Monthly Archives: June 2010

Salt In The Water

Rob Bell at Mars Hill on 2nd May 2010

This hangs on three Biblical foundations.

The first is the story of Jericho which is cursed by Joshua, is the cause of death in the family for the man who rebuilt it (1 Kings 16) and then becomes a place where there are bad stories swirling around about the bad effects of the water.  What Elisha does is take salt (reminscent of salt in the offerings of the Torah) and a new pot (much riffing in the word “new”) and does away with the bad narrative, and starts something new.

The second is the dynamic between Deuteronomy 28 and 30.  Deuteronomy 28 begins with blessings (a small number of verses) and then verse after verse of curses which build and build throughout the chapter.  However, chapter 30 says something new, that even if the curses are all met, there is always the chance to turn to God which does away with the curse.

The third is the New Testament call to Repentance which literally is about thinking differently.

Bell makes the connections with the narratives that we build up around ourselves, when we say “just my luck” (what, you have luck, where did you get it from) or “this always happens to me”.  What we are doing is imbibing a pre-modern concept of cursing.  And this story does away with that, through the kinesthetic actions of salt, new pots and water.

20 mins – the stories that we tell about ourselves

I just can’t get a break

This kind of thing always happens to me

Just my luck

Like I expected anything else

It’s inevitable

How Modern are we?  How many people with a great sense of enlightenment actually speak terribly pre-modern, superstitious, curse-like language.  Just how far have we come?

28 mins

Jesus invites you to repent and see things in a whole new way.  The people have all their stories, and Elisha says bring some salt, and some water, and a new bowl.

Some of you have bought into the notion of a violent god  who is waiting to hurt

The god of the curse, who puts some spells on you

Some of you have been living a history that does not describe but which decides

And Elisha says “Bring me some water”

If you have been living according to a destructive curse, which tells you you are unloved, that you live shame.

36 mins

There is an old story about three disciples who used to gather on Friday nights with their Rabbi.  And the Rabbi would open up this ancient mysterious book and read to them, and one night the three disciples are walking home, late at night from the Rabbi’s home.  And the one disciple says to the other two, “I am so sorry, it is clear that the Rabbi talked to me all night, and the two of you didn’t get it, and I just feel so bad”.

And the second one says “What, are you nuts?  I mean I think I was the one having to say something about it, because I was a bit awkward.”

And the third one says “You are both completely mad.  It was clear to everyone present that the Rabbi spoke to me the whole evening, and the two of you were excluded and I am the one who really ought to be offering an apologies to the two of you.”

At which point the three students fell silent, because they realised what had happened.

And the ancient tale ends with this coda

“So it is with the Spirit of God.  Each one hears what they needed to hear.”


A couple of quotes from Iain Murray’s biography of “the Doctor”, Dr. Martin Lloyd-Jones.  I haven’t got a reference for the story of how the first person converted under his ministry in Wales was the Church secretary and the second person was his own wife.

Unworthy of my calling

Key Words Doubt Faith Prayer Call Vocation
Source D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Source Author Murray, Iain H.
Location 171-172
Quote Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote to E.T. Rees, his Church Secretary in 1927 (during his first year of full time ministry)

I find myself at times reviewing the whole of my faith and belief, delving at times into matters which I profoundly believe it is the very essence of faith not to examine, finding myself in many ways unworthy of my calling – indeed at times finding nothing whatsoever to recommend myself as a preacher of the gospel, and going on and on until I again reach the bedrock of the grace of God, which amazes me more and more.

Conversion at Christmas

Key Words Prophecy Conversion Evangelism
Source D. Martyn Lloyd-Jones
Source Author Murray, Iain H.
Location 194
Quote Tells the story of the time that Martyn Lloyd-Jones was staying with a prominent Christian family at Christmas. He was convicted by the sense that at 9pm he must ask them the question “Why did Christ come into the world?” This lead to much conversation and eventually the conversion of the Father, Wife, Son and two daughters.

Grace under pressure

There is something in this Isner-Mahut match that says something, something about perseverance taking us into remarkable places, that talent alone is not the determinant of what is remarkable, but a refusal to be cowed when all expectation, energy and convention says “Give up now.”

Elsewhere, I’ve come across this version of the Lord’s prayer for the England team: the start isn’t bad (although possibly violating the third commandment) – “The Wayne is the Lampard” signals a weak ending.  Cue lots of of meditations on sport as the new religion, further proof of something we already knew.

