Tuesday, May 25, 2010

I SOO Miss Stoneleigh Bible Week!!

I know all the reasons why Terry Virgo and the team closed down Stoneleigh Bible Week. Missions ... the nations ... etc etc. But I was listening to some of the classic Stoneleigh worship on my iPod at the gym and just had a complete longing to be back "there". It was a painful, aching longing to be among thousands of charismatic Christians worshipping God with all their might.

For those who don't know and who aren't familiar with Stoneleigh Bible Week (near Coventry) - it was run by Terry Virgo and Newfrontiers from 1992 to 2001. It was preceeded by the Downs Bible Week run at Plumpton Racecourse in Sussex. Stoneleigh Bible Week far grew and overshadowed it's predecessor - mainly thanks to the extraordinary outpouring of the Holy Spirit in 1994-96 and by it's closure in 2001 gathered upto almost 21,000 people from across the world.

Sadly - I only attended the 2000 and 2001 Bible Week - but I can honestly say that I will never forget the two years I went. What made Stoneleigh Bible Week so extra-special to me?

The Preaching:

I love, love, love Spirit-filled and inspired preaching. I have an ever-expanding list of heroes who I love to sit under their ministry and Terry Virgo comes very near the top of that list along with Dave Holden. The most memorable sermons to me during the two Stoneleigh weeks I attended I think were:

1. Dave Holden speaking on; "The Past, the Present and the Future" - Stoneleigh 2000
2. Terry Virgo speaking on the vitality of the Baptism of the Holy Spirit - Stoneleigh 2000
3. Dave Holden speaking on running a race - Stoneleigh 2001.
4. Terry Virgo speaking on "You have been round this mountain long enough" - Stoneleigh 2001.
5. Terry Virgo speaking (and re-preaching Ern Baxter) on "You are Meant to Fly" - Stoneleigh 2001.

Here's a clip of Terry from Stoneleigh 2001:

The Prophecies:

Stoneleigh was especially significant for me - because I always believed in the gift of prophecy despite my home church in Dunstable telling me it had ceased and was no longer available. Stoneleigh was the first time that I actually heard the genuine gift of prophecy in action. I still remember it to this day (even though it is now 10 years ago).

Terry Virgo came up to the microphone on the 1st night of the Bible Week and I knew something special was about to happen because he took his glasses off. And he prophesied this;

"As you come on hands and knees, ground that you would have thought was outside of your sphere that you were disqualified to get near, "I've cleared the ground for you" says the Lord. "I've cleared it so you can dance now. You can dance on holy ground - I've cleared the ground for you" ... "You are free to dance because of my eternal grace towards you, my kindness and my celebration over you. I celebrate in my finished work. I celebrate in embracing my sons and daughters running home".

My first prophecy - my first exposure to the grace of God.

The Worship:

Ah the worship. No it wasn't the fact that it was Kate Simmonds or Lou Fellingham leading that made it special - although that helped. I think it was the fact that there were thousands of like-minded Christians all gathered there with one sole aim - to worship and exalt God. Just playing the music and worship on my iPod reminds me of how effortless it was and what a touch of heaven it was to stand and lift hands and be swept away in reflecting on the glory and wonder of God.

For me, one of the all-time classics has to be "Before the Throne of God Above":

As I say, I know why Terry and the team shut down Stoneleigh Bible Week - but I just had to state my aching longing for massive, corporate worship. Good times.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Condemned!! Or Not Guilty?

I try to be cautious these days writing a blog that may come across as attacking the views or expression of someone in particular. It's no secret that I've written angrily against SGM in particular in the past and particularly the church in Bristol - and I'm trying to address that in my own private way and make peace there. So believe me - I'm trying to learn and trying to grow! I'm even more cautious when writing against someone whom I am privilidged to count as a friend. That being said, I am so blessed to have the kind of friendship with Janelle that we do indeed disagree on many points of theology and Christian life - but know there is far more we do agree about. I've learnt a lot about SGM's way of life from Janelle and indeed she alongside Pete Greasley have probably been the most influential in softening my feelings!

So that context in place - a conversation has been happening on a post a few back entitled; "Curing the Gays" and this was prompted by the media interest in Philippa Stroud and her election campaign (incidentally I was interested to know that Mrs Stroud is now special advisor to Ian Duncan-Smith, the former Conservative leader) - to the dismay of some and the delight of others.

It was a conversation I was particularly taking seriously because a new Twitter friend of mine - a guy called Tom - has taken part and I was interested in his views and wanted to learn from his point of view. For heaven's sake - Christians are notorious among non-Christians for being obstinate and utterly inflexible. I don't want to propigate that (mostly) truth. If I am going to have any credibility with the people I want to share the good news with - then I want to know what's going on in their mind and their thoughts and learn why the good news of the gospel will be of use to them. So often the Christian world dumps the gospel out as it thinks the non-Christian world needs it - and can't understand why it's message is received as utterly irrelevant.

Janelle was involved in the conversation - but it was a comment she made that caught my attention and has had me thinking all day. She said;

"Tom, since the Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin, so Christians must do the same".

There is some other context in the comment - considering how homosexuality is a worse sin in her view than gluttony - so I do recommend a read.

The Bible condemns homosexuality as a sin. So Christians must do the same.

