Advent: Announcement

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In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God to a city of Galilee named Nazareth, to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. And the virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, O favoured one, the Lord is with you!”But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and tried to discern what sort of greeting this might be. And the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favour with God. And behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. And the Lord God will give to him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”
And Mary said to the angel, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?”
And the angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy—the Son of God. And behold, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son, and this is the sixth month with her who was called barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.” And Mary said, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word.” And the angel departed from her. Luke 1:26-38

Most of us have suffered from that sinking feeling.

You’re in the car, making good time, perhaps even enjoying the drive and you see that dreaded sign at the side of the road – ‘Men at Work’.  All of a sudden you are surrounded by cars, your average speed has dropped to 3 mph and you watch the minutes pass by on your clock while the scenery remains the same.

Close to where I live there are major road works taking place, which will take two years to complete (if they finish on time).  This means that I have seen this sign, and suffered from it, repeatedly in the past few months.

However, in the announcement passage found in Luke 1 we see a very different sign.  Instead of reading ‘Men at Work’, we read ‘God at Work’.

God is seen to be at work through an announcement.

The angel Gabriel is sent to a town called Nazareth to make this announcement (v 26).  Nazareth was a small rural village/town at least 45 miles north of the capital of Israel, Jerusalem.  Luke’s detailed description of where Nazareth was to be found suggests that his original readers were unaware of its location.

Not only is Gabriel sent to a little known town, but also an unknown person.

This announcement is made in Nazareth to a virgin called Mary (v 27).  Not only is Mary a little known person and living in a little known town, but she is also a woman.  Women were held in low regard in first century Palestine.  Really they were treated little better than children, who were neither seen nor heard.  In addition she was a virgin betrothed to be married.  Betrothals were common from the age of 12 in first century Palestine, and the fact that Mary was a virgin alludes to her youth.  So, it is very probable that this announcement, delivered in a small rural town, was to a teenage girl.  Even though the person receiving this announcement and her location were insignificant this only serves to magnify God all the more.

This insignificance is highlighted by the preceding verses in Luke 1 – the announcement of John the Baptist’s birth.  That announcement, also delivered by Gabriel, was given to a male who was a Priest (v 5), in the middle of public worship (v 10), in the Temple (v 9) which is located in the capital city, Jerusalem.

Yet, in that announcement, this relatively important man asked for a sign (v 18) and because of his apparent disbelief he was disciplined (v 20).  This is contrasted with the quiet obedience of the little known girl, Mary, from the little known town, Nazareth (v 34, 38).  Her question is given an answer (v 35) which suggests this was not a question rising from unbelief.

All of this displays ‘God at Work’.

Still, God’s work is also made explicit by the announcement.  Gabriel states unequivocally that this will be a work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Godhead (v 35).  He also offers an example of God’s mighty working power by way of Zechariah and Elizabeth (v 36).  This then comes to a head in verse 37 with the statement ‘For nothing will be impossible with God’ (ESV).

What is God’s work, what do we see him announcing in this passage that is identified as his work?  The birth of Jesus (v 31).

While Luke does not dwell on the name Jesus, it is important to remind ourselves again that this name means ‘The LORD is salvation’.

Rather, Luke dwells on the ministry that Jesus will fulfil (vv 32-33).  This son to be born, by the power of God, through the working of the Holy Spirit is to be great, the son of the Most High, he is to sit on the throne of David, he will reign over his people forever, there will be no end to his Kingdom.

This is the announcement: the child that little known Mary from little known Nazareth is going to bear will be the unending king of his people because he is the son of the Most High.

This is ‘God at Work’.

As the advent season begins, this truth portrayed in the announcement by Gabriel – God is at work – must not be forgotten.

In the town of Bethlehem lying in a manger there was a baby, but before we get there God proclaims that through the weak things of this world he will put to shame the strong things (1 Cor. 1:27).  God announces he is at work (Lk. 1:26-38).

This work is not yet finished though.  Yes, Christ was only born once; he will not come again in that manner.  But in the centuries that follow, again and again, Christ has been formed in people’s hearts (Gal. 4:19).  This has been God at work through the Holy Spirit, and he continues to be at work.

