Saturday, August 30, 2008

Jesus is better than faith

I've been thinking recently about the Gospel. Good, well done Ed, you should think about the Gospel. But i mean, i've been thinking about why it's good news that what makes the good news good is Jesus. Does that make sense?

Ok, well, what is the best and highest good news of the Gospel, of the 'Good News'? It's Jesus. We get Jesus. We get Him, the greatest reality, the greatest Person there is or was or ever will be. The Good News is not forgiveness of sins, as infinitely necessary as that is, the good news is not God will give me a happy marriage, the Good News is not that i get a whole bunch of new sunday morning friends or something else to do other than sit through the Hollyoaks omnibus. Now, all those things are good, but they're not why Jesus died on the cross. Those things make us the apex of the Gospel, which, quite simply, we are not. Those things make Christ our servant, our means, our way of getting something. It makes an idol of forgiveness. And how sick the human heart is that we can make an idol of something as beautiful as forgiveness.

But whats new about that? I've written and spoken and thought and rejoiced in that before. This week i tried to start going on a bit in my thinking to try and see on a practical, broken down level why this is good news. Why the fact that God is the Gospel is better than forgiveness being the Gospel. There are the obvious reasons of course, obvious and glorious. It's not Heaven if Jesus isn't there...there's not an ounce, not a scintilla of joy or peace or love or happiness apart from Him. It just doesn't exist.

That can be quite an abstract concept.

God is the Gospel is better than my faith in Jesus is the Gospel, because sometimes i won't be faithful. Sometimes i'll deliberately sin, sometimes i'll be in a pattern i can't get out of. My faith isn't good news then, in fact, if i'm relying on my faith then what have i got to rely on. God is the Gospel is better than sanctification is the Gospel for the same reason. But if we, as Spurgeon has it, flee to the wounds, then we will never be turned back, never lose hope.

God is the Gospel is better than a nice life is the Gospel because sometimes the Christian life is not nice. It's not meant to be. 'Take up your cross and follow me'. Where then the good news that your life will be better if you follow Jesus. So often my Gospel presentations turn into a sort of spiritualised prosperity Gospel. Thats nothing short of cruel. Jesus is wonderful and all satisfying, why promise someone a lie. The wounds. The wounds.

God is the Gospel is better than church is the Gospel, because sometimes being part of a church is not good news. Or, at least, it doesn't feel like it. Church is still great. We'll be hurt, let down and sinned against in the church. If we look for our hope, security and satisfaction there, we won't find it. Where is it to be found? In Christ's blood bought communion with Himself.

Christ knows what we need. Himself. He is all our hearts long for, He is what we need. And He knows that, so He died on the cross that we might have that relationship with Him that we need. Now forgiveness, sanctification, the church and deep non circumstantial spiritual joy are all good things. Very very good things. But their not The Good thing. They can't be.

He is.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Politics and glory

Last night was the first time i felt like i was on a film set. The thick night air, the high school (american) football, the noise of frogs and crickets in the background. It was pretty cool. And i enjoyed my introduction to high school football watching Washington High School Pam Pack under 16 team...evevn if we did lose 50-0. Yeh, 50-0! We were playing a team from Tarboro...i don't know what their snazzy name was...the Tarboro Total Terror Squad would have suited. Someone joked that the Pam Pack wouldn't have been more scared if a black bear had come out of the woods. I hope it was a joke anyway. If there are black bears in North Carolina i'm leaving!

Still despite that slightly shaky start, we're 1-1 on the weekend sports scene after Rebekah's volley ball team won 25-13 25-8 at volleyball tonight. Now it's just Virginia Tech @ ECU and Chesterfield vs Wycombe Wanderers to come in...

Interesting scenes from in American politics today. After Obama's fairly well recieved speech last night has been blown off the front pages by McCain's choice of Sarah Palin to run as his VP. I think it's tremendous that come January 21st next year America will either have a black president (which i'm coming to understand is a much bigger deal than i thought) or a women VP. I think Palin's a good choice, in that she takes away from a lot of Obama's 'youth and change ticket', and it's going to be increasingly hard for him to rail against 'old washington' when he's got an old washington man on his ticket. It's going to be an interesting few months.

I also really enjoyed these two quotes from Challies on and from Edwards:

Forgiveness of sins is an incredible gift; sanctification is something for which we give thanks to God; a better understanding of the world is a great benefit; but the best thing Christians receive is Christ. Edwards makes this point time and time again through the section—he will not let the reader escape without understanding this one thing. “The first foundation of a true love to God is that whereby He is in Himself lovely, or worthy to be loved, or the supreme loveliness of His nature.”

“A true saint, when in the enjoyment of true discoveries of the sweet glory of God and Christ, has his mind too much captivated and engaged by what he views without himself, to stand at that time to view himself, and his own attainments. It would be a diversion and loss which he could not bear, to take his eye off from the ravishing object of his contemplation, to survey his own experience, and to spend time in thinking with himself. What a high attainment this is, and what a good story I now have to tell others!”


