Saturday, 24 December 2011

The Greatest Love of all....

I was a big Whitney Houston fan in the 80's and her now classic hit was 'The Greatest Love of All', the song ends with the lyrics 'the greatest love of all is learning to love yourself'. That is not the greatest love of all, in fact loving ourselves is easy for us. The greatest love of all is this: while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. 
It's the holiday season when amidst all the frenzy of shopping and Santa there is a manger scene where cattle, shepherds and Magi surround a helpless baby who is placed in a manger. (but not a Santa)
John's gospel tells us nothing of this, that is left to Matthew and Luke, for John, Christmas starts earlier not in Mid September like it does in the West these days, but in Eternity past. John tells us that this helpless looking baby is none other than the Word who created all things in the beginning. The Word who was with God and is Himself God. The Son who is very God of very God, whom the myriads of Angels adored, and the Father delighted in,  the darling of Heaven humbled Himself and became a helpless baby. As one song writer put it, 'The hands that created the world, made the hands that was now holding Him'. Or as John put it 'The Word became flesh, and dwelt among us, and we saw His glory, glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth'.
Christmas confronts us with the fact that while we do love ourselves we by our nature are unlovely and we stand in need of saving and in need of forgiveness. Yet we are utterly helpless to change and transform ourselves and utterly helpless to change our standing before a holy God. Christmas confronts us with a baby who was born to reconcile sinners to Himself to offer us forgiveness by coming to trust in the one who laid down His life for guilty sinners. Christmas points inevitably to Easter and the manger points inevitably to the cross!

As you celebrate Christmas may you come to delight in not only the greatest love of all but the greatest gift of all that is forgiveness from God.

Merry Christmas!
Stephen <><

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

How deep the Father's love for us

I am working my way through John Stott's classic book 'The Cross of Christ', Stott reminds us that The cross is not the Son working against the Father's will to redeem us as the cross is just as much the Father's initiative. 
Stuart Townend's song 'How deep the Father's love for us' also reminds us of this:

How deep the Father's love for us
how vast beyond all measure
that He should give His only Son
To make a wretch His treasure.

How great the pain of searing loss,
The Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the Chosen One,
Bring many sons to glory

John 3:16  tell's us that God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life. The cross therefore isn't the means to God loving us but is the result, the effect of that love.
Stott puts it like this, 'We must never make Christ the object of God's punishment or God the object of Christ's persuasion, for both God and Christ were subjects not objects, taking the initiative together to save sinners. Whatever happened on the cross in terms of 'Godforsakeness' was voluntarily accepted by both in the same holy which made atonement necessary. It was God in our nature forsaken of God. If the Father gave the Son, The Son gave Himself. If the Father "sent the Son, the Son 'came' Himself. The Father did not lay on the Son an ordeal he was reluctant to bear, nor did the Son extract from the Father a salvation he was reluctant to bestow.' Stott, The Cross of Christ p151

We find at the cross God's wrath poured out upon His beloved Son, the place where wrath and mercy met. Divine justice, mercy and love are fulfilled as God in love both punishes and receives punishment to bring many sons to glory. How great is God!

God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 22 November 2011

John Stott- A Portrait by his friends

I've recently finished reading  this book which was published for John Stott's 90th birthday by several friends from different walks of life. They are short accounts of what 'Uncle John' meant to them, some of them are better than others, but what comes out is that John Stott lived what he believed. Each chapter is short and reveals something that left an impression upon them about John Stott.  It seems John was consistent in praying for people, remembering details about them, encouraging them even years after a brief encounter and helping many people out in practical ways. John Stott was single minded about ministry, he was driven starting the day early and lived to know Christ and make Him known. This effected the way he dealt with people. He had time for people seeing them as being created in the image of God. He was humble about his own talents and calling, seeking to encourage those he encountered on his walk through life. According to several of his friends this was because he knew he was saved, knew what he was saved from and never, ever, ever got over it. Like John Newton he realised it was all of grace  and that this grace is amazing. The challenge that John Stott's life offers to us is to be so in love with Jesus and his saving grace at work in our life that it makes an impact on those around us  for eternity  to the glory of God.

