Wednesday, December 3, 2008

Beacon Touchpaper #5: "Christmas - What's the Point?"

"...Jesus answered, "You say that I am a king. For this I was born, and for this I have come into the world, to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth hears my voice..." (John 18.37)

One of the greatest Christmas texts comes, not from Jesus's birth, but from shortly before His death. When Jesus, under arrest and heading for the cross in just a few scant hours, explains his purpose here on Earth to Pilate, He is being far more provocative than Pilate realises. In uttering what can appear to be a rather elusive statement ("to bear witness to the truth", as opposed to "to show you I am King", or "to die that your sins might be forgiven"), Jesus is in fact prompting something far more fundamental. Pilate's response to that declaration follows immediately in verse 38: "What is truth?" This shows the Roman governor is missing the point entirely. The TRUTH was standing in front of Him all along: Jesus is the Way, the TRUTH, and the Life. And that's the Christmas message right there.

As we spend the next month preparing for and celebrating Christmas, spare a thought for those others who are also missing the point. There's more than a few: 125,000 tonnes of packaging will have been thrown away by January; 330,000 trees will be used to make Christmas cards; £20 billion will be spent in total (£900 million of those on decorations alone); only 1 in 4 children in the UK think Christmas is more about giving rather than receiving; a recent survey of 5,500 Christmas cards in our High Streets showed only 67 bore images of the Bible story; January the 8th is cited as the busiest day of the year for divorce lawyers, when up to 1 in 5 couples (!) will enquire about divorce after the pressures of Christmas. It's an epidemic...

How do we help get the real message of Christmas - "bearing witness to the TRUTH" - across? It can be in any number of ways. For many elderly or single parents, the only person they may see over the Christmas period will be their postman. For those who've suffered the loss of someone close to them, the thought of entering a new year without the person they loved can be a painful reminder of what they've lost. Many of these people will be our neighbours. Just a small gesture can make all the difference; it can be the first step in building bridges for further opportunities (from personal experience, having the neighbours round one evening for Christmas drinks can be a great success). One small leap for man, one giant leap for the Gospel...

So, how do we help get the real message of Christmas - bearing witness to the TRUTH - across? I guess I'll leave that up to you...
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Saturday, November 22, 2008

Communion - A Meal With a View (notes for sermon 23/11/08)

1 Cor 11.17-34

Being able to worship freely is something we can take for granted in this country; 450 years ago, things weren't so different...

Over a period of 3 years (1555-1558), Queen Mary I – or Bloody Mary as she became known – rounded up 288 people – men, women, elderly, an archbishop, even 4 children – and burned them to death at the stake in big public shows. Farmers sold snacks to the crowds; some brought children with them to watch. The victims’ friends could pay to have a keg of gunpowder tied to their loved ones' neck or waist for less suffering; when the flames reached the keg, things progressed rather more quickly... NICE
  • WHY?: “The principal reason why they were burned was because they refused one of the peculiar doctrines of the Catholic Church. On that doctrine, in almost every case, hinged their life or death. If they admitted it, they might live; if they refused it, they must die” (J.C.Ryle, 1890) The doctrine in question was Communion... was the real presence of the body and blood of Christ in the consecrated elements of bread and wine in the Lord's Supper? “Did they or did they not believe that the real body of Christ... was present on the so called altar so soon as the mystical words had passed the lips of the priest? Did they or did they not? That was the simple question. If they did not believe and admit it, they were burned.
  • THANK GOD WE DON’T HAVE TO BE BURNED FOR OUR BELIEFS... But then, do we take Communion seriously enough sometimes?
  • This is both a subject and a practice that can either be belittled, or overly legalised, or handled irreverently for the sake of being ‘provocative’ or ‘different’. It is a trap we can easily fall into, "you're supposed to do it this way or that", and this tradition (or ordinance) can then become religion. THAT is not Christ's, nor Paul's, intention.
Concerning the Lord’s Supper, Paul has to reprimand the folks at Corinth because of division (that same old problem’s cropping up everywhere in this letter, isn’t it?) and now selfishness, greediness, lack of humility, and a complete lack of respect for their brethren and a lack of integrity as God’s people... Paul shows them and us that each time we share in the Lord’s Supper, it is a special place in time where we can stand still and acknowledge 4 spiritual scenic viewpoints:

