Made To Worship

We were made to worship God. That is our purpose above everything else.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism says…

“Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”

 When God made Adam and Eve and put them in the Garden of Eden it was perfect and they worshipped Him simply by being in his presence and having a relationship with Him. (Genesis 1:31) However, they were enticed by Satan to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil – they wanted to be like God and for their world to centre on themselves. They broke the perfect relationship with God and from them until now, man has sought to replace worship of God, with worship of self – power, money, sex, religion, ambition, human relationships, sport, music, art…the list goes on and on!

We all worship something, because it is a basic human need that God wove into our DNA (Psalm 139:13-14).We worship the things that we spend most of our time, money and energy on, and the things that we get most excited and passionate about. The problem is that we often choose to worship things that have no eternal value and only temporarily satisfy our human desires. Like Adam and Eve, we eat the fruit that tempts us and promises much, but fails to bring fulfilment.

Although the perfect relationship with God was broken in the Garden of Eden, God established a covenant with his people because he wants us to worship him (Exodus 24). He allowed his people to have access to Him through a system that involved keeping commandments, worshipping at the temple and making sacrifices to atone for sin, in order for them to enter into his presence and praise him. This was the pattern throughout the Old Testament, but we also read frequently that above law-keeping, sacrifice and ritual, God desired heart that was devoted to him and a lifestyle that pleased Him. (Hosea 6:6; Psalm 40:6-8; Isaiah 1:11). He desired genuine worship from a place of love and reverence. A good example of this is King David, who had “a heart for God” but also made some monumentally bad decisions, and didn’t always follow God’s commands. Despite this, God blessed him and used his worship to achieve great things. (1 Samuel 13:14)

This old covenant was replaced by the new covenant when Jesus came to earth to demonstrate perfect worship (Hebrews 8). He and the father were in perfect harmony and he made the ultimate sacrifice by dying as a perfectly innocent man and rising to life again to allow us permanent and unconditional access to God. There is nothing we can to do earn God’s love and there is nothing He requires from us, other than to worship Him – not by being religious and following rituals, and not by earning a place in His Kingdom by hard work, nor by achieving a goal or accumulating spiritual credit. (2 Corinthians 5:17-21)

Worship is happening all the time in heaven (Revelation 4), and when we worship here on earth we join in the heavenly realms, praising God and finding purpose and meaning for life, entering into the presence of God and finding that the Holy Spirit has power to bring freedom from our sinful ways. Worship brings breakthrough of God’s Kingdom to earth and brings healing and deliverance from sickness, pain and suffering; worship changes the spiritual atmosphere and is a weapon that we have in the spiritual battle, because God’s presence brings light to dark places and releases people who are captive to fear, addiction, and bondage to evil. (Ephesians 6:10-20). Worship brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, gentleness, and self-control – these are the fruits of God’s spirit and ours to enjoy as we spend time with Him. Who doesn’t want these things! (Galatians 5:22-23) Adam and Eve took the forbidden fruit and turned their back on God, but through his incredible grace he allows us to have these fruits instead.

There is no greater thing in life than to worship God and the most amazing thing is that it is completey free. All we have to do is grab hold of the gift and enjoy it because it is what we were made for!

Inconvenient Jesus

Inconvenient Jesus

John 11:45-48

Therefore many of the Jews who had come to visit Mary, and had seen what Jesus did, believed in him.  But some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

This short passage comes just after Jesus has raised Lazarus from the dead. As with most miracles Jesus performed, people believed in him and followed him after he demonstrated his power over sickness, death and demons. Jesus was not drawing attention to himself or creating a spectacle by healing people, but rather was giving glory to God and demonstrating the power of the Kingdom to all who would believe that he was the promised Messiah – God’s son and the one sent to save people from their sins. In fact many times Jesus said these things happened so that the glory of God might be displayed. (John 9:3; John 11:4)

Despite this, the Chief Priests and Pharisees found his ministry highly disruptive. It was an affront to what they considered their God-given authority in spiritual, religious and political matters. They regarded Jesus as a threat to the comfortable position they had engineered for themselves, through establishment of a religious hierarchy amongst the Jews, and the construction of an empire where they were all-powerful, whilst on the other hand acquiescing and compromising to avoid any conflict with their Roman occupiers.

Jesus was a threat to them on these fronts because an uprising against the religious status quo would reveal their hypocisy and jeopardise the freedoms that the Romans afforded the Jews to continue with their way of life. The crazy thing is that Jesus was the promised Messiah that the Jewish nation had been promised for centuries, and yet the leaders couldn’t recognise him even though he was right under their noses!

They held a meeting to discuss the “Jesus problem” and their true motivation for silencing him is very apparent. They don’t discuss whether or not he is the Messiah. They are only interested in whether or not he will interfere with their position and comfort – “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

In other words they are saying “If we don’t keep him quiet the people will follow him and believe what he says. We’ve worked hard to get where we are and we won’t relinquish any position or status to this scruffy preacher from Nazareth. We won’t let Jesus turn everything to dust when the Romans get wind of an uprising and take everything away from us.”

Further on in John’s gospel it says that many of the leaders did recognise Jesus teaching and believe in him, but they wouldn’t act on it because it endangered their status in society and their comfortable life:

Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God. John 12:42-43

In basic terms, Jesus was a massive inconvenience to them and their world order.

It is easy to read this account two thousand years later and deride the Pharisees for their blindness and hypocrisy, but I wonder if we sometimes have the same attitude towards Jesus as the religious leaders of his day. It’s very easy to get comfortable with the status quo of our church life, especially when we are very seldom subjected to persecution for our faith in the UK. The established church and so-called “new church movements” are equally susceptible to protecting an organisation that looks like the church, but where empire building has overshadowed the emphasis on Kingdom building, and where the church structure, name, denomination or brand has become an idol in itself. Are we too concerned about protecting our little piece of “church territory” and fearful of losing all that we have worked for and forsaking all that Jesus wants to do through us. Are church leaders too wrapped up in the status and position of leadership to relinquish control to the Holy Spirit to move in power and shake us out of our slumber? This equally applies to our individual relationships with Jesus – are we just too comfortable to let Jesus in and disrupt everything for the sake of his Kingdom?

Now I’m not suggesting that this is the case for every church family and every individual – far from it. What I am keen to do is pose these uncomfortable questions because if we are in the position of holding tight to our own little domains, we will squeeze the life out of our spiritual walk and the hinder the progress of the church and God’s Kingdom in our sphere. If we don’t leave room for the Spirit to move in HIS church, then it will become something that is unrecognisable as the family of God and will be more akin to a social enterprise at best. If this is the case, God will look elsewhere for people to build His Kingdom – because it will be built! We need to be open to Jesus shaking us out of any stagnation that may have crept in, despite our best intentions, but this will only happen when we are immersed in prayer and the word of God, when we are living in communities formed from radical discipleship, and when we are fully committed to the spread of the gospel no matter what the cost.

Lets not behave like the Chief Priests and Pharisees and treat Jesus as an inconvenience who threatens to take away our earthly securities. Whilst it may be uncomfortable to allow him to challenge and shake us, His way is the only way to build something that is lasting and glorifies God. The Pharisees motives are exposed when they say “what are we accomplishing?” – the emphasis is on the protection of their human efforts and their agenda. The question they should have asked, and we should be asking ourselves is “what is God accomplishing?”

As the Psalmist says: Unless the LORD builds the house, the builders labor in vain. Psalm 127:1

I encourage you to commit this to prayer and ask the Holy Spirit to bring to light any areas where you may be building your own kingdom, rather than God’s.

 

Keep your eye on the ball

Keep your eye on the ball

Hebrews 12:1-3

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

The Royal Observatory in Greenwich in London has the oldest surviving time ball in the world. A time ball is an old fashioned but accurate time signalling device. It consists of a large painted wooden or metal ball that is mounted on a tower or high building. At exactly 13:00 the ball drops to signal the time. They were used to signal accurate time to ships and for captains to set their chronometers by. The phrase “keep your eye on the ball” comes from the practice of watching the ball and setting a ships chronometer accordingly, which is essential in determining longitude and navigating successfully. The time ball was an independent, consistent and unchanging source of time by which all passing vessels could reset their time and set a course. Without regularly checking the accuracy of the ships time, the vessel could easily drift off course and miss its destination or run into a difficult and dangerous course.

Hebrews 12:3 says that we are to “fix our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith” Like the sailors that set their equipment by the time ball, we need an external source to set our lives by and take our direction from. Left to our own devices we very easily drift off course and find ourselves in troubled waters because we have nothing to help us navigate through life and make the right choices. I know from my own life that when I have taken my eyes off Jesus, stopped reading his word, praying and spending time in his presence, and neglected meeting with fellow believers, I have wandered off course and found myself in difficult circumstances of my own making.

This is not to say that that we won’t face difficulty if we are staying on course with Jesus. In fact, we are promised hardship and persecution if we follow him, but in the midst of those storms and turbulent waters we will not lose our way and end up shipwrecked on the rocks, because we will know and who we are in Christ and have out eyes fixed on our eternal destiny that is beyond this earthly life and any hardship we may face. Just like Jesus who endured the cross, we will be able to endure the storms to receive the ”joy set before us” and “ will not grow weary and lose heart”.

Despite what the world tells us, we are not masters of our own destiny and setting our own path in life and deciding our own destination leads us nowhere. It may seem madness to many to set your life course upon the Jesus, and base your decisions on the teaching of the Bible and the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Onlookers may consider it very restrictive in a world where tolerance, subjectivity and permissiveness are so dominant, but without an external source against which to check our direction, we will be blown around by the winds of change and end up getting lost, broken on the rocks, or sinking without hope.

As C.S. Lewis says.

“Aim at Heaven and you will get Earth ‘thrown in’: aim at Earth and you will get neither.”

Pray that God will help you to fix your eyes upon his son Jesus Christ and keep you from getting lost in the storms that life throws at us.

 

The Good Father

 

THE GOOD FATHER

Introduction

There are few things as important to understand as the fatherhood of God and I don’t think it is any accident that it comes top of the list in the Apostles Creed. When we grasp what it means for God to be our father – the Bible, the Gospel and life make more sense. I hope that by looking at this more closely we will know in God the father better – not just in our heads, but in our hearts. This is absolutely life-transforming stuff!

Everyone has a father and we will all have different experiences of fatherhood. The mention of the word father may bring to mind a negative experience of a father who was controlling, distant, or absent. Perhaps you had a father who was abusive, violent or addicted.

Being a father is a huge responsibility. No father is perfect but some get it badly wrong and cause permanent damage and pain. You may ask the question “if God is anything like my father, I don’t want anything to do with him.” You may have a wonderful father who you are who did a good job – if that is the case, you have a lot to be thankful for!

Our earthly experiences of Fatherhood can be no reflection on God the Father whether good or bad, because he is so much higher and greater than any earthly father we could ever have.

Whatever our experience of fatherhood, we have a heavenly father who is perfect and as we look at an overview of God the Father as revealed in scripture I hope and pray that we all see something more of his love for us. I also hope that we can be challenged in our relationships with our families, our church, and our communities, in reflecting and sharing the love of the father.

There are five phases of the relationship that God had with his people through History and I want to show how they reveal to us the character of God as our father. It is a whistle-stop tour, but it should give us a context and framework on which to hang our beliefs about our heavenly father. We need to answer the question – What makes God a good father and why should I believe in Him.

To help our understanding I have put our relationship with God into 5 phases:

 

  • CREATION – The Father’s relationship with the Son and Spirit and God’s design for family and relationship Genesis 1; John 1.
  • SEPARATION – The disruption of the perfect relationship Genesis 3
  • RESTORATION – The restoration of the relationship through Israel (OT) Genesis 12
  • ADOPTION – The restoration of the family through adoption in Jesus (NT)
  • REFLECTION – We become more like the Father

 

CREATION

From the moment God created mankind, he intended for us to live in family, male and female and to have children and “increase in number”. The whole story of the Bible is about God creating man to live in community, to be his family – for us to love him, and him to love us. He created us to be like him, as his children

Genesis 1:27-28

 So God created mankind in his own image,

in the image of God he created them;

male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number;

The close interwoven type of family relationship wasn’t a new idea to God when he created us. God exists eternally as a triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit. The three “persons” of God exist in perfect harmony with each other, each fulfilling different but important roles within the heavenly community. There is mutual, love respect, honour and joy amongst them and the heavenly beings. Genesis 1;

 John 1 – In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

God created us to live in family on earth and to live in relationship with him as our creator and heavenly father, and as part of the relationship between Father, Son and Holy Spirit. He made us to share his love and for us to love him in return.

One of the questions often thrown at Christians is “if God knew people would rebel against him and the world would be a mess, why did he create them?” We may well ask the question ourselves – if everything was so perfect, why did God risk ruining it by creating us?

There are lots of complicated answers and theologians and philosophers have grappled with this question for centuries, but the simple answer is that he loves us and he wants a family. He had to give us the freedom to choose to love him, because without that choice any relationship would be not be genuine love. God isn’t a tyrant that wanted to create beings that would do his bidding and he could smite when he gets annoyed at them! He made us to love him and bring glory to him

If someone asked me why I had children when there is a chance they will, rebel and make a mess of their lives, I’d give the same answer – because I love them and I want a family to love and who love me in return. I don’t want to force my children to love me, because that would not be love,

There are no guarantees that my children won’t rebel and will choose to follow Jesus and give their lives to him, because they have a choice. There are no fail-safe parenting methods to ensure that they will stay on the straight and narrow, but that is a risk worth taking, because I want what is best for them and will do anything I can to show them the right way to live. There is something built in to all of us by God that makes us want family and relationship.

SEPARATION

The tragedy is that from the very beginning, we have wanted to run away from the security of this relationship. Adam and Eve decided they knew better and as a result, all of mankind was separated from God.

Adam and Eve didn’t act alone though as we know from Genesis 3. They were tempted and led astray by Satan in the form of a serpent. Why did Satan want to disrupt the perfect relationship and this family that God had created?

Satan was the highest of angels but his desire was to be God and to have the power, so he rebelled and was cast out of heaven.

Isaiah 14:12

How you have fallen from heaven,

morning star, son of the dawn!

You have been cast down to the earth,

you who once laid low the nations!

He was the first to be separated from the family of God and he was “orphaned”, through his rebellion

In drawing Adam and Eve into disobeying God, he led them into separation from God as well. Satan’s only goal is to separate us from God. He is the chief “orphan maker”. Of course Adam and Eve had to face the consequences of their sin, and that was to exist outside of God’s family. The relationship was broken because they went outside what God intended for them and what was best for them.

Following the fall in Genesis, mankind lost its way and sin took hold in a big way as people continue to rebel. Relationships fell apart all over the place. Cain killed his brother Abel out of jealousy, and although some people worshipped God, generally the human population rejected God and did their own thing. God sent the flood to wipe out the wicked people, but saved Noah and repopulated the earth through him. Despite this, people still choose to abandon God and be gods of their own lives. They even decide to build a tower to celebrate their own greatness!

There are those who read the account of the flood and other passages where God wipes out sections of the population out of context. They can appear horrific and give the impression that God is a vindictive, bloodthirsty tyrant. This opens up the issue of God allowing or even causing suffering, and we don’t have time to go into that today.

You can’t take these incidents in isolation, because they are part of a greater plan that God has to save his people and restore a relationship with us. The role of a good father includes disciplining his children, and sometimes doing things that are not desirable in themselves, but ultimately save a child from harm or making a wrong choice.

I don’t enjoy disciplining my children, and I’d much rather they were good all the time, but sometimes it is necessary to deny them something they want and give a suitable punishment so that they learn and develop character. I also can’t force them to do certain things and as they get older they will have to stand on their own two feet. I can point them in the right direction but they have to make their own choices.

The Bible tells the story of God’s people rebelling against him, rejecting a relationship with him, and destroying relationships with each other. The effect of sin in the world is separation from God and broken relationships. Human nature hasn’t changed since then, but we know that God has never given up on us.

This is the sign of a patient and loving father. This is a father who loves us so much that he doesn’t abandon us. Those of you who are parents will know how much love and energy is given to raising children. I don’t think there can be many things more devastating than a child rejecting a parent. As a human race, we have rejected God but he doesn’t give up on us. Although we have orphaned ourselves he still loves us.

 

RESTORATION

In Genesis 12 God picks out Abraham as a man who is trying to follow him amongst many that are completely going their own way.

The Lord had said to Abram, “Go from your country, your people and your father’s household to the land I will show you.

 “I will make you into a great nation,

    and I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

    and you will be a blessing.

 I will bless those who bless you,

    and whoever curses you I will curse;

and all peoples on earth

    will be blessed through you.”

God establishes a covenant with Abraham that he will establish a great nation through him and his descendants. God doesn’t give up on mankind because he made us to have a relationship with him. He chooses the nation of Israel through which to bless all other nations. The rest of the Old Testament is the story of the relationship between the nation of Israel and God. God the father

Teaches – Books of the law – Leviticus ,Numbers, Deuteronomy, Proverbs

Imposes rule and order – Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, Kings, Chronicles

Guides and gives warning – Prophets Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel

Rejoices and weeps with his children – Psalms, lamentations

Raises up the next generation of leaders– David, Daniel

Protects – Genesis – The Israelites escape from Egypt

Loves – Hosea (despite unfaithfulness)

Disciplines – Amos. Obadiah,

Compasionate – Jonah, Ruth

 

These are all traits of a good father.

This blessing promised to Abraham is eventually fulfilled through his descendant Jesus who comes to earth to restore the relationship of man and God once and for all.

 

ADOPTION

The Old Testament is not only a History book on the nation of Israel. Running right through it is the salvation plan for us. The Father’s rescue strategy for his people is woven throughout – that is the adoption back into his family, by the redemptive work of Jesus. God the father sent his son to die so that we can ben brought back into the family.

As a father there is nothing that would be more devastating to lose a child. To willingly send my child to die is simply something that I can’t comprehend. God chose to give his son up to death so that we can have a relationship with him. Jesus was blameless and died the death that we deserved. He loves us so much he was willing to make that choice. It was in his plan

Out of love for his children, God sent his Son Jesus to restore what was broken and to reinstate the relationship. God broke his perfect relationship with the Son temporarily, to allow us to be brought back into the family.

That is the gospel! That is the good news! Although we were separated from having a relationship with God, he has made it possible for us to come back to him.

Having turned our backs on God we are adopted back into his family. We were estranged from God, cut off without a father but he makes the first move and reaches out to say “I love you. Come back home. I will adopt you as my own”.

Ephesians 1:5 says he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will—

It is a constant struggle for us because we still live in an imperfect world and until Christ comes again and creates a new heaven an earth we will continue to live in this tension. Satan is his most destructive when he removes us from a loving family.

His sole aim is to separate us from God and make us orphans because when we are away form the protection of the family, we are vulnerable to the temptations and influences of the world. This is why we need the Holy Spirit to be with us, keeping us close to the father:

Romans 8:14-17

For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.  The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

In this letter to the Romans Paul uses the language of adoption and that would have struck a chord with the readers. In Roman culture, the adopted person lost all the rights of his old family and gained the rights of his new family. He became heir to his new father’s estate. The same is true of our Christian adoption. We leave our old life behind and step into a new family where we are promised to inherit the father’s riches.

We area able to come to the father and call him “Abba”, which is roughly translated “daddy”. This is an intimate term used by Jesus when referring to his father. We have the right to call him this name because we are his beloved children.

The inheritance we stand to receive as children of God is beyond what we can comprehend. We are brought into relationship through the spirit that “testifies with our spirit” and we are co-heirs with Christ. Although there may be short term suffering whilst we wait for the fulfillment of all that we are promised, we will share in the glory!

John Stott sums it up very well:

“To be sure, all human beings are God’s offspring by creation, but we become his reconciled children only by adoption or new birth. Just as it is only those who are indwelt by the Spirit who belong to Christ, so it is only those who are led by the Spirit who are the sons and daughters of God. As such we are granted a specially close, personal, loving relationship with our heavenly father, immediate and bold access to him in prayer, membership for his worldwide family, and nomination as his heirs.”

 

REFLECTION

The relationship with God that is now available to us is an invitation that needs to be accepted. It is a gift that is undeserved but we need to be willing to embrace it. It’s no use having a solution to a problem unless it is implemented, or a cure for an illness unless the remedy is taken. The result of the renewed relationship is that we begin a process of becoming more like Christ.

