Friday, September 28, 2007

Coming soon

You can read the interview about it here, it's coming out on the 23rd October.

I'll have to add this to the long list of books i want to buy. If i had any money!

Thursday, September 27, 2007

TFA 07: Looking to the future

In the same way that the middle session was based on 1 Corinthians, this last session, looking t the future, was based in the book of Daniel. So how can good theology, especially from Danile help us today?

God is our only hope.

Daniel explodes the myth of the Godless world, and because of that, we will never be without hope. God is kind, faithful and soveriegn, thats how Daniel survived. No other God can save Daniel in the way of 3:17-18. In Chapter three the worlds power seems to be at it's greatest, but then it's used by God and for God, but then Nebuchednezzar is proud again, so God humbles him again in chapter four. Then the King of Babylon realises that Israel's God rules over him as well. He ruled for a long time, but God is eternal. God is our best hope always, we are never along with His Word, an when we exhaust our own strength, then we are in the best place.

You can survive.

Don't believe the scaremongering about the death of the Biblical church. We should be inspired by Daniel. It is incredible that he survived for as long as he did as close to the king. Daniel was not impressed or scared by Belteshazzar, a man who neither knew nor feared God. He continued to translate his dreams. Belteshazzar did not survive. Daniel did. Where our treasure is there our heart will be...let our trasure be the Gospel.

You will face opposition.

Daniel exposes the myth of the moral world. The world will only be moral at it's best, but it's hardly ever at it's best. Would we cope like Daniel, who was in captuvuty for more than sixty years? There is no utopia, not for Daniel, not for us, even in obediance to Jesus. In fact, it is because of our obediance to Jesus...look how he was treated. But the message of the second half of Daniel is simple: God wins! But we see in this chapter that His people often look defeated: in 7:21 they are being warred upon, in 8:10 they are suffering, in 12:7 we see that many will lose their lives. Real Christianity doesn't promise to deliver us from suffering in this life, but to God in the end. Our current lack of suffering in unusual, politics will not save the saints, only the Gospel will do that.

Good theology is important because it informs our hearts and sets our expectations. Daniel suffered for decade upon decade, and he didn't even know what we know. We need to store the Word, and good theology up in our hearts so that when days' like Daniels arrive, we know that God hasn't deserted us. Our lives are, and must be, living testimony to the fact that life in Christ is better than an easy life without Him.

Sermon Sunday: Psalm 16:11

This is my script from last sunday at church, where three of us preached for eight minutes each. You can listen to it here

Like many of David’s psalms it can be argued here that he speaks for Himself and for Christ. Jesus knew that ultimate joy and happiness was to be found in the presence of God…and that is why he ‘waded through the sea of blood at Calvary’ Jesus pursued His happiness through close relationship with God, and I believe that God made us for happiness.

That seems like a surprising statement doesn’t it? We don’t naturally equate Christianity with happiness, but I think that’s what these verses teach. It’s not a happiness that the world recognises, or even envies, not a happiness based on circumstances or money or friends, but a deep, lasting joy that comes from knowing the Father through Jesus Christ. Now you may say to me. Ed, you’re 22 years old, you’ve had a simple life, from school to uni to relay to working for a church, when you’ve lived a bit, then come back and we can talk about happiness. And that’s true.

But lets look at David who wrote this psalm. One of his sons killed the other, his early years were spent on the run from Saul and his armies, who would have him killed. David knew pain and suffering, and yet in spite of numerous setbacks and disappointments, recurring depression and political defeats, David was a profoundly happy man. Happy, that is, in God. That’s why this verse contains words like joy and pleasure, because God’s aim for us is to be happy in Him. Because in that way we bring Him glory.

We need to do very little other than to reflect on what the text says here:

Fullness: it’s complete, a torrent of joy. There will be no more longing or dissatisfaction or unhappiness. We will have fullness of joy. More joy than we can even imagine now will be ours when we see the Lord face to face. We will be overflowing with joy, and there’s no way we can imagine what that’s like now. That is what Christianity is about…delayed gratification. But oh! What gratification!

Pleasure: it is enjoyable, it’s good. Heaven is not just going to be like life here but a bit better…it’s going to be amazing. Like having a fullness of joy, we can not imagine what its going to be like. But it’s going to be pleasurable.

