Hit the accelerator and feel the wind of the Spirit

Every Christian has the Holy Spirit. You can’t be a Christian without the Holy Spirit because it’s the Spirit who gives faith. But I wonder if some of us don’t ‘feel’ the work of the Spirit because we’re not on the frontline. We’re not on the frontline of the battle against sin or we’re not on the frontline of the battle for mission.

Imagine you’ve been driving a small car with a beat up engine which struggles to go much over 30 mph. Then one day someone gives you a powerful new car with a large turbo-charged engine. A week later you shock them by saying, ‘I haven’t really noticed much difference.’ But then they discover that you’ve never driven it over 30 mph. You’ve got this car that can accelerate to 70 mph in three seconds. But you don’t notice the difference because you’ve never hit the accelerator. Some of us don’t ‘feel’ the power of the Spirit because we’ve never hit the accelerator. Do not make your life so safe that you never have cause to notice the Spirit’s work.

Hit the accelerator and feel the wind of the Spirit.

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Don’t give up

I wonder if there is a sin that you feel powerless to change. Maybe the temptation grows so strong who feel unable to resist. Maybe it creeps up and takes you by surprise so that before you know it you’ve reacted badly. You’ve committed this sin many times. You’ve tried changes many times. But you just feel struck.

The Nicene Creed says: ‘We believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.’ If you are in Christ then the Spirit has given you life: life to live for God, life to change old habits, life to proclaim Christ’s name.

So don’t give up. Don’t give up the battle with sin. I want to encourage each one of you to think of a sin with which you struggle and decide to re-engage in the battle. Romans 8:12-13 says: ‘Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation … by the Spirit … to death the misdeeds of the body’. So let’s do battle with sin. Ask yourself four questions:

1. What excuses am I making?
Lots of us hate the effects of sin in our lives – the sense of shame or the broken relationships – but we still love the sin itself. So we blame our up-bringing or other people or our circumstances. It allows us to leave our sin alone. But if you’re not killing sin then sin will be killing you.

2. How can I flee temptation?
Don’t ask, ‘What am I allowed to do?’ or ‘What can I get away with?’ Ask yourself, ‘How far can I run? How can you avoid things that encourage you to think in a wrong way? How can you avoid situations when you might be tempted?’

3. How can I embrace God instead?
How does God offer more than your sin? How can you stir your affections so your love for Jesus is bigger than your love for sin?

4. Who can help me?
Who can you ask to encourage you, challenge you, hold you accountable? Who will tell it straight? Don’t just look for sympathy can be toxic. A little salt is a good thing. But too much salt sucks the moisture out of you. A little sympathy is good thing. But pure sympathy encourages you in your discontent or victimhood. So who will point you away from your excuses and towards Jesus?

Take heart
That’s your ‘obligation’ according Romans 8:12-13. But don’t miss the main thrust of Romans 8. Verse 13 says we put to death the misdeeds of the body ‘by the Spirit’. Paul’s main point is that we have resurrection life and power. Self-improvement doesn’t work – that’s the message of Romans 7. But we’re not left to ourselves. We have the Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.

So take heart. You have a one-person extreme makeover team living in you. When you resist temptation you going against the grain of your old sinful habits – and that’s tough. But you are going with the grain of the Holy Spirit. You have his desires, his life, his power – and that makes all the difference.

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There is nothing that God expects of Christians that we cannot do

How do we know that the Spirit will give us life if we are in Christ? Because the Spirit has already given life to Christ and we are now in Christ. Romans 8:11 says: ‘And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.’

When God created the first man he formed him from the dust. He held, as it were, in his hand a perfectly formed human being. But it was a lifeless form. It was like a shop mannequin. But then we read: ‘the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.’ (Genesis 2:7) The word ‘breath’ or ‘wind’ in both Hebrew and Greek is the same as the word ‘Spirit’. God breathed his breath or his Spirit, the breath of life or Spirit of life, into the nostrils of the inert human form and it became alive.

And on the first Easter Day God did it again. There before him, as it were, was an inert human form, the dead body of Jesus. ‘Dust to dust’ we say at funerals. The body of Jesus was returning to the dust from which it had come. But once again God breathed his breath or his Spirit, the breath of life, the Spirit of life, into the nostrils of the dead human form and it became alive. And this is not a metaphor. There really was a moment in history when this happened.

That breath of life, that Spirit of life, is in you. And one day it will give life to your mortal body. This mortal body that is decaying will be resurrected to eternal life.

But notice, too, that the same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is already ‘living in you’. It is not just that you will experience the resurrection power of the Spirit in the future. You already experience that resurrection power right here, right now.
• When you have faith in Christ then you are experiencing the Spirit.
• When you have any repulsion from sin then you are experiencing the Spirit.
• When you willingly serve God then you are experiencing the Spirit.
• When you joyfully sacrifice for Christ then you are experiencing the Spirit.
• When you have any affection for your life group then you are experiencing the Spirit.

