5 things I learnt from The Cross of Christ

crossofchristI have just recently finished John Stott’s epic book “The Cross of Christ”. I remember receiving this book as a gift during relay and I spent some time in various chapters studying it and chewing on it. But I hadn’t actually read the whole thing from start to finish, so I embarked to do so this year.

Reading this book gave me a fresh reminder of the cross and what Christ had done on the cross. I want to share with you 5 things that I learnt or was reminded of from this book.

1. Christianity is nothing without the cross.

It is the lamb that is slain on the throne. The cross is the center of history and had been on the mind of Christ from the start. It is a stumbling block and most offensive to some people and to others it is a joy and the heart beat of Christianity.

Without the cross there could be no atonement, forgiveness of sins, evil defeated, salvation for sinners, suffering where Christ can sympathise with all our sufferings..and many more things that took place on the cross.

2. The cross impacts every sphere of our Christian living.

Why? John Stott says the cross is the:

ground of our justification (he has redeemed us from the curse),
the means for our sanctification (we have been crucified with him, the world to us and us to the world),
the subject of our witness (we are to placard Christ Crucified publicly before people’s eyes),
the object of our boasting (God forbid that we should boast in anything else!!)

3. We are enemies of the cross if it is not central to our Christian living

If the cross is not central to our Christian living then we are enemies of the cross and to be an enemy means:

self-righteousness (instead of looking to the cross for justification)
self-indulgence (Instead of taking up the cross to follow Christ)
self-advertisement (Instead of preaching Christ crucified)
self-glorification (Instead of glorying in the cross)

How true that is in my own life!

4. Love was the motivation of the cross

Reading this book reminded me afresh of the love of Christ for us. To take human flesh and walk among this earth in order to go to the cross for my sin and shame, to take on the punishment I deserved in order that I might be reconciled to the Father. It shows a great and deep love that I cannot truly understand.

If we were ever in doubt about whether God loves us, we need to look no further than to the cross – his love demonstrated for us there.

5. I need to be reminded of the cross daily

I forget so easily the triumph, victory, pain, weakness and sacrifice of the cross. I too easily become an enemy of the cross and become self-righteous and self-indulgent. I need to be reminded of the Gospel, what Christ has done on the cross.

I need to be reminded of this daily and I know my friends do too as we struggle through this life and our hearts become deceived and caught up in various things, we need to bring each other back to the cross.

If you have not read this book, I would recommend you do so. Don’t be put off by the size of the book, but instead take your time over it and enjoy the refreshing water that comes from it. Stott turns our eyes away from ourselves and what we must do, and places our gaze on Christ and what he has done. Wonderful.

Resources for Worship Leaders

I just want to flag up a brilliant website for all those that lead sung worship in church or CU, write lyrics, in a worship band or love sung worship in church. This website was created by Olly Knight who was a staff worker with UCCF and he regularly leads sung worship at UCCF Forum and his Newfrontiers church in Canterbury.

Check out his website here: http://www.worshipjesus.co.uk

And the resource page is brilliant with lots on the theology of worship, how to write lyrics and how to lead worship.

I really love singing the songs he writes because they are very trinitarian and soaked in the Gospel! This is worth checking out.

Here is a video with more info:

The Rubber hits the Road

theologyTheology is really easy to talk about. It is easy to sit down around the table with the steam of hot coffee rolling around the edges of the cup, having your bibles open and your notebooks at the ready. It’s easy to say words like penal substitution and Calvinism and eschatology. They roll around your tongue and you spit them out.

It’s easy when your twenty something to see the world as black and white and carry theological debates in your pocket. You can argue about the pie in the sky until the blueberry filling squirts you in the face.

I feel like I am in the business of talking about theology. I can read the arguments and thrash out a theological position. I can quote scripture and I can also tie myself in knots with the straw from the thousands of straw men I create. And it’s good to talk, it’s good to work these things out and question and ponder.

But theology isn’t just about talk.  It isn’t just about the debates or late night discussions about predestination.

I think the rubber hits the road when life smacks you in the face.

Last week I was watching a programme where cameras followed around 4 families in their every day life. One family had a daughter and her partner expecting a baby but their were complications. They lost the baby. During this the mother makes a comment about religious people having faith and believing in God and how he comforts them. I think she really wanted that, deep down I think she yearned for that comfort.

Thing is, it’s easy to have a sound theology and all the right arguments, but when something like this happens its hard, it’s messy. It isn’t so black and white. I wanted to tell them that Jesus really loves them.

