Friday, October 31, 2008

What is fellowship \ Koinonia? Carson's view:

I'm preaching on Phil 1:3-8 this Sunday, the following quote from Carson is very relevant to the sermon, as well as being important because of common misunderstanding about the word 'koinoia':

“In common use ‘fellowship’ has become somewhat debased. If you invite a pagan neighbour to your home for a cup of tea, it is friendship; if you invite a Christian neighbour, it is fellowship. If you attend a meeting at church and leave as soon as it is over, you have participated in a service; if you stay for tea and crumpets afterward, you have enjoyed some fellowship. In modern use, then, fellowship has come to mean something like warm friendship with believers.

In the first century, however, the word commonly had commercial overtones. If John and Harry buy a boat and start a fishing business, they have entered into a fellowship, a partnership. Intriguingly, even in the New Testament the word is often tied to fiscal matters. Thus when the Macedonian Christians send money to help the poor Christians in Jerusalem they are entering into a fellowship with them.

The heart of true fellowship is self-sacrificing conformity to a shared vision. Both John and Harry put their savings into the fishing boat. Now they share the vision that will put the fledgling company on its feet. Christian fellowship, then, is self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. There may be overtones of warmth and intimacy, but the heart of the matter is this shared vision of what is of transcendental importance, a vision that calls forth our commitment. So when Paul gives thanks, with joy, because of the Philippians’ ‘partnership in the gospel’ or ‘fellowship in the gospel’, he is thanking God for the fact that these brothers and sisters in Christ, from the moment of their conversion (‘from the first day until now’, Paul writes), rolled up their sleeves and got involved in the advance of the gospel. They continued their witness in Philippi, they persevered in their prayers for Paul, they sent money to support him in his ministry – all testifying to their shared vision of the importance and priority of the gospel.

D.A. Carson, Basics for Believers. (Leicester, IVP, 2004) p.13-14

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 6: Reading books

There are all kinds of ideas at the moment on how to reach people who don't read much. I myself was very attracted to these ideas years ago. My own idea was to do bible studies using clips of the Simpsons. I soon found however that even if people can't read very well, its not very long before they can.

Here's the testimony of a former drug dealer and kru member whose reading wasn't too good when we first started doing Bible studies together:

I grew up on a council estate in SW London Roehampton. My Mother was a single parent at the time with 3 kids. We were un-churched and not highly educated. Although being read nursery books as a young child, reading was not a regular practise of mine when at home or not in school. The only book I can recall reading was a child’s fiction called ‘Goosebumps’ when aged 10-11. I dropped out of school at about age 13-14 because of a sinful lifestyle and the only reading done by me was the sport on the back of the newspaper. Then at the age of 17 there was one book that would change my life forever ‘The Bible’.

For no reason at all other than a mysterious guilty conscience I one day began reading the Bible, starting from the beginning ‘Genesis’ like you do with all books. I started going to a local Pentecostal church which encouraged me to continue reading the Bible. I had never read a Bible before and the first one was an old KJV.(that was only one in my house). God saved me and made himself known to me and it all started with me picking up and reading a Bible (Gods word is living).

After such an experience I became obsessed with Bible. I was given loads of books to read by my Christian friend but for the first 8 months of being a Christian all I read was the Bible. (Which I completed in that time). The strangest thing was my mum seeing her once drug dealer son up all nights on a Friday (party night) reading and studying the Bible instead of going out getting wasted with old friends, she couldn’t understand it.

Since than reading Bible has always been a priority in my life , because it brought me to God. My reading pattern since I’ve been saved has been to read 3 chapters of the O.T in the morning and 3 chapters of the N.T at night. A tradition I picked up from my early Pentecostal days. I now currently try to read the Bible still in this pattern and also read other books on the faith.

Here are some of my Personal favourite so far:

Desiring God by John Piper
Knowing God, God has spoken by J.I Packer
The pilgrims progress by John Bunyan
The Power to overcome sin and temptation, the death of death, and the Holy Spirit by John Owen
Mere Christianity by CS Lewis
How to read the Bible for all its worth by Fee and Stuart
Pierced for my transgressions by Ovey, Jeffery and Sach
In my place condemned he stood by J.I Packer and Mark Dever
Systematic theology by Wayne Grudem.

