Sunday, December 30, 2007


I'm not sure there's anything as good for realising one's own mortality and smallness than standing by the sea in a strong wind. it's so big, so lethal, so loud. It'll be there whether i like it or not, doing it's blowing, it's coming in and it's going out, it's entertaining and scaring. The sea is there. So often a friend on a warm day, it's just odd, in a humbling way to think that if i got into the sea it could kill me in moments, literally in the middle of December just a few minutes would be enough. It's very weird, but in a very liberating way.

One of the best books i've ever read is Shaeffer's 'The God Who is There'. And thats what the sea reminds me. There is so much there, so much in the world that is not reliant on me, which is a very comforting thought. We have eternity written on our hearts, which is why we, like Mr Anderson somehow intrinsically know that there's something else there. How can we not wonder when we look at the beauty of the sea and the sky, the seemingly eternal rolling in of the waves, how can our hearts not yearn for somthing more than celebrity big brother and more food.

Our minds were made to know Christ, our hearts were made to love Christ, our bodies made to fit the indwelling Holy Spirit. Thats why what we see with our eyes will never satisfy us. because there's more, there's bigger, there's deeper, there's more satisfaction. Thats why nature is so big, so good ,so wide, to make our hearts long for something more than what we can see. Thats why getting out from behind a computer is such a good idea, why going for a walk can expand your hearts, why just standing and staring at the sea can be such a deep experience. Because somewhere in our hearts it gives us a trace of the bigness and glory that we are made for, made to behold and enjoy.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

2007 in review

This is my 185th post of 2007. Not as many as i probably would have liked at the start of the year, but still not a bad effort. It's been a good year, an interestin year, a hard year, and a year where i feel like i've grown a great deal in the Lord, and (much less importantly) enjoyed blogging very much. Here are som highlights:

The first month of the year was dominated by two things: Relay 2 and a brief overview of Operation Auca (1,2,3,4), something that stirs me greatly whenever i think about it. Relay 2 was exellent, probably my favourite Relay Conference, although it's hard to have a favourite because they're all so different.

I blogged more this month than any other (26 times) which is pretty good going given that Surrey Mission week was going on at the time. I think this month i started trying to blog every day, which lasted for about a week. I might try and get back to that soon though. Highlights included reading Ecclesiastes and watching little miss sunshine for the first time, feeling foolish, and discovering Richard Sibbes (thanks Bish!)

March followed February as is it's wont, and i travelled eastwards to Cantabury to help out with the mission week at UKC. It was pretty much the warmest mission i'd ever done, flyering in t-shirts and stopping to eat ice cream really doesn't seem right! I read some Proverbs and heard Matt Benton

April means one thing...Word Alive, and this time Word Alive meant one thing that would define the blogosphere for months to come. others have called it the 'atonement wars' so i'll steal boldly from them. This years word alive was a joy to be at as a relay, and as someone who loves sound doctrine. It was a priveldge to be involved with UCCF when something as momentous as this took place. I thought about the personal saving neccesity of propitiation and reflected upon division and marching bands.

In May my 365 came to end. it was a good year. Thought and wrote about the Holy Spirit. Sitting in Bish's front room listening to Carolina reading hers about and then reading mine out is a memory that will last with me a long time. If you're graduating this summer you need a really really good reason not to do Relay. I made my coffee and Bible blog debut delighting in the atonement and read about Calvin.

I always knew writing about Nooma would be provocative, but i never thought it would become my most commented on post. I remember trying to close down discussion and then leaving it when it got to 20, and then being amazed when a checked a few months later to see there were 31 comments on there, ranging from the supportive to the frankly bonkers. I stand by every word i said... the time in between has only shored up my convictions about the suicidal danger of the emergent movement. In other news, it was Relay 3, which was lovely and our last team days where we learnt about prayer.

July was a slow one. I went to Malta with my family, wrote about statements of faith, then went to Together on a Mission and Bulgaria...and that was about it! Oh hang on, and i met Rachel, which was very good!

I recovered from being in Bulgaria, and as a result, sadly not much happened here. And i mean sadly because blogging helps me think, and i needed to think a lot then... I wondered why we do mission and misunderstood Judges. And i moved back to Reading.

Another slow month as i started work and talked on Skype leaving me little time for meaningful blogging. Again, a pity. I went to TFA which was great, and spoke on Psalm 16 in church.

Reformation day, being delighted that i could own and read the Bible in a language i could understand. I still view the Reformation as hugely important and significant which i guess puts me in the minority. England failed at sport, but it was ok. To be fair, it's hard to view the rugby world cup as a failure anyway. I thought about white men and sunday school.

Another lean month. Although in my defence i was in North Carolina for the middle part of it. What a great place that is, i'm back there two weeks today. Anyway... I preached on John and Colossians, thought about manners and my iPod.

As the year ended i thought about sin and Obadiah and Mark Driscoll joined Facebook.

So that was 2007. I'm off to Cornwall for new years tomorrow so thats probably that until next week. Happy new year...

Monday, December 24, 2007

The Virgin Birth

Two or three times in the last couple of days i've heard or read the virgin birth mentioned or written about in the same breath as the three wise men, or the bleak mid winter...that is to say something about the nativity that isn't important, and probably isn't true. Now, lets face it, it doesn't really matter how many wise man there were, whether they were wise or men, but it matters very very much whether Jesus was born of a virgin. Lose the virgin birth, lose Jesus. And we like Jesus, i'm glad i'm on His team.

Dave Mathis writes this:

Yes, the virgin birth is well worth contending for. And everything worth contending for is worth rejoicing in. No human person existed prior to conception like the preexistent Jesus. And no human being was virgin born except this man. This is a unique glory of the God-man. What a magnificent Lord, Savior, and Treasure!

Top 07 of 07

I love reading, i find few things relax and make me think more than sitting in my front room reading. The fact that the bulb blew in october and me and my housemate still haven't got round to replacing it does lend an ambient light to the endeavour as well. Here are the top 7 books i read in 2007, they weren't all published this year, and i've probably missed some crackers...

Pierced For Our Transgressions (Jeffrey, Ovey, Sach)
Brilliant. The most important book i've read this year. It sold out at Word Alive just before Easter as the publishers underestimated it's demand. Luckily i got my copy free from UCCF (thank you very much!). This book defends the Biblical doctrine of Penal Substitution clearly and lucidly. It's splits itself into three parts, a Biblical defence, a historical defence, and then a contemporary contextual defence. It's very readable. If you haven't picked up a copy yet, do it now!

The Pleasures of God (Piper)
What a happy God we worship. Not one eternally frustrated by people not worshipping Him, not one constantly in a fair fight with the evil one, not a God who has to work on a plan B just in case. A God who has perfect pleasure in all he does, in His Son, in His people, purposes and plans. I read this towards the end of Relay and it lifted my heart at an otherwise sad time. One to return to again and again.

A Man in Christ (Steer)
A biography of J.Hudson Taylor. What a man this guy was. Sailing to China when there was more or less no effective missionary endeavour there, the first man to press relentlessly into the interior of the country. Hudson suffered the death of his first wife and countless children, separation from all he knew in England, poverty, opposition from the Chinese authorities as well as other Christians, derision from all at one point or another, and a brutal civil war. Yet he continued. He never took an offering for his work at public meetings, he never ceased to pray. Reading this on a summer team in Bulgaria inspired me. Here was a man who did not waste his life.

The Mortification of Sin (Owen)
I'm fairly sure i read this this year or late last year, but whenever it was, it continues to have a profound effect on me today. I've never read a book that has made me want get inside my chest and throw my heart away because of it's sin before. This one did. It still affects my prayer life today, as i pray that i would hate sin not because of what it does to me, but because of what it did to Jesus, and that i would hate the evil of it. This book will make you desperate to be sanctified more and more. It's pointless to deny Owen is hard to read, because he is, but very very worth it.

Glorious Freedom (Sibbes)
Anyone who spends 250 plus pages expositing two verses and still being read three hundred and something years later is clearly worth listening to. Sibbes is such a man. His work on 2 Corinthians 3:17-18 is thorough and Christ exalting. The picture Sibbes paints of the freedom, the glory of God, the excellence of the new covenant over the old is brilliant. He's not the most well known of the puritans, that much maligned group, but on this evidence he certainly should be.

The Mission of God (Wright)
I haven't finished it yet. Doing about a chapter a week from the beginning of October means i've got two more left. It's very good though. Wright seeks to discover, recover and defend a missional hermeneutic of the Bible, so as far as i'm concerned he's preaching to the choir. It's been great to live for so long in the grand sweep of God's plan for Himself in the nations. It's very readable, very comprehensive (chapter topics range from monotheism in the Old Testament to what ecological mission looks like today) and very good.

