The Cross Indicator

 

How much love is indicated by the crucifixion of Christ?

 

the cross indicatorWhen Jesus was on his way to Calvary he was offered a drink that would numb the pain.  He refused.  I suspect my familiarity with the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion might numb my awareness of all that is indicated by the cross.

Sometimes we try to re-sensitize each other in the church through extremely graphic descriptions of the physical effects of crucifixion.  There may be a place for that approach, but I’ve been pondering the crucifixion from the perspective of four “meters” or indicators.  How much love is indicated by the crucifixion of Christ?

First, the love-for-us meter goes off the scale when we really ponder the cross.  Jesus had just told his disciples that previous evening, “greater love has no one than this: that he lay down his life for his friends.”  The crucifixion of our Lord is such a reminder of the extent of his love for us.  When we feel so unworthy, which we should, we look to the cross and realize the worth attributed to us by Christ’s self-giving sacrifice to redeem us.

Second, there is the love-of-the-Father meter, which again goes off the scale.  Some like to turn these relationships into exclusive options and say that the only reason Jesus died was in obedience to the Father and not at all for us.  The Bible does not support some of these either-or notions imposed on it.

In fact, there is an ambiguity in my definition here.  Does the cross indicate the love of the Father in giving his Son to die for us?  Or does it indicate the love of the Son for the Father in the Son’s loving submission to the Father’s will?  Yes and yes.

We have to get away from a simplistic angry-Father-loving-Jesus understanding of the Passion.  There is a little controversy going on regarding the wording of In Christ Alone where a denomination wanted to remove reference to the wrath of God being satisfied.  This is an important biblical truth and I applaud the songwriters for standing their ground.  However, there is a problem with some who see only wrath and lose sight of the intra-Trinitarian dynamics involved in the crucifixion.  Furthermore, the love of the Father is seen as he did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all – Paul exulted in the gracious giving nature of our God!

The cross gives so many layers of insight into the Father-Son relationship and giving nature of our God.

Third, the self-giving-love of Christ is again an absolute measure.  Let me clarify.  Christ’s love for others was total.  His love for the Father was absolute.  And in respect to himself?  Again, the measure is a total measure.  We humans may have some love for others, but also will always have love for self.  The horrific nature of crucifixion demonstrates that this voluntary self-giving was unhindered by any unhelpful self-love.

Fourth, the love-who-is-God is again off the scale.  I am still pondering Jonathan Edwards thoughts on the forgotten person of the Godhead in respect to the crucifixion.  Edwards noted that too often we neglect the Spirit.   We rightly praise the Father for giving the Son and the Son for laying down his life, but then refer to the Spirit merely as the one who applies that truth to our hearts – sort of a minor player in the atonement.

Edwards wrote of how the value of a gift is commensurate with the price paid.  So if I pay £500 for a necklace for my wife, I rightly expect to then own £500 worth of necklace, not just £50.  In the same way, Christ’s death bought the restoration of the Holy Spirit, the one who unites us to Christ, whose fellowship means entering back into the embrace of Triune love.   How valuable is this gift of the love of God, the grace of Christ, that is, the fellowship of the Spirit?  The value is seen by the price paid – a price that is off the charts by any measure!

We must beware of a numbed view of the Passion.  Pondering these indicators may offer a worthwhile time of prayer and reflection.  If there were an indicator attached to Christ’s love for us demonstrated in the Cross, how would it read?  And what about the love of the Father and the love of Christ for the Father?  What about the extent of the self-giving, did any self-love compromise the love for others indicators?  And what about the value of the Spirit?

When we glimpse how off-the-scale the crucifixion was on so many levels, surely our hearts will be stirred to worship again.

~ Peter

You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Fourth Dimension of the Gospel

 

When Grace is seen as an aid to performance.

 

When our view of the gospel is too small, then our proclamation will always fall short:

gospel dimensions1. When our view of God is too small . . . I covered this in my other blog last week.  

Perhaps we see God as having a split personality with his loving side held in tension by his justice side, or perhaps we see God as a powerful benefactor/butler who needs convincing to serve us, or perhaps we see God as essentially selfish.  Whatever the version, if our picture of God falls short of the biblical revelation, then our gospel will always be a weakened version of the real thing.  (For the post on this, click here.)

2. When our view of humanity is too elevated . . .
again, already written (click here to go there).

Perhaps we view humans as being like the god that isn’t actually the God of the Bible – so we see people as autonomous, thinking, choosing, ruling beings.  This is not the extent of the image of God in humanity.  Along with that we can think of people too individually, with life defined by individually collected capacities, or we think humans are essentially good, or even neutral.  This kind of thinking undermines the gospel massively.

3. When our view of sin is too shallow . . .
(click here to see this in full).

Perhaps our view of sin is that we just fall short, or we only see sin as being naughty, or we think sin is a hindrance, rather than the state of total death in our hearts that are utterly helpless to fix.  Whatever the inadequacy in our view of sin, it will change the gospel we proclaim from the full picture presented in the Bible.

So those are the first three dimensions we need to chase biblically and grasp as fully as possible.  But what is the answer to the problem?  When our view of grace is too weak we will be offering a pale reflection of the real gospel.  So how do we mis-measure grace?  Here are some of the ways I think I have fallen into mis-measuring grace:

First, when grace is seen as an aid to our performance. 

This is the idea that we are trying our hardest, but we aren’t quite able to perform to God’s standard.  Thankfully His grace is like a super-charged battery that can lift our performance to the right level.  I remember chatting to a couple of Mormon missionaries on my doorstep years ago.  I remember them stating that we have to do our part, and then Jesus’ death covers the remaining three percent, or whatever we can’t quite manage.  I remember shaking my head at that view of God’s goodness toward us.  How much more saddening is it to find people in evangelical churches with similar notions?  God is not primarily our judge who is concerned only with legality.  God wants to be our Father.  A good father is not primarily concerned with the performance levels of his child.  He will deal with sin out of love for the child, but the primary concern should be the state of the child’s heart.  God’s grace does empower us, but if we see grace as the power for us to perform for the celestial evaluation panel, then we are missing the abundant wonder of God’s grace.

Second, when grace is seen as requiring something from us.

This is the other side of the same coin.  There is amazing grace, but . . . not the lyrics we are used to in our hymn singing, but a common refrain in church conversation.  “Yes, God is gracious, but He is also just. . .  God is gracious, but that grace has its demands . . . God’s grace becomes our responsibility.”  I think this comes from a lack of trust in God’s plan.  For instance, we easily turn back from the full provision of the New Covenant and instead offer only forgiveness and combine it with pressure to perform according to an external churchy standard.  This shows a lack of faith in the full provision of the New Covenant.  After all, what God has done in Christ is not simply to offer us forgiveness, but also to do a work in our hearts and to move in for ongoing fellowship.  Yet we can easily offer grace with conditions, lest we abuse it in our supposedly untouched state of selfishness.

