Comments on BRIE

Subtle Christian Traits and all those comments

Subtle Christian Traits. I joined the group I think when it numbered a few thousand. The posts were witty and funny, and while some memes/posts had a small sting they were ‘loving’ jabs – the wounds of a faithful friend (cf Proverbs 27:6).

But as the group got larger the posts began to stray from the original intent of the group (“Our aim with this group was of course humour, but also embrace our not-so-subtle traits of edifying one another as brothers and sisters in Christ!”). A number of posts appearing with more pointed theological jabs, a couple of heretical posts (!), and a few really unfunny weird flex memes. Is that a bad thing? Well, I’m not the moderator or admin of the group so I don’t have that strong of an opinion on the evolution of the group. In some ways it was expected – the larger the group got the wider the umbrella would have to become to accommodate anyone claiming to be ‘Christian’. So this didn’t bother me.

What bothered me more were the comments section. Kevin DeYoung said it best:

Heaps of opinions and debates – and most concerning: heaps of opinions that appeared to be based on faulty foundations.

This is partly why I don’t engage much in comments or debates online anymore – despite the sometimes overwhelming temptation. I’ve personally found Facebook, and the comments section in general, to be such a bad forum for debates. Taking conversations offline, meeting someone in person – face to face, imagine that! – and thrashing out our differences with our Bibles open has been much more fruitful.

This differs to comments on my own personal wall/posts. Those I’ll generally engage with and interact with – you are my friends after all! But in public groups such as Subtle Christian Traits, and on other sites like Relevant of The Gospel Coalition, I personally feel the comments section are a bit of a waste of time.

But I know that some of my readers are often in the comments engaging with others – good on you. It’s not for me, but more power to you. For these friends I’d like to give some encouragement on how to engage and how to think through why others engage the way they do. (This post is mostly sparked by a comment debate I’ve seen one friend get into with a stranger where I’ve realised my friend just didn’t seem to connect or understand where the stranger – a fellow Christian – was coming fromt).

So you’re in the comment section, you’re engaging with someone and sharing your thoughts, and they respond in a way that surprises you. You might be wondering why some Christians hold their positions so strongly. I’ve seen some comment debates derail before they even begin – and all for the same reason: Christians leaning on different authorities.

BRIE and Authority

In matters of faith and spirituality, we all lean on an authority to shape and form our opinions. The question is what authority are you leaning on?

Here’s where the acronym, ‘BRIE’ can be a helpful compass to orient where you might be in any given conversation.

BRIE stands for Bible (the Word of God), Reason (logic, arguments, human reasoning), Institutions (such as the Church, traditions, and history), and Experience (our feelings, emotions, and experiences in general).

When it comes to authority in our faith there can be a tendency to elevate one over the others in the position of supreme governing authority – and in turn that shapes how you view your faith and the world around you.

Elevating reason to first place is the tendency of liberal Christianity – where arguments and human reasoning have been used to argue against central doctrines like the resurrection and the trustworthiness of Scripture. The arguments have generally relied on things like science disproving miracles, or arguments of historical reconstructions to explain away parts of the Bible. But the main thing about this is that the Bible is filtered through the lens of reason and when the two seem to conflict, human reasoning takes precedence.

Elevating institutions to first place is the tendency of Roman Catholicism and Orthodox Christianity – where the traditions and history of the church have been used as the primary filter for interpreting the Bible. Start with a particular tradition or historical view and read the Bible through that lens. One example I’ve read of this is to find support for the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory within the parable of the unforgiving servant (cf Matthew 18:34 where the master delivers the unforgiving servant over to the jailers ‘until he should pay all his debt’).

Elevating experience to first place is the tendency of charismatic influenced Christianity – where your experiences are relied upon and given authority, even if scripture says something different. Experiences are used as examples for other Christians to follow. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but when experiences are authoritative, and alone form the foundation of wisdom and advice then we run into problems. Experience becomes the lens by which we filter scripture. To give a somewhat controversial example: some argue that women can be pastors and preach to mixed congregations on the basis that they have experienced fruitful/helpful teaching from women pastors in the past.

By now it should be clear that I intend to argue that we should elevate scripture to first place. But I want to be clear that in doing so I’m not denying the use or truthfulness of reason, institutions, or experience. But I am arguing that whatever use or truth there might be must first be examined in the light of scripture’s governing authority. If my reasoning conflicts with scripture on matters of faith, then I must humble submit the conflict to scripture and persevere in working it through (as opposed to just rejecting scripture in favour of human reason). If the institution or tradition conflicts with scripture, then I must reform the institution or tradition in the light of scripture. And I must understand my expereince in the light of scripture as well – ensuring that the practice of faith is not dependent on an experiential moment alone.

Here are five reasons I think that on matters of faith and spirituality scripture should have supreme authority.

  1. Jesus prioritised the Word in his ministry. When he fended off Satan’s attacks in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11), corrected the Pharisees’ misapplication of the Sabbath (Matthew 12:1-5) and traditions surrounding cleanliness (Mark 7:1-13), or pointed to what framed the purpose of his ministry (eg. Luke 18:31, 22:37) Jesus put God’s Word front and centre. Scripture drove, shaped, and was the basis of his ministry.
  2. The Apostles prioritised the Word. When Peter explained the meaning of the apostles speaking in tongues, announcing the coming of God’s Kingdom with the death and resurrection of Jesus, his Pentecost sermon was saturated in scripture (Acts 2). When the Apostles later heard of the conversion of the Gentiles and the Holy Spirit descending upon them, they turned to Scripture to inform their understanding of these events (Acts 15:1-18). Scripture was used to filter these experiences.
  3. Paul used scripture to reason for the gospel. In the towering letter of Romans he reasons clearly that our perfect standing before God, our righteousness, is received by faith alone. In order to make this point (cf Romans 4:1-12) he refers to Abraham’s story in Genesis and quotes David from Psalm 32. Paul doesn’t use reasoning alone, but his reasoning is rooted in and shaped by Scripture.
  4. Paul would later declare that because ‘All scripture is God-breathed’ it made it perfect and sufficient for all our spiritual needs (cf 2 Timothy 3:14-16). The scripture being referred to here is the Old Testament, but as the Apostles wrote and affirmed each other’s writings as scripture (cf Peter’s equating of Paul’s writings as scripture in 2 Peter 3:15-16, and Paul’s quoting of Luke in 1 Timothy 5:18), and as the New Testament gospels and letters were affirmed and then canonised, it wasn’t inappropriate for the Church to then affirm Paul’s words in 2 Timothy as referring to all of scripture – the Old and New Testament.
  5. The church, during the Protestant Reformation, returned to prioritising scripture as the ultimate authority. It is a distinctive hallmark of reformed theology that the Bible rises above other forms of authority and is also constantly reforming our faith (in regards to our knowledge and practice). Which is why the reformation movements kept returning to the Bible and asking, ‘What does scripture say on this subject?’ in order to work out the biblical fidelity of any doctrine or practice.

That’s five good reasons, I think, why scripture should be our chief authority in matters of faith and conduct. It makes further sense as well given that the other three aspects of authority are prone to change – institutions/traditions are always changing, reason and arguments are ever evolving, and our experiences wax and wane constantly. In the middle of all that is the Bible – ever constant and unchanging. Yes it’s hard work to get to that unchanging message, but hard work should not stop us from keeping it at the centre and making it the first authority.

So what?

So what does this have to do with Facebook comments?

First, for my friends who engage themselves in online debate – knowing a bit about BRIE might help you work out why someone argues for their position. It helps us reflect and perhaps ask gentle questions about their position in more pointed, and prayerfully helpful ways.

Second, it helps us listen. Knowing which BRIE authority someone is elevating helps us to listen to why they lean on their position. In listening and understanding can we then engage with what scripture has to say. I don’t think I’ve read or heard any Christian deny the authority of scripture over their lives – but perhaps they haven’t realised how much scripture speaks on a particular issue or train of thought. Perhaps they haven’t realised how much they rely on other sources of authority.

Third, it can help you work out when to call it quits. I had a short-lived debate with someone online once where I quickly discovered that his theological foundation was not only weirdly charismatic (emphasis on weirdly – even my charismatic friends would have found his position on things untenable) but he couldn’t and wouldn’t engage with the scriptural arguments I was putting forth. He began talking past my replies – not engaging with them at all – and at that point I realised it was fruitless to continue. I would have offered to meet up for coffee, but he lived overseas and I figured I didn’t have pastoral responsibility over him. So I pulled the plug.

So there you go. I hope that introduction was helpful. In what ways have you seen BRIE in action? Do you think there are other sources of authority I haven’t considered? Let me know in the comments below.

 

 

 

 

 

What to do with the non-Christians in Bible Study

Bible Study

Every so often at our church we have a small but sizeable number of non-Christians in a fellowship group. At this point the question becomes whether a dedicated non-Christian group should be formed within the larger group.

While I believe some form of Christianity Explained/Explored/Introducing God type of group needs to be provided (and there are other good resources to go through), I believe it should supplement the week-to-week bible study group fellowship. This, of course, is a big sacrifice resource wise – but for a group of keen non-Christians I pray that we’ll all see this as a sacrifice worth investing in.

For me, there are three compelling reasons to include non-Christians in regular bible study.

1. It demystifies the Bible

I remember clearly one of the misconceptions I had about the bible before becoming a Christian was how to read and understand the bible. To me it was some spiritual book in which I had to vaguely wait to for some spiritual answer to leap off the page. When you consider some of the language used to describe the bible it probably doesn’t help: Word of God; Holy Bible; Scripture; Sacred Writings…

So it came as a relative surprise that this wasn’t the case. Instead, week after week, I was shown that the bible isn’t that strange after all – sure there are some strange stories and contexts a lot of us are not familiar with, but at the heart was a simple comprehension exercise. Yes, there are certainly applications to be made, and to be done so by reliance on the Spirit – but sitting down to understand the bible wasn’t out of my reach.

What I later learned as the perspicuity of scripture (the clarity of bible texts before us) I encountered as a non-Christian in regular bible study

2.  It should hopefully show how the bible is one united story

Biblical literacy in our world is at an all-time low. But this isn’t just an issue for non-Christians, it’s also an issue within the church as well. Understanding how the whole bible fits together telling one united story is not familiar to many.

Regular weekly bible studies should not only be exploring the content of the passages before us but also helping us to plug them into the bigger picture. Whether we’re in Deuteronomy, Ecclesiastes, Romans or Revelation, we should be seeing the unfolding story of the gospel of Jesus and its implications for us today.

And not only is this beneficial for Christians, but also non-Christians sitting in on studies.

[Here of course I need to mention that when I speak of bible study I’m assuming the historical-grammatical expository method of studying the bible: verse by verse, chapter by chapter, book by book. Each phrase within the context of its sentence, each sentence within the context of its paragraph, each paragraph within the context of its book and each book within the context of the larger story of the bible. Click here for an explanation of why the expository method of teaching/learning the bible is one of the best.]

3.  It provides a witness/testimony of Christians submitting to the word and encouraging each other

Here is probably one of the most powerful things I witnessed as a non-Christian coming to bible studies regularly. I saw other Christians (who I discovered to my relief that they weren’t all that strange!) learning together and sitting in submission to God’s Word to them. I also saw Christians humbling themselves, confessing their struggles, and encouraging each other. Sure it wasn’t perfect, but it was certainly eye-opening and wonderful to see.

