Tree of Life Blog

Engaging Culture with the wisdom and power of Christ!

Monthly Archives: May 2013

Seven thoughts about what happened in Woolwich

0

The family of Lee Rigby thought he was safe.   He wasn’t on the front line, but home on leave in England’s capital.  It turns out that his killers were raised in Romford and Harold Hill, both places I know well.

But how should Christians respond to such a vicious attack, how should Londoners act today and tomorrow, and what is Christ’s response to this.

I don’t have all the answers, and even in a blog post I don’t have the space to even share all my thoughts, but I want to give a framework that might help people respond in a Christian way.

Firstly, it is not wrong to feel strong  emotions.  Clearly the true grief in this situation is with the family of the bereaved, but as people who recognise the streets and the scenery of the attack it is ok to feel anguish,  angry, fear and grief.  God is compassion and compassion expresses itself in emotions.  Someone might feel they hope the murderers are hacked to pieces, that’s a form of compassion for the bereaved.  Calling those who are angry and emotional unChristian is not helpful.   Let the emotions surface and deal with them as they arise.  That doesn’t mean getting  emotional in any situation  is acceptable or that any action can be justified by emotion, but that emotions are just part of any human response and they need to be acknowledged, admitted and allowed. 

Secondly, this should not be seen as a racial event.  London is a melting pot of ethnicity and has been for years.  The EDF and other groups will seek to use this issue to stereotype and blame “aliens” and immigrants.  The two young men were British born, with a Nigerian heritage.   They went to primary school and secondary school in Havering.  This transcends their culture.  This is not an ethnically charged incident.   It wasn’t done in the name of race.  We should at this time be doing everything in our power to strengthen community links and build a truly international church in the capital where every tribe and tongue meets together. 

Thirdly, the answer to the question was it terrorism.  After a lot of consideration, I have to conclude that it was terrorist behaviour.  Knife crime among people in that age bracket is horrendous and evil, but this something else.   Not just due to the viciousness and premeditated nature of the act, but that it was filmed and designed for people to see it.   It was planned to cause terror which is why I consider it was a terrorist act.   It seems likely that we will find out that these young  men were not linked to any terrorist groups, but acting independently.  That is truly chilling.   No one turned them, they just became offended at western culture and society to the point they decided to not just threaten it but desecrate it.   This was a terror attack and the best way to be the head and not the tail is to not give in to terror.   I have bought a Help for heroes tshirt because I want to honour the people who gave their life or health for this nation and to show I am not scared of anyone.  For a Christian, we need to remember God is with us always.

Fourthly, don’t respond in anger.  Feeling  anger is one thing, responding in anger is another thing.  Calm down.   Consider.   Pray.  The best response to a vicious foe is to refuse to be distracted.   Keep being a disciple.  Keep healing  the sick,  keeping living the faith, keep walking in love and freedom and miracles.

Fifthly, let’s not abandon our armed forces.  Some people may have other views on the legitimacy of war in the middle east, but it is a fact that soldiers are out there.  Pray for them.  Believe God for their best.  Speak Psalm 91 over them.   If soldiers are attacked in peacetime on our shores, we need to remember who we are and speak life and peace to them.   We need to be faith filled not feat filled. 

Sixthly, the young men who did this are not unique.   They grew up in our schools, they hung around with our children, they went to our parties, we watched them grow up.  There are other people, other young men – although they may be black,  Asian or white –  it is more than probable they will be men.  Keep your eyes peeled for people who are disaffected, disassociated and disillusioned.   Offer them company, encouragement, help.   Ask and consider what your church is doing for young people and see if you can’t get involved.   If you have noticed someone and they concern you, God allowed you to notice…  Reach out to them! Show them love, show them grace.

Finally, the solution to every problem I our nation, in our city is not prayer and fasting, is not politics, is not any of that.   Paul said I am not ashamed of the gospel for it is the power of God unto salvation (Romans 1.16).   The power of God to save London is only found in the gospel.  We need not to change the structures so much as change people’s hearts one person at a time by telling them the good news.  Islam and Christian religion look very similar.  Serve God, do this to get into heaven.  We need to distance ourselves from religious Christianity and come back to the good news of a God who became sin with our sin so we could enjoy righteousness, peace and joy.  His righteousness. His peace.  HIS JOY.  Because of what He has done, not because what we have done.  That is the message that changes and melts hard hearts.   That is the message th at turned the Jewish terrorist Saul into the proclaimer of God’s grace, Paul.  That is the message that will change the hearts of the disaffected, the angry and the frustrated today.

