Feb 14, 2013

Finding your one true love

So are you seeking love this Valentine’s Day? Are you somewhat embarrassed or depressed that you are not spending Valentine’s Day with a significant other?

Mark Vernon has written a really helpful myth-busting piece for Valentine’s Day. Here are some of his key conclusions could have been written by a Christian and they certainly serve to highlight how both Christian and non-Christian alike can go badly wrong when living according to the myth of Romantic love. Here are three of his key insights.

1) When we think that there is someone out there who can ‘complete us’  we are looking in the wrong place if we look for that in a person. Marriages can be extremely happy and do offer many blessings but when we marry we marry fallen, sinful human beings just like us. If we want someone to ‘complete us’ what we’re really asking for is someone to be God for us. He alone can  provide ‘true love’. Vernon points to the conclusion of philosopher Simon May when he says:

There is a spiritual dimension to this romantic addiction too. The philosopher Simon May has proposed that while many have given up on God in the West, we still long for the unconditional love that God used to offer.

But godless, we seek instead unconditional love from our fellow humans. We make them gods, and of course they fail us. And then love turns to hate.

2. When we put that kind of expectation on ourselves, our spouse or on a potential boyfriend or girlfriend we ask them to do the impossible and they will always be a disappointment to us. We risk damaging the relationship if we want perfection. We risk never entering into a relationship if we wait for ‘the one’ who alone is perfect.

3. We need to recognise that love is a decision rather than a feeling or destiny.

The pressure to find ‘the one’ is  socially corrosive because it idealises love, rather than understanding that love is made not found. Love is made in the gritty ups and downs of being with someone who is as flawed as you.

All of this said we should still celebrate human love and that should include romance; flowers, candle-lit dinners and all. What we mustn’t do is ask Romance to be our god for God alone IS love.

Feb 13, 2013

The power to overcome the sin in your life

Last Saturday morning the men at City Church gave some time to thinking through issues of sexual purity. This post is the second part of my handout that went with the talk. Part one is here

3) Go to God with your behaviour

Know the compassion of a gracious God . ‘The Lord pities his people’ – JC Ryle

David Powlinson writes:

Your natural instinct is to turn to yourself, instead of to Jesus. This is true of all sin, but it’s obvious in your struggle with pornography because it’s a solitary pursuit. Your pornographic sins are, by definition, only about you: what you want, what you hope for, and what you long for. When you are facing hard or disappointing circumstances—boredom, loneliness, money problems, fighting with a spouse, distance from a friend—it’s easy (and instinctive) to turn in on yourself and try to escape your troubles by going to your fantasy life.

Apply the gospel to your behaviour

The gospel is not only a comfort for you as you struggle with sin. It is God’s very means of fighting sin. Just saying ‘no’ or taking cold showers is not a way to fight something that has a first-place in our hearts. The only thing that roots out sin is to replace that sin with a higher or greater love. Loving Christ more than we love sin breaks its attraction and therefore its power over us.

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847) preached a sermon entitled The expulsive power of a new affection in which he set out exactly  how the Christian can and should fight sin:

Salvation by grace, salvation by free grace, salvation not by obedience but according to the mercy of God, is indispensable. . . to. . . godliness. Retain a single shred or fragment of legality with the Gospel. . . and you take away the power of the Gospel to melt and reconcile. For this purpose, the freer it is, the better it is. That very peculiarity of the Gospel which so many dread as the germ of Antinomianism [permission to sin without consequence], is, in fact, the germ of a new spirit, and a new inclination against sin.

Along with the light of a free Gospel, the love of the Gospel enters. To the measure that you impair Gospel freeness, you also chase away this love. And never does the sinner find within himself so mighty a moral transformation, as when under the belief that he is saved by grace, he feels constrained thereby to offer his heart as a devoted thing to God, and to eschew ungodliness.