1. Looking Back:
  • WHY we do it - Christ's instructions and explanation – verses 23-26, the historical explanation - the Last Supper itself (just hours before His arrest, torture and death) was a Passover meal: Matt 26.17-25, Mark 14.12-21, Luke 22.7-23 – "DO THIS IN REMEMBRANCE OF ME"
  • it is not Christ's life and teachings that save us, it is His death and resurrection
  • we need to remember HOW He died too: blood was shed +++!
  • and in His resurrection, we are not merely participating in a 2000-year old event/memory but we are participating SPIRITUALLY in fellowship with our LIVING Saviour
2. Looking Around:
  • this should be a demonstration of unity as Christ's body (and there wasn't much in Corinth at this time! Communion was currently a demonstration of their DIS-unity!)
  • How is our church's unity? What does this really mean in practical terms? Is there a brother or sister we need to get right with? Someone we've sinned against or offended? Do we need to ask forgiveness? Or do we need to forgive someone?
  • v17 - the church coming together is for the worse! COMPLACENCY IS A SIN.
  • DIVERSITY is great – EMBRACE IT! Whether we feel like it or not, we're one big weird family; we don't always get it right - but DIVISION is WRONG.
3. Looking Within:
  • v27-28, 31-32 - "in a worthy/unworthy manner" - not that we must be worthy (THAT'S THE POINT!) but that we must do it in a WORTHY MANNER. A worthy manner does not mean perfect! That’s the point of Christ’s sacrifice!
  • v20-22 – the church in Corinth regularly shared a “love meal” or “agape feast” together as part of their corporate fellowship, this was a significant part of their meetings and would include the breaking of bread towards the end. However, some treated the Lord’s Supper as an excuse to chow down and be gluttonous, even ignoring those that were going without! AND SOME EVEN GOT DRUNK! The irreverence is perfectly clear but they didn’t see it. This despises the church (v22), let alone God Himself...
  • PAUL WISHES THEM TO UNDERSTAND THIS EVEN FURTHER THOUGH: Even if they did relearn their table manners and share their food, to simply eat, drink and remember is STILL NOT ENOUGH... WE CANNOT JUST STAND HERE AT THIS AMAZING VIEWPOINT AND SIMPLY ADMIRE THE VIEW: A RESPONSE IN HEART AND MIND AND ACTION IS REQUIRED: 1 Cor 10.16, Paul states: “The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a *participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a *participation in the body of Christ?
  • *"koinonia" = "communion by intimate participation". This word is used frequently in the New Testament to describe the relationship within the early church as well as the act of breaking bread. We PARTICIPATE INTIMATELY in the body and blood of the LIVING LORD JESUS CHRIST. If the Corinthian church really “got” that, would their behaviour have been altered? YEP!
  • Hence, in v27 Paul states that eating the bread or drinking the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of PROFANING THE BODY AND BLOOD OF THE LORD (profaning = being abusive, blasphemous, vulgar, FOUL...). Dare we even skirt close to such a state of heart before our most holy God? Examine yourself with complete reverence and fear...!
  • v28 - examine YOURSELF - not your elders' job, nor your brothers' or sisters'. Sure, we talked about judgement within the church in serious cases a few weeks back (1 Cor 5)... but the buck starts with YOU.
  • Because if you take communion without true repentance, it causes spiritual death, illness or physical death (see v30), it despises the church, it despises God's holiness.
Some pictures depict a slim flowery hippy Jesus, like a bearded Angelina Jolie with skin that hasn't seen the sun for years, a lovely white dress and beautifully conditioned hair: not my Jesus!

When Jesus walked this Earth, He was a meaty, rough-handed, homeless guy Who carved wood and stone for the first 30 years of His life; the real Jesus is the Son of God, the KING OF KINGS, Who became a man, God in human form, fully God and fully man simultaneously; He lived the perfect life, and showed us how He fulfilled the Old Testament, not threw it away, and was arrested and tortured at the hands of the people He created because of what He declared about Himself.

What He stood for and said offended those He created – it still does - and when they had finished ripping the flesh from His body, they hung Him on a cross by giant nails driven into His wrists and feet...

He hung there for hours until He gasped His last breath and said, "It is finished!" Why? Because in that moment He had completed what was required of the ultimate sacrifice. In our sinful state, each one of us bears the stain of sin; since Adam and Eve's choice to place their desires before God's, to put themselves in God's place, all things were and are corrupted: animals, bacteria, flora, man... our thoughts, our bodies, sex, relationships...

The cross deals with 2 aspects:
  • PROPITIATION(*Eph 2) = WRATH: despite the current allegations of "cosmic child abuse", Jesus DID deal with God's wrath that was due us by bearing the full brunt of it Himself. There's a whole wealth of sermons here alone... It's little surprise that darkness came over the land for 3 hours, demonstrating the power of that dark moment when God turned His face away from His Son Who bore our dirty sins. Without the dealing of that wrath, there is no Gospel.
Then His glorious Resurrection... on the 3rd day, Jesus rose from the grave, victorious over sin, over the devil, over death. FOREVER. Without the resurrection, there is no complete Gospel.

