An Experiment In Written Homiletics

I find preaching fascinating.

It’s an event.

Artistic exposition of scientific exegesis.

It should capture our hearts as it captivates our imagination because it’s about an experience of beauty as we see Jesus crucified afresh before our eyes (Galatians 3:1). It’s more than a mere intellectual exercise of explanation and application because information alone doesn’t transform, we need to feel something.

written sermonPreaching speaks to our emotions.

It gives voice to our doubts.

It presents us with a better vision of reality, a better way of living, a better God to love and serve.

Writing is non-verbal. You make a point once, defend it, and move on. Preaching is verbal. It’s a speaking event. Repetition is paramount. Preachers necessarily have to make their point more than once because if the listener misses it, for whatever reason, they can’t just flick back a few pages for a quick refresh. The moment is passed, the opportunity missed, and the preacher’s words have disappeared into an ethereal realm beyond the reach of mere mortals. Unless there’s a podcast.

For this reason preaching doesn’t necessarily read well and writing doesn’t necessarily preach well because they are two very different forms of communication. Nevertheless, sermon transcripts have enjoyed immense popularity. Consider for example the sermon transcripts of Charles Spurgeon, Jonathan Edwards, John Piper, John MacArthur, and many others. All of which are freely available online.

As a writer I’d like to experiment and see if the reverse is possible: can I write a sermon, to be read, that would preach well. For the record, I am not much of a preacher. I’ve preached maybe five times, they weren’t worth writing home about, so this could be a colossal failure. I will try and prepare these sermon transcripts as if I were actually going to preach them so I will attempt to stay true to the form of preaching. I’d love to receive any feedback you wish to share so please use the comment section liberally.

The book I’ll be preaching through will be 1 Timothy. It should be long enough to get a sense of whether the experiment is a success or a failure; either way I hope it will serve to “correct, rebuke and encourage” (2 Timothy 4:2 NIV) all of us and be kind of fun.

See you next week!

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The Beauty of the Back Row

Anyone who has spent any time in church circles knows what the ‘back row’ is.

The ‘back row’ are those people who arrive at church 20 minutes before the service begins. Usually, dressed in suits and ties, dresses and perhaps the odd hat. If they pray audibly in a service they use ‘thee’ and ‘thou’. When they pick a hymn they pick one you’ve never heard of that has nine verses. And to be honest, some of them don’t smile very much!

You might then be wondering what someone like me – a jeans and t-shirt wearing, arrive when things begin, loving songs with bridges and chorus (that are often repeated) and, in the view of some, irreverently laughing and chatting in church buildings kind of guy – likes about this ‘back row’.

Image by Ivan Vicencio
Image by Ivan Vicencio

How is there beauty in the back row?

1. There is beauty in their example – One area in which I constantly find the ‘back row’ being an example is in Christian living. I am struck by their hospitality, their demeanour with others (especially younger people), their handling of their family and the care they express for others. Again and Again I find myself just standing watching, or listening, with admiration at how the ‘back row’ conduct themselves. Personally, I also find their prayer life a great example. In particular what and how they pray. They are not confined to their own little world, but have a bigger vision for the world and they pray with such a reverence, respect and expectancy!

2. There is beauty in their encouragement – I am assuming I am not alone in this, but so many of the ‘back row’ brigade have encouraged me. It has ranged from a “pleased to see you”, to a nudge in the right direction, to a welcome compliment after being at the front of church, to a constant interest in what I am doing with my life. This has been pivotal in my maturing as a Christian.

3. There is beauty in their challenge – So often I find myself convicted at my lack of Scripture memorisation and understanding. I listen to the ‘back row’ talk and pray, and it is permeated with Scripture. I find myself challenged to commit myself again to knowing Scripture better. I also find myself challenged by their reaction to the difficulties of life. Those who have lost close family, struggled with illness, suffered hurt and abandonment or any other number of a variety of adverse life circumstances, again and again display submission to God and his greater plan for their lives. This is incredibly challenging. More than that, as I have been a privileged recipient of their gifts and generosity I find myself challenged at my lack of generosity for others.

