Archive for January, 2013

prodigal son3It’s important to rightly relate these truths – ‘I am in Christ’ and ‘Christ is in me’ (see this older post and this one).

If I put “Christ in me” first then I fall for a Catholic doctrine of infusion.  God infuses His grace into me so that I begin to live the righteous life.  Eventually I might be declared righteous.  If a person gives priority to “Christ in me” they may have Personalised the grace which God gives (which is an improvement on the Catholic doctrine) but we’re still travelling along the same route.

The gospel is “I in Christ” – that is, through a gracious marriage union with Christ I immediately have His name.  Therefore righteousness is a status instantly imputed to me as a gift in Jesus. 

The phrase “in Christ” is used 150 times by Paul. I haven’t counted them, but I’m guessing the teaching of “Jesus in me” occurs significantly less frequently!

The rest of my Christian life involves a communion with Jesus in which I gradually exhibit more and more of His nature.  But that is not my hope.  My hope is not me living Christ’s life (even if it’s by His power within me).  My hope is Christ living my life (with me hidden in Him).

The sacraments teach this fundamental truth.  I am baptised into Christ.  This is the beginning and foundation of my Christian life – I in Christ.  But regularly I am fed by Christ and take Him into myself – Christ in me.

To put it in Passover terms, I am saved once and for all by the Lamb’s blood applied externally – I’m hidden in the Lamb.  But I am nourished for the journey out of Egypt by the Lamb’s flesh – the Lamb in me.

And incidentally this is the basis of the Christian sexual ethic too.  The once-for-all one-flesh union first, the regular one-flesh communion afterwards – the two utterly united and the former given absolute priority.

Mix them up and you get into all sorts of trouble, in all areas of life!

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Isaiah Future- William_Strutt_Peace_1896Isaiah is the tale of two cities. Both of them are Jerusalem.

There is the old Jerusalem with its temple – the House of God. It represents the pinnacle of human and religious strength. If anywhere could be safe from the coming judgement, it would be Jerusalem. Yet the LORD repeatedly asserts that Jerusalem is first in line for divine judgement.

A few examples:

In Isaiah 5 there might be a 6-fold “woe” pronounced on the people in general, but it culminates in the temple with the LORD’s own prophet (Isaiah 6:5).

When the LORD commissions Isaiah to preach to Jerusalem, his preaching will completely cut down the tree until only the Holy Seed is left. (Isaiah 6:13)

When Isaiah pronounces oracles against the nations (Isaiah 13-21) they culminate with Jerusalem (Isaiah 22; 29-31).

In Isaiah 51, it is Jerusalem that will drink the cup of the LORD’s wrath first (cf Jeremiah 25).

Yet on the other side of this judgement comes a salvation that is also “to the Jew first.”

Isaiah is cleansed by fire from the altar (Isaiah 6:7)

The holy Seed will come as a shoot from the stump of Jesse to be universal Ruler (Isaiah 11).

After cosmic judgement, our hope will be manifest “On this mountain” (Isaiah 25:6) but “On that day” (Isaiah 25:9).

After drinking the cup, the LORD takes it out of Zion’s hand and comforts them (Isaiah 40:1ff; 51:22)

So we see that judgement and salvation as preached by Isaiah is not like this:


It’s not that good behaviour could ever avert the judgement of God that rests on Jerusalem. Instead it’s like this:


Or, to be more precise, it’s like this:


Judgement begins with the house of God (1 Peter 4:17). Israel is the house(hold) of God. The temple is the house of God. And, in fact, the world is the house of God. But it’s all scheduled for demolition – from the top down.

Yet what about this holy Seed? What about this Offspring of Jesse? Surely He will sum up Israel – isn’t that what a King does? Represent people?

What about this Servant King who is the covenant (Isaiah 42:1-6)? What about this Anointed One who takes up the lost cause of His people? (Isaiah 61).  He will bring salvation to Zion, light to the nations, peace to the ends of the earth (Isaiah 11). First He must suffer in a very temple-kind-of-way (Isaiah 53:1-10) and then be glorified (Isaiah 53:11-12). In this way He will sprinkle clean many nations (Isaiah 52:15). They will stream to the true House of God (Isaiah 2:1-4) and so salvation can reach the ends of the earth (Isaiah 65-66).

salvation-judgement31In this way the preaching of Isaiah is classically law-gospel. There is the righteous judgement of God which cannot be evaded by any of our own righteousness (Isaiah 64:6). And there is one hope for us – the Divine, Davidic Christ of God. He alone bears our punishment and rises to give life. We who receive His word are brought into His eternal covenant and blessed with all His divine blessings (Isaiah 55:3).

Luther did not invent such a paradigm. It pulses through the Scriptures. Because all the bible preaches salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone.

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Luther BibleAs early as 1520, Luther identified a proper distinction of law and gospel as central to his evangelical understanding of the Scriptures:

“the entire Scripture of God is divided into two parts: commandments and promises.”

