Archive for September, 2012

Previously I’ve blurted out some thoughts on memorialist sex and memorialist preaching.

In both (as with memorialist communion) there is an unhelpful divorce between the physical act and an internal realm: where ‘the action’ really happens.

In sex it leads to a proliferation of fantasy sex (porn) and/or a growing uncomfortability with the physical act.  The mechanics of sex put us off and we retreat into remembrances of the real thing.  All the while, the pressure for sex to be “mind-blowing” makes actual love-making less and less likely.

In preaching it leads to sermons that offer the raw materials of gospel proclamation but there’s no belief in the ‘real presence’ of Christ ‘in, with and under’ the preacher’s words.  Preaching does not hand over Christ, it merely calls truths to mind and leaves the congregation to piece it together in their own internal worlds.

Here’s another area, ripe for the divorce between physical acts and the real meaning: prayer.  Let me ask you some questions:

How do you feel about prayer beads?  Why?

Do you close your eyes when you pray? Why?

Do you pray silently? Why?

There is an explicit reference to silent prayer in the bible.  Hannah came to the temple to pray for a child:

Hannah was speaking in her heart; only her lips moved, and her voice was not heard. Therefore Eli [the Priest] took her to be a drunken woman.  (1 Samuel 1:13)

The High Priest thought only a drunk would pray silently!  He was wrong of course.  But it’s interesting what his expectations were.  And it’s interesting how our expectations have almost completely inverted.  Prayer, for us, is a silent and utterly internal act.  As with communion, as with sex, as with preaching, apparently all the action happens between our ears.

And when we do physically pray (especially with others) we find our prayers are peppered with “Just… really… Lord… hmmmm…. Just…. Just…   LORD…  HMMMM…. Really….”  We know we’re praying but we feel that… really… you know… we should… REALLY… MEAN IT!  We feel that prayer is one thing but the main thing is a “spiritual” frame of mind – one which becomes increasingly difficult to muster.

Are you the same?  When I pray with others I “hmm” along, as is our evangelical wont, I say ‘Amen’ but still I sense a lack of emotional intensity in my soul. So I attach a silent addendum to the prayer-time: “Lord, Really. I meant that one. Please.  Mmm.”  Is it just me?

I’m tempted to think that the act of praying is one thing, but on top of that there’s a pressure.  A pressure to really mean my prayers.  And so I leave prayer meetings with furrowed brows and sage nods and an intangible fear that I wasn’t ‘engaged’ enough.  Perhaps – Oh dear – I was just ‘going through the motions.’

But I wonder whether I’m labouring under a pretty serious misapprehension.  Maybe I’m imagining that my prayers themselves establish a connection between myself and the Father.  Perhaps I’ve been duped into thinking my prayers must make the journey to the throne of grace.  In which case, they’d better be good!  They better be sent up with a fair bit of impetus.  What kind of thrust do rockets need to escape the earth’s gravitational pull?  Well surely I need to match that intensity – emotionally speaking!

But what if my prayers don’t travel to the throne of grace.  What if Christ has already made that journey?  What if I’m not shouting up to heaven.  What if I’m at the Father’s right hand – whispering in His ear?  What if my prayers go, not in my name, but in Jesus’ name?  What if their efficacy is not determined by my heart towards God, but Christ’s heart?  What if the Spirit is Himself praying within me (Gal 4:6)?  What if I genuinely have the Father’s ear before and apart from any of my “prayer-righteousness”?

Then I can just pray.  I can take the focus off my internal world, and simply speak to my heavenly Father.  Of course, as I do that, I might just find myself “really meaning” my prayers.  Great!  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the Supper, you’re free to commune with Him in your heart.  When you understand the real connection which sex brings, you’re free to commune with each other in a personal way.  When you understand the real presence of Christ in the sermon, you’re free to receive Him powerfully in your pew.  But it’s got to start with the reality.

Prayer really connects with God – not because you really connect with God but because Christ does.  Prayer really works, but it works apart from any of your fickle feelings.  So, speak to your Father and rest your confidence, not on your own heart, but on Christ’s.

So the High Priest shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the LORD.  (Exodus 28:29)


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Other vids on the theme of pride?

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Look at this guy, solitary, upright, clear view to the horizon.  In fact he seems to stand between heaven and earth.  He is the Man, surveying all before him, standing on top of the world.

And which way will he go?  It’s his call.

He is the captain of his soul.  This is man at his most liberated and flourishing isn’t it?  Free to do what he wants any old time.

He’s living the dream.  Which is why the whole scene is shot through with romance – the sun setting idyllically on his sovereign Decision.

But this very modern view of our choices is a ridiculous idyll.  It crumbles under almost any scrutiny and yet it captures the hearts of the whole world – and so many in the church too.

I reckon this false belief in our identity as sovereign choosers is mistake number one when it comes to the issue of guidance.  The whole world seems to believe that what we choose leads to who we are.  And while-ever we believe that then our decisions will be invested with an existential importance they were never meant to carry.

Modern Christians are obsessed with the issue of guidance in a way our forebears just weren’t.  To a certain degree you can explain that as a function of the greater opportunities we have today to shape our lives.  In years gone past a baker’s son was a baker and that was that.  Today he might become a she and move to Thailand.  It’s his/her call!

The options have certainly expanded, but it’s the underlying false belief which invests those options with such weight that they become a burden.  We really think that our choices make us who we are.  We believe we have the power (in ourselves, in our choices) to be self-made men and women – rather than to receive our life and being as a gift.

But a moment’s thought shows how ridiculous the sovereign chooser myth is.

I could tell you some of the story of my life by telling you the choices I’ve made.  I decided to take this job and not this job.  To move to this city at this stage.  But that tells you only a very small amount about me (but, usually, the only part of me that the world is interested in – because we’re all playing the same game).

