Experiencing God, Experiencing Love

Over the next couple of weeks I am posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The second study focuses on Experiencing Love and relates to Luke 7 v36-50.

The Big Idea

A deeper understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ produces love in our hearts for God and other people

Summary

Jesus is a guest at the house of a Pharisee named Simon, when a notoriously sinful woman bursts in to anoint Jesus’ feet. Simon interprets the response of Jesus to the woman as a sign that Jesus is not a prophet, since He does not seem to recognise her background. But Jesus sees the heart of the woman and the heart of Simon. In the heart of the woman He sees genuine love arising from her understanding of God’s grace in Jesus. In Simon He sees little love because Simon has little sense of his need and therefore little sense of God’s mercy. The message of Jesus is that a deeper understanding of God’s grace to us in Christ produces an experience of love in our hearts. Our love – or our lack of love – reveals our understanding of God’s grace. “Her many sins have been forgiven – for she loved much. But he who has been forgiven little loves little” (v47).

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

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Thursday Review: The Prodigal DVD by Tim Keller

A review of Tim Keller, The Prodigal God: Finding Your Place at the Table DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US and Discussion Guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, Zondervan, 2009.

I can’t praise this resource too much – it’s magnificent. The presentation of the DVD is beautiful and the content is dynamite. Even though I was familiar with the material from sermon mp3s and the book, I cried as I watched – twice!

The heart of this resource is a 40-minute DVD presentation. In effect it’s the movie version of Tim Keller’s book, The Prodigal God purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US. Keller stands on a stage with an empty auditorium. His only props are a table and two chairs. The layout of the table and the location of the chairs change as the talks unfolds. It’s all very simple, but beautifully done. The production values are superb. Imagine the best of a Keller sermon combined with a Nooma video and you’ll have a good idea what it’s like.

The DVD works very well as a stand alone resource. But there’s also six-session discussion guide that accompanies the DVD and book. Session one is the 40-minute DVD with a few response questions. After that the discussion guide is based on the book supplemented by short extracts for the DVD. There are 6-10 questions in each session, many inviting people to comment on a quote from the book.

It’s a resource for everyone. The 40-minute presentation is as good a one-off evangelical presentation as any I know. I’m salivating at the prospect of using it with unbelievers. But the material is also of vital importance for Christians, especially those with a legalistic bent (and I suspect that’s all of us). And it is so powerfully presented. I would also recommend pastors to watch it. We shouldn’t try to copy Keller – we must be ourselves – but we can learn a huge amount from him for our preaching, both in terms of content and style.

I know many pastors who’ve been hugely impacted by Keller’s ministry. This is your chance to share Keller with the non-reading members of your congregation!

It’s my top resource from 2009.

Click on the appropriate flag to purchase the DVD purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US, book purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US or discussion guide purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Here’s a sample …

For more resources go to theprodigalgod.com.

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The Radical Message of Luke’s Gospel

The Radical Message of Luke’s Gospel

Last week I was leading a study week for Northern Training Institute of which I’m the director. I led a seminar introducing Luke’s Gospel. Here’s an extract from my talk.

I want to highlight three key themes in Luke’s Gospel:

  • inclusion and reversals
  • the importance of God’s word
  • the dangers of wealth

I’ve marshalled the evidence of this in an appendix at the bottom of this post.

What do these themes suggest about the overall message of Luke’s Gospel?

Luke says in his prologue that he writes to Theophilus so ‘that you may have certainty concerning the things you have been taught’ (Luke 1:4). The key question is: what is it that Theophilus has been taught? We might assume that it is the story of Jesus, but if this is the case it is not clear how a retelling of those events would add greater certainty to what Theophilus already knows. If someone tells you of an event and you remain sceptical about the authenticity of their account, you are unlikely to be more convinced if they simply retell it to you. Luke is not writing to persuade Theophilus that Jesus lived, died and rose again. The events of the life of Jesus are already in the public domain through ‘eyewitness and ministers of the word’ (1:2). Instead Luke emphasises that he writes ‘an orderly account’ (1:3). Luke is providing a fuller account – he has investigated ‘all things’ – and an ordered account that will give Theophilus confidence in what he has heard.

