Archive for the ‘The gospel’ Category

Humility

Sunday March 11, 2007

C.J. Mahaney is an American pastor I think you really should know about. I’m really not the right person to write his biography but I can tell you that he has lead Sovereign Grace Ministries for some time now, he’s one of the Together for the Gospel (T4G) guys and he is the husband or father of the girls at the Girl Talk blog (which is, I think, well worth reading even if you don’t fit into the “girl” category). Oh, and read his “Living the Cross Centered Life” soon!

There are many things I love about Mr Mahaney and his ministry – chief of which is how obvious it is that everything he says is built on a conviction of the centrality of the gospel and the authority of the Bible, and his love of each is impossible to miss. Another key to his work is that he seeks after clear and practical applications, so I wasn’t surprised that his recent talk at the Shepherds’ Conference on humility ended with several helpful ways of finding and dealing with pride. There are applications specific to pastors (the audience he was speaking to) and then those which will apply for everyone. Can I commend the talk (sumarised here by Tim Challies) to you if you’re someone who is prone to pride (otherwise known as a person) as a reminder of God’s hatred of our pride and an encouragment to cultivate humilty. For myself, I’m going to try to take his advice to remember first and last thing in the day that I am dependent on God and to vocalise that as I wake up and as I sleep.

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A series of unusual responses

Friday February 16, 2007

It seems that most of my best days are the ones where I’ve seen most clearly how much I’m a complete idiot. As I’ve mentioned in the post below, theRebelution.com have just released the results of a massive Modesty Survey. Having watched over the last few months as they first announced it, developed it, guarded against legalism and self-righteousness and radiated grace I was excited to see it finished. Convinced that it is a valuable resource to help girls understand guys I pinged an email to some Christian friends to let them know about it. So far, so good, but over the last day I’ve realised that without its proper context my email seemed like a promotion of a set of rules that guys were demanding from girls. This might not seem like the biggest crisis since slided bread but I was concerned that the result could be guys blaming girls for our lust and girls being shackled with a grace-less list of rules.

I don’t really want to talk about me being an idiot, though, but as usual I want to talk about God! He’s used this to teach me how the gospel works out in the everyday things. As I’ve tried to think through and deal with this in a way that glorifies God I’ve had some unusual responses which come from the gospel. I can see clearly that God has been transforming my by his Spirit through his gospel to become more like his Son. The Spirit applies the gospel to us powerfully to save us, and then continues to apply the gospel powerfully to strengthen and equip us for lives of service. So, I’ve been thinking of a few ways in which the gospel has taught and enabled me to respond unusually to being an idiot.

Before I start, though, I want it to be clear that this isn’t a tribute to me. Very few of these were my first response and I know that none of them would have been my natural response if it weren’t for the power of the gospel. I want to reflect on how God’s been changing me and how I can better keep in step with the Spirit and not for a second think that I’m already there. God is gracious, though.

My instinct is to hide my failure from God, the gospel teaches me to come to him. On my best day I wouldn’t come close to deserving access to the throne of God if it weren’t for Jesus’ blood and on my worst day that grace more than covers me. The fact that I see my failure more clearly doesn’t mean that God does and doesn’t change my relationship to him. Hebrews 4:14-16.

My instinct is to be right, the gospel teaches me I’m wrong. Key to the gospel is accepting that from birth I’ve been completely and utterly wrong (in belief, behavior, morals, everything) and in this context the way I view having made a mistake changed. At first my response to gentle rebuke was self defense – “I was right – can’t you see?!” but as I thought about it I realised I had been wrong and became grateful to those who had expressed concern and encouraged me to do better. As Dave Bish says, the gospel gives us permission to fail (note, not permission to sin!) and I’m thankful to those who pointed out my error.

My instinct is to listen to myself, the gospel teaches me to talk to myself. This may sound a little odd, but it’s really helpful advice from CJ Mahaney’s book Living the Cross Centred Life. At first as I thought about things I was being passive – just listening to my varied thoughts and allowing myself to be self-pitying. Instead he urges taking control of what I’m thinking and preaching the gospel to myself – going back to the cross and applying it to my situation. Of course prayer is key here – without the Holy Spirit working through the gospel all the preaching in the world is to no avail.

My instinct is to rely on myself, the gospel teaches me to seek help and advice. God has graciously saved a people so I have plenty of support from Christians around me. Partly this came from teachers (one of Jesus’s gifts to the church in Ephesians 4) as I listened to CJ Mahaney’s message The Soul of Modesty which set everything firmly in the context of the gospel and gave me the opportunity to seek, evaluate and fight the legalism which had crept in without me noticing. It also came from friends, namely my housemate whose wise words were to leave any reply until the morning after I’d slept – truly the best idea of the evening!

