Friday, October 31, 2003

Should Christians feel guilty?

1. Guilt & Christians

1 : the fact of having committed a breach of conduct especially violating law and involving a penalty; broadly : guilty conduct
2 a : the state of one who has committed an offense especially consciously b : feelings of culpability especially for imagined offenses or from a sense of inadequacy : SELF-REPROACH
3 : a feeling of culpability for offenses

Do Christians feel guilty? Are non-Christians guilty? Are Christians guilty?

2. The Doctrine of Justification by Faith [Romans 3v21-26]

21But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets bear witness to it-- 22the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe. For there is no distinction: 23for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

What is the problem?
How can God deal with that?

BE JUST? 2. SAY, JUST FORGET IT? 3. BE JUST & JUSTIFIER?

24and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, 25whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.

One solution:
THE GIFT = LAW COURTS + MARKET PLACE + TEMPLE = JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH

This was to show God's righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. 26It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.

It’d NOT Just-as-if-I-never-sinned but justified sinners. We are those who know what it is to have sinned and been justified, redeemed and have God made propitious to us at great cost to Himself. We know grace.


“I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he lacks my righteousness, for thaty was just before him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself… I went home rejoicing for the grace and love of God..” Bunyan, who spent 12 years in an English jail for refusing to stop preaching this message of justification by faith

“I could only look up to heaven in silent fear, overwhelmed with love and wonder” Cowper






“My friend's psychiatrist once told her that many Christians run into emotional problems because they are laden with guilt. This bothered me because Christianity is the one faith in the world which eliminates sin and guilt. Why would Christians then be laden with feelings of guilt? The truth, I later realized, is that most Christians don't know how to apply the central truth of their faith to their own emotional life… We need to be filled with the Holy Spirit, not filled with guilt. However, it is one thing to know this, yet another to work it out in our own lives. Sometimes we require the help of another to help us correct what we are telling ourselves so that it lines up with God's Word. Let us pray for wisdom to understand the errors in our evaluation of ourselves that we may understand how important each of us is in God's sight. We can then replace the guilt trips the devil throws at us with the truth--God's truth as written in His Word.”

3. Case Studies [Discuss & Feedback]
There will be overlaps with your life in these case studies – they overlap with mine. It’s not a guilt-trip exercise, quite the opposite, something that can help us see the implications of justification by faith for our lives….

Where can we affirm them? Many of them are doing good things for the wrong reasons, what should drive them and how… Where might they need challenging? How would you do that practically – what would you say to each of them? Do we see these traits in ourselves? How can we apply justification by faith so that we don’t fall into these traps?

Tim is the kind of person who is useful to know, he’ll always offer to do stuff for you, he’s a perfectionist, always doing good things, he reads the Bible for at least an hour day – and you know it because he makes sure it’s not hidden. He’s a Tim-nice-but-joyless character who is striving very hard to be godly. When there’s an altar call he’ll be first up to confess and claim victory. He has a lot of high achieving spiritual heroes. He’ll tell you its not easy being a Christian but he’s pressing on day by day and winning those battles.

Anne is involved in the evangelism team, the international team, plays in the band each week and leads her cell group. You need a volunteer? Anne’s your girl. Every moment of the week is full of things for God. She’s an activist. A few times a year she gets completely run down and collapses to bed for a few days but is soon back on her feet doing everything again. If you ask her how she is she’ll say “Busy”. Anne doesn’t respond well if you ask her to take a break.

Sarah has been a Christian since Christmas of her first year. She was impressed with the life of her Christian friends and decided to become a Christian too. Recently she’s found herself struggling to read the Bible because she feels too ashamed. She knows she’s sinned and when you ask her about it she says she’s gone too far for God to forgive her.

James has been a Christian for years and is in leadership in the CU. He can be a bit of a lad and enjoys the odd pint. He vows to change but it never happens. You’ve carried him home the last three weeks after he’s had a few too many. His catchphrase is “God is good, the more I sin the more he forgives me…”

The Difference between Conviction and Guilt.
Satan induces the lie of guilt in our lives after we’ve done wrong, or to make us think we need to try harder or are too bad. It makes us feel ashamed and denies the gospel.
The Holy Spirit brings conviction which is the message of grace and forgiveness. When this meets sin it causes us to turn away from sin and back to God. This is a positive thing that proclaims the gospel in our lives.

