Wednesday, October 31, 2007
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
Tuesday, October 30, 2007
It's sure not the way Paul was. I was reading in my Bible study recently 2 Corinthians 3, and it was verses 7-9 that really stood out for me this time:
Now if(P) the ministry of death, carved in letters on stone, came with such glory(Q) that the Israelites could not gaze at Moses’ face because of its glory, which was being brought to an end, 8will not the ministry of the Spirit have even more glory? 9For if there was glory in(R) the ministry of condemnation,(S) the ministry of righteousness must far exceed it in glory
Paul starts by looking back...which sounds pretty nostalgic doesn't it? He's talking about the Law, given at Sinai, where Moses' face shone after he had been with God. This was the ministry of death, carved on stone, but still it came with glory. Even the reflected glory shining from Moses was unbearable to look at. And yet this covenant, this ministry was carved on stone, and saved no one, not because it wasn't a poor covenant, but because it was never God's plan to save by works. It was being brought to an end, but it still had great glory.
But what of the new Covenant? Well surely, says Paul, is what was passing away had glory, will that which never passes away not have more glory? If, as Paul reasons perfectly logically, there was glory in what bought condemnation, surely there is more glory in that which brings life. How amazing it is to live this side of the cross, to know what Kings and Prophets longed to know (Luke 10:24). And how good it is to know how to persue holiness, through getting to know this awesome God, this awesome covenent, and this awesome plan. I love how simple the Bible makes things!
Saturday, October 27, 2007
When my granddad wanted to sign up, wanted to sign up, first of all he went to High Wycombe to join the Marines, they weren't recruiting in Wycombe that day, and the recruiting officer triued to talk him into the Gloucester Regiment. Graddad wasn't having any of that, so he rode his bike to Reading to sign up here...where he was greeted with the same recruitment officer, who this time, let him join the Marines. I love that story.
My grandad served most of the second half of the war on the Russian convoys, guarding the supply ships from U-Boats as they made their way up the atlantic. In the early part of the way, however, he spent some time in Italy, near his older brother. At one point in, i think 1943, they missed eachother in the same town by just a few hundred yards. My granddad being sent one way, when my Uncle Bill was in the other...I'm not such a fan of that story, although they both made it home from the war.
Harry James Goode is still going strong at eighty-six. Still in his garden every day, still walking miles a week. Still full of life despite the loss of his wife, brother, sister and many many close friends in the last decade. He belongs to a remarkable generation. He is a remarkable man.
Thursday, October 25, 2007
'For the LORD spoke thus to me with his strong hand upon me, and warned me not to walk in the way of this people, saying: "Do not call conspiracy all that this people calls conspiracy, and do not fear what they fear, nor be in dread. But the LORD of hosts, him you shall honor as holy. Let him be your fear, and let him be your dread. And he will become a sanctuary and a stone of offense and a rock of stumbling to both houses of Israel, a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem. And many shall stumble on it. They shall fall and be broken; they shall be snared and taken.'
It was good to read that, good to hear it. On tuesday i rode through London on the underground, about rushhour time. Lots of young and high earning people pouring out of their jobs and homeward. And really for the first time since graduating i wondered whether i was doing the right thing. Whether i shouldn't instead just persue more money, better clothes, nicer stuff and be done with it. This was shaken off quickly enough, but studying this really helped.
Standing firm in faith, trusting in what God has for you was hard for the faithful remnant in Isaiah 8. All around them people were fearing the war, and worshipping the world. And really nothing's changed in 28 centuries since. It's hard to believe and trust when all around you aren't. But what of those who ignore the sanctuary of Christ? Who stumble over the stumbling stone? They shall be snared and taken. And for those who trust, and build and shelter in the rock? They shall find peace and life. They shall prosper for eternity, in a real way, not in a nice clothes and nifty haircut way.
We need to believe this. And not waste our lives.