But what about the bits I didn’t decide.  For instance, my parents never decided to have me – I was an accident, as my sisters would constantly remind me.  I never decided to be born in the 20th century in the West.  I never decided to grow up in Canberra.  Would you have chosen your home town if you had the choice??  I never decided all sorts of things that have made me who I am.

And this is not to mention all the hundreds of decisions I’ve tried to make happen but they never came off.  Those failures have made me who I am too.

Didn’t John Lennon say ‘Life’s what happens to you while you’re busy making plans’?  That’s a good observation.  Life is not found in our choices and plans and strategising.  It happens to us.  We receive it.  And if we simply learnt that lesson, the weight of the guidance issue would lessen significantly.

But what we really need to do is attack the problem at its source.  We need to go to the Scriptures and learn again that what we choose does not make us who we are.  Rather who we are flows out in what we choose.

Take the book of Proverbs for instance.  You might read it and get the impression it’s supporting the world’s wisdom.  It seems to say “Wise people act like this and it’s good.  Fools act like that and it’s bad.”  But on closer inspection you see that the actions flow from being wise or being foolish.  There’s only actually one wise Person – Wisdom.  And one foolish person – Folly.  They both consider humanity to be simple and lacking in judgement (Prov 9:4,16) yet they vie for the hearts of the masses (see Prov 1:20ff; 8:1ff; 9:1ff).  They are portrayed as women – Wisdom like the good wife, Folly like the deceitful adulteress.  And belonging to their respective houses – that’s what constitutes a person wise or foolish.

Then from within those houses the wise and the foolish live out their being.  In the house of the wise you walk with the wise and feast with Wisdom.  You learn her teachings and right choices follow.

So first it’s an affair of the heart as Wisdom woos you.  This constitutes a change of being and then we see a change in will, in choosing, in action.

All of which is just to stress what Luther saw as absolutely critical in his debate with Erasmus.  The moment you make the will the centre of gravity, you lose the gospel.  Our wills are bound.  We do what we want, but we can’t want the right thing until the LORD sweeps us off our feet.  When He changes our hearts, then the will is liberated to act in line with our new hearts.  But to make our very identity depend on our choices is to commit a fundamental theological error.

I’ll write some more on guidance, but for now let’s just emphasize this basic point: we are NOT the choices we have made.  We are who we are in Christ who has wooed and won us and freed us to live in a new way.  In that new way there will be decisions to be made. But relax.  Your life and identity is not found in those plans, it’s found and it’s secure in Christ.


sermon on guidance in Proverbs.

More on freedom here.


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Filthy Lucre

When I began the King’s English, I was looking forward to covering this phrase.  I only realised today that I never did!  Well here it is, finally.

Filthy Lucre

On the surface it’s a quaint archaism.  But it speaks of a deadly trap.  “Filthy lucre” is used four times in the King James Bible and in each case it refers to a grave temptation for gospel ministers (1 Timothy 3:3,8; Titus 1:7; 1 Peter 5:2).  Eg:

Feed the flock of God which is among you, taking the oversight thereof, not by constraint, but willingly; not for filthy lucre, but of a ready mind. (1 Peter 5:2)

The KJV follows Tyndale in leaving the Vulgate’s lucrum untranslated.  Lucrum is the Latin word from which we get “lucrative”.  It just means profit.  The underlying Greek word is a compound word meaning “unclean gain”.  So here’s what we’re being warned against: unclean gain, base profit, filthy lucre.

The repetition of this biblical warning should make us think.  But it rarely does.  Many times people have joked with me: “What attracted you to the ministry? It can’t have been the money!”  Everyone has a good laugh.  Everyone except the Apostles.  They were worried about ministering for the money in the first century.  What about in the twenty first century when Christianity is big business?

Listen to John Bunyan illustrate the dangers of lucre.

Then CHRISTIAN and HOPEFUL went till they came at a delicate plain, called Ease, where they went with much content; but that plain was but narrow, so they were quickly got over it. Now at the further side of that plain was a little hill called Lucre, and in that hill a silver mine, which some of them that had formerly gone that way, because of the rarity of it, had turned aside to see; but going too near the brink of the pit, the ground being deceitful under them, broke, and they were slain; some also had been maimed there, and could not to their dying day be their own men again.

Then I saw in my dream, that a little off the road, over against the silver mine, stood DEMAS (gentleman-like), to call to passengers to come and see; who said to CHRISTIAN and his fellow, “Ho, turn aside hither, and I will show you a thing.”

CHRISTIAN. What thing is so deserving as to turn us out of the way to see it?

DEMAS. Here is a silver mine, and some digging in it for treasure; if you will come, with a little pain you may richly provide for yourselves.

HOPEFUL. Then said HOPEFUL, “Let us go and see.”

CHRISTIAN. “Not I,” said CHRISTIAN; “I have heard of this place before now and how many have there been slain; and besides, that treasure is a snare to those that seek it, for it hinders them in their pilgrimage.”  (Pilgrim’s Progress)

It is indeed a snare and a hindrance.  So how can we avoid it?

At heart, we must recapture a vision of the Generous Father.  Our God treats nothing as a means to some other end.  It is His eternal nature to love the other.  First His Son, and then, through His Son and by the Spirit, He loves the world. “God so loved the world He gave” (John 3:16).  He is a Fountain of life and love whose glory is to pour Himself out.  His activity is not mercenary.  He’s not in the whole “creation-salvation game” for what He can get out of it.  He commits Himself to us for the sake of committing Himself to us.  Because this is the kind of God He is.  He genuinely loves to give and He gives to love.

Once we’ve grasped this, we’ve learnt the secret of life and of ministry. Immanuel Kant wasn’t so far off really.  Treating people as ends in themselves is absolutely right and good.  If even God does it, then it must be the good life.  But such living is the fruit of the gospel.  It’s the good life that comes about with this good God.

