Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #17: "Eyewitness"

"...wise men from the east came to Jerusalem, saying, “Where is he who has been born king of the Jews? For we saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When Herod the king heard this, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him..." (Matt 2.1-3, ESV)

Picture it: you're simple folk, living in a hill-country village some 6 miles south of the capital city. Your village has a population of barely one hundred people and you all know each other exceptionally well. You work together, play together, share together. Some are family, some are close friends, some you don't like very much. But you and your families have lived in close proximity together for a lifetime.

There's nothing special about your village; it's unassuming and poor. But you do have one notable feature that is renowned across history: King David, the great king of your land, was born here 1000 years ago. Your humble community has a famed royal heritage. And then some shepherds from the hills appeared one night a couple of years ago to visit a newborn child during the census, claiming him to be King David's awaited descendant, THE King of the Jews that your nation have been waiting for: is he really the answer to your prayers and a fulfilment of the words of the prophets? He just seems a normal child, born to parents from elsewhere but who have stayed with relatives for the duration of his early years. And now strange astrologers from Persia have just arrived and announced exactly the same. You talk to the couple, you let your children play with this little boy. They're just another family. How can this be?

It's a question all of us may struggle to know how we may have answered had we been around then. But the fact is that at the time of Christ's birth "...all Jerusalem..." was troubled along with the despot Herod. The whole city had taken notice, but how many then chose to look away? How many truly allowed the facts to change something internally? Consider also how many folk 30 years later were also faced with the adult Jesus' ministry, example, miracles, death (when the temple's curtain was torn in two, an earthquake shook the city and dead bodies came to life) AND by His resurrection - over 500 eyewitnesses could not deny that particular fact.

This coming Christmas, some people will again ignore the truth and choose to look the other way. But there will also be locals (shepherds), people from different backgrounds (Persians), and many more who will sit up and take notice. We are His eyewitnesses. We are called to point the way.

Read more!

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #16: "Forget-me-not..."

"Remember for my good, O my God, all that I have done for this people... Remember me, O my God, concerning this, and do not wipe out my good deeds that I have done... Remember this also in my favour, O my God, and spare me according to the greatness of your steadfast love... Remember me, O my God, for good" (Neh 5.19, 13.14, 13.22, 13.31, all ESV)

A regular request that appears through the book of Nehemiah is when the man himself keeps reminding God to remember him; Nehemiah makes rather a habit of it.

I don't know about you, but I've never considered God to be One Who forgets much; I have a funny feeling that's never been something He's really struggled with. The only time God forgets something is when He chooses to forget (Isa 43.25, Jer 31.34). So why on earth would Nehemiah ask God to remember him? What's he really saying here? Is it a demonstration of arrogance in the man?

The key is in understanding this: Nehemiah does not say this "out loud". Each of these four petitions are relayed as a part of the narration, they are personal prayers between Nehemiah and his God that are recorded within the passing narrative. Never are they uttered in front of other people. You see, Nehemiah was having a private conversation with his King that we are allowed to eavesdrop on and we see a man who - in genuine humility - has set his heart on God above all other things (oooh, sounds familiar... Ezra?). And in so doing, he is able to say, "Remember me for my good... my good deeds..." without arrogance, without hypocrisy and without condemnation. Paul demonstrates similar in Philippians 4.9.

But why does he still petition God to remember him? Because Nehemiah recognises that God is sovereign, that God is the only One Who can instigate true change, that God alone is the One we need to seek after. Nehemiah requests success in God's purposes, and strength to do so, but not once does he ever ask God to bless him personally in return for what he's done. He is simply verbalising his perspective: that it's all about God. Nehemiah had a one-track mind.

Jesus too demonstrated the same focus: everything He did was in order to please ONE, to be accepted by ONE. The Father. Why do you do what you do?

Read more!

Sunday, October 25, 2009

"Ezra: the man, the heart, the calling" - notes for sermon 25/10/09

(hear the sermon here)

Ezra 7.1-10


Looking at Ezra the man – not what he did, but who he was.

There's a danger of a disconnect occurring when we see others with clear callings and think, "That could never be me, I'm not like them, but I wish could do something great for Him."

Rick Warren says: “...there are no insignificant ministries in the church. Some are visible and some are behind the scenes, but all are valuable. Small or hidden ministries often make the biggest difference. In my home, the most important light is not the large chandelier in our dining room but the little night light that keeps me from stubbing my toe when I get up at night. There is no correlation between size and significance.” (Purpose Driven Life)

What is our “calling”? Eph 4.1: “I therefore [...] urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called.”

GENERAL CALLING = life of holiness, set apart, new priorities/values, our whole lives an act of worship, moving on to maturity, to fulfilling the mandate of showing Jesus to world at large. That's the baseline, GENERAL CALLING...

But we also have a SPECIFIC CALLING, each of us: Eph 2.10: “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Not all of us are called to a "renowned" ministry, but we are all called to “significant” purpose(s) that only we can fulfil with the giftings, circumstances, and relationships we've been given; if good works have been prepared for us beforehand by God, then they must be, by nature, SIGNIFICANT!

The working-out is also part of God's plan, part of our calling. God needs to do His greatest work IN you, before He can do His great work THROUGH you!

David, Moses, Elisha, Paul, Ezra, etc: they all took many, many years before they were ready for their callings to come to fruition...


1.He was a scribe (skilled secretaries responsible for providing handwritten copies of documents, letters, government records, sacred writings). In the Jews' gradual return to Jerusalem, the scribes became the go-to guys for teaching.

  • "Scribe" = "Rabbi" (“teacher”) The scribes of Jesus' time had no authority (Matt 7.29). By then, they had added their own laws & definitions, turning a living faith into something dry, unattainable, guilt-inducing, condemning, HELL-BOUND. (Matt 23.4: "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on people's shoulders"). They believed a set of rules could change the heart. Never! Thus: Jesus says in Matt 11.30, "my yoke is easy, and my burden is light" (Rabbi's “yoke” = his teaching)
  • Ezra set his heart on doing to the utmost WHAT HIS CURRENT ROLE IN LIFE WAS. Col 3.23-24: "Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men... You are serving the Lord Christ". Ezra put God first in his everyday life. Your calling may be as a manager, paramedic, mother, teacher, neighbour, host (opening yr home 4 gospel), and so on...
2."The hand of the Lord his God was on him" (v6) = God's favour was upon him – the king granted ALL he asked because God's clear favour, God's smile, was upon him. Why? Because his heart was in the right place...


There's the key: he "set his heart"... He made a definitive choice.

Ezra SET HIS HEART on see one, do one, teach one (v10): studying/applying/passing on the written revelation of God available to him. Remember, the scribes of Jesus' time studied the word, but didn't apply it. Their "yoke" was a millstone around their & their disciples' necks. We too have the strongest call to study the Word,& DO,& TEACH.

Why did Ezra set his heart on the Word? It was a demonstration of his character. Character is everything. The Sermon on the Mount is all about character, the heart of the matter, not specific activity. People can be called, anointed, gifted, but character affects everything. You may recall some who've shown great potential for the kingdom and fallen by the wayside. When Jesus sent out the 12 in pairs to perform great exploits in Matt 10, JUDAS WAS ONE OF THEM: Performing religious deeds, like the scribes, or moving in the supernatural are not signs of being saved, or of godly character.


We have godly examples of everyday folk who made a big difference for the kingdom:

  • Shiphrah & Puah: Exodus 1: "...the midwives FEARED GOD" and saved a nation...
  • Theophilus: Lk 1.3 & Acts 1.1: a government official/influential Gentile citizen; Luke's patron, paid for his travels to interview eyewitnesses, and gave us 2 books of the Bible - a nightlight who keeps the church from stubbing its toe 2000 years later!!!
  • Aquila & Priscilla: mentioned in Acts, 1 Corinthians and Romans = pillars of the church.
  • Lois & Eunice: mums; of sincere faith: a profound influence on Timothy; prob only teen
  • Peggy & Christine Smith: the Hebrides, 1949: Blindness & arthritis prevented them from joining public worship meetings; spent day & night in prayer at home... Revival came.
See? Midwives, local officials, mums, elderly/infirm, pillars of the church. Normal folk. Made a difference.


...Let's fix our eyes on Jesus. Always; He's the answer to everything. If you want to be used for the kingdom, fix your eyes on Him. Because by doing so, we hear from the Holy Spirit, we hear through the Word, we see circumstances change and people enter and leave our lives, such that we see God's “footprint” emerging; If you want to know your purpose in life, fix your eyes on Him.

