DTS Week 1: MISSION (Shephen Mbewe)

For the third consecutive year, we invited Shephen Mbewe to kickstart our R&R DTS with his inimitable passionate call to be involved in the Mission of God to reach the nations. Here are some of the nuggets that I scribbled down in my notebook:

“I’m passionate about mission because it’s the central theme of the Scriptures.”

“We’re going to find out what the purpose of life is, and what you’re supposed to be doing.”

“Feel free to disagree!–but if you disagree then please can you still be my friend?”

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

“What a privilege that God is calling us to be part of a plan that He has had from the beginning of time!”

John 4:4 “Now Jesus had to go through Samaria.” Why did he ‘have to’? Because of His cross-cultural missionary mandate!

The Living God is a Missionary God.

“We have to stand for the truth of who Jesus is!
That’s what we’re called to declare//
that’s what we’re called to share!”

A missionary God// with a missionary vision//
creates a missionary church// sends it on a missionary expedition.

“If the church doesn’t go out in mission, then the four walls of its building will become its tomb!”

The danger of ethnocentrism == racism.

“One of the things God wants to do this week and in this DTS is to enlarge your heart for the nations.”

Asuza Street Revival and God’s sense of humour — using a half-blind black man called ‘Will Seymour’ (ie. See-More) to bring revival to a racist society dominated by white people.

There’s no way you can say ‘I believe in God,
but mission is not for me’ — #thatsacontradiction
There’s no way you can say ‘I am passionate about Jesus,
but I don’t care about the nations’ — #thatsacontradiction
There’s no way you can say ‘I’m filled with the Spirit,
and I speak in a thousand tongues‘ — #thatsacontradiction

Missions exists because worship doesn’t.

Genesis 12:1-3:
Now the Lord said to Abram,
“Go forth from your country,
And from your relatives
And from your father’s house,
To the land which I will show you;
2 And I will make you a great nation,
And I will bless you,
And make your name great;
And so you shall be a blessing;
3 And I will bless those who bless you,
And the one who curses you I will curse.
And in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Genesis 12:1-3 is
the spine of Scripture//
the backbone of the Bible.

Count the tribes that Abraham interacted with:
(1 Canaanites 12:6; 2 Egyptians 12:12; 3 Perizzite 13:7; 4 men of Sodom 13:13; 5 Rephaim, 6 Zuzim, 7 Emim 14:5; 8 Horites 14:6; 9 Amalekites, 10 Amorites 14:7; 11 Chaldeans 15:7; 12 Kenite, 13 Kenizzite, 14 Kadmonite, 15 Hittite, (Perizzite, Rephaim, Amorite, Canaanite), 16 Girgashite, 17 Jebusite 16:19-21; 18 Philistines 21:32)

Don’t reduce God to a small idol who is only concerned for ‘you’, ‘me’ and ‘I’.

Do our worship songs reflect God’s heart for the nations? Or are all our songs individualistic, self-centred, ‘me’ songs?
(“That’s why they were called ‘hymns’ — because they were focussed on Him!”)

“The time is coming to gather all nations and tongues. And they shall come and shall see My glory.” (Isaiah 66:18)
“Declare His glory among the nations, His marvelous deeds among all peoples.” (1 Chronicles 16:24)
All the nations will be gathered before Him…” (Matthew 25:32)

God repeats His promise and purposes:
Genesis 12:1-3; Genesis 22:15-18
Genesis 26:3-5; Genesis 28:12-15
cf. Galatians 3:5-8, Acts 3:25-26, Hebrews 6:13-20

“Deal with your bitterness and then you will hear God’s voice much more clearly.”

YWAM Mozambique story

Story of purchasing YWAM property:
“It’s not what we have in our pockets–it’s what we have in our hearts!”
“When you connect your heart to Genesis 12, you are connecting yourself to a powerful force! Something greater than anything else you could imagine!”

Go through OT looking at all the foreign tribes and individuals that are blessed:
– Abram’s interactions with different tribes
– Joseph and the Egyptians
– Naomi is a blessing to Moabite women
– David to Philistines
– Solomon to Queen of the South
– Elijah to Sidonian widow
– Elisha to Naaman, a Syrian
– Jonah to Ninevah (Assyrians)
– Daniel to Babylonians
– all major prophets had prophetic words for Gentile nations

NT: Paul sees an UNBREAKABLE connection between Abrahamic covenant and gospel faith (Galatians 3)

Revelation 5:9-10, 7:9, 10:11, 11:9, 13:7
“every tribe and tongue and people and nation”

(Rev. 7:9 “a great multitude which no man could number” — not even Cantor?)

“The only thing we can take with us to heaven is other people.” 1 Thess. 2:19-20

Praying at 10:02am for more workers for the harvest field (cf. Luke 10:2).

Did Jesus understand the significance of the Abrahamic covenant? Yes!
John 8:56 “Abraham saw My day…”
What does this mean?
Genesis 22: Abraham offers Isaac.
– God’s provision of a substitutionary sacrifice
– the voluntary self-sacrifice of a beloved son
(How old was Isaac? Perhaps as old as 37! cf. Gen. 23:1. Certainly old enough to carry a substantial load of firewood 22:6, so old enough to resist the 100+ yr-old Abraham. Note that ‘lad’ 22:5 can mean a teenager just as much as a child, and anyway might simply be affectionate.)
NB: Mount Moriah was in the same region as Golgotha.

‘Time does not permit me…’ (cf. Hebrews 11:32)


Schindler’s List: “I could have done more”.

Sam cannot carry the ring, for only Frodo can be the ring-bearer. But Sam can carry Frodo.

In the same way:
We cannot take salvation to the world — only Jesus can bring salvation! But we can take Jesus to the world.

Jesus’ passion for the nations reflected in His driving the money-changers out of the temple: ‘a house of prayer — FOR ALL THE NATIONS!’ (Isaiah 56:7)
Matthew 21:12, Mark 11:15, Luke 19:45, John 2:13
‘Zeal for your house has consumed me’ (Ps. 69:9)
Jesus gets angry when we forget our missionary mandate.

