Saturday, November 29, 2008

Romans 6 and the empty tomb

I sometimes wonder if, when our great grandchildren look back at us, they will conclude that, with a few exceptions, the doctrine of the resurrection was one of the most over looked in our day. It's obviously hard by definition to write about what our blind spots are, but having just spent about a week in Romans 6, i've seen, maybe even for the first time what a huge impact the resurrection is supposed to have on the daily life of the Christian.

Romans 5 ends with the comparison between the 1st Adam and the 2nd Adam, Jesus. Just as Christ was greater in every way than Adam, so His gift is greater in every way than Adam's 'gift', which was death. Paul then goes onto counter the claims that we should continue in sin so that grace may abound. And he does this by talking about Christ rising from the dead. In 6:4 Paul says 'we were buried with Him therefore by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from that dead by the glory of the Father we too might walk in newness of life'. 

Why don't we sin so that grace might abound? Because of the resurrection. Because we were baptised into Christ's death 'in order that' we too might walk in newness of life. This is stunning. Paul doesn't start with the wages of sin being death, he starts with the positive, he starts with the obvious implication of the empty tomb. If we've been dead like Jesus, we should be alive like Jesus.

But there's more. In verse 5 Paul says we shall 'certainly be united with Him, in a resurrection like His.' Our old self has been crucified, we've been set free from sin because Christ died on the sin. As Jesus, our substitute died for sin on the cross, we died to it. When He rose death no longer had dominion over us, because he was dead to sin. Jesus has done this, so we are to consider ourselves dead to sin, and alive to God in Him. Because He rose.

Paul finishes up this section of his though in 6:12-23. Don't let sin reign in your bodies. He rose and was dead to it, so you must count yourself as such. And the implication is that we are slaves to God. Sounds harsh but it's only right. Once we were slaves to sin, we went where sin called, for as long as sin wanted. Now we're slaves to God. Because Jesus is risen, and we live that new life with Him, we are slaves to God. 

On the cross Jesus was punished for our sins. He died for our trespasses. He died that we might worship God. Jesus walked out of His tomb for our justification. (4:25) So that we could live a life free from the chains of sin and alive to God. Christ rose to buy us new life, to give us new life. So that we might not only be forgiven but justified. Just as he not only died, but also rose...

Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Mark Dever on the Gospel

Here's the bad thing about living in the States, it makes missing DG conferences even less excusable...


There are many reasons i'm looking forward to thanksgiving tomorrow, golf, lots of turkey, NFL all day, off work from wednesday thru sunday, and lots of time with Rachel and her family.

There is one more reason though, and thats the pleasingly high voice of John Piper in 1980...good words too!

you'd better start getting selfish

Monday, November 24, 2008

A weekend seven

1) Saturday was only my second full day off since the end of August...i love my job and the work, but it was nice to lie in bed for a few minutes and enjoy not having to get up right away and work out which clothes on the floor could still be worn.

2) This led to a delicious time of praying and reading the Bible. Decided to dip into Isaiah for the morning, richly rewarded.

3) Wycombe go back top of League 2, East Carolina won their division and a place in the Conference Championship game, and i managed to get two tickets to see their last home game of the season on Friday. Lovely scenes.

4) A very full sunday. After the 11am service we went to talk pictures for the staff and family Christmas card. There's something pleasingly silly about eighteen people trying to co-ordinate what they're wearing and where they're standing on a sunny afternoon by the water. Even sillier was despite the dozen or so pictures taken i don't think there's one where everyones looking in the same direction at once. Then different rehearsals for the two Christmas plays, then the Teen Discipleship service in the evening. So cool to see young people desiring to seek God's will for their life.

5) Thanksgiving shopping, including a 19lb turkey!

6) 24 Redemption. I think thats the first full episode of 24 i've ever watched. It was flipping excellent. Now we have to wait for the middle of January for the actualy start of the series though!