I firmly believe that it’s been Gods Grace that has made me want to reads so much; he changed my heart so that I want to know and love him more and this is why I read.
I hope I don’t sound like a well apt reader or prideful. When I first began to read I wasn’t that good at it, but as I read more I naturally get better. Its’ been Gods grace that has made me read.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 5: The priority of knowing God over social transformation

As a child growing up on a council estate, I didn't even know it was a bad area (it was only later in life as I mixed with people outside of the estate that I realised this). The estate was normal to me, but not having a dad around was heart breaking. I did not need my estate to be transformed, as much as I needed to know God as my heavenly Dad. This knowledge later changed my life. The social improvement the local council brought to the estate has done little for me by comparison. I have helped a number of people on the estate through youth work (and believe this was right to do) - but the effects of this is tiny in comparison with knowing God as your father.

Over the years I have heard shock from some people about the social deprivation and crime of council estates, but this is not the greatest problem. Our greatest problem is not knowing God as our loving creator. Our greatest problem is that we live as enemies to God, and we need to be brought into a right relationship with God.

Carson writes:
We must always remember that: The Gospel is not admired in Scripture primarily because of the social transformation it effects, but because it reconciles men and women to a holy God. Its purpose is not that we might feel fulfilled, but that we might be reconciled to the living and holy God. The consummation is delightful to the transformed people of God, not simply because the environment of the new heaven and the new earth is pleasing, but because we forever live and work and worship in the unshielded radiance of the presence of our holy Maker and Redeemer. That prospect must shape how the church lives and serves, and determine the pulse of its ministry. The only alternative is high-sounding but self-serving idolatry.

D. A. Carson, For the Love of God : A Daily Companion for Discovering the Riches of God's Word. Volume 2 (Wheaton, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1998), 25.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Jesus making us acceptable

I was just reading Mark 5:21-34, where there is a woman who was bleeding for 12 years. In those days she would not have been unable to hang around in public unless she told people that she was ceremonially unclean - a very humiliating experience.

It says in v.26 that she
1) suffered much under many doctors,
2) spent all her money on them
3) actually gotten worse (v.26)

What a sad story, and how relevant today, when so many people suffer under the very people who they go to for help. Some people go to false teachers and false religions for help - but they just spend their money, suffer, and get worse.

But then this woman touches Jesus' cloak believing that he can heal her (v.27-28). And he does! Immediately the bleeding stops (v.29).

What a wonderful man Jesus is! What a wonderful God he is! That he does what no-one else can do. That he can make the unacceptable person acceptable, that he can take away pain immediately.

Its also interesting that with her condition she could not go into the women's section of the temple. Like someone being unable to go to church today. But Jesus made it possible. In a similar way, we've seen people who we would never have imagined going to church, then going to church, simply because of God's grace.

Thank you Jesus!

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 4: Expository Preaching

Whilst some people think that expository preaching is too difficult for council estate people to grasp, it has been one of the key features of our council estate church.

Some of the reasons I hear for NOT doing expository preaching are:
1) Literacy is too low on council estates
2) People on council estates prefer to hear stories
3) People on council estates cannot remember expository sermons
4) Expository preaching is not a biblical concept, but a only a reformation concept.

I will give quick answers to these points:

1) Literacy does NOT have a lot to do with listening and responding to expository preaching. If it did, then surely we would also say that its not worth even having a conversation with someone of low literacy. Instead the Bible teaches us that it is people's hearts that stops them listening. When the spirit says, "Let him who has ears - hear" (Matt 11:15; 13:9; Rev 2:7)- he is not referring to literacy!

2) I did not know that we prefer to hear stories! Where does this idea come from?

3) Every other Thursday night our church meets together and discusses applications from the Sunday sermon - so it would appear to us that we are able to remember. Have any tests been made to show that memory is related to your postcode?

4) There are many responses to this, I'll just pick two: Firstly, Hebrews 13:22 probably means that the book of Hebrews was a sermon. Interestingly it takes about 50 minutes to read out loud. Our sermons range from 25 - 60 minutes so I reckon we're ok (yes council estate people can sit down for that long!). Secondly, read Chrysostom's expository sermons from the 4th century - long before the reformation.

