Basics for Believers

A review by Rochelle Seukaran

D A Carson’s book Basic for Believers is a helpful read as it explains the letter of Philippians simply and appropriately for the era in which we live. Philippians is addressed to Christians and Carson does well to describe for modern believers the letter’s practical applications for a godly life.

Carson first emphasises that we should put the fellowship of the gospel at the centre of our relationships with believers. Fellowship (literally translated as “partnership”) is, Carson says, self-sacrificing conformity to the gospel. This explanation challenged me with regard to conversations, coffee dates and recreational activities I have with my fellow Christians. I questioned whether I tended to shy away from talking about the gospel. Perhaps reading and understanding the gospel was enough for me, which in turn led to me avoiding talking about my struggles as a Christian and avoiding accountability with my Christian family. Was I therefore being true to my partnerships, I asked myself. Was I bearing the burdens of my Christian brothers and sisters and keeping them accountable, steering and encouraging them forward?

In Philippians Paul goes on to explain that his imprisonment actually advanced the gospel instead of discouraging it. Carson backs this up, mentioning other instances of people who suffered to advance the gospel. Protecting our reputation, our own comfort and the misunderstandings of our motives should therefore not be reason to shy away from speaking the wonderful truth of the gospel to friends and family, not in the light of men and women who have suffered much more because they found it worthy to do so.

Reading this first chapter of Carson’s book made me realise that we selfishly put our own aspirations first. We want, rather, to be popular with friends and avoid circumstances in which we may be embarrassed or challenged in our faith in Jesus. We don’t always put the gospel first. But the gospel is not private. It’s good news that needs to be shared. I realised that it’s actually possible to be selfish with the gospel. I have received the greatest news ever but I am sometimes guilty of enjoying the comforts of the gospel and not passing it on.
The book goes on to explain different perspectives of the cross. From the perspective of God the Father, to Jesus, to the devil and finally to our perspective. Looking at the cross from different angles opened my mind to the power of the cross. We often look at the cross from just our own perspective. But what about how the cross looked from God’s point of view? Is God’s wrath of Jesus at the cross an explosion of a bad temper or a sign of his holy integrity? Understanding the cross from these different perspectives broadened my understanding of the foundation of Christianity: where it all happened … the cross of Christ.

Carson further encourages us to emulate worthy Christian leaders, defining the characteristics of these leaders. Paul, for instance, encourages the Philippians to imitate himself as he considers himself to be a worthy Christian leader but he adds that he continues to press on with the help of Jesus. Paul is neither boastful nor stagnant and Carson acknowledges this and encourages us as Christians to follow leaders who display these characteristics. He aptly quotes “Christian discipleship is more easily caught than taught”. Basics for Believers encouraged me to emulate such leaders at CCU but to also become the someone new converts and fellow Christians could one day also emulate. But the truth is, whether it be Paul, Carson, leaders at CCU or myself, we all are ultimately imitators of Christ.

The book ends with a helpful encouragement: never give up the Christian walk. Areas like how to resolve Christian conflict are addressed. Some of the ways we think we’re being helpful but are actually not, are mentioned. The end of the book redirects us to the beginning, where unity and partnership are emphasised.

Some of my friends know this but it’s worth saying: I don’t like reading. In saying that, this year I have been part of a reading group and the more I read, the more I realise how God has blessed us with authors who can explain the Bible in a way that makes it more understandable and makes me more thoughtful about my godliness and walk as a Christian. To be thoughtful about how we live our lives as Christians is a good response to the grace of God.

I would recommend Carson’s book, Basic for Believers, to all believers.

What is the Mission of the Church?

A review by Brenda Daniels.

In this book authors Keven Deyoung and Greg Gilbert examine the extent to which the church should be involved in social justice. Their conclusion, in almost every chapter, is that social justice is not the prime mission of the church; sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ with the world is the church’s most important task.

The authors discuss today’s common arguments for church support of social justice. These include: making everything “missional”, and believing that it is the Christian’s duty to help establish Christ’s kingdom (in a social justice sense) on earth. Deyoung and Gilbert carefully dissect definitions and bible passages used to convey popular approaches, conversely emphasising that it is Jesus – not we – who will ultimately bring about the new heavens and new earth.

Chapter 7 serves as a summary for the book. In it the Christian is given reasons not to do good works (for example establishing the kingdom on earth) and reasons to be involved in social justice (love) – a motive also for evangelism. The authors explain that individual motives for involvement in social justice need not necessarily be the same as that of the church. And they urge readers to remember that the church should “keep the main thing the main thing” – that is, witnessing to the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Right from the beginning readers know the position of the authors. Despite attempting to present counter arguments the writers present us with no surprises. I was interested to see how people support their argument for church involvement in social justice, and I felt reassured that my individual involvement in charity work need not be the same as that of the church. But other than that, I did not find What is the Mission of the Church? To be an earth-shatteringly interesting book. If you are of the persuasion that the church should be more involved in social justice, you may be challenged by the position of this book. See what you think…

What Do You Want for Christmas?

