Monday, 28 April 2008

God's Part and Our Part in Evangelism

Have you...
...ever wondered about giving up sharing the gospel because no one seems to respond?
...ever thought about stopping trying to evangelise because as God is in control there's no point in us doing anything?

We have to remember that all the time, God is completely sovereign in evangelism:
  • He gave us the Gospel, the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Romans 1:16)
  • He convicts the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement (John 16:8)
  • He gives repentance to people which leads to life - (Acts 5:31, 11:18, Ephesians 2:8)
This takes a huge weight off our shoulders: God, the sovereign God who created, sustains and directs the universe, has the responsibility of doing the hardest parts in evangelism. He convinces sinful humans - free willed creatures that are predisposed to be against God and against doing his will - to believe and trust in the Gospel, a series of events that happened two thousand years ago in a distant part of the world.

But although God is sovereign in evangelism, he has chosen to use Christians as his tools:
  • We are to share the gospel - after all how can people believe in him they haven't heard? (Romans 10:13-17)
What are the implications for us of all of this?

We should persevere! We are told to just share the gospel. God does the hard work in the people we share it with. God is infinitely powerful and is sovereign. If he wants to save someone, he will do. Paul says in (2 Tim 2:8-10) that he endures everything (he was in jail for doing evangelism) for the sake of the elect (the people that God has decided to save) that they may obtain salvation. We should persevere in our evangelism because our evangelism won't fail - God will save those that he has decided to save.

We should pray! We are told to share the gospel. God does the hard work. But our part can be hard and we should pray about it and for it. In Acts 4:29-31, the church in Jerusalem prayed for boldness to continue to speak whilst they were facing opposition in evangelism. God granted them boldness and they continued evangelising! In Ephesians 6:18-20, Paul asks for prayer for him to have words to share the gospel boldly. I think it's a real encouragement that even Paul asked God for help in evangelism - none of us should be doing this in our own strength, but rather we should ask God to equip us!

We should do it! We are told to share the gospel. God does the hard work. Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28:18-20 to go out and share the gospel. We must obey Jesus in this. We need to always be looking for opportunities to share the gospel.

Tuesday, 22 April 2008

Theological Word of the Day

Parchment and Pen have a theological word of the day which you can sign up to recieve in your email inbox each day. It's a great way to find more out about theology in tiny bitesize chunks - one theological term a day and a very brief paragraph explaining its meaning!

Suffering

A few guys at my church recently wrote a new song. I really like it - check out the mp3 here.

One Day


The Lamb, God’s only son, bled and died, suffering Saviour.
Crucified, the sinless One took the wrath of the Father.
When despised for his name’s sake we share in his sufferings.
Unashamed, we strive for joy, looking on to his returning.

We will: set our hope in Jesus Christ our Lord,
And in a grace that never fades;
Lift our heads and see the rejected One
Now glorious.

New birth, a gift of love, undeserved but given freely.
So rejoice, though the road is hard, honour God with praise and glory.
All trials refine our faith, they have come to mature us.
Persevere, count them as joy. Take your cross and follow Jesus.

And one day our God will wipe every tear from our eyes (x2)

(c) Owen Hughes, Jeremy Poyner and David Tubbs, 2008.

Monday, 21 April 2008

Young, Restless and Reformed

Dave Bish reviews Young, Restless and Reformed. Seems like its an interesting read. I think its written about things in the US, but to be fair I think I'll run out of fingers and toes several times over when I try and count people I know who fit the title here in Manchester, UK.

How Marvellous is My Saviour's Love For Me!

Isn't it great that Jesus was more Terminator 2 than Terminator 1? He could have come to Earth and punished us for our failure to live our lives in the way that God has said we should. Instead he came to save us by dieing on the cross, taking that very punishment on himself that he could have dished out.
-- Phil Keymer
At The Plant on Sunday we listened to one of the most challenging talks and encouraging talks I think I have ever heard. Phil Keymer was preaching on Matthew 9:1-17 - explaining the reasons for which Jesus came. Here's a brief summary of what we covered.