The commandments are law and to be obeyed. The promises are gospel and to be trusted. Confusing these categories is the fast-track towards losing the gospel.

For Luther and the reformers, the theological use of the law is to convict us of sin and guilt and to drive us to Christ. His blood alone can answer the demands and damnation of the law.

And so, for Luther (and for many even in the reformed tradition), evangelical preaching involves this journey of law and then gospel – the demands that kill and the promise of Christ that brings life.

At which point, non-Lutherans are liable to say, “That’s sweet. And artificial. Are we really meant to force Scripture into this mould?” It can seem a little alien.

Now I’m not a Lutheran, certainly not in the denominational sense. But let me suggest that something like “law-gospel” is not a Procrustean bed for the Scriptures, but the natural contour God’s Word.

As I argue here – it’s not just Genesis 1 that can be divided into forming and then filling. The whole of the bible runs from form to its filled-full reality. The law is a key example of this. The Good Life outlined by Moses is filled full by Jesus (Matthew 5:17).

And the journey from form to filled-full reality is a journey from death to life. First comes darkness, then light. First the seed, then the plant. First the curses of exile, then the blessings of restoration. First Adam, then Christ. First the cross, then the resurrection. First the old covenant, then the new covenant. First the old earth, then the earth renewed.

In all this, the ultimate reality is known and intended in advance, but there is a journey to undergo. And law-gospel is but one expression of that journey – through death to life. Luther was by no means the first to spot this pattern. I want to argue that this is the basic preaching of the prophets. Today we’ll think about Jeremiah. Tomorrow, Isaiah.

In Jeremiah 1, the prophet is called by the Appearing Word of the LORD who puts His words in Jeremiah’s mouth. At this point in history, the Word of the LORD will not appear to Israel en masse (Hebrews 1:1). Christ speaks through His prophets to the people. Only in the last days does the Word of the LORD come in the flesh as His own prophet (Hebrews 1:2).

But here in Jeremiah 1, what is the shape of the proclamation which Christ commissions Jeremiah to fulfil?

Then the Lord reached out his hand and touched my mouth and said to me, “I have put my words in your mouth. 10 See, today I appoint you over nations and kingdoms to uproot and tear down, to destroy and overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:9-10)

Notice the pattern? Uprooting, tearing down, destroying, overthrowing. But then: building and planting.

As Jeremiah speaks to his own people he will proclaim total destruction. Exile will come.  Inescapably.

Essentially, those in Jerusalem respond: “Yeah, sure. We’re with you on the total destruction thing. Total destruction for the nations. But we have the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD!” (Jeremiah 7:4)

But no, says Jeremiah. The temple is the first place to feel the flames. Judgement begins with the house of God (cf 1 Peter 4:17). God’s people are not exempted from judgement. In fact they are judged more harshly. Doom is coming. And it is unavoidable. Your special status, special places, special rituals, special behaviours, special leaders are all worthless. The end is nigh. Your only hope  is God’s Leader, His Shepherd:

“The days are coming,” declares the Lord,
“when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch,
a King who will reign wisely
and do what is just and right in the land.
In his days Judah will be saved
and Israel will live in safety.
This is the name by which he will be called:
The Lord Our Righteousness.  (Jeremiah 23:5-6)

It’s law then gospel. It’s Israel and all its worthless efforts then Christ and all His mighty salvation.

The whole pattern of prophetic preaching is like this. The prophets preach righteousness to the people. But they also make it clear that the people’s righteousness cannot save. Exile is coming and the only hope is God’s Messiah on the other side of judgement.

Law-gospel isn’t a 16th century invention. It’s at least 2000 years older than that.

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Genesis 12Audio    Text    Powerpoint

Here’s a point I didn’t have time for in the sermon…

In Egypt, Abram is far from the altar of the LORD and so he’s far from calling on the Name of the LORD.  It’s the altar of the LORD that makes sense of the Name of the LORD.

Think of where Abram’s altar is.  It’s on a mountain ridge between Bethel and Ai. “Bethel” means “house of God” and “Ai”  means “ruin”. To the west lies the presence of the Lord. To the east lies a ruin.  And this hilltop place of sacrifice stands between them. Where God’s house meets our ruin – there is bloody sacrifice.

At the altar God meets our ruin and provides the blood that saves.  Here sinners can call on the true Name of God.  Through the blood of the sacrifice we find that the LORD truly is “the compassionate and gracious God…” (Exodus 34:6ff). But who can call on the gospel character of Christ when they are far from His altar??

Abram shows what happens when we stray from the cross.  Having sinned, he gives us a picture of a spiritual sulk. In Genesis 13:3, he moves through the “Negev” – the “wilderness” – going from place to place. Moping in the dryness, moping around the fringes of the promised land.

