Regarding brevity, souls and having wit.

I was at a conference earlier in the year where the speaker encouraged a room full of preachers and teachers of the bible to regularly remind their congregations of “the brevity of life”. He pushed them to remind people of the limited time we have in our lives as it should spur us on into repentance and into mission (hopefully). Both Luke 13:1-9 and Joel 2:1-12 bring us into that place.

In a world of self-help books, motivational posters and pain avoidance to be confronted with the words “repent or perish” can be a bitter pill to swallow. We often focus on the loving and lovely aspects of our faith and, understandably, it’s a very attractive message. We sell ourselves short though when we don’t address the whole of the gospel – the part about judgement, wrath and God’s plan for unbelievers.

While there is a wonderful comfort we have knowing that we are shielded from God’s wrath with Jesus’ blood for me the knowledge that many people I love and want to spend eternity with don’t know Jesus creates an urgency in my spirit. The fact that “the day of the Lord is coming” as described in Joel makes me pray even harder for friends who don’t know Jesus. As much as the return of the Lord and the restoration of his creation excites me I don’t want friends to miss out on the goodness and forgiveness of God and an eternity with him. I feel annoyed at the miss opportunities or the times I haven’t been bold sharing my faith.

As we journey into Christmas who is on your heart to know the Lord? Who do you need to share your faith with? It’s a great time of year where there’s songs about Jesus playing at shopping malls and on TV. Let’s pray that we have an opportunity to share the good news and make it personal for the people we love who need to know Jesus.

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Mirror, mirror on the wall

Our readings today are from Numbers 33-34 and Luke 6:43-49.

We arrive at Luke’s abridged Sermon on the Mount recount and are greeted with two challenges. Sometimes I wrestle with how binary some of Jesus’ teaching is as I know life is so nuanced and often not as black and white as things seem. The creator of the universe however I assume knows a lot more than us, can search our hearts deeply and know us so intimately so if there’s someone who can be black and white and sort out the sheep from the goats it is our great God.

We have an analogy of good trees not being able to bear bad fruit and vice versa. As I reflected above I fail at reconciling this analogy in my head when I think about people I know because in my limited capacity to really know and understand people and their motivations it becomes very difficult to know who is “good” and “evil”. Obviously by looking at their fruit yes… but even that can be deceptive as many “good” people can exhibit some atrocious behaviour and outcomes to their decisions.

For me, the most useful way of looking at these verses is self-examining and looking at the fruit of my behaviour and decisions. To reflect on the Galatians 5 fruit of the spirit in my interactions with my family, my co-workers, the church people I lead, the wider church family, my friends who don’t know Jesus and I start to get a picture of how I’m doing. Am I acting in love? Do I have self-control in our interactions (even when others don’t)? Am I being faithful and staying the course? Etc.

Similarly with the challenge of putting God’s word into practice and how strong my foundation is. There are many echoes of these passages in James here and here. I love the book of James. “Do not merely listen to the Word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says.”

So these passages are really about holding a mirror up and hoping you don’t immediately forget what you look like. It’s about asking yourself am I bearing the fruit of the spirit? Am I putting God’s word into practice? Have I got a strong foundation so when the rug gets pulled out from under me I’m still standing strong in the knowledge of what Jesus has done for me? (Possibly a mixed metaphor there but you get the vibe.)

“I will build a great wall — and nobody builds walls better than me, believe me”

Now…… Matthew 19:1-12 I don’t know how I got another passage on marriage/divorce and what message the people selecting the passages are trying to send me… Only recently in my April FDR did I ponder the 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 passage in which Jesus’ instructions here are quoted. Even going back to November 2015 I was given 1 Corinthians 7:1-16. Yeah I get it….

