The Family – a prayer from ‘The Valley of Vision’ (Pastor’s Desk)

The Valley of Vision is a wonderful collection puritan prayers. If you haven’t got it I highly commend it as a way of growing your prayer vocabulary. Here is the prayer ‘The Family’, with updated English, which, I think, focuses on our familial relationship in church.

—-

O Sovereign Lord,

You are the Creator-Father of all men,
for you have made and support them;

You are the special Father of those who know, love, and honour you,
who find your yoke easy, and your burden light,
your work honourable,
your commandments glorious.

But how little your undeserved goodness has affected me!
How imperfectly have I improved my religious privileges!
How negligent have I been in doing good to others!

I am before you in my trespass and sins,
have mercy on me,
and my your goodness bring me to repentance.

Help me hate and forsake every false way,
to be attentive to my condition and character,
to bridle my tongue,
to keep my heart with all diligence,
to watch and pray against temptation,
to kill sin,
to be concerned for the salvation of others.

O God, I cannot endure to see the destruction of my kindred.

Let those who are united to me in tender ties
be precious in your sight and devoted to your glory.

Sanctify and prosper my domestic devotion,
instruction, discipline, example,
that my house may be a nursery for heaven,
my church the garden of the Lord,
enriched with the trees of righteousness of your planting,
for your glory;

Let not those of my family who are amiable, moral, attractive,
fall short of heaven at last;

Grant that the promising appearances of a tender conscience,
soft heart, the alarms and delights of your Word,
be not finally blotted out, but bring forth judgement to victory
in all whom I love.

Amen.

A Quick Word on Bible Translations (Pastor’s Desk)

I haven’t blogged much in the past couple of years, but I have been writing. I figured I can always throw up on here my Pastor’s Desks that I write up every other week for our church bulletin. So here’s last Sunday’s Pastor’s Desk with some additional links.

[Context: the week before I had preached on ‘The Bible’ as part of our Church’s ‘On Firm Foundations’ sermon series. During the sermon I made a tangential point regarding Bible translations, and warning against a particular “translation”: The Passion Translation. Links regarding that at the end.]

——

William Tyndale was martyred in 1536 for translating the Bible into English. We owe so much to this man who made the Bible readily available to the masses. Even today, some two thirds of the English Standard Version contain the original words and phrases translated by Tyndale!

Since then there has been an explosion of different translations of the Bible and praise God for that! Multiple translations are a gracious gift from our God – giving us translations that are easy to read (even for children), and translations that help us grapple with what was originally written.

Translations fall into three main categories. There are word for word translations that seek to give an accurate translation of the original scripture manuscripts. Examples include the New American Standard Bible (NASB), the English Standard Version (ESV) and the old King James Version (KJV).

The second category of Bibles are thought for thought translations. As indicated in the name of the category the translators have attempted to bring the thoughts and intentions of the authors to light. This usually requires more interpretation by the translators. Examples of these Bibles include the New International Version (NIV) and the New Living Translation (NLT).

The final category of Bibles are paraphrases. These are much looser translations, usually aimed at ease of reading or those whose English is a second language, giving you a very general sense of scripture. Examples include the Contemporary English Version (CEV) and The Message (MSG).

While it may seem bewildering that there are so many translations, we should rejoice that the Bible has been translated by godly people throughout the ages to give God’s people, of all reading levels, access to God’s Word.

At SLE Church we use and highly commend the ESV. Translated by a faithful committee it is a word for word translation which balances accuracy with readability. Having an ESV open in front of you while we’re studying the Bible or listening to sermons will help us all grow in knowing what is said, how God’s Word is to be read, and what God is asking of us in that text.

——

Additional links:

George Athas reviews ‘Song of Songs’. Rev Dr George Athas is Director of Postgraduate Studies at Moore Theological College and Lectures in Old Testament, Hebrew and Church History. The first line of this review says it all, “This translation of the Song of Songs is truly awful.

Andrew Shead – Burning Scripture with Passion: A Review of The Psalms (The Passion Translation). A long, detailed review from Themelios. The abstract gives a fair summary:

Brian Simmons has made a new translation of the Psalms (and now the whole New Testament) which aims to ‘re-introduce the passion and fire of the Bible to the English reader.’ He achieves this by abandoning all interest in textual accuracy, playing fast and loose with the original languages, and inserting so much new material into the text that it is at least 50% longer than the original. The result is a strongly sectarian translation that no longer counts as Scripture; by masquerading as a Bible it threatens to bind entire churches in thrall to a false god.

Got Questions site – a generally helpful apologetic site – has a short and helpful critique of The Passion Translation with some examples of other Bible translations vs what The Passion has attempted.

 

Ignite Training Conference 2020: Day 5 [LIVE BLOG]

Morning Session | James 5:7-12 | Dave Pitt

What sort of things do we need to be patient with in life? Sometimes small things – like the traffic. Sometimes bigger things – like people. Maybe you’re waiting for a job, a spouse, for healing?

How many of us consider patience to be of importance? We know it’s a fruit of the spirit but is it really central? How highly does it factor into our personal desire for growth – we desire to grow in patience?

Patience factors in highly for the apostles and for the early church. Tertullian said it was the highest virtue. Whole treatise was written on it.

One recent book has argued that the early church grew so much not because of their strategies but because of their patience.

We would do well to dwell on the topic of patience.

James begins 5:7 by calling for patience. Consider our topic for the week – why were the prophets a great example of patience?

Patience is not passivity. Whatever patience is it is not doing nothing. In 5:11 Job is given an example of patient suffering. Remember that Job was suffering, he was angry, he spoke, he wrestled, he went to the brink of what he could say to God… he was anything but passive.

We are to get on with the task of trusting God.

Patience is also founded in the character of God.

The Prophets are also held up as an example because they had a job to do, the spoke it, they were faithful to their ministry though they did not see the fruit of that ministry.

Patience is about being steadfast – again Job is held up as an example here in 5:11. In the depth of his suffering his wife told him to curse God and die, yet he refused.

5:8 is a gentle reminder as well that patience is necessary because the coming of the Lord is imminent – we need to wait faithfully for this to come.

One shocking aspect of patience can be found in v9 – the command in the middle of the passage Is not to grumble, it’s pretty serious. Like the wisdom writers of Proverbs two relatively random ideas are stuck together to help us see their link/contrast.

Grumbling comes in the middle of this passage because grumbling is an act of non-patience. Grumbling causes rot and decay in our relationships – and never leads to patience.

If you are caught up in grumbling see the warning that is attached – do not grumble or you will be judged. Not the final judgement, that wouldn’t fit theologically, but the judgement of God’s discipline.

Very rarely will you find a grumbling person who is happy or growing spiritually. It is a bad thing to grumble against other brothers or sisters. It discourages yourself and discourages others.

People like the prophets were not passive, they threw themselves into his work and they did not grumble. (Jeremiah comes close – but his language is more like words of lament: grumbling in the presence of and left at the feet of God). Let us be encouraged by their example as those who are God-followers today to be patient.

[A rather encouraging finish to the conference. A call to wati with patience as we hear God speak to us, live out the beautiful life, and long for the return of the Son!

In other news, Chris Lung is stepping down as chair to focus on other areas of ministry within his church and denomination. Iggy Wong will be stepping to chair the conference. If you see these guys thank them for their service and pray for them!]

Ignite Training Conference 2020: Day 4 [LIVE BLOG]

Morning Session| Colossians 1:19-23, 3:12-14 | Geoff Tacon

What does the beautiful life actually look like? Today’s passage and message will focus on one aspect of that beautiful life: forgiveness.

Lack of forgiveness separates close friendships. A lack of forgiveness can grow a hardness within us. You end up destroying yourself if you cannot or won’t forgive. The hardness you carry around you place upon others. It leads to loneliness and isolation due to the lack of reconciliation – so you end up shifting from friendship to friendship.

How can one live the beautiful life of forgiveness? First because God has sent the beautiful saviour in Jesus Christ.

  1. Meet your maker

Colossians 1:15-16

God invisible is made visible – not because we are actually seeing God, but because we see the perfect image of him in Jesus Christ. If you see that image you are truly seeing God – and what God is like. Where is the image of God? In the Son.

The Son is also the firstborn over all creation – what does this mean? Firstborn typically means you’re the oldest. But that’s not it’s saying here. In the Biblical context the firstborn is the one who inherits all things. God has gifted over to Jesus ownership rights over everything. Everything belongs to him. Not that he is first in time, but he is the one to whom all things belong.

How did Jesus receive everything? Was someone alive, then die, and then pass it on to Jesus? V16 explains it for us – everything was created by Jesus. Jesus owns everything because Jesus made them all.

You don’t get to make Jesus Lord. We call him Lord because he made us. He is our maker – we’re not the one who make him into our Lord.

  1. Meet your peacemaker

Colossians 1:19-20 – Jesus has not only made everything, he has made peace.

Pause for the moment to consider how Jesus makes peace. Who is it that reconciles to whom? We have been fighting against God in our mind and behaviour. Who makes peace with whom then? Who has to go make peace, who has to receive the apology in order for peace to be made?

God is clearly the one aggrieved.

V19 – in Jesus God is dwelling in his absolute fullness – then in v20 through Jesus he reconciles all things to himself. This is extraordinary.

