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Updated: 2018-01-17T21:23:15.305+00:00

 



Awesome Cutlery

2017-11-01T21:06:04.777+00:00


This is Awesome Cutlery is a kids CD and devotional which I received a review copy of from 10ofthose.com
I'm so glad I did!

Included between the songs are short funny sketches featuring the adventures of Captain Awesomeness and his sidekick Cutlery Boy. These superheroes face different situations inbetween some cracking songs.

In a stroke of genius the Goldsworth/Roberts 'God's people in God's place under God's rule and blessing' has been put to music, and that's alongside songs about God's word, about creation and God's rescue plan. For me, "It's a new, new day" stands out



Gareth Loh, Dan Adams and friends have put together a punch resource that is running on repeat in our car, and comes with an accompanying devotional that we've used less - mostly because the CD can't leave the car. I hope we'll use some of the songs in church and I'd recommend this to other families in the church to use with their kids.

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Awesomecutlery.com

Play the songs and other resources at bandcamp.



"Big eyes full of wonder"

2017-08-27T16:13:55.568+01:00

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hidden. Great when you're winning but what about the mistakes and the unacceptable decisions. This is a gripping, imaginative and relatively easy read which raises big questions about how we see ourselves and one another, how we live in an age where we broadcast airbrushed editions of our lives online. I look forward to what Broadway writes next.The Underground Railroad. Colson Whitehead's award winning novel is an eye opening insight into life of southern states slavery, and the quest for freedom. The Guardian describes it as painting "a glistening steampunk reality." That fits. Life after life. Kate Atkinson asks the question - what would've happened if Hitler had died before World War II and so triggers a whirlwind journey through alternate realities when things happened different. In parallel to my own reading I've also been enjoying reading Lord of the Rings, starting The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Harry Potter with my eldest son.I've just started The Orphan Master's Son by Adam Johnson, the opening pages of which have taken me to North Korea. If nothing else that means over recent months I've been led into several different cultures, times and worlds, painted in the blood, sweat, tears and words of some cracking authors. My world is bigger for it.I've been more prone to indulge Netflix boxsets which I think is a prime cause of reading less fiction (fueled by parenal-tiredness), and that's a rich place to enlarge horizons too, but it's hard too beat what the written word does... which is at least one of the reasons why the Christian faith has been given in a book, but that's a subject for another day.Image - Creative Commons - sama093[...]



Uniquely Matthew

2017-08-27T14:49:03.090+01:00

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the third day...The empty tomb...If you want harmonised 'facts' - these are those.A different story isn’t the Christian faith. The plot is common to all four gospels – Jesus dies on the first day (Thursday evening to Friday evening), is dead through the second day (Friday evening to Saturday evening), and is physically raised from the dead and witnessed on the third day (Saturday evening to Sunday evening).You can try to exclude the Bible from being valid evidence but what are you hiding from? The documentary evidence is strong – at least as good, if not better, than anything else in antiquity. Not to mention, the very existence of the church has to have come from somewhere. And if it didn’t come from where it claims to – from the events of this Passover weekend you need to find a more compelling, more backed up alternative. What do you do with what happened? It's not about what we want, or how we feel about life... here is something that happened of a magnitude that, if true, it changes everything.Flip things around and look for differences. It's immediately obvious that Mark is the most brief while Matthew and Luke are longer in different places. There is a little material that is uniquely Mark, a fair amount that is unique to Luke which you can explore here.To look for the differences I simply copy and paste from biblegateway into a three column table, I find it helpful to put matching sections next to each other in new rows as it helps to highlight where the differences are... a colour highlight (or printing it out and doing that by hand) does the rest. You'll see a picture of what that looks like on paper in the link to the cross in Luke's gospel. You can also pick up the Bible Harmony tool in http://www.e-sword.net/  which has these already collated.A bit of work shows what is unique to Matthew's account from Matthew 27:32-28:20, simply because I've been asked to speak on these chapters in a couple of months time. Three themes, in five sections that only Matthew records.1. Matthew tells us about the earth being shaken - 27v51-52 and 28v2-4. When Jesus dies and when the tomb is opened on Easter Sunday, Matthew tell us that the earth shakes. The earth shaking is something that happens in the Bible. In Judges 5v4 – earth shaking is about the Lord coming. In 2 Sam 22v8, Psalm 18v7 – earth shaking is the Lord’s anger. In Isaiah 14v16 the earth shaking is kingdoms trembling. When the earth shakes here is surely evokes all of these things, and marks the raising from the dead of many who are seen in the city, and from Easter Sunday, Jesus himself being raised and witnessed. 2. Matthew tells us about the conspiracy of the authorities - 27v62-66 and 28v11-15. They seek to prevent the grave being robbed so Jesus' disciples can't say he's alive. And then when those soldiers are terrified by the visiting angel they pay off the guards to say the body was stolen by the disciples. It's a pitiful attempt to prevent the spre[...]



What Wondrous Love Is This?

2017-08-17T20:34:23.389+01:00

What Wondrous Love Is This is a southern spiritual first published in 1811. It has appeared regularly in hymnbooks since the 1960s.

1 What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
What wondrous love is this that caused the Lord of bliss
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul,
to bear the dreadful curse for my soul?
2 When I was sinking down, sinking down, sinking down,
when I was sinking down, sinking down;
when I was sinking down beneath God's righteous frown,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul, for my soul,
Christ laid aside his crown for my soul.
3 To God and to the Lamb, I will sing, I will sing,
to God and to the Lamb, I will sing;
to God and to the Lamb who is the great I AM -
while millions join the theme, I will sing, I will sing;
while millions join the theme, I will sing.
4 And when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing on;
and when from death I’m free, I’ll sing and joyful be,
and through eternity, I’ll sing on, I’ll sing on,
and through eternity I’ll sing on.
One of the things I love about it is the way this song can be arranged so differently due to its simplicity and quality... (Youtube playlist version)

A fairly mainstream version:
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Or choral:
allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="200" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/DsVnvN3EVxY?list=PLll657e5WU48p8X9JwYUR1cN_-89dJ2h9" width="300">
Or more acoustic folky:
allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="200" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/1g26dbNJYJI?list=PLll657e5WU48p8X9JwYUR1cN_-89dJ2h9" width="300">
Or a bit more funk rock style:
allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="200" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Hp770KqZN_I?list=PLll657e5WU48p8X9JwYUR1cN_-89dJ2h9" width="300">

