Sunday, 29 November 2015

John, NIV Application Commentary- Gary Burge

I've had the John, NIV Application Commentary on my shelf for several years and finally decided it was time to crack it open.
There are a couple of positives, above all it was very readable like reading a biography rather than reading a commentary. Also I found as Burge comes from a different theological perspective than me he would approach the text from a different angle which threw new and helpful insights my way. I especially liked his take on Jesus challenging the rulers of the Jews, he urged us to read the challenge assuming that we are always on the side of Jesus. We need to let the challenge stand in its own right, let Jesus challenge us when we take a side that is opposing Him as we sometimes do, or assuming that Jesus is on our side as a matter of course when this isn't always the case.However for me
the negatives far out way the positives, it reads like a biography in places because it is a biography I have learn't far more about Gary Burge than I expected or wanted too. Also Gary Burge places more emphasis on spirituality than truth, (where John's gospel sees them as connected) so Burge can share stories about people being affected by Roman Catholic mystics.
  The final chapter dealing with Peter's restoration on the beach led Burge to share "our need" to go to a Franciscan monestry on the shore of Galilee  so we can see a statue of  Peter with Jesus on the beach to help us understand the meaning of the passage. I thought I was reading a commentary on John to help me understand the text. I'd give this one a miss if I were you! as readable but much more helpful is Bruce Milne's John in the Let the Bible Speak series, its compact but its all text. 

God Bless
Stephen <><

Friday, 6 November 2015

The Secret Thoughts of An Unlikely Convert

What can I say about this book? I've been impressed with Rosaria Champagne Butterfield since I first heard her speak to the culture and heard something of her testimony. Rosaria would agree we are all unlikely converts and this is where the book most touched me. You see Rosaria found a response from a Christian Pastor that shocked her, it shouldn't have it should be our normal response but sadly it isn't. Whilst researching a book she was going to write as a leftist feminist lesbian on the Christian right, she published a small article. She was getting hate mail from Christians and fan mail from non-Christians, then she got a letter from an elderly Presbyterian minister which fit in neither of these categories and she didn't know what to do with it. She kept reading it and reading it, this led to phone calls and a relationship. More importantly she developed a genuine relationship with him and his wife. They accepted her and loved her and gently challenged her assumptions leading to a change in her life. She rightly says her conversion was a train wreck. She walks us through this and we feel the sting of her betraying her former community which she loved and where she was loved.

As a middle class very educated woman with a very different lifestyle to my own working class background we  have little in common aside from the fact we are both first generation believers. In the book she outlines the clash of culture that many of us first generation believers experience when we enter the Christian community, which often times is a safe little bubble protected from the real world. This is a great shame we have been called out of darkness not to hide in a bubble but to proclaim Christ to a hurting world. Rosaria found and still finds some aspects of the Christian culture a struggle and very different to biblical Christianity. She tells us at one point a Christian lady is horrified and very uncomfortable with Rosaria's past, she points out that people like this are comfortable with Rahab and Mary Magdalene (Mary Magdalene clearly has a past but nothing is said of it, just that demons were caste out) in the pages of scripture but are not willing to see messed up people in church. This is the rub we are all messed up people we shouldn't think too highly of ourselves.  

Rosaria married a trainee pastor and they ministered (served) college students and then extended their family by adoption. Even this led to a deep intake of breath as she faced at times a backlash from Christians who were offended by the colour of her family.

My admiration for her and her family has grown through the reading of this book, at one point it is clear that she and her husband Kent have a lot on their plate through trying to reach out, she said "we are not inconvenienced by inconvenience" .

 Since finishing the book yesterday,  I want to work on my prejudices which aren't the same as the ones she encountered but nonetheless are very real and I am challenged to pray that I will not be "inconvenienced by inconvenience" but take it in my stride as ministry opportunities.

God Bless
Stephen <><

Saturday, 17 October 2015

The glory of God in the death of His Son

The whole of our human history is geared around one thing, that God's Son would be glorified, completely and thoroughly. That in everything, in creation, in humanity, in the church He the Son would be regarded as He truly is, the supreme one, the one whom Angels worship with covered faces. As they delight in Him for Who He is.