More than that, God then uses those in whom Christ has been formed in his work.  We, just like Mary, are insignificant and weak and yet God uses us in his work.

So, as you head out to get your Christmas shopping this year, if you see that dreaded sign on the roadside, ‘Men at Work’, be reminded that over 2000 years ago God announced that he is at work through his Son Jesus and that he continues to be at work through the Holy Spirit.

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Editor’s Note: This is the first in a four part series. Click here to read Part 2, Part 3 and Part 4.

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Christmas Reading

On Monday Davy recommended a book to read in the build up to Christmas so I thought I’d do the same.

Before you suffer a panic attack at just how much recommended reading you’re going to have this Christmas let me assure you that the book I’ve chosen is both very easy and very fun.

Without further ado.

Please allow me to recommend, for your reading pleasure, C.S. Lewis’s The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe.

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This year, last Friday, the 22nd of November, marked the 50th anniversary of C.S. Lewis’s passing into eternal glory, to live with the Emperor Beyond the Sea, so it is with great pleasure that I commend to you perhaps his best known and most beloved work. It stands as a faithful testament to his enduring legacy.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is technically the first book in The Chronicles of Narnia, though chronologically it is the second. Nevertheless, C.S. Lewis meant for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to be read before The Magicians Nephew, which takes place prior to the events in The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, not just because he happened to write it first but because if you read The Magicians Nephew first it contains major spoilers for The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe.

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe is a great story to read whether you are a child of 8 or an adult of 80. For parents this is a great book to read for your kids before bed, especially as we come closer and closer to Christmas (you’ll have to read the book to find out why!). As well as stimulating your imagination, and that of your children, there are some great themes to discuss that can help us all appreciate the deeper meaning of Christmas, the one buried under the shiny wrapping paper and presents, and experience the Deep Magic of Christmas, but I won’t say any more lest we venture into the land of spoilers (and there is nothing worse than spoilers!).

So this Christmas why not enter Narnia and join Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy in the land where it’s “always winter but never Christmas”.

If The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe hooks you, not to worry, there are another six books in the series which are equally as enjoyable so you need not be disappointed when you finish the first book because there is much more of Narnia to explore!

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If you are enthralled by C.S. Lewis’s Chronicles of Narnia and you’re not ready to leave Narnia after finishing all the novels, Joe Rigney has recently released Live Like A Narnian: Christian Discipleship in Lewis’s Chronicles.

I Don’t ‘Like’ Sermons and Neither Should You

Over the last number of years I have had the wonderful privilege of being able to go around different churches to preach God’s word. It is such an honour to serve the church in this way. What a joy to open up the Bible and give God’s truth to God’s people.

The preaching of the word, if it’s being rightly handled and faithfully communicated, is one of the primary means God uses to edify and sanctify His children.

Just to know the divine promise that God’s word will never return to Him void but will always achieve what He has purposed and desired it to accomplish, gives me great comfort (Isa. 55:10-11).

Yet, after preaching, if I’m being honest, I’m not long in forgetting such a promise. This happens when receiving the different responses to the sermon at the door after the service. Most of the time, you will hear comments such as: “I really liked what you had to say this morning/evening… thank you” or “I enjoyed that… you preached a good sermon, son”. So, God’s people liked it, they thought it was a good sermon, they enjoyed what they heard…

Image by Mars Hill Church
Image by Mars Hill Church

… great…

… I’m encouraged…

… I’m happy…

… but is God?

Are sermons supposed to be liked?

Are they supposed to be enjoyed?

I remember hearing a preacher a few years ago; he was a missionary who served in Peru. Just before he began the exposition of his text he said something that was quite profound, he said, “If I handle this Scripture correctly, it will be as if God were speaking through a man.” If that’s true, and I believe it is, then that’s frightening. God speaks and then we say, “Cool… I liked that, God… that was enjoyable, thanks for sharing”. It sounds crazy, but if we think about it deeply enough that’s what we’re ultimately saying. And being a hearer as well as a proclaimer, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone.