Forgiving sin is the reason Jesus came (v1-8)

Sin is putting someone in God's place. It's what we all do, whatever we put in God's place it is a result of putting ourself in God's place first. It's our biggest problem - here Jesus forgives a paralysed man of his sins, as his biggest problem was his sin not his paralysis. It's the same for us: our biggest problem is our sin and we are as helpless before it as the paralysed man was with his paralysis.

Jesus is the solution to this problem. Only God has the authority to forgive sins (v3) - as sin is putting God out of his place, then obviously only he can forgive it. But Jesus has the authority to forgive sin (v4-7, c.f. Matthew 1:21) and on our part only faith is required (v2,8).

Thats why Jesus came for sinners (v9-13)

Jesus came for people who need forgiveness, in other words he came for everyone as we are all sinners. Jesus also came for those who want forgiveness. Surprisingly, not everyone does want forgiveness - the problem with the Pharisees was that they were more concerned with sacrifices than with mercy. God doesn't care for religious stuff at all, he wants people to care for and help sinners, like he does.

Jesus came for sinners like us. Thus we should be profoundly sorry, grateful, humble and hopeful. We can be profoundly sorry as we know we are forgiven. This will manifest in that we repent from our sins. We can be profoundly grateful as Jesus didn't come into the world to punish us, instead he came to save us. We can be profoundly humble before God and each other because as we are all sinners we can only compare ourselves to Jesus, who was sinless. We can be profoundly hopeful as God doesn't just give us a future, he gives us a wonderful sin - with no sin and no consequences of sin.

That's how Jesus revolutionises relating to God (v14-17)


It's right to mourn over our sins and our sinfulness (v14), but not at the expense of rejoicing because Jesus has died and risen so that our sins could be forgiven (v15.) The new way to relate to God is only by faith in Jesus Christ, not by religious observance, not by national identity and not by moral acceptability. By faith, relating to God is unrelated to sin!

But why did Jesus come to Earth to do all this? Because God is love and this is how much He loves us, that he sent his Son to be a propitiation (a sacrifice that makes us right) for our sins! (1 John 4:10)

Selling all you have for that hidden treasure

The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field, which a man found and covered up. In his joy he goes and sells all that he has and buys the field. Matthew 13:44.

God is so, so amazing that anything and everything, every concern and desire is worth sacrificing joyfully for the sake of knowing Him better and as a response for being counted as His!

Where are they?

Simon from The Musing Field wonders with Howard Guinness about reckless service:

Where are the young men and women of this generation who will hold their lives cheap (Rev 12v11), and be faithful even unto death?
Where are those who will lose their lives for Christ’s sake – flinging them away for love of Him?
Where are those who will live dangerously, and be reckless in His service (Acts15v26)?
Where are his lovers – those who love Him and the souls of men more than their own reputations or comfort, or very life?
Where are the men who say “no” to self, who take up Christ’s cross to bear it after Him who are willing to be nailed to it in college or office, home or mission field; who are willing, if need be, to bleed, to suffer, and to die on it?
Where are the men and women of vision today?
Where are the men of enduring vision?
Where are the men and women who have seen the King in His beauty, by whom from henceforth all else is counted but refuse that they may win Christ?
Where are the adventurers, the explorers, the buccaneers for God who count one human soul of far greater value than the rise or fall of an empire?
Where are the men who glory in God-sent loneliness, difficulties, persecutions, misunderstandings, discipline, sacrifice, death?
Where are the men and women who are willing to pay the price of vision?
Where are the men and women of prayer?
Where are the men and women who, like the Psalmist of old, count God’s Word of more importance to them than their daily food?
Where are the men and women who, like Moses of old, commune with God face to face as a man speaks with his friend, and unmistakably bear with them the fragrance of the meeting through the day?
Where are God’s men and women in this day of God’s power?
Howard Guiness, Sacrifice, IVP

Saturday, 19 April 2008

How to spice up your testimony

One of the things that has really struck me today is just how frequently I think my testimony is dull. I wonder how many people have a similar testimony to mine:

I was brought up in a Christian family, attended a good church from my birth and was a really well behaved kid. Having said all that, I was never particularly interested in Christianity as a kid and treated church as one of the many chores I had to do along with brushing my teeth and having a bath.

