Sunday, April 24, 2011

'Afraid yet filled with joy'

This morning I am preaching on Matthew 28 v 8

....'.afraid yet filled with joy'...

In my reading this week I found this quote by Tolstoy. If death is the end, then there is despair indeed but if Christ is risen joy is on offer. Why go for anything less.

"My question- that which at the age of fifty brought me to the verge of suicide – was the simplest of questions lying in the soul of every man…..a question without an answer to which one cannot live. It was: “What will come of what I am doing today or tomorrow? What will come of my whole life? Why should I live, why wish for anything, or do anything?” It can also be expressed thus: is there meaning in my life that the inevitable death awaiting me does not destroy?"

Leo Tolstoy 'A confession'

[Tim Keller 'The Reason for God']

Why not join with Gladys Knight in singing 'For my redeemer liveth'.

He is risen indeed!

Saturday, April 23, 2011


Who is invited to join in the kingdom of God?

“The flunk-outs and drop-outs and burned-outs. The broke and the broken. The drug heads and the divorced. The HIV-positive and herpes-ridden. The brain-damaged, the incurably ill. The barren and the pregnant too-many-times or at the wrong time. The overemployed, the underemployed, the unemployed. The unemployable. The swindled, the shoved aside, the replaced. The parents with children living on the street, the children with parents not dying in the “rest” home. The lonely, the incompetent, the stupid. The emotionally starved or emotionally dead. And on and on and on.

Is it true that “Earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal?” It is true!…

Jesus offers to all such people as these the present blessedness of the present kingdom—regardless of circumstances…

Even the moral disasters will be received by God as they come to rely on Jesus, count on him, and make him their companion in his kingdom. Murderers and child-molesters. The brutal and the bigoted. Drug lords and pornographers. War criminals and sadists. Terrorists. The perverted and the filthy and the filthy rich…

Can’t we feel some sympathy for Jesus’ contemporaries, who huffed at him, “This man is cordial to sinners, and even eats with them!” Sometimes I feel I don’t really want the kingdom to be open to such people. But it is. That is the heart of God…

If I, as a recovering sinner myself, accept Jesus’ good news, I can go to the mass murderer and say, “You can be blessed in the kingdom of the heavens. There is forgiveness that knows no limits.” To the pederast and the perpetrator of incest. To the worshiper of Satan. To those who rob the aged and weak. To the cheat and the liar, the bloodsucker and the vengeful: Blessed! Blessed! Blessed! As they flee into the arms of The Kingdom Among Us.”

-Dallas Willard, The Divine Conspiracy


Via J R Briggs

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPhone

Saturday blog-sweep

Rowan on the Royal Wedding

Why Good Friday?


Some advice for writers (H/T Dash House)

Keller on preaching

Note to self

A response to Ricky Gervais and his Easter message

A portrait of Christ

Cranmer on Reforming the Monarchy

72 Simpsons

Thursday, April 21, 2011

How do you reap a harvest this Easter?

I am not sure I have tremendously profound thoughts on this but if I were to sum it up I would say one word.


We are planning as a church to pray through the whole night (7pm to 7am) tonight for everyone and everything.

However, there are other things you can do of course particularly if you preach and Steve Furtick has some thoughts for you if you are involved in church things this weekend.

I love this chappy because he is passionate, passionate, passionate about reaching the lost with the Gospel.

There is a Part  1 and a Part 2

One of our number is using the film below to encourage us to pray in his hour slot during the night. It is quite simply beautiful. Take five- watch it on full screen- and use the time to PRAY- maybe even for some pals who you might like to invite to church. Then take courage and ask them to come and hear about what Jesus has done for them.

I am breaking the guitar out to lead worship between 4 and 5. Be afraid, be very afraid:)

An atheist who wants to see more generous evangelism

Someone sent me this and although I have posted it before it seems worth posting again. Penn Gillette is an internationally famous magician and an atheist.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Some bits and bobs

Crazy love has had a mention or two here and one of our groups has been blessed using it. The study material comes with a Study DVD and we are using a clip from the last session on Good Friday on what it means to be born again.

Friends went on holiday and all they listened to was the new album by Noah and the Whale for a week.

