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Christianity Explored – week 1

Here's my introductory talk to Christianity Explored <-- Check out their new edition.

Audio here.

Text below.

Basically a bit of Reeves' "Which God are you talking about?", a bit of Tice "Christianity is Christ" and a bit of Keller "Since it's a relationship, don't make Him into a Stepford Jesus."

You've been discussing questions in your table groups.

I don’t know what all your questions are: some may be real matters of the heart – others may be tricky issues for the head.  Whatever they are, I hope you make some progress with them over the next 7 weeks.  Obviously in 15 minutes we can barely even raise these questions.  But we hope that asking these questions now gives you the opportunity to put your issues on the agenda, and we hope over the next 8 weeks we can address those issues.

Let me say a few things about those questions.  One is – WE TAKE THEM SERIOUSLY.  If they're important to you, they're important to us.  Americans have a phrase – they say ‘Don’t give a 50 cent answer to a million dollar question.’  You have million dollar questions.  We don’t want to give you 50 cent answers.  If it sounds like we’re giving a 50 cent answer, pipe up and let’s keep wrestling with them.

Because another thing to say about your questions is – WE DON’T WANT TO RUN FROM THEM.  We don’t need to flinch from tough questions.  God is big enough to take questions.  And I hope you’ll get to see over the 8 weeks that you don’t check your brain in at the door when you come to church.  Christianity is for thinking people.  You will need all your grey matter to think through these big issues.  Questions are welcome – they help us go deeper.

Perhaps a third thing to say about those questions is: CHRISTIANS ALSO HAVE QUESTIONS.  I hope you noticed, as we went around that your table leaders have questions too.  Big ones.  Christians are not those who have all the answers.  Christians are people who trust their questions to Jesus – because we’ve been persuaded that He has the answers – even if we don’t.  But Christians still have questions.

It’s a bit like marriage.  When you stand at the front of church and make marriage vows to each other, do you know everything about the other person?

No.  Which is what makes the first year of marriage so very interesting.  In fact in every year of marriage you have big questions you want to ask: “Why on earth do you keep doing that?!”, “How can you possibly live like that?!”, “What goes through your head that you would say that?!”  Big, big questions.  And we’ll never get all the answers.

But here’s the thing, at some point when you were first going out with that person you said ‘I don’t know everything about them, but I know enough to trust them.’  I don’t know everything, but I know enough to trust them.

It’s the same with Christianity. A Christian is not someone who has all the answers.  But a Christian is someone who – after asking a lot of questions –  now knows Jesus enough to trust Him.  And we go on asking questions – but this time we ask them the way a married couple does – we ask them from inside the relationship.

Ok so a few things to remember about these questions: We take your questions seriously.  We don’t need to run from them because God is big enough to handle them.  But becoming a Christian is not about getting all the answers, but it’s about knowing enough to trust your questions to Jesus.

Ok well then where do we begin?  Have you ever had a discussion with somebody about God and half an hour into the discussion you realize that you’re talking about very different things.  When you say ‘God’ you mean one thing, when they say ‘God’ they mean something quite different.  Very often when ‘God’ is brought up as a topic of conversation, I want to say ‘Sorry, WHICH GOD ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT?’

When people use the word ‘God’

  • · sometimes god is outside the universe
  • · sometimes he is universe
  • · sometimes he's a personal god
  • · sometimes an impersonal god
  • · sometimes he is three persons
  • · sometimes he is one person
  • · sometimes he tells you to sacrifice your children for him
  • · sometimes he tells you ‘please don’t do that’
  • · sometimes he is many gods
  • · sometimes he is me
  • · sometimes "he" is a "she".

Which God are you talking about?

