grace

Relay 2 summary

Following on from last week’s summary of the Relay 1 conference, this is my (less well connected) summary of what I learnt at Relay 2.

  • Malachi shows God’s condemnation of religiosity.
  • When we don’t care about sin we cheapen grace and reduce our view of God.
  • Half-hearted worship reveals we care about people seeing us look good, rather than caring about pleasing God.
  • Everyone worships. Mission is about showing why God is more worthy of their worship than their idols are, and pointing them toward praising Him.
  • Our motivation for mission should be knowing God is great and worthy of praise.
  • All of life is about making God’s name great.
  • We are not chosen by God because we are better than others, but because He displays His strength in our weaknesses.
  • We need to know what people think we are saying when we talk to them about Jesus.
  • It is Christlike to sacrifice comfort for the sake of others, not to expect them to become like us and enter our culture.
  • Any privileges we have are given to us by God for the benefit of others.
  • We engage with the world by thanking god for the goodness it has, rather than isolating it. We let blessings point to the Blesser, rather than making them an ultimate end in themselves.
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Relay 1 summary

The observation which struck me the most after Relay 2 was how different I though it was from Relay 1. At Relay 1 I wrote a summary of what I learned, which was largely theological.

Don’t compare yourself to others. You’ll either become proud or despairing. Instead, remember you are compete in Christ. Trust me, you don’t need anything else, even for a short confidence  boost. No, really, you don’t! You know He is gracious. You know He is faithful. Now live in that truth. Walk in Christ, and remind yourself of His grace. Don’t delay – remind yourself now, and be thankful. Knowing that the gospel of Christ’s grace really is powerful, be unashamed of it. Speak to people about it. Be joyful in it. But be faithful – it is a valuable treasure, and you must not change it, for it cannot be improved, only ruined. How could you even begin to try to improve upon Christ on the cross? Keep the cross central, for that is where the atoning blood of Jesus belongs. This deals with our biggest problem – not sin, but God’s settled, righteous fury at our sin. This atonement is explained in the Old Testament, and the New Testament shows the cross of Christ is where it is fulfilled. Our union with Christ means we bear the punishment for our sins not in ourselves, but in Christ. This is truly radical, and every thought and belief needs testing at the cross, to be discarded or cherished. The cross destroys our self-confidence, and replaces it with confidence in God. It is vital (in the truest sense of the word) that you open your Bible and study it, not for information but to gaze at the crucified Saviour. As you understand this gospel, and grace in Christ, ensure you pass it on faithfully. To do this you need to study it carefully and love those to whom you pass it. Christians will already know the gospel, but faithfully remind them of it. Always remember, rejoice in Christ as you grow in Him.

You are complete in Christ because of God’s grace on the cross.

[Edit] My summary of Relay 2 is now also online.

Justice and grace

Last week a trailer was released for the upcoming film ‘The Grace Card’. It seems to be a ‘Christian’ film, but many things about it leave me far from convinced that it will accurately portray the Christian gospel. The worst of all was a line in the trailer which sounded like a pivotal moment in the film.

It’s not justice we need. It’s grace!It's not justice we need. It's grace!

What a horrible false dichotomy is introduced here! Are justice and grace mutually exclusive? This seems to be the suggestion of the film. I don’t want to be too harsh, given I’ve merely seen a trailer rather than the full film, but it strikes me that this quote undermines all that is good about the God of the Bible.

God doesn’t abandon justice in favour of grace. This would be a cheap form of grace, which would reveal an arbitrary and unjust god. This is not the God of the Bible. This is not the Christian God. Quite the opposite.

God does extend grace through Jesus’ death, but not at the expense of justice. If there was no need for justice, why would Jesus have died? Why not simply forgive everyone all their sins? That would show grace; but what a terrible, grotesque, unjust grace it would be! This is not the grace referred to in Ephesians 2:8, quoted in the NIV at the end of the film trailer.

For it is by grace you have been saved.

The grace by which Christians have been saved is a grace which includes justice. Romans 3:26 speaks of God not only as the justifier (by grace) of the one with faith in Jesus, but also the one who is just. The reason for Jesus’ death was to provide a means of grace which did not contravene God’s perfect justice.

