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Archive for July, 2012

Here’s a video released today by the British Humanist Association:

Below is the transcript with some comments from me:

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An Introduction to Humanism

Rumy Hasan: It’s important to realise that one can live a fulfilling life without religion – where the focus is on human beings.

Many religions do in fact put the focus very firmly on human beings.  So how is “religion” being used by you and in this video?

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AC Grayling: Humanism of course is not a religion.  It’s something which bases itself on a common-sensical view of the world. It’s an open-eyed view.  It takes seriously the facts about human beings and their experiences and tries to do the best on that basis.

From the descriptions following, humanism sounds very much like a religion.  It doesn’t sound like Christianity, but, sheesh, get a load of the moralising below.

It’s a good and right concern to want to be open-eyed, truth-seekers.  But there are some underlying assumptions here.  There’s an assumption that we can un-blind ourselves from our ignorance (through clear thinking?), that we know where our blind spots lie and can get perspective (notice how Grayling claims the commonsensical high-ground – he and the humanist fraternity are the ones who see).  There’s also an assumption about what kind of truth lies out there.  If the truth consists purely in facts to be discovered within the world by empirical studies then go for your life.  But you’ve pre-judged what kind of truth you can discover by pre-judging what kind of truth you believe already exists.

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Polly Toynbee: A humanist sees the world as infinitely precious and quite extraordinary and almost miraculous.

Of course you do.  We are all worshippers who are awed by something.  If you aren’t awed by God, of course you’re awed by the world.

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Tim Minchin: I think humanism is important because having a non-superstitious world-view allows you to go about your own business, making ethical choices based on a general desire to do the most possible good.

Having gotten rid of God, the humanist can now get on with the important business of doing good.  Again, this is not Christianity (which rather swaps “our goodness” for God), but it is distinctly religious in flavour.

There’s an excellent comment on the video from a free-thinker, Ontologistics: “As Nietzsche showed, Humanism is part of the Christian legacy. The word “good” is bandied about in this video without explanation or sanction, because it cannot be sanctioned. A freethinker will in fact adopt a Nihilist view, as this does not require belief in some supernatural, metaphysical “good”.  I.e. Humanism exchanges “God” for “good”, both of which are delusions. In this sense, it comes close to being a religion.”

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Philip Pullman: I view the world as a place where I am extremely lucky to have been born and to have a consciousness because there are so many wonderful things to be conscious of.

Well you’re either absurdly lucky or there’s consciousness behind the cosmos.  A consciousness that arises from a mindless cosmos is quite a turn of luck indeed.

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Zoe Margolis: We can be decent human beings and love and care and support each other and not expect a fantasy to fulfil our hopes and our dreams when we can actually live them in this lifetime.

Well I suppose rich westerners, if they’re talented and lucky enough, can live a few, very limited dreams.  But this comment seems to be a plea for dreaming smaller.

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Isn’t it sad to think there is no after-life?

Andrew Copson:   Some people worry that a view of death as being the total and final end of life can be depressing.  They think it would be a more comforting thought that life went on.  But I think, and many other humanists think, that, rather than robbing life of its meaning, giving a finality to the story of your life actually imbues it with greater meaning.

Or, put it this way: Either we are taken seriously as a creature of eternal significance in the eyes of One who gives everything meaning, or we are a rational animal soon to expire and become compost.

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Richard Dawkins:  If there’s something frightening about death, it’s the idea of eternity. Something about everything just going on forever and ever and ever. That’s a frightening thought.  And it’s just as frightening if you’re there as if you’re not.

If there’s something frightening about death.”?  If?  There’s a disturbing lack of reality to this approach to death.

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Rumy Hasan: It just means that we have this life and we make the most of it.  If anything that’s a positive.  So we don’t say “Ah well, you know if we muck it up in this life, we have an afterlife.”  The onus is on us to lead better lives in this life.

Spoken like a true religionist.

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How can humanists live ethical lives without religion?

Philip Pullman: The morality question is another one where people think, “Well we’ve got to have religion or we’ll all be immoral.”  That’s a very shallow and hasty way of thinking it seems to me.  There are all sorts of guides to morality.

No doubt!  Some good and some bad wouldn’t you say?  And who’s to arbitrate?  Really, who?

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A.C. Grayling: People often think that you can’t have morals unless there is a god to enforce them somehow.  Look at classical antiquity, nearly 1000 years before Christianity became the official outlook of Europe, you have people who base their morality on reason.

Sure.  They base morality on an approach to reason.  But I doubt that Grayling adopts, wholesale, their morality or their account of reason.

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Philip Pullman: There are enormous tracts, ranges, mountain ranges of meaning that our available to us without our needing to go to the Bible for them.

…and the Bible encourages us to explore them

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Tim Minchin: I guess humanism is the beginning of a life of trying to live well and be good. And the thought that, you know, some mistranslated off-translated doctrine to tell you that that’s a good way to live is not just surprising but slightly abhorrent to me.  If you can have something that’s slightly abhorrent…

Again, Minchin reveals his deeply religious outlook – “trying to live well and be good.”  If any Christians are flirting with atheism because you can’t stand the moralism of your church – take a long hard look at humanism.  The only escape from moralism is the gospel!

And it’s not so much that Christians need a divine command to know what’s good.  That’s not our position.  Far more we say, “‘good’ depends on an understanding of reality shot through with the glory of Christ.”  “Good” corresponds to “God” in a profoundly personal way.  The good life is love of God and love of neighbour and it goes with the grain of a whole universe charged with His beauty.  Nothing abhorrent here.

