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Archive for August, 2011

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Continuing the theme of turning the parables right-side-up again, here’s the latest from the King’s English on “The Pearl of Great Price”…

….

Recently a friend emailed me with a question.  He’s not yet a Christian but he’s been attending bible studies for a while.  The previous night they had used Christian-sounding language that he didn’t understand.  He wrote:

“They asked me if I had ever ‘given my life to God.’  I was unsure.  What does that mean?  Is it in the bible?”

I wonder how you would respond?

Every evangelical sinew in my body twinged: “Of course you need to give your life to God! What is a Christian if not someone who has given their life to God?? As it is written in the book of…”  Hmm.  That’s funny.  I’m usually pretty good at citing bible verses.  I can proof-text in my sleep.  But it took me a long time to come up with any “giving-your-life-to-God” language.

Eventually a couple of verses in Romans sprang to mind (6:13; 12:1).  But both of them assume that becoming a Christian has happened.  Even in these verses, “giving your life to God” is the response to salvation, not the way towards it.

And far, far more, the Scriptures speak of Christ giving His life for me! That’s the great theme of the bible. Whatever offerings we make to God, the good news is the other way around.  He offered His life for me!

With that in mind, let’s read a couple of parables that Jesus told.  And let’s see how to understand them:

“Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto treasure hid in a field; the which when a man hath found, he hideth, and for joy thereof goeth and selleth all that he hath, and buyeth that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a merchant man, seeking goodly pearls:  Who, when he had found one pearl of great price, went and sold all that he had, and bought it.”  (Matthew 13:44-46)

Here is how I usually hear these stories explained:

The ‘treasure’ / ‘pearl of great price’ is Christ.  There He is – precious but passive.  Inert.  Waiting.

The ‘man’ / ‘merchant’ is us.  We are the spiritual seekers.  Active.  Adventurous. Sacrificial.

And – well done us! – we sell everything to gain the treasure of Jesus.

But I wonder whether such an interpretation misconstrues all the literary clues of the passage.  More worryingly, I fear it misconstrues the very nature of “the kingdom”.

“Treasured possession” is a famous way of describing the people of God (Exodus 19:5).

“The man” who is active throughout the parables of Matthew 13 is not us but Christ.

At the same time we are consistently represented by impersonal and passive objects (i.e. the soils).

If these were two parables about us finding Christ they would be the only parables of their kind.  Elsewhere it is always we who are lost and Christ who seeks and saves.

Given these facts, surely the most natural interpretation is this:  Christ is the Man who gives everything to purchase the world so as to possess His church.  He is the great Seeker and He is the great Treasurer.  He is the great Rejoicer and He is the great Sacrificer of all.

“For the joy that was set before him, [Jesus] endured the cross.”  (Hebrews 12:2)

We are the purchased treasure, not valuable in ourselves but only in our Redeemer’s eyes.  He is the Glorious Giver, we are those bought at a price.  This is what the kingdom of heaven is like!

And yet… what happens when we opt for the first interpretation?

We become the great seekers.  We are the ones who treasure.  We are the great rejoicers and the ones who sacrifice all.  The weight is thrown back onto our shoulders.

What do we say to this?

Well, first, we ought to read the parables in context.  Shouldn’t our first assumption be that the main Actor of the chapter remains the same?

Second, we ought to understand the fundamentals of the gospel.  Isn’t it Christ who seeks and saves what is lost?  (Luke 19:10)  And don’t we love only because He first loved us?  (1 John 4:19)

Third, we ought to think about the nature of kingdom living.  Sustaining joy is a wonderful thing, but it flows from receiving Christ’s electing, sacrificial love.  There is a great danger of over-burdening the Christian when we insist that they play the role of the electing, rejoicing, sacrificing Seeker.  I learn my true place in the kingdom when I realise that I am not Chooser but chosen.  I am not Lover but beloved.  I am not Redeemer but purchased.  I am not Seeker but found. Then my heart is won, then I treasure Christ, then I rejoice, then I consider all things as loss for His sake.  But such a reaction is always just that – a reaction.  Christ is always the self-giving Actor.

So what did I say to my friend?

I told him that every Christian ought to say “I belong to God.”  If my friend couldn’t say that, then he probably wasn’t a Christian.

But here’s how we belong to God.  Not by “giving our lives to Him.”  Instead we look to Jesus on the cross and there we see the most incredible truth: He has purchased me at an incredible cost.  Keep looking there until you are won by His love.  Whatever response we make at that point is belated.  The ultimate and eternity-defining truth is this: He gave His life for meOf course I belong to Him.

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Jesus – the Good Samaritan

I posted this on the King’s English today….

It’s one of the most famous stories Jesus ever told.  A beautiful stranger helps a man left for dead when his own people disdain and forsake him.  Those who ignore his sufferings are Levites and Priests – the holiest of the holy.  The stranger is a Samaritan – from that race of hated half-breeds to the north.  Nonetheless he shows incredible compassion.  And Jesus ends with that famous imperative: “Go and do thou likewise.”