It is indeed grace we need, but we also receive justice from God. Praise the Lord!

I broke the plate!

One thing I’m finding out about Relay is that it’s tough. I think that’s one of the blessings of it. I was speaking the other week to someone who was struggling to cope with everything on their plate, and it really resonated because I was in exactly the same situation. I’d wasted a lot of time that week, and wasn’t feeling close to God. I was feeling overwhelmed by my workload, and I stopped looking at God and started looking at myself. I could have used the gospel to rebuke myself, but I didn’t.

Then a friend got in touch.

It’s always easier to rebuke other people.

But this rebuke hit me as hard as it hit him.

We were talking about how much we each had on our metaphorical plates, and my friend commented he didn’t have the strength to cope with such a big plate. He felt he not only had too much on his plate, but that he broke the plate, so hopeless was his situation. He couldn’t cope. There was really only one thing to say. He was correct.

Stop trying to be able to cope. You can’t cope! You know that! Give up the natural pride that wants to be able to cope with all the things you’ve taken on, and throw yourself on God’s mercy!

When we feel overwhelmed it is because we are weak. It is pride to deny this truth. We are weak beings. We cannot cope with life at the best of times. We broke the plate. This is why I love the lesson God teaches the apostle Paul when he asks for deliverance from weakness.

My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.

2 Corinthians 12:9

God doesn’t give some feel-good message affirming inner strength. Neither does He reduce Paul’s load. As He addresses Paul God implicitly affirms both the weakness and the inability of each and every person on the planet. But the Christian, though weak, is strong, because God gives us grace which is sufficient to overcome our weakness. More than that, the weakness actually glorifies God as His strength is seen more clearly by the sharp contrast!

We can’t cope with life. There is always too much on our plates, and sometimes we feel like we’ve broken the plate. But God’s grace is sufficient. All we can do is cast ourselves on it.

Have mercy upon me, O God, according to Your lovingkindness.

Psalm 51:1

A midnight message

I shouldn’t have been up at midnight. I needed to be up at 6:30 in the morning to have any chance of reading the Bible and praying before going out. And it was cold weather – the worst type to get up in. There’s a word for this kind of stupidity – sin.

But as I was up, it made sense to check facebook. What else can you do at midnight? Even I didn’t want to start on some new time consuming activity, I was simply frittering away the minutes. Which turn into the hours, the days, the lifetime.

Earlier in the evening I’d had a skype call with one of my best friends. We’d discussed a lot of things, and told each other what we would like prayer for. We’re Christian brothers, would you expect anything else? I’d asked him to pray that I’d be able to meet up with some more people, that I would be able to take some of what I’m learning and encourage others with it individually. We ended the skype call so I could hit the sack, but I didn’t. I sinned.

God saw that sin, and it made Him angry, like every sin does. But God didn’t see that sin, and He has no anger left for me anyway.

God is always loving. It’s just who He is. And He loved me. Me, the sinner, on facebook at midnight. Yes, God loved me.

So He gave me someone to meet. He answered the prayer I suspect my friend had prayed. Someone wanted to meet up to talk about something – was I free later in the week? I checked my calendar. There was one day I could meet him. The day after tomorrow. I’d see facebook once tomorrow. I replied, and later we met. But what if I’d been in bed?

If I hadn’t been on facebook I wouldn’t have seen the message until the next day. We couldn’t have arranged a meeting for the same week. Well, we could, but not as easily. Was it right to be up that midnight?

No. Of course not. How could it be? I died to sin, and dead men don’t carry on in old habits. Yet God loved me. He answered prayer. He answered prayer in such a way that He turned my sin, my hideous, destructive sin, to good. I meant it for evil, yet God meant it for good. It’s a small example, but doesn’t it show the way God so often works? Isn’t it a tiny detail that adorns the masterpiece that is the gospel? Doesn’t it show God’s goodness to a sinner? That is grace. And that is worth living life for in every way.

Including in going to bed.