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Rumy Hasan: The humanist views the world in a rational manner.  It’s wondrous, it’s astonishing, awe inspiring, yes at times fearsome.  But a humanist says “well let’s try and understand the world”

Yes, let’s try and understand the world.  And in a rational manner.  But rationalism will shrink your view, not expand it.

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Why might a humanist hold science in particularly high regard?

Andrew Copson: If you believe that we live in a universe which is a natural phenomenon which behaves according to certain discoverable natural laws and norms then of course the only way of finding out true facts about reality is through the scientific endeavour.

Wow.

First notice the premise: “If you believe…”  This is an inescapable fact of all enquiries – we’re all involved in faith seeking understanding.  But it’s nice to see Copson admitting it.

Second, these “discoverable natural laws and norms” – do they ever make you think?  Especially since they correspond to that consciousness we all love?  You seem to take these as a given.  Shouldn’t you be more curious about the ways of this world, wondering at “laws and norms” as part of this “natural phenomenon”?

Thirdly – and most outrageously – “the only way of finding out true facts”?  The only way??  For a start, this sentence has not been the outcome of the scientific method – it’s the result of certain beliefs.  So what the heck??  This amounts to something like: True facts are entirely the domain of the scientific endeavour (except for these self-justifying assertions that prop it up, in which case bad philosophy will do the trick nicely).

Fourthly, we see here a humanist side-lining the humanities.  Humanism de-humanizes.

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A.C. Grayling: Humanists hold science in very high regard because science is the careful open-minded approach to trying to understand the world and human beings in it.  It’s a method of critical enquiry which is always ready to change its mind when better facts come along.

Good.  And in its own limited way it works well.  But science is set up as a naturalistic endeavour to study naturalistic phenomena.  Let’s discover all the facts we can in this way.  But let’s never think we’ve discovered the totality of reality via these methods (there’s also things like goodness, truth, beauty, love).  And if you want to pronounce on God, you’ll have to study Him via a method suited to His own self-revelation – i.e. you’ll have to listen to His Word.  If you won’t do that, I question how ready to change your mind you really are.

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Polly Toynbee: It is a method of communication from one generation to another building on layers of knowledge and layers of knowledge on a really solid foundation.

What solid foundation is that?  Or should I say Whose solid foundation is that?  The firm ground on which the scientific endeavour stands relies on the intelligibility of nature.  The self-consistency of these laws and norms.  Their consistency throughout creation.  Their correspondence with our own minds.  Humanists are glad for these  foundations, but humanism doesn’t give them to us.

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Richard Dawkins: Science is not only the way to go if you want to discover the truth about something, science is also wonderful, science actually exposes how wonderful the universe is and what a wonderful privilege it is that every one of us has the opportunity to understand the universe in which we live: where we came from, why we exist and where we’re going.  It’s just a wonderful, thrilling experience to immerse yourself in modern science. It’s a poetic experience.  Science is the poetry of reality

We begin with self-refuting nonsense about science being the way to discover truth (science didn’t tell him this!).  We end with the flourish: “science is the poetry of reality.”  Garbage.  Science is the appreciation of a poetry that’s already there.  That’s a hugely important distinction.  Because in the space of one sentence Dawkins has claimed science as the arbiter of truth and beauty.  Stunning!

But let’s get some perspective.  There’s truth that’s out there to be discovered.  There’s beauty that’s out there to be appreciated.  And science has role in uncovering it.  But the biggest question remains – and it remains beyond the scope of scientific endeavour – what on earth is truth and beauty doing out there?

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What is the humanist view on human nature?

Andrew Copson: One of the natural consequences of humanism, of the idea that the human race is one species, of the idea that every individual member of that species is a bearer of the dignity that humanity gives us, is a general spirit of inclusiveness and that’s always characterised humanist thinking.

So the human race is one species (among 15 000 other species of mammals).  And apparently this confers a certain unspecified dignity on us.  In fact, humanity itself confers on each one of us this undefined dignity….  How does that work then?  This seems to amount to the claim that we are humans and not puffins.  And every human is a human and not a puffin.  And this is our basis for equality and inclusivism.  To be honest, I can think of firmer foundations.

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Zoe Margolis: Unlike many religions which are unfortunately about repressing sexuality and having very anti-female and homophobic perspectives, humanism offers an alternative which is actually inclusive.

Without the gospel, all inclusivism works according to a certain ethic.  Some are in, some are out.  You’re not preaching a new inclusivism, you’re just preaching a new ethic.  Jesus came to bring true inclusivism – we’re invited to His table as sinners (outsiders!) and, through an acknowledgement that we’re all law-breakers, we’re brought into true community.

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A.C. Grayling: Humanists begin to think about the good and flourishing life on the basis of their best understanding of how things are for human beings. But that does not mean that it’s got a particular line, a particular doctrine, that everyone has to fall in with.  In fact it demands of people that they think for themselves.

I dunno A.C., some of your friends here seem to be pushing some quite particular lines.  And let’s face it, you all have a very firm line on the nature of humanity, the kind of truth you are seeking and the way you discover and verify it.

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Polly Toynbee: We have power in our hands to make our life and our society and our world better. We don’t stand to ask, there’s nobody else, no good getting on knees begging for someone else to do something, it’s just up to us.