4. There is beauty in their joy – The ‘back row’ are some of the most joyful people I have ever met. They love God, love others and love life! I watch them as they observe baptisms, listen to testimonies and hear accounts of mission across the globe, and as these things fill their hearts with joy I know I need to share in this joy too.
These are just four quick areas in which there is beauty in the back row.

What should we do with this? Allow me to suggest two things, one you should do now and one next Sunday.

First, take two minutes to think of the ‘back row’ in your church and thank God for their faithfulness, often over many, many, years.

Secondly, give a little back on this Sunday. The ‘back row’ would be absolutely delighted to have you walk up to them, shake their hand (or give a hug if they are ok with that) and let them know you are glad to see them out this week.

You’ll more than likely know that not all of the ‘back row’ are of this kind of calibre, but this should not stop us appreciating those who are the beauty of the back row!

COACHING4CHRIST SUMMER CAMPS 2014

coaching for christ

When the season is over and the players are enjoying their summer holidays, things don’t stop at Coaching4Christ (C4C). Over the summer period we run our Summer Camp program that features all over Ireland and abroad.

Running over four days, our Summer Camps offer a fun-filled week for players of various ages in a safe and secure environment. Partnering again with local churches we ensure that the week is packed full of coaching drills, small-sided games and matches.

Our final day features our World Cup Tournament where the players are split into teams and compete during the whole session to be crowned World Cup champions.

Each session lasts between 2-3 hours and incorporates a “centre-spot” message from the Bible that is so vital in all that C4C is involved in. The “centre-spots” follow the topics of Creation, Sin, Jesus and Salvation over the four days teaching the young people clearly what the Bible teaches concerning these topics.

Anyone who is interested in helping out with any of our summer camps, please contact the C4C office on 028 2587 8780.

Dates for our 2014 camps.

Dates               Town               Time                Contact                        Tel. No.

JUNE

2-5                   Rathfriland      Evening           Stephen Aiken             07545201878

9-12                 Emmanuel       Evening           David Martin               07968916817

16-19               Benburb          Evening           Paul Burton                 07899694347

23-26               Ballylinta         Evening           John Howe                   07730065105

JULY

30-3                 Fintona            Evening           Alaister Gordon         02882841209

7-10                 L’Derry             Day                 David Baird                 02871318966

7-10                 Buckna             Evening          Mark McNeilly             02825684212

14-17               Omagh             Evening          Arnold Charters          07849062264

21-24               Ballyclare        Evening          Stevie Blair                   07753334912

21-24               Dromore         Day                 Jim Magill                    07902500482

28-31               Shankill            Day                 Kim Kelly                     07971633978

28-31               Larne               Evening          Chris McKinvin             07855260255

AUGUST

4-7                   Moira              Evening           Russell Hampton        07801738814

4-7                   Ballymoney     Day                 Colin Adams               07803367859

11-14               Donamana      Day                  Joe Flanagan              02871311611

11-14               L’brickland      Evening           Jim Stewart                 07809716169

11-14               Dundalk           Day                 Daniel Murphy           00353426821684

18-21               Coleraine        Evening           Trevor Watson           07853237389

18-21               Youghal,Cork   Day                 Mervyn Scott             00353861732034

Jesus’ Last Words And Our Ongoing Dialogue

Easter is over for another year.

Hopefully you were able to attend a rousing service and celebrate Jesus’ resurrection with your church family. Eat your body weight in chocolate. And enjoy being off work the next day.

It is finishedJohn records Jesus’ final words from the cross,

“It is finished.” (John 19:30 NIV)

But is it?

Easter is over for another year, but not really.

The first Easter weekend marked the end of life as we knew it but it also signalled the beginning of life as we’ve always dreamed it could be: Jesus’ death proclaims, “It is finished.” But his resurrection announces, “Something better has just begun.”

Ironically, Jesus’ last words weren’t the last word because they sparked an ongoing dialogue. If it is finished then what?

Easter begs the question, “Now what?”