7) 'it's every girls dream, you get to walk round a shop choosing all the cool stuff and getting other people to pay for it'

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Things i like about North Carolina

It's occurred to me that my last two posts about America have been more negative than positive. And i don't want to give the impression that i don't like it here, when i really, really do, so here are some things, in ascending order, that i really like about North Carolina:

The air smells so good. I don't know if that's because it's so clean, or if it's because it's mostly warm and comes up from the south, or just because to the south, east and north of Washington, NC there's a whole bunch of nothing to pollute it. But i've never smelled air like it. It's good.

The sunsets are amazing. Especially on a hot day, especially in the countryside where the air seems bigger. I've never seen such a collision of reds, blues, golds and greys in my life. I could stand and watch them for a very very long time.

Most children live lifestyle here unparalleled anywhere else in the world. People accuse the Bible Belt of being sheltered...well good. It it stops a bunch of sixteen year olds from become another statistic for sexual failure, then sheltering is good. You go to school, you go to football/volleyball/cheerleading practice, come home and do your homework and go to teen group. It's good. I'm not convinced by the school system here (but then i'm not convinced by large parts of the school system in England) but there's no arguing that kids are looked after. If they want to be.

High School sports. This is linked to the last point, but probably deserved one all of it's own. Last night i went to West Craven High to watch the Washington American Football team in the second round of the NC play-offs. We lost. It was like being at the Super Bowl. West Craven High is out in the middle of nowhere between Vanceboro and New Bern. There is literally nothing for miles, and then a huge sports complex with a school next to it. Washington's stadium, team, cheerleaders and marching band are pretty impressive in themselves but these guys were on a different scale. High School sports really mean something in an area where we're six hours drive from the nearest NFL team. College sports are huge in the south, but Friday nights are all about the High School action.

Rachel. Obviously.

My church feels like a home. In a way i'd never expected it to, it really does. Going it to work there every day feels right, this is where i should be. And that means more than everything else put together...

Thursday, November 20, 2008

Pugged In and the 'American religious right'

One of the biggest stories that the political news teams are covering since november 4th is how many people across different demographics voted for Obama. Which is good, and within the inevitable Christian concerns something that encourages me. I think. Nearly a month out and i still don't think i've ever felt this conflicted about the results of an election. Anyway, i digress. One of the stories that the media have been most interested in is how diluted the 'white evangelical' vote was. In essence how they didn't all vote for McCain, and in close states like Ohio may even have carried the vote for Obama. Is this the end of the religious right powerhouse, they wonder.

I've been thinking a lot about that phrase recently. I had come to conclude that the 'American religious right' doesn't really exist in the way that a lot of the media on both sides of the atlantic make out that it does. I was beginning to think that it was just a convenient media construct and be done with it. Then i realised i was in fact so deeply immersed in it's culture and location, i was a bit like a fish that stopped believing in water. Apart from the all white churches, the Confederate flags flying outside people's houses and the preachers in cow boy hats (ok, i made that last up!)

Probably my favourite example of this is a website called plugged in online who 'shine a light on the world of entertainment'. Now that is a very worthy thing. Very worthy, good for them. There should be mainstream Christian responses to mainstream culture. I really believe that. But i'm really not sure it should look like this.

There are some excellent leaders, this one, for example, but on the whole there's no engagement, little affirming the good, little talking about how Christians should talk to their unsaved friends about the films, just an, at times hysterical, list of reasons not to see films, or listen to most records.

My favourite examples include the violence section of 'sisterhood of the travelling pants 2' that lists Blake Lively falling into a pit and a complaint about people wearing a Bindi in HSM3. Neither of those things are going to lead a kid astray parents. Stop abdicating responsibility to a website! Anyway...

The music section prohibits most of my iPod, specifically White Pony, which is as intense as it is excellent, and the Arctic Monkey's debut 'whatever people say i am thats what i'm not', which apparently takes us dangerously close to the British club scene. Run away kids. Quick. Fall Out Boy are slammed for their 'ludicrously long song titles'. I think that's the straw that broke this camels back.

Now, a large caveat. There does need to be a way for parents to protect their children from the pervasive sex and violence in so much entertainment. They do need to be able to access a resource that makes it easy for them. There are a couple of paragraphs about the pro social content in every film. People can know exactly how much swearing they are going to hear when they pay for a film and if there are any scenes that will lead them to stumble. And plugged in is a product of it's environment, not the seed but it's still a big opportunity missed.