As Christians when suffering comes along we are caused to wrestle with the truths of scripture and God’s character. We ask: Who is God? Is He good? Does the death and resurrection of his Son matter? Does God understand my suffering?

I guess the heart of theology is believing in the middle of my suffering.
It’s clinging to Christ while in pain.
It’s believing in the resurrection when death knocks on your door.

I think theology tastes and feels different when you walk that road. It also sounds different when you walk that road with friends.

I haven’t really gone through great suffering, but ive walked with friends who have. The way they talk about God is different, theology has a different musical note. It’s no longer pies in the sky, but its real and it has to be wrestled with. It’s not about being right or wrong as in a debate, but it’s about clinging to Christ and finding joy and hope.

I think theology is good to talk about. But things aren’t always clear-cut. The part where it really takes effect and really matters is where theology meets real life.

And so, rich theology often comes alive when you go through an experience. Suddenly theology is no longer abstract but its earthy, weighty and holds more significance for you. The Hymn “O Love that will not let you go” by George Matheson, was birthed out of a painful experience of rejection and loss. The reality of the Lord’s love and comforting promises in a time of suffering becomes not just mere words, but wonderful truth to cling to, so that he can sing in his anguish verses like this:

O Love that will not let me go,
I rest my weary soul in thee;
I give thee back the life I owe,
That in thine ocean depths its flow
May richer, fuller be.

O Joy that seekest me through pain,
I cannot close my heart to thee;
I trace the rainbow through the rain,
And feel the promise is not vain,
That morn shall tearless be.

What beautiful theology! What a beautiful Christ we have! This is theology in action and I feel the best kind of theology there is, a theology that doesn’t just stay at the edges of the table, but overflows into our lives and helps us cling to our beautiful saviour in times of trials and darkness.

A Fairy Tale Ending

http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/I really like fairy tale endings. The happy ever after. The smiles and the giggles and the sunset.

When I watch films I really yearn for a happy ending. But I feel guilty about that. The way films suck you in and you find yourself wanting the unhappy loser to find all happiness in the world, but at a great cost.

For example: when you have two people married to each other who have fallen out of love and then the handsome guy comes in and the wife falls for him. We yearn for her to find happiness. We don’t want her to be miserable and stuck in that relationship. We want her to have an Eat, Pray, Love experience. To leave and find herself and be happy.

This is because we don’t want to be stuck in misery. We don’t want to be in a rut of routine. We want a happy ending.

These films reflect something of our hearts desires. But the means are not always great. When I think about it I don’t really want that couple to get divorced or for that girl to change everything about her to find happiness in popularity. But I also don’t want to watch a story with a sad ending. An ending of despair and unrepair. It feels incomplete. It feels like a stain upon my soul. I want more.

So then adverts try to convince us that they hold the happy ending. They say that the happy ending is smelling nice, looking good, having an amazing sports car, being popular and drinking coca cola. A small part of us buys into that lie. We think these things will give us a happy ending.

I yearn, I drink and a part of me dies.

I think we are meant to yearn for happy endings. There is something in our fabric that makes our heart groan for completion. There is something that we love about the happy ever after in fairy tales. The struggle, the cliff hangers only to be resolved in a wedding and then a happy life after.

I think we all want that. We kid ourselves when we say we don’t. Probably because life is really hard at the moment and the reality is really painful. We can sometimes think: this is my lot, this is all life is.

But that isn’t true. I think our hearts are decietful at times, but they tell us something.
Out of the heart the mouth speaks.
In our hearts we want eternity to be a joyful fairytale wedding. If you’re a guy reading this, you may think that isn’t what you want. But would you want the alternative as eternal loneliness, boredom and sadness…? No one craves for that. In fact we do all we can to avoid it. Even with things that give us only a momentary relief.

wedding cakeThe Gospel is a bit like a fairy tale ending. Not that its fake. But it offers a happy ending. There is a wedding and a feast and beautiful bride and a smiling bridegroom. The wicked witch dies and all those who love the groom get to have a happy ending. I think we are all designed to crave this.

We want bad guys to lose and we want the good guys to win and be happy. We want evil destroyed and we want love to win. We want Spock to defeat Kahn and then get the girl after. We want Neo to beat the matrix (or Mr Smith) and bring peace to Zion. We want Will Smith in the pursuit of happiness to fight against poverty and get the job he desires. We want Frodo to destroy the ring and bring peace to middle earth.