The Deception of Hypo-Grace

9

Hi there,

As the pastor of Tree of Life Church, we are unashamed of the fact that we are a grace church.  Our heart beats with the sound of God’s unconditional, unmerited, undeserved, unending, unfathomable, unbeatable grace.  Paul said that it is by grace we are saved (Ephesians 2.5) and that it was the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ (2 Cor. 9.8) that led to Him making the monumental decision to become poor and accursed so we could become rich and blessed.

Now, when I read articles like the one doing the rounds at the moment called “The Deception of Hyper-grace” I am interested.  I am interested in what the Bible says about grace, and although the article was clearly arguing against what I teach and what the teachers who have been my spiritual fathers and leaders have taught, I still tried to read with an open mind.

Unfortunately, the article does not seem to start off with an open mind itself, but starts with the strongest of hyperbolic language.  Now I am one for using colourful, polemic language myself – I believe part of being a preacher and a teacher is to create mental images in people’s minds to help them grasp the truth – but tell me: is it open minded to start off by referring to grace teaching as the vomit of satan and a flood of the enemy?  Instantly, any opportunity for helpful and constructive dialogue is lost.

And the reason being is that it is clear as the article is read further along that the intention of the author is not to engage in a dialogue, but to put grace people in their place – as heretics.

Firstly, the author claims that the grace people are arguing that it is a religious spirit that would tell someone to do good deeds.  I am not sure who the author is arguing against or listening to, but I have been listening to those that teach the complete work and would be considered the leaders of the grace movement since 1998.  As the pastor of one of the fastest growing and most international grace churches in England, I have many of these speakers come and minister in our church, and we have for the last three years shut down our church and all gone to the Grace and Faith Family Conference in Telford.

I have never ever heard anything that even comes close to anyone saying that Christians should not do good works or that God’s Word should be hated.  That’s a false argument.  It’s what is called in debating terms a straw man: the author has invented an argument just to knock it down.  It isn’t what grace people teach.  If they did teach that the Word was evil and that Christians shouldn’t live right then I wouldn’t be interested in that message, and nor would my wife and family, and church leadership.

I have no doubt that the author could find an individual who goes to a grace church who believes that Christians should sin and that anyone who says “live right” has a demon, but it’s not what the leaders of the movement teach or preach.  And let’s face it – the grace teachers are not teaching in a bubble.  Joseph Prince and Andrew Wommack are on TV, Arthur Meintjes has hours of free teaching on his website, Duane Sheriff gives away millions of CDs.  The messages are there for this author to engage with – but sadly he hasn’t, and has resorted to what is essentially fear mongering to scare people away from the grace message without ever considering the message of Scripture, the heart of Christ and the love of God!

It is hilarious how the author then reminds us that Paul had to rein in the Roman church and say “What shall we continue in sin then?  God forbid” and now is frustrated that the church today needs the same reminder.  The fact is that the gospel Paul preached in Romans 5 is so outrageously good and shows that God’s love for us and favour on us has zero to do with works and everything to do with His grace, that Paul needs to remind the Romans that grace is not a chance to go and do all those sins because sin is destructive!

The problem in most churches is that the reminder to “sin not” is unnecessary because the gospel that is taught in most churches is so diluted, polluted with legalism and divorced from the truth that we are made righteous freely by God’s grace and have peace with God because of what Jesus did, not because of anything we did (Romans 5.1) that people don’t need the reminder not to sin because they are still being told law not grace.

The fact that a church may need the same reminder to “sin not” as Paul needed to give the Romans isn’t a bad thing, it is proof that that church is finally teaching the same good news Paul taught!  The author shouldn’t be decrying that this is happening but celebrating it.

Then we have the crux of the matter.  Two issues that grace teachers are teaching that the author has a problem with.  Firstly:

Those proponents of the hyper-grace message will tell you that since your sins past, present and future have all been forgiven, there is no longer any need of repentance for the believer.

