Monday 31 August 2009

2008 Reflections - Of First Importance

A report of the previous year in the English Ministry at the Chinese Church submitted for our annual review of 2008.

Remembering God’s grace

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance…

Every opportunity to recount God’s grace and God’s goodness leads us to praise God for His goodness. We are reminded to do this frequently. At times we are even commanded to do so.

This is not for the sake of nostalgia. In part it reflects how easily we forget. We often forget God’s mercies in history and in our lives. Forgetfulness leads to doubt which in turn leads to grumbling – an indication of ungratefulness and lack of faith.

But the Scriptures call us to remember not simply what, but who – who God is. His works reveal Himself – His character, His love and His grace. As with Abram in Genesis 12, God reveals himself, “I am the LORD…” and immediately reminds his servant of what he has done, “… who has brought you out… to give you this land.”

God reminds us of who he is – that we might know him better and trust him more fully. It is with joy in my heart and for the assurance of all our hopes in Christ that we now come to reflect and remember God’s goodness in 2008 – a year of God’s grace for God’s glory through God’s gospel.

1. God’s grace

The English-speaking service is held in St Columba’s Hall every Sunday afternoon concurrently with the Cantonese and Mandarin services. The beginning of the year saw the weekly attendance at 20 including the Sunday School children who join us in our first part of singing and worship. This number grew steadily to just over 30 by the end of the year.

Additionally, the Rock Fellowship meets Wednesday evenings at the Church Centre. We begin with a meal together (a very biblical thing to do!), followed by bible study, ending with prayer.

This year we said goodbye to Jimmy Chung who returned to Hong Kong with his wife Esther after many years of faithful service in the church especially within the context of the English-speaking Ministry. Jimmy’s influence was seen not merely in his leadership and direction, but also his ever-cheerful presence, selfless servanthood and a vision guided by his love for God’s word. It was Jimmy who established and sustained the pattern of sound biblical teaching in our Sunday meetings as well as our mid-week Rock bible study fellowship.

We continue to thank God for his servants who preach Christ in the Scriptures to us each Sunday. Martin Cressey, John Savage, Joey Rozek, Trevor Hames, Bartow Wylie and Andrew Clark have been faithful gospel partners helping us understand God’s grace in all its truth.

For many God’s grace is all the more clearly seen in its sufficiency against the backdrop of our weakness and suffering. 2008 will be especially remembered for the tragic earthquake in Sichuan. For a few in our midst, the tragedies were at a more personal level.

In the face of our doubt and fears, perhaps even anger and confusion, God was good to remind us of the true meaning of all loss and judgement and the source of our deepest comfort through the cross of Christ. Ben Brown was invited to speak at a special event organised in May on the topic “Where is God in suffering and injustice?” The evening was well-attended by Christians and non-Christians alike.

2. God’s glory

Our Christmas event was an evangelistic outreach effort. We had a carol-singing program and a gospel message was delivered followed by a fellowship meal afterwards. We had many new visitors, a few of whom stayed on as regulars, with a few others eventually coming to express faith in Christ.

The Rock Fellowship organised the Chinese Cultural Evening at Harry’s as part of the Cambridge International Outreach in summer. Additionally, we were involved in International Student Outreach events, a couple of which saw upwards of 200 new university students in attendance.

This year saw greater involvement and inclusion of the younger members in our midst. The Sunday school kids take a break from classes once a month to listen to the bible message, sitting under the authority of God’s word together with the older members. The newly-formed youth music team provided the teenagers an opportunity to serve the wider community of believers in song and praise. This is in addition to the 3 music teams which rotate each week to lead the Sunday service. Solid Rock, a concert performance featuring the various music groups was held end of August.

Earlier in the year, John Savage conducted a six-week survey of the book of Romans in a series entitled “Law and Gospel”. This was held after our Sunday service as an introductory course to basic Christian doctrines of salvation, justification and sanctification.

Members of Rock Fellowship attended the New Word Alive Bible Conference over the Easter holidays. It was a time of refreshment and renewal as we sat under the teaching of John Piper and Don Carson. A few of us also attended a bible study leading workshop in November. The session was organised by Eden Baptist Church and led by Marvin Wong.

3. God’s gospel

I opened by looking at the bible’s repeated injunctions to remember God in all circumstances. Yet in the New Testament a shift occurs with the coming of Jesus. And it isn’t simplistically that we are now to recall Christ. Rather the scriptures now remind us of the message of Christ – that is, the gospel.

Paul makes this point by saying in 1 Corinthians 15

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel…

For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures.

With this injunction from Scripture we ought to therefore end with the emphasis of Scripture. How was the gospel – the good news of forgiveness for sins through the sacrifice of Christ our Lord on the cross – passed on to us? This is of great importance. In Paul’s words, it is of first importance.

In our Sunday preaching we have encountered the breadth of God’s word. Starting with Philippians we looked an Paul’s letter written of our joy in the midst of persecution and persevering service to our Lord, from January to the beginning of March. We then moved on the letter to the Romans which brought us through vital themes of our assurance and righteousness through Christ alone, in the months of March through July. The person and word of Jesus was the focus in August and September as we looked at the first 5 chapters of John’s gospel. We ended the year studying the Old Testament book of Ruth a wonderful story of God’s providence in the midst of depression, loss and despair guiding us into His promises of trust, hope and love.

Our mid-week studies have delved into the depths of God’s word. Moving from chapter to chapter we have journeyed through the books of Hebrews, James and 1 Samuel. Each week we joyfully dug deeply into the riches of Scripture to find our true treasure in Christ.

Yet it is only in the fulfilment of God’s word that we as God’s people find our firmest hope, our highest joy and deepest satisfaction. It is to know Christ, to love Christ, to worship Christ. It is to be found in Christ.

And if there is one thing I hope is evident from looking back at the events of 2008; if there is one thing I pray was evident in all that was done and accomplished by the grace of God – it is this: that Christ was known and Christ was made known.

Now, brothers, I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain.

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