Third, when grace is seen as separated from God.

If grace is something God throws to us from a distance, then grace is just a commodity, a battery, a coin, a heavenly favour.  But what does it mean to see grace as a who, rather than a what?  God does not just give benefits in his nice-ness, He gives us Himself in His Son by His Spirit.  This is the indwelling back-up-the-moving-van-and-move-in kind of wonder to be found in the gospel.  Real fellowship, true union, personal participation in the very life of the loving Trinity.  And what about the heart part of the New Covenant?

Fourth, when grace is seen as just a status changer.

Grace is more than a status changer.  Grace is a heart and life transformer.  God makes dead hearts alive in Christ.  This means that grace is not just about getting us saved, it is also about the ongoing growth process as we live the Christian life.  We look to Him and He continues to work in us to transform and cleanse and purify.

I am out of words, but feel like I have barely scratched the surface!  Is there a measuring tape that can measure the extent and wonder of God’s grace?  Of course not, but we’ll get eternity to try!

~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Non-Cafeteria Theology

 

Do “Systems” of theology have a certain consistency?

 

doctrinal choicesWe used to talk about “cafeteria theology” when I was in Bible school.  Cafeteria theology is where you walk along with a tray and select the bits you like, making a personal theology . . . do we have a free-will?  When will Christ return?  How accurate is the Bible?  Which attributes do I like?  Etc.  But the reason we used to talk about it is because we were starting to discover how a choice in one area brings with it some theological elements elsewhere.  It is like picking a starter and automatically receiving the dessert as a result.  This seems confusing to people still picking and choosing their theology.

So how deep does the connection run?  

Is it that “systems” of theology have a certain consistency?  That is to say, that if you choose a Reformed theology then your options are restricted in various areas?  Same with an Arminian theology, or a Pentecostal one? Perhaps.  But we need to recognize that the differences are deeper and more foundational than denominational streams or theological camps.

I have mentioned before the importance of the big handful of questions.  God? Man? Sin? Grace?  Let’s pull a strand and see some of the interconnections.

The other evening I was engaged in a theological debate by my children.  After a couple of minutes I challenged an assumption that came from one of them . . . that we are sinners because we sin.  The talk was about the “first sin” a person commits and hypothetical questions about “somebody who never sins.”  So I turned that around and suggested that we aren’t sinners because we sin, but we sin because we are sinners.  Our choices don’t determine our sinfulness, rather our sinfulness manifests in sins.  This was a good point to ponder.

The conversation was soon brought around to divine judgment.  Does God send people to hell for sins?  “What if somebody only does one thing wrong?”  Recently I have used this illustration a few times . . . too often in our evangelistic presentations we build from Romans 3:23 — all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God — and talk about God’s “pass mark” as 50, so even if we get a 49, then we still fall short.  Hypothetically this is true.  But it is propagating a superficial “sins” view of the problem.  The human problem goes much deeper.  The truth is that every one of us is a solid, round, zero out of 50.

“Ah, but, what about good people who don’t know Jesus?”  Again, an assumption is in play here.  The assumption here is that sin is about external performance measured against laws.  But the Bible pushes us deeper than that.  What does it mean to be dead in sin?  Why does the Bible make so much of the state of the heart in relation to God?  Why does God find righteous deeds unimpressive when hearts are far from him?  Why was the “religious” older brother as lost as the rebellious younger brother in Luke 15 – that is, his performance may have ticked some expectation lists, but his heart was self-focused, and his father meant nothing more to him than a benefactor/employer and his desire was for benefits rather than relationship . . . he was lost.

Once we probe the one issue of sin, a couple of things become evident.  Firstly, our problem is far more profound than mere law-breaking.  It is a profoundly heart-level and relational issue.

Secondly, other parts of core theology have to be consistent with this biblical view of sin.  If the root problem is relational disaffection and despising of God and assertion of independence, etc.  Then what view of God goes with that?  He must be more than a judge and law-giver.  He must be profoundly relational, creating humanity for some sort of relational participation in His life.  And that is what we find if we are willing to look: the Bible will affirm a much more relational view of God than many have recognized.

What about humanity?  If God is defined relationally, perhaps we then need to ponder how human life is about relational participation, particularly with God, as well as with each other.  Our life does not consist in accumulation of capacities and qualities in and of ourselves.

What about grace?  What is a relational and loving God’s solution to a profoundly relational problem called sin?  Grace must go deeper than forensic forgiveness.  Salvation must be more than mere change in status and destination.  And God’s provision is more than a tweak in heavenly paperwork or graciousness in our direction – again, we discover biblically that God gives Himself to us in salvation, the role of the Spirit becomes massively important.

And grace is not just about getting saved, it also influences the ongoing growth of the Christian.  Is this about performance and independent effort?  Of course not, that hasn’t been the story so far, why go there now?  No, the Christian life is about ongoing participation in the life of God by faith, through the Spirit, in Christ, etc.

We poked away at the sin question, and sure enough, the other questions were influenced as a result.  Pick a question and probe it biblically . . . you won’t be able to stay just in that question for long!

~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Unity

 

A conversation about Christian unity.

 

Christian UnityHow do we, as believers, determine with whom we can work?

In recent decades this has been an important conversation as evangelistic campaigns became a feature of the evangelical landscape, not least because of the growth in numbers of denominations.  And as we discuss issues of Christian unity, we also feel the sadness as this year’s Cor Deo training programme is drawing to a close.  Why is it that we feel such a sense of loss as we head our separate ways to serve the Lord?

The whole issue of Christian unity is typically addressed by a shifting scale of truth declarations.  There is a category of primary, essential or core doctrines.  Then there is a category of secondary or non-essential doctrines.  And some will speak of a third category of personal preferences.  Sounds all very helpful.  But how are the lines drawn, and by whom?

Well, typically the primary issues will relate to statements about the Bible, the trinity, the deity of Christ, the lostness of humanity, the “by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone” nature of salvation, etc.  And apparently, so the common logic goes, as long as we can find agreement at this level, then it is possible to work together.  Issues in secondary and tertiary categories can be overlooked if there is unity at the level of a broadly evangelical statement of faith.

Secondary issues might include such issues as positions on origins, eschatology, form of baptism and so on.  Differences at this level do not negate the possibility of fellowship, or working together, but might hinder association in the context of a local church.

Tertiary issues of preference might include disagreements over style of worship music, preferences over dress codes and so on.  Dividing into different churches at this level of issue can be frowned upon as the church will then end up divided into special interest groups and lack the diverse multifaceted intricacy of God’s wisdom manifest for the watching eyes of the spiritual realm (see Ephesians 3:10).

So the logic is simple: fellowship and work together with folks who agree on the primary issues, do church together with folks that agree on the secondary issues, seek to do church together with those who differ at the tertiary level and be gracious in everything.