Isn’t this what we all do when we fail?  I do.  I put myself in a self-imposed “time-out” with God.  I try not to bother Him for a while and hope He forgets what I’ve done. But no, time doesn’t atone for our sins. Tears don’t atone for our sins.  The LORD Himself provides our atonement.

So then, let’s flee to the cross, let’s know the blood of the LORD Jesus. Let’s not mope around on the fringes of His promise, let’s not try to clean ourselves up. Let’s come to Christ for the bath. Then we will call on His gospel character – the Name that makes sense at the altar.

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Happy Friday

Jonathan Sekhar recommends…

And on the theme of Late Night Talk Shows…

Do you have some chat show favourites?





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preacherFor more vitrio-verse on “preaching” check out this hymn.

And here is a poem to encapsulate all that’s worst about show-pulpitry…


“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture,” he loudly proclaims
“Our rule and our guide, Our fount and our frame.
We stand on the bible, for better, for worse
But let me give vent to my own bluster first.”

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, so let me digress –
To warn you of others who do not confess
Our creed guaranteed to produce a revival:
We are the ones who honour the bible.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though some shun our scheme
Daring to preach on one verse, or a theme!
I really must warn you about all our rivals,
And then I will ask you to take up your bibles.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, and so I rehearse
Our constant insistence on verse by verse.
Methodical, logical, slowly proceeding,
This is our system, now, what was our reading?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but don’t be naive,
The troubles with preaching you would not believe.
We must invest time in Corinthian Gnostics,
The value of genre and Hebrew acrostics.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, a difficult book,
But do not despair for to me you can look.
The dirty great chasm between then and now
Is bridg’d by my painstaking, expert know-how.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, The clock is against us!
I fear that I shan’t do this passage its justice.
We’ve only got time for a mere  bible dip,
Yet before we explore – a joke and a quip.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, but first let me quote
From Shakespeare and Churchill, a drole anecdote,
My children’s exploits and the signs of the times,
The state of the church, and, my, how time flies!

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, just time for essentials,
But, wait, have I listed my many credentials?
My friends in high places, the people I meet,
The man I converted in the aeroplane seat?

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, although it’s a drag
I’ll lighten the tone with a mother-in-law gag.
And stories I’ve stolen from preachers at will.
Consider it sugar to sweeten the pill.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, though sixty six books –
This story of glory’s more plain than it looks.
Distilling its filling through splendid oration,
You’ll see it boils down to this fine illustration.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, the detail’s not vital,
I’ve spent all my time on a memorable title
And quaint turns of phrase that will please only me,
And predictable points, beginning with ‘P’.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, my time is now through,
My pithy summation will just have to do.
You guessed it the moment my sermon began:
God is the Boss. Submit to His plan.

“Tis Scripture, Tis Scripture, And now let us pray,
‘I thank You my Father You made me this way,
Not like all those others about whom we’ve heard
For I am the preacher who honours Your word.’”


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Conversational Evangelism

EvangelismI know how conversational evangelism is meant to go… They’re meant to ask “Have you got a match?” and you reply “Yeah, Jesus for the devil any day!”  And then… prepare the font because new birth is gonna break out!  Or something.

But really, is there a place for conversational evangelism? Well, in spite of its bad press, yes. Of course there’s a place for conversational evangelism. The gospel is for everything – especially for our speech. “I believe, therefore I spoke” said Paul (2 Corinthians 4:13).

Yet I wonder if our struggle in “conversational evangelism” isn’t the evangelism bit.  I wonder whether our real struggle is actually having conversations.  And maybe it’s our faulty notions of “evangelism” that scupper us.

I mean, if you’re going to have a gospel conversation, a pre-requisite is probably having a normal conversation.  It’s pretty important to be in a conversation because you want to be in a conversation. People can tell if you don’t!

A ‘gospel conversation’ is not an occasion for you to ‘do your thing’ to an unsuspecting victim. The triune God moves out from a fullness and a desire to bless. That’s our motivation.

So listen. Explore their pet topics. Don’t try to be interesting. Be interested.

In this way, be curious about people’s deepest fears and greatest hopes. (And still, this isn’t really evangelistic advice is it? This is true for your conversations after church too.)

Maybe as the conversation develops, genuinely ask if they think such fears/hopes can be answered. How? See where that leads.

And before and beyond any conversational tactics, know for yourself the answers to these questions:

 – What do you love about Jesus? Specifically. What struck you about Him as you were getting to know Him? What is striking you as you’re learning more.

 – What do you love about life? I mean love. What thrills you and engages your heart? And think about how that reflects the Life-Giver and His love for life.

 – What do you hate about life? Not grumbles, genuine despairs because you and/or the world are not what they should be. Where do you lose hope for yourself and the world and think “I/we just can’t do it!”? Here you’re thinking about our fallen condition, from which only Jesus can save us.