Let's consider that carefully - because if it's true there are some implications for me personally. It explains to me maybe why I received the treatment I did at the SGM church in Bristol. If Janelle is right then the two church leaders were simply following the Biblical mandate to "condemn homosexuality as a sin". I had confessed to them that I had same-sex feelings so therefore condemnation from the church was rightfully deserved. And actually I am the one in sin for being angry and upset with what happened. She may be right.

Alternatively Janelle may be wrong and actually what right do Christians (sinners saved by grace alone) have to condemn ANYTHING?! Well clearly I have a vested interest in finding out. It may decide whether I ever enter a church again or not.

The Word: "Condemn(ation)".

1. Defined.

1. to pass an adverse judgment on; disapprove of strongly; censure

2a. to pass judicial sentence on; inflict a penalty upon
2b. to doom

3. to declare unfit for use or service

I find 2c; "To doom" particularly striking. I should note some of the definitions actually rather accurately describe some of the attitudes portrayed by the religious church. Does that make it right however? There's only one way to find out;

2. Useage in the Word of God.

Unsurprisingly the majority of the references to the word; "Condemn" are in the Old Testament. However there are some surprising references that foreshadow the coming of the glorious New Covenant and the gospel that must be mentioned;

Psalm 34:22: "The Lord redeems the soul of His servants - and none of those who take refuge in Him will be condemned".

I find that tremendous comfort knowing the struggling depths of my heart. I have felt so utterly condemned time after time by Christians who seem on the face of it never to put a foot wrong and are in fact shining lights in their churches - held up as model citizens and examples. I have frequently (and still do) asked God why on earth He ever called me. This verse says that those who genuinely take refuge in Him will NEVER be condemned. That's a promise.

Here's another interesting "Old Testament anomoly";

Isaiah 50:9; "Behold the Lord God helps me - who is he who condemns me? Behold they will all wear out like a garment. The moth will eat them".

I don't quite understand that promise from the Word of God - but I would not like to be in the position of someone who condemns those that the Lord God is helping. I don't know what the promise means - but I do not want to wear out like a garment or have a moth eat me. So far - I'm not fancying condemning those who the Lord God is helping.


Isaiah 54:17: "And every tongue that accuses you in judgment you will condemn - This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their vindication is from Me," declares the Lord".

This seems to suggest to me that in fact in His divine providence - the Lord actually reverses the tables on those religious who would condemn. "Every tongue that accuses you in judgement" - again the clear indication from the Word of God to me is that the Lord takes severe issue with those who attempt to do what only He should do.

There are of course other references in the Old Testament to condemnation - but not as many as I was expecting under an Old Covenant. Then we move into the New Covenant and the wonderful time of Jesus;

John 8:10-11: "Straightening up, Jesus said to her, "Woman, where are they? Did no one condemn you?" She said, "No one, Lord." And Jesus said, "I do not condemn you, either - Go From now on sin no more."

It's interesting that Jesus Christ asked the prostitute; "Did no one condemn you?". The Son of God knew that the religious community are somehow more than capable of condemning. But the key is in the answer. I do not condemn you either - on the basis of that declaration of freedom (and frankly who is going to disagree with the Son of God?) go in freedom and joy and live a life full of victory and peace and sin no more.

There are others but for now Romans 2:1 to close;

"Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things".

I would be extremely nervous of indulging in the discussion of "which is the greater sin - gluttony or homosexuality" that Janelle touched on. The Word of God is clear; "There is no impartiality with God". Sin is sin. And for that sin - there is a glorious solution. The Son of God went willingly to the Cross of Calvary and died for the sins of ALL Mankind. It is finished - meant it is finished. Every sin that offends and grieves God from time past to time present to the end of time was more than covered by the precious blood of the Son of God. Therefore;

Romans 8:1: "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus".

2 Corinthians 5:19: "God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men's sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation".

Our one and only message (as Julie said in her response comment) is the message of reconciliation. Terry Virgo said of condemnation;

"Condemnation is a WORK OF DARKNESS! It doesn't work! It has no power to change!".

Again - I would not relish indulging in activity that is entitled a "work of darkness with no power to change". Rather I choose to continue reaching out to the multitude of those who have not heard the full glory of the gospel - and far from condemn - make a full honest confession of my struggles and my journey. I am not going to pretend to be a "perfect, devout" Christian. I'd rather share with them my struggles, my journey - and how "this Jesus" has met me and loved me despite all I am and all I would be. THAT'S the miracle of the gospel!

Janelle - in all love and respect for you as a sister in Christ - condemn homosexuality if you feel you must and you should. Maybe you are confident of your sanctification to feel you can do that. But I remember again C J Mahaney's sermon; "Extravagant Devotion". And this quote in particular;

"He who has been forgiven much - loves much".

I used to wish that I really was a "perfect" Christian - whose worse sin was a bit of envy or a bit of pride. Or maybe a small bit of lust (because we're all men). But certainly not anything "bigger". Now actually I am beginning to appreciate what C J Mahaney was getting at. When you have experienced the depths of sin and struggle - you don't find much room in your heart for pride and arrogance. Me? I say again -

"The Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure! ... To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Speak Tenderly to My Bride ...

"Dear brothers and sisters, if another believer is overcome by some sin, you who are godly should gently and humbly help that person back onto the right path"

- Galatians 6:1 - New Living Translation.

"Speak tenderly to Jerusalem. Tell her that her sad days are gone and her sins are pardoned".