By Brenda Daniels 

What do you want for Christmas this year? A bit of peace and quiet perhaps? Busy shops, busy town, busy roads, beach, restaurants – you name it – people are everywhere, all contributing to a great deal of hustle and bustle. I find my thoughts are everywhere too. I keep working out menus, sleeping arrangements, laundry for extra guests, gifts to buy and wrap… In all this activity the whole reason for Christmas becomes blurred in my mind.

And yet it’s no surprise that the reason for Christmas is Jesus – and what He wanted for that very first Christmas (source: Good News of Great Joy by John Piper). What Jesus continues to want for Christmas is that they, whom the Father has given Him, may be with Him where He is, to see His glory that the Father has given Him, because the Father loved Him before the foundation of the world (adapted from John 17:24).

Just think about that for a while – Jesus wants God’s children to see His glory and to love Him as much as the Father loves Him. Reading the Bible and pausing to think about its message, the Christmas message, is obviously a good way to focus on Jesus and our response to Him. To this end John Piper has devised a set of daily devotional readings for Advent (that is, 1 to 25 December). They are found in a book entitled Good News of Great Joy which can be downloaded for free from desiringgod.org.

The daily readings are short and good for personal or corporate devotions. I have so enjoyed reading, pondering and praying over these simple, yet profound messages. It’s not too late for you to benefit too. Download and get going straight away. I hope that together we can see just a bit more of Jesus’ glory and learn to love Him more this Christmas.

Pumpkin Party!

An article by Imogen Schafer.

The time had come once again. The months of planning and designing the costumes had reached a close as Christ Church Umhlanga’s annual Pumpkin Party began!

Children flooded CCU on Friday night, 30 October 2015, all geared up in their amazing costumes. Wors sizzled on the braai, sugar pumped through the children’s systems and the adults enjoyed a well-earned cappuccino as their offspring busied themselves going through various activities. Excitement, laughter and music were heavy in the air as the children made crafts, iced biscuits and played games.

One of the evening’s highlights was the short talk that Grant Retief gave. Aimed at people of all ages, Grant taught that God made everything and was in control of everything, even the scary things. Because of this, no-one has to be scared of anything, even sin, which Jesus defeated on the cross.

Everyone had an amazing evening learning about God’s power and love and the costume designing has already started for next year’s much-anticipated Pumpkin Party!

Pumpkin Party 2015.2Pumpkin Party 2015.1Pumpkin Party 2015

Give It to God

Do you compartmentalise your life and as a result struggle to give everything to God in prayer? I do. I found this article from www.desiringgod.com very helpful in addressing my struggle with prayer. It taught me that I can take everything to God in prayer. See what you think:

An article from www.desiringgod.com:

       Where do you run to when the doors close off?

     And who do you call on when it all goes wrong?

     The devil is telling me to feed my fears.

     “Why don’t you pack your bags and disappear?”

     I’d rather give it to God.

I lost my dad in a car crash when I was a teenager. He was a family man, a businessman, and most importantly a disciple of Christ. In an instant, my mother lost her husband, and my sisters and I lost our father.

Suicidal thoughts ran through my mind on a daily basis. Killing myself seemed like the easiest option to deal with the pain. My father and I had planned a number of things — from music business to family security — but it seemed at the time that these things were no longer a possibility. To date, this is the hardest thing I’ve had to deal with — and I’ve dealt with a lot.

At this point in my life, I thought giving God everything meant going to church, reading my Bible, and praying. But when faced with the reality that God wants more than 20 minutes of my day or a day of the week, the foundation I stood on was shaken.

Since I had placed God in a box, I didn’t have a category for him in my pain and suffering. School, love, family, friendships, food, and even pain were my responsibility. I knew that he was supposed to comfort those who were suffering, but when I was confronted with misery, I thought that it was my job to deal with it.

Believing the Lie

What do you do when you have wept and cannot weep anymore? What do you do when everything crumbles and falls right in front of you? If we are honest, our initial response is not to pray, nor is it to run to God. We are not quick to say, “Though he slay me, I will hope in him” (Job 13:15).

I knew the Scriptures. I knew that God is the “Father to fatherless and defender of widows” (Psalms 68:5). But I wrestled with that reality in the moment. Instead of listening to God, I listened to myself. I believed Satan’s lies and wallowed in my fears and depressive thoughts. I didn’t know that I didn’t have to carry this burden alone.