Jesus says “Come to me... take my yoke... learn from me... my YOKE is easy”. In Him you'll find the whole reason for being alive. Without Him, we'd end up spending eternity apart from Him/God. With Him, you have an eternal destiny that starts NOW, not just in an eternal future. This life is fleeting and we never know how many chances we have to ensure He is always at the centre of our lives...

Cell Group Questions:

1.Did any points of Sunday's sermon strike you particularly?
2.How can we ensure our hearts ARE in the right place? What should we do, what can we put into practice?
3.Share your own PERSONAL stories of how you've seen your OWN calling, or that of others, unfold...
4.How can we apply what we learned on Sunday from a personal/individual point of view, to Beacon as a body of people? How do we unfold that practically?

Read more!

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #15: "Clunk, click. Every trip."

" wise as serpents and innocent as doves." (Matt 10.16, ESV)

We live in a day and age where easy access to information, recreation and titillation is forever on the increase. The internet has become both a boon and a bane: it's a vast ocean of resources (thousands upon thousands of new sites are created EVERY day), but inevitably that ocean also contains dangers lurking just below the surface. For every site that can help equip us as God's people (of which there are genuinely plenty), and others that are God-honouring entertainment, there's plenty of others that can lure folks away from Truth and entrap them in easy-to-obtain vices or mindsets.

Of course, the internet is just one example of the world we live in. Media in general (TV/Radio/Magazines/Books) can all help feed an ungodly mindset just as much as enable our walk with Him. The next time you're in a newsagents, take a look at the varied covers on the magazine racks and you'll see the types of gods people live for: beauty, cars, bikes, fashion, careers, health, wealth, pets, houses, sex and more. And take a step away from media, and still we see influences that may affect our and our children's walk with God: opposing mindsets bolstered by recent changes in law, elements of school curriculum (evolution over intelligent design, sex education) and even decisions made by others of God's own people.

So what to do? Shut ourselves away (separatism)? Merge with the culture (syncretism)? Neither, of course: we are "in the world, but not of the world", and the key to doing this successfully lies in Jesus's warning: " wise as serpents and innocent as doves" (Matt 10.16). There's our how-to: understanding the culture around us and its thinking ("be wise"), yet remaining untainted by its sinful infection ("be innocent"). Remember: innocent does not mean naive. This way, we may live holy lives for Him, whilst still able to engage with the very people God has called us to share His grace with.

Do you understand the mindsets around you? Get researching, but keep your seatbelt on! Know your limitations, know where you get tempted, then show the people around you something of the grace that He has showered upon you. Maybe it's their turn... But just remember: Clunk, click. Every trip.

Read more!

Sunday, September 27, 2009

"A Jealousy for Integrity" - notes for sermon 27/09/09

(hear the sermon here)

Why did Nehemiah have such a heart for the walls to be rebuilt?
  • Not a desire to see his “home-town” win the prettiest village award, nor about beautifying the City, but a heart to see the identity of God's people protected & secured.
  • "pleasing God is more important than pleasing people"
  • This required jealousy for integrity needs to be long-term and not incidental: Spurgeon called his monthly magazine "The Sword and the Trowel" because he knew we must be prepared to build and to fight simultaneously.

The walls in Jerusalem were not just for protection from physical threat, but also from corrupting spiritual integrity (Ch 13):
The walls we build here at Beacon will be tested...

  • What are they? 
  • Walls = "Securing identity and community"
  • Community/cell life; Relationships/Accountability; iron sharpens iron
  • Service – protects our identity (“Love one another”) - are you serving?
  • Our leaders - Nehemiah spoke to the nobles & officials & people in that order, not just "everyone": the vision dissipates from leadership down, protection too. This is why we are being more deliberate about Cell leadership, etc
How we submit our thought lives to Him is another wall (personal integrity): IF WE ARE SAVED INTO A BODY, THEN YOUR SIN/SPIRITUAL CONDITION AFFECTS THE REST OF US TOO.

So, "we" build our walls, and what happens? Attack! v1-3 = taunts, 7,8,11 = death threats

  • Why? Jerusalem was herself a threat (economic: on the E-W trade rte) 
  • The church is also a threat itself in the spiritual realm; we will face opposition

We need to remain continually vigilant for our family, our marriages, our church life, our personal integrity...

  • Opp comes from inside AND outside the church 
    • OUTSIDE: The Jews were literally surrounded: see v7 = N, S, E & W!
    • We are surrounded too:
      • Accusations of fundamentalism/dogmatism
      • Taunts on the subjects of Evolution/abortion/sexuality, etc
  • HOWEVER, unfortunately, also from within the church [v10 & 12] 
    • = cynicism & unbelief – don’t be one of those people
    • apathy – if you don’t want opposition, don’t do anything!
    • those who don't grasp vision or trust God or the leaders (v10&12)
    • [elders look out for ungodly agendas: Tobiah 13 yrs on in temple!]
  • 1st RESPONSE = v4 & v9: PRAYER! THEN practical arrangements (v9) 
God is 100% committed to His people; This jealousy for integrity on God's behalf
ensured HIS promises were fulfilled: that His Son Messiah came at the right time through the right blood-line (including Zerubbabel!!!)

  • He will fulfil his purposes today too. So pray with that in mind! 
  • Prayer helps us see this. Here's a nuclear fusion of truth:
    • take Isa 43.10b :"Before me no god was formed, nor shall there be any after me"
    • and Psa 119.68a: "You are good and do good"
    • Two amazing atoms of truth, now combine them, & pray again!
  • v14-15 : Nehemiah follows the same: remind, then pray...
  • THEN came the action, “setting the guard”, where the weaknesses were, stationed... SWORD AND TROWEL IN HAND
While there's still weak spots in our defences, we have a responsibility to deal with them, to repair our breaches: Peter 5.8: "Be sober-minded, be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour"

  • as we grow, as we repair cracks, as we close our breaches, opposition & attack is inevitable - BE PREPARED!!!
  • In order to repair them, we need to know where they are:
    • Resisting temptation can be helped by general rules of thumb/look for the patterns (when/where/who/how do I feel before etc?)
  • Rick Warren: "Sin always has a temporary payoff. You wouldn’t do it if it didn’t. If sin had the pain of a root canal, it wouldn’t be a problem. There’s pleasure in sin. The Bible says it’s fun. But the pleasure is short-term. When you sin, you’re trading short-term pleasure for long-term damage and destruction. It’s not a good deal."
  • Corporately, our breaches can be: 
  • Disunity; cynicism & unbelief; gossip; pride; apathy

It is easy to run hard for a period and then run out of steam

  • REMEMBER: within 13 yrs: intermarrying again, Tobiah in temple! 
  • Apathy is a big enemy to the church; we must remember we are in this for the long haul... The people of Judah began to think the job was too much: "The builders' strength is failing; there's too much rubble; we can't do it by ourselves" (v10)
  • BUT: they were simply losing sight of what resources they had and Who was on their side! When you lose sight of Who: read Book of Revelation (chapter 19!).......
  • All it took was a man of vision like Nehemiah to show them not only the preferable future, but also that they COULD do it
  • And then, despite overt opposition & threats AND with a reduced workforce (½ holding the armour or carrying spears)
  • AND the builders working with swords strapped to their sides
  • THEY DID IT IN 52 DAYS! A WHOLE CITY'S WALLS! About 4.5 miles (Josephus)
But thru seeing God's dream - WHICH HE WILL FULFIL – of His Son Messiah being glorified amongst us and our community, and setting our hearts on unfolding His purposes IN THE LONG TERM – with VIGILANCE and PERSISTENCE, then we - like Ezra and Neh - will see the church here in Herne Bay no longer running with a limp, but making great strides for the kingdom, FOR HIS GLORY

  • Having a heart of jealousy for the integrity of God's people is not arrogance, or lack of humility, it is only reflecting God's own heart:
  • Zech 1.14: "Thus says the Lord of hosts: I am exceedingly jealous for Jerusalem and for Zion"
  • If we don’t have that heart, we have some serious talking with God to do...
  • A JEALOUSY 4 INTEGRITY of God's people reflects our God's hrt, and is reflected in how we build the walls that protect our identity and community – SWORD AND TROWEL IN HAND
Remember the 1st rule of Fight Club!!!

Cell Q's:

  1. Look at Nehemiah's prayer in 4.4-5: How do we reconcile this kind of prayer with what we've been led to believe is the “appropriate” heart to pray with?
  2. How can cell enable a long-term perspective amongst us?
  3. Discuss the difference between genuine tiredness – and the need to take some “Sabbath” time out - and a need to persist in God’s strength. How many of us feel tired and what do we usually do about it?

