Saturday, January 31, 2009

Vintage Church: Mark Driscoll

Vintage Church is the second in the 'vintage' series from Mark Driscoll and Gerry Breshears, following Vintage Jesus from last year. In twelve chapter and an appendix and 315 it covers a wide range of topics relating the the Church, from 'Why is preaching important' to 'how can a church utilize technology' to 'how can a church express love' It follows the pattern of the duos last two books with the chapters written by mark, and Gerry following up with answers to common questions at the end of each chapter.

It's excellent. Really really good. I'm so pleased Re:Lit exists, if only for this sort of well presented, well designed book. Of course, that wouldn't matter if the content was no good...but it is. Driscoll shares with passion and candour a mix of gleaned wisdom and experience, taking a look at the major areas of the traditional church, as well as a couple of chapters on technology and multi campus churches, which i really enjoyed. What is, possibly, one of the most remarkable things about this book is that we get to page 91 before there's a joke. 'Death by Love' was obviously a book with serious subject matter, but i'd assumed that Driscoll's usual humour would be worked through this book, as with Vintage Jesus and his two earlier books. It just isn't. There are funny moments, but they are far fewer than i'd expected. Does this make it easier to read or better? I'm not sure, but i thought it was interesting.

I loved this book. The chapters are in depth and lengthy but readable, it's helped clear and clarify my thinking about a couple of areas of church life, given me a refreshed vision for my own service my church and The Church, and, most importantly, made me excited about gathering with my church tomorrow.

I probably had four favourite chapters; 'who is supposed to lead a church,' 'why is preaching important,' 'what are baptism and communion,' and 'how can a church change the world?' the last chapter. I think it's worth buying the book for the last chapter alone. In it Mark discusses how to change the world the Church must look beyond changed individual hearts, and towards changing the way culture involves. If culture is a river, the Church needs to be pumping the Gospel in at the source, rather than in the middle. Culture rarely changes from the bottom up. This is why Acts 29 is so city focused, because cities are where the people that form and inform culture are.

Whether or not you agree with all the conclusions reached in the book, especially the last chapter, Vintage Church is still an excellent, excellent read. Like i said, it's made me excited about going to church, serving the church, and being part of The Church, so in that sense, it must be considered mission accomplished!

Buy it here

Friday, January 30, 2009

On mountains and camps

I've been reading the book of Hebrews this week in preparation for Sunday school this coming weekend. I've loved spending time in it, going slowly through the book to see what he says about Jesus (that is, a lot) and how he affects my relationship with God (that is, in every way!)

It also got me thinking about mountains and camps. I can't tell you why, it just happened... There's not much about mountains in Hebrews that i can immediately think of, but here's what i've been thinking about this week.

God meets people on meetings, serious things happen on mountains. Abraham took Isaac up a mountain, (the LORD will provide) God gave Moses the law on a mountain, Israel headed for the mountains when they entered the promised land, Moses commissioned Joshua on a mountain overlooking Canaan, Jesus was revealed in all His transfigured in all His glory on a mountain, Jesus (the greater Moses, the Moses-to-come) gave the Great Commission on a mountain, Jesus went to Calvary, a mountain, to die on the cross for our sins. Cool things, great, glorious things happen on mountains...

And, let us go to Him outside the camp? Why outside the camp? That's where the lepers were, the non Israelites, those cursed by God. Jesus went outside the camp to bare the reproach that we all deserve. He went outside the camp to reverse the tree-curse. So we can now follow Him. There's no reproach left to bare, it's all been borne. So now we can risk great things for Him. Why? The cross bought all the future grace we will ever, ever, ever need.  

Let's go outside the camp, up the mountain, to Him.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Jeremiah and the cube

I'm working my way though a series of talks by Don Carson on Jeremiah. I think my ears could listen to his voice all the day long, but my brain can barely stand up to fifty minute bursts. Today i listened to his talk on 3:4-4:4...Long chunks are probably the only way with this book, and Jeremiah says something very interesting about the Ark of the Covenant.

Bare in mind where we are. Israel, to the north, was transported into exile by the Assyrians one hundred years previous. Judah has not learnt this lesson, described in the first section of the book as like a camel on heat, willing to get into bed with any false god it can find. 3:4-4:4 serve as a reminder/warning to Judah, and a forecast from the Lord about the time when Israel repents. The middle section, which refer to the Ark, are some of the most gloriously hopeful verses in the book.

Jeremiah 3:16 says: And when you have multiplied and increased in the land, in those days, declares the LORD, they shall no more say, "The ark of the covenant of the LORD." It shall not come to mind or be remembered or missed; it shall not be made again. 

Is that not a bit weird? Isn't the only hope for the remnant in Judah, or the returners from the north the temple worship around the Ark? Isn't the problem that too many people have forgotten the Ark? That it is not being remembered or missed? When Ezekiel reports this turn of events it is horrible news, so why are these verse of hope? The key must be in the first few words... 'when you have multiplied and increased in the land'. When you return, but not just when you return, when the nations return (v17). This verse goes far, far, millions of years beyond Jeremiah's time.

