Thursday, 30 June 2011

More on Impersonal Application

The tenancy is to teach lessons and principles

modern hermeneutics is almost completely based on dissolving any Scripture into 'timeless principles' to be re-contextualized in the current culture

The problem is - that people read and understand things differently
Thus even when I read a commentary - let's say Calvin - there are dozens of interpretations of Calvin, because I don't know the Jesus Calvin knows
It is only when I have a closer relationship to Jesus as Calvin did, Calvin becomes understandable, as Calvin

thus in preaching principles and lessons - they can be genuine expressions of your own faith
yet they will be recontextualized by the listeners
and automatically - fit in - to their own life situations - which may not have the same relationship with Jesus

ultimately their principles at best will improve their current lives, but may not do anything for their relationship with God
more likely - the principles will turn them further away from God as they rely more on themselves, or worse, on you...  you become a necessary component of their 'faith'

and so they rely more and more on you - and less and less on Scripture, and on Christ

a 'Free Church' is where all a free in Jesus - free from one another, therefore free to serve and to be close to one another - Bonhoeffer is fantastic on this in 'Life Together'

The Necessity of Speech

The Word of God is an expression of the very being of the Father

it must be sent -

but also spoken - especially if it is to 'incarnate'

Note the translation:
Psalm 40:6 Sacrifice and offering You did not desire; My ears You have opened. Burnt offering and sin offering You did not require.

LXE : but a body hast thou prepared me

Hebrews 10:5: Sacrifices and offerings you have not desired, but a body have you prepared for me;

talking about the incarnation - it is when the Word enters and embodies flesh

therefore as the church is the sent expression of God, it must speak if it is to enter the world
a silent church is as good as the ever-shouting but never heard creation 
it can change nothing unless the Word is proclaimed audibly

for it is in the spoken Word that God the Spirit enters another 

Did the Father stop loving the Son while He was on the Cross?

While on the Cross, Jesus cried out, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Often we quote that verse to show that the Father abandoned the Son and was angry with the Son as He bore our sins for us. But did the Father's anger necessarily mean that the Father stopped loving the Son during those hours on the Cross? Or is the Cross also the Father's greatest expression of love for His Son?
In John 17, Jesus was praying to the Father about sharing with us the same glory that He shares with the Father, which is linked to Him sharing with us the love that the the Father has for Jesus. So if on the Cross, Jesus is glorified maximally, doesn't that mean that He is also being loved maximally?

Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Hearing Between the Notes

"One of my biggest fears in becoming Christian, was that all my interests, in particular to music, would be pushed to one side, and life would become an awful lot less interesting. All the things that I was interested in before would turn from colour to black and white. I can honestly say I found exactly the opposite. Music now is far more interesting, because now I can hear between the notes. I can begin to ask how does God relate to this, what is God doing in this music, why did God allow this music to be written and what are its powers? I hear much more. I want to say to you if you are a botanist or a medic or economist or even a mathematician... The skill is to hear between the notes, as how God is relating to this or how what He is doing in and through this or what He might be trying to tell us about His world. When you bring them together, you hear so much more... and the result is a foretaste of the end... when God will bring all things together." - Jeremy Begbie, A Sense of Ending

Monday, 27 June 2011


A sermon on John 4 around the topic of addictions

where I unashamedly just use Glen's material again =)

text below:

Good Morning. Well since I’m not a trained counselor or therapist, I guess the reason I was asked to speak about the topic of addictions is either because I have a highly addictive personality, which I would like to think so, but more likely that I have the most number of addictions in my life as compared to the rest of our very holy preaching team.

            So what is an addiciton? The word addiction is currently defined as “a primary, chronic disease or a dysfunction of the brain circuitry. This is reflected in the individual pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors. It is characterized by impairment in behavioral control, craving, inability to consistently abstain, and diminished recognition of significant problems with one’s behaviors and interpersonal relationships. Like other chronic diseases, addiction can involve cycles of relapse and remission. Without treatment or engagement in recovery activities, addiction is progressive and can result in disability or premature death.”

            Wow, sounds pretty serious doesn’t it? Well actually it is – it is very serious.

            What does God have to say? As far as I know, the Samaritan woman in John 4 is the closest thing in Scripture to a story of someone dealing with what we today may label an addiction. Indeed this woman at the well has her life mastered by her compulsive behavior – as we read in verse 18, she has had 6 serious relationships with men thus far. It seems that she had a deep longing for intimacy with men – that never seems to be fulfilled. And this pattern of behavior has forced her to reorganize her entire life to continue feeding her addition – especially when it was socially unacceptable. Thus she went out in the heat of the noon-day sun to collect water, because she was ashamed to go out during the cool of the day with the other village women. One could say that her entire life is now wrapped around her addiction. The object of the desires of her heart, the thing that she thirsts after, has become her master, and master of course means her lord.

Here I think we see a better Biblical definition of addiction, addiction is an expression of our natural desires or perhaps we could use the phrase our deep longings or thirsts, that leads us into an enslaving pattern of behaviour centered on the object of our desires, which has now become our master. Historically, the word addiction comes from a Latin word which essentially means to yield, or to give over, to surrender yourself to something. In short, biblical terminology, addiction is idolatry – we have a new lord and master over our lives. Thus addiction is sin.
         So then, from your Christian viewpoint, who do you think should be put under the category of being an addict? What kind of person should we say – has an enslaving habit? Could I invite you to secretly hide your bulletin away from your neighbor to allow yourself to answer these questions as honestly as you can – no one will look at them except yourself. Now the question is do you yourself have something that could possibly be classified as an addiction? Think of it this way - when you are tired or stressed or anxious – what do usually do? Here’s a list of some possible candidates. Now we’re going to do a simple test. They are Yes/No questions. Take your candidate and then put it into the blanks. Then total up your positive answers, and then we’ll see the results.