Read more!

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Ezra & Nehemiah events timeline

(For the new Beacon sermon series Autumn term '09)

Read more!

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #14: "The Author's Perspective"

"All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness." (2 Tim 3.16, ESV)

Many people look at Scripture in a manner akin to any other historical texts - as documents written by men of old, in days unlike ours, and therefore of interest possibly but certainly not relevant. Unfortunately, that's because they don't see the real authorship behind it.

A decision made last week by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America has only proven similar: they voted to allow practising gays as clergy, a case that sparked the same worldwide debate as occurred last year when the Anglican Church faced similar issues. One advocate said, "We live today with an understanding of homosexuality that did not exist in Jesus' time and culture. We are responding to something that the writers of Scripture could not have understood." Except the Corinths of 2000 years ago were exactly the same as the Brightons, Amsterdams, Seattles, etc of today, of course. The writers may not have understood how modern culture will look and act today necessarily, but the Author of Scripture most certainly would. Nothing takes God by surprise.

The Bible is more than a book, more than a guide, more than just a manual; it is God's revelation to us of Himself, it is prophetic, it is inspired through man (as opposed to the common assumption that it was written simply by man), it is His living Word... it is literally "breathed out by God".

The Bible is 66 books, written by 40 different authors, over 1500 years, in 3 different languages, on 3 different continents - way too many factors to allow for conspiracy or coincidence! And yet this collection of books shares the wonderful common storyline: of a glorious plan to create and rescue a people made to glorify and enjoy God forever. That has never changed. "Times they are a changin" as someone once said, but Jesus Himself affirms, "Scripture cannot be broken" (John 10.35).

In which case, ask the following when talking to others about the Bible: Do we understand the Bible in the light of our own lives and surrounding culture? Or do we understand our lives and surrounding culture in the light of the Bible?

Read more!

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #13: "A Wise Man Once Said..."

"The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge; fools despise wisdom and instruction..." (Prov 1.7, ESV)

If, like me, you've been taking a certain brother's "handy household hint" to heart and been reading through the book of Proverbs on a daily basis, then I'm certain God has already been speaking to you. You'll know that these are not just maxims, or axioms, or any other little words ending in 'm', but divinely-inspired Truths that are just as applicable in the age of mobile phones and imperialism in a cup (aka Starbucks franchises) as they were when they became the collection as we know it over 2500 years ago.

King Solomon and the other writers of this book (he wrote the verse quoted above) knew the essence of real wisdom: it was not found in astrology, or mathematics, or philosophy, but founded upon the fear of the Lord (see also Psalm 111.10). If you really want to know true wisdom, then fearing ("revering/respecting/honouring") the Lord will bring humility, worship, identity, morality, and so on. If our lives truly revolve around Him, then as we learn more and more about Him, about ourselves, and about the world we live in ("knowledge"), we learn how to apply that in such a way that it is honouring to Him and best for us ("wisdom").

For a season, as appropriate, keep reading through this wonderful book each day - not instead of your quiet times, but as well as; we're talking just a few extra minutes - and learn some of these great truths off by heart too. Try these for starters:

10.9: "Whoever walks in integrity walks securely, but he who makes his ways crooked will be found out."
19.17: "Whoever is generous to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will repay him for his deed."
23.17: "Let not your heart envy sinners, but continue in the fear of the Lord all the day."
30.5: "Every word of God proves true; he is a shield to those who take refuge in him."

Let these Truths seep deep into your hearts, and as we abide in His word, and as His word abides in us, may He bring forth amazing fruit in our lives and in those around us. For His glory!

Read more!

Sunday, July 19, 2009

"God's Fruity People" - notes for sermon 19/07/09

(hear the sermon here)

On the fourth section of our purpose statement: “Living life Jesus’ way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory”.

How do we glorify Him?

God frequently uses a picture of His people as a vine, and Jesus continues to use the image during His time here on Earth; during His final evening, just prior to His arrest, He spoke to His disciples in such a way that He is preparing them for a new age in the Kingdom... they were the foundation for a spiritual community that covered the globe.

John 15.1-17

This is both a sobering and exciting passage, depending on where we stand right now, but it's something we must take seriously: unfolding the Word of God should always be allowed to impact our lives, or there's no point at all...

So... The 1st question is: Are we living for Christ? Or are we not? Hot or cold, the choice is ours, but we cannot be lukewarm; Jesus does not give us that option: He said to the church in Laodicea (Rev 3.14-22) - "Because you are lukewarm... I will spit you out of my mouth"!

It's all or nothing, hot or cold. Take your pick. Let’s remember this while we continue...

1. "Abide in me"

How do we do that?

Firstly, this is about relationship! This is not a credit system! Nothing we say or do will change how much God loves us as His children! This is all about a relationship with our loving Father!

A branch on its own cannot produce life; it needs to draw that life from the vine... As His children, we should show our love for Him by allowing His Holy Spirit to work through us to bear fruit. He's like the SAP: Father = Vinedresser/Gardener; Son = Vine (although we should never stretch that analogy too far: the Holy Spirit is a person - the third person of the eternal Godhead - and not some Star Wars-like "force". But as we are Christ here on Earth - His body - so His Holy Spirit dwells in us and works through us... Okay?)

>Thus... "Abide" = keeping in fellowship with Christ, so His life works through us to produce... fruit! This is a continual, daily, personal relationship with our Saviour. But how do we cultivate that/abide?
  • Spending time in the Word
  • v7 ="If you abide in me, and MY WORDS ABIDE IN YOU" & also v10: "If you keep my commandments, you WILL ABIDE IN MY LOVE"
  • with the Holy Spirit/ prayer
  • trust
  • confession of sin (so no hindrance)
  • obedience
Abiding is not automatic ("abide in me" is a command/request, not an assumption): it demands worship, meditating on the Word, prayer, sacrifice, service - and all breathes new life in us!

2. Bearing fruit

How do we glorify God? v8: by bearing fruit, and see also see v16 - we have been chosen/appointed for it!

Something I should point out: whether we bear fruit or not affects not just ourselves, but others too... we don’t sin in a vacuum, sin has consequences, and our fruit-bearing is the same. For example:
  • A prepared preacher is far more important than a prepared sermon: affects delivery, preparation...
  • Where I am... affects how I lead my marriage, family
  • Elder = affects the church
  • Cell leader = affects the cell; leading W’s too
  • No one gets off lightly: we all lose out if you're not fulfilling your potential for Christ!
  • It affects the Gospel too... how we live our lives at home, in the workplace, where we play... we can miss opportunities if we're "DRIED UP/ NOT FIRED UP"...
Sobering isn't it? But be encouraged, learn from this. Because then it gets really exciting: look at what happens to those who are bearing fruit: WE GET PRUNED!!!

Jesus says that (v2) "every branch that DOES bear fruit will be pruned, in order that it may bear MORE fruit." PRUNING IS GOOD FOR US... Pruning is not nice, but is necessary! If you’re a gardener, you’ll know that!

2 things ensure a greater crop:

1. The removal of dead branches (v6):
  • removing the dead tissue that brings disease and weakness
  • there are 2 schools of thought about whom Jesus is speaking of here, both of which we can learn from regardless:
a. unbelievers (no fruit-bearing): then it would make sense that they're not abiding! ARE YOU SAVED??? Get right with God and quickly!
b. (more likely) believers (v2: “every branch of MINE that does not bear fruit he takes away”) who are failing to abide and therefore fail to produce fruit, or worse: remember 1 Cor 5! Don't end up in that position! Get right with God, quickly!
  • (He is not saying that you can lose your salvation! YOU CAN’T! - Jesus has already made that clear in 6.37 “whoever comes to me I will NEVER cast out” and 10.27-30 “no one will snatch them out of my hand”) – Jesus would not contradict himself...
  • Either way - unbelievers or disciplining believers failing to produce fruit – the message is the same: Get right with God, do it quick!
2. The pruning of the other branches:
  • Left to its own devices, a branch would/could still bear fruit, but it'll be inferior (eg wild)
  • The removal of an entire shoot or limb revitalizes a plant by removing weak, problematic, or excessive growths... so energy goes into further fruit and isn't wasted
  • = trimming the living tissue (anything that is – not necessarily wrong - robbing us of spiritual vigour which should be focussed elsewhere)...
  • Expert Vine-dressing is a very specific art and can take yrs of training: God is the ultimate/knows best!!!
Soooo.... what will this pruning look like in our lives?
  • Conviction – the NewFrontiers leaders hearing from God to end our Stoneleigh Bible weeks: the subsequent fruit in our communities and around the world had been far greater than of we'd continued...
  • chastening/discipline
  • restriction/circumstances changing or not changing
Jesus' intention has always been that we abide from the start, but at the very least we need to respond His pruning/prompting and ABIDE and BEAR FRUIT: v16: "chosen and appointed..."
We are chosen and appointed... to bear fruit... for His glory

