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Archive for October, 2012

321 and the Fall

321 is a an explanation of the Christian faith in three parts.

3 focuses on Trinity.

2 focuses on Adam and Christ.

1 focuses on union (or one-ness) with Christ.

321 is not structured around the gospel events.  Instead it unfolds the doctrines that explain those gospel events.  Without these doctrines, the events will be misunderstood and the goodness of the good news will be lost.

Last time we considered how 321 interacts with the event of Creation.

Without trinity, creation will be considered as the needy manufacture of a unitarian (and therefore taking) God – not the overflow of a trinitarian (and therefore Giving) God.

Without Adam and Christ, creation won’t be seen as part of the unified movement of creation-and-salvation, but a free-floating project.  Instead, with Adam and Christ, we see how very anchored the living God is to His handiwork.

Without union with Christ, we’ll think of creation in terms of distance and separation, rather than as something destined to participate in God’s own life.

Now we’re going to consider the fall.

How does 3 shape our understanding of the fall

Imagine that God was not Three Persons.  Imagine instead that for all eternity there was a solitary Individual.  If this unitary being brings anything else into existence, his deity would only be preserved by maintaining his absolute supremacy.  For creatures to correspond rightly to this god can only mean their being infinitely “other than” and “less than” a god who is defined over against his world.  If such a being creates then the creation has only one way to relate – it must submit.

What, therefore, is sin?  With a unitarian god, sin is not submitting to the power of the Sovereign.  (Perhaps you’re aware that “Islam” means “submission”).

But with a trinitarian God, what is sin?  Well in eternity this God has not been defined by supremacy but by sharing.  Having others alongside is not a threat to this God – it’s the very definition of His deity.  This God wants to share – to give us of Himself and to draw us in.

Therefore what is sin?  It’s refusing to receive from the generous God.

With a unitarian god, being distant is almost the definition of godliness.  With the trinitarian God, refusing His fellowship is the essence of sin.  And that sets a trinitarian gospel on a very different footing.  The problem with humanity is not, fundamentally, lack of obedience but lack of dependence.

Think of Jesus’ definition of sin in John 16:9: “that people do not believe in me.”  Our great sin is not receiving Jesus (remember that to believe and to receive Jesus is parallel, John 1:12).

Think of Paul’s definition of sin in Romans 14:23: “everything not of faith is sin.”  Again, sin is about not trusting the generous God.  He has given us His Son to be received by faith.  Instead we mistrust Him.  We close ourselves off from the giving God and now must handle life out of our own resources.

Flowing from this mistrust, we may then become mutinous rebels “shaking our fist at God”.  Sure, that might be one manifestation.  But we might also be meek self-haters, looking for love in all the wrong places.  We might be “trying to sit on the throne of our lives.”  Or we might be abandoning rule of our lives to all sorts of cruel masters.  Whichever way we turn, our sin is, first and foremost, our mistrust of God.  And it’s important to set up our gospel presentation in this way.  Because whatever we identify as the ‘problem’, it will decisively shape the ‘solution’ we offer.

If the ‘problem’ is “not obeying God” we have already implied the ‘solution.  Surely the solution will be “to start obeying God again.”  But no, the problem is that we don’t receive the Gift of God (Jesus).  For that, we are “condemned already.” (John 3:18).  But the solution is implied in the problem: “Believe in the name of God’s One and Only Son” (John 3:18).

How does 2 and 1 shape our understanding of the fall

When Augustine and Pelagius went toe-to-toe on the issue of our gracious salvation, Adam and Christ was at the heart of the debate. For Pelagius, we are not born in sin, we are born neutral.  We just use our freedom badly.  We choose sinful things, copying Adam’s bad example.

Now if this was the problem for Pelagius, you can guess what his ‘solution’ was.  Salvation was all about us using our freedom well.  We need to choose righteous things, copying Jesus’ good example.

Augustine saw this as a foul error – it denigrates Christ and exalts ourselves.  No – look at Romans 5:12-21.  We are born in Adam apart from any of our bad choices.  We are born again in Jesus apart from any of our good choices.  Our works just do not come into the equation.  Our second Adam has done it all – reconstituting damned sinners in Himself.

But in evangelism, Pelagius forces his way right back into our preaching.  We are reticent to speak of our union with Adam – it sounds anti-science, anti-reason and unfair.  (It’s none of those things by the way, I just don’t have time to address those questions now).  But in modern evangelism we neglect the bondage of the will and put our choices right back at the heart of the gospel.  We tell people that their bad decisions and deeds have separated them from God.  We might then tell of the work of Christ on the cross, but what we’ll really major on is the Decision which the sinner needs to make.  That’s where all the emphasis will lie.

And the sinner will be addressed as a free agent – they are Hercules at the cross-roads (pictured above), virtue lies in one direction and vice in the other, but it’s all down to them.  Whatever else we might have said about sinners being “lost” and “bound” and “blind” – we’ll forget that now.  Whatever else we might have said about Christ and His work being decisive, we’ve now moved on to the business end of proceedings.  The spotlight is unmistakably on the sinner.  It’s down to them.  They must refuse vice and choose virtue.  This is where salvation happens.

Does that kind of preaching sound familiar?

Why?  Why is there such a focus on decision-theology in modern evangelism?  Partly I think it’s because of the way we’ve set up the “problem”.  We’ve made the fall about behaviour (rather than being).  And we’ve located the problem within reach of the sinner.

But if it’s about deeds and decisions and if it’s about me then… how is Jesus the solution?  Perhaps Jesus can give me a really good talking to and perhaps He can persuade me to “Make a Decision”.  But at the end of the day, that kind of salvation happens in me, not in Him.