Yet for us there is more, whilst one day every knew shall bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is LORD to the glory of God the Father. In Jesus we have more than a LORD we have a Saviour. For us as born again believers we have a Saviour,  and what a Saviour He is.

Piper says:- This is the plan because the aim of creation is the fullest display of the greatness of the glory of the Grace of God and that display would be the slaying of the best being in the universe-Jesus Christ for countless millions of undeserving sinners. From Heaven He came and Sought Her p635

For our redemption God would take the best thing, the very best thing and give Him for us. The shedding of His blood for ours. As one American hymn put it, 'you paid much to high a price for me'. And to know that and to know it completely is to enter into worship to enter into worship as it should be. This is why heaven will be wonderful because then we will see for sure how loved we are and how bad we were and that precious, precious Son in all his glory.

Come worship the Son.

Stephen <>< 

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Jesus saved my mother- an article from a secular newspaper.

This is an article that appeared online, the address is above, but not sure how long it will be . I found it interesting because a son takes a look at his mother's testimony and he notices that she is a changed woman. That she has found peace, from reading the article, something she had been searching for all her life. Her son notices that her anxiety has gone and so has her quick temper. Whilst he ultimately seems to write it off, her life speaks volumes to him. Its also encouraging to hear of a growing church among the Northern Indian community in Southall, London, be encouraged :-

My mother, deeply rooted in the peasant culture of her native Punjab, was always immersed in the supernatural. She was born into Sikhism, but – like many Indians of her generation – her knowledge of her religion was never strong. She could never name its 10 founding gurus; nor had she any interest in its monist theology which encourages an internal experience of God through meditation.
Her Sikhism was an emotionally driven, personal mish-mash of various customs from across the subcontinent – most of it Hindu. She visited temples daily, prayed each morning and chanted Sanskrit hymns – without understanding a word – while wafting incense through the house. And she fasted – a lot.
She often fasted for Shiva, the dancing wild-man god of destruction, and his first wife, Shakti. When her children got chicken pox, she fasted for the tiger-riding, demon-slaying goddess Durga. And she fasted, in vain, for Santoshi Mata, the goddess of domestic happiness.
Her religion was disordered, ad hoc and impossible to pin down, but it was a constant in my life and it inspired me. I have an abiding love of myth – the first book I took out of a library was about the Greek heroes – and I find India and its spiritual traditions enchanting. I’ve made dozens of pilgrimages there to sites of Sikh martyrdom, birthplaces of Hindu avatars and the shrines of sufi babas. I have a lasting fascination with yoga and mystical experiences.
Mum’s supernatural thinking – her certainty that creation was shaped by divine beings and magical forces, and influenced by spells and curses – was, I felt, a link between myself and my ancestors stretching back millennia. I loved talking to her about the stories in the Puranas, about Krishna battling snake-devils and Shiva churning the oceans for the nectar of immortality, on her terms – as things that actually happened – and seeing her light up with excitement at the tales.
But last year she found Jesus – and all her fantastical pagan ways went out of the window. She had begun to seek Him in earnest the year before. My mother works for a catering company in Southall, west London, cleaning the dishes that come off the planes at nearby Heathrow Airport, and it was an evangelist colleague, a former Sikh, who invited her to a Christian prayer service in a local church. “I felt peace straight away,” Mum said. “From the first time I went and listened to people’s testimonies, about how Jesus had healed and changed their lives, I felt peace.”

Surinder Dhaliwal, with baby Nirpal.
 Surinder Dhaliwal, with baby Nirpal.

She continued visiting the church, which has a north-Indian congregation and conducts its services in Punjabi, and lost interest in her old ways. Then Jesus came to her in a dream: “He held my hand,” she told me.
Her conversion itself wasn’t too surprising. The story of Jesus is, by Indian standards, a plausibly humdrum one. Most Indian villagers could point you towards someone who cures the sick, raises the dead and knows the secret of eternal life. And the morphing of religions has always been a common occurrence there. What unnerved me was my sense of betrayal, the painful sense of rejection as Mum turned her back on what had been our abiding bond. It felt like she’d turned her back on me.
Her conversion was a blanket one. Many of the religious items she got rid of I had collected on my travels and had sentimental value. It hurt that she didn’t consider my feelings when she did as her pastor commanded and purged her home of idols and other “satanic” trinkets. Our conversations are now truncated. If I make a remark with a Sikh or Hindu connotation, my mother will stop talking. Religion saturates Indian culture – there’s hardly an Indian movie, song or turn of phrase that doesn’t evoke a Hindu sentiment – and so I no longer play music to her as she goes silent and turns stony when she hears something non-Christian. We don’t watch Hindi movies together anymore.
“I’ve made my decision,” she replied, when I asked why she won’t indulge the merest hint of her past ways. “I’m not doing this by half. I’m standing with Jesus, and only Jesus.”