THUS, if you genuinely judge yourself (v31-32) - ie not just deciding what's right and what's wrong, but also deciding on the appropriate action - then we will not be judged - because if that's done right, then we will stand right before the Lord, the most Holy One...
  • = examine our hearts
  • = judge our sins
  • = confession & appropriate response
4. Looking Forward:
  • v26b - "till He comes"
  • THIS IS CELEBRATION, AND NOT JUST BECAUSE OF WHAT HAS HAPPENED, BUT ALSO WHAT’S TO COME - FUTURE WEDDING FEAST!!! [John the Baptist describes Christ as the bridegroom; Christ uses a parable of a wedding ceremony to explain His return for us in the future; Rev 19.6-9 = the marriage of the Lamb]
  • We’re heading home together, and Jesus is preparing us a place
  • We may be remembering the death of Christ, but it is not a funeral wake. HE’S ALIVE FOR GOODNESS’ SAKE!!! It is absolute reason to rejoice, rather than to mourn
  • Different ways, but the substance is what matters...
  • There is no specific instruction on the size or type of bread; nor on wine or grape juice (Christ speaks of not drinking of this “fruit of the vine” until His return). There’s no legalistic edge to the bread and the wine; however, handing around tortilla chips and Pepsi for the sake of being ‘culturally relevant’ and ‘lateral thinking for the Gospel’ would be irreverent and missing the point...
  • Frequency? Again, weekly, monthly, that is not the concern...
  • The bread and wine DO NOT become Christ’s body and blood. That is a Roman Catholic belief (TRANSUBSTANTIATION), and is also what those Marian martyrs died resisting; when Jesus said “this is my flesh; this is my blood” it is said in a context of symbolism; Jesus and His followers understood symbolism well enough to not have to explain it! When He said “I am the true vine” (John 15.1), he didn’t have grapes hanging from His ears, and “I am the door” (John 10.9) does not imply he has fancy hinges and a mahogany wood stain... “My body, my blood” infers they are SYMBOLS and should not be taken any other way. Nothing magical occurs with the food when we eat and drink these things. Besides, Hebrews 9 is perfectly clear that Christ died once and ONCE ONLY; there is no place for a repeated dead body and shed blood...
  • What DOES happen, however, is that Communion literally FEEDS us spiritually as well as physically; it feeds our relationship with Christ through faith – AS WE REMEMBER WHAT HE HAS DONE FOR US, AS WE LOOK AROUND AND WITHIN AND AS WE LOOK FORWARD TO THAT GREAT WEDDING DAY, WE NOURISH OUR SOULS
  • What also happens is that we PROCLAIM THE GOSPEL (v26.) Communion is a WITNESS – it is CELEBRATION and PROCLAMATION.
  • The world is watching us, asking is "Jesus really real?", and our conduct when taking communion speaks absolute volumes to any guests we may have.
  • Also, the act itself remembers the cross AND the resurrection in that we do it UNTIL HE RETURNS
  • v33-34 - Paul's round-up of the sorry tale... He does not say STOP MEETING or STOP EATING, but SORT IT OUT...
1. Look back
  • to CHRIST’S perfect sacrifice & resurrection
• 2. Look around
  • Unity and fellowship; anyone we should be getting right with? Speak to them before partaking...
• 3. Look within
  • Examine ourselves; is there any sin that needs dealing with? We must not participate in Christ’s body & blood in an unworthy manner...
  • When we come together for Communion, what are we really thinking? Worrying about making a noise? About being asked to help pass the bread and wine around? About the injustice of whoever lost on "Strictly Come Dancing" last night? THE CORINTHIAN CHURCH WERE THINKING ABOUT THEIR BELLIES AND SOCIAL STATUS; WE'RE SUPPOSED TO BE THINKING ABOUT JESUS
• 4. Look forward
  • To that great day when He returns for us, His people, healed by His broken and torn body, washed in His blood, sealed by the Spirit; IT’S A SURE THING
  • it is a time, not for grief and sombreness (despite appropriate, sombre reflection of our own hearts to begin), BUT OF JOY AND CELEBRATION IN FELLOWSHIP WITH OUR LIVING LORD
  • Jesus gave thanks, even though He was about to suffer and die... WE SHOULD DO TOO...

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Saturday, November 1, 2008

Beacon Touchpaper#4: "Prayers for the saints"

"...praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints..." (Eph 6.18)

My mind wanders. Regularly. One moment I can be thinking about what to cook for dinner tonight, then before I know it I'm straight on to that great scene from last night's DVD, via a poignant comment in one of Mark Driscoll's sermons I've just listened to, a cool line from a book I'm reading, and why the dog's just eaten today's post. And all that's supposed to be while I'm praying. Praying at length is one of the hardest things I've had to work through in my life.

It's often said that the average Christian spends less than 10 minutes a day in prayer. If the average Brit can spend 2 1/2 hours each day watching the TV, 44 minutes getting washed and dressed, 31 minutes cleaning and tidying, and even 34 minutes shopping - and recent research shows that we even spend 2 1/2 hours on average a day "faffing" (true story!*) - then how much priority do we honestly give to spending time each day with the God of the universe?

Paul, in chapter 6 of his great letter to the church in Ephesus, has just explained the reality of the spiritual dimension of the world around us, and the need to avoid ignorance of such a battle. As a conclusion to his great instructions on wearing the spiritual "armour of God", he finishes with the true body blow: PRAYER. Paul does not expect us to be knelt in a corner for hours, sweat dripping from our furrowed brow - there's a time and a place for such, but there's also work to be done - but instead he simply states "... at all times...". If anything has revolutionised my prayer life, it is in realising the truth of this instruction, and that realisation came when I stumbled across a quote from the remarkable preacher Charles H. Spurgeon: "The great matter is not how long you pray, but how earnestly you pray. Consider the life of the prayer rather than the length of the prayer." Don't feel you have to pray for more than a few minutes at a time in prayer. But don't go for more than a few minutes without praying either.

One means to enable praying " all times... for all the saints..." is using Paul's own prayers as models. Try Ephesians 1:15-23 & 3.16-19, Philippians 1.9-11, Colossians 1.9-14, 1 Thessalonians 3.11-13 or 2 Thessalonians 1.11-12 for starters. They are short, to the point, and powerful. Write one down on a post-it note and use it as a book mark, or maybe stick it to your car dashboard, bathroom mirror or computer screen. Pray them regularly, and maybe even learn them by heart! Using Paul's model as a template, we can pray for each other at all times, lifting God's people up before Him and asking for help, and connecting with the God of the universe ourselves on a regular, even continual basis... just imagine the outcome!

