Saturday, September 4, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #26: "God's Welfare System, part 4: Prayer and Purpose"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

One final look at God's instructions to His people through the prophet Jeremiah! We have thus far studied the welfare, seeking and sending aspects of this verse and this month we will concentrate on the lifeblood of our mission here on earth: prayer.

As God's people placed here and now, we are called to be the best members of this community as possible. Seeking the welfare (the wholeness, prosperity and well-being) of our town bears a responsibility to work for peace, encourage good practice, prosper safety, challenge injustice and promote reconciliation. Sounds utopian? Not when it's uttered in the light of our very own Prince of Peace, Jesus. Sounds like hard work? Absolutely.

Jesus Himself said that "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few", which means plenty of overtime! Exhausting just to think about it, I know. But Jesus knew that, which is why He continued to say, "...therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Matt 9.37-38). He was not saying that it means we pray for someone else to do the work! Read the following passage and you see He sends the apostles themselves out straight away! What He was saying was how much prayer is important for mission. We must pray for each other. An academic gospel (merely debating and philosophising) is not the Gospel. A social gospel (deeds but no Truth preached alongside) is not the Gospel. Both fail and both dishonour God. Words without works are dead. Works without the Word are dead. Which is why we must pray. Prayer brings us into communion with the Father. Prayer changes us. Prayer moulds our hearts to be more like His. Prayer lifts loved ones and lost souls to the great God of Grace, to our Saviour Jesus.

If we have no prayer, we lose purpose. If we lose purpose, we lose a heart for prayer. Which is why we must never let go of prayer in our Beacon family. Be it early mornings on Wednesday and Saturday, be it in our new Family Connections meetings, be it on Sundays, be it in our own rooms behind closed doors, be it in our cars and as we walk: never let go of prayer. It pumps the lifeblood of the Father through our hearts, inspiring us, reviving us and more importantly seeing breakthrough in the spiritual realm and in the community around us.

Martin Luther understood this completely, so I leave you with a profound quote from the man: "I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer". May it fuel our preaching by word AND deed.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Real Faith: Blessing the Sons - sermon notes for 29/08/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

READ Heb 11.20-21:

What does this have to do with Real Faith? Why not “By faith, Isaac trusted his father up the mountain”, or “By faith, Isaac prayed to God about his and his wife’s inability to conceive, and they had twins (Gen 25.21)”, or “By faith, Jacob served diligently for 14 years in order to marry the woman he loved, despite knowing father-in-law’s deceptive heart”? Why say this instead?

FIRST: let's understand what is meant by the cultural formalities of the time in which fathers BLESSED their sons:
  • Blessing = n. the act of invoking divine protection or aid; the bestowal of a divine gift or favour ("Blessed" = to be favoured by your father/God)
  • Biblical def = "the prophetic announcement by which the head of the family passed on favours to his children"
  • The idea behind bless is to speak a good word over someone (eg Ps 29.11)
  • Here today, we tend to avoid talking about death - almost taboo - and don't have the formality of "Blessings". Back then, they understood reality of how binding they could be.
READ Gen 27

v41: "Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him"

[Esau Sold His Birthright for some stew!] (Gen 25:29-34 ESV) "Birthright" = Inheritance/ privileges of firstborn son (The Nuzi texts from the 15th century BC. in Mesopotamia give evidence for transferable birthrights, mentioning one particular case in which a man sells his birthright for a sheep.)

So Esau has been "usurped" twice. His reaction/response? No humility or grace. Bitterness, hatred, revenge. NOTE: these aren't children/teenagers we're talking about! They were in their 70's at this time(*)! How would you have reacted? Your colleague gets promotion, or someone gets chosen for worship leader etc while you're still to be asked into the band? Others invited to dinner over you? "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride"? For Esau, years were wasted in unforgiveness!!!

Jacob and Rebekah are motivated by selfishness, greed, jealousy - she didn't need to have done any of this: it had already been decreed/announced by God: And the LORD said to (Rebekah), “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23 ESV)

MAIN POINT HERE: Why is it that Isaac blessed “By Faith” here? Because he did not revoke the blessing over Jacob once he realised he’d been conned, but stuck to his original pronouncement IN FAITH , and REINFORCED IT TOO WHEN SENDING HIM AWAY!! (Gen 28.3-4!) - He trusted that God was sovereign and would work through this (here is the prophecy over Jacob coming true)

Now READ Gen 48

MAIN POINT HERE: Just as Jacob’s father Isaac had blessed IN FAITH, Jacob here too blesses by faith because he was prompted by God to swap hands and make a prophetic blessing over his grandsons as further demonstration BY GOD of HIS plans for election.

Jacob knew how he had personally received his own blessing - undeserved and thoroughly sinful - and acted this time in a righteous manner. He became a changed man just prior to the moment he's reconciled with Esau for the first time in 20 years - he wrestled with God and finally stood in faith, trusting in the promise over him and being called Israel for first time = from MUMMY's BOY to PROPHETIC FATHER.

THUS: implications for us today = IRREVOCABLE BLESSINGS OVER US = IF saved, always saved; perseverance of the saints... SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

God chose Jacob, regardless of his selfishness, greed, jealousy, and willingness to be manipulated by his mum. He chooses US despite our sin, our weaknesses. What is our response? Do we step into these promises? Really?

By faith, we need to understand God’s sovereignty, His will, our standing in Him, our future hope, etc....

JESUS is our blessing - in Him is the key to receiving co-heirship, our inheritance of eternal life with God - He became a curse for us - Gal 3.10 - "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.", then v13 - "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree""

THUS, BY FAITH, [Steve] can pronounce blessing over those with whom he has influence - because he is chosen despite his sin, he is blessed beyond comprehension, because God has a purpose for him - Eph 1.3 and 1 Pet 3.9.

  • Sinful, weak, devious
  • bestowed with grace upon grace (God's favour/election, not just that of his earthly father's)
  • used by God to bestow further blessing
= you and me!!!

[PAY IT FORWARD film] = Trevor = paying a favour not back, but forward -- instead of them paying him back he asks them to “pay it forward” by themselves doing a good deed for 3 more people. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution. The original author has set up the Pay It Forward Foundation which educates and inspires students and teachers to do exactly that...

We, as God's people, should not bless others in order to be blessed (approval, obligation, or moral duty) but simply BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED. We give because we've been given; we pour grace upon others (UNDESERVED) because grace has been poured over us; we love because we're loved (1 Jn 4.19 - we love because He 1st loved us); forgive because we're forgiven. PAYING IT FORWARD...

LUKE 6.27-36

By Faith, we know we have been blessed beyond our imagination, so by faith we can go on to bless Him and bless anyone and everyone around us - despite their manipulation or undeserving nature or behaviour, simply because God has bestowed immeasurable blessing upon us as his sons and daughters...