In the Bible God is speaking, preaching even. In the Scriptures God is revealing who He is and what He has done. Therefore, when we come under the sound of God’s word we should be in awe. Then after hearing the word we should reverently respond in worshipful obedience.

Let’s not get into Facebook mode and decide whether we ‘like’ it or not based on our homiletical preferences. No, we should earnestly come before God with an engaged mind, responsive heart and an open Bible, ready to listen and obey the voice of our Saviour. In these moments our prayer should always be – “Speak O Lord”. Yet, how often we sit in judgement over God’s word and irreverently assess how much we ‘like’ it.

We don’t judge the word, the word judges us.

We don’t critique the word, the word critiques us.

The writer to the Hebrews said,

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart” (Heb. 4:12).

“When the Scriptures are faithfully preached God speaks. Our responsibility as hearers is to listen humble, learn diligently and, by faith, obey what God commands in his Word. To treat this lightly is a disservice to God himself, who has chosen to speak to us in this way, and shows disrespect to our leaders, who serve God and us by labouring in studying the Scriptures (Heb. 13:7, 17).

The preached word is the “Thus says the LORD” event of the worship service. And in response to this announcement of divine truth, we must humbly pray, “Your word I receive LORD, please grant to me the grace I need to obey your will”.

Think of the last sermon you listened to.

What did you think about it?

What comments did you make?

What do your answers reveal about how you listened to what God was saying?

Too often I have judged the sermon based on how it was delivered – I let the messenger get in the way of the message. Don’t misunderstand me, sometimes the messenger does get in the way with his constant joking, his ‘holy whisper’ and his monotone voice, but even these reasons are superfluous if the word is being handled correctly. Moreover, there are times when we must be discerning about what is being said, there are times when ‘righteous’ judgements are appropriate, as there are ‘many’ false teachers (1 John 4:1). Nevertheless, the message always validates the messenger, not the opposite. So if the word has been preached faithfully and the Scripture has been exposed accurately and biblical truth has been applied properly, then our response should not be to evaluate how much we liked it but rather discern what God is communicating for our obedience.

With regard to this subject, Tim Challies has written, “At the end of it all, ‘How did you enjoy the sermon?’ is simply the wrong question to ask. Far better is, ‘What did you learn from the sermon?’ or ‘How did the Holy Spirit speak to you through the sermon?’ These are questions that elevate the form or medium far above our preferences, and call upon us to submit to the Spirit as he is present in preaching.”

In conclusion here are some questions I ask myself after listening to God’s word. I hope these questions will help you to better ponder on what God has said that you might apply God’s word appropriately, as they have me.

What did God reveal?

What did you learn?

In what way did God lead you into greater repentance? What sins did God expose?

In what way did God increase your faith? How were you edified?

Were you rebuked? Were you encouraged? Were you corrected? Were you disciplined? Were you instructed? Were you exhorted? Were you comforted?

What biblical truths engaged your mind? How do you now better understand the gospel?

What applications encouraged your obedience? How can the gospel serve your response?

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“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Tim. 3:16-17)

Christmas Reading

Today I don’t want to offer you some of my thoughts, but rather I want to point you to someone else’s.  To James Montgomery Boice’s in ‘The King has Come’.  So today’s post is short to allow you time to buy and read this excellent book.

the king has comeRecent Royal history has been quite remarkable.

In 2011 we witnessed the ‘fairytale’ wedding of Prince Charming (also known as William) and his true sweetheart (also known as Kate or Katherine now).

In 2012 there were the spectacular celebrations of the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee – sixty years on the throne!  This coincided with some significant events on our island.  The Queen visited Ireland, laid a wreath in the Garden of Remembrance in Dublin and shook hands with the Deputy First minister, Martin McGuiness.

And this year we have witnessed the birth of a future King – Prince George.  This year the latest King in a long line of Kings has come…

Approximately 2000 years ago another King came.  A king who had been promised for a long time, and a king who changed everything.

