Posted by: jmark | February 13, 2009

Meditating on Lamentations

I’ve come to Lamentations on my way through the Bible.  It’s nice to get to those shorter books that you can scratch off the list in a single sitting.

Or so I thought.

But I’ve come to a screeching halt in Lamentations.  The car has broken down and I may be here for some time.

I want to suggest that you read Lamentations slowly.  Now I know about the original context–Jeremiah lamenting over teh fall of Jerusalem at the hands of Babylon.  It know that it’s theme is summed up in ch3:23 “Great is your faithfuless”.  But before you jump to that, stay a while a ponder the earlier chapters; ponder slowly.

And ponder with these thoughts in mind:

  • This is the lament of someone who has seen the wrath of God close up
  • This is the lament of someone who feels forsaken
  • This is the lament for the wrath on God being poured out on his Chosen People (Jerusalem) who had rebelled
  • Jesus came to take the place of God’s chosen people, to bear God’s wrath, to be in the place of the rebels who inhabited God’s Kingdom, so that we could be citizens of the new Jerusalem.
  • In your reading let the phrases Jerusalem, Daughter of Zion, Zion, the city point you to Christ.  In Lamentations they refer to Jerusalem – I’m not even sure we can see them as a direct prophecy of Christ, but since this judgment is a foreshadowing of the great judgment, first experienced by Jesus, and then by all who reject Jesus’ offer to bear their judgment, then we are able to see them as pointing to the Great Sufferer.
  • Now ask yourself – What glimpse to I get into the sufferings of Christ as I read these words?
  • Then say to yourself – This is only the foreshadowing of the wrath he bore, the wrath he bore was far worse.

Then perhaps like me you will grind to a halt in Lamentations.

Over the next few days I’m going to post some verses and thoughts on where they point us.  But let me encourage you to read it for yourself.  Note – there will be details that don’t quite fit.  Leave them aside, and focus on what does fit.

“How deserted lies the city”
The abandonment of Christ, deserted, forsaken.

“She who was queen among the provinces has now become a slave”
He was the the King of Heaven, bedecked in splendour, who became a slave, to that we who were slaves to sin, could become Sons of the King

“Bitterly she weeps at night, ears are upon her cheeks.
Among all her lovers there is none to comfort her.
All her friends have betrayed her; they have become her enemies.”

Gethsemane, sorrowing unto death, his friends asleep, Judas coming to betray, his disciples fleeing.

Posted by: jmark | February 9, 2009

This week’s picks

Here’s what I’ve been listening to this last week or so that has been worth listening to:

Dale Ralph Davis on preaching the Old Testament –
Talk 1, Talk 2, Talk 3 – superb (recording quality not so good in places) Well worth listening to even if you are not a preacher.

Gordon Fee on How to read the Bible

First two lectures very good – third more of a bible overview and good, but I was familiar with the content.

Why Christians Read Their Bibles Poorly
Some Helps Toward Good Reading
Why Read the Bible Well?

word-freshIf you have Dale Ralph Davis’ book The Word became Fresh and you are a minister you may be rather peeved that it has no scripture index.  That was my feeling this morning and so I went poking around the web before wasting a half hour making one, and I came across some genius who had already done it, far more comprehensively than I would have.

Here it is – if you print it out as two pages on one A4 it can be handily trimmed to fit in the back of the book.  He has also included an illustratin index.  The guy is a genius!

Well done Peter Whyte – we who are about to download salute you!

Posted by: jmark | February 4, 2009

The best version of Hallelujah

Ok – so I’m a Leonard Cohen fan, yet could never really give a big thumbs up to his confused ramblings on Hallelujah.  But here’s a version of Hallelujah that I can ‘almost’ endorse:

I caught the tail-end of a discussion on Highland radio yesterday about angels.  The woman on was talking about how they left feathers and coins to let her know they were there.  She talked about how they were there for her to pray to and to ask for help from.  But they wouldn’t particularly intervene unless you asked them to, unless you acknowledged them.  And once you did, that seemed to open up a whole doorway of angel experience.

The thing that intrigued me was that she started off by (correctly) explaining that the word ‘angel’ comes from Greek, and means ‘messenger’.  She explained (correctly) that they are God’s messengers.

