Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Acknowledging the kids' helpful use of scrap paper

I normally read the Acknowledgements with interest. Sometimes they are boring and bland. Much better to include some life. I enjoyed this from Lewis Ayres', Augustine and the Trinity (CUP, 2010):

'Anna Catherine Edith, Thomas Francis Augustine and Iain Harry George Gabriel have not been much concerned with Daddy's book: it is not in rhyming couplets, it does not concern Jedi knights and does not come with pictures. But they have been delighted that I have been willing to provide so much paper, with one side oddly used, for colouring and drawing. Their productions on this paper - from treasure maps to 'sacry things' - have frequently been wonderfully diverting. (p.xi)'

My own children often pop into the study to collect my old sermon notes to use as scrap paper, so it struck a chord. I am praying for grace always to embrace the diversion!

Oh, and Thomas Francis Augustine counts as some good theological Catholic names, eh?

The Regulative Principle of Public Worship

If you had a really strict view of The Regulative Principle of Public Worship (that is, that everything done in the Lord's Day service requires an explicit and clear New Testament command), what New Testament text would you appeal to for that?

If there isn't one, then this form of RP is self-defeating, isn't it? The Regulative Principle rules out the Regulative Principle, one might say?

Monday, March 28, 2016

Christian walk?

There is something to be said, I think, about the Christian life as a walk with the Lord. And a purposeful one: yes, we may stroll with the Lord in the cool of the day, but the Christian life is not an aimless amble: it is a journey, a pilgrimage with a destination. It is a race, but a marathon, not a sprint. And since it is a battle, it is also a march. Perhaps too it is a dance.

Zeal without Burnout

Christopher Ash, Zeal Without Burnout: Seven Keys to a Lifelong Ministry of Sustainable Sacrifice (The Good Book Company, 2016) hardback, 123pp

A really helpful practical little book which I imagine would be worth the time of most pastors and many others. It's not a hard read but it deserves thinking about. Ash suggests taking the time to seek to do a self-check.

Ash's advice is biblically and theologically grounded and born of long experience, both personally and in helping others. As well as being honest about being on the brink of burnout or worse himself more than once, Ash includes the moving and instructive stories of various other Christians. There is undoubtedly much wisdom mere.

Even if there is not much here that is new, the book is a helpful reminder and because it gives big principles as well as a few specific tips, it could have a profound impact.

Medical doctor and pastor, Steve Midgley, gives a short appendix on what burn out is, warning signs and practical steps.

The book goes something like this:

Distinguish between sustainable sacrifice and burnout
Remember that you are a creature of dust
We need sleep, days off*, friends an inward renewal
Beware celebrity / ungodly ambition / pride
Christian service is worth it
Rejoice in the grace of God not just in the gifts he may have given you

* - Ash calls this a Sabbath but doesn't get into debates about the nature of the Christian Sabbath. What he is talking about is the principle of normally sticking to a day off a week.

Roger Scruton on Atheistic Ingratitude


Easier Easter All Age Talk

Friends have noticed that if you take the 't' out of Easter and add an 'i' you make it Easier. And that the 't' could be said to be cross-shaped. I wonder if there is the germ of an educational all age Easter talk here on Jesus' words in Gethsemane: not what I want, but your will be done. Thank God that Jesus didn't take the easy way out but that he went to the cross for us.

This could perhaps be combined with some kind of anagrams or acrostic thingy or something.

There is at least almost a whole year to think about it!

Saturday, March 26, 2016

The Significance of the Resurrection

The Significance of the Resurrection

§  A neglected subject?

- the centrality of the cross (cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4; Acts 4:2, 33)

- busy defending the bodily resurrection / empty tomb

Past Event

§  Evidence that Jesus was who he claimed to be

§  Shows there is life beyond the grave (1 Cor 15:12)

§  Shows that Jesus’ God is the living and true God

§  Shows God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice – his death was effective

§  Death defeated (Rom 6:9; 1 Cor 15:54-57; Acts 2:24)

§  Jesus’ vindication / justification and ours (Rom 4:25)

§  Jesus is enthroned as Lord of all (Acts 2:32,36)

§  Jesus is the Son of God in power (Rom 1:4)

§  A man on the throne of the universe – New Adam (Ps 8; 1 Cor 15:44b-49)

§  The New Creation / New Age has begun

- Firstborn from among the dead (Col 1:18)

- Firstfruits (1 Cor 15:20, 23)