- Isaiah 40:2 - New Living Translation.

I have a suspicion that there is a quantity of nameless and faceless Christians hiding among the church ranks bearing varying amounts of guilt and shame because they are doing things that the church ranks as unacceptable behaviour. Most religious churches will call it "sin" - and will even unconciously rank various sins as "worse".

Whatever our views on grace and righteousness - whether we believe that Jesus Christ took ALL sin at Calvary and dealt with it or whether we believe in indwelling sin and an life-long mortification of sin battle - the fact is that these people are in churches hoping desperately that they will never be found out, seen, discovered because they fear the consequences. Sadly I am becoming increasingly aware that when they ARE found out - the church responds and deals with them harshly and abruptly. That discovery can come if the struggling individual is "foolish" enough to confess their struggles to a church leader. It can happen if they are spotted by a nosy elder's wife. The way it happens is irrelevant. The response is what I am thinking about. Because that response - I believe - can scare many off church for life.

Let's get an obvious caveat out the way;

There is behaviour that I am not endorsing and never will. Behaviour that Jesus Christ went to Calvary for. Behaviour that Terry Virgo calls; "sin as a saint with all the sadness and inappropriateness of it". Behaviour - let me make clear - that I have and still do slip into from time to time! You will not hear me say that grace makes it "okay" to sin.

But what I AM saying is that I do not believe there is any good news in lambasting the church by telling them they are sinners. I AM saying that church leaders who swiftly respond with harsh church discipline on sinners are hypocrites. If ... they have not taken the time and effort with tears and prayer to plead with the individual to abandon their way of life.

I have been so so utterly encouraged to hear Pete Greasley (pastor of an SGM church in Wales) say several times in his preaching something to the effect of; "I'm just like you! I am beside you - not above you!". Sadly - that is a rare thing to hear.

So here is what I heard recently. I heard that a church leader in this country has scared young people under his control because he said something to the effect of if he found his child was seeing a non-Christian girlfriend, he would throw them out of his home. Of course I heard that comment out of context. I heard that comment third hand. And I HOPE that I misunderstood that comment and it was highly overexaggerated. I hope that no parent would EVER contemplate throwing their child out of their home and disfellowshipping them from the family.

Maybe that church leader meant he would do so regretfully and after much tears and pleading and only if the young person in question would persist in the relationship. But what worried me is that there are young people who are now scared to admit they are seeing non-Christian girlfriends or boyfriends for fear that the church leader in question will tell their parents to throw them out of the house. But if these young people are even THINKING that such a thing is a possibility then surely something is drastically wrong in the church. Fear? Threats? Surely such behaviour cannot be further removed from the behaviour of Jesus Christ and a self-respecting New Covenant church.

Did or would Jesus Christ ever behave like that? Did He ever cast people from His Presence or endorse that parents do this? How did He behave towards people "caught in sin"? I thought of a few examples;

1. Let's imagine a worst-case scenario in a Western church. A man full of demons who keeps screaming out and beating up the church members and ripping his clothes. How would most Western churches respond? Sure - at first we would probably try and ignore the person - but I am sure it wouldn't be too long before the stewards were instructed to bar the doors. Jesus?

"When he saw Jesus from a distance, he ran and fell on his knees in front of him. He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won't torture me!" For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!".

Did Jesus condone the "sin" or deny it's existance? No. Did He condemn the man? Certainly not. Did He excommunicate or disfellowship the man? No - the man was already pretty much disfellowshipped from the community among graves. What did Jesus do? He solved the problem with a living word.

An interesting point - when the demonised man saw Jesus - "He ran and fell on his knees in front of Him". Even with a legion of demons, the man could still recognise the bringer of grace. I wonder what would have happened if the Pharisees had landed on the shore - would he have run to them? Possibly - but only to beat them up.

2. Let's imagine another pretty-bad case scenario. A renowned and well known prostitute is a regular attender at a Western church. Something keeps her coming and sometimes she preys on men in the church and flirts with them. Everyone knows what she does but no one "talks" about it. What is the most likely response? Most probably again discipline and disfellowshipping for the "safety" of the church. The experience of Jesus reminds me of what I imagine most churches would do;

"He came again into the temple, and all the people came unto him; and he sat down, and taught them. And the scribes and Pharisees brought unto him a woman taken in adultery; and when they had set her in the midst, They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act. Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?".

What did Jesus do?

"But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not ... When Jesus had lifted up himself, and saw none but the woman, he said unto her, Woman, where are those thine accusers? hath no man condemned thee? She said, No man, Lord. And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee: go, and sin no more".

I don't imagine that my ranting and raving here on a blog will persuade many - certainly not elderly church leaders set in their legalistic ways. I've got no particular interest in trying to get them to think whether what they are doing is truly Christ-like because my experiences tells me that they are usually quite sure that they are "pursuing righteousness".

A final point - do I believe there is a place for "putting such a one out to Satan"? I completely agree with a comment Pete Greasley made when we met for lunch. He said that such an action should be done - oh, so cautiously - and only after much prayer, tears, thought, and effort. Maybe there is a time where that has to be done, but I seriously fear for the church leader who finds it easy to take such an action. I know I for one wouldn't ever want to be in that position.

