Monday, October 19, 2009

The Word in the week

James 1:13-27 is a mirror. Well, actually, it isn't just James; all of Scripture is a mirror, according to verse 23. It reflects reality, life as it really is. I was looking at this passage recently, and was thoroughly surprised by it - there are things that doesn't quite say what I thought it said, but for now, I just want to concentrate on verse 18.

"[God] chose to give us birth through the word of truth, that we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created."

God is the subject. And he's good. Trustworthy. Generous. James make sure that our picture of God is right in the preceding verse. This is our God. What has he done? He has given us new life! He's taken the initiative. We had nothing to do with it. How so? Through his word, which is implanted in us, which can save us, according to verse 21. It is again, something he has graciously gifted us with. And to what purpose? That we might have the blessing of growing and persevering as Christians, becoming more like Jesus, and so give our Creator the glory.

I guess the main reason I mention this passage is that in one sense, it sums up last week for me.

1. On Tuesday evening, I went out with a good friend I haven't seen in several years. It was great to laugh and reminiscince. But the best part was getting to talk about Jesus and Christianity for 90+ minutes or so. My friend has shown interest in so-called spiritual things before, and God was kind enough to, through a friendship that has endured all these years, let me win his respect enough to gain a hearing. I briefly talked him through the big turning points of the Christian story: creation, fall, redemption. We chatted about how God was the Big Boss, the one who is in charge of the universe. We saw how sin wasn't merely bad behaviour, but how the heart of it was a wilful desire to place ourselves as God, which in turn estranges us from Him. I confess to stumbling a bit when getting to Jesus (the one place you don't want to stumble!), but again, God was gracious and I went to one of my favourite passages in this situation, that of Jesus and the rich young man. I did wish I had spent more time talking about justification, especially as one of his questions concerned that point.

We also talked about relativism and how on closer inspection it doesn't hold up. He was very honest and said that although he was a relativist, he can see how that wasn't very solid ground to stand on. He was also very honest in his own assessment: if the essence of sin was as described above, than he was worshipping himself, and well, he didn't really want to give that up yet. I listened too as he told me a little about Buddhism - he comes from a Buddhist background - but how he was finding that enslaving. Towards the end of the evening, he said something along the lines of how he was trying to find and please God, whoever he was, and hope for the best, and I felt led at that point simply to turn to Acts 17:22ff. Having gotten his permission, I simply read out Paul's sermon to the Greeks. It was amazing how relevant it felt at that moment. I didn't have to fumble for an answer, the Bible was doing the talking for me!

We parted, having consumed copious amounts of fluids, with him saying that he would definitely look more into Christianity. I've suggested a few titles for him to read, apart from looking into a gospel itself, and pray that God would be working new birth in him.

2. On Friday evening and most of Saturday, I went along to the Kuching Bible Conference, which I only knew existed last week! It's a conference seeking to encourage expository preaching by modelling it, similar to the aims of its Klang Valley counterpart. This excited me greatly. Expository preaching sometimes does have a bad name, partly because people have seen it poorly modelled and assume that it's simply another synonym for lecturing. Which of course, it isn't! Apparently Christopher Ash spoke last year, and he would be as good a model as any. This year we had John Carter, an elder from a church in Leeds with vast experience. He certainly worked us hard through the letter of Galatians! If I had one criticism, it was that he was good on the detail but not so good on the flow of thought, so that it was hard to see what the big picture of Galatians was. But ignore this armchair critic - it's good to see this initiative in my hometown, and especially good to see some of the movers behind this conference was definitely not whom you normally expect to be behind this sort of thing! Because how does God work? He works through the "word of truth".

3. The real highlight of the week for me, though, was Saturday evening, as you can tell from my previous post. Going to the youth group brought back fond memories for me. But without a doubt, although I was nervous going in, the happiest bits were spending some time with the Form 4s (that's 16 year olds) and hopefully allowing one Bible study to become a fond memory for them. To be able to laugh, discuss the pertinent questions of identity, and to actually get them looking in the Bible and be able to see that God's word does speak into their lives (and mine). My mum looked at some of the material I prepared and cautioned me about pitching it too high. So I had a look at it again, but I thought: no, one or two of the questions are hard and they'll need some guidance, but that's ok. They can get this. And they did!

Now that more time has elapsed since Saturday evening, I can now think of lots more things I wished I've done better. But God's word, as we looked at it, was working in us, so that "we might be a kind of firstfruits of all he created." That's all you could ask for. They probably won't remember the specific study years, months, maybe even weeks, from now. But maybe the Holy Spirit will help them remember that God is gracious. Good. Trustworthy. And generous. And they'll thank Jesus.

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