All the things that i mentioned i loved about the DG catalogue in the post below, the engagement, the creativity, the fun are missing here. It's just stirring up fear, reactionaryism and separatism at every turn. And that's a shame.

DesiringGod winter catalogue

I got mine in the post this week. I love the creativity, the passion, but most of all, how can you not love the heart of Desiring God? I long to make their mission statement my own...

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

The faith of Obama

Challies has found this transcript of an interview with Barack Obama from just after he was nominated as the Democrat candidate for the Chicago senate seat:

Monday, November 17, 2008

Matt Chandler on preaching to the 'saved'

Justin Taylor has highlighted an excellent preach from Matt Chandler on 'preaching the Gospel from the centre of the evangelical world.' I listened to it originally a few days before i moved to the USA (on the way home from taking Bish to Together on a Mission, if you're interested in that sort of thing) and was very much struck by it.

The centre of the evangelical world is, in this context, Texas. But i'd love to see what it's like there compared to North Carolina. In Washington, a small rural town, there are about 9000 people and fifty churches. It's incredible, for the first few weeks i was here i'd spot a new one every time i was out, even now i still drive past a couple that have escaped my attention. 

Of course, its more or less impossible for us to judge who is and isn't saved. Wolves don't come wearing jackets that say 'i am a wolf'. It's also not our job. But it's a huge problem and headache for churches in an area where Jesus is as much a part of every day life as apple pie and blaming all your ills on the yankees. It produces some churches where people really believe that Psalm 33:12 is about them. Thats why what Matt Chandler has said is so helpful and important. Thats why we must always preach, never assume the Gospel.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Theology and scripture

'...every human being will stand before the judgement seat of Christ. In such a context Christian theology can not afford to be an in house conversation,the intellectula self indulgence of a priveledged group. There is an urgent engagement with theology's engagement with the thinking and behavior of the world in which we live.'
Mark Thompson, A Clear and Present Word (NSBT) P53

'If God spare my lyfe ere many years i will cause a boye that driveth the plough than know more of the scripture than tho dost'
William Tyndale 1521

Titus 2:12-13 (2)

We live, as Paul notes at the end of verse 12 ‘in the present world’, and as we live, we look. Verse 13 says ‘looking for that blessed hope and the glorious appearing of the great God and our savior Jesus Christ.’ We are to live in the present world, eat, drink, relate, go to work, go to school, pay our bills, in the present world, because that’s where we are. But we must have our eyes up. We must have our hopes somewhere else. Philippians 3:20 says ‘our citizenship is in Heaven, and from there we await a saviour, our Lord Jesus Christ’ This is what it is to be a Christian. Feet on the ground, mind engaged, heart waiting for Jesus to return.

The hope we look for is a blessed hope. The word that Paul uses for looking is best translated as ‘longing with an eager certainty.’ Like the way we look for the sunrise. It’s coming, we know, because of the sovereignty of God, that the sunrise is coming, just like we know, because of the sovereignty of God, that Christ is coming. It’s a blessed hope, a happy hope because of this. It is a happy hope because we know it is coming. It is a happiness that transcends circumstance or election results, it is a hope that the world neither understands nor envies. But it’s real. And it changes things. And it helps us to live in the present world, without a hope in the things of the world. The looking is certain, the happy hope is certain.

We look for a happy hope, we look for a glorious appearing. Christ’s first appearing was a gracious one, a humble, born in a stable to a virgin appearing. This appearing will the opposite. This a glorious appearing. This time, when we see this happy hope that we look for, we will see Christ as He is in His glory. We move from grace appeared to glory appeared. We move to the appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ.

Who is Jesus? He is the great God, and our Savior. Jesus is the great God. Jesus is the God who is there, Jesus is the God who saves us. This is another clear declaration in scripture of the deity of Jesus Christ, and gives lie to the notion that various later church councils voted on whether or not Jesus was and is God. Here is Paul, a contemporary of Jesus calling Him ‘the great God.’ And He is our savior. He saves us from the penalty of sin, as we saw last time in verse 11, and He saves us from the presence of sin, by the appearing of His glory as we see here. Who then is a God like our God? Who better to hope in, whom better to worship than Jesus, the great God and our Savior.