 – What do you love about your church? Specifically. How have they blessed you, in the past, more recently?

And if you’re talking about anything that remotely matters, and if you’re engaged in the other person for their sake, then there’s a fair chance you might be able to say something like “Yeah, that’s what I love about Jesus/church…”  And presto… you’re speaking gospel truth. In a conversation no less!

But of course, if you can’t finish the sentence “That’s what I love about Jesus/church, etc….” then your real problem is not evangelism.  Your problems run deeper.

Which is why this advice about “conversational evangelism” isn’t really about evangelism at all. It’s just about conversation. The reason we don’t talk to non-Christians about the stuff that matters is because we rarely talk to other Christians about the stuff that matters.

We’ll find, though, that if we do put words to our love for Jesus with Christians then, A) that love will be kindled all the more and B) the words are more likely to flow with non-Christians.

What would you say on the topic of conversational evangelism?

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christ-and-mosesJustin Taylor recently linked to Calvin’s New Testament preface. It contains a heart-warming account of OT typology. Let me quote a few lines…

[Christ] is the victorious and noble king David, bringing by his hand all rebellious power to subjection.

He is the magnificent and triumphant king Solomon, governing his kingdom in peace and prosperity.

He is the strong and powerful Samson, who by his death has overwhelmed all his enemies.

It’s a Keller-style “Jesus is the true and better…” long before Keller. Well of course, it’s a thoroughly biblical – a thoroughly Christian – way of reading the bible.

But let’s not forget that Christ is also David’s Lord (Psalm 110:1); Solomon’s Fount of Wisdom (1 Kings 3:5); and the Angel of the LORD foretelling Samson’s birth (Judges 13).

In other words, Christ is not merely patterned in the OT (through the types). He is not merely promised. He is present. He is there as the consciously-known object of saving faith in all ages. David Murray gets at why this is so important here.

I’m massively encouraged by the church’s renewed interest in preaching Christ from the Old Testament, and especially by the increased willingness to see how Old Testament people, places, events, etc., point forward to Christ. This “types and trajectories” (or redemptive-historical) hermeneutic has many strengths.

However, I’m a bit concerned that an overuse of this tool can give the impression that Christ is merely the end of redemptive history rather than an active participant throughout.

Puritans such as Jonathan Edwards were masters of balance here. In his History of the Work of Redemption, Edwards shows Christ as not only the end of redemptive history, but actively and savingly involved from the first chapter to the last. He did not view Old Testament people, events, etc., as only stepping-stones to Christ; he saw Christ in the stepping-stones themselves. He did not see the need to relate everything to “the big picture”; he found the “big picture” even in the “small pictures.”

I’d also like to encourage preachers and teachers to be clear and consistent on the question: “How were Old Testament believers saved?” The most common options seem to be:

1. They were saved by obeying the law.

2. They were saved by offering sacrifices.

3. They were saved by a general faith in God.

4. They were saved by faith in the Messiah.

Unless we consistently answer #4, we end up portraying heaven as not only populated by lovers of Christ, but also by legalists, ritualists, and mere theists who never knew Christ until they got there. Turning back again in order to go forwards, may I recommend Calvin’s Institutes Book 2 (chapters 9-11) to help remove some of the blur that often surrounds this question.

I agree wholeheartedly with that recommendation. It gives the other side to Calvin’s teaching on the matter. Christ is not simply the true and better Adam, He is Adam’s true and only hope! Jesus is not simply better than Noah. Faith in Him is not simply better than faith in a sub-Christian God. It’s Christ alone or not at all. This is why we can never be content with merely preaching Jesus through OT types. Let’s hear Calvin some more…

[The OT saints] had and knew Christ as Mediator, through whom they were joined to God and were to share in His promises.” (II.10.2).

“Holy men of old knew God only by beholding Him in His Son as in a mirror.  When I say this, I mean that God has never manifested Himself to men in any other way than through the Son, that is, His sole wisdom, light and truth.  From this fountain Adam, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and others drank all that they had of heavenly teaching.  From the same fountain, all the prophets have also drawn every heavenly oracle that they have given forth. (IV.8.5)

Christ is the fountain, not simply the finale!  Therefore it’s vital to maintain both the christological promises and patterns of the OT and the presence of Christ.

But let me conclude with a word to those who bang the “presence” drum (people like me).  We mustn’t forget the patterns and promises. The OT saints did not merely rest in a correct doctrine of God. The fact that they grasped the Divine Sent One as ‘God from God’ did not save them! The fact they knew Christ as a distinct Member of the Godhead is not, in itself, salvific. They trusted in the Christ they knew there and then but also in what He would do when He came to save them. Their faith was not merely in the Person but also the work of Christ.  The object of their hope was not merely the Word of the LORD but His redeeming work as the Seed of the woman.

