Sermons to Read

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7 Mar 21: Building Healthy Churches - Discipleship

Reading - Hebrews 12:1-3

Today I want us to consider a second calling that all Christians share: WE ARE CALLED TO BECOME LIKE JESUS.

 

The comedian Tim Vine said, “As a scarecrow, people say I’m outstanding in my field. But hay – it’s in my jeans”.  In one way and another we are all a product of our genes and our environment; nature and nurture – but also of our choices.   I must admit I have sympathy with two guys who have recently started training on the road just outside the vicarage, both possess the bodies that all of us in middle age know only too well. One of them said he’s fighting his genes, that he has to wrestle with what nature landed him with in terms of weight gain. Ah it’s hard, the big temptation is to give in and say ‘that’s just the way I was made’ – but when the heart starts hurting, and catching your breath becomes harder and everything becomes such an effort – it’s not time to give up but to get up and do something about it. And they are – good on ‘em!

Obviously, we are in Lent and we journey with Jesus as He faces pressure from outside to bow the knee before various temptations – and He fights the good fight and deploys the truth of Gods word to fuel His defence, and He overcomes.

In the early church we can see that those first believers sought to journey with Jesus – they were hungry – hungry to become like Jesus and that meant they were hungry for information that would lead to inspiration – so we read in Acts 2 ‘they gave themselves to the apostles teaching and to prayer’ – 2 good Lenten disciplines of learning and praying. They understood that the way to become like Christ is to capture the vision of Christ and then to allow that vision to capture every other part of their lives.

A healthy church will be a growing church – and of course the church is not the building it is the people, so that means we all have to be growing.  Do you recall the first time you ever went on a escalator – a moving walkway!!?  In Bradford Kirkgate Mkt Mall – of course we kids all immediately made for the downward flowing esc and ran up it the wrong way! You could do it as long as you didn’t stand still!  Someone once said that the Christian life is like walking up a downward flowing escalator – go fast enough and you’ll make progress, stop and you go backwards - so, we all have to life-long learners otherwise we will go backwards.   Q? As you review your Christian life are you still hungry to learn more about Jesus or have you come to a standstill, or worse, started going backwards?? Friends without a crystal clear vision of Jesus you will soon go backwards – but when you are possessed of a vision of Him that fires your heart you will make progress.

Q? HOW CAN WE BECOME LIKE JESUS – well it doesn’t just happen – it will involve intentional action, just as any victory on the field of endeavour doesn’t just happened it is the result of careful attention and discipline – of course the word disciple and discipline come from the same root.

In the rdg Mitch just did for us fm Heb 12:1-3 we read about 4 principles that can help us grow deliberately in our discipleship – to make progress on the journey to becoming more like Jesus day by day: 1. SOMETHING YOU MUST KNOW  2. SOMETHING YOU MUST THROW      3. SOMEWHERE YOU MUST GO  4. SOMEONE YOU MUST SEE

1. SOMETHING YOU MUST KNOW – you are being watched!! When the author of Heb says we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses, they mean that gone before us is a whole host of other believers who have run their race, and they’re now in the stalls watching us as we take to the field to run ours, not looking to see if we fall but cheering us on, and if we do fall they don’t shout boo they shout get up, come you can do it!!  Now for some of us we have to deal with a certain mindset, that feels like God or others are always judging us, maybe waiting for us to fail and that discourages us and puts us off trying. Friends we have to be for each other, we have to want the best for each other and encourage one another. But also we have to recall God is watching and wanting us to succeed, that’s why He has given us His Spirit to empower and gift us. He is NOT like the policeman in the sky just waiting to catch you out – St Paul wrote ‘if God is for us who can be against us’ He is FOR YOU NOT AGAINST YOU. That’s something you must know. God and His people are right behind you! How encouraging is that!

2. SOMETHING YOU MUST THROW – “throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles”.  We all have certain weaknesses, certain temptations we are susceptible to.  Q? What are yours? Habits – that maybe harm your body? Attitudes – that colour your personality and spoil your relationships?  Perhaps Character traits – that get you into trouble?   Friends the first step to overcoming these problems is to spot them (ask those who know you best – they’ll tell you!), then name the sins that have entangled you, and throw them off.  Friends anybody involved in doing anything serious will realise that time is.    IN this recent pandemic we have witnessed how the scientific community have worked with huge commitment to develop vaccines – simply amazing!!                As they worked they will have had to prioritise tasks – some things have to come before others; they laid aside distractions – maybe good things but not the most important, and they would have had to steward their precious time wisely and even worked overtime sacrificially, why? Because we do not have all the time in the world, the clock is ticking.       But look at what they achieved when they did all these things – the product of their labour may well be pumping around your body today protecting you!    If we want to become like Jesus what do we need to throw off?

3. SOMEWHERE YOU MUST GO – where? Well it’s your day at the races, your lane has been called, it’s now time for you to take to the field and “run with perseverance the race marked out for you”.  But look you don’t go alone – your friend Percy Verance comes with you!! He’s a helpful guy to have around, with him you can really go places!   You know  there’s a certain bottom line about discipleship and it’s this – you either choose to do it or you choose not to do it. Indifference (not being bothered one way or the other) is a choice not to do it, putting things off (procrastination) is a choice not to do it, but making the decision, getting your kit on and walking out onto the field is a choice to do it!  That’s decisive action.    The thing is if we do not choose to be serious about our discipleship we will miss it, it won’t just happen we need to be deliberate about our discipleship – so, are we in the race or not turning up? Are we on the road to discipleship or the road to nowhere?    Are you running or retiring?     Is your faith about entertainment or endeavour? Is it about fun or the run?

So – something you must know: God & His people is rooting for you

- something you must throw – all the stuff that impedes our progress

- somewhere you must go – to the race set out before you and do it with commitment!

 

Finally,  SOMEONE YOU MUST SEE – becoming like Jesus is not just about principles, it’s about a person: Jesus.  It’s one thing to read a book, it’s another to be shown how to do something by someone.   As we reflect upon Jesus in Scripture – our daily bread - we catch how He dealt with people, we catch what made Him happy and angry, we see the effects of His life and His love on others and we experience it for ourselves. Becoming like Jesus won’t be by just not by just having principles, but it will happen as we give ourselves to the apostles teaching and to prayer and by allowing His Holy Spirit to work in us, to follow His promptings.  From that organic rather than academic place we get a vision that is compelling!! So Heb12  says ‘FIX your eyes upon the person of Jesus’ and when we do - that will aid us in our knowing, throwing and going!! The writer says “consider Him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart” – Jesus our leader will inspire us as we fix our eyes upon Him.

