Wednesday, 31 December 2008

The Anthem of the New Calvinists

A few months ago I was struck by the message of the Lost Son(s) from Luke chapter 15, so much so that I got to preach on it. Tim Keller (whose book 'The reason for God' was probably my favourite new book that I read in 2008)has recently published a book called the 'Prodigal God'. Keller rightly points out that prodigal means 'recklessly extravagant' and that is how our God is, He lavishes us with unmerited kindness, bringing sinners back to himself. Keller rightly contends that there are two lost sons which reflects two type of characters. The first younger son represents those who are out for adventure at the cost of others. The second type elder brother types stay at home and are moral but no nothing of the grace of the Father. Both are lost and both in need of redemption.

On page 15 Keller says, 'Jesus's teaching consistently attracted the irreligious while offending the Bible-believing, religious people of his day. However, in the main, our churches today do not have this effect. The kind of outsiders Jesus attracted are not attracted to contemporary churches, even our most avant-garde ones. We tend to draw conservative, button-down, moralistic people. The licentious and liberated or the broken and marginal avoid church. That can only mean one thing. If the preaching our ministers and the practice of our parishioners do not have the same effect on people that Jesus had, then we must not be declaring the same message that Jesus did. If our churches aren't appealing to younger brothers, they must be more full of elder brothers than we'd like to think. Keller The Prodigal God p.15,16

A couple of months ago at an event called Souled Out I got to hear Jean Larroux, Jr. senior pastor of Lagniappe Presbyterian Church speak about his church plant in a community devastated by Katrina. Larroux pointed out that many churches have a sign as you leave the car park that says 'Your mission starts here' Larroux says this is one of hells lies. We have received God's free grace , unmerited and undeserved favour, and instead of pointing to people and saying 'sinner repent of your sins, we first need to stick our hands up and acknowledge that we are sinners, and broken and that God has saved us.' We all sin and as C H Spurgeon said 'Evangelism is just one beggar showing another where to get bread.'

One of the problems that modern evangelism faces is how to relate to broke people again, we are possibly frightened by them, and too often sit in judgement of them, we tend to forget the grace we have received. We need to love like Jesus with unconditional love, we need to remember God's grace.

Later in the prodigal God, Keller quotes one of his parishioners who seems to have knocked Keller over with her insight. 'She said that she had gone to church growing up and she had always heard that God accepts us only if we are sufficiently good and ethical. She had never heard the message she was now hearing, that we can be accepted by God by sheer grace through the work of Christ regardless of anything we do or have done. She said, "that is a scary idea! Oh, it's good scary but still scary."I was intrigued. I asked her what was so scary about unmerited free grace? She replied something like this: If I was saved by my good works- then there would be a limit to what God could ask of me or put me through. I would be like a taxpayer with rights. I would have done my duty and now I would deserve a certain quality of life. But if it is really true that I am a sinner saved by sheer grace-at God's infinite cost-then there's nothing he cannot ask of me.' p.121
As we end this year let us look back on the favour of God, in the midst of both good and bad circumstances. Remembering that the only thing we have earned is judgement, yet we can call God Abba Father if we have received the grace offered through the death of his Son.
Happy New year
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 30 December 2008

A New Testament for the High School Musical generation

The Word of Promise Next Generation

When I first started listening to this I found it very annoying, but then I realised that it was actually in step with the historical bible translations of the reformation. I haven’t heard of any of the stars but if I was 12 or 13 I am sure my big heroes would be on this CD. The translation used by The Word of Promise is the International Children’s Bible. I have given these away before and will probably do so again in the future. However because of the audio dramatic style of the presentation I believe that the makers could have used a more accurate translation and not lost their audience. That said for the most part the translation is accurate and in some places the different wording was actually helpful. For example in Revelation 12: 4 most translations say that the Dragon was ready to devour the male child. The ICB translates this as eat, and I know that devour means eat but it was more effective in bringing that across.

The sound effects
The sound effects were on the whole good, although I couldn’t understand why after the gospels, when Jesus or an Old Testament prophet were quoted we had to hear two voices. This was especially weird when Paul was recounting the story of his Damascus road conversion throughout Acts. Also the post resurrected Jesus and Angels/demons sounded like the Daleks with an eerie echo, but how do you convey the voice of the risen Jesus when the actor is either a teen or barely out of his teens. However the general sounds of the market place, the crowds and especially the whipping of Jesus bought out the text in a good way especially as I was listening to it on my mp3 player. The dramatic effect of revelation with the sounds of thunder, trumpets and horses helped me feel horror, terror, and awe.
The narrator Sean Astin did a fantastic job, I preferred the letters where it was just Astin, but this probably reflects my age bracket because he is the same age as me.
Max Lucado and his daughter Jenna did the introductions, these were probably written by Lucado, they were short but set each book in its historical context. They were both excited about the text and hopefully their enthusiasm will effect the target audience. These introductions presumed a conservative evangelical position (which is a good thing) and didn't fall into the trap of arguing over authorship (also a good thing).

