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Archive for May, 2013

Thank you to the cool dudes who, last night, showed me what all the hip cats are watching these days. Things like this:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kKrtbUinWOU

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Evangelicals believe in conversion.  It’s absolutely foundational.  The human race is either in or out.  We’re born out.  We need to come in through Christ.

But then, what are we coming in to?  Because if you only think in terms of “in or out” then it might start to sound like the Christian community is the safe-house and the world is going to hell.  And the church says: “Bring em in, batten down the hatches and ride out the storm.”  It’s us against the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the safe-house.

This sounds like the conservative Christian picture.  But it’s missing a key element.  God.

You see God is out-going.  The Father is a Sender – of His Son and Spirit.  We need to be in.  But we need to be in on the One who is ever going out.  Therefore, with Christ, the church says: “Get on out there, reach into the world in order to bless.”  It’s us for the world and the godly traffic is all heading towards the outsider.

We must, by all means, believe in conversion.  But let’s understand what we are converted to.  We want people in, but we want them in on radical out-going-ness.

So it’s not so much in or out, it’s in on out.

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NoCompromiseLast week  someone asked me where I thought it would all end? All these adaptations the church seems to be making to culture. We used to get hung up on keeping Sunday special, but who is bothered anymore? It was only 20 years ago that the Church of England allowed women priests, but who can deny that women bishops will shortly follow? Right now, much ado is being made about gay marriage, but won’t that also seem like an outdated scruple in years to come. Isn’t the trend basically one of distinctives gradually eroded away?  And all those conservative Christians who have fought so hard, won’t they just watch their children accommodate themselves to the very compromises they so feared?

Trouble is… that predictive model is based on the very thing that is shifting most fundamentally. It’s based on the idea of ‘Christian Britain’ and a church that can expect (and demand!) the state to be at least Christian-ish.  But it seems plain to me that this is the one thing that’s really changing. Or rather, this is the reality that’s most obviously being revealed in all the other changes. The culture is not Christian-ish.  It’s not even Christian-ish-ish.  The church doesn’t have the political voice it wants to have. And shouting louder is not helping.  It’s basically communicating peripheral issues as our central message (that’s what’s being heard anyway).

But what if we extrapolate from the real change that’s occurring – the realization that the Christian vision of work/rest, men/women, sex and sexuality really isn’t the world’s?  What then?  Maybe then we’d see church as the place where true rest is enjoyed, true gender relations modeled and true  enjoyment of singleness and marriage nurtured. And we’ll see the world as a place that almost must find the way of Christ baffling and wrong.

If we follow that trajectory then, yes, we’ll have to accept persecution as part of the deal. But I’m pretty sure we all signed up to that at the outset, and, on the upside, it means that we’re not at all destined to ever-increasing compromise. Nor are we doomed to fight all our battles for peripheral issues like sex.  In fact we  might actually find our churches modelling a counter-culture more distinctive than ever.  Meanwhile, those who focus the battle on Westminster may find that they are being just as defined by the culture as ‘the compromisers’ (even if negatively).

I’m no kind of culture-vulture and I couldn’t spot a political trend if it tap-danced on my face. But it seems to me that whatever trajectory we’re on, it does not need to end in a loss of Christian distinctives. Instead in might be the birth of some real distinctives. What’s more it may help us re-assign resources to the true front line – the church – as we re-centre ourselves on our true mission – proclaiming Jesus.

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In Australia I heard a worship song that was new for me:  “There is no-one like you.”

Not the Dave Crowder one.  This one is, almost note-for-note, sung to the tune of “What if God was one of us.”  To the point where the urge to sing “…just a slob like one of us” became almost unbearable.

Do you struggle with other songs like this?  I find it difficult not to break out with “Go West” on the rare occasions we sing “Give thanks“.  Other examples?

But actually “There is no-one like you” and “What if God was one of us” is an interesting juxtaposition.  And quite a biblical one.

Since ancient times no-one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who acts on behalf of those who wait for him. (Isaiah 64:4)

What is it that sets the living God apart from every other deity conceived by the imagination of man?  This God works while we wait.  That’s the difference.

Every other god waits while we work.  But this God works while we wait.  “His own Arm works salvation for Him” (Isaiah 59:16).  The Arm of the LORD (Isaiah 52:10) who is the Servant of the LORD (v13; 53:1) – He achieves our redemption for us.

When we think of the utter uniqueness of God, where do our thoughts take us?  When we conceive of the transcendent glory of God, what do we imagine? And how biblical are those conceptions?

From “There is no one like you” so often we take a left and descend a flight of stairs to “God is just really, really, completely and utterly different.”  Ok, but then we cross a barbed wire fence and enter a haunted wood… “He’s so totally other, we can’t even begin to relate.”  And we continue wandering down such darkened paths with the especially religious among us revelling in the murk.

People take a similar journey when discussing concepts of “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence.”

Ah yes, now we’re talking about the real Godness of God.

Indeed.  But if God really is so different then it won’t be obvious what that Godness consists in will it?  Or don’t you believe in His difference after all?!

You can’t just take some bog-standard definition of deity, pump it full of steroids, and then call that “glory” or “holiness” or “transcendence”.  You’ll have to study how this utterly different God shows Himself to be utterly different.

And – surprise, surprise – even His difference turns out to be different to how we’d imagined it.  His difference is not in some alien detachment but in intimate engagement. His glory is not His self-obsession but self-giving.  His holiness is not His shut-off-ness but His committed devotion.  His transcendence does not keep Him from us, it’s a transcendent love that moves heaven to earth to save.

