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!

The Cost of Following Jesus

Sometimes I get to preach a couple of weeks in a row, and often when Ben and I discuss the structure of a passage and realise that it would make sense for one preacher to take a particular block. This has happened to me these past weeks as I’ve gotten to preach from Mark 1:16 all the way through to Mark 3:6. The section has been broken in two, with part one looking at 1:16-45 and part two looking at 2:1-3:6.

As I was preparing for the sermon last week I noticed, with the aid of ‘Dig Deeper into the Gospels’, a chiasm that Mark has inserted into this section. A chiasm is a structure of writing in which two halves parallel each other in an ascending/descending fashion, often to highlight the middle portion. The chiasm in this section of Mark’s gospel looks like something like this:

A.   1:16-20 – Calling disciples to follow him

B.   1:21-28 – the Authority of Jesus teaching confirmed by a miracle

C.   1:29-34 – Healings

D.   1:35-39 – Jesus’ focus on preaching

C’.   1:40-45 – Healing the leper

B’.   2:1-12 – the Authority of Jesus to forgive confirmed by a miracle

A’.   2:13-14 – Calling Levi to follow him

You can see the small problem I had because we had originally planned only to go to 1:45 rather than through to 2:14 to cover the chiasm. This isn’t too big of a problem – many other commentators break up the structure of Mark at 1:45, and I was happy to work with that, but it did mean that because I was convinced of this particular chiastic structure I had to work out what to include and not include in the sermon.

So one of the things I dropped was the A, A’ bracket. While in the first service I shoe-horned it in, I dropped it for the second service as I realised it didn’t make much sense. Preaching 1:21-45 as it’s own unit made more sense – focusing more on the teaching of Jesus as confirmed by the miracles surrounding it all.

This coming week I’m preaching on Mark 2:1-3:6 and I’ve begun to notice something else: an escalating conflict between Jesus and the Pharisees.

It begins in 2:1-12 with the healing of the paralytic man. The authority of Jesus to forgive the paralytic man’s sins is questioned by the scribes – and rightly so. Only God can forgive – so their questioning of Jesus here makes sense, and we can give them the benefit of the doubt.

But then when Jesus calls Levi to follow him and hangs with the Tax Collectors and sinners (2:13-17) the Pharisees insert themselves again into the story asking why Jesus would hang around such people. Jesus’ response has a bit of a double edge (he came not to call the righteous – but no one is righteous… so is he saying that the Pharisees are self-righteous?).

By 2:18-3:6 we then have three incidences which escalate the dispute between Jesus and the Pharisees. They involve fasting and two incidences on the Sabbath until it finally ends in 3:6 with the Pharisees beginning their plot to kill Jesus.

It seems that the point of this weeks’ sermon will fall on the Pharisees and their objections to Jesus. Point A’ of the chiasm will, therefore, fall more naturally within the discussion on Jesus hanging with tax collectors/sinners.

So what this means is that discussion on the cost of following Jesus – which I was thinking I was going to highlight, is going to probably fall by the wayside.

And that’s why I’m blogging this – to say here what I was hoping to say on Sunday but realise is better left on the cutting room floor. Or the post of a blog.

On the cost of following Jesus

In Mark 1:16-20, and 2:14 we have two clear instances of Jesus personally calling disciples to follow him. Five men in these stories are called – Simon, Andrew, James and John (1:16-20), and Levi (2:14). In each of these stories we read that these men followed immediately – there appears to be no time elapsing in between the call and their decision to follow. There is no double checking with the spouses, no seeking permission from parents, just a simple act of responding.

And in each case, we can see a relatively massive cost to following Jesus.

First, there is the cost of leaving everything behind. By the description of the fishing operation, Simon and Andrew had a relatively successful business as fishermen – enough to own a home from it (cf 1:29). James and John were a part of a sizeable small business as well – not only were they also fishermen in what appears to be their father’s business, but the operation was large enough to require ‘hired servants (cf 1:20).

When Levi was called he was sitting at the tax booth – he was a tax collector. Given that these men would own the rights to tax collecting, and it was a relatively profitable venture, all these men gave up their wealth and ‘careers’ to follow Jesus.

There’s also the cost of leaving father (and mother). James and John were probably going to inherit their father’s business after he passed away. And yet here they were, not only turning their backs on this but also parting ways with their father whom they leave behind.