Sad as I feel about it, I appreciate that my mother is a much calmer and more contented woman now. Jesus has finally subdued the explosive, shrieking temper that has plagued her throughout my life and eased the chronic anxiety that brought her severe headaches and made her grind her teeth noisily in her sleep.
In many ways I’m happy for her. Her life is much simpler with the one-stop-shop that is Jesus, compared to the chaotic spiritual buffet she sampled from in the past. She no longer marches to temples bearing heavy loads of bananas, coconuts and gallons of milk as offerings. While others believe that the token gift of a flower or fruit is enough for the gods, Mum would give great bagfuls of foodstuffs, desperate for their assistance. I jokingly refer to Jesus as bina kela baba – the baba without bananas – which she sometimes finds funny enough to smile at, until she remembers it is blasphemy and straightens her face.

Mum’s life has been a terribly difficult one. She married a man who was an abusive alcoholic for the first 13 years of their marriage and has been teetotal but sullen and largely unemployed since. Speaking very little English, having very little education, she effectively raised four children on her own in a strange and foreign land.
My siblings and I have all contributed to her worries. Until recently, I’d spent two years living with her as I suffered from depression – and she was my rock. Challenging as I find it, I can’t begrudge her new faith which has, at last, brought her some much needed relief.
Recently, I went with her to church. I watched as a young preacher gave a hectoring sermon in Punjabi and the congregation held their hands aloft and muttered to themselves with their eyes shut. Their desperation broke my heart, expressing as it did their deep fears and pain, reminding me of my mother’s anguished and often lonely journey.
Afterwards, they told me of the wonders Jesus had worked in their lives. One man’s visa had come through after he’d converted, though he’d been told by a solicitor that he’d no chance of staying in Britain. Another man described how he’d dropped his wallet as he left work on a building site and returned to find it there in the morning, still containing the £300 he’d left inside it – just as Jesus had promised when he’d prayed.
I listened to all this as I sat with Mum and shared the congregation’s communal meal of keema, biryani and sag-aloo, while Christian bhajans (devotional songs) played through the speakers. Hearing tales of miracles, enjoying the taste and smell of Indian food, the sound of tablas and Hindi vocals in the background, I reflected on whether I’d lost much of my mother to Jesus at all.- Nirpal Dhaliwal
God Bless
Stephen <><

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

The Christian preacher

The Christian preacher is not the successor to the Greek orator, but of the Hebrew prophet. It is one thing to rouse or persuade people to do something.....It is another to have to induce them to trust somebody and renounce themselves for him.... The orator stirs men to (action), the preacher invites them to be redeemed." P T Forsyth as quoted by Timothy Keller's Preaching

Don't walk away

It seems in the Church in the west at the moment there is a failure of leadership to live up to the model for ministry laid down in scripture. Recently John Piper was interviewed about this and he acknowledged that this is the case but it is not unique in church history. Jesus representatives have always had failures amongst them. He pointed out that Paul was glad the gospel was being preached even if some where preaching it out of envy or for Paul to have a harder time in prison.
 Piper speaks to those who have been hurt by Church leaders, which in some respects is probably all of us at some point in our lives:

' To walk away from Jesus because Jesus representatives are failures is to make an absurd choice. Jesus is our only hope. That He has bad representatives (including me at times) doesn't make Jesus defective, Jesus is the one person in the universe who has no defects, no failures. If you walk away from the one person who has no failures because His representatives have failures, you are walking away from the one hope of your life.' John Piper

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Tim Keller v's Joel Osteen

I've just read in Tim Keller's preaching book the answer to Joel Osteen's questionable theology:-