But I digress….. Excuse the Trump quote as a title. Hard to not think about anyone else when it comes to building walls at the moment. Nehemiah 3 is a chapter on rebuilding the wall of Jerusalem. On a superficial level it’s as exciting as a genealogy – it’s kind of a name drop of all who contributed. Like linear notes on an album or credits in a movie. I think it’s important for a couple of reasons though:

  • There is a common vision for the task of accomplishing God’s work. There is an ultimate outcome all the people listed are working towards.
  • The work is divided so everyone knows what they need to do and to do it with excellence – without contention and separate interests.

We have been commissioned greatly in Matthew 28. Jesus says “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit,  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

It’s been exciting to come off the World Mission Conference with a increased focus on what our task is as followers of Jesus… to be on mission to make disciples of all the nations! We should have that as our common vision for the task of accomplishing God’s work at FAC.

And how do we do this? By dividing the work according to our gifts and skills which is beautifully articulated in 1 Corinthians 12 with the body of Christ teaching from Paul (and was recently preached on by Myles as part of our Power of One series).

Let us be unified in the vision of the task God has purposed us for and let us be celebrating the unity and diversity of the body of Christ we have in our church!

Hearing things…

Both our readings today involve visions, revelations and God talking directly to a person. There are some interesting parallels throughout which I hope you too observe as you read through these passages.

1 Samuel 3

Samuel is a boy at this point of time ministering to the Lord under Eli. It is noted that the word of the Lord was rare in those days possibly due to the hardness of heart among the people of Israel and the corruption of the priesthood. God will speak, and guide, when His people seek Him, and His ministers seek to serve him diligently.

Samuel initially thinks it’s Eli speaking to him and response with “Here I am!”. There are many other parts of the bible we see faithful servants of the Lord respond in that way. Eli suggests that it is perhaps the Lord speaking to him and recommends some helpful things to Samuel:

  • Make himself available for God to speak
  • Not be presumptuous about God speaking
  • Respond to the word of God
  • Humble himself before God and His word.

God reveal things to Samuel that weren’t necessarily great news for Eli. Eli’s response acknowledges the Lord as his God and perhaps was not surprised by the correction and his need for repentance in his leadership.

At the end of this passage we also see Samuel growing and maturing as God establishes him as a prophet.

Revelation 1

We journey form one servant of the Lord to another we read the opening chapter of Revelation. John is on the island of Patmos when he received this Revelation. I was always comforted by the promise of blessing for those who hear and keep what is written here. It is a challenging book and there is a helpful assurance for those who endure and try to understand some of the passages we read later in Revelation.

There is some powerful language as John addresses the seven churches of Asia. He is the Beginning and the End; all things are from him and for him; he is the Almighty; the same eternal and unchanged One.

Ron recently highlighted the description of Jesus in verse 14 is very similar to Daniel 7:9 belonging to the “Ancient of Days”. The similarities between the language of the second half of Daniel and Revelation continue throughout.

In a similar way to Samuel humbled himself before the Lord John fell at his feet. There is a comfort from the Lord, “Fear not” and again reminding us that the old is, was and shall be for ever.

How should we respond to the Lord? Are we making ourselves available for him to speak to us?

I am not my own

I’ll allow you to continue to endure enjoy the genealogy from 1 Chronicles….

The other reading from 1 Corinthians 6:12-20 brings a helpful distinction into much of what Paul writes about in his letters – legalism vs liberalism in our faith and attitude to Christ and his grace. Paul here addresses what seems to be slogans of the Corinthian church – “I have the right to do anything!” or in the ESV translation “All things are lawful for me!”. These catch cries are potentially leading some people down a path of abuse of the freedom Jesus had given and making a mockery of the grace his death bought.

There is a sense in the church of Corinth that since God’s grace is sufficient to cover their sins, they need not be concerned about sin. Paul has addressed this attitude in other letters like to the Roman church “What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Romans 6:1-2)

The example he uses to emphasise his point in this case is sexual immorality and how we conduct ourselves with our body. He reinforces the fact that our bodies are members of Christ and therefore holy. It then makes sense that it would be wrong to use our bodies for unholy purposes. He also quotes Jesus’ remarks about marriage from Matthew So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.” (Matthew 6:19) – (or let no man put asunder as I seem to recall my vows saying…. I had to look up “asunder” before our wedding day).