Scribbling

Once again some quality time with Andy Goodacre & Steph Carter at our weekly Team Meeting in Guildford yesterday before returning to Reading to lead a seminar on Should Christians Feel Guilty?. One of the best titles I've ever been given I think. I'll put the notes up in a while.

At Reading we've just completed four weeks of cell in John's gospel to fit with the Life project. We'll take one week out to focus on cell evangelism before moving back into John for four more weeks. Life - Part 1. Cell Notes from John 3,4,6 &9. It's been great preparing and teaching the material for these and I'm looking forward to the rest of term as we explore John 12,14,19 & 20.

Thursday, October 23, 2003

Seventy Five Years of UCCF

Tonight we held a thanksgiving meeting for seventy five years of Christian Unions in the UK. It was a good night with John Risbridger speaking from Philippians 1. Some real encouragement about our partnership in the gospel, our need to love the right things and to proclaim the gospel. Great testimonies and we found amongst us one of the earliest members of Reading CU from 1934!

[RUCU was founded in 1927]

Thursday, October 16, 2003

Permission to fail - spiritual healthcheck

Developing a “Permission to Fail Culture…”SPIRITUAL HEALTHCHECKSomeone once described the Christian life to me as living on the road of grace. It’s a great road - the most wonderful road, one on which we are completely certain of where we are going. But, he said, this road has a ditch on either side that many slip into. They take their eyes of the road of grace and soon find themselves stuck in a ditch. Thankfully, it’s always possible for God to get us out of the ditch… Sometimes we even veer between both ditches…

DITCH 1. LICENSE “God is good, he will forgive me, that’s his job…”

This can lead us to think, ultimately, that we don’t need grace and that sin is acceptable… maybe we even deny that anything “sin” is wrong… Grace is not a license to sin - rather grace teaches us to say NO to sin. Are there areas where you’re trying to get away with sin?

Sin can be hard to break free of and the only real way is to make the tough choices and to come to God for forgiveness - and he will always forgive. Ask God to forgive you if you’ve been taking his grace for granted, and ask him to help you be wowed again by his grace. Spend some time adoring him. The end of 2 Corinthians 3 speaks of how we’re transformed as we adore our Saviour from the scriptures because God has opened our eyes to see him.

DITCH 2. LEGALISM“if I don’t do this God wont love me…” “…He’ll love me more if I do this…” Are you a workaholic leader? Do you not dare delegate? Are there areas where you’re trying to earn God’s favour? If you weren’t doing all the things for God that you are doing, would God still love you? Do you sometimes think you might be too bad for God? Do you measure the quality of your relationship with God on how many quiet times you’ve had? Or on whether you can say you’re Busy? Do you know for certain the verdict you’ll get on judgement day?

If you’re wrapped up in legalism be assured that there is nothing you can do that will make God love you more, and likewise nothing that will make him love you less - his love for you is based on what he’s done for you at the cross not what you do. This means his plans wont fail if you do or don’t do something, whether that’s some great act of service or some “terrible sin”. His grace is enough. Ask God to forgive you simply because of Jesus. Ask him to help you adore him and know his love for you more.

THE NARROW & WONDERFUL WAY OF GRACERomans 3v24-25: And [we] are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented [Jesus] as the one who would turn aside his wrath, taking away sin, through faith in his blood. Romans 5v1: Since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God.

Nothing you can do or say can make God love you less or more… The wonderful truth of JUSTIFICATION BY FAITH means that ahead of judgement day we already have a NOT GUILTY verdict on our lives. We are very much guilty because of our sin but because of Jesus work on the cross God sees us as blameless. Grace compels us to live a holy life because God already sees us as holy. Jesus has done everything necessary so that we stand before God totally forgiven. No-one is going to play back a film of our life on judgement day. It’s gone. There is always forgiveness - you can never be too bad because you’re never good enough in the first place.

Pair up with someone and take the risk of being open and honest with them about this.

Ask God to search your heart as you ponder the questions on this page. Meditate on the verses from Romans. Pray together, to know more of the power of grace in our lives to transform us, and to know more of the completeness of his forgiveness for us.

Take some time in prayer to adore Jesus because he died for us.

Tuesday, October 14, 2003

The grace driven leader

Talk notes from Canterbury CU.