John 4:35 ‘ripe for harvest’ — Jesus is speaking about the Samaritans.
But most Jews would have seen the Samaritans as weeds, not as harvest! (cf. Luke 9:54 — disciples wanted to call fire from heaven down upon Samaritans)

Jesus highlights Gentile faith:
Matthew 8:10 centurion
Matthew 15:28 Canaanite woman
Luke 17:18 thankful Samaritan leper

“He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose.” Jim Elliot

(‘suffered gladly the loss of their possessions’ Hebrews 10:34)

Testimony: A DTS trainee on outreach, interrupted a funeral to pray for the dead. Prayed and prayed — nothing happened. Prayed again — still nothing. “The dead body didn’t rise from the dead — but the village experienced a spiritual resurrection!” Up to that point no-one had been interested in the gospel. After that, the meetings were packed full as people sought to discover what these young people believed that they would have the courage to interrupt a funeral!

The key of promises can unlock any door. (Pilgrim’s Progress).

Matthew 28:18-20. The Great Commission commands us to go–it doesn’t say anything about coming back!

The story of Paul beaten up and left for dead is one of my favourites–when I’m discouraged I read it and I pick myself up!”
We have a message worth dying for!

“To obey is better than sacrifice”.
Not only does God prefer our obedience to our sacrifices, but the privilege, joy and rewards of obedience are greater than the cost of anything that we might have to sacrifice.

What are all the people groups in Cambridge?

Omega zones.

Rose: “I didn’t realize that the world isn’t going to end until every people group is reached.”

The situation:
If there were ten people in the world,
just one would be a Great Commission Christian (A),
two would be nominal Christians (B),
four would have access to the gospel but have not yet responded (C),
and three would not have any access to the gospel (D).
D need cross-cultural mission; C need evangelism; B need revival; A need training and equipping.

10/40 Window.
Joshua Project app — God wants to use technology!

“What’s the point of polishing the brass in the sinking Titanic?”

Ezekiel 22:30 God’s looking for a person to stand in the gap. Be that person for the unreached.

Ask God for something really big:
for North Korea, Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan.

FEAR NOT! is repeated 365 times in the Bible, one for every day of the year! — Or is it?

What can we do:
1. Give. 2. Advocate. 3. Short-term missions. 4. Career missionary work. 5. Help those who go.

Recommended reading:
Don Richardson
John Piper
Landa Cope
Francis Schaeffer

Serpent or Servant

A simple rhyming revelation that struck me in our time of prayer this afternoon:
There are only two choices–you must take the way of the serpent or the way of the servant.

__________________________

The way of the serpent is pride:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the LORD God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say…”
(Genesis 3:1)

How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer, son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations!
For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God: I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north:
I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High.
Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell, to the sides of the pit.

(Isaiah 14:12-15)

“Can you draw out Leviathan [the serpent] with a fishhook
or press down his tongue with a cord?…
His sneezings flash forth light,
and his eyes are like the eyelids of the dawn.
Out of his mouth go flaming torches;
sparks of fire leap forth.
Out of his nostrils comes forth smoke,
as from a boiling pot and burning rushes.
His breath kindles coals,
and a flame comes forth from his mouth…
His heart is hard as a stone,
hard as the lower millstone…
On earth there is not his like,
a creature without fear.
He sees everything that is high;
he is king over all the sons of pride.”

(Job 41:1, 18-21, 24, 33-34)

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The way of the servant is humility:

For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.
(Mark 10:45)

Whoever wishes to become great among you shall be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you shall be your slave.
(Matthew 20:26-27)

He said to them, “Do you know what I have done to you? 13 You call Me Teacher and Lord, and you say well, for so I am. If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you. Most assuredly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master; nor is he who is sent greater than he who sent him. If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.
(John 13:12-17)

Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant…
(Philippians 2:5-7)

__________________________

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom.
(Proverbs 11:2)

Acts 1:12-26 #HouseChurch

In Summary
Having been told to ‘wait for the Promise of the Father’ — the Baptism of the Holy Spirit — the apostles gather the disciples together for some serious prayer. And the first thing they must do is to work through the pain of Judas’ betrayal, and work out how their apostolic team is going to replace him. A process of prayer, Scripture, and straightforward defining of the necessary criteria leads to two suitable candidates being proposed — and then they cast lots.

Is this a failure of seeking spiritual guidance? Should they have waited more patiently for supernatural revelation?–maybe it would have arrived at Pentecost! Was Paul the real twelfth apostle?–we never really hear any more about Matthias.

The DTS I’m leading begins this week. God, please give me supernatural wisdom and revelation to understand exactly what your will is, and the discernment to know when I should continue to press in for more clarity before making decisions–and when I should just be decisive, trusting that in Your sovereign power you are able to work even my mistakes to Your glory!

Eating: Roast Chicken, Mashed Potato, Roast Vegetables; Choc Ices; Tea.
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Ryan (Sophie, Lucy); Roxann, Katie, Mathieu; James; Haley.
Passage: Acts 1:12-26

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

Sabbath is…

The subject of Sabbath came up somewhat tangentially in our bible study on Sunday, so I’m finally posting this list of observations about what the Bible teaches about the Sabbath. I don’t have the time to unpack all the implications–and can’t pretend that I have come anywhere close to mastering the art of Sabbathing well. But here are some initial impressions.

#1 …a day of rest.
And on the seventh day God finished his work that he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all his work that he had done. (Genesis 2:2)

#2 …part of the creation order.
For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day… (Exodus 20:11a)

#3 …a fractal reality.
But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the LORD. (Leviticus 25:4)

#4 … a holy day.
Therefore the LORD blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. (Exodus 20:11b)

#5 …a day of Biblical teaching.
And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read… (Luke 4:16)

#6 …a vital ingredient of healthy family life.
Each of you must respect your mother and father, and you must observe my Sabbaths. (Leviticus 19:3

#7 …a local celebration.
the apostles returned to Jerusalem from the hill called the Mount of Olives, a Sabbath day’s walk from the city. (Acts 1:12)

#8 …an opportunity for hospitality.
On the Sabbath Jesus entered the synagogue and began to teach… As soon as they left the synagogue, they went with James and John to the home of Simon and Andrew. (Mark 1:21,29)

#9 …a matter of social justice.
You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt, and the LORD your God brought you out from there with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm. Therefore the LORD your God commanded you to keep the Sabbath day. (Deuteronomy 5:15)

#10 …a form of true fasting.
“Is this not the fast that I have chosen:
To loose the bonds of wickedness,
To undo the heavy burdens,
To let the oppressed go free,
And that you break every yoke?…
“If you turn away your foot from the Sabbath,
From doing your pleasure on My holy day,
And call the Sabbath a delight,
The holy day of the Lord honorable,
And shall honor Him, not doing your own ways,
Nor finding your own pleasure,
Nor speaking your own words,
Then you shall delight yourself in the Lord…