Security: How can we trust this though? How do we know that this isn’t just the churches way of luring people in, of making people believe they are getting something good to keep them onside? Look at the verse again…where does this pleasure come from? It comes from God’s right hand. And God is not like us. God is not merely at the top of the scale which starts with plankton and ends with Jesus. He is on an altogether different scale. He is as high above an angel as He is a caterpillar. So we can trust this promise. We can bank our all on this hope of pleasure, because it comes from God’s right hand, and he will not break His promises.

Evermore: it never ends. You know when you’re having a great time, with your friends or on holiday, and you’re really enjoying yourself, but somehow that enjoyment is tempered by the fact that soon it will end, and life will be back into a routine again.. I remember the last time I felt like that was when I was on short term mission in Bulgaria over the summer. I can an incredible three weeks out there, and i remember sitting there thinking that I wish I could bottle that week, that feeling for when I came home. Heaven won’t be like that, it will be joy untempered, pleasure immeasurable, and it will never end. We can’t really get our heads round what eternal means. We all sing ‘when I’ve been there ten thousand years’, but none of us know what that means. But that’s ok, the finite can not comprehend or imagine the infinite. But we can still look forward to it, we can still relish the prospect…

But what difference does all this talk make?

I think CS Lewis answers this questions in his sermon ‘The weight of glory’. He says ‘If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and earnestly to hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I submit that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.’

Well doesn’t it make every difference? You see why this quote by Lewis changed my life? It’s not just that sin is deadly, although it’s surely not less than that, but to know God deeply is joyful and pleasurable. It’s better than fooling around with drink and sex and ambition. It will make us happier than all those things. Jesus appeals to our most basic instinct here, the instinct to be happy, and then floods and overloads it with Himself. So I want to leave us with an encouragement and a challenge this morning. I want to encourage those of us who feel like our lives are devoid of joy right now… it will come, in this life, and ultimately in heaven. That is the objective promise we have here. And God does not break His promises. And the challenge?
What an impact we would have on this town if we were a radically God glory orientated joy seeking church for the glory of God through Jesus Christ...

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

hello Christian freshers (learning from my mistakes)

In a weeks time it'll be Freshers' week in Reading, here's some advice for Christians going to university for the first time. Some of it is things i've done, some of i've learnt from not doing. It's not an exhaustive list, but it's some things to think about at least:

Get involved in a local church
The church is the hope of the world, the church is where you’ll meet God’s people, learn from His Word and reach out to those in the community around you. It’s easy to hide in a student bubble for three years…but this is where you’ll be spending the majority of your next three years, go get stuck in! Join a cell group, serve on a Sunday morning, be generous in your giving.

Find your Christian Union
CUs are student lead mission teams there to reach out the students on campus. They are supported by staff to support and envision you about doing on campus mission. They are a great place to get equipped and strengthened to live and speak for Jesus on Campus

Don’t hide in a Christian ghetto
As important and true as the above are, you won’t meet many non Christians at church or CU. So make sure you make the time to spend with them. Get to know the guys on your corridor, you’ll be living with them for a year and they’re the most likely people you’ll be living with in your second and third year as well. Get involved in a club or society. Be a Christian in all areas of your life.

Work hard
God is glorified by excellence amongst His people. So do your degree to the glory of God. It’s sometimes easy as a student (perhaps especially at Reading!) to end up seeing your degree as just something you do in your spare time. But don’t less this happen. Your degree is primarily why you’re here, so do it well and do it for God. Get to know people on the same course as you.

Eat well, sleep well
This will help you to study and live more effectively. Your body belongs to God, treat it well. The next few weeks could be the busiest and most emotionally exhausting of your life, so rest well, eat well and live with a clear head.

Think about 2011
It’s easy as a student to think in one year blocks…the world doesn’t work this, so think about what you’ll do when you finish. Makes God’ will and being settled in a good church paramount in your thoughts, don’t spend your life chasing a bigger paycheck, spend it pursuing the glory of Christ.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

TFA 07: Lessons for the present

Mark is well known for his books that cover all the old and new testaments, Promises Made and Promises Kept. These books cover the message of each individual book of the Bible, and it was this skill that we saw in the third and fourth sessions on saturday. For the third session on the present, we were taking through 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians is a good book to look at because it covers a large range of issues that are faced in churches today. Discipline in chapter 5, being wronged in chapter 6, the ressurection in chapter 15, the rights of apostles in chapter nine, gifts in chapters 12 and 14 which are all joined together in love according to chapter 13.