Monday, October 22, 2007
The media, and to a large extent, the public, like to ascribe greatness and glory and even infallibility to our sporting heroes. But this week has proved that they're not. Even Lewis Hamilton, who is, let's face it, a tremendous driver, contributed to his own downfall, even Jonny Wilkinson missed a penalty, to saw nothing of wednesday evening in Moscow. The thing is we need this glory and greatness in our lives, our hearts are made for glory, are made to drink in greatness. And thats why our sporting greats are ascribed these things, because we need it. And thats why we feel so bad when they fail. Thats why we need to have hearts and minds inclined to the one who will never fail.
Jesus is the one for whom our hearts were made. Jesus exudes greatness as He comes to us, and it was for that greatness we were made. Jesus' kingdom will never be rocked, His foot will never be in touch, He will never slip into neutral. So we need to give our hearts and minds to Him. We need to have our affections on Him, not on a group of men who will let us donw one day, if not today. Imagine if our papers' were filled with Biblical exposition, imagine if our back pages were full of missionary endevour. What a nation we would be, if all the passion and affection that was in my heart for sport was turned towards the Lord, there'd be little limit to what God could do...
Sunday, October 21, 2007
Friday, October 19, 2007
Thursday, October 18, 2007
At Reading Family Church we've just taken the painful decision to take our kids out right from the start of the meeting at 1015 because we've simply run out of room at the school we meet in. This has been a really hard move to make, and really makes a difference to the feeling of the meeting. We'll get used to it though, and it does free up space for people to come in...we've already seen the benefit of it on a sunday as we had more people than seats counting all the guys in kids church.
I think 'sunday schools' are a good idea. They give parents time and room on a sunday morning to listen to the preaching without having to worry about their children. And as long as the sunday schools are teaching the Gospel to children on a sunday, then having them in an environment where they can learn without hindering hindering others has to be a good thing. Thats probably my favourite thing about the idea of moving children out of the preach, it gives parents space and time. And, on a related note it means that whoever's preaching doesn't have to feel responsible for making the message accesable for all ages...we can go through difficult books and difficult ideas over time. And, it probably means that children associate church with fun rather than boredom of having to sit still for a while.
My big issue is the age at which people stop being 'children' in sunday school, and start being 'youth' in the main meeting, probably with something for them midweek. When is the right time to have people in the main meeting? Eighteen is surely too late...i was shocked last year when freshers' who i worked with were put off a church because there wasn't a youthgroup for them to join. I was like 'you're eighteen fella'. Maybe thats the reason the there's such a drop off rate between people in church at school and people in church at university. They come out of a sunday school youthgroup where everything is very much centred around them to a church where (hopefully) they are challenged to serve and got into a cell and give regularly, as well as, not least, sitting through 30-40 minutes of preaching each week. It's a big difference.
So whats the answer? When's the best age to move through from mini dramas to preaching? 14? 16? I'm not sure the big issue is whether children should be out of the meeting, but when they come back in. As long as children are seeing the faithful life modelled to them by their parents during the week then it does seem the best idea to not have them in the main meeting on a sunday. But that leaves two responsibilities for the church and for the sunday school. Making sure the Gospel is central to a childs sunday morning (and i that must be hard, i've got no idea how to make the gospel understanable to a four year old) and to make sure they are ready to not be a 'youth' when they become a student, or leave school. Both these areas are possibly formational to a person's whole life. Sunday school is huge...
Monday, October 15, 2007
I think i'm feeling a mixture of excitement and apprehension. It'll be nice to out of Reading for a bit, and out of the routine, and i suppose i should say that i'm looking forward to meeting lots of people. And obviously spending much time with God. I guess the apprehension comes from the whole, y'know, not eating between now and wednesday evening thing. I've never fasted for that long before. It'll be good to trust God for my nourishment and push my body further than i have done before...
From a poor Philadelphia neighborhood, Joe, who grew up without a father confesses, "If I wasn't in hardcore, I'd be in jail or dead. . . I have four cousins in jail. Three more are dead from overdoses. When I went to shows, I felt like I had people who gave a [freak] about me. Nothing has touched me the way hardcore has."
Why can't Joe's testimony read, "If it wasn't for Jesus I'd be dead. . .When I went to [insert your church here], I felt I had people who gave a [freak] about me. Nothing has touched me the way the church has." Meeting the guys in FSU would be a dream-come-true for me!