Because God’s wrath towards us is finished, we no longer have to be.

We are in a story with no end. An eternal tale of a holy, loving God who graciously rewrites our ending into a glorious beginning with the blood of his Son.

Will we tell this story to ourselves?

To others?

Will we live this story or settle for a cheap imitation?

Tell Me The Story of Jesus by Fanny J. Crosby (1820-1915)

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.
Tell how the angels in chorus,
Sang as they welcomed His birth.
“Glory to God in the highest!
Peace and good tidings to earth.”

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

Fasting alone in the desert,
Tell of the days that are past.
How for our sins He was tempted,
Yet was triumphant at last.
Tell of the years of His labour,
Tell of the sorrow He bore.
He was despised and afflicted,
Homeless, rejected and poor.

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

Tell of the cross where they nailed Him,
Writhing in anguish and pain.
Tell of the grave where they laid Him,
Tell how He liveth again.
Love in that story so tender,
Clearer than ever I see.
Stay, let me weep while you whisper,
Love paid the ransom for me.

Tell me the story of Jesus,
Write on my heart every word.
Tell me the story most precious,
Sweetest that ever was heard.

Toward Hope

A little over a week ago I attended the funeral of a highly respected Pastor.

It was a melting pot of emotions. Laughter was heard as funny stories were told, and pleasant memories recounted. Raw grief and sadness expressed because of his sudden passing. True hope and joy felt in the knowledge of his safety in Jesus. Stunned and humbled faces as the number of people attending the funeral swelled. Some people appeared to exhibit one or two of these emotions, while others seemed to experience all of them.

This is not hard to understand in the light of Scripture.

toward hopeFrom Romans 5 we know that death is a result of sin. Romans 5:12 (ESV) tells us ‘sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned’. This verse clearly states that death is not a natural part of life. In fact, the Bible speaks of death as being our last enemy, the last enemy to defeated when Jesus returns (1 Cor. 15:26). Death is not part of God’s good creation; rather it is a result of man’s foolish sinfulness. Therefore, death naturally brings grief.

Scripture expresses this fact also.

Abraham weeps over the death of his wife Sarah (Gen. 23:2), a widow weeps over the death of her only son (Lk. 7:13), and famously Jesus wept for Lazarus (Jn. 11:35). Grief is an acceptable response to death.

But here is the paradox: ‘to die is gain’ (Phil. 1:21 ESV).

For Christians to die is gain, and therefore, at funerals, there is great hope and joy too. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). This is the promise that Jesus gave to the dying thief, ‘today you will be with me in Paradise’ (Lk. 23:43 ESV).

All of this has been made possible through Jesus death and resurrection. As Paul tells us in Romans 5, eternal life is found in Jesus Christ our Lord (v21). Jesus has gone before us, taking on death and defeated it by his resurrection. We have true hope and joy because as God’s adopted sons and daughters we too will defeat death by our resurrection to eternal life in all its fullness, following in the footsteps of Jesus Christ.

Therefore, we can sing with Paul ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ (1 Cor. 15: 55 ESV). The message of this verse has its beginnings on Easter Sunday with the bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ. This bodily resurrection of Jesus Christ proclaims hope and joy for all who are his, and for all who will become his.

Death is unnatural, and an enemy. Yet, it does not have the last word.

We praise God that while we grieve, we do not grieve like those with no hope, because when Jesus returns he will bring those with him who have fallen asleep and those who are still here on earth will be caught up together with them (1 Thess. 4:13-18).

This hope began with Jesus’ resurrection and will be consummated with his return.

Resurrection Sunday: Clothed In Christ (Colossians 3:12-17) by Jemma Higgins

As we come to look at this passage, thank God we are looking at it in the light of the Gospel of Christ!  Reading these verses it is so clear how often we fall short of each one.  As sinners depending on our own strength we could never live up to this standard.  Yet as Christians, God’s children, His chosen ones, we are not depending on our own strength; rather we are depending on the completed work of Christ on the cross.  What wonderful news!