Cell Q's:
  1. How easy do you find it to forgive? What is your natural response and how do you deal with it?
  2. Discuss the consequences/implications of "paying forward" blessings. What is actually happening?
* The age of Isaac is thus ascertained: When Joseph stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46), he was thirty years old, and hence thirty-nine when Jacob came into Egypt. But at that time Jacob was one hundred and thirty years of age (Genesis 47:9). Hence, Jacob must have been ninety-one years old when Joseph was born; and as this happened in the fourteenth year of Jacob's stay with Laban, Jacob's flight from his home must have taken place in the seventy-seventh year of his own, and the one hundred and thirty-seventh of his father Isaac's life. -

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #25: "God's Welfare System, part 3: Sent for a Purpose"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

So far, we've looked at the welfare (= "Shalom": peace, wholeness) and seek (= discerning the needs around us) aspects of God's command to His people through Jeremiah. This month, we will understand what He meant by "sent".

Who is the greatest missionary that ever lived? Take a moment from reading this and come up with your own answer.

Was it William Carey, with his great work in India and his translation of the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit and many other languages and dialects? Or perhaps Hudson Taylor? He spent 51 years in China, and his labours resulted in 800 Christians arriving in that country, starting 125 schools, directly resulting in 18,000 turning to Jesus! Or could it be Jackie Pullinger? Or David Livingstone? Gladys Aylward? Not forgetting the Apostle Paul of course!

Might I suggest... Jesus? He reminds us no less than 39 times(*) that He was a missionary sent from heaven to minister among us here on earth. His calling here on earth was to fulfil the mission God had placed before Him - to live a life that worships the Father above all things, to engage with the culture(s) around Him, demonstrating God's love for humanity despite our sin, and proved that by laying down His life in our place so that we don't have to. And in His resurrection and ascension to the Father's side, He secured our hope for eternity through victory over sin and death, sealing that within those of us who accept His Lordship by His Holy Spirit. He came with a mission. He fulfilled it. And He's passed that same legacy on to you and me. We've a job to do.

Remember that verse from our first Touchpaper on this subject? About how when we read in John's gospel (20:21) that Jesus saying "Peace be with you" meant "Shalom" and all its intended meaning? Read on. Jesus took it to the next step: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21, ESV) Jesus, the Sent One, is now the Sender. God the Father had reminded His people in exile in Babylon that they were not somewhere alien by accident, nor by evil man's doing, but by HIS design. And then, 600 years later, Jesus the Son reminded His people exactly the same thing. And here, 2000 years on yet again, our great God still says this same thing to you and me: "You are not where you are by chance nor by man's choice, but by design. I have a job for you. Seek the welfare of the people around you, that they might be saved and I might be glorified." Let's get to work!

(*if you want proof, I can email you the list of verses! Also found in Mark Driscoll's Vintage Church, p20)

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Monday, July 12, 2010

"Real Faith: Pleases God (Enoch)" - sermon notes for 11/07/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

Enoch is well known for one of the greatest disappearing acts in history. One moment he was, the next he was not.

Read Gen 5.21-24 - Enoch is well-known for one curious fact, but if we focus on that to the detriment of another facet to his story, we miss out in a big way...

In the centuries prior to Christ's arrival, the Jews were increasingly interested in heaven/angels/afterlife. Subsequently there was a lot of interest in this little-mentioned man called Enoch. He became popular in Jewish writings in few centuries before and after Jesus. His strange apparent escape from death seemed to grant him a certain mystique. Books were written in his name which were increasingly mystical (Jude 1.14 also quotes from 1st of these - not as authoritative but as example!); the 3rd even claims that he's an angel called Metatron. But Hebrews turns from this aspect of his story and zooms in on what really matters::::

Heb 11.5-6: = walked, pleased, rewarded by...

1. The PACE And The PLACE (The walk itself)

"The 11th chapter of Hebrews is not about ultimate achievement in the world's eyes; it's about holding to faith, even when the world thinks you're ridiculous" Steve Ayers

Knowledge vs faith: "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up". DEMONS WILL BEAT YOU HANDS DOWN IN A BIBLE QUIZ! Needs to be centred on and in faith. Applied. Worked out. Why was Enoch commended as one who pleased God? Twice the Genesis text says He walked with God = commended as pleasing God BECAUSE he walked with God.

God "walked" in the garden Gen 3.8 and Noah "walked with God" Gen 6.9 (=generational family values!)

Ray Stedman = "Enoch used to take long walks with God. One day he walked so far God said, 'It's too far to go back; come on home with me.'"

Ever since the Fall there's been a need to walk WITH God that has been absent. There is a value to be found in walking with God so naturally and so genuinely that we can find ourselves closer to His place than to ours. Walking = lifestyle. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden - and that relationship was broken - but now that kingdom is at hand, we are under an open heaven, it is available to us. Right here, right now. Through Jesus.

Our sin - the things we should do but don't, shouldn't but do, and more importantly the state of our selfish heart that causes that - this sin has separated us from the perfect, one-of-a-kind, HOLY God & made us subject to the judgement that that bears. Forever. EXCEPT by His Son Jesus... Once more we can walk WITH God. No shame. No hindrance. Perfect union. Through Jesus. Walking with Him: sometimes it's a walk, a run, a climb. Wrestling or resting.

2. the PERSON:

TOM WRIGHT: without faith, you can't begin to please God... you may have a general sense that there is a supreme divine being, and you may even have an idea that this being wants people to seek Him out. But unless you have faith, unless you really believe that God exists and that he does indeed want people to seek Him, and will reward them when they do, you can't actually begin to worship Him.

Why did Enoch please God? Because his heart & his mind were in step with God. He acknowledged God as THE context. And so, He ultimately found his pleasure IN God. Finding your joy in something gives it worth. So wherever you find most joy is what you consider of greatest worth. Is that Him? Or stuff/people/dreams?

God was not Enoch's means to an end. "Loving God means I get saved, ticket to heaven/ means I can ask Him for things/ means I'm not alone". Are we loving the walk/walking more than the One we're walking with?


(John Piper illustration of 3-year old on edge of pool and Dad says, "Jump! Trust me!" It makes HIM look good, not us. And the harder it seems for him to fulfil his promise, the better he looks when you trust him.)

We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do – especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God.

THUS: what is faith? = more than facts/knowledge. It is trust. It is more than simply knowing someone, it is whether you trust them. We cannot rely on someone else's faith or trust.

2 Cor 5.7 = memory verse! = "For we walk by faith, not by sight"

Do you have any promises God has given you that you need to act upon? Not just prophetic promises given to you, but also trusting the promises in the Bible?

Is He clearly saying something to You and you have yet to step out in faith upon it? eg giving/ commitment/ prophetic gift/ baptism/ sharing your faith with your neighbour? YOU'RE ON THE DIVING BOARD; GOD SAYS JUMP!

...walk with Him. It pleases Him. And there lies the greatest reward. Christ walked among us. Let that continue to be a reality as demonstrated in our lives, in step with him, through His Holy Spirit.

Cell Q's:

  1. How do we really know we're walking in step with God? What clarifies or endorses that? Give Biblical examples.
  2. Share stories of when you've trusted God and the lessons the rest of us can learn from that.
  3. Jesus says in John 10.10, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly"
    • What are the common misconceptions of that promise?
    • What does it really look like?
    • What is your personal response to that?