I want to speak to those "caught in sin" - WHATEVER sin that may be - and that's simply to say that I understand and have been there. REALLY been there. And have experienced the wrath of a church that has dragged me to Jesus and reminded Him of the law and demanded my "spiritual" death. And that's to say - you are always welcome here. I will always have a place in my heart and in my time for those who have been abandoned by the church or family. I will never say "enough". I will never say "Begone from me". As long as you want to put up with me - I will put up with you. And yes - I have got people in my mind when I am writing this. I will speak truth to you (or try to). I will remind you that you are a new creation and have the power to break sinful habits that bring you down.

But I won't spend much time talking to you about your struggles or habits. Most importantly of all I prefer to remind you that;

"The Cross does not have to be centred around me and be sustained by reflecting on my own personal failure! ... To insist on still calling myself a sinner could not add value to the Cross for me. Indeed, to call myself essentially a sinner actually dishonours the wonder of the gospel".

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Rob Rufus's MOST Important Sermon Ever?!

I was interested and excited to get this email from Ryan Rufus - Rob Rufus's son and fellow elder - in City Church International in Hong Kong (by the way I highly recommend the new City Church International website here) today.

"My father Rob Rufus preached probably the most important message of his life last Sunday (9 May). He presented a Biblical defense for the gospel of grace and took on 5 accusations that have been made against him and those who believe in this gospel. It's probably the best I've ever heard him preach and was powerful, authoritative and compelling. This message will bring such encouragement and empowerment to those around the world standing for this message and facing persecution for it! I would like to encourage as many people to have a listen and then please please please send the link on to everyone you know that would benefit from this message.

People will either get sad, mad or incredibly glad when they hear this truth.

Follow the link below to listen or download:

"A Defense of the Gospel of Grace. (Rob Rufus' response to 5 accusations made against him)".

Also, Anneline Breetzke recently wrote a powerful song called 'Grace Revolution'. She sang it on Sunday. You'll be truly blessed by this! Click the link below to listen:


We'd also just like to encourage all of you who are preaching this gospel of pure grace to keep going for it! You have our support and we know we have yours. Lets stand together in His grace and continue to be bold with this message no matter what we face or go through! It's all worth it for millions around the world are coming into freedom.

God bless

I haven't heard the sermon yet - but it will definately be next on my list to transcribe. I wonder how you and I will react to this sermon. Will we get sad, mad or incredibly glad?!

Monday, May 10, 2010

Curing the gays

An interesting follow up to the Philippa Stroud story I found - Derren Brown the well-known TV hypnotist has been to some "cure" sessions and looks at them from the point of view of a secular observer:

Curing the gays

It needs to be read if not agreed with. And if we don't agree with it - then why not? And what's our alternative?

Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Philippa Stroud ... Prejudiced or Caring?

I've been interested in Philippa Stroud's electioneering campaign since it commenced - due to the fact she is the wife of David - the UK apostolic leader of Newfrontiers who also leads Christchurch London. A church and a man I deeply respect - although I can't say I've ever seen or heard Philippa herself.

However Philippa's campaign hit a degree of controversy when the Observer reported an account of when the Stroud's set up the "Kings Arms Project" in Bedford when they led a church there prior to their days in Birmingham (this is some 15-20 years ago I believe). The Observer interviewed a girl dealing with transsexual feelings who worked with Philippa and her staff - who allegedly told her;

"She wanted me to know all my thinking was wrong, I was wrong and the so-called demons inside me were wrong. The session ended with her and others praying over me, calling out the demons. She really believed things like homosexuality, transsexualism and addiction could be fixed just by prayer, all in the name of Jesus."

The national press has intriguingly not picked up on this much (considering their love of bashing Christians) - however the Twitter community has. The Metro newspaper (a free daily paper) reported;

"Twitter users have begun a campaign on the popular micro-blogging site to raise awareness of The Observer's allegation that Stroud founded a church that would 'cure' homosexuals by 'exorcising' demons through prayer".

Other parties - such as the Liberal Democrats - have of course gleefully seized on this apparant gaffe by the Conservative candidate. The writer of this blog reported that Philippa Stroud has apparantly gone to ground. Mrs Stroud released a statement reporting that she does not believe "homosexuality is an illness" - however the Liberal Democrat blogger noted;

"Philippa Stroud’s http://twitter.com/philippastroud was deleted earlier today. By deleting it rather than making it private (or continuing to use it and publicly arguing her corner), the opportunity was presented for someone else to create a new account with that name and start sending out negative messages. So can you guess what happened? Also gone is Philippa Stroud’s Facebook supporters group".

Also interesting to note from my perspective is that Christian bloggers haven't (as yet) commented on this - this includes Adrian Warnock who has just finished a 3-part series on why he is voting Conservative and is friends with Mrs Stroud (and writes quite persuasively may I add). So I was thinking and reading some of the furious comments on some of the blogs and thinking that I had a few thoughts.

What qualifies me to say anything?

Well one the one hand - the anti-Stroud bloggers do not know Philippa Stroud and certainly do not know Newfrontiers or Christchurch London. I've spent many happy years in Newfrontiers churches and going to Newfrontiers conferences and can write a bit more on the issues as I understand it (although again - let me say I do not know Philippa Stroud and am not speaking on her behalf). However from the other point of view - I HAVE experienced a wide range of reactions in the church to admitting that I do have homosexual/bisexual/trisexual/whatever-sexual personal feelings. These have ranged from shock and horror - and most notably of course being "disfellowshipped" from the SGM church in Bristol - to actually going through Christian counselling and indeed an exorcism process myself. I would say I am a semi-cynical Christian (with regards to church) but still believing and hoping.