(* )
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Monday, October 6, 2008

Christ's Virgin Church (notes for sermon 5/10/08)

1 Cor 5

This can appear a rather negative passage, but Paul’s passion, despite whomever on the receiving end of it might have felt, is a very positive thing. He is consumed with a hunger to see Christ glorified and the church living as it is intended to – set apart, sanctified, undefiled... kept pure for her betrothed...

We’re still early in this season of spending time with the Corinthian church of AD55, but already we’ve read & heard that Paul has had to address: divisions in the church at Corinth, the essence of true wisdom in a world of human folly, and what it is to be one of Christ’s apostles and how they should be respected. Already, his message so far has been concerning the Corinthian church’s immaturity and inappropriate attitude. Once again, we find this attitude has allowed for yet another issue that Paul must address. Paul has laid out this part of his letter in such a deliberate way that it can be followed through sequentially for greatest clarity:
  1. He states the sickness itself – that of the individual AND the church. Then,
  2. He states the cure – the required response. Then,
  3. He states the reasons behind his instructions. Then,
  4. He states the application
(v 1-2) - The sickness: the specific sin and the church’s response

A man is sleeping with his step-mum! She may not be his biological mother [“His father’s wife”], but this brother has wooed and been having sex with the woman he calls “Mum”!

The report has been obviously significant enough to reach Paul in Asia, hundreds of miles away across the sea. Paul does not pass judgement on the woman herself: we can safely assume she’s not a believer then, otherwise he would have had the same pronouncement upon her. And where’s the guy’s Dad? We don’t know the full story, but what we do need to know is the issue at hand; and that this would not even be tolerated amongst pagans! Corinth was a city that was very open about sexuality, prostitution and so on - it was very "Amsterdam", in fact more so... The crowning feature of Corinth, up on the acropolis, was the temple to Aphrodite. Normally, she was the goddess of love, but various versions were worshipped in the Greek world. Here in Corinth, she was Aphrodite Porne, the patron goddess of lust and prostitution. Hordes of temple prostitutes ("priestesses"!) went up to the temple and men would have sex with them as an act of worship. So well known for its immorality that to have loose morals was known as “behaving like a Corinthian”. So, for the pagans to have not even tolerated this situation (let alone “frown upon it”) is eye-opening too. The Bible speaks of this kind of situation succinctly and bluntly; it does not need to explain itself: Deuteronomy 27.20 says 'Cursed be anyone who lies with his father’s wife, because he has uncovered his father’s nakedness': it is defiant, it is deviant and it is evil.

Everyone knew this man well. The church in Corinth was not that large (50-60 max? Rom 16.23 = “Gaius, who is host to me and to the whole church, greets you”, written from Corinth in AD57, 2 years after this letter; the house of Gaius could not have held more than 50-60 at a push in one room).

And now, to add to the insult to God Himself, this church family themselves were arrogant about the whole thing (v.2); this could have been borne from pride – “We are free under grace!” – or out of cowardice, avoiding the confrontation of dealing with the problem. Either is a sin. This arrogance is just as much a stinking sin as what this brother’s been up to. “Free under grace” is an absolute, inexcusable abuse of the notion of “Christian liberty”; are you slave to your lust, or slave to your Lord? Freedom in Christ is not about free reign to do as we please because God now thinks we’re lovely... it is about submission, repentance, and genuine love for the King of kings. Plus, he thinks you’re lovely... See the difference?

(v 3-5) - The cure: the required response

Paul may not have been physically present, but he already knew what needed to be done with this man; he was not afraid to reveal his concern or outright horror at the situation, nor to pronounce his judgement upon the man himself.

“When you are assembled... deliver this man to Satan” (v4-5): this must be dealt with corporately and PUBLICLY (Paul isn’t suggesting a closed meeting). This way, there would be no confusion over the reasons, deliberations, the circumstances and the decision made: all the church must be aware of what was happening, and outsiders should be allowed to see how the church deals with such things – that it will not be tolerated for the sake of the Gospel and God’s glory. This is about integrity: it is not the sin that is being aired in this meeting – that’s already in the open! – but it is the church’s right response that is being made public.

We are not talking about a confidential issue at stake – not all church business should necessarily be aired “in public”! – individuals could be hurt in the process – but here we are talking about something that is open, defiant, blatant, with no attempt to hide it; even the general Corinthian populous, in all their own deviant ways, would not tolerate such a thing...

“Delivered to Satan” (v5): what a sentence! Paul means that this brother must be handed back into the kingdom of this sinful age around him, away from the supportive fellowship of his brothers and sisters (and note that Paul does not say forever...)

Paul uses this term elsewhere in 1 Tim 1.20 (“Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan that they may learn not to blaspheme”). The only other occurrence – likely where Paul got the notion from – is Job 2.6, where God places Job into “Satan’s hand” [“And the Lord said to Satan, “Behold, he is in your hand; only spare his life”]; the immediate result? That Satan “struck Job with loathsome sores from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head”! God’s purpose in this? That the ultimate result was Job’s declaration in the final chapter {Job 42.5-6}: “ my eye sees You; therefore I despise myself [or ‘loathe my words’] and repent in dust and ashes.” Satan became the means, under God’s sovereign reign and control, in purifying Job’s heart and rightly restoring his relationship with his God. That is exactly Paul’s intention here again in Corinth.

(v6-8) - The reason: the purity of the bride

Now Paul deals with the church’s core problem: how they have responded until now is indicative of where they are at as a church family.

