Trinitarian joy is made complete in the Christian community

I want to look at how in his first letter John shows how the Christian community helps us enjoy God. In a future post I’ll look at how Trinitarian love is made complete in the Christian community.

I want to suggest the Christian community is the main place where you can experience divine joy. When you think of your church you might not find that prospect look very promising! But I want to suggest that, if we have the eyes of faith, we will see in our brothers sand sisters a hundred ways in which the divine joy and divine love are made complete.

Trinitarian joy is made complete in the Christian community

In 1 John 2 John describes how people have left the church (2:19). It’s not hard to imagine how that might would have caused confusion. It seems these people were claiming a deeper knowledge of God, a higher level of holiness, a greater anointing of the Spirit, a more victorious life.

If you’re just an ‘ordinary’ Christian, that’s pretty intimidating! In fact it’s joy-sapping. You’re going to live with a sense of fear or inferiority. But John writes to show that the people who’ve left are not all they seem.

This explains the strange opening of the letter. There’s no greeting. There’s no, ‘I hope you’re well.’ He jumps straight in. And three times in this opening paragraph John says we proclaim what we have seen:

verse 1: ‘that which … we have heard … seen … and … touched – this we proclaim’

verse 2: ‘[what] we have seen … we proclaim to you’

verse 3: ‘we proclaim to you what we have seen and heard’

What is it that we have seen and proclaim? The word of life, the Lord Jesus (1:1). These verses echo the language of John 20:27 where the Risen Jesus appears to his disciples. Jesus said, ‘See my hands’ and now John says, ‘We have seen.’ Jesus said, ‘Reach out your hand’ and now John says, ‘Our hands have touched.’ John saw and heard and touched the Risen Jesus. That’s why the word is the word of eternal life.

But the question is, Who are the ‘we’ John keeps talking about? In these first four verses he refers to ‘we’ or ‘our’ or ‘us’ sixteen times. And he’s not talking about ‘we Christians’. After all, you and I didn’t see or hear or touch the Risen Jesus. And John talks about ‘we’ in contrast to ‘you’, his readers. No, the ‘we’ here are the people who heard and saw the Risen Christ – the first Apostles.

God revealed himself in Jesus, but you and I weren’t around to witness that for ourselves. So how can we encounter God’s revelation in Jesus? The answer is we have the testimony of the Apostles. We have eye-witnesses who heard and saw and touched Jesus.

And how do we encounter the testimony of the Apostles? They wrote it down. In verse 4 John says, ‘We write this to make our joy complete.’ Here it is in our Bibles.

Jesus appeared and John writes so that Christians might have fellowship or community. This community is with the Apostles – ‘so that you also may have fellowship with us.’ (1:3a). But this community is also with God – ‘Our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.’(1:3b). Together Christians participate in the life of the Trinity.

We’re just ordinary Christians. But there is nothing ordinary about ordinary Christianity! We have fellowship with the Father and the Son. At the end of the letter John writes, ‘We are in him who is true by being in his Son Jesus Christ.’ (5:20) We’re connected to Christ by faith and so we’re connected into the triune God. Because we’re in the Son, we experience what the Son experiences. The joy the Father has in his Son is the joy that he has in you. The love the Father has for his Son is the love that he has for you. You’re future is as secure as the future of Jesus.

Here’s the key thing for our purposes: we experience this joy as we participate in a word-proclaiming community. It’s as we read what the Apostles (and Prophets) have written and as we proclaim what the Apostles proclaimed that we experience joy together. In other words, we experience joy as the Bible is read and proclaimed in the Christian community.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer said, ‘The Christ in [our] own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians.’[1]

Here’s what he means. Later in this letter John speaks about moments when our hearts condemn us (3:19-22). Perhaps we’ve fallen into sin. Perhaps we’re plagued by doubt. And our thinking gets all in a stew. Our hearts are muddled. And then a Christian speaks. It might be the preaching on a Sunday morning. It might a conversation with a friend. But for you the words of that preacher or your friend are the words of Christ. They come to you from outside. This is not your internal monologue with all its confusions. These words come as an objective reality, speaking good news to your heart.

This is our experience, isn’t it? Most of the moments in which we’ve felt God speaking to us to comfort us or challenge us have come through other Christians. Of course, it can happen while you’re reading the Bible on your own, but more often it happens through others.

Bonhoeffer links this to what the Reformers called our ‘alien righteousness’. We’re not made right with God because of anything within us. It’s not that we get ourselves good enough for God. Instead what makes us right with God is the righteousness of Jesus. We are righteous in him and through him. It comes to us from outside of ourselves. So we need a word from outside. Bonhoeffer said:

Christians encounter both death and life only in the Word that comes to them from outside, in God’s Word … In themselves they are destitute and dead. Help must come from the outside; and it has come and comes daily and anew in the Word of Jesus Christ … But God put his Word into the mouth of human beings so that it may be passed on to others … Therefore, Christians need other Christians who speak God’s Word to them. They need them again and again when they become uncertain and disheartened because, living by their own resources, they cannot help themselves.[2]

[1] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible, Fortress, 2005, 32.