Wow.  So the author of the article does not believe that all sins are forgiven because of Jesus.  When you plow through the rhetoric and name calling, and depiction of grace people as libertines on the hunt for religious spirits – the spew of satan – and get through the article this is really the big theological point.  The author does not believe that all sins are forgiven.

Now this is a big deal if the author is correct.  If the cross does not provide forgiveness of ALL sins, which ones are missed out?  Which ones are not forgiven?  If the source and basis of ALL forgiveness of sins is not the cross, what assurance could we ever have that sins are forgiven at all?

You cannot add to the cross.  You cannot take away from the cross.  It is perfect.  The Greek word for perfect means a masterpiece that adding anything to, or taking anything from, destroys it’s uniqueness and beauty.  I remember watching an interview with the creators of the Office (the UK version which was 12 episodes, not the American one) and they said they felt to write one more episode, even a brilliant one, would destroy the integrity of the series that they had created.  Even a good thing added to it would be a bad thing because of how good the thing was as a whole!  You may or may not like the Office, but I hope you can see the point.  You cannot add to the cross – even with good things.  Our salvation, our forgiveness, our righteousness has to come 100% from Christ alone – not Christ and our work.

If I sin tomorrow (those who know me would probably rather I said “when I sin tomorrow”), the confidence that this sin has already been dealt with on the cross once and for all, is the only basis I have to believe that I am forgiven!  My confidence is not in Jesus AND my flesh, not in Jesus AND my ability to live right, not in Jesus AND my ability to bring the sin to the cross, not in Jesus AND anything: it is in Jesus ALONE.   Only His grace has forgiven my sin, and if you think that is too much grace you have not yet understood the gospel.

It always concerns me when people say “the cross hasn’t dealt with future sins” because every sin I ever committed as a believer and unbeliever was AFTER the cross.  The truth is that every sin was dealt with on the cross because 1 Peter 3.18 tells us that Christ died for sins ONCE AND FOR ALL.  If Christ only died for sins once, then it is safe to say that they were all dealt with.

To call this hyper-grace is to fail to appreciate the beauty of the cross.  On the cross, Jesus became sin with our sin, so we could be made the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5.21).  He took all your sin, all my sin, all the sin of the millions and billions of people on the earth into His own body and died in agony.  Then after rising on the third day, He arose a life giving spirit and now can freely pour His righteousness, life and peace into anyone who believes.  It’s that simple.  It’s a done deal.

Sin is not and will never be a barrier to our relationship with God again.  Any sin you have committed, that you are right now committing or will commit in the future – that was laid on Christ on the cross.  The cross reaches across all of time and space and drew all judgment for sin onto Jesus so there is now no more judgment for sin – no matter if you did it yesterday or today or tomorrow.  It is dealt with.  Jesus was the propitiation not just for our sins, but for the sins of the entire world (1 John 2.2)!

If it is hyper-grace to believe that all sin has been dealt with on the cross, then guess what: I am hyper grace.  Hebrews 9.28 says that Christ cannot come and deal with sin again.  Why?  Because the original work was so perfect, so wonderful, so complete.  It once and for all dealt with all sin in all people at all times in all places.  It’s a done deal!  It’s complete!  It’s done!  This needs to be shouted from the rooftops and should not be muffled because someone misrepresents grace and says (without any Scriptural warrant) that Christ only died for SOME sins!  Ignore those who seek to minimize the cross, and preach what Paul preached: our hope, our life, our forgiveness, our healing, our power comes from Christ and Him crucified – and not our works!  Now you will have to make the same course correction that Paul made and remind people sin kills, but if you never have to clarify that, you have not preached the New Covenant gospel ever!

But only does the author fail to grasp the full magnitude and greatness of the work of the cross, they also fail to grasp what is necessary to benefit from the cross, saying:

Repentance, they claim, is the acknowledgment of a sin that has already been forgiven. Why put back in the ledger what has already been erased? So the reasoning goes.

