Thursday, 24 December 2009

Merry Christmas from Jack Bauer - check it out!

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Bodily discipleship

In many ways our view of the body as Christians tends towards being pretty secular. There is almost a separation between the body and God. It belongs to a separate realm from our 'spiritual lives'. We can almost feel that our bodies have little to do with our relationship with God, which belongs to invisible 'spiritual' things. So, for example, to name three possible secularizing beliefs about our bodies....

1. we are going to 'heaven' where our spirits will get released from this mortal body.

2. what we do with our body is unimportant when it comes to prayer or worship.

3. our body is spiritually important only when we commit gross sin with it

But, take for example, 1 Cor 6:12f. Here we get a very strong passage on the value of the body and the need to disciple our bodies - as we would our hearts, minds etc. From Paul we learn in this passage that:

1. The Lord is for the body (isn't that amazing!)
2. The body is the dwelling place of the Spirit and Christ.
3. The body will be raised from the dead (not be left behind in a spiritualized heaven)
4. The body is to be used for the glory of God (now that is big!).

There's lots here, but taking simply the last point I'm forced to see that how I use my body is a vital part of discipleship. This is not simply in terms of the avoidance of gross sin but in terms of glorifying God with my body. It's a striking question to ask myself: how can I glorify God with my body today? What things can I do in my body to honour God? So quickly, we think of abstinence and saying 'no' to things, but that reduces glorifying God to 'sin-avoidance'. Surely, much more is needed here. It means a positive, active honouring of God with my body. What does it mean to be a disciple in my body?

Saturday, 1 November 2008

Prosperity teaching and Mission

Piper has an excellent and challenging sermon here on the complete contradiction between the prosperity gospel and gospel-centred mission.

Here are some excerpts...

"At the heart of true biblical missions is the willingness to die to the cravings that prosperity preachers exploit. At the heart of true biblical missions (both for the goers and the senders) is an eagerness to live simply and give lavishly. At the heart of true biblical missions is suffering, not merely as a result of proclamation, but also as a means of proclamation—a means of making the saving sufferings of Christ known to the world. As Joseph Tson says, “Christ’s sufferings are for propitiation; our sufferings are for propagation.....”

".....Of course, contrary to what the Prosperity Gospel teaches, wealth is not usually a blessing. It is usually a curse. Jesus said, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God” (Luke 18:25). Wealth is a mortal danger for those who have it. It does not make us generous and humble. It makes us buy more stuff, and it numbs our conscience because we have to blind ourselves to our inconsistencies with the Calvary road.

Paul said to the prosperity preachers of his day, “Those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs” (1 Timothy 6:9-10).

No, it isn’t for lack of money that there are 1,568 peoples with no missionaries. It’s because we have so much. The comforts of the West have made us soft and cautious and fearful and indulgent and self-protecting, instead of tough and risk-taking and bold and self-controlled and self-sacrificing. When prosperity preachers fly their personal jets to the Two-thirds World and promise the poor that if they believe in Jesus, they will get rich, they are not doing Christian missions. They are destroying its foundations. That is not the gospel that saves and produces sacrifice...."

Contemplation of death

The Scriptures remind us regularly of the shortness and fragility of life...

Ecclesiastes 3:18-20 "I also thought, "As for men, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Man's fate is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath [b] ; man has no advantage over the animal. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return."

Isaiah 40:6-8: 'A voice says, "Cry out." And I said, "What shall I cry?"

"All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall, because the breath of the LORD blows on them. Surely the people are grass. The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever."'

James 4:14 "What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

It would seem that wisdom is about knowing that death is around the corner and that my life is quickly over. In that case, it would make a lot of sense for me to contemplate my death and all that it means for my life now. We live so much of our lives ignoring death as if we think we'll continue like this forever. Biblically speaking, that's unhealthy. It is too small a view of things. It's too narrow. It's a morbid fascination with life now. It certainly can't help us in our battle against sin and for holiness. And it can't help us develop the right eternal priorities.