So when I’m tempted to minister for “shameful gain” (NIV) or “filthy lucre” I should not be surprised.  It’s actually a perennial temptation.  But look first to the Father, poured out in Jesus.  I have all I need in His generosity. And look, secondly, to “the flock of God which is among you.”  They are not means towards further gain.  They are my “crown” and “joy” (Philippians 4:1; 2 Thessalonians 2:19).  They are my reward – a reward far greater than that snare and hindrance: “filthy lucre.”

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Jonah 3 sermon

The Ninevites hear this prophet back from the dead.

They acknowledge that God is right to judge.

They bury themselves in the dust.

And they trust Jonah’s God to bring them through to resurrection.


We too hear a word of judgement from God’s Resurrected Prophet (Acts 17:30).

We too are buried in Him (Romans 6:3-5).

And we are brought out beyond condemnation (Romans 8:1).

Christians note: God does many miraculous things in the book of Jonah.  At just the right time he appoints storms and fish and plants.  It’s almost magical.  But there’s one thing he refuses to do: He refuses to save Nineveh without a messenger.  Faith comes by hearing (Romans 10:17).

It doesn’t matter if you’re a bad messenger (Jonah’s sermon left much to be desired).  It doesn’t matter if you struggle with motivation (Jonah struggled with motivation).  As those brought through judgement, we have a message that can save – no matter how rubbish we messengers are!




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Armageddon is well known in our culture as the “final battle” for the future of the planet.  But the way people imagine this battle differs greatly from the biblical reality.

According to Hollywood, “Armageddon” is a special effects punch-up where the outcome is doubtful right up to the last minute.  According to the Bible, “Armageddon” is all build-up and no follow-through.  It’s a case of “first round, first minute” for the good guys!

Before we consider it, we’ll set the scene in the book of Revelation.  If you like, you can skip the outline below, but it shows some of my “working” for why I consider “Armageddon” the way that I do…

Outline of Revelation

In Chapter 1 John sees a vision of the risen Christ.

In Chapters 2-3:  Christ addresses seven churches.

In Chapters 4-5: As a slain Lamb, the Son approaches the enthroned Father and takes the scroll from His hand – here are the title deeds to creation.

Then we have the largest section of Revelation: from chapter 6 to chapter 20.  This shows the unravelling of the scroll.  Jesus, the Lamb, unfolds God’s history.  These chapters show us the history of the world from Christ’s first coming until His second.

And so chapters 21-22 show us God’s new world – the new heavens and new earth.  This is the ultimate “happily ever after”.

Most people think of Revelation as a book about the future, yet the great majority of the book tells us about the present. What we see in chapters 6-20 are are 7 action replays of this history from different angles.  So we see…

Chapter 6: The opening of the seven seals.

Chapter 8-11: The blowing of the seven trumpets.

Chapters 12-14: We meet the unholy trinity:  the Dragon (Satan), the Beast and the False Prophet (his earthly intermediaries).  We also meet the anti-church: Babylon.

Chapters 15-16:  The pouring out of the seven bowls of judgement.

Then we see the defeat of the four evil forces…

Chapters 17-18: The destruction of Babylon (the false church)

Chapter 19: The destruction of the Beast and the False prophet.

Chapter 20: The destruction of Satan.


Some may not agree with my outline, but it seems clear to me that these are not seven consecutive scenes of judgement.  Here are seven “action replays” of the same reality viewed from different angles.

One of the reasons I take this view is because of “Armageddon”.  There are three final “punch-ups” narrated in Revelation.  They correspond to the defeat of Babylon, the defeat of the Beast and False Prophet and the defeat of Satan.  Either God fails to eradicate evil twice but gets it right on the third attempt, or all three descriptions are true descriptions of “the end.”

If that’s right, then the “Armageddon” passage is one of three angles on the same last battle.  See if you can spot the common theme in all three tellings:

[They were gathered] to the battle of that great day of God Almighty…. And he gathered them together into a place called in the Hebrew tongue Armageddon. And the seventh angel poured out his vial into the air; and there came a great voice out of the temple of heaven, from the throne, saying, It is done.  (Revelation 16:14-17)

And I saw the beast, and the kings of the earth, and their armies, gathered together to make war against him that sat on the horse, and against his army. And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him.  (Revelation 19:19-20)

Satan shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.  And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them. And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.  (Revelation 20:7-10)

Did you notice the common theme?  There is a menacing build up followed by a complete non-event of a conclusion.  There’s stockpiling of weapons, there’s amassing of troops, there’s sabre-rattling.  But the minute God’s had enough – it’s over.  There’s a knockout punch before the bell has sounded.

Evil is not an equal and opposite force which gives God a run for His money.  As we saw with “the bottomless pit” – darkness is no match for light.  Emptiness is no match for fullness.

Do you worry about the future?  Does it seem like the darkness will win?

Take heart, the Lamb wins.  When push really does come to shove, Armageddon is no contest!

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Bottomless pit

The word in Greek is “Abyss.”  Jerome’s Vulgate left it untranslated.  John Wycliffe rendered it “the pit of depnesse”.  But it’s been William Tyndale’s turn of phrase that has endured: “bottomless pit”!  Rightly, the KJV decided it could not improve on Tyndale.  The phrase occurs seven times, all in the book of Revelation (where sevens abound!).  Take this representative example:

They had a king over them, which is the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in the Hebrew tongue is Abaddon, but in the Greek tongue hath his name Apollyon. (Revelation 9:11)

The sense of the “bottomless pit” (or “abyss”) is an unbounded chaos.  Infinite emptiness. An immeasurable depth.  Limitless nothingness.  This place of destruction and corruption is highlighted at the beginning and end of the Bible.

In the opening verses of Scripture we read about a void opened up in the creation of heaven and earth:

In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth. And the earth was without form, and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters.  (Genesis 1:1-2)

“The deep” is the Abyss.  And its presence is felt in the second verse of the Bible!