The 10 question test:
a.      Do you have a pattern of failing to resist the impulse to ______?
b.      Do you find that each time you __________ you need to do so to a greater extent?
c.       Have you tried to stop, reduce or control ____ but been unsuccessful?
d.      Do you spend a large amount of your free time _____________
e.      Are you preoccupied with thinking about __________
f.        Do you find yourself wanting to ____________ even when you are at the workplace, school, home or during other social commitments?
g.      Do you find yourself still ___________ even when it is causing a lack of sleep or getting in the way of work?
h.      Even if you know you have a social, emotional, financial, mental or physical problem caused by ________ do you continue to do it?
i.        Do you find yourself quitting or reducing your social, professional or recreational activities because of __________?
j.        Do you find yourself upset, distressed, anxious, restless, or even violent if you cannot ___________ ?

How many of these questions do you think you have to answer positively to be diagnosed as a certified addict by a trained psychologist? The answer from some surveys that I’ve looked at seems to be that 2 or 3 positive answers are enough to that you have a legitimate addiction. Now I think if we are honest with ourselves, most, if not all of us will have something that we are addicted to, something that is our idol. And theologically of course this is true – we are all sinners, meaning we are all enslaved to the natural desires of our flesh. Every natural human being is naturally an idolater – a sinner – and therefore an addict, having our entire pattern of life altered – by the object or many objects that we are longing after.

The only things that could be different amongst all of us addicts, is the expression of our addiction – that is to say the object of our affections. Some addictions maybe culturally less tolerated – like gambling, alcoholism or drugs, while others seem to be upgraded to a more civilized status – like food, shopping, gaming, exercise, or even certain unhealthy social relationships – but they are still idols in the eyes of the Living God. For example - with regards to food –“their god is their belly” (Phil 3:19). Or what about this one: Colossians 3:5 “covetousness, which is idolatry”.

           Yet what is the cause of our addictions? Is there something wrong with our physiology? Is it that we view pornography because we have a high sex drive, or that we are food-addicts because we have a high metabolic rate? No in fact as we will see, addictions rarely have this kind of correlation. Is it because we have made bad decisions in our life, we weren’t educated enough therefore didn’t learn how to ‘just say no’? Yes possibly. But even when we are educated and we know something is not good for us, or something should not be done in that particular context, or it should be done in moderation – we still do it, don’t we? So it can’t be just that. Is it then because we just don’t have the will power to make those tough decisions in life? Well yes of course – but if that was the only problem, then the solution would be to just go up to every addict and tell them – well you are in this situation because it’s your fault, and you just need to buck up and try harder, wake up your idea. Anyone dealing with serious addicts will know how temporary that solution is!

No the cause of addiction goes well beyond our actions, well beyond even our mind, straight into our hearts. The cause of addictions is the fact that our human hearts desire satisfaction, we desire deep relationships in the way that the woman in the well was so desperately looking for in the 6 men. We need, we desire a type of deep fulfillment that most of us can barely articulate, but we all feel it. We were purposefully made In Jesus’ image with hearts that long to be loved, with an everlasting, ever-new love, a love that can only be satisfied by perhaps something like a Fountain of constantly flowing fresh love. And so to quote Augustine, our hearts became restless as they were wrenched from the very thing they were made to be united to and chucked into a barren wasteland, a desert, a dry wilderness devoid of any source of this type of ever-fresh, thirst quenching love.

And as we are slowly exposed to friends, families or entire societies which feed us temporary, conditional love – that love us only on the basis of who they want us to be; that thirst grows deeper, our throat or soul gets ever-drier. Then our longings then begin to manifest itself in action. In the void, we turn to whatever we can find to try and quench that insatiable thirst – even if it is a tiny drop of water to cool our burning tongue, our anguished souls: money, work, exercise, food, pornography, sex, video games, shopping, social activities, religious activities – yet they never do. It is like digging a well in the desert of dissatisfaction which is our world – each time we dig a little water comes up, and we go for it – but it was only a mirage, a mist or a vapour. So we dig again, and again a little water – but this time harder to reach; so we put more energy into our well-digging and go deeper – and before we know it we have fallen in and we cannot get out. We are helpless victims of our own actions, coaxed by a promise never fulfilled, spoken by a voice unseen, which seems to simultaneously laugh at us at each failure – as each time we end up with nothing but a mouthful of mud - yet it urges us to go further still. It is the same voice that whispered in the first man’s ears so many millennia ago – and yet we have not learned our corporate lesson. We are still little children playing on the edge of a bottomless pit, even dancing happily around it. Little children, let us keep ourselves from idols.

           That is why the expression of our addiction is almost arbitrary. According to professional counselors, it depends almost completely on these 4 As –accessibility, anonymity, affordability and aggressiveness. Therefore it is not surprising that the internet now becomes the source of many addictions for today’s generation. Our hearts will cling on to whatever they happen to latch on first.
          Addiction also has its consequences. It distorts God’s good creation made for our enjoyment, such as sex or food. It distorts our relationship with others – like in pornography – its effects on our relationships with women. It destroys whole families & societies. It makes you into a slave – it brings your life into a pattern that is governed by your compulsive behavior – no matter how subtle or culturally acceptable that pattern is. It wastes your time, energy & money. It erodes your relationship with God because it often robs you of assurance of salvation, it blinds you to how God wants to work in your life as a whole – it usually is the filter in how we read our Bibles or listen to any sermon – that is the only thing we can hear. It makes you ashamed of to serve God or makes your service as an expression of your guilt – that you serve to pay for your own sins. And it gets worse - the more we give ourselves over to an addiction, the more it controls us and the more we need – it has a law of diminishing returns. To quote a Christian doctor, “Addictions are like ‘greedy dogs, never satisfied,’ ‘with an appetite as large as the grave, and as insatiable as death”.
          So then how can we deal with these addictions, this bondage to the slavery of sin? Well let’s have a look at Jesus shall we? It is fascinating how Jesus deals with this woman whom He knows has such a deep problem. It seems that from the get-go His sole desire is to get her to come to terms with her own problems, and set her free from that deep thirst by pointing her to His Living Water. We almost marvel as we watch Him do it.
          He says to her, “Give me a drink”. He knows, that she is thirsty, she is the one with the deep longing, but He says can you give me a drink? I don’t think He’s being sarcastic, but rather I think what is at the heart of His question is that He wants to identify with her – that He knows what it means to be weary from a doubting world, and how she feels in her burning thirst for something that satisfies better this behavior which is slowly becoming more and more futile. The fountain of living water asks for a drink! In fact there is only one time Jesus ever says He is thirsty – and that is on the cross, when the burdens or sins of the world lay heavily upon them, and His tongue sticks to the roof of His mouth as He is parched with the barrenness of sin – the dust of the broken human spirit that is so devoid of the love-filled Spirit of God that it becomes like chaff which the wind simply blows away (action). Jesus says – I know what you feel, I will feel it soon, much more than you ever will. I will come into your darkness. It is when Jesus was struck when those Living Waters flowed out.

