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.

Sunday, 28 September 2008

Evangelistic Inspiration

Watch this video from "Way of the Master" (an evangelistic outreach group). A very cool inspiration to evangelism.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

8 exhortations from Edwards on why we should help the poor

From Jonathan Edwards' "Treatise on the Poor"

1. What we have is not our own and it should be used in the ways he directs.
2. What we do to the poor we do to God.
3. We must do the difficult things (such as giving money away) if we will follow Christ.
4. God will deal with us in the same as we deal with our fellow creatures.
5. It is an essential part of godliness.
6. There are promises made to those who are generous and what we give away is never lost.
7. If we are unkind and ungenerous we will be helpless and cursed when we are in distress.
8. Our prosperity and success depend upon God’s providence, so learn to be generous as God is generous to you.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

A Challenge to RIch Christians from M'Cheyne

"Your haughty dwelling rises in the midst of thousands who have scarce a fire to warm themselves at, and have but little clothing to keep out the biting frost; and yet you never darkened their door. You heave a sigh, perhaps, at a distance; but you do not visit them. Ah! my dear friend! I am concerned for the poor but more for you. I know not what Christ will say to you in the great day....I fear there are many hearing me who may know [now] well that they are not Christians, because they do not love to give. TO give largely and liberally, not grudging at all, requires a new heart; an old heart would rather part with its life-blood than its money. Oh my friends! enjoy your money; make the most of it; give none away; enjoy it quickly for I can tell you, you will be beggars throughout all eternity." (p.483 Sermons of M'Cheyne)

Monday, 15 September 2008

What does the Spirit do?

Rom 2:29 He circumcises our hearts

Rom 5:5 He pours God’s love into us

Rom 7:6 He gives us a new way of serving God

Rom 8:2 He has set me free from the law of sin and death

Rom 8:5 He gives us new desires

Rom 8:9 He steers us towards righteousness

Rom 8:9 He is a sign of our belonging to Christ

Rom 8:11 He is the promise of future resurrection

Rom 8:13 He enables us to put the sinful nature to death

Rom 8:14-16 He brings the reality of adoption into our lives

Rom 8:26 He helps us in our weakness

Rom 8:26 He prays for us

Rom 14:17 He brings us righteousness, peace and joy

Rom 15:13 He gives us power

1 Cor 2:10 He reveals God’s wisdom to us

1 Cor 3:16 He lives in us and makes us into the Temple

1 Cor 6:11 He washes us, sanctifies us and justifies us

1 Cor 12:3 He enables us to say “Jesus is Lord”

1 Cor 12:7 He is working for the common good of the Church

1 Cor 12:8-11 He distributes spiritual gifts to the Church

1 Cor 12:13 He baptizes us

1 Cor 12:13 He quenches our spiritual thirst

2 Cor 1:22 He is the deposit of things to come

2 Cor 3:6 He gives life

2 Cor 3:8 He brings a glorious ministry

2 Cor 3:17 He is Lord

Gal 3:2 He is received by faith

Gal 3:14 He is the promise offered to Abraham

Gal 5:5 He will bring us future righteousness

Gal 5:17 He is opposed to the sinful nature

Gal 5:18 He sets us free from the Law

Gal 5:19 He enables spiritual fruit in our lives

Eph 1:13 He is the seal of our salvation

Eph 1:17 He gives us wisdom and revelation

Eph 2:18 He enables access to the Father

Eph 2:22 He is God’s presence with us

Eph 3:5 He reveals the purposes of God to us

Eph 3:16 He strengthens us

Eph 4:4 He gives unity to the Church

Eph 5:18 He fills us

Phil 1:19 He is the Spirit of the Lord Jesus

2 Tim 1:14 He helps us to guard the deposit of the gospel

Titus 3:5 He brings rebirth and renewal

Friday, 12 September 2008

Marks of a Spiritual Leader

Here are John Piper's overview of the character traits of a spiritual leader. You can see the full article here.

His definition: "knowing where God wants people to be and taking the initiative to use God's methods to get them there in reliance on God's

Key qualities:

1. Wanting others to glorify God
2. Loves both friend and foe
3. Meditates on and prays over the Word
4. Acknowledges helplessness

Other qualities:
1. Restless
2. Optimistic (because God is in control)
3. Intense
4. Self-controlled
5. Thick-skinned
6. Energetic
7. A hard thinker
8. Articulate
9. Able to teach
10. A good judge of character
11. Tactful
12. Theologically-oriented
13. Dreamer (can see God's power over the future)
14. Organized and efficient
15. Decisive
16. Perseverant
17. Loves his wife (if he has one!)
18. Restful

Thursday, 11 September 2008

Trinitarian Spirituality

What a snappy name for a blog post!

The God we know is trinity: one God - Father, Son and Spirit. This isn't just meant to be a theological point but it has deeply practical implications for how we practice our spiritual lives. Our relationship with God is structured along 3 lines:

1. Knowing the Father means that we are adopted and have become sons of God.

2. Knowing the Son, Jesus Christ, means that we find ourselves "in Christ" - with the salvation and infinite number of blessings He has for us.

3. Knowing the Spirit means that we are born again and "walk according to the Spirit" and not according to the flesh.

Now, the fact that our God is One means that all these relationships are a unity and cannot be understood apart from one another. This means that we need to hold together all these relationships if we are to have a right relationship with God. When you read the Scriptures the one relationship through three relationships is seen everywhere and is intertwined. Salvation is a trinitarian work and we neglect the different aspects of it to our peril. This is implied by the whole reality of three persons and oneness, and particularly by the doctrine of perichoresis.

The fact is, though, that we, and our various subcultures and churches, regularly become less than trinitarian in practice and in our spirituality. We start to focus on certain aspects of the one relationship and ignore other aspects. So, we focus on the Spirit but ignore Christ, or we ignore the Father and focus on Christ, or we focus on the Father and ignore both Christ and the Spirit. The result is that our spirituality starts to veer off in a wrong direction. Our assurance disappears, or our trust in God's providence disappears, or our prayer life disappears or our sanctification disappears. One needs to be properly trinitarian in one's knowledge of God to practice a proper spirituality.


"Helpful" is the standard vocabulary that evangelicals use (at least in my context) to describe a sermon, comment, conversation that has meant something to us. I wonder, is this really "helpful"?!! Can we not learn to be a little more encouraging and enthusiastic than this? I wish to start a new campaign: let's start learning to praise people and give them real encouragement. Let's excise the word "helpful" from our vocabulary. Let's learn to rejoice in people's gifts and thank them properly for their input into out lives. Americans are great at this - can we not learn to be a little more American (and a lot more more biblical)? Such praise does not need to be empty, false, man-exalting; nor does it mean that we do not critique or even rebuke. But I think we should do one or other and not be lukewarm. We should either praise/encourage properly or we should critique properly (even if it should be done with gentleness). The irony is that real praise when you also give critique is very powerful, as is real critique when you really praise.

Sunday, 7 September 2008

The Magician's Nephew: Evil

The Magician's Nephew (CS Lewis) is a brilliant distillation of the nature of evil and probably my favourite Chronicle. In the book you have basically two kinds of evil presented to us: foolishness/ignorance (represented by Uncle Andrew) and pure wickedness (represented by Queen Jadis). It is fascinating to see how Lewis gives us insight into evil in its different shapes and forms.