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #24: "God's Welfare System, part 2: Seeking to Sow"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

Shalom! Last month we considered what is meant by "welfare" when God told His people, through the prophet Jeremiah, to seek it on behalf of the city they were living in: Shalom. Wholeness, completeness, well-being... and now we'll look at why God instructed them to actively seek it.

Who springs to mind when you think of the term "unreached people groups"? Is it people who live thousands of miles away from you? Is it people who live in a remote land, or under a communist regime, or who worship strange-looking idols? And who springs to mind when you think of the poor? Would that be people with less money than you? People who can't afford a certain lifestyle? Those who live on the streets? Might I suggest that "the poor" could also be those with money: those who drive posh cars, live in big houses, play on golf courses... Because being poor is not simply being without money. It can also be those without the Spirit.

Unreached people groups are moving into our nation in increasing numbers. They are coming to us. Opportunity knocks! From the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, these people are coming here to live in huge numbers. In our town and our region. Should we be moaning about that, or seeing it as opportunity to share the Gospel? Many Iranians, for example, are being saved across the UK, and determining to return home to Iran to take the Gospel back there. See? Exciting!

And yet... the phrase "unreached people group" goes even further: it can also include the disabled - over a quarter of the UK population have a long-standing health problem or disability*. How many of them are hindered in hearing the Gospel as a result? Do you know who the world's largest unreached people group actually are? It's the Deaf.

Jesus referred to words from Deuteronomy 15.11 when talking to His followers and friends in Bethany: "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'" IN YOUR LAND. They're here. Which is why we have a responsibility to participate in seeking the welfare - the shalom - of those around us. Look around you. Up your street. In your local shops. Where you work. Where you play. And see opportunity - amongst the poor in spirit, the unreached, the broken and the lonely - to share the wonderful news of our Jesus with those who may well have not met Him before.

*27.2% - Eurostat research results (2003), cited in OSSATE Accessibility Market and Stakeholder Analysis 2005

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Christ's Bride: the Betrothal and the Feast" - sermon notes for 06/06/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

Matt 26.26-29 and Rev 19.6-9

David showed us last week that God calls himself Israel's husband: Isaiah 54, "...your Maker is your Husband". The image of mankind being either in or out of a marriage with God, or cheating on Him, is presented throughout the Old Testament, and it continues into the New Testament when just as God the Father called himself the Husband, so Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom (Jn 3, also Matt 9 and 25). Paul continues the theme calling earthly husbands to follow Christ's eg (Eph 5.25-27).

The great climax of history as we enter new heaven/earth is described amongst other things as our groom returning for His bride (Rev 19). But first, there's another New Testament passage I'd like us to look at that seems to bear no relevance to the pic of Bride. Or does it?

Read Matt 26.26-29. Some manuscripts insert "new" = NEW COVENANT. A new marriage proposal. What does this have to do with the bride pic? Let me explain:

The Betrothal:

Jewish marriages focus on 2 separate parts: BETROTHAL and MARRIAGE. Nowadays it usually occurs together, but in ancient times these were separate: the betrothal itself was as good as declaring the couple married but they did not live together immediately as man and wife. Unfaithfulness within an engagement was considered as adultery. When Jewish man makes a betrothal, he presents the KETUVAH (written notice of the covenant being made). This protects the woman's rights. It is the written vows (Scripture!). If she accepts, she drinks from a cup of wine her bridegroom has poured out for her. The groom says: "I will not drink of this cup until we are reunited".Sound familiar? If he did, he'd be proposing to somebody else! He then goes away for a set period of time (up to 1 year; to prepare a place) when they are then brought together for the marriage ceremony.

Betrothal for us = an absolute promise by Christ that He asks for our hand for eternity. Absolute security, the promise of everything that matters, made possible by Him. And He didn't just humble Himself to get on one knee to propose this, but humbled Himself to death on a cross so that chasm between us and God might be bridged by Him. And he has now gone away to prepare a place for us (Jn 14.2-3)

At the Last Supper, Christ confirmed His betrothal: "Here's the cup, will you marry me?". And once He'd finished His work on the Cross, He went to prepare a home. One day he'll return to take those who said "Yes" back home with Him forever.

Do you know His security? Do you have confidence in His absolute promise to you? (Josh 1.5, Heb 13.5, 2 Cor 1.20a)

So we're between betrothal (as good as married, secure) and the wedding feast itself...

The Feast:

Rev 19.6-9

Looking forward to that great party with our King as everything is consummated, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that there's so much to enjoy now. Until our great wedding feast with Christ, we can find great excitement in knowing we can never know Him enough. We should be never having enough of Him! Are you enjoying the great romance?

Are you betrothed to Christ? Or are you only dating Him? Are you merely flirting with Him? Don't miss out on the great romance that is available to you, RIGHT NOW.

Equally important: are you betrothed to Him, but flirting with another? My marriage = not just a promise in 1994, but a daily promise. Same here. Secure in betrothal, FOREVER, but also a daily walk here and now.

...CHOSEN: v9: “invited” = who? = the Bride. No one gets in as a guest. You can't slip in as a friend of the church. You don't come to the feast as a distant relative. You're in or you're out. You are invited to accept His marriage proposal. It's up to you.

...ADORNED: v7b-8: What are those righteous deeds? Didn't Isa 64.6 say they were like bloody rags?
  • But, in HIM = Bride/Church's gown of righteous deeds is her groom's gift of grace
  • Eph 5.25-27: “sanctify”, “cleansed”, “present... to Himself in splendour” - our righteous deeds (Rev 19.7b-8) are a co-labouring, a responsibility, but only made possible in the first place by HIS cleansing.
Who are you adorning yourself for? Who are you trying to change for? Yourself? Others? Christ? Who are you trying to please? Flirting elsewhere?

Note: the gown of fine linen/righteous deeds is provided by Him, and meant for Him: Esther, as she was preparing herself for presentation to King Xerxes - when he chose her as wife - she was GIVEN the things she needed for adornment. She didn't bring her own make-up bags and fancy outfits she'd been able to afford from the Next sale: HE provided the cosmetics, perfumes and "Anything she wanted" (Esther 2.13).

The Betrothal:
  • Have you accepted His proposal? Are you only dating Him? Or merely flirting?
  • Have you been drinking from another cup/unfaithful?
  • Are you secure in His absolute betrothal/promise?
 The Feast:
  • Who are you adorning yourself for?
  • Are your deeds (linen) what He has provided, or purely legalistic WORKS?
 Cell Questions:
1.What aspects of life can we be in danger of flirting with? How can we be unfaithful to Christ as our groom?
2.How can we keep our eyes from straying away from our Groom?
3.Does anybody struggle with the security that Christ's betrothal promises? How can we help each other know this truth more and more?
4.Pray for each other, and share if appropriate, regarding our motivations: who are we trying to please? Ourselves? Others? Him?