[Why is this grateful love so important?] It is rare that any of our [bad habits or flaws] disappear by a mere process of natural extinction. At least, it is very seldom that this is done through the process of reasoning. . . or by the force of mental determination. But what cannot be destroyed may be thrown out—just as one taste may be made to give way to another, and to lose its power entirely as the reigning affection in the mind.

So, eventually, a boy may cease to be a slave of his appetite. How? Because a [more 'mature'] taste has brought it into subordination. The youth ceases to idolize [sensual] pleasure. Why? Because the idol of wealth has. . . gotten the ascendancy. Even the love of money can cease to have mastery over the heart because it is drawn into the whirl of [ideology and politics] and he is now lorded over by a love of power [and moral superiority]. But in none of these transformations is the heart left without an object to worship. Its desire for one particular object may be conquered—but its desire to have some object. . . is unconquerable. . . .

The only way to dispossess the heart of an old affection is by the expulsive power of a new one. . . It is only. . . when, through faith in Jesus Christ, as we are received as God’s children, that the spirit of adoption is poured out on us—and the heart, brought under the mastery of one great and predominant affection, is delivered from the tyranny of its former desires. That is the only way that deliverance is possible. 

Thus, for true change to occur. . . it is not enough. . . to hold out to the world a mirror of its own imperfections. It is not enough to demonstrate the evanescent character of your Christian life. . . or to speak to the conscience. . . of its foolishness. . . Rather, try every legitimate method of finding access to your hearts, for the love of Him who is greater than the world.

4) Go to others that they might be God’s change-agents in your life

Christian growth comes in and through community. Sexual sin has a hold on us because we do not use the resources God has given to fight it. That resource includes others. Rick Warren writes:

If you’re losing the battle against a persistent bad habit, an addiction, or a temptation, and you’re stuck in a repeating cycle of good intention-failure-guilt, you will not get better on your own. You need the help of other people. Some temptations are only overcome with the help of a partner who prays for you, encourages you, and holds you accountable.

a) Who are you willing and able to talk to about these issues?

b) Who is going to remind you of the gospel in the midst of your struggle?

c) What accountability can you build into these relationships?

d) What protections can you put in place to help you in the fight?

Covenant eyes, time-lock on computer, etc.


Conclusion – Hope and the power of the gospel

What seems so small and so weak (an acorn) has the power to break even the strongest stone. So the gospel is powerful to set you free from even the most besetting of sins. However you feel about the battle with lust the gospel is able not only to save you from your sins and to comfort you in your falls but to give you some level of victory over sins like lust.

Tim Keller tells the following story about the power of the gospel that is in you.

A minister was in Italy, and there he saw the grave of a man who had died centuries before who was an unbeliever and completely against Christianity, but a little afraid of it too. So the man had a huge stone slab put over his grave so he would not have to be raised from the dead in case there is a resurrection from the dead. He had insignias put all over the slab saying, “I do not want to be raised from the dead. I don’t believe in it.” Evidently, when he was buried, an acorn must have fallen into the grave. So a hundred years later the acorn had grown up through the grave and split that slab. It was now a tall towering oak tree. The minister looked at it and asked, “If an acorn, which has power of biological life in it, can split a slab of that magnitude, what can the acorn of God’s resurrection power do in a person’s life?”

Keller comments:

The minute you decide to receive Jesus as Savior and Lord, the power of the Holy Spirit comes into your life. It’s the power of the resurrection—the same thing that raised Jesus from the dead …. Think of the things you see as immovable slabs in your life—your bitterness, your insecurity, your fears, your self-doubts. Those things can be split and rolled off. The more you know him, the more you grow into the power of the resurrection.

 Post-script:  Why marriage won’t fix things

It’s not about sex, not even about lust, it’s about you and the gospel. Tim Chester comments,

It you’re not yet married, porn is a sin against your future wife. You’re also creating a set of expectations that bears no relation to real sex or real marriage. You’re storing up a database of images that will compete with your future wife. You’re gifting the devil, a reservoir of temptations to use against you.

Using porn is a bad way of preparing not to use it when you’re married! Every time you use porn, you’re giving it more control over your heart. You’re sowing a bitter harvest for your married life.

