The single track by Jacqui Wright: A message to the church


A message to the churchDear church and church leaders,

Possibly, like you, I left my single life in my early twenties when I married a pastor and became busy with ministry and having a family. I did not think about nor understand the singleness issue for people in our congregation, as it was never raised for my attention.

Unwilling divorce

In God’s sovereign providence, when my life took a dramatic turn to receive the gift of a hard grace: an unwilling divorce and becoming a single parent of five children under nine years old, then the singleness issue started to become real to me. My circumstances changed from being in the centre of church life, being admired, accepted, and understood, to being scorned, rejected and marginalised, by those very same people. I felt like a divorced single parent ‘leper’, which was truly shocking and grievous to me. In the very time of my need, the ‘fat sheep’ in the church pushed out the sheep who served them that had become ‘weak’ (Ezekiel 34). Even more shockingly, I found this to be true in many churches that I tried to become part of across continents.

God wastes nothing of our experiences and suffering, it is always multi-layered, and so over time… (to read more click here)

Further practical advice can be found at http://www.singlechristians.co.uk/info/church_leader

Jacqui Wright is a single Christian, and single parent of five kids for the past 16 years. She was married to a pastor which ended in an unwilling divorce. She is an independent Speech and Language therapist with practices in Bedford and on Harley Street, London. She is the chair of Bedford Christian Singles friendship and fellowship group.

This article was first published in the May 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

So you have no children?


Pastor’s wife, Tracey Richards, shares her story

No children

We had known much excitement in the week and a half of moving to Marlow.

It was October 1998. We had been married for three years and we were excited by the new opportunity to minister to God’s people in our first pastorate. All these joys and prospects were magnified by the fact that I was pregnant with our first child. We both wanted children very much.

Before leaving for our first church meeting I felt a sudden sharp pain in my abdomen. Hoping that the pain would pass I continued to get ready to leave, but the pain only became worse and more intense.

Life shattered

My husband, Evan, went alone to the meeting, which left us both feeling disappointed and sad.

On arriving home and discovering my worsening condition (to read more click here)

This article was first published in the April issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, articles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The single track by Jacqui Wright: Sex, love and singles


photo: iStock

photo: iStock

How do we rightly think about sex and love from a biblical perspective?

We need to start by understanding God’s covenantal love for us in Christ; that is his promise of unconditional love, acceptance and forgiveness in Christ. From this unimaginable gift of grace we worship, love, trust and obey him first and foremost. He is the ultimate bridegroom and the one who satisfies all our deepest needs.

Ultimate unveiling

God has created sex and love as good gifts for us to enjoy in their rightful place in our lives. This is part of the pattern of covenantal love which is unselfish and promises commitment to the other in spite of feelings. Sex within a covenantal legally binding marriage relationship is the ultimate unveiling of oneself and selfless sacrificial giving which reflects the commitment to the other in all aspects of life. Sex in marriage is within a zone of safety and due to its committed nature, grows ever deeper. In contrast, our secular society operates on a … (to read more click here)

Jacqui Wright is a single Christian, and single parent of five kids for the past 16 years. She was married to a pastor which ended in an unwilling divorce. She is an independent Speech and Language therapist with practices in Bedford and on Harley Street, London. She is the chair of Bedford Christian Singles friendship and fellowship group.

This article was first published in the March 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

The single track by Jacqui Wright: Hope for Christian singles


photo: Istock

photo: Istock

Who are Christian singles?

Christian singles are a diverse group: never married, divorced and widowed, across all ages of adulthood. Some are single by choice but many are not.

Those who desire to be married have a unique set of challenges on their spiritual journey. This series of articles aims to address this and help singles who struggle with their singleness.

One true love?

Will ‘one true love’ meet my needs? Our society places unhelpful pressure on singles to find their ‘one true love’ within a romantic experience. This pressure can also be present in the church. The ideal of being ‘a couple’ or in ‘a marriage’ as well as having ‘the perfect family with children’ leaves many singles feeling disappointed, disillusioned and mildly depressed.

They can respond with a range of reactions from a relentless drive to find that ‘someone’ to falling into despair at the thought of even trying. However, we know that … (to read more click here)

Jacqui Wright is a single Christian, and single parent of five kids for the past 16 years. She was married to a pastor which ended in an unwilling divorce. She is an independent Speech and Language therapist with practices in Bedford and on Harley Street, London. She is the chair of Bedford Christian Singles friendship and fellowship group.