I’m sure most people, if not everyone, will at some time say something and realise that they sound just like their parents! Those of you that are parents will also have looked at your children and recognized some of your own traits or mannerisms in them – hopefully the good ones! Children generally grow up to be like their parents

The Bible tells us to imitate Christ, to be like him and to reflect him. He is the one by whom we come to God. How do we do this? By the Holy Spirit living and working in us to transform us. The New Testament is littered with references to being transformed into Jesus likeness.

Romans 12 – Be transformed by the renewing of you mind

 2 Corinthinans 5:17- If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation

 Ephesians 5:1 – Follow God’s example, therefore, as dearly loved children 2 and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God

As we enter into the family of God, and as we spend time with him through prayer and worship and reading his word, and as we walk with him day by day we will change to be more like him. Children imitate their parents because that is how they learn. We imitate Christ, to become more like him and more like God our Father.

And here we come full circle   – God made started creation by making us in his likeness. Having been through the separation, restoration, adoption and reflection, we again become like him and are transformed into his likeness!

 

THE PRODIGAL SON

Nowhere is the love of the father illustrated better than in the story of the prodigal son. The father has two sons that he loves and are part of his family. The younger son decides that he wants his inheritance early so he can leave the household. He wants to break away and do his own thing.

He asks his father to give him an advance on the inheritance, which the father graciously does, and the son leaves home, only to blow the entire fortune on pleasing himself and having a good time. He wants to be the master of his own life and not subject to constraints imposed by having to live in a community.

The fun is short-lived though because the son soon finds himself penniless and eating pig food to survive. He is separated from his family and he loses his way – He can’t cope without the love and support and the boundaries and restraints that the family structure brings

He returns home, to grovel at his father’s feet and ask if he could work as a servant, but the father out of love for his son and a deep desire to have a his family back together welcomes him with open arms and throws a massive party! In fact the father is looking for the son and runs to meet him!

The son expects to take us a servants position in the household but the father “adopts” him back in the family so that he and enjoy all the benefits of an heir to the inheritance. What a picture of the love of a perfect father!

The story ends there, but I have no doubt that the son was eternally grateful and reflected that in the rest of his life and in the way he treated others from then on. He didn’t deserve to be welcomed back by his father, but that is the beauty of grace and forgiveness.

It is the same for us – we have all turned away from God in some way, and maybe we continue to do so in some areas of our lives. Perhaps there is addiction, or a weakness that keeps pulling us down. The good news is that God welcomes us back with open arms and a love that we cannot imagine, because he loves us and wants us to be part of his family and community

 

What does this mean for us now?

I think one of the reasons we live in a society that is so far removed from God is that we are so individualistic. Over the last few decades we have been moving further and further away from community and family values. People are far more transient these days and communities don’t exist in the same way as they used to. Our western culture in particular is so “me” focused that we have forgotten how to live in family and this is translated from family life into church life. Satan really has a stranglehold in this regard.

It reflected everywhere and everything is geared toward the individual. Advertising and the media tell you that you’re better off looking after number one, and you should treat yourself because you deserve it. If it isn’t working, throw it away, and try something else.

That also extends into our relationships. Technology isolates us whilst giving the impression that we are more connected that ever. You can have 500 friends of Facebook and talk to people the other side of the world at the touch of a button, but many people are lonely because they don’t have family or community.

We also face a Crisis of fatherhood and the breakdown of families like never before in history. Single parent families and absent fathers are commonplace and there are many here this morning who will know the pain and heartache of the separation of their own families. The reality of life is that relationships breakdown, parents separate and get divorced, children rebel and families hurt each other.

What this world needs is a father. There is so much hurt and brokenness in our lives that we need a place to go for comfort. As a father, the one thing I want for my children is for them to know that they are loved by Ruth and me and, and by God.

God wants us to know that he loves us. He has loved us from the beginning when he put Adam and Eve in the Garden God created us and he knows us better than anyone – Psalm 139 – “I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made”

There is nothing you have done that excludes you from relationship with the father. No matter how unworthy you may feel, or how much you may find reason to discount yourself you are welcome into the arms of a loving father. He paid the ransom for you and is waiting for you to come home. He is reaching out his hands and saying to you “come with me my child and I will live and protect you”. There is nothing that can separate you from the love of God.

He is not an abusive or absent father. He does not expect us to earn his approval, or achieve anything for him. He knows that we get things wrong and we can be selfish, stubborn and impatient but he loves us anyway and he longs for us to come to him. He is a Father of restoration and new life.

He longs to see us coming down the path towards the house so that he can fling open the door and run to embrace us. It doesn’t matter what we’ve done in the past because he is a father who has restored our relationship. He has forgiven us and adopts us back into his family just as we are.

He is a father who cares intimately and deeply for us to the extent that he separated himself from a perfect relationship with Jesus his son to win us back.

Jesus came to lead us to the father. As the flesh and blood of God he came to tell us how much the father loves us and then to demonstrate it in the most incredible way by talking all our rebellion and selfishness on himself. He died and rose again to give us access to God and to restore our relationship by forgiveness.

He is a father who wants to be involved in every area of our lives and give us the help of his Holy Spirit to do this. He is a father who wants to grow and develop so that we reflect him and give the glory to him.

I want to show you a video that is a demostration of the love of God the Father. Meredith is a 19 year old girl who has spent most of her life without a family and moving from home to home. She is taken in by her High School teacher and after a few months of living with them, this is what happens.

That is the love that our father God has for you.

I really hope and pray that God has spoke to your heart this through this. There is something here for us all today because none of us has life sorted out and all of us need a loving father, who accepts us and adopts us. If God has spoken to you then please take some time to respond on your own in prayer, or with someone else. He is a loving father who is longing to hear from you.

 

 

Night Vision

Night Vision

 

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them,

“Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

14 

“Glory to God in the highest heaven,

    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another,

“Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

16 So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17 When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19 But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told

 

 

I would love to know what was going through the minds of the shepherds in this account. On another ordinary night out in the fields looking after the sheep, an angel appears out of the darkness. If my mobile phone goes off in a dark room it makes me jump, so an angel making an appearance in a dark field must have been rather petrifying! Luke tells us that they are “terrified”, and rightly so – it’s not an everyday occurrence!

The angel tells them the good news of the birth of their saviour Jesus in the nearby town. After calming their nerves by telling them not to be afraid, the angels give directions for how to find him- there couldn’t have been many babies sleeping in a manger! There is no instruction from the angels that they must go, instead it is more of an invitation – I believe the shepherds always had a choice whether they went to find Jesus.

And then, just in case the shepherds weren’t sufficiently awestruck, a heavenly host appears to praise God, with what I can only imagine was a symphony of music and singing, and brilliant light that would put the most spectacular firework display to shame. It would seem that as quickly as the angles appeared, they went – I bet it took the shepherds a while to get their night vision back and start to absorb what had just occurred.

I find it strange that there is no mention of what happened when they found Jesus, but perhaps this adds to the mystery and sacredness of the event. They were probably some of the very first people to meet Jesus, other than Mary and Joseph. I’d love to know what they said and what they did. I’d also like to know what Mary and Joseph thought of a group of shepherds turning up unannounced to see their baby!

The important thing is that they went to find him, which was really the only possible response after such a mind-blowing announcement – beats a Facebook notification, which is how I’ve told most people about the birth of our children!

Having seen Jesus, they don’t return to the return to the fields unchanged. They “spread the word” about him. They had experience something so incredible they were compelled to tell people about it and they praise and glorify God for it.

I think there is much we can learn from the shepherds…

God chose to announce the birth of his Son and Messiah to them before anyone else, completely demolishing the expectations of the day that the religious leaders and those in positions of power had some divine right and exclusive access to God. No matter how insignificant we may feel, God can and will speak to us, sometimes out of darkness and obscurity. He uses the weak and insignificant things of this world to spread his message and build his Kingdom.

God never forces us to do anything. He is a loving father wants what is best for us, by coming to know him through his son Jesus, but he gives us the choice. We either accept the invitation to be in relationship with him, or we reject him and go our own way. The shepherds could have stayed in the fields if they had really wanted to, but they saw the glory of God and they couldn’t ignore the good news that the Messiah, the saviour of the world had arrived. If we really allow God to reveal himself to us and we are open to the work of his spirit in our lives, we will urgently seek him every day, just as the shepherds hurried to find Jesus in the manger.

Having seen Jesus, the shepherds had two responses. Firstly, they spread the word about him. There was no way that they could have kept such amazing news to themselves…was there? We have the same saviour, the same God, the same message of hope and yet we are often reticent to share it with others. Why is this? Perhaps it is a cultural conservatism, fear of appearing superstitious or “religious”, lack of confidence and faith?

Secondly, they returned glorifying and praising God. An encounter with Jesus should inevitably lead to worship and adoration. By making space and time to be in the presence of God and to be filled with the Holy Spirit, and by soaking in the vastness of his love communicated through the scriptures, we should be moved to praise and deepen in our love for Jesus. When we return to our own “fields” – the places where life happens at work, home, with friends and family and where we go through the highs and lows, the rough and smooth – we will have the attitude of praise and the joy, hope and peace that comes from knowing the living God.

Happy Christmas!

Bless you!

Bless you!

The beatitudes are one of the best-known sections of scripture and they encapsulate Jesus teaching in a few short statements. They form part of the Sermon on the Mount and set the tone for the rest of Jesus ministry.

MATTHEW 5

1Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them.

The Beatitudes

He said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled,

We are only looking at the first four beatitudes here and these describe the Christian’s relationship to God. The second four describe a Christian’s relationship and duties to his fellow man. There are three main things we will cover this morning and I hope that as we look at these beatitudes we can see how these are woven into them.

  • What it means to be blessed and how the beatitudes completely turn our human perspective and priorities of life upside down.
  • How Jesus demonstrated each of these beatitudes through his life, ministry, death and resurrection, and the huge implications this has for our understanding of God ‘s salvation plan and the Kingdom of Heaven.
  • How these simple, yet profound statements, when taken as more than simply good and moral principles, are radical, counter-cultural and life-changing.

 

What is blessing?

We use the word all the time and it is part of our Christian vocabulary, but do we every think about what is really means?

When we pray we often say “Lord, please bless ____ as they step into the next phase of life / Lord bless our time together / Lord Bless our church”

We can also use it in conversation to talk about what God is doing in our lives

“ feel so blessed to have found this new job/house/friendship/spiritual gift/talent”

What are we referring to when we use the word? Do we have a good understanding of what we are saying, or is it just a nice Christian thing to say?

 

BLESSING IS NOT….

….happiness – The Greek word used here is “makarios” which is translated “happy”. However, our English word happy doesn’t convey the true meaning behind the beatitudes and the best match is blessed. It is misleading to read the beatitudes as “happy are those…” because happiness is a changeable emotion.

John Stott says “it is seriously misleading to render makarios “happy”. For happiness is a subjective state, whereas Jesus is making an objective judgement about these people. He is declaring not what they may feel like, but what God thinks of them and what on that account they are: they are blessed”

….health, wealth and prosperity

Blessing is not, as the prosperity Gospel preaches, a comfortable life where everything goes well for you. There is a real danger that we can get led into thinking and believing that if we are not rich and successful then we are not blessed.

Conversely we can also believe that if we are free from pain and suffering then we are blessed.

THIS IS WRONG!!! The bible very clearly says that if you choose to be a disciple for Christ you will suffer -it is not a path to financial comfort and material gain!

1 Timothy 6:6-9 “ But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs”

There is nothing wrong with being healthy, wealthy or successful, and God does give us these things to enjoy and to use – but these things are not a measure of how blessed we are. If anything they can be a burden to us.

For example – When I buy my children presents it is because I love them and want to demonstrate my love and see the joy on their faces. But the real blessing is the gift of my love and the relationship I am building with them. They wouldn’t be any less “blessed” if I didn’t give them presents, they’d just have fewer toys! The important thing is my love for them, because that will outlast any gift I can give.

We can create a culture of “blessing” where our money, possessions, circumstances can be seen as a “reward” from God for good behaviour. The beatitudes refute any notion that blessing comes in the form of material gain. In fact, as we shall see when we look at them in more detail, they give us a very clear idea of what blessing entails.

 

BLESSING IS…

…to be in right relationship with God or as John Stott puts it “to have the approval of God and to find fulfilment as a human being”. It is God moving to restore new life and forgiveness that comes through faith in Christ. It is the glimpse of the Kingdom of God, coming now in part and one day coming in full, when all will be restored. Material blessings are temporary, but spiritual blessings are eternal.

Lets look more closely at the individual beatitudes and we’ll discover more about God’s blessing.

The beatitudes outline Jesus’ specification for the Christian disciple. There is no option of leaving a few out because we don’t like them. You cannot choose to only be merciful, or meek, or a peacemaker and it is our responsibility to seek them all.

They do not describe what we are to do, but who we are -our character. They are not pre-requisites to enter the kingdom of God, unlike applying for a job where you have to meet a certain skill set or have certain qualities to be accepted, because we are accepted by the grace of God despite our failings.

 

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

This is the first beatitude and the one that underpins all the rest. It is the starting point to having a relationship with God. To be poor in spirit is to acknowledge our spiritual poverty and that there is nothing we can do to find our own salvation.

It is very difficult to help someone who doesn’t want to be helped. I have seen this countless times through my work. I have encountered people who are is desperate and dangerous situations due to domestic violence, but will not accept help because they think that they can handle the situation on their own. I have dealt with people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, but will not acknowledge that they have a problem and need support and guidance. Only when people see their lives for what they are and their hearts are softened will they accept help.

To be poor in spirit is the opposite of pride that says “I’m ok and I can do it myself”. It is only when we admit that we can’t do it by ourselves and come to God open handed and open hearted, that he can fill us with his spirit and bless us.

When we first come to know Jesus and accept his salvation it is because we recognise the need we have to be rescued from our own sinfulness. But it doesn’t and shouldn’t stop there. It should be a continual process of humbling ourselves and surrendering our pride and selfish desires because it is very easy to revert to our default setting of doing it our own way. It is important to remember that this is not done in our own strength. Only though prayer and repentance through the work of the Holy Spirit can we be changed.

The prevailing attitude of the world towards those who have low self esteem is “Don’t put yourself down. You are somebody. You need to believe in yourself. Have confidence in you own abilities and you can achieve anything”

This may seem like good advice on the face of it, but it is not God’s way. When Moses was paralysed by fear at facing pharaoh God said to him “don’t look at your own abilities, look to me and I will help you”. The biblical answer to low-self esteem is not a boost of self-esteem, it is sovereign grace!

Right through the Bible God uses people who acknowledge their spiritual poverty and acknowledge their unworthiness and spiritual inadequacy – Moses, Jacob, David, Isaiah, Daniel, Ruth, Mary Magdalene, Peter, Paul… the list goes on!

This verse has nothing to do with being physically poor. You can be a millionaire or a homeless and living rough, and still be poor in spirit. It is an attitude of the heart. Some have tried to suggest that Jesus was saying “blessed in spirit are the poor” but nowhere in scripture does it suggest that poverty is a good thing.

It is often in our times of greatest suffering and hardship that we find God. Sometimes God uses our difficult circumstances to bring us to a place of total dependence on him. It is not pleasant to have painful experiences and endure pain and suffering, but when we look back on these times they are often the most significant times of spiritual growth because it is only when we are emptied of ourselves that we can make space for God. As long as we are self-sufficient and self-reliant it will be very difficult rely on God.

John Piper says – “you may be going through things right now that are painfully preparing you for some precious service for Jesus and his people. When a person strikes rock bottom with a sense of nothingness or helplessness, he may find that he has struck the Rock of Ages”

Jesus came to bring good news to the poor and he spent most of his time with those who acknowledged their spiritual poverty and need for salvation. Tax collectors, fisherman, lepers, prostitutes and criminals.

Jesus himself knew what it was to be poor in spirit. Not long before he preached this message, he spent forty days in the wilderness and was tested and tempted by Satan. At the end of his ministry he went to the cross and endured a horrible death to allow us access into the kingdom of God.

2 Corinthians 8:9 says “For you know that the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich yet for your sake became poor so that you through his poverty might become rich”

The blessing that comes to those who are poor in spirit is the knowledge that we are saved from death and can be members of the Kingdom of Heaven. We don’t deserve this – it is a gift, but in order receive it, we need to let go of what we are currently holding on to.

You may ask “ok, but what is so great about having the kingdom of heaven?”

We only have a glimpse of the benefits of kingdom now, but one day we will fully experience them. God didn’t intend for the world to be in the state it is in. He created a perfect world free from suffering, pain, disease and oppression. Our human pride and selfishness fractured the relationship we had with him at creation and through Jesus he as brought about restoration.

We can now look forward to a time when everything will be made new, when we will have no more sickness and death, no more suffering and injustice. One day God will make a new heaven and earth and we will live once again in perfect harmony with him and each other. I’d say that sounds like a pretty good blessing!

It’s not just a future blessing though. God promises that when we come to him for help he will be with us here and now. He will sustain us and give us everything we need. He will be with us through every situation and carry us through the rough and the smooth.

 

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted

The beatitudes reveal a spiritual progression and they all link together. Having realised our spiritual poverty and come to God in a state of dependence, we move to a position of sorrow and mourning over the sin of the world and the terrible consequences of turning away from God.

When we think of the word mourning, we automatically think of death and bereavement. When we lose a loved one we mourn for them because they are gone from this world and we miss them. We feel sorrow because we can’t share our lives with them and we miss them being around. We linger on thoughts of what could have been if they were still here with us.

This is exactly the mourning that Jesus is referring to, but it’s much broader than having sadness for those who have died. Jesus wept over the sin of the world and the bitter consequences of judgement and death. (Luke 19:41)

Jesus himself knew sorrow and the pain of mourning. When his friend Lazarus died he wept bitterly. He wept in the garden of Gethsemane because of his impending death and separation from the father. He was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” (Isaiah 53:3)

Part of the process of being a disciple is mourning the loss of our innocence and righteousness. Having sorrow over the state of our lives when we stray from the life that God intends us to have. I think sometimes we make a big deal of God’s grace to cover over our sins – which is right – but we take that too lightly and forget the gravity of our sins. When we see our sin for what it is, compared to the glory and majesty of God, it should bring us to our knees in prayer and humility before God.

We can fall into the mindset sometimes that as Christians we should always be happy and joyful and be skipping about with a grin on our faces. There are times when we do, and this is brilliant -we should be filled with joy. However, it is also ok to lament and be moved to tears and be upset.

We will continue to experience sorrow and mourning until the Kingdom of God is made complete. It is good to feel “divine discontent”, because it shows that we are engaged with the world but we know that it is not as it should be. This should move us to pray and seek God for his will and his intervention where we see the needs around us.

It is not just our own sin that we should mourn over. When we look at the world the world around us, we should be moved to weep over those who are lost and hurting.

Jesus says that those who mourn will be blessed with comfort, but how does this comfort make a difference to us?

We are comforted by holding to the hope that there is more to life than we experience here and now. It is always easier to bear suffering if there is an end in sight. We know that God’s kingdom is breaking though here and now, and we experience God in our everyday lives through his spirit. Lives are being changed everyday by the power of Jesus. People are being healed, relationships restored, relief brought to desperate situations.

 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 says “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God”

The blessing we receive is also a blessing we can pass on. Time of trouble and hardship are not necessarily a blessing in themselves, we can give and receive blessing through them.

We can see this everywhere we look. Churches are meeting the needs of this country in a way that the government and other institutions cannot. In this time of austerity Christians are stepping up to support those in need, driven by their compassion for those who are in poverty. Soup kitchens, food banks, financial support, counselling are all in full swing up and down the country. This is the gospel in action.

Beyond our borders there are also countless Christians working tirelessly to bring hope and comfort to those affected by poverty, natural disasters and oppression. They are living out the gospel in the way that Jesus demonstrated.

In serving others we invariably find comfort for our own struggles and fulfill the deep desire that should be in every disciple to serve others and spread the Kingdom of God.

 

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth

This is possibly the most misunderstood beatitude. Meekness in our society is seen as weakness and lack of confidence. To many this would probably sum up Christians quite well -shy and submissive church mice, who are afraid of their own shadow and can be walked all over. Many also think of Jesus as “meek and mild” -a helpless baby, or a slightly effeminate, long-haired bloke that wore a long white dress!

On the surface it seems strange that Jesus would choose this character trait as something to be desired.

What is meekness?

