• You Can’t Talk About Sex Without First Talking About God

    It seems our conversation about sex today is at an impasse. In one corner you have religious people and people who have morals influenced by religion and in the other you have people who have thrown off the shackles of both religion and conservative ethics to create a new ethic where the individual and their right are held up as inviolable. The two groups in our society seem to talk past each other at every point about sex and this is because we haven’t talked about our assumptions and the intellectual and philosophical baggage each group brings to the conversation. What I want to show is that unless we have a conversation about this baggage we bring we will never hear each other and I would also argue that this about sex conversation is not really about sex at all it is about the baggage we are bring to the conversation. It is a clash or worldviews.

    Most people ask as question today like “Why can’t a bunch of consenting adults do whatever they want with each other as long as they don’t harm each other?” This question is a great place to start because it shows that whoever is engaging this question needs to be concerned not about a timeless ethic first and foremost but people. People who love and lust and people who can experience hurt and love. The harm that can be done or not done is one of the chief concerns for Christians who engage in this discussion. But the question itself begs another question. “What do we mean by harm?” Most people would say a person is harmed when that person something happens that doesn’t allow that person to be fully human. So, if I yell abuse at you I am harming you because in that moment of abuse you are feeling threatened and your humanity, at least for a moment, is diminished. But this definition of harm begs another question. “What does it mean to be fully human?” Or a similar one may be “What is the purpose of humanity?” And these questions raise other questions like “Is there a moral framework to the universe?” and “Is there a force/ creator/ God who has created humanity to exist and relate in a certain way?” This leads us to the question of God. You cannot get very far into a conversation about sex and sexuality without talking about God and if we don’t ask the deeper questions about God and the related questions about what it is to be human we will never have a constructive conversation about sex. We will only end up throwing verbal hand grenades at each other and never talking about something that we all agree is very fundamental to being human.

    You cannot talk deeply about sex and sexual ethics without talking about God. Here is where we need to start the conversation.

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  • Vision Is not Enough

    Your church needs to have a vision. A vision tells you where you as a church are going and without it you and your people may not know where you should be heading and what you should be doing. Therefore, most churches have a vision statement or a vision document that outlines where they as a church want to go. Some of these churches have great and compelling vision statements others seem to have borrowed one from the church next door or from the book they have just read about church.

    But having a vision is not enough. You could have a vision to reach many people with the gospel or to send a huge number of people into full time ministry but unless you actually do something the vision is just hot air coming out of the pastors mouth or a yellowing piece of paper stuck to the cork board up the back of the church. For vision to become reality you need a strategy of how to take the next steps towards the goal of the vision and then the discipline of execution to make those steps happen.

    The vision of Resolved is “To see a flood of people become Christians and be sent out to plant churches through out Sydney, Australia and the world.” So what are we doing to see that vision realised? The first few steps are putting on a mission that kicked off last Saturday and will end on Easter Sunday. We are having evangelistic events (Jazz night, community group outings, etc.) as well as connecting with out community in small ways like having a family fun day at Camperdown Park in Newtown on Easter Saturday morning.

    A vision is never enough, it needs to be put into planned action and then that planned action needs to be strategically executed.

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  • How to Experience the Gospel

    The gospel is not only something we know but something we experience. But how do we experience the gospel? Jerry Bridges helps us answer this vital question:

    On our good days we think God must surely be pleased with us and is smiling at us. We forget, as we saw earlier, that all our righteous deeds are like polluted garments in the sight of God (Isaiah 64:6). On our bad days we tend to think we have lost the favor of God because of our sin. We forget that he no longer counts our sin against us because Jesus has already born that sin in his body on the cross. This is not to say that we should not take our sin seriously. We do need to confess it and repent of it. But the greatest motivation for doing that is to reflect on the fact that Jesus bore those very sins you committed that day in his body on the cross, and God has forgiven you because Jesus was crushed for those sins. So in order to experience the subjective reality of our justification we must every day look outside of ourselves to Christ. About twenty-five years ago I heard on a taped message the expression “preach the gospel to yourself every day.” That is what we must learn to do if we are to enjoy the present reality of our justification. That is what Paul did two thousand years ago when he wrote, “And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me” (Galatians 2:20). I am justified, I am righteous before God, because God has charged my sin to Christ and credited to me his perfect

    Jerry Bridges, Who Am I?: Identity in Christ, 40

    We experience the gospel by reminding ourselves of it every day. We preach the gospel to ourselves and day by day we will experience the joy that comes from the gospel being rooted in our hearts and lives.

