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Archive for May, 2011

If God is power hungry and out to get certain things in the world, his followers will do likewise.  They will try to gain converts.

If our evangelism is driven by the need to “gain converts” it’s a sure sign that we’re serving a greedy god.

But if our God is a Fountain of sending love (as Donald Bloesch once put it) then mission will have nothing to do with “gaining” anything.  Instead we will be offering Christ.

 

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Here’s a faster edit of my video from a couple of years ago.   Same content, done in 4 minutes rather than 6 and a half.

When I first made the video it was prompted by some TF Torrance stuff I was reading.  It’s all about the vicarious humanity of Christ!

But Luther said it long before him.  And recently Mike put me onto his Brief Instruction on What to Look For and Expect in the Gospels (part one, part two – Dave K also blogged on it recently).  It’s glorious stuff.  Christ is not fundamentally our Example.  At base He is our Substitute:

Gospel is and should be nothing else than a discourse or story about Christ, just as happens among men when one writes a book about a king or a prince, telling what he did, said, and suffered in his day. Such a story can be told in various ways; one spins it out, and the other is brief. Thus the gospel is and should be nothing else than a chronicle, a story, a narrative about Christ, telling who he is, what he did, said, and suffered—a subject which one describes briefly, another more fully, one this way, another that way. For at its briefest, the gospel is a discourse about Christ, that he is the Son of God and became man for us, that he died and was raised, that he has been established as a Lord over all things…

…Be sure, moreover, that you do not make Christ into a Moses, as if Christ did nothing more than teach and provide examples as the other saints do, as if the gospel were simply a textbook of teachings or laws…

…The chief article and foundation of the gospel is that before you take Christ as an example, you accept and recognize him as a gift, as a present that God has given you and that is your own. This means that when you see or hear of Christ doing or suffering something, you do not doubt that Christ himself, with his deeds and suffering, belongs to you. On this you may depend as surely as if you had done it yourself; indeed as if you were Christ himself. See, this is what it means to have a proper grasp of the gospel, that is, of the overwhelming goodness of God, which neither prophet, nor apostle, nor angel was ever able fully to express, and which no heart could adequately fathom or marvel at. This is the great fire of the love of God for us, whereby the heart and conscience become happy, secure, and content. This is what preaching the Christian faith means. This is why such preaching is called gospel, which in German means a joyful, good, and comforting “message”; and this is why the apostles are called the “twelve messengers.”

Concerning this Isaiah 9[:6] says, “To us a child is born, to us a son is given.” If he is given to us, then he must be ours; and so we must also receive him as belonging to us. And Romans 8[:32], “How should [God] not give us all things with his Son?” See, when you lay hold of Christ as a gift which is given you for your very own and have no doubt about it, you are a Christian. Faith redeems you from sin, death, and hell and enables you to overcome all things. O no one can speak enough about this. It is a pity that this kind of preaching has been silenced in the world, and yet boast is made daily of the gospel.
Now when you have Christ as the foundation and chief blessing of your salvation, then the other part follows: that you take him as your example, giving yourself in service to your neighbor just as you see that Christ has given himself for you. See, there faith and love move forward, God’s commandment is fulfilled, and a person is happy and fearless to do and to suffer all things. Therefore make note of this, that Christ as a gift nourishes your faith and makes you a Christian. But Christ as an example exercises your works. These do not make you a Christian. Actually they come forth from you because you have already been made a Christian. As widely as a gift differs from an example, so widely does faith differ from works, for faith possesses nothing of its own, only the deeds and life of Christ. Works have something of your own in them, yet they should not belong to you but to your neighbor.

So you see that the gospel is really not a book of laws and commandments which requires deeds of us, but a book of divine promises in which God promises, offers, and gives us all his possessions and benefits in Christ….

…When you open the book containing the gospels and read or hear how Christ comes here or there, or how someone is brought to him, you should therein perceive the sermon or the gospel through which he is coming to you, or you are being brought to him. For the preaching of the gospel is nothing else than Christ coming to us, or we being brought to him. When you see how he works, however, and how he helps everyone to whom he comes or who is brought to him, then rest assured that faith is accomplishing this in you and that he is offering your soul exactly the same sort of help and favor through the gospel. If you pause here and let him do you good, that is, if you believe that he benefits and helps you, then you really have it. Then Christ is yours, presented to you as a gift…

Read the whole thing (part one, part two).  Well worth the 5 minutes!