The thing that I found strange then was that if they are God’s messengers – why are they at my beck and call to perform what I want?  And if they are God’s messengers, what’s the message that God is trying to communicate through them, and why aren’t these angel fans talking about the message more than the messengers?

If I get a message in the post, I dont wax lyrical about the qualities of the paper.  If I get a message hand delivered from Bono I don’t start a fan club for the delivery boy.  I want to know what the message is!!

Of course added to all this is the fact that angels in the bible don’t run around leaving pink feathers on people’s pillows, rather they have to tell everyone they meet “Don’t be afraid”–that doesn’t sit too well with pink feather carrying.

Add to it this–why do I need an angel when I can know the angel-maker?

Add to it this–why would I bother too much with angels when the book of Hebrews spends it’s opening chapter telling me that Jesus is superior to the angels?

I do believe in angels, but as the mighty servants of God described in the Bible, sent to do his will, and to communicate His message, who always refocus attention back on God.

Posted by: jmark | February 2, 2009

Top listening picks from 2008

So many mp3 sermons/lectures, so little time!!

Here’s a heads up on what I thought was listening time well spent in 2008.  See also post several below this one!


Dale Ralph Davis on the Psalms

Fresh, vibrant and pointed – look out especially for Ps 95, 121, 124, 137


Sinclair Ferguson interviewed by CJ Mahaney

A top notch 2 hours of theology – warm, moving, devotional, and really helpful (also funny in places!)

Help with Preaching

Preaching Christ in a Postmodern World – Tim Keller and Ed Clowney

I’d have to say that the Keller stuff is superb, Clowney is patchy, but gems strewn throughout.  If you are strapped for time, listen to all of Keller, all the Q&A and Clowney on the Prodigal son, and “Expounding Christ: Telling God’s Story, Narrative Analysis”.

And I’ve just found the handout for the course!  You can get it here although the page numbers dont quite tie up – probably a different year.

(PS you need iTunes to download, but you really should have it anyway! [free from])

Posted by: jmark | January 31, 2009

Top Books of 2008

Here are my top picks from the books I read in 2008. Perhaps you’ve already read these, but if not I’d suggest you add them to your list:

Tim Keller – The Reason for God

Easily the top book of the year – a thoughtful and intelligent look at the arguments for Christianity.  Keller is well-read and yet manages to present his arguments winsomely and simply.

Polishing God’s Monuments – Jim Andrews

His daughter is struck down by one mystery illness after another, and this father-pastor’s heart is stretched to breaking.  This book is an examination of theology in the crucible of suffering.  Does the bible’s teaching on God stand the test of deep inexplicable suffering?  The book alternates chapters between his daughter’s story and letters he wrote to his congregation teaching them about suffering.  Easily my second best book of 2008.

The Christian in Complete Armour – William Gurnall

It was well worth the discipline of reading through this one of hte easier puritans.  Mighty stuff.  What I need to do now is go back through it, underline the bits I marked and see it I can retain it better!

Promoting the Gospel – John Dickson

A great book from Dickson towards a more balanced and biblical view of evangelism.  We aren’t all called to be in-your-face evangelists (whether anyone is called to that is questionable), or even called to fit into the mould of those who find it easy to strike up a conversation about the gospel.  Dickson shows the way that evangelism works in the context of the local church.

Posted by: jmark | August 6, 2008

Evangelism – a duty or delight?

I came across this the other day from JI Packer:

Harry S. Boer wrote telling of the naturalness of evangelism in Pentecost and Missions (1961). There he shows that the view of evangelism as first and foremost a Christian duty required by the Great Commission of Matthew 28:19-20 is no older than the last century, prior to which the mainspring of evangelism among lay Christians was the naturalness of sharing Christ with one’s neighbour out of sheer inner excitement over the new life of hope one had found.

Packer continues:

…But during the past century Christians have become unbiblically and indeed pathetically earthbound, concentrating their hopes of happiness on the here rather than the hereafter. And as the glow of the hope of glory has faded, credibility has diminished, and zeal for sharing Christ has waned.

Meantime, evangelism has been institutionalised in various forms and programs of organised mission activity, thus becoming a duty rather than a delight.

Celebrating the Saving Work of God, p208

Posted by: jmark | August 5, 2008

On being judgmental

I caught the tail-end of Highland Radio’s interview with Pastor Trevor Russell and Gareth Hayes of Letterkenny Christian Fellowship about their beliefs. I thought they did a good job of explaining and defending their faith, and supporting their answers from the Bible.

