Sunday, 10 December 2017

Patient & Fathful - James 5

We have spent this year thinking about 'His Story - Our Story', seeing how God has been at work all through history. More recently we have considered how we learn along the journey. It is a journey that by God's providence has a trajectory. With God things are not random but has an intended destination, which includes peace and wholeness - the Biblical concept of Shalom. On the journey there are big God-intervention moments, such as the exodus, and of course later the cross, itself enabled by God sending his Son to live as a human. Yet the journey is one for the long haul, and not just a series of fleeting moments.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Faith & Deeds in Freedom - James 2

Imagine two scenarios. One of a man declaring he is to be married, but you quickly work out that he has no plans to spend any meaningful time with his fiance or consider her needs. Naturally you doubt the substance of the marriage. Second of a lad who is into lad things ... until one day he meets a girl. Strangely from that day he is into things that she is into, things he would never have previously gone near. Of course you conclude he has fallen in love!

[UP] Where does your faith and your actions not match up?

Challenge: Ever closer to Jesus

Sunday, 5 November 2017

Pure Joy - James 1

James starts his letter with one of the most illogical verses in the Bible: "Consider it pure joy whenever you face trials of many kinds". You what? When things are going wrong we surely have the right to be grumpy, to complain, to ask 'where is God?', and question everything.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

A People in Glory - Exodus 40:34 - 38

This part of our series draws to an end as we skip to the end of the book of Exodus. It is not the end of the story, however, but just one episode in His Story, one in which the Israelites find they have a place, just as we find we have a place.

[OUT] What is the next phase of the journey?

Challenge:        Look ahead

Sunday, 8 October 2017

Priority Jesus - Philippians 3

We all have things we are passionate about. This letter from Paul shows his passion, the fact that he was sold out and totally driven for relationship with Jesus. We also like to collect badges and certificates - things showing our accomplishments. Perhaps you are studying and hope to get good grades along with everyone else. Yet for this Paul has a surprising message ...

Sunday, 1 October 2017

A People Redeemed - Exodus 12

What do we do with food that is rotten? Of course we throw it. What of appliances that break down? In our culture we throw them, even though they might be repaired or usefully recycled. But what do we do when people are bad - do we simply discard them?

Sunday, 24 September 2017

A People Provided For - Exodus 16 & 17

As the people continue their Exodus journey God is shaping them, providing conditions where they can learn to trust Him. Chapters 16 and 17 effectively give two parallel stories about God's provision. It is no surprise that these stories come so early in the journey - they are a basic lesson for the people!

[IN] Where is God calling you to trust Him?

Challenge: Put trust into practice – stop the 'woe is me' thinking!

Sunday, 10 September 2017

A People with a Song - Exodus 15

Last week we heard of God's promise to rescue the Israelites from slavery. God did that, and they were led out! Yet God then led them to the edge of the sea, and the Egyptian army came closing in behind, facing them the choice of drowning or being over-run. God did something amazing, parting the waters for them to safely cross. The army chased, but the waters closed in killing most of the pursuers. The people could clearly see that they had been spectacularly rescued, and this chapter puts the story into song.

Sunday, 3 September 2017

A People Rescued - Exodus 3

This year we have been looking at the big overall story, with our theme 'His Story - Our Story'. God acting in the world He created, and us finding our place in it. We have looked also at stories of individuals and some families. Into this term we are now looking at the story of a whole people, a race, with God leading them on a journey, shaping them, preparing them for bigger purposes. Hence for the next few weeks we are considering "A People Called".

[UP] What is God's calling on your life?

Challenge: Be open to wonder!

Sunday, 23 July 2017

Stories of Grace - Cornelius - Acts 10

Cornelius is a Roman soldier and a Gentile. Jewish people kept their distance from Gentiles, maintaining separation between clean and unclean. Yet Cornelius was searching for God, and he both prayed and gave to the poor.

[OUT] Is there any area where the Lord would want to shake up our views?