God Bless

 Stephen <><

Saturday, 20 August 2011

Old Testament Theology- A Thematic Approach by Robin Routledge

I was given this book by a good friend which was really nice as it is probably not something I would have been drawn to but I have enjoyed it immensely. It does what it says on the tin, it is a thematic approach to the Old Testament, no surprises there. The surprise was how readable it was which for a book that is about the theology of the Old Testament really is a surprise. It's probably aimed at first year Theology undergraduates but is very readable so it could benefit anyone. I haven't purposefully avoided any Old Testament scholarly works but I think this is the first O.T. text I've read since I was a 3rd year theology student. For this reason I found the large introduction useful as it covered all the major players in Old Testament studies and their perspectives as well as their different schools of thought.

The book covered major themes in the Old Testament occasionally demonstrating how they relate to a New Testament understanding. For me the most informative section was in the chapter 'God and the future' especially 'Messianic expectation'. Routledge is an evangelical who believes the whole Bible so he interacts with the New Testament. He argues that many of the terms that we rightly associate with Jesus found within the Old Testament are not necessarily considered Messianic. I'd never thought of that before and have automatically presumed that any passage that speaks of Jesus, such as the prophet, the Son of Man, the Servant are all Messianic. He also traces some of these themes into the inter-testament period and saw how they developed. In the same chapter I was a little disappointed with his treatment of the after life but I did a large essay in the 3rd year at HTC so I had explored it in more depth than it is treated in this book. I appreciate the way he interacts with more liberal scholarship but sometimes it is unclear if he believes in some of their ideas, especially predictive prophecy and the number of authors for the book of Isaiah.

This book is not an Old Testament introduction because it doesn't cover book by book or explore all the themes in the Old Testament, how could it when it's only 350 pages? It would be  good to read alongside a more traditional Old Testament introduction and worth a read as a stand alone volume!

God Bless

Stephen <><

Sunday, 31 July 2011

A man called John

It's been a week where Britain mourns the death of a pop star whose talent was considered legendary, but who battled various addicts. However it has  been silent about the death of one of the leading figures in British Evangelicalism. A man whose influence is felt across the UK, The US and in large parts of the global south. In John's gospel we are told there was a man sent from God his name was John. He himself was not the light but he came as a witness to the light, in it's original context it was talking about John the baptiser. It could also be said of John Stott whose influence in Evangelicalism extends beyond his own Anglican denomination. He was responsible for the formation of the London Institute for contemporary Christianity, the Langham Partnership which supplies theological material and other resources for the church in Africa, he edited the New Testament BST series, one of the best conservative evangelical small volume commentaries . He was also a leader of the New evangelicals and was involved in setting up the Lausanne conference as well as being the pastor of a large church in the centre of London. His influence will be felt for generations. Praise the Lord for a life well lived for the glory of God!

God Bless
Stephen <><

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

The vulnerability of God

I am 100% convinced of the Sovereignty of God, I affirm completely that God is all-powerful, knows all things and indeed ordains all things. Some reformed guys believe in the impassibilty of God, I don't. I see it, it fits well in the Systematic books but it doesn't make sense of how God relates in Scripture. At creation God creates Adam and Eve, knowing by this evil will enter into His newly created world. God will for the first time exercise His mercy as He commits Himself to bringing rebelious sinners back to Himself. In Genesis for example God makes a covenant with Abraham, well actually He makes a covenant with Abraham present but He takes upon Himself all the obligation whilst Abraham sleeps. In essence God makes Himself vulnerable to Abraham and His descendants, if they don't keep the covenant, God will pay the price. He does this knowing all things, knowing that they will not keep the covenant. In the minor prophets He is bound to Israel as a husband, not to a faithful wife but to an adulterous wife. Yet like Hosea he loves at a cost, bringing His unfaithful wife back time and time again. Is he impassive, I think not! No He is a loving husband who is made vulnerable by His wife's infidility. Wounded by His great love.The most vulnerable we see Him is when as the Logos He takes on flesh, knowing that His own will reject Him. He is vulnerable in a human body, subject to joy and tears, hunger and tiredness. He is vulnerable in His love as He weeps over Jerusalem, He stretches out His arms to embrace them and they put nails through His hands and hang Him on a cross. God is love!

Monday, 25 April 2011

The Jesus Inquest by Charles Foster

I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their <> book review bloggers program. I was not required to write a positive review.