Following Jesus is a costly thing. In small ways we see here what Jesus demands of his followers later:

And calling the crowd to him with his disciples, he said to them, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. – Mark 8:34

“If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. – Luke 14:26

The Luke quote is hyperbole – over the top exaggerated language to make the point: Jesus comes first.

It’s no small thing to follow Jesus. But as we saw in the opening verses of Mark, Jesus – the authoritative teacher affirmed by his miracles – is worth following. He is worth the cost of giving up everything we have to follow him.

And that’s all I wanted to say about that.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Why ‘Representation’ matters

I had a strange moment over the recent holidays. For a while I’ve been a bit suspicious over discussions about ‘representation’ – the need for minority groups to more widely seen, predominantly on screen. I’ll admit that the height of my suspicion over this sort of relatively political debate came when the movie ‘Black Panther’ was released, setting and breaking all sorts of records and opening up the discussion about representation.

But over these past holidays, I had a couple of moments that have changed my mind.

The first incident was in the car. My three children love singing along with songs, and the two youngest (daughters) are particularly fond of the Disney Princess songs. In particular ‘Let It Go’ from Frozen and ‘How Far I’ll Go’ from Moana. Neither of them has seen the movies but they are familiar with the tunes. Them singing along in the car was nothing new, but I noticed that other songs which were equally played were not often sung to. Songs sung by male leads.

Then I noticed they gravitated towards another new song that I added to their playlist – ‘Gravity’ from the musical Wicked. Again, a song with two female leads was picked up quickly and often requested.

The second incident happened while Steph and I enjoyed a number of movies during our time off. We finally got to see ‘Crazy Rich Asians’ which I thoroughly enjoyed. It had its wonderful moments of humour – especially in playing up the Singaporean accents and culture (which I am so fond of – wonder why!) – but also poignant dramatic moments between characters. And perhaps for me, an Australian Born Chinese person, those scenes were heightened through the complex layering of Chinese culture into those moments.

It wasn’t just a relationship between characters that I saw on screen, with this new addition of a culture that I was familiar with the impact was so much greater.

I think I get this issue of representation now. It’s not just about seeing the faces and culture on screen. It’s about having your story known and understood.

I think I also understand a little more why minorities desire greater representation on screen. Whether it be Crazy Rich Asians, Kim’s Convenience, Black Panther, or other characters who are not simply typecast but are given layered, complex, central voices (ie voices that reflect real people living in the complexities of real life) – having someone to visibly connect with is both reassuring and empowering.

And as a Pastor, I think the desire for representation cuts into the core of all of us. Each individual yearns and desires that our personal stories are known and understood – not just by other individuals, but I think there’s a yearning in all of us that we be truly known and understood by God.

This is what makes the incarnation of Jesus even more special. God has come to earth, in the greatest act of representation. He enters into our world, into our story, to live and breathe like one of us. In Jesus, then, we find our ultimate source of representation – one who demonstrates that God truly knows and understands our condition.

I think I get now that representation isn’t just a political thing, but something that all of us yearn for.

A female lead in a song connects with my daughters and gives them a voice to sing along with. The Chinese face and culture on screen connects with me individually and reassures me that I’m known and understood.

And the incarnation connects with us all, and reminds all of us that God is not distant – but that he knows us intimately, desires to connect with us, and give us what all our hearts yearn for: restoration into right relationship with him.

Ignite Training Conference 2019 [Day 5] {LIVE BLOG}

Understanding what the scriptures say about the Holy Spirit

[Bittersweet, no matter how often I’ve been here at this conference Day 5 is filled with bittersweet feelings. In the immortal words of Ignite/BLT co-founder Ying Yee, ‘We’re exhausted and [hopefully] excited’ by God’s Word and God’s work in our lives, our churches, and the world. My strand group has been a delight to lead, conversations have been varied and deep, the talks have been monumentally helpful, and I’ve been delighted to recommend great books to people – praying that they will be read and applied joyfully in the lives of the readers. One more final talk and we’re done for another year – prayers for the strand groups and the delegates in the things that they have learned are appreciated!]

Morning Talk | John 5:19-30 | The Holy Spirit in Trinity | Tony Rowbotham

To understand another person, what must we know?

The way we grow to know someone is to hear them speak, to find out about them – to learn about their family. The best way to understand someone is to understand their family – because if you know that you know where they stand in relationship. To know someone in isolation is to know someone only in part.