Uncle Andrew is selfish and conceited, but also foolish and silly: “Oh, I see. You mean that little boys ought to keep their promises. Very true; most right and proper, I’m sure, and I’m very glad you have been taught to do it. But of course you must understand that rules of that sort, however excellent they may be for little boys - and servants - and women - and even people in general, can’t possibly be expected to apply to profound students and great thinkers and sages. No, Digory,. Men like me, who possess hidden wisdom, are freed from common rules just as we are cut off from common pleasures. Ours, my boy, is a high and lonely destiny.” He is unable to hear Aslan at the creation because of his unbelief and so he only hears roaring. And throughout he is unable to relate to Aslan or any of the talking animals. He only sees animals, not talking animals. He reduces reality to empirical truth. His naturalism makes him, ironically, not wiser but blind to reality, "the trouble about trying to make yourself stupider than you really are is that you very often succeed." Aslan laments such human foolishness,“Oh Adam’s sons, how cleverly you defend yourselves against all that might do you good.”

Queen Jadis (the white witch) is, on the other hand, a depiction of real wickedness. She is very attractive and very strong. She demonstrates the unity of aesthetics and cruelty and reminds us of how attractive and seductive evil can be. She demonstrates a character that has lost all conscience and that has become absorbed in itself. Jadis is essentiallly pure power gone evil - she sees herself as living beyond the moral law. She kills all who stand in her way, using the "deplorable word" in her home of Charn, even killing her own family. When Polly objects to her killing everyone “Don’t you understand?.... I was the Queen. They were all my people. What else were they there for but to do my will?” (p.42). People exist essentially for her. She is beyond all moral accountability, “You must learn, child, that what would be wrong for you or for any of the common people is not wrong in a great Queen such as I.” Charn had been a great and powerful city and yet had become incrediby twisted. Its civilization/culture/power were incredibly developed and yet had also become horribly wicked and violent. One can't help seeing a picture of Western culture here with our own version of the deplorable word (nuclear weapons).

Yet, powerful and frightening as she is she is also self-deluded. She fails to see that her own power is sovereignly limited. 1. It is limited in other worlds, not working on Earth (when she tries kill someone with a spell nothing happens and the intended victim thinks she’s mad or drunk) 2. She does not understand the deeper magic 3. She is no match for Aslan. When in Narnia she encounters something frightening for her, “Ever since the song began she had felt that this whole world was filled with a Magic different from hers and stringer. She hated it. She would have smashed that whole world, or worlds, to pieces, if it would only stop singing.” She tries to kill Aslan by throwing a metal bar at Him “The bar struck the Lion fair between the eyes. It glanced off and fell with a thud in the grass. The Lion came on. Its walk was neither slower nor faster than before; you could not tell whether it even knew it had been hit. Though its soft pads made no noise, you could feel the earth shake beneath their weight.... The Witch shrieked and ran...” Up until that point in the story the Witch was the most powerful and intimidating figure but then Aslan comes and she seems very small. What a wonderful reminder: Christ has absolute power over all evil. The iron bar becomes the lamp-post and becomes the source of light to Narnina!! The Witch’s evil deed turns against her. Evil is absorbed and transformed by the power of Aslan/Chrsit.

Saturday, 6 September 2008

The daily choice

Each day forces a decision on me, whether I like it or not. Will I live by this age or will I live by the cross? (1 Cor 1-2) These are two mutually incompatible and contradictory lives, cultures and ministries.

What do I choose?

1. This age: self-sufficiency, independence, achievement, power? Do I spend the day thinking and boasting about myself? Am I taken up with what I have done? Am I taken up with what other people have achieved? Is the acceptance of other people the main driving force in my life? Am I trying to get things done my way?

2. The cross: is my boast all day long in what Jesus has done for me? Are my thoughts taken up with Golgotha? Am I unconcerned by looking foolish, weak and unimpressive to people? Am I most concerned with His repute? Am I trying to get things done Christ's way?

I make a decision every day and have been making it (consciously and unconsciously) every day ever since I came to know Christ. Which way am I choosing?


John Piper, in his book "Tested by Fire", give us some useful, compassionate and biblical reflections on the battle against depression - based on the life of William Cowper(see p.109ff). These are both useful for those who struggle with depression and for 'helpers' and friends who live alongside them.

1. We fortify ourselves against the dark hours of depression by cultivating a deep distrust of the certainties of despair. Despair is relentless in the certainties of his pessimism.

2. Love your children dearly (Cowper's family life was marked by an awful father).

3. Despair not of the despairing. Here he refers to Newton's constant care and concern for his friend William Cowper. Do not give up!

4. We need to practice the gift of self-forgetfulness. We are often best when we are not so aware of what we feel. Self-examination is needed but mental health is best when we are focused on worthy reality outside of ourselves. Self-forgetfulness and happiness are inextricably linked.

5. Escape and isolation are not an answer. Health nor holiness is had by escaping from the world and it sin.

6. Those of us who teach and preach should not limit ourselves to success stories. Hope can also be had by the looking at the struggles of a man such as William Cowper.

7. Let's rehearse the mercies of God often in the presence of discouraged people. Let's tell them of the cross often. Keep soaking people in the grace of God even though it seems to have little seeming effect.

Minister: take heed to yourself (2)

Some more from Richard Baxter on why ministers need to keep a careful watch on their lives...

1. "You have a heaven to win or lose yourselves....O sirs, how many men have preached Christ and yet perished for lack of saving interest in Him! How many that are now in hell have told their people of the torments of hell, warning them to avoid it!"

2. " have a depraved nature and sinful inclinations, as well as weak, alas, are those that seem strongest! How small a matter can cast us down, by enticing us to foolishness, kindling our passions and inordinate desires, perverting our judgment, abating our resolutions, cooling our zeal, or interrupting our diligence."

3. "...because so great a work as ours puts men on greater exercise and trial of their graces.

4. "...because the tempter will make his first and sharpest attack on you. He bears those the greatest malice who are engaged to do him the greates mischief."

5. "...because there are many eyes upon you.....Although other men may sin without observation, you cannot."

6. "...becase your sins are more heinous than the sins of others....You are more likely to sin against knowledge...Your sins have more hypocrisy than those of other men...Your sin has more perfidiousnes in it than that of other men. You are more publically and solemnly engaged against it...."

7. "...because the honour of your Lord and Master, and of His truth and His ways, lies more on you than on other men...Would it not wound you to the heart to hear the name and truth of Godreproached on your account?"

8. "...for the souls of your hearers and the success of all your labours depend on it. If the work of the Lord is not deep and genuine in your own heart, how can you expect Him to bless your labours for the salvation of others?"

Moaning about manna

Reflecting once more upon the familiar story of manna being supplied to the people in the wilderness (Numbers 11), I was struck by the spiral of sin into judgment.

1. It begins with ingratitude: the people (i.e. us) despise God's daily grace and provision ("manna"). Once seen as amazing, it is then assumed. Then it becomes ordinary and finally it seems to lack. God's grace is simply not 'enough' for me. How much of my sin is rooted in the feeling that God and His grace is not enough!

2. One seeks something else instead of God's grace and provision. We're told that the dissatisfaction of the people is rooted in a "strong craving" (v.4) for something other than what the LORD has given them, "Oh that we had meat to eat! We remember the fish we ate in Egypt that cost nothing, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions and the garlic. But now our strength is dried up, and there is nothing but this manna to look at." Egypt will provide what the LORD does not. The craving blinds and deceives.

