Saturday, March 26, 2005

No rules, just grace.

Word Alive 2005 should be remembered for one thing: Grace. Nearly 2000 students gathered for a week to meet with God in his word. Spring Harvest Word Alive week is distinctive for it's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Bible streams which cover chronological and thematic overviews of God's story, and also how to understand, apply and teach the Bible.

The evening student celebrations this year worked through Galatians. Graham Daniels of Christians In Sport kicked us off with the message of free grace, daring us to be accused of lawlessness as we preach about Jesus. Jesus the only one who rescues us from this evil age, the one who does so completely by his death. We were called to take D.Martyn Lloyd-Jones' words serious, if we've not been accused of this, we've not preached the gospel.... Graham dared us to preach in such a way that people would ask - "so shall I sin more so that I get more grace?" reminding us in J.B.Philips words that this question is answered by Paul as "What a ghastley thought!".

UCCF Director, Richard Cunningham, took us on into chapter 2, challenging what John Piper calls "the debtor's ethic". Calling us to never attempt to pay God back for his grace to us. Questions were already beginning to rise within us - how then do we live? what do we do about sin? (plenty of Piper references during the week - more and more we need to grapple with joyful satisfaction in Christ, to the glory of God!)

Marcus Honeysett, UCCF London Team Leader, then took us into chapter 3 - let us comprehend and enjoy the status of sons of God, not slaves. Let us rejoice in the life we have in the Spirit of God, calling out "Abba, Father". Life that comes from the curse-bearing death of Jesus. Law does not bring life. Legalism is deadly, leading only to guilt and condemnation. Let us find life in the Spirit. Where is our joy? Are we dehydrated by a lack of experience of the Spirit? Let us be "Christ-exalting, great-exploit-doing Christians!" (great fun had exploring this over breakfast with Marcus and the rest of the guys in the chalet)

Bill Bygroves arrived from Bridge Chapel, Liverpool, with invites to MerseyFest, to take us into Galatians 4, showing us something deceptive, something distinctive, something destructive and someothing decisive. Let us stand firm! Let us stand free!

As we wrestled with this message of Free Grace and No Rules it was great to see God at work transforming people and redefining what Christian life means. After four nights we were desperate for practical direction.

St. Helen's Nigel Beynon opened up chapter 5 for us. Nigel showed us we were set free TO lovingly serve each other and set free TO be changed by the Spirit. We wanted rules but we found none. Christain life should feel like a conflict - as the Spirit battles with our sinful nature. Have we surrendered the battle? Are we fighting with the Spirit, walking with the Spirit, living by the Spirit. There is where our life is found. Let us ask God to "help me, fill me with your Spirit, empower me to change", and let us act and seek to change! We can't persuade ourselves to change, we need to be changed by God. (Nigel's chronological overview of the Bible was excellent each morning)

On the final morning UCCF Relay Coordinator Andy Shudall took us into Galatians 6. Andy's honest passion for the gospel has inspired Em & I over the last few years, on Relay and as he spoke at our wedding. Andy's move to New Zealand this summer will be a loss greatly felt. But Andy would not draw our vision to himself, only to Jesus.

Andy skillfully exposed religion as shallow hypocrisy, outward shows that prove nothing. Whether it is our evangelistic prowess, our personal devotions, our wristbands. None of these is a reliable guide to our standing with God. We'd be idiots to judge ourselves by them. And to do so is a path to hell. If we insist on valuing ourselves by worthless things then Christ's death becomes of no value to us. God sees through our religion - he is not impressed.

Religion is an outward appeal for approval - but the life of faith is lived from approval. The Christian life is based upon the reality of having become sons of God because of the death of Jesus. As we left our focus was set - the cross as the sole ground of Christian confidence. We are free to be free! Approved by the Father!! Being religious or unreligious counts for nothing - all that counts is being a new creation, something that lasts forever!

Let us only seek the marks of discipleship, the scars of gospel service, the wounds of repentance, marks that point to Jesus and speak of grace. No rules, no appeals for approval - simply fellowship with Jesus by his grace, by his death, by the Holy Spirit!

Great to catch up with Rich and loads of other ex-Relay guys, to have loads of Reading CU students (tastefully attired in pink t-shirts - yes, those were my students!), and Cat from Surrey CU there. My hope is that we'll see even more next year. Book your place at Word Alive 2006 now