 Yep.  Sounds like religion to me.  And a religion for the strong, the rich and the brave.

But if you’re not up to the BHA’s religious regime, I’ve got good news for you.  There’s a way to be a true humanist.  At Christmas we sing the line “Pleased as man with man to dwell, Jesus our Immanuel.”  Eternally our God has pledged Himself to man.  Forevermore our Lord has become Man – the truly inclusive Man – the man for all humanity.   And He’s for you.

Some just focus on humanity, some just focus on God-myths and after-lifes – in both cases you’ll lose a true vision for humanity.  But in the God-Man you’ll find true humanity.  He will liberate you from the self-justifying burden of being good and He’ll send you out into the world to rejoice in the truth and beauty that reflects His character.  There is a poetry to this world, and He’s the Poet.

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A round based on Luke 1:78-79.

Best on full screen with headphones.  And do join it.  That’s the point…

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Further Twit-Bits

Some recent Tweets from me.
Subscribe here.

We must be saved from our “wisdom” just as we must be saved from our “righteousness.”

Sin is hard and hardening work. Christ’s yoke is easy and His burden is light.

Hard to imagine Jesus responding to the question ‘How are you?’ with ‘Busy.’

There’s no faith in God without faith in Christ.

Our judgements of Music are like our judgements of Jesus- they constitute our *own* judgement. The Onion says it best

Jesus encamps around you (Ps 34:7). Before anything gets to you today, it has to go through Him. #EnjoyYourDay

It’s just as “finished” today as it was 2000 years ago. #EnjoyYourDay

If you’re a Christian you are “in Christ”. And you can’t get closer than “in”. #EnjoyYourDay

The gospel is not a process, it’s a declaration.

Sometimes satire says it best. @TheOnion God Admits Humans Not Most Impressive Creation  // The god of this age agrees!

All those wonderful things “we do for God”… how many of them are basically this?

There’s nothing uniquely gospel-driven about “gratitude 4 salvation. ” It’s precisely the motivation 4 living the law. Ex20:1-2

Soon your eyes will behold the King in His beauty, they will see a land that stretches afar. Isaiah 33:17 #EnjoyYourDay

In Christ you are not only blameless in God’s sight (Col 1:22), you are unblameable (KJV). #EnjoyYourDay

To say God is Creator is 1st to say He’s a Source to be received from. Too often He’s only spoken of as a Force to be reckoned with.

Creator means He *gives* life. Sounds obvious but needs saying.

‘As you believe God to be, so he is for you’ (Luther)

God does not dish out grace with a teaspoon. Your Father is a Fountain of life. #EnjoyYourDay

Belief in distinct roles and asymmetry can be Athanasian or Arian. Discernment needed. #Complementarianism #Egalitarianism

Once saved, always being saved. 2 Cor 1:10

Aim at ‘radical truth’ and you’ll get ‘balance’ thrown in (eventually). Aim at ‘balance’ and you’ll get neither balance nor truth.

Nehemiah 9 proves there’s nothing NEW covenant about Spirit-led, grace-motivated obedience…

…The newness of the New Covenant is Christ upholding our side…

…”You will be my people” says God. “Here I am, I’ve come to do your will” says Christ. And the covenant is fulfilled.

‘Free will’ claims to be the language of love. Isn’t love far more expressed by “falling for”/ “swept off my feet”/ “can’t help myself”?

Christ lives in you. #EnjoyYourDay

“Outside of Christ, I am only a sinner, but in Christ, I am saved. Outside of Christ, I am empty; in Christ, I am full…
…Outside of Christ, I am weak; in Christ, I am strong. Outside of Christ, I cannot; in Christ, I am more than able…
…Outside of Christ, I have been defeated; in Christ, I am already victorious. How meaningful are the words, “in Christ.” Watchman Nee

“Let me tell you, You have died! You are done with! You are ruled out! The self you loathe is on the Cross of Christ.” Watchman Nee

“Both the child & the cynic walk thru the valley of the shadow. The cynic focuses on the darkness; the child focuses on the Shepherd” Paul Miller

Ben Meyer’s one sentence summary of Church Dogmatics…
“God speaks a free and loving “Yes” to Jesus Christ; the event of this “Yes” is God’s trinitarian life & its corresponding echo is a creative…
…& redemptive “Yes” to humanity, so that God’s relationship to humanity is an echo & an analogy of God’s relationship to Jesus Christ.”

You are not God’s project, you are God’s child. #EnjoyYourDay

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Audio of Talk to Youth

Powerpoint

Notes of talk…

Born in a shed… ruling the world…  How do you account for Jesus?

In the beginning… Christ was there.  John 1:1-3

God and His Son Christ decided to set a man – ADAM – as king over the world.

But the Eternal King was promised  to be born – Genesis 3:15

Offspring – Abraham… David

David – Made King, Crushes Oppressor

Solomon – Psalm 72

This King sounds a bit like Solomon – v8, 10

This King sounds much bigger than Solomon – v11, 5, 4, 6, 17

JUST (v1-3) and GENTLE (v4, 12-14)

Romans 10:9 – Who do you say Jesus is?

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Audio for a 6 minute talk given at a BBQ today

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For the next two weeks billions of people will roar advice to the world’s greatest athletes.

Helpful tips like, “Run faster, swim harder, he’s gaining on you, and Not like that!!”

Why do we do it? Because we are involved – they are our Champions, they are competing for us.