And so it is generally assumed that this is a simple morality tale.  We conclude that Jesus wants us to copy this good ethical practice.  Or He wants to break down racial divides and show that love is the heart of it all.  Or…  what is the point of this parable?

Well read it for yourself – Luke 10:25-37.

And first notice the question that prompts the story.  The lawyer asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’ (v29).  When Jesus finishes the story He asks the crowd who was neighbour to the one left for dead? (v36).  Therefore the key interpretive question is this:  With whom is Jesus asking us to identify?  The priest? The Levite? The Samaritan?

None of the above.  Not first of all.  First and foremost we are asked to see ourselves as the man left for dead.  And from hisperspective we are to assess who is a good neighbour.  This is the first clue – we are meant to put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man.

Why do I say ‘fallen’?  Well the man’s fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He “goes down from Jerusalem (which in biblical imagery is an earthly counterpart to the heavenly Zion).  He is heading towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (notice the echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the man “falls” among robbers.  He is stripped, plagued (literally that’s the word in v30), abandoned and half-dead.  Here is the man’s precidament.  And Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  No, no hope there.  The Levite?  No chance.  What about a ‘certain Samaritan’?  (Notice how the ‘certain’ mirrors the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  This Samaritan is the answer to the fallen man.

And this man is nothing like the religious.  In fact he would equally have been shunned by the priest and Levite!

Yet this Samaritan ‘had compassion’ (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated ‘he was moved in his bowels with pity’, is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it is used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), this story and the father in the Two Sons (Luke 15:20).

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and, for emphasis, we are twice told about him ‘coming’ to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized, fallen man.  Now read from v33:

As he journeyed, [he] came where he was: and when he saw him, he had compassion on him,  And went to him, and bound up his wounds, pouring in oil and wine, and set him on his own beast, and brought him to an inn, and took care of him.  And on the morrow when he departed, he took out two pence, and gave them to the host, and said unto him, Take care of him; and whatsoever thou spendest more, when I come again, I will repay thee.  (Luke 10:33-35)

So there you are in your half-dead wretchedness.  Religion has been no help to you, but this beautiful stranger does everything.  He comes near, takes pity, heals, carries, cares and pays for it all.  A penny was a day’s wage (Matthew 20:2).  The inn keeper is given two pence.  We therefore assume that when he “comes again” it will be the third day.  Then he will bring to completion the work he has begun.

Are we in the picture? Have we put ourselves in the shoes of the fallen man?  Have we appreciated the love of the good Samaritan?

Well then, now:

Go and do thou likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the good samaritan.  First be the fallen man.  First experience the compassion of this loving Outsider.  Then go and do likewise.

This is not a simple morality tale.  The centre is not our resolve to be good samaritans.  The Centre is Christ Himself.  If we miss Him in any part of Scripture we turn gospel into law and blessings into curses.

But when we see Jesus… well, that’ll preach!

I was like a wounded man

Jesus came all the way down.

On a Friday evening, He died on a Roman cross

Early one Sunday morning He got up

How many of you believe – He got up?

Thank You, for being a Good Samaritan

Thank You, You didn’t have to do it

Thank You, for taking my feet out of the miry clay,

Thank You, for setting them on the rock

Thank you, for saving me,

Thank You, for binding up my wounds

Thank You, for healing my wounds

Thank You, for fighting my battles

Did He pick you up?

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Happy Friday

 

Trim from Petey Boy on Vimeo.

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Homer's Scream

The first human emotion after the fall was fear – Genesis 3:10

The first human emotion after birth is fear.

The most common biblical command is ‘Fear not’.

Which gives you the idea that fear is a major part of our emotional life as fallen creatures.  But of course, we hide it under a thousand pseudonyms.  Here are a few phrases we say all the time.  In italics is what we really mean.

I’m not mechanical/sporty/mathematical

I am insanely threatened by this challenge to my competence

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I’m not really a people person

The thought of others getting close terrifies me

 .

I’m not much of an admin person

Facing up to daily responsibilities fills me with dread

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I’m not that tactile

I’m terrified of human touch

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I don’t like people making a fuss over me

It feels intolerably dangerous to have attention

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I’m more of an ordered person

I must protect myself from the chaos

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I’m just shy, that’s all

One wrong step in public and the embarassment could kill me

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I don’t go for flashy clothes

I’m petrified of having the eyes of others on me

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I like to look good

I’m afraid of being invisible

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I’m quite competitive

I can’t bear to be a loser

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I don’t like all that competitive stuff

I can’t bear being appraised

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I like to chew over my decisions

I’m petrified of doing it wrong

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I tend to decide on the spot

I’m petrified good things will be taken away

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I’m just a practical person

I fear mystery

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I’m not really a practical person

I’m terrified of being shown up in the ‘real world’

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Sermon on the Book of Job

Sermon Audio

What consolation do we offer suffering people?

