Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Eight books for 2008

2008 was an excellent year for books. I read in Reading, i read in Lacey Green, i read on the beach and in the air. I've already written about some of the books that i'm excited about reading next year, but here, in no particular order, are my top eight for 2008:

You Can Change: Tim Chester
This is simply excellent. Everything you could want from a book on discipleship. Grace saturated and big God filled, i loved reading this book. I loved doing this book, which probably speaks volumes more.

Death By Love: Mark Driscoll
A Pastor's heart bleeds deeply from every page of this book. Driscoll as usual pulls no punches, but there's no room for his usual humour in this book. His best yet, dripping in cross saturated wisdom. Lovely artwork too.

Communion with the Triune God: John Owen
It takes something to write difficult books that people are still reading four hundred years later. I've never read another book that talks about how to individually commune with each member of the Godhead. I'm not sure books like that are written anymore. Which is a great shame. Go and get it!

Memoirs Of An Ordinary Pastor: Don Carson
I reviewed it here. This might be the most important book Carson has ever written. It tells the story of his father, a Pastor in french Canada, who laboured all his life with little visible fruit. It's inspiring, i cried when i got to the end.

Francis Shaeffer, An authentic life: Colin Duriez
I read 'The God Who Is There' on my Relay year, and during this year read Shaeffer's books on Genesis and Joshua, but to read a biography was illuminating and inspiring. Fascinating how a hardline Presbyterian became the man of L'Abri. I loved this book.

The Reason for God: Tim Keller
Will 2008 be remembered as the year of Tim Keller? Maybe in my head. This is a book that anyone can read, which is of course it's great strength, but not at the cost of being too simplistic. It might be the most important book of 2008.

Why We're Not Emergent (by two guys who probably should be): Kluck and DeYoung
I reviewed it here. This is simply an excellent introduction to the beliefs and problems of the Emergent Church, for people (like me) who'll probably never read Carson's book on it. It's funny, engaging, so well designed. Probably the only book i've bought from an actual 'Christian' 'Bookshop' all year. Well worth it too. 

Through The gates Of Splendour: Elisabeth Elliot
The story of Jim Elliot, Nate Saint, Roger Youderian, Ed McCulley and Pete Fleming, who were speared to death trying to reach the Auca Indians with the Gospel. if you don't know this story you really, really, really should, and this will be an excellent introduction to it. If you do know this story, you'll probably have already read this, and might get a bit emotional just reading their names.

In the biography category it's probably also worth mentioning Aitken's book on John Newton. Rachel and I both thought he could have done with a more severe editor, but it's a great story of an important, slightly forgotten man in Evangelicalism. I'm also about halfway though the latest NSBT 'Father, Son and Spirit' : The Trinity in John's Gospel. This is just brilliant, and would have made the list had i already finished it. 

Tuesday, December 30, 2008

In honour of tethered preaching: Piper on Calvin

The Bible tethers us to reality. We are not free to think and speak whatever might enter our minds or what might be pleasing to any given audience—except God.

By personal calling and Scripture, I am bound to the word of God and to the preaching of what the Bible says. There are few things that burden me more or refresh me more than saying what I see in the Bible. I love to see what God says in the Bible. I love to savor it. And I love to say it.

Two articles

Carl Truman: Goodbye Larry King, hello Jerry Springer

There are two temptations here which must be resisted at all costs.  The first is to compromise biblical standards.  The mainline denominations and seminaries are already doing this.  As usual, as soon as religion's cultured despisers find something else to despise in religion, the mainlines, with their various seminaries and colleges, abandon it and join in the general anti-orthodox chorus, as radical, original, and revolutionary as a trust fund kid with a Che Guevara teeshirt and a Lexus.  To apply a quotation from Michael Heseltine, like a pathetic one-legged army they march along, `Left, left, left, left left.'. They are merely part of the problem, not the solution.  But there is a problem here for the orthodox too.  The pro-gay issue is carried along by a veritable cultural tidal wave, with everybody from high-powered political pundits to soap opera screenwriters helping to create an environment where to be opposed to homosexuality is regarded as irrational, implausible bigotry. This can only be resisted in two ways: mindless anti-gay bigotry built on hatred, which is sinful and unbiblical; or a vigorous commitment to high biblical standards of morality.  Such a commitment can only exist where there is a vigorous commitment to a high doctrine of scripture. There's the rub for Christian colleges, seminaries, and denominations: the winds of cultural change on this issue are so strong that they will very quickly expose the strength of the commitment to scripture amongst these various groups.  My view? When church leaders, faculty, and the movers and shakers of the evangelical world find themselves excluded from the reputable avenues of power and cultural and professional influence and preferment, then we will see what their doctrine of scripture is really like, whether it really is solid, whether it really shapes their lives, their actions, and their priorities.   The question is: will those in positions of authority in the schools, colleges, denomination and seminaries have the backbone to do what is necessary?  Will they be willing to consider the reproach of Christ greater than the treasures of Egypt?  When the invitations to the Larry King Show dry up, to be replaced by those from Jerry Springer, will they hold the line?  

Eight Albums for 2008

I probably bought less music in 2008 than i have done since 2002. To quote Erasmus 'when i get a little money i buy books, any left over goes on food and clothes'. 2008 was also the year that i started to enjoy southern Gospel and marching band music (yeh...marching band music!) All in their contexts anyway. So without further ado, and in no particular order, here's my favourite LPs of 2008.