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #23: "God's Welfare System, part 1: Shalom"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29.7, ESV)

"Shalom" is a Hebrew word uttered by Jewish people as a greeting everywhere. Its basic translation is "peace", but it has a far greater meaning than some simple truce or state of mind. SHALOM encapsulates wholeness, completeness, health, fullness, rest, harmony, well-being... When Jesus often greeted the disciples with "Peace be with you" ("Shalom aleichem", John 20.19, 21, 26), He was not merely hoping they'd be calm and happy; He fully intended that they receive complete fullness through Him as Saviour. Shalom is the process of restoration to wholeness. Jewish people in their greetings are expressing a yearning for something that only their promised Messiah could bring. And He did.

We live in a broken world, where the once-perfect, FULL relationship between God and man has been fractured by the chasm of sin. And yet in Christ we find the complete restoration of that relationship once again. In His perfect life, death and resurrection, Christ has made it possible for us to be reunited with God the Father: whole and complete. Christ is also known as "Sar Shalom", the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6): His shalom extends beyond salvation to the ultimate restoration of all things to how they were first intended. And that restoration begins right here, right now, through us as His people.

In our nation, the concept of a "welfare system" guarantees minimum standards, social protection and provision of services. But these can only go so far in healing the cracks we see around us in "Broken Britain": abuse, anger, addiction, hurt, sickness... Nothing will ultimately heal these except for Christ's shalom. And in the same context, when God spoke to the Jewish people through the prophet Jeremiah about their place of exile, He told them to "seek the welfare of the city". That very same word translated as welfare is... "shalom".

We too are called to seek the shalom - wholeness - of those around us through meeting their needs and expressing Christ's love for them. Look for the needs around you and be Christ to them. That's God's welfare system. We will continue to study this verse in depth over future Touchpapers but in the meantime, "Shalom aleichem". Peace be upon you and our town.


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Friday, May 28, 2010

The Cell Leader's Life training resource

"How am I doing as a leader? Am I growing, passionate, envisioned?"


As with churches in general, so a Cell group takes on the DNA of its leader(s). Churches tend to mirror their leader(s). A particularly evangelistic leader will invariably result in a particularly evangelistic church, and so on. How you are spiritually directly affects your group. Recognising our strengths and weaknesses as individuals helps us recognise what will come naturally into our leadership and thus into the groups we lead:

  • What are my strengths?
  • Where can I recognise my limitations?
  • Which of those are the way God made me...
  • ...and which are areas where I need to act?
THIS IS NOT ABOUT LEGALISM OR GUILT!!! Our understanding of His grace and Fatherhood - hence, our identity and personal walk with Him - feeds our groups' own understanding and their witness and growth is a direct result of that feeding.


PROVERBS 4.23: "Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life"
  • Whose life? Yours or others? Might I suggest both?
  • It is always so easy to believe it is our knowledge, our skills, our acumen that matter in leadership. Not so. Which is why Solomon - the wisest man on the planet told his son it's the heart that needs priority.
 Michael Hyatt (CEO of Thomas Nelson publishers) gives the following wisdom¹:

The most important thing you can do as a leader is to keep your heart open. What do I mean? Think of it this way. When your heart is closed:

You are distant and aloof.
You don’t connect to people.
Communication shuts down.
You leave people to fend for themselves.
You focus on what people are doing wrong.
You are critical and demanding.
People feel oppressed.

The result? Possibility dries up and the organization begins to die.

Conversely, when your heart is open:

You are fully present and accessible.
You connect to people.
Communication is wide open.
You are a resource to your people.
You may focus on what is missing, but not on who is wrong.
You are affirming and encouraging.
People feel free.

The result? Possibility flows through the organization and the organization grows and develops


Have the confidence to dream dreams for our folk!!! = boldness in leading folk/taking some degree of (wise) risk:

"...leaders can easily type cast people, boxing them in to a role that gives them no potential."

 "It was said that the core of Horatio Nelson’s talent for leadership was that he made his officers and men feel as if he had faith in them, and depended on them. Taking his captains into his confidence, not only engendering personal loyalty, quickly and permanently, but also created an atmosphere of trust and cooperation..." - Jesus did exactly this with a bunch of selfish, screwy oddballs 2000 years ago. He's still doing that with us too! (both quotes Colin Baron)

"Do you lead an organisation whose front line employee is a volunteer? Pay them vision and meaning. Today." (Will Mancini)


The behind-the-scenes stuff!

It is a well-documented fact² that those who pray the most for their cell groups on a daily basis are TWICE as likely to see their groups multiply than those who pray minimally. Prayer opens our eyes to the potential in each of our members, to enlightenment in how to tackle issues, in having HIS vision for our group before we cast it.
  • How do you pray for your group?
  • How do you prepare for a meeting?
  • Are you able to meet with or phone your members regularly?
  • And just as importantly: this acts as a model for your group to do the same...
²Home Cell Group Explosion, Joel Comiskey, p34

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Monday, May 10, 2010

"Ruth: an amazing woman. A more amazing God." - sermon notes for 9/05/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

Providence: God at work:

God never needs a back-up plan. He's never taken by surprise:
  • Deism = separates God/creation (not involved)
  • Pantheism = mixes the 2 together and confuses where God begins/ends (so how is He involved?)
  • Fate = elusive/ fairytale/ personifies “destiny”
  • Chance (the god of evolution!) = “everything's an accident” (I'M NOT! NEITHER ARE YOU!)
Our God is the Creator Who still cares and is involved and has no back-up plan. When it looks like a lost cause He's not hastily coming up with another idea. He cares/ sustains/ provides.
At all levels: general (sustains everything; upholds, Heb 1.3); within that (makes grass to grow Ps 104.14, provides food for animals in season Ps 104.27, sends the rain Matt 5.45, puts gvt's in place Rom 13.1, gives life in the womb Ps 127.3); then even more specifically: Rom 8.28. (Now see Ruth 2.3: “happened to come...”)

Did God CAUSE the famine? Yes. Look at Ps 105.16-17 about His providence in Joseph's story. And here, God used a FAMINE to draw Ruth into His Son's bloodline. Why? Will look at that later...

Ruth: an amazing woman:

While still young, she had to deal with infertility PLUS widowhood within 10 years of marriage (v4)...

Ruth's character is exemplary – she is:

  • Faithful - 1.6-22 (particularly 15-18). She CLUNG to Naomi (v14) – same verb used in Gen 2.24 (ESV - “hold fast”; NIV - “be united”) = binding, exclusive. It declares that future abandonment WILL NOT HAPPEN. See also Dt 10.20 - “Fear the LORD your God and serve him. Hold fast to him and take your oaths in his name.” Ruth, the Moabitess, ex-idolater (1.15 “and to her gods”), is demonstrating the very devotion God asks of His own people. She means this for life (v17). She's determined that the bitter blows she's been dealt will not defeat her. She saw the hope that God can bring – witnessed in the lives of her husband's family. Thus Ruth refused to allow bitterness seep into her heart.
  • Takes initiative (2.2) – isn't just some door mat who does what she's told.
  • Respectful (2.10 and 13 (“bowing”, “my lord”)
  • Humble (2.7, 10 and 13 again) - doesn't lean on her rights as a sojourner (Lev 19.9-10) but on Boaz's favour. Today, our whole culture is rights over responsibility! Ruth ends up in a BETTER place as a result of her humility (2.15)! And then better than THAT (2.16)!
  • Her reputation precedes her (2.11)
  • Hard-working (2.17)
  • Patient (2.23) – some time before the next step!
  • Sticks by her word (2.27b: “lived with her mother-in-law”)
  • Teachable (takes Naomi's advice to the letter: 3.1-5). Were do you get advice from? From those who say what you need to hear? Or those who say what you want to hear?
  • Kind (3.10) = hesed = same word used to describe God's covenanted love-faithfulness to His people. Boaz uses it in describing how she has looked after her mum-in-law, and now come to him as a preferable future, rather than a younger, eligible man.
  • Self-controlled – lying at Boaz's feet may not have been the most appropriate of ideas! Very risky. Alone! At night! (3.13-14 = all night, rising just before dawn!). However, her (and Boaz's) self-control is quite phenomenal (not a recommended option for unmarried couples, by the way...)
 … It was all enough to make quite an impact on Boaz. His 1st impression of her was outstanding. Her character sang out. Proverbs 31: the ABC's of womanly excellence: can be depressing unless properly understood = an ideal, covers all aspects. Then we see Ruth... And her CHARACTER wooed him. (something for men to learn from too!). What would be people's most likely 1st impression of you?

