Friday, 27 January 2017
Wednesday, 9 December 2015
How should we spread the gospel?
It all depends on what you mean by ‘the gospel’.
And a way of answering that would be to ask the question: why did God come in human form and rescue us from our sins? Why did Jesus shed his blood on the cross? What was the end goal? It was for us to be reconciled to Him. Relationship with him. That is our good news!
The message we are trying to spread is the message of reconciliation with God.
However, if your ‘gospel’ is just saving people from hell (a place of discomfort) and getting people to heaven (a place of comfort) then your evangelism will be driven by self-preservation, fear and avoidance. You will feel (maybe subconsciously) that it is a ‘work’ you feel you must do to feel as if you are doing ‘well’ at being a Christian. It won’t be a pleasant experience; it will be hard and difficult, like a heavy rock that you have to push up a hill.
However, if your ‘gospel’ is enjoying a relationship with God as a dearly loved child, then your evangelism will simply be making God, your Father, known to others so they to can know and be known by Him too! And it will be driven by joy and overflowing love. It will feel unstoppable, like overflowing and bubbling champagne after the cork has been popped out.
If you had a great relationship with a friend and wanted others to know that friend what would you do? You would tell them about the awesome character of your friend so that they become interested and can seek them out too. It’s logical.
So the question arises: how do we show people our wonderful God? The answer is the same as the answer to every Sunday-school question ever: Jesus. He is God-incarnate, the God-man, ‘the radiance of Gods glory, the exact representation of his being’ (Hebrews 1:2). He himself said to his disciples, ‘If you really knew me, you would know my Father as well. From now on, you do known him and have seen him.’ (John 14:7). In Jesus we see the essence of God – his abundant grace and love, his perfection. Show people Jesus and you show people God the Father; you evangelize.
Show them in Word – point them to the Jesus in the Bible, but also in deed. We must live as Jesus lived to show people God as he did. Because of his wondrous sacrifice we have been covered with his perfection and made children of God, as he is, and are living in the world, as he did. We have been made ‘co-heirs’ with Christ! This means that we should “be imitators of Christ therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:1-2), in order that God may be made known to people and he can be glorified. Praying for sanctification is therefore also a prayer for evangelism.
Our mission then, is to do as Jesus did – to reflect the nature of the Father in our words and deed so that the Father can be glorified and others can be brought into a life-giving, all-satisfying relationship with Him. And if we know Him, we will bear fruit: ‘Remain in me and I will remain in you’ (John 15). We all know that we start to adopt the attributes and mannerisms of the people we are closest to and other people start to notice…how much more so will that be of God?
Think about it this way, if we are not reflecting Gods character then who are we reflecting? There is nothing good apart from God. There is also no neutral ground. We are always reflecting something, so let it be God and not the enemy.
Therefore, one definition of evangelism is: partaking of our salvation (a freely given relationship with him) and immersing ourselves in his love. It is not a work. If it starts to feel like a ‘work’ something is wrong in your motivation. It is a joy; merely enjoying the relationship we have been called into! And our desire to put ourselves in potentially scary or awkward situations for Him will be greater because our relationship with God will be more important than our relationship with man.
Also, if it is a ‘work’ then we will not be evangelising effectively. We will be giving them a false gospel - not showing them that God is loving and so worthy of such joyful work, but instead showing that he demands duty and robotic slavishness.
So, in terms of active evangelism, what does this mean?
Well, take ‘first-contact evangelism’ e.g talking to a stranger about Christ – as the early apostles did, as Paul did to the crowds in Acts 17, to ‘all who happened to be there’ (v 17). This won’t be that often for most of us but people, strangers, those around you all need to hear about Jesus in order to believe in Him. They need to see Jesus, to be introduced, in order to know God.
Just as it says says in Romans 10:14:
“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.’ How then can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written: ‘How beautiful are the feet who bring good news!’ (Isaiah 52:7)’
Knowing that our gospel is a relationship changes everything, but especially how we approach this active evangelism – telling people about this good news. If our ‘good news’ is just us being saved from hell, then we’ll be telling people all about how they can do this – repentance and trust. (As if repentance and trust are the works by which we can achieve ‘it’ - comfort - for ourselves) It will be an evangelism driven by self-preservation and avoidance rather than joy and pleasure. And although it has all the right words and sounds about right, it is far from the truth.
