Announcing the first Video Bible Talks video

It is with great pleasure and an immense amount of thanks to those who supported the initial crowdfunding campaign that I can announce that the first ever Video Bible Talks video is now available to watch online and download for free.

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Should we tell children to read the Bible?

Nicky Gumbel recently shared with readers of Premier’s Youth and Children’s Work magazine how he and his wife, Pippa, never needed to tell their children to read the Bible, and how we as parents should not pressurise children and young people to read their Bibles. You can read a summary of the article on the Premier website.

But is that right?

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Peace without judgement?

My weekly big-block study time this morning was in Jeremiah 27. In particular, I was struck by how this chapter sets up the confrontation between Jeremiah, a true prophet of the LORD God, and Hananiah, who was eventually shown to be a false prophet speaking words of false hope (see Jeremiah 28).

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How did Daniel get to be such a good guy?

If you read through the Bible book of Daniel (I would recommend it… and don’t stop at Daniel 7, either!) then right from the get-go Daniel leaps off the pages as a definite ‘good guy’ (along with his godly BFFs). In the first chapter alone, he successfully handles a delicate ethical problem, contextualises his faith, witnesses for the Gospel (as he had it) in a clear and effective way… and even manages to earn a pretty impressive promotion while he’s at it.

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Reworking the Sola system

The five Solas that summarised the Reformation 500 years ago are well known to many people. We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for God’s glory alone. Neat huh?

Indeed, for many today The Five Solas of the Reformation have become a helpful summary of Reformed Theology in general.

Yet, it feels like something is missing or not quite right…

The solar system post-2006

The Solar system

When I was growing up, everyone knew the Solar system (that is, the list of planets orbiting the sun). There were nine planets: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (cue giggles), Neptune and Pluto. Everyone was happy and people could get on with the enjoying the finer points of outer space, namely building blue and grey Lego space ships.

And then someone came and discovered a tenth planet.

Only it wasn’t a planet.

Yet it was bigger than Pluto.

Hmm.

To cut a long story short, astrophysicists around the world scratched their beardy chins and came up with a better definition of what a planet is. And so, since 2006, there are now only eight planets of the Solar System: Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus (there go the giggles again) and Neptune. Pluto was demoted to being merely a dwarf planet (yet presumably now gets to wield an axe and make fun of elves to make up for it).

The point? Our representation of the key planetary figures in our little star system (upon which every other body in the system is gravitationally bound to, by the way) needed to be reworked in order to better reflect the true form and function (which hadn’t changed) of the system it represented.

Luther enjoying his other great passion

The Sola system

The Sola system of the Reformation (that is, the list of various things ‘alone’ by/through/for which we are saved) has five Solas: Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria. Or, in English, ‘We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone according to Scripture alone for God’s glory alone’.

There is a part of me (my Reformed Evangelical side) that is really encouraged by these things and gets all excited and passionate about the idea of getting on with opening up the Bible and helping people to see just how great the grace of God is in Christ Jesus, and how straightforward it is to be and stay a Christian.

However, there is also a part of me (my Reformed Charismatic side) that can’t help but think that we have missed someone quite important out of the mix…

Putting the S-word back into the Sola system

I love the Scriptures (what we often call ‘the Bible’). The message in the Scriptures is the only thing that is able to truly make us wise for salvation because they are the very words of God (2 Timothy 3:14-17). As such, the Word of God is the only weapon that we have been given to wield in the Christian life (Ephesians 6:17).

Yet I only love the Bible because of whose Word and Sword it is. The Word of God is God’s Word (obviously) but it is also the Sword of the Spirit, as Ephesians 6 makes clear….

Take… the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.
Ephesians 6:17

So I am stuck between a rock and a hard place. I want to affirm the 4th Sola (Sola Scriptura: according to Scripture alone) because God’s Word has God’s power and authority behind it… and yet the five Solas as a whole ignore the Spirit – the third person of the Trinity, to whom the Word of God (which is in the Scriptures) is ascribed as being His sword. Including ‘Sola Scriptura’ without mentioning the Spirit seems (at best) a bit of an oversight and (at worst) runs the risk of elevating the revealed Word of God in Scripture above the very person of the Trinity who wields that Word as His Sword into hearts and lives (Hebrews 4:12).

Reworking the Sola system

Perhaps on the 500th anniversary of the Reformation it would be fitting to honour another key phrase of the Reformation, Semper Reformanda (always reforming our timely expression and application of the unchanging timeless doctrines of God). Perhaps, when using the various Solas to summarise the Biblical framework of our salvation (as many do), we should tweak the Solas just a little bit. With one small change, we can make this nifty mnemonic more honouring to what the Scriptures say about new life in Christ being a work of the Spirit of God (Ezekiel 37:1-14, John 3:1-8) and recognise that the work of the Word of God is directly linked with the work of the Spirit (John 6:60-65, Ephesians 6:17, Hebrews 3:7).

Here is my offering… a new Sola system, if you like:

We are saved by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone living by the Spirit alone according to the Scriptures alone for God’s glory alone.

I’m no Latin scholar, but I guess this would equate to six Solas…

Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Solus Spiritus, Sola Scriptura, and Soli Deo Gloria.

Now, I’m not expecting The Six Solas to become the new standard phrase to summarise Reformed Theology. For a start, there are far too many t-shirts designs (as well as the odd pint glass) that would need altering…

However, it is important that we remember just whose sword the Word of God is and make sure that we don’t leave him out of our frameworks for life and ministry. Instead, let’s make sure that we call on Him and depend on him as we seek to walk with Jesus and lead others to him.

Word Alive 2017: Morning Bible reading notes

Galatians 1:6-10, 2:10-21

The greatest threat to the church (corporate or individual) is not liberalism or any of the many controversies of our age, but rather in the church carrying out the mission of the Gospel in the power of the flesh rather than by the power of the Spirit.
Paul begins his letter not with a critique of their lack of awareness of their surroundings but rather their abandonment of the grace of God in Christ.
Galatians contains three layers of faithfulness for God’s people because of the grace in Christ:
  • Gospel doctrine
    Only faithful Christians stay true to justification by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone.
  • Gospel culture
    Only faithful Christians embody the beauty of a diverse people under one Lord.
  • Gospel spirituality
    Only faithful Christians are brought along and sustained by the deep love of Christ.

Gospel doctrine (v16)

God’s people are those who have given up on justification by ourselves and instead depend on our justification in Christ. This Gospel means everything to us. We are right with God only by true faith in Jesus Christ, even though our conscience accuses us and we are still inclined to all evil, even so Christ gives us his obedience and righteousness that we accept by having a believing heart.
God’s law is not nullified or pushed aside… but satisfied! This means that even in our sinfulness and shame, we are still loved by God because of Christ and so can return to our Heavenly Father, confess our sin and let him cleanse us anew.

Gospel culture (v14)

This passage gives us the opposite of Gospel culture: isolation and division by legalism (Peter and his conduct with the Jews/gentiles). Legalism is (in one sense) attractive… but it isn’t Christianity! Peter betrayed the Gospel not at the level of doctrine but at the level of culture (how we relate and interact with others). The Gospel should drive us to establish a Gospel culture: people unified under one Lord by grace through faith. Gospel culture is God’s people living out the doctrine of grace that we have.
This is very much a danger for us today. We nullify the Gospel by holding to the doctrine of grace but not living it out in our relationships with others.

Gospel spirituality (v20)

We no longer live to self but to Christ, in Christ. At the heart of this is the love of Christ for us: we are loved by him and he gave himself for us. The law does not give us this love; we cannot love ourselves like this; other people can only love us with a mere shadow of this love.
The felt love of Jesus tends our hearts to such a profound degree that our minds are assured of our justification and it is easy to open our hearts to others.

Galatians 3:1-22

The Gospel gives us relief from the burden of the law. Salvation is to be ‘obtained’ by faith not by works and the whole Bible preaches this Gospel. Yet, we do not naturally approach God’s Word in this way. We often come to God’s Word with a framework of moralism and legalism that threatens to undermine the Gospel of grace.
The Bible promises the gracious blessing of God for all who disobey the law but come to faith in Jesus.
The promises of God always come before the law that addresses our sin. Therefore the tone of the Bible is reassurance and rest.

Paul’s argument for the importance of justification by faith

The beginning chapters of the Bible sets the scene for Abraham and how he believes God’s promises… and this defines and sets the trajectory for everything else in the rest of Scripture. Therefore, justification by faith alone is the framework by which to understand the rest of God’s Word. No other subsequent event, message or text in Scripture annuls this or makes it void (v17). So, the law is removed as our mechanism for achieving or securing our favour from God. Instead, every thread, theme and thought of the Old Testament leads us to Jesus and the glorious grace of God in Christ.

This argument applied to one of the 10 commandments

Take the 8th commandment: do not steal:
  1. The commandment reveals the character of God. God cares for us and in his love and goodness for us makes it clear that this is bad for us.
  2. The commandment confronts us with our own character. We are people that would steal and cheat others out of what is rightfully theirs.
  3. The commandment gives us instruction. We are led from sin and selfishness to godliness and Christ-likeness, departing our sinful character and drawing closer to God’s good character.
  4. The commandment is part of a promise. God promises that he will write his law on our hearts. This happens in part now by the Spirit and will happen in full in the New Creation.
Because this commandment is part of a promise, it is dependent on grace and anticipates it. We cannot fulfil this commandment, yet Jesus does and gives his obedient righteousness to us and writes it in us.

How the Bible differs from other ‘religious texts’ (such as the Qu’ran)

Two key differences:
  1. The Bible has an epic story whereas the Qu’ran has topical instructions.
    The Bible has a glorious storyline of eternal salvation running throughout it. The Qu’ran is formed around topics with instructions that lead to reward or punishments. This means that the Bible develops its teaching as it gets closer to Jesus (eg marriage is introduced in Genesis, defined in the law, demonstrated in the history of God’s people, and fully revealed and placed in relation to Christ and his church).
  2. The Bible gives us the message of free grace in Christ whereas the Qu’ran presents God’s favour but only to those who ‘have merit’.
    The law of God might keep us from the evil we do but cannot keep us from the evil we are, hence we need Jesus to rescue us at that fundamental level of our nature. The Qu’ran presents humanity as weak and in need of obeying instruction in order to work towards achieving and earning God’s favour.
God can never be bought… but he loves to give. If we read the Bible this way, we will read it faithfully.

Galatians 3:23-4:11

The Gospel calls us into Gospel identity. The Gospel changes our relationship with God from slave-master to Father, and gives us new identity as his children. When sufferings and difficulties come, the sense of identity that the Gospel gives us is crucial for maintaining our true sense of identity as loved children by a heavenly Father, rather than letting the situations we face affect us at a personal identity level.
Paul uses two terms to summarise our possible identities: slavery and son-ship. Who we are depends on who God is to us: how we see God and how he sees us. God’s purpose in the Gospel is not that we, as disobedient slaves, become obedient slaves. Instead, God’s purpose in the Gospel is for you to collapse in his arms and receive adoption as his beloved child.

A summary of our identity as God’s children (v1-7)

Three implications from our identity in Christ as God’s children:
  1. All that God is is for us in all that we need (v4)
    Jesus isn’t trying to get God to take it easy on us. God is for us and sent his Son for us (and Jesus was willing to do the Father’s will).
  2. God sends his Son and the Spirit (v4, v6)
    God has sent all that we need: the son to achieve our salvation (in history) and the Spirit to bring an awareness and certainty of God’s love for us (personally).
  3. God is pleased to bring us into his family and to make us heirs with Christ (v5, v7)
    God has adopted us to share all he has with us in Christ. He did this by his own will and for his own purposes and pleasure.
When we are turned to Christ in faith we are not disobedient slaves finding forgiveness. We are disobedient slaves being accepted into the family of God as children of God by the love of God for us.