There is no-one like this God.  The God who comes as one of us.  Just a Slob like one of us.  Just a Stranger on the bus, come to bring us all Home.

That’s what makes Him really different.

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In honour of our 10th Wedding Anniversary, here are some mawwiage classics:

Marriage is glorious…

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…a dream within a dream…

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…but let’s not get too mystical about it…

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…and let’s acknowledge differences between the genders…
(warning: one swear word)

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…and differences in how we approach relationships…

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So men, don’t say any of these things to your wives…

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In all the give and take, you’ll have to make priorities…

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…and find glory in the ordinary.

 

 

 

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Matthew11vs28Last night our home group loved exploring the fascinating contrasts of Matthew 11.

The one who ‘prepares the way’ for Jesus, has a wobble when the ‘way of Jesus’ (suffering) hits.

Jesus is the fulfilment of Isaiah 61, but doesn’t release the captives (i.e. John!)

The Lord of new creation does not fix everything in the old.

John the Baptist is the greatest of men and least in the Kingdom.

Those most prepared for the King are least responsive to His coming.

The Kingdom is too serious and too joyous for the ‘children’ of Christ’s generation.

One kind of ‘child’ is fickle (v16), but Jesus wants us to be ‘little children’ in a different sense (v25)

Joy-filled Jesus (v19) shows He is a Jealous Judge (v20)

The best of the best according to the flesh (Chorazin, Bethsaida, Capernaum) are the worst spiritual Sodomites.

They reject a Jesus who is only bringing life, healing, blessing, restoration!

Judge Jesus turns instantly back to joy in v25.

God delights to hide Himself… on full display to the world. (v25-27)

Jesus is God’s open secret, inviting the world into the most intimate family mystery.

Jesus Himself is unknown to any but the Father, even as He freely reveals the Father.

Jesus claims to hold all divine power and to be ‘lowly in heart.’

He has mighty hands (v27) and a meek heart (v29).

There is a “yoke” that gives “rest”

The Judge of all has come to give the world an easy life.

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Wedding-rings-300x274Here is Andrew Errington’s Same-sex marriage – what is really at issue?

His central point is that there are two visions of marriage going on behind the same-sex marriage debate.  One is set out in the Book of Common Prayer, in which the three purposes of marriage are:

  • the procreation and nurture of children
  • as the only proper place for sexual intimacy; and
  • for the sake of lifelong companionship.

As against this, the modern, romantic view of marriage disregards the first two purposes and is, essentially, two ‘grown-ups’, part-couple-part-sofa, watching boxed sets till they fancy another sofa-mate. (That’s my cynical overstatement, not Errington’s.  But marriage-as-companionship reminds me of Alain de Botton’s comment that love today is about finding someone in particular to save us from people in general).

One implication at the political level is this:

The success of same-sex marriage will not only marginalise the principle that biological parenthood is normal and best. It will mean that the discussion of whether children need their biological mother and father is over for good, because such a claim will be regarded as discriminatory against the necessarily non-biological parent or parents in a same-sex marriage. To be as equally married as anyone else requires that we never again question the various ways children enter these marriages, and whether these means of having children are best for children.

So there are some sobering implications for society at that level.  And if Christians want to exercise their political freedoms in pointing such things out they should be able to do so without being called bigots.  Calling Christians homophobic for having a view on sexuality is like calling Buddhists carnophobes for having a view on meat-eating. Errington’s contribution is a model of clear-thinking Christian engagement at that political level.

On this blog, Paul Blackham has written Legal Recognition of Marriage and the Way of Jesus. Without denying the gravity of the social shift we’re witnessing , Paul’s introduction gives a much needed sense of perspective:

Pagan and non-Christian societies provide legal status and support for the kinds of marriage that express their basic beliefs about humanity, sexuality and marriage.  Pagan societies almost universally see marriage as polygamous [and occasionally polyandrous] with various legal provisions made for concubinage.  Under both communism and fascism, definitions of marriage have been used that were quite alien to the local Christian churches.  Greek and Roman definitions of marriage and sexuality are a well documented point of deep divergence with the local churches of the early centuries.  If Europe returns to its pagan ancestry then, naturally, it will return to those ancient, non-Christian definitions of marriage and sexuality.

Someone asked me, with evident shock, if I could imagine what would happen if the current redefinitions of marriage led to things like polygamy?  It was very sweet really.  Christian churches have often lived under legal systems that recognise polygamy and it has been [and still is] quite a common form of legal marriage around the world. Local churches have lived under legal systems that recognised same-sex partnerships in the ancient world and we are doing so again now.  Yes, it can be a shock to realise that we live in a non-Christian society and we do not have any privileged status or power.  Yet, this has been quite normal for local churches down the ages and it is, in fact, what Jesus told us to expect…

Paul goes on to hold up the local church as the place where the true meaning of marriage needs to be fought for and displayed (read here).

(If the consequences for the Church of England concern you, Jonathan Chaplin offers a solution that works just fine in many other countries – it involves getting out of the registrar business!)

And if all this sounds like a retreat from the public sphere, let me assure you I’m all in favour of preaching the gospel publicly.  Not the fruits of the gospel, mind you.  The gospel.

Here’s an evangelistic talk seeking to make sense of the Christian vision of sex and sexuality (and these are some other posts: here and here).  You’ll notice that integral to these approaches are beliefs about Trinity, creation, fallen-ness and union with Christ.  It seems to me this is the properly Christian footing on which to stand. But these things are not at all obvious to anyone debating at the political level!