When will finally the lack of an Ark be good news? Verse 17 gives us a clue 'at that time Jerusalem shall be called the throne of the LORD'. When will Jerusalem be the meeting place of God and man? When will Our God finally dwell with His people? Revelation 21 and 22. There the city has no need of son or moon for the glory of the Lamb is the lamp. They city is a cube, but have you ever seen a cubed city? As long as it is wide as it is high? Of course not. But the cube of the Old Testament is the holy of holies. Behind the veil where priests fear to tread but once a year. In that final and great city, we will always be behind the veil, in the cube, in unobstructed ecstasy with Jesus.

But what about now? Well, 'tear down this temple and in three days i'll rebuild it.' No wonder Jesus' disciples didn't have a clue what He meant when He said that. But here and now for us, Jesus is our Temple, Jesus is our meeting place, Jesus is where we flee, His blood shed for us, He the Passover Lamb. And now Jeremiah's words make sense. Who wants an ark when you can have Jesus. Why settle for the shadow when you can have the substance.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

The Doctor on John 4

I love this from Martyn Lloyd-Jones, via Justin Taylor:

Possibly one of the most devastating things that can happen to us as Christians is that we cease to expect anything to happen. I am not sure but that this is not one of our greatest troubles today. We come to our services and they are orderly, they are nice ‒ we come, we go ‒ and sometimes they are timed almost to the minute, and there it is. But that is not Christianity, my friend. Where is the Lord of glory? Where is the one sitting by the well? Are we expecting him? Do we anticipate this? Are we open to it? Are we aware that we are ever facing this glorious possibility of having the greatest surprise of our life?

Or let me put it like this. You may feel and say ‒ as many do ‒ ‘I was converted and became a Christian. I’ve grown ‒ yes, I’ve grown in knowledge, I’ve been reading books, I’ve been listening to sermons, but I’ve arrived now at a sort of peak and all I do is maintain that. For the rest of my life I will just go on like this.’

Read the whole thing here.

This surely is the answer to the struggle of the Christian life. Come to Jesus! We need to get on our knees over Scripture and ask that the Holy Spirit would illuminate the glory of God in the face of Christ in the text. We should go to the spring of living water, and drink, search for the bread of life, and eat. Gorge ourselves on the glory of God.

I'm following a chronological reading plan this year. The more Scripture i read, the more i want to. The more i discover, the more i want to discover. Jesus Christ satisfies. But how? Only with a deeper hunger for holiness and Him, only by slamming the doors of sin shut in our hearts and opening up wide, deep, long avenues of grace will we be satisfied. Sometimes we plateau, but this isn't to be considered the norm...Jesus Christ appears, and our hearts come alive...

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Inauguration

Never one to be behind the times, today's probably the last day i can get away with writing something about the inauguration. Tuesday was snow day, so we were able to watch it all, which i'm really pleased about. I didn't want to have to tell my grandchildren that i kept up to date by pressing F5 while pretending to work!

Was it an historic moment? Yes, a hundred million times yes. Going from segregation to inauguration in just about a generation is amazing... Has the press gone a bit bonkers over it? Yes, a little bit. There were nowhere near two million people in Washington watching it, it's probably closer to about half that number. But that's still pretty good.

Will Obama actually be a good president? Who knows to be honest. He's hasn't had much experience of leading Illinois, never mind America. He's probably the first president to take over a country in decline rather than on an upward curve, and coupled with the fact that there's probably more expectation on him than any other President in US history...It's going to be tough. He's ordered the closure of Guantanamo Bay (probably not a bad thing) and repealed Bush's policy of not spending federal money on abortions (a terrible, terrible thing...four days in!). His economic plans could well create a huge number of jobless people relying on government pay outs, which is about as far away from the American dream as you can get...It's going to be an interesting four years.

I though Rick Warren really did pretty well with his prayer. I'm no fan of his, but i thought with the exception of a couple of cringing moments, he did as well as anyone could have done. And i'm sure every time i pray in church there are a couple of cringe moments, and that's just in front of a couple of hundred people, never mind nearly a million!

I really hope Obama is a good, financially responsible, morally upstanding President. But more than that, i hope he comes to saving faith in Jesus Christ, the One who always has, and always will rule America. We need to pray to that end...

Friday, January 23, 2009

Genesis 21:7

The story progresses in verse 3: ‘Abraham called the name of his son who was born to him, whom Sarah bore him Isaac.’ It’s hard to imagine what Abraham had been though in the last few years. A quarter of his life had been lived in the light of the promise of the child he now held in his arms. Twenty five years of waiting for a son by his wife was over. Abraham called him Isaac, just as God had commanded in 17:19. Isaac means ‘He laughs’. I love this part of the story, and it’s significant for reason’s we’ll come back to. You can imagine that upon the birth of the long awaited son Abraham would be full of laughter so maybe this was an obvious name. But why did God tell Abraham to name his son Isaac? I think, as we’ll see in a moment, this is part of how we make sense of this story today.

God’s plan is marching on. We notice again in verse 5 that we’re told ‘Abraham was a hundred years old when his son Isaac was born to him’. Why more repetition? Surely for the same reasons that there was repetition in verses one and two. One commentator says that ‘there is great emphasis in the repetition… For he thus retains his readers, as by laying his hand upon them, that they may pause in consideration of this great miracle.’ The next time we ask whether it’s possible for God to do something we need to really ask ‘how big is God?’ Here we see a huge God keeping His huge promises.