So, the second problem the author has is that grace people fail to recognize repentance.  For the author repentance is feeling sorry for your sin and also – as stated clearly in the article – that repentance is necessary for forgiveness. In other words if you don’t say sorry for your sin – and say sorry and mean it – then you will not be forgiven.  The author leaves it to our imagination as to whether that means that the Christian who does not say sorry for their sin ends up in hell, or just a dark place in heaven, but the point is made: the author thinks it is wrong to say that sin is automatically forgiven.

To be honest, that point of view is so far from the New Covenant, it is hard to work out where to start.  Our salvation does not depend on our ability to say sorry.  That is a lie.  The complete forgiveness of our sins is based on His propitiation not our sorrow, not our repentance, not our ability to craft a well-intended, well-meaning sorry.  The prodigal son never went home because he felt bad for treating his father so terribly, he went home because he was hungry and fed up.  When his father sees him, he does have a well-rehearsed apology, but the father doesn’t care.  He is just so happy to see His son, He rejoices and killed the fatted calf.

That is the nature of our Father.  The moment we believe the good news that Christ paid the whole price for our salvation and our peace with God, He turns on the jukebox, puts on a happy songs and starts dancing over us and rejoicing over us.  He paid the price so we could be free and at peace, not so we could grovel on the floor before him thinking of the right words and hoping we were sad enough and strained enough for Him to find pity on us enough to let us into the kingdom.  That is a total under-estimation of how good grace is!  That’s why I called this article the deception of hypo-grace.

Hypo- and hyper- are both Greek words, and they are actually exact opposites.  They are both prepositions which mean that they go before words to alter their meaning.  Hypo- means to go under (a hypo-dermic needle goes under your skin), and hyper- means to go above (a hyper-active child has above average activity!).  The author thinks we have made the mistake and are hyper-grace, when the truth is that he is hypo-grace because he erroneously believes that grace is not enough: it needs our pitiful, half-hearted attempts at an apology and our fiery insistence that we will live right to activate it and make it work.

Did you know that Peter’s sins were forgiven before he even sinned them?  Jesus prophesied Peter would sin and betray him, but in the same prophecy (in Luke 22.32) Jesus also tells Peter that when he is converted (i.e. after the sin) that he must strengthen his brothers.  From Jesus point of view the sin was totally forgiven before Peter even committed it!

Hypo-grace people can’t grasp that.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  The idea that Peter would deny Christ and seven weeks later preach at the biggest Christian conference that had even happened at that time is anathema to them.  Their picture of grace isn’t big enough.  They are hypo-grace people, and because their picture of grace is too small, they keep polluting grace by adding our works, our effort, our holiness.

Paul wrote to the Galatians who were trying to add circumcision to the grace because the Galatians were hypo-grace Christians.  They thought you started in the spirit and continued in the flesh – Paul said that was witchcraft!  Paul is saying here that if you believe that Jesus forgave your past, but that His grace hasn’t forgiven your future and you have to do that in your own work then you are preaching and teaching witchcraft.  That’s strong stuff, but it is exactly what Paul says.  That’s why I am raising the bar here and making this point.  For those of you who think that language is too strong, remember the article I am responding to started off calling grace people the vomit of satan!  I am just using the language Paul used for the Galatian church!

And as for Paul, the question we have to ask is this: was Paul a hyper-grace person – an abundant, more than enough grace person, or was Paul a teacher of hypo-grace, that grace was not enough.

Well, we find his answer in 1 Tim. 1.14 which says “And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant”.  If you dig into the Greek, when Paul says that the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, the Greek word is hyperpleonazō, which translated means above-abounding, or overflowing, or overabundant.

Paul saw that grace was hyper.  It is more than enough.  It is above and beyond anything you could ever dream of.  It has forgiven you already, even for the sins you haven’t even committed. It doesn’t need your works, your sorrow, your effort, your strain and your passion added to it to make up for it’s shortfalls – it has no shortfalls.  Grace needs nothing added to it; it simply needs to be believed and received.

Planning Your Preaching!

0

Planning Your Preaching!.

Planning Your Preaching!

4

preaching%20(1)

One of the things that I often get asked is “how can I preach better?” or “how can I preach with a better response or better results?”  The fact is that preaching the gospel is the power of God – that’s how people get saved, get healed, get transformed.  Preaching is one of the single most effective uses of your time as a pastor and leader.  It’s that simple.  There is a move in some churches today to denigrate preaching and to minimise it’s power – some people are maxing their preach time to 8 minutes.  Wow!  If you want to be soaked in the Word I believe you should take at least 45 minutes.  I preach over an hour nearly every single week because I know it’s the Word of God that lifts and transforms and builds people up.