His name was Jesus.  Unlike baby George, however, baby Jesus was not born in a royal hospital, did not create a media frenzy with his birth, enjoyed no luxury drive to a comfortable home and was not the third in line to any earthly throne.

Even so, his coming changed this world.

As Christians this is what we celebrate at Christmas.  The coming of Jesus, we celebrate that the King has come.

With that in mind I highly recommend ‘The King has Come’ by James Montgomery Boice.  It is a book of Christmas sermons from both Old and New Testaments.

I assure you that if read this book will guide our thoughts – at this most materialistic time of the year – toward the real gift that should be celebrated – King Jesus.

If you have a favourite read at this time of year why not share it in the comments below or alternatively on our Facebook Page or tweet us @GospelConverge.

Advent @ Gospel Convergence + Book Giveaway!!!

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We love Christmas!

Better than the presents, the food or even a day or two off work is the opportunity to meditate on Jesus’ birth, God become a man: who lived without sin, died for our sin and rose victorious freeing us from the tyranny of sin and death.

We do this as we meet together in our churches, read Scripture and sing carols.

However, we can always supplement this so we invite you to join us as we celebrate Christmas here at Gospel Convergence.

Next week we will be beginning a special series to help us as we reflect on Jesus’ birth during the lead up to Christmas.

In this series you’ll have a chance to hear from some new voices as well as some regulars as we think about four aspects of Advent: Announcement, Anticipation, Arrival and Adoration.

As well as this we will be giving away three copies of God Is In The Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas by Dietrich Bonheoffer. To be in for a chance of winning a copy all you have to do is enter your name and email address in the box below by the 28th of November (12:00pm). One entry per person. Open to residents of Northern Ireland only. Winners will be chosen randomly and contacted by email. Information will not be shared with third parties.

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We hope you’ll join us this Christmas Season and spend a little time considering the most important aspect of the celebrations: the birth of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.

Merry Christmas!
The Gospel Convergence Team

 

Can We Really Have It All?

Oscar Wilde
Oscar Wilde

In The Picture of Dorian Gray (1890), Lord Henry Wotton arrives late, something he made a habit of doing, to a prearranged meeting at his home with his new friend, Dorian Gray. While making apologies for his tardiness, he had just spent several hours haggling over an expensive piece of fabric, he makes the comment that, “Nowadays people know the price of everything and the value of nothing” (p. 46).

If Oscar Wilde were alive today would he have written the same thing?

In 2013 do we “know the price of everything and the value of nothing”?

We are living in a unique moment in history, unsurpassed in technological and medical advancements. Anything we could want is a mere click away. We can literally buy something online and have it delivered the very next day (which is honestly a very cool experience!).

We are told we can ‘have it all’.

All at once.

Everything our heart desires.

And the result is, even more so than in Oscar Wilde’s lifetime, that we don’t know the value of anything.

But do we understand cost?

Certainly we can assign a monetary price to things but do we really consider the cost of our decisions? In a world that tells us we can have it all, all at once, do we ever stop and reflect on the principle that everything costs something, whether it be time, energy or money, and that cost necessarily limits us because we only have so much time, energy and money. We make choices that put limits on how we live, for example, a married person has an obligation to please their spouse which limits them in what activities they can pursue (1 Corinthians 7:32-35).

Nevertheless, we are bombarded with people telling us the opposite: that we can have it all. We pick up a newspaper or magazine and read about Celebrity X who is pursuing their career, is heavily involved in their family, volunteering for several charity organisations and they are in great shape too! And then we look at ourselves and wonder what we are doing wrong.

As Jon Foreman has said, in his song Broken from the Start,

“Choice is the only thing we’re given
For one to live another dies
One road says hello, the other says goodbye
And the rose that you don’t choose begin to die.

Even as Christians we too propagate these unrealistic expectations.

We want others to look at our lives, from the outside, and see we have it all, that we’ve somehow ‘made it’.

We don’t want others to see how we struggle against the sin which clings so closely to us (Hebrews 12:1). Instead, we want others to see how all our relationships are perfect (especially with our families!), our church attendance spotless, our Bible memorization impeccable, our devotional times uninterrupted.