Captured by Grace (Jeremiah)
Rachel's dad gave me this, by a guy i'd never heard of so i was excited to get off the beaten track for a week or so. This book is a brief biography of Paul and William Wilberforce shared through the lens of the song 'amazing grace'. Now if that sounds like a recipe for disaster it really isn't! Each chapter starts with a verse from the song, shares something from the lives of either or both of these men, and then sets it within a Biblical frame work. God's love oozes off the pages, it was a great read.

Signs of the Spirit (Storms)
I haven't finished this yet, but i hope to by the new year, so it counts. This is, of course, Storms interpretation of Jonathan Edwards' Religious Affections. Part transliteration, part explanation and with lots of long quotes from the original. How the popular church needs Edwards sound Biblical thinking today. His clear, relentless Biblical surge that real affections should be directed to the person of Christ Himself, rather than the benefits of knowing Him, or the revelation of Him, or the experience of knowing Him is both challenging and uplifting. One day, maybe after finishing this, i'll try to read it in the original. Until then i am very thankful that Sam Storms has done this. Thanks Bish!

So, there's actually eight there. But top 08 of 07 isn't quite as catchy. In the last couple of days Machen's Notes on Galatians and Carson's 'The Cross and Christian Ministry' (complete with a new red and white cover) have popped through the door, so i'll look forward to getting into those in 2008, along with Piper's 'The Future of Justification' as well as a couple of others on my shelf that i haven't got round to yet. Coupled with that it seems that 2008 will be a good year for books with J.I Packer, Mark Dever, Don Carson and Mark Driscoll among others all publishing new books. I can't wait!

Sunday, December 23, 2007


Mark Driscoll is on Facebook.

According to the video on his profile he's going to use the page to deal with some 'issues and controversies' as well as answering some of the questions that arise on the page. With the 'ask anything' preaching series coming up in January, i'm sure this will be interesting. It's cool to see Facebook being used in this way, i'm sure mark will do it well.

Also i'm currently reading and enjoying 'Signs of the Spirit' Sam Storms' interpretation if Edwards' 'Religious Affections'. Its making me love Jesus very much, and remember that He is the centre of all real Christian experience and affection. It's probably too late to make it onto my Top 7 of 07 book list...but then again it wouldn't be the only book in there i'm yet to finish...

Friday, December 21, 2007

Why sin is sinful

1) It denies the satisfying power of knowing God

'this is eternal life, that they know you, the only true God, and the one who you sent Jesus Christ.' (John 17:3). Eternal life is not about merely living forever, just as tje joys of Heaven are not about some sort of eternal orgasm. Eternal life means to know Jesus. And this life is satisfying. There is nothing that we need that God withholds from us. If He dresses the flower in beauty how will He also not give us all we need? The answer is that He will. And He knows we need ti. Notice i'm saying need not want, i haven't gone prosperity gospel bonkers. We sin more often that not because we don't believe this. Whether it's in the material arena, in the sexual arena or in the lying to friends arena, when we sin, we deny that knowing God is satisfying. And that makes sin sinful, and horrible and detestable. The Bible is not a rulebook to deny us a good time, but a guide to joy in Christ. A joy that will never fail.

2) It's idolotry.

I find it easy to read of the failings of Israel and Judah in the history books and sneer at them for their stupidity. But how am i any better when i sin? They had the wisdom of Soloman to teach them about God, but something much much better than Soloman is here...Jesus! This is really the inevitable consequence of my first point. What happens when you seek pleasure in something not of God? You turn it into an idol. This is why God is supreme in His own affections, because if anything else was God would be an idol worshipper and would cease to be God. We worship the living God, so lets honour Him by finding all our satisfaction and joy in Him rather than something that makes us feel or look good.

3) It denies the goodness of creation.

Ever wondered why porn shops don't have windows? I guess it's a lot about not being able to see in, but a lot more about not being able to see in. We were made for bigness, for beauty. The Lord has written eternity on our hearts. This is why we sit and wonder at creation, why we lie awake in the middle of the night wonder what's 'out there'. Because we know something is. No one goes to the Grand Canyon to say 'look how great i am'. We are, like the Trinity 'extasis in hypostasis'. Happiest to and when we look outside of ourselves. Sin is a suicidal inward turning of ourselves away from the sun, and the Son. We were created to look outside of ourselves for greatness and satisfaction, not towards us. Sin not only denies the goodness of God, but of creation.

4) It can cost us everything (or most things)

Paul tells Timothy to want to be used for honourable purposes in God's house. I long for that. Now this doesn't mean i'll preach to hundreds every week and that millions will download my podcast, i think it just means long, wholehearted, faithful servie in God's house. Sin will tear us away from these dreams, make us drink at the cracked cistern of the world with it's lies and deceptions. If we want to fight the fight and run the race we must compete, by grace, according to the rules. The life giving self denying, joy giving rules. Sin not only turns our attention away from these things, but may mean we lose our heart for them alltogether.

5) Sin is never satisfied.

I refuse to believe that murderers or sexual aggresors wake up one morning and decide to commit those acts. It must start somewhere and then grow out of control. God told Cain that sin was creeping at the door. Sin whispers to us, we must not listen. Soon we will need more and more stuff to be satisfied, more and more pleasure, more and more deviance...and we won't even know it's happening. Just one more will never be enough, it will only make it worse. Just one glance only feeds our appetite. Sin is a all consuming monster, not an animal that can be filled. It wants all of us all the time.

6) Alas, and did my saviour bleed.

Sin, my sin, your sin, cost Jesus His life. Owen in 'the mortification of sin' (buy it, read it, weep) says that the most effective way of hating sin is to remember primarily what it did to Jesus, not us. Think of the nails in the hands, the thorns in the skull, the sobbing gasps for air. Every pain wracked breath and cry to kill my sin. Think of Jesus, the eternal and beautiful son of God coming to earth and being born in a stable, suffering, sweating, sleeping, losing but ultimately winning for us. Dwell on the love that communicates. And train your mind to fight and hate sin.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Paris in the spring

The audio from my talk at Reading CU is now online here...

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Hello Christian freshers' part 2

So that was your first term at uni... Glad to be home? I recently joked that at this time of year you could tell which student was in which year because of how they looked. Freshers: eager to get home, eat home cooked food, go to pubs they know the names of. Second years: looking forward to seeing family, but their life is more or less at uni now, so less excited overall. Third years: so busy they haven't even noticed it's Christmas yet...well some of them at least.

If you haven't settled into a church yet, i'd say two things: keep trying, but don't worry. Keep trying because you're going to be around in your uni town for the majority of the next two and a half years (probably) and you need support, stability and accountability while you're there. You need somewhere you feel at home to gather with brothers and sisters and worship the Lord together. You need people who are going to miss you if you're not around for a few weeks. So keep trying. Don't necessarily go to the church where all your friends are, but go somewhere that the Bible is taught, and where people look out for you. Truth and community, that's what you're after. Lots of other things, but those two need to be top of any list.

But don't worry. To an extent of course you're unsettled. You might have been at your home church for eighteen years before coming to Uni, so things are going to be weird going somewhere new. But keep trying, and make it a priority in the next term. The same truth and community advice applies. Church is important, and sometimes it can take a long time to find somewhere that you feel at home. This won't happen if you're still going somewhere different every week by March though. So make your choice soon.

If you're involved in your Christian Union, and if you're not you're missing out, keep in touch with your hall group and friends over Christmas. They'll be the people you look for when you go back, so stay accountable to them, don't fall off the radar over Christmas. In the same way don't ignore your friends or church at home and long to be back in halls. Make time for your family and friends and home church because thy are too valuable not to. Be committed to CU and in so doing be equally committed to your unsaved friends. Don't fall into the sacred/secular divide of saying 'i can't see my friends because i'm doing too much CU stuff'. You'll make me crazy.

In the second term you'll probably need to start sorting out somewhere to live for next year, which is pretty scary. Be strategic in your living choices. There might be a group of three or four other Christians that you want to live with but is that really the best choice for the glory of God. It's hard being the only Christian in a big house, but better to be there than not most of the time. So think hard about that. Try to live in single sex houses if you can. It's just better.

Rest well in the Lord over Christmas and come back ready and eager to make disciples of Jesus Christ in 2008!

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Obadiah (2)

So who are God's friends. We see a clue in verse 13 when Judah is referred to as 'my people'. There must have been a great cheer when that line was first spoken... We see the flip side of God's opposition to His enemies, to the proud is eventual hospitality to His friends, to the humble and reliant. So who are God's friends?

His people. God will ultimately defend and has won the victory for His people. There was no way around this for Edom, and there's no way around it for us either. In verses 15-17a we see what God will do for those who love and worship Him. He shall judge their enemies, as Edom has done, so it shall be done to them and their lofty perch will be of no help to them. But there will be somewhere to escape...Mount Zion, Heaven, home. It will be holy. Thats where God will take His people. There God's people will rest. And it will be holy. It will be burningly perfectly holy. There will be no more sin, no more judgement, no more betraying brothers, no more of anything that isn't holy and perfect and pure in the eyes of the Lord. Jacob shall possess their own possessions once more, a once for all jubilee.

