Sunday, 9 December 2018

Hebrew - Series Summary Sheet

The summary sheet covering this series used this morning can be downloaed here!

Continual Praise - Hebrews 13:1 - 16

Recall last week considered the journey up the mountain, to the heavenly city in reverence and not fear. This week we continue on up in worship. Yet we can't worship without it changing us, for example our attitude to others. Hence the call to love others, to show hospitality even to strangers, and identify with the prisoner. We cannot truly worship without it affecting our life, how we are with others, and this becoming action. That's why we have the slogan Seeking to Worship, Seeking to Serve. The two go together: our worship leads us to serve, and we cannot go on serving without ongoing worship.

Sunday, 2 December 2018

The Ultimate Mountain - Hebrews 12:18 - 29

Imagine a mountain. It could be in the Lake District or the Alps. But now imagine that above it is a mysterious cloud, there seems to fire burning around - for the glory of God is on the mountain. It is a holy place, you dare not set foot on it without express permission. From the mountain you hear the voice of God and it scares you witless - so you never want to go up. But will it have to be this way forever?

[UP] To stay down in fear or come on up in reverence?

Challenge: Rise up daily in worship

Sunday, 11 November 2018

Throw Off and Run

Today as we think about the 100 years since the end of WWI, I want to focus on the last 100 days of the war in which victory was finally won. The reasons for the breakthrough included technology and strategy. Yet at ground level the deal was the same: when the whistle blew you went over the top and ran into enemy machine gun fire - it was insane! How did the weary soldiers summon enthusiasm for these attacks? One reason was morale - attrition had taken its toll but the allies had fresh supplies. Morale goes a long way - I guess that is why our reading today talks of (chapter 12 verse 1) 'a great cloud of witnesses'.

Sunday, 28 October 2018

God's New Deal - Hebrews 8:6 - 13

Life is full of examples where someone says "The old deal isn't working, can we have a new one?". Think of rail franchises, health provision contracts at the national level, but maybe you've personally had to go back to someone to ask for new terms yourself.

[OUT] How does God accepting you affect how you deal with other people?

Challenge: Extend that same new deal of forgiveness to someone this week

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.

Sunday, 1 July 2018

Paul the Prisoner - Acts 16, 22, 25 and 26

Acts reads like an action adventure story, especially the way it unfolds for Paul. His full CV of beatings, trials and other events can be found in 2 Corinthians 11, but note that even there Paul does not claim super-hero status or to be some kind of SAS christian. He is just another believer clinging to faith in Jesus.

[IN] Do you perceive God toughening us ready for future power encounters?

Challenge: When Jesus as Lord is questioned, make your stand

Sunday, 10 June 2018

Do Battle in Worship - 2 Chronicles 20 and Acts 16

Today is all about a fundamental decision that our 2 baptism candidates have taken - a decision about who (or what) is no. 1 in their lives. We all have our no. 1 (often ourselves!), we all worship something. Today 2 young people are saying 'Because of Jesus God is their no. 1'.

Sunday, 27 May 2018

Not Just Good Looks - 1 Samuel 16

We all know the phrases 'First impressions count' and 'Don't judge a book by its cover'. We know the power of first impressions, yet we also know there is wisdom looking deeper for a more informed understanding. Samuel was a man of God who spent much time seeking Him and listening for His voice. He was given a job by God to call out the new king of Israel.

[UP] Where is your 'quiet place'?

Challenge: Find your quiet place / Discipline of OFF

Sunday, 13 May 2018

Gideon - Judges 6:25-29

We start this new series on male spirituality by looking at Gideon (the series will be good for women too!). Gideon lived in dark times for the Israelite people. They had lost sight of following God, and were oppressed by the Midianites who rampaged their land.

[OUT] What distracts you from your God-given call?

Challenge: Ask God: 'What is my next growth area?'

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Community Shapes Us - Heb 10:24 - 25

In recent visits to projects in Sierra Leone I was struck by how each had a sense of extended family among the people (often with disabilities or other challenges) involved. It became clear to us that they worked as family together, rooted in Jesus.

[IN] How am I a gift to this community?