The last two verses are given to Sarah, and it’s probably a song. Verse six says: ‘God has made laughter for me, everyone who hears will laugh over me.’ With this miraculous visit and fulfillment, God has turned Sarah’s laugh of disbelief into a genuine laugh of joy. And, of course, as we’ve already seen, the name Isaac means ‘he laughs’. God wanted Isaac to be called Isaac so that every time Sarah looked at her son, she would remember what God has done, and laugh for joy about it. Not only Sarah would laugh, but those in her household and also, those who read this story. Israel would have been expected to laugh with a similar joy when they read this story, because, in a very real way, Isaac’s birth signaled the birth of the nation of Israel. If Isaac had never been born then there would have been no Israel, no nation of God’s people.

Like ancient Israel we can also laugh with joy at what God has done in our lives. Once we were not God’s people, now we are God’s people, once we did not call on His name to save us from our sin, no we can think of no other sort of life. Just as God miraculously called Isaac into existence He has miraculously called us into faith. This is why I started this morning asking why we were here. It’s so easy to get relaxed about being a Christian or coming to church, but our salvation is a breathtaking miracle. It’s a bit like flying. Imagine sitting in a metal tube a few miles above the surface of the earth and traveling at about six hundred miles an hour, only slightly slower than my voice is traveling to you right now. It should be the most thrilling way of traveling that we know, and yet, because flying is such a normal thing today we spend our time reading or watching movies or sleeping, and grumbling when our plane is delayed. We mustn’t let ourselves end up like this about the church, about knowing Jesus. We need to remember that our being saved is a joyful, miraculous thing. Like a ninety year old giving birth, it should be something that we barely dare to believe.

In verse seven Sarah’s song, and our story ends ‘and she said, who would have said to Abraham that Sarah would nurse children? Yet I have born him a son in his old age.’ Well Sarah’s right, who indeed would have thought this would happen. And yet it did. A son was born, then a nation, and then another Son.

Who would have thought that a virgin could have given birth? Who would have thought that a homeless carpenter was the Son of God? Who would have thought that His death would bring life to all who believed in Him? Jesus brings the final fulfillment of God’s promise to Abraham. Abraham was promised not just that he would father Isaac, but that he would father a multitude of nations. Jesus pours out His Spirit on his followers so that we would ‘make disciples of all nations.’ Jesus shed His blood for the nations that they might be saved. In the birth of Isaac, we see the initial fulfillment of God’s promise to make Abraham a multitude of nations, fulfilled in Jesus and then through us.

So why is Isaac’s birth recorded in the Bible? To stir up faith among God’s people at the wonderful work of our miraculous God. To leave Israel, and then the church, in wonder at what God has done in saving His people, so that we would laugh for joy like Sarah and not become tired in their love for the Lord.

To teach us that His promises are to be trusted. As we saw earlier, Abraham didn’t trust God’s promises and tried to make them work his own way. He didn’t believe that his aged wife could give birth, so he had a son by Hagar. He didn’t believe that God would keep him safe in a foreign land, so he told the king that Sarah was his sister and let him marry her. God wasn’t going to fulfill His promise though Ishmael because Ishmael was possible. Isaac was impossible! All of Abraham’s efforts only took him further away from what God was ding. All God requires of Abraham, and us, is to have faith in His promises.

To remind us that read now that God promised to make Abraham a father of many nations, through the death of Christ this has been made possible, and so to remind us of our responsibility to play our part in the great commission.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Genesis 21:1-7

Part one of my script from sunday school last weekend

I wonder why we’re at church this morning. I guess our answers would range from the spiritual (‘I want to worship God though Jesus in Sprit and truth’) to the relational (‘I want to spend some time with my friends and church family’) to the more mundane and honest (‘this is just what I do on a Sunday morning’). None of those are bad reasons for coming to church, obviously, but I wonder if sometimes it’s easy to get blasé about being part of a church, about being saved, about being one of God’s sons or daughters though faith in Jesus. Maybe it seems to us that being a Christian isn’t worth it. We seem distant from the days when everything was new and we’ve grown tired of the daily routine of Bible reading and prayer.

I wonder if often times this was how Israel felt. They had lost the wonder of the early years, they had all heard the stories of what God had done generations ago that we read about in the early chapters of Genesis, and maybe, by the exile they felt like we do sometimes. In need of a fresh reminder at the wonderful power of God. In need of a revelation of the purposes of God, and how wonderful it is to be part of His people. Maybe they simply needed to remember that God is always in control, and always working for the good of His people. Maybe we need that reminder this morning as well.I think the story we’ve just read would have served all of those purposes for the Israelites that read it, and hopefully it will do the same for us as well.

Genesis 21:1-7 forms a complete story, about the birth of Isaac, but it’s part of a larger story, the conclusion of a story that started 25 years previous and took many diversions and hit many problems along the way. Before we can understand and enjoy this story in it’s full colour we need to see this back story, so lets take ever such a brief look at the last 25 years of Abraham until this point. The story starts in Genesis 11:30, right after we meet Sarah we’re told ‘now Sarai was barren, she had no child’. Shortly after that God calls Abraham and tells him in Genesis 12:2 ‘I will make you a great nation…’ Genesis 12:4 tells us that Abraham was seventy five years old at this time. Shortly afterwards God visits Abraham again and tells him, in Genesis 13:16 ‘I will make your offspring as the dust of the earth…’ and in 15:5 ‘as the starts of the sky.’ All this time as these promises become more and more incredible Sarah is still barren. So she suggests that Abraham tries to conceive with Hagar, thinking that this must be the way that God was going to fulfill His promise to them. Hagar gives birth to Ishmael and it seems that the wait is over and the tension is relieved.