Ghosts: Laura Marling
It's so lovely and English. Any record that ends with birds singing gets my vote. Melancholic brilliance from Eversley's finest.
Best Track: Ghosts

Narrow Stairs: Death Cab For Cutie
I love Death Cab in a very low key way. I couldn't listen to them every day, but when i'm in the mood they blow me away. Again melancholic, again low fi, again brilliant.
Best Track: I will possess your heart

Cotton Teeth: The Snake, The Cross, The Crown
This style rock? Can i make up genres? Well i just did! The record of the first six months. I thought with a name like 'the snake the cross the crown' these guys would almost definitely be Christians, but apparently it's a reference to the Alfa Romeo badge rather than John 3.
Best Track: The Great American Smokeout

Viva la Vida/Death and all his Friends: Coldplay
I'd never bought, much less liked, a Coldplay record before, but this is excellent. Random, but excellent.
Best Track: Viva la Vida

Day & Age: The Killers
Me and Rachel bought this for my mum, and then listened to it. A lot. 'they don't shrink wrap them in America, isn't that weird?'
Best Track: Human

Only By the Night: Kings of Leon
I never used to get on with the Kings of Leon, because of their southern mangling of the English language, the very reason that i now like them. Some excellent songs here, which make up for the ones that sound like The Calling
Best Track: Sex on Fire or Notion

Coco: Colbie Caillet
It was probably released in 2007, and she's really nothing like 'the female Jack Johnson' but it's fun 'going to the beach with Rachel' music. So it's in!
Best Track: Bubbly

Soundtrack: Juno
Isn't Juno a great film? Yes it is. I've never really been into film soundtracks before, but this is class. Sweet, silly, immature and clever. It's perfect.
Best Track: Anyone else but you: The Moldy Peaches

Monday, December 29, 2008

Two videos

Tim Chester on his new book 'ordinary hero'. I'm excited.

Also, Mark Driscoll interviews Don Carson here. It's brilliant.

A twofold display of grace

Romans is great isn't it? I've had a heart warming, challenging few weeks as i've read through it to close out 2008. I love that it takes Paul eight chapters to get anywhere near what people might call 'application' and even then four chapters more, and the beginning of chapter 12 before he starts to answer the 'yeh but what does this mean for me?' question. Brilliant. 

I love Romans 10:20-21:

Then Isaiah is so bold as to say,

    "I have been found by those who did not seek me;
    I have shown myself to those who did not ask for me."

 But of Israel he says, "All day long I have held out my hands to a disobedient and contrary people."

Here is a twofold display of grace that Paul spends chapter 11 unpacking. Jesus has been found by those who did not seek Him. Jesus has revealed Himself to a people that were not looking. Salvation has come to the gentiles! Aren't you glad about that? Listen up ethnic factions in the Roman church, the Gospel has come to the Gentiles. And not just to the ones that were looking, Paul quotes Isaiah saying that He's come to a people who did not seek or ask for Him. This is of course true on a micro level as well. None of us were seeking or asking for Him when he saved us...He saved us because He saved us, but here Paul draws it out to it's glorious multi ethnic Gospel level... Salvation has come to the Gentiles!

How has this happened? The gentiles have been grafted in. The wild olive branches have been attached to the natural tree, the original branches cut off. Should this make gentiles proud? By no means it should have us in awe, if God cut off the original branches, will He not also cut off any non abiding unnatural branches? Of course! How is this grace twofold though? How does God 'all day long hold out His hands to a disobedient and contrary people?'

Well in Isaiah's context He sent to prophets, the His Son, and now He has grafted the gentiles in to make the Jews jealous (11:11). Just as there was a remnant in Elijah's day, so there is today. All Israel will be saved. The faithful remnant will be bought in, the Jews with all their natural, historical, covenant advantages will be saved. A partial hardening on Israel, then the fullness of the Gentiles, then all Israel (11:26)

So then. Stand in awe (11:20) Be amazed that branches were cut off that you might, that we might, be grafted in. Don't be arrogant about it, but humbled. Be amazed at God's twofold, complete, grace, He doesn't forget His people, but neither does He forget all who He has made.

Paul is probably addressing a factioning in the Roman church, which is why he goes onto write about fulfilling the law though love.(13:8-14) But there is much for us to be humbled about here as gentiles, and much for us to be excited about as 'all Israel will be saved' will only mean good things for us (11:12). 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Merry Christmas!

Time to sign off for a few days as festive fun and football promise to consume most of the next few days. Me and my little sister are about to make some stuffing (i'll be chopping chesnuts) and put presents under the tree. I'll be back at the end of the month with some reviews of what's been a fairly momentous year.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Adam introduced sin, the OUP have taken it away

Reformation 21 really is very good. Here's an excellent short article lamenting the loss of some traditional words from the Oxford Junior Dictionary.

The last paragraph reminds us of an excellent question, to what extent does language not only reflect (obviously) but also proscribe the cultural atmosphere of a country. The new OJD risks creating a generation of children who can tell you the difference between a message board and a chat room, but can't define sin. Which is worrying not only to the extent that it shows us where we are, but also that it could begin to define where we're heading.

The Pope and the rainforest

It must be a hard life being Pope sometimes. Everything you say disagreed with by someone, having millions of people expecting you to do a job you are patently unable to do. Today, the Pope has upset gay Christians by saying that 'saving humanity from homosexuality or transsexual behavior is as important as saving the rainforest.' 

Well quite. No wonder people are upset with him. You can hammer on about how important a few trees are all you like, but don't even think about injecting what the Bible has to say about an issue into the debate. Christians should of course be responsible when it comes to the environment, but the environment is not God, and one day we'll live in a renewed, non groaning creation, enjoying Jesus forever. So as issues go, saving humanity from the morass of immorality is probably more important than fighting a battle we can't/will win anyway.