3. Self-pity, melodrama and demands take over - the people end up weeping dramatically at Moses's door for meat (v.10). The subtle growth in the heart of self-righteous indignation ("I've been treated badly...I deserve something more") is very powerful.

4. What is the judgment? The people get what they want! (v.19-20)"You shall not eat for just one day, or two days, or five days, or ten days, or twenty days, but for a whole month, until it comes out at your nostrils and becomes loathesome to you..." How scary to be given what you want! Your craving is met and you find out that it wasn't what you were craving!

I am reminded of how ingratitude leads to an unhappy and dissatisfied life. The root is despising daily grace, which really means despising the LORD, "you have rejected the LORD who is among you" (v.20).

Friday, 5 September 2008

Minister: take heed to yourself!

Here's an excellent resource, particularly aimed at people in Christian ministry. It's a series of podcasts from Sovereign Grace ministries - the one on joy was, in my opinion, excellent. The great focus of this ministry is 1 Tim 4:16 "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching." Here is an excellent talk by Cj Mahaney on this verse. This is obviously really important for anyone but particularly so for those of us in ministry. I've just been re-reading Richard Baxter's The Reformed Pastor. He exhorts pastors to 'take heed to themselves' in ministry, to constantly examine themselves and keep watch over their hearts and ministry. His reasons are sobering....
(see Chapter One "What is it to take heed to ourselves?")

1. "...lest you be void of that saving grace which you offer to others...And lest while you proclaim the necessity of a Saviour to the world, your own hearts neglect Him and cause you to miss an interest in Him and His saving benefits....God never saved any man for being a preacher, nor because he was an able pracher."

2. "...lest you live in those actual sins which you preach against in others, and lest you be guilty of that which you daily condemn...If sin is evil, why do you live in it? If it is not, why do you dissuade men from it?...It is easier to chide at sin than to overcome it."

3. "...that you may not be unfit for the great employment you have undertaken. He must not be himself a babe in knowledge who desires to teach men all those mysterious things that must be known in order to be saved..."

4. "...lest your example contradict your doctrine...lest you unsay with your lives that which you say with your tongues, and thus be the greatest hinderers of the success of your labours....It is a palpable error in those ministers who make such a difference between their preaching and their living. They study hard to preach exactly, and yet study little or none at all to live exactly....we must be doers and not preachers only...we must study as hard how to live well as how to preach well."

What's my ministry perspective?

I caught myself about 18 months ago while I was thinking about the work I'm involved. I suddenly realized that my perspective upon church planting was amazingly small and self-centred: I only thought in terms of 5-10 years. I was focused on what I achieved and what God did through me. Immediately I was struck by a strange thought. How about if I took a 100 year perspective?!! Let me commend the benefits....

If I think in terms of a 100 years everything changes. I might fail to really grow a church but the next guy will improve upon it, and then the guy after him. My failure does not mean the failure to impact the culture.... I'm just too short-sighted.Thus I can persevere in something because I don't have to 'win' now. Someone else down the line can 'win' by building on what seemed small and pathetic now. Ultimately, I can be patient with slow change in a community because taken over a 100 years it might be part of very Big Change. The real goal is not my life-span, my ministry and my success but God's glory - if I'm thinking 100 years ahead it gets my mind off myself to the true goal of history: Jesus Christ and His repute. How liberating this is! I recommend that every ministry have a 100 year plan.

A crazy church planting idea

Can I make a rather absurd and ridiculous suggestion? How about if conservative evangelicals stop planting any more churches in the suburbs or with middle class congregations? How about if we say that for the next 5 years we will ONLY plant churches in the inner cities and on council estates?

Now, of course, someone might ask why I would make such a suggestion. The answer is this: we are already so overwhelmingly white, culturally conservative, middle class and highly student/graduate-focused that if we don't do something soon we will become incapable of reaching our nation (which is mainly not this, and certainly not in London). To reverse both the trend of church culture and to develop pastors/evangelists from different backgrounds we will have to do something pretty radical. We will have to do the uncomfortable, sacrificial and potentially very slow work of reaching people WHO ARE NOT LIKE US. I suspect that if we did something as foolish and silly as this we would find ourselves in the midst of tremendous spiritual renewal as we encounter the gospel afresh and as God pours out His blessing upon us. What are we waiting for?

A definition of the Christian life

I've been struck by the way that 1 Thess 1:10 gives a (for us unusual description) of the Christian life "to wait for his Son from heaven..." The Christian life is described here in terms of waiting for the return of Jesus Christ. I wonder how many of us really think of discipleship in those terms? We are busy with so many projects, plans, ideas and our own 'perfecting' that we forget to 'wait for his Son'. Perhaps that reveals our lack of hope. It seems almost passive and joyless to simply wait for Jesus, doesn't it? It would be easy to parody such waiting as typical Christian anti-worldliness. Yet, perhaps it is our problem that many good things take the place of the one supremely Good Thing - the personal presence of Jesus. Perhaps, our hope has become diluted by things that are temporal. What are we really looking forward to? What does it really mean to live the Christian life: it means to wait for Jesus to come back.

Wednesday, 20 August 2008

Pilgrim's courage

There's a great comment here in Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress...

"But now, in this valley of Humiliation, poor Christian was hard put to it; for he had gone but a little way before he espied a foul fiend coming over the field to meet him: his name is Apollyon. Then did Christian begin to be afraid, and to cast in his mind whether to go back, or to stand his ground. But he considered again, that he had no armor for his back, and therefore thought that to turn the back to him might give him greater advantage with ease to pierce him with his darts; therefore he resolved to venture and stand his ground: for, thought he, had I no more in mine eye than the saving of my life, it would be the best way to stand." (pp.34-35)

What a great challenge - there's no armour for our backs! We are meant to face down whatever comes our way and not to run away. That is the only way to 'save our lives'. Courage is a little-mentioned virtue for the Christian life. I thank Bunyan here for his stirring challenge.

Thursday, 3 July 2008


Some questions for self-examination...

1. Do I have an increasing joy in God and His fame?

2. Am I governed increasingly by the word of God?

3. Am I more forgiving and patient with the faults of others?

4. Do I base who I am on what the Lord Jesus has done for me rather than what i do for Him?

5. Do I have a growing concern for the needs of others, whether for this life or eternity?

6. Do I delight in the people of God?

7. Is my day-to-day speech life-giving or destructive?

8. Do I grieve over my sin and delight in my salvation?

9. Do I pray with God's priorities and with joy?

10. Do I yearn to be with Jesus in the new creation?

Saturday, 7 June 2008

Advice to anyone engaged in mission

Another great little posting on the Desiring God blog here.

Names of Jesus

For our prayer meeting this week I got hold of a list of the names of Jesus and read it out. It is really edifying to go through it!