Who is the aggrieved party? In v20 God is the aggrieved party and the one to whom satisfaction and reconciliation is made. But who is the one who is making peace with God? It’s extraordinary that it’s God also who is the peacemaker. It is God who has dwelled fully and truly in Jesus who makes peace.

The gospel is that God has come to calm God down concerning ourselves.

This is the extraordinary heart that the prophets kept pointing to.

God by himself, up on the cross, bore his own anger – he pacified himself – in the death of Jesus God bore the suffering and wrath we deserved.

The prophetic word was that God has this beautiful life planned out in the Torah, and the prophets looked forward to seeing the Torah come into our lives more wondrously and radically. The prophetic word saw a beautiful saviour who would come to do this.

Jesus is here, he has done it.

The beautiful life is then partly revealed in Colossians 3:1ff.

As those who have been made new in Christ there is new life ahead – the beautiful life.

Part of that new beautiful life is forgiveness. In Jesus Christ is a person who forgives. Forgiveness is who you are now – you have entered into a world of forgiveness, not because we changed ourselves but because Christ has entered our lives and radically changed them.

So what?

What happens when you have been aggrieved by someone in church? Either through intentional or unintentional sin. Putting up with someone who has hurt you is not easy.

And yet from another angle isn’t it nice to know that you have friends and brothers and sisters who will put up with you even if you have caused them pain, hurt, and embarrassment? That they have been there with you during the sad and bad times, but also that they have remained with you when you have caused them hurt?

Jesus has been a friend to us even when we have aggrieved and embarrassed him.

If we have such a friend in Jesus then our lives should also reflect his posture towards us.

 

Evening Session | The Hope of the Prophets (Zechariah 14) | Gary Millar

Martin Luther – the great reformer – commented on a lot of scripture but gave up with Zechariah!

Zechariah is a longer vision of God’s plans and purposes – and gets an insight into ‘that Day’ – the Day of the Lord. So what is this going to happen, and what will happen on that day?

As you work through these chapters you’ll find that it’s a very long day. It starts when the Davidic shoot shows up (ie Jesus) and the day doesn’t stop until the new universe is constituted. Hence we seem to be living in this Day now…

In Zechariah 14 he sees a war that leads to worship. History, the Day in which we are living, is all about a war that leads to worship.

Zech 14:1 – a day is coming for Yahweh – it’s a day for him, his centre-stage day, a day that is ultimately about him acting for his glory. This is God’s day, so prepare to meet him and see him in action.

Our God is relentlessly and mind-blowingly impressive. The single most reason to read the prophets is that they ensure that our God is big enough and expansive enough. They explode our small mindedness and expose our rather small view of God.

And yet he is introduced as Yahweh – his personal name. The expansive God invites him to know him personally :)

So what will happen on this day?

  1. The War (Zech 14:1-11)

People gather for battle, women are raped (a covenant curse) and half the city goes into exile. Yah, fun. For the other half who stay home there is small comfort of staying at home. And yet in v3 Yahweh will go out to battle against the nations.

Previously there have been references to the battle belonging to Yahweh, but here we see him appear on the scene.

We so instinctively forget that we are embroiled in a cosmic conflict – our enemies are God’s enemies. No amount of positive thinking can change this – because everywhere we go in the Bible we see this war. It is a jungle out there and we are caught up in this war.

In Church there is a growing sense of wanting to be sensitive to people, focus on sharing our story, invest in people first so that we’re real friends with them, then they’ll react better to the gospel. Not be obnoxious is a good thing… but never forget that the Bible says we are caught up in a war and you do have to be on one side or the other.

Blood will be spilled – the default position of the world is anti-God. The world hates the message because it hates what it says about them and hates the One behind the message.

The good news is that God is not a general way at the back of the battle – our God comes and fights with us and for us.

Zech 14:4-5 – here God is providing the avenue for safety for his people – splitting a mountain to do that! It’s important the he comes from the East to do this. In Ezekiel he left the Temple and headed east, not he’s coming back from where he disappeared from and is coming to the rescue of his people.

God is a God who fights and will win in the end. And as his people we will share in his victory – not that we do anything, the people run away and hide among the rocks. But they get to celebrate in the victory together.

V6 – there shall be such a dramatic victory that on that day the sun, moon and stars will come to a grinding halt (lit: they will congeal together), And a new unique day starts – the whole of creation is now changed and transformed.

Through this whole section God is the victor – he is the main subject. And he’s working all things in this section for his glory.

Sometimes we have to stop and ask ourselves how God-centred our churches and ministries are. Would it make a difference is God disappeared from our gatherings?

The one thing that matters more than anything else here is that God speaks to reveal himself to us through his Word by his Spirit. And when this God, the God of the prophets, the God of our Lord Jesus, when he speaks he cuts through our defences and meets us.

Our God is king over all the earth and yet he says, ‘Behold your God’

Through Jesus our God has made it possible to know him. That is the highest privilege offered to us, children of the living God. Is that the pulsing reality at the heart of our existence?

Jonathan Edwards – there is a difference between an opinion of the goodness of God and the sense of the goodness of God in the same way that one can have an opinion of the sweetness of honey vs one who has the experience of the sweetness of it all.

Zechariah is challenging us to not just know about God but to know him personally.

Zech 14:10 – where are these places? After exile the land was flattened and didn’t really contain much. Zechariah is seeing the glory of old Jerusalem rebuilt.

By 14:11 the war is over and security is achieved.

So when does this war happen? Both the cross of Jesus, the final moment of the end of time when Jesus appears to wrap up history, and also the final moments between then and then where we live now because Jesus is king and the war is over. Life now is lived in this mopping up period – and while there will be casualties and losses it is all on the way to an inevitable victory.

  1. Worship (14:12-21)

This is great news, but this is not where the prophets stop.

In 14:12-21 God works to bring his people to him to enjoy his presence. It is done in a way that replays the Exodus.

The plagues sound pretty bad – but they are a reminder that you don’t mess with our God.

14:16 reminds us that God brings the nations to worship him – and if they don’t they will be excluded. 14:17 reminds us that those who do not worship Yahweh will have the covenant curses rained down on them.

14:20ff – all the horse bells and all the crockery will be holy to God. Everything will be holy to him! 14:21 – no ‘trader’ (Canaanite) in the house, no crooks.

The war that is won reminds us that God is a God who is determined to battle to bring his people to him so they can gasp in awe and delight of him.

Jesus is the one who brings this to pass. The one who brings judgement upon himself for us, and upon everyone else, who brings us into reconciled relationship with God, in order to help us sit before his Father in awe.

Piper – Missions exists because worship doesn’t… at the end when we all before the throne enjoy God missions will be no more…

This is the picture we see in Revelation 7 – al the nations who have bowed to Jesus in awe of him.

Everything ultimately leads to worship – everything in this world is designed to say ‘behold our God’. This is what we were made for, why we do what we do, why we gather as a local church, when we open the Bible together – when all that happens we hear ‘I am your God, you are my people.’

The prophets knew that this was our future and hope, That Father, Son and Spirit fight for us so that we might worship Him forever. This is what life is about.

The prophets proclaimed God’s word to show us his majesty and draw our focus on his goodness and glory. They champion this message, grieve when people turn from it, and remind us of this solid hope – that there is only one outcome of the war that God is waging: the worship of God, Father – Son – and Spirit.

[What a wondrous way to finish – to be reminded that the goal of all that God does is his glory and our beholding of that!]

Ignite Training Conference 2020: Day 3 [LIVE BLOG]

Humpday has arrived. We’ve been challenged profoundly over the past few days – in both the morning/evening talks, workshops, and strand groups. Please pray that God would continue to sustain the delegates and leaders as the week rolls on!

Morning Session | 1 Thessalonians 2:1-16 | Weber Hsu

Paul’s visit to Thessalonica was not in vain – in declaring the gospel, even in the midst of conflict, there was great fruit. Acts gives us a bit of the backstory of what happened during this trip.

In the space of a few weeks/months it was pretty fearless – Paul had left a Philippian jail and headed off to Thessalonica to do the same thing that caused his imprisonment. Here we see a profound single-mindedness.

We also see a genuine authenticity – 1 Thess 2:5-8. Paul preaches with an audience of one – he preached for God (with others listening).

There are people in our lives who change who we are whenever we are around them. People who cause us to put on a face, or get aggravated. Authenticity means that we don’t water down our message, or our lives, no matter what the situation – even if we look weird to our classmate, gullible to our antagonistic boss, stupid to our family.

Authenticity also looks like humble living – Paul, as an apostle, had the right to be supported financially. Yet he chose to not be a burden to the Thessalonians – 1 Thess 2:9-12.

We also see tender-heartedness in Paul. He loved his brothers and sisters so much – like a father to them, like a nursing mother to them. He compares his ministry to being a breast-feeding mum! That means pouring your life into that baby – you pour your energy, time, and focus into growing that baby.

Do our lives reflect this sort of love and care for others? Are we too busy to send a text or catch up with someone? I’m not the right person? Not trying is a denial of the power of God in our lives.

1 Thess 2:14 – the key word here is ‘imitating’ – they had patterned their lives after Paul, the Paul who was fearless and persecuted for the church, and tender hearted towards the brothers.