So in light of that - I have got a few reflections that occur to me.

What's the big deal?

1. Homosexual people don't like being told they need to be "cured".

I think that's the issue. Now we should add are homosexuals any different to any non-Christians when confronted with the gospel? In my experience of evangelising and spreading the gospel - initially most non-Christians backs are up when they realise that they fall short of the glory of God. The wonder of the gospel of course comes when they realise that all they have to do has already been "done" by Jesus Christ. So am I saying that we as Christians should stop telling homosexuals they need to be "cured"? Yes. "Cure" is a bad word. Homosexuals - like heterosexuals, bisexuals, transexuals and all other sexuals - need Jesus Christ. End of!

2. Talk of "demons" tends to freak most Christians - never mind non-Christians.

Demons were quite big in the 1970's and 80's in my Christian background - thanks to teachers such as Don Basham and Derek Prince. I don't think demons are quite as trendy now - maybe it was a backlash against the possible excesses of Prince and Basham's teaching. There was a tendency (I think) to see a demon in "everything". Now I fear that Christianity has swung the other way and dislikes any talk of demons - falling into the error that C S Lewis correctly identified in his "Screwtape Letters" - ignoring the demonic realm.

So the inevitable question must be - do I believe that homosexual people have a "specific" demon?

My personal experience (as I mentioned above) is that I have been through an exorcism process. It was undertaken by a very sincere couple of Christians who fervently believed that if they could cast out the demon of "homosexuality" (and demon of lust - they were sure he was in there too) then I would be "cured" and truly "straight". I am prepared to be open minded - maybe it was my lack of faith. But although I had some sort of spiritual experience - I was left with the same feelings and struggles. So I'm not sure (although I wouldn't swear) that there is a specific demon of homosexuality.

What I DO believe is that I have met and have friends who really struggle with suicidal feelings, feelings of depression, self-harm and so on. Some are gay guys, some are gay women, some are straight women. I have no doubt that straight men struggle with depression too - they just don't seem to admit it. But my point is that when I see Christian people tempted to suicide or self harm (such as I have and do struggle with) - I think we are entitled to suspect demonic involvement.

So what of Philippa Stroud?

Knowing what I do of Philippa Stroud, Christchurch London and Newfrontiers in general - I can state categorically that they are NOT, NOT, NOT a militant group of people who impose exorcism on any homosexual people who cross their doors. I don't know actually of a group of churches where gay people do feel more welcome than Newfrontiers - a place where the grace of God is taught strongly and passionately.

Now - that being said if you do join Newfrontiers and share that you are gay then you will realise that it is expected you distinguish between gay feelings and gay sexual activity. Sex is seen as being limited to only between one husband and one wife. That's what they believe and are more than entitled to their feelings.

However I must reiterate that I spent the last couple of days reading around Philippa Stroud and the ministries of Christchurch London and I have yet to encounter a more caring bunch of people. As I say - I have encountered other churches and their methodology of dealing with someone who confesses they are struggling with same sex attraction is less than ideal - bordering on panic and harshness.

I haven't heard of anyone being "disfellowshipped" from Newfrontiers for simply confessing they struggled with same sex attraction.

My conclusion?

I am hoping that Conservative Central Office have prepared Philippa Stroud that this media/Twitter frenzy is inevitable for any candidate who holds any views of any kind. I do not believe she is prejudiced or "anti-gay" in any stretch of the imagination. Rather I think the "King's Arms Project" is an inspired kind and caring project to reach people that the Church traditionally ignores.

If I voted Conservative (which I don't) and lived in Mrs Stroud's constituency (which I don't) then I would have no hesitation in voting for her. I would feel far more safe knowing someone like Mrs Stroud is representing me in Parliament - than other candidates - such as Rev Ian Paisley. A man who I am more than sure about his prejudices.

I hope and pray that Philippa Stroud gets into Parliament - to have a Spirit-filled and compassionate MP with integrity in the House of Commons would be outstanding.

Monday, May 03, 2010

"The Hope of Grace Alone" by Pete Greasley

I'm on a cautious voyage of discovery. I have long bemoaned the fact that it seems incredibly difficult to find preachers in the United Kingdom who preach pure grace. So often it begins with grace but then ends up "applying" grace in lists of activities that are required to meet performance standards. When I listened and transcribed Pete Greasley's message at New Word Alive - I still maintained an element of suspicion, after all - everyone is on their best at conferences.

I was really encouraged by my friend Janelle's comment on that post that this message of grace is more wide-ranging across SGM than I feared from my experiences. So I decided to listen and transcribe Pete's message from last Sunday at his home church in Newport. Incredibly it was titled: "The Hope of Grace Alone" - sounds perfect. Here it is the video (the transcript is below):

Romans 4: 13 - 25 "The Hope of Grace Alone" from Christchurch, Newport on Vimeo.

The title of this morning is “The Hope of Grace Alone”.

"13 For the promise to Abraham and his offspring that he would be heir of the world did not come through the law but through the righteousness of faith. 14 For if it is the adherents of the law who are to be the heirs, faith is null and the promise is void. 15 For the law brings wrath, but where there is no law there is no transgression.