ADVOCATE: (1 John 2:1)
ALMIGHTY: (Revelation 1:8)

ALPHA AND OMEGA: (Revelation 1:8) 

AMEN: (Revelation 3:14) 

ANGEL OF THE LORD: (Exodus 3:2)
APOSTLE: (Hebrews 3:1)

ARM OF THE LORD: (Isaiah 51:9) (Isaiah 53:1)


AUTHOR OF LIFE: (Acts 3:15)

BELOVED SON: (Matthew 12:18)

BLESSED AND ONLY RULER: (1 Timothy 6:15)

BRANCH: (Isaiah 4:2)
BREAD OF LIFE: (John 6:32) 

CHIEF SHEPHERD: (1 Peter 5:4) 

CHRIST: (Luke 9:20) 


CORNERSTONE: (Psalm 118:22) 

COUNSELLOR: (Isaiah 9:6)

CREATOR: (John 1:3) 

DELIVERER: (Romans 11:26)

DOOR: (John 10:7)

CHOSEN ONE: (Isaiah 42:1) 

FAITHFUL WITNESS: (Revelation 1:5) 

FIRST AND LAST: (Revelation 1:17) 

GLORY OF THE LORD: (Isaiah 40:5)
GOD: (Isaiah 40:3) 

GOOD SHEPHERD: (John 10:11)
GREAT HIGH PRIEST: (Hebrews 4:14) 

HEAD OF THE CHURCH: (Ephesians 1:22)

HEIR OF ALL THINGS: (Hebrews 1:2)
HIGH PRIEST (Heb 8:1-2) 

HOLY SERVANT: (Acts 4:27) 

HOLY ONE: (Acts 3:14) 

HOLY ONE OF GOD: (Mark 1:24)

HOLY ONE OF ISRAEL: (Isaiah 41:14)


I AM: (John 8:58)

IMAGE OF GOD: (2 Corinthians 4:4)

IMMANUEL: (Isaiah 7:14)

JESUS: (Matthew 1:21)

JUDGE OF ISRAEL: (Micah 5:1) 

KING: (Zechariah 9:9)

KING ETERNAL: (1 Timothy 1:17) 

KING OF THE JEWS: (Matthew 2:2)

KING OF KINGS: (1 Timothy 6:15)

LAWGIVER: (Isaiah 33:22) 

LAMB OF GOD: (John 1:29)


LIFE: (John 14:6)

LAST ADAM: (1 Corinthians 15:45)

LION OF JUDAH: (Revelation 5:5)

LORD OF GLORY: (1 Corinthians 2:8) 

LORD OF LORDS: (1 Timothy 6:15)


MAN OF SORROWS: (Isaiah 53:3)

MEDIATOR: (1 Timothy 2:5) 

MESSENGER: (Malachi 3:1) 

MIGHTY GOD: (Isaiah 9:6) 

MIGHTY ONE: (Isaiah 60:16) 

MORNING STAR: (Revelation 22:16)

NAZARENE: (Matthew 2:23) 


OUR PASSOVER: (1 Corinthians 5:7)

PRINCE OF PEACE: (Isaiah 9:6) 

PROPHET: (Luke 24:19) 

REDEEMER: (Job 19:25) 


RISING SUN: (Luke 1:78)

ROCK: (1 Corinthians 10:4)
ROOT OF DAVID: (Revelation 22:16)
RULER: (Matthew 2:6)

SAVIOUR: (Luke 2:11)

SEED OF WOMAN: (Genesis 3:15) 

SHEPHERD: (1 Peter 2:25)

SON OF DAVID: (Matthew 1:1) 

SON OF GOD: (Matthew 2:15) 



TRUE LIGHT: (John 1:9)

TRUE VINE: (John 15:1)

TRUTH: (John 1:14) 

WORD: (John 1:1) 



Hoarding stuff makes us feel secure but here's a great comic strip I saw on the Desiring God blog.

Monday, 24 March 2008

The Reason for God

Have a look at this Tim Keller lecture at authors@google. He presents his new book "The Reason for God."

English as a 2nd language

Just been on holiday in Japan. The English translations were not always quite up to scratch.

How should you use this door into a shop?

This hotel will allow most things, but there are some limits....

Wanting to trespass?

Going to the toilet is a whole different experience in Japan...

Helpful information at a tourist hot spot

Friday, 7 March 2008

Our Father in Heaven

It is one of those popular Christian myths that you hear going around that "if you had a bad father you will struggle to realize the goodness of your Father in heaven." I have to say that I think it's a load of rubbish. In no way am I belittling anyone's struggles, I am simply concerned that we do not enslave ourselves spiritually.

Some reasons why we should discard this myth...

1.What we need to get God's love is the Holy Spirit and the gospel (e.g. Rom 5:5). They are powerful enough to get behind all our 'issues'. The Spirit through the gospel holds out firm and sure promises to us. We must not obscure His power to reveal our Father to us, nor seek to encase ourselves with a layer of personal trauma.
2. People have bad experiences of lots of things in their lives including judges, kings, masters, saviours, helpers, sons - we don't think that people need counselling about those things. What would we do with a woman who's son had run out on her? Sympathetically suggest she needs counselling before she trust in Jesus, the Son?
3. The Bible tells us that our fathers are 'evil' (Matt 5:11) - it doesn't seem to think this is a problem for us getting God. Rather, our wonderful Father is just very different from any other Father.
4. The way we grow in maturity is not by going inwards into myself i.e. fixing my personal history and emotional baggage. Rather, we grow by moving out of ourselves towards God, through the Scriptures, empowered by the Spirit of wisdom and revelation (Eph 1:18). This will do everything necessary to convince us of God's love. I don't need to go deeper into myself, but deeper into God's word.

Some brief reminders on the character of our Father from the Sermon on the Mount...

Dwells in heaven (6:9 etc)
Gracious to the undeserving and evil (5:45)
Kind sutainer of all things (6:26)
Perfect (6:48)
Forgiving (6:14)
Bringer of rewards (6:4 etc)
Supplier of our needs (6:11)
Giver of gifts (7:9-11)


Check out this amazing clip from ER (first saw it on Christ Church Earlsfield blog).

Tuesday, 26 February 2008

How often do I meditate on the wrath of God?

It's one of those topics that we know about it, believe in and mention - but I wonder how much I ever really think about it properly? The wrath of God often becomes for me one bit in a gospel presentation (box 3!) which I then move on from. I wonder whether, perhaps strangely, this leads me to be both legalistic and superfical at the same time. I haven't really gone down into the depths of the wrath of God in my own spiritual thinking so I can only 'use it' as something to scare myself and others with, rather than to use it to convict us of sin. It would seem to me that the main purpose of the Bible's teaching on God's wrath is not 'run-because-you-will-be-punished-and-you-don't-want-that' but 'your-sin-is-heinous-and-God's-anger-tells-you-just-how-bad-it-is.' I fear that we think of God's anger only as something to escape from rather than as a mirror to who we are. I know it sometimes takes people to get angry with me before I'll see that I'm doing something wrong. How much more true this is of God! Surely, as Christians we can meditate on this with great profit because we will see more of the holiness of God, the awfulness of sin and the wonder of salvation?

Wednesday, 20 February 2008

A Crazy Idea

I had dinner with some American pastors the other week and they were telling me how they had started up businesses to help fund their churches. I think they were mainly internet businesses. It was really interesting to hear how they were using the money from the businesses to run their ministries. Now, that struck me as brilliant entrepreneurial spirit. We might murmur about how that's a distraction and how we need to focus on the right things - all the while we're strapped for money to do new stuff. So why not? I got thinking about how we might start up a business where profits might be turned back into church planting in inner city areas. Anyone out there with business acumen who knows how that might be done?

Give us our daily bread

I was reflecting on the Lord's prayer from Matt 6:9ff the other day and it struck me that this petition of giving me daily bread might be more radical than I had previously supposed. I think I've always seen it as basically metaphorical for basic dependence upon God for the things we need in life as well as an allusion to the spiritual bread we get in Jesus. But I wonder actually whether the prayer presupposes a situation that is a lot more radically dependent than I have thought before. The 'problem' with the prayer is that we don't really 'have to pray it'. After all, we seem to have what we need, don't we? When did I last pray for my food or clothes? 

