Christ-Centred, Gospel-Focused

It’s a phrase I have noticed myself using more often these days while ministering in Solihull: Christ-centred, gospel-focused. I have the privilege of leading a church that is in its seventh year now, yet in some ways has barely got started. The next two years, humanly speaking, are critical. In a sense we have had an easy time of it so far. But now the questions I have been asking people to consider (as I ask myself) really do become important. Do we know why we are here? What is our mission? What is our focus of attention?

It would be easy to become distracted on to secondary and tertiary issues. That which we might think is important and indeed urgent, actually is not so important as this fundamental thing: to be Christ-centred and gospel-focused. What do I mean? I ought to have a go at explaining what I mean by those terms.

While in training for the ministry a passage that began to mean a great deal to me as I thought about my role as a prospective minister was Philippians 3:7-11. There, Paul says:

But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (ESV)

“Knowing Christ”, “gain Christ”, “faith in Christ”, “know him”. The power of this Christ-centredness grips me every time, as it gripped me in those early days. This man, Paul, who was instrumental in God’s plans for the propagation of the gospel across the known Gentile world of the 1st century AD, had at the very heart of all his strategising and planning a hunger, born of love, to know Christ and to become like him. It was all for him and about him. Paul didn’t do anything that did not serve this central purpose.

I wonder what it must have been like to accompany Paul on his journeys. There would be the day-to-day discussions about what to do next and how to do it. Practical lessons, no doubt. But that would not be where the real treasure of learning could be found. This gritty man, with scars on his back from vicious flogging, by all accounts nothing much to look at, yet how he would have led us into Christ!  As he would have explained the scripture, as he and we would ruminate over it, not in an academic fashion, but dripping with devotion to a Saviour, we would have found ourselves taken up with Christ Jesus. Christ-centred.

Gospel focused. Another important passage that has gripped me in the last few weeks, which presents the theme of the book of Romans: Romans 1:16,17. Here Paul says:

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (ESV)

Paul has already written of how the gospel is that “concerning his Son” (Rom 1:3). It is this Son about which he sought to teach and preach – see his desire to preach it to the Romans (Rom 1:15). It was Paul’s delight to declare to both friends and enemies the wonderful gospel of Christ. In the light of what he is about to explain in subsequent chapters – the sin that enslaves – this gospel is the only way of salvation. God displays his righteousness by granting righteousness through faith. Precious. Glittering. Worth declaring and receiving. So he is not ashamed.

I guess it is difficult to underestimate the bravery that Paul was able to display as a result. We begin to understand his willingness to unashamedly suffer abuse and shame – for Christ, for the salvation of men and women.

As we at Solihull look forward to 2012, these two foci (which are really collocated) will be vital for us to grasp and embrace. Love for and devotion to Christ leads to obedience and a desire to serve him. Christ’s heart of compassion on a people who are like sheep without a shepherd becomes our heart. Their need for the gospel becomes an urgent priority for us. May God grant us grace to be Christ-centred and gospel-focused in 2012.

Christ-Centred, Gospel-Focused

Preaching in the Open Air? Madness?

Yesterday, we did our last open air evangelism session for the year in Solihull. It was a tough day – cold, windy, not many “stoppers” – but we survived.

It has been an interesting experience. Those of you who know me, will know that I have always had difficulty with the concept of open-air preaching. I have seen bad examples of ranters heckling passers-by. I didn’t want to be one of those and I certainly didn’t want to be known as one.

However, we have reached a point in Solihull Presby Church where we need to be more active in local mission. This is difficult as we are a scattered church. I have always wanted us to do the “missional” thing – personal relationships, Christian community living etc, sharing the gospel naturally and personally. However, there are simply not enough of us locally to do this.

And what about all those thousands of people who never hear anything of the gospel? It seems to me that God raises up preachers not just conversationalists.

At the beginning of the year I was praying about this, asking what we should do about it. Then Geoff Cox appeared on the scene. Geoff works for Open Air Mission, was moving into the area and wanted to do some open-air evangelism in Solihull.