To use Calvin’s phrase, Christ always comes clothed in His promises. No-one can behold a naked Christ and we mustn’t preach a naked Christ in the OT. Christ is the root and offspring of David (Rev 22:16). If we only preach Christ as the root then we miss His incarnate – i.e. His saving – work.  And no-one can rest their faith on a non-incarnate – i.e. non-saving – Christ!

Let’s hear one last time from Calvin who helpfully upholds both sides for us: the presence and the promises/patterns:

The fathers, when they wished to behold God, always turned their eyes to Christ.  I mean not only that they beheld God in his eternal Word, but also they attended with their whole mind and the whole affection of their heart to the promised manifestation of Christ. (Commentary, John 1:18)

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321 Houseparty Talks

Priesthood of Christ

I had a great time this weekend with Emmanuel Church, Plymouth. It was a time of refocussing our vision through the lens of Jesus. In Him we see God, the world and ourselves rightly.

If you’ve heard me before on any of these passages, move along, nothing new here. But if not, here are the mp3s and Powerpoint …

Beginning with Jesus – Colossians 1:15-23

God’s Threeness – Galatians 3:26-4:7

The World’s Twoness – Romans 5:12-21

Our Oneness – John 15; Ephesians 5; Hebrews 4

Communion – 1 Corinthians 10:14-17; 11:23-26

Powerpoint Slides


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Tweets on Catch-Up


Want me to feel my adoption? Tell me of my Father.

Want me to know ‘my identity in Christ’? Tell me of *Christ*

The world is not a factory with u pulling the levers. Consider the birds. It’s your Father’s house, ur His child. #Matthew6 #EnjoyYourDay

You don’t avoid legalism by avoiding the law. Push through the death of the law into the resurrection grace of the gospel.

Ironically legalism thrives when you don’t bring the full weight of the law to bear. Don’t merely wound with the law. Let it kill.

Most Trinitarian Gospel opening? Mark. Jesus intro’d as Christ, Son of God & within 11 verses: the LORD, the Father’s Son & Spirit’s Anointed

<< If Mark 1 doesn’t strike u as Trinitarian ur thinking of Trinity as a theological speciality not the most basic confession of Christ’s ID

I love the Issues Etc motto: “It’s not about you, it’s about Jesus For You.” If u miss the last 2 words it becomes about u again!

Some of the proudest people are those who boldly renounce all 4 Jesus. The humblest r those overwhelmed He’s given all 4 them

The Angel of the LORD (Christ!) encamps around you to deliver you (Ps 34:7). Nothing gets to u w/o going thru Him first #EnjoyYourDay

My Pentecostal friends may disagree but…

From Eph 1: U have continual blessings (in Christ) or no blessings (outside Him). U don’t have 2nd blessings. Unless u have a 2nd Christ?

Does “Britain’s oldest man” ever die? Surely he only switches.

Do u a deal: I’ll speak purely of God’s one-ness from now on if we can all agree we’re talking about the oneness of Jesus with His Father.

If you are hidden with Christ in God, He would have to undo His own being to reject you. Col 3:3; 2 Tim 2:13 #EnjoyYourDay

What kind of God is broken apart so the wicked can feast on Him? What kind of God is poured out so you can drink? Your God #EnjoyYourDay

#mistranslatedbooks Victor Hugo’s uplifting sequel: Less Miserable

#mistranslatedbooks The Story of a Conurbation by Charles Dickens

#mistranslatedbooks Harper Lee’s tale of a Romanian pop duo cut down in their prime: To Kill A Cheeky Girl

#mistranslatedbooks Celsius 232.7, 69060 Miles Under The Sea, Around the World in 11.43 Weeks.

#mistranslatedbooks Mike Horton’s seminal: ianity

#mistranslatedbooks Giovanni Arpino’s: “Lady Pong” & Kenneth Grahame’s “Fart in the Woods”

As Witness He sees yr suffering, as Advocate He sticks up 4u, as Intercessor He prays always, as Friend He sympathises. Job16 #EnjoyYourDay

#Ps146 The LORD reigns. How does He reign? He liberates, restores, lifts, loves & watches over. No other King like Jesus. #EnjoyYourDay

Mary chose the better portion: to BE served by Jesus through His word. Luke 10:42 #EnjoyYourDay

Ps 30:6. Maybe this morning means more weeping 4u. But one morning every tear will be wiped away. And today is another day closer.

It’s not the Lord’s ‘nasty side’ that judges, it’s His unadulterated goodness.

“Preach the gospel, die and be forgotten.” Some Dead Guy

They didn’t seek 1st the Kingdom, they fled the King. Yet the King pursued the disciples thru death 2 find them & say “Peace” #EnjoyYourDay

Gently Jesus lets Peter ‘begin to sink’. “Immediately” He responds to his cry. #Matthew14 #EnjoyYourDay

We are not saved by our lives but rather saved in our deaths. Robert Farrar Capon

Grace meets us in our sins, not after them. Capon

Jesus came 2 raise the dead not repair the repairable, correct the correctable, improve the improvable. Nothing is all He needs 4 anything. RFC

Biblical expectation of church life is constantly having to bear with each other in our grievances.