My parents had the inspired thought to name me after my father.  Glen isn't my real name –my real name is John Glenfield Scrivener.  Apparently my parents thought that John Glenfield was such a great name they wanted to inflict it on yet another generation of Scrivener.  Which is a nice gesture.   But because of this, I have my father's name, which, you know is a nice gesture.  But I reckon, adding it up, I've spent 6 months solidly in my life explaining to people the deal with my name.  I'll go somewhere and say my name is Glen, and they'll say "Oh but your name on the form is John", and I'll say "Yes, but that's my dad's name so I just call myself Glen."  So they say, "Why did you parents give you your dad's name?" And I say "It's a nice gesture."  And they say "Well why don't you just call yourself John Glenfield junior?"  And I say, "Well technically that's my dad because, guess what, my grandfather's name is also John Glenfield Scrivener."  As you can see- creativity runs in my family.   Anyway it's all…. A very nice gesture.  But it's also very confusing.  People say a thousand things about John Glenfield Scrivener, some of them might be true of me, but actually those words might well be describing another person entirely.

And the same thing happens when people discuss God.  You can have hours of discussion about ‘God’ and be talking about entirely different gods.

And it can just be very confusing.  There are all these gods out there on the market.  Which to choose?

I think Spike Milligan said it best.  Do you know Spike Milligan?  One of my comedy heroes.  He always said on his gravestone he wanted the words “See I told you I was ill!”.  Anyway, Spike was once asked, ‘Spike, do you ever pray?’ and he answered, ‘Yes, I do pray desperately all the time, but I’ve no idea who I’m praying to.’

Is that you?  I think that is where millions of people are when it comes to God.  Something’s up there, I send up a prayer – but I have no idea who I’m praying to.

The bible says, We can know.  We can know the God of the universe.  In fact it is the very highest, the very best, the very greatest thing you can ever do in life to know – really know – your Maker.  That is really a stunning claim.  But it’s written on every page of the bible.

Why don’t we turn to our bibles now and just read one verse from it.

If you are not familiar with the bible.  This book is actually 66 little books, written by different people in different places, but all of them KNEW God and they all wrote about how you can know God too.  The book of the bible we are going to read is Mark’s Gospel.  Page ___.  Now a gospel is a biography of Jesus.  And there are four of them: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.  They were written either by Jesus’ own followers (Matthew and John were followers of Jesus, called disciples).  Or, like Luke and Mark, they were written by people who collected together the first-hand eye-witness accounts of the disciples.  Mark’s gospel is written down from the recollections of Jesus’ chief follower, called Peter.  So Mark is writing down what Peter experienced of his time with Jesus.  We are going to spend our time in the next 8 weeks going through Mark’s gospel.  But here is how this gospel begins:

Mark chapter 1, verse 1 says: ‘The beginning of the gospel about Jesus Christ, the Son of God.’

 

The word gospel there just means "good news"- Mark wants to tell us that the coming of Jesus Christ into the world is good news.  The message of Christianity is good news.  It’s an announcement of things that have happened that are good for us.  FREE CARIBBEAN HOLIDAYS FOR EVERYONE – that would be good news.  It’s an announcement that gladdens your heart when you hear it.  It’s gospel like that.  Mark has written a whole book announcing good news.  And we’re going to unpack why it’s good news over the course of 8 weeks.  But in verse 1, Mark boils down the essence of the good news.  The good news is Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  The good news is Jesus has come.  That’s good news.

Because the whole Bible is clear – Jesus Christ is our Maker, our Saviour, our Judge.  Jesus Christ was there at the beginning – creating all things with His Father and the Holy Spirit.  He came in the middle of history 2000 years ago.  And He’ll come again at the end.  Jesus is the beginning, middle and end of this world – and Mark says Good News: He has come.

Why is that good news? Well we shoot our prayers up to God-knows-where – but He has come down.  We guess about who is God and what’s He like – Jesus turns up and says look at me.  I am the beginning and the end of your quest for God.  There’s good news – we don’t have to think our way up to heaven (we can’t do it anyway).  The good news is – He has come down.

Last year I was involved in an internet discussion about the meaning of a particular song.  I thought it meant one thing, other people thought it meant something else.  And we all thought we knew the mind of the author. We all presumed to know what motivated him, what was in his head as he wrote.  And so the discussion raged on for days as internet discussions often do.  And you can guess what happened next.  The author of the song showed up on the internet discussion and he said ‘This is why I wrote the song, this is what I was thinking, this is what it means.’   I have to say it really spoiled our fun.  He ruined everything.  We all wish he hadn’t commented.  We were having a great time speculating and he comes along and blows our speculation out of the water.  But now I know what the song means.  Now I really know.