God, having created a reality beyond Himself, is faced, not with a mere extension of His divine being, but with something very distinct from Himself.  God is light but here is darkness.  God is full but here is an emptiness. In creation there is something beyond God which needs enlightening and filling full.  This is what the work of creation involves.  Over the six days God forms and then fills the universe, acting redemptively upon what is, by nature, “without form and void”.

God separates light from darkness and sea from dry land. He divides and adjudicates – “Hitherto shalt thou come, but no further” (Job 38:11).  God’s creative work is all about undoing the abyss. He brings light, fullness and form – bounding the boundless.

Yet somehow there is a sphere that stands against the spreading goodness of God.  There is an abyss.  And it does not stand on an alternative foundation.  The only true  foundation can be the living God.  Whatever stands against God cannot stand on anything substantial.  No, God’s enemies have nothing to stand on.  Their realm is groundless – a bottomless pit.

Think about this negative reality.  The realm of evil is not an equal and opposite kingdom.  It is darkness, somehow resisting God’s radiant light.  It is a boundless emptiness, somehow resisting God’s glory filling the earth.  It is rebellion without a cause.

Sin and evil have no ultimate foundation, no reasons, no footing.  They are madness.  Those swallowed by the bottomless pit can only keep falling.  Think of the tragedy: it’s one kind of death to fall far – it’s another to fall forever.

What hope is there in the face of this abyss?

Paul writes to the Romans to tell them that we have no hope against the powers of darkness.  None of us can ascend to heaven and none of us can plumb the bottomless pit.  But Christ has come down from the heights.  And He has risen from the abyss:

Say not in thine heart, Who shall ascend into heaven? (that is, to bring Christ down from above:)  Or, Who shall descend into the deep [the abyss]? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead)  (Romans 10:6-7)

We don’t have to climb up to heaven and we don’t have to climb out of the bottomless pit.  Christ has done it all.  He is the Radiant Light of the Father.  He is the Spreading Goodness of God.  And He has come to plunder Satan’s house (Mark 3:27).  He has entered into our darkness and risen to bring us home.

We cannot reason with evil – it’s insanity.  We cannot climb out of the bottomless pit – there is no footing.  But Christ has done it all.  We need only trust Him and He’ll turn our pit to paradise:

If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.  (Romans 10:9)

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Once and for all

“Out, damned spot! out, I say!”

Lady Macbeth’s line is one of Shakespeare’s most famous.  In the first act of Macbeth she helps her husband to murder the King.  By the end of the play she is in mental torment and eventually takes her own life.  In her final scene she is before a doctor and cannot cleanse her conscience.

Out, damned spot! out, I say!… who would have thought the old man to have had so much blood in him?   What, will these hands ne’er be clean?…Here’s the smell of the blood still; all the perfumes of Arabia will not sweeten this little hand. Oh, oh, oh!  

The Doctor says “What a sigh is there! The heart is sorely charg’d. …This disease is beyond my practice.”

Shame and guilt is a disease.  And it’s a disease beyond the practice of 17th century doctors.  It’s beyond the practice of 21st century doctors.  Taking away our guilt and shame is beyond every power on earth, even – and perhaps especially – religion.  But in Hebrews 10 we learn about a “once for all” cleansing that contrasts starkly with the old religious ways.

In verses 1-4, we’re told that even God’s own religion did not cleanse people from sin – it only reminded them of sin.  Every day the blood of animals was shed, yet everyone knows that animals can’t pay for sin.  Every year there was a grand theatrical performance called the Day of Atonement.  The High Priest had a starring role and there was a scapegoat. You confessed your sins over the scapegoat and there were sacrifices and at the end it was pronounced that God was “at one” with Israel.  But… the next year they did it all over again.  They weren’t cleansed from their sins, they were only reminded of their sins.

This whole system was a shadow of the coming reality (v1).  The real atonement was achieved when Christ came into the world (v5-10).

There is a true and willing Sacrifice who steps forward amidst the bloodshed of the temple and says “Enough! Here I am.  I’m the Reality to which these shadows have pointed.”


Jesus, our Scapegoat, died the death of every slanderer, every pornographer, every bully, every murderer,  swindler, adulterer, terrorist… every sinner.  And now

we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.  (Hebrews 10:10)

That phrase “once for all” is so precious.  Understanding it will transport you from the shadow-lands of guilt and perpetual striving to the freedom of Christ’s finished work.  Therefore in the next paragraph, Hebrews lays out the stark difference between the reality of Christ’s sacrifice and the shadow of the old covenant (v11-14).

The old sacrifices were continual, Christ’s was once for all

The old sacrifices were powerless, Christ’s was completely effective.

The old priests stood for their constant work, Christ sits having finished the work.

Do you realise the wonder of Christ’s finished work?  Do you understand that, through Him, you are made holy “once for all”?

The final paragraph will help us (v15-18).  Here the writer returns to his favourite passage – Jeremiah chapter 31.  He proclaims the glorious truth that our “sins and iniquities God remembers no more.”

Imagine debts piling up.  You pay off one credit card with another.  It snowballs and suddenly you’re £90 000 in the red.   The debt collectors are after you.  You don’t answer the phone, you pretend you’re not in.

Eventually you get some financial advice.  They tell you to phone the credit card company and explain your situation.  You pluck up courage and give your details over the phone.  Then you begin to make excuses… “Now, about the £90 000, I’ll try to pay it back, I just need some time…”  The woman on the other end of the phone says “We have no record of any debts in your name.”  You ask her to double check.  She double checks, “We have no record of any debts in your name.”

If you’ve trusted Jesus your Scapegoat, those are God’s words to you today.

Their sins and iniquities will I remember no more. (Hebrews 10:17)

Don’t live in the shadows.  Don’t try to clean yourself up.  Remember you’ve been cleansed through the cross of Christ – once and for all.