If you want to understand the Holy Spirit you have to understand the Holy Spirit in the context of his relationships – and that is the Trinity. You cannot do justice to the knowledge of the Spirit without knowledge of the Trinity.

1. Relationships in the Trinity
Father and Son (5:19-30)

5:19 – Literally ‘the Son can do nothing by himself but can do only what he sees the Father doing’. Same idea is present in v30. This observation helps us to see what the Son can or cannot do – that Jesus can do only as the Father does, and nothing by himself.

In context Jesus has just done a miracle – a man has not been walking for years, and with a word Jesus helps this man to walk. But he gets into trouble because the miracle is done on the Sabbath, and also that he was calling God his own Father – making himself equal to God. The reaction of the Jews gives this away – they understand Jesus’ claim (even if we don’t).

We also see in this passage the Father has given the Son the right to judge and give life – and he does so by giving his Son authority (cf 5:24). Why? 5:20 – the Father loves the Son and shows him all that the Father does.

We see this also in Revelation 1:1 – God the Father gave the Son a revelation about himself. Didn’t the Son already know what he was on about? A pattern is established – the Father reveals to the Son, the Son reveals to us (in this case through an angel, in the NT through the Holy Spirit). This is the pattern of revelation (the revealing of God’s word).

The Father does this so that the Son will be honoured (cf 5:23) – and all who do not honour the Son do not honour the Father. Why does God give authority to judge and give life to Jesus? So that people will honour Jesus.

In Philippians 2 we read that everyone will honour Jesus – everyone will bow down to him – either in judgement or in worship.

5:30 – and so Jesus’ desire is to do the will of the One who sent him. We see this in 4:34 (my food is to do the will of him who sent me), 6:38 (I come from heaven not to do my will but the will of Him who sent me), 8:28-29 (I do nothing on my own, I speak only as the Father has taught me – I always do what pleases him), 17:4 (Jesus’ prays that he has glorified his Father by completing the work the Father has given him to do).

The Son obeys the Father in 14:31 is that he wants the world to know how much Jesus’ loves his Father – that the world may learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly as the Father has commanded me.

So we have this beautiful picture forming: who is at the centre of the universe of salvation and creation? The Father at the centre of all who points to his Son, and the Son who seeks to live only to please his Father, and we have the Spirit (in 16:13b-15) who only speaks what he hears from the Father and Son. We’re seeing here in the Trinity an other-person centred life. Each member of the Trinity wants to see the other glorified, expressed from love.

2. The Persons of the Trinity

Notice their roles – the Father does not obey the Son, the Spirit is not glorified like the Son, the Son does not seek to elevate his own personal will (not to say that he does not have a will). The persons of the Trinity are not interchangeable. [Yes! – Steven] And what we also see in the Trinity is not authoritarian and there is no subjugation. Instead we see loving authority, voluntary submission, mutual honouring, and love. Glory is when each person of the Trinity honours the other as appropriate for their personness. [Double yes!! – Steven]

Some applications.

First – love is at the centre of life because it is at the centre of the Trinity – which means love is at the centre of the Christian life. Love is best expressed when you love and seek the honour of others first. Love is not a gateway to self-indulgence, not a pathway to personal glory – but the life we are called to and the life that the Spirit helps us to live.

There are so many normal daily actions that are actions of love – volunteering to help car parking, those on rosters, choosing to chat someone who is alone, helping each other in our strand groups – love is at the centre of what we are called to do because it is the centre of who God is.

Second – freedom. Freedom is probably one of the highest values in Australia. We must not diminish another person’s capacity to freedom – do not tell me what to do and how to live, because if you do you are doing the wrong thing. It silences us when we feel the need to speak.

Consider Lady Gaga – a culture and trendsetter. In one of her lesser famous songs called ‘Hair’ her hair becomes a metaphor for freedom:

“I just wanna be myself
And I want you to love me for who I am
I just wanna be myself
And I want you to know, I am my hair

I’ve had enough, this is my prayer
That I’ll die livin’ just as free as my hair”

Freedom is what we have been trained to accept as the highest value.

But the truth is only God is truly free. And in his freedom the Father gives authority to his Son. The Son is free and lives to honour his Father. The Spirit is free and steps into the background so that the Son will be honoured. Each member of the Trinity is truly free – and true freedom from sin is freedom not to do whatever we want, but to seek the honour and love of another according to your personness.

