May 22, 2013
neil

Planting into a City Suburb

I’m speaking at a workshop today at the Planting for Christ conference. My theme: Planting in a City Suburb. Here are my notes . . . part 1.

A. Cities and suburbs

1. What do we mean by a suburb?

Wikipedia defines it this way (highlighting how the term means something a little different in the US from the UK). A suburb is a residential area, either existing as part of a city or urban area (as in Australia, New Zealand and the United Kingdom), or as a separate residential community within commuting distance of a city (as in the United States and Canada).

English Heritage goes for the following: In general terms, suburbs can perhaps be best described as outgrowths or dependencies of larger settlements – somewhere with a clear relationship with a city or town but with its own distinct character.

Maybe we can best say: a city suburb is a distinct, recognisable area within a city, often with an integrity and character that is valued by the local community.

2. What is the relationship between the city and the suburb?

For cities like Birmingham (perhaps to be contrasted with global cities) a typical pattern would be

Urban-core, inner city, inner suburbs, outer suburbs, rural

B. What does it mean to plant in a city-suburb?

Rather than appealing to a sector of society you are taking responsibility for a part of the mission field geographically – John James, Helier Chapel.

You might identify the community by a post-code, a housing estate, political ward, but usually by a named area.

1. Contextualisation is essential

  • Contextualisation is inevitable
  • Contextualisation is biblical
  • Contextualisation is necessary
  • Contextualisation is complicated

2. When planting in the suburbs, community is key to contextualisation

a. Learn the cultureRon Edmunson comments:  Every city, every village, and every group of people have their own unique identity. What matters most? What do they celebrate? Where do people live and play? What do they do for fun? What’s their language? What are the traditions unique to this area? What history do they value?
b. Learn the marketChip Weeler asks: Are schools an option for a building? Is the community in a growth mode or a declining mode? What are the major problems, concerns, and needs of the community? Who are the leading employers? What are the demographics?
c. Commit to the community. Planting in suburbs takes time and a great deal of patience.

3. Top Ways to Connect to Your Community

a. Be specific and strategic with your contacts

Very often this means starting with the families; mums and toddlers, kids & youth, messy church.
We’re five years in and we’ve seen very little fruit. We are still right at the start. But there is a whole community of people whose kids have been with us and we’re having conversations we wouldn’t have had three years agoAndy Weatherley, Grace Church.

b. Build missional communities as a key strategy to reach the community

In City-suburb planting the church needs to engage the community.
Telling members of the plant simply to ‘go and be missional’ in an impenetrable community simply won’t work.
Missional small groups are a surer way in to the community and a training ground for plant members. The leader’s job is to create a context for mission within a community setting. For these groups to work at least the hosts and leaders need to live in or very near the community being reached.

  • Small group bible-studies are open to the local community (ie a mixed group of Christians and non-Christians). All the questions are aimed at our belief system – Andy Weatherley. The danger is that you de-skill the Christians in their Bible-handling skills.
  • Small groups are intentionally outward focused and look to draw in members of the community through a variety of social gatherings e.g. Eating food, celebrating national events such as Jubilee, Football World Cup, Christmas, Oscars Film night, . . . whatever your community is in to.
  • Small groups are often the first point of contact with non-Christians.

Small group leaders need to be evangelists as well as Bible-study group leaders. A church-planter adopting this model needs to give a disproportionate amount of time and attention to training up leaders
Community group leaders are the key to the success of our churchAndy Weatherley, Grace Church.

c. Be a servant

Affluent suburbs

Poorer suburbs

d. Use media to connect with your community

Chip Weeler suggests: Invest as much as you can in a Web site—a good Web site. Have the Web site up and running before the launch of the church, and use it as a tool for outreach. Post sermons, worship services, and areas of involvement. Make sure that the Web site clearly spells out where you meet, when you meet, how to dress, what to expect, and how the kids will be taken care of . . .take advantage of online communities such as MySpace and Facebook, as well as YouTube and other popular, free online sources.

Use photos from the community, landmarks from community, community events, etc. on your page. Give the casual viewer of your site links to the community they can identify with.

Produce a local newsletter; highlighting what’s going on in the community, featuring church-run or hosted events but not exclusively.

Follow Twitter feeds relevant to your community.

e. Join with community events (to use the language of Brad House ‘read the rhythms of your community’)

Have a presence at community events but be careful how you use it.
Case Study: Grace Church: Co-Co Mad (arty, drama, crafty festival)

f. Find the places to be

Where are the places people like to be in your suburb? Build in visits into your ministry as a planter and team.
Schools, Library, Gym, shops,

g. Run your own church events & activities

• Curry club
• B-B-Q and family games day
• Clothes exchange party
• Gospel choir
• Football team

May 18, 2013
neil

Four God reasons to trust what the Bible says

I was invited by the staff team of Magdalen Road Church to speak to them on the topic of the inerrancy of Scripture. Here are four God reasons for Christians to have confidence that what the Bible says, God says.

