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Bobby's just commented on a brilliant Richard Sibbes quotation re participation in the trinitarian communion of love.  Go read it. 

It got me thinking about the upper room, before Jesus died.  Here Jesus gives us three pictures of how we are loved.  The waterfall, promotion, God's compass.  They all deserve reflection as we immerse ourselves in how we have been loved by the triune God.

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First, the waterfall:

"As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you." (John 15:9)

Here the love of the Father for His Son cascades over to us.  We stand in a beginningless, limitless torrent of love.  Think about it.  Take the word 'as' with utmost seriousness.

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Then there's promotion to Jesus' side:

The Father Himself loves you because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. (John 16:27)

Here, in loving Christ we are raised shoulder to shoulder with the Son.  Think how highly we have been raised.  Anointed ones alongside the Anointed One.  Sons and daughters alongside the Son.  Receiving the same love from the Father that Jesus does.  Promoted into the Godhead!

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Then there's God's compass placed within us: 

...in order that the love You [Father] have for Me may be in them and that I myself may be in them. (John 17:26)

The Father's own 'true north' of love for His Son is placed within the Christian.  Now we have the Father's love for His Son in us.  The Christian loves the Son with the love the Father has placed within us.  That beginningless, limitless waterfall is not only something we receive, it's something that now flows from within us (John 7:38f).

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How He has loved us!  How He has caught us up in His love!  Meditate on these things

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When times are tough - what is your comfort?  When comforting others, where do you point them?

In the circles in which I move the encouragements of choice involve variations on the theme of 'God's got a plan.'  Many's the time when a well-meaning brother (usually a brother) has said 'I guess at moments like this, all you can do is cling onto God's sovereignty.'  Often I've heard friends say that only sovereignty has enabled them to get through the hard times. 

Something's gone wrong here.   1.5 billion Muslims navigate through life clinging onto 'insh'Allah' (God willing).  800 million Hindus believe that karma will work everything out.  And how many westerners, even in the face of terrible suffering, will still believe 'everything happens for a reason.' 

This was really brought home to me about 5 years ago.  I was praying with a new convert from Islam.  We were worried about his visa application, but I was amazed at how he was 'trusting God's sovereignty'.  In fact he was using language that I usually associate with the most mature of reformed Christians.  I told him I was very impressed, he shrugged his shoulders and said 'In Pakistan we have a saying: 'God willing' - it means that whatever God wills will happen.'  Insh'Allah had simply been translated to a Christian environment.  Yet surely a Christian account of sovereignty involves more than simply transfering deterministic agency from Allah to the Father!  Surely there's got to be a gospel-shape, a Christ-focus, a trinitarian dynamic to Christian sovereignty.  Yet what was so striking about my friend's translated insh'Allah was that it sounded so completely like the Christian pastoral wisdom sketched out above.

Two years ago I went to northern Nigeria and the difference between Muslim and Christian accounts of sovereignty struck me again.  When I wanted something done by Tuesday, the Muslim would tell me 'It will be ready, insh'Allah'.  The Christian would tell me, 'It will be ready, if Jesus tarries.'  Hallelujah!!  Isn't that brilliant??  (King James' English lives on in Nigeria!).  But isn't there all the difference in the world between a future determined by an inscrutible divine will and a future opened up in the gospel-patience of Jesus?  I've tried to get people using 'If Jesus tarries' over here, but it hasn't taken.  Yet.

Now I'm not denying for a second the sovereign rule of the Father through the Son and by the Spirit.  And perhaps in future posts I'll outline some thoughts on what a truly gospel-shaped, Christ-focused, dynamically-trinitarian account of sovereignty might look like.  But for now I will simply question the pastoral wisdom of referring the suffering Christian to the sovereignty of God as though 'God's in charge' was the sum and substance of the Christian hope.

All too often this amounts to a 'light at the end of the tunnel' comfort.   How much better to encourage a person that Christ joins them in the tunnel.