Abraham and Sarah are happy with this state of affairs for thirteen years until chapter 17, when God appears again to Abraham and says if Sarah in verse 16: ‘I will give you a son by her’ In Genesis 18 God gets more specific about the promise of Isaac saying, verse 10, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife shall have a sin.’ Sarah overhears this from her tent and, perhaps understandably, verse 12 ‘laughed to herself saying ‘after I am worn out and I am old shall I have pleasure?’’

So that’s where we are prior to Genesis 21. So far it’s a story of God making big promises, and His people not believing Him and trying to make God’s plans happen themselves. Sometimes people say that the Old Testament is no longer relevant, but that sounds just like my life sometimes. Lack of faith leading to inappropriate action. It gets even worse in Genesis 20 when Abraham passes Sarah off as his sister to protect himself from King Abimelech. It’s from this point our story starts, twenty five years after God’s first promise, thirteen years after the birth of Ishmael, and a year after Sarah laughed at the idea of bearing a child.

So with out context set, lets look at verses one and two together: the Lord visited Sarah as he had said, and the Lord did to Sarah as he had promised. And Sarah conceived and bore Abraham a son in his old age at the time of which God had promised.’ The tension is resolved, Abraham has a son! This is a huge step forward in the story of Genesis, in the search to find the serpent crusher, and the story of how Abraham was to become the father of many nations. We can see the emphasis in these verses is all on God’s action. The phrases ‘as He had said,’ ‘as He had promised,’ ‘at the time of which God had spoken to Him,’ demonstrate where the author wants to draw our attention here.

Onto God. Onto the LORD of Israel keeping His promises even down to the smallest details. Again we see, clear as a bell from scripture that God is gracious because God is gracious, not because we deserve it or because we have done something to impress Him. God makes a promise and He keeps it. This is a firm rock on which to set our feet. This is what should wake us up every morning thrilled to be a Christian, because today, and tomorrow, and every day, God will keep His promises. This is good news!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Bible Delight: Christopher Ash

Sometimes modern technology is very good. There's a feature on amazon that you probably already know about where new books/general purchases are recommended based on your previous purchases. And that's how i found this book. Also, i really like Christopher Ash, and have ever since i went on the Cornhill Summer School in 2005. He said it was a treat to spend eight hours a day in the Bible. He was right, and he is right.

So what is 'Bible Delight'? It's a 200 page, 20 chapter journey through Psalm 119, for Bible hearer and Bible teacher. Ash takes a stanza of the psalm in every chapter, with two more on reading and understanding the context of the whole psalm. The aims of the book are three fold. To see whats written, to understand what's written and to sing what's written.

That's what i appreciated the most about this book. Ash is not providing a commentary, though it does provide that function, or a study book, though it does that as well, but a resource four the readers' heart, that we would live and breath Biblical life with more passion, and more delight. Each section is described and applied warmly and pastorally, with Ash never forgetting his initial premise to help us sing.

It's really good: go buy!

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Two (more) blogs i've just discovered

On this, so far, very productive snow day i've spent a good amount of time browsing two blogs i've just found. The first, is a veritable mine of Biblical articles. Including this excellent one on Matthew and pretty much all his stuff on Genesis. Plus, he has an excellent beard!

Also, give your iPod a birthday, and check out the faith by hearing audio blog. Especially their best audio of 2008 post. Excellent stuff.

The Weather

'Affirmative, it is actually snowing...repeat i can see snow falling from the sky.'

North Carolina has definitely had some extremes of weather since the summer. My first three weeks here the heat was tremendous. Barely out of the nineties all day, it felt like we were living in an oven. Then September, October and November were lovely. T-shirt weather most days, sunny evenings and warm days. Mostly. We only really had one or two days of 'need your coat' weather in the whole second half of 2008.

And it's hurling snow out of the sky. We've had the coldest winter in the last six years in North Carolina, night time temperatures getting as low as -17C!. That's cold. I wonder if i've ever gone through a wider range of temperature in such a short time. I doubt it!

Anyway, i'm off to play in the snow...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

John Piper: Augustine's battle against lust and the fight for joy

'take and read, take and read, clothe yourself with Christ'

Saturday, January 17, 2009

A lamp unto my feet

We tend to use v105 as a text for talks on guidance. The problem is for the most part that the Bible doesn't help us with our helps us with the simple decisions: 'should i kill my neighbour?' but most of the decisions in daily life the Bible does not actually make for us. And we should not pretend it does. But what the Bible does do is to light our feet so that we do not stumble into wrong.
Christopher Ash, Bible Delight, P 141.

I've often wondered if we think life would be easier if our Bibles were like the wands in Harry Potter. When the times comes we go to the shopkeeper, he asks us some questions, does some tests and then gives us the right Bible for us. The right verses to help us with our specific struggles, some individual advice on careers, marriage, education etc. But it's not like that. So Ash again:

So it is no careers guidance, but a light to keep me walking in the right way. To protect me from the traps of darkness and from falling into sin. When the devil tempted the Lord Jesus, it was the word of God that was a light to his feet.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Feeling cold, getting old, Cranmer and Kaka

Feeling Cold
Justin Taylor and Challies have both commented on how cold it is on the east coast at the moment. Temperatures here have been below freezing since this morning and will stay that way until Saturday afternoon It's not that bad compared to other places though, we're pretty steady in the low twenties high teens fahrenheit, which is must better than the minus numbers further north.