This article was first published in the January 2015 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: For heaven’s sake, confer!


Pastor Anonymous Dec 2014

Church leaders conferring at 2014 FIEC Leaders’ Conference

Pastors must go to conferences.

Pastors need days away from the pressures of ministry in the churches they lead. We need each other, new scenery, good friends, encouragement, r&r, and the whole host of other things which conferences give us. Residential conferences in the course of ministry are a gift from heaven to the church’s leaders.

Extra support

Not all church leaders can get away, of course. Bi-vocational ministries, home-life demands and other factors mean that leaders sometimes just cannot get away. These men deserve our extra support. They should be the exception, though. Most pastors should be getting away.

We must stop seeing conferences as… (to read more click here)

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the December 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

A Constant Gardener by Pastor Anonymous: Slow grace?


Slow Grace?I met Neil seven years ago.

He came to our church, smiley, friendly, and obviously nervous. He knew that he was coming into a network of friendships, and we could see that he felt daunted about it. We knew that we needed to give Neil a lot of space to get comfortable amongst us, and that included all the hospitality and friendship that he wanted.

Given to us

Neil was approaching middle-age, single, and a bit of a mystery. We knew that he was very grateful for his church upbringing in another part of the country, and his commitment to his elderly mum often took him back there. We didn’t know who his friends were, and very little about his work. But that’s fine. The Lord had given him to us as someone we were charged to (to read more click here)

Pastor Anonymous is in full-time pastoral ministry somewhere in the UK.

This article was first published in the November 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Parenting is moving on


Parenting Moving On(view original article here)

Ruth Woodcraft interviews Ann Benton

en: This summer sees the publication of a new book on parenting and a DVD written and presented by you. Is this entirely new material?
AB: 
These are two quite separate projects, although both are on the subject of parenting. The DVD is of previous material in a new format. The Good Book Company already publishes a parenting course written by me, titled Putting Parenting to Bed. It includes a leader’s guide. But I am aware that not every church has someone who would have the confidence to front such a course and I have been frequently asked whether a DVD was available of the material. So this is the material in DVD format and it includes footage of children and parents talking about their children as well as the didactic stuff from me. From July the DVD will be on sale along with the leader’s guide and course-book materials*.

It’s designed to be used by churches with all kinds of parents including unchurched ones. Although it is based on biblical principles it is not presented as a Bible study but as good common sense about parenting which happens to be from God’s Word. Along the way I throw out some gentle challenges which, I hope, will make an unbeliever think, for example, about the values they bring to parenting and why they might like to investigate Christianity. But it is a parenting course, not evangelism as such.

en: What about the book? Do we need another book on parenting?
AB:
 I have become increasingly aware that political correctness and other fashionable ideas/taboos have made many Christians nervous of following common sense parenting principles.

The very notion of parental authority is no longer taken for granted in society at large. But this is a core concept in the Bible and crucial, I would maintain, to raising a healthy, happy child. And there are many other issues where a thinking Christian parent may feel out of step with current views: discipline, sex and sexuality, materialism, the internet and many more. I have called the book Parenting Against the Tide** and it is written for parents who want to think through those issues biblically. It is a call to be counter-cultural in some ways, but that is nothing new to a follower of Jesus Christ.

en: You state very early on that parenting is much harder than in the past. Children are still children, so in what ways do you see parenting as more of a challenge?
AB: 
I think that parenting is harder because many parents have become less confident in their authority. Broadly that means that, from the earliest age, children are growing up with fewer boundaries. As a result they have an inflated sense of entitlement which in turn makes them harder work still. I am not saying that all children are brats. But I am saying that many parents are frightened of their children, treating then more like clients who have to be satisfied. In my book I explain a little bit about how that shift has happened. There are a number of factors, but a major source has been the whole children’s rights lobby. Since much of that is built on the idea of the total innocence of children (so denying the doctrine of original sin) it is going to be seriously skewed in its applications.

en: You argue that the emphasis on a child’s self-esteem, which lies behind so much parenting advice, is actually damaging children. Surely children need to feel good about themselves or they will grow up to be damaged people?
AB: 
The Bible would say that children need to be loved, with the kind of special love that only a parent can give. That is what makes a child resilient. Yes, a parent’s love will often make them feel very happy, but sometimes the best thing a loving parent can do is to confront a child – even make a child feel bad about himself when he has done wrong. Part of a parent’s work is to instruct a child’s conscience and to help a child to learn from mistakes and take correction as a route to wisdom. Flattering a child to believe he is always wonderful will have no such educational value. Humility is a more helpful aim than high self-esteem, according to the Bible.

en: You place a huge value on a mother who stays at home to bring up a child. What would you say to the woman who says, ‘We can afford for me to stay at home, but I’d go mad if I stayed at home with my child and I just want to go back to work.’?
AB: 
I understand some women have to go to work for financial reasons but I think it is high time somebody praised those women who selflessly give a number of years to caring for their children.