Another friend has lent me Of Gods and men and is the second person who has said it is one of the best films they have ever seen.

Someone put Praying successfully through my door with encouragement for me to read Pages 19-24. It is such a blessing when things like that happen.

If you haven't listened to Getting out yet it is a master class in good preaching from the Old Testament.

Redeemer City to City have a new website with more resources on it than you can shake a stick at.

What Is Redeemer City to City? from Redeemer City to City on Vimeo.

(H/T S. McCoy)

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

C S Lewis: The inner ring

I have been mulling on a thought for a few weeks.

Part of the experience of life is trying to find out where you find your place. Almost no sooner than you can walk you discover there are people who are 'in' and people who are 'out'. As least this is how the world manufactures things. A five year old has a birthday party but who shall they invite? Twenty five in the class and only ten places. Will it be the child who sets the invitation agenda or the parents who discern they would like certain people at the school gate to be there and certain ones not. This continues as we get older and at school we sort ourselves into the cool and uncool, sporty and non, bright and stupid, beautiful and ugly, jock and nerd. All the teenage movies ever made are the working out of this reality of whether or not the protagonists will find themselves defined by either of these groups or be delivered into something  bigger and more meaningful. This continues into work, parenthood and retirement too as the world jostles to get itself 'in' on the 'in'.

Recently I read the ten books a pastor should own which got me thinking. Near the top of my own list would be the essays of  C S Lewis which only recently I have been dipping into again. Lewis has a way of capturing a truth that is uncanny at times and this is made all the more extraordinary when you think he was writing midway through the last century. I confess the first thing I did upon arrival at Oxford for Vicar studies was walk to the Eagle and Child to drink a pint of warm bitter and read The Four loves. I know it's corny but there you go. Anyway, I read an essay called The inner ring a week or two ago by Lewis [ take time to read this slowly before you go on] and something in my musing on what I now go on to describe clicked. Lewis gave me astounding insight into a recent experience.

The gospel should above all be good news. Those who have understood grace see that we are no longer defined by our own external identity produced by effort and appearance or association but by the action of God himself dying for us on the cross. Grace is a gift to be received not a product to be sold. Grace invites, melts and includes and it does so because it is free but never cheap. If we try to commodify the gospel and make it glint in the sun to attract a crowd, the real danger is all we will attract are the magpies. Magpies come not to give but to get. We all have a tendency to be Christian magpies, myself most of all probably.

A while back our worship musicians and singers went off to an event and at the very last minute I tagged along. It was billed as a 'worship event' and I love to worship God so it seemed like a great evening was in prospect. It was held at a venue that for many years I used to go and see rock bands so right from the off my inner world was a bit confused. The Clash, The Jam and the Smiths had all played there. My 'old man' as Stott would call it had all sorts of  memories of visiting venues like this and I wondered what was hoped would be the benefit of 'worship' in such a place. Maybe it took the worship performers into a place of their rock dreams but for me it returned me to my sin-soaked nightmares. I had to buy a ticket on the door (£9) which as I paid for it seemed rather a lot. I don't begrudge paying a bit but it cost me about that much to see the Smiths in 1984.

One of the skills that a lovely man we called 'Uncle Geoff' taught me at Vicar Factory was the process of theological reflection. This is the process of reflecting ...'on the practices of the church as they interact with the practices of the world with a view to ensuring faithful participation in the continuing mission of the triune God" (Swinton). That's a clever way of saying we should ask the question "What's really going on and what is God doing?" As we entered the venue I surprised myself by turning to one of our worshippers  and saying, "Reflect on tonight- tell me what you see and what you feel and what God is saying then we will chat about it afterwards".

Not minutes after this, I led my small band up the stairs of the the venue only to be stopped by a T-shirted girl branded up with the name of a church.

Here was her question to me:

"Are you a V.I.P?"

I am not often silenced but I was by this.

I must have looked so stunned that she thought I hadn't heard.

"Are you a V.I.P?" she asked again.

She asked it of all of us.

In this moment, I wanted to preach the whole of chapter eight of Romans to assure her I was indeed a V. I.P as were the band of wonderful saints who stood behind me. Instead I replied,

"I fear by your definition of V. I. P we may not qualify"

Indeed we didn't.