Paul states that “a little leaven leavens the whole lump” (v6). He is relating this to the Jewish Passover festival – when the Jews celebrate(d) leaving slavery in Egypt and beginning their journey to the promised land: leavened bread was forbidden during Passover... why? Upon God’s instructions, the enslaved Jews in Egypt sacrificed an unblemished lamb, the meat of which they ate and the blood of which marked their doors, distinguishing them from the Egyptian households and thus saving them from the final plague: God’s deadly judgement upon any house that wasn’t marked so. But they were also told to eat only unleavened bread (normally, a leavening agent, like yeast or sourdough, is used to soften and lighten the batch of dough - micro-organisms reproduce and spread throughout the whole lump, causing gas bubbles that make it rise). So, why unleavened bread at Passover? Because they had to leave in a hurry – “Don’t take time to bake risen bread! Make haste! You’ve got to get out of here when I say go!” The unleavened bread of Passover (“flat-bread”) – ‘fast-food’ - is still a memorial to their escape to freedom.

In the same way, Paul is saying, as His church Christ is now our perfect Passover sacrifice. The Passover itself in Egypt was merely a precursor of something far greater happening nearly 1500 years later... In the ultimate prison break, Jesus took the place of that unblemished lamb when He died upon the cross; God has released us from slavery under sin, delivering us “from the domain of darkness and [transferring] us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Col 1.13), Jesus’ blood marking us out as His people, saving us from that plague of death... and yet here in Corinth the forbidden leaven/yeast of sin in His church is threatening to reproduce through the whole body. One infection can affect an entire body, causing fever and sickness, even more widespread infection and, in extreme cases, death. Small sin can be the thin end of the wedge. The church, if left unchecked, would leaven and become soft, light, weakened...

Thus, Paul is telling the Corinthians that this UNREPENTANT sin is infecting the whole body of the church. What’s his advice? If gangrene sets into a body part, applying a plaster will not solve the problem. What is required for rot? AMPUTATION. Literal “Dis-member-ment”! If this situation had been left alone, how many believers (particularly the younger, less mature Christians – although no Christian is immune to sin of course) could begin to think it’s okay after all to live like this? Or those outside? What would the witness be?

It may seem harsh, but delivering this man to Satan, "dis-membering" him is borne out of love, not vengeance; we can all sin, we all do, but flagrant, blatant sin that goes unchecked and not dealt with needs to be acted upon without hesitation but with a full understanding of why and how; we must be intolerant of sin when it jeopardises the rest of the church. Otherwise, that infection will just keep on creeping...

(v 9-13) - The application: purity in a fallen world

Paul has explained the issue at stake – the church’s purity under severe threat; the required response – removing the infection; and the Christ-centred reasons – the individual’s own repentance and the church maintaining purity for the sake of their King. Now, he addresses how this applies in a wider context...

Keeping ourselves pure for our betrothed is the responsibility of all the church. We are Christ’s bride – the Bible regularly uses the picture of marriage for the relationship between Christ and His church. There is a reason why Paul keeps reminding us throughout 1 Corinthians, right from the very 2nd verse, that we are sanctified (made holy, and are being made holy):

In ancient Greek weddings, the most important part of a bride's costume was her veil, which symbolised her virginity, and was not removed until she was finally handed over to the groom at the end of the day. The most important part of the celebration was the anakalupteria (“unveiling”), late in the evening, after the feast, and possibly as late as the moment the couple arrive at the groom's house, and that is when she is "unveiled". God's people are called to be sanctified, made & kept pure, until that great marriage day when he calls us home to Him.

How do we keep ourselves pure? The key issue here is about what goes on IN THE CHURCH. Paul, interestingly, insists we are not to avoid the sexually immoral, or the greedy, the swindlers, the idolaters (v10) OF THE WORLD; that is our mission field and our calling, to relate/engage/preach Christ in. We are in no position to judge them, that is God’s prerogative; only He knows their hearts. The ones we are supposed to have nothing to do with – not even eat with! – are those same people who do these things AND also call themselves brother or sister. They're the ones that should know better, that should be showing repentance. Their unrepentant sin infects the church. Paul’s examples:

Sexually immoral? Anyone who practices adultery, fornication, homosexuality, transgenderism – ANYTHING that is outside of God’s amazing, beautiful, simple mandate of MAN/WOMAN/MARRIAGE. Anything that despises and snubs God’s perfect blueprint for human sexuality has no place in His church.

The greedy? Those with a selfish lust for money, power, food, possessions. These are their gods, and have no place in the church of Jesus Christ, God of all gods.

The idolater? In the same way, these place material goods, money, health, family, TV, even THEMSELVES, before the God of gods. We should know better. Don't be enticed. The OT gods of Mammon, Baal & Asherah, and Molech are still around today... they just go by the names of Money, Sex and Power...

The revilers? Those who are abusive. They have no place in God’s kingdom of grace, love and humility.

The drunkard? The man who needs alcohol to get through each day rather than God, and destroys others’ lives with his drunkenness, and does not seek God’s help (alcoholism is an illness; Christ can heal – the unrepentance here is the issue, remember) has no place in the church.

The swindler? Untrustworthy, selfish, conniving, unscrupulous, cheating. Doesn’t sound much like a Christian witness, does it? No place in the church!

Our responsibility is to our Christian family and they to us: this is not about every little thing (PJ explained last week how we should not be judging each other in the light of foibles and, more importantly, the lack of a bigger picture about that person; Paul the Apostle even discusses how any smaller squabbles should be dealt with in a loving way in chapter 6), but when it comes to serious sin that is damaging the spiritual health of the church and its subsequent witness, then we have little choice and should in no way shy away from dealing with it. The purity of Christ’s bride, and the message she sends in her lifestyle is paramount.