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Luke 15 sermon

Audio Download

Sermon Text

 

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So Kurt Wise has said (and Dawkins quotes it in the God Delusion also)

“if all the evidence in the universe turns against creationism, I would be the first to admit it, but I would still be a creationist because that is what the Word of God seems to indicate.”

Well obviously!  If that is “what the Word of God seems to indicate” and the Word of God is, well, the Word of God, what other position could Wise take?

Dawkins would love it if the debate were about differing interpretations of the same agreed sources of evidence.  But that would be a debate that assumed the very issues at stake!  If Dawkins wants to debate people who agree that the scientific method is Lord, let him do so.  But that would be an in-house debate within the scientific community and it wouldn’t make him anywhere near as much money.

The real debate does not concern differing interpretations of the same data.  It’s about what counts as evidence, who says and how can it be verified.

Wise says Jesus is Lord and science is great.  And if there’s ever a conflict, Jesus wins.  Well naturally!  If he didn’t say that he wouldn’t be a Christian.  And if Dawkins can’t grasp that, he hasn’t understood his opponent, nor the nature of the debate in which he’s engaged.

For Dawkins, Science is Lord, end of story.  And in the God Delusion he seeks to prove how very broad minded he is (as opposed to Wise – that disgrace to the human race).  He says that if “all the evidence in the universe” points towards creationism he’d switch sides.

But of course that would be no switch at all.  Even if he believed in six hour creation, it’s the basis on which he formed such beliefs that is decisive.  Dawkins might come to believe in a 6000 year old universe and not have budged an inch on the issue that really matters.  Is Jesus Lord or is the scientific method Lord?

The debate is not a simple weighing of already-agreed evidence.  And if Dawkins can’t understand that he only proves that he’s unqualified to discuss the matter.

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It’s next Saturday.  I’m hoping to be there.  How about you?  Should be a great day of teaching and encouragement.

More info here, facebook page here.

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Happy Friday

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Two wonderful posts at Christocentrism:

The Fatal Wound

…What is the great problem within evangelicalism today?  A lack of convincing action in the world that would back-up our faith?  Increasing laxity on doctrines such as hell and the atonement?  The decline in church attendance, giving, and sending?  Perhaps these are serious problems.  But they’re just irritating shards of shrapnel compared to the seriousness of the mortal wound: evangelicalism is Christless.  Not everywhere, and not everyone– but evangelicalism is walking wounded with a limping Christless gospel, biblical hermeneutic, and discipleship….

…Even Christians need Christ.  And so long as Christ is not the context, content, and control on all we think, say, and do, then we are a dying–if not already dead–evangelicalism.

Christ in the Temple

When Christ was taken to the Temple to be circumcised eight days after he was born of Mary, it was by no means his first visit.  Christ had dwelt in the Holy of Holies enthroned on the ark of the covenant in glory from the time the Tabernacle was built by Moses.  The pre-incarnate Christ was the LORD, the God of Israel, and the Tabernacle/Temple was a living sermon on the subject of his Person and work….

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Go and visit Christocentrism which promises more of the same.

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I just finished a preaching group where a fine preacher gave a fine talk on Judges 14.  At the end he included a sentence about ‘another Saviour who came to deliver His people eternally’.  That sort of thing.   He didn’t make anything of the point and he didn’t mention the name ‘Jesus’, but he included the sentence.

During the feedback session I asked him in as non-leading a way as possible, “Why did you include that sentence about Jesus?”

Quick as a flash another student answered “Because we’re supposed to.”

Let me ask:

Do we preach Christ from the OT “because we’re supposed to” or because the Hebrew Scriptures are already and inherently a witness to Christ?

Is the ‘Jesus bit’ a token effort to fulfil some preaching requirement?  Or is Jesus actually witnessed in and through the passage?

Is Jesus as incidental to the proclamation of this passage as those terrible jokes that are also tacked on?

Is it the preacher’s job to ‘bridge to Christ’?  Or has God’s word already done a good job of that?

Is Jesus forced into our sermons?  Or is He present as the Ground, Grammar and Goal of the whole Scripture?

Congregations can really tell the difference between the former and the latter.