Thursday, August 28, 2008

Reading Family Church Amsterdam Day

Scripture's scarlet thread

The whole sweep and flow of the Old Testament with it's types and symbols demanded that the Messiah, the Lord's anointed, die for the sins of a world that could never itself atone for those sins. The death of Christ has been called the scarlet thread of scripture, the supreme truth around which all others are woven.
John MacArthur, Matthew 16-23, P222

If MacArthur is right, and i believe he is, then this has a huge bearing on how we read the Old Testament. We should read it with the understanding that Jesus wasn't lying in Luke 24, with the understanding that we are not the main character.

Genesis 22 isn't God telling us that we need to be prepared to sacrifice anything and everything, but a picture of the cross.
Exodus 12 isn't just interesting dinner planning strategy, but (another) picture of the cross.
Joshua leading Israel into the promised land isn't about how we overcome opposition, it's about how Jesus destroys God's enemies.
Boaz isn't supposed to show us how to welcome people that are different from us, but how Jesus us our kinsmen redeemer.
Judges 11 isn't about baby dedication, it's about how desperately Israel needs a judge who wasn't A) nuts B) mortal.

We need this Jesus, the sixty six book Jesus. We need to show non Christians that the Gospel isn't something that was made up and stuck onto Judaism, but that he had been expected for generations. If Moses and Abraham knew (in a non wholly reveled way) about Jesus, how could anyone believe that the disciples made Him up.

The Old Testament is rich, and it's full of Jesus. We lose so much if we ignore it, or worse, try to make it about us.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Titus 1:9 (2)

Finally, the Elder is to convince the gainsayer. Gainsayers are people who contradict sound doctrine either on purpose or though simple unbelief. Convince means ‘to speak against.’ To change a persons thinking. As we see in verses 10 and 11, there are people inside the church like this, as well as outside. Elders need to be able to convince them with sound doctrine.

The Elder must be able to proclaim and defend. The Gospel is to be presented in church like a precious monument in a museum… clear for everyone to see and enjoy, but well protected. The Crown Jewels in England are a collection of five of the most valuable jewels in the Queen’s possession. They’re displayed in the tower of London for all to see…but in a heavily guarded room, and behind thick, bullet proof glass.

Elders must live above reproach, so they are able to exhort and convince with the sound, Biblical, apostolic Gospel.

With these verses Paul closes his recommendations for Titus on who should lead the church in Crete. Paul calls for good men, men of sound character and doctrine, men who every Christian should be able to look up to and trust. Men who are like Christ. That’s what has really stuck me while I’ve been studying this passage, how high the standard is for those who would respond to the call to lead a church. And it’s a high calling so it should be a high standard.

I think there are two ways we need to respond to what Paul has to say to us, one for us, and one for the Preacher. We’ve seen in this verse tonight how incredibly precious the Gospel is. How it needs the highest place in our hearts. As soon as we step out that door we’ll be buffeted on every side by a culture that wants us to tread the Gospel under foot. A culture that wants to convince us that the most precious thing in the world is a car, or a boat, or a bigger house. A culture that’s trying to sell us a lie so that we forget the greatest truth of all. Lets pray for our hearts, that we would continue to value the Gospel as we should. Lets preach the Gospel to ourselves every morning.

Also, it’s struck me how much in need of prayer and grace the leaders of our churches are. It’s struck me how much men who lead the church need to be men of the cross. Always thinking about the cross, always laying their cares at the foot of the cross, always going back to the cross for forgiveness and strength. It was on the cross that Jesus purchased us from the kingdom of darkness for His Father, and, among us, He purchased men like these for the church. And I’m so thankful for that. I’m so happy that because of what Jesus did on the cross we have men who are able to lead our churches. Men who can walk in holiness, men who can preach the Gospel, men who can bring our eyes and our hearts back to the cross. Men who, most of all can help us look to the greatest man of all, Jesus of Nazareth, and praise Him and worship Him and enjoy Him forever

Monday, August 25, 2008

Disconnected Thoughts

It's funny the things that make you miss home. Seeing that London bus stop last night on the Olympic Closing Ceremony made me as homesick as little else has so far.

On that subject i gather there's been some sneering at London's contribution to the ceremony last night. Well for goodness sake...i thought it was excellent. It made me want to stand up and declare in a loud voice 'ladies and gentleman...this is MY country'

North Carolina public schools and universities went back today. Driving down Greenville Boulevard and seeing flocks of ECU students about the place made me incredibly jealous. Unis are the most exciting places in the world.

I'll get excited about more or less any sport at any level. This includes, it seems, under 14 girls volley ball. My first exposure to the North Carolina Christian Schools Athletic Association was last week, and i loved it.

Life is uncertain  sometimes...blogposts too.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Titus 1:9 (1)

(the first half of my script from last wednesday night)

Paul tells Titus to find men who can preach. Verse nine says ‘holding fast to the faithful word as taught’. The Elder must hold fast, he must grab hold of something with all his heart and never ever let it go. The Elder must never be enticed away by fads or programmes; he must never rely on man’s wisdom over Gods. He must hold fast. Paul choice of words here suggests it might not be easy; sometimes it will be like a shipwrecked sailor might hold fast to a rescue rope in a storm. But this simply must be done.

What is he to hold fast to? The middle of verse nine tells us ‘the faithful word as has been taught’ The Elder must hold fast to and preach the Gospel. The Gospel is the greatest news there is, so being able to preach it must be the greatest endeavor there is. The Elder is not a story teller or a speech maker, but a preacher. In his letters to Timothy that come immediately before this letter Paul makes it clear that preaching is to be the main activity in the Elder’s life. He is to work at this more than anything else.