The application(s):

1. Our response to our own sin:

Study our own hearts for impurity. Regularly. How is my thought life? Is it pure? Am I looking at inappropriate things? Adultery is only a couple of mouse clicks away.

Are there any gods in my life that I didn’t realise I actually idolise? Money? My career? Family? Health and fitness? Martin Luther said: “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.”

Are there any addictions in my life? Seek a brother or a sister’s help; confidentially. Don’t think you’ll cope on your own: there’s a reason we’re meant to be God’s people TOGETHER. He can help you and heal you THROUGH THE SUPPORT, PRAYERS AND COUNSEL OF YOUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS.

2. Our response to a bro/sis’s sin:

Accept each other’s foibles! But, if something is significant, or affecting the church, then this is a job for the church leaders to pray through and deal with. Pray for your elders as they lead Beacon: for wisdom, foresight, and courage. Hopefully, it might not be needed...! Church discipline is never nice, nor easy, but it IS a necessary part of ensuring our well-being and our purity... Your leaders have been entrusted with that job and we need to trust them and to pray for them... With hope, much prayer and love, the individual would repent and change, but if not... we now know what needs to be done and why.

3. Our response to outsiders and their lifestyles:

Love them; don’t judge them. Only God knows where they are at, and we could never expect them to change without the Holy Spirit’s help anyway. They are living their life that way because of what’s going on at their core. Only the Holy Spirit can change that. What if a transvestite came into church this Sunday? Would we give sideways glances, nudges, whispers; or would we treat them like ANYONE ELSE? Sit next to them, talk to them, get them a cup of tea, invite them back next week, invite them along to cell group?

In conclusion:

Christ died for us on the cross as our unblemished sacrificial lamb; His blood saved us from the plague of death and set us free; now we are betrothed to Him and must live as such... Purity as His bride must be a priority. Let’s flee from anything that stains our witness and spiritual health: sexual immorality, greed, etc, but also gossip, slander, envy... Our corporate purity (our “veil”) should be a priority; let's pursue purity as His people, as His bride, because we are told to, but also because we WANT to...
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Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Beacon Touchpaper #3: "Mud, glorious mud"

"For we are God's fellow-workers. You are God's field, God's building. According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building upon it. Let each one take care how he builds upon it." (1 Cor 3.9-10)

Groundwork is always messy. I remember digging out the footings for my extension some 7 years ago and how messy and mucky we got (and thank the Lord for hired mechanical diggers...). Many skips of earth later, and then suddenly the rains came. Our 2 metre-deep trenches flooded and the walls began collapsing, dishearteningly. So, more mess and mud and screaming back muscles later and finally we had shored up the damaged areas, emptied the trenches of rainwater, and filled them with 7 tons of concrete. Was it worth it? Well, there wasn't much to see, to be honest: a large area of sticky clay, some grey patches of concrete lying dormant in the holes and not much else to appreciate. It wasn't pretty and it wasn't particularly inspiring. But now, sitting in my beautiful kitchen-diner, with mod-cons for cooking and a fancy-pants roof and a great space to entertain in, I can definitely say it was worth it.

Foundations do not typically contribute to the architectural aesthetics of a building, do they? They're hidden below ground, where (hopefully!) they'll never be seen again. But the fruit of building them well will always be noticeable. Without solid foundations, a building can collapse at any moment, and God's Church is exactly the same. The metaphor of comparing the Church to a building is not simply a human whim, it is entirely Biblical. Jesus told Peter He would "build" His church upon the "rock" (Peter's nickname), Paul refers to the concept in Romans and 1 Corinthians, and Peter himself and the writer to the Hebrews both write on the same theme. Overwhelmingly, the Bible tells us to build well: and not just the foundations, but everything on top as well. Each part of the process must be deliberate and Christ-centred.

We are entering into a new season at Beacon, and some of the near future could seem messy. As we restructure our small groups, and re-evaluate why we do certain things, and look to the future promises God has prepared for us and how we can act in that light, let us remember that these current times are foundations for the future. Let's do this well, together, praying with and for each other; despite the mud, the back-ache and the occasional delay, let's remember that as long as everything is Christ-centred, Bible-based and hence wise and deliberate (like the wise man of Matthew 7), the future fruits can be magnificent.
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Friday, September 5, 2008

Beacon Touchpaper #2: "Identity Crisis"


" are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession…” (1 Pet 2:9)

"Who are you?"

This is a question asked of each of us throughout our lives. What would you say? "I'm Steve/ Jennie/ Tom/ Sarah/ Barrack (you get the idea), I'm a teacher/ paramedic/ student/ mother/ pastor/ husband/ taxidermist, I'm friendly/ shy/ funny/ musical/ rather windy..." These are all valid responses, but do they really answer the question? These aspects are merely window-dressing; our jobs, social standing, background and talents do not make us who we are. If all were stripped away, what would be left? Who are you?

Filmmaker Marc Forster, whilst directing “Finding Neverland” in 2004 - a big movie on the life of J.M.Barrie (of Peter Pan fame), and with a cast of Hollywood A-listers - was prepared to walk away from the project halfway through because of unnecessary studio tweaking when the film was perfectly good as it was. Dustin Hoffman agreed, but he did ask, "How can you just walk away?" Marc's reply: "Because my work is not my identity. I am my identity."