But, if our ‘good news’ is knowing God, then our evangelism is making him known: introducing people to the character of God so they can know Him too. This is definitely not trying to shove a formula down their throat: repent + believe = heaven, but rather a persuasive, explanative proclamation: ‘we have good news of great joy – today a saviour has been born!’ (Luke). It means, engaging with the person individually, as Jesus does with us - listening to them. Figuring out their obstacles to the gospel, their barriers to God and showing them, in the most gentle, loving and God-like way possible that Jesus is 'the way, truth and the life' (John 14:6). It means, lovingly making them aware of their inability to come to God, their sin in rejecting Him as King over their hearts, and revealing that a relationship with him is the most important, wonderful and all-satisfying thing. Unveiling Jesus as the way in to this perfect relationship, showing Gods grace and wonderful self-sacrificial love. It means emulating Christ, showing God as God! What an honour.
So, we have been called and given the privilege, as his children, to initiate an introduction. God himself will do the rest. We are humanities’ God-appointed match-makers - setting up the lost with the One who finds, the blind with the One who gives sight, bringing together the wanderer and the welcomer, the sinner and the sinless.
Often, no one mentions the joy that comes from evangelising. Evangelising is only an indulgence into the relationship we have with God. It is submerging yourself in it in order to offer it out to others. As such, there is incredible fulfilment and JOY to be had in doing it! You are relying on God with your whole being, living as you’re meant to live!
Praise the Lord that he has chosen to use us in this process!
Friday, 26 September 2014
God is the creator of all things seen and unseen, known and unknown. He is the most holy and perfect, being the one with no beginning or ending.
And this perfect God wants something He has gone to great pains to make known to us…He wants to be with us. He wants to be with us.
Us? We are the bad and broken ones, the ones who have quite horrifically mucked everything up. The sin ridden ones, repulsive to God. We rejected God; we chose the warped path of doing things our own way. We have become crooked, nauseating beings. We are so self-orientated that everything has to be sacrificed for our own needs. Hence: war, rape, slavery, corruption, poverty, oppression, hunger, and abuse… Even our smallest, briefest inclination revolves around how we can satisfy ourselves more. It doesn’t take a genius to see that something is very badly wrong with the world and with us.
But the fact still remains: God wants to be with us.
Think about it a bit more: this ridiculously perfect and fulfilled being, utter goodness actually desires to have a relationship with us! Now that’s crazy in itself, but what’s even crazier is the steps that He took to bring this about and reconcile us to Himself.
He could so easily have looked at us, at the mess we made and said: “Forget it. I give up on them; they’ve gone too far. I’ll just get rid of them and start again with a new creation. Easy.”
We could have been obliterated in the snap of a cosmic finger. But that would contradict Gods loving and compassionate and forgiving nature. He never intended to screw us up and start again.
Because of our sin we are objects of Gods wrath (Ephesians 2:3). His holy, blazing anger is turned on us, and rightly so. We deserve to be forgotten by God because we forgot Him. We deserve to squeal in front of the fullness of his Holy flame.
However, here is the crux of my message: He banished us from his presence, but never abandoned us completely. The God of the bible is portrayed as a God desperate for closeness with His people. We were under Gods wrath but He also looked upon us with compassion and the tenderness of a Father.
It’s right there in Genesis, as Adam and Eve were being cursed, being struck from Gods heavenly garden. Even as God was hurling them from His presence, He was simultaneously blessing them:
“And I will put enmity
between you and the woman,
and between your seed and hers;
he will crush your head,
and you will strike his heel.”
Who is this ‘seed’ that God speaks of? Will he really ‘crush’ the head of the devil? Adam and Eve leave the garden in pain and turmoil, but they have one thing, a gift from God to cling to and treasure: the hope of a promised seed, someone who will defeat their sin.
