Ruth

We begin a series of studies in the book of Ruth this Sunday. Below are seven reasons John Piper gives us for studying this great romance: (originally posted https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/7-reasons-to-love-and-study-the-book-of-ruth)

1. Ruth is the Word of God.

[T]he message of Ruth is unwaveringly true. It's a rock to stand on when the terrain of ideas feels like quicksand. It's an anchor to hold us when tides are ripping....

The message of Ruth is filled with God-inspired hope.

2. Ruth is a love story.

The way Ruth and Boaz find each other is the stuff of epics.... But the story is the flesh-and-blood experience of one family living the unexpected plan of God.

3. Ruth is a portrait of beautiful, noble manhood and womanhood.

In a day when movies and television and advertising and the Internet portray masculinity and femininity in the lowest ways, we are in great need of stories that elevate the magnificent meaning of manhood and womanhood....

Ruth and Boaz are extraordinary. Men and women today need heroes like this.

4. Ruth address racial and ethnic diversity and harmony.

Ruth is an "unclean" pagan Moabitess. But she is drawn into faith and into the lineage of Jesus Christ, the Son of God. Her marriage is an interracial marriage. There are lessons here that we need as much as ever today.

5. Ruth displays the sovereignty of God.

Is God's bitter providence the last word?... Everywhere I look in the world today, whether near or far, the issue for real people in real life is, Can I trust and love the God who has dealt me this painful hand in life? That is the question the book of Ruth intends to answer.

6. Ruth displays radical acts of risk-taking love.

[The book of Ruth is in the Bible] to make you a new kind of person—a person who is able "to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God" (Micah 6:8). 

7. Ruth displays the glory of Christ.

[A] thousand years before Christ, this book glorifies his saving work on the cross, as we will see. Ruth is about the work of God in the darkest times to prepare the world for the glories ot Jesus Christ.

Sabbatical

Almost 20 years ago I took my first sabbatical in Oxford.  I was exhausted - more exhausted than I realised - and I don't think it is an exaggeration to say that that sabbatical, and subsequent ones, have kept me from burning out.  I returned revived and rejuvenated and Magdalen Road Church became an enthusiastic supporter of sabbaticals!  For the next decade or so we got into a rhythm of giving me a summer of rest, study, and envisioning, roughly every third year.  

In the summer of 2013, I was due a sabbatical, but I had to pull out as preparations for launching Trinity were too demanding.  At that time the elders promised that I could take a sabbatical as soon as the church could afford my absence, and at last that time as arrived!
After my last sabbatical from Magdalen Road Church in 2010 we formulated and presented what we called our 'Bold Gospel Plan.'  The plan was to acquire a building, and establish a plant by 2015.  Today, only a little behind schedule, Magdalen Road has its building, and has planted three churches including Trinity!

This sabbatical will be mainly about rest and starting to think about our vision for the next five years.  I do have a few things that I might study, but my main felt need is to lay down the burden of 'my concern for the church' (2 Cor 11:28) for a little while.

I can't promise miracles on my return, but perhaps it will be used by God to clarify an even bolder gospel plan.  Please do pray for me, as I will for you.

Peter

Do we need a Sexual Revolution?

Below is a list of excellent books that might help you reflect on the topic of sex and sexuality:

The Meaning of Marriage - Tim Keller

A clear exposition of biblical marriage, punctuated with honest and practical reflections from Tim and Kathy Keller on over 35 years of marriage. The book challenges modern misconceptions about biblical marriage whilst painting a clear picture of how God's pattern for sex and sexuality is both good and challenging.

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A people to be loved: why homosexuality is not just an issue - Preston Sprinkle

This book was the most challenging and humbling book I read in preparing for our dinner and discussion. Sprinkle shows that the churches attitude towards issues of sexuality has done great damage by dehumanising those who struggle to reconcile the teaching of the Bible on sex and sexuality. These are a people to be loved and cared for, just as Jesus loved and cared for a whole range of people he came into contact with. Sprinkle also honestly and fairly deals with the Biblical passages on homosexuality, in a way that is both faithful and sensitive.

A Better Story - Glynn Harrison

Provides a fascinating analysis of how the sexual revolution, started in the 1960s, has failed both individuals and societies. Professor Harrison compelling argues that the Biblical story of sex and sexuality is ultimate the only story that will lead to human flourishing.

The Plausibility Problem - Ed Shaw

An extremely raw and personal reflection on living as a Christian with Same-Sex Attraction. This book will help you to both recognise the heart ache of living with SSA whilst also paradoxically rejoicing in the God of love held out to us in the Bible. Ed Shaw persuasively argues that the biblical view of marriage as between one man and one woman is ultimately plausible and good.

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Divine Sex - Jonathan Grant

A perceptive analysis of a western world obsessed with sex. Jonathan Grant writes with a pastors heart, seeking to provide practical wisdom for Christians seeking to navigate a culture that seems to be living at complete odds with the teaching of the Bible. He provides a compelling case for the goodness of a biblical worldview and uses diligent research to show how we live in a society that is broken and in need of love and care.

