Experiencing God, Experiencing Peace

Throughout this week and next I am posting a number of excerpts from the Good Book Company’s new booklet Experiencing God: Finding true passion, joy, peace and rest in Christ. The third study focuses on experiencing peace and relates to Mark 4 v 35 – 5 v 43.

The Big Idea

We can move from an experience of agitation and anxiety to an experience of comfort and calm through faith in God’s care.

Summary

The four stories in the passage begin with:

  • an agitated sea
  • an agitated man
  • an anxious woman
  • an anxious father

They all end up at peace. The sea is calmed (v 39). The man is in his right mind (5 v 15). Jesus says to the woman: “Go in peace” (5 v 34). The father receives his daughter back from the dead (5 v 41-42). In the process we see the complete authority of Jesus over the natural world, the spirit world, sickness and death. But not everyone is at peace. The disciples are terrified when the see the power of Jesus over the storm because they lack faith (4 v 40-41). The people of the Gerasenes are terrified when they see the power of Jesus over the demon-possessed man (15 v 15). The choice throughout these four stories is between fear and faith (4 v 40-41; 5 v 15, 33-34, 36). An experience of Jesus brings an experience of peace if we have faith in Jesus. The “punchline” is 5 v 36: “Don’t be afraid; just believe”.

Available here from the Good Book Company (US) and from the Good Book Company (UK)

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Why We Need to Preach the Sovereignty of God in Deprived Areas Part One

These notes are from a talk by Duncan Forbes at the recent Reaching the Unreached [http://www.reachingtheunreached.org.uk/] conference in Barnsley. They are my notes from a talk so they may not accurately represent what Duncan intended. Duncan grew up on an estate in south London and is now planting a church there.

Living on a council estate does my head in. It is hard to cope. It is not where I want to live. The most helpful doctrine to me in helping me live on my estate is the sovereignty of God. It is will help people continue living on your estate. It will help people continue in ministry in deprived areas.

Here is a council estate view of God, albeit a generalization:

God does exist, but he is not control of everything. God has a dealt me a set of cards and now it is my job to do the best I can with the set of cards he’s given me. I’m going to take care of number one and my family, because no-one else is going to care for me. Life is a big struggle. We are trying to take care of ourselves. But this is tough. We commit sins along the way. We need to protect ourselves so we have a vicious dog or carry a knife.  We feel like a victim. We spend our life being aggressive towards injustice. ‘Are you going to take that?’ we ask each other. It sometimes leads to vigilante attacks because no-one else is going to establish justice. So we set ourselves up as God. We want to be the person in control. We want to be the provider, the judge, the avenger, the enforcer.

But the Bible teaches that God is in control. He is the Provider, the Judge, the Avenger, the Enforcer.

So we need to correct people’s view of God.

Here are some aspects of the sovereignty of God that are important to proclaim in deprived areas.

1. God is in charge

We know this, but we all act at times as if this is not true.

Consider Psalm 2. Other people think they are in charge (2). But God laughs at them (4). And God declares that he has installed his King (6). God is in charge. Jesus is installed at the right hand of the Father and he is running things.

Some people think the youth on their estate are in charge and they are afraid. Or people think the council or the police are in charge and it can make them feel unsettled. But the truth is that the estate is run by God. This is a great source of comfort for people. Continue reading

Answering People’s Questions

What about when people ask difficult questions like Why does God allow suffering? or Surely science has disproved Christianity? First, answer with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15) and grace (Colossians 4:6). This means listening to people, asking questions, being patient and showing love. Less is often more so give people time to think about what you have said.

Second, answer by pointing people to Jesus. People often ask intellectual questions and we show respect by treating their questions seriously. But the Bible says that when people reject God the problem is not an intellectual one, but a moral one (Psalm 14:1). The problem is not that people do not know the truth; it is that they will not know the truth. They decide against the truth because they don’t want to face its consequences and submit to God (Romans 1:18-25). So don’t be afraid of intellectual arguments. Make it your aim to introduce people to Jesus Christ and his word. Try to answer their questions by directing them to Jesus – to some of the words he said or something he did. This means that they are not being confronted by something which they can dismiss as your point of view. They are being confronted by Jesus Christ – the person who is the truth.