This is something worth hoping in… This is a better hope. This is how we live as Christians, between the gracious appearing and the glorious appearing. Between what Christ did as He shed His blood on the cross, and what we will do as He wields His sword in judgment. We live in the present world, and we look for the glorious appearing. There is a balance to be maintained here as we live and look. We don’t want to be like the Christians in 2 Thessalonians who quit there jobs and were sun bathing in the yard because Jesus was probably coming back that afternoon, but we don’t want to be like so many Christians here and now whose lives suggest that their final hope is in people, or politics or ideology or legislation. We find a balance. We live and we look.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Titus 2:12-13 (1)

In the 1980s in the UK there was a road safety campaign called ‘look, listen, live.’ As you can probably guess from the title it encouraged kids to look both ways, listen for traffic and then cross. Paul’s advice to us in these verses is similar. He is telling us to live, and look. Here in verse 12 we have more standards for the Christian to aspire to, sandwiched in between two verses that give us tremendous hope and comfort as we try to live the way that scripture calls on us to. There is a great reward to those who live with holiness in their heart as we know from the Matthew 5: ‘blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.’

We saw last time in verse 11 that the grace of God who appeared is not only the motivation but also the ability to live the way that God calls us to. To live grace enabled lives that are pleasing to God. This is the grace of God and it’s our only hope that we have to come anywhere near the standards we are set by scripture. This is the grace of God which gives us a Savior.

If we look down at the start of verse 12 there, we’ll see that this grace teaches us to do something. It teaches ‘us that denying ungodliness and worldly lusts we should live soberly, righteously and Godly in the present world.’ So the grace of God teaches us two things negatively and three things positively.

Christians are to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts. Ungodliness just means simply a lack of devotion and reverence to God. It’s an attitude rather than an action. When we are saved and the Holy Spirit comes and lives in our hearts there is no way that we can continue to live lives of sustained ungodliness. Godliness gives us a heart for the Lord, for the Word and for the Church, it makes us upset over sin, it helps us to love those around us who might be unlovely. But we all have seasons in life where this Godliness is missing, and those seasons should scare us, those seasons should drive us to our knees in prayer, asking God to help us, and to give us the affections and desires for Jesus and for Godliness that we should have. We are to deny ungodliness.

We are also to deny worldly lusts. We are to fight against the desire to commit sin. The desire to have more stuff, the desire to spread that juicy piece of gossip, the desire to criticize people who dress differently to us, the desire to lust after a man or a woman. The grace of God teaches us against these desires. And these lusts may be just that, lusts or desires, just thinking about doing something, just wanting to do something without even doing it. But there is no sin where there is no lust. We need to fight the desire, we need to fight the lust, we need to attack the root of the sin. If a tree was bearing rotten fruit, the answer would not be to keep dealing with the fruit, the answer would be to treat the roots of the tree. That’s what we must do. James 1:15 says ‘then desire, when it is conceived gives birth to sin, and sin, when it is fully grown, brings forth death.’ We must fight at the root if we want to live.

Paul then moves onto the positive enablement of grace. The things that the grace of God will help us to do. The grace of God will enable us to live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world. The grace of God teaches us to live lives that are pleasing to Him.

To live soberly, to live with a sound mind. Not one that is being washed back and forth by news items or the opinions of others. The Christians with a sound mind does not become entangled in things that are of no spiritual profit, but is like a soldier ready for war. We are to live righteously. In wholehearted agreement and obedience with the Bible and resolved to live and obey it with all our hearts as much as we can, under the grace of God. We are to live Godly, which means in close and deep fellowship with Jesus Christ. These changes could be viewed three dimensionally, soberly being the change inside us, righteously, the change in our relationships with others, and Godly, the change in our relationship with God. These are three excellent evidences for God’s grace at work in our heart.

