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Archive for May, 2012

I wrote this two years ago in response to the views of an influential minister who I respect greatly.  I haven’t kept up with the minister’s views on this subject and he might be saying different things now so I’ve removed reference to him specifically.  But I think the issue is still very much out there in the evangelical ether, so I’ll address the issue more generally…

I long for church communities that are Christ-centred, grace-filled, all-of-life and intentionally missional.  I love ministers and ministries that emphasize these things.  But let me raise one caution.  It’s common in such circles to affirm church as an on-going family life and to deny that church is an event.

I can understand, to some extent, why language of “event” grates on people.  It can seem like an ungodly waste of resources to turn Sunday morning into a grand performance.  So true.  I’ve heard people speak in hushed tones about some gold standard of sermon preparation – an hour in the study for every minute in the pulpit.  Yowsers!  If that’s the cost of gathering around word and sacrament then I can well understand the desire to re-balance the expenditure of resources.

But there’s something deeper to discuss than the re-allocation of resources or the degree of formality to our meetings.  What I want to establish is the absolute necessity of the event for the life of church.  Church is not just family, it is also an event and irreducibly so.  I’ll say it that starkly because I know how popular it is to speak of church as ongoing-missional-community in opposition to chuch as event.

Church has its being in becoming.  It ever becomes what it is as it hears God’s word.  In this way church is the community called out (ekklesia) to listen to its risen Lord in the proclamation of word and sacrament.  This is the centre of the life of the community.

Let me just take one Scriptural example from Paul.  We are one body because we all share in the one bread (1 Cor 10:17). That is pretty stunning language – and it’s very ‘eventist’.  Here is a consummation of one-body-ness in which we become what we are. The event and the on-going life of the body are inter-dependent.

Think of marriage.  The covenant reality is that husband and wife are one flesh.  But there is an event in which they become one flesh (if you were Presbyterian you might even call it covenant renewal!).

It’s commanded in Scripture (cf 1 Cor 7) and it takes time and effort and a measure of ritual and it’s irreducibly an event.  Of course the degree of ritual and cost and time-expenditure will vary according to many factors.  But to imagine I can think of an ongoing covenant life without also thinking about the one-flesh event is a big danger in marriage.

And, by parallel, church life needs to be maintained by consciously enjoyed, anticipated and ritualised “events” in our church life together.  We can’t do without them.  And however much it’s necessary to speak of day-in, day-out community life we dare not lose language of event either.  The old reformed ecclesiologies speak of gathering around word and sacrament.  They didn’t forget that we were family, but they did highlight that there were foundational “events” at the centre of church life.

So we say Yes to shared life, Yes to Christ-centred community.  But the way in which our community is “centred” around Christ takes a certain form.  The centre is an actual, concrete centre around which we orient ourselves.  As Christ’s community therefore we order ourselves around the place where Christ is given to us. And He is given to us supremely in word and sacrament.

Therefore we must maintain language of “event”.  As we do so we are upholding two related concerns:

1) We are communities of grace.

Christians keen to ditch “event” language are usually big on “grace.”  They commonly reject rituals in the name of gospel grace.  But I would urge caution here.  If we want to be communities of grace we need to orient ourselves around where Christ is given to us, not primarily around what Christ would have us do.  To be a community of grace requires us to centre on events.

2) We are communities of proclamation.

Where we honour the “event” of Church, we honour “proclamation”.  While our community life preaches to the world (John 13:35; 17:21) I’d want to co-ordinate this to a centre of verbal proclamation that constitutes and re-constitutes the community.

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I’m well aware that many who reject the word “event” bang a big and important drum for “grace” and “proclamation”.  But I want to say, “grace” and “proclamation” requires “events.”  We must never lose our centre.

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This time of year I always feel guilty.  When it comes to the end of May and the weather turns nice, there’s a feeling I get.  A rising panic has dawned on me ever since I was a teenager.  You know the feeling – you step out into the sunshine feeling free and all of a sudden it hits you: I SHOULD BE REVISING!

Are you the same?

I haven’t sat any exams for years.  But the weather turns nice and instantly I feel burdened by the weight of exam season.

It’s a horrible feeling.  And it’s exactly like living under law.  Let me list some similarities between being in “Revision Mode” and living “under the law.”

In revision mode…

  1. You never know if you’ve done enough.  Until you see the exam you can’t know what you should have been revising.  Therefore, no matter how much revision you do, you could always be doing more.
  2. If you blow off your revision and enjoy the sunshine you never really enjoy it.  The knowledge of your coming exams overshadows any fun you might have.
  3. If you stay in and study you spend the whole time feeling like you’re missing out.  Everyone else is having the summer of their lives, and you’re stuck in the library.
  4. Negotiating the exam becomes the whole point of study.  Not learning.  Not love of the subject.  Everything is reduced to these arbitrary hoops through which you must jump.
  5. Techniques become almost as important as understanding.  In exams, the ability to conceal ignorance is every bit as useful as actually knowing stuff.   Being good at exams can be worth more than being good at your subject.
  6. The end results for which you aim are all about personal advancement – getting the job or university place that’s best for you.

Living under the law is exactly the same.