THE GRACE DRIVEN LEADERS

ome questions
What does it mean to be a leader?
How do you feel about being a leader?
Why should you be a leader?

[FEEDBACK]

Let me tell you about some of the leaders who’ve influenced me most…

Ian - taught me 2 Timothy at a leaders weekend and for the first time inspired me to read the Bible. Another guy called Richard helped me a lot later by helping me understand how to read the Bible by showing me a few simple examples. Christian leaders are going to need to be Bible people. Some useful resources to help you with this are Vaughan Roberts book God’s Big Picture or the Read Mark Learn study guides on John or Romans. It’s worth studying any of these with some friends.

John F Kennedy apparently said "Leadership and learning are indispensable to each other."

Chris - a Christian Union Staff Worker, rebuked me for pushing an idea that would have compromised the interdenominational nature of the CU. But after that didn’t give up on me, instead he invited me to join him on a summer team in Poland, an experience that broadened my horizons and was the first step towards me being here today.

John Stott records a story about the great 20th century preacher Martin Lloyd-Jones “[Lloyd-Jones] confided in several friends that a fundamental change took place in his outlook and preaching in the year 1929. He had, of course, emphasized from the beginning of his ministry the indispensable necessity of the new birth. But after preaching one night in Bridgend, South Wales, the minister challenged him that “the cross and the work of Christ” appeared to have little place in his preaching. He went at once to his favourite secondhand bookshop and asked the proprietor for the two standard books on the atonement… on his return home he gave himself to study, declining both lunch and tea, and causing his wife such anxiety that she telephoned her brother to see whether a doctor should be called. But when he later emerged he claimed to have found the real heart of the gospel and the key to the inner meaning of the Christian faith. So the content of his preaching changed, and with it it’s impact. As he himself put it the basic question was not “why did Jesus become a man?” but “why did Christ die?” He responded to a challenge and changed for the better.

Marcus - who helped me see that people don’t have to have everything right straight away.

Roger - the evangelist who cannot help but preach the gospel and who with an author called Graeme helped me see that I must keep the gospel at the centre of what I do. Roger also says that leaders are readers… readers are leaders… take that away…

We’ll take some time looking at what Paul teaches about leaders in his letters to a young leader - he writes to his apprentice, to Timothy. And he’ll teach us lessons from what he did and what he expects of Timothy. Along the way we’ll see how some of that points towards being a cell-leader but we’ll not major on that this morning. When everyone else arrives we’ll take fuller look at cells and hopefully then you’ll see that they are natural way of working out these principles of leadership

1. Serving by grace (1 Timothy 1v12-14)“Thanks to God for giving strength and appointing to serve. Even though - Paul was a blasphemer, persecutor and opponent of God. God showed his mercy to him for his ignorance and unbelief. God’s grace overflowed to Paul in faith and love from Christ.“

1a. God will give you the strength to serve
Paul received strength to serve. Me? You? Receive strength to serve. Maybe you’re looking forward to leadership - you’ve been waiting for this and now it’s here. You’ve made it… let me tell you it’s nothing special. Maybe you’re sitting here thinking someone made a serious mistake when they asked you to do this. You felt like you had to say Yes, and now you’re here but you wish you weren’t. Paul says - God has given him the strength to serve. That strength comes from God’s grace - it comes from a deep knowledge of the gospel, a deep experience of God’s grace to you - get these from scripture - gaze on Jesus and his work for you on the cross.

Leading isn’t easy - you’ll do a lot of hard work and probably not be appreciated. You’ll have to deal with a lot of issues from people and they’ll assume you know exactly how to deal with their problems and answer all their questions… Last week I was introduced at one of the CU’s I work with as the person who can explain what just happened if a witch flies into the room half way through a CU meeting…. (shrug!!!???) I need God’s strength!!!

1b. you’re a sinner serving by grace so that God gets the glory
Paul was opposed to God and did not believe in Jesus. He made it his job to oppose the church. Me? You? Once, opposed to God and not believing in Jesus, maybe we even once opposed Christians too… either way we couldn’t have served by our own merits. BUT Paul received mercy and grace from Christ. And Me? You? We received mercy and grace from Christ

It’s by God’s grace that we serve - you might not be the best for the job - you certainly haven’t earned it - sure you’re probably here because you’re committed to Christ - and that’s great!! And you’re incredibly valuable because you’re prepared to serve but you’re only here because God has shown mercy to you.

