Monday
Jan282013

Musings on a Movie

Last night I went to watch Les Misérables. I had seen the trailer, which was enough to heighten my sense of anticipation and excitement especially after all the buzz on Facebook, the Golden Globe awards and Oscar nominations.  And I have to say this “English Opera” did not disappoint.

But more than enjoying the music and fine acting skills of the likes of Anne Hathaway, Hugh Jackman and Russel Crowe, it was the story line the captured my attention and heart. Based on Victor Hugo’s book, Les Misérables is possibly one of the clearest and most beautiful pictures of God’s amazing grace. 

(*NOTE:  possible spoiler alert*)

The movie begins with Jean Valjean who was imprisoned for 19 years after stealing a loaf of bread being released on parole. In his desperation he steals silver from a Bishop who has given him shelter for the night. When the police arrest him, Jean Valjean claims the silver was given to him and this claim is brought before the Bishop. The Bishop has a right to hand the man over, for he took advantage of his generosity, and stole (far more than bread this time). But instead the Bishop shows mercy – he verifies the claim stating the silver was indeed a gift. Jean Valjean deserves punishment but is shown mercy. But the Bishop does not stop there. He then shows grace. He gives the thief two silver candlesticks which have the greatest value of all the silver. Mercy and Grace – undeserved, but life changing!

The words of the Bishop state that forgiveness has been offered “by the passion and the blood” and now “your soul belongs to God”.  After an encounter with Christ’s mercy and grace, Jean Valjean’s life is transformed from thief to saint. A true experience of God’s grace cannot leave us unchanged. We are compelled to extend that grace to others as the Bishop had done for Jean Valjean.  The movie continues to follow the life of Jean Valjean – a life of grace.

I couldn’t help but consider throughout the movie the amazing grace God has extended to us. There are pictures of the Gospel on every scene of the movie.

The movie shows the tragic reality of a fallen world. It doesn’t paint a sunny picture of mankind; there is no false sense of security and hope. In fact I overheard one girl in the cinema at the end say it was a depressing movie.  And if one misses the hope offered in the Gospel of grace then it is depressing because life without God and his grace is hopeless (however we try to fool ourselves it’s not).  We can relate to pain of lost dreams and disappointments in life. We can relate to feeling shame and guilt. We can relate to the feeling that the world will discover our secrets – who we really are. And yet as Jean Valjean’s character would show us – there is forgiveness, there is strength to face adversity, there is courage to accept we are sinful but are also undeserving children of God. Life won’t be easy but the life of grace will make an impact on the world around us that will bring glory to God and true peace to us. It will require personal sacrifice – but what a small price to pay in light of the sacrifice made on our behalf. 

For those who encounter God’s grace there are only two options. Embrace it or reject it. If Jean Valjean’s character reflects one who accepts what Christ has done on our behalf then Javert’s character is one who is offered grace but cannot accept it. His determination to live by law leaves him condemned. It’s a tragic thing when someone refuses the forgiveness offered him or her and yet so many we know hear the words of the Gospel and yet choose to live and die by their own standards of justice and truth. 

The movie ends with an anthem that hints of heaven. While the song words are a little vague and the director’s interpretation may obscure the concept slightly, there is still a picture of the new creation. The hopes of freedom and equality that people have pursued in this life are only realised in the new creation by those who have accepted God’s grace.

I was moved to tears in the movie at the beauty of God’s gift of grace. But I think I also wept at my shallow understanding of it and how selfish and indifferent my life is compared to what it should be. This movie has made me stop and think how I may in my day to day life show God’s grace in a very real (perhaps sacrificial) way to those I work with and interact with.  May I recommend Les Misérables and ask that you too consider afresh God’s grace to you!

 

Marissa Mudie

Tuesday
Jan012013

How to not read your bible in 2013

This post originally appeared on the Gospel Coalition website, here.
It was written by Matt Smethurst, and is incredibly helpful and deeply practical.

 

When it comes to daily (or not-so-daily) Bible reading, January 1 can be a welcome arrival. A new year signals a new start. You're motivated to freshly commit to what you know is of indispensable importance: the Word of God.

Yet this isn't the first time you've felt this way. You were entertaining pretty similar thoughts 365 days ago. And 365 days before that. And 365 days . . . you know how it goes.

So what's going to make 2013 different? What, under God, will keep you plodding along in April this year when staying power has generally vanished in Aprils of yore? From one stumbling pilgrim to another, here are five suggestions for what not to do in 2013.

1. Don't Overextend 

"Shoot for the moon. Even if you miss, you'll land among the stars!"

This hackneyed high school yearbook quote is bad advice for most things, Bible reading plans not excepted. If you shoot for and miss the "moon" of six chapters a day, you won't quietly land among the "stars" of three. You'll just be lost in space.

