New book: John Stott on The Gospel – introduction and extract

http://www.amazon.co.uk/dp/1783599286/ref=nosim?tag=timche-21It’s been a great privilege to be involved in giving a new lease of life to John Stott’s great book, The Contemporary Christian, which is being reissued as a series of five short books on 20 June 2019. I was asked to provide a light edit of Stott’s work (removing dated references and discussions) and to add reflection questions to help readers think through the application today. The five books are:

The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

The Disciple: A Calling to be Christlike

The Bible: A Book Like No Other

The Church: A Unique Gathering of People

The World: A Mission to be Accomplished

Or you can buy all five books for the price of four if you use this link.

(Also look out for my volume on John Stott in Crossway’s Theologians of the Christian Lifeseries which is coming out in June 2020.) 

Introducing The Gospel: A Life-Changing Message

Stott begins The Gospel which a description of the problem for which the gospel is the solution. Under the title ‘The Human Paradox’ he provides a masterful explanation of both the glory of our humanity as those made in God’s image and our depravity as those ruined by sin. Then Stott turns to the promise of the gospel. He argues that the gospel theme that most readily connects with the aspiration of our culture is that of freedom. This means both freedom from guilt, self-centeredness and fear, but also more positively freedom ‘to be our true selves, as God made us and meant us to be’. Stott then shows how this freedom is secured for is by Christ in chapters on the significance of his cross and resurrection.

Stott ends with a magnificent exposition of the lordship of Christ. The statement ‘Jesus is Lord’ might sound pretty harmless at first, he says, but it expresses our conviction that Jesus is God and Saviour, and this involves a radical commitment which shapes every area of our lives:

  • intellectual (bringing our minds under Christ’s yoke);
  • moral (accepting his standards and obeying his commands);
  • vocational (spending our lives in his liberating service);
  • social (seeking to penetrate society with his values);
  • political (refusing to idolize any human institution);
  • global (being jealous for the honour and glory of his name).

Here’s an extract from the book. In fact, this is one of my personal favourite passages from all of Stott’s writing. In it he writes beautifully of the nature of true freedom. (Footnotes and citations have been removed).

It is this question of what we are set free for by Christ that we need to pursue. The principle is this: true freedom is freedom to be our true selves, as God made us and meant us to be. How can this principle be applied?

We must begin with God himself. Have you ever considered that God is the only being who enjoys perfect freedom? You could argue that he is not free. For his freedom is certainly not absolute in the sense that he can do absolutely anything. Scripture itself tells us that he cannot lie, tempt or be tempted, or tolerate evil.Nevertheless, God’s freedom is perfect in the sense that he is free to do absolutely anything that he wills to do. God’s freedom is freedom to be always entirely himself. There is nothing arbitrary, moody, capricious or unpredictable about him. He is constant, steadfast, unchanging. In fact, the main thing Scripture says he ‘cannot’ do (cannot because he will not) is contradict himself. ‘He cannot deny himself.’To do this would not be freedom, but self-destruction. God finds his freedom in being himself, his true self.

What is true of God the Creator is also true of all created things and beings. Absolute freedom, freedom unlimited, is an illusion. If it is impossible for God (which it is), it is most certainly impossible for God’s creation. God’s freedom is freedom to be himself; our freedom is freedom to be ourselves. The freedom of every creature is limited by the nature which God has given it.

Take fish. God created fish to live and thrive in water. Their gills are adapted to absorb oxygen from water. Water is the only element in which a fish can find its ‘fishiness’, its identity as a fish, its fulfilment, its freedom. True, it is limited to water, but in that limitation is liberty. Supposing you keep a tropical fish at home. It lives not in a modern, rectangular, aerated tank, but in one of those old-fashioned, Victorian, spherical goldfish bowls. And supposing your fish swims round and round its bowl until it finds its frustration unbearable. So it decides to make a bid for freedom and leaps out of its confinement. If somehow it manages to leap into a pond in your garden, it will increase its freedom. It is still in water, but there is more water to swim in. If instead it lands on the carpet, then its attempt to escape spells not freedom, but death.