Getting Old
I felt like an old man this week. I was just paying for lunch at Andy's, a cheeseburger place, when one of the cooks, a guy called Jonny who'd been to church a couple of times came over to say hi. Instead of offering me his hand, or palm, or even first, he sort of waved his elbow at me. Perhaps he was doing an Alan Shearer impression, but i doubt it. Anyway, i awkwardly punched it, and we stumbled on with our conversation. Whats going on with kids today!

I've recently discovered the Cranmer blog. Excellent stuff on politics in religion, and religion in politics...especially this article on Rick Warren, Gene Robinson and the inauguration.

And finally, will Kaka sign for Manchester City? Well i hope not, but thats not the point. Is he worth 100M pounds? Well, he's probably not more than twice as good as Zidane was when Real Madrid paid 43M pounds for him in 2001, but if thats what the market says then fair enough. And since Manchester City's owners have got 15B pounds at their disposal it's hardly going to stretch them. This is just the next step on the ladder that started in 1905 when Sunderland signed Alf Common for 1000 pounds. Should he be getting paid 500,000 pounds a week just 'for kicking a ball'. Well, if City want to pay him that, then i guess he should Is this any worse than John Terry getting paid 135,000 pounds a week?

I've never really understood why people get so upset about what premiership footballers get paid. How many other professions are there where thousands of people turn up to watch you work every week, and spend the rest of the week thinking and talking about what they've seen? Should nurses and doctors get paid more? Of course they should, but whats that got to do with the Premier League? It's almost as daft as the idea that footballers should be role models, with amounts to nothing more than a mass abdication of responsibility by so many parents. During all the hundreds of Wycombe games i've watched, many in my formative years, it never once occurred to me that i should want to grow up to be like one of them.

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

A Second Adam: Garth Ratcliffe

Garth Radcliffe was nothing short of an RGS legend. School chaplain for years, economics teacher for longer, well loved and remembered for his keen sense of fun and humour which included:
Bursting into Mrs Holt's maths class to assure the children that 'a real teacher would be along soon.'

Teaching a lower sixth class to make jelly and bake cakes during an economics class claiming that he misundertood what 'home economics' meant on the syllabus.

Donning a school blazer and sitting at the back of a year 11 english class without being discovered for twenty minutes.

For this, and many more reasons, Garth Radcliffe is warmly remembered by many from my generation at RGS. He was also one of the men that God used wonderfully, powerfully to draw me to Him in 2002.

Wonderfully, he's written a book: 'A Second Adam'. It combines a well-argued, intellectual case for the historical and physical resurrection of Jesus, with wide ranging, personal applications for how the it applies to our lives.

Buy it here

Vintage Church out now

The new book by Mark Driscoll, Vintage Church, is out now.

If this is anything as good as 'Vintage Jesus', it'll be well worth it, and a valuable gift to the church. I'm looking forward to mine arriving.

Buy it here or try to win a free copy here.

The grace of the Law

How are we supposed to delight in the law? How do we delight in something that brings us condemnation, something that increases sin? How does the singer of Psalm 119 delight in the law, love the law, desire the law? Is there something wrong with him? Or is this simply a portion of scripture that we can simply throw away because the author simply doesn't understand what he's saying? He doesn't understand that we can't rejoice in the law because he doesn't know what we know from the New Testament?

Or, is it, in fact because he actually understands the law in a way we don't? That the singer of Psalm 119 has made the vital link between the law and the promise, and therefore the law and Christ. He can delight in the law because he understands it...really understands it. It has invaded every area of his heart. 

This is Christopher Ash's thesis in his book 'Bible Delight' a section by section exposition and application of psalm 119. He explains that the reason the singer can delight in the law is because he knows the law is a gracious, covenant document. So the law looks like this to his heart:

1) Although he lives in a world of false gods, he is learning to love the LORD his God who redeemed him, and love no others.

2) Although he lives in a world of idols, he is learning to hate idolatry, the shaping and fashioning of gods to be the way man wants them to be.

3) In a world that holds the name of God cheap, he is learning to love God's name and to care for it's honour, not to cheapen the name by the way he speaks or behaves.

4) In a frenetic and anxious world, he is learning to love the sabbath principle. He has tasted the goodness and sufficiency of God and will therefore gladly rest, and allow others to rest with him.

5) In a disordered world, he will honour his parents. he understands that this commandment is the tip of the iceberg for him to honour all those in positions of authority over him.

6) In a world of hate and anger he is learning to shun any behavior that harms or desires to harm another human. He now wants to love his neighbour as himself.

7) In an unfaithful world, he is learning to value sexual faithfulness within the covenant of marriage and to flee from all other sexual intimacy.

8) In an unjust world, he is learning to hate stealing and unjust business dealing. He is learning to love justice and work hard so he will have something to share, because he knows the God who richly gives us all things to enjoy.

9) In a deceitful world, he hates false witness, lying for our gain and anothers harm. He is learning to love truth because he knows the God who's promises are always 'yes' in Christ.