Martin Lloyd-Jones describes it like this “meekness is essentially a true view of oneself, expressing an attitude and conduct with respect to oneself. The man who is truly meek is the one who is truly amazed that God and man can think of him as they do” 

It means that we are gentle, humble, sensitive, patient in all our dealings with others. That’s a massive challenge and we need constant help from God to transform us from our default selfishness into people that demonstrate these qualities. They are very similar to the fruits of the spirit and character traits that need to be developed and nurtured with self-control, discipline and staying close to God to allow the Holy Spirit to work in us.

Meekness is our attitude towards ourselves in the light of the previous two beatitudes. Having acknowledged our spiritual poverty and mourned for our sinfulness we realize that we need to depend on God for everything and we come to him with humility.

We cannot rely on our own efforts for spiritual blessing and we don’t have to fight and trample over others to get ahead and succeed. The blessing promised here is also surprising -they will inherit the earth! You would expect the meek to get nowhere because everybody ignores them and they get walked over.

It is the opposite of the worldview that springs from secular thinking and evolutionary theory -it is not survival of the fittest! It is not the toughest, strongest, dominant who succeed. It is those who are meek who are blessed.

Meekness is not weakness! Meekness is confidence in Christ and all that he has achieved for us. Meekness is such a rich and beautiful thing it is difficult to fully explore it here, but I’ll give you a few aspects as an overview –

 

Meek people commit their way to God and trust him to sustain them through the obstacles and pressure of life.

 

  • Meek people have a steady calm that comes from knowing God
  • Meek people are unconcerned when the wicked prosper and seem to have the upper hand and do not give into anger and resentment
  • Meek people do not seek anger and revenge and leave judgement and vindication in God’s hands.
  • Meek people are slow to speak and quick to listen
  • Meek people are teachable and discerning
  • Meek people do not lack passion and conviction, but are able to remain calm and stand up for truth in the face of adversity.

Do you recognise these traits? They are the very things that Jesus demonstrated whilst on earth!

Meekness goes against the grain because it leaves us open and vulnerable, and instead of fighting our own corner, we have to rely on God to vindicate and defend us.

I see it like this -we have been promised an eternal inheritance and everything that the father has is ours. There is nothing the world can offer us and nothing that man can achieve that is greater than what God has already promised us. We need to have confidence in this and what God thinks of us, not what the world thinks of us.

 

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled

This is the last beatitude we will look at this morning. So far we have seen how being poor in spirit leads us to mourn for our sin and the state of the world, which in turn creates in us an attitude of meekness. Theses three things lead us to have a hunger and thirst for righteousness. We should have a spiritual appetite for change in the world and put these things into practice.

This appetite is only possible if we are hungry, and we can only be hungry if we are not filled with other things. If our lives are too full and busy with our own efforts to succeed and if we are filling our time and using our energy to work out our own righteousness, we will have no appetite for what Christ has to offer.

This short story illustrates the point well:

There was once a man lost in a desert. He was dying for a drink of water. He stumbled upon an old, weather-beaten shack. Sat down in the shade of the shack to get away from the heat of the desert sun. About 15 feet away there was a rusty, old water pump. He dragged himself over to it and began to pump up and down, up and down. Nothing! Bone dry!

Disappointed he sank to the ground. As he glanced around he noticed an old jug in a corner with a message written on the old label. ”You have to prime the pump with all the water in this jug, my friend. P. S.: Be sure you fill the jug again before you leave.”

He unscrewed the cap and sure enough there was a jug full of water. Now he was faced with a decision. He could drink the water and survive awhile; OR he could pour all the water into the rusty old pump, and maybe it would yield fresh, cool water from the deep well. He could have all the water he wanted.

What should he do? There was no telling how long ago those instructions were written.

Nervously he picked up the jug and walked over to the well and poured all the water into the pump. Then he grabbed the handle of the pump and began to pump as fast as he could. . . squeak, squeak, squeak the old leather valves sounded like they were tearing apart. Then a little bit of water began to dribble out, then a little more water, and finally it gushed forth. Clean, clear, cold, fresh water poured out the rust old pump. He drank and almost drowned himself in the beautiful, clear water.

Then he filled the jug for the next weary traveller. Before setting the jug down he added this note: ”Believe me, it really works. You have to give it all away before you can get anything back.”

Jesus promises to give us the water of life that satisfies, but we need to surrender to him first and give up our own agenda and rights before he can fill us. He promises to fill us to overflowing with his living water

When Jesus met the Samaritan woman at the well in John 4 he says to her “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life”

 

 

How does this work out in our lives?

Jesus top priority for us is that we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. Everything else will follow! It is not a legalistic piety that leads to righteousness. It is being filled with the Holy Spirit and being transformed so that we are becoming more Christ-like.

We are called to bear witness to God’s righteousness is every area of our lives. In practice that means having integrity with our finances and tax returns, standing up for Justice and equality in the workplace, honouring our husbands and wives, teaching our children how to live according to God’s word, helping the poor and needy -whether that be on our doorstep or the other side of the world.

Just like with the other spiritual characteristics, they are perpetual and part of an ongoing process. Just like eating food, we will be temporarily satisfied by eating breakfast, but we still need lunch and dinner. We will only be truly satisfied when we reach heaven because. For now we live in an imperfect world and that should move us to hunger and thirst for justice and mercy, which are integral to righteousness.

Philip Greenslade says – “Disciples are those who long for God to be all in all, who pray for God’s heavenly will to be done on earth’s stage, who are learning to want what God wants and to feel what God feels. Followers of Jesus are those whose deepest hunger and thirst can never be satisfied by anything less than God’s Kingdom because they have read the menu, tasted the hors d’oeuvres and now long for the final feast.”

 

TO END…

The Beatitudes are paradoxical and counter-cultural. They completely turn the world’s priorities upside down, where the poor, sorrowful, meek and hungry are blessed. They preach a message of the first being last, and the last being first.

They encapsulate Jesus teaching and ministry and in a few short sentences sum up what it is to be a disciple of a God who has abundant blessing in store for those who recognise that they are in desperate need of salvation and restoration.

They are not intended to beat us over the head and set an impossible spiritual standard that we can never achieve. They describe the life that we are called to live so that we participate in the Kingdom of God and reap the reward that God has in store. Jesus describes radical discipleship, but it needs to be radical because the alternative is death and separation from God forever!

Like the man that found treasure buried in a field and sold everything he had to buy the field, it takes sacrifice and the cost is high, but there is no greater way to live and no greater inheritance to be gained!

We only see a fraction of the blessing now and although at times it may be painful to follow this teaching, one day we will see the blessing in full.

The beatitudes show is that blessing doesn’t come in the form of living standards, wealth or prosperity. True blessing is knowing a God who gives hope to the hopeless; who loves the unlovable; who comforts those who mourn, who feeds those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, no matter what the cost.

God blesses us by enabling us not only to experience this through our heavenly father, but he also imparts these qualities in us so that we may bless others. Our response to this should always be “Lord, change me to be more like you and use me to bless others as I have been blessed that your kingdom may come on earth as in heaven”

Jesus wants you to come to him just as you are so that he can bless you with a deeper relationship with him and the promise of being a member of his heavenly kingdom.

There are stages of our spiritual journey described in the beatitudes and wherever we find ourselves on this journey this morning, there is both challenge and encouragement that we can take.

 

  • You may feel spiritually poor and empty – This is a good starting place! Come before God and acknowledge your poverty and spiritual dependance. He will show you the Kingdom of Heaven and give you the blessing that comes from a hope of a certain future
  • You may be filled with sorrow and mourning, either for state of your own heart or in the life or others – Bring your brokenness to Jesus and he will comfort you, and enable you to comfort others. No matter how low your opinion is of yourself, he will welcome you with open arms.
  • Maybe you are struggling with being meek – Perhaps you feel weak or have realised that you have been fighting your own battles and need to give them to God. Allow God to develop in you an attitude of meekness and give you confidence. He will give you the inheritance he has promised.
  • You may find yourself thirsty and hungry righteousness but your life is too full of other things that crowd Jesus out. Come to Jesus with open hearts and hands and he will fill you to overflowing with his living water.

 

 

Final Destination

plane
FINAL DESTINATION

Have you ever booked a holiday without any idea of where you are going, or without doing some research on the internet, speaking to a travel agent or reading a Lonely Planet guide? It just wouldn’t make sense, because you need to know which airport to go to, what kind of clothes to pack, how much money to take, and what to expect when you arrive. You need something to look forward to!

Many people go through life without any idea of where they are going when they leave this world, and have not given the matter any serious consideration. Many people hold that this is all there is. This is the only life we have and after death we cease to be – there is no final destination!
To live my life as though there was nothing else beyond the grave would drive me mad and lead me into depression. It would be like having to work every day of the year without any breaks, holidays, payslip or pension to look forward to. We are designed to look forward to the future and have hope that there is something better on the horizon.
We have a in-built sense of purpose and destiny, and everyone has a deep longing for something more – it’s what keep us going and the reason we get out of bed every day. It is very easy to fulfill this desire with short-term dreams and goals such as holidays, a better car, a bigger house, finding a spouse, having kids – and there is nothing wrong with these things! – but they are limited by our time here on this earth and are only temporary.
The bible says that God has prepared a place for us when we die and leave this world. We have an open invitation to spend eternity in a new world. John’s gospel (chapter 14) describes it as “the Father’s house”…
“Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house has many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am.”
 
And 1 Peter 1 says that we have an inheritance that cannot be destroyed…
 
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you
 
The message of the Bible and reason Jesus lived, died and was raised to life, is to give us something to look forward to. We have a free boarding pass to allow us access to the holiday of a lifetime – an eternal lifetime! All that is required on our part is to accept it and acknowledge that this nothing we can do to get there on our own. Jesus has already paid for it and wants us to accept the invitation. What could be more exciting and give us more hope than to know that after this life, which can be so full of struggle and hardship, we will be heading to a destination where there’s no more suffering and we can live forever in a new world.
1 Corinthians 4 sums it up perfectly…
16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.
 
Wherever you are in your relationship with God and your understanding of the Bible, I encourage you to spend some time this exploring the best “travel guide” you will ever find about your life journey. It really is life changing to know where you are going when you die. It will happen to us all, but that is no reason to be depressed because there is a promise of the most incredible final destination. Having this to look forward to gives us hope and a reason to live life to the full!

The Costly Cross

 

Having watched “The Passion of the Christ” last night, I was struck again by the brutality of Jesus’ death on the cross. It is all too easy to become over familiar with the account of Jesus’ sacrifice for us, and there is a danger that we can lose the awe and wonder at the pain and suffering that was endured on our behalf.

We sanitise the crucifixion account for our young children, but sometimes we carry this cartoon depiction into adulthood. Jesus’ death was not a neat and tidy affair. His beatings were horrific and torturous and his trial was fixed and biased to the extreme. The taunts, denials and abuse he received were piercing – and all these things before he even got to the cross!

The cross is the symbol of Christianity but it is almost always produced in shiny metal to be hung on a neck chain, or carefully crafted by a carpenter, planed and varnished to be mounted at perfect right-angles at the front of a church. Whilst it is good to have the cross as a reminder of what Jesus achieved for us, it is important to remember that Jesus died on a rough piece of wood,that had probably been used for previous crucifixions. It would have been heavy, bloodstained, covered in splinters and hideously uncomfortable. The nails that held him to the cross would have been thick and rusty; the rope that bound him, rough and chaffing; the crown of thorns, razor sharp; the hill at Golgotha was dusty, hot and hostile.

If you think this is all a bit graphic and gruesome, you’re right! That’s exactly what it is! Jesus death was unimaginably terrible, but why do we need to know about the gory details? It helps us to understand what Christ endured for our sake. It shows us that Jesus suffered and identifies with our suffering. It removes any illusion that the Easter account is a fairy story for children. It reminds us that although Jesus had the power to silence the Sanhedrin, and to climb down from the cross, he humbled himself and volunteered to walk this path.

All of this brings us to our knees in gratitude to our father in heaven, who gave his son as a sacrifice to release us from the consequences of our sin – death and separation from God. Jesus resurrection three days later is even more miraculous when understood in the light of the brutality and apparent finality of his death.

This Easter, spend some time thinking about the reality of the cross and ask God to renew the wonder and awe at how costly Jesus death was.

Keep calm and pray always!

Philippians 4:6-7– Keep calm and pray…always!

 

Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

There is something very antagonistic about being told to “calm down” when you feel angry, annoyed, or anxious. This short phrase tends to have the opposite effect on me when I’m feeling stressed – and I suspect most other people –and I tend to respond with a short, sharp “I AM CALM!” on a good day, and perhaps something less polite on a bad day!

This bible passage starts with the command to “rejoice in the Lord always” and “not be anxious about anything”, which can elicit a similar response to being told to “calm down”, especially when our lives can be consumed by stress and worry.

How can we rejoice and not be anxious when it feels like the world is falling apart around us?

Paul’s instruction to “rejoice” is not empty words of advice, or a head-in-the-sand type of approach where “everything will work out in the end if you keep your chin up”. He is not telling us to be “happy” either. Happiness is not the same as joy. You cannot be happy when you are suffering, but you can have joy.

Happiness is a fleeting emotion and joy is a deep seated contentedness and confidence in the love God has for you. God doesn’t promise happiness to those who follow Christ, but he does promise peace and joy.

Paul says that the way to deal with anxiety is to pray.

“…but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God”

Notice that there are three components to prayer in this verse. Prayer, petition, and thanksgiving.

PRAYER – Paul is talking about entering into the presence of God and filling our hearts and minds with Him. We are to soak our minds in God’s presence which is why he says “in everything”. We should be so in tune with God through prayer that every aspect of our lives can be brought to him in a continual conversation through the Holy Spirit.

Bringing ourselves before God helps us to refocus and get perspective. Freedom and release from anxiety comes when we spend more time thinking about who God is, rather than how big our problems are.

When we spend time in the presence of God we realise our sinfulness and are brought to a place of repentance. When we hold onto worry, we are saying to God that he is not big enough to deal with our sins. This is why he commands us not to worry and is so eager for us to deal with it.

PETITION – This is the aspect of prayer where we make our requests know to God. This isn’t a shopping list of wants that we submit like our monthly expenses claim, but an earnest seeking of God for answers to things that are on our hearts.

Having come to God in adoration and worship, our requests should be more in line with his heart and his will for us, because frivolous and selfish requests will be shown for what they are. When we pray and ask God for things that are in line with his nature and will for our lives, amazing things happen.

We need to learn patience and perseverance in prayer, especially in an age where everything is instant. We need to wait on God for his timing and the answers to our prayers. He very rarely does things to our timescale and we mustn’t worry when we think he hasn’t heard our petitions, or is not giving us what we think we need.

THANKSGIVING – If we are not careful we can fall into the habit of always asking but never showing gratitude.

If we are coming to God with an attitude of worship and adoration, this should flow naturally out of our prayer life, because we will be in awe of all he has done for us.

Thanks needs to be made as you make the request. It is not simply gratitude for the prayer that he answered last week. It is a prayer of trust and thanking God for what he is going to do, and thanking God for what he has done through Jesus.

A thread that runs through all these aspects of prayer is obedience. These instructions are not suggestions – they are commands and are quite specific. Rejoice, pray, do not be anxious. This process begins with obedience and when we follow these commands, we will find peace in God.

What is the result of this prayerful approach?

When we come to God with our anxiety and worries, prayerfully presenting our requests to him we with thanksgiving we will have “the peace of God which transcends all understanding”

“TRANSCEND” – means “to be or go beyond the range or limit of something” God’s peace is far bigger and better than anything we can grasp or image. When we give our worries over to him in this way he overcomes our anxiety and “guards our hearts and minds”

It is filling your heart and mind with the truth of the Gospel in Christ Jesus and allowing the Holy Spirit to work.

THIS IS THE KEY – “IN CHRIST JESUS” Without Jesus, we cannot have this relationship with God and find peace. If we look back at Genesis and the account of Adam and Eve, they broke the perfect relationship and peace that they had with God, by ignoring his instructions not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The perfect relationship of peace was broken, but Jesus restored this on the cross. We now have access to God through the sacrifice of Jesus and the Holy Spirit living and working in us.

The night before Jesus was crucified he said to his disciples:

John 14:27 – “Peace I leave with you. My peace I give to you, not as the world gives, do I give to you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful”

He was about to be put through an agonising torture and death and yet he was able to speak about peace in the midst of his turmoil. Matthew 26:38 says that Jesus was “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death”. His anxiety was so great that he sweated blood! He prayed in his hour of greatest need (John 17) and presented his requests to the father.

He identified with our anxiety and gave up his perfect peace, by allowing himself to be separated from His father, taking on the sin of the world so that we might have everlasting peace.

That is the astonishing message of the gospel of peace! Although we still live in a world where we face anxiety and worry, we can have confidence that if we stay close to God and walk in step with him, we will have peace and joy.

Anxiety can cripple us and be a huge barrier to peace and joy if we don’t allow God to deal with it. Take a step of faith in dealing with any anxiety or worry that you may be carrying with you. God doesn’t want you to be anxious, so bring you worries to him in prayer and petition, with thanksgiving. If you are obedient to this advice your hearts and minds will be guarded in Christ Jesus and you will find peace that transcends understanding.

 

 

Self-preservation Society

Self-preservation society

Genesis 3

1Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’ ” 4“You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman.

5“For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” 6When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.

7Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. 8Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord God among the trees of the garden.

9But the Lord God called to the man, “Where are you?” 10He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” 11And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?”

12The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” 13Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”

____________________________________________________________________________

The essence of sin is to put human judgement above divine command. This has been the case since Adam and Eve first disobeyed the single instruction God gave them. The fallen human condition began right there and set the precedent for all sin, for all time. The desire to be like God and have his knowledge and power was too much to resist, despite the warning that they would die. They had encouragement along the way by Satan in the form of a serpent who distorted the truth, but they always had a choice.

The immediate effect of the departure from God’s guidance was that they felt shame. Their newly acquired knowledge showed them that they were naked and they covered their bodies in a desperate attempt to preserve dignity and save face. I imagine that Adam and Eve would have been hoping that God didn’t notice their transgression, rather like my two boys who hide behind the sofa when they’ve been naughty. Despite his question, God knows where they are and what they have done – he is omniscient after all!

Instead of admitting his sin, Adam stalls by saying that he was ashamed because he was naked, so he hid. The only reason he knows he is naked is because he ate the fruit, and when God presses him on the matter he immediately points the finger at his wife! Again, like my boys who often respond with head bowed and finger pointed – “he told me to do it!” In fact Adam indirectly blames God – “the woman YOU put here gave me the fruit, so I ate it”. God then turns his attention to Eve. Her response is very similar and she blames the serpent!

The consequences of their sin are then outlined by God and can be read in Genesis. (They do not die immediately as the reader might assume they would. I don’t propose to cover this matter in this blog, but a good explanation can be found here:

https://answersingenesis.org/bible-characters/adam-and-eve/why-didnt-adam-and-eve-die-the-instant-they-ate-the-fruit/ )

Our response to sin is no different to Adam and Eve, or my children for that matter! Our first response, once we realise we’ve done something wrong is to stall, deflect blame or hide. When we engage in premeditated sin, these things are often done in preparation for the act. All these actions are employed for self-preservation. We don’t want to be found out, admit that we were wrong, or deal with the consequences. Like Adam and Eve we feel shame and make efforts to cover up our vulnerability. Everywhere you look in life, humankind is trying to cover up for sins of the past, present and future. There are fresh scandals in the news every day, where people from every strata of society cover up for wrongdoing. This creates scandal and outrage, but we all do it to some extent because we are only human!

We can’t hide from God. He sees everything that we do and he knows what we are thinking. That can be a terrifying thought and without Jesus, it would be. The good news is that although we are subject to our human nature, we are selfish and have a proclivity towards self-preservation, our sin has already been accounted for. Centuries after our relationship with God was broken, Jesus came and gave his life as a cover for our sin and to restore our access to God. We don’t need to atone for own sin by making sacrifices, and we don’t done need to hide away from them. We don’t need to point the finger of blame because he has taken all the blame. We may have to face earthly consequences for our actions, but our eternal salvation is assured so long as we admit our failings, bring our sin into the open, and confess it to God.

Jesus is the only person in history with the right to self-preservation, but he surrendered this on the cross so that we could be free to live without the burden sin, and the oppressive need to cover it up. As Jesus said:

“Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.  For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” Matthew 16:25-26.

Self-preservation may provide short-term benefits but the price will be the forfeiture of our souls. We must be willing to take up our cross and follow Him as self-preservation only leads to self-destruction. Pray that Jesus helps you to do this so that you can be free from sin, by the power of His spirit and for His glory.