Here's the real problem: Jesus cares about hardcore culture, it's Christians who don't. So guys like Ronin and Joe are left to the power of the devil. Hardcore missionaries are desperately needed. These white dudes are pissed-off and dying. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick"--Jesus. Who will go?You can read the whole article here.
I think he poses a very good question. British culture and American culture are different. We don't have gangs of hardcore punk kids roaming the streets looking for an emo kid to beat up. But we do have hundreds, thousands of young men disaffected in the same way. People who only find solace in rock and roll, or drink, or sex, people who know nothing of the joy, love and peace that comes from knowing Jesus. And but for the grace of God there go i. Jesus cares about these people, even if i don't. The kids who hang around at the end of my road after dark, who i'll always cross the street rather than walk past. The guys in eye make-up and hoodys who hang round town centres and shopping centres all day. And there but for the grace of God go i.
They need a robust message. Yes, the need love, goodness me how some of them need parents who will care for them, a home where they can get hot meals at the end of every day and a school system that doesn't let them down at nearly every turn. But what they need more than that is salvation. They need to get right with God so that on the last day it won't be better for rocks to crush their brains than for them to face judgement. So they need a robust message. They need to know the Jesus of the Gospels. A Jesus big enough and masculine enough to be worshipped and obeyed, and yet tender enough to seek out the company of children. A Jesus fierce enough to be more feared than a life threatening storm, but humble enough to wash the feet of his friends. A Jesus who condemns religious hypocrites who turn their back on Him as whitewashed tombs, and yet gathers to Himself tax collectors and prostitutes. They need this Jesus, we need this Jesus, the church needs this Jesus. I need this Jesus.
Psycological, weak, pseudo prosperity-gospel living and believing will fail these guys. And it will fail the glory of God in the Gospel. We need, as Anthony Bradley says (and i so want to be like this) 'bold, fearless, gospel-driven, fully masculine, evil-fighting, heresy-fighting, group(s) of men' to penetrate this sub culture. And we need them soon.
'for the first disciples 'Christianity' was simply about being with Jesus. They'd wake up each morning...where are you Lord? What sort of adventures will we have today?' Terry Virgo.
'all good people go to Heaven, the problem is that no one is good' Michael Ramsden
'i believe in the Gospel as i believe in the rising sun. Not only do i see it, but by it i see all things' CS Lewis quoted by Michael Ramsden,
Friday, October 12, 2007
And whats the essence of his message? Go and preach until the people's ears become unhearing and their eyes unseeing. Basically go and preach to them a message of judgement, that they won't listen to. This is not a message that will get Isaiah good invites in the Judah social circles, it won't get him popularity, it will cost him a lot more than it will gain him. It will get him sawn in half, according to Hebrews. And yet Isaiah, constrained by the glory and i'm guessing the joy of seeing God doesn't record a complaint. Infact he fills up the next sixty odd book with this message, and records of it's reception. Isaiah's message that YHWH is God of the nations will be rejected.
Is today's message of a crucified savior any less unbelievable? Of course not, thats why evangelism is so hard, thats why God is glorified through it. Because it's clearly not a man made message, and when people are saved it's clearly not due to the efforts of men. We have this treasure in jars of clay to show that the all surpassing power belongs to God and not to us'. So we will never come away from a witnessing situation feeling good, because we are jars of clay. But how then do we survive in doing the work of an evangelist? There might be two ways.
Remembering that the work belongs to the Lord. This is key. 2 Corinthians 4:4-6 tells us that salvation happens when God shines light in our heart to show us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. And we can't do that. We can't shine that light. All we can do is trust, pray, and proclaim not ourselves, but Jesus as Lord. And trust. Lots of trusting.
And we can, like Isaiah be constrained by the glory and majesty of God. As John Piper might say, we must be constrained by the joys of heaven and the horrors of hell. We need faith to do evangelism, to proclaim an unbelievable message to a deaf and blind people. Isaiah was constrained by his faith, constrained by his belief that his message was important, and constrained by his vision of the glory of God.
