Wednesday, January 30, 2008

God is love?

It seems that the statement 'God is love' is sometimes used to cover and end a multitude of disagreement and controversy. Indeed, even yesterday i was checking my Nooma post from the summer again, to see how many more comments have been made on it, (current tally, 37) and one guy ended his comment of disagreement with the statement 'God is love'. Now, thats true. God is love, otherwise the Bible wouldn't tell us He was. If we don't affirm that scripture is God-breathed and therefore true and authoritative then we are cut adrift as Christians with neither boat nor paddle.

So yes, of course. God is love. That is a great neccesary and life giving truth. And i love it. But it what sense is is a life giving and neccesary thruth? What does it mean that God is love? How is this love expressed. In the quote about Steve Chalke says he's been accused of 'not putting it in context'. Well thats do that now, and lets see if the argument against, particularly in this case penal substitution is affected in any way by the context of the rest of the passage:

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love. In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world, so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.

So John's argument seems to be 1) if we don't love each other we don't know God, why? Because 2) God is love. And how can we know His love? What does His love look like? 3) He sent His Son to be the propitiation for our sins. 4) Look how much God loves us, so love each other.

So it seems from this that 'God is love' far from giving trouble to the doctrine of penal substitution is actually based on that doctrine. God is love. This is what His love looks like, that He sent His Son to bear our sins on the cross. God is love seems to lead us straight to penal substitution. And it seems to suggest that God is love means that God will give us Himself, that God's greatest gift in His love is Himself in His Son. Why? Well what did the cross achieve for us? Forgiveness of sins? Yes,

Infinitly neccesary but not ultimate. It's not ultimate because the cross is not about God. So what difference does that make? Well when a God ultimatly concerned with His own glory (as we also see from this verse, God being love demonstrates Father loves Son, Father loves Holy Spirit, Son loves Father and Holy Spirit and Holy Spirit loves Father and Son) sends His own Son to die, it's going to be for God glorifying reasons. It's going to be to bring us to Him, so we can worship, enjoy and praise Him. And thats what it does.

So God's love is the gift of His Son so that we might know Him. But do we see this idea anywhere else in scripture? I think we do, in John 17:26: I made known to them your name, and I will continue to make it known, that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them. So Jesus makes known to us the love of the Father. Why? So that we might love the father has for the Son will be in us. This must be referring to Heaven, when we see Jesus as he really is, and therefore begin to love Him as we should do. 'And I in them'. Which i think means, given the context, the love i have for the Farther you will have for the Father. So suddenly we're caught up into this eternal intra trinity love

In Heaven we will love the Son as the Father does, and vice versa. This love withh be eternal, infinite, white hot, overwhelmed with joy. And, for us, as we continue to see the glory of Jesus unfold for eternity, it will be a love that grows and grows. How does this happen? How can jesus possibly win this for sinners like you and me? By what He did on the cross. By removing every barrier, every sin that stood between us and this all satisfying, white hot joy filled relationship with the Father.

So yes, God is love. All day every day. But we can only know and taste this because in His love, because God is love, He sent Jesus, to bare the wrath that we deserve on our behalf, so that we might spend eternity caught up in, and experiencing this Father, Son, Holy Spirit love.

There's more...

Mark Driscoll is one of my favourite preachers/authors/people, but it seems that Mars Hill Church in Seattle is made up of lots of talented people. Over the weekend i downloaded the 'Sons of Thunder' demo. Now, i'll be honest, i don't like a great deal of Christian music, but this is really really good. Go get it.

Also on the way home from last nights defeat (yeh, i'm not going to Accrington any more. Toys, pram, out) i listened to Scott Thomas, who's something like Pastor for everything outside Mars Hill's walls on Titus 1. From chaos to Christ.

Monday, January 28, 2008


Last season, as i drove away from The Crown Ground, following a last minute defeat, hundreds of miles away from home, i consoled myself with the thought that i'd never...never, go back to Accrington ever again.

And now i find myself, five days before we're playing up there next, looking at train times and thinking about coach journeys.

This is a sickness...


Of course it is Jesus who saves, not the doctrine. And so our faith rests decisively on Jesus. But the doctrine tells us what sort of Jesus we are resting on and what we are resting on Him for. Without this, the word Jesus has no content that could be good news.
John Piper: 'The Future of Justification' P86

I'm reading Piper's new book on justification at the moment. I'd seen a review that said if you weren't really part of the debate yourself, not a pastor of a church where this was a problem, not someone torn between the new Perspective and orthodoxy, or not someone with an academic interest in the subject, it's probably a work to be avoided. I'd have to say that since i don't fall into any of those categories, but am still enjoying and gaining much from the book, i'd have to disagree.

Anyway, Piper, in the above quote, makes the distinction between saving faith in Christ, over above saving faith in doctrine, which doesn't actually exist. And thats right, but it got me to thinking not that 'all we need is love' or that if we say we're Christians we'll go to Heaven, but that it makes the study and belief of sound doctrine all the more important. If i just say i love maths, but do no work in the study of maths, and then just make up a load of random junk on my maths exam, i'm not going to get very far. A football team that tries to pass the ball from hand to hand isn't going to do very well, despite how much they claim to love the game.

Last year saw serious controversy over, and defence of the doctrine of, penal substitution. And that was right and crucial controversy, not because we are saved by believing the doctrine, but because the doctrine helps us to know and see how we are saved and what from. If i don't believe that all my sin was punished in Jesus on the cross, my sinful heart will naturally waiver and worry and try to work to deal with sin itself. But if i know that all my sin has been dealt with by Jesus forever, then there will no such problems. In theory at least.