(I’m sorry to disappoint you if you were expecting a reference to “The Italian Job” movie. I only borrowed the title from the soundtrack as it was quite apt!)

Christmas Competition

Christmas competition

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/religion/11286231/Baby-Jesus-takes-on-John-Lewis-in-battle-for-the-soul-of-Christmas.html

I read this article 10 days ago as the commercial Christmas hype really shifted into top gear. It struck me that the article places Jesus as the underdog in the race for the meaning of Christmas!

John Lewis and Sainsbury’s do not have, and never will have the “soul” of Christmas. There is no competition when it comes to finding the true meaning of Christmas, no matter how much money the commercial world spends trying to convince us otherwise.

Christmas starts with Christ – he is not character in fairy story that can be confined to a 30 second advert on TV, nor the imagination of a marketing group searching for a winning Festive soundbite. Neither is he a superstition, a mythical creature, nor a nice story for children to act out in a school play. He is the son of God, and Christmas is a celebration of his arrival on this earth as a baby as God’s plan to save us from our selfishness and give us eternal hope.

Many in our society would think this is crazy and far-fetched because we seem to have drifted so far from the true meaning of Christmas that a large portion of our population don’t even know who Jesus is, let alone why he came! I guess that it shouldn’t come as surprise that Jesus is now largely ignored at Christmas. If people don’t see a need for him during the rest of the year, why should Christmas be any different. I think it is more crazy that people spend thousands of pounds every December to celebrate an event that they are ignorant of, or disbelieve altogether!

Jesus came to earth in a miraculous but understated way, and this was largely the pattern for his ministry. However, when it came to the battle over sin and death he was, and is the undisputed champion. In a battle for supremacy at Christmas, in fact anything at all, Jesus wins hands down! There really isn’t any contest!

Happy Christmas!

Great things from small beginnings.

31 He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.” Matthew 13:31-32

 

The mustard seed is tiny – about the size of the head of pin!  It was the smallest seed used at the time and those listening to Jesus would have been able to immediately identify with the parable.

The parable describes how the seed grows into a large tree that provides shelter for birds and wildlife.Once planted it grows into a large shrub-like tree that can grow to over 15 feet tall! It provides a habitat for a huge number of birds, animals and insects.
What can we learn from these parables, and why did Jesus chose these things to illustrate what the kingdom of God is like?

The main point of this parable is to show that the kingdom starts small and grows into something great. We are going to explore what the parables meant to the first hearers, but also what they means for us now.

Let’s look at the stages of growth of the Kingdom of God:

THE KINGDOM STARTS SMALL 

It would have been a surprise for Jesus’ listeners to hear him compare the Kingdom to something as small as mustard seed and yeast. They would have expected something huge and powerful, – maybe an oak tree, or a mountain, or a mighty river, or thunder and lightning!

Many expected the messiah to bring the kingdom in a blaze of glory – fanfares and trumpets, and victory over the oppressive force of the Romans, and anyone else that stood in the way. God had different ideas and he sent Jesus to earth as a saviour that no-one expected.

Let’s have a quick look at Jesus’ background because his life sets the pattern for the growth of the kingdom:

– Jesus was born in the tiny town of Bethlehem in poverty.

– He was raised in Galilee, and no one believed that a man of God could come from there, John 7:52.

– He was raised in Nazareth. The inhabitants of that city were considered to be wicked and worldly by the Jews.

– He had no family connections. He had no money. He had no support from the religious leaders of the day.

– Jesus was considered to be a nobody from nowhere, who would amount to nothing!

– His parentage was questioned, John 8:41 by His enemies.

– His followers were the ordinary people of society

– His Own people rejected Him.

– He was despised and rejected by men.

– The Romans eventually nailed Him to a cross and buried Him in a tomb.

– His followers preached His resurrection, but most people ignored their message and considered them fools for following a dead man.

– Even the Lord’s message was hard to swallow. For some it still is because it goes against our human nature .Jesus said to get to give away what you have. He told people to love their enemies. He counselled men to turn the other cheek. He spoke of walking the second mile.
Jesus arrived on earth in very insignificant and ordinary circumstances. He was the mustard seed that God “planted” on earth, and it was from this humble beginning that the Kingdom of God was founded. He completely shattered the expectation of what the messiah was going to be.

God introduced his Kingdom to the world in the smallest, most humble manner imaginable! But that is how he operates. He uses the small, humble, vulnerable and weak to achieve things for his glory.

We only have to look at a few Bible characters to see how this is true…

MOSES was called by God out of obscurity to challenge Pharaoh and secure release of the Israelites from oppression. Moses himself said “who am I? I am slow of speech. Send someone else!”

GIDEON was from the smallest family in the smallest tribe of Israel, yet God raised him up to be a great military leader

JOSEPH was despised by his brothers and sold into slavery to the Egyptians. God rescued him from prison and lead to him a position as a senior official in Government.
DAVID was the youngest of 8 sons. He was given the job of shepherd boy that no-one else wanted left out in the fields tending sheep. God turned him to a giant killing King!
God uses the small and insignificant
Much like the society of Jesus’ time, our world celebrates the biggest, the best, the rich powerful and successful. You may feel insignificant and small compared to the rest of the world and it can seem like a daunting task to step out into the world and spread the Gospel.

 

Perhaps you feel that you don’t have anything to offer God. Maybe you feel that this Kingdom building thing is not for you because you don’t have the right skills, or talents to really do anything great.

Maybe you’re suffering with a physical or mental illness, or you’re struggling financially, or you have family problems that seem insurmountable. Maybe you feel like Moses when it comes to sharing your faith “send someone else”!

Perhaps your church holds back because you are small, you don’t have huge resources; Maybe you feel insignificant and ineffectual surrounded by a culture that is not really interested in knowing God.

None of these things are a hindrance to God!

 

God uses the small, weak, and unnoticed to achieve great things for his Kingdom. God uses people like people like you and me.

He wants us to be Kingdom builders and not to hide away because we think we are too small or weak to achieve anything. We follow an almighty God and King of all things and he can do anything through us!

Take encouragement from that and have faith that he will work through you! He is using us to spread his Gospel.

We are called to do our part by planting the seed, being faithful in the small things, and obedient God. When we give our small offering, God will use it for his glory and building his kingdom. That is how God works!

 

1 Corinthians 1:25-31outlines this quite clearly….
26 Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. 

27 But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. 

28 God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, 29 so that no one may boast before him. 

30 It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. 

31 Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”[

 

THE KINGDOM GROWS AND BLESSES 

Jesus started his ministry with 12 followers – not the top religious leaders of the day, but the ordinary people of society and in some cases the despised of society.

Jesus invested in his disciples. He taught and guided them and told them about the Kingdom of God, so that they could tell others and spread the gospel.

His death was not the end! Like the seed that has to be buried to grow, so Jesus was buried, but from the ground he rose to establish his Kingdom on earth.

By the time Jesus had returned to heaven there were around 120 devoted followers. From this point the Kingdom expanded, with 2000 coming to faith at Pentecost, and another 5000 not long afterwards.

Since then everywhere the seed has been planted those the Kingdom has spread as people come to know Jesus and give their lives to his service.

2000 thousand years later the growth of the Kingdom continues. I’m reluctant to quote figures, but some sources suggest that there are around 2 billion Christians worldwide. Needless to say the Kingdom continues to grow as Jesus said it would!

The planted mustard seed and the yeast added to the dough have an inevitable consequence. The tree will grow! The Kingdom of God has a certain and inevitable end, where the growth will spread, the kingdom will be established and Jesus will return.

The mustard seed grows into a huge tree providing shelter, rest, protection and community to the animals and birds. In the same way, where the Kingdom of god is present and growing, people are saved and brought into the shelter, rest, protection and community

Every person that has been saved by Jesus and brought into the Kingdom can testify how god has blessed them. Everywhere the Gospel has germinated, compassion, decency and morality have sprung up. Truth and salvation have been proclaimed and lives have been changed.

Jesus didn’t just talk about the Kingdom, he demonstrated it. He healed the sick, cared for the poor, the widow, the lost and hurting. He built his kingdom by reaching one person at a time, meeting their needs and offering them salvation.

The spread of the Gospel has built orphanages for the fatherless and homes for the homeless. The Gospel has reached out to comfort the bereaved, care for the sick.

The Gospel has changed individuals, communities and nations.

 

Our country owes its existence and blessings to the spread of the Gospel of grace. This nation was founded on the principles of the Gospel and the Christian faith and even those who reject the Gospel in the UK today still reap the benefits of a nation founded by God and for God.

 

Patience and perseverance
It is important to realise that the mustard tree does not grow overnight It takes years to transform from a tiny seed to a huge tree.

Being a follower of Christ takes patience and perseverance and we may not even see the result of our efforts and blessing of the Kingdom of God in our lifetime. However, we are still called to sow the seed and work towards building the Kingdom.

I think particularly in this day and age when life is so fast-paced and instant, it is difficult for us to be patient and wait for things. I find myself getting irritated if my computer or phone doesn’t load up in less than a nanosecond! We expect everything to happen NOW!

You may be plugging away at trying to witness to your friends and family who do not know Christ and at the point where you think that it is a fruitless task.

You may have been working either full time or in your spare time in a particular area of ministry and be ready to throw in the towel, because you can’t’ see any change.

Perhaps you are waiting for the fulfilment of something that God put on your heart years ago and it has yet to happen. God doesn’t operate on our timescale and so often through the bible he makes people wait and instructs us to “be patient and wait on him”. I’m not saying it’s easy, but it is well worth it and he is always faithful.

Hudson Taylor was a missionary in the late 19th Century to China. He worked and poured his life into brining the gospel to China and spreading God’s kingdom there, but he saw little blessing for a long time.

He persevered for 50 years, though illness, loss of his wife, opposition from other church leaders and all manner of difficulties.

When he died in 1905 there were over 800 missionaries in China and 125,000 Christians. It has only been in recent times that Christianity has exploded in China, as a result of the groundwork that Hudson Taylor did over a century ago.

It took Jesus 30 years on earth before he started his ministry. You’d think God might have used a quicker method of delivering his message, but he doesn’t work like that, as we’ve seen.

If you feel that you are getting nowhere with your hard work in spreading the gospel, don’t be discouraged. God has a plan to build his Kingdom and it will not fail! Keep going, because you don’t know when the breakthrough might come. Keep watering the seed in the ground because growth will come!

 

What does this mean for me?

 

  • We are part of something huge and growing!

 

  • God’s Kingdom will continue to expand and he will use us to achieve his purposes.

 

  • It doesn’t rely on us and he will use us in our weakness

 

  • We are to play our part and spread the Gospel where we have opportunities.

 

This means demonstrating the Kingdom of God to people in our own situations, just as Jesus did. God gives us each a work to do, and for each one it will be different.

 

  • It means visiting a friend that has recently lost a loved one
  • Making someone a meal
  • Getting up for the third time in the night to care for a sick child
  • Committing to reading the Bible to your children every day
  • Praying with your husband or wife regularly
  • Sitting with someone who needs to talk about a problem
  • Saying hello to your rude and grumpy neighbour
  • Getting involved with summer of service, holiday club, messy church…
    Making a cup of tea for someone at work, even when they never offer

Every interaction, every conversation is an opportunity to build the Kingdom. We don’t have to do the spectacular, we just have to persevere and be patient and do the small things that God has given us to do. He will do the rest.

 

A little goes a long way

 

Matthew 13:33 He told them still another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into flour until it worked all through the dough.”

We are the proud owners of a bread maker. Unlike some households where it is used once and then languishes in a cupboard for years, we do actually use it regularly. The most important ingredient in a good loaf of bread is yeast. Without it, the bread resembles a house brick, instead of a fluffy and soft farmhouse loaf that can be enjoyed with a generous spread of butter and jam, or either side of several rashers of bacon and brown sauce!

It’s been a long time since I studied biology, but I do know that yeast is a living organism that works to give volume to the flour and water by releasing carbon dioxide and alcohol during the process of fermentation. It breaks down the starch in the flour, helps to strengthen and develop gluten in dough, and also contributes to the flavours in the bread. The incredible thing is that is only takes a tiny amount of yeast to achieve this – it is powerful stuff! Half a teaspoon is sufficient to act on a loaf of bread.

Jesus had the amazing ability of conveying complex and earth-shattering truth in the form of a simple analogy or parable. This is one of his shortest parables, but it is packed with meaning and truth about the Kingdom of God:

Yeast is alive! Without yeast, bread is flat and dead. Without God we are spiritually flat and dead! God is the creator and giver of life and every breath we take is given by Him. Where God is forgotten, ignored or purposely left out, life loses all meaning and purpose.

Yeast is the most important component of a bread recipe. If yeast is left out of the recipe the bread will be a disaster. No amount of kneading will bring it to life. If we don’t have God in our lives and are not living in relationship with him our best efforts and plans will ultimately fail. There is no substitute for God, and replacing Him with anything else will leave us empty.

Yeast needs to work through the whole loaf. If the yeast doesn’t work through the whole loaf, the result will be deformed and inconsistent bread. In the same way, if we don’t give every area over to the Lordship of Christ, we will be spiritually deformed and less effective in our walk with Christ. God demands our whole being.

Yeast breaks down the difficult bits and strengthens the bread. Yeast makes bread easier to digest and gives the bread strength to hold our bacon sandwich together! God often uses difficult situations to develop our character and deepen our dependence on him. We are promised in the Bible that we will face hardship and persecution as Christians, but our strength can be found in Christ.

Yeast gives flavour and texture. The best part about a fresh loaf of bread is the taste! Without yeast, bread would be fairly bland and unexciting. Sometimes the perception is that being a Christian is boring and joyless, but the opposite is true. Following Christ is the most exciting, life-changing and exhilarating!

 

What do you worship?

Every four years millions of passionate and dedicated people gather together across the world to celebrate a global event. Songs and chants of adulation, praise and encouragement ring out, as crowds pledge their allegiance and display their true colours, united by a common interest and single minded obsession. Personal and financial sacrifice is made to allow access to these events, where brothers and sisters stand shoulder to shoulder in solidarity, displaying emotions without reservation or embarrassment. Some make a pilgrimage to the main festival, and some chose to have local events to express their devotion. Read More

Be still

 

“Be still and know that I am God” Psalm 46:10

From the moment I wake up in the morning, to the time I flop into bed at night, my day is filled with activity, busyness and noise. In fact, even when I’m sleeping it is sometimes noisy, with two young boys that sometimes wake in the night, a rooster that lives a few gardens down, and my own thoughts and worries for the next day swimming around my head! Read More

It is finished

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit. (John 19:28-30 NIV

 The world views death as failure. We grow old, our bodies get tired, sick and worn out, and when they can no longer function, we die. When a person dies they cannot achieve anything else in this world and they leave nothing but a memory and a legacy – whether that be good or bad. Those who are the fittest, strongest and cleverest, healthiest are viewed as successful in the world, and those who live long and healthy lives are said to have “done well”. People aspire to live for as long as they can, and billions of pounds are spent every year on methods of extending and preserving life.

Read More

Hope never dies

Hope never dies

In the film The Shawshank Redemption, banker Andy Dufresne is convicted of murdering his wife and her lover, and sentenced to two consecutive life sentences at Shawshank State Penitentiary, despite his innocence. The film powerfully portrays the brutal prison life that Andy endures, the persecution he faces from his fellow inmates, and the agonising injustice that hangs over him. Read More

Seeing is believing

“16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. 18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4
You have probably heard the phrase “I’ll believe it when I see it”, or “seeing is believing”. In fact, you have probably used these phrases yourself. It is part of our human nature to want to see, touch, smell, hear or taste something before we will accept it as real. In a court of law, a jury relies on evidence to convict a defendant of a crime; in the field of science, researchers require tangible results to prove theories.

Read More

Facetime

Psalm 139:13 “For you created my inmost being, you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made:”

Earlier this week I watched a documentary about man who had undergone extensive surgery to reconstruct his face after the removal of a cancerous growth. A tumour the size of a tennis ball had been removed from his sinuses and as a result he’d lost his left eye socket, his sinuses on the left side, and the roof of his mouth. This made it very difficult for him to talk, he’d lost his sense of smell and he was not able to eat solid food, instead getting all his nutrition from a tube directly into his stomach. Needless to say, this had significantly changed his quality of life, albeit that he was now free from cancer. Read More

Make a wish

7 That night God appeared to Solomon and said to him, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.”

8 Solomon answered God, “You have shown great kindness to David my father and have made me king in his place. 9 Now, Lord God, let your promise to my father David be confirmed, for you have made me king over a people who are as numerous as the dust of the earth. 10 Give me wisdom and knowledge, that I may lead this people, for who is able to govern this great people of yours?” Read More

Unbreakable

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:19-21

I’m fairly careful with money, but when I buy something I try to choose good quality items that will last. I am also quite particular about my things and like to look after them. For example, my CD collection is in alphabetical order and it drives me mad when they are replaced out of sequence or the wrong CD is put back in the wrong case. I also keep my garage/workshop organised with my screwdrivers and tools arranged according to size and type – everything has a place so that I know where to find it when I need it. Read More

I am the nail

I have often read the account of the crucifixion of Jesus and had contempt for the disciples for falling asleep, denying and betraying Jesus.

I have despaired at the blindness and hypocrisy of the religious leaders, so intent on his destruction and mockingly telling him to save himself from the cross.

I have been disgusted at the brutality and callousness of the Roman soldiers – beating, mocking and crucifying Jesus.

Read More

The greatest exchange

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. (Matthew 13:44)

What would you be willing to give up for the Kingdom of God?

The answer is simple, one word required, but very difficult to say with conviction – everything!

To give up everything is a tall order when we start to really examine what that would mean. I could probably part with most of my possessions, but if I had to relinquish my health, my job, my family, even my life, I’d probably start digging my heels in!

Read More

Speak Boldly

At the start of the disciples’ ministry they found themselves subjected to opposition and persecution for the speaking publicly about the gospel. Chapter 4 of Acts begins with Peter and John upsetting the temple authorities by preaching and teaching about Jesus and healing a man in His name. They are thrown in to prison until they can be questioned the following day. Despite this, 5000 people come to faith. That is astonishing! Read More

This little light of mine

Matthew 5 – 14 “You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”

The wonderful thing about Jesus’ teaching is the profound truth communicated with the utmost simplicity, and this passage is the perfect example. He gets straight to the point and says that as followers of Christ we are “the light of the world”. We are not the source of the light, rather we have the light given to us from Christ. Chapter John 1:9 says ” The true light [Jesus] that gives light to every man was coming into the world”. John 8:12 also says “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Read More

A bloody mess!


You are to lay your hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on your behalf to make atonement for you. You are to slaughter the young bull before the Lord , and then Aaron’s sons the priests shall bring the blood and splash it against the sides of the altar at the entrance to the tent of meeting. You are to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. Then Aaron’s sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the wood that is burning on the altar. You are to wash the internal organs and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, a food offering, an aroma pleasing to the Lord . (Leviticus 1:4-9 NIV)

I have been reading Leviticus this week. It is not a book that I find easy to read, and I’d much rather read one of the Gospels or Paul’s letters. The detailed and repetitive instructions on sacrifice and the law can be quite difficult to absorb and understand. Read More

Just in Time

 

Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions. On the sixth day they are to prepare what they bring in, and that is to be twice as much as they gather on the other days.” Exodus 16:4-5

 When the Israelites were liberated from Egypt by God, they were led into the desert by Moses and almost immediately started to grumble and complain, wishing that they had died in Egypt, rather than be led into starvation in the wilderness. The situation must have been tough and they were undoubtedly tired and hungry, as well as disappointed that God had taken them to the desert, instead of somewhere more suitable and habitable.

Read More

Leading by example

“You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet.I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them. – John 13:13-35

I have been thinking a lot about leadership this week and the qualities that a good leader should possess. There have been many books written on the subject and experts have created a variety of theories, principles and strategies for leadership. There are many facets to being a good leader and different situations and positions require different leadership styles, but there is one thing that every leader should possess – to be able to lead by example. Read More

Go, go, go Joseph!