The Church has to, has to continue preaching the Gospel, we must hold fast through the storm. So the Church must look to its leaders to do that as well. To stand in the pulpit every chance they get and preach the Gospel, because nothing less than the faithful word will do.

Galatians 1:8 says: but if we or an angel from Heaven preach any other Gospel unto to you than that we have preached unto you, let him be accursed. It’s easy to pass over what Paul is really saying here. An angel? Can you imagine that? If an angel, in all his blinding glory and finement was to stand where I am standing now and preach to you something other than the Biblical Gospel, we’d have to stand up, grab him, which would probably both blind us and burn us, and throw him out of the window. That’s how serious the Gospel is. What happens here is sacred.

An Elder must be able to know, understand, handle and apply scripture rightly. ‘as he hath been taught’ as Paul says at the end of this verse. Elders don’t come from nowhere. Even Paul had a time of being taught before his first mission trip. We can see how highly he valued this practice by his letters to Timothy and Titus.

We can see from the end of verse nine that he is to exhort the believers and convince the gainsayers. The Elder is to enlighten the congregation of his church in sound doctrine. This is so important. As we’ve already seen, what is taught matters. Some of the biggest churches in the world are built on false ‘gospels’.

Preachers who tell their people that if they have enough faith they’ll be rich, that if they send in money they’ll be happy. Preachers who turn the Gospel into a psychological comfort by ignoring the exclusive claims that Jesus has on every life, and thereby denying that He is the only way to escape the horrors of Hell. From my young, inexperienced perspective, this seems like madness because when we add to the Gospel we only ever take away from it.

So the faithful Elder is to exhort by sound doctrine. He is to protect and prosper the spiritual life of his people. To preach that Jesus is the point of creation, the lovely, glorious, champion of every single page of the Bible. To stir up love for Him from them by preaching.

Doctrine is for joy. Doctrine is not a dull, old fashioned, divisive thing that should be kept inside the class room. The most glorious, joy giving, sweet tasting, promises exist in this book, and they come to us if the form of doctrine. And Elders of the church are to exhort those in the church with it. Given the fearful warnings found in scripture, no one would presume to teach without a clear call from God, and no one in their right mind should preach anything other than what’s in this book. 

Friday, August 22, 2008

Titus 1:8 (2)

(part two of my script from a couple of weeks ago. You can read part one here)

Paul then goes on to tell Titus that an Elder of a church must be just. Just means fair or proper. A man who can be trusted and relied upon. We’re reminded of the story of Solomon who had to decide which woman had borne a certain child. The Elder of a church should be someone that people feel they can come to in their time of need for good advice and help. We can sense some of the importance of this quality because the word just is often translated righteous, which of course is a term used often to describe God Himself. The Elder who is just or righteous is a man who reflects the nature and character of God, the highest challenge Paul could have laid at Titus’ door. I guess in our society being just can include a whole range of things. From paying our taxes on time to not having favourites within the church. Just hear is a character trait, evidenced by actions.

The Elder of the church is to be holy. Now, I don’t think primarily holiness in the New Testament relates what we do, or say or wear. I think those things are the fruit of holiness, not the root of it. The root is deeper, the heart. Jesus said in Matthew 15:18 ‘but those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart and they defile the heart’. Our hearts are the focus of our holiness, our hearts are the main concern. And so we can define holiness as an attitude or affection towards God.

A holy man is one who worships God and reveres Him. One who fears Him and seeks to please Him. One who will orientate his whole life around Him. Not caught up in the affairs of the world but constant in prayer for his people. Holy is another word often used of Christ in the Bible, but in a different way this time. A Christian can not achieve sinless perfection in this life but every sin is to be confessed. 1 John 1:9 says ‘if we confess our sins He is faithful and just to forgive our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’. God’s grace, mercy and power are able to help all Christian’s live holy lives, and to help Elders live in such a way that honours God and does not bring scandal onto the church.

Holiness of life is a serious business for Elders. Charles Spurgeon, the 18th century English Baptist preacher has these words to say about it: ‘despite the sometimes popular idea that ours is a snug retreat from temptation, it is no less true that our dangers are more numerous and more insidious than others…The Elder’s ground may be a vantage point for height, but it is a perilous one.’ He later goes onto say that if Satan attacks and harries members of the army, how much more will he attack those who lead men?

The final character trait that Paul calls for is that of temperance. Moderation in eating and drinking, self control in action and speech. Someone who is temperate is not swayed by the world and is in control of his emotions and desires. This attribute is clearly linked to holiness in Paul’s mind. Perhaps he’s saving the most important until last, but it may be unfair to assume that. Paul has placed before Titus high standards for Eldership, indeed, high standards for the Christian life in general. On the comparison between the two Spurgoen again writes:

 ‘His pulse of vital Godliness must beat strongly and regularly, his eye of faith must be bright, his foot of resolution must be firm…it is said of the Egyptians that they chose their priest from the most learned of their philosophers, and their kings from their priests. We require to have for God ministers the pick of all the Christian host, such men indeed that if the nation wanted a king they could not do better then elevate them to the throne.’