Theology then is foundational and crucial, we need to know what God is like so we can know what our churches are like. So what should we be like in our churches?

We are called to be holy, according to Chapter 1:2, and blameless in 1:8. Holiness is a strangeness to the world. We are estraged from the world, and we should be buried in the Word. Chapter 3:15 and 17 tell us that we are special to God, so we must be pure. We must not be overtolerant, according to chapter 5. Paul is yelling at the church here. Toleration of sin in the church is an immune system failure, it's that serious. God is concerned that His people be pure. We have church discipline to avert eternal condemnation. The unholy will not inherit the kingdom of God...chapter 10 shows us the results of people who did not obey God in the Old Testament. We are to be holy.

There were already problems with this in Corinth as we see from 1:10. They are being worldy in separating from eachother rather than from the world, as they should. The church should not divide for carnal reasons.

Chapter 8:1 shows us that love and concern for others should govern all that we do. Pauls example of this comes in chapter nine, he had laid aside his rights to be married or be paid for the good of the church. Chapters 10-12 are the implications of this, chapter 13 is explicit in what it looks like, chapter 14 shows us how we should work this out in practice. Even with all of us questing for truth there still must be love. Christians mustn't wrongly use their freedom, but rather the concerns of others should be paramount.

So thats the 'for all' bit...what about the theology bit. Why should we be like this? The church is supposed to reflect it's Lord, it's supposed to be holy and united and loving, as Jesus is. Be holy because God is holy, be holy because you are holy, the Lamb has been you not know? Our holyness is derivative. Be united because God is united, all the work is His, be it though Paul or Apollos. We are mere men, He is the foundation and the judge of the world. We are His body, and this many parted body should be a unit.

Paul deals with the factions of chapter one, with good theology. Mark made the comment that this was strage. Paul didn't investigate who was behind the factioning or what the rights or wrongs were, he points out that the church is the body of Christ (as Paul learnt on the road to Damascus) and that Christ is united.

And we are to be loving because God is loving. The church must manifest the charecter of God to the world. Is there any higher challenge or calling than that? We must have good theology, good 'knowledge of the holy' to do this well, or even anything approaching well.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

TFA 07: Lessons from the past

Mark is known to be something of an expert on the Puritans. In this first lecture he painted very broad very fast brushstrokes of the church scene in the 1630s, which was very interesting if you knew something of that period of history and had read some of Richard Sibbes' work, but it was hard to take notes on and even harder to then blog those notes! So i'll just share Mark's conclusions from this session.

1) Preaching is more fundemental than polity.
Structure is not key, but the Gospel is. Denomonations are pragmatic. What we have in common far outweighs what we don't. The scottish baptist, the american charismatic and the brazilian missionary all preach the Gospel of justification by faith alone in Christ alone.

2) Preaching is more generative than discipline.
Thats how God creates life. The preaching of the Gospel is what the Holy Spirit uses to bring about generation. We must make non Christians feel at home in the church, but not at the cost of the Gospel.

3) Preaching is more substantial than liturgy.
Sibbes said that servive order and other forms of devotions should be 'shunted aside' and preaching should be central.

4) Preaching is more important that sacrements.
Preaching the Gospel brings meaning to baptism and the Lords supper. The Word is needed to interpret action. You have to actual preach the Gospel to preach the Gospel! Preaching should be central to the church meeting.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

TFA 07: Morning devotional

Today saw the 2007 Theology for all conference take place at Christchurch Mayfair in London. Mark Dever from Capitol Hill Baptist church and IX Marks was the speaker. He was excellent. I was also given a free copy of Mark's new book 'What is a healthy Church' plus a free DVD, and picked up a cheaper copy of Mark's other new book 'the Gospel and personal evangelism', which is about one of the nine marks of a healthy church. There are eight more to follow in the series. Hard not to be excited about that.