Mark chapter 1 verse 1 says: Your Maker has broken into this world, His name is Jesus and He shows you what God and life and everything is about.  All our great questions about life and meaning find a meeting place in the Person of Jesus. He is the absolute centre.

Mark boils down the good news to its bare minimum and says the good news is Jesus.  Jesus IS good news.  If there’s one phrase I’d like you to take away from tonight it’s this:

CHRISTIANITY IS CHRIST.

Christianity is not

  • · church services
  • · men wearing funny frocks and chanting;
  • · rules
  • · rituals
  • · being nice
  • · beautiful buildings.

CHRISTIANITY IS CHRIST

That’s how Mark 1:1 boils down the good news.  Christianity is Christ.  At the heart of it all is a Person – Jesus.

It’s a personal thing.  Therefore to be a Christian is to be in a personal relationship with Jesus.  It is to know Him and be known by Him.  Christianity is therefore not about rules or rituals or religious philosophy – it’s a relationship with Jesus because Christianity IS Christ.

So really the question, ‘Are you a Christian?’ is the same as the question ‘Do you know Jesus?’  Do you see how personal it is?  But if Christianity IS Christ – then that’s absolutely central.  It’s Personal

But if it’s Personal, if Christianity is Christ, if it’s all about a relationship with Jesus, then let me give you three quick implications as we close.

First – because it’s personal, all your questions that you’ve been discussing on tables, all those questions and thousands more, find their answer in Jesus Himself.  If you’ve asked about what God’s like?  Look to Jesus.  If you want to know what heaven’s like?  Look to Jesus, He ought to know, He’s come from there.  If you want to know about suffering – Look to Jesus, He knows all about suffering.  If you’ve got questions about the bible – Look to Jesus, He wrote the thing and then He shows us how to read it.  Whatever your questions are – there is an answer in Jesus.  And that’s where we are going to look for our answers.

Jesus is our explanation.  The bible calls Him the Word of God – He is the explanation of God.  And He’s the explanation we want.

At heart we want an explanation for life that is personal.  Some people try to explain life by pointing to an ancient explosion – as though that is the EXPLANATION for all things.  Or they point to an equation or some abstract truth.  Some people want to tell you that there is no explanation – everything in your life is just meaningless stuff that happens.  But the bible insists that if you put your finger on the pulse of reality you’d find a Person.  A Person of love, a Person of faithfulness, a Person you can trust and know – a Person called Jesus.

So that’s the first implication – if Christianity is Christ, if it’s about a relationship with Jesus, then we know where to look to find our answers.  We know that at the bottom of all things we won’t find meaninglessness, we will find a Person who loves us.

The second implication – if Christianity is about a personal relationship – then at some point Jesus is going to contradict you.  I want you to be ready for that.  In the next 8 weeks, Jesus is going to contradict you – and He’s going to contradict me.  As we study His life and teaching, He’s going to do and say things that all of us in this room will go – ‘Wait, wait, wait – you can’t do that!  You can’t say that!’  But I tell you – He has to contradict us, or it’s not a real relationship.

Do you ever hear those married couples who get to their 40th wedding anniversary and as they’re cutting the cake they say ‘We’ve never once had an argument.’  Have you ever heard liars like that?  Lying through their teeth – never had an argument.  That could only be true if they’d never spoken.  But if they had a real relationship then they had arguments, they contradicted each other.  It just has to be that way.

Some of you may have seen the film ‘The Stepford Wives’.  It was a film in 1975 remade in 2004 about a couple who move into the town of Stepford and are amazed that all the wives in this town are impossibly blond and impossibly subservient – at their husband’s beck and call 24/7.  And of course it’s actually very sinister because it turns out these Stepford Wives have a computer microchip fitted in their heads that makes them a slave.  These husbands have decided they never want to be contradicted by their wives, and so they make them robots really.  What’s the price they pay – well they don’t have a relationship anymore.  But do you see the trade-off.  If you want a real relationship – you’re going to be contradicted.  If you don’t want to be contradicted – then what you’re saying is, I don’t want a real relationship.