Churches where the former is the common practice often produce Christians who know that Jesus is very important.  But they’re not so sure why.

Preachers that follow this model can start to think that Jesus is a homiletical necessity, but not so much a spiritual one.  So when they speak of God’s sovereignty, the importance of holiness, the necessity of prayer, they give powerful illustrations and pointed applications.  For these ‘main points’ of their sermon it’s aged wine and the best of meats.  But then at the end they give their people Jesus as though He’s cod liver oil.  Out of the blue, unappetising, supposedly good for you but we’re not quite sure why.

Know what I mean?

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David Murray’s latest video on Christ, the Angel of the LORD.

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To change internally through external acts can be flesh.

But to change externally through internal devotions can be just as flesh-ly.

Conversely, the external application of word and sacrament can have a wonderful effect internally.

And an internal resolve to look away to Christ can brilliantly impact your externals.

Neither outside-in nor inside-out is the right method for change.  The division the bible makes is between flesh and Spirit.

The real issue is whether the Spirit is leading us to Jesus and His finished work. It’s the Spirit who takes us outside to Christ who offers up our true standing before the Father.

I talk about this here in a recent sermon on Romans 8 (audio here).

13For if you live according to the sinful nature, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live,

What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of the body by the Spirit.  Not by the law, not by the flesh, not by will power or human effort.  What does change look like that is by the Spirit?

Well, imagine you lie.  You lie to protect your reputation, you tell everyone you’ve done something that you haven’t done to sound like a big shot.  And afterwards you feel bad about lying.  And you want to stop lying like that because it’s getting to be a habit.

Now at that point – what is Christian about that resolve?  Non-Christians resolve to tell the truth too.  There’s nothing Christian about trying to be a better person.  There’s nothing Christian about putting sins to death.  It’s the WAY you put them to death that’s the real difference.

See, you could put it to death through the law.  You could say “The law says Thou shalt not lie.  I’ve broken the law.  I’ll punish myself and put myself under condemnation until I feel I’ve done my penance and then I’ll try really, really hard to be honest next time.”

Two problems with the law approach.  First, it doesn’t work.  Second, I’ve just resolved to be my own Saviour.  I don’t need Jesus for this.  I don’t need the cross, I don’t need the Spirit.  I’m just trying to be more moral.  There’s nothing Christian about resolving to tell the truth.

But Paul tells me to put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

What’s that?  Well to figure out that, we need to figure out what the Spirit is up to in the world.  And verse 14 will tell us what we need to know.  Here’s what the Spirit is up to:

14 because those who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. 15 For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” 16 The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.

Verse 15 calls the Spirit “the Spirit of Sonship.”  So the Spirit of the Son makes US sons and daughters of God.  The Spirit sweeps us up into Jesus so that we share Jesus’ relationship with God.  And what is Jesus’ relationship with God.  He is the Son, who calls out to God, “Abba, Father.”  And now, BY THE SPIRIT, so do we!

Abba is a word for Daddy in many middle eastern languages.  It’s intimate, it’s affectionate.  It’s also deeply respectful.  But here’s the question: Who on earth gets to call Almighty God, Abba?  Calling the Queen “Liz” is bad enough.  But at least calling her Liz doesn’t presume anything about your relationship to the Queen.  To call God “Daddy” you’re not only being incredibly intimate with God, you’re also making a claim on Him.  You’re saying “God, You are my Father and I am Your child.”  And children have certain rights.  In verse 17, Paul will tell us one of those rights – we have inheritance rights – as children of God we are heirs of the cosmos.

So that’s what the Spirit is up to – He’s communicating Christ to me, He’s testifying to me that I am in Jesus and in Him God is my Father, He’s communicating all that that means…

Now come back to verse 13 and ask “What does it mean to put to death the misdeeds of this Adamic body BY THE SPIRIT?”

Here’s what it means.  It means I open up my bible, I read the Spirit’s words and I allow Him to tell me:  “Glen, don’t you realize you HAVE the righteousness of Christ?!  You ARE God’s beloved child, unimprovably so.  So Glen, when you lied, who were you trying to impress?  Why lie?  You are dead to lying now, not because there’s an anti-lying law.  You’re dead to lying because, What need is there to lie?