Out of the depths have I cried unto thee, O LORD. 2 Lord, hear my voice: let thine ears be attentive to the voice of my supplications. 3 If thou, LORD, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand? 4 But there is forgiveness with thee, that thou mayest be feared. 5 I wait for the LORD, my soul doth wait, and in his word do I hope. 6 My soul waiteth for the Lord more than they that watch for the morning: I say, more than they that watch for the morning. 7 Let Israel hope in the LORD: for with the LORD there is mercy, and with him is plenteous redemption. 8 And he shall redeem Israel from all his iniquities.  (Psalm 130)




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And yet more tweets

Through the Righteous Branch, God never stops doing u good. In fact He rejoices 2do u good with all His heart&soul (Jer 32-33) #EnjoyYourDay

Grace-motivated, love-based Christian living is law: holy, righteous & good, but law. Only the gospel saves. Only the gospel liberates.

Top search term to find my blog today: “obsessed with preaching only jesus”. If only. #NotObsessedEnough

“I don’t want to go to hell. I don’t like new places.” (Louis CK) But maybe it’s not so new – John 3:18,36; Rom 1:18

Life does not grind along according 2 impersonal laws. Yr Father plots, yr Brother reigns, His Spirit moves- minute by minute #EnjoyYourDay

Far and away the most common word to describe Jesus’ feelings in the Gospels = “compassion”. ie gut-wrenching mercy #EnjoyYourDay

“Christians need to be confident in Christ before they can be confident for Christ” Mike Reeves

“There is no medical condition that requires the direct termination of one life to preserve the other.” (Source)

You may feel besieged by worries. Give them to your Father and know: it’s His peace that besieges you (Phil 4:6-7) #EnjoyYourDay

“If I could hear Christ praying for me in the next room, I would not fear. Yet distance makes no difference.He is praying for me.”-M’Cheyne

Jesus gives strength to the weary, grace to the guilty, worth to the worthless, hope to the hopeless. #EnjoyYourDay

Many cry out for the preaching of “repentance” in evangelism. But push them and they think some need to do a lot more repenting than others.

<< But just imagine if our evil *was* our divorce from Christ: John 16:9. What would repentance look like then?

Psalm 15 = Christ in 3rd person. Psalm 16 = Christ in 1st person. Ascending the hill of the LORD involves a grave then pleasures forevermore

Complete this sentence: “My life would be properly blessed if…” Now go and read Ephesians 1. #YouveGotItAll

Compulsion aint that compelling. Grace is compelling. In every sense.

What is it about Jesus freely given to you that grips your soul and makes change an inevitability? That’s ‘compelling’ in the true sense.

Marriage counseling doesn’t begin in Ephesians 5. It begins in Ephesians 1.

‘Only sinners have the right to be apologists.’ Jacob Smith. Psalm 51:13

Daddy’s rich! He has unsearchable riches in Christ – of inheritance, mercy & grace – all ours in Jesus (Eph 1:18,2:4,2:7,3:8) #EnjoyYourDay

If you’re lost, finding yourself won’t help. You’ll only find that you’re lost. Which is no great find!

Your God has gone to hell and back for you. Do you think He doesn’t love you? Hasn’t forgiven you? Won’t raise you to glory? #EnjoyYourDay

Everyone believes in a judge: a final word on you & the cosmos. Only Christianity has a merciful judge…

…In top 5 religious views: Allah rewards good Muslims, Buddhism & Hinduism = Karma and Death (for non-religious) has No mercy at all

Whoever said “hard words make soft people” needs to re-read Proverbs. Just one eg: “a gentle tongue can break a bone” (25:15)

What is grace? Getting a kiss when you deserve a slap.

The greatest saint needs the blood of God. The worst sinner can claim the blood of God. We all stand forgiven at the cross #EnjoyYourDay

Humanists say humans created God. Actually Christianity created the Modern Human which humanists now worship.

An Iranian woman told me yesterday “As from last year I no longer believe in the God of the Ayatollahs. I think God is the Jesus God.”

“When we say we begin with God, we begin with our idea of God, and our idea of God is not God… …Instead, we ought to begin with God’s idea of God, and God’s idea of God is Christ” E. Stanley Jones

“I am among you as one who serves” (Luke 22:27). By His Spirit He is still among us. By His Spirit He still serves. #EnjoyYourDay

Just brought home my lost cat after two days searching. It did NOT want to be found. Balthasar the Calvinist.



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Happy Friday


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On Monday I got up to give an evangelistic talk.  I was expecting there to be Luke’s Gospels for all (NIV translation).  There weren’t.  No worries, it’s a short parable (the Lost Coin), I’ll just read it out from my ESV Pocket Bible, right?  What could go wrong?

So I read the first verse of the parable:

“Or what woman, having ten silver coins, if she loses one coin, does not light a lamp and sweep the house and seek diligently until she finds it?”  (Luke 15:8)

And then I read it again.

And then I translated it into English for them.

NIV’s got:

‘Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Doesn’t she light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it?

See the difference?

I really like the English Standard Version, but sometimes I wish they actually used Standard English.

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Recently my wife bought me a guitar for my birthday.  A very nice guitar.  I was grateful.  Still am.  But not so much because now I have this kind of guitar.  More because now and ’till death us do part’ I have this kind of wife.  I’m grateful to have the gift.  But what really thrills me is to have the giver.

Ask a typical evangelical why Christians do good works and they’ll say “Out of gratitude for what God’s done.”  You know the drill: He’s given me heaven, the least I could do was tithe.

And apparently this is all of grace because it’s a response to a gift.

But it’s a quite detached response to a quite detached gift.  God gives me stuff and I am moved to give stuff back.