As a leader you need to know that God hasn’t chosen you to lead because you’re necessarily the best for the job - probably you aren’t but we serve by God’s grace - we serve by his strength not ours and God gets the glory.

1c. God doesn’t have a team lounge
This isn’t directly in the passage but there is an implication of this. You see, Paul and us - we’re all sinners who are called to serve by God’s grace. And this means that we’re all equal…

Last year I was on the Spring Harvest Team - and that means you get to go into the “Team Lounge”. Having the right colour wristband grants access to the holy of holies on the Butlins site… trust me, it’s nothing special in there but the point is that there are no “team wristbands” with God. Now I’m not saying that a refuge for team members isn’t helpful at Spring Harvest, it was - giving out all day it is nice to have a place to collapse BUT with God it isn’t like that

There isn’t an upper class of Christians called “leaders”. No, we’re just ordinary Christians - forgiven sinners - who God gives the strength to serve him. Be a grace driven leader - know that you’re serving because God’s grace has been shown to you, and know that you’re serving in God’s strength.


2. Saved by grace (1 Timothy 1v15-16)2a. you’re a sinner saved by grace so that God gets the glory:
“Christ came into the world to save sinners. Paul says he’s the worst of sinners. But God showed him mercy so that God’s patience would be displayed. So that God would be glorified.”

Christ came because we’re sinners - we’re the kind of people who can’t save ourselves and who are cut off from God. By working with the worst God’s glory gets shown because the transformations can’t be explained any other way - you have to give God the credit.

It’s like story of the man living in the gutter who gets given the winning lottery ticket by a passer by. Suddenly he is transformed - he can have anything and everything. He sets up charitable trusts to help the poor. He invests well. He gets an education. And as he lives in his new found wealth he knows that it’s not something he deserved or earned. In fact amidst all these things he has to give the credit to the simple passer by who gave him the key to everything he has.

Or it’s the story of the quiet teenager, academically achieving highly but with no idea what job to do. The story of a kid who kept quiet. But the story of how his eyes were opened to read the Bible. The story of how he found a new meaning and a new life. And a calling to a work that he’d never even heard of or considered. The story of how I got to where I am today. Knowing that deep down I’m not the kind of person you’d choose as a speaker - the guy who’s not extroverted and ultra confident but one who has fallen deeply in love with God and knows nothing better in the world than the glint in people’s eyes as they catch hold of him. God’s story in me. God’s glory and patience shown in my life. I cannot take the credit. I cannot take the glory. Those who’ve known me since I was a child can vouch for that.

You and I never deserved God’s mercy. But at the cross God has shown it to us.

Six months ago I was given some advice about being in Christian work - in leadership, if you like. I asked - what’s the most important thing I could do? It was at my interview for this job. And the reply knocked me off my feet. What would you expect to hear?

My interviewer said one word. Repent.

You see the most important thing as a leader, as a Christian is to be someone who knows their sin and repents. Someone who can rejoice and give glory to God because he has shown them mercy. To let his grace drive you. [pause]

So you serve by grace and you’re saved by grace. What to do next? Lets flick over to 2 Timothy 2.

[STAND UP AND STRETCH]

“Be strong in the grace that is in Christ Jesus. And what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.”


3. Passing on grace (2 Timothy 1-2)3a. Let grace be your strength
It’s what we’ve just been talking about. You undoubtedly have gifts and talents. But your greatest strength is the grace of God. Remind yourself every day of what he’s done in your life. Each of us has come a long way - remember it.

3b. Do “the Relay thing”
But secondly, pass it on. Tell others. Do the Relay thing. Paul here establishes a chain. He says that he’s taught Timothy, now Timothy is to find others, and he’s to teach them what he’s learnt in such a way that they can then teach others. He’s setting up an eternal chain of passing on.

It’s a relay thing. Paul has passed the baton onto Timothy. Now Timothy will pass it onto “Faithful Men” and those “Faithful Men” will pass it onto “Others” - who will also be “Faithful Men” - if Timothy is imitating Paul.