(Isaiah 58:6,13-14)

#11 …a covenant privilege.
Moreover, I gave them my Sabbaths, as a sign between me and them, that they might know that I am the LORD who sanctifies them. (Ezekiel 20:12)

#12 …a catalyst for righteous government and national revival.
“And it shall be, if you heed Me carefully,” says the Lord, “to bring no burden through the gates of this city on the Sabbath day, but hallow the Sabbath day, to do no work in it, 25 then shall enter the gates of this city kings and princes sitting on the throne of David, riding in chariots and on horses, they and their princes, accompanied by the men of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and this city shall remain forever. 26 And they shall come from the cities of Judah and from the places around Jerusalem, from the land of Benjamin and from the lowland, from the mountains and from the South, bringing burnt offerings and sacrifices, grain offerings and incense, bringing sacrifices of praise to the house of the Lord.
(Jeremiah 17:24-26)

#13 …a secondary sign that points to primary priorities.
If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? (John 7:23)
“What man is there among you who has one sheep, and if it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will not lay hold of it and lift it out? 12 Of how much more value then is a man than a sheep? Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” (Matthew 12:11-12)

#14 …a day of deliverance.
Then should not this woman, a daughter of Abraham, whom Satan has kept bound for eighteen long years, be set free on the Sabbath day from what bound her?” (Luke 13:17)

#15 … a delight not a duty.
One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. (Romans 14:5-6)
Therefore let no one pass judgment on you in questions of food and drink, or with regard to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath. These are a shadow of the things to come, but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17)

#16 …a deadly serious matter.
“They found a man gathering wood on the sabbath day… Then the LORD said to Moses, “The man shall surely be put to death; all the congregation shall stone him with stones outside the camp.” (Numbers 15:33,35)

#17 …to be defended with zeal.
“Then I warned them, and said to them, “Why do you spend the night around the wall? If you do so again, I will lay hands on you!” From that time on they came no more on the Sabbath.” (Nehemiah 13:15-21)

#18 …a loss to be mourned.
The LORD has caused to be forgotten
The appointed feast and sabbath in Zion…

(Lamentations 2:6)

Acts 1:1-11 #HouseChurch

In Summary
After finishing working our way through Mark, we’re now moving on to the Book of Acts. Why didn’t the world revert to its intended perfection immediately after Jesus had died for our sins and risen again? Because He wants us to be involved in the task of bringing the kingdom of God upon earth as it is in heaven. This is the commission with which Acts begins: to be Jesus’ witnesses–here, there and everywhere! Luckily, we’re not left to complete!the task on our own — we’re promised the presence and power of the Holy Spirit!

Eating: Barbecue Chicken, Baguettes, Salad.
Present: Peter & Taryn + Isaac; Sophie, Lucy, and Ryan; Linda + Adam.
Passage: Acts 1:1-11

As usual we spent some time scribbling on Scripture to work out what’s going on in the passage:

Then eventually we come to the
Questions & Comments

___________________

On that subject…
— Wait on God, asking Him to fill you with the fullness of the Holy Spirit, with His presence, His purity and His power, so that you can be a witness to those around you. Pray specifically for opportunities to share the proofs that Jesus has given you of His reality.

20150829_193216

10 Highlights from David’s Tent

Merenna and Matt on Registration
We arrived and made our way over to register, and there was Merenna, who I know from the London Olympic Burn back in the summer of 2012, and Matt, who I met in Norwich with the Fire & Fragrance team. It makes an event seem especially welcome when those signing you in are people you’ve worshipped together with heart and soul.

The Helsers Leading Worship As A Couple
Me and Taryn have been listening to Jonathan and Melissa Helser’s album Endless Ocean, Bottomless Sea for the last couple of months. So it was cool to see them leading worship in person. But what was especially cool is that they are a married couple leading together, both doing their thing with ferocious passion and conviction. Like Taryn and I aspire to do!

Steffany’s Flashing Eyes
The first night in the Big Tent, with worship being led by Sean Feucht, Steffany Gretzinger, Amanda Cook and the Bethel Music team. Steffany’s album is another we’ve been listening to recently, its raw heart-bare songs of undone lovesick passion for the heart of God providing the soundtrack for all of our summer travels. But there was a moment as they were leading the assembled thousands in worship, and Steffany was dancing in shameless abandon before the Lord, when suddenly she paused, to share a word with the rest of us. The band stopped. The fire blazed in her eyes.

Her words were clear and simple (I paraphrase them now): ‘This is the one moment that all of us here have to worship together — this side of the veil. When we get to the other side, then we can worship Him together forever. But I believe there’s something unique that God wants to do, right here, with all of us, right now. So don’t hold back! Let’s give Him everything we’ve got!‘ And we did!

And as we did God spoke to me. About Elisha and the arrows, and about how I was like the king, and leading the R&R DTS was like him striking the ground with the arrows. It felt like a warning not to stop doing this costly annual leading a nine-month DTS after just three (which would be after this upcoming DTS–which has been the thought). But it felt also like a promise that if we can press on to do five or six, then we will see phenomenal breakthrough.

Lucy Grimble and her Band
You can listen to some of Lucy Grimble‘s music on YouTube, and it will give you a bit of a sense of her distinctively jubilant and soulful sound. But at David’s Tent she was playing with a band of black gospel singers and musicians: three other singers, and the funkiest keyboard player you’ve ever seen. They were fantastic, each of them sounded amazing, and they combined an authentic sense of reverent worship with pure unadulterated fun. So Good.

‘Light A Candle for North Iraq’
As well as the Big Tent filled with seventy-hours of worship, there were a number of other tents, including one filled with stands where you could connect with various minstries. At one of these, I met Kelsey, who is about to go to North Iraq where for the next two years (at least) she will be a missionary with Burn 24/7, gathering a community that worships Jesus, and bringing the light of the knowledge of the glory of God into the darkness of the world’s most contested war zone. As someone who has heard a lot of exhortations about going to the ‘hardest and darkest’ places of the earth, I was overwhelmed with a sense of astonished privilege to meet someone who refusing to let those words be mere rhetoric. We were able to pray for each other, and it was a real encouragement to feel like we are in this together, simply obeying what God has called each of us to do, both part of this movement of worshippers following Him wherever He leads.