Challenge: Be open to God doing completely new things

Sunday, 9 July 2017

Stories of Grace: Esther - The conclusion

The evil Haman despised Mordecai and all the Jews. He got the King to declare a day on which the Jews should be attacked across the whole empire - he wanted them all dead, he wanted ethnic cleansing. Mordecai, Queen Esther and Jews fasted and prayed - would Esther be able to petition the King? The day came and the King agreed to talk. Esther simply asked for a banquet, with Haman as guest. This went ahead, and the King again asked what was required. Esther asks for a second banquet ....

[IN]: What shared experiences has God brought you through with others?

Challenge: Let God fight for you

Sunday, 25 June 2017

Stories of Grace: Esther - The Beginning

The commander called for all young women who had not been with a man to line up in the town square. This was no surprise - the royal proclamation had already gone out that the King sought a new Queen. The girls lined up dutifully and the commander took his pick. Eventually a few were sent off to the Royal Palace. The parents feared for their safety, among them Mordecai who had cared for Esther since her parents had died in her childhood. She too was taken to the palace.

[UP] Do you quietly trust in God's sovereignty for our nation

Challenge: Pray not for a Christian country, but for God's Kingdom Come

Sunday, 4 June 2017

Baptism Remix - Acts 19:1 - 7

Apollos we are told in the preceding verses was a learned man, well educated and a Jewish believer. Further he could teach about Jesus, and do it with great energy. But it wasn't enough - something was missing, it was not all God intended. Priscilla & Aquila saw that he only knew the baptism of John, and had greater things of God to introduce him to. They took him aside and rehearsed afresh the story of Jesus.

[OUT] Where is God to empowering you to minister?

Challenge: Seek to be ever closer to Jesus → He will send you

Sunday, 14 May 2017

Stories of Grace - David - 2 Samuel 13 & 14

I wonder if you can remember first falling in love, with all its emotions and inner turmoil. This was the case with Amnon, who looked 'haggard' because of his love for the young Tamar.

Sunday, 7 May 2017

Weekend Away 2017 - Part 2

The way the Israelites were to live was clearly important for them (hence tonnes of material in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers and Deuteronomy!). A key aspect was to teach these ways to their children, and children to their children (Deuteronomy 4:9). We deliberately talk about mentoring together with discipleship: leading alongside another so that they too can 'get it'. If we do that well, they will not only get it for themselves, but so that they too can walk alongside others and mentor them.

Weekend Away 2017 - Part 1

This year we have considered 'His Story' - which is actually the story of Jesus. We have discovered that our story is located in His story - in Him our story comes to life.

Sunday, 30 April 2017

Public Spectacle - Colossians 2:6 - 15

There is a story of a man dying in hospital. Death seemed the certain outcome, but the person was a Christian. One day he decided enough was enough, and with faith in Christ was able to get up and leave the hospital the next day. Everything changes when you put your whole life in reference to Jesus.

[IN] What does living in Christ's victory look like for us as a faith community?

Challenge: See issues through the spectacle of the cross!

Sunday, 2 April 2017

Mystery Disclosed - Colossians 1:24 - 29

In the recent terror events in London, with a policeman stabbed, we have seen news stories of how the one officer took the hit to save the heart of our democracy. This language and concept of suffering is one that Paul also had in mind. Paul rejoices in his sufferings, and oddly talks of filling up in what was lacking in Christ's sufferings. Now Paul understood that Jesus' death on a cross was once for all (see back in verse 20), so what did he mean in v24?

Sunday, 26 March 2017

Special Sarah - Genesis 18

Put simply, the reason for these messages is to encourage you to act unreasonably! For to act in faith is an unreasonable thing, it means believing in God rather than circumstances around us. Abraham was able to sit & relax - perfectly reasonable - until God showed up and he sees three men.

[UP] What is God saying to you?

Challenge: Don't laugh it off

Sunday, 19 March 2017

Covenant Journey - Resource Pack

The resource sheets available with today's 'Covenant Journey' message are available here.

Covenant Journey - Genesis 15

It started with the command 'Go'! What would it take for us to go? A word from your spouse, your pastor, or God directly? Back in Genesis 12 Abram (name later changes to Abraham) was told to go, to dislocate from father and family. Yet he would go with God's promises spoken directly too him. A descendant of Noah, Abraham becomes a man at the centre of God's covenant promise.