Christ has set us free a Christians – from slavery and sin, from the Australian dream of freedom (which is actually slavery in itself). If you think that gap-year is the best thing you could do in life you’re thinking like an Australian and not like God. True freedom is found in who God has made us to be.

This could hurt sometimes. In Luke 22:42 the Son’s freedom hurts him – because doing the will of the Father at that moment (in the Garden of Gethsemane) was going to be costly.

Like in Netball – position determines how you play, what role you take, and what you can/should do.

The personness of each member of the Trinity shapes their work and what they do. And this is appropriate even for God. [Bam. – Steven] The Father is the originator from who all things come, and to whom all things will return (1 Cor 15), the Father sends the Son; the Son is sent, the Son obeys (the Father does not obey), he lives to seek the glory of the Father, to implement the Father’s plans and works because he is the Son; the Holy Spirit seeks the glory of the Son – that is what he wants! – he reveals the Son to us that we might be saved, and to help us say, ‘Jesus you are my Lord and you gave your life to me!’, he works through us to glorify the Son.

The glory of the Holy Spirit

See why the name of Father, Son and Spirit is important? We should maintain this language. There is in the revelation of God of the name of God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit).

Why is the third member of the Trinity called ‘Spirit’? Because Spirit does His work through others. The Spirit rests on and equips and directs Jesus’ mission. And so to the Spirit does the same to us – in us and through us. The Spirit is named so because his invisibility is actually important because he wants to place the focus on Christ, and he wants to do His work through others. This is the self-effacing nature of the Holy Spirit.

[Bam – what a fantastic talk helping us see the glory of the roles that each member of the Trinity freely and willingly take up.
Well that’s it, folks! Ignite talks are done. Thanks for following along, and prayerfully there will be more posts this coming year.]

Ignite Training Conference 2019 [Day 4] {LIVE BLOG}

Understanding what the scriptures say about the Holy Spirit

[Thursday is here. Everyone is getting pretty tired, but we’ve got another big day of learning. Thanks for joining me on this live blog – and if you’re coming in the evenings please check out the bookstall and let me help you find some great books for your growth in 2019 :)]

Morning Talk | Galatians 5:16-26 | Our Obligation to the Spirit | Tony Rowbotham

Romans 8:12-13

Because we are now in the Spirit we have an obligation – not to the flesh (for if you live according to the flesh you will die), but to the Spirit (for if you live according to the Spirit you will live). We have an obligation to the Spirit because we are now in his realm – and it is an obligation of grace.

When you walk into an Asian home you take your shoes off – you seek to honour the home of someone else. It is rude if you were to walk into someone’s home, sit on the lounge and put your shoes on the coffee table – take control of the remote, and raid the fridge. That would not be conduct which would honour the house of the owner. We have an obligation to honour the work of the Spirit that Christ has placed within us.

7 Marks of Spirited Living

1. Put Jesus first

John 15:26 – The Spirit is the Spirit who testifies to Jesus – through the words of the Apostles who testify to the death and resurrection of Jesus.

John 16:13 – the Spirit will guide the Apostles into understanding about him.

When you seek to bring about the glory of Christ that is when the mark of the Holy Spirit is within you. When you see in Jesus the death of a man who gave his life for sin, and when you see in his resurrection the power to raise people from the dead, and by simply putting faith in him you are set right with your Father in Heaven – that is the work of the Spirit.

In Ephesians 1 there are four blessings – they all come from Jesus – and every blessing takes us to Jesus.

So the first mark of Spiritual Living is to put Jesus first. Not to be on about the Spirit. If you’re a spiritual person you will be on about Jesus – his person and achievements.

2. You will be a person of the Word

You cannot elevate the Spirit without elevating the Word of God. All scripture is God-breathed, God-spirited. The task he gives the servant of God, to Timothy, is to preach the Word. That is your task, that is how the gospel comes to the world, and that is the task of the spiritual person.

Ephesians 6:17 – one of the parts of the armour of God is to take the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God. The cutting edge of God’s work in the world is through the word of God.

When you attempt to do a handyman job with the wrong tool it is bad – it takes way too long, and you can stuff it up way too easily. The tool that the Spirit gives to do His work in the world is the Word of God.