The true gospel is so much better than that.  The problem is far deeper than my behaviour, it’s about my very being.  It’s also “above my pay grade”.  The problem is out of my hands – it’s in a humanity in which I am culpably complicit.  But I can’t remake myself.  I can’t solve human nature.  The problem is deeper than I can handle and it’s also way over my head.

But then, so is the solution.  Just as I was caught up in something bigger than me, so now in Jesus I’m caught up in something bigger still.  The problem was out of my hands but so is the solution.  And that’s good news, because if it was down to me I’d spoil it.

Hear the gospel according to Adam and Christ: In Adam, though you’d done nothing bad, you were disconnected from God and cursed.  In Jesus, though you’ve done nothing good, you are reconnected to God and blessed.

This is the gracious gospel according to Paul, according to Augustine, and according to centuries orthodox Christian theology of virtually every stripe (…except, I’m tempted to say, evangelists!)  But if we deny this teaching our understanding of ourselves becomes shallow, the human will becomes sovereign, Jesus and His work becomes incidental and the gospel becomes an ultimatum.

Let’s get the problem right.  Only then will we have a solution that’s truly good news.

Next time we’ll consider the work of Christ according to 321…

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It’s happened three times in the last three weeks, so let me give you a composite account of the conversations…

— [Embarrassed biting of lip] Umm… I know I should know the answer to this… And I feel really silly for bringing it up.  I realise it’s, like, really basic… but it’s been bugging me for ages now:  How do I Have A Relationship With God?

— What do you mean?

— Well I know it’s not about rules.  I keep hearing that Christianity is not a religion, it’s a relationship.  Well, ok.  But how do I Have A Relationship With God?  It sounds so stupid that I should ask that.  I know this is Christianity 101.  It makes me wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  But when people talk about “having a relationship with God”, I kinda know what they mean.  But I’m not sure I have what they’re talking about.  What are they talking about?

— To be honest, I don’t really know what they’re talking about.  And I wonder if they know what they’re talking about.

Yes, that’s really how I’ve been answering this question.  Really.

Which will make you wonder whether I’m even a Christian.  I mean honestly, who could possibly be against having a relationship with God??

Well I’m not against enjoying the gift of relationship with God.  But I’m dead set against definitions of Christianity that throw the spotlight on me and my relationship with God.  That might sound like a trivial difference.  Actually it’s all the difference in the world.

Don’t get me wrong, I know the living God – a personal God – I hear Him in His word, I speak to Him in prayer.  I enjoy fellowship with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Honest, I do.  It’s great.  All a wonderful gift that’s mine in Jesus.  Fantastic.

But if I have to “have a relationship with God” then I’m stuffed.  Seriously.  I’m hell-fodder if ‘relationship with God’ is up to me.

Let’s put the exact same truth in slightly different terms and you’ll see what I mean:  I love the law. It describes the good life of loving God and loving neighbour.  Brilliant.  And I have performed good works which the Father has prepared in advance for me to walk in (Ephesians 2:10).  And that’s been a lot of fun.  Yay law.  Yay works.  Yay.  But if I ever start talking about ‘the heart of Christianity’ as ‘me obeying the law’ then let me be accursed!  If I ever say “People get the wrong idea about Christianity, it’s not about ancient rituals, it’s actually all about legal obedience” – you’ll instantly realize my error.  Well, it’s just the same when you say “It’s not about being religious, it’s about Having A Relationship With God.”

And you’ll say – No, Glen, you’ve got it backwards.  Religion is about rules – yuck.  But Christianity is a totally different thing.  It’s all about relationship.  It’s not the same thing at all!

To which I’ll say – Really?

Really??

I understand that the essence of Christianity is not my outward works (so far, so good) – but then I’m commonly told that it’s about the quality of my inner devotional life towards God.  Do you see what’s happened?  We’ve come to a different swamp, but we’re still sunk.  We’re still lost in ‘works righteousness’, it’s just there’s a different flavour to the ‘works’.  Before it was all about outward, ritualistic hoops.  Now I’m being told it’s all about inward, pietistic hoops.

Well Hallelujah!  Don’t you feel the chains just falling off you?  Rejoice, you don’t have to perform physical acts, only mental and spiritual ones! Is that the freedom the gospel brings?

No, it’s just a different kind of slavery.  And in some ways, it’s an even deeper slavery.  That’s why Christians, furtively, secretly, wonder to themselves (and sometimes they wonder it aloud to visiting Christian speakers) What is this Relationship With God I keep being told to manufacture?  And why is it spoken of as liberating when all I feel is condemned by it??

Because, seriously, who on earth can have “a relationship with God”?  Where would you even begin?

Look at the person in that photo at the top. Are you like them? Can you do what they’re doing?

And if you could manage it, what, precisely, would be the point of Jesus?  Do we really need “the One Mediator between God and man, the Man Christ Jesus”?  Is He actually crucial to our Christianity?  Or perhaps He just gets us in the door and then leaves us to get on with the main work of Christianity: having a relationship with God?  Is that it?

No! The priesthood of Jesus is absolutely vital to understand. And this is what I’ve told my questioners when they’ve asked. The good news is this: We, by nature, are sunk in self and sin and have no chance of a relationship with God. But Christ is our Mediator who became Man for us, who lived our life for us, died our death for us and rose again to the Father’s right hand for us. He now lives to intercede for us, carrying us on His heart the way Aaron carried the sons of Israel on his (Exodus 28:29).

Jesus is the true David – the true Man after God’s own heart. Now, by the Spirit, I am swept up into Him – carried on His heart while He enjoys the ultimate heart-to-heart. I am included in the true God-Man relationship – not because of any devotional aptitude or inclination on my part. It is a sheer gift of grace given freely in Jesus.

I have a relationship with God. The good news is that it’s not my own relationship, which would be as fickle as my feelings. No the relationship I have with God is Christ’s relationship with God.

