Archive for the ‘Series’ Category

By Andy Constable

Life in schemes can be tough at the best of times. It is, sometimes, an extremely face paced, intense ministry. I know today as I woke up that I felt tired and distracted. The business of the next couple of weeks clouded my mind. Now at this point I could (a) get on with the day and get as much as done as possible but keep stressing. Or (b) I can commit these things to the Lord and refresh my soul for the day ahead. Now a lot of people will tend to do the former, get their heads down and batter through life’s problems. However, that’s not healthy at all. If we keep doing this we will burn out very quickly. We need to find a spiritual oasis in the middle of this stress. Here are some things I was reminded of as I spent time with the Lord.

Be Disciplined

We need to be disciplined in making time to spend time with the Lord. Some days we won’t feel like getting up early and reading our Bibles, but it’s so necessary. Paul, in his qualifications for deacons, says this in Titus 1:8: “Rather he must be hospitable, one who loves what is good, who is self-controlled, upright, holy and disciplined.” Discipline is key when you’re feeling stressed because it’s so easy to be lazy or to get distracted by business. Make that time to read your Bible and keep it regular.

Meditate on scripture

Christians in general are bad at spending time taking the Word of God from their quiet times into the rest of their days. We tend to read some verses and then forget about them as soon as we walk out the door. The Psalmist however said that he “meditated on God’s word day and night” This means that he spent time studying the scriptures, processing them and reflecting on them. The psalmist actually spent time taking God’s Word to heart and applying it to his life. This is something that is important for refreshing our souls in ministry. We need to fill our minds with as much scripture as possible in order to find peace, contentment and renewal of mind in the middle of stress.

Leave your worries with God

We need to spend concerted time committing our cares to the Lord. 1 Peter 5:7 says: “Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.” God cares for us and we need to know this in the midst of ministry difficulties. However, what we need to watch out for is that we don’t commit our worries to God and then take them back again. It is important to commit them to the Lord and make sure they stay there. There can also be a tendency to think that God doesn’t want to hear about our silly stresses. We think “oh I’ll sort that out by myself because God has more important things to think about.” This is not the case as 1 Peter reminds us. Cast your anxiety on him because he cares for you!

Remind yourself that you are not God

One of the things that every Christian is tempted to do is play God. In our pride we think we can do things in our own strength. Yet, it is wonderfully liberating in ministry to remind ourselves that God is in control of all things. He saves people, not us. He transforms people’s lives, not us. He works everything out for the good of those who love him, not us. The question is do we believe this? Or are we functionally playing God and trying to sort out all the mess by ourselves. This is both foolish and dangerous.

Remember there is an outside world

I think lastly its good to remember that this is a big, old world we live in. Often when we are stressed we focus on ourselves and think that we are the only ones grafting in ministry. It’s important to get our heads up and pray for those who are struggling all over the world to bring the gospel to their people. This gives us perspective. This reminds us that we have a great and powerful God who is Lord over ALL creation and ALL people!

It’s important if we want to survive in this ministry to put these things into practice. I could have ignored my time with the Lord this morning, battered on with the days activities and ignored Him.  But, instead, I took 30 minutes to be disciplined, meditate on scripture, cast my worries on the Lord, remembered that God sits on His throne, and prayed for some outside gospel ministries. This refreshed my soul and I found a little oasis in the middle of stress.


By Andy Constable

Last week we started by looking at some of the things we need to know when we are discipling drug addicts who have come to Christ and are rebuilding their lives. We looked at some of the things that you the discipler will need to look out for. This week I want to look at some of the things we need to teach our new converts. What do they need to know from God’s Word? What do they need to learn quickly? This is key in our discipleship because what we teach can really give them a foundation to walk with the Lord.

The first thing we need to teach former drug addicts are the tools to say ‘no’ to temptation and the reminder to run to God’s forgiveness when they mess up. Every Christian is faced with temptation and a drug addict’s temptation is very prevalent with drug friends and dealers all over the place. We need to be teaching that they can say ‘no’ to these temptations because the Holy Spirit is now living in them. The good news for a drug addict is that Jesus Christ liberates them from bondage to sin. He gives them a new heart and desire to love God more than anything else. This is a great encouragement to someone who has come to Christ and has been heavily addicted to drugs for a long time. Jesus Christ sets us free and gives us the tools to keep us free from slavery to sin.

Alongside this, we need to teach our disciples a deep thankfulness for the grace of God when they do mess up. This is inevitable because we all fall, but the problem is that we often don’t teach people how to come back to God after a slip up.  We teach our new Christians that the bar is high for every Christian as God calls for total devotion and obedience to him. He says ‘be perfect as I am perfect’. But, we also teach that when we mess up to run to the grace of God. We teach them not to hide sin with religious works and language but to flee to the forgiveness that is found in Jesus Christ.