Why is childcare considered a perfectly viable career option for a woman professionally, but if she does it for her own children she is looked upon as lazy or lacking in ambition? I salute such women. I nowhere argue that it has to be a long-term full-time arrangement (although I think there is much more to good homemaking than some people believe), but I do think that someone has to speak up for the child. In his first few years, who would a child rather be with – his own mother or a professional carer? Who will give him that kind of special love that he needs? Who knows him best?

With the raising of pensionable age, there will be plenty of hours for a woman to spend in the workplace when mothering days are done. There are ways to protect your sanity when the baby is in his cot. The grass is always greener in the other option and it is good to remind yourself that even the best of workplaces can drive you mad too.

en: Homeschooling and smacking. Why not avoid these controversial topics?
AB: They certainly are controversial. But I included in my books all the subjects I get asked about. And I have been asked many times about both of these. They are not on the same level however. Homeschooling is a hot topic because those who have chosen to do it tend to have a missionary zeal about it which can be unsettling to those who have decided to make other arrangements for their children’s education. But equally there are those Christians who really wanted me to argue that homeschooling is a poor choice. But I could not. I defy anyone to find a case for state schooling from the Bible. The Bible gives principles which different Christians apply in different ways regarding the education of their children. I have tried to be even-handed in presenting the case for homeschooling and the one for delegating the education elsewhere, which, incidentally, was what we did. A Christian should never be afraid of thinking through the reasons for any choice. I hope my analysis helps in that choice.

Smacking is controversial because it is unfashionable. There is always a bit of an intake of breath if I mention it when speaking. Some people think it is already illegal in this country. It is not – though many people would like it to be. Again I maintain that the Bible does not rule it out and neither therefore can I. Indeed on balance the Bible rather commends it than otherwise although some would maintain that the use of the word ‘rod’ in Proverbs is metaphorical. This is discussed in my book. Again, let readers think the issue through and make up their own minds. In any case I refused to avoid the subject just because various health and childcare professionals think smacking is wrong. That is precisely what I mean by ‘going against the tide’. I do not argue from history or from psychology but from Scripture. I did not write a book just to put across my own ideas.

en: Many parents will come to this book with a heavy heart and a sense of failure with their children not behaving how they would want them to. What do you say to that parent?
AB:
 I say to that parent, ‘I know how you feel’. I have had my share of heavy-hearted days. And surely all parents know what it is to look at their child and give a great big sigh. But remember that the snapshot you take of your child today is of a work in progress. It is not ‘game over’.

If you love your child and are not afraid to exercise authority, there is hope. One of the lovely things about children is that after the most ghastly day when you have done nothing but nag/correct/chastise – even perhaps when you have blown it and lost your temper and your failure has kept you awake at night – your child wakes the next morning bright-eyed and bushy-tailed and it is a whole new day. And they are right. It is a brand-new opportunity to lovingly train and correct.

Remember also the unsung but all-important things you do as a loving parent. You provide food, clothing, shelter. You are there. You are a good parent. Keep going.

en: If you had your time again as a parent, what would you do differently, or what do you wish you’d known then that you do now?
AB: 
Firstly, I would enjoy my children more. I think sometimes I got bogged down in management and administration and did not revel in the relationship I had with these four fantastic unique human beings growing up in my house.

It is a cliché, but they are not children long. As a parent you have this small window – yes, certainly for input of all kinds but also for being around each other. I think I got too stressed over little things – toilet-training, for example, which I loathed and at which I was hopeless (or my children were) – and failed to realise that these things pass. Things like that shake down OK. What is more important is your own attitude and demeanour.