Yet, perhaps there is a presupposition built into this prayer that His disciples are to live so radically free from wealth and possessions that they obviously have to pray this prayer. Perhaps a more profound dependence is being assumed here so that it is obvious that daily bread really will not be there apart from specifically answered prayer. This context of radical dependence makes sense given the allusions to the dependent, pilgrim OT people of God within the petition itself (also alluded to in "lead us not into temptation"). Further, we have Jesus's teaching in 6:25-34 on worry/security/possessions. The commands there not to worry about what we eat or wear are actually quite mindblowing - and they assume a situation where you don't know where your food or clothes are coming from. The kind of dependence that disciples need is so radical because of their call away form trusting in wealth and possessions.

Friday, 1 February 2008

The Subversive Christ

A meditation on Col 1:15-20 by Brian Walsh

"In an image-saturated world
a world of ubiquitous corporate logos
permeating your consciousness
a world of dehydrated and captive imaginations
in which we are too numbed, satiated and co-opted
to be able to dream of life otherwise
a world in which the empire of global economic affluence
has achieved the monopoly of our imaginations
in this world
Christ is the image of the invisible God
in this world
driven by images with a vengeance
Christ is the image par excellence
the image above all other images
the image that is not a facade
the image that is not trying to sell you anything
the image that refuses to co-opt you
Christ is the image of the invisible God
the image of God
a flesh and blood
here and now
in time and history
with joys and sorrows
image of who we are called to be
image-bearers of this God
He is the source of a liberated imagination
a sub-version of the empire
because it all starts with him
and it all ends with him
all things
whatever you can imagine
visible and invisible
mountains and atoms
outer space, urban space, and cyberspace
whether it be the Pentagon, Disneyland,
Microsoft, or AT&T
whether it be the institutionalized power structures
of the state, the academy or the market
all things have been created in him and through him
he is their source, their purpose, their goal
even in their rebellion
even in their idolatry
he is the sovereign one
their power and authority is derived at best
parasitic at worse
In the face of the empire
in the face of presumptuous claims to sovereignty
in the face of the imperial and idolatrous forces in our lives
Christ is before all things
he is sovereign in life
not the pimped dreams of the global market
not the idolatrous forces of nationalism
not the insatiable desires of a consumerist culture
In the face of a disconnected world
where home is a domain in cyberspace
where neighborhood is a chat room
where public space is a shopping mall
where information technology promises
a tuned in, reconnected world
all things hold together in Christ
the creation is a deeply personal cosmos
all cohering and interconnected in Jesus
And this sovereignty takes on cultural flesh
And this coherence of all things is socially embodied
in the church
against all odds
against most of the evidence
In a "show me" culture where words alone don't cut it
the church is
the flesh and blood
here and now
in time and history
with joys and sorrows
embodiment of this Christ
as a body politic
around a common meal
in alternative economic practices
in radical service to the most vulnerable
in refusal to the empire
in love of this creation
the church reimagines the world
in the image of the invisible God
In the face of a disappointed world of betrayal
a world in which all fixed points have proven illusory
a world in which we are anchorless and adrift
Christ is the foundation
the origin
the way
the truth
and the life
In the face of a culture of death
a world of killing fields
a world of the walking dead
Christ is at the head of the resurrection parade
transforming our tears of betrayal into tears of joy
giving us dancing shoes for the resurrection party
And this glittering joker
who has danced in the dragon's jaws of death
now dances with a dance that is full
of nothing less than the fullness of God
this is the dance of the new creation
this is the dance of life out of death
and in this dance all that was broken
all that was estranged
all that was alienated
all that was dislocated and disconnected
is reconciled
comes home
is healed
and is made whole
all things
whatever you can imagine
visible and invisible
mountains and atoms
outer space, urban space, and cyberspace
every inch of creation
every dimension of our lives
all things are reconciled in him
And it all happens on a cross
it all happens at a state execution
where the governor did not commute the sentence
it all happens at the hands of the empire
that has captivated our imaginations
it all happens through blood
not through a power grab by the sovereign one
it all happens in embraced pain
for the sake of others
it all happens on a cross
arms outstretched in embrace
and this is the image of the invisible God
this is the body of Christ."

50 reasons not to sin

(It has occurred to me that I often try to fight sin with 'sniper attacks' and 'special force incursions', rather than with a full frontal, total military assault. I try to apply a few truths here and there but I don't get hold of the whole range of what the Bible gives me. This list is an attempt to correct that...)

1. It cost Jesus the cross
(1 Pet 3:24)

2. I make myself guilty before God (Ps 32:3-5)

3. The promises of sin are deceitful (Heb 3:13)

4. I am the temple of God’s presence (1 Cor:19)

5. God’s wrath and judgement is coming against sin (Rom 1:18)

6. Christ and righteousness are more satisfying (Ps 16:11, Prov 10:28)

7. Sin enslaves me in habits and patterns (Jn 8:34)

8. It brings me death (Rom 6:23)

9. I am destined for a future life and a world free from sin (Rev 21:27)

10. My God hates sin (Jer 44:4)

11. The death of Jesus has delivered me from the power of sin (Rom 6:6)

12. It wrecks my character (1 Sam 15:16-26)

13. It 'ruins' God's reputation (Ezek 36:22)

14. It ruins the reputation of the church (1 Cor 5:1-2)

15. It ruins my reputation (1 Tim 5:24-25)

16. God is an impartial Judge and will not 'let me off' (1 Pet 1:17)

17. I have been raised in Christ to live for God (Rom 6:8-10)

18. Sin messes up God’s world (Gen 3:17-19)

19. My sin grieves the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30)

20. It turns me into a fool and makes me ignorant (Rom 1:21)

21. I become like an animal ("brute beast") (Luk 15:15-16)

22. Sin hardens my heart even more to God (Ehp 4:18)

23. My heart has been 'circumcised' by Christ and the sinful nature done away with (Col 211)

24. Sin wages a war for my personal destruction (Eph 6:12)

25. I lose self-control and become filled with cravings (Eph 2:3)

26. I belong to Christ (1 Cor 6:20)

27. I break the whole law of God with one sin (James 2:10)

28. Sin implies a rejection of Jesus as my Saviour from sin (1 Pet 2:24)

29. It gives the devil a foothold (Eph 4:27)

30. My conscience loses its sensitivity (Rom 1:28-31)

31. It is better to have a crippling disability than to sin (Matt 5:29-30)

32. The LORD is a holy God (1 Pet 1:16)

32. Sin leaves me without an inheritance in the kingdom of God (Gal 5:21)

33. It is out of place for God’s holy people (Eph 5:3)

34. Sin is shameful (Eph 5:12)

35. God is present everywhere and every action, word and motive is laid bare before Him (Ps 139:1-10)

36. Sin breaks relationships and destroys community (2 Sam 11-12)

37. I am no longer under Law but living by power of the Spirit (Rom 7:4)

38. I have offered myself to God as His servant (Rom 6:16)

39. Sin excludes me from God’s presence (Exod 19:21, 23)

40. Where sin has increased, grace has increased all the more (Rom 5:20)

41. I have put on a new self and am a new creation (2 Cor 5:17, Col 3:10)

42. Sin destroys any ministry I have (2 Tim 3:2-5)

43. Jesus is coming back (1 Thess 5:4-6)

44. Sin leads to more sin (Gen 4:7)

45. God’s grace teaches me to say no to sin (Titus 2:12)

46. If I keep on deliberately sinning, no sacrifice for sin is left (Heb 10:26)

47. Sin will lead to the Lord’s discipline (Prov 3:11-12)

48. Sin is the result of idolatry and spiritual adultery (Rom 1:25, James 4:4)

49. It destroys my joy and peace, and disturbs my conscience (Ps 51:8, 12)

50. My life will self-destruct
(Prov 5:22, 11:25)

Saturday, 26 January 2008

CS Lewis - the Great Divorce (Part II)

CS Lewis's "The Great Divorce" has an amazing picture of heaven (new creation). It grasps the world to come with poetry and story, and not simply abstract concepts. Surely this is a good lesson for all our theology!