It’s exactly what Your Relay Worker is here to do. He’s with you to pass on what God has told him. A combination of his experience as a student in Leicester and also the study and training he’s receiving this year. But you don’t have to be a Relay Worker to do the Relay thing. It’s something we’re all to do. That’s the thing to do. What’s the baton? It’s what Paul has taught Timothy? It’s the good news about grace. The grace that is in Jesus…

Bill Gates said “As we look ahead into the next century, leaders will be those who empower others." As you lead a cell you’ll be empowering others - you’ll be introducing them to Jesus in the Bible - you’ll be facilitating them.

Delegating to them. Releasing them to serve. One of the key things for you to know as a cell leader is that you’ll not be doing everything. One of our cell values is Every Member in Ministry, that means that you share the load and you’re constantly training others, letting them get involved and be empowered to serve as well. Everyone has something to give. There’s no room in cell for the one-man-band. It means delegation. EVERY MEMBER IN MINISTRY DEPENDS ON YOU NOT DOING EVERYTHING. But take it one step at a time. Don’t drop people in at the deep end, the first time some one does something it should be the Welcome. There is a principle of faithfulness in small things before faithfulness in big things. Ease people in.


So, BE A GRACE DRIVEN LEADER
1. SERVE BY GRACE - GOD’S STRENGTH
God is your biggest strength.

2. KNOW THAT YOU’RE SAVED BY GRACE
Be real about being a forgiven sinner. Give God the glory.

3. PASS ON THAT GRACE TO OTHERS
Teach others what you know of grace and release them to know and serve God.

Another value in cell is to develop an honest and open community.
What I’d like to do for the next 20mins is to take some time for you guys to take in some of what we’ve been talking about for yourselves. We’ll do this in pairs and what I’m going to ask you to do is to look at some questions and try to be honest in answering them. The idea is to explore how much we’re living with grace as our strength and at the areas we’re not doing so - together we can discuss this, repent where necessary and then pray for each other.

The pastor of the church I went to as a student said that Christian life is like a road. It’s a road called grace where we live knowing that we’re saved by grace not by our own merit - it’s one full of God’s blessing and presence with us. However, this road has a ditch on either side which we very often veer into - even veering from one ditch to the other quite often. The ditches are called

Legalism and License.

In one we start to think that grace means we can live however we want. And so we start to sin. We make our mantra that “God is good, he will forgive me, it’s his job” and so we give ourselves license to sin. Grace calls us back to the road saying Yes God will forgive, but that same Grace teaches us to say no to sin for God is much much more wonderful and beautiful that any sin.

The other ditch, legalism, is one where we start to think that our life with God rests on our behaviour. So when we sin we feel unforgivable as if we’re too bad for God. Or we think that our goodness gets us in with God. Grace says - you were never saved because you were good enough but because you weren’t - so you can’t be too bad for God. And Grace says stop trying to perform - you’re accepted as you are. You don’t need to be a Christian Workaholic, Nothing you can do can make God love you less or more.

Grace says - you have the not guilty verdict over you life because of the cross. Grace says you’re totally forgiven because Jesus died for you. Grace says there is always a new day and new mercy for you.

Developing honest and open cells starts with us being honest and open with each other. We need to give each other permission to fail - permission to have gone into the ditch and then be pulled back out of it again. You have permission to fail because you have failed - you’re a sinner, saved by grace.

Can I urge you to be honest with each other. We’re trying to create some level of accountability but it only works when we’re honest. Church leader who have fallen in recent years due to some sin or other had accountability for many many years. But they weren’t honest. You can risk honesty because you’re not expected to be a sinless leader. You’re called to be a grace driven leader.

Let me pass round the hand outs - as we do this lets stand and walk around and find someone we can pair up with. If you need to have a three that’s fine but pairs would be better. Take 20mins or so on this and then we’ll come back together.

Monday, October 13, 2003

On the road

Been a while since I've had time to post anything here. The last week has been great - I've got started on meeting one on one with some lads and we've had some good times exploring the Bible. It's been a challenge and a joy. I'm determined that my vision will be grace and my attitude one of joy and the more I read the more I'm finding this. Today's headline in The Times said: Savour this Monday morning: if only life could always be as sweet as this in response to the weekend's sporting triumphs.

God's mercy's new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Every morning is one to be savoured because God's mercy is new to us because of what he did at the cross. Sport is ok but forget such second rate savouring... God says (Lamentations 3v22-23.): Because of the LORD's great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. Savour that!

Spent a few sunny hours in Canterbury at the weekend doing some cell training for them. Notes to follow.