Thursday, October 11, 2007
Mhmm. Now Calvin's only talking about the doctrine of election here, but surely the same principle applies to any doctrine that we hope to explore. To try and find knowledge of God outside of His Word which concerns His Son is going to be hopeless and futile. Our hearts are idol factories, as Calvin also said, and so any attempt to know God outside of scripture will lead to us creating an idol, which good theology exists to tear down. As Mike Reeves once said 'everything we intrinsically know about God is wrong'.
Monday, October 08, 2007
Verses 5 and 6 then seem to be integral to the whole story. Here they are in the ESV, NASB and the NKJV:
5Now(A) Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6So, when he heard that Lazarus[a] was ill,(B) he stayed two days longer in the place where he was.
and here they are in NIV:
5Jesus loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. 6Yet when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where he was two more days.
And here in the NLT:
So although Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus, 6 he stayed where he was for the next two days.
Exchanging 'so' for 'yet' might seem like a tiny difference, but it changes the whole feel of the story. Did Jesus stay for two days because He love Mary, Martha and Lazarus, and wanted them to see God glorified, and wanted people to believe, as the rest of the passage would suggest, as the rest of John would suggest, or did He linger in spite of His love for them? Surely it's the first, surely thats more faithful to the original message John was trying to communicate? Surely this is another example in favour of the use of less dymanic, more literal translations...
Saturday, October 06, 2007
I like Isaiah because it makes us think about Biblical Theology. It's easy to look, for example, at the Immanuel sign in chapter seven, and go straigh to Jesus. But first we need to engage with the time, we need to ask what it originally meant for Ahaz to recieve that sign. Who the 'God with us' was in that time.
I like it because it hangs on peoples names. Isaiah 'YHWH will save' Shear-Jashub 'a remnant will return'. I just think things like that a re pretty cool. I like it because it has so much history in it. Ahaz is told not to fear the northern alliance that threatens to wipe out his kingdom, but rather trust in the Lord. Later Judah is told no to ally with Egypt. I like that the Bible proves that these things happened in history.
I like it because it's the Old Testament, and even though it's a major prophet, it is rarely preached on or taught in my experience. So it's great to introduce people to the old testament.
Lastly, but definately not least, i like it because it's the Gospel, 800 years before the incarnation. The message is: have faith in God or be destroyed, live by faith or fall, stand firm by faith, or you won't stand firm at all. We've heard that somewhere before...
Friday, October 05, 2007
Well, because it's not simply a religious ideal. Jesus isn't a religious ideal. He didn't come to lobby, or save the environment or give us the kingdom on earth...he came to save. Jesus is supreme over every thought, very theory. He is Lord over every people group, every island, every language, every culture. And He will judge them all on the Last Day. And thats why missions is not foolish. Thats why it's the greatest act of love there is. Thats why Gospel proclamation is the biggest priviledge in the world.
Jim Elliot is a hero of mine. His life and especially his death looks foolish to the world. Bright man, young family, all of his life ahead of him, limitless potential...flies to a remote part of Ecuador to tell the Aucas about Jesus...and is speared to death days later. That is foolish if the gospel is not true. But missionaries like Jim are (i presume) driven by an all encompassing belief that the Gospel is true, and constrained by the joys of Heaven and the horrors of Hell. Ands thats why his life, and certainly his death wasn't wasted.
This week i came across the story of William Borden, which you can read in detail here. He didn't even reach his field before he died. Although he was a millionaire, Bill seemed to realize always that he must be about his Father's business, and not wasting time in the pursuit of amusement. Here was a man who knew the price Jesus had paid for His inheritance, knew the cost of following Him, and went anyway. Here is a man who would be in the 21st century Hebrews 11.
I love stories like this, that fill my heart with respect for men and belief in God, and make me realise that Christ is our all surpassing gain. These are stories that must be told.
Thursday, October 04, 2007
John also said this at the Expositors' conference this week. (HT Challies)
At one point he revealed that he has begun work on a new book that will serve as a follow-up to The Truth War. Since the publication of that book people have said that the book was unloving and that he should not write such books but instead just join in the conversation. So he has decided to write a book that answers the simple question, How did Jesus deal with those who misrepresented the truth? Did Jesus tend towards conversation or condemnation? Those who have studied the gospels will know…