The grace of God doing this in a new Christian’s heart is a wonderful, mysterious thing. I remember when I got saved that suddenly the Bible got interesting, suddenly I wanted to be at church…I couldn’t work out what they had changed to make it so much better, I wanted to hang out with Christians, I couldn’t figure out what it was about them that was different from a week ago. And then I realized that I was the one who had changed, I was the one who found the Bible interesting, and wanted to go to church and spend time with fellow Christians. I was the one with something different going on inside of me! It was a very odd time. All of a sudden things that I used to enjoy doing lost their attraction, the things that affected me changed, and this was the grace of God invading and exploding in my heart, teaching me to live soberly, righteously and Godly. Teaching me that living in this way was not only right but also joy soaked. That to obey Jesus and to know Him is joy itself. It was wonderful. It is wonderful.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Romans, concepts and categories

God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished
Romans 3:25

One of the many things i love about reading the Bible slowly, and in order is that is shapes our categories and creates our concepts. If you asked many, perhaps even most, evangelicals, why Jesus died on the cross, the answers would probably range from 'because He loved me' to 'so i can have a personal relationship with Him' to 'so i can go to Heaven.' Hopefully some would say 'so that i can worship Him'. 

Now all those answers are true enough, and glorious, especially the last one, which is far closer to the grand, ultimate, Biblical answer than the other three. Few people, myself normally included would say that the reason Jesus died on the cross was to answer the greatest problem in the Old Testament. Few would say to demonstrate His righteousness first and foremost.

The biggest problem in the Old Testament is 'how can God be good, and just, and yet simply put away the sins of His people. Sure there was the exile, but what about after that? Is civil war and a kingdom split enough to punish the adultery of David?' I mean, most people would say it in a better fashion than that, but you know what i mean. God the Father sent His Son to die to demonstrate the righteousness of God. This is why Jesus was laying down His life to show the world that He loved His Father, not us. Not primarily.

This gives such tremendous freedom in Christian counselling and discipleship. It means that when a student comes to me and says 'i am a terrible person,' i can say, lovingly and Biblically, 'yes you are a terrible person. And so am i. Welcome to the Gospel.' Christians need this Gospel! There is little to no freedom in the 'i'm so lovely Christ just couldn't help but die for me Gospel.' It doesn't work, it is not true. 

The Bible is so radically, dangerously, consistently, persistently God centered that it ends up reshaping our categories, it ends up creating our concepts of what happened at Calvary. Can you imagine the impact if Christians read it, and took it seriously, and acted upon it?

Sunday, November 09, 2008


1) Church. Lovely church. Especially with baptisms, and 2 Corinthians 12:7-10. We even sung a song that rhymed saint and ain't. Welcome to the south.

2) Family Missions day in Suffolk, Virginia. Two hours north up Highway 17. Go very much north from Washington, NC, and there is just nothing there. Mile after mile of cotton fields and woods. Suffolk in beautiful though, surrounded by lakes on almost every side. Great to spend the day knocking doors in support of a church that has only been going for eight weeks and is already averaging 70 odd on sunday.

3) Romans. Slowly. Good to be just me and the Bible, good to go slow, good to have six weeks to bathe in it's truth. Also finally starting 'Keep in step with the Spirit'. And about time.

4) High School football. On friday nights small southern towns seem to exist for high school football. The Washington Pam Pack won 41-14 to secure a place in the State play-offs. It was pretty cool.

5) Good times with younger men. I love the doors that the Lord is opening up for me with the teens in church.

6) 'so, why do you think i'm becoming more of a Calvinist?'
'um...because you're reading the Bible a lot?'

7) The impending staff retreat in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. 'Retreats' to me have always conjured the image of prayer labyrinths and worship painting, but we're playing golf and going to a steak buffet...excellent.

Saturday, November 08, 2008

CS Lewis on salvation

Did you ever meet, or hear of, anyone who was converted from skepticism to a "liberal" or "demythologized" Christianity? I think that when unbelievers come in at all, they come in a good deal further.