10) In a self obsessed world he is learning to hate selfishness and greed because he is learning to trust the God who said 'i will never leave you nor forsake you'
Bible Delight, PP40-41, Christopher Ash

Monday, January 12, 2009

Christians and Culture (2)

So what are the options that Christians have when it comes to cultural engagement. We need to be engaged, we need to be visible, but more than anything we need to have lives that submit to scripture. We can't throw out our Bibles when we switch on the TV. There seem to be three options in front of us.

Christians hide from culture and from the world. The church becomes a refuge rather than...well a church! We become like Tolkien's Hobbits. We expect non Christians to meet us on our own terms, not on theirs, we don't take any time to think about what unsaved people are thinking about. There are some positives to this approach, at least Christians are distinct from the world. In some places the only way Christians can be distinct is to take more radical steps than the great moral majority. At least Christians are protected...but probably at the expense of effective evangelism. We've tried to be monks before, and it's not worked.

To make sure that churches don't become monasteries we become over engaged. Not wanting people to think that Christian's are weird we watch the same tv shows, go to the same films and listen to the same music. We don't think about how the Gospel effects any of those things, we don't look to see the truth of the Gospel in our culture, we just turn our minds off, put our Bibles away and watch. Instead of having a mind renewed by scripture, we have a mind bathed in Christ minimizing culture. From the outside looking in the church looks no different. In the west our danger is not so much persecution as jellification. We need to be interacting, but not like this.

Some people are clearly gifted in this area. The church needs people who can really engage with culture, who can do apologetics and subvert and persuade people that the Gospel is true. God has given has these people. So shall we just leave it to them? Buy Tim Keller's books and say what he says? Well, that might not be a totally bad thing, but the Bible doesn't seem to leave it just up to the eyes of the body to do this work. We are all called to share the Gospel, so we all need to be aware of how to do that in a relevant manner.

The problem, as Paul Huxley said, is that sometimes we end up running before we can walk. We try to engage but end up being assimilated in thought and deed to whatever is around us. We need to protect ourselves, but we need to be out in the front line. We need to armour ourselves with the word of God, the Gospel of peace, the sword of the Spirit, the helmet of salvation. We need eyes like Edwards' or we risk our hearts shrinking as they soak in sitcoms. The the Lord won't attract us, and the Great Commission won't appeal to us. 

We need to fight and run. We need to move quicker than we can. We need to feed our minds with the word, present ourselves as a living and reasonable sacrifice, and engage and persuade. We need to make sure we're doing all of these things.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

Christians and culture (1)

Tom Price asked, in response to Carl Truman's article that i linked to a couple of days ago whether 'he was saying we shouldn't do cultural engagement, we should do more Bible basics?'

This appears to be the conclusion from Trueman's article, which raises the old question again: 'how much should Christian's be 'a part' of secular culture?' Should we be listening to the latest CD's watching the newest movies regardless of content, should Christian's have no problem behaving outwardly as many non Christians do, if it's in the name of engagement. How much 'in' the world can we be without becoming 'of' the world. This has become more of an issue for me since moving to North Carolina, where engagement with secular culture looks very different to back in England. In this post, and probably one more, i'll try and look at what the Bible has to say about the issue, and then how we can respond to it.

First things first, lets not let hopeless legalism suck life out of us. We're saved by Christ our passover lamb, by his blood, by His bearing our sins and being punished for our sins on the cross, by His dying and being raised three days later. Not the movies we do or do not watch. In any discussion of, i guess, Christian liberty, that fact must be our foundation stone, or we will be hopelessly off kilter to start with.

Romans 12-14, the great application of the great letter. After page after page of mind bending, heart expanding truth, Paul starts to apply. He starts to drive home what he's been talking about.

Straight away we're told to present our bodies as a living, or reasonable sacrifice. We're told to respond in a costly manner to what we've heard in the previous eleven chapters. Paul tells his Roman readers not to be conformed to the world, but rather transformed by the renewing of our minds. Why? So that we might be able to discern what is good and acceptable and perfect. This is important, we'll come back to it.

Romans 12:9 says that we are to abhor what is evil, hold fast to what is good. This tells us that there is indeed something called 'good' and something called 'evil'. Contra post modernity, there are not standards that differ for every person. There is Good, we must hold onto it. There is Evil. We must hate it. 

Romans 14:1-9 is the next passage that this comes up in. Romans 14 starts with Paul telling the strong in faith not to pass judgement over the weak in faith. Who are we to judge? The one who doesn't eat vegetables stands or falls before his own master. Let it be that way. We learn in verse 5 that whatever we do, whether we observe days or not, we should be fully convinced in our own minds about what we do. Verse six makes the point that we do it all for the Lord, this is where integrity lies. This is the way it should be, since, verse 7-8, we neither live or die to ourselves, but to the Lord, who lived and died for us. We are the Lords. So whatever you do or do not do, however you engage or do not engage, be convinced, and do it for Jesus.

The natural result of this occurs in 14:13-23. Do not cause others to stumble by how you exercise your freedom. If someone doesn't think that Christian's should eat meat, then don't make him stumble by eating meat. If one Christian doesn't agree with going to the movies, don't make him go. Why? Because we are the Lords. And because we are to love one another. This is how we fulfill the law (13:8-14)

What have we seen so far? That there is something called Good, and something called Evil, but that within those parameters Christians are free to honour the Lord in the way they feel they should. In what they eat or drink, observe or fail to observe, watch or don't watch. As long as we do what we do for the sake of Christ and don't fall into Colossian asceticism. 