Go to a church that teaches the word. Go to bible study regularly. The most important thing you need to hear in the week is the Word of God.

What makes out the fourth soil in the parable in the sower? The fourth soil is the person who hears and accepts the Word of God. That is how you grow as a Christian, and how you ensure you’re the fourth soil.

To be a Christian without the Bible is to be Luke Skywalker without a lightsaber. [Noooooooooo! That’s not possible!! – Steven]

3. Prayer

1 John 5:14 – you can ask God for anything according to His will. What do children of God ask for? They ask for the things that the Spirit wants. They want to please their saviour, to live for him. So they can ask for anything – and what they want to ask for is what the Father wants – for what it means to live in the realm of the Spirit.

If we take this to heart it will revolutionise our prayers – we will pray as Paul prays, we will pray to know Christ better. Our prayers tend to be centred around stuff in our lives – and while it’s not bad to pray about the things of life, our prayers should be reformed and saturated by what is revealed in the Word of God. Spirit people’s prayers are different – for we will want what the Spirit wants.

4. Stay in step with the Spirit

When you’re in a three-legged race your obligation is to keep your legs in step together, otherwise it ends in a mess. Our obligation is to keep in step/walk in the Spirit.

Galatians 5:16-25 – how do we walk in the Spirit? First, we don’t gratify our flesh – we do not do whatever we want. There is a big conflict that happens inside a spiritual Christian – and the battle is not evidence that you are losing the war between sin and Spirit, the battle is evidence that you are indeed a child of God. If you sinned and did not care that is evidence that you are not a child of God.

Sometimes we think that to be spiritual is to have your life together. That is not true. To be spiritual is to battle – from new birth to new creation.

The acts of the flesh (6:19-21) – if we are in step with the spirit we will step away from these things. The fruit of the Spirit (6:22-23) – how much do we appreciate and celebrate the work of the Spirit within us? We are more patient because of the work of he Spirit within us. You are not just nice people, you are Spirited people – people who are keeping in step with the Spirit. This conference, this fellowship, is a work of God. God is to be praised – not you! This fruit ought to lead to the praise of God and not you! Sometimes we assume it’s the person – but it is truly the work of God.

Arrange your life around your obligations to the Spirit – what He values. Learn to value peace, love, joy, and self-control – more than productivity, freedom, or other things that the world says are more important.

What sort of person do you want to spend the rest of your life with? Make it someone who is going to help you arrange your life around our obligations to the Spirit. It requires discipline to say ‘No’ to a relationship with a non-believer. That takes discipline and courage. If you want to arrange your life around your obligations to the Spirit find a believer who does the same.

5. You are a child of God (Romans 8)

The greatest achievement of the Holy Spirit is that you have been made children of God.

You deserve judgement, and yet we receive sonship. We are brought right into the family – not just to observe the dinner table as an onlooker, but as a guest seated at the table.

We need constant encouragement to remember that we are children of God because we have yet to receive everything that children receive – our inheritance, to take off this body of sin and receive our redeemed bodies – so the Spirit is there to remind us that we haven’t received everything as sons and daughters… but we will one day!

Hebrews 5:7-8 – another form of suffering in our lives is the suffering of living a godly life. Think of Jesus in the wilderness – he suffered for his godliness. As you continue to say no to yourself and yes to God.

6. Know this verse (Ephesians 1:13)

You were included in Christ when you heard (and received) the gospel – when you believed you were sealed with the Holy Spirit. You believed the gospel of your salvation – when you believe that Jesus died and rose in your place, and He gave you His righteousness you received the Spirit in his fullness.

There is no second blessing to come.

No second blessing that you might do ministry better. When you believed that is when you received the Holy Spirit.

There is so much out there which is wrong on this – so much unhelpful or false teaching about second blessings of the Spirit.

When you have the Holy Spirit, the Holy Spirit is yet to complete his work in you. Some people speak of having the Holy Spirit meaning you have everything – but that’s not the teaching of scripture. The NT uses words like seal, deposit, first fruits to describe his ongoing work.

7. Mission

Matthew 28:18-20 – God’s Spirit is with us as we take the gospel to the world. If you’re a Spirit person you will be on about mission and will love mission.

Reflect upon these seven marks – which do we want to rejoice in and work on?

[You’ve heard of 9Marks of a Healthy Church? Here are 7 Marks of a Spirited person. Lots to chew on here!]