But there's more. Here, in verse 18 we get a clue that what is being looked ahead to here isn't just the return from the exile, it's not just a temporal revenge on Edom, or on all the enemies of God's people. Verse 18 talks about Joseph, another brother. And his people are in the already fallen northern kingdom, between them, we're told, they will consume the house of Esau. But this didn't happen did it? The northern kingdom didn't return in the same way the southern kingdom did... so what is Obadiah talking about? Surely the very end of time, when Jesus returns for His people, and to make war on sin and sinners, that's when God's will consume His enemies forever.

And God will bring His people home. We see in verse 20 that the exiles of the host of the people of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as the Zarepheth. Israel is coming home. They will return from the exile for God has spoken. These words would have been overwhelming for their first hearers. They will return, they will be home again. But is there more again? Well possibly, but there's more work to be done here i think. The Kingdom belongs to the LORD. That's how we know that these things will come to pass. That's what we learn of God. That He is the God of all the nations. That He can sovereignty use Edom to judge Judah and then judge Edom for it's treatment of Judah. And we can't work that out. How can God be just and do that? Well, because He's God, and God is just, and what He does is just.

God judged Judah for their repeated and unrepentant sin against Him. For their self reliance and idolatry. To an extent the same things He would judge Edom for. If Edom was taught by their judgement that God is the LORD of all and that He will be obeyed then the judgement showed Judah that the only way to live is by total reliance on God. Why the difference? Because Judah were the people of God. Despite all their sin against Him, despite seventy long, hard years in exile, they were God's people, and the victory is God's.

So was Obadiah right? Well Edom was destroyed about a century later. Judah returned from Exile. God's people were back. But the temple they built made those who could remember the original temple weep. But it all sounded so glorious, did God change His mind and downgrade the homecoming? No, the real home coming of God's people came years later. He was born in a stable, grew up as a manual labourer and was executed as a criminal. His name was Jesus. The ultimate fulfillment in what God called His people to in the Old Testament is found in Jesus. Any explanation of the Old Testament that doesn't find it's meaning, or work itself out, or look through the lens of Jesus, is going to miss the point.

What did the original readers learn? That God hates pride, He hates sin and He'll judge it absolutely. God has enemies and they will lose. God has friends, and their future is glorious. God's friends are those who will bring Him glory be their liberating, joy filling self reliance on Him. This is what Judah needed to learn, this is what we need to remember. See the result of Edom, see the result of Judah...and cast every hope, every dream and every security on Jesus, because the kingdom is the Lords.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Baxter's day

I found this on Pure Church, Thabiti Anyabwile's blog. It's from Richard Baxter's 'Christian Directory'

How to Spend a Day with God
A holy life is inclined to be made easier when we know the usual sequence and method of our duties--with everything falling into its proper place. Therefore, I shall give some brief directions for spending the day in a holy manner:

1. Sleep. Measure the time of your sleep appropriately so that you do not waste your precious morning hours sluggishly in your bed. Let the time of your sleep be matched to your health and labor, and not to slothful posture.

2. First Thoughts. Let God have your first awaking thoughts. Lift up your heart to Him reverently and thankfully for the rest enjoyed the night before, and cast yourself on Him for the day which follows. Think of the mercy of a night's rest and of how many have spent that night in hell; how many in prison; how many in cold, hard lodgings; how many suffering from agonizing pains and sickness, weary of their beds and of their lives. Think of how quickly days and nights are rolling on--how speedily your last night and day will come! Observe that which is lacking in the preparedness of your soul for such a time, and seek it without delay.

3. Prayer. Let prayer by yourself alone (or with your partner) take place before the collective prayer of the family. If possible, let it be first, before any work of the day.

4. Family Worship. Let family worship be performed consistently and at a time when it is most likely for the family to be free of interruptions.

5. Purpose. Remember your ultimate purpose, and when you set yourself to your day's work or approach any activity in the world, let holiness to the Lord be written on your heart in all that you do. Do nothing in the world for any other ultimate purpose than to please, glorify, and enjoy Him. "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).

6. Diligence. Show that you are not sluggish and servant to ease. Keep out idle thoughts from your mind. Do not waste precious time. Diligently carry out occupation.

7. Temptation. Be thoroughly acquainted with your temptations and the things that may corrupt you. Watch against the master sins of unbelief: hypocrisy, selfishness, pride, flesh-pleasing, and the excessive love of earthly things. Take care against being drawn into earthly mindedness, excessive cares, or covetous designs for rising in the world. Maintain that modesty and cleanness of speech that the laws of purity require. Strengthen yourself against impatient, revengeful pride.

8. Meditation. When alone in your occupations, improve the time in practical and beneficial meditations. Meditate on the infinite goodness and perfections of God; Christ and redemption; heaven and how you deserve eternal misery in hell.

9. Time. Place a high value on your time; guard it more zealously than you guard your money. Do not let worthless recreations, idle talk, unprofitable company, or sleep rob you of your precious time. Make sure that you are not merely never idle, but rather that you are using your time in the most profitable way.

10. Eating and Drinking. Eat and drink with moderation and thankfulness for health. Never please your appetite in food or drink when it is prone to be detrimental to your health. The Apostle Paul wept when he mentioned those who "are enemies of the cross of Christ: whose end is destruction, whose god is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame--who set their minds on earthly things" (Phil. 3:18-19).

11. Sin. If any temptation prevails against you and you fall into any sins, repent quickly, whatever the cost. It will certainly cost you more if you continue in sin and remain unrepentant.
Do not make light of your habitual failures, but confess them and daily strive against them.

12. Relationships. Remember every day the special duties of various relationships: whether as spouse, child, employer, employee, pastor, leader, follower.

13. Bedtime. Before returning to sleep, it is wise to review the actions and mercies of the day past, so that you may be thankful for all the special mercies and humbled for all your sins. This is necessary in order that you might renew your repentance as well as your resolve for obedience, and in order that you may examine yourself to see whether your soul grew better or worse, and whether you are better prepared for suffering, death, and eternity.

May these directions be engraved on your mind and be made the daily practice of your life. If sincerely adhered to, these will be conducive to the holiness, fruitfulness, and quietness of your life, and add to you a comfortable and peaceful death.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Puritans and compromise

I like this idea very much:

meet the Puritans in 2008

But this article makes me very sad:

Common Compromise

Obadiah (1)

It's been a great three days spending time with this prophet. The shortest book in the Old Testament is certainly not short on meat. The book seems to split up nicely into three bits, one long and two short, so these thoughts will break up into two over the next couple of days. This one on 'who are God's enemies?' and tomorrows on 'who are God's friends?' and 'who is God?'. A lot of these ideas come from Mark Dever's excellent sermon on the book. Read me.

Does God have enemies? I guess it depends who you ask. The Muslim fundamentalist would probably say America, the extreme Hindu might say Muslims and Christians, the atheist student might say Christians...but what would we say. Surely we think the idea of God having enemies is outdated...God is good, God is love. It's human to hate...but divine? The idea seems ridiculous to our sanitised western religion.

But how would we find out for sure? And what's it like to have an almighty enemy? Having a persistent human enemy is bad enough, but an almighty One? No thank you. What's Obadiah's point of view? Well we see from verse three that the proud are God's enemies. Jerusalem had fallen to Babylon in 587BC and their near neighbours to the south east had done nothing to help. In fact as we'll see later they'd done worse than nothing. Obadiah is clear as to where his message comes from in verse 1, the sovereign almighty God. He is stirring war against Edom from Babylon, Edom will be made small (v2).

Why was Edom such a proud place? It's hinted at in verse three and four. They dwelt 'in the cleft of a rock', literally Edom was a high mountainous place, hard to get into or out of, and it seems they had all their security in that. They had no awareness of God. In fact times were good. Judah's fall had eliminated their local trade rival, and all they were surely secure from the same fate that had befallen Judah, secure as they were in their high rocky kingdom. Edom's pride had deceived them (v3) they were about to learn that security apart from the LORD is no security at all. God will bring them down, He is neither impressed nor put off by their strategic position (v4) Edom on their deceptive pride had not given a single thought to the King of the nations.

Nothing can save Edom from complete ruin. Thieves only take what they want, grape gatherers leave gleanings (v5) but Edom will be torn apart. (v6) Any nation anywhere at any time that put its security in defence, or economics or isolation will not escape judgement. Anyone in any place at any time who puts his trust in something other than the LORD will not escape judgement. We need to be more aware of this than anyone...what is the way of Christ? Surely humility.

But what had Edom done? In answering this question we in some ways push further into the mind of God than we can grasp. God used Babylon to judge Judah for their faithlessness, and then judged Edom using Babylon for essentially not helping Judah...then judged Babylon for what it did to Judah. Until we grasp the power and goodness or our God who is outside time, we will struggle with this.

