Friday, May 29, 2009

There are a few reasons i'm not on twitter

I don't really understand how it works, it's impossible to sound like a man whilst saying 'i tweeted that' and i'd be forever writing things like 'Ed is at________ for dinner. Glad he ate first.' It's just too much bother. I am in a bit of a minority though so here's some excellent stuff on Christians using twitter:

Gethin Jones

Josh Harris (this reminds me of something that Craig Mackay said to be once: 'we're all lead worshippers.' very, very wise)
John Piper

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Ruth 3-4: A step too far?

I've been following this discussion with interest. How Jesus is revealed in the Old Testament, the contents of the Luke 24 Bible study is surely one of the most, if not the most important question when it comes to reading the Old Testament Christianly. I've been thinking about this as i've been preaching through Ruth in Teen Church. Here are some thoughts on Ruth 3-4, is it a step too far?

First, I love the book of Ruth. Don't you? It's mixture of the obvious and the subtle, the tragic and the magnificent, the love the flows through it, the grace which drenches it. The fact it's so obviously the Gospel.

Chapter 3 is a great example of all of these things. It looks awful on a first reading: 'Ruth, make yourself look beautiful and go creep up on Boaz in the middle of the night when his heart is merry and no one can see you. But it's beautiful. Spread your wings over me, says Ruth, basically i want you to ask me to marry you. I want you to do for me what God does for Israel, spread your wings over me. Protect me, provide for me, lead me and guide me. Ruth comes to Boaz for redemption with nothing, just like we come to Jesus with nothing.

There are problems for Ruth and Boaz, just like there are problems for us and Jesus. Boaz wants to marry Ruth because he loves her, not because he's legally bound to. He's only a redeemer in the loosest sense of the word, redeemers were brothers of a dead husband, Boaz was an uncle or a cousin at best. He has no legal need to marry her. He wants to marry her because he loves her. This other 'redeemer' might not. That's their problem. Our problem is different, but it's still a problem. Our sin is what separates us from Jesus. Your sin, my sin, our rebellion stops us from being in relationship with the Father through the Son. That needs an answer, just like Boaz and Ruth need an answer.

Jesus is our glorious Boaz. Jesus and Boaz deal with these problems. Jesus dies on the cross, Boaz gets the other redeemer out of the way. Because Jesus loves us, because Boaz loved Ruth. not because they had to.

And then what? A marriage! Revelation 21:1-5 sees the holy city descend from God like a bride prepared for her husband. Jesus has dealt with every problem to prepare us for the Wedding of weddings. Boaz has dealt with every problem to prepare Ruth for their wedding. How Ruth must've loved and trusted in Boaz, and wanted to give her life to him, what else then can we do, but give our life, in faith, trust and joy, to Jesus.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

The fall of Rome

Shaeffer's very excellent book 'how should we then live?' traces the development and decline of western thought from the Roman Empire to now. It's great, instructive, helpful and not always encouraging. Towards the end he quotes from Edward Gibbon's decline and fall of the Roman Empire, about the five steps that marked the end of the empire.

1) An increasing love of show and luxury.

2) A widening gap between the very rich and very poor, either in the individual sense or from country to country.

3) An obsession with sex.

4) A freakishness in the arts masquerading as originality and enthusiasms pretending to be creativity.

5) An increasing desire to live off the state.

Given Gibbons wrote this book between 1776 and 1788 and Shaeffer wrote his book in 1976, it could be viewed as an incredible piece of prophecy of what happens when God is left out of the equation...

Friday, May 22, 2009

Narrow, Schismatic and Conservative

Richard Cunningham's talk at Word Alive 07 ranks as one of my highlights as a Relay Worker. He was so confident in the Gospel, so sure that the decision to break with Spring Harvest was right, and so keen to make sure we knew why. It was excellent.

New Word Alive and UCCF were accused of all sorts of things during the weeks and months that followed, one of which was that we were being too 'narrow, schismatic and conservative.' Concerns Richard answers wonderfully:

It’s only as narrow theologically as the gospel demands, but as culturally broad and generous as the gospel permits.

