Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Not a Ponzi scheme

A friend once suggested to me that as evangelicals, we sometimes make the Christian life sound like a Ponzi scheme. It is a warning that has stuck with me. We rightly emphasise the urgency and priority of evangelism and encourage all believers to be involved in it, but we can sometimes give the impression that the only reason for being a Christian is to introduce others to the scheme.

At least two points are worth making:

First, following Jesus means whole life discipleship. It means obeying everything that Jesus has commanded. The Christian life is the continuation of the Cultural Mandate. We are about seeking God’s Kingdom increasingly on earth as it is in heaven. We pray that through the preaching of the gospel in the power of the Spirit we might see the world transformed from one degree of glory to another. We are about faithful disciples, not just willing converts or momentary decisions. We seek first the Kingdom. We want to love God with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and our neighbour as ourselves. The vision for the Christian life is far greater and more variegated than simply seeking to sign up others.  

Second, there are many motivations for evangelism, such as concern for the glory of God and obedience to Christ, but building my empire or seeing my church grow for my sake, are not good reasons. Evangelists always need to respect those with whom they share the gospel. Love for others is amongst those things that should compel us to speak. Of course, to tell someone of the rescue which Jesus offers is the most loving thing that we can do. We need to listen as well as speak and show a genuine care for those with whom we seek to share the Good News. Their flourishing is found in Christ. They are made in the image of God and loved by him. We must never treat them as if they are only merely potential proselytes and pew-fillers.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The world's most expensive book

The world's most expensive printed book is the Bay Psalm Book printed in 1640, which sold at a Sotheby’s auction for £8.8 million ($14.2 million) on 26 November 2013.

In the Coronation service, the Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland presents the monarch with a Bible and calls it “the most valuable thing that this world affords”. Isn’t that striking? The Bible is more precious than crown, and orb, sceptre, fine robes, all the pomp and glory of the coronation – more precious than a whole kingdom, even.

The Psalter itself reflect that view of the words of God:

"The decrees of the Lord are firm,
    and all of them are righteous.
They are more precious than gold,
    than much pure gold"

(Psalm 19vv9-10)

(Thanks to a friend for linking to the Abe Books article on Facebook)

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Exodus "Summary" / Some Key Lessons

I have just finished a sermon series of around 30 sermons in the book of Exodus. As I look back on my notes, I realise I still can't spell Pharoh!

For the final sermon I had Exodus 40:1-5, 16-19, 30-end and Revelation 21:1-4, 22-end read and tried to give something of a summary and re-cap of some of the lessons we had learned along the way. No doubt it was very selective and inadequate but just in case it is ever of any interest or use to anyone, here are some jottings:

You remember the background to the book that God had made promises to Abraham

Promises of (1) people (2) land (3) blessing

By the time of Jacob or Israel, those promises had begun to be fulfilled.

Jacob had 12 sons who each had a family, which would become the 12 tribes of Israel.

But in the time of Joseph, of Technicolour dream-coat fame, there had been a famine in the land and Jacob had moved his family to Egypt, where God had already had Joseph appointed Prime Minister!

One of the great lessons of the book of Exodus is that God always keeps his promises.

By v7 of chapter one, God’s promise of making them a great people was well on it’s way to fulfilment:

“the Israelites were fruitful and multiplied greatly and became exceedingly numerous, so that the land was filled with them”.

They are perhaps not quite as many as the sand on the seashore or the stars in the sky, as God had promised Abraham, but they are no far off!

Pharaoh, of course, has other ideas.

He enslaves and oppresses the people and ruthlessly makes their lives bitter with hard labour (1:10-14).

 But we say how God’s plans are unstoppable.

The more the people were oppressed, the more they multiplied and spread. (1v12)

 Pharaoh ordered the midwives to kill the baby boys, and they bravely disobeyed him.

We learnt that God uses ordinary people to fulfil his purposes.

God used Moses sister and mother too, to ensure that Moses was saved.