Verse 10 says it was because of the violence done to 'your brother Jacob' Edom will be judged. Obadiah was an effective user of history and language. Edom was not an impassive passer-by when this happened to Judah...Edom is his brother. Edom is Esau (v6,9,18) Judah is Jacob. Edoms crime looks much much worse now. In verse 11 we see they 'stood aloof' on the day when Judah was pillaged, they cast lots for Jerusalem at her gates. Judah's own kin, with all their shared history stood and watched as people gambled for his city! God loves justice, Edom will be humbled for their actions. Neither the wise nor the strong can save Edom from the Babylonian onslaught. Note the warning that the allies that Edom trusted in are the same ones who will now destroy her. Not only do we see Edom watching passively in Jerusalem's overthrow, but they cut down those who fled. The few who escaped and braved the mountain pass to seek help from their brothers were cut down. Those who were found alive were turned over to their terrorisers. Some believe that the language is so brutal here because some of Obadiah's relatives were among this number. It's certainly not impossible. Edom acted worse than the thieves and grape robbers, and this towards their own brother. This towards, as we'll see next time, people who were in fact, God's friends.

so what can we learn from the first 13 verses of this book? Firstly that God opposed the proud. In fact He hates them. He will destroy every lofty perch and starry nest. All those who do no consider Him worthy of a thought will fall before Him. Taking security in anything and anywhere other than in God in Jesus Christ is suicide. These things needn't always be bad in themselves, be they relationships or possessions or a job, but we turn them into idols and justly invoke God's pure anger against us for it. And third, God's enemies are the enemies of God's people. While Christians pray for their leaders often their leaders ordain their persecution. This God hates, as we see here, those who do not aid Christians in their plight, those who participate in the killing and persecution of Christians are, among everyone else, the enemies of God.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

sixty six books

As i think about preaching in church in january, i'm drawn ever closer to Exodus 12, and the passover account. So rich in narrative and application for us today. It occured to me, while thinking about it, that the passover, and subsequent flight from Egypt was the most significant event in Israel's history, and the cross is the most significant event in ours. nifty non?

I've also had a great time in Obadiah today, preparing a Bible study for tomorrow. Reflections to's going to be good.

And, twenty copies of Grudem's Systematic Theology arrived courtesy of, it's been a good day!

Monday, December 10, 2007

just a few things

This is post 501! Thats halfway to one thousand, which seems remarkable. There have been times this year when i've thought about letting this blog quietly dies, mostly due to time constaints (having a girlfriend in America means that blog-time quickly turns into skype-time) but i still really enjoy blogging, it still helps me to think and i manage to upset some liberals now and again, and those are reasons enough for me. So on we go.

Yesterday i dived into the Christmas carol concert season at the Madjeski Academy for the south Reading churches carol service. I don't know if i'll manage to stop last years record of five (RUCU, USCU, Reading Family Church, The Community Church Bourne End and Chichester College CU) but i've got my eyes on at least a couple more. Last night Christmas made me cry and singing carols made me want to be a frontier missionary. I'm not sure thats normal. It also gave me the chance to reflect that some, if not most popular carols we really should sing all year round. Take 'joy to the world' for example. It's amazing. There's no reason in my mind why we can't sing that in May or August. I'd definately take it over the majority of the slightly wet, pop-rock contemporary worship songs.

I guess i've known for a while that my views on how the Christian relates to the law are somewhere between controversial and not exactly mainstream. (viz. that since Christ is the fulfillment of the law we who are found in Him no longer need to try to obey it. Grace motivated obedience replaces rule keeping) Studying Galatians 3 in the last few weeks has helped me think about this again, and clarify it somewhat. But something which i'd never noticed before that Lawrence helped me to see on friday was a role of the Holy Spirit in the new covenant i'd never really noticed before. Basically that, we no longer need to look at the law to find our perfect standard, because with Spirit opened eyes we can see the Lord and be changed, and we no longer need to have the law testify against us when we sin, because the Holy Spirit will testify to us and make us hate our sin. Is that right? It sounds pretty cool.

Friday, December 07, 2007

a dad and an illustration

One thing i love about our multi faceted jewel of a Gospel is how it is illustrated in so much of life. From the poor, homeless immigant being welcomed in to Israel in Ruth, to the culmination of the great redemptive story at Calvary, and so many places in between, we can see illustrations of the Gospel. And thats what i love about my relationship with my girlfriends dad at the moment.

Now my girlfriend is from america, lives in the Bible belt no less. There are more than fourty churches in the phonebook for her 15000 population town. I still can't work out whether thats good or bad. Good i think. The world needs more churches. So because of her background there's a whore lot of cultural stuff that i have to work through in relating to her parents, especially her Father, especially when meeting them for the first time.

I was nervous, i'd been travelling for about twelve hours, and there he was at the airport. And i thank God for our relationship as it is now, i'm glad that we're able to spend so much time together while i was there, and that now we can just call each other for a chat on a friday evening. So now we know eachother, our relationship has changed. I still find myself standing up when he calls on skype to talk to him, and still make sure i call him sir at every oppotunity, but there's relationship, friendship there now which we both enjoy. Formality and respect, but fellowship and love also.

Of course, you can see where i'm going. The relationship i have with God, my Father is hopefully marked by the same things. Fellowship, love, but as much repect and honour as i can fit in on my side. Where there was fear and uncertainty now stand love and friendship. Where failure comes, there's grace. Now, obviously as with all Gospel analogies, this is seriously one died to affect this relationship, it's primarily because we're brothers in the first place we can get on so well, but it's taught me about my relationship with God my Father in a new way. And i like that.

Saturday, December 01, 2007

Whats Abraham got to do with it?

In many ways it can surprise us how little the new testament really explains things on its own. The bst way to explain what happened at the cross, for example, may well be to look at the old testament accounts of the first passover and the day of atonement. And good stuff it is.

On friday me and Laurence studied Galatians 3:1-14, i'd eaten a ceremonial bacon roll beforehand so i was ready for what Paul had for us. It can seem at times that Paul is just indulging his knowledge of Judaism to wow his opponents. Or we could think that Paul is just jewish point scoring. We can think that studying this is of little point, because it all seems to technical, so obscure, so unrelated to anything that we might encounter. But it's not. In Galatians 3, particularly verses 4-14, Paul is constructing the building block, the foundation stone of the whole church. That is justification by faith...the just, by faith shall live. He sends his opponents fleeing to the hills with his superior knowledge and application of Abraham and how he relates to Jesus, how Jesus is not abolishing the old testament law, but rather is it's apex, it's matrix.

How does Paul start his arguement? Does the Spirit, that the is the deposit, the mark of saving faith come by faith or by works? By works of course, sneer the opponents. But then Paul plays his ace. Abraham. How did Abraham get right with God? How did he live? By faith. Woah! If Abraham was justified by faith, what does that mean for the rest of us? Well, continues Paul, it means that those who are the real sons of Abraham are so by faith...not by circumcision or food laws. Faith. Scripture forsaw this, that God would bring the gentiles in by faith preached the Gospel beforehand to Abraham. And what was that Gospel? In you shall all the nations be blessed...

Now, if you asked someone what the Gospel was, and they gave you that response, you'd be pretty surprised wouldn't you. I would be. But Paul uses it here to illustrate that this blessing comes about by faith, not by anything else. Abraham is important for that reason. Justification by faith is not a new thing that started at Calvary. It started before time, and was preached to Abraham, the father of the Jewish nation. Paul's trump card. So why does the law not justify anyone?

Verses 10-14 give us two reasons. Firstly, because the one who does them shall live by them. That is, no one can keep the law perfectly, which is what is neccesary, so they are cursed by their failure. But more importantly, they are cursed because God has ordained that the righteous shall live by faith, so He will justify no one because of the works of the law. The law curses people...stop it! The righteous shall live by faith...start it! But how? Or rather, who?

Just as Paul starts with Abraham, he ends with Jesus. Jesus becomes the curse, cursed is everyone who hangs on the tree. He becomes all that we are, that through Him we could be everything we could never be. What effect does this have? It means that the promise given to Abraham (received of course by faith) can come to the gentiles. What starts in Abraham ends in Jesus. Abraham and Jesus don't represent different Gospels, or different Gods, rather, Jesus is the root, and the shoot...the reason behind and the solution to the Gospel preached to Abraham. Thats why all nations shall by blessed though Abraham, because from Abraham comes Jesus, and before Abraham was, I AM says Jesus.

So this is not obscure Jewish theologising. This is the Gospel. It started with Abraham, it is fullfilled in Jesus. It comes by faith, not works. Not works not works not works. By grace through faith. Our salvation is blood blood blood. And nothing else. Paul's sends a rocket to blow his opponents away. He gives us hope and light and life. Christ became a curse, we get the blessing. What a Gospel!