It presented to me a wonderfully attractive community to be a part of. It wasn’t perfect, but in their imperfection they were striving to be humble, loving, and caring for each other.

 

So there’s three reasons why I think it’s great that non-Christians should join our bible studies on top of any Christianity explained type of course. That said, there are a few thoughts to keep in mind while doing so:

First, be careful to avoid Christianese – terms and jargon used by Christians that only Christians understand. Take the time to explain and explore Christian concepts and words that come up in bible study. This is one of the beauties of bible study as opposed to sermons, there is time to explain and explore things. It’ll not only benefit the non-Christian but also younger Christians who may also not understand, and give a chance for older Christians to explain clearly what jargon they use.

Second, take the time to set things in the biblical timeline context. I’m about to start a bible study series in the book of Daniel. The historical setting of Daniel is not going to be familiar with a lot of Christians, let alone non-Christians. I’m aiming to do this through some games and a visual map of the bible’s timeline – and I plan to do this regularly over our 8 week study.

Finally, remember that the implications/applications for non-Christians must first stop at the gospel. A study, for example in Ephesians 4:17-32 will have all sorts of practical outworkings for the Christian: put away falsehood and speak the truth (v25), do not steal but do honest work (v28), be kind to each other and forgive each other (v32). However, if a non-Christian is simply told to do these things then the impression they walk away with of Christianity is that it is simply a works-based religion. The bible study leader needs to be careful that applications are not simply left there – but remind the entire group clearly and repeatedly that these are gospel outworking’s for a gospel-transformed life. This is good not only for the non-Christian but also the legalist (who needs to be gently rebuked for relying on their works for salvation) and the less mature in faith (who needs to be gently encouraged to see how the gospel works in all areas of life).

So there are my thoughts. What about you? What have benefits and potential hurdles have you found in inviting non-Christians into bible study?

 

Ignite Training Conference 2016 Live Blog: Day 5

The Book of Life_edited-1

 

[The final day is here! What a week it has been. I’ve described the talks to others as a slow punch that you can see coming a mile away but when it connects it packs a surprising wallop! I’ll try to track down the mp3 link in the near future.]

Day 5 | Morning Talk | Mark Baddeley | God’s Clear and Present Word

Introduction

If you look across Christian churches and blogs and Christians generally you’ll find a few general things:

  • Christians who find reading the bible for themselves as intimidating – they’ll come to conferences like this and think I need to read commentaries and know all the background and context and exegesis techniques… woe to the person who tries to read the bible on their own!
  • Christians who find the things we’re learning at this conference as elitist – just open the word and find out what it’s saying to you now! Whatever comes to you as you read it today is what we need to find.

For some Christians the bible is a dead word from the past. For others it’s a dynamic word whose meaning changes and evolves. So the question for us is does God speak today, or is what he has said only locked in the past and we have to figure out what to do with it in the present?

  1. A present word

As we’ve discovered in the evening sessions the writer to the Hebrews quotes from Psalm 95 – which is referring back even further to the wilderness wanderings. The psalmist picks up this issue from the past and applies it presently to his hearers. The word which was spoken in the past is still operative – still resonating centuries down into the present. What was said back then is still speaking today. And the writer to the Hebrews does the same thing – which says that what was said in the past is not locked.

The words of God are not like our words – our words we speak into the air and it dissipates. God’s Word continues ever presently – when God said ‘let there be light’ light continues to exist. It continues to be present to every generation.

Application of God’s word, in preaching and in interaction with the bible, is necessary – we don’t want eloquent explanations but people to walk away not knowing how to follow Jesus from the passage. But application can often implicitly teach that the bible needs to be applied by us – that it inherently isn’t clearly applicable. We are asking ‘God, what are you saying through your Word to me presently. Not that I am taking your word to make it meaningful, it already is meaningful – help me understand it rather than try to make it happen.’

  1. A clear word

God’s Word is fundamentally clear. We don’t need an amazing interpreter – God doesn’t give us 66 books and then a 67th book on interpretation. There is no interpretive body/person that God gives because he cannot trust us with His word: the Roman Catholic magisterium, the preacher who has a Masters/PhD. Jesus didn’t expect the apostles to interpret for the people what he said. The prophets did not do that either. Paul wrote some difficult to explain letters – but clearly he wrote in a way that expected that the churches would read and re-read his letter to help their pastoral situations.

We can certainly skill up in our bible reading – but all of us have the clear and present word with us.

This is why bible translation has for the most part of church history been at the forefront of missions.

  1. A riddling word—parables

Parables are not sermon illustrations – they are riddles, mental roadblocks designed to trip people up until it is explained.

Proverbs is similar – you’re meant to chew on them over and over until you can figure it out and apply it.

Paul might go off on a tangent and then come back without telling you. Sometimes there are historical details in the text that we just don’t have, and are assumed in the text – for instance what is baptism of the dead a reference to in 1 Corinthians 15? Nobody really knows for sure…

  1. Very human words

But in all of this we see that God speaks – he doesn’t just stay locked away from us, he reveals himself to us in human words. The bible really is genuinely human words – story telling, rhetorical techniques, persuasive techniques, poetry, metaphor, sometimes highly complex methods of writing.

One problem with this is that when the vocab and grammar expands there is room for misinterpretation. But there is also room for greater and wider understanding. It doesn’t mean that scripture fails to be clear, it means that God uses normal human words to speak to us in normal human ways – full of his authority in order to build relationship with us! His Word repays effort, learning and perseverance.

  1. Clear enough to get the job done

It’s not that everything in the bible is clear – we don’t just open it and the full meaning will jump us into our head. Often scripture is written deliberately so that we will slow down in our reading – it invites us to wrestle with it, to come back to it again and again, to fill our heads with it.

If we understand human speech we can understand the gospel – you don’t need great intelligence to get that. No matter where we are on any spectrum God’s word is clear enough to accomplish what it sets out to do: save us, grow us, equip us, etc.

  1. A clear and present word

Some want to push the clarity of scripture to an unhelpful degree – that everything must be clear and if you don’t get it you’re an idiot. On the other end some say that some bits are not clear, therefore scripture has failed.

If we keep the purpose of scripture in mind then it is fantastically clear. In this way, some bits will be unclear and that’s ok.

For instance, with baptism of the dead in 1 Corinthians 15 – it isn’t explained what it actually is, so that’s not clear. But that’s doesn’t matter – because what is clear is how the use of it functions in Paul’s argument (ie – you don’t ‘baptise for the dead’ [what ever that is] unless you honestly believe in the resurrection).

Scripture brings the authority of God upon our lives to save us and change us. It will also repay us the more we bring to it. Yes, I can read it for myself, but there is also a place to get equipped to read it better, a place to send people for 3-4 years to get trained to teach the bible better.

  1. Clarity and authority—three debates

Three debates in particular cause a lot of heat among Christians.

  1. Genesis 1 and the age of the universe and evolution
  2. Women’s public ministry
  3. Same-gender sexual activity

The heat in each of these debates often boils down to whether the authority of scripture is under threat. There are no easy solutions to these debates. In some (like the first debate) we may need to agree to disagree. However the debate is run – if we see the authority of scripture in question that is where we need to start.

Reflections

The Word of God exists to fundamentally bring us to God in a saving relationship. Scripture, in this regard, is ultra clear. In this core business anyone can access it. It is sufficiently clear to bring us to Jesus and saving faith. We must not let the fact that it is not completely clear on everything to be intimidating – rather it should inspire us to read it better and more often. We must not let the fact that it is basically clear to also encourage laziness.

Work at it, pray, ask God to speak to us through it.

 

Ignite Training Conference 2016 Live Blog: Day 4

The Book of Life_edited-1

[The morning coffee has kicked and we’re ready to go. Another big day – not only for talks and workshops, but also for the strand groups. For those reading, and inclined, please pray with us that the delegates continue to be helpfully equipped to wield the sword of God’s Word. Pray also that holiness, godliness and overflowing love be the greatest response to this all.]

Day 4 | Morning Talk | Mark Baddeley | God’s Christ Centred Word

Introduction

Imagine hearing a sermon series on the topic of ‘Birds’. All the content will be driven by the bible. Question: would this be a biblical sermon series?

Or what about these topics:

  • 5 ways to raise up your children
  • tips on dating
  • dieting and being fit

And again, all the content will be driven by the bible.

Tough huh? :)

  1. Inspiration

We start with 2 Timothy 3 well known verse – that all Scripture is God-breathed.

We note that when other biblical writers refer to each other there is never a distinction between the biblical author and God. While some parts of scripture seem to be the direct product of divine revelation (for instance the prophets who receive a supernatural revelation), there are other bits which are very human (for instance the letters of the New Testament).

 

  1. What is the word of God?

Scripture

Scripture comes to us in different ways. Some bits are highly supernatural, some bits are very human, and some bits are in between. Through it all one suspects that the authors weren’t expecting to be writing scripture as we know it. And yet, Paul tells us that however it has come together it is all God-breathed: all of it is what God intends to communicate.

At this point there is a debate on this issue though. The agreement is that scripture is God’s communication to us. The division is over the manner in which this communication takes place – whether every single detail and grammatical point is inspired. So that Scripture is fully human and fully divinely inspired. On the other end of the debate there are those who would argue that some aspects and details aren’t overly important or divine (but more human), including some errors. The primary importance is the overall message.

Our starting point: what scripture says and what it is communicating is what God is communicating to use.

Christ Jesus

 When we hear ‘the word of God’ we think of scripture itself. But in John 1, and Hebrews 1, the word is Jesus himself. It’s the Lord Jesus Christ who brings the knowledge of God, who brings salvation, who brings the full glory of God.

In the OT nobody saw a form, they only heard a voice. But for those of us in the New Covenant God has come out of the darkness and into the light and revealed himself – in the face of Jewish carpenter! Jesus is God on public display – God can be known personally in a way that wasn’t possible in the OT. We can see the very form of God in Jesus. As we read the gospels and get a sense of Jesus in them we get a sense of who God is.

The gospel

Paul’s characteristic phrase when he refers to the word of God/truth he’s referring to the gospel. The message about Jesus. For Paul in particular that message is the word of God. If you receive it by faith you know God personally, you come into relationship with God, you move from death to life and become a new creation. The Word of God, the thing that creates a saving reality, is the gospel.

How do they relate?

God speaks, and what he says is written down. One of the things he needs to tell us about is the Lord Jesus, and particularly the gospel that we need to believe and be saved by. And the reason why we believe the gospel is because we find it in the bible.

ie. Scripture –> gospel –> Christ Jesus

Going the other way, when we come into relationship with God through Jesus and the gospel, we come to understand that something like the Old Testament is also the Word of God. Why do I read the New Testament? Because Jesus commissioned his apostles and his word there. But for us non-Jews we sort of slip the Old Testament into our lives and adopt that as our own as well.

ie. Christ Jesus –> gospel –> Scripture

Here’s the thing – both these models are good and bad.

The issue with the first model – it unhelpfully flattens the whole of scripture as a collection of stuff, and you can kinda take and leave parts. Scripture becomes the larger category and the gospel’s importance can be lost.

The issue with the second model is that the bible gets pitted against Jesus. For instance the ‘WWJD’ fad which often elevated our personal view of Jesus over scripture. Martin Luther sort of had this as well – he disliking the book of James because he couldn’t find the gospel in it.

So what is the point of scripture?

  1. What is the job description for God’s word?

Give information

The first thing to say is that the Word of God is there to give us knowledge and information when we are ignorant. We are ignorant of who God is.

But it can’t be this alone – so many books in our Christian book shops use the bible this way: that the bible can give us information about dieting, raising kids, dating…etc.

Rescue people in need

The second thing to say is that the bible’s job is to rescue people in need. We are in desperate need, we are in mortal peril, we face death and judgement, we’re enslaved to the world, the devil and our own sinful hearts. We are in danger as the anger of God is upon us.

And fundamentally the Word of God is the life ring thrown to us drowning in the sea.

 

Establish new relationship — promises

Regulate the relationship – commands, instructions

Give the knowledge needed to establish the promises, commands, and instructions

The Word of God’s core business is not just to download information to us – it’s to rescue us.

God is fully capable of filling up our libraries with books of information. But he doesn’t – in fact 66 books are actually not a lot of words. Why does he speak at all? To rescue us, to give us that better life in relationship with him. The knowledge and information serves his promises and commands, to give us what we need to know to trust him and obey him.

God does not care about fulfilling our intellectual curiosity (with all our questions that come from the bible and the gaps that are so apparent). But God does care about the fact that we are drowning and need saving.

Even in 2 Timothy 3 Paul speaks of scripture to make us wise in order to have salvation in the Lord Jesus.

So a sermon has to have the same purpose of God’s speech and be focused on the same direction. God doesn’t speak about birds in order to give us information about birds, but he speaks about birds occasionally to help us understand salvation further.

  1. Scripture, gospel, Christ—natural partners

Scripture is the word of God. Jesus is the word of God. The gospel is the word of God. We can’t separate or pit them against each other.

Scripture is the mechanism by which we understand the gospel and Jesus. And in order to understand the scriptures we need to come to Jesus in faith. We can’t have access to Jesus outside of scripture (unless someone explains it to us orally) – to deepen our relationship with Jesus we need scripture. There is a natural partnership.

There is no Jesus who is not taught by scripture. Neither is there any scripture which is not centred around Jesus.

Reflections

The question for us: do we see the word of God has this laser-like focus. Or do we treat scripture as, yeah, about Jesus, but there’s all this other living and wisdom stuff! Or do we see scripture as completely revolving around and focused upon and upholding the glory and magnificence of Jesus.

 

[God doesn’t care about satisfying every curiosity and question we have – God cares that we are in mortal danger and in need of rescue. The bible is Jesus centred.]

Day 4 | Evening Talk | Richard Gibbson | Our Great High Priest

Sabbath rest

Exegesis is hard work. Reading the text, working on the preaching, wondering if you have bridged the cultural gap, wondering if you’ve worded yourself well. After it all, Gibbo is looking forward to rest.

In God’s kindness and mercy to Israel he had given them a sabbath rest – a day each week to rest from their labours.

The eternal sabbath to come – the resting with God, the enjoyment of his presence for eternity – lies ahead of us. But it could slip from our hands – and we are warned against drifting from it through the book of Hebrews.

Doctrine of Scripture

Chapter 4 in Hebrews is a wonderful chance to think about our doctrine of scripture. Verses 12-13 take us into the heart of the doctrine of scripture.

The rest remains open (4:3-11)

As God said in Psalm 95

Verses 1-2 are a reminder of what was said before regarding that former generation who refused God and were refused entry into the promised land.

The author of Hebrews quotes again from Psalm 95. This verse reaches forward to us – those people in the wilderness had a gospel preached to them, they were evangelised to, they were minutes away from consummating the promises from God but were overwhelmed by the big people in the land, they balked, and they disobeyed God. So they missed out on the land of rest.

As God said somewhere (Genesis 2:2)

Don’t you love it that the author says ‘somewhere it is said…’ when referencing scripture! Anyway…

In chapter 2 of Genesis we have recorded the 7th Day of creation, the day of rest. Even this part of scripture which speaks of God in third person is God’s speaking. Another handy little reminder of this author’s doctrine of scripture.

So when God rested, put his feet up and enjoyed with satisfaction what he had created – the author reminds us that this rest remains open to people ever since. And open for people to enter into.

As God said through David (Ps 95)

It’s important that this word is not left as a timeless word – it was spoken to David centuries after they had entered the wilderness. The point is that the rest back then must still be open in David’s time. By David’s time they had taken the land and settled it – but the rest had not exhausted it, the land had not fulfilled the ultimate rest. It was partial, a shadow of the reality that is coming.

Despite Joshua’s efforts

Verse 8 – Joshua’s efforts to take the land didn’t give the great rest. Even where the rest is partially fufilled there is still a greater reality to be taken hold of. This is the situation that we find ourselves.

So make sure you enter

Verse 9 onwards reminds us that we, presently, are on the brink of entering that rest. If we, who have the promise of rest in Jesus right in front of us, if we can’t trust God with it, if you are sick of persecution and harassment, sick of saying no to sin – understand the tragic consequence of saying no to Jesus. Understand how tragic it is – as tragic as those in the wilderness who fell.

In verse 9 there is a reference to the ‘Sabbath rest’ – a place of eternal joy, no more grieving, no more sin, no more dealing with hostility, no more persecution, losing possessions, being thrown into jail as a Christian, no more terrorism, all our labours done – and entering into the glorious celebration with God. ‘Sabbath rest’ is a glorious celebration.

In the verses that follow there is a remarkable reflection of what has been going on for us over the last few nights.

The risk of reading Scripture (4:12-13)

Scripture

alive and active

When we use the word ‘doctrine’ we can think of something stuffy and dry. But here the author ‘unchains the lion’ (ala Spurgeon on defending the bible). God does not mess around with us when he speaks. It’s living because it’s the very extension of himself. God’s word is living because He is the living God, and it expresses to us his intentions and thoughts.

There is a danger to bibliolatry, but the much greater and more prevalent danger is to drive the wedge between God and his word. Eg – God really is at work in our music at church (we put up with the preaching), God is really at work in my experience which is so much more real to me than the bible. There are all kinds of spirituality around us which are not the spirituality of God. When we want the reality of God addressing us and of God’s thoughts then we open up the bible.

In our lives, churches and world the reality is that transformation will not occur apart from his word. That is the way that God works. Even if there is a dramatic and phenomenal pouring out of his Spirit, it will do so through the preaching of His word.

penetrating

The sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. Another point at which we cannot divide, or drive a wedge, is between God and his Spirit.

One reason the author uses this image of the sword for the Word of God – because the author has been thinking about numbers 14.

Often we lose heart when it comes to the effect and power of God’s word to bring change in people. But in Numbers 14, after the rebellion the people wanted to try to take the land again. Moses warns them in v41 onwards that they would fall by the sword. The sword of the Amalakites made them fall, yes, but it was also the sword of God’s Word that had promised judgement by which they fell.

judging

The sword of God’s word is not just a unwieldy thing swung wildly – but is also a surgeon’s scalpel. Penetrating deeply and incisively, into the inner most and deepest parts of our secretive heart. And this Word comes in and exposes them. Every little dark thought and dirty deed. The Word will bring us to conviction of every one of these, and bring us grace of being warned, the grace of a chance to repent and find life.

Us

Exposed

Naked

in his sight

Our soul is exposed before God. We are naked before him all the time, there are no fig leaves that can protect us. God sees through me every moment of every day. I am in his presence all the time. Even when we think we are getting away with sin, we never are.

The bible shows me the MRI scan that he is taking – and showing us the hardness of our heart. God has us in his sights and grip and we cannot get out of that.

Despite the fact that most commentaries say this is the end of the unit and the next unit moves on, it would leave us exposed, naked and judged to simply leave things here. But… wow… the next verses…

The rescue for exposed sinners (4:14-16)

A great high priest in heaven

We have a great high priest who has come to help us in our exposed naked judged and condemned state.

Have we been exposed by God’s Word? Jesus says come to me and hide in me and find refuge and I will keep you safe.

Hold firm

A priest tempted in every way, but without sin

Jesus was tempted fully in every way. The temptation in the wilderness is Jesus’ experiencing temptation to a level just like us. He knows what it’s like to hear that tempting voice, feel the allure of turning his back on his Father. This experience makes it possible for him to know what we go through.

“Come to me, all you who are weary & burdened & I will give you rest”

In Jesus’ tender hearted love he came to rescue us. He was exposed, naked, and judged – yet without sin. And now he invites us to come to him and find rest.

 

[The final talk is another stunning reminder that God’s Word exposes every corner of our darkened hearts and minds – and Jesus, our perfect friend who has been through every temptation we have, offers refuge. Do not harden your hearts towards him.]

Before the throne of God above
I have a strong, a perfect plea
A great High Priest whose name is Love,
Who ever lives and pleads for me.

My name is graven on his hands,
My name is written on his heart;
I know that while in heaven he stands
No tongue can bid me thence depart,
No tongue can bid me thence depart.

Ignite Training Conference 2016 Live Blog: Day 3

The Book of Life_edited-1

 

Day 3 | Morning Talk 3 | Mark Baddeley | God’s Trustworthy Word

Introduction

In John 5 Jesus makes a huge claim and he doesn’t seem to defend it – he makes a lesser to the greater claim that if God’s Word refers to men as ‘sons of god’ then what will you do with me who is even greater? He then says ‘by the way, Scripture can’t be broken.’ and moves on. Why does he do this? Because he doesn’t need to establish that the Word of God is something they believe and something they live by.

In Romans 3 there is something similar – in 3:4 Paul ends a short argument with ‘let God be true though every one were a liar’. There is a rock bottom truth in scripture that God’s Word is true.

This is a big issue in scripture. With the creation of the world in Genesis 1 and the garden in Genesis 2 we come to Genesis 3 and find a debate over whether God’s Word is true or not.

  1. Has God really said? – Gen 3

The serpent’s first attack is to question whether God’s Word is true. When it all falls apart, and sin and brokenness is introduced into the world, it all happens in the context of questioning the trustworthiness of God.

When you and I reject God, or when we deny God, there are two things always in play:

1 – There is always a desire – like Eve desired the fruit, there is always something that catches our eye

2 – There is a questioning of the trustworthiness of God’s Word

 

  1. God’s Word is truth

A regular description

The bible’s regular description of itself is as ‘the word of Truth’

Psalm 119, John 17:17, Ephesians 1:13, James 1:18, Revelation 21:5 – all these references emphasise the ‘word of truth’. These quick soundbites function almost like a second name for the Word of God – the Word of Truth.

The importance of truth to how God works in the world

What is it that characterises the way that God works in the world – through truth.

Romans 1:18, 25 – humanity’s basic problem in this world: it’s not ignorance, nor disobedience, it’s deceit – the exchanging of truth, suppressing of the truth, and substituting of the truth for a lie.

We are a race who stumble in darkness, who love the darkness, and refuse to come into the light. How does God work in this situation? He brings the truth to bear upon it so that it cannot be suppressed.