But, here’s the thing.  Jesus is offering us a real relationship.  The thing is – we want to make Him into a Stepford Jesus.  We are all tempted to say to Jesus – Jesus I’m happy for you to do and say this, but I won’t allow you to do or say this.  We decide that Jesus is allowed to say anything we already agree with.  But we tell Him – You’re not allowed to contradict me.  But if we do that – we kiss goodbye to the relationship.

You will read things in Mark’s gospel and that will contradict how you normally think.  But if the God we are seeking is only big enough to fit into the box we have for him – then we’re clearly not seeking after the true God.  If God is GOD then He’s going to be way outside our puny boxes.  But don’t be afraid of that.  Think to yourself – this is what a relationship is made of.  Relationships are made of contradictions, disagreements, struggles.  And you accept that those disagreements are going to come.  And in the end you move through them because you trust the other person.

So Christianity is a real relationship with Jesus – but that means you should be ready to be contradicted – that’s part of a healthy relationship.

And finally, if Christianity is Christ – if it’s about a relationship with Jesus, then it’s going to take time.  Relationships take time don’t they?

So as I finish, I just want to encourage you to make time to investigate Jesus.  Will you carve out the next 7 Tuesday nights to think about these things?  Relationships are worth investing in – will you make time?  And in between our Tuesday nights we’re going to ask you to read small portions from Mark’s gospel so that Mark can introduce Jesus to you. It’s our prayer that as you read Mark, Jesus will show Himself to you in a powerful and personal way.  He’s certainly done that in my life, and He longs to do it in yours.  But will you make some time to open the bible.  Relationships take time, but this one is very worth it.

Ok – so Christianity IS CHRIST.  Seek your answers in Him, don’t be surprised when He contradicts you and make time for this, because a relationship with Jesus is the heart of all things.

11 thoughts on “Christianity Explored – week 1

  1. Gav

    Good stuff John ;)

    Guess what!

    Monday night was our first night running our first Chistianity Explored course......but we used the DVD.

    We had 13 participants plus the leadership team. (pretty good turnout I thought for a small country town)

    It was really great to share experiences and to explore God with people within the church and outside the church.

    I am so looking forward to the next nine weeks! What a wonderful honour it is to deliver this course that explains God in such an honest and non threatening way with my friends in Christ.

    So how did you sqeeze it all into eight weeks?

  2. Glen

    :)

    We just drop weeks 9 and 10 (1-8 are a pretty natural block I reckon). Too many people will be away in December, so we shortened it.

    13 participants is brilliant. I'll try to remember to pray 4 u guys when I pray 4 us.

  3. Dev

    very nice
    i'm running it here too!
    i'm on week 2
    had about 20+ in the first week
    and 12 or so remaining

    might change some of the material with your stuff
    so keep posting
    also had to change it to asian context =)

  4. Dave K

    Really good talk. Thanks for sharing it.

    Shame you had to drop the last 2 weeks though. I do think they're worth doing, although I understand what you say about December.

    I used to chop and change CE but over time I've come to feel that every session has its place and role and in fact week 10 is one of my favourites.

  5. Pingback: Twitter Trackbacks for Christianity Explored – week 1 « Christ the Truth [christthetruth.net] on Topsy.com

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  7. Si

    Having help lead two CE for Internationals courses (uses easy English), I wonder what weeks 9 and 10 are, as CEforI only has eight.

    I like that talk - looks at the main point and rams it home, and is good and challenging.

  8. Glen

    Barry, I've done the unthinkable. I've gone back into the past and I've changed things. If turtles with uzis break down your door and kidnap your kittens, you'll know who it was that altered the space-time continuum.

    If anyone out there can hear me, I'm sorry. I did it for love.

    OUT

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