You can watch the whole video interview here

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Three more blogs

I've often considered Reading the centre of the student i can present your with further proof:

Josh John
has just finished his second year at Reading. He's a top boy, and probably the only person to ever turn up to a Reading Family Church prayer meeting with a can of lager.

Josh Betts is RUCU events co-ordinator. We spent a great few weeks at the end of last year studying Galatians together. He once died his hair pink to raise money for a missions trip to India

Tim Hilton is probably ten or fifteen times cleverer than i am. He's studying for a degree in robotics and can juggle five balls at once. He also might be my great-great grandson, but i'm not 100% about that.

***update: it occurred to me this morning that i should have called this 'I like Reading blogs' but never mind.***

Psalm 38

I wonder how close you feel to God today. Whether you're on the mountain top or i the valley. Whether you had a really good quiet time and drove to lunch in the sunshine listening to Christian music, or whether you're fresh out of an argument, haven't read the Bible in days and keep tripping over the same sin habit.

I think judging our 'closeness' to God in the way we feel is probably one of the Devil's best weapons. Our feelings betray us and let us down. They rob us of joy in life, courage in prayer and passion in worship. Never mind robbing us of courage in prayer, they probably stop us praying all together. How...HOW can i speak to God, how can i approach God after what i've just said, what i've just done. I said it would never happen again, and it did. How can He want to hear from me now?

We can approach with confidence by Christ's blood, our righteousness is sat at the Father's right hand never to be does that minimise our sin, does that mean that when we pray we can gloss over it? Not according to Psalm 38.

David is searingly honest in this Psalm. He feels like arrows have sunk into him, like the very hand of God Himself is upon him in wrath. His flesh has no soundness, his burden is too heavy, his wounds sink and fester, he is bowed down, he's filled with burning, he is feeble and crushed. Why? Verse 3 tells us...David tells us it was because of his sin. Because of David's sin he felt like this. Maybe this was when he was on the run from Absalom, maybe shortly after he'd sinned with Bathsheba, but whatever it was, he knew why he felt this way. His sin. That might have been the end of the matter, no one can pray when they feel like that can they? How can God listen to David when he has sinned and felt like this about it? Why does David even think he could?

Verse 9 reminds us that God knows anyway, 'all my longing is before you, my sighing is not hidden from you,' and it probably wasn't a surprise to Him in the first place? So why does David pray? He knows that the Lord will answer, He knows that as he waits, God will answer him. He knows that his only hope, God's grace is his only hope. His hope is not found in glossing over his sin, it's found in waiting a while and hoping that God will cool off before he goes to Him in prayer. He knows his prayers depends on God's never ending steadfast love, they rely on God's grace. Not on hiding away, not on waiting, but on God. God who never changes.

David repents and asks for help against his foes. This time human foes who sought after him because of his sin, these friends who had left him and let him down. But he remembers one thing. He remembers God. He remembers God's steadfast love, he remembers that the law speaks of God's grace, he remembers that as vile as his sin is, God's substitutionary love is greater, deeper. He remembered that, in a way, he probably didn't understand, his sin would sit on his throne forever.

So how close do you feel to God today? I'm not sure it matters. What matters is the Gospel. The Gospel which tells us that your righteousness is safe in Heaven, which tells us that yes, our sin is awful, but yes God's steadfast love can be relied upon. It's great to know that we can come to God with our hands up and say 'yes God, my sin is awful, but i run to you because i know you are my only hope.' How close are we to God? Through Jesus, as close as opening our mouths and speaking.

Monday, May 18, 2009

Researching wedding music

I don't think this version of Canon in D will make the final cut!

Ruth 4:18-22 (or, my favourite genealogy)

I get the feeling that i'll end up coming back to Ruth again and again. I'm currently working through it for Wednesday night teen church, and loving it once more. I guess one of the reasons it works so well is that ion the face of it the book looks like a simple provincial love story, woman meets man, man likes woman, man and woman get married. But underneath that, there's so much more going on.