Worse things happen at sea?  Count your blessings?  Lightning doesn’t strike twice?  At least you’re not being shredded by industrial machinery and flung into an acid bath?

God’s got a plan?  Gotta keep trusting?

Here’s my favourite:  “Nothing a resurrection won’t fix.”  Now that’s consolation.

Job is the story of man.  Therefore it’s also a story of terrible suffering (and of terrible human comfort).  But in the end we learn that there’s nothing a resurrection won’t fix.

Job 1 – Wooded Place, East, Upright Man, Animals, Satan ruins everything.
Remind you of anything?

Satan’s place: Planet earth
Satan’s premise: People only love God if they’re paid.
Satan’s power: Under God’s. The leash is as long as the LORD decides.

But upright man prevails and Satan’s premise is (for once!) proved untrue.

Job 2 – Not just wealth and family, health too. Here come the “Friends”.

Their silence is the best thing they offer.
The trouble comes when they open their mouths.

Job 3:1-5 – How would you summarize? “I wish I was dead.” That’s not sinful!

Burden of Job’s speeches: I really am upright, I really am suffering!
There is such a thing as innocent suffering.
Bad things really do happen to good people just as good things happen to bad people.

Job 4:7-9 How would you summarize? “What goes around comes around!”

We all fall into this fleshly way of thinking.  We like to imagine we’re safe if we do good.  In fact most of our goodness is simply suffering-insurance.  That’s why innocent suffering offends us so much.

Job 8:1-6 Summarize?

Job 11:13. Summarize?

 Job 12:1! Sarcasm is great!  16:1-3; 26:1-4

Job 16:16-21 In the midst of suffering we need to know our Witness; Advocate; Intercessor; Friend!

Job 19:17-27: Redeemer; Earth; Flesh; See.

Job 38:1-11,19-21: The LORD shows up!  Not with a cup of tea and a shoulder to cry on!

Whirlwind!  He humbles Job, makes him see: We can’t weigh it up. We can’t play God:

Job 42:1-6: Job never gets an answer to his why questions (he asks 20 times).

We are simply not in a position to do suffering calculus.  We should leave it to the LORD

Job doesn’t get a neat answer.  Instead he gets an experience of the LORD and he gets resurrection!
That’s what we really need!

Job 42:7-9 Notice Job’s title: “Servant”. Prays for friends, makes sacrifice, accepted.  Remind you of anyone?

This really is the story of man, taken down through Satan into suffering and death, but raised up again through the righteous Servant of the LORD.

Have you been prayed for by Jesus?  Have you claimed His sacrifice for your own?

Job 42:10-17 Twice the original. Not just Eden regained – the world glorified.

Redemption – Jemima: Sunshine. Kezia (Cassia): aromatic. Keren-Hapuch: little makeup box.

There’s nothing a resurrection won’t fix!

 

 

 

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Sermon Audio

Powerpoint

We love to judge.

George Carlin once noted a universal rule of the road: Everyone who drives slower than you is an idiot.  And everyone who drives faster is a maniac.

To the speeding driver, everyone’s an idiot.  To the slow driver, everyone’s a maniac. But one rule applies to all:  My speed is just right.

Two weeks ago the BBC, CNN, the Daily Mail, The Telegraph and many other news sites and blogs have reported a hoax as fact. The hoax was this: Internet Explorer users are less intelligent than those using other web browsers.

It is a lie that has spread like wildfire despite the thinnest of fabricated “evidence” produced by a website cobbled together in the last month. Why did this lie find such instant and universal acceptance (amongst the web-savvy anyway)? Because we love to judge.

David Cameron shortly after the riots said that pockets of our society are not just broken but sick.  Pockets?

Rioters; Politicians; Police; Media

We feel superior, but you know what they say?  When you point the finger at others, you have three fingers pointing back.

Jesus says:

37 “Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. 38 Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

Jesus says there’s two realities you can buy into.  Either Judgement and condemnation; or Giving and forgiving.

Jesus tells us the currency that God deals in.  Verse 36:

36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  (Luke 6:36)

He is in the forgiveness game.  What game are we in?

(more…)

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Have you heard this one before?  I’ve just come across it.  Wonderful words!

1. Dying with Jesus, by death reckoned mine;
Living with Jesus, a new life divine;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine,
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

Moment by moment I’m kept in His love;
Moment by moment I’ve life from above;
Looking to Jesus till glory doth shine;
Moment by moment, O Lord, I am Thine.

2. Never a trial that He is not there,
Never a burden that He doth not bear,
Never a sorrow that He doth not share,
Moment by moment, I’m under His care.

3. Never a heartache, and never a groan,
Never a teardrop and never a moan;
Never a danger but there on the throne,
Moment by moment He thinks of His own.

4. Never a weakness that He doth not feel,
Never a sickness that He cannot heal;
Moment by moment, in woe or in weal,
Jesus my Savior, abides with me still.

Words: Daniel Whittle; Music: May Moody

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