Saturday, October 24, 2009

Keller on Repentance

Probably the best thing I have ever read on repentance as a Christian is Tim Keller's sermon called "All of life is repentance". If you are confused about what repentance for a Christian looks like or whether it is even necessary then do read it.

I hope it will change the way you think about keeping it real.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Dont let me lie to myself

Going through Psalm 119 over the last few days has reminded me how much passion the Old Testament song writer has for God's word. He obviously loves is and not simply because he is religious and likes religious ideas but rather because the Word of God comes from God. Much like I keep some of the letters that Claire sent me there is a connection with the person through the words. In that way the word of God becomes not merely a communication of ideas but it connects me with him too; it is relational.

Listen to this bit:

Psalm 119

25  I lie in the dust;
revive me by your word.
 26  I told you my plans, and you answered.
Now teach me your decrees.
 27  Help me understand the meaning of your commandments,
and I will meditate on your wonderful deeds.
 28  I weep with sorrow;
encourage me by your word.
 29  Keep me from lying to myself;
give me the privilege of knowing your instructions.
 30  I have chosen to be faithful;
I have determined to live by your regulations.
 31  I cling to your laws.
Lord, don’t let me be put to shame!
 32  I will pursue your commands,
for you expand my understanding. 

"keep me from lying to myself"
How do I know if I am lying to myself? How can I know if I am self deceived?
Well, I know that good friends can keep me honest, but how do I know if they have got it right?
I only know one person who knows me completely and is wise and brave enough to say it as it is and that's God. He does say some things in his word that are painful and direct but I love respect him all the more for saying them. The capacity my heart has to lie to itself is staggering, what I need is an injection of realism from the word so that I don't let it pull the wool over my eyes.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

He is amazing

This may or may not connect with you but I found the words stirred my heart. You might find that thinking about all of these things lifts Jesus from the two dimensional "cardboard" character that so many picture him as. The truth is that he is more amazing that we can get our heads round.

Colossians  1v15-20
 Christ Is Supreme
15  Christ is the visible image of the invisible God.
He existed before anything was created and is supreme over all creation,*
 16  for through him God created everything
in the heavenly realms and on earth.
He made the things we can see
and the things we can’t see—
such as thrones, kingdoms, rulers, and authorities in the unseen world.
Everything was created through him and for him.
 17  He existed before anything else,
and he holds all creation together.
 18  Christ is also the head of the church,
which is his body.
He is the beginning,
supreme over all who rise from the dead.*
So he is first in everything.
 19  For God in all his fullness
was pleased to live in Christ,
 20  and through him God reconciled
everything to himself.
He made peace with everything in heaven and on earth
by means of Christ’s blood on the cross.

Spurgeon on knowing Christ

For me the temptation to let the busyness of church become the thing that drives and consumes me is very real. It is difficult to pursue a proper connected relationship with Christ when I am always thinking about the next thing I need to be doing or the next problem that needs addressing. It seems crazy that being a pastor can sometimes get in the way of being a Christian but I know how easily our hearts and minds are distracted to other things, perhaps worthy things, but distracting when not put in their proper place.

A timely word for Spurgeon this morning helps me to think about what it means to know Christ.
"I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord."—Philippians 3:8.
SPIRITUAL knowledge of Christ will be a personal knowledge. I cannot know Jesus through another person's acquaintance with Him. No, I must know Him myself; I must know Him on my own account. It will be an intelligent knowledge—I must know Him, not as the visionary dreams of Him, but as the Word reveals Him. I must know His natures, divine and human. I must know His offices—His attributes—His works—His shame—His glory. I must meditate upon Him until I "comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge." It will be an affectionate knowledge of Him; indeed, if I know Him at all, I must love Him. An ounce of heart knowledge is worth a ton of head learning. Our knowledge of Him will be a satisfying knowledge. When I know my Saviour, my mind will be full to the brim—I shall feel that I have that which my spirit panted after. "This is that bread whereof if a man eat he shall never hunger." At the same time it will be an exciting knowledge; the more I know of my Beloved, the more I shall want to know. The higher I climb the loftier will be the summits which invite my eager footsteps. I shall want the more as I get the more. Like the miser's treasure, my gold will make me covet more. To conclude; this knowledge of Christ Jesus will be a most happy one; in fact, so elevating, that sometimes it will completely bear me up above all trials, and doubts, and sorrows; and it will, while I enjoy it, make me something more than "Man that is born of woman, who is of few days, and full of trouble"; for it will fling about me the immortality of the everliving Saviour, and gird me with the golden girdle of His eternal joy. Come, my soul, sit at Jesus's feet and learn of Him all this day.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Calvin on the heart

Sadly Mike Plant was away this morning so couldn't give the second lecture on Calvin at the Teesocs Plus course. I had the dubious privilege of filling in and came across a great quote from Calvin on the heart that I thought I would share:

"Its like a man who thinks he has made a fox tame, if he lets it alone for even half a day it returns to its kind . Even so it is with us. We are so wild that although it may seem for a time that we are thoroughly brought home to God, and very well reformed; yet in just the turn of a hand it is all forgotten" - J Calvin

I think of friends who have started out following Christ, who have seemed really genuinely changed by the gospel and yet have turned away again and gone back to a lifestyle that denies. It all makes me all too aware of how quickly it can be all turned around. And not only in other people but in my own heart too; how I need Christ to keep control of my heart every moment.