  1. The relentless drum beat that drives you is guilt.  ‘Do more, do more, do more’ says the law.  And more is never enough.
  2. You can ignore the law’s demands and ‘cut loose’ in sin, but unless you’ve been set free by Christ you won’t enjoy it.  There’ll always be the lurking feeling that you should be shackled in religion.
  3. On the other hand, you can clutch those shackles to yourself in self-righteous pride, but only you know how jealous you are of the cool kids cutting loose.  Resentment is rising in you, even (and especially!) as you resolve to be good.
  4. Loving your neighbour in self-forgetful joy is not your heart-beat.  Instead you need to be told what to do.  In measurable, manageable, bite-sized chunks.
  5. Concealing your badness is just as important as showing your goodness.  Keeping up appearances is everything.
  6. The end goal is not Christ’s love shared, but your status secured.  Your goodness is all about you.  Which means it’s not actually good after all.
What’s the answer?
Well at some point our exams come to an end.  There’s that beautiful moment when the invigilator says: “Please finish the sentence you’re on…  PENS DOWN!”  And right there – the summer holidays begin.  What a moment!

In Galatians 3 Paul likens the Law to “a strict governess in charge of us.” (Gal 3:24, JB Phillips).  But now we’ve graduated. Christ has passed our exams for us and earned us the A* (Gal 4:4).  The Law has done its job for us and now goes into honourable retirement (Gal 3:25).  We can still learn much from its wisdom, we can still consult the old lesson plans.  But we’re not in revision mode.  It can’t give us a detention.  And its grades no longer apply.

School’s out for summer!  We’re free.

Like the graduate who picks up a book for love of learning, now we can actually pursue the life of Christ without fear, pride, pressure or guilt.   Now that there’s nothing we have to do we’re finally in a position to actually do good!  Now that all judgement has been cleared away, altruism is possible!  For the first time in our lives genuine love can begin.

The Christian lives under the banner of John 19:30: “It is finished!”  So no more “revision mode” spirituality.  You’ve passed the test – with flying colours.  Let the summer begin.

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A Jubilee Sermon (on Trinity Sunday)
An alternative Trinity Sermon here 

“I declare before you all that my whole life whether it be long or short shall be devoted to your service.”

So said Princess Elizabeth to the whole British Empire on her 21st birthday.  The year was 1947.  And as we look back on her 60 years as Queen, who can deny that her long reign has been devoted to “service.”

What an incredible marker for a monarch!  Not power, or wealth, or prestige, but “service.”

The Queen is not simply Head of State, Head of the Commonwealth, the Fount of Justice, Head of the Armed Forces, the Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England.  She is also patron of over 600 organisations and charities.

And, routinely, Queen Elizabeth II is referred to as this country’s greatest public servant.  A sovereign who serves.  What’s her motivation?

She has told us.  In her Christmas message of 2000 she said this:

For me the teachings of Christ and my own personal accountability before God provide a framework in which I try to lead my life. I, like so many of you, have drawn great comfort in difficult times from Christ’s words and example.

The Queen is following the example of Christ: the ultimate Sovereign who serves.  And this evening I just want to think about that remarkable combination of sovereignty and service.  Because there’s a reason we respond so positively to Sovereign Service.  When our Rulers are servants they show us something very profound.

Today is not only the Queen’s Jubilee celebrations.  In the Church Calendar it’s also Trinity Sunday.  Today, ministers all over the world attempt to put words to the truth that our one God is Three Persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Trinity is the truth that God is a unity of three – a tri-unity – a Trinity.

But perhaps you’re thinking, what on earth does the doctrine of the Trinity have to do with our Jubilee Celebrations?  Actually Trinity Sunday and the Queen’s Jubilee truly belong together.  Because with both we are dealing with that wonderful combination of sovereignty and service.  Let me explain…

John’s Gospel begins with these famous words:

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

If we were in any doubt about who the “Word” is, our song has just told us.  Jesus is the Word of God the Father from before the world began.

So John introduces his biography of Jesus by affirming that Jesus did not merely found a religion, He founded the universe.  Jesus, “the Word”, existed before the world began, with God His Father and with the Holy Spirit.  So John gives us a picture of “the beginning” that is unlike any the world has imagined.

The world’s creation myths are full of conflict, killing and chaos.  They speak of wars in heaven, or cosmic storms.  Powers collide and the universe is the debris.  But John casts a very different vision.  In the beginning, there was love.

That’s the doctrine of the Trinity in a nutshell: “In the beginning there was love.”  Because in the beginning there was the loving relationship of Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Before there were people or planets or protons, there was love.  Love is the one thing God didn’t need to create because God is love.  The Father has always loved His eternal Son in the joy of the Holy Spirit.

And so at this Jubilee Celebration we remember that the Sovereign of Sovereigns is not a heavenly Tyrant – a distant individual, ruling in splendid isolation.  Before there was anything to rule, the Father, Son and Spirit related.  Their life is a life of caring, sharing, give and take, back and forth.  Before God’s life was a life of sovereignty over the creation, God’s life was a life of service among the Persons.  The Father pours His love and life into the Son in the power of the Spirit.  The Son offers up His love and life in the power of the Spirit.  The very essence of our Sovereign IS service.  God’s life is a life of mutual self-giving.

