Ignite Training Conference 2018 [Day 5] {LIVE BLOG}

[Day 5 is finally here. It always creeps up on you quicker than you expect. The first day is all fun, settling in, and getting to know people over lunch, dinner, and late-night Maccas. By day 5 you feel like you’ve run a marathon. Prayerfully we’re exhausted, but also excited by what we’ve learned, how we’ve been equipped, and renewed to serve in our churches in the year to come.]

Day 5 | Morning Session | Derek Hanna: What’s In A Name [Genesis 11]

What’s in a name?

The self-help industry is massive. Derek googled and stumbled upon a way for people to love you:

  • follow your bliss
  • lead with your heart
  • look the part
  • score facetime
  • celebrate yourself
  • get your swagger on
  • tell your greatest story
  • amplify your voice – make sure your website, linked-in, social media reflect your authentic voice and mastery of your area of business – write blogs, curate your voice, retweet people and no doubt you’ll grow your influence.

What happens when every single person is about building a name for themselves? When you get 1000 people together in community all about themselves? What if my way of building myself up is about tearing you down?

People want to be loved and admired, to leave a mark – as opposed to what the world put forward in building your own name the Bible says there is a better, more significant, more eternal way you can get a name for yourself.

In Genesis 11 you have a narrative sandwiched between two genealogies (records of families). Since the Garden of Eden you’ll notice that mankind has been heading steadily eastward – away from the Garden, away from God. And their movement now stops – and they settle in around the area probably of Babylon. What will happen?

Brilliance & Rebellion (v.1-4)

Genesis 11 probably happened before chapter 10 – in chapter 10 we read of other languages and spreading out, here in Genesis 11 we have the precursor to that (a chiastic structure).

11:1-4 – their plan. They combine their brilliance and creativity, and technological advancement to do three things:

  1. v3 – Build with bricks and bitumen – there is some advancement in technology – society harnessing creation working together for a cause. Which at first appears to be good.
  2. v4 – they use the technological advancement to build a city – and in the heart of the city is this massive landmark. They build a tower (perhaps a ziggurat) – but it’s a landmark with a twist. The function of ziggurats at the time was to provide access for the gods to come down or provide access for man to go up to heaven.
  3. And notice the ‘let us build’ – which echoes God’s creation ‘let us make’ – just as God created, so shall we. But what are they building? ‘A name for ourselves’ – they are building a tower, but their real target is to build a name for themselves. This tower is for them to ascend to heaven and take their rightful place. This tower is about their glory.And when you think about it, this is how our society operates. We do all that we do not for the glory of God, but for the glory of man. We land on the moon for the glory of man. We invent the quantum computer for the glory of my bank account. We legislate the NDIS for the glory of our government. Does society ever do anything for the glory of God – it is ever committed to him?

    And yet – even in church – how much of our conversations are about building a name for God, or for building a name for ourselves? Have we mapped out our own lives in the steps that we want to take to achieve our career or life? This is our default setting… and we’re not good at asking questions of each other to penetrate this thinking. What would it look like to sit down after this conference to map out our lives – the next month, year, decade… etc – based solely on the question of how to grow the name of God in my life. This is a map which would have eternal consequences.

Judgement & Mercy (v.5-9)

So what does God do with this name building people? v5 – God comes down. What an irony. Mankind is so busy building their way up, so impressed with themselves at the scale of their construction – and God has to come down, squinting at this little building project. And what he sees doesn’t impress him in any way.

But what he sees does concern him in v6. But he’s not concerned about competition – as though they really will come up to heaven. What he’s concerned about is where this is all heading – it’s not like they are going to finish it and look upon it humbly, realise it wasn’t fulfilling, and then turn back to God. That there is the problem – this is God’s concern. As one people they have crossed a threshold – they have set up a society in direct opposition to God. They have removed the good and proper boundaries that God has put in place for mankind. And now that God is out of the picture, and without external restraint for what they should do, their creativity and ingenuity has led them into places where they should not go. Where life is destroyed and not nurtured.

And that’s what we see in our world today as well. We have pills over the counter to abort unwanted pregnancies. We have developed nuclear technology to cure cancer… and use that same tech to build weapons capable of wiping out cities. We build a server to provide heaps of information at our fingertips… and we adapt it to upload photos and videos for our sexual gratification.

God is not threatened by all this. He is grieved by it.

So in v7 he comes down to judge – by confusing and dividing people. The word ‘Babel’ is a wordplay with ‘Babylon’ which also sounds like the word for ‘confusion’. Throughout the Bible Babylon is set in opposition to Jerusalem. Jerusalem is the City of God, Babylon is set in opposition to God, the city of Satan. That’s why it appears so much in the book of Revelation as the picture of human rebellion against God.

And then he scatters them.

As this story closes, and as we walk through the next genealogy, it appears that humanity is just lost.

But then… in Genesis 12, we open up with some extraordinary promises and work of God. The promises to Abraham, which are ultimately fulfilled in Jesus – the reversal of this terrible moment in Genesis 11 takes place.

Then in Acts 2 we read:

Acts 2:1–11

[1] When the day of Pentecost arrived, they were all together in one place. [2] And suddenly there came from heaven a sound like a mighty rushing wind, and it filled the entire house where they were sitting. [3] And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. [4] And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.

[5] Now there were dwelling in Jerusalem Jews, devout men from every nation under heaven. [6] And at this sound the multitude came together, and they were bewildered, because each one was hearing them speak in his own language. [7] And they were amazed and astonished, saying, “Are not all these who are speaking Galileans? [8] And how is it that we hear, each of us in his own native language? [9] Parthians and Medes and Elamites and residents of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, [10] Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the parts of Libya belonging to Cyrene, and visitors from Rome, [11] both Jews and proselytes, Cretans and Arabians—we hear them telling in our own tongues the mighty works of God.” (ESV)

Note those final words – many tongues are heard. Sounds like babel. Those people who were scattered at Babel are now gathered here, hearing together the news of Jesus Christ. They hear about God’s new king and kingdom – and how God is gathering his people back – and how sin is going to be done away with in the future, and how people can come into this kingdom by faith (not works).

And then finally we see the final place where God is taking this world:

Revelation 7:9–10

[9] After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, [10] and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!” (ESV)

Revelation 21:1–4

[1] Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. [2] And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. [3] And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. [4] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (ESV)

Here is the new place where God and his people will live. No longer will they try to claw their way up to heaven. No more pain in Genesis 3, it is done away with. The pain of life – gone. Death, gone. Grief, crying, pain, has no place in this new creation – they are things of the old creation.

Revelation 22:1–5

[1] Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb [2] through the middle of the street of the city; also, on either side of the river, the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, yielding its fruit each month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations. [3] No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. [4] They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. [5] And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (ESV)

The city is beautiful, the leaves of the tree for healing – and notice the name written on God’s people: God’s name.

Reflections for us…

So whose future are you going to build? Whose name are we going to bear, and going to proclaim?

This past week we’ve heard from people who are going to Japan to preach the gospel – learn the language, learn the culture, uproot themselves. We’ve heard from people going to university ministry so that students on campus can hear the gospel. Why? Because they believe that there is no other name than Jesus by which people must be saved.

There’s been a shift in thinking in the past decade regarding the work. We’ve shifted away from the idea of vocational gospel work to now just vocational work as redemptive. The pendulum swing has been helpful in some ways but unhelpful in other ways. But we must remember the uniqueness of gospel ministry – it is still special, and only the gospel redeems.

And even if we’re not great at teaching or discipling others – we are a part of a body where we can do it together. We partner financially with each other to pursue the work of the gospel. We take the skills we employ in the workplace and we don’t give second best to the church. We use the skills we use at work and work out how we can use them for the glory of the gospel.

When we think about the common denominator for the heroes of our faith is rarely brilliance. God doesn’t move people from darkness to light through brilliance. The common denominator is the gospel. It’s that which God takes to renew hearts.

So will this be our future? Will it be the Name that we glorify?

[What an end! A big call to give our lives over to gospel ministry, in whatever capacity, in community together, because Jesus has reversed the curse of Genesis 11. Stunning.

Well that’s it folks. Strand groups are left and we’re done with Ignite for another year. Heaps of great conversations. Lots of great books sold. Lots of encouragement and prayer through the week. Keep praying that the effects of this week will last a lifetime in joyful service of God’s kingdom.]

Ignite Training Conference 2018 [Day 4] {LIVE BLOG}

[The penultimate day is here. Everyone is feeling the exhaustion creeping up. We’ve been well fed – physically and spiritually – and today’s the big day when the delegates begin to synthesise their strand material and formulate a bible study/talk. Your prayers are appreciated as we round the last bend and head into the last stretch. But first, Derek Hanna up speaking on 5 chapters from Genesis 5-10!]

Day 4 | Morning Session | Derek Hanna: Loving Enough To Judge [Genesis 5-10]

Judgement Vs. Tolerance

The story of Noah is a confronting story. When you live in a Christian bubble you can make this story really cute and domesticated. We have lots of toys of Noah’s Ark – we make it really cute, the animals look fun, the happy ending… it all looks fun, until you remember that thousands of people died. Richard Dawkins thinks that the story of animals coming into the ark is charming, but also morally reprehensible – how could God kill humanity like that, and also kill the animals. This story, for Dawkins, is another nail in the coffin for God.

In the William Lane Craig vs Lawrence Krausse debate – Krausse attacked the bible on the issue of the killing of the Canaanites. He argued that no God would commit genocide like that. The response to that should have been that the story neither proves nor disproves God – but that all you can say is you disapprove of how God judges.

But this story in Noah is so much more.

A God who grieves

First we need to see that God’s grief starts this story off. Genesis 6:1-4 is a little confusing and strange – but what we generally see is that there is fundamentally wrong with creation. This is a continuing corruption of creation – the ‘sons of God’ might be understood to be rulers of the time – and that they were taking new wives away from their new husbands to lie with them (right of first choice). This is a corrupt society. So what God does is limit their rule by limiting their lives to 120 years instead of the long lives we’ve seen in the other genealogies.

But God’s gentle judgement of limiting their lives seems to have no effect. 6:5 and 6:12 onwards spells this out. Every inclination of humans was away from God – every thought and deed was in rebellion against God.

The pain that God feels in 6:6 is similar to the word of ‘pain’ in childbirth upon women. God regretted that he had made man on earth and was deeply grieved. And this grief reveals both his deep love of creation and his understanding of how deep the problem runs – how wrong it is that it exists in this world. The picture of God’s grief gives us an insight into the ‘grief’ that the Spirit feels in Ephesians 4:30-31. When there’s bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour, etc (v31) in us then we grieve God. While those sins are against others, the first and foremost one grieved is God. David knows this as well from Psalm 51 – in which he says, ‘Against you (God) and you alone have I sinned…’ Uriah might have objected to that – but David knew that the first person he had wronged was God.

We might find that generally unacceptable. If I blew up at someone who I thought was a friend we might think that our issue is with that friend… but the Bible says that this issue is first and foremost against God. This is difficult to communicate to our world – that sin is not just against others, but against God first. How can we communicate this? Here’s Derek’s attempt:

Derek had an exchange student from Japan staying with them. He stayed in their house and others – and Derek’s boys loved him. He was the most polite person ever to stay at his house – he offered to cook, clean, and low impact. You would hardly see him around the house. The garden was clean, the sun shone when he was around. Here was a man in his house respecting the house and lovingly engaging with the family.

Now imagine that this boy now started to not acknowledge Derek, didn’t engage with him, didn’t interact with Derek. It wouldn’t matter if he did all that other stuff – because if he lived in Derek’s house and didn’t acknowledge him then we would think that was strange and wrong. We think that if this student was trashing the house then that is a clear problem. But even while he was that house and living a good and moral and upright life, if he ignores Derek whose house he is staying in – using his house and enjoying the fruits of Derek’s labour, there is a fundamental problem.

See – we forget that this is God’s world and believe it is ours. We think we’re morally upright and define what it is. And we wreck it.

We cannot live in this world and ignore the God who made it.

In Genesis 6 we’re not sure exactly what’s wrong, but we can be sure that it’s not a Genesis 2 picture.

A God who judges

So what does God do? From 6:13 onwards his actions are a reversal of Genesis 1. He systematically dismantles all the work in Genesis 1 – what happens is un-creation. Instead of waters separated from land, now the distinction is gone – water covers the earth. Instead of populating the earth with life now that life is taken away. We see here the depths of God’s pain – that everything, even those that were made in his image, are un-created.

Putting aside the big scientific questions about the flood, and keeping with what the author is trying to say – we see that this act was an act of uncreation.

So how do we explain to people that God would arbitrarily flood and kill all of mankind? There are two unhelpful paths that we can go down in order to explain it.

First – the danger of explaining away the unexplainable. This is a challenge when it comes to other commands like God’s command to wipe away the nations in the conquest – same in 1 Sam 15 the wiping out of the nation there. There can be a tendency to say, ‘These people got what they deserved.’ We read that some of these Canaanite societies were committing child sacrifice – wow, they deserved it. Right? Well, nations are complex things. Even in Nazi Germany not all Germans were supports of the Nazi’s. Could the write of Genesis been a little more nuanced? (A good book on this topic is ‘Is God a Monster?’)

See on some level when we get to these issues we have to let God be God. He may do things we can’t understand, can’t fathom. We do need to let the clear interpret the unclear. God does clearly reveal his character in the Bible – particularly in the Lord Jesus.

Second – another unhelpful response is to bury our head in the stand – to wash our hands clean of it. To say that the God of the OT is not the God I know – the God I know is in Jesus who loves and gives his life. But in doing this we create a bipolar God in our liking. You end up creating a soft God who can’t deal with the hardship and suffering and evil of this world.

Just because God’s judgement, or any other aspect of God, makes us uncomfortable doesn’t mean we can ignore it and not deal with it. If God is a person then there may be parts of him that resonate with you and some parts that don’t. Some parts we might not like.

See if everything God says to you makes you fine and comfortable then you are probably not dealing with or engaging with the God of the Bible. If God is real surely there is a possibility that he hasn’t told me everything I want to know

Judgement is something that God does. But we need to keep reading the story – for we will find that God desires to judge without condemnation.

A God who’s determined to save

Genesis 6:8 – Noah finds favour with God. He has integrity, is righteous and blameless. Noah’s name means ‘relief’ – and in him there’s a sense in which Noah gives relief to us the reader and to God. We know the story – Noah is selected, set apart, and given the big task of building the boat and helping the animals on board.