16 That is why it depends on faith, in order that the promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring—not only to the adherent of the law but also to the one who shares the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all, 17 as it is written, "I have made you the father of many nations"—in the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist. 18 In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told, "So shall your offspring be." 19 He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb.

20No distrust made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, 21 fully convinced that God was able to do what he had promised. 22 That is why his faith was "counted to him as righteousness." 23 But the words "it was counted to him" were not written for his sake alone, 24but for ours also. It will be counted to us who believe in him who raised from the dead Jesus our Lord, 25 who was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification".

Let’s pray together. Lord I do pray this morning that as we come back to this difficult portion of Scripture that You by Your Holy Spirit will make it clear to us. That we would not only understand it but Lord – that we would be affected by it. Lord I pray that wrong thinking and wrong mindsets that are not from You but from the enemy would be broken this morning by the truth of Scripture and that truth would truly set us free. That the gospel would be truly seen in all it’s glory and again we may glory not in the flesh but entirely and completely and only in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

I have a few questions for you to start off. Do you ever or have you ever worried about the reality of your salvation? Maybe your heart is not as warm as it once was. You can remember a time when you felt a lot closer to God and you start to question is this real? Am I truly saved? Are my sins forgiven? Maybe there is a besetting sin that has been plaguing you for years and you think how can a Christian still struggle with that. And you question the reality of your salvation. Maybe it is a fear that you could give all this up and go back into the world. Maybe it is a fear that God will say “I’ve had enough already. For years you have outstayed My patience”. Maybe there is a fear that on That Day – you won’t make it or be one that He says; “Well done My good and faithful servant”. If you have never had any of those fears you would be unusual because they are common temptations to man and to Christians. You may at some point – keep this in mind. You may be sitting here thinking this is a continual on-going struggle. My assurance – am I truly in Christ? Do I know it and feel it? Does it change me every day?

This Scripture is here to help you and all of us. We have an enemy and that enemy is the accuser of the brethren. He accuses us that what we believe is not real for us. He doesn’t accuse us that it is not real for us. He tries to get us to make that more real by what we do and move off the grounds of grace and into the grounds of what we do.

Satan doesn’t work by making us go downtown to have a wild time. Satan says “If you pray more or do this more or that more or the other more then God will love you more and accept you more”. He wants to move us off the grounds of grace.

I know we keep recapping in Romans – Romans 1 to Romans 3:20 is the bad news. The bad news that God is glorious and God the Creator has revealed enough of Himself to us so that we should worship Him with all our heart, soul, mind and strength and have no other gods beside Him. He shows us in that there is not one of us who seek God and not one glorifies God – but we turn our glory into ourselves and commit cosmic treason and God who should be adored and glorified and worshipped – is not. And we adore and glorify and worship ourselves and what God has created. The verdict at the end of the chapter is 3:20 – is “guilty as charged” without any appeal or anything left to say. God is right. Then we come to Romans 3:21-26 – worth learning by heart! Leon Morris said this is probably the most important paragraph ever written. In this here the incredible good news of amazing grace comes! Now there is a righteousness from God and of God that is made manifest and revealed apart from works – apart from us having to do ANYTHING to earn it.

As he opens that up to us in v21-26 – we see that those of us in Christ who believe (although the Old Testament pointed to this) for those of us who believe that Christ died and redeemed us and saved us and propitiated God’s wrath by His blood – for those God gives freely salvation and imputes Christ’s righteousness to us.

He considers us RIGHTEOUS apart from what we do!

There are two responses that go through to the end of chapter 4. This is what that good news does in us. Firstly it humbles us. Paul talks about application. Applying v21-26. “Let no one boast” – we have nothing to boast about because God has done it ALL in Christ! We cannot say “Didn’t I do great?”. The second part of application is assurance. Two things take place when we understand the glories of the gospel. One is humility and secondly assurance “It is ALL of grace”. This has got to be personal. We can know this theologically in our head but we have got to KNOW it so it completely fills us – we have GOT it – we are saved by grace alone and that I am in Christ and kept by Christ and be ultimately be with Christ!

I hope this Scripture serves you this morning – this is all about future hope because of what God has done. That is why you get the word “promise” here. In fact the word “promise” in vv13-25 is used five times if you see it! It keeps coming! Get the picture. Promise and faith! They keep coming back and back. At the beginning of chapter 1 Paul opens it up by talking about the gospel which He promised beforehand. So now he is opening up this promise of the gospel which should affect our hearts and minds.

We need to move from theology – understanding it – to doxology - embracing it, feeling it and glorifying God in our response to it.

We have just seen this incredible promise in the Gospel that God will count us as righteous with redemption through His death on a Cross. This incredible promise! The question comes – is this promise for me? Will God do this or has God done this for me? Can I know my future is secure? More importantly IS my future secure?

Knowing it is one thing but having it as a reality is more important.

And there will be very few people in this room who haven’t asked that question and haven’t at times struggled with that. I grew up understanding promises a bit. If dad made a promise it was concrete. If I could get out of him “I promise” – I would know that is secure as it can be. One circumstance that could change his promise for say us to go to the park is if I had been a very, very bad boy that week. There were a few weeks that I was particularly obnoxious. “You forfeited that promise because of how awfully you have behaved” – and you know the Bible is full of promises that come together with commands. If you don’t obey this command and do this. “Cast your care on the Lord” (command) “for He cares for you” (promise). “Delight yourself in the Lord” (command) “and He shall give you the desires of your heart” (promise). But not with justification! We will blow that apart! Sometimes dad would withdraw that promise or sometimes his intention would be to do it but he would have to go into work. The intention was there but sometimes I forfeited that promise or sometimes he was unable to keep it.