But even the Pope's comments about homosexuality are oh so culturally drenched. What does man need? To be saved from sin...not to be more heterosexual. Why couldn't the Pope have said 'rainforest: serious, homosexuality: more serious, fleeing the wrath to come: eternally, supremely serious.' Even the issues that the Pope gets more right than wrong are still flavoured by a lack of Biblical focus. Failing to keep the main thing the main thing. It's very frustrating.

But it's not just the Pope, the worldwide faces of Protestantism are hardly keeping the spirit of Ezekiel and Jeremiah alive either...

Monday, December 22, 2008

The Guardian

Calvin asks, in his Commentary on Colossians, "How comes it that we are 'carried about with so many strange doctrines' (Hebrews 13:9)?" And he answers, "Because the excellence of Christ is not perceived by us". In other words, the great guardian of Biblical orthodoxy throughout the centuries is a passion for the glory and the excellency of God in Christ. Where the center shifts from God, everything begins to shift everywhere. Which does not bode well for doctrinal faithfulness in our own non-God-centered day.
Piper, The Legacy of Sovereign Joy, P121.

The weight, the depth, the loveliness of the glory of Christ, is what drove Calvin forward. A man who desired a quiet life in the study in Strasbourg, but instead was thrown into the middle of, essentially, a war zone, and kept going. A man who knew Christ from the scriptures, was fed by Christ by the scriptures, who loved to feed his people by the scriptures. it's hard not to be inspired by a man who would preach every day on alternate weeks, and in the course of an average month would preach twenty times and lecture twelve times, and that's even before you mention his commentaries on every New Testament book except Revelation, and nine Old Testament books. 

It was his focus on the glory of Christ, as revealed in the Word that sustained Him, that drove Him. It is this weight, this glory, this determination not to waste our lives that we need to see from scripture. A passion for Christ  is the guardian of the church though the ages, and in every age the centrality of the Bible must be fought for. That is where we meet with Christ, this is where we are fed, this is where lives and ministries stand or fall. Oh, let us be men and women of that book!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

What does your Christmas look like

John Piper shares with humour and passion what his Christmas looks like. 

As me and my little sister have got older (she's 21 now...21!) Christmas in the Goode household has evolved from the normal 'kids going crazy and tearing open presents' to something thats more about family. And i like that.

I'll go to church in the morning, and then come home. My mum, sister, aunt and grandmother will be in the kitchen peeling and cooking, my dad and grandfather will be reading and sleeping (Germaine Greer didn't sell many books in our family). We'll have lunch sometime between two and three, and then over tea and Christmas cake/yule log open our presents, watch the Queen's speech and slowly fall asleep as the daylight ebbs away. It'll be lovely.

Prolonged exposure to a different family, with different traditions and expectations makes me realise how peculiar all familes are, and how important Christmas traditions are. Rachel opens her presents right after church at about 9am...they have huge light displays, go carol singing, and (get this) don't have a Queen's speech to listen to! We get married twenty five weeks ago yesterday, and so next Christmas will be a transatlantic collision of tradition. This will be a fun problem to deal with!

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

That Chris Rea song

Thomas Wolfe said you can't go home again. 

Sir Henry Bishop wrote home sweet home. 

Tomorrow i'll find out which is more appropriate.

It seems almost unbelievable to me that it's over five months since i was in England, and over four since i saw my family. It really has gone by in a flash. In an odd but very real way it feels funny to talk about somewhere else as home. I've really fallen in love with eastern North Carolina, a place totally unlike any other. That really wasn't in the plan. But it's happened. I remember walking along the canal in Reading with Sean, what seems like a life time ago and telling him that however much i'd fight it there would come a day when all i wanted to do in the world was to pack up and come home, that i'd just want to sit in the kitchen at my parents house, read the paper and talk to my mum as she did the ironing.

That day never came. I've never really been homesick. Which hopefully will make going home for three weeks a lot easier.

It'll be odd though. I'll expect it to be as it was on 10th July when i left. But it'll be 19th December. Relationships will have been forged and broken, people will have grown up and stumbled, friends will have moved, i'll no longer have a place where i used to belong.

But thats really ok. I'm supposed to be here. It's hard, and lonely at times, but i wouldn't swap the opportunities i've had at church here, and i certainly wouldn't swap how close i am to Rachel for anything in the world. It'll feel like half of me is missing when i leave without her. This is also good. 

And you know what, i'll never really come home. Not until Jesus returns or i die. Then i'll enter Heaven, the world of love. With no goodbyes, no curtailments, no broken relationships, no awkward moments between old friends, just joy and worship forever and ever and ever.

Titus 3:1-8 (1)

The last time I preached on a Wednesday night I mentioned how hard it was to break Titus up into smaller blocks for ten or fifteen minutes of preaching. It seemed that nearly every week we had to break Paul off halfway through a thought. Well this week the problem became insurmountable. The start of chapter three is so rich, so dense, so flowing that no one part of Paul’s argument really carries it’s full weight without the other two. So tonight we’re going to look at eight verses together. Something of a leap for a Wednesday night, and we won’t be dealing in such detail with every verse as a consequence, but I think it will help us to see, feel and appreciate Paul’s argument, and it’s solid application to our life all the more.