Image by Cadetgray
Image by Cadetgray

When we focus on ourselves, verses like these can be overwhelming, daunting, and honestly, at times, discouraging.  We see our own sinfulness, our weakness, our inability to do what we know we should do, and we struggle with the standards that God has called us to meet.  However when we feel like this, we are in good company!  The apostle Paul who wrote this letter to the Colossians, said of himself in Romans 7:15 “I don’t understand myself at all, for I really want to do what is right, but I don’t do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate.” (NLT)  The truth is that no one can ever meet this perfect standard that God calls us too, and we don’t have to because of the Gospel.

Jesus came and He lived the perfect life that we as sinners could never live.  He showed more tender-hearted mercy (v.12) than we can even imagine to all of the sick, lonely, outcast, sinful people that He came into contact with during His human life.  Then He went to the cross showing us that His mercy knows no limits!  Because of what He accomplished, we never need to face the punishment we deserve as He has already taken that punishment on Himself.  He was truly kind, humble, gentle, and patient (v.12) as He walked this earth surrounded by sinful people who couldn’t see or understand who He really was or what He was trying to tell them, and yet he continued to pursue them, to pursue us.

In verse 13 Paul reminds us to “Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others.”  This is why He came that first Easter: to offer Himself as the ultimate living sacrifice so that we would know true and lasting forgiveness, and in return extend that to those around us.  In verse 14 he calls us to “clothe yourselves with love”; praise God that He IS love!  It is Him who provides us with this ability to love others as Christ has loved us when He gave us the gift of the Holy Spirit to live in us and transform us from the inside.  None of this is achieved by us (cf. Philippians 2:12+13).  Anything good in us is as a result of Christ dwelling in us, and so it is to Him that we need to give our thanks and praise (v.16).

God Himself is Jehovah Shalom ‘The Lord Our Peace’.  This peace is not a peace based on our circumstances or possessions.  It is not a peace based on our performance or ‘perfection’.  This is a peace (v.15) that can only ever come from being in a right relationship with God.  Hemphill says, “Shalom expresses the deepest need and desire of the human heart.  In our experience, it means a sense of contentment, a freedom from guilt, and a satisfaction with life itself.  There is, of course, a requirement.  It means that we must have a pure heart before God and live in obedience with His Word and His plan.” (The Names Of God)  This peace can be found as we look to the cross, see what Christ accomplished there, and then look further to His glorious resurrection that fills us with assurance and hope that we are not in this alone, He is risen!

This is the message that I really want to leave you with, that because of not only Christ’s death, but also His resurrection, as Christians we should be people who are filled with hope.  It is true what we said at the beginning that we can never live up to this standard but again, we don’t have to!  Jesus already has.  He has lived these verses in their perfection.  He has shown us amazing grace and mercy by taking the punishment that we deserve.  And He has given us the hope that we can stand before God, holy and righteous, even as we strive everyday to be obedient and live lives pleasing to Him, not for our own glory, nor in our own strength, but through what Jesus has already done, and the power of the Holy Spirit living in us.  What hope this gives us!  What passion it gives us to persevere, to run the good race, knowing that we are never alone and that Jesus is already, and will eternally be, our prize!  Paul says it better than I ever could in verse 16, “Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives.”

~

Jemma is the wife of Jeff, mother of Devon and child of God; you can follow her on Twitter and read more from both of them over at The Higgins Family.

Good Friday: Putting Sin to Death (Colossians 3:5-11)

I love Martin Luther! I don’t know what it is about him (should I say his writing!) that warms me! Perhaps it is the grainy character, sharpened time and time again by the ups and downs of the Reformation! Perhaps it’s his zeal for salvation solely by grace through faith! Not immediately Eastery I hear you say! I know! But a statement from Luther came to mind as I prepared for this article. It goes something like this:

“It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators.”