It's public domain so you can get the score at Hymnary.org



Preaching The Song of Songs

2017-07-18T14:02:29.518+01:00

I've been preaching Christ from The Song of Songs this term. It's a daunting task and I feel my own weakness and limits faced with the task. Still 10 of 11 weeks done, one to go. My interest in The Song stems from reading the affectionate puritan Richard Sibbes' sermons which are devotionally rich and deliciously Christ-focussed. Thanks Mike Reeves for steering me to Sibbes. I edited and self-published some of Sibbes 20 sermons a few years ago. They’re for sale at cost price via Lulu or you can ask me for a PDF copy. http://www.lulu.com/shop/search.ep?contributorId=1051001Resources on The Song vary considerably depending on the approach to the text. Some read it as simply about human relationships, some as exclusively about Christ and the church. My approach has been a both Christ & the church and human relationships approach and that shapes who I've found most helpful. The text isn't easy to work with, and most people have never heard it preached before. Some struggled to see that it was about Christ, others have loved spending time with a long cherished friend. I've sought to be a bit artsy, evocative and poetic in handling a poetic text, to paint verbal pictures, to weave the intertwining themes of relationships, what it means to be human, and the gospel together. Some sermons have leant more one way than the other. No claim to have mastered the book, but I hope the Lord has mastered me a bit more through it.We bought and showed Andrew Wilson's This is About That video a couple of times in the series to emphasise the connection between marriage and the gospel.https://vimeo.com/213720278Most older commentaries tend towards just being about Christ, and occasionally get very speculative. Charles Spurgeon's sermons which are free online are a really positive example from 150 years ago. If I was limited to three books the following are my friends. They all work through consecutive passages of the Biblical text. Amazon Wishlist Version http://amzn.eu/b7a7ers1. Charlie Cleverly. Hodder & Stoughton. 2016. This is a warm, devotional, pop-level read more than a technical commentary. There’s good engagement with the text and some great insights, and a keenness to let the Song shape our prayer life. This was the last book I picked up in preparation for my series and it’s been a good help and an enjoyable read. 2. Robert Jenson. Interpretation. 2005. I’ve read and re-read this commentary over the past few years. Each section is clearly structured to engage with the text, then apply to Christ before applying to relationships. Jenson’s style is refreshing and often draws out deep biblical themes that others might miss and has sparked joy for me at several points. Also, under the floral dust-jacket is the brightest green hardback you’ll ever own. While occasionally obscure, Jenson captures the playful evocative feel that a commentary on poetry should have.3. James Hamilton. Christian Focus. 2015. This is well structured and careful to observe biblical and theological threads that run through the book. His notes on the theological themes of the lovers songs about each other are eye-opening and brilliant. Points for clarity over the other two, but a less gripping read. The book is basically his 2012 sermon series with some additional material and application questions. The sermons can be downloaded here http://www.kenwoodbaptistchurch.com/resources/sermon-audioAdditionally I’ve found Ellen Davis' 2004 commentary particularly insightful in places. This book is more technical, and comes in a volume covering Solomon's other wisdom books, Proverbs and Ecclesiastes. Her impressive scholarship makes some assumptions I disagree with but is detailed and thoughtful and illuminating. The excellent Ros Clarke bears significant responsibility for my interest in The Song of Songs due to her thesis on it. http://beginningwithmoses.org/oldsite/articles/songofsongs.pdf, so also Barry Webb's[...]



Our Own Hymn Book

2017-05-01T10:39:32.576+01:00

I appreciate the thoughtful words of others. I enjoy books like The Valley of Vision and perusing through old hymn books. I find that others help to form my heart and give me words to express things better. Pursuing this, I found myself looking at Charles Spurgeon's Own Own Hymn Book online recently. Free PDF via Google Books here. The 19th Century 'prince of preachers' had a remarkable ministry in London, which gathered vast crowds and led to the planting of many churches.In the introduction he explains "The providence of God brings very many new hearers within the walls of our place of worship, and many a time we have marked their futile researches and pitied the looks of despar with which they have given up all hope of finding the hymns, and so of joining intelligently in our words of praise. We felt that such ought not to be the state of our service of song and resolved if possible to reform it."The driving factor to produce a hymn book - which Spurgeon explains was a last resort after much research - was to serve the very many guests who came into their gatherings who couldn't find song words and so couldn't participate. Today hymn books gather dust as very many churches prefer to project lyrics - which raise all kinds of different challenges. But, looking back, I love that they put in great research and effort to be sensitive to newcomers as well as to serve the church.To what lengths would we go? How might our practices - which seem straight-forward enough for 'regulars' be confusing, and put looks of despair on the faces of those who come through our doors to explore faith? We all have jargon on our practice as well as our language. We all have things that are inconvenient that we put up with because of our prior commitment to the church -- but asking others to put up with that may prevent them from "joining intelligently" in what we're doing. What would a mystery-shopper notice? What would love for the newcomer notice - and invest time and money to change?A hymn book is unlikely to be the answer!Look further into Spurgeon's case: The result of their efforts is a deliberately widely sourced collection of 1059 hymns covering a wide range of subjects. A substantial publication. They'll have been paired with easy to sing tunes and I doubt whether every song got an airing. Worth noting that 15% are Psalms - largely Isaac Watts' versions.A few observations...1. I think I know 30 of the 1059 hymns. Others might score much higher! Nonethless, it  doesn't feel like much. I suspect I might not do much better with the 1998 Spring Harvest volume (my first songbook). Each generation has it's songs, and few last. A significant proportion of the ones I know are to tunes that have been written more recently. However, the pairing of melody to lyrics is looser historically. Hymns in the book have metre references which would allow multiple possible melodies.2. The Hymn Book was published in 1866. Included in the book is Before the Throne of God Above - also called The Advocate or Jesus pleads for me. I note this one because it's widely known today - with a new tune by Steve & Vikki Cook. But also because in 1866 it's lyricist Charitie Lees Bancroft (attributed to her maiden name Cherrie Smith) was just 25 years old, and the song itself just 3 years old. Not counting a few that Spurgeon penned for the publication it's one of the newer songs in the collection. Today it's a classic, there it was brand new.3. Notably absent are some of today's classic hymns. Be thou my vision wasn't translated until the early 20th Century so isn't there, and there are a good number of hymns still sung today that are less than 150 years old. There are a number of Wesley's hymns included, but there's no place for And Can It Be? Also absent is John Newton's Amazing Grace.There are some great lyrics worth picking up again and as with CS Lewis' charge to read old books, we might do well to sing so[...]