We have a saying don’t we: Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.  Well apparently not.  Apparently the absolute power in this world is not a corrupt Dictator, but a loving Family in which service is supreme.  Do you start to see why Trinity Sunday and the Jubilee belong together?

Because of Trinity, no wonder we’re so attracted to the Queen’s humble example.  The servant-heart of the sovereign is a glimpse of something holy.  Because of Trinity: sovereignty and service belong together.

Now imagine if this were not the case.  Imagine if God were just a solitary individual. Think of him there “in the beginning”, with no-one and nothing besides him, just his own thoughts for company.  Such a god could not be a god of service.  There’s no-one and nothing for this god to serve.  There’s no caring or sharing.  This god would be defined by supremacy, not by love.

But not with Trinity.  With Trinity: service IS supreme.  With Trinity: self-giving is ultimate reality.  With Trinity: God is love.

And this love was too good to keep to themselves.  In John 1 verse 3, we see that the God of love wanted to share.  John writes:

Through the Word all things were made.

This is where we’ve come from.  From the overflowing life of the Father, through the Word – the Lord Jesus – in the power of the Spirit, the world was born.  It was as if the Father, Son and Spirit had said “This thing is too good to keep to ourselves.”  And so a world is made, that we might share in their love.

What’s the meaning of life?  It seems like such a bold question, but Trinity Sunday has the answer.  Trinity Sunday tells you: “God is love and you’re invited.”  The meaning of our lives is to be drawn into the love which both predated and produced the universe.  The meaning of life is to come home to the ultimate Royal Family.

Some of you, I’m sure have met the Queen.  Some of you have been honoured by the Queen.  One of her titles is “The Fount of Honours”.   For one thing, she writes to those who make it to 100 and to 105.  She also congratulates subjects on their diamond wedding anniversaries, as well as 65th and 70th anniversaries.  I won’t ask any of you if you’ve been so honoured.  But I can only imagine how proud a person must feel to appear on the New Years Honours List or the Queen’s Birthday Honours List.

Yet however wonderful that is, there’s something much greater.  The Queen can bestow honours on you, she can even make you a Lord or a Baron or a Knight.  But she can’t make you her child.  She can’t give you her inheritance.  She won’t adopt you into her family and take you home to the Palace.  That’s not how it works.

But with Jesus, there’s an honour that is out of this world.  He can and He does invite us home.  This is the meaning of our lives – not simply to be honoured by Jesus but to be adopted by Him INTO His loving Family life.

John chapter 1 verse 10 says this:

10 Christ was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognise him. 11 He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God-

The Son of God offers Himself to us.  All who receive Him are invited into His life.  We receive His Father as our Father and His Spirit as our Spirit.  God is love and Jesus invites us INTO the God of love.

Did you think Trinity was a dry, academic doctrine?  Did you think it was a tortuous logical problem? Did you think it was something impossible to understand?  No.  Trinity is the good news that God is love; that the ultimate sovereignty is self-giving service; and that we exist to find our place in their love.

Do you know how it happens?  It happens through the meekness of the Monarch.

Famously, John chapter 1 verse 14 says:

The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us, we have seen His glory, the glory of the only begotten Son who came from the Father full of grace and truth.

How do we enter into Christ’s life?  He entered into ours.  The Word became flesh.  Our Maker became a man.  A member of the Trinity became a member of the human race.

It’s the ultimate riches to rags story.  We all know the fairytales of Princes becoming paupers.  Well the myth is a reality.  The true Monarch did empty Himself.  As Philippians chapter 2 says “Christ Jesus made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death–even death on a cross!”

We love to hear stories of Royals who climb down off their thrones.  Apparently on V-E Day, Elizabeth and Margaret escaped out into the celebrations in London.  They wandered around anonymously, enjoying the moment along with the rest of the people.  The Queen still likes to get out anonymously – sometimes visiting a West End show with Prince Philip.  Only rarely are they spotted.

We like to hear about our Royals moving among us as commoners.  But what about the ultimate Royal becoming the ultimate commoner.  Incredible!

From heaven to earth, and not just to earth, He became a single cell in Mary’s womb.  And then a wriggling baby on the straw.  And then a defenceless refugee, on the run from Herod.  And then a builder’s labourer.  And then a penniless preacher.  A homeless dissident.  A stooping servant.  Yet He descends even further to be a victim of cruelty and injustice.  And finally a human sacrifice – dying a godforsaken death on the cross.  Never has anyone so Mighty become so meek.  Here is our Ultimate Sovereign – the ultimate Servant.

And because this is Trinity Sunday we see the true nature of Christ’s sacrifice.  Trinity Sunday tells us: Jesus is not just an example of human service.  He is God the Son.  He is our Maker.  His arms outstretched to the world are God’s arms – and they are opened for you.

What does Majesty look like?  When we think Majesty, we think Palaces and Crowns and Thrones.  Christ traded His palace for a manger.  His crown was made of thorns.  His throne was His cross.  The Great Prince became a Pauper.  More than a Pauper – a Bleeding Sacrifice.  And He did it for you.