Evening Talk | John 17 | Jesus’ Prayer For Us | Paul Grimmond

1. Listening in on Jesus’ Prayer

These are the final words of Jesus as he leads up to the cross. This passage, these last words before he walks out to face his accusers, we find Jesus at prayer. Jesus finishes all his instructions by praying.

Imagine that – Jesus finishes by praying. God incarnate, the all powerful Son, heir of the universe, in authority over all creation under the Father stops and prays. Jesus knows he is dependent on his Father and needs His help.

This reliance on the Father is throughout this section – 14:28, 30-31; 15:10

Jesus is not only our lord and ruler but also our model of submission. He knows as he comes to the end of his life what it is to cry out to his Father for his needs and sustenance. Jesus was deeply aware of his need to depend on his Father – which puts our self-sufficiency to shame.

17:1 – Jesus’ lifting his eyes to pray. We have in this chapter the beautiful and immeasurably wonderful final words of Jesus in prayer.

Why is Jesus’ prayer recorded? Jesus said and did lots of other things that are not recorded (cf 20:30-31) – so John chose particular things that we need to know about Jesus in order to love and trust him.

2. Three prayers – all for us
   i.   Jesus prays for himself (17:1-5)

The very first words of Jesus’ prayer echo the words we started with on our first evening – the hour has come.  John 12:23 – the hour is something that will lead to the glory of Jesus. 12:27 – the hour is also a time of deep sorrow.

13:31-33 – Jesus is about to go the place that none of us can go. None of us can go to the cross to die for the sins of the world. Jesus’ hour of glory and sorrow is the hour of the cross. And so Jesus’ prayer in 17 is a prayer for God to give him the strength to go to the cross to fulfil his Father’s plan (17:5).

As John speaks this to all of us – he speaks in a way that is incredible to hear.

John 19 – see how John speaks of Jesus as the King – this chapter is dripping with irony – because everything that proclaims Jesus as King is done in mockery. And yet the remarkable thing what they do in mockery God the Father is doing in reality. What they proclaim is actually the truth – here is the King of the world being crowned in glory as he dies for you and me.

We don’t belong in the Father’s presence, not in our sinful state would we dare enter the presence of the living God. Jesus goes to the cross to take ALL of our sin so that we can walk into the presence of God so that God would say to us, ‘Welcome!’

Here is glory. The moment that redefines glory.

Paul’s confession: growing up desperately wanting to be famous. Paul played in a band, loved playing in front of a crowd – and dreamed of playing in front of a massive crowd. But he’s not the only one who has dreamed that. We all have dreamed that because we live in a world that elevates high achievement. The high marks, the musical certificate, the grand final win – and even FB which teaches us to chase ‘likes’. We live our lives for the approval of other people and we call that ‘glory’.

Jesus moment of glory is to suffer, to be spat upon, to be killed in service of his Father. This teaches us what true glory is. Glory is to honour the Father to give up ourselves for the wants and needs of the people around you. Some of the most glorious things you do will never be liked by everybody. True glory is the pleasure of the Father.

So true glory needs to be redefined in our lives. Please your heavenly Father and glorify the Son by the life you lead.

In praying this for himself Jesus is also praying for our benefit – that we might know and live for true glory.

   ii.  Jesus prays for his disciples (17:6-19)

Why is it important that Jesus prays about how the disciples have received him and believed him. Jesus, as he goes to the cross to be glorified, is also glorified in his disciples as the ministry of the Spirit uses the ministry of the disciples to deliver the good news of Jesus’ death to the nations.

v12 – a remarkable statement – why this phrase in this passage? A reminder that even Judas and his work in the betrayal of the Son was not an accident, mistake, or God not in control. God was in charge of the whole of Jesus’ death and resurrection.

The Bible is never shy about declaring the sovereignty of God. The most evil act that ever happened in the world was under God’s sovereign control. Acts 2:23 – Jesus delivered up according to the foreknowledge and plan of God. God gave his Son to the cross so that we could be forgiven.

This truth must form the bedrock of our life when we face suffering and the chaos of an out of control world. God in those circumstances will give us his Spirit to sustain us to get through. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that God is hands-off, gives us freedom and really wants us to love him – that’s now how the Bible expresses it. God is in control of every circumstance of your life.

So Jesus’ prayer for us – that even as the world hates us, that they not be taken out of the world but they be kept from the evil one.