But isn’t it more that God gives me Himself since He gives me Christ.  And all good things are in Him.  There’s a lot of stuff in there.  Eternal life, wrath averted, forgiveness of sins, a spotless righteousness, a new spiritual family… lots to be grateful for.  But really what I have is Christ.  And in Him I don’t simply have a lot of great stuff.  Rather what I have is this God – the God who is a Giver.

The magnitude of His gifts are not finally what call forth my grateful response.  It’s the fact that I have such a Generous Giver – not simply as a Benefactor to draw upon.  But He Himself is mine.

Not only His gifts belong to me, but the Giving God belongs to me.  Therefore my response will not be payback but instead it will be my Christ continuing His generosity through me.  The Gift that keeps on giving.


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Acceptable Offerings

Here are stories of two saints approaching God with their offerings.

The first is narrated by a preacher, but I haven’t been able to get an original source on the story.

When E. Stanley Jones was a teenager, he got into his Methodist Church midweek and wrote a list of all the things he would do for Jesus.  He took the list and laid it on the communion table as though it were an altar.  “This, my Lord Jesus, is what I will do for you.”  He bowed before it.  Yet he felt no release, no sense of acceptance.  So he took the paper back and he wrote more things “I will give all my money to the poor, I will do this, I will do that for you Lord Jesus.”  But, again, he felt a pregnant silence from heaven.  Then he burst into tears, took the list, screwed it up and threw it away.  He took a blank sheet of paper, laid it on the table and he said with knees knocking: “You write and I will do anything.  Whatever you write, I will do this for you.”

That’s one offering.

Here’s another story of offering that starts out similar, yet the conclusion is very different.  It’s from Horatius Bonar’s Peace with God.

“I knew an awakened soul who, in the bitterness of his spirit, thus set himself to work and pray in order to get peace. He doubled the amount of his devotions, saying to himself, Surely God will give me peace. But the peace did not come. He set up family worship, saying, Surely God will give me peace. But the peace came not. At last he bethought himself of having a prayer-meeting in his house as a certain remedy. He fixed the night; called his neighbours; and prepared himself for conducting the meeting, by writing a prayer and learning it by heart. As he finished the operation of learning it, preparatory to the meeting, he threw it down on the table, saying, “Surely that will do, God will give me peace now.” In that moment, a still small voice seemed to speak in his ear, saying, “No, that will not do; but Christ will do.” Straightway the scales fell from his eyes, and the burden from his shoulders. Peace poured in like a river. “Christ will do,” was his watchword for life.”

Taste the difference.

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A two-edged sword

In modern speech a “double-edged sword” is a powerful weapon that “cuts both ways”.  It’s an argument or feature or technology that has a clear benefit and a clear liability.  It’s something that both advances your cause and the cause of your opponent.

But the bible’s usage of the term is a little different.  You see God’s “two-edged sword” cuts only one way.

“The word of God is quick, and powerful, and sharper than any twoedged sword, piercing even to the dividing asunder of soul and spirit, and of the joints and marrow, and is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart.”  (Hebrews 4:12)

Here’s a radical thought: God’s word is a two-edged sword.  And when God wields it, it cuts in only one direction.  God’s word is not judged by us.  God’s word judges us.  We do not assess it.  It assesses us.  We do not interpret it.  It interprets us.  We do not master it.  It masters us.

Have you ever encountered the piercing quality of God’s word?

Last year I was preparing to help a friend in a court-hearing.  We were building our case, establishing our cause, marshalling evidence and feeling more and more justified.  And then I read just six words from Proverbs:

Do not bring hastily to court. (Proverbs 25:8)

It cut to the heart.  And it brought to mind other verses about the dangers of pursuing adversarial legal action (e.g. Matthew 5:25-26; 1 Corinthians 6:1-8).  God’s word came home.  It discerned the thoughts and intents of the heart.  I could tell you many other “piercing” moments and I’m sure you could too.

So often we come to God’s word seeking “discernment” about our future, about our choices.  We seek to “discern” correct theology, or just to “discern” a little dose of spiritual inspiration.  But all of those motives are about us discerning the word.  Or us discerning truths through the word.  Do you see the problem?

God’s word discerns us.  We are in the firing line.  We might consider the word to be our object of study.  But no, we are the objects of the word’s study.  We are the ones to be scrutinized.

Is that your attitude as you approach the word?

If it’s not, perhaps that’s because you’ve forgotten that God’s word is “quick” – in other words, it’s “alive.”  When Hebrews speaks of the Word – it has in mind a personal Power working through the Scriptures.  Just listen to how the verse continues:

Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in his sight: but all things are naked and opened unto the eyes of him with whom we have to do.  (Hebrews 13:13)

The “Word of God” in view is the Judge of the World.  Hebrews is speaking of the eternal Word, the Lord Jesus.  This living Word encounters His people through the Scriptures as they’re proclaimed today (Hebrews 13:7).  But because the Word is a Him, Scripture reading can never be impersonal.  To open up the Word is to be opened up by the Word, who is Judge of all.

In these verses we learn that it’s not simply judgement day that uncovers.  Whenever we encounter the Living Word of God we are judged.

“Brilliant” you respond, “Just what I need!  More judgement in my life!”

Ah but, the judging word is not the final word.  For those who belong to Jesus, judgement could never be the final word.  Christ Himself has taken the judgement on the cross.  And as our great High Priest, He has brought us sinners through the sword of judgement and into the presence of God our Father.

That’s why the verse continues:

Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need.  (Hebrews 4:14-16)

What a roller-coaster!  Cut to the heart, then lifted to the throne.  This is a true experience of the Word of God.  First exposed, then covered by His blood.  First pierced, then healed.  First judged, then saved.  First brought to our knees, then raised through the heavens.

Do we ever impersonalise the Word of God?  Do we ever domesticate God’s Word?  Do we ever get stuck in the judgement and fail to appreciate the salvation?

Remember that God’s Word Jesus only exposes so He can cover.  He only cuts so He can cure.  He only brings low, so He can raise up.  Let us expose ourselves to His piercing.  Then let us come boldly through His priesthood.