Is she too perfect? An unattainable role model? NO. Why? Because she's human and she's real. So what's her secret? Because she vowed to “hold fast” to Naomi and to God. She took that vow seriously. A challenge for us all.

A more amazing God!:

Moab = modern-day Jordan. Moabites - descendants of Lot AND HIS DAUGHTER - worshipped Chemosh (incl human sacrifice). Moabites were not specifically forbidden in marriage, Dt 7.3, BUT not allowed into worshipping congregation, Dt 23.3

She was called “Ruth the Moabite” right up to her marriage: twice in ch1, three times in ch2, and twice in ch4. Emphasises that God's kindness extends BEYOND Israel - now see 4.10 = acquired as Boaz's WIFE, to maintain MAHLON's name thru property/deeds. Ruth also calls her daughter in 3.1. Israel have a position not of privilege but of mission - it was always God's intention to save the nations not a singular nation. So, here we see Ruth welcomed into HIS people as ONE OF HIS OWN. Why? Partly for this reason: so foreign blood flowed in Christ's veins!!!!!!!!

She was a foreigner and an idolatress (1.15) and yet God drew her into his Son's bloodline (Matt 1 = five women incl Mary, two of whom, Rahab and Ruth, were non-Jews) = means that Christ not only came FOR the nations but FROM the nations too!!!!

And so to the great romantic climax: the lovers marry, are prophesied over (An audacious prophecy! Telling a young woman who's had to deal with infertility that she'll have a child!), and she does indeed have a child. Obed is the grandfather of King David, the forefather of Jesus Christ.

Which brings us to this:

The overall EARTHLY goal of Ruth's story/Naomi's intentions = to find Ruth a home (1.9, 3.1)... The overall HEAVENLY goal of Ruth's story: to bring humanity home to the Father through His Son.

This story is about life from death: God the Father, in His Providence, brought life out of famine, out of infertility, out of death. Christ, the most marked result of this story, has done the same for us in His death and resurrection. What happened to Ruth has happened to us: Eph 2.11-13. We've been rescued from dead beliefs, from dead works, from death itself, into LIFE itself, by Christ Himself! Just like Ruth, we have been redeemed – rescued, delivered, saved.

The main point? That no matter how exemplary you are – even as much a man or woman of integrity as Ruth – we are still only saved by His grace. Ruth's high standards and faithfulness did not make up for her past, did not crowbar her into God's kingdom. God's providence did that. Her grandstanding speech, as much as it is a remarkable open commitment to Naomi, pointed the way to HIM – this is a prayer of commitment to the One Who is behind it all. HE drew her in. HE called her. HE saved her. And He is calling you too.

Nothing you say or do will change your past. Only He can do that. Not chance, not fate, Not an amoebic pantheistic god, not an absent or dead god. Only the True God, the God of providence. Seek Him first.

Cell Q's:

  1. Look again at Psalm 105.16-17 about God's involvement in natural disasters.
    • Is this difficult for you?
    • How do we find comfort in this?
    • What would the world say?
    • What should be our answer?
  2. Ruth was teachable and humble.
    • Where do you get your advice/counsel from?
    • How can we encourage more accountability, counsel amongst our Beacon family?

Read more!

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #22: "Our FATHER"

"Pray then like this: our FATHER in heaven..." (Matt 6.9, ESV)

There are places on the internet where people can write their secrets anonymously for others to read. One in particular is extremely popular, with thousands of posts by people who cannot share their thoughts with others. Perhaps not surprisingly, for the most part it is a very sad and lonely place:

"My husband rarely talks to me. So when he's sleeping I look through his phone, his car & his clothes to see how his day went."

"I would never do anything to hurt myself, but sometimes I wish something would happen to me just to see if you actually cared."

"Mom, all I have ever wanted is for you to tell me you are proud of me! How hard is that?"

"I bring laughter to many, but I am so sad and lonely that I often wish that I will simply die in my sleep."

In many ways, the site has even become a virtual confessional booth, with people yearning for some relief from the things they struggle with and carry in secret. So many people wear masks; they live their days either pretending to be someone they're not, or allowing it to consume them on the outside too. We as believers aren't immune to this either, and can bottle up our feelings and our anxieties. But there is a truth that gives us freedom: we are God's children. We have been born through the Spirit into a family, created to share each others' burdens, to support one another and to provide accountability and counsel. We have been called to lean on each other.

But, praise God, neither does it stop there! As God's children we can call Him Abba Father - a name that combines honour, reverence, affection and intimacy in one beautiful name. There is a reason why Jesus taught us to pray with "our Father" before anything else.

Some people may have no one to turn to, or only to strangers on a website. Others believe they need a priest. Yet others may view God as an aloof king to whom they try to wave from the crowd and holler in the vain hope that he may one day notice them. We, however, have every opportunity - ALL THE TIME - to run through those throne room doors and straight into the embrace of our wonderful Father King. Go talk to your Father.

Read more!

Saturday, April 3, 2010

How did Jesus spend His Saturday?

I've come across an interesting number of people who are confused, uncertain or wrongly taught about how Jesus spent the 36+ hours from 3pm Friday afternoon to dawn on Sunday. Many believe he went to Hell, but this is not Biblical.

The phrase "descended into hell" does not occur in the Bible, but appears in the Apostles' Creed: "...was crucified, dead, and buried, he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead." Even this particular phrase is not found in any early versions of the creed, but only appeared once in AD 390, and even then was intended to mean "descended into the grave". However, come AD 650 it appeared in final form, and spawned a number of explanations since to uphold its literal interpretation. This was not its intention, and is not upheld by Scripture.

One common piece of Scripture used to uphold the argument is from Ephesians 4.8-9 - the Greek text is, however, referring to descending into "the lower regions [which are] the earth". Another, 1 Peter 3.18-20, has been taken to mean that Christ literally visited Hell in his death and preached to the spirits there. The context, as always, is vital, and here it means the work that Christ did through His Spirit in the time of Noah. This also applies in similar vein to 1 Peter 4.6. There are no second chances for people.