Secondly, I would pray more – both with my children and for them. Despite my many failures God has been extraordinarily gracious to me and my family.

en: In the last chapter you write: ‘The shambles of family life is there to teach parents that they need God.’ To encourage every parent, can we just end this interview with you expanding on this for us?
AB: 
We don’t help anybody by pretending or thinking we can ever be perfect parents. There is plenty of scope for failures under a dispensation of grace. When we meet a problem in life, it suits our pride to solve the problem ourselves by thinking our way through to a better strategy. God might let us get away with that for so long. But in his kindness God sometimes lets us completely mess up and gives us the opportunity to face up to our weakness, our utter fallibility and repent. He does it so that we realise how much we need him. Whether in parenting or in life as a whole, each shambles presents us with that reminder. Run to God, who gives everything we need for life and godliness, and for parenting too.

** Parenting Against the Tide is published by EP Books in July, ISBN 978 1 783 970 353, £8.99.

 

This article was first published in the July 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Building a team – Richard Bewes with advice for church leaders


Building a team

(view original article here)

Would we ever have picked them?

Could they really have been the start of a mighty movement, numbering today up to 2.3 billion devotees across the world?

There they are gathered for the inauguration of the Lord’s Supper. A dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be the greatest (Luke 22.24).

Up gets Jesus. Silence falls. Off comes the tunic, out comes the basin, on comes the towel. ‘Your feet please, John… your feet, Peter… your feet please, Philip.’ Christ’s washing of his team members’ feet was symbolic of the world’s greatest act of servant-hood about to take place next day: the washing, through the shedding of blood, not only of his few friends from their sins of a lifetime, but of millions upon millions of future believers of every language and country.

When the evening was over, Mark tells us they sang a hymn and went out. They were hardly singing at the start. Suppose Peter had earlier announced ‘Let’s sing number 15, everybody’! At that point they could hardly look into each other’s faces. But hearts melt at the actions of Jesus.

The proof of servanthood

As with Jesus, servanthood in a team tends to emanate from the leader. It takes only days for a fellowship to detect whether their incoming evangelist or pastor is a true servant. We must learn this well. Not until we have proved our servanthood can anything of lasting significance be achieved.

A former colleague of mine, Alex Ross, was to become a pastor and preacher of high attainment and international renown. But when still at Bible college, he was assigned to assist in a church I was then leading in north-west London. The one task Alex was given, Sunday by Sunday, was to carry a box of toys into the infants’ group, unload them, and stay around to ‘help’. And, despite Alex’s considerable Bible knowledge, nothing else. Up-front ‘Word ministry’? There was none for him! But he proved to be a cheerful and loyal team member. His college principal, Dr Gilbert Kirby, later called me: ‘Make sure Alex Ross joins your ministry team!’

John Newton – transformed two centuries ago from slave-trader to hymn-writer – once declared in a conversation: ‘If two angels were to receive at the same moment a commission from God, one to go down and rule earth’s grandest empire, the other to go and sweep the streets of its meanest village, it would be a matter of entire indifference to each which service fell to his lot, the post of ruler or the post of scavenger; for the joy of the angels lies only in obedience to God’s will, and with equal joy they would lift a Lazarus in his rags to Abraham’s bosom or be a chariot of fire to carry an Elijah home’.1

The cross sets the standard

The Bible tells us that we learn that true greatness is measured by the cross of Christ. The disciples had been unable to take this in. Why, with these great crowds they were becoming famous; they were on the threshold of power!

And if this mindset could predominate at the Last Supper, I fear it can take over any of us, among today’s preachers, music bands or worship leaders. It can invade local church elderships and, indeed, the Christian press. Could any individual stay content under Christ’s gaze, when dubbed ‘Preacher of the Year’? When the cross loses its central place, an entire church can become self-contained, with its unspoken adage, ‘We have no need of you’.

The team’s leader

A three-fold task awaits God’s team leader – whether youth worker, street pastor coordinator, bishop or fellowship leader. We are to protect, to inspire and to unite – with the pure teaching of God’s inerrant Word behind all three priorities. Once lose that vision and we are left with a disunited and powerless body in confused disarray.

Newly-appointed team leaders need not fear too much about their lack of Bible knowledge. We can but learn! The key question relates to the direction in which we intend to lead the team.

Where is the direction?

My wife Pam and I have long known the Norfolk Broads in England’s East Anglia. Imagine a boat-load of holiday-makers setting off from the boathouse at Ranworth Broad. They are supposed to be heading towards one of three islands, where a picnic lunch is awaiting them. Inside the boat a disagreement is under way.