The same with that foundation stone of the church, justification by faith alone, something at stake in 'The Future if Justification'. Not that believing in the doctrine saves me, but that it shows me what sort of Christ i believe in, and shows me how i'm being saved. If i didn't have faith in this doctrine i'd be trying to do all sorts of Christ diminishing work to make myself right with God, whether it was being nice to people or running backward down the high street at full moon. Knowing, loving, studying, communing with God and trying to defend this doctrine teaches me that none of that is true. That i was delivered from the curse of the law by the One who became a curse for me. That Christ died as a ransom for many. That if i'm saved by my works i make the cross of no benefit.

Sound doctrine is vital. Vital because it shows us what sort of Christ we believe in. Vital because it shows us what He's done. Vital because it shows us what that means. There's little more important in life than those truths. Nothing actually.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

A Passion That Shapes Nations: Review

'A Passion That Shapes Nations' was written by Charlie Cleverly, who is Rector of St Aldgates in Oxford. It's on the Reading Family Church leadership school reading list, but despite it starting in September, i've only just got round to reading it. Poor effort. It was, however, totally worth the wait.

'A Passion' tells short stories about well known and less well known martyrs through the ages. it starts off with Peter and Paul and ends in the modern day with tales of persecution in China and the Islamic world. The author says on the back that 'business as usual Christianity is no longer enough' and if he wrote this to stir people's hearts and pray life (and i think he did), it's definitely worked on me!

There was a lot i liked about this book. The chapters are short which means that they can be read slowly and easily, with plenty of time for reflection afterwards. And that's important because it would be easy to read about, say, Ridley burning at the stake think 'that must have been nasty' turn on the PS3 and forget about it. The was Charlie writes lends itself to thought, and i liked that. I loved reading about people i knew little about as well, like Tyndale and Crysotom, both of whom modern day evangelicals owe a lot to, but who seems to be mostly forgotten. Which is sad.

The British Reformers are among some of my heroes, without a shadow of a doubt. I was struck dumb by the Oxford Memorial in the summer, and it still rises in my spirit when i think about it now. It is, to me, incredible to think that just down the road, in this country, four hundred years ago people were being burned alive for believing what i believe. It just makes my eyes pop open in wonder. It's a kick up the backside to someone who thinks they do well sitting in a comfy church office four days a week. Ridley, Latimer and Cranmer are some of my heroes, as i've said but it was the story of Thomas Cranmer that stood out the most for me this time. To have been in the church when he 'recanted his recantation' and turned again to the Reformed faith. Despite the errors that Cranmer committed to get to this point, i wonder if there has ever been a prouder moment for Protestantism in England.

But the view 'Catholics: bad, Protestants: good' isn't supported by history, and Charlie doesn't let it stand here. It's easy, when reading of the Oxford three to view seventeenth century Catholicism as Christian burning evil. But then we come to the story of Edmund Campion (who i might be very very distantly related to). He was a Catholic, and was burned for his beliefs. Elizabeth was just as bad as Mary, which is humbling and must be remembered. I was glad to read that chapter, and glad it was in the book.

I can think of no reason not to read this book. Be taught, be stirred, be encouraged and rebuked. And wonder to yourself where the next Cambridge seven are, the next Jim Elliot, the next Tyndale or Wycliffe, the next Brother Yun. And buy it here.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Latimer on the Cross

The wise man of the world can shift to avoid the cross, but the servent of Christ looks for no other but oppresion in the world... For as long as we are in the body we are strangers to God and far from our native country, which is Heaven where our everlasting day is. We are now nearer to God than ever we were...we have found the precious stone of the Gospel; for the which we ought to sell all we have in the world...the matyrs of old time were racked...and would not be delivered that they might have a better ressurection.
Let us follow them, and leaveth the pope's market, who buyeth and selleth the souls and bodies of men...embrace Christ's cross and He shall embrace you
From a letter written from prison, quoted in 'The passion that shapes nations' Charlie Cleverly P70.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday things

It's always exciting to welcome new bloggers into the world, especially when they are good friends/collegues, so welcome to the blogosphere Sean Green and Scott Taylor, who are part of the team that lead Reading Family Church.

Dan Phillips has been talking to Mormons, and his experience of them more or less mirrors my encouters with them over the last few months. Namely that they're lovely people, i enjoy their company but i have no idea, none at all, why they believe what they believe. I actually bumped into someone on campus today who has just become a Mormon. he told me he'd taken two years out to do mission in Italy...and then he told me he was a Mormon. Boo Hoo.

Krish Kandiah is writing a new book. 'This book is ideal for Christian first year students starting at university. It comprises of daily readings to help students make the most of their time at uni. It is ideal for a church to take on as a student discipleship programme or for a CU to use as its programme for the first five weeks of term.'

I've had big love for Krish ever since he did events week at Reading in my first year. This is sort of the book i wanted to write, but i'm sure he's done a better job of it that i would!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Galatians 2

Supporting a team in League Two is a relentless parade of glamour. We're currently in a quartet of games that include Mansfield, Rochdale, Rotheram and Dagenham & Redbridge. Often i joke that if we played any teams anyone had actually heard of then i wouldn't be able to take it, the glory would be too much for me to bare.

Which is interesting, because there is a glory that's too much to bare, a glory that will either change you or kill you. It's the unsheltered glory of God in the face of Christ. And we behold it mainly in this world in the Word. It's the Word that changes people, it's the Word where we see displayed the glory of God shining from the face of Jesus Christ. It's studying the Bible with people that's changed my heart and my life in the last few years. Which is why i love the chance of doing it with others, and why, on days like today for example, i don't mind having my whole day taken over by one chapter of the Bible.

