If you want to see the power of the Gospel according to the Great Commission go to Niddrie Community Church (http://www.niddrie.org). I say "see" because Gospel transformation is so evident there. In my ten days with their pastor, Mez McConnell, his leaders, and the people of the area, I saw three come to faith in Christ. I did Bible studies with men and women who are recovering from addiction to drugs and alcohol but, more importantly, who have been cleansed of their sin by the blood of Christ. I preached to an evening congregation who sang with passion and joy to a merciful God, and with a gratefulness for forgiven sin that was refreshing. You see they understand grace in Niddrie because they know they have been forgiven much. The doctrines of sin and Hell are not disputed, so the doctrines of grace are more gladly received. The veneer of middle class life which covers up so many people's sin so that it feels like there is no need for Christ is not prevalent there. In Niddrie, people have experienced the effects of sin from the outside through poverty, suffering and abuse and, in many cases, through the consequences of their own misdemeanours. Though not perfect, there are no masks. What's the point? The masks don't look that good anyway. So that leaves people free to make much of Christ and the robe of his righteousness, knowing that God smiles upon us in him.
So why is this happening here? What's so "special" about Niddrie and Mez McConnell's ministry?
Well, I certainly think God has raised up a man like Mez for a time such as this. Anyone who knows Mez knows that he was a man on the wrong side of the law who was saved by the Gospel of Christ through the faithful ministry of Christian men who came into his life. (Check out his testimony here http://t4g.org/media/2012/04/testimonies-mez-mcconnell/).
He also understands the schemes in which he ministers. The local people respect him and give him a hearing. He is profoundly theological yet able to convey the truth in an understandable way. There is thought and structure below the organic nature of weekly routine in Niddrie, through the preaching, Bible studies, Recover groups, and life on life ministry. People may see a tough guy in Mez, but I see a family man who loves and leads his wife and two daughters, a man who has deep deep compassion for the lost and the deprived in this world and a man who loves God above all else. I have made a good friend in Mez and hold a deep affection for his people. But lest this article turn into hagiography, the key is that in Niddrie new converts are being made. There are twenty people waiting to be baptized. This is not a place of Christian "shuffling" where believers are moving from one church to another. Here God's Spirit is moving and indigenous people are coming to the Lord. Hence Mez's initiative to plant/revitalize 20 churches in 20 schemes by raising up men and women to do the work (http://www.20schemes.com).
Jesus says in Matthew 28:18-20 that all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to him. This is the ground for us to go and make and grow disciples of all the nations. He also says that he will be with us to the end of the age. What's the link between Christ's authority that tells us to go and the promised presence of Christ with us?
Don Carson puts it this way: "It is not surprising that as we discharge this commission, the promised presence of Jesus is cherished all the more. Because we know him and his transforming presence in our own lives, we evangelize, baptize, instruct, disciple- and know him all the better, and experience all the more his transforming presence in our own lives. His promise to be with us to the end of the age is thus the matrix out of which we obey the Great Commission, simultaneously the ground and the goal, the basis and the reward. How could it be otherwise? We serve him because we love him and long to hear his blessed "Well done!" at the end of our course"
Belief in the saving and transforming power of the Gospel Christ is what makes Niddrie Community Church a living church and it is why 20schemes will succeed and it is how the Great Commission will happen. The sovereign power and presence of Lord Jesus is then the ground and the goal for Church growth, church planting and the ingathering of the elect from all the nations. He will build his church and the sheep will hear his voice and come when they hear the Gospel.
Satan couldn't care less whether you are rich or poor as long as you ignore Christ. It's just that it's hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom. Many may look at a deprived area like Niddrie with an "us and them" mentality, all the while secretly and damningly saying with the Pharisee, "God I thank you that I'm not like other, extortioners, unjust adulterers, or even like this tax collector" (Luke 18:11). But the Gospel levels the playing field and strips back any veneer to reveal the desperate state and poverty of each human heart before a holy God so that all fall short and need Christ and all are equal in his sight. What's so special about Niddrie? Ultimately the "special" thing about Niddrie is a sense of God's holiness, and a sense of sin, and a sense of grace, which gives rise to a faithfulness to fulfill the Great Commission by proclaiming the explicit Gospel of Christ. The Gospel community testifies to the surrounding unbelieving community by Gospel proclamation. And transformed life on life missional living lends authenticity to that proclamation. So Niddrie Community Church is an imperfect community of grace. Imperfect, yes. But a community knit together in love by the Gospel grace of God in Christ. We need more churches like this in which you can already hear the echo of a divine, "Well done".