For me the biggest moment of connection was the 2000 Games, 4 x 100m swimming relay.

The American, Gary Hall Jr said the USA would  “smash Australia like guitars.”  But our champions did it for us. And after smashing the world record, they played air guitars to the Americans!  The roof nearly came off!

We feel an immense connection to our champions – they do it for us and we celebrate.

That’s how Christians feel about Jesus.  John 1:14

We don’t do life right.  We’re like the couch potato, full of bluster but no follow-through.

But lives the life we should live. As our Champion.  Then dies death we should die

Cross = Jesus representing us.  Taking on our much and enduring what it deserves

He rose up to defeat our biggest enemy – Death.  And He did it as Champion.

Enjoy the Olympics.  Enjoy the victories of others.  Don’t miss the ultimate Champion.  You don’t want to represent yourself before God. Allow Jesus and share in His victory.

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The USA had never lost the 4 x 100m swimming relay.  Ever.  Gold medal, every Olympics.  And in 2000 they had Gary Hall Jr swimming the final leg – the “extroverted” 50m gold medalist who predicted the USA would “smash” the Australians “like guitars.”

Here’s how the Australians responded in front of their home supporters.  (USA is in lane 4, Australia in lane 5 (i.e. nearer the camera).

That’s the power of home advantage.  Over to you, Team GB!

What are your favourite Olympics moments?

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This happened two years ago.  Revealing!

Finally!  JW’s knocked on my door this morning.  First time ever.  An older guy and a younger Polish woman.

So I threw some Genesis 19:24 shapes their way. “To which Jehovah are you witnessing, the LORD out of the heavens or the LORD on the earth?”

The woman seemed quite interested.  The man said “Trinity?  Rubbish.  Paul refutes the trinity in 1 Corinthians 11:3.”  So we went to 1 Corinthians 11:3

But I want you to understand that the head of every man is Christ, the head of a wife is her husband, and the head of Christ is God.

“How does this refute the trinity?” I ask.

“Well,” he explains, “God is the head over Christ.  Which means Christ is less than God.”

I say “So the Father is the head of Christ the way I’m the head of my wife?”

“That’s right”

“Let me ask you, Is my wife less of a human being than me?”

“Yes” said the man.  “N..” said the woman and then changed it to a faltering yes.

I check I’ve heard them right.  “So my wife is less of a human being than me?”

“Well,” reasons the man, “you make the decisions.  You’re in charge.”

“Hmmm (I hum non-commitally).  And so I’m a greater being than my wife?”

“That’s right” said the man.  The woman frowns.

I turn to her and say “You realise you’re in a cult don’t you.”

The man grabs her by the arm and they start to make their escape.

“Keep reading the bible and keep thinking about marriage,” I call to her as they move down the street.  “You know women are equal to men… AND JESUS IS EQUAL TO GOD!”

Don’t think they’ll be back any time soon.

But it goes to show that Arians are misogynists whatever the PC gloss.  And of course misogynists are Arians, whatever the Christian gloss.

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It’s your parents’ 40th wedding anniversary.  Your father’s holding a big dinner as a surprise for Mum.  He wants the whole family there.  Everyone.  Including your wretched brother – a heroin addict who’s been nothing but trouble.  Your father has been through hell trying to keep him alive and out of prison.  He’s even had to pay off mobsters with extortionate sums to stop them killing him.

At every stage your brother has shamed the family.  And at every stage your parents have pursued the boy and bailed him out.  They’ve paid any price to bring him back.

You, on the other hand, have never been any trouble.  You’ve kept out of your parents’ way, put your head down and worked hard.  You spent your teenage years hitting the books and keeping yourself to yourself.  The first chance you got, you left home and made your way in the world.  You didn’t need any help and you never asked Dad for a penny.

Now your father wants the whole family to sit around the same table.  And, wouldn’t you know it, your brother is actually keen on the whole idea!  It’s unthinkable.  You can’t go. You won’t go.

First you avoid your brother’s calls. Then your father rings: “Please son I want you all there.”

Unbelievable.  You’re being cast as the bad guy?  You’re the sticking point?  How ridiculous!  Can’t everyone see, it’s your brother.

But Dad continues to press you.  “Son, I haven’t seen you in so long, can we meet face to face?”  No we cannot, you think.  There was something deeply disturbing about your father’s gaze.  He seemed to search your face for something that just wasn’t there.  And you both knew it.  You’d been avoiding that gaze for as long as you could remember.

“Well then,” he asks “would you do it for your mother?” Oh, now he’s playing that card is he?  Fury grips you.  This is precisely the problem.  Some households have a little thing called family manners.  With yours it’s all family and no manners.  It’s all caring and no consequences.  Well no longer.

If it’s a choice between brotherhood and behaviour, you pick behaviour.  And you hope they choke on their mercy meal.

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Hell is not an equal opposite to heaven.

Hell is outer darkness, shut out from the Light.

Hell is the judgement flowing from God’s mercy.

Hell is for good people.

Hell is getting what you want.

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A sermon on the theme

Audio  Video  Text  Powerpoint

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Even More Twit-Bits

Some recent Tweets from me.
Subscribe here.