'For the sake of Christ', can of course mean watching a good movie, reading a good book, or enjoying good music simply because they are good, and enjoyable and reflect something of God's creative, joyful image, rather than just reading, watching or listening to improve our apologetics.

I think to sum up this part we need to go back to Romans 12:1-2. Romans 12 comes after 1-11. It's only after 11 chapters of glory that Paul starts to really answer the 'how then should we live' question. Maybe there's something in that. Maybe we can only have the loving, Christ exalting freedom to engage when we've sorted out what we believe. How will we be transformed by the renewing of our minds if we don't know what to be transformed by or into. 

Solid doctrine must underpin cultural engagement. 

Musn't it? Or else how will we respond Christianly to films? If our minds are not being renewed don't we risk being entertained by the very things that sent Jesus to the cross? We have a vague idea that sex outside marriage is wrong, but we'll raise a smile when we see the situations it got Lloyd, Liz and Steve in to, we know that sex outside marriage is wrong, but it worked for Monica and Chandler right? 

So the issue seems to be about Christian freedom, some people genuinely have a problem with Christians going to the theatre, some don't. But maybe, since this is Romans 12, not 1, we could all do with some more 'Bible basics' to help us think Christianly about culture.

To be continued...

Thursday, January 08, 2009

Blogging about preaching

Adrian Warnock blogs about four dangers of preaching slowly a book of the Bible. We started in Titus in mid June, and finished yesterday so we've probably ticked a lot of these boxes!

Carl Trueman on culture

Carl Trueman has written an excellent article about the churches engagement with culture. I'm not sure it's a comfortable read, but then it's probably not meant to be.

I've spent twenty minutes trying to come up with something decent to say about how the idea of cultural engagement is worked out differently in the conservative Bible belt from the church i've experienced in England. I've failed. 

How does it work where i live in America? Christian's broadly don't watch films and don't listen to 'secular' music. Their answer to whether we reject or redeem culture would overwhelmingly be 'reject'. I think, on the whole, that's sad, but it does have it's advantages. It does mean, on the other hand that there is a clear distinction between the Church and the world. 

Maybe cultural engagement depends on what we think is relevant. Maybe these are all just disconnected thoughts...go see Trueman's instead:

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Charlie Styles on 'Grill'

Charlie Styles came a did a luncbar at Reading CU in my second year, he's a top guy, and here are his (very good) thoughts on how to make a 'grill a Christian' event work:

The View

I don't believe i've ever spent my morning Bible reading time in front of such a lovely view as this one

Monday, January 05, 2009

'A perpetual stream of delights' for 1885

There are children of God who need this text, "Behold, I make all things new," whose sigh is that they so soon grow dull and weary in the ways of God, and therefore they need daily renewing.

A brother said to me some time ago, "Dear sir, I frequently grow very sleepy in my walk with God. I seem to lose the freshness of it; and especially by about Saturday I get I hardly know where; but," he added, "as for you, whenever I hear you, you seem to be all alive and full of fresh energy." "Ah, my dear brother," I said, "that is because you do not know much about me." That was all I was able to say just then. I thank God for keeping me near himself; but I am as weak, and stale, and unprofitable as any of you. I say this with very great shame—shame for myself, and shame for the brother who led me to make the confession. We are both wrong. With all our fresh springs in God, we ought to be always full of new life. Our love to Christ ought to be every minute as if it were new-born. Our zeal for God ought to be as fresh as if we had just begun to delight in him. "Ay, but it is not," says one; and I am sorry I cannot contradict him. After a few months a vigorous young Christian will begin to cool down; and those who have been long in the ways of God find that final perseverance must be a miracle if ever it is to be accomplished, for naturally they tire and faint.

Well, now, dear friends, why do you and I ever get stale and flat? Why do we sing,

"Dear Lord, and shall we ever live
At this poor dying rate?"

Why do we have to cry—

"In vain we tune our formal songs,
In vain we strive to rise;
Hosannas languish on our tongues,
And our devotion dies"?

Why, it is because we get away from him who says, "Behold, I make all things new." The straight way to a perpetual newness and freshness of holy youth is to go to Christ again, just as we did at the first. A better thing still is never to leave him, but to stand for ever at the cross-foot delighting yourself in his all-sufficient sacrifice. They that are full of the joy of the Lord never find life grow weary. They that walk in the light of his countenance can say of the Lord Jesus, "Thou hast the dew of thy youth"; and that dew falls upon those who dwell with him. Oh, I am sure that if we kept up perpetual communion with him, we should keep up a perpetual stream of delights

Saturday, January 03, 2009

God of the mundane

Paul Tripp said, at last years DG conference: if God doesn't rule your mundane, He doesn't rule you, because that's where you live.

How right he is. Not many of us live at the level of making life and death faith decisions every day. Not many of us are called to refute heresy, or lovingly fight error from the church in a public setting. We live in the mundane, and God must our King as we decide in the mundane.

If God doesn't rule what i eat, is He really my God?
If God doesn't rule what i watch, is He really my God?
If God doesn't rule where i browse, is He really my God?
If God doesn't rule my talk with my friends and family, is He really my God?
If God doesn't rule my day to day, and year to year planning, is He really my God?