           Jesus then continues to draw her closer, he excites her deepest desires – he knows that she is searching, thirsting and promises her that there is something better – Living Water. And best of all – it’s free – it is the gift of God.
          She’s hooked – she is beginning to be more attracted to Jesus than any of those other men. He has begun to pull her out of that dark well. She starts, are you sure? What is it? How can be done? Isn’t what I’m doing good enough? Jesus responds: My water satisfies, in a way that what you are doing or what you even think you should be doing will never do. I offer life-giving water in abundance, that you can drink, and drink, and drink again, for all eternity – you will never thirst again, because it is freely given to you without limit.

Where can I get your water? Give it to me! Can you hear our own voices saying that like a desperate drug addict? In the midst of our unfulfilling life-experiences in our work, our families, our relations, our hobbies, our addictions? Give it to me! She’s like fish breaking the water-line - we see her head lifting.

            Now she takes the first brave step into the Light, and the first effect is that suddenly she feels exposed. The Light of the World has laid her sins bare. “Go and call your husband”. She has had 5 husbands, and now she is living out of wed-lock. Jesus knows she has to truly come to the point that she herself believes that her own actions and her own well-digging have not satisfied her, and in fact are the cause of her shame, her dryness, she needs a radical heart change! It is too much for her, she changes topic, let’s discuss ‘religion’, quick run back to the darkness – get my defenses back up. Jesus pursues, lovingly, gently, still drawing her in – watch the Master Fisher-of Men reel in His catch, no matter which way she turns, He knows when to loosen the line, or to keep it taught – He will not let her go.

            Come into the light, yes your darkness will be exposed, but let it – let the Living Word of God expose you for who you really are – a sinner, an addict, not someone who occasionally looks at porn – no an adulterer, not someone who believes in retail therapy – no a covetous idolater, not someone who likes the finer things in life – but a slave of Mammon. Let Him expose us. How painful the first touch of cool water to a frozen hand. Yet it seeks to thaw, to loosen the withered limb that it may be set free.

           Jesus continues, the Father is seeking true worshippers – don’t pretend you’re interested in seeking Him – no, He is seeking you. He has sent me to come and get you – that is the proof. He wants to make you into someone who can know Him deeply. He is seeking you to set you free from your thirst. No surface religion here – but deep intimate knowledge that is what the Father offers. She gets more excited, takes another step – I know this to be true, and I also know it will be through the Chosen One, the Messiah – He will give lead me to the Father. Jesus has got her right where He wants her, in His net – acknowledging that her current state of affairs is rubbish, and that she needs something more that only Jesus provides.

He only has to scoop her up: I am He. I’m the One Whom the Father sent to offer this ever quenching water. I am He. I am the Fountain of life in abundance, I am the one from whom the love of God through His Spirit will flow into your dry-dust and remake you, mould the now wet clay into what it was made to be. I am He. This is the beloved Son – in whom the Spirit of the Life-giving God dwells and rests – listen to Him. Trust Him.

            The result, the woman, is overwhelmed and returns to town – with an empty clay jar but a full heart - ready to overflow as a stream into her dry village.

           Did you see what Jesus did? He understood her so deeply, and drew her into Himself – and by doing so exposed the dark deeds of her life, her addictions. As she desired Him, she was confronted by them, but as she desired Him more, she now believed that He indeed could satisfy more than they ever did. Something in her heart was fundamentally changed.

           In our own treatment of people with addictions, we first must be able to identify with them. It has been said that ex-drug addicts are far better in dealing with current drug addicts, because they know what it is like to be under the hand of that cruel master. Jesus knew exactly how the woman felt because He was tempted much more than any of us, and He in fact became sin itself – therefore He knew how to approach in her darkness, in her poverty, in her weakness, wounded by her own deliberate actions – and so softly, slowly, lovingly He draws her out, that He may draw her in to Himself.

We can do the same, because we are all sinners, we are all idolaters, we do not approach addicts as those who stand on a moral pedestal, because Jesus didn’t. Very often this is our common response to those whom we can see are in a lousy situation. We simply point out their moral faults, the current depravity of their lives, yet it ultimately does them no good. Because very often either our analysis of their situation is found wanting – we don’t even diagnose correctly, since only the Spirit of God truly knows the heart – we can’t understand them without Him. And more than that, very often the addict already knows that what he is doing is wrong, he knows it’s destroying himself, his family, his career – he may even know the terrible judgment of Jesus staring Him in the face. And all these moral warnings do is further confuse him, send him reeling into further darkness – all he may say is: “I guess I can’t be a Christian – there is no grace for me”. All the motivating talks of – “you can do it, just try harder” – just lead him to further despair, as he relapses again and again and again. How many of you know that horrible drowning feeling – people tell you there is water all around – but you can’t seem to taste a single thirst-quenching drop.

No, this is how we deal with it: “The fire of lust’s pleasures must be fought with the fire of God’s pleasures. If we try to fight the fire of lust with prohibitions and threats alone – even the terrible warnings of Jesus – we will fail. We must fight it with a massive promise of superior happiness. We must swallow up the little flicker of lust’s pleasure in the conflagration of holy satisfaction

We can deal with addictions here in church if we know Jesus – because Jesus has helps us to understand the sinful human heart – as He shows us our own sin. The one, who knows and has experienced Jesus, can identify with his fellow addict. The only difference between him and the current addict is that he has tasted the water and he knows it is good.. We understand humanity because we know Him, and because we know Him we can point them to Him.

And this is the story of the Samaritan woman – look at what she does in town. “Here is a man that told me my whole life” – what a statement – she acknowledges that her whole life was essentially those terrible relationships; that is who she really is, or rather, who she really was. For now she has begin to drink, and already we see the spring of water welling up in her and even overflowing- in verse 30, the whole town hears about Jesus from her. As we ourselves drink from Jesus in our thirst, we can point others directly to the same Fountain - that is sole earthly purpose of the whole people of God.