The theme was "The Gospel and Suffering", and four theological truths emerged from Job 1 and 2 which I preached at Brixton Church, London on Sunday:
- God is sovereign. We need a high and majestic view of God;
- God admits it: "You incited me against him to destroy him without reason…"
- Job’s says it: "The Lord gives and takes away...Shall we receive good from God and shall we not receive evil…"
- Job’s family and friends recognize it in Ch. 42- “showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the Lord had brought upon him”.
You also don’t see the full picture in your trials. Job didn’t. You may see three or four things, but God is doing hundreds of other things behind the scenes that you are not privy to yet. Maybe your trial is the means by which another person is saved. Your suffering is not the whip of an angry judge it is the knife of a loving surgeon. The eye of faith looks beyond the pain to the goodness of the one who ultimately causes it.
- Purity of faith is proven under heavy affliction.
- In all trials God aims to magnify his worth and Satan aims to destroy your joy in God.
- Suffering causes us to look to God for mercy
4. God’s ultimate purpose in suffering and the ultimate reason suffering exists is to exalt the glory of his mercy and compassion, in the sending of his Son to suffer for sinners so that sinners would not suffer for eternity.
a.) 1 Tim. 3:4: An elder “must manage his household well with all dignity, for if someone does not know how to manage his own household how will he care for God’s church?” Paul relates the managing of the family household to the managing of the church household. There is a divine design and order that is good for us in both households. Roles are not interchangeable. Husbands possess ultimate authority (though rarely should need to exercise this!), as do elders in the church. So if there is not a willing submission to that authority in the family household, assuming it is being exercised in a biblical way, then a man cannot be considered ready to manage the church household.
Today I was reading the Scottish Puritan, Henry Scougal, in preparation for an upcoming ministry trip, where in London and Edinburgh I will be preaching on Suffering and the Gospel. He writes an essay entitled The Necessity and Advantage of Early Afflictions on the basis of Lamentations 3:27-28:
"It is good for a man that he bear the yoke in his youth. Let him sit alone in silence when it is laid on him."
Scougal was known for his purity humility and kindness. He died at 28 from tuberculosis. He knew suffering at a young age. He speaks of a sovereign, good, wise and loving God who ultimately causes our suffering. He writes: "The crosses we meet with are not the effects of blind chance, but the results of a wise and unerring providence which knows what is best for us and loves us better than we can do ourselves."
And this, he says, is most advantageous when we learn it early in life.
I was 26 when my wife Amanda and I experienced an acute dispensation of suffering when our son Jake was born with only one hand. It was unexpected -we only had one prenatal scan in those days. I was captain of Newcastle Utd and only weeks before had been on the top of a bus going round the city with 150,000 worshipping Geordies chanting our names. Life was good. I was young. Then, it seemed as though a Job like experience hit us and left us reeling and confused. "Why?", we asked.
"Oh, a one in ten thousand fluke event" some said. We, however, believed the doctor who told us: "This is the body God has given your son. This is Jake."
There it was. Instant sovereignty of God spoken into our lives. God ultimately did this and he is in control, and he is good and all wise. Both my wife and I can say, "It was good for us to be afflicted in our youth, that we may know God in this way."
Five realities drive the message I will deliver in London and Scotland:
1. Suffering is a biblical and pastoral reality: It comes from Acts 14:21-22. Paul having just been stoned in Lystra is coming back visiting the young church with Barnabus: The text reads, “…they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch , strengthening the souls of the disciples , encouraging them to continue in the faith and saying that through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.” So Paul’s way of discipling believers, to strengthen and encourage them, is to tell them, “You must suffer”.
2. Suffering is a global reality: 50,000 people contracted HIV last week alone, malaria kills a child in the world every 45 seconds, one in two people will get cancer, hundreds of thousands have been killed in earthquakes in Haiti and China, and in recent tsunamis and cyclones. And 150, 000 people die every day in this world- 60 million this year.