A daily discipline of reading scripture and praying is the starting block, training with others is a great help, being regular in church on Sundays is fundamental.  The Big question – do you want to become more like Jesus? If we do and we go for it we will build a strong and healthy church…… if we’re not really bothered well I hope everything else you do in church is lovely and that you enjoy the time you have it, because it will have no future.

21 Feb 21: Building Healthy Churhces - Worship

READING - EPHESIANS 1:1-10

I want you to have a look at these amazing pictures; they are all the work of an American artist called Eric Grohe who specialises in transforming spaces through art murals.

The visual affect is stunning – the drab reality gives way to a vision that transforms, that vision then works it’s magic on those around it – and the world becomes a better place.     A chap called Rick Warren once said this when talking about the need for vision and to have some kind of a clear purpose as you move into the future,

“A clear purpose statement will provide the direction, vitality, the boundaries and the driving force for everything you do”

As we move together into the future and build church together we need to have a clear vision of what we want to do and why.

As I explore the pages of the NT I see that at the heart of the healthy young church we see there are 5 important features around which their life grew and flourished:

Discipleship, Fellowship, Worship, Ministry and Evangelism.

Acts 2:42 tells us this:

The Fellowship of the Believers

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

We will be exploring each of these dimension of a healthy church as we go forward in Lent but I want us to start with Worship.

Now the text there mentions ‘breaking of bread and prayer’ – holy communion and prayer – just a couple of aspects of their shared worship – but there is another and it is in vs45 ‘they gave to anyone who had need’. There are 2 Gk words used n NT for worship one is proskuneō - lit means ‘to kiss towards’ maybe it’s like blowing a kiss – a visible expression of love and adoration towards someone and our hymn singing, prayer and worship are aspects of that, but the other word is latreuo which means to minister. So, in acts of adoration and in service we worship God.

 

Jesus said that the greatest command is to ‘love the Lord our God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength’ – that’s worship.  And yet we all know that you cannot command someone to worship – oh you may force them to their knees and get them to say certain words – but that’s not worship, worship – by it’s very nature, must be freely given, just as love has to be freely given not commanded nor coerced. Worship is a response not an attempt to curry favour or meet a demand. We all know that in a successful marriage you will have 2 people who adore and serve one another freely, sacrificially and persistently – a beautiful thing!

 

So, if worship is a response to something – what is that something?

 

Well, it’s that 4 letter word. And friends we need to be crystal clear on something here – God has a calling on all of our lives – but it is not firstly to obey Him, it is not to be His servant, it is not even to do good!! The very first call God makes upon us is to know that we are loved, loved by Him.

 

Now we get so used to saying ‘oh yes God loves us all’ that it can lose the affect it should have on us – there are numerous things that happen when you know you are loved:

 

1. You feel accepted

 

2. You feel significant

 

3. You feel relieved!

 

1. Feeling Accepted:  I recall one day getting off a train in Lincoln station when Jane and I were courting.  She’d had her hair done specially to meet me and silly old me I walked straight past her – I didn’t recognise her!!  But when I did, we embraced and just held each other, she rested her head on my shoulder and I rested mine on her head – and we savoured a moment where we knew we were loved and accepted. How wonderful!  (BTW yesterday was our 39th Wed Ann).  In our rdg: Eph 1:4 - .” 4 Even before he made the world, God loved us …” Think of that before He made the stars and ignited the sun He loved you; before He lay down the mountains and poured out the seas He loved you.   And even when we did not know Him, when we had turned away from Him – He still loved us and kept holding out His nail-pierced hands of grace. He has never been ashamed of you and nor does He ever begrudgingly welcome anyone, He just loves us – St Paul tells us that we are His workmanship – His prized possession. He loves us and accepts us.  That doesn’t mean

 

2. When you know you are loved, you know that you are significant, that your life matters, you are valued. In our rdg St Paul tells us that not only does God love us – He chose us!! Now there’s a mystery, and it’s not like lining up in the playground waiting to be picked for a team – wondering if it would ever happen! God sees our true potential; He knows of what we are made and has a place for us in His great purposes for the world. When you know you are loved, you know that you are significant – significant enough to be loved. And look at this it gets even better – He choses us not just to employ us in His great plans, He choses us to become members of His very own family!!! Vs5: 5 God decided in advance to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ. This is what he wanted to do”.. and listen to this, “and it gave him great pleasure”.  He not only loves us – He even likes us!

 

3. When you know you are loved, you can relax, you can feel relieved. One of the most heart-breaking things in life is to feel no-one wants you, to be friendless, to be without those to whom you can belong, to be lonely. It’s a terrible thing to feel that you don’t matter to anyone or that ultimately in the great big scheme of things your life didn’t matter!  But friends when a person becomes a Christian all of that is chased away into the shadows – we can know we are loved, accepted and significant. Wow, that is such a relief and it is good news indeed - it means that ultimately I play to an audience of One, there is no-one else I need to impress only Him.

But how can we know all this is true? By looking at what Christ was willing to do on our behalf – it’s there in our rdg v6&7 “6 So we praise God for the glorious grace he has poured out on us who belong to his dear Son. 7 He is so rich in kindness and grace that he purchased our freedom with the blood of his Son and forgave our sins”.   What a relief – no matter what others think about me, no matter what I sometimes think of myself – Jesus Christ loves me, so much so He suffered the cross so I could be rescued from, reconciled to God and renewed in the image of my maker! And when you know that someone has done all of that for you because they love you – well there is only one response and it is love. St John, the patron saint of our churches wrote this “We love because He first loved us”. That love we call worship.

 

And worship is the very basis of the church – not beautiful music, not a heavenly choir, not well-crafted liturgy and profound prayers, not a lovely building. All of these are important – but without love behind them it’s just window dressing.   But with love firing them up they become moments of joy and then overflow in our fellowship – how we care for one another, when love is present it motivates our desire to grow more like Jesus – that’s discipleship, when we love we want to serve and care for others that’s ministry, and when we understand the height and depth and breadth of God’s love we want it for others – that’s evangelism!

 

So as we look to build healthy churches together in the future – let’s understand first and foremost our very first calling is to know we are loved, so let’s fall into that love and embrace a truth that assures us we are accepted, we are significant and we can feel relieved! Amen

11 April 21 - Easter 2

John 20:19-31

One night a woman found her husband standing over their newborn baby's crib.
Silently she watched him. As he stood looking down at the sleeping infant, she saw on his face a mixture of emotions: disbelief, doubt, delight, amazement, enchantment, skepticism.
Touched by his unusual display of deep emotions, she felt her eyes grow moist. She slipped her arms around her husband.
"A penny for your thoughts," she lovingly whispered in his ear.
"It's amazing!" he replied. "I just can't believe how anybody could make a crib like that for only £39!"

“I just can’t believe…”  That just about sums up how Thomas felt one week after the Res of Jesus. He was absent on that day when the rest of the disciples saw the Risen Lord, no matter what they said Thomas would have none of it – until he saw Jesus with his own eyes.  Now there are several things that catch my attention about Thomas, the first is the strength of his demand that PP "Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it." There is something in his words that seems to say ‘I will need the unthinkable to make me believe’.

Now the question is - how did Thomas get into such radical doubt?  I mean just weeks before he had been with Jesus when He stood at the entrance of a PP tomb and called out a man who had been dead for 3 days, in addition he had seen things happen in the ministry of Jesus and quite likely in his own missions whereby he commanded things to happen in Jesus’ name and they did – so how has he got to where we see him this morning?

   Well I guess sometimes we get knocked off course and we fall into doubt – maybe some terrible experience – ‘how could God allow that’, perhaps some difficult issue that makes you wonder if it’s all true or a lie? Perhaps it’s a gathering storm of lots of little niggles, plus some temptations you’re struggling with and they eventually come to a head in a PP storm of doubt.

 

Do you remember during lent when we were looking at The Pilgrim’s Progress? Well after Christian had been relieved of his burden PP at the Cross, he continues on his journey to the Celestial City meeting up with a dear friend called Hopeful but after they get distracted they end up asleep in the grounds of the PP Giant Despair. When he finds them he takes them to PP ‘Doubting Castle’ and imprisons them for trespassing – Bunyan tells us he PP “put them into his castle, into a very dark dungeon, nasty and stinking to the spirit of these two men”.   Once in the prison cell the giant’s wife kindly suggests he give them a right good beating the following morning, and so we are told that Despair grabs a “crab tree cudgel” and gives them a beating the likes of which they’ve never had before.  He leaves them to their despair and returns only to encourage them to kill themselves!! "For why," said he, "should you choose life, seeing it is attended with so much bitterness?"  That’s how life was in Doubting Castle.

 

Now I wonder if Thomas had come to a similar state of mind where he was trapped in Doubting Castle?  His life with Jesus had always been a roller coaster – one day there would be a hard lesson to understand from the teaching of Jesus, the next he would witness some wonder that Jesus performed and faith would rise again, another day service was demanded of Him as Jesus sent him out on mission and the demands were considerable – but he surprised himself at what could happen when he exercised the authority Jesus had given to Him, and then on other occasions such as with Lazarus Jesus does something that makes him lift his eyes to heaven and just laugh with amazement!! But then in that last week – Palm Sunday, last Supper – betrayal – Gethsemane – arrest – the disciples scatter – denial - and Jesus gets crucified!!   What happened to it all?  And now someone is saying He’s alive again – yeah, sure!   Thomas I suspect was well battered and beaten by the experience of the last two weeks, I don’t think he knew what he could believe anymore, and that’s why I think he demands such proof of the Resurrection.  Have you ever found yourself in such a place?  Where a sure faith gives way to some experience in life and you just don’t know what to believe anymore?  If you haven’t, bless the Lord, but hang on in there folks because one day you will!   Doubt is something common to human experience and will be a frequent traveller with the Christian as we struggle to grow in faith.

 

So what do we do with doubt? I would say 3 things:

 

  1. PP Don’t be surprised – we have been warned that doubts will seek to assail us – PP 2 Corinthians 10:5 speaks of “ arguments and pretensions that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ”. These arguments and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God may often be doubts, doubts about God, His Word, our understanding or our ability to keep going – for Thomas it may have been a logical argument that Jesus was finished and gone. All disciples have doubts, it just seems to go with the turf.

 

  1. PP Cultivate an attitude of trust in the promises of God.

When Jesus was tempted in the wilderness every time He turned to God’s word in the Scriptures – He chose to trust that rather than the voices of temptation. Peter speaks of the Word of God as a light shining in a dark place and how we do well to pay attention to it, and as we do we will find God to be a very present help in the day of trouble. St Peter tells us that in Christ God has PP given us 2 Peter 1:4 “.. his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world …”.  Sometimes in the absence of clear evidence one way or another we have to make a choice –  believe or disbelieve – and disbelief C S Lewis once said is really “perverted faith” in that it also a choice, a choice not to believe. Christian in Doubting Castle remembers that in his breast pocket he has a PP key – the name of it is ‘Promise’ and with it they PP escape the Giant.  Jesus once said to His own disciples PP John 11:40 "Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" – cultivate an attitude of trust and live to see God’s glory in your life and circumstances and maybe even avoid the harsh treatment of doubt.   So 1. Don’t be surprised by doubt assailing you, 2. cultivate an attitude of trust…

 

  1. Take your stand: I remember being quite shocked reading a book by John Lynch of Anglican Renewal Ministries. Once he wrote that he woke up one morning and felt so negative that he decided ‘that’s it I don’t believe in God anymore’ – and then he looked at his diary, saw he had a couple of speaking engagements and as a Vicar this was not a good day to stop believing in God! By the end of the day he was feeling great and grateful to God who’d blessed what he was involved with. Sometime we just have to hug close to Jesus, walk through the feelings and let them pass. So many things can affect our feelings - ill health, sheer fatigue, frustration in circumstances or by people, or some kind of spiritual attack – all can bring you towards doubt, and the way around it is simply to take your stand and hang on until the feelings pass – PP do not make important decisions when your feelings are unsound, just wait until they have settled.

 

4. However doubt can also be a servant to faith – faith and doubt to be sure are bedfellows, and the reality of doubt can be a stimulus to send us deeper into our faith. PP Allow Doubt to be the Servant of Faith. 

It's Hard to Fool Mother John invited his mother over to his flat for dinner with him and his female flatmate. His mother couldn't help noticing how beautiful she was and how they interacted with each other. She was sure there’s more to this than flatmates. Reading his Mum’s thoughts John said  "I know what you must be thinking, but I assure you, Julie and I are just roommates."             About a week later, Julie said to John, "Ever since your mother came to dinner, I've been unable to find the beautiful silver gravy ladle. You don't suppose she took it, do you?"     John said, "Well, I doubt it, but I'll write her a letter just to be sure."
So he sat down and wrote: "Dear Mother, I'm not saying you 'did' take a gravy ladle from my house, and I'm not saying you 'did not' take a gravy ladle. But the fact remains that one has been missing ever since you were here for dinner."
Several days later, John received a letter from his mother which read: "Dear Son, I'm not saying that you 'do' sleep with Julie, and I'm not saying that you 'do not' sleep with Julie. But the fact remains that if she was sleeping in her own bed, she would have found the gravy ladle by now.    Love mother

The truth is that wherever there is faith doubt will be around too, Jesus said to Thomas PP ‘Stop doubting and believe’ and St Paul develops this idea to exhort people to PP take “captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” – a good way of doing this is to allow our doubts to lead us to ask questions,  seek answers, to explore faith, to go deeper – friends it’s either that or living with our doubts and being booted around by them when we could be coming to a faith that makes us stronger, deeper and better people – the choice is ours – listen to our doubts or those who are kind enough to share them with you or thrust them at you, or listen to God and build up your faith by taking your wild thoughts as a spur to seek answers and grow.

 

So 4 things to do with doubt: PP

 

Never forget that Jesus said to Thomas PP     John 20:29

Then Jesus told him, "Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed."

 

And St John adds “and in believing you will have life…”  Amen.

4 April 2021 - EASTER!

1 Cor 15.1-11/Jn 20:1-18

DOES WHAT WE BELIEVE REALLY MATTER?

A couple of years back this ‘True story’ appeared in the Manchester Evening News;

Last Wednesday a passenger in a taxi heading for Salford station leaned over to ask the driver a question and gently tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention. The driver screamed, lost control of the cab, nearly hit a bus, drove up over the curb and stopped just inches from a large plate glass window.

For a few moments everything was silent in the cab. Then, the shaking driver said "are you OK? I'm so sorry, but you scared the daylights out of me."
The badly shaken passenger apologized to the driver and said, "I  didn't realize that a mere tap on the shoulder would startle someone so badly."
The driver replied, "No, no, I'm the one who is sorry, it's entirely my fault. Today is my very first day driving a cab, for the past 25 years I've been driving a hearse."

 

How true?? That is the question!!

Well, it seems that people in Corinth were having problems coming to terms with the Res of Jesus and were actively denying it.

In our rdg fm 1 Cor 15:3 we have St P stating that PP " For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance (pse underline): that Christ died (pse underline)for our sins…. , 4 that he was buried(pse underline), that he was raised(pse underline) on the third day according to 2 great authorities: 1) the Scriptures, 2) the eyewitnesses.   It was foretold that it would happen and it was seen to have happened. Past and present history collided in a moment of paradigm shifting reality.

 

Now we know that Corinth was a sophisticated Greek town, wealthy, influential and would have been aware of all the intellectual issues of the day. The people here were not daft – they knew that when someone died that was it!   But amongst them comes this claim of Res, it was an issue for the non-believers – but for believers also…. What do we do with it?

Maybe some in the church realised they couldn’t deny it as that denies what Jesus said, so perhaps… claim it as an allegory – a story with a truth, or as a metaphor – it’s really the idea of Res that is important not the physical reality.

Their real issue was that they had grown up in a world increasingly becoming convinced by materialistic ideas – that the world you can see and touch is the only real world. Later thinkers added ideas such a the laws at work in the world are immutable – they do not change – so when a parrot dies it is then a dead parrot and remains a dead parrot no matter what you say. 

For many in today’s world the Res is a nonsense too, sadly for many in the church Jesus’ physical Res is a problem in just the same way.  In Jan 19 the Archbishop of Canterbury appointed an Australian cleric, Dr John Shepherd, as the new Anglican representative to Rome – he liaises with the Pope. For many years this man has been preaching against the historic idea of the physical resurrection of Christ, here’s what he has said  “It’s important for Christians to be set free from the idea that the resurrection was an extraordinary physical event, which restored to life Jesus’s original earthly body. The resurrection of Jesus ought not to be seen in physical terms, but as a new spiritual reality.”  

If it wasn’t a physical reality then all the text in John 20 where Jesus went out of His way to show Thomas He was a physical reality is simply untrue or something worse…

 

Someone commented ‘that having a senior Anglican figure who does not believe in Jesus’s resurrection was akin to asking Nigel Farage to lead the Remain campaign’!   Strangely enough since voices were raised about Dr Shepherds’ convictions and his favoured appointment to Rome, he has now issued a statement confirming that now he does believe in the physical Res of Jesus. Make of that what you will. I say – look mister in the west we enjoy such liberty to believe whatever we want – if you don’t believe in it then say so, but do us all the honour of resigning your post and saving your integrity for goodness sake!

 

In view of the doubts about the Res being bandied about in Corinth Paul rolls out the list of all those who had seen Jesus after He rose from the dead: He wants them to know THIS HAPPENED – IT'S A FACT! PP (Note on handout)

IT'S A FACT! 5 that he appeared to Peter and then to all twelve apostles.

IT'S A FACT! 6 Then he appeared to more than five hundred of his followers at once, most of whom are still alive (so ask them yourselves)

IT'S A FACT! 7 Then he appeared to James, and afterward to all the apostles.

IT'S A FACT! 8 Last of all he appeared also to me…

 

He does this for 2 important reasons – both to do with truth; Paul knew that it is truth that sets you free, so here he gives them 2 truths to help them ground their faith and grow their faith and both are related to the Res which gives them truth to stand on and truth to be saved by.

 

1. How to Ground your faith: plunge it into the soil of an empty tomb.

in v1 – "I want to remind you of the gospel I preached to you, which you received and on which you have taken your stand" – here is truth to stand on, to ground your faith on. 

The truth will out – and if you are found to have built on sand it’s only a matter of time before your foundations start crumbling and all you have built collapses around you.

Paul said this truth about the Res is of first importance and we need to ‘hold firmly to it’. Q? - why? Because it will ground our faith in Christ in concrete historical terms.  There are real consequences to not holding fast to our faith in the literal Res – not some kind of spiritual or metaphorical Res such as was common in their day and ours.  If we don’t ground our faith in His Res:

  • then the best we can believe about the significance of Jesus is that he was merely some kind of martyr dying for a great cause – all His talk about rising again was simply wishful thinking.

  • the Jesus is lost and all His teaching turns into good advice - not saving truth, because it can't ultimately be trusted any longer - if He predicted He would rise and didn’t why should we trust anything else He said? Why should we take up the cross and follow Him on a sometimes costly path of discipleship? If He got that big prediction wrong but put so much store by it and then it didn’t happen forget it – Jesus just becomes another tragic figure in the drama of history.

  • If we do not believe in his physical Res there are radical – if Christ did not rise your faith is in vain, you are still in your sins and WORSE you have been deceived and may have suffered and sacrificed in vain. In the light of eternity  you may as well abandon all hope - 'eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we die'.

  • No wonder Paul says we are of all men most miserable if we believe in the Res of the dead when it simply did not really happen.

The shocking thing about the Res of Jesus was – against all human reasoning and experience – IT HAPPENED – there were people alive when Paul wrote this who could tell you ‘yes – I saw/touched nail pierced hands/saw the stab hole/heard..’ Paul records this truth as if he is saying to his readers ‘go and ask them for yourself’!   The Resurrected Jesus was  as real as He ever was.   To deny that the Res was to deny reality itself! IT HAPPENED AND NOW EVERYTHING HAS CHANGED. Paul wanted them and us to know - The evidence is credible and compelling – it is truth to stand on. 

 

2.  Here is truth that saves, this has to do with growing our faith: 1 Co 15:2 "By this gospel you are saved"  Our faith in the Res – is saving faith. The word used here for ‘saved’ can mean 2 things; 1. saved from a disaster (such as the terrible judgement of God falling upon us, meaning we suffer a lost eternity)and  2. The gospel becomes an active agent of salvation as we believe it, as we walk in its truth – open our lives to its truth and call to repentance and faith so we are changed from one degree of glory to another – maybe saved from a nasty nature, saved from a life controlling addiction or habit, maybe saved from a meaningless life.

In Christian theol this speaks of positional and progressive sanctification – i.e. when we believe in Jesus our lives are caught up in His and we are saved and remain safe, as long as we abide in Him. But it also speaks of being saved - that Jesus is becoming Lord over ever- increasing areas of our lives as we bring them under His control by the power of the HS. We are being made whole and experiencing regeneration and transformation from one degree of glory to another – it's a growing and progressive process. I hope that’s your experience?

Belief in the Res is fundamental to this notion of being saved; if Christ didn’t rise we are still dead in our sin because the saving purpose of His death is not vindicated if His promise to rise again did not happen! If He didn’t rise His mission was a failure and we are still lost – in time and eternity!!    And, if we don’t believe in the lit Res of JC then under pressure doubt will also quickly start to undermine our confidence in other truths so important in the Xian life – truths that underpin our relationships /business/way of life/value system – the net result will be the KofG doesn’t come thru us on earth as in heaven.   

Xians are meant to experience transformation by the renewal of our minds, so we need to embrace clear convictions about the Res and as we do His Res life comes pouring into our lives and we experience victory over sin, we experience assurance about life after death, we experience a new peace in life and we move from degeneration into regeneration! That's not bad eh?! 

In 1 Cor 15:3 Paul says that the Res is 'of first importance' - it is premier division truth. It is the truth that establishes us in our faith and it is the truth that saves, reconciles, and atones for us.  "3 For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins … was buried..rose again according to the Scriptures,   AND was seen by many many eyewitnesses who were still living when Paul wrote.

The writer to the Hebrews exhorted them in this way, “23 Let us hold fast to the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who has promised is faithful”.    Let us also be those who believe – and in believing see our faith well-grounded and growing - Amen?

28 Mar 21 Palm Sunday

Jesus was hailed as a prophet from Nazareth in Galilee. Within a week He was nailed as a threat in Jerusalem.

In Israel of old, when a prophet came along to do business you never knew what you were going to get – maybe a word of encouragement or a word of rebuke; a prophecy of blessing or a prophecy of woe to come. Prophets were not always popular people – just need to read the OT to establish that – they threw young Jeremiah down a well!  I guess you could say he went down very…..well!

Before Jesus made this journey to Jerusalem He had to face some tough decisions, and even when He got there we can be absolutely sure he was engaged in a battle of wills even within Himself, He was no stranger to the angst of temptation.

 

Making The Big Decisions is never easy or straight forward;

 After stopping for drinks at an illegal bar, a Zimbabwean bus driver found that the 20 psychiatric patients he was supposed to be transporting from Harare to Bulawayo had escaped. Not wanting to admit his incompetence, the driver went to a nearby bus stop and offered everyone waiting there a free ride. He then delivered the passengers to the Psyc hospital, telling the staff that the patients were very excitable and prone to bizarre fantasies.. The deception wasn't discovered for 3 days.
Jesus journey to Jerusalem would bring humanity to 3 days that would change the world.  It’s no wonder that from Scripture we can see this was possibly the most intense time of His life where He probably faced temptation on a new scale even for Him.             Jesus was confronted by several BIG ISSUES.  He had to make decisions about: 

1. God’s way, my way or the devil’s way?

2. Live in the world as it is – or take a risk and change the future?

3. Am I willing to face the cost? No pain and no gain, or real pain but real gain?           

These were big questions for Him and they are big questions for us, so let’s briefly consider 3 questions

 

1. Choosing whose will to follow

Oh, if it were only so simple as having 2 sides to worry about. Someone once said ‘at the heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart’ – our real dilemma is the human will bx that of God and the Devil; the human hearty has a tendency to make up a 3rd position – often some kind of unholy compromise that we think we can live with, that still allows us to choose what to do and to soften the blow of hard choices – we want the best of all worlds don’t we?

Jesus had previously been offered the possibility of an easier way… do you remember when?  (In the wilderness, when Satan took Him to the highest mountain and said   “9:"All this I will give you," he said, "if you will bow down and worship me." Jesus dismissed this temptation with a booming declaration of Scripture, “Away from me Satan; `Worship the Lord your God, and serve him only.'"                             Lk tells us the devil left Him until an opportune time – that means the devil knew he’d failed this time, but he would be quick to choose another time when he thought Jesus might be more vulnerable – I think Gethsemane was just such a moment – in the darkness, the loneliness, the fear of that night I suspect he was lurking in the shadows playing out all kinds of compromises and alternatives for Jesus. But Jesus overcame him by submitting to God, “not my will, but your will be done”.

Keep close to scripture to re-condition our thinking and keep us in step with the King.

 

2. Status Quo or Risk & Go!! Jesus had to decide Do I live in the world as it is – or take a risk and change the future?  Everything we do in our lives resonates in the future. Every time I do a funeral I wonder what the legacy of the deceased is in their family, their community and the world – have they brought some light, love or life into the world to make it a better place or have they concentrated on just what they could get out of the world?  For the Christian we have to make choices about where our focus is going to lie – on simply serving the present moment or of living for something yet to come?  

Lent Cse this week – all about how we treat the world – is it just about ow or do we have an eye on the future? What are we bequeathing our children/gkids by how we treat the planet?– they are the one’s who may face the floods, the violent weather changes, the pollution and the scarcity of resources caused by this generation. When we are asked to recycle there’s more going on than simply re-using discarded rubbish there’s the future.                      Are we backing the present or the future?  Heard this story about backing a winner – man - 'I put £20 on a horse last week and he came in at 25:1',            '25:1 Wow! you must be loaded'.

'Not really, the rest of the field came in at12:30.'

What are we backing? Jesus was backing the future by his action in the present.

 

Let’s choose what to do with our lives:

Jesus rode into Jerusalem that day and He rejoiced at their welcome, but He was under no illusions about how this was all to change very quickly. Between ever alleyway, behind every curtained lurked enemies plotting to kill Him. He understood the fickle nature of crowds and He knew just how quickly calls for Him to be lifted up onto the throne would be replaced by calls to lift Him up on a cross!  The cost was all too clear – and He had to choose, we see the struggle played out in Gethsemane, but He also spoke to His disciples about the cost too and foresaw their weakness.    Jesus had no illusions – there is a cost to following God’s will for your life. We should be under no illusions either – following Jesus will cost us… all faithful followers will experience this!   But here’s the thing, you are willing to pay for what you deem to be important.

 

The old Bible Commentator, Mt Henry writing 400yrs+ ago wrote about the folly of making the wrong choices in life, he wrote that : “ many a man hugs himself to death, and loses his life by over-loving it.      He that so loves his animal life as to indulge his appetite, and make provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof, shall thereby shorten his days, shall lose the life he is so fond of, and another infinitely better”.  We must make the right choice of what to do with our lives – do we commit everything to the here and now and to a world that will eventually come under God’s judgement and pass away, or do we give our lives to doing God’s will in our daily round here and now, but in such a way that we have an eye on the Kingdom to come that will never pass away.

 

  • God’s way, the devils way or ‘My Way’ (Frank Sinatra)

  • Live for the now or for the future?

  • And – no pain, no gain or real pain for real gain?

21 Mar 21: Building Healthy Churches - Evangelism

1 Peter 3:15-16 New International Version – UK Matthew 28:16-20 New International Version -

INTRO – so we have journeyed across 4 of the 5 callings that will help us build healthy churches that transform communities during our Lenten series: Worship – our response to Gods love of us, Discipleship our call to become like Jesus; Fellowship our call to belong to the family of God the church and last week the call to be a blessing through our shared ministry. Before we think about the final call – the call to go I want to ask you a question…  I’m going to describe a word for you – hands up when you think you know what it is….

This condition causes an increase in heart rate and temperature, such that blushing occurs. It can make you feel so uncomfortable and self-conscious that you want to vanish….. [EMBARRASSMENT]

Today we are going to think about another word beginning with E and it is Evangelism, often a word that conjures some embarrassment for many people.

 

The word Evangelism literally carries several meanings related to proclaiming good news, we speak of the 4 Evangelists Mt, Mk, Lk & Jn as they hand to us the good news of Christ in their gospels, that was part of their obedience to the great commission of Christ to them to ‘go into all the world and make disciples of all nations, baptising and teaching them’ but also a command they past to us that we also are called to go and share the good news with others.

St Peter tells those he wrote to how to go about this task: be prepared to give an answer when asked about not just what you believe but why you believe – and do it with gentleness and respect in such a way that no one can point the finger at you. Peter knew exactly what it was like to operate in a context where people were cynical, suspicious and insulting too – but the bearers of good news had to react in a way that was good news.

The NT also uses a word for those who bear witness in this way and it was the word ‘martyras’ from which we get the word martyr – pointing up that this is can be a costly business – but the call is there, the need is there and we are here faced with the call to go there.

People may be embarrassed or even frightened of evangelism because they are aware of all the stereotypes of ‘bible bashers’, maybe enthusiastic and sometimes harsh street preachers or perhaps because they simply don’t know what to say or how.

In 1 Jn 4:8 he writes, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love”.    This is an important text in relation to this call to go because we are to grow in love – and it must be love that motivates us to go and share – not a desire to conquer, convert, coerce or corner anyone into submission.  So let’s use this word LOVE as a mnemonic to help us think about why we should obey the call to go and share:

 

L – Liberation If we love we will want to share the good news of liberation – When prophesying about the coming of the Messiah the prophet Isa wrote, “He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
   to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners”, Jesus Himself said “If the Son shall set you free – you shall be free indeed” and St Paul wrote Rom 8:1-2 “1Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. 2For in Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death”.  At the very heart of the mission Jesus, why He came into the world, was to set the captives free, liberation is at the heart of it all – all held in bondage to sin and its consequences can reach out and experience salvation. In my own experience I have met a wide range of people who have experienced deliverance from life controlling behaviours, be they substances, sexual behaviours, or destructive habits. I’ve personally dealt with those who struggled beneath the dark and oppressive power of evil spirits and seen them set free. And for those who still wrestle to overcome they do so at least with a real hope that one day things will be different. The liberating power of the gospel is good news!

 

O – orientation If we love we will want to share the good news to those who feel so lost and disorientated in life, or maybe even don’t realise they are lost and in darkness.  Jesus once healed a man, blind from birth, - he was quizzed by the teachers of the law who wanted him to denounce Jesus – his response? “All I know is that once I was blind, but now I can see…” a line picked up in John Newton’s famous hymn ‘Amazing Grace’ in which he also added his own personal testimony as a former slave trader ‘once I was lost now I am found’. And the wonderful thing is that when people are able to enjoy a resetting of their moral compass, when they find out who they really are in Christ, when they get a vision for life and their very reason for being here that can have the most profound effect on their life – suddenly they’re on the road to somewhere not nowhere -  And that’s good news.

 

V – Verification If we love Christ we will want to share the good news that He died to make possible – and when we do that clearly verifies our claim to be His disciples – we do what Jesus did.    You will recall the parable Jesus told of a group of people given talents and sent away to work with them for the sake of their Master. When He returned, they all reported back – one who had been given 5 bags got 5 more, another who was given 2 bags got 2 more – but the last one had decided to hide his and simply returned to the Master what had been given. The master was angry, the lazy servant didn’t even put it in the bank so it could gain interest – and condemned to man – he wanted all the benefits of being in the masters’ service but wasn’t willing to share in the family business, proving that no matter what he said – he didn’t really belong. Jesus said, when referring to the day of reckoning, 21 ‘Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.   Had it not been for the courageous saints of old – young women, young men – even children and very old people – making a stand for their faith and sharing it with others we would not be here today; I think about old Polycarp born in the 1st century, made Bishop of Smyrna by St John – who when persecution broke out against the church was asked to simply burn a bit of incense to the Caesar but refused to do so, the soldiers sent to make him conform didn’t want him to die, I think they even said ‘you don’t have to believe it – just burn a bit of it what harm can that do’ – Polycarp would not compromise – he said, “Eighty and six years I have served Him, and He has done me no wrong. How then can I blaspheme my King and Saviour?” they burned him at the stake, but we still tell his story today.  

 

E – Education If we love we will want to obey the call to go and share the good news of our salvation, of forgiveness, of restoration and the plans God has for His world that all people may live in righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.  There is so much we have to share that can illuminate the mind, inspire the heart and ignite a fire of love in the world that can brighten dark places – why would we want to keep that to ourselves? why would we want to modify it because today it does not fit in with the powers that be?  If you possessed knowledge that could cure cancer and kept it to yourself what kind of person would you be?   We have something here greater than that – a cure for cancer can only save the body, not the soul – the good news of Jesus works in such a way that it inspires people to work for such cures but offers good news that can save us from being eternally lost to God. Surely, we must come to a point when our love outgrows our fear and we start to share good news that has such power to heal, to comfort, to inspire and to transform. St Paul wrote to the church at Corinth 2 Cor 4:6 “For God, who said, "Let light shine out of darkness," made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God's glory displayed in the face of Christ”, when we joyfully, humbly and sincerely start to share this faith with others we will build a strong and healthy church. RW ‘Obedience to the great commission and the great commandment makes a great church’

 

Not everyone will want to hear – but some will.

Not everyone will respond – but some will.

Not everyone will join us – but some will.   Amongst the crowds – the elect are waiting to hear the call of Christ. Let’s give them a chance.    

 

We’ve already been through a series using our Why Jesus booklets and I hope you have managed to pass on at least one by now?      Maybe we need to read it again, with the eyes of our hearts and come to a new place of faith and commitment to Jesus – when the reality of the good news hits us afresh and we will be overflowing with the joy of our salvation such that we will earnestly desire opportunities to share it with others. Amen

14 Mar 21: Building Healthy Churches - Fellowship

BIG Q? WHAT IS YOUR VISION FOR THE SHARED LIFE OF THE CHURCH?

 

Fm our rdg it seems that both as an Ind and as a people we have a story, it has 2 dimensions a BC/AD – Our rdg tells us that Before Christ we were separated from Him, excluded fm people of God, foreigners to God’s promises. We were without hope and without God in the world. But thru Christ we are brought near and brought together; He is the agency of union, of healing, of reconciliation. In Jan each yr there is a week of prayer for Xian unity – when actually the church is already united in several important ways – all Xians are part of a new humanity!! How? By being united to Christ, united to the people of God and united to the Covenant promises of God.   Sometimes we labour the fact of Xian unity when all the time it’s just there and the reality is that anytime you find yourself in a different part of the church – say on holiday – and you get the chance for some fellowship (presuming you do go to church when on holiday?) you soon discover an organic unity that exists even outside of visible and institutional unity.

I did hear a story of a nun at a Catholic school asked her students what they want to be when they grow up.
Little Suzy declares, "I want to be a prostitute."
"What did you say?!" asks the nun, totally shocked.
"I said I want to be a prostitute," Suzy repeats.
"Oh, thank heavens," says the nun. "I thought you said 'a Protestant!'"

 

The truth is that in the Xian church there is a whole lot more that unites us than divides us.                          Our true story is not one about denominational divisions but universal unity through Christ. But this is not going to be about having shared worship services and looking for some kind of bland union – we are already united in the fundamental truths of the gospel and only when we find our unity there will we be able to work together effectively to build the KofG. Only when we share the aspiration to share the good news about Jesus for lost souls will we discover not just our true fellowship but our true purpose. The church – united by Christ’s salvation, united by Christ’s mission, and sustained by Christ’s unconditional love.

 

At the local level one vital aspect of our shared unity is captured by the Gk word for fellowship: Koinonia – It won’t translate directly into one Eng word – so you will find this one Gk word spans 3 different Eng meanings, each of which furnishes us with a key to our understanding of how we are all called to build healthy churches that enjoy fellowship with each other – we are called to belong – everyone of us.

 

Koinonia has at least 3 aspects – SOCIAL  SPIRITUAL AND VOCATIONAL

 

1st =  SOCIAL FELLOWSHIP shared lives – v15 is a stunning revelation! “His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two” – the purpose of Jesus in calling us to belong to the church is a whole lot more than us simply having a shared habit, hobby or interest – His vision is to create in the church a new humanity!! Talk about having ambition for us! Did you know that parents who have ambitions for their children without breaking their children give their kids the best chance of making the most of their lives!!  Jesus has ambition for us, He has vision for us – the idea is we share the love, laughter and lifestyle of being a community of bros and sisters together of the same heavenly Fr – we share a social life with each other – once we were far off, now we are near, once we strangers now we are bros and sisters, once there were divisions that separated us but in Christ these are to be torn down and we are to live as a new humanity – built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone!!   Of course, we have disagreements, fall outs, differences of opinion but that is no excuse for open warfare!   I heard about 3 small boys were bragging about their Dads, one, a vicar’s son, said, "Well, my dad owns hell."
"No way," another boy scoffed. "How can anyone own hell?"
The vicar’s son said, "I heard Mum tell grandma that the PCC gave it to him last night."!!

 

Fellowship must be so much more than a natter after the service – a healthy church is populated by people who are sharing their lives, not full of people who keep their religion private and others at arms length that’s  only going to build a hobby society not a new humanity! In a healthy church fellowship you will hear people saying these kinds of things - ‘we had this problem and folks at the church did….’ ‘I was lonely and a bit lost but folks at the church did..’ ‘I never thought I could do … but folks at church were so encouraging and I managed to..’ ‘Folks at church didn’t know what to say – but they prayed with me, some even wept with me’ and one the meanings of koinonia is a fellowship of suffering too.  Friends we are called to belong, to belong to a fellowship with a shared social life.

 

2nd aspect of koinonia = SPIRITUAL FELLOWSHIP of shared worship – we are those who love singing, praying, and learning together; we are a choir – later on in ch5 St P sees the church as those who are “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs” who are “singing and making melody in our hearts to the Lord”. A wider biblical perspective identifies us ministering to each other in worship, building up, stirring up and cheering one another up as part of our shared worship. People who, in loving God through our worship, love one another too. Here’s a choir that harmonises and is filled with surprises at what that fresh breeze of God’s spirit can work amongst us and between us as we give ourselves to Him and to each other.  Though we are many, we are one body because??? We all share in one bread.. and one cup.. and faith..one baptism.. one Lord and Fr of us all.

We are called to belong to a spiritual fellowship.