Feb 11, 2013

Men in a sex-mad world

Here are my notes (part 1) from a City Church men’s breakfast held last Saturday morning exploring issues of lust and pornography.

A. Why can’t we talk about it?

Lust is

1) a secret sin

2) a shameful sin

3) a highly-addictive sin

4) a debilitating sin

5) an enslaving sin

6) an isolating sin

All of which is a recipe for denial and deceit.

B. Why might we not be in the fight?

1) We like our sin too much

2) We’ve tried everything and failed

3) We don’t know how to apply the gospel to sexual sin in a way that helps us fight sin

4) We dare not ask for help or speak to others about our sin

C. Is change possible?

Yes,by God’s grace. Change happens when you

1) Face your behaviour honestly

2) Understand the roots of your behaviour

3) Go to God to work true (gospel) change in your behaviour

4) Include others as God’s change-agents in your behaviour

 1) Face up to your behaviour

Flee sexual immorality – 1 Corinthians 6:18

a) What is it doing to God?
  • Dishonouring God – 1 Cor. 6:18-20
  • Denying Christ – 1 Cor.6:18-20
  • Grieving the Spirit – Ephesians 4:30


 b) What is it doing to me?



  • Robbing you of your joy
  • Rendering you ineffective in ministry
  • Weighing you down with a guilty conscience
  • Creating barriers between you and your wife, girlfriend



  • Our salvation is at stake
  • Hebrews 12:14 - Without holiness no one will see the Lord
  • Matthew 5:27-30 - “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
  • Ephesians 5:3-5 - But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people. Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving. For of this you can be sure: No immoral, impure or greedy person—such a man is an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and of God.

c) What is it doing to my spouse (future spouse)?

Porn (or lust more generally) hijacks your brain. One secular author has said:

Countless men have described to me how while using porn, they have lost the ability to relate or be close to women. They have trouble being turned on by “real” women, and their sex lives with their girlfriends or wives collapse.

2) Understand your behaviour

The problem is in your heart and not in your Internet provider – Mark Driscoll

a) Understand and avoid the circumstances in which you are tempted.

David Pawlinson advises asking ourselves to work out the triggers for temptation;

  • When does it happen? What is going on? What happened that day?
  • What were you thinking about? What was the nature of the temptation?
  • What did you do about it? Did you act on it?
  • If you didn’t act on it, how did that happen?
  • If you did what did you do after you fell?
  • How did you recover? What was the after-effect?

Keeping this journal will help you see what is really going on in your struggle with pornography. As you start to grapple with your deeper sin patterns, you’ll see that your problem is much bigger, your need for grace is much deeper, and your goal is much more magnificent than you ever imagined.


b) Understand the underlying causes of sexual temptation

Is it hardship, boredom, hurt, anger, betrayal, loneliness?

Sexual temptation is rarely simply about sex. Sexual temptation is usually much more about idolatry. When we stumble into sexual sin what we are seeking is a form of salvation. In secular language we might say ‘escapism’ but what we are really doing is asking our fantasies to rescue us from a world of insignificance, rejection, loneliness, boredom, etc.

Tim Chester writes:

Our longing for porn is a version of our longing for God.

The following six-points are adapted from Tim Chester’s book and highlight how in six different ways we look to pornography to save us from ourselves. He then goes on to show how the gospel is the real answer to our temptations.

i. Porn says ‘in my world you’re significant’

The fantasy-world of pornography is attractive to people because at least in that world they are not only noticed but they rule! Porn provides a fantasy world in which you’re potent, adored, the centre of attention. Women ‘offer’ themselves to you. That is a very attractive thought to self-centred fallen humanity.

Is that really good news?

Any gospel that put’s you at the centre and through which everyone else exists only to serve you is not good news at all. It’s not only fake reality but a very damaging one! The gospel is the daily lesson of learning not to see yourself as the only one that matters.

God’s gospel also says ‘in my world you’re significant’ but in a true way.