But one day I opened the Scriptures: “You shall love the LORD with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Matthew 22:37). Eventually I understood that loving God meant that I was to love him with everything that was in me. God doesn’t simply want a day or even an act – God wants to be cherished and glorified in everything I do.

He wants me to lay everything at his feet, including my pain. In order to love God at all, I must give him my all. I could no longer simply include God in what I knew belonged to him. Just as he declares that every square inch of this universe exists under his sovereignty, so does every aspect of my life — including my pain.

God Wants Your Pain

Along with everything else in my life, God wanted me to trust him with my pain. He wanted me to be vulnerable with him and trust that he would deliver me out of my despair. He pursued my hard heart. He wanted me to rest in his sovereignty. He wanted me to rest in his fatherhood. He began to display what it truly meant for him to be a “father to the fatherless.”

We pray “our Father in heaven” but often struggle to believe he’s truly good. We wrestle to see God as warm, gracious, kind, patient, and loving. We envision God as a tyrant, with a big stick in heaven, beating us on the head when we do wrong.

Jesus, the God-man, corrects our damaged understanding of the Father. He says, “If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him” (Matthew 7:11). God is so good that when humans are comparatively mentioned in the same sentence, we have to be referred to as evil. He’s that good.

Give It to God in Prayer

This is why Jesus, in the previous chapter, teaches, “This is how you should pray” (Matthew 6:9). He teaches us to run to our Father. The fatherhood of God reminded me that though my earthly father had passed, my heavenly Father loved me dearly, and I could cast my burdens and sorrows upon him.

I finally learned to give my problems and pain to God. We live in a fallen world — a world that groans for the return of the Savior. Pain will exist from the cradle to the grave, but even in this, God invites us to know him and be comforted through prayer. There is a peace that surpasses all understanding that is readily available for those who make everything known to God in prayer (Philippians 4:6–8). Through prayer, intimacy with Christ is readily available for the weary and heavy-laden (Matthew 11:28).

 

 

 

The Hospitality Commands

Have you struggled to show hospitality towards others? I certainly have. Over the years comparing myself to other welcoming people has left me feeling trapped between my own neighbourly inadequacy and what I know to be a biblical command to “not neglect to show hospitality” (Hebrews 13:2a). So I bought The Hospitality Commands by Alexander Strauch. I bought the book out of a sense of rebellion, hoping that somehow in its pages I would find something that would let me off the hospitality hook.

Strauch’s work sat on my shelf unopened for months while I studied other books. Books like Ephesians. Through the latter I learnt that every circumstance and relationship in the Christian’s life can be lived as “unto the Lord”. I could honour God by loving my Christian family and others with the unique circumstances, gifts and people God had given me. When it came time, then, to open The Hospitality Commands I actually wanted to be more loving – and hospitable. God had prepared me to hear.

The message I heard was very simple: the premise for hospitality is love. “Love in action”, as the book describes hospitality, is based on the love Jesus showed us at the cross. Through hospitality love can be extended to our Christian brothers and sisters, to unsaved friends and family, to missionaries and to those in need. “Hospitality fleshes out love in a uniquely personal and sacrificial way”, it becomes a platform for the gospel, it supports the work of the gospel, is a vehicle for the practice of spiritual gifts, and is a very personal act of service.

Through The Hospitality Commands author Alexander Strauch explains how hospitality is something every Christian should pursue with eagerness and zeal. And it is a command. This was the bit I was afraid of. But perhaps apart from a short chapter entitled “Helpful Hints in Practising Hospitality”, The Hospitality Commands is not prescriptive (and therefore scary). It is theological and inspiring. Like others who read this, my situation is unique: I cannot show hospitality the way others do. But I can show it – as part of my service to the Lord.

The Hospitality Commands also contains a study guide so is suitable for use in small groups. The Hospitality Commands is a simple, helpful book, and a logical extension of a study in Ephesians.

Contact the CCU bookstore/library to obtain your copy.

Hope Beyond Cure

Have you had, or are you presently suffering from, cancer? Is someone close to you in that position? Then perhaps this little book by David McDonald is for you. As the title implies its message is that there is hope in the face of this frightening disease, a hope that lasts forever.

In Hope Beyond Cure David McDonald shares his personal experience with cancer. At just 50 years of age he was diagnosed with “incurable” lung cancer and had to undergo excruciating treatment and ongoing chemotherapy. Even in the afterword David explains that despite a “No Evidence of Disease” result he may still have active cancer cells and therefore an uncertain future.