A new thought

Context is, of course, key everywhere in the Bible, so that needs exploring before much of Galatians two will make sense. Paul wants to refute the allegations from his Jewish opponents that he is merely a puppet of the original Apostles in Jerusalem, that he is just their agent sent to quell the heresy in Galatia. Thats why Paul is so keen to make a big deal of his conversion experience in chapter one, the reason why he went to Jerusalem and his opinion of Peter, James and John in chapter two. As i read this this morning i was wondering what relevance Paul's action and attitude had for me today in 2008. I can see why his argument in the first ten verses would have been very important to the Galatians and his enemies, but how were they providing me with life and righteousness training now?

Well, isn't it good news for us today that Paul's conversion came from seeing the risen Christ and not from man? Not that this makes his conversion any superior to any one elses, but it shows that he did not get his Gospel from any man. He was not a follower of Peter, James and John. So much so in fact that he actually went to check up on them. This filled my heart with happiness as i saw again that the Gospel i believe and struggle to proclaim comes not from man anywhere along the line, but from Christ, and Christ from God.

In praise of paraphrase

I then set aside the afternoon to working on verses 17-19. What a great struggle to be involved in! I think in the end i got to the place where i agreed with Gresham Machen's interpretation that dividing the three verses into their four component parts and then linking part 1 to part three and part two to part four is the way to understand what Paul meant. So, Jews have abandoned the law, making them sinners in the eyes of Jews? So is Christ a servent of sin? Well, if Paul and Peter build up what they had torn down they admit that what they tore down was good. That is if they go back to the law having gone away from it, they admit that the law was good, and make Jesus a servent of sin, since He led them away from the law. But...'certainly not!' (v17b) through the law Paul died to the law, so that he might live to God. The law was never going to save anyone, Paul died to it by faith, so that he might live to God. So Jews deserting the law by no means makes Christ a servant of sin unless they return to the law, which is what makes Peter's lunc arrangements in verses 11-13 so serious. Now that took me some hours to get to. Nick, who i was reading with this afternoon uses the NLT, and he read verses 17-18 like this:
But suppose we seek to be made right with God through faith in Christ and then we are found guilty because we have abandoned the law. Would that mean Christ has led us into sin? Absolutely not!
Rather, I am a sinner if I rebuild the old system of law I already tore down. For when I tried to keep the law, it condemned me. So I died to the law—I stopped trying to meet all its requirements—so that I might live for God.

Which of course isn't what the Bible says so much as what it means, but after an afternoon of work, i found it tremendously helpful to hear...

A good day!

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Jesus ruined my life

There are surely few characters so fascinating in all the Bible as Paul. What must life have been like for this man before he met the Lord? Well, he tells us. He had every worldly benefit going. A Hebrew of Hebrews from the tribe of Benjamin. He was circumcised on the eighth day. No one, he tells his Philippian readers has more reason to boast than he.

So we have something of a picture of the man who set off along the Damascus Road on the day he was to be saved. He felt safe in his position as a pharisee, and, not only that someone was giving his life to trying to eradicate this weird sect that had emerged, these 'followers of the way' who were perverting the law of God. Things were good for Paul as he mounted his horse and headed for Damascus. But little did he know that things were about to change.

He tells the story near the beginning of the letter to the Galatians, caught up as part of his justification of the divine nature of his ministry. He wasn't called by man, nor does he try to please man, but he was called by God. And what a calling it is, and what a purpose he now has. The end of Galatians 1:16 tells us. He is now called to 'preach Him (Jesus) among the Gentiles'. So not only was Paul's life now about proclaiming this Jesus who he had tried to destroy, he also had to do it amongst the Gentiles, people who we would have crossed the street to avoid on his former life. I guess if he'd been told this the day before his reaction would have been violent and vitriolic.

Jesus had turned Paul's life upside down. Where he was once powerful and rich he was now blind, poor and homeless. Where he used to have the respect of his peers and followers, he would probably now become a byword for insanity. Jesus stripped away from him everything he had when Paul was saved.

Are we so timid to call people to this today? Is our language more about comfort, and benefit and personal relationships and 'filling a God shaped hole'? Do we tell people that knowing Jesus will, or at least should ruin them for anything else, even ruin their lives. You used to have a good job, money and respect, and now you might spend your life tramping from village to village on the subcontinent and in constant danger. For Paul, coming to Christ meant losing everything, but at the same time it meant gaining everything. Paul surely would have agreed with Jim Elliot who said 'he is no fool who gives up what he can not keep to gain what he can not lose'. Paul lost everything on the Damascus road, but as he lost everything he had, he gained more than he ever could have dreamed. Coming to Christ ruined his life, but it also gave him life, a life not wasted, a life saturated with joy and Gospel defence and proclamation...

Thursday, January 10, 2008

From Heathrow

Today i'm travelling the 4003 (ish) miles between where i live and where my girlfriend lives. It's really only on the days where i'm travelling i appreciate how far Washington, North Carolina is from Reading, England! It's a good thing i like travelling, and i'm looking forward to catching up on some sleep and maybe finishing Murray's biography of Edwards en route. I've got six hours to kill at New York JFK, at an airport that looks like it's just won a 'world's dullest destination' competition. Still at least they won't chuck me off the connecting flight to Raliegh/Durham airport if i get there that early, last time they threw two people off it because they though it was over full, and then there weree three spare seats on it. *shakes head*

Here are some words from Edwards himself from his work, The Great Christian Doctrine of Original Sin Defended:

The word which goes out of His (Christ's) mouth, shall not return to Him void, but shall accomplish that thing which He pleaseth, and shall prosper in the thing whereto He sends it.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Religion saves (and 9 other misconceptions)

Mark Driscoll has started preaching on the 'ask anything' series at Mars Hill Church in Seattle.

