Category Archives: Blog

Getting Ready for Christmas

Got to get ready for Christmas. I’ve got so much to do.

The wish lists need careful analysing. Who wants what? Can I get each present in time? There’s such a rush for the latest this or that, I hope they’re not going to be out of stock. Perhaps I’ll preorder it, just in case.

Mustn’t forget the batteries too. I can’t give that gift without batteries. I’ll need to check what size they take, was it double or triple A?

Decorations need sorting out. Time to get them down from the attic. Put the tree up and unravel the fairy lights. I’ve got to make sure I get the balance right of not too much tinsel, and the right combination of colours so it’s classy looking. Perhaps I’ll replace some of those baubles as they’re so last decade.

Oh and then there’s the other decorations. The wreath needs to go on the front door, hang a few lights outside too – nothing too garish or the neighbours might complain, but I’ve got to have something so people know I’m not a scrooge.

I’ve got a list of seventy Christmas cards that need writing. Friends from years gone by who it’s the only time we keep in touch. And all those distant relatives that I love to drop a short note in with. They all need writing carefully and thoughtfully.

Can’t forget the food. There’s always so much to sort out. My turkey has been on order since September, so that will be ok. But it’s all the trimmings, the sweets and snacks, the extra party food, and a good bottle of mulled wine (non-alcoholic of course!) Got to get some nice crackers, serviettes, and some delicious puddings. Not sure about Christmas pudding, it’s always a bit hit or miss.

Must plan all the visits too. Who’s coming to us again? I’ll just double check when exactly they’re coming. Oh and where was it we’re going? I’ll just double check they know when we’re coming as well.

Right, that’s all those things done, what else is left?

Church things of course!

Those cards need delivering, so I’ll see if I can take a pack or two. I’ll do them on my usual route. I must remember to offer to help with the refreshments for one of the events as well. Can’t leave it to just the usual ones or twos as they’ll be so busy.

I must remember to personally invite those I’d love to bring along as well. I’ll want to bring some non-Christian family members to one event. But my friends down the road who don’t know Jesus, they might be better at one of the other events.

And let me just make a note to pray for them and for others who come along. I’d love them to know Jesus so I’ll pop that on my prayer list for December. So important to pray in advance.

There’s something else I’m sure I’m missing.

What else do I need to get ready?

I’m almost certain I’m forgetting something that needs preparing…

My heart. Of course! Christmas is a time for me to worship Jesus as well. A time for me to rejoice in his kindness in coming to this world to be the one who we would worship – the very one who would save me from my sin.

I know, I’ll read the gospel accounts of his birth in Matthew and Luke. I’ll take note of how others respond, being filled with awe and delight, rejoicing and worshiping our king who was born. I’ll prepare myself by finding my joy and pleasure in Jesus in the run up to Christmas.

(Originally published in the December Church Magazine)

photo credit: Wouter de Bruijn Day 304 via photopin (license)

Celebrating the Reformation

Martin Luther

Last week was a very special anniversary. The 31st October marked 500 years to the day that a young monk, Martin Luther, nailed a list of 95 thesis to the church door in Wittenberg. By so doing, he intended to spark a public debate about some of the issues he saw with the Catholic Church.

Although he hadn’t yet come to a full realisation of the level of the issues with the church, he had begun to study the Bible carefully and in its original languages and was beginning to see the points at which the Catholic Church was in discord with the plain teaching of the Bible. He was persuaded that significant reform was needed in order to bring the church back in line with the message of the Bible. A handful of others were also beginning to make the same discoveries at the same time.

This reformation was not just an unfortunate happening, but a recovery of the gospel. The abuses of the church were such that it distorted the gospel, giving people a false hope in a law-based human-centred dependence. The gospel of grace needed to be recovered in order for people to hear and be saved. So the 500 year celebration is exactly that – a celebration.

Within the last century, as scholars and theologians have looked back over this reformation period in history, they have summarised up by teasing out five statements that are key aspects of the teaching of the reformers. They are united by the word “sola” which is Latin for “only” or “alone”.

Scripture Alone (Sola Scriptura): Whereas the Catholic Church insisted that church tradition and the declarations of the Pope held as much (if not more) authority as the Bible, the reformers taught that it is scripture alone that is our foundational knowledge for all things of faith, and this is the measure of any tradition or teaching of the church.

By Grace Alone (Sola Gratia): Whereas the Catholic teaching was that a combination of God’s grace with our merits of penance and good works, as well as the merits of the saints, the reforms insisted that it is God’s kind gift of love in grace that saves us.