A lot of people spend a lot of energy and effort into planning the sermon, and absolutely that is correct, but planning a single sermon is great if you are a travelling evangelist, but for pastors you need to be planning more than one week in advance.

Firstly, as the lead pastor of a church, realise that you will always be and always should be in charge of the preaching in your church.  I have been to churches (and even pastored one) where the eldership or the deaconate were in charge of the preaching calendar, the rota of speakers.  One church I know pastored a council worker to come and “preach” about how awful his wife was for divorcing him.  No!   The lead pastor of the church is in charge of the preaching.  Absolutely, ridiculously in charge of the preaching.  No one gets to preach in the pulpit unless you give the say so.  It’s that simple.  The lead pastor is the shepherd of the flock and is the guardian of the sheep.

I take that approach in Tree of Life Church.  If I ask someone to preach, I am more than happy to ask them to preach on whatever I want, I am happy to ask for their notes before they preach.  Obviously with guest speakers like Arthur Meintjes who I have heard again and again and trust to bring a complete work message, I give a lot more latitude but to a new preacher within the church, I am ridiculously careful.  Why?  Because I am accountable before God regarding what is spoken at the church.

All preaching must be brought into the bigger picture of the church.  At Tree of Life Church our bigger picture is to “inspire people to dream, to challenge people to live the dream”, so I (Benjamin Conway) have to look at my preaching every week and ask myself – am I inspiring people to dream?  Am I challenging people to live the dream?  If not, chuck it in the bin as it is not helping the Tree fulfil God’s will.

So, preparation has a massive role to play: not just preparing the message, but preparing it to fit in with the bigger picture.  Then there is the theme for the season: what are we doing as a church right now?  So at the moment (May 2013) at Tree of Life Church we are hammering home the truth that there is a lot of deception in a lot of the church and that a great deal of this deception is basically obscuring the cross of Christ.  So, every sermon preached in May will be about deception and every sermon preaching in June will be about the complete work.

You need a preaching calendar.  You need to include important dates (not just Christmas and Easter, but Valentine’s Day, New Years’ Eve and September.  When the schools return after summer, lots of people come back to church and you need a powerful series to get them energised for church).  You must have a preaching calendar.  You must not just get in the pulpit and “allow the Spirit to lead you” – it will lead to the same message week after week and your church will have no direction.

I have already penned our preaching calendar for 2014.  Our theme is “Identity” and we have 12 months in which we are going to learn about our identity as reborn human beings.  Our summer conference for 2014 is sub-titled “We are Jesus on the earth!” and will be about our identity as the image of God on earth.  In August our worship leaders are going to find songs that fit in with our identity.  Our leadership conference will be grounded in identity.

Identity inspires people to dream, so the theme of the year fits perfectly with the overall dream of the church.  This planning is so important because to fail to plan is to plan to fail: so many charismatics just give us a piece of their mind when preaching – sort of a stream of consciousness from the pulpit.  It doesn’t help.

Then when planning the month around the monthly theme, I consider what the Bible says about the monthly theme and then consider what I want the people to know.  Good teaching should give information that people don’t have and press people to make a decision they haven’t made before.  So, for example, next Sunday morning, I am preaching on how it is deception to believe that you can have a harvest without a seed.  The information I am going to give people is show them all the different ways Christians try and get a harvest without a seed, and the decision I want people to make is to sow a seed into the kingdom (not necessarily money, but an action of faith and love).  Now I know that, putting the sermon together is much easier.

Not only that there is continuity from week to week.  If another person in the church preaches, they get to know the calendar and have to fit in with it.

Any questions about preaching or sermon preparation?  Please ask them below, I will answer all of them as best I could.

(Benjamin Conway preaches 3 times nearly every weekend, in Watford, Guildford and Dagenham.  Every month over 2000 people download or stream one f his sermons online from their church website, www.treeoflifedagenham.com.  These messages are free of charge because God’s Word is free of charge.)

%d bloggers like this: