Sermons to Read
If you go to YouTube and search for KCVICAR you can watch the sermons there
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
NEW SERIES - Prayer
25/7/21 8am Philip 4:4-9/Lk 18:1-8 The Way of Prayer
So far in this mini-series on prayer we thought about 1] the gift that prayer is – we have access to the very throne of grace!!
2] We thought about the transforming power of prayer in our lives and through our lives.
Finally – focus on the life of prayer. I found a great list of prayers that children actually said incl this: “Dear God, my Mum tells me that you have a reason for everything on Earth, I guess broccoli is one of your mysteries”. For some people prayer is jam packed with mystery – and yet in our gospel reading we discover Jesus, once more, urging His followers to pray PERSISTENTLY. In the epistle St Paul urges us to “..not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”. You will notice a lot of ‘Ps’ in those readings!! Just as we notice lots of pees in our house at the moment as we train our little puppy Paddy!!
But for both Jesus and Paul – prayer wasn’t just an activity they did occasionally – both lived lives of prayer. But what does that mean, to live a life of prayer? Well, let me offer you a handful of 5 more Ps to consider: Living a life of prayer for Jesus and St Paul was about a state of being – that led them to always be watchful and mindful of God in their lives and in their world and that is constantly witnessed by seeing how often they were in prayer and communication with God. So, 1st. prayer was about:
Praise: Many of their prayers begin with words of praise and thanksgiving to God – they took time to be grateful for the blessings of life, for the beauty of the world and even of people around us, taking time to wonder and thank God for His goodness and His presence and His precious promises. Cultivating this kind of positive spirituality is a direct challenge to a dark, depressive perspective on life that can bring you down or worse start making you cynical – which is a cancer to the soul. Sure, there’s bad stuff – but there is much good too. There is a real power in praise – it an animates your world and changes your perspective.
2. Purity: in the place of prayer we draw near to God – the safest place in the Universe, there to make our confession – to bring our failings and our faults to Him, to seek forgiveness, to seek help in the times of temptation – even Jesus faced temptation – His public ministry started off with 40 days in the wilderness where he was tempted by the enemy of our souls who sought to tempt Him away from following His mission. St Paul lived in the regular presence of profound temptation and wrote to address it. When we place ourselves in God’s presence, through prayer, His light illuminates our dark places, it exposes our weaknesses only to transpose His will into our lives, not to condemn us but to help us root out those things that possess power to drive a wedge between us and Him, things that may even threaten to separate us from Him forever. Purity of life is a product of prayer.
3. Provision: ‘in every situation… present your requests to God’ in some situations? No. In those moments of desperation? No. Just when you’re at church? No. IN EVERY SITUATION… And don’t think you have to save your requests for first thing in the morning and last thing at night when you squeeze in a few moments with God – pray as need arises, if possible join with someone else to pray as need arises – all the time as Jane and I drive and something comes up we share in prayer as we go, when we’re out walking, when we just come off the phone – in fresh moments of need let fervent prayers arise. Jesus and St Paul both had an ongoing dialogue with the Ever present God who offers to be with us in all situations.
4. Protection: Jesus taught us to pray ‘Our Fr who art in heaven..’ – when we say that all too often that makes God feel like He’s away up there somewhere… distant… and we’re down here in the thick of it all!! That’s wrong! Heaven is the dimension in which God dwells and it is all around us, that’s why we believe in a God who is always present. There is a branch of physics called Quantum mechanics, it is loaded with mystery and awe. From observations there has come the astounding discovery that photons – particles of light- seem to have the nature of being in two different dimension - at the same time!!! God can be in His dimension and ours at the same time. But we also discover in scripture that there is mention of another dimension in which evil dwells and from which it seeks to exert influence and exercise power – the world we live in is not a neutral world, and so Jesus tells us to pray “deliver us from evil…”, St Peter tells us that “your enemy prowls around like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour, therefore be alert… watch and pray..” When evil is near it is faith not fear that we need to exercise – prayer helps to activate faith. C.S. Lewis in his helpful book Letters to Malcolm: Chiefly on Prayer wrote, “We may ignore, but we can nowhere evade, the presence of God. The world is crowded with him. He walks everywhere incognito. And the incognito is not always hard to penetrate. The real labour is to remember, to attend … in fact to come awake. Still more, to remain awake.”