For almost 2000 years the church has used a simple phrase to describe the Christian message.  It just says this: He became what we are, so that we might become what He is.

He – the Son of God – became flesh.  He entered into our predicament with all our sufferings and sins.  But He didn’t flinch.  He entered in and became what we are.  Why did He do it?  So that we might become what He is – a child of God.  The Son of God became human so that we humans can become children of God.

These are the Royal Honours that Jesus wants to bestow.  He is the true ‘Fount of Honours’ and He can bring you in to the ultimate Royal Family.

But His invitation requires a response.  It means a reality check for each of us.  We must realize that we live in a broken world with broken hearts and broken lives.  We need to acknowledge that our lives, naturally, are estranged from God’s Family.  That we need the forgiveness which Christ offers through His death.  We need Jesus in order to be reconnected to the love of God.  Do you recognize that need?

It’s something the Queen articulated so beautifully last Christmas.  Her televised message was, surely, the greatest Christmas sermon preached that day.  Perhaps you heard it.  She spoke of our need for Jesus – our need for forgiveness.  She said this:

Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed.

God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive.

Forgiveness lies at the heart of the Christian faith. It can heal broken families, it can restore friendships and it can reconcile divided communities. It is in forgiveness that we feel the power of God’s love.

In the last verse of this beautiful carol, O Little Town Of Bethlehem, there’s a prayer:

O Holy Child of Bethlehem,
Descend to us we pray.
Cast out our sin
And enter in.
Be born in us today.

It is my prayer that on this [Christmas] day we might all find room in our lives for the message of the angels and for the love of God through Christ our Lord.

What a preacher our Queen is!  Do you have room in your life for the love of God through Christ our Lord?  He is offered to you, to forgive all your sins, to reconnect you to the Father, to give you His Spirit, to adopt you into the life and love of God.

The Ultimate Sovereign became the Ultimate Servant for you.  Our Queen trusts Him as her Saviour.  Do you?

John writes:

To all who receive Jesus, to those who believe in his name, he gives the right to become children of God.  (John 1:12)

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Happy Friday

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Still in Africa, back in a couple of days.  Here’s one I first posted two years ago…

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I lost some of the best years of my life last month to an atheist blog.

With that in mind, I was amused at the recent furore over comment moderation at richarddawkins.net.  People are surprised at the vitriol spewed forth under pseudonymous cover in the under-belly of RichardDawkins.net?  A forum devoted to one of the most vituperative fundamentalisms going?  Does this shock anyone?

A couple of weeks ago I commented on a well respected and well-read atheist blog and was sworn at and wished dead in the most imaginatively vicious ways.  Compared to the abuses I and other Christians suffered there, the “rat’s rectum” comparisons that flew between fellow-atheists at Dawkins’ site sound like Pollyanna.

Anyway, I thought I’d try to redeem my experience by reflecting on some things I learnt, and some things I should have:

One reflection on my experience was written during the interchanges: Evangelists and Apologists Note: The six things that have already happened.

Here are some other reflections:

