Saturday, 31 July 2010

iGod

Okay, time for a break from heaps intense, serious, scholarly discussions of... er... sex...

David Burke, currently minister at Orchard Road Presbyterian Church, Singapore, and soon to be on the faculty of the Presbyterian Theological Centre, Sydney, reviews a heaps cool new app: iGod!

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

And now in the National Times

The National Times asked me to write a follow-up article on Barney Zwartz's report on our conference presentation. The good book's guide to great sex. It's a deliberately feisty article, to provoke comment. So please add your comments.

Monday, 26 July 2010

Front Page Article in Melbourne's "The Age" newspaper!

I'm back in Sydney after the Religion in the Public Square Colloquium - but looks like I'm still making waves in Melbourne.

Barney Zwartz is the religion editor for Melbourne's newspaper The Age. He was at the conference. He liked our paper so much he's written it up in today's news. Sex: the Bible says go for it.

Apparently it's on the front page (I'm reading it online). As I write this post, the Age website tells me 116 people are reading it, and it's the second most popular article of today's newspaper.

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Is virtuous self-interest possible?

I'm in Melbourne, at the Religion in the Public Square colloquium. Just finished our first day. Dr. Scott Rae from Biola University is the keynote speaker. He's speaking on business ethics.

One thing that provoked my interest today is: is virtuous self-interest possible?

Virtuous self-interest permits Christian business ethics. The purpose of business is profit - that is, self-interest. The point of going into business is to make more return (money!) than expenses. If you don't have a profit motive, you're not in business; you're a charity.

The justification for virtuous self-interest goes like this: Self-interest is not the same as greed. Greed is the insatiable desire for more. Self-interest is the desire to improve yourself.

You can be greedily self-interested - you can want to improve yourself, in an uncontrolled, unlimited way. If you are greedily self-interested, you will use and abuse people to get what you want, with no care for them.

Or, you can be virtuously self-interested: your desire to improve yourself is controlled, guided and limited by principles like honesty, truthfulness, fairness, respect, and so on. If you care virtuously self-interested, you won't use and abuse people to get what you want. On the contrary, you'll look after them. You'll make sure you give them a fair return (a "fair price") for whatever they've given you; you'll keep your promises to them, even if you don't have to; and so on.

You can see how virtuous self-interest permits Christian business ethics. If virtuous self-interest exists, then a Christian should demonstrate Christian character in their business, while also making profit.

My question is: is this possible? Does it make sense? Or is it just playing with words, so as to baptise greed under the phrase "virtuous self-interest"?

Thoughts, please.

Friday, 16 July 2010

A prayer based on Ephesians 3:14-21

In our prayer workshop at Mid Year Conference, workshop participants wrote some prayers based on significant Biblical prayers. Here’s a prayer based on Ephesians 3:14-21. This is my final post in this prayer series.

Our father in heaven, thank you for gathering us here at MYC to lean about the cross of Christ. Thank you for your sacrifice of Jesus on the cross for us, so that we could draw near to you and call you Father. Thank you that we have been saved by your abundant love and mercy. We ask that your Holy Spirit will continue to strengthen our relationship with you, so that we can understand more of your world. And we pray that we would be united in your love for the glory of Christ for ever. Amen.

Thursday, 15 July 2010

A prayer based on Philippians 1:3-11

In our prayer workshop at Mid Year Conference, workshop participants wrote some prayers based on significant Biblical prayers. Here’s a prayer based on Philippians 1:3-11.

Dear God, thank you for the partnership we have between Evangelical Christian Union at Wollongong, Evangelical Christian Union Cumberland, Campus Bible Ministries at UWS, UTS Kuring-Gai Christian Students, and Christians in the Media, in and by the cross of Jesus Christ, our saviour and Lord. We ask that we may abound with the grace of God this week, and as we return to our places of witness in the world. Help us, Lord, to bear each other up in prayer as a sign of our partnership in the cross. Amen.

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A prayer based on Matthew 6:5-15, the Lord’s Prayer

In our prayer workshop at Mid Year Conference, the workshop participants wrote some prayers based on significant Biblical prayers. Here’s a prayer based on Matthew 6:5-15, the Lord’s Prayer.

* * * * * *

Our father in heaven, we praise your awesome name. we pray that we would honour you at MYC. We thank you that we can come together and encourage one another. We long for your kingdom to come, and pray that we will cling less to the things of this world. You know what is best for us, and we pray that what you want will happen, both in our lives and in the world.

We thank you for the gifts you give us, and pray that you will continue to provide for us.