God even used Pharaoh's daughter.

Remember how Moses’ mum ended up being paid for looking after her own son!

At the end of chapter 2, we saw that God hears his people’s cry.

He remembered the covenant he had made with Abraham.

God looks on his people and is concerned about them.

God means to come to the rescue!

At the burning bush, we saw that God reveals himself.

He wants his people to know him personally, he reveals him name:


I am who I am

God promises his people deliverance and freedom.

He will bring them out by his mighty hand.

Although Pharaoh stubbornly hardens his heart, God’s plan is unstoppable.

 We saw how God acted in salvation and judgement.

 The Passover (ch 12)

The crossing of the red sea (ch 13-14) – salvation and judgement

The people’s sin and God’s gracious provision

Manna & Quails (chapter 16)

Water from the rock (chapter 17)

God gives them his law (chapters 19-23) – The 10 Words (chapter 20)

The order is important:

God saves his people

He tells them how to live in response

God makes his covenant with the people (Ex 24)

The people break the covenant in ch 32, The Golden Calf

God nevertheless has mercy on them for Moses sake

 Moses acts as the mediator / intercessor / God between (Ex 33-34)

 God forgives them for Moses sake

The greatness and glory of God

The awesome holiness of God

The tabernacle

how to build it in ch 25-31

            the actual building of it in ch 35-40

Refrain “just as the LORD had commanded Moses” (39:1, 4, 7, 21, 26, 29, 32, 42) 7x

God is to be worshiped in God’s way

The importance of obedience

The importance of putting God’s word into practice

The Tabernacle a series of no entry signs

Sacrifice - X

The Tabernacle:

  1. God in the midst of his people
  2. God on the move with his people

    The presence of God with his people
    Cloud – cf. Royal Standard above palace – God is in residence, even though he can’t actually be seen

    The climax of the book is the obedient completion of the tabernacle and God’s glorious presence with his people, God guiding them and going with them.
    God’s promise is fulfilled.

    This same glorious God is with us.
    God means to guide us and lead us.
    He means to bring us not to a physical, earthly promised land nation state but to heaven and after that to the new creation.

    The ultimate vision of the book of Revelation:
    God dwelling with his people
    No temple

A hymn worth resurrecting

The other day I sang 'Immortal honors rest on Jesus’ head', which is a good old hymn by William Gadsby I don't know as well as I should. It is worth singing, I reckon. So this is a helpful public service announcement. The meter seems to be
 though that is not really my department. I think we sang it to the tune of 'Abide With Me' which seemed to work well, though you wouldn't want it too dreary! No doubt other good tunes, some of them more upbeat, are available! Happy singing!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Exodus 34 sermon notes

Look away now if you are coming to church in my parishes tomorrow.

It could go something like this? (Love the neat pithy headings, eh?!)

EXODUS 34 (page 93) & 2 CORINTHIANS 3 (p1159)

THE COVENANT RENEWED: The Compassionate God of the Second Chance

A great and important chapter

                The chapter which the OT itself most frequently quotes etc.

Summary of what happens: Through Moses, God re-made his covenant (Ex 24) with his people after they had broken it (Ex 32) (v27)

                2 new stone tablets with the 10 Words (v1)

(vv1-5 like a repeat of chapter 19)

  • Praise God for 2nd (& 3rd & 4th etc.) chances

    The relevance of this for us:

  1. This is our God, the living and true God – and he does not change
  2. The way God deals with us under the New Covenant through Jesus is similar to the way he dealt with his people under the Old Covenant through Moses

    God spoke to Moses, God proclaimed (v5ff) – the Word of God not an image

    God revealed his name / character (v6-7)