An election joke

There are some excellent jokes flying around about tuesday night. There are also some terrible ones, but we'll ignore those for the good of our hearts. Here's my favourite:

Two kids are out trick or treating, and they knock on another door, waiting for an answer

The owner opens up and says 'hey guys, how much candy have you got...let me see'

The kids open up their bag

'wow you've got a whole lot,' says the onwer of the house 'i'm going to take some and give it to the kids who were too lazy to go out trick or treating'

'oh maaaaan,' say the kids, 'another Democrat'

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Titus 2:11 (3)

We see, at the end of the verse that this salvation hath appeared to all men. This verse is constructed differently by different literal versions of the Bible. The ESV, for example, reads ‘the grace of God that brings salvation to all men appeared’. So does this verse mean that the grace that saves all men appeared, or does it mean that the grace that saves appeared to all men? I think we can happily stay within the bounds of Biblical doctrine and the integrity of this verse when we say ‘both’.

The opportunity for salvation is universal; there is no man beyond the reach of God’s grace. One commentator put it like this: ‘Christ’s atonement certainly purchased for all men a merciful postponement of the doom incurred by our sins, including all the blessings of our earthly life, the Gospel restraints upon human depravity and the sincere offer of Heaven to all. But for Christ, man’s doom would have instantly followed after his sin, as with the angels.’

But also we can say that the grace that saves has appeared to all men. Romans 1:19-20 says ‘…that which may be known of God is manifest in them, for God hath shown it to them. For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse.’ All men are without excuse for rejecting Christ. Guilty and without excuse. If that doesn’t awaken some evangelistic fervour in us, perhaps nothing will.

Titus 2:11 gives us the reason and the ability to live the lives that chapter 2 calls on us to live. The grace of God, supremely revealed by Jesus Christ on the cross, is unleashed into our hearts, which, as we note in verse 12 and will see next time, teaches us to deny ungodliness and live godly lives. The only way we can have the strength to do that is through the grace of God through Jesus Christ. God calls all men to show by their daily life that He is a saving God. That He is the God who is there. To live different lives to those around us. But God doesn’t and never will call us to do something without giving us the power and ability to do so. And because of the death of Jesus Christ on the cross, because grace appeared we have all the goodness, greatness, glory and grace of God on our side. Let us come to Him…

Titus 2:11 (2)

But isn’t all this talk about the grace of God that bringeth salvation a bit abstract? Don’t we need some grit, some earth, some objectivity to ground all this in? Well yes we do, and as we see from the next part of verse 11, that’s exactly what we get. We’re told that this grace that bringeth salvation appeared. Paul is saying that grace appeared. Now if we’ve been a Christian, for even not a very long time these words won’t sound that strange to us, but just for a moment stop and think about what Paul is saying. ‘Grace appeared’? What can Paul mean that God’s intention to rescue us from the temporary and eternal affects of sin and deliver us to ever lasting joy ‘appeared’? He is, of course, talking about Jesus.

The grace of God appeared which in the Greek meant something like ‘to come to light for the first time or in a new way’. Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is the grace of God come to earth as a man. I think there are two ways that the grace of God appeared though Jesus Christ, one to physical eyes, and one to spiritual eyes.

The first was in the incarnation, that is, in the very act of Jesus becoming a baby, being born in a rural backwater, and living as a carpenter for the first thirty years of His life. In Luke 2:20, the Godly man Simeon says that he can now die in peace, because ‘my eyes have seen thy salvation’. Luke 3:6 quotes Isaiah talking about the birth of Jesus and says that all men shall see the salvation of God. This is the grace of God appearing to people’s physical eyes. If you’d lived 2000 years ago about 6000 miles away you’d have been able to touch Jesus, God incarnate, grace appeared Himself.

The second place the grace of God appeared, is the just the second half of the incarnation, it’s natural, God ordained ending. Grace appeared on the cross. Grace appeared as Jesus was crucified; grace appeared as God the Father punished His Son with the blows that we deserved, grace appeared as the infinitely precious, infinitely worthy, infinitely holy Son of God was cut off from His Father for the first and only time in eternity. On the cross the great exchange took place, on the cross the way was made for us to know God the father though Jesus Christ the Son, on the cross, as justice and mercy collided, grace appeared that we might live in everlasting joy with Jesus in Heaven. This is grace appearing. It’s the cross that brings salvation, nothing else. Justification is by grace, nothing else.