‘Look!’ says the leader. ‘Island A – right ahead. Pull away!’

‘No!’ cries an oarsman. ‘We should be heading to Island B – just to the right. Alter course by a tiny fraction!’

‘Rubbish!’ shouts a third. ‘You’re all wrong; it’s Island C, way off left! Change course by 90 degrees!’

The question is, who is the most dangerous person in the boat? The advocate for Island C? No. Nobody is taken in by such a blatant error. The danger comes from the call for Island B. It is so close to Island A – and if the boat heads that way, it will only just miss the correct destination… but it will miss it.

The principle of the angle

It is the principle of the widening of the angle. A church or fellowship has only to veer half a degree from what the New Testament describes as the word of truth, the good deposit, the trustworthy message, the faith once and for all entrusted to the saints – and ten years later we will see that group neatly diverted into a backwater of spiritual powerlessness – and they won’t even know it.

The leader, then, must establish just where future team members are starting from before appointments are made – however little they may know! How ‘hungry’ are they? Where are they intending to be, in relation to God and the Trinity, to Jesus Christ, to the centrality of the cross and the way of salvation; to the Holy Spirit, to prayer – and to the inspiration and inerrancy of the Scriptures?

What makes a credible team?

The words from prison by the apostle Paul can be taken as a motto text: ‘Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you’ (Philippians 1.27,28).

The work is done together. We are to be seen standing in unity. The very first time your chosen team meets for Bible study and prayer, it will be apparent within the hour whether you have unity or not. And if the team has unity, so will the wider fellowship. Then there can be no stopping you!

Paul’s friends were also to be seen standing in adversity among those who opposed them. Suffering is actually ‘granted’ to us by the once-crucified Christ (Philippians 1.29). To stand by each other, when everything is going wrong, is the authentic test.

Further, they were to be standing in humility, with nothing done from selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility counting others better than themselves (Philippians 2.3). At a meeting in the 1880s the American evangelist D.L. Moody was invited to introduce fellow preacher Henry Ward Beecher. ‘Introduce Beecher?’, he exclaimed. ‘Not I! Ask me to black his boots and I’ll do it gladly.’

There’s nothing like the power of a close-knit team for God! I think of an African proverb from my own birthplace in Kenya: ‘Sticks in a bundle are unbreakable’.

This article is an extract from Equipped to Serve by Richard Bewes, recently published by Christian Focus, ISBN 978 1 781 912 867, £8.99.
1. John Newton by Richard Cecil, augmented by Marylynn Rouse, Christian Focus.

 

This article was first published in the May 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Do we still need the cross?


credit: i-stock

credit: i-stock

(view original article here)

Marcus Nodder, senior pastor of St Peter’s Barge in West India Quay, London, explains from Isaiah 6

There’s a danger that, as we go on as Christians, we drift away from the cross.

We can operate as if we don’t need it anymore. Or, at least, not as much as we did at the beginning.

The prophet Isaiah was speaking to people who thought they were okay as they were and didn’t need God’s grace. But then in Isaiah 6.1-8 he recounts for their benefit how he came face to face with the reality of what God is like and what we are like. It makes shocking reading:

John Calvin says: ‘Man never achieves a clear knowledge of himself, unless he has first looked upon God’s face… For we always seem to ourselves righteous and upright and wise and holy – this pride is innate in all of us – unless by clear proofs we stand convinced of our own unrighteousness, foulness, folly, and impurity’.

A big vision of God (v.1-4)

Uzziah had been king of Judah for over 50 years and his fame had spread far and wide, but ‘after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God’ (2 Chronicles 26.16). In judgment, God struck him down with leprosy and he spent the final years of his life living in isolation. In 740BC he died, a leper.

Isaiah writes: ‘In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne’ (Isaiah 6.1). The prophet was given a vision of the king. The true king. The king of kings. And what he saw shook his world to the foundations. He saw God in all his majesty and holiness – incomparable, without sin, pure, perfect, just, righteous.

Isaiah was looking at the one whose power is infinite and whose glory fills the earth. So powerful were the booming voices of the seraphim that it seemed as if the building were about to collapse. And smoke, signifying the presence of God, filled the place. Utterly terrifying.