  1. Reason flows from the heart.  These guys raised a banner loud and proud for reason, logic, the scientific method, etc.   But there was nothing particularly reasoned or scientific about their manner of argument.  They were well read intelligent people (PhD students etc) but much of their commenting consisted in caps locked swear words.  “Logic” was their slogan not their method.
  2. They constantly appealed to a logical high-ground without any thought as to whether they were allowed one – being materialists and all!
  3. Pointing out this inconsistency didn’t seem to get me anywhere (though you never know how non-commenting readers are responding).
  4. Everyone deals in circularities:
    1. I believe the bible is the word of God because in it God speaks
    2. You believe the scientific method is the arbiter of what’s true because it’s proved itself effective when judged by science.
  5. Everyone has ultimate authorities which, by the nature of the case, cannot be authenticated by outside sources – ie the scientific method cannot be tested by the scientific method.  One guy admitted that this self-validation hasn’t happened yet but that one day science would definitely be able to prove the scientific method by the scientific method.  There’s faith for you.  Which leads to…
  6. Everyone is faith based.  We all proceed from assumptions which we take to be true and then move forwards on the basis of them.
  7. I kept getting asked for ‘evidence’.  My responses were in three broad categories, first I’d point to Christ risen from the dead, second I’d simply quote Scriptures.  But probably the most effective thing was to say “everything!  Everything reveals the LORD Jesus to you.”
  8. Therefore evangelism is the invitation to the unbeliever to step inside the world in which Jesus is LORD and look again.  Basically it’s saying: “Let me tell you a story about a triune God, the world He made and the Son who redeems it.  Now look again at the world through the Lens of Jesus.  Now do you see why self-giving love is the greatest thing?  Now do you see why trust and beauty, evil and forgiveness, truth and goodness are real beyond any scientific analysis?  In other words, now you can take seriously the most basic aspects of your human existence and not run against the grain of reality all the time.”
  9. In this sense theology is a science.  It begins with self-authenticating premises and moves out in faith to investigate .  This investigation is shaped by the Object of knowedge.  Since the Object of knowledge is the Speaking God, the method is to hear His Word.  The premises of our enquiry after knowledge (e.g. Jesus is LORD, the bible is true etc) are not falsifiable in the way the materialists demand they be.  But then the scientific premises (e.g. that true knowledge is verified by the scientific method etc) aren’t falsifiable either.  Premises are the light by which we see.  It’s their success in seeing that recommends them.
  10. The failure of “science alone” to see the world was very evident to me.  It didn’t seem particularly evident to them.  That Beethoven’s 9th was a series of compression waves was certain for them.  That it was “beautiful” was a verdict they couldn’t make with anything like the same certainty.
  11. The atheists who commented were very clearly captured by the vision of “the onward march of science”, demolishing ignorance and dispelling superstition.  There was clearly a love for scientific progress that had won their hearts.  Nothing less than a greater love could ever displace this.  All their calls for “evidence, evidence” were simply calls for reality to fit into their paradigm – to serve their greatest love.  They need a new paradigm, or better – a new love.
  12. The call for “evidence, evidence” in the sense that they mean is a desire to be confirmed in their self-imposed naturalistic prison.  What counts as ‘evidence’ for them is only that which can be assessed according to their naturalistic paradigm.  This is simply a refusal from the outset to hear a Voice from above.  Again it is a matter of hard-heartedness, however seriously they wish to be taken intellectually.
  13. My lowest point came in the heat of battle when I fired off a comment justifying my intellectual credibility.  I’m ashamed of what I took pride in at that moment.  I should have borne shame and taken pride in the foolishness of the gospel, allowing Christ to vindicate me.  The cause of the gospel was hindered rather than helped by the assertion of my academic credentials (which weren’t that great anyway!).  This is especially so given what I’ve been arguing above.
  14. Having said all this, I think it was a worth-while exercise.  Many of the commenters were American ‘de-converted’ evangelicals and knew a lot of bible.  The hurt from previous scars was palpable and I hope that a charitable Christian voice might at least temper some of the “all Christians are bigots” tirades that otherwise spiral on in these forums.
  15. On the other hand, some of the commenters were angry Brits and others who seemed to know very little of Christian things.  All they’ve heard has been from other atheists.
  16. And of course there were many more who I’m sure just ‘listened’.  My time at Speaker’s Corner taught me that even as you engage the Muslim apologist in front of you, you’re aiming at the wide-eyed apprentices hanging off his coat-tails.  Who knows how the Lord will use these words?
  17. Turning the other cheek hurts but it’s powerful.  I trust that (#13 and other lapses notwithstanding) perhaps the most useful aspect of the interchange was the attempt to model Christ in the way I commented.
  18. The absolute hatred for Christians is frighteningly palpable.  The hatred that’s there in the comments sections will rise more and more into the public realm, that seems pretty certain to me.  But if we’re surprised and outraged let’s get a grip – no soldier should act all offended and hurt when the enemy actually shoots bullets at them!
  19. Just as Stephen Fry speaks of descending into the “stinking, sliding, scuttling” floor of the internet, engaging in this kind of way can be the faintest taste of what the LORD Jesus did in descending to a world that hates Him.  (It can be a total waste of time too, but I think there is a time and a place for it).  I spent a few hours in an internet forum.  His whole life He lived and loved and spoke and served among a hatred that literally tore Him apart.  He’s the One we proclaim.  His attitude is the attitude we take.  And as we join Him (in big ways and small) in cross-bearing love, we get to know His enduring grace that much more.
  20. There is a time for shaking dust off your feet.  Some need to spend a little longer in the battle.  But probably people like me (who have to be right!) should quit sooner.  :)

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It’s common to hear the argument that christological interpretations of the OT are at the expense of seeing the pastoral applications.  Effectively the argument is, “If it’s all about Jesus then it’s not about us.”

Well… here’s how Paul quotes the OT in Romans 15:3

Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written [in Psalm 69:9]: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”

Psalm 69:9 is Christ speaking.  The One on Whom insults fall is Christ.  This is obvious for Paul.  It’s not a conclusion he argues towards, it’s a premise he considers to be self-evident so that he can argue from it to other conclusions (i.e. – because Christ is like this, so should you be).

Does this Christ focus detract from the Psalm’s application to us?  Paul doesn’t think so.  Here’s how he immediately continues.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.  (Romans 15:4)

The OT teaches us – not by putting us directly into the shoes of the Psalmist.  Christ is the Zealous Insult-Bearer – it’s actually about Him.  But it teaches us because it brings us to Him.  Then in Him come the applications for us.

But first, this is what we need to be taught – we need to be taught Christ.

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Happy Friday

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  1. Through Christ, the Triune God has already revealed Himself unmistakably in every aspect of creation so that humanity is without excuse.
  2. Against Christ, humanity has taken knowledge into its own hands and so barred the door against all claims from above.
  3. In view of Christ, God has handed humanity over to its chosen futility, locking the door from His side too.
  4. In Christ, God has entered this prison and manifested His eternal glory in time and space, even in human flesh.
  5. As Christ, humanity now has a perfect mind with which to comprehend God (and everything else) – one that is not only human but also in God.
  6. Out of Christ, His Spirit has been poured to incorporate us into the Man who knows.

This is what has already happened.