What’s interesting to me as I look at this verse and those that come before it is how inward everything has to be for the Elder of God’s people to this point. Nowhere, until our next verse does Paul talk about skill or ability. Paul is demanding an inward holiness form leaders of the church. He calls for men who behave the same when they are on their own as they do when they are in public.  They are to have an inward devotion to the Lord that spills out naturally into outward action on behalf of His people. Only after these inward, moral requirements does Paul move on to talking about the outward responsibilities of an Elder. Clearly in his mind these outward abilities go hand in hand with the inward life of holiness. 

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Titus 1:8 (1)

This is the first part of my script from a Wednesday night meeting a few weeks ago. Wednesday night church involves about fourty minutes of prayer and prayer requests for people and ministries, intermingled with sung worship. We spend the last twenty minutes going through Titus, more or less a verse at a time. I didn't stick that closely to my script, more in ideas than words.

Over the last few weeks on a Wednesday night we’ve been looking at the qualifications for an Elder. So far we’ve seen that Paul has detailed to Titus many things that an Elder is not to be. He must not be angry, or self willed, or given to wine or a striker. There are many things that a Christian is not to be, and so there are may things that those who leads Christians should not be. After this Paul moves to tell Titus what an elder should be. We move from the negative to the positive. It’s not that an elder shouldn’t be something, it’s not just a lack of bad that makes a man able to lead a church, as if he was a blank tablet, but the presence of what is good. We can see Paul’s change of direction right from the first word of verse 8.


The first positive attribute of an Elder is that he must love. We see this word love twice in verse 8. The elder must love hospitality, and he must love good men. The first one of these, hospitality was especially important in Titus’ day, when Christians were being persecuted. When a group of believers were run out of one town they would need to seek refuge with the Christians of another town. It seemed reasonable that they would look first for the elder of that town, to look after them. This would also provide a great example for the other people of the church, as well as a great encouragement to those who had been made homeless by the persecution. Today, there is little chance of any of us being made homeless because of our faith. Today’s elders are called to be hospitable in a different way, but with the same affect. Imagine not having a Pastor willing to open up his home, not willing to care for people. What sort of example would that set, or what sort of church would he be leading. Paul calls elders to love hospitality.


Also, says the text, he must love good men. The word translated as good men here means having a strong affection for that which is intrinsically good. That which is pure or lovely, as Philippians 4:8 has it. This also reflects onto the company that the Elder keeps. There’s an old English saying that goes ‘birds of a feather fly together’, which just means that those of the same passions and interests will normally always be found together. This is true in my life. My best unsaved friends all share my passion for football in general and Wycombe Wanderers in particular, and my best saved friends are the ones that make me want to love the Gospel more. It is so encouraging isn’t it to spend time with people of a similar passion as you. It’s a wonderful way to battle loneliness and discouragement, and this is as important for an Elder as for anyone. I remember a couple of weeks ago me and the Preacher went to Vanceboro’ to have lunch with some guys from Sherwood Forest in New Bern, and even just sitting and listening to the men around the table made me so encouraged and envision about the work there is to do. If we who are not Elders relish those times, how much more should those who are do so. The way a man deals with his time in relation to those inside the church, and the way he loves those inside the church are a key way of judging his character.


The Elder is to be sober. This word can mean simply ‘not drunk’ but since Paul has dealt with alcohol a verse earlier it seems that in this context sober means more serious and reasonable. Someone who can use time well, who isn’t given to coarse jokes, who feels the weight of the call that rests on his shoulders. Someone who is aware of the horrors of Hell and the joys of Heaven. Someone who doesn’t pursue sin or dedicate excess time to things of no importance. That’s not to say that Paul wants to Elder of the churches in Crete to merely work and sleep, he’s already dealt with the importance of family life, but it does mean that Paul thinks that time is short, and needs to be redeemed. One of my historical heroes, the Pastor/theologian Jonathan Edwards is a great example of this kind of life. Now he is an extreme example, but a good one none the less. He would, at times during his life study for thirteen hours a day, occasionally foregoing meals, and always regulating what he ate so that it would not slow his digestion and thus hamper his work. When he was riding his horse from town to town and an idea came to him he would stop riding, write the idea on a piece of paper and stick it to his coat. Sometimes he would come home covered in pieces of paper. This man is an extreme example, but one who inspires me. He was probably the greatest theologian America will ever produce, and even in the areas of science he was so far ahead of his time that we can barely say that we’ve caught up today, and certainly a great example of the sober minded, time redeeming life.


It struck me that in many ways Barack Obama is just like the Emergent Church. Young, trendy, different, looking to reach out and enfranchise those who are young trendy and different. Lots of talk about 'hope' and change' without really talking about what the hope is in, or what it is that change would be. 

Given that, it's perhaps unsurprising that Brian McClaren, 'leader' of the Emergent Movement endorses him:

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

John Piper at your small group

I love small group study. I loved being part of cell at RUCU and Reading Family church, i love being part of our sunday school class here. I can not overstate the importance of the training i got when i was a Cell leader at RUCU. This looks like a really interesting idea...

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

'does anyone still have a Bible and some common sense'

I never really wrote much about the Lakeland revival, mostly because i didn't watch GODTV and would habe struggled to stay objective. Ed Stetzer, on the other hand, does have something to say, and it's very good!