Present Effects

§  Jesus is alive – we can know him personally

He is with us (Mt 28:20)

§  Jesus our permanent High Priest lives to intercede for us (Heb 7:24-25; Rom 8:34)

§  We have new birth into a living hope through the resurrection (1 Pet 1:3)

§  We are made alive and raised with Christ (Eph 2:5-6; Col 2:12-13; 3:1-3; Rom 6:4-5; 8:11)

§  The power of the resurrection is at work in us (Eph 1:19-20; Phil 3:10-11)

§  Our labour in the Lord is not in vain (1 Cor 15:58)

Future Hope

§  We will be raised (1 Cor 6:14; 1 Thess 4:14)

§  Jesus will judge all people (Acts 17:31; 10:40-42)

§  We will receive transformed physical bodies (Phil 3:21; 1 Cor 15:42-54)

§  Hope for creation / physicality (Rom 8:18-22)

The Evidence for the Resurrection

The Evidence for the Resurrection – some quotes from the internet!

Thomas Arnold, headmaster of Rugby school and Regius Professor of Modern History at

Oxford University, wrote:

"I have been used for many years to study the history of other times, and to examine and weigh the evidence of those who have written about them; and I know of no fact in the history of people which is proved by better and fuller evidence… to the understanding of a fair inquirer, than the great sign that God has given us, that Christ died and rose from the dead."

(quoted in Michael Green, The Day Death Died, IVP, Leicester, 1987, p.15)

In the 1930s a journalist, Frank Morison, was convinced that miracles did not happen though he admired the character of Jesus, and set out to write a book disproving the resurrection. When he studied the evidence, he wrote his book Who Moved the Stone? and with great honesty entitled the first chapter: "The Book that Refused to be Written." (Michael Green, Man Alive, IVF, London, 1967, pp.54-55)

Lord Darling, formerly Lord Chief Justice of England, wrote:

"The crux of the problem of whether Jesus was or was not what he proclaimed Himself to be, must surely depend on the truth or otherwise of the resurrection. On that greatest point

we are not merely asked to have faith. In its favour as a living truth there exists such

overwhelming evidence, positive and negative, factual and circumstantial, that no intelligent jury in the world could fail to bring in the verdict that the resurrection story is true."

(quoted in Michael Green, The Day Death Died, IVP, Leicester, 1987, p.15)

Sir Edward Clarke, a High Court Judge, said:

"As a lawyer I have made a prolonged study of the evidence for the events of Easter Day. To me the evidence is conclusive, and over and over again in the High Court I have secured the verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling. As a lawyer I accept the Gospel evidence unreservedly as the testimony of truthful people to facts that they were able to substantiate."

Bishop Westcott, one of England's greatest New Testament scholars, said: "It is not too much to say that there is no single historical incident better or more variously attested than the resurrection of Christ."

(quoted in Michael Green, The Day Death Died, IVP, Leicester, 1987, p37)

Consider the evidence: How would you explain?      

(1) The empty tomb

            (2) The resurrection appearances – see especially 1 Corinthians 15:3-8

Do any of the alternative explanations of the resurrection seem possible?

E.g. did Jesus’ disciples fake his resurrection by stealing Jesus’ body?

Maybe Jesus wasn’t really dead?

Why The Resurrection Matters (1 Cor 15) - notes / handout text

Why the resurrection matters (1 Cor 15)

The meaning / significance on the resurrection

So what? What the resurrection can do for you:

Sam Allberry, Lifted: Experiencing the resurrection life (IVP, 2010) 144 pages ISBN: 9781844744237 £6.99


(a) The resurrection assures us that Jesus was who he claimed to be

(b) The resurrection assures us of what Jesus has done

Rm 4:25; 1 Cor 15:17

“the resurrection is the consequence and demonstration of our salvation because death is the consequence and demonstration of our sin.”