  1. Yahweh, Yahweh –The LORD - I am who I am (Ex 3:13-15)
  2. El, God (of power) 
  3. compassionate and gracious
  4. slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness & truthfulness / faithfulness (reliable, trustworthy)
  5. keeping loving kindness to the thousands (generous) – (obviously not nasty Old Testament God and nice New Testament God!)
  6. forgiving iniquity, transgression and sin and surely not leaving it unpunished (seems almost contradictory – How? - it’s the sacrificial system which answers this and ultimately the final sacrifice of Christ, substitutionary atonement)
  7. visiting the iniquity of fathers on the children and grandchildren to the third and fourth (generation) – cf. 20:4-6

    Jealous (v14; 20:5) – passionate protective commitment, not the green-eyed monster, not envy – a kind of love (the opposite is indifference)

    Moses is the mediator / intercessor / go-between (v8-9)

  • Moses (and we) may relate to God (argue with him in prayer) on the basis of the Name he has given us to use – how to argue with God!

    God forgives his people (v7, 9) and agrees to go with them despite their sin

    God reiterates his promises of a Land for his people (v11)

  • God calls his people to covenant loyalty (v10ff)

    e.g. obedience (v11), no compromise with other cultures (v12, vv15-16), no idolatry (v13, v17), sacrifice to God (vv19-20), Sabbath (v21), keep the feasts (v22-23), give to God first (v26) 

    Jesus the new and better Moses is the mediator / intercessor of a New and better covenant

    Jesus is the ultimate sacrifice for sin by which God can both justly punish wickedness and forgive (The problem of v7 solved. Romans 3:25-26)

    We see the Name and greater Glory of God more fully revealed in Jesus (2 Cor 3:7-11)

  • We are to increasingly reflect the glory of God (as Moses did? – v29ff) as we “look at” Christ (in the Scriptures) – (2 Cor 3:18)

    God renews his New Covenant with you in Christ today! à Respond in faith and commitment to him as you reflect on Christ (from the Scriptures) with the Spirit’s help

  • Pray that God would make us increasingly faithful to the New Covenant

  •  Give thanks for God’s transforming power in the gospel of Jesus Christ

Wednesday, September 09, 2015

Luke's Gospel - Book Group Notes

For what they're worth. Not that we followed them slavishly. And drawing on Dr Bock:

Parish Book Group Notes on LUKE’S GOSPEL

I’ve got some questions up my sleeve and some things I thought we might talk about, but have you got any comments or questions or anything you wanted to raise?

Anything you found especially striking?

(some of my questions are quite hard so if we haven’t got anything to say about them we can move on and maybe come back to them later)

(the longest gospel – see Bock p1

(date – early to mid 60s – Bock p18

(where written – anyone’s guess! – Bock, p18

Why do you think Luke wrote this book?


(Luke a companion of Paul – the ‘we’ sections of Acts – 16:10-17; 20:5-15; 21:1-18; 27:1-28:16)

‘Despite the wide selection of potential candidates available as companions of Paul [who might have written this gospel], the tradition of the church gives attention to only one name as the author of these volumes – Luke. That tradition was firmly fixed in the early church by AD 200 and remained so without any hint of contrary opinion’ (Bock p5) – e.g. 1 & 2 Clement, Justin Martyr

The Muratorian Canon ca. 170-80 calls Luke the author of the Gospel, a doctor and a companion of Paul

Let’s look at Luke’s introduction (1:1-4).

Where do you think we see evidence of Luke’s careful investigation? (What do you think of Luke as an historian?)

In what sense is this an “orderly account” (v3)?

How does the gospel encourage us to “know the certainty of the things we have been taught” (v4)?

How might Theophilus be reassured by reading this gospel?

What do you think the main things Luke wants us to grasp are?

Given that we have 4 gospels in the New Testament, 3 of which are pretty similar to each other, what do you think we would miss out on if we didn’t have Luke’s gospel?