As we said earlier, all our addictions are merely different expressions of the same problems – our thirsty, unsatisfied souls. Shall we confess? In the depths of our hearts we don’t actually believe that Jesus will satisfy us do we? The reason we go back to our old habits, as foolish as we may intellectually agree they are, is because we still believe deep down, that they satisfy. Those habits are seem to give real relief, they feel more tangible, more real, more present than the Lord don’t they? Yet this Lord is Spirit, He is everywhere by that same thirst-quenching Spirit, which He freely offers to all who seek Him without limit -proven and accomplished through the cross of Christ. Allow me to paraphrase an old quote:

Conceive a man to be standing on the margin of this green world; and that, when he looked towards it, he saw abundance smiling upon every field, and all the blessings which earth can afford scattered in profusion throughout every family, and the light of the sun sweetly resting upon all the pleasant habitations, and the joys of human companionship brightening many a happy circle of society - conceive this to be the general character of the scene upon one side of his contemplation; and that on the other, beyond the verge of the godly planet on which he was situated, he could descry nothing but a dark and fathomless unknown. Think you that he would bid a voluntary adieu to all the brightness and all the beauty that were before him upon earth, and commit himself to the frightful solitude away from it?

We go elsewhere because we do not believe He will satisfy. What people need is to hear real good news in Jesus, not simply moral advice. They need to be told of the beauty, the love, the desirability of the real Jesus Christ.

Currently, not all of us are dying under the weight of our addictions, some of us still function quite well, while others have their whole lives severely twisted to satisfy their destructive habits. At the less extreme end of the spectrum – many of these problems can be solved merely by having wholesome Christian community – and many counselors acknowledge this. Simply by having regular Christian fellowship with groups, like an AG, of people who read and study the Word of God together and share about how the Word is convicting, and exposing and transforming them can stop any addiction from spiraling out of control. The same is true with children who live in a Christian home where the Word of God is taught and parents are seen to honestly engage with it, as Jesus gently confronts them.

But when things are bad, when our habits have become uncontrollable convulsions of the flesh; then a more rigorous loving treatment may be needed – cold turkey, abstinence or even medication. Drastic intervention by people who love them, removing them from the problem but simultaneously bringing Jesus in to fill the void that is created as the strong man leaves the heart. I run a small temporary group for pornography addicts, and I’m sure Simon Wong would be happy to help out with any other specific issues – just let us know by sending an email or filling in a response slip.

The church of God is not a gathering of the self-righteous, but the gathering of the broken well diggers around the Fountain of Life-Giving Waters. We are a community of grace, where mistakes are understood for what they are, because we are addicts too, addicts in rehabilitation. Together we fight the battle to stand firm in the grace of Jesus Christ, in the love of God, in the fellowship of the Holy Spirit – together we fight the battle against unbelief. We use every resource God has given us to proclaim the desirability, the beauty of Jesus to one another – that we may see Him, believe in Him and remain in the Light. That we may not look at ourselves, and see the hopeless captivity of our addictions, and relapse once again. Each subsequent fall is worse than last – and one day our hearts may no longer be able to believe.

Let me end with a quote from the great John Owen:

 Do any of us find decays in grace prevailing in us;—deadness, coldness, lukewarmness, (here we may use the word addiction too) a kind of spiritual stupidity and senselessness coming upon us? (we are out of control?) Would we have our souls recovered from these dangerous diseases? Let us assure ourselves there is no better way for our healing and deliverance, yea, no other way but this alone,—namely, the obtaining a fresh view of the glory of Christ by faith, and a steady abiding therein. Unless he fall as dew and showers on our dry and barren hearts,—unless he cause our graces to spring, thrive, and bring forth fruit,—unless he revive and increase faith, love, and holiness in our souls,—our backslidings will not be healed, nor our spiritual state be recovered. 

Sunday, 26 June 2011


Hi all,

I've just started a new blog collating some thoughts on Barth (really just an excuse for me to read through his Church Dogmatics). Please come and visit!

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Sermon for Trinity Sunday

Fountains Abbey, in Yorkshire, is the largest abbey ruins in the country, and it’s a World Heritage Site. Here’s a little quote from a guide book to the abbey – “Here the monks gathered every Sunday to hear a sermon from the Abbot, except on Trinity Sunday owing to the difficulty of the subject.”

We may well laugh but it’s a sentiment that we can all empathise with. Many people find the Trinity a complicated subject. It’s like a mathematical conundrum that even Carol Vorderman would struggle to solve.

We often think that the Trinity is for those who are really keen, for high-powered theologians, for those with nothing better to do. But even with theologians – very few theological books begin with the Trinity. In most of them, there’ll be hundreds of pages on God, before the Trinity is finally tagged on as a sort of appendix at the end. The implication is that the Trinity is not foundational to understanding God – that we can know and talk about God without thinking of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

And that’s what it’s like for most of us. We might verbally articulate our faith in the Father, Son and Holy Spirit – you know, when we say the Creed… but it’s just not that crucial to our faith in God, and it just doesn’t seem to have any bearing on our day to day lives.

But there was a time when people were passionate about the Trinity! In ancient Alexandria, in the days when Egypt was Christian, people used to brawl over the doctrine of the Trinity. Whether or not you would be served at a restaurant or permitted into the public bath depended on where you stood on this doctrine! Well, we don’t live in such exciting times anymore… but I wonder what you think. Is the Trinity really worth fighting over? Do we really have to split hairs over the Father, Son and Spirit?

According to the ancient creeds on which the Church of England is founded, the answer’s yes! Do you know the creeds? There are 3 of them in particular. You’ll be familiar with the first 2 – there’s the Apostle Creed which is the shortest, then the Nicene Creed, which we used last week.

And then there’s one that not many people know, partly because it’s too long, so it’s not read anymore! It’s the Athanasian Creed, and let me let you in on a secret – we’re a bunch of lawbreakers here! According to Law, it’s supposed to be read in church 13 times a year – not least on Trinity Sunday!

