New book – Bible Matters: Meeting God in His Word

My latest book is Bible Matters: Meeting God in His Word is published in the UK by IVP next week as part of the Keswick Foundations Series. There is also a companion study guide entitled Hearing God’s Word. Both the book and the study guide are being published together in one volume in the US from InterVarsity Press in January 2018.

I shall be at the Keswick Convention next week so here’s an introduction to it.

It is, as the title suggests, a book on the Bible and covers a number of the issues you might expect – the authority, sufficiency, clarity and interpretation of the Bible. What’s distinctive is a focus on the relational and intentional (or covenantal) nature of the Bible. The Bible is not simply a book of information about God (though it is that). It is the means by which God through the Spirit meets with us and speaks to us. This relational and intentional nature of the Bible then sheds fresh light on the issues of authority, sufficiency, clarity and interpretation.

41-hjivfvyl-_sx350_bo1204203200_What struck me as I wrote it was that people today often pursue extra-biblical words or messages from God. I wonder if this is because too often we have treated the Bible as a lifeless repository of information. When we teach people to come to it expecting to hear God speak to them in a dynamic and relational way through the words its contains then maybe we might undercut the desire the extra-biblical words.

At some point I”ll post come commendations. In te meantime here’s the introduction …

Let me tell you about an amazing experience I had just this morning. Actually ‘amazing’ doesn’t really do it justice. It was out of this world.

This morning God spoke to me. I know that sounds weird, but I’m sure that’s what happened. The living God actually spoke to me. I could hear what he was saying just as clearly as you can understand what you’re reading now.

The words he spoke felt like words of life to me. They resounded deep in my heart. There were words of instruction that helped me know him more and understand his ways. There were words of challenge that called me to follow him better and love him more. There were words of comfort that spoke to my needs and gave me hope. It was like medicine to my soul. It was like a rousing speech before battle. It was like a love song sung to my heart.

What’s more, what happened to me this morning was not a freaky one-off experience. It’s what happens most mornings.

What I did this morning was read my Bible.

At this point you might be feeling like I’ve just pulled a fast one on you (unless, of course, you saw it coming a mile off). You were hoping for a dramatic story and what you got instead was daily Bible reading. ‘Boring!’

My number one aim for this book is this: I want you to realise that every time you read the Bible you’re hearing the voice of God – just as surely, more surely, than if you have some kind of dramatic experience. I want you to come to the Bible, whether you’re hearing it preached on a Sunday morning or reading it on the bus on a Monday morning, with a sense of anticipation and expectancy. Reading the Bible is a dramatic Spirit-filled experience. The God who spoke and brought the universe into existence speaks to you. The God whose voice thundered from Mount Sinai speaks to you. The God in Christ whose words healed the sick speaks to you.

I’ve read lots of things about the Bible that I’ve agreed with. But very few have captured how I feel about the Bible and why. That’s what I’ve tried to do in this book. It’s central premise is that the Bible is an intentional book. God gave it to us with a purpose in mind, and that purpose is to enter into, and live in, a relationship with his people. So the Bible is also a relational book. As we read the Bible, we don’t merely learn information about God – though that’s certainly true. We hear God’s voice and encounter his presence. This is a book about meeting God in his word.

I read my Bible regularly because I have to. Not ‘have to’ in the sense that someone might tell me off if I don’t or God will get miffed with me. But ‘have to’ in the same way I have to eat food everyday. This is how I live. Without God’s word in my life I too readily get preoccupied with myself, my fears, my insecurities, my reputation. Without God’s word I’m so much more vulnerable to temptation. I need God’s word to realign my heart day by day towards Jesus. I need that medicine for the soul, that battle speech, that love song.

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Michael’s Sunday Sing Along

My friend Michael Tinker is [SPOILER ALERT] the man behind Inspector Smart. And he’s just produced a digital album of Christian songs for children based on his Inspector Smart albums but without the banter, with two new songs and various extras to make them useable by families and churches. It’s called Michael’s Sunday Sing Along and you can listen online at Bandcamp.