Question 9: Birth Control

'have you been to Wyoming, there's like three people there'

Blown Wide Open

(contiuing to blog through my script from Sunday on Exodus 12:1-29, you can read the other parts here and here, or listen to it here)
1 Corinthians 5:7 tells us ‘for Christ, our Passover lamb has been sacrificed.’ Christ is our Passover lamb, Christ is the ultimate Passover lamb.

So when we see that Christ is described as our Passover lamb, we suddenly see how relevant this passage is to us. We can see that as the firstborn would look on the carcass of the lamb which had pride of place on the dinner table he would look at it and think ‘that lamb died instead of me’. He is a substitute who has made it possible for the firstborn to live. And we can look to the cross, to Jesus dying there and say ‘He died instead of me, He is my substitute’. We can see that as the Israelites needed to react with faith and trust in the blood of the lamb, we need to react with faith, and trust in the blood of Jesus. We can see that what saved the Israelites was totally outside of them. The red blood was outside on a dark night. No one’s going to see it except God. And it’d be no good the people inside the houses trying to be a bit better than usual. What difference is that going to make? Charles Spurgeon, the 19th century Baptist preacher says ‘it is blood, blood, blood, blood that saves us’. Nothing more than the blood of Christ is necessary.

Remember verse 29? at midnight the Lord struck down the firstborn of all in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well’ .
In the darkness of Egypt God strikes down all the Egyptian first born.
In the darkness at Calvary God strikes down His first born bearing the weight of His wrath at our sin. So God saved Israel from Himself, from His own just wrath, by the blood that only he sees, so that they might worship Him. They are saved by God for God. And it’s exactly the same for us. God sends His Son and he dies in our place. If you are a Christian here today then the blood of Christ is painted over you. When God comes again in the great and terrible day of His wrath the blood will be what he sees of us. And that will be enough. Saved from God, saved by God, saved for God. Our Gospel is about God’s action that we benefit from, we, like Israel are saved to come to God.

But you might be sitting there thinking ‘let me just behave a little bit better in 2008, then God will accept me’ No! If you’ve come here this morning thinking that being a Christian is about doing good things in order to have a nice life…there is some very good news for you. What’s going on inside the house isn’t the issue. God is looking for the blood outside. If there’s blood, then you’re saved, and all that’s left is to worship and enjoy Him…because that is what he’s saved you for. You do nothing, the blood does everything. If quiet times, or evangelism or service or going to the gym or reducing your carbon footprint could do it, would God have sent His Son to die in agony on the cross? No! It’s about the blood. It’s all about the blood. We can not stand in Christ’s presence unless we are sheltered by His blood. So often i find myself head down in the dirt trying to work myself up to God. So often i find myself despairing of ever being able to be good enough. If only i'd turn round and see behind me and man dying on a cross, achieving far more in His death than i ever will in my life.
As the songwriters Steve and Vikki Cook remind us:

Sinners find eternal joy
In the triumph of Your wounds
By our Savior’s crimson flow
Holy wrath has been removed
And Your saints below
Join with your saints above
Rejoicing in the Risen Lamb

Tuesday, January 08, 2008

1 Thessalonians 2:17-3:13

Criticism and questioning seemed to be two things that dogged Paul’s entire ministry, and it was no different here. We learn from Acts that he’d only been able to be with the Thessalonian church for a short time, perhaps as little as three weeks. This curtailed visit had it’s repercussions for both sets of people. For Paul, who as we shall see in this passage desperately missed the church in Thessaloniki, and was having his reputation dragged though the mud by his opponents there. Not that he would have cared much about that. The church suffered as well, as we see that Paul did not feel he had enough time to instruct them fully in the faith before he was torn away from them.


We see the strength of feeling that Paul has for his church in 2:17. The phrase ‘torn away’ literally means ‘orphaned’. Paul wants his readers to know that it was not from lack of trying that they had been separated, ‘but Satan hindered us’. Interesting that at times Paul attributes his change of plans to God (Acts 16:6,7) and sometimes to Satan. The former was providential and productive, the latter neither of those. But as Warren Wiersbe points out; Satan stopping Paul we wouldn’t have this letter today. We can see in the closing verses of chapter two the depth and warmth of the feeling that Paul has for this church. And this is a love that results in action. Paul sends Timothy to the Thessalonians. We can’t really imagine how much this would have cost Paul, he would now have to face the idols and philosophy of Athens without his friend and son in the faith by his side. But this is what authentic love looks like to Paul. He could no longer bare the lack of information from Thessaloniki. Paul’s concern is that the church has been rocked by the affliction it now suffers from the Gentile authorities, and be conned back into Judaism by Paul’s opponents. His comfort to them in suffering is not one our western ears are that used to. He doesn’t tell them that the pain will soon be over, but that this is a part of the normal Christian experience. He talks of their being ‘destined for this’ (verse 3) and that he ‘kept telling you beforehand that we were to suffer affliction’ (verse 4). For these reasons, Paul’s concern being an outworking of his genuine love for the church he ‘sent to here about their faith’


Few things are as precious as hearing that someone you love and care for is doing well in the faith. And that is exactly the news Timothy brings back from his journey. Timothy brings a trio of encouragement with him. The Thessalonians are persevering in faith and love, they remember the Apostle kindly, and they long to see him too. This news to Paul seemed to be as fresh air ‘now we live’ (verse 8) For Paul good news was never far removed from praise. What thanksgiving can he offer to God for their faith? This is, of course a rhetorical question. He still wishes to see them to ‘make up what is lacking in their faith’ however. To fill out their understanding of who Jesus is and to help them see how to live in the light of that. We see that for Paul two things that mark authentic Christian love are a defence of the truth on behalf of the church, and (often self sacrificial as here) action on behalf of those people.