Let me just read you the first few lines of the Athanasian Creed:

“Whosoever will be saved: before all things it is necessary that he hold the [apostolic and universal] Faith. Which faith except every one do keep whole and undefiled: without doubt he shall perish everlastingly. And [that] Faith [that determines our eternal destinies] is this: That we worship one God in Trinity, and Trinity in unity; neither confounding the Persons; nor dividing the Substance.”

What do you think of this – believe in the Trinity or perish everlastingly? Is it a bit too strong? Too dogmatic? Well, hopefully you’ll see by the end of this sermon that the reality of the One God who is Father, Son and Holy Spirit is essential to our faith and salvation. That far from being some sort of academic theory about God, the Trinity is an exciting, heart-warming reality – life-giving Truth.

First of all, let’s just dispel a myth that’s been made popular by Dan Brown. In the Da Vinci Code, Dan Brown says that the Trinity was only invented in the 3rd Century AD by the emperor Constantine – implying that it’s a fairly new concept about God. Well, from our reading in Galatians, we see that Paul, writing in the 1st Century was already clear about the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Yet, it wasn’t even Paul nor John nor any of the other New Testament writers who invented the doctrine of the Trinity. The Trinity is way more ancient than the New Testament!

Look at the famous introduction to John’s gospel – vv1-2 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning.

The Word is one of Jesus’ many names. John takes us back in time, not just to the very beginning of the Bible, but to the very beginning of all things, and tells us that Jesus was right there with His Father before anything was created.

Quite often people think that Jesus only began to exist on the very first Christmas Day! No… He’s always existed. But as v14 puts it, Christmas or the Incarnation is when He was made flesh, when the Son of God became one of us.

And of course John hasn’t forgotten the Holy Spirit. It’s clear from Genesis 1v2 that the Spirit was also there. The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed. Before anything was created, there was nothing and no-one else.

But what were they doing before creation? Ever wondered that? One famous theologian answered, “Preparing hell for those who ask questions like this!”

Well, we’ve got to disagree with that theologian on this because Jesus did actually share that information with us! In John 17v24 Jesus tells us that the Father was loving Him [in the Spirit] before the creation of the world.

Then at some point in eternity past, the Father, Son and Holy Spirit decided to create the heavens and the earth, and us! In Genesis Chapter 1, when God created everything, there’s a phrase that’s repeated throughout – God said, “Let there be this or that…” and it was so. God created by speaking.

You know how when we speak, our words are carried along on our breath? In kinda the same but much more personal way, when the Father spoke creation into being, He sent His Word Jesus, who is carried along or empowered by His breath, the Holy Spirit.

Creation is a work of the Trinity – as Psalm 33v6 puts it – “By the Word of the LORD were the heavens made, the starry hosts by the breath [or Spirit] of His mouth.”

So John tells us in v3 – Through Him [Jesus, the Spirit-empowered Word] all things were made; without Him nothing was made that has been made. In Him was life, and that life was the Light of men.

There’s a really cool verse in Genesis 1 that let’s us in on what happened moments before Jesus made us. Genesis 1v26 – So Jesus has been busy creating for 6 days. Then at the end of the sixth day, just before He formed Adam from the dust and Eve from Adam to finish of His work of creation, there’s a bit of a pause and a little discussion went on between the Father, Son and Holy Spirit: God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over everything.”

This conversation between the Trinity explains who we are, what it means for us to be human. Without a clear understanding of the Trinity, we won’t really understand what it means for us to be members of the human race.

We were created to be like the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. This is one big reason why it was not good for Adam to be alone. On his own, Adam could never reflect the loving relationship between the Persons of the Trinity. This is why the LORD took Eve out of Adam’s side and created them to have children… so that together, as a human race – whether we’re married, single, have kids or not – together we can reflect the loving unity between the persons of the Trinity.

No man or woman is an island. I googled “I am my own man” and found that loads of famous people have used this phrase. It’s a proud cry of individualism and autonomy. Who I am does not depend on other people. My life is about doing what I want. It’s about self-fulfilment.

Well, it’s because of such selfish individualism that there are so many broken relationships and animosity everywhere – between family members right up to between nations in the world. Individualism is a denial of who we are and worst still, a denial of the relational Trinity who created us to be like Them. We cannot find ourselves by looking within ourselves… but outside to others… And ultimately, we find ourselves, we become who we really are only by looking to the Triune God.

This is why the Father, Son and Spirit carried out the project of creation in the first place and made us like them. So that we can participate in that divine fellowship in the most intimate way, that we may know them and share in the love that they have for each other. In Genesis 2v7 we see how tender and loving and intimate Jesus was with us when He made us. We were handmade by Him and He breathed the Spirit of life into us.

We often hear people talking about having a personal relationship with God – as opposed to just knowing about Him. Think about the huge difference between knowing about the Queen and actually knowing her. But imagine if Prince Charles came to us and introduced us to her. You’d get to know her personally – Not sure that’s what everyone wants!

The awesome reality is that the Father Almighty hasn’t just given us interesting details about Himself. The otherwise unknowable Father has sent His Son to make Himself known to us!

John1v18 – No-one has ever seen God [that’s the Father], but God the One and Only Begotten [this is God the Son], who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.

Now this raises a question about the Old Testament. John says that no one has ever seen God. But in the Old Testament, loads of people see God face to face – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua and so on. They talk with Him, ate with Him, and Jacob even wrestled with Him.

The second bit of v18 explains this apparent contradiction. It’s not the Father whom they met, but the Only Begotten Son. Whenever people meet with God in the Old Testament, it’s Jesus whom they’re meeting with. So for example, in Genesis 15 we see that it’s specifically the Word of the LORD – Jesus – who took Abraham outside to look at the stars.

Anyway, in the Old and New Testaments, just as with creation, the Father has always only revealed Himself through the Son who is sent in the power of the Holy Spirit.

But what does it mean for us to know the Triune God?

John 1v12-13 – to all who received Jesus, to those who believe in His name, He gave the right to become children of God – children born not of natural descent, not of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God – Born again by the Holy Spirit.

And this is what creation and salvation is about – us being part of God’s family. Quite often we only think of salvation in terms of being saved from sin, death and hell, and to live forever in heaven. These things are awesome but not an end in themselves.

Take a look at John 17v3 – “This is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”

Salvation is not just about escaping from hell to live forever. It’s about being rescued to participate in the family life of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit forever. If you’re not a Christian, this is what the Father longs for you to be part of, this is why Jesus died for you.

The only begotten Son of the Father has become one of us – He became our own flesh and blood. He’s not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters. Galatians chapter 4vv5-7 – through Jesus we have received the full rights of sons and daughters. Because you are sons [and daughters], God sent the Spirit of His Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” So you are no longer a slave, but beloved children.

We relate to God Most High in the same way that Jesus relates to Him. We call Him Father, just as Jesus calls Him Father.

Now one question that reveals whether or not this truth has sunk deep down is this: “How does God feel about you today?” Our natural instincts is to look within ourselves and evaluate whether or not we’ve done good or bad things, whether or not we’ve read the Bible etc… And I don’t know, maybe right now, some of us might even think that God must be pleased with us because we’re all at church… and He’ll be extra-pleased when we give some money later on.

For others among us, we just can’t believe that God is pleased with us or that He loves us even now – we know how sinful we are and we just haven’t done enough for Him. Well, the solution is not to give more or do more. If this is how we think, then we’re thinking more like slaves instead of as children.

Let’s just spend a few moments in John 17 thinking this through. John 17 from v23. Jesus is praying for all believers, as the heading tells us. He’s pouring His heart out to His Father before He’s arrested and crucified. Can you imagine, even then, His concern is for us.

He prays – “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am, and to see my glory, the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world. Righteous Father, though the world does not know you, I know you, and they know that you have sent me. I have made you known to them, and will continue to make you known in order that the love you have for me may be in them and that I myself may be in them.”

So how does God feel about you today? If you do not belong to Jesus, then you are not His brother or sister, you’re not a son or daughter of the Father in heaven, and you do not have the Spirit of sonship. And of course outside of Jesus, outside of Him who is life and light, there can only be death and darkness.

But if we’ve trusted in Jesus, then the Father cannot possibly be more pleased with us or love us more. Remember when Jesus was baptised? The Spirit descended upon Jesus and the Father spoke from heaven, “You are my son, whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.”

Well, the same Spirit that rested on Jesus rests on us right now. In John 16vv14-15, Jesus tells us about the Spirit’s work – He will bring glory to me by taking from what is mine and making it known to you. All that belongs to the Father is mine. That is why I said the Spirit will take from what is mine and make it known to you.

What is it that belongs to Jesus that the Spirit brings to us? Yes, everything that is created – we are co-heirs with Christ. But more than that – more precious than anything else, is the Father’s love for Jesus. And this divine love which exclusively belonged to Jesus has been given to us. We have full rights as sons and daughters.

If we’ve trusted in Jesus, whether we’re at our best behaviour or worst, even in the midst of our most hideous sins, the Father’s words to Jesus remains true for us as well. So listen to the Father’s words to you from heaven itself – “You are my son and daughter whom I love. With you I am well-pleased.”

Jesus, the Word whom the Father sent in power of the Holy Spirit to create us, to reveal Himself to us and to save us has accomplished everything. He has returned to His Father’s side. And He has not returned empty. He has brought us, His own flesh and blood, back with Him to His Father’s side – the place of divine love and intimacy.

Right now, eternal life has begun for us who know the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. And one day, Jesus will be sent again, and then we will see Him as well as the Father and Spirit face to face, and live with them in unbroken, undefiled fellowship forever in the family home that is being prepared for us.

In the mean time, do you long to mature as a Christian? If so, it’s not about forcing yourself to do and accomplish more. If you try this, everything you do will be done as slaves – reluctantly, out of fear. And no matter how much you do, you’ll never actually be secure. There won’t be joy but resentment.

To mature as a Christian, don’t try and do things to make God more pleased with you. Instead, spend time enjoying the relationship that we already have with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

How? Read the Bible – not because “you have to or else you’re a wretched Christian!” But because these Spirit-inspired words lead us to Jesus, and through Him, to the Father. If the LORD is whom we delight in and long for, He will give us this desire of our hearts. And then, as we grow in the Trinity’s love for us and our love for them, almost without realizing it, the reality of the Trinity will shape who we are and our relationships – and how we speak, think, and act. The spreading love and goodness of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit will then overflow from us to the rest of the world.

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Brokenness necessary to Repentance?

If repentance is to be defined as a change of mind - primarily about God rather than of self
e.g. the prodigal son - when he thinks of God as Father rather than slave-driver

then brokenness of self is a necessary requirement to this sort of repentance
brokenness therefore is a realisation that what self has done is going nowhere

it is the grace of God in the cross of Christ that causes repentance

so what causes brokenness?

well in the prodigal son - it is the famine
the withdrawal of blessings to anyone else except those under the Son - cf. Joseph - prince of Egypt

therefore it is the Father demonstrating His lasting blessing through the church under Christ that causes brokenness in the world
or put another way - the light of the church that exposes the darkness in the world

here perhaps is the corporate dimension of repentance - the necessary involvement of the church - as the Father is pleased to do - the experience of the Church of the grace that is in Christ proclaims the void that is in the world that has run away from Him

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

What should a minister be like?

Thanks to Reeves' table talk on Spurgeon:

"Give me the man around whom the children come, like flies around a honey-pot: they are first-class judges of a good man. When Soloman was tried by the Queen of Sheba, as to his wisdom, the rabbies tell us that she brought some artificial flowers with her, beautifully made and delicately scented, so as to be facsimiles of real flowers. She asked Solomon to discover which were artificial and which were real. The wise man bade his servants open the window, and when the bees come in they flew at once to the natural flowers, and cared nothing for the artificial. So you will find that children have their instincts, and discover very speedily who is their friend, and depend upon it the children’s friend is the one who will be worth knowing. Have a good word to say to each and every member of the family—the big boys, and the young ladies, and the little girls, and everybody. No one knows what a smile and a hearty sentence may do. A man who is to do much with men must love them, and feel at home with them. An individual who has no geniality about him had better be an undertaker, and bury the dead, for he will never succeed in influencing the living. I have met somewhere with the observation nthat to be a popular preacher one must have bowels. I fear that the observation was meant as a mild criticism upon the bulk to which certain brethren have attained: but there is truth in it. A man must have a great heart if he would have a great congregation. His heart should be as capacious as those noble harbours along our coast, which contain se-room for a fleet. When a man has a large, loving heart, men go to him as ships to a haven, and feel at peace when they have anchored under the lee of this friendship. Such a man is hearty in private as well as in public; his blood is not cold and fishy, but he is warm as your own fireside. No pride and selfishness chill you when you approach him; he has his doors all open to receive you, and you are at home with him at once. Such men I would persuade you to be, every one of you."