I say This calmly

From J.C. Ryle

“I say this calmly, deliberately, advisedly and with consideration.  I tell you that at this moment there are only two places in which your sins can be and I defy the wisodm of the world to find a third.  Either your sins are upon yourself unpardoned, unforgiven, uncleansed and unwashed away, sinking you daily nearer to hell, or else your sins are upon Christ, taken away, forgiven, pardoned, blotted out and cleanses by his precious blood.  I am utterly unable to see any third place in which a man’s sins can possibly be.”

Psalm of Preaching

scarcely knowing of the icebergs

hidden reefs

wrecks of long gone ships

that I’m avoiding.

Keep me glued

to chart

that you’ve provided

to Holy Spirit’s course

sensing dangers

most of all

the danger that I’ll think

beyond the steering

I provide

the power to make the ship move

on its appointed course.

Bring us all

to safe harbour

by twelve o’clock.

Slow to anger and abounding in love

It Is A Decision

Psalm 103

I embarrassed myself in my first ever lecture at Glasgow University when I was training to be a minister.

I had just come from the direct, impolite, focussed world of business and banking.

The company I had belonged to had what was called a “peer to peer” policy which meant that you were allowed to say whatever you thought to any member of the company as if they were your peer, that meant if you were unhappy that something that the managing director had done, you were allowed to tell him.

So with that mentality, an interest in focussed decision making, and peer-to-peer communication, I sat in my first lecture, which was Church History.

Of course, the problem was the our lecturer had not himself had the same introduction to focused thinking and peer-to-peer comment.

He cam in the room and he mumbled.  I have no idea what he said.  The words “Church History” may have been heard, but I didn’t hear them.

Immediately I stuck up my hand

“Excuse me, could you tell us who you are, what you plan to teach us, and what your aims are for this course.”

I was a marked man.

For the rest of the lecture, the lecturer attempted to catch me out, to make me look stupid in front of the class.

Most of the time I managed to parry the blows.

Did we know the name of any of the Church Fathers, those respected leaders who formed much of the Church’s thinking in the first few hundred years of its life.  I was able to mention Tertullian.

I might have mentioned others like Augustine, Origen, XXX or XXX.

Did we know what the current name of the place that is referred to in the Bible as Asia Minor, I was able to supply the answer “Turkey”.  I was feeling exposed and embarrassed, but I was hanging on.

And then he asked me, directly, and did I know where “Cappadocia” was?

At this I was skewered by arrogance and ignorance, publicly worsted at last by my delighted lecturer.

No I did not know where Cappadocia was.

It was a place in Turkey, which had been home to a key group of leaders and thinkers in the life of the early Church, the Cappadocian Fathers.

Cappadocia had one particular geographical feature which was of use to these Fathers, it had isolated caves.

If you want to go and think about God, then as Moses and Elijah had earlier discovered, of use to you is an isolated cave.

Tonight I want to talk about one of the people who was a Cappadocian Father, his name is Gregory Nazianzus.

And what is interesting about Gregory, is that though he was much in demand as a Bishop, his leadership and vision were greatly respected, he could have enjoyed ever more status and ever more power, but frequently he made the decision, to head back out to the cave.

Why did he do that…

Because to worship, and to appreciate and to enjoy God

Is not always something that we get hit by in ordinary life.

In busy-ness, we will not always have our greatest consiousness of God.

In work, in constant work, even in constant Church work, it is very possible that our own faith might run dry.

And in Churches, we can get lost in debates about structure of Churches, and who needs to be in charge, and what is most important way to run this initiative, or that venture, and we forget that the chief aim of the people of the Church is not to grow the Church, is not to be a successful prosperous Church, it is to glorify God.

And sometimes you have to decide that what you are going to do is glorify God.

Sometimes you glorify God because you have no choice.

There is such a thing as being slain in the Spirit.

There is a famous story about King Saul in the Old Testament, he has just been anointed king in a private ceremony by the prophet Samuel, and Samuel says to him, this is going to be a sign that God is with you today.  Firstly, a couple of donkeys that you are currently looking for are going to be found.  And secondly the Spirit of God is going to rush upon you when you reach Gibeath Elohim – which is a place where an enemy garrison is stationed the Spirit of God will rush upon you.