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  • How to Deal With Your Pride

    Pride manifests itself in all sorts of ways. But two of the main ways it does is when we are confident that we are right with God because of who we are and what we’ve done and when we look down on other people. Jesus tells the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector in Luke 18:9-14 to people who were full of pride. Notice how Luke describes them:

    To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable – Luke 18:9

    As we read that out did you see the two insights into their psyche? First of all they were confident of their own righteousness.  In fact the original Greek gives the impression that they “were continually in a state of confidence that they were righteous” [1]. That is, they were constantly reminding themselves of their own moral standing. They were not just good religious people they were awesome religious people and they would have been absolutely confident that God looked down on them with pride and said “They are my guys!” These guys would have been some of the most moral people in Israel and they knew it and so did everyone else. Did you notice the second insight Luke gives us into their psyche? Not only were  they confident of their own righteousness  but they looked down on everyone else. The word for “looked down” can be translated despised or rejected[2]. That is, they saw people who didn’t measure up and they just thought these people, the immoral ones, were beneath them.  These two insights into their psyche that Luke gives us showed their pride, it showed their arrogance.  But just before we pray to God “Thank you God that I’m not like one of these religious types.”  We have to see once again who Jesus is talking to. Luke says that Jesus was talking to “Some who….” sure the people Jesus was directing this parable would have been religious but really Jesus is directing this parable to anyone who thinks highly of themselves, especially morally, and looks down on everyone else. We are all in danger of this because we have all looked down on somebody at some point in our lives.

    A couple of years ago I was walking down King Street in summer, it was about 40 degrees. My office is just off King Street and I couldn’t be bothered putting shoes on. So I’m walking down King Street with no shoes when I see this guy who is about 6’8 and he wearing all black leather, he has half of his shaved and the other in blue, purple and black dreadlocks. He looks at me and sees that I don’t have shoes on and he says to me “Get some shoes on you bloody freak!” Judgementalism comes in all shapes and sizes. None of us are immune to it. We are all in danger of being like the people that Jesus is telling this story to.

    What is the medicine to heal our sick and broken hearts which are filled with pride? It is nothing else but the cross:

    “Every time we look at the cross Christ seems to say to us, ‘I am here because of you. It is your sin I am bearing, your curse I am suffering, your debt I am paying, your death I am dying.’  Nothing in history or in the universe cuts us down to size like the cross. All of us have inflated views of ourselves, especially in self-righteousness, until we have visited a place called Calvary. It is there, at the foot of the cross, that we shrink to our true size.” [3]

    We all need the grace of God to overcome our pride. Only the grace of God displayed at the cross will help us kill our pride

    [1] Translation by Craig Blomberg.  Preaching the Parables: From Responsible Interpretation to Powerful Proclamation. (Grand Rapids: Baker, 2004), 160. The tenses of the Greek verbs imply an ongoing past action. On the Greek in this verse see Darrell Bock, Luke 9:51-24:53 (Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament),  (Rapids: Baker, 1994-96.), 1491

    [2] Darrell Bock, Luke (The NIV Application Commentary). (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 461

    [3] John Stott, The Message of Galatians (Bible Speaks Today), ( Downers Grove, Intervarsity Press), 179

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  • Phillip Jensen on Calvinists

    Before I start I need to say that I love Phillip Jensen. I have loved listening to his preaching, reading his books and also I have appreciated the few times that I have had a chance to speak briefly with him. He has always been gracious and helpful when I have chatted with him. I also need to say that I have asked Phillip to come and speak at the Resolved Church weekend away next year and am still keen for him to do so. I am saying all this because I will critique some of my dear brother’s words and I don’t want anyone to think that I don’t thank God for his ministry.

    A few weeks ago Phillip sat down with St Helen’s Bishopsgate to talk about preaching. In his own inimitable way he talks about Calvinism, Calvinists and the danger of preaching the system rather than the text. If you haven’t yet watched video check it out before you continue.