John Newton quotes the words of a dying Christian woman to him in this way: " 'Sir, you are highly favoured in being called to preach the gospel. I have often heard you with pleasure; but give me leave to tell you, that I now see all you have said, or can say, is comparatively but little. Nor, till you come into my situation, and have death and eternity full in your view, will it be possible for you to conceive tha vast weight and importance of the truths you declare. O, Sir, it is a serious thing to die; no words can express what is needful to support the soul in the solemnity of a dying hour.'"

Newton himself concludes a few paragraphs on, " I thought likewise how many things are there that now give us pleasure or pain, and assume a mighty importance in our view, which, in a dying hour, will be no more to us than the clouds which fly unnoticed over our heads. Then the truth of our Lord's aphorism will be seen, felt and acknowledged, "One thing is needful."'

Indeed. Contemplating my own death and mortality has got to have an invigorating effect on my Christian life. It helps me see the difference between passing clouds and what is truly important. Let's not be morbidly preoccupied with life.

Friday, 31 October 2008

Sabbatarian Gospel

No, this is not a heresy! Following on from the sermon last Sunday and BIble study this week (Luke 13:10-17), I've been thinking a lot about Sabbath and its impact on our grasp of the gospel. Several things have struck me afresh about Sabbath....

1. Sabbath is easily formulated as restriction and is often formulated by what you can't do. But Sabbath is about liberation (cf. Deut 5 where Sabbath celebrates the exodus) and freedom (Luke 13:12, 16). It is about being set free from what enslaved you. It is revolutionary. It challenges the oppressive status quo.

2. Sabbath is about the reign of the Lord Jesus. He is the Lord of the Sabbath and Sabbath is the experience of the kingdom: rest, liberation, healing and new life. It is about the healing of the withered hand and the mending of the crippled back, both physical and spiritual. It is holistic - the experience of new creation and the rest that comes from the presence of the Lord Jesus.

3. On the deepest level, as a colleague instructed me, Jesus is the Sabbath (Matt 11:28-30). To know Him and be with Him is to live in continual Sabbath. This is what we are looking forward to in the future (cf. Heb 4).

So we might put it like this: the promise of the gospel is the true Sabbath. Has the Sabbath influenced our theology (other than just thinking it's about a day of rest)? Do we preach a Sabbatarian gospel? Do we take the gospel to be promising us peace, rest and healing (understood with a right eschatology)? Do we take the gospel to be promising us liberation and restoration? Do we have a holistic, Sabbatarian message?

Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Rest from ministry

Why do we who work in Christian ministry struggle to take proper rest from the work of ministry?

1. I think I don’t need to rest because I’m in Christian ministry. I think somehow that I don't live according to the ordinary laws of God's world i.e. "if you work without rest you will burn out". Perhaps I think the Spirit 'lifts me above' such basic, worldly things.

2. I am driven by an inner emptiness that needs to be filled by achievement and success. Ministry is my idol.

3. I think that God's provision of 24 hours in a day is not enough and that somehow God demands from me time that he has not given me.

4. While I'm superficially reformed, I'm practically arminian and think that everything depends upon me.

5. I like being seen as a martyr by others.

Expository preaching?

Expository preaching has as its goal the exposition of the Scriptures, but it also has as its goal the exposition of the human heart. Surely, an important function of preaching is to 'expose' what is going within me so that the Word can address it. It may well be that this is something we are not generally very good at and thus our preaching can have an abstract and remote feel to it. We hurl commands and promises at people, but they don't hit so well because we haven't really aimed at anything.