Sean Feucht’s Heart For England
Most of the big names leading worship were American, and none more American than Burn 24/7 founder Sean Feucht, with his gleeful talk of being photographed with an AK47 in one hand and a guitar in the other while in that same Iraqi war-zone to which Kelsey is going long-term. But it was such a blessing to see the servant-hearted humility with which these American musicians came, declaring the greatness of God’s plans and purposes over Britain. I was particularly encouraged by listening to Sean in one of the afternoon break-out sessions, as he spoke about how he feels Britain is uniquely important in a number of ways: its Christian heritage of revival and reformation (this one I know), the way the international breadth of the Commonwealth means that the worship movement in Britain has a particular power to connect with the nations, and the impact that raising up worship and prayer in Britain will have on breaking the power of radical jihad (since a significant number of Muslims in Britain are being drawn into violent Islamism).

Awakening the Dawn
dt-worship
The main reason we were at David’s Tent is that we were signed up to lead one of the 24/3 worship slots. We were given the 5.20-6.40 am slot on the Sunday morning — the exact time that the sun was rising. And we played a set made up completely of our own songs, that have been inspired as we’ve spent time worshipping over these last couple of years. I was buzzing with a sense of anticipation, and couldn’t help but cry out for awakening — not just of the dawn, but of the nation!

Out in the Fields
Still buzzing with joy after that early morning opportunity to lead worship, I then took a guitar, opened up the hatchback of our car, and just sat there worshipping out in the field where the cars were parked. Watching as people walked up from the campsite towards the Big Tent, I was struck afresh by the idea of David, communing with the Lord in the fields, praying for the ark of the covenant to be returned to its rightful place. “Lord, remember David…” (Psalm 132).

Jonathan Helser’s Wisdom
Being 24/3 musicians, we were invited to a special Q&A in the break-out tent with some of the main musicians. And I was given the chance to ask the final question, which I asked about discipleship and worship, about pursuing excellence while releasing and encouraging everyone no matter what level you’re at. Jonathan Helser had a few things to reply,, which all seemed like God intended them to pierce me directly — he (not knowing my name) used the example of ‘Peter’, who was promised the keys to the kingdom, and in the next moment rebuked by Jesus. But one thing in particular stood out, and it was this phrase: “conflict is the price we pay for intimacy in community”.

The Volunteer’s Booth
On the final evening, apparently there was gloriously powerful moment of intercession, as Danny Calaghan talked about being set free from an orphan spirit and released to understand the Father heart of God–not just for himself, but for the nation. But we had slipped back to the tent, so we missed that. Instead though, we ran into a dozen of the David’s Tent volunteers, singing their hearts out in their booth next to the campsite, far away from any of the action happening onstage in the Big Tent. It was amazingly liberating and a reminder of the simple heart of worship to see that the glory of God was just as (perhaps more!) present there as in the midst of several thousand worshippers being led by the world-famous musicians.

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Just so you know, tickets for next year’s David’s Tent are already on sale.

ylg norway

‘The Future of Global Mission’

The Future of Global Mission – A Few Highlights from Norway LINK and YLG

1. Encounter on the bus from the airport to the city centre. Standing in the queue to buy my ticket I shot a quick prayer up to God telling him that if he would open up an opportunity, I was available to be His witness. I was the second-last passenger allowed to board the bus, as all the other seats were full, and managed to sit down just as the bus started moving. Next to me a man was tapping away at his laptop, his attention fully occupied with some business deal. There seemed to be no natural way to strike up a conversation — until he made a phone call, and I realized he was speaking in Hindi. Here was my chance! So I asked ‘To aap Bharat se hai, na?’ (/’So you’re from India, are you?’) And that led to a conversation about his work, about my work, about the refugee/migrant crisis, about whether one’s beliefs were important so long as one was serving humanity, about his own conflicting thoughts on the subject of migration, about how he had immigrated from Delhi to London because the European culture of integrity and fairness made business so much easier, about how such a European culture is perhaps the fruit of a biblical worldview. Finally as we drew into Oslo bus station, I was able to give him a gospel bracelet, and explain to him what we as Christians believe about the meaning of life, the love of God, the death and resurrection of Jesus, and the assurance of eternal life that simple faith can give you.

2. Worship led by Jamie from Israel (I had a great conversation with him afterward: ‘-You’re from England? Why are you here? I guess I don’t really know why they invited me here from Israel either!’). Singing lines from the Song of Songs about our beloved Bridegroom King, in the original Hebrew in which the Scriptures were written.

3. First evening on ‘Loving our Enemies’: panel discussions including Jamie who grew up in Israel in the midst of the reality of deadly terrorism (“to have real reconciliation we have to address the real issues”; “not Judaism, not Islam – only the gospel gives us a real framework for reconciliation”); Ermal from Albania (“the gospel can change the heart of people”); and a former Norwegian PM (“we must be involved with evangelism – sharing the gospel; with debate – persuading each other of our convictions; but also with dialogue – simply listening to each other”, “there are values that Christians share with Islam – the value of human life, justice, the respect for the holy. There are also lots of point of disagreement, but the challenge is to live peacefully together”).

4. Shared a room with Simon Kruger, who is involved with the Danish Israel Mission, and having just finished four years of theological education is thinking of doing a DTS some time this year! It was a real joy to connect with him. And the place where we were staying has the most phenomenal rooftop view over the whole of Oslo, which is an impressive spectacle after dark, with the shimmering city lights twinkling in the night sky.

5. Wednesday began with a panel of representatives from Norwegian mission agencies working with young people – including a YWAMer.

6. This was followed by reflections from a few other Norwegian mission agencies on ‘The Future of Global Mission in Norway’. Reminiscent of some of OMF’s reflections from the ‘Slow Boat in the Fast Lane’ event in Cambridge last January. My main thought was to thank God for the privilege of being involved in a mission (YWAM) that is actually already positioned to join is with the ‘everyone to everywhere’ nature of what God’s apparently chaotic missionary plan seems to be.

7. Lindsay Brown – who had stepped in at the last minute for Michael Oh, who’d been forced to pull out because of family health issues – then shared his first presentation on The Future of Global Mission.

8. For his presentation on ‘The Future of Global Mission in Scandinavia’, Stefan Gustavson gave a sobering statistical demonstration of the disappearance of gospel passion (as evidenced by decreased numbers of missionaries, decreased evangelistic focus of missionaries, and decreased voluntary giving to mission) in the Swedish church.

