Writing this is the last thing I am doing before starting a two week holiday. That this period covers the Olympics is, of course, purely co-incidental. When I mentioned this to somebody this evening they jokingly observed that I had only just been away…
Which is true. I’m just back from an enjoyable week away with a group from the church at the Keswick Convention. I’ve always appreciated these weeks- beautiful scenery (even if frequently shrouded in cloud and rain), enjoyable fellowship (and excellent food in the house!) and good teaching in the context of a warm celebration of the Gospel. This year was no exception.
I wanted to write up my reflections- largely as an aide memoire to myself but also as an encouragement to others. The theme of this year’s convention was Going the Distance- a challenge to persevere as Christians to the very end. The main teaching in the morning was with Simon Manchester from John 14-17 (you can watch them here.) In the evening we looked at Genesis 1-3 and Revelation 20-22 with a variety of speakers. The Convention also hosted the BBC Sunday Service for Radio 4 which is available for the next few days here.
With respect to the main theme I came away hugely encouraged. I think it would be fair to say that it is rare for me to hear anything new at conventions these days. What I do need, though, is reminding of truths that I have forgotten and I need to hear those truths put across and applied in fresh ways. The great encouragement for me was this- I have everything I need to live the Christian life and everything I need to persevere. The phrase in 1 Corinthians 3:21- “All things are yours”- was not mentioned but it was the gist of what I took away. In particular:
1. Satan is defeated. On the Monday evening we had a wonderful sermon from John Risbridger on Revelation 20:1-10. There was a very gracious presentation on the different Christian positions on the millennium (ending rightly in my view with a tentative conclusion towards amillennialism- namely that the period in which Satan is bound is from the first coming of Christ through to the days before his return). However, I was thrilled by the strong teaching that Satan is now bound and one day will be destroyed. It is so easy for me to start to think that the triumph of Satan is inevitable in my life- I see so much weakness in myself. But he won’t win. That means giving in to temptation and discouragement is not inevitable. It is so much easier to go the distance when one has an optimistic view of the Christian life- and a knowledge of Satan’s defeat is vital to that.
2. The Holy Spirit is sufficient. Simon Manchester made that point very clearly during his talks from John’s Gospel. If Christ’s work on the cross is totally sufficient for our eternal salvation then the work of the Spirit now is completely sufficient to enable us to live the Christian life. That is a huge encouragement and, again, leads to the optimism mentioned above.
3. The future is glorious. I particularly appreciated Christopher Ash’s talk from Revelation 21. He encouraged us, in Tim Chester’s language, to be captured by a better vision of intimacy with Christ and so be those who overcome (v.7) by persevering to the end.
All of these things were reminders that it is worth persevering and possible to do so. I was glad to hear these truths afresh.
As always, there were odd frustrations. On a minority of occasions I felt that some of the talks slipped away from tight control by the text whilst on other occasions I was disappointed that detailed exposition was not married to heartfelt application. It did actually challenge me afresh to work hard (albeit imperfectly) at good exegesis and deep application.
These were minor quibbles though. Of course there is always a danger at big conventions of an unhelpful focus on Christian celebrities- a boasting about men that 1 Corinthians strongly condemns. Overall though I was left thankful to God for the gifts given to those leading aspects of the week. In particular:
1. Each week of the convention there is the Keswick Lecture. We heard from Andrew Dilnot, a Christian who attends St.Andrew’s Church in Oxford. He has been in the news as the author of a key Government report on the future of funding for social care for the elderly. This is a hugely complex issue but was superbly explained in the lecture. What was interesting was how Dilnot has taken basic Christian principles about individual responsibility (people should pay for the care that they receive) and care for the vulnerable (the poorest must be protected) and applied them to a difficult aspect of social policy. It was good to hear of a Christian playing such a helpful and prominent role in addressing these issues.
2. I attended a seminar given by Christopher Ash on the subject of the conscience. He rightly made the point that this was an issue neglected by the evangelical world in recent years. I am looking forward to reading his book on the subject- Pure Joy.
3. The music was led by Stuart Townend. One of the highlights of the week for me was a late night concert that he performed where he spoke about his philosophy of song writing. He spoke about the importance of the teaching role of songs as opposed to simply expressing a personal emotional response. This is completely in line with the teaching of Colossians 3 and Ephesians 5. He didn’t deny the importance of an emotion in singing (indeed he affirmed it) but stressed that it must come in response to who God is and what He has done. I was struck strongly by his desire to serve the church through his song writing. Granted we may sing his stuff too much at church- but I have no doubt that the Lord has used him hugely to write the deep truths of the Gospel on many hearts in our generation. For this we should give great thanks to God.
I took a fair amount of work with me- last Sunday’s sermon and the talk for OIO on Monday were written in Keswick. So you could thank God that it rained lots which gave me the motivation to get down to work rather than enjoy the scenery! Altogether then it was a really good week which motivated me afresh to seek to go the distance.