To that end Paul closes chapter 3 in prayer. He still desperately wants to be with his people in Thessaloniki, and wants ‘God our Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus’ to direct a way to them. To make smooth what Satan has upset. He also prays that love would abound in this church, to it’s own members and to everyone. Why? So that ‘He may establish our hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all His saints’. How encouraging these words that our sanctification is not only secure but is the work of the Lord. It’s important to major on this point in view of the next question. Paul uses the second coming to focus his readers’ mind on their sanctification. Not that the Lord needs our help to present us ‘blameless in holiness’ (what great words) but that we must choose to participate in this process by ‘setting our minds on the things above.’ How will we do that? Towards the end of chapter three Paul also encourages the church to love each other, and the world around them. We have seen what Christian love looks like to Paul so we must think on how to do that effectively and practically.

Blood and Yeast

(continuing blogging my script on Exodus 12:1-29 from sunday. You can read part one here.)

Well, all that changes in verses 6 and 7. Let’s read them together. ‘take care of them (the lambs or the goats) until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight, then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the door frames of the houses where they eat the lambs. So this, for reasons not yet fully explained is how the Israelites will escape, by faithfully trusting in God’s means of salvation. It is only through sacrifice, and that, a bloody sacrifice that Israel will escape. So, find a perfect lamb, kill it and smear its blood on your doorframes. The Israelites would have to do this in faith believing that this would protect them from the wrath of God and mean their escape from Egypt.

There are even traces of this in the way the Lord commands His people to eat the meal. Look at verses 8 and eleven with me, verse 8 says ‘that same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire along with bitter herbs and bread made without yeast’. Now these may sound like fairly mundane instructions to us, but I think there’s more to it. The bitter herbs would have been native to Egypt, there would be no time to find herbs from further a field and the same with the unyeasted bread, there was not time to make proper bread. The message is clear: the Passover means you are leaving Egypt, so be prepared. And we see this again in verse 11 if we look at that together ‘this is how you are the eat it; with your coat tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover’. Haste. Not relaxation and enjoyment, haste. This meal, this sacrifice is a necessity, not a luxury. Be ready to flee Israel, the time is near. But there’s something else we see that right at the end of that verse. ‘It is the Lord’s Passover’. Something new has entered the equation, that’s the first time that the word ‘Passover’ gets a mention in chapter 12. What does it mean?

Well look with me at verses 12 and 13, as we start to get to the crux of the matter. ‘on that same night I will strike down every firstborn –both men and animals- and I will bring judgement on all the god’s of Egypt, I am the Lord’. God will do as He promised in chapter 11, he will strike down every firstborn, note it doesn’t say ‘every firstborn of Egypt’, but just ‘every firstborn’; this is going to be as serious for Israel if they don’t do anything about it. What else is God going to do as He sweeps though Egypt? He is going to judge the god’s of Egypt, the false demonic god’s that Egypt bows down to, including often the Pharaoh of the time. God is judging these idols as well. He is striking down the animals that are associated with them, as well as attacking the Egyptian agricultural economy. It really strikes me how this verse ends with ‘I am the Lord’. That’s how we can trust Him, that’s how we know this is going to happen. I. Am. The. Lord. No one else. I am God, I rule Egypt and I will judge their false Gods. But what about Israel, will they escape, and what has this got to do with their dinner plans?

Well verse 13 tells us ‘The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you, no destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt’ God will pass over the houses of those who have killed the lamb, and trust in it’s blood. And there will be no destruction in those houses.

God is satisfied to leave alone the Israelites, but why? I think the key to that question is in verse 13. it says ‘when I see the blood’. The blood on the door wasn’t to let God know where Israel was and where Egypt was, the stories of the preceding plagues show that God needed no help in seeing who His people were. He knew the boundaries of their land, he knew which their cattle were, He could shelter them in a hailstorm and give them light while the rest of Egypt was under a heavy darkness. So the blood must serve some other purpose. God had come to impose a just judicial punishment on ‘every firstborn son in Egypt’, He saw the blood on the houses of Israel, and passed over them. What ever was happening in the house, the Lord looks at the blood that He has provided,

Our story now takes us briefly from the Passover itself to what was going to happen after it. Before the Passover Israel could not leave Egypt, after the Passover they could not stay, not only because Egypt would not let them, but because the Passover marked them out as people committed to walking with God so they needed to go with Him into the wilderness. The soon to come days of a post Passover, free living, Israel were anticipated by these commands. We can see what this feast was for in verse 17 ‘celebrate the feast of unleavened bread because it was on this very day that I brought your divisions out of Egypt. Celebrate this as a lasting ordinance for the generations to come.’ They celebrated God’s salvation just as we do when we sing of the cross.
So what happened when Israel obeyed these instructions? Well we know they did obey, lets look at verses 21 and 22 together: then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them ‘go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it in the blood on the basin and put some of the blood on the top and both sides of the door frame. Not one of you shall go out of the door of your house until morning,’ So Israel obeyed what God had told them. We can perhaps imagine the scene in some of the houses with slightly older children, maybe seven or eight years old, not knowing really what was going on but that a lamb had to die or he was going to…We can see him asking his father, have you done it yet dad, have you done it yet? And the Dad making sure the door frame was liberally coated in the lambs blood, knowing that only those under the blood of the lamb would escape. And so it was as we see, look at verse 23 with me ‘when the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, he will see the blood on the door-frame and pass over that door way, and He will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down.’