3. The Crop
What does this fruit look like?
  • Remember: FRUIT IS FOR OTHERS: Fruit is for eating & reproducing! It's not just about us. Remember my point earlier: the spiritual condition of preacher/ elder/ husband/ member...
  • Doesn't occur overnight: takes cultivation
  1. Character: The fruit of the spirit (Gal 5.22-23) = Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control...
  2. Winning others for Christ: Rom 1.13: “I want you to know, brothers, that I have often intended to come to you (but thus far have been prevented), in order that I may reap some harvest among you as well as among the rest of the Gentiles”
  3. Growth in holiness & obedience: Rom 6.22: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life”
  4. Giving /generosity: Rom 15.28: “When therefore I have completed this and have delivered to them (ie Jerusalem church) what has been collected (Greek="sealed to them this fruit") (from Macedonian and Achaian churches), I will leave for Spain by way of you”
  5. Service: Col 1.10: “so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God”
  6. Praise: We are meant to use fruity language! Heb 13.15: “Through him then let us continually offer up a sacrifice of praise to God, that is, the fruit of lips that acknowledge his name”
In Conclusion:

A change of heart, if genuine, will produce a crop. If we really want to glorify God - because of Who He is, because He loved us first - then we do that by bearing fruit FOR Him by abiding IN Him (v8)

Elements do conspire to limit our effectiveness for the Gospel:
  • Sin: confess/deal with it! Keep a short account with Him
  • Temptation - know your weaknesses and seek ways to protect yourself: accountability, avoidance of certain times/ circumstances/ people/ places...
God has set the choice before us:
  • Deut 30.19 = "I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life"
  • Rev 3.19: Jesus said to the Laodicean church after His stark warning: "Be zealous and repent..."
  • The choice is before you: life or death?
  • Do you want the smell of death lingering around you? No fruit-bearing? It's all too easy to be a “Professional Christian”, wearing a mask... How awful a thing for God’s own people – bought by Christ’s blood – to be dead wood... Some people look and act like Christians but aren't truly saved; it is also possible for God's own people to squander their inheritance and fail to abide in Him...
  • Or would you rather the “Aroma of Christ” around you: a life lived abundantly, His way, seeing His transforming wonders first-hand in your life and in those around you as a result
  • Ask yourself the question “AM I GROWING?” Compared to 3 months ago, 6 months, 1 year, 5 years ago... "Am I growing?"
If the Spirit has nudged you on anything - effectiveness for the Gospel, something hindering you, not fully experiencing the fruit of the Spirit in your life, or maybe you feel all "dried up/not fired up" - then now is the time to respond.

Bring glory to Him by abiding IN Him, in order to bear fruit FOR Him.

THAT'S how we glorify our King.


  1. Share examples of pruning in your lives (circumstances/conviction, etc) and how you’ve grown/learnt as a result...
  2. How can we as God’s people avoid being “lukewarm” in our current post-modern, post-Christian culture? What are the pitfalls to keep a lookout for?
  3. Take another look at the listed fruit of the Spirit that Paul gives us in Gal 5.22-23: any of those you'd particularly like to see more of in your life right now? Pray for each other...

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Sunday, July 5, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #12: "Daily Doings"

"But this is what was uttered through the prophet Joel: ‘And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams; even on my male servants and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit, and they shall prophesy. And I will show wonders in the heavens above and signs on the earth below, blood, and fire, and vapour of smoke; the sun shall be turned to darkness and the moon to blood, before the day of the Lord comes, the great and magnificent day. And it shall come to pass that everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.’" (Acts 2.16-21, ESV)

How many times do we refer to the Holy Spirit in prayer and when we meet? Honestly? And how many times do we refer Him as "it"? And why do we still have a common tendency to really only expect signs and wonders in our meetings and not outside?

This past weekend, those of us who made it to "Church on the Farm" were blessed by God's presence in a big way. He touched hearts, changed lives, healed bodies. His Spirit was welcomed as a person - as He should be - and He came in power. He ministered to us through the preaching of the Word, through fellowship and private moments of sharing and counsel, and through signs and wonders. Yes, a lot of that was through the meetings, but admittedly there were 5 of those in 2-and-a-bit days, and that was kind of the intention of an otherwise unusual weekend compared to our usual. But you know what? God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit are not constrained to our meetings or to our quiet times. The sun and moon "turning" that Peter and Joel spoke of may not be fulfilled yet, but everything else in that passage refers to the Christian life from that moment nearly 2000 years ago, via now and into the future.

Prophecy, healing, visions, words of knowledge, any demonstration of the supernatural breaking into the natural is meant to be everyday life for you and me.

We are not all called to be prophets, but we are all called to live and walk by the Spirit. The same Spirit that helped create the sun and the oceans, that worked in power through Christ's ministry on earth and raised His lifeless body from the dead, is the same Spirit alive in you and me. When Peter recited the above Scripture from the prophet Joel, he was demonstrating that what the people were witnessing at that moment - the supernatural breaking into the natural - was an expected result of Christ's work in and through His people.

With "Healing on the Streets" commencing in Whitstable this month, and our own opportunities through Re:Act in a few weeks, let us expect what has tended to be the unexpected. Don't despise or grieve the Holy Spirit; spend time with Him and in the Word. Signs and wonders will follow when we allow the Spirit to guide us in our daily doings. It's already expected!

(for a full review of the "Church on the Farm" weekend, including some testimony, check out )

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Saturday, June 27, 2009

"Building the church, reflecting the Kingdom" - notes for sermon 14/06/09

Continuing our series preaching through our purpose statement - "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" - we are now studying the section on mission. What does it mean to be on a mission? What is our mission?

Jim shared 2 weeks ago about God’s promise to (and through) Abram that all the world would be blessed through him and his offspring (and subsequently of course, SPIRITUAL offspring), and then Ben shared last week that our Great Commission from Jesus is to GO into all the world and make disciples of all nations... The blessing through Abraham is not shared by osmosis! We have a job to do!

But did God’s plan finish at “Right, off you go and tell the world about me...”? No! His plan continues into providing the perfect environment for nurturing, teaching, disciplining, mobilising, resourcing us to fulfil His purpose TOGETHER. A place where His Kingdom is perfectly reflected: His church.

I wonder what the disciples initially thought when he gave them that Commission? But also, I wonder what they thought when Jesus made His first official announcement about the church: “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it...” (Matt 16.18)

The understanding of what Christ’s church should look like, should act like, has been something that has been argued and debated over pretty much ever since that moment unfortunately – just take a look at all the variations of “church” around us, some Biblically legitimate, others not: there’s Protestant/ Roman Catholic, high church/ low church, Jehovah’s Witnesses/ Mormons, Greek Orthodox/ Lutheran, “Emerging” Church/ “Emergent” Church...

Let's a closer look at what God truly intends: at how the church’s primary design fulfils its purpose, that of worship, and its subsequent mission:

Read Ephesians 2.11-22

1.The Raw Materials

Look at those first few verses of this passage and see how Paul describes where we once were: “Gentiles in the flesh”, “separated from Christ”, “alienated”, “strangers”, “having no hope”, “without God”. In fact, earlier in chapter 2, Paul had described us as “by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind”: without a saving faith in Jesus Christ and His sacrifice, we are all subject to God’s condemnation as sinners. Every single one of us is guilty of “original sin” – God designed that Adam should represent the entire human race and so through his choice to rebel, all of mankind is condemned; our relationship with him is broken; this original sin is perfectly evident from a very young age – and all our own individual acts simply add to the case against us. Our selfishness, our own desires to put ourselves before God, to elevate ourselves or others or objects or lusts to the status of God, warrants just punishment from the High King.But now we are “brought near by the blood of Christ” (v13)!! Hallelujah! He has “reconciled us to God in one body through the cross”! That condemnation that we deserve as sinful creatures from a perfect, holy, just God has been crushed and killed by His amazing grace and love in Jesus Christ, the One Who paid our penalty. God has taken raw materials – you and me and our brothers and sisters across the world – and is crafting them into His radiant church. It doesn’t always look like it, but have a guess at whose fault that is...?