And even though we see that clearly from this verse, it’s an increasingly unpopular truth both inside and outside the church. People believe in all manner of ways to be saved. Some believe in justification by church attendance, that surely God will accept them if they come to church enough, even if enough is just a couple of times a year. Some people believe in justification by geography. ‘Well, they think to themselves, I’m from England, I’m from America, I’m from North Carolina. There’s a heap of churches around here, surely God is a respecter of location?’ Then of course there is the old favourite of justification by good deeds. God will love me if I tell lots of people about Him, or if I read my Bible for six hours every day, or if I remember all my unsaved friends in my prayers.

But grace is what we need. How small a view of God would you need to have to think that He would be impressed by where you live? By sitting in a pew every Sunday? Or by your own effort. Salvation is by grace alone because that is the way the most brings glory to God. Because it’s all about God, His grace and His Son. Our salvation reflects glory back onto God. The wonderful hymn that we sung on Sunday really sums it up: ‘I dare not trust the sweetest frame, but wholly lean on Jesus’ name.’

Tuesday, November 04, 2008

The Walk (or, embracing the beautiful and the bleak)

This afternoon i indulged in that most unAmerican of activities. I went for a walk. I went from my apartment on the corner of 2nd and Hackney, down to West Main, and along the waterfront on the broadwalk, where i walked until the waterfront became the water, and looped round on Water Street, and back. In the oncoming Autumn gloom and drizzle it was lovely.

I took with me TheologyNetwork's latest Tabletalk with Mike Reeves and John Piper on the doctrine that created the western world. Heart thrilling stuff.

On the way back i listened to 'In Rainbows' by Radiohead, and, amidst the drizzle, the fading light and Thom Yorke's voice, settled in my heart the bleak, sad peace that comes from knowing that you're a long, long way from home.

Monday, November 03, 2008

More John Piper on the election

A prayer for Tuesday

Why a woman shouldn't run for VP but wise people may still vote for her

Justin Taylor shares a few very helpful thoughts

Blood and Smoke

what is that coming up from the wilderness
like columns of smoke?
SoS 3:6

This is how the bride sees her groom coming. She can't find Him...she looks for him out of the city and into the wilderness, and how does Soloman describe the groom coming to His bride? What simile does he use?


Now Soloman was the wisest man who has ever lived, except Jesus, are we supposed to think that he wasn't aware of how God lead His people through the wilderness, and that he wasn't aware, or wasn't deliberately drawing this poetic comparison to himself in this part of the poem? Why didn't he have himself coming out of the wilderness like a mighty litter of horses, like a Phoenician armada, like an Egyptian humped horse? But he said smoke. I think that really finishes any debate for me, Soloman had to know what he was writing here.

How does the way we read the Song affect the way we (Christologically) read the rest of the Old Testament? Is Christology just forcing Jesus into parts of the Bible where He really isn't? Well, no, in one sense, because Christ is all over the Bible, but i'm not sure i read the Song of Soloman any differently than i read, say Exodus 12, which is a clear picture of Christ.

I read Exodus 12 like this. Here are real events that happened. Just like the lovers in the Song. The passover happened, Israel were miraculously rescued from slavery in Egypt by their awesome God who is there. The faithful Jews who put lambs blood on the door frame were protected from the Angel of Lord as He swept though, killing the first born. This happened, in history, and it shows us that the blood of the Lamb saves us from the wrath of God. It's a picture of when it actually happened, at Calvary, when the Lamb's blood saves God's people.

And it's the same with the Song. It happened, but now we wait until it happens...until Christ ans the church are united in Heaven. The Song makes me look forward to that day...

Sunday, November 02, 2008

John Piper on thr 2008 election

The issues that Piper raises have been discussed on Justin Taylor's blog in detail, here are my thoughts for what they're worth:

1) We should be excited, very excited that an African American is running for President. Very excited. i hadn't really grasped this until i moved to the USA, but having a black President might revolutionise particularly small town American race relations. Even here in small, middle class, prosperous water front home owning hundred thousand dollar boat building Washington, North Carolina there are some streets that white people just do not go. And it's awful. So to have an African American candidate, barely a generation on from Brown vs the Board of Education, is worth getting 'giddy' about.