>Lets look at verses 1 though 3 together. Paul tells Titus what the membership of his church should look like, how they should behave in every day life. Church members then and now are to be subject, are to be obedient, and need to be ready for every good work. The words ‘principalities’ and ‘powers’ and ‘magistrates’ here refer to the human, secular authorities we all live under. The federal and state government, the local authorities in Washington. The elected officers whom God has provided for us. We are to obey them as far as we can without being moved to disobey a clear command of God. So we should pay taxes, drive legal cars, pay our bills, and a multitude of other laws. We are also called to obey the magistrates. The only exception to this comes when a command from the secular powers is clearly, and directly against a command of God. For example in Acts 4:18-20 Peter and John are told ‘not to speak of teach in the name of Jesus’. But obviously they do. And obviously they have to. So the Christian is to be a good citizen outwardly. Responsible and diligent in all that they do. The church is doing it’s job when people can say ‘we may not agree with their views on truth and homosexuality, but this place would be a lot worse if they all left’ we need to seek the peace and seek the good of where we live.

We also need to be good citizens inwardly. Paul tells Titus’ church to speak evil of no man, to be no brawlers but gentle. Just as we need to be good citizens to people’s face, we need to be good citizens behind their backs as well. It is no good at all to obey someone but then to speak evil about them. Jesus is not interested in that sort of obedience. It means nothing. We are to obey them and speak no evil of them. Coupled with that we are not to be brawlers, but gentle, showing meekness unto all men. It’s easy to read that verse, see the word brawlers and reassure ourselves that since we’ve never been in a fist fight we’ve nothing to worry about here. Jesus is interested in inward obedience, not just outward though. So when we get angry with someone, we may as well have punched them. That’s why Paul mentions it next to meekness, because meekness is the opposite of quarrelsome.

Why should we be meek? Well, there seem to be three, related reasons here, and it’s obvious to Paul, and hopefully it’s just as obvious to us! Look at verse three ‘for we ourselves were once sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, and hating one another. Do you see Paul’s point? We can not but be meek when we are faced with things that make us angry, because all they do is serve as a mirror to your old self. Regardless of how long ago we were saved, there was a point in all of our lives when we were like this. There was a point in all of our lives when we were driving by our sinful desires, by our divers lusts, by our anger…just by our sin. Look at the list that Paul writes to Titus here, we’re all in there somewhere, whether it’s malice and envy, hatred or foolish disobedience, there is enough in all of our pasts to remind us that we need to be meek.

Don't waste your sexuality: Josh Harris

Yeh it's filler, but not bad filler!

There's really no comparison

Some song's just don't work as power pop ballads...I would have though that this would have been clear to the makers of the X Factor, but then you don't really care for music do ya?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Seven (random things i miss about home)

These are obviously random things. The things i missed the most are clearly my family, wycombe wanderers, and probably you, if you're taking the time to read this.

1) Town centres.
In 1987 Bill Bryson set off in search of the perfect American small town, 'Amalgam, USA' if you like. He aimed to pick out his favourite parts of the towns he found on his road trip around 46 of the lower states. In the book The Lost Continent, Bryson laments that essentially, every town looks the same, that instead of Amalgam USA he found Anywhere USA, a strips of malls, stores and fast food joints. And he was right. I haven't walked through a busy, pedestrianised town centre since i got here. There aren't any.

2) Intelligent, impartial TV news
Only those who have never lived without the BBC would ever advocate its dissolution. It's no surprise that most of the world go to the the World Service or the BBC website for their news. Even the major news networks in the USA (CNN, NBC, Fox) can be incredibly one eyed at times.

3) Cold and dark nights
I know. I'll probably change my mind within hours of landing at Heathrow Friday morning, but i can't help that. It's been 60-70F for the last couple of weeks here, although we did have a cold snap in early November. Yesterday i was walking around in a polo with the sun warm on my just doesn't feel right for December! I want to coat up to leave the house and then fling myself on the nearest radiator as soon as i get in.

4) Radio 1.
For variety and creativity, Radio 1 can not be beaten. It's just that simple. The local music station (BOB 93.3) has about 8 records and most of the shows are syndicated... which isn't bad in itself, but is a bit cheap. Also, most of the time it drives me to listen to talk radio, which is informative, but probably not very good for my effected liberal soul!

5) Driving a manual car
I ^heart^ clutch control.

6) Earnest, English, evangelical prayer.
Matt Herring, now a Relay in Exeter, prays as well and as heartily as anyone i've ever met. It's worth downloading Mike Reeves talks just to him pray (it's worth it for more than that as well!) Prayers here are different and there's nothing less worthy about that, i guess i just miss what i grew up with.

7) Slade and miscellaneous other Christmas songs
Christmas songs here are very classy, and thats cool, but i miss Noddy Holder yelling 'merry Christmas everybody' at the top of his voice while i hunt for cards in Hallmark.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

'a thousand times worse...a million times better'

A couple of people have already linked to this post on the Prodigal Son/God by Glen Scrivener. But it deserves the largest readership it can get:

When we sin, do we consider ourselves to be in the pig sty - the long journey back home stretches ahead of us? Or do we consider ourselves to be already in the Father’s arms? There’s a big difference.

I remember speaking with a Christian man about his extra-marital affair from years earlier. As he spoke about the pain of those memories I said to him “You realise that in the midst of the very worst of that, Jesus was rejoicing over you as a Bridegroom rejoices over His bride.” He paused for a long time and said “That makes it a hundred times worse!” I said “Yes it does. A thousand times worse.” We think that we manage to sin away in a corner somewhere. No, no, no. Just read 1 Corinthians 6:15-20 to see that we are very much united to Christ in our sin!
We stink of pig in the Father’s arms. That’s a thousand times worse than stinking in the sty. But it’s a million times better too.