1. God is a God of truth (taken from Words of Life by Tim Ward)

The claim that the Bible is inerrant is a conclusion drawn directly from what Scripture says about God, and about itself in relation to God. Scripture says, as we have seen, that it is breathed out by God, as his own words. In addition, in Scripture God states with great clarity that his character is such that he cannot lie, and that he alone is utterly truthful and trustworthy (Titus 1:2; Heb. 6:18) . . . It is therefore right to conclude that Scripture’s words will borrow their qualities from God.

2. God is a God of love (taken from Essentials by  John Stott & David Edwards)

Is [it] a reliable revelation? Indeed, we have strong Christian reasons for expecting God to have given us one. We both believe [Stott in reply to Edwards view of Scripture] God said and did something through Jesus Christ which was unique in itself and decisive for the salvation of the world. Is it not inconceivable, therefore, that God should first have spoken and acted in Christ and then have allowed his saving word and deed to be lost in the mists of antiquity? If God’s good news was meant for everybody, which it was and is, then he must have made provision for its reliable preservation, so that all people in all places at all times could have beneficial access to it. This is an a priori deduction from our basic Christian beliefs about God, Christ and salvation.

3. God is a God worthy of our trust (taken from Essentials by John Stott & David Edwards)

John Stott describes this one as his most important argument:
Submission to Scripture is for us Evangelicals a sign of our submission to Christ, a test of our loyalty to him. We find it extremely impressive that our incarnate Lord, whose own authority amazed his contemporaries, should have subordinated himself to the authority of the Old Testament Scriptures as he did, regarding them as his Father’s written word.

If submission to Scripture was right for him, as it was, it must be right for us also.

4. God is a God deserving of our obedience (taken from Evangelical Affirmations by Kenneth Kantzer)

Christians hold the Bible to be the Word of God (and inerrant) because they are convinced that Jesus, the Lord of the Church, believed it and taught his disciples to believe it.

The conclusion of the matter?

When it comes to whether we can trust the Bible we’re really asking questions much bigger than what is the Bible, we’re asking what is our God like. Who God is and what God has done gives us reason for confidence.

May 5, 2013
neil

Could your sermon have been written by Nike? Gospel-driven preaching

So far in this series we’ve considered how preaching needs to be both biblical and gospel-centred. A sermon is biblical if the big idea of the passage being preached is the main application of the text. A sermon is gospel-driven if the preacher shows how the big idea of the passage is fulfilled in Christ and points to him as saviour and Lord. We turn now to consider gospel-driven preaching.

What is gospel-driven preaching?

A gospel-driven sermon is one that not merely shows how the passage is fulfilled in the gospel but then builds further to show how the  gospel enables both our justification and sanctification.  The gospel enables the Christian life from beginning to end and thus drives our lives.

Whether or not we have grasped how the gospel enables our obedience of faith will shape the way we preach. Bryan Chapell has said Ultimately, the issue all preachers must confront is what they believe to be the relationship between people’s conduct and God’s acceptance.

How does gospel-driven preaching work?

1. The goal of gospel-driven sermons is to make real to everyone who hears them, both Christian and non-Christian, that they need Jesus more today than yesterday. In particular the Christian increasingly grasps the sense in which he needs to continually trust in Christ and look to him in order to live the life he wants to live.
2. In application, gospel-driven sermons celebrate that the Christian life from beginning to end is a work of grace and a work of God. Our justification is a free gift of God and our sanctification flows from our justification as the spirit-enabled work of God in our lives.

Typically, as we consider Christ, we ask that by his Spirit he might stir up godly-affections, renew our minds and motivate our wills to live for him.  But importantly we give the necessary time and consideration to ask just how the gospel, rightly appropriated, can enable the life of faith.

Reading through Ephesians 4:17 to 6:9 we see, time and again that Paul uses gospel indicatives to drive gospel imperatives. Perhaps the most developed example in this passage is Paul’s instruction to husbands to love their wives. He gives us gospel reasons and incentives to obey: we love our wives because Christ loves the church.  But through-out the section we find micro-examples eg. don’t get drunk on wine but be filled with the Spirit.