I definitely didn't have a dramatic conversion by any stretch of the imagination. To be perfectly honest, I can't even remember when I became serious about Christianity, but it was probably somewhere between 11 and 18. During that time, God gradually revealed so much about him to me through hearing good talks at church, through looking at the Bible in various Christian youth groups and through the witness of Christians at church and my Christian parents at home.

As I said, it wasn't dramatic, I just gradually became more and more aware of how I had removed God from his correct position in my life - being God. In my life, I was living as if I was the most important thing, I did things my way and definitely not God's. This definitely didn't lead to crime or anything really bad, but I just treated myself as being the most important person in my life.

I begun to realise that this really wasn't good and that as the Bible says, displacing God from his positon in this way is rebellion against God and it was going to end up like rebellion against a king - with punishment being dished out on the rebels for their rebellion.

At some stage I decided to place my trust in Jesus to save me from the punishment I deserved for my rebellion. I realised that I couldn't just stop rebelling - I was physically incapable of not living with myself at the centre of my life. I understood that Jesus had died on the cross and that when he did, he had taken the punishment for my rebellion, and that if I trusted in him, my punishment would be dealt with and I would be made alright with God.

I also understood that when you put this type of trust in Jesus, God does something strange - he makes you more and more able to live with him at the centre of your life. It has finally become possible to stop rebelling against God. Having said that, even ten (or so!) years on I still slip up and go back into living with myself as the most important person in the whole world. The good thing is that Jesus took the punishment for this once and for all.

Nowadays I still trust Jesus to save me from my rebellion. I'm getting better at living with God as the most important person in my life, which in practise takes the form of acting as he says in the Bible and not doing things my way. I still struggle though and it's really hard to not slip up and resort to living the way I used to.
To be fair, it's no Paul conversion is it?! Sometimes I've been a little bit ashamed of my testimony and tried to spice it up by making myself seem a little bit worse before I became a Christian. So are you wondering like me about how you can spice up your testimony?

How to spice up your testimony

Sorry for the anti-climax. Actually, I'm not at all! I can't tell you how to spice up your testimony and make it more exciting because my testimony is already incredible and so is yours (if you're a Christian!) There's need (or way) to make it any more exciting or impressive - it is already as impressive as it can possibly be.
And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ— by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Get this: God loves you so much that he chose you before time to save you when you were dead in your sins and trespasses (your rebellion) and on top of this, he has raised you up to the same level of Jesus Christ - God's own Son. If that's not exciting enough, you don't have to do anything except believe it - you are saved by God's amazing unconditional love and it was by his initiative, you haven't done anything to deserve it.

One word: wow.

Saturday, 12 April 2008

Can Media Coverage Usher in Revival?

Josh Harris on the media spotlight falling on Christianity after American Idol contestants sung "My Jesus, My Saviour":

"But I think that it's too easy for Christians to think that any moment in the media spotlight on TV or in film is a bigger deal than it really is. We should welcome any opportunity for media to help spread the good news about Jesus, but I don't think we should put too much stock in that vehicle. The gospel is going to advance as it always has—steadily as it is clearly proclaimed by believers in their words and modeled by their lives and actions. The gospel advances as local congregations receive and live God's word for their neighbors to see."

Friday, 11 April 2008

Forgetting our first love

At UMCU we have just started a short series of talks in our Wednesday Evening Meetings looking at the messages to the churches in Asia Minor. On Wednesday we looked at the message to the church in Ephesus in Revelation 2:1-7.