Thoughts of Batman the Dark Knight and "Two-Face" spring to mind. A man who changes from a shining example of bravery and integrity to someone who turns completely the other way. Unlike Two-Face we return to our default position of rebelling against God and going our own way: "wild" in Calvin's words, but like Two-Face the result is horrifying.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Thirsty for something better

Lots of things lately have got me thinking about what I am thirsty for in life. I mean by that what kind of things do I give my time and effort and money to and how far short do they come of what really satisfies. I remember before I became a Christian the feeling of thirst for something that I couldn't quite put my finger on, it was difficult to imagine what could make we feel really full or satisfied. I also remember feeling so completely overwhelmed by what Jesus had done for me and what it meant to know him when I first became a Christian. It really was as if Jesus was filling this massive, insatiable, gaping hole in me.

But funnily enough that feeling doesn't seem to disappear, there are times when we are wandering away from Jesus and we try and fill the hole with anything we can but it just doesn't work. And then we come back and we feel thirsty, starving, even desperate to know him more and better.

The heart is as insatiable as the grave till Jesus enters it, and then it is a cup full to overflowing. There is such a fulness in Christ that he alone is the believer’s all. The true saint is so completely satisfied with the all-sufficiency of Jesus that he thirsts no more—except it be for deeper draughts of the living fountain. In that sweet manner, believer, shalt thou thirst; it shall not be a thirst of pain, but of loving desire; thou wilt find it a sweet thing to be panting after a fuller enjoyment of Jesus’ love. One in days of yore said, “I have been sinking my bucket down into the well full often, but now my thirst after Jesus has become so insatiable, that I long to put the well itself to my lips, and drink right on.” Is this the feeling of thine heart now, believer? Dost thou feel that all thy desires are satisfied in Jesus, and that thou hast no want now, but to know more of him, and to have closer fellowship with him? Then come continually to the fountain, and take of the water of life freely. Jesus will never think you take too much, but will ever welcome you, saying, “Drink, yea, drink abundantly, O beloved.”
- Spurgeon

The language is intimate, perhaps even a little embarrassing but somehow my own heart responds to it and feels the thirst to know Jesus better.

Thursday, October 08, 2009


I find it a difficult thing to know how honest I can be with God when I talk to him. Don't get me wrong, I'm not suggesting that I want to tell him lies or try and pull the wool over his eyes (as if I could), but rather I just don't always know how to present my complaints to God. I want to be honest about the things I face and the issues that press in on me but I sometimes feel unsure about how to tell God about it.

Reading Numbers 11 yesterday made me think how blunt Moses is with God:

Numbers 11v10-15
10 Moses heard the people of every family wailing, each at the entrance to his tent. The LORD became exceedingly angry, and Moses was troubled. 11 He asked the LORD, "Why have you brought this trouble on your servant? What have I done to displease you that you put the burden of all these people on me? 12 Did I conceive all these people? Did I give them birth? Why do you tell me to carry them in my arms, as a nurse carries an infant, to the land you promised on oath to their forefathers? 13 Where can I get meat for all these people? They keep wailing to me, 'Give us meat to eat!' 14 I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If this is how you are going to treat me, put me to death right now—if I have found favor in your eyes—and do not let me face my own ruin."

It seems like a pretty blunt complaint doesn't it? I have no doubt that Moses didn't say it because he was simply annoyed or hacked off, I guess he comes to God like this because he brings everything to God and so these are the emotions and requests for that moment presented in a real and honest way. I guess that also means that coming to God with some measure of honesty about how we are feeling about a situation is not in itself wrong. I want to be careful not to presume to tell God what to do but I also what to be brave enough to ask for real things rather than offer general wishy-washy prayers that mean very little.

Jesus' encouragement makes my prayers feel too small:

John 16
23In that day you will no longer ask me anything. I tell you the truth, my Father will give you whatever you ask in my name. 24Until now you have not asked for anything in my name. Ask and you will receive, and your joy will be complete. 

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Are you getting the idea?

Due to our incredible denseness God speaks some things over and over and over again. Sometimes the symphony of sources that speak the same word is deafening but still we are not listening. I hear it and then dismiss it as just coincidence. I even rebel against the words of encouragement as if I don't deserve them. He speaks and then with unbelievable patience speaks again and then a glimmer of light sneaks into my mind as if someone has just drawn back the curtain an inch to let in a sliver of light. Do we dare open the curtain and really let the light in?