LUKE’S GOSPEL – A Summary & An Outline from D. Bock

Bock’s summary:

‘Luke’s gospel is pastoral, theological, and historical. The reality of God’s plan influences how individuals see themselves and the community to which they belong. Old barriers of race are removed. New hope abounds. There is to be no doubt that the message of Jesus is one of hope and transformation. Anyone, Jew or Gentile, can belong. At the centre is Jesus, the promised Messiah-Lord, who sits at God’s right hand exercising authority from above. He will return one day and all will be accountable to him. His life, ministry, resurrection, and ascension show that he has the ability to be trusted. He can bring God’s promises to completion, just as he has inaugurated them. In the meantime, being his disciple is not easy, but it is full of rich blessings that transcend anything else this life can offer. This is the reassurance about salvation that Luke offers to Theophilus and others like him.’ (p43)

Bock’s outline:

  1. Luke’s preface and the introduction of John and Jesus (1:1-2:52)
  2. Preparation for ministry: anointed by God (2:22-40)
  3. Galilean ministry: revelation of Jesus (4:14-9:50)
  4. Jerusalem journey: Jewish rejection and the new way (9:51-19:44)
  5. Jerusalem: the Innocent One slain and raised (19:45-24:53)

Darrell L. Bock, Luke: Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Baker Academic, 1994)

LUKE’S GOSPEL’s particular emphasis / compared to the other Gospels

The 4 gospels have some material in common.

Matthew, Mark and Luke have quite a lot in common. (They are sometimes known as the ‘synoptic’ gospels because they see things (optic) broadly from a similar (syn) point of view).

Matthew and Luke also share some material in common. Some scholars claim that Matthew and Luke may have shared a source which is known as ‘Q’ from the German word ‘Quelle meaning ‘source’ which contained some sayings of Jesus, but there is no physical evidence that such a thing ever existed. No one has ever found a copy of this supposed source ‘Q’.

No one really knows whether any of the gospel writers knew and used each other’s books, though scholars have their rival theories.   

About 42% of Luke’s Gospel might be said to be unique to him (Bock, p12).

The following material is unique to Luke’s Gospel:


The Good Samaritan (10: 29-37)

The Importunate Friend (11:5-8)

The Rich Man who built bigger barns (12:16-21)

The Fig Tree (13:6-9) -- transformation of fig tree episode in Mark and Matthew.

The Prodigal Son (15:11-32)

The Crafty Steward (16:1-9)

The Rich Man and Lazarus (16:19-31)

The Unscrupulous Judge (18:1-8)

The Publican and the Sinner (18:9-14)


Warning about greed (12: 13-15)

Suffering not linked to guilt (13:1-5)

Places of honour at table (14:7-14)

Costs of discipleship (14: 25-35)

Necessity of a purse and a sword (22:35-38)

Narrative episodes:

Entire infancy narrative: birth of John the Baptist, birth of Jesus, presentation in temple, his encounter in temple with teachers of the Law (Chapters 1 and 2)

Miraculous draft of fish (5:1-11)

Widow's son at Nain (7:11-17)

Woman who bathes Jesus' feet with tears (7:36-50)

The women who accompany Jesus (8:2-3)

Sending of the seventy-two (10:1-2)

Martha and Mary (10:38-42)

Healing of a crippled woman on the Sabbath (13:10-13)

Healing of a dropsical man on the Sabbath (14:;1-6)

The Samaritan leper (17:11-19)

Repentance of Zachaeus (19:1-10)

Jesus weeps over Jerusalem (19:41-44)

Jesus before Herod (23:6-16)

Meeting with "daughters of Jerusalem" (23:26-32)

The good and bad thieves (23-39-43)

Appearance on the road to Emmaus (24:13-35)

(list cut and pasted from the internet!)

What did you make of Jesus (as Luke presents him)?

What would Luke say about:

  1. Who Jesus was? (9v19ff)
  2. Why Jesus came? (9v22)
  3. What it might mean to follow Jesus? (9v23ff)

    Were there any characters in the gospel you identified with? Why?