Here’s a sample …

 

My book Inspector Smart and the Case of the Empty Tomb was written to accompany the first Inspector Smart tour and album. It’s available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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Why I wrote Rediscovering Joy

In 2015 I was invited to speak at the Bournemouth and Poole Bible Convention – which starts today. The organisers wanted the Reformation to be the major focus of the Convention in 2017 because this year marks the 500th anniversary of the nailing of 95 theses by Martin Luther to the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg in 1517. No movement starts with just one act, but this has justifiably become the iconic start of the Reformation.

But the Convention organisers were also keen to retain their normal emphasis on expository Bible ministry. So they wanted me to talk about the Reformation and preach the Bible. My initial reaction was to think they were asking me to do two different things. Perhaps I should force them to choose. But the more I thought about it, the more I realised that looking at the Scriptures would be a great way to think about what the Reformation stood for and stands far. After all, letting God speak through his word was at the heart of the Reformation project.

So was conceived the idea of a three-way conversation between Paul in first-century Galatia, the Reformation in sixteenth-century Europe and us today. We would explore how the central ideas of the Reformation were rooted in the Scriptures and how those ideas continue to be relevant to us today.

It was also clear from the beginning that my central theme would be joy. That was the issue in Galatia. The church had lost its joy. Paul asks them, ‘Where is that joyful and grateful spirit you felt then?’ (Galatians 4:15 NLT). I also wanted to show how the Reformation was not some arcane theological dispute. It, too, was about rediscovering joy by rediscovering the gospel. And that message is as important today as it was then. It’s all too easy for Christian service to be dreary and dutiful.

So this book is two things which are really one thing: a simple introduction to the message of the Reformation and an invitation to rediscover the joy of knowing God through faith alone in Christ alone.

Rediscovering Joy is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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New book: Rediscovering Joy: The Dynamic Power of the Reformation in Galatians

I have a new short guide to the Reformation entitled Rediscovering Joy. The books offers a three-way conversation between 1st-century Galatia, 16th-century Europe and the 21st-century church with a focus on how the gospel joy rediscovered in the Reformation was rooted in the message of the New Testament and has power to change our lives today.

Rediscovering Joy is published in the UK later this month by IVP and in the US in Spring 2018 by Crossway.

Rediscovering Joy is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

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A new Reformation song with Bob Kauflin

I’ve written a new song with Bob Kauflin to express some of the key truths of the Reformation. It’s a song that can be sung at any time, but this October is the 500th anniversary of Luther’s 95 theses so we hope it might serve to mark the occasion.

The truths of the Reformation are often summarised as five ‘solas’ (from the Latin word for ‘alone’): Scripture alone, faith alone, grace alone, Christ alone and to the glory of God alone (soli Deo gloria). Each verse takes one of these solas as its theme with the fifth sola (glory to God alone) forming the basis of the chorus. There’s also an optional fifth verse which can be sung on Reformation Sunday – the nearest Sunday to the 31st October.

The lyrics are below. Here’s a link to a lead sheet and chord chart. Bob has also recorded a demo which you can download here.

 

Your word alone is solid ground,
the mighty rock on which we build.
In every line the truth is found,
and every page with glory filled.

2. Through faith alone we come to you,
we have no merit we can claim,
sure that your promises are true,
we place our hope in Jesus’ name.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

3. In Christ alone we’re justified,
his righteousness is all our please.
Your law’s demands are satisfied,
is perfect work has set us free.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

4. By grace alone we have been saved,
all that we are has come from you.
Hearts that were once by sin enslaved,
now by your pow’r have been made new.

     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.
     Gloria, gloria, glory to God alone.

Optional final verse for Reformation Sunday:
And on this Reformation day
we join with saints of old to sing;
we lift our hearts as one in praise:
Glory to Christ our gracious King.