    We need to say that Phillip is right on his big idea. When we preach the system of Calvinism, or any system for that matter, rather than the text we force the text into saying some weird and wonderful things that it doesn’t say or we flatten out the text and we don’t let it speak for itself. This warning is always apropos to any preacher or Bible college student.

    But there are a few issues I have with what Phillip said:

    1. I don’t think we can “just preach the Bible” without some kind of system. Due to the nature of the Bible and human nature we need a system to hang different parts of the Bible on. Now Phillip would agree with this I am sure and if you look at his ministry he created a great systematic theological/evangelistic tract called Two Ways to live. But if you ask anyone who reads the Bible, whether they be an MTS student from UNSW or a preacher at Hillsong they would say they “just read the Bible” but, on certain things at least, they come out with totally different readings. Why is this so? It is because they have presuppositions or a system they bring to the text. This is natural and, to a certain extent, unavoidable. The question shouldn’t be whether we are bringing a system to the text or not, because we all do, it should be is the system we are bringing to the text informed by the text and shaped by it. Theological systems and exegesis are forever in a symbiotic relationship where each is affected by the other. Phillip has made us aware of the danger of preaching a system rather than the text and that is always helpful but what he doesn’t say is that we are always bringing a system of theology to the text. That is not a bad thing as long as our system of theology is always flowing out of the Bible.

    2. The question that was in my mind as I was watching the video was: Who is Phillip talking about? Phillip makes a distinction between Calvinists and the followers of Calvin. Calvinists, in Phillip’s view, preach the system rather than the text and end up doing more education rather than evangelism. Whereas followers of Calvin read the text and do evangelism. But who is Phillip talking about? Is it John Piper? Is it Mark Dever? Is it Tim Keller? The problem with mentioning a group of people like Calvinists, tarring them with the same brush and offering only anecdotal evidence is that the assertions made are, at the one and the same time, both indefensible and irrefutable. They are indefensible because you need evidence to back up your argument and Phillip hasn’t given us any and they are irrefutable because there is no evidence to argue against and to introduce counter evidence against and any counter evidence we would offer is dismissed out of hand (for evidence of this look at the video from 9:40-10:30 mark).

    3. That are also historical inaccuracies  in what Phillip said. Around the 10:30 mark in the video Phillip says that the outcome of the ministry of the 17th century Puritans, who were Calvinists, was that in the north eastern states of America Quakerism and Unitarianism flourished in the wake of their ministries. Phillip is wide of the mark here. If you read George Marsden’s biography of Jonathan Edwards Jonathan Edwards: A Life it is clear that the reason Edwards, and other Calvinists of his day, emphasized the Calvinism and Calvinistic teaching was because they saw Arminiainism as a threat that would bring the downfall of theology and belief in the Biblical God. History shows that the north east states of America went into theological decline not because of the Calvinism of the Puritans but because of the Arminianism of Charles Finney and others coupled with the onslaught of enlightenment. Phillip implies that the reason why the north east of the United States is the most unchristian part of the United States is because of the Puritans of the seventeen hundreds and their Calvinism, which may make one thing that if you call yourself a Calvinist your theological children will be heading into a theological ditch. But this, as we have seen, doesn’t ground itself in history but speculation.

    4. Is Phillip guilty of his own critique? Over the years I have loved Phillip’s preaching. At one point I think I had about one hundred of his tapes (yes I listened to tapes I am that old!). But I do remember one sermon of his on the parable of the Good Samaritan. His big idea was that we have read this parable wrong. The parable is not about social justice or about helping your neighbour. It is actually about Jesus, who is the ultimate good Samaritan, rescuing us (we are the man lying on the ground beaten to a pulp). Now I listened to this sermon over a decade ago so I may not have nailed what Phillip said but even if I am close to what he said isn’t Phillip doing the very thing he is critiquing? Read any good commentator and they will say that the parable is about being a neighbour to anyone you meet and not primarily about salvation. It is in this instance Phillip has applied his system of theology to the text and not let the text say what it really says.

    Phillip is right, we all need to make sure that we preach the text of the Bible and not our system of theology. This is always a great piece of advice but there are a few major things I think he needs to pull back on.