Secondly, we need to give our disciples the doctrines that lead to godliness. One of the things that we find in housing scheme ministry is that people working in these areas often ignore teaching people the doctrines of God’s Word. They say: “just give them Jesus not all that dusty theology stuff.”  When Paul is leaving his church in Ephesus he says this to the Elders that: “he did not shrink from declaring to them the whole counsel of God.” (Acts 20:27) Paul didn’t just teach them the bits of the Bible he enjoyed or thought they could grasp but he taught them the whole counsel of God. Sometimes there can be a presumption that people in housing schemes are not bright enough to learn the doctrines of God, but that is not the case at all. I find that it’s often the s0-called ‘mature’ Christians who don’t really understand the doctrines very well and so can’t explain them properly to new believers. We should not shrink back from teaching the whole counsel of God to people. New Christians are thirsty for the truth.

The main reason for teaching doctrine is that Paul says in his letter to Timothy that it leads to godliness. The knowledge of the truth of the Bible empowered by the Spirit helps us to grow. For example, if we are teaching about the need to be selfless then we can teach them about the Trinity. We can show our new Christians how that selflessness is rooted in the very being of God. We can teach them how Father, Son and Holy Spirit selflessly serve each other and bring glory to one another. It’s a doctrine that leads to godliness. We want to give them as good a foundation from God’s Word as we can!

Thirdly, we need to teach our disciples that we are there for them. One of the things that new Christians find in schemes is the lack of community. Many churches meet on a Sunday and then on a Wednesday. This is not enough community for a person who has a lot of time on his/her hands. Many former addicts find it difficult leaving their drug addict pals behind because they were constantly there for them. The drug community often do community better than Christians. They look after each other, they listen to each other, they are eager to help and spend much of their lives together. When we are discipling former drug addicts it’s going to be important to give them care, support, and friendship. Not once a week, but regularly. In Niddrie we try to have regular meet ups and have lots of community events centred on food. This gives a natural arena for new people to come into and get to know their new Christian family.

Let me end with a challenge from Paul. He says this in Acts 20:24: “However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me- the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Pray for us as we continue to minister amongst drug addicts on the scheme. It is a joy to see them saved and leave their lives of addictions behind. But, remember in your ministry, to teach them the tools to say no to temptation and run back to Jesus when they get in trouble, to teach them the doctrine’s that lead to godliness and to be there for them in constant loving community.

By Andy Constable

Last week we were at a conference for gospel centred churches who are working in housing scheme/housing estate ministry. The conference was focused on the book of Titus and the main speakers did a great job at expounding it for the context of estate ministries. One of the things that struck me at the conference was Titus 1:1: “Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness.” Duncan Forbes spoke on this passage and made a great point that we are to explain the truths (or the doctrines) of the Bible to new believers (in fact all believers) because they lead to godliness. One of the doctrines that we need to know well is the doctrine of the Trinity and its application to believers. Here are a few things that I’ve learned about this important doctrine for our lives.

Firstly, the Trinity challenges us to be gracious people. Before the world began there was no, ‘you and me’. There was no world, no stars, no galaxies, absolutely nothing. There was simply God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit in perfect harmony, unity and love. There was perfect serenity and peace. Ed Sanders calls this the ‘Happy Land’ of the Trinity. God was happy and satisfied and needed nothing else because He was and is completely sufficient in and of Himself. And then God spoke and He created this universe and, eventually, you and me. He didn’t need to, and didn’t have to, but He did because everything is an overspill of His great love. All creation is an act of grace. Our lives are an act of absolute mercy. The world and all its fullness is not something that we deserve to have but its something that God created because of His great love. This is the very core of His character.

This grace is further shown in the fact that He then sends the eternal Son to die on the cross to buy back a people that He had originally created for his glory. The cross shows what has always been at the center of God’s character – grace. Everything we have, including our salvation, is undeserved. He doesn’t need to save us. But He chose to save us because He is gracious. This challenges me deep down. We live in a culture that is inherently self-centered. We give us little as we can away and keep as much as we can for ourselves. We are to reflect a God who is constantly giving to us by giving to those around us in time, energy, and finance.

Secondly, the Trinity challenges our individualistic society. Father, Son and Holy Spirit live in perfect harmony with one another. They are one and three, three and one. God is a community. And then God created humans to reflect this community. The Trinity says to itself in Genesis 1:26: “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness…” As one famous person said: “no man is an island.” We cannot live a full life without a network of relationships around us because we are wired to be in relationships. We are created with community in our DNA. In contrast, we live in a society that tries to push people away. We live highly privatised lives and try not to share too much with those around us. This has taken root in our churches. We see each other on a Sunday and a Wednesday and try to bypass people in between. And we wonder why nearly 1 in 4 people suffer with depression and isolation? In Acts 2:42 we see the model we are called to reflect as the Apostles met regularly with the people, preached, prayed and everyone shared everything with one another. The is something that challenges my way of life and the choices I make.

Thirdly, the Trinity challenges our selfish nature. The Godhead lives to serve one another and love one another. The Son is obedient to the Father and wants to bring Him glory. The Holy Spirit wants to point people towards Christ. They don’t live to serve themselves but each other. This is a challenge to a human race that looks after number one first. We sort ourselves out first and make sure we are all right but Father, Son and Holy Spirit are other centered. They are all co-eternal and co-equal. Think about this verse from the gospel of John (chapter 17) when Jesus prays to the Father: “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you. For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by completing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.” Now think about the conversations that we have everyday. We want respect. We want glory. We want adoration. We want to serve ourselves. But Jesus Christ came to earth and wanted to glorify His Father and carry out the work that He had been given before the world even began! God’s very nature challenges us to serve and to not look to our own interests first. God’s very nature challenges us to bring Him glory alone!