Faced with the cauldron of 1st century religious and moral values bubbling over into their lives, Paul writes to Christians in Colossae (modern day Turkey) to remind them of the pre-eminence of Christ (Col. 1) and our relationship with him as sons and daughters (Col. 2). Colossians 3:5-11 transitions from “theological statement to practical precept” (Carson, p.79) & as we read it, we should do so in light of Luther’s words that, “It is not imitation that makes sons (or daughters); it is sonship (or daughtership) that makes imitators.” As sons and daughters of God , we have been “raised with Christ… [having] died [with him]” (Col. 3:1, 3) and as a result we are now “alive together with him, having [been] forgiven… all our trespasses, by the cancelling [of] the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside nailing it to the cross” (Col. 2:13-14).

Simot Vouet's The Crucifixion
Simot Vouet’s The Crucifixion

Reading the list of things that Paul encourages (commands?!)  Christian’s to put to death was a bit overwhelming without the cold cloth of Luther’s statement! Then I thought to myself ‘why did this statement come to mind?’ Apart from the Luther bit, it was probably because it resonates with the foundation that the Apostle is trying to stamp in the minds of the Christians here in Colossae before they begin the work of putting to death their sinful desires and actions. It probably came to mind as well as I thought about our typical Easter gatherings (more of that later!) This illuminating little section is filled with a Gospel/Easter/Christ centred foundation for Christian living. Sonship (cf. Galatians 4:1-7) before imitation! Christ’s death and resurrection before our dying to ourselves and living in him! Christ’s life in us before our living for him!

We must put to death things like sexual immorality, idolatry, anger, obscene talk, lies, racism, to name but a few (5-11). However, we can only do this in the reality of the old/new transition that illuminates this passage. Paul repeatedly makes this foundation clear. Apart from 3:1-4, he says….

“In these you too once walked, when you were living in them” (3:7)

“Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self” (3:9)

“…but Christ is all, and in all” (3:11b)

The Apostle didn’t leave us with a to-do-list for Christian growth, no, it is centred on the reality of Christ’s Easter victory and our hope of participation in that! Will power does not spur us on, Christ does! As Tullian Tchividjian writes, “Christian growth happens by working hard to daily swim in the reality of what you do have.” This is a good observation! Easter reality solicits Christian growth! The Christian’s position because of Christ’s death and resurrection is the foundation for any putting off of things that steal our affections away from Jesus! Again:

“It is not imitation that makes sons; it is sonship that makes imitators.”

Good Friday and Easter Sunday are not normally identified with Christian Growth! Contemplation is often encouraged (and rightly so!), but not transformation! No doubt our hearts are stirred as we contemplate Christ’s accomplishments, but do the events of Holy Week shape our foundation for Christian living? Does our union with Christ enable us to fight against the things that shift our gaze from him? We should work hard to not just reflect at Easter, but to react!

Let’s leave the last word to Luther, who captured this truth beautifully:

And from this very gift of His I derive my name and am called a Christian. There is no other reason. My sin and death hung about His neck on Good Friday, but on the day of Easter they had completely disappeared.

The Courageous Humility of William Wilberforce

I recently finished Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce: Amazing Grace – William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery. It is a fantastic and thoroughly enjoyable read that I happily recommend for your reading pleasure.

amazing graceAs you might expect, there is much to be gleaned from the life of Wilberforce: his unrelenting determination to end the abominable slave trade, his commitment to promoting justice and righteousness in both public and private life (particularly in politics wherein he found his calling), his infectious enthusiasm for sharing the gospel wherever he went, his love for his country…

These, and many more of Wilberforce’s virtues, are worthy of lengthy discussion. However, what most struck and challenged me was the courageous humility that lay behind all of his other virtues.

In a day when politicians were the equivalent of our modern day celebrities: embodying all of the pomp, narcissism and entitlement we have come to expect from such people. Against this backdrop Wilberforce shines especially brightly because of his generosity, humility and genuine desire to act in the best interest of others for the glory of God. As in our day, this kind of behaviour was exceedingly counter-cultural for those who were considered part of high society. This contrast is further highlighted when one considers Wilberforce’s natural talents and charisma as a speaker and a leader which would have given him great cause to boast because, not unlike today, eloquent oration and a quick wit were the means to success and fame politically and socially.