I can’t help but ponder the logic of this rubric for Christian unity.  A group of participants from different churches, different cultures, different backgrounds and with different personalities, different ages, and different interests.  Is the profound sense of unity that we feel really the fruit of agreement in the primary issues and graciousness in the tertiary?  Is our unusual sense of unity based on agreement on secondary issues?  In reality the three-part scale doesn’t seem to be a helpful road map to the unity we feel, even though it may have some value as we move out into different settings.

During our time together we haven’t “majored on minors” in order to create unity at a secondary or tertiary level.  We honestly don’t know where each person stands on these types of issues.  And as far as primary issues are concerned, we could have declared agreement on those after a couple of days.  So where does the unity come from?

The sliding scale of truth declarations emphasizes truth, but lacks recognition of other “softer” issues relating to unity.  We have grown to trust one another, recognizing integrity in each other and being bonded through shared experience and relational reciprocity.  “Doing life together” does something in us because we are relationally designed.  Perhaps churches would do well to look beyond post-meeting handshake fellowship as the pursuit of unity.  Avoiding close interpersonal life-on-life experience does not foster unity, it may undermine it by making the unity entirely too brittle.

But simply switching from truth declarations to the experience of life and relationship together is too much of a leap.  In reality the unity we feel at Cor Deo has been fostered in a very specific context that combines truth with life.  Let me briefly describe what I mean:

The list of primary issues can easily be checked off a list by would-be ministry partners.  And it is true that relationships tend to bond in the context of shared life experience and mutual trust.  But the blessing of something like Cor Deo combines the two (and herein is a lesson for local churches too) . . .

Affirming a list of primary issues by signing off on a statement of faith is not difficult, and it is not the path to unity.  Remember, the devil could sign your statement of faith as true!

How much more is unity generated by sharing the life experience of probing and exploring the realities reflected in a statement of faith?  That is, take a group of people eager to probe together the big five issues of Christianity: who is God and what is He like?; what is man and what does it mean to be made in His image?; what is sin and how profound is the human problem?; what is grace and how wonderful is God’s solution?; what is Christian life and how do we grow in the faith?  Five big questions: God, man, sin, grace, life.

If churches could find a way to stop pretending unity is guaranteed by agreeing on a statement of faith and striving to not fall out over tertiary issues, and instead be drawn together by a shared pursuit of the good God who stands behind these big five issues, with hearts open to each other and to what the Bible has to say . . . well, perhaps Christian unity would not feel so brittle.

Cor Deo has been a privilege again this year, because God brought together a diverse group of people hungry to know and love Him.  As we pray about who will join us next year, let’s all be praying for more churches that are bonded together by a profound pursuit of this God who is so worth knowing!

~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Sanctified Sin

 

What is our condition?

 
Sometimes I think we may be oblivious to the reality of our condition.  How many of us, in Christian churches, are effectively swapping one form of rebellion and independence for another?
I like the way Tim Keller put it when preaching from Luke 15.  I remember him preaching that the gospel is not about turning younger sons into older sons, that is, turning the rebelliously independent into religiously independent.  But that seems to be a common feature of church life.  Just recently I was invited to watch a DVD of a well known Christian teacher.  He taught from the Bible.  He used lots of verses.  He sounded very eloquent.  But what was he teaching?  Effectively he was teaching us to take and apply Bible verses in order to be successful in our fight against certain sins.  What’s wrong with that?  Well, perhaps nothing, or perhaps a lot if we are thereby feeding our Older-Brother-itis.
sanctified sinBible teaching is not really helping if our goal is to facilitate independent functioning on the part of those who hear.  If they are being equipped and encouraged to live independently in their newfound personal holiness, then what is the teacher achieving?  Is this really helping people?  Ever since Genesis 3 we have been saturated in the brine of independence.  Some manifest it by overt rebellion, but others of us are prone to manifest our sinful bent through self-righteousness and personal spiritual “success.”  The latter looks so much better, but it can still be a fleshly attempt to push God away and function without direct dependence on Him.
I wonder how many of us really grasp the need to repent, not only of the bad things that we do, but also of the good things that we do.  Typically a call to repentance will sound like a turn from doing bad to doing good.  But true repentance requires us to turn from self and turn to Christ.  That will involve turning from rebellion, but also from self-righteousness.  After all, my self-stirred religiosity is just another fruit from the same inner orientation toward independence from God.
The same thing can creep into our prayer times, both solo and corporate.
We can easily fall into requesting of God the resources and wisdom we would need to be able to function with less dependence on him in the future.  Surely God is not excited to give us everything we request in order that we can maintain an independent distance as a result?
What about church fellowship?  
Can this fall into this same independence trap?  I think it can.  When we make it our goal to offer each other moral stimulation to promote our independent success (think about accountability groups, which can easily slip into this approach – poking each other toward morality, but perhaps not prompting each other toward God himself).
I think we would be wise to take stock of the ministry we are involved in: Sunday School, youth ministry, women’s ministry, Sunday church, housegroups, etc.  Are we part of creating an environment that really offers Christ and invites people to dependence on and trust in him?  Or are we part of sustaining an environment that promotes a sanctified version of the sin problem, a holier remix of independent success efforts?
The Bible is not a set of promises given to inform and encourage me to fight my sin and therefore be successful in my godliness.  It is there to point me to Him so that in Him I can face all the realities of life and know what life really is.  It is not about independent success, but promoting the union with Christ by the Spirit that is knowing God and thereby finding true life.
I believe we need to be so careful.
It is not that churches deliberately seek to lead people astray, just as that teacher I saw on the DVD was not trying to create a problem for his listeners.  But we must recognize that we are so saturated in the brine of independence from God that even Christian teaching and ministry can easily fall into the trap of keeping God at arms length . . . some variation on a do-it-yourself morality.  Let’s pray and ask God to shine the light on anything we are involved in that might simply be “sanctifying” the sin problem we swim in.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

One Bible, Three Roles

 

What role does the Bible play in the ministry of the church?

 
We must be thinking along the same lines.  I just sat down to write my blog for this week and read Ron’s blog, The Lonely Spirit, over onspreadinggoodness.org – obviously we are thinking similar thoughts!  What role does the Bible play in the ministry of the church?
Three roles

Typically I suspect we contrast two kinds of churches.  In one, the Bible is dismissed or disbelieved.  Its role is token and the sermons reflect some kind of contemporary political or cultural bias determined by the minister. If the focus shifts to the Bible, then it may be to deny some truth or remove some “mythology” from the text.  And in the non-liberal churches the Bible is preached, explained, applied and honoured.  After all, is the use of the Bible not the measure for distinguishing the liberals from the non-liberals?

I’d like to put the liberal discussion to one side for now, important as it is. What if there are three types of Bible use?  Maybe there are three types of churches?  Perhaps in some churches there are all three uses to be found in different ministries.

Bible Role 1: Instruction Manual.  This role can be dressed in different clothing, but it is basically the same.

“This is a Bible.  B-I-B-L-E.  That stands for Basic Instructions Before Leaving Earth!  Listen and obey.”

The Bible is held aloft and honoured like a mechanical guide for fixing the car of your life.  This can look like heavy law-based religious teaching in a dark suit, or highly practical applied teaching in casual attire.  The logic is simple: the Bible contains instructions that are to be obeyed in order to achieve successful independent living.  The instructions may be moral code or life principles.  The leverage will tend to be greater pressure and some form of guilt.
The response to this approach will be positive, but limited.  Either people will praise the practical and applied teaching (but then struggle to implement all the how-to steps they’ve listed in yet another bulletin stuffed into their Bible).  Or people will celebrate the feeling of being whipped, since our flesh does like a good dose of religion (but then struggle to live up to the commitments made under the pressure of the Sunday whipping).
Bible Role 2: Experience Gateway.  This role can also be dressed differently, but essentially the role is consistent.

“This is the Bible.  Let’s look at it to see that what God is doing in our midst today is what He has always done, turn with me to the narrative of . . .”  

The Bible is engaged briefly, typically in one of the more obscure corners of the canon, and the wording is then used as an endorsement of something about to be experienced by the more spiritual.  This can look like a hyped-up moment of experiencing supernatural power, or a quiet super-spirituality from a more contemplative and mystical guru.  The logic is simple: the Bible contains precedent that should be briefly and superficially engaged in order to introduce a personal pursuit of a profound experience.  The text may be historical narrative treated as normative, or a principle plucked from its printed context.  The leverage will tend to be the greater anointing of the presenter and some sense of mystery.
The response to this approach will be positive, but limited.  People will praise the spirituality of the presenter.  They will typically desire the same experience that they are convinced the presenter has had, but will probably leave either unconvinced that they could ever achieve the same experience, or thoroughly convinced that whether they get there or not, what they have heard trumps all alternatives, no matter what the Bible may say.  In many cases the convictions regarding the experience will tend to be vicarious since the listeners may strive, but will struggle to reach the same lofty goals.
Bible Role 3: Personal Introduction.  This role can also be dressed up in different denominational garb, but there is one consistent conviction.

“This is the Bible.  The triune God introduces Himself and reveals Himself here and I really long for you to meet Him.”

The Bible is not honoured as an end in itself, but as a gift from a loving Father.  This can be dressed in traditional religious forms and liturgy, or in a highly contemporary feel.  The logic is simple: the Bible is a personal revelation of God the Father in the person of His Son by the work of the Spirit, that calls for response for the sake of relationship.  The revelation will tend to emphasize both the promise and the promiser.  The leverage (although that seems like the wrong word), will tend to be the presenter’s delight in fellowship with God, combined with some sort of invitation.
The response to this approach will be mixed.  Some will delight in what they see and hear in the Bible; leaning in and discovering a God that is a delight to know.  They will be amazed that a God so wonderful would love them so profoundly, and their response will typically be gradual but profoundly transformational.  Over the course of time, these people will seem warmed from the inside-out as the work of God in their hearts spills into their attitudes and actions.  But others will resist what is being presented.  They will complain because their deepest desire is essentially something other than genuine fellowship with this God.  They might prefer to be guilted with pressure to perform, instructed so they can tick the boxes and press ahead, or they might prefer a super-spirituality that is shaped by something other than the biblical marital motif.
The bottom line is relatively simple.  My flesh is attracted to roles 1 and 2.  My heart is stirred by role 3.  If you preach to me, please introduce me to the God who to know is life itself.  When I preach to you, pray that I’ll do the same.
(Please be sure to read Ron’s article, The Lonely Spirit, over on spreadinggoodness.org)
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

That Low?

 

Good versus evil.  Light versus darkness.

 
We know the basic idea of this historical battle, but perhaps our mental image falls short of reality.  Maybe we don’t quite grasp how radically different God is to what we might expect.
God is God and there is no other.  Absolutely.  This is no eternal tussle between equal and opposing forces.  The “god of this age” has never been and will never be a peer of the eternal God, high over all.  We are dealing with two very different beings.  One created everything, the other was created and has only ever been able to corrupt, not create.  One exists eternally in loving fellowship, the other is a self-absorbed monadic despot who rules a kingdom of fear and lies.
So as we think of this history-long battle, we tend to comfort ourselves with the power of the true God.  After all, the other “god” is on a chain, and the true God holds the chain.  Job was terrorized and afflicted, but only within limits set by God.  There is no question about who has power, but do we misrepresent history when we make it primarily about that?  Do we end up with confusion over why the God who has all power doesn’t just crush or stop the usurper from corrupting and destroying?
Let’s go back, in our thoughts, to the Garden of Eden.  The universe-wide demonstration of God’s generosity and loving provision was complete.  The pinnacle of creation was enjoying the delight of fellowship with both God and spouse, bonded by the Spirit of God in heart-to-heart unity.
And then Eve had that conversation with the serpent.
Both by deception and willing rebellion, the guilty pair had added the knowledge of evil to their awareness of good.  In that moment death had arrived and dying had begun.  With a chill in the air, they had tasted the first sour mouthfuls of blame shifting, fear and horrifying self-awareness.
In that moment the perfect spouse became a potential enemy or competitor.  In that moment the delight of self-giving love for the other became a shocking awareness of their own nakedness and inadequacy (while at the same time becoming the gaze of their dependency and trust!)  In that moment the good God became the judge to be feared.  So they hid.  Fig leaves and camouflage bushes.
Then we read of God coming to walk in the Garden.
Press pause.  Imagine interviewing the serpent at that moment.  Would it have a tone of triumph in its hiss?  Surely fear would be there, after all, that is the oxygen of his pseudo-kingdom, but power is intoxicating and to all intents and purposes it does look like the serpent king now has both a victory and a kingdom.
God’s great creation stands corrupted.  Rebellion and sin will now spread like cancer.  The two parents of humanity will now conceive and multiply self-loving, God-hating, rebel humans.  Things can only get worse from this point on.  Serpent ahead.  Time for a powerful comeback?
It is God’s response that should blow our minds and hearts!  Of course God is powerful enough to judge and destroy.  The serpent could be finished in a moment, for it has never been an even fight.  The creation could be wiped and reprogrammed.  But God is so God that His plan should simply dumbfound us.
Imagine interviewing the serpent at that point with narrator’s omniscience:

“Guess what God’s plan is?”
“Judgment?  New super-creature to replace the tainted humans?  What?  I don’t know…”
“He is going to crush you . . . with a human.”
“Impossible.  I had one conversation and got them both.  They can’t stand up against my conversation, let alone my power.  Impossible.”
“He is going to draw out of humanity a bride for His Son, and He will draw out humans by having them trust His Word, even when He appears to be absent.”
“Impossible again!  He seemed absent today and I got them both to enter into death.  If the perfect pair, with the Spirit fully at work in them, in perfect conditions, were so easily turned away from God, then there is no way they will be turned back.  They had everything, but so quickly curved in on themselves.  Now they are made in my image, and the perfect demonstration of God’s supposed goodness is corrupt to the core.  The only way He can draw out a bride for His Son (as you put it), would be by force.  What sort of a bride would that be?  A forced bride?  Ha!”