The Trinity is a complex subject but at the heart of understanding as much as we can, there are deep truths that we can use to apply to our lives. Let us continue to study God’s very nature not simply so that we can know God but so that we can reflect His character in our lives. He is a gracious God who calls us to be gracious people. He is a communal God who calls us to live in community. And He is a selfless God who challenges us to be selfless people. These doctrines can change churches and housing schemes and nations.

By Andy Constable

One of the words that is dirty among the newer generation of Christians is the word ‘doctrine’. Christians of my generation think that doctrine hinders our ‘worship’ of God rather than helps. Doctrine is something that we don’t have to think about because worship is more about our experience of God with our emotions than what we think about with our minds. However, the Bible is very clear that doctrine is very important. Here are some reasons why.

Firstly, God cares about the truth. God calls us to love the truth about him in 2 Thessalonians 2:10. Jesus says that the truth will set us free in John 14:6.  God wants everyone to come to a knowledge of the truth in 1 Timothy 2:4. God reveals his wrath against those who suppress the truth in Romans 1:18. And Jesus says that he will send the spirit of truth to us in John 16:13. Therefore, God deeply cares how we view him and how we worship him. This is where doctrine helps us out. It helps us get a grasp on biblical truth and how God wants us to see him. Without doctrine we would simply create a God that matches the idols of our hearts and not the truth about him.

Further, everyone has a doctrine whether they consciously think about it or not. The word doctrine literally means ‘what is taught’. It is the set of beliefs that a person (or a church) holds on who God is and what he is like. Every person is forming a view of God as they understand it and by necessity teach others because people are constantly sharing their views about God with people around them. Everyone has a doctrine and so it’s deeply important that we think about how we are portraying God to those around us.

Secondly, if everyone has a doctrine then surely it’s important to have good doctrine. Paul writes to Titus: “He must hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it.” Paul encourages Timothy to be very careful what he teaches others about God. He says refute false teachers and encourage others by sound doctrine. How can we have good doctrine? We need to study God’s perfect and infallible Word. This brings in another word that is dirty these days and that is ‘study’. It takes disciplined and patient study to grasp the truths about God. The problem is that we live in the ‘McDonalds generation’. We want a life changing devotion in 15 minutes everyday. We open our Bibles and get bored when nothing grips us after 2 paragraphs. But, disciplined study is good and helps us build good doctrine that honours the Lord.

Thirdly, our emotional experiences are wasted unless they are based on biblical truth. Regardless of what we think or feel, there is not authentic worship of God without a right knowledge of God. As John Piper writes: “The apex of glorifying God is enjoying him with the heart. But this is an empty emotionalism where that joy is not awakened and sustained by true views of God for who he really is.” God is to be honoured as he is revealed to us in scripture. If the truth of God from his word isn’t driving your worship then you are worshipping another god with your emotions. It is wasted energy and doesn’t bring glory to the Lord.

Then there are those who love doctrine more than God. They use it to boost their intellect and don’t allow it to impact their hearts. What I mean by that is that the knowledge of God doesn’t move their souls towards a greater love of Christ. This is very dangerous because those who love doctrine as an end in itself become self-righteous and disconnected from God emotionally. We are to worship God with our hearts and minds. Anything that we learn about God should fuel us to love God more and glorify him with our lives. When you look at the Apostles in Acts they were men who knew God’s Word very well. They taught the people the Old Testament and the truth that it points people to Christ. They knew their theology and doctrine and that set them on fire to share the gospel and glorify God with their lives.

The goal of revelation from God’s word is to change our lives. Religion through doctrine won’t change your life. It can command us to love God but only the truth of the gospel of grace set on fire by the spirit of God can change our hearts to love righteousness. We are to have doctrinal depth but revival happens as people are set on fire by these truths. We need to feel them in the very core of our souls and this causes us to love Christ more than anything else in our worship. Don’t reduce doctrine to just your minds but allow it to affect your hearts! Tim Keller writes this:

If we don’t find that our affections have been moved away from earthly idols toward God, we haven’t worshipped….if I leave Sunday mornings having had no emotional connection whatsoever, I haven’t worshipped. I must allow my heart to be touched to worship.”

In conclusion, doctrine is very important to God because he cares about the truth, and commands us to care about it also. Every person has a belief about God and the Bible is clear that we need to have good doctrine in order to worship God with mind, heart and soul. Our emotional experiences will be empty unless they are sustained by true views of God. Therefore, let doctrine fuel your worship AND let the truth about God set you on fire to treasure God more than anything else!

by Andy Constable

I am very privileged to work in an environment that is gospel focused. I came onto the Niddrie team 2 years ago and one of the reasons for doing so was because Mez’s vision was and is to bring the gospel to bear in his life, the life of the church and into the community of Niddrie. I haven’t had to build a gospel community because the building blocks were already in place when I came and God was and still is blessing and using that gospel vision. Here are some things that I have learned that are key to building this sort of gospel community.