Songs we're singing in Church

2017-04-20T20:47:20.505+01:00

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather. Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use (http://planningcenteronline.com/) tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue width="400" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/c8u0pGvb30U" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin width="400" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/Qxohr0GKlbg" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong width="400" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/s7ZJ5D5q54g" frameborder="0" allowfullscreen>4. Cornerstone - Hillsong allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/QvLxZEU02uI" width="400"> Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Christopher Idle's 20th Century hymn Yes Finished The Messiah Dies and Bernard of Clairvaux's medieval O Sacred Head. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/jM2UgM4P7iw" width="400"> allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/UgkVTtT-0xg" width="400"> We mix older hymns and newer songs together. Songs are picked by our senior minister and myself in collaboration with our five band leaders and music coordinator - a team of 3 men and 5 women, seeking to serve the church with songs that will allow them to express their faith and to form their hearts.We aim to introduce about 1 new song a month - some of which 'take' better than others. Our recent new song list looks like this...December 2016 - When my heart is torn asunder by Phil Wickham allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/A6UN4tQrF-w" width="400"> January 2017 - Come Ye Sinners - an old hymn reworked by the Norton Hall Band. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vIpoO0wY0Xk" width="400"> Febuary 2017 - This I believe - the apostles creed set to music at the bidding of Michael Jenson by Hillsong allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/X-m9sRRN9MA" width="400"> March 2017 - Come behold the wondrous mystery allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/YqWiIp_KLUc" width="400"> April 2017 - Where O Grave, a new song from the British Co-mission church group in London allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/PaCbDlF8CS0" width="400"> May 2017 - Love came down by Ben Cantelon allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/SEpSOcyLB14" width="400"> June 2017 - You died for me - Sam Cox's meditation on the cross allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="250" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/IxylMOFM9vI" width="400"> We try to pick diverse songs and only new songs that add something to our choices, to give a good balance of musical styles, clear and understandable theology and themes, teaching songs, laments, celebrations, reflections, confessions... Our choices, as well as our musicians, take their place to serve the gathered congregation in singing. We covers a complete age range though I guess put our average age is a little under 30 years old, around 80% British, with 20% international students and [...]



"In these stones horizons sing..."

2017-04-15T16:30:35.074+01:00

[19] Then Joshua said to Achan, ‘My son, give glory to the Lord, the God of Israel, and honour him. Tell me what you have done; do not hide it from me.’ [20] Achan replied, ‘It is true! I have sinned against the Lord, the God of Israel. This is what I have done...    [24] Then Joshua, together with all Israel, took Achan son of Zerah, the silver, the robe, the gold bar, his sons and daughters, his cattle, donkeys and sheep, his tent and all that he had, to the Valley of Achor. [25] Joshua said, ‘Why have you brought this trouble on us? The Lord will bring trouble on you today.’ Then all Israel stoned him, and after they had stoned the rest, they burned them. [26] Over Achan they heaped up a large pile of rocks, which remains to this day. Then the Lord turned from his fierce anger. Therefore that place has been called the Valley of Achor ever since. (Joshua 7:19-26)For a 21st Century European it's hard to see why anything deserves a death penalty, but the Old Testament law establishes this as part of the community ethos. You forfeit your life if you betray God and his people in certain ways. Perhaps not your eternity, but certainly this life.In a culture terrified of death and determined to leave a lasting legacy this is hard to comprehend, but we still want justice for wrongs done. And if some wrongs should receive some sort of sentence, then why should offence against the Lord not have serious consequence.Achan's death sentence is "trouble from the Lord" against this confessed sinner (v20). And he becomes a monument of trouble. His grave marked as The Valley of Achor - Trouble Valley. The stones that bury Achan warn his community, but also must be read in a wider context.Many pages and centuries later, Hosea later prophesies that it's the Lord's intent - driven by love for people who have betrayed him - to take this Trouble Valley and make it into Hope Door - (Hosea 2:13-15). The Lord will take the stones of trouble and subvert them, upend them, transform them to build a gateway through which sinners find hope.The Lord's story then is one in which the place of wrath is turned into mercy, trouble to hope. In Hosea's preaching, a byword for betrayal becomes a place of beautiful betrothal. Thus stands the cross of Christ - not  a pile of stones but a man pinned to a tree. Hosea's story is the story of the Lord Jesus - one who had no sin to confess and received a death sentence in our place.Such is the Father's divine romance, orchestrated with the Son and the Spirit, to bring mercy to sinners. Let the stones cry out...Come, ye sinners, poor and needy, Weak and wounded, sick and sore; Jesus ready stands to save you, Full of pity, love and power. allowfullscreen="" frameborder="0" height="240" src="https://www.youtube.com/embed/vIpoO0wY0Xk" width="360"> Image - Bernard Spragg - Creative Commons[...]



Why good people are divided by politics and religion.

2017-03-30T09:14:25.014+01:00

Why do we speak past one another? Why do we think those who differ with us are evil?Jonathan Haidt says that fundamentally it’s because we’ve built our understanding of what matters to us on different foundations. It’s not just that we come to different conclusions but that we get there for different reasons. We can’t see why someone would see the world a different way because their perspective is based on values that we don’t hold, which may even conflict with ours.I’d seen psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s 2012 book cited in several articles and I engaged with that here. But, I’m really glad I followed up the footnotes to get a copy.In the end, Haidt is appealing for us to seek to understand one another better, not to demonise those with whom we differ, and even to work together – each bringing our different strengths to the table.The book is compelling and accessible if not brief – 375 pages plus 125 pages of footnotes and bibliography. I’m reminded of the Malcolm Gladwell book’s I’ve enjoyed in recent years. But, this feels better constructed, less anecdotal and more rigorous. Written in three parts Haidt outlines in his introduction the key idea of each section.1. Intuitions come first, strategic reasoning second.2. There’s more to morality than harm and fairness.3. Morality binds and blinds. Each part is illustrated by a central metaphor. Each image is easy to understand and illustrates the point clearly. Take note fellow communicators! And consider the message of each of them too...1. An elephant and its rider – the rider is influential for where we go, but the elephant more so. Influencing the rider is important, but more so the elephant...2. Tastebuds – our moral decisions are shaped by our ‘tastes’ – six foundations. Appeal to tastes people don't have and they wont bite...3. Our human chimpishness and beeness. A hive mentality is part of being human. We form communities. Essentially to emphasise our groupishness and the way that the groups we're part of shape and strengthen our beliefs, and even the importance of an in-group to improve our attitude to those who aren't part of our group.Lots to ponder from these observations alone, before getting into the detail!When people "don't get" what we're saying how much is that because we were speaking to the rider not the elephant, that we hit the wrong tastebuds, or from the strong influence of their community... how could we convey the same message but to the elephant, to a different tastebud, and how much might community influence. What's the place of the inter-relation between believing, belonging and behaving (or "doing", as Haidt's diagram on p291 has it)?My basic assumptions, religiously differ from Haidt's atheist/Jewish background though politically we both lean left. What’s fresh for me is his desire to understand where the two branches of right (libertarian / social conservative) are coming from and to value the perspectives of others.I can’t always be bothered to do that, and I’m challenged by Haidt’s own journey and his scholarship to work harder.He quotes the secret of Henry Ford’s success: the ability to get the other person’s point of view and see things from their angle as well as your own. Haidt applies this, self-consciously to the way he writes early on in the book (p59-60), in his use of stories, to deliberately address our intuitive elephant rather than shooting first for our reasoning rider. His professional experience means he's excellent at painting scenarios that probe deeply and bring out what we think and feel and believe.Reading Haidt I find an interpretative grid falling over my facebook feed. I was reading it during the week Martin McGuinness died and Haidt made sense of the varied responses my friends made. See also status updates and tweets about US politics or [...]