Some don’t like this way of speaking.  They think it diminishes a warm and personal walk with God. The opposite is the case. To know that I have Christ’s relationship with the Father is where my personal walk begins. Secure in Jesus I can enjoy my status as a child of God. I can even join in with the Spirit’s constant prayer: “Abba, Father.” But none of this is a relationship I must manufacture. It’s the grace in which – FACT – I now stand through Jesus Christ our Lord (Romans 5:1-2).

So this is what I said to my questioners. Don’t look within, trying to find a relationship with God. You won’t find it in you. Look to Christ – your Mediator, Advocate, Intercessor and Priest. He is your relationship with God. To the degree that you know you’re on His heart, you’ll feel Him in yours.

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I wasn’t asked about the conquest of Canaan during Thursday’s debate. But if I was, here  are 5 minutes worth of thoughts prepared in advance. (Quite a bit was taken from Paul Copan’s Is God a Moral Monster?)

There’s not a Christian in the world who doesn’t read Scriptures like Deuteronomy 20:16-18 without a lump in their throat.  But this jarring sensation does not come in spite of their Christianity, but precisely because of it. Christians don’t need to step outside the bible to learn the infinite and intrinsic value of human life. We don’t need humanist ethicists to tell us how to treat our enemies.  Jesus Himself has taught us:

“Love your enemies, pray for those who persecute you, bless those who curse you, bless and do not curse them, turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, if your adversary sues you for your coat, give him the shirt off your back, don’t pick up the sword, those who live by the sword will die by the sword, my kingdom is not from this world otherwise my followers would fight for me but my kingdom is not from this world, the kingdom of heaven is within, etc, etc.”

Atheists haven’t taught Christians to be sensitive to the spilling of blood, Jesus has.  And, never forget, Jesus has taught both believers and unbelievers of the West exactly the sensibilities that make these ancient stories so difficult to our ears.  We look back at these three and a half thousand year old stories and find it almost impossible to think ourselves into their war-like worlds.  A massive reason for that is the advent of Christianity.

Nonetheless, the Christian is faced with Jesus who tells us both to put down our own swords and to take up His book – the Old Testament.  Jesus emphatically tells us that these Hebrew Scriptures are His Scriptures.  We cannot have Him and not His book.  So how then do we read it?

Well as we go back to the OT, what we see are Canaanite cultures involved in child-burning levels of evil.  For four hundred years they are engaged in repugnant spiritual and moral wickedness. And, having given them four hundred years to repent of it – considerably longer than any other “just war” ever launched! – God visits them with a one off, unrepeatable judgement.

And it has nothing to do with ethnicity.  This is not genocide, there is nothing racial about this.  It’s about spiritual and moral evil which, when the Israelites are guilty of it, they too are conquered by foreign nations.  What we see is a God who gives the Canaanites 400 years to repent.  Every Canaanite who ever sought mercy from the Israelites was granted mercy.  It’s true that, prior to the conquest, there is language of total destruction and “giving over” whole cities to the LORD, actually the language of “driving out” the Canaanites precedes and predominates over language of “wiping out.”  Copan argues that this is militaristic hyperbole that, even within the Bible, is fulfilled in non-literal ways.  i.e. the Canaanites just weren’t wiped out (nor were the Korahites).  The narrative of the wars does not describe non-combatants being killed (Copan argues that Jericho and Ai were fortresses – military installations if you like).  And when Joshua sums up his achievements he considers that he’s done what Moses had commanded – this, in spite of the Canaanites not even being wholly driven out, let alone “wiped out.”

Now there is still a bloody intensity in these stories that confronts our placid, peace-time sensibilities.  And there is a fearfulness to the judgement of God falling here in history.  But if we tell God he should do more about the evil of this world and then He gives us a one-off, unrepeatable pre-figurement of His righteous judgement – we can’t then complain at His intervention!  God can bring judgement.  God does bring judgement.  God will bring judgement.

If you read the OT you realise God is not a Rotarian.  He’s not an old softy.  There is blood and fire and justice to the Living God.  But when you read the NT you get the same.  Jesus is not Sweet.  But neither does He allow us to take justice into our own hands.  Jesus absorbs the fire and the justice on the cross.  He sheds His own blood for His enemies and as He does so He prays “Father forgive them.”  The Kingdom He brings is one of cheek-turning, enemy-forgiving, love. There is blood-shed in Christ’s kingdom – but it’s our own blood shed in place of our enemies.  There can be no Christian genocide.  That is a contradiction in terms.

On the other hand, what is it about atheism that absolutely rules out mass murder? What if it really achieved a greater goal for the species?  What if it would preserve more favoured races in the struggle for survival?  Is it at all possible that a mass murderer could justify their actions as consistent with a thorough-going atheism?   They wouldn’t win humanist of the year, that’s for sure.  Certainly, no atheist I know wants to do such things, nor do they want to provide any justification for it.  But can such evils be perpetrated consistently within atheism?  I contend that the answer is yes.  Therefore the problem of genocide does not lie in millennia old Hebrew wars.  It lies in the here and now.  And the answer is not to jettison Jesus or His book.  Instead we need to return again to the Crucified PeaceMaker.

 

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Where are all the union with Christ songs?  Well Dominic White’s done us all a big favour with “All the Promises of God.”

Sweet as a nut, insanely catchy with a beautiful simplicity to the words:

We are chosen in the Chosen One
Blessed in the Blessed One
We are loved in the Loved One
And adopted in God’s only Son

CHORUS
For all of the promises of God
Find their “yes” in Him. (repeat)

We’re made holy in the Holy One
We’re made righteous in the Righteous One
We are strong in the Mighty One
And anointed in the Anointed One

CHORUS

BRIDGE
The Spirit unites us to Jesus Christ
In whom we have eternal life (repeat)

We have died in the Pierced One
We are raised in the Living One
We’re set free in the Free One
And we’ll reign in the Reigning One

CHORUS

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It’s apparently the death-knell for all theists: Parasites! Grotesque, painful, life-destroying Parasites!