Take the man Peter as an example: it was he whom Jesus was addressing when he said in Matthew 16.18: “...You are Peter (which means “stone”), and on this rock I will build my church”. This is a hotly debated verse, and Roman Catholics have taken it to mean that Peter was the first Pope – I won’t even go there other than pointing out that Peter had no more authority than any of the other Apostles, plus that Peter himself teaches on the priesthood of all believers later in the NT; Jesus was not talking about an office, or an infallibility in this flawed man’s own words. This “ROCK” that Jesus mentions is Peter’s confession only seconds before – “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” – and his central role is establishing the early church. That’s it... But this man Peter is the very same one who only just a short while after this earth-shattering revelation actually rebuked Jesus for speaking of His need to suffer in the near-future and was lambasted in turn for allowing Satan to work through him. Peter had entertained the devil’s attempts to hinder Christ’s mission, and was so human-centred in his understanding of Jesus that he failed to see the truth for himself.

This same man denied his relationship with Jesus during the Saviour’s arrest and trial. THREE TIMES he was given the chance to stand beside his master. Three times he failed.

This same man caused no end of problems, as told in Galatians 2, which Paul had to confront and deal with; Peter began separating himself and eating only with Jews, who still believed it was important to follow kosher dietary laws and actually making the Gentiles feel like second-class Christians. This was wholly against Christ’s intention for a church where everyone was the same, there was no longer Jew or Gentile...

But do you know what? THANK GOD JESUS STILL CHOSE THIS MAN, DESPITE KNOWING WHAT HE WAS LIKE AND CAPABLE OF AND WOULD DO. It proves the point: “I will build my church...” Not Peter, not Paul, not you, not me. Jesus will, using raw materials like us and Peter so that He, Jesus, gets all the glory when, strangely enough, it works beautifully.We all have a part to play – we’ll look at that shortly – but this is Jesus’s church. Hallelujah!

2.The Building Plans

But what is the purpose of the church? What are we here for?

It has often been said that in saving the nations, the church is God’s plan “A”, and that there is no plan “B”. Very often, people look away from the church and look elsewhere for answers to the world’s problems – and there are some very good instances of great things being done outside of the church for the world’s poor and oppressed – but Christ’s church should be leading the way. Plus, of course, those non-church organisations don’t change the destiny of people’s souls...

In this passage, Paul tells us that we – once those very raw materials – are now “members of the household of God” (v19), “a holy temple in the Lord” (v21), “a dwelling place for God by the Spirit” (v22).

At first glance, it may appear by reading through the Bible that God kept changing His mind: He created the garden of Eden, but Adam and Eve screwed that one up, so He banished them, then destroyed all but a few couples with the flood and started again, then tried again with the Israelites, who again screwed things up, so God sent Jesus to finally get things done. That can be how it appears. But: the church was God’s plan “A” all along... all the other instances were precursors of what was to come in Christ:

In Genesis, God "walked" with His people (5.22,24; 6.9); in Exodus, he decided to "dwell" with them (25.8) - He dwelt in the tabernacle until their sins caused His glory to depart (1 Sam 4); then He dwelt in the temple (1 Kings 8.1-11) until, again, Israel sinned and the glory departed (Ez 10.18-19); God subsequently dwelt in Christ's earthly body amongst us, the body that men took and nailed to a cross; today, by His Spirit, God dwells in the church, His spiritual temple (1 Cor 6.19-20 & Eph 2.20-22). God dwells here on earth in a corporate people, not just of one nation, but from across the nations, in anyone who trusts in Christ as their Saviour.

But why should this be a properly organised body? Why not just a multitude of individuals saved for eternity? What’s the difference?The Greek word from which “church” is translated, "ekklesia", occurs 114 times in the New Testament. This is the word used in Matt 16 when Jesus says “I will build my church”. But this word, ekklesia, was used in the New Testament period to describe more than the gatherings of Christians, but also to refer to assemblies called to perform specific tasks. The church is the people of God, the body of Christ, destined for a specific purpose. In this fellowship are those people who have accepted and entered into the reign of God. This reign is not entered into by nations, or even families, but by individuals, to BECOME HIS PEOPLE. For worshipping God, for nurturing each other, for evangelism and acts of mercy in the world. To reflect His kingdom.

The church is designed perfectly to demonstrate the Kingdom in word and deed. Worshipping Jesus TOGETHER, contending for the gospel TOGETHER, for harmony, love for our enemies, sharing a life in common; IT’S RADICAL!!! The people in Acts 5.12-14 didn't dare join them, but God added to the church in multitudes. Howzat?!!!

The church is the unique instrument for bringing God glory through worship and mission. This is our mission: to proclaim this Truth to the world in word and deed. TOGETHER.

3.The Building Process

Verses 21 & 22: "Christ Jesus... being the cornerstone, in Whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple; being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit... " What a process! Let’s unpack that...

First of all, remember that Jesus said “I will build my church...” He is the cornerstone, or foundation stone, of His church. Everything rests on Him. He is the primary foundation stone, the critical stone in the foundation’s corner that ensures the building is square and correct.

Ps 127.1 says: “Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain”. Unless the building is constructed His way, with His oversight, instruction and blessing, it will be meaningless. That verse does not say we don’t labour, that we let God do all the work – we have a part to play – but we must ensure He is in charge, and we seek Him at all times for strength, guidance and blessing while we do. Jesus is the cornerstone, and we must act as such at all times. He must be at the centre of everything we do. For the very same reason, Paul clarifies here at the end of v.22, that it is “... by the Spirit...” That’s the same reason it’s in our purpose statement! We must recognise the Spirit’s work in our own lives and as we labour in our building work... Don’t grieve Him. He’s a person.

Now, Paul gives us further explanation of how the foundation was built around this glorious cornerstone of Jesus: v.20“...built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets ... Jesus Himself being the cornerstone...” With Christ as the stone that decides the correct position and accuracy of what follows, the church’s foundation continued to be established on the Apostles and prophets of the time: men who God had ordained for a purpose at that time. There are no more Apostles with a capital “A”, or prophets, who spoke and wrote the infallible words of God or continue to lay the foundation of Christ’s glorious church. A foundation gets laid once and once only. Play around with your footings and you’ll get subsidence. The foundation has been laid clearly and categorically by men that God ordained for a purpose at that time. And here in our Bible we have the unchanging blueprint to study and follow...

Since then, although the specific office of Apostle is no more, there are men with clear apostolic gifting - the ability to pioneer church plants, to minister cross-culturally, the calling to lead and influence multiple churches and so on – and thank God we in New Frontiers receive the benefit of such men that God has given us in that capacity. (Terry Virgo, Graham Hall, Tom Shaw, for example).

Continuing this thread of the current building process, Paul tells us 2 chapters later in Ephesians, that God has given us the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds (pastors) and teachers... why? “ equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”! The work continues! The show must go on! We have a mission to fulfil!

As for evangelists and prophets, we had the benefit of David Morris serving us so well recently, a man with a clear evangelistic gifting, and men such as Julian Adams – who will be serving us next week at Church on the Farm – are clearly gifted in the prophetic. Their prophecy does not continue to lay the foundation of the church – that has already been done – nor is it infallible or equal to Scripture – the canon is closed – but folks such as these guys are still provided by God to serve the church and “... equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ...”

And as for shepherds and teachers: Pray for your elders! (The lot of an elder is not easy and open to criticism...) God has given them the responsibility of looking after the likes of you and me – they need all the help they can get! Pray for those that support them too. The “great” apostle Paul asked for prayer himself on many occasions, recognising his own need for help. I know I keep saying it, but pray for these guys as they lead us...

All these guys are provided by our Father in heaven to equip us for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ – you and me – that we might fulfil His Great Commission to the best that we can. TOGETHER.


The church is still being built, by and upon Christ, through His wonderful Holy Spirit, with us as co-labourers. Jesus calls us, those raw materials, one by one to salvation, but also calls us together for His mission. The NewFrontiers purpose statement = "A worldwide family of churches together on a mission". We are being joined together, both locally and globally, in Him and for Him, creating a beautiful, radiant dwelling place for God here on earth, and our actions and decisions should reflect that. More are added day by day, across the world, and I stand in faith and get excited about Christ’s name being glorified in Herne Bay more and more in the years to come. I believe it!

Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it...” There is nothing the devil can do that will resist Christ’s church. He might try, he does try, but keep close to Christ, foster your relationship with the Holy Spirit, because there is nowhere more exciting, or safer, than the true, Bible-based, Spirit-led church of Jesus Christ.

As Bill Hybels says in his book “Courageous Leadership”: "There is nothing like the local church when it’s working right. Its beauty is indescribable. Its power is breathtaking. Its potential is unlimited. It comforts the grieving and heals the broken in the context of community. It builds bridges to seekers and offers truth to the confused. It provides resources for those in need and opens its arms to the forgotten, the downtrodden, the disillusioned. It breaks the chains of addictions, frees the oppressed, and offers belonging to the marginalized of this world. Whatever the capacity for human suffering, the church has a greater capacity for healing and wholeness... Still to this day, the potential of the local church is almost more than I can grasp. No other organisation on earth is like the church. Nothing even comes close."

Are you playing your part? Are you saved in the first place? Do you believe Jesus Christ is the perfect Son of God, who died that we might be cleansed of all our wrongdoing and selfishness, and rose again that we might have eternal life with Him, unhindered, unstained, rescued from eternal punishment? Do you really believe that?

If you do, are you actively involved in His church, being joined together with your brothers and sisters for His glory and His purposes? Are you helping others to trust Him? Are you sharing the good news with others? Are you doing everything He is calling you to do?

We are no longer raw materials, we are being built together into a dwelling place for the Almighty God. Let’s live like it.

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Monday, June 1, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #11: "The Feast Prepared"

"...that you, being rooted and grounded in love, may have strength to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, that you may be filled with all the fullness of God..." (Eph 3.17-19)

I couldn't unfold the above passage better than Martyn LLoyd-Jones himself, so I'll hand over to the good "Doctor":

". . . The secret of the early Christians, the early Protestants, Puritans and Methodists was that they were taught about the love of Christ, and they became filled with a knowledge of it. Once a man has the love of Christ in his heart you need not train him to witness; he will do it. He will know the power, the constraint, the motive; everything is already there... The servants of God who have most adorned the life and the history of the Christian Church have always been men who have realized that this is the most important thing of all, and they have spent hours in prayer seeking His face and enjoying His love. The man who knows the love of Christ in his heart can do more in one hour than the busy type of man can do in a century...

...Are we seeking the Lord's face? Are we coveting the knowledge of His love? The Apostle prayed for every single member of the Church at Ephesus that he or she 'might be able to comprehend with all saints what is the length and breadth and depth and height, and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge.' How tragic it is that any of us should be living as paupers, out on the cold street, while the banqueting chamber is open and the feast prepared..."

Where are you? Where am I? Out on the cold street or in the banqueting chamber? Press in, the feast is prepared!
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #10: "Opportunity Knocks"

"(pray) ...also for me, that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel..." (Eph 6.19, ESV)

Don't you just love an evangelist? Charismatic, engaging, passionate, GIFTED. They seem to have the 'knack', and we can all be tempted to wish we were a little bit more like them at times. A touch more confident in our responses; a bit quicker in clever retorts; a tad more elaborate in how we express the gospel of our King Jesus. Then, after realising we probably never will be, we hunker down and get on with being just another one of the 'regular folks', while we let the evangelists roam around the country and see many people get saved simultaneously and respond en masse at altar calls. Or something like that.

Now, you and I know that's a bit of a caricature on both sides, but I'm sure most of us have probably experienced something similar in our thoughts over the years. In reality, evangelists are just as human as you or I: yes, they have a specific calling, but they aren't supermen either. I know for a fact that one guy some of you may have heard of has been highly praised for his gifting and the supernatural manifestation in his ministry - both in salvation and in healing. But truth be told, beforehand he's been terrified and scared it'll all go down like a lead balloon. Our God's bigger than that - hallelujah! - and thank God for that man's humility too.

The trouble is, there is also a danger that we could rest on our laurels and let these guys do all the 'fancy' work for us. Yes, they have a specific gifting, but we all have a part to play. We are all expected to participate in the sharing of the gospel. What does the apostle Paul tell us in Ephesians 4 about apostles, prophets, EVANGELISTS, pastors and teachers? That they're there to "do the important, heavy duty stuff" for us? Nope: it's "to equip the saints for the work of the ministry."

With our Front Edge weekend coming up, this is an opportunity for us all to scrum down and expect the unexpected. To pray, like Paul himself asks, "...that words may be given to me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the gospel." Let's all pray that prayer like crazy - we can all do this; we can all expect that the God of the universe will give us the right words to say, will help us spot opportunities to invite folks to the service on Sunday 17th, and will let His Holy Spirit work through each one of us 'regular folks'. "On His mission, for His glory", as someone once said...
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Beacon Touchpaper #9: "Easter: How do you eat yours?"

"...because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved..." (Rom 10.9, ESV)

Easter in our country has traditionally become the time of year to celebrate:

(1) chocolate, (2) the multiplication abilities of cute rabbits, (3) "How do you eat yours?" Creme Egg adverts, and (4) the colour yellow. Regular polls in the national press have pointed out worrying numbers of children AND parents who struggle to recall exactly why we have a public holiday at this time each year. Maybe we shouldn't be surprised...

But also, perhaps, we should take the opportunity to recall what we believe too. Why do we as God's people celebrate Easter? And how seriously do we apply that?

Believing in our hearts that God raised Him from the dead is more than just accepting a fact. It is far more than "merely" looking at evidence, weighing up the pros and cons, and acknowledging a historical moment. Believing that God raised Him from the dead is having an absolute confidence in God's providence, His power, His love, His mercy, His grace, His justice... It's believing that God is completely for us. God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit all agreed long before time began to see this rescue plan through to completion, and have been and always will be committed to their choice to adopt you and me. That commitment is sealed in Christ's death and resurrection.

Without the core truth of Jesus's death and resurrection, applied to our everyday lives and our relationship with Jesus Himself, even the Christian Easter can be as hollow as a chocolate egg...

Easter: How do you eat yours?
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Saturday, February 28, 2009

"Called into God's Family" - notes for sermon 22/02/09

Continuing our series that delves into our Purpose Statement – "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" – we’ll now follow the theme of family:

Family has been the basis of humankind since the beginning, and has also been twisted and corrupted since the Fall. The 17m families in UK alone reflect that: every size, type, quality and degree of unity or brokenness we can possibly think of. With divorce and commitment-phobia ever on the increase, the step-family is the largest growing family type in our country. A recent Observer article listed 3 reasons NOT to have a baby (economically costly; inevitable polluters; potentially relationally harmful). Many images are used in the Bible to help explain God's intention for His people (body, temple, army); the primary metaphor used is that of family... God’s family. His alternative society.

Read Romans 8.12-17 & 1 John 2.28 - 3.10

a) How we are a part of His family:

  • There is a reason why we can call God “Father”; it is not just some funky name made up for Him because we’re little and He’s big and lovely, it’s because He really is our heavenly Father.
  • Jesus had every right to call Him Father, for obvious reasons, but when He taught us how to pray: “Our Father in heaven...”
  • Our new birth is of a whole new heritage; a new, eternal heritage that means we may call the God of the universe “Father”.
  • More than that, it’s not a mere title that indicates some tentative bond. Our new birth is final and complete through Christ and the Holy Spirit, so much so that we can call God “Abba” Father.
  • READ Rom 8.15: Abba is the intimate version of “father” in Aramaic, used by children as an equivalent of our “Papa”, which contains intimacy, while retaining the dignity and respect of “Father”.
  • As demonstrated here in Romans 8, but also by Paul elsewhere in Gal 4.6 and by Jesus Himself in Mk 14.36, the terms “Abba” and “Father” are used together – “Abba Father” – therein lies trust, confidence, submissiveness and respect all rolled into one beautiful name.

But how can this be? What gives us the right to call Him so?

Verse 15 again = “Spirit of adoption as sons”!!!

  • ADOPTION = "To take into one's family through legal means and raise as one's own child"
  • It means being CHOSEN, from a situation of unwant, or neglect, or abuse, or the simple inability of their birth-parent(s) to care for the child, into a stable, loving, deliberate environment that nurtures, nourishes and secures a future. It is a LEGAL, binding act.
  • God’s plan was conceived way before creation. Our adoption has been His plan long before we came along; it is not a response to any characteristic about us sinful individuals that he likes (otherwise he wouldn’t have adopted us!), nor is it a knee-jerk reaction to Jesus saving us through His amazing death and resurrection (“Oh, you’ve saved them, have you? Guess I’d better adopt them to complete the package then.”)
  • No, God is never, ever taken off guard. Ephesians 1.4-5 says, “...He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world... In love He predestined us for adoption...”
  • God PLANNED that through His Son Jesus Christ, He would adopt every single selfish one of us that calls him Lord; billions around the world & through the ages.