[2] Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together and Psalms: Prayerbook of the Bible, Fortress, 2005, 31-32.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 117 – Remember, remember – a pause for reflection

Reading: Psalm 105:1-23

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

Today’s psalm surveys the sweep of events from Abraham to the entry into the promised land. Though it covers many years it paints one picture: a promise-making, promise-keeping God, mysterious in his ways, but always mindful of his people. The first fifteen verses (plus most of Psalm 96) are from David’s prayer of thanksgiving when the ark was brought to Jerusalem
(1 Chron. 16:7-36). Possibly it was recited on each anniversary of this event and made the occasion for covenant renewal. In this way the saving acts of God became present realities for each successive generation (8; cf. Ps. 78:4-8).

1. God remembers (8-23)

He remembers his covenant (8)

He remembers it not merely by calling it to mind, but by acting on what he promised (cf. Gen. 8:1; 19:29; 30:22). His covenant is the word he commanded (8); and not one of the LORD’s good promises fail (Josh. 21:45; 23:14). Contrast: ‘I remembered your birthday. I didn’t do anything about it, but I did remember it!’

Verses 12-15 describe the three generations of Abraham’s family (cf. Heb. 11:8-9) living as nomadic strangers in the land (cf. Gen 20:7).

Verses 16-23 describe the circumstances that led them to migrate to Egypt. He called down famine … he sent a man before them… (16-17). This is far more than a history lesson; it is a record of God’s grace and faithfulness.

2. We remember (1-7)

Remember the wonders he has done (5)

We have seen how every Christian belongs to this family and so we view its miraculous beginnings with more than a spectator interest. These are the early chapters of our own story! Granted that ‘a thousand generations’ (8) is a figure of speech – by its own terms it represents 30,000 years! – it still indicates how Scripture views the reach of God’s covenant dealings. What must our response be?

Give thanks (1-3). Give thanks … call on his name … sing praise to him … glory in his holy name … rejoice. Here is doxology. This is not only our story; this is our song!

Make known (1-2). Make known among the nations what he has done … tell of all his wonderful acts. How can we keep silent? (cf. Acts 4:20).

Seek his face (4). All that God has done is with a view to having an obedient people (42-45). Without godliness, praise is only religious noise (cf. Amos 5:23-24).

Remember (5). Reflect on God’s wonders, miracles and judgements (the dark side of his saving miracles). This is the God in whom we live and move and have our being, and through whom we experience an even greater redemption than those who lived under the old covenant.

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New Song: Baptised in Christ

Here’s a song based on Romans 6 from the new TCH Sheffield album, Dust to Life. I wanted to a write a song that did two things. First, I wanted a song which spoke of our union with Christ. It’s such an important theme and sadly under-represented in our range of songs. Second, it is striking how Paul makes baptism a reality which should shape our present experience as Christians. I wanted a song which expressed this. In other words, I wanted to write a song that could be sung when people are baptised, but also one which could be sung at any point since we sing as baptised people.

 

Here are the lyrics:

 

Verse 1
Baptised in Christ who died our death,
who took our sin and broke its reign,
in him we live, our lives made new,
baptised in Christ, we rise again.

Verse 2
Baptised in Christ, the old is gone,
no longer bearing Adam’s name,
no longer ruled by Adam’s sin,
baptised in Christ, we rise again.

Verse 3
Baptised in Christ who died to sin,
who rose to conquer death’s do-main,
so when he comes we’ll live with him,
baptised in Christ, we rise again.

Chorus 1
We thank you for the gift of life
to those once dead in Adam’s race.
We thank you for our life in Christ,
we thank you for your reign of grace.

Verse 4
Baptised in Christ, from sin set free,
no reason to obey its claims,
to righteousness we now are bound,
baptised in Christ, we rise again.

Chorus 1
We thank you for the gift of life
to those once dead in Adam’s race.
We thank you for our life in Christ,
we thank you for your reign of grace.

Chorus 2
We count ourselves alive to you,
we offer up the life you’ve won.
Help us to live as those made new.
help us to live in Christ your Son.

You can listen to, and purchase, Dust to Life on Bandcamp.

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Bible Reading Plan 2017

I’ve posted this Bible reading plan before. If you’ve been using it then you’ll be interested in postcard-sized weekly reading plan for 2017.

Note: Those who have been following it this year will notice that the first reading in 2017 is a repeat of the last reading of 2016. I’m afraid that was going to happen eventually because a year is not a neat number of weeks. I suggest you do something special for a week then start with Genesis 1 at the beginning of 2o17.

Here’s the complete three year plan. And here it is in Word so you can create your own handy version of it in the future.

If you’re not reading through the Bible then the approach of the new year is a good time to review your Bible reading habits. Here are a couple of old posts on why that would be a good idea – Hearing God Speak and Must I Read My Bible Every Day?