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.  (Philippians 3:10)

Christ is with us in suffering.  He is especially near to the broken-hearted.  As Spurgeon used to say, He never throws His children in the fire without joining them in it (cf Dan. 3; Isaiah 43:2).  In suffering we get to know the Suffering Servant with greater depth and intimacy than ever before.   To simply point to the God over and above us in suffering is deficient.  We must also point to the God beside and within us.

The gospel is not the truth that, while I may be buried in muck, God remains untouched in pristine glory and one day I'll be there with Him.  The gospel is that God joins us in the muck.  The gospel is that He stoops, sympathises and suffers alongside us.  And that He raises us with Him to the throne.   But if the gospel is not that God remains in heaven and we battle on till glory, why does so much of our pastoral exhortation betray exactly such a 'gospel.'

Why do we so often point people to God's sovereignty and so rarely point them to God's Son?  Why is the focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and so little on the One who joins us in the darkness?  The one kind of exhortation produces tight-lipped soldiers, the other produces broken-hearted lovers.  Let's aim for the latter!

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When times are tough - what is your comfort?  When comforting others, where do you point them?

In the circles in which I move the encouragements of choice involve variations on the theme of 'God's got a plan.'  Many's the time when a well-meaning brother (usually a brother) has said 'I guess at moments like this, all you can do is cling onto God's sovereignty.'  Often I've heard friends say that only sovereignty has enabled them to get through the hard times. 

Something's gone wrong here.   1.5 billion Muslims navigate through life clinging onto 'insh'Allah' (God willing).  800 million Hindus believe that karma will work everything out.  And how many westerners, even in the face of terrible suffering, will still believe 'everything happens for a reason.' 

This was really brought home to me about 5 years ago.  I was praying with a new convert from Islam.  We were worried about his visa application, but I was amazed at how he was 'trusting God's sovereignty'.  In fact he was using language that I usually associate with the most mature of reformed Christians.  I told him I was very impressed, he shrugged his shoulders and said 'In Pakistan we have a saying: 'God willing' - it means that whatever God wills will happen.'  Insh'Allah had simply been translated to a Christian environment.  Yet surely a Christian account of sovereignty involves more than simply transfering deterministic agency from Allah to the Father!  Surely there's got to be a gospel-shape, a Christ-focus, a trinitarian dynamic to Christian sovereignty.  Yet what was so striking about my friend's translated insh'Allah was that it sounded so completely like the Christian pastoral wisdom sketched out above.

Two years ago I went to northern Nigeria and the difference between Muslim and Christian accounts of sovereignty struck me again.  When I wanted something done by Tuesday, the Muslim would tell me 'It will be ready, insh'Allah'.  The Christian would tell me, 'It will be ready, if Jesus tarries.'  Hallelujah!!  Isn't that brilliant??  (King James' English lives on in Nigeria!).  But isn't there all the difference in the world between a future determined by an inscrutible divine will and a future opened up in the gospel-patience of Jesus?  I've tried to get people using 'If Jesus tarries' over here, but it hasn't taken.  Yet.

Now I'm not denying for a second the sovereign rule of the Father through the Son and by the Spirit.  And perhaps in future posts I'll outline some thoughts on what a truly gospel-shaped, Christ-focused, dynamically-trinitarian account of sovereignty might look like.  But for now I will simply question the pastoral wisdom of referring the suffering Christian to the sovereignty of God as though 'God's in charge' was the sum and substance of the Christian hope.

All too often this amounts to a 'light at the end of the tunnel' comfort.   How much better to encourage a person that Christ joins them in the tunnel.

I want to know Christ and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in His sufferings.  (Philippians 3:10)

Christ is with us in suffering.  He is especially near to the broken-hearted.  As Spurgeon used to say, He never throws His children in the fire without joining them in it (cf Dan. 3; Isaiah 43:2).  In suffering we get to know the Suffering Servant with greater depth and intimacy than ever before.   To simply point to the God over and above us in suffering is deficient.  We must also point to the God beside and within us.