The woman by the well calls it a ‘shaft’ (phrear). Jesus speaks of a ‘spring’ (pege). Life from nothingness. A Fountain from the Pit.

Preachers: Don’t be smart, be smitten. (Capon-ish)

Adam => Christ… Law => Gospel. It’s God’s way to say No then Yes. Bear that in mind when you pray.

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Happy Friday

First, the best of the Horse-Meat gags:


And here’s the cream of the Bad Lip Reading crop:

For a more disturbing example, there’s always…

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This might only make sense for those who have read or are reading the book… but I don’t have much time so I’m not going to spell things out too much.

Read this extract from chapter one to get an idea of the book.

The whole ’emotional sense’ thing is a brilliant idea. And it’s wonderfully written.  Here are 6 thoughts:

1) The book connects every time it’s about sin and Jesus. It floats away on Spufford’s soaring prose the rest of the time.

2) Spufford continually speaks of sin as the “human potential to f*#k things up”. That’s very well put. If I was Spufford, I’d object to any priggishness about the term. ‘Transgression’ and ‘iniquity’ don’t describe transgressions and iniquities the way we  experience them today. “F#@k ups” do.  Jesus meets us here or not at all.

3) “Yeshua” – his Jesus chapter – is the stand-out. (Surprise, surprise).

4) Jesus shines. Spufford’s “God”, on the other hand seems simply to be a “Shining” and so, ironically, he doesn’t.

5) Spufford is strong on the uncontainable, unreachable, beautiful-yet-bonkers teaching of Jesus. On the issues of forgiveness, generosity, worry and non-violence, Spufford captures the irrepressible overflow of the kingdom.  These sections are very refreshing to read, but…

6) …Spufford doesn’t follow this same trajectory when he treats Jesus’ teaching on sexuality and hell. He hides it away saying, on the one hand, that Jesus speaks very little about sex and, on the other, that the church doesn’t really believe in hell anymore, so…  Well, so Spufford should have treated Christ’s teaching here, the way he treats it on every other subject: bonkers-but-beautiful,  demanding more from us than could possibly lie within us – and, at the same time, speaking of a Kingdom and King in which these things are and can be.

Spufford points attractively towards a fruitful line of gospel engagement. Let’s pray others follow.

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Beautiful Stranger

Have you ever read Revelation 19 and wondered what it sounds like to hear “the voice of a great multitude, like the roar of many waters and like the sound of mighty peals of thunder, crying out, “Hallelujah!””?

Last night I found out at Mount Pleasant Baptist Church, Swansea.  At their prayer meeting their singing raised the roof. I’ve never heard anything like it. It gave a new meaning to the phrase “prayer warriors.” So encouraging.

Steve Levy hosted, Paul Blackham was answering questions from the church and I was tagging along for the ride. One issue that really seemed to connect with the folks was that of Jesus, the Good Samaritan. So I thought I’d repost this one from 2008…

Jesus is Good Samaritan

Anyone else sick of the whole ‘Christ in the OT’ debate?  Man… some people just go on and on.

I’m announcing a new hobby horse – Christ in the NT.  In fact I think this is where you really see a preacher’s Christ-centredness.  We’ve had the rule drummed into us by now – Thou shalt ‘bridge to Christ’ at the end of an Old Testament sermon.  But does this ‘bridge’ come from convictions regarding Jesus the Word or is it simply a preaching convention that we slavishly follow?

Well you can probably guess at the answer by listening to a preacher’s New Testament sermons.  Now I fail at this all the time but I think the challenge for all of us is this: Is Jesus the Hero of the sermon on the mount or Mark 13 or the gifts passages or James?  And the issue for this mini-series – what about the parables?

Last time I looked at Matthew 13:44-46.  Who the man?  Jesus the Man.  He seeks and finds us and in His joy He purchases us.  All praise to Him.  As Piper likes to say ‘the Giver gets the glory’ and in this parable (contra Piper’s own interpretation of it) Jesus’ glory is on show as He gives up all for His treasured possession – the church.

In this post we’ll look briefly at the Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37

First notice this: the teacher of the law asks ‘Who is my neighbour?’  That’s what prompts the story.  At the end of the story Jesus asks ‘Who was neighbour to the guy left for dead?’ (v36).

This is such an important point to grasp.  The lawyer asks “Who is my neighbour?”  Jesus responds: “Who was a neighbour to the fallen man?” Get it?

Who does Jesus ask us, first of all, to identify with?  Not  the priest, the Levite or the Samaritan. First of all we are asked to see ourselves as the fallen man.