We want them to see our strength and not our weakness (cf. 2 Corinthians 12:9). We want them to see that we have it all.

But we can’t ‘have it all’.

As Christians we need to distance ourselves from the kind of thinking that tells us we can ‘have it all’ because we can’t. Believing we can will crush us as we vainly attempt to have it all.

This is not the life God has for us. Our lives are to be lived sacrificially, by God’s grace to us in Christ, because that is how Jesus lived and we see it especially in how he chose to pay the ultimate price for us (Mark 10:45).

He left the lavish courts of heaven to experience hunger and thirst here on earth (John 6:38; Philippians 2:5-7).

He endured the full weight of temptation (Hebrews 4:15).

He lived justly in an unjust world (2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:22).

And he died an excruciating death, bearing the wrath of God, in our place (1 Thessalonians 1:10).

He counted and embraced the cost of our salvation in a way we will never fully comprehend.

It will only be as we trust Jesus and follow his example of counting the cost and making sacrificial choices that we will rightly understand the cost of everything and in so doing be able to comprehend the true value of anything.

There will be times when our ideal picture of life will be turned upside down and it is in these times we need to rest all the more on God’s unchanging grace toward us in and through Jesus because only he is able to sustain in the turbulence of life in a fallen world, “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes).

But as we trust in Jesus, resting in his grace, and live sacrificially we won’t need to ‘have it all’ because in Christ we already have it all, that is, he who is of surpassing worth (Philippians 3:7-16). As Paul wrote to the Colossians, “Christ is all” (3:11). And in Christ all things are ours (1 Corinthians 3:21-23) so we are free to give it ‘all’ away, ‘all’ our dreams of a perfect life now, and live sacrificially as Jesus lived.

It is only in the topsy-turvy economics of the Kingdom of God that we can gain everything by first losing it (Matthew 16:24-28; Mark 8:34-38; Luke 17:33).

Moralism versus Goliath

Biblical Theology in Children’s Ministry

“If you like to talk to tomatoes, if a squash can make you smile…”. Instantly, these words transport me back to the “bestest” – seven-year-old me struggled with superlatives – days of Sunday School. These words marked the beginning of an episode of VeggieTales, in which Bob the Tomato and Larry the Cucumber solved crises-upon-crises, with the help of incredibly catchy songs. I was enraptured. I can still recount Mr Lunt’s heart-warming romantic ballad, “His Cheeseburger”. It was a fun, silly and creative way of teaching children biblical truth, right?

Well, Phil Vishcer – VeggieTales’s chief creator – recently released a new show, “What’s In The Bible?”. And, he explained his motivation thusly:

“I…realized I had spent 10 years trying to convince kids to behave Christianly without actually teaching them Christianity…You can say, “Hey kids, be more forgiving because the Bible says so…but that isn’t Christianity, it’s morality…our gospel has become a gospel of following your dreams and being good, so God will make all your dreams come true” (emphasis mine).

As soon as I read this, I began applying it to children’s ministries I’ve been involved in. Have I taught moralistic messages instead of Gospel truth? And if so, how do I redress this balance? I strongly believe that a sound grasp of Biblical theology is vital in preventing poor teaching.

First, let me explain what I mean by a “moralistic message”, then let’s look at what Biblical theology is and its vital role.

Moralism verses Goliath.

Little David swings his mighty sling, cracks Goliath on the head and emerges victorious. The interpretation we give to our children?

david and goliath

“Now boys and girls; you’re really young and pretty small, but God can use you to do amazing acts for Him”.

That sounds good, right? After-all, David was young (1 Samuel 17:33). And he was small – at least, in comparison to Saul (1 Samuel 17:38-9). So, it’s hardly a massive applicatory leap.

Or consider John’s account of the feeding of the five-thousand. A little boy – “just like you!” – gives Jesus his lunch, and Jesus miraculously uses it to have a massive picnic by the Sea of Galilee. Our application? “Just as the little boy shared his food, so we should share our things, and pray Jesus uses them”.

Again, it sounds good. But, rather ironically, it leaves children starved and wonder-less: can this be all the Bible is about?