We’re significant because we matter to God. He loves and adores us but not because we are lovely but simply because he has chosen to love us. So we receive God’s love in an undeserved way because of Jesus. The result – God is in his proper place and I am in mine.

ii. Porn says ‘in my world you’ll never be lonely’

Porn promises the relationship we seek and the intimacy we crave. In the world of porn I don’t face rejection and I never need feel  lonely.

As Tim Chester comments; Porn offers a safe alternative to intimacy

It seemed like a safe way to be sexually active without getting involved in a real relationship.’

Fearing rejection, we retreat into the fantasy world of porn in which women adore us and offer themselves to us without risk.

God’s gospel is one in which he says ‘in my world you’ll never be lonely’.

Rather than retreating in false intimacy because we cannot risk rejection. The gospel offers us the unconditional acceptance that I crave and need. In a relationship with God that will go on for ever.

I may or may not enjoy the intimacy of marriage and of a sexual union in this life but the gospel promise is that human intimacy even between a husband and a wife is just pointing us ahead to the perfection of an intimacy with God that will continue for ever.

iii. Porn says ‘I can make your problems disappear’

Porn for so many is a form of escapism. People leaving their problems far behind as they seek an adrenaline fuelled high. Porn offers to takes you to another place on a legal high.

So when circumstances are too daunting. When you’re facing exams, deadlines, difficulties at home or work the quick fix of porn is the gospel for many.

Is that really good news?

Like any other form of abuse porn creates its own vicious circle. It gives you a brief high but then comes the big low of shame and guilt. And so you repeat it all over again.

God says ‘Do not escape your troubles – know God in your troubles’

Escapism is a failure to come to terms with reality and an unwillingness to face up to life in a fallen world. For the Christian valuable lessons are learnt in the troubles. Lessons that often can’t be learned any other way.

Paul pleaded with the Lord to take away his troubles ‘the thorn in his flesh’ but Jesus said ‘my grace is sufficient’. That is the good news of the gospel.

Paul writes: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.(Philippians 4:5-6)

iv. Porn says ‘I am your reward for a good life lived’

For some porn is a form of escapism from the pressures of life but at other times it can function as a reward for endurance.  Maybe the temptation comes from the thought that my hard-work goes unrecognised at home or work or in an even more subtle and perverse way my sacrifice for the gospel goes un-thanked then porn says I can compensate you for your labours or I can reward you for…

We might say ‘I’m giving up stuff for Christ, even the chance to be sexually active as an unmarried Christian man and porn is my compensation.’

God gospel promises a reward for obedience that is a good ultimate and lasting joy

Porn may tempt with a quick fix but it is Christ who promises a true reward when we work hard for him. Yes, we may have to wait for our final reward and it is primarily a future one but the promise of blessing now for those who serve him well is given by Jesus too.

Jesus says:  I tell you the truth, Jesus said to them, no-one who has left home or wife or brothers or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age and, in the age to come, eternal life. (Luke 18:29-30)

Chester comments: The life of obedience is not the bad life or the sad life. It’s the good life. Life with God and for God is the best life you could live. Change is about enjoying the freedom from sin and delight in God that God gives to us through Jesus.

v. Porn says ‘I am the god that always gives you what you want in exactly the way you want it’

The gospel of porn is a call to switch allegiance to a god who is altogether more willing to give us what we want. Why serve a God who does not satisfy your every demand when porn will?

When we turn to the idol of porn Chester notes it ‘can be an expression of anger, revenge, resentment or ingratitude…Porn may even be an act of anger against God, when life hasn’t turned out the way we want.’ It can mean turning to a god who is no god at all out of frustration with our Christian life.

Why go God’s way in life if that involves difficulty and delay? When Satan offers Jesus the kingdoms of this world he is tempting him to take what will one day be rightfully his and grab it now.

God’s gospel says ‘will not God graciously give us all things’

In the gospel of Jesus God has promised us everything we need even if that is not everything that we want. I once heard Tim Keller say in a sermon ‘unless we are willing to let God contradict us haven’t we simply made God in our own image’.