In Christ there’s nothing to hide, nothing to prove, nothing to lose. #EnjoyYourDay

“Faith is being conquered by the gospel.” Anders Nygren

Your Brother rules the world, forgives all yr sins, redeems all yr mistakes & continues 2 speak kindly 2u (Gen 50:14-21). #EnjoyYourDay

Memorialist preaching: you don’t actually offer Christ, you just bring to mind some of His works. #ZwingliLives

For evangelical Christianity the both/ands exist on the far side of some radical either/ors. This is the meaning of the “solas”

Baptism: I in Christ, once & 4all. Communion: Christ in me, continually. Both are words from beyond to a filthy, hungry beggar.

Faith is not a spiritual discipline. It’s a spiritual desperation.

Rev 3:14 + Gen 1:1 = :D

Feeling empty, dry, hungry? You’re meant to be. But Jesus is your Fulness, Fountain and Food. #EnjoyYourDay

The Bible never tells you to do anything ‘for the sake of the marriage.’ Instead, love your *spouse*. There’s a difference.

John 1 does NOT say Now Jesus is the Ultimate revelation. It says that Always Jesus has been the Only revelation. Big Difference!

Where is Jesus in all this mess? Dunno but He’s always more on your side than you are. Always

Where is Jesus in all this mess? At the deepest, darkest point.

Where is Jesus in all this mess? Standing for you against everything that got you into it. (Tho, madly, u still cling to much of it)

‘Come and eat’ says the Lord. ‘You are not worthy. But you are welcome.’

Christ loves us and has freed us from our sins by His blood. (Rev 1:5) #EnjoyYourDay

1) God wants all saved. 2) When He saves He does it all. 3) Hell is real. Three perfectly biblical truths 4u. What’s difficult?

Christian or not, the assumption that we see things clearly is perhaps our biggest blind spot.

You know that death you fear? You died it 2000 years ago. Now you are raised, vindicated and reigning. #ChristIsYourLife #EnjoyYourDay

At some point I’d like to do a series of talks on these themes: Alone, Addicted, Apathetic, Anxious, Angry

Dear Christian, your sins and lawless acts I will remember no more. Love, your Father. (Heb 10:17) #EnjoyYourDay

The gates of hell will not prevail against the church. Gates don’t advance. The church advances. Hell can’t keep it out!

All mistakes will b redeemed. All sins will b forgiven. All sacrifices will b repaid 100-fold. So what do u want 2 do today? #EnjoyYourDay

Jesus did not say: ‘Now that I’ve washed your feet, wash mine.’ We don’t pay it back. We pass it on.

Jesus does not put us in His debt. He redeems us. Now we can liberate others.

Promises are stronger than commands. “You must” means you might not. “You will” is certain.

Waiters don’t just list the specials, they serve them up. Preachers: don’t describe the gospel, dish it up!

Jn 12:47-50: Christ only comes 2 save, only brings Father’s words of eternal life. Judgement is standing against God’s life-giving purposes

“Fear not little flock, it’s your Father’s good pleasure to give you the Kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) #EnjoyYourDay

From Prophet > papyrus > punctuation > paragraphs > chapters >versification > footnotes.. the preservation of the written word > atomisation

If u read Jn 8:1-11 assessing how Jesus solves a legal conundrum u r the Pharisees! No, read as the sinner caught redhanded &only J can save

Jesus is not just the start or the finish. He’s the whole Way. He comprehends you & the Father and all distance between you #EnjoyYourDay

Sensational verse on election: “U only have I known (chosen) of all families of earth there4 I will punish u 4 all yr iniquities” (Amos 3:2)

Your Father is Saving Mercy personified, Jesus is Kindness on legs, the Spirit showers u with renewal & rebirth (Titus 3) #EnjoyYourDay

 

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Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me

A homeless man sings ‘Jesus Blood Never Failed Me’.  Gavin Bryars added an orchestra later.  The whole piece is here, this is the 6 minute version:

Bryars said of it:

In 1971, when I lived in London, I was working with a friend, Alan Power, on a film about people living rough in the area around Elephant and Castle and Waterloo Station. In the course of being filmed, some people broke into drunken song – sometimes bits of opera, sometimes sentimental ballads – and one, who in fact did not drink, sang a religious song “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet”. This was not ultimately used in the film and I was given all the unused sections of tape, including this one.

When I played it at home, I found that his singing was in tune with my piano, and I improvised a simple accompaniment. I noticed, too, that the first section of the song – 13 bars in length – formed an effective loop which repeated in a slightly unpredictable way. I took the tape loop to Leicester, where I was working in the Fine Art Department, and copied the loop onto a continuous reel of tape, thinking about perhaps adding an orchestrated accompaniment to this. The door of the recording room opened on to one of the large painting studios and I left the tape copying, with the door open, while I went to have a cup of coffee. When I came back I found the normally lively room unnaturally subdued. People were moving about much more slowly than usual and a few were sitting alone, quietly weeping.

I was puzzled until I realised that the tape was still playing and that they had been overcome by the old man’s singing. This convinced me of the emotional power of the music and of the possibilities offered by adding a simple, though gradually evolving, orchestral accompaniment that respected the tramp’s nobility and simple faith. Although he died before he could hear what I had done with his singing, the piece remains as an eloquent, but understated testimony to his spirit and optimism.

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Nehemiah 10 sermon

…We don’t finish this service boldly resolving to keep God’s law.  We don’t finish by binding ourselves to the commandments and putting ourselves under curses.  No, we finish our service by acknowledging that we’re needy, weak beggars, desperate for the Bread of life.  And as we come forwards, Mark’s not going to press a To Do list into our hands.  He’s not going to give us a lecture or a pep-talk.  He’s going to give us Bread and Wine.  Because the Christian life is not about our commitment to Jesus, it’s about His commitment to us.