No one wants evil to triumph. We want love to win.

Love does win in the Gospel. Death gets the sting taken out of it. Jesus triumphs through his suffering and blood on the cross. Then he invites us into the happy ending – to be part of that story. Its crazy cos we are all destined for the unhappy ending. But Jesus says we can be the bride, enjoy eternal happiness and we get to meet his dad, who is great. And there is NO evil stepmother.

My heart yearns for this. I was made for a fairy tale ending. But it can only come through and in Jesus. Lets share that story!

“Bilbo: Have you thought of an ending?
Frodo: Yes, several, and all are dark and unpleasant.
Bilbo: Oh, that won’t do! Books ought to have good endings. How would this do: and they all settled down and lived together happily ever after?
Frodo: It will do well, if it ever came to that.
SamL Ah! And where will they live? That’s what I often wonder.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Fascinate people to Jesus

fascinating[Re-post and Re-written]

There is something about Christians that should be different. We should stand out.

Shine.

Go against the crowd.

We have a message of hope, we carry an eternal promise of truth. We have Jesus.
Jesus is beautiful.

Everyday when I switch on the news I cringe and slump. But in my heart I can say Jesus is beautiful.

His death resurrection gives us hope.

Our lifestyles should reflect this truth. We should be courageous in Love, reaching out to the dirty, the outcasts, the low in society, the unclean, the hopeless, the people without a voice.

We shouldnt be concerned with social status because we wear a different dress code. Our actions and words should scream a different story that’s so radical from society:

that promotes Jesus over man,
that shares the good news,
that welcomes in the broken and the weak
that says to a suffering world that Jesus understands. He has been there and carries the marks of suffering too.

We should fascinate people to Jesus. The Great I AM. The Shepard.

The Lamb. Our Great High Priest. Our God. Our Husband.

We are to fascinate the world by not being concerned with self-image, or trying to buy the latest gadgets, or trying to be popular. Not with beauty of self but beauty of Christ.

And that beauty shines through the church.

Jesus loves the church.

Church is a place where people can limp over the line and be welcomed in with arms wide open.

The church is both messy and beautiful and Jesus loves the church. The church is the bride of Christ.

The bride of Christ is to fascinate the world to Jesus.

A Direct line to God

chord In the toilets at Marjon University they have an emergency red cord and most likely that’s been pulled enough times for someone to put a note on it saying: “Emergency Assistance Cord“. I.E dont pull it unless it is an emergency.

But someone has written above it “A direct like to God“. It made me smile. They saw this red cord and for a laugh wrote this.

Sometimes prayer feels a bit like an emergency line to God.

It is like divine panic button. Call God only in an emergency.

It can feel like that in the christian life. Days and days go by and all is hunky dory, the sun is shining and life seems beautiful. There feels no need for God. No need to speak to him or include him. I am fine thank you – I don’t need you right now.

This isn’t an emergency so I wont pull the red cord.

Not until I get to the point where I suddenly have to find accommodation for my relay worker or my bus is late and therefore I am late for an important meeting or a crises pops up and I think: I need to pray! This is an emergency.

When I read that sign, I laughed. But I also thought; this is how I often see God. My personal 999 operator. Where he will answer with: “what is your emergency?“. From this its easy to think that God only wants to listen to the big, important stuff and if I told him about my worries or even my joys he will respond with “Why are you wasting my time? This isn’t an emergency“.

My view of God in this is twisted. Because God isn’t like this. Our trinitarian God isn’t like this.

I do have a direct line to God. But not just for emergencies. I have one through Jesus Christ by the Spirit:

Hebrews 7v25 – Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

Romans 8:34 Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us.

I love this. I love that Jesus is ALWAYS interceding for us. I love that Jesus prays for us as we see in John 17. I love that the spirit cries Abba Father on our behalf. Jesus brings us to the Father, he intercedes for us. Without him we could never of gone to the father, we would have been like the Israelites not being able to go near the mountain because we would die.

We are carried on Christ’s heart to the Father. A Father who loves us. This direct line that we have to God is a line that is carried by Jesus to the Father through the Spirit. And he wants to hear our hearts and our worries. Not just big emergency stuff, although that too. But also everyday stuff. Worries, anxieties, jobs next year, healing for my friend, good results, getting to work safely, good relationships at work, good conversations and whatever else faces us in the day.