What do I mean by this? I guess there is a difference between being told that you are a sinner and being challenged about it, and having someone expose your heart and your sin to you so that you feel a conviction that you are a sinner. Expository preaching, if it is to be truly effective, must expose the human heart and break down my 'defences against God'. It must show me the lies and subtle delusions I cherish, and the sin underneath the sin in my life. It must expose my legalism so that I can see it myself. In this sense, preaching has an uncovering (i.e. revelatory) function - it opens me up to the Word of God even as it applies it into my life. I must feel my sin if I am to feel the comforts of grace. CS Lewis says this: "Instead of telling us a thing is 'terrible', describe is so that we'll be terrified. Don't say 'it was a delight', make us say 'delightful' when we've read the description."

What's the best way of doing this? Well, probably knowing my own sin and legalism is a good start. Knowing my own heart and how it works is necessary for me to help people understand their own hearts - and it also saves me from pride and hypocrisy. But knowing people pastorally is vital if I am to do this well. All those ordinary and deep conversations I have with people are preparation for preaching. As I know people better and their hearts I will preach much better into their lives. I must listen in otder to speak.

Tuesday, 28 October 2008

Excellent videos!

Here is some great videoed discussion between Carson, Piper and Keller on a whole range of issues from mercy ministries to ministerial character. Great stuff!

The danger of Christian Ministry

John Piper in his challenging book, "Brothers we are not professionals", describes the great dangers inherent in working in Christian ministry. He cites the particular problems of busyness, lack of discipline and interruptions - meaning that one's own spiritual life is gradually destroyed. “Ministry is its own worst enemy. It is not destroyed by the big bad wolf of the world. It destroys itself." How much we need prayer, he argues, for without it the ministry of word dries up. But “activity may continue, but life and power and fruitfulness fade away. Therefore, whatever opposes prayer opposes the whole work of ministry….And what opposes the pastor’s life of prayer more than anything? The ministry.”

Elsewhere, in a biographical article on John Owen, he comments that "one great hindrance to holiness in the ministry of the word is that we are prone to preach and write without pressing into the things we say and making them real to our own souls. Over the years words begin to come easy, and we find we can speak of mysteries without standing in awe; we can speak of purity without feeling pure; we can speak of zeal without spiritual passion; we can speak of God's holiness without trembling; we can speak of sin without sorrow; we can speak of heaven without eagerness. And the result is a terrible hardening of the spiritual life." The act of preaching and the drive of ministry can have a terrible hardening effect on the heart. Ministry can make us more the hypocrite than Christ-like. Piper cites John Owen on the need to keep warming the soul, " A man preacheth that sermon only well unto others which preacheth itself in his own soul. And he that doth not feed on and thrive in the digestion of the food which he provides for others will scarce make it savoury unto them; yea, he knows not but the food he hath provided may be poison, unless he have really tasted of it himself. If the word do not dwell with power in us, it will not pass with power from us."

What is the goal of church planting?

It might seem like a rather obvious kind of question to ask: surely the point is to build a new local congregation in an area where there wasn't one?!! But as I think of it, that can't really be the goal because it would seem to imply that any old congregation would do. As long as people are gathered together in 'church' that is enough.... though there is much sin, heresy and unbelief! It's helpful to see this because it clarifies what we are really about in church planting: we are about the glory of God. We want to see the worth and wonder of God displayed to the local area through the congregation. What does this mean? It means that gathering people (i.e. the growth of the congregation) is no really a true indication of whether the goal is being reached. Yet, how often are church plants are assessed on that issue?! The real question is whether the gathering is glorifying to God. Do we have a congregation that is mature and holy and pure? Do we have people who honour God in their attitudes to Him? Do we suffer with joy? Now, of course, people are 'allowed' to mature and many have to hear the gospel many times before they trust in Christ. But, the big point is that the success of a church plant can only be assessed by the spiritual fruit it produces in the lives of new people, and not simply by the presence of new people. Thus, numerical growth might, at times, be a bad thing and it may well be good for a congregation to diminish in numbers so that Christ will be honoured. For people in big congregations this is much easier to practice. But believe me, when your congregation is small and you're desperate for it to grow there is a very subtle pressure to compromise on this. You just want to show that something's happening where you're working!!! Those of us trying to pioneer new work need to learn to bite the bullet on this and trust God for His church. We want real spiritual growth and not artificial growth through numbers.