The Spirit is constantly telling me, “I am a trillionaire walking around the millionaires club.”  And my lying exaggeration is like flashing around a counterfeit £50 note, trying to impress people.  That doesn’t impress people in the millionaires club.  And it completely forgets that I have a trillion pounds to my name?  What am I doing?

So put lying to death BY THE SPIRIT.

It works for all sins.

Put porn to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Why go after that counterfeit intimacy, when Jesus brings us into His eternal fellowship with the Father?

Put covetousness to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Do you really need the latest outfit or the latest gadget, when you’re about to inherit the universe?

Put anger and harsh words to death BY THE SPIRIT.  Don’t you realize you’re loved and appreciated and declared righteous in the heavenly realms?  Do you really need to assert your rights here and now?

Whatever the misdeeds of your Adam nature, put them to death BY THE SPIRIT.

To change by the Spirit means to have my gaze drawn to Christ who is my righteousness.  It means the Spirit re-reminding me that Christ is my standing before the Father.  All my sins spring from trying to live independently of Jesus and establishing my own standing in the world.  So look out to Christ who offers up the real you.  That’s how Christian change occurs.

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The Sixth Sola

The mission of the church is proclamation alone.

But of course proclamation is never alone (2 Cor 4:1-6).

To elevate other concerns into the place of proclamation is condone works of the flesh.  Social and political amelioration are the fruit of the Spirit.

To agree to the first five solas means a commitment to this sixth.

Or so I submit…

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This is taken from last year’s series of men’s breakfasts:
part one, part two, part three.

The average Christian testimony goes something like this:  I’d always believed in God and then I came to see that Jesus was this god-I-always-believed-in.

Average Christian evangelism really hopes that people believe in “God”.  We are relieved to hear that a person believes in “God.”  Phew – we think that makes things a bit easier.

If they don’t believe in “God” we draw a deep breath and rummage around for some arguments to convince them of “God”:

  • There’s order in the world, there must be an Orderer.
  • Everything is caused, there must be a Cause at the top of the chain.
  • There’s morality – there must be a Moral Lawgiver.
  • You have a sense of something more, there must be Something more.

And we argue towards some kind of OmniBeing.  You know the omnis – maybe you learnt them in religious studies at school.  God is omnipresent, omnipotent, omniscient, omnivorous, ambidextrous, and so on.

And if our arguments are clever enough, maybe they’ll agree to our philosophy.  Hallelujah, they believe in the Omnibeing!  This is surely a step in the right direction, we imagine.

After all, didn’t Elijah use similar tactics on the Baal worshippers.  I don’t have my bible to hand but I seem to remember some very powerful arguments on Mount Carmel.  All that stuff about “Yahweh is a bit like Baal.  But bigger.  And slightly less despotic.”  Brilliant stuff.

Well, now that we’ve used philosophical theism as a stepping stone to Jesus, we come to the business end of proceedings:  it’s time to unveil Jesus Himself.  And so we hand over a Gospel to our unbeliever and try to convince them that Jesus is the Omnibeing made flesh.

The unbeliever goes away and reads the Gospel.  And what do they find?  A laughing, crying, shouting, serving, healing, loving Human Sacrifice.  And the non-Christian says – “Wow, that stuff’s interesting.  But it doesn’t sound to me like the Omnibeing.”

Now at this stage we must remain firm.  It would be easy to sell out the OmniBeing here, but no we must be faithful to our bedrock theism.  Here’s how to proceed:

— “Hmm, tricky” we say, “all that passionate, self-sacrificial blood and suffering – that’s just on the surface.  That’s not the real God-stuff, that’s His human nature.  But don’t worry, deep down Jesus is the Omnibeing really.”

— “Really?” says the enquirer, “Cos all that Jesus-stuff is very attract…”

— …”No, no, it’s a gloss.  Nothing to see there.  The OmniBeing rules!”

And we pray that the non-Christian agrees.  For if they do, then surely we have brought them to see that Jesus is Lord.  Right?

Wrong.  This is not the conversion of an unbeliever to Christ.  This is the conversion of Jesus to the Omnibeing.  And we’ve taken people away from the real God – the God who Jesus actually reveals.

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 Thanks to Harold Camping, today is pretty much the one day I don’t expect Christ to return.  What a shame!  Never mind eh.  Begin again tomorrow.  Sunday would be a better day for it anyway – the Lord’s Day does mean “Day of the Lord” after all.