Displaying the Gospel the way Creation does

How should we display the gospel in the world?

Maybe it should be the way like the rest of God's creation does
everything proclaims the gospel in itself - assuming it is doing what God created it to do
(that is to say, you can have errant animals)

Thus in our actions, we should come to the point where we proclaim the gospel in all our actions
from character, to talents - i.e. in our gentle demeaner or in our architecture, in our patience or in our choice of food

of course almost no one would ever see Jesus like this - but neither does anyone see Jesus in creation

it is then the spoken Word of God that illuminates all our actions - whenever the opportunity presents itself
therefore it does not mean we do not do them in and of themselves - we are always to be proclaiming our Father regardless of whether other people get it or not

I think this will get rid of the mindset of 'aggressive evangelism', where it is about how much we are 'getting out there' and witnessing, rather than just enjoying God's work in and through us on a daily basis

Sunday, 19 June 2011

Application-Based Preaching is Impersonal Preaching

To give someone a list of applications to do for this week in his life is at the heart of an impersonal gospel, with an impersonal Saviour

if I preach to 1000 people, which is the size of my church, who am I to state I know the 1000 life situations of their heart

I may get a general sense of things through the Spirit, and at best I can give corporate application to move the church in a single direction

but the Spirit of God searches the heart - therefore it is my duty simply to present Christ - the Spirit will personally apply this relationship to each individual as He sees fit

thus my sermons don't have to be 'remembered' but merely in line with the Spirit, moving people to Christ - regardless if they remember the exact words used - but only they are left feeling strangely moved to the Scriptures that they may seek Him - as He personally interacts with them

How do we view ourselves?

We are not our gifts - they can be given  & taken away

We are not our job / work / activity - these can change and also be given and taken away

We are Sons of God pre-destined in Christ to be conformed into His image

therefore - all my work, if done according to the call of God - is how God ministers to me and through me to make me and others like Christ

all my gifts both given and taken away are the same

I am defined solely by my relationship with my Father through Jesus
and it is the giving and taking away, the vocating and re-vocating that will make that a reality in my experience

in all things God is teaching me, drawing me to Him -
John 6:29  "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent."

none of the gifts/ work /activities - have intrinsic value in themselves other than the Father's use of them for us through Jesus - through His Holy Spirit
when we remove the Spiritual aspect of these materials./gifts./ activities - it is to kill them - make them tools of death alone

Friday, 17 June 2011

Another Wedding Sermon

Samuel & Danielle’s Wedding

Passage: Genesis 1:27, 2:18, 23

Good morning, shall we pray:

Well, it is an honour to be here. I am very privileged to be invited by Sam and Danielle to speak at their wedding day. My wife, Chene and I only wish we had a bit more time to spend together.

Sam and I didn’t use to be very close although we grew up in this very church. I guess where we really began to know one another a bit better was back in 2005, when I had organized a little Bible study on Genesis 1-3. I didn’t actually know if anyone would turn up at all, but Samuel did. That’s the reason we decided on these verses that we just read.

Let me read you a bit of his own testimony from 3 years ago:

The study of Genesis 1-3 changed my perception of God. I saw that God was a personal God through His Son Jesus Christ, who is the light that was there from the beginning, who shone into a world of darkness.

That changed life is the reason Sam is standing here with Danielle now. So what was it Sam saw, that changed his life? Well let’s take a look at Genesis 1:

So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. (Genesis 1:27, KJV).

We, the human race, were made in the image of God, and after we were made, He said that it was good. What does that mean, what are we supposed to be like? Well one of the things you’d notice straight away, is that He created mankind both male and female. You see the God of the Bible, the Creator God is not some solitary Person. Otherwise all He’d have made is one other person when He made the earth. No the God of the Bible tells us that He is Three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit that have had a fantastically loving relationship with one another since eternity. And so it is not surprising that when this community-based God creates humanity in His image, He creates a race that is completely based on being in relationships with one another – and that is destined to multiply and to grow those relationships - to fill the earth with His goodness.

We see that idea again, in the next chapter Genesis 2, where after God came down to form the first man Adam out of the very dust of the earth, He takes a look at what He has made, then says this about him:

... "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him." (Genesis 2:18, ESV)

There was something not quite right when Adam was made – no, he wasn’t made with any flaws - he didn’t have anything wrong with his body, or his mind, or his soul. No what was wrong was not what was inside him, what was wrong was that he was lacking a helper – a companion who would be completely suitable for him, much like a key to a lock – she would fit him perfectly. She would quite literally turn him on – it’s no wonder when God makes the first woman, Eve from Adam’s own body – he says to her – Wow!

This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh." (Genesis 2:23, ESV)

This is awesome – Woman! Then and only then after putting Adam and Eve together, the Lord God said – it was very good!

That is what it means to be made in the image of the Living God, where the Father and the Son love one another so completely so wonderfully, through the Holy Spirit.  We were made to be in this kind of relationships – and not only in these relationships with one another, but in the same kind of engaging, compatible, forever relationship with God – through His Son Jesus Christ. Isn’t that a wonderful plan for humanity?

Yet Adam and Eve, well they didn’t believe that. They didn’t trust Him, that He already loved them, and wanted to be in relationship with them. They thought that they needed to prove how good they were as human beings - to prove that they were smarter than one another, or stronger, or richer, or more beautiful or even more religious - to even prove to God Himself that they were worth His time and effort. They did not believe that they would only find out who they were meant to be when they became the helpers, the servants and the lovers of God and of each other.