Friday, November 30, 2007

About to Graduate

Thought about you might want to do next year? Something to do with your degree? Somethings with enough money to keep you in clothes you like. Something enough money to keep you comfortable though at least...

How about, instead you embark upon what could be the most important year of your life, and do Relay? Relay is a sulf funded, disciplship in a student context ten month programme. Grace saturated and Christ centered.

Rosemary has some questions for you...

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Pullman and the church

Phillip Pullman says this:

As you look back over the history of the Christian church, it's a record of terrible infamy and cruelty and persecution and tyranny. How they have the bloody nerve to go on Thought for the Day and tell us all to be good when, given the slightest chance, they'd be hanging the rest of us and flogging the homosexuals and persecuting the witches."

So what do Christians say about that? We don't have to say anything about that. Narrative is not normative. Things done by Christians don't make them representative of the Christian faith. The persecution and tyranny and cruelty committed by the church over the ages is wrong...but by what standard is it wrong? Why is slavery wrong? Why is genocide wrong? No because atheism is right, but because the Gospel is true. There is no standard of truth outside the absolute standard of the truth of the Gospel, and the supremacy of Christ. Voddie Baucham says more about this here.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

coffee plus Bible

i love students! here's what ine said over a coffee and Isaiah 10 this afternoon:

'i'd be appalled at a God who didn't hate sin'.

Brilliant, the Word is doing it's work!

my iPod and my church

Isn't life a bit odd these days? On my great-grandfathers generation, most people never left their locale, never mind their country, everyone worked within walking distance of where they lived and whole vallages went to church together. My granddad's generation probably saw more radical change than anyone, from horse and trap to man on the moon, the whole lifespan of man travelling at the speed of sound and more international travel than you can shake a stick at. I guess it was the first world war that changed so much. The great war started with a cavalry charge and ended with the death of hundreds of thousands of men in the saturated, muddy fields of France. The world wasn't such a small place any more. People met people from other places, they lived and worked together. They fought another world war together. The arms race started, the arms race ended, America was nearly nuked, America nearly nuked it's enemies. Life in the last eighty years has really changed beyond all recognition. I, to my cultural shame, can not really imagine a world without mobile telecommunications, i mean, how did anyone ever talk to anyone else? How were last minute plans ever changed?

What has any of this got to do with anything? Well not much, only this. We live in an age of unprecedented information sharing, and i love that. I love the availability of online sermons and resources. I love that people like Desiring God and Mars Hill make their resources available for free. I applaud them for that. I really like that i could fire some words into Google and come up with preaching on just about anything, from just about anywhere. Thats progress, thats the church serving The Church. I guess.

We need to watch out though, for the hidden pitfalls in this. (can you look out for something thats hidden?) We're now in a time where it's possible to be 'part' of a local church from the other side of the world. If you were in Sydney, you could never darken the door of a building but still be regualrly fed by good preaching on your iPod. If you woke up late on a sunday or simply didn't fancy it, thats ok, wait until monday, it will all be online, if not from your own church, from somewhere else. Local church by proxy.

Now, not for a single moment do i think that listening to preaching from the internet is a bad thing. The bad thing isn't the itself, it's the person, it's what the person does with it. If, in our endevour to be fed by preaching from sources other than our church, we lose our lustre for the local church itself, we've really defeated the object. I love to pack my iPod with truth, but i never want to prefer that to being in the community of the local church. My local church are my family, they're the people who i do life with. I need to be careful, we need to be careful that in our pursuit of preaching and truth from the wider sphere we don't miss or minimise where God has put us, for the reason God has put us. Our local churches.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Manners and the Gospel

I'm loving reading the epistles at the moment. The solid, clear and Christ centred doctribe that nflows through them work on my heart as few other parts of the Bible do so regularly. In those ancient letters there is so much to learn, to study, to enjoy. What i really love about reading the through almost back to back is that you start to notice things that are the same.

Paul was obviously, amongst many other things, a man of manners. He'd been brought up well. He was, quite apart from that, someone who alwyas saw and gave thanks for the grace of God at work in the churches that he wrote to. Even the Corinthians, even a church that immoral that he such a complicated relationship with, he still thanks God for. Thats the case in almost all the letters we have in the new testament. Galatians is a striking exception.

Paul starts this letter by introducing himself, making sure the Galatians are aware that his calling is from God, not from man, as that will be important later on. He even says 'grace and peace to you' in the introduction. He has great feelings for the people reading this letter. They need to know who he is, they need to know grace and peace.

But thanking, no encouragement. Instead, 'i am astonished' he starts. Something here has clearly gone wrong. Paul's focus is away from thanking and praising from the off. There is something that is far more pressing on his mind, far more important than niceties, something even that may cancel out the truths that he would share with them in that part of the letter anyway.

And what's happened? It seems that the Galatian church has turned away from the Gospel Paul preached to them. The Gospel of Jesus Christ as crucified and risen Lord. The only real Gospel, the only way of salvation. Paul doesn't mince his words here. He's not entered a popularity contest, but rather is driven onwards by a fierce belief in the centrality of the Gospel in the life of a Christian. He reminds his readers that there is no other Gospel. He goes even further than that, pointing out two things in verse 8. Firstly, this Gospel is not from him, and secondly, that anyone, including angels, including himself, who preaches a contrary Gospel is to be accursed. These are strong words.

We really see here an insight into Paul's mind, the centrality of the gospel and the depravity of the human heart. Paul was driven by a love and commitment to the Gospel. Nothing else shone as brightly in his heart as Christ and Him crucified. He loved his churches, and they needed to know this message. It wouldn't do to water it down or sanitise it. People will only be saved this way. There is nothing else for the church to build on other than the Gospel. That really is it. Good music, fancy PA and AV presentation, soothing messages, great buildings...none of it is as important as the Gospel. Take it all, build churches of cold brick and uncomfortable wooden benches, use a OHP rather than a cinema doesn't matter, but give us the Gospel. And lastly, we need to see how quickly we can fall away from the truth. It seems that people at the moment are forsaking the Gospel as quickly as they can, for whatever reason they can think of. The Gospel dies on the alter of popularity, or trendyness, or better attended meetings. If Paul could foresee a time when he possibly could move from this message, then there's no reason to think we never would. We must guard our hearts, stir ourselves, read the Bible, and pray. All the time. And the church at Galatia probably didn't think they were moving that far from the truth, because after all, surely the Jewish laws are compliant with Christianity. And almost unaware they say that Christ died for nothing. Because if we move away to a false Gospel this is what we do.

Cross plus, is only ever cross minus.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

John 11:1-45

(this was my script from thursday night at Surrey's mostly what i said, although if memory serves, the ending was very different)

In my third year at uni I lived with a guy named Dave, a great guy who was very Godly and a lot of fun. On a Tuesday we used to have our nine am lecture together on American history. After that I’d go home, and he’d have lectures un till about 4pm. I remember one time leaving him with the words ‘Dave I believe in you’ as I went home and he trudged to some politics seminar. And that sentence has been troubling me ever since. I love words, I love how they sound and what they mean, I think English is the best language in the world for that. But what did I mean? Dave I believe in you? Did it mean that I gave mental assent to the fact I thought Dave existed? That’s a pretty stupid way of encouraging someone. Or did I mean something else?

Belief is a big topic at universities today, but in some ways the idea to believe something has been robbed of it’s meaning. Exclusive beliefs, like the Gospel, are considered outdated and stupid, and open mindedness to believe anything, no matter how those things contradict each other, is lauded.

Belief is a big issue for John. He even tells us that he wrote his account of Jesus’ life and death so that we would belief. He recorded this account of the death and raising of Lazarus so that we would believe in Jesus. But does that mean giving mere assent to the fact that Jesus is the Son of God? Does it just mean signing up to these things and going on with life as normal? Well, lets turn to the Bible and have a look at the last miracle that John records before Jesus’ arrest..


Mary and Lazarus and Martha all knew Jesus. It was the Mary who had anointed His feet, so they already had something of a relationship. When we read verse four Jesus doesn’t seem that concerned does He? You can see the ‘but’ at the start of verse four contrasts Jesus reaction with the concern of Lazarus’s sisters. Or is it just that Jesus doesn’t think that this illness will lead to death, as we see later in verse four? He says this illness will not lead to death, it will be for the glory of God, so that the Son of God will be glorified though it. It’s interesting to note two things here. How the glory of God is manifested and illustrated though the Son of God being glorified, and how Jesus wants to do all things for His Father. He’s just heard His friend is ill, but His first thought is how His Father will be glorified by it. And that His Father will be glorified by it. This part of the story ends on a strange note though doesn’t it? It seems that John is suggesting that Jesus’ lack of action in coming to see Lazarus is a product of His love for Martha and her sister and Lazarus. The first word of the verse six in the ESV is ‘so’, which links Jesus love for the three, and His decision to not come straight away. The NIV translation really lets us down here, choosing to use ‘yet’ at the start of verse six rather than ‘so’. Yet of course makes it sound like it was in spite of his love for them that He did not come, whereas the ESV makes it sound like it was because of His love for the three that He did not come, which, as we’ll see as the story moves on is far closer to the truth. Jesus reaction makes us think that there must be something bigger going on in the illness and eventual death of Lazarus than we realise, and also that, as far as Jesus is concerned there is something much more important, than health, or even, since Jesus knew in His omniscience that Lazarus was to die, life.