"I had the sense of being in a larger space, perhaps even a larger sort of space, than I had ever known before: as if the sky were further off and the extent of the green plain wider than they could be on this little ball of earth. I had got 'out' in some sense which made the Solar System itself seem an indoor affair. It gave me a feeling of freedom, but also of exposure, possibly of danger, which continued to accompany me through all that followed." (p.20)

"It was the light, the grass, the trees that were different; made of some different substance, so much solider than things in our country that men were ghosts by comparison..." (p.21)

"...all loneliness, angers, hatreds, envies and itchings that it [Hell] contains, if rolled into one single experience and put into the scale against the least moment of the joy that is felt by the least in Heaven, would have no weight that could be registered at all. Bad cannot succeed even in being bad as truly as good is good." (p.138)

Thursday, 24 January 2008

Is it OK for middle class Christians to employ cleaners?!!!

I had a chat with a friend about this today and thought I'd be put down some thoughts. Here are the main issues:


Humility - it is good for me to clean my own toilet as it grounds me and reminds me of who I really I am. I am just an ordinary man no more special than anyone else. The danger is that I outsource something that actually does my pride a lot of good. It can easily reinforce social pride and self-importance in me. I think one of the most important things I do as a pastor is to clean the toilets of the church I work in. It gives me an (often undesired) object lesson in servanthood and 'washing feet'.

Time - on the one hand it gives me more time for other more important things and priorities, but, on the other, perhaps I am trying to do too many things. If I am too busy to clean up after myself then perhaps I am too busy?


Justice - employing a cleaner may be exploitative and perpetuate someone's low-wages (and implicitly reinforce ethnic divisions as most cleaners have a non-British ethnic origin). This, however, is easily remedied by giving someone a decent, just wage which they can live off and will, of course, give someone employment. That's got to be a great thing and a good opportunity for a Christian.

Money - one might object to it on the issue of money - couldn't money be better used elsewhere? But, in addition to point 3 above, that is the case with anything I do. We spend our money on lots of different things and it is the overall use of money and my total budget that is the issue, not one thing that someone determines to be 'inappropriate'.

Monday, 21 January 2008

Obedience and identity

I always act on the basis of who I am. Who I perceive myself to be has massive repercussions upon how I behave and what my attitudes/motivations are. This seems to be the basis of Paul's exhortations towards holiness. As scholars have noted, the imperative in Paul's letters is always based on the indicative. He always exhorts us on the basis of who we are and what we have become in Christ. Our actions naturally flow out of our core identity and how we view ourselves. Change and sanctification are therefore strongly connected with a transformation in our identity. As our identity changes so we change. It is vital that I get to see who I am in Christ and what I have in Christ, for this is the basis of me being transformed.

Thankfully, Paul also gives us a worked-out example of this in 1 Cor 6:12-20, where he is dealing with sexual immorality. In confronting the immorality, he calls the Corinthians to understand who they really are and what they have become. They are now "in Christ" and so for them to sleep with a (shrine) prostitute is to unite Christ with a prostitute. The thought of that, a very powerful image, makes us aware of what sin really is when you belong to Christ. We are alive to God so why do we offer ourselves to sin? So, the basis of change here is not simply knowing that it's wrong and against God's will, nor feeling bad about it, but seeing yourself in the light of Christ. This example can be extended to lots of areas of life. In each and every situation I need to think "I'm in Christ, I belong to Him and enjoy all His benefits, so what is the natural thing to do here??" It is about looking at every situation from the vantage point of Christ.

Saturday, 19 January 2008

Our responsibility to do ministries of practical mercy

The Bible makes very clear that compassion for the poor is a required fruit of regeneration, both individually and corporately. A lack of compassion for the poor may well indicate that one does not know Christ or that a church is spiritually dead (James 2:14-17, 1 John 3:16-18). Other Scriptures make clear that failure to help the poor will result in judgement and cursing (Prov 21:13, 28:27). It is striking that Sodom’s sin is identified in Ezek 16:49 with a failure to help the poor. Thus, how we deal with the poor will reveal the true nature of our relationship with Christ on the last day (Matt 25:31-46).

The issue is not simply one of compassion, but also of justice. Here I am noting the very strong link between justice and concern for the marginalized in the Bible. Not least, this is grounded in the character of God Himself (Jer 9:23-24, Ps 146:5-10). Righteousness itself is defined in close connection with doing social justice (Ezek 18:1-18, Prov 29:7). The task is, therefore, not simply to take pity, but to demonstrate social justice in our relationships (i.e. limitation on economic inequalities, fair play, no favourtism to the rich/powerful). Doing mercy and justice is thus an end in and of itself and not merely a means to something else (i.e. evangelism).

We must also consider the Kingdom to come. The future salvation we are expecting is a physical new creation of shalom and social justice, ruled by King Jesus (Ps 72:1-4, Isa 11:1-10). This future world is breaking through into our world now through the church and is transforming the way we live, look at our possessions and do justice (Acts 2:42-47, 4:32-37).

Lastly, our responsibility is not simply local, but global. This kind of global responsibility is clearly shown amongst the first churches (e.g. 2 Cor 8-9), and we already acknowledge our global responsibility in terms of evangelistic proclamation. Further, we already enjoy the fruits of globalization in terms of our own possessions (made very cheaply somewhere else); should we also not take responsibility for the means by which those possessions come to us? If a benefit comes to me at the expense of injustice to someone else, that is clearly ethically relevant for me as a Christian.

" is not simply this part or that part of our theology that compels us to show mercy; it is everything in the whole Reformed system of doctrine. To reiterate: it is not just part of our theology that calls us to mercy ministry; it is everything in our entire theology. We must never forget that every doctrine that is taught in every part of Scripture from creation to the final judgment compels us to show the mercy of God to lost sinners, in the gospel of His Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit." (Philip Ryken, Tenth Presbyterian Church)

“Where have we any command in the Bible laid down in stronger terms and in more peremptory urgent manner than the command of giving to the poor?....I know scarce any duty which is so much insisted on, so pressed and urged upon us, both in the Old Testament and New, as this duty of charity to the poor.” (Jonathan Edwards, Treatise on Christian Charity, Section I)

Look below for answers to the objections.....

Objections to Ministries of practical mercy (3)

Objection: “Given that the Bible does command deeds of care and compassion for the poor, the poor spoken of here are within the covenant community. So we must not allow our evangelistic responsibility towards outsiders to be deflected by engagement with their practical needs.