Mark Driscoll says there are small h heroes in the Bible, who all point to the big H Hero of the Bible, Jesus. Boaz is one of these small h heroes, who redeems Ruth, provides for her and protects her, and is on that level a pretty clear picture of Jesus work for us. But if Ruth and Boaz are the main characters, why do we end with Naomi and Obed? Why do we end with David?

My answers based around an assumption, but i think it's a fair assumption. I think Samuel wrote Judges, Ruth and at least some of the books actually named after him. I think Judges is his pamphlet against human kings, his continual illustration that human leaders do not work, and that for any hope we need to turn to God. I also think he would have known, from reading the Pentateuch that one day Israel would have a human King. I also think he knew that the scepter of this King would not depart from Judah. The King would have to come from the line of Judah.

So all those assumptions being made, Ruth becomes 'this is where Kings come from.' It was written to show disbelieving, humanistic Israel who their King should be. Not Saul the Benjaminite, but David, from Judah.

That's why this genealogy isn't just a weird footnote, it's the point of the whole book! Where do Kings come from Israel? They come from Judah, they're called David, they're chosen by God. Ruth would have shown the original readers the importance of choosing God's King, not any old king. It would have shown them the humble and difficult background of their great shepherd king. And for us? This genealogy takes Ruth from the provincial, rural back waters and puts her at the centre of the universe. It shows that in the darkest of times God is at work to do greater things than we can possibly imagine, not just by providing Ruth (and Naomi) a son, but by continuing His line, His seed, quietly, simply, eternally.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Shaeffer: The Lord's work in the Lord's way

Yesterday marked 25 years of Crossway. Lane T.Dennis, President of Crossway posted this excellent article reflecting on the last twenty five years, and a link to this, 'The Lord's work in the Lord's way' an article by Francis Shaeffer, which has driven the philosophy of Crossway for the last twenty five years...

A storm is coming (1 Chronicles 1-9)

It looms over you like a dark storm the days leading up to it you feel like you're driving towards a city that you can tell is being battered by some seriously bad weather. In short, you just don't want ot go there. But then, when you get there, it's not like you can leave right away. You might be there for days, even a week, depending on your reading plan. I'm talking, of course, about the first eight chapters of 1 Chronicles.

All those names...pages after pages of lists. I thought the Bible was supposed to me about me? This isn't going to give me any practical tips for dealing with my life today...what's it doing here? Bish has been writing about genealogies, and since i'm reading 1 Chronicles at the moment, i thought i'd explore what the opening chapters are doing there.

Chronicles covers about the time from the beginning of 2 Samuel to the exile, but it was written much later than that. Probably after the exiles returned to Judah. Imagine being there then. Your father told you stories that he had heard. Stories of a great king, a great Kingdom, great battles against your enemies...and a glorious temple. You heard about the time when it really did seem like this little provincial town was at the centre of what God was doing everywhere.

But now... how can it be? You've been wiped out by your enemies. The northern tribes have vanished, and no matter what Nehemiah and Ezra say, you know there's little point in even trying to rebuild the temple. Except, there is something. Ezra's written a history book, a wisdom book. It begins wonderfully. Ezra links this small province in Persia all the way back to Adam, all the way through Abraham and his sons through to...well us. There aren't many more exciting things in all of Judah right now than that list.

So maybe this genealogy, far from being dull and skipable, tells us something marvellous about God's plan and purposes being worked out. About the scepter truly never departing from Judah. 1 Chronicles 1-9 exist to show God's people that they have legitimacy and identity as God's people, despite what their eyes and recent experiences tell them. They can still have faith in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Get the sword, get the trowel. Build and pray.