When we come to this Scripture, God wants to show us that when He makes a promise concerning our eternal salvation how we live has NOTHING to do with it at all – it is ALL by grace and He wants to show us that He has the power to carry it out.

That is the message! He goes into Abraham and comes back to this man who is their hero of faith. Abraham started it all up. God met Abe and told him to go and started the whole ball rolling with this man who will be the father of nations. If you look back into Genesis 15 and 16. You see God cutting a covenant with Abraham which is a picture of the Cross to come. God makes this covenant that he will be the father of many nations and shows him the stars and says “So will your descendants be numbered”. In Genesis 17 Abe tries to work it out for himself with Hagar but then God comes back and says “My promise is still here” and says it isn’t Hagar but Sarah. God says “I will call you father of multitudes”. This all points to Christ and essentially through a son – you will be the father of multitudes, the heir of the world and your descendents will fill and be the blessing of the world and …. You must be joking!!

When we examine the promise of grace alone by faith alone – He comes and shows us the picture of the promise to Abraham and says “See what I did and why I did it”. This is nuts! Abraham is 99 years old (almost 100) and I don’t want to get explicit here – but Abraham considers his own body and he says “I am past it”. He looked at Sarah and laughed and said “Her womb’s like a dried up prune!”. Excuse me ladies. You are telling me that I will get her pregnant?! He is twice my age! I know I am good for 50! But at the same point Abraham is 100 years old and his wife is 90 and God says you will get her pregnant! He presented Hagar and Ishmael – and he laughed to himself. Later on when Sarah overheard the Lord coming and speaking and she laughed too. It was ridiculous and absurd and naturally impossible. It provoked absurd hysterical laughter.

What?! This is MY promise to you. When we read verse 21 through 26 we should experience something of the same emotion that Abraham and Sarah experienced when God came and promised them the earth. When God came and said “I will do this for you” and it was beyond their ability to conceive or understand or grasp. The only natural response is “What?!”. “But now a righteousness from God is revealed apart from faith” – if we really get the promise of the gospel, our response should be hysterical laughter! This is how glorious and holy God is and how guilty God is – and yet He is counting us as righteous in the death of His Son!

The problem with so many Christians is that we don’t take it as it is. We try to add so much into it. As we see the gospel our response should be; “It can’t be so good that it doesn’t matter how I live”. You will say “Well I shouldn’t say that because that is close to antinomianism because the Bible says it does matter”.

I know the Bible says it matters how we live but the Bible says it DOESN’T matter how I live in order to be justified!

We must get this point otherwise we move from grace to works and fall from grace. Nothing from me? Nothing at all? No. A bit? No. Nothing! What does God want our response to be to this – this is why He is taking us back to Abraham. He wants us to see Him and His faithfulness and He wants us to see our response to it. So I have got four things that I will go through. It is all about where our hope can be found.

1. The Ground of Abraham’s Hope.

We find that he majors on what the ground isn’t. There is a negative that comes in here. (v13); “That he would inherit the promises … did NOT come through the law (what he does) but through the righteousness of faith”. He is saying “I tell you what his grounds weren’t – they weren’t ANYTHING of himself or what he could do”. This was God’s promise to him!

If you try and do something about this promise then it becomes null and void!

You have to trust completely. If you start to put your hand out (which is the natural thing to do) then the promise of me catching you is gone. If I see that hand move then my promise is over. You must trust completely. You can’t tense – I will catch you just before you hit the floor.

In your spirit – everything in you when God says “Grace alone by faith alone in Christ alone” – your very nature is towards works. I want to do something to support myself and God says “No”.

What could Abraham have done? He could have started a fitness regime or gone to the chemist or done something! This is real life stuff! This isn’t Aladdin – this guy was 100 years old and God said that they were going to get pregnant. Everything in him said “What can I do?”. He had already tried to make it happen! Abraham gave up and said there is nothing I can do to make this happen. That’s why the Scripture says he didn’t waiver in faith! It was absurd – so much so that only God could do this.

Our salvation – Romans 3:21-26 is ALL of grace. APART from works! Nothing that you do! Abraham knew this and did this but if you try and add works in then the promise is void. The promise is only based on what God would do – it is all of grace. So when we look that – we find he believed against hope! He hoped against hope! His hope was now outside of himself against the natural hope he had within himself. He gave up his own hope and hoped only and entirely on God. It is that giving up and refusal for self-atonement – even the smallest bit. You can have 99% promise and 1% works. It must be 100% or nothing.

C H Spurgeon says this. He said you would sooner yoke a gnat to an archangel than try and help Christ save you – it must be all of grace or none at all It is all of grace! It was 100% trusting God!

2. The Object of His Hope.

It turns from not himself to God alone. This is 100% proof grace. God alone and completely alone with grace alone. See (v16b) – this is why it depends on faith. The promise may rest on grace and be guaranteed to all his offspring. God’s promise of saving you by grace must rest on that grace – it must rest there! We have nothing to bring! Paul says it again and again – we must feel it and know it and get it.