Revolutionary Sex - William Taylor

A clear look at key issues relating to sex and sexuality. William Taylor shows how God's pattern for sex is radical and challenging but ultimately designed to give us a clearer insight into the gospel. This is a simple and helpful overview of the topic.

What does the Bible really teach about homosexuality? - Kevin DeYoung

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This is the clearest and most searching assessment of the biblical passages relating to homosexuality. Particularly useful at demonstrating the weaknesses of the attempts of those who affirm homosexual practice from a biblical perspective. DeYoung writes with an awareness of the culture in which we live, seeking to be both biblically faithful and loving towards all who we might engage with.

Is God anti-gay? - Sam Allberry

This is an outstanding introduction to the question of homosexuality, written with real warmth and grace. Plenty of practical wisdom relating to how we might navigate different situations where our witness to Christ might be challenged. Essential reading for anyone and everyone.

 

I would also recommend anything written by Andrew Wilson on the topic. The three talks linked below are excellent introductions to difficult issues surrounding sex and sexuality.

http://kings.church/teaching/why-would-god-care-who-i-sleep-with/ 

http://kings.church/teaching/transgender-and-intersex/

http://kings.church/teaching/marriage/

 

 

Suffering Strangers

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We kicked off a new series in 1 Peter in our first evening service of Trinity term. Peter introduced us to the book by painting us a picture of Christians waiting for a heavenly home - indeed, a journey that humanity has been on from the moment Adam and Eve were cast out of the garden.

We are using the series as an opportunity to reflect on brothers and sisters around the world who truly experience what it means to be exiles in this world - suffering persecution for owning the name of Christ. Each week, together we will pray the following prayer for the church around the world:

 

Father God,

As one Church, united under your hold headship, and knowing that we are all one family in Christ;

We pray for those who suffer in your name all over the world, our brothers and sisters, who share in that same great gift of salvation through your Son, but who face injustice, oppression and even death because of their faith in you.

We want to walk with them as they journey through the valley of darkness, and we pray knowing that you are a God of compassion, comfort and justice; who always hears their prayers, never leaves them and will forever be their fortress and shield, whatever they face.

We pray that you will grant them strength, courage, and protection from those who seek to harm them because they follow you; Guidance and wisdom for when their path seems impossible to tread, And hope for a future where they have the freedom to worship you without fear.

In the name of Jesus, Amen

Notes from a large island

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I am just back from a three week trip to America visiting church partners and people interested in what is happening in Oxford.  Judy joined me for the last week.  We had a great time, covered ten states, and I slept in 8 different beds!  Here are some impressions:

  • America does not fit the image that the rest of the world portrays of it.  It is a diverse, fascinating, positive and friendly place full of good people.  Having been in a good number of countries that have a particular reputation in the wider world, I have learned that the reality is always much more complex.  America is no different.
  • Trinity Church has many friends.  From Houston to Grand Rapids and Columbus to Chicago, there are people praying for us, and supporting us financially.  Some of them will pass through Oxford in the next few months.
  • Oxford is potentially strategic for Europe.  Christianity in Europe has imploded over the last generation.  For the first time millions are identifying as non-religious.  It is now the second least reached region after the Muslim world.  Alongside that, bible teaching churches, though small, are consistently growing across the continent.  The need for resources, training and support is, however, enormous.  America is rich in resources, but often ill equipped to understand post-Christian ‘old world’ Europe.  In many ways Oxford sits between these two worlds.  The potential to use this to bless Europe is, I think, significant.
  • Trinity is a wonderful church to belong to.  I enjoyed preaching to hundreds, and a couple of dozen, and worshipping with several thousand, but I was glad to get home.  Don’t underestimate the good things that Christ is doing in our midst.

 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us,  to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. (Ephesians 3:20–21)  

Let the peoples praise you, O God!

Max Jeganathan, now serving in Singapore, preaching on John 11: The God of the Impossible.

1 May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations.
3 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you.
4 May the nations be glad and sing for joy,
for you rule the peoples with equity
and guide the nations of the earth.
5 May the peoples praise you, God;
may all the peoples praise you!
— Psalm 67 [NIVUK]

One of the things that never ceases to enthuse me about this city is the myriad of languages one hears and the various ethnicities one notices as you walk the streets.  I have never lived in a place so diverse! Indeed, in our church, worshipping with us each week we have representatives present from 4 continents, and our alumni network stretches into all but Antarctica. Every Sunday, we are but a microcosm of God’s redeeming work in all cultures, so it’s not out of the ordinary for our prayers to gravitate toward what God is doing outside the UK. And as sad as it is in this transient city to have so many people leave us each year, it is an immense privilege cultivate ministry partnerships and continue relationships with our family members now spread out across the globe. Our prayers go with our friends Gerson & Hannah, Max & Fiona, and Zac as they continue to be faithful to the call of God upon their lives.