This book is an apologetic debate with a difference as both sides are argued by the same guy! Charles Foster says he read ,The Case for Faith by Lee Strobel and didn't like  the approach Strobel uses, interviewing lots of smart guys who are Christians without letting smart non-believers make their case. He believes both cases should be made, that the evidence should be presented for both sides. Charles Foster claims that he has argued both sides so the book could be more comprehensive as he has read widely on the area of Jesus' resurrection.  He believes as  a lawyer he can argue both sides without letting his bias get in the way. It's quite a claim, does he pull it off? Well no, as his bias comes out, in terms of comprehensiveness the answer is yes and no! Yes, if by comprehensive he means that he has read every book on the shelf of his local secular bookstall on this issue. No, if he means he has gone to a good theological college and read all the books on the issue in their library. The book itself takes on some of the arguments made popular by Dan Brown, the Jesus family Tomb etc. These arguments themselves are weak and are not taken seriously by those who have taken the time to investigate. However since I started reading this book the conversations I have had with non-believers relate to these issues. If they have heard anything it is via Dan Brown or Simcha Jacobovici's Jesus family tomb and the arguments that they go for are precisely the ones made popular by them in their books and TV programmes. It's a shame that he took these arguments seriously and yet  takes a superior tone over arguments that are equally ridiculous. That said, Foster's book  could be a useful book and for the most part it is very readable.  However I struggled with the book precisely because Foster is one man. He calls himself x when he takes the non-Christian argument, and Y when arguing as a Christian. I found it silly that there was a joint statement between X and Y and frustrating when X and Y attacked "each others" intellectual honesty or abilities. If you can get over that then it might be worth reading, but I couldn't.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

In my place condemned He stood- Barabbas' story

All of the Gospels tell us of the trial of Jesus of Nazareth and His crucifixtion. They also tell us of a criminal who was tried and found guilty but was ultimately freed. His name was Barabbas, he was guilty of murder and causing an insurrection, maybe the men crucified on either side of Jesus were Barabbas co-insurrectionists. Most people have heard of Barabbas, yet what most Christians might not be aware of is that in the early manuscripts (and more reliable?) of Matthew's Gospel we are told that his first name was Jesus. It likely that this is true as it is more likely that a later editor took out the name Jesus Barabbas (for pious reasons) than added it. Also the name Jesus was very common in the Second Temple period. Barabbas means Son of the Father, as Pilate asked the crowd whom shall I free, Jesus, Son of the Father from Nazareth or Jesus son of the father, the insurrectionist?  I wonder if Barabbas thought it was a one horse race as he must of heard of Jesus the wonder worker and knew that many people had been healed by Jesus. Maybe he had heard the commotion on the first day of the week when Jesus entered Jerusalem on a donkey to shouts proclaiming Him as the Son of David. How shocked he would have been then when the crowd shouted out "free Barabbas!" Did he hear Pilate pleading for the innocent Jesus? Barabbas knew he was guilty of his crime, and Jesus was innocent. Did Barabbas know that Jesus died in His place on that first good Friday? Do you know that He stood in your place as he suffered and died and His Father poured out His wrath on Him? 

God Bless You through His Son!

Stephen <><

Wednesday, 6 April 2011

The Wordsmith, the Kid and the Electrolux by Clifford Leigh

 I don't read many novels but I have recently finished an excellent novel, it's well written, griping and thoroughly orthodox. It tells the story of a boy called Corey, Corey is angry with his dad and this leads him into a life of crime,  and selfish indulgence, stealing from his dad's box of change to fulfill his craving for ice cream. Corey becomes more and more self-centred and yet nothing can fulfill his desire or stop him from his crime. That is until he is swept away quite literally by the vacuum cleaner which leads him into a magically world under the family tree. The world he enters is a world of pictures, he is somewhat confused until he meets Benjamin Endbend and his twin brother Ben Endbend they have been here before and Benjamin is able to interpret the pictures for Corey. Corey is drawn to Benjamin but finds his take on this new world both breathtaking and challenging and realising he has more in common with Ben, who is on a complete downer. The gang goes on  an adventure through several pictures and in the process Corey changes to become more like Benjamin. In one of the pictures he encounters the wordsmith who is the creator of this picture, whilst in the wordsmiths shop, the boys encounter a couple of tourists who cannot see the wordsmith and are convinced that Benjamin and Corey are mad and need help. The tourists take the boys to their home town, a place that used to be called Vanity Fair where Faithful died a short while ago. Vanity Fair is no longer a fair but a sprawling metropolis called New Dragonstoy.This is where the adventure really kicks off and where Corey's life is changed for good. If you enjoy C .S Lewis' writings then you'll also enjoy this as the style is similar ,the theology however is much more orthodox as it is both  robustly reformed and evangelical. I hope in time it becomes a best seller and I commend it to you. 