Psalm 25:5 – lead me in your truth and teach me…

Psalm 43:3 – send out your light and truth…

John 1:14 – the word dwelt among us… full of grace and truth

John 1:17 – Law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ

John 8:31-32 – if you abide in my word you are my disciples and you will know the truth and the truth will set your free

Ephesians 4:25 – having put away falsehood let each speak truth with his neighbour

1 John 1:8 – if we say we have no sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us

Truth characterises the way that God works. He sends out his truth, he leads people in truth, and the truth itself (Jesus) came to abide with us.

Truth also characterises God’s people – someone who speaks and does what is true, because you have been so powerfully shaped by something that is true.

The problem we need rescuing from is a truth problem (deceit, lies), and God solves it by bringing the truth to light and to bear upon his people.

No examples of Scriptures that identify errors in other scriptures

An argument from silence – which is not good to do, but this is a powerful argument.

While there are tricky ways that Scripture interacts with itself, but never does Scripture correct itself. If it is said in scripture then it is true by definition. So the way in which scripture talks about itself tells us that the Word is trustworthy and that we can build our lives upon it.

We often undercut this truth in subtle ways. In evangelical circles we can implicitly undercut the trustworthiness of the Word – sometimes in our preaching we don’t talk about the big idea of the passage before us. When preaching emphasises secondary ideas, even truthful ones, it undercuts the truth of scripture generally.

Why does solid preaching matter? Below…

  1. Truth matters

Truth of the Word grounded in God’s nature

John 14 – Jesus says ‘I am the truth’ – if you’re going to describe God accurately the word ‘true’ must come into it at some point.

Truth characterizes God’s works

The key thing that God uses to work is the Word of God. In trying to move people from non-truth to truth what he must use to do that must itself must be true.

Truth of the Word meets our need

The only way the Word can function for us is if it is trustworthy. There is no ‘plan B’ aside from trusting God’s Word. No other visions, no other miracles or acts.

God calls us to go all in, and we need to go all in, an in order to go all in we need something to trust.

  1. Word of truth and words of lies

And yet as Genesis 3 indicates, the Word of God doesn’t come in a vacuum. The snake runs around casting aspersions left, right and center. Elijah’s fight against the prophets of Baal is a dramatic example of this encounter of words of truth and words of lies. Jesus and his battle against the Pharisees, Paul’s battle against the words of Jews and philosophy of Greeks – constantly the Word of God is in a battleground for truth. In the OT and the NT there are always false prophets and false teachers.

So in wanting to tune into the truth of God we need to see that it comes to us in a battleground.

Discernment is greatly needed.

  1. Our debate: Inerrancy, infallibility, errancy

One area of debate is in inerrancy, infallibility and errancy.

When we say the word of God is true in what sense do we say that it is true?

Liberal churches take an errant view – the word of God is true in the sense that a person who reads the bible finds truth for themselves. So even liberal churches encourage bible reading – but in order to weed out errors and find your own personal truth.

Among bible believing there is another ground of debate – primarily on what level of truth is in the bible? The titles aren’t overly cool or sexy, but they are ‘inerrancy’ and ‘infallibility’.

Inerrancy – everything the bible says in big and small details is factually true. This position was mostly, up until 100 years ago, where everyone was.

But a problem with this view is that there are parts of scripture which are very hard to explain – there are parts which seem to blatantly disagree with each other. For instance the resurrection accounts differ enough to make you scratch your head. Because of these factors one solution is to suspend judgement on these matters for the moment, until something is cleared up and worked out later. And because this isn’t very intellectually elegant, a number of Christians have moved to a second position…

Limited infallibility – that God’s Word is there to teach us doctrine and ethics, and on these things the bible is absolutely true. On big historical events, the bible is also absolutely true. But in smaller details there can be some inconsequential errors.

While we’re not here to solve all these issues there are some markers we should note:

  • you can hold the limited infallibility position and still be a Christian – even if it’s not a strong position to take
  • while inerrancy is probably a better position, recognise it’s own weaknesses

 

Conclusion

At the end of the day we all come back to the fact that scripture is trustworthy. We can trust our eternal destiny to its promises – and God is good for it as well. They are words we can build our lives around, they will hold the weight of that. It is a word that is up to the challenge.

[Another mammoth talk, with perhaps a can of worms opened and unresolved – but the conclusion is all important: God’s word is trustworthy and able to bear the weight of our trust.]

 

Day 3 | Workshop | Ying Yee | How to love the church: warts and all

Loving the church, warts and all, is one of the hardest things to do. So many people in Ying’s experience have major problems with their home church. Ying’s story is no different.

(we pause here as Ying shares some personal experience of difficulties working in church)

Lots of people have good reasons to leave their church. We are called to love our church but it’s also one of the hardest things.

Some difficulties:

  • Change or lack of change
  • Lack of gospel preaching/poor teaching
  • Complaints never direct, always rumours and gossip
  • Church politics and power grabs
  • No one cares about each other – ie no one cares about me
  • Culture clashes
  • Churches which are inward looking
  • There’s no vision
  • traditionalism

And those in leadership will be in the thick of it as well.

Given all this it can be very hard to love the church. So sometimes we pack up and leave and head somewhere else.

Which gives rise to another trend – church hopping. Simply because we have the luxury of so many churches in Brisbane.  Or worst still, some are so burnt out that they give up the faith all together.

Why is it hard to love the church? There are good reasons here – by the are symptoms of a deeper issue. Here are some reasons:

First – in the world we choose our friends. We choose those who have same interests and likes. But in church you don’t choose. God chooses. Whether we like them or not. It’s the same with family.

See Ephesians 2 and 3. Jews and Gentiles had the worst of relationships – and yet it’s God’s design and plans to bring them together in the same church.

God chooses the people. And the kicker is that they are often the people we would never have chosen to be friends with.

Second – we forget that our church is sinful. Not just laziness in service, or unkindness – but deep rooted selfishness. Sinful people by their nature think they are God and everyone is there to do their bidding. This is what we should expect because we are not in the new creation yet. When you realise this it can greatly help.

This is not good. It’s normal, it’s reality, but it is not good. It comes with the territory.

See Revelation 2-3. The picture of the seven churches – a picture/metaphor for all churches. Some churches were all doctrine and no heart. Some compromised the truth, some lacked discipline, some were all show and no substance.

Remember that Jesus did not come to save the healthy by the sick.

Third – Satan goes to church.

Ephesians 6 – the real problem is not the battle out there, but the battle within. The spiritual battle in our lives everywhere.

Fourth – we need to recognise the distinction between the visible and the invisible church. The visible church is the physical gathered community. The invisible church is the community of regenerated believers. Lots of people say they are Christian and do the Christian things but are not actually converted.

Fifth – we fail to understand the doctrine of sanctification. God works in partnership with us to move us towards Christ-likeness. Our problem is that we expect the church to be mature overnight.  Maturity and growth take time, it never happens immediately. One of the marks of immaturity is selfishness, lack of discipline, that you don’t know how to do certain things. The church is a like a little spoilt kid that needs to grow up – and it’s a process which takes a lifetime.

Sixth – we often apply the wrong standard to measure what is a good church. For instance: we think the preaching is bad, but our standard is so high that no ordinary preacher could meet it.

Seven – we fail to see that Jesus loves his church.

Why and how should we love the church?

  1. Because the church is Jesus’ bride. Do we realise that? And when he married his church he did not marry ‘Ms Philippines’ he married an ugly duckling. Acts 20:28ff, Ephesians 5:24ff – reminders from scripture that Jesus loves the church and looks after her. The book of Revelation may begin with a picture of a decrepit bride in chapters 2-3, but it end with a glorious picture of the bride looking radiant because Jesus has cared for her.
  2. Remember also that Jesus not only purchased the church but also purified the church. He’s working behind the scenes to help his church and grow it.
  3. Distinguish the vine work and the trellis work. Trellis work is structures and programs. Vine work is people work. We need both the trellis and the vine, but we often focus on keeping up the trellis.
  4. Distinguish was is important and what is cosmetic. Visions are just well crafted basic work of Christian discipleship and evangelism – if you use the bible you have the same vision.
  5. Growing a child to maturity takes years and years, one step at a time. Remember you’re on a long journey that will take a lifetime, and it is often very painful. Galatians 4:18-19 – Paul is going through the pains of delivering children until Jesus grows in you. Imagine labour pains for 40 years. Producing children is a pain. To grow them up is a painful process.
  6. Don’t get distracted from the real work – people. Ministry isn’t just the programs, it’s the speaking to people in love to build them up. When you’re talking to people you get excited – side by side with each other.
  7. Pray for the church and give thanks for her regularly because Jesus loves your church. He died for your church. He is working in and for your church because it is HIS body. His spirit dwells in there, and he’s working in partnership to present his bride perfect.

 

Day 3 | Evening Talk | Richard Gibbson | God’s Faithful Son [Hebrews 3:1-4:2]

Why angels?

In Colossae worship of angels is connected with hyper-spirituality. But in the book of Hebrews it seems to be a different issue. Their significance has to do with the giving of the covenant in the Old Testament. There is a strong tradition of angels in the OT and in Jewish traditions. In Acts Stephen also makes this point that angels are important in the giving of the law. So also in Galatians 3 there is a reference to this tradition that angels were involved in giving the law.

Hebrews appears to be a long list of comparisons between Jesus and everything else, and the supremacy of Jesus. But it is actually one sustained and connected argument – and the subject of the book is the Old Covenant. The author is writing to a people who are in danger of walking away from the New Covenant in Jesus and back to the Old Covenant in the Law.

The Old Covenant is a shadow of the substance of the New Covenant – and the writer is surprised that this group is running back to the shadow.

Why Moses?

As the author is seeking to call these people back to Jesus he has to be very careful. He’s not in a position to criticise or condemn the Old Covenant. They were part of God’s revealed will to his people! So he isn’t critical of Moses, but his argument is very nuanced and careful.

Once you get Moses in the perspective of God’s revealed will in Jesus then you’ll pick Jesus all the time – this is the author’s point in this chapter.

 

Fix your thoughts on Jesus (3:1-6)

 

Moses, the faithful servant

Moses is held in very high esteem. It’s understandable that these people see in the midst of their confusion, their alienation, their pushing against their culture that they begin drifting back.

Numbers 12:6ff – this passage puts Moses in a category of no one before him or after him. The author of Hebrews has this passage in mind as he develops this comparison and contrast between Moses the faithful servant and Jesus the faithful son.

There was a sense that Moses was an apostle – sent by God, mediator and priest. Moses was the original apostle and high priest – but our apostle and high priest of our confession is Jesus.

Jesus, the faithful Son

 

The problem wasn’t with Moses in the Old Covenant – he wasn’t the point of failure (even in his human frailty). But Moses is the building, whereas Jesus is the builder (v3).

Jesus has more glory than Moses because he is the builder of the building. Moses was always provisional to a further ultimate revelation (in the person of Jesus). Moses was only ever a servant whereas Jesus was a son. Moses was always only intended to be a side character, laying the foundation for Jesus to come. To confuse the servant with the Son is a huge mistake in a households politics.

A warning word from God (3:7-11)

Spoken by the Spirit

Psalm 95 is quoted (the author of Hebrews loves the Psalms) at this point. Psalm 95 is familiar to those who grew up in synagogue. It was a great call to worship.