We know we are sinful and deserve your wrath. Thank you for our mercy, and we pray that we will show this mercy to others. help us when we are tempted, and protect us from evil.

Amen.

* * * * *

Random shout-out: Jenny Dao sez hi.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Crucifying our prayers: being thankful, not whinging & demanding

This continues my series on the cross of Christ and prayer. The cross of Christ gives us access to God in prayer. Praying cross-shaped prayers means we will pray for others over ourselves, and for the glory of God over our our own comfort.

Finally, the cross shows us that in our prayers we need to be thankful, not whinge or demand. Three things will help us do that.

First, remember Christ crucified and risen. God’s love for us does not depend on our visible, palpable human circumstances. “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8). The empty cross motivates us to always thank God, despite our circumstances.

Second, we must expect hardship and suffering. If we’re ready for it, we won’t be surprised when it happens, and we’ll be less likely to become bitter and resentful.
Suffering comes to us two ways. In a sin-stained world, life is going to be difficult (Gen 3:14-19; Rom 8:19-22). We’re going to get sick; people will let us down; unfair things will happen. As Christians, we’re not exempt from this ordinary suffering of life.

What’s more, as Christians, we should expect persecution. People will mock us & gossip about us; we won’t get the recognition we deserve; it’ll all be totally unfair & irrational. That’s just part of ordinary Christian discipleship – which is to take up our cross & follow Jesus (Matt 16:24-28 & parallels). “Everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted” (2 Tim 3:12). See also Luke 6:22-23; John 15:18-25; Rom 12:14, 17, 19-21; 1 Pet 2:12, 15, 19-25; 3:9-, 14-17, and numerous other passages.

Thirdly, we must remember that God uses these hardships for our good. God does not pamper and indulge us. He disciplines us, to grow Christ-like character within us (Rom 8:28-30; Heb 12:3-11). Non-Christians demand the good life now. They run around stuffing their faces with as much of the good things of this world that they can (Matt 6:31-32), and ignoring the God who gave it to them. If they do believe in a god, they want a god who will pamper and indulge them – who will serve their needs and give them everything they want – which isn’t really a god, it’s just a genie from a magic lamp. That is not the God of the cross.

If we keep these in mind, our prayers will not be self-pitying and resentful. Rather, we will thank God for all our circumstances – pleasing and painful – and ask him to use these circumstances to grow Christ-like character in us. And we will ask the same for others.

*****

That's the end of my notes on prayer and the cross of Christ. In our prayer workshop at Mid Year Conference, the workshop participants wrote some prayers based on significant Biblical prayers. I'll post some of them in the days to come.
A quick shout-out: over at Theological Theology, Mark Thompson has some reflections on what Peter Hitchens, brother of celebrated 'new atheist' Christopher Hitchens, has to say about God and power. Basically, Peter Hitchens argues that the concept of God is necessary to ground truth and limit power in such a way as to protect the weak. Very interesting.

Back to prayer tomorrow.

PS: Dewey Griffin sez hi.

Monday, 12 July 2010

Crucifying our prayers: praying for God’s will and glory over our own comfort

This continues my series on the cross of Christ and prayer. I previously posted on how the cross of Christ gives us access to God in prayer, and how the cross shapes our prayers in praying for other over ourselves.

It’s not necessarily wrong to pray about worldly concerns. Paul says not to be anxious about anything, but to pray about everything (Php 4:6) – including “ordinary” things like illness, exams, and work hassles. We pray to the sovereign Lord of the universe (Is 40:12-31), who feeds the birds and clothes the grass, who knows what we need (Matt 6:25-34); who created, owns and controls all the resources of the world (Ps 50:10-12; Haggai 2:8); and who governs everything for the good of those who love him (Rom 8:28-30).

But, we must be careful not to be self-obsessed and self-pitying in these prayers. Jesus went to the cross in obedience to the Father, at great personal cost (Is 52:13-53:12; Matt 26:36-46 & parallels [Gethsemane]; Php 2:5-11). He didn’t receive his reward in this world; he only received it in his glorious resurrection, which prefigures the new creation (Php 2:5-11).

Similarly, we must be focused first on God, not ourselves. The first three declarations in the Lord’s Prayer are directed towards God (Matt 6:9-10). Only after that do we turn to our own needs (Matt 6:11-13).

Sunday, 11 July 2010

Crucifying our prayers: praying for others over ourselves

This continues my series on the cross of Christ and prayer. I previously posted on how the cross of Christ gives us access to God in prayer. Now I’ll post some reflections on what it means for the cross of Christ to shape our prayers.

There’s nothing wrong in praying for ourselves. Jesus did, in Gethsemane. The believers prayed together for boldness to resist persecution (Acts 4:24-30). Paul commands us not to be anxious about anything, but to pray about everything (Php 4:6).

However, we mustn’t only pray for ourselves. Jesus prayed for others (Luke 22:31-32). In fact, his whole incarnate life in this world was for others. He was a living sacrifice (Mark 10:45; Php 2:5-11). And now, as our risen high priest, he still prays for us (Rom 8:34; Heb 7:24-25). The NT is full of examples of people praying for others (Acts 12:5; Php 1:3-5; etc), and requests for mutual prayer (Col 4:2-4; Heb 13:18-19; etc).

So, one aspect of letting the cross shape our prayers is simply praying for others. It shows we aren't just obsessed with ourselves, but are concerned for others – which is exactly the attitude that sent Jesus to the cross.

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Jesus’ cross gives us access to God in prayer

This begins my series on the cross of Christ and prayer.

Prayer is more than asking God for things; it’s praising God, for who he is and what he’s done for us. God, the universal creator & ruler of the universe, deserves to be thanked and praised (Ps 24:1-6; Ps 100; 148; 149; 150; Rev 4:8-11).

Sin is, in part, refusing to honour and praise God in this way. This shows itself in two ways. Self-reliance makes us prayer-less; we depend on ourselves and praise ourselves for our achievements, instead of God (Gen 11:4; Dan 4:30; Rev 18). Or, in our desire for a safe, tameable, controllable god, we create idols, and pray to them instead of the one, true, powerful, creator God (Rom 1:18-23).

Rejecting God means he rejects us. If we ignore God, he will ignore us. Most people assume God will look after them because he’s a ‘loving’ God – by which they mean he’s an amoral source of goodies, who’ll give them whatever they want, whenever they want it. That’s not God – that’s Santa Claus. If we live our lives merrily ignoring God and relying on our own resources, then, when our resources fail us, we run to God as a last resort, crying out “oh God, help me!” – why should he? Is 1:11-15a; Jer 7:9-11, 16; 11:9-11, 13-14; 14:10-12.

Yes, God is a loving God, and he doesn’t hold our sin against us. But we must let him demonstrate his love his own way – not in a way we find comfortable. The cross of Christ is God’s love dealing with his own holiness and wrath against our rejection of him.
Because of the cross, we can be confident God is not angry with us, but is pleased with us. If we trust Jesus, we can talk to God, any time, any place, and know that he is glad to hear us. The cross of Christ gives us confidence to pray to God (Heb 4:15-16; 10:19-22; 1 John 3:19-24).
Prayer is a deeply Triune event. The Holy Spirit draws us to trust Jesus (Rom 8:9; 1 Cor 12:3; 1 Pet 1:2). Jesus makes us right with the Father and gives us access to him (Matt 11:27; John 14:6). When we trust Jesus through the Spirit, God adopts us as his sons – we have the status of Sons of God and the right to address God as Father (Matt 6:9; 7:9-11; Rom 8:14-15; Gal 3:26-27; 4:6). Prayer is a normal and natural outworking of our new relationship with God – as normal and natural as having a chat with our folks.

Friday, 9 July 2010

Prayer and the Cross of Christ

I’m just back from the Mid Year Conference (MYC) of University of Western Sydney (UWS) Campus Bible Ministries (CBM) (acronym city…). As part of the conference, I led a workshop on the cross of Christ and prayer.

I underestimated how popular the workshop would be so I ran out of handouts with prayer resources (*embarrassed*). I promised people I would post it – so here it is, below.

I’ll post my notes over the next few days. Feedback is welcome. As part of the workshop, participants wrote prayers based on significant Biblical prayers. Some of them were really good – they really captured the spirit of the prayer, and contextualised it to our week together. I’ll post them too.

Books & articles on prayer:
  • Baddeley, Jennie, ‘What Prayer Means: a Rediscovery of Biblical Prayer’, online at AFES WebSalt, http://www.afes.org.au/_magazine/
  • Calvin, John, Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book 3 chapter 20: ‘Of Prayer — a Perpetual Exercise of Faith; the Daily Benefits Derived From It’ - Extracted as a chapter in The Essence of the Reformation, 2nd ed., ed. Kirsten Birkett, Matthias Media 2009 - Free online from Christian Classics Ethereal Library (CCEL): www.ccel.org/ccel/calvin/prayer.titlepage.html
  • Carson, Donald A., A Call to Spiritual Reformation: Priorities from Paul and his Prayers, InterVarsity Press, 1992
  • Chester, Tim, The Message of Prayer, Bible Speaks Today series, InterVarsity Press, 2003
  • Goldsworthy, Graeme, Prayer and the knowledge of God, InterVarsity Press, 2003
  • Moore, David, ‘Lord, What Am I Praying For? An Overview of the Lord’s Prayer’, online at AFES WebSalt, www.afes.org.au/_magazine/

Resources for pro-forma prayers ("liturgy"):

Resources to pray for others

We look forward to eternal perfected worship

This completes my posts on a biblical theology of worship.

While in this created order, this renewed worship, while genuine, is partial (Gal 5:17; Eph 6:10-20; 1 Pet 5:8-9). Perfected worship occurs in glory.

In the new creation, our resurrected bodies will transcend the limitations imposed upon them, both the inherent limitations of this age, and the additional frustrations of sin (1 Cor 15:35-49). Only then will we be able to worship God as we know we should, and as we long to (Rev 22:3-4).

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Following Jesus is a renewal of worship

This continues my series on a biblical theology of worship. Note: long post follows.

Christians are people formed by Christ’s act of worship. We are people of his cross and resurrection.

The first thing we need to do is accept his act of worship on our behalf. Christ’s cross mocks our pathetic efforts at worship; his resurrection shatters our complacent assumption that our acts of worship make us worthy of God’s acceptance. We must put aside our own efforts and accept Christ’s work on our behalf (Acts 13:38-39; Gal 2:15-16; Php 3:4b-7). “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.” But we can happily discard our own acts of worship, because that same cross and resurrection that judges them also forgive us and give us relationship with God.

As noted above, to worship Christ is to worship the one true God. To not worship Christ is to not worship God (John 8:24, 28, 58). Christians are therefore true worshippers. The act of putting our trust in Jesus – what we call ‘conversion’ – is the paradigmatic act of worship, because it entails turning from false gods – false religions, religious self-righteousness, career, money, relationships – to the one true God in Christ (Acts 2:38; 17:27-31; 1 Thess 1:9-10).

That paradigmatic moment of conversion also realigns the rest of our lives. We now live our whole lives to worship God in Christ by the Spirit. The Holy Spirit works invisibly within us to create that whole-hearted, whole-person, whole-life devotion that the old testament looked forward to (Deut 10:16; Jer 31:31-24; Gal 5:16-26). Worship therefore covers all aspects of our life: our sexual behaviour (1 Cor 6:12-20); how we treat our family (Eph 6:1-4; 1 Tim 5:4, 8); how we conduct our commercial relationships of employment or business (Eph 6:5-9). A significant part of this realignment is how we treat weak people, such as wives (1 Pet 3:7), widows (1 Tim 5:4, 8), and the poor (Acts 2: 44-45; 4:32-37; 6: 1-6; James 2:14-26).

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. (Rom 12:1)
There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’ (Abraham Kuyper)
This God-ward, Christ-ward realignment – this renewed worship – is itself evangelistic. Individual Christians (1 Pet 3:13-17), and the church community (1 Thess 1:6-10), will stand out against the idolatry of the world (Acts 17:19-24; 19:23-27). This will often result in irrational hatred and persecution (John 15:18-25; 1 Pet 4:1-5). But, by the grace of God, our worship might draw some to worship God in Christ (1 Cor 14:24-25; 2 Cor 2:15-16). They just might want what we have.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Jesus: the one true worshiper

This continues my series on a biblical theology of worship.

Jesus is the only person who ever truly worshiped God. He obeyed God and resisted the devil (Matt 4:1-11 & parallels); was zealous to restore true worship in the temple (John 2:13-17); and was obedient to death, even death on a cross (Matt 26:36-46 & parallels [Gethsemane]; Php 2:5-11; Heb 5:7-10). God therefore honoured him with the glorious vindication he deserves – the resurrection to eternal life (Is 52:13-53:12; Acts 17:30-31; Php 2:5-11; Heb 2:5-9).

The amazing part of all this is – Jesus didn’t do any of this for himself, but for us – for the false worshipper, the idolaters, the people who ignore the one true God and chase after false gods that cannot save. The highest point of Jesus’ worship was giving himself as a sacrifice for the sins of the world (Is 52:13-53:12; Mark 10:45; Rom 3:21-26; Heb 10:8-10; 1 John 4:10). The greatest enactment of wholehearted, whole-person love of God and neighbour is the cross of Christ.

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Israel was supposed to worship God – but failed

This continues my series on a biblical theology of worship.

God called Abraham to worship him (Gen 17:1-10; 22). God rescued Israel from Egypt so that they would worship him (Ex 3:12; 7:16; 8:1, 20; 9:1, 13; 10:3). God gave his people his law so that they would worship him with their whole being (Ex 20:1-17; Deut 6:4-6; Deut 10:12-17), which included caring for the weak (Deut 10:18-22).

The promised land was supposed to be a place of pure worship (Deut 4:13-14, 39-40; 11:8-25; etc). In so doing, they were supposed to encourage the surrounding nations to worship their God – the LORD (Deut 4:5-8) – which is really quite good and healthy, because the LORD is the one true God who deserves everyone’s worship.

But Israel failed to worship the LORD. Instead, they worshiped idols and abused each other (Is 2:6-9, 20-22; Jer 7:1-11; Ezek 8; etc). That made God so angry that he eventually kicked them out of his land (2 Kings 17:7-23; 23:26-27; Jer 3:1-10; Ezek 36:17-23; etc).

Monday, 5 July 2010

Everyone refuses to worship God

This continues my series on a biblical theology of worship.

Our problem is: we refuse to worship God, in Christ, as he deserves. This happens in one of two ways.

We could simply ignore God and praise ourselves (Gen 11:4; Dan 4:30; Rev 18). This is what happens in modern Western culture: human learning & technology take God’s place.

The second way we withhold proper worship from God is through creating idols – false, safe, tameable gods – and worshiping them instead of the one, true, powerful, creator God (Ex 32:1-14; 2 Kings 17:7-23; 23:26-27; Is 44:4-20; Rom 1:18-23). This is what happens in more ‘traditional’, non-Western cultures.

Saturday, 3 July 2010

Prayer requests for this month

We interrupt the worship of God (!) for some prayer requests...

This coming week (5-9 July), I'm going to be at Mid Year Conference with Campus Bible Ministry (CBM), the AFES affiliate at the University of Western Sydney (UWS). This year the theme is the Cross of Christ. I'll be leading one seminar on Monday afternoon, and workshops on Tues & Wed afternoons. Apart from that I'll be hanging out with the students & seeing how they're going & generally trying to make myself useful. Please pray for us, that we'll all learn lots, grow in our understanding of & love for the crucified Christ, and plan well for the second half of the year.

While that's on, the Presbyterian Church is having it's NSW State Assembly. It's the major annual ministry & business meeting for the state church. Seeing as I'm not yet ordained, I don't have to turn up. But please pray for this meeting, that all the decisions - administrative, pastoral and evangelistic-mission - will honour God and advance the kingdom of Christ.

Then after that, I'm off to SweatCon 2010 - a training conference for SW Sydney. 12-15 July. I'm in charge of admin; and teaching an overview of the whole Bible; and leading workshops on service & song leading. Oh boy.

Then finally, after that, I'm off to Melbourne for the Religion in the Public Square colloquium hosted by the Church & Nation Committee of the Presbyterian Church in Victoria. 22-24 July. I'm presenting a paper on Biblical sexual ethics.

Yeah, I know. Quite a month. Don't worry, in amongst all of this I'm having a holiday in Melbourne, so I will have a bit of a break. And yes - the posts on sex, and the ones on worship, come from the prep for these conferences. So you know something of what I'm going to say.

Thanks for your prayers. Back to worship tomorrow.

God, in Christ, deserves universal worship

This begins my series on a biblical theology of worship.

God, as the universal creator and ruler of everything, deserves to be worshiped. He made everything; he sustains everything; everything should be for him – he should be the highest goal, the greatest purpose of everything in the universe. Everything in the universe should find its true meaning in wholehearted devotion to the Triune God.

That’s the kind of worship that Christ, the incarnate Son of God, deserves. Jesus is himself God. So, he deserves that same wholehearted, universal devotion that God does.

Ex 20:1-6; Deut 6:4-6; 10:12-22; Ps 104:24-35; 145; 148; Dan 7:13-14; Acts 10:36 (note the context); Col 1:15-20; Rev 4:9-11; 5:8-14.

Thursday, 1 July 2010

A biblical theology of worship

Well, given that I juggled the hot potato of sex in my last few posts, I thought I might as well have a go at another touchy subject: worship!

I'll first have a go at a biblical theology of worship. Then, some ruminations on how it actually works out in practice.