We do not need to tell people the whole gospel every time we get the chance. This is because evangelism is not an event, but a lifestyle. It takes place in the context of an on-going relationship in which other opportunities will arise. We believe God is the great orchestrator of mission. So we look for opportunities to talk about Jesus, but we need not be overbearing when those opportunities arise.
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Gospel living: lives patterned on the cross and resurrection

Christians are united by faith with Christ in his death and resurrection. This is the basis of our salvation: his death is our death that he bears in our place and his new life is our new life. But this union with Christ in his death and resurrection is also the basis for the way we live our lives as Christians.

1. Suffering followed by glory

‘Then [Paul and Barnabas] returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said.’ (Acts 14:21-22)

‘Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.’ (Romans 8:17-18)

In this present life we follow the way of the cross. Jesus said: ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.’ (Luke 9:23) Everywhere you look in the New Testament the cross of Jesus (more than the life of Jesus) defines what it means to live as Christ. It can be summarised with five Ss:

  • sacrifice
  • submission
  • self-denial
  • service
  • suffering
Reflection

The way of cross impacts both our big life choices and our small daily actions: from martyrdom to washing up. Identify what the way of the cross will mean for you in the next five minutes? Five hours? Five days? Five months? Five years?

We follow the way of the cross because it leads to resurrection glory. We live sacrificially because we are living for a glorious inheritance kept in heaven for us. (See Matthew 6:19-21 and Hebrews 11:24-26 and 12:1-3.)

In the meantime we cannot expect glory without the cross (see Mark 10:35-45).

Peter concludes his first letter by saying that he has written ‘encouraging you and testifying that this is the true grace of God’ (5:12). What is this true grace of God? ‘And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast. To him be the power for ever and ever. Amen.’ (1 Peter 5:10-11) The true grace of God, the grace that makes him ‘the God of all grace’, consists of this: he has called to eternal glory after we have suffered a little while. Suffering followed by glory. The pattern of suffering and glory in the experience of Christ (1:11) is the experience of all believers (1:6-7; 4:13; 5:1-6, 10).

Peter needs to write to confirm that this is the true grace of God, because there are false versions of grace. There are versions of grace that promise glory without suffering.
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Suffering followed by glory

Here’s another sample chapter from my latest book The Ordinary Hero: Living the Cross and Resurrection – out now  from IVP UK. It’s taken from Part Three: The Pattern of the Cross and Resurrection – Suffering followed by Glory.

Chapter 12. Suffering Followed by Glory

Purchase copies from Amazon here: purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US

The Ordinary Hero outline

The Ordinary Hero sample chapter

The Ordinary Hero ‘wordle’

The Ordinary Hero movie

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Trusting in trials with the Puritan poet, Anne Bradstreet

Here are my notes from Garry Williams’ seminar at New Word Alive on the Puritan poem, Anne Bradstreet. There is a chapter on Anne Bradstreet in the homage to Puritan writings, The Devoted Life (IVP) purchase from Amazon UK purchase from Amazon US.

Anne Bradstreet was born as Anne Dudley in 1612 so she came of age when Charles 1 was attempting to move England away from Protestantism to more Roman Catholic approach. In her poetry, Anne protests against this:

Lets bring Baals vestments forth to make a fire,

Their Mystires, Surplices, and all their Tires,

Copes, Rotchets, Crossiers, and such empty trash;

And let their Names consume, but let the flash

Light Christedome, and all the world to see

We hate Romes whore, with all her trumpery.

Anne had a privileged and educated up-bringing, marrying Simon Bradstreet, the son of a non-conformist minister and a graduate of the Puritan Emmanuel College, Cambridge. In 1630 she sailed to America with her husband and parents. Several people died during the crossing and two hundred of the thousand people in the area that Anne settled died of starvation in the first winter (‘the starving time’ it was called). It was world of promise and freedom with the hope of new beginning for Puritans, but it was also a precarious world.

The Puritans had a conception of an ordered society in which everyone had their roles. They had the opportunity completely to restructure society. They were the radicals of their day. But they did not overturn all social patterns and norms. Anne shares this outlook as her epitaph to her mother reveals.

Here lies

A worthy matron of unspotted life,

A loving mother and obedient wife,

A friendly neighbor, pitiful to poor,

Whom oft she fed, and clothed with her store;

To servants wisely aweful, but yet kind,

And as they did, so they reward did find:

A true instructor of her family,

The which she ordered with dexterity,

The public meetings ever did frequent,

And in her closet constant hours she spent;

Religious in all her words and ways,

Preparing still for death, till end of days:

Of all her children, children lived to see,

Then dying, left a blessed memory.