 

Justice and mercy

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This picture of Steve Smith, disgraced Australian cricket captain is probably how he will be remembered for the rest of his career, if not his life. A man, broken by one mistake that he made, humbled after a meteoric rise and now hounded by the world's press, his own government and Australian cricket fans.

This is what it looks like when there is a demand for justice with no thought of redemption or possibility of mercy. Amazingly, in one of Australia's other big sports, Rugby League, a number of the stars are guilty of far worse crimes than ball tampering - one player recently found not guilty of GBH having broken someones jaw in Rockhampton, US.

On what basis do Steve Smith, Cameron Bancroft and David Warner deserve much stricter and harsher judgement than any of us? Maybe here we see the lengths the human heart will go to ignore our own failings and sin - if we can punish others, we make ourselves believe that we have nothing to hide or nothing to worry about.

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Seeing this drama unfold this week has made me glad that in the Bible we see both justice and mercy - indeed, at the cross of Christ, we see perfect justice at the same time that complete forgiveness is held out to us. Only in the God of the Bible do we see the opportunity for redemption without neglecting the necessity and importance of justice.

I do hope that Smith, Bancroft and Warner are now given a break. They've faced the consequences of their actions. Now they wait until the next celebrity makes a public mistake that the onlooking world will delight to see them crucified for.

We worship at your feet
Where wrath and mercy meet
And a guilty world is washed
By love's pure stream
For us he was made sin
Oh, help me take it in
Deep wounds of love cry out 'Father, forgive'
I worship, I worship
The Lamb who was slain.

Garissa

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Three years ago I set my BBC newsfeed to send me alerts for any events in Kenya. And then on 2nd April 2015 I sat by my hotel pool and with a strange sense of detachment read the unfolding narrative of the tragic, scary and barbaric events at Garissa University. My initial response was one of anger - anger that groups like Al-Shabab even exist, that they have the temerity to walk into a building that is meant to bring about change in people's lives and change the lives of 148 people and their families forever. But surely anger isn't enough. 

Anger wouldn't bring back those souls that were snatched from their families. Anger won't resolve the conflict that rages on in Somalia and Kenya. Anger won't bring healing. As I sat by the water slide in Antalya I couldn't do anything, much as I might have wanted to but what I do know is that many of those 148 people who suffered and died three years ago would have spent that day remembering the death of their saviour.

April 2nd 2015 was Good Friday - the day that many of those Christians would have been remembering that beautiful scandalous night when Jesus died just under 2000 years ago. As Jesus hung and died on the cross he cried seven 'words' from the cross, perhaps words that those 148 would have rejoiced in today had they still been with us, but words that they would have lived through those terrifying and tragic hours as the five gunmen separated Christians and Muslims and brutally cut short the lives of those they had captured. Surely as the events unfolded they must have cried out to God wondering why this must have been happening to them. 

'My God, my God why have you forsaken me?' Jesus asked. Words which mean that though the 148 might have felt forsaken, God never will have left them, even as they took their final breath. I'm sure many of them would have felt the physical anguish of the situation and longed for safety, comfort and normality. Jesus cried 'I thirst' from the cross, a cry those at Garissa might have echoed as they faced the agony of death.

I'm sure many of the 148 died thinking of the needs of others, of their friends and loved ones (what about the 5 police officers killed?). And what about Jesus, who in his moment of agony could point to his mother and provide care and comfort for her? As Jesus died, he cried out two seemingly conflicting things. 'It is finished' and 'Father, into your hands I commit my spirit'. 

Finished, only in the sense that the awful work of his death was finished. Finished only in the sense that it was the dawn of a new kingdom, a new hope a new chapter in the history of this world. As the 148 were killed at Garissa surely those words were in their minds. Their earthly lives were ended, leaving emptiness for those left behind, but as Dietrich Bonhoeffer said as he walked to his execution 'this is the end. For me, the beginning of life'.

What would have been much harder for the 148 to say would have been what Jesus first said as he was nailed to the cross: 'father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing'. Words which I don't know I could have said, but words which show me that whatever I have done, I can find forgiveness in the death of Jesus. 

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But the words which stick in my mind from that Good Friday, words which can bring comfort, words which remind us that we don't simply remember a martyrs death but also a saviours death - 'today you will be with me in paradise'. Garissa was a tragedy - 148 people cut down just as they were ready to make a difference in this world. 

But those 148 brothers and sisters remind us that extremist opposition to Jesus and His people will never win. The gunmen ended their lives. What they don't realise is that the words 'well done, good and faithful servant' would have been heard by the 148 instead.

“Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.

40 people, 6 legs of lamb, some bottles of wine and one great Saviour

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The annual Trinity Church Maundy Thursday meal was once again a real joy and celebration as we gathered to remember the night that our Lord Jesus was betrayed.

We enjoyed a great feast prepared by the Giles, celebrated the beginning of the extended weekend and reflected on the real reason for the season - the death of our wonderful saviour.

Our prayer is that day by day we come to celebrate the grace of God shown to us in the death of Jesus more and more.