Having touched on a number of hot potatoes, the interviewer kept coming back to the claim that their Christianity made them judgmental.

It’s a claim often thrown at Christians—and sometimes justly. Christians can be guilty of looking down their noses at others—which is often what is meant by ‘judgmental’—and that is indefensibly wrong.

But that is different from what these guys were doing in expressing their standards of right and wrong. We all have standards of what we think is right and wrong—in that sense we are all judgmental.

However there is difference between having standards, and looking down your nose at those who don’t hold to the same standard. One does not necessarily follow the other. And in some cases a person feels ‘judged’ simply because another holds or expresses a different standard. We need to stop being such moral crybabies and have the courage of convictions, and enter into robust discussion as to the basis of our convictions.

The issue is not “Is Christianity judgmental”—for we all are—but “On what basis do we make our value judgments?”

This was clear in the interview. The interviewer clearly disapproved strongly of Christian beliefs which led to strong opinions about right and wrong. Let me say that again: He had a strong opinion/judgment about those who had strong opinions/judgments.

Do you see the irony? His own belief system made him equally judgmental to those who didn’t agree with him.

Christians hold to a defined standard of right and wrong set down by God. It is not arbitrary; it is fixed and universal because God is unchanging and universal. As creator he has the right to rule. But if you don’t have God, where do you get your standard of right and wrong from? It’s simply left to the prevailing climate of opinion which changes from place to place. Without a fixed standard it becomes an arbitrary matter of opinion, and why should one opinion be better than another?

The genuine Christian has a reason for what he believes and how he lives. He is seeking to be consistent with what he believes.

He knows that he is a sinner who can’t earn acceptance with God—so he has no reason to be proud of how he lives or to look down on others. He lives the way he lives because someone has paid for his sin, and because he takes sin seriously he wants to avoid it out of love for the one who paid for his sin. He knows the mess sin makes for others and the judgment that awaits them and so he wants to lovingly warn them that standards are not a matter of opinion, but that there is a God who judges.

And therein perhaps lies the crux of the issue—we don’t like the idea of a God who judges. And we don’t like being reminded of his fixed standards. Yet our only hope lies in a God who judges. If he turns a blind eye to sin then Heaven will be Hell. But instead he offers to judge Jesus in our place. Our only hope is to come to terms with the God who judges, and to ask that Jesus be judged and not us.

Posted by: jmark | May 15, 2008

The Angel-maker

There was a discussion about angels on Highland Radio on Monday. Unfortunately I was standing in a shop that had it on in the background and didn’t get a chance to call in. It was really intriguing. Various callers talked about their belief in angels: about having a personal angel who turned up at just the right time, about what their angel was called, and how they talked to their angel.

It sounded great – to have this great being take such a personal interest in your life, to listen to your requests and to help you, to be there and never to leave you or forsake you.

Then it struck me – what do you need an angel for when you can have the angel-maker?

Almighty God spoke the angels into existence. They are creatures and he is the Creator. They are finite and he is infinite. He is all-knowing and they are not. He is all-powerful and they are not. He is all-present and they are not.

  • He offers to have a close personal relationship with us.
  • He then promises to hear and answer our prayers for our best.
  • He promises that he will never leave us nor forsake us.

So why bother with angels when you could go straight to the top and have the angel-maker?

Of course my question could be asked in the other direction – What do you need the angel-maker for, when you could have an angel? If they are already offering all that, maybe we don’t really need him?

But there is one thing an angel can never do for you.

No angel will die for you. No angel will suffer God’s wrath in your place. No angel will answer for you on the day of Judgment.

And that is precisely what the angel-maker, the Lord Jesus Christ, offers to all who will come to him.

No angel can stand in your shoes on that day, because no angel went to the cross. In Jesus, God came as a human, so that he could take the punishment that humans deserved, so that he could stand in your shoes. And so the angel-maker outranks, out-saves, and out-performs the angels.

Why trust in angels, when only the angel-maker can offer what is ultimately necessary?

‘For to which of the angels did God ever say, “You are my Son”… And again, when God brings his firstborn into the world, he says, “Let all God’s angels worship him.”’ (Hebrews 1:5,6)

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