Sunday, 14 October 2018

Grow to Maturity - Hebrews 5:11 - 6:12

A frustration many a pastor may face can be the desire to press forward with a new initiative, only to be told that people want 'more teaching first'. It raises the legitimate question 'what about applying the teaching you already have?'. Also what about learning on the job? In Hebrews the author seems to have that same frustration, and pleads with the readers to 'Grow Up - move to solid food from the initial milk diet!'.

Sunday, 7 October 2018

Hold Firm - Hebrews 412 - 5:10

God speaks! God is not silent, He lets us know. We heard that back in 1:1 and now the author skilfully weaves that same theme through v12. The word of God is what God speaks - sometimes that reaches us written down, sometimes as a direct message to people, but ultimately in the form of a person - a messenger of God - His Son Jesus.

Sunday, 23 September 2018

A New Humanity - Hebrews 2:5 - 3:6

We all do pecking orders. Put is in a room of new people and sub-consciously we start working out who is head of the pack and where we fit. The author gives a pecking order by quoting Psalm 8: it's God - angels - humankind - animals/plants/rocks etc. But the much bigger ad more important point is that in this amazing creation is the fact that God intended humankind (i.e. us!) to be in charge over the rest of creation! We are to look after it, to steward it. This includes creation care, it includes wise looking after of animals, but we should also realise that it is a spiritual thing.

[IN] What is your first response to the worldly mess around you?

Challenge: When disturbing news comes, first look to Jesus

Sunday, 9 September 2018

Pay Attention - Hebrews 1:5 - 2:4

Having started off talking about Christ, our author quickly gets into his/her argument starting with angels. Why angels? For Jewish Christians they would have been important. Remember key messages were given through the Old Testament by angels appearing to people, e.g. Abraham, Jacob, Gideon, Ezekiel etc. Angels generate curiosity - and the subject of angels has large scope for 'folk theology', i.e. things people believe without having any firm basis. Certainly the angel appearances are strange: sometimes bright shining figures, sometimes human, sometimes seeming to interchange with the Lord Himself! We will not try and deduce our own 'angelology' - but we can say that if God sends and angel to give you a message, then sit up and take note!

Sunday, 2 September 2018

Introduction to Hebrews - Heb 1:1 - 4

We start our new series diving into the book of Hebrews. We have to scratch our heads because we don't know the author, nor do we really know who it is addressed to. Yet regardless of this we will find the letter is a gold-mine all about Jesus. Many times the author's logic is 'Jesus is greater than <something>, therefore <some application>'. In fact the word 'therefore' occurs no fewer than 10 times, and we will use these as the decision points through the series.

[UP] Is Jesus no. 1 in all aspects of your life?

Challenge: Help the phrase 'If you want to see God, look to Jesus' go viral

Sunday, 22 July 2018

Active Non-Violent Opposition - Romans 12:14 - 21

This is the last of our 'Be the Man' series, looking at the distinctives for 21st century living as Christian blokes. On one level it is about how you channel your testosterone - in a world thats says "someone bashes you - you bash them" Paul calls for something radically different. He calls for believers to be like Jesus and live Active Non-Violent Opposition. Note this is active - it is not simply letting people walk all over you, but making a stand on a non-violent way different to the normal world.

We will look at the passage verse by verse, but not linearly. Instead we will read it as a "chiastic structure", a ring structure that works inwards to a central heart and then back out again (see this graphic). V14 pairs with v21: bless not persecute matches do not be overcome by evil but instead overcome evil with good. Note the Greek work 'overcome' can also be 'conquer' - we can conquer evil with our good, being a people of blessing. It hits me that persecuted Christians typically don't pray against their persecutors, but pray for them. In a much smaller way I have practised this myself - with an annoying colleague who has upset me I have disciplined myself to pray for their blessing: "Lord make them the best they can be, may they thrive in their work ...". This is taking an active stance.

V15 pairs with v20: rejoice or mourn accordingly, i.e. go with people, understand their world and what they are going through and walk with them through it. This is to be like God, who walks with you through your stuff! V20 then says feed or give drink to your enemy accordingly, effectively the same as v15. But of course it is one thing to go with your friend, quite another to do that with your enemy - this is challenging stuff!