And so, when Christ turns to the thief on the cross and says, "Today you will be with me in Paradise"(Luke 23.43), He meant just that. The Sabbath Saturday for Jesus was family time: with His heavenly Father, with his new friend the thief, and with the saints already there too who were true men and women of faith, their salvation secured in Christ's perfect death ("it is finished") and the glorious resurrection to come in just a few hours.

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Sunday, March 28, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #21: "Jesus, our LIVING founder"

"And Jesus came and said to them, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28.18-20, ESV)

Martin Luther King, Jr. Mahatma Gandhi. Florence Nightingale. Leo Tolstoy. Sir Winston Churchill. Mother Teresa. William Wilberforce. Albert Einstein. Leonardo da Vinci. Martin Luther. Just a few examples of great men and women of history. All of these people have left immense legacies or made profound change for the generations to follow. Human rights, science, faith, liberty... these men and women have influenced millions for the good and for the future. They have shaped the world we live in. They have all died. They have all stayed dead.

Many more people throughout history have begun radical, continued social movements. But one significant difference each time is this: none of their founders are still with them. The Church, God's called and chosen people here on earth, is utterly unique for many reasons. Notably, it is the "only organisation in the world that exists solely for the benefit of its non-members" (Archbishop William Temple). And, more importantly, its - our - founder Jesus Christ is still with us. Always. To the end of the age.

As we celebrate Easter, just like when we remember Him in Communion, let us not only tell half the story. As we share the Gospel, let us not only preach His astounding work on the cross - paying our penalty for sin, dying in our place, receiving God's wrath so that we don't have to, granting us forgiveness - but let us also preach His glorious resurrection - in which we are raised to new life in Him, partaking in His righteousness, His blessings and eternity with Him. His death is only half the story; His resurrection completes it. Every sermon found in the book of Acts preaches the resurrection, bar one (Acts 7) - and that sermon was interrupted by the risen Jesus Himself while Stephen was preaching!

So be encouraged and preach the FULL story of Who Jesus is, not just was. Let our lives preach the glory of the living Jesus within us through His Holy Spirit. And let us continue to be strengthened by the knowledge that our glorious Founder (Heb 12.2), King and Saviour is WITH us now. Always!

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Monday, March 22, 2010

"2 Peter 2: Dogs and Pigs in the Sheep-pen" - sermon notes for 21/03/10

(hear the sermon here)

Fakery/counterfeit goods/scams/con artists, they can be found everywhere in the world: currency, documents, clothing, software, pharmaceuticals, art, etc. Just as it can be found everywhere, we shouldn't be surprised to find it IN THE CHURCH too! The trouble is we can be lulled into a false sense of security & forget that counterfeits can fool multitudes. And we can be one of those fooled too. The things we read, the things we hear on radio, see on TV... How to discern? How to avoid AND warn others?

False prophets are mentioned throughout the Bible: men claimed to speak from God when He hadn't sent them (Deut 18.20). In NT times, these men are described as:
  • Deceitful masqueraders (2 Cor 11.13)
  • devoted to myths (1 Tim 1.4)
  • shipwrecked their faith (1 Tim 1.19)
  • hypocritical liars (1 Tim 4.2)
  • conceited, quarrelling, corrupted, greedy (1 Tim 6.3-5)
  • ungodly, w/gangrenous teaching (2 Tim 2.16-17)
  • lovers of themselves, disobedient,worming their way, depraved & more (2 Tim 3.1-9)
  • ignorant & unstable (2 Pet 3.16)
  • antichrists (1 Jn 2.18)
Strong language! Another word is heretics (wilfully denies what the Bible says, even twisting Bible to argue their teaching)

NB: Peter doesn't name anyone but gives details of the false teaching, not teachers. The teachers come and go, the teaching persists in different forms...

1. Know the Danger:

Firstly, let it be noted that the false teaching Peter is concerned about here involves a particular brand of sexual permissiveness (13b: “carouse”; 14a: “full of adultery”; 18: “lustful desires”), so there was a genuine moral concern as well as a theological one. But elements of what he is describing here are relevant to false teaching in general:

among you” (1); “secretly” (1) “many will follow” (2) “exploit” (3) “to use selfishly for one's OWN ends”; “with stories they have made up” = as opposed to 1.16: NOT cleverly invented stories but eye-witnesses! “seduce” (14); “entice” (18). We think we'd spot them, but they exploit, seduce & entice... 2 Cor 11: Satan's ministers had invaded the Corinthian church; Jude 19: men described as NOT having “the Spirit

Who do they go after? v14: “they seduce the unstable”; v18: “they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error” - these false teachers here are particularly preying on the weak/the young... Remember they are sly, underhand, secret, seemingly innocuous...

They are often kind, friendly, fun, appealing... THAT's the problem. Remember, they convince MANY.
  • Sensuality & Lust – see above!
  • Greed (v3)
  • Despise authority (v10) – there's a big obvious SIREN!
  • Heresy & blasphemy – THE BIG ONE!!! - denying salvation in Christ alone (v1)
2. Know the Truth:

One symptom of false teaching is that it denies something fundamental (1b: They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them). To not deny but suggest fundamentals don't matter is just as dangerous... (Hear the audio for 2 examples of this)

Above all, the key to spotting false teaching is this: KNOW THE TRUTH. Anything else that isn't that, is FALSE... (1 Cor 15.1-2: “By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you.” Stand firm!) To spot fake currency, the experts look for markings of TRUE currency. All else is false.

See? The brilliance of the Gospel, of His Word is that we do not need to know all the signs of false teaching and spend all our time speaking against each individual instance. All we need do is KNOW THE TRUTH and anything else falls away, loses its power, is destroyed... So what are the signs of the TRUTH? = The Gospel: Jesus plus NOTHING.

Trinity = ever-existent, self-supportive >>> We = made male & female, made to worship, selfish, worshipped ourselves and things before Him, ruined it all; can't save ourselves: by grace alone, no works >>> Christ lived perfect & sinless as fully God/fully man & died perfect death in our place, bearing wrath of God and paying penalty for sin >>> rose again in victory >>> He opens our eyes to faith & submission >>> once saved, always saved >>> creation & relationship w/Him fully restored forever >>> by Jesus, through Jesus, in Jesus, for Jesus. That's the Truth. Add or take away, is false.

3. Know Him:

He will judge, not us. This whole chapter reminds us of that fact : 5 “if's” = v4: “if... angels”; v5: “if... Noah”; v6: “if... Sodom/Gomorrah”; v7: “if... Lot”; v9: “if this is so...

Trust God and stick with the Truth. Do not fear man or people's thinking of you. Why do you come to church? To be tickled? To have an itch scratched? Or to truly grow? 2 Tim 4.3-4!


These men are described as dogs & pigs amongst the sheep (sheep = church).
Pigs = People can begin to get cleaned up but go back to the mud of the world.
Dogs (from Prov 26.11) = They vomit false teaching. Vomit from the pulpit, people eat it, go home, vomit it back up for others to eat. And so on. Sick (literally!). That's the point.