So, yes, let’s grieve for a society that has drifted so far from the gospel. Let’s prepare for more of the persecution that is the norm all over the world (not to mention in the Bible). Absolutely, we can be concerned for the freedom of Christian expression – maintaining our right to ‘appeal to Caesar’ as Paul does at points. But let’s not be shocked that new generations, so ignorant of the gospel, find gospel living incomprehensible. Of course they do. And let’s not be under any illusions about how to “fight” this trend.  Let’s look at our own marriages, our own churches.  And let’s get preaching the good news of Jesus.

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lutherEmma’s just written a stonking post on combating the lies which threaten to overwhelm us. She quotes an example from Luther’s Galatians commentary:

“Sir Devil,” we may say, “I am not afraid of you. I have a Friend whose name is Jesus Christ, in whom I believe. He has abolished the Law, condemned sin, vanquished death, and destroyed hell for me. He is bigger than you, Satan. He has licked you, and holds you down. You cannot hurt me.” This is the faith that overcomes the devil’.

Here are some other brilliant moves from the same Kung-Fu Master – let’s learn how to comfort ourselves, and each other, with gospel hope:

You will readily grant that Christ gave Himself for the sins of Peter, Paul, and others who were worthy of such grace. But feeling low, you find it hard to believe that Christ gave Himself for your sins. Our feelings shy at a personal application of the pronoun “our,” and we refuse to have anything to do with God until we have made ourselves worthy by good deeds. (1:4)…

…Learn to believe that Christ was given, not for trifling and imaginary transgressions, but for  mountainous sins; not for one or two, but for all; not for sins that can be discarded, but for sins that are stubbornly ingrained. Practice this knowledge and fortify yourself against despair, particularly in the last hour, when the memory of past sins assails the conscience. Say with confidence: “Christ, the Son of God, was given not for the righteous, but for sinners. If I had no sin I should not need Christ. No, Satan, you cannot delude me into thinking I am holy. (1:4)…

…If he says, “Thou shalt be damned,” you tell him: “No, for I fly to Christ who gave Himself for my sins. In accusing me of being a damnable sinner, you are cutting your own throat, Satan. You are reminding me of God’s fatherly goodness toward me, that He so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. In calling me a sinner, Satan, you really comfort me above measure.” With such heavenly cunning we are to meet the devil’s craft and put from us the memory of sin. (1:4)…

…When you see a person squirming in the clutches of the Law, say to him: “Brother, get things straight. You let the Law talk to your conscience. Make it talk to your flesh. Wake up, and believe in Jesus Christ, the Conqueror of Law and sin. Faith in Christ will lift you high above the Law into the heaven of grace. Though Law and sin remain, they no longer concern you, because you are dead to the Law and dead to sin.” Blessed is the person who knows how to use this truth in times of distress. He can talk. He can say: “Mr. Law, go ahead and accuse me as much as you like. I know I have committed many sins, and I continue to sin daily. But that does not bother me. You have got to shout louder, Mr. Law. I am deaf, you know. Talk as much as you like, I am dead to you. If you want to talk to me about my sins, go and talk to my flesh. Belabor that, but don’t talk to my conscience. My conscience is a lady and a queen, and has nothing to do with the likes of you, because my conscience lives to Christ under another law, a new and better law, the law of grace.” (2:17)…

…True Christian righteousness is the righteousness of Christ who lives in us. We must look away from our own person. Christ and my conscience must become one, so that I can see nothing else but Christ crucified and raised from the dead for me. If I keep on looking at myself, I am gone. If we lose sight of Christ and begin to consider our past, we simply go to pieces. We must turn our eyes to the brazen serpent, Christ crucified, and believe with all our heart that He is our righteousness and our life. For Christ, on whom our eyes are fixed, in whom we live, who lives in us, is Lord over Law, sin, death, and all evil. (2:20)…

…When we look at ourselves we find plenty of sin. But when we look at Christ, we have no sin. Whenever we separate the person of Christ from our own person, we live under the Law and not in Christ; we are condemned by the Law, dead before God. Faith connects you so intimately with Christ, that He and you become as it were one person. As such you may boldly say: “I am now one with Christ. Therefore Christ’s righteousness, victory, and life are mine.” On the other hand, Christ may say: “I am that big sinner. His sins and his death are mine, because he is joined to me, and I to him.” (2:20)…

…Read the words “me” and “for me” [in Galatians 2:20] with great emphasis. Print this “me” with capital letters in your heart, and do not ever doubt that you belong to the number of those who are meant by this “me.” Christ did not only love Peter and Paul. The same love He felt for them He feels for us. If we cannot deny that we are sinners, we cannot deny that Christ died for our sins. (2:20…)

…We comfort the afflicted sinner in this manner: Brother, you can never be perfect in this life, but you can be holy. He will say: “How can I be holy when I feel my sins?” I answer: You feel sin? That is a good sign. To realize that one is ill is a step, and a very necessary step, toward recovery. “But how will I get rid of my sin?” he will ask.  I answer: See the heavenly Physician, Christ, who heals the broken-hearted. Do not consult that Quackdoctor, Reason. Believe in Christ and your sins will be pardoned. His righteousness will become your righteousness, and your sins will become His sins. (3:6)…

…Let us become expert in the art of transferring our sins, our death, and every evil from ourselves to Christ; and Christ’s righteousness and blessing from Christ to ourselves. (3:14)…

…We ought to feel sure that we stand in the grace of God, not in view of our own worthiness, but through the good services of Christ. As certain as we are that Christ pleases God, so sure ought we to be that we also please God, because Christ is in us. And although we daily offend God by our sins, yet as often as we sin, God’s mercy bends over us. Therefore sin cannot get us to doubt the grace of God. Our certainty is of Christ, that mighty Hero who overcame the Law, sin, death, and all evils. So long as He sits at the right hand of God to intercede for us, we have nothing to fear from the anger of God. (4:5)…