Some friends of ours recently adopted a little boy after a lengthy, highly-regulated process and the final seal of the deal was when they got to change his surname to theirs. He is now theirs 100%, and they are his, and nothing will change that. He has gained their name, and their family heritage and all that comes with that. Our adoption also means that we too are heirs, as Paul says here in Rom 8.17: but heirs to what?

  • Paul tells the church in Ephesus of their “glorious inheritance” (Eph 1.18b), and Peter (1 Pet 1.4) calls it “an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled and unfading”. Sounds wonderful, but what are they actually talking about?
  • We will be with God forever, we will live in new incorruptible bodies, living on a brand new earth; no more pain, suffering, death, and all the other, as yet unimaginable, privileges and blessings of heaven will be there waiting for us.
  • Our adoption as fellow heirs with Christ (Rom 8.17) means we are members of the royal family of the universe, one day to finally participate in all He has prepared for us without hindrance, forever! Amazing!
So, we have discovered how we have been literally adopted as His children, and our glorious inheritance as the result, but what about this in-between stage, this bit we call life on earth?

In this world, the definition of family is becoming increasingly blurred. Let’s now look at the hallmarks of family as per the Bible =

b) Biblical hallmarks of family life:

1) An expression of God's love:

  • Let's wind the clock right back for a moment, way back to when time didn't even exist and our clock wouldn't have meant anything. Back then, God was. Our God, the eternal Godhead, the Trinity as we call it, is made up of three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. All have eternally existed and all will continue to do so in perfect unity. One or the other hasn't arrived later on, as some crazy beliefs made up, but all are uncreated and are equally God. Love, fellowship and glory existing in infinite measure for all time (John 17.5 = "And now, Father, glorify me in Your own presence with the glory that I had with You before the world existed") (Gen 1.1-2 & Col 1.16; Luke 3.21-22; Acts 7.55).
  • The Trinity is a mystery, and one we'll never fully understand - our brains may have a hundred billion nerve cells, and be capable of having more ideas than the number of atoms in the universe (fact!), but they're still way too small to fully understand the Trinity, so don't even try. What it does mean is that God is bigger than us. Hallelujah!
  • St Augustine, who spent 16 years of his life attempting to explain the Trinity, finally saw the light and gave up, saying: "Try to explain the Trinity and you will lose your mind; try to deny it and you will lose your soul." He understood the importance of accepting something that is clearly Scriptural and clearly beyond our grasp. Hallelujah! It is Truth, and a glorious mystery.
  • Now, the reason I'm talking about the Trinity is this: within the Godhead, the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit have expressed love through relationship for all time. And in creating us, God has chosen to express that love to us too.
  • God is wholly independent - He didn't need to create us, but He chose to. But it doesn't stop there, either. In the beginning, God made everything good – see it throughout Genesis chapter 1. But when was the first time declared something as "not good"? It was when He saw Adam was alone. Man was created in God's image, but was unable to demonstrate/participate in loving community as is found in the Trinity. Sure, Adam could commune with God, but God in His goodness knew Adam needed an equal to live beside and commune with, and without one, God's creation was not good. So He created Eve and thus the first human family was born. He instructed them to, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth" (I wonder what went through their minds at that thought?).
  • Wind the clock forward a little, and you hear God instructing Noah and his family to, again, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth"; not long after, He informed Abraham that his offspring would match the stars in number. God loves family. In a big way; He loves exponential growth that glorifies Him. He invented family and He intends for us to follow its original intentions.
  • As God’s children, we are called - called from this fallen world to take a fresh hold of that baton He initially had in mind for mankind - to express that same love the Trinity has for each other and for us, made possible through our renewed relationship with Him in Christ and with each other.

2) Family Likeness:

  • the family bears the likeness of the parent, both in DNA and in nurturing/discipline. The household tends to reflect the father: a poor father, a poor household; a rich father, a rich household; an immoral, deceitful father...; a loving, moral father, a loving, moral household. And so on.
  • As sons & daughters of Adam, we are all born into this world with a sinful nature, and nothing WE can do can change that. But in God's amazing redemptive work through His Son, we are called as His children, reborn in the Spirit, reborn with a brand new DNA. The fruit of the Spirit = love, joy, peace, etc.. As His children, we all share the same Father, the same blood, the same DNA. Like Father, like sons/daughters...
3) Protection:

  • Meeting together keeps us in check, keeps us safe; our elders keep a look out for us regarding our health as a church, or for parties that might be out to cause harm; or it could be each of us looking out for each other – “how are you doing? I’ve noticed you’ve been missing the past couple of weeks/things ok?”
  • Discipline is also a factor: as a loving Father, God will ensure we grow up the right way; it’s not nice, and not easy, but we must accept that discipline is a Godly part of growing up. He is never vindictive, but always right.
  • Our corporate meetings together should also give us a prod and help us realise that all we’ve worried about during the week, all our fears, or all our needless striving, is made naked before our sovereign God... it helps us realise what’s important, helps us check our hearts: it was said of William Wilberforce, who battled for decades to finally end slavery in this country, that “he was prone to seasons of preoccupation where things of ambition gripped his soul. But there was a disciplined check and balance to his life – Sunday brought the cure”. Thank God for our Sunday services and our Cell groups! (IF YOU’RE NOT IN ONE – YOU KNOW WHAT I’M GOING TO SAY NEXT...!)
4) Growth and maturity:

  • There's that discipleship theme again... Matt 28 = Disciples, not converts!!!
  • READ Heb 5.12-6.1: How do we grow and mature? By constant practice. How does a concert pianist play so flawlessly on stage? By constant practice. How does David Beckham curl those free kicks in so sweetly to score a goal? Hours and hours of practice. This is not a legalistic thing, but the more we consciously practice our faith – prayer, reading and meditating on the Bible, putting what you’ve learnt INTO PRACTICE, we will mature. And what’s the best way to ensure we achieve this as a family? By:
5) Encouragement:

  • The writer to the Hebrews continues in 10.24 & 25; “And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works... encouraging one another...” There is an onus on each one of us to keep an encouraging eye out for one another; as a protection, as we’ve just heard, but also in terms of ensuring we are all growing.
  • We have a responsibility to be concerned about a brother or sister who isn’t growing, or is struggling spiritually. That’s not a patronising thing, but those of us that are doing okay should be looking out for those that aren’t. This is a good thing: I’m hoping that my brothers and sisters are keeping an eye on me too. It’s for my own well-being that my “homies” want to be sure I’m growing, that I’m doing okay...
  • And thank God, as the writer to the Hebrews explains, that it’s not just a case of ensuring our inner knowledge is on the increase; no, this is a missional thing. We should be spurring one another on... TO LOVE AND GOOD WORKS. The fruit of these labours is a Gospel witness, whether works that bless our brothers and sisters, or bless the world around us. Either way, it’s a witness. Stirring one another up IS EVANGELISM. How cool is that? Hallelujah! “One another-ing” is a made-up verb (!) but it is wholly Biblical. It is the core of the new commandment that Christ gave us:
6) Mutual service:

  • John 13.34-35: “love one another... by this all people will know that you are my disciples...”
  • Our family life together, as God’s alternative society, should sing in so many different ways, in so many glorious harmonies, of our love for each other, of our love for our King. So much so, in fact, that people will know we’re His without us having to say a word.
Well, that’s all well and good, but we’re human and we don’t always show that. So, what can we do practically-speaking, to help matters?

c) The implications

One point to make before we look at practical application: Church family life should be about "being", rather than "doing". Let me explain...

Consider these 3 verses:
Rom 8.14: “All who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God
Rom 8.16: “The Spirit Himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God
1 Jn 3.9-10: “No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God...”

  • The fruit of our new birth, is outward evidence of the change inside. This is not to say that people can’t do the right thing without being saved, of course not, our behaviour shouldn’t be the only confirmation of our salvation. We should be certain, for our own souls’ sake, that we’re truly led by the Spirit (8.14), that the Spirit bears witness with our spirit (8.16).
  • Be certain of why we behave the way we do: do we do good works because it’s the morally right or acceptable thing to do? Or because it’s expected of us? Or is it because of the new birth in us that has a hunger to please God, to bless and serve our brothers and sisters, to serve the world and tell them the Good News of Jesus Christ? Check yourself.
  • Thus, Church family life should be about "being", rather than "doing". The doing is simply the fruit of what's at stake in the heart. So we ensure our hearts are right, and the demonstration of that will occur naturally.
1 Tim 5.1-2: “Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” Paul is not saying “do this” or “do that”, but treat each other as family. Our attitude to each other should be that we are family. Being, rather than doing.

