Sunday, September 21, 2008

Wales and Norwich

Wow, it's been a while since I've updated. Apologies to all.

So I finished up in Edinburgh, and then caught a plane to Bristol, Wales. From there I had to catch a train for thirty minutes, and it cost me eight pounds. Eight pounds for a half hour train ride! Ridiculous. In any case, that took me to Newport, where I met up with Mike. For those not in the loop, Mike was the first Aussie guy to have gone through the Sovereign Grace pastor's college, and he's currently doing an internship in Wales.

Spent some time talking with him and the other pastors there, and was quite excited to discover that they're looking at planting the first Australian Sovereign Grace church in Newcastle. Quite intriguing how God's leading works, hey? I was able to fill them in on the current church situation around there and we brainstormed about how they would best be able to serve the community and stuff, it was great.

I also got to hang out with these guys:

They're what's known as the "Gap team" at the church - 5 Americans and a Pom. I stayed in an old English house with the three blokes, and we had a great time bach-ing it up, playing PS3 and doing ministry stuff.

Anywho, speaking of God's leading, remember our mate Chris, the guy on staff at St Helen's in London? Well, I went to that church, and asked about some decent churches in Norwich. One of the pastors there gave my email to another guy there, who emailed me with an email address for a pastor here in Norwich, who I then emailed. He then put a notice in the bulletin asking about accommodation, and the day after I got an email from Janet Malcolm saying that they were going to an au pair agency that week for some help around the house, but saw my advert and decided they'd offer the place to me first.

What that means is that in exchange for doing 15 hours a week of vacuuming, washing dishes and the like, I get free food and accommodation. What's best is that their house is just up the road from the uni, their 5 kids (from 9-18) are an absolute blast to be around, as are Paul and Janet (the parents), and their house is chockablok with musical instruments (2 pianos, guitars, brass, woodwind etc) and they have a million and two Christian books/commentaries! The theology-nerd in me is absolutely drooling right now.

Speaking of my theology-nerd-drool, while I was in Edinburgh hanging out with Evie and her mate Erin, we went into an old bookstore. Inside said bookstore, I managed to find a book of C.H Spurgeon's sermons from 1882-83. These are the original printouts that he'd done for the congregation, and someone bound them all together into a book. It's absolute gold, Spurgeon was one of the biggest champs known to man. I've only read through three thus far, but he's been a massive inspiration to me.

Well, that's about all I think I need to add for now... I'll endeavour not to take so long between posts next time.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Seventy-five bucks

So I was there in the airport, lining up for my flight to Edinurgh for over an hour - and it turns out I was in the wrong line the whole time. As a result, I missed my check-in time and had to change flights to a later one. It cost me thirty-five pound, which is about $75AU.

After silently fuming for a while about the extortion that had just taken place, I came to a new conclusion after talking with God about it. If it was going to cost me seventy-five bucks to catch this different flight, then gosh-dangit He had better have had a good reason for it, and He'd better help the unfortunate soul who sat next to me, because I was going t evangelise to the poor codger!

The guy I ended up sitting next to was a cool guy, but the opportunity didn't really come up to talk God with him, apart from my desire to enter into ministry sometime soon. Either that or I just wimped out. I'm not entirely sure which it was. But on finally arriving at the bus-stop that was near my hostel, I saw a van with people milling around it. From this van, a bunch of Christians were giving out free soup and coffee to homeless guys.

As it turns out, the van runs every night of the year, no matter how cold or wet it gets (it IS in Scotland, after all). And around about 60 churches in Edinburgh help out, taking turns to participate in the outreach.

Now, had I caught my original flight and not the later one, I'd never have experienced this ecumenical marvel. It's hard enough in Australia to get two churches together to do something, let along sixty! It was a real encouragement to me to see Christians putting aside differences and getting out there doing Jesus' work.

But the experience got me thinking. That night, I was deliberately looking for something God-glorifying, because it had cost me $75. Surely if I had been forced to pay that money, then God would have a specific purpose for that expensive excursion was my reasoning, and I was out to find that purpose. I think seeing those guys in that van next to the beautifully lit castle made for a highly encouraging purpose.

Yet, if the excursion HADN'T have cost me $75, would I have been looking? Would I have seen God in that moment if it weren't for my perceived sacrifice?

Jesus sacrificed His life so that we could see God and His purposes. We were bought at a price, and that price was the death of God's own son for sinful man like me. That's a much higher price than $75.

So keeping in mind that ultimate sacrifice, shouldn't we ALWAYS be on the lookout for ways that God is working? It cost me $75 to see God at work in Ediburgh that night, but the only reason that was possible is because God already made the first move two thousand years ago. Without His payment, it would be impossible for me to come to know Him at all. If it weren't for Jesus, we wouldn't see anything of God.

It's my prayer that we all may be constantly looking out for Him in everything that we do, because He's in it. Keep in mind that a sacrifice has been made so that you can see Him.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

"We're all about Jesus - we preach the Bible."

As many of you well know, my sense of direction isn’t the best. Today it served me quite well. On trying to find my youth hostel, I managed to walk down a wrong street – which took me to a man putting up a sign in front of a church declaring that “London Christian School” met there. His name was Chris, he’s on staff at St Helen’s next to the gherkin, and he’s a good bloke. I learnt two things about England’s Christianity from this chance encounter and following conversation:

1) You can tell a lot about how England’s Christian education scene is different to Australia’s when you realise that the school with the name “London Christian School” was established last year and only has twelve students. Chris’ hope (and I assume the hope of many evangelical churches in the city) is that there will be lots more schools with lots more students popping up in the near future.