In Noah and the saving of his family, we see God has not abandoned his creation. Now he is like a new Adam – the instructions to Noah and his family echo the instructions given to Adam. And then he makes a covenant with Noah to never again strike down the whole of creation like this – confirming it with a rainbow.

And yet even within this new creation there is a tingle, a warning that this isn’t going to last. See 8:21 – while God will not again smite the earth, human hearts have not changed. And then moments after walking off the boat we have a bizarre encounter in chapter 9. 9:18ff – as soon as God has reestablished creation, the next Adam gets on the booze and his sons shame him. Talk about short-term memories. Another Fall.

Reflections for us…

Here’s the thing about God’s judgement. We often think that God does need to judge the most heinous and evil of people – but that we are fine. We’re on the right side of (judgement) history. But really… where is the line between ok and ‘should be judged’?

In Romans 3 we see that God does judge. 3:1-20 there’s the clear bad news that all of us are on the wrong side of (judgement) history.

But…

3:21ff there is now one who has come and taken God’s judgement upon himself. What we see in these verses is that the sin that is so prevalent in this world is not overlooked – it is dealt with. 3:25 God deals with all that sin on his Son. 3:26 God must judge because he is just – but he is also merciful. In the cross we see that God is righteous in and of himself – and his declaring of others righteous by faith in Him is also an act of God’s righteousness.

This idea that faith in Jesus alone is the only way to be saved is repugnant to this world. Our world wants all people to go to heaven because we’re all basically good. And here we come with this news that only through Jesus can this happen.

A few years ago in a NY Times article Tim Keller was asked whether this was right – right that good people should go to hell. Keller replied,

“You imply that really good people (e.g., Gandhi) should also be saved, not just Christians. The problem is that Christians do not believe anyone can be saved by being good. If you don’t come to God through faith in what Christ has done, you would be approaching on the basis of your own goodness. This would, ironically, actually be more exclusive and unfair, since so often those that we tend to think of as “bad” — the abusers, the haters, the feckless and selfish — have themselves often had abusive and brutal backgrounds. Christians believe that it is those who admit their weakness and need for a savior who get salvation.”

And that’s right. We don’t get in by our goodness – but by admitting our weakness and need for a saviour.

The story of Noah, as understood by the Apostle Peter – 2 Peter 3 – is a reminder that this world is reserved for judgement. But Christians don’t tend to live that way. We live as though this world is ok. Do we look at our friends and family who do not know Jesus and does our heartache that they do not know Jesus?

Peter Jensen shared last night that on Q&A the hostility he felt was not directed at him, but directed to God. And yet he lovingly stood his ground on the gospel, proclaimed it in the final minutes… and two people that he knows of got saved. Would Peter Jensen trade away the 55 minutes of mockery and scorn for the eternal lives of two people? No way.

Judgement is looming. 2 Peter 3:9ff – God’s heart aches for the lost. And that should shape our priorities, our lives, and the way that we view this world. In the face of mockery, we will lovingly proclaim this news.

[Another big talk from Derek. Another massive implication to boldly proclaim the gospel, and judgement, to our dying world.]

Evening Session | Peter Jensen: Why Are we here? [1 Corinthians 15:35-58]

[Final session with Peter Jensen. He’s such a warm, loving, and gentle man. I’ll miss these evening sessions!]

Worship

We are born to worship. Wherever you go around the world people worship – all sorts of religions. In our country we don’t like the idea that we are worshippers because that means someone is bigger and more important than us. We believe we’re good enough, we’re essentially good, we can rule ourselves.

You can see that we’re all worshippers by watching shoppers at the shopping centres. The worship of money/material possessions. In communist China and Russia there was worship of people bowing down before statues of their mighty leaders.

But we are all dependent creatures – depending on each other – frail creatures, not gods. We are worshippers.

The trick is not do you worship, it’s to make sure you worship correctly. You worship the right God. Worship is not good in of itself – it depends on who you worship and how you worship. You must worship the right God in the right way. Jesus said in John 4 that worshippers must worship in spirit and truth.

So the number one question is: Who is the God we worship?

The God we worship

The God we worship is the God who has revealed himself. We do not have the capacity to find the true God on our own – we must rely on disclosure. In order to know someone we need to have someone disclose themselves to us – reveal their name, reveal their habits, etc.

What do we learn about God in the Bible?

There is one true God. He is three-in-one. He is holy, sovereign, righteous, and good. And many other things – including and summed up in ‘love’.

The One God – this is shocking. Most people through human history thought there were many gods. In the forces and powers around us, in our individual homes, etc. The fact of one God was a gospel – a paradigm shift for many people. And for millions of people who were troubled by ‘spirits’/gods this was good news.

Three-in-one – he is one God, with three persons. Not like us. This is the best language that we can use to describe this. Through all eternity we discover that God is love because the Son loves the Father and the Father loves the Son and the Spirit binds them together in love. He is pulsating with love within himself.

Holy – separate from us, different from us. Not us. The temptation in all religious thinking is to make god in our image. Just a bigger version of us. No – he is a holy God, not human, not angelic, but God – a different person from us.

Sovereign – in charge of all things. It is his will that reigns supreme.

Righteous – he is perfect, through and through.

Good – not evil. In all he does he is good – through and through.

In all of these traits he is thoroughly unlike us. And it is only when we understand this one God we are released – we come to know the who and what we are, and we are now free to work out the why we are here and where we are going.

The King who has a kingdom, who has set us up in his kingdom and under his rule – and we rebelled in mutiny. The human race’s history is one of rebellion. But then he gave promises, righteous promises and covenants with a people – and they find their YES in him (Jesus).

If we want to find this picture of God we can look at Mt Sinai (Exodus 19), or in Isaiah 6. When Isaiah saw the holy God his instant reaction was ‘woe is me for I am lost!’ What an encounter!

The worship we offer

What is worship? Worship is sort of like homage or reverence – what you give to rulers. When you worship you give due to a superior being. At it’s heart is service. You worship by serving, you worship by obedience.

And yet we have used the word worship so frequently it has changed the meaning to church attendance (even singing) – but it’s meaning is obedience and service. It involves your whole being – your heart, mind, and body.

Worship requires responsiveness. Even Christians can have the belief that we are here to manipulate God. And so we use the idea of worship to squeeze blessings out of God. Instead of our religion being ‘Thy will be done’ it becomes ‘My will be done’. Our business is not to force him to do our will – which is corrupt and ignorant – but to do his will – which is righteous, good and for our benefit.

Fundamentally worship is an exercise in faith. The first duty you owe to God is to believe him, trust him. Faith is worship. If we try to get to heaven by good works – which God says is impossible anyway – it is deeply offensive to God.

Worship is also not an outward thing. A common confusion is that it is involved with ritual. God gave Israel ritual – there’s nothing wrong with ritual per se – but it’s wrong when ritual takes the place of heart.

Isaiah 1:10-15 – God gave these people the rituals, but they had replaced their hearts with it. 1 Samuel 15 also says the same thing. Mere ritual will not save you. It will only condemn you.

The voice of worship lifts up and attributes all glory to him and not us – even the grace we say before meals does this.

The worship He taught us

God gave the following for his people:

  • Tabernacle/Temple – presence of God (relationship) – like his palace in Jerusalem, which indicated his presence and helped signify relationship with God
  • Sacrifices – propitiation (redemption) – they were given for a number of reasons but the heart of which was the Day of Atonement, which were propitiatory sacrifices.
  • Priests – Mediation (reconcilation)
  • Festivals – Commemoration (remembrance) – remembering things of the past

All of this was stimulated by the word of God – but it had to be inward, it was public but had a personal aspect to it.

The worship He bought us

What we saw in the OT was the blueprints of what was to come – the blueprints point to the reality to come.

  • Jesus Christ as temple – the meeting place, the presence of God in our midst; sacrifice – bulls and goats couldn’t do it, only the sacrifice of the God-man Jesus could take away sin; priest – he is the mediator; and redeemer – the one who gives his life to save us, the one who fulfills the worship of the OT. His death is the one we remember as the redeemer.
  • Our confidence in approaching God in Christ through the Spirit – what gives us the confidence to approach God? Christ enables us to enter the presence of the living God in order to be embraced by the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Such confidence!

    One of the reasons why funny things happen in churches is because of a lack of assurance. But the NT encourages us to see what we already have. The death and resurrection of Jesus is God’s great permanent sign for all of us. We don’t need another miracle – we have the miracle. When you lack assurance, return to the cross of Christ and remember he died for me – and in his mighty resurrection we are justified.

  • Our whole life as worship – Romans 12:1-2 – when we present our bodies 24/7-365 to the living God that is our act of worship. Hebrews 12:28-13:1ff – acceptable worship is to be offered to God – which is listed in chapter 13 – which is our worship book.
  • Our fellowship as worship – Colossians 3:1-17 – as the body of Christ we grow together in the likeness of Jesus Christ – including singing and making melody to the heart. The great genius is congregational singing – not musicians on stage drawing attention to themselves.
  • Our destiny as worship – 1 Corinthians 15 – the contrast between the dust man and the man of heaven – and just as you were born in the image of dust so you will bear the image of the man of heaven. As we are waiting for that great day to come again and we feel that eternal weight of glory. Not only will we be able to see Jesus, we will be like Jesus, and we will not be able to sin, and we will be working for Jesus. It will be unimaginably brilliant.

So what do we do in the meantime? 1 Corinthians 15:58 – be steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labour is not in vain.

[There’s something about Peter’s simple preaching. He preaches with a simple transparency of a man who earnestly believes the promises of God’s Word, and the history of one who has had that trust tested again and again. When he tells us to persevere… we listen.]

 

 

 

Ignite Training Conference 2018 [Day 3] {LIVE BLOG}

[Hump day of the conference is here. By now we’re settling into the routine, being challenged by the talks, being stretched by the strand material, being encouraged by the workshops, and growing new friendships across churches. Your prayers for the delegates to continue being sustained for the remaining week is appreciated!]

Day 3 | Morning Session | Derek Hanna: What’s Your Problem? [Genesis 3]

What’s wrong with us?

So what’s wrong with the world? In the news this week: murder, animal abuse, global unrest. Every day is like this – the news filled with terrible events. Derek was chatting with a friend and they concluded that they both knew something was not right with the world. ‘There’s lots of brokenness out there… but do you think there’s any brokenness in you?’ That’s a rather confronting question, especially when trying to build a new friendship!

But we all know that there is something broken in all of us. The self-help industry is massive, as a reflection of the problem. But whether the problems are ‘out there’ or ‘in here’ they all have the same starting place.

Genesis 3.

At the end of Genesis 2 we have a picture of perfection. But then 3:1 opens up with a sinister plot with perfection. The serpent is ‘crafty’ which in Hebrew rhymes with ‘naked’ (ie the nakedness and goodness and perfection of Adam and Eve). Here in this verse is the sinister music of the antagonist coming in.

What happened?

1 – Eve doubts God’s Word.

It begins with questioning. He starts by questioning the motives of God. He is the introducer of chaos – and begins by asking, ‘Did God really say…?’ He’s not introducing himself, and then asking a genuine question of inquiry. His words are a sneer. The fall of mankind did not begin by logic or rationale, it started with a sneer.

If you want to make a Christian feel stupid, don’t start by questioning their logic. You undermine how they feel. You question their faith.

A few years ago Lawrence Krauss debated William Lane Craig – but the debate was not about logic and reason and rationale. If you watched him on the night it was all about disdain, sneers, used to communicate his point.

Why do people move away from God and faith in Jesus? Rarely is it logical or rational. It is often started with embarrassment about what we believe, doubt, having our faith sneered at.

Notice also that when the Serpent speaks he removes God’s personal name ‘Yahweh’ from the equation. He asks ‘Did God really say…’  And then disastrously Eve copies this way of speaking.

You know there’s a breakdown in your relationship with your children when they start calling you, ‘Mr Hanna.’ I’m not Mr Hanna, I’m your dad!

When Eve copies the serpent’s language she creates distance between herself and God. Into that space, doubts creep in. And that’s the way it is with us as well. Questions arise about God’s goodness. Why would he have that tree there and tell me to not eat? Why would he make me a sexual being and then tell me to remain pure? Why would he open up an opportunity for me and then close the door? Doesn’t God want me to be happy? Instead of a relationship of trust with God we start to see all the rules and restrictions.

2 – A lie.

The serpent lies. He changes God’s word – and suggests that God’s word was unreliable and that God has a hidden agenda: to keep you subjugated, a slave, ignorant. If you eat the fruit you will be like him.

And that’s what God says happens in v22 – they have become like him. They have become like him in knowing what is right and wrong. But now in their fallenness, they could not distinguish which was the right choice. Choice now became enslaved.

Imagine looking at something that will kill you as if it would bring you pleasure. Independence from God is based on the lie that you’ll have more life (not less) apart from God – but that choice that appears to bring you pleasure will actually kill you.

We know that we live in a sex-saturated world where it’s increasingly difficult to talk and share the opinion that the Bible says that while sex is good it is reserved for men and women in a committed monogamous relationship. But the questions raised on this truth is to doubt God’s goodness in this plan – why would God restrict me from this pleasure with anyone I wish?

Back to Eve – with God held at a distance the whole world is now seen in a new light.

3 – Eve break’s God’s command

Halfway through v6 she takes the fruit and gave some to her husband, they ate, their eyes were opened, they were ashamed, they hid from each other.

This wasn’t a mistake. She didn’t just eat the wrong fruit in a moment of confusion. It was a deliberate decision. When she believed the lie that God was not for her, withholding goodness from her, she grasped for it herself. That’s what sin does – we doubt God’s goodness and attempt to seize the goodness of life for ourselves. Sin is born in a mindset that God does not have your best interests at heart. That he is holding something back for you – which is for your good. But if you take it you’ll have more than what you have now, you’ll be more content.

Does this ring true for us? When we struggle with sin in our lives, when we feel distant from God – that we find it harder to believe that the things God says are good for us we do not believe. But instead we believe that the things that are not good for us will actually bring us contentment – and we walk down that path in unbelief.

The real problem is in our hearts. It begins with our distance from and distrust of God.

The Consequences

The scene after the eating of the fruit is somewhat tragically comical. They hide and then deny. God comes into the scene and Adam and Eve flee. He calls out to them and their shame comes out. What do they do next? They rationalise their behaviour.

When God asks what they did – Adam blames Eve for their actions, then Eve passes the blame onto the Serpent. No ownership, just passing the buck.

God curses them in reverse order: the serpent first, then Eve, then Adam. The curses for the woman include pain in child rearing and conflict in her relationship with her husband. The curses for the man include hardship in work, and ultimately death. They both then get booted out of the Garden. Everything has unravelled from Genesis 2.

How could this have all be avoided?

Well, for one – you could have gotten rid of the tree. Did God set up the situation for failure?

One of the faculties that God has given to mankind is the ability to choose – the capacity to make decisions (as a result of being made in the image of God). And one of the choices God lays before his morally capable creatures is to choose between living in relationship with me, or to choose to live apart from me. We can often get caught up in the tree – but if you do you’ll miss what is being said here.

Notice that the character who is prominent in the first half of this story is noticeably absent in the second half of the story. Where was Adam in all of this? He was right there. In 3:1 the ‘you’ on the lips of the serpent is plural. He was there. He was silent. In Genesis 2 he was given the task of watching the Garden – to guard the Garden. We often blame the tree for this disaster. But really, the blame is on Adam. As soon as the words came out of the serpent’s mouth he should have whacked him. His job was to guard the garden. We shouldn’t be getting rid of the tree – we need a better gardener, a better guardian. A better guardian who will defend God’s honour and Word, and one who will secure our future.

Paul says this in Romans 5:12ff. The first Adam brought destruction. But the second Adam, through his death for us, gives us the (free) gift of life.

Reflections for us…

First, you have to stop being your own guardian. Sometimes when we’re watching sports on tv we can easily think we’ll do a better job – easy to do that from a distance. We can do that with Adam as well – thinking we would have done a better job. But seriously, we would fail just as much. We need to trust Jesus.

Second – we live in a world of wide and expansive choices. And while it’s not unique historically – that we can choose so many different avenues to walk down with all its allures to live in ways other than God intends for us, and with its pressures, and with its temptations to modify God’s word to suit our lives – it is probably fair to say that we have far more choices than ever to do that with. And unless we have dealt with our hearts beforehand we will not be able to tackle these choices in right ways. We need to be convinced that the God who created all things is also our loving heavenly Father who has done so much for us to live in relationship with him. We need to see that Christ is the better guardian and our Saviour. We need to see that we need to draw nearer to him rather than draw nearer to this world.

“There is a difference between believing that God is holy and gracious, and having a new sense on the heart of the loveliness and beauty of that holiness and grace. The difference between believing that God is gracious and tasting that God is gracious is as different as having a rational belief that honey is sweet and having the actual sense of its sweetness.” – Jonathan Edwards

We need to taste that God is good – otherwise, we will continue to see the lies of this world as sweeter.

[I think I’ve heard sermons on Genesis 3 more than any other passage of scripture, and still today I was challenged to see the depths of my brokenness and sin, and encouraged to see the goodness and grace of Jesus.]

Evening Session | Peter Jensen: Where Am I? [2 Corinthians 4]

Purpose and meaning

Psychologists have looked at the issue of death and dying. In Australia, there is a phobia about death – and so we do not talk about it. The Funeral Industry has also changed in relation to that – now death is a celebration event. People eulogise at funerals as well. Peter went to a funeral of a 30yo which had 16 eulogies! As though they wanted to speak him back into life!

But according to psychologists, we manage our fear of death by focusing on purpose and meaning in life. Attempts to deal with our phobia: take selfies and celebrate life, attend church, do whatever we can to empower us against death.

What is said here is true. In the Australian community there is an intense fear of death and all sorts of ways to bolster the mind against it.

When Peter asks professionals about what is happening with the soul of the country the same message comes out again and again: people detect in Australians anxiety. You may live a wealthy life, have a good job, but you’re anxious. Anxious because of disease? No – an underlying angst in the Aussie soul. We create a sense of permanence and meaning in life to try and cope with our fear of death.

This turns into loneliness, especially in old age – architects are evening working out how to build retirement villages for loners. But this sense of loneliness will be massive. The destruction of the family, collapse of organisations and communities. And even the communities, like clubs, that we attend are not real places that help – especially with the alcohol and gambling/pokies that infest these areas. But alcoholism and gambling addiction is an outworking of this anxiety/phobia of death.

And since we have invented for us a godless world we find ourselves in a timeless life. A life without time, a life without purpose. And while we try to construct meaning they are shallow, or ultimately meaningless.

The people that Peter speaks to also note that with the anxiety there is also a sense of entitlement. When patients hear from a GP that there isn’t much that can be done, patients respond with rebuff – there must be something you can do because Google told me you could!

All of this comes from a deep sense for a hunger for significance and a hunger for meaning. We fill the gaps with work, play, sex – but for what if there is no purpose in life?

But there is a gospel. A gospel which gives us purpose and therefore meaning.

 

The promises of God

We know that in the beginning God made everything good. Yet man reached for autonomy – aut (self) nomos (rule) – and that ruined everything. But into this catastrophe God still speaks. The narrative goes forward, and we see someone like Noah who receives a covenant in the rainbow, and various other figures who receive other covenants. Fundamentally the promises of God are all about this: I am going to re-establish my kingdom through the reestablishment fo my people and bring them into my heavenly rest, into a new age in which every blessing will rest upon their head. I am going to save the world and the Kingdom of God will be restored.

One of the key promises was to Abraham and the threefold promises: people, land, blessing. Another key covenant/promise is to David – with a Davidic King to rule eternally. Then through the Prophets, like Jeremiah, in which the promises of God will now be written on the heart of his people.

So what are promises?

First thing about promises: every promise ever made is about the future. Every promise is the attempt to control the time that comes to us and shape them in our way. The second thing about promises is that they are always verbal. God’s promises are always verbally made. The third thing about promises – how do they impact upon someone? By faith. But you see, one of the problems with this is that most people can’t keep their word. So a ‘promise’ is not a strong thing in human parlance. But God always keeps his promises.

So when in the Bible his promises don’t seem to be going well he reiterates them and builds on them, and continues to promise that his Kingdom will come. There will be a day when all comes good, when he reigns again. Isaiah has extraordinary pictures of what this will be like. The Bible is filled with all sorts of promises within the bible.

The structure of the promises of the bible push its narrative along. So whenever we see a promise in scripture we see a goal and a purpose in life – and then we have a purpose: to be there when the Kingdom comes. And one day we will stand before God in judgement – that’s his promise as well – and every deed we have done, and every deed with did not do when we should have done it, will be judged. The goal of our lives is to get that tick of approval from God in the end.

[Peter at this point turns to the whiteboard and draws a diagram of biblical history. Check out the audio to hear his explanation of the ‘present evil age’, the coming of Jesus, ‘the last days’, and ‘the age to come’.]

God’s great ‘Yes!’

2 Cor 1:20-22. All of God’s promises find their resounding YES in Jesus. The good news is that we don’t have to look anywhere else to work out where God’s promises are fulfilled.

The battle against evil and the evil one has been won already – on the cross. The greatest moment in history has turned everything around.

“If William Shakespeare walked into the room right now we would all stand, but if Jesus Christ walked into the room we would all kneel.” – Charles Lamb

Jesus is so wonderful, so central to everything in God’s purposes and plans.

2 Cor 4:1ff – we get to see the glory of God. Glory has the idea of heaviness, of weightiness, of significance. Where do we see it? In the face of Jesus. Where do we see the face of Jesus? In the preaching of the gospel.

And yet…the great ‘Not Yet’

4:7ff – While we have glory, and see glory, Christians are not relieved from pain and suffering. The New Testament does not pretend that Christian living is easy street. 4:8-10 makes this clear – this world, this life, is filled with suffering and pain. And we shouldn’t be surprised.

4:16ff – the outer-self wastes away – but our inner self is getting changed and transformed from one degree to the next towards glory. That’s our great hope.

And so…the life of faith

We live by faith. 2 Cor 5:4-7 – while wasting away the life now is by faith. How do we live? By trusting Jesus. Trusting the promises of God – that we will be resurrected, that we will see Jesus, that we will be suffering free.

Living by ‘faith’ has been so mangled today by false teaching – especially the prosperity gospel. Faith has become the means by which one attains freedom from suffering, pain, and freedom to live prosperously. Faith is something we have and make.

No. The power of our faith is in accordance with the power of the person we put our faith in. It’s not the quantity of your faith, but the person in whom your faith rests matters. This is why the prosperity gospel’s version of faith is eschatologically flawed – attempting to take all the things in the ‘age to come’ into ‘the present age’. Paul speaks of wasting away. Stephen was martyred. There’s no escape for them in their faith.

2 Cor 4:17-18 – the glory we receive will be huge. If we saw ourselves in glory we would be tempted to bow down in worship. We will win. Nero put Paul to death. But now we name our dogs Nero and our children Paul – so who won that?

Who are we? We are great scum of the universe sinners. But we are saved. Redeemed. Where are we now? Between the first and second coming. Redeemed, renewed, and waiting for redemption and renewal. Yes, we might be afraid of death – but Jesus promises to walk with us through that valley, and then we will see him face to face and we will be glorious: reflecting his glory.

[Gosh… if you’ve missed Peter’s talks so far you need to make it to the last one. That was stunning. A wonderful gospel-centred reminder that in the midst of our fears and feelings of being rubbish Jesus lifts us up and will get us to the end. Come Lord Jesus, come quickly that we may see you!]

Question and Answer | Peter Jensen, Derek Hanna, Christopher Lung

How can our generation avoid misreading our culture?

Peter: You will fail, that’s ok. But this sort of conference (ie Ignite) that we didn’t have is essential. The books you’re getting are first grade. So you are better resourced then we were. Furthermore, it is important that we are all thinkers and thinking through the implications of our faith with others, so we don’t go off track. And finally, we have to have the courage to stand up for Christ – especially at university where people take for granted that the secular way is the only way to think.

Why did God allow sin to exist and happen in the first place? Were we created with an evil heart or a heart that was not perfect?

Derek: The person I’d want answering this question is Peter!

Peter: That is one of the most perfect illustrations of original sin! One of the key thing in asking questions is to ask what the Bible says. God has made his revelation to us for the things we need to know – but many questions we have, which are legitimate to ask, sometimes are not answered in the Bible. So it is better to say ‘we don’t know’ because it’s better than to speculate. In terms of the origin of sin – we don’t know. Why did God allow it? Again we don’t know. But in permitting it he has taken it and created out of it something even more wonderful than was there before. And it cost him the death of his own Son in the process.

Derek: Often the challenge we have is we want a clean cut answer, and pull the data out of the Bible that we want to fit the model we want it to fit. And when it doesn’t work we pull something out, anything out, that fits with what we want. At that point, we are telling God how he should act and be. So we need to keep being people that allow God to speak and answer the questions he deems important, and not be people who ram things into place.

Ben: How would you answer that for a non-Christian? Often this is a genuine barrier for them.

Derek: We do need to allow God be God – and to deal with God as he has revealed himself.

Peter: Also remember that a non-Christian asking the question about evil also has a problem in defining why it exists and what it is. So we should be thoughtful about how to ask questions back to them.

I have a mate who has his life altogether and doesn’t need God. How can I respond to him?

Chris: In one sense there’s not much you can do if he believes he’s fine. If he was at church and believes this then they fundamentally misunderstand the gospel. Keep trying and praying for them. And keep asking questions.

The resurrection of Jesus: Jesus didn’t need to be resurrected as God but as a man. Does that mean that the eternal God died – there was a break in the Godhead?

Peter: No. Jesus in his divinity did not die – for God cannot die. In his humanity he died. But we also have to be careful not to divide the humanity and divinity of Jesus. So remember the astonishing thing is that when Jesus died and was raised he did so like us – as one of us. He was resurrected as man, and continues as man. Wonderful!

We were created by God to be relational beings – is that because God is relational. And how does sin impact our relational component?

Derek: Being made in the image of God is to be relational – and that is a reflection of God’s triune nature – eternally relational within himself. And he has transmitted that to us – so when we are in community we reflect this nature. Was it God’s intention? Well, we can only extrapolate what is revealed in the text. We can sort of see it in Genesis 1 – without ‘relationship’ being the only thing about imaging God. In Jeremiah the people of God are spoken of as a Bride, and this image is picked up also in the New Testament as well – the corporate body is described as the singular ‘bride’. This doesn’t reduce our individuality but encourages us on our communal nature.

Peter: How does sin impact our relational nature? It does – every day. For instance – one of the main differences between Christianity and Islam is that Christianity says that ‘God is Love’. Islam cant’ say that. We can because of his triune nature – he has objects of Love in order to love – love requires an object. Peter notices in his conversation with CEOs that CEOs talk to each other not about relationships but about their jobs. Our western culture has so focused and emphasised individuality – and that’s an aberration.

What’s the importance of becoming a member of a church? Why not just attend?

Chris: As a Pastor it leaves a good annual report for me (!). I’ve noticed in my younger generation that there’s a distinct disinterest in formalities such as signing up to become a member of the church – or even marry and sign a document to be married. So we’re losing the idea of losing these commitments. So the rate of people wanting to be baptised and become members happens but is slower. A good analogy is with marriage. Having a public marriage ceremony publicly and officially says to the world that this is the person who I’m committed to. So with membership – it’s a sign of commitment. For Millennials, this is a particular struggle that we face.

Holy Spirit questions – can a Christian ever be at risk of losing their salvation and the Holy Spirit? If those who have walked away were they ever really Christians? And how can the Holy Spirit dwell within me when I don’t feel victory over sin?

Peter: What does the Bible say about whether Christians can fall away? The Bible is full of strong warnings about falling away. So does that mean that real Christians can fall away? Yes… but no. The warnings are there so that real Christians will heed them. Jesus tells the parable of the sower and warns us that various people have the appearance of faith but end up fading away. We also have the promises of God in scripture that once he has us in his hands he will not let us go. So as far as we are concerned we need to watch out for the warnings in scripture – take them seriously. Do not rely on past performance. As the Holy Spirit dwells within you he will use those warnings to keep you going.

In Christian maths it works out that God keeps us 100% and we follow him 100%.

True believers will make progress in their faith – but you will never reach sinless perfection in this life. It is always a struggle. What happens often is that as you grow more like Jesus you become more conscious of sin in your life. I often look back in life and realise that I have sinned in ways I didn’t know then. And as I progress in life I keep remembering that I am a great sinner and Christ is a great Saviour.