Last night's reading from Isaiah:

Fear not, for I have redeemed you; 43v1
Do not be afraid, for I am with you; 43v5
Do not be afraid, O Jacob, my servant, 44v5
Do not tremble, do not be afraid.44v8

Psalm 118 from last night:
Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good;
       his love endures forever.

  Let Israel say:
       "His love endures forever."

  Let the house of Aaron say:
       "His love endures forever."

  Let those who fear the LORD say:
       "His love endures forever."

  In my anguish I cried to the LORD,
       and he answered by setting me free.

  The LORD is with me; I will not be afraid.

Reading with Greg last night:
Philippians 1v20

I eagerly expect and hope that I will in no way be ashamed, but will have sufficient courage so that now as always Christ will be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. 

Philippians 1v27-28
stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

A mixed up king

Reading the account of Hezekiah over the last few days made me realise again how mixed he was. He finds himself under siege from the army of Sennacherib and does the thing that seems to natural and so right.

Isaiah 37v14-17

Hezekiah received the letter from the messengers and read it. Then he went up to the temple of the LORD and spread it out before the LORD. 15 And Hezekiah prayed to the LORD : 16 "O LORD Almighty, God of Israel, enthroned between the cherubim, you alone are God over all the kingdoms of the earth. You have made heaven and earth. 17 Give ear, O LORD, and hear; open your eyes, O LORD, and see; listen to all the words Sennacherib has sent to insult the living God.

For many Christians this has been a great encouragement to bring the things that trouble us and "spread them out before the Lord". In other words I pray and I tell God exactly what it is I am facing and what it is that I need him for. It's not some sort of genie in the lamp moment, but rather the trusting cry for help when everything turns pear shaped. Hezekiah reminds me of me when I am in trouble.

But then at the end of his life he is going to die from some illness and God very kindly extends his life by fifteen years. Another great example of God hearing and answering prayer, but then what does Hezekiah do with it? Well he blows it by putting his trust somewhere other than in God. And then when God confronts him about it and tells him he is going to bring judgement on his descendants he says this:

"The word of the LORD you have spoken is good," Hezekiah replied. For he thought, "There will be peace and security in my lifetime."

I can hardly get my head round it. It seems that Hezekiah is saying "Phew, I'm alright Jack!"
And again that reminds me of me. I pray for help, I ask God for intervention and deliverance and then when I am ok I rejoice no matter what the fallout on other people.
What a mixed up bunch of people we are.

You can read the whole thing here:

Friday, October 02, 2009

Fear Vs Terror

Last night we were asking the kids that come to one of our youth groups what they were afraid of. The answers were interesting: spiders (obviously), darkness, dying, adults shouting and so on and so forth. Interestingly when we got home our reading in Isaiah 33 had two verses that talked about fear but spoke about it in two very different ways.

 5 The LORD is exalted, for he dwells on high;
       he will fill Zion with justice and righteousness.

 6 He will be the sure foundation for your times,
       a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;
       the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.

Fear in that context means reverence, awe, it means understanding God is bigger and stronger and more holy and more amazing than we ever thought. It also in context means living like that rather than just saying it.

But then on just a few verses and we get another word:

14 The sinners in Zion are terrified;
       trembling grips the godless:
       "Who of us can dwell with the consuming fire?
       Who of us can dwell with everlasting burning?" 

The fear there is not reverence but rather it is terror, pure terror that God is coming to hand out justice. I guess all of us know deep down that if God were perfectly fair with us then we would be in deep trouble but the key to knowing Him not as terrifying judge but loving Father is not putting on a front and pretending everything is alright, rather it is honest confession. The people who Jesus seems to be most angry with in the gospels are those who play the religious card and yet are a million miles away from him in their hearts. They do not fear him but they will one day be in terror of him.

Thursday, October 01, 2009

He gets my back up

Thinking yesterday evening about the comments in John 15 from Jesus about why people hate him got me thinking about the type of things that Jesus said that got people annoyed.

John 15v22-23 If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin. Now, however, they have no excuse for their sin. He who hates me hates my Father as well.

Jesus draws a strong link between guilt and hearing his words but rejecting them, and interestingly he makes the point that hating him and his words means that you hate God the Father too. You can't have God without Jesus.

But what was it that made people so angry what didn't they like about his words?
Well looking through Mark's gospel again to try and see what it is that annoyed them so much the primary thing, maybe the only thing that seemed to annoy them was when Jesus made claims about himself and his authority that seemed to undermine their power or influence. The opposition was largely from those in power, either political or religious power. That fits well with what Jesus says in John 15 and 16 about opposition coming from religious people who think they are serving God.

Surely that has a lot to say about the church's role as a voice that speaks out against abuse of power and false leaders but also a challenge to keep Jesus right at the centre of the debate. People don't want to talk about Jesus, they want to talk about issues, the problem with that is that it makes us reactionary; only responding to the agenda the world sets rather than setting Jesus out as the Son of God, the only saviour and the only hope this world has. His claim to absolute authority over our lives is completely offensive to many but it is the issue.