Evangelical Gullibility

Saturday, August 16, 2008


1) My Dads been here all weekend which has been great. We've not done a great deal, but it's just nice to be on the same continent. And he bought British newsprint with him. No sign of broadcasting house sadly though.

2) Ceryn has started blogging again (some time ago by the look of it) Ring the bells and rejoice. She's on the money as ever as well. She makes me want to go and read the Bible.

3) Despite my positive comments about America earlier yesterday i came across a book called 'the south was right', which claimed that the Confederacy was a legal, sovereign state, the north was an aggressive occupier, and that the south has as much right to it's own land as the Baltic states in the USSR and Kosovo in Serbia. I've made arrangements to flee to Maine at the earliest possible opportunity.

4) Sitting on Bonner Point with Rachel listening to the gentle slosh and slap of the water. A perfect afternoon

5) 'You, Ed Goode, have been called to preach the Gospel'

6) Washington DC at night. The way the Lincoln Memorial lights up so his statue is the brightest part of the building, the statue platoon at the Korea Memorial, the changing of the guard at Arlington. Brilliant.

7) Finishing 'Joshua and the flow of Biblical history' by Shaeffer. Not because i've finished it but because of what a great book it was. He's so human, so engaged, he showed me so clearly the Gospel, the great Divine, humanity realizing Gospel from Joshua. There'll be at least a couple of posts about that during the week.

Friday, August 15, 2008

Back from DC

It occurred to me, really out of the blue the other day, that when i mention life in America on these pages, it's usually though critical eyes. Well, thats not a very good thing. Here are some of the things i really like about living in America, just off the top of my head.

Kids' Sports are huge.
Right now ESPN 2 is full of 'the little league world series' where, i guess, 11,12 and 13 year old baseball teams from all over america and the world compete to be the best little league baseball team there is. Earlier today Connecticut were playing Hawaii. In the other group there's teams from the middle east, Italy and Guam. It's all a bit cool. This week Rachel's little sister made her schools age group volley ball team, and is playing at least one match a week, all over eastern North Carolina for the next couple of months. The local paper is full of adverts for age group touch football and baseball. High School sports and especially college sports are as big in some places as the NBA and NFL. Bigger in other places. To me, thats great. None of this slightly wet 'everyone gets a prize' stuff. If you're good enough you make the team. if the teams good enough, you might make the play offs, if you do well there, you might win the Championship game. If not see you next year. Kids who can't shine in the classroom have somewhere to feel valued, it brings communities together. It means something. We need more of this in England.

They really respect their veterans.
The war memorials in Washington DC have to be seen to be believed. They are magnificent, humbling and beautiful. The Lincoln memorial is the biggest thing you've ever seen. I don't think it really matters what you think about the rights and wrongs of war, if you're out there, thousands of miles from home, being shot at, you deserve some respect when you get home. These great stone monoliths at least help us appreciate, and remember.

There's little cynicism
If somethings wrong there's no sitting around lamenting that it's not like the old days. People roll their sleeves up, and make it better. Then better again, then better again. Things can always be better, people can always be innovating. I guess thats part of the reason Michael Phelps has won more Gold medals than Great Britain right now.

People are just polite
I've never seen such manners. Wilberforce would approve. I can't count the number of times people call each other 'sir' or 'ma'am' in a normal conversation. And yet in all this politeness there's great community. There's no stuffiness. I respect you, you respect me, but hey, we're all friends, lets get along, say hey to strangers in the parking lot or at Bojangles. We can be friendly, but we can be polite. It's just cool.

From the board of education to the White House.
It's fifty four years since Brown vs the Board of Education started to desegregate public schools. In November a black man will stand for President. It's incredible that thats happened so quickly and i can't imagine what it must mean to the first generation of people affected by the act. I'm not sure that could happen anywhere else.

So there you have it. It's a good place to be. And even though i still don't like private health care the hospitals are the cleanest places i've ever been into. There'll be no 'God bless Americas' just yet, but this part of the world, the much maligned Bible belt is full of life, opportunities and great people. I like it.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Four things

I'm off to Washington DC for a couple of days with rachel's family, but before i go, there's some excellent stuff out there at the moment that i wanted to share with you.

Paul visits CCK Brighton (part 1, part 2)

John Piper writes a tase and see so clear, so Christ centered, so wonderful that it more or less changed my day to read it.

Christ is the aim of all things. When Paul says, “All things were created . . . for him” (Colossians 1:16), he means that the entire universe and all the events in it serve to glorify Jesus Christ. May the meditations of our hearts take us ever deeper into this mystery. And may the words of our mouths and the actions of our hands serve to magnify the infinite worth of Jesus and his death. This is why we exist.

Mark Driscoll has (another) new book out

And Josh Harris shares preachers' notes, something that promises to be very interesting indeed, starting with Mark Dever.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Grace in isolation

I made a joke about this the other day, but it bares repeating, the American coverage of the Olympics really does take some getting used to. So far today all we've seen is repeats of the American swim relay team win, the American volleyball team, and the USA mens basketball team. No mention so far of Rebecca Adlington's gold in the pool. She beat an American you see. And this is NBC, not even the USA Channel which advertises itself on the basis that it's only showing American people. NBC of course stands for No Boring foreigners Covered, or NoBody else Counts.