From that point on, the history of God’s work in the world tells of His masterplan to eclipse the demonstration of His goodness in Eden.  He is so God that He has been able to draw out a bride for His Son who trust Him based on His Word, rather than His power display.  We were drawn out of our self-loving death by the wooing of a man from Nazareth.
I wonder at what point fear would slither across the eyes of the serpent?
Knowing that a man would crush him?  Knowing that God would win the hearts of a very significant slice of humanity through a man, while Himself apparently remaining absent and out of sight?  How about when he discovered that the precious Son of God would become that man in order to achieve the great goal?  (Surely the one he was so jealous of would never stoop so low?)  Perhaps when it was revealed how far he would go to demonstrate God’s love and win hearts from the dark realm of self-absorbed death? (That low?  Impossible!)
Perhaps that is why Satan did all he could to stop the coming of the Messiah?  Perhaps that explains his commitment to keeping Christ from going to the cross?  For it would take something of that magnitude to draw the heart of a self-loving and God-despising sinner like me.  And God was so God that that is exactly what He did.
The story of the history of salvation is not a tussle between power-mongers.  It is two totally different and opposite ways of working.  Power is a currency we know.  It is the radical self-giving love strategy that blows our circuits.  What a God!
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Shortcut

 

Everyone likes a shortcut.

 
shortcutLess travel, less time, less effort.  But not every shortcut is a good shortcut.  In fact, there is a very popular shortcut that fails in two ways: it does not take you where you want to go, and it does take you somewhere you don’t want to be.

A shortcut to the wrong end of a one-way street.

Imagine there is a street with three important buildings on it.  At the far end of the street is a very significant looking building, bustling with activity and lots going on.  This is no mean place, and in fact, the town is known for what happens here.  Over the door is a bright neon sign flashing “Action Centre.”  The towns around know the town because of the “Action Centre.”  It is the centre of the town’s communications, journalism, media and so much more.
Along the street from the Action Centre is the University Hall.  Actually, it is not quite as obvious as the Action Centre, but it is still quite a building.  While some people can only see the frenetic activity of the action centre, there are some who do look past that and recognize the importance of the University Hall.  This is where the real thinkers work.  In fact, unbeknownst to the majority of folks, there is a telephone link from the University Hall to the Action Centre and the University Hall could well claim to be the brains behind the action.  So the building is less obvious, but to some it is a more striking and sophisticated piece of architecture.
Further along the street is a smaller building.  Many don’t know it is there, and some have suggested it actually isn’t.  It looks neither sophisticated (like University Hall), nor a hub of activity (like Action Centre).  Next to the door is a small sign identifying it as “Values & Preferences Department” (VPD).  The building is small, easily overlooked.  Some see it as just an extension of University Hall, while others deny it serves any real function other than to waste a plot of real estate and offer some distraction.  Others tip their hat to VPD and acknowledge that unless it is included, any description of what goes on in the town will be incomplete.
So you want to influence things and are convinced that what really matters is the Action Centre.  Thankfully, that is the nearest place and you head along another street to get there.  Along the way you are drawn into conversation by an intelligent looking individual who makes a case for going a slightly longer route and heading first to the University Hall.  She is convincing, if a little proud in tone.  She makes a compelling case that what happens in the Action Centre, while important, is strongly influenced by the think-tank that is University Hall.  You are intrigued to hear about the phone link and how much of what happens at Action Centre seems to stem from information fed through from University Hall.
Mid-conversation an advocate for VPD interrupts graciously and suggests that the phone lines actually run from VPD and that it would be worth going slightly further and heading there first.  The University Hall representative initially denies the existence of VPD, then claims that it is just a division of the University, then seems to suggest the VPD advocate is just not very sophisticated.  As this conversation goes on, you pick up a newspaper which is full of stories about the Action Centre.  That is where the reputation of the town is forged, so you take your leave and press on to the nearest end of the street.
You ponder what you’ve heard, but feel certain that if you can get to the Action Centre, then you can always head on to the University Hall and the Values & Preferences Department (plus there’s the phone link).  To cut a long story short, you get there and are convinced it is the place to be.  For a while.  But then the influence of the University Hall becomes evident, so you want to head there.  But it is a one-way street and you are at the wrong end.  You ponder the possibility that the VPD might actually be the place to head, but it is a one-way street and you have come to the wrong end.  Even the phones don’t seem to work – you pick them up and hear a lot, but your voice does not travel the other way.
Enough extended analogy…  Too many of us assume that shaping a life in pastoral ministry, or parenting, or whatever, is about shaping the behaviours and actions.  So we head there.  Pressure to conform, lots of printed rules, etc.  After all, this is where a life shows what it is, for good or for ill, so go for good!  But it is possible to pressure and socialize toward behaviour without engaging the mind and the heart.
That is okay.  After all, if you do the right thing, then feelings follow, right?  Not if it is a one-way street, with one-way phone links.  Everything in the “Action Centre” is driven by information from the “University Hall” – so some more sophisticated  folk will focus their efforts there.  But the little “Values and Preferences Department” actually casts its shadow over the bigger buildings down the street.  Whether we accept it or not, the town was designed with this street as a one-way street.  The values and preferences are fed into the very discussions of the think tank so that every thought is shaped by what comes from this little nerve centre.  And if we are to truly shape the lives of others, then we must accept what the Bible repeats from cover to cover – that humans are heart-driven.  The heart is the problem.  The heart will be the centre-piece of the solution.
Ignoring the heart and focusing on knowledge or behaviour will not only fail to address the real issue, it may well lead to other issues: pride in knowledge or performance, Pharisaical hypocrisy, etc.
As we read our Bibles lets be sure to hear what God says about the human heart and its controlling role in life. And let’s pray for wisdom to know how to minister to the heart.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Follow

 

Who, me?