It's better to read one chapter a day, every day, than four a day, every now and then. Moreover, the value of meditation cannot be overstressed. Meditation isn't spiritualized daydreaming; it's riveted reflection on revelation. Read less, if you must, to meditate more. It's easy to encounter a torrent of God's truth, but without absorption---and application---you will be little better for the experience.

As Thomas White once said, "It is better to hear one sermon only and meditate on that, than to hear two sermons and meditate on neither." I think that's pretty sage advice for Scripture reading, too.

2. Don't Do It Alone

When it comes to Bible reading consistency, a solo sport mentality can be lethal. Surely that's why many run out of gas; they feel like they're running alone. To forestall the dangers of isolation, then, invite one or two others to join you in 2013. Set goals, make a commitment, and hold one another accountable. Turn your personal Scripture reading into a team effort, a community project.

A daily devotional, too, can function as a helpful companion and guide. D. A. Carson's For the Love of God (Volume 1Volume 2) and Nancy Guthrie's Discovering Jesus in the Old Testament are two excellent options.

3. Don't Just Do It Whenever

Every morning we awaken to a fresh deluge of information. We've now reached the point where, I've heard it said, an average weekday edition of The New York Times contains more information than Jonathan Edwards encountered in his entire lifetime. I don't know if that's true, but it sure makes me think.

It is imperative, then, to set a specific time each day when you will get alone with God. Even if it's a modest window, guard it with your life. Explain your goal to those closest to you, and invite their help. Otherwise, the tyranny of the urgent will continue to rear its unappeasable head. What is urgent will fast displace what is important, and what is good will supplant what is best.

If your basic game plan is to read your Bible whenever, chances are you'll read it never. And if you don't control your schedule, your schedule will control you. It's happened to me more times than I care to admit.

4. Don't Live as if Paul Lied

Did you know Leviticus and Chronicles and Obadiah were written to encourage you? That's what Paul believed, anyway: "For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and through the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope" (Rom. 15:4; cf. 1 Cor. 9:10; 10:6, 11; 2 Tim. 3:16).

What a sweeping word! Paul is going so far as to claim the entirety of the Old Testament is for you---to instruct you, to encourage you, to help you endure, and to give you hope.

Few of you will conclude Paul is simply mistaken here. Good evangelicals, after all, are happy to take inspired apostles at their word. But does our approach to our Bibles tell a different story? Do we act as if Numbers or Kings or Nahum has the power to infuse our lives with help and hope?

Whenever you open your Bible, labor to believe that God has something here to say to me. Whatever I encounter in his Word was written with me, his cherished child, in view. So pursue God's graces on the pages of Scripture this year. Strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow everywhere await. 

5. Don't Turn a Means of Grace into a Means of Merit

Your Father's love for you doesn't rise and fall with your quiet times. If you are united to Jesus by faith, the verdict is out, and the court is dismissed. You're as accepted and embraced as the Son himself. Period.

To be sure, you'll desire to hear and follow his voice if you're truly one of his sheep (John 10:1-30; cf. 8:47; 18:37). Not always and not perfectly, of course, but sincerely and increasingly.

So as another year dawns, commit yourself anew to becoming a man or woman of the Word. But don't overextend, do it alone, just do it whenever, live as if Paul lied, or treat means of grace like means of merit.

Your Bible is one of God's chief gifts to you in 2013. Open, read, ruminate, and obey. May you be ever transformed into the image of our incarnate King, and may he alone receive the acclaim.

 

 

Matt Smethurst serves as associate editor for The Gospel Coalition and lives in Louisville, Kentucky. You can follow him on Twitter.

 

Monday
Aug272012

With great signage comes great responsibility!

The observant may have noticed we have a sign. I’m not necessarily expecting the whole of Morningside to come flooding into church next week because of it. I’d imagine the main route into church will still be through invitations from friends, meeting other Trinity people out and about, perhaps visiting a community group etc… However, people walking into our church off the street is now far more likely that it was before the sign. What does that mean for those of us who are regular at Trinity on a Sunday night?

Be watchful

It will mean we’ll need to keep an eye out for people who may have just come in without knowing anyone. They’ll be fairly easy to spot. They’ll be the ones feeling awkward, sitting away from other people, on their own. When we get the book table running they’ll be the ones perusing the books (in the same way that someone peruses the CD collection at a party). We’ll need to be intentionally watchful for those people. Actually physically looking around the room for people who may be on their own. Then what?

