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In the autumn a friend of mine is teaching a course on questions Christians are too afraid to ask.  Help him out.  What should he cover?

To get you started, here were the first four off the top of my head:

Hell. Really? Seriously? Eternal torment? For Granny? And I'll spend forever happy about that?
Can heaven and hell really pivot on my intellectual assent to this system of truth?
Where's the joy, freedom, life, hope and change?  Why are Christians (am I) so miserable?
Is this really the best news God could come up with?  Maybe it's true, but it doesn't sound good news to me.

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Over to you...

 

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The New Testament has many warnings regarding our natural perversion of the gospel.  We need to take them seriously.  But I wonder if, often, we misdiagnose the problems.

Here are five little warning passages from the Bible.  How do you instinctively characterize the bad guys in the following:

Those who walk away from Christ's 'hard words' in John 6

They're headed for lawlessness right? We imagine they can't handle Christ's heavy discipleship programme, that's the problem, right?

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The wolves of Matthew 7:15-19.

They're liberal bishops right? (This is probably the association that Anglican evangelicals make most readily!)

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The wolves Paul warns of in Acts 20:29-32

They'll 'devour the flock' by preaching licentious living, right?

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'The doctrine of demons' as outlined in 1 Timothy 4

Orgies and heathen idolatry, surely!?

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The dangerous "drift" of Hebrews 2:1-3

This must be a drift away from the law.  Mustn't it?

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Come on, admit it.  Your gut reactions cast the bad guys as lawless liberals right?

But no.  The hardness of Christ's teaching in John 6 is his relentless call away from the "works that God requires".  What they find so hard is Christ's insistence on faith alone in His (flesh and) blood alone.  The false prophets of Matthew 7 and Acts 20 are, in the context, the legalists.  The doctrine of demons is asceticism.  The dangerous drift of Hebrews is towards the law.

So, by all means, be warned.  But be warned in the right way.  Watch your life and doctrine closely.  Teach sound doctrine.  Correct, rebuke and encourage with great patience and careful instruction.  Do it because the freedom of the gospel is at stake.  And we dare not enslave ourselves again.

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There’s no such thing as a free lunch – so the saying goes.  The LORD begs to differ:

Isaiah 55:1-3 "Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David.

A free lunch is exactly the kind of thing our heavenly Father provides.  After all, if we ask for bread, will He give us a stone?  If we ask for an egg, will He give us a snake?  (Matthew 7:9-10)  No, He gives us free sunshine, free air, free water, free life.  His very nature is to offer us free sustenance.

How does this sustenance come?  Through His word.  Notice how the LORD says “Listen, Give ear, Hear me.” Whatever God has for us, it’s dished up in the word.  See verses 10-11:

10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.

Just as rain brings grain, so the word brings food to us.  The purpose for which God sends his word is to bring life.  It’s like rain on a parched land.  It makes people dying with thirst to bud and flourish.

Back in verse 3, simply to hear this word brings life to our souls.  Why?  Because through God's word we receive His “faithful love promised to David.”

Now think about that!

In the words of the King James version, He offers "the sure mercies of David" to peoples and nations.  He invites the world into His covenant with David.

When Isaiah wrote this, King David was long dead.  Yet all Israel knew that David foreshadowed the true King of the Jews.

In Isaiah 9, we read about the Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace who reigns on David's throne.  Christ is the true David and Isaiah knew it.

In Isaiah 11 he prophesies about Christ as the shoot of Jesse.  The Messiah is the Ideal David, filled with the Spirit of wisdom and understanding.  He is a Cosmic King to bring justice and righteousness to the world.

Thus "the sure mercies of David" refers to the Father’s covenant love for His Son.  This is what God wants to give us: He wants the world to enjoy His love for Christ.

In Isaiah 42, we read about how the Father feels towards Christ:

"Here is my servant, whom I uphold, my chosen one in whom I delight; I will put my Spirit on him and he will bring justice to the nations.

Those are the sure mercies of David.  That’s the Father’s everlasting love for His Son.

From all eternity the Son has been the true David – the Anointed King.  He is the Father’s everlasting delight and He pours His Spirit without measure onto Christ.

This is the everlasting covenant.  These are the sure mercies of David.  They’re all found in Jesus.  And in God’s word we are given Christ for free.