Take this website for instance (from which the photo is taken). It proudly declares its content to signal “The Death of a Loving God.”

I was part of a debate on Thursday discussing “Is God worthy of worship?”  One of our opponents, crowd-sourcing his material from eager Twitter followers, spent his talk listing some of nature’s ugliest monstrosities.  Horrific diseases and deformities were rattled off in quick succession.  At points he played it for laughs, and he got them.

Which ought to make us think.  If this is really being raised as the “problem of evil” why are comfortable westerners, sipping red wine in an Oxford College, sniggering about such horrors?  Is this stuff really evil?  In which case let’s treat it seriously as a challenge to belief in a good God, recognizing that all of us face such wickedness.  Or is it not really evil?  Is it just a freak-show, an object of macabre fascination, or – God forbid – an exercise in apologetic points-scoring?  If it isn’t actually evil, perhaps the lesson we should learn is ‘Abandon all hope and adjust your expectations accordingly.’  Well, ok.  But a) drop the secret (or not so secret) glee regarding creation’s monstrosities, b) realise you’ve solved the problem of evil but only by losing the right to call it “evil” and c) brace yourself for a much harder intellectual problem: the problem of good (of which, more shortly).

In all this, the greatest mis-step in the parasites conversation is to ignore (often times wilfully) the doctrine of the fall.  To imagine for a moment that we can simply read God from creation is to engage in the kind of paganism roundly condemned in Scripture.  As Francis Spufford says in Unapologetic: 

To anyone inclined to think that nature is God, nature replies: Have a cup of pus, Mystic Boy.

The world is fallen.  It is corrupted, cursed, ‘knocked off its axis’, disconnected from its true Life-source.  To speak of parasites in the world does not put the merest dint in the Christian world-view.  It only supports it.

Think about parasites.  We’re dealing with creatures that are, well, parasitic!  In fact 5 minutes’ meditation on parasites will pretty much give you the Christian doctrine of creation and fall.

These things cause monstrous perversions, hellish corruptions, wicked deviations from what should be.  The disease and death they bring is not Right, it’s wrong.  This is not Light, it’s Darkness.  There is an original and ultimate life-giving source.  And there is a secondary distortion which takes life.

This is the Christian doctrine of creation and fall: an original good perverted into corruption and death.  Good is ultimate, Evil comes later to steal, kill and destroy. The Light is ultimate, the Darkness is a privation of the Light. First there is a straight line from which all crooked lines are corruptions.

But here’s the thing: to judge a line “crooked”, what exactly is “straight”?  And if you want to avoid the conclusion that there is an Original Straightness to things, you might say “Ok, these lines aren’t definitively crooked, it’s just that everything’s messy.” Well ok, fine, but at that point you’re not wrestling with the problem of evil any more.  You’re just saying “Things are messy.  Stuff happens.”

And then you have to face a much greater intellectual hurdle: the problem of good.  You see evil – as a secondary corruption of good – is not intellectually difficult to understand.  (It’s horrifically unpleasant and evokes understandably emotive reactions – but intellectually it’s origins are understandable).  On the other hand, Good – if it’s not original and ultimate – becomes extremely difficult to explain.  This is because Good and Evil are not symmetrically opposite to each other. They are like light and darkness – light can illuminate darkness, darkness cannot darken light.  Darkness is the absence or obscuring of Light in a way that is not true the other way around.

I’m speaking of light and darkness figuratively here, but they are powerful illustrations:  When the Christian is asked “Where does the darkness come from?”  They answer: “From a turning away from the light.”  When the atheist is asked “Where does the light come from?” the answer “From the darkness” seems absurdly improbable.  If light does exist then it needs to be there from the beginning.  But this is the Christian account of reality.

The atheists are right: parasites are powerful illustrations of the problem of evil.  But they’re also a perfect analogy for how evil works.  It works derivatively off of good.  But once you’ve said that, you’ve essentially told the Christian story of the world.  There’s something Good and Life-giving and something came along to spoil it.

From Creation and Fall, the Christian can explain both good and evil.  But if our “creation story” is effectively: “slime + struggle + selfishness” with no injection of an original Good, it’s quite a stretch to end up with “selves, sentience and symphonies.”

Parasites are horrible.  As they work their way through the eye-ball of an 8 year old boy we are appalled.  This is not simply painful, not simply ugly, not simply maladapted to life – it is wrong. 

But let’s also remember, parasites are parasites!  There can’t be parasites “all the way down“.  No, there is an ultimate and original Good by which to judge these things evil.  And the Christian can hate this evil with a holy and almighty antipathy for we are seeing the work of God’s enemy – an enemy Christ opposes with every drop of His own blood.  We do not shrug our shoulders or snigger or adapt ourselves to the inevitable.  We call evil evil and we fight it.

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Tweets continued…

“There’s no evidence…” says the atheist when they mean “I consider there 2b insufficient evidence of the kind I’m prepared to consider…” >>

<<There’s a great difference between those statements and you’d want the vocal champions of “evidence” to be able to grasp it.