Two days pass, then Jesus decides it’s time to go to Judea. The disciples are aghast at this. The reason they are in the north is because the last time they ventured south Jesus was nearly killed. The time away clearly hasn’t dimmed the situation, as the disciples are clearly worried for their and Jesus’ life in they venture south again. As often happens, Jesus answers their question not entirely in the way you might expect. Verses 9-10 have a two level application or meaning, one to the disciples, and one to Jesus Himself. Jesus is safe as long as He walks in the daylight of obeying His Father’s will. As long as He is doing what His Father requires of Him, no part of the plan will fail. It’s only if He ignores the Father’s plan that He’ll stumble. And the same applies to the disciples as well. Jesus will only be with them a little while longer, they must walk in the light, with Him, while they can, because night time is coming. The time has come and the decision made, they must go to Judea. Still the disciples aren’t altogether on board. Look at verses 11-12 with me. Notice the switch from ‘our’ friend to ‘I’ go to awaken Him. Jesus is clear in His own mind that only He will have any impact on the situation. The disciples misunderstand, however, thinking that when Jesus says ‘asleep’ He means it literally, as John notes to us. The Jesus speaks to them plainly in verse 14: Lazarus has died, and for your sake I am glad I was not there so that you may believe. But let us go to Him. Again we see the slightly odd point that Jesus is making that it is somehow good that Lazarus has died, and that Jesus wasn’t there to stop it happening. He seems quite confident that if He had been there He would have stopped it, and yet He seems glad that He wasn’t. the clue we get from verse 15 is that it’s so the disciples may believe. Jesus knows that He’s entered the last few days of His earthly ministry, so His disciples must have their faith in Him strengthened, they must know who He is. Verse 16 could just be doubting Thomas again, but His words, even if fed by misunderstanding come across more bold and courageous than doubting.


Mary and Martha obviously come from a well known family given there were many Jews who had come to console her. This was not a regular occurrence. Martha’s words in verse 21 are not those of rebuke but those of grief and faith. She knows ths power and the uniqueness of Jesus would have had a bearing on the death of her brother. She knows that He is somehow more powerful than death. Look at verse 22 with me. Even now she knows that Jesus and God, His Father have a unique relationship, and that, as she says, ‘anything you ask from God, He will give it’. The death of her brother, whom Jesus loved, has not cost her her faith in Jesus. Look at Jesus question in verse 23. This verse has been described as a ‘masterpiece of ambiguity’. Martha would have believed in the resurrection on the last day. She would have had no problem assenting to the fact that Lazarus would rise then, as she demonstrates if you look at verse 24. But Jesus means more than this. We’ve seen already that His motivation and goal here to for God to be glorified through the Son of God being glorified. God would of course be glorified by the resurrection on the last day, but by then it will be too late to believe in Jesus. So what does Jesus mean? He wants to move Martha from an abstract faith in the last day event to a personal faith in Him. We move to verse 25, the centrepiece of this story, the thing that John wants us to believe, probably the reason why he records that incident. How does Jesus start moving Martha from an abstract faith to a personal faith. He tells her: I am the resurrection and the life, whoever believes in me, though he shall die, yet he shall live. And everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Jesus makes an outrageous claim. Not only will it be He who raises people on the last day, but there is no life, is no resurrection outside Him. None. Jesus is it. There is no life, and no eternal life after death outside of Him. He doesn’t just bring resurrection, as Martha may now suspect He’s about to, but He is the resurrection. But does that actually mean in a practical sense? Do they mean they mean the same thing? Well Jesus explains what He means in the second half of verse 25 and the first half of verse 26. Jesus is the resurrection, therefore ‘whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall He live’. That’s the resurrection, although we will die, we will live. We will live forever worshipping Jesus in unimaginable joy and pleasure. And that’s not available outside Jesus. And what does Jesus being the life mean? It means that, verse 26 ‘everyone who lives and believes in me, shall never die’. People who believe in Jesus, who embrace Jesus as all they have that is good, will never die. And often in the Bible, including here, death means more than decomposition. If Adam and Eve ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, they would surely die as Genesis 2:17 tells us. But they didn’t die straight away did they? They lived for hundreds of year after. Was it just a slow acting curse, or did ‘die’ mean something else. Where were Adam and Eve? Outside the garden, away from the presence of the Lord. And that’s what death means here. Those who have the life that Jesus offers will be with Him forever. They shall never die, but shall live eternally in Heaven. Jesus is the resurrection and the life, there is no life, there is no chance of heaven without Him. This is a controversial statement and will probably be illegal to say in a few years, so I’ll repeat again Jesus words while I have the chance: Jesus is the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in Jesus, though He dies, yet he shall live, and everyone who lives and believes in Jesus shall never die. Do you believe this, Jesus asks Mary. Do you embrace this truth and want to make it your all? Mary dies believe. She does believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God who is coming into the world.


This section starts with mary repeating the same faithful statement as her sister. Look with me at verse 33: when Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping He was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled. Deeply moved is a poor translation here in both the ESV and the NIV. A closer translation to the original Greek would be ‘outraged’. Jesus was outraged at the unbelief of the people and their mourning as if there was no hope. And yet as we see in verse 35, which says simply ‘Jesus wept’. Jesus also felt great empathy with these people. That mix of pure anger and pure empathy would be impossible in a normal person, but not in Jesus. Look with me at verses 36 and 37: so the Jews said, ‘see how he loved him!’ But some of them said ‘could not he who opened the eyes of the blind also have kept this man from dying?’ Even Jesus, perhaps especially Jesus, had doubters around Him and following Him. We shouldn’t expect it to be any different for us.

Then Jesus moves in front of the tomb, and asks for the stone to be taken away, but Martha is still struggling to catch up with what’s going in. she says: Lord by this time there would have been an odour, for he has been dead four days’. Jesus responds by taking her to the point of the illness and death of Lazarus: he says, ‘did I not tell you that if you believed you would see the glory of God’. This is not an explicit claim to divinity by Jesus but a no less shocking claim that what he is about to do will bring glory to God. Jesus ramps this up again in verses 40 and 41 when he prays to the Father saying ‘I thank you that you have heard me. I knew that you always hear me but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they would believe you sent me’. There are two things to notice here I think. One that as already suggested in this story, the death and resurrection of Lazarus had been planned long ago, because as we see in verse 4 it was for the glory of God so that the Son of God may be glorified through it’ and the second that Jesus and the Father have this unique relationship. Jesus said ‘I knew’. He’s talking past tense. This was arranged and agreed. All we need now is the action. Jesus is trying to lift His listeners eyes to the Father with these comments. He’s not playing to an audience.

And then the event in verses 43 and 44. The dead hearing the voice of Jesus. That’s why He had to call Lazarus by name, otherwise all the dead within earshot would be up out of their graves. See His absolute authority over death here. Lazarus was dead, but he came out of the tomb. See the comparison with Jesus resurrection here. Lazarus had to stumble out of the grave still wrapped in his grave clothes, Jesus’ clothes were neatly folded. Lazarus was stumbling, Jesus was walking. Jesus resurrection was different, He would never die again, but Lazarus would. The resurrection of Lazarus was a pale imitation of what was to come, on the third day after Calvary, and on the last day. But it was a sign, and rightly, as Jesus was mere days away from arrest now, a climactic sign.


So what are we to make of this story today. The point is clear. There is no life, there is no resurrection to life after death other than through faith, through belief, in Jesus Christ. It’s trendy now, especially among our generation to focus on Jesus and His Kingdom, or Jesus teaching or Jesus example. But Jesus did not come to just teach, or to politically lobby, or to bring some sort of earthly kingdom to fruit. He came to save us from the unbearable wrath of God directed towards us because of our sins, He came to bring life. If you spend time looking at the Gospels, particularly John’s Gospel and miss this, you miss the point. And the point could not be clearer from this passage. If we are to hope in, or expect life and resurrection, we must have faith in Jesus, in His death and His resurrection. In His taking our punishment on the cross. Taking Lazarus’ punishment was the only way He could raise Him, and taking our punishment on the cross is the only way He can raise us. We need to believe this. We should rejoice in the truth that Jesus is the resurrection, that in Him we are secure…

Thursday, November 08, 2007

Colossians 1:18-25

(this is the script of a talk i did at RUCU on wednesday evening)

As always with the Bible, we need to be aware of the context that Paul was writing into, as it’s easy to look at this text and just work out what the application is to us. Not that that’s wrong, but there’s much more than that. Paul was writing into a church that had been shaken by what we now call the ‘Colossian heresy’ for fairly obvious reasons. The exact nature of this heresy is disputed over, but the basic gist of it is that the people are not fully saved by Christ’s work on the cross, because Christ is not sufficient, and that because of that they must add works to ensure their salvation. There was also some teaching the body and spirit were wholly separate entities. This passage breaks up quite nicely into three parts: Christ the Lord of the cosmos from 15-17, Christ the head of the Church from 17-19, and Christ our saviour from 19-24.