The God who raised Christ from the dead is living in you by his Spirit. The Spirit who breathed life into the rotting flesh of Jesus is the Spirit who breathes life into your heart.

There is nothing that God expects you to do that you cannot do. The sin that defeats you need not defeat you. The fears that consume you need not consume you. The people who terrify you need not terrify you.

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We evangelise because we’re happy

Yesterday England cricket fans were sent into delirium by one our best ever days of test cricket. And to make it even better, it was against the old enemy, Australia.

In case you don’t know what happened, on the opening morning England bowled Australia out for just 60 runs before lunch. No side has ever bowled another out in the first innings so quickly. Stuart Broad took 8 wickets for 15 runs. By close of play Jo Root had scored a century and England were firmly on top. In my office it was all we could talk about. This morning England declared on 391, a lead of 331. Australia started their second innings well, but then wickets starting falling in quick succession.

If all this is meaningless to you then let me summarise by saying people were describing yesterday as England’s best every day of international cricket.

I do have a serious point in this. Mid-afternoon someone posted the following message on the BBC text summary:

I’m so happy I want to go up to strangers and tell them the score. Is this what being in a religious cult is like?

The answer is, or ought to be, ‘Yes, this is what it’s like.’

The key to mobilising people for evangelism is not berating them, but making them so happy in Jesus they want to go up to strangers and tell them the good news.

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From eternity to eternity

In a previous post we looked at the opening to Paul’s letter to Titus.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.’ (Titus 1:1-3)

The phrase ‘eternal life’ is literally ‘the life of the [coming] ages’. In verse 2 Paul goes on by saying this eternal life was, literally, ‘promised before the ages’. It’s the same word. Our ministry is from eternity to eternity. What we do reaches forward into eternity future. But it also reaches back into eternity past.

What you do has eternal implications and divine implications. It goes right to the heart of God, to the Father’s love for his Son.

Let me explain by first asking a question. Paul says eternal life was ‘promised before the beginning of time’. To whom did God make this promise? Who was around to hear a promise made before time began? Ephesians 1:4-6 says:

He chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

‘He chose us in him.’ God the Father chose us in God the Son. God the Father made a promise to his Son. He promised him a bride. He promised him you. He did this ‘in accordance with his pleasure and will’. It was his pleasure to chose us. God the Father had such pleasure in his Son that he chose to share their pleasure. He created and recreated us so that we could share his delight in his Son. The Son died so that we could share his experience of sonship, so that we could be loved by his Father with the same love that he receives.

Paul says something very similar in 2 Timothy 1:8-9:

Join with me in suffering for the gospel, by the power of God, who has saved us and called us to a holy life – not because of anything we have done but because of his own purpose and grace. This grace was given us in Christ Jesus before the beginning of time.’

Your faith has eternal implications and divine implications. It’s the fulfilment of a promise from God the Father to God the Son. The Father sees you and delights in the work of his Son. The Father loves you with the love he has for his Son. The Father chose you so you could share the love and joy of the triune God.

The plan of God is not some bureaucratic undertaking. It’s not a heartless fatalism. It’s the overflow of divine love and pleasure and glory.

Your church is from eternity to eternity. Nothing is more significant than this. Nothing more important has happened in your city in the last ten years than what has happened in your church – other than what has happened in other churches.

Early in 2013 space-based telescopes detected the brightest cosmic explosion ever seen. It lit up the stars and hurled radiation across the cosmos. Had it happened within 1,000 light years of earth it would have destroyed life on our plant. In fact scientists claim it happened four billion years ago. It is the biggest event ever witnessed by human beings.

Except that is not quite true. Someone becoming a Christian is a bigger event. Your conversion was an event that was planned in eternity past and will last into eternity future. Four billion years is nothing compared to that. And a massive cosmic explosion does not compare with the death of God’s own Son.

This material is adapted from Tim Chester, Titus for You (The Good Book Company) which is available in the US from Amazon.com and in the UK from ThinkIVP.

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Why I don’t do evangelism

Let me tell you why I don’t do evangelism.

I used to think it was because I was afraid of what people would think. But I don’t think it’s that. I don’t generally worry what people think of me. The people on my street already think I’m weird! It’s not because I can’t be bothered. I’m happy to work hard for Christ in other ways. It’s not because I don’t know what to say. I have a strong conviction that the Holy Spirit can speak through me – however fumbling my words.

No, the reason I don’t tell my neighbours about Jesus is this: I think it’ll be a waste of time. I assume people won’t be interested. It’ll just be a bit embarrassing for both of us – and then we’ll quickly change the subject.

In the opening verses of Titus Paul describes what drives his ministry. He’s wanting to motivate the next generation. And what we discover is that one of the things that fires Paul’s passion for evangelism is the sovereignty of God.

Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time, and at his appointed season he brought his word to light through the preaching entrusted to me by the command of God our Saviour.’ (Titus 1:1-3)

I assume that telling people about Jesus will be a waste of time. If I invite my neighbour to an event they will almost certainly say No. If I share the gospel with someone at a party then they will probably edge away from me. And so I don’t bother.

But this is how Paul saw his life. His life was ‘for the faith of God’s elect’. God has done the choosing so God will do the convincing. God will save his elect. All Paul had to do was find the elect. And he did that my preaching the gospel to everyone.

In my shed I have a tray of seeds. Last year I noticed that a number of packets were past their use-by-date. I did not even know seeds had a use-by-date! So I stood there in my shed with these seeds in the palm of my hand. They all look dead. But perhaps some of them still have the potential for life. Perhaps some of them might still grow into healthy vegetables. There is only one way to find out. So I planted them and watered them. And indeed I did have some good lettuces and radishes.

It is the same with the people of your neighbourhood. They look dead to God because they are dead to God. But some of them are God’s elect. If you water them, as it were, by preaching the gospel then God will use that to bring them new life. You can’t tell which are God’s elect. But you can preach the gospel, confident that God has many people in your city or county.

This material is adapted from Tim Chester, Titus for You (The Good Book Company) which is available in the US from Amazon.com and in the UK from ThinkIVP.

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The NIV celebrates 50 years (sort of)

Zondervan and Biblica are celebrating the 50th anniversary of the NIV. It’s not actually 50 years since it was first published in 1976 (an event which I’m old enough to remember), but the 50th anniversary of the convening of the translation committee. For the record, the NIV is my translation of choice.

They have made various resources available at www.thenivbible.com. These include a free app, a free daily devotional email and a video of Douglas Moo lecturing on Bible translation.

Also exciting to see is a new study NIV Bible based on biblical theology edited by Don Carson. Here’s a video of Carson talking about the recent Gospel Coalition conference …

And here’s a promo video …

The NIV Study Bible will be available on 25 August here from amazon.com and amazon.co.uk.

UPDATE: For non-US readers the NIV Study Bible is now available from ThinkIVP.

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The programme-less programme

One of the things we often talk about is the need to permeate ordinary life with the gospel.

I remember speaking at a conference about living ordinary life with gospel intentionality. Questioner after questioner asked me about the structures that needed to be in place. But, of course, you cannot programme ordinary life! ‘When do you do evangelism?’ people asked. ‘When do you pastor one another?’ ‘While I do the washing up’ did not seem to satisfy them, but it was the only answer I could give!

Of course, programmes and events are good and can really help reinforce a gospel culture. But if the gospel is going to saturate who whole lives then we need people who are proactively committed to speaking the gospel to unbelievers and believers in ordinary life.

We try to create this culture by things like regularly teaching missional values, celebrating gospel opportunities, setting aside time each time we meet to share how God has been at work in our lives, ‘commissioning’ people as missionaries in their workplaces and social clubs, and so on.

Above all we model the culture for one another so that it becomes the normal thing to do. The communities to which we introduce people must be communities in which it is normal to be talking about God. This means talking about what we are reading in the Bible, praying together whenever we share needs, delighting together in the gospel, sharing our spiritual struggles, not only with Christians but with unbelievers.

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The treasury of Christ

I’ve been preaching through the book of Exodus and it’s getting a bit confusing!

One week Christ is the true tabernacle – the person in whom God dwells among his people. The next week is Christ the true High Priest who serves in the temple. Then Christ is the true sacrifice being offered by the High Priest. So which is it? Is he the tabernacle or the priest or the sacrifice?

The answer, of course, is all three and much more besides.

In Exodus alone we see Christ is the Passover Lamb, the manna from heaven, the water of life, the Rock that bears our punishment, the true mediator and prophet and the embodiment of God’s will. Picture after picture in the events, the people and the rites of the Old Testament are all concentrated into one person, Jesus.

So we shouldn’t think of the tabernacle, priest and sacrifice forming one single all-embracing image. Instead we should think of them as overlapping images. Layer upon layer of meaning is accumulating to give us the fullest possible picture of Christ. All of these pictures are required fully to express his person and work. It is in them and through them that we see the riches of God’s grace in Christ. And so they are just piled on top of each other. No one image expresses the fulness and richness of Christ and his work.

That’s why we talk about the Bible being ‘the treasury of Christ’. Out of it we produce jewel after jewel – beautiful pictures of Christ. Each one is to be held up to the light to be appreciated and enjoyed.

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