“God’s love does not find but creates what’s pleasing 2 it.. Rather than seeking its own good God’s love flows forth & bestows good.” Luther

God does not treat you as your sins deserve (Ps 103:10). He treats you as Christ’s righteousness deserves. (2 Cor 5:21) #EnjoyYourDay

God *has* given u His all – His very Heart – on the cross. He gave it while u were His enemy. What will He now withold from u? #EnjoyYourDay

Jesus is not nice. He’s ferociously good, fiercely protective, jealously loving. His love is bloody. That’s why u can trust it #EnjoyYourDay

The Father knew & enjoyed His identity as Father b4 & apart from work (creation). We too shd know & enjoy our identity b4 & apart from work

“Who He is, we become. Where He is, we dwell. What He has, we inherit. What He’s done, we possess.” #UnionWithChrist http://bit.ly/R45ypE

He came to a poor teenager, a northern backwater, a ravaged people. He came to diseased, dying, damned sinners. He’s for you.#EnjoyYourDay

You want 2b free? The greatest threat 2 yr freedom is not the state, the market or the church. It’s you. You need 2b liberated from yourself

What was the Trinity doing in eternity past? Hide and Seek: Prov 25:2; 1 Cor 2:10-11

I don’t belong to a theological camp. All Christ-honouring theologians belong to me. 1 Cor 3:21-23

All things are yours – all theology, the whole world, the future – and you are Christ’s and Christ is God’s. 1 Cor 3:21-23 #EnjoyYourDay

How to see a crowd: Harassed and helpless. How to see Jesus: full of gut-wrenching compassion. Matt 9:36 #ThereforeGo

When the aspiring ape ceases to think of himself as a fallen angel, perhaps he will inevitably resign himself to being an ape and then… become contented with his lot & ultimately even rejoice that the universe demands little more from him than an ape’s contentment (DBHart)

The God-man religion is replaced by that of the man-god, wresting divinity from the material of his humanity thru exertions of his will. DBH

Funny how evangelicals feel more able 2 cite Austin &Searle on speech-act theory than Barth (who coins the term in I/1)#HeWhoMustNotBeNamed

Feeling thirsty? Hungry? Spiritually empty? The sure mercies of Christ are yours: Isaiah 55 #EnjoyYourDay

The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet (Rom 16:20). #EnjoyYourDay

Like cold water to a weary soul is Good News from a distant land (Prov 25:25) That’s why sharing cold water is so rewarding (Matt 10:42)

Your handsome, righteous Warrior King is God from God. He’s soaked with the Spirit of Joy and He LOVES His bride: Psalm 45#EnjoyYourDay.

Remembering T Eagleton on Dawkins: Imagine someone spkg on biology whose only knowledge is the Book of British Birds.

Does heaven seem closed to you? No, Jesus has torn it open & brought you Home: Luke 3:21; John 1:51; Heb 4:14; 6:19; Rev 4:1.#EnjoyYourDay

Stockholm syndrome is a brilliant description, not of faith in Jesus, but of sin. We’re in love with our captors…

…But there is a “love that will not betray, dismay or enslave you but will set you free.” The love of One who gives Himself to liberate u

We MUST communicate the Fall better. Every pt last night revolved around a) prob of evil, b) denial of sin, c) absurdity of Future judgmt

We pray “through the mouth” of Jesus Christ our Intercessor. (Calvin)

‘Slime + Struggle + Selfishness = Selves + Sentience + Symphonies?’ Atheism doesn’t add up.

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Happy Friday

 

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Click for source

A little confession of mine…

I desire in all things to be effortlessly superior

Of course between effortless and superior there’s a trade-off.

Usually I favour the effortless.

only do what’s easy or what shows me off best.

I serve myself.  Always.  Even when I’m serving you.

I’m entitled – entitled to ease, respect, acclaim, admiration, understanding.

I’m outraged when this sovereign sphere is infringed.

.

I try to appear better than I am

I need to be right

I enter each conversation with a persona and an agenda

I don’t enter the conversation with me and a servant heart

I rob people of a true heart-to-heart by trying to appear cool/knowledgeable/funny/attractive

If I can’t appear cool/knowledgeable/funny/attractive I’ll withdraw

I’ll give you my talents, knowledge, anecdotes, humour.  I won’t give you me.

The ‘me’ and the persona have become difficult to disentangle anyway.

.

I’m not a bit player in your story, you’re a bit player in mine.

In my story I am a noble sufferer, a heroic knight, a whimsical comic and a wise sage.

I force myself into this role.  And I will force you to play along with my fantasy.

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Your mistakes are crude, mine are complicated

Your mistakes have no excuses, mine have many excuses.  Let me list them…

Your mistakes show your true colours, mine are out of character

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If your sins are different to mine, I dismiss you as freakish

If your sins are the same as mine, my inside knowledge makes me dismiss you all the more

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I’m devastated by my sins – but only for how bad they made me look (to others and to myself)

I hate myself – but only because I think I deserve better

I’m self-deprecating – but only because it plays well

I’m shy – but only as a cover for real engagement

I’m quiet – but not listening.  Just self-absorbed.

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By the way… I desperately don’t want you to know all these things.   So I’ve got to keep you close enough to buy the persona but not close enough to see through it.  In other words, I’ve got to manipulate you.  Constantly.

I have a plethora of warm, witty, charming falsehoods to draw you in.

I have an arsenal of cold, sharp, closed quips to keep you back.

This is my complicated splendour.

Enjoy.

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If we get God wrong, then we’ll get our mission and our motivation wrong too.

If God is a needy Individual, mission will look a certain way.

But what if God is Father, eternally and outgoingly loving His Son by the Spirit…?

Seminar Audio

Slides

Notes

 

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Thanks so much Dave Bish for putting on Tranformission on Saturday.  We had a blast.

There is no other message that liberates – only the gospel of the Beloved Son.  May this gospel speed forth and bring life throughout the land…

Main Session 1 – Mike Reeves
Main Session 2 – Mike Reeves
Peter Mead workshop: Adoption and the Bible
Dan Hames workshop: Adoption and church history
Glen Scrivener workshop: Adoption and Evangelism (slides and notes here)

Mike’s main sessions were powerful, pastoral, mind-expanding and heart-warming as ever.

I’m very much looking forward to listening to the other workshops. Apparently I get a Gold Star for the audio quality of my sessions.  Success!  No doubt in other departments I have only a frowny face and a Must Try Harder.