What was it that made Wilberforce capable of such courageous humility?

Wilberforce gives us this answer in his diary entry on the 14th of April 1797, Good Friday:

“I thank God that I now do feel in some degree as I ought this day. I trust that I feel true humiliation of soul from a sense of my own extreme unworthiness a humble hope in the favour of God in Christ; some emotion from the contemplation of him who at this very moment was hanging on the cross; some desire to devote myself to Him who has so dearly bought me; some degree of that universal love and good – which the sight of Christ crucified is calculated to inspire. Oh if the contemplation here can produce these effects on my hard heart, what will the vision of Christ in glory produce hereafter!” (p.175)

Wilberforce was a man intimately aware of his own sinfulness. There are few great people in the world and just as few good ones but there are even less who are both great and good. It’s difficult to conceive of a man as great as Wilberforce being so good, so humble. Imagine having everything necessary to succeed: the natural talent, the money, the connections and yet retaining a sense of your “own extreme unworthiness a humble hope in the favour of God in Christ.” Today it’s easy to think of examples of great people who claimed to be good but whose true nature was revealed by the tragic light of various scandals.

However, there was more to Wilberforce’s humility than solely an awareness of his own sinfulness. In a correspondence to one of his friends he explains what transformed his humility into courageous humility:

“The Blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin and there is the comfort which combines the deepest Humiliation with the firmest Hope.” (p.221)

Along with an intimate awareness of his own sinfulness Wilberforce possessed a profound grasp of the gospel. Though his sin was great, his Saviour was greater still. And it was the wedding together of these two truths which created in him a courageous humility that give him the strength to accomplish all the good works which God had prepared in advance for him to do (Ephesians 2:10).

Like Wilberforce we too are called to live in courageous humility. We may not spearhead the campaign for the abolition of sex trafficking or the relief of global poverty but God has called us in our own spheres of influence to pursue justice and righteousness, to love our neighbours, to share the gospel story, and to seek what is best for our country and world. Like Wilberforce the challenge we are faced with is we will embody the courageous humility that comes from knowing the depth of our sin and the depth of our Saviour’s love for us? Are we praying that God would make the sinfulness of our sin and the unfailing love of Jesus known to us? Or like the masses who largely remained unmoved by the plight of the slaves are we content with apathy and stagnation?

Biblically Engaging Culture: A Turkey Dinner?

This is the third post in a three part series exploring the issue of biblically engaging with culture. In our previous two posts we considered two narratives from the Old Testament, Noah and Daniel. This week I will offer some principles for biblically engaging with culture which arose from the previous posts.

Biblically engaging with culture is a bit like sitting down to your Christmas dinner.

turkey dinnerFor me there is some of my Christmas dinner I withdraw from, some I can take or leave and other parts which I welcome. For example, there is very little chance you are going to catch me eating brussel sprouts or cranberry sauce with my Christmas dinner. I am going to withdraw from them, pushing them to the other side of the plate. On the other hand, there are parts of my Christmas dinner I welcome with arms wide open – the meat. Turkey, ham and cocktail sausages; there isn’t much better than having three types of meat on your dinner. However, there are other bits of my meal that I can take or leave. The potatoes and vegetables are not as enticing as the meat, but they are more desirable than the sprouts and cranberry. So I’ll enjoy what I have, but I won’t fill myself with them because there is something better – Christmas pudding!

I think how I approach my Christmas dinner offers a helpful picture of how we should biblically engage with culture – some things we need to withdraw from, some things we need to welcome and some things we need to use wisely.

Withdraw

First, there are elements of our culture from which we need to withdraw.

We saw this with both Noah and Daniel, although we did focus on it in Noah’s narrative. Noah was completely surrounded by wickedness and the only option open to him was to withdraw from it or be judged with it. Withdrawal was the only real option for someone who was righteous, blameless in his generation and walking with God (Gen. 6:9).
There are elements of our culture which are not only tainted by sin, but are the express creation of the fall. There are elements of our culture that we cannot fix, or redeem. For that reason, there are elements of our culture from which we must withdraw.