9. Lindsay Brown gave his second presentation on The Future of Global Mission. I was particularly impacted by his story of Adoniram Judson, who died in an ignominous death in Burma after serving as a missionary for thirty-eight years, suffering the loss of a wife and seven children, translating the Scriptures, but only seeing twelve converts. But now there are six hundred thousand Burmese Christians who all trace their spiritual heritage to this man’s faithfulness.

10. One event concluded, the YLG mini-gathering continued. First, introductions. Humility or insignificance?

11. Lindsay then shared a number of leadership dangers to avoid: -Perfectionism, -Lack of Focus, -Pride, -Trying to be ‘Superman’, -Dryness; -Jealousy and a Critical Spirit; -Trusting Human Leaders too much; -Short-termism; -Individualism; -Underestimating the Cost; -Giving Up.

12. Thursday morning started with Justin Schell leading us through a brief look at 2 Corinthians 4. Struck by Paul’s repeated declaration that ‘we do not lose heart’.

13. Reflections on how Lausanne has worked at better preparing itself for the release of young leadership and new vision, tips on how to prepare to make the most of the event, and a look at the YLG draft schedule.

14. Praying in triplets at the end with Simon and Sanjay.

15. Back at Ole’s house. Blessed by his hospitality. Stirred to hope again for such a house for my own family, that we might invite the nations to come and rest under our roof.

16. Provoked by one of Lindsay’s comments to meditate on the sovereignty of God. Among the evangelical church, there are some who use the word to imply (although rarely explicitly say) total determinism, with the implicit suggestion that to deny total determinism is a grave form of heresy. And there are others who feel that total determinism makes God the author of sin in a way clearly contrary to James 1:13. Could I be a bridge of unity and ambassador of reconciliation in this area? Helping to bring understanding to the warring tribes of the evangelical church?

Ten Truths in Tension

Dedicated to Ryan, with whom I was discussing Romans this past Sunday.

Dedicated to John Piper and Greg Boyd, whose ministries both inspire me, and who I am convinced will be great friends when they get to heaven.

Dedicated to my mum, who reads my blog, but doesn’t really like it when I try to start provocative and controversial conversations.

Dedicated to the Lausanne Younger Leaders with whom I have spent these last three days in Oslo.

Dedicated to my beautiful wife Taryn, whose destiny is at least now entangled with mine.

#1 Judicial Impartiality
For there is no partiality with God. Romans 2:11

This is a clear unambiguous sentence, and as we wrestle with the philosophical conundrums that the Book of Romans presents to us, it is a good place to begin. There is no partiality with God. He applies the same rules to everyone. He is fair. He is just. If he were not, then the devil would be within his rights to freely accuse God. And indeed the fact that God is patiently refusing to immediately punish people for their sins so as to give them the opportunity to repent (2 Peter 3:9) is what allows the devil to “roam about like a roaring lion” (1 Peter 5:8).

Now, God’s judicial impartiality does not mean that He cannot also engage relationally, personally and uniquely with each human being. But it does mean that these diverse interactions are all subject to the same standards of justice (and mercy!) — and, ultimately and foundationally, to God’s consistent nature and character.

#2 Personal Responsibility
God will render to each one according to his deeds. Romans 2:6

There is no avoiding it — we are all each accountable to God for what we do with our lives. Paul puts it even more clearly in 2 Corinthians: “We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”. Or as he tells the Galatians: “God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.”

Most would rather avoid the unpleasant idea that God will hold them responsible for all that they have done. And thus there are many who say, like the Psalmist’s fool, “in their heart, ‘There is no God’ “. And we might note here that far fewer are willing to do the necessary intellectual examination of the objective evidence to be able to say ‘with their minds’ whether or not there might be a God.

But whether we like the idea or not, the ethical responsibility of each individual human being is an unavoidable biblical truth.

#3 Legal Impossibility
By deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. Romans 3:20

We’ve mentioned that some recognize that they have done wrong, but dislike the idea that God should judge them for this. We should mention too that there are those who are glibly unworried by the thought of divine judgement because they think that, all things considered, they’re reasonably good people who — if there is indeed an afterlife — ought to be considered worthy of a ticket to heaven.

‘Well, I’m not a murderer! I’m not a rapist! I’m not as bad as Hitler!’

Unfortunately, the biblical reality is that it’s not only some exclusive list of especially bad sins that separate us from God, but all and any sin. The way I find most helpful and convincing to explain it is to remind whoever’s listening that God is love (1 John 4:8) and that sin at its most basic is anything that’s not love (for Jesus taught that God’s law could be simplified without reduction to the two ‘love’ commands, to love God entirely, and to love others as one’s self). ‘Love’ and ‘not-love’ can, quite clearly, not co-exist. Like oil and water, they inevitably separate. Thus we who have sinned are separated from God. And the most terrible judgement with which our sin will be punished is for that separation from God to be made complete and unalterable.

Aside: On Hell, Eternal Torment and Proportionate Punishment
Ah, I’ve strayed onto the difficult and controversial subject of divine judgment — in short, the subject of hell. This is perhaps the one idea of Christianity that contemporary believers find most difficult to accept. In generations past, when tyrannical kings more commonly subjected their citizens to barbaric cruelty and systems of ‘justice’ were less fettered by democratic ideals, it was maybe easier to accept a doctrine of vindictive punishment. But in an age where — for all the mistakes of modern man — there is thankfully a kinder prison system and a greater appreciation of the value of human life, hell seems obviously inconsistent with the character of God revealed in Christ.

And yet it was Christ who spoke more than anyone else in the Bible of the reality of hell. Jesus was the original fire-and-brimstone preacher! And if you don’t believe me, just read Mark 9, Matthew 5, Matthew 18, and Luke 16.

What then, can we say? First, that there is something about the doctrine of hell that resonates with the human desire for justice. We can, I believe, affirm this without giving in to the temptation of vengeful and vindictive unforgiveness — indeed, this is why when we hear of others’ suffering at the hands of evil, we feel that some sort of punishment is rightly deserved by the perpetrators of that evil, even though we ourselves have not been its victims.