Sunday, 5 March 2017

Covenant Basics - Gensis 8 & 9

Genesis 6 verse 18 records important words from God to a guy called Noah: "But I will establish my covenant with you ...". Disintegration has permeated society with everyone seemingly rotten to the core. God has cause to lament the very people He has created. Yet there is one - Noah - who found favour with God, seen as righteous and blameless among the people, walking faithfully with God. This is the one with whom God makes a covenant.

[OUT] From this faith community who is God calling you to reach?

Challenge: Tell someone God is good, He cares for all of creation, so He cares for them

Sunday, 26 February 2017

Disintegration - Genesis 4

Doesn't it bug you when life just doesn't seem fair? Two brothers in the first family recorded in the Bible find their vocations. Both are in farming, with the eldest, Cain, into agriculture and the younger, Abel, rearing livestock. They both have a sense of God and both bring an offering to worship. Yet curiously God looked with favour on Abel but not on Cain's offering - why? Sometimes life just doesn't seem fair ...

Sunday, 12 February 2017

Rescue, Qualify & Inheritance - Colossians 1:3 - 14

I remember the time when I was a teenage boy and my brother came to my rescue. I also remember with my wife rescuing a friend from a lake. Another teenage memory was having to pass exams to get to the university that I aspired to - I had to qualify to get in. Rescue and qualify are two concepts that we find in the Bible, relevant to faith and the story of God.

To help us think about that, consider a young baby. It would be natural for us to want her to grow, to thrive, and to know loving support and encouragement. We would hope as Christians that she matures into the person God has made her to be, to flourish, discover God given purpose for herself. That is because we believe that God has a purpose for each and every one of us.

But let us be honest about the world around us. What might the world tell her as she grows? From even early years at school she will be assessed and tested, with the education system expecting her to qualify at various stages. Also from a young age the world will want her to become a consumer, bombarding her with adverts and the like that tell her to look like this or have that ... as if without those things her life did not count. And the world will want her to be successful ... so that she might consume even more!

This world that substitutes consumption for love makes self and self-advancement a goal, in which it becomes all too easy for any of us to lose our moral compass. This world has powers at work that do not respect national boundaries, but operate all around. The Bible writers called this a kingdom - a kingdom of darkness. In this kingdom rather than flourishing people find themselves feeling trapped and drowning with no hope.

God understands this predicament and doesn't simply stand by. He comes, and comes to change things with decisive action. Incredibly He comes as a baby, totally dependent on those around him just like any other baby. Yet when this baby - called Jesus - grows through childhood to a mature adult he lives a life that is remarkably different, one that fits a different kind of framework to the rest of the world, the framework of God's purposes.

This is because Jesus lives a life that belongs to a different Kingdom, the Kingdom of God, that shines light on our humanity. Such difference inevitably led to a power clash, with the light exposing the dark. But Jesus did not simply trample on the opposition, but instead lived a life laid down, even allowing himself to be killed - that is where the real power is seen! 3 days later his body was nowhere to be found, because Jesus was in fact alive again.

This is the extraordinary story of God in Jesus Christ, through the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, showing us a completely different Kingdom. And this achieves two things. First it provides a way for us to be rescued - we don't have to live like we used to. We too can live a life laid down to the ways of the world and discover true purpose, ability to flourish and be fruitful for God. It starts by simply putting our trust in Jesus, asking Him to be the reason for our living, which leads to the second thing: having trusted we are now qualified. God stamps on us PASS, so we are now free to discover God's purposes for ourselves and walk tall.

This is the story of the believers in Colossae. They heard about the story of Jesus and realized for themselves that He was alive. Believing in Him they were rescued to live a new life in Him. They also qualified, not because they worked hard to pass an exam, but because God simply gave them that status which enabled them to live for an inheritance of great riches that are ready for them in the Kingdom of God.

These believers were celebrated for their faith and their loving actions that resulted from their faith. That can be our story too. In the Countess Free Church we discover God setting us free to flourish in the purposes He has for us, to live different, enabling us to be a people based on love once again rather than simply self and consumption. Discovering a purpose to set others free, we work with all kinds of people as we engage with the community openly and generously.