And God goes further, in verse 21 He demonstrates to them the depth of his love for them, a taste of the salvation to come:
“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.”
God sacrificed an animal in order to clothe them and cover their nakedness, their shame. This is incredibly poignant. There had not been a single death up until this moment. So why did he kill the animal? To care for and to clothe the people who rejected Him. Gods love is not limited by the mutual affection of the chosen object. He is showing that regardless of the direction of their love, He is willing to sacrifice for them, to love them even though it is costly.
This is clearly a foretaste of how his Son, the seed, Jesus, will spill His blood in order to dress us in His righteousness and cover our shame so that we can be with Him.
Gods desire to be with his people radiates from every page of the Old Testament. Even when Israel, His chosen nation, disobeyed and turned from Him, He never abandoned them and constantly promised them his presence: “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” Joshua 1:9 Despite their idol worship, He positioned himself among them – his holy dwelling place the Tabernacle was located in the middle of their camp. He gave them the sacrificial system so they could be right before him, He guided them through the desert in a pillar of smoke, He helped them win battles, He gave them laws to help them be righteous, He chose leaders to guide them and protect them, He punished their sin justly, and He forgave them again and again and again…This God never abandoned His people.
And then what happened?
Jesus, Emmanuel, ‘God with us’ happened.
God took one more gigantic step to being close to us. He came down to actually, physically be with us on this earth! He left heaven and became God incarnate – fully God and fully man. Why would he do that!? So He could have intimacy with us and to create a way for us to be with Him, without the barrier of our sin. So He could justly deal with the punishment our sin deserves without obliterating us completely.
Now here’s one more thing that makes this even more mind-blowing: what does God value? Clearly, it is intimacy and closeness of relationship - hence why He’s going to such lengths to keep us close to Him. Well, He had that perfectly with Jesus. They existed in mutual delight before the world began. What he wants with us, he already had with Jesus. Yet what did he do? He gave up that closeness with Jesus for the sake of us!
When Jesus took all our sins upon himself on the cross and split his blood for us, the Father turned his face away from his Son. He forsook Jesus to look at us. "My God, My God why have you forsaken me?" The curtain was torn in two, God and mankind were able to be together at the cost of His only Son.
And then He rose again! Once our sin had been dealt with and the devil toppled he rose from death! And his beloved Father, God seated him on the highest throne (Philippians 2).
So there’s two parts to this: Part one: Jesus averted Gods holy wrath from us. We are forgiven, made clean! Part two: He made it possible for God to be intimate with us. Now that’s a whole new something else! God hasn’t just made us holy and then left us on the outside. No, he’s made us holy in order to bring us in! In to a relationship with Him! There’s a purpose for our holiness.
And the depth of this relationship is astounding: it is Gods nature to give. He gives outwards, constantly, always overflowing. And so, naturally, being close to a God like that can only mean a total outpouring of blessings (Malachi 3:10): being co-heirs with Christ (Romans 8/4:13), being grafted onto Him (John 15), and therefore receiving the honour that He gets (Isaiah 53:12), being made Gods child (1 John 3:1) and receiving the inheritance that children receive (Romans 8), being treasured by God, considered valuable and worthy (Zephaniah 3:19/Matthew 10:29), being seated with Jesus on the throne (Revelation 3:21), being given new and glorious bodies (Philippians 3/Matthew 13:34), being able to judge angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). And most importantly, God gives us the gift of being able to give like He does; the gift of being able to love God properly. He shows us how to love. And one day we will be truly able to love the Father back as he wants to be loved – with an undivided heart and perfect obedience. That day will mean glory for Him and joy for us.
However, the story continues. True to form, God hasn’t abandoned us until that day. That would contradict his very nature, as we’ve seen. Because of Jesus’ sacrifice, this intimacy with God can start now, on this earth! He gave us Jesus, but when Jesus rose up to heaven, He also gave us the Holy Spirit to keep us company (John 14), to dwell within us and intercede for us. There wasn't a moment when He wasn't with us in some form. The Holy Spirit opens our eyes each morning to the grace bestowed upon us by Jesus’ atoning blood. It is only by the power of the Holy Spirit that we humans are able to shelter under His blood and truly live.