This plan has a number of differences from other plans.

1. Flexibility

The plan specifies a number of chapters for each week rather than for each day. This makes it more flexible. You can read a chapter or two each day or you can read it in two or three sittings. Or you can set out reading a chapter a day and then catch up at the weekend. It means it fits more readily around people’s lifestyle.

2. Communal
It is designed to be followed with a partner or among a group of people. There is only one section each week (occasionally two shorter books). So you don’t have to read a section from one book and then a section from another book each day. It means the sections are somewhat uneven, but it makes it easy to discuss what you have been reading when you meet up with other people.

We’ve been using it for a year now and it works very well in this way. I meet up with a friend each week for lunch. It’s easy for us to discuss what we’ve been reading because there is only one Bible book to focus on.

It also means I only need look at the Bible plan once a week – I don’t need to refer to it each day.

3. Realistic
Following this plan you read the OT in three years and the NT twice in three years. This works out at about nine chapters a week. It means you are not rushing through what you are reading to ‘get it done’. I’ve found with other plans I tend to read it with my mind disengaged. This plan gives time to meditate on the passage.

4. Balanced
The plan balances OT history, prophecy, wisdom, Gospel and Epistles throughout the year. You move between genres so you’re never faced with reading OT prophecy continuously for six months.

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Some ‘Amens’ on preaching

I want to add my ‘Amen’ to these points taken from a Jared Wilson post outlining 21 thoughts on preaching

11. A steady diet of “how-to” sermons doesn’t make Christianity more accessible or relevant to people; it actually, over time, burdens them and makes them feel constantly on spiritual probation.

12. It takes some people all the faith they’ve got that week to get through the church doors on Sunday morning. Why would we want to offer them anything but good news and the comfort of Christ?

19. Personal illustrations should mainly serve in the area of confession or self-deprecation. Always holding up yourself as a good example is a fantastic way to preach yourself instead of Christ crucified.

21. Passion, brother, passion. Give us your theology, yes. Don’t short-shrift us on the text. Don’t confuse yelling for preaching. That’s not what I’m saying. Give us your rhetoric and your logic sure, but give it to us affectionately.

You can read the other 17 points here.

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The Glory of the Story Sample: Day 116 – Joseph’s final days

Reading: Genesis 50:15-26

Here is another extracts from The Glory of the Story, my father’s devotional introduction to biblical theology in the form of 366 daily readings which show how the Old Testament story is fulfilled in Christ. The Glory of the Story is available as a Kindle book for $2.99 from amazon.com and £1.99 from amazon.co.uk. I’m posting extracts from the chaper on the story of Jacob, usually on the first Monday of the month.

1. Joseph comes to terms with the past (15-21)
When their father dies, Joseph’s brothers fear Joseph might unleash his resentment upon them. It is a further testimony to the fear resulting from their guilty consciences (42:21-22, 28). They decide to make a candid plea for forgiveness and fall down before Joseph. So his earlier dream is unwittingly fulfilled and a dramatic arc cast over the whole story from chapters 37 to 50. Each part of Joseph’s reply provides a model for similar situations.

Verse 19 – He leaves the righting of wrongs to God (cf. Rom. 12:19; 1 Thess. 5:15; 1 Pet. 2:23). The brothers, of course, must look to God as well as to Joseph for forgiveness.

Verse 20 – He sees God’s providence in his brothers’ malice. When God works out his purposes using other people, often their intentions are the opposite of his. But God’s purposes prevail (cf. Is. 10:5-7; 45:1-6; Acts 2:23).

Verse 21 – He repays evil with good. Joseph both acts and speaks kindly. Broken spirits need to be treated gently and fearful souls assured (cf. Luke 6: 27-28; Rom. 12:21; Gal. 6:1; 1 Pet. 3:9).

2. Joseph comes to terms with the future (22-26)
Joseph has already made it clear that his future was with Israel not Egypt by having his two sons formally adopted by Jacob (48:1-6). Ephraim and Manasseh become two of the largest tribes of Israel. Joseph lives to see his great-grand-children by both sons (22-23). He directs his family concerning his death (cf. Jacob’s instructions 49:29-32), with a strong anticipation of a future exodus from Egypt: ‘God will surely come to your aid and take you up out of this land to the land he promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.’ (24) The instruction about his bones is a gesture of faith (Heb. 11:22) which would not be frustrated (Exod. 13:19; Josh. 24:32). So the prime minister does not die reminiscing on past glory, but looking forward to a new beginning. Genesis ends by pointing beyond its own story.

It will be 400 years before Joseph’s coffin is carried towards the land of promise, a stark reminder of how short-range our view of life and events often are. God’s purposes ripen as generations pass. We also are to live in hope, but our hope, like Joseph’s, is a long-term investment. The certain outcome, however, determines the way we conduct our lives now.

Closing thought
Don’t ask, ‘When am I going to get out of these troubles?’ Ask, ‘What am I going to get out of these troubles?’

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