Ephesus was one of the great churches at the time in one of the great cities in the world. They had had fantastic teaching from Paul, Apollos, Priscilla, Aquilla (and possibly John.) They are enduring patiently, they are toiling and working, they are bearing up for the sake of Christ and are not growing weary and God commends them for this. But one of the things that really struck me was that, despite all this good, God told them not to forget their first love. If they didn't repent and do the things they did at first, God would remove his presence from them. They'd become guilty of turning their relationship with Jesus into an intellectual philosophy or an assortment of things to do, and if they didn't change, God would remove his presence from them. They were going to die spiritually from the inside out unless they changed.

I think this warning still applies today - look around at the many churches that still meet on Sundays but rather than meeting in God's presence, are just going through the motions. How tragic is it that these people are just meeting up and going through the motions, when maybe just a few centuries ago they might have been meeting with God's presence amongst them... There could be many reasons for why churches end up like this, but surely some must have died spiritually as a result of not heeding God's warning at forsaking their first love.

Are we guilty of this too? Have we become so much about doing things and knowing things that we've forgotten the awe and wonder that we first experienced when we came to know Christ as our Lord and Saviour? Personally and as a CU we were all really challenged to remember that first love, that first awe and wonder at the gospel - that we can come empty handed to a God of grace and holiness for forgiveness because of Jesus Christ's death and resurrection.

Thursday, 10 April 2008

So much more than just a meeting...

Earlier today my staff worker and I met up with a couple of guys from Bolton University Christian Union (where I will be doing Relay next year!) to discuss and plan for Freshers Week in September. It was a really exciting time of thinking about what we could do, but it was particularly exciting seeing them realise the vision of what Christian Unions are all about - students reaching students with the gospel.

Out of this understanding, it becomes obvious that being in a CU is so much more than just meeting up with other Christian students once a week to pray, sing songs and hear a talk... it's about praying for each other, supporting each other, training each other and encouraging each other to share the gospel with our fellow students in the universities, halls and departments has put us in!

Roll on September!

Tuesday, 8 April 2008

Hymns Rule #2

Jesus let thy pitying eye
Call back a wandering sheep.
False to Thee like Peter, I
Would fain, like Peter, weep.
Let me be by grace restored;
On me be all it’s freeness shown
Turn and look upon me Lord;
And break my heart of stone
And break my heart of stone.

Saviour, Prince, enthroned above,
Repentance to impart,
Give me, through Thy dying love,
The humble, contrite heart;
Give what I have long implored,
A portion of Thy love unknown;
Turn, and look upon me, Lord,
And break my heart of stone.
And break my heart of stone.

Look, as when Thy pitying eye
Was closed that we might live;
“Father,” at the point to die
My Saviour cried, “forgive!”
Surely, with that dying word,
He turns, and looks, and cries, “’Tis done!”
O my bleeding, loving Lord,
This breaks my heart of stone!
This breaks my heart of stone!

Listen on myspace.

This Breaks My Heart of Stone

Taken from the Gadsby Hymnal # 390

Words – Charles Wesley, 1749

Music – Benj Pocta, 2006.
© 2007 Red Mountain Music

www.redmountainmusic.com

Monday, 7 April 2008

Hymns Rule!

I love hymns. I love singing timeless truths about Christ which have been sung for hundreds of years. I love the way that hymns are jam packed with theology, unlike many (although not all) contemporary Christian songs. I love realising that I am part of a church which spans millenia when I sing these songs along with the church through the ages. I also love that the men and women that wrote these timeless songs were no different to us: they lived for Jesus and spoke for Jesus, they suffered but persevered, they loved theology and clamoured to know their Lord and Saviour better.

Recently I came across Red Mountain Church from the US and found some of their music online. They also love hymns and have been playing them to really cool new music. Over the next week or so, I'm going to post some of their lyrics and MP3 clips of their songs for you to listen to and ponder the words. Enjoy!