Enjoy!

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My final entry for Radio 2’s Pause for Thought competition:

Triumph Through Adversity

AUDIO

Three Australians in a pub compare their scar stories. One points to purple flesh on his calf: “Box jellyfish” he complains. The second says “You big girl’s blouse” – shows his left hand missing: “Shark Attack!” he says.  The third simply takes off his shirt revealing a massive scar from his throat straight down to his belly button. The other two say “Jeepers, what happened?” He replies “Post-mortem.”

We love a scar story.  Do you have one?  It’s a tale of triumph through adversity.

Think of the Paralympian on the podium winning gold. And you know that this gold has come through a furnace: a life-time of struggle, a car accident, a war wound, but through the furnace: Gold. We love triumph through adversity.

Recently Derren Brown was asked why his magic shows are so different.  He said “Magic tends to be about people clicking their fingers… and it happens.  Which is a God-like whim… What’s more interesting dramatically – he says – is a Hero-story… somebody who’s struggling with something and then goes through a journey but at some cost to himself.”

Derren Brown’s absolutely right.  We’re just not interested in the God-like figure – all triumph and no adversity.  We all respond to the Hero’s journey – struggle through adversity.

But what if the God story IS the Hero story?

At the end of John’s Gospel, Doubting Thomas is confronted by the Hero of the Bible.  The Risen Jesus shows him His scars – proof of a love that took Him to hell and back.  And Thomas blurts out “My Lord and My God!”  Thomas has seen God, because He has seen His scars.

We’ve all got scar stories. The Bible says even God’s got a scar story.  If that’s true then, in all our struggles, there really IS Triumph through adversity.

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Here’s my second round entry for Radio 2’s Pause for Thought competition

Lost and Found

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This week, universities up and down the country are holding Freshers’ Weeks. I’ve been at a couple this week and I’ve discovered two realities that are powerfully at play in Freshers’ Week.  The first is that EVERYONE is utterly LOST.  Folks are far from home, with a new environment, new people, new rules, new routines, and everyone’s LOST.

That’s one reality.  The other is that everyone’s trying to FIND themselves.  I still remember my mother’s parting words to me on the first day of uni.  I think she’s now embarrassed by them, I’m certainly embarassed by them, she said with tears (and I quote) “Glen, I want you to FLY… Just… fly.”  It’s the Bette Middler school of parenting I believe.  But we know what she meant!  In new environments we want to FIND the person that we want to be. We want to flourish and thrive and maybe even fly, I dunno.  We certainly want to stop feeling lost.

That’s Freshers’ Week – but it’s also life.  So often we feel lost and we want to find ourselves.  But let me tell you – If you are LOST, the last thing you need to FIND is YOURSELF.  Because you’re lost.  And finding a lost person is NOT that much help. Lost people who find themSELVES find that they are Lost.  Which is no great find.  When you’re lost, you need to find HOME.  And when you’re HOME then you can just BE yourself.

Jesus was always telling stories about how HE had come to find the lost.  He’s like a searching shepherd finding lost sheep.  He’s like a searching woman, finding a lost heirloom.  He’s like a searching father, finding a lost son.  Read more in Luke’s Gospel, chapter 15.  Jesus comes from HOME – that ultimate Family Home of Father, Son and Holy Spirit – and He’s come to FIND the lost.

If you’re lost, you don’t need to find yourSELF.  You need to find home.  The good news Christians proclaim is that someone from Home has come to find you.

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Happy Friday

Plenty more where these came from at Awkward Family Photos

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Judgement and Jealousy

People often recoil from these two J words.  Judgement and jealousy can sound like horrible aspects of the Lord’s character.  But actually when you put the two together, you see a very different picture.

Judgement and jealousy are regularly twinned in the bible:

Ex 20:5; 34:14; Deut 4:24; 5:9; 6:15; 29:20; 32:16,21; Josh 24:19; 1 Kings 14:22; Ps 78:58; 79:5; Is 9:7; 26:11; 37:32; 42:13; 59:17; Ezek 5:13; 8:3ff; 16:38,42; 23:25; 35:11; 36:5; 36:6; 38:19; Joel 2:18; Zeph 1:18; 3:8; Zech 1:14; 8:2,3; 1 Cor 10:22; Heb 10:27

In fact Jealousy is at the very heart of the LORD’s character:

Exodus 34:14 Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.

Song of Solomon 8:6 …Love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the LORD.

Jealousy is the very Name and Flame of the LORD!

We baulk at this, having only negative connotations for ‘jealousy’.  But…

a) The word in Hebrew and Greek can as well be translated zeal (in fact in Greek it is zelos!  See the way it’s used in Rom 10:2 or Phil 3:6 for instance).  In Hebrew it is derived from the word for ‘red’.  It’s the idea of hot-blooded commitment.

b) The bible has all sorts of examples of good jealousy on a human level (e.g. 2 Cor 7:7,11; 9:2; 11:2)

c) Jealous love is – first of all – good, appropriate, hot-blooded, protective, possessive zealous ardour.  Only secondarily does it imply opposition to rivals.  And the existence of negative jealousy (e.g. Gal 5:20) is in fact a perversion of true jealous love.  It is a zeal but not according to knowledge.

d) This is a good example of how all love must include a righteous jealousy or it’s not true love.  Dr Braintree is not demonstrating true love to his wife because he’s not expressing real jealousy about Roger’s adultery…

So the God who is love is a Jealous God.  That is His original and all-pervading nature.

Secondarily this implies a certain stance towards rivals – towards those who would threaten, steal, oppose or belittle His love.  But this is absolutely secondary.  Originally and to His very depths, God is love and the flame of His passion is the sunshine of His love.