What was going through your mind (Peter) as you were hearing scathing comments on ABC’s Q&A – and how did you manage to still speak the gospel.

Peter: First – I have never been more prayed for. People all around the nation were praying for me. If indeed God used it then it was through the prayers of God’s people. Second – before the program began I made a clear aim to love the people on the panel. I did not view the panellists as enemies out to get me. They were not out to get me, or you, they have a quarrel with God. So by his grace he enabled me to love them. Yes, they were a bit rude but what was going on in their hearts and minds that led them to act that way? Third – in response to God’s prayer the host, Tony Jones, asked me for a final word. In God’s timing, I remembered John 3:16 – and heard later that two people were converted through that. Praise God for that.

Ignite Training Conference 2018 [Day 2] {LIVE BLOG}

[Day 2 is always the most fun – you’re getting into the groove, there’s heaps to look forward to, and the first days talks have left you salivating for more – and today more is on offer! And for those reading, don’t forget to check out the bookstall – heaps of books left, especially the biographies (which are phenomenally great ways to start your 2018!).]

Day 2 | Morning Session | Derek Hanna: Being Human [Genesis 2]

What does it mean to be human?

Peter Singer – an Australian philosopher – “Sanctity of Life or Quality of Life” Pediatrics 72, no. 1 (July 1983)

Whatever the future holds, it is likely to prove impossible to restore in full the sanctity-of-life view. The philosophical foundations of this view have been knocked asunder. We can no longer base our ethics on the idea that human beings are a special form of creation made in the image of God, singled out from all other animals, and along possessing an immortal soul. Our better understanding of our own nature has bridged the gulf that was once thought to lie between ourselves and other species, so why should we believe that the mere fact that a being is a member of the species Homo Sapiens endows its life with some unique, almost infinite value?” p128-129.

One could probably tell that Peter Singer is not a Christian. Singer’s philosophy leads us to see that no life is more special than any other – so to take the life of a lamb is as great a crime as taking the life of a human.

No matter what your views of God there’s something about Singer’s quote that just doesn’t sit right. When Praying Mantis’ mate the female eats their mate afterwards – sometimes beforehand. How does that work?! We giggle at the thought… but if a human did that we would not be laughing.

Derek’s dog got cancer… and they opted to put him down. But if a human gets cancer… would we ‘put them down’? No. We know that there’s a qualitative difference between a dog and a human life.

In the Western World where secularism has created a vacuum, areas of life where God has been entirely removed, we are struggling to fill the gap left by God. How we function as a society, how we form right and wrong decisions – it’s a big wrestle. Our generation is more informed, more connected, more interconnected, and more confused and challenged in knowing how to deal with our world and it’s secular outlook. And these things bear down on our identity, our sense of worth, our place in this world, how we justify our experience, what it looks like to be normal and what it looks like to be human. It’s unprecedented.

And into this confused mess speaks Genesis 2.

Humanity: Created with a difference (1:26-27)

In Genesis 1 everything is created external to God – it’s out there, distinct from God. But with humans, you have something different. God has created humans now in his image.

But there’s a problem. What does it mean to be created in the image of God? It’s a big debated point. And while it appears to be a key part of who we are it’s not defined immediately. Another use of the phrase appears in Genesis 9 – if the blood of a human is spilt that’s a crime because they are made in the image of God. So even after the fall of Genesis 3 mankind is still in the image of God. Another function of image bearing is to rule – set apart from creation. The ‘image’ is applied to Jesus also – Colossians 1:15 Jesus is the image of the invisible God. 2 Cor 4:4 Jesus again is referred to as the image of God. The New Testament again picks up on this – those in Christ, Col 3:10, are being renewed in the image of their creator.

So while the image of Genesis 1-2 still exists in humanity it needs to be fixed.

Three implications from this arise:

1.  We are spiritual

We are people created to be in a relationship with God – which is fundamental to who we are, and the first thing of significance for who we are. God forms Adam from the elements of creation, and then uses his own breath to give him life. The same breath that created the universe – the stars, the solar system, the earth, the land, the water – that same breath now animates man. And he takes that man, creates a place of perfection and richness and abundance, and places mankind into it – and says, ‘It’s yours! And they are to live with God as their King – in relationship with him. And if that does not exist then something is fundamentally broken.

2.  We are material

This land that Adam and Eve are put into is pleasing, they are supposed to enjoy it. They are given the task of naming things – which is a massive authority. God outsources his own authority to this man. To name something is to have ownership over it. When parents have a child they spend a lot of time naming them. When we forget someone’s name constantly that’s offensive. A name is an invitation to relationship. Dog breeders don’t name their puppies in order to not get attached. God gives authority to mankind to exercise this power over creation – to name, to rule.

And not to rule in a way that exploits – but to rule in a way that reflects God’s goodness. They are to ‘work and keep’ the Garden – to do what God does in pushing the boundaries of the Garden out and bring order over the chaos of this world. This is God’s world, we are to care for it, we are stewards of it. It is his good world. So the lack of care, to turn a blind eye to its destruction – is sub-human. Creation is not there for us to exploit but to tend.

That said, we do not worship creation itself. It is not the ultimate good, not on par with mankind. The idea that it should be preserved completely intact for the future – not changed, or cut down in anyway – goes too far. On the one hand we don’t exploit creation, but we also don’t leave it and not touch it. We are to steward it appropriately for the present and the future.

Note – the Fall changes how we do that, but Genesis 2 sets these parameters in place.

3.  We are relational

Everything in creation so far is good – but then something happens in the creation order that is ‘not good’. The loneliness of man. Genesis 2:18-20 – Man takes on his role, but notices his loneliness. It’s not good for Adam to have no one equal to relate to, a complementary partner. Pets are great, but we are wired to connect emotionally with humans.

The point: being in the image of God is not about being married, nor is it saying that when you’re married you image God better. And while 2:24 is about marriage, the point of Eve’s creation is a reminder that humans are created to be in relationship with others.

Notice back in 1:26 that there is a plural ‘we’ used. Some have argued it is a royal ‘we’ – God is consulting his angels or another part of his creation in this moment. But that seems odd – God doesn’t do that much. We know from the rest of scripture that God is a triune God – his very nature is relational. We see within the Godhead love, relationship, submission, roles, creativity, delight – he is in perfect relationship within himself, he does not need us.

Notice also in 1:27 the parallels in this verse – ‘created’ appears three times in parallel. Image is paralleled in the second part with ‘image’ as well – but then in the third line the parallel is ‘male and female’. ‘Image’ is complementary relationship.

Humanity’s end goal – Revelation 7:9ff – is of a people who are connected, and in relationship, and bowing before God. That’s the end goal. But for now we are in Ephesians 4:11-24 – we are given to one another to build each other up, to help each other take off the old self and put on the new self. We are not saved into individuality, we are saved into the people of God. So when we hear people say, ‘I can be a Chrisitan and not go to church’ we want to push back strongly (and lovingly and gently) because it is incompatible with what God says. We were not meant to be lone rangers, it is not in our wiring.

Reflections for us…

Now here’s the kicker. When our world jettisons God but appears to flourish the temptation will be to change ourselves to be more like them. But look at our world with right eyes: the destruction of our world, and while wealth increases generationally we also see more addiction, more things made to grow our addictions, more family breakdown, more hurt people. Why? Because they have disconnected themselves from all goodness and forgotten what it means to be human. They are searching and searching for that thing that will make their brokenness whole.

We need to be going to this world with the great news that to be truly human is to be in relationship with God through Jesus Christ. To look at Jesus: the perfect man – the one who walked on water, who loved his friends, who loved his enemies that he was willing to lay down his life for them. We need to say ‘this is the One you need to be looking for’. Our communities need to exist not just for ourselves – we must not look inside so much, but also outside.

Our message: Be reconciled to God.

[Great start! Pact with insight into Genesis 2, and a massive exhortation to not fall in love with our world – to see it rightly, and to call out to it the great news that Jesus offers what everyone is really and earnestly seeking for.]

 

Evening Session | Peter Jensen: Who Am I? [Hebrews 2:5-18]

Who you were designed to be

 

For those who declared ‘God is dead’  were often seen in the Marxist movement. Marxists were not satisfied with simple godless living. They wanted to restructure human life.

Joseph Stalin – ‘Artists and writers are ‘engineers of the human soul’ to train human beings in a more socialistic way. It was always the aim of the Bolsheviks to train the human mind and to create a new type of human being.’

Communism engineered the whole of life. Even architecture – so that people would live in communal groups, sharing everything (even underwear).

Elizabeth Farrelly – ‘Modernism didn’t just promise a new world order it also promised a new human being to inhabit it… the New Jerusalem.’

An interesting reference there to Jerusalem, which is a biblical idea, and here were worldly ideas of communism taking this biblical picture and wanting to import it into this world presently.

Malcolm Turnbull – ‘The old regime of telling people how to live their lives, be you a government or a churchman, is running out of time. Australians want to be free. They want to have independence. They want to have choice… Now there are some people who distrust human nature and believe that people won’t make the right decisions and that others should make them for them. We err on the side of respecting individual judgement and respecting individual choices.’

  • Thoughts: There’s a very high view of humanity and individualism here (perhaps too high), entrusting humans to make choices for themselves

Peter makes the note that Turnbull’s quote is often assumed as correct in our culture – but is it correct? Is lack of freedom having other people telling you what you should or shouldn’t do? Turnbull’s insight is that he notes the quest for freedom is one of the great pillars of faith for our world. Freedom is choice.

Or is it? Is freedom just about choice?

Turnbull however stumbles on one major point – he ‘trusts’ human nature. But we all distrust each other – which is why we use keys and locks and have fences and gates.

Take this to a more profound degree – voluntary euthanasia. Do we trust each other to help each other make the right choices in this matter? We shouldn’t.

From a Christian point of view Turnbull’s statement is deeply lacking.

Stalin and Trotsky tried to remake human nature. Turnbull thinks we already have a good human nature – so you can pass laws that allow people to make their own choices.

Another question: what is freedom? Is it to be free from external constraint, or the ability to make choices?

The modern world is besotted with freedom, proclaiming it’s gospel of the goodness of human beings. Having abandoned God, we have turned ourselves into little gods.

In our postmodern world the saying is: ‘The reader is the author.’ If the author is the interpreter then they have power over you. But you must remain autonomous, you must remain self-governing – so it’s better that you are the author. It’s your reading of the world that makes the world. Is this freedom?

In the sexual revolution from the 1960’s this experiment was played out. You had freedom in choosing all your sexual partners. Sex was pleasure, power and identity. Today that trajectory has led us to the point that you can now choose your own gender. And what has been the result of this freedom? STD’s on the rise, cohabitation on the rise leading to more divorces, lots of sexual partners leading to damaging your persona.

Yet when we go back to the Genesis 2 picture we have Adam in perfect freedom – he lives within guardrails of God’s commands and living as God designed him to be. We open with a picture of a Kingdom – God’s people living in God’s place living under his Rule and Command. Our identity is therefore found in our relationship with God and our relationship with each other. This is how we discover who we are. To break away from that and demand our freedom leads to the catastrophic question about your identity. And that’s what we see in our world today.

Who you are in fact

In Hebrews 2 we have a quote from Psalm 8. Humanity is created crowned with glory with everything under his feet. The creator of culture as we take the materials of this world and reshape them under God’s guidance and rule.

But as we keep reading the quote and how the author uses it we realise that this quote is not about us humans today. We are not seeing ‘everything in subjection’ to us human beings (v8).

The author of Hebrews also notes that, in our observation today, we are kidding ourselves with the belief that we are free. He notes that there is one who has power over us – the devil, and death (v14-15). Death is to be feared, it is the great power over us and after death comes judgement – and this should be sobering for all to hear. The evil one uses the fear of death to bring us into slavery. And at the heart of this is sin. v17 highlights this as well.

The biblical picture of humanity is of sinful humanity. Rebellious against the Kingdom of God – his right to rule our lives. We have been proud, arrogant, and decided that we will be gods. And consequently, we have corrupted ourselves. Our sinfulness is not that we make bad decisions every now and then, it is a deep heart condition in which we rebel against God. Fundamentally we don’t make bad desires we have bad desires. It’s not that you have free will, but that your will is so corrupted that it constantly makes wrong choices.

In order to understand ourselves and our world we must understand the depth of our human depravity. It doesn’t meant that you’re totally bad, but it does mean that every part of your is corrupted. You cannot climb out of this pit with your own strength.

The great hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ was written by John Newton. He was a slave trader, a wicked man. And when he was saved he concluded at the end of his life, ‘I am a great sinner, and Christ is a great saviour.’ This is the confession of every true Christian.

Who has been a real man

So what is the solution? V8ff – the one who has been a real man. Jesus!

He suffered death, but he is crowned with glory and honour. It was our crown, and now he has it – because of the very thing he did for us: he suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death on our behalf. So now we no longer need to be afraid of death and in the grip of Satan.

Now note – Jesus did this as a man. The Son of God, a person of the divine Trinity, took upon himself human nature and became like one of us. He suffered and died and was resurrected – not because he was God but because he was a man.

Jesus was one of us, and he will now always be. In his humility he took upon what we are so that we might become what he is. (!!!!!)

God said he has put man in charge of all things and he has – Jesus is that man. And we are in him. We receive a crown because Jesus received a crown.

v17 – Jesus was made like us, so that he could be the high priest in the service of God, to turn away the wrath of God that was upon us. Through his sin-bearing death, he bore the sin of the world – and in doing that he propitiated the wrath of God. And from that we become freed from death and condemnation – no longer condemned, no longer fearing death, no longer under the bondage of sin and Satan. That is freedom. Release to become what we were meant to be.

Who gives us our humanity

v11 – We who believe in all of this are described as Jesus’ brothers. He bore our sins so that we could have the freedom we all long for. And in this he helps us become who we are meant to be, he helps us grow up. He helps us change from one degree of glory to another until we become like Christ.

Is that what you want? If you don’t want that then you don’t understand the gospel.

Our business then in life is service in worship of God. Worship is not just what happens on Sunday as we’re singing. Worship is our whole of life – with every fibre of our being. We worship God when we put our trust in God and in obedience. Worship is evangelism. Worship is faithfulness so that we will not cheat on our taxes – even for our employer.