Second, we should expose the logically flawed and mathematically embarrassing idea that the biblical vision of hell is one of infinite suffering. Here we must finely distinguish the difference between eternal and infinite punishment. A meaningless distinction, some might say, but they would be wrong (and have probably not studied Analytic Calculus!) Jesus clearly endorsed the doctrine of eternal punishment, repeatedly quoting Isaiah’s prophecy that “their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched”. But we must also mention the biblical doctrine of limited retribution, “[only] an eye for an eye, and [only] a tooth for a tooth” (Exodus 21:24). And surely in a finite lifetime, it’s only possible to merit a finite quantity (though perhaps nevertheless a horrifically large quantity) of punishment for your sins.

Now although I have never heard anyone else point this out, it’s mathematically quite simple to envisage a situation where a finite quantity (in this case, of punishment) is spread out over an infinite period of time. Consider a point A moving towards a destination B. Each minute A moves half of the remaining distance l towards B, so the first minute it moves l/2, then l/4, then l/8 — constantly getting closer, but never quite arriving (and with ever-decreasing speed).

#4 Gospel Simplicity
For there is no difference: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God set forth to be a propitiation by His blood, through faith… Romans 3:23-25

Enough of tangential dogmatic discussions — let’s return to our central, glorious message, the simple gospel of Jesus!

This is the single fact that every human absolutely needs to know. This is the double-edged sword that cuts through all of our social differences and personal preferences, right to the very heart of who we are, confronting us simultaneously with the unattainable standard of righteousness that God’s justice requires, and with the limitless mercy that He lavishly delivers.

This is how much God your Father loves you — as much as He loves His perfect Son, whom He was willing to give so that you could be substituted out from the prison of your sin and back into the glorious game of life. This is how much Jesus Christ, God the Son, loves you — that He would lay down His life for you, so that you could be reconciled to your Creator, your surroundings, and indeed your self. This is how much the Holy Spirit loves you, and He now pours out that divine love into the hearts of all who turn to Christ.

Death has been overcome, the devil has been defeated, the curse has been broken!

Humanity’s cries are heard, God’s promise is fulfilled, God’s people are justified!

But it is necessary that you respond personally and turn to Jesus in faith and simple repentance.

#5 Eschatological Totality
Hardening in part has come upon Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in. And thus all Israel will be saved, as it is written… Romans 11:26
For if their being cast away is the reconciling of the world, what will their acceptance be but life from the dead? Romans 11:15

But “not all have faith” (2 Thessalonians 3:2). Not all believe the gospel.

Although Jesus’ death and resurrection won the decisive victory over sin and Satan, nevertheless the battle wages on and we — like the Allies after D-Day — must continue to fight this spiritual battle until the mission is finally complete. ‘Will you at this time restore the kingdom?,’ the disciples asked the resurrected Jesus. And he replied by telling them that there was still work to be done, and He was trusting them — with the help of the Holy Spirit — to complete that work.

Here is the point that I want to emphasize that this work will be completed! Although for a brief (at least compared to eternity!) season, we are perplexed (“but not in despair”) by the lack of faith of some, nevertheless we can be confident that there is coming a day when the fullness of the Gentiles will come in. That means all of the nations! That means every tribe and every tongue! That means a great multitude which no-one could number!

And then there will be revival in Israel, and the Jews will be saved, and Christ will return with an army of angels–not to carry us away to some disembodied realm of ethereal vagueness, but to actually establish His heavenly kingdom on earth in all of its fullness.

We need a confident conviction that this will certainly happen to carry us through the trials and tribulations that will necessarily face us in the ministries to which God has called us. We need an increasingly clear and vivid vision of the hope we are waiting for, if we are to avoid being offended by the pressure that God will allow us to face. We need to pray for supernatural wisdom to right divide the word of truth, if we are to discern what God is actually doing in the midst of the complexity and chaos that will increase.

Just because all the nations will be reached (Mark 13:10), it doesn’t mean that every individual will be saved (Matthew 7:22-23). Just because the establishment of the state of Israel is a prophetic sign (Isaiah 11:11; Ezekiel 36:24), it doesn’t mean that the Israelis are necessarily in the right and the Palestinians in the wrong. Just because those Christians who try and prepare for the return of Christ frequently make moral errors and theological blunders, it doesn’t mean that we are excused from the task of discerning the signs of the times (Matt. 16:3).

#6 Sovereign Selectivity
He has mercy on whom He wills, and whom He wills He hardens. Romans 9:18

But why is it that some have faith, and others don’t?

We have mentioned those who are simply unwilling to listen to the message, refusing to examine the evidence because they know — perhaps only subconsciously! — that the implications are too great. Far easier to deny the existence of God than accept the difficult task of integrating every part of your life with the truth and beauty of His holiness.

But this unwillingness is not the case with everyone. I know people who have been ready to study the claims of Christ, who have even opened their hearts up in prayer asking God to reveal himself — but have not (yet) received the glorious assurance that for some reason has taken root in my heart. I do not think it is because I am more intelligent, or less prone to sin, that I have come to faith when others haven’t. Indeed I could name specific people who are more intellectually rigorous and more ethically consistent than I, who know and understand the gospel, but for various reasons, don’t believe it.

Why is this?

Paul is ruthlessly direct in answering the question with an appeal to the sovereign freedom of God to do what He wants to fulfil His purposes. We should maybe add to this sentence the clause ‘within the bounds of His rules’, for as we began by saying, God shows no partiality. He doesn’t bend the rules for anyone. But — as we also already pointed out — judicial impartiality does not prevent God from engaging uniquely and therefore differently with each person on a relational basis. And this means that although judicially the rules are clear (a person either receives Christ by faith as Lord and Saviour and benefits from the redemption from judgement that Jesus accomplished on the cross, or they must endure the condemnation that their sins deserve), this doesn’t necessarily prevent God selectively granting the gift of faith to some and not to others, thus qualifying those ‘some’ for redemption. Paul would call this “fulfilling the righteous requirement of the law”.

In the same way, imagine a running coach with a son whom he hoped would break an athletic record — say for the 400m. There’s a difference between the coach trying to cheat to help his son break the record (either by using performance-enhancing drugs, or fiddling the timing equipment, or whatever it might be), and the coach exclusively training his son, so that his son was able to genuinely achieve the necessary standard.

And yet, and yet — if faith is something God can just impart, then why doesn’t He grant faith to more people? Paul seems to indicate that the unbelief of certain people is necessary for certain purposes of God to be fulfilled: “a hardening has happened to Israel until the fullness of the Gentiles has come in”. But what about Paul’s assertion elsewhere that God “desires all to be saved” (1 Timothy 2:4). What about God’s plea through Ezekiel: “Do I have any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? And not that he should turn and live?” (Ezekiel 18:23).