What, then, about human beings? If fish were made for water, what are human beings made for? I think we have to answer that if water is the element in which fish find their fishiness, then the element in which humans find their humanness is love, the relationships of love …

True love, however, places constraints on the lover, for love is essentially self-giving. And this brings us to a startling Christian paradox. True freedom is freedom to be my true self, as God made me and meant me to be. And God made me for loving. But loving is giving, self-giving. Therefore, in order to be myself, I have to deny myself and give myself. In order to be free, I have to serve. In order to live, I have to die to my own self-centredness. In order to find myself, I have to lose myself in loving.

True freedom is, then, the exact opposite of what many people think. It is not being free from responsibility to God and others so I can live for myself. That is bondage to my own self-centredness. Instead, true freedom is freedom from my silly little self so I can live responsibly in love for God and others …

Jesus … said, ‘For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.’I used to imagine that Jesus was referring to martyrs who lay down their life for him. And the principle he is enunciating certainly includes them. But the ‘life’ he is talking about, which can be either saved or lost, is not our physical existence (zōē), but our soul or self (psychē). It is a word that is often used instead of the reflexive ‘himself’ or ‘herself’. One could, then, perhaps paraphrase Jesus’ words like this: ‘If you insist on holding on to yourself, and on living for yourself, and refuse to let yourself go, you will lose yourself. But if you are willing to give yourself away in love, then, at the moment of complete abandonment, when you imagine that everything is lost, the miracle takes place and you find yourself and your freedom.’ It is only sacrificial service, the giving of the self in love to God and others, which is perfect freedom.

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New book: Decisions Made Simple

I have a new book out called Decisions Made Simple: A Quick Guide to Guidance which is published Evangelical Press.

As the title suggests, it’s a short book on decision-making. I wrote because I come across so much confusion and muddle thinking about decision-making. I was speaking to a group 100 young people recently and the majority of their questions were about how they should make decisions.

There are three reasons why I wrote it.

1. A lot of Christians seem to expect God to tell us what they should do. Sometimes this is coated with rather spiritual-sounding language; sometimes it leads to paralysis; sometimes it is used to justify people doing their own thing. I wanted to provide some clarity on the nature of God’s will.

2. I want to show how our decision-making should take place within community, taking the church into account and sometimes involving the church. I try to show why this biblical norm seems strange in our culture, why it’s actually vital and how it plays out in practice.

3. Basically, I’m a lazy pastor and so I wanted a short guide I could give to people. It ends with a simple checklist which you can walk through are you make decisions or help others do so.

We find decision-making is a bit of fault line. It reveals people’s attitude to God’s word and to God’s people. People can mouth all sort of platitudes about the Bible and the church, but their approach to decision-making reveals whether these things truly are a priority in their lives.

Decisions Made Simple: A Quick Guide to Guidance is available from https://smarturl.it/decisionsmadesimple.

 

 

New recording of See Jesus Stripped of Majesty (Amazing Love)

Spring Harvest has released their 2019 version of Newsongs for the Church and it includes a new recording of the song I co-wrote with Colin Webster and Phil Moore, “See Jesus Stripped of Majesty (Amazing Love)”. Here’s a preview with a link to full song on Spotify.

lead sheet sheet is available here.

You can also see Colin and Phil playing the song at the Keswick Convention here.

Made primarily for blessing

For those of you who appreciated chapter 3 of my book Enjoying God (“In every pleasure we can enjoy the Father’s generosity”), here’s a little bonus for you. It’s a quote from Gilead by Marilynne Robinson,

[It] reminded me of something I saw early one morning a few years again, as I was walking up to the church. There was a young couple strolling along half a block ahead of me. The sun had come up brilliantly after a heavy rain, and the trees were glistening and very wet. On some impulse, plain exuberance I suppose, the fellow jumped up and caught hold of a branch, and a storm of luminous water came pouring down on the two of them, and they laughed and took off running, the girl sweeping water off her hair and her dress as if she were a little bit disgusted, but she wasn’t. It was a beautiful thing to see, like something from a myth. I don’t know why I thought of that now, except perhaps because it is easy to believe in such moments that water was made primarily for blessing, and only secondarily for growing vegetables or doing the wash. I wish I had paid more attention to it. My list of regrets may seem unusual, but who can know that they are, really. This is an interesting planet. It deserves all the attention you can give it.