Those who are mature among us need to leave an example for others to follow. So find those in our churches who are mature in faith and copy them – don’t find those who are simply doing well in the world’s eyes. Ask them to read the Bible with you.

Be deliberate in growing yourself, that your life is pointing to Jesus.

[Short, sharp, sweet reminder building on what we heard last night.]

Evening Session | Ezekiel 34: The Message of the Prophets | Gary Millar

Asking Gary to describe his wife takes a long time to describe her – though they’ve been married a long time, and they are best friends, trying to describe her would take a long time because of all the nuances he’d have to add.

It’s really hard to describe another person and do them justice – you have to keep on adding more. And it’s so hard to do justice to the prophets. And yet – here is Gary trying to summarise 250 chapters.

Main ideas of the prophets: a passion for the beautiful life and a vision of the beautiful saviour.

  1. A passion for the beautiful life

God’s desire is to help his creatures enjoy the beautiful life with him. You don’t need to read very far into the Bible to see this played out – Genesis 2. He creates Adam and Eve to enjoy this new world that he has created.

Very soon after the fall God reiterates his commitment to make it possible for people like us, people who have rebelled against him, to enjoy a beautiful life with him.

He starts with the covenant. A promise based relationship that he shapes and builds on in the years that follow. The covenant in a nutshell is ‘I’ll be your God and you be my people.’

Everything he says from that point on is designed to help his people live a beautiful life with him.

Lots of how to do this is covered in ‘the Law’. But for us the word ‘law’ is a bad one. Law is all about drawing boundaries and putting limits. But in the OT the Hebrew word ‘Torah’ isn’t really law – it’s a thing that gets bigger and bigger, a description of the beautiful life.

It begins in Exodus 20 with the ’10 words’ – a short hand. Afterwards he gives them a bit more, and more in Leviticus, and more in Deuteronomy. What’s the point of all this? The beautiful life you live with me cannot be put on a post-it note, and not even summed up in a massive book like Deuteronomy.

Living with me will shape every decision, it’ll be with you wherever you go and whatever you do.

In Matthew 5:17-20 Jesus says some confusing things about the law – that he has not come to abolish but fulfil it, the it will not pass away until it is accomplished, that your righteousness needs to exceed that of the pharisees. What is Jesus talking about?

Jesus has come not to make the law smaller, not to drop stuff off the beautiful life – he has come to make the beautiful life bigger and more attractive than you have ever dreamt. It is bigger than anything that the pharisees can envisage. Every time Jesus speaks to the pharisees he doesn’t say their standards are too high… he says you have reduced it all. You don’t have a clue!

The prophets share Jesus passion for the beautiful life. They are convinced that living under the banner of ‘I will be your God and you will be my people’ is the best way – and any declension of that is a tragedy. And so they constantly call people back to this beautiful life.

It is why they kept calling out covenantal unfaithfulness, why they called out leaders for failing to lead people properly, why when they saw injustice they yelled it out from the roof tops.

One of the challenges we face in Australia is getting back on the front foot and learning how to speak again at how good it is to be a Christian. At the moment we’re on the defensive, being sucked into fights important at one level but won’t win anyone for the kingdom. We get drawn into discussions of same-sex marriage, transgenderism, religious freedom. And we forget that in Jesus we have life and have tasted it to the full.

What drives the prophets is knowing this – knowing the real thing, the real life.

Ezekiel and the Beautiful Life

After the exile, along with Daniel and friends, had been deported earlier. Babylon liked to deport people, give them ‘scholarships’, and essentially assimilate them.

Ezekiel didn’t. He kept looking back to Jerusalem thinking about how it all went wrong – they lost he land, the temple, and the king – and Gods’ promise appears to have crumbled before their eyes. In the middle of all that his passion for the beautiful life burns as strongly as ever.

Ezekiel as a prophet though is a touch strange. Flamboyant… nuts… yeah. His life is filled with some really strange events.

Yet through it all his burning concern is to see God’s people live a life of covenant faithfulness. And takes on anyone who turns God’s people away from that.

In Ezekiel 34 we see this – he turns his guns on the leaders of Israel.

34:1-6 – the passion of Ezekiel is evident here. The leaders should have been feeding God’s sheep but they were feeding on them instead. It’s bad.

There are three things the prophets often take aim at:

  • Ungodly leaders

Hosea – the princes of Judah have become like those who move boundary rocks – they were stealing people’s lands.

Zech 10 – ask for rain, and he will give them rain, for the household gods speak nonsense and give empty consolation, the people wander like sheep without a shepherd – the people are running around asking false gods for rain… why don’t they ask me!?! But even in Zechariah the blame for this falls on the leaders.

What were leaders supposed to do? It wasn’t complicated.

In Deut 17 the rules for the kingship are simple – no horses, no chariots, no wealth – look nothing like a king. What were they supposed to do? Copy Deuteronomy and read it everyday. Be the most godly person around and you can be king.

But they wanted a king like everyone else. And that didn’t work out. With the exceptions of David, Hezekiah and Josiah – the verdict on the reign of the Kings is chillingly similar: they did not deal with the high places. They did not call their people back to worship the one and only God.

After years of rejection God eventually said enough is enough – and the two kingdoms fell. So much of the hardest words in the prophets is reserved for the leaders.

  • Idolatry

The prophets also hit up strongly against idolatry – reserving some of their best comedic lines for the stupidness of idol worship.

The prophets see clearly that sin is cosmically stupid. It is the most pervasive lie of the devil that sin is good, enjoyable, ok, not that big a deal – and so we go looking what we long for where we know it cannot be found. That’s why it always leaves us empty and with a sour taste. And yet we fall for that lie again and again and again.

Why are the prophets so hard on this? Because they know that the Lord is their God – have no other gods before me because there are no other gods!

Idolatry strikes at our covenant relationship with God.

John says the same thing in 1 John. Without mentioning idols in the book he finishes the book with the line ‘keep yourself from idols’. John understood what Calvin knew later – the human heart is a factory of idols.

Where do your thoughts run to, what fills your mind when there’s nothing else pressing in? What are we investing our happiness and joy in? Why is that? If we’re not careful small things capture our hearts.

Israel was living like that for hundreds of years. Despite God living among them – they were prone, as with us, for searching for other things to please us.

  • Injustice

When the corrupt leaders lead to idolatry then sooner or later it’s a dog-eat-dog world, every person for themselves.

(caught up listening again… sorry folks – it’s Gary’s fault!)

When the people entered the land they were to shout blessings and curses to each other. So when the prophets saw the people living on the wrong mountain (the mountain of cursing) it gutted them.

The obedience and disobedience can be matched to their experience – whether or not they were blessed or cursed. You could just look at them to see. When they were cursed (in disobedience) it was drought and messed up-ness – when they were blessed (in obedience) it was all green.

The language of blessing and curses no longer applies though in the NT. Disobedience to Jesus does lead to a lack of assurance and personal misery. But that’s not quite blessing or curse. It’s part of the function that now we are made for the beautiful life it is impossible to be a happy disobedient Christian. Once you have become a Christian you cannot happily disobey – you’re now wired to live for God.

Because of our new life everything is ramped up for us – which is why we should be relentlessly positive in commending the beautiful life that is now in Christ. When leaders are selfish we should call them back to Christ-likeness. When our brothers or sisters slide into idolatry we should be the first to name and shame it. When we see injustice we should be the first to oppose it.

But if we are going to do that we have to believe that life with God is the beautiful life.

Why do we sin? Because in the moment we think that sin offers what God is offering. That it’s up to us to find that path of happiness. Which is stupid.

So maybe the first thing we need to do is repent.

The prophets who were passionately committed to this vision of the beautiful life also knew that it would only come about through the work of a beautiful saviour.

  1. A vision for the beautiful saviour

The prophets don’t just insist that things may get better, they insist that it will get better.

Ezekiel 34:7-16 God promises big things about bringing them back and rescuing his people. How will he do that? 34:23-24 – God will set up his servant David to feed his sheep.

Jesus says that servant/shepherd is himself in John 10. (Gah! Praise God!!)

In multiple ways in Ezek 34 this shepherd will care for God’s sheep – it’s the covenant relationship God has with his people that will lead to the beautiful life.

Ezekiel’s vision of the coming one who acts in both salvation (rescuing the skinny sheep) and bringing judgement (on the fat exploitive sheep) is the lord Jesus.

The prophets ask a basic question: are we passionate about the beautiful life, which is ours in Jesus? And a more far reaching question – are we passionate about Christ himself?

So what are we do to?

Bask in the life offered. Enjoy it. Speak about it. Live it. Because this is what we were made for. This is what we were rescued for. This is who we are in the Lord Jesus Christ – people who have been given life, real life that starts now and goes on forever.

And incredibly, it seems, will only get better as we delight in our God – Father, Son, and Spirit – for all eternity.

[Excellent. The message of the prophets in a nutshell.]

Ignite Training Conference 2020: Day 2 [LIVE BLOG]

And we’re back again today. We’re now right into the swing of things, the strand material will be getting seriously into its content and the talks and workshops will be challenging. Follow my post on Facebook to keep up with what’s happening.

Morning session | Mark 4:1-20 | sam mcgeown

One of Sam’s best friends is a farmer – and one thing he has noticed about his friend is how difficult it is to be a farmer.

