.  It’s happened throughout history, but it also happens in marriage.  We’re good at despising women for their needs.  Then they’re doubly good at despising themselves for them.

So she’ll slink off and maybe read another Christian paperback with a pink cover that tells her to “button it” and call it “submission”.  Or she’ll just fume.  Or she’ll deaden her hopes for the marriage, deaden her hopes at being heard, deaden her hopes that her man could ever lead.  She might well do all of the above.  But it’s only further fuel for the nagging urges.

The way out of the nagging cycle?

Both Ephesians 5 (v18) and Colossians 3 (v1-4) preface their marriage discussions with being filled with the Spirit!  Having a spiritual buoyancy from Christ.  My identity, status, honour, beloved-ness is NOT being threatened by my spouse.  I’ve got it all.  Laugh!

Now husbands, LOVE your wives and don’t be harsh.

Wives, trust your husbands and receive that love – the heart and soul of submission.

Any other advice gladly received!


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