People sometimes say: ‘I like to think of God as…’ and they fill in the blank with things like: ‘a force like electricity’, or: ‘someone who watches over us from a distance’. This is wishful thinking. It tells you nothing about the God who is actually there and leaves you with no need of the cross.

The artist Tracey Emin was commissioned to design a statue for a British city. It was a little bird on top of a four-metre pole. She explained that ‘most public sculptures are a symbol of power, which I find oppressive and dark’. She said she wanted something ‘which would appear and disappear, and not dominate’. Is that not exactly what we have done with God? A God of awesome power and majesty and holiness is rather threatening. It’s much more manageable to have a tiny God who doesn’t dominate. A mini pocket God; a pigmy God; a bird-on-a-pole God that appears when I want him to and disappears when I choose; a not-so-very-different-from-me God. But the God Isaiah saw is the God who is actually there. What was it like to meet God face to face?

A deep awareness of sin (v.5)

‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined!’ (Isaiah 6.5). This wasn’t just a ‘wow’, like standing on the edge of the Grand Canyon. It was the ‘woe’ of being terrified. Isaiah knew he was-n’t just small in the presence of absolute greatness, but a sinner in the presence of absolute holiness.

In particular, he felt the uncleanness of his lips, and those of his people. Why? Perhaps because on hearing the seraphim calling out he realised he was too sinful to join in. King Uzziah, having been struck down with leprosy, would have had to cry out ‘Unclean! Unclean!’ (Leviticus 13.45). Isaiah now realised he was no different – morally. What opened his eyes to that was seeing God as he really is.

In Charles Kingsley’s classic book The Water Babies, the central character is a boy called Tom, who is a chimney sweep. One day, in a huge mansion, he loses his way crawling inside the maze of flues and chimneys. Instead of coming out down the kitchen chimney, he crawls out onto the hearth of a spotlessly white bedroom, where a lovely little girl lies asleep between immaculately white sheets, a room where not a speck of dirt is to be seen. Tom, the little orphan chimney sweep, gazes around him, enchanted by his first sight of such beauty and cleanness, having never imagined that anything so spotless and lovely could exist.

But then he catches sight of a filthy little creature, sooty black from head to foot, standing on the rosy pink carpet with pools of black perspiration dripping from its body. It is so out of place in such surroundings that he shakes his fist and shouts furiously, ‘Get out of here at once!’. But the dirty figure shakes its fist in return.

And suddenly, for the first time in his life, poor Tom realises that he is looking in a mirror and seeing himself as he really is. It breaks his heart. Uttering a desolate and despairing cry, he rushes out of the house, sobbing as he goes: ‘I must be clean! I must be clean! Where can I find a stream of water and wash and be clean?’.

Seeing God in his holiness is like being dropped into that spotless white room. We suddenly see ourselves as we really are. We look in the mirror and see how out of place we are in the spotless presence of God. We feel ashamed, condemned, afraid. ‘Woe to me! I am ruined!’

In our worst moments we quite like our sin, but God’s holiness means he hates it. It arouses his righteous anger. He must judge it. And since we’re all sinners, that is a terrifying prospect. If we think of ourselves as basically good people, we will never see our need for the cross.

An experience of grace (v.6-8)

‘Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’’ (Isaiah 6.6).

Under the old covenant, God provided the sacrificial system to make atonement for the sins of the people. But these animal sacrifices were just a picture, foreshadowing the ultimate sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

The coal taken here from the altar symbolised that a sacrifice had been made. Isaiah had confessed he was a man of unclean lips, and now one of the seraphim takes a burning coal from the altar and touches his unclean lips with it. And in that one symbolic act he is cleansed from sin. The seraphim declares: ‘Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’. What wonderful words for Isaiah, or indeed any of us, to hear. ‘Your guilt is taken away’ – your actual guilt before a holy God as well as your feeling of guilt. ‘And your sin atoned for’ – atonement means that the debt of sin is covered, paid in full.

Isaiah didn’t say: ‘Yes I am unclean, but just wait. I’ll try harder. I can do better. Give me a chance and I’ll clean my act up’. Isaiah is cleansed in an instant – not by his own efforts, but purely by God’s grace. And just as he received God’s grace through this sacrifice, so we, as we accept Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for us on the cross, hear the same words Isaiah heard: ‘Your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for’.