 
Following Christ“For example.”  This is one of those phrases that tends to get listeners leaning in during a sermon.  People want to know “what it looks like” to apply the Bible to their lives.  Consequently we tend to offer examples to copy.  Sometimes the person is not identified, sometimes it is someone famous, other times someone known personally.  Sometimes it is even Jesus.
Having an example to copy is usually appreciated, but it is not always helpful.  There is always a danger that the form may be copied, but without the motive.  In fact, the notion of wearing a mask is troublesome in church world (not least because we can generate a culture that seems to require it!)
But having an example to copy is not all bad.
Paul told the Corinthians, “be imitators of me, as I am of Christ.”  He told the Philippians to “join in imitating me, and keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us.”  He affirmed the Thessalonians for becoming imitators of Paul and his team.  The writer to the Hebrews urges them to imitate the faith of their leaders.  John tells the church to imitate good, for whoever does good is from God, but those who do evil have not seen God.
There is definitely a place for examples in the Christian life.  In fact, it is at the very core of our calling.
Jesus, the Rabbi extraordinaire, called the most unlikely folk to follow him.  These weren’t the elite boys with stacks of scrolls and wire-rimmed glasses that had sat at the front in the synagogue school and impressed the rabbi enough to be able to ask to follow him.  When that day came, these particular boys slipped away and back to the shores to work with their Dads in the family business.  Not the worst option in life, but not the elite option.  They left behind the brightest and best to be followers of the rabbi.
To be a follower, or disciple, of a rabbi is like an apprenticeship on steroids.  It means living with, learning from, copying, becoming like, being shaped by.  It means being so connected relationally that you aren’t becoming an impersonator who takes on a fake persona, but a disciple whose values, whose beliefs, whose conduct is shaped by the one you follow.
Jesus called the most unlikely folk, and he asked them to follow him!  He still does that: what a privilege we have!  And to think that the Bible presents Jesus as the initiator.  It is not the brightest and best of us that get to ask Him.  It is Christ himself who invites us.
Imagine: to be so relationally tied to Him that our lives are shaped from the inside out.  You can’t be a disciple from a distance.  You can’t be a disciple from merely observing externals.  It takes that close relational bond to make the process work.
So Jesus commissioned his disciples to make disciples: to bring others into that close bond that would lead to life transformation.  Paul was calling the Corinthians and others to the same.  Follow me as I follow Christ.
That is where example is legitimate.  It isn’t copying behaviour as if that will shape the inside of a life.  It is being in relationship in such a way that hearts beat as one, values become owned, and life spills outward even into the area of conduct.  Inside-out transformation is at the heart of the Christian message.  Hence the importance of the Spirit who unites our spirit to His.  Hence we are to draw others not to some sort of cognitive conversion and impersonation practice, but into full discipleship with Christ Himself.
Come, follow me.  Who, me?  Wow.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Crucifixion Billboard

 

Come on, what happened?

 
crucifixion billboardFor four years of my life I would drive home by going west on I-84 into Portland and then out the other side on Hwy 26.  I’d follow the sweep around from 82nd Avenue and pull onto the Interstate for just the last few miles into town.  Every day I would  have no choice but to subconsciously or consciously register the image presented to the right of the road.  There was a big building with a vast billboard on its side.  I can’t even guess its size, but it seemed to loom large as I drove that road day after day, sometimes prayerfully trying to not see the image plastered on it!
Paul was perplexed and distressed by the Galatians.  So soon after visiting and seeing such fruit in that region, he heard about false teachers coming in and undermining his position as apostle, and the gospel he had preached.  In the third chapter he remembers his ministry among them: “It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified.”
It is as if Paul is saying to them, “Come on, what happened?  When I was there I preached Christ and Him crucified!  It was like I cleared the front wall of the church (forgive the anachronisms here), shifted the furniture and the musical instruments and pasted up the largest poster ever with Christ crucified right there in front of you!  Why have you turned away from that?”
Why did Paul seek to paint the most vivid picture of Calvary that he could in his ministry?
Firstly because the passion of the Christ is the theological centre of the gospel.
Paul knew that the gospel was not about praying a prayer, repent and believe, turn your life over to Jesus, open the door of your heart, etc.  That is all language for response, but the gospel itself is Jesus crucified and risen.  The gospel itself is what God has done in Christ, and the focal point of that is the cross.  Paul trusted in that work, not in his own rhetorical brilliance to manipulate or bring about response in his listeners.  So he simply preached Christ, because Jesus is the good news; and Him crucified, because that is centre of gravity for what God has done in Christ.
Since the cross looms so large in the gospel presented by the New Testament, how is it that people get their eyes off it?  Where can you look when your whole view is filled with a billboard of Christ crucified?  If that is all you can see, surely all will be well?  Not quite:
The second reason that Paul placarded Christ crucified so vividly is because of the human tendency to look elsewhere.
Where did they look, even after Paul’s great presentation of Christ crucified?  They looked within.  They had been duped by the false teachers who critiqued Paul as a mini-apostle and his message as a half-gospel.  If they wanted to be born again and not just born a bit, and if they wanted to really please God in how they lived, then they needed to put some effort in and start striving with the law as their guide (and circumcision as the entry point).
Paul pulls no punches in Galatians.  
Someone had cast a spell on them.  They were being so foolish.  Their turn from trusting to striving was no indicator of maturity and progress.  In fact, it was a dangerous trap.  Back in the first chapter Paul seemed to scream at them in his distress over their turn.  They had turned from the One who had called them!  They had not turned to vice or to a competing religion.  They had turned from trusting Christ to striving.  They had turned from New to Old.  They had turned from the gospel to the Law.  And in their decision to become more religious, they had turned from God himself.
This is the Genesis 3 impulse within all of us.  “I can handle this, stand back God. . . . now if I can just get these fig leaves to hold together . . . ”
The solution to this self-orientation, to this self-trusting self-love that says I can take care of this; the solution is to be captured by the shocking glory of God crucified.
That is why Paul’s gospel seemed so incomplete to the religious anti-gospel teachers.  
Paul’s gospel didn’t take seriously all the personal integrity commitments and religio-legal demands.  In fact, Paul’s “grace-of-God-placarded-on-the-cross”  gospel didn’t make the necessary demands for personal determination which everyone knows must be central in any true religious endeavour.  Genesis 3.  Fig leaves.  Hopeless.
Jesus came and died in our place because fig leaves never worked.
This coming Easter let’s all take the opportunity to pause and reflect, imagining the largest ever billboard of Christ crucified right before our eyes, and let’s ask God, by His Spirit, to keep our hearts living in the shadow of that.  Moving from there is never progress.

Upon that cross of Jesus mine eye at times can see
The very dying form of One Who suffered there for me;
And from my stricken heart with tears two wonders I confess;
The wonders of redeeming love and my unworthiness.
I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place;
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of His face;
Content to let the world go by to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Popcorn?