In the gospel of God is a call to recognise and rejoice in the thought that God has withheld no good thing from us for he has given far more than we deserve and he has given us his son.

vi. Porn says ‘I can save you from yourself’

All false gospels are attractive because they promise us a new life. A life in which we can be different people. Porn says I can give you significance, intimacy, freedom from worry, reward and success and all with ease.

Porn offers us a way out of a tough life. It offers us heaven on earth. Well at least for a time. The attraction is in the quick fix, instant result.

I just want to feel that I’m OK, I turn to porn instead of God because the gospel doesn’t tell me that I’m OK.’

The biggest lie of all is in this gospel that is no gospel at all. For this gospel of porn is a gospel that takes us far from Christ and from the God who made us and loves us. In choosing this gospel we turn our backs on the only gospel that can save.

God’s gospel says ‘only God can save you from yourself.’

He is the one who atones for our sin and he is the one making us new. His spirit is able to transform us into the likeness of Christ with ever-increasing glory.


Feb 4, 2013

So here’s what I wrote to my MP today…

A letter e-mailed to my MP this morning

Dear Mr Burden

We are writing to you as our MP for Northfield to ask you to vote against the Marriage (same-sex couples) bill on its second reading tomorrow. Whilst we recognise that gay couples wish to be given opportunity to express their love and commitment to each other in a life-long partnership we do believe that this should continue to be provided under the current civil partnership provision.

The temptation in the media this has been to present this as a generational issue. As a couple in our early forties we still like to think of ourselves as a younger couple. One of us has even shared accommodation with a gay friend. It is not our age that has led us to our conclusion but a conviction that this legislation is not good for our nation or our city.

We have three main concerns:

1) We think this issue is a divisive one given the multi-cultural makeup of our city. One recent poll found that 67% of ethnic-minorities in the country are against same sex marriage. In a city like Birmingham we believe this is legislation that will further isolate the Muslim community in particular.

2) We believe that there are serious implications for liberty of conscience for individuals and faith-communities who cannot as a matter of religious conviction support same-sex marriage. Michael Gove has already conceded that the UK government may be powerless against the European Courts. One newspaper has reported on legal opinion that gives credibility to concern on the issue:

Human rights barrister Aidan O’Neill QC concluded schools could be within their rights to dismiss staff who wilfully fail to use stories or textbooks promoting same-sex weddings. He added that parents who object to it being taught would also have no right to withdraw their children from lessons.

Given that we do not know what unexpected consequences may follow from this legislation we ask that you do not give support to it.

3) We are also concerned that this bill did not feature in the manifesto of any political party and does not receive the support of the nation.

One YouGov poll for The Sunday Times, published on 11 March 2012, found that 32% opposed same-sex marriage whilst supporting civil partnerships and an additional 15% opposed both. So 47% opposed gay marriage with 43% supporting it and 10% saying they don’t know.

Further polling has also revealed a deeply divided nation. A ComRes poll with a sample of 2000 people conducted in January 2013 both found that 51% of respondents believed that marriage should continue to be defined as a life-long exclusive commitment between a man and a woman.

In conclusion we think that this is a divisive bill which although benefiting the 6,000 people per year who enter civil partnerships will cause considerable concern to many millions who might well be affected by its results.

Thank you for your consideration and your continued hard work as our MP.

Yours sincerely


Neil & Jane Powell

Feb 1, 2013

What Tim Keller said to Victoria Beckham

She has millions in the bank and a football hunk in her bed – but Victoria Beckham insists she still needs to prove herself every day. The singer and designer puts her success down to hard work and admitted her self-esteem often needed boosting. So began a piece in yesterday’s Metro newspaper reporting the edited highlights of an interview in this month’s Elle magazine with Posh. She says of herself;

When I was on-stage with the Spice Girls, I thought people were there to see the other four and not me. And when I go out with David and people take pictures I think, “They’re here to take David’s pictures.