The author is honest about the emotions that come with his shock diagnosis: fear, depression, sadness at the loss of a future, and doubt in the goodness of God. David’s role as a Christian minister does very little to lessen the intensity of these thoughts and he finds himself searching for hope in medicine, relationships and understanding. All of these, he learns, are not the best reasons for hope. Jesus is.

David goes on to explain how Jesus offers that hope, and how by offering hope He also deals with our biggest need: trust in the God we have pushed away.

Hope Beyond Cure is simply written and is free of jargon. Rather than instructional it has a heartfelt tone and is likely to resonate with a variety of readers.

Contact Brad at CCU, 031 – 572 6542, for your copy of Hope Beyond Cure.

Delighting in the Trinity: A Review

The Trinitarian nature of the Christian God has been viewed by many as a mystery, a difficult concept that can’t easily be explained. In this aptly named book author, Michael Reeves, explains why Trinity is essential to God’s being. And He explains in five simple chapters the different persons of that Trinity and how they relate to each other and therefore to us as humans. This explanation of the Trinity is seamlessly woven into the salvation story. So for instance, as Father, God loves and begets the Son. The Son in turn loves the church and the Holy Spirit brings us to salvation and causes us to love Jesus as our first priority.

But even before people existed the Father was in relationship with the Son, loving and giving life to him in the fellowship of the Spirit. Images of a God of beauty, joy and abundance abound in this book. He is described as an intensely personal, outward-looking God who created the world as an act of giving love for His Son. And this outwardness filters through to us making the trinitarian God a wonderfully intimate and approachable one.

Ladies’ Conference

Lillibet Retief will give three talks on the Trinity from John’s gospel:

1. Glorious Father: Giving Fountain

2. Glorious Son: Troubled Lover

3. Glorious Spirit: Permanent Homemaker.

The Ladies’ Conference includes a high tea at CCU on 22 August, 8.30am to 12.30pm. The cost is R50.

Invite your friends and register on the website www.ccu.org.za/ladiesconference/.

 

Sent from my iPad

Castaways and Survivors Attend Holiday Club

An article by Imogen Schäfer

Much anticipated CCU’s Holiday Bible Club kicked off on the 14th of July and carried on till the 17th. Over 200 children from Grades R to 7 came every day over the four days. They were split into two age-appropriate clubs – ‘Castaways’ for Grades R to 5 and ‘Survivor’ for Grades 6 to 7.

Castaway Club children had a blast with their baking, games and craft without the focus of the children learning about Jesus being lost. This year Nicky Morris told the story of Jonah to the kids with the help of a series of dramas and videos. The story taught them that God is always in control and is loving, merciful and forgiving. As told from the Bible, the children learnt that if they repented of their sins and put their faith in Christ they could be saved and brought into God’s family.

Survivor Club’s older children were also challenged with the same story and message but taught by Michael Schäfer. Great encouragement came from the fact that the number of older children who came and heard the gospel has increased greatly this year. They engaged in many activities which fitted to the theme of Survivor. Activities included fire making, exotic food tasting and tramping through the flood plain. Overall the Grade 6s and 7s had a great time and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

God can be thanked that so many children attended and heard His word. This year’s July Holiday Club saw a few changes: the children were split into age categories and the new Coffee Corner became a reality. At the latter parents had the opportunity to have a coffee after dropping their children off.

All the children had great fun and eagerly await the December Holiday Bible Club and the opportunity to have more fun and hear God’s word.

By God’s Grace

I have friends who like to ensure that they are constantly reminding themselves and others about the grace of God. The way they do this is to append a simple phrase to many of their sentences. What was at one time a deliberate decision has, over time, become a habit. A good habit, I think.

“How have you been lately?” “I’ve been doing well, by God’s grace.”

“How did you do with your personal devotions this week?” “By God’s grace, I read and prayed every day.”

“You asked me to pray about your battle against sin in this area. How did it go last week?” “It went really well, by God’s grace.”

It’s easy to overlook a little phrase like that. It’s easy to let it be little more than background noise, quickly filtered out. But a couple of weeks ago it was like I heard it again for the first time: “By God’s grace.” It’s a beautiful thing! It is an acknowledgement that without the sweet grace of God, the very opposite would be true. It is an acknowledgement of utter dependency upon God.

I am healthy today, instead of deathly ill today, only because God has extended grace to me.

I was able to spend time in the Bible this week, and I was able to be committed to prayer this week, only because God reached out to me in his grace. Without that grace I would have run far and fast.

I did not succumb to that ongoing temptation this week, and instead was able to do those things that honor God, and only because God gave me the grace to put off sin and put on righteousness.

Without God’s moment-by-moment grace I would be this way, but with the existence of God’s constant, powerful grace, I am this way instead.

By God’s grace.

Source: www.challies.com