    Now I am going to tell someone about Jesus because that is what Calvinists, like my self, do.

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  • Why Do You go to Church?

    The parable of the Pharisee and the Tax collector from Luke’s gospel is one of my favourite passages. It is so rich and yet so brief.

    To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other people—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.’ 13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ 14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” Luke 18:9-14

    One of the many things I wonder when I read this passage is why did the Pharisee come to the temple? It seems like he didn’t come to the temple to learn or to be affected by being reminded of who God is and what he has done for him. It seems like he came to the temple to let everyone know how awesome he is. It makes me think why do we come to church? I ask this because I think a lot of us approach church with a cool detachment. It is just something we do. So many of us come to church expecting to be entertained, much like going to stand up comedy or a concert. We sit passively by, not really engaging with the singing or the preaching unless it really hits us. Most of the time we leave unaffected not because God wasn’t speaking but because we have come to church with the wrong attitude, the attitude of a consumer not a worshiper. So let me ask you again why do you come to church? Or maybe a better question is, what is your attitude when you come to church? Do you come hungering and thirsting for God and his righteousness? Jesus says that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled. That is, those who seek God will find their fill of him. But throughout the Bible God rejects the worship of those who are coming to him to be entertained or to have their own way of life confirmed. This is because they have not come to church to meet with him. But God fills those with joy who come desperate to hear from God. Are you coming to church desperate to hear from God and to be reminded of his grace and love or are you coming with a cool detachment just looking to be entertained? Here is the scary thing “Jesus says it is possible to come to church thinking that you want to meet with God, and leave believing you have done so, and all the time being self deceived.”* Why do you come to church? Is it because of a self centred reason like the Pharisee or is it because you are hungering and thirsting for the grace that God gives like the tax collector?

    *Roy Clements, A Sting in the Tale (Nottingham: IVP, 1995), 100

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  • Does Your Church Help Single Christians Flourish?

    On Wednesday I attended the Liberty Conference at Annandale Community Church. Liberty is a ministry that disciples and pastorally cares for people with unwanted same sex attraction. The speaker was Wesley Hill who is a man with unwanted same sex desires. He has written an amazing book that you should read about his journey called Washed and Waiting. In his second talk Wesley challenged us to think about how we can foster deep friendships at church which will be life giving to both married and single people.

    This made me think about my church and if we are helping the people at Resolved who aren’t married or dating connect with others in a deep and profound level. It made me think about my family and if we are connecting with single Christians and inviting them into our family enough. It made me think about the relationships we in at church and whether they are profoundly and appropriately intimate or shallow and utilitarian?

    I have no answers but only questions for now. I would love to hear from any single Christians on what a church/pastor/married couple could do to help you flourish relationally.

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  • When You Rest God Is Preaching the Gospel to You

    One of the main ways we see in today’s society that we have made an idol out of work, or what we get from work, is in our inability to take a day to rest. And yet God has knitted the idea of rest into the fabric of the universe. This is plainly seen in Genesis 2:1-2

    Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.

    Now notice what is repeated here three times. It is the idea of the seventh day.[1] God connected this seventh day with rest and then commanded his people to take this day as a day of rest. This day of rest is commanded all through out the Old Testament. The Sabbath Day it is actually saying something very theologically explosive. Notice the point that is made in Deuteronomy 5:6-12

    12 “Observe the Sabbath day by keeping it holy, as the Lord your God has commanded you. 13 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 14 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your ox, your donkey or any of your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns, so that your male and female servants may rest, as you do. 15 Remember that you were slaves in Egypt and that the Lord your God brought you out of there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the Lord your God has commanded you to observe the Sabbath day. Deuteronomy 5:6-12

    In Deuteronomy 5 the Sabbath is re-enactment of the Exodus from Egypt. It is a reminder of God’s saving activity in saving them from slavery. It is saying to them “You are no longer slaves but free!” It is the same with us, taking a Sabbath is a “declaration of your freedom.”[2] When you rest you are saying to your work, your school’s demands, your family and even your own insecurity “I am not your slave I am free!” Conversely, if you cannot rest you are a slave, you aren’t free, because “a person is only free when they can limit their activities.”[3] Therefore when you rest God is preaching the gospel to you. He is reminding you that you are free in every sense that matters.