Would I buy this?
Would I buy this, not for me, but I love reading and so I have little use for an audio bible. Especially one aimed at pre-teens, or teens. Yet I think it is probably the perfect gift for someone that age, who loves, High School Musical, Hannah Montana and is not a reader. The team behind this CD have done a great job in communicating the Bible in the language of their target audience.

Friday, 26 December 2008

why dont we call her blessed?

Having watched the trauma of a woman giving birth, it got me thinking about what Mary went through. As Joy was in labour she had a midwife constantly monitoring her, she had a safe cosy hosptial room. she had medicine at hand, and at one point seven health professionals in the room. Still I would never belittle the pain that she endured, I am in awe of her. Yet contrast that to what Mary had, Mary was probably in her early teens when she said yes to the message that Gabriel brought from the LORD. Through that she endured ridicule from her neighbours for being pregnant before she got married. The suffering that she went through in travelling during the final stage of pregnancy. Finally giving birth to the LORD Jesus in an area fit not for birth but for feeding cattle. She had no drugs, no health professionals, yet she endured it because God had called her to bare His Son. She was chosen, and highly favoured. When we evangelicals read the magnificat we rightly point out that Mary acknowledges that she is a sinner in need of a saviour but we have possibly overreacted to Roman Catholicism's Mary worship by ignoring her or despising her as though it was her fault that she has been made to much of. In the magnificat we have evidence that this young lady was a woman who loved her saviour, who knew her scriptures and was prepared to say yes to God even though it meant hardship. She even sounds like Piper in the magnificat (which means magnify)which begins with "my soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my saviour. We must not worship her but we should admire her and seek to follow her example and commitment to God, even when it costs.
God Bless

Wednesday, 24 December 2008

unto us a child is born

onto us a daughter is given! As Joy and I were contemplated our last Christmas as a couple before the baby was born. The baby decided to get in on the act and make an early appearance. Hannah Joy was born at 20.01 Christmas Eve. She was 7 pounds and one ounce, Joy and I value the prayers of our friends who prayed through our childlessness. We are now praying that Hannah would one day come to know the one who was born to take away the sins of the world.

Merry Christmas

Sunday, 21 December 2008

So bitter yet so sweet

I find it fascinating how the world around us loves Christmas and can enjoy Christmas carols about a baby in a manger. It is all so very safe, but as Mr Beaver says in The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe "who said anything about safe of course he isn't safe but he's good." At the incarnation God comes in the flesh as a baby, yet he is still God and the purposes of God are fulfilled in the baby who came to redeem us. Graham Kendrick wrote a song that sums up the true significance of Christmas:

Since the day the angel came It seemed that everything had changed

The only certain thing Was the child that moved within

On the road that would not end Winding down to Bethlehem So far away from home

Just a blanket on the floor Of a vacant cattle-stall

But there the child was born She held him in her arms

And as she laid him down to sleep She wondered - will it always be So bitter and so sweet

And did she see there In the straw by his head a thorn

And did she smell myrrh

In the air on that starry night

And did she hear angels sing Not so far away

Till at last the sun rose blood-red In the morning sky T

hen the words of ancient seers Tumbled down the centuries ... A virgin shall conceive... God with us... Prince of Peace Man of Sorrows - strangest name

Oh Joseph there it comes again

So bitter yet so sweet

And as she watched him through the years

Her joy was mingled with her tears

And she'd feel it all again The glory, and the shame

And when the miracles began She wondered, who is this man

And where will this all end

'Til against a darkening sky

The son she loved was lifted high And with his dying breath She heard him say 'Father forgive'

And to the criminal beside "Today-with me in Paradise" So bitter yet so sweet

Graham Kendrick Copyright © 1994 Make Way Music,

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Free books to bloggers

A word of thanks to Jonathan Hunt over at Glosbaptist who pointed people on his blog to Thomas Nelson. Nelson give free books to bloggers for writing a 200 word review. I got my first "book" earlier this week, its actually a dramatised version of the bible on mp3. If you are interested in free books for writing reviews here is the link to Thomas Nelson. Does anyone know of any similar schemes for IVP, crossways, Baker books etc? As this could save me a small fortune!
Once again many thanks Jonathan!

God Bless
I'll be back soon :-)