Our Father longs for closeness. This could not be more obvious. Knowing this, what then should we do? Should we not seek to come before Him every day on our knees and hand over to Him our heart, mind and soul in humble gratitude?
Our prayer should be: “Take me! Keep me close to you, Father. Take my life as an offering of thanks!”
He went to the greatest possible lengths to be with us. The greatest possible lengths. How can we do anything other than run to Him covered in the blood of the One who gave us the ability to run!? How can we not fall before the Father with a soul full of joy and praise? How can we not promise him a life of obedience? How can our hearts not sing with love?
The cross happened so that we can know God and be known by God, it happened for the sake of our intimacy with our Father. And HE IS WITH US. There is no need to fear. His wrath has been averted. We can laugh at the days to come (Proverbs 31).
What should our attitude be? Shame and guilt at our sins, humility, wonder and gratitude at the cross, and then unadulterated joy at the life we have been given! The cross is central, without Jesus’ atoning blood we would be stuck on the outside and faced with the full wrath of God! But He has intervened.
We have nothing to fear, only promises to look forward to in eager anticipation, a life to live in wholehearted sacrifice and an unconditional relationship to enjoy. This is what it means to be a believer.
Tuesday, 3 June 2014
God is good. Marvelous. Gracious. Caring. Strengthening. Sovereign. Generous. Miraculous! He has been all these things to me, personally in my life. He is a good Father, one who teaches me even when I’m disobedient, even when I’m cold and unresponsive, even when I ignore Him. He doesn’t let go of me. He’s relentless in his loving. I can try and requite it, the way a street lamp tries to contribute to the light given by the moon. And God loves every splutter of light, but ultimately it’s all about him. All on His strength so that He gets the glory. And Gods glory is a beautiful, intangible, unimaginable thing. A thing for which the world was created, for which Jesus died and rose again, and for which we now live.
And we do live! We live everyday. Every breath is a testament to his grace and mercy and patience and most of all, love. We live to magnify His greatness. That is the best thing for us, and the best thing for Him. We, by his grace, have been swept up into a hurricane, a whirlpool of unquenchable love that overflows and pushes outwards. It’s a river, a flow of something wonderful, the thing that we strive so hard to reach but can only receive through humbling ourselves and taking the gift, the precious gift that the Father is offering: communion with Him. That is the secret to our soul’s whispering, the balm which soothes our aching bones. Him.
We live in a world where everything is inside out and back to front; we love ourselves first. It sickens me. But the world that we were made for is one of the complete opposite. How strange will it be to exist in a place where it is natural for us to serve others first? Where our immediate and strongest desire will be to love our fellow man, and to love God? How strange and yet how utterly wonderful!! How right! The guide, the rod which serves to straighten the cavities in our souls and hammer our world back into its right place, is scripture. God has given us his word! He’s speaking to us! Oh that we would unblock our ears from the gunk of laziness and earthly things and pries open the lids of our heart and hear Him! He yearns for it. I wish to yearn for it too. I want to want. I wish to wish! I ask that God would soften my heart enough for me to catch the gentle whisper of his Spirit and follow its iron-hard silver thread right back to Him. Let my desires be tuned to His. What an honour it would be to sing along to the murmurings of God! How can he pour so much into a hole that is only receiving, only swallowing, and not giving back? How can he give his everything for a stinking, repulsive, selfish, greedy, sucking world like ours? It is His nature. It blows my mind. He just. Keeps. Giving. I can take such comfort in knowing that you will never abandon me, Father. Whatever happens to this physical body will be yours. Yours in the elation, yours in the pain, yours in the sadness, yours in the joy. Yours for eternity. And how comforting is it to know that I will never reach the bottom of your well. That no matter how many pails of joy and goodness that I pull up, there will always be more to spill into my veins. I know that because Jesus told me. He told me with his sacrifice and his blood. He told me he was willing when he smiled and touched a leprous man. He told me he loved me and would give everything for me when he took the lashes for me, when he bore the crucifixion for me, when he cried out that ‘it is finished’.