Like what? Well, there isn’t enough space to work through every element we need to withdraw from. But allow me to suggest an example:

Gossip – There is no way to redeem gossip, back biting and slandering. This is an element of culture from which Christians must withdraw. Most Christians would agree that we must not spread gossip about people, or slander those we dislike. However, offering a listening ear is no different. It is not acceptable to be part of a conversation that is gossiping about, or slandering people and claim you were a Christian witness because we didn’t join in. We must withdraw from this, we must leave the conversation, we must refuse to offer a listening ear.

However, this is not an argument of withdrawing from all of culture. There is no biblical mandate for becoming a monk. The reason for this is that there are parts of our culture which must be welcomed.

Welcome

Some elements in our culture need to be welcomed.

This came through most strongly with regard to Daniel’s narrative as he welcomed education, a new language, a high powered job and many privileges. However, it is also implicit in Noah’s narrative – where do we suppose he learned the skills to build an ark of considerable size?

There are elements in our culture which clearly express God’s goodness, love and grace to all humanity. These are elements of our culture which should be welcomed by Christians. There are elements of our culture which glorify God.

Education – One of the elements of western culture that we should welcome is education. This is a gift that many parts of the world do not enjoy. We should welcome this focus on and encouragement to learning in our culture. This ability to learn, read, write, study and grow in knowledge glorifies God. It glorifies God because the final creature to be created was a human. A human made in God’s image, and as we display our superiority over the other creatures of this world through education we bring glory to God.

However, this is not a licence to then welcome all things in culture. We must be wise, and so there are some elements of our culture we must approach with wisdom.

Wisely

Because of the fall we are required to engage much of our culture wisely.

Again, this is a facet primarily of Daniel’s narrative. Consider Daniel’s access to the king; repeatedly he appears before the king, sometimes on request and sometimes on his own initiative. However, he does not appear before the king to get a promotion, or gain material reward, or lap up praise (Dan. 5:17). He wisely and winsomely used these appearances to bring Yahweh’s greatness to the king’s attention (Dan. 2:28).

Once again, there are elements of our culture which we must use wisely. There are some elements with which we must engage carefully, and with a clear, God-orientated goal in mind lest we indulge in something we should be withdrawing from.

Sex – One of these elements is sex. This is a gift from God, however our culture has high-jacked it. In the past couple of months I have heard of a company which organises ‘sex parties’ planning to come to Belfast, I have read of Christian photographers facing difficulties in work regarding the request of racy photography sessions, and watched as government after government legalise so called ‘same-sex marriage’. For some Christians this has resulted in withdrawal – we won’t talk about sex and behind the closed doors of marriage it should be used only for procreation. For other Christians this has brought about an unhealthy welcoming – voyeurism with regard to Christian leaders sex lives, unbiblical support of same-sex relationships and blurring of the lines regarding how far is too far. However, what this element of culture needs is for Christians to engage it wisely. Christians must use wisdom as they teach what the Bible says about sex, they must be careful about the type of relationships they endorse (whether homosexual or heterosexual) and they must not neglect this great gift of sex from God for married heterosexual couples.

Undoubtedly, our supreme example of how to engage culture is Jesus Christ. Without sinning he engaged with culture, withdrawing from some, welcoming other elements and wisely using all of it.

However, it is not his example which allows us to do the same, but his life, death, resurrection and ascension which allows us to do the same. Jesus was involved in the creation of this world (Col. 1:16), that is why we can welcome elements of our culture even after the fall. When Jesus returns again there will be a new heaven and a new earth (Rev. 21:1), that is why we can wisely use some of our culture because Jesus will redeem all of this world, making it all new for his people to enjoy for eternity with him. However, because Jesus has bought a people with his death in their place (1 Pet. 1:18-19), we must also withdraw from some elements of our culture because we are now ‘a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession, that [we] may proclaim the excellencies of him who called [us] out of darkness into his marvellous light’ (1 Pet. 2:9).