Hymns Rule #1

There is a land of pure delight,
Where saints, immortal reign.
Infinite day excludes the night
And pleasures banish pain.

Could we but climb where Moses stood
And view the landscape o’er.
Not Jordan’s streams north death’s cold flood
Should fright us from this shore.

There everlasting spring abides,
And never withering flowers:
Death, like a narrow sea, divides
This heav’nly land from ours.

O could we make our doubts remove,
Those gloomy thoughts that rise,
And see the Canaan that we love
With unbeclouded eyes!

MP3


There Is A Land of Pure Delight
Taken from the Gadsby Hymnal # 1022
Words – Issac Watts, 1707
Music – Brian T. Murphy and Benj Pocta, 2006.
© 2007 Red Mountain Music
www.redmountainmusic.com

Practical Teaching of the Day

Do not store up treasure for yourself here on Earth where termites can eat it. Instead store it up in heaven where its safe from termites.

Thursday, 3 April 2008

Free



I've blogged about this in the past, now at last we can all see pictures!










Coming soon to a Christian Union near you! For more info, check out the Facebook Page or www.uccf.org.uk

Tuesday, 1 April 2008

The need for Jesus to die on the Cross and what it did

I had the privelege today of going and doing a Bible study with the Bolton University Christian Union, who I will be working with next year as part of my Relay year. I really enjoyed the Bible study and meeting them, and as a result I am really looking forward to helping them out next year!

We were looking at the cross in Romans 3:9-26, here is a summary of my notes and some of my thoughts on the passage.

The need for Jesus to die on the cross

In this passage Paul tells us straight away that everyone is under sin - both Jews and Greeks (who we can take to refer to all non-Jews) - no one is free of sin. Being under sin means that we are slaves to sin. Sin is our master, our slave driver. We are stuck in submission to it and just like a slave, we have no means whatsoever to rid ourselves of our master's power over us.

But what is sin? If you asked someone on the street what they thought they might say murder, rape or theft. They'd tell you that sin is the bad things we do against other people. Pressed hard enough, they might say that sin is something bad you do to yourself, such as gorging yourself on chocolate cake.

But verses 10-18 say a great deal about what the God views sin as. The list can basically be split into four types of sin - the sins of not seeking God, the sins of not being righteous, the sins of speech and the sins of violence to others. These are not the only types of sins by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a list of things most of us have done. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever caused ruin or misery to someone else by something you've done? I sure have. At the start and finish of this list, like a pair of bookends, there are the two lines "no one seeks God" and "there is no fear of God before their eyes". Whether or not the rest of the list of sins applies to you, I'm certain these two will do. No one can say to themselves that they've sought God all the time and lived and worshipped God all the time. So sin is not just things against other people, it is our attitude to God - whether or not we have sought to know him all the time and worshipped him the whole time.

But what about the Law (the Ten Commandments) surely that will make people okay with God? Wrong. Verse 19 says that the Law only speaks to those under the Law, namely the Jews. But even that was given to show peoples' sins - through the Law comes knowledge of sin. V19 also says that the world will be held accountable to God. If you flick back to chapter 2 verse 12, you'll see that it says that all who have sinned without the law (non Jews) will perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law (Jews) will be judged by the law. But chapter 3 verse 19 says that every mouth will be stopped when we are all held accountable to God - we won't have any defence when we die and are judged by God.

This is all terrible news for us as a human race. Firstly, we are all slaves to sin and as we are unable to liberate ourselves from it, we continue sinning without a choice. Secondly, we see that we are guilty of sinning in pretty much everything we do. Thirdly, when we die and face God we have no defence for how we have spent our lives. This is a bad situation - we are facing judgement from an infinitely powerful and perfect judging God. But please don't stop reading here - there is some incredibly good news.

The outworking of what Jesus did when he died on the cross

The God of the Bible is not only infinitely powerful and a perfect judge, he has an infinite amount of love for us. Verse 21 starts off by proclaiming that "the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the Law ... through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe." Let's start to unpack what that means.