So the blood on the doorframe worked. The blood keeps them safe and shelters them from the judgement of God. In verses 24-28 we see God giving Israel instructions about how this event is to be remembered in the forthcoming generations, and we see the heart of the matter in verse 27 ‘it is the Passover sacrifice to the Lord, who passed over the houses of the Israelites in Egypt and spared our homes when He struck down the Egyptians’. So what’s Passover all about? God only looks at the blood, and when He sees the blood His wrath is averted.

And look at verse 29 with me, God was true to His word ‘at midnight the Lord struck down the firstborn of all in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well’. God passed through, and the firstborn of all in Egypt, from whatever social position they were in, lay dead.

Well, that’s an interesting bit of Old Testament history there, but what possible relevance has it got to Reading Family Church in 2008?

Monday, January 07, 2008

Stott on the Bible

'Every authentic Christian ministry begins here, with the conviction that we have been called to handle God's Word as guardians and heralds. We must not be satisfied with 'rumours of God' as a substitute for 'good news from God.' For as Calvin put it 'the Gospel is as far removed from conjecture as Heaven from Earth.' Of course we are not apostles of Christ like Pail. But we believe in the new testament the teaching of the apostles has been preserved and is now bequeathed for us in it's definitive form. We are therefore trustees of this apostolic faith, which is the Word of God and which works powerfully in those who believe. Our taks is to keep it, study it, expound it, study it and obey it.' (John Stott, Thessalonians BST, P68)

Dinner plans and escape

I really enjoyed the preperation for this last week. Setting the scene and the context was really important, probably for two reasons. Firstly, because so few people would have been all that familiar with the first eleven chapters of Exodus, and secondly, because within the context of the grand story of the Bible it could be easy to make Exodus 11 be about how to eat like a Christian, or why you should disobey a difficlt boss. I'm sure no one's ever actually done this, but rooting it in the overall story of the Bible makes it a lot easier not to.

Since we’ve just leapt in blind to the middle of Exodus it’s probably important to set the scene a little bit first. The Israelites are in Egypt, and about a generation has passed since Joseph died. People have all but forgotten the work that God did in that time…people quickly forgot the truth even then. Now God’s people are oppressed and enslaved, they need rescue.

Moses and Aaron had been identified by God as the leaders of these people. We remember the story of the burning bush, where God reveals Himself as I AM or YHWH, and tells Moses to go to Pharaoh and demand the freedom of Israel from Egypt. But Pharaoh doesn’t want to let these people go, so God sends on Egypt 9 plagues to secure the freedom of His people. The problem is that Pharaoh’s magicians can replicate exactly what God is doing, which leaves the Pharaoh unimpressed. This has been described by some as a great face off between the God of Israel, and the false god’s of Egypt. So in Exodus 11 God tells Moses and Aaron that this last plague, the tenth plague will secure the freedom of His people from Egypt. That plague is to be the death of the first born in Egypt, as we see in chapter 11 verse 5 ‘every firstborn in Egypt will die’ so there’s a brief overview of our context.

So lets go back to Egypt together, and see what this story has to teach us today.

Look at verse one with me ‘the Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt’. This is significant as this was only the second time the Lord had spoken directly to Moses and his brother for the whole of their time in Egypt, so something important was clearly about to happen, something that already marked this plague out from the others. This idea is reinforced in verse two when God says ‘this month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year’. What is about to happen signifies a new beginning for Israel, something fresh is about to start, something that hadn’t happened before. This was the beginning of the year for the Israelites in Egypt. Already marked apart by not having been affected by the previous plagues that struck Israel they will now be marked out by their different calendar…and much more as we’re about to see. And how is Israel to commemorate this first month in the new calendar?

God gives them some instructions in verses 3-8. Moses and Aaron are to tell the community of Israel that ‘each man is to take a lamb for his family’. If that family is too small for a whole lamb they are to share it with, verse four tells us, their nearest neighbour. You can imagine perhaps the deliberation that went on in the households, as to who would eat what, how big the lamb was and how much would be left over. This command was significant because the lamb was to correspond to people rather than just to households as we’ll see later on, but at the same time each person would still need enough to eat. The lamb would have to be sufficient. And it couldn’t be just any old lamb that the men could find…look at verse 5 with me ‘the animals you choose must be a year old, without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.’ There was some reason in God’s thinking here that there needed to be nothing wrong with the lamb or goat that was chosen, it had to be perfect, without defect…there was to be nothing wrong with the lamb that was chosen. Again we can see that the whittling down process would have taken some time. There was clearly to be a thoughtful deliberate process of selection. We should probably stop here and consider how Moses and Aaron would have been feeling at this point. They had been told, as Exodus 11 records, how God was going to effect the release of His people from Egypt with one more plague, and in the second half of Exodus 11 we see that Moses had been told that God Himself would come to slay all the firstborn in Egypt… You can appreciate then at this point they would perhaps have expected the Lord to give them details on how their own firstborn are to escape such a fate, but instead He seems to be giving them instructions for a rather formal communal dinner party...

Friday, January 04, 2008

The Legalist Within

I'm preaching on Exodus 12:1-29 on sunday, something which i'm very excited about. it's not often one can exhort people to have a 'blood soaked year' and hope to be well received. One of the most shocking and gracious things that i've come up against when studying this passage has been the total lack of requirements God made of Israel. All they were to do was to kill a lamb, and trust in it's blood. They were to have faith that God would see that blood on the door frame and 'pass over' them the night before they left Egypt. And He did.