Giftings are a practical aspect of our family life:

  • Of the myriad spiritual gifts listed, the main gift that ensures protecting the value of true family life is that of hospitality. It involves opening our homes, which sends an undeniable message that you are interested in other people, even when you don’t want to! Someone once quipped, “Hospitality is making people feel at home, even though you wish they were”!
  • But it doesn't stop there in our homes either: it also extends to our Sunday meetings, Cell groups, wherever.
  • There's nothing worse than being invited round a friend's house, and the whole family are there doing their thing & ignoring you. You know you're an outsider, & you're made to feel like one. Imagine the difference if they went out of their way to speak to you, take your coat, make you a drink, ask you to stay for dinner, take an interest in you rather than their own private jokes and routines. If we all keep that attitude on a Sunday, for eg, "this is my home and these are my guests" then everything else falls into place.
  • It's for all of us to play a part. Not everyone is an extrovert, but we all have a part to play, even if it’s in some small way. Make people feel at home.
  • Hospitality is not just a gift for bringing the church closer together, it is a fundamental key to our evangelism as God’s family, especially these days where it’s harder for un-churched people to want to go anywhere near a formal meeting.
  • Relationships, energised by great hospitality, feeds the Gospel.
Expression of commitment:

  • Commitment = our Fellowship Meal!; Using the phone directory as a prayer list; Baptism: it doesn't make you a member of God's family, but it does SHOW you are a member...
• Truly saved by and through Jesus Christ? Adopted as God’s child!
• a legal, binding, eternal covenant – there is complete security in that – and it brings a wealth of riches such as we could never dream.
• Our family life as His children should reflect His love, His likeness, offer the security of protection & encouragement, should demonstrate growth and mutual service... For ourselves and for our witness... for His glory...

Our corporate church family life is intended to be an example to world; it should convey an earth-shattering message...

(credos to P J Smythe's "Get Connected" booklet from GodFirst Church, Johannesburg for some of the above points...)

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Beacon Touchpaper #8: "Inflow and Outflow"

"...You then, my child, be strengthened by the grace that is in Christ Jesus, and what you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also..." (2 Timothy 2.1-2 ESV)

Towards the end of the 1990's, Disney Animation Studios witnessed a steady decline in both the quality of their output at the cinemas, and in the profits these features made. From about the same time, a little-known studio called Pixar began creating some computer-animated features the likes of which had never been seen before: “Toy Story”, “A Bug's Life”, ”Finding Nemo”, “The Incredibles”... The list goes on and on, and many of us have enjoyed their ingenuity, thrills and imagination. But what was the difference? How could such a massive organisation like Disney fail to compete with this far smaller, yet far more creative, company?

Well, Disney managed to buy Pixar in 2006 for a not-insignificant sum and the man so hugely responsible for Pixar's success came to run Disney's own animation fold. When he arrived, John Lasseter gave his new employees some simple wisdom which underlines the whole Pixar ethos in just a few words: "Continue to do your jobs, and also make sure you're continually learning and teaching at the same time (paraphrased)." In order to bring the best to the table, his people needed to be growing and passing it on.

The apostle Paul also understood the importance for growth in each one of us that we might fulfil our roles for God to the utmost: throughout his letters, he tells men and women to follow his example (1 Cor 4.16, 1 Cor 11.1 and Phil 3.17) - which speaks of a life of such remarkable integrity that that level of confidence is not arrogant, merely true - and to also become examples themselves (1 Tim 4.15-16, Titus 2.1-10). For a lake to remain fresh and not become stagnant, it needs two things: a decent inflow, and a decent outflow. There's that learning and teaching thing again...

...Who are you imitating? Who are you coming alongside and learning from? And is your life worthy of imitation? Are you modelling and teaching in your conduct, your speech, your knowledge, your passion? In and out, in and out...
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Thursday, February 5, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #7: "What on EARTH are you doing?!!"

What are we here for? What is the expectation upon us as Christians here on earth? Why does Beacon have "Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory" as a purpose statement?

"Living life Jesus' way...": We as God's people are expected to live life the way Jesus created, modelled and commanded. A life of humility, of holiness, of transformation; a life that is different to the ways of the world. A life that stands out, a life that smells of LIFE, not of death.

" His Spirit...": That's all very well, but how on earth are we supposed be able to do such a thing? That bar's a bit high for me to reach, I have to be honest... Thank God, then, that THAT'S the point, and He has given us His Holy Spirit to be able to live life His way. It is the Holy Spirit's working in me that means I'm not a divorced guy who takes little responsibility for his daughter, who has had multiple partners, likes getting drunk, and is altogether not a nice person to boot. Because that's where I could well have been right now without Christ's salvation and work in me. It is HE Who helps us live the life He has designed for us. He's not an unreasonable God Who gives us a blueprint for something that we'd never be able to achieve and then gets the hump when we don't live up to it. He's a loving Father Who wants the best for His children and provides the means and mutual gifts for that to come to fruition.

"...on His mission...": What's the point? It's all very well living a holy life, but we could do that with Julie Andrews up a mountain (or similar...). The point is, of course, that Jesus has much more than 'just' personal change in mind, He has PURPOSE in mind, He has plans for His church, ones which give us the privilege of being on the very front-line of His military movements. He wants the likes of you and me (yes, even us!) to participate in His kingdom's advancement, to demonstrate that the Word of God is not a dusty book of historical moments and myths written by men with beards, but it's His living revelation; that He is alive and well and seated at the Father's side, interceding for us right now; that His blueprint for how life should be really lived IS applicable to today's society, and is able to transform it too! And He wants you and me to play a part in that! Hallelujah!

"...for His glory.": Why? Everything was created through Him and for Him. And it's gonna stay that way forever. He's the King of the universe, and He deserves every breath we breath and every ounce of our being to honour Him for that very reason. Our King is seated on the throne and it's to Him we live our lives...

"Living life Jesus' way, by His Spirit, on His mission, for His glory": thirteen simple words that can be sung about, written about, talked about and applied to our everyday lives for as long as we want and we'll never get to the bottom of what is really at stake here. But I'm up for the ride... wanna join me?
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Monday, January 5, 2009

Beacon Touchpaper #6: "Encouragement"

"...For I long to see you, that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to strengthen you - that is, that we may be mutually encouraged by each other's faith, both yours and mine." (Rom 1.11-12)

"And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near. " (Heb 10.24-25)

The New Year is traditionally the season when we reflect on the past and consider what we would like to see accomplished throughout the next 12 months. Many make New Year's resolutions each time the occasion arises, and usually the same ones too: "no more cigarettes", "read my Bible every day", "get out of debt", "go to the gym twice a week", "learn something new". The trouble with these resolutions is, of course, that they can be forgotten by the time February arrives, can't they? Goals are far more practical, and far more achievable: for example, you could aim to read your Bible twice a week for January, then add a day in February, and so on every successive month until you're feasting daily by June. It's realistic and it's practical.
But how often do we consider these things in light of other people? Most resolutions and goals can tend to be rather self-centred, can't they? It's usually for good reason, and if you make a habit of this kind of practice, then keep going... But this January, have a thought for your fellow brothers and sisters. We all need building up, we all need spurring on, we all need encouragement. The apostle Paul himself knew he had weaknesses as well as strengths and certainly recognised his need for being built up by his Christian family.

In writing to his beloved brothers and sisters in Rome, he is hungry for mutual encouragement right from the very start of his letter. He understands the importance of encouragement itself, not just the obvious specific gifts of hospitality, prophecy and so on, nor the specific roles of evangelists, pastors or apostles, as a vital building block for the church. ALL these things are vital, but they should all be used, not just as an end in themselves, but in ENCOURAGEMENT to build Christ's glorious church. He was an apostle, called by Christ to plant and oversee churches over a massive region, and yet he still desired to see mutual encouragement between himself and his Roman church family who are gifted in so many other different ways. Whatever your gifting, you have a role to play in stirring up your brothers and sisters to love and good works (Heb 10.24). Who and how will you encourage? And how do you want to be encouraged?

Make a goal to speak to that person or group of people this coming week!

HAPPY NEW YEAR! 2009’s going to be a cracker!!

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