…Train your conscience to believe that God approves of you. Fight it out with doubt. Gain assurance through the Word of God. Say: “I am all right with God. I have the Holy Ghost. Christ, in whom I do believe, makes me worthy. I gladly hear, read, sing, and write of Him. I would like nothing better than that Christ’s Gospel be known throughout the world and that many, many be brought to faith in Him.” (4:5)…

…This is sweet comfort for us (5:5) . And we are to make use of it in comforting the afflicted. We are to say to them: “Brother, you would like to feel God’s favor as you feel your sin. But you are asking too much. Your righteousness rests on something much better than feelings. Wait and hope until it will be revealed to you in the Lord’s own time. Don’t go by your feelings, but go by the doctrine of faith, which pledges Christ to you.” (5:5)…

…Defy Satan in times of despair. Say: “O cursed Satan, you choose a nice time to talk to me about doing and working when you know very well that I am in trouble over my sins. I will not listen to you. I will listen to Christ, who says that He came into the world to save sinners.  This is the true Christ and there is none other. I can find plenty of examples for a holy life in Abraham, Isaiah, John the Baptist, Paul, and other saints. But they cannot forgive my sins. They cannot save me. They cannot procure for me everlasting life. Therefore I will not have you for my teacher, O Satan.” (5:8)…

…When I was a monk I thought I was lost forever whenever I felt an evil emotion, carnal lust, wrath, hatred, or envy. I tried to quiet my conscience in many ways, but it did not work, because lust would always come back and give me no rest. I told myself: “You have permitted this and that sin, envy, impatience, and the like. Your joining this holy order has been in vain, and all your good works are good for nothing.” If at that time I had understood this passage, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh,” I could have spared myself many a day of self-torment. I would have said to myself: “Martin, you will never be without sin, for you have flesh. Despair not, but resist the flesh.” (5:17)…

…When the flesh begins to cut up the only remedy is to take the sword of the Spirit, the word of salvation, and fight against the flesh. If you set the Word out of sight, you are helpless against the flesh. I know this to be a fact. I have been assailed by many violent passions, but as soon as I took hold of some Scripture passage, my temptations left me. Without the Word I could not have helped myself against the flesh. (5:18)

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TEP-PodcastCover-1024x1024

On the Evangelist’s Podcast we’re talking about some of the big questions people ask about Christian faith.

Here are the last 3 episodes:

What about other religions?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP006.mp3]

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Isn’t it narrow to say only Jesus saves?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP007.mp3]

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What about suffering?  DOWNLOAD
[audio http://revivalmedia.org/medias/audio/TEP008.mp3]

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Recent Tweets

twitter-iconSore, Snake-bitten, Sullen? The Son of Man was lifted up for you. Look and live. John3:14f #EnjoyYourDay

Irenaeus: Christ is Founder of the universe, Maker of man, All in all: Patriarch among patriarchs; Law in laws; chief Priest among priests..

..Ruler among kings; the Prophet among prophets; the Angel among angels; the Man among men; son in the Father; God in God; King to all ages

Doing some door-knocking later today. Wondering whether these days JWs open with “Don’t worry Madam, we’re not evangelicals.”

#DoorToDoorSongs Knock, Knock Knockin on Heathens’ Door

Yr sins have been forgiven 4 Christ’s sake, u know the Father, u’ve overcome the evil1, ur strong&God’s Word lives in u 1John2 #EnjoyYourDay

Dont know the way forward? “Ask God who gives wisdom generously 2 all without finding fault & it will be given 2u” James1:6 #EnjoyYourDay

Christ is the Source and Substance of righteousness, not just the solution to unrighteousness.

One day you will rest from your labours (Rev 14:13). Till then you’re God’s gift to the world. #EnjoyYourDay

Only Christ-centredness is true God-centredness.

Complete this sentence: ‘Faith’ is spelt R-… Let’s finish it E-C-E-I-V-E

“That was the church I got saved into” he said. Nice preposition! Not just saved “in”, saved “into” #church

“U were washed, u were sanctified, u were justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ & by the Spirit of our God” 1Cor6:11 #EnjoyYourDay

Heard on Radio earlier: “The tragedy of life is that men love women, women love children and children love hamsters.” #gracerunsdownhill

Jesus is not merely your ransom, He’s your righteousness. You’re not merely tolerated by God, you’re treasured. #EnjoyYourDay

The enemy of your soul will soon be destroyed by the breath of Christ’s mouth and the splendour of His coming. 2Thes2 #EnjoyYourDay

A Member of the Human Race is a Member of the Trinity. And you’re a Member of Him! #EnjoyAscensionDay

4AscensionDay: Our Brother in strife assuming our life/ Humanity shouldered & sorrows enfolded/ Man’s evil combined thru furnace refined/…

…Then risen enthroned, bearing all He has owned. Our Friend in high places, our Fountain of graces. #Ascension #AscensionDay

Our last sighting of Jesus: As He ascended He was blessing His people. (Lk24:51). He hasn’t stopped since (Eph1:3). #EnjoyYourDay

I wish I could say “reLIGion” like Blackham, “kINDness” like Reeves and “inCREDible” like Levy.

Feel out of yr depth? Jesus says: “Let all the simple come 2 my house. Come eat & drink: u will live & walk in insight.” Prov9 #EnjoyYourDay

If a person truly discovered the body of Jesus, Christianity would be instantly *proven* (1Tim 3:15)

Evangelists: the Gospel is not for ‘other people’. First of all it’s for you.