The point of our turning - and our life of turning and turning again to the Father - is in His unchanging embrace. When you sin don’t imagine yourself alone in the sty. You are there in His arms - reeking and held fast. It’s a thousand times worse. A million times better.

Ruth and an excess of meaning

Tim Keller, in his excellent lectures on 'Preaching to the Heart' talks about how there is often an excess of meaning in the narrative parts of Scripture that there isn't in say, prophecy and epistle. I think this is why the narrative parts of scripture are my favourite to read (ooh different every time) but probably my least favourite to preach (aarrgghh different every time). It's also why i love the book of Ruth.

We went through Ruth in Sunday school this morning. It's just about...just about possible to read it all in sections, preach and be done in forty five minutes. Just about. William Cowper's words 'behind a frowning providence he hides a smiling face' probably don't apply to any book of the Bible as well as they apply to Ruth.

So what of the excess of meaning? What do we learn from Ruth?

1) Ruth story is our story. Ruth was a foreigner, an outside, an outcast. She was away from God, outside His people and His blessing. She didn't know Him. Boaz redeemed her. He not only redeemed her and bought her into Israel, though him she becomes an ancestor of Jesus. Spurgeon says that Jesus is our glorious Boaz. He brings us in from the wilderness, He brings us into God's presence, God's place, with God's people. Jesus is our kinsmen redeemer

2) Sometimes the way we feel about God's work in our life is wrong. Sometimes we look at our circumstances, and whats left of our hopes and we say with Naomi 'the Lord's hand is against me, do not call me sweet.' This was how it looked for Naomi. No husband, no sons = no one to provide for her. These were terrible times for Naomi. Was she judged by God. I don't know. I wrestled with this this week. I think we can say with confidence that Elimilech was judged for going to Moab, and his sons were for marrying Moabite women and Naomi suffered as a result, but was she herself judged? The question of whether Naomi was right in 1:20-22 is what the rest of the book exists to answer. It really should be named for her!

3) In the darkest of times personally, God is working. We must never allow the wall that our circumstances form around us to judge God and His work. We have no need to ever despair because of what we can or can't see around us. God was marvellously at work in Naomi's life when she was in despair, Ruth, Boaz, her redeemer Obed, nourishment in old age, hope for her future. All these things God was working in her life despite of her despair.

4) Linked to this, in the darkest times of national history, God is at work. Judges was a dark, horrible, pagan time. God was at work bringing about His purposes in them. His plan was not disturbed and has never been disturbed by mans sin. And what a plan this was that God was bringing about. Ruth is in Jesus' line. She is great King David's great grandmother. God's purposes are being fulfilled in the worst of times. In the worst of times God was bringing about the birth of His Son. In the worst of times, He was doing the greatest thing ever.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Titus 1:14-15 (2)

That’s what we must look like. Now in verse 15 we learn who we must listen to. For the majority of the letter, Paul has been talking to Titus about his church in Crete, but now he wants a word with the leader himself, but it’s a word that he wants the rest of the church to overhear. Verse 15 says: ‘these things speak, and rebuke, and exhort with all authority. Let no man despise thee’. Here is one of the clearest verses on the authority of the preacher in the New Testament.

Paul tells Titus to speak about, to exhort and rebuke his church with everything that he’s just written to him. The preacher’s job then, is the constantly remind the church of the truth of the Gospel and what our response should be to it. Hebrews 3:13 tells us to ‘exhort one another daily, as long as it is called today.’ The preacher is to exhort with the Gospel and rebuke with the Gospel. Exhort simply means to encourage, to plead, to stir up affections. To ever place before the eyes of the church the beauty of Jesus, to stir them to live changed lives for Him. The word used here means to use more than words. Paul wants Titus to use everything at his disposal to have his church live and speak for Jesus.

The preacher is also to rebuke those who are not interested in the Gospel, those inside the church, who don’t care whether or not their lives are changed. Paul tells Titus to watch out for and rebuke these people in his church. To catch the foxes in the vineyard.

Paul tells Titus that he has all authority to do those things. All authority. Not just a bit, not just when people in his church like his message. All authority, all the time. The preacher has this authority, not because of himself, but because of his call, not because his words are valuable, but because he speaks the words of the Bible. And the Bible is the word of God.

The preachers’ authority only remains as long as his message is the same as the message of this book. The English theologian J.I Packer puts it like this: ‘preaching that does not display divine authority, both in its content and its manner, is not the substance but only the shadow of the real thing. Yet the Bible is the real preacher, and the role of the man in the pulpit or the counseling conversation is simply to let the passages say their piece through Him.’ The preacher’s authority does not come from his church, nor from a board of deacons nor his education but from God, though His word. The preacher is not a lifestyle guru, he is not just what happens between the offering and Sunday lunch, he is a man chosen by God to herald the most important message in the world. And as long as he is faithful to the Gospel, he has the privilege of ministering with God given authority.

Paul finishes this verse of advice to Titus with the words ‘let no man despise thee’. Why does Paul end his advice here, why doesn’t he finish on the point of authority, why doesn’t he end on a charge to preach the Gospel as he does elsewhere? Paul knew that because of Titus’s work and message he ran the risk of being despised by people in his church. Maybe because he came from the wrong part of the island, maybe because his family wasn’t important enough, maybe he was young like Timothy, but more than likely just because people didn’t want to hear what he’s got to say. Titus ran the risk of being despised and Paul wanted him to be clear that no man is to despise him because there is no one in the church who is to be free from Gospel centered pastoral authority. Paul wants Titus to know this, he wanted Titus’ church to know it and he wants us to know it.