A side note on the "coals on head" (quoting Provrbes 25:21 - 22) and the "room for God's wrath" (quoting Deuteronomy 32:35). This sounds tricky to us, almost against the spirit of the passage and grace concepts. Yet it is the same as we often see in the Psalms, technically called "Imprecation". This is speaking out harsh things on an enemy, BUT crucially leaving the actual action to God. Maybe God will find a different way with grace, but in any case once voiced we leave it to Him and think no more about it.

V16 pairs with v17-19, but v16 can be split into a, b, and c to form one mini-block, and 17-19 then forms another (complementing) mini-block. V16a says live in harmony with one another. Harmony has no room for pride. In fact it requires you to lower yourself (16b), and in turn this means conceit is out of the question (16c).

Note the Greek for 'conceited' has a concept of 'self-elevation'. In our culture typically a man self-raises, but we see that Jesus self-lowers! Jesus came incarnate, i.e. active lowering, putting Himself on the same level as humankind. In the 1700s (the same timeframe as the Countess) there was a group in Europe called the Moravians who experienced a powerful move of the Spirit. This led some to witness to black slaves on the plantations. They were so moved by the Spirit that they were prepared, if necessary, to themselves become slaves that they might do this witness!

Note in v16 the two 'do nots' of a and c surround the centre of active lowering (a mini-chiasm). Then V17 pairs with V19 (do not repay evil / do not take revenge) to form a mini-chiasm also, with v18 'live at peace with everyone' sandwiched in the middle. Paul is realistic, saying 'as far as it is possible with you'. You can do your bit, but you cannot guarantee the other person will be won over. Do your bit and leave the rest to God.

V17-19 complements V16a/b/c nicely. At the very centre of these mini-blocks we have 'do not be conceited' and 'do not replay evil with evil'. This forms the central heart, the epicentre of the whole passage. We can all do a lot worse than to make our hearts such that we do not self-elevate or try to fling back evil.

So with this structure it is a beautiful passage. And history gives us examples of people who have practised this theory of active non-violent opposition. We have mentioned the Moravians, and there are also the Mennonites who are out and out Christian pacifists. Today it is the Mennonites who are the leading peacemakers - running courses on conflict resolution even for secular audiences. The film 'Hacksaw Ridge' showed the true story of Desmond Doss who in WWII enlisted to be a front-line medic but made a stand to never hold a gun. More recently Norman Kember, a UK baptist peace activist who went to Iraq to promote peace and dialogue. He was captured and held hostage for 4 months. Ironically he was rescued by the SAS - which he still muses on today - but in that operation not a single shot was fired. Finally in recent history there is Martin Luther King, the American baptist race relations activist - with the film Selma showing non-violent protest in operation.

These people were all activists - taking action, not simply lying down. I will close this series suggesting that Active Non-Violent Opposition may be the most manly thing you ever do! It certainly provokes the question and challenge:

Key Qn: [OUT] Where is God needing you to handle people differently
Challenge: Offer peace, not revenge

Now evil comes, and seems to come in waves, like the sea rolling in. Yet the call to Christians is to not just let that evil come, but to live a different way, a strange/peculiar way. Though the waves come, the Kingdom of God will endure and prevail. It does it through on-the-ground Christians who at their core are not conceited, not repaying evil with evil. Instead they are engaged in active lowering, looking for harmony rather than revenge, going with people - even with their enemies. They are a people of blessing who will conquer evil with good.

[OUT] Where is God needing you handle people differently

Challenge: Offer peace, not revenge

Sunday, 8 July 2018

Back to King David - 2 Samuel 23

The story of the 3 mighty men tells like some kind of regimental reunion after-dinner story. Great soldiers of the past recounting their exploits, saying 'remember the one about ...'. As with such stories we can't place it exactly historically. We know that the Philistines raided territory, and here they seem to have captured David's home town of Bethlehem - giving him reason to pine for its special places like 'the well near the gate'. We have to wonder if his request was serious, but for whatever reason the warriors took it seriously. In an SAS style operation they retrieved water from behind enemy lines. Of course in pure military terms it was utterly foolish - an unnecessary risk.