Gloriously, we as Christians can take this a massive stage further. We can now say, "Christ is my identity." The apostle Peter informs us, " are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for His own possession, that you may proclaim the excellencies of Him who called you out of darkness into His marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people..." (1 Peter 2:9-10)

The next time you introduce yourself to someone, answer as you will (no pressure to give a wacky answer!), but remember these words too: Saved. Redeemed. Accepted. Cherished. Forgiven. Restored. Adopted. Set free. Justified. Sealed. Chosen...

Let me ask you again: "Who are you?"
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Monday, August 4, 2008

Race for Life (notes for sermon 22/06/08)

Philippians 3.12-4.1

Our minds must be conformed to God’s mindset in order for us to see more of His Kingdom power, not the other way around; ensuring we are in line with His thinking, and not limiting our minds as per our human understanding or previous experience. The Apostle Paul had this right mindset. The ‘games’ analogy was ever-present in his mind, and investigating this further helps explain how Paul thought. He mentions the analogy often:

  • “...if I may finish my course” [NIV: “finish the race”] in Acts 20.24; he talks of running and boxing and training in 1 Cor 9; twice in Galatians he speaks of running the race [2.2 & 5.7]; he writes to Timothy about competing as an athlete, and tells him in 2 Tim 4 that he has “finished the race”.

The passage we’re looking at investigates this image again and how it applies to our lives as Christians. First, some context:

  • It is about 61 AD, about 30 years after Christ. Paul is writing from imprisonment in Rome to the church in Philippi (in modern Northern Greece). It was a Roman colony, and Paul had founded the church there about 10 years previously during his 2nd missionary journey, the 1st European church.
  • The church had sent Paul a gift; he is writing them his thanks, and taking the opportunity to encourage them.
  • He wants them to understand the secret to a joyful Christian life: that true contentment is found in seeking Christ and His mission more and more.

Paul knows we are running a spiritual race in a secular world; participation isn’t optional, but the outcome of the race certainly is. We WILL complete the race, but how will we run it?

The Olympics were a massive part of Greek culture; they had religious importance, tying in with sacrifices and ceremonies honouring the God Zeus, and of course took their name from Mt Olympus, the home of the Gods; winners of the events were immortalised in poems and statues. The winner would be presented with a crown of olive leaves, a symbol of peace.

In the same way, our Christian life is a race, heading towards the goal of eternity with Christ; an incorruptible crown, not one of olive leaves. But why did Paul throw in the subject of citizenship at the end of this passage? Paul knew that the Philippians (people he could put a face to, let alone names) would respond to the statement in two ways:

  1. In the Greek world, the only way you could compete in the games at all was if you were a Greek citizen. You didn’t run to gain citizenship, you needed it in the first place. The same applies to us in our Race for Life. If you are saved, you are involved...
  2. The city of Philippi was a Roman colony; they were Roman citizens in the Greek world. Hence, they had the same rights and privileges as the citizens of Rome itself; they could not be beaten by local officials; if not satisfied with local justice, they could appeal directly to the Emperor (which is exactly what Paul himself did in Acts 25 onwards, which is how he ended up in Rome). The knowledge of our citizenship must affect our mindset.

Paul is encouraging the Philippians and ourselves to run the "race" in such a way that we don’t forget WHO WE ARE. This is what makes the difference on HOW we run. We can’t perform our best until we know who we ALREADY ARE IN CHRIST JESUS. The most successful athletes are the ones that already believe they’re winners – focussed and specialised to do what they do to their utmost. This is not a gospel of works that Paul is preaching. He is not saying we should work harder (read: “train harder”) in order to see salvation, but imploring us to realise our mission and to want to do it well. Earthly athletes are only winners once they believe it and run and train as such; the slightest doubt could make all the difference. Thank God, then that WE ARE WINNERS ALREADY. It is formidable, God-given Truth that we are safe in His hands; nothing we can do or fail to do can change that. What Paul is talking about here is HOW we run. Our performance is affected by our mindset, our effectiveness in the Kingdom of Heaven is our choice. Who wants to fulfil every potential God has set in us? Let’s investigate further:

1) our home nation: WE ARE CITIZENS OF HEAVEN (also Eph 2.19)

  • seated in heavenly places – Eph 2.6. As God's people, our names are written in the Book of Life; we have a whole new identity, a new bloodline.
  • Paul could boast in his Jewish roots if he wished (Phil 3.5-6), but in v7 he says “whatever gain I had, I count as loss for the sake of Christ” – his glorious inheritance in Christ surpassed his earthly standing.

Like the folks at Philippi, we can understand that our citizenship gives us an automatic place in the race, and also that our citizenship gives us the rights and privileges of our HOME NATION:

  • we wear the righteousness of Christ: (see most of Romans as ref!) His perfection has been applied to us in his death and resurrection.
  • Angels serve us: Heb 1.14 tells us they are ministering spirits sent out to serve those who are to inherit salvation.
  • We are co-heirs with Christ: Rom 8.17. We have a future inheritance of eternal life that is assured, but it is already active in the presence of the Holy Spirit and we can enjoy it now.