We’ve seen time and time again in our study in Titus that we are to live lives that look different to the world, and in verse 14 we see clearer than ever that this ability comes from our crucified Lord. Here we see in verse 15 that we are to listen well to our preacher, a man whose authority comes from our crucified Lord.

Friday, December 12, 2008

9 books for 2009

Challies has put together a list of books released in the first six months of 2009 on Discerning Reader. Here are nine i'm particularly excited about. If anyone would like to give me some money, that'd be great. Yeh...

Vintage Church, Mark Driscoll and Gary Breshears
I loved Vintage Jesus, and Death by Love, this is a must read.

Finally Alive, John Piper
Adrian Warnock has already described this as Piper's most important book. Plus, i got it for $5!

What he must be... if he wants to marry my daughter, Voddie Baucham
Probably hide this from Pastor Cash, until at least June 13th.

Just do something: a liberating approach to finding God's will or to make a decision without dreams, fleeces, impressions, open doors, random...liver shivers, writing in the sky etc, Kevin DeYoung
This title + DeYoung's work in 'why we're not emergent...' = must read

The bookends of Christian life, Jerry Bridges and Bob Bevington
Sean introduced me to Jerry Bridges, for which i'm very, very thankful.

Desperately wicked: philosophy, Christianity and the human heart, Patrick Downey
The title caught my eye. I don't know anything about it apart from that.

Religion Saves and nine other misconceptions, Mark Driscoll
His second book of 09, based on the sermon series from last year.

Believing God: 12 Biblical promises Christians struggle to accept, R.C Sproul Jr
If i've learnt one thing this year, it's how little i know the Bible. So, reading it + books about it by Godly men has to be a good thing.

Ancient Word, Changing worlds: the doctrine of scripture in a modern age, Stephen J.Nichols
I find few things as faith building as reading about the doctrine of scripture.

There are obviously a couple of areas missing here, a good biography (i've heard that Piper's latest mini bio series will be coming out sometime in 2009, i've just bought 'the legacy of sovereign joy' for some plane reading), and some good stuff on apologetics. The Reason For God blew me away this year, (i'm planning to read it again over Christmas) can anyone recommend something for 2009.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Generousity at DesiringGod

Like, i suppose, many churches and ministries, the current economic climate has affected Desiring God's budget plans for next year. Our normal human reaction to that would be to withdraw from all but the necessities of spending, and pray and budget hard for 2009. Not so Desiring God. here are four generous offers i've seen from them in the last couple of days which really go to show that Christ, not financial security, really is their treasure.

And, on a personal note, a letter i received yesterday offering me the CD of the talk 'The Goodness of God and the Guidance of Sinners' for free.

I think these offers really really says a lot about their heart, and i thank God for it.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

On the bus to Onslow County

One of the things i really value about serving a church of 300-350 people is the diversity of groups that i get to speak to. By this evening i'll have spoken to the main adult meeting, the college age sunday school class, the fourty to fifty years old sunday school class and our group of special needs adults, all in the space of ten days.

What i love about that is it makes me think, and helps me to realize.

It helps me think about the words i use, particularly in the case of the special needs adults. This afternoon we're taking a group of them to Jacksonville, NC, to see the Christmas lights, enjoy a hayride, and eat hot dogs around a bonfire, where i'll lead a short devotion on Luke 2:11-12.

It's been tremendous to work on that for the last couple of days. To think clearly about every word i use. To lose some words like 'incarnation' and 'propitiation' while keeping their glorious truths in the message. it's helped me to...i don't know how to describe it, come face to face with those truths again. Come face to face with the beauty of simple language again. Now, as far as we can, we should learn to use words like 'incarnation', because they are important and God glorifying. But we shouldn't rely, i shouldn't rely, on theological nomenclature too heavily, because church isn't a club for the middle class, college educated people.

And it helps me realize. You know what (and you do know, i'm just saying) the Gospel is the same and true whoever you are, where ever you. If you're a Bible college student or you work at dairy queen, whether you're a politician or a phosphate miner, whether you've written books or you need 24/7 professional supervision, the Gospel is the name, and you need to saving blood of Jesus shed for you. This isn't a new thing i've learnt, but it is a cool thing i've been reminded of. The Gospel is the solid rock in our lives, and our jobs, our pay packet, where we live and who we spend time with are malleable. They must bend, and be infected and redeemed by the truth of the Gospel.

Yes! Oh yes!

"The man who has struggled to purify himself and has had nothing but repeated failures will experience real relief when he stops tinkering with his soul and looks away to the perfect One. While he looks at Christ, the very things he has so long been trying to do will be getting done within him. It will be God working in him to will and to do."
A.W Tozer, The Pursuit of God

Monday, December 08, 2008

'is this what journalism has come to?'

An excellent critique on the 'Get Religion' blog of a recent article in Newsweek magazine.

Very sad scenes that religious reportage has come to this, that the religious correspondent of a major news periodical could write an article so one sided and lazy. Interesting that she makes the 'Genesis supports bigamy' mistake that Tim Keller mentioned in his Preaching to the Heart lectures. And this isn't The Sun...this is Newsweek, someone we're supposed to be able to trust for it's non biased standpoint.

Very sad... probably also very indicative of the direction the media will take towards Evangelical Christianity. But then i guess we knew that already.

Hession on humility.

Sometimes you hear of a book, and either because of the author or the title you can hardly wait to get your hands on it. Sometimes it's different, sometimes you've never heard of a book that someone gives to you highly recommended, and you only read it because Norman Grubb has written the forward to it.