Rooting this question in our minds, let’s consider how Biblical theology impacts our children’s ministry.

What is Biblical Theology?

Biblical theology considers a passage from its “historical standpoint, seeking to exhibit the organic growth or development of the truths of Special Revelation…from Eden to the close of Revelation” (Vos, vi ). Simply put, Biblical theology traces the storyline of the Bible. As such, Biblical theology seeks to point us, in every instance, towards Christ and the fullness of God’s Kingdom.

Many themes run throughout Scripture and help us to interpret the Bible in this way. One of the clearest is the Kingdom approach: “God’s Kingdom equals God’s people in God’s place under God’s blessing and rule” (Goldsworthy/Roberts). Scripture begins with the pattern of the Kingdom in Eden, and ends with the re-established perfected Kingdom in Revelation. Jesus began His public ministry proclaiming, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:15). The Old Testament partially reveals God’s Kingdom to us, before it is perfectly revealed through Jesus. Therefore, we can see that the Bible is all about God’s “promise to restore His Kingdom, and the fulfilment of that promise through Christ” (Roberts, 23).

Why is it vital in children’s ministry?

This reminds us of a great truth. The Bible, primarily, is about God and His salvation through Christ.

It’s not about us!

Certainly, the Bible teaches us how to correctly respond, out of gratitude, to God’s grace. But, if we only ever teach our children to behave “Christianly”, and never truly show them Christ, then we’ve made a huge mistake.

Stick with me for a little longer, whilst I illustrate my point. David and Goliath; how do we point our children to Christ? We show them the Shepherd King, who faced a terrible, dangerous and violent enemy, and totally defeated him; crushing him forever. We are the Israelites: paralysed, helpless and enslaved to our enemy’s taunts. It is Christ, in picking up His Cross – not five stones – and wilfully submitting Himself to death, who conquers. Yes, God can use our boys and girls, and He may use them for great things, in our eyes. But, God uses us because Christ first achieved the greatest victory.

The Feeding of the Five-thousand? Look at the eye-witnesses to this miracle. They don’t say, “let’s all share our bread, because that little boy was lovely”. They say “this is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!”. This story points us to Christ’s abundant provision for those He has brought into the Kingdom.

Every story we tell our boys and girls should increase their wonder for Christ. We should always show them Christ, first and foremost. When we pray, and when we grapple with the Bible’s narrative,   we show our children the value we place on Scripture, and the value we place on Christ. And, as a children’s worker, I know how hard this is. I picked two easier examples: what about Elijah ascending to heaven in a whirlwind, or other more confusing stories? Well, we need to rely on our own strength at no point, and trust that the Holy Spirit will refine our thinking, and help us point to Christ in an exegetically sound way, which accords with the passage. And, if after prayer and study we still don’t get it, then simply remind our children of the incomprehensibility of God. After-all, “mystery is the lifeblood of dogmatics” (Bavinck, Vol. II 29).

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Perhaps this article has raised some questions in your mind! If you’re interested in Biblical theology, I’d recommend God’s Big Picture by Vaughan Roberts or The Goldsworthy Trilogy. If you’re specifically interested in the relationship between children’s ministry and Biblical theology, I’d recommend The Jesus Storybook Bible by Sally Lloyd-Jones or The Gospel Story Bible by Marty Machowski.

A Rotten Canvas

I am only after finishing George Marsden’s magisterial biography on Jonathan Edwards.

Throughout the biography Marsden repeatedly makes reference to the remarkable health that the Edwards family enjoyed.  Jonathan’s parents lived long beyond the average age of expectancy, Jonathan himself lived well into his 50s and the majority of his children made it out of childhood (a remarkable feat in the eighteenth century).

Yet in the concluding chapter Marsden notes ‘Edwards spent his whole life preparing to die’ (pg. 490).

rotten canvas

As Edwards’ himself put it, life is a rotten canvas, which may give way to our weight at any moment and plunge us into eternity.

Jonathan Edwards knew that life could not be kept.  For Edwards death was not only a reality but a certainty.