"You'll have to stand at the back then"

This dear girl's question has gone to the top of my "Things Jesus never said" list and ranks right up there with one of Bill Hybel's axioms "Hire tens".

"Are you a V I P?" is a dreadful question. Truly awful.

This is the inner ring personified.

As we all stood in a row at the back, my dear worshippers all with rather long faces, the lovely warm-hearted man on the stage who looked uncannily like Morrissey did in 1984 (pointy shoes, drainpipe jeans and spikey hair - funny how fashion comes full circle) tried to enthuse us with lots of clapping and whooping. None of us felt much like it surprisingly. If there was an 'in' and and 'out' we were left in no doubt which we were. I simply couldn't get the question out of my head.

Let me be clear, the evening had many things to commend it and most of us there are secure enough in Jesus to know we are 'in' - V. I. P or not. The gospel was wonderfully preached by a larger than life grace-saturated Greek man who made me cry as he spoke and I have no doubt most there are wonderful passionate followers of Jesus. I know it to be so. In fact, we now sing one of the songs from that evening in our church and it is a great blessing.  Here is my point. I am concerned when there is such an overt articulation of an inner ring in the church. All tribes have inner rings and many are jostling to be in them and all of us are seduced by the power of association (church leaders are not-exluded from this-far from it sadly) but to put voice to this reality with such a question should sound an alarm. The world has this of course, but the church should and must be something different. If I were to have a tribe this might be one I would join- I love its passion for the lost- and these are some words of caution over what may be happening perhaps without anyone having noticed. As Peterson wrote to the American Church "Baal culture in the American Church" I want to suggest that when the church is asking questions like "Are you a V.I.P?" it may at some point have unwittingly taken a turn in the wrong direction. My friend was able to feedback this thought to the events inner ring so this post is happily not now news to them and is why I have let some time elapse before reflecting on it. He was as surprised as me.

I leave you with some words of an elder statesman of another tribe, Don Carson, whose words seem to cut a prophetic edge:

"In an age increasingly suspicious of (linear) thought, there is much more respect for the “feelings” of things - whether a film or a church service. It is disturbingly easy to plot surveys of people, especially young people, drifting from a church of excellent preaching and teaching to one with excellent music because, it is alleged, there is “better worship” there. But we need to think carefully about this matter. Let us restrict ourselves for the moment to corporate worship. Although there are things that can be done to enhance corporate worship, there is a profound sense in which excellent worship cannot be attained merely by pursuing excellent worship. In the same way that, according to Jesus, you cannot find yourself until you lose yourself, so also you cannot find excellent corporate worship until you stop trying to find excellent corporate worship and pursue God himself. Despite the protestations, one sometimes wonders if we are beginning to worship worship rather than worship God. As a brother put it to me, it’s a bit like those who begin by admiring the sunset and soon begin to admire themselves admiring the sunset.
This point is acknowledged in a praise chorus like “Let’s forget about ourselves, and magnify the Lord, and worship him.” The trouble is that after you have sung this repetitious chorus three of four times, you are no farther ahead. The way you forget about yourself is by focusing on God—not by singing about doing it, but by doing it. There are far too few choruses and services and sermons that expand our vision of God—his attributes, his works, his character, his words. Some think that corporate worship is good because it is lively where it had been dull. But it may also be shallow where it is lively, leaving people dissatisfied and restless in a few months’ time. Sheep lie down when they are well fed (cf. Psalm 23:2); they are more likely to be restless when they are hungry. “Feed my sheep,” Jesus commanded Peter (John 21); and many sheep are unfed. If you wish to deepen the worship of the people of God, above all deepen their grasp of his ineffable majesty in his person and in all his works.
We do not expect the garage mechanic to expatiate on the wonders of his tools; we expect him to fix the car. He must know how to use his tools, but he must not lose sight of the goal. So we dare not focus on the mechanics of corporate worship and lose sight of the goal. We focus on God himself, and thus we become more godly and learn to worship—and collaterally we learn to edify one another, forbear with one another, challenge one another. "

(H/T Challies)

Monday, April 18, 2011


"You are defined by the legacy, life and the fruit that comes out of you"

"Get a job and a Bible"

"God wants his glory to shine through you [men]"

"A man is a giver not a consumer"

"A man is an evangelist who makes it his life's work to introduce others to Jesus"

"You [men] should be looking for the path to the greatest glory of God"

"The Holy Spirit"

"The Holy Spirit"

"The Holy Spirit"

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Romans: an update

Some months ago now I listened to a sermon called 'Romans: an introduction' and it awakened in me a desire to totally immerse myself in this letter. I have encouraged others to listen to this sermon and it has only had limited impact but one or two have joined me. So I realise I am rather alone on this adventure and today I come up for air at the half way point (126 sermons) in 'The Greatest Letter ever written'. Most mornings first thing I have hit the play button to be captivated afresh by the next instalment of the gospel. It's hard to put this experience into words.

Romans has been an important letter for me. It was the letter God used to call me to preach as I read it over and over again while fly fishing in Patagonia. That was nearly a decade ago. Before that, I heard the letter taught by my Vicar on five evenings and many things from those talks have stuck with me. One thing that he said in the first talk I have recalled recently. He told us we would be studying Chapters 1-8 and then he said laughing ..'because to be honest I don't think I really understand 9-11'. Those may not have been the exact words but I have always remembered them. He was joking of course, but if John couldn't understand them what hope was there for me so consequently I never even bothered to try understanding nine to eleven. Most in the church, if they are familiar with Romans at all, never get further than eight and even then this knowledge is often selective. The complexity of Paul discussions about how God relates to the Jews is too much for most. So I come at this next section with trepidation and excitement in equal measure. My pal Matt has a great passion for this section of Scripture so we did spend some time chewing on bits of it at Vicar Factory but it seems its now time for the sit-down meal.

The sermon called 'The absolute sovereignty of God: What is Romans nine about?' will start you off.

I commend this so heartily that if I could make you sit down to listen to it I would in the hope that you might choose to join me for nine to eleven. I know, you've missed the first eight but don't worry you can hop on the bus at nine.

A text I received from someone after they listened to this talk:

"Listened to Piper......WOW.....think I am going to have to carry on with 9, 10 and 11"

Here is my recommendation.

1. Download the talks
2. Find a time and stick with it (early mornings, your commute, when you walk the dog, when you lunch, when you drive, when you have put the kids down for a sleep, when you do the ironing or tidy the house, when you exercise or last thing at night). There is time. There is.
3. Pray as you listen.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Angry God or an Angry Bird?

Anyone who has spent any time in the Christian blogosphere can not have failed to notice the massive debate that Rob Bell's book Love wins has caused. The extent of the debate has now propelled the discussion about hell to the cover of Time Magazine asking 'Is Hell dead?'.  Now, if you have sight of a magazine stand you are being included in this contemporary debate about heaven and hell.

My copy of Love wins arrived yesterday. It seems important to read it even though everyone and their dog has formed a view and shared it. This is probably the most comprehensive. As it happens, in our preaching through Acts it fell to me to preach on Acts 24 last Sunday on a verse that spoke about the wicked and the righteous. It has provided me with more sermon feedback than I have had in a while from young and old alike.

You might also like to listen to this important talk by Don Carson and its panel discussion.

As an amusing aside, the panel discussion starts with Kevin de Young saying he will be asking questions from his iphone. He says "Don't worry I'm not playing Angry birds". There is then a long pause and Tim Keller responds by saying, "What's Angry Birds?" This may go quite some way to explaining why he is one of the leading thinkers, pastors, preachers and writers of his generation......

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Tim Keller: Why we are all seeking a story

(H/T Justin Taylor)

If you want to listen to more Tim Keller he spoke this week at the Gospel Coalition about Getting out

Here is the other Gospel Coalition 2011 Conference media:

1. Studying the Scriptures and finding Jesus Al Mohler

2. From a foreigner to King Jesus Alistair Begg

3. Preaching Christ from the Old Testament: Panel Discussion

4. Not according to our sins James MacDonald

5. The Righteous Branch Conrad Mbewe

6. Youth Matt Chandler

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Why bother with blogging?

Who better to explain why on earth I persist with this ridiculous blog that only the few faithful read than Seth Godin and Tom Peters in this post called 'Blogging still matters in 2011'

The King's Cross

I have been reading the King's Cross by Tim Keller devotionally. It is a collection of sermons through the gospel of Mark and is wonderfully suited to prayerful and slow reflection over a month or two as I have been doing. There are so many treasures included in these pages.

"Most people in the world believe that if there is a God, you relate to God by being good. Most religions are based on that principle, though there are a million different variations on it. Some religions are what might be called nationalistic: You connect to God, they say, by coming into our people group and taking on the markers of society membership. Other religions are spiritualistic: You reach God by working your way through certain transformations of consciousness. Yet other religions are legalistic: There's a code of conduct, and if you follow it God will look upon you with favour. But they all have the same logic: If I perform, if I obey, I'm accepted. The gospel of Jesus is not only different from that it is diametrically opposed to it: I'm fully accepted in Jesus Christ, and therefore I obey"

(Page 39)

Monday, April 11, 2011

How do you manage the Twittering on?

Here are my thoughts on my fortnight on twitter and some tips on how to get started and I write this as I reflect on having just read the Next story. I know I am wonderfully behind the curve on all this tweeting business but there you go.

Here's the nub of it. We all get our information from somewhere (TV, Radio, Newspapers, other people, Libraries) and Twitter is a means of filtering all the information you want to expose yourself to into one place. My conclusion is that there are some very helpful things about twitter but there is also tons of waffle and blather that frankly is best avoided. Twitter at its best allows you to filter the noise and chaos of the internet into a stream of helpful and relevant information tailored to suit your interests and needs.

My step by step guide goes as follows:

1. Set up an account: This is easy and won't take you more than a few minutes

2. Download Echofon: If you are an iPhone user this gives you access to twitter, there are others but I think this is the best. You could use Hootsuite if you are a real social media junkie which I am not.

3. Follow a few people: I initially followed a range of folk and after two weeks most of them are not worth the bother and are soon to be culled. What I have found good is the range of people and websites who link to things you might be interested in (music, food, theology, arts, news and comment etc). All the major providers of information have sophisticated Twitter activities and once you get the hang of how it all works its a good medium (you just need to be sure to filter the message)

4. Sort into lists: This is absolutely key and enables you to filter the information as it flows to you. Without lists there is just a ton of noise (as on news feed on facebook and we all know how annoying that can be or maybe I am just grumpy). Once you have chunked your 'following' people and sites down by putting them into categories it enables you to check them selectively. Some tweets might warrant a daily look and some weekly or other v. infrequently or as need arises e.g when travelling for example.

My lists are:

a. News:  All the newspapers, Sky, the Economist, Time Magazine and the BBC stream news constantly. Twitter is far easier than checking individual websites.

b. Daily Quotes:  I have a select few on what I have called 'Daily Quotes'- these include Spurgeon, C S Lewis, Kellerdaily, Nicky Gumbel, Mark Driscoll, John Piper, Hudson Taylor, Jonathan Edwards, A W Tozer and Rick Warren.

c. Journalists: This is a mixed bag and the best journo's are not necessarily the best tweeters. You will have to discover for yourself.

d. Bloggers: Good bloggers generally but not always make good tweeters. I have lots of blogs in my google reader but the truth is there are only a dozen or so of these that I read consistently. I now find it easier to track these on twitter.

e. Tech news: Unsurprisingly tech is very big on twitter and there a lots of interesting people tweeting news on technology and links to geeky gadgets and websites.

f. Magazines:  There are endless mags you can subscribe to including Spectator, Prospect, Rolling Stone, Wired etc.

g. Christian Movements and Organsations: These are endless and include Green belt, The Resurgence, Desiring God, EA, Church Army, World Vision, Tear Fund.

The whole idea of getting followers is a bit lost on me. I couldn't care less if you follow me much as I don't mind if you do or don't read this blog. Personally, I would rather my twitter and blog were discovered. Life is truly exhausting and busy enough without concerning myself with twitter followers.

Do hear this- NOBODY cares how many followers anybody has on twitter or it that just me?

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Are you happy?

David Cameron wants to assess the nations happiness. It seems this largely depends on what you think should make you happy and whether we are meant to by 'happy' at all. Personally, I have opted for joy rather than happiness which is both unending and non-circumstantial.

Malcolm Muggeridge has some thoughts:

"Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful, with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my seventy-five years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my existence, has been through affliction and not through happiness, whether pursued or attained. In other words, if it ever were to be possible to eliminate affliction from our earthly existence by means of some drug or other medical mumbo jumbo . . . the result would not be to make life delectable, but to make it too banal or trivial to be endurable. This of course is what the cross [of Christ] signifies, and it is the cross more than anything else, that has called me inexorably to Christ."

 (Homemade, July, 1990)

Saturday, April 09, 2011

For the pod

Listening to Desert Island Disc is joy indeed and if you wonder where to start download Andy Kershaw and Ricky Gervais. Gervais is fascinating about his atheism- "For my mum God and Jesus were a free baby-sitter". 

Rich Nathan is brilliant on confession in When you finally deal with your sin

I drove to Center Parcs listening to the story of John Newton and somewhere about 75 mins in had a real moment of blessing and revelation. I wonder what John Newton would make of Center Parcs?

Saturday blog-sweep

The good news according to Jack Wills

Why don't I have joy?

If you don't have time to read the Next Story you might want to watch this.

Great managers reject the notion that trust must be earned

We're asking for a different kind of leadership

I bet this about twittering makes you smile.  There I told you it would.

The question of radical sacrifice

Moving beyond teachers and bosses

I loves lists and I love books so I enjoyed Ten books every pastor should own

Do we really believe what we are saying?

Wednesday, April 06, 2011


One of the joys of the blog is feedback when someone has been blessed by something I recommended. Resonate is a book all about presenting well. I had a decade of powerpoint which is probably enough. Sometimes people use it well, but more often than not they don't. My pal is one of those who knew he needed some inspiration over and above PPT and he found it reading this book. If you communicate in any way this might be the book you have been waiting to read. The author helps Steve Jobs with his presentations which isn't a bad CV.

In the book, Ben Zander is cited as a masterful communicator. Watch this and you will see why. If you communicate with an audience, preach to a congregation or a teach a child then buy this book.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Is this the finest sermon you have heard?

My pal a preacher and theologian and author of the best eschatology book I know listened to the sermon about 'Heaven and Hell' by Mark Driscoll that I sent him and then posted it on his facebook wall with these words:

...can I encourage you to listen to this recent talk by Mark Driscoll on heaven & hell - in some measure replying to Bell's new book Love Wins. I think its perhaps the finest sermon I have ever heard - we are on holy ground with this one.

It has prompted quite fierce debate on his wall as you might imagine and I thought I would post some of his comments in defence of why he posted it.

Perfection is a predicate of divinity so I dont expect perfection in any sermon from anyone. And yes, this is not the finest homilietical masterpiece and yes some statements are left open ended. But as a biblically grounded, heart felt, prophetic word from a man ablaze - I thought it incredible. He didnt "name n shame" - he let the text talk. It was not a lecture from a theologian - it was a sermon from a man on fire.

I think Driscoll at times has been provocative to the point of offensive - but this was not a point scoring exercise -here was a different Driscoll, a deeper, a weightier Driscoll. It was a profound proclamation from a man who'd set himself on fire and we watched him burn in the Holy Spirit. I didn't even agree with everything, indeed, my book on eschatology certainly shows I have more "hope" for those who've never heard the gospel but look to God and love the needy to be "included" in Christ. But it was anointed - if only our seminaries and pulpits across this land had men and women with the same fire in their souls, the same love for scripture and love for the lost.

fascinating responses - as always, Driscoll divides :) One of my most trusted friends, evangelical/charismatic background - now broader, a professional theologian, widely experienced in church ministry etc etc has just written me and told me he thought it the worst sermon and worst violation of the teaching office he'd heard in a very long time. It incensed him!! So i'm asking myself why I was so profoundly moved by it. I guess, 1)"Content" (in the main I agreed with him and some of it I thought he handles brilliantly) 2)"Courage" to say things uncompromisingly, hard things we dont like to hear in our post modern politically correct age, 3)"Conviction" he told us what he thought, he didn't mince his words, no "on the one hand on the other"; 4) "Charism" - I thought he was as anointed by the Spirit as any minister I'd seen in a long time. Im not simply talking about the power of his rhetoric or the bullishness of his alpha male ego - I sensed God speaking to me through him, pleading with me to plead with people to come to Christ, in John the Baptists' words to "flee from the wrath that is coming" Matt3:7.

I listened to the talk again early this morning and again, was profoundly moved. My pal's criticisms were over the handling of the specific texts by Driscoll, making them carry more weight than my pal thinks the texts employed can hold. He believed his exegesis was eisegesis. He also thought the style was manipulative, affected and bullying - he's not heard Driscoll before :) He also thought Driscoll made definitive statements without supporting them, and rejected other positions without showing how/why they were wrong. And, on one level, I think my pal has a point. But this was not a measured seminar or a lecture or a book chapter going point for point - it was prophetic challenge, a marker in the sand, a rebuke to creeping error, a trumpet sound - as Driscoll said, he was shouting house on Fire. And it was certainly more faithful to scripture than some of the latest published offerings on the subject of heaven n hell. As I listened again, I realised it was the last 10mins which really hit me, when Driscoll seemed anointed and it really precipitated a response in my heart. I haven't been so moved by a sermon in year - and i've given and heard several thousand. But this one got me!

If we took the plain meaning of scripture and the long held belief of the church: that for those who dont trust in Christ, a terrible destiny for their sin awaits after death, we would live more righteously, pray more passionately, witnessmore eagerly, invest in missions more sacrificially and not sleep so easily. We would certainly not construct God in our image and posit on him a mushy sentimental love which overrides his revealed holiness, righteousness, justice and wrath. Questions like "what about the eternal destiny of those who've never heard the gospel" aren't directly addressed in Scripture - but we are directly told that "all have sinned and fallen short of God's glory - and the wages of sin is death". We are told that those who believe wont be condemned, but those who dont believe already stand condemned". We are told to escape from the wrath that is coming". Whilst we may "hope" that the benefits of God's Son's death for sin will be extended beyond the narrow limits of our little little fraternity, we are not entitled to use this as an notion to avoid our responsibility to witness. Words cannot bear a greater reality than that which they convey. Heaven is far more glorious than words allow our minds to imagine. Hell is far more terrible than. Driscoll understands this. You may not like his style, his vocabulary, his beliefs, or his shirts:) but he is seeking to be faithful to Scripture, his conclusions are the obvious implications of Scripture, even if he doesnt demonstrate this , and Driscoll may not "in this semron" tie up all the lose ends and demonstrate how he got to those conclusions, but I believe, he's right!

My contribution was a Piper quote I  read recently that seemed to speak to the heart of the debate.

"IS NOT OUR most painful failure in the pastorate the inability to weep over the unbelievers in our neighborhoods and the carnal members of our churches? A great hindrance to our ministry is the gulf between our Biblical understanding and the corresponding passions of our hearts. The glorious and horrible truths which thunder through the Bible cause only a faint echo of fear and ecstasy in our hearts. We take a megaton of truth upon our lips and speak it with an ounce of passion. Do we believe in our hearts what we espouse with our lips?
I know for myself that in order to be a true shepherd and not a hireling, in order to grieve over the straying lambs, and in order to summon with tears the wild goats, I must believe in my heart certain terrible and wonderful things. If I am to love with the meek, humble, tender, self-effacing heart of Christ, I must feel the awful and glorious truths of Scripture. Specifically:
•      I must feel the truth of hell—that it exists and is terrible and horrible beyond imaginings forever and ever. “These will go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46) . . .
•     I must feel the truth that once I was as close to hell as I am to the chair I am sitting on—even closer. Its darkness, like vapor, had entered my soul and was luring me down. Its heat had already seared the skin of my conscience. Its views were my views. I was a son of hell (Matt. 23:15), a child of the Devil (John 8:44) and of wrath (Eph. 2:3). I belonged to the viper’s brood (Matt. 3:7), without hope and without God (Eph. 2:12). I must believe that just as a rock climber, having slipped, hangs over the deadly cliff by his fingertips, so I once hung over hell and was a heartbeat away from eternal torment. I say it slowly, eternal torment!
. . . If I do not believe in my heart these awful truths—believe them so that they are real in my feelings—then the blessed love of God in Christ will scarcely shine at all. The sweetness of the air of redemption will be hardly detectable. The infinite marvel of my new life will be commonplace. The wonder that to me, a child of hell, all things are given for an inheritance will not strike me speechless with trembling humility and lowly gratitude.
John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals : A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 115-16.John Piper, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals : A Plea to Pastors for Radical Ministry (Nashville, Tenn.: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2002), 113-15."
(H/T Adrian Warnock)
Thoughts or comments?