Genealogies are part of God's word and they do exist with a purpose, we just need to read the Word for what it is, and trust and enjoy that purpose.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

John Piper at the Basics Conference

John Piper's first two messages from the Basic's Conference are now online thanks to the tireless and speedy efforts of the DG team:

We are workers with you for your Joy
Preaching Justification Undiminished

Also, if you're super keen you can follow along with Piper's current sermon (and subsequent movements no doubt) 'Preaching Regeneration Undiminshed' on Twitter.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Why Jonny Can't Preach: A review

'Why Johnny Can't Preach' comes in at a diminutive and readable 108 pages. It's helpful without being heavy, and Gordon writes so well that the pages more or less fly by. That, and the compelling subject matter help to make this one of the most readable books i've enjoyed this year.

The Good.

Gordon self consciously titled the book in the vein of 'why johnny can't read,' and 'why johnny can't write.' The author had been diagnosed with cancer shortly before sitting down to write his opus, in fact that what was compelled him to write. The five chapters deal with three major reasons why johnny can't preach (he can't read, he can't write and he can't interpret the Bible) as well as a couple of chapters on solving the problem. As you might expect from a book that comes from the pen of a dying man (he's now happily in remission) the pages come across very much as a heartfelt plea for a churchwide return to sound, solid, nourishing Biblical exposition. It was stirring and challenging. It made me want to bury my face in the text, spend more time writing, compose my speech better, and read Shakespeare's sonnets. Gordon's main point is that though Johnny can neither read or write, he can learn. He can learn to pay careful attention to texts and he can learnt to write. He can learn to preach. There were challenging and inspiring words.

The Less Good

Gordon's background is in media ecology, the study of how current trends in technology and media influence us and the way we think. This helps with many of his observations, but occasionally leads him to overstate his case, as he sees his subject through his expert lense. I'm not sure, for example, that increased use of the telephone has lead to a deterioration in the pulpit. I'm also not sure that the state of the pulpit is as bad as he makes out, but i've just been very blessed to be part of some excellent, Biblical churches in the last few years.

Overall this was an excellent read, if you want to be stirred, challenged and driven to prayer and deeper thought over your preaching, and preaching in general, buy this book!

Saturday, May 09, 2009


A while before i moved to the States, someone told me it would be hard to stand at any one point of the country and say 'ah ha, now this is America.' And he was right. How do you sum up a single country that contains the Harvard scholar and the Idaho potato farmer? The Carolina NASCAR fan and the California environmentalist? You can't. But whoever told me that didn't tell me something else thats equally true. It's hard to stand in any single state and say 'ah ha, now this is North Carolina.'

My adopted home state is a good example, split into one hundred counties and three regions of almost equal size, culture and the way of life on one side of the state are very different on the other. In the west you have the mountain region, full of, well, mountains, the middle part of the state is known as Piedmont, and contains the Triangle area, a zone containing all but one of the largest cities in the state, and about the only region left in the country where industry is still growing. Slowly the cities turn to farms, and the farms to beaches and you've reached the coastland region, where i live. Put your figure almost anywhere on a map of eastern North Carolina and you're pointing at the middle of nowhere. The eastern part of the state has it's own feel, it's own food, it's own way of life. People here still farm, hunt and fish meaningfully, men wear cowboy boots to church. Barbecue in eastern Carolina is totally different to barbecue in western Carolina, and nothing life what i grew up calling barbecue.

North Carolina is different from itself, as you might expect from a state probably only slightly smaller than a European country. And the people are different too, open, warm and funny. This was driven home to me clearly last night. It was about 1115, and my next door neighbour was standing at the top of the steps that lead to the first floor apartments enjoying the cool evening air. We've had two weeks of 80-90F days, and this week had been full of tornadoes and thunderstorms, but yesterday evening was perfect. Cool, clear and with a wonderful breeze. A great night for standing out.