Sometimes people may think we shouldnt be so quick to bring our problems to God. We shouldn’t be so quick to ask for healings or an ease to our suffering or help in our day. That we shouldn’t bring things that may seem trivial. That we should sweat it out a bit. But I am not up for that.

If we have a Father in heaven who wants to hear us. A Son who ALWAYS interceded for us carrying us to the Father on his heart and a Spirit that helps us and cries Abba Father to the Father. Then I want in on that. It makes me want to pray about everything. I want to thank God for everything. If God is Tri-unity of love and invites me in on that – then I want in.

Why? Because I am deluding myself in thinking that I can manage on my own or do perfectly well without God. I am wrong in thinking that God is only interested in certain prayers. It is all lies. Sometimes lies of the enemy. Sometimes lies I buy into because I forget the Gospel.

Some people may say – you can’t just ask God for things all the time.

And I wonder – why not? I don’t mean to demand things from God or treat him like a jackpot machine. But why not come to him like a child comes to the Father and ask for help? Or bring my worries? And also thank him for being great? Why can’t I do that all the time? Isn’t that what a loving Father wants? Isn’t that what Jesus is doing already on my behalf?

My heart needs to remember this. And this is a preach to myself more than anything else.

But I do have a direct line to God. But not a red emergency cord. I have a person who carries me on their heart all the time and another person who cries out Abba Father and a Father who hears this and delights in this and never tires from this.

I really want in on that!

The Glory of God

gloryflowerI just want to give glory to God” – this is often an honest and heart-felt statement from Christians. It’s coming from a place of surrender and desire to please God and do his will. Yet I often wonder what giving Glory to God means. I wonder what Glory means. I was looking on the Desiring God website and found a little snippet on what Glory means and they said:

“So God’s glory is the radiance of his holiness, the radiance of his manifold, infinitely worthy and valuable perfections.”

You have to ask yourself – who (rather than what?) is the radiance of his holiness? who is the radiance of his manifold, worthy perfections? Well Colossians 1v15 and Hebrews 1v3 says

    He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation.
(Colossians 1:15 ESV)

He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. (Hebrews 1:3)

It seems that the radiance of Gods holiness and glory is Jesus. Jesus is the glory of the Father and the Father pours his love by his spirit into his son. It feels less abstract. Jesus is the Father’s Glory.

It’s really easy to see Glory as something of strength and power. It’s something of greatness and worth. When we say we want to give God glory I know that to mean – I want to be the best I can for God, I want to be strong for God and to give the best talk and be the best evangelist and work the hardest and serve the longest and in that I want to give all praise to Him. It feels like Glory is power and might and its something I must display to give God glory.

When I think about how Jesus glorifies the Father it actually happens at a place of weakness and hopelessness. It’s at a place of feebleness, pain and death. Jesus glorifies the Father at the cross – displaying to all the earth the Fathers love for his children and yet he displays it in utter weakness. Utter powerlessness. The stench of death fills the room, hope hangs and dies. Does that feel like glory to you? Is that what you had in  mind when you said “I want to glorify God?” Probably not.

I don’t think it’s an accident that Jesus goes to the weak, the poor and needy instead of the rich, powerful and pious . I don’t think that it’s an accident that throughout the history of the bible the Lord chooses men and women who are weak, messed up, stumble with their words and not the most clever of the bunch to lead others and share his good news instead of using the most clever, the most eloquent of speakers, the most popular and good-looking. Glory seems to come through weakness.

If you were to say to the Lord “I just want to glorify you” and then something happens in your life – you get cancer, you are housebound, you have depression, you are seriously ill and you are weak and you are helpless and needy. Would you still feel like you can glorify God? Or were you thinking that this glory was more about your abilities, strength and “best ofs”? What if God says that through your suffering you will glorify me more – would you believe Him?

It’s hard. It’s hard because the world says we should be the best and the strongest. The christian organisations say they want the best leaders and best evangelists.

But it seems that the Lord works his glory through suffering and weakness. He showed it on the cross most of all. The Glory of the Lord was broken, weak and bleeding but yet He shone out through that the love and beauty of the Father. I often find that those christians who are most suffering, who are most struggling and just clinging on in weakness taking each day at a time, they are the ones who most show me Gods glory. They are the ones who most show me Jesus.

Glory is about weakness not strength. So when you say, “I just want to glorify God” you may want to recognise that God may take you through a place of suffering and weakness for that to happen. Because it’s in that place that you will most likely be surrendering all to him and give him praise. Glory isn’t about power and might. Glory is Jesus, dying on the cross.