And how zealously Christ is committed to us.  He was torn apart like Bread for us.  He was poured out like wine for us.  He took on Himself ALL the curses that were ours.  And He bestows on us ALL the blessings that are His.  He’s given to us freely and completely, to be ours forever.

So as we go from here this morning, it’s not with resolutions to try harder.  If we leave church with resolutions we’ve failed already.  We leave with Christ Himself – Christ given to us, apart from our performance, apart from our commitment, apart from our resolutions.  He’s ours.  And we are His…

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Emma’s article on Theology Network is pure gold.  She talks about the spiritual roots of anorexia:

 

…[For the anorexic], salvation means atoning for myself, bymyself: bearing my punishment in my own body. As I seek to recreate myself, my body becomes the scapegoat. I hate it and identify all that’s wrong in my world with this lump of flesh. Yet at the same time, I also worship it, ritualizing and relishing every aspect of my self-imposed atonement.

Through the rituals, I separate myself from my messy, sinful flesh with its overwhelming desires. I will punish my body while I concentrate on the real me – almighty willpower. With my secret knowledge of exercise and nutrition, I can soar above my own fallibility. I can split myself into two and rise anew, born again to a new kind of humanity.

 

Read the whole thing here.

And buy her book here – free postage from 10ofthose until Saturday night.

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Happy Friday

These wonderful Stephen Collins cartoons cover our fridge (click to enlarge)…

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And, go on, you can have a video too.  You’ve been good this week:

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Is she a doubler?

The Gospel of the Blokey-Hearted doesn’t seem to be going away any time soon, so maybe I need to bang some old drums again.  For those who missed the rants first time around, here’s

Models of masculinity

Some manly things Jesus did

He said – She said

Spouse speak

Three thoughts on Headship

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

Arian Misogyny

And here’s a repost regarding a distinct but related problem: when blokey attitudes define marriage…

Today I heard one more story of a keen young gospel soldier recently married.  From what I can tell the wife is feeling abandoned, isolated and increasingly desperate.  And the husband is pressing on in his ministry service for the Lord!

If I had a minute with the young gun I’d ask him to read about John Wesley’s disastrous marriage. Just after John married Molly he wrote to her from the road to inform her of his views on marriage and ministry: “I cannot understand how a Methodist preacher can answer it to God to preach one sermon or travel one day less, in a married than in a single state.”  (Read more here).  It should be a cautionary tale for every young gospel soldier.

But the Wesley model is not dead.  I still remember the ringing endorsement our own marriage union gained from a leading UK evangelical while we were still engaged.  “You’re marrying well there Glen,” he said, “She’s a doubler.”  He was referring to a calculation that there are (apparently) ministry doublers and ministry halvers.  Thus the question to be asked about every prospective bride is, “Is she a doubler?”

Now that might be a question you ask a prospective PA or church worker.  But if that’s the first question you want to ask your bride-to-be then, seriously, that’s the proof right there.  It’s not meant to be.  And you’re the problem!  If the prospect of being fruitful and multiplying with this woman inspires a ten year business plan, call it off now.  The kind of multiplication God has in mind is multiplication in which you commit to each other for their sakes.  And, fellas, the more you want to use her for other ends, the less multiplication’s gonna happen!

And I’m not just trying to make a cheap gag here.  The Lord has designed marriage to be a multiplying union.  But in His economy it turns out to be fruitful as and when you are brought to commit to each other in deep oneness.  I mean this physically but I mean it in every other way.  The way to ministry multiplication can only be through marriage multiplication which can only happen in and through the union and communion of husband and wife. That’s got to be the beating heart of it all.

Single people should definitely seek the Lord’s wisdom about who to marry.  Wesley should definitely not have married Molly.  If two people have massively different expectations of what Christian service will entail then that’s a real warning sign.  But what first needs to be sorted out in our thinking is the very nature of marriage itself.  It is not a ministry multiplication venture.  It is a covenant union, joined by God, reflecting Christ to the world.  And out of this union comes a multiplication of spiritual and physical children.  Under God it cannot help but be fruitful and multiply.  But under God He will bring fruitfulness in very unexpected ways.  It will not be a multiplication one spouse’s prior ministry plans.  The old individual plans must die.  This will be a new union with a totally new kind of fruitfulness – much of which simply cannot be predicted.

But an understanding of marriage that is anything like a contractual business partnership will strike at the very heart of the covenant union.

I pray for this young couple, that there would be a death to the old individualist/contractual understanding.  And that out of that death would come new life in their union and communion.  And, yes, that out of that there may even come a wonderful fruitfulness.  But it will be His fruitfulness His way.

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Last week I spoke of Jesus as infuriating.  In Luke 8 His mother, His disciples, Legion, the haemorrhaging woman and Jairus come to Him with perfectly reasonable requests.  If such appeals were put to the public vote, we’d all recommend that Jesus grant them.  Yet He grants none of them – certainly not in the way that they are asked for.

And if you were any of these poor unfortunates, you would be – at the very least – bewildered.  Probably you’d be angry, despairing and very tempted to leave the whole Jesus-caper behind.

But then, what should be said to these followers who have had their dearest hopes dashed?  How can Christians be comforted when their deepest desires have been denied?