And that is what happens, Saul reaches Gibeath Elohim, and the Spirit of God rushes upon him and Saul prophesied – which means he saw, he saw what God is and he spoke.

But most of the time it is not like that.

The move to praise God is not just being zapped, it is something that comes from choice, some decision that we have made, some conscious effort.

The effort itself is not the praise of God, but it is the prelude, the part of this that begins to make it more likely.

It is like Gregory disappearing off into the desert to meet with God.

It is a decision he makes that itself is not the praising of God, but makes that praise more possible, more likely.

O Bless The Lord

Now I want to turn to Psalm 103, and I want to notice something quite peculiar about the first line,

“O Bless the Lord Oh my soul.”

Notice that the psalm is not addressed to the Lord,

But to the soul.

It is as if the part of us which praises God, cannot just be turned on, it is not just consciously controllable.

But another part of us, which does not bless God in the same way, can somehow be roused.

And that part, is responsive to us deciding.

We cannot decide to bless God

But we can decide to rouse the part of us which blesses God.

Praising God, happens after we decide that it is important to praise God.

When we turn to our souls, and say “Bless God, praise God.”

Five movements in this blessing

  • The refusal to forget
  • The priority for the poor
  • The Anger of God
  • The bigness of God
  • The frailty of humanity
  • An invitation to join the choir

Do Not Forget

And there are things here which the psalmist insists.

Firstly that we do not forget what God has done for us and does for us.

He forgives sin, and heals disease;

That which ails the soul, and that which ails the body

Those two are treated by God.

Remember The Poor

The Lord works righteousness and justice for all who are oppressed.

The Anger Of God

The Bigness Of God

I once thought deeply about this psalm when I was sailing on the Baltic with friends about three years ago.

And we were crossing a strait of water called the Gulf of Bythnia, the strait that separates Sweden from Finland, and there was a point at which we could see no land.  We were surrounded by sea.  And at that point you get a picture of the vastness of the difference between East and West, and the height of the sky, and then the phrase

As high as the heavens are above the earth

So great is his steadfast love towards those who fear him.

Dallas Willard says that we have to move from understanding a big universe and a small God

To a small universe and a big God.

The vast dimensions of the universe can only begin to point to the bigness of God.

As far as the east is from the West, so far does he remove our transgressions from us

As if God has taken our sins, our greed, our malice, our spite, and said

Let me take that over here.

Like this picture here of something we did at Abernethy last year, when people wrote sins on their lanterns and then these were carried off.

Let me show you this.

The Frailty Of Humanity

And then the bigness of God, is set against the frailty of humanity

And it does you good to set those two things together.

“As for man his days are like grass, he flourishes like a flower of the field

For the wind passed over it, and it is gone

And its place knows it no more

But the steadfast love of the Lord – that is such an important contrast

Is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him.”

The Call To Join The Choir

Gareth and his choir are invoked here at Glynebourne

And we are called to join the choir.

And the choir has four parts

The choir of angels – angels are messengers

The choir of hosts – hosts are soldiers

The choir of God’s works, his places

And then finally where we started

Bless the Lord, Oh my soul.

Still Small Voice

Elijah Decline And Still Small Voice

1 Kings 19:1-15a

Carmel To Horeb

You remember the story that Stuart told last week,

Of Elijah like the magician on Mount Carmel

And he gets fire to come down from heaven,#

And then a most remarkable thing happens.

Queen Jezebel, who is a byword for Biblical evil, says

May the Lord do to me and yet more if I do not have his life

And Elijah who has just killed hundreds of prophets, and who has brought down fire from heaven does not turn up at Jezebel’s house and bring fire down upon her.

Instead he runs away.

How has Elijah run away?

Why the collapse?

Elijah’s Flight

Elijah runs.

He runs to the desert of Beersheba which is a well known Biblical running away place

And he lies down and he says “O Lord, take away my life for I am no better than my fathers”.

He runs first to the wilderness where angels feed him,

And he eats and drinks and lies down again

And angels feed him again.

And this time he goes to the mountain of Horeb

Which is a famous place for talking to God,

It is the place where the ten commandments were given to Moses

And like Moses, Elijah stays in the cave there

And the word of God comes to Elijah in the form of a question

“What are you doing here Elijah?”