5:1-2 summarises the principle when Paul says Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Good preaching won’t just tell you to do it but will i) move you to obedience and ii) show you what that obedience looks like.
3. Gospel-driven sermon must avoid both legalism and moralism
Tim Keller has helped me, more than any other, to realise that the non-Christian listening to your sermon thinks your message, unless you correct him, is one of legalism.  He thinks that religion amounts to ‘obey to be accepted.’  The gospel of justification is the message of free grace. It says ‘because you are accepted, obey!’ Romans 6, Romans 12:1-2, Titus 2:11-14.
The Christian listening to your sermon thinks the message of the gospel is moralism where Christianity amounts to ‘because Jesus has done this for you, you now do this for him.’ Moralistic preaching has terrible consequences for both the individial believer and the church.
The basic problem, is that even Christians do not ordinarily live as if the gospel is true. We don’t really believe the gospel deep down. We are living as if we save ourselves. – Tim Keller
4. Gospel-driven application works hard to make the connection between

  • The message of the text as understood by its original hearers
  • How it is fulfilled in Christ
  • How it leads to gospel change in the lives of Christians and non-Christians

5. Gospel sermons recreate what Tim Keller calls the gospel-renewal dynamic.

At the heart of gospel-driven preaching is the fundamental conviction that the Christian life we are called to live is one we cannot live but Christ can live in us.

[Gospel] preaching assures God’s people that their relationship with him is secure by virtue of God’s provision [and] nourishes the faith that becomes the motivation and enablement of true holiness. God’s people serve God out of love for him and with confidence of his provision. – Bryan Chapell.

6. The result of all of this is that gospel sermons preach the gospel to Christians and non-Christians at one and the same time.

As Keller has often said we need to preach the gospel to the Christian because she needs it for sanctification and the non-Christian who needs it for sanctification.

Some questions to ask of our sermon:

• How do I know that I have preached a gospel sermon over against a moralistic one?
• Have I just told people to obey, to ‘just do it’?
• Have they left thinking that the life the gospel calls on them to try harder?
• Is the heart of my application that the Christian life is a life we cannot live, that Jesus has lived for us and now in him we can begin to live.

 

Apr 30, 2013
neil

Making your sermon not just biblical but gospel centered

In the first extract from my seminar notes on ‘Gospel-centred Biblical preaching’ I focused on the need for preaching to be preaching that does not abuse the text of scripture, nor even use the text of Scripture but serve the text of Scripture. Biblical preaching is preaching in which the Bible sets the agenda for the content of the sermon because the big idea of the passage is the main application of the text.

However, it’s not enough to be biblical (in that sense).  Every sermon needs to be biblical in that it is Christ or gospel-centred. In this post we ask how Jesus is the answer to every question a sermon raises, the fulfilment of every hope put forth and therefore the centre of every text.

1. Every text is there to teach us about Jesus

And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he [Jesus] explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luke 24:27 NIV)

For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. (Rom 15:4 NIV)

The Bible is not Christ-centered because it is generally about Jesus. It is Christ-centered because the Bible’s primary purpose, from beginning to end, is to point us toward the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus for the salvation and sanctification of sinners.Darrin Patrick

2. Every text teaches us of our need for a Saviour

We also need to show in our preaching that, from beginning to end, the Bible teaches us about our need not just for Jesus as an example to follow but for Jesus as a saviour.

A sermon without Christ as its beginning, middle, and end is a mistake in conception and a crime in execution. However grand the language it will be merely much-ado-about-nothing if Christ be not there. And I mean by Christ not merely his example and the ethical precepts of his teaching, but his atoning blood, his wondrous satisfaction made for human sin, and the grand doctrine of ‘believe and live. – C.H. Spurgeon

What does this all look like?

There are a growing number of good books and resources showing how to find Christ and I particularly commend Preaching the whole Bible as Christian Scripture by Graham Goldsworthy.

Tim Keller has said 

Once you know that all the lines of all the stories and all the climaxes of the inter-canonical
themes converge on Christ, you simply can’t not see that every text is about Jesus. For example:
+ Jesus is the true and better Adam who passed the test in the garden and whose obedience is now imputed
to us (1 Cor. 15).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abel who, though innocently slain, has blood that cries out for our acquittal,
not our condemnation (Heb. 12:24).
+ Jesus is the true and better Abraham, who answered the call of God to leave all that was comfortable and
familiar out of obedience to God.
+ Jesus is the true and better Isaac, who was not just offered up by his father on the mount but was in the
end sacrificed for us all. God said to Abraham, “now I know you love me, because you did not withhold
your son, your only son whom you love, from me.” Now we can say to God, “now I know that you love me,
because you did not withhold your son, your only son whom you love, from me.”
+ Jesus is true and better Jacob, who wrestled with God and took the blow of justice we deserved. Now we,
like Jacob, only receive the wounds of grace to wake us up and discipline us.
+ Jesus is the true and better Joseph, who sat at the right hand of the king, and used his power to forgive
and save those who betrayed and sold him.
+ Jesus is the true and better Moses who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord, who mediates
a new covenant (Heb. 3).
+ Jesus is the true and better Job —the innocent sufferer who then intercedes for his foolish friends (Job 42).
+ Jesus is the true and better David, whose victory against Goliath was imputed to his people, even though
they never lifted a stone to accomplish it themselves.
+ Jesus is the true and better Esther, who didn’t just risk losing an earthly palace but a heavenly one, and
who didn’t just risk his life but gave it—to save his people.
+ Jesus is the true and better Jonah who was cast out into the storm so the rest of the ship could be brought
in.