There is a point to this, it all came to ahead during the womens team gymnastics last night (Rachel made me watch it). We followed the American team from the floor to the bars to the horse to the balance beam. They were the only ones we saw, the Chinese team were mentioned, but we were never actually given any evidence that they were there. This really affected the way you watched the American team. There was no context to set them in, there was no way of knowing whether they were doing well or not. They were just doing.

It got me thinking about how we live the Christian life sometimes. It's easy to be a Christian in church on a sunday morning or when the day starts with a Bible and coffee, but what about when we walk out of the door? All our study and knowledge is meaningless unless we live it out with those around us. Unless we really do all things for the glory of God...meaning all things, then we're contextless American gymnasts plodding round without really doing anything meaningful.

We need to not only read and study and pray, but also do, and do surrounded by other people in the shop, in the factory, in the academy, then i'm not sure it really means anything, or, at least, no one will know what it means. Christians need to be out there in the grime and grit of life, or our sunday mornings don't mean anything. This is what we're supposed to do, live and speak. But really live, out there, beyond the church door.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Seven Firsts

1) First time i've seen how important and full of grace the book of Joshua is, thanks to Francis Shaeffer. I love the way he writes, so full of life and...well grace!

2) First time i've been properly sick for a while. Missing half a day of work was rubbish, but here's the thing: the world spins without me, the Gospel didn't fall in North Carolina because i needed a few extra hours in bed, and Christ is still on His throne. And hey, even Edwards was sick once!

3) First day of the football season back home. As it ever was as far as we're concerned. 'looks like you've picked a good season to miss son'

4) First opportunity to have a chuckle at Oxford United. Imagine being told you start your season away to Barrow...on a friday night...and then get turned over 3-0. Lovely.

5) First time i've been exposed to American Olympic coverage. We move from American gymnasts to American volleyball types to American rowers. Other teams are just a rumour it seems. (to be fair NBC are showing a lot of non Americans rowing right now, but one channel sells itself on just showing Americans who are likely to win)

6) First 'working' funeral. What hope is there for people outside Christ? Heartbreaking.

7) (thankfully not the) First time we've sung Christ exalting, Gospel centered songs in church this morning. I loved it!

Saturday, August 09, 2008

The Opening Ceremony

Wasn't the Olympic Opening Ceremony tremendous. I love seeing all the larger countries, the UK, the USA and China behind their flag, but much more moving for me are the places like Palau and Tonga who have just a handful of participants. I can't imagine what it must feel like to come from a nation of 12,000 and carry your flag into the Olympic Stadium.

It got me thinking about the Wedding Feast. I wonder if thats how we'll all come in, by nation, tribe and tongue. Walking in our place to our place, not overjoyed about being at the Olympics, but overjoyed at spending an eternity with Jesus. I wonder if we'll gather in the middle somewhere, exchange stories, find old friends, and seek out heroes, while we wait for the King to arrive, the Host of hosts to take His place. I sort of hope so, that would be cool to me.

Refreshed by the Church

One of the things i'm looking forward to the most about next months trip to Bulgaria is the chance the team gets to do some teaching, to encourage and share ideas with the guys out there. The topic i've been given is 'encouragement for the Christian.' I'm looking at the ground for all our encouragement (the cross) the centre of mutual encouragement (the church) and the way of self encouragement ( your Bible and pray folks! Needs some work that one) I've spent most of the week in 1 Corinthians 12:11-29, which has so refreshed me for two main reasons.

Aside from the wonderful oneness which the indwelling of the Holy Spirit gives us, Jew or Greek, slave or free, verses 14-22 show us that the church needs everyone...everyone as we are. We need to be different. The body needs feet, eyes, ears and noses. The church needs preachers and singers and instrument types and deacons and set up people and set down people and pa/techie type people. It needs evangelists and councillors and cell leaders and people gifted in hospitality, introverts and extroverts. Imagine if the whole church was made up of PA people, or preachers, or turn up early and put chairs out. Imagine if one particularly ministry of the church had most of the people. The church would be lopsided at best.

So there is encouragement from Paul to those who feel that their gifts aren't needed, and a rebuke to those who are self sufficient and don't feel they need anyone. First the encouragement:

'if the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing. if the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell. But as it is God has arranged each one of them in body, as He chose.'

Be encouraged Corinthians, if everyone had the same gift, where would the church be? We're one body, but we need many parts. What about the self sufficient? Those in Corinth who can prophecy and speak in tongues and don't feel the need for those who can't? Paul has words for them too:

'The eye can not say to the hand, i have no need of you, nor again the head to the feet, i have no need of you, on the contrary, the parts that seem to be weaker are indispensable'

There's no room for self sufficient individuals and factions in the church. One group can no more separate from another than the eye to the hand. We need each other. We all rejoice together, we all mourn together. We are all one body.

I love the church. I love that it is as much home for the CEO, the war veteran, the full time mum and the guy who can't find work. I love that in the best churches, Christians really are a family, that what binds us, the Holy Spirit, is so much bigger than what divides us. The Church at is best is the Gospel in action, the Gospel displayed, the Gospel magnified.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

New Books

Goodness me but Crossway know what they're about...i've just been browsing the coming soon part of their are some i'm particularly excited about:

The One Who Conquers.
Sam Storms brings us fifty (50!) Christ centered meditation on the seven letters of Revelation 2 and 3. Yummy.