There comes a point in every Christian’s learning, when they are confronted with the question of how to reconcile these texts. And on the one side you have the ‘Calvinists’, who remind us that Paul says in Ephesians that saving faith is “not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (Ephesians 2:8) and urge us to embrace God’s right to have mercy on whom He will — though it effectively implies that God doesn’t really desire all to be saved. On the other side you have the ‘Arminian’ position, which affirms God’s genuine desire that absolutely all individuals should be saved and brought to a knowledge of the truth — but seems to avoid the implications of Romans 9-11. (Although I have just discovered Greg Boyd‘s thoughts on Romans 9, which look to be a provocative read).

I had considered this question somewhat as a teenager, but was particularly confronted with it in my second year as a student, as I discovered John Piper‘s incredible array of free online (Calvinistic) resources, and found the CICCU Bible Studies for the term were focussed on the book of Malachi (from which Paul draws the verse “Jacob I have loved, but Esau I have hated”). I found myself encouraged and liberated by the idea that God had specifically predestined me, that in spite of my mess and my struggle with sin, He had called me by name and though I might sometimes be faithless, He would be faithful. And on the other hand I found myself bemused and frustrated by what seemed to me at the time to be the way that some Christians seemed to be ducking and diving around this issue, unwilling to accept the teaching of Scripture just because it was something of a hard truth to come to terms with. It took more than a year, but eventually I had changed churches — and planted my roots in the committedly Calvinist soil of Cambridge Presbyterian Church.

CPC was not however a place, where all my convictions could fully flourish, committed as the church is to a cessationist interpretation of the Westminster Confession (I admit that to me this seems the obvious interpretation of the Confession cf. chapter I.6) as their standard of orthodoxy, and myself being a convinced believer in the importance of eagerly desiring spiritual gifts. I spent a year and a bit as a student at CPC, and then worked with the church for a year as an evangelist. God then called us into YWAM — a very different organization! For one thing, YWAM is unabashedly charismatic; for another, there do not seem to be many outspoken YWAM Calvinists (though YWAM is not committed to any doctrinal stance on the question of predestination; and it is committed to being interdenominational — so there is room for more Calvinists within YWAM!).

It needs to be said explicitly that there is no necessary contradiction between believing that God has specifically predestined individuals to salvation and believing that the Holy Spirit continues to give all of His supernatural gifts to the church today. John Piper would be an example of one who strongly holds to both.

Speaking of John Piper, I might clarify now that while I continue to believe in and be comforted by God’s predestination of individuals to salvation, I don’t believe in total determinism, limited atonement, or double predestination. And now we’ve thrown in three more bits of theological jargon that require explanation:

Total Determinism: This is the idea that not only the salvation of a certain set of believers has been predestined in advance, but that every single event has been absolutely and unchangeably determined by God. Piper would argue that this is the necessary corollary of a verse like Ephesians 1:11, which speaks of God working “all things according to the counsel of His will”. But I disagree, for two reasons. First, the most obvious interpretation seems to me that God works through time to work circumstances from the situation (which we are still currently in) when many things are not in accordance with his will, to the one (which we will eventually reach!) where all things will finally align with his will. Second, I see no indication that God’s will is immediately concerned with every single minute detail of the universe. God is not a micro-manager! He is concerned that all the world be flooded with the knowledge of the glory of God — but the way in which His glory is most magnified is by Him releasing control to the voluntary choices of the living creatures (not clockwork robots!) that He has created. God’s leadership is releasing and risk-taking — ours should be the same.

What I have said so far would apply even if God simply foreknew all events, but only actively predestined a certain subset of those (eg. individual salvations and important prophesied events). But I think we can go even further and embrace Greg Boyd’s idea that if God were to give us the freedom to completely make our own choices, then the future wouldn’t technically be there for Him to know or not know, and so without diminishing His omniscience, we can actually affirm the existence of genuine possibilities. Boyd’s ‘Open Theism’ is generally contrasted with Piper’s Calvinism — but I quite like the idea of what you might call an ‘Open Calvinism’ (where ‘Open’ is used in its technical, anti-deterministic sense).

Limited Atonement: This is the idea that Jesus only died for the sins of those who have been predestined — and not for those who have not. Piper would argue that ‘everyone limits the atonement–you either limit the extent of it [ie. to the elect, and not to the rest], or you limit the effect of it [ie. just making salvation possible, but not effectual]’. But this requires a simplistic and reductionistic understanding of the cross, where all that happens is punitory (not even penal!) substitution.

I like David Pawson’s helpful acrostic for the word CROSS: “with regards to the devil, it was a Conquest; with regards to the world, it was a Reconciliation; with regards to God, it was an Offering; with regards to the law, it was a Satisfaction; with regards to the sinner, it was a Substitution”. I would agree that actually the Substitution is properly not ‘with regards to the sinner’ in general, but ‘in regards to the believing/repentant sinner’ in particular. And I believe that this faith is not possible without God’s predestining help. (Though I find Wesley’s idea of ‘prevenient grace’ — that “enables, but does not ensure, personal acceptance of the gift of salvation” — to be an interesting one). But I am convinced that the legal satisfaction of objective justice accomplished by Christ’s death was more the result of the infinite value of His life as a divine person, rather than the specific quantity of punishment that He suffered.

On the other hand, I would be happy to affirm the idea of ‘Definite Atonement’ (though disputing the claim that this is an identical and equivalent doctrine to Limited Atonement), that the finished work of Christ on the cross is the direct and effective cause of the faith of all who will believe.

Double Predestination: The word ‘double’ here indicates that just as God predestines individuals to salvation, deciding unconditionally to grant them the necessary faith to believe in Jesus and thus be delivered from judgement, so he must predestine all remaining individuals to damnation, actively willing that they specifically be condemned. Here Piper goes beyond even the classic Reformed confessions: the Westminster Confession, for example, consistently distinguishes between God ‘predestining’ some to salvation, and ‘ordaining’ the rest to judgement. The difference might only be whether it be an active primary desire or a passive, secondary consequence. But to me it feels important.