1. The prioritization of the poor in our own family is a good Biblical principle outlined in the New Testament (Gal 6:10, 1 Thess 3:12). However, we should not take this as a de-limiting of our compassion. We do not usually take the need to provide for our own biological family to mean that we do not care about anyone outside of our own family. This issue has to be viewed in light of the broader injunction to love our neighbour (and we know the great error of wanting to define our neighbour too closely! (Luke 10:25-37)). To push it even further, what does it mean to love our enemy?!! This clearly moves beyond the bounds of our church community. Finally, we might remember how the “alien and stranger” are also to be included in the compassion of the church (Lev 19:33-34, 23:22; Matt 25:31-46).

2. Because God is Creator and Judge, He is concerned about justice for the whole world. Our God is a God who sends his rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Matt 5:45). We can hardly say, doctrinally, that God does not care about unrighteousness and injustice simply because it is happening outside the church! And how weird it would be to think of a Christian living without regard to righteousness just because he is amongst unbelievers?

3. Well, even if we accept this point, there are enough poor Christians in the world to keep us busy for many centuries. The average Anglican is an African female who lives on less than $2 a day and is related to someone with HIV. What do I think the Lord Jesus will say to me on the last day when I stand before Him, next to my African sister? If we have shown no concern, what will He say about my wealth versus her poverty on that last day? Thus, an obvious rejoinder to the objection mentioned above is: well, what am I doing for my poor Christian brothers and sisters?

4. Evangelical church history is awash with men and women who have campaigned for justice for all regardless of their spiritual status (can we imagine Wilberforce only campaigning for the release of slaves who acknowledged Christ?!!). It is part of the glory of church history that we are a group who do not simply look after our own.

Objections to Ministries of practical mercy (2)

Objection:“Engaging with the poor will drain the church of its resources and try to fill a black-hole of need that can never be filled until the future kingdom.”


1. Any strategy, ministry or action has the potential to drain the church’s resources if handled unwisely, so this is simply an issue of wisdom whereby we use all our resources to do everything God has commanded us to do. Ironically, is not evangelism itself a ‘black-hole of need that can never be filled until the future kingdom’? We would not see this as a reason not to do it!

2. One could take an opposite viewpoint; that is, that we lack resources because we do not engage with the poor. Isaiah 58 outlines the hypocritical religiosity of Israel, who come to worship but who do nothing about injustice and the suffering of those around them. The condition for renewal, blessing and prosperity in that passage is a repentance from this indifference and social sin (see also Deut 15:7-11). My personal experience of running a homeless shelter in my last church showed me that more resources (financial and human) become available when you try to start something along those lines.

3. The mere fact that we can not do everything, does not mean that we do nothing. The very fact that the future kingdom will be a kingdom of justice and goodness, which is breaking through already in the church, should inspire us to reflect it in our lives now.

Friday, 18 January 2008

Objections to Ministries of practical mercy (1)

Objection: “We must prioritize that which is most important - evangelism - because feeding people’s bodies will not save them from the wrath of God.”


1. Life is full of different priorities, some immediate and pressing, some less important but still significant. But the fact is that we normally manage to negotiate all these different priorities without setting them up against one another. For example, is it more important to praise Christ or to feed myself? If I saw these as a constant choice at every point in my life I would become pretty thin. How about reading my Bible or caring for my wife, or prayer vs. evangelism? We recognize that there are many things that need to be done and that the most important does not cancel out all the rest. We must be careful not to polarize alternatives all the time so that we start cancelling out some of God's commands with other ones.

2. Christians go out to restaurants, re-decorate their houses and use their resources for all kinds of things that are not evangelistic. We take our own bodies and comfort very seriously. We are not officially ascetics or dualists who see physical creation as bad, and so we do not condemn the appropriate use of these things. Given that we are to love our neighbour as ourselves, can we not at least do the same for the people around us as we do for ourselves? Why would we ever consider treating someone according to ascetic principles when we do not do that for ourselves?! The objection above (which I confess to having used myself before!) can easily lead to a hypocritical distinction between the way I treat myself and the way I treat others.

3. This is a case of systematic theological thinking that has lost touch with the Scriptures, which explicitly command us to help the poor. We must be very careful not to pit God’s commandments against each other so that we start canceling some of them out with other ones. To use a point from Tim Keller, we don’t say that we have the capability to do only 8 out of the 10 commandments this year because we need to prioritize! Rather, we try to do all of them with the resources and time that we have.

4. But, how about Acts 6:1-6? This is a much-used passage on this topic. Firstly, these decisions are particular, individual ministerial decisions, and not decisions for the whole church. This is an issue of gifting and calling of certain members within the church, but it does not remove mercy ministry from the overall ministry of the church as a whole. Secondly, we should not miss the obvious - that ministries of mercy were already taking place (already implied in 2:42-47 and 4:32-37)! Thirdly, the apostolic decision was not to cancel the ministries, but rather to strengthen them (!) by calling men who were extremely capable, mature and gifted (note that Philip was a gifted evangelist!). Fourthly, it is interesting to read Acts 6:1-6 with 1 Tim 5:3-16 and 2 Cor 9 in mind. Here we see Paul (and Timothy) taking a very active role in the organization of mercy ministry in the churches, nuancing the way we might read Acts 6:1-6.

Thursday, 17 January 2008

CS Lewis - the Great Divorce (Part I)

Another great book I read (or re-read) over Christmas was "The Great Divorce" by CS Lewis. This is a really interesting view of the after-life and what it is like. It's not meant as a systematically correct understanding of the life beyond death but it is very though-provoking. It's basically the (imagined!) experience of a man who sees both heaven and hell after death and how they operate. Both are presented in very striking ways.

A qualification first: though I love this book in lots of ways there are a few things about it which are left very unclear. For example, Lewis views Hell (and Heaven) very much as an extension of individuals' personal choices into all eternity. This is very insightful on many levels, but it's inadequate if made into the central principle for understanding heaven or hell. The danger is that God's grace and judgement disappear into a karma-like after-life, where my destiny hangs more upon my good or bad choices rather than upon God. A further problem is the tendency towards a Platonic view of the afterlife where the notion of resurrection on a renewed earth is marginalized.

That said, I think there is much here that is very thought-provoking. Heaven and Hell are basically seen as the ultimate extensions of life in this world. Both echo this world but in opposite ways. Lewis's narration starts with his character in Hell. It is strikingly described as a kind of empty, dark and formless town where people live, "the grey town" (p.8). It is a huge, shadowy, dark place - and seems very deserted, "the parts of it that I saw were so empty. Was there once a much larger population?...." He is told, " "Not at all", said my neighbour. "The trouble is that they're so quarrelsome. As soon as anyone arrives he settles in some street. Before he's been there twenty-four hours he quarrel with his neighbour." (p.10)The 'town' is so big because people cannot get on with each other. They quarrel with neighbours as soon they move in. Everyone is trying to get away from everyone else and so they move away from one another. Thus, the 'city' is always expanding but feels increasingly empty because everyone is trying to get away from everyone else. This town is not a place of gathering, rather it is an incredibly lonely place. Lewis gives us a depiction of individuals who are totally self-absorbed and foolish, unable to form relationships but constantly seeking to dominate one another. The irony of the place is that "they have no Needs. You get everything you want (not very good quality, of course) by just imagining it." Hell, counter-intuitively, actually brings the satisfaction of of our desires in a way that never really satisifes. We get what we want but find that it was never what we wanted. The essence of Hell is made clear as the book goes on. Hell is really an insubstantial place, incredibly small (though it seems big when you are there), dark and self-absorbed. Some of the characters from Hell get, in the story, to 'visit' heaven and they find as they get there that they can't walk on the grass and the lightest stone weighs tonnes for them. They are simply too insubstantial, "one had the feeling that they might fall to pieces at any moment if the light grew stronger." (p.17) Above all, Hell is depicted by Lewis as cursed and nightmarish, but the nightmare is a self-imposed, self-centred prison. Evil essentially makes people mundane, irrelevant and ghost-like.