Farming is hard work, time-consuming, energy-zapping, troublesome, and not for the faint-hearted. Harvesting is not for the idle, not for lazy people.

And neither is sharing the word of God. Word ministry is hard work, it’s energy-zapping, troublesome, and not for the faint-hearted.

In Mark 4 we have teaching from Jesus about harvest work. Things to notice.

  1. The sower sows indiscriminately and liberally

The sower doesn’t know where the good soil is and so he just gets out there. But the odds of the farmer are producing a bumper crop is small – only 25% of the soils he sows into will work.

  1. Seed that is grown in good soil will produce a bumper harvest

Note 4:8 – a hundredfold harvest was HUGE – the average harvest was 3-4 times… so even a thirtyfold harvest is massive. It’s phenomenal that the small seed would produce what it does.

  1. And yet three-quarters of the labour is in vain

Why? Partly because of Isaiah 6 in Jesus’ ministry – Jesus will preach and teach but it will harden some.

When we share the word of God people will not always respond the way we want them to. It’s very likely that the majority of people will remain hardened to the gospel – and that is due to their hardness of souls rather than our ability to produce a gospel sermon/appeal.

How many times do we beat ourselves up and people do not respond the way we want them to? Yet we forget that response is a gracious gift from God.

That means we must pray. If the word preached will change lives then we must pray to the God who can change hearts.

We pray because God our Father loves to hear us pray. It is the act of a child asking their father for help.

Do we fall into the trap of thinking that Jesus’ prayers are answered as he prays to his father, but our prayers are not answered when we pray to the same God? Jesus is not inviting us to pray just to his Father, but he invites us into a relationship with God (through him) to pray ‘our Father’.

As Jesus is God’s son, we are God’s children. And fathers love to hear their children ask them for things.

So when it comes to word ministry we must pray – asking the God who loves to hear us and answer to change the hearts of people we speak to.

Second – we must sow and do so liberally.

That takes sacrifice and commitment. And often it will be people who we least expect to respond – just like us.

Third – we must expect a harvest.

That’s the promise in 4:20.

[Sam gives some examples of those who have converted – best ask him personally for these because they are *brilliant*.]

The harvest is hard. Things may not turn out the way we expect. But let us be determined to pray, commit ourselves to sow indiscriminately and liberally, and let us anticipate that God will answer our prayers, work through his word, and bring about a harvest.

 

Evening Session | Jeremiah 8:18-9:11 The Mind of the Prophets | Gary Millar

Jeremiah isn’t often the book that sets the heart of us racing. It is the longest book of the Bible and probably that will only be the thing it leads in.

When painting the Sistine chapel Michelangelo painted pictures of the prophets and painted Jeremiah looking rather depressed.

We are reading Jeremiah because it gives us unprecedented access to the mind of one of the authors of the Bible. He lived and wrote just as the Babylonian exile started to happen. A time of massive threatening change, social structures were unravelling, certainties of life were disappearing – and it is the way that Jeremiah opens up his inner life that makes this book remarkable. He verbally processes the message that is being given.

Jeremiah shows us what it looks like to serve Jesus from the inside rather than describing it from the outside. So reading Jeremiah sets us up for the coming of the ministry of Jesus. His words are his own and yet also identified with the words of God. He feels what God feels and yet also feels the pain of his people. Lives out his message and loves the people his message is sent to – he embodies everything a prophet of God should be. And in his life we get a glimpse into the life of God’s ultimate prophet to come.

Jeremiah is demanding – not particularly hard but intense.

Introducing Jeremiah: ministry in a messy world

Every detail in the short introduction (1:1-3) is important despite appearances! They remind us that he was a real person speaking the real words of God.

Right from the beginning we are being reminded that God was speaking through Jeremiah.

The time of his life is a dark period – he lived through one of the worst kings and then through the reforming king Josiah. He watched the Assyrians fall and the Babylonians rise, through the lives of puppet kings and the useless king Zedekiah. He ended up Egypt with a rebellious people.

His life was not full of laughs and the only consistent thing in his ministry was that nobody listened to him. With the possible exception of Josiah nobody ever wanted him around and on many occasions they tried to get rid of him.

This is the pattern of Word ministry. Jesus said he would be treated like the prophets. Real gospel ministry never carries with it popularity.

This entire book is a call to die to seeking to be liked. Rather to be a faithful gospel driven follower of Christ means taking everything that comes with it. And that takes us into the prophetic mind – all the prophets are driven by God’s Word and even when that is painful they are unflinching in their determination to preach this gospel until their dying breath.

Tonight we’ll be covering the first 20 chapters of Jeremiah (!!). And to get a sense of his mind we’ll see four things:

  1. Single-mindedness

The other prophets might have been commissioned, but none like what Jeremiah hears in 1:4-5. He is told Jeremiah was formed for a specific and unique role in salvation history.

It’s no accident that these sentiments are echoed in Psalm 139, but even those words are eclipsed by Jeremiah 1. Jeremiah was chosen like Abraham was in Genesis 12. This sort of language of being known and chosen by God are reserved for key moments in God’s masterplan, reserved for God’s key players.

And it’ll be good to remind ourselves none of us are in that category.

1:6 makes Jeremiah sound like Moses in Exodus 3-4 who was unwilling to lead. Jeremiah was from Anathoth – not a great boast. He’s not trying to get out of it like Moses was in Exodus – but he’s just amazed at God’s choice.

So with great kindness God insists he has made no mistake. Yes, I’ve called you to a ministry with no limits but I’m also going to protect you from all things.

The climax of his commission is in 1:10 – the language is drawn from farming, construction, and warfaring – primarily Jeremiah’s role is negative, but not without hope (there are two positives) – but the remarkable thing is the amount of authority he gets: he is appointed over nations and kingdoms! This prophet is in a league of his own! His authority extends almost to the same extent at the messiah of Psalm 2!

What’s going on here?

Jeremiah 1 is setting us up to read this book in a way which is very surprising. He’s appointed by God to be a prophet to the nations, to speak to the very words of God, to demolish but also sow seeds of hope. This is going to be a long and painful journey – a prophet who will suffer like no other prophet.

Jeremiah the prophet, who is the main speaker and central character, is an anticipation of the prophet like Moses yet to come. His experience and sharing the pain of the guilt and punishment that Judah will feel will be like the One who shares our pain and takes our punishment. When we read Jeremiah will we then learn and know who Jesus is and what to expect from him.

Is this a book for us? Only those united to Christ and walk in his steps can find application. Jesus fulfils what Jeremiah looks forward to, and our union with him means we are then sent by Him to the nations.

The prophetic mindset that we share and display is actually the mind of the Lord Jesus Christ. That’s a big commission. Which explains why Jeremiah are commissioned to be utterly single-minded. All the prophets, save Jonah, were like this.

Are we going to be a generation who is single-minded?

What has happened to the generation above us (ie people 70-80yrs old). If they had training they were very single-minded. Their whole-heartedness for Jesus meant that holidays and eating were optional life things. But they also perhaps neglected their marriages and health. They took Jesus seriously, albeit a bit crazily.

But since then the pendulum has been swinging. It is much more harder to be single-minded. The challenge for us to make sure that the followers of Jesus are so mastered by the gospel pour ourselves into serving Jesus come what may in the years ahead.

  1. Fearless

1:11-19 – Jeremiah sees an almond tree (which is a pun – he sees a ‘watching’/almond tree) – and then is told by God that his task is to ‘watch’.

Around this time Judah had watched the Northern Kingdom be smashed by Assyria. But what did Judah learn from this? Absolutely nothing. The prophets verdict was that they had forsaken God.

Luther ‘A treatise of Good works’ – this is the heart of the matter – it is impossible to break commands 2-10 without first breaking commandment 1.

Jeremiah’s ministry a tough one – like he’s been told to preach Romans 1 for his life and never to move beyond that (!).

Isaiah was told that no one would listen to him – but Jeremiah had it worse. He is told that the people he preaches to are going to try and intimidate him. All the Kings, priests, officials, everyone, will fight against him – and yet God will be his refuge. He will be a fortified city.

In his ministry Jeremiah will see God work out his word, he will announce judgement for salvation, and everyone will attack him – but he will be equipped to stand firm and having done all to stand.

Only Jeremiah had this task – he saw the exile.

And yet his ministry finds the same assurances in the ministry of the one to come – the one who was not declaring the exile to come but the end of the exile.

When we read Jeremiah we need to ask whether we are up for it. Jesus says, ‘In this world you will have trouble.’ He also insists on saying awkward things – if anyone comes after me they need to pick up their cross and die daily. Do not fear men… what can they do? They can kill you.

Yet Jesus calls us to be single-minded and fearless.

  1. Tender-hearted

In Jeremiah 8 he’s not missing the point in his preaching – the people do not know God or what they should be doing. They were blinded to their sin.

This is the ministry he had – standing in the temple and telling God’s people exactly the way things were.

8:18 tells us how he feels – grieved. While he kept telling them the bad news the other prophets proclaimed a message of ‘she’ll be right’. As the Babylonian exile approaches it breaks his heart (8:21).

8:22 – it’s not as though healing was not available, it was that they refused to seek help. They refused Jeremiah.