It is not how we live but what He has done through Christ – His life and His death. Grace is the only guarantee!

You buy a computer and there is a thing on the back that says “If you peel this off or try to unscrew this computer to mend it – the guarantee is null and void”. You cannot touch it! Everything in you thinks I can sort this – how hard can it be? You peel it off carefully and unscrew it – but the moment you do that, it has gone.

God is saying that the moment you think you can go in to do something to aid Christ, the promise is no longer the promise.

In hope in God – in verse 20 you find it is all about God for him. “Fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised”. That is what God wants for us this morning. Would you jump out of the plane and flap your arms without a parachute? And when you have a parachute – flapping your arms doesn’t work either. Unless Christ saves you – all our works count as nothing. For us the promise is that we now see Christ. It is not just a promise to Abraham – now there is a righteousness of God revealed and it is apart from works! It is the salvation and redemption we get in Christ Jesus – we see Christ crucified and later on in Romans 8, he takes that. “If God did not spare His own Son … how much more will He not give us all things” – he expands and expands and it gets more and more scandalous!

This is too free and too good and too simple! This is ridiculous! It is amazing if you get it! Paul says “Get it!”. Abraham got it! Abraham gave up his own works and put his trust totally and utterly in God. That is how the Galatians started you know! The Galatians started by seeing Christ and Paul said in Galatians 3; “You have moved away from the gospel!”. Your faith centred around him and now you are hoping for the future in what you are doing rather than continually relying on Him. You are flapping your arms. You are far from grace! It is finished – it is sorted once and for all! Christ and His finished work is the object of our hope. He is an example for us to rely and trust on God alone.

3. The Certainty of His Hope.

He has the will and He has the power to make us and keep us righteous for all eternity. Remember my dad – you have blown this promise. Here he shows us that we cannot forfeit the promise. He has the power to keep this promise and nothing that we can do – He has the grace to keep this promise. This is the proof (v17b) – he says; “In the presence of the God who gives life to the dead … and calls into existence the things that do not exist”. Abraham believes God because God creates something from nothing. Paul is saying apply this to yourself. Righteousness apart from works – he takes nothing – he takes that which is dead and to the dead one, he brings life and creates from nothing. He creates someone who is loved, known and saved by Christ. He does it and He makes it. Here am I – Pete Greasley – not a Christian but before the foundation of the earth God calls into existence and He takes me from darkness to life, He takes His Spirit and places it within me and imputes Christ’s righteousness to me – and Paul says now I am a new creation! He promised it and He did it!

How can I undo that? You can’t! Will my works and failure undo it? No – because it is only promise! Promise with no added mixture of works! Will God reject Christ’s work on the Cross – no never! It is always going to be there!

My salvation and your salvation is entirely and completely outside of yourself. God takes that which is nothing. And brings it to something – so no one may boast and that we may trust in “grace that has brought me safe thus far and grace will take me home”. Will God show me grace? Romans 8:32 – He gave up His Son – what more proof do you need? He rose Christ from the dead – God can do this and it is the proof of His power and grace and the proof of His certainty!

4. The Effect of this Hope.

Faith and assurance! He is standing on something entirely outside of himself. How many times have I preached this?! There will be times when you haven’t got this and if they knew what I was like inside, they would question this! Challenges do come! He believes and did not waver or distrust but grew strong in faith and glorified God and most importantly – not just how he felt – but (v22) that is why his faith was counted to him as righteousness.

Those words were counted for us too – who believe in Him. He took the promise of Abraham and has transferred it into the New Testament. “Christ died for our sins”. Because he trusted on what Christ has done, therefore he was counted righteous before God. If our salvation is outside of ourselves then we are counted righteous before God.

How you feel is irrelevant. What you do is irrelevant. What you don’t do is irrelevant. What do think or don’t think or say or don’t say – nothing! How you put your arms out – nothing!

You are saved by grace! That is entirely outside of you and it is a gift of God through faith. That is a gift too by the way! That is why I know I am safe and secure in the promise of God and it will never ever be taken back or voided – because it was Christ alone! Faith alone by grace alone through Christ alone for the glory of God alone – the word is “ALONE”. For the glory of Christ alone! It is all outside of ourselves! On that day some of you (self-righteous people) and say “Did we not do this or that?” and He will look them in the eye and say “Depart from Me I never knew you”. But also on that day He will give us our reward. A lot of people who thought they would never make it will be there. You will be there and stand before Him and hear “Well done – thou good and faithful servant” and you will fall on the floor flabbergasted.

I believe God wants you to have an assurance of your faith. You can live your whole life without assurance and still be saved. Have you received Him? Yes. Do you feel saved? No not always – doesn’t matter, you are saved!

It is not your strength of your assurance that will get you there. We are in Christ! Christ has died for me and there is nothing I can do to find myself in hell. It is all of grace. Our assurance – that assures His promise by Christ’s atoning death – my hope is built not on my feelings or on my works or thoughts but my hope is built on nothing less than Jesus blood and righteousness. What happens when you move your hope outside of yourself and how you feel – it all floods back. We preach the gospel to ourselves daily – all of grace – all of faith – all of Christ! We worry about grace because we look within. Just like Abraham we can not waver in our faith but be fully convinced.

The conclusion? If God declares me righteous then who can condemn me! Can this or that? Or life or angels? Or anything? No! It can’t be that good! It is that good.