Notice the way the passage is introduced – that the Holy Spirit says… even though there’s no mention of the Holy Spirit in the Psalm. And notice the present tense – the Holy Spirit ‘says’ in order to connect it with the Psalms’ use of ‘today’.

Israel’s rebellion

The call to not harden their hearts comes back to Numbers where Israel was on the brink on entering into the promised land and their rebellion in response. Their rebellion at heart was distrust of God’s goodness. In God’s anger he declared that this generation would die in the wilderness.

Yahweh’s anger and oath

Here is why the author of Hebrews goes to psalm 95 – he uses the same address as back in the Old to say that you must listen to this word: you are in a comparable position as Israel on the brink of the promised land and are about to run away.

But in the OT there was still rebellion, they hardened their hearts, and they lost the promised blessing. So the author says don’t do the same thing as they did back then.

The warning applied (3:12-4:2)

Watch out

The author is now warning of a heart disease of greater significance than physical heart disease – but spiritual heart disease with eternal consequences.

Who is the warning for – how do you know your heart is hardening? If you keep making excuses for sin, if you keep putting off obedience or listening to later. When you say, ‘I know what God says, and I know… I know… but I don’t care to change just yet.’ This is the symptom checklist to show that the heart disease is rampant – and that you have drifted.

At heart is the belief that God has not been good to you.

How do you know you have a healthy heart? Not when you’re sorry or guilty. But when you are quick to repent. At the bottom of it is the conviction that God hasn’t been good enough for you and you’ve been trying to compensate – and that you’ll turn away from this.

Today is the day to repent of this.

Encourage

Verse 13 reminds us that the above response is not just individual, but corporate. We know how hard our battle with sin is – and that is the same for those beside us.

So look out for each other and share life with each other and live life together so that you’re growing together and keeping each other accountable and watching whether we are drifting.

If we’re serious about this then we will forge deep relationships to keep each other accountable.

Hold on

Verse 14 – the nature of Christian faith is that it perseveres. The author makes clear that we can have a confidence in Christ – but that can slip us into complacency. It can make us think we don’t need to persevere and hold on.

Beware the horror of hearing and not heeding

Verses 16-19 – these were the people who were at the mountain which trembled, where God spoke, with people who heard the law and were eager to covenant in relationship with God. But they were also the same ones who fell in the wilderness.

Still ‘today’

It is still today. Are we hearing God with faith and responding with faith. Is your heart soft to God and responding when his word cuts you to pieces? Do we respond with repentance, with godly sorry, we cling to Jesus and throw himself on his mercy. Or do we continue to make excuses, minimise or explain away our sin?

Friends if you hear his voice today do not harden your hearts.

 

[There are talks that leave us guilty for our sin and complacency. There are talks that stroke our ego and make us feel more better about ourselves than we should. Tonight was neither. Tonight was an extended plea to not forsake Jesus, to not harden our hearts. Please, don’t drift from Jesus!]

 

 

 

Ignite Training Conference 2016 Live Blog: Day 2

The Book of Life_edited-1

I thought I’d do a daily live blog rather than try to fill up one post! That would be far too long. So, day 2, here we go!

Day 2 | Talk 2 | Mark Baddeley | God’s Powerful Word

Introduction

It can be a bit odd to talk about the power of the Word of God. Whenever we talk about the Word of God we often talk about its truth first and foremost. And when we do this we often think that the power of God comes externally to the Word itself – from ourselves, or from an anointing of the Spirit.

When you think about it our own words are like this – they don’t tend to carry much power. Say ‘Let there be light’ and nothing will happen. Get up and turn on the light switch and then there will be light. Our words inherently don’t have much power unless they are acted upon externally.

Scripture talks of itself as truth, but also as power. For instance in Romans the gospel word is the ‘power of God’ for salvation. In Colossae the gospel has power to spread, increase and grow – like it has legs! Or even the parable of the sower – in the final good soil there are no barriers to growth and there is amazing growth. Normal preaching and application focuses on the soil – be the right soil for growth. But don’t miss the power of life in the passage – the soil is inactive, the seed (the word of God) is the active one which grows. The soil’s job is to make sure it’s the right one, and then be acted upon by the Word.

So why does the bible speak of the Word of God in this characteristic way?

A Word that changes reality

  1. A Word that creates

 Why does anything exist at all – why is there reality? Because God spoke words – and the things he spoke about came into existence. The things he did not speak of did not come into existence. And it’s not simply the case that God speaks into existence and then is self-sustaining. God’s Word continues to shape and sustain – Psalm 29 makes this point.

In Psalm 29 when God’s Word speaks the mighty cedars snap like match sticks, forests flatten, countries skip and shudder. This is the power of the Word of God – it is like an atomic bomb going off, it is that powerful.

As we watch Jesus’ miracles – over illness, death, storms, producing food – when we watch Jesus do these he does them primarily by speaking a word. When Jesus wants to change reality around him he speaks and reality bends its knee – what he says comes into existence.

Do we see the Word of God this way – that we are handling something with explosive power?

  1. A Word that changes history

Time and time again history takes its course and when the Word of God enters in it takes a whole new track.

In Genesis 3 people get moved from the garden, access to the tree is cut off, the snake remains a belly dweller. In Genesis 4 God’s word to Cain shapes history. In Moses’ commission God’s people are delivered and Egypt is smashed. In the book of Judges when a judge is raised up by a word it changes and shapes the history of that region. In the books of Samuel and Kings – The Word of God raises up King Saul, tears him down, anoints David, judges David, shifts his history and the life of the nation. In Jeremiah God’s words are put into his mouth – and with this is power over kingdoms and nations, the power to tear down, the power to judge – does this power come from Angels or demons? No, the power just comes from his speaking. As Jeremiah speaks his bleak and depressing words it shapes the reality around him.

This creative power that brings into existences that it deigns, that even human history is changed when the word of God enters in.

In our bible study groups, or at church, does this sense change our view of it? When we open the bible we are going to be changing human lives and shifting history.

  1. A Word that determines people’s fate:

Judges

 

The word that comes in judgement determines the fate of the people who hear it. Kingdoms and dynasties are ended, peoples lives are put to an end, languages are confused for all-time, an entire world perishes and is destroyed by water, on the last day people are consigned to a second death for all time – and all of this done by God speaking.

The word of judgement doesn’t just describe what will happen – it brings it into existence. It has that kind of power.

Saves

And on the flipside, the same word that has the power to judge is also the power of God to save. It may seem weak and foolish, but it is God’s power. Heaven and earth are changed for people when they hear the gospel – keep that in mind as we evangelise!

Death is changed into life – like with Lazarus – by the speaking of a word. Ezekiel sees a valley of dry bones which are transformed into flesh, how? By speaking a word. The word of God can do what is unimaginable. Israel is in slavery to the most formidable power in the world (Egypt), and God needs only speak to a man from a burning bush and their deliverance is put into action.

When we say to people ‘trust in Jesus and you will be forgiven’ something earth shattering and reality altering has happened.

When you listen to a sermon where does the power lie in the sermon? In the preaching gift of the preacher? In his preparation, in his personal walk, in his zeal, in an anointing? The power lies that if they are doing the job of speaking God’s word then the power is in the word of God. The power is not in the performance, it is in what is being delivered (which is dynamite): the word of God which changes reality as it comes into existence.

What about the bible reading in our church? Our bible reading roster is often done by various people – and isn’t really great. When we hear it we often think that we need the preacher to make the word clear for us because the person reading it was flat. By if the Word of God is the place where God is working, and is thoroughly powerful, then our public reading needs to match that.

 

A Word that addresses human beings

  1. A Word with authority

The Word doesn’t just address reality ‘out there’ – it speaks to us.

In creation God not only speaks humans into being, God speaks to human beings. He speaks to his people in the 10 commandments. Or from Deutereonomy, Moses goes at great length to say that when the nation was at Mt Sinai they never saw any physical form of God – they heard a voice telling them how they should live. So what is the basis for how you should live going forward? The word of God – so don’t try to form an image of God, don’t try and look for something, listen to the voice.

Relationship with God is determined by our ears. We listen, we pay attention, we hold it close.

Promises

Blink and you may often miss these promises littered through scripture. When God commits himself to do something – not just any old thing – invariably the promises have to do with salvation, of eternal life, of overturning the curses of Genesis 3.

Sometimes what he promises happens immediately. Often they are future oriented, and at some point he always keeps the promise.

 

Commands

A lot of the laws are these types of word. Here the words are not about what God is committing to do, but his words committing us to do something.

The commands form the standard by which he judges us. He compares what he says how we should live, and how we have lived, and compares the two.

 

Instructs

He tells us things about the world, things he is doing in the world and what he will do in the world – so that we understand his work.

For instance, the first bit of the 10 commandments are instruction – telling them what God has done for them to save them.

So much of the bible is given to instruction. In history, in prophecy, in letters of what God has done – it’s heavy emphasis is on God’s view of reality. And all done so that we have all we need to know to understand what God is instructing us.

The word’s impact on us is not the same as the word’s impact on nature in Psalm 29. It speaks at us, and to us, and take their effect if they are received by faith. If we trust the promises, if we trust the One who gives the promises. Faith is needed to receive the things that God promises.

The way we respond to the authorities and commands is that we do what they say. The way we respond to the instructions is to believe.

The Word of God doesn’t just speak at creation or at reality – it speaks to you, and to me. It creates the relationship between Us and God as the promises are made and kept. It governs the relationship between Us and God as we obey his commands. It secures our relationship between Us and God as it instructs us. It works, it does, and it accomplishes. It saves and it changes. It speaks to us not just with power but with authority – an authority which must be received, responded to and embraced.

The Word of God is central to the way we relate to God.

 

 

Reflections:

 

What does it look like in our life for the Word of God to have this kind of power at work?

Example: Jesus in the temptation in the wilderness – the first temptation from Satan is to use the word of God to provide for himself. Use the word of God in a way that you shouldn’t to provide for yourself. Jesus responds ‘The Word of God’ is more important than bread. The Word of God trumps his own needs as a human being – because he realises how powerful and important it is.

Example: Psalm 119 – your Word is more important than thousands of pieces of silver and gold. Australians love making more money – we love our lifestyle. The Psalmist says I’d rather be poor and have the word of God than pursue money and not have it.

Is the Word of God having this powerful shaping effect on our lives?

Finally, be encouraged that the word of God has this sort of power! Christian living is not done by self-motivation, but in trusting the powerful word of God. It’s capable of changing and transforming us. It’s not just on us alone to change – we have access to this powerful word that changes reality. He works through his word, and the word does so much.

 

[Another stunning talk. The Word of God is astonishingly powerful. Thoroughly astonishing.]

 

Day 2 | Workshop 2 | Steve Nation | Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind

What we often do is we have a disconnect between our hearts and minds when it comes to reading the bible. If we start the year enthusiastically reading through the bible we may come to a grinding halt around Easter when we hit Leviticus, or a bit later in April/May when we hit Chronicles and the list of names.

Sometimes our growth is just mental only – lots of head knowledge and no heart or love.

Are we doomed to only reading the bible like this?

Coming to Ignite we learn these skills:

Ignite strands 1-3: What does it say? Where does it fit into the immediate context? Where does it fit into the big picture? What does it mean – for the original reader? How does it lead to Jesus, or flow from Jesus? What does it mean for us today?