My instinct is to panic, the gospel teaches me to trust God’s faithfulness. Fighting my desire to properly think through what the best response would be to my friends’ concerns was the fact that I wanted to act now! That way I could ‘save the day’ and solve the problem before anyone else found the problem. God’s sovereignty, though, tells me that he is in control and working for the best – taking the time to work out the best response (which, in this case, included a night’s sleep and an hour of listening to CJ Mahaney) wouldn’t mess up his plan.

My instinct is to trust what I think is right, the gospel teaches me to come to the Bible. Once I’d worked out what I thought was the right thing to do, I wanted to evalutate my motives and make sure they were right (that I was seeking to serve God and edify others rather than just trying to make people like me more) and was having difficulty. In the end the solution was to go to Scripture – 2 Timothy was where I went this time – to see what the right way to minister is. Once I’d checked my motives and methods against God’s word for discrepancies I was happy to go ahead.

My instinct is to dwell on my own failure, the gospel teaches me to praise God. Tempting as it was just to go over the last day in my head even after I’d dealt with it to the best of my ability it was a huge release to put it aside and turn to praising God. He is the same God, I have the same standing before him, and there is useful work for me to be doing. I’ve had a bad day, I’ll have worse, but thinking about God is so much more profitable and enjoyable.

So what now? Well, I’ve learned practically some of the ways to avoid being quite so silly next time and more importantly I’ve seen a bit more clearly how grace works out in life. Thank God! So there’s new ways for me to serve, new ways for me to mess up, new ways for me to realise I need grace, new ways to draw closer to God. Here I go…

Gospel links

Sunday January 14, 2007

The gospel should reach in and change every part of our lives, and I’ve come across a couple of posts looking at how parts of that should work. The first is John Piper with really sound, grace-filled thoughts on “How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure” – which also works for other failures but sexual sin does seem to be the one that holds most people back most. Maybe that’s just because it’s most prevalent.

Secondly, the five15 blog (a youth group in America which I happened across) has just put up three posts on work and idleness (here, here and here). We need to rest and to take breaks from our work but I always find that when I stop doing what I normally do and replace it with other productive things like reading good books or writing posts (such as today) it’s not only more rewarding but also far more enjoyable than doing unproductive things like watching TV (such as yesterday). Admittedly, part of the reason for that is that the productive things I do tend to be Christian-related so I get encouraged and reminded of Jesus as I go! Anyway, the posts are well worth reading.

Failure?

Monday December 11, 2006

The carol service on Thursday was great. Everything ran smoothly, lots of CU members pitched in and worked hard and joyfully, plenty of non-Christians came along and there was a very clear gospel presentation. Then we went to get some food, and spending time relaxing with my Christian family was great. By the time I got home I was feeling great, and praising God.

So I probably shouldn’t have been surprised that on Friday Satan was on the attack. Being tired in the morning, I missed my quiet time and first two lectures. Then was the ‘follow-up’ event which was pretty poorly attended (though plenty of CU people came along for which I am thankful) and where I didn’t do a good job of my role. During the afternoon, I had several (I reckon about 5) really good chances to talk to people about Jesus and none of them ‘worked’. In fact, twice I managed to kill the conversation before it had even got going – usually it’s the other guy trying to do that! By the time I got home I was feeling absolutely rubbish.

So what did I do? I knew that what I needed was to be reminded of grace, and that I needed help, so I phoned home! I told dad how I was feeling and he – as I had been hoping – gave me the reminders that I sorely needed. I am truly grateful to him, but I know that whatever he said would have been no use had it not been for the power of the Spirit illuminating and applying God’s word and God’s gospel as dad spoke so I’m hugely thankful to God. It was ultimately him and not dad who brought me to the point of fighting back tears while on the phone because of his huge grace, and who buoyed me up through the rest of the evening. Then, I got some food, relaxed for a bit and went to bed. It may sound mundane, but being fed and rested makes it far harder to fall into the sin of self-pity, joylessness and not trusting God’s promises.

This evening (Sunday) at church someone asked me how the follow-up went. It wasn’t a good time to ask as I was still feeling quite down about the whole thing, so I told her that it had been quite rubbish and that the whole day had been – I’d had loads of great chances from God and screwed up every one of them. Another friend who overheard corrected me – reminding me that God is sovereign, that all we do is serve and leave the results up to him, everything that I’ve been telling everyone else! I told him that I knew that but couldn’t believe it yet which he said was a great reason to keep telling me it. I’ve asked them to ask about the follow-up again next week when, by God’s grace, I’m hoping to be able to tell them it was great – that people turned up ready and eager to share the gospel and that we’re leaving everything else up to God. We’ll see whether I can or not.

What’s my point in posting these vaguely connected events from the last couple of days? I’m not really sure – I’m too tired to think of anything very clever. But be encouraged if you think you’ve failed or aren’t good enough. That just means that God uses people who aren’t God. People like me! Or if you know someone like that then do point them back to God and God’s word as those two people have for me. Have faith that if they go back to the Bible and ask God to speak to them through it then he will and things will fall back into perspective.