Why do I say ‘fallen’?  Well the man’s fallenness is triply-underlined in v30.  He “goes down from Jerusalem (this earthly counterpart of the heavenly Zion).  From there he heads towards the outskirts of the land (Jericho) which is due east of this mountain sanctuary (echoes of Eden).  This would involve a physical descent of about a thousand metres in the space of just 23 miles.  If that wasn’t bad enough, the man “falls” among robbers.  He’s stripped, plagued (literally that’s the Greek word), abandoned and half-dead.  That’s the man’s precidament and Jesus wants us to see it as our predicament.  So what hope do we have?

The priest?  Nope.  The Levite?  No chance.  The religious and the law are no help. What about a ‘certain Samaritan’ (mirroring the ‘certain man’ of v30)?  He’s not at all like the religious.  In fact the one who ‘comes to where the man is’ happens to be someone who would have equally been shunned by the priest and the Levite!

Yet this Samaritan ‘had compassion’ (v33).  In the New Testament this verb, which could be translated ‘was moved in his bowels with pity’, is used only of Jesus. (Matt. 9:36; 14:14; 15:32; 18:27; 20:34; Mk. 1:41; 6:34; 8:2; 9:22; Lk. 7:13; 10:33; 15:20) In every narrative passage Jesus is the subject of the verb and the three parables in which it’s used are the merciful King of Matthew 18 (v27), here and the father in the Two Sons (Lk 15:20).  More about that in the next post: Who’s the Daddy?

Well this Good Samaritan comes across the man left for dead and, for emphasis, we are twice told about him ‘coming’ to the man (v33 and 34).  The Outsider identifies with the spurned and wretched.

Now remember whose shoes we are in as Jesus tells this story.  We are meant to imagine ourselves as this brutalized man.  Now read v34:

He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own beast, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two silver coins and gave them to the innkeeper. `Look after him,’ he said, `and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

Now I don’t have to tell you what these things mean.  You’ve got blueletterbible – you can do your own biblical theology of oil (hint: The Spirit) and wine (His blood).  You all know that a denarius is a day’s wage (Matthew 20:2) and therefore the Samaritan will be returning on the third day.

And remember you’re meant to be putting yourself in the position of this fallen man, left for dead, unaided by religion, healed by a beautiful stranger and awaiting his return.  Are you there?  Have you felt those depths and appreciated those heights?  Well then, now:

You go and do likewise. (v37)

Don’t first conjure up the character of the Good Samaritan.  First, be the fallen man.  First experience his compassion and healing.  Then go and do likewise.

Or… leave Jesus out of it.  Spin it as a morality tale and end with: “Who was that masked man? No matter – just go and do likewise.”

See how important ‘Jesus in the NT’ is?


And check out this preacher as he nails Jesus: the Good Samaritan

I was like a wounded man

Jesus came all the way down.

On a Friday evening, He died on a Roman cross

Early one Sunday morning He got up

How many of you believe – He got up?

Thank You, for being a Good Samaritan

Thank You, You didn’t have to do it

Thank You, for taking my feet out of the miry clay,

Thank You, for setting them on the rock

Thank you, for saving me,

Thank You, for binding up my wounds

Thank You, for healing my wounds

Thank You, for fighting my battles

Did He pick you up?


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what-me-worryWe spend our lives worrying about what we’ll eat and Jesus takes bread saying “I’m the bread of life, broken to feed worriers like you.”

We spend our lives worrying about what we’ll drink and Jesus takes a cup saying “This is my blood poured out for anxious souls like you.”

We spend our lives worrying about what we’ll wear and on the cross Jesus is stripped, so that we can be clothed in His righteousness.


Sermon text

Audio (I had to re-record the last 3 minutes after the service).


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ascension JesusYou might have heard me (or others!!) bang this drum before. But if not, here’s a 25 minute evangelistic talk entitled “Which God don’t you believe in?”


Colossians 1:15-23

 Three thought prompter questions…

What do you picture when you think of God?
What do you picture when you think of Jesus?
What does God picture when He thinks of you?

When you think of God…?

Problem – v15: He’s invisible. Which means unknowable!

There’s been a divorce- v21.

But there’s an Image: Jesus.

This is the reverse of natural thinking

We think God is obvious, we’re unsure of Jesus.

Bibles says, Jesus is on show, God is unknown.

God is Jesus shaped.


When you picture Jesus…?

V15-20  What kind of God is this!?

Climaxing in the cross.

Jesus is God sized.


When God pictures you…?

Not dimmer switch. On or off.

V21: OFF – going against the grain of reality

V22: ON – holy, without blemish, free from accusation.


Have you been reconciled?

Have you forgotten Jesus?

Every day I imagine an unChristlike God on the throne.

Let’s return to the God of Jesus.