'Modern people, for example, may come to the Bible looking for answers to the question "how do I build up my self-esteem and feel better about myself?" Yet in the biblical passages on sin and repentance, they will discover that the more basic human problem is too high a view of ourselves. We are blind to the depths of our own selfcenteredness and overconfident that we have the wisdom to manage our own lives. Then in passages on adoption and justification they will learn that be asking to "feel better about themselves" they were asking for too little- too little in comparison with what our new identity in Christ can be. In the end,  unfolding God's word carefully will so transform our thinking that we will see the inadequacy of the original line of question that we brought to it.' 

Tim Keller, Preaching  Communicating Faith in an Age of Skepticism p.37

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Rosaria Butterfield

I have yet to read Rosaria Butterfield's The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert, but I enjoyed this interview immensely. She is engaging and understands both the power of the Gospel and the culture she lives in. 

Here are some of her comments from the above interview

When Christians are losing socially and publicly we do better. We pray more and are humble and we do not make moral proclamations instead of Gospel invitations.

Do not assume your gay or lesbian neighbour's worst sin is their sexuality its not its their unbelief.

There are only two things that are eternal, God's word and souls.

She encourages us to build relationships with our gay and lesbian neighbours and show them the love of Christ. She said this will be hard as they really are a community and the church can learn a lot from them. She encourages us to be good company for the downtrodden and to stand up for the dis empowered. She encourages us to get close enough to people, like Jesus did that we might get hurt.

Stephen <><

Saturday, 27 June 2015

Richard Bauckham on John the Son of Zebedee or not

John the son of Zebedee

A few months ago I was given the opportunity to ask a question via the internet to Richard Buackham author of the excellent ‘ Jesus and The Eyewitnesses’. I have already expressed my appreciation for this book on here previously. However the one fall back in my view is that whilst Richard argues that the Fourth Gospel is indeed eyewitness testimony but the author is not John the son of Zebedee. My question related to this ‘why are you so sure the beloved disciple is not John the son of Zebedee?
Richard was gracious in his answer and responded with the following:-

The Biblical Response
The fourth gospel mainly takes place in Jerusalem while the synoptic gospels mainly take place in Galilee.
It features the voices of people who never speak or don’t appear in the synoptic gospels. 
It seems to be written by a Jerusalem disciple and not one of the 12. 
John is always with his brother James in the Gospels so it is surprising to find no mention of him by name in the Fourth Gospel.

The historical argument-

He goes on to argue that the witness from the early church seems quite strong because they all point to the Apostle John as the author. However Bauckham rightly argues that the name John was very common in the C1st and he has no doubt the author was called John just note the Apostle John. He believes the early church is speaking with one voice though as they are all following Polycarp who point out that the author was John of Ephesus.  However if we take Papias’ comments seriously John of Ephesus was the elder John rather than John the Apostle. He points out, (although admitting it is rather a late tradition) that John was supposedly martyred quite early on. He points out that John disappears after the council in Jerusalem in the book of Acts.

My Response:-

It’s widely accepted that John knew of and was familiar with the synoptic gospels and wanted to supplement their account.  So it featuring different events and different people isn’t a deal breaker.
The fourth gospel doesn't mention James by name, neither does it mention John’s relative Mary the mother of Jesus by name. This is important as it points out two things, John assumes a general knowledge of the information in the synoptic accounts. Secondly John is consistent in not naming his relatives. 
John begins his narrative with the ministry of John the Baptist just like the other Gospels, and indeed we find that there is an unnamed disciple of the Baptist that follows Jesus. It isn’t much of a stretch to see this disciple as the unnamed beloved disciple at the end who Peter points out. In deed in Acts John is coupled not with James his brother but Peter which fits so well with the fourth gospel. As someone pointed out, the beloved disciple is repeatedly found in the place we would expect to see the Apostle John.  Admittedly the fourth gospel does have more trips to Jerusalem but the fourth gospel like the other three concentrates most of its information on  the passion week, filling out the details of the that week. Yet the first two signs take place in Cana and this according to the synoptics is the home of John. 
Whilst the voices are different we are not told anywhere that other disciples than the 12 were at the last supper and every voice that does speak at the supper is one of the 12. 