Through Faith Alone (Sola Fide): Whereas Catholicism had for a long time taught that we are considered in the right before God by our works as much as by faith, those seeking to change the church explained the teaching of scripture – that it is only by dependant trust in Jesus and his atoning death that his righteousness is credited to us and by which we are declared in the right with God.

In Christ Alone (Solus Christus): Whereas it was held that our merits and the merits of the saints contribute to our salvation alongside the work of Jesus and that the saints as much as the Son can mediate between ourselves and the Father, the reformers upheld Christ’s life, death and resurrection as the only focus of our faith, as the only source of our salvation, and him as our only mediator between ourselves and the Father.

To God’s Glory (Alone Soli Deo Gloria): Whereas the works-based self-merited system of the Catholic Church brings glory to humans for having achieved their own salvation by working hard and being good enough, the basis for true salvation, as taught by the reformers, gives all the glory to God and to him alone.

These are not five irrelevant teachings of the past, but ongoing truths that the Bible itself teaches, that the Catholic Church still denies (even if their language has become more ambiguous) and that are crucial for us to hold to. Moreover, it is so easy for us to fall into the same pitfalls in other ways, such as by giving too heavy weight to traditions of the past, or by slipping into works to pay back for our grace. And so, the reformation is not merely something of the past, but something that continues today.

(If you’d like to know more about Luther and his 95 theses, then make sure you’re at prayer meetings over the coming year as Jonny will be covering them to help us in our praying.)

photo credit: micagoto sola scriptura via photopin (license)

Is Church the Ends or the Means?

congregation

Is church the ends or the means?

It’s a great question to ask. I was on a conference last week, and the speaker very helpfully unpacked this for us.

See very often we see church as the means:

  • We go to church in order to be built up in our faith.
  • We share fellowship with each other so we can be encouraged.
  • We join our voices so that we can have a worship experience.
  • We’re taught together so that we can go off and do our own evangelism.

Now all those things are true. But what if church for church itself was the primary purpose? What if church was the ends rather than the means?

When you think of the whole storyline of the Bible, the full end goal is of Jesus returning, judging, joining heaven and earth and gathering a people to himself. That gathering is the final church. Our little local churches are expression of that final gathered church. They’re like samples or tasters of what we will one day experience.

As Jesus died, he wasn’t merely paying for my individual sins. He was dying for a whole people group who would one day come together in him. Though we exercise faith and repentance for our own sins, we are then brought into the people of God.

Now that’s not very typical of our thinking in the UK. According to one researcher, we’re actually the most individualistic nation in the world, followed by USA and Australia. That means that thinking about our corporate identity in Christ is not something that will come naturally to us and is something we must train ourselves to do.

We may be concerned that such a corporate identity loses the value of me as an individual. But isn’t such self-centredness the core of what sin is?

When you think of church in this light, it changes your motivation and purpose in gathering as church:

  • If church is the ends then it’s not just something I go to but it’s who I am – it’s my corporate identity as the people of God
  • If church is the ends then I don’t just come along when I can make it, but I prioritise it and make every effort to shift everything else out of the way so I can be there.
  • If church is the ends then it’s not primarily about what I can get out of it but about how I can be a part of it and contribute to it.
  • If church is the ends then I don’t view others as a way of getting something out of them or done, but as an opportunity to collaborate and cooperate.
  • If church is the ends then I don’t merely work on making converts but on disciples who will be joined in with us in Christ together.
  • If church is the ends then online teaching and worship material is merely a compromise for when it is impossible to actually be gathered.
  • If church is the ends then even when I’m not gathered with the people of God, I’m praying for them and in touch with them throughout the week.

So is church primarily the ends or the means? Well in the fullness of time in Christ, it’s the ends. That’s what we should increasingly reflect today.

(Published in our July Magazine)

photo credit: CC Way of the Cross as a ‘Way of Mercy’ – World Youth Day Celebration via photopin (license)

VAULTS 2.4.17am

CrossWith the subject of the sermon this morning being the victory of Jesus over the Devil on the cross, here are some very appropriate and useful links for today’s sermon (VAULTS):

Here’s an article by Thabiti Anyabwile on The Gospel Coalition, with the rather long title, “The Death Of Death In The Death of Christ means Victory over Death for those who Believe.”

A book that’s well worth every Christian reading is “The Cross of Christ” by John Stott. It’s pricey (though well worth it) so maybe buy a used copy on Amazon or from your local bookshop or other online retailer.

Finally, below is a video of a sermon by John Piper with the title “The Fall of Satan and the Victory of Christ.” If you prefer to read sermons, then you can read the manuscript.

photo credit: Endre Majoros Crossing via photopin (license)