Category Archives: Christian living

Back to Basics

On Sunday morning we looked at the “darkness” in John 1:5 and saw how big a problem our sin is. But God’s grace is bigger than our sin. This question from the Heidelberg Catechism is a brilliant statement, because it doesn’t fudge or belittle my ongoing sin, but shows how Jesus Christ brings me real peace with God. I remember reading this question and answer on a Sunday afternoon over 10 years ago and being bowled over by it. Time and again we need to go back to basics.

Q.60. How are you right with God?

A. Only by true faith in Jesus Christ.

Even though my conscience accuses me

of having grievously sinned against all God’s commandments

and of never having kept any of them,

and even though I am still inclined toward all evil,

nevertheless,

without my deserving it at all,

out of sheer grace,

God grants and credits to me

the perfect satisfaction, righteousness, and holiness of Christ,

as if I had never sinned nor been a sinner,

as if I had been as perfectly obedient

as Christ was obedient for me.

All I need to do

is to accept this gift of God with a believing heart.

Can the follower of any other religion say anything remotely like this?! Praise God for the gospel!

Here are the proof texts: Rom 3:21-28; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Phil 3:8-11; Rom 3:9-10; Rom 7:23; Titus 3:4-5; Rom 3:24; Eph 2:8; Rom 4:3-5; Gen 15:6; 2 Cor 5:17-19; 1 John 2:1-2; Rom 4:24-25; 2 Cor 5:21; John 3:18; Acts 16:30-31.

You can find more of the Heidelberg Catechism here

What’s the speed of our obedience?

“I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments” Psalm 116:60.

When you’re driving your car, there are two pedals that affect your speed – the brake and the accelerator. The brakes slow you down and the accelerator speeds you up. These two pedals can help us appreciate what the Psalmist says in this verse.

When it comes to obeying God’s commands, sometimes we can put our foot on the brakes. We want to slow things down. “Hang on! I know the Bible says stuff about the Sabbath, or about not stealing, or about forgiving others, or about the importance of prayer, but it can’t be that straight-forward”. So, we delay our obedience. We come up with excuses. We put it off and drag our feet. But the psalmist says: “I … do not delay to keep your commandments”. He won’t touch the brake pedal when it comes to obeying God’s commandments.

But that’s not all. Not only does the psalmist not want to slow down his obedience; he’s not happy to coast along either and keep his speed at 30 mph. “I hasten… to keep your commandments” he says. When he hears a commandment, he doesn’t just avoid slowing down his obedience; he deliberately speeds it up. He puts his foot on the accelerator. He wants to get from 30 to 70 mph as quickly as possible. Isn’t that a beautiful idea? God’s commandments are so good, that when he hears them, he wants to align his life with them as quickly as he can.

This is how Jesus talked when he was on earth; he was quick to obey his heavenly Father: “I hasten and do not delay to keep your commandments”. And this is how Jesus leads Christians to talk too.

So, a good question to ask ourselves is: what’s the speed of our obedience? Are we putting the brakes on? Or maybe we’re just driving on spiritual cruise-control. Or are we putting our foot down fully on the throttle? When I come to church, which attitude do I have? Which pedal have I got my foot on? The brake or the accelerator? Wouldn’t it be great if we as a congregation were determined not to delay, but to hasten to keep the commandments of God as we discover them in Scripture? Let’s pray that as we turn up on Sundays, we’re like a bunch of boy-racers, revving their engines at the traffic lights, eager to obey God.

Love your neighbour

This is a lovely, true story. We need to keep telling stories like this.

“Reverend Kees Sybrandi was not, by any stretch, a model example of interfaith awareness and tolerance. When I asked him what he thought about Muslims, he complained that they had created a lot of trouble in the Netherlands. He complained about Muslims poverty, crime, urban blight, terrorism, and government dependency. A very conservative Christian, Pastor Sybrandi firmly insisted that Jesus Christ is the only way, the only truth, and the only life worth having. He insisted that Islam was a false religion and he called Allah a desert demon spirit.

Sybrandi’s attitude about Islam made his response to Theo van Gogh’s murder in 2004 all the more confounding. Across the Netherlands, tensions were running high; mosques and churches were being vandalized and even burned. In a curious response, Sybrandi stood up and walked to his neighbourhood mosque. He knocked firmly on the door and, to the shock of the Muslims huddled inside, he declared that he would stand guard outside the mosque every night until the Dutch attacks ceased. In the days and weeks that followed, the pastor called other churches in the area, and more and more Christian joined him, circling and guarding mosques throughout the region for more than three months.