I once played the starring role in a church production of Andrew Lloyd Weber’s “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat”. I know the story inside-out and can sing the songs in my sleep, but when I read the end of Genesis again this week, one verse jumped out at me because it encapsulates the whole account of Joseph and how God used him, and the parallel with the salvation that we have through Jesus. Read More

Ulitmate pension plan

 

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 1 Peter 1:3-5

I was listening to the radio earlier this week and the presenter was leading a discussion about the recent reform of the state pension. As always, there were differing opinions about this issue, but some of the contributors were quite angry because they felt that the new system was unfair and they were being cheated of their hard earned retirement fund. This is a perfectly understandable reaction when faced with a situation that is perceived to be unfair. If you invest in something, whether that be financially or otherwise, it figures that you should get out at least what you put in. Read More

Rebooted

20130110-094026.jpg

A new year is a time for new beginnings and a fresh start. Many people set resolutions and goals for the coming year and it is an opportunity to dedicate ourselves to something that will improve our lives, bring better health, closer relationships, and a deeper walk with God.

2 Corinthians 5:17 says “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone, the new has come.” Read More

NEW WORSHIP EP!

Dear visitors,

Exciting news! My new worship EP “Where The Light Shines” was released on the 1/9/17. It has 5 acoustic worship songs that I have written this year and I’d love for you to take a listen and get yourself a copy to support my music ministry. I hope that the songs connect with you, but more importantly help you to connect with God and come to him in worship.

Please follow my music website www.andrewrobinsonmusic.co.uk for access to all the music, news, events and updates. You can also follow me on social media:
Facebook
Twitter
Instagram

You can listen to and buy the EP by clicking HERE or the “buy now” button below
Buy Now Button

Many thanks,

Andrew

.cardboard_wallet_Ed_final new

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The Church – God’s Vision of the Gospel

The Church: God’s Vision of the Gospel.

Isaiah 52:13 – 54:17.

INTRODUCTION.

When the word ‘gospel’ is mentioned or the phrase ‘preaching the gospel’ what is it that immediately springs to mind? If you are like me I suppose the first thing that comes to mind is Jesus’ death and resurrection to save me from my sins. I tend to think, first, of the cross and my salvation.

Now, of course, that is true and right. Jesus did die to save me.

We need to understand the reasons why Jesus had to die – to satisfy the justice of God – that he is a sacrifice – that is was necessary for there to be a penalty paid for sin – that because I am a sinner I am unable to pay for my own sin and I need a redeemer – and on and on we could go talking about the reasons for Christ’s death and the implications for people.

It is important, of course, that we understand all these things about the death and resurrection of Christ.

However the good news – ‘gospel’ – about God’s rescue plan in Jesus Christ is far bigger than MY salvation and MY relationship with God.

Last time we saw something of God’s cosmic purpose – to unite everything under Christ. Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

We saw that God has a plan – a plan that encompasses the whole universe – and that central to that plan is God’s rescue of sinful people in order to bring them into a loving relationship with himself.

We looked mainly at what Paul had to say in his letter to the Church in Ephesus. This is, of course, a NT perspective. We did see that the Church is made up of all true believers for all time. There is one people of God – believers from the OT Times and the NT times and those who are already in heaven.

It would be easy to rush from here into the details of church life. However, I would like to linger with the big picture a little longer. It is all too easy for us to get bogged down in the nitty-gritty of trying to make church work in our tiny patch that we fail to see the wood for the trees.

When we speak of the gospel we tend to rush to the NT. The gospel is also in the OT. The whole Bible is a progressive revelation of God’s plan.

  1. THE ETERNAL VIEW OF GOD’S VISION.

God existed before creation – thus before time. God is complete and lacks nothing. There is perfect love and fellowship between the father, Son and Spirit. Yet for reasons that are beyond our comprehension, God shows his love to the creation he planned and we are included in that relationship.

Out of the whole universe – earth has a special place. In the midst of the billions of stars in the billions of galaxies earth is special. God created life on this planet and from the myriad forms made humans was special, made in the image of God with the capacity to have fellowship with God. That meant choice, a choice that could reject the creator’s love.

The coming of evil is a mystery in many ways, yet before time began God had a plan to overcome evil. A plan too terrible except for God to understand. That through the death of his Son sinners could be redeemed. This death of Christ on the cross became the focal point of earth, time, history and eternity itself. It also is the focal point of worship for those who have been rescued by it.

The victory of Jesus Christ on the cross is the final reversal of all the evil effects of sin and Satan. The picture the Bible portrays is that God is preparing a bride – the church – for the Son who is the bridegroom. At the end of time when God brings history to a close there will be the marriage supper in heaven – a wedding feast when Christ and his church are united in a new way – when all true believers from all of time will be united to Christ forever.

This is God’s eternal plan for the Church!!

The Bible reveals this plan to us through it pages. One of the most wonderful sections of all scripture is Isaiah – last bit of 52 through 55.

  1. THE FOCAL POINT OF GOD’S VISION.

This section of Isaiah is one of the most powerful and magnificent passages of the Bible. It reveals the heart of a loving creator for his creation. 52:10 – 53:12 speaks of God’s suffering servant who came that we might be recreated and restored.

More than anywhere else in scripture we have the picture of a suffering Messiah who comes to bear away our sin as a substitutionary sacrifice.

Isaiah 53:6 6 We all, like sheep, have gone astray,  each of us has turned to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. (NIV)

Now only does he die but he rises again overcoming sin and death – surely these are the OT passages Jesus would have explained to his disciples after the resurrection [on the road to Emmaus]

Isaiah 53:10-11

10 …. though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering,

he will see his offspring and he will prolong his days,

and the will of the LORD shall prosper in his hand.

11 After the suffering of his soul,

he will see the light [of life] and be satisfied;

Clearly this speaks of his resurrection [700 years before the event]

And it also speaks of the salvation it brings to sinners –

by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many,

and he will bear their iniquities. (NIV)

Who can ever understand the depth of the Father’s part in this suffering? I can understand, at least in part, why Jesus died for my sin – I am guilty for his death. However, there is a deeper cause – it was the Father himself who put him there and what is more he had planned it from eternity – for me!

We will never understand the depth of the words of this chapter – we can only marvel and worship –

Isaiah 53:4-10

4 …. yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted. ….. 6

….. the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. 7

….10 Yet it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, ….

God deliberately sent his own Son to us, knowing that he would have to turn his back on him and cause him to suffer – it is a mystery and a miracle and an amazing act of grace – we will need all eternity to wonder at it!

Surely such news needs to be shouted from the rooftops to every person on earth!

  1. THE BROADNESS OF GOD’S VISION.

 I began by saying that we tend to think of the gospel very individualistically. This is true even when we read passages of scripture like Isaiah 53-54.

If I asked what Isa. 53 was about most Christians could probably give the gist but would struggle to say what 54 was about.

While chapter and verse divisions are very helpful and we would struggle without them – they are also a hindrance in this respect, viz. that they cause artificial breaks that the original authors never intended.

The break between Isaiah 53 and 54 is a good example. Chapter 53 is a marvellous passage about the death and resurrection of the Messiah BUT is artificially separated from 54 which is the glorious triumph of the gospel – the expansion of the people of God’s throughout the whole earth.

When we neglect this dimension of the gospel – call it missions / evangelism / outreach / church growth – we not only distort the gospel of God but we are also the poorer for it.

54:1-5.

These verses speak of JOY – GROWTH – CERTANITY of the people of God, the community of the redeemed, the church.

JOY – God’s people supernaturally gathered.

Isaiah 54:1

1 “Sing, O barren woman, you who never bore a child; burst into song, shout for joy, you who were never in labour; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband,” says the LORD. (NIV)

To understand what Isaiah is saying here we need to look at the history of Israel. Abraham is considered the father of the faith. When God called Abraham he promised him that his descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand on the seashore. However, there was a problem – his wife Sarah was barren – when Abraham was 100 and Sarah was 90 and child-bearing was no longer an expectation Sarah had a son – Isaac.

Abraham tried his own solution by having a child by Sarah’s slave woman Hagar but that was not God’s solution.

The picture is of Sarah, a barren woman, who bears a miracle child and becomes the mother of a family more numerous than the stars.

The point that Isaiah is making is that the bringing into being of the community of God’s people cannot be explained naturally. Firstly, because it is a supernatural spiritual birth that is needed and, Secondly, these ‘children’ are so numerous that it cannot be explained naturally but only supernaturally.

This supernaturally born, innumerable family is a cause of great joy and celebration.

Someone may say “Surely it is unjustified to apply this passage from the OT to the NT church.” Is this not referring to the Jews of the OT? Wasn’t Isaiah trying to give encouragement to the Jewish people in exile in Babylon? Yes, that is true but it is only a shadow of the fullness of what was to come.

We have every justification for applying this passage to the church because that is exactly what Paul does in Galatians 4:25-27 25 Now Hagar stands for Mount Sinai in Arabia and corresponds to the present city of Jerusalem, because she is in slavery with her children. 26 But the Jerusalem that is above is free, and she is our mother. 27 For it is written: “Be glad, O barren woman, who bears no children; break forth and cry aloud, you who have no labour pains; because more are the children of the desolate woman than of her who has a husband.” (NIV)

Paul is quotes Isaiah 54:1 and applying it to the church.

Just as the full meaning of the suffering servant of Isaiah 53 could only be seen after the resurrection of Christ, so, too, the joyous harvest and growth of the people of God in Isaiah 54 could only be seen after Pentecost.

GROWTH – God’s people designed to include all nations.

Isaiah 54:2-3 2 “Enlarge the place of your tent, stretch your tent curtains wide, do not hold back; lengthen your cords, strengthen your stakes. 3 For you will spread out to the right and to the left; your descendants will [dis]possess nations and settle in their desolate cities. (NIV)

Tent life was very familiar to Middle Eastern people of that day. Abraham had lived in a tent. The Israelites had lived in tents in the desert and while it was a time of many failures it was also a time of walking in fellowship with God, a time of living in dependence on him and under his care.

Isaiah’s call to the people of God is to increase the size of their tent in preparation for growth. God’s plan and purpose is that the suffering of His Son would not be in vain nor would it yield a small insignificant harvest. Rather his plan is for his ‘tent’ to extend to cover all nations.

your descendants will dispossess nations – is an unfortunate translation. I think it is better understood as being which is more positive. God’s desire is that all nations will be included. That those desolate cities were there are no people of God will become inhabited by people who turn to God for salvation through the work of his suffering servant.

Psalm 2 is about the Messiah-King – God speaking to his Son says…

Psalm 2:8 8 Ask of me, and I will make the nations your inheritance, the ends of the earth your possession. (NIV)

Why did Jesus, the suffering-servant-Messiah, go to the cross so willingly and bear the sins of many? How is it that he could endure such suffering?

We read in the NT Hebrews 12:2 2 …. Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. (NIV)

Surely a redeemed people from all the nations on earth was part of the joy before him.

Doesn’t Isaiah 53:11 make more sense in the light of this Isaiah 53:11 11 He shall see of the travail of his soul, and shall be satisfied: ….. (KJV)

This is what the Church is – a community of people rescued by a suffering- Messiah.

If we fail to grasp this big picture of God’s purposes then we will have a distorted view of the gospel. It is true that Jesus died to save me form my sins BUT it is much more than that.

SECURITY – God’s people have a certain future in the care of a loving Lord.

When the Jews originally heard this from the prophet Isaiah they probably didn’t feel as if they were this innumerable powerful group of God’s people who would possess nations and inhabit cities. They probably felt weak, insignificant and marginalised. They didn’t think of the Church of God around the world.

We have seen the enormous growth of the church over 2000 years – yet we still feel small and powerless sometimes. This passage of scripture assures us that the growth and power and triumph of the Church is no pipe-dream. As true as Ch. 53 was about the death and resurrection of Christ so too is ch.54 true about the growth triumph of the church of God.

On what does Isaiah base the existence and growth and security of God’s people?

LOOK at v.5.

Isaiah 54:5 5 For your Maker is your husband –

  • the LORD Almighty is his name –
  • – the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
  • he is called the God of all the earth. (NIV)

For your Maker is your husband

– God is not only our creator but he also deliberately sets out to form a relationship with us – just as a man deliberately sets out to seek a wife to whom he can be a Husband. He sets out to make those who are not his people to become his people.

Is it any wonder that the NT holds this relationship up as a model for husbands to love their wives?

Ephesians 5:25   25 Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV)

the LORD Almighty is his name

– LORD is in capitals – whenever you see it written like that it is the most holy name for God – YHWH. It was the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush. He is the God of the Exodus, the one who rescues his people and overthrows theirs and his enemies.

Almighty tells us that he is the absolute and ultimate power.

the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

– the one who is holy and cannot tolerate sin is also the one in whose image we are made and he therefore longs to have a relationship with. In order to achieve that end he redeemed us through his suffering servant thus satisfying the requirements of his divine justice and at the same time meeting the needs of our human nature.

he is called the God of all the earth

– What gives God the right to act in this way? Well the earth and all that is in it belongs to him. Everything in heaven and earth belongs to him – because he is both its maker and redeemer!

CONCLUSION.

Is it any wonder then that Isaiah says to us “Do not be afraid … Do not feel disgraced” – we have no need to. We are God’s people and our JOY and our GROWTH and our SECURITY are in him.

Jesus died on the cross, not just to save ME, but to call to himself a people of God from every nation on earth – THE CHURCH.

OHP – Isaiah 53 – sufferings of Christ – Isaiah 54 – fruit of Christ’s sufferings.

On the basis of who God is and what he has promised we can be certain that all this will happen – indeed we are seeing it happen around the world if we look. The Church of Jesus Christ is growing at a faster rate than any other time in history – maybe not in the WEST but certainly in other parts of the world.

What is more we have the promise of scripture that the gospel will not fail.

Jesus said “I will build my Church and the gates of hell will not stand in the way”

Revelation 7:9 9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no-one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. (NIV)

The Church:

GOD’S VISION OF THE GOSPEL

 

  1. The eternal view of God’s vision

 

 

  1. The focal point of God’s vision

 

 

  1. The broadness of God’s vision

 

JOY

God’s people supernaturally gathered

GROWTH

God’s people designed to include all

nations

SECURITY

God’s people have a certain future in the care of their loving Lord

 

* For your Maker is your husband –

* the LORD Almighty is his name –

* the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;

* he is called the God of all the earth.

The Church – The Church in God’s Masterplan

THE CHURCH IN GOD’S MASTER PLAN.

 INTRODUCTION.

When we say the word ‘church’ it conjures up all sorts of images in people’s minds.

  • Building
  • Denomination / Organisation – Roman catholic Church, Church of England (The whole organisation or just the local parish church), Baptist Church, etc.
  • People – a good evangelical response!

But do we mean the local congregation or the church around the world. On the other hand is the church bigger than even that. At the other end of the scale what about ‘house-churches’?

So then, What exactly is the Church? That is what I hope we will learn more about over the next few weeks / months. Today I want to try and draw some broad-brush strokes. A wide-angle lens view. Then over the next weeks we will zoom in on various aspects of the Church:

  • Worship
  • Fellowship
  • Discipleship
  • Ministry
  • Missions and evangelism
  • Leadership
  • Baptism – —— and so on.

If we simply focus on the Church in our day and our time and our culture and even our own particular ‘Binscombite’ view of the church we will end up with a very inadequate view of what the church is.

What we need to do is to step back, far back, back to eternity to see God’s overall plan for his creation. We will never see the full picture in every detail because we are finite and God is infinite. This does not therefore mean that we can’t understand anything, on the contrary God has told us many things in the Bible about his plan for his universe.

The question that we must first address then is ‘What is God’s master plan’?

  1. GOD’S MASTER PLAN.

Some would say that God’s purpose is to save souls. While it is true that God does save souls. To say that God is saving souls and preparing them for heaven is an inadequate definition of the Church and its purposes. What is more I believe it is not a biblical definite.

Ephesians 1-3 is a wonderful passage of scripture giving us some amazing glimpses into the purposes of God. As we read this passage there are two striking truths. (There are many marvellous truths but two stand out in the context of what we are talking about)

Firstly, God has a plan.

Throughout this passage we have numerous references to the plan, purposes, will of God.

Ephesians 1:1-10

1 … the will of God,

5 …with his pleasure and will — .

9 ..the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure,

which he purposed in Christ,

10 to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment — to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ.

Paul repeatedly says that God ‘chose’ – ‘appointed’ – ‘destined’ etc. – this is a picture of a God who has a specific plan and purpose.

ILLUS.: Remember the TV series the A-Team. The characters were Murdoch, Face, BA and Hannibal Smith – lots of fighting and seldom a scratch. Hannibal Smith always had an elaborate plan, which somehow worked at which point he would say; “I loved it when a plan comes together”

God has a plan and it will come together because unlike Hannibal Smith God’s plan do not depend on a little planning and a lot of luck. God’s plans have a will come together because he has the power to make them work.

Paul uses a word (oikonomia) in v.10 which means house / household and which refers to the oversight and management of a large household. The idea is that the whole universe is like a big household of which God is the master and it is managed by his divine order.

Jesus used similar imagery when he told parables of God as a householder who will settle accounts [Matt.13; 20; 21]

Secondly, God’s plan extends to the whole universe.

V.10 tells us that it is God’s purposes “to unite all things in Christ, things in heaven and things on earth” 5x he speaks of “Heavenly realms”. In 4v10 he speaks of Christ “who ascended higher than all the heavens in order to fill the whole universe”.

Then these wonderful verses at the end of chapter 1- Ephesians 1:20-23 [the power of God]20 which he exerted in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every title that can be given, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

When we come to study the Church we can be tempted to rush into looking at the nitty-gritty of Church life here on earth and that is important. However, we can only rightly understand the church and its mission when we see it as part of God’s over all plan and purpose for all creation.

Thirdly, God’s plan is to reconcile all things to himself through Christ.

God’s plan is the restoration of the damage done to persons and nature by the fall. When sin entered the world through human disobedience towards God the damage was done and God set in motion a plan to rectify that.

How was he going to do that? Paul tells us in Colossians 1:20 – 20 and through him {Christ} to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross. (NIV)

Central to God’s plan is the rescue of people like you and me from our sins and bringing us back into a relationship with himself. However, God’s plan is broader than just my relationship with him. Jesus dying on the cross deals with all alienations that resulted from sin – within ourselves, between individuals / communities, between our physical environment and us.

The purpose of God in bringing us back into a relationship with himself is not simply that I have a relationship with him in isolation. His plan is to “call together a people for himself”

We are talking about “The Church in God’s master plan” – we have seen briefly God’s plan, now we need to ask “What is the church?

  1. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

There is much we can say.

  • Is it a local congregation or the whole Church around the world?
  • Does it included believers only on earth or are those who have died also included in the Church?
  • What is the relationship between the Church and the nation of Israel in the OT?
  • What is the difference between the church and the kingdom of God?

We will touch on these things over the next few weeks.

Essentially the Church is the community of all true believers for all time.

This tells us three important things about the Church:

  • It is a community of people
  • It comprises those whom God has saved / who have a personal faith in Christ
  • It is for all time – both OT and NT.

Ephesians 5:25

25 … Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her (NIV)

Did Jesus die only for those who lived in the NT age? NO, surely OT believers were also rescued by God on the basis that the Messiah would die for them. They looked forward to the cross and we look back. The Church is all true believers for all time.

God’s plan for the church is so great that he has exalted Christ, His Son, to the highest position of authority for the sake of the church – Ephesians 1:22-23 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way. (NIV)

Furthermore it is Christ who builds the Church – Matt. 16:18 “I will build my church”

Luke in Acts 2:47 is very careful to tell us that the growth of the Church is not by human effort – And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (NIV)

This way in which the Church grows is an continuation of the way God established his people in the OT. He brought the people to himself to be a worshipping assembly / community before him.

The Lord says to Moses –

Deuteronomy 4:10 10 …. “Assemble the people before me …..” (NIV)

Or “Gather the people to me”

This has the same meaning as the word used in the NT for the Church – ekklesia – from which we get our English word ecclesiastical.

It is not surprising therefore that when the NT writers refer to the OT people of God gathering together they call it a church – Acts 7:38 38 He [ Moses] was in the assembly [ekklesia – church] in the desert, with the angel who spoke to him on Mount Sinai, and with our fathers; and he received living words to pass on to us. (NIV)

In the Book of Hebrews we have reference to a great number of witnesses in heaven surrounding the Church on earth going all the way back to Abel, the son of Adam and Eve. [Hebrews 12:1] Later in Hebrews it talks about the Church of the firstborn enrolled in heaven [Heb.21:22]

This is not surprising when we consider that the NT emphasises that Jewish believers and Gentile believers are united as one – Ephesians 2:14-19

14 … has made the two one .15 …. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two,   16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, ….. .

19 Consequently, …. fellow-citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, (NIV)

There are new blessings and privileges that we have in the NT era. However, it God has always called his people to assemble to worship him so it is appropriate to think of the church as being all the people of God for all time.