What's GOOD in this foreign country?

2017-01-17T14:50:05.107+00:00


In the latest edition of Primer, Ed Shaw's article on Life in a foreign country notes the following matrix on the foundations of our morality, from The Righteous Mind by Jonathan Haidt:
1. Care vs. Harm
2. Liberty vs. Oppression
3. Fairness vs. Cheating
4. Loyalty vs. Betrayal
5. Authority vs. Subversion
6. Sanctity vs. Degradation
He notes that evangelicals prefer the categories down the list and seem like people in a foreign country - defining what's good differently to the culture around us. Where we look to the bottom half of the list, our culture is intellectually and emotionally more persuaded by the top of the list.

The gospel of Jesus however can easily be articulated in the higher up the list categories... In Galatians 2, for example, an appeal could be made to authority - though there's a downplaying of those held in 'esteem' but also Paul's clear commitment to the authority of God's revelation to him of his Son Jesus.

We could speak of Paul's bringing of divine authority to bear, but he's just as much demonstrating in the gospel...
  • A commitment to the extraordinary care of God for sinful people in sending his son to rescue us. Paul will not tolerate harm being done to Titus or the Galatians, especially not to exclude them from sonship in God’s family. Christ means us no harm and is the greatest care.
  • An unwavering commitment to defending the liberty of people to live as sons in God’s family. The oppressive of slavery to the destructive authority of idols is intolerable. The Christian gospel is really not enslaving... it's everything else that is slavery compared to sonship.
  • An unbreakable commitment to the gospel that doesn’t discriminate on outwards things and so cheat people of the gift that could be theirs, but rather with utter fairness offers life to all and any in this world. Christianity isn't going to cheat anyone - though it's claims are exclusive, they have a deep fairness, a super-fairness in reality that goes way beyond fairness to grace.
None of which is to say that actually we don't think well in terms of loyalty/betrayal, nor authority/subversion, nor sanctity/degredation -- we think we don't think those are important but we probably know they are.

The challenge is that if an evangelical appeals that our good news is good because of God's authority, because of an appeal to loyalty or an appeal to sanctity/purity, that is deeply unpersuasive... whereas when good news is articulated as care, liberty and fairness we feel very different. I think the Bible uses all six to explain and persuade, but I'm aware I lean to some more than to others.

LISTEN - Mere Fidelity podcast - Andrew, Alastair and Derek talk about Haidt's book.



MP3s from 3 conferences that could help you share your faith

2016-12-12T15:59:13.654+00:00


My wedding certificate lists my occupation as evangelist. A teller of good news. I was on the UCCF relay programme at the time. It's always been a passion in my Christian life --- in part because my formative years as a believer were as part of a Christian Union, the first Christian books I read were by Becky Pippert and Bill Hybels...  though honestly an unevangelistic Christianity doesn't really make much sense. Evangelistic ministry isn't just evangelism but also includes equipping other for witness.

I drift from time with people outside church, and I drift from courage to speak up, I struggle to be patient, and I struggle to believe that Christ is for all. Other people help me.

I ended up at three conferences this year that have been helpfully corrective to the trajectory of my year, to my dull heart, and to decisions we've made as our family have relocated this year.

I hope they coudl help you too.
1. Advance UK . Advance is part of the newfrontiers family connecting churches in the US, South Africa and UK. Donnie Griggs on evangelism and Dan Romer on Christ from Song of Songs. Donnie book Small Town Jesus overlaps with his material here. 
2. Proclamation Trust - Evangelical Ministry Assembly 2016This diverse gathering in London focuses on word ministry and was deeply refreshing to me, even in the one day I attended. Especially Jonty Allcock from Luke's gospel. And, Vaughan Roberts on John Newton helped me see Christ as more precious. 
3. FIEC Leaders 2016FIEC is a fellowship of 565 churches in the UK. Ed Stetzer was brilliant in sharing a simple and clear practical vision for sharing our faith. High value for me and for our team.
Images - Tamaki Sono - Creative Commons



Trampolines and Brick Walls: Don't flex on the gospel, do flex on everything else to love the church and advance the gospel.

2016-12-10T15:31:10.227+00:00

In his 2005 book Velvet Elvis Rob Bell argued that the church has a problem because we think of theology as like a brick wall - rigid and systematic, whereas we should look at our theology as being more of a trampoline - flexible and in which some of the springs can be safely removed. The analogy seems really attractive, though it's pretty flawed - not least because you could removed more bricks from a wall than springs from a trampoline before everything would fall apart... but beyond that it's also woefully ignorant.In writing to Galatians Paul wont have any of this anti-doctrinal faith. He tackle gospel denial and says it's Father-desertion... he speak of gospel truth and it's about the Father's revelation of the Son. It's life-filled, relational, and write-down-able. And accuracy matters - because it's curse-worthy to believe a different gospel, and to teach others to hope in something contrary to Christ. Theology is about the knowledge of the Father and his Son by the Spirit - it's not cold and rigid, but without accuracy we're not talking about the same God, just a similar one. Or in Galatian language "a different gospel that is no gospel at all... a perversion of the gospel." But, some things are flexible and some things aren't. The gospel can't be up for grabs, a lot of other stuff must be - at least when it comes to ministry practice.In Galatians 2 Paul tells one of three stories to his Father-deserting friends that build his case that they should get back to where they began rather than heading off in a different direction. He tells that he went to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel for them (2v5). It's worth a big detour upstream to Jerusalem to preserve the gospel in Turkey - just as later it's worth a big detour to to Jerusalem to maintain the unity of the Jew and Gentile churches in Rome.Though there were false brothers in Galatian - counterfeit-christians - the church itself hadn't lost the plot and they recognise that "God who was at work in Peter... was also at work in Paul" and "they recognised the grace given..." to both Paul and the Jerusalem church. One gospel.What's curious is the test for finding out whether Jerusalem is true to the gospel.Paul takes Titus in the expectation that gospel loss would mean he'd be compelled to be circumcised (v3). Meanwhile, in Acts 16v3 (possibly around the same time, depending on how you date Galatians), Paul gets Timothy circumcised so he can take him with him.  To be clear: If the Jerusalem church compels Titus to be circumcised that's evidence that the gospel has been lost, but when Paul gets Timothy circumcised that's the gospel advancing.Likewise, in Paul's next story - Peter stands condemned for putting himself back under food laws, and in effect saying to his Gentile brothers and sisters in Antioch that they're not welcome unless they take on the food laws too. But in Romans 14v21 Paul says it's best not to eat if that'll cause problems for your brother or sister from a Jewish background.Context and motive call for different practices. It's a recipe for inconsistency but necessary for the inclusion of diverse peoples and for taking the gospel diverse peoples. And it works because, the gospel isn't a matter of out conformity. Habits, festivals, food laws and bodily markings aren't the issue. Loving the church and reaching new people require different approaches at different times and in different places. What would we need to flex to ensure that the only obstacle is the gospel?Paul embodies this by being prepared to become all things to all people to win some... and by his substantial detours - twice to Jerusalem - to demonstrate bond between the Gentile and Jewish churches.The real mark of the gospel isn't what we wear, eat or celebrate. It's the Spiri[...]