Paul starts by drawing his readers’ attention back to Jesus. And who is Jesus; look at verse 15 with me: he is the image of the invisible God. Paul reminds his readers, and by extension us tonight that Jesus is exactly God. The only difference in type between Father and Son is that the Son is visible, and the Father invisible. Christ is the image of the invisible God. They of course differ in roles within the Trinity, but Christ perfectly reflects the life and character of the Father. And in this sense He is the most fully human person that ever lived. Humanity was designed by God to be the perfect self expression within His world. And Jesus was that. Paul continues, still in verse 15: the firstborn of all creation. Firstborn is a word we don’t really use anymore. It certainly doesn’t mean, ‘born first’. There was never a time that Christ was not, as we’ll see later on. Firstborn means most important, heir, the one who will inherit what is His Fathers. And of course we know this to be an excellent word to describe who Jesus is. Paul starts to answer the Colossian heresy, by painting Christ’s full divinity and full humanity all at once.

Christ then is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. How do we trust this? Why is He the first born over all creation? Look at verse 16. For (or because) by Him all things were created. So the picture of Christ gets bigger. By means of Him, or in Him, all things were created. So from this we can see, as previously mentioned, that Christ was there at the beginning. And not only was he there, but he was part of the process. Not only a spectator but a major player. God made the world in Christ. He made all things though Christ look again at verse 16 with me ‘in heaven or on earth, visible or invisible. Whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities. We’ll stop there just for now. Paul now addresses the more spiritualistic side of the heresy in Colossae. The bit that said that there were spirits and angels to be worshipped, the bit that taught that what you do with your mind and what you do with your body are different. Paul’s list of what was created in Christ is really comprehensive here, when he says all things, he really means in. On heaven or on earth, visible, invisible, thrones, dominions, rulers and authorities. Colossians, you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Reading Christians you are foolish in the extreme if you worship these things, because the living God created and is above them. Don’t try and tell me that the Bible isn’t relevant!

Lets turn our attention now to the last part of verse 16: all things were created through Him and for Him. We’ve seen how all things were created though Him, which we’ll come back to in a very exciting way soon. But it’s those two words ‘for him’ I want to zoom in on now. All things were created for Jesus Christ. That is a stunning statement and one that in a few years might get me into trouble for saying; I’m excited about that day. All things exist for Jesus Christ. For His enjoyment. For His glory. For His good pleasure. For His good purposes. There is no reason for the continuation of culture other than to make Jesus know and enjoy Him forever. The only reason Jesus made the sun rise over us this morning was for Himself. There is no reason for the continuation of Reading University than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for the continuation, certainly, of RUCU other than to make Christ known and enjoy Him. There is no reason for my continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Christ known. There is no reason for your continuing existence than to enjoy Christ and make Him known. This is humbling to hear, but it should liberate us and fill us with joy. This is what the whole council of scripture teaches. We need to get our minds under it. This is particularly relevant for the original readers as Colossae was destroyed in an earthquake and never rebuilt less than 10 years later.

Paul’s not done yet, look at verse 17 with me…it starts with ‘and’…there’s yet more to come. Christ is before all things. He is more important and worship-worthy than all things. Listen up Colossians. Jesus is more important than all the rubbish you are trying to incorporate into worship, because he was before it. He is the root, get back to Him. Look at the second half of verse 17 ‘and in Him all things hold together’. We are totally reliant on Jesus. All things hold together in Him. The sun and moon, the sky itself, gravity, the orbit of the earth, you, this building…it’s all held together in Christ. How vast is Jesus! How incredible is power, how foolish of the Colossians to doubt His effective work, how foolish to think that worshipping anything else has any point. How stupid of us to do the same, to be satisfied with less than all that God is for us in Jesus. And he is for us, as we’ll see.

We now move Verse 18 says: ‘and He is the head of the body, the church’ Christ is the Lord of the church, the head of the church. Here Paul moves from creation to God’s new creation. Christ is the head of the church, he is in charge of the church, He leads and guides the church. Paul uses this expression to indicate the churches organic dependence on God. The body without the head is useless. As we’ve already seen the cosmos is dependant on Christ, and so is the church. Paul wants to Colossians to realise that as soon as they leave Christ, they lose their head…and it’s really game over. Look at the second half of verse 18 with me ‘He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. Paul again, relentlessly pushes the point that Christ is before all and the beginning of all. There is no word for ‘and’ in the Greek, so Jesus being firstborn from the dead is not an extension of this point, but part of it. So the word ‘firstborn’ linked so closely with the word ‘beginning’ meaning source in the Greek, indicates that though Christ’s resurrection is presently unique it will become the first in a long line of resurrections of believers from the dead. Christ has won the victory over sin and death, He is the source of the victory that we one day will take part in. And why is this? Look at the end of the verse 18 ‘so that in everything He might be pre-eminent’. So that in life, and in death, Christ might be the first, and most important. And He is isn’t He? The most important man who ever lived in this life, and the centre point of Heaven. And as verse 19 tells us that ‘the fullness of God was pleased to dwell in Him’. Paul again swings his sword against the Colossian heretics who denied Jesus’ full deity. This is why he is pre-eminent, because in Him dwells the fullness of God. There is nothing in Jesus that is not divine, nothing divine that is not in Jesus. When we work this out and let it mould our lives and our evangelism, the world looks a very different place. Don’t move from this, as the Colossians would, but make it your bedrock.

Now you may well ask at this point. ‘well that’s great and all, but why should this Jesus care about me? What’s this great, Holy God got to do, or want to do with me? I’m so glad you asked. Lets look at verse 20 together: and (so God was pleased to) through Him to reconcile to Himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace through His blood on the cross’. You see, I hope, as Paul wanted the Colossian church to see, that Jesus has to be all these glorious divine things for His blood to make peace, for His blood to reconcile all things to God. Now Paul’s use of the phrase ‘all things’ needs some attention here, because we know that not everyone will be saved in the end. Christ’s blood shed on the cross is sufficient for all things, all peoples and all sins, but efficient for the sins of those who will be saved. So it’s not to say that those who are not saved are somehow out of God’s reach, but that their sins were not punished on the cross, only the sins of those who would be saved. Now, I would love to spend more time talking about this, and I will if you want to grab me at the end, but something far more important has just hoved into view. Lets go through verse 20 together slowly ‘through Him (that is Jesus), to reconcile all things, whether on earth or in heaven, making peace by the blood of His cross‘

So how has God reconciled people to Himself? By the blood of Jesus on the cross. How has God made peace with evil, perverted, fallen, sinful people like you and me? By the blood of Jesus on the cross, by punishing Jesus for the sins we have committed that we might know God. Now this, is called penal substitution, or propitiation. And maybe you’ve heard that penal substitution is under attack from the liberal fringe, maybe you’ve read the books and articles, listened to the preachers who are attacking this doctrine. Now I don’t understand why on earth this truth is under attack, because, and here’s a little secret, it’s the best bit of the whole Bible. It really really is. And it’s right here in Colossians 1. Paul needs to Colossians to see it and get so that their hope and confidence might be in it. And I want you to see it and get it so that your confidence is in it. People say that they don’t like because it’s too violent. Yes! This is how God feels about sin! Violently. This is good news. If we lose this doctrine, we’ve lost the holiness of God. If we lose this doctrine we lose all our assurance that we’re saved, or that Heaven is even a place we want to be. There is one God, one problem, one mediator. Defend this doctrine. Proclaim it. Live under it.

But so what? What has any of this got to do with me? It’s got everything to do with you, the wholeness and fullness of Christ’s life and death has everything to do with the Colossians, and with you. Look at verse 21 and 22 with me: and you, who were once alienated and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds, he has now reconciled in His body of flesh by His death, in order to present you holy and blameless and above reproach before Him. So, we were once alienated. Hostile in mind and doing evil deeds. We will be presented holy, blameless and above reproach, because, and here comes penal substitution again, of Christ’s death on the cross. Please don’t get bent out of shape here, it’s easy to look at this verse and think ‘well I’m not holy, blameless or above reproach’ and I hope that is what you’re thinking. But don’t confuse justification with sanctification. This is what Christ has made us, and how we will be at the end, we will be those things because we are justified. We can become sanctified and like these things because we are justified and will be like these things. So these verses should give us great hope and confidence, and grounds to fight our sin every step of the way. We will be holy, blameless and above reproach all because of Him. Colossian Christians, Reading Christians, you need nothing other than Christ’s blood shed on the cross for you to be saved and live the Christian life. Nothing. So don’t look for it. This is why Paul talks about what we will become when we are before Him, so that the Colossians can start to see evidence of that in their lives at the moment. And hopefully so can we.