Gospel Centred Leaders. If you want to build a gospel community then the leaders driving that vision must be gospel centred. Leaders as much, probably more, than anybody else in the church need to live and breathe the gospel. This means that leaders need to preach the gospel to themselves each and everyday. The gospel is what excites them. The gospel is what drives them. If a leader isn’t gospel focused then they will either burn out or build a community that is religious. As leaders we need to guard our souls and make sure that we remind ourselves daily that we are not justified by the amount of work we do, the amount of meetings we attend, how good our sermons are or how nice we are to our congregation, but by the blood of the lamb. We are justified by the good news that on the cross Christ bore the punishment for us and died the death we deserved to bring us to God.

Gospel Centred Preaching. If a leader is gospel centred then by necessity their preaching should be gospel centred to. The Bible is one big story unfolding God’s redemption story culminating in Jesus Christ. This means that all of scripture points to the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. We need to set the agenda for our vision by preaching the gospel from the pulpit. We do not want a congregation who are little law abiders but have no deep change in their hearts. But we want people who are being changed daily by the grace of God. We want a people who are recognising their sin daily and their need for repentance but also a people who know the love of God shown to them in Jesus Christ deeply and intimately. We set the agenda through our preaching and it must be gospel centred. The gospel is not just for non-Christians but for Christians too. As Tim Keller reminds us “the gospel isn’t just the the ABC of the Bible but the A through Z.”

Gospel Centred Evangelism. If we are preaching the gospel to ourselves and to our church then, by necessity, our evangelism will be gospel centred as well. We need to proclaim to all we meet that there is judgment to come unless people repent and believe the good news. We need to proclaim this good news with sorrow in our hearts for those who are perishing but also with great joy because it is good news! Many Christians are not set on fire by the good news of Jesus Christ and so find it hard to get excited about the gospel. But it is good news to those who believe. It liberates the captives and is the only way to salvation!

Gospel Centred Discipleship. It is easy, particularly in schemes, to preach the gospel and then give people a whole load of laws to follow after. For example with a drug addict we can slip into legalism by sharing that they are saved through Jesus Christ and then give them plan x, y and z to get off their drugs. We want to be very careful that those who come to Christ are then counselled through the gospel. I really recommend CCEF material here as they are gospel saturated in their counselling approach. We must remind ourselves that it is the gospel that brings us to Christ and then continues to transform us. It is the only thing that can truly transform our hearts. If we teach people gospel + legalism then we will create a lot of self-righteous disciples. Eugene Peterson calls these Christians iatrogenic* disciples. They come in with one problem like drugs but then they pick up another – self-righteousness. They go around thinking that because they have come off their addiction that they are suddenly better than everybody else. They become legalists. If we want to build a gospel centred community then our counselling needs to be gospel centred to.

Gospel Centred Fellowship. The gospel should characterize us when we meet socially as well. If we want to build a gospel church then we need to spend concerted effort getting to know each other. Too many churches meet on a Sunday and Wednesday and then don’t see each other between. The early church was characterised by praying together regularly and sharing everything they had so that no-one is in need. When did we turn community into this individualised thing where we never meet! If we are gospel focused then we should meet regularly and share fellowship because we love Jesus and we love each other. This again is something that can’t be forced by telling everyone from the front to have fun and hang out with each other. This is something that happens organically as barriers are broken through the gospel and as leaders model it. We should not be scared to meet socially and hang out and have fun. We are a community of sinners who have been saved by the grace of God and are called to love each other. This happens as we spend time with people’s families and in people’s homes.

I am encouraged at Niddrie because I am seeing these elements worked out in the life of the church. We are seeing people come to Christ. We are seeing people having their lives changed. We are seeing a greater sense of community as people move into the area and get to know each other. This is not our work but God’s of course but he blesses the foundation of the gospel that is being preached and lived. Pray that we would continue to hold dear to the gospel in Niddrie and that this would continue to build a community that reflects the church that God’s wants us to be.

*this is a medical term describing people who come into hospital to get sorted for one problem and then pick up another problem while they are there e.g. MRI virus!

By Andy Constable

It can be tough working and living in a scheme at the same time. There are the ‘normal’ ministerial pressures like preparing sermons, counselling and driving the vision of the church forward. And then there are the added stresses like reaching out to the people on the scheme and discipling new converts from very difficult backgrounds. It can be even more intensive because if you never leave the place you work and minister, family and friends become one big melting pot. In the midst of the stresses, pressures and intensity it can be easy to collapse beneath the weight of it all if we aren’t careful. I’ve been learning the hard way in recent months as I’ve felt the tiredness kick in emotionally, spiritually and physically. It goes without saying that we need to guard our souls but what are some other practical things that we can do. Here are 5 things I’ve learned.