  1. WHY DOES THE CHURCH EXIST?

This question can be answered in two ways:

  • The Church exists because ….
  • The Church exists for ….

The Church exists because …. God brought it into being and continues to keep it going by the power of the Holy Spirit. If the church is not a spiritual community then it is not a church but simply a club on a human level.

The Church exists for ….

What is the purpose of the Church? Or rather purposes?

We could talk about these under many headings. I think there are three basic dimensions to the purpose of the church:

  • Towards God
  • Towards fellow believers
  • Towards the world

Towards God – to worship him. Paul tells the Church at Colossae – Colossians 3:16 16 ….. sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. (NIV)

God has rescued us in Christ “to live for the praise of his glory” [Eph.1:12]

Worship is a major purpose of the Church – It is to be focussed on the Lord and done in the power of the Holy Spirit.

In a sense all of our life should be an act of worship to God. Everything Christians do should be done to the glory of God.

However, it is also true that as far as the Church as a body of people is concerned there need to be times of meeting together to sing / pray/ read and study the scriptures / and focus of God alone.

One of the marks of being filled with the Spirit is that we then worship God from the heart – Ephesians 5:18-19 ….. be filled with the Spirit. 19 Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, (NIV)

Towards fellow believers – Nurture. The Church has a responsibility to nurture those who already believe and build them up to maturity in their faith – in short, discipleship. Paul goal was not simply to bring people to Christ but to bring them to maturity – Colossians 1:28 28 We proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we may present everyone perfect in Christ

We read in Ephesians that God gives gifted people to the church 12 to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up. Ephesians 4:12-13

The goal of the Church is never simply to save souls! Rather, it is to bring every Christian to maturity in Christ.

Towards the world – Outreach [evangelism, mission, acts of mercy, caring …]

Jesus was very clear that his follower – his church – were to be turned outwards to the world. The gospel of His kingdom was to be proclaimed to ALL nations

{Matt. 24:14} Make disciples of all nations [Matt.29:20] Go into all the world [Mark] be witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth [Acts1]. Telling the world the good news about what Jesus has done by dying on the cross is the primary task of the Church towards the world.

YET accompanying this task of evangelism is to be the ministry of caring for the poor and needy in the name of the Lord. Luke 6:35-36 35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend … without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and the selfish. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.

These areas of involvement by Christians in the world, in the name of Jesus, for the good of society are numerous – BUT they must not be seen as a substitute for genuine proclamation of the gospel; nor must they be a substitute for ministry directed at God or ministry to other believers.

Keeping a balance – It is always a temptation to ask which of these three is more important?

All three are commanded by the Lord in scripture, thus all three are important and none can be neglected. Emphasising one to the neglect of the other two creates and imbalance that results in an unhealthy Church.

They are, of course, not entirely separate compartments. There is a large degree of overlap between them. There are also many different aspects to each of the three ministries of the Church.

A Church that over-emphasises worship will end up with inadequate Bile teaching and remain shallow and immature.

If we neglect evangelism we will cease to grow & become turned & will wither.

If we place the building-up of believer over the other two we will produce Christians who know the Bible’s teaching but are spiritually dry because they know little of the joy of worshipping God or telling others about Christ.

All three dimensions must be emphasised and held in tension.

This does not mean that each individual Christian must give exactly 1/3 of their time in the church to each of these. God has gifted each differently.

Thus if your gift is in teaching you will give more time to building up the Church than to the other two. If you have a gift for evangelism more of your time will go in that direction. If you have the gift of helps you may spend more time doing practical things, and so on. This is an appropriated response to the diversity of gifts God has given us.

Still we must all be involved in worship, fellowship/discipleship and witness although the proportions may differ according to gift.

So the Church of God is wonderfully varied. It is especially brought together by God for his glory. It is central to God’s master plan. AND we have the immense privilege of being part of what God is doing in the universe – as we co-operate with him uses us to accomplish his plans for his universe – What a thought!

THE CHURCH IN GOD’S MASTER PLAN

 

  1. GOD’ MASTER PLAN.

God has a plan.

God’s plan extends to the whole universe.

God’s plan is to reconcile all things to

himself in Christ.

 

  1. WHAT IS THE CHURCH?

“The Church is the community of all true believers for all time”

 

  1. WHY DOES THE CHURCH EXIST?

Three dimensions:

            Ministry towards God.

            Ministry towards fellow believers.

            Ministry towards the world.

 

 

Isaiah – An Introduction

INTRODUCTORY NOTES ON ISAIAH

[See Appendix 1: p.67 of “Two Cities” study notes for the historical context of Isaiah 1-39]

There are many themes [motifs] in Isaiah – a brief look at three to get a feel for the book; viz. “The Messianic Hope”, “The City theme” and “the Holy One of Israel”.

  1. The Messianic Hope.

There are 3 pictures of Messiah in Isa. –

King (ch.1-37) 7v10-15; 9v1-7; 8v23-9v6; 11v1-16; 14v28-32; 24v21-23; 32v1-8; 33v17-24:

Servant (38-55), 42v1-4; 49v1-6; 50v4-9; 52v13-53v12:

Anointed Conqueror (56-66), 59v21; 61v1-3; 61v10-62v7; 63v1-6.

These 3 roles are facets of the one Messianic person.

1.1. The Messiah is endowed with the Spirit and word. 11v1-2,4; 42v1; 49v1-3; 50v4; 59v21; 61v1-3.

1.2. Concept of righteousness is central to the Messiah.

– characteristic of throne and king 9v7; nature of his rule 11v4.

– righteousness at the heart of the servant’s work 53v11; 54v17.

– Conqueror 61v10; 63v1

– the result of his work 61v3, 11.

1.3. This Messiah is a descendent of [King] David (man) 9v6-7; 11v1 and also the root from which David springs (God) 11v10 and the mighty God 9v6.

– Human ancestry and appearance 53v2; common human experience of rejection 53v3 and suffering beyond any other 50v6; 52v14

– BUT also the arm of the Lord (the Lord himself visibly present in saving action 53v1; 51v9; 52v10.

– in the anointed one righteousness, vengeance and redemption meet – it seems to be the Lord 59v16 but in 61v10 the robes of salvation have been passed to the Anointed One. Its his righteousness, vengeance and redemption that are finally accomplished.

1.4. Messianic Hope embraces Israel and the Gentile world.

– restoration of Zion 1v26-27 and in flooding of the nations 2v2-4.

– ‘royal’ David rules over a new world 11v1; 11v6-9

– equality and acceptance of present outcasts and aliens 19v23-25;27v12-13.

– servant will be divine revelation & salvation to the Gentiles 42v1-2; 49v1-6;

– benefits of salvation extend to Zion and the whole world ch’s 54-55.

– the conqueror’s message is universal 62v11-12

– the missionary enterprise is integral to this universal message 66v19.

  1. The city motif.

Jerusalem first mentioned in Gen.14v18 – Melchizedek recognised as Priest Of Most High God by Abraham.

Becomes important when David captures it 2 Sam.5v6-10. Centralizes it religiously and politically. These beliefs expressed in Pss.110, 47, 87,……

Through David, under God, Davidic throne, the Melchizedek priesthood, the promises to Abraham and the chosen city all come together.

Isaiah’s prophecy centres around Judah and the city of Jerusalem 1v1. The fate of Judah is sealed in the city (destruction) but the restoration is not merely of ITS people but of the world,

The motif is striking when set over against Gen. 11v1-4 (Babel) – world history produces a global society structured without God, humanly-made, humanly-centred, created by human cleverness for human salvation.

Along with the Divine overthrow of this human city is the creation of the ‘city of God’, a new world order constructed by God on His plan, with Himself at the centre and from where he reigns over a universe of righteousness and peace. 24v10; 25v2-3, 6-10; 26v1-6.

  1. The Holy One of Israel.

The focal point of Isaiah’s call is the Holiness of God. 6v1-13. [Holiness and transcendence, holiness and judgement, holiness and salvation]

– “holy” used more often in Isaiah than in rest of OT put together.

– in chs.1-37 the emphasis is on the rejection of the Holy One and the judgement which follows 5v16, 24; 10v17; 30v12-14.

– The Holy One is the Saviour who invites his people back 30v15, who the remnant trusts10v20 and acknowledge as holy 29v23 and in whose salvation they rejoice 12v6; 29v19.

– The title ‘Holy One of Israel’ occurs 25 times in Isaiah and only 7 times in the rest of the OT.

chs.1-37     – unworthy, careless, rejecting and unresponsive people.

40 – 55 – length to which the Holy One will go to deal with sin, reclaim the

sinner and create a righteous people for himself.

56-66   – the eternal state of holiness he prepares for his people wherein they

will enjoy him forever.

Nehemiah – Nehemiah’s prayer

NEHEMIAH’S PRAYER

 Nehemiah 1v1-11.

 Introduction:

          Nehemiah was a man of action – we see him as a builder and as a soldier – a leader and politician. Yet the most striking thing about Nehemiah is that he was a man of prayer. As you read his life story you cannot fail to be impressed by the fact that amid pressures and problems Neh. maintained a spirit of prayer and intercession.

Maybe it was those very pressures and problems that helped him in his prayer life. If you take the time to read through the book of Neh. and mark the occassions when he prayed you will discover that he prayed before the work is undertaken; while the building was in progress; after the walls were completed.

He prayed alone in private and in the midst of a noisy building site.

Before we look at the prayer of chapter 1 let us consider the circumstances of Neh.’s prayer.

  1. The circumstances of Nehemiah’s prayer.

IN EXILE – Neh. was born in exile – he had lived away from his homeland all his life but he had not lost his love for the land or the faith of his fathers.

ILLUST: There is something about one’s homeland – no matter how long you are away there is something inside you that belongs to that land. There are times when I don’t think about RSA much (5½ years since we left) But just let 15 green and gold jerseys run onto the pitch at Cardiff Arms Park, Murray Field or Twickenham and all the patriotic feeling comes flooding back – even Andrew who was only 7 when we left is passionately South African when the Spingboks are on the field.

For 70 years the Jews had been in exile – the decree of Cyrus had permitted some to return but only 50 000 had returned – most of the Jews prefering the prosperity of exile to the ruin of Jerusalem.

For reasons we do not know Neh. had remained in the service of King Artaxerxes – he was the king’s cup-bearer. Nehemiah’s prayer is the prayer of a man who has been providentially placed in the service of the Medo-Persian King. God had over-ruled and placed him in the Royal palace. This position that Nehemiah had would proved to be highly significant in the out working of God’s answer to Neh.’s prayer.

God is in control of our circumstances just as he was of Neh.’s. It is no good thinking that prayer would be easier if our circumstances were different – very often it is those very circumstances that God will use to accomplish his purposes.

Neh. did not become a man of great spiritual insight and prayer overnight. It seem clear from this prayer and the rest of the book that Nehemiah knew the scriptures and was in fellowship with God and committed to him prior to the prayer of chapter 1.

It is also important to note that Nehemiah’s prayer was informed. He had taken the time and trouble to find out about Jerusalem and its citizens. When he heard their situation he was stirred. He had a compasion for others and an interest in them and in God’s plan for them.

That is why we need to be involved with people – that is why we need to receive newsletters from missionaries – that is why we need to know what is going on in the church, in our country and in the world so that we can pray to the one who is in control and who has the power to do something about the circumstances.

  1. The characteristics of Nehemiah’s prayer.

COMPASSION AND GRIEF – these are the first characteristics of his prayer.

When I heard these things, I sat down and wept.

For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed

before the God of Heaven [1v4]

Neh. was a man of action – that seems clear from the rest of the book – but he does not immediately try to change things himself.

The temptation – esp. for those who are people of action; those who are always wanting to do – the temptation is to act quickly and decisively but Neh.’s first reaction is to come “before the God of Heaven”. He is deeply affected by the plight of his own people and he turns to God first. There is an acknowledgement that God is the only one who is in a position to do anything about the situation.

ACKNOWLEDGEMENT AND CONFESSION OF SIN – this is closely allied to Nehemiah’s grief. One of the temptations we face when we are in a difficult situation is to blame someone else. “It is not my fault, I just a victim.” Difficulties are not always because of sin in your life BUT that always needs to be considered.

BUT because Nehemiah knows God and his word he knows why his people are in exile. [1v6-8]:

I confess the sins we Israelites,

including myself and my father’s house,

have committed against you.

We have acted very wickedly towards you.

We have not obeyed the commands.

decrees and laws you gave your servant Moses.

Remember the instructions you gave

your servant Moses saying,

“If you are unfaithful I will

scatter you among the nations….”

Confession is an essential part of prayer – There is always need for an acknowledgement of our sinful state before God. A desire to be cleansed by God’s forgiving grace so that we may enter his presence and be heard;

Who may ascend the hill of the Lord?

Who may stand in the holy place?

He who has clean handsd and a pure heart,

who does not lift up his soul to an idol

or swear by what is false

He will receive blessing from the Lord

And vindication from God his Saviour [Ps.24v3-5]

Nehemiah admits before God that he, and the whole nation, are guilty . That is one of the first steps in coming to God – that we agree with him about ourselves and begin to see ourselves as God see us.

CONFIDENCE – we can’t read this prayer without being impressed by the spirit of faith with which it is prayed. There is a quiet confidence that God will hear and answer. This is not an arrogant, demanding prayer. It is not presumptuous or flippant. It comes from the heart of a man who has spent time in God’s presence.

Very often our praying is crisis praying by which I mean we only pray when in difficulty. Nehemiah’s prayer was crisis but behind it was a life of communion with God

IN CONCERT WITH OTHERS –

O Lord, let your ear be attentive

to the prayer of this your servant,

and to the prayer of your servants

who delight in revering your name. [1v11a]

Nehemiah knows that he is not alone – he knows that their are other Jews who have the same desire as he has – those who are also moved with compassion concerning the plight of Jerusalem.

Maybe this is a challenge to us that we need to spend more time together in concerted prayer. A number of people have said to me over the last few months that we need to spend more time in prayer together as a congregation.

 

ILLUS.: We heard about the Korean Church some weeks ago that prays at 4.00 or 5.00 am. – When should we pray. No time is ever convenient but we really ought to make time.

How can we agree together unless we spend time together.

Jesus said …”Again I tell you that if two of you on earth

agree about anything you ask for, it will be done for

you by my Father in heaven. For where two or three come

together in my name there I am with them [Matt.18v19]

This is not agrreing simply amongst ourselves BUT agreeing together with God about what his will for us is!!

A RIGHT VIEW OF GOD – There is a deep reverence for God and an appreciation for the greatness of God in this prayer.

O Lord God of heaven the great and awesome God,

who keeps his covenant of love with those who obey his commands.

Nehemiah knows that his God is great and awesome but is also a covenant keeping God.

Sometimes I wonder if the problem with much of our praying – and I speak for myself hear – is that I know a lot about God – BUT how well do I really know him. Sometimes I fell like I know God as an employee knows a boss rather than as a child knows a Father. The latter is what God wants.

  1. The content of Nehemiah’s prayer.

There are three things that Nehemiah wants God to do:

HEAR the prayer of your servant – v6

REMEMBER … [the instructions] word to Moses – v8

GIVE …. SUCCESS to you servant – v11

HEAR – Neh. considered the plight of his people and the city of Jerusalem and consider that to be evidence that God was not hearing the prayers of his people.

This type of prayer is common in the OT. The prophets calling on the Lord to hear.

They did not for a moment think that God was deaf or that he did not know what was going on BUT what they were pleading for was a manifestation of God’s power. Often we see in the OT times when God remains apparently inactive due to the sin of his people. God will not answer the prayers of his people when they are not rightly related to him in love and obedience.

Notice too, that Neh.’s prayer was continual “Day and night” v6

It was also, as we have seen, contrite and repentant.

REMEMBER – What?? Your instructions to your servant Moses..[v8]. Here we have a precedent and a pattern for prayer for believers. To know the scrpitures and to use them in prayer. Not parrot – fashion BUT to have them inside of you so that you can pray according to the will of God.

READ V.9

Nehemiah knows what God has promised – Neh. can pray so boldly because he knows what God has promised. He knows what Moses knew – that Israel were God’s chosen people and God had bound himself to them in covenant and could not break it.

Neh. recognises that the prophetic word of God had told of the scattering of God’s people BUT it had also told of the regathering of God’s people.

Neh. knows this and he knows that the promised blessing for the returned exiles has not yet materialsied. So he prays on behalf of the returned exiles.

v.10 — They are your servants and your people,

whom you redeemed by your strength

and your mighty hand

Prayer is not something magical. Not a wand that we can wave over every problem. To pray is to enter into the mind of God as expressed in his word, in order that his work might be carried out and his name glorified.

Prayer is not reminding God because he has forgotten something or needs to be informed no more than asking him to hear is saying that he is deaf BUT in a mysterious way as we pray according to God’s word he acts. IN HIS TIME!!!

GIVE …… SUCCESS – “Give your servant success by granting him favour in the presence of this man [King Artxerxes]” [1v11]

This is the first direct personal request – he is praying about the relationship with his earthly master.

How often are we in a difficult situation – with work or family – We must remember that God is over them to and he can move / change difficult situation. We might be under authority but we have access to one who has ultimate authority.

Very often we can be the answer to our own prayers – sometimes a difficult situation can be resolved or eased by God changing us.

Neh. was concerned about Jerusalem and he was part of the plan.

In mission work this has happened many times. So often God begins a work by burdening someone to pray and often they end up involved in the work.

If we are going to pray for God to work in Binscombe Church and through us then we must be willing to be part of the answer to our prayers.

  1. The consequences of Nehemiah’s prayer.

 Did God hear?

Did God remember?

Did God give success?

Well. the rest of the book of Nehemiah answers those questions.

God heard Neh.’s prayer!!

He rememebered his word to his people!!!

And Nehemiah had success in completing the walls.

The rebuilding was not without its difficulties. AND this was not the last pray Nehemiah prayed. Pray was not a one – off it was a habit.

The secret of Nehemiah’s success did not lie in the resources he received from   King Artxerxes. Nor was it in his ablity as a leader. It lay in his power with God. The sphere of action in the Book in not the court of an Oriental king but the court of Heaven. Nehemiah’s prayer moved the hand that moves the world!

This is the confidence that we have in approaching God:

that if we ask anything according to his will he hears us.

And if we know that he hears us – whatever we ask –

we know that we have whatever we asked of him. [1 John 5v14-15]

 

Nehemiah – The portrait of a leader

THE PORTRAIT OF A LEADER – NEHEMIAH.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Elders / Deacons – we are leaders of the Binscombe Church.

Helpful to look at Nehemiah as an example of what a godly leader should be.

We are briefly looking at his life and ministry – just a glance.

 

  1. NEHEMIAH’S CIRCUMSTANCES.

 

His time in Israel’s history was a crucial time in the life of the nation of Israel.

It was after the exile when a small group of Jews return from Babylon to Palestine.

 

Eight keys words summaries Israels history up to the time of Nehemiah.

  • ELECTION – Abraham – Israel elected to be worshipping/witnessing community.
  • ENSLAVEMENT – in bondage in Egypt.
  • EMANCIPATION – through Moses delivered from Egypt.
  • ENTRANCE – after 40 years in the desert they entered the Promised land.
  • ESTABLISHMENT – in Saul (then David) the beginning of the Monarchy.
  • EVIL – repetative evil of the nation eventually brought God’s judgement.
  • EXILE – Northern Kingdom to Assyria – Judah to Babylon (Nehemiah)
  • EDICT – Temple rebuilt by Zerubabbel and Joshua with Ezra the priest — then edict given by Cyrus to rebuild Jerusalem’s walls.

 

Nehemiah was prepared by God for spiritual service.

His task was a practical one BUT a mistake to think spiritual preparation was not important.

No matter how practical the task there is still a need for spiritual preparation.

Neh. was a Jew – brought up in exile by godly parents who taught him the Law [inferred in ch.1]

His prayer [ch.1] reflects his knowledge of God’s law – the history and hopes of his people.

OUR spiritual preparedness is crucial to our spiritual service.

Nehemiah was placed by God for specific service.

Long before Neh. led the rebuilding of Jerusalem’s walls he was being prepared by God for the task – he was cupbearer in the court of Artaxerxes – this was no menial task but and office that held great responsibility and authority. He became a confidant and counsellor to the king. – 1:11 – 2:1.

 

WE are taken through the course of our lives by God – everything from our background, our work, our experiences of life are designed or use by God to make us what we are and to use us in the specific sphere of service we are in.