I hadn't spoken to him much before but last night we chatted for ages about the weather, the economy, the state of the parking lot, his acting career. Then he mentioned, quite matter of factly, that in the past week he had suffered two awful family tragedies. We'd covered four to six weeks of British conversation in half an hour. All this presents a problem. What do you do with people that are, in effect, inoculated to the Gospel? People who know just enough to make them feel alright, but not enough to get sick on it? With people who are happy to stand and pray with you, but never darkened the door of a church building? I'm still not clear whether this ingrained respect for Church as an institution is helpful or not in the long run. Not sure at all.

As for me and my neighbor. I'll keep praying, we'll keep talking, and maybe one day soon i'll get to ring a bell of my own...

Wednesday, May 06, 2009

Luther's bedtime

Isn't the end of the day sometimes the most exciting part? Phone off, doors locked...just you and a bed. I've only been up a few hours and i'm already looking forward to it! It's an odd thing going to sleep though. People who know more than i do about it have said that when we're in our deepest sleep, when our organs and brain have shut down for the night that we're pretty much as close to death as we'd want to be... When we're asleep we can't defend ourselves, can't react to warning aches and pains.

The Psalmist says 'i lay down and i slept, but i awoke, because you sustained me.' Jesus sustains us while we sleep. But isn't Jesus the infinitely holy One who we've spent our day sinning against in thought and word and deed? How can we sleep easy knowing that what we've just spent our day doing could and should invoke holy, just wrath. As always, Martin Luther as a level headed, Biblical answer...

In the evening when you go to bed, make the sign of the holy cross and say: 'in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.' The standing or kneeling repeat the creed and say the Lord's prayer. If you choose you may also say this little prayer: 'I thank you my heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ your dear Son, that you have graciously kept me this day; and i pray that you would forgive me my sins where i have done wrong and graciously keep me this night. For into your hands i commend myself, my body and my soul, and all things. Let your holy angel be with me that the evil foe may have no power over me. Amen. Then go to sleep at once, and in good cheer.'

If you had to sum up Luther in one sentence it could be worse than 'it's outside of you.' We are simil iustus et peccator, and Luther calls us every night to go to Him outside of us, to go to our righteousness, our substitute, our Savior, and remember that He will keep us though the night, and to sleep well, safe in the palm of His hand.

Monday, May 04, 2009

How would you describe The Gospel on Twitter?

Here's Rob Bell's effort, as reported in Christianity Today:

I would say that history is headed somewhere. The thousands of little ways in which you are tempted to believe that hope might actually be a legitimate response to the insanity of the world actually can be trusted. And the Christian story is that a tomb is empty, and a movement has actually begun that has been present in a sense all along in creation. And all those times when your cynicism was at odds with an impulse within you that said that this little thing might be about something bigger—those tiny little slivers may in fact be connected to something really, really big.

May Miscellenia

April was a quiet month on the blogging front, for whatever reason, and a month of contrasts at church. Two of our biggest Sundays, 221 on Easter and 330 on Friend Day, and two deaths in the church, one a tragic road accident. I guess you can't be around a can't be around people long before you see the wisdom, the necessity to weep with those who weep, to rejoice with those who rejoice.

This year i've also really been enjoying going through the Bible chronologically. I was a bit sceptical at first, because, after all, that's not how the Bible was written, but i really like it. I'm not sure whether reading longer chunks is more helpful in say, Leviticus than it would be in Romans, but it's definitely helped my understanding of the overall story line of the Bible, so i guess that's a pretty good endorsement. Reading 2 Samuel and 1 Chronicles side by side has proved really useful as well, particularly in appreciating why Chronicles were written. Although i still think i'd put it later in the Bible, who am i to argue.

And for those who know me and are wondering. I was at Adams Park on Saturday. I left North Carolina Thursday evening and got back Sunday afternoon. I had no clear idea of what time it was most of the weekend, but to be there, to see us great promoted with my dad and close friends, to experience the joy of hearing that Bury hadn't won by two goals, that we'd promoted by a goal, and then spill onto the pitch and off, and on again was marvellous. No more awful trips to Grimsby or Macclesfield, no more Tuesday nights at Barnet...hello Charlton, hello Southampton, hello Leeds, hello League One!