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