On her move into the fashion industry she reveals how her fears about herself continue to fuel her ambitions.  It was never my intention to prove anybody wrong. I wanted to prove to myself that I could do it. I don’t have to work, I need to work.

What’s more her insecurities find their own expression not just in the need to work but in the way she works. Admitting to being a ‘control freak’ she confesses You’ve got to trust people. Sometimes that’s difficult for me because I want to micro-manage absolutely everything. I can’t hand over. But I’m trying to do that more.

What Victoria Beckham recognises is that our fundamental insecurities about who we are and why we matter often find expression in our work. Whether that is the barely suppressed envy of colleagues or our need to control others or even the need to better them through overwork and unhealthy ambition, we are really struggling with our own identity and place in the world.

Tim Keller’s Every Good Endeavour is a book in which he not only highlights these realities and their source but sets out just how the gospel is able to transform our work lives.  Through the gospel we no longer need to work for an identity (which will always leave us insecure) but from an identity, given to us in Jesus Christ.  Accepted by God, chosen and dearly loved, adopted as his children, our motives for work are transformed. Keller writes;

The truth will change your identity. It will convince you of your real, inestimable value. And ironically, when you see how much you are loved, your work will become far less selfish. Suddenly all the other things in your work life – your influence, your resume,and the benefits they bring you – become just things. You can risk them, spend them, and even lose them. You are free.

Taking the example of Esther in the Bible who as a royal Queen became a person of greatness not by trying to make a name for herself; and you will become a person of greatness not by trying to make yourself into one, but by serving the One who said to his Father, “For your sake, thy will be done.


Jan 29, 2013

‘Is it just me?’ No, Miranda it’s most of us

Arguably now the best-known woman on television,  40, unmarried, and never linked to a boyfriend. Why is Miranda Hart quite so much the ‘in’ thing? The Sun described her as the ‘undisputed Queen of Christmas TV’ after her hit comedy show Miranda won the Christmas rating (beating Eastenders along the way) when over 10 million people tuned in to watch the Christmas special. If you haven’t watched the show here’s a clip and if you want a summary one journalist describes it as  the sitcom about the unusually tall woman who runs a shop and falls over a lot.’


What do we see of ourselves in Miranda?

Can I suggest that we see something of ourselves in her own struggle to manage life and make it work.  When she asks in the title of her book ‘Is it just me?’ we all know the answer is ‘no’. We too set ourselves the sort of goals that we believe will make us happy and fulfilled; nice home, financially secure, married, children, successful career. And we see Miranda and her friends in later 30s and having none of the things that she is supposed to have by now. In her recent book, a sort of manual to life, she writes;

At thirty-eight, I finally feel my life is beginning and that I might be able to start doing things my way. To varying degrees, we all free awkward. Whether we hide it with arrogance, shyness, modesty;  whether we play the clown or the trendsetter, everyone struggles.

Transitioning to ‘adult’ life ie growing up is no easy thing!

For Miranda Hart our 20s are that stage in life where we have  ‘that feeling of being completely out of place and not really understanding the world’s rules yet. Fish out of water, still feels uncomfortable around men and in the workplace, and am I meant to be abiding by these rules? But doesn’t really want to conform, I suppose.’

And that seems to have been something of her real-life experience. On graduating, although friends got jobs, she went back home to her parents, where she became depressed, gained a lot of weight whilst on antidepressants and rarely left her own bedroom.  Looking back on that time she says (£)

my agoraphobia was just panic, thinking I can’t be bothered to deal with the world, it wasn’t really a psychological condition. It was just thinking, help, I don’t know what to do with my life, and I’m not ready to be an adult in the world. I missed the structure of school and university, and I just had a slight kind of freak out.

The Peter-Pan syndrome

The term Peter-Pan syndrome, first coined in the 1980s, is widely used to describe the phenomenon of growing numbers of adults who can’t or won’t grow up and seem unable to embrace adulthood. A recent study found that we now think of ourselves as grown us at around the age not of 18 but 28.