Perhaps these thoughts, when prayerfully considered, will aid us to more biblically engage with culture.

Fixing Our Eyes on Jesus Through God’s Gracious Means, Part 3: Fellowship

The term Means of Grace is pretty old and it probably doesn’t mean a lot to most people today because it has fallen out of popular use, but I like it.I like it because it tells me that God has appointed concrete, practical, ways for us to experience more of his grace. And I desperately need more of his grace. In fact, I don’t even know just how much I need his grace so I want to do whatever I can to experience more of it.

God’s means of grace are many but I’ll limit myself to three of them: Scripture (Part 1), Prayer (Part 2), and Fellowship (Part 3). Perhaps I’ll look at a few others at some point in the future but for the time being hopefully these three will help us to follow Jesus as we take full advantage of God’s graciously given means.

Fellowship

Fellowship is one of those terms we, as Christians, like to banter about applying it to any time we spend with other Christians. However, according to D.A. Carson fellowship is about community on a shared mission, not genial conversation over tea and biscuits after church.

But what is our mission as the church?

“Fundamentally, our mission (if it is biblically informed and validated) means our committed participation as God’s people, at God’s invitation and command, in God’s own mission within the history of God’s world for the redemption of God’s creation.” (Chris Wright, The Mission of God, p.22-23)

This is an expansive vision of God’s mission, it encompasses the whole of creation and incorporates the whole of our lives within its scope. Wright goes on to argue throughout his book that we should not limit mission to any one thing (such as evangelism or pursuing justice) but rather that all we do should ultimately be directed toward sharing the redemptive good news of who Jesus is and all he is doing in his creation.

fellowshipThis makes complete sense in light of what Paul tells the Corinthians about the nature of the church:

“God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as he wanted them to be. If they were all one part, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, but one body.” (1 Corinthians 12:18-20 NIV)

The church is diverse. We are not all the same. God has made us all different, giving each of us different gifts to be used for the advancement of his mission for his glory. Do we bring God less glory just because we don’t have a showy gift or do we do less for the advancement of his mission because our gifts operate in the background. Of course not!

“The eye cannot say to the hand, “I don’t need you!” And the head cannot say to the feet, “I don’t need you!”” (cf. 1 Corinthians 12:21-26)

When we understand that God’s mission is bigger than one thing, that its goal is the redemption of the whole creation from sin, we are freed to pursue God’s redemptive mission as God has called and gifted us. This is the very point Peter makes in his first letter:

“The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.” (1 Peter 4:7-11 NIV)

Just as God’s mission is bigger than one thing it’s also bigger than one person. We can’t do it alone. The mission of God and the mission of the church are one in the same and it is only together, by his grace, that we will have power to carry out his mission throughout his creation.

If you’re not already a member of a local church I would encourage you to commit to your church by becoming a member, or find one you can commit to, and then get involved using the gifts God has given you for the advancement of his mission and the extension of his glory in the church and throughout the world.

If you are a member of your church but not involved pray and seek counsel on how God has gifted you and look for, or make, opportunities to serve others with the gifts God has given you.

And if you are both a member of your church and serving others, in whatever way that may be, then thank you! What you are doing is making a difference! Even if you can’t see any results just yet and persevering is tough remember that your work is not in vain but is achieving an eternal glory that far outweighs the difficulties you are facing now (2 Corinthians 4:17).

Church membership is the way we enter into the fellowship of the body of Christ because in it we are publically committing to God’s church on God’s mission in God’s world. In this way it becomes a means of grace because as we live with other Christians, developing friendships and pursing a common mission, God exposes our weaknesses and offers us his strength. Committing to live with other Christians under the authority of a local church will cause us to see our sin and God’s grace more clearly because we will have many opportunities to receive grace as we repent of our own sin and to extend grace to others in their sin.

God uses this participation in his mission with his people to make himself known to us in ways we could never experience if we tried to go it alone. We shouldn’t rob ourselves of this opportunity to experience God’s grace by neglecting to fellowship with other believers through our local church.

Love the Church. Join the Fellowship. Share the Mission.