And Elijah answers with a story

I have been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts, and the sons of Israel have forsaken your covenant and thrown down your altars and killed your prophets by the sword and I , even I only, am left, and they seek my life, to take it away.”

What are you doing here?

Let’s just got back a bit, and notice that when Elijah ran away,

First of all he was given some help,

Some food for angels

He was given some sympathy,

But then he hit a hard question from God,

“What are you doing here Elijah?”

It is like God here is playing the role of a good friend

Who doesn’t tell us what we want to hear, but what we need.

As if a friend who has lost their job,

Or who has left a relationship

Has hit a point where someone has to say to them,

“What are you doing here?”

And the timing of that is very difficult, it cannot be instant

But it cannot be left too late

The question “What are you doing here?”

What mistakes is God trying to draw Elijah out of?

What mistakes does he want Elijah to confront that have led to this point.

The first mistake is that Elijah wants “Perfect Success”.

Perfect Success

Elijah has defeated all the prophets of Baal

He has brought down fire from the mountain,

But still one person holds out, Jezebel.

He cannot cope with the fact that there are still some who hold out.

In this life we will have failures and triumphs,

But we will never have perfect triumph,

We will never get every single thing that we want,

There will always be something niggling away at us,

And we have to work out what we do with that.

The Biblical approach to this issue can be found in Psalm 23.

You prepare a table before me – in the presence of my enemies,

And the challenge is to enjoy the meal

Even when success is not perfect.

It is a remarkable feature of the life of Jesus, that he was able to enjoy this meal even though his betrayer at first sat at the table with him

And that he was going to be killed.

Because God was always bigger for Jesus than anything that might go wrong

But Elijah wanted perfect success, and that is why he ran away.

Elijah thought he was better than the rest

Elijah when he first runs away, says this interesting line

“I am no better than my fathers.”

Which kind of implies that up to that point, Elijah had thought that he was better than his father.

This is something that I live with quite often, because my Dad has the same vocation as me, and I want to compare how I am getting on, with how he is getting on.

We compare ourselves as fathers, with our Dad’s as fathers

We compare ourselves with those who have gone before,

And the painful conclusion that we have to hit

Is that we are the same as them

Just as they had blind spots, so do we

Just as they had fixed habits which brought them low, so do we,

Frailty and indecision and stupidity blights us as it did them.

We are no better than the rest.

Elijah edits his story.

It is interesting, when God asks Elijah “What are you doing here Elijah, he gives this response”

And note here how the story has been edited.

Elijah has been very zealous for the Lord God of hosts.

And the people of Israel have indeed thrown down the altars,

And they have killed the prophets by the sword

–        although what Elijah fails to mention is that he has been responsible for some Baal prophets being killed by the sword also

And I, only am left

–        which is wrong, and Elijah knows it is wrong, because Elijah met another man Obadiah earlier, who was sheltering 100 prophets, and Elijah knew this.

And they seek my life to take it away

–        well actually only one person seeks Elijah’s life to take it away.

Do you see how the story has been edited here.

Elijah has presented a complicated situation as only one way traffic

Elijah has begun with what he has done, and missed the rest.

And he pretended that he is the only one left

And he is exaggerated the number of people who are after him.

His story has been carefully edited.

So that everyone, including God, looks bad

And the only one who has done any good is Elijah.

Give My Body To The Flames

When I conduct weddings I often speak about a line in 1 Corinthians 13, which seems kind of odd for a wedding.

“If I give away all I have and I deliver up my body to be burned and have not love, I am nothing.” (1 Corinthians 13:3)

Nobody in a marriage gives away all that they have

And few make martyrs of themselves by throwing themselves onto the fire,

But a common dynamic in a marriage is to recount to ourselves who has given up the most

Who has sacrificed the most

Have a competition in our head where we count all the things that we do for the other, and belittle the amount that the other does for us.

You know, if someone is having an argument with their spouse, and the spouse says, “Would you like a cup of tea.”

What does the disgruntled spouse say? “No”

Why, because the sacrifice competition which is currently in their head a clear points victory might be jeopardised.

“No, I had one earlier” – translation “No, you’re not getting to win the sacrifice competition.”

And Elijah has had himself a little sacrifice competition with God.

And Elijah is winning, and Elijah wants God to know this.