Death as the wages of sin Gen 2:17; 3:2-5, 19; Rm 6:23


Spiritually raised now (Col 3:1), physically raised at Final Day (Rm 8:23)

God gives life & new life - Rm 4:17; 1 Sam 2:6; Ez 37; Ps 16:10; Phil 2

(a) New life - Eph 2:1-10

(b) New perspective - Col 3:1-4

(c) New conduct - Eph 5:8, 11-14 Col 3:5, 8–10; Acts 4:32–35

(d) New power - Rom 8:9–11; Rom 6:5–14

(e) New ambition - Phil 3:10-11

(3) HOPE

Mistake 1: The mistake that the resurrection has already taken place (2 Tim 2:17-18)

(a) Wrong to think: We have it all now

 (b) Wrong to think: This is all there is

Mistake 2: There is no resurrection of the dead (1 Cor 15:12)

Jesus is the first of many - Rm 8:11

Look at nature:

(i) put death in, get life out - 1 Cor 15:36

(ii) what you get out wasn’t what you put in - 1 Cor 15:37-38

(iii) God is, of course, able to give things the appropriate kinds of bodies - 1 Cor 15:39-41

Look at the risen Jesus:

1 Cor 15:49; Phil 3:21

Continuity & discontinuity - 1 Cor 15:42–44

Resurrection hope for creation - Rev 21:1, 5; Is 65:17; 11:6–9; Gen 9:11; Mt 19:28; 1 Cor 15:58

“God says, ‘I will make all things new’, not ‘I will make all new things’.”

Frustration & Promise - Rm 8:19-22


Acts 17:30-31

The exaltation of Jesus - Phil 2:5-11

The reality of judgement - Rm 1:3-4; Dan 12:2; John 11:25; Acts 4:1-2

The necessity of mission - Mt 28:19-20

Evangelical Alliance list of Lent & Easter Resources


Friday, March 25, 2016

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Good Friday Live Video

Modern rolling news style:


Another Easter Video: Jesus The Cave Man


The Lord's Supper as a Meal - Some sermon notes for Maundy Thursday

Chewing Over The Meal Jesus Gave Us

The Lord’s Supper in the context of a meal (1 Cor 11)

The Last Supper a Passover Feast (Mk 14:12,16; 1 Cor 5:7)

Early Church: “breaking of bread” (Acts 2:42, 46); agape, love feast (Jude 12)

Man as a needy, dependent, hungry creature fed by God

à receive with humility not a meritorious good work offered to propitiate God

Cf. eating in Eden (Gen 3) and at Lord’s Supper

à obedience / faith / gratitude (Eucharist = thanksgiving)

Jesus the True Bread of Life (John 6:35, 51) à satisfaction and eternal life from Him

Communion (sharing / fellowship) with God

God invites us and offers us hospitality (Ps 23:5)

We are at peace with God and enjoy his company

Jesus’ guest list: eats with sinners and outcasts (Lk 15:2)

We are Jesus’ friends (Mt 11:19; John 15:12-15; Rev 3:20)

à flee idolatry, shun the table of demons (1 Cor 10:14-22)

Communion with one another

We have Jesus in common – we all participate in him (1 Cor 10:16)

“Com-panion”s – lit. one who breaks bread with another

The family meal – table fellowship, Jews and Gentiles (Gal 2:12)

A sign of unity (1 Cor 10:17) à table manners (1 Cor 11:20-21, 33): love, sharing

Food & drink – complete provision

Bread – basic staple, essential, satisfying nourishment, strengthens us for service; affirms creation; God uses us à work

Wine – not water, party drink for glad celebrating (Ps 104:15)

à Looking forward with hope the Wedding Feast of the Lamb (Mt 26:29; Rev 19:9; 1 Cor 11:26)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

More Easter All Age Talks / Assemblies

Naturally I took the opportunity to talk to colleagues before and after the Chrism Eucharist yesterday about their best Easter all age talks.

One person had borrowed a coffin from a local undertaker and was considering how to use it untraumatically!

A classic talk is to do with Believing The Unbelievable on the basis of Eye-Witness Evidence. This simply involves doing something unbelievable: eat a daffodil (do check on the health and safety of this), pretend to eat a tin of dog food (though this rather detracts from the point), cycle down the aisle in full regalia. A friend of mine is keen for me to pogo-stick into church. Anyway, anything unbelievable. Ask: would your friends believe you if you told them you'd seen it? We ought to believe in the resurrection because the empty tomb and the appearances of Our Lord are confirmed by honest, reliable witnesses. (We believe things on the evidence of others all the time - e.g. I have never been to Australia, but I believe it exists).

Easter Punctuation. This could be adapted for almost any Bible passage and has the virtue of being educational!
! - The shock of Good Friday
? - What's it all about?
" " - for anything anyone says!
. - It seems like a dead end / the stone over the tomb
... - Waiting while Jesus is in the tomb
! - The tomb is empty
? - What's going on?
etc. etc.
Extra points for anyone who uses a semi-colon!