There’s something interesting here. At the start of chapter 8 Jeremiah is speaking, but by the end it is God speaking. Jeremiah’s pains are God’s pains, his longings are God’s longings. It is because Jeremiah speaks and loves like God we see God – as we see Jeremiah’s tender-heartedness we actually see God himself.

We are called to do the same. 1 John – let us love one another, as God loved us!

These prophets are not ashamed – nor do they have a harsh exterior and nothing on the inside. Yes Jeremiah has been made a fortified city – but he is a city who weeps for his people.

The truth is that God loves his children far too much to leave them to their own devices.

Gosh by now we’re getting the picture clearly right?

Now to 9:23-24 – God strides onto the stage, declares who he is, and says ‘embrace me – know me’. The knowledge of God is what both soften our hearts and puts steel in our backbone. Living a gospel-shaped life is both courageous and fearless and deeply compassionate on the other. It is to be both fearless and deeply tender-hearted. That is the effect of encountering the God of the Bible.

We gasp at his awesomeness and say we are undone, and then stagger at the opportunity to represent him to the world. We are single-minded and permanently softened.

Again, we see the ministry of Jesus in the same light of what Jeremiah is doing – he came into he temple, a den of robbers and thieves – in his weeping over Jerusalem we see a tender-heartedness. We see one who says that all things have been handed over to me, no one knows me except the Father and the Father the son and anyone the Son chooses to reveal himself to. He says ‘take my yoke upon you and find rest – my yoke is easy and burden is light.’

Jeremiah is an extraordinary book – he calls us to be fearless and to be tender at the same time.

  1. They lived their message

Being a prophet was not a 9-5 job, nor a mere conduit waiting for God to pass on their message while waiting. They felt and heard the message and then lived it out.

Jeremiah was not popular – he was ignored and mocked. Nicknamed Mr Terror On Every Side. There is a cost to preaching the gospel. Everytime we show people the beauty of the gospel there is going to be disappointment when people don’t respond or ignore that. Sometimes they’ll mock you for it. There is a cost to saying hard things.

After all the mocking and rejection Jeremiah pours it out in 18:21-23 – it’s all getting a bit much for Jeremiah. His enemies are really God’s enemies. Jeremiah has brought them a direct communication from God and they have attacked him – and these words have been recorded to remind us that it is hard to say hard things even when they are obviously true. Chapter 19 has the same thing happen all over again.

Jeremiah, along with Jesus, sticks to the hard message no matter the cost.

Jeremiah 20 shows us his guts – after being released from the stocks he announces judgement on the person who locked him up and beat him!

  1. Authenticity

Imagine Baruch, his scribe, trying to gently suggest to Jeremiah whether or not to include the final words of chapter 20. But yes, those words stay – this is the cost of authenticity. Speaking the words of Christ, suffering for him, weeping like him – it takes it out of us.

But that is authentic ministry. Speaking the gospel into the lives of our friends is not something we are often thanked for. Often when God is at work in the gospel it is painful because it exposes and confronts – he breaks down before he builds up.

It’s humbling to admit that God knows what he’s doing, knows what to do, and we do not.

Jeremiah’s prayer in chapter 20 is full-on. But afterwards he never prays like that again. He knows that judgement is coming, but there’s also hope in his message.

So what are we to make of all this?

In the first place we are supposed to marvel at the sheer commitment of Jeremiah. Embodying and living the preaching of the very words of God himself – and all before the coming of Jesus. We have seen the one that Jeremiah only caught glimpses of – the perfect suffering prophet, who pressed on when Jeremiah would have wilted, even dying on a cross for us – it is ultimately this prophet, Jesus Christ, who holds the key. We don’t follow Jeremiah, we follow the one whom Jeremiah prepared the way for.

He is the one we are joined to, have his Spirit indwelling, is the one who shows us what it means to be truly human, tender-hearted and authentic. He is the one for whom we suffer and rejoice – the one who gives us everything we need for life and godliness. The one to whom we are joined to and will never be separated from.

2 Timothy 2:1–10

[1] You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, [2] and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also. [3] Share in suffering as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. [4] No soldier gets entangled in civilian pursuits, since his aim is to please the one who enlisted him. [5] An athlete is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules. [6] It is the hard-working farmer who ought to have the first share of the crops. [7] Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.

[8] Remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead, the offspring of David, as preached in my gospel, [9] for which I am suffering, bound with chains as a criminal. But the word of God is not bound! [10] Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.

[Who is worthy of this task? In Christ, we are :)]

 

 

Ignite Training Conference 2020: Day 1 [LIVE BLOG]

My yearly dose of blogging, back for another week!

2020 brings a big year of changes. For the first time in nearly 10 years, I’m not leading strand 2’s Biblical Theology but will be taking a large group (19!) through Strand 4 material – thinking through how to break up a book of the Bible for a teaching series. Another big change is that the morning talks will be given in devotional style from various leaders of Ignite. And, as always, I’ll be on the bookstall but this year in partnership with The Wandering Bookseller. Come in and say hi, ask for a recommendation, and let me help you start this decade with some heart-filling and theologically rich books!

So follow my post on updates as this live blog continues to be updated through the days ahead.

Morning Session 1 | James 1:19-27 | Chris Lung

2019 was Chris’ year of rebellion – since 2009 he purchased his first smart phone and then started working towards being paperless. Then in 2019 he rebelled – he purchased a paper diary. A blank diary that he could reshape to be as unique as he wanted it to be.

When you type you can correct really easily – but when you write it’s harder to correct which means you have to pause, stop and reflect on what it is you’re intending to do. You need to change the pace and tempo of your work.

James 1:22 says something similar – he asks us to be ‘doers of the word’. In our churches we are doers – we love to do stuff. And we’re also of the word, we love great preaching. But are we doers of the Word?

In context James is challenging his readers to not just hear God’s Word but to live in response to it as well. You cannot look at the Bible and simply walk away – James illustrates this via the man who looks at he mirror and forgets his face afterwards. There is a tempo and rhythm missing in his life. No pausing and stopping.

We tend to elevate people who are busy – even busy at church. Considering them godly. Or we elevate people who are knowledgeable. But how often do we elevate people who pause and reflect?

Even as a pastor it’s easy to be a doer and hide your lack of pausing and reflecting on scripture. It’s easy to be busy in ministry.

At Ignite we learn a lot from the Bible. But often we simply ask people to learn heaps and then reflect on their own – but how many of us actually do that?

So this year we’re shaking it up. We’re rebelling. We’re going to spend intentional time together in the mornings reflecting. We’re not going to be going through new content but build on what we have heard from the evenings. We’re going to be encouraged to pause and reflect – so that we are both hearers and doers of God’s word.

 

Evening Session 1 | Isaiah 6 – The voice of the Prophets | Gary Millar

Gary Millar – Isaiah 6

If you want to be a robust, faithful Christian you need to love and be mastered by what God says in the first part of the Bible (ie the Old Testament). We need to immerse ourselves and be impacted by these words of God.

There are two big reasons we should focus on the prophets.

First: the New Testament says they matter. Paul and Peter spoke a lot about the importance about being shaped by and listening to the Old Testament. Eg 2 Timothy 3 – when Paul says to Timothy to keep trusting scripture he’s referring to the OT. Peter is even more specific. In 2 Peter 2 he is preoccupied with the importance of reading the OT and in particular reading the prophets. We have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which we will do well to pay attention (ie to the prophets) as a light shining to the dark place.

Jesus has the effect of making the OT and the prophets not less important but more important. How are we to spend our times before the second coming of Jesus? According to Peter we should be reading the prophets knowing that they are God’s word to us.

Second: because the prophets reach parts of us that other parts of scripture don’t reach. There’s something about the prophets which reach us like no other. They are more intense, more confrontational, more expansive and relentless than anything else we might read. So their impact on us is more full on and far reaching than other parts of scripture.

There is the exposure of sin, the panorama of God’s judgement, the beauty of God’s mercy and grace – all in the prophets!

Despite the variety of their genre and content to read these books is to turn the volume up to 11 as God speaks to us and cannot help but leave us profoundly impacted.

So what we’re going to try and do over these talks is listen to the voice of the prophets – get an introductory overview. Tomorrow we’ll look at the minds of the prophets (in Jeremiah) then we’ll hear about the message of the prophets, which will take us into the heart of the message that runs through all the books, and then finally finish on the hope that is littered everywhere in these books.

But before we get into Isaiah let’s take a step back and look at the birth of the prophetic movement.

In the OT lots of people are called a prophet – Abraham, Aaron, Moses, and even Balaam are called prophets. In Judges Deborah is called a prophetess. After her they occasionally show up in bits of the narrative (like Nathan vs David) – but otherwise there is no explanation on how you become a prophet.

Until you get to 1 Kings 17 and meet Elijah. Up until here there has been a fairly long silence from God – and up until then the prophets have been really strange (eg 1 Kings 13).

Up until Elijah announces the lack of rain we have no seen anything like this prior. Elijah’s introduction is strange – he just announces the warning. He doesn’t even say God says so – his word and God’s word are the same.

Then in 1 Kings 17 onwards we see the constant use of the phrase ‘according to the word of the Lord’ – in all that happens this line gets repeated. Finally after the widow’s sign is resurrected she says ‘Now I know you are from God and your word is truth’ – he is a capital ‘P’ Prophet.

When he passes the mantle onto Elisha it is a real and first commissioning – and then Elisha is spoken of as speaking for God. Here is the thing: what they say is what God says.

So let’s be clear on that – Prophets are word guys. With Elijah and Elisha and through to John the Baptist and Jesus, God sends a group of people through whom he speaks with unrivalled and unequivocal authority.

Prophets were also unpopular – they were often critiquing power, confronting the powers of the day. And though unpopular they didn’t car – because their ministry was to speak for God. They kept speaking the words of God about the plans of God.

From Elijah and Elisha a movement begins of a word ministry speaking into a world of hedonism and unbelief.

That’s the background as we head into thinking and hearing from Isaiah.

 

Meet Isaiah

In Isaiah 1-5 you get snippets of his preaching. It’s a fast moving blast of God moving in judgement and salvation. It’s full on (supposed to be).

In chapter 6 it’s like Isaiah hits pause and he explains what’s going on. He goes back to the time of King Uzziah’s death to explain this passion and insight, what shapes his personhood and his ministry as a prophet – here’s what happened.

We are reading Isaiah’s experience – and his experience may be unique but it also shows us a guy who was also just like us. This scene is the experience of a human who came into the presence of God.

So what do we see?

6:1-4 – God is incomprehensibly awesome.

King Uzziah (Azariah) was an ok, but didn’t shape up next to David or the laws concerning the kings. But even so he had a long and generally successful reign. But he was also a leper – 2 Kings 15 tells us that God had afflicted him.

Isaiah was a prophet who had a full royal scholarship – he was working in the capital, and then one day he saw the Lord. While John is right that no one has ever seen God in all his fullness and glory John is not saying that nobody ever got a sneak peak.

Gary is a fan of big tall buildings – but one thing is true of all of them: from the bottom of these big buildings you can’t really see how big they are. Isaiah is in this predicament – he sees the bigness of God but like standing at the base of the Burj Khalifa looking up. He sees the hem of God’ garment flooding the temple – this is the corner of God’s robe!

While gazing up he sees the seraphim flying around – flaming wings – but his description is vague, like he can’t even fully describe their impressiveness.

He hears their voices calling out a super-superlative – God is super, super holy and that even the whole earth cannot contain the fulness of his glory. As all this is going on the ground on which Isaiah was standing was quaking, and the temple was filled with smoke.

This was an earth shattering moment for Isaiah – though still a foretaste of what God has instore for us. In the coming of Jesus we will ultimately see more clearly what Isaiah only saw in part in this vision.

The God of the gospel should make us gasp. Piper – the ultimate beauty of the gospel is seeing and savouring God. ‘Behold your God’ is the most gracious gift of the gospel.

Every time we open the Bible and read it together with each other we are aiming to behold God – in better ways than Isaiah experienced.

God is incomprehensibly awesome.

If I am at the centre of life then no bigger concern is my own satisfaction and comfort – which is ultimately an insane way to live. But God will never offer his throne to me.

6:5-7 – God is staggeringly forgiving

The Prophets give us a massive awe-inspiring vision of God – and also that he is massively and staggeringly forgiving.

Isaiah is so overwhelmed and exposed he has absolutely nothing to say.

Most of us don’t find defensiveness hard. When we are accused of something we will excuse and point the blame elsewhere. But there are times when we are confronted where we are so exposed and ashamed that we can say nothing.

Isaiah is taken here instantly by this vision of God – he says “Woe is me!”

There’s a double problem here.

The first is Isaiah himself, the second is everyone else he has ever known.

As a race we all have a problem with our lips. There is only one other place where unclean and lips appear in the same context – Leviticus 13:45 – the leprous person who has a disease shall cover their upper lip and cry out ‘unclean, unclean!’ and remain unclean as long as he has the disease…

Given the fact that this takes place in the year Uzziah died, and he is known for only one thing: he has leprosy.

Isaiah now says that he has seen ‘the King’ (the LORD of hosts). It’s not just that Isaiah is saying he’s said bad things – but that like Uzziah’s disobedience lead to leprosy, we are all disobedient, exposed, and ashamed before God. There is no relief from this fear because it flows from the realisation that we are sinful to the core.

Isaiah’s response – nothing. He’s got nothing. I’m gone.

Ryle – a right knowledge of sin is at the root of all saving Christianity. You don’t have anything to say to anyone unless you confront the fac that you are sinful to the core. Every milligram of training and growth in the Christian faith is a waste of time until you grasp this – we are sinful to the core. Which is what happens next happens next.

6:6-7 – the burning coal, which always symbolised judgement, is brought to Isaiah – his lips (uncleanness) are touched and made clean. There is no other way to represent the holy God unless we stand as forgiven people. And once we get that it will invest all that we say with humility and seriousness.

Our grasp on the gospel depends on two things: How awesome God is and how awful we are. The bigger the gap between these two the more we will grasp the goodness of the gospel.

6:8-13 – God always acts in salvation and judgement

Here God speaks for the first time in this scene. And he asks a question!

Gary can’t prove this but he suspects that Isaiah squeaked out his response – and it is just funny. Who will go and represent this awesome massive grand God? *Me!*

The task though is pretty hard – to preach but have no effect. These words are very hard. All the more harder when we consider that Jesus quotes this in his very first parable in saying that his preaching will harden hearts.

The shape of gospel ministry is always has been and always will be shaped around proclaiming the God of the gospel and watch as he brings some to life and some to harden their hearts further.

This is one of the greatest joys and greatest sadness of ministry. It’s a very frightening thing. When you stand before people and see some brought to new life before your eyes is a marvellous thing. And then the same message has the opposite effect on some.

When you preach the gospel is will leave people either harder or softer. God is working either to bring them to life or they are being hardened. It’s a tough gig.

No wonder Isaiah asks ‘How long for?!’ And God says, ‘Until judgement finally comes.’

And then right at the end Isaiah is told that all this will happen until the holy seed is its stump. Always since Genesis 3 the holy seed is a reference to the rescuer to come.

Always when God speaks in judgement he also speaks in salvation.

In Christ we see all of this. We see his incomprehensible awesomeness, we see his staggering forgiveness, and we see him act in judgement and salvation.

From tonight we need to ask God to help us grasp all of this.

[Oh gosh I’m in tears, that was a staggeringly beautiful portrayal of the goodness and beauty of God.]

Re-reading Josh Harris now

Well, that happened quicker than expected – and yet it was still devastating news. Joshua Harris has clearly announced that he is no longer a Christian. I have now been reliably informed that this was unsurprising to some – the theological trajectory was there for a while as Josh slowly started to leave behind various parts of the Christian faith in the process of his ‘deconstruction’, even before he left as senior pastor of Covenant Life Church.

He also confirmed that he is getting divorced.

Last night I attended a ministry gathering and heard from Thabiti Anyabwile. Among his many excellent encouragements was also an insightful comment that when we see someone like Josh – an author, a conference speaker, a pastor, a council member of The Gospel Coalition – we never assume that one day they could walk away from it all. Perhaps there’s also an assumption there that we too would never walk away.

And yet here we are, devastated and – for some of us – wondering if someone like Josh couldn’t do it what hope do we have?

In response I think it’s important that we recognise that Josh’s most recent post contains a much sadder note than his falling away. It’s these lines right at the end:

“To my Christian friends, I am grateful for your prayers. Don’t take it personally if I don’t immediately return calls. I can’t join in your mourning. I don’t view this moment negatively. I feel very much alive, and awake, and surprisingly hopeful…”

Steven McAlpine has a penetratingly insightful post about this – basically: Josh’s post is not about him falling away, but about being saved. Saved from his Christian faith and saved to an affirming world.

This is not a mere slip or a mistake, or even a season of finding himself and hopefully finding his way back to Jesus. His post is the end of a long train of thought that Josh appears to have been on for a long time.

CS Lewis understood this this process well. In The Screwtape Letters he notes that the easiest road to hell was a gentle incline, soft underfoot, with no markers or signs. Without many of us noticing Josh has travelled far – and only an act of God can bring him back.

And to that end, we must continue to pray.

In the wake of all of this, some have asked me what we should do with his books. As I sit here reflecting I have on my desk a few of Josh’s books staring at me. All of them have been of help to me to some degree or another.

So here are my reflections over the past few days on what we should do with them.

First, don’t throw them away – at least not immediately. The rawness of Josh’s announcement leaving the faith is still pretty fresh, and many of us are probably still mourning the loss of a brother (and sister). Give it some time – for as time passes we’ll be reminded that life goes on and as sad as it is that Josh has walked away from the faith God’s Kingdom marches on seeking new disciples every day.

After some time, it might be worth revisiting those books, but no longer neutrally. The previous works may now subtly reveal the trajectory he was on. Knowing his present situation, it will be difficult to avoid parsing each of his lines and thoughts in the light of the future he didn’t know at that time. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Reading in this way can grow us in discerning the seeds of falling away and help us examine our own hearts. So re-read his work with keen discernment.

And also read for encouragement. One person has asked whether there is any value in reading works he no longer subscribes to. My answer is yes with discernment. Simply because Josh no longer holds to what he once taught doesn’t make what he once taught null and void. I clearly remember particular phrases and thoughts in his later works to be very clear ways of explaining things and I’ll probably continue to use and develop upon those lines. At the same time his work serves well as a warning that biblical knowledge is crucial and must also work itself out in faithful living, obedience and repentance. God in the mystery of his sovereignty and providence can and does use the words and writings of those who have morally failed, or walked away, to encourage and spur us on.