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In the space of one verse Paul gives us two – if not three – phrases:

“I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)

Both “fighting the good fight” and “keeping the faith” have become well-known.  If we added “staying the course” then we’d have a trifecta of famous phrases.  In a way, that’s not surprising. Paul means to be memorable here.

This is the last chapter of the last letter he wrote.  Tradition has it Paul was beheaded in Rome in AD67 and here is the epitaph he chooses for himself.  He’s a fighter, a runner, a perseverer.  And as he comes to the end of his life he inspires us all towards the same.

Paul is writing to his spiritual son Timothy, passing on the baton of gospel work.  Crucially, he was the last of a dying breed.  He had met with the risen Christ and been an eye-witness of His glory.  Soon there would be no-one left on earth who could say that.

So as the church’s last foundational apostle, how does Paul encourage the next generation?  Chapter 2 gives a sense of his burden.

Thou therefore, my son, be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And the things that thou hast heard of me among many witnesses, the same commit thou to faithful men, who shall be able to teach others also.  Thou therefore endure hardness, as a good soldier of Jesus Christ. No man that warreth entangleth himself with the affairs of this life; that he may please him who hath chosen him to be a soldier. And if a man also strive for masteries, yet is he not crowned, except he strive lawfully. The husbandman that laboureth must be first partaker of the fruits. Consider what I say; and the Lord give thee understanding in all things.  (2 Timothy 2:1-7)

Paul knows that his eye-witness testimony will not die out with him.  In verse 2 he envisions four generations of gospel ministry.  From Paul to Timothy to Timothy’s trainees to their trainees.  On and on it goes until it reaches you and me.

But, of course, it doesn’t stop with us.  We too will commit this gospel message to others.  And they to others, and so on.  The saying is true: “God’s grace always runs downhill.”  It applies to proclamation too.  In fact grace and proclamation are almost synonyms.

From Christ’s exaltation and the Pentecostal outpouring, there has been a gospel flow which has reached even us.  Now we are caught up in its movement.

As I say this, though, I might be conjuring up the wrong kind of imagery – fountains and babbling brooks and floating along.  Paul’s imagery is much more robust.  How does it feel to be gripped by this gospel and pass it on?  Like a soldier, like an athlete, like a farmer.

Like a soldier – enduring, obedient, single-minded.

Like an athlete – compelled by a vision of the crown, striving to play things as they’re meant to be played.

Like a farmer – patient, hard-working, but enjoying the fruits of his labour.

All of these callings involve unglamorous service, sacrifice, hard-work and perseverance.  But they also promise victory, crowns and harvests.  This is the long-termism Paul seeks to instil in Timothy.  After the exhaustion and self-sacrifice comes the prize.  And the prize is worth it.

Paul asks us to meditate on these portraits.  But only because he has been meditating on them so deeply.  As he writes his epitaph he returns to these same three visions: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

He goes on…

Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.  (2 Timothy 4:8)

Here is the prize.  Just as Paul has participated in Christ’s sufferings, so he will participate in His glory.  Christ’s life had a shape – cross and resurrection.  The Christian life will have that same shape – suffering and glory.  And Paul is now retiring from his hard-working soldiering, running and farming.  Now he’s entering into his victory, his crown, his harvest.  Truly he’s being “promoted to glory!”

And perhaps we think to ourselves – that’s wonderful for Paul, what about for us?

Well he says that all of us can likewise share in this glory.  And the way he phrases it is telling.  He does not say “This crown is for all who have soldiered as hard as I have.”  He does not say “This victory is for all who have run as hard as I have.”  He does not say “This crown is for all who have persevered as valiantly as I have.”  No, the crown is for those who “love his appearing.”

If we simply love Jesus.  If we simply want Him – then we will share in His glory.

It’s just that those who share in His glory, will also share in His suffering.  That’s not the price we pay – it’s the privilege of living His life in this world.  Paul on his death bed wouldn’t have it any other way.  And if we see things rightly, neither would we.

So then, as you long for Christ’s appearing, as you pass on His gospel hope, meditate on your calling:

— the soldier

— the athlete

— the farmer.

Anticipate the glory of Christ’s return

— the victory

— the crown

— the harvest.

And know that one day too, you will be able to say “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.”

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If you’re lost, you don’t need to find yourself. If you’re lost and you find yourself you’ll only find that you’re lost. Which is no great find!

If you’re lost what you need to find is home.  When you’re home, then you will be yourself.

The good news of Christianity is that Someone from Home has come to find us!

12 minute lunchbar talk for Exeter CU
based on Luke 15:1-10 (and Luke 3:21-22).

Rough notes for the talk



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Itching ears

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2 Timothy 3:14-4:5

One of the most pervasive myths of the modern world is this: We think we know what we want.  We think we know what’s best for us.  And we think we ourselves are the best judges of these matters.

The truth could not be further from this common misconception.

In the book of Proverbs, Wisdom spoke a frightening truth:

“All they that hate me love death.”  (Proverbs 8:36)

The natural state of the human heart is to be estranged from Christ our Wisdom.  And in that perverse condition our desires are completely twisted.  We hate the Fountain of Living Waters and we love the pit of curses and death.

Therefore what do we look for in our moral and spiritual guides?  The truth?  Never.  Not naturally.  Instead we look for leaders who will tell us what we want to hear.