I want to suggest that what Theophilus has been taught is this: that there will be a day of eschatological reversal. This was at the heart of the Christian kerygma, but it is an assertion that demands evidence if is to be held with ‘certainty’ (1:4). Luke writes from the conviction that the evidence is to be found in the story of Jesus. Here in the life of Jesus we see the proof of God’s eschatological intentions.

As a testimony to his grace, there will be an eschatological reversal in which God will include the marginalised and Gentiles, and exclude (judge) the self-important, self-serving and self-sufficient, exemplified in the religious elite of Israel. The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Luke’s readers should believe this word of eschatological promise and put this word into practice by aligning ourselves with the grace of God through the inclusion of the poor. We should, as it were, ensure we are on the underside of history when the eschatological reversal takes place. In the light of the coming reversal, we should adopt a reversal of values. And perhaps the greatest threat to this is the power of money.

Theophilus may be a real person, but he may also be a hypothetical reader (Theophilus simply means ‘one who loves God’). It may be that Luke writes to those sympathetic to Christianity (God-fearers and God-lovers) to convince them of its eschatological message. Whatever the identity of Theophilus, the Gospel of Luke is written so that Luke’s readers might align themselves, or continue to align themselves, with the sect of Jesus the Messiah. Although this messianic people are now small, persecuted and marginal, on the final day they will be vindicated and glorified. ‘Blessed is the one who is not offended by me’ says Jesus to John and Luke to Theophilus (7:23). Theophilus has been taught eschatological reversal and the story of Jesus as it is narrated in the Gospel of Luke gives certainty of this future reality by allowing us to glimpse a foretaste of it in the ministry of Jesus, especially in the ways in which Jesus anticipates the messianic banquet.

This understanding of the message of Luke brings together two of the key themes of the Gospel:

  • the sufficiency of God’s word
  • the inclusivity of God’s grace (exemplified in the inclusion of marginalised)

The Gospel of Luke stresses that God’s word is sufficient. Trusting God’s word and putting it into practice is what defines the people of Jesus. Luke wants Theophilus to trust what he has heard. He wants him to have confidence in the gospel’s word about the future – about things as yet unseen. The evidence of a day of eschatological reversal is the grace of God in the life of Jesus. Jesus accepts the marginalised and rejects, and is rejected by, the proud. This revelation of the gracious character and purposes of God is the basis of our conviction that sinners will be accepted to the messianic banquet while the self-important and self-righteous are turned away.

The evidence of this thesis is found in the text itself. Luke’s ‘orderly account’ repeatedly draws attention to Jesus’ gracious inclusion of the marginalised and Gentiles and the centrality of trust in the word of God.

Luke, then, is writing from his class to his class: as a professional to those who are ‘most excellent’. It is an apologetic for noble people.

The following survey of the Gospel highlights the prominence of inter-related themes of:

  • the inclusivity of God’s grace and the reversals of God’s kingdom
  • the sufficiency of God’s word and the importance of trust in God’s word

The emphasis on wealth also fits this hypothesis as it is one of the prime things that prevents people, especially the wealthy, aligning themselves with God.

Luke’s Gospel and Acts

In Acts the focus on the ‘poor’ in Luke become a focus on the ‘nations’. The nations are included while the Jewish establishment are left out (or omit themselves). Time and again Paul goes first to the Jewish synagogue until he is rejected when he then turns to the Gentiles. Meanwhile some of the powerful – the Ethiopian eunuch, Lydia – align themselves with the marginalized sect of Christians.