Easter Hats.
A baby's bonnet for Jesus born to die.
A judges wig for Jesus' trial.
A black hat / veil / undertaker's black hat to represent a funeral.
A crown of thorns.
A real crown.
A football club or other hat to represent a fan or follower.

Easter Colours.
Large sheets of coloured card / images on the screen / bits of cloth etc. to help you tell the story:
Green (palms) / Gold (kingship) / Grey (donkey) for Palm Sunday.
During Holy Week the leaders are Green with envy. They increasingly see Red.
Red wine colour for the Passover meal.
Green for the garden. (Red for the blood of Jesus' sweat)
Silver for the 30 pieces of silver for which Judas betrayed Christ.
Black for betrayal and trickery, for the night, for the darkness of the human heart.
Jesus' purple robe.
Brown for the cross.
Gold for the title above the cross and the crown of thorns.
Red for the blood of Jesus.
Grey for the gloom of morning / confusion.
Gold for the resurrection.
White for the forgiveness of sins / the empty tomb / the grave clothes / the shinning whiteness of the angels.
Green for go follow Jesus, sent out on mission etc.
Blue for Jesus' ascension into the sky.

Tell the Easter Story with stuff in Eggs (chocolate or plastic could work): https://thevicarswife.wordpress.com/2011/04/15/resurrection-eggs-for-toddlers-sunday-school-and-busy-vicars/

The Bible Societies Easter Poem / Video / Powerpoint / script: - Easter from the point of view of Jesus' friends, Peter, Mary (and John) http://www.biblesociety.org.uk/easter-2016/

Glen Scivener's latest poem: If You Had Been Here - drawing on John 11 - http://christthetruth.net/

Or the previous Bread of Heaven one. https://thevicarswife.wordpress.com/tag/glen-scrivener/

Easter & Holy Week goodies: https://onlinepastor.org/

And no doubt there are lots of other videos in the world.

Monday, March 21, 2016

Big News: Jesus Has Really Risen

Some jottings from an all age talk given at Christ Church, Westbourne, on Easter Day 2014.

The Resurrection of Jesus (Mark 15:33-16:8)

Jesus had really died
(1) 15:40-41 - The women who knew Jesus well saw it happen
(2) 15:44-45 - An expert confirmed it
(3) 15:47 - The women saw where Jesus was buried
(4) 16:1 - The women expected to find a dead body

Jesus has really risen
(1) An angel tells them that Jesus has risen
(2) The tomb is empty
(3) Later they will meet the risen Jesus

Jesus' resurrection confirms all that he taught, who he was, why he came and the effect of his saving death

What are you going to do about it? How will you respond?

Mark shows us a sandwich:
The women (15:40-41)
Joseph (15:43-46)
The women (15:47-16:8)

He wants us to compare the women and Jospeh.

(1) Joseph responds with faith.

(2) The women respond with fear: (a) they are afraid, (b) they flee and (c) they fail to say anything to anyone.

What will you do?

(I think you could find the video here: http://www.christchurchwestbourne.com/resources/listen-to-recent-talks/)

An All Age Talk For Easter Sunday

Taken from Christ Church, Westbourne, Easter Day 2013 (to which a friend kindly pointed me, adapted a tiny bit):

The Rising of Jesus (Matthew 28:1-10)

Teaches us 2 things:

(1) Jesus wins (vv1-4)

Matthew shows us 4 signs of Jesus' victory

Jesus is victorious over his enemies

Jesus is victorious over death

Are we Jesus' friends or his enemies?

(2) Jesus is truthful (vv5-10)

He rises from the dead just as he says he would

This all calls for 2 responses from us:

(1) Tell others

(2) Worship Jesus

I think you could search for the video here:


Sunday, March 20, 2016

What is Christianity?

Shedd says:

Christianity, in the last analysis, is Trinitarianism. Take out of the New Testament the persons of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is no God left. Take out of the Christian consciousness the thoughts and affections that relate to the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and there is no Christian consciousness left. The Trinity is the constitutive idea of the evangelical theology, and the formative idea of the evangelical experience. The immensity of the doctrine makes it of necessity a mystery; but a mystery which like night enfolds in its unfathomed depths the bright stars--points of light, compared with which there is no light so keen and so glittering. Mysterious as it is, the Trinity of Divine Revelation is the doctrine that holds in it all the hope of man; for it holds within it the infinite pity of the Incarnation and the infinite mercy of the Redemption.

Introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity, p11, Fig Books edition


Augustine's style

Shedd is quite rude about it:

Literary excellence is not the forte of the patristic writers. Hardly any of them are literary artists. Lactantius among the Latins, and Chrysostom among the Greeks, are almost the only fathers that have rhetorical grace. And none of them approach the beauty of the classic writers, as seen in the harmonious flow and diction of Plato, and the exquisite finish of Horace and Catullus.
Augustin is prolix, repetitious, and sometimes leaves his theme to discuss cognate but distantly related subjects. This appears more in the last eight chapters, which are speculative, than in the first seven, which are scriptural. The material in this second division is capable of considerable compression. The author frequently employs two illustrations when one would suffice, and three or more when two are enough. He discusses many themes which are not strictly Trinitarian.

Introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity, p10

Shedd surely can't be right that Augustine cared 'nothing for elegance in diction'? (p11) Having said that, it is high praise to call it one of the most pregnant and suggestive of all theological treatises.

Self-consciousness and Trinity

Discussing the Trinity, Shedd argues that self-consciousness is necessarily triadic as it requires (1) the mind (2) to contemplate itself and (3) to perceive that the contemplating subject and the contemplated object are one and the same being or essence.

Introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity, Fig Book edition, p8

We may term these subject-ego, object-ego and ego-percipient. (p10)

Reading in the age of Augustine

Shedd points out that in Augustine's age there was little to read other than the Greek and Roman classics and Scripture itself. Arguably, therefore, the Father's gave a more sustained attention to the Scriptures than in subsequent ages and were forced to interpret Scripture by Scripture.

Introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity, p5, Fig Books edition


William G. T. Shedd rejects the view of some scholars including Neander (II.470, Note 2) who said that Augustine's doctrine of the Trinity 'kept at a distance everything that bordered on subordinationism.'

Shedd identifies three kinds of subordination:

(1) the filial or Trinitarian
(2) the theanthropic
(3) the Arian

He says that 'the first is taught, and the second is implied in the Nicene creed. The last is denied and excluded."

... dogmatic historians... contend that the Nicene creed, in affirming the filial, but denying the Arian subordination; in teaching subordination as to person and relationship, but denying it as to essence; enunciates a revealed truth, and that this is endorsed by all the Trinitarian fathers, Eastern and Western. And there certainly can be no doubt that Augustine held this view. He maintains, over and over again, that Sonship as to relationship is second and subordinate to the Father; that while that while a Divine Father and a Divine Son must necessarily be of the very same nature and grade of being, like a human father and a human son, yet the latter issues from the former, not the former from the latter.... [Augustine calls the Father the beginning of the Son] Augustine employs this term "beginning" only in relation to the person, not to the essence. There is no "beginning," or source, when the essence itself is spoken of. Consequently, the "subordination" (implied in a "beginning" by generation and spiration) is not the Arian subordination, as to essence, but the trinitarian subordination, as to person and relation.

(Shedd's introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity, Fig books edition, p3)


Friday, March 18, 2016

Natural religion

William G. T. Shedd begins his introduction to Augustine, On The Trinity by claiming that:

The doctrine of the Divine Unity is a truth of natural religion: the doctrine of the Trinity is a truth of revealed religion.

This might seem obvious to Shedd (who wrote in 1887) but there are still plenty of atheists and polytheists in the world who might dispute it. Maybe the idea of many competing gods comes pretty naturally to humanity.

And indeed we might argue that there are traces of the Trinity, or at least of the one and the many, unity and differentiation, in the world (and perhaps especially in the image-bearers) that the Triune God has made.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Back to "basics"

Theology proper, the Trinity and Christology can seem like difficult, esoteric, academic subjects. The Christian might not actually see the priority and practicality of giving them much sustained thought. And the busy pastor might think there are more urgent and useful things to do.

But what could be more important than contemplating God and God in Christ? Everything in the Christian life comes back to Him. Our praying, our worship and all our thinking and living are affected by God and how we speak of him. In him we live and move and have our being. Loving God with our minds means that we work hard to understand how he has revealed himself and to think of him obediently.

We are, probably, ignorant of much of the great Christian tradition. We may have ticked off Theology, Trinity and Christology lectures at college but how much do we really understand the traditional confessional language and are we going to say any more about Jesus than "one person, two natures"? When we begin to probe, questions will come to us and many of these have been addressed by the great doctors of the church. Often there is a consensus that we ought to know about.

