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Showing posts from November, 2014

The Great Thing About Advent — It's All About Jesus!

This Sunday is the beginning of Advent, and Advent is a wonderful time of the year. Alas, it often gets swallowed up by an extended Christmas (and by the way, Christmas doesn't end on 25th December — that's just when it starts), but in reality it has a wonder and significance all of its own. 
Advent is a time of waiting, longing and expecting. Not a time of counting down the days until Christmas, but of waiting for the Lord's promised Deliverer. Not of longing for and expecting the excitement of Christmas morning, but of longing for and expecting the presence of our Saviour. In Advent we look forward to the coming of the One who has come and who is to come.
You see, the reason I love Advent is because Advent is all about Jesus. Advent is a season that points us away from ourselves and to Christ. It's a season when we're reminded that all we can do is wait patiently for the Lord; we're reminded once again that we cannot work for our salvation, but only wait for…

Keeping the Scriptures Away from Our Children: Of Censorship in Belfast

There was some worrying news from back home on the BBC today. Now, the reason the story has been picked up and the reason why people will be making a fuss about it is not at all the reason why it’s worrying. The story is of a homework worksheet sent home from a GCSE RE class in an all-girls grammar school in Belfast. The father of a pupil wasn’t happy about the worksheet and so decided to contact the BBC (which I somehow suspect wouldn’t have been the first course of action if this had been a maths homework rather than RE). So what was so disturbing that it had to be brought immediately to the media’s attention? Simply this: a Bible passage was printed on the sheet followed by three questions – simple reading comprehension questions. These were not leading questions; they weren’t trying to put a spin on anything. It was simply a matter of asking what the text said.

Now, that’s what happened. But what’s worrying is what happened next. Rather than pointing out that it was a simple ma…

New Name, New Life

In Genesis 17, the Lord Jesus gives new names to Abram and Sarai. From now on they’re to be called Abraham and Sarah. He names them ‘Father of a Multitude’ and ‘Princess’, and yet there’s no evidence at that stage of those things being true. But Abraham is called to remember God’s covenant: ‘I will multiply you exceedingly!’ (Gen. 17:2). You see, Abraham’s new name is a declaration of the truth of God’s promise. Abraham’s new name is an assurance of God’s Gospel Word. Abraham will indeed be the Father of a Multitude and he’ll be the Father of the coming Saviour.

In fact, it’s because the Saviour, Christ the Lord, will be descended from him that he’ll be the Father of Many Nations (Gen.17:4). There are only two major nations descended from Abraham (and a few less significant tribes): the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. Yet God’s promise to Abraham is much greater than that. He’s to be the Father of Many Nations, not just a few. How? Through God’s Covenant. Through the Promised Saviour.…

Christ’s Seamless Garment, Our Spotless Robe, and the Unity of the Church

Sometimes the Church Fathers remind me very much of the Pentecostalism of my youth. That might sound a bit odd – after all, Pentecostalism and the Church Fathers don’t often go together – but hear me out. You see, in both the Church Fathers and in older (British and European) Pentecostal preaching the great desire is to see Christ in all the Scriptures. Which means that sometimes those who have been taught to follow very strict rules of ‘literal grammatical historical’ interpretation bristle against some of the places Jesus is found by both the Church Fathers and the older Pentecostals. (I’m saying older Pentecostals here, as there is a newer approach which, alas, seems to have gone a long way toward replacing it.) Some people will brush both the Fathers and the Pentecostals aside with accusations of allegory, but the thing is this, despite the way some of their interpretations might appear incredibly novel to certain schools of evangelicalism, a lot of what they said was both (a) …

What does it actually mean for God to come down or rise up?

Now, perhaps you think I was a bit too harsh on a chorus the other day. After all, it’s tagged onto one of the great hymns of the Incarnation. But, apart from (as I’ve already mentioned) distracting us from the great truth of the Incarnate Christ of which we sing in the verses, what do the words actually mean?

For a start, this is Old Testament language. The New Testament never speaks of God rising up – apart from Christ’s rising up in His resurrection from the dead. The New Testament never speaks of God coming down – apart from Christ’s coming down in the Incarnation (John 6:33, 38, 42, 50). And both of those events have already taken place, so we can’t be calling on God to perform them now. So these expressions can’t be being used in a New Testament way, and that suggests they must be being used in an Old Testament way.

So, how does the Old Testament talk about God coming down and rising up? Once, the Old Testament speaks of the LORD coming down to fight for Zion (Isa. 31:4). In Ps…

How Christmas Reveals Our Problem with Worship

One of the wonders of Christmas is the music. Many of us look forward to the songs we don’t get to sing at any other time of the year. Even instruments which are shunned from January to November are not only tolerated but actively welcomed at Christmas time. Christmas has its own songs, its own music, its own style. And we all know where the carols of Christmas belong. They sound fantastic at our Carols by Candlelight services. They sound sublime sung by the boy choristers on Christmas Eve in Carols from Kings.

But then, so many seem to find them so awkward on a Sunday morning in a typical Pentecostal or evangelical service. We quickly get rid of them by the second day of Christmas – if not before! You see, I’ve witnessed a few pastors saying that they don’t want carols – they want worship – on Christmas morning at the Breaking of Bread. So, what’s the difference then between carols and ‘worship’? Is there one at all? And does our problem with carols say anything about today’s evang…

Mother of God – Yes, Mother of God

December is fast approaching, and with it the one time of the year when we evangelicals tend to mention Mary. For how could we speak of the Nativity without speaking of the Blessed Virgin? And yet, so often as I hear Mary mentioned in the run up to Christmas, I sink a little in my seat, for, you see, not only do we evangelicals keep Mary for December, but often we get so nervous when we bring her out for that brief cameo, that we end up jumping straight from Mary to accidental heresies.

Ironically, it’s the fear of heresy that leads into heresy on this particular subject. Now, I come from Northern Ireland, so this is perhaps slightly more pronounced there given the general consciousness of Roman Catholic attitudes to Mary, but I’ve heard it on the mainland and further afield as well. It seems that, when we evangelicals talk about Mary, suddenly a huge desire to distinguish ourselves from Popery kicks in. And so suddenly asides and excurses are fitted panickedly into sermons loudly de…