The historical response.

Buackham rightly affirms that the writer of the 4th Gospel is clearly the Beloved Disciple, he also holds in high regard the names attached to the Gospels by the early church. Which is why he rejects out of hand the idea that Lazarus whom Jesus loved isn't the beloved disciple. The author he is looking for is John as this tradition goes back. Now like many scholars he takes Papias statement of the multiple John's mentioned in Papias list, the Apostle John and the Elder John. Yet the early church were so sure that the son of Zebedee wrote the 4th Gospel that they included it in the cannon as it carried Apostolic authority. This is what is most surprising, Buackham moves scholarship on as he rightly moves away from the community development hypothesis for the gospels but stays in the same place with an evangelical scholarship impacted by liberal scholarship since the C19th. No-one before the C19th argued for John the elder, a whole mythology has now developed around him.

Saturday, 13 June 2015

Lights in a Dark Place- Rebecca Davis

I got given a copy of this book to read with my children and then to review it, I am not obliged to give a positive review. My little girls weren't taken with it but that is a reflection of their age not on the writing ability of Rebecca Davis. In fact Rebecca Davis has a tremendous gift of communicating to children. I think this book is aimed at pre-teens and they would find the stories in here fascinating. 

The title is very fitting, Lights in A Dark Place - true stories of God at work in Colombia. Throughout this little book you find that Colombia is indeed a dark place, poverty and oppression are massive. Oppression from both an aggressive Roman Catholicism and from Revolutionaries who in wanting to bring freedom have brought fear. Davis tells how even in these dark places throughout many decades God has been using evangelicos to share the good news with both conservative Catholics looking for freedom and murderous millitant revolutionaries whose guilt keeps them awake. Davis also shares the stories of brave evangelicos who go to tell these people the gospel risking both their lives and their homes. I know these stories were written for children but I found them encouraging, because the gospel can change lives anywhere and challenging because of the sacrificial lives of the evangelicos, both native Colombians and missionaries who are sold out for God and His gospel. I am also encouraged at all the answered prayers in the book, including the prayers of a four year old whose dad showed him pictures of Colombian mountain people and then prayed that God would work in his parents and make them missionaries to Colombia. It was also nice to see the boy grow up and continue ministering to them and seeing remarkable answers to prayer. If you have a child between 8-12 why not read this to them. Who knows God may use it to challenge them to pray you onto the mission field? 

Saturday, 6 June 2015

A Theology of John's Gospel and Letters

Finished this wonderful book today, Kostenberger is a gifted communicator but much more than that makes this an incredible book. Kostenberger says in the very last thought that his intention as a scholar is not to master the book of John but  that he is as a worshiper and disciple seeking to be mastered by it. That is the way this book feels, it is theology as devotion and his enthusiasm for John and for John's LORD is catching. Yet it is also scholarly,  Kostenberger has a firm grasp on trends within Johannine scholarship and as a conservative evangelical he is not afraid to engage with them. He is appreciative of Richard Bauckham's  Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (as am I) but takes him to task for not following the early church in affirming the writer of the fourth Gospel as the Apostle John when the best evidence leads us to that conclusion. Kostenberger rightly points out that Bauckham's book has moved scholarship beyond the now outdated idea of a Johannine community to see that there is weighty evidence within the gospels themselves to point to eyewitness testimony. 

I am not sure where Kostenberger stands on the whole sovereignty of God, human responsibility issue but he is very clear where John stands, while John affirms both, it is the sovereignty of God that is paramount which is one of the reasons I came to a reformed understanding as John's gospel did its work on me.
An interesting chapter in the book shows Kostenberger taking on those who would challenge John's ethics as a sectarian document. He points out that while John presents the world as a dark place,'alienated from God, nontheless it remains an object of his love' both in the sending of Jesus, John 3:16 and in the mission of the disciples, for John this is not just for the Apostles but all who come after. The mission of the church is also a key theme for John and Kostenberger draws this out in one chapter and it is reverberates through the whole book. I commend this book to to you.

I am taking a break from Kostenberger for a couple of books but I am already looking forward to reading his ECNT commentary on John.

God Bless
Stephen <><