This really struck me today when i was writing my conclusion. i was keen, desperate even to write some sort of command, to get people to do something as a response to what we'd been looking at. But there were none. Search high and low through Exodus 12 and the closest thing you'll get to a response command it seven verses on remembering the Passover by having a feast. Not exactly the burdensome 'go and make your life better' type of thing that i was after. It's just not there, it's all about the blood. Which should be good news, and in reality of course, is the best news.

But why does my heart seem to hate grace so much? I so desperately want to be given something to do, something to validate me. Pathetically i want to have something i can hold up in front of the Almighty and say 'look at me, aren't i good?' But in fact i'm not, there's nothing good in me that the Lord hasn't put there. But my proud heart doesn't want to be confronted with that, and certainly doesn't want to present it well. And i want to be well thought of after i've spoken. And for whatever reason i think that polluting the Gospel and giving people things to do is the best way to do that. A few days before he died Jim Elliot wrote in his diary 'confession of pride, as suggested by David Brainerd, must become an hourly pursuit'. As it is with me.

Grace is a funny sort of upside down thing. Ask the diligent Muslim how his relationship with God is and he might say something like 'great, i prayed twenty-one last week'. Ask the Christian and he might say 'well...i don't know, i seem to keep on sinning'. Yes! You keep on sinning because you are a person, and thats what people do. But you are under the blood of the ultimate passover lamb...and in on that great and terrible day God will pass over you, because as He killed the first born in the darkness of Egypt, so He killed His firstborn in the darkness at Calvery.

This is grace, hard to grasp, wonderful, upside down, counter cultural. And wholly, infinitely necessary...

Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Why i am a Christian hedonist

'God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in Him'

'the end of man is to glorify God by enjoying Him forever'

Such have been the cry of those who have agreed with John Piper's Christian hedonism theology (i say Piper's not because he 'came up with it', because i don't think he did, but because he is the best known proponent of it at the moment). The view that God is primary in God's affections, and that we are to persue joy in Him. That God is a happy God, and that he wants us to be happy, he wants us to be happy in Him, and that is the best way to bring Him the glory that He deserves. It sounds good, God gets the glory, we get the joy, everyone is happy.

Recently in the blogosphere people have been questioning Christian hedonism (here and here for example), and i think this is a good thing. iMonk, for example asks why no one has taken Piper's theology on in the same 'verse by verse' manner that people have written books about the New Perspective on Paul for example, or the emergent church. And thats a good question. Why hasn't anyone? Where are the weighty anti Christian hedonism authors and theologians? It could be that Christian hedonism is the great blindspot of my generation, and if so, i'd like someone to show me with careful exegesis and cutting application. It is interesting that no one seems to have done that yet.

So what is hedonism itself? This admittedly controversial term that so many of us have nailed to our masts? The dictionary defines hedonism as 'the doctrine that pleasure or happiness is the highest good'. So there we see an objection right away. Pleasure or happiness as the highest good? No no no, God is highest good, following His will for our lives is what we should be doing, not pursuing our own selfish means. We live in a community, a body, not in a bubble where we can do whatever we want. I think there are two, linked, responses that answer those problems.

First of all, surely some sort of a category error has occurred when we consider pleasure or happiness bad. The problem is not those emotions themselves, but what we do to gain those pleasures. Sexual promiscuity, drug and alcohol abuse, egocentredness, selfishness...those things are bad, and so often they are means for the end of pleasure. Yes, in that sense the pursuit of pleasure as the highest good is bad and ultimately suicidal. But thats not what Christian hedonists believe. God is the highest good, and communion with God, ultimately found and enjoyed in Heaven is the greatest pleasure there is. And so thats what is to be pursued as the ultimate good...God Himself in Jesus Christ, God as revealed perfectly in His Son. Edwards exhorts us to love Jesus apart from any interest we might have in Him...God is the Gospel, He Himself is the good news, so when we pursue pleasure we pursue a closer relationship with Jesus, in whom is all the Father's delight. And what is the end result for God in our pleasure driven pursuit of Him? Glory!

What gives us pleasure we treasure, what we treasure we give glory to. So when we know and discover that our deepest most satisfying pleasure comes from knowing God, and from deeper communion with Him through Christ, then He gets the glory from our joy. God is not glorified by us treating Him like a trough that needs to be filled by acts of service, but by coming to Him with our empty buckets and being filled with those pure living waters that will quench every thirst.

In his post 'Christian Hedonism-not quite there' Mo raised three objections that i'm going to try and deal with now. Now, before i start i'm going to tell you that i love Mo. It was a pleasure to sit under his teaching at Relay Conferences last year, and i hope i'm half the man he is when i'm his age. Now, Mo already knows that, but i'm just telling you in case you think i'm getting personal. I'm clearly not.

1) 'is God not more honoured when we don't want to obey Him but we do, than when we do so joyfully?'

God is of course honoured by any sort of obedience thats not hypocritical. I need to do lots more work than i've done to unpack that statement, and the next one, but here goes anyway! Is God glorified by Christians who always moan about their calling, who don't seem to find any enjoyment or any pleasure in being with Him? When we can't wait to put the Bible down to watch TV, what are we honouring more or giving glory to? The Word or the TV. To use the husband/wife example, how will Rachel feel the next time i see her and bring her flowers if my reason for it is 'you are my girlfriend, it is my duty to buy you flowers'? Not great. But if i said something like 'Rachel, i love you, i've been literally counting the days since i last saw you, i can't wait to spend this week with you and these flowers are just a token of those feelings' hopefully she'd be happier! But our love for the Lord is tested in the hard times of obedience, not the

2) 'What about when there is no joy in obeying God? What about self denial?'