John Piper brings home the stark reality:
“One hundred [people] are dying each minute. If you could hear them all, you’d hear so many screams you’d go insane. Only God can hear them all and not go insane. God parcels out our awareness in small amounts lest we go under. How can you live in a world like that as a loving person and rejoice in the Lord?”
3. Suffering is a personal reality:· There is day for everyone when disaster strikes and a child is abducted (think April Jones), or a parent dies or cancer is diagnosed. If you live long enough, you will suffer a moment like this. It can be unexpected, unfathomable, and seem unjust.
Many of you reading this are experiencing real trials, real pain and real hardships at this moment and are looking for light darkness. It may be bereavement, sickness, loneliness, relational strife, depression, financial concerns …you fill in the gap. God is no respecter of persons when it comes to suffering. Everyone suffers.
4. Suffering is a missional reality: In Col. 1:24 , Paul rejoices in suffering as in his flesh he is “filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions". He doesn't mean that Christ dying and suffering on the cross was insufficient. He means that we, his church, his body, his people must suffer as a way of proclaiming and presenting to the world the one who dwells in us. We actually identify with Christ in his sufferings. The gospel spreads through suffering.
5. Suffering is a Gospel reality: And it can only be rightly understood when we see that the reason suffering exists is so that the Son of God could come and suffer to save sinners from eternal suffering. The cross is the lens through which to view all suffering. And when Christians treasure the hope of Christ in the Gospel more than what they lose through their affliction, faith is proven and Christ is raised up as most valuable and most worthy.
Our son, Jake, along with our daughter, Ava, are now teenagers who are growing in their faith. As their father I want build into them the theological steel of sovereign grace; to teach them that life is not about comfort here and now, but about knowing your sin and your knowing your Saviour and having minds set on things above; to show them with Scougal that their crosses are "... the results of a wise and unerring providence which knows what is best for us and loves us better than we can do ourselves".
So when they "bear the yoke" in whatever trial comes their way I will tell them that it is ultimately from God and it will be somehow for their good, because he has sent his Son to come and suffer to save sinners from eternal suffering.
People often ask me what I most miss about playing professional football and they are surprised when I don’t say “playing!” I had a long and blessed career and God has now placed a specific call on my life as a minister of the gospel ( I currently serve as Home Missionary Pastor at a church in Calgary). But there are two things that I tell people I miss. One is being super fit. The other is being with the guys in that dressing room. There is something special about men gathered together and playing for a greater cause where the cost is high and the reward is great. As a pastor I have a burning desire to build men for the body of Christ.
During my upcoming ministry trip to the UK I have been invited by Steve Timmis to speak to the men of the Crowded House Church in Sheffield on October 17th http://www.thecrowdedhouse.org/, to the men of Beacon Church London on October 20th by Owen Hylton http://beacon-church.org/, and to the men of Cornerstone Church Liverpool on October 30th by Steve Robinson http://www.cornerstonechurchliverpool.org/ .
spring, to see her no more in this world? Whether you can consent to her departure to
a heathen land, and her subjection to the hardships and sufferings of a missionary life?
Whether you can consent to her exposure to the dangers of the ocean; to the fatal influence
of the southern climate of India; to every kind of want and distress; to degradation,
insult, persecution, and perhaps a violent death? Can you consent to all this, for the
sake of Him who left His heavenly home and died for her and for you; for the sake of
perishing, immortal souls; for the sake of Zion and the glory of God? Can you consent
to all this, in hope of soon meeting your daughter in the world of glory, with a crown
of righteousness brightened by the acclamations of praise which shall redound to her
Saviour from heathens saved, through her means, from eternal woe and despair?”
Adoniram Judson, letter to Mr. Hasseltine
Where are the men? Those who will be watchful, stand firm in the faith, act like men, be strong and let all that they do be done in love (1 Cor. 16:13-14)! Well maybe God is raising up a few in Edinburgh and maybe he will bestow his favor again on a land once a bastion for the Gospel in the days of John Knox. And maybe the fearless preaching of the Christ who was slain for the salvation of many sinners will resound from the pulpits once more. And maybe thousands will be saved as he continues to build his church for the praise of his glorious grace. This is my prayer for Niddrie and for Scotland.