He’ll even use dodgy books for our personal growth in him.

I remember listening to a Question and Answer session with Don Carson who mentioned that when he was younger the book ‘The Normal Christian Life’ by Watchman Nee was profoundly helpful in encouraging him towards holiness. But as he matured as a Christian, and especially as he grew to understand the Bible, he realised that Nee’s exegesis of Romans was very poor. To quote, “It was… up the creek without a paddle.” Did the book help him when he was younger – most certainly. Would he recommend it now? Not a chance.

I think about this story as I personally reflect on I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It was helpful for me personally in the past, but not something I was recommending as much in recent years.

The story is a little different with something like ‘Dug Down Deep’ or ‘Humble Orthodoxy’. Both were his last books, both were incredibly clear and very helpful – which makes his move away from the central ideas of these books all the more devastating.

In the light of Josh’s announcement, we need to be further discerning about who we recommend these books to. The teacher and their teaching cannot be separated. This is why the New Testament is so clear that character matters the most when it comes to elders/teachers/pastors: because how they live is supposed to be a model and reflection of what they teach. This is also why false teachers are never given a pass on the sometimes right things they say.

Now, this isn’t to say that all authors we recommend need to be perfect – for none are. There is no author or teacher who lands perfectly on every doctrine or interpretation of scripture – and I’m looking at myself as well here. If you never disagree with your favourite theologian then it reveals more about you as their fanboy/girl than it does about the truth of their teaching. We always need to read with discernment.

But some failings are more noteworthy than others. Apostasy is up there.

Wisdom helps us work out whether we should recommend Josh’s books. As we discern the content for ourselves we need to be wise about who might be able to handle, or not handle, all that the author brings to the table. It would be a disservice to some if we sever the connection between teacher and teaching – for it may stumble them to places we would never wish them to go.

So, don’t dump all his works immediately. Read them with discernment, rejoice in what is true, and be careful who we recommend them to.

When Heroes Let You Down

It hasn’t been a great couple of weeks for my past mentor/heroes.

First, there was Mark Driscoll. About 10 years ago he emerged onto the scene as a brash, unabashed Calvinistic young preacher. I don’t think it’s wrong to say that Driscoll rode the wave of the neo-Calvinist resurgence, and was at least to me an inspiring figure in looking into this recapturing of reformed theology. I count myself firmly on the reformed side of things thanks in part to his ministry.

But then it unravelled. His megachurch grew and grew, but so did the body count. A rising number of people were hurt by his church and ministry, and concerns rose. It came to head with some incidences that revealed a strange pattern of ministry/theology. Here are, from my perspective, some of the worrying moments:

  • The Elephant Room. Back in late 2011, Driscoll was a part of an interview in which he grilled concerning teacher TD Jakes. The subject remained firmly on the Trinity – so no discussion on his prosperity gospel preaching took place. The transcript reveals essentially nothing new, and you could boil it down to this: TD Jakes remains relatively vague on affirming the creeds and prefers heretical modalist language concerning the Trinity. That Driscoll (and James McDonald) could then embrace Jakes as a brother in Christ was concerning.
  • Strange Fire. John MacArthur is no friend of charismatic theology. In 2013 he held a conference titled ‘Strange Fire’ which took aim at unhelpful charismatic theology regarding the Holy Spirit and aimed at some specific false teachers (Benny Hinn in particular). Driscoll showed up at the conference with a squad and a bunch of his new, at the time, book ‘A Call to Resurgence’. The book itself takes aim at reformed folks who have problems with charismatic theology (and reveals the beginnings of a theological trajectory we’ll see in a moment). So, armed with this book and his friends he turned up outside the conference and was talking to delegates and passing out copies of his book. Security eventually got involved and reportedly confiscated his books and asked him to leave. Then there was a bunch of ‘he said, she said’ about the whole incident which was… strange.
  • Real Marriage. In 2012 Driscoll wrote another book ‘Real Marriage’ with his wife Grace. In 2014 it was revealed that Mars Hill Church had used some of its substantial church budget to purchase thousands of copies of the book in order to puff up its sales and make it onto the ‘New York Times bestsellers’ list – which would then give it the right to print ‘NY Times Bestseller’ on the cover and further increase the promotion of the book. Driscoll was never implicated in this, but it did strike a worrying note on the ministry culture of Mars Hill.
  • Mars Hill meltdown. Shortly after the Real Marriage controversy, there was another book controversy – this time plagiarism accusations were levelled and stuck. A few weeks later Driscoll tearfully told his congregation that he was going to take a leave of absence to deal with the negative fallout as well as address concerns about his (bullying) personality and how it had hurt people. That break turned into a resignation two months later. By October 2014 Mars Hill was shut down. It left a tidal wave of hurt.
  • New Church. Around 18 months later an announcement was made by the Driscoll’s that they were moving from Seattle to Arizona and starting a new church. Driscoll gave a teary and humbling interview with Brian Houston and appeared repentant. But…
  • Repenting… of Calvinism? In a recent interview the theological trajectory hinted at in his book ‘A Call to Resurgence’ has flowered into some ugly weed. In that interview Driscoll recants his former Calvinism (so what is he now?), and labelled those in the ‘young, restless, reformed’ camp (which he was willingly a part of) as young guys with daddy issues who love dead writers as mentors (because they won’t be like real fathers) and they love Jesus because he’s a brother and not a father figure.

I’m an optimist-realist and I’ll be honest and say that I was hoping for the best. Not just for Driscoll but ultimately for the Kingdom of God. I can now see that my hopes were misplaced. I had previously written to encourage caution and prayer and noted ‘Things went bad once. If they go bad again then we’re seeing really bad fruit that comes from a really bad place.’ Well, the smell of bad fruit is really beginning to waft – and it’s unsurprisingly disappointing.

The second fall has been less dramatic, but no less disappointing.

I became a Christian in 2001 at the rising fame of a guy called Joshua Harris. Harris had written a book a few years earlier, at the tender age of 21, on dating. Tim Challies has a helpful review on why this book took off the way it did – but basically, the Christian publishing machine was ripe for something like this book. And I jumped onto it. For various life reasons, I found his writing timely and helpful – modelling my own relationship and courtship on his.

[Some have questioned why we listened to a 21-year old on dating in the first place? In hindsight, it, of course, looks unwise and even foolish. Speaking from my own perspective I’d say that we listened to him because there was no other mentor figure who could help us navigate relationships in a Christian manner. Josh’s voice was speaking at the right time and engaging at our level. At a time before the internet made more voices, and better voices, readily available this was the best we could get.]

In the years since I was encouraged by where his ministry went. He understudied under CJ Mahaney, eventually became senior pastor of Covenant Life Church, and was a board member of The Gospel Coalition. For someone who had no theological training, or even an undergraduate degree, it was encouraging to see his trajectory into reformed theology from a distance.

And then things started changing.

In 2015 he made an announcement to step down as senior pastor of Covenant Life Church in order to pursue theological studies. He enrolled at Regent College, Vancouver and I thought this was going to be a good step. Some time to study, some time to grow and rejuvenate ready to pastor again.

A couple of years later there were murmurings that his views on his bestseller, and book that thrust him onto the scene, ‘I Kissed Dating Goodbye’, were changing. Shortly after a documentary came out re-evaluating his book’s main thrust, he contacted his publisher to stop printing it and released a statement online basically apologising for the hurt his book had caused. I thought this was a good step, and by now had not really promoted it as a good relationship book to read.

Around about the same time Harris made another move. I’m unsure whether he graduated from Regents College (it doesn’t look like it?), but he decided to step away from pastoring and into a new business venture as a marketing consultant. I felt saddened by this move – mostly that the Kingdom had lost another pastor to shepherd the flock, but I understood that sometimes life changes and people move onto different things. Hoping and wishing the best for him and his family.

Then a few days ago he announced with that he and his wife Shannon were separating. The announcement on Instagram is carefully worded, with all the right language you would expect of a crafted statement. This was deeply saddening. The reasons for the separation are vague – that ‘significant changes have taken place in both of us.’ But reading between the lines and noticing some posts on Shannon’s own Instagram profile – I think we’re going to hear of their deconversion stories soon enough.

It’s been a tough few days processing how these men have journeyed. There’s something about the public ministry of people that you feel connected with. Their teaching and lives weren’t just on paper. They were mentors when I didn’t have any, they were older men I looked up to and respected. And now I can’t help but feel a disappointment for them.

So how do we respond when the heroes and mentors we looked up to let us down?

Pray for Them

Pray for Driscoll to be truly humbled, and for the Spirit to work in him to awaken him to his error and call him to true repentance. Pray for the members of his church to be led well towards Christ. Pray that any future error would remain contained.

Pray for Josh, his wife Shannon, and his family. Pray for the Spirit to reconcile their lives not only to each other but also to Jesus faithfully. Pray that their past hurts would be healed by the gospel taking deep roots into their lives, and the Spirit would prevent them from swinging too far in the opposite direction of the perceived fundamentalism they are seeking to escape.

