Thursday 31 October 2019

The Lord of the Exodus

I’ve recently completed a series of six posts on Exodus:

The pieces were written for ‘Word for the Week’, a weekly email service provided by the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, and to coincide with the publication of a Bible study guide for small groups with questions on passages from Exodus, published in LICC’s ‘Gateway Seven’ series of Bible studies covering different biblical genres. The six Bible study sessions are as follows:

Session 1
Hearing God’s Call (Exodus 3:1-17)

Session 2
Experiencing God’s Deliverance (Exodus 12:1-13, 29-32)

Session 3
Trusting God’s Provision (Exodus 16:1-26)

Session 4
Becoming God’s People (Exodus 19:1-6 and 20:1-17)

Session 5
Building God’s Dwelling-Place (Exodus 25:1-9 and 31:1-11)

Session 6
Encountering God’s Presence (Exodus 32:7-14 and 34:4-7)

Further information about the book is available here.

The six posts above were designed to complement, without overlapping too much, the Bible study sessions.

Exodus #6: The Lord who Loves

Then the LORD came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the LORD. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
Exodus 34:5-7

If we didn’t know the end of the story, it would be a cliffhanger as gripping as any edge-of-the-seat TV drama. From the top of Mount Sinai, over a period of forty days, God has given Moses a series of instructions for how his presence might remain with the people in an Eden-like sanctuary. Meanwhile, at the foot of the mountain, the people have jeopardised their relationship with God by building and worshipping a golden calf.

What will God do now?

Whether God will dwell with his people – or even let them survive – becomes a real question in the aftermath of their rebellion against him. We’re meant to hold our breath throughout chapters 32-34 as Moses speaks back and forth with God.

There are shades of their first dialogue at the burning bush, but Moses has clearly made progress by this point, willing even to lay down his life for the people (32:32). He also now understands God’s bigger purpose, appealing to God’s own promise to bless Abraham with numberless descendants (32:13) and God’s plan that his people are to be the means by which he is known amongst the nations (33:16).

What will happen to that now?

The cliffhanger as to how the holy God is able to live among his sinful people finds its resolution in God’s own self-revelation of his name and character, at the heart of which is love. But there is no cheap grace here. God’s love and judgment can’t be pulled apart. The demand for justice to be done and the desire for mercy to be demonstrated are held together in God’s own being. So significant is this self-confession on God’s part that Israel comes back to it again and again – in history, prophecy, and song – and we can add our voices to theirs.

Within the sweep of Scripture as a whole, it comes to its ultimate climax in the cross of Christ, the place where God’s mercy and justice supremely meet, his love revealed above all in the sending and giving of his Son. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life’ (John 3:16).

God himself will have it no other way. To know the Lord at all is to know him as the Lord who loves.

Saturday 19 October 2019

Christopher Watkin on Christianity, Society, and Freedom

The latest Cambridge Paper from the Jubilee Centre is available online here (from where a pdf can be downloaded), this one by Christopher Watkin:

Christopher Watkin, ‘Are Christianity and Society in Conflict: The Case of Freedom’, Cambridge Papers 28, 2 (September 2019).

Here is the summary:

‘We increasingly hear the argument that biblical values are in fundamental conflict with contemporary Western society, but is that really the case? This paper considers the example of freedom, a core value of Western liberal democracy and also a major biblical theme. Paul’s treatment of the dominant values of his day in 1 Corinthians 1 shows the inadequacy both of straightforwardly opposing biblical and societal values, and of seeing them in simple continuity. The paper draws implications from Paul’s cruciform account for the areas of evangelism, apologetics, and cultural critique.’

Monday 14 October 2019

Exodus #5: The Lord who Commands

And God spoke all these words:
‘I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
‘You shall have no other gods before me.’
Exodus 20:1-3

It is perhaps too easy to parachute into the Ten Commandments in Exodus 20 without seeing how they fit into the bigger story. That story – and the sequence in which it is told – is crucial. Imagine for a moment that Moses went to Egypt with the stone tablets tucked under his arms and said to the people: ‘If you keep all these, God will rescue you from slavery.’ How might the story of Exodus have turned out had that been the case?