2 Cor 4.2-6 = all about Jesus! Need Holy Spirit to open our/their eyes to Truth.

Question for the week:
Think of examples of when you've realised something you've long believed to be true/doctrinally correct is actually not so. How did you come to the realisation?

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Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Two truths about the father of lies...

Further to Sunday's preach and subsequent blog-posting on 1 Peter 5 (find it here), I'm afraid I failed to make one more point clear regarding the devil. This is something I'm certain many of us carry, yet it is a false belief... The true Biblical understanding of this can and will benefit any of you who have struggled with such. I will firstly clarify my point on the inability of Satan to read our minds, and then clarify this extra fact that can make a big difference to our confidence in resisting him:

Firstly, regarding the fact that Satan is not omniscient ("all-knowing") like God, and thus cannot read your thoughts, I'll direct you to Wayne Grudem for elaboration on the subject. He tells it far better than I can:

"With respect to knowing our thoughts, the Bible tells us that Jesus knew people's thoughts (Matt 9.4; Mk 2.8; Lk 6.8, 11.17) and that God knows people's thoughts (Gen 6.5; Ps 139.2, 4, 23; Isa 66.16), but there is no indication that angels or demons [which includes Satan] can know our thoughts. In fact, Daniel told King Nebuchadnezzar that no one speaking by any other power than the God of heaven could tell the king what he had dreamed (see Dan 2.27-28). But if demons cannot read people's minds, how shall we understand contemporary reports of witch-doctors, fortune-tellers, or other people evidently under demonic influence who are able to tell people accurate details of their lives which they thought no one knew, such as (for example) what food they had for breakfast, where they keep some hidden money in their house, etc? Most of these things can be explained by realising that demons can observe what goes on in the world..." (Systematic Theology, p416)

You see, mediums' knowledge of dead grandparents' details, for another example, are a simple by-product of demonic observation over the years and so on. It's as simple as that. And when you know that your own thought-life is totally secure - private between only you and God - you have far less reason to fear the devil.

But there's that one more important fact:

As well as not being omniscient/all-knowing, neither is Satan omnipresent (everywhere at the same time) like God. We can all have in our heads this picture of the devil watching our every move, ready to pounce, making notes... Nope. He can only be in one place at any one time - he comes and goes (Matt 4.3, 11; Job 1.7-12). And I very much doubt he's bothered enough by me to be spending his precious time troubling me personally, while there's plenty of other brothers and sisters who are far more of a threat to Him. Which I actually take as a bit of a non-guilt-inducing provocation, to be honest!

The devil has many demons on his side that do his dirty work for him. When this work is attributed to Satan - even in the Bible - it is a reference similar to saying "Hitler invaded Poland". Actually, his soldiers did. See? Don't for one second let the devil become bigger in your head than he deserves. He is limited in his power and abilities, he is not all-knowing and he is not all-present. Do not fear. Take courage and know that in Christ we are safe and totally protected. James 4.7: "Resist the devil and he will flee" (which in itself proves that he can't be everywhere, or he couldn't flee, eh?). Just don't let your misunderstanding of him become another of the devil's lies that then holds you back... Stand firm!

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Monday, March 1, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #20: "Do (Not) Disturb"

"Now when Jesus heard [of John's death], he withdrew from there in a boat to a desolate place by himself. But when the crowds heard it, they followed him on foot from the towns. When he went ashore he saw a great crowd, and he had compassion on them..." (Matt 14.13-14, ESV)

The world we live in is increasingly fast-paced and introverted. Nearly one tenth of Britons go a week without meeting anybody socially, and 15% go a week without speaking to their neighbours at all. The way garden fences were built in the 1930's allowed for conversations to develop naturally between neighbours; most new developments today are apartment-based or include 2-metre high walls and fences. And when we're out and about, it's an easy thing to get caught up in our errands and rarely stop for more than a passing hello when we recognise a face or see someone who could do with a hand. The danger is to justify ourselves that we're too busy to stop; or we may not have actually noticed that that person would really appreciate just a few minutes of our time.

Jesus, upon hearing of his second-cousin John the Baptist's beheading, withdrew to a remote place. He needed time to grieve, to reflect and to commune with His Father. However, as soon as He saw the crowds that had followed Him, He had compassion upon them and put their needs before His. And his disciples learned from His example...

In Acts chapter 3, there is an amazing tale of Peter and John being willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel. As they were heading into the temple for prayer, a lame man asks them for some money. Immediately, Peter stops and offers him so much more; the man is instantly healed in the name of Jesus and the crowds were filled with wonder as a result. So, having given the man his few moments, does Peter then continue his business? No, he then sees the crowd and begins to preach (with the ex-lame man clinging to him (v11)!). And the result of his preach? They got arrested and thrown into detention! But as for the crowd... many who heard the word believed! The total number of the church subsequently swelled to 5,000 men (= over 10,000 people). Peter and John were, just like Jesus, willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel...

Just imagine for a moment what could happen if we ourselves were more willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel? Of course, we are allowed to "shut the door" when we need to recuperate/ refresh/ spend time with God and family; being inconvenienced for the Gospel is consciously taking off the "Do Not Disturb" sign in our GENERAL everyday life... With that in mind, imagine what could happen if we put our timetable to one side for just a few moments when the opportunities arose? Churches like Abundant Life Church in Bradford are now practising the "Love15 Revolution" - being willing to give 15 minutes of our day to be inconvenienced; taking the "Do Not Disturb" sign off from around our necks... just imagine... "Do Not Disturb"? Make it "Do Disturb!" Go for it!

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"1 Peter 5: Grace to the Humble" - sermon notes for 28/02/10

(hear the sermon here)

In this chapter, we will study what Peter has to say on humility in church leadership, humility in the church members themselves, and finally humility in life itself. True humility leads to salvation and freedom in Christ...

The Shepherds: (1-4)

Peter was an elder in Jerusalem, handed over to James and the body of elders. He knows what it's like, you can't say he doesn't. And his concern? That all elders serve with the right heart, the right character (lists in 1 Tim 3.1-7 and Titus 1.5-9 are less about status and gifts, but CHARACTER):
  • not unwillingly/under compulsion, but WILLINGLY
  • not greedy for money, but EAGERLY
  • not lording or domineering, but EXAMPLES
If our leaders can't express Christ's humility in their leadership, how can the church be expected to follow, learn, imitate?

The word here “shepherd”, poimaino, refers to not just herding or just feeding, but the whole range of a shepherd's oversight: Elders are not meant to be mere administrators or policy-makers, but truly SHEPHERDS: Shepherds lived with their sheep, cared for them; tended to the weak, the injured, the lost; ensured the safety of the flock; protected the flock: Acts 20.28-35, Paul: “after my departure Fierce wolves will come in among you” – shepherds always went before the flock and searched out the land to ensure it was safe; normally worked in groups...

It is a calling: Acts 20.28 goes on to say “Pay careful attention to yourselves and all the flock, in which the HS has made you overseers” – not simply for those who aspire to it and have ability, or in right place at right time.

Elders need to be learning and growing so they are continually moving forward; else, they stagnate and so does the flock they are leading – if the shepherds don't keep moving forward, neither do the flock. (“leaders = readers”!)