Challenge: Get to know someone different to you

Sunday, 11 March 2018

The One Who Serves - Luke 22:24 - 30

We can all be incredibly stupid - saying the dumbest of things! The disciples were just the same. Jesus had shared the passover meal, portraying his death and even betrayal ... and then they start talking about which of them is the greatest! Jesus sees it as a learning opportunity and cuts in on their conversation.

[UP] Do you relate to God to become greater or lesser?

Challenge: Be pro-active in self-giving

Sunday, 4 March 2018

Christians are Hopeful - Colossians 1

Paul writes to the Colossian Christians, encouraged by their faith and love. He writes that their faith and love 'spring from hope stored in heaven' (v5). Faith and love are not simply good qualities that those local Christians have made themselves good at, something naturally found in a few. Instead they result from an incredible treasure chest, a wonderful store. That store is hope - a solid anchor in the future.

Sunday, 25 February 2018

Scarcity vs Abundance - Luke 12:22 - 34

You are invited! You are invited by Jesus! It's mind-blowing, and down to you to accept. With the invitation comes the call to not worry and not be afraid. Others in the past have lived it, seeing incredible provision of God across the whole of their lives.

Sunday, 11 February 2018

Christians are Peculiar - 1 Peter 2

Contrast the Street Bible with the King James old English translation! The Street Bible says 'You are select, royalty in the role of God's reps ... an outstanding nation of ambassadors ...', while King James had 'You are a chosen generation, royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people ...'. Both convey how we are living stones, with Jesus as the cornerstone - we are based on Him, who sets the lines for our lives. The church is about people (not a physical building), but buildings give us good imagery: we are built together to be like a temple, i.e. we become a place where others can connect with God. We do this even as we go out from our gatherings - in fact by making ourselves available for people to connect out there we often grow more than in here!

[OUT] Where do you set a positive contrast

Challenge: Adopt one discipline/mindset that helps you step off the hampster-wheel!

Sunday, 4 February 2018

Greater Things than These - John 14:12

Philip couldn't see God even though He was standing in front of him! "Show us the Father", he said, and Jesus replied: "What do you see? See me and see the Father". The Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father - they are one, a unity. Jesus encourages Philip to believe in him. In other words to let his whole life and understanding be rooted in him, to sit in his presence. Though Jesus in front of Philip was fully man, he was also fully God, and therefore for Philip to be there with Jesus was the best place that he could be. Jesus acknowledged that this might be hard for Philip to grasp, so he invited Philip to at least take stock of the works Jesus had been doing: cleansing lepers, restoring sight, pronouncing forgiveness and so on.

Sunday, 28 January 2018

Capacity - Releasing and Empowering - Ephesians 4:1 - 16

God with us! Jesus physically ministered - touching the leper, healing the sick, declaring the Kingdom, forgiving and releasing people, drawing them together and calling them to follow Him. His ministry led him to the cross, but death could not hold him - he rose again and was alive, victorious. Yet then came that moment where he would no longer be physically present, he would take his right and proper place in the seat of God.

With that moment came a question: How would the Kingdom ministry that was still needed in so many people continue if Jesus was no longer physically present?

[IN] What has Jesus put in you to benefit the whole body?

Challenge: Ask friends for feedback in terms of A-P-E-S-T

Sunday, 14 January 2018

Capacity - Corporate - 1 Corinthians 14:22 - 25

This week we are homing in on a snippet of Paul's writing that it is actually part of a much longer thought process (from chapter 12), about the work of the Spirit among the people. A key thing he re-iterates is the Spirit working among the whole people for the whole people. In chapter 14 there is a focus on the church gathered, and therefore the Spirit working among us in our meetings.

Sunday, 7 January 2018

Capacity - Individual: Acts 18

God has come to us! That is what Christmas was all about. With His coming in Jesus also comes His Kingdom, and Jesus straight away started announcing that. His Kingdom coming changes things - as it brushes against people those lives change. As a church we want to see Kingdom life across the city - we want to see the changes that it brings! For that we are a church in mission in this city - walking with Jesus together applying ourselves to the Kingdom task.

[UP] Where is God leading you to go deeper with Him?

Challenge: Make one clear positive adjustment as you start 2018