Here’s what happens when we forget 1:

We think:

  • That the universe is basically mute (when actually it’s preaching day and night)
  • That humanity is not really deaf – they’re listening hard but the sermon’s too quiet
  • That we, therefore, have to piece together proofs to amplify the sermon
  • That ‘evidence’ for God exists only in some limited aspects of the creation (e.g. fine-tuning)
  • That there are certain obvious pointers to “God” but ‘Jesus’ and ‘Trinity’ are actually pretty obscure
  • Therefore, that evangelism is a three-part process from creation to God to Jesus. (It’s the very opposite!)

Here’s what happens when we forget 2:

We think:

  • That humanity (or at least some humans) are actually truth seekers
  • That the mind is somehow less fallen than the rest of the person (rather than the centre of our enmity)
  • That fallen humanity is genuinely questing after the capital-T Truth when it makes its enquiries
  • That the way forward is to agree to their own systems of truth verification
  • Therefore that we need to find ‘evidence’ to submit to their systems

Here’s what happens when we forget 3:

We think:

  • Perhaps if our faulty grasping after knowledge was the problem, our true grasping after knowledge will be the solution. (Instead we should realize that the grasping was the problem!)
  • If we now reason properly we can reverse the fall. (But no, God has confirmed our decision and locked the door from His side).
  • Maybe God is pleased by our efforts to ascend to knowledge (rather than thwarting them – catching the ‘wise’ in their craftiness)
  • Maybe God will aid our efforts to shepherd an unbeliever up the mountain. (In His grace, He might aid the unbeliever but not our efforts)

Here’s what happens when we forget 4:

We think:

  • Christ is the cherry on the epistemological cake.
  • We can (or even should) reason from creation to Christ (rather than Christ to creation).
  • Christ is one relevation among many (rather than the one Lens through which all must be seen)

Here’s what happens when we forget 5:

We think:

  • There remains within Adamic humanity a capacity for knowing God (rather than realizing that this capacity lies in Christ alone).
  • That the quality of our conversion, or ongoing knowledge of God, finally depends on our own reasoned response to God.  (At base it relies on Christ’s reasoned response to God).
  • Christians are rational individuals raised to a higher intellectual plain (rather than fools united to a Person who is Wisdom).
  • Once we have come to Christ we can know God autonomously.  (No, only in Him by the Spirit can we go on knowing God)

Here’s what happens when we forget 6:

We think:

  • Maybe we need Jesus to bring us to God, but it’s up to us to get to Jesus.  (No, it’s the sovereign work of the Spirit through the gospel word).
  • Maybe there are ways and means to get to Jesus apart from the Spirit-empowered word.  (No.  While the whole universe screams ‘Jesus is Lord’, the Spirit unblinds our eyes to these things only as He shows us Christ in the word).

…………………………………..

So then, these six events have already happened.  Acting like they haven’t happened or they need bolstering by our own efforts betrays the gospel that we proclaim.

The only thing that needs to happen now and the only thing that can happen now to remedy our situation is for the Spirit to sweep the unbeliever up into the Son’s knowledge of the Father.

And, lest we divorce the Spirit from the word, the only means by which the Spirit does that is the gospel word.

So get proclaiming.

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Heretical Families [repost]

I looked at heretical marriages here.   Hopefully marriages are wonderfully healthy and Athanasian.  If they are they will have a proper co-ordination of unity, distinction and equality (they should be in the middle of the triangle).

But when they go wrong they become either Tritheist, Modalist or Arian.  To recap…

At position A we have the Arian marriage: they are united and distinct but not equal.  Here you have the Noble Rescuer married to a Poor Unfortunate.  Or an Abuser and a Victim.  Or your garden variety Superior Patroniser and their Silent Admirer.

At position B we have the tritheist marriage: they are equal and distinct but not united.  This couple runs on parallel tracks, more like a working co-operative than a marriage.

At position C we have the modalist marriage: they are united and equal but not distinct.  Here the couple get lost in each other.  Not in the Christ-like way of losing your life in order to gain it.  This is more like strategic people-pleasing – squashing their distinctives for the sake of an unhealthy one-ness.

Anyway, read here for more.

What about families?  Well I aint no expert.  But wouldn’t it go something like this?

A tritheist family have 300 enagagements a week and no time together.  The children growing up have a lot of ‘freedom’ but they don’t feel ‘known’.  Christmas is hard because it’s impossible to get everyone under one roof.

A modalist family have very few outside friends – everything’s ‘kept in the family.’  Members think in the collective: “My family says…  My family wants…”  When the kids hit adolescence they will long for a bit of freedom but be terrified of leaving the nest.  Christmas might be cosy (outwardly) but it’s highly pressured.

An Arian family is dominated by an exasperating parent (i.e. this is not godly Ephesians 6:4 leadership – this is a power trip).  The children will feel the opposite of the tritheist children – they have no freedom but the interest their parent(s) take will either be abusive or manipulative.  The abusive variation is not difficult to explain.  The manipulative variation is easily seen when you think about one of Arius’s big problems.  For him, Christ exists for the sake of the worldsince what God really wants is a world, therefore He needs Christ to act as go-between. In the Arian family something similar can happen.  The children become mediators of the parents’ desires for success in the world – living through their kids and all that.  Everythings a power play.  And Christmas is just plain dangerous.