And it is finished. Gods plan is all wrapped up. We are crown-bearers who have done nothing to deserve our status. Crown-bearers who have been bestowed upon an honour to become a part of Gods plan. He’s inviting us in! Our big brother took the punishment for us, and yet we get to reap the rewards. It isn’t fair, but it is gracious! Thank you my God-brother. Thank you for your love. Thank you for the way you sheltered us and ushered us before Gods throne and sit beside him and intercede for us. Thank you for your deep understanding, your empathy and identification. You came down to us. You recognise what it is to be a human.
There are things going on here that I barely grasp. I feel as if I am scratching the surface of something, gazing in blurry wonder at only the tip of the iceberg…now I know in part, then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. We are the ungrateful owners of such a hope and glorious promise! We will be able to taste the joys of knowing God fully. That will be…something that all the flamboyant and extravagant words in the world will not be able to even begin to capture. That will be, as God loves to describe things, good. How can God squash his secrets into our human language!? I guess that’s why we are in this created world. All of creation sings of its glorious and powerful creator, all animals speak of his life-giving goodness, his character is explained through the way the waves crash recklessly against the cliffs and lap calmly against the grains of sand. But most of all, humans speak of God. We are made in His image. I don’t think we fully understand, or even nearly understand what that means. But there is something sacred about being the imprint or reflection of God on this earth! In every human there is a spark of precious. In every culture, every terrain, every country, every village, every town, every building, every barrier we have built for ourselves – God transcends them all. He got there first and made us all the carriers of something sacred. That both unites us and saddens our wickedness even more. How dare we strike out at one another? It goes against everything that we stand for, everything that we were made for.
Love is the answer. Not the mushy, mislead, sentimental love that breeds rom-coms and fairytales, but the hard, true, bold, bloody, self-forgetful, self-sacrificial love of God, embodied in Jesus Christ – his son sent to earth to die for us. We are called upon to echo that love. And echo it I will. This sin-ridden body boldly makes the claim, but I know that I will need divine assistance. There is no way a flimsy human like myself could ever bear the cost that real love takes. Only with the same Spirit that drove Jesus can I even hope to achieve and bear something like that. And my Father has seen fit to bestow on us the mighty counsellor, to not leave us as orphans, but to breathe upon us his warm breath of life.
With the Spirit we are truly alive. And can walk for God as people with true life and great joy, not wandering aimlessly in the shadows of death. We can run towards eternity knowing that, not only is God above us, behind us and in front of us, but also within us, stirring us up from the inside.
Saturday, 17 May 2014
These are the words of someone suffering under the blanket of far-awayness from God, yet someone standing firm in the knowledge that God will never let go: 'to Him who is able to keep you from failing...' (Jude 24).
My Soul Amnesia/ My Wasteland
My wasteland beats in my chest.
The dust is thick on the
cluster of thirsty crevasses,
They pant of numbness and thirst.
Purple unfolds across its surface
The bruise flowers against my chest
But I can’t feel it
I feel nothing.
I only feel the ache of not feeling
Knowing that I’m not knowing
These are the symptoms of my soul amnesia.
Thoughts and feelings clamour above me
Groaning and thickening, a dark cloud.
I am a bruised reed, a smouldering wick
I am a spluttering flame
Mind-truths batter the dome around my heart;
An iron casket woven from idleness, selfishness, forgetfulness
The condition of sin, the condition of me.
But my house is built on solid rock.
And, luckily, what the heart forgets the spirit remembers.
A bigger hand than mine can shatter the glass
A hand with a hole can scoop out the soul
A single quiet lamb, fully God, fully man
Can flood me with warmth and gladness
The Word casts a shadow across my broken body
The Wellspring floods the clefts in my wasteland
And it begins to thump again
With blood that is not my own
I am not my own
I belong to He who breathes life into his beloved children
He who cradles them when they are tired
And sustains them when they cannot see
He who sends forth light and truth
For a stubborn