On Wednesday evening we had a session of thankful celebration to God for the 16 years in which Lindsay Brown has served IFES as international General Secretary. A line of those involved in the early days of IFES stood on stage as Lady Elizabeth Catherwood (daughter of the late D.M.Lloyd-Jones) recounted memories of those involved at the beginning. We stood to sing the great hymn We rest on Thee, our shield and our defender - knowing that it had been sung 60 years ago at the first IFES conference. That sent a shiver up the spine which exploded in praise to God.
It was said of Lindsay that he urges us to remember and tell of the acts of God to the glory of God. We prayed may the name of Jesus be lifted higher than the name of Lindsay, or of IFES. But we are thankful that God uses other people to help us lift up the name of Jesus - and that Lindsay has been one servant helping us hold up that banner. All glory to the Lamb who was slain. Before addressing us, Lindsay paid tribute to his wife, who sadly hates flying so wasn't with us: "The best 55% is left at home". He took the words attributed to John Newton at the end of his life: "I'm a great sinner and I have a great Saviour." And addressed us from Acts 20.16-24
1) Remember your roots
(Have a historical perspective.) We tell stories of what God is doing, testifying to his grace. "If you don't know anything of your past, you won't understand your present and you certainly won't see clearly your future." Our faith is rooted in a story in time and space and history. This is the key to stimulating worship (memory leads to praise), to strengthening our identity (knowing we're in a long line of servants, keeping us humble), and to standing in the future (if God can use them in their weakness, he can use me!) Lindsay reminded us of what we stand for - e.g. creative Bible study, commitment to evangelism in university as the heartbeat of IFES, growing the Christian mind with an attempt to apply Christ's Lordship to every area of society, and the centrality of the Word of God.
2. Recognise that hardship's inevitable
See vv.19 &23. Most great work of God is accompanied by severe testing. Lindsay reminded us of some of the movements we have just affiliated, and other testing in other countries. All who are godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution. The gospel is true and worth living for. And if need be, worth dying for. He warned us of the destructive nature of infighting as we lose vision. We withstand by the grace of God standing on the truth of God.
3. Retain your focus
Paul mentions that he was with them teaching and preaching, continuously. Evangelism depends on good teaching to ensure it's the gospel that is preached and that graduates are equipped for the pressures of employment. We need to make sure in our expanding work that we don't become loose theologically. And we need preaching. The content was repentance towards God and of faith in our Lord Jesus (v.21), and the gospel of the grace of God (v.24). We must preach repentance, grace & faith. All the evangelistic sermons in the NT have 3 things (I think Lindsay made reference to a book by Green)
- there is only one God who created us and to whom we're accountable
- that God raised Jesus from the dead
- repent: there is judgement we must face
Evangelism, mission & dialogue: these are needed but there is much confusion about them. Lindsay defines them as follows -
Evangelism is about the evangel. The message of good news. He warned us that for all we can help people, we can help them and leave them eternally lost.
Mission is all we're called to do in all the earth. Taking the gospel to all the earth and applying Christ's Lordship to all areas. Not like the disciples at the feeding of the 5000 ("Tell them all to go away and buy bread.")
Dialogue is not just listening to people. Listen and seek to understand in order to explain and appropriately respond with the gospel. (Drawing on Packer.)
4) Run to the end
v.24 Finish the task. Church history is full of wonderful believers who've finished the task. We're called to continue to the end - we've only finished when we reach heaven! There is pressure to give up in severe testing of insurmountable difficulty. How is it possible to keep going? What keeps us from becoming hardened? It is understanding and experiencing the depth and profundity of God's grace. "To testify to the gospel of the grace of God." The wonder, the glory, the majesty, the profundity, the greatness, the magnitude of God's grace. He is the God of all grace. Are our hearts still gripped by the wonder of the grace of God? That is what will keep us going. Offer Christ to the people; offer grace to the people: that is our calling. IFES is just the means.
Remember your roots. Recognise that hardship is inevitable. Retain your focus. Run to the end. By being consumed by, living by, and wondering at the light of the God of all grace who sent his Son to live and die that we might have eternal life.