Wednesday, 16 January 2008

Conflict in Christ

How are Christians to deal with conflict and disagreement with each other? Well, the category of being "in Christ" has got to be the starting point for any dealing with this problem. It is fascinating to see how Paul continually describes other believers as being "in Christ". For example, look at Rom 16:2, 3, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11b, 12, 22. Also striking is how Paul asks Euodia and Syntyche "to agree with each other in the Lord" (Phil 4:2). Being "in Christ" is the framework or atmosphere in which we are to view each other as Christians, and we need to particularly hold onto this in the midst of conflict. What implications does this have? Well it means that in speaking truth to one another and sorting through an issue...

1. I cannot distance myself from you as if you are a thing or an object because we are united in Christ. Whatever issue divides us, it is smaller than Christ.
2. When I look at you I must remember that I am dealing with a member of Christ, yes even Christ himself. When I wound/lie to/manipulate/rage at/hate you, I am doing all these things to the body of Christ.
3. All Christ's promises are as true for you as they are for me.
4. The Cross saves you as much as it saves me.
5. When I speak truth, righteousness and goodness, I am honouring Christ in you.
6. When I am cowardly before you or avoid confronting your sin I dishonour Christ in you.

The point is: being in Christ does not mean that we stop having conflict or diasgreeing with one another. It does not mean that we avoid open and truthful discussion. Nor does it mean that visible, immediate harmony is the ultimate goal. But, rather, it means that we handle these issues in a unique way amongst ourselves. We remember that we are "in Christ" right now and that sets the parameters for how we deal with the conflict. Look here for an excellent article on creating healthy peace within the church community.

In Christ (Part II)

More things that I have in Christ....

I am an heir of God (Rom 8:17)
I have been crucified (Gal 2:20)
I have been clothed (Gal 3:27)
I have been made alive (Eph 2:5)
I have died to the world (Col 2:20)
I am bearing spiritual fruit (Phil 1:11)
I will reign with Him (Rev 20:4)
I have Life and Light (Jn 1:4)
I have hope (1 Thess 1:3)
My spiritual thirst and hunger are quenched (Jn 6:35)
I have the words of eternal life (Jn 6:68)
I know the Way and I have the Truth (Jn 14:6)
I have the promise of answered prayer (Jn 14:14)
I have the Holy Spirit (Jn 14:16-17)
I have the Father (Jn 14:20)
I am continually given life and strength (Jn 15:5)
I am hated by the world (Jn 15:19)
I have joy (Jn 16:22)
I have power to endure hardship (Phil 4:13)
I belong to the line of Abraham (Gal 3:29)
I have died to the law (Rom 7:6)
I share in his sufferings (Phil 3:10)
I have Wisdom (1 Cor 1:30)
I have gifts from God (Eph 4:7)

"There is enough grace, mercy and pardon in one of God's promises for the sins of millions of worlds, if they existed, because the promise is supplied from an infinite, bottomless reservoir." (p. 62, Communion with God, John Owen (Banner of Truth ed.))

Tuesday, 15 January 2008


I just read through CS Lewis's "A Grief Observed" this Christmas and was quite struck by Lewis's quite profound wrestling with grief and doubt at the death of his wife. The book has a rigorous honesty and language we sometimes find hard to appropriate. It is basically a modern lament psalm moving through the familiar psalmic structure of pain-doubt-faith in God.

The omnipresent effect of death..... "if one were forbidden all salt one wouldn't notice much more in any one food than in another. Eating in general would be different, every day, at every meal. It is like that. The act of living is different all through. Her absence is like the sky, spread over everything." (p.11)

The emptiness after death.... "I look up at the night sky. Is anything more certain than that in all those vast times and spaces, if I were allowed to search them I should nowhere find her face, her voice, her touch? She died. She is dead. Is the word so difficult to learn?" (p.15)

The finality of death..."What pitiable cant to say, "She will live forever in my memory!" Live? That is exactly what she won't do. You might as well think like the old Egyptians that you can keep the dead by embalming them." (p.20)

The challenge of death..."You never really know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death to you. It is easy to say you believe a rope to be strong and sound as long as you are merely using it to cord a box. But suppose you had to hang by that rope over a precipice. Wouldn't you then discover how much you really trusted it?" (p.22)

Does the gospel comfort in the face of death? ..."What St Paul says can comfort only those who love God better than the dead, and the dead better than themselves." (p.26)

Death and marriage..."bereavement is a universal and integral part of our experience of love. It follows marriage as normally as marriage follows courtship or as autumn follows summer. It is not a truncation of the process but one of its phases; not the interruption of the dance, but its next figure." (p.50)

The imapct of death upon our images of God..."Images of the Holy easily become holy images - sacrosanct. My idea of God is not a divine idea. It has to be shattered time after time. He shatters it Himself. He is the great iconoclast. Could we not almost say that this shattering is one of the marks of His presence? The Incarnation is the supreme example; it leaves all previous ideas of the Messiah in ruins. And most are 'offended' by the iconoclasm; and blessed are those who are not." (p.66)

Monday, 14 January 2008

in Christ

Being rather forgetful and foolish, I thought I'd make a list to remind myself regularly of what I have in Christ. This is the bare minimum of what the Bible says.

I am dead to sin (Rom 6:1f)
I am alive to God (Rom 6:11)
I have eternal life (Rom 6:23)
I have no condemnation (Rom 8:1)
I cannot be separated from the love of God (Rom 8:39)
I belong to God's community (Rom 12:15)
I am sanctified (1 Cor 1:2)
I have received grace (1 Cor 1:4)
I have the sure hope of resurrection (1 Cor 15:22)
All of God's promises are Yes to me (2 Cor 1:20)
His victory is mine (2 Cor 2:14)
I am a new creation (2 Cor 5:17)
I am reconciled to God (2 Cor 5:19)
I am free (Gal 2:4)
I am justified (Gal 2:16)
I am a son of God (Gal 3:26)
I am one with my brothers and sisters (Gal 3:28)
(Eph 1:1-14)
I have every spiritual blessing
I am chosen
I am adopted
I am redeemed
I am predestined
I am raised and seated in the heavenly realms(Eph 2:6)
I am created for good works (Eph 2:10)
I inherit all the promises of the OT (Eph 2:13)
I am forgiven (Eph 4:32)
I have a righteousness from God (Phil 3:9)
I have a heavenly prize (Phil 3:14)
I have peace (Phil 4:7)
I have glorious riches (Phil 4:19)
I have fullness (Col 2:10)
I have a promise of life (2 Tim 1:1)
I have salvation (2 Tim 3:15)
I am called to eternal glory (1 Pet 5:10)

Every sin means simply to step outside of these things as if I did not know that I had Christ, and every obedient act flows naturally from knowing Christ and all that He is for me.