“The doctrine of the Trinity doesn’t merely deify Christ, even more it Christianizes our concept of God.” Moltmann (abbreviated)

The Trinity according to 2Cor1:3: The Father, Compassion (made flesh) & Comfort (personified). This is our God #EnjoyYourDay

The great exchange of 2Cor5:21 is earthed in our own gospelling experience: “Death is at work in us, but life is at work in you” 2Cor4:12

‘Prob is not churches full of sinners. Jesus was crucified 4 that. Prob is: churches have decided they’re Not full of sinners’ @RevFisk

The difference between law & gospel is NOT the difference between stick & carrot! Both stick AND carrot are law…

..The gospel is not another motivational framework 4our works. (‘NOW we’re all about love&gratitude’). No the Law was about love&gratitude..

…The gospel lifts us out of stick/carrot motivations – out of our works entirely – and tells us of Christ’s work. #extranos

God’s YES resounds from heaven at Christ. His AMEN booms back on our behalf&the Spirit seals us into the circle of trust 2Cor1 #EnjoyYourDay

There is no side-stepping the curse. There is only a Head-first engagement in Him who is crowned with thorns.

Your Father has the far horizon. You have only today (Matt 6:34) #EnjoyYourDay

Jesus considered even *His* cross to be worth it for the glory to come (Heb12:3). Our little crosses are definitely worth it #EnjoyYourDay

Follow me here

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Happy Friday

All sorts today…

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BenMyers

Ben Myers has begun a nine part sermon series on the Apostles’ Creed.

His first three talk with mp3s are here:

1. “I believe”:
VIDEO    AUDIO

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2. “In God the Father, Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth.”:
VIDEO    AUDIO

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3. “And in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son our Lord”:
VIDEO    AUDIO

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unitarian worshipContinued from here

In his book, “Worship, Community and the Triune God of Grace”, James Torrance sums up much of the teaching we’re considering, especially as he highlights the difference between Unitarian and Trinitarian worship.

Unitarian and Trinitarian Worship

According to Torrance these are the two broad models of worship.  Unitarian worship is not necessarily that offered by Unitarians – most often it simply reflects the functionally monadic doctrine of God latent in our congregations.  Worship on this model sees only two parties – the LORD who is simply the recipient of worship; and the human worshipper (or congregation) who may be divinely enabled and empowered but who, nonetheless, is wholly responsible for performing the worship.

As against this, Trinitarian worship recognizes that God the Father has set forth God the Son to be the True High Priest who, by God the Spirit, offers to the Father that which He demands.  Worship is therefore not the efforts of humanity in approaching God but a participation in Christ’s perfect worship of the Father, graciously offered through the Spirit.

This, in turn, leads to different accounts of intimacy.  On the Unitarian model, intimacy is an ideal to be reached (if only we can raise our moral and mystical games).  We are external to God and must figure out how to approach Him in an acceptable way.  The only priesthood here is our priesthood.  The only offering involved is our offering.  The only intercession is our intercession.  And if we get all these things right, then, perhaps, we will attain to a measure of intimacy.

On the Trinitarian model, adoption into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit is the incomparable intimacy which guarantees true and acceptable worship.  The order is thus reversed. Worship does not bring us near to God.  Rather ‘the blood of Christ’ has brought us near (Ephesians 2:13) that ‘through Him we… have access to the Father by one Spirit.’ (Ephesians 2:18).  Blood-bought intimacy with God is the beginning of true worship – not an added bonus when the mood is right.

The Perfect and Eternal Priesthood of Christ guarantees our acceptable worship before the Father.  Therefore we’re always late to worship. We’re always joining something that is already under way. We begin our worship in the embrace of the divine love – our worship is merely God’s appointed means of experiencing such intimacy.

How then do we worship?

When we think of “intimacy with God”, what do we picture?  Probably we’re thinking of a private experience.  But in the Bible our intimacy with the Father, through the Son and by the Spirit is expressed corporately.  In community we reflect the Triune life to which we have been called.  As a community we are Christ’s Body and Bride.  A merely private intimacy with God is a rejection of the terms on which we have been offered fellowship.  It’s true that worship of God is 24/7 (Romans 12:1ff).  And it’s true that I am continually ‘one with Christ’, whether by myself or with others. But consider the marriage analogy.  I may be ‘one with my wife’ even when we’re separated by oceans.  Yet our experience of intimacy comes with setting aside times and places.  So it is with our experience of intimacy – the Scriptures envisage corporate fellowship with God, as we gather.

The Gathering

Acts 2:42 gives four characteristic marks of the post-Pentecost church: the Apostle’s teaching, the fellowship (koinonia), the breaking of bread and prayer.

Firstly, the Word is set forth. This is essential.  The Spirit brings us Christ through the Word since, as Calvin would say, Christ comes clothed in His promises.  There is no unmediated or self-generated approach to God.  It is of the essence of grace that God approaches us at His initiative and by His appointed means.  In the Bible, Christ is offered to us freely in words of promise.  God has ordained that ‘faith comes by hearing’ (Romans 10:17), thus the Bible must be at the absolute centre.  There ought not to be any meeting without the Word. When Luther wrote ‘Concerning the Order of Public Worship’ he advised: ‘Let everything be done so that the Word may have free course… We can spare everything except the Word.  Again we profit by nothing as much as by the Word.’

‘The fellowship’ is an objective, Spirit-created, communion to which believers are to be ‘devoted’.  This fellowship subsists in the organic union we share as the Body of Christ.  In it we are given various gifts and roles for our mutual edification and mission to the world (cf 1 Cor 12-14).  To be devoted to this involves the exercise of gifts in ministering to one another (cf Romans 12:4-8) and practical, costly service (eg 1 John 3:17-18).