Of course, through the gospel, Christ’s return is not Doomsday, but the Happy Last Day.  If we know Jesus then Judgement Day has passed.  It fell on Christ crucified and we look with eager longing for the appearing of our Friend and Saviour to put all things right.

Heidelberg Catechism

Question 52. What comfort is it to you that Christ “shall come to judge the living and the dead?”

Answer. That in all my sorrows and persecutions, I, with uplifted head, look for the very One, who offered Himself for me to the judgment of God, and removed all curse from me, to come as Judge from heaven, who shall cast all His and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall take me with all His chosen ones to Himself into heavenly joy and glory.

The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”  (Rev 22:17)

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It would be spectacular and amazing, prompting all the world to open its ears and eyes, mouth and nose in uncomprehending wonderment, if some king’s son were to appear in a beggar’s home to nurse him in his illness, wash off his filth, and do everything else the beggar would have to do. Would this not be profound humility? Any spectator or any beneficiary of this honor would feel impelled to admit that he had seen or experienced something unusual and extraordinary, something magnificent.

But what is a king or an emperor compared with the Son of God? Furthermore, what is a beggar’s filth or stench compared with the filth of sin which is ours by nature, stinking a hundred times worse and looking infinitely more repulsive to God than any foul matter found in a hospital?

And yet the love of the Son of God for us is of such magnitude that the greater the filth and stench of our sins, the more He befriends us. For how amazing it is that the Son of God becomes my servant, that He humbles Himself so, that He cumbers Himself with my misery and sin. . . . He says to me: “You are no longer a sinner, but I am. I am your substitute. You have not sinned, but I have. The entire world is in sin. However, you are not in sin; but I am. All your sins are to rest on Me and not on you.”

No one can comprehend this. In yonder life our eyes will feast forever on this love of God.

–Martin Luther, Luther’s Works, 22:166-67

ht Dane Ortlund

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Happy Friday

In honour of Harold Camping

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What’s this verse about?

And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory…  (2 Cor 3:18)

Is it about enjoying private devotional experiences with Jesus so that we become like Him?   That’s a popular interpretation.  And it’s half right.  But it’s really not the full story.

The NIV footnote says that ‘reflect’ can be translated ‘contemplate’.  But I think ‘reflect’ is a better translation.  It’s a word that means ‘showing like a mirror shows’.  The question is this – Is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the beholder looks at the mirror?  Or is the mirror-like-ness telling us about how the mirror itself reflects outwardly?

My guess is the latter.  Our faces are like mirrors reflecting outwardly to the world the glory of Jesus.

This fits the context.  Paul has been reminding us about Moses’s face-to-face encounters with the Lord (2 Cor 3:7,13).  He put a veil on to stop the Israelites seeing this fading glory.  But we (as v18 says) have unveiled faces.  And so what happens?   Others see the glory of Christ as we reflect it out to the world.

So this verse does indeed depend on our having devotional experiences with Jesus – just as Moses did (e.g. Exodus 33:7-11).  But that in itself will not transform us into Christ’s likeness.  Reflecting Christ’s glory out into the world – that will transform us.

Which is what the next two chapters of 2 Corinthians are all about.

Too often we think of holiness as one thing and mission as another.  Really they are mutually defining and mutually achieved.  Just as God’s own being is a being in outreach, so our Christian character is a character in outreach.  To divorce the two is disastrous.

Holiness-in-mission is parallel to God’s being-in-becoming. Just as God is who He is in His mission, so are we. Reflecting the Lord’s glory is not a private activity – or at least it must not end there.  It’s not essentially pietistic but proclamatory.  It’s not about locking ourselves in a “prayer closet” – it’s outgoing witness (to believers and unbelievers).

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Here’s David Murray’s latest Christ in the OT video.

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Viral?

A friend of mine just said “Your video’s gone viral!”

Actually, I think it’s “gone Man Flu”.  A “Man Flu video” is not exactly viral – its owner just makes a fuss and tells everyone about it.  ;-)

My mate Millers and I were once discussing the relative worth of investing in people versus investing in media resources.  I’ll give him the last word on the matter:

“Videos don’t go viral.  People go viral.”

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