The gospel is not the truth that, while I may be buried in muck, God remains untouched in pristine glory and one day I'll be there with Him.  The gospel is that God joins us in the muck.  The gospel is that He stoops, sympathises and suffers alongside us.  And that He raises us with Him to the throne.   But if the gospel is not that God remains in heaven and we battle on till glory, why does so much of our pastoral exhortation betray exactly such a 'gospel.'

Why do we so often point people to God's sovereignty and so rarely point them to God's Son?  Why is the focus on the light at the end of the tunnel and so little on the One who joins us in the darkness?  The one kind of exhortation produces tight-lipped soldiers, the other produces broken-hearted lovers.  Let's aim for the latter!

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Sometimes, when I'm sharing with Christians about tough times, I ask them: 'Why do you think God is breaking you down like this?'

Almost without fail they say something like, 'I know, I know, it's to make me stronger.'

No!  No, no, no, a thousand times no!

He's breaking you down to make you broken.  Don't, whatever you do, toughen up!

The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise. (Ps 51:17)

The LORD is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. (Ps 34:18)

Everyone who falls on that stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed. (Luke 20:18)

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From Genesis 1, the way of the LORD has always been forming, then filling.

The filled-out reality is there by anticipation even in the forming. The intention for filling is included in the forming. But still the order is ‘form, then fill.':

  • In Gen 1:2 - a formless and empty creation is then formed (days 1-3) and filled (days 4-6) as the Word of God is revealed (Gen 1:3ff).
  • (This is similar to both the tabernacle and the temple where first it is formed, then filled by the Glory of the LORD).
  • Adam is formed (from dust) and then filled (by the breath of the LORD God).
  • Humanity as male and female is first formed in Adam and then filled out in Eve's creation and their consummation.
  • The first Adam is filled by the Last.
  • The people of Israel as the seed of Abraham are filled by Christ, the Seed of Abraham.
  • The law is the form of the covenant and is filled by the gospel events.

In all this we remember that the intention for filling is already anticipated in the forming. The very forming reveals a long-intended desire to fill. The forming sets everything on a trajectory towards something beyond itself.

Is it too much to suggest on this basis alone the supralapsarian tendencies of the Living God? I'll do it anyway!

Eden is not the point. Adam is not the point. Adamic humanity is not the point. Israel and its worship is not the point. All these things are forms, intended to be filled-out by realities to which the forms themselves point but which they do not themselves contain. The intention is always to move through Eden and beyond to the New Jerusalem; through Adam and beyond to the Heavenly Man; through Israel (and its worship) and beyond to the Church of Jesus Christ.

Tellingly, this movement goes through death and out the other side to resurrection.  Thus...

  • The day is not always bright (as it will be in the new creation). Instead it goes from darkness into light.
  • The tree is not first, first comes the seed (John 12:24; 1 Cor 15:37)
  • There are not blessings and curses for Israel as alternative present tense realities but rather the blessings come after the curse. (see Deut 4:23-31; Deut 28-29 culminating in 30:1ff).
  • The cross comes first and then resurrection.
  • The LORD makes the old covenant and then the covenant renewed. (though the new covenant reality is grasped by faith long before both old and new covenants purchased).
  • The LORD makes the old earth and then the earth renewed.
  • First comes my body of flesh and then my spiritual body. (1 Cor 15:44)

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The Christian therefore knows two incontrovertible facts:

1. All things are forward-looking. The best is yet to come (let's never yearn for Adam, for Eden, for Israel, for old covenant).

2. The path to better things is through suffering: the road to resurrection blessing always goes through the cross.

Psalm 30:5 For his anger lasts only a moment, but his favour lasts a lifetime; weeping may remain for a night, but rejoicing comes in the morning.

Psalm 126:6 He who goes out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with him.

1 Peter 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.

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