‘The breaking of bread’ we take to be sacramental (hence the).  Along with the preached Word, the dispensing of the sacraments was taken by reformers as the other defining mark of a true Church.  Christ has given us Himself in this supper through ‘visible words’ (Augustine’s phrase).  Via these, we ‘feed on Christ in our hearts by faith, with thanksgiving’ (Cranmer’s phrase).  This sacrament is communal by its very nature – uniting us with Christ and each other.  It ought to be a genuine high point in our gatherings though always attended by the Word, by clear teaching on its purpose, and eaten in peaceable fellowship with all (1 Corinthians 11:17-22).

Corporate prayer is an essential part of worship.  The prayer Jesus taught His disciples was corporate – ‘Our Father’.  The Spirit equips the Bride to call on her Husband ‘Come’ (Revelation 22:17).  Prayer is an activity of the Church and one that expresses our complete dependence on, and devotion to, the Lord.  Our intimacy with God could not be more evident than when the Father sends the Spirit of His Son into our hearts “who calls out ‘Abba, Father’” (Galatians 4:6).  All kinds of prayers should therefore be made in our services – prayers of praise (Revelation 5:9-14), of thanksgiving (Ephesians 5:20), of confession (Nehemiah 9) and of supplication (1 Timothy 2:1ff).

Conclusion

Right worship is possible only on the basis of our intimate union with Christ, under-written by His blood and sealed by His Spirit.  Intimacy should not be held out as the goal of Christian worship but the ground.  Our experience of intimacy with the Triune God comes as we appreciate that which is already ours in Christ.

Grace, therefore, is the very atmosphere of Christian worship since Christ, our great High Priest, has already performed the perfect service to God.  Even worship is a gift that comes from on high – not a work to be generated by us. We receive the benefits of His priestly worship through faith-union with Him, and we experience, understand and deepen that union especially in corporate worship.

The Communion of Father, Son and Spirit is known most fully in the communion of His people.  This happens as the Spirit works through word and sacrament, through a communal lifting of our hearts in prayer and through mutual encouragement, to awaken us to Christ’s presence in and with us.  As we grasp and appreciate Him we know our exalted position, caught up in the intimate life of God Himself.

 

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Dali CrossContinued from here.

Christ’s Work

“But now in Christ, you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ.” (Ephesians 2:13)

As we speak about intimacy with God we must never forget the way into divine fellowship. Ever since humanity rejected the LORD Christ and trusted Satan instead, the way back to fellowship has been blocked by fiery judgement (Genesis 3:24).  This fallen flesh and blood cannot participate in the life of God (1 Cor 15:50).  Only ‘the Man out of the Heavens’ could ever belong in the inner circle of God’s life (1 Cor 15:15:47-49).

Yet, with infinite grace and condescension, this Man came out of the heavens.  He took the very flesh and blood of our humanity and He redeemed it.  Where we had failed, He succeeded, where we had sinned, He obeyed, where we had fled, He stood tall, where we had hated, He loved, where we had erred, He taught, where we were enslaved, He set free, where we were ashamed, He gave dignity, where we grasped at glory, He gave freely, where we clung to life, He poured it out.

On the cross, God’s Man took on Himself all the sin, guilt and shame of this fallen humanity.  He endured the divine fury at sin, passing through that fiery judgement which bars the way into God.  And now, in His glorious resurrection body, Christ, the True Man, sits at the Father’s right hand.  He is beyond death and judgement.  Our Brother is now in the inner circle of the life of God.  We, in ourselves, would be swept away by God’s righteous anger at sin.  Yet Christ is the Way to the Father and in Him, Who “quenched the wrath of hostile heaven”, we have obtained access.

Why do I recount these gospel truths? A) Because they are glorious!  B) Because sometimes people (and I’m sure I’m guilty of this too), manage to speak of  “union with Christ”  as a warm ‘n’ fuzzy truth. Often the Fatherhood of God, adoption into His family, one-ness with Jesus can be articulated without the blood and fire of the Bible’s presentation.  But we desperately need the grit and grime – the sweat and tears – of Christ’s atonement if we’re going to experience true intimacy with God.  A toothless, bloodless message about a heavenly Father-figure doesn’t connect with people who live in the midst of suffering and sin.  It can’t connect, because the only real point of connection is a Bleeding Sacrifice choking to death on a cross.  But He’s who we really need if we want intimacy with God.  Because He actually meets us in the godforsakeness of life as we know it.

If all our talk of intimacy with God is not dripping in the blood of Christ we’re just holding out “a nice idea” to people who are burdened by shame and guilt and who will never connect with our words of “divine participation” – no matter how warm or inviting we sound.  More than this, if our talk of divine intimacy is not utterly cross-shaped then people will play off “taking up our cross” against enjoying life in God. Which would be absurd – yet it happens all the time!  But no, triune glory is cruciform glory. Therefore participating in God means participating in the cross. The way to God is through Christ and Him crucified.

Christ’s Priesthood

Our Great High Priest, Jesus, does not simply bring God’s life down to us. He also offers our life up to God. He is not just God-for-us, He is also Man-for-God.  Thus, from Christ’s representative humanity (for us) there is a presentation to the Father.  This is Christ’s Priestly work – again a work done for us.