Anne is known for pushing the boundaries. Writing poetry was considered a male occupation and some of her poems were published under a male pseudonym. Yet she extols the virtues of a loving and submissive wife. The Puritans pushed the social boundaries, but did so within the boundaries of Scripture. This meant the Puritans had a clear sense of identity in contrast to our confused times. People today are constantly redefining themselves. Without any boundaries from God’s word we are adrift.

Continue reading

Reflections on a still birth

Here’s a moving reflection from Peter Sanlon on the death of his first child while still in the womb.

Our baby boy was given the name we always intended for him – Calvin. Small enough to hold in your hand, he is infinitely precious. Somehow, we know that his all too brief life, was lived for the glory of God. Little Calvin was named after one of the great theologians – John Calvin, born 500 years ago. Our baby Calvin is now a greater theologian than any person on earth; for he sees God face to face, rather than by faith …

“Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there were none of them.” Psalm 139:16 As I mourn with my wife the loss of baby Calvin, we humble ourselves beneath the sovereign timing of God’s gracious hand, and praise him that all his books are masterpieces. It just breaks our hearts that some of his books are so tragically short.

Read the whole thing here.

Is depression a sin?

I’ve been sent a couple of questions on depression. One was in response to my book, You Can Change, asking if I think depression is a sin. The other is from David Wayne, a pastor in Maryland, in response to my series on communities of grace. Here’s what David wrote:

Here in the US, the therapeutic culture defines and narrates the story of depression.  The psychologists, psychiatrists and other therapists are the great high priests on these issues, high priests to whose wisdom we ill-informed pastors must bow. I do know and understand that, by and large, the church and many of us pastors are given to flippant and pious platitudes in response to depression.  On the other hand, since the therapeutic culture gets to narrate the story of depression, when we pastors seek to frame a biblical story of depression we are usually ruled out of line and hurtful.  For the most part, depressed people in my congregation, or others who are under the influence of any kind of counsellor simply will not listen to me.  They will tell me what their counsellor says about how I am to help them and it is my job to receive instruction from them and to never contradict the authority of the counsellor.

Here’s my response to these two questions.

Continue reading

How can we start a church planting movement?

Alan Hirsch begins his book, The Forgotten Ways, with a question.[1] He claims that in AD 100 there were as few as 25,000 Christians and in AD 310 up to 20 million. His question is: ‘How did they do this?’

Perhaps it was a fluke of history. So Hirsch asks the same question of twentieth century China. In 1949 Mao Zedong took over China and in 1952 expelled all foreign missionaries. At the time there were about 700,000 Protestant Christians. Mao then set about trying to eradicate all traces of Christianity. In the early 1980s China began to open up again and Westerners wondered what would remain of the church. They discovered it had not only survived, but flourished. There were then an estimated 60 million believers.[2] ‘How did they do this?’

How can we start a church planting movement?

It often said that both the early church and the Chinese church grew despite the following factors:

– persecution

– a lack of buildings and professional clergy

– a lack of Bibles

The spread of the early church and the Chinese church is often said to be ‘despite’ these factors. But what is it was ‘because’ of these factors? I was already disposed to think that meeting in homes was a theological and missiological choice rather than an historical contingency. What if this was true of the other factors? What if these were not ‘despites’ at all, but ‘becauses’! So let me therefore restate them as positive principles:

In church planting movements:

– the pattern for living is martyrdom

– the pattern for church is reproducible

– the pattern for disciple-making is non-literate

I want to add one more:

– the pattern for mission is supernatural

Over the coming weeks I want to blog a few thoughts on some of these.

____________________________________

[1] Alan Hirsch, The Forgotten Ways: Reactivating the Missional Church (Brazos Press, 1986), 18.

[2] Tony Lambert, China’s Christian Millions (Monarch, Rev. Ed., 2006), 19, 26-27.

God and suffering #4

On Sundays at the moment we are focusing on and exploring ‘The Questions of Faith that People Ask.’ Here is the final part of the answer to the third question.

God has done something about suffering
Why doesn’t God do something about suffering? He has done something. He suffers with us. And he suffers for us.

At the cross, God turned evil against evil and brought about the practical solution to the problem. He has made atonement for sins, he has conquered de ath, he has triumphed over the devil. He has laid the foundation for hope. What further demonstration do we need?[1]

God will do something about suffering
The cross is not the end of the story: Jesus rose again. His resurrection is the promise of an end to , an end to suffering, a new beginning, a new creation, without pain, without tears.

Continue reading