That’s why we read our Bibles.  That’s why we have preaching.  That’s why we encourage each other with the word.  Because in God’s word, God’s Son is offered.  And He is Bread for the hungry.  He offers Living Waters for the thirsty.  All without money and without cost.  We simply “listen” / “give ear” / “hear” our Father and through the gift of Christ our souls will live.

Why listen to God's word?  To feast on Christ.

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This is taken from the introduction to my Isaiah talks

It's also the theme of my latest devotional's preface

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If you don't know about my wife's wonderful blog and ministry - check it out now.

Here's the opening to her latest article for the Church of England newspaper:

If you’d met me seven years ago, here’s what you’d have seen:  a ‘successful’ Christian, newly married to a vicar in training. Leader of a thriving children’s ministry. A talented student with a bright future ahead. Someone who seemed to have it all together.

But there’s one part you might have missed: a young woman gripped by an eating disorder that would nearly take her life...

Read the whole article here

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The next quarter of the King's English is available on Lulu.

In the next 24 hours it will also be available on Kindle.  Stay tuned.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

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Far and away the best Australian comedy ever made, The Castle is a must-see movie.  Brilliantly observed, funny, heart-warming and if you're not punching the air at the triumphant ending I fear for the state of your soul.

The Kerrigan family are threatened with eviction by a nasty corporation.  But 'a man's home is his castle' so they fight it through the courts and... (last second spoiler alert!)... win.

It taps into some deeply felt Australian myths.  It's about home and land - with overt references to aboriginal land rights.  It's about family and mateship and a fair go. Most of all it's the myth of the little Aussie battler winning through.

Or is it?

In the story, Darryl Kerrigan (right) is completely helpless.  He's all at sea in a legal world far beyond his understanding.  As much as he wants to protect his family, he's absolutely powerless.  His fate, and the fate of his household, lies with one of two advocates.

First, Dennis Denuto (left) makes terrible representation (see below).  All is lost.

But a saviour is found in Lawrence Hammill QC (centre).  Everything changes the minute 'Lawrie' utters those words, "I'd like to appear on your behalf - gratis... free!"

[youtube="http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ITUSZ6LRHrk&feature=related"]

To the court, Darryl Kerrigan only looked as good as his representative.  When his representative was poor, his case was thrown out.  When his representative was good, he was utterly vindicated.  His destiny lay in the hands of his advocate.

As an audience, we have a soft spot for the Kerrigans.  But Lawrie wins our hearts.  Only the emotionally constipated could watch his final speech (not shown above) with dry eyes.

The Castle's not about a working class hero who never gave up.  This is not the story of one man standing against the powers that be - much as we love that myth.  It's about the powerful one stepping down for the weak.  It's the strong advocate who graciously intercedes.

Therefore - two things.  1)  Go and see The Castle if you haven't already!

And 2) realise this:  You are not the determined little guy who'll make good in the end.  You're facing trial - powerless and guilty.  But you have a brilliant Advocate.  He says, "I'd like to appear on your behalf - gratis!"  And He makes faultless representation to the court of heaven.  You stand in Him completely vindicated.  What kind of Advocate is this!

24 Because Jesus lives for ever, He has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need--one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens.   (Heb 7:24-26)

19 Even now my Witness is in heaven; my Advocate is on high. 20 My Intercessor is my Friend as my eyes pour out tears to God; 21 on behalf of a man He pleads with God as a man pleads for his friend.  (Job 16:19-21)

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It's common to hear the argument that christological interpretations of the OT are at the expense of seeing the pastoral applications.  Effectively the argument is, "If it's all about Jesus then it's not about us."

Well... here's how Paul quotes the OT in Romans 15:3

Christ did not please Himself but, as it is written [in Psalm 69:9]: "The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me."

Psalm 69:9 is Christ speaking.  The One on Whom insults fall is Christ.  This is obvious for Paul.  It's not a conclusion he argues towards, it's a premise he considers to be self-evident so that he can argue from it to other conclusions (i.e. - because Christ is like this, so should you be).

Does this Christ focus detract from the Psalm's application to us?  Paul doesn't think so.  Here's how he immediately continues.

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us.  (Romans 15:4)

The OT teaches us - not by putting us directly into the shoes of the Psalmist.  Christ is the Zealous Insult-Bearer - it's actually about Him.  But it teaches us because it brings us to Him.  Then in Him come the applications for us.

But first, this is what we need to be taught - we need to be taught Christ.

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A repost from two years ago...

Over the summer we got Sky Sports so I could watch the Ashes (I still think I should ask for a refund).