Paul continues and concludes in verse 23. Lets read it together. ‘in order to present you holy, blameless and above reproach before Him, if indeed you continue in the faith, stable and steadfast, not shifting from the hope you have heard, which has been proclaimed in all creation, and of which I, Paul, became a minister.’ The Christian faith is given and completed by God. From God’s point of view genuine faith is assured of continuing to the end. From the human point of view Christians discover whether their faith is genuine only by patient perseverance. The best sign of past conversion, is present convertedness. How can we be sure of our salvation? How can we be sure that Christ’s atoning work on the cross applies to us? How can we not waste our lives? By not shifting from the hope of the Gospel which we heard. This is Paul’s plea to the Colossian Christians. Don’t shift from the hope of the Gospel. You’ve seen what a great hope, great God and great Gospel we’ve got. Don’t move.

Robert Murray M’Cheyne, who was minister of St Peter’s Dundee in the nineteenth century before his death at the age of 29 puts it like this:

My hope is built on nothing less
Than Jesus’ blood and righteousness
I dare not trust the sweetest frame,
But wholly lean on Jesus name
On Christ the solid rock I stand
All other ground is sinking sand.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The future of justification

I have, i think, shown remarkable restraint in not buying Piper's new book 'the future of justification' sooner. It'll be much cheaper in america, so i will endevour to pick it up from there when i'm over in a couple of weeks. I'm very excited about it right now. I'm really enjoying 'the mission of God', and 'five festal garments' which i'm reading at the moment, and i've got three or four books lined up to read, but they all may have to take a back seat when i get my hands on this.

You can read of review of it here. Piper is responding to NT Wright's view on justification, this is my favourite quote:

What I appreciate most about Piper’s book most how biblically based it is. When Wright declares “What I’m saying is in the Bible,” Piper both graciously and devastatingly meets him in theological disputation on Wright’s own terms – biblical exegesis. While Piper does briefly appeal to theological work accomplished by others, including the founding Anglican theologians who wrote the Thirty-Nine Articles, Luther’s colleague Philipp Melanchthon, the framers of the Helvetic confessions, the Westminster divines, and Westminster’s Richard Gaffin (not to mention CREC pastor Douglas Wilson and Piper’s own theological assistants at Desiring God), Piper establishes his arguments primarily on extensive scriptural exegesis rather than standing on the shoulders of a tradition that Wright routinely criticizes.

The rest of this week will be taken up with proper blogging. I'm preaching at RUCU tomorrow night, and University of Surrey CU on thursday night, so they'll show up sometime. I've also been mulling over some thoughts on Galatians 1 and 2 Chronicles so they might show up eventually as well. If i type it, i have to do it!

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Facebook apologetics

This is my response to a question posed on facebook: 'if all of scripture if God breathed, why don't we still obey the commands in Leviticus?' It was partucularly in reference to Lev 20:13, Lev 20:18 and Deut 22:23-29... i don't think it's perfect, but it's a start:

I think there are four points i’d like to make:

1) Jesus, after his ressurection told His disciples that all the Old Testament was about Him. All the law points to Him, and he fulfills is all. That includes Leviticus, which you quoted from. So somehow the laws that you pointed out were fulfilled in Christ, and point towards Christ.

2) The law was given to Israel to communicate to them the holiness of their God (our God, THE God) and to show them and help them to live distinctive lives as a nation. Indeed it was their failure to be distinct that meant that God judged them and took them into exile in babylon. Circumcision that you mention is a particularly good example of this, as it was intituted as a mark of the covenant that God made with Abraham. We no longer need to cirucmsize our children on the eigth day because Christians how have the Holy Spirit working in them as a mark and deposit of our faith. In the same sense this is what we need to know the holiness of our God, and be distinct (hopefully) as a people. The old agreement written on stone has passed away, the new agreement is written on our hearts and will last forever.

3) At the sermon on the mount Jesus sums up the law in two commands: love God, and love your neighbour. Jesus cuts down the hundreds of laws and commands in the Old testament to just two. But the question arises ‘how can God claim to be consistent and then change these things?’ Firstly, because the plan ALL ALONG was to have Jesus crucified to fulfill the law, glorify God and bring people into relationship with Him. The obediance of Christ in fulfilling all the law has now been imputed into Christians, so that they are counted in Him to have fulfilled the law. Which makes sense of the commands of the sermon on the mount to love God and your could we not given all that Christ has done for us?!

4) Paul says in his letter to the Roman church that the reason Israel failed to fulfill the law was because they persued it as though it were by works, by what they could do to impress God, rather than by faith, that is by wholehearted, humbling reliance on God. So it is not that God is unjust in giving the law, or that no one in the old testmant was saved, because many were as they persued it by faith...but that Israel got it wrong. They got God wrong, and His law wrong. Christ got both of those right, He is faithful where we are not, He is our substitute.
I was once told that we need to read the OT through the lense of Christ. Thats what i’ve tried to do here, i hope it’s been helpful…

Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Reformation Day: The Reformation and me

The Reformation first sailed across my radar in 1997, in my first year at grammar school. Our history teacher Mr Phelan asked who had heard of Martin Luther. About two thirds of the class put their hands up, including mine. Not Martin Luther King, said Phelan,... Martin Luther. Every hand, including mine, went down.

The mind is a funny thing, i can remember that as if it were yesterday, and yet i can't pick out anything else that we learnt on the reformation back then. I'm fairly sure that as an unsaved 12 year old i found it of little relevance to my life. Ten years on things have changed a great deal. Today is the 490th anniversary of when Martin Luther 'started' the Reformation, by posting his 95 these to the door of Wittenburg Castle. He was protesting about the sale of indulgences by the Catholic church, among other things, and this quickly lead to what we now know as the Reformation. Protestantism was born, and suddenly people could read their Bibles in their own tongue. The world ws a different place. The doctrine of justification by faith alone in Christ alone was rediscovered. This is Christianity's dangerous idea. This is a work of God's Spirit and Word to motion one of the greatest ever revivals.

The Bible is very precious to me, but it wasn't always so. I remember when i first started to 'investigate' the claims of Christianity, i realised i needed a Bible. Providentially at that time i was being taught maths by the school chaplain, an heroic man named Peter Toller. When i found him and asked for a Bible i remember making sure no one could possibly hear me but him when i asked the question. Being able to read the Bible in my own language, in my own room by myself was an integral part of my repentance and coming to faith. Something that would have been totally impossible without the Reformation. To this day reading and studying the Bible each day gives me great delight, again, impossible without what Luther started.

And now in 2007, nearly five hundred years have passed since that famous day, and we've dealt with all the problems the Reformation riased haven't we? Sadly, not a bit of it. The gospel has been rediscovered. It had been lost by the Roman Catholic church, but found and defended by Luther, Calvin and Zwingli to name but a few. Battle won right? Sadly not. It seems my generation more than need to be reminded of what was won by those great men. In these 'emergent days' (which won't last long, in thirty years the Emergent Village and its 'conversation' will be a curious footnote of history) people seem to need to be reminded of the truth of Sola Scriptura. Suddenly people are scared to define what they believe, people want to take 'bricks out of the wall', people don't want preaching and confrontation any more, they want conversation and controversy. The leaders of this movement seem intent on creating for themselves a false Gospel, sacrificing the right for them to read the Bible on it's own terms. This worries me. If the real Reformation was born out of a desire to protect and proclaim the Gospel, it seems that this 'emergent reformation' is born out of a desire to simply throw it away. I would happily spend my life refuting the claims and approach of this new movement. I say new, it's not new of course, there is no new heresy, it's just recycled. Perhaps thats the saddest thing about it.

Last of all, i remember the Reformation today, because Reformation should lead to reformission. The Word of God doing an unrestricted work of glory in our hearts should lead us to want to reach out to our lost, perverted, sick, devil worshipping towns and cities. When we recover and trust what the Bible says about the glory of Christ and peril of the lost, we should be so gripped by these things that we can not help ourselves. Biblical faith is a gutsy faith. It's the faith of Paul, Peter, Augustine, Luther, Calvin, Edwards and Whitfield. People who weren't afraid to call a spade a spade and who got on with what God had called them to do. They didn't hide behind the 'cultural relevance' wall...they saw that what the Bible says about God and man, what Luther and his fellow reformers recovered is the most relevant set of truths there is..

I thank God for the Reformation.

Challies Reformation day symposium