As we move into the final passages of this reading Paul commands “flee from sexual immorality”. Paul is telling Christian men to run the other when prostitutes approach – to remove yourself from places where temptations can flourish. As our bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit it is a reminder of the incredible gift of the Holy Spirit that we have received. A treasure that God entrusts to each of us. And finally we have a reminder of the price paid for our lives – that we are not our own and the appropriate response to that is to honour God with our bodies.

As we approach Easter this year it is always a humbling reminder of the price Jesus paid for us. The cost of the cross and the debt that has been settled. Perhaps we need to reflect on our behaviour and the way we have used our body. Or perhaps we have swung too far into living with a liberal view that we have the right to do anything and we need not worry about our sin. Either way I pray that this Easter we see afresh the wonderful redemptive story of the cross and the resurrection. 

Mercy Wins

What kind of church do we want to be? What kind of a person do you want to be known as? Our readings today are from Proverbs 14:1-10 & James 2:1-13.

The book of James is one of my personal favourites for its directness and practical nature. It is often my go to for that all important kick up the backside on how to live as a Christian in this world. Chapter 2 focuses on favouritism and the temptation, as the superficial and fleshly people we can be, to exclude or discriminate people based on their wealth, appearance or difference from us. We know Jesus looks past the superficial and to the heart. To place judgement or special attention to people based on what we see and perceive is falling well short of Jesus’ desire for us. We are encouraged to “Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law that gives freedom, because judgment without mercy will be shown to anyone who has not been merciful. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” Do we want to be known as a judgemental church or a merciful one? Do you want to be known as a judgemental person or a merciful one? Who we are as individuals shape our church…. let’s be known as a merciful one!

Continuing on the practical nature of today’s readings we see the wonderful unity of scriptures in Proverbs 14. The wisdom of mercy, reverence of God, humility are encouraged and the pride and foolishness of judgement are warned against. In verses 20 and 21 “The poor are shunned even by their neighbours, but the rich have many friends. It is a sin to despise one’s neighbour, but blessed is the one who is kind to the needy.” Even in verse 31 we read “Whoever oppresses the poor shows contempt for their Maker, but whoever is kind to the needy honours God.” This beautifully compliments what we read in James.

As we check our attitudes and hearts we can give thanks to the author of mercy and grace and that through Christ we have the ultimate example of mercy being triumphant over judgement. And praise the Lord for that!

Trust and Obey

For today we’re in Deut 28Titus 1:10-16

Thank you Peter and Elizabeth Smart for pre-empting and foreshadowing part of the Deuteronomy passage for me the other day. I’m glad when I read it I very much landed in the same place. Obedience…

God is interested in our obedience to his commands. He wants to bless us for keeping his commandments. Without meaning to oversimplify the passage essentially if we are obedient we can expect God’s blessing and good stuff to happen. If we’re disobedient we should expect God’s curse and not good stuff to happen. In fact it’s a humbling reminder of God’s control over all things and circumstances and our need to be honouring him in all things.

In fact the Titus verse echoes parts the sentiment of the Deuteronomy 28 finishing in verse 16 with “They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.” The context here is this is a letter to Titus from Paul with Paul addressing the false teachers in the church. Paul doesn’t have many nice things to say about these false teachers declaring they “must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for shameful gain what they ought not to teach”. It’s clear Paul didn’t have a lot of time for disobedience either.

Obedience to God’s commands can be challenging. When I became a believer in my teenage years I had no trouble accepting Jesus as my Saviour. I knew I needed salvation. I knew I was a sinner. I never really struggled with that part of it. But it is only part of it. It took me a lot longer to allow God to be my Lord. And when I did it was only often Lord of some things in my life not it all. Gradually, as control is relinquished and through submission to God’s will, I try to trust and obey in all things. As mentioned, it can be challenging. However do I need to embrace Jesus as my Saviour AND Lord every day.