This is vital, and so important – but is it everything?

One of the main DANGERs: we become theologically sharp, Biblically astute idolators who live and love badly

You can come a conference like this, learn heaps, and still be an idolater. You can hear and learn and still live for self – an incredible danger for any believe.

 

Reading the Bible with Heart and Mind

“Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength (Mark 12:28-30)

  1. The Heart
  • What is the heart?
  • Why is it important? Proverbs 4:23; Matthew 15:8, 18-20

The heart is the moral centre of the person, where the sense of identity, sense of self, core being, the real you lies. There is a distinct overlap between heart, soul and spirit.

Proverbs – the heart is the well spring of life. If your heart is bad, if your identity and self-understand is from a bad place, then out of your heart will come badness. Jesus says that out of the centre of your heart, the real you, is what shapes why and what you do.

  1. The Mind
  • What is the mind?
  • Why is it important? John 15:15.

The mind is the control centre of our worldview which overflows into our values and behaviour. This is important to know because in John 15 Jesus says God has revealed things to you so that you are no longer a slave or enemy, but a friend. Because of what Jesus has revealed he can shape our worldview – transformation of our mind (and heart) is possible because of the gospel.

Reading the bible with head and heart means engaging with the words, and letting those words engage and transform us.

But there’s another DANGER: are we living as a pipe or as a reservoir?

Living as a pipe – everything that you take in dissipates – everything you learn goes into other people. Scripture pictures our lives as a reservoir – an overflowing reservoir. Are you someone so full of scripture that it overflows to others?

Finding our place in the story

Real change, at a heart level, happens when we ‘inhabit’ the life of the text, in such a way, that we gain clarity and direction towards God, people, ourselves, life – and carry this with us.

What God does through His redemptive words?

  1. Confirm our identity as the chosen people of God (saints)
  2. Console and comfort His afflicted people (sufferers)
  3. Confront the ways we turn away from His character and redemptive work (sinners)

A final DANGER: we give up too early. We expect quick change, quick affections – but God is gracious, and most often works slowly (or else we’d probably explode)

How do you read the Bible?

Whether we read a paragraph a day, or a chapter, or ten chapters, or follow a plan, or read one book repetitively for a period – we need to get into it. Letting ourselves be filled – head and heart – to overflowing.

Daily, how can we approach the Bible for the good of our heads and hearts[1]:

  • We can’t read the Scripture like an attorney reads a will – merely to know the sense of it, and catch its argument. We need to read the Scriptures like an heir – to hear the voice of a loved one describing our inheritance. This means we must read with anticipation – to know the One who loves us so much, that He died for us, to give us an inheritance that will never spoil or fade (1 Peter 1:3-9).
  • We don’t read the Bible for fun and giggles, or listen to a preacher to simply critique them. We listen to hear the Word of God, to behold His glorious character, to sense His goodness, to renew our strength, to be conformed more and more into the image of Jesus.
  • And we read it to be instructed by our Maker and Master and be filled with heavenly wisdom, and thereby qualified to judge, speak, and act in Christ-like character, in all the relations and occasions of life.

[1] This is an edited summary from a letter by John Newton to a Christian friend (entitled “The Blessedness of the Believer”), Letters of John Newton, Banner of Truth Trust, p.147

 

[A passionate and personal workshop from Steve Nation. Our brokenness is probably no more apparent than in how we approach God’s Word. Praise God for his grace, and pray that God would help His word fill and overflow in our heads and hearts.]

Day 2 | Evening Talk 2 | Richard Gibson | Our Ideal Representative [Hebrews 2:5-18]

Which side of the line?

The author is constructing a bridge to the living God of the universe. Jesus secures the bridge at both ends. Jesus secures the best access to God possible. Tonight we’ll see how he best represents us to God. And it is this bridge allows us to come into the very presence of God.

The early church dealt with this question as well – how do we handle the nature of the incarnation, how do we understand how Jesus builds the bridge.

One mistake made is ‘adoptionism’ – Jesus started out as truly human like us, he excelled in righteousness and spirituality so God adopted him into godness. Jesus therefore ceases to be the exact imprint of God’s nature – the bridge is not fixed at the God end. A human Jesus taken up into godness won’t take you into the presence of God.

Another mistake is ‘apollinarianism’ – Jesus had a human body but his whole soul was divine. The God part of Jesus took over his soul and spirit and left behind a human body. Gregory of Nazianzus figured that this wrong – if Jesus didn’t take on a human soul then he can’t fix the human soul.

“We’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden.”

Joni Mitchel reference – her song from Woodstock about the problems in our world. A frank admission that we have messed this world up, and working out how we can try to get back to the pristine garden. But the song was a purely human effort to try and fix it.

The status of humanity (2:5-9)

Insignificant stardust

In chapter 1 the perspective of Jesus was a divine perspective. In chapter 2 the perspective shifts to the other end, to a human end of the bridge.

Psalm 8 is quoted here – that God has taken an interest in humanity. The author’s interest in going here is because there is also a mention of angels, and there’s an interest in placing everything in subjection to someone.

In chapter 1 the angels dominated the discussion. Psalm 8 shifts the whole discussion away from heavenly beings to earthly beings.

Ruler of everything

The astonishing thing about this Psalm is that the psalmist says that the God of the universe who made and created everything is interested and focused on humanity. Humanity stands at the very center of the purposes and intentions of the creator of the universe. This places man in a place of extraordinary honour and importance.

The angels form a dividing line between the divine and the human. The psalmist is saying that of all of God’s creation God chose humans to rule over the universe. We are at the top of the pile (just below angels) and are given the job of ruling.

Gone missing

But is this the picture that we see of humanity now – rulers over everything? Not at all. We live in a broken world and increasingly we see how powerless we are. Our original status and vocation is no longer the picture – and while it’s not completely obscured it is not as it should be.

Jesus the true human

The author of Hebrews then moves to Jesus – he sees one human who is fulfilling the vocation of humanity, someone who lived as the true human being, someone who has had everything placed under his dominion and rule.

And he came to live as the true human being to restore us back to the heavenly place. His short time with us was long enough time to identify with us fully. Jesus moved across the boundary line, from divine to past the angels and came down to human level. And because of the life he lived and death he died he has restored true humanity.

In his resurrection and ascension he takes humanity back to the right hand of God with him.

Identifying to death

Nothing is spared to identify with our existence and experience.

The restoration of humanity (2:10-13)

Taking us with him

And the incredible thing is that he has come to take us with him. The eternal son of God came for us, to take us back with him, to share in the eternal glory of the father that he shared for eternity.

Unashamed to call us family

Jesus is not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters and take us with him into the presence of the father.

The author quotes Psalm 22:25 to make the point that when Jesus goes out to win the victory over death he comes back to share that with his brothers and sisters.

The liberation of humanity (2:14-18)

Freed from the power of the devil

By identifying with us fully, but controlling his responses, by never succumbing to sin, by always living in submission to his father – Jesus is able to offer up a perfectly sinless human life as a sacrifice.

How do we get back into the garden as a people? The answer is Jesus – the one who frees us from the power of the devil. Jesus by his death snatch the power of death away from the devil.

Freed from the fear of death

Unless Jesus returns we will die. But for us who identify with him who identifies with us we belong to him and have been liberated from the fear of death. We may pass through death but there is no more fear of judgement thereafter.

Even though someone like Paul in 2 Corinthians 5 is afraid of the process of death he has courage to face it – because Jesus has secured both ends of the bridge to God’s presence.

Freed from the penalty for sin

Jesus is also the propitiation for our sins. He fixes our end of the bridge that Adam and Eve messed up. Jesus comes into the world and in his own body mends the bridge so that it is intact again. We can make our way back into the glory of God.

Jesus is our merciful and great high priest granting us access back to God the Father. Jesus isn’t just a random mediator – he is God himself. Through his perfect representation of God the Father to us we have perfect access to him.

What is revealed to us of Jesus is his humility, the self-sacrifice, the great love of the one who spun the stars into space.

Merciful and faithful

Help for the tempted

Last night we had the challenge of not drifting with Jesus. We were left with the almighty powerful Son of God. If we only reflect on him in that mode he can end up being distant.

Here in chapter 2 we have the same Jesus, but now the humble human picture. Someone just like us.

For those tempted to drift away, remember who Jesus is – who he is, what he’s like, and how he invites us to meet with him and find someone who has been tempted like us and won over it. Trust him.

Hope for the drifted and defeated

For those discouraged, remember that Jesus has come to be the propitiation for your sins. There is nothing he didn’t come to make atonement for. Run to him, take refuge in him, enjoy that unbelievable access to the presence of God. Jesus knew you were a hopeless defeated sinner all along – he’s under no pretense – which is why he came to do what he did to stop you from drifting further away.

One of the temptations we face is to think that Jesus has abandoned us. The moment of desperate loss, painful fears, where we feel like our prayers are unanswered. Where our experience says to us, sometimes shouts at us, that we are abandoned.

This is when revelation needs to be clearly before us – to be reminded again and again that Jesus is always with us.

 

[Wow, another ripping message – now on the humanity of Jesus. What a revelation we have in scripture that Jesus loves us, has come beside us, and draws us into the joyful presence of his Father for eternity. Cling to Him!]

Ignite Training Conference 2016 Live Blog: Day 1

The Book of Life_edited-1

Alrighty, here we go.

Day 1 | Mark Baddeley | Talk 1 | The Word of God in the Word of God

Introduction

 

Today is a biblical theology of what the bible says about the Word of God. A selection of passages (below) to track the story of how the Word of God fits and appears. Emphasis will be on how the bible will speak about the Word of God.

Genesis 1:1-8, 24-31

The opening chapter of the bible, why anything exists apart from God at all – and we find that the Word of God has a starring role. Each day God speaks, and whatever God says happens. Every speaking moment structures what happens through the chapter. And everything that happens demonstrates the sheer potency of God’s speech: everything comes into existence by mere speech. His words bring reality into existence. Anything that he talks about comes into existence, conversely anything he doesn’t speak about does not come into existence.

And everything God speaks that comes into existence is good. Then he doesn’t just speak them into existence, but he also speaks to his creation: especially humanity. And God does this, again, simply by speaking.

God creates, fills, and directs this world by his word.

Genesis 3: 8-24; Cain, Flood

Genesis 3 is the next big decisive moment in bible history. And again we have the Word of God as a starring feature.

First the snake attempts to take the Word of God, which sought to regulate and shape the way Adam and Eve are to live, is questioned and manipulated by the serpent.

We saw the Word previously create and regulate, now we see a Word of judgement. The words that he speaks bring about the very reality that God speaks about – similar to the way that God speaks and reality occurs in Genesis 1. The snake slithers on his belly, the woman feels her curse, the man feels his curse. The same power we saw in Genesis 1 we see in Genesis 3 but now in an unpleasant way – bringing death rather than life.

Genesis 12:1-3

Such a small passage, but with massive significance for the rest of the bible. Here God speaks again, but instead of creating or regulating or judging, it’s a word of promise. The powerful word we have seen in Genesis 1 and 3, in which we saw the words of blessing and curse, appear again – but in a profoundly different way. For as you start to work your way through Genesis, and the accounts of God’s dealings with his people Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, these promises in these verses keep being echoed and tested.