Notice how Jesus put it: “Because I tell you the truth, ye believe me not.” (John 8:45)

Jesus doesn’t say ‘In spite of my truth telling you don’t believe.’  He says ‘Because of my truth-telling you don’t believe.’  We are not naturally oriented to truth.  We flee it when it’s spoken.  Instead we ‘turn to fables’ as the Apostle Paul put it so memorably:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables.  (2 Timothy 4:3-4)

An “itching ear” is such an evocative phrase.  Itches aren’t just satisfied by scratching – they demand to be scratched.  They only seem to increase if they go un-heeded.  Paul says our ears are like this.  We don’t merely like to hear pleasant lies, we demand to hear them.  And Paul says there’s always a ready supply of phoney prophets who will scratch us where we itch.  It’s not just a problem for the last days.  The prophet Isaiah spoke of the same reality 8 centuries earlier:

This is a rebellious people, lying children, children that will not hear the law of the LORD: Which say to the seers, “See not;” and to the prophets, “Prophesy not unto us right things, speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits: Get you out of the way, turn aside out of the path, cause the Holy One of Israel to cease from before us.”   (Isaiah 30:9-11)

I don’t think Isaiah is imagining that the people are articulating these words.  I’m not sure any Israelite was literally saying “speak unto us smooth things, prophesy deceits.”  It’s just that they would not put up with God’s word, they reacted angrily to the truth of the gospel but warmly to the “smooth things.”  At an unspoken level they had struck a deal with the false prophets – “Tell us what we want to hear, and we’ll give you an eager audience.”  In every age people have found such a deal attractive.

Therefore we must question this myth of the modern world.  We do not know what is good for us.  As the Proverb says “Counsel in the heart of man is like deep water; but a man of understanding will draw it out.” (Proverbs 20:5).  We don’t know ourselves very well.  We don’t know what we need.  We need The Man of understanding to tell us the truth.  We need truth to come to us from the outside.  The kind of truth we would never conceive ourselves.

The truth that says we are utterly lost and damned in ourselves but completely loved and redeemed in Jesus.  The truth that leaves our own desires and schemes out of the equation but takes up our cause anyway.  The truth that puts us to death on the cross and raises us up in resurrection.

Don’t trust your natural itches.  Don’t pursue the lies that puff you up.  Listen to the truth from beyond.  It will burst your bubble but, then, it will give you a hope you could never have dreamt of.  The truth from which we flee is the most extreme but wonderful news in the world.  It’s far worse than we’d ever feared – but far greater than we’d ever imagined.

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Here’s a verse of the bible which everyone knows.  Except that they don’t.

1 Timothy 6:10 does not say “Money is the root of all evil.”  It says “the love of money is the root of all evil.”  And if we really wanted to pick up on the nuances in the Greek, we would render it: “the love of money is root of all kinds of evil.”

Not quite as snappy though is it?  Which is why the blunt version has survived.  It has the advantage of being comprehensive, memorable and sensational .  It gets dropped in conversations as an epitaph when the banker is busted for fraud.  “Ah, just goes to show, money is the root of all evil.”

The (mis)quote was commonly placarded at the Occupy movements last year.  When I spoke to protestors at St Paul’s I was surprised by how often the phrase was mentioned.  In fact I was surprised in general at how many spoke in biblical terms.  (And, by the way, their translation of choice seemed to be the good ol’ King James!)

As a placard it’s pleasingly reductionist.  If we’re looking for radical solutions (remember “radical” means going to the “root”) then money is an obvious target.  It’s simple then to focus on the financial system as the source of our woes – and, hey, biblical support just adds weight.  For some anyway.

But it was interesting when I spoke to one protestor about the verse.  I said to him, “Do you know that the verse doesn’t say “money is the root of all evil”?”  “No?” he asked.  “No, it says “the love of money is the root of all evil.  And you can love money whether you’re rich or poor can’t you?”

This hit home with him.  We’d just been chatting about the “fat cat bankers” who walked past St Paul’s every day.  He’d been wistfully spinning a tale of these bankers’ imagined lifestyles.  The protestor was unemployed, living in a tent, but he realised he was just as capable of a love of money as any pin-striped City worker.

He’d been plotting the demise of the global financial system.  He’d been speaking of “expropriating” the wealth of the 1% to build a better world.  But what if “money” wasn’t exactly the problem?  What if the “love” of money was the radical evil at the heart of us all?

There’s no ‘new world order’ that can get to the heart.  No fat cat tax can fix the affections.  If we’re looking for “roots” we need to go deeper than money.  We must get to the heart.

Don’t get me wrong, money can be a deadly trap.  As Paul has just said:

“They that will be rich fall into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition.”  (1 Timothy 6:9)

Such strong language.  And just after our phrase, Paul says:

Some coveted after [money, and]… have erred from the faith, and pierced themselves through with many sorrows.

Money is incredibly dangerous.  Just consider some of the phrases Jesus Himself gave us:

Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also

Ye cannot serve God and Mammon

A man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions

Camel through the eye of a needle

Money has every chance of becoming a competing god in our lives.  In Paul’s language, it’s something that can “tempt”, “ensnare”, enflame “lust” and make us “covet”.  But money itself is not the problem.  It’s the love of money that is so dangerous.

Which is why Paul’s revolutionary teaching on riches does not focus on redistribution. Instead he rounds off the chapter  like this:

Charge them that are rich in this world, that they be not highminded, nor trust in uncertain riches, but in the living God, who giveth us richly all things to enjoy; That they do good, that they be rich in good works, ready to distribute, willing to communicate; Laying up in store for themselves a good foundation against the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.  (1 Timothy 6:17-19)

Sharing the wealth is part of what Paul charges.  But that’s only part.  Notice the true riches Paul directs us to?  The living God gives us richly all things to enjoy.  Money promises to give us… freedom, comfort, protection, provision.  But money can’t really deliver on those things.  And if we trust in “uncertain riches” they will prove a snare.

Instead, look to the unsearchable riches of Christ, who is given to us so freely and so fully.  He is Heir of the cosmos and shares all things generously with us.  One day – in “the time to come” – He will show us our inheritance here on the renewed earth and it will take our breath away.  In the words of Isaiah we will see the King in His beauty and a land that stretches afar (Isaiah 33:17).

How can money hold a candle to Christ?


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