While there seems to be a broad shift of focus, the inclusion of the nations is present in Luke’s Gospel. Luke 2:32 desacribes Jesus as: ‘a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.’ Like Matthew, Luke quotes Isaiah 40, but only Luke includes the line: ‘And all mankind will see God’s salvation.’ (Luke 3:6) Moreover, lots of Gentiles figure in the story. In Luke 4, for example, it is the mention of blessing to Gentiles – a Gentile soldiers and a Gentile widow – that provokes the people of Nazareth. Then in Luke 7 a Gentile soldier and a Gentile widow finding blessed.

Applications

1.      The sufficiency of the word of God and the centrality of faith in the word of God are important reminders for evangelical Christians today. When evangelicals are looking to experiences to sustain them, we need to affirm that it is the word of God that sustains us through the hour of darkness. And when people promote ‘power evangelism’ and ‘worship evangelism’, we need to affirm that people come to faith through the word of God. Not even resurrection appearances will persuade those who reject God’s word (Luke 16).

2.      Luke provides us with a radical social theology that does not simply sit alongside gospel proclamation, but is rooted in the gospel. Our experience of God’s gracious inclusion is to be reflected in our inclusion and care of the needy and marginalised. We are to align ourselves with the underside of history in the light of the eschatological reversals that are coming.

3.      Luke warns us of the dangers of money and material wealth – a pertinent message for our consumerist age which worships the god of mammon. That which will prevent us aligning ourselves with the underside of history is the desire for wealth. But neither is Luke commending a cold asceticism – one of his favourite images for the kingdom of God is a party. ‘The Son of Man came eating and drinking’ (Luke 7:34).

Continue reading

Don Carson on the Good Samaritan at NWA

I’m at New Word Alive this week, leading seminars on the gospel and the urban poor. I’ll also be doing some live blogging. Here’s my first post, notes on Don Carson’s evening celebration on the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37).

It is vital to read any text in its cultural and literary context. The story of the Good Samaritan has often been read outside its context. We might, for example, think it shows who is a true Christians – a true Christian is the one who shows compassion to the needy. But we need to read it in its context.

The parable in its immediate context

Verses 25-37 are structured into two parallel dialogues. 1. The lawyer asks question. 2. Jesus asks a question. 3. The lawyer responds to Jesus’ question. 4. Jesus responds to the lawyer’s question (vv. 25-28). This cycle is then repeated which Jesus inserting the parable as the set up to his second question (vv. 29-37).

The lawyer’s first question is to test Jesus (v. 25). It is also an incoherent question – you cannot ‘do’ anything to inherit something – it is the gift of a family.

The command to love God (which recalls the first commandment of the Decalogue and the ‘shema’ of Deuteronomy 6:4-5) is the one commandment which you always break if your break any other commandment. So the second commandment to love your neighbour is intimately linked to the first. In Leviticus 19, the original context of the command to love your neighbour, the command is grounded in the character of God.

The lawyer wants to know who he is required to love – fellow Jews only, God-fearers, Gentiles? Jesus responds to this question with a question set up by the parable of the good Samaritan. But to understand the response of Jesus it is important to notice, as Luke highlights, that the lawyers wants to justify himself. The lawyers asks in effect, ‘You tell me who my neighbour is so I can ensure I obey the command.’

So Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan to show the futility of self-justification. It is hard for us to grasp the antagonism  between Jews and Gentiles. But Jesus turns the tables on the Samaritan. The lawyer cannot even bring himself to call him a Samaritan, let alone love him. But Jesus also turns the tables on him by switching the question around: it is not ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but ‘Who has been neighbour to me?’ He puts the lawyer in the position of the one in need.

Jesus is not telling us we can inherit eternal life by keeping the first two commandments. The lawyer thinks he can justify himself by keeping commandments, but the story of the good Samaritan shows that this is way beyond us. We cannot consistently love like this.

The parable in its literary context

Luke 9:9:44-45, 51. Jesus is heading resolutely to the cross. Luke 10:17-20. This is what is necessary for eternal life – to have your name written in heaven. Luke 10:38-42. What matters is listening to the words of Jesus. Luke 16:27-31. What you must have is people who heed the word of God.