Here are a couple of testimonies from people in our church about expository preaching:

From a former youth offender who was kicked out of school at 14, and got involved in drugs and robbery:
The effects of expository teaching on my life has had a profound afffect on me. For instance, teaching from the bible tells me about God and and his will for my life. The bible tells me that faith and grace alone justify me before God and it is only by grace that i can overcome sin.If it was'nt for expository sermons i would not know this. My sinful nature would tell me i would have to earn Gods favour or to make God love me more i would have to overcome my sin by myself. My emotions tell me during the sermon,that i need to cling to Christ and to examine myself daily, confess my sins daily and go back to the Cross. expository preaching teaches my heart to live for Christ while knowing everytime i fail i have a advocate with the father which is Jesus Christ.My faviourite preachers ( other than my own preacher) are Paul Washer and John Piper, But i know the Lord desires me to serve NewLife church and it is there i get my teaching, correction and sanctification. Peace and love

From a former single parent who left school at 15:
I have been listening to sermons for over thirty years. These have been ones delivered by Bible believing Christians in a wide spectrum of style. Whilst, I found these adequate at the time, I am surprised to find these last 3 years (hearing expository sermons)that I have been challenged to rethink my approach to hearing scripture. For the first time I am being challenged to rethink how I behave, and I am no longer comfortable with not changing to conform to the many injunctions of the Word of God. It has not been easy, or comfortable, but I feel God is doing His business with me and that makes me happy to please God.

At New Life Church Roehampton we greatly value God's word. It points to our wonderful saviour Jesus Christ. We are not looking to learn how to be middle class, or successful in the world, instead we want to learn how to glorify God with our lives. It is God's word that teaches us this, and it is expository preaching that best emphasises God's word, and minimizes a person's own helpful suggestions.

Perhaps one of the pitfalls that sometimes happens today in reaching out to the poor, is that well meaning middle class Christians (whom we love and value and need btw), try to help working class people by giving their own advice. I call this 'the manna of the middle class'. It can start with thinking that a drug dealer's biggest problem is that he sells drugs, and end with someone helping that dealer to find a decent job. All the while however this dealer needed the manna from heaven - Jesus Christ. This problem could have been avoided by expository preaching for the following reasons:

1) When done correctly it teaches the bible text rather than middle class values.
2) It shows the helper the correct way to help.
3) It shows the dealer Jesus as he is revealed in his word, rather than middle class values.

By the way, I believe there are many other reasons for expository preaching, but these have been covered by many others who are better qualified than myself, and are not restricted to council estates. I am just touching on a point that has particular significance for council estates.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 3: Bible Studies

There is a myth that people on Council Estates do not like Bible studies. In our church however, Bible studies have been the main means of evangelism and discipleship.

Before we started as a church, we had 3 Bible studies a week. Some of the youth who came to these meetings, were not doing well at school (or not even going), yet they would come to bible studies, and engage in the text.

When we ran Gospel Nite (seen in the video below), there came a time when the youth were more interested in the Bible study than in the music, so we locked off the music, and just ran the Bible study. There also came a time, when we just did straight expository teaching for the youth.

During the last 4 years, we've consistently had an emphasis on bible study, yet seen people come and go. At times, God has brought large numbers of people to us, who get well into Bible study, at other times hardly anyone comes along. The reason for numbers decreasing has not been bible study itself, rather it appears to be people's hearts. In our experience, people from council estates are well capable of studying the bible, however as human beings - we often don't like what is in the bible. The biggest problem then with gospel ministry on a council estate then is not supposed difficulty with bible studies, but rather with hearts (as in any other place in the world). I'm not coming up with anything new here, this is all in the bible, check out the parable of the sower in Matthew 13.

Here's a video of Gospel Nite 3 years ago:

How to not fall away 1: Hebrews 2:1 'Pay Attention, Don't Drift'

Friday, October 17, 2008

Using the Greek New Testament for devotions part 13: John Piper's warning, and a possible solution

Having just started a new blog series, I am aware that I never got round to posting one final post on my Greek devotions series, or my exegesis series. So here is a post I have been wanting to write since T4G last easter!

In Kentucky I went to a John Piper Table talk session. Some of you know about my Keswick moment there! At this session, John Piper said that he used both a Greek and Hebrew text for his devotions. He did however warn that the downside of doing that is that you can get hung up on a grammatical question, and get sidetracked with that (that's how I interpreted what he said anyway).

Since, then I have been thinking about ways to deal with this potential problem, and experimenting with solutions. So far, here is my possible solution, one that I am still testing.

1) I'm using the McCheyne reading plan with an English translation (I tend to alternate between the NET, and the ESV for this). I don't do the full 4 chapters at the moment, instead I make sure I'm following at least one of the books, and maybe two.