God Bless
 Stephen <><

Saturday, 19 February 2011

Prayer and God's sovereignty

God is all powerful and all knowing, we are limited in our knowledge and in power so what is the point of prayer? Are we trying to convince God that He should change His mind about how He acts in the world? Are we seeking to inform Him of something that He might not be aware of? Sometimes we do pray as if this were the case, prayer is relation, God has commanded us to pray without seeking. Sometimes God does use our prayers to change situations, not from His perspective but from our ours. Hezekiah would be a case in point, God sent the prophet to tell him to get his affairs in order, but the king prayed and God answered giving him an extra fifteen years. God didn't change His mind about the length of the kings life as the king had not yet fathered the  next in line in the Messiah's family. God uses means and prayer is one of those means, that makes us co-workers with Christ, and co-workers with believers around the globe. This same thought is expressed by Bruce Ware:

If anyone thinks that somehow, in a literal sort of sense, our prayers can change God's mind, I would like to ask that person: Who do you think you are?! What could you (or I) possibly know that has escaped God's attention? What perspective do you (or I) have that he lacks? When we consider the extremely limited knowledge we have, our lack of foresight compared to God's perfect foreknowledge, our record of poor decisions and bad judgment in far more cases that we'd like to admit, not to mention our morally twisted natures as as-yet unreformed affections and values, do we really want God to listen to our advice regarding what might be best to do? Honestly, I believe that I could not act more foolishly than to come to God in prayer and suggesting to him that he see things my way and insisting that he do what I want, No, "your will be done" means that another's will precedes mine, and thankfully, this will has been formed our of an omniscient (all knowing) and omnisapient (all wise) mind and heart so that we can be assured it cannot be improved, In prayer,we seek to pray "according to God's will" and in 'Jesus' name, indicating our longing to have our minds, desires affections, and wills reshaped to be more like God's. Bruce Ware Prayer and the Sovereignty of God, in For the Fame of God's Name p.141

Sometimes God uses our prayers to change things and circumstances around us, we are His instruments to bring about His purposes. God always uses prayer relationally to change us. 

God Bless

Sunday, 23 January 2011

A Narrative of a surprising conversion

Since my most significant conversion from darkness to light when I was born again almost 25 years ago I have undergone a few more "conversions". The first one the move from Pentecostalism to evangelicalism. The second one to a reformed position, this was followed by my conversion from being one of the frozen chosen to a defrosted Calvinist. None of these were surprising with the exception of the first, my latest conversion however has caught me completely by surprise, it is the conversion to Biblical Theology. I have always loved the Bible and from a very early point after my initial conversion feel in love with theology too. One thing I didn't like was the subject called Biblical Theology, and resented the name. It seemed to me that it was eisegesis, a reading into the text or  a spiritualising away the true meaning. It reminded me of the joke about the Children's Sunday school teacher who asked "What is grey or red, eats nuts and has a bushy tail?" One child turns around to another and says, "It sounds like a squirrel to me but the answer is always Jesus". Yet I struggled how to apply much of the Old Testament as I don't agree with the usual moralistic/ example preaching.  Last year was a turning point as all the pieces fell into place reading Mark Dever's sermons on the whole bible, hearing Paul Lees at Charlotte Chapel do the talk on biblical theology for a IX marks conference and finally reading Michael Lawrence's Biblical Theology in the life of the Church. I came to realise that I didn't like it because I had misunderstood it, it is not spiritualising the text but reaching out from the text to Jesus to us in our time. It is nothing more than the seeing where the text comes in the grand scheme of redemption and how it relates to the fuller revelation. At HTC we had a good biblical theology lecturer but sadly I never heard him because I would just switch off. Now I am converted but I am at the start of the process and am looking forward to unpacking it over the coming months and years. I'll probably say more on this in the coming months!

May God Bless You