Finally, Power – prayer beats a pathway to the power of God in our lives. In Lk11:13 Jesus say explicitly, ‘how much more will God give the HS to those who ask Him..’ God does not send His troops out into the battlefield without weapons, no wonder St Paul writes that ‘He that is in us, is greater than he that is in the world’ – if you don’t believe in that dimension of life you will simply be easy pickings for the enemy – missing how he approaches you through temptation, ideas, thoughts and pretensions that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. We win by waging warfare, by being proactive and not just reactive – we take the fight to the enemy not just wait in our trenches, and God has promised that we will receive power when the HS is comes upon us. One little boy prayed, “Dear God, I need you to make my mum not allergic to cats. I really want a cat and I really don’t want to ask my mum to move out”. Let us move out in the power of the HS!
The life of prayer is a life of praise, of purity, of provision, of protection and of power. There is nothing that will confront us in this life that is out of bounds to prayer. Again, C S Lewis has some wisdom for us, he says this when he writes about a particular temptation, he writes “It comes the very moment you wake up each morning. All your wishes and hopes for the day rush at you like wild animals. And the first job each morning consists simply in shoving them all back; in listening to that other voice, taking that other point of view, letting that other larger, stronger, quieter life come flowing in. And so on, all day. Standing back from all your natural fussings and frettings; coming in out of the wind.” That is a life of prayer and I commend it to you. Amen
11 Jul 21 Hebrews 4:14-16/Luke 11:1-13
The Gift of Prayer :Knowing that the Vicar was very fond of cherry brandy, a church warden with a sense of humour, offered to present him with a bottle on one condition - that the Vicar acknowledge receipt of the gift in the church pewsheet. "Gladly," responded the good man, who always enjoyed a challenge. When the pewsheet was passed out the next Sunday, the warden turned at once to the "In Appreciation" column on the back page, where he read, "The Vicar extends his thanks to the Church Warden for the gift of fruit -- and for the spirit in which it was given."
Why is prayer such a gift?: here’s 3 reasons – it offers a face, a space and a grace:
1. Offers a face – even a quick glance at the book of psalms yields phrases such as these – ‘I will seek your face, let your face shine upon us, do not hide your face from us’. For the people of the Bible prayer was a seeking of God and not simply shouting out hopes into the ether in desperation. They came to prayer because they knew they were invited to seek the Lord, they knew that He had opened up a way for them to be heard and they believed He was listening. That is the difference between treating God like a totem pole and entering into relationship with Him – God has a face and all that conveys by way of personality, expressiveness and relationship. Prayer is a gift because it offers a face.
2. Offers a space – Prayer is a gift because it offers a space; One of the distinctive features of how the people of Israel were to relate to God was by creating places where God would show Himself – so initially out there in their desert wanderings God told the priests of the Exodus to make a tabernacle with a tent of dwelling, later on that morphed into a space that housed the ark of the Covenant above which the presence of God would be, later on still God commissioned the construction of the temple in Jerusalem at the far end of which was the holy of holies – that place where once a year the High Priest alone would enter to offer sacrifice. It was an awesome place to be – so much so that the adolescent Jesus on one family visit decided to hang around there for 3 days whilst his poor parents were going mad trying to find him!! But for Jesus this was not merely an phenomenal structure that commanded awe – it was the House of His Father and He loved to be there. For us finding places and spaces in which we pray is also important, not so much because God only dwells in certain places but because some spaces are far more conducive to prayer than others – the old Celtic Xians used to speak of ‘thin places’ where the veil bx this world and the next – our dimension and God’s dimension, shimmered thinner and prayer became more focussed. It can be helpful to create a space to pray at home, in your garden, or to find a place you go to that feels like a thin place. But prayer offers us a space in which communion between heaven and earth can take place and in a world full of hustle and bustle that’s a special space indeed!
3. Finally – prayer is a gift not only because it offers a face and a space, but because it Offers a grace; we often use this word in different ways – a ‘gracious person’ (courteous, kind, and respectful even of those who might be of a lower status), or we speak of a grace in terms of how someone appears to have been given special abilities or talents. The word is actually ‘charis’ in Gk – hence charismatic in Eng and it literally means ‘unmerited favour’ – a blessing we do not deserve but are given anyway. The gift of Prayer is supremely the attention of God to those who, in so many ways, simply do not deserve it due to our sinfulness – and yet He makes Himself available to everyone Gods; God makes time for everyone – He can do that when He dwells outside of time, St Peter tells us that one day with the Lord is as a thousand years – time for everyone is no object to Him. So it is that knowing this unique gift the writer to the Heb exhorts us: 16 Let us then approach God’s throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need. And Jesus in His own exhortation in Lk tells us to ask, seek and knock – that God Himself is waiting to hear from us!!
Friends the good news about prayer is that there is Someone waiting to meet with us there; there is a space in which heaven is willing to do business with earth and there is One who gracious allows Himself to be engaged with our concerns, affected by our cares and desires and willing to communicate with us. This is no small thing, no wonder Jesus was so very very keen that all his disciples made prayer a priority, that they availed themselves of the gift on offer and that they exercised faith and reaped its fruits in prayer. I don’t know if you know this but God has a phone number? You may want to put this into your mobile phone – the number is Jer 333, 33:3 ‘Call upon me and I will answer you and show you great and mighty things you know not’.
C H Spurgeon once said that ‘prayer is the muscle that moveth the arm of omnipotence’ – and if He is right maybe it’s time that we did some exercise to build up our muscles?
Seeing God as Father, Son & Holy Spirit
4 Jul 21:
1Cor12:1-11/Mt 13: 53-58
This sermon is really part 2 of the theme from last week – God the Holy Spirit and rather than simply thinking about Him as One of the person of the godhead I wanted to take it a little more deeply. In the opening chapters of Genesis we see two accounts of creation – ch 1 where the Holy Spirit hovers over the face of the waters at creation and then in ch2 it’s like the camera moves from a cosmic perspective to a more local narrative about Creation that leads into a preamble before the account goes in even deeper into the human heart as the Fall unfolds in ch3. In ch1 the Spirit enters humanity to animate it with life, in ch2 that same spirit will be at work in the creation of relationships – and, of course relationships are at the very heart of our faith – esp that broken relationship of ch3.
In the life of Jesus he was only too aware of this – sometimes relationships were good, other times not. There is a story of two Nuns who went to a baseball game in Seattle, unfortunately their lofty head gear began to interrupt the view of the guys sat behind them. 3 of them decided to badger the nuns in an effort to get them to move.
In a very loud voice, the first guy said, "I think I'm going to move to Utah; there are only 100 nuns there."
The second guy spoke up and said, "I want to go to Montana, there are only 50 nuns there."
The third guy said, "I want to go to Idaho, there are only 25 nuns there."
One of the nuns turned around, looked at the men, and in a very sweet calm voice said, "Why don't you go to hell...... there aren't any nuns there."
In our gospel reading we have a rather interesting situation whereby the ability of Jesus to do miracles was being radically affected by the absence of faith in His own hometown – they could not believe that anyone from there could ever come up with such wisdom and wonders, and certainly not that particular family of Joseph the carpenter – no they’d heard things about them!! Matt tells us ‘they took offence at him’!
As we think about the person of the HS I do find myself wondering if sometimes the way we think about God means that He will not do many miracles here because of our lack of faith? I think there are 3 common barriers that stand in the way of a living faith:
PP 1. We don’t see right – Worldview: The c18th witnessed the emergence of a whole new approach to knowledge – the mod sciences were being born and asserting themselves often over against theological/spiritual ways of seeing the world which were increasingly regarded as being merely superstitious. The scientific approach to knowledge began to capture the public mind. The Frenchman Denis Diderot compiled the very first Encyclopedia and he wrote these words, “There are three principal means of acquiring knowledge... observation of nature, reflection, and experimentation. Observation collects facts; reflection combines them; experimentation verifies the result of that combination”. Concrete, material facts are the only real facts for Diderot – indeed he really had it in for religion – he once said, “Man will never be free until the last king is strangled with the entrails of the last priest”!
Glad I didn’t live then… quite attached to my entrails.
The scientific way of doing knowledge became standard – and in some regards I’m glad it did, I wouldn’t want someone drilling a hole in my skull believing they were letting demons out to stop my headaches!! But the problem was the Enlightenment approach to knowledge very soon became haughty and proud and presumed it could explain and control all things. We are the heirs of the Enlightenment and today it’s more haughty successors are equally well represented by people like Richard Dawkins who would poo poo any belief in the supernatural. Most of us have been educated to think that when you see the word ‘supernatural’ you should simply substitute ‘superstition’ and so we write off the possibility of anything supernatural. When people who think this way have populated the world of education it’s no wonder that the spiritual reality of God gets closed down and even in churches people wish to curb any idea of the supernatural in our faith – the problem is, of course, our whole faith rises and falls on the supernatural – what is the Res if not a supernatural event? If we have allowed our minds and imaginations to be so reduced by this worldview, this kind of scientific naiveté, we are quickly going to be in trouble as people of F A I T H.
2. We don’t believe right – the struggle of faith. Probably hot on the heels of the first barrier – the Enlightenment worldview that undermines the grounds for faith, we may find ourselves saying with Thomas ‘unless I see… unless I touch…. I will not believe’. Sometimes there can be a deep seated unwillingness to exercise faith and dare to believe. Yet scripture tells us that this is what the ancients were commended for – they dared to step out by believing and obeying the word of the Lord, Heb 11:6 even says ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God’. Thomas and those early believers found themselves standing on the edge of reason, at a point where their limited minds struggled to understand – how do you explain the Resurrection!? But just because you can’t explain something scientifically does not give you grounds to rule out the possibility that it ever actually happened or that if it did then to suspect foul play! Try that out the next time someone tells you they love you….how can you prove it? But Thomas et al eventually humbled themselves enough to believe because of WHO was asking them to believe. Hebrews 11:6 goes on to say “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him”.
Now Faith – biblical faith, is not blind faith, it is not guess work, it is not throwing out your brains – quite the opposite it needs us to engage our brains, but it does summon us to recognise that if there is another agency at work in the world that is spiritual then you might not always be able to prove it is God as you can’t reduce everything to a testtube – there ARE other ways of ‘knowing’, as Pascal said ‘the heart has reasons the mind knows not of’, if we think something can’t happen outside our finite ability to understand our world will grow dark, our hope will grow dim and we will have nothing to say to a lost world in desperate need of hope.
Sadly, today many - even in the Christian world, seem to go to some efforts to empty the faith of the supernatural, to seek to undermine the very scriptures that teach us about God and Jesus and His Spirit at work in the world, seeking ways to explain away what is evidently regarded by scripture, and those who wrote it, as concretely historical and supernatural. Church ldrs have to be so careful we do not end up teaching unbelief instead of belief, and worse, rob the people of God of their inheritance in God. 2 barriers against a living faith - We don’t see right (faulty worldview), we don’t believe right (rationalising faith)… 3.
PP 3. We don’t feel right – for so many of us this is a real issue. To believe sometimes hurts!
When my brother was dying I prayed so hard - he died;
When I sought a sign to guide me about my future vocation there just seemed a lot of confusion;
When my sick friends went to a meeting to be prayed for and nothing happened – all these circumstances may mean that in the quiet places of the heart and mind we say ‘I won’t risk that again’!
Friends the truth is that even in the life and ministry of Jesus not every prayer was answered in the way desired – Jesus in His fear and confusion prays in Gethsemane 3 times and gets no answer. He’s just left with a decision – dare I trust and see this through or not?
When Jesus went back to His hometown “ he did not do many miracles there because of their lack of faith”.
Like many of you I’ve experienced a good deal of dashed hope and disappointment, but there is one thing I have learned over the years and it is this, If I never expect it, I never experience it. If my lack of faith closes the door on God, we shouldn’t be surprised nothing ever happens.
St Jas 4:2 tells us, ‘You do not have, because you do not ask God’. If I simply don’t have a worldview that is open to the supernatural I will miss it even when it stands in front of my face. If I don’t believe and exercise faith then that will severely reduce the possibility that I will ever see the wonders of God happen in my life and the lives of others. And if I put all my energy and belief into my disappointments, without ever daring to believe and risk again - then I may well miss out on blessing God wants to bring into my life and through my life into the world around me.
Choice is ours – dare to believe or hug close to your cardboard cut out God?
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