The Calvary Road by Roy Hession is one of those books that somehow you know you'll be reading over and over again. One of those books with a message so important, and yet so simple that you never really want to stop reading it. 

It's message is simply that revival starts in the individual Christian hearts, and that there is no great and deep secret to it. Revival is what happens when men and women humble themselves, admit the horrible, proud states of their hearts, and ask for the Holy Spirit to be shed upon them, that they might no more of Christ.

One of the major theme running through the book is the need for the Christian to be humble before God, to repent of our pride and to curve the sinful I into a C...The author devotes a whole chapter to the parable of the servant in Luke 17:7-10. Hession draws out five applications for humility for Christians today:

1) He must be willing to have one thing upon another put on him, without any consideration being given him.
The servant went from all day in the field, to preparing his master's supper, to waiting on his master, and at no time was offered a rest or food. And at no time did he complain.

2) He must be willing not to be thanked for it.
How often i serve someone just for the credit it accrues. Not this servant.

3) Having done all this, he must not charge the other with selfishness.
It seems as we read the passage that the master is cruel and inconsiderate. But this doesn't seem to be the opinion of the servant. Indeed, Christians exist to worship Jesus, and obey Him. The same is true of the servant in the parable.

4) We must confess that we are unprofitable servants.
At no point does Jesus commend the servant, at no point does the servant stop for self congratulation. He knows that he is unprofitable.

5) We must admit that having done and borne all that we have in meekness and humility, we have not done a stitch more than was our duty.
We are saved to do good works for the glory of God. We are saved BY Him For Him. What can we offer Jesus that is 'above and beyond'? Nothing. This should fire up our humility.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Christmas is 'different' here...Part one in an occasional series.

Hayrides and carols. I could have had a decent guess at what the second part of that was a year ago, but by no means the first. Friday night was my first Christmas hayride. I am so North Carolina right now.

A hayride essentially involved putting on a lot (a lot) of clothes, and climbing up into the back of a dump truck, 12-16 feet up in the air, filled with hay, and riding round town in it, singing carols to invalid members of the church, and then defrosting at Taco Bell thereafter. It was a lot of fun.

We must have had 15-20 kids and teens packed into the back of the truck...the hay bales didn't last long, and soon the back of the truck became more akin to a wrestling arena as...well, teenage boys were teenage boys.

So it was cold, it was high, it was, y'know, sort of dangerous out on the roads in the back of a lorry without anything to hold us in, but a lot of fun. And on saturday we took part in the Washington Christmas parade, which took us around downtown in all of twelve minutes (yeh it's a small town) and that was more normal!

Friday, December 05, 2008

The Compost Pile

One of the reasons i so enjoy reading good books is that i love the pictures authors can paint with words. I love being drawn into an illustration or story. Ever since i read 'Far from the madding crowd' for GCSE English, i've thought words were great.

Rachel and i are reading Piper's 'momentary marriage' together, as a sort of pre wedding prep primer. Each week we try and get some time together where we can be alone and discuss what we've read this week, where we disagree, and why i'm right (i jest). This coming sunday we're headed down to Bonner Point, where our reception we be, to look out over the Pamlico River and talk about chapter four, 'Forgiving and Forebearing.' It will be the highlight of the weekend. 

What links those two paragraphs is how Piper finishes chapter four, and what i'll read to Rachel as we start talking on Sunday:

Picture your marriage as a grassy field. You enter it at the beginning full of hope and joy. You look out into the future and you see beautiful flowers and trees and rolling hills. And that beauty is what you see in each other. Your relationship is the field and flowers and the rolling hills. But before long, you begin to step in cow pies. Some seasons of your marriage they may seem to be everywhere. Late at night they are especially prevalent. These are the sins and flaws and idiosyncrasies and weaknesses and annoying habits in you and your spouse. You try to forgive them and endure them with grace.

But they have a way of dominating the relationship. It may not even be true, but it feels like that’s all there is—cow pies. I think the combination of forbearance and forgiveness leads to the creation of a compost pile. And here you begin to shovel the cow pies. You both look at each other and simply admit that there are a lot of cow pies. But you say to each other: You know, there is more to this relationship than cow pies. And we are losing sight of that because we keep focusing on these cow pies. Let’s throw them all in the compost pile. When we have to, we will go there and smell it and feel bad and deal with it the best we can. And then, we are going to walk away from that pile and set our eyes on the rest of field. We will pick some favorite paths and hills that we know are not strewn with cow pies. And we will be thankful for the part of field that is sweet.

Our hands may be dirty. And our backs make ache from all the shoveling. But one thing we know: We will not pitch our tent by the compost pile. We will only go there when we must. This is the gift of grace that we will give each other again and again and again—because we are chosen and holy and loved.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Titus 2:14-15 (1)

I love reading Paul’s letters. Romans is far away my favourite book of the Bible, and I love our Wednesday nights in Titus. If there’s one problem with them, however, it’s that they are too good. Breaking down Paul’s thought process into smaller chunks for a Wednesday night often means we have to leave Paul halfway though a sentence and this is the case here. Last time, we saw from verses 12 and 13 that some of the keys to the Christian life were living and looking. Living in the present world as we look at the Savior. Tonight, in verses 14 and 15 Paul finishes that thought. If last week was about live and look, this week is about what we look like and who we listen to. And why?