Monday, 27 October 2008

Depression, medication and sin

Here is a useful and balanced interview with Ed Welch - which is well-worth a read.

Sins for churches to watch out for

Reading 1 Cor 10:1-11 the other day I was very struck by the key congregational sins Paul highlights.

"For I want you to know, brothers, that our fathers were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual Rock that followed them, and the Rock was Christ. Nevertheless, with most of them God was not pleased, for they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now these things took place as examples for us, that we might not desire evil as they did.

[SIN 1] Do not be idolaters as some of them were; as it is written, "The people sat down to eat and drink and rose up to play."

[SIN 2] We must not indulge in sexual immorality as some of them did, and twenty-three thousand fell in a single day.

[SIN 3] We must not put Christ to the test, as some of them did and were destroyed by serpents,

[SIN 4] nor grumble, as some of them did and were destroyed by the Destroyer.

Now these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction, on whom the end of the ages has come."

These were the sins of the people of Israel and they may well become the sins of the church as well: idolatry, sexual immorality, putting Christ to the test and grumbling. Given the fact that these things "have been written for our instruction" it would seem wise as churches that we pay close attention to them. They did after all prove the ultimate unfaithfulness of the people and bring down the judgment of God on them. And we should especially remember that the warning here is for 'christians' not people obviously outside the church. it is chilling to think that these are people who have tasted something of Christ and yet who failed to please God.

The priority of pastors

Here is a great post from Matt Chandler on the priorities of pastors. Good, re-focusing stuff.

Thursday, 2 October 2008

Church planting and surfing

It struck me about 6 months ago that church planting is a bit like surfing. The big thing with surfing (I imagine!) is that you can't control the waves. The size and frequency of the waves are created by things outside of your control. In the same way, there are many things you can't control in church planting and many challenges/opportunities you have no responsibility for and which you can take no blame/credit for. Your are dependent upon the waves God sends you. On the other hand, when the waves do come in surfing you have to get up on your board and surf. They don't magically flip you up and balance you on the board. In the same way, in church planting you have to grasp hold of the things God gives you. You have to do the best you can to get up on the board and 'surf'. You can't just sit back and think things will 'magically' happen. God calls us to act - and His sovereignty works itself through our acting.

A simple analogy, I know, but this has really helped a number of times. When I look at my ministry it:

1. humbles me (when I think I've made things myself) because every 'wave' is in God's hands
2. comforts me (when I feel 'nothing is happening') because I can patiently wait for God to send a 'wave'
3. challenges me (when I become apathetic and lazy) because I need to 'get up on my board' and do the best I can to stay on.

What does not change when you are born again

I was very intrigued by reading 1 Cor 7:20 "Each one should remain in the situation which he was in when God called him" this morning. In that passage Paul is arguing that there are a number of things that should not be changed when you become a Christian. This is very interesting because so often I, and perhaps others as well, would naturally stress everything that does change when you are born again. Yet, here, Paul is saying that there are things that do not change, such as what you do, your social position and your marital status. Of course, this is in many ways obvious. But, as I thought about it, it struck me that it is theologically important to say that some things do not change when you are born again because that helps define what being born again actually means.

So, if my social position changes then being born again is political revolution. If my marital status changes then being born again means that I have already been resurrected in the new creation. If my culture changes then being born again is a tool of imperialism. Saying what being born again does not change actually helps to define what being born again does mean. It hinders confusion, distortions and add-ons. That is why Paul says circumcision (v.19) does not matter. It is irrelevant. Whereas if you argue that being born again does mean circumcision then essentially you must become a Jew to be saved.

This obviously has lots of spin-off implications for evangelism, mission and church-planting.