And you are free to join too: believe and see the risen Jesus, and He will not only rescue you, but also qualify you to enter His Kingdom and inherit all the riches God has already stored up for you.

Sunday, 5 February 2017

Seeing the Invisible - Colossians 1:15 - 23

Look, focus and see Jesus! These verses from Paul are arguably in a poem format - perhaps used to express the early Christian's belief in Jesus. It is a clear call to look to Jesus. Paul himself was very logical, but he knew that faith was not merely an intellectual exercise, but based on seeing the risen Jesus. For those enquiring about faith, help them to see Jesus.

Jesus is described as the firstborn, meaning the head, the ultimate ancestor, all tracing back to him as we heard in John chapter 1. All things are created though him - which includes the unseen as well as the seen. So the 'heavens' and the spiritual realm were created through him too. This includes all powers, rulers, dominion - even if now they have become dodgy, distorted or downright ungodly!

The poem reaches its climax in verses 17 & 18, declaring that in him all things hold together. With the simplicity of a child's tower built on just one brick at the base, all the weight of the whole universe rests on him! The problem is not the foundation, but that not all of creation wants to stay in line - much has become misaligned, leading to the broken world we experience today.

Yet in Jesus there is a way for all things to be restored, to be put back together, back in line. This process started in the physical Jesus, buried and put in a tomb ... yet raised again - hence now described as the firstborn among the dead.

As individuals we can discover this, and receive Jesus, birthing a process in us that brings us into line, finding our true role and purpose. We can be joined with others in these restoring purposes of God, forming what is known as 'the church', the called people of God. The head, the first over this diverse collection of people is of course the one who provided the way - Jesus. So our key question this week is:

Key Qn: [IN] How is Jesus leading you with others to be church?
Challenge: Re-think how you see the rest of the world in the light of Jesus

The poem closes by mirroring its beginning. Everything about God is in the Son. This gives theologians a headache because wasn't Jesus as human somehow limited? Despite this paradox there are real and practical implications: he is the one to reconcile all things in creation. Again that really is all things: seen and unseen, authorities, powers, the whole lot ... done in the physical action of Jesus dying on the cross. The cross is incredibly powerful, literally a cosmic event! That is why when we pray over a difficult issue, we seek Jesus and to put his cross between the person and the issue.

The next verses (21 to 23) are our response. Once we were alienated, not in line, our mind not understanding, not seeing Jesus. But Jesus, through his death on the cross, has done enough, he has enabled you to be brought back and reconciled. More than this, Jesus can present you without blemish, as if there was never a bad mark on you. That is what God wants, for each and everyone, every molecule, every structure, even every power. Knowing this should make us see the rest of the world differently, as per the challenge above.

This is the faith in Jesus that we have, the good news to share, that we are knitted together into. Together in this we are called 'church', with the invitation to covenant together to be and to share this good news to those around us. What will you do and how will you see the world around you with the unique perspective that stems from seeing Jesus?

[IN] How is Jesus leading you with others to be church?

Challenge: Re-think how you see the rest of the world in the light of Jesus

Sunday, 29 January 2017

U Turn - Genesis 3

Last week we heard how God has created, and in that creation He has made people. He has provided and given them vocation, and with that permission - a freedom in which to fulfil their vocation. Yet with that freedom comes risk, a risk that they will explore too far, take that which is unhealthy. So there is also prohibition, a healthy boundary set in place.

Sunday, 22 January 2017

God Creates - Genesis 1 & 2

The opening of Genesis gives us two passages about creation. Some think it was two different authors, one giving a poem and another a story. Both proclaim how God speaks and creates - before there was nothing, but now God speaks and the universe comes into being.

Sunday, 8 January 2017

In the Beginning - John 1:1 - 14

In the beginning ... a great place to start. Appropriate for story-telling, akin to 'once upon a time ...'. This year we will be looking at His Story, and our place & role in it. So it is good to start 'In the beginning'.

[UP] How do you receive Jesus as we start 2017?

Challenge: Be still and receive Jesus closer still