Last week I wrote up some reflections on the couple of weeks I had speaking at the Oak Hall Alpine Bible School on Romans and a CU houseparty on 2 Corinthians. My chief reflection was simply the power to transform lives evident in the doctrine of the righteousness of God received by faith. However, there were three other things that particularly struck me:
1. The Spirit is at work
The vast majority of those on the Oak Hall trip were not from large, well-known, so called strategic churches in major cities. Truth be told, it is one of the reasons that speaking on it appeals to me- possibly a way of alleviating my sense of guilt at being in the mostly (though certainly not entirely…) privileged city of Oxford all these years! There was also a fair amount of theological breadth around- the vast majority are not from FIEC churches. So, in a sense, I was getting to see a broader canvas than the one I normally get to view. And I was massively encouraged by what I saw. Granted, this was a self-selecting bunch- they had chosen to go on a holiday which involved some fairly rigorous Bible Study rather than being on a beach all day- but it was wonderful to meet some people who had become Christians in the past couple of years. I was deeply humbled to spend a fair amount of time talking to people in really tough situations and yet I was thrilled that the question they were asking was how they could please the Lord best in those contexts. The overwhelming majority of guests were single and they were using that position to spend time serving young people or international students in their churches. There were a couple of younger folk who I could see being fine leaders in years to come.
In a sense, all of this happily confirmed what we were looking at from Romans 8. When we become Christians, the Spirit of Christ comes into us and gives us new minds. The question that naturally comes into our minds now is- how can we please the Lord? And it was wonderful to see evidence of that in the terrific group that I was with in Italy.
2. It is worth taking time to respond
At one level, this appears like a minor point but I was so thankful that on the Oak Hall trip and at the CU houseparty we got away from the normal pattern of Christian meetings whereby the preacher speaks, a closing hymn is sung, the meeting ends and we talk about the weather. That is a definite recipe for failure to reflect on what the living God has just been saying to us. And so, although it appears a minor point, I am fairly convinced it is actually rather important.
The opening night (which was actually the third session of the week) of the Oak Hall week was a case in point. I was speaking on Romans 3:21-31- the astonishing way in which God can be both righteous and declare us righteous as a consequence of Christ’s work on the cross. I preached fairly early on in the meeting following the notices, an opening hymn and reading. After I spoke we sang a couple of well chosen songs interspersed with time for people to respond in prayer. There was simply a sense of the Spirit being at work- at the close of the meeting there was a long time of silence as we continued to meditate on God before a request that we should sing “Before the throne” as one last song. The structure of the meeting meant that we were giving space for the Lord to sink deeper into our hearts what we had just heard. I am convinced the Lord was significantly at work that night and it would not have happened in a standard meeting structure where we simply had a closing hymn.
When I was a student, I attended St.Aldate’s Church in Oxford. I am not an Anglican and I don’t think you could classify me as a charismatic but the thing I look back on and appreciate was the sense we had that as we gathered the Lord was in our midst and we should expect Him to be at work. A significant post-sermon response time was significant in that regard. I think we know something of that as a church here- perhaps we could pray that we know it more and more.
3. Preaching is a massive privilege
Please don’t misunderstand me here. I spoke on Romans 12 and mentioned how thankful I am for the diversity of gifts in the body and I absolutely rejoice to see the way that works out here in the church. It is just that preaching seems to be the thing that the Lord has called me to and I know how it is easy for me to make that mundane, complaining to myself at times about having another talk to write. And yet, as the silence descended on that first meeting, I was quietly reduced to tears by the awesome and undeserved privilege that I have- of being able to speak the most astonishing truths about our awesome God to people.
A number of years ago now, when it became apparent that I was likely to remain single and that I was pretty useless at anything other than teaching the Bible, I made a commitment to try to say yes to speaking opportunities where I possibly could, as I would be free from responsibilities to a wife and children. At times that has felt like hard work- we are, after all, jars of clay. To be honest, as I was trying to get the 22 sessions completed prior to the two week speaking session, the thought frequently went though my mind- why on earth did I agree to this? But, particularly after preaching Romans 3 and Romans 6 on Oak Hall and 2 Corinthians 3 to the students, I was left with a different question- why would God give me this sort of privilege?
So- overall I am deeply thankful for those couple of weeks and for those who were praying for me. Apart from the serious content above, we had lots of fun. Alongside Romans, the Oak Hall trip will stick in my mind for phrases like “napkin policy”, “22 ice creams” and Gigi the Guide- ask me about them sometime! But, most of all, I will look back on it as a time when I saw God’s Spirit at work applying His word to our lives.