I’ve also been helped to see that when it comes to a specific narrative the ‘hero’ functions in that story in 1 of 3 roles.

• a type of Christ – see Keller’s examples above

• a type of believer trusting in Christ – that could be Abraham being justified by faith Gen. 15, Rom. 4 or David confessing his sin in the psalms eg. Psalms 32, 51.

• a type of unbeliever needing to trust in Christ – for example Abraham in Egypt, Gen. 12.

Let’s take one passage as an example of how New Testament authors quite clearly find Christ in Old Testament narrative – Exodus 2:11-25.

In this passage Moses strikes dead the Egyptian beating one of his own people. How should we find Christ here? When I preached this passage recently I called it God’s rescuer renounces his royal throne to rescue his brother(s). Two very important New Testament texts help us with this passage; Heb 11:24-26 and Acts 7:23-25. In them we find Moses commended for his actions.

Hebrews reminds us that Moses gave up a kingdom to rescue a people because he knew he would inherit a better kingdom

Acts reminds us that the one God raised up to rescue his people rejected him as their rescuer.

So in my sermon I argued that

Jesus is the greater Moses because he saw the suffering of his people and decided to get involved in our world. He is the greater Moses because didn’t forsake a human throne to come to the aid of his brothers he left his throne in heaven to save us. He is the greater Moses because he chose to suffer with his people not just in experiencing loss of status and reputation but choosing to suffer to the extent that he gave his life to death on a cross He is the true Moses because he delivers his people not just from slavery to Pharaoh but from sin and death itself through his own resurrection. Jesus is the true and better Moses because he too was prepared by God to deliver his people through suffering…

3. Every sermon must centre on Jesus

Biblical preaching is gospel-centred preaching. It shows us Christ as our only hope but does so not by

a. assuming the gospel (but not stating it). So in the sermon we learn about faith and life through David, Joshua, etc. but Christ is not mentioned.

b. bolting on the gospel in a way that eases our conscience but is not from the text. We hear valuable gospel truths but cannot relate them to the passage preached.

Instead it shows us Christ as saviour and Lord from a careful application of the passage demonstrating how it always pointed us to Christ.

In the next post we will look at what it means for preaching to be not just gospel-centred but gospel-driven.

 

Apr 26, 2013
neil

Gospel-Centred Biblical Preaching

Over this past week I’ve taken part in this year’s City to City Europe conference in Prague. Over 200 church-planters from over 60 cities throughout Europe attended and I was asked to speak at a break-out session on the theme of gospel-driven, biblical preaching.

Here are the first part of my notes on what makes for biblical preaching.

A. Biblical Preaching

1. What is biblical preaching?
Biblical preaching is not preaching that beings with a passage being read. As Hadden Robinson has said the Bible doesn’t function like the national anthem before an international sports match. We don’t use it to introduce the fact that a sermon is on the way but then close the bible for the duration of the sermon.
Biblical preaching is not preaching that uses the Bible. Many sermons mention the passage but that does not make a sermon biblical.
Biblical preaching is preaching where the meaning of the passage is the main application of the sermon.

2. Why biblical preaching?
The preacher does not decide what the church needs to hear. Our authority is in the text and our commission is to preach the word.
A faithful preacher should serve the text – Bryan Chapell.

3. Paul’s warning and instruction to Timothy

  • There will be those in the church who preach false gospels. Superficially attractive, but without power – 2 Timothy. 3:1-6
  • Our role as gospel ministers is to preach the word – 2 Timothy 4:1-5
  • Our role is to be a workman who correctly handles the word of God – 2 Timothy 2:15

4. Why might planters be resistant to biblical preaching?
a. To invest considerable time and energy each week in preparing and the preaching Biblical sermons is costly. Time spent doing other things may have to be sacrificed.
b. To put our confidence in a ministry that appears weak, foolish and ineffective is a battle for planters who are seeking quick results.
Modern trends in preaching deny the authority of the Word in the name of intellectual sophistication – Chappell
• We could add to that a desire for contemporary relevance
• We could add to that a quest for popularity
c. We find it easier to try and do the work of God in our own way
When our goal is to grow a church our temptation is to find easier ways.