By the Spirit, Christ has made the perfect offering to the Father:

‘Christ, through the eternal Spirit… offered Himself unblemished to God.’ (Hebrews 9:14)

Christ’s worship constitutes the fullness of all acceptable worship to God.  Without participation in His perfect obedience, His perfect sacrifice and His perfect Priesthood, there is no worship worthy of the name.  To offer true sacrifice to the Father we must be in Christ.  Only then do we have a share in acceptable worship.  Yet, in Him, we are pure, spotless and holy – as acceptable as Christ Himself (Colossians 1:22).

What place does our worship have?

If Christ is our Great High Priest, where does my worship fit in?

Worship is the gracious invitation which the LORD makes to us to share in His own worshipping life.  Just as Christ is the Righteous One (for us) and yet invites us to share in His holy life, just as Christ is the Great Sufferer (for us) and yet allows us to share in His sufferings, so we, His people are to share in His worship.

Hebrews 8:2 calls Christ our Leitourgos – ‘the leader of our worship’. Calvin, following Psalm 22:22, called Christ ‘the great choirmaster’, tuning our hearts to sing the Father’s praises.  Worship is the participation in Christ’s perfect worship.  As James Torrance says,

“Whatever else our worship is, it is our liturgical amen to the worship of Christ.” 

Every act of worship or devotion that we perform is grounded in and surrounded by Christ’s prior and perfect offering.  Thus we do not worship as those attempting to gain intimacy with God, but as those who have been gifted it. And the ‘direction’ of the activity is the gracious movement of God coming to us in Christ.  Any ‘upward’ movement is that done by Christ and we participate by faith.  Thus, the focus of all worship must be on the LORD Jesus.  In other words:

I am the Way, the Truth and the Life, no-one comes to the Father except by me. (John 14:6)

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union-with-christContinued from here.

Participating in the Divine Nature

The God who is an eternal communion is a God who wills to share.  He does this through creation and maintains His offer in redemption.

The Father, by the Spirit, has created a love-gift through and for the Son – the creation (Col 1:16).  His desire is that the Son be the firstborn among many brothers (Rom 8:29).  The Father wants many brought into the life of God through the Son and by the Spirit (Gal 4:4-7).  This is the goal of all His creating and redeeming purposes.

As Christ says Himself:

 ‘Father, I want those You have given me to be with Me where I am, and to see My glory, the glory You have given Me because You loved Me before the creation of the world… I have made You known to them, and will continue to make You known in order that the love You have for Me will be in them, and that I myself may be in them.’  (John 17:24-26)

The glory of our Triune God expresses itself in His will to share His divine life with us.  The love of the Father for the Son – that which defines both God and the creation – cascades over to His people when they are united, by His Spirit, to the Son.

By our union with Christ (discussed below), we are thus adopted as sons and daughters in the same Family.  In this way, we do not simply share in a favoured status external to the LORD, we share in the Father-Son relationship which is constitutive of the divine life itself.  To know and appropriate the love of God is to participate in that which forms the very being of God.

2 Corinthians 1 tells us that God bellows an exultant YES towards His Son (v19).  The incarnate Son answers with a mighty AMEN on our behalf (v20). By the Spirit we are sealed into Jesus and find ourselves responding to God with Christ’s own AMEN (v21-22).  In the Bible, we do not simply admire the LORD from afar, we participate in His divine nature (2 Peter 1:4).

Union with Christ

The way in to this divine participation is the Son.  As John Owen says in his classic book “Communion with God”:

‘Scripture shows us that we hold communion with the Lord Jesus in grace by a marriage relationship…  This spiritual relationship is accompanied with mutual love, and so in this fellowship with Christ we experience and enjoy all the excellent things which are in Him.’

Christ is the Bridegroom, we (the Church) are His Bride.  In this union we enjoy all His benefits as though they were ours by right.  Not least of these is His status as the Father’s beloved Son.  Therefore Christ can say to His Father, ‘the love You have for Me will be in them.’  In this way we are caught up into God.

The bible speaks of our union with Christ at different levels.  In one sense, we share in Jesus’ benefits as co-beneficiaries:

As Christ is the Son, we can be called sons (Galatians 4:4-7)

While Christ is Heir, we are co-heirs (Romans 8:17)

While Christ is the Living Stone, we are living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5)

In this way we are graciously allowed to come alongside Jesus, to be treated to His blessings on the same level.

Yet, at times, Scripture tells of a higher level of identification.  Often we are said (in the plural) to be exactly what Jesus is in the singular:

While Christ is the Seed, we are the seed (Galatians 3:16 <=>3:29)

While Christ is the Light of the world, we are the light of the world (John 8:12 <=> Matthew 5:14)

While He is the Vine, we are the branches (John 15:5)

Note that, with this last example, it is not that Christ is the root structure and we are the branches.  Rather we form part of the Vine Himself!  The Vine is One, we are others, but in this organic relationship that He creates and sustains, we become part of Him.

This leads naturally to a third category by which the bible speaks of our union.  That is, in the sense of a symbiotic relationship.

Thus, Christ is the Head, we are the Body (Colossians 1:18)

Christ is the Groom, we are the Bride (Isaiah 54:5; Ezekiel 16; Ephesians 5:21-33; Revelation 19:6-9)

When the bible speaks in these kinds of terms, we are on hallowed ground indeed.  Christ unites His Church to Himself that our union might redound to His greater glory.  As He says in John 17:10, He is glorified in us.

This is not to say that we sinners complete Christ in the sense of contributing our worth to the equation.  In ourselves we could only bring shame to Jesus.  Yet Christ redeems and cleanses a Bride and then (Eph 5:26) presents her to Himself.  In this way Christ becomes more truly who He is because of His union with us.  After all, must not the Head have a Body?  Should not the Vine have branches?  Ought not the Bridegroom to have a Bride? If He did not have a Bride, would He not have to give up the glory of being Bridegroom?  Therefore Christ is very committed to His covenant partner – His own Person and glory is bound up in the fate of His Church.