(Marilynne Robinson, Gilead, London: Virago, 2005, 31-32.)

Northallerton

If you contacted me recently about Northallerton then can you get in touch again. The email address you gave in the online form is being returned with the following message: “the address couldn’t be found or is unable to receive email”. This means I have no way of getting in touch with you to reply. So could you please send an alternative email address that I can use? Thanks.

 

New song based on Galatians 5-6: ‘Come Holy Spirit, guide the way’

Here’s a new song I’ve written with Rob Spink which is based on Galatians 5-6. We wanted to write something on the fruit of the Spirit which didn’t feel too much like a list and, even more importantly, set the fruit in their wider context.

Here’s the lead sheet in F# (which is the key Rob wrote it in) and here’s the lead sheet in F (the key musical mortals like me can play it in).

Come Holy Spirit, guide the way,
and lead us to the Son, we pray.
With Christ we have been crucified,
no longer slaves to sin and pride.
From selfishness we’ve been set free
to humbly serve each other’s needs.

2. Come Holy Spirit, grow in us,
the fruit of love and joy and peace,
May we be gentle, kind and true,
reflecting Christ in all we do.
And grant us grace and self-control;
restore our lives and make us whole.

3. Come Holy Spirit, light a fire,
in every heart breathe new desires.
Expose temptation’s empty lies,
may Jesus’ beauty fill our eyes.
And may we walk in step with you,
O Spirit, come, our love renew.

4. Come Holy Spirit, fill our hearts,
your life and power to us impart.
Our only boast is Jesus Christ,
his all-sufficient sacrifice.
May worldly honour fade and dim,
eclipsed by holy love for him.

CCLI Number: 7118918

 

New song based on Psalm 147: ‘How good it is to sing God’s praise’

Here’s another new song I’ve written with Rob Spink. This one is based on Psalm 147. It’s a slightly quirky tune that perfectly matches the quirky words of the Psalm – yet still easy to play and sing!

Here’s a lead sheet in C and here’s a lead sheet in D.

How good it is to sing God’s praise,
how pleasant to recount his ways,
his faithful love through endless days.
Hallelujah.

2. The greatness of our God proclaim,
who calls upon each star by name
his mighty power is unrestrained.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu, hallelujah.

3. At his command each rain drop falls;
he feeds the ravens when they call:
his boundless love is felt by all.
Hallelujah.

4. He scatters snow and hail like ash,
and none can stand his icy blast.
Yet at his word they do not last.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu, hallelujah.

5. The broken-hearted in distress,
and souls weighed down by weariness
shall find in him eternal rest.
Hallelujah.

6. Let’s sing to God with grateful praise,
with music come, your voices raise:
he is our King, the Lord who saves.
Hallelujah, hallelujah, hallelu, hallelujah.

CCLI Number: 7118920

New song based on Psalm 30: ‘I called to you’

Here’s the first of three new songs I’ve written with Rob Spink (I’ll post the others in the coming days). This one is based on Psalm 30.

The lead sheet is available here. No demo as yet, I’m afraid.

I called to you; you heard my cry,
your mercy did not pass me by,
but to my rescue came.
You lifted me out of the depths,
you healed my soul, restored my steps,
I praise your holy name.

Your wrath against me, Lord, has gone,
nailed to the cross of Christ your Son –
his blood has set me free.
Now pardon comes to take its place,
my life secure in your embrace
for all eternity,
for all eternity.

2. You’ve set me free from death’s domain,
and made my feet secure again,
and I will sing your praise.
The dead lie silent in the grave,
but I will take the life you gave
and sing through endless days.

Though I may weep throughout the night.
yet joy returns with dawning light,
I raise my voice in song.
Your anger, Lord, was moment’ry,
your favour lasts eternally
through Jesus Christ your Son,
through Jesus Christ your Son.

CCLI Number: 7118919