The Gospel message is explicit; It's the good news of a holy God who, in love, intervenes in history to save sinful and hopeless mankind by sending his son, Jesus Christ who willingly satisfies the justice his holiness demands on the cross by making propitiation to His Father for sin. On the cross Christ shows God as a righteous Judge, having dealt with our sin against him. Simultaneously, as a substitute providing forgiveness and righteousness and all the new covenant blessings for those who would repent and believe in him, Christ shows the grace of God. In this way God can be both just and the justifier of those who would have faith in Christ. The resurrection of Christ is the vindication of who he is and what he did. This is the heart of the Gospel from which, by union with Christ through faith, we are adopted into a right everlasting relationship with our Father - now children of God and heirs freed from guilt, bondage to sin and Satan.
It's an exclusive message because Christ is the only way, and it is an inclusive message because it is free for anyone who will call upon the name of Christ. It's an offensive message to many but it's good news for those whom the Spirit gives ears to hear.
My church, Calvary Grace (Calgary), where I am currently Home Missionary, send me out to this event. So please pray that I would boldly proclaim the Gospel in truth and love. Pray that many unbelievers would be given ears to hear. Pray that Christians would be given new affections and deeper desires as they make Christ their greatest treasure. Pray for the many Gospel partnerships that will strike up during this Olympic event. Pray that the ripple effect of these partnerships would result in fruitful missionary labor in taking the Gospel of Christ to the 2000 plus people groups who are still unreached and have not heard of him. And pray that the sovereign Lamb of God who was slain to gather a people from every tribe and language and people and nation would receive the full reward of his sufferings.
I attach a schedule below:
The importance of doctrinal precision and confession to what one believes has given way to a tolerance of many views for the sake of ecumenism. It comes down to the fear of man rather than the fear of God. We live in such a man-centered age. The need of the hour is humility, repentance and prayer as we are returned to God himself through the Gospel. But in order to do that we must understand the Gospel.
To define the Gospel carefully will bring conflict. But it is "The Gospel" that is the power of God for salvation, and let me assert that there is only one Gospel.
In recent times it has become increasingly obvious that professing Christians cannot explain the Gospel. People I ask, struggle to articulate the essentials of that to which they claim to hold fast. This casts serious doubts as to whether many are converted and further to that how then will we take the message of salvation to others in personal evangelism and missions if we don't know and live by the message? Paul says, that the Gospel is "the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes to the Jew first and also to the Greek" (Ro.1:16). The word "believe" is in the present tense and in the Greek indicates ongoing action. So the Gospel is not just the power of God to create faith but the power of God to bring us to final salvation through a life of enduring faith. We need to live by the Gospel daily. We must return to God's word and the biblical Gospel for the sake of the church and God's name amongst the nations.
So what is the Gospel? I invite you to tell me.
We must return to a biblical vision of our God. In the middle of a rebuke against his wicked people in Psalm 50:2, God says, "You thought that I was one like yourself". You see we have a tendency to reduce God down to our size when we depart from the Word of God and his self revelation. We have seen this very recently with Rob Bell's unfortunate book Love Wins. Bell makes God what he wants him to be and what is palatable to an anti-God society. In fact Bell fits David Well's description of modern day evangelicalism very well. Let this be a warning to us as pastors to labor hard to present the truth of Scripture to our people. That is the best way to love them. Give them God as he really is. God decides what God is like and he is glorious.
Christ calls us to a radical discipleship that is impossible to do without him. He says "Do what you cannot do". This at once both discourages us and gives us great hope. It discourages us because we cannot do it, but that's just the point he brings us to the end of ourselves so that we may not boast and drive us to him and to trust and reliance on his promises and commands so that he gets the glory. I think the reason that the church is in a poor and powerless state in the West in general is because we are not holy. We have departed from the Word of God. We are lukewarm and Jesus will spit that out. He wants the church to be refreshing, either hot or cold. Jesus loves his church and calls those who are his to repentance. Let us hear his voice today.
I am interested in any thoughts on the problem of nominalism. It is multilayered and complex in both its causes (note Simon Cragg's comments on my post Across to Bears) and its definition.