Our speaking about God will always be limited and imperfect. But it is easy for our preaching to become skewed. For example, have we heard sermons which tell us that the Trinity was ruptured as Jesus was forsaken by his Father at the cross? Are we holding together an intimacy with God and a sense of his transcendence? Are the risking losing sight of the Oneness or the Threeness of the Trinity?

We must not let fear of heresy paralyse our preaching, but we ought to know what the church believes and why. Sometimes we might speak rather loosely, or figuratively. Always we will speak analogically. But we do well to know what we are doing. We should not always use technical theological language, but if our manner of speaking is not precise that should not be from laziness nor ignorance but because there is some truth that we mean to communicate by a more poetical or paradoxical idiom.

(I owe some of these thoughts to reflecting on Mark Smith's SEMS talks on Christology on Monday) 

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

A Good Friday Hour At The Cross Service

Any ideas for this type of service?

Although the cross is inexhaustible it is a challenge to come up with a fresh angle each year.

In the past it seems like I have done:

2015: Little mini talks based on Lee Gatiss' book, The Forgotten Cross

2014: The cross from the perspective of different characters in the passion narrative. (Of course there would be scope for some variety in this / a theme, especially if one looked beyond the accounts of the crucifixion. A friend kindly suggested looking at the women who are featured: the woman who caused Peter to betray Christ, Pilate's wife, Jesus' mother, the other women at the cross and the women at the tomb)

2013: Reflections based on When I Survey The Wondrous Cross

2012: Christ's words from the cross

2011: The cross from some Old Testament passages (e.g. Gen 3, 22; The Passover, Ps 22; Is 53, there are lots of obvious choices, of course)

Matt Searles has written some reflections on the Psalms that were used at Passover time, which likely our Lord sang on Maundy Thursday: http://www.mattsearles.org.uk/easter-meditation-psalm-113/

On approach might be: 'Cross words': justification, redemption, propitiation, atonement, ransom etc.

Models of the atonement (e.g. exemplary, propitiatory, satisfaction, victory).

One could just do some passages from one of the gospels - though Bodle Street & Dallington will have read through one of the gospel accounts of the crucifixion on Palm Sunday. If you don't use them on Palm Sunday, dramatized readings might work well for Good Friday.

The cross in a particular Bible book or author - e.g. Mark excluding the passion narrative.

Texts where Christ "looks forward" to the cross.

It might even be worth reflecting on some depictions of the cross in art?

Is there another hymn I could do? (e.g. O Sacred Head, It Is Finished! The Messiah Dies, My Song Is Love Unknown. The possibilities here are endless really)

Or another book that is worth plagiarizing? Stott, The Cross of Christ. Leon Morris.

Some variation of the traditional Stations of the Cross?

Sometimes we've included a poem or had a piece of music played.

One of the Valley of Vision prayers might be useable as part of the service.

It could be an occasion for a kind of litany.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Christology from...

Some scholars advocate Christology from above (starting with God and asking how he became man) whereas others advocate Christology from below (starting with the human Jesus and asking how he was God). At SEMS today Mark Smith suggested a Christology from within the Scriptures that begins by asking how Jesus fulfilled the Old Testament expectations about him, a Messianic Christology. He said, 'Christ comes not as a thunderbolt from a clear blue sky, but as the culmination of God's promise of salvation (Heb. 1.1-2)'. As we read the Scriptures we seek to tune in to 'the kind of person we are expecting - someone with both 'God' and 'man' qualities.'

The greatest miracle?

Gregory of Nyssa wrote:

that the omnipotence of the Divine nature should have had strength to descend to the humiliation of humanity, furnishes a clearer proof of that omnipotence than even the greatness and supernatural character of the miracles....  it is not the vastness of the heavens, and the bright shining of its constellations, and the order of the universe and the unbroken administration over all existence that so manifestly displays the transcendent power of the Deity, as this condescension to the weakness of our nature; the way, in fact, in which sublimity, existing in lowliness, is actually seen in lowliness, and yet descends not from its height, and in which Deity, entwined as it is with the nature of man, becomes this, and yet still is that.

God's great power is seen in that he can become a weak human being and yet continue to be Almighty God.


NPNF2-05. Gregory of Nyssa: Dogmatic Treatises, Etc.

Chapter XXIV.

(Quoted by Mark Smith at SEMS today)

A conservative theologian?