Jesus also prays that we would take his gospel to the world. And while there has been debate about who should speak and share the gospel with the world the truth is that in the heart of all of us must be the heart of the Father for the world that we would love the world to tell them the gospel they so need to hear.

   iii. Jesus prays for us (17:20-26)

And finally at the end, in verse 20, he turns to pray directly to us.

So what does Jesus, as he goes to his death, pray for you and me? What does he ask for us?

Jesus prays the same thing twice within four verses:

v21 – unity. v23 – unity = so that the world will know that Jesus has been sent into the world.

He prays for our unity so that our world will know who He is.

The same thing is said in 13:34-35 – if God’s people love one another the world will know they are disciples.

Two big principles to living this out:

First – what Jesus is calling us to is a unity of heart, mind, and purpose about the truth about Him. Our job is to workout how to be in gracious, forgiving, Jesus-centred relationship with all the people who God has placed around you. The people you like and the people who drive you nuts.

So are there brothers and sisters to whom you are currently out of fellowship? Are there people you hold a grudge against? Is there someone you’re holding bitterness against? You’re running away from because you’re angry with them?

If Jesus has died to unite us to the Father it is not enough for us to say, ‘I don’t like them and don’t want to see them again – and all will be ok.’

Speaking and seeking reconciliation won’t always work – but we are told to seek the risk of it because we belong together for the Lord Jesus Christ.

Maybe we need to acknowledge the wrong we have done, maybe we need to point out the wrong done to us – and there will be 1000 excuses to avoid sending that message to catch up – yet be encouraged to work towards being united. This requires an incredible amount of grace.

Have you ever noticed that when you get into an argument with somebody you both say, ‘You started it.’? What is it that we are hoping when we say that? We’re hoping that they will acknowledge they started the wrong and that justifies every wrong that happened after that. But their sin does not justify your sin – their wronging you does not justify gossiping or slandering them.

As you open up and own what you’ve done wrong doesn’t negate what they have done wrong – but we are to take the first step towards reconciliation.

Second – because unity is so precious to Jesus and so precious to Jesus’ people – it is a truth we should expect to be deeply exploited by Satan. Unity does not mean we agree everything is right and hold hands and sing songs together. The Apostle John who heard this teaching wrote in 1 John 2:18-19 about false teachers. We don’t know what happened in 1 John but there appears to have been a group gone out from John’s church and not because of some disagreement but because they are abandoning the gospel. Then in 1 John 2:21-24 John goes on to call them back to the truth – so it looks like these “brothers and sisters” were going out and teaching lies.

We don’t have fellowship for the sake of fellowship.

So we need deep discernment with people who say they are brothers and sisters around our city, nation and globe. We need to overlook folly, sin, and lack of wisdom – but we need to so know the truth and hold onto it that when people reject the deep truths about Christ we need to say to them we no longer belong to you and you no longer belong to Christ.

This is very hard work. As sinful humans we tend to choose the wrong option – we hold onto truth when we need to forgive, or we forgive and let go of truth. But we need to do the hard work on this to get it right.

3. What about the work of the Spirit?

While the first passage on the first night and this final passage don’t tend to speak of the Spirit – His work is deeply woven in all of these passages.

What is the purpose of a spotlight in a dark concert hall? It’s job is not to draw attention to itself – but to draw attention to the singer. That’s the Spirit’s job – to focus attention on Jesus. So if we’re not talking about him and talking about Jesus the Spirit is delighted! Because that’s what it wants!

Ephesians 4:1-3 – we are to eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit – but the Spirit doesn’t sulk because it doesn’t get a mention in John 17 because Jesus is only speaking about unity and not about him. He is delighted because Jesus is speaking what the Spirit desires – unity around the Son.

We speak about the work of the Spirit all the time in our churches – because when we focus on Jesus we are doing what the Spirit delights.

Do not let people accuse you that you are not a “Spirit Christian” or not a “Spiritual Person” because you do not speak of the Spirit that much.  We are the people of the Spirit because we understand what the Spirit is doing – and when we speak of the work of the Father and Son we are doing the work of the Spirit.

[The Spirit delights when we do not speak of him but speak of Jesus for that is what the Spirit desires. What a wonderful teaching! May we be ‘Spirit’ people because we so love the Father and Son and speak of their work in this world.]