Refusing  to ‘grow up’ is a key component to what makes Miranda the TV comedy the success that it is. Michael Deacon in the Telegraph writes;

Miranda invitingly beckons you back to childhood. It’s cosy and cuddly and comforting. It contains scarcely any jokes that an eight-year-old child wouldn’t get. Its central character – played by Miranda Hart – trips over things, rips her trousers, breaks wind at inopportune moments, pulls faces, puts on funny voices. She’s meant to be in her thirties, yet she’s constantly being scolded by her mother as if she were 12.

To be fair, her mother has a point. In many respects our heroine effectively is 12. She can’t handle the smallest responsibility. She’s clueless about work. She hasn’t the first idea about boys. And she’s hopelessly clumsy, as children on the verge of adolescence so often are.

So in Miranda we recognise our own struggle to make life work. Life has never been more complicated. We have so much and so much is expected of us and the option to retreat is so very tempting. Who doesn’t want to embrace immaturity, retreat from responsibility and escape into small comforts and pleasure. Deacon again, If Miranda has a message, this is it: it’s OK to be a bit useless, as long as you’re nice.

In a future post I’ll offer some response to the Miranda phenomena and how as Christians we can help one another transition safely into adulthood without resorting to playing ‘Biscuit Blizzard’ and vegetable friends.

Jan 24, 2013

Whose fault is it anyway? JC Ryle and God’s offer of salvation

JC Ryle  asks ‘Who is responsible when people refuse God’s offer in the gospel?’

There is nothing wanting on God’s part for the salvation of sinners’ souls: no one will ever be able to say at last that it was God’s fault, if he is not saved. The Father is ready to love and receive; the Son is ready to pardon and cleanse guilt away; the Spirit is ready to sanctify and renew; angels are ready to rejoice over the returning sinner; grace is ready to assist him; the Bible is ready to instruct him; heaven is ready to be his everlasting home. One thing only is needful, and that is – the sinner must be ready and willing himself. Let this also never be forgotten: let us not quibble and split hairs upon this point. God will be found clear of the blood of all lost souls.

Expository Thoughts on the Gospel of Matthew – The Wedding Banquet, Matthew 22:1-14

Jan 22, 2013

Jesus isn’t superman

My son asked me a really good question after a great sermon on Sunday evening. The preacher pointed out that there are things God cannot do; he cannot lie for example and he cannot be tempted either.

How then was Jesus tempted by Satan in the wilderness? Rufus asked. Was that temptation real? The writer to the Hebrews thinks that it was when he writes that Jesus was tempted like us in every way and yet was without sin. So what is the answer?

The answer is that Jesus isn’t superman. Or more precisely Jesus isn’t Clark Kent. We all know how the story goes – in the superman films people think they’re face to face with an ordinary human-being yet we know that behind the persona Superman’s real identity is simply disguised.

It was Apollinaris of Laodicea (died 390) who taught that the best way to think about Jesus is that he was God carried around in a human body and that tends to be the way most of us still think of Jesus today. But the church rejected Apollinaris’s error and recognised that the Bible affirms that Jesus Christ was fully God and fully man in one person, and will be for ever.

Because Jesus was fully man he had not just a human body but a human mind and human emotions because Jesus was fully God ‘in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell’ Colossians 1:19. One person with two natures and those two natures inseparable yet distinct.

So Grudem concludes in his Systematic Theology the eternal Son of God took to himself a truly human nature, and Christ’s divine and human natures remain distinct and retain their own properties, yet they are eternally and inseparably united together in one person.

Jesus was no less human than you or I

Now that is really good news when it comes to the Christian life – not least when it comes to temptation. For there is a man (more than a man, but not less) who was tempted like me in every way and the promise given us is clear.

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. – Hebrews 4:16.

And before we refuse to go to Jesus with our temptations because we think to ourselves but Jesus never sinned and therefore doesn’t really know temptation as I do a word of advice from CS Lewis.