Spectacular Sins and their global purpose in God.
John Piper's recent sermon series in book form. I listened to a couple of these and they were excellent. I'm sure the book will be nothing less.

Worldliness: Resisting the seduction of a fallen world.
I love C.J's writing. And his preaching. This book, about how to guard our hearts, and provide a witness in several areas.

Vintage Church
If the popularity of Vintage Jesus is anything to go by, this new book from Mark Driscoll should be a huge success. I've been refreshed by a lot of time in 1 Corinthians 12 recently, hopefully this book will serve the same purpose.

Stand: A Call for the endurance of the saints.
The Desiring God conference books are always, always worth reading. John Piper, John MacArthur, Helen Rosevere and Randy Alcorn help us to unpack how to endure today, and into the future.

Death by love: Letters from the cross.
Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears team up again to explore the practical implications of what happened on the cross. Written for those who have sinned or been sinned against.

The Erosion of inerrancy in evangelicalism.
GK Beale explores the latest challenges to the doctrine of inerrancy. His sound Biblical arguments provide a serious challenge to those arguing against the traditional view of the Scriptures.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

More on the Joker

I have a feeling this will; run and run. It sure is in my head. Matt Fudge has written the post i wanted to. The Joker is right:

this character fascinated me. Not just because the character was played so well, but because he was right.

You read that right: In this film, the Joker is the only character who isn’t crazy.
The joker is a character who poses at first simply as a really crazy villain. Then we start to see that he seems to engage in evil just for it’s own sake. And then we see that the Joker has a very profound and deliberate point to make. About two thirds of the way into the movie, adding a nurse’s uniform and curly red wig to his already grotesque appearance, the Joker makes this assertion:

“The only sensible way to live in this world is without rules.”

(ht: Bish)

Joker Joshua Jesus

I'm so glad there's a thing called Truth. I'm even more glad that the thing called Truth is real, and true. I've been thinking about this a lot recently, with regard to the Joker in The Dark Knight. Then today, for reasons that still sort of escape me, Paris Hilton became a semi important figure in the election of the Leader of the Free World. News channels seem to be guilty of this too. Turn on Fox News, and there's McCain, loved by Texas, turned on MSNBC, and there's Obama, folks in Europe like him. Neither station has much time for the other man. There is precious little objectivity. On Law and Order last night a baby was described as 'the produce of conception'.

But the thing is, unless there's truth, unless something exists that is true, there's nothing wrong with any of this. Or nothing surprising at least. Why shouldn't a crazed criminal blow up a hospital;, why shouldn't civilians kill hundreds of prisoners, or indeed vice versa, why shouldn't a society heiress be an important figure in the election campaign. If there's no truth, new channels are free to show what they want about who they want. And does it really matter if micro truth is lost if there's no macros truth? Why should anyone prefer the scratching of their finger to the destruction of the universe?

Of course, the common good. So what when your common good is someone's common evil? Democracy? Then why are jails overcrowded?

No, there has to be truth. When Moses died truth continued. Yaweh held back the Jordan for Joshua as He had held back the Nile for Moses. They had the Book. The Commander of the Lord's Army demanded the same respect as the burning bush. There was continuity. Ai routes Israel for the sin of Achan...there is still truth. This wonderful Truth from above.

Jesus said, i am the truth. The truth is not a collective, or an ideology, or a system. The truth us a person. The truth is what He teaches, the truth is what He's done for His Father and for His people. I'm so pleased about that.

We should preach the Gospel so that people want it to be true even if they don't believe it. We should preach the Gospel by placing before people Jesus, the Truth. Jesus who is the answer, both to the needs we feel, and the often more important ones we don't. Jesus, who's very life as the Truth gives human life it's worth, places a responsibility on those who report news not to make it and demonstrate the evil of murder.

Thats Truth, and i'm glad it's so.

Monday, August 04, 2008

'there is no part of life where it is no immeasurably precious'

I don't know how i've previously missed this article on justification by John Piper but it's wonderful! The Biblical, historic, lovely, doctrine of justification  by faith alone, on the basis of Christ's redeeming cross work is indeed the one that the church will stand or fall on.

Help for the listless sinner, who wonders if all the effort and trouble is worth it. yes! Yes it is. God justifies the ungodly. Stop working! Trust. Get up, pray, read the Bible, go and enjoy nature. It's there and it shouts His name. The name of the one who stands ever between you and the Father.

Help for the fallen saint, who can't bare to turn to see their Father frowning at them, who can't face the Lord in prayer with the taunts of the enemy in his ear. Incredibly, because of the cross, the Lord will plead your cause, He will execute judgement for you. For you. So 'fess up. Trust Christ to the hilt with gutsy guilt. Look at the cross and wonder, and sin no more.

Help for the squeamish fellow, who doesn't know whether he can call all the world, all the languages, all the ethnicities, all the differences to one Savior. Who doesn't know if Jesus is important enough for all the nations, who is embarrassed at the claims that all those needs can be wonderfully met by one man. Christ is the second Adam. As the first bought unrighteousness for all, so the second buys righteousness for all. Rejoice!