Verse 14 carries on the sentence from verse 13 talking ‘about looking for the glorious appearing of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ who gave Himself for us’. Here we learn something else about who Jesus is, not only is He the great God and our Saviour, but also He gave Himself for us. In these four words ‘gave Himself for us’, there is a hugely important, life changing, faith strengthening point. Jesus gave Himself. His death on the cross was no tragic accident, God the Father did not have to adjust His plans or make a painful last minute decision. This was the plan from the start and John 10:18 illustrates it well ‘no one taketh it from me, but I lay it down myself. I have the power to lay it down, and I have the power to take it up’. Jesus gave Himself for us.

Why? Well look at verse 14 with me again ‘that he might cleanse us from all iniquity, and purify us unto himself, a peculiar people, zealous of good works.’ I love reading the Bible because it moves our attention away from ourselves and towards Jesus. Notice that He did not die to give us an easy life, or a bigger house, or a happy family, or a million other material benefits, although of course, every material benefit is because of the cross, Christ died to redeem us from iniquity. This is much better, this is much more important. This is our needs being met in a stunning way. Our felt needs and our real needs are often very different things. My felt needs often revolve around my ego and my material gain; my actual needs are to have my sins forgiven. They are glorious seasons of the soul when my felt needs are my actual needs, when I am convicted of my sin and come to the throne of God, via the cross of Christ, for mercy. If there is one thing that is clear over and over in Titus, and of course, in the rest of the Bible, it’s that God’s people are to reflect God’s character. God’s people are to love holiness and hate sin. This is a further unpacking of that.

We are released from our captivity to sin. Mark 10:45 ‘to give His life a ransom for many’. Jesus ransomed us from the power of the enemy to be pure, to be peculiar and to be practicers.

We are to be pure for Jesus, as we see in verse 14. Jesus gave Himself to purify us. We are to throw off the sin that so easily entangles. The question when it comes to sin shouldn’t be ‘how far can I go’, but ‘how far can I get away’, how much can I expose myself to the glory and wonders of Jesus Christ, and how much can I serve Him, not how much sin can I get away with.

We are to be peculiar for Jesus. We see this in the middle of the verse where it says ‘unto Himself a peculiar people.’ This word has the sense of being owned or set apart for Jesus. Once we were peculiar for sin, we were set apart for sin, we were committed to sin. Now we are called to be peculiar for Jesus, set apart for Him, by Him. We are to be committed to Him. This is so much better. This is life itself!

We are to be practicers for Jesus. This is what is meant at the end of the verse where it says ‘zealous of good works’ we are to be full of enthusiasm for good works. Good works are no more an optional extra for the Christian than apples are an optional extra for an apple tree. Good works are part of being a Christian. We once were zealous for sin, we once looked for opportunities to sin, and we once served sin with all our hearts. Sin was our master. Now that Christ has redeemed us He is our Master, we must ask Him daily for a new heart so that we desire to serve Him as well as we used to serve sin. Hebrews 9:14 tells us that ‘the blood of Christ…will purge our conscience from dead works to serve the living God.’

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Christian Hedonism according to Roy Hession

People imagine that dying to self makes one miserable. But it is just the opposite. It is refusal to die to self that makes one miserable. The more we know of death with Him, the more we shall know of His life within us and so the more of real peace and joy. His life too, will overflow through to lost souls with a real concern for their salvation, and to our fellow Christians with a deep desire for their blessing.

The Calvary Road, Roy Hession, P28

Monday, December 01, 2008

Mars and Venus

Tonight, right next to the moon in the night's sky, you can see Mars and Venus.

Mars is, depending on orbit, between 56,000,000 kilometres and 309,000,000 kilometres from Earth.

Venus is, depending on orbit between 38,200,000 kilometres and 261,000,000 kilometres from earth.

At the moment i can see both of them from the back door.

It's good to feel small sometimes.

On Buildings

Moving to America meant a lot of cultural changes, but one is a lot more obvious than many others...It's the first church i've ever been a member of that has had it's own building, which is interesting given that the south east of England isn't that far removed culturally from the Bible belt. Well, when compared to Africa and south east Asia anyway.

I think buildings are helpful but dangerous for churches, and i think both of these are illustrated by this coming wednesday.

This wednesday night we have the normal adult meeting, a full dress rehearsal for saturday's Christmas play, teen church and our kids programme. It's very cool, and illustrates why buildings are helpful. The dress rehearsal will be in the sanctuary (i don't like calling it that but 'the big room with pews' is less catchy somehow), the kids programme as normal in the fellowship hall on the other side of the parking lot, the teens upstairs in the teen room, and whoever is left over in one of the sunday school rooms. To be able to hold four different, differing meetings on one site is excellent. It's cheap and it's unifying. Good. Thank you buildings.

It's also dangerous as anything. We, I, can be so sucked into the thought that God only operates where there is a pulpit, good lighting and a baptism pool. That the 'sanctuary' is God's place, the holy of holies, and the sunday school rooms are just the outer courts, behind the curtain, away from the Glory. That thought couldn't be much more muddle headed could it? What sort of a God is that? 

Will wednesday evening be less special because there are fewer people than normal and we're not where we normally are? No. Should i preach the end of Titus 2 differently because i'll be behind a lectern not in a pulpit? What a stupid question. And yet, somewhere in my heart these questions flickered as we discussed this all in our staff meeting this morning. And thats not good. This is all without even considering the question of whether buildings make 'going to church' the same as 'going to walmart'.

Of course, the problem is not bricks and mortar. The problem is my heart. My sinful heart that loves prestige and security and nice lighting and a dozen other attendant things that i haven't even though of. Like so much, buildings are neutral. Sometimes we use them for very, very good things. Sometimes our hearts make them ugly, sometimes our hearts make them a functional god.