  1. NEHEMIAH’S CHARACTER

There are many qualities we could list – here are 6.

  • FAITH – whether encouraging the people of Jerusalem or standing up to the foes of Jerusalem , his confidence was in God. [4:14-15, 20. 6:16]
  • PRAYER – a man of prayer – many references to his prayer life .[1v4-11; 2v4; 4v4,5,9; 5v19; 6v9,14; 13v14,22,29,31.]
  • SENSITIVE – to God’s leading “My God has put into my heart…” [7v5; cf.2v12.] Step by step he was guided by God in his work.
  • FEAR OF GOD – he lived his life under the all-seeing eye of God [Nehemiah 5:9 9 So I continued, “What you are doing is not right. Shouldn’t you walk in the fear of our God to avoid the reproach of our Gentile enemies? (NIV)]cf.5v15]
  • DISCERNMENT – a keen discerner of truth and reality. Concerning the sham of Shemaiah he is able to say: “I perceived that God had not sent him” [6v12]
  • DEPENDENT – on God – He realised that without the favour of God his work would be in vain. Nehemiah 2:18. I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.                                                                                                           Psalm 127:1

1 [A song of ascents. Of Solomon.] Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain. (NIV)

Is my experience of Jesus similar to that of Neh. – My relationship to Jesus is more important than anything else.

  1. NEHEMIAH’S COMMITMENT.

 

1V1-4 show how Neh. heard about the need in Jerusalem – as he heard about the state of that beloved city he became burdened in his spirit.

His commitment to get involved developed when he began to realise that he could do something about rebuilding the walls.

His commitment expressed itself in the fact that he got on with the work even when he was under threat from the enemies. There was a willingness on his part to give up his safety and comfort in order to complete the task given him by God.

As a leadership team at Binscombe Church we have seen a task that needs doing and have been led by God to get involved – the test of the commitment is seen in the time and effort put in by each one. God help us to continue this and to improve where that is necessary.

  1. NEMEMIAH’S COMMISSION.

From a human persepective Neh. was commissioned by King Artaxerxes – [2v1-8] He was given the permission and material resources to do the job.

WE are like that – appointed by the people of the Church to do a job and the material resources come from them [and us].

Look at what Neh. reports he said to the people of Jerusalem   Nehemiah 2:18 18 I also told them about the gracious hand of my God upon me and what the king had said to me.

They replied, “Let us start rebuilding.” So they began this good work. (NIV)

First the hand of God then the King’s word. That was the order inwhich Neh. lived his life.

It is essential for every Christian worker – and every Christian should be a worker – to have a sense of this royal commission from God – We all feel from time to time that we are being used or are not appreciated etc….. but let’s reminds ourselves that we are commissioned by God.

Neh. did a great work – but we need to keep in mind that in the final analysis each one’s work will be no greater than his character!

God has called us to a particular task – and this promise we have from him –Philippians 4:19 19 And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. (NIV)

 

NEW MUSIC WEBSITE!

IMG_8741

I have been busy over the last few months writing and recording some songs that God has placed on my heart. If you’ve found your way to this site, please take a moment to go to www.andrewrobinsonmusic.co.uk and check it out!

You can also follow on Twitter , Facebook or YouTube

Thanks,

Andrew

Hosea 3:1-5 – The cost of covenant love

Hosea 3v1-5

THE COST OF COVENANT LOVE.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

ILLUST: There have been stories – either fictitious or true – about men who have fallen in love with a prostitute and have married and had a happy life. There have been stories about men who have been “Jack -the lad” who have met a woman who has reformed him and they have married and love.

 

 

BUT how many men who having married a women who betrays him again and again, has children by another man, who sells her body for reward and who doesn’t want to return to him, – how many men would love such a woman?

 

We are not even told if Hosea actually loved Gomer. It would seem that Hosea had rescued Gomer from prostitution already and married her – after which she had returned to her old ways. It appears that she had sunk even lower than before. She was not a prostitute because she was forced into it. Her husband had not thrown her out or left her – she chose that kind of life because she was wanton and her passions were out of control.

 

She turned her back on her husband who loved her in order to satisfy her carnal desires.

 

The relationship between Hosea and Gomer was a picture of the relationship between God and the people of Israel. Israel was God’s chosen people – he loved them like a devoted husband. He provided all their needs. His intentions for them were only good but they had turned away and chased after other gods – they had worshipped the Baals they had engaged in immoral practices, practised injustices and entered into unholy political alliances.

 

Israel had treated God in the same way as Gomer had treated Hosea – they had prostituted themselves to foreign gods.

When God’s people are side-tracked into following after things that come between them and God then they are guilty of prostituting themselves.

 

  1. LOVE: AN OBEDIENT ACT OF THE WILL.

 

The Lord said to me, “Go, show your love to your wife again,

though she is loved by another and is an adultress.

 

Try to imagine how Hosea must have felt.

He is the injured party. She left him. She humiliated him. She doesn’t want to return.

She is not saying “I will go back to my husband – I’ll clean up my act and then may be he will love me again” She doesn’t want to know. She is enjoying her life.

 

It is easy to fall into the trap of thinking that because in theory we know that sin is evil and dirty that it is therefore not enjoyable. Like Gomer, men and women today, do enjoy sexual promiscuity – there is excitement and pleasure in having an affair. If there wasn’t people wouldn’t do it. There is pleasure in premarital sex. We must not deny that sin is pleasurable BUT there is a sting in the tail.

The pleasure of sin are for a season.

 

We must not think that Gomer was the only immoral woman in Israel! And were there are immoral woman there are equally immoral men.

There is no faithfulness, no love, no acknowledgment

of God in the Land. There is only cursing, lying and

murder, stealing and adultery, they break all bounds

and bloodshed follows bloodshed. [4v2-3]

 

What Gomer was doing was the spirit of the age, everyone was doing it. Why was Hosea so upset why couldn’t they have an open marriage. Isn’t that today’s reasoning! Today for someone to still be a virgin on their wedding night is the exception not the rule! If they marry at all!!

 

The spirit of the age has taken the legitimate desires that God has given us and has pursued them and exalted them to the point of Idolatry.

 

As John White puts it ‘…sex, food, warmth, luxury, sensuality, soft sheets, thick carpeting, fine wines, and fine dining. These are all blessings from God, but when ardently sought for themselves, rather than as gifts to be received with thankfulness, they reduce us to the status of slaves.

 

The sting in the tail of sin is that it pretends to give us control but in reality reduces us to its slaves.

 

Gomer was a slaves but she didn’t yet know it – She had to be bought back, she was enslaved.

 

God commands Hosea to go and love Gomer again! Notice that the kind of love God expects from Hosea is not a “Because of” love but an “inspite of” love. It is not loving her because she loves him BUT loving her inspite of the fact that she is loved by another and has betrayed Hosea’s love – she is an adultress.

 

HOW is this love possible??

 

  1. LOVE: A REFLECTION OF GOD.

 

I don’t think that Hosea’s love for Gomer was ecstatically romantic! It was an act of the will and an act of obedience to God. It was to be a reflection of God’s love for Israel. God’s love for the nation of Israel was not based on their inherent goodness. God loved Israel because he chose to love them.

Love her as the Lord loves the Israelites,

though they turn to other gods and

love the sacred raisin cakes. [v2]

 

God says to Hosea, “I want you to demonstrate to this nation of Israel how much I love them by loving Gomer again.”

 

Here we have a picture of pure devotion over against gross infatuation. God loves the Israelites and what do they love “raisin cakes” -of all things. These raisin cakes were probably linked to some cultic religious festival or some other rare occassion.

 

Consider the incredulity of it – raisin cakes in the place of God’s love. Yet God still loves Israel and Hosea is to love Gomer again. BUT how? HOW?

 

  1. LOVE: A COSTLY ACTION.

 

After having been commanded by God to go and love Gomer we would expect Hosea to say “So I went and loved ….” But he says ‘So I bought her”..

 

Our curiosity is not satisfied as to why he had to buy her. Perhaps she was in debt, or a slave, or was a prostitute working for a pimp, or her lover wanted compensation [revealing the worth of his love]. We don’t know why.

 

Nor do we know Hosea’s feelings. In scripture love is usually practical before it is emotional.

 

ILLUST: Film – Fiddler on the Roof – his daughters are falling in love – man asks his wife – “Do you love me” Wife – “For 25 years I’ve cooked for you, raise the children, shared your bed.”

“Yes but do you love me” “Yes I suppose I do”

 

We have turned love upside down! Love is practical – its doing! The romance and the emotions come and go! Feelings are very fickle! So if a relationship is only based on feeling it will crumble! Love is a commitment and a trust.

 

Why is marriage in such a bad way?? Because it is based on feeling [or out of control hormones] BUT Biblical love is practical – its action – it is doing for the other what is right before God.

And you know the amazing thing is that love comes!!

 

Hosea showed his love by buying Gomer back! That doesn’t mean that love is as cold as ice. It is self-giving and includes a devoted will and a genuine warmth.

 

Hosea pays the price to get her back and he also lays down the terms of the reconciliation.

 

The conditions for reconciliation are laid out in verse 3:

 

Then I told her: “You are to live with me for many days,

you must not be a prostitute or be intimate with any man,

and I will live with [wait for] you.”

 

There is a realism and a symbolism attached to this probationary period.

Broken relationships take time to be restored. It doesn’t just happen! When there has been hurt and pain and broken trust restoration is never instant.

 

The end of v.3 could read “and I will wait for you to live with you”

After these verses we don’t know what happened to Hosea and Gomer – we can be sure that their relationship took time to heal.

 

The disciplinary period in the marriage is a prophetic symbol of a time that Israel will have to go through.

God is going to strip away from Israel everything that they have come to depend on and put in place of God.

 

READ V.4.

 

Their kings and princes had been chosen in self-will . [cf.8v4]

They set up kings without my consent.

they choose princes without my approval

 

Their worship is tainted with Baalism [idolatry]

Their needed to be a clean break, deep enough and long enough to make a new beginning possible.

 

They needed to climb down from their fierce independence and return to the Lord.

God promises that that will happen “in the last days”

 

READ v.5

 

There was a time in the history of the nation of Israel when after the exile God did bring the People back and restore the nation of Israel for a time.

 

But Hosea is looking far into the future when “in the last days” the Davidic kingship will be restored. He is looking forward to the days when messiah would come and inaugurate the kingdom of God.

God loves his people he can’t turn his back – like Gomer he comes and buys back! He redeems from the slave market! He rescues from the streets of promiscuity!

 

His love is practical:

God demonstrates [shows] his love in this; While we

were still sinners Christ died for us [Rom.5v8]

 

We have seen the dawn of the last days that Hosea predict. We are living in the last Days. As believers we have inherited the name and destiny of Israel. David and his kingdom were a symbol of a greater and more glorious kingdom to come.[Rev.22v16]

 

  1. Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for

the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David,

and the bright Morning Star

 

God’s love will always prevail, he will not allow his people to be destroyed or to destroy themselves.

God’s love for his people is too great. God will never give up on his people> Love will have its way.

 

Like Israel of old the church has been guilty of turning away and following after other gods.

 

John White -“Flirting with the world” -READ p.15

 

It is true of us as individuals too, isn’t it?

We have disappointed him.

Let him down.

Denied him!

Been ashamed to be called by his name.

Bickered amongst ourselves.

We have chosen the raisin cakes.

BUT you know what He still love you – and me!!

 

READ White -p.153

Hosea 1:1 – 2:1 -The God who won’t let go! Punishment and Promise

THE GOD WHO WON’T LET GO!

Punishment and Promise.

 

Hosea 1v1 – 2v1.

 

BACKGROUND.

 

A brief recap of the background is helpful. The kingdom of Israel had split into North [10 tribes] and South [2 tribes] after the death of King Solomon. The North was called Israel and the South, Judah. It is to the North, Israel, that Hosea is speaking primarily although Judah is mentioned at times.

 

When Hosea came on the scene Jeroboam II was on the throne of Israel. It was a fairly prosperous time for the nation of Israel. BUT they were also far down the road of moral decay. So when Jeroboam died a power struggle began with kings being setup and cut down one after another. Of the six kings who succeeded Jeroboam only one died of natural causes. Some reigned for a very short time. Zechariah 6 months and Shallum only 1!

A keyword that would describe the politics of Israel at this time is “CONSPIRACY”.

Each new king sought help from foreign nations like Egypt and Assyria – they lost their national power and independence and eventually became a vassal of Assyria.

 

It was more than just loss of political power – moral decay had swept the nation.

 

There is no faithfulness, no love,

no acknowledgment of God in the land.

There is only cursing lying and murder,

stealing and adultery;

they break all bounds and bloodshed

follows bloodshed [4v1b-2]

 

Religion had sunk to sensual idolatry! Family life had broken down! Even the priests had become corrupt and rejoiced that the people were sinning because that meant more sacrifices and therefore more revenue.

 

It was into this situation that God called Hosea to be a prophet.

 

INTRODUCTION.

Hosea: the man and his message!

 

When God calls us to be the bearers of his message – and we are all called to that in one way or another – he expects us not only to speak about it but to live it. If this was ever true of any servant of God then it was true of Hosea. He more that any other prophet of the OT was called to live out his message.

 

When we judge a persons ministry today we tend to judge it according to how successful it is. AND we tend to measure success in terms of popularity and growth in the number of people who come or how much material blessing a person receives. Obeying God can, however, be very lonely and difficult – you can be misunderstood, even by fellow Christians, and suffer rejection and anguish.

 

Don’t you sometimes think that if you could hear God give you specific instructions it would be so much easier to obey! Would it? Put yourself in Hosea’s place-

“GO AND MARRY A PROSTITUTE ….” [v2]

 

How do you think his friends reacted? Here is a man of God marrying a street girl from SOHO. It wouldn’t sit very well with us, would it?

 

It is unclear as to whether or not she was a prostitute before he married her or only became one later. I tend to think she was already one but either way Hosea knew the kind of woman she was or would become.

 

“Go, marry a whore, and get children by a whore,

for the country has become nothing but a whore

by abandoning God. [JB v2]

 

What God is asking Hosea to do by marrying Gomer is to symbolize to the nation their relationship with God. The nation of Israel has prostituted itself by running after other gods. Whenever we allow other things or people or philosophies to determine and dominate our lives we are guilty of prostituting ourselves. These are harsh words that God is speaking to his people. And God’s tactics may come as a shock to us and we might feel that they are a bit unrefined. But then God is not an English gentleman who is confine to our social etiquette.

 

  1. GOD’S WARNING. [v2-9]

 

God’s warning is conveyed through Hosea’s life and especially through the birth of his three children. Or rather of the three children born to Gomer, his wife, because it is probable that two of the three where fathered by other men.

 

READ v3-5.

 

Jezreel is born.

The name itself has similar meaning to Israel. It was the name of a valley and a town in Israel. BUT because of what had happened there it took on a whole new meaning.

Jehu had in the past caused a blood bath when he wiped out the household of King Ahab. Through trickery and cruelty he slaughtered the kings family and supporters. So Jezreel conjured up that picture in people’s minds. Just like Belsen or Rwanda or Bosnia brings to mind certain pictures.

 

God used the Jehu to punish Ahab for his wickedness but Jehu never followed God nor did his successors so God is now warning Israel that the same fate awaits them.

 

God is going to use the Assyrians to punish Israel. As a kingdom Israel had ceased to be a force for God – so they were to be removed. It took some time for the final judgement to be fulfilled but it was final. God is patient but he is not soft and if his people refuse to go his way and follow his will he will remove them.

 

ILLUST: Consider the churches of Asia Minor – Where are they today? The became cold and preoccupied with other things and so God removed his Spirit from them.

 

We cannot assume that because Binscombe Church is here today it will always be – God will keep us as long as we follow him.

 

Lo-Ruhamah [not pitied]

 

READ v6-7

 

The first child that Gomer had was Hosea’s but it doesn’t say that the second one was his.

It was tragic enough to have Jezreel who foretold the loss of a war and a kingdom but more tragic was the message of the second child “NOT PITIED” . How desperate to lose the compassion and mercy of God. What a pitiful state to be in. If God is not compassionate and merciful then we are without any hope.

 

God is a compassionate and forgiving God but he can’t simply gloss over disobedience and sin. He has been patient with Israel but year upon year they have turned away from him. God was willing to show mercy but they were unwilling to obey. God was willing to forgive but they were unwilling to repent. There comes a point where God says enough!

 

Remember Jesus’s words about Jerusalem:

O Jerusalem. Jerusalem, you who killed the prophets

and stoned those sent to you, how often I have longed

to gather your children as a hen gathers her chicks

under her wings, BUT YOU WERE NOT WILLING,

Look your house is left to you desolate. [Matt.23v37]

 

You see the warning is clear: Persistent impenitence brings the judgement of God.

 

It need to be said that these prophetic utterance were not irrevocable sentence but servere warnings.

 

The same Assyrian army that destroyed Israel set its sights on Judah [the Southern Kingdom] as well. The difference was that Hezekiah who was king of Judah did not turn to a foreign power for help but turned to God and God delivered them {Isaiah 37}. Ultimately they were conquered and taken into exile because they fell into the same sin as their brothers in the north.

 

God is long-suffering and compassionate but there comes a time when he says, “ENOUGH”

 

READ Jeremiah 18v7-10

 

Judah repented and God relented but the next generation refused to repent so God punished them. We cannot rely on the faith of the previous generation and we are responsible to teach our children to obey God. Not only by what we tell they but by what we show them by our lifestyle -what we do with our time and our money how we relate to each other and so on….

 

ILLUST: The first time I went to Wales I was saddened to see so many Churches boarded up. The one we attended could probably seat 1000 but there were 30 there. Something has gone wrong along the way.

 

There is no guarantee that because a Church is alive today that it will be tomorrow. We have to guard the gospel God has entrusted to us.

 

Lo-Ammi. [v8-9]

 

Lo-ammi like his sister seems to be the product of Gomer’s adulterous relationships.

 

Imagine the heartache of Hosea as he contemplated his children – realising that two of the three were not his – and the sadness of the words to Israel “YOU ARE NOT MY PEOPLE”

 

You see Israel wanted other gods beside Yahweh – They were not content to follow Yahweh alone – they wanted God plus … . Israel wanted to pay lip service to God and then live like the Nations around her. BUT God says that is not good enough.

 

Yahweh is a jealous God. He is not for sharing. God likened himself to a husband – and he is a jealous one – he is not prepared to share his people with another lover. He says; “You have me exclusively or you do not have me at all!”

 

“You are not my people and I am not yours”

 

ILLUST: Would you be prepared to marry someone who said: “I’ll marry you as long as I can continue to live my own life as I please and just fit you in when it suits me”

 

Sadly some marriages operate that ways and inevitably end in disaster. We would not expect that from our partners and we cannot expect God to be content with that attitude.

 

The message is; If you reject God, then ultimately he will reject you. He is patient and forgiving but he is a jealous God who will not tolerate being pushed into second place.

 

  1. GOD’S PROMISE. [v10-11]

 

READ v10-11

 

Through the messages of doom and gloom there are always God’s promises shining through. God’s message of destruction is not the final word – there is the message of Hope. There will be a time says Hosea when the people of God will be restored.

 

There is a clear reminder in v.10 of the promises God made to Abraham.

 

“I will surely bless you and make your descendants

as numerous as the stars in the sky and the sand

on the seashore, …. through your offspring all nations

on earth will be blessed because you have obeyed me

[Gen,22v17-18]

 

I will make you offspring like the dust of the earth,

so that if anyone could count the dust then your

offspring could be counted [Gen.13v16]

 

God did not totally destroy Israel nor Judah when they went into exile. We know that some of the people from the North joined Judah and God brought back a remnant from Babylon. In that Israel and Judah were united again into one nation. The concept of a single people of God was far from dead and God would bring them together and build a new nation.

 

BUT it does not stop there. The NT does not allow us to stop there.

Paul in writing to the Romans quotes from Hosea:

I will call them my people who are not my people

and I will call her my loved one who is not my loved one.

AND It will happen in the very place where it was

said to them ‘you are not my people’ they will be called

‘sons of the living God.

[Rom.9v25-26]

 

PETER. “Once you were not a people but now you are the people of God

Once you had not received mercy but now you have received mercy

[1 Peter 2v10]

 

This idea of the gentiles being part of the people of God was no after thought. It was part of the promise that God made to Abraham. “In you shall all nations of the earth be blessed” [Gen.12v3] . Jesus came to die not just for one nation but for the world and to bring together one holy nation, the people of God.