 

Not Every Kernel Will Pop

 
popcornThis may not be true in your Christian circles, but I tend to hear about popcorn.  Perhaps it reveals a suppressed hankering from those who miss going to the cinema because they have overloaded the schedule with church activities.  But what does popcorn have to do with Christianity?
Is this a critique of junk food Christian diets that fill us up but offer no nutrition? Not this post.  Is this advocating a prayer meeting strategy that avoids the elongated prayers that stifle the spontaneity of a group?  Again, not this time.
My wife will make popcorn as a treat for the family.  It’s simple really – kernels are placed into hot oiled pan, the temperature rises, then suddenly they start popping.  Quick, easy snack.  But not every kernel will pop.  Some become teeth breakers.  The heat boils the moisture within until the kernel explodes and is transformed from the inside out.  Some only solidify.
Here’s what I was pondering after a discussion we had in Cor Deo.  Take two people – perhaps the same age, same nationality, same time period.  Put them into the heated environment of a season with Jesus.  Same experiences, same Christ, same circumstances.  Watch one of them explode from the inside out with delight in Christ.  Watch the other grow harder still.
One of the two men I have in mind is John.  One of the “sons of thunder.”  A hardened fisherman with a zealous mother (and if the nickname related to the Dad, imagine their home life!)  He was ready to call down fire on an unresponsive Samaritan village.  He was the one telling Jesus that they’d tried to stop an exorcist who was using Jesus’ name.  He was one who asked for a position of power in the kingdom to come (along with mother too!)
From these snippets you wouldn’t hold out much hope for John.  Would this guy ever grasp the radical upside-down nature of Christ’s kingdom?  Would he accept that it is not about force, but about a power completely different than he’d experienced in this world?
Then there is Judas Iscariot.  It is hard to see him without thinking of the end of the story.  But we have to remember that the others did not spot his traitor-traits during their years together.  He must have seemed trustworthy.  The one carrying the group expenses and keeping track of receipts.
But the heat of Christ’s graciousness toward these men just kept getting hotter.  It all unraveled for Judas in John 12 and 13.  There the extravagant love of Mary for Jesus really wound him up.  This much money should have been reserved for the, uh, poor!  Then Jesus headed into the city, but not to establish a power-based coup overthrowing occupying forces.  No, the next thing we know Jesus is clad in a towel and washing the disciples feet.
This is the kind of love that warms our hearts and can transform us from the inside out.  I suspect it did with John.  After all, decades later he cannot help but write in detail of this moment in his experience of Christ.  He had been the one reclining closest to Jesus.  He was the one informed of the betrayer.  And in that moment the heat got too much for Judas.  The love must have been driving him mad!  Money wasted, and now this humiliating display of affection.  It was too much – it was as if he couldn’t find the oxygen he needed, the oxygen of his worldview was missing, and Judas was choked out of there.
God’s grace does that.
Some have hearts that explode, transforming a life from the inside out. Others get baked into teeth-breaking solidity toward God.  Same “raw materials,” but the heat has an equal and opposite effect.
I suspect the same thing happens today.  I am convinced that introducing Jesus and the grace of God into a church will not be universally accepted.  The heat will turn some inside-out, while others will resent the emphasis and become hardened.  Jesus was always controversial.
And lest we start looking at others and wondering, let’s fix our eyes on the Lord and ask Him to search us and know us.  I’m sure your prayer, like mine, is that we will be responsive to God’s love in Christ.  Surely nobody wants to be the tooth breaker at the bottom of the bowl?
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Synthetic Repentance

 

Relinquishing self-love

 

dr peter mead's introduction of pastor hwu willams
Peter Mead’s introduction to Huw Williams
Preparing a sermon in Luke 3 this week, I’ve been intrigued by a few features of Luke’s account of John the Baptist’s ministry. Luke tells us that John was “preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins.” Nothing so surprising there, prophets of God have always been advocating the turning to God with the change of heart which constitutes biblical repentance.
The heart problem
But the heart does not always welcome change, especially when faced with the prospect of relinquishing it’s own self-love. And so we see here in Luke 3 two of the great universal responses to the great invitation of God – self-justifying religious orthodoxy and synthetic repentance:-

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’”

synthetic repentanceIf God had called us to salvation through financial donation, religious ritual, or moralistic living, most of us would have found that form of self-justification far more palatable than humbly accepting an outrageously generous offer of relationship with Him. There is something about the hard-heartedness of sin that objects so strongly to the relationship on offer in the gospel that will do anything, anything to squirm out of it.
And so the hard heart desperately looks around for another way. Perhaps we can appeal to our claims of religion or Christian family heritage. Or perhaps we can trick God by mechanically “saying sorry” with such regularity that He will be fooled by our synthesis of a heart which has humbly and truly accepted His gracious love in true repentance.
I feel at least two real challenges here.
Firstly, I think in my own teaching that I am far better (and bolder) at refuting the claims of the religious, than those of the synthetic repenter. Of course we’re not called to be constantly making judgement calls as to who is a true, and who is a false believer, and neither are we to ‘challenge’ with such sledgehammer dynamics that we obliterate the bruised reed. But at the same time, doesn’t John’s challenge to produce identifiable “fruit in keeping with repentance” remain?
Secondly, even with that challenge ringing in our ears, don’t we all feel that tendency to hard-heartedness gnawing away at us sometimes? And where do we go with it? Are we aware of what our own shots at self-justification or synthetic repentance look like? And what help can we draw from this text? Well, where does John direct us? To the one who will come after him (v15-18), he who who takes centre stage just a couple of verses later, and with the vision of such glorious Trinitarian love and delight which will always warm the coldest of hearts, with the help of the same Holy Spirit.
You are invited to comment on this article at cartoline da torino
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Les Miserables and Life Giving Grace

 