Even the commandments themselves don’t begin with a command, but with a claim. They don’t begin with a demand, they begin with a declaration. They don’t begin with law, they begin with love. They don’t begin with rules, they begin with relationship.

They begin with God speaking – ‘And God spoke all these words’ – showing that the commandments are not a set of abstract principles or a body of laws put together by a faceless committee. They are the words of God himself to his people.

They begin with God identifying himself as their covenant Lord – ‘I am the LORD your God’ – the name by which he would be known to them, showcasing his special relationship with them. Obedience is not to the law for its own sake, but is deeply relational – obedience to this God.

And they begin with this covenantal God describing how he had acted on behalf of his people – ‘who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery’ – a reminder from the start that the commandments are not the way of redemption but the walk of the redeemed.

To be sure, there are commands – and they are to be obeyed – but they are a gift to the people, an expression of God’s good will for them. They restore to them the dignity and freedom that slavery in Egypt had destroyed. They embrace every aspect of life. They nurture an alternative community and lifestyle which would enable them to be a light to the nations, a responsibility which falls on our grace-filled shoulders as the new covenant people of God.

The one God to be worshipped as the true God has met us in Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and he still calls us to obey him, as those who have been saved by him – not just for our sakes, but for the sakes of the people among whom he calls us to live.

Saturday 12 October 2019

Centre for Public Christianity (October 2019)

This month, the Centre for Public Christianity has posted a two-part Life and Faith podcast episode on the Bible:

‘What is the Bible? What has its influence been? Why is it an important book for everyone to know? And what might a personal encounter with this very ancient and surprisingly modern book be like?’

Part 1 provides ‘a series of voices on the many voices that make up the world’s best-selling book’, while Part 2 looks at ‘how a not-neat Bible maps onto our not-neat lives’.

Friday 11 October 2019

Knowing and Doing (Fall 2019)

The Fall 2019 edition of Knowing & Doing – ‘A Teaching Quarterly for Discipleship of Heart and Mind’ – from the C.S. Lewis Institute is now available online (from here), and contains the following articles:

Joel Woodruff
Discipleship is Messy Business
In this issue’s President’s letter, Joel Woodruff reminds us that discipleship would be easy if we just didn’t have to deal with people. But the reality is that, just as Jesus had to deal with his disciples’s humanity, so do we. Discipleship can be messy. But it’s also glorious.

Thomas A. Tarrants III
Is Spiritual Transformation Really Possible?
Tom Tarrants shares his dramatic story of coming to saving faith out of a life of prejudice, hatred, and self-righteousness. In fact, those adjectives don’t paint the picture as bad as it really was. Tom’s story is inspiring as well as challenging. And it illustrates just how powerful and transformational the gospel can be.

Bill Smith
C.S. Lewis on Miracles: Why They are Possible and Significant
Bill Smith examines C.S. Lewis’s writing about miracles and helps us see how we can weave those insights into conversations we might have today with people who deny the possibility of miracles. This article weaves together Lewis’s thought with Biblical teaching in ways that help us understand a difficult topic in anti-supernatural times.

Andy Bannister
Beast or Masterpiece: What Does It Mean to Be Human?
Andy Bannister challenges the prevailing naturalistic worldview around us that insists that people are merely animals. The wide gap between our Biblical perspective – that people are unique, eternally valuable, and created in the image of God – and the dehumanizing trends in our world today are shown to be as dramatic as can be.

Tom Schwanda
Knowing God with Head and Heart: The Dynamics of Christian Experience
Tom Schwanda completes his three part series on “Growing in Intimacy with God” by digging into the role that experience plays in that process. The tension between knowing and doing, sometimes polarized to unhealthy extremes, is examined with an appreciation for both head and heart, doctrine and experience, thought and emotion.