Jesus expressed loud groans to God when facing death in Gethsemane? But why did He go to Calvary? For the joy set before Him. Jesus was not enjoying Himself in the Garden, but He knew what was to come from this obedience. Joy. Now, it is pushing the point to say that Christ had joy when he was walking to Calvary, but he did it for the joy that was to come. But what about suffering? Well to choose one example, 1 Thessalonians 1:6 doesn't mention joy and suffering as mutually exclusive. Despite the suffering the Thessalonians were suffering, they received Paul's message with great joy. In Colossians 1:24 Paul rejoiced in his sufferings for the sake of the Gospel. Jesus, and Paul can experience suffering in their obedience to God, and yet still find joy in it. Self denial could be an issue though. If Christians are called to self denial how can they also be called to joy? I think i'd want to say because what we're called to deny ultimately won't lead to joy. What the secular hedonist pursues for the sake of joy and the Christian hedonist pursues for the sake of joy are (hopefully) very different things. So while giving up some things may look like self denial, surely it actually helps us to see more of the glory of God which leads to our joy.

3) How do we 'do' Christian Hedonism evangelistically without it seeming like the a therapy Gospel?
That is a huge and important question. I think the first distinction i'd want to draw between therapy Gospels and Christian hedonism is that therapy Gospels, or health and wealth Gospels promise us happiness and wealth we can see now. BMWs, big houses and never being ill. Christian hedonism calls us to take up our cross and bear it, to deny ourselves, to rejoice with the Hebrews at the plundering of our possessions, to go outside the camp and suffer with Jesus, to lose everything and even be killed for His sake if necessary. So i guess in evangelism we explain not that 'sin is nice but Jesus is nicer' but that knowing Jesus is worth more than all the temporal joy we can squeeze into our lives. And not only that, but also this isn't an option between joy now and nothing later and no joy now but joy later, it's joy now and eternal torment later, or delayed joy now, and overwhelming joy later. How repentance and joy are linked definitely needs more thinking about, and just to say 'be a Christian, you'll be happier' while sometimes exponentially true, and Biblical, doesn't seem to sit quite right. But the definition of what we mean when we talk about joy and happiness is an important one.

So there's is my imperfect effort of defending Christian hedonism. It would seem appropriate to finish with a quote from Piper's great hero, Jonathan Edwards, so that's what i'll do:

If some elder minister had undertaken this, i should have no doubt they'd have done it more proper...if others would hold forth further light in any of these particulars, i hope i should thankfully receive it...

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Mercy and Monarchy

This is probably one of my favourite quotes:

One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God's right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [=lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, "The same yesterday, today, and forever." Heb. 13:8. Now did my chains fall off my legs indeed. I was loosed from my afflictions and irons; my temptations also fled away; so that from that time those dreadful scriptures of God [about the unforgivable sin] left off to trouble me; now went I also home rejoicing for the grace and love of God." (John Bunyan)

Isn't that grand? Not just that Bunyan said that and it's recorded but that it's true! I love how true it is, when i feel rubbish my standing before God is not diminished, when i feel on top of the world, my standing is not improved. God does not give to me because i've impressed Him, but because He is who He is.

It's also entirely scriptural, and found in some of the most unexpected places. The end of 2 Kings is really a heartbreaking affair that makes me long for Jesus eternal Kingship and makes me wnat to hate my sin more than i do. King after king does evil in the sight of the Lord, it seems that there are so few faithful left in the twelve tribes. Israel falls, but Judah doesn't learn. Then a glimmer of hope in chapters 22 and 23. The law is found, Josiah reads it and weeps because of how far he sees his country from it. He then goes on an idol smashing tour of destruction around Judah...thats theology in action right there. If you'd started reading the Bible in Genesis with no idea of what was going to happen you might be on the edge of your seat right now...'is this him? is this our 2 samuel 7 King?' No. Josiah gets involved in a battle between Egypt and Assyria, and is killed by Pharoah Neco. How foolish. Our reader is weeping. How will this line continue if the only good King for generations dies like that? His son is worse, and within a generation Judah is totally destroyed. And it gets worse still. Some royal heavies take a dislike to Gadaliah, who's been made Governor over Judah and kill him. Then they flee to Egypt fearing the consequences.

Egypt? Egypt.

Israel is tragically back where it started before the law was given. The monarchy has totally fallen, the promised land lies in ruins. It's all over. Our Genesis beginning reader would wonder about God now, His plans seem in tatters, ruined by the people He put too much faith in. Except, 2 Kings doesn't end with verse 26, there's four more. After 37 years of exile, Jehoiachin, King of Judah is 'graciously freed' from prison by the wonderfully named King of Babylon, Evil-merodach. He is given a seat about the seat of the other kings in Babylon, given new clothes and lives his days at the states expense. Still in exile then, but very much alive.

There is not explantion for this, just none, apart from the soveriegn work of Almighty God. This is, lets not forget, the King of Judah who surrendered to Babylon in the first place, there's no merit here that Jehoiachin has which explains it. It's all of God, the God who wills and works for His good pleasure.

So, 2008 shouldn't be about new years resolutions or trying harder to do good things, but rejoicing that our standing before God and His plans for us rely not on us but on Him. We are like Jehoiachin, totally lost apart from the gracious work of our soveriegn God. This God who will achieve His purposes for His glory and our benefit. Judah had totally abandoned the Lord, and yet because of His passion for His name, He kept the Davidic king alive and fed.

Jesus rules the universe. Live for Him, eat and drink of Him, because His will is being done, no matter what we do or think.