Firstly, find time to rest from work and do things that help you relax. As leaders we can often feel guilty taking time off. I know in my time working on schemes in the last 3 years that I’ve felt unjustified in taking days to rest. This was driven by a constant desire to justify my existence and ministry. I needed to repent of that and remember that I am saved by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone. We are not capable of being self-sufficient and need to rely on the grace of God. We need to find a sensible rhythm of work and rest. I recently went through a period when all my nights were filled with some sort of ministry and so I decided to take a step back from some of these things. This has been great for reducing my stress levels as I am able to chill and get my head together every now and then! Remember we are no good to those around us if we are spiritually tired. So take times to rest!

Secondly, we need to learn to spread the work. Some ministers put so much pressure on themselves to be at every single thing the church puts on. They think that without them that the church will collapse. However, we need to learn to delegate responsibilities. We are in charge of driving the vision of the church forward but that doesn’t mean we have to do everything. By delegating we are able to reduce stress and also bless others by allowing them to use their gifts to serve the Lord. Do not think that you are superman and that you have to do everything! Again this drive to be involved with everything the church puts on is often driven by self-justification or pride. We need to be humble and trust the Lord.

Thirdly, its good to meet up with friends who have nothing to do with our churches. This is great because outside friends give you perspective. When you are living in the place you work it can be very easy to become introspective and forget that there is an outside world. One of the things I’ve found helpful is meeting up with friends away from church and the community because it helps you to remember that you are a person (and not just a leader) and also reminds you that there is a world around you with needs and concerns. Sometimes, just having a laugh with friends is a tonic for our souls and gives us the impetus to keep going.

Fourthly, take time to exercise. Its scientifically proven that sport of any kind helps release endorphins that make us happy! To use the old cliché, ‘healthy body, means healthy mind!’ When you are feeling like work is getting on top of you take time to work your body and don’t get lazy.

Finally, take time to read. Reading keeps our minds stimulated and fresh. Reading gives us perspective and spiritual encouragement. I find it really difficult to put this into practice so I have a reading plan for the next 6 months so that I’m working through a variety of books covering different topics. This helps me move through books systematically and will keep me focused.

If we want to be leaders in schemes for the long haul then we need to think through practically  how we are going to do this. These are some of the things that I’ve found helpful – reading, exercising, resting, hanging with friends and delegating jobs. Please pray for us as we continue to work in Niddrie and please think about how you are going to survive working long term in a very stressful environment.

By Andy Constable

This week I was privileged to attend the Acts29WE conference in London. Mez is going to write a report on what he learned from the main sessions, but I thought I would share one of the seminars that I attended on ‘engaging with Muslims’. It was taken by J.D. Greear who spent 2 years planting a church in Indonesia (a place that is 99% Islamic) and now has a church in America but continues to engage Muslims where he lives. The seminar was informative, insightful and J.D.’s burden for the Islamic world really was there for all to see.

The talk was split into five parts. Firstly, why this issues matters. Secondly, reviewing some of the primary obstacles to Muslims coming to faith in Christ. Thirdly, contextualising the gospel. Fourthly, how Muslims come to faith and, finally, the challenge and the hope of this mission field. I will go through each point and bring out the main themes.

I. Why does engaging with Muslims matter?

J.D. began by sharing with us that there are 1.5 billion Muslims worldwide. They make up 50% of the 6600 unreached people groups, meaning 1 out of every 3 unbelievers is Muslim! This is, therefore, a global issue and needs to be thought about by Christians. If we are concerned by the state of people’s souls then, by necessity, the Muslims should be on our heart as there are so many. He also said that there has been a major revival in every age since Christ came (Romans, Catholics, Buddhists, Communists) but there is yet to be one amongst the Islamic people. J.D. said that he wanted to be there when God does something great amongst this people group and he believes firmly that God is going to sweep across the Islamic world.

II. Primary obstacles to Muslims coming to faith in Christ

J.D. explained to us some of the primary obstacles to Muslims coming to faith in Christ. This he split into three areas – doctrinal confusion, misconceptions about Christians and costliness.

1. Doctrinal confusion

There are three major areas of doctrinal confusion:

A. Muslims think that Christians worship three gods because of our belief in the Trinity. The Koran is very clear that there is only one God and Allah teaches them to worship only him. The whole concept of the Trinity therefore baffles the Muslim. The way to overcome this obstacle is by insisting that we only worship one God and to show horror that they would think we worship 3. We believe in one God in three persons. This needs to be explained with great nuance. J.D. said a great example of how to explain the Trinity to a Muslim is to use an example given by Bishop Timothy 1st to a Muslim Caliph in the first recorded apologetic between a Christian and a Muslim. Timothy said that the Father is like the mind that conceives a thought, the Word (Jesus) the expression of the thought, and the Spirit the voice that carries the voice along. All three are separate in person but essentially one. J.D. said that this was a particularly good analogy for Muslims because they are already familiar with the title “Word” for Jesus as the Koran calls Jesus just that.

B. Muslims have a deep respect for the Bible and count the Law, the Prophets and the New Testament as part of their holy books. However, it is widely thought amongst Muslims that the Bible has been corrupted and that it has changed over the years. We can challenge this misconception on 2 fronts. Firstly, we can prove historically that the New Testament Mohammad pointed Muslims toward is essentially the same one we use today. Secondly, we can point to the many places in scripture where God has promised to keep his word (Psalm 119:89: Isaiah 55:11; Matt 5:18). A Muslim again has a deep respect for God’s word and so would respect this.