At SEMS today, Mark Smith suggested that in a way perhaps the arch-Heretic, Arius might be thought of as a conservative theologian because he resisted the innovation of using non-Biblical language to define orthodoxy. When both sides swap Bible verses which they give their own spin, confessional language is sometimes needed to safeguard the truths of Scripture.

Apprehending the beach ball

The Revd Mark Smith had some good analogies at SEMS today.

He suggested that the doctrine of the Incarnation is a bit like a beach ball. We might not fully comprehend it (get our arms around it) but we can apprehend it (play with it etc.).

Heresy sometimes attempts to puncture or deflate the beach ball to make it more comprehendible.

I also enjoyed the suggestion that Nestorianism fails to give a proper account of the unity of the humanity and divinity in Christ: it is as if the natures are 2 cricket balls cellotaped together.

Green grass / pasture

The Revd Mark Smith very tentatively suggested at SEMS today that Mark 6:39 might allude to Psalm 23:2, suggesting that Jesus is the shepherd who feeds his people. This seems pretty plausible to me. It's not just the greenness of the grass. Lying and sitting down might correspond too.

Today's SEMS - Fully God, Fully Man: Contending for Christ Then & Now

Gives thanks for a stimulating Sussex Evangelical Ministry Seminar with The Revd Mark Smith. Having had a lengthy and expensive theological education it is tempting to think one has a thought through Christology, but 5 minutes thinking quickly shows that there are depths to the Scriptures, the Christian tradition and especially to the mystery of the incarnation itself which we have not yet plumbed. The talks should be available on the Sussex Gospel Partnership website in due course.   

Sunday, March 13, 2016

How To Pray - according to Jesus

It may be that even those of us who wouldn’t consider ourselves committed Christians pray from time to time, perhaps when facing some difficulty or in a crisis.

According to the Gospels, Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray (Luke 11:1). The Revd Jon Hobbs helped us to consider some of that teaching of Jesus on prayer at our recent Churches Away Day. Jon argued that the Bible presents prayer as talking to God as our loving heavenly Father. Jesus encourages us to come to God as needy children, believing that our Father delights to hear our requests.

Jon went on to suggest nine lessons about how to pray from Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 6:5-18:

Jesus taught his disciples to:

(1) Pray sincerely (vv5-7). Jesus warned against praying like a religious hypocrite wanting to be seen by other people so as to impress them. We need not and cannot put on an act with God.

(2) Pray privately (v6). This is an antidote to the hypocrisy just mentioned. Our unseen Father sees what we do in secret. He knows our hearts. Praying with others can be good and helpful, but praying on our own is a way of keeping it real and helping us to focus on God, rather than on what other people might think of us.  

(3) Pray regularly (v6). Jesus doesn’t say “if you pray” but “when you pray”. He assumes it will be his disciples’ regular habit, and not just reserved for times when all else has failed. We should make prayer our first resort, not our last resort. Indeed, in the Lord’s Prayer Jesus encourages us to ask for our “daily bread” (v11), presumably something which we ought to seek from God each and every day.  

(4) Pray simply (vv7-8). Jesus tells us that we should not “keep on babbling like the pagans” who “think that they will be heard because of their many words”. We shouldn’t be trying to impress God with the eloquence or length of our prayers. Our Father isn’t marking our performance.  

(5) Pray reverently (vv9-10). Remember who God is: our Father in heaven. We pray for his holy name to be honoured, that he might receive the respect that is due to him.

(6) Pray boldly (vv11-13). Jesus encourages us to pray big prayers, prayers concerned with God’s kingdom and his will being done on earth as it is in heaven. We should ask too for all that we need, including both our material and spiritual needs, knowing that God loves to give us good gifts.

(7) Pray repentantly (vv14-15). If we are unwilling to forgive others then it might be that we are not able to receive God’s forgiveness. Our prayers should include saying sorry to God and asking for his help to live in a way that pleases him.

(8) Pray earnestly (v16). Jesus seems to assume that his followers will fast. That is one sign of seriousness. We need God more than we need our next meal.

(9) Pray believingly. An attitude of trust in God’s fatherly love pervades Jesus’ teaching. We pray in Jesus’ name, depending on him and his saving death for us. Jesus has won us forgiveness and access into our Father’s presence. Indeed, Jesus lives and reigns in heaven interceding for us. We might say that our prayer depends on Jesus’ prayer for us. He is the one who is able to bring us to God and restore us to right relationship with him.  

