Thursday 18 April 2013

Five lessons from 2012: A review of the English Ministry

1. God is serious about sin
Sin is not a word you commonly find in annual reports. Yet, it is a word that occurs again and again in the bible. Why? Because God is holy and God is serious about sin. Here in the English Ministry, we want to use every Sunday meeting and bible study to remind ourselves the reality of our sin and our need for a Saviour.

Our study from Isaiah (Chapters 1 to 5) served as a warning that God does not overlook the sins of his people. “Ah, sinful nation, a people loaded with guilt.” (Isaiah 1:4) God warned Israel, that one day, he would judge their sin in righteousness and anger.

As uncomfortable as we might be with sin as concept or even as a word, the bible reminds us to confess our sins to God regularly, trusting in his forgiveness through Jesus’ death on the cross. To encourage this, our Sunday meetings now incorporate prayers of confession. Even the songs that we sing not only praise God for his love and goodness but also his justice and holiness with regard to our sin.

“Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD. Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” (Isaiah 1:18)

2. God loves the church
Loving the church is hard. Be honest now, it is! Thankfully, the bible acknowledges our lack of love and even helps us to deal with the challenges in loving one another as the church.

We spent five months in book of Ephesians learning of God’s plan for the church. The church is a preview of God’s new creation. The church is the body of Christ. The church is bride of Christ. Christ gave himself up as a fragrant offering for the church.

Until we understand God’s love for the church, it is impossible for us to love one another as the church. “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19) God loved us even while we were still dead in our sins. He displayed his love for us supremely through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross.

How did we encourage believers to love one another at the English Ministry? Through the gospel. The gospel is the message of God’s expensive and costly love in Jesus Christ. And the gospel calls us to love another deeply, affectionately, sacrificially as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Have we grown in such love here in the English Ministry? I think we have. Again, such love is a supernatural work of the Spirit. But don’t take my word for it, have a look for yourselves: Tell us if our love for one another here at the English Ministry is visibly real. Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” (John 13:35)

3. Our work as our worship
Half of the regulars at the English Ministry are young adults in full-time employment. In February, we asked them to share their insight into working life with their younger brothers and sisters still in school or at university. It was an opportunity to talk about how the Christian faith engages with our everyday lives - the way we interact with our colleagues and bosses, the decisions that we make concerning where to live and what kind of job to take up, the challenges and temptations that come with money, responsibility and time.

Each Sunday, we looked at a passage from the bible which dealt with the different aspects of work. We learned that God is a working God who got his hands dirty in creating the world. We understood the purpose of rest in the finished work of Christ, when he cried out on the cross, “It is finished.” We saw how God rewards us with abundant joy when we are faithful in serving him with our work.

Immediately after each sermon, we had workshops led by the young working adults. The first session was on interview skills and job expectations. This was followed by a workshop on IT and science-related jobs. We even had a very practical session on exam skills to help the students prepare for their finals.

Whether we are working full-time, studying in school or raising kids at home, our work is of great worth in God’s sight. We want to serve Jesus with our hands, our hearts and our minds - and to use our work as a means of worshipping God in every part of our lives.

4. There is only one gospel
If there is one thing above all other things that we want to get right here in the English Ministry, it is the gospel. Every sermon must present the gospel. Everyone who joins us on Sundays or at Rock Fellowship must hear the gospel. We may stumble on other things. We might mess up in many other ways. But one thing we must never, ever, ever get wrong is the gospel.

The gospel is the message of Jesus Christ as Lord through his death and resurrection. We trust 100% in this message to be saved. There is no other gospel because there is no other Saviour.

Paul’s letter to the Galatians warns Christians not to get the gospel mixed up with religion. Religion tells us what we need to do; the gospel tells us what God has done. Religion makes us slaves; the gospel frees us to be sons.

We looked at Galatians both on Sundays and in our bible studies and this had the effect of challenging many of our assumptions about the gospel. For example, we might think that coming to church makes us Christians. Or when we sin, we think the solution is to try harder to please God. The gospel is the good news that we are more sinful than we realise, but more loved than we could ever imagine through Jesus Christ.

5. Nothing compares to knowing Jesus
Last year saw an increase in the number of students and young people attending our Sunday services. While some are new to the Christian faith, many grew up going to church and even attended Sunday School as kids.

For the sake of our younger members, it is vitally important that older believers speak up about our relationship with Jesus in terms that are real and affectionate. Jesus is the full and final revelation of God. We should not speak of God in vague and generic terms. Instead we should pray boldly in Jesus’ name. We should sing his praises and magnify the cross. Kids will notice that and they may even imitate your faith and conduct. We want the younger members of our church to come to know Jesus for themselves and to worship him as their Saviour.

In our Sunday messages, we make it a point to keep coming back to the gospels, so that we meet with Jesus and talk about Jesus on the bible’s terms. In the summer, we looked at a section of Matthew’s gospel where Jesus was being questioned by his enemies. They wanted to test his bible knowledge. They tried to get him into trouble. But each and every time, Jesus answered their questions clearly and confidently, revealing his identity as the Christ, chosen and sent by God.

If we know Jesus, truly and personally, absolutely nothing will be able to shake us - not our doubts and not even the devil schemes. My prayer for us here at the English Ministry is for God to cause us to grow in our love and knowledge of Jesus, “rooted and built up in him, strengthened as we have been taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.” (Colossians 2:6-7)

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