Some people’s first instinct will be to put the blame on these followers.  Perhaps they didn’t ask right.  They didn’t have enough faith.  Or there’s a moral or spiritual failure that’s ‘blocking the channels of God’s grace’ or something.

But that’s not it.  The requests were fine in their own way.  And Jesus’ refusal is not because they didn’t ask right.

So if we’re not going to blame the followers, what do we tell them?

– You might invoke the raw power of the Lord.  Now is the time to learn that God is God and you are not.  Will you submit to His divine right to rule?

– You might notch it up to the inscrutable wisdom of God.  Now is the time to learn that God’s ways are not for Him to justify, they’re just for you to accept.

– You might teach the Christian that, yes, God wants nice things for you but, on the other hand, He also wants your godliness.  So here is some suffering to balance out the good times. Submit to the regime and you’ll grow in character.

There’s actually some truth to these three inter-related approaches.  But that’s what makes them so dangerous.  Power, wisdom and suffering are essential issues to grasp in the Christian life.  It’s just that a theology of glory teaches one kind of power, wisdom and suffering, and a theology of the cross teaches a very different kind.

A theology of glory will teach that God’s power and wisdom estrange Him from us in one direction and our suffering estranges us from God in the other.  Hard times actually reinforce the distance between you and God and “godliness” means  accommodating yourself to that distance.  It means not getting above your station, or pulling Him down.

But a theology of the cross teaches a very different power and wisdom.  Christ’s power and wisdom are demonstrated as He descends into the darkness.  And suffering is precisely where we find our deepest communion with Jesus.  Hard times are times of presence.

That might sound ok in theory.  But does that mean, once I’ve embraced a theology of the cross, my problems will be easier to handle?  No.  In many ways it makes them far harder.  With a theology of the cross, it’s as though we’re sinking in quick-sand and we cry out to our rescuer to offer a steady hand.  In response He dives into the pit and sinks without a trace.  Now what??

Here’s what.  He grabs our foot and pulls us under with Him.  His rescue does not evade, it enters the depths.  Only through suffering does the rescue come.  Somehow the way out is the way down.

But none of this happens at a distance.  Jesus does not zap us with trials from on high and wish us well.  He plunges down, drawing us to Himself.

Think of John 11.  We are told explicitly that He loves Lazarus and He loves Lazarus’s family (v5).  AND He declines to heal him (v6).  He comes into the heart of the mourning and weeps at the tomb even though it’s a funeral He could have prevented.  Jesus’ power and love are there for all to see, yet it makes His refusal to heal all the more galling (this is exactly what the crowd murmur about, v37).  He loves and He refuses to heal.

What’s He up to?  Well He tells Martha.  He is the Resurrection and the life (v25).  And this is God’s glory (v4,40).  Because He’s the Resurrection, therefore death is the path.

It’s not just that in spite of His love, He let’s Lazarus die.  It’s because of His love, He let’s it happen.  Suffering is not a disproof of His love, but a sign that He is utterly and completely for us.  He is relentlessly for resurrection.

But notice, He’s not the Repairer, He’s the Resurrection.  We constantly call on Him to patch up the old world, our old life, our old bodies.  But Jesus is not committed to that.  He’s not the Repairer, He’s the Resurrection.  He’s not committed to clawing this old world back from the brink.  He’s committed to taking it down into the death it deserves and rising anew on the other side.  It’s a theology of glory that has Jesus at a distance, dispensing carrots and sticks to improve the “old man”.  In a true theology of the cross, Jesus comes very near to put the old man to death and rise up into something new.

That’s what He’s doing in the world, and it’s what He’s doing in your life.  He’s not partly concerned for patching up your life and partly concerned for giving you enough trials to form your character.  He’s not balancing your good against ‘holiness’ or ‘godliness’ etc etc.  He’s not inscrutably zapping you with trials that only omniscience could fathom.  In a sense, what He’s doing is very simple.  He is single-mindedly bringing you through the death you’re desperate to avoid and giving you the life which is really life.

You want a healing. He is the resurrection.  Which means you’ll get a death you never bargained for.  But a life you never dreamed of.

A sermon on John 11: “Why is there so much suffering in the world?”

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Emma’s book is coming out this week.  It’s a phenomenal read.  Brilliantly written, brutally honest, incisive, touching and hopeful.  You’ll be hooked from the first sentence.

Emma has struggled with anorexia both as a teenager and as an adult. This book tells her story, but more than this, testifies to the grace of Jesus who met her in the darkness and brought her out.

This book is not just for sufferers and those who care for them – although it will be vitally helpful for them.  It’s a testimony to Jesus.  It’s a meditation on the gospel and how it addresses a deadly mental illness, so emblematic of our culture’s struggles with food, body, performance and identity.  It’s one of the most compelling and vivid accounts you’ll ever read of the lies that can enslave a person and how the truth sets them free.

In your families, in your congregations and among your friends, there are people struggling deeply with food issues, body issues, OCD, burn-out, anxiety disorders and depression, to name just a few.  The body of Christ with the word of Christ has medicine.  I don’t say “the solution” because “solution”-thinking is a hair’s-breadth away from the philosophy behind much of these issues.  But we do have gospel balm that the world knows nothing of.  Yet Christians are often too scared to get close to these issues.

Too often we palm “problem people” off to medical and psychiatric professionals, expecting them to fix it.  Medical and psychiatric help can often be crucial, but A) it’s by no means certain you’ll find such help – many of these services are incredibly over-stretched, and B) your friendship, prayers and words of grace are absolutely critical alongside professional help.