  • "strangers/aliens": 1 Peter 2.11, Peter exhorts us as “sojourners and exiles” (NIV = “aliens and strangers”... “to abstain from the passions of the flesh”)
  • “in the world, not of the world” – Jesus’ prayer (in John 17) demonstrates this. We are His, we do not belong here, but we have to remain here for a while. We’ve got a job to do! He wants us to relate but not conform.
  • We should be noticeable as foreigners. If I travel abroad, people would know I’m not local as soon as I open my mouth! So too should our conduct and speech be noticeable as foreigners here on earth.


AMBASSADORS - not as 2 Cor 5.20 is often mis-quoted (context is of "we" being "Paul & Timothy" to the church in Corinth & the word comes from root meaning elders/seniors), but the principle itself still remains:

John 20.21-22: “As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you... receive the Holy Spirit”; Matt 28.19: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations...”; Acts 1.8: “...and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.”

As foreigners here, we need to understand we’re not tourists. That’s often a temptation; but we have a mission: Representatives/messengers/envoys... ambassadors...

Sports people, and similar, are proud to represent their nation at events; school uniforms are worn for a reason; schools tell their pupils, “You’re ambassadors of the school!”; the Salvation Army wear their uniforms so that they are recognisable and to help the wearer remember to live up to their Christian profession

How about actual Ambassadors?

  • Their Embassy is considered a part of the nation that it represents. WHEREVER WE GO, THE KINGDOM OF GOD (“KING-DOM” = KING’S DOMAIN) IS RIGHT WHERE WE STAND.
  • They are paid wages relevant to their home nation. We are building up treasures in heaven.
  • They have the military at their disposal. We have an army of angels ministering on our behalf
  • They have a direct line to their President, their Commander-in-Chief – SO DO WE!
  • They have diplomatic immunity – SO DO WE! “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (Rom 8.31b); John 10.27-29 = “My sheep hear my voice... they will never perish... no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand...”

The best sports ambassadors are the ones of integrity and honour. They’re the ones who conduct themselves in a worthy manner, the drug-free ones: we should not seek to be puffing ourselves up, but running purely on God-given gifts, relying on the Holy Spirit, letting everything we do point to Christ, to “conduct ourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel” to quote Paul to the Philippians again (1.27)

Conclusion and response:

"We're on a mission from God" (Blues Brothers...)

  • I want to be broken; I want this mindset all the time, not some of the time.
  • Paul gives us practical points in this passage:
  1. v13: “...forgetting what lies behind, and straining forward...” Our past can hold us back, but only if we allow it to. In truth, we are new creations, our sins are removed as far as the east is from the west, God has chosen to forget the aspects of our past that we often still hold on to...
  2. v17: “...keep your eyes on those who walk according to the example you have in us...” We have great role models to follow; some we know personally, some we read of. And maybe, just maybe, we could be one of those role models for others?
  3. 4.1: “...stand firm thus in the Lord...” Not conforming – a woman vicar on TV last week stated that a person practising witchcraft in her village was talking to the same God as she does, just demonstrating it in a different way. NOOOOOO!!!! That’s a fear of men, not of God. JESUS, HELP US TO PREACH YOUR TRUTH. (there was also the 1st gay ceremony in Anglican Church between 2 clergymen few weeks ago; where do I even begin...?) WE MUST STAND FIRM IN THE LORD, KNOWING THE TRUTH OF THE BIBLE.
  4. The disciples asked for boldness in Acts 4.29-30
  5. We are not alone, we have the Holy Spirit with us all the way.

“Fellow foreigners”, we are running a Race for Life. Not just for life in terms of number of years until we die, but for life in terms of preaching the life-saving Gospel of Jesus Christ, King of Kings, Victor of all things. He’s the ultimate example of Victory and we are his body.

The motto of the modern Olympic games is, “Citius, Altius, Fortius" ("faster, higher, stronger”) – how much do we want to see His kingdom increase in Herne Bay? In the lives of our loved ones? In our own lives? How generous can we be with our time, our money, our gifting?

WHY? For Him. He’s our goal. He’s waiting at the finishing line, in the Father’s house, and one day He’ll return to take us there. In the meantime, let’s ask him what He wants from us as we run this Race for Life...

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Saturday, July 26, 2008

Signs and symptoms

(From Beacon's "Touchpaper" series)

How do people know who God's people are? Is it our avoidance of "unpalatable" TV shows? Is it because of how long we are known to spend on our quiet times? Or our regular church attendance on Sundays? Is it our strict adherence to the Highway Code when driving (hmmm...!)? Is it our clean speech? Because we don't get involved in office gossip? Because we don't get drunk? Or smoke? Or think most men's magazines these days are still porn in sheep's clothing? Or is it, perhaps, because we can't stop sharing the Gospel with the people around us?
Well, yes, there is truth to the above, but some non-Christians also go to church, and don't like swearing, and live "clean" lives. Some have even preached the Gospel and not actually been saved (sad but true...). So, I ask again: How do people know we're God's people?

Jesus, at the very last supper He was to have with His disciples before His arrest, torture, death and ultimate, glorious resurrection, shared a final exhortation to them. He said:
"...A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another." (John 13.34-35)

Is there someone on their own in the church family this week? Someone you could share a meal with? Someone who would appreciate a bit of quality time, maybe just a phone call - "I've been thinking of you"? Or you could do their shopping for them? Or... or... the list is actually endless, really, isn't it? Right now, take a few seconds out and ask God to place someone on your heart that could do with a little TLC, a chat, an errand, an extra hand. The possibilities are endless. And, I guarantee, the God-honoured results even more so...
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