The Greatest Gift - Of Sainsbury's and the Incarnation

2016-12-08T21:21:50.788+00:00

The nativity scene can seem sweet, inspiring and utterly removed from our day to day experience of life in this broken world. Nothing could be further from the truth.Step back and we find that in the beginning was The Word - a communicative being, who was with God. The Word is also called the Son, Jesus. And God is called the Father. Both are God. This is the Triune God. And from eternity past the Father has been giving the gift of himself to his Son and the Son likewise to his Father in self-giving, overflowing love in the Holy Spirit. Love that created the world, and love that steps in...Sainsbury's Christmas advert is on the money - the greatest gift we can give is ourselves... though, you have to ask how that makes any sense in a secular material worldview? But through the lense of the Christian faith it makes perfect sense. In Biblical terms, it's love that is at the heart of the universe.The Christmas story is the story of God with flesh on, God in meet, God becoming a human being. John writes in the opening of his biography of Jesus: "The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us."  Now, God dwelling is nothing new, the whole story of the Old Testament is a story of God dwelling with his people - this God is a God who dwells. And, the notion of God in flesh isn't exactly new either. The Old Testament tells of the coming of a son of Eve and a son of David to restore all things... the new thing in the New Testament is that the incarnation happens.The song asks - what if God was one of us? And the Bible's response is... see for yourself, in the accounts of John, Mark, Luke and Matthew.My God is so small and so weak, a vulnerable baby in a feeding trough. Or, as the 4th Century Egyptian pastor Athanasius brilliantly asks and answers:"Why didn't Jesus come in more impressive form - as sun, moon, stars or fire? Why come as a mere man? Because he did not come to dazzle us but to put himself at the disposal of suffering people..."He turned up as one of us, a member of the human race not to dazzle us (as if we need more sparkly lights) but to put himself at our disposal. He makes himself available to needy suffering sinful humanity in exactly the way we need him to be.In the Sainsbury's advert 'Dave' thinks he needs a clone to do his work so he can be with his family. What we need isn't someone to pick up the stuff we don't want to do but to live our lives and die our death for us. We need the head of a new human race...."He did this so he could put us all to death by dying in our place... out of sheer love for us."The death of Jesus puts humanity to death to abolish death for us and bring us into his new resurrected humanity. Christmas and Easter go together. The story of the word become flesh is the story of a seed who came to fall into the ground so it could bear much fruit, of a man striding towards the hour of his death. A light walking in the darkness, among a people who corrupted God's dwelling place, a people under wrath, a people who can't shape up but rather need to die and be re-born, re-made.And says John, the coming of God the Son as a member of the human race leads to the knowledge of the Father, and the adoption of any men and women who receive the Son into the family of God. Forever, familial, relational, participation in the life of God given to all kinds of people who receive the God who forever became one of us.Image - Stefano Corso - Creative Commons[...]



Spot the difference? Reflections four months after re-locating.

2016-11-28T17:50:59.706+00:00

In last four months we've moved from a provincial city in the South West of England to a larger city in the Midlands. Lots of things in our lives are different now... wise friends counselled us in August that there is difference that is good, difference that is bad, and difference that is just difference.Much is similar. We still live in the UK. We're still in a church that uses a mix of old and new music, and where the normal ministry approach is based on expositional bible teaching. Sunday meetings are basically very similar. Both are in student cities, and in both most people in the church came to faith in a different church somewhere else in the UK. A majority of both churches are middle-class graduates. The local UCCF staff worker is a member of our church in both cases, and the church is popular with students.The speciality coffee scene is strong in both locations.Some things are different, and could be bad or good depending on various factors...Politically, we've moved from having a Labour MP to a Tory MP, and from a Remain area to a Leave one...  In our previous church, the Sunday after the vote in June was sombre, with visible lamenting. In our current church, support is evident for both sides.As winter hits we'll probably get less rain and more snow. We've left the beaches, and traded Dartmoor for the Peak District. My job is a bit different - though essentially an expansion some aspects of part my old job, with other things I used to do covered by other members of the team here. My wife isn't in paid employment at the moment which makes for a big difference in her day to day life compared to teaching part-time previously. Our school age boys were at the same primary school but are currently at different schools. Our current church is part of the FIEC, our previous is in the Newfrontiers family. There's much overlap in that but some differences in theological emphasis and practice, most noticably a difference between informal and formal membership, and elder-led vs. elder-led/congregational polity.More noticably, here's a few of the differences we've experienced which probably all fall into the third category and probably have the most impact on us.Large City (320k) vs. Small City (120k)... The large city brings increased cultural and ethnic diversity. Both cities are very green, but in our old city you could see the hills beyond the city wherever you were. Small Town Life (35k) vs. Small City life (120k)... A corollary to living in a big city is that it's made up of smaller towns. We've found ourselves very much in a small town in a big city. There's enough here to mean we only very occasionally venture out into the wider city. Previously, I might traverse our smaller city often, I rarely need to leave our neighboorhood now. With a combination of church, running club and school gates it's rare to walk through town now and not see someone we know - even after four months. You might walk further to get that same experience in a larger setting.Large multi-congregational church (500-600) vs. Large single-congregation church (250-300)... Our old church met as one congregation in a large venue - it felt very big and the sense of scale effected a lot of how things neeed to be done. Our new church meets in a space that is half the size, and has 3 morning congregation and 1 in the evening. Numerically our new church is twice the size, experientially its like being in a much smaller church. Alongside that, the actual scale increase means a staff team here that includes almost 3 times as many people in full/part time roles.Local church vs. City wide church... Most of our new church li[...]