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Happy Friday

Finally a soulful use of autotune

And this makes me yearn for Christ’s return…

… one day ‘a little child will lead them’ (Isaiah 11:6)

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gavelJohn 3:18 is emphatic – humanity is condemned already for its unbelief in Jesus.  The verdict is already handed down, the sentence is already passed, the human race is already lost.  The gavel has fallen, court is adjourned.  There’s no higher Judge, no appeals process, no loopholes, no going back, no ifs, no buts.  Condemned.  Perfectly, completely, irreversibly condemned.

Are you human?  Are you flesh and blood?  Then you are condemned.  Condemned already.

You want a retrial?  Stiff bickies, as they say in Australia.

But let me tell you why it’s good news that we’re condemned already.

It means I’m not crushed under the weight of determining my eternity!  I don’t stand at a crossroads with heaven and hell depending on my wise and moral choices.  Neither am I walking a tightrope – one wrong step and I plunge to my doom.  No, no.  Thank God the pressure’s off.  I’m condemned already.

It means that none of my past sins have condemned me to hell and none of my future sins ever can.  That betrayal, that abortion, that infidelity, those years of rebellion will not take me to hell.  My sins and my works just don’t have that power.  They don’t even come into this equation.  They are only the fruit of a condemned tree, the symptoms of a condemned condition.  Reality is, I’m condemned already.

It means that both the problem and the solution lies in the realm of my being not of my doing.  I’m not expected to summon up the strength for a 5-point plan of salvation.  All that nonsense is irrelevant.  I’m condemned already.

It means I don’t need to worry about judgement day as though that will have the decisive word on my destiny.  Judgement day is not about presenting my good works or my right confession of faith (as though we’ll be in the queue nervously rehearsing our confession “Please let me in because of the blood of Jesus shed for me”).  Nothing hangs in the balance. And no-one hangs in the balance. Judgement day will only confirm what we are and therefore what we have chosen.

It means that hell is God’s pronouncement upon those who remain in unbelief: ‘have it your way.’

And it means that Jesus is my only hope.  There’s nothing in me that’s not sunk in perdition.  Therefore my eyes are taken off myself.  I must look to a Saviour completely outside myself because I’m condemned already.

In evangelism it means that we do not address religious consumers with their capacities for choice.  Instead we address condemned criminals with news of a pardon.  We do not treat unbelievers as mighty decision-makers with eternity in their hands.  They are lost.   And we do not preach judgement simply as something hanging over them but as something in which they are already sunk.

Do you think we give enough emphasis to the already-ness of humanity’s condemnation?


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Here’s a man who proclaims the gospel every sermon.


We still have much to learn from Keller. And as a distillation of the preaching task it would be hard to improve on these four points (from this nifty little 9 page paper)…


Because the gospel is the root of both justification and sanctification.

The typical approach to the gospel is to see it as the ABC’s of Christian doctrine, or merely the minimum truth required to be saved, but to rely on more “advanced” biblical principles for progress in the Christian life. If that were the case, then we truly could not focus on both evangelism and spiritual formation at the same time. However, Martin Luther understood that the gospel is not only the way we receive salvation but is also the way to advance at every stage in the Christian life. This is why the first of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses was “All of life is repentance.”

Jonathan Edwards, in his Religious Affections, argues that belief and behavior are inextricably linked and that any failures in Christians are due to unbelief. The antidote to unbelief is a fresh telling of the gospel. Preaching, therefore, is not either for evangelism or edification, because all of us have the same underlying problem.


My sermons used to follow this approach:

+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of that text
+ Now go and live that way, and God will help you.

I came to realize over time that I was doing exactly what Edwards said would not work. I was relying on fear
and pride to prompt obedience to God. Although I was doing it indirectly and unconsciously, I was employing
preaching to trick the heart instead of reorienting the heart.

I have come to realize that my sermons need to follow a different outline:
+ Here is what the text says
+ Here is how we must live in light of it
+ But we simply cannot do it
+ Ah—but there is One who did!
+ Now, through faith in him, you can begin to live this way.


There are, in the end, only two ways to read the Bible: It is either about me or about Jesus. It is either advice to the listener or news from the Lord. It is either about what I must do or about what God has done.

Jesus is the true temple, the true prophet, the true priest, the true king, the true sacrifice, the Lamb, the Light,
the bread. The Bible is not about you—it is about him.


We must not assume, for example, if our listeners are materialistic that they only need to be exhorted to give more. Though guilt may help with the day’s offering, it will not alter one’s life patterns. If people are materialistic and ungenerous, it means they have not truly understood how Jesus, though rich, became poor for them. They have not truly understood what it means to have all riches and treasures in Jesus Christ. It means their affections are causing them to cling to material riches as a source of security, hope, and beauty. Thus in preaching we must present Christ in the particular way that he replaces the hold of competing affections. This takes not just intellectual argument but the presentation of the beauty of Christ. Jonathan Edwards defined a nominal Christian as one who finds Christ useful, while a true Christian is one who finds Christ beautiful for who he is in himself.

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