    Would you agree that Luke has a particular concern for outsiders / the marginalised? How does that come across in the gospel? What examples come to mind?
    1v51-53 -  ‘He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.’
    The Nazareth Manifesto – poor, prisoners, blind, oppressed – 4v14ff
    Jesus’ description of his ministry for John’s disciples – 7v22
    Not taking the best seats and whom to invite to your dinner parties – 14v7ff

    (Women, gentiles / Samaritans – see below)

    The sick and demon-possessed

    Touching the leper – 5v12ff
    tax collectors – Zacchaeus – 19v1; 3:12, tax collectors baptised by John the Baptist; Levi – 5v27ff – 7v29 – 15v1 – tax collectors and ‘sinners’, v7
    the thieves on the cross – 23v39ff
    Barabbas – 23v18f

    Samaritan – 9v51ff
    Good Samaritan – 10v25ff
    Samaritan leper – 17v11ff – v18 – “foreigner”
    Samaritans claim descent from the Israelite tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh (two sons of Joseph) as well as from the priestly tribe of Levi, who have links to ancient Samaria from the period of their entry into the land of Canaan

    The poor
    6vv20-21 - "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh.’
    The dangers of riches – the rich fool – 12v13ff
    12v33 – give to the poor
    the parable of the rich man and Lazarus – 16v19ff

    Luke may be the only Gentile (non-Jewish) Bible writer. Do you think his gospel would be of special interest to Gentiles? Why? How?
    See Bock p6
    Samaritans (above)
    2v32 – a light for revelation to the gentiles
    The widow of Zarephath and Naaman the Syrian – 4v26f
    7v1ff – the centurion whose servant is sick esp. v9
    10v13 – Tyre and Sidon
    The Ninevites and the Queen of the South (Sheba) – 11v29ff
    The parable of the fig tree about judgement on Israel – 13v6ff and the parable of the tenants in the Vineyard – 20v9ff
    13v29 – ‘people will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God’
    The parable of the banquet – 14v15ff – the original guests the people of Israel?
    The centurion at the cross – 23v47

    Luke is often said to show a particular concern for women too. Did you notice that? What did you make of the women in the gospel?
    The birth account in Matthew might be said to concentrate on Joseph’s perspective; in Luke’s gospel we seem to have more of Mary’s point of view
    Elizabeth – 1v39ff
    Anna the prophetess – 2v36ff
    The healing of Simon Peter’s mother in law – 4v38ff
    The sinful woman – 7v36ff
    8vv2-3 – women who followed Jesus
    The dead girl (Jairus’ daughter) and the sick woman with the bleeding – 8v40ff
    Mary & Martha – 10v38ff
    Crippled woman – 13v10ff
    Woman who lost coin (parable) – 15v8
    The persistent widow (parable) – 18v1ff
    The widow’s offering – 21v1ff
    21v23 – “How dreadful it will be in those days for pregnant women and nursing mothers)
    23v55 – ‘The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it.’

    (13:34 – Jesus likens himself to a hen with her chicks)

    Forgiveness and salvation are also identified as themes of this gospel. Did that stand out for you? How so?

    Luke was possibly a slave or former slave. In Colossians 4:14, Paul speaks of ‘Our dear friend Luke, the doctor’. Does the gospel reflect these things?
    Special interest in healing miracles?
    (medical vocabulary sometimes claimed but not especially convincing)

    What difference does it make to think of Acts as the second volume of Luke-Acts?

    How would you sum up this gospel and the effect it’s had on you?

    What would you right for the blurb?

    Would you recommend it to a friend and why?

Monday, September 07, 2015

Principle & Pragmatism in Christian Leadership

I notice that The John Owen Centre annual conference, which started today, is on Putting Theology into Practice: Principle and Pragmatism in Church Life. It is an interesting subject and I hope it will be possible to listen to the audio online.

People sometimes talk of a principled pragmatism. And I guess I'm in favour of that. God would have us learn wisdom and maturity, partly from observing how the world works. We want to go with the grain of the universe God has made and under him seek to do what will be effective. Christian leadership, like politics, is sometimes the art of the possible. There are ditches to die in, but one must choose well.