John tells us this in his gospel: John 11v52.

Jesus would die for the Jewish nation,

BUT not only for that nation, but

also for the scattered children of God

and bring them together and make them one.

 

We are the recipients of this promise. We were once ‘not the people of God’ but now we are ‘the people of God’. We have received mercy.

 

If you have wandered away from God – return God is gracious and loving.

 

The warning to the church is that if we wander from path of obedience to follow Christ out in the world where he is going – he will withdraw his presence from us. God’s concern is that in the places where it is said “NOT MY PEOPLE” there it will be said “YOU ARE THE PEOPLE OF GOD”. God is not content to have second place in our lives or for us to set our own agenda.

 

God is infinitely loving and compassionate – he is always willing to forgive if we will return to him.

God is in the business of rebuilding the ruins and calling out a people for himself. He includes us in that business if we follow him and obey him.

Habakkuk 2:2-20 – Hoping in God When the Present Seems Hopeless

HOPING IN GOD WHEN THE PRESENT SEEMS HOPELESS

 

HABAKKUK 2V2-20.

 

INTRODUCTION.

 

Have you ever had doubts? Have you ever doubted God? Does he really exist? Does he care what is going on in the world? Does he even know what is going on in the world? How could God allow the holocaust? Bosnia? Chechenya?

 

On an individual level – how come Christians get cancer? lose loved ones in tragic accidents?

 

Have you ever been in a discussion with a non-christian and they ask “How come a good God allows bad things to happen, esp. to good people?” And you are at a loss for words!!

 

Have you ever had doubts like this?? Then you are in good company? Habakkuk had the same doubts [As John showed us last week]. God had said that he was going to use the evil and brutal Chaldeans to bring judgement on the people of Judah. How could God used evil people to judge his choosen people? You see Habakkuk’s dilemma.

 

We also saw that Habakkuk in spite of his complaints against God, in spite of his doubts and lack of understanding still believed in God.

 

O Lord are you not from everlasting?

My God, my Holy one, we will not die.. [1v12]

 

READ – 2v1- shows us that Hab. is willing to leave the problem with God and await the divine response.

 

BUT is there an answer to these perplexing questions? What is God’s response to Habakkuk’s complaint?

 

The Lord’s answer comes in the passage before us. We do not know how much time elapsed between v1 & v2. However long it was it was worth the wait!!

 

  1. THE FULFILLMENT OF GOD’S REVELATION IS NEVER IN DOUBT. [v2-3]

 

God’s first instruction to Habakkuk is to write down the revelation that he has received on tablets of stone. It is the same word that is used in Exodus with reference to the 10 commandments. There is debate about what kind of material these tablets were made of and wear they were to be placed. Regardless of those issues that important fact was that the message was to be written is a way that was accessible to everyone.

 

The second instruction was that it was to be written clearly – not a reference to large letters but plainly so that everyone could understand the message.

Maybe there is a message here for the church of our day – maybe people in our society think the church is irrelavant because often it is just that. If the message of God is not in plain language but is couched in eccelsiastical jargon, how can the person in the street be expected to understand it.

 

The third instruction was that whoever reads it may run with it. Often this has been interpreted to mean that it should be written in large letters so that a runner, hurrying by, may be able to read the message at a glance and make sense of it.

But that is not the meaning – this revelation is not meant to be a billboard on the side of the road. Rather the person who reads the message may adopt it as a guide for living – ‘run’ being used in the biblical sense of ‘walk’ – ie. run through life according to this message.

The NIV translation of “so that a herald may run with it” could mean that a person you receives and understands the message may share it with others – may “run with it”.

 

This understanding is always implicit in the gospel – it is to be shared.

 

A further reason for writing down the revelation was so that it could be preserved until its fulfillment could be demonstrated historically.

 

READ v3.

 

This revelation would be fulfilled but in God’s good time. The realities of life sometimes cause us to forget God’s promise. That is why the written promises of God’s word are so impotant – remiders of God’s purposes. Aren’t you tempted sometimes, to wonder if God’s word will ever be fulfilled.

Why is God so slow in fulfilling his word? We get impatient but God is not impatient – He can wait 430 years to free his people from slavery in Egypt. He can wait 70 years to restore the exiles to Israel.

To the OT saints the promise of the Messiah seemed remote – that it would never come but “In the fullness of time God sent his Son….”

 

There are times when it seems that God is inactive – but don’t be fooled into thinking that God’s apparent inactivity means that he has forgotten. “It will certainly come and will not delay”.

 

Remember how God promised Abraham and Sarah a son and they have to wait 25 years – Did God fulfill his promise?? Of course!!

 

The immediate fulfillment of this verse was judgement on the Chaldeans and that judgemet came. BUT beyond the Chaldeans was an agent of judgement and salvation – Jesus the Messiah. And even beyond that to the second coming of Christ when the fullness of salvation and judgement will come into being.

 

Sometime we can look at situations in our world and say “If only God would intervene / do something / do anything?

 

Let us hear God word to Habakkuk.

 

Though it linger, WAIT for it,

it will certainly come and will not delay [v3b]

 

We need patience to possess the promises of God. “Wait” – Lit. to pant, long for.

 

You need to perserve so that when you have done the will of God,

You will receive what he has promised. For in just a very little while:

He who is coming will come and will not delay. {Heb.10v35-37]

 

  1. 3 does not mean that these predicted event will come soon – in our scale of things – but rather they will come exactly when God intends them to come . THey will not miss God’s schedule – they will not be delayed a moment beyond the appointed time.

 

  1. HOW GOD’S PEOPLE SHOULD LIVE IN VIEW OF HIS PROMISES. [v4-5].

 

READ v.4-5

 

These verses descibe two classes of people in the world:

– The pround and arrogant who contius ti live in their boastful ways.

– the just who live by faith.

 

The “puffed -up” are characterised by pride and arrogance and presumption. They are addicted to their appitites – they never rest – they are never satisfied. Their desires are insatiable. They always want more and more – never content with what they have.

This was the accusation against the Chaldeans – [v5] he gathers to himself

 

ILLUS.: It was Karl Marx who said of capitalism that by its very nature it could never rest content – it will always seek new markets all over the world to satisfy its insatiable desire for ever greater profits.

 

Wasn’t he right – when we see large company profit marginals going up and up – the top bosses getting larger and larger salaries. YET the worker’s wages are kept down – many are made redundant – foreign workers paid minimal wages. All in the name of profit. To satisfy the shareholders most of whom probably could manage fine without the money.

 

There is a warning here for those whose lives are controlled by greed, like death greed is never satisfied – it is self-destructive. While the text does say what will happen to such people and nations the implication is clear.

The just shall live — the unjust, proud, arrogant and greed will die.

 

The other group of people are those who live by faith – the just!!

We can’t think of this verse without our minds going back to Abraham. {Gen.15v6}

Abraham believed God and he credited it to him as righteousness

 

As Paul is at pains to point out in Romans and Galatians [as well as the writer to the Hebrews] Justification before God is by faith. Those who have been justified by God are the one’s who live by faith.

Our justification and our salvation are by grace – because of Christ’s saving work for us on the cross and in his resurrection.

If our salvation depended on our faith we would be tempted to doubt. The quality of our faith is often uncertain and our motives imperfect. But our salvation does not depend on our faith as much as on the grace of God – our faith is simply the means by which we receive God’s free gift.

 

Faith is also the continuing perserverance in faith as a foundation for the righteous life. We are to have faith in God and also to be faithful in how we live out our life for God.

 

The message of Habakkuk’s vision boils down to this: In “the end” the destinies of the wicked and the righteous will be evident. One will perish and the other will live.

This may not be apparent now BUT it will certainly come. There are many things that we don’t understand but a life of faithfulness is to be the response to life’s many unanswered questions.

 

  1. THE ULTIMATE DOWNFALL OF THE PROUD AND GREEDY. [v6-19]

 

V6-19 are really an expansion of what has already been said about the wicked. God has pronounced that the wicked are doomed. Evil has an inherent capacity to self-destruct. The vices of the wick carry within them their own just reward.

 

If you live by the sword you die by the sword.

 

In the histroical context of Habakkuk the Chaldeans – this proud, greedy and brutal people will themselves experience that same treatment as they have meted out to other nations and people.

 

How often throughout history has the aggressive nation ultimately suffered the same fate that it had meted out.

 

ILLUS.: The Assyrians conquerored by the Babylonians – Babylonians by the Medo-Persians, Medo-Persians by the Greeks, the Greeks by the Romans, the Romans by the Barbarians ..

 

Now follows a series of five “woes” pronounced against the wicked.

 

  1. The first woe against those of insatiable greed. [v6-8]

 

These verses descibe those who will by whatever means take what does not belong to them. They will extort and steal.

Those nations and individuals who exploit others for there own greedy desires must be warned that they themselves will become victims. [v7]

Those they have plundered will rise up and plunder them.

 

ILLUS.: What happened in France during the revolution. Those who had been exploited by the ruling classes revolted and reeked vengence.

 

V8 illustrates well the biblical principle that what people sow that will also reap.

The wicked might get away with their wickedness for a long time and they might think that nothing will ever happen to them BUT retribution can and does rise suddenly and unexpectedly.

 

God’s hand of justice will make returns to people according to their works – and not just on judgement day – but often in this present life also.

 

  1. The second “woe” is against those who build their domain by exploiting others. [v9-11]

 

The second flows out of the first. When one has gained all these possessions then there is a need to protect it. So they develop a fortress mentality. Like a bird he builds a high nest to protect –

BUT God has pronounce judgement on those who illegally amass wealth.

 

Remember Acan [in Joshua] who stole from the city of Jericho when God had specifically said not to. It was the destruction of his whole household and clan.

 

Habakkuk is in many ways echoing the proverbs of Israel:

 

He troubles his house who is greedy for gain,

but he who despises gifts shall live [Prov.15v27]

 

They ambush there own blood.

they lurk in hiding for their own lives,

So are the ways of all who are greedy for gain [Prov.1v18-19]

 

This kind of living is opposite to the principles of God’s kingdom: “He who loves his life will loose it BUT he who loses his life for my sake will find it”

 

  1. The third woe is against those who try to create society by violence and tryanny [v.12-14]

 

Habakkuk has in mind military conquest and political assassination. Maybe he mean human sacrifice which was common — certainly forced labour is indicated in v13.

 

The city is often prtrayed in scripture as man’s final attempt to subdue the earth.

Cain built the first city. Nimrod was a city-builder and an exploiter of people. Babel was the pinnacle of man’s effort to get along without God.

The Society that tries to get along without God is doomed to self-destruction. When society prides itself on it own achievemnets and pats itself on the back for achieveing its own humanistic goals – usually by means of violence against other human being   — it is these very things that are fuel for the fire of its own destruction   READ V13

 

Such communities stand in opposition to God’s Kingdom and will ultimately fail – unless they repent and turn to God – God’s kingdom will prevail and his glory will cover the earth as the water cover the sea.

 

  1. The fourth woe is aginst those who treat other inhumanely [v15-17]

 

When material things and power selfish ideals become more important than people then the inevitible outcome is the degrading treatment of others.

 

Their is the exploitation of others – getting them drunk – purely for immoral purposes. To gaze on their nakedness – to be involved in all kinds of immoral practices. Drunkeness and immorality often go hand in hand!!

 

When the rich and powerful bully and exploit other God is angry and his judgement will come.

 

The cup of the Lord’s right hand is coming round to you,

and disgrace will cover your glory. [v16b]

 

The cup of the Lord is a symbol of God’s wrath. And your turn will come even though for a time you think you have got away with it. The Downfall of the Babylonians {Chaldeans } is proof that God’s wrath did fall on them.

 

When Jesus in the garden Prayed the the cup be taken away – it was this cup of God’s wrath against the shameful sin of mankinf that he was referring to. The outpouring of God’s judgement was on his own son. The Son of God suffered in the sinner’s place, drinking the cup of God’s fury.

 

  1. The fifth woe is against those who are guilty of idolatry. [18-19]

 

This woe depicts the absurdity of idolatry!! Habakkuk’s description of theidols underscores the folly of worshipping them. They are limited by the very limitation of the people who made them. They might be adorned with silver or gold and look pretty BUT the are lifeless and consequently useless!!

 

This is the root of all the preceeding problems – when people look to the creature rather than the creator then he is guilty of this foolishness. When there is an insatiable desire for things rather than for God himself then OR when the priority of things is set over the maker of things then he/she is guilty of idolatry!!

 

  1. BUT GOD ….. [v20]

 

READ v20

 

Habakkuk began his dialogue with God in an effort to understand the ways of a holy God with a sinful people. Now he stands in the presence of God – the holy temple – there is a revent awe. He may not have fully graped the full implications of God’s answer to his query. BUT he knows that God is the LORD – that his judgement is true and sure and that it will surely come IN GOD”S TIME.

 

He also knows of God’s infinite mercy in granting life to ALL who will trust in him and in the provisions he has made for the sinner.

 

Life is full of struggles and it has many unanswered questions – I don;t know what your particular struggle is right now but I know that God’s promises are sure and in his time he will fulfill every one of them.

 

The wicked will be punished BUT the JUST shall live by faith!!!

Malachi 1:1-14 – A Question of Worship

A QUESTION OF WORSHIP!

 

Malachi 1v1-14.

 

BACKGROUND.

 

About Mid 5th C B.C. // previously around 586 BC Jerusalem destroyed by Babylonians // Jews taken into captivity // Temple destroyed // after 70 years allowed to return and rebuild Temple and walls of Jerusalem // almost 80-100 years had passed since Haggai and Zechariah had prohesied about the gloriuos promises of God’s blessing “the Lord will return to his temple …” there would be prosperity and peace and glory greater than Solomon’s temple // the reality was very different –

 

In contrast to glowing promises // harsh reality was economic privation //crop failure // drought // continued political oppression // opposition and harrassment from their immediate neighbours.

 

Inspite of promises to the exiles of a future Temple being superior, both physically and spiritually – reality was it was inferior on both counts!

 

Had returned with high expectations and been disillusioned!

Life was probably better in Babylon – why would anyone feel like worshipping God in such a wasteland??

 

Malachi was either a comptempory of, or closely follwed, Nehemiah. Neh 13 describes the situation in Jerusalem. A corrupt priesthood, and an equally corrupt and immoral people – YET still going through the motions of religion // they kept the machinery of the temple going.

 

STRUCTURE.

around 6 statements by God through His prophet {Malachi – lit. My Messenger}

1v2, 1v6, 2v14, 2v17, 3v7, 3v13.

 

3 basics issues – a corrupt priesthood, intermarriage with those outside the covenant, failure to pay due tithes to God.

 

Malachi’s message is one of rebuke, challenge, encouragement and love.

A message from a sensitive God to and insensitive people!

 

READ MAL.1v1-14.

A QUESTION OF WORSHIP –

 

In the past 20 years worship has gained a higher profile on the Christian agenda –

suddenly more important? NO! has always been so! BUT now more talked about! However generally used in a very narrow sense ….

… time of worship in the service

… worship service

… worship styles

… worship songs

 

What is worship?? quiet? traditional? lively? rave? hymns? choruses? organ? guitar? drums? prayerbook? extemporaneous? …… ALL this can be worship and none can be worship!

 

The charge against Malachi’s hearers was that they had all the ritual and formalities BUT it was empty.

 

Ch.1 raises two basic questions         – Do you love Me?

– Do you respect Me?

 

  1. DO YOU LOVE ME? [v.2-5]

 

Malachi 1:2

2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.

 

have – continous – past, present future I love you..

 

THE QUALITY OF HIS LOVE

Inspite of complaints against the jews God’s love for them has no deminished.

He doesn’t love them any less because he is displeased with them.

 

He never loved US because of something in us that was attractive – he simply chooses to love!!

Our response – or lack of one – doesn’t change the quality of God’s love.

God got angry with and punished his people BUT he still loved them!!

 

THE QUESTION OF HIS LOVE

 

Malachi 1:2

2 “I have loved you,” says the LORD.

“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’

 

Hear the contempt – ‘Look at us – our circumstances – it this how you love us?

HOW ABOUT YOU AND I??

When life is tough do we turn away from God? – ‘If you don’t treat me well why should I worship you?

 

To show God’s love Mal. compares Jacob and Esau. – strange to the hearers —

Jacob=Israel // Esau = Edom [twin brothers w. Esau the older]

love/hate – comveying the idea of specially choosen as opposed to not specially choosen — it does not mean individual animosity against the decendants of Esau –

Did not mean that every Edomite was damned no more than it meant that every Israelites was saved!!

 

To appeal to these two nations as proof of Israel’s ‘favoured-nation’ status must heve seemed bizzare to the hearers.

God had allowed Israel to suffer total devastation for 70 yrs while Edom remained in tact – Edom gloated over Israel’s demise and even help Babylon by being informers and blocking escape routes.

 

God had predicted the downfall of Israel because of their persistant disobedience

Jeremiah 9:11

11 “I will make Jerusalem a heap of ruins,

a haunt of jackals;

and I will lay waste the towns of Judah

so that no-one can live there.” (NIV)

 

Mal. [v.3] applies this to Edom/Esau. The next century after this the Nabatean Arabs moved into Edom and forced the Edomites out – the Nabatens were nomadic and the Edomites cities became a ruin.

Israel was restored but Edom’s judgement was permanent and irreversable [the city of Petra is still a ruin today] Did not mean that individual Edomites – later Idumeans – couldn’t come to Christ they did [Mark 3v8]

 

God’s love is not always expressed in immediate material blessing. God’s plans were greater that Israel’s immediate comforts.

God takes a long term view and he expects our love in return NOT just our religious rituals!!

 

  1. DO YOU RESPECT ME? [v.6-14]

 

God’s complaint in these verses is that they show more respect to the Persian Governor than to God almighty!

They wouldn’t dare to bring a second rate gift to the Governor BUT the bring it to God!!

They had questioned God’s love for them – it is the opposite!!

 

There is a carelessness in worship – they bring 2nd best and then ask for God’s blesing!!

Malachi 1:7-9

7 “You place defiled food on my altar.

“But you ask, ‘How have we defiled you?’

“By saying that the LORD’s table is contemptible. 8 When you bring blind animals for sacrifice, is that not wrong? When you sacrifice crippled or diseased animals, is that not wrong? Try offering them to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you?” says the LORD Almighty.

9 “Now implore God to be gracious to us. With such offerings from your hands, will he accept you?” — says the LORD Almighty. (NIV)

 

Give God second best then have the audacity, the gall to ask for God’s blessing!!

The Law required a spotless lamb — they brought injured – diseased and lame!!

 

God’s response —

Malachi 1:10-11

10 “Oh, that one of you would shut the temple doors, so that you would not light useless fires on my altar! I am not pleased with you,” says the LORD Almighty, “and I will accept no offering from your hands.

 

No worship is better than pretense!! Is there a priest who has the guts to stop this charade??!

 

They caonsidered their worship of God to be a duty rather than a delight and enjoyment. –it was all so wearisome – they turned their noses up [v.13] at the monotony of it all.

 

But God is bigger than their worship – they were not doing God any favours – there is no shortage of creature to worship God – worship is not for God’s benefit it is for ours.

 

Carelessness in worship and offering God 2nd best is still with us today – — nothing but the best is required by those who call themselves the people of God.

 

This is not about styles of worship or outward expression // we can have the best musicians, best choirs, best preachers, best building, best song-leader, best programmes and STILL NOT worship!!

 

ILLUS> Not about place or programme — Samaritan woman at the well at Sychar — John 4:23-24 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshippers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth.” (NIV)

 

Worship is not JUST about outward expression – it is about offering life itself – time, talent and treasures. Malachi challenges our commitment – hGod is far more comcerned with inner devotion than he is with outward display.

 

Worship includes the times of corporate singing, praising and praying – but these can only be worship when they rise from hearts that love the Lord with heart soul and mind.

 

Romans 12:1-2

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God — this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is — his good, pleasing and perfect will. (NIV)

 

Worship is an attitude out of which come actions and acts of worship!

true worship is more concerned with the ONE worshipped than with the means of worship.”

 

Without this right attitude our worship will be a burden rather than a blessing to us AND rather than being a sweet aroma to God it will be a stench in his nostrils!

 

Life is not merely to contain acts of worship; life itself is to be an act of worship!!

 

Are you and I giving our best to God –

How do you answer God tonoght when he asks —

— Do you love me?

— Do you respect me?

 

 

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