Emma and I have seen too many people struggling alone with deep problems because their churches have no idea how to help.  Christians feel out of their depth and too easily abdicate pastoral responsibilities to the world.

I hope Emma’s book makes people see, “Yes we are out of our depth here.  But that’s precisely where Jesus works – out of our depth.”  I pray it will equip God’s people to see that we have a gospel big enough to handle the biggest issues.  And that churches will start to be the places where these problems aren’t hidden or exacerbated, but addressed and healed.

Read commendations here.

Pre-order the book here.

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One Minute Videos

Recently we filmed some 1 minute videos for UCB.  Here’s one:

Contrary to that screen-shot, at no point do I say “Come and have a go if you think you’re hard enough.”

I didn’t massively plan what I was going to say, but these were the topics that came out when a camera was pointed at me:

Trinity

Christ our High Priest

Christ our Sacrifice

Turn the other cheek

The glory of Jesus

How to picture God

True holiness

Heading for a happy ending

The King’s Jubilee

The Lamb at the centre of the throne

Our marriage union to Jesus

God our Father

His arms are open to you

They can all be found here.

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Coincidentally, on that page I just found some other sermon videos of me…

Big Questions: Does God even exist?

Big Questions: Why does God allow suffering?

Big Questions: Aren’t all religions basically the same?

Big Questions: Why doesn’t God accept all people in the end?

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From the very first verse, Job is presented as a blameless and upright man.

The LORD is proud of Job’s matchless virtue (1:8; 2:3).  Job fears God and shuns evil.  And even when calamity falls he does not sin by cursing God (1:22; 2:10).  Instead, through all his laments and complaints, the LORD is still able to conclude in chapter 42 and verse 7 that His servant Job has spoken what is right.

And yet, in the verse immediately preceeding this Job has just said:

I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes. (Job 42:6)

Uh-oh, we think.  Someone’s got self-esteem issues!

But no.  In fact Job hasn’t been esteeming himself at all.  He hasn’t been contemplating himself.  This is not the fruit of meditating on his sins or even on his sufferings.  He hasn’t been berating himself because he’s a stupid, fat, ugly, unpopular, awkward, friendless failure.  He hasn’t had a thought about himself for four solid chapters.

Because for four solid chapters he has borne the brunt of the LORD speaking out of the tornado.  Job’s eyes have been dramatically lifted from himself and fixed on this Warrior Creator Commander called Yahweh.  He has experienced the LORD’s unanswerable wisdom in surround sound.  And so in verse 5 Job summarizes exactly where his self-appraisal has come from:

5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. 6 Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes.”  (Job 42:5)

“I despise myself” says Job.  By comparison with the LORD – upright Job falls flat on his face, confesses himself to be a sinner and says “I despise myself”. And that’s a good and right and true and psychologically healthy thing to do.  Not that Job wondered to himself “What would be the correct response to meeting my Maker?” It just came out.  But as it came out it was extremely healthy.

Now there is a wrong despising of self.  There is someone who is not looking at the LORD at all.  Instead they look at themselves.  They are self-absorbed and with their gaze fixed firmly on their belly-button they are despising themselves.  We’ve all been there to some degree or another.  And it’s wrong.  But mainly it’s wrong for where the self-hater is looking.  The object of gaze is the issue – we must get our eyes off ourselves.  Then, when looking to Christ, a true appraisal of self will follow – we are (in Tim Keller’s words) more wicked than we had ever realised but more loved than we had ever dreamed.

So there is a wrong despising of self – it’s when you’re focussed on yourself.

But… there is a right despising of self – when you’re focussed on the LORD.

Isaiah has a similar experience.  In Isaiah 6, he sees Jesus in the temple seated on the throne (cf John 12:30f), high and lifted up, the angels are calling out ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’, the temple is shaking, smoke is everywhere and Isaiah cries out:

5 “Woe to me!  I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.”

Isaiah wasn’t feeling particularly sinful that morning.  He wasn’t running through a list of his prior misdemeanors.  No-one was reminding him of past sins.  Isaiah felt no guilt at all that morning… until he saw the King.  Then he said “Woe to me, I’m ruined!”

Or think of Peter fishing with Jesus in Luke chapter 5.  He’s in the boat with the LORD of Isaiah chapter 6.  And they have a miraculous catch of fish. And Luke 5 verse 5 says:

When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

Peter confesses to being a sinner when he sees the glory of Jesus.  Peter hasn’t just remembered some sins from his murky past.  He’s not even thinking about his sins, he is simply looking at Jesus and saying “I do not match up.”

Of course the ultimate place to look to find a true estimation of yourself is to Christ crucified.  That’s the sinner’s fate.  And that was your death – you died with Christ, the old man crucified.  You will never be able to feel your way towards this verdict.  Preachers, no matter how keenly they focus on individual sins you’ve committed, can’t whip up this sentiment.  And turning to yourself in order to work it up is itself sinful.  Instead I look to the LORD high and lifted up (Isaiah 6:1 <=> 52:13).  I allow the cross to be God’s verdict on me.  I am co-crucified with Christ and therefore reject the old self completely.  And yet

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)

The true and right self-hatred is fundamentally to allow the cross to be God’s verdict on the old you.  And your true and right self-appreciation is not gained by trusting in the new you.  No, the life you live in the flesh you live by faith in the Son of God.  Trust His love for you shown decisively right when you were most hateful.

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