2) I also read Don Carson's "For the Love of God" alongside it. This ensures I can have a quiet time reading an English text, without the distraction of grammatical issues.

3) When I'm reading a New Testament book as part of the McCheyne plan, I use my Net Bible / NA27 Diglot. This way, I can read the English on one page, and glance across to the Greek page when I am curious as to what it says in Greek.

4) Then, I read from a NT book in Greek, with a Greek reader - I prefer the UBS reader. I do this at my own pace - one day I might read a few verses without thinking much about grammatical issues, another day I might stop and think about a particular word, and do a word study in it, or an analysis of the grammar. I'll do this through a book, until I've finished the book.

5) Then I read a psalm (or part of a psalm) in the Septuagint - but I do this with a diglot, so I have an English translation in the margin, and can quickly refer to it to, rather than looking up a lexicon or a grammar.

This method gives me a balance of straight English reading, fast Greek reading, and slow Greek reading. I'm still testing this method at the moment, I may modify it in the future.

Hopefully there might be something in the above 5 points that may be of use to other Greek readers.

Here endeth the series on using the Greek New Testament for devotions.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Council Estate Christians part 2: Learning Styles

Some people seem to think that people from council estates have a particular learning style. I have two problems with this view:

1) This is based on a misunderstanding of learning styles:

When I started teacher training for FE in 2001, the in-thing was learning styles. Supposedly, everyone had a particular learning style. I got very much into this idea, and was convinced that I was a visual learner. So much so, that I didn't listen to mp3 teachings because I thought that I didn't learn well by listening. Many students and teachers have subsequently taken learning inventories to find out what type of learner they are.

BUT then Prof. Frank Coeffield from the Institute of Education(IoE) pointed out that there was no evidence that learning style categories and inventories are valid in post 16 education. Students can take an inventory and find they have a particular learning style, but then the next find find they have a different style. Who Knew?

This is not to say that people don't prefer learning a particular way at seasons in their life, but it does strongly suggest that it is unwise to label someone as a particular type of learner. If we do this, we need to be aware of two things:

1) We do not have valid evidence backing our labeling (anecdotal stories are not valid evidence!).

2) Teachers may end up limiting their teaching to a way that they think suits the learner (when it may not), and students may limit themselves to only learning a particular way (when in fact they may benefit from being exposed to a whole bunch of learning styles). Fortunately, after ignoring teaching mp3's for a long time, I came to realise that I could learn things from mp3's and recognised that I was not solely a visual learner.

So, even before we consider how to teach people from Council Estates, we need to check if our understanding of learning styles is really correct.

2) This assumes learning styles are based on class / postcodes / schooling etc.:

My first point, almost makes this second point unnecessary. If people cannot be neatly categorized into preferred learning styles, then we certainly cannot do this by people's postcode. No valid independent research has been performed that shows Council Estate people to have a particular learning style.


The whole notion of learning styles for individuals is on shaky ground, yet has been surprisingly naively accepted (even by myself). To then apply this notion to Council Estates goes well beyond the evidence.

Council Estate Christians part 1

10 years ago, when I felt God call me to plant a church on a Council Estate (which I was born and raised on), hardly any Christians seemed to be talking about Council Estates. Recently however, it appears to have become one of the 'in things' to talk about. In these discussions, I have heard a number of things said about people from Council Estates that just don't make sense to me. Here are some of the things I have heard, that I just haven't experienced in my Council Estate, or in our church:

1) People from council estates don't read
2) People from council estates don't like expository sermons
3) People from council estates cannot engage with the biblical text well
4) People from council estates would never go to a middle /upper class church
5) Council estate people will only be won to the gospel if people change the lingo they use
6) People from council estates need to see miracles to be saved
7) People from council estates learn differently

BTW This is by no means an exhaustive list, this is just off the top of my head.

Any of you who have visited our church, or met us at conferences, know that these things are certainly not true of our church (all of our members were born and raised and still live on council estates).

From the many conversations I have had - it appears that a lot of the above points come about from people (outside of council estates) trying to answer the question:
"Why are there so few conservative evangelical churches in council estates"
This is indeed an important question. My concern however is that people are jumping to unfounded conclusions.

I'm therefore going to start writing blog posts about this topic, "Council Estate Christians." Hopefully this will help destroy some of the stereotypes of people from Council Estates, and help people get to understand Council Estates better.

If there are any Council Estate Christians out there, please contact me so that I can consider your experiences in these posts.