Sam has had a taste of that in his own life. Again this is from his testimony:

In 2005, I was asked to lead in my church’s youth camp. I took the plunge to discover to my horror that all these years, I thought I had led a pretty good Christian life, I went to church, I prayed, I gave tithes, I sang praise songs, I lived in a church, even taught in a Sunday school class and did all the things a “good” Christian should do... I asked myself, how much can I keep on going living a lie.

Sam, like many of us thought, that what He needed to do was to prove to God and others that he was a good person. Yet, as he found out through that one week of Genesis studies: “I realise my gauge of goodness as a Christian was a pathetic picture of my pride and sinfulness...“

He was trying so hard to fit into what he thought he should do. After all he is a pastor’s son! Yet he didn’t realise that all he should ‘do’, is let Jesus love him, and when he realised that: “This was when I embraced Jesus as someone whom I could have a relationship with, who understood our every need, weakness and temptation.” Sam finally understood that the very reason he was made in God’s image was that he was made to be loved and to love – and that would make him very good indeed.

Danielle felt that in her own life too – as she was sharing with me. She had a difficult time growing up, she felt that to be accepted among her peers, she had to depend on her appearance, as we all can see - she’s very pretty. She thought that people would only love her if she looked good. And so she had some pretty bad experiences, some of which were her fault, and a number was the fault of others – I can’t give you any details here, but I’m sure if you asked her – she might tell you. But in her own words she said, “I ended up being disillusioned in my appearance – I felt my body just became a tool” – she felt she was not being loved, but being used. That’s what sin does to us all, as we reject God’s love, we no longer feel loved. As much as we try to prove ourselves, we end up feeling like tools, to be used by others.

But thank God, she met some Christian friends at a camp, who began to love her a little bit, and she felt accepted and wanted to meet personally with the God who enabled them to love. She joined the OM ships - that’s where she met Sam – because she was that desperate to meet with this God Who was spreading out, multiplying this goodness, through His beloved people.

That is where our handsome bridegroom, Sam, stepped into her life. They met as they were doing Bible study together on board the ship, and after about 8 or 9 months as friends. Sam, being the techie he is, sent her an email with 2 questions:

“Do you love Jesus above all else & do you want to make our journey official?” Now if that seems a bit strange, perhaps what was stranger – is that Danielle didn’t sleep for 2 weeks after she read that – not because of Sam’s proposal – but because of the first part of that question. “Do you love Jesus above all else?”

Their relationship got off to a rough start, Danielle told him that she was a mess as a person, and she was independent and never wanted to get married – but deep down it was because she was so afraid of being used again, she thought it would be better to be left alone.

Sam initially tried to fix Danielle, to make things right with suggestions on what to do. But after a while he stopped – nothing was working. And he remembered, what really needed to change was the knowledge that Jesus loved her. So instead of fixing her himself, he starting waiting patiently, and praying for her – that Jesus would show His love to her. Danielle responded, “I put him down time and time again, but he didn’t leave, he was so patient, so nice, just encouraging and praying”. Then she thought, if Sam is like this, then what must Jesus be like?

Sam by doing that you have shown to all of us - God’s answer to our rejection of His loving relationship. That is the good news of the Christian faith. God so loved the world – his children – that He sent His Son Jesus, to come along-side us – to be that helper-companion that we always needed. To wait lovingly with open arms, to a people who would put Him down and reject Him time and time again – to people who would even kill Him. Danielle – we thank you that you didn’t end up killing Sam.

The answer to sin, to rejection of love – is the offer of love given in marriage, by the great bridegroom of the universe – Jesus Christ. Jesus came and to a bruised and broken world in darkness, shone like a brilliant warm light, just like He did way back in the beginning, in Genesis 1 – and said to us – will you marry me?

Sam finally proposed when they left the ship – why he waited till then is because you’re not really allowed to marry when you are serving on that ship, it’s a special rule they have. But the minute they got off onto terra firma – in a secret plot with her sister – he brought Danielle to her favourite childhood place in Northern Ireland, Rathlin Island – and proposed, this time not by email, but face-to-face. And in response, that was the first time Danielle said “I love you”. And they told me that day – there was a ray of sunshine, and 6 rainbows.

What a story eh? And it’s true, and it’s even more true than you think. Why? Because that is the story of reality itself. As we know from every love story ever told – we want to be loved – that is what we were made for – to be loved. And so often, we waste our lives trying to prove both to God and to others that they should love us because we are smart, or hardworking, or we vote for PAP, or we are rich or beautiful. And where does that bring us? Nowhere – people only end up liking us because of those things, not because of who we are. The only One who can love us for who we really are is the One who made us and the one who died for us – Jesus. Once Sam knew Jesus loved him, He could spread that goodness to love Danielle. The only reason you and I exist is to be loved by Him – that is why He made us in His image.

Sam and Danielle, as I finish, this is the calling for your marriage. I know both of you are in media, they take photos and make movies, but this time you are the media. You are now a picture, an image, a movie to be watched by a world of cynical critics! People will look at you to find out the meaning of their lives. But you need to watch out, the same sin that turned you away from God in the beginning, will still be at work in your marriage. Sam that sin will make you want to overpower Danielle, I know she has a little height advantage, but you will want to clench your fist at her and make her listen to you to prove your worth. And Danielle, when you want him to listen to you will try by your looks or emotions to seduce Sam, to force him to do things that you want. To say, I’m worth your love. But the minute you do that – that emptiness, that feeling of being used – will set in again, it will eat away what you’ve worked so hard to build today. Don’t let it. Love one another, serve one another, submit to one another – be each other’s helper-companion – just as Jesus is loving, serving and leading you.

And as you love one another, you will do what God commanded us to do in the first place – to multiply – to fill the whole earth. Yes, one way is that you could have that many children, but no, it also means that as you love one another – that love, like the love that God the Father has with His Son, will overflow – it will be a spreading goodness. It will spill into the lives of others and help us remember what we were made for.

Do you here today with us remember what you were made for? You were designed to be loved by Jesus – it’s something we so quickly forget...  and our lives become hollow and empty. So now I invite you all to look at them, the happy couple, and remember this is what we were made for – this kind of love, this kind of married life with Jesus Christ. And that is very good.

Let us pray.