If nothing else (and there has been plenty else, so I don’t know why I’d say that!) God really has used this carol service to convince me of the power of his word. Verses that people have shared with me have been hugely uplifting, and when I’ve been tired and depressed and just opened the Bible and asked God to talk to me, he graciously has and has reminded me over and over how awesome the gospel is. I knew in theory that that’s how it should work, but never really understood it. I still don’t understand it – but now I know for myself it’s true! I couldn’t have lived without it.

Impact

Thursday November 23, 2006

The Christian Union runs a weekly evangelistic lunch-time talk called Impact, which is always encouraging, challenging, great to bring friends to and, of course, fun. Highlights from recent weeks:

This week, Mark Fossey from TBT was talking about Cornelius’ conversion – the first prominant Gentile to become a Christian (Acts 10). While he was explaining how and why it is that “everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (v43) and why our efforts at religion can’t bring us forgivness he said something like (but better!):

Imagine a man committed adultery against his wife. She, rightly, would be outraged and what he needs is for her to forgive him. But he can’t decide what the terms of forgiveness are. He can’t bring a take-away curry and a six-pack of Fosters and think that’s the end of it. He can’t even buy her tickets to the ballet or a new dress – things he thinks she’ll like – she sets the terms. But how amazed would he be if she said that what needed to happen for her to forgive him is that she would buy him a Ferrari? That she would pay the price herself, and it would be more than he would ever have been able to pay? That’s what God did, but much more than the cost of a new car.

Last week, Mark JP (who also works for TBT as an apprentice) was talking about Paul’s conversion (Acts 9). The title was “Why should we trust the writings of Paul?” (answering the attack that Christians actually follow Paul who hijacked Jesus’ message) and two particularly helpful points came out of it. Firstly, Paul really wasn’t in a position to change the message. He was feared by the church and if he’d turned up one day and said ‘right, I’m one of you, but here’s how we’re going to do things from now on’ they wouldn’t have allowed it. It was only because he received the same gospel – independently, Galatians 1 – that they accepted him as a brother and teacher. Secondly, we’ve become used to people saying “I like to think of Jesus as…” and have lost sight of how arrogant that is. If I said I think of Churchill as a great orator, but not a patriot or as a drinker, but not a smoker you would say that I knew nothing about him because that’s not what the witnesses say . It is the same with Jesus’ life – he had one life not six billion different ones so the choice isn’t what we think Jesus was like, but whether or not we’ll listen to the witnesses.

weakstrong?

Friday November 10, 2006

Car adverts tend to bug me. Working out why what I’ve seen would make me want to buy that particular car is often just as difficult as remembering ten seconds later which particular model was being advertised. The exception (apart from the infamous Honda ad) was the campaign for Micra a little while ago. Still, I can’t remember much – just the line ” ‘bigsmall’, put it in your dictionary”.

Why am I writing about this? It started with a conversation I was having with Adrian, a full-time Christian worker at my university. On Wednesday a large group of people were sent out to do belief surveys with people at ULU. He was one of them, and he met an Iranian woman. He went through the survey with her to find out what she believes and then she asked why he was doing it. He explained he was a Christian, he explained the gospel and she accepted it. Now she’s a Christian. She’s been born again. Her sinful nature has been put to death and she has been raised with Christ. There’s an inheritance waiting for her which can’t ever spoil or fade. There’s a colossal party in heaven. And, I’m sure, a great Spirit-filled joy in her heart. She’s a sister, a saint, called to belong to Jesus, loved by God. She’s a Christian!

Those are the thoughts that were going through my head after Adrain told me, and which blocked the commands I was giving my mouth to close again so that it just hung open. And they are so exciting, which is why I can’t stop thinking about it, why I’ve told everyone that I can (Christian or not!) and why I can’t help writing about it now. But it would make a rubbish action story. He told her, she believed it, the end. That’s another mini adventure (there’s another car ad!). There was no debate, no shouting, no apologetics, no lightning flashes, floods or fires, no arm-wrestling. It was just weak.

And this has had me thinking about the gospel. It is weak. It is truly a “foolish” message that we bring (1 Corinthians 1). Sitting down and telling someone that they need to be saved by a man whose crowning accomplishment was to die seems nothing but weak and foolish. Yet – and praise God! – that same message is “the power of God” (Romans 1:16) to save sinners. In his infinite wisdom God has chosen only to save those who will ignore human wisdom and cling with child-like tenacity to the folly of the cross.

Which has had me amazed by grace recently. It has truly encouraged me for my evangelism and for myself. For my evangelism, because I don’t have to be clever. We know in our heads that all we have to do is tell people about Jesus and trust God that he will do the rest. But here it is in action. It works! For myself, I know that my salvation never depended on someone else being clever but on God changing my heart and my life. Whatever happens he won’t undo that – so I’m saved for good. What a gospel!

A weak message which is the power of God. ‘Weakstrong’, put it in your dictionary! (And share it with people too!)