Exodus 3:1-10 Commissioning of Moses Plagues, Passover

Israel is in bondage, in slavery to a tyrant who seeks their destruction. And God comes down to delivery his people – but not in person, not in a legion of angels, but in words to one man, Moses commissioned to be their deliverer, to set Israel free to serve and worship God.

This word (to Moses) sets in motion salvation itself.

Exodus 20:1-23

Israel has been saved from the mega power of the world at the time. God, over the course of various miracles and plagues, smashes this superpower nation. Now that they are free and free to worship God, God speaks again to let his people know what it takes to be in relationship with him.

The issues raised in Genesis 3 have not been dealt with. In Genesis 3 when God drew near Adam and Eve fled. In Exodus 20 when God draws near the people are afraid and don’t want to hear him speak.

And still, God speaks to regulate the behaviour and relationships of his people.

Deuteronomy 4:1-20

Israel on the foot of the promised land. Moses, for various reasons, can’t go in – and in this book he reissues for the people the statutes and decrees that God passed to him 40 years earlier. Moses takes them back to Mt Sinai (ie Horeb), and gets them to reflect back on the word received there: the 10 commandments. Moses considers not just the commands, but the event itself – and he does this in order to get the importance across of what happened (not just what was said). The importance: you heard a voice, not an object, and the voice said things to you – the commandments are enveloped in the experience they had at Mt Sinai. They heard a voice, not a form – so they were not to go looking for forms, nor look at those things created to be the basis of their relationship with Him. The relationship is based on the words spoken to them.

2 Samuel 7:1-17; 12:1-15 David and Nathan – promise of kingship, death of son

David has been made king of Israel, is now, after a long story, crowned king and comes up with a great idea – to build a house for God. Nathan the prophet says no, your son will build the house – but a beautiful promise comes to David instead.

The promise seems to be, at first, a simple succession of unending kings. But in the end David’s line is sufficiently disobedient that they are dethroned. The prophets later look forward to another Son of David who fulfills all the promises and satisfies all the hopes of these promises back in 2 Samuel 7.

2 Samuel 7 shows the formidable power of God’s word to not only shape the future but also shape and change his people.

(we’re now running out of time in the talk!)

John 1:1-18 –> still keeps the word of God

Jesus is spoken about the ‘Word of God’ – a very deliberate and dramatic thing. John’s opening chapter echoes clearly creation and the story of Moses. Basically that the word of God we have been encountering in the Old Testament is Jesus himself.

1 Thessalonians 1:1-2:13

The word of God that is spoken of here is the gospel – the message which came to the Thessalonians which they heard and which transformed their lives. When Paul refers to the word of God he’s often referring to the gospel.

2 Timothy 3:14-17

Paul here says that the word of God is scripture.

So in these three passages three things are referred to as ‘the Word of God’: Jesus, the gospel, and scripture. What we’ll work through in the next few days is how these three things relate to each other.

Reflections

First, apart from John 1, the first thing to get is that God’s Word is words. When God’s word comes to people it comes as human words, in a way which is normal for humans to understand. God’s Word comes to us in the form of words – understandable words.

Secondly – there is clearly diversity that also comes. It’s amazing what God’s word can do – bring the universe into reality, set in motion events, make promises, etc. There are very different ways it comes to his people – sometimes when it comes you’re terrified, sometimes it creates things, sometimes it brings a promise. It does dramatically different things.

Lastly, we see how important the word of God is in scripture. The beginning, the fall, the promised Messiah, in different ways the key starring characters through scripture is God’s words, speech, his talking. Almost as though it’s another character in its own right. God’s speech has a life of its own, it does so much in the bible, and often at the most critical points in the bible.

[Wow, what a start to the week! A tour de force of the word of God in the word of God.]

Day 1 | Workshop: Bible Storying | Linda McKerrell

Linda shares a story about sharing a bible story with a stranger in a coffee shop. It sounds better in person :P

The advantages of sharing a bible story:

  • It sticks in your brain
  • It feels immersive: when you explain a story you’re more actively engaged, the listener is experiencing the story as you tell it
  • It’s non-confrontational (at least in the story that Linda shared)

Linda shares another story about meeting some family friends – and sharing bible stories for hours on end with an initially antagonistic listener.

Advantages:

  • people listen and pay attention for longer
  • people understand the connections
  • kids and adults together will listen
  • answering questions with individual bible verses it can end up in an argument that gets muddled – as you share bible stories the bigger picture is shared and engaged with

To be a story teller you need:

  1. To pray
  2. To practice
  3. 20 seconds of courage to ask someone to share the story with someone

As you’re thinking about telling the story, one of the key things to remember is that the story, or story telling, isn’t going to be the thing that converts people (though it may!), the key thing is that it moves people closer to the cross.

We practice the Abraham, Sarah and Hagar narrative. It’s hard to retell it after hearing it multiple times!

Two main ways that Linda learns a story:

  1. She listens to the story, reads it out, listens again, and reads it out again.
  2. She opens her bible, reads it aloud, closes her bible and retells it. She opens her bible and reads aloud again, and then closes her bible and retells is. Repeat.

Tips:

  • Use colloquial language. Be as close to the text as you possibly can, consult a few translations to figure out different ways of saying the same thing.
  • If there are words that are strange to hear – eg. righteousness, tabernacle – flag it before the story, or use different words to capture the same idea.
  • Convert indirect to direct speech – it makes the conversations more vivid and present.
  • Don’t embellish or add details.
  • Don’t explain the story as you tell it.

Now, once you’ve told the story follow up questions are crucial. Are there things you liked in the story, things you didn’t like?

But on answering questions we need to be careful. If you answer questions quickly you become a teacher and implicitly tell them they need a teacher to understand the bible – which is true to an extent, but unhelpful. It can be more empowering for people to ask questions but try to answer them on their own by finding out more. [I think we take the audience into consideration at this point – sometimes we need to answer questions because we know that our audience won’t follow it up. The way we answer is also important, and can produce further questions or halt further discovery.]

Check out www.storyingthescriptures.com for further examples – read about people show share stories, listen to bible stories being told.

Bible stories are God’s Words, and the more you tell them the more they take you deeper into the truths of scripture. As you sit with someone and talk to someone about their lives, and perhaps the mess of their lives, the stories which are filled with heaps of mess in the bible become avenues to share the gospel story.

[What an interesting seminar. It’s a solid reminder that evangelism takes all shapes and forms, and perhaps ‘storying the bible’ is the least intimidating way to do it. Get into it, if only to learn the bible better!]

 

Day 1 | Evening Talk 1 | Richard Gibson | God’s Ultimate Revealer [Hebrews 1:1-2:4]

Reading Hebrews, self-consciously

Richard’s hope: that we will become so engrossed by the Jesus of Hebrews that we just want to keep reading more and more.

Tune into the fact that someone is speaking to us – to read it self-consciously. To understand how the author is writing to us, shaping and composing the message to us.

For its profound theology and literary aesthetic, the book of Hebrews has an in your face message. The author realises that his audience is slipping away from Jesus and this is an urgent and desperate situation.

As we read the book we will get an incite into what pressures are pushing people away from Jesus:

  1. People are probably sick of being persecuted – they’ve faced or seen persecution first hand. Property has been confiscated, some have been thrown into prison. The general picture fits well with what we know about the second half of the first century under Nero. This observation fits with what we see today as well – we are more likely to face hostility today for our faith than a generation ago; Christianity has less credibility in the public sphere; and we know that in many places around the world Christians do lose their heads for their faith.
  2. Many feel drawn back to the relative security and safety of belonging to a social group with social values that they grew up with – back to Judaism. To turn away from Christ, to loosen their grip, would lessen the tension at home. They could go back to pleasing their parents. There was also perhaps something familiar about the old religion that is comforting to them.
  3. Sexual immorality appears to be another issue leading some to question whether it’s worth hanging on to Jesus. The world we live in is similar yes?

The argument in Hebrews needs hard work to get through – but when we do it we’ll see the same arguments to us to not fall away from Jesus.

The message of the writer: do not refuse the message of Him who speaks to you.

Our need for revelation

In any relationship we have we need revelation or disclosure. Revelation is basic to everyday life – especially in relationships.

It’s true of intimate relationships – unless someone discloses what they feel or want we can’t figure that out.

The Son’s resumé (1:1-4)

Intricate design

There’s an intricate design to the opening verses.

There’s heaps of comparisons in the opening verse. There’s a timeframe comparison – long ago, in these last days.

To our fathers, now to us.

By the prophets, by his Son.

The previous revelations of God were incomplete, they were not final, they weren’t finished. The author’s point is that Jesus is the definitive self-disclosure.

Jude 3 makes the same point – we are to contend for the faith that has been once and for all delivered to the saints.

Much of the world’s population is unaware that God has revealed himself in this way. For various and many reasons. For some, Muslims, there is a belief that Jesus was not the final revelation – that something supplemental is needed (a final prophet).

Therefore the first few verses in the letter make a dynamite claim. A claim this controversial and dramatic needs some substantiation. He needs to justify that Jesus is it.

Three qualifications

The resume of Jesus is beautifully designed. In verses 2-4 we see three key qualifications of Jesus.

  1. Radiance of God’s glory
  2. Exact imprint of his nature
  3. Upholds the universe by his Word

Radiance: the remarkable claim that Jesus was the supreme manifestation of God. Jesus embodies the very essence of God in his person. He shines the light of God in all its dazzling brightness.

Imprint: Jesus perfectly represents God to us. The word ‘imprint’ is the word we get ‘character’ from – Jesus bears the very imprint, a product of the very closest contact with the Father and able to express his nature. When Jesus communicates he expresses God’s own thoughts and intentions. He’s not an ambassador, not a messenger carrying a document with exact wording – he is the very word of God from the heart of God himself. There is no room for misrepresentation – there is no gap between God and Jesus.

Upholds: Jesus’ third qualification is his effectiveness of his communication – since he upholds the universe by his power. In the gospels we see this – for instance with just a word calming a storm, exorcising demons, bring a dead person back to life. The one who causes the sun to rise and set again, who rules the weather patterns, who sustains the sun and stars and every planet by the word of his power.

So who would you listen to when you want to know the word of God?

How do we grasp all of this? Even the early Christians would struggle to articulate how grand and majestic Jesus is. And here we have a letter dated to 60AD doing it all.

Creator and Redeemer

Verse 2 – we see that it is Jesus who created everything – everything is created by him, and through him, and for him.

Verse 3 – Jesus made purification for sins – able to do this by his own purity. Jesus didn’t save us by being our sideline coach, he came to be with us in order to draw us into the relationship that he has made possible by the shedding of his own blood.

This is who is speaking to us through His word.

Heir and King

Heir and King are two ideas speaking of Jesus enthronement – of his power and authority.

Jesus has sat down at the right hand of the majesty on high – after his purification for sins, his resurrection and ascension he returned to his rightful place next to God on the throne. The right hand was euphemistic for most trusted person.

This dazzling description of Jesus should blow our minds – but that’s not its sole point. It reminds us of who we belong to, when we call ourselves Christians and trust Jesus, when we run to him for mercy and refuge, we run to the One who has all power and majesty in the universe. He can keep us safe while we cling to him, while we hold fast to him.

Conversely he is also the one we go up against when we harden ourselves against him.