 

Pray for Yourself

Prayerfully reflect on your own weaknesses and failings. I don’t presently have a platform as big as Driscoll or Harris, but I am within my own limitations capable of failing as badly. So, I thank God’s grace in keeping me, and I pray to never presume upon his grace but to keep persevering in growing my own holiness and faithfulness in my life as a husband, father, and pastor.

The same can be said for us all as we look in on this situation.

 

Remember God is Sovereign

While God does gift his church with leaders and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, God is not solely dependent upon them. The fall of Christian leaders has happened far too often, and yet God’s church has never been threatened because of it.

This isn’t to say that people aren’t hurt or aren’t going to be hurt. That is a profoundly sad reality when Christian leaders fall or walk away. But we must be reminded that God is sovereign, he remains in control, and so it is appropriate to pray that He would be at work in and through these circumstances to bring fresh healing and gospel-hope to his people.

 

Don’t Quit Church

When Mars Hill Church folded there were many people who scattered and didn’t return to church. Some stayed on at the various campuses. Some of the campuses closed and no doubt other churches were grown by the transfer of affected members.

With the divorce of Josh and Shannon Harris, I’ve already seen people commenting that they’ve had enough of evangelicalism.

I understand.

But please, don’t give up on church. It is imperfect – sometimes profoundly imperfect – and yet it is the gathering that Christ gave his life for. God loves you, warts and all, and he loves his church warts and all as well. In His wisdom, He has set out a plan to demonstrate His glory through gathering imperfect people to love and serve each other. The sometimes failure of his leaders is a powerful reminder that everyone who steps into a church gathering needs His grace.

 

Feet of Clay

I think these sorts of failings also need to remind us all that even the best men and women have feet of clay. My other heroes and mentors have all been and are imperfect in various ways. That’s not a bad thing! All our heroes have feet of clay. Let’s not expect more of them than we expect of ourselves.

It’s also a reminder that the only hero who will never let you down is Jesus. Having recently finished preaching through the Gospel of Mark I was unsurprised and gently reminded that everyone around Jesus failed him. Peter, probably the one with the greatest potential, failed spectacularly in the final moments. Yet through the story, there was one steadfast figure: Jesus himself.

So, it’s not bad to have hero and mentor figures in our lives. And it’s also good to remember they are imperfect as well.

 

Keep Trusting the Gospel

The failure of some does not mean the failure of the message.

We’re presently walking through the letter of 1 John at SLE Church. I’ve come to see that a major pastoral issue in this letter is that a group of people had upped and left the church and had fallen into error and false teaching. The remaining Christians were being tempted to pursue after them – partly because they looked so impressive on the outside.

In response, John points out the façade of the false teacher’s exteriors and exhorts his readers not to abandon the gospel they first heard, and for which he and the other apostles were eyewitnesses. Cling onto it because not only is the gospel true, but it is also where comfort, life and eternity are found. Jesus offers real hope. To walk away from that is to abandon hope. So keep trusting what you heard from the beginning – it will be worth holding onto in the end.

 

Avengers Endgame Review, The MCU, and Biblical Theology

With around 40 screenwriters, 19 directors, and put together over a 10-year period, the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) seeks to tell one cohesive unified story.

It hasn’t always been perfect. There are plot holes and story threads that have simply been abandoned. At times the movies were clunky and overly jam-packed (see Thor 2, or Ironman 2 – IMHO), sometimes they were lacklustre (The Incredible Hulk), and there was a persistent villain problem (ie. several villains were cookie cut and uninspiring – can anyone remember the villains and their motivation from Thor 2, The Incredible Hulk, or Ant-Man?). But generally, they delivered on fun, entertainment, character and heart.

With the release of Avengers: Endgame, the fourth Avengers movie, the MCU’s ‘Infinity Saga’ (the movies of Phases 1-3 dealing with the Infinity Stones) has come to an end. It is not the end of the MCU, but it is the end of the road for a few characters and their arcs through the MCU.

So here’s my non-spoiler review of Endgame.

Avengers Endgame is the culmination of the previous 21 movies in the MCU franchise. After viewing it, there is a very real sense that this movie draws to a close a number of threads and character arcs that the past movies have been building up. And it does so in an incredibly satisfying manner. You will laugh, you will be delighted in the callbacks (if you can remember them all!), you will cheer in gleeful enjoyment, you will cry, and you will leave with a feeling that 22 movies have just been tied together in the most satisfying way.

Satisfying, I think that’s the word I would use to describe the profound sense I left with.

Everything pays off in this film. The relationships between key avengers is built upon and brought to its crescendo. Black Widow and Hawkeye, whose relationship extends before the MCU (with references to some incident in Budapest picked up in Avengers: Age of Ultron), have an incredibly poignant moment. Steve Rogers (Captain America) and Tony Stark settle their differences and re-establish trust in each other – and their screen time is not wasted.

Loss is fulfilled. Time provides opportunities for healing. Characters wrestle deeply with their failures.

And because of all this, the pacing of this movie is markedly different from part 1 – Avengers Infinity War. Where Infinity War was a constant and unrelenting romp from tense action to tense action, Endgame spends the first act of the movie very slowly developing story and character. The slowness of these early scenes isn’t tedious though, and except for one scene in the diner, IMHO, I didn’t think there was much fat to be trimmed.

The slower and intentional pace of the first act pays off big time in the final act. The regulation massive CGI battle can be a bit chaotic and confusing at times, but the audience is rewarded with some very big moments. And I mean big!

Is the movie perfect then? It sure is close.

Upon reflection, there are some callbacks which I felt were a little forced. Particular musical cues used in previous movies to heighten scenes are replayed in Endgame, but the direction of those scenes feels a little more clunky in comparison. Still, the weight of the moment settles in mostly because of the pathos already developed prior. So, in this way my issue isn’t that big.

But there is one nagging quibble, and for the past few days, it’s almost wrecked my enjoyment of the film. It has to do with the ending and what I feel is a moment of inconsistency within the movie. It didn’t stop me from still appreciating that final scene, nor did it prevent the tears for a character that I have most beloved in the MCU. And while I feel that I’ve mentally resolved the inconsistency, for now, I’m keen to find out more from the Directors, the Russo Brothers, how they explain that final scene and how it harmonises with the established rules of the movie.

When I step back and look at the MCU as a whole I can see a gallant effort on the part of multiple screenwriters and directors, and the oversight of Executive Producer Kevin Feige, to produce a massive multi-movie universe. It is an undertaking unlike any other in cinema history. Watching Endgame really did feel like you were a part of history being made. There have been other multi-movie franchises in the same universe – The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings and the Harry Potter movies to name a few – but these have been based upon novels of the same name. The Bond franchise has more recently had elements of continuity between their movies – especially with Daniel Craig in the title role, and Tom Cruise has put this into some effect with the Mission Impossible series as well. Star Wars should get an honourable mention as well.

But 22 movies in one shared universe telling one story? No one has ever tried that. And you can even see in the earlier movies that various risks were taken, and some risks not taken, on the hunch that this thing might work. When you rewatch the earlier movies, which I did recently in preparation for Endgame, you can pick up a vibe that the writers and directors were playing it slightly safe. Part of the villain problem that I noted earlier probably has to do with not wanting to take big risks, and the regular 3-part act culminating in a big CGI battle is their bread and butter. There’s a good argument to be made that Iron Man 3 – the most divisive of the Iron Man movies – changed the course of the MCU by allowing riskier and more creative directing and scripting.

The variance in voice, so to speak, of the writers and directors throughout the MCU’s 22 movie history is there. Sometimes it threatens the narrative of the unified story, and sometimes it feels as though later directors have to fix various characters along the way. Somehow the MCU has managed to keep the ship steady, headed towards this Endgame, with most of the character arcs making sense. Tony Stark begins the MCU as a self-absorbed narcissist playboy, by the end, he is a self-sacrificing family man at the heart of the Avengers. Thor begins the MCU as an arrogant entitled and ambitious son, and by the end – through failure – he discovers his true power and humility. Steve Rogers begins the MCU as a patriotic and naive soldier, whose trust in authority is broken by Winter Soldier/Civil War, and in the end, rises as the worthy leader of the Avengers. Through their movies, alongside others, we see these characters grow and develop – and that is what ultimately helps Endgame feel like its paid off.

With such an ambitious storytelling attempt, I can’t help in my own mind to consider another unified story which had multiple writers as well. The Bible is written by probably around +40 authors over a period of 1500 years across a wide geography but it tells one cohesive unified story.

But where the MCU sometimes stumbles, I’m amazed at how wonderfully cohesive the Bible is. With its large number of authors (most who never met) writing in various geographical locations across a much larger time span, no story thread is left out or abandoned, every theme of scripture finds its fulfilment and satisfaction – and all the more amazing because it does all of this wrapped up in the person, nature, and work of Jesus Christ. The MCU centres on a team to help save the world. The Bible centres on one man who saves in an even better way – by sacrificing his life in our place, and rising again as King over all.

And as you read the Bible in this way you will laugh, you will be delighted in the callbacks, you will cheer in gleeful enjoyment, you will cry, and you will see how 66 books of the Bible are tied together in the most satisfying way.

So there are my thoughts. What about yours? Did you enjoy the movie – and why? Pop your thoughts in the comments below – and remember: NO SPOILERS!