This implication that predestining some but not all to eternal salvation means that some have been left to eternal damnation is without doubt the most difficult problem with the doctrine of predestination — even if God’s ordaining of the rest to judgement is subtly different from His predestining the elect to salvation. Paul gives three reasons (i. to show His wrath; ii. to make His power known; iii. to highlight by contrast the riches of His glorious mercy Romans 9:22-23) as to why God might be justified in creating someone “prepared for destruction” — but none of them seem relevant to the actual individual whose fate it is to have not been “granted repentance unto life”. Has Paul no empathy?

Anyway, I have a suggestion which I have found helpful as an idea — you are free to take it or leave it. It goes like this:
– first, remember our argument that suffering in hell is eternal but not infinite.
– second, suppose very simplistically that we are able to quantify happiness and suffering on a single dimension, such that one unit of suffering be equivalent to a negative unit of happiness
– third, we suggest that it is at least feasible that in a finite lifetime one could experience more joy (by virtue of the presence of God’s undeserved goodness encountered in so much of creation) than the finite amount of suffering that would be earned from the lifetime’s accumulated wrongs (to be experienced in hell) and that would have been experienced in that lifetime
– fourth, if we affirm a real degree of ‘Open-ness’, in which the choices of this person are not determined in advance, then in particular the possibility of whether the aggregate score of happiness versus suffering would turn out to be positive or negative would also not be determined (or even known?) in advance.
It’s just a thought–let me know what you make of it.

#7 Vital Humility
Indeed, o man, who are you to reply against God? Romans 9:20

In all of this discussion, an essential quality is humility. First of all, we must humble ourselves before God — who are we to require answers from him? Second, we would do well to stay humble in all of our discussions with other people — especially those whose position differs from our own. I present my thoughts here, not because I am convinced that I am right — but because now Ryan is asking these questions I feel a responsibility to try and elucidate the conclusions that I have reached, so that he can learn from them and decide for himself (hopefully with the help of whichever others of you join in this conversation — feel free to correct whatever you think are my theological mis-steps) how to make sense of all these things.

To keep it all in perspective, it’s healthy to remember Paul’s caution to the Colossians (2:8) that we should “beware! lest anyone cheat [us] through philosophy and empty deceit”. These questions of free will, determinism, the nature of time, and the existence of the future are incredibly complex topics once you begin to consider them in a philosophical manner — but such consideration can sometimes prevent us from hearing the straightforward and primary call to faith and obedience.

On the other hand, we cannot shrink back from the subject either. Paul says in Romans 11:25, “I do not desire that you be ignorant of this mystery, lest you be wise in your own opinion”. He may be talking primarily of the destiny of Israel, but it’s all in the context of the mystery of predestination and the sovereign will of God. And there’s nothing like trying to wrestle with the subject of predestination to keep you from feeling ‘wise in your own eyes’!

#8 Gloriously Unfathomable Divinity
O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! Romans 11:33

I think the key is to not rest content with whatever philosophical conclusions you might reach, but to turn it all into fuel for worship. Praise God for His inscrutable greatness! Praise God for His impartial justice! Praise God for His individual love! Praise God for His sacrificial generosity!

At the end of this deep discussion of the most profoundly challenging questions of the faith, Paul breaks out in doxology, and then goes on to tell us that our ‘logical act of worship’ (12:1) is to present our bodies as living sacrifices unto God.

#9 Evangelistic Necessity
How shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent? Romans 10:14-15

And let’s not forget that in the midst of all of this, Paul is speaking as one who knows that not just he but all of us “have received grace and a missionary mandate to call forth the obedience of faith among all the nations for the sake of His name” (1:5). The gift of predestined saving faith is not just beamed directly down out of heaven, but is activated by the preaching of the gospel — this seems clear from Acts 13:48: “And when the Gentiles heard this [ie. the gospel], they began rejoicing and glorifying the word of the Lord, and as many as were appointed to eternal life believed”.

It seems to me that while God may have predestined people to salvation, He’s not made any decisions about who gets to share the gospel with those people, and have the privilege of being the labourer God uses to sow the saving seed of the gospel into their hearts. Whoever you are that be reading — there are people on your street, in your city, in your sphere of influence that God has appointed to eternal life, and if you step out in faith and courage you will have the privilege of being the one that they point to when they share their testimony of salvation in heaven, before the myriad angels and watching angels. This, says Paul in 1 Thessalonians 2:19, is a believer’s joy and crown — precisely those other believers who are the fruit of their evangelism. If you don’t share the gospel with them — well, like Mordecai says to Esther, “if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise from another place” (Esther 4:14), but you will have missed your chance.

I realise this seems a novel way of looking at things — it’s certainly quite different from the way that the call to evangelism is typically fuelled by the fear that many will burn in hell because you failed to do your Christian duty. Some will complain that in thus taking the pressure off, I’m undermining the need for evangelism. But what if it were the case that our evangelism would be more successful if we were not motivated by guilt, fear and condemnation but instead propelled into conversations about Jesus by a joyful sense that the purposes of God will certainly be soon fulfilled, and we have freely volunteered to be involved in the glorious final chapter of history that the Holy Spirit is finishing writing even as we speak!

#10 Intercessory Agency
My heart’s desire and prayer to God for Israel is that they may be saved… Romans 10:1

As well as the necessity of evangelism, I also want to highlight the agency of intercession. Paul mentions his prayer for Israel, as well as asking that the Roman believers “strive together with me in your prayers to God for me, that I may be delivered from those in Judea who do not believe…and that I may come to you with joy by the will of God and may be refreshed together with you” (15:30-32).

One of the reasons I am not a determinist, is that 2 Peter 3:12 teaches that we can be “hastening the day of God”. And although that passage doesn’t quite say it explicitly, I believe that prayer is one of the primary ways that we do this. In Revelation, John sees “golden bowls, full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (Revelation 5:8), and then as a result of this incense, the power of God is released upon the earth (Revelation 8:5). I believe that many of the things that God wills are bowls of incense that are waiting to be filled with the incense of our prayers before God’s power is released and those promises are fulfilled.

This will not always look like we expected! Paul asked the Roman believers to pray that he would be delivered from those in Judea who did not believe that he might come with joy to Rome and be refreshed. I doubt he expected that God’s deliverance would come through him being put under arrest and his arrival in Rome would be as a political prisoner! But nevertheless, those prayers were undeniably answered, and God’s power manifestly poured out on and through Paul.

May the same be true of all of our generation who have been granted the gift of faith.