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Archive for April, 2012

Disciplines

At the Cor Deo Conference on Saturday (mp3s to follow) there was a great question on Bible reading.  It was addressed to Ron and he both answered at the time and has written some more thoughts here.  I thought I’d add my two-pence, because, well, that’s what I do.  Whether invited to or not.

The question of disciplines arises whenever you emphasize God’s approach to us in Christ, over and above our approach to Him.  Well then, people ask, what place does our devotional life have?

I attempted to answer that with the preface to my own devotional, but let me put it another way.

On Saturday I spoke of the difference between a medieval system of salvation and the gospel announcement of Christ as Saviour.  Bible reading happens in both paradigms.  But in the system, it’s a rung on the ladder.  In the announcement paradigm, it’s a revelation.

Here’s the thing – when I haven’t read my Bible for a while and/or when I’m in a bit of a spiritual slump, the devil plays a brilliant trick on me.  He adopts the voice of an earnest religious devotee and says “Ah Glen, what a pity you’re so far from God.  But not to worry” he says, masquerading as a spiritual adviser, “two weeks of solid Bible reading and you’ll be back on top of your game.”  Ug, I think.  And so I slide deeper into my spiritual sulk.

The system paradigm just doesn’t get me reading.  But what if I realize the gospel?  What if I tell myself, “Closeness to God does not lie on the other side of two weeks hard graft!  Closeness to God is IN JESUS.  And that’s where I am.  Let’s pick up this gracious word and be reminded.”

If I’m believing in the system, I might open the Bible but only to receive a lecture, or a to-do list.  More often I’ll leave it closed.

If I realize I’ve already arrived, you never know, I might just open the Bible, eager to receive Christ!

 

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God is Good

“I’m afraid it’s going to be expensive,” said my car mechanic.

I started to smile, realising I was in the middle of a mini-miracle.  “How much?” I asked, knowing exactly what he’d say.  And he said it.  To the pound.  He said it exactly.

Read Emma’s post for more…

:)

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Both Jesus and Paul warned us about wolves in the strongest possible terms.  Christ is the Great Shepherd and His  church is His flock.  But wolves will come to attack the flock.  These wolves are false teachers.

What do you think false teachers teach?  What is so savage about these wolves? What do they preach that threatens the flock so greatly??

When Paul had been in Ephesus 3 years he left the leaders of the church with this charge:

28 Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood. 29 I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. 30 Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. 31 So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.

32 ‘Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.

Paul was clearly very worried about wolves, coming in to destroy the flock.  Sheep have no defences against wolves.  Wolves are savage with sheep.  And these wolves – some of them – will arise from the Ephesian church.  Isn’t that scary?  It scared Paul.  For three years he never stopped warning them, night and day with tears.

Now, what do you imagine these wolves to be teaching?  In what ways are these people going to savagely destroy the church that Paul had planted?

Now, the truth is, we don’t know.  But what’s fascinating is how we naturally think of wolves.  What kinds of teaching do we think will tear a church apart?

When I hear people accused of being wolves these days, usually it’s because they’re soft on sin, lax on the law.  People who won’t teach good biblical principles, something like that.  What does Paul mean?

Well notice the one protection he offers to this vulnerable flock in verse 32: “The word of God’s grace”, that’s what will build them up.  He’s been teaching them the word of this grace and his parting words are for the Ephesians to be committed to the word of God’s grace.  With the wolves coming, that’s what they need to know.

Because the wolves which seem to concern Paul most in his letters aren’t so much those who are soft on sin or lax on law.  Actually the wolves are the very ones so keen to teach “biblical principles for living” and to bring the flock under the law.

There are different kinds of wolves, it’s true.  But when Jesus mentions wolves, it’s in the context of Pharisaism.  And the false teachers who seem to cause Paul the most sleepless nights are the legalists – those earnest preachers with their Bibles open, urging you to godliness by bringing you under the law.  They are, most consistently, the savage wolves who Paul has in his sights.

Is that what you thought of, when you thought of wolves?

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SERMON AUDIO

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Happy Friday

We all need a sense of drama…

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Here’s an article from a few years ago but it’s never appeared on the blog.  It was on my old website as an introduction to some of the themes of Christ the Truth…

You cannot begin your theology without your doctrine of God – all else is because God is.  Everything exists by virtue of Him, out of Him, for Him, and in relationship with Him.  Whatever you say about Him has ramifications for all of reality.  Misunderstand God and you misunderstand everything.

Ok, but where do you begin your doctrine of God?

This section is all about maintaining what Athanasius considered to be the most crucial point in his disagreements with the heretic Arius:

“Therefore it is more pious and more accurate to signify God from the Son and call Him Father, than to name Him from His works only and call Him Unoriginate.”

To put this another way, we ought first to consider God as Trinity before we consider Him as Creator.

The issue can be seen in sharp relief when we understand exactly what Arius believed.  He wrote this in his Letter to Alexander of Alexandria:

‘Our faith, from our ancestors, which we have learned also from you is this.  We know one God – alone unbegotten, alone everlasting, alone without beginning… who begot an only-begotten Son before eternal times, through whom he made the ages and everything.’

Arius moves from ‘uncreated Creator’ to God’s Begetting-Begotten relationships with great ease and one wonders how many Christians, even Christian ministers, would today spot this as the grave heresy it most certainly is.

The problem here is that the being of God is defined in advance of a consideration of the only-begotten Son. And so, from the outset, Christ has been defined out of full deity!  There is no way you could confess Jesus as ‘fully God’ once the definition of God is stated as ‘alone unbegotten.’ The Father and the Son cannot be, for Arius, of one being.  They are of different orders of being – the Father defined as on one plane (the unbegotten plane), the Son is on another (the begotten (and, for Arius, created) plane).

No matter how much Arius protested that the Father and the Son were of ‘like being’ he had actually placed them on opposite sides of the line which he had drawn to separate God from everything else.  For Arius the Unoriginate-originate distinction was the ultimate demarcation of full deity from all else.  And the Son was on the other side of that line.

The very heart of the gospel is threatened here.  With Arius we have a fundamental disjunction between who Jesus is and who the Father is.  When Jesus claims in John 10, ‘I and the Father are one’ this is meant to reassure His hearers that what they hear Him saying and what they see Him doing are the very words and works of God.  To see and lay hold of Jesus is to see and lay hold of the Father.  For Arius to drive a wedge between this one-ness means that 1) Christ’s revelation is not actually the revelation of God and 2) Christ’s salvation is not actually the salvation of God.  To see and hear and trust Jesus is still to be short of seeing, hearing and trusting God.  We are, ultimately, left in the dark – for revelation and for salvation.

And all this, according to Athanasius, is because Arius has named God from His works rather than naming Him from His Son. That is, he has begun with God as Creator and not with God as Trinity.  And that means that Arius has a fundamentally different God from Athanasius.

To show this, imagine two scenarios:

Scenario 1)  Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is a simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator, do you agree?’ Athanasius says ‘Agreed’.  Then Arius says ‘And you believe that Jesus is not only of ‘like substance’ but ‘the same substance’ with this God who is defined as a ‘simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator???’  Athanasius’s head begins to hurt…

Scenario 2) Arius sits down at the table with Athanasius and says ‘God is a simple, undivided, unchanging, utterly unique, self-sufficient, mathematically singular, uncreated Creator, do you agree?’  Athanasius says ‘No!  We do not define God from His works, calling Him Maker and then try to map those same, philosophically derived attributes onto Jesus (and the Spirit) to produce ‘a Trinity’!!  Arius, you and I do not simply disagree about the identity of Jesus.  We fundamentally disagree about God.  You begin with uncreated Creator and therefore can never come to understand Jesus.  Because you do not begin with Jesus you simply cannot know the first thing about God.”

Thus Athanasian trinitarianism – orthodox Nicene trinitarianism – is not, finally, about seeking to secure the deity of the Son (Arius believed Jesus was divine).  It was even more about ensuring a Christian doctrine of God.  Agreement on the deity of the Son is not actually a later stage in the argument about God.  We do not first agree on some kind of God and then introduce His Son.  Any concept of the one God that does not from the outset include the mutual relations of Father-Son, begetting-begotten etc, bears no relation to the living God.  It is Arian.  Heresy.

Thus we return to Athanasius’ plea: do not begin from God’s works and call Him Maker.  Begin with His Son and call Him Father!

The council of Nicea followed Athanasius’ advice:

‘We believe in one God, The Father Almighty, Maker…’

Before there was a world, there was God.  And this God was, is and ever shall be the Father pouring life and love into His Son by the Spirit.  Before we seek to know God in any other way we must understand Him as He is in, with and for Himself, that is, in His triune relationships.

If you don’t follow this method, here are 12 disastrous implications:

1)     You will never get to a Nicene trinity – you must deny ‘God from God’ – a begotten deity. 

2)     You will make God both dependent on creation and shut out from it (i.e. “Creator” needs a creation, but is defined in opposition to it).

3)     You will therefore never actually know God.

4)     Faith then becomes, not a laying hold of God, but of intermediary pledges from the unknown God.

5)     Assurance becomes impossible – the hidden and unreachable God determines all.

6)     Salvation becomes not a participation in God but a status conferred external to Him.

7)     Apologetics becomes the invitation to non-Christians to also name God from His works.

8)     Proclaiming Christ entails the impossible task of squeezing Jesus into a pre-formed deistic doctrine of God.  

9)     Christology will become the riddle of fitting the uncaused cause (“deity”) with a very conditioned Jesus (“humanity”) – i.e. you’ll tend towards Nestorianism.

10)  You will define God’s Glory in terms of self-sufficiency – making Him the most self-absorbed Being in the universe rather than the most self-giving.

 11)  Christ crucified then becomes a bridge to God’s glory rather than the very expression of it. (A theology of glory rather than theology of the cross).

12)  You will consider “Glorifying God” to mean ‘what we give to Him’ – our worship etc (works!) – rather than receiving His life given to us (faith!).

And all because we haven’t begun with Jesus – our God from God.

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Jesus:

Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.  If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?  And if you greet only your own people, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?  Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.  (Matthew 5:46-48)

The life of God is a life of loving that which is other than God.  Pagans love in a conditional way.  Pagans simply value what is valuable.  God’s perfection is like light shining into darkness – it goes beyond itself to bless that which is other.  Divine perfection is about creating value, by valuing the unworthy.

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Luther:

[The theologian of glory] learns from Aristotle that the object of the will is the good and the good is worthy to be loved, while the evil, on the other hand, is worthy of hate….

The love of God does not find, but creates, that which is pleasing to it. The love of man comes into being through that which is pleasing to it…

[Yet] rather than seeking its own good, the love of God flows forth and bestows good. Therefore sinners are attractive because they are loved; they are not loved because they are attractive… This is the love of the cross, born of the cross, which turns in the direction where it does not find good which it may enjoy, but where it may confer good upon the bad and needy person.  (Heidelberg Disputation)

The philosopher’s god is just like pagans – responding to value.  The God of the Cross flows forth, bestowing value.

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Piper:

[God] loves His glory infinitely. This is the same as saying: He loves himself infinitely. Or: He Himself is uppermost in His own affections. A moment’s reflection reveals the inexorable justice of this fact. God would be unrighteous (just as we would) if He valued anything more than what is supremely valuable. But He Himself is supremely valuable. If He did not take infinite delight in the worth of His own glory, He would be unrighteous. For it is right to take delight in a person in proportion to the excellence of that person’s glory…

…If God should turn away from Himself as the Source of infinite joy, He would cease to be God. He would deny the infinite worth of His own glory. He would imply that there is something more valuable outside Himself. He would commit idolatry. (Desiring God, p42, 47)

Nope.  If He really is a “Source” then turning outside Himself to the other would be the very expression of His deity.

Piper defends the self-absorbed God on the grounds that our rules don’t apply to God.  It’s wrong for us to seek ourselves, it’s only right for God to seek himself.  The trouble is Piper has already applied our rules to God at the decisive point.  He has defined God’s glory the way the pagans do (valuing what is valuable).

But that is the point at which “our rules don’t apply”.  Our love responds to value. His cruciform love (“love to the loveless shown”) creates value.  God differs from us not in displaying a justified self-absorption.  He differs from us in that He alone is truly self-giving!  His grace is His divine glory.

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At which point, surely Piper is on the wrong side of Luther’s “theology of glory / theology of the cross” divide?

 

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Come and join RON FROSTPETER MEAD and myself as we speak about the triune God, His outgoing life of mission and the gracious proclamation of Christ.  It’s COR DEO, so you know it’s good.

Tell your friends!

Details here

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When Jesus came, stooped, served, suffered, was shamed, bled and died – that was not a departure from His divine glory.  He wasn’t taking a holiday from being God.  That was the expression of His glory. The cross is the most God-life thing imaginable.  Because God’s life is a life of outgoing, outpouring, sacrificial, life-giving love.

Think of the cross.  Bring to mind that bloodied corpse with His arms outstretched to the world:  This is what is looks like to be God.  What is the highest heights of Godness, the deepest depths of deity?  Look to the Cross.  Look to the God who pours Himself out. His own life-blood is flowing from His veins.  And He does it for you.

The real God bleeds for His enemies.  The real God gives His life even to death.  The real God loves us more than His own life.  And when Jesus dies on the cross THEREFORE, God the Father exalts Him and says “THAT!!!  Look at the crucified One.  That’s what it means to be God.”

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“God’s Cause” from the Valley of Vision:

SOVEREIGN Father,

Your cause, not my own, engages my heart,
and I appeal to you with greatest freedom
to set up your kingdom in every place where Satan reigns;
Glorify your Son and I shall rejoice,
for to bring honour to His name is my sole desire.
I adore you that He is God,
and long that others should know Him, feel him and rejoice in Him
that all men might love and praise him,
that he might have all glory from the intelligent world!
Let sinners be brought to Jesus for your dear name sake!

To our eye everything respecting the conversion of others
is as dark as midnight,
But you can accomplish great things;
the cause is yours,
and it is to your glory that men should be saved.
Lord, use me as you would,
do with me what you would;
but promote your cause,
let your kingdom come,
let your blessed interest be advanced in this world!
Oh that great numbers might be brought to Jesus!
let me see that glorious day,
and give me to grasp for multitudes of souls;
let me be willing to die to that end;
and while I live let me labour for you
to the utmost of my strength,
spending time profitably in this work,
both in health and in weakness.
It is your cause and kingdom I long for, not my own.

Sovereign Father, answer my request!
In Jesus Name
AMEN

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The Good News of Repentance

True or False: The world likes to hear about forgiveness but it hates talk of repentance.

It’s Guff.  Bunkum.  Garbage.  Balderdash.

The world loves repentance (and it hates forgiveness, but I don’t have time for that post)…

If you don’t believe me, go to your newsagents and open your eyes.  What will you see?

“Wage war on fat.”  “11 carbs you should eat.”  “Improve your game.” “De-clutter your life.”  “Be the You you always wanted.”  “New Year, New You.”

We love, love, love repentance.  The problem is, we’re not very good at it.  We can’t be new.  Lord knows we’ve tried.  If only someone could give us a true repentance!!  If only there really was a Me for me to be.  But I can’t seem to get to that me!

GOOD NEWS PEOPLE!  Christ has risen from the dead into a whole new world – a world beyond sin and selfishness, beyond death and judgement, beyond your every flesh-bound limitation.  And He offers it to you.  Now, as a gift, you can have a properly new you!  Rejoice!

Repentance is not the price to pay for all that nice salvation stuff.  Repentance is your new re-oriented life, liberated from slaveries to self-justification and self-service.  It’s not the heavy cost you must bear for your freedom.  In a deep sense it is your freedom.  And it’s given to you in Jesus.

Of course you must embrace this gift.  But that’s not the down-side that needs outweighing by salvation’s benefits.  It’s part and parcel of our new life.  So embrace the good news of repentance!

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Happy Friday

Here be the purest essence of the Conchords – even if the ending’s a little weak:

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the daytime of the night!

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And thanks to Orange Mailman for this one….

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A repost from two years ago…

Over the summer we got Sky Sports so I could watch the Ashes (I still think I should ask for a refund).

One morning I turned on to watch some highlights and caught the end of  ‘Aerobics Oz Style.’  I immediately laughed remembering the show from my youth in Australia.  As I recall, the whole thing was basically an ultra-gay fitness instructor in ultra-pink lycra teaching ultra-fat housewives to star-jump.

But it seems Aerobics Oz Style has changed.  The gay guy in spandex has been replaced by 5 supermodels – part silicone, part botox, part peroxide, all legs and boobs and hair and teeth – gently stretching in the Australian sunshine.  I stood there holding my remote – my laugh of recognition turned into this boyish burble.  “Hur hur hur- the purdy laydies with their purdy hair, hur hur.”  After a few seconds of slack-jawed, misty wonder I snapped out of it and changed channel.  But I couldn’t help asking myself – What just happened?  How did I go from grown-up to idiot boy in the space of 5 blondes?

Well here’s my quick answer: when women uncover themselves to serve passive men some fundamentals of masculinity are reversed. Or to put it another way: pornography turns a man into a child. (I’ll leave to one side women and porn here – though that needs thought too.)

Think about it:  A man is meant to go out from himself and win a bride.  He is meant to proactively serve an actual flesh and blood woman with real and costly service.  He – and he alone – is to uncover her nakedness (a common biblical phrase, see Lev 18) and enter into a deep oneness, not only of flesh but of soul and spirit also.  The woman is to be discerning, to give herself only to the one man who lays down his life for her.  She is to warmly receive him (and him alone) with single-hearted faithfulness.

But then, what happens with the man who indulges in pornography?  He doesn’t go out from himself but turns in on himself.  He pursues nothing but his own desires.  He woos no-one but himself.  He is not the active servant, he is the passive recipient.  He doesn’t uncover her nakedness, she indiscriminately uncovers herself.  He doesn’t engage her mind or heart but merely consumes her flesh.  This image calls forth nothing from the man except his credit card details.  And the habituation of this selfishness will only shut him down further.  Pornography turns a man into a child.

Which is why the male icon of the porn industry pads around his mansion in his jim-jams.

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LATE BOOKING OFFER – DISCOUNTED DAY RATES
4 – 7 MAY

SAVE UP TO £10 ON A DAY TICKET for Bible by the Beach.

 

NEW RATES:

 Friday 4th May       £10

Saturday 5th May   £30

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Monday 7th May     £20

Children Day Ticket £ 5

 

I’ll be there!  Come join me :)

All tickets can be booked online with The Good Book Company –www.thegoodbook.co.uk/biblebythebeach or by phoning  0333 123 0880.

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You’ll have noticed my blogging output aint what it was.

Part of the reason is my recent discovery (which you all made years ago): most of my blog posts are nothing more than tweets inflated by a hefty dose of soap-box rhetoric.

So, for those not subscribed, here are some rants limited to 140 characters…

– What’s the first thing Lazarus saw after rising from the dead? The tear-stained face of Jesus.

– Just seen Apprentice 1: Starting out calling your team “Phoenix” is a particularly supralapsarian move.

– I’m always hearing “Such and such a place is spot on theologically, they’re just quite unloving.” Nonsense. They Must be wrong theologically

– If u just preach hell as future threat u concede that hell aint essentially Christlessness & it aint that bad. #hellisnow #john318#rom118

– Christ’s work does not ‘make possible’ a relationship with God. If that were true all our work would be ahead of us…

– …Christ’s work renders all our work as filthy rags – including the work of ‘having a relationship with God.’…

– …Christ IS my relationship with God…

– …Which is why atonement debates over “Penal Sub” vs “Christus Victor” are inadequate. Deeper still is Christ’s *ontological* achievement

– … Or to put it another way: Christ aint just my slaughtered goat, nor just my scapegoat. He’s my high Priest. And He’s sat down!

– I want to write a book on Luther, from “Bondage of the Will” to his dying words. I’d call it “Choosers can’t be beggars.”

– Jesus is not calling you out of comfort into service. He’s called you from cocoons into real life.

– Maybe u thought you were sacrificing comfort in order to be godly. Actually Christ was removing your chains and giving you joy. Phil 3:1-11

– Why we don’t connect in conversation: we spend our time Proving ourselves, Protecting ourselves and Pleasing ourselves.

– Sick of ‘Jesus is Lord’ interpreted according to Caesar. Didn’t Jesus explicitly define His Lordship in opposition to the Gentiles? Mk10:42f

– If you think ‘I AM WHO I AM’ is about divine self-sufficiency, remember: It’s spoken by the LORD’s Sent One (Ex 3:2,14)

– For every use of ‘gospel’ as adjective I want 3 explanations of the noun & if u bang on abt gospel-centred by golly u’d better centre on it

– Ever noticed: James Cameron’s (& the popular) cosmology is the reverse of Bible’s: the Abyss is friendly, the heavens have malign ‘Aliens’

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You can subscribe to my Tweets here.

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A friend of mine is very supportive of my ministry but is passionately opposed to parachurch organisations.  He makes many different arguments, but here’s an argument that might persuade me (though I haven’t heard him make it)…

If a local church rented advertising space on the side of a bus, what slogans do you think it would run with?

Anything like “Not Gay, Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud.  Get over it”?

I’m not saying they’re wrong. I think the reification of ‘sexuality’ as an unchanging marker of personal identity deeply undermines our humanity.  I think the elimination of choice (such that one in unable to be ex-anything) is akin to Islam’s apostasy laws!  I think the ad’s censorship betrays the deep intolerance of many so-called liberals.

But, but, but, when those behind the ads say that the controversy was a God-send, I have to wonder whether they’re mission lines up with mine (which I hope is Christ’s!).

INTERVIEWER: You couldn’t buy this level of publicity, now that it’s been banned…

REV LYNDA ROSE: We couldn’t, one has to wonder whether God is not perhaps active in this. It wasn’t our intention to provoke this situation… The publicity is obviously good.  (From Channel 4 News)

Lynda, maybe the publicity’s good for you.  Speaking as an evangelist, let me tell you it aint so good from where I’m sitting!

And it just  makes me wonder, who gets to be a spokesperson for Christianity in the world?  The church, right?  But when does the church lose it’s voice and get drowned out by interest groups?  Certainly the media can’t tell these things apart – and I can’t blame them for it.

It seems to me that our public face needs to be a lot more aligned to both Head and body!  Otherwise local churches (and parachurch evangelists!) are going to have to pick up the pieces.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

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I’m speaking at this in a fortnight.  More importantly RON FROST and PETER MEAD are speaking at this in a fortnight!

It’s COR DEO, so you know it’s good.

COME!

Details here

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Happy Friday

Some Adam Buxton goodness.

The last few videos on escaping to the shed nails masculinity better than anything I’ve ever seen!

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