Monday, April 04, 2011

The Good Book

You might think it not worth the bother to rewrite the Bible when there is a perfectly good one already available and the one A C Grayling owns remains unread. If he has read it, which I am sure he has at times 'dipped in' being such a highly qualified clever chappy, he certainly hasn't grasped the gospel. In this fascinating interview, Grayling, one of the 'Atheist Trinity' (which includes Dawkins and Hitchens),  has written The Good Book which he has called a secular bible. The section of the interview I found most telling was the presumption that Christianity is a religion. It isn't- it's gospel- but let me unpack this a little.

First here is Grayling:

"He is very cross, for example, with the question in the current census that asks: "What is your religion?" The British Humanist Society has just conducted a poll that asked those surveyed if they were religious – to which 65% said no. But when asked, "What is your religion?" 61% of the very same people answered Christian. "You see, they say, 'Oh well, nominally I suppose I'm Christian.' But two-thirds of the population don't regard themselves as religious! So we have to try to persuade society as a whole to recognise that religious groups are self-constituted interest groups; they exist to promote their point of view. Now, in a liberal democracy they have every right to do so. But they have no greater right than anybody else, any political party or Women's Institute or trade union. But for historical reasons they have massively overinflated influence – faith-based schools, religious broadcasting, bishops in the House of Lords, the presence of religion at every public event. We've got to push it back to its right size."

As ever with atheist's who don't understand the gospel, he makes the mistake they all do of lumping religion and Christianity all into the same bucket because he assumes the religion bucket and the gospel bucket are alike. In his defence, institutional Christianity is in the main 'religious' and I can share some of his beef with the hijacking of the culture with platitudes, men in silly costumes, psuedo-religious political posturing and boring religious ceremonies often addressed by people who can't preach for toffee. However, it does seem to me perfectly possible to tick the box 'no religion' and see yourself as a Christian. They are not inter-changable terms and if you use them in this way it is unsurprising the poor old atheist's have got themselves in such a confusing pickle. It's worth reminding ourselves that religious people nailed Jesus on the cross.

Keller in his brilliant new book The Kings Cross describes this well:

"The essence of [religion] is advice; Christianity is news. [Euangelion in Greek, which is translated as "good news" or "gospel" combines angelos, the word for announcing news, and the prefix eu-, which means "joyful" Gospel means "news that brings joy"] Other religions say "This is what you have to do in order to connect to God forever; this is how you have to live in order to earn your way to God" But the gospel says, "This is what has been done in history. This is how Jesus lived and died to earn the way to God for you". Christianity is completely different. It's joyful news.

[Kings Cross, Page 15]

Grayling doesn't get this but then again nor do thousands of people attending church every Sunday 'religiously' hoping attendance and ritual will pass muster as gospel. It won't and it doesn't. Jesus dying on the cross is the event and its good news if we will accept its gift and receive its grace.

I did very much enjoy Grayling's description of an atheist:

"And besides, really," he adds with a withering little laugh, "how can you be a militant atheist? How can you be militant non-stamp collector? This is really what it comes down to. You just don't collect stamps. So how can you be a fundamentalist non-stamp collector? It's like sleeping furiously. It's just wrong."

'Sleeping furiously'- of all the phrases one might pick that one just about nails it.

Saturday blog-sweep

 Some interesting books for pastors The State we're in Attack at dawn Joseph Scriven Joy comes with the morning When small is beautiful