Christ takes His own marriage advice and loves Himself by loving His Bride (Eph 5:28).  Thus when the infinite powers of the Father have been committed to the Son, He employs them solely ‘for the church’. (Eph 1:22).  All divine power in heaven and earth is employed for the good of Christ’s Bride. Thus the Church has its immeasurable status both conferred by divine right but also under-girded by divine commitment even to death.  No wonder Paul can ask ‘Who will separate us from the love of Christ?’  This is more than impossible.

Our union with Christ could not be closer.  The Apostle Paul can speak of our history and identity as entirely bound up in Jesus: ‘When Christ, who is your life, appears, you also will appear with Him in glory.’ (Col 3:1-4) The believer is in fact seated with Christ in the heavenly realms and has not actually appeared yet.  We are hidden with Christ in God.

In this way, we are more united to Christ than we are to ourselves.  Certainly His identity and not our own determines our standing in God’s eyes both now and in eternity.

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Last Supper # 2“Those who receive and bear the Spirit of God are led to the Word, that is to the Son.  But the Son takes them up and presents them to the Father, and the Father bestows incorruptibility.  Therefore one cannot see the Word of God without the Spirit, nor can anyone approach the Father without the Son.  For the Son is the knowledge of the Father, and knowledge of the Son of God is through the Holy Spirit.  But the Son, in accord with the Father’s good pleasure, graciously dispenses the Spirit to those to whom the Father wills it, and as the Father wills it.” (Irenaeus of Lyon)

“Christian worship is therefore our participation through the Spirit in the Son’s communion with the Father.” (James Torrance)

Introduction

Participation in the life of God is cherished by some as the very goal of God’s Gospel and it’s mistrusted by others as a spurious Hellenization of the truth.  In the next few posts I will outline a biblical case for divine participation. I’ll examine the precious doctrine of union with Christ that brings us such participation, and I’ll highlight the work of Christ as Mediator, guaranteeing and grounding the free offer of this relationship.

I want to show that intimacy with God is not an optional extra for the more ‘emotional’ among us.  To ‘know’ the Father and the Son is eternal life (John 17:3).  When we understand “knowing” in the biblical sense we cannot deny that profound intimacy with God is the essence of our Christian lives. It is not a carrot to be held out for the pious, nor a bonus given in response to particularly ‘successful’ worship. Intimacy is guaranteed to the Christian in Christ.  It is therefore the indispensable starting point of the Christian life – not an optimistic goal.

The intimacy of God

Any talk of intimacy with God must begin with the intimacy that is within God.  As a community of Persons united in self-giving love, the Triune God knows worship and intimacy within Himself.  The creation does not give rise to relationship, rather relationship gives rise to the creation. In other words, the Father creates for the Son (Colossians 1:16).  Thus, worship is not the self-willed response of creature to Creator but rather an eternal dynamic within the being of God.

Before the foundation of the world the Father delighted in the Son in the bond of the Spirit. Virtually every verse regarding the pre-creation life of God describes the Father focussing His affections and purposes on the Son: (Prov 8:22-30; John 3:35; 5:20; 17:5, 24; 1 Pet 1:20; Eph 1:4-6; Col 1:15-17; Romans 8:29.)

Likewise the Son, in the power of the Spirit, commits Himself to the service of the Father: John 17:4-5; 5:17; 12:27f; 14:31; 17:24; Hebrews 10:5-7; Revelation 13:8.

The Persons of God commit to one another in a common love and purpose.  To use the technical terminology of Trinitarian theology, these inter-relations are referred to as the perichoresis of the Persons. To get a sense of the meaning of this Greek word, think of a choreographed dance around a perimeter. The Trinity is described as performing a round dance, each of the Members committing to the Others in love, service and empowerment.  The divine life is a dance of giving and receiving in joyful communion.

Now this dance is not simply something the Persons do.  It is not a part-time hobby of the Persons.  We must not think of the Persons in isolation, deciding to come together.  If we could ever conceive of a time when the Father was not committed to the Son or when the Son was not obedient to the Father we have imagined the Father not being the Father and the Son not being the Son.  We have imagined false gods.  The Persons are who they are IN the relationships that they share with one another in this dance of love.

To “see” this dance is to witness the divine being.  As Colin Gunton says, ‘the ousia – general being – of God is constituted without remainder by what the persons are to and from each other in eternal perichoresis.’

Without Trinity there is no intimacy with God. Without this give-and-take to God’s being there would be no room for us to participate. We must say this.  But we must say more than this.

Intimacy Earthed

It is not enough to say that “God is a dance” and then expect the worshipper to “link arms and join in.”  It’s not enough to say “God is an intimate community – we should follow suit.”  We can’t just say “There’s room to God, come on in.”  If we did then intimacy with God would be our doing.  And it could only ever be as solid as our own feeble hearts.

No, there’s better news than that.  God does not leave us to make our own way to the party. If He did, then our intimacy would depend on us. It would be about our ability to spiritualize our humanity up to God.  But God in Christ does something much more profound.  He incarnates His divinity into our humanity.  He earths His own intimacy into our very being and raises it back up to the highest heaven.

At Christmas, He moves down into our life. At the ascension, He sweeps us up into His life: really, substantially, eternally, irrevocably. As we’ll see in the next post – the triune God does not make participation something that’s up to us.  The triune God takes the whole intimacy thing into His own hands.  And that’s the only safe place for it to be.

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Matthew 11 All Age Talk

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Matthew 11 Powerpoint

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