The detail of our identity as God’s children (v4-7)

(v4) Until Christ, God had been demonstrating our inability to keep the law. Once the fullness of our inability had been displayed, God sent his son. Jesus was pre-existent before his birth, he was born as a man (by a woman), and placed himself under the same law that we could not keep (born under the law) yet he did keep it.
(v5) God changed our relationship with God. Jesus redeemed disobedient people, bought us back from failure to the law so that he might grant us adoption.
(v6) God sent forth the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying ‘Abba Father’ and experience his love at a personal level. God gives us a taste of the very experience of God that Jesus had. We don’t just conclude that God loves us at the end of a carefully reasoned argument… we feel it by the Spirit of Christ in our hearts.
(v7) We aren’t upgraded slaves, we are his children… and we are heirs of all that is Christ’s.
So let us not revert to the legalism of slavery that ensnares and robs us of true love, joy and the wonderful identity we have in Christ (v9).
When our consciences say, ‘who am I to accept such a gracious, holy, loving God?’ we must realise this: who are we to reject him?

Galatians 5:1-15

Paul sets out how justification by faith alone works out in practice. Only Christ, whom we receive with the empty hands of faith, reconnects us with God and pours out his blessing by the Spirit into our hearts, and this will continue for eternity.
As God grows his family by adoption, he will not cut corners. This is why justification exists: so that we might receive forgiveness and adoptions without the justice of God being compromised.
Here is how our justification makes the difference in our lives in the way God intended:
  1. We don’t go back (v1)
  2. Instead, we go give our lives away (v13)

Don’t go back (v1)

The freedom we have is freedom of conscience, not unlimited autonomy or unhindered self-definition (these kinds of freedoms degrade us). This is true freedom: knowing and caring about God, and knowing and caring about where we stand with God.
For the Galatians, a return to the law of Moses was a false Gospel. Christ’s atoning work on the cross establishes our freedom to enjoy the grace of God every day. Adding to Christ, even adding the law of Moses, is a return to slavery and condemnation for it is departing from the grace of God in Christ and seeking that which depends on our effort, not Christ’s. Freedom is a good gift to be enjoyed, and as we do we will commend the Gospel to others – even as we fight to maintain the freedom we have in Christ (eg, fighting to enjoy the freedom of placing ourselves under the authority of God’s word, fighting to enjoy the freedom of sharing the Gospel of an atoning Christ to a lost world).
God is a morally serious person and yet he is so perfect that he found a way to accept sinners while fully upholding his own moral standards. The Gospel is an open door into a God approved paradise for people with a past… and that is every one of us. So don’t go back!
Resisting our sinful desire to return to slavery is not a factor of watching our standards and trying harder to stick with Jesus. The very fact that our consciences or Satan might accuse us of being unworthy sinners gives us the very assurance that enables us to draw closer and stick with Jesus: it is not dependent on us but on Christ!
Jesus is the friend of sinners who bids us ‘welcome’… it is for this freedom that Christ has set us free.

Go give your life away (v13)

So, if we are not going back to slavery of the flesh, here is how we go forward in faith in Christ: by giving our life away (that is, avoiding selfishness) to love and serve others.
In our freedom in Christ, we want to live in such a way that others might be able to say of us, ‘they loved me and gave themselves for me’. This kind of lifestyle is where justification by faith in Christ takes us: into a new slavery, but freedom-founded slavery for the service of others.
Christ gave up his freedom to serve others, and so we give up our freedom to serve others. This is slavery under grace, not law. We serve not because we must, or because we have to… we serve because we get to and we want to, all because of what Jesus has one for us.
Every day we live in the grace of God is a day we live looking and longing for an opportunity to serve others in the pattern and example of Christ.

Video Bible talks prototype: Psalm 1

A few months ago I posted about the idea of producing Video Bible Talks for use in church youth groups, school CUs, and other small group contexts (you can view that post here). Since then, I have been hard at work writing, filming and producing a prototype Video Bible Talks video for Psalm 1, which is now online for people to view and give me their feedback.

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Acts 29: Equip 2017 conference notes

This week I have been blessed to be able to attend the Acts 29: Equip 2017 conference in Manchester, UK. Acts 29 is a reformed, evangelical and missional church planting network committed to churches that plant churches in Europe and into the 10-40 window. You can find out more at Acts29.com.

Here are my notes from the main plenary sessions given by Ray Evans at the conference.

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