Tim Chester and Bob Kauflin

© Copyright 2017 Sovereign Grace Praise (BMI). Sovereign Grace Music, a division of Sovereign Grace Churches. All Rights Reserved.

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Q&A on Exodus for You

I was recently did an email interview on Exodus for You.

  1. What previous research and/or personal interests led you to this project and helped prepare you to write this commentary on Exodus?

I had been doing some working on the theme of new exodus in biblical theology so it was a great opportunity to explore the foundations of that theme in the original exodus. But I was also keen to get into the detail of the building of the tabernacle – the (large) section of the book of Exodus that is so often ignored. In particular I had some hunches about its link to creation that I wanted to pursue. Above all, I love preaching Old Testament narrative because it allows you to preach Christ in fresh ways.

 

  1. Who is the intended audience for this commentary? Would it benefit pastors? professors? students? lay Christians in the local church?

I think of the God’s Word for You series as ‘expository guides’, although there is a commitment to cover every verse. I guess my two main audiences were Christians wanting something to guide their personal reading of Exodus and pastors wanting help as they seek to preach Christ from the Old Testament.

 

  1. What is unique about this commentary? What contribution does it make to the study of Exodus?

The commentary reflects a strong commitment to Christ-centred biblical theology. That means looking forward to the fulfilment of exodus, law and tabernacle in Jesus. But it also involves looking back to creation and Adam to see how exodus, law and tabernacle function as a blueprint for the renewal creation in Christ.

 

  1. What section or passage of this commentary was particularly memorable to research and write? Why?

I particularly enjoyed working on the descriptions of the tabernacle and seeing their connection back to creation and on to Christ. It was great to be able to rehabilitate the best of an older tradition of exposition in this area. Also, the meal of Exodus 24 connected with previous work I’ve done in my book, A Meal with Jesus (IVP/Crossway). I also loved working on the parting of the Red Sea and making the connections to the ‘baptism’ of Jesus at the cross and to Christian baptism. It allows us to present salvation as moment of high drama.

 

  1. What personally edified you in writing this commentary, increasing your affections for Christ?

Surprising as it may seem, it was probably description of fixtures and fittings! The fixtures and fittings of the tabernacle signal God’s intent to dwell among his people in a new creation and they point to how Christ will accomplish this. I loved tracing the connections between the cloud that shrouded Mount Sinai and the altar of incense – which was basically a cloud-making machine in the tabernacle – both of which are designed to shroud the consuming glory of God. This then sets the scene for the ascension of Jesus in which he passes through that cloud into the presence of God on our behalf.

 

  1. Besides your commentary, what are your top recommended books (commentaries or otherwise) on Exodus?

The technical commentary I found most helpful was Exodus by John Mackay, published by the Mentor imprint of Christian Focus. It’s a good introduction to the meaning of the Hebrew text without expecting you to know Hebrew.

 

  1. What’s next for you? What project are you currently working on? How can people follow your work and ministry?

I’ve written 2 Samuel for You so that will be coming out soon to accompany my book, 1 Samuel for You. And I’m in the middle of working on Revelation for You. I have a couple of other books coming out soon. Rediscovering Joy is an introduction to the message of the Reformation in the form a three-way conversation between the Reformers in 16th-century Europe, Paul in 1st-century Galatia and us today. It’s published by IVP in the UK and Crossway in the US. The second book is Bible Matters, an introduction to the doctrine of Scripture with a particular focus on the relational nature of Scripture as the place in which we hear God’s voice. It’s published by IVP in the UK and InterVarsity in the US.

Exodus for You is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk. as well as thegoodbook.comthegoodbook.co.uk and  thegoodbook.com.au.

This interview was conducted for the up-coming website http://www.bestbiblecommentaries.com.

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The Easter story in four paintings: #4 The return to mission

I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings of the Emmaus story. Our second and third paintings highlighted how Christ is known through his word and around the table. Our final paitning draws attention to a key implication of this: the call to mission.

Caravaggio [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

In 1601 Caravaggio, the Italian artist, also painted this scene. This portrayal of Christ is unusual in that Christ is beardless, perhaps representing the disciples’ failure to recognise him at first. The picture is bold and dramatic. The man on the left of the picture is in the act of pushing his chair away in astonishment.

But there’s also a sense in which he is pushing his chair out towards us. A tear in his sleeve draws our attention to this. It’s as if he is pushing his chair back to create space for us to move into the picture. Jesus’ arms are extended, notionally in blessing, but in fact inviting us forward. And the disciple on the right hand side has his arms fully extended in the most dramatic of postures. The lines of the painting all converge to beckon us into the picture. And as if that was not enough, a basket of fruit is teetering on the edge of the table, demanding that we leap into the picture to catch it. Caravaggio is trying to lure us into the scene as active participants. Christ’s outstretched arm is inviting each us to sit with him at the table.

The encounter with Christ is a call to action, to involvement, to participation. You can’t remain a passive observer. For these two disciples it means a radical change of plan. Look at verse 33: ‘They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.’ They literally retrace their steps by returning to the city.

Think how significant that is. They do what they had urged Christ not to do – they take to the road at night with all the dangers that involves. But more than that, that morning they were the ex-followers of an executed traitor, full of disappointment and fleeing arrest. In the evening they return to the city. They return to mission. It’s a mission with threat and danger attached. But they return because now everything has changed.

This material is adapted and expanded from a chapter in my book, A Meal with JesusA Meal with Jesus is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


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The Easter story in four paintings: #3 Christ is known around the table

I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings of the Emmaus story. Our second painting highlighted how Christ is known through his word. today our third painting highlights how Christ is known around the  table.

Luke 24:30-31: ‘When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him.’ Christ is known around the table. Christ is known through the Christian community. That’s why church planting is so important.

Now this might be stretching a point where it not for the fact that meals feature so prominently in Luke’s Gospel. Someone has said that in Luke’s Gospel Jesus is always going to a meal, at a meal or coming from a meal! And meals the message of Jesus. As he eats with tax collectors and sinners – God’s enemies – he embodies God’s grace. Meals are the way Jesus enacts community and mission. So it’s entirely appropriate that he reveals himself through a meal.

Not only that. There are echoes here of the feeding of the 5,000. Both take place as the day is ending (9:12; 24:29). Both are preceded by other suggestions about the identity of Jesus, including that he might be a new Moses. Both involve the same sequence of Jesus taking bread, blessing it, breaking it, giving it. And the meal for the 5,000 was the means in Luke’s Gospel by which Jesus is known as the Messiah. Peter’s confession comes immediately after the feeding – this great meal that Jesus provides. Now the meal at Emmaus is the means by which Jesus is the known as the suffering Messiah.

Jesus is known at the breaking of bread, at the meal table, sharing food with friends and enemies. The first image of church that comes into my head is always a meal table with bread and wine. Christ is known in community.

We mustn’t separate Christ known around the table from Christ known through his word. We’re not talking about some kind of mystical knowledge, but the word embodied in a meal. The two disciples immediately connect the word and the meal. Look at verses 31-32. ‘Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked one another, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked to us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?”’ Their eyes were opened around the table because the Scriptures were opened to them on the road.

This is my experience. I have plenty of moments when Christian community wears me out, winds me up, drives me crazy. But I also have moments when I look at my brothers and sisters and know the presence of the risen Christ. There are moments when you see him incognito among the rag-tag people sat squeezed round the table. You see it in our diversity – a diversity that has no explanation except the work of God. You see it when someone ‘gets it’ or hearts are melted. You see in the love people show to one another.

 

Paolo Veronese [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s Paulo Veronese’s version of the Emmaus story. It feels a bit lop-sided because on the left we have a space for the first part of the story – the initial encounter of the road to Emmaus. More significantly, it feels to me almost like two paintings, one on top of another – a painting of the Emmaus story super-imposed on a painting of a 16th-century Venetian family. At one point in his career Veronese got into trouble with the church for including too many features of daily life in a depiction of the Last Supper. The religious world and the domestic world were not supposed to overlap.

But that’s exactly the message of the resurrection. Christ is present in your gospel communities. This painting is in some ways too crowded. It’s chaotic. At the front the two girls are playing with their dog while a boy plays with a puppy. But here in the middle is Jesus. It’s as if Jesus has turned up in a Venetian family home.

And that is what happens each in your gospel communities. They can be crowded and chaotic. But the story of resurrection is being played out as you meet. Christ is hidden in our world. We don’t yet see his resurrection glory. But he’s present in your gospel communities. He’s revealed in your love for one another. Never under-estimate the power of the Christian community to communicate the gospel message.

This material is adapted and expanded from a chapter in my book, A Meal with JesusA Meal with Jesus is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


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The Easter story in four paintings: #2 Christ is known through his word

I’m telling the story of Easter in four paintings. The story our first painting highlighted our culture’s loss of transcendence. But we said the Emmaus story suggests two ways in which Christ may yet be known in our world. Here’s the first … 

The second painting is by James Janknegt is a contemporary Catholic artist from the Unites States. The key thing about his painting is the way he captures the connection to the Bible story in bubbles depicting Moses raising the bronze snake, Jonah being thrown to the whale and so on. Jesus is known through his word, through the message of the Bible.

In Luke 24 we’re told three stories that all take place on the same day: early morning at the tomb, afternoon on the way to Emmaus and in the evening in Jerusalem. And all three stories have a similar pattern:

  • People are bewildered, disappointed and fearful (4-5, 18, 21-22, 37)
  • People are rebuked (5-6, 25, 38-39)
  • People are taught Christ’s words or the Scriptures (6, 8, 27, 44-45)
  • People are taught that the Christ must suffer and die (7, 26, 46)
  • The result is they go and tell others (9, 33, 47-48)

The message of these three stories is the same: the disciples should not have been bewildered or disappointed because they should have realised from the words of Jesus and from the Scriptures that Jesus had to suffer and die.

Here are the angels at the tomb. And the women come along, confused and bewildered by the empty tomb. You might have expected the angels to say, ‘You foolish humans, you haven’t got a clue have you. We could tell you and thing or two. We’ve seen his heavenly glory. We’ve followed the story. Let us tell you what happened.’ But no, what do the angels do? They remind them of Jesus’ words.

Here is Jesus himself, the Word incarnate, freshly risen from the grave. Surely he would simply speak and the world would listen. But instead he conducts a Bible study. The Risen Christ on that first Easter Day made himself known through the Scriptures. And we can make him known in the same way. Only the exposition of the word will cause people to say: ‘were not our hearts burning within us’ (32)

No-one in the Easter story has a clue what’s going on until Jesus explains it from the Bible. No amount of human wisdom or philosophy or contemplation will tell you the meaning of the Jesus’ resurrection apart from the Bible.

In Luke 16 Jesus tells the story of a beggar called Lazarus who lives at the gate of a rich man. When they die Lazarus goes to heaven with Abraham while the rich man goes to hell. The rich man wants Abraham to send Lazarus with water to cool his pain. When he is refused, he makes a second request. He asks Lazarus to be sent to his brothers to warn of God’s judgment. Abraham replies: ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’ (16:31). In other words, God’s word is enough. God’s word is all we need. Nothing else will persuade us if God’s word does not persuade us – not even apparitions of the dead.

When we get to Luke 24 we read of someone who has come back from the dead – just as the rich man requested (16:30). But what he does is proclaim the word of God. Look at verse 31: ‘Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight.’ Jesus disappears, but his word remains. This is Luke’s message to us.

How do we make Christ known? Through the Bible.

This material is adapted and expanded from a chapter in my book, A Meal with JesusA Meal with Jesus is available here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.


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