One morning I turned on to watch some highlights and caught the end of  'Aerobics Oz Style.'  I immediately laughed remembering the show from my youth in Australia.  As I recall, the whole thing was basically an ultra-gay fitness instructor in ultra-pink lycra teaching ultra-fat housewives to star-jump.

But it seems Aerobics Oz Style has changed.  The gay guy in spandex has been replaced by 5 supermodels - part silicone, part botox, part peroxide, all legs and boobs and hair and teeth - gently stretching in the Australian sunshine.  I stood there holding my remote - my laugh of recognition turned into this boyish burble.  "Hur hur hur- the purdy laydies with their purdy hair, hur hur."  After a few seconds of slack-jawed, misty wonder I snapped out of it and changed channel.  But I couldn't help asking myself - What just happened?  How did I go from grown-up to idiot boy in the space of 5 blondes?

Well here's my quick answer: when women uncover themselves to serve passive men some fundamentals of masculinity are reversed. Or to put it another way: pornography turns a man into a child. (I'll leave to one side women and porn here - though that needs thought too.)

Think about it:  A man is meant to go out from himself and win a bride.  He is meant to proactively serve an actual flesh and blood woman with real and costly service.  He - and he alone - is to uncover her nakedness (a common biblical phrase, see Lev 18) and enter into a deep oneness, not only of flesh but of soul and spirit also.  The woman is to be discerning, to give herself only to the one man who lays down his life for her.  She is to warmly receive him (and him alone) with single-hearted faithfulness.

But then, what happens with the man who indulges in pornography?  He doesn't go out from himself but turns in on himself.  He pursues nothing but his own desires.  He woos no-one but himself.  He is not the active servant, he is the passive recipient.  He doesn't uncover her nakedness, she indiscriminately uncovers herself.  He doesn't engage her mind or heart but merely consumes her flesh.  This image calls forth nothing from the man except his credit card details.  And the habituation of this selfishness will only shut him down further.  Pornography turns a man into a child.

Which is why the male icon of the porn industry pads around his mansion in his jim-jams.

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12

A friend of mine is very supportive of my ministry but is passionately opposed to parachurch organisations.  He makes many different arguments, but here's an argument that might persuade me (though I haven't heard him make it)...

If a local church rented advertising space on the side of a bus, what slogans do you think it would run with?

Anything like "Not Gay, Ex-Gay, Post-Gay and Proud.  Get over it"?

I'm not saying they're wrong. I think the reification of 'sexuality' as an unchanging marker of personal identity deeply undermines our humanity.  I think the elimination of choice (such that one in unable to be ex-anything) is akin to Islam's apostasy laws!  I think the ad's censorship betrays the deep intolerance of many so-called liberals.

But, but, but, when those behind the ads say that the controversy was a God-send, I have to wonder whether they're mission lines up with mine (which I hope is Christ's!).

INTERVIEWER: You couldn't buy this level of publicity, now that it's been banned...

REV LYNDA ROSE: We couldn't, one has to wonder whether God is not perhaps active in this. It wasn't our intention to provoke this situation... The publicity is obviously good.  (From Channel 4 News)

Lynda, maybe the publicity's good for you.  Speaking as an evangelist, let me tell you it aint so good from where I'm sitting!

And it just  makes me wonder, who gets to be a spokesperson for Christianity in the world?  The church, right?  But when does the church lose it's voice and get drowned out by interest groups?  Certainly the media can't tell these things apart - and I can't blame them for it.

It seems to me that our public face needs to be a lot more aligned to both Head and body!  Otherwise local churches (and parachurch evangelists!) are going to have to pick up the pieces.

You foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? Before your very eyes Jesus Christ was placarded as crucified. (Galatians 3:1)

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Click for source

A friend and I did an hour of open air outreach this morning.  More were due to come but illness prevented.

I was all prepared to preach (on "Pray for Muamba" and on the budget / problem of debt) but there were too many buskers to compete with.  With such lovely weather we had singers every 50 metres all along the town centre.  So instead of preach, we set out a table with free gospels, bibles and tracts.

In an hour we handed out every tract we had (100+), gave out 2 New Testaments and about 10 Gospels.  Six different people stopped to chat and three of them (count it - three of them) said they'd come to church tomorrow. Please pray they do.

All we had was a literature table, a hand-made sign saying "Free, please take one" and we spent an hour in the sunshine smiling, offering free stuff and talking about Jesus.

Is that something you could do?

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