C. Muslims contest the doctrine of penal substitution and see it as immoral and illogical. The Koran states that it is impossible for a person to bear the sins of another. They also think that God does not need a sacrifice to be able to forgive sins. They say that Allah’s mercy is able to forgive any sin without the need of a sacrifice. The whole notion of a vicarious atonement makes no sense within the Muslim worldview. J.D. said that we need to spend time thinking through why penal substitution is logical but also find other ways to explain why Jesus had to die.

2. Misconceptions about Christianity

A lot of Muslims simply have a warped view of Christianity. They look at television programmes and see rappers with crosses all over them, or Madonna and any host of pop stars and they immediately think that Christianity is corrupt. J.D. told a funny story about a girl who came to him in Indonesia and asked him if he could throw her a Christian party. J.D. replied: ‘what do you mean?’ and she said “well Muslim parties are boring, we all just sit in a room together, but I want a Christian party where you listen to gangster rap and grind up against each other.”

Another problem is that Muslims think that Christianity and the West are synonymous. In their culture the whole concept of splitting religion and state is alien. Allah produces the law and the citizens obey it. All they see of the West is the wars that they wage against Muslims and so they think that the Christian God has told them to do this. So you have to put patriotism to the side and look to God’s Word.

3. The costliness of conversion

The apostate law is a living reality in Islamic cultures. If you turn to Christ then you will be at the least ostracised from your family and community and, at worst, killed. It costs you everything to follow Jesus. J.D. said that Islam is like being imprisoned. You can’t even change if you want because of social and cultural pressures.

III. Contextualizing the gospel

There are 2 areas that J.D. touched on here:

A. J.D. said that in the West when we share the gospel there are three words that we focus on – formula, forgiveness and death – and that we should look to replace these words to contextualise the gospel better. He said that in the West we like to have a logical, formulaic presentation of the gospel, whereas with the Muslim the use of story can be far more effective. Islamic culture is very similar to Jesus’ time and so the use of parables and stories works far more effectively. We also focus on the forgiveness found in Christ (which he said is of course right). However, due to their concept of Allah forgiving without substitution, it’s often better to talk about cleansing. He said that they make the connection far better. Finally, instead of focusing on the death of Jesus, we should focus on the resurrection of Christ. He said that we don’t, of course, shy away from the death of Christ. Rather we put the death of Christ in the context of the resurrection and the victory that God has over death. Muslims see Jesus dying on the cross as impossible for God to do and makes him look weak. We know that the resurrection shows God’s power over sin and death.

B. The second area that we need to focus on is the grace of God. J.D. said that Islam is the ultimate religion of works/righteousness. This is extremely oppressing and gives a person no assurance at all. It is widely reported that even Mohammad himself admitted to one of his closest general that he wasn’t sure if he would end up in paradise. If he was unsure, then where does that leave the average Muslim? The gospel is the complete opposite. We can have assurance of salvation not because of our good works, but because of Christ’s perfect sacrifice. Religion leads you to question your salvation, but grace gives us assurance. We need to focus on the gospel!

IV. How Muslims come to faith in Christ?

J.D. said there were three ways that the Holy Spirit seems to use to bring people to Christ. The first is through the Word of God. Many Muslims want to study the Bible because it is one of their holy books, but they don’t have anyone to explain it to them. This can be a big way in for Christians and J.D. said that many of those who came to Christ in Indonesia came through reading Genesis. Secondly, Muslim’s to come to Christ after being exposed to Christian community. Much of Islamic culture is based on shame whereas the Christian community ought to be distinctly marked by grace. If Muslims can be exposed to Christian families then this can be a great way in. Thirdly, J.D. can tell many stories of people who have been visited by a supernatural dream or vision.

V. The challenge and the hope

The Islamic world seems like a very hostile place for the gospel. However J.D. reminded us that the power of God can break through any culture (Ro. 1:16ff). God promised Abraham that he would have children from every nation and so we await the day when the gospel breaks through in the Islamic world like wildfire. However, it will happen at the cost of the church. Whenever any major breakthrough in the church has happened, it has occurred through times of great persecution. J.D. reminded us from the Bible that it was ordinary people that took the message of the gospel through the Roman world and he thinks that this will be the same means that God uses to reach this culture.

This seminar by J.D. reminded me to pray about the Islamic world and to think about whether I am called to go there. For now I am to share the gospel with the Muslims on this estate (and we need to find ways at being better at doing this). But, we should be praying and interceding for the millions of Muslims who are perishing without the gospel. If you want to find out more on this subject then J.D. Greear has a book entitled, “Breaking the Islam Code” which will provide a fuller explanation of some of these issues. For now, we press on with a growing Muslim population in Niddrie and we are praying for opportunities to serve Christ by loving them and bringing the true gospel of hope and salvation into their lives.

By Andy Constable

A couple of weeks ago, I blogged that worship isn’t simply a Sunday activity while we sing songs but involves our heart attitude in all of life (see: The question that necessarily flows from this conclusion is – what is the point of meeting on a Sunday? If worship is an activity that happens in all of life then why do we need to meet corporately on a Sunday to worship God? Does anything particularly different happen on a Sunday compared to the rest of the week? Is there any point?