No man knows how bad he is till he has tried very hard to be good. A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is. After all, you find out the strength of the German army by fighting against it, not by giving in. You find out the strength of a wind by trying to walk against it, not by lying down. A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness — they have lived a sheltered life by always giving in. We never find out the strength of the evil impulse inside us until we try to fight it: and Christ, because He was the only man who never yielded to temptation, is also the only man who knows to the full what temptation means — the only complete realist.

Jan 15, 2013

Some doors need to be kept locked – Steve Chalke, sexuality and preaching the negatives

A friend of mine was enjoying a pint in the pub when a guy he didn’t know offered him a job. The job was working on a building site for a multi-storey office block. My friend had never done anything like it but was up for a challenge so he turned up, found a hard hat and walked on-site. Within a few hours he was operating a pneumatic drill breaking up a concrete floor that needed to be re-laid. Within a few minutes of starting he was falling through the floor onto another concrete floor below. He missed scaffolding pipes by a few inches that would have broken his back. He could have died, he ‘should’ have died and if he had, others would have been guilty of his death.

You might say he should have had the sense to have not been there in the first place, but nevertheless someone should have been protecting him. He was put in a dangerous place that he had no right to be in — unprepared for the dangers that awaited him, he nearly lost his life.

I tell the tale because I have recently been reminded that I have a job that involves protecting people from entering dangerous places. The pastor-shepherd protects the flock and the way we protect, at least in part, is by saying ‘don’t go there’ when we see or sense danger.

That charge to protect is a call to ‘preach the negatives’. Our preaching needs to challenge wrong living but it also needs to warn of dangerous theology. In a talk I heard last week I was reminded that false teaching doesn’t even necessarily have to affirm that which is false. False teachers often start by promoting dangerous ideas in an altogether more subtle and invasive way. Rob Bell’s book Love Wins is a case in point. When you turn deadly ideas into open questions, you invite God’s people to enter dangerous places.

Hugh Palmer, Rector at All Souls Church, London (the home of John Stott’s ministry for over 50 years) warned in a recent talk that Bell’s book ‘opens the door to tragic places and never closes them’. You don’t have to walk through the door yourself to be a false teacher, you merely have to open one after another and invite others to explore for themselves where they would like to go.

Our ministry has to have some negatives. We protect the flock by preaching the truth but also by locking and double-locking the doors of dangerous and deadly ideas and then we stand in the way of anyone reaching for the handle.

Paul writes in Acts 20 in his farewell message to the Ephesian elders;

Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard!

The preacher must know the truth, preach the truth and warn against those ideas that oppose the truth.

It’s desperately sad to see Steve Chalke walk away from evangelical truth in his recent statements in support of practising homosexuality, arguing that it is consistent with Biblical Christianity. But what is also culpable is the decision of those at Christianity magazine to promote his ideas in the most public way by letting him open doors in people’s minds, many of whom are vulnerable to dangerous ideas. True, the magazine also presents the biblical evangelical position alongside Chalke’s ideas but in effect, that is to leave two doors open and invite people to decide for themselves.

The defence the editor of the magazine makes is, first, that Steve Chalke has written for the magazine for a number of years
(so it’s the least they could do to give his ideas such a prominent place in this month’s edition?) and secondly

opening up the issues is what this magazine does. We’re evangelical in conviction, but our approach has never been to suppress what others think, whether within or outside of evangelicalism.

I hope you notice the emotive choice of words. If it is an act of ‘suppression’ to silence false teaching then the same charge applies to Jesus and the apostles who spend considerable time not only refusing to promote dangerous ideas but actively speaking out against them.

Christianity magazine has decided to leave open the door that Chalke has walked through, and their rationale is that they have opened another door in an alternative and more traditional point of view presented by Greg Downes. What this all amounts to is opening two doors and inviting people to decide for themselves which they will walk through. One door leads to life and the other, death. One must be closed and locked, but that will only happen if you are prepared to preach the negatives.

Jan 11, 2013

Whatever your view on gay marriage Tory plans are unworkable says senior Tory

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