2) But goodness me isn't it complicated? Obama is probably the most ardent protector of abortion in the Senate. He's voted three times against giving financial aid to the survivors of partial birth abortions. Whereas the McCain/Palin ticket gives us the best window of opportunity for overturning Roe vs Wade, possibly for a long time. If Obama wins, and the Democrats get 60 seats in the Senate, that will seem a long, long, long way away.

3) Palin is a woman. Is it Biblical that she should stay at home and look after her family? Yes...maybe. Is it Biblical that we shouldn't have a female Commander in Chief? Yes...maybe. But if Obama wins then Nancy Peloisi is only one step further away.

4) McCain is not a very good candidate. his ad campaign has stepped up in the last week, but he's not convincing. At all. His one massive advantage, aside from being pro-life, is that he won't seem like such an easy target to Russia, North Korea, Iran and Al-Queda. Oh, and he's actually lead and done things in the political sphere, which is more than can be said for Obama. 

5) I wish, wish Piper had said that for him Obama's stance on abortion is the tipping point. Because it has to be doesn't it? If i was voting on Tuesday, it would be for McCain/Palin, probably because of this single issue, but with prayers in my heart that Obama has opened the door for the first African American president of the United States. 

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Titus 2:11 (1)

This is the first part of myt script from Wednesday night, preaching on what turns out to be one of my favourite verses of the Bible

After what seems like weeks of qualifications and requirements for different people in the church, you might very well be justified to sit and listen to Titus being preached and wonder when it’s ever going to end. What Paul is going to ask of us next? Maybe spending so much time looking at the requirements of the Elder of the church, the older and younger men and women has been something of a discouragement to you. I know for me sometimes reading the challenges that Paul lays at our door in this chapter, can seem like a list of things I don’t, can’t and won’t do, rather than standards that I am capable of maintaining.

Maybe one question that had flowed out of thought process has been ‘why should I live up to all Paul demands in this letter?’ Perhaps a better question that springs to mind each Wednesday night after service though is how? How can I possibly live up to what is being required of me here. How can I possibly put away what I’m supposed to be putting away and put on what I’m supposed to put on? As we’ve seen from the previous verses, God requires us to live righteous lives. But as we know from experience we can’t. No matter how we try, we still sin. And if you’re anything like me when you win a battle with a significant sin in your life, you get proud about it…and that starts the process all over again. We can’t live like Paul tells us to, so we need help. And in this precious verse, we see, I think, not just the motivation we need, but the ability we crave to live the lives we’re told we should. That’s why this sentence begins with the word ‘for’ in there. Paul’s saying ‘do all this because of this’. Titus 2:11 is probably about as glorious a ‘because’ as you can get.

So what is this ability? Where do we get the help, the ability and the motivation that we need to live that lives that God uses Paul to call us to. Verse 11 tells us that it is the grace of God. The very point of the grace of God is to save people from their sins. To save us from the innumerable times when we fall so desperately short of the standard set by Paul here. Sin not only leads to punishment in the next life, but also to corruption in this life. Sin defiles the conscious, drives a wedge between man and his fellow man, sin is never satisfied, sin will never say ‘ok, I’ve had enough’. Sin always wants more. Like every third string quarter back wants to be Matt Brady, anger wants to be murder, envy wants to be theft and lust wants to be sex outside of marriage. Sin wants to corrupt us in this life, and destroy us in the next. The grace of God stops that. The grace of God is simply the best news there is: God’s unmerited favour to sinners like us. A world in which God was not unendingly gracious to people is a world not worth thinking about.

This grace that Paul talks about is all sufficient. It is all covering. There is no sin greater than the deep and vast oceans of God’s grace. The Gospel of God’s grace is contra conditional, not unconditional. God doesn’t love you and me ‘just as I am’…He loves us just as Jesus is! That’s much better. Because of the grace of God our righteousness is in Heaven, at the right hand of God the Father, where it can not and will not be moved. Is there any sweeter news than this? That because of the grace of God we are loved by the Father as Jesus is loved by the Father. This grace not only motivates us to change but gives the ability to change. This is the grace of God that bringeth salvation. This is the grace of God that can and does change us on the inside, which will bring about the outside change we so clearly need.