God's Purpose in Election: 4 things we do. 6 things God does

2016-11-20T19:19:17.934+00:00

The question of God's sovereignty and our freedom in salvation (and life more generally) is no easy question. On one level it's an unresolvable tension. In his book "How do you know that" Ellis Potter suggests something of a solution - to not try to fit the two things into a pie chart - a percentage to God and a percentage to us... there's no satisfactory solution there. Rather than flattening to a 2D plane, what if we consider them as two intersecting discs, our experience of freedom and God's purpose.Both real, certainly experienced as real. What can we say?Limiting ourselves to Romans 9-10... Our angle on the painful dilmma of friends and family who don't know Jesus when you do... and then God's.What do we do?1. WE HAVE ANGUISH AND SORROW (9v2) Paul has "unceasing anguish" and "great sorrow". There is no permission to go any further in this conversation if we're not similarly affected. There is a right emotional tenor to this doctrinal wrestle and it cannot be cold and detached. One imagines the original manuscript of Romans 9 is tearstained.2. WE HAVE DESIRE AND PRAYER (10v1) Paul has great desire for his friends and to come to Christ. And he prays for that to happen.3. WE SPEAK OF CHRIST (10v14) Paul preaches the gospel word that brings Christ near to anyone who hears it.4. WE ARE HUMBLED (9v29) "Unless the Lord Almighty had left us... we would have...". But for his grace we know there would be no hope for us. We were at the end of ourselves, hopeless except for the grace of God. Confessing our own sin isn't a first step to trying harder, nor to write ourselves off... but rather to turn and receive his compassion and mercy though we'd rightly deserve to be hardened and cast aside.What does God do?1. HE DEALS IN GRACE (9v6-21). He has a purpose of election. People who find life in the Triune God are not excluded or included on the basis of birthright, DNA, genealogy, nor on works - good or bad, effort or desire. We call this grace. It seems outrageous - that God would visit his love on anyone, or not, should provoke us to cry injustice!2. HE GIVES NEW NAMES (9v22-26). God's purpose is to take vessels of wrath and call them vessels of mercy, to take not loved and make them loved, to take not his children and call them his adopted children. The best, and only candidates, to become part of God's people are those who aren't.3. HE DEFIES EXPECTATION (9v27-32). Those who find Christ weren't even looking for him, whereas you can be zealously religious and miss him. But for his intervention we'd all be gone. That's a shocking change in perspective, but an honest one. Though grace makes that scandalous, works-based religions just make it impossible, for who can be good enough?4. HE SETS FORTH CHRIST (9v33). God's purpose of election puts a stone in the road. Some stumble over this stone, some believe in him. The issue is always, always, always: what do you do with Christ. CH Spurgeon said this gave him great encouragement - when he preached Christ no-one would have good reason to reject his message - no one could claim ethnicity, or track-record, or class as an excluding principle. The only 'valid' response is to say "But I don't want Christ" -- to which the preacher can't help but say, look again, look again at him!5. HE SENDS PREACHERS (10v5-15). God's purpose is to come near in his gospel word. You don't have to sack heaven or exhume a body to get to Christ, he comes near in his word. He "richly blesses" all who call on him, and everyone who calls on him... calling requires hearing, which requires a preacher, which needs someone to send preachers. God sends preachers - like Paul to the people of Spain w[...]



Leviticus with a seven year old

2016-10-19T06:44:26.386+01:00


For several years we read The Jesus Storybook Bible with our first son. It's given him a solid biblical theology and eye for the gospel. At Easter we gave him his first Bible, the International Children's Bible (NCV) and he and I have been reading it since then, from Genesis, through Exodus and recently into the opening chapters of Leviticus.

We ended Exodus with the shock of Moses being unable to enter the Meeting Tent. And then God calls, speaks and says... and we're listening in.

Early on we've noticed the repetition. Initially my boy was annoyed by this but it's helped him learn brilliantly - which is part of the point. We're keeping the pace up as we read which serves to draw attention to the repetition that we might miss if we read more slowly. With some variations, we're seeing that coming to God involves this sort of journey...
1. His rescued people sin.
2. That makes them guilty.
3. They can present a sacrifice, which must have nothing wrong with it.
4. They can put their hand on it's head to take their place.
5. The priest cuts and burns it up.
6. The aroma of this sacrifice is pleasing to the Lord. God smiles!
7. They belong to God (NCV for atonement)
8. They are forgiven.
9. As the Lord commanded.
The whole book is a picture of what Jesus the True Priest and True Sacrifice accomplishes and it's memorably, vividly, repetitively teaching us the grammar of atonement... who we can be 'in Christ', in the presence of God.

We noted, with relief and joy, the journey from Moses being excluded from the Meeting Tent at the end of Exodus to Moses and Aaron entering it at the end of Leviticus 9. Christ is revealed and the people shout with joy

"O perfect love, O perfect sacrifice, 
fountain of life poured out for me... 
I am found in Jesus." (Neil Bennetts)

Image - Creative Commons, Daniele Civello



The affections of a Father

2016-10-17T21:23:59.973+01:00


I love my five year old. He's a brilliant boy who has some special needs - nothing particularly severe, and likely the consequences of his epilepsy. We don't really know.

In the opening moments of church this morning I'm sat with him on my lap. I'm one of the ministers, but with no formal responsibilities this morning. The boy is restless even before the service begins.

We open with some notices and a reading from Psalm 103. The boy is getting louder and more distruptive. "We're a big family"says the service leader. Welcome to the family! (and truth be told: we are welcome.)

Then he reaches Psalm 103:12
As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear him;
A moment of grace - I'm tempted to get annoyed with my son. I shush him. I'm frustrated. But in that moment - I'm reminded and refreshed - I am the restless five year old in the arms of the Father from whom every family gets its name, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ and all those graciously adopted into his family. He's not embarrassed with me. He's not chiding me. He's being compassionate with me. In Christ, mine are "...the affections of a Father who will never let [me] go."

As the first song begins, we exit to the foyer to spin around and dance and jump and wrestle properly, before his group starts. "Son I love you," I whisper in his ear, and his eyes shine brightly.

Image - Creative Commons - tonko43



Church in a student city?

2016-10-07T08:24:18.022+01:00

It's hard not to be deeply affected by Sally Phillips documentary A World Without Downs. This is an investigation into two of the biggest human questions. She opens, winsome, engaging, self-deprecating, to camera:What kind of society do we want to live in? And who do we think should be allowed to live in it?We all have to answer those questions.We all do answer them.The question is what answers we give and why.For decades/centuries we've lived in 'the story of progress' or 'the myth of evolution' as CS Lewis dubbed it. Not a scientific comment so much as a narrative that says, change is better, we're advances, and survival of the fittest, and our happiness must drive us forward. I recognise this story - I grew up in it, I grew up believing it and many of its implications, it's hard to let go of it.For the church this grates in part because it's parasitic on Christian hope - as John Gray notes, how on earth does the secularist justify a moral statement about change being good, it's stolen hope. It also grates because built into the DNA of the church is the ethos of Old Israel from the Pentateuch that calls for sacrificial care of the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, that is to say for the vulnerable who cannot provide for themselves.This is not rooted just in a law given to a community, but in the heart of the Triune God whose salvation for humanity is precisely helping those who cannot help themselves - a category which in ultimate terms includes all of us.It's an ever present concern for the church - what kind of society are we... who is welcome here? As it should be for a parkrun community, a school gate community, an office culture and so on.Six Disturbing Assumptions Uncovered in A World Without Downs https://t.co/YCb55WvoxS pic.twitter.com/DJ2BlkiuOM— Glen Scrivener ن (@glenscrivener) October 6, 2016 How about from the perspective of a Church in a Student City? If you have students in your church and/or are a viable option then be available to students.There are two Universities in our city and though we do get students from both we're no where near being a local church for one of them... as prospective students from Trent Uni have done Student Linkup I've usually suggested they try a nearer church than ours. For Nottingham Uni we are 300 metres from the edge of campus or a mile from its centre... so I think we're a pretty good option.As term rolls on there's a responsibility on us to quickly stamp on any attendance at two churches - its just not healthy. Care deeply but don't hold too tightly - if a student goes elsewhere that should be ok. Resist consumeristic competitive pitches and plead that students visit only 2-3 churches and then commit to somewhere.Anyways, I suggest...1. Be hospitable. Students are away from home from the first time, so open your home. A family table, a sofa and a house with the central heating turned on will make more of an impression than you can imagine on a cold November day for a student with full-blown homesickness. That's all the more true when it comes to international students, vast numbers of whom never enter a British home. Few better places for discipleship than over a meal. 2. Be unshockable. Whether about their theological questions or their lifestyle  - don't be shocked. No good comes from being outraged, it just makes people shut down, hide and not come back. Discipleship is messy, we've all got L-plates on. Let grace abound... and in that context you can challenge people to follow Jesus.3. Be patient. A student has just become an adult. They're still figuring out who the[...]



I went to a Parkrun

2016-08-27T14:07:45.941+01:00

I've been running for a couple of years. I woke up a week after my 35th birthday and had the motivating realisation of quite how out of shape I was and that this would only get worse if I didn't do something about it. I worked my way up to 5km and then to 10km, running 4-5 times a week over the first three months and maintained a habit of doing 2-3 10km runs a week since.We've moved to Beeston and I decided to join a running club and start doing the Beeston Parkrun five weeks ago. Running with others is still very new for me. To be honest, the idea of a running club and timed running had intimidated me before, but I'm enjoying it and haven't felt any of the pressure I imagined might be the case.Some observations...1. I'm reasonably fit but way behind some. I'm averaging a top 60 finish out of 180-220 people which feels good. PB currently 24:37.2. Running with others makes you run faster as they pull you along, or it destroys you in your head as you see people run away from you. I'm learning to run with people who are roughly comparable to me, and to run my own race. A new skill and I feel fairly incompetent. My times are relatively consistent, three out of five times within a 9 second window. 3. I didn't think I was a competitive person, but when you run timed it's hard to not compete - against yourself if not against others. That's pushing me to get fitter and faster, and that's probably no bad thing.  And...4. Parkrun, here at least, is a friendly community. People run at 9am on a Saturday morning because they enjoy running. Numbers fluctuate but there's a substantial regular crowd I've seen every week. It's a diverse community, ethnically, socially, and in age and fitness. Beeston Parkrun "winners" tend to be in their early 20s and are running 17-18mins for 5km. There are some very fit and fast people in the older age bracket! Everyone is welcome however quick or slow they are. 5. Going to a local cafe for breakfast after makes it more fun. We share an experience round the track and then get to know one another more over large mug of coffee and poached eggs on toast for £2. 6. Doing Parkrun as a member of a running club is great because it makes the Parkrun an easier social experience - lots of familiar faces. A handful of people from our church join in too.7. Clear instructions are given, newcomers are welcomed and oriented and applauded before the race, and volunteers are celebrated too. It's a simple thing to do that makes a big difference.8. People muck in and help out to make it happen. I've not been on the roster yet. As a newbie I'm keen to get a good series of runs done before taking a week 'off', but I look forward to volunteering later in the autumn.If you've never been before, why not get down to your local Parkrun next Saturday morning.Images - Creative Commons - Steve Miles.[...]



Psalm 2: The Word of His Wrath

2016-08-25T18:33:05.952+01:00


The British Government responded harshly to Guy Fawkes conspiracy. Hung for his crime. And remembered for his conspiracy even 411 years later.

What of the human conspiracy to dethrone God?

Psalm 2v4 – heaven laughs 
And – the LORD scoffs 

On the one hand, it’s laughable and futile… heaven says “as if…”
The crowds mocked Jesus in his crucifixion, and mockery means what the next verses says:

Psalm 2v5 – he rebukes in anger 
And – he terrifies in wrath Heaven’s anger is stirred. 

What is the terrifying word of God's wrath?

Heaven speaks. ‘I have installed my king on… my holy mountain’ 
The true king is the Lord Jesus, the LORD’s Anointed one.
When is he lifted up? Where is he crowned? At the cross.

 God’s word of wrath against human sin is the cross of the true king. Not immediate judgement on the world… Not to hang, draw and quarter us… No. To put forth the true king to bear the wrath stirred by human sin. To offer himself in our place.

 It’s unimaginable that King James would’ve done that isn’t it? Could King James of the King James Version of the Bible fame have put himself in Guy Fawkes place? A good man might die for his friends, but for his enemies??

No-one would give themselves for those who conspire to destroy him? But, King Jesus does exactly that – look at his cross, and see there – the kindness of God which we so despise, displayed and enacted in him giving himself for us.

The cross is a terrifying word of wrath - this is what sin deserves. But it is also a word of hope - bear your own sin, or have him bear it for you.

Image - Creative Commons - Luciano Inline



Psalm 2: My name is John Johnson

2016-08-25T18:32:58.208+01:00


In the early hours of Saturday 5th November 1605 a man claiming to be John Johnson left a cellar underneath the Houses of Parliament in Westminster, and was promptly arrested. Inside were found many barrels of gunpowder. So ended an 18 month conspiracy led by Robert Catesby and involving the arrested man – not called John Johnson but Guido Fawkes.

Catesby, Fawkes and co had sought to kill King James and replace him with his daughter Elizabeth. A political move to suit their own purposes. Who will be on the throne? They said; we will choose.

Three thousand year old song, Psalm 2 describes a similar kind of conspiracy on an altogether grander global political scale. In v1-3 the kings of the earth plot together.

1. Who is the conspiracy against? 
V2 The LORD and his Anointed 

 That is to say, the Father and his Christ. We do sin against one another but Psalms tell us that our real problem is with the LORD and his Christ – human beings conspire against God, to overthrow him and place themselves on his throne. When we harm one another we’re harming those made and loved by the LORD and his Anointed, defacing and damaging their image bearers.

 2. Why do they conspire? 
V3 “let us break their chains and throw off their shackles.” 

I wonder if that’s how we see God’s word in our lives? Restriction? Hosea 11:4 speaks differently, God says “I led them with cords of kindness, with ties of love… I bent down to feed them.” Why does humanity conspire to overthrow the LORD and his Anointed – because we mistake his kindness for cruelty, his love for restriction.

Who will be king? We will, because God can't be trusted to act for our good... and so we act like co-conspirators with Fawkes... hiding in cellars, trying to cover our tracks with a quickly adopted false names. All because we doubt that the LORD and his Anointed aren't kind.

I know a little of my own heart and the anxiety I experience when I'm out of control. I want to pull the strings. My hands might not be strong enough but when I'm holding things at least it's 'in my hands'. Can we be honest about ourselves? Can I? And, is there any possibility that we've misread things? Might his restraints be for our good? Might his bonds be safe for us? When we look at Jesus in action can we really label him as cruel? When he says that to see him is to see his Father can we really say a cruel deity lurks behind a kind Jesus?

In the next part we'll see how the LORD answers the conspiracy, but for now: see the kindness of God in the face of Jesus Christ. Unanswered is the problem - we have conspired... what then for us in the hands of the true king?

Image - Creative Commons - Antony



Who's in and who's out?

2016-08-23T12:24:22.607+01:00

Image -  Paul Hiebert via TheodigitalPaul Hiebert's 1978 paper 'Conversion, Culture and Cognitive Categories' poses the question of what's required to say someone is or isn't a Christian. He poses the senario of an illiterate peasant in Indian who professes faith after hearing the Christian gospel once. What would it take to say they're actually a Christian?This sort of thinking could be applied to other things too - I'm a member of a running club, Suppose there's a person has paid up but never runs... and there's another person who runs with us but hasn't formally joined... who is the club member? So too, political parties etc.Hiebert looks at the way Christian faith is popularly considered to be a bounded set - with a clear boundary between Christian and not a Christian based on orthodoxy or orthopraxy, where the key task is to get someone over the boundary. There's much good in the model, but Hiebert's question is - what about his new believer Papayya? He's in a culture without a church and he's just confessed Christ... his life looks fairly similar to before he believed. And if you quizzed him about his beliefs, so much of his thinking is shaped by his pre-Christian culture... he'd fail many tests of orthodoxy. Is he in, or out?What if there's another model? Hiebert suggests centered sets. Here there is still a boundary but it's a centre point, Christ. What counts here isn't how close you are to the centre, but which way are you moving? One can be near or far from Christ in terms of knowledge or experience, the issue is whether one is seeking to follow Christ or moving away from him.I've heard this choice described as the difference between having fences or gathering around a flag, well or campfire. Both still have a clear boundary category, both still have in/out criteria.Fires, wells and flags are more attractive than fences, though both models still have boundaries in reality, and I'm not sure either can fully deal with the massive adjustments in worldview understanding that cause Hiebert to raise the question concerning new believer Papayya.Image - Redeeming God.Seems to me that both models offer a helpful insight.In the end, the Christian gospel is an in/out matter, Adam or Christ, lost or found. Both models accept that. Bounded-sets offer help when it comes to assurance - when you're in you're in, and nothing can take you out of Christ. Bounded sets offer helpful clarity and confidence. And fences protect those inside from wandering into danger, being attacked from the outside, and enable biblical measures of kind discipline that exclude to jolt someone into repentance. Bounded sets fit are institutionalised when a church has a formal membership, the approach enables strong mutual commitment. But, what do you then say or do about non-members...?But Biblical language and categories also call for growth and progress,that the notion of centred set allows us to think more about what in-ness and out-ness look like, and offer the helpful categories of direction of travel, journey, L-plates, progress and joy in the faith that are helpful for aspects of Christian discipleship and soften the temptation towards them/us mentality. Campfires are attractive and warm and we - human beings - all need the gospel. Centred-sets remind us that there is more of Christ to be had for each of us. Papayya can be "in" because of his new direction of travel, though his faith is low on understanding and low on change. I something similar see that in the beginnings [...]



Mission as prophetic dialogue

2016-08-21T16:46:30.332+01:00

Some interesting observations on Christian mission from Roman Catholic priest Stephan Bevans' paper Mission as prophetic dialogue. Not my general 'go to' for insight, but I enjoy reading widely, learning from the differences, learning from what's good even if sometimes there are bones to spit.Bevans, with Roger Schrader, begin with God:That mission is dialogical is rooted in the reality that God... is dialogue. God is not a lonely monad but a communion of persons, distinct from one another and yet one in identity and purpose... This communion of giving and receiving Love overflows into the entire cosmos that God created out of sheer grace, and calls it into communion with Godself. This is what we mean by God’s mission, the Missio Dei. Union with Christ brings us into the life of God.Through Baptism, Christians share the very life and of the Trinity, and so they are enjoined to carry out God’s mission in the same dialogical way. Concretely, this means that Christians who engage in mission need to make real efforts to “bond” with the people among whom they minister. Mission that is shaped by being friends and good neighbours fits with the God of the Christian gospel. A different gospel might validate a different kind of posture - there are plenty of deities you could imagine that would fit with a distant and detached approach - but Trinitarian religion is dialogical, friendly, loving and about moving nearer to people where they are.Citing, V.S. Azariah in 1910:“...the Indian Church will rise up in gratitude to attest the heroism and self-denying labours of the missionary body. You have given your goods to feed the poor. You have given your bodies to be burned. We also ask for love. Give us FRIENDS.” Mission as dialogue is ultimately about ministering out of real relationships, about making friends. Or, as Jon Tyson puts it - 'love people and be available'. Churches can run ministries and events and programmes to connect with others, but the nature of the God who knows us and who we know and proclaim leads us toward favouring a relational and personal posture - to the slow work of making friends.In approaching the task of such missional friendship, Bevans counsels......the missionary always recognizes that she or he is a stranger and guest. As a stranger he or she needs to realize how little he or she knows, and how much she or he needs to rely on the local people for knowledge in that place. And as a good guest, missionaries should not presume too much. Even presuming to help out by doing the dishes or something like that could be an insult to the hosts. The missionary needs to look and listen long and hard so as not to abuse the privilege of being hosted by the people of a certain place. One does not enter another’s garden lightly. One enters first of all to gaze and admire, to enjoy the beauty of what is there. Maybe after getting the trust of the gardener the visitor might be able to give advice about planting or watering or arranging—but even then it should probably be done gingerly. We may be very keen to invite others into our garden, to meet us on our turf, to enter the places in which we feel safe, but we go first to theirs, tentative, careful, teachable and aware of our capacity to blunder and offend. Developing that kind of sensitivity might help us to make our own garden more accessible.[Paul] writes, “we were gentle among you, like a nurse tenderly caring for her own children. So deeply do w[...]