This righteousness comes from God. Which is good news, because we are slaves to sin and are unable to be righteous because of our slavery. God literally has to make us righteous because we can't do it ourselves.

It comes through what Jesus Christ did on the cross. Verse 24 talks of God putting "Jesus Christ forward as a propitiation by his blood." To propitiate is to make someone favourable to you - it used to happen all the time in pagan religions where pagans would sacrifice to their gods to make them favourable to them. Here it is the same thing with one crucial difference - God is propitiating himself towards us. He put forward Jesus as a propitiation through his blood.

To understand what happened on the cross it is necessary to look at Leviticus chapter 16. This part of the Bible talks about what the Israelite High Priests were to do on the Day of Atonement. In verses 1-3 we see God warning Aaron (the High Priest) not to come into a particular part of the tent where God was as Aaron would die. This is a result of God being both a perfectly good and pure God and Aaron being a human being and thus tainted with sin. Pure and non pure cannot mix with the pure being tainted. As God is God, he cannot be tainted and can't stand non pure - our sin must go, which means we must die. But before we start to think that God is nasty, he provides a way around this problem. In verses 11-19, we see God describing to Aaron how he must kill a goat and a bull to make atonement for his and Israel's sins. The sacrifices both take away Israels sins and satisfy God's anger against sin as the bull and goat have been given the punishment that Israel deserved for their sins - death. It reconciles Israel to God again, making them at one (this is the route of the word Atonement.) However, this is not a perfect sacrifice as it needed to be done every year...

Jesus death on the cross works in the same way as the death of the bull and goat, making atonement for our sins - it propitiates God and makes him favourable to us, as well as just taking the punishment for our sins. It makes us righteous again in God's eyes - our sins have been dealt with and God is favourable to us again.

On a side issue, there has been much controversy recently about whether or not what God did to Jesus constitutes child abuse. This is a very strange point of view - Jesus was both part of the Trinity and is thus God (therefore he planned the cross with the Father and the Holy Spirit) and he willingly died on the cross (Mark 14:36.) Maybe I'll blog on this in the future, in the meantime there are many good books on the matter for you to read or borrow.

Verse 24 tells us how Jesus' death on the cross not only affects our legal standing before God, but also redeems us from slavery to sin. We are now free from the power of sin which means we don't habitually sin and are not opposed to God in everything we do. When you see Christians doing good things - this is not them trying to earn forgiveness, but it is merely a result of what Jesus did on the cross in redeeming them from the power of sin. Please note that I have used the phrase free from the power of sin rather than free of sin - Christians still sin as they aren't completely free of sin, but as they mature as Christians they become more likely to withstand the temptations that sin gives out.

The great news of this passage is that this righteousness that God has provided is for everyone. It is a free gift from God which is received by faith. All that needs to be done is for you to believe what this passage says is true and realise that you are guilty of sinning and trust Jesus to make you right before God. It sounds simple. It really is. The hard work was done by Jesus on the cross. Not to say that being a Christian is easy, because it really isn't. I'll blog some more on that in the future. In the meantime find a Christian and ask them what it's like to live as a Christian.

Finally, verse 25 and 26 show us that Jesus dieing on the cross was absolutely essential. This is why Christians bang on about it so much (like I am doing right now!) Jesus dieing on the cross is the way that God can justify us and remain perfectly just himself. It's the way that he can be patient and allow peoples sins to go unpunished for the meantime and not judge people immediately for them.


So, maybe this has got you thinking, maybe it hasn't. Feel free to discuss below. I'll try and answer any questions. If you want to find out more about Jesus and Christianity, pick up a copy of the Bible, look for the Gospel of Mark (about three quarters the way through) and read it. There you'll see a written eyewitness account of Jesus' life and death and some of his teachings. If you can't find a copy of it, there's plenty online