So who am I? Your identity is a gift. You dont’ make it up for yourself. In our modern world people are trying ot make up their own identity and it is a catastrophe emotionally, spiritually, and physically. Identity is not found in what our parents gave us either. Ultimately whether you have been failed or squandered what you’ve been given – your real identity can only come as a gift from God. And it is only when you learn by putting yourself under God’s Kingdom and rule – to turn to him in repentance and faith – will you find your identity as a son and daughter of the living God, and that you are in Christ forever and ever. That’s who you were designed to be. That’s who you are. I am a great sinner, but Christ is a great saviour.

[So very amen!!

Day 2 is over and done with. Peter is on fire. If you haven’t made it yet please come! And come early – last night we packed in 250, tonight I can easily say we’re up to +300! Come early, check out the bookstall, grab an early seat, and enjoy the wisdom of a great sinner saint in Peter Jensen :)]

Ignite Training Conference 2018 [Day 1] {LIVE BLOG}

Ignite Training Conference 2018

[We’re back again! A big thank you to Brisbane School of Theology for opening up their doors and campus for our conference! The bookstall is up and running, and I’m personally excited to be opening up the Bible again with an enthusiastic group, ready to learn the grand overarching story of the whole Bible! Follow these posts to get live updates on my notes from the talks and selected workshops.]

Day 1 | Morning Session | Derek Hanna – Where To Start [Genesis 1]

Book recommendations from Derek Hanna on Genesis:

(apparently only John’s write good commentaries on Genesis!!!)

It’s challenging:
Externally/Internally –

An article in the NY Times a while ago – titled ‘Social Media is making us dumber’. One of the challenges when we come to Genesis 1-11, which is a controversial part of the Bible, is that we have lost the ability to engage with the Bible and engage with complex arguments. There are external and internal debates and arguments with this book of the Bible.

For instance, Sam Harris – a new atheist – is very convincing in his arguments against Genesis 1. He argues that Genesis cannot be taken seriously in our scientific age. And it’s not just atheist asking these questions – Christians are asking the same questions. If we believe that Genesis speaks about our nature, then how do we grapple with it in the day and age of scientific progress and theories? There are challenging questions being asked.

And then there are other questions that get asked:

  • what is with the talking snake?
  • where did Cain gets his wife – and what city did he go to?
  • how did all the animals fit on the boat? What did the lions eat when they were on there? How did the smaller marsupials survive that trip?

These are good questions. Ignoring some of the bigger scientific questions – there are still major internal questions being thrown at us.

But one of the major issues surrounding all of this is that we have lost the ability to engage with hard and difficult complex questions. An example of how this works is in the viral video of Steven Pinker (?) in his commentary on the Alt-Right movement. His quote was taken completely out of context – but social media made it difficult to really engage with what he said. The same thing happened when we saw the recent Same-Sex Marriage debate in which sound bites were the only things being engaged with.

Here’s the deal though: if you get rid of Genesis 1-11 (because it’s too hard) then what you lose is the beginning. You lose the all-powerful God who is intimate and personal with his creation, who creates on purpose with purpose, and when he creates he delights in what he creates and mourns over it when it goes pear-shaped.

Calvin says at the start of his Institutes, ‘Nearly all wisdom consists of two things: understanding self and understanding God.’ He wasn’t being narcissistic – he was saying that before you can ever know yourself you must know God. Knowing God helps you see yourself properly. If you gloss over who God is and how he is revealed – as in Genesis 1-11 – then you will miss the whole.

Clearing the ground:

The controversy in Genesis is not new. Lennox in his book mentions that the Galileo controversy illustrates that debates on Genesis are not new. Though he was making a scientific pronouncement it was viewed that he was making an attack on religion and faith. Lennox makes a point that this incident in history is illustrative of how we should approach the Bible, and Genesis – that it may be more complex than we think.

So we need to be careful about tying our reading of the Bible too closely to the science of the day. We can’t be so convinced that our scientific view is right that there is no room for discussion or debate – no room for fuzziness on the edges. There has to be humility as we read the Bible and discuss it with each other. Science is a work of progress – there is so much we don’t understand. So we need humility in viewing science and the Bible.

The other obvious danger is to ignore science. Augustine says that it does no one any good to exceed their expertise in any field, and make pronouncements on areas we have no competency. It marrs our witness to the gospel.

Christians should be the ones driving scientific exploration as we seek to understand the amazing complexity of God’s world. And also careful to speak about what we know and to show that we do not know all things.

On Genesis, we need to be just as careful. We need to understand the genre of this text before us. When we come to any piece of writing we need to understand what is being said, how it is said, and what that means.

When we read Calvin and Hobbes we need to understand that genre. Same with Shakespeare, and biographies – we expect certain things about facts, history, and truth. These are all different genres – and our brain switches instinctually between these things and how to read them. But when it comes to the Bible we often don’t think this through. If we treat the Bible as a documentary or a biography we are going to read it in a way that is not intended to be read – and draw conclusions that it does not intend to draw.

God does us a massive, profound privilege of condescending to our level and speaking to us. In a variety of genres and formats, he accommodates himself to us. He is incarnational in the way that he communicates himself to us. John describes Jesus as ‘The word became flesh’ – how much more contextual could God be?

Genesis 1: In the beginning…God

Why does the author in Genesis leave us with so many unanswered questions of our modern mind? The author isn’t stupid – he knows there are gaps in the storyline. So we need to come to the text with the right questions, or do we come to the text with our preconceived questions searching for the answers? The text itself gives us the questions it answers: who are we, who is God, why are we here, what hope is there when things seem broken? Those are the reflection of the text.

So when we turn to the text what do we see?

First – God is the beginning of all things.

There is no proof or argument provided for this. He just is/was. No symposium, debate, committee – in the beginning… God. It’s not bad to ask questions of/about God’s existence, but when we read Genesis 1-11 we see that Genesis is not interested in answering those questions. The first thing that God’s Word has to say is about God – not about your or me.

Second – this God creates like no other.

The word for ‘created’ is only ever used of God. The first law of Thermodynamics is that no matter can be created or destroyed. Matter exists and can morph. But here in Genesis God does something else – ex nihilo – he created ‘out of nothing’. It didn’t exist before. Nothing existed before. Nothing in all its massiveness and minuteness was there for God to ‘morph’.

Dereks’ son was watching a documentary on the universe and was in awe of how small we are in the universe. And that is true. We exist in a large and vast universe – but it also shows us the kind of God who created us. In the vastness of space, how could God be interested in me? Well, Genesis has thoughts on that too. Are we small in the universe? Yup. Are we therefore insignificant to God? No chance.

Third – God is orderly and deliberate and purposeful in creation.

There is a parallelism in the opening chapter. The author shows us the completeness of creation and the orderliness of creation. In days 1-3 God forms, and in days 4-6 he fills – and in parallel order. And it’s good and ‘perfect’, deliberate design that nurtures life. He is also not immune from this thing – this act of creation from a God who is self-sufficient – he looks at the thing he has created and is moved by it.

Fourth – God takes a personal interest in his creation.

He spoke. See how many times in Genesis 1 it mentions God speaking. A lot.

And God’s word is so powerful that something profound happens each time. There’s an intimacy and relationship that is formed when we speak to someone. Think of the difference if you walked into a room and you just communicated through pointing. There is an intimacy in saying something out-loud. Speaking is a personal, intimate act that expresses relationship – people speak to their family, to their pets, even their plants (not random plants – their plants!). God speaks with his creation. He is invested here – so much so that when it runs away from him he will pursue it, become part of it, and die for it, to bring it back to himself.

See how God reacts when he sees what he creates? It’s good – all the pronouncements of how good it all is. God isn’t indifferent to the world. He doesn’t look on what he’s created and think, ‘Oh… that’s a practice run, I’ll get it right next time.’ And he does so not in an egotistical way – but in a pleasured, delighted way of his perfect creating act. The book of Job reminds us that God delights in creation as well. He loves the tenderness of motherhood, the absurdity of the ostrich (!), the majesty of the hawk. God’s creation is somewhat unnecessarily diverse and abundant. Not just functional – but extravagant. Inspired.

Why did he do that? Because… God. That’s what he’s like!

Fifth – the pinnacle of creation is humanity.

You can’t talk about creation and not talk about humanity. It’s part of the created order – and yet different. Singled out. Set apart. Only humans are created in his image, in his likeness. Mankinds’ role is to rule the other parts of creation as they multiply. They are not like dogs, cats, or apes – they are made in God’s image, as the pinnacle of his creation.

With that comes privilege and responsibility. Pick up on this tomorrow.

Then notice Day Seven – something completely unique happens in this part. So we don’t miss it – it is repeated three times that God does not work on this day, but rests. He sabbaths on this day. He takes creation and he sets it aside as holy – the whole of creation is holy and set apart for himself. The most fundamental aspect of this creation is God – not us.

In our day to day lives it’s so easy to be myopic and see only our temporary pleasures, short-term security, things we are sure will fulfil us, and when we get there we realise that it’s not quite what it thought it would be. People often ask questions of the origins of the universe. The curiosity that drives that is possibly this thought: Where do I fit into the grand scheme of things? Who am I?

These are questions of purpose, meaning, and rest. The Bible says that those things start with God. They are ultimately found in him. That’s where you have to start.

In our world of social media, we often portray a picture of perfection to others. Or we long to see ourselves in others as we endlessly scroll through Facebook, Instagram, or whatever else. We see these things and want them. We post stuff about ourselves because we want others to think that we have it. Social media has amplified the longing for these things for us but has not provided an endpoint to satisfy it. We will scroll infinitely to search for it. We will search for it in a place what Genesis says can only be found outside of creation – in the Creator. In relationship with him, at peace with him.

So how do we enter God’s rest again after everything has gone pear-shaped in Genesis 3? The theme of ‘rest’ is wonderful to track through the Bible – culminating in Jesus who offers rest of the weary and burdened.

Colossians 1:15-23 – how will God restore creation to himself? Through his Son Jesus. His fallen creation which was alienated from him, the world through His death would be made holy and faultless and blameless because of him, through him, for him.

The great transcendence of God can make us think that God has forgotten us and that we are unimportant to him. You might read Genesis 1 and think that – but you cannot think that as you read through the New Testament and the gospels.

Reflections for us…

We live in the ‘now and not yet’ – we still yearn for full consummated rest. If you are hurting, struggling, and feeling the effects of a post-Genesis 3 world remember this: it is temporary, it is passing, it is not what God has in store for you, rest is coming.

What if, instead of putting up a well-put-together front on social media – what if we posted up the effects of Genesis 3 in our lives with the hope of eternal rest in the future. Vulnerability in this area is hard – because it’s scary being open and honest with your struggles. How can we as a community paint a picture of needing a saviour while at the same time posting up pictures of our self-sustaining, self-reliant life? They are antithetical.

Full assurance and identity is found in none other than our Saviour.

[What a great start – God is our personal, intimate, loving creator and redeemer. Genesis 1 opens up so much about who God is and who we are in relation to him.]

Workshop 1 | Andrew Bain: Ethics Framework

What is Ethics?

Usually how we work out the answers to difficult questions in life. IN a general sense it’s a word or concept about how we live and how we ought to live. Ethics is the study of making right decisions about life and about living. Christian and non-Christian, from all works, have been thinking and walking and writing about ethics.

What is Christian Ethics?

Christian Ethics is not merely a subset of Ethics in general. Christian ethics is about making and carrying on right decisions about life from a Christian point of view. Not just about the hard, unusual or extreme cases – but about everything, the every day. For Christians, it’s more about the every day than it is about the rare decision that come up once or twice in a lifetime.

How many of us have had conversations with our friends about the Bible, or about big topics in life? They obviously have their views, informed or otherwise. So knowing Christian ethics can help us start and carry on conversations with our friends. If we are wise and biblically thoughtful we can engage helpfully.

The Bible speaks on things which humans cannot know on their own – that unless God speaks we would not know. The Bible also demands action on these things. It speaks on his will, what he’s doing in his story in the world – which leads to ethical questions about how we should live, and how the gospel and character of God ought to shape how we live.

How does the World think about Ethics?

  • Your friends?

Do what makes you happy. As long as you’re not hurting anyone, and can support yourself, do what you want.

  • Consequentialism

Primary evaluation on the basis of the consequences of an action – and (often unconsciously) make value judgements on issues based on the perceived consequences.

  • Deontology / Ethics of Duty

Based on the work of Immanuel Kant. Ethics of duty – the idea that the nature of an action (looking not at other factors) that you may or may not perform, in asking questions about that action, can I connect it to my duty to live in a way that is ethical? Simply put: what is my duty in this situation? In it’s simplest form can be a bit of a cop-out.

  • Teleology: Ethics driven by given purpose and design

The idea that ethics is driven by some kind of given purpose or design in the nature of human life and the world. This view is uncommon outside of religious faith views. In modern Australia, you’ll find fewer people who buy into this.

  • Virtue Ethics

Ethics is not about acts, but about character. About cultivating thoughts and habits of mind that will improve you as a person. Some Christians, particularly Roman Catholics, have seen some value in this. But the idea that you can change and improve yourself by your actions seems antithetical to the Christian gospel of grace.

  • Strengths & Weaknesses of these approaches? Problems from a Christian point of view?

Strengths:

  • Consequentialism – it’s practical, and you don’t have to think too hard. Sometimes consequences are clear in relation to your actions.
  • Deontology: asking what our duty is can force us into action.
  • Teleology: where it is clearly articulated, it can be argued for – saying something is in the Bible can be a means for arguing that this is the best for the flourishing of people.
  • Virtue: we should be aiming to improve people through their actions

Weaknesses:

  • Consequentialism: humans place the value on the consequence, and they can be self-centred rather than other-person centred.
  • Deontology: can be a cop-out if we argue that there is no duty
  • Teleology: not always convincing, especially if based upon scripture texts
  • Virtue: humans, in general, cannot improve themselves through their actions alone – and research is there to show that people generally done.

How should we as Christians think about Ethics?

Key Idea: Christian ethics ought to be driven and shaped at every point by the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ. We can give this shape by relating the biblical doctrines of the gospel to our thinking and practice regarding Christian Ethics.

  • Why driven by the gospel and the doctrines which comprise the support of the gospel?

If we want to talk and think about Christian ethics the gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ must be our fundamental starting point. Why should Christian ethics be driven by the gospel? Because…

  • Notice that Christians (even theological lecturers!) haven’t and don’t always do ethics this way!

Sometimes a common approach which Christians can take (which should be discouraged) is to take a single verse from the bible and let that guide all decisions in life. Christians believe that God gave us the whole Bible and that each verse is to be read within context. So to take one verse and keep applying it is to do injustice to the text of scripture, and to do injustice to who is at the centre of scripture (Jesus!).

Other Christians have taken principles – like the Law of the OT whose directions are from the mouth of God. To distil a list of do’s and don’t’s from scripture. But this is not how the gospel works. Do’s and Don’t’s in the Bible have their foundation in the gospel of grace – what God has done for us in Jesus.

Other Christians take a principle/idea like ‘love’ – but often do so by taking this idea/theme out of context. We take it out of context and fill it with our own context. So there are dangers in taking even an idea from the Bible and building an ethics on it.

The following points sum up Christian Ethics:

  1. Christian Ethics: based on the gospel of salvation from sin.This is a very different starting place from all other ethics – not from a position of making right decisions or living in a particular way. The NT does not measure all action by consequences, by identifying values or human rights – instead, it makes some fundamental assumptions about human beings and what human beings really need. And these assumptions are totally different to other ethical systems. Right at the top to start with is the gospel.Other systems assume that it is within our own power to behave rightly and do the right thing. Secular ethics then tells us what to do  to move towards these things. It assumes we are either neutral or basically good – and therefore we have the power to shape ourselves.Christian ethics does not share any of these assumptions. Sadly, some books, with ‘Christian’ and ‘Ethics’ will give false ground to secular ideas of humanity. The bible says that we cannot achieve transformation by ourselves. Bad human behaviour is not external to us – it comes from our own being.

    It’s not just that we win and live unethically – but that our grasp on right and wrong are severely weakened.

  2. Christian Ethics: based on the gospel of salvation through God’s Right Man, Jesus Christ
    Who Jesus is is significant to our ethics today as well. Jesus is alive, in heaven today, seated at God’s right hand. And seated there he is the one in charge. Many people around us will drag us to live in another way – but remember that Jesus is the one in charge and the one with the ultimate say.
  3. Christian Ethics: based on the gospel of salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ
    The events that stand at the centre of the gospel story are what drive our thinking. We live rightly not to earn God’s favour, we live rightly because we have already received God’s favour. Because of Jesus’ death, we can approach God with confidence and be certain of his kindness toward us.We have been redeemed from our old sinful way of life, and redeemed for a new way of life. We have died to sin, and are therefore owned by the one who died for us. This gives our lives a new purpose. It reveals the purpose of what humans ought to be.For Christians, the ethical life is patterned on Jesus as well – taking up our cross and following him. How they treated our leader is how we ought to expect to be treated as well.
  4. Christian Ethics: based on salvation by grace and through faith in Christ
    We have Jesus, and many other examples of men and women of faith who live and act on faith – even in all their weakness and foolish acts (eg Abraham). Jesus Christ is the ultimate pattern for our actions.The Christian life is also powered 100% by Jesus and our union with him. Many passages which relate to our ethics are founded upon our union with Jesus. And through faith in Christ – through faith in the biblical promises concerning Christ and that flow on to us.
  5. Christian Ethics: based in God’s community, the church, and directed towards God’s future for his people and his world (biblical eschatology)
    Christians live out our ethics within a community, not just individually. God brings us as an individual through the death and resurrection of his Son into a relationship with himself – but not just on our own. He saves us into a community. The bible speaks a lot in the plural – addressing not individuals, but more often addressing the community. Biblically speaking our ethics are then worked out within community, and also shaped within our community.Living ethically will also take a long-term view. It’s hard – carrying your cross – but be glad. Hebrews 12 reminds us that suffering is used by God to make us more like Jesus. And we have hope in the future return of Jesus – and that hope has a profound impact on how we live today as well.Our hope is also in Jesus’ resurrection – that as we follow our persecuted and crucified saviour, if we experience the same we shall also experience his glorification. Hope beyond this life directs our actions and thoughts today.Our future hope affects how we spend our money. We give generously, just as God has been generous to us.
  6. Christian Ethics: based on a gospel (as above) which assumes:
  • a single sovereign God
    So when it comes to Christian Ethics we have to push back on the religious and ethical pluralism we live in today – we push back that our Ethics would not morphed/evolved with the ethics/religion of our world. We believe in a single God who has a single way of doing ethics – and our work as Christians is to conform to that.
  • who reveals himself in Scripture including through divine commands
    Even those commands that we don’t think are relevant today – those commands tell us about who God is and what he is like.
  • who has created the world with a God-given moral order
    We should not pretend that God is in heaven and what happens on earth ethically is detached from him. He didn’t just create a physical world – he created a moral world. He created the world, with things in order, with rules for the humans in engaging with creation. And this order (though corrupted) does not change because God doesn’t change.
  • which reflects his character and will
    As we seek to live God’s way we can have confidence that this isn’t something that God or the Apostles just made up one fine day. The shape of the Christian ethical life is based upon his very own character, nature, and will. Recognising this should help us relax, trust God, and walk by faith as we live his way.

The key question: for any ethical issue, great or small, how can we understand the issue biblically in the light of the gospel and the doctrines and biblical assumptions on which the gospel rests? (as outlined above)

  • If it’s not grounded in the biblical gospel… is it really Christian ethics?
    Yeah… no. We need to be honest about how we’re building our ethics.
  • Implications of other biblical themes/doctrines for Christian ethics?
  • Christian ethics and the non-Christian world? Does it apply?
  • Making ethical decisions today and tomorrow?

[Sorry if these notes are a bit scatterbrained! The workshop has been recorded and will be available online soon.]

 

Evening Session | Peter Jensen: What Am I? [Psalm 8]

Peter begins by reminding our generation that a conference like this is a chance to get seriously equipped to teach the Word. Also to learn how to think through our culture. Peter quotes an historian on how Christians impacted the Roman Empire – they out-thought and out-loved their culture. But Peter’s generation missed the boat on a fundamental cultural change in his time (1963 – the introduction of ‘the pill’ contraceptive). He calls on us to keep working hard to out-think and out-love our world, understand our own culture, and our history.

A question fundamental to humanity

Anthropology – the doctrine of man – who, what, where, why we are here. Peter believes this to be a key subject to be thinking about in our generation – that we may learn it well and out-think our culture.

Every university has an anthropology – a set of beliefs about what humans are, and that shapes the subjects we learn at Uni. There are no neutral subjects. The big thing to get our heads around is how our world/culture views their anthropology vs how does a Christian think through anthropology.

So what are you? Two answers from Western culture:

The first old answer – you and are immortal spirits trapped in a body. Perhaps drawn from self-examination – realising that there is a thinking part of you (the spirit/soul) and the physical part of you (the body). And you can tell that when someone dies that their body is there, but perhaps their spirit/soul has left the body.

Some philosophers believed that the soul was a priori – and through some catastrophe, the soul became imprisoned in a body.

For most of his life, Peter has enjoyed good health. And now in his old age, his body is beginning to decline and he can feel the effects. And he says to himself, ‘But this is not the real me – this body is letting me down!’ Despite the fact that 100 years ago pain was a much more prevalent part of life.

This must have been the prevailing idea of the time – that the body was not the real deal, the real deal with inside. The Greek world of the time played up this duality strongly. You were a spirit inhabiting a body.

Second way of thinking – a little more modern – we are effective but randomly produce animals. There is no fundamental difference between you and a chimpanzee or an elephant. Extraordinary as you are, you are basically an effective brainy animal. In the spirit world there were many gods and spirits. In this physical world we’re all atheists. You have no spirit – you’re just an animal. A standout animal. And now that you’re an animal why should you be treated better than a dog? What makes humans so special after all?

Perhaps in due course we will become extinct. And after that? Well there is no survival after death. No spirit that lives on. You have no imagination before you were born, so you will have none after you die. You will physically drift back into the world that you came. (Circle of life stuff).

If you embrace this view then objective truth is hard to come by. Philip Adams, a well-known atheist, describes morality like traffic lights. Existing to keep things orderly but no life or value beyond that.

So therefore it all depends on who has power to determine right and wrong, and it’s also all subjective what is right and wrong. And it’s also relativistic – I believe something and I acknowledge that you believe something.

And yet…

They are pretty unsatisfactory options aren’t they? Not just from a Christian view – but from a human point of view. Is my body just a prison house? Is there no fundamental connection between my body and spirit? Is it plausible that you have a spirit trapped in your body waiting to be let go? And haven’t we discovered that ghosts and spirits are imaginary?

And on the other option – if I’m just an animal, am I so insignificant? When you sit down with someone it can be pretty easy to end up in gossip and criticising someone else. But if we are just animals – on what basis can we criticise someone else? When we criticise others we do so appealing to some objective standard of truth.

There are holes in these stories/options.

What about the quest for meaning? Humans find it difficult to live without a sense of meaning in their lives. Where do we get that from though? We get it from hope – and purpose.

Imagine for a moment you’re an Olympic athlete. Peter has been told that there is nothing worse than winning a gold medal. Because once you achieve that purpose then there is nothing else on the other side.

But if we are just animals where does this desire for purpose come from?

If we listen to secularists they will inevitably say things that show their thought processes do not work. If you listen to a child who doesn’t receive a lolly when another child does – it’s not fair! On a larger level we all yearn for justice. But how can there be justice in this world if the greatest virtue is tolerance? If tolerance is the greatest virtue they can come up, according to Peter, that is stupid!

The greatest virtue is love!

(Peter hits on a point about the teaching of ‘follow your dreams’ – which is not only stupid but dangerously damaging).

How do you value human beings above animals… if they are just animals? If you went into a burning house and there was a dog, a priceless vase, and a baby – which would you save?

What God has told us

Psalm 8 has Genesis 1 in mind – it’s a song on Genesis 1.

The first thing it tells us in v1-4 is that there is one God. In the ancient world there were many gods. In the modern world there is no god. In the Biblical world there is One God.

In Psalm 8 it begins with the name of the Lord. There is no sphere over which God is not the sovereign Lord.

After the big introduction the author then asks the question, ‘Who are we?’ in v3. He looks at the sky, when he looks at the work of his hands David is awe-struck. He asks who man is that God should be mindful of him? We are nothings in comparison to this universe – we are dust in comparison. And that’s the conclusion you must reach in our modern world.

But God reveals his truth. Man is made a little lower than the heavenly beings – the angels – crowned with glory and honour. God has created something special in human beings in v5-8. The size and obscurity of our suburb makes no difference. It is what God does and thinks that matters. We are insignificant in comparison to creation when seen through a telescope. Yes we are made of dust. And yet… you are a King… a Queen. We are crowned by God with glory and honour.

We are the rulers of the world. We are given dominion – yes, the Bible says, you are an animal. But, the Bible says, you are utterly unique – you are in charge of the world, of the structures that God has made. Yes, when you go into that burning house there is a priceless vase, a beautiful dog, and a baby (or old-and decaying human being) and you do not hesitate to throw the vase aside to save that life – because you are made in the image of God. No other creature has this privilige. We are unique and particular in all of creation. We have a special place. We are animal, but we are not merely animal.

And so…

Human beings matter because we are unique image bearers – and not just mere animals. Yes, we are unique individually. Every single one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. At that level there should be no discrimination – for each one of us is as important as another.

In the ancient world, and even in the modern world, that is not true of the way that people think. In the ancient world girls were abandoned – boys were prized. The Disabled were not precious. But the Bible says that each one of us individually is made in the image and likeness of God and each one of us is valuable and precious in God’s sight.

Maybe the way you were brought up makes you feel worthless. That you were told from an early age that you were worth nothing. You may have an attractive body but not feel that. You may have a brain that’s big… but not feel that because of the way you were brought up. God says – whoever you are, you are precious to me.

In Galatians 3 Paul personalises Jesus’ death – he died for me. Yes, he died for the world, but he also died for me. That love of God for you establishes your worth eternally.

Second consequence – your body does matter. The Greek idea of elevating the spiritual over the body is unbiblical. The things in God’s creation are good and precious to him. And part of what he has made is your body. Note – we do not talk of the idea of the immortality of the soul, but the resurrection of the dead. In the Greek world, this was scandalous because the body was dirty. The Bible says that the body matters, it has a future.

The modern world is besotted with the body because it’s afraid of death. Yet we should not scorn the body because it is the temple of the Holy Spirit and will be raised from the dead.

Third – this life really does matter. Work is not what matters. Work is now the new god of our age – sex used to be worshipped, but we know that’s not enough.

One of the terrible things of our world is that we have chosen individualism over community. We now live in a world with a lot of lonely people. But the Christian chooses community – because God intends that. We are created as relational beings, and the Christian recognises that.

Spirit vs Body, animal alone – these are deeply unsatisfying answers to what we are. The Bible says we are uniquely made in the image of God – and that matters for who we are, our relationships with others, and our relationship with the world.

Question from the floor – what does it mean to be made in the image of God? To be made in the image has its emphasis on the role given to humanity – to rule this world, to parallel how God rules.

What am I? I am a creature, not the creator. I am an image bearer, not a mere animal. I have a bodily future, not a mere spirit. I am a relational creature not a mere individual. And that paves the way for tomorrow night.

[Peter could go all night. That was a wonderful tour through history, thought, and Psalm 8!]

Between Heaven and the Real World [Book Review]

How has 2017 been for you? At the end of last year I was surprised to see so many of my Facebook friends share that 2016 had been one of the hardest for them. There was a familiar theme with these end of year posts: 2016 had been especially hard in one way or another.

For me, 2017 has been one of the hardest emotionally and spiritually. I’ve been through a difficult season of spiritual dryness, the challenges of fathering three young children and working on marriage was a challenge I constantly felt I was failing, the church I co-pastor was growing and the added stress of overseeing so many ministries and leaders was wearing me down, and I just felt tired all round.

To help out of this difficult season I began reading biographies. I started with reformers like William Tyndale, Nicolas Ridley, and John Calvin. And then a few months ago I saw that the biography of my personal favourite Christian artist – Steven Curtis Chapman – had been released and I finally finished it over these holidays.

For those who don’t know, Steven is a songwriter and performer of contemporary Christian music, has released over 20 albums, won 5 Grammy Awards, and 58 Gospel Music Association Dove Awards (more than any other artist in history). He has sold over 10 million albums, and has 10 certified Gold and Platinum albums.

I became a Christian in 2001 and was shortly afterwards introduced to the music of Steven Curtis Chapman. His music has remained a staple in my personal listening ever since. His music and lyrics have always come at timely points in life. I’ve played and sung ‘I Will Be Here’ at multiple weddings for friends, and to my own resplendent bride I sang Steven’s song ‘We Will Dance’. In times of hardship and lowliness to mountain highs and joy Steven’s songs have been with me to encourage and articulate my emotions, feelings, and faith.

But the book itself doesn’t need for you to be a fan, though I think it certainly helps – especially in quite a few places Steven retells his story in a way as though he was writing the lyric to a particular song. And in a few instances his life story helped inspire those songs.

In short though, having read this biography, I have been immensely encouraged to keep persevering in my faith and keep pressing forward to the Day when we SEE that it was all true.

The book itself can be roughly divided into three parts.

The first part deals with Steven’s childhood, upbringing, and entry into the music world. To be honest I had to wrestle with this part of the book as unfamiliar names and places and references just piled up. There are some sweet moments, and his relationship with his own father certainly shaped not only his personality (especially his ‘Mr Fix It’ personality), but also his parenting for the future. Thematically there are some important themes of Steven’s life which are brought up in this first part and trace themselves through the rest of the book. And even though this was the least familiar part of the biography for me, I persisted because I knew what would happen in part three, and I wanted to push through to that.

The second part details Steven’s rise to music stardom, marriage and family joys (and woes), and culminates in the adoption stories of his three girls – Shaohannah Hope, Stevie Joy, and Maria Sue – from China.

This part of the book really begins to pick up. Now the music and albums I am familiar with is being spoken of and stories are being shared about their creation. All fascinating for the fan. And the stories of his children, especially his adopted girls, are tender and lovely. Stories of how Maria would lose dots on a ladybug chart for poor behaviour, and the way that Steven would have to lovingly discipline her are heart-warming. But knowing that the song ‘Cinderella’ was inspired by Maria makes what happens next all the more profoundly tragic.

The third part of the book opens with the accident. Maria’s accidental death when she was run over in the family drive way by her older brother Will. Grief and the process of moving through it and finding some healing take up the remainder of the book. If you haven’t gotten a box of tissues already then you will most certainly need it here.

Overall three major themes in the book struck me clearly and encouraged me deeply.

The first was the humility of Steven. Humility in recognising that as his musical career was beginning to take off that the impact it had on his marriage was intense. Recognising this, and humbly questioning whether he should drop it all and get a ‘regular job’ to provide the sort of predictable life that his wife, Mary Beth, had always hoped for. Humility in recognising that even though he had written the song ‘I Will Be Here’ that his own marriage was not bullet proof – and they would wrestle with these challenges for a long time.

Humility is also wonderfully on display in a story I didn’t previously know. First, Steven constantly doubted his singing ability, and when it seemed to be affirmed with worldly success he doubted his motivations in performing. There is an earnest, and wonderfully encouraging, desire that his music lift up Jesus and not Steven. And in the kindness and goodness of God, this desire has been met with the help of loving Christian mentors and his family – especially his wife, whom he writes ‘remained unimpressed with my celebrity’!

The second theme that runs through the entire book are the prayers of Steven. His prayers are short, simple, and powerfully and refreshingly honest and open. He prays about his weaknesses and fears. The most heart wrenching prayers come when he stands at the deathbed of his daughter Maria, pleading with God to raise her and bring her back – like he did with Jesus before. And his desperate prayers continue as he wrestles with how to live without her, and how to lead his grieving family through this as well. His prayers have encouraged my own – if only that I should pray more and just be honest with my struggles through them.

Finally the key theme that shines most strongly in the final part of the book is hope. What conceivable hope could there be after the loss of a child? Steven and his family wrestle with this – they are not superheros who simply trust and declare the sovereignty of God, it took them quite some time to get there. But once they did, even though they grieve (and still do), hope in the future resurrection and new heaven became their anchor. Steven writes,

“Of course, we still have plenty of days when the weight of grief comes and knocks the breath out of us again. Tears come freely without warning or even any explanation. We know there’s a day coming when every tear will be wiped from our eyes – just not yet.

We understand that we really are in between heaven and the real world, living day to day with the sure hope of heaven before us. And we also know how important it is for us to show up in the here and now, where God has us today. This life is so short, and there is much good to be done and much love to be shown in these few days we have on this side of the veil.

So we make it out prayer to live with our eyes wide open to SEE what’s right in front of us and with our eyes looking forward in anticipation of SEEING Jesus and Maria – with all her ladybug dots glued on for good!”

This book is a refreshing, honest, and authentic journey of someone trying to live out their faith in Jesus Christ. He’s no awesomely powerful Christian, but his life to date shows what trusting in an awesomely powerful Saviour might look like: a journey with hills and valleys sometimes much steeper and deeper than you would think, and yet knowing we’re going to make it and get there through trusting our Saviour Jesus. Sometimes the journey between the real world and heaven is longer than we expect.

About that Postal Vote

Mine finally arrived in the mail today. With a slightly heavy heart I opened it, filled it in, and have it sealed and ready to be posted tomorrow. It’s been heavy for a few reasons, but mostly because I know gay people who are pretty worked up about this vote. Not simply in anger, or in aggressive support – but worked up in anxiety and fear. I’ve shared this in various forums, but that saddens me that people I know should experience this level of angst over what they appears to be a debate about their personhood.

I’ve been asked by many to put together a list of links to read as they work out how to think through this debate. I’m under no illusion that my collection of links is exhaustive, nor am I under any thought that these links will persuade anyone on either side to switch their position. But as a resource list for those in the ‘no’ camp, these are some articles I’ve found helpful as I’ve waded into discussions on this topic.

I’ll begin with my friend Nathan Campbell’s blog – the first one in which he gave 10 (brief) reasons why he wouldn’t be voting in the plebiscite nor telling his congregation how to vote. Lest it be unclear, Nathan is not advocating for non-participation. His primary argument, if I’ve read it right (and I’d like to think I have) is that Christians living in a pluralistic democracy should participate generously in said democracy with the ‘golden rule’ as a guiding principle for engagement.

The response to that post was mostly disappointing. I think Nathan’s a great guy, theologically astute, well thought out, and generally aiming to be as winsome and engaging on these issues. So, breaking the number 1 rule on the internet, it was disappointing to see comments like this one which can be seen to be driven purely by clear homophobia and ignorance. Other comments calling out Nathan as a false teacher are clearly over the top.

But there is sometimes a glimmer of hope within the comments section, and the interaction that Ying Yee and Nathan had is well worth reading. While I’m sympathetic to Nathan’s general argument within the post, I agree more with Ying (though perhaps less pessimistically). My personal take is that I read the culture falling somewhere between how Ying and Nathan view it.

From there a few other links to consider.

George Athas wrote a few years ago why the heart of redefining marriage in order to provide equality doesn’t make much logical sense. Using the illustration of a vegan going into a steak house is helpful for working out what is really being asked in this debate.

On this current debate, Reverend Mark Durie has written, I think, the clearest argument for why marriage is about children. I’m not entirely convinced by this line of reasoning in general, but I found Mark’s post to be clearest explanation of it.

On the primary issue that Christians should focus upon, I’ll link now to Stephen McAlpine’s brilliant blog – This is Not About the Postal Vote. The main issue is not same-sex marriage. The main issue is freedom of religion and freedom of conscience. Stephen also makes some insightful comments regarding the pace of the change of culture that has taken place, and the manner in which the corporate world has not only changed but also put their efforts behind the SSM push.

On the issue of human rights, this ABC article is helpful in understanding why the argument that same-sex marriage is about human rights is fundamentally flawed: because the United Nations Human Rights Committee and the European Court of Human Rights have both been reluctant to define it as such. If marriage equality is such an undeniable fact then those who argue as such must grapple with why these decisions were made.

On the argument that same-sex marriage doesn’t affect anyone, this post from Andrew Bolt carries many examples of how this is not true. Bolt’s argument, however, seems to want to push Christian leaders to be more vocal in their defence of the church/Christians. To this, my friend Nathan Campbell has written a wonderful Jesus-centred response. So I link to this Bolt article not to approve of his agenda at the end, but to merely give examples of how same-sex marriage is having an effect on others. (update: here is a recent post from Quadrant online which also details how same-sex marriage has affected people in the US).

And because it seems like no one else is really doing this research, Bolt has a few other articles on ‘How Britain has changed since Gay Marriage‘, and how the Greens have confirmed that Gay Marriage is just the start. I want to be cautious about these two articles in particular – they are written in a way that can produce fear mongering, which I believe is an unbiblical response.

We must not respond in fear, but always with confident trust in Jesus, and as those in my church have seen through the last few weeks of sermons in Acts, this is how Paul responded when opposed.

There’s probably heaps more articles to have linked to. But this is a start.

Weary Saints

The spiritual wilderness is a most terribly lonely place.

I’ve been there. I know. One minute you are singing for joy with praise and thanksgiving, then life gets busy. Minor stresses pile up into larger stressors, distraction gives way to listlessness, bible reading and prayer fall by the way side – or they become motions you simply move through.

Then you find yourself in this place. You’re not sure what one thing brought you there. But in all truth there were many reasons – some in your control and some not – that finally brought you into this spiritual wilderness.

All you know is the joy you once had, that was so real, is now a fading memory.

Where there was once joy filled bible reading, prayer and fellowship, now there is emptiness. Where once the sweet presence of God and his pleasure was felt, now all is silent. The metaphors used by Christians in the past have often changed (eg. being lost at sea, in the desert place, isolated in a cold room…) but the experience is always the same: a profound sense of feeling distant from God.

From the greats of the Christian faith, to the everyday layman, the wilderness is no respecter of age, maturity, or strength of spiritual walk. And it is an awful experience for all.

Over the past year or so I’ve had conversations with those among us who have felt lost in this desert place. Having recently detoured through these areas my heart aches for those who find themselves presently there.

While most of us recognise that there will be hills and valleys in this journey of faith, sometimes the valleys end up much deeper than we ever expect.

Coupled with this is the expectation that we place upon ourselves to present outwardly that life is fine. We feel a fraud. A sham. That this joylessness is the product of our own failures, so we must pick ourselves back up again and re-join the land of the living. Yet for all our toil and struggle we find ourselves no closer to exiting the desert, no closer to any light in the dark, and no further up and out of the valley.

The wilderness not only presents us with a lonely time, it also presents us with temptations. And in my personal and pastoral experience I’ve noticed three particular temptations.

The first is to doubt and distrust the goodness of God. We yearn for what we once had, now lost, and our heart cry is, ‘Why has God forsaken me? Where is God in all of this? Why me?’ And when we don’t receive any answer, or a satisfactory one, we doubt that God has any intention of goodness towards us.

The second is to test God. We bargain with him – that perhaps if only I read my bible more and prayed more fervently then God should owe me the return of the pleasure of his presence. Or we reverse the requirement: if God would restore my joy then I will pick up my bible and pray again. We test God by asking him to prove his goodness.

The final temptation is perhaps the darkest of all: to give up, to walk away from it all. The desperate heart cry here is, ‘Life would be easier if I didn’t have to follow Jesus. A better and easier life is found away from God and away from the desert.’

To my friends who are feeling alone in this desert: know that you are not. One has gone before you, in a real wilderness, facing the same temptations.

The worst lie in the wilderness I recall was believing that God did not understand what I was going through. But by grace my eyes were lifted to Jesus where I realised how big a lie that was.

Jesus faced all three of the same temptations and overcame them by his steadfast trust in his Father (cf Matt 4:1-11). The first temptation to turn stones into bread was a temptation to distrust the goodness of God and rely on Him (and His Word) alone. The second temptation was to test God – to throw himself off the temple and let God catch him. If God was truly good then he would do as His Word elsewhere had promised: catch his Messiah and keep him safe. The final temptation was to give it all up – walk away from his mission, take the easy road, avoid the cross but still receive the crown – and gain it all by worshipping Satan.

In all three Jesus overcame these temptations by trusting what He knew best: Scripture. By trusting what he knew in Scripture he was ultimately trusting the Author.

He would go on to face more trials and temptations—all of which help make him one who can supremely ‘empathise with our weaknesses’ (cf Heb 4:15). So if you feel alone in the desert, know that you have One who stands with you and knows intimately all that you are experiencing. He may be quiet for a time, but he is never that far away – for he has promised to be with us always (cf Matt 28:20).

So what now?

Having spoken to some who are faced in the wilderness, knowing these things is not the problem. Knowing and understanding is no hurdle. The heart challenge is the hard challenge: to trust, even when everything in our experience is screaming at us a different sensation.

So to my friends who are wrestling with their faith I offer these comforts.

  1. Cry out to God

A close friend suggested to me that I read the Psalms. Having experienced the wilderness as well, this friend suggested that in reading the Psalms I would find comfort from fellow and seasoned travellers to this desert place.

And while the Psalms begin with fairly standard theological musings, from Psalm 13 onwards I heard the cries that resounded with my own:

‘How long, O LORD? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?’ (Psalm 13:1)

‘Preserve me, O God, for in your I take refuge.’ (Psalm 16:1)

‘The cords of death encompassed me; the torrents of destruction assailed me; the cords of Sheol entangled me; the snares of death confronted me.’ (Psalm 18:4-5)

‘O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer, and by night, but I find no rest.’ (Psalm 22:2)

‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.’ (Psalm 42:5)

And many more. The Psalmists (and the Prophets) teach us that to cry out to God with all our rawness and exhaustion and questions is something that God can handle. He invites it, for when we come to Him in our darkest moments He can offer himself as our guiding light. So my friend, cry out to Him in and with all of your pain.

  1. Sing

This might seem counterintuitive, but sing. Singing helps release our stress and anxiety, and singing can be a helpful and prayerful way of speaking great truths to ourselves.

In this time of weariness the last thing we want to be singing are joyful and shallow choruses. They will not do. But praise be to God that he has given us song, and such a wide variety for times such as this. I have written before with suggested songs for a time of grief, and they are just as helpful for this wilderness season.

One other suggestion, to you my friend, is to listen to this wonderful album from Sovereign Grace.

  1. Reach out and find the hands of those who will pick you up and walk alongside you

If you feel alone, know that you have not travelled this road by yourself. There have been others who have travelled those well-worn paths. As members of Jesus’ body our joy and privilege is to be able to carry each other’s burdens (Gal 6:1)—and sometimes that may mean carrying you. Let your friends, your leaders, and your pastors know.

  1. Take one restful step at a time

The weary soul needs rest. Rest from service and activity. Rest in God’s Word, in prayer, and in loving and supportive fellowship. Some seasons are for serving, some for equipping – and this season of wilderness wandering is for rest.

It’s crucial that you do not turn away from your church and friends who care for you. So take your time. And one small step at a time we will walk out of this desert together.

For the day will arrive when we will rejoice with you that the desert is not our final home.

Who pastors the Pastor?

If you follow me on Facebook you’ll notice that I commonly post up stuff about ministry amidst all the other stuff about life, family, and the other interesting things I find online.

The reaction to one article I posted recently has taken me by surprise. It’s been liked over 100 times, uncommon in of itself, but more surprisingly almost three quarters of those likes have been from non-friends. Further the article has been reshared 37 times – and again, mostly from people I don’t know. What is it about this article which has hit such a raw nerve in people?

In brief, the article summarises the sad resignation of Pastor Pete Wilson, who stepped down as senior pastor from Cross Point Church back in September, 2016. The reasons for his stepping down, as indicated in the article, were because, ‘I’m tired. I’m broken.’ The article goes on to detail the sadness of this admission and reluctant stepping down, and the many ways in which pastoral ministry is a real struggle for those involved in it. Some of they key ones mentioned include criticism of sermons, sermons delivered during spiritual emptiness, scrutiny over pay, close relationships ended through innocuous decisions, loneliness, and temptations. It’s a long read, but worth your time and effort – if only to encounter the very real circumstances many pastors minister under.

In a number of ways the struggles listed in that article echo my own struggles that I have previously posted about. I’m glad that my experience has contained many joys in ministry as well, and so far the joys have outnumbered the negatives. Still, this is not always the case for many pastors. Even late last year I experienced a short season of discouragement, which all came to head one afternoon as I studied 1 Peter 5 with my beloved youth fellowship and realised that the instruction to elders to shepherd willingly and eagerly (ie cheerfully, with joy) was something I had been struggling to do for a while. It was hard to lead a study on that knowing I had been empty of it for some time, and I am thankful for the friends who ministered to me and prayed for me during this season. Eventually I was pulled through.

This brings me to an important discussion paper I read a few years ago, and have run training sessions on before. ‘Who Pastors the Pastor?‘ by Philip Jensen and Tony Payne. Again, it’s a long article worth reading. But here are some highlights:

On whether it is right to depend on other pastors to encourage your pastor:

  • Depending on other pastors to encourage your pastor creates an elite class that is inconsistent with Scripture. Of course, it is natural that people who have trained for the ministry together, or who have been associated in some way in the past, should turn to each other for advice and encouragement. But for a congregation to unload the spiritual care of their pastor onto his fellow professionals is extremely unwise. It places him in a different class, as if something more substantial than the application of the Word of God to his life is required. If the pastor does not confess his sins to, and receive encouragement from, his ‘laymen’, an unbiblical hierarchy is created.

On who in the end should pastor the pastor:

  • The congregation should pastor their pastor. This is not only in keeping with the emphasis of the New Testament, but is far more practical. The congregation is in the best position to care for their pastor. In the web of personal relationships between a pastor and the members of his congregation, there is ample opportunity for sharing spiritual things, for encouragement and for rebuke. The congregation will be aware of their pastor’s shortcomings and will be able to help him through them in a way that no outsider could.

On the obstacles to this sort of mutual encouragement:

The pastor:

  • …the pastor himself can prevent his own spiritual nurture. Too many pastors lock themselves away, spiritually speaking, by being unable or unwilling to receive the ministry of others.
  • Those who carry the Word of God to others can easily fall into the trap of always teaching it, but never listening to it.
  • Many pastors find it impossible to receive the ministry of others because of their own insecurities… The pastor may feel that if he reveals too much of himself, he may be seen as a weak leader, and lose control. As a result, he holds it all in and discourages others from taking the initiative.
  • Pastors are encouraged along this path by the whinging and criticism that they so often bear. Everybody knows how to run the church, and the constant griping tends to drive the pastor back into his shell. He protects himself by refraining from any kind of interaction at this level.
  • Another problem for the pastor is the sheer number of people who might minister to him. He is known by all, and his foibles and shortcomings are seen by all, and members usually feel they have the right to comment on them – mostly to each other, but sometimes to the pastor himself.
  • [When] a pastor accepts the mantle of [many impossible and often unspoken] expectations [in their ministry] and fails to meet them (as he inevitably will) he begins to hide. His guilt becomes a barrier between him and his congregation. He will not open up to them… for fear that they will see his ‘double life’.

The congregation:

  • [Members of the congregation can often be reluctant to approach their pastor – sometimes out of an appropriate reverence for those who have been placed over us in the Lord, however…] …it is more usually the result  of an inappropriate elevation of the pastor onto some super-spiritual pedestal. Many congregations regard their pastor as a breed apart, rather than as a fellow heir of the kingdom, who is as much in need of care and spiritual nurture as all of us.
  • But perhaps the chief reason for congregations failing to pastor their pastors is that they don’t know how. Even if the congregation is willing and the pastor is open, it is still hard to work out how to do it effectively.

At this point I’d love to copy and paste the five suggestions outlined by Jensen and Payne, but I won’t as I think it’ll breach copyright – and I would like to encourage everyone who loves and cares for their pastor to click through and read it for yourself.

So let us know in the comments below – if you’re a minister, what has been some of the most encouraging things your congregation has done for you to spur you on in ministry? If you’re a congregation member, what’s one thing you’d like to do for your Pastor to encourage them more?

Ignite Training Conference 2017 | Day 5 [Live Blog]

[Steven: the final day is here, I’m on my second coffee already, and as Ying Yee wouldn’t often encourage us: the week has been exhausting but exciting – exciting to have our hearts exposed and the cure administered by a most loving and faithful heart donor and High Priest; exciting to have great discussions about life and faith (and books!); exciting to see how much has been learnt by delegates (and strand leaders alike!); exciting to see a bunch of Gen-Y and Millennials apparently not get the memo that you don’t go to conferences like this, sing the songs we sing, and submit to an authority far greater than themselves – and love every minute of it; exciting to be a part of investing into the eternity of others; and exciting to be praying for Steve, Keiyeng and their family as they take the next step of their faith journey down to Canberra. The end of conferences like this are always bittersweet, but here we are – and we are exhausted… but excited :)]

Day 5 | Morning Talk | Richard Gibson – Cultivated (Colossians 3:1-17)

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The secret garden

Springsteen of Asbury Park

The song by Bruce Springsteen ‘The Secret Garden’ – a song of the idolatry of sexual liason of our age, but also a song about the frustration one feels because while Springsteen can access her in some intimate ways he’s frustrated about her ‘secret garden’ that he can never get access to.

In some ways this is what we’ve been talking about this week. God created human beings with a depth and hiddenness and an internal reality that is so complex and rich, that one of the great joys of a creatureliness is that we can’t conquer, own, and know perfectly another person. People are endlessly fascinating – because of the complexity and richness of their hearts.

 

Clement of Alexandria / Weeding and feeding

Long before Springsteen used the image of a garden for our internal world – for our mind and soul. The interest of the philosopher was for us to tend to this garden. The challenge for Clement was to keep the garden cultivated, tended, and looked after – to make it a beautiful garden. To plant lovely beautiful plans that honour God, and tearing out the weeds that dishonour God.

But for any gardener you’ll notice that weeding never stops. There’s always work to be done in terms of weeding, and constant feeding to do – constant watering, especially in the heat and dryness of Brisbane.

The cultivating of our hearts involves a lot of weeding and feeding. Weeding = repentance. Getting rid of those things that take root in the secret places in our life – the sins, fantasies that we might be feeding and watering… but to get rid of them. Conversely we have to feed our faith in God, trusting it, storing it up in our hearts, not getting stuck on it and never putting it into practice. This is what we look forward to as Christian people for the rest of our lives. Even some of the most godly older people are more and more aware of the noxious things in our heart – and that is kinda how Christian living is.

 

Jesus on storing up treasure (Matt 6:19-21)

The image Jesus uses here is a matter of investment – where we see true value is where we will invest in life.

Living to impress people (6:1-2, 5, 7-8, 16)

One of the ways in which we lay up treasures of ourselves on earth rather than up in heaven is living to impress people, to establish a status in life. It is in the moment that we are living to look religious that we can be ensnared by the total misdirection of our faulty investment.

6:1-2 – If you’re living to look righteous infront of people we need to be very careful – because we cannot expect to live to look good before others and be rewarded by God at the same time.

We live to be seen in our works and in our prayers.

While we may not intentionally seek praises – but we can get into the habit of praying in public, and rarely in private.

v7 – hypocrites love to draw attention to themselves by heaping up lots of words

v16 – and they can do it via public fasting

The problem: the constant temptation to turn our hearts away from God and turn towards seeking the praise of others. This is a constant temptation especially for those in full-time paid ministry: to focus on the externals and neglect the internals.

My worst lies have come from keeping up appearances in the Christian community. The worst lie is often, ‘I will pray for you’ – because I want to appear spiritual, I want to appear like the carer… and a week later I haven’t prayed… and never intended to pray. They were just a form of words that were intended to make myself look good.

How does one change from this habit? Turn from the audience of man towards the larger audience of One.

 

Pleasing the Father who sees in secret (6:3-4, 6, 9-15, 17-18)

Note how much the idea of secrecy is in these verses.

Secrecy safeguards sincerity. Recognition that God knows the deepest recesses of our heart means that we are prepared to practice our piety for his witness alone – because you are so convinced that God sees everything.

 

 

Serving wealth (6:24-34)

When Jesus started talking about treasure here is where he ends up – you cannot serve both money and God. You can’t navigate through life and make life decisions based on living for money and security vs God. Eventually you’ll collapse into the sin of materialism, living for physical comfort.

From v25ff we are reminded not to worry because our Heavenly Father knows what we need. The One who provided the heart transplant that we needed, the One who rewards what is done in secret, is the same One who knows our deepest needs and looks after us. Jesus goes about watering our faith in this One.

The illustrations of the birds of the air and the flowers of the field are an affectionate, gentle, and kind reminder of our loving brother. He’s gently tearing at the weeds of our hearts.

Our great fear about repentance is that we will be driven away or rejected because we will not match up to the standards God sets… and yet Jesus offers to come to him and find rest. We constantly forget the forgiveness and grace that is on offer – and this is why we meet and gather together constantly… to remind each other of the forgiveness and grace that is on offer!

 

Seeking first the kingdom (6:33)

The Father knows what you need more than anything else, and through Jesus we are told to set our hearts on his Kingdom and righteousness.

 

Jesus: the true treasure (Col 3:1-17)

Where your treasure is (3:1-4)

By our union to Christ by faith our whole lives are now reoriented. Our lives are now hidden with Christ. And that day when he appears in glory we will also appear in glory with him. A relationship with Jesus is to be a our true treasure.

 

Weeding: putting idols to death (3:5-11)

V5-10 is a whole range of weeds. You cannot show these things mercy, and you cannot coddle them – they will over run your garden if you don’t take action. The action we need to take: recognise that they are noxious and poisonous and repent of them.

  • focusing on sexual immorality for a moment – the world’s lie and temptation is to find heart satisfaction in sexual passion – and you need to find the right person in the right circumstances and you’ll find satisfaction. And we so ache for this satisfaction we’ll chase for it on the computer screen… but there’s no treasure there.

v8 – Anger and malice – we can habour it and nuture our ‘righteous’ anger like our prized plant as best in show. When we are wronged we slander in order to feed and nurture the weed of anger.

Tear these weeds up and start feeding the flowers that ought to be there in our garden. The flowers found everywhere in Jesus’ life and ministry.

 

Feeding: putting on Christ (3:12-14)

Compassion and love – think of Jesus’ constantly meeting and healing the lepers. Humilty, the grace to put aside what’s best for me, to lay aside my status for the good of others (as Jesus did in Phil 2). Gentleness – the quality of not being overly impressed by ones own self-importance.

And all the other qualities are the qualities we need to be feeding.

V15-16 shows us how we feed it – we let his peace rule in our lives, go back to the cross and make it central, we never move on from the place where our forgiveness and transformation is found, and you make God’s Word absolutely central to your life. You listen, you read, you hear it explained, take it into your heart and put it into practice. At every opportunity we need to take God’s Word permeating through our lives together.

v17 – we honour his name – so that in all our activity we are honouring and actively treasuring Jesus as Lord. Constantly seeking to bring every word and deed, closing the gap between lips and heart, so that we honour Jesus with every fibre of our being.

 

Treasuring Jesus (Col 3:15-17)

[Steven: running out of time here – so Gibbo has to skip this point]

His peace (John 14:1, 27)

His Word

His name

 

Never Alone

There can be a sense that in all this weeding and feeding we’re alone in the job. But we are not!

The theatre where God operates

  • Filling with joy (Acts 14:17)
  • Purifying (Acts 15:9)
  • Opening to respond (Acts 16:14)
  • Searching to hear (Rom 8:27)
  • Making light shine (2 Cor 4:6)
  • Putting concern (2 Cor 8:16)
  • Strengthening (1 Thess 3:13)
  • Encouraging (2 Thess 2:16-17)
  • Directing (2 Thess 3:5)

Fellowship from the heart

We are responsible for each other’s hearts. It’s a matter of basic brotherly Christian life to keep asking each other, ‘How are you going – how are your thoughts, feelings and motivations? Are you responding to Jesus the way you should?’ If this is not a characteristic of the culture of your church then we prayerfully need to build that up – and we start here, with basic relationships that we begin to open up and reveal the hidden secret places that we can remind each other to weed and feed properly.

  • Unity (Acts 2:46, 4:32)
  • Mutual responsibility (Heb 3:12, 1 Peter 1:22)
  • Ministry (Phil 1:6-7; 2 Cor 2:4, 6:11, 7:3)
  • Mission (Rom 9:1-5, 10:1)

Above all else, guard your heart

Know that you are known – by God in the deepest recesses of your being.

Be aware of the symptoms and consequences– of a hard and stone heart

Put your heart in his hands – into the hands of our Father who loves us and cares for us

Tear down your idols

Clothes yourself with Christ – cultivate the love of Christ in ourselves

Love one another deeply – to the glory of God.

“Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts.” Hebrews 4:7

[Steven: What a great final talk. It’s been an exposing week – the Word of God has stripped us naked, leaving us open to feeling the shame of it all… and yet the gospel has been clear, clothing us in Christ. Now clothed, secure, and loved, we can keep honestly opening up to each other. Let’s do it – for each other’s eternal joy rooted deeply in Jesus.]