I want to argue that our corporate worship is distinct from, and supportive of, the worship of Christians in all of life. It is distinct because it is time when we gather together and hear God’s Word preached to us in a special way. And it also supports our worship because it is a time when we remind ourselves of God’s truth, receive correction and see the beauty of who God is corporately so that we can then go and worship him with all of life. I want to argue that there are 2 particular reasons why its important to meet corporately on a Sunday.

Firstly Sunday is important for edification. 1 Corinthians 14:26: “What then, brothers? When you come together, everyone  has a hymn, a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue, or an interpretation. All of these must be done for the strengthening of the church..” The word strengthening here is from the Greek work oikodome and means “edifying, edification, building up.” Paul instructs the Corinthians that the Lord’s people need strengthening when they meet together.

The writer to the Hebrews backs this verse up in 10:24-25: “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.” The writer to the Hebrews commands the church to meet together regularly to encourage and stir one another up. The Sunday is therefore supportive of our worship during the week. The meeting up on a Sunday is to be used to instruct people in God’s word and strengthen them towards glorifying God all the more.  In more modern, emotional centred churches the strengthening of God’s people is cast to the side. They say that the primary reason we meet is to “meet with God”. But Paul is very clear that the reason we meet together is to be built up for service. Teaching God’s Word correctly and simply must be an emphasis of our Sunday services.

However many churches would stop there. They would say that edification is the only reason we meet up. I would argue that there is a second reason to meet on a Sunday. The second reason we meet on a Sunday is to meet with God. Worship, as Carson writes: “is ascribing all honour and worth to…God because he is worthy, delightfully so.” We are therefore only truly worshipping God with our entire beings, including our hearts, when we are ‘affected’ by God’s glory because we see his worth. As Tim Keller writes worship is “obedient action motivated by the beauty of who God is in himself.” The second purpose of meeting on a Sunday then is to see the worth of God in all his fullness.

We see this in the Bible time and again. David writes this in Psalm 41:16: “But may all who seek you rejoice and be glad in you; may those who love your salvation always say, The LORD be exalted!” The Psalmist says those who follow the Lord are to rejoice, be glad and love the salvation of the Lord and result is that we want the Lord to be exalted. If our services are simply geared towards edification and our heads then we miss out the rejoicing in and being glad in and loving the Lord, which is geared towards our affections.

This is what the reformer Calvin believed deeply. Calvin believed that the goal of gathered worship was to bring people face to face with God. Calvin’s aim was not that people would simply learn information about God, but that they would truly hear God speak and know his presence in the service. Jonathon Edwards argued along the same lines when he said that worship had not occurred unless our “hearts are affected, and our love captivated by the free grace of God” and when “the great, spiritual, mysterious, and invisible things of the gospel…have the weight and power of real things in their hearts.” Thus, the goal of gathered worship is to make God “spiritually real” to our hearts. That is where truths by the Spirit’s influence become fiery, powerful, and profoundly affecting. It is not enough to be told about grace. But you need to be amazed by it.

The goal of Sundays is edification and meeting with God. Our heads and hearts are to be instructed and affected by the beauty and truth of God. This is what we want to see in Niddrie! A church that meets on a Sunday to support our worship during the week and that instructs our minds and affects the heart. We want to be set on fire by the fame of God’s name and his renown. Please pray for us as leaders that we would prayerfully apply the gospel and allow the Spirit to do his work in the life of the church!

By Andy Constable

Recently, I have been doing a series in the evenings on the subject of Biblical Worship. It is an important subject to think about in a culture where worship is simply seen as what we sing on a Sunday and/or, perhaps, connected with having an emotional experience. Because of the many nuances concerning the topic, it is difficult to define the term with the precision required for universal acceptance.

The word, “worship” is an old English word that is concerned with the “worthiness” or “worship” of the person or thing that is reverenced. We worship that to which we ascribe honour, praise, love and thanks. Of course, from a Christian perspective, only God is to be treasured. He alone is worthy of our praise. Only God is to be worshipped and anything else is an idol. Exodus 34:14 reminds us:

Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.”

What we ascribe worth to in the Bible is closely connected to the heart. The heart in the Bible does not mean our emotions, as in modern, soppy love songs but, rather, our whole wills!  It’s about what we give our full attention to. It’s about what we hold dear. For example, Isaiah 29:13:

The Lord says: These people come near to me with their mouth and honour me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men.”

In these verses God is clear that the Israelites honoured God with their outward worship, but not truly in their hearts. Their wills, their attention and their love was focused on other things. In reality, they were not worshipping God at all.

We were created to love God with all our hearts, all our minds, all our souls and all our strength. This is worship. Harold Best says,

In the most basic terms, worship consists of someone acknowledging that someone or something else is greater – worth more – and, by consequence, to be obeyed, feared and adored.” 