This is the only basis on which we can ever stand before God. As Christians we must beware when we start to say to ourselves: ‘I’m actually doing pretty well now. Been a Christian a few years. Making progress in godliness. Serving in ways I wasn’t before. Know quite a bit. And I’m doing more than that person over there’. We need to catch ourselves, repent of such pride and self-delusion, and see again what God is like and what we are like.

Because even if you’re Billy Graham and you’ve preached to millions, and tens of thousands have been saved through you, without God’s grace through the cross, you stand before God today as a lost sinner.

This is an edited extract from Why Did Jesus Have to Die? by Marcus Nodder, recently published by The Good Book Company, and is used with permission.

 

This article was first published in the April 2014 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, visit us online www.e-n.org.uk or subscribe to en for monthly updates.

Church – born again!


2013_12 Dec Cover

A church plant that almost failed has taken off and goes independent in January.
Billy, Justine, Gill, Emma, Gary, John, Maggie, Amy are just a few of the many who have come to faith over the past six years at Shepherd Drive Baptist Church on the Chantry and Pinewood estates in Ipswich. If you have never been to the ‘far east’, Ipswich is a historic sea port on the river Orwell with a couple of large marinas full of posh yachts. Now just over an hour from Liverpool Street station in the City of London, it is also a rapidly growing commuter town.

Making a mark for God
Situated at a key point on this expanding housing development, the church is starting to make a real mark for God among the many young families who live round about. It was, however, back in the 1970s that a Christian nurse living on the estate first felt a burden to reach the local children with the gospel. In due time this led to a church plant, which, in spite of sincere efforts and a good building, never really impacted the area as it might have. After a closure of around three years, the fellowship was re-launched in 2007 with a specific aim of reaching the un-churched.
To head up the work with suitably gifted people, the overseeing church at Cauldwell Hall Road had invited Simon and Christine Robinson from Caterham in Surrey and also sent Matt and Sheryl Brett from its own leadership to work alongside them.

Focused on evangelism
Simon’s brief was specifically to focus on bridge building and evangelism rather than assume the role of a traditional pastor. From the outset of the new mission, this was and remains his and Christine’s priority. Incidentally, Matthew, himself a local lad who attended the children’s events in the early days, had subsequently been converted and eventually became an elder at the sending church.
As these things were taking shape, John and Marion Skull, who had just retired from many years in full-time pastoral work, moved to their new home a few minutes walk from the Shepherd Drive building and threw in their lot as well. The leadership team has now grown further with the addition of Peter Newton as a pastor/teacher and his wife Sheri who was previously a UCCF staff worker in the area.

Surprises
Finance for the mission has been generously supplied from a number of sources, specifically the Particular Baptist Fund and the East Anglian Grace Baptist Association, as well as other churches and individuals. From January onwards it will be a self-supporting independent local church.
It is evident that behind the scenes the invisible hand of God has been at work bringing people to himself, and together, in some surprising ways.
The work has advanced through a combination of straight gospel preaching and down to earth friendship evangelism backed by numerous Christianity Explored courses of all shapes and sizes. There is a massive and vibrant Tots and Tinies group as well as frequent events for the men, usually involving sport and food. A smart sixth form college has also opened a few hundred yards away and a new community centre shares the same car park as the church. All these things, in the providence of God, dovetailed around the same time and give many reasons to press forward.

People converted
With around 90 regularly meeting together on a Sunday morning, it is the new converts who give the greatest cause for the church’s thanksgiving.
Here is Gill: ‘My Christian journey started a couple of years ago when my friend Maggie asked me if I wanted to read her granddad’s book about his missionary life in India. It was an amazing story. She then invited me to Shepherd Drive and I felt at ease with everyone right away, as they were so welcoming and friendly. Then, one Sunday morning in 2012, as another friend was giving her testimony, I knew that God was calling me too’.
And Gary: ‘Initially it was money and a good job with a shipping company that led me away from my early church interests and not until 20 years later when my wife brought our son to the Toddler group at Shepherd Drive that everything changed. Here I too found the friendship very real and in due time joined a Christianity Explored group, where I really began to see the wonder of grace.’
Then we have Billy and Justine, an army couple who were initially helped by the padre on their base, but, having moved to Ipswich where Justine (who had once been a dancer on a cruise liner), became friendly with Christine started coming to the newly formed fellowship. Both were powerfully touched with a sense of their sin, baptised and, while now serving in the forces overseas, are looking forward to serving an even higher cause on their return.

This article was first published in the December 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information. www.e-n.org.uk 0845 225 0057