But of course one cannot choose pragmatism at any price. Better to die than to sin.

And even if an obvious outright sin is not being advocated, there are so many tough judgement calls.

For example, the Bible doesn't tell you how long your sermons should be. If (some of) the (loudest!) the people want 7 minutes and no more, thank you very much, should you preach for 6, 7, 12, 15, 20, 30 or 45 minutes? It is not easy to say which is the principled or pragmatic approach. For example, it maybe that ultimately 20 minute sermons are pragmatic. If God grows his people though his Word prayerfully preached in the power of the Spirit, maybe a decent chunk of that will, in the long run, be the path to growth, even if there are some growing pains along the way. What is easiest in the short term may not be best, or even most effective. Sometimes a little pain now can mean gain, and less difficulty in the future.

For the Christian worker, effectiveness always ultimately means faithfulness and seeking the blessing of God. Nothing of eternal significance can be achieved unless the Lord builds the house. So it turns out to be pragmatic to be principled. The most effective thing to do for the Kingdom is to prayerfully seek to do the right thing, to obey the Word of God as best you can. Seek first his Kingdom and his righteousness and see what the Lord will add.

Leaders must of course lead. They need to be out ahead of the people to do this. But the leader also has to take people with him. If no one follows, he ceases to be a leader. It can't always be my private principles or the Highway. Others must be persuaded that the way the leader wants to go is God's way.

No doubt the good John Owen Centre folks will have a lot more useful and thought through things to say.

Sunday, September 06, 2015

God (the Father) has no body

Durring today's all-age family service (!), preaching on Exodus 33, I had occasion to mention that God the Father doesn't have a literal physical body and hence no face or back. Such language might be called metaphorical. (Though I might want to say God has real faceness, backness, handness, earness, eyeness etc. He is the original; we are the copies).

Here are some jottings on the subject from 2006.

One might also point to the C of E's 39 Articles of Religion, Article 1:

I. Of Faith in the Holy Trinity
There is but one living and true God, everlasting, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom, and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in the unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power, and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost. 

And The Westminster Confession of Faith, Chapter 2 (for which Scripture Proofs are available):

I. There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty.[24]

Saturday, September 05, 2015

Sacramental Tapestry

The Revd Dr Hans Boerman is the J I Packer Prof of  Theology at Regent College.

I have only just started his book
Heavenly Participation: The weaving of a sacramental tapestry (Grand Rapids / Cambridge, Eerdmans, 2011)

but I think it is going to be very interesting.

Here are the bits I have typed out so far:

“Both [modernity and postmodernity], I believe, are predicated on the abandonment of a premodern sacramental mindset in which the realities of this worldly existence pointed to greater, eternal realities in which they sacramentally shared.” (p2)

[The notion of a] “sacramental tapestry”… speaks of a carefully woven unity of nature and the supernatural, according to which created objects are sacraments that participate in the mystery of the heavenly reality of Jesus Christ. Schmemmann makes the point [in For The Life of the World] that everything in the so called world of nature is meant to lead us back to God. By treating the world as a eucharistic offering in Christ, received from God and offered to him, we are drawn into God’s presence.” (p8)   

“In the church’s sacraments – baptism and Eucharist – we witness the supernatural restoration of nature to its original purpose. The purpose of all of matter… is to lead us into God’s heavenly presence, to bring about communion with God, participation in the divine life. Thus are the church’s sacraments simply the beginning of the cosmic restoration. The entire cosmos is meant to serve as a sacrament: a material gift from God on and through which we enter into the joy of his heavenly presence.” (p9)

Andrew Greenly, The Catholic Imagination – living in “an enchanted world… the Holy lurking in creation… our world haunted by a sense that the objects, events, and persons of daily life are revelations of grace” Greenly, p1, Boersma, p10

“This Catholic imagination, Greenly goes on to say, “can be appropriately called sacramental. It sees created reality as a ‘sacrament,’ that is, a revelation of the presence of God.” Greenly p5, Boersma p10