However, the problem is that we love things other than God. Romans 1:24:

Therefore God gave them up to their lusts…because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the creator…”

Instead of worshipping the creator, we worship his creation. Instead of loving God first, we love ourselves first. We replace God with idols. We love sex, family, money, comfort, security and control more than we love God. We ascribe worth to these things rather than to God.

The battle for every Christian is therefore to love God in every moment of their lives. Paul Tripp writes:

“As worshiping beings, human beings always worship someone or something. This is not a situation where some people worship and some people don’t. If God isn’t ruling my heart, someone or something else will.”

If God isn’t the centre of our lives then we are worshipping something else. This is the same on a Sunday as well as on a Monday morning. Paul writes to the Corinthians and says this: “So, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do ALL to the glory of God.” In every activity we are called to bring glory to God.

Therefore, worship is not simply a time on a Sunday when we sing songs but a heart attitude that shows off what we ascribe worth to. Worship involves our everyday life. It involves what we do and what we think about. It involves the way we treat people and the way we do our jobs. It involves how we look after our families and how we serve our friends. It involves what we do in the morning when no-one is looking as well as when we come to gather on a Sunday morning.

It is key that worship is seen in this way. This is crucial for (1) the new converts that are coming through our doors. They are not called to come on a Sunday, look presentable, and then do whatever they want when no one is watching. We are called as Christians to be ambassadors for Christ at all times. This is also important for (2) mature believers so that their spiritual lives don’t stagnate and they constantly allow the Spirit to root out idols in order that they love the gospel more. This is key for (3) young Christians who often jump from one ‘worship’ event to another to get an emotional high. Worship happens in the everyday as we seek to bring glory to God in every moment.

Let me end with Romans 12:1:

I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present you bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

After spending 12 chapters describing the great doctrine of justification by faith alone, in Christ alone, by grace alone, Paul applies it in this verse. We are called to present our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. Worship is more than singing songs (but definitely includes this) but all of life. The question is: are you ascribing all worth, all honour, all love to our good, perfect and holy heavenly Father?

One thing I have learned as an ex addict (and working extensively with them) over the last 20 years is that, by and large, we like (if not love) the things that often control us. Addiction can be such a strange beast because, on the one hand, we desperately want to change and, on the other, we don’t. We both love and hate that which enslaves us at the same time. It’s a state of affairs that many people live with and have come to (sadly) accept over the years.

Often, when people come for counsel we will, inevitably, discuss how they feel powerless to change their current life circumstances. They feel out of control. They are sick of their lives. They believe and do certain things because they think they will give them more control and make them happy. That’s why we have such problems with addiction in our society. We hate them and yet at the same time we need them to help us to cope with our hopeless lives. When addicts first start out doing whatever it is they do, usually it was because it was fun but, by the time it lands on my doorstep, it isn’t so much fun for them anymore. In fact, the very thing they used to control, now control them. So, when dealing with addicts, I like to ask people the following question:

What are some of the things that are currently controlling you life?

Drink, drugs, thoughts, lusts, people etc. The list can be endless. Addiction (which we have established as a form of idolatry) does not just have to be about chemicals. Often, people’s lives can feel a bit like a tug-of-war. They get pulled one way and then the other. Life is this constant ‘toing’ and ‘froing’. Again, within this war there will be the voice of folly (somewhere) talking to them. Folly will be telling them not to bother changing. It will be telling them not to bother seeking help for it will do no real, lasting good. Folly will tell them that they were born ‘like’ this. It will be telling them that they ‘can’t’ change. It will certainly be telling them that biblical Christianity has nothing to offer them! 

I teach people that we are constantly at war with ourselves! One part of us wants things to carry on as they always have and the other part of us wants to change our life completely. One side wants death and the other life. Here are two fundamentally important questions for any person seeking counsel on life controlling issues.

Do you really want to change? What are you prepared to do to make it happen?

This is tougher to answer than many think. 100% of the time you are going to get the following answer: “I will do anything to change.” Sadly, the majority of the time this answer is a lie. People think they are prepared to do anything until they have to make a hard decision.  So, how can we tell when a person doesn’t really want to change? Firstly, they already know it deep down. Also, the big give away is by what a person is prepared to do to change their life. There are those who just keep going back to old friends, lying, deceiving and doing whatever it takes to keep their lifestyle going. They don’t really want to change. They like the thought of it but when it comes to the crunch they are just not prepared to put in the hard graft and make the hard decisions. I illustrate it like this: If I tell my wife that I love her but I chase after other women, what do my actions say about me? My behaviour tells the real story.  If I want my wife but I also want another woman then I don’t really want my wife. We will know how serious people are about change when the rubber hits the road!

It is important at this point to bring the concept of ‘cravings’ into the discussion.

What do we understand by the word ‘cravings’?

It is more than just physical desires. It is about desperately wanting something at the expense of all other considerations. Who really wants to give up a thing they crave? Cravings reveal more about the real person than people would like to admit. So the point is this:

We must be honest about our double mindedness. We must show people the truth of this otherwise they will only want to try to please us and say what they think we want to hear. We need to encourage them to see that all of us suffer from this way of thinking as we battle ongoing sin in our lives.  It is only by confessing that we are double minded can we ever hope to truly begin to change from the inside.

Part 3 to Follow.