Superseding prophets and angels

The prophets were the promise bringers, Jesus is the fulfiller – he supersedes them not by rendering them obsolete but by fulfilling them.

If Prophets were the agents of revelation at the human end, angels were the agents of revelation at the divine end. Think of the Christmas stories – and how many angels appear to reveal God’s plans.

Angels are regarded as creatures, they are part of the created order – there is a sense in which they are super human. They are granted special access to God’s presence.

The bombshell of the author of Hebrews continues by saying that Jesus supersedes prophets and the ministry of angels.

 

Seven references (1:5-14)
Uniquely the Son

First two Old Testament quotes – both establish that Jesus is uniquely the Son. A way in which God would never have spoken to about angels.

The writer is saying that God is referring to Jesus as his Son – and God never speaks this way about the angels.

Worshipped by angels

Another couple of OT quotes to show that subservient nature of the angels to Jesus.

Never-ending

Verse 8-9 – Jesus is eternal, the angels are not.

At the right hand

Finally in verse 13 there is the climatic quote of Psalm 110 – that to no angel has this quote been given.

 

Notice in every one of the OT quotations the author is free to say ‘God said…’ yet in verse 8 there is quote from the song of Moses (sung by Moses), verse 9 quotes from a Psalm by the Sons of Korah, and Psalm 110 is written by David – yet the author keeps saying ‘God says…’ This is a profound insight into the authors reflection on the nature of scripture – that though there are human authors the ultimate author is God himself.

 

The danger of drifting!  (2:1-4)
The covenant revealed by angels

It’s easy to get lost in the theology and argument – but there is a big ‘therefore’ that must draw our attention.

The big danger is that we will become distracted and unfocused from Jesus – and our attention will drift from that one that deserves it. The word ‘drift’ carries sailing connotations – he’s worried that his audience is drifting like a boat away from Jesus. They may not have even noticed the subtlety of the drift. They will disregard Jesus at the risk of their security and well-being.

The temptation that they are facing is to go back to the security and safety of Judaism. There was an old tradition that angels gave the law to Moses – which is why they are so attached to them, because angels had access to God and could better guarantee the revelation of God. This gave the OT law a dignity and seriousness that they found hard to let go of and walk away from.

But under that covenant anybody who broke the covenant, hardened their heart towards the God who rescued them, faced the consequences. The law was legally binding with consequences for those who refused to listen.

The writer then uses a ‘how much more’ argument – if you want to go back to the angel covenant, stay attached to the Moses covenant, but Jesus is so far superior to them – don’t you understand that when you ignore Jesus, when you stop listening to him, the consequences are even worse, even more drastic, when you drift away from him. You just can’t turn your back on this word and remain safe.

There is no refuge back in Judaism – for that word has been fulfilled in Jesus.

The covenant revealed by Jesus

This is the warning we need to heed – even if we aren’t drawn back to Judaism. We are still subject to drifting, of disregarding our salvation in Jesus.

How are we hearing this word tonight? What we doing with what is being said to us. It’s not Richard that is speaking ultimately, nor the author of Hebrews that we need to worry about – but Jesus himself who is saying ‘Don’t drift away from me.’

Maybe you’re sick of persecution, maybe you’re drawn away to materialism, maybe you’re drawn to sexual immorality, maybe you’re being drawn back by family and remembering the comfort of fitting in with the family… there are all kinds of pressures within our culture that can cause us to drift.

How shall we escape?

If you walk away, you’re not walking away from the social club of church, or friends, or the building – but you are walking away from the all-powerful, all mighty, all distinct and awesome Jesus.

If you have been neglecting your salvation, stop the rot – run to Jesus to find your security and salvation there.

[A massive talk this evening on the supremacy of Jesus. It makes no sense to walk away from him and his glory. Don’t do it. Run to him – and find mercy and grace. Wow!]

Ignite Training Conference 2016 – Live Blogging up soon

The Book of Life_edited-1

We kick off blogging with a live-blog for the Ignite Training Conference 2016! Keep a tab on this site as I’ll be posting up my summaries of the talks and selected workshops.

Here’s what this year’s conference is on about:

Since the 1700’s many in the West have dismissed the Bible. With the Enlightenment’s rise of science and rational thinking, it was dismissed as a series of embellished legends. Western society prides itself on being equal opportunity, embracing, and tolerant. So the Bible has been dismissed as irrelevant for its perceived patriarchy, oppressiveness, and intolerance.

Christians have addressed those matters, yet it seems short-sighted to simply believe the Bible is truthful and relevant today. But the Bible is the God of life speaking to us. We know His very thoughts when we open to its pages. The Bible claims to be essential to life, not just a useful add-on. Without the Bible, there is only death and decay. The Bible is the only way to find life, because it’s the Book of Life.

Ignite 2016 aims to build our confidence as God’s people in God’s living word. Come to hear Bible talks (given by Richard Gibson and Mark Baddeley) and be trained in God’s word, and discover together how we find life’s fullness in it.

Here are the speaker profiles from their respective sites:

Rev Dr Richard Gibson (Principal, Brisbane School of Theology)

BSocWk, DipATh, BTh, MTh, PhD

PRINCIPAL, HEAD OF CHRISTIAN THOUGHT, NT LECTURER

Richard has more than 20 years’ experience teaching Greek, New Testament, church history and preaching. Raised in a Christian family, it was at university that Richard realised the importance of Jesus and his gospel. After studying theology and being ordained as an Anglican minister, he pastored a congregation in Sydney’s west for four years. Seeing the value of continued learning, he completed a Master’s degree on 1 Timothy and doctorate on the emotions in early Christian thought. Subsequent published articles have addressed issues in the New Testament, church history and ministry. Currently, his research interests are the book of Romans and the history of preaching. Richard’s love of effective preaching led him to serve on Sydney Diocese’s College of Preachers which he chaired for seven years. His greatest passions are his family, teaching the Bible in college, church and university contexts, and caring for students.

Richard and his wife Kim attend St Andrew’s Anglican Church in South Brisbane, where Richard sometimes preaches. Kim is involved in ministry to university students with the Australian Fellowship of Evangelical Students and volunteers with the Grow women’s conference committee. In his spare time, Richard enjoys staying active, playing the odd game of touch football, golf or tennis.

MarkMark Baddeley (Lecturer in Systematic Theology, Queensland Theological College)

 

Mark wouldn’t say so himself, but he is widely regarded as one of the most able evangelical systematic theologians in Australia today. He came to QTC straight from Oxford, where he was completing his D.Phil. on Athanasius’ Doctrine of the Atonement, having already done a masters degree in systematic theology (also at Oxford University). Prior to that, Mark had studied and then taught at Moore Theological College. Since coming back to Brisbane, the boy from Arana Hills has settled on the bayside, where he is an Elder at Redlands Presbyterian Church. Mark is responsible for a large percentage of the consumption of Coca Cola in Queensland, is married to Jenny and has two boys, Jonathan and Sam. Hear what Mark has to say about his subject areas at QTC.

 

 

Don’t forget that the evening lectures are free and open to attend – come at 7:20pm for a 7:30pm start (983 Rochedale Road, Rochedale).

And also don’t forget that I’ll be running the bookstall again – everything is 20-25% off! Pop by, say hello, and get some great resources :)

 

The Word of God and the God of the Word

Perfect, sure, right, pure, true, righteous, more desirable than gold, sweeter than honey…

What am I describing? If you’re immediate answer is God then you are absolutely correct.

But then there’s also this:

[7] The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the LORD is sure, making wise the simple; [8] the precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the commandment of the LORD is pure, enlightening the eyes; [9] the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the rules of the LORD are true, and righteous altogether. [10] More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold; sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb. [11] Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward. [Psalm 19:7-11]

What a wondrously beautiful reminder that the very character of God is reflected in His word.

The Gospel Transformation Bible: Mini-Review

 

A few weeks ago I posted about the Gospel Transformation Bible (herein GTB). I received a copy from the Book Depository recently and here is a mini-review (it’s only a mini-review because I haven’t read it all in the past week that I’ve had it!).

For this review what I’ve done is read through fairly familiar parts of scripture (generally ones I’ve preached through recently) and read through those comments. Here are some thoughts so far.

First, it’s obvious that, unlike most study bibles, in the GTB not every verse is commented upon. Usually the comments are on verses grouped together in the movements of the passage. Sometimes a single verse is commented on, sometimes whole sections are left out. The purpose of the comments in the GTB are to show how each part and section, and sometimes verse, points us forward to or grounds us in the gospel. This is a laudable and, to my knowledge, unique effort.

What notes there are, are great! There is always an attempt to comment first on the original context, briefly explaining not only the meaning of a passage but also how any themes of the text are seen in the gospel. Some comments also reflect purely on the character and nature of God.

In this way the GTB’s notes seek to show how the gospel applies to our lives from every part of scripture. It avoids the error of many study bibles commenting, in particular, on the Old Testament and falling into moralism (eg, See how this character did this? Do that also…) in their applications.

The notes also helpfully avoid controversial readings of the text by giving simple and helpful theological reflections. For instance, its comments on Genesis 1 and the days of creation is balanced and though the comments are brief it doesn’t read as though the commenter is taking any particular position on the text (ie 6-literal days or long periods of time). Another great example is in Revelation 20 and the ever debated meaning of the millennium. The GTB notes avoid the debate by simply summarising the content of the verses – and I found these notes not only hard to disagree with but found myself nodding in simple agreement.

The introductions to each book are also well written and attempt to not only outline the structure of each book but also how the book as a whole reveals the gospel.

It’s not all perfect though. No study bible is ever going to be exhaustive. For instance the notes on Leviticus 11, the list of clean and unclean animals, is very brief. What is written is good, but perhaps it could have spent more time briefly outlining how the sections of the text and how the undercurrent of ‘death’ makes sense of the laws. Minor criticism aside what is written is still helpful and still points to the fact that the whole of an Israelites’ life is to be brought under God’s lordship – even their diet! This whole of life worship is seen clearly in the New Testament where Paul exhorts Christians to present our bodies as a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) and obedience to God in all aspects of life is the proper response to the wonders of his sovereign mercies in Jesus (paralleling Leviticus 11 in the context of the Exodus and the Christians’ obedience in Romans 12 in the context of Romans 9-11).

The Bible, read well, will always grow your love and faith in Jesus. The notes of the GTB will only aid that. For instance, here is the final reflection on 1 Samuel 17 (David vs Goliath)*:

The main takeaway for believers today involves seeing parallels between what David did and what Jesus does for us today. David, by his confidence in and relationship with God, functions as a representative champion of his cowering people. Christ, similarly, is the representative champion of his cowering people. Both David and Christ win a victory the results of which are imputed to their people. Christians today are not meant to read the story of David and Goliath and mainly identify with David, but with the people who need saving.

Reflecting on the rescue that our true and final champion, Jesus himself, has won on our behalf, our hearts are moved to worship and to greater trust in him.

And to that I can only say, ‘Amen and Amen!’

The Gospel Transformation Bible is available at The Book Depository from between $40 for a simple hardcover and up to $140 for calf-skin leather.

 

 

*I’ve personally used David and Goliath’s narrative in 1 Samuel 17 as a sort of litmus test for the quality of a study bible. If the main applications or comments on this story do not point to Jesus I tend to move on quickly.