What’s interesting is that, just as in trinitarian theology modalism and Arianism are not so different, so too in families.  A modalist family will probably not survive adolescence without turning into an Arian family.  Once differences are asserted by those growing up, maintaining this unhealthy oneness is going to require the imposition of force or silencing of dissent.  You will probably see some serious scape-goating here.

Of course there are families that are worse than these!  You can think of many ‘families’ that experience only distinction.  But of course, many families are also healthy and exist towards the middle of the triangle.  And what’s more, when we go wrong it won’t always be in the same direction.  I guess we can identify with all of these errors to one degree or another.  And our experience of these types will change over time.

Imagine a woman who’s grown up in a modalist-become-Arian family.  After years of scapegoating she learns that she is a problem person that no-one would want to know.  If she enters marriage – a tritheist one might suit her fear of intimacy.

Or imagine a man growing up in a tritheist family.  When he finds Miss Right he determines that he’s going to get the intimacy he’s always craved.  They have a modalist marriage and raise a modalist family… until the wife or kids want to assert some freedom/independence/distinctions.  And then we enter Arianism.

Anyway, I aint no family therapist.  And I’ve only read a couple of books on family.  So take those sketches for what they’re worth and feel free to shoot me down or add comments…

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Happy Friday

You’ve got three weeks of Whose Line Is It Anyway? – enjoy!

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I’m in Africa for a couple of weeks.  I’ll post a few more thawed out thoughts than usual.  Talk amongst yourselves while I’m gone…

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From a recent comment:

How does Christ’s work and our faith relate?

What we don’t want to say is that Christ’s sacrifice brings 99 units of salvific merit and my faith brings 1 unit of salvific merit and between His contribution and mine I have accumulated the necessary 100 units.

Even if we say the blood of Christ is 999,999 units and ours is only 1 we have put our faith up where it doesn’t belong. We have made our faith into a work – a contribution towards salvation.

To say “faith alone” is another way of saying “Christ alone” – it is to say our salvation lies entirely outside of us (and therefore outside of our ‘works’). Instead salvation lies entirely in Christ.  A ‘faith alone’ person rests in the fact that the blood of Jesus has done everything.  But of course we’re not resting in the blood of Jesus alone if we have added our faith into the salvific equation.  In that case we would be trusting in “Christ plus our trust.” We then become (to some degree) the objects of our saving faith and not Christ alone!

Let me reiterate. Faith is absolutely essential. A person is not saved if they are not resting in Jesus.  But this ‘faith’, this ‘resting in Jesus’ is not our contribution to the equation.  It’s a description of what happens when Jesus ’sweeps you off your feet.’  It’s falling in love.  It’s being conquered by the gospel.

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From an Evangelism Training Day at City Evangelical Church, Leeds.

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The Gospel That Saved You – Glen Scrivener

audio (sorry, part two of audio is coming soon, hopefully)

text

powerpoint

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Small Talk To Big Talk – Roger Carswell

audio

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You Have All You Need – Glen Scrivener

audio

text

powerpoint

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The Place of Evangelists In The Life of the Church – Roger Carswell

audio

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The Glory of Music

Notice a couple of things:

  • If music has some kind of deep resonance, maybe there really are “good vibrations” at the heart of reality
  • Put it another way, an evolutionary account of music and human personality has a very hard time accounting for a primal connection with something as complex as music.
  • Music is a deep magic!  A profound harmony.
  • This man didn’t choose to listen. He seemed indifferent when the headphones were first offered.
  • It’s the music itself that swept him up into enjoyment of the music.
  • Music “restores us to ourselves”!
  • Music is like “the holy” it comes from outside us to tell us who we are.

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Full text

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Audio

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Slides

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Sermon Introduction:

Let’s do a little thought experiment.

Scenario 1: Imagine we’re on a ship.  But it springs a leak and starts sinking.  While we’re fleeing to the life-rafts, you manage to grab a bag before it all goes down.  Unbeknownst to the rest of us your bag contains a bottle of water and some canned meat – tuna and spam, things like that.  So there we are huddled together in the life-raft bobbing along the open sea.  Eventually we spot an island in the distance.  We start paddling towards it and as we get closer we see that the island is incredibly bare. There doesn’t appear to be a stick of shrubbery, no sign of fresh water, it’s basically a big rock in the middle of the ocean.  But it’s our only hope.  So we row towards the island and as we get closer your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.”  What do you do?

Scenario 2: Same deal.  Our ship sinks.  We flee to the life-rafts.  Unbeknownst to everyone you have a bag containing water and canned meat.  As we bob along in the open sea we spot an island in the distance.  As we paddle towards it, we see that it’s lushous, luxurious, full of life.  You can see the trees heavy with choice fruits.  There’s a gushing waterfall in the distance.  It’s a tropical paradise.  As we row towards shore your brother turns to you and says “Boy I’m thirsty.”

What do you do?  Do you give your brother a drink of water?