2) You can tell a lot about England’s churches when the answer to the question “Tell me about your church” is “Well, we’re all about Jesus – we preach the Bible straight up, I hope you’re into that kind of thing.” I chatted with Chris for a bit about the state of England’s churches, mentioning that I’d heard bits and pieces about the shocking state of the Anglican denomination. He replied that their church was one of the few Anglican ones that weren’t a waste of time, because of the very reasons that he straight up came out with – they preach Jesus and the Bible.

I’m beginning to think we’re spoilt in Australia. It seems that in the US everyone claims to be a Christian, and so you need to delve for a bit to find out if they actually are or not – you need to find out what they think about the Bible, and what they think about Jesus before discovering what they truly believe about Christianity. It seems in England, everyone claims to be religious, and yet don’t have any gumption to stand up for their faith lest they offend someone else’s religion. One must wonder whether their religion has any faith behind it at all.

At least in Australia, if someone’s not a Christian they’ll tell you. But to be honest, I don’t think it would hurt to have to clarify exactly what a Christian entails. Rather than just saying “I’m a Christian”, how good would it be if we made known what we actually believed – “I’ve been brought into a saving faith through Christ alone, and therefore live my life to glorify Him”. Rather than simply saying we’re Christians, using the Bible to express what we believe and why we believe it.

WE may know we’re Christians, and know what being a Christian entails, but do the people we’re talking to know that? Over here, you can’t assume that giving yourself the label “Christian” automatically makes you one. I wonder how many people in Australia are just giving themselves that label and we don’t even realise it – simply because we don’t have that polarisation between the Christians and the “Half-Christians”.

Can’t wait to go to St Helen’s tomorrow and see the church in action.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

An Elihu Youth

If you're anything like me, you've heard the words of 1 Timothy 4:12 countless times before:

"Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity."

But have you ever stopped to wonder exactly how it is that we, as young people, can do that? It seems to me that the verse is less about ensuring equality between the young and the old ("I'm young, I have as much say as you do!") as it is a call to be something that's far greater than we already are. And in order to set an example in speech, life, love, faith and purity, we need to start with a proper understanding of who God is.

While sitting waiting for my delayed plane in Dulles Airport, Washington, I was reading backwards through Job. This may well sound like a strange way to do it, but I was alerted to one particular verse in God's speech, which happens to be at the end. For whatever reason, it made sense to me to read the sections backwards, for reasons I still can't entirely comprehend.

Bear with me. I read through God's speech to Job, which left me in total awe of His power and majesty - if you haven't read it, turn to Job chapters 38-41 (It has dragons in it, which automatically makes it awesome).

Here's why it was so important that I read backwards. My read started with the majesty and holiness of God (the only place we can start with ANY Bible reading, really). Then it progressed (in chapters 34-37) to how hopeless we humans are in comparison (the natural conclusion following the realisation of the majesty and holiness of God).

The beginning of Job 33 details the absolute futility of trying to bring God down to our level, and perhaps more importantly, how doomed and futile a life without God is. Take verse 21-22 as a small example: "His flesh wastes away to nothing, and his bones, once hidden, now stick out. His soul draws near to the pit, and his life to the messengers of death." Not exactly the most encouraging words out there.

Then I read further backwards to the next section, and for the first time in quite a while, I could honestly relate with Job 37:1 - "At this my heart pounds and leaps from its place." I literally stopped in my place, reading this one small section over and over again. Have a read of Job 33:23-28:

"Yet if there is an angel on his side
as a mediator, one out of a thousand,
to tell a man what is right for him,

to be gracious to him and say,
'Spare him from going down to the pit;
I have found a ransom for him'-

then his flesh is renewed like a child's;
it is restored as in the days of his youth.

He prays to God and finds favor with him,
he sees God's face and shouts for joy;
he is restored by God to his righteous state.

Then he comes to men and says,
'I sinned, and perverted what was right,
but I did not get what I deserved.

He redeemed my soul from going down to the pit,
and I will live to enjoy the light.'"

This guy understood our need for Christ thousands of years before He came, and God had it all planned out. More than anyone else in his time, he had an understanding of who God was (holy), who we were in comparison (worthless), what our good works would amount to (nothing) and our need for a Saviour (Christ). "Wow," I'm thinking as I re-read it for the tenth time, "about time Job gets some good advice! This guy must be the old priest guy or something."

I read back to the next chapter.

Elihu is the youngest guy there.

Now I'm quite literally in shock. How on earth have I been in youth groups since I was 12, read almost every Christian youth book there is, and not once have I heard of this guy?!? I quickly grabbed the nearest bit of paper on my person and wrote down that this passage needs to get out there.

"But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, nor only the aged who understand what's right." (Job 32:8-9)

How do we make sure we're not looked down upon because we are young? How do we set an example in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity? By following the example of Elihu - focusing on the truth of who God is, the rubbish that we are in comparison, and the incredible love and grace found in His sacrifice.

If we as a youth can understand that, then I think we're on to something.