You can listen to Jon’s 3 talks at: www.warbletonchurch.org.uk/sermons-talks/?series=18

Saturday, March 12, 2016

The plot to kill Lazarus (again)

In John 12v10, the chief priests, who are already plotting to kill Jesus decide to kill Lazarus as well, because everyone knows that Jesus had raised Lazarus from the dead and they were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him.  

It’s funny really: Jesus has already shown that he is the Lord of Life and death, yet these religious leaders stubbornly refuse to believe in him.

They decided to kill Jesus and his resuscitated disciple.

What would have happened if they’d killed Lazarus before they killed Jesus?

Would Jesus have raised him to life again?

How many times might he have been killed and resuscitated?

But we know that Jesus the Resurrection and the Life lives eternally.

He has risen once and for all never to die again.

He is enthroned in heaven as the bodily-risen, glorified God-Man.

He lives the life immortal.

Death is done away with.

Lazarus of course did in the end die again.

We don’t know how.

Maybe the chief priests managed to kill him.

Maybe they didn’t.

Tradition says that Lazarus fled from the plots against him and became a Bishop.

But we don’t know.

What we do know is that Lazarus is alive in heaven now with his friend Jesus.

One day Lazarus will receive a resurrection body like Jesus’.

Both men are alive.

In their different ways, both is a foretaste of the resurrection.

Mary of Bethany and Jesus' feet

Stolen from a sermon preached by Christopher Ash at Emmanuel, Wimbledon, I think:

Jn 12v3 – Mary pours the perfume at Jesus’ feet and wipes it with her hair

Lk 10 – Mary sat at Jesus’ feet as his disciple, listening to him

Jn 11 – Mary fell at Jesus’ feet in worship

2 smelly men

(You may wish to look away now if you plan to listen to me preaching tomorrow).

The evangelist John is not only an eyewitness but a nose witness. In chapters 11 and 12 he contrasts two smelly men, both men who smell of death, Jesus and Lazarus. But Lazarus stinketh (or so at least his sister fears, according to the Authorised Version). Jesus on the other hand smells of a beautiful, rich, sweet perfume which prepares his body for death, and, indeed, which fills the whole house. Lazarus too takes on the pleasing aroma of Jesus as the Anointed one is anointed.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

The anointing of Jesus at Bethany - John 12:1-8

God willing I will be preaching on John 12:1-8 on Sunday and in preparation I've listened to a few sermons. For those who like such things, I have jotted down some headings:

Christopher Ash at Emmanuel, Wimbledon:

4 responses to Christian resurrection:
 (1)   The adoration of the disciple (v3) – a fragrant response
 (2)   The sour hypocrisy of the unconverted (vv4-6)
 (3)   The sober sacrifice of the Saviour (vv7-8)
 (4)   The hostility of the frightened (vv9-11)
Jonathan Fletcher at Emmanuel, Wimbledon:

(1) Follow Mary’s example of extravagant devotion to Jesus in gratitude for all that he’s done
 (2) Flee from Judas’ greed
 (3) Focus on Jesus’ death for us
Hugh Palmer at St Helen’s, Bishopsgate:
(1) Judas’ question (vv4-5)
 (2) John’s warning (v6)
 (3) Jesus’ verdict (vv7-8)
Melvin Tinker at St John's, Newland:

(1)   a passionate devotion (vv2- 3)

(2)   a sickening deception (vv4- 6)

(3)   a universal division (vv9-10)

Liam Goligher at Duke Street:

(1)   The extravagance of the anointing

(2)   The offence of the anointing

(3)   The significance of the anointing

(a)   What Mary does

(b)   What Jesus says

Edmund Clowney, The Gospel Coalition Website:

(1)   The extravagance of Mary’s devotion

(2)   The folly of Mary’s devotion in the corrupt mind of Judas

(3)   The perception of Mary’s devotion as defended by Jesus

(a)   Mary perceived Jesus’ work – his coming death and burial

(b)   Mary perceived Jesus’ person – he accepts her worship

Sunday, March 06, 2016

An outline for a Mothering Sunday talk from John 2:1-11

Two things we can learn from Mary in this true story from the Bible (probably not entirely original to me):

(1) Mary does the right thing: she brings the problem to Jesus, knowing that he cares and can help (v3). We would do well to bring our problems to Jesus in prayer. He cares for us and can help us.

(2) Mary gives some excellent advice: she tells the servant to do whatever Jesus tells them, even though it must have seemed strange to them (v5). We should always do what Jesus tells us to do in his Word, the Bible, even if it seems strange to us.