Martyn Lloyd-Jones achieved so much in Christ’s name. But in the later years of his life his health was failing and he was unable to minister. Asked how he was coping with these restrictions, he answered by quoting Luke 10:20 (‘Rejoice that your names are written in heaven’), adding, ‘I am content’.

Three implications

1. Eternal life is inherited. It is graciously given as a function of being adopted into the God-family. This suggests that the good Samaritan is Jesus himself. He comes to us when we are lost and hopeless. He binds up our wounds and pays the tab.

Jesus reverses the question: it is not ‘Who is my neighbour?’ but ‘Who has been neighbour to me?’ And, reading it in the context of Luke 9-10 and the movement to the cross, the answer is Jesus.

2. Jesus expects his followers to follow his example. The One who goes to the cross expects us to take up our cross daily. We should not reduce the cross to an example, but neither should we ignore its example. We are saved by faith alone, but, as the Reformers said, faith is never alone. We should not make this fruit the ground of our justification, saying, as some do, that we are justified on the basis of the entire life we live. (Though he did not mention him by name, Carson clearly had Tom Wright in mind.) But when someone is born again it changes them radically. By their fruit you will know them.

3. Putting this parable into practice must be done as a function of grace. People today are saying the gospel is the work of the cross plus social involvement – the gospel is all that is demanded in the Bible. But in so doing they confuse the gospel with the effects of the gospel. The gospel is good news. It is an announcement. We proclaim, demand and celebrate the fruit of the gospel – a hatred of sin, a love of justice, compassion on others. But we do not proclaim these as part of the gospel. If we do, then we start moralising.

God is gracious (Luke 15) part 3: an only son

When we began looking at the theme of God’s grace, I said we would consider three sons. We have looked at two sons in the parable of Luke 15. There is one more to consider – the one who is telling the story.

God is gracious. But God is not some feeble, indulgent father. God will be God. I guess you’ve all know father who indulge their children. A few screams, a bit of a tantrum, and Dad gives in. Or often it’s those daughters – a few sobs – and Mum despairs as Dad is manipulated once again. Well, you can’t manipulate God. All power and all authority belong to him. If people go on rejecting him then he will judge them and he will judge for all eternity.

That is where the third son comes in. God sent his only Son to make it possible for us to come back to God. We can come back to God just like the son in the story. God is ready to embrace us. But we can only come to God through Jesus. Continue reading

God is gracious (Luke 15) part 2: an older son

What happens when you don’t really believe that God is gracious or you don’t really like the grace of God? Let’s have a look at the response of the older son.

Read Luke 15:25-32

We see in the older son many of the common characteristics of not truly believing that grace of gracious. As we go through, see if any apply to you.

1. ‘I demand my rights’
The older brother became angry and refused to go in … (28)

God graciously forgives us without demanding that we sort ourselves out first. God himself makes us righteous. He declares us to be in the right – even though we are in the wrong.

But if we don’t believe that God is gracious then we will try to make ourselves righteous. We will want to prove that we are in the right. And when that’s questioned or threatened we become angry. That’s one of the characteristics of people who do not really trust the grace of God: self-righteous anger. Continue reading

God is gracious (Luke 15) part 1: a younger son

Ten questions to start …
1. Do you ever take secret pleasure in the failings of other people?
2. Do you ever find yourself replaying conversations in your head so that you come out on top?
3. Does serving in the church ever feel like drudgery?
4. Do you ever exaggerate the good things you’ve done?
5. Do you ever feel weary because you’re struggling to meet your own expectations?
6. Do you ever think of yourself as a better Christian than other people?
7. Do you ever feel disappointed when some good work you’ve done goes unnoticed?
8. Do you ever gossip about other people?
9. Do you ever resent the expectations other people have of you?
10. Do you ever feel hard done by?

Then you need to hear the good news that God is gracious. Continue reading