The reality is death comes to us all.  It is something indiscriminate and certain.  Look at these references from the book of Ecclesiastes:

2:14 – The wise person has his eyes in his head, but the fool walks in darkness. And yet I perceived that the same event happens to all of them.

2:16 – For of the wise as of the fool there is no enduring remembrance, seeing that in the days to come all will have been long forgotten. How the wise dies just like the fool!

3:1-2 – For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die.

3:19-20 – For what happens to the children of man and what happens to the beasts is the same; as one dies, so dies the other. They all have the same breath, and man has no advantage over the beasts, for all is vanity. All go to one place. All are from the dust, and to dust all return.

8:8 – No man has power to retain the spirit, or power over the day of death.

9:2-3 – It is the same for all, since the same event happens to the righteous and the wicked, to the good and the evil, to the clean and the unclean, to him who sacrifices and him who does not sacrifice. As the good one is, so is the sinner, and he who swears is as he who shuns an oath. This is an evil in all that is done under the sun, that the same event happens to all. Also, the hearts of the children of man are full of evil, and madness is in their hearts while they live, and after that they go to the dead.

9:5 – For the living know that they will die, but the dead know nothing, and they have no more reward, for the memory of them is forgotten.

Now, you may be forgiven for writing off the Preacher in Ecclesiastes as a manic depressive.  Yet, this is not a message which is only found in Ecclesiastes.  Paul in Romans 5:12 says ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’.

I know that as a 25 year old, 5’ 11”, 12 stone, male, who is relatively fit, I often feel invincible.

Now, don’t get me wrong.  I know, intellectually, that one day I will die – but I don’t really believe that I may die today, tomorrow, or very soon.

But, this is not what the Bible teaches us.  The Bible teaches us that life cannot be kept; death cannot be held at arm’s length forever and may indeed come unexpectedly (Lk. 12:20).

Jonathan Edwards’ illustration of the rotten canvas helps us to picture this truth vividly.

There is however a safety net that lies below that rotten canvas.

Paul continues in Romans 5 saying, ‘For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous…so that, as sin reigned in death, grace might also reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord’ (19; 21).

The reality remains, death cannot be escaped.  However, through Jesus Christ righteous and obedient act there is the hope of eternal life for those who believe in him.

All of us will face death at least once.  After death there will be judgement (Heb. 9:27) – this will result in some enjoying a ‘second’ life, an eternal life, because they are found believing in Jesus Christ.  It will also result in some being sentenced to a second death (Rev. 21:8), an eternal death, because they rejected Christ.

As a son or daughter of Adam we will all die, but as a brother or sister of Jesus we all can, by faith, repeat with Paul, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.  O death, where is your victory?  O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15:54-55).

Thanks be to God who gives us the victory through Jesus (1 Cor. 15:57).

What is “Gospel Convergence”? Part 11

The purpose of Gospel Convergence is to provide:

“Meditations on the Life of Jesus in the Mission of His Church for the Glory of God”

converging arrows vimeoThis encapsulates our Theological Vision which can be broken down into three complementary points:

  • Christ-Centred
  • Mission Orientated
  • Doxologically Driven

Doxologically Driven

We believe the driving force behind our Christ-Centeredness and Missional Orientation has to be Doxology.

Benediction and Doxology

The words of C.S. Lewis in the introduction to his Reflections on the Psalms are a fitting conclusion and summation of what we aim to achieve:

“This is not a work of scholarship… [We] write for the unlearned about things in which [we are] unlearned [ourselves]. If an excuse is needed (and perhaps it is) for writing such a [blog], [our] excuse would be something like this. It often happens that two schoolboys can solve difficulties in their work for one another better than the master can. When you took the problem to a master, as we all remember, he was very likely to explain what you understood already, to add a great deal of information which you didn’t want, and say nothing at all about the thing that was puzzling you… The fellow-pupil can help more than the master because he knows less. The difficulty we want him to explain is one he has recently met. The expert met it so long ago that he has forgotten. He sees the whole subject, by now, in such a different light that he cannot conceive what is really troubling the pupil; he sees a dozen other difficulties which ought to be troubling him but aren’t.