Randy Newman
Having a Conversation about the Conversation: A Strategy for Pre-Evangelism in an Antagonistic Age
Randy Newman proposes the notion that we may need some pre-evangelistic conversations before we have evangelistic presentations. In a time when many people start from a hostile attitude toward Christians, God, and the gospel, we may need to pave the way for defused discussions with a “conversation about the conversation.”

Ruth Lovejoy
Challenging the Gospel of Efficiency
Ruth Lovejoy, a Fellow in our C.S. Lewis Institute Fellows program, shares how seeing the gospel and the goodness of God more worshipfully can set us free from our love for and idolatry of efficiency. With one eye on the scripture’s story about Mary and Martha and another eye on her to-do list, Ruth helps liberate us from the tyranny of the urgent.

John Donne
Poem: O Death
C.S. Lewis loved poetry and wished he could be remembered most for his poems. They grab us in different ways than stories or prose. In each issue we feature a poem. John Donne’s offering tilts our hearts toward obedience and joy.

Dwight L. Moody
Sermon – What Think Ye of Christ? An Excerpt from The Gospel Awakening
An inspiring classic sermon from the pulpit of one of the great evangelists and preachers, D.L. Moody, that we hope will be a blessing to you.

Monday 7 October 2019

Exodus #4: The Lord who Tests

There the LORD issued a ruling and instruction for them and put them to the test... Then the LORD said to Moses, ‘I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.’
Exodus 15:25 and 16:4

Given that ‘God tested Abraham’ (Genesis 22:1), it’s perhaps no surprise that Israel follows in the footsteps of their great ancestor in the faith.

In the exodus story, between the crossing of the sea and the arrival at Sinai is a period of about two months during which God provides for the needs of his people in the desert and protects them from threats. Importantly, this is not yet the forty years of wandering in the wilderness that would later come about because of their unwillingness to enter the promised land. In this case, the trek from the sea to Sinai is not a punishment but an opportunity for the people to learn that their ongoing welfare will depend on obedience to and trust in the Lord.

It’s in this sense that the Lord tests his people – not to catch them out or for them to prove they are somehow worthy of his love, but to teach them to ‘pay attention to his commands and keep all his decrees’ (15:26). The wilderness becomes a place where God trains them in his ways, shaping them according to his expectations of those who are to be his ‘holy nation’ (19:6), who will represent him to a watching world.

On several occasions, the New Testament describes Israel’s experience in the desert as in some way analogous to the Christian life (1 Corinthians 10:1-11; Hebrews 3:7-4:11). We too find ourselves in a time and place between deliverance from our slavery and arrival at our final destination.

Some circumstances in life provide us with greater opportunities to trust God and his presence with us, his provision for us. Perhaps you’ve been through one or more of those situations already. Perhaps you’re in the middle of one right now. The exodus stories remind us not to judge God’s faithfulness by our circumstances. It’s all too easy for us, as for the exodus generation, to evaluate our situation by what we think is lacking, to forget all that God has already done for us and his promise to keep us.

But more than that: to train us through those moments, to move us to a yet deeper appreciation of his ways. And to do this for us not merely as individuals but as communities of faith, that we may be the people he has called us to be for the sake of the world in which we live.

Wednesday 2 October 2019

Lausanne Global Analysis 8, 5 (September 2019)

The latest issue of Lausanne Global Analysis, from The Lausanne Movement, is available online from here, including pdf downloads.

In the issue overview, editor David Taylor writes:

‘In this issue, we feature two articles on the relevance of much current theological education, asking which direction it will take in order to meet the needs of emerging churches, and what lessons can be learned from teacher training in reforming preparation for ministry and mission. We also analyze risk as a necessary element of reaching the unreached; and we continue our assessment of the crackdown in China asking whether “sinicization”, the new ideological shackle on religion, will work.’