For the first session Mark's text was 1 Timothy 1:12-17, and these are my notes:

Verse 12: Paul is talking about one moment in the past here, it's not the language of continual strength or filling, but of it happenening at one particular time. On the Damascus road. You notice he thanks Jesus for calling him into His service here. This is not a thankfulness for ease, but for hardship, for service. It was God's call, he had been judged as faithful and appointed to God's service. This was the reason also that Timothy was at Ephesus, not because of him or his life or decisions, but because of God's call. And there's great security, comfort and strength in that. Our call is not of ourselves

Verse 13-14: Paul was a violent man and a blasphemer, and yet he was made an apostle. He received abundent, super abundent mercy, he went from violence to love by God's strength. Again Paul hopes to encourage his young disciple, that his calling, his position in Ephesus was not down to or about Timothy's abilities or talents, but about God's power. See the neccesity of a thoruoughly theological faith? All Paul's talk so far has been deeply theological. He has not massaged Timothy's self esteem or ego, not comforted him with self help schemes. Theology.

Verse 15: Calvin said of Paul here that he was not confessing 'from the teeth forward', that he really, deeply felt his guilt here. He wasn't being morbid and unreal, or (as Mark joked) American). But somehow there's a joy in this humilty, and those two things together can only come from true theology. He was a wolf that became a sheep. All of salvation is from God. These verses are like Paul's personal Ephesians 2. Paul uses the word 'sinner' with great weight. Do we? He says 'of whom i am the worst'. I am, he says. Forgiven sinners are sinners still. We can not save ourselves. Our pride is too great, our resources too few. Verse 15 is a summary of the Gospel, you've got incarnation and salvation. Jesus came to save sinners. He came to ransom people by His blood. He did not come just to teach, or lobby or help, but to save. All our theology flows from that. Why?

Verse 16: So that Christ might show His patience as an example to us. God does not choose anyone who is worth choosing but in choosing He renders worthy said Augustine. The persecutor becomes tne apostle. How long and strong is the arm of God.

Verse 17: Behold your God! Paul turns to joy ful praise. We need to be certain of what God is like and who He is, thats true theology.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Nothing must change

Brian McLaren, who i'm sure is a lovely fella, has got a new book out soon entitled 'everything must change.' In it he offers two views of Jesus; the 'convential view' (which is really nothing more than a caricature, have you ever met someone who refers to Christians as qualified individuals?) and the new emerging view. Challies has reviewed it here...

It seems clear to me that Everything Must Change is another step down the steep path that leads farther and farther away from biblical orthodoxy. McLaren seems to be fully aware of the path he is taking and of the crowd he is taking with him. I fear for them all. It seems increasingly clear to me that the new kind of Christian is starting to resemble no kind of Christian at all…

Monday, September 17, 2007

Northern Rock and the church

I walked past Northern Rock in Reading just before lunchtime today...there must have been close to a thousand people queueing to get in. Now, most of me has every sympathy with these people, if i was just about to retire and had my whole life savings with an institution that was probably about to fall to pieces, i'd want my money under my pillow frankly. I want to weep with those who weep.

The other part of me wants to slowly make my way down that line, telling people that, y'know, your money isn't actually stored in a vault in that building, that, in many ways, thats the problem because NR banked so much on the international money market rather than just spending their customers money. I want to tell them that by doing this, by withdrawing all their money, they're actually only making it much much worse. Sit tight, get some impartial advice, stop reading the Daily Mail, and things may well get back to normal.

Now, i can't believe that all these people were financial experts. That they had spent their weekend pouring over the FT or the Economist trying to work out what the best move was. Probably the majority were just doing what everyone else was doing. Interesting. Last week i had a conversation with a friend who knows someone who is a teacher's assistant. The girl she's looking after was being systemactically bullied by some boys sitting next to her in class. The weird thing was that on their own none of the bullys were that bad, but together, they were as vile as you could imagine. Interesting. I remember when i was in school, (and before i say this, i went to a very good school, so the bullying there was rarely anything more than adolesant male banter) when i was picked on by people in a group, they were people who on a one-to-one basis i got on with pretty well. The people i picked on (including one kid because his parents were missionaries. Bravo Ed) i got on ok with when it was just me and them. But in a group of others i could be a nightmare. Interesting.

In a society, in a culture where so much is made of indivudualism, where people will get offended if you try and group them with others, where a group of kids at the end my road dressed more or less the same will hang around for hours on end doing nothing, seemingly so they can just be together, what is the church to make of it all? Apart from the practical level of counciling and looking after those who may have lost their life savings, the bullys and the bullied, sharing the Gospel with the disenfranchised kids, what are we to do?