An Epic Story

 
les miserablesLast year my wife and I finally got to the cinema to see Les Miserables.  Absolutely fantastic!  Victor Hugo’s epic story of Jean Valjean and his pursuer, officer Javert, is an impressive movie adaptation of the stage musical (which we also want to see again).  Jailed for stealing a loaf of bread to feed his sister’s child, Valjean is finally released after 19 years of hard labour, only to discover his life is ruined by his criminal record.  After stealing silver from a kind priest, the priest’s superabounding mercy grips his heart and gives him a new life.  Skipping parole with a new identity he becomes a respected mayor and factory owner. Unintentionally destroying the life of his employee Fantine, he sets out to care for her child.  This he does while being pursued by the relentless Javert, who is determined to bring him to justice.  Getting caught up in the Paris uprising thirty years after the story begins, it comes to a gripping climax as the epic sweeps to a close.
I came away with theological themes swirling in my mind and heart.  Let me mention a few.  (I don’t have time to mention the contemporary social justice issues stirred by the film, such as sex trafficking, child soldiers, agony of war, etc.  All worthy of sincere reflection.)
1. The grotesque reality of Satan’s world.  
What happens when the goodness is sucked out of God’s good creation?  Fantine’s desperate descent into prostitution is hideous in the extreme.  Later her daughter is “cared for” by the Thenadiers, a couple of thieves living out libertarian atheism in a Paris bar.  While not as repulsive as the brothel harbour scenes, and with the light relief of some humour, their bar is all deceit, innuendo, drunkenness and self-absorption.  Effectively they play the role of atheists that live out the lie that they can rule their own world by their own rules.  And as the master of the house, the self-serving rules bring only loss and death to all around.  There is a sewer mentality and ultimately their attempted infiltration of high society is painfully evident, for self-serving deception can never produce genuine belonging at a grand wedding.  What can?
2. The relentless pursuit of legalistic self-righteousness? 
Javert is the officer intent on bringing Valjean to justice.  He refuses to believe that a man can ever be changed.  His world is a deistic world where God exists only as lawgiver and his understanding of the world is the black and white of simple justice and penalty.   Sinners must be judged.  This simplistic mentality may bring order to society, but it never brings life to it.  The hoards are controlled, yet Javert’s worth seems to get wrapped up in bringing the lesser man to justice.  But grace gives life to the “lesser man” and transforms him into one who lives a life and who gives life to others.  Eventually Valjean saves the life of Javert and the legalist is undone by undeserved mercy.  Unable to admit his need, accept equality with a convict, or face a world confused by grace, he chooses to end it all.  This weekend I have read through Leviticus in my read through – what a contrast.  God’s Law reveals His character of care and concern for the downtrodden.  Yet in Javert we see the deadly effect of the law when grace is not in the picture – the letter kills.
3. The life-giving power of grace!  
Valjean’s powerful “conversion” is s stirring depiction of a heart captivated by undeserved mercy and life-giving grace.  He has only known a stony heart, but now sings, “what spirit comes to move my life?”  Grace grips a heart and leads it not to the libertarian underworld of the Thenadiers, but the genuine goodness of the kind Mayor (Valjean).  In turn that grace spills over to others as Valjean seeks out and rescues young Cosette, vicariously raising her and in loving her finding life for himself.  Eventually the older Valjean gives her away to young Marius, whom he rescues in the uprising to set up the glorious wedding celebration that climaxes the grand narrative.  His love for Cosette leads him to a greater feat than even Javert’s pursuit of him, but shows how loving others will sometimes lead to a baptism of sewage.  Throughout the story, life is given by mercy and grace, and always at a cost.
What a contrast is depicted between the hideous whoredom forced on Fantine and the glorious wedding of her daughter.  What a grand arc is drawn between the depths of our depravity and the marriage supper to come.  Valjean is at the same time a picture of the sinner transformed by grace who then gives himself away for another, and perhaps even a hint of a rescuer getting baptised in sewage to give himself away and offer life to another.  And while the themes are swirling, it is beautiful to see that death is so sad, but it is never the end.
To find every freedom fighter celebrating in the heavenly conclusion is confused on so many levels (although it is really just a glimpse beyond his own death to the grand barricade of 1848), but still Isaiah’s eschatological themes stir the heart – they will live again in freedom in the garden of the Lord, they will walk behind the plowshare, they will put away the sword, the chain will be broken and all men will have their reward!
May our lives reflect the life-giving grace of the greater epic of which Les Mis is but a small but moving reflection.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]  

Growing Each Together

 

Faith is Growing Abundantly

 
grow in christOne of the challenges we have in reading the Bible in English is that we tend to read everything individualistically.  In reality a lot of the content of Scripture is written to a corporate “you,” which means our “me-only” mindset can easily misread what was written.
At the start of Paul’s second epistle to the Thessalonians he makes a comment that catches my attention.  He begins with “we ought always to thank God for you, brothers, as is right . . .” and then gives two reasons for his gratitude for them.
First, because their “faith is growing abundantly.” 
The sense here is of a faith that is continually growing greater.  Perhaps too often we think of an “in or out” view of faith, but the Bible recognizes that there is a continuum, a growth process.
The term “growing” is interesting.  In the book of Acts we read about the word spreading – a dynamic growth of impact.  In John 3 the baptizer says that Jesus must become greater as he himself becomes less.  So the idea of a process of growth or enlargement is found elsewhere, but here Paul uniquely intensifies the term as he thanks God for their abundantly growing faith.
I suppose it is something of a greenhouse growth that he describes here.
And then, secondly, he is thankful to God for their increasing love for one another. 
Here he gets slightly awkward in stating that it is “each one of all of you” that is increasing in love.  He is pointing to them as individuals in their corporate growth in mutual love and concern.
In his previous letter he had asked that God would make their love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else, and that prayer seems to have been answered.
A community of believers will always have a corporate personality.  Visitors tend to pick up on it immediately, while those who constitute the community can get lost in the details of community life and lose sight of it.
The two things Paul mentions here in 2Thess.1:3 are two worthy prayer requests for any community of God’s people.  I pray that my family will grow corporately in faith in God, as well as growing each together in mutual self-giving love.  We may get caught up in the complexities of family life, relational dynamics and parental discipline, but the personality of the family will hopefully stir gratitude to God from in those who visit.
The same is true in a church.  
If there were a way to measure our corporate faith, I would love to see that measure increasing greatly as the weeks pass by.  At the same time it is the individuals who love each other to make up the “corporate love” meter reading for the community.
2013 was our third year of Cor Deo.  It is amazing how quickly the time has flown by.  We look back on two groups of people and miss having them in the room – both teams were a privilege to be part of, and each team had its own group personality.
We were excited in anticipation of the individuals that God had brought together.  There were nine of us in the group.  For twenty weeks we studied together, served together, grew together.  My prayer is that this growth will be greenhouse growth – the kind of abundant growth in faith as a group  and the increasing love of each individual toward the others that Paul wrote about.
Please pray for us as we embark on this season of community.  
Let’s continue to seek the Lord in prayer for our communities – family, church, ministry, etc.  It would be a delight if none of these appeared static, but if all were growing increasingly in faith toward God and love toward each other.
It is in the corporate personality of unity and other-centred love that God’s unique unity and self-giving love can be declared to a fractured world of individualism and relational brokenness.
~ Peter
You are invited to comment on Peter’s article at Cor Deo
 
[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]http://christmycovenant.com/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/Peter-Mead.png[/author_image] [author_info]Dr Peter Mead is a Bible teacher and ministry trainer, based in southern England. His main ministry is as co-director and mentor of Cor Deo, a full-time mentored study and ministry training program.  Peter leads the Advanced Bible Teachers Network at the European Leadership Forum.  He holds degrees from Multnomah Biblical Seminary (MDiv/MA), and the Doctor of Ministry degree in homiletics from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where Dr Haddon Robinson was his mentor.  For more information on Cor Deo, including the weekly theological blog, please visit www.cordeo.org.uk. Peter also authors the BiblicalPreaching.net website for preachers.[/author_info] [/author] [button link=”http://www.biblicalpreaching.net” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Biblical Preaching[/button] [button link=”http://www.cordeo.org.uk/” newwindow=”yes”] Visit Cor Deo[/button]