 

3rd aspect of koinonia = called to belong to a VOCATIONAL FELLOWSHIP of shared responsibility – the word koinonia was used of the ch at Eph when they reached out financially to the ch at Jerusalem – they stood with them in their physical and material need – they ministered to them, that’s fellowship!  We are our brothers keeper and we are all the very workmanship of God and each of us have a part to play in the church – there are not to be any passengers, we all sit side by side with a grip on the oars and make the boat move forwards – fellows in a ship, a fellowship on a journey fm darkness to light.  When this happens we discover something v.encouraging - we become more together than we are apart – me playing my roles you playing your, all of us discovering and using the gifts the HS has given us for the common good and for the sake of the Gospel; sharing our resources – both financial and in terms of time to serve; there is a sense in which we are not just part of the choir – we are all soloists too – and as we share in this kind of fellowship look what happens v22 we are “built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit”.

 

C S Lewis wrote ‘next to the Blessed Sacrament your neighbour is the holiest object presented to your senses’ because in every believer Christ is present – there to be loved, cared for, served.

 

A church that understands this and has a deep social, spiritual and service orientated fellowship will be a healthy and growing church. I want to be a part of a church like that… do you?

 

We can make the wonderful discovery that we are more together than we are apart, or that we either stand together or we fall apart. It’s upto each one of us – my prayer is that we won’t hold back but move forward in fellowship with one another?

7 Feb 21: The Deity of Jesus

Here I am down at St John the Divine at Cliviger, standing beside our very old lectern. Like so many in our churches it takes form of an eagle – why?  All gospel writers came to be represented by a created beast – Mt=angel, Mk lion, Luke bull and John by an eagle. Why an eagle – believed to be bird flies highest – closest to God, and Johns gospel (last written) has a very elevated and somewhat different angle to the others, John doesn’t just report the narrative he plunders the truth behind it.

John Ch 1 opens with those amazing words.. In the beginning etc

It delivers a punchy powerful vision of the pre-existence of Christ (calls Him the Word), of His pre-eminence in creation and then  in v14 it tells us ‘The word became flesh and dwelt amongst us’ – that’s why in the creed we confess:

We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ, the only Son of God, eternally begotten of the Father, God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten, not made, of one Being with the Father; through him all things were made.

The deity of Christ is the fundamental difference between Christians, Jews and Muslims – some of them may have accepted Him as a prophet – but as God incarnate?!! Wow – that’s another thing.  Their vision of God is very different to the Christian vision – now in our nation it is a key British value to have tolerance and so we respect one another’s beliefs, but we should never go in for the foolish notions that they are all basically the same – you just could not be more different on this most fundamental issue.

The Christian faith boldly declares that The God above all gods has come amongst us and we rejoice that heaven declares its love and commitment to us in an unmistakable and glorious fashion – no wonder C Wesley wrote so many beautiful hymns about this very issue:

Let earth and heaven combine, Angels and men agree,
To praise in songs divine, The incarnate Deity,
Our God contracted to a span, Incomprehensibly made man!

You see perspective is important, truth is important – not just because it’s about being correct, but because behind every action lies a belief. Behind how we live out our lives are beliefs, and so, for the Christian, we are confronted with the big question today – what is your personal vision of Christ? By this I don’t simply mean what we believe about Jesus – but do we possess or are we possessed by such a vision of Him that it actually moves us, affects us, changes us, motivates us. Do we have a vision of Him that makes for transformation?  Or does He feel distant, mysterious and unknown? Do we feel neutral or indifferent to Him? If we do that also with have its own affects.

 

In St Pauls’ letter to the Col we have one of the most animated theological descriptions of Jesus you will find in Scripture, to me it sounds like the overflow of a heart fully possessed of the most profound vision of Jesus – Paul understand just who Jesus is, His agency in creation, His pre-existence and why He came into the world – you could be forgiven for thinking that Paul and John must have had some very close fellowship!

 

Q? Let me ask you – what happens when we either do not have such a vision of Christ or we water down our convictions about Him?   Well nature abhors a vacuum and if we do not have a good, sound vision of Jesus -informed by Holy Scripture we will have another vision informed by something else. But here’s a few things to consider.

 

1.  If the Jesus of Scripture does not sit enthroned upon our hearts and minds as King of our aims, aspirations and affections then other things or people will. And the reality is that we will never have a relationship with Him that renews and recondition us. We will discover that as our affections are warmed by other things and people our affection for Him will be diminished.  

 

2. If our thinking about Jesus becomes shady and our convictions are compromised and weakened then that will have a direct moral knock on. I’ve seen this time and again.   Suddenly the things He stood up for don’t become as important – esp if we swallow the lie that He was merely a man of his time and was subject to the same historical errors of His peers, this is bound to undermine our confidence and our imitation of His life and values.  When Christ begins to grey out we will find our hearts grow cold, and when He says something challenging in His word we simply worm our way out of it by re-interpreting it. That’s self-delusion.

 

3. If Jesus is no longer held as Lord and Leader in our hearts, but we can’t bring ourselves to walk away from Him then we will end up creating Christ in our own image; suddenly we will use Jesus to buttress our own ideas, desires and wants. We will start lining Him up behind the things we think are important, things we want people to believe – even if they go against His teaching.  Then our ‘new’ Jesus becomes an idol – that breaks the 2nd Cdt! And we should have no part in it.

Jesus was uncompromising in His call to His disciples – take up your cross and follow Me; if you will find your life you must lose it for my sake, whoever confesses me before men I will confess before my Father in heaven. He tended to react to people who were merely ‘playing at religion’, He despises those who are luke warm and half-hearted. Basically, with Jesus - He is either Lord of all or He is not Lord at all.

 

A W Tozer once wrote ‘wrong notions about God soon rot the religion in which they appear’ – and he is absolutely right.

But if we savour that biblical vision of Jesus, if we capture that beautiful truth “that though he was rich, yet for your sake he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”. If we grasp the height, depth, breadth and wonder of His love for each of us, if we espy His vision for humanity – then we will find there is such truth in Him not only to stimulate the mind but to ravish the heart and draw us into newness of life and hope and love.      There’s only 1 thing I regret about becoming a Christian… it took me 19 years to find Him properly, and they were 19 years that showed me how much I need Him, how much He can do with a mixed up and confused individual when they bow the knee. I would urge you if you don’t know Him to reach out and find Him, and if you are a flickering candle then turn to His word and let it refresh your vision of Jesus – if that means you need to sort things out, say sorry – then do it – do it as quickly as possible life is too short to waste time outside of His love and service.

 

What’s your vision of Jesus? Who is He to you? What difference is He making in your life?

May God help us to grow n Christ and be recreated in His image. Amen

ABOUT US

Two local Anglican churches, one on the hilltop of Worsthorne, the other down in the Cliviger Gorge 

ADDRESS

Tel: 01282 788176

 

St Johns Vicarage,

Gorple Road, 

Worsthorne,

Burnley

BB10 3NN

 

info@stjohnub.uk

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