However if and when rivals appear, that same flame will burn but with markedly different consequences:

Zephaniah 1:18 In the fire of His jealousy the whole world will be consumed, for He will make a sudden end of all who live in the earth.

Zephaniah 3:8 In the fire of my jealousy all the earth shall be consumed.

The whole world is headed for the flames.  God will be all in all when He consumes the world.  For those hidden by the LORD (Zephaniah means ‘The LORD Hides’) they will experience the sunshine of His love – as Zephaniah 3 goes on to describe.  For those who stand apart from their Refuge it will be a judging, ravaging fire.

Same flames – very different experience.

“How can a God of love judge?” cries the outraged sceptic.

Well there should be outrage in that question.  But it shouldn’t be outrage towards God.  The great tragedy is that there are rivals to the love of God.

As I live, declares the Lord GOD, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn back, turn back from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?  (Ezekiel 33:11)

Judgement is not necessary as though the flames burn brighter when the wicked are fuel.  That would be like saying that jealous marital love requires adultery.  No.  Judgement is the strange and alien work of the LORD (Isaiah 28:21).  But, when confronted with rivals, it’s the work of the LORD who burns with love.

It should be very obvious from this that love and judgement are not incompatible.

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I’ve begun to explore how the three truths of 321 interact with the four planks of other gospel presentations (creation, fall, cross, repentance).  Those gospel events are vital.  But the three truths of Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential if we’re to understand the four events rightly.

Today we’ll think about 321 and creation….

“God made you, therefore…”

How do you want to finish that sentence?

There are many implications of God’s creative work.  But so quickly we want to speak about what it means for us.  And even when we consider what it means for God we cite implications like: God owns everything, He has certain rights, He’s the legitimate ruler of the universe and of you.  Essentially we think Creator means Creditor or Creator means King – in fact it can be hard for us to think in any terms beyond this.  “God made you, therefore you owe him” is a pretty common way of unpacking the implications of creation.  And when it comes as the first point in an evangelistic presentation, it introduces God to us in profoundly unhelpful terms.

When Athanasius was battling Arius, he identified a grievous error in the heretic’s method: Arius named God from his works and called him “Uncreated”.  He should have begun by naming God from his Son and calling him “Father.”  (Contra Arianos 1.34)  If the first thing we know about God is that he is Maker, we’ll start our gospel on the wrong foot.

For one thing, God defined as Creator becomes quite a needy deity.  He’s like the workaholic who doesn’t know who he is unless he’s at the office.  God defined as Creator needs to work.  He requires a world in order to fulfil himself.  And then creation is not so much a gift of his love as a project for his own self-interested purposes.  Instantly the God-world dynamic revolves around God’s needs and we are the ones to fulfil him.

Nicene faith, on the other hand, begins “We believe in one God, the Father Almighty, Creator of heaven and earth.”  Father comes first.  Which means, before anything else, God is a Life-giver.  Because of the truth of 3, He has lived in love long before He has lived in labours.  He does not achieve His divine identity by creating, instead creation expresses His eternal fruitfulness.  He has no need of galaxies, mountain ranges, rainforests and us.  We do not fulfil Him, He fulfils us.  We do not give to Him, He gives to us.

Therefore when the Christian says “God made you, therefore…” – how should we finish that sentence?  There are a hundred things we could say, but perhaps one of the first is, “God is Giver.”  “God is generous.”  “God is immeasurably expansive in His love.”   Whatever we say we need to avoid simply equating Creator with Creditor.  The whole direction of the gospel presentation will depend on this set-up.  Are we introducing God primarily as one who takes (because He’s earned the right by making us) or as one who gives (because He’s shown His life-giving character through creation)?

I hope you’ll see that 3 is a vital truth to surround the teaching of creation.

But 2 and 1 are important too.  Because what connection is there between God, the world and you?  Why does creation matter if, essentially, the gospel is God’s plan to save souls?  What relationship is there between the fall of humanity and the physical world?  What’s the link between Christ’s resurrection and the regeneration of all things?  And what does God actually want with the world?

If the gospel’s not about creation giving to God, then how does God’s giving nature express itself in creation.  Well He gives us our lives so He can give us His life.  He gives in order to give.  He creates a world through His Son and by His Spirit, so that He can enter that world through His Son and by His Spirit.  Again the direction of travel is vital.  God doesn’t create a world below so that we can learn to make our way back up.  He pours out His love in creation so He can pour out Himself in incarnation.  Creation is intended to receive its Lord so that He commits His future to us as a Bridegroom commits himself to a bride.

Creation is not simply a truth to be affirmed and then forgotten while we deal with the spiritual problems of sin and redemption.  Instead creation is the first stage in a unified movement of God, the goal of which is the summing up of all things under the feet of the incarnate Son (Ephesians 1:10)

Therefore the truths of 2 (Adam and Christ) and 1 (union with Christ) are vital – not just for the understanding of redemption.  They earth redemption’s story in creation.  The world, summed up by our Representative Man, is the place where salvation happens.  In this Man, on that cross, in our humanity God has worked.  And in this flesh, on this earth, with these eyes I will see my Redeemer (Job 19:25-27).

…More to follow…

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Recently I entered a Radio 2 competition to present Pause for Thought.  Unfortunately I didn’t win, but what a consolation prize: meeting Vanessa Feltz at the final!

Here’s my round one entry: We Are The Champions…

AUDIO

We Are The Champions

It’s official, the Olympomania Geiger counter has gone nuclear.  As an Australian who’s lived half his life in the UK I’ve undergone a bit of a conversion experience, I’ve been caught up in Team GB hysteria.  For the last fortnight I’ve been, in the words of Dylan Moran, ‘roaring advice at the best athletes in the world.’ And when you catch yourself screaming at the planet’s greatest sportsmen: “NOT LIKE THAT!” you realize you’ve been gripped by something bigger than yourself. There is a deep connection between us and the athletes – they are our champions.