Isn't that the shame of the penal substitution deniers? That denying penal substitution denies us this Christ exalting, broken, mission mobilising joy?

Sunday, August 03, 2008

'wrapped up death'

A while ago a linked the the blog of a good friend, and said that the infrequency of her updating was ok due to the quality of what she wrote. She never blogged again.

So at the risk of repeating that, i won't say anything about this, just go and read it!

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Two quotes

Sinclair Ferguson on catechisms (HT Challies)

Christians in an earlier generation rarely thought of writing books on guidance. There is a reason for that (just as there is a reason why so many of us today are drawn to books that will tell us how to find God’s will). Our forefathers in the faith were catechised, and they taught catechisms to their children. Often as much as half of the catechism would be devoted to an exposition of the answers to questions like the following: Question: Where do we find God’s will? Answer: In the Scriptures. Question: Where in particular in the Scriptures? Answer: In the Commandments that God has given to us.

Why were these questions and answers so important? Because these Christians understood that God’s law provides basic guidelines that cover the whole of life. Indeed, in the vast majority of instances, the answer to the question ‘What does God want me to do?’ will be found by answering the question: ‘How does the law of God apply to this situation? What does the Lord require of me here in his word?

John Piper on Saturdays

I am not laying down any law here. I am saying there are Saturday night ways that ruin Sunday morning worship. Don't be enslaved by them. Without sufficient sleep, our minds are dull, our emotions are flat, our proneness to depression is higher, and our fuses are short. My counsel decide when you must get up on Sunday in order to have time to eat, get dressed, pray and meditate on the Word, prepare the family, and travel to church; and then compute backward eight hours and be sure that you are in bed 15 minutes before that. Read your Bible in bed and fall asleep with the Word of God in your mind. I especially exhort parents to teach teenagers that Saturday is NOT the night to stay out late with friends. If there is a special late night, make it Friday.

Friday, August 01, 2008

The Riddle of Jephthah

Judges has to be about the saddest book in the Bible for me. There are probably sadder portions of scripture, the end of 2 Kings, for example, and the end of 2 Timothy is very poignant, but for full on verse after verse chapter after chapter sadness, Judges has to be the nadir. In the time of the Judges, there was no King, and Israel did what was right in their own eyes. Which was a disaster. Will any of these Judges be the promised serpent crusher, or one like Moses, or just an honest judge that won't die?

In chapters 10-12 of Judges we come across Jephthah. At this time Israel was being oppressed from all sides, the tribes of Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim were under attack from the Ammonites. Jephthah was run out of house and home by his step family, because he was the son of a prostitute, and spent his formative years wandering in the desert with a band of 'worthless fellows' attached to him. Eventually the Gilieadites turn to him in the war and ask him to lead their people, an offer which he accepts. 

Jephthah fights successfully against the Ammonites, with the Lord on his side, but not ebfore making a vow. He vowed that whatever came out of his house first to greet him would 'be the Lord's and i will offer it up as a burnt offering' (v31 ESV) or shall surely be the Lords and/or i will offer it up as a burnt offering' (v31 KJV). Tragically, it's his daughter who meets him first from his house.

Jephthah is upset, and explains the situation to her daughter. She willingly accepts what's about to happen, but only asks that she might be allowed two months in the mountains to 'weep for her virginity' (v37 ESV). At the end of the two months her father 'did with her according to the vow he had made. She had never known a man'

When i first read this, it seemed like a tragic example of how terrible things had gotten in Israel. Here is a war hero sacrificing his daughter, returning to his old barbarian ways upon his return home. But now i'm not so sure. The Bible doesn't tell us he killed his daughter, but merely, did what he vowed. The and/or in the KJV makes all the difference. Jephthah would have said or because something might have come out his house first, that wasn't suitable for a burnt offering. A dog, or cat, or mouse...or his daughter. His daughter asks to go and weep for her virginity, not her life, she is remembered in verse 40 for four days in the year. Surely a festival wouldn't grow out of a sinful wrong action? Surely Jephthah wouldn't return from fighting the child killing Ammonites to kill his own child, surely no one with the Spirit of the Lord upon them (v29) could make such a foolhardy vow, even in those days? 

As i prepare to go through this for Sunday school this week, i'm struggling to come to any conclusions about the fate of Jephthah's daughter. Is Jephthah at this point a tragic war hero who's lost his daughter, and any change of succession, or is he a foolhardy, blood hungry man, (as he appears in chapter 12) with no fear of the Lord or love for his family?

On Cricket

One of the many cultural differences in the USA is the lack of cricket. No one talks about it, it's not on the news, every green space isn't taken up by pub and village teams in the summer's all about baseball here, which i'm getting into... I might follow the Baltimore Orioles, partly because they're named after a bird, which i like, and partly because they seem pretty hopeless.

I'm still able to follow the cricket via the BBC text service ably attended to by Ben Dirs and an army of text and email correspondents, one of whom came up with this gem earlier today:

"Vaughan so often seems to get our hopes up like this, only to let us down quick sharp - like when the prettiest girl in school beckons you round the back of the bike sheds only for it be a trap laid by the school bully (called Gunther maybe?) who is waiting to knock seven shades of snot out of you."