For our preaching, the sermon takes on even greater importance as you must be well prepared every week. In general, our experience at Redeemer is that writing sermons takes twice as long as other places. This is because of the need to be clear, concise, logical, winsome, intellectually challenging and personable – all while being accurate. – Tim Keller

5. A definition of biblical preaching
Biblical preaching expounds (explains) the text and applies it.
a. An expository sermon may be defined as a message
i) whose structure and thought are derived from a biblical text,
ii) that covers the scope of the text,
iii) and that explains the features and context of the text
iv) in order to disclose the enduring principles of faithful thinking. Bryan Chapell in Christ-centered biblical preaching
b. Expository preaching points preachers to the biblical text with the instruction begin here…the text itself is the source of the truths we ultimately present. Chapell.
c. Expository preaching sticks closely to the text through-out the sermon showing the hearer why and how we have arrived at a conclusion.

B. Consecutive Biblical preaching

1. A strong case can be made for expository preaching that works through books of the Bible rather than individual passages.
a. The Bible was written in books and the big idea of the book is developed through a series of sermons.
• Sometimes the idea of the book is explicitly stated eg. 1 John 5:13, 1 Peter 5:12,
• Sometimes the idea of the book is there waiting to be discovered eg Col. 2:6-7,

b. Consecutive preaching models how we sit under the Bible as a congregation. Not picking our favourite verses or passages but working through the whole Bible.
c. Consecutive preaching exposes our blind-spots as we preach through passages and explore ideas that we might wish weren’t there but that the text sets before us.
2. Expository preaching, once practised, liberates us from the fear of running out of ideas. We no longer have to think ‘what shall I preach on this week’ because the passage set before us determines our big ideas.
3. Consecutive expository preaching requires even more work (!). For example not just showing the relationship between ideas in the passage for an individual sermon but by having to demonstrate the flow of themes and ideas through a book.

Apr 17, 2013
neil

What Margaret Thatcher can teach your church

On the day of the funeral of Margaret Thatcher, Britain’s longest serving Prime Minister of the last  150 years, tributes continue to be been paid from all-sides of the political debate. Love her or loathe her no one denies that, through her leadership, she changed the face of a nation and her influence continues to be felt across the world to this day.

Looking back over  her time in office, what made her the leader she was? Here’s a personal take on seven qualities identified by Thatcher and those who knew her that shaped her leadership.  Seven qualities that all leaders can learn from starting in this post with 1) conviction and 2) clear vision.

1. Conviction

Margaret Thatcher famously said above all I am not a consensus politician but a conviction politician. Her leadership was borne out of a strong moral conviction that what she believed in was what could make Britain great again. And Thatcher was to attribute her success to this unswerving conviction in the rightness of her cause. After nearly ten years in office she still maintained if you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time and you would achieve nothing.

Leadership not borne of strong conviction is leadership that will fail. Even when at her lowest political ebb, in 1981, she argued pragmatism is not enough, nor is the fashionable word consensus. To me, consensus seems to be the process of abandoning all beliefs, principles, values and policies. So it is something in which no one believes and to which no one objects.’

Lord Saatchi, in an interview on the BBC the morning after Margaret Thatcher’s death, paid tribute to this quality. He summarised her outlook in the following way:

The aim in that period when she was leader of the opposition was to present an ism, called conservatism, which in her mind was a philosophy and the object of the exercise was to explain that philosophy and see if people would support it and now we have a situation all these years later where you can tap anyone on the shoulder any where in the world and ask them ‘what did Mrs Thatcher believe in?’ and you will get a straight answer in a second.

Applying this principle of leadership to churches we might well ask whether it is obvious what we, as a church, stand for? We also have to ask are our principles matters of conviction,derived from God’s word and God’s purpose for the church in the world, rather than our own ideas? Do we lead from conviction or consensus?

2. Clarity of vision

Thatcher had not only strong convictions which guided her actions but a clear vision of where she wanted to take the nation. Henry Kissinger comments on why he thought Thatcher was a breathe of fresh air as a leader in her generation: The appearance of a leader that confidently asserted a vision of the future and, was wiling to tackle the economic problems of the day based on an alternative theory, had both a practical impact and also a psychological and moral impact on the period in which she lived.

He concludes her view was that leaders should define themselves by clearly articulating for their public their vision of their future.