When God saves us, He calls us into a community. Not by any any means a perfect one, but a community hopefully marked by grace and love and justice. Into a community of people revolutionised by the Gospel. A community where Ethiopians and Phillipinos can worship shoulder to shoulder, where the doctor and the recovering addict can talk about football over a cup of tea. Where Christ's glory is all. The people who are probably still queuing outside Northern Rock are doing so, in part because of the safety in numbers, but more so because those numbers have made it the right and attractive thing to do. Because people in that community have taken the time and effort to tell people that they need to be there. They've crossed cultural biundaries to do so.

You know where i'm going now. Money is the most important thing in our culture. Because things rule people and you need money to have things, money is king. People are staning for hours to protect their money. They are a new community. What about God's new community? When will we unleash the Gospel? When will we see people queuing to get into church, because of what they've heard, because people have convinced them that it's the right thing to do?

Lets learn from the communities of the disenfranchised.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Liberal Christianity and evangelism

This week i read this:

Once again we have a father demonstrating love by subjecting a son to death by torture, but this time the father is not trying to impress god. He is god, and he is trying to impress humans. (HT: Challies)

Now the guy who wrote this, Christopher Hitchens isn't a Christian, as we have guessed by the title of his book, 'God is not great', but i think it's still worth asking where he got such a skewed view fo the atonement from...

One things that the 'cosmic child abuse' crowd always seem to overlook is the willingness of Jesus to go to the cross. 'the world must know that i love my Father'. Does this sound like child abuse? Does this sound like what Hitchens and those who would deny penal substitution are talking about? A helpless defenceless child beaten by his merciless father? Even at Gethsemene, where Jesus sweated blood with anxiety at what is about the happen, He still comes to the conlcusion that 'not what i will, but what you will be done'... Again, Jesus is not dragged by His Father to the cross. The Father did not have the cajole the Son into this, the Trinity never disagree and never discuss...this the Plan from ages past. Jesus longed to show the world the rightouesness of God. He longed to show the world the glory of God by bringing the elect into communion with Him. He was not 'subjected to death by torture' in the way that Hitchens, or indeed many Christians would have us believe.

Secondly, 'God was trying to impress man'? No no no. It's hard to know where to start here. The Creator of the universe, the One who knit us together in our mothers' wombs trying to impress us? Trying to pull something out of the bag to make us look? No. And again no. Christ showed His love for us while we were still sinners, there's no doubt about that, but i'm not sure thats what Hitchens means. Christs death on the cross demonstrates the righteousness of God, because He had passed over former sins...It doesn't demonstrate that God was lonely and wanted to impress some new friends.

So what does this mean for evangelism? It makes it much harder. It's not difficult to to work out where Hitchens has picked these ideas up from, because it's surely not the Bible. Liberal Christianity, those who deny penal substitutionary atonement have made the job of portraying the utter glory and mercy and wisdom of the Godhead at Calvery all the more hard. Poor theology doesn't just matter in the libraries and affects people's eternity.

Monday, September 10, 2007

Ten eleven

The tenth of september is always a day of reflection for me. It'd today, six years ago that i started going out the girl who bought me to Christ, is i guess i see today as the aniiversary of when i started to become a Christian. Obviously, this isn't that true, since my salvation was decided upon infinite ages ago, and completed at Calvary, but today still makes me think.

And it makes me thankful. Thankful for the last six years of grace and growth, hopeful for the next six years of grace and growth. Backward looking gratitude feeding forward looking, grace filled hope. It makes me excited. It makes me sad because i'm not even a third of the man i probably hoped i would be back then. But thats ok. It makes me remember the people who had such a big hand in my salvation.

And it was bought home today this afternoon by the visit of some Mormons. They came over last week doorknocking (which made me wonder why it's never evangelicals who go door-to-door, i think i've done a good job when i run up someones drive and shove a leaflet through their door, beating a hasty retreat. They were in once sense at least, hardcore), and we arranged to meet up today. We batted around some scripture, then they introduced me to the book of Mormon and told me about Joseph Smith. It all sounded pretty believable, which comforted me because the wisdom of man is foolishness to God. Hooray for my foolishness. It's a battle.

I hope that in years to come, one, two, or all of them might come to remember today as the day they started to know Christ for who He is, and start on the way to saving knowledge of Him. I invited them to Alpha, which is probably as good as i though it was going to get, except in my slightly more removed moments when i had visions of dipping them in the Kennet and Avon about now. I'm thankful that God bought them into my life, i enjoyed their company, and i pray they'd be saved.