Be friendly

Most of us hate going into a place in which there are lots of people we don’t know. Add to that the fact that everyone seems to know everyone else and you automatically feel left out. People who come to our church without knowing anyone will feel awkward and probably won’t be enjoying it. However, this awkwardness is easily dissipated with a simple “Hello, I’m…” and a bit of conversation. Sitting with them and introducing them to other people is always better than just a hello. They’ll need help finding the toilet or tea and coffee after the service. Again “Let me show you” is always better than “it’s round there”. We welcome people into our church like we welcome them into our home. If we had a braai at our home and someone was standing around on their own, we’d talk to them, introduce them to others, offer them food and drink etc… If they were fumbling around for the toilet, we’d help them. We need to approach church in the same way. Sound like quite an effort?

Be sacrificial

It is an effort. It involves a measure of sacrifice. It involves sacrificing that conversation with your friend or sitting where you usually sit. It involves sacrificing your normal social inclination to keep yourself to yourself. It involves stepping out of your personality type for a second. It means opening yourself up to getting ‘bat’.

It is sacrificial but if we’re Christians we won’t be strangers to sacrifice. In fact we’re only Christians because of sacrifice. As Jesus said, “even the Son of Man did not come to be served but to serve and give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). And if Jesus served us like that, we can serve him by walking across the room and introducing ourselves to someone we don’t know and making them feel welcome. 

On top of that, it works! It’s well documented, and we know from our own experience, that if people feel welcomed and befriended they’re more likely to come back, regardless of how the service went. Perhaps even with friends of their own. In terms of whether they come back, what happens before and after the service is as important, if not more important, than what happens in the service.

With great signage comes great responsibility. Let’s take on the responsibility to be watchful, friendly and sacrificial, for the growth of our church and more importantly, the glory of Jesus. 

Wednesday
Jun272012

‘The Engine Room’ – 45 mins of prayer

We’re starting a new thing at Trinity. It feels like we’re always starting new things. But this one’s really important. Yes, we say that about all the new things we start. But this one might just be the most important because it’s the prayer thing.

The Engine Room will be happening the first Friday of every month from 6.15am-7.00am. Why are we doing this?

1.  The Engine Room will grow our church

James 4v2 says “you do not have because you do not ask God.” The implications of this little phrase are enormous. James is saying, “you would have had if you had asked God”. Prayer changes things. Prayer causes things to happen that wouldn’t have happened if we hadn’t prayed. That means when we pray consistently for people to become Christians, for our church to grow (numerically and spiritually), for our community of Morningside, for people in our church community who are struggling, things will happen that wouldn’t happen if we didn’t meet to pray on a Friday morning (watch this short clip of John Piper speaking about it). That’s why we’re calling it ‘the Engine Room’. Prayer drives what we do as a church. It’s the way God has given us of making things happen. We’re not somehow wresting control from God or twisting his arm nor are we demanding stuff from God. God has decided it is through our prayers that he will work. So let’s pray.

2. The Engine Room will grow you

Prayer isn’t about getting stuff from God but about getting God. Enjoying our Father as we talk to him. We’ll find as we pray with one another – as we pray ourselves and as we hear others pray – over time we’ll grow in our knowledge and love for Jesus. 

3.  The Engine Room is ‘do-able’ for nearly all of us

-  From a prayer point of view

On our weekend away we filled in a little questionnaire on prayer. Under the question, “how comfortable are you praying in a small group on a scale of 1-10?”, four people said “not on your life bru”, another four people said “OK maybe, if it’s less than five people”, a whopping 17 people said “I’ll do it but I get pretty nervous and plan what I’m going to say” and a further four people said “no worries bru”. That means that 25 people (more than half our church) are okay with praying in public. If you’re one of the “not on your life bru,” still come. No one is forced to pray and you can sit, listen and say “amen”. We’ll more than likely break into smaller groups for some of the time so no one will have to pray in front of absolutely everyone. Presence = encouragement.

-  From a practical point of view

It’s an almost embarrassingly small amount of time. Forty minutes in a month isn’t a lot but it’s a start. It won’t be the only time we’ll pray of course. We hope that our individual prayer times are growing (in the questionnaire 20 people said they aim to pray every day!). We also hope that our prayer times in our community groups will become richer. Nevertheless it is good for the whole church to get together just to pray once a month. The church in Acts 2 devoted themselves to it. I’m hoping we’ll consider ‘devoting’ ourselves to these forty minutes once a month. Even shifting things around so we can make it. It’s early enough to get to work from (if you have to leave early that’s fine), but late enough to get those eight hours in! There’ll be great kwaffee and muffins for R5 (to buy toys for the crèche).

I hope and pray that we’ll look back in a year or so and see things that have happened because we devoted ourselves to these forty minutes once a month.

Friday
Jun222012

The G.O.S.P.E.L.

This is pretty cool. Check it out.