So let us think for a moment what has been behind Elijah’s downfall:

  1. He has wanted perfect success
  2. He thought he was better than his fathers
  3. He has edited his story.

God’s response

God responds with question, which he keeps asking “What are you doing here?”

God appears to Elijah, but not in the way that Elijah wants.

And then God appears to him.

And there is a great wind

And rocks are being smashed by the wind

And there was wind at the beginning of creation

And there was wind over the Red Seas when the people escaped from the Egyptians

This time, much wind, but this time, no God.

And then there is an earthquake, and there was a shaking of the mountain when Moses received the ten commandments

But this time, no God in the earthquake

And then this time, fire, surely fire, Elijah knows all about fire

He has just seen God and the fire

But this time fire, but this time no God.

And then quietness, quietness, quiet enough that you might think to yourself that you were imagining things,

And in the quiet, fine voice

Still not a statement that gives certainty,

But a voice that is quiet, but cannot be ignored.

Work To Be Done

And finally a job, there is work to be

You will go and anoint Hazael king of Damascus

And you go and anoint Jehu king of Israel

You will go and anoint Elisha, and you will go and anoint

There is work to be done.

Elijah’s Collapse

This is the story of Elijah’s collapse,

  1. Because he wanted perfect victory
  2. Because he thought he was better than his fathers
  3. Because he had his story, in which he was the winner of the sacrifice competition.

And God confronted him

  1. Firstly with comfort, but then with questions
  2. Not with silence, but with a quiet voice
  3. Not with indulgence, but with work still to do.

Jesus last supper

And Jesus, when the time was close

Did not get obsessed over the disciple who had betrayed him

He who had the monstrous justice of having done nothing wrong

And was about to be killed

And he would indeed be abandoned by all,

Still loved those who were with him

And together with them

Spoke of the work that God had ahead for him to do.

And he took bread

And he said this is my body

And he took the cup

And he said this is the blood of the new covenant which is shed for you.

He went out and did the work that he had been called to do.

This is our story

More than the story of the hurt, and the blame

And the abandonment

This is the story

Take the food that God offers

For there is work ahead for you to do.


These Wretched Lists

But the difference for us is in transparency, not in sentiment.  We still spend plenty brain time in our Churches, and amongst ministers working out who is the greatest.  It shows up in jokes about who gets to be moderator, and how we react to criticism (an ability to deal with criticism is one of the hallmarks of true humility, since the criticism comes as little surpirse and there is little desire to have it contradicted).

In America, the competition to see who is the greatest is more brazen than it is here.  You get these lists of top 50 Churches, and what is remarkable in this critique of such lists, is that there seems little questioning that lists might not be such a good idea.  The only worry is that they might be slightly out of date.  As if Churches have to update their image and their format as frequently as reality shows.

Our response, in seeing these American lists, is to deride their unashamed competitveness.  In the same way we deride the disciples having a conversation about who is the greatest.  But it is not pride that we are really deriding.  What we are deriding is other people’s inability to hide it.

On art and voyeurism

“Although he that grives with the grief-stricken is to be commended for his work of charity, yet the man who is fraternally compassionate would prefer to find nothing in the others to need his compassion.  Only in the impossible event of good-will being malevolant could a man who is truly and sincerely filled with pity desire that there should be miserable people for him to pity.  There is a kind fo compassionate sorrow that is good, but there is no kind that we should rejoice to feel.”

This in the end was all mere scratching of the heart, “followed by sweling and inflammation and sores with pus flowing.  Such was my life, but was that a life my God?”

The Main Thing

We do not proclaim a system of beliefs

We do not proclaim a political agenda

We do not proclaim a set of traditions

We do not proclaim the superiority of Church people over unchurched people

We proclaim Christ because

He is the light of the world

Because he is the creator and sustainer of all that exists

Because he is the head of this Church

Because he is the kingdom bringer and the sin-bearer

He is the death defeater and the life giver

And to invite Jesus into a life touches a place in the soul that nothing else can touch

Talks about the most popular religion today being is moralistic therapeutic deism

A kind of hazy religion of self-advancement.

God is available to solve a problem, but he makes no claims over us.  Ortberg saw a book on parenting which captured this attitude

“Get out of my life, but first could you drive Cheryl and me to the mall”

Also tells a good story of a caver who is trapped, and will be okay as long as he listens to the voice that is speaking to him.