    But he is also preaching the gospel to you in another way when you rest. When you are resting what is happening in the universe? The answer is everything. Galaxies are being formed, stars are shining their light, and planets are spinning. While you rested the earth still rotated on its axis as it traveled through space around the sun. While you rested people went to work, fell in love, created art and ate. While you rested your industry that you work in kept moving and even your company that you worked for kept moving forward. Who was doing all this while you rested? God. While you and I rest, while you and I sleep God, in his grace, is preaching the gospel to you. He is saying you to and I “I am sovereign. I am in control. You can sleep or watch your reruns of Friends and I will be holding up all of creation without any of your help.” When you and I rest God is preaching to us that we are not the centre of the universe, we are not indispensable but he is.

    When was the last time you let Jesus preach the gospel to you by resting?

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    [1] Kenneth A. Matthews, The New American Commentary: Genesis 1- 11:26, 177

    [2] Tim Keller, Every Good Endeavor: Connecting Your Work to God’s Work, 236

    [3] Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics the Doctrine of Creation: The Creator and His Creature (Church Dogmatics) III.3 , 215

    [4] D.H Jensen, Responsive Labor: A Theology of Work, 11

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  • The Scandal of Grace

    Our world works on the idea that you get what you deserve or you get what you work for. Our world says the early bird gets the worm. No pain no gain. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Our world says it is motivation that starts you, habit that keeps you going and hard work that ensures success. We live in a world that says work hard, you get what you earn.

    But God flips that all on it’s head and says if you trust in me you don’t get what you deserve. Because of what Jesus has done on the cross and the grace shown there I don’t get what I deserve. I deserve punishment and I get forgiveness. I deserve wrath and I get love. I deserve guilt and shame and yet I get a blank slate. I deserve God to be angry at me and yet he loves me with a perfect love because I am adopted as his son. I deserve nothing from his hand and I get a banquet.

    You see God doesn’t work like our world does and yet we have this idea of God who works exactly like our world does. A lot of us think that God is like an angry boss of the universe who when we don’t make our spiritual and moral numbers he is angry. Or he is like a father who only will point out what we do wrong and how we don’t measure up. But that is not that god of the Bible at all. He is more like a boss, who when you or I stuff up a massive project that he has been working on, bears the guilt and shame of it from the board of directors and then gives us a company paid holiday even though we have stuffed everything up. Some of you are thinking that would never happen, there would never be a boss who is that crazy. But can you see tat this ridiculous story is getting at the crazy love of God.

    One of the most scandalous stories in the Bible is the story of Hosea.  God tells Hosea to marry a prostitute and he does and he tells her that when she whores herself out on the street corners to love and forgive her. Can you imagine that? God is not saying that it is cool for marriages to be open. He is trying to show us the scandal of grace.Through Hosea, God is trying to say that his love and forgiveness and grace is like a man who keeps loving and forgiving his wife who is selling herself for next to nothing for anyone. God keeps loving and forgiving and pouring out his grace.

    But this grace is baffling isn’t it? It is truly scandalous if you get it. But it also seems unjust. How can a murderer and adulterer like King David just get off scot-free? How can a person who was killing Christians with all the zeal of a member of Isis, Like the apostle Paul was, just be forgiven? How can you and I with all our guilt and shame be forgiven? With all those ways we have hurt others does God just sweep them under the carpet? No He deals with them.

    Grace is not some “grandfatherly display of niceness for it cost him the infinite price of Calvary!”[1] For justice to be given someone had to pay either Jesus could judge us or take the punishment himself. He chose the cross and there he took the punishment we deserve.

    “In the move The Last Emperor, the young child anointed as the last emperor of China lives a magical life of luxury with a thousand eunuch servants at his command. “What happens when you do wrong?” his brother asks. “When I do wrong, someone else is punished,” the boy emperor replies. To demonstrate, he breaks a jar, and one of the servants is beaten. In Christian theology, Jesus reversed that ancient pattern: when the servants erred, the King was punished. Grace is free only because the giver himself has borned the cost.”[2] Grace costs us nothing but it cost him everything.

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    [1] Phillip Yancey, What’s so amazing about grace?, 67

    [2] Phillip Yancey, What’s so amazing about grace?, 67

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