We started in February, meeting a couple of times a month, and I think I did my first preach in March (Geoff does most of it). As the weather got better into the Summer, more people began to stop and listen. As we have moved into winter, the numbers have dropped off again. No surprises there. We have had our share of hecklers balanced by a number of useful discussions with people from various backgrounds.

It’s an ongoing experiment. We’ll press on next year. Pray for us.

PS Steve McCoy has a useful set of links to open air preaching resources here.

Preaching in the Open Air? Madness?

Why Sin Is So Awful

Sin is essentially the resolve – the mad, utterly blameworthy, but nonetheless, utterly firm resolve – to play God and fight the real God. Sinners resolve to treat themselves as the center of the universe and so they keep God at bay on the outer circumference of their lives – or so they think. They won’t allow the Creator to rule over them as he wills to do. If they appeal to God at all, they ask God to act according to their will and for their convenience like a servant who gets them out of trouble and bestows on them good gifts. They never serve him from the heart and only resent the claim to dominion that he makes. This is why people like Luther, Calvin, and Owen say, roundly and without question, that sin wills the fundamental abolition of God. Sin wills that God should not be there. Sin plays God, sin fights God, and sin wishes that God didn’t exist at all.

J I Packer, Atonement p. 11 (Ed. Gabriel Fluhrer, P&R 2010)

Why Sin Is So Awful

It Was The Only Way

J I Packer writes a great chapter on the necessity of the atonement in the little collection, suitably entitled, Atonement, edited by Gabriel N. E. Fluhrer (P & R, 2010). To make his case he looks at Romans 8:32, which says:

He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? (ESV)

Packer goes on to argue:

 If [God] could have spared his own Son and still redeemed, we may be sure he would have. God doesn’t make needless gestures. The Father’s sacrifice of the Son tells us, as sure as eggs are eggs … , that it had to be done this way. Our redemption couldn’t be achieved at any lesser cost. If the gesture had been needless, it wouldn’t have been a wonderful display of love. The glory of Calvary as the demonstration of God’s love would be like a punctured balloon. If it were not necessary, then there is nothing wonderful about it after all.

It is a great argument. It makes me wonder: if we (I) struggle to appreciate God’s love in the giving of his Son, is it because we (I) secretly believe he could have done it some other way?

It Was The Only Way

Is It the Right Question?

(Yes, its been a long time…)

Two or three weeks ago I wrote an article for our local newspaper. Here’s the text:

WWJD: The Right Question?

No one could have missed the banner raised over the St Paul’s Cathedral anti-capitalist camp, which asks, “What would Jesus do?” It’s an interesting question.

It would be tempting for society to advocate a solution to the greed problem that amounts to, “Stop it, or we’ll make you!” In other words, moderate or regulate. Such things have their place.

Without doubt the Bible has much to say about greed. Perhaps most bluntly, St. Paul, the apostle, wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:10 that the greedy will not inherit the kingdom of God.

However, Paul also identified the root cause of this and other vices. It is the universal failure to worship and give thanks to God even though creation speaks loud and clear of his existence. Mankind inherently knows this, but “suppresses the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18).

So what did Paul want to do about a world of greed and other vices? Shouldn’t the Church want to do the same as we look around our world today? Interestingly, I don’t think Paul would ever have asked the question, “What would Jesus do?” Rather, I think he asked constantly, “What has Jesus called me to do, in the light of his saving death and resurrection for sinners like me?” Isn’t that the question the Christian Church needs to answer today?

Paul’s answer was simple: “I am eager to preach the gospel” (Rom 1:15). To share it was his burning compulsion. Ironically, St Paul’s Cathedral did not think that preaching St Paul’s gospel with clarity was one of its options. Instead, it seems to be driven by the agenda of others, confused by the what-would-Jesus-do question.

The gospel of Jesus Christ in his death and resurrection offers the only lasting eternal hope for this world. The problem of unrighteousness has been answered by the gift of Christ’s righteousness, which can be received by faith in Christ. Today, as it was for Paul, this gospel is the bright shining diamond against a dark, vice-ridden backdrop.

Stephen Dancer Minister, Solihull Presbyterian Church

You can probably tell I had been preaching in Romans 1 in the weeks before!

Is It the Right Question?