What can we learn? It couldn’t harm if we as Christian leaders were to ask ourselves just how clearly are we articulating a vision for our particular churches? Are we able to assert not just guiding values that under-pin our ministries but a compelling vision as to where such principles might take us? For example, it is surely a good thing for a church to affirm the spread of the gospel as a necessary core value, it is another thing to set out a vision for how the church will seek to see the gospel go out  over the next, say, 5 to 10 years.

In our next post we consider what it meant for Thatcher to be a leader defined by courage, clear communication and commitment to her cause.

 

Apr 11, 2013
neil

How Thatcher’s Christian faith shaped her leadership

Two quite superb articles in American Spectator.

The first is on Margaret Thatcher’s Christian faith and its impact on her leadership.

The second is entitled ‘what the new atheists ignore‘ and  is a reflection by a non-believer on the massiveimpact for good Christianity has had in our communities, contra the absence of any evidence that atheism has had any social impact to the good.

 

 

Apr 10, 2013
neil

Every church is a messy church

The following is an extract from a talk I gave at Week 1 of New Word Alive last week on 1 Peter 1:22-2:10:

Two for  one deal

We know it’s not always easy to love your family. Yet, the God who brings us to new life in Christ also brings us to a new love for his people. Peter says (1 Pet 1:22) ‘you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth’ by which  he means we have believed the gospel. But in the very same verse he tells us of something else we have along with our new life in Jesus: v.22, you also ‘have sincere love for your brothers.’

With new life comes a new love. It’s a two for the price of one deal. And we ought to expect love to flow out of life because the God who gave us this new life is the God is love. God is life and God is love and if his word has entered our hearts then the word that brings us to life in Jesus will also brings us to love our brothers.

Bible logic says ‘you do love, so love!’

But there’s one other thing that Peter knows and it’s this loving your new family is not easy is it. The comedian George Burns once said ‘happiness is having a large, loving, caring, close-knit family in another city.’ It’s the day to day business of getting along together as a family that proves so hard. No wonder Bible logic says, v.22, ‘you do love one another’ and then in the very next sentence also say ‘so go on loving one another deeply from the heart.’ We all know that we can say of many people ‘I do love and yet I need a lot of help to love you as a fellow Christian at times.’

And it’s a big ask to love as God loves. Peter doesn’t say tolerate one another, nor does he say love one another when someone obviously needs love, or love the people you like, or the people you want to like you but love one another (that’s every brother or sister) and love them deeply and love them from the heart.

Our society says love people for what they do for you, or give to you – the gospel says love your brother or sister simply for who are they are – your family  in Christ. That’s how families work. Family is about the one place where you love people despite what they do! Family is the one time you choose hang out people you have nothing else in common with except that you are family. Any other group and you’d walk away but because its family you make it work.

And Jesus shows me just what this looks like. He knew how to love deeply and from the heart. When Jesus loved he seemed to make life more difficult for himself rather than less. He picked out they people most difficult people to love. Don’t you think that Zacchaeus was probably a really irritating person?  Don’t you think the disciples were a frustration to Jesus at times and  at other times a disappointment and an embarrassment?

Love is about what you don’t do

And Peter wants you to know that loving someone is as much about what we don’t do as what we do do.  In chapter 2v1 he says ‘rid yourselves of all malice, deceit, hypocrisy and slander of every kind.’ Love isn’t always about how I feel towards someone, love in the Bible is rarely sentimental. Love means deciding not to damage other Christians by my words and my example, not to put myself and my feelings first, not to be so constantly full of my own opinions and ideas that I speak too hastily and harshly to others. Everything that Peter describes in 2v1 – all of these flaws and failings – are sins that damage other Christians, things that destroy our life together.

God has put you into a new family that you might help one another to grow. The goal of life together is that we, v.2, ‘grow up in our salvation’

The church shouldn’t be a place where we just tell each other to grow up but where we help each other to grow up.

Messy church

Maybe you can think of one or two people whom God has used just in the past few weeks or months to do just that for you. And growing up is what your new life is all about. I have a 2 year old son. He is full of new life. He is for the most part adorably cute – or at least I thought so until Monday afternoon when he decided to put a roll of toilet paper in the sink, blocking the plug hole, turned both taps full on and flooded the downstairs bathroom.

Do you know what I thought to myself as I mopped that bathroom floor? I thought a few things actually but one thing was this; I can’t wait for you to grow up but then I also thought and it’s my job to help you. I have a responsibility to make sure you do grow up.

The word of God brings us to new life and its brings us to new love and we know that a church is living out the gospel as we help our Christian brother and sister grow up into their salvation. That’s not easy. Living together in the Powell household is not always easy and it’s not always easy in our church family either

Growing up is a messy business we need a lot of patience with each other we will let each other down, we will hurt one another, we’ll do and say stupid things we’ll accuse one another of being immature – it’s then that we need to remember that we’re growing up together.