But why? What possible reason would this conservative Christian give to explain his actions? What could have motivated him, of all people, to do this? Sybrandi showed little awareness of the more peaceful aspects of Islam. He showed no appreciation for Islamic culture, clothing, or food. He recounted no stories of past friendships or dialogues with Muslims. Nor did he profess that as a loyal citizen of the Netherlands it was his patriotic duty to show liberal tolerance towards Islam. He was not inspired by modern dogmas of liberty, equality, or fraternity. Multicultural appeals for a celebration of difference had little pull on his heart. When I pressed him to explain his actions, to give some account for why he would defend a religion he deeply disliked, Sybrandi simply replied, “Jesus. Jesus commanded me to love my neighbour – my enemy too”.

(p. 25-26, Christian Hospitality and Muslim Immigration in an Age of Fear, Matthew Kaemingk, emphasis added)

Your most important piece of furniture

People today invest money in their beds, their mattresses, their bathrooms, their TVs, and sound system. But the Christian’s most important piece of furniture is his table. Even Jesus has one (see 1 Cor 10:21)! A table is where we eat with Christian brothers and sisters and with our neighbours. It’s a place where we’re forced to look at each other, listen to each other, and talk to each other. It, therefore, plays a very important part in Christians letting their light shine before others (Matt 5:16).

Rosaria Butterfield’s written a fascinating book on hospitality. Some of it won’t apply so well to life in the UK, and, to be honest, her example is a bit exhausting, but here’s an excerpt:

“I prepare for daily hospitality in our home and at our table. If for some odd reason, we are the only ones there, then I have food to freeze. No big problem. In regular and daily ways, by dinnertime, our house is usually filled with a friend or two from church, a friend or two from the neighbourhood, and a group of children. We have gathered together enough times that as new people join us, we can all make them feel welcome.

In our house, and in the Bible, people take on the roles and responsibilities of both host and guest. Our routine of daily hospitality means that my children have plenty of examples of Christian living – including the important example set by vital, vibrant Christian adults who are single. Our routine means that our children watch adults they respect struggle with big issues before the Lord. This makes their own personal struggles less frightening. In our house it is normal to struggle with sin and to do openly. Repentance is a Christian fruit, not a social shame”.

If we want to break down barriers in church and in Ilford, your table is a key piece of equipment. A good question to think and pray about is: “Who could I invite around my table to show God’s love?”. Or “How can I help someone else in church use their table to show God’s love?”.

Remember:

– Don’t just invite your pals. Luke 14:12-13 – “invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, and the blind”.

– Don’t think you have to serve up something impressive – Matthew 10:42 “even a cup of cold water” or a piece of toast can count!

Let’s put our tables to work in Ilford!

Asking Advice

I pointed out in a sermon on 1 Thessalonians 2 last week that for many people their relationship to their minister is about as deep as their relationship to their hairdresser! You wouldn’t ask your hairdresser for advice if you were thinking about moving away or a career change (unless it was hairdressing); so why would you ask your minister for advice about these things?! But we saw Paul describe his relationship to the church in Thessalonica as “like a nursing mother, taking care of her own children” (1 Thess 2:7) and “like a father with his children” (v.11). God hasn’t designed ministers to be professionals, who provide a service to you, like a haircut. No, ministers “are keeping watch over your souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb 13:17).

So, I thought it might be helpful to give examples of things you can ask my advice on. While you’re welcome to ask my advice about what car to buy, or what colour to paint your walls, it probably wouldn’t be very valuable – I don’t have a clue about cars! But here are some things as a minister I am qualified to help you with:

  • what to do in a conflict situation.
  • big decisions, like getting married, moving house, changing jobs…
  • marriage questions e.g. how husbands and wives should relate.
  • parenting, how to teach your children in the faith.
  • sins you struggle with.
  • what to commit your time to.
  • how to get more out of church.

There’s a lot of bad advice out there; Psalm 1 calls it: “the counsel of the wicked”. But the Bible says: “the unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple” (Psalm 119:130). I’m not pretending to be an expert in the areas above in and of myself. But I do know that the Bible applies to these areas of life.  So, please be assured: I’m here to help you unfold God’s words into the details of your life and love to do it.