In this [blog], then, [we] write as one amateur to another, talking about difficulties [we] have met, or lights [we] have gained… with the hope that this might at any rate interest, and sometimes even help, other inexpert readers. [We are] “comparing notes,”… The thoughts [contained] are those to which [we have] found [ourselves] driven in reading the [Scriptures, doing ministry and living life]; sometimes by [our] enjoyment of them, sometimes by meeting with what at first [we] could not enjoy.”

We hope you’ll join with us as we seek to unearth the treasures of the gospel for the joy of the church and the glory of God.

“Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy, to the only God, our Saviour, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, dominion, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen.” (Jude 1:24-25 ESV)

What Are You Looking For?

I wonder if you ever find yourself, as I often do, considering how much energy, money and time you devote to activities that eat up a lot of your day and your savings but which yield an insubstantial reward.

I am of course not referring to your job or education, though many of us feel this way at times.

Perhaps, like me, you feel guilty for the amount of TV you watch each night. The fifth plate of food you ate at the all-you-can-eat buffet last weekend. Or even how much money you spend on new clothing, the latest movies or books every month.

Speaking personally, I know what my gut reaction is to this: No more TV. Diet. Saving.

Moving, though not really far at all, to the ‘spiritual’ realm. Often our cure for sin is to buckle down and stop sinning. We make promises to God we won’t do that sin again. Instead we vow to read the Bible more, go to the prayer meeting at church, sign up for some ministry in church, etc. etc.

And these resolutions work for a time. Maybe a week. Maybe a month. Maybe even a year, depending on how disciplined/stubborn you are.

Me, I usually don’t last long.

I wonder if you notice the pattern that has emerged.

When we want to change (and who doesn’t?) our first response is to fix our actions. We either start doing something more (like reading the Bible, praying, exercising, etc.) or doing something less (like watching TV , spending money, ‘sinning’, etc.).

In Northern Ireland we tend to reduce sin to behaviour.

Sin is doing bad things like lying, stealing, looking at pornography, and the plethora of other behaviours we know to be wrong so we treat sin by saying, “Stop doing X and start doing Y.”

While we need to recognise that sin is doing certain things we also need to realise something more foundational to our conception of sin; that sinful actions are only symptoms of deeper sin in our hearts: idolatry (Romans 1:18-25). If sin is solely or primarily bad behaviour our go to answer will always be to change our behaviour. However, if we recognise that sin begins in our hearts we learn to look beneath our actions to what is motivating them. We begin to ask the question, “What am I looking for?”

looking

We are all looking for something.

Something to give us meaning.

Someone to love us.

Something that will make us happy.

Someone who will satisfy us.

Fill in the blank.

Our sinful actions, then, are vain attempts at satisfying the deep longings in our hearts.

Nothing in this world was made to fully satisfy these deep longings because they always leave us wanting more.

We are all looking for something, or rather, someone:

Jesus.

Charles Wesley understood this well when he penned the hymn ‘Come Thou Long Expected Jesus’,

“Hope of all the earth Thou art;
Dear Desire of every nation,
Joy of every longing heart.”

Only Jesus can satisfy the deepest longings of our heart and only in him can we truly enjoy the world he made and all its pleasures.

Jesus is all we need because he is everything we need.

In giving himself to us he becomes our peace (Ephesians 2:14), our righteousness (1 Corinthians 1:30), our comfort and hope (2 Thessalonians 2:16), he is all we need for life and godliness (2 Peter 1:3). But first he must be our Saviour (Titus 1:4).

As we realise that the root of sin is in our heart, and not in our behaviour, we begin to see that we are powerless to change and so we must ask God to change our hearts and our behaviour by his grace. We must ask God for strength to change and depend on his power instead of our own. Only then will we “work out [our] own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in [us], both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:12-13 ESV)

~

If you would like to explore this important issue further please leave a comment, email us or if you’d like to do some reading I would recommend Redemption by Mike Wilkerson and Counterfeit Gods by Timothy Keller.