Growing up is not only a messy business it’s a slow business we aren’t the people we want to be. Ask any child how frustrating it can be when they know they want to be riding a bike without stabilisers or swimming without armbands. Why do I find it so hard to change? Why do I keep making the same mistakes? Only a deep love from the heart can enable me to overcome my many failings.

Growing up may be a messy business and a slow business but more than anything else it is a necessary business isn’t it. I hope my son is not putting toilet rolls in the sink when he’s 10!

And the key to growing up together? Well ask any new born baby its craving milk. For Peter that is the milk of the word. Like  new born babies lets crave God’s word so that the truth of the gospel changes hearts and minds and grows that new life to maturity.

 

Apr 1, 2013
neil

Are you ready to let marriage change you?

 I took a marriage preparation session for a number of engaged couples at our church last week. There were lots of things I would have been very happy to discuss not least all of the many practical issues that a couple face as they get ready to marry. But rather than start there I wanted to start with the biggest issue facing any human relationship: Am I willing to let this person change me?           

Tim Keller in The Reason for God writes:  One of the principles of love – either love for a friend or romantic love – is that you have to lose independence to attain greater intimacy.  If you want ‘freedom’ of love – the fulfillment, security, sense of worth that it brings – you must limit your freedom in many ways.  You cannot enter a deep relationship and still make unilateral decisions or allow your friend or lover no say in how you live your life.  To experience the joy and freedom of love, you must give up personal autonomy.’

For a love relationship to be healthy there must be a mutual loss of independence. It can’t be just one way.  Both sides must say to the other, ‘I will adjust to you.  I will change for you. I’ll serve you even though it means a sacrifice for me.’

In the most radical way, God has adjusted to us – in his incarnation and atonement.  In Jesus Christ he became a limited human being, vulnerable to suffering and death. On the cross, he submitted to our condition – as sinners – and died in our place to forgive us. In the most profound way, God has said to us, in Christ, ‘I will adjust to you. I will change for you. I’ll serve you though it means sacrifice for me.’  If he has done this for us, we can and should say the same to God and others.

In summary:  As God has changed for you, so you can now change for him.

That’s exactly what we find in a passage like Philippians 2:1-18.

2:5-11 tells of Christ’s willingness to leave the glories of heaven and become a man, taking the form of a servant, being willing to die, and to die on a cross (a cursed death – the worst death). From the highest place it is possible to be, at the right-hand of God, Christ now occupied the lowest place it is possible to be, cursed on a cross.

Either side of these verses are a call for our relationships with one another to be utterly transformed by this gospel pattern.

So, 2:2-4 we read: make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves,not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others (NIV).

And 2:14-15: Do everything without grumbling or arguing,  so that you may become blameless and pure, “children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation” (NIV).

The power to live well in a marriage comes from our willingness to change and to let our marriage partner be God’s change-agent. Christ’s willingness to change for us gives us every reason to change for him and to let him use others to do exactly that.  As we learn to welcome change and to say to our marriage partners,for Christ’s sake, I need you to change me to be more like him so our marriages grow stronger.

 

Mar 19, 2013
neil

No need to be embarrassed by the Trinity

A small group of Muslim men turned up at church from the local mosque to ask a few questions on Sunday evening. Unsurprisingly conversation soon turned to the Trinity. As it turned out we had just returned from a church weekend away reflecting on how essential the doctrine of the trinity is if we are how to live well in the world. Here’s a sketch of my notes from a talk I gave on the weekend.

A. How does God define our relationships?

I wonder when you last spent some time thinking about the Trinity? I guess many Christians find understanding what it means that we believe in One God in three persons a little confusing if not a little awkward to explain. Maybe we find the trinity intellectually embarrassing if and when we are challenged by a non-Christian and I suspect we do find the doctrine a little irrelevant when it comes to living everyday life.

Well this morning its not my place to give a defence of what Christians believe or the history. But my job in just 30 minutes is to show you how life-changing it is to know that you love and serve a God of relationships.

The Bible affirms that there is One God in three persons. That means because God is eternal relationships (between Father, Son and Spirit) have always been at the heart of ultimate reality. And my big point this morning is that ONLY the Christian can say that!

And that means that only the Christian has a foundation for relations.

Whoever we are, our doctrine of God IS the foundation for our relationships.

B. What we think of God defines and shapes the nature of our relationships

Maybe the best way to look at this truth is by way of comparison with the other ways of looking at relationships.

1. Atheism

The dilemma of modern man is simple: he does not know why man has any meaning. He is lost. Man remains a zero. This is the damnation of our generation. – Francis Schaeffer in He is There and He is not silent.