It's so much easier to imagine ourselves in the non mundane. 'i'd never deny my faith,' 'i'd never sell out the underground church if i was put in prison.' But would we put our joy in more hours of play rather than closer commusion with Christ, would we go out drinking on a saturday night and end up fuzzy headed at church in the morning?

I AM in John's Gospel

John's 'I AM' sayings represent a textual phenomenon illuminated by a filial notion of Jesus' agency. John's Gospel contains two sets of 'I AM' sayings, each containing seven pronouncements made by Jesus concerning His own identity. One set consists of Jesus saying 'I AM' followed by a predicate that highlights Jesus saving significance for the world. I AM the bread of life, I AM the light of the world, I AM the gate for the sheep, I AM the good shepherd, I AM the resurrection and the life, I AM the true vine. The other consists of I AM sayings where Jesus announces I am, or I am He with no predicate... These declarations provide clear allusions to Yahwah's seven-fold self declaration of unique and unrivalled divinity that occur in the OT. John's point is clear, Jesus is Yahweh
Father, Son and Spirit: The Trinity in John's Gospel
Kostenberger and Swain

Friday, January 02, 2009

Blood: From the beginning

There isn't much that happens in the rest of the Bible that isn't touched upon in Genesis. I'd go so far as to say that there's nothing in the New Testament that isn't foreshadowed, or revealed to a lesser extent in the Old. So the Old Testament should be where we go to prove a controversial doctrine, or a teaching that has come under attack. If it's not the the Old Testament, we should probably be wary of it.

Probably the best known controversy of the 21st Century so far is the storm created over the doctrine of Penal Substitution, the idea that Christ was punished for our sins. His flesh, our sins. Our death conquered by His life. Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. So is this a post enlightenment idea? Is this a Pauline idea? Is it an idea thrown together from a few obscure New Testament texts? Or does it appear to occur from almost the first page of the Bible?

Genesis 1-3, creation: good, man: very good. Serpent, fall, sin, exile. There's no need for blood to be shed for the forgiveness of sins until Genesis 3. What happens just as Adam and Eve are thrown out of the Garden? God clothes them. Oh grace! Your leaves are no good, have some animal skins...animal skins? So animals died, and, presumably, shed blood. So as soon as we see sin, we see it's consequences, the shedding of blood. Interesting.

Later on we meet Cain and Abel. The search for the seed is on... is it one of these two. We learn that Abel was the keeper of the sheep, and Cain the worker of the ground. Both bought the fruit of their labour to God as an offering. Abel; the firstborn of the flock, Cain; some fruit. 'The LORD has regard for Abel and His offering, but for Cain and His offering, He had no regard' (Gen 4:4).

This presents a huge problem unless more than meets the eye is going on here. You could easily read this passage, and see God as a moody god who had gotten out of bed on the wrong side and had decided to take it out upon Cain. That is bad news for Christians, that is no sort of God. Unless...unless Abel's offering was regarded because it was a lamb, a firstborn, an offering that needed the shedding of blood

We're not told if Abel knew this, or if he just lucked out...but we're not even told why they were offering to the Lord, Genesis is as Genesis does, that's it's beauty. People didn't begin to call upon the name of the Lord until the end of the chapter, when Abel's brothers were born.

So here we see it. We'd be pushed to build the whole doctrine from here but we don't have to. For an offering to be regarded, it must involve the shedding of blood. And the shedding of blood and the forgiveness of sins are closely related. Thank God for Jesus. Thank God it will never be our blood.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

In the beginning...

This morning, like i suppose many Christians, i started my Bible reading plan for 2009. I've gone chronological this year, and i was in Genesis 1-3. There are so many wonderful truths revealed in these short chapters i can hardly think of a better way to start 2009. These aren't very original, but they touched me this morning nonetheless.

God just is
Genesis 1:1 doesn't follow an apologetic on the existence of God. God is just there. 'In the beginning God.' He is the One who was there before there was anything, He is the One who has always been there. There is no explanation for this at the start of the Bible, Genesis 1-3 just starts with God. And it has to, because if God wasn't there at the beginning then he's not God, but He was, so He is. I AM in fact!

And it was good
Can you read Genesis 1-2 and your heart not simply long to be back in the Garden? Or indeed, in the city that needs no lamp? It was good. So good. The Word though which God executes His will is good. Everything that proceeds from God's lips is good. There's no poison, no death, no sweat and toil. Only good, because God is good. And He's gracious, as we'll see.

The problem is within
I hate the prosperity 'Gospel' but the 'search for the hero inside yourself Gospel' is probably just as bad. But the Bible subverts this totally. The problem is not out there, the answer is not in us. It's exactly the opposite. Who falls? Man, not nature. Snakes speaks, Eve listens don't listen Eve. Snake lies, Eve believes. Bad. Adam, Eve, and all of us since have used our free will not to glorify God, but to rebel against Him. Did God really say? No!

Right away, there is Christ
Genesis 3:15 sets up the question for the rest of the Bible 'who is the seed'? In peril, in rebellion, in punishment, in despair, there is the Promise. And it's the Promise that echoes down the ages, it's the Promise that gives us hope today. The Serpent Crusher, the One who will crush the Devil under our feet. Jesus, the hope from the beginning, the hope today.