Just this Friday, the Poet Laureate, Carol Ann Duffy, published a poem about the Olympics with the line: “We are Mo Farah lifting the 10 000m gold”.  And on one level that’s just ridiculous.  I’m not Mo Farah, I’m part-man, part-sofa. Brushing my teeth is about as aerobic as I like to get.  But there’s something deeper going on.  Our champions belong to us and their victory is our victory though we haven’t expended a calorie of effort.

And here is the very heart of Christian faith.  You see I’m probably like you – I’m an arm-chair critic when it comes to life.  I talk a good game, but my own performance is laughable by comparison.  Step forward our Champion, Jesus.  He comes at Christmas as our representative, wearing the colours of Team Earth.  He lives our life for us, He dies our death for us, faces off against our biggest enemy – the grave – and beats it hands down.  Now His victory is our victory – though we have not expended a calorie of effort.

Put it like this:  If Usain Bolt is my competitor, I have no chance.  If he’s my Champion, I can’t lose.

If you think God just sets you standards, then of course you’re going to fall short. But Christianity says there’s a Champion.  And if He’s your Champion, you can rejoice like an Olympomanic long after the Games have gone.  Because His victory is your victory.

 

 

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321 and the Gospel Events

321 is a gospel outline which I hope can teach the church and reach unbelievers with a richer, more Christ-centred account of the good news.  It’s the story of God, the World and You.

3   God is three Persons united in love

2  The story of the world is the story of two men

1  You are one with Adam.  Be one with Jesus.

Here’s the website which we’re building and here’s the animated outline in 5 minutes…

Now let me acknowledge something up front: The three points of the mnemonic are not the central events of the gospel.  Those events have to be narrated in among the three points.  The central events of the gospel are the coming, dying and rising of Christ.  But the three truths of 321 are the essential presuppositions without which the events of the gospel will be misunderstood.

I fully acknowledge that the gospel events, as narrated in places like 1 Corinthians 15:1-11, are concerned with the doing and dying of Jesus.  But that doing and dying will not make gospel sense without a true doctrine of God, of Christology, of  humanity and their proper interaction.  Therefore my contention is that Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ are essential doctrines which surround and interpret the gospel events.

In the next four posts, I’m just going to examine the four truths highlighted in other presentations (like the Four Spiritual Laws, or Knowing God Personally, or The 4 Points) – they are Creation, Fall, Cross and Repentance.  I hope to show that these are vital elements of a gospel presentation and that they should be interpreted according to Trinity, Adam and Christ and union with Christ.  Failure to appreciate these four events in the categories of Trinity etc, will skew the story in unbiblical and unevangelical ways.

More to follow…

 

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Some more tweets

He cleanses lepers, drives out demons, blasts the lofty, lifts the lowly, shoulders shame, conquers death and rules the world #EnjoyYourDay

Even now my Witness & Advocate is on high, my Intercessor is my friend… He pleads with God as a man pleads 4 his friend. #EnjoyYourDay

By nature God is the Hypothesis. By grace God becomes Empirical Evidence. IOW: The Word became flesh. IOW: Jesus reveals God.

There’s a Battle-Scarred God who’s gone to hell & back 4 u. He meets u in Scripture to bring Peace and Awe (Jn 20:24-31) #EnjoyYourDay

God is not FatherLY. He’s Father. He’s not Like a Father. He. Is. Your. Father. #EnjoyYourDay

Some verses on NT interpretation of OT:  “David was a prophet… Seeing what was ahead he spoke of the resurrection of Christ.” Acts 2…

…Paul’s words “I am saying nothing beyond what Moses and the Prophets said would happen, that Christ would suffer and rise.” Acts 26

…”About the Son, the Psalmist says [Psalm 45]” Hebrews 1

… “They had the gospel preached to them just as we have” Hebrews 4

… “Moses regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt” Hebrews 11

… “The prophets, full of the Spirit, searched eagerly to find the time and circumstances of Christ’s suffering and glory.” 1 Peter 1

…  “The spiritual Rock that accompanied them (and against whom they rebelled) was Christ” 1 Cor 10

Emporer Julian: “It is the Christians’ philanthropy towards strangers, the care they take of the graves of the dead…

…& the affected sanctity with which they conduct their lives that have done most to spread their atheism.” See? Atheists do a lot of good!

Jesus is not the Kappa and the Omega, the Middle and the End. He is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

A new phrase for you: “Pop goes the Jesus” – That moment when the preacher of an OT text springs Christ on an unsuspecting congregation.

Taste the coming kingdom: A land of wheat, barley, vines, figtrees, pomegranates, oliveoil& honey. U will lack nothing. Deut 8 #EnjoyYourDay

Why is emmascrivener.net  so extraordinary? Many blogs try to speak Truth (I give it a go). Emma is Very rare. She speaks Honesty.

‘Sola fide’ is the true crucifixion of the self. Rod Rosenbladt

Whatever your weakness today, it’s God’s opportunity to work powerfully. 2 Cor 12:9 #EnjoyYourDay

It’s NOT that NOW Jesus is the BEST revelation, it’s that ALWAYS Jesus has been the ONLY revelation. #solusChristus #John1 #Colossians1

‘Being Trinitarian’ is not really the goal. ‘Confessing Christ faithfully’ is the goal. But you Must be Trinitarian to do that.

“Put your faith in Jesus” says the preacher. A lot. What anthropology is being assumed here? And what understanding of ‘faith’?

The 2 homiletical issues certain to cause a ruckus: length & the vexed Q of ‘notes or no notes’. We Really need a theology of proclamation!

Evidence: You, me and Beethoven’s 9th. Hypothesis: Undirected energy acting on matter over time. Never forget how bonkers #atheism is.

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