We don’t know how to live in the world and we cannot agree how we should live in this world;

  • If there is no God then there is no basis or standard for relationships (there is nothing informing our relationships!)
  • We can recognise the problems in our relationships but cannot find a binding answer (the world would be a better place if we all got along…but we can’t agree on what that means)
  • We define relationships for ourselves (every man, and woman, does as he sees fit)
  • Relationships are an aspect of ‘survival of the fittest’

Richard Dawkins summed up how the absence of God impacts his ethics in the following sobering words: If someone used my views to justify a completely self-centred lifestyle, which involved trampling all over other people in any way they chose I think I would be fairly hard put to argue against it on purely intellectual grounds.

Fellow Oxford intellectual Peter Atkins puts it this way when quoted by Richard Dawkins in Unweaving the rainbowWe are children of chaos, and the deep structure of change is decay. At root, there is only corruption, and the unstemmable tide of chaos. Gone is purpose; all that is left is direction. This is the bleakness we have to accept as we peer deeply and dispassionately into the heart of the Universe.

 

Theism

Is it enough to believe in ‘god’ to understand the nature of relationships and living well in the world? As we will see the answer is ‘no’. All depends on the nature of that god.

No word is as meaningless as is the word god. Of itself it means nothing unless content is put into it. – Francis Schaeffer.

2. Islam

  • God is not a personal god. He exists in ‘splendid isolation.’ Even in paradise God will not be with us.
  • God and relationships are separate thing – God is not a God of relationships for before he ever created he was alone.
  • God cannot inform our relationships (we cannot look to him to teach us) and our relationships are not an aspect of image-bearing.
  • When God is teaching us about relationships he is not teaching us about himself
  • God may be loving (toward his creation) but he is NOT love because in eternity he has no-one to love. He had to create in order to love and experience love.

 

 3. Pantheism (Hindism, New Age, etc..)

  • God is an impersonal force
  • Impersonal forces cannot define or inform personal relationships. In fact, more than that, they undermine relationships. The holy men of Hinduism retreat from relationships and community.
  • Our final goal as human beings is to join the impersonal ie become one with the impersonal force.
  • Relationships and personality are temporary

The truth is that if you exchange the truth about God for a lie it will not only damage you but destroy community and confuse society.

Look with me at Romans 1:18-30. What is the result of humanity suppressing the truth about God. It is two things i) a turning to worshipping other gods and ii) a break down of relationships. The SIN of rejecting God leads to all sorts of SINS damaging to community. Looking at the list at the end of the chapter  (vv.28-30)

Furthermore, just as they did not think it worthwhile to retain the knowledge of God, so God gave them over to a depraved mind, so that they do what ought not to be done. 29 They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit and malice. They are gossips, 30 slanderers, God-haters, insolent, arrogant and boastful; they invent ways of doing evil; they disobey their parents; 31 they have no understanding, no fidelity, no love, no mercy.

 4. Christianity

Only Christianity has at its heart a God who IS a God of relationships and God’s own relationship makes your relationships meaningful.

C. What can we learn from the God of relationships?

The Father, Son and Holy Spirit have always existed in perfect relationship.  They express and define perfect love.

Therefore (for example) we can learn how to love one another within a marriage by learning from the relationship between Father and Son.

Bible verses Nature of relationship
John 14:31, 3:35  Perfect love seen in a desire to bless the other.
John 17:1,4  Other-person centredness. A seeking after the glory of another ahead of own. Love involves service, sacrifice.
John 10:30  Unity. One in Being. One in purpose. One in ministry.
John 5:30  Difference. Unity does not mean uniformity. There is an order to the relationships. The Son does the will of the Father and obeys him even though they are both fully God.

As God’s image bearers in the world God shapes and defines our relationships. Whether that be relationships between husband and wife, parent and child, employer and employee, authorities and those subject to authority. All our relationships reflect in some way the God of relationships. Our relationships are defined by love, other-person centredness, unity yet difference.

Reasons to rejoice in the Trinity!

There is no other sufficient philosophical answer than the one I have outlined. You can search through university philosophy, underground philosophy, filling station philosophy – it does not matter—there is no other sufficient philosophical answer to existence, to Being, than the one I have outlined. There is only one thought, whether the East, the West, the ancient, the modern, the new, the old. Only one fills the philosophical need of existence, of Being, and it is the Judeo-Christian God –not just an abstract concept, but rather that this God is really there. He exists. There is no other answer, and orthodox Christians ought to be ashamed of being been defensive for so long. It is not a time to be defensive. There is no other answer. – Francis Schaeffer, He is There and he is not silent

Part 2 of this series will consider just how our relationships are to be based on the God of relationships.

 

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