Well in scenario 2 you’d be much more likely to give him your water wouldn’t you?  In fact in scenario 2 you might even throw the whole bag open and say, “Water and spam for everyone!  Let’s celebrate!” wouldn’t you?  In scenario 2 you would treat your little bag of goods a lot differently wouldn’t you?

Why?  Are you a much nicer person in scenario 2?  Are you suddenly more moral?  Have you suddenly got a heightened sense of ethical duty?  Is your conscience stronger now?  What’s changed between scenario 1 and scenario 2?

Here’s what’s changed – your vision has changed.  You have seen an abundance of life and it’s liberated you to be generous.  That’s the only difference between these scenarios.  You’re still the same bundle of sins and selfishness you always were, but now you’ve seen, now you’re celebrating, now you’re assured that things are going to be ok.

You could take anyone in the whole human race and put them into those two scenarios and present them with exactly the same temptations.  And in scenario 1 we’d all be much more tempted to be grasping and greedy.  And in scenario 2 we’d all be much more likely to be selfless and generous.

And that’s got nothing to do with the quality of your moral fibre.  It’s got everything to do with what’s out there.  If your vision is captured by a new reality out there – then you’re freed to be generous.  Sinful, selfish, sulking little ball of contradictions that you are – you see, you celebrate, you’re assured that things are going to be ok, and suddenly you find yourself loving.

And the argument of 1 John, especially in chapters 3 and 4, is this:  Look!  Look!  There is an abundance of life, it’s going to be ok.  We’re in tropical paradise territory people.  So bust open your little bag and share out the spam….

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I’m leading a seminar track at Bible by the Beach called “Just Looking.”  It’s a very basic introduction to Jesus over three hour-long sessions.

Here’s what I’ve come up with:

In John’s Gospel we’ll look at three prominent sceptics who become believers.  Each of them have an encounter with Christ that changes them.

In Chapter 3 there’s a very religious man called Nicodemus.

In Chapter 4 there’s a very immoral woman from Samaria.

In Chapter 20 there’s a doubter on the fringes of the disciples called Thomas.

None of them ‘get it’ to begin with.  And in meeting Jesus all of them are confronted in a way that shocks and destabilises them. Each of them are first offended by Jesus and then comforted by Him. But they’re all offended at different points because they’re all very different people. Nicodemus is very good. The woman of Samaria is very bad. Thomas is meant to be a Christ-follower, but he’s full of doubts.

We’re going to start with Doubting Thomas whose starring role is actually at the end of the Gospel.  Then we’ll do Nicodemus and finally the woman.  So essentially we’ll see…

Jesus Meets a Doubter on the Fringes

Jesus Meets a Good Person

Jesus Meets a Bad Person

Download a Word Document of the the three studies here.

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Delighted by God Audio

Ron Frost – The Freedom of a Christian
Click here to listen (and here to download).
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Glen Scrivener – Mission: Medieval and Modern
Click here to listen (and here to download).
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Peter Mead – Glorious Gospel Ground Zero
Click here to listen (and here to download).

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Other Cor Deo Resources including Galatians Sermon Series and Last Year’s Conference…
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Isaiah warned us and Jesus repeated it – it’s hypocritical to honour the Lord with your lips while your heart is far from Him (Isaiah 29:13; Mark 15:8).  It’s something I pray about every Sunday, “As I preach or pray or sing, may my lips and my heart be set on the Lord Jesus.”

But there’s another danger.  We can react the other way and disdain anything ‘external’.  We say to the world: “I reject ‘works’, I’m all about the inward life.”  And so we’re constantly taking our spiritual temperatures.  We neglect ritual (as though it always leads to ritualism).  And we start to think of faith as a thing – the one really meritorious work!

The faith-works polarity becomes, in our thinking, an internal-external polarity.  Internal – good.  External – bad.  We start to imagine that mental acts are good old grace while physical acts are nasty old law.

But that’s not how it is.  There can be a crippling legalism of the heart (ever felt it?) and there can be a wonderful liberation in gospel rituals (ever experienced that?).

Take communion.

Please.

No but seriously, take it.   Because here is a gospel ritual which, because it is external, brings home the grace of Jesus all the stronger.

We are not (or at least we should not be!) memorialists. Jesus has not left us a mental duty with the bread and wine as mere thought prompters.  We have been left a meal.  To chew.  And to gulp down.  There are motions to go through.  And they are the same motions we performed last week.  And the week before that.

But here’s the thing – these motions are means of God’s grace and not in spite of their externalism but because they are external.  Here is a gift that comes to you from outside yourself.  And it comes apart from your internal state.  But nonetheless it is for you – sinner that you are.

So take it regardless of whether your heart is white-hot with religious zeal.  Take it regardless of whether you are really, really mindful of the gravity of it all.  And as the minister prays the prayer of consecration and your mind wanders… oh well.  Don’t ask him to start again.  Go through the motions I say.  Your heart is meant to catch up with the motions.  That’s why the motions were given.  Because our hearts are weak and not to be trusted.

So allow the Word to come to you from beyond.  Allow Him to love you first. Don’t disdain ‘going through the motions.’  For many on a Sunday –  those grieving or sick or gripped by depression – they need to be carried along by these motions.  And for all of us – if we’re going to be people of grace, we need these externals.

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