Elders' leadership = about relationship: AMONG and OVER flock (re Jesus, Lk 22.27: “I am among you as one who serves”): not aloof but in authority (hence not LORDING but CARING) – an imbalance of either causes problems – requires a balance of confidence to lead with true humility

The flock: (5-11)

v5-6: ...HUMILITY (here it is again!): humility is a recognition of position and perspective: “under the mighty hand of God

Humility is not a demeaning of yourself. It is not thinking less of yourself, but of yourself less. It is the willing submission to trust the sovereign King of all things and seek HIS will in all things, HIS heart in all circumstances, HIS character in our own, HIS glory and praise and not ours...

v6 leads into v7 = TRUSTING GOD: Peter continues to say cast your anxieties on Him – he should know! Jesus healed Peter's mum-in-law (Mk 1.29-34), helped Peter to catch fish (Lk 5.1-11), enabled him to walk on the water (Matt 26.47-56) and delivered Peter from prison by sending an angel (Acts 12.1-19; v11=“the Lord has sent an angel and rescued me”).

Casting our anxieties upon Him is not a frivolous act. It is a clear, conscious act. Thus, Peter says: Be sober-minded. Why? The devil “prowls... a roaring lion”... “to devour”. The devil is real, and a far greater theologian than any of us. He knows the Bible inside out, He knows our weaknesses, He knows the lies we'll pay attention to. HE CAN'T READ YOUR MIND, but don't be complacent either. Be sober-minded because He's on the prowl. DO NOT FEAR. But true humility reminds us of Who's in charge here. It ain't us, and it ain't the devil. Just don't be ignorant to His ploys.

v9 “resist” = conscious effort, sober-mindedness again. Be aware, avoid places, times and people where you're weak. Be accountable. Don't play games.

firm in your faith” - firm in your faith means reminding yourself who you really trust, and following His counsel (via Scripture, HS and church). This verse is also an encouragement to know you aren't alone (“throughout the world”). Then v10 “...called you to His eternal glory in Christ will RESTORE, CONFIRM, STRENGTHEN, ESTABLISH” = IRREVOCABLE! Be encouraged!

The Gospel:

So, thus far we understand true humility (submitting all to God) as exhorted in our identity (ch1-2), the workplace (2), our home life (3), our social lives (4), now specifically in our church leadership and our submission to that, and Peter reminds us once again of the core Truth that generates true humility. Here's a Truth that underpins this passage, this letter, this Book in my hands:

Peter quotes a proverb in v5: (Prov 3.34 Septuagint version [Greek version of Hebrew Bible]=) “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble”.

How can we learn humility? Remember this: none of us deserves to live, or deserves another breath. I'm sure we're all very aware that life can be gone just like that. Age bears no relevance. Ecc 12.6 describes life as a silver cord that can simply snap. Why did you wake up this morning? It's because God sustained you through the night. The Bible says so. (Ps 3.5: “I lay down and slept; I woke again, for the Lord sustained me”)

But why do we deserve to die? Rom 6.23: "For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Wages = something we've earned. But it's so much more than simply because of what we do, it's who we are. Which all boils down to pride again. Pride is us placing ourselves before anyone or anything else., the opposite of submission, the opposite of humility. Pride wants to be in control; pride thinks we know better. Pride got us into this mess in the 1st place...

God hates the sin of pride (Prov 16.5: “Everyone who is arrogant is an abomination to the Lord”). Isa 14 described how pride turned Lucifer into Satan. Pride is the reason for Adam and Eve defying God: placed their own desires first, thought they knew better than Him, and defied Him, ripping apart that perfect communion they'd had with Him and fouling it in every way. Sin entered the world and and it's been decaying since.

God opposes the proud. He is SO perfect, SO just, that anything short of perfect is intolerable to Him. Being perfect, He can't settle for anything less than perfection in His character, and that includes setting His heart on His own glory. He's the only Person Who can't be accused of being selfish. So it's impossible for us to please God on our own. Because that's where you stand if you don't have Him. Isa 64.6!

So Peter quoting from Proverbs is not some helpful sound-bite... “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” = The Gospel!

Isa 53.6: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way...” - My pride blames anyone but me, passes the buck, thinks I know better an God. That brings, as we've just seen, judgement and consequences. Humility accepts the truth about ourselves even when it hurts and leads us to God's Good News for us. What Good News? (Isa 53.6 continues): “...and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”

Glory of the Gospel= the Chief Shepherd (v4) became the sacrificial Lamb.

Heb 9.22: “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness (remission/ amnesty/ acquittal) of sins.”

Sin is dealt with in Christ's death; TRUSTING in Him as our Lord results in sins washed away through His blood, and we are raised to new life through His resurrection. Here's why Peter, writing to people dispersed and suffering, can say “peace to you” (v14)

TRUE HUMILITY recognises:
  • we are under the mighty hand of infinitely wise, holy, good God
  • we can never claim amnesty for our sin and pride
  • we cannot save ourselves
BUT ALSO: True humility receives His grace (that He gives us the free undeserved gift of amnesty, our punishment paid by His Son). You can know His peace in this life and beyond.

Cell Q's:
  1. Have you ever considered yourself as someone prone to pride? Has Sunday's sermon changed your perception of yourself, either way?
  2. Do you find it easy to let go and trust God? Why do you think you can or can't?
  3. Do you find it easy to give up control of things to other people?
  4. What's the one thing that's most significantly struck you during our study of 1 Peter?

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Monday, February 8, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #19: "Hope Eternal"

"We have this as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul, a hope that enters into the inner place behind the curtain..." (Heb 6.19, ESV)

In December 1999, Britons voted John Lennon's 'Imagine' as the song of the millennium - perhaps it was meant as more of a spoken thought than a favourite song? "Imagine there's no countries, it isn't hard to do. Nothing to kill or die for and no religion too. Imagine all the people living life in peace." Did it reflect a hope that the 21st century might herald a new age?

A decade later and we have seen more wars, earthquakes, famines, floods, global terrorism of an unthinkable scale, and a very steady eroding of Christian values in the UK, let alone elsewhere. Back then, most people hadn't even heard of Al-Qaeda. A global economic meltdown was unthinkable. Here in Britain we now have the unhappiest children in the G20 (Unicef) and the most miserable adults in Europe (WHO). And only 6.3% of us go to church on a monthly basis.

People always "hope for the best", but "hope" and "hope" are two different things. On the one hand, you have: Hope: n. the feeling that what is wanted can be had or that events will turn out for the best, while on the other hand you have: Hope: n. a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul. What makes the latter so defined? Jesus. What makes it so secure? Jesus. What makes it so unyielding? Jesus.

In Him we have an assurance that, despite the world we live in, we have an everlasting, irrevocable hope. Yes, there WILL be earthquakes and calamities (Matt 24.7), but Earth WILL be set free from decay (Rom 8.21) and God IS good and does good (Ps 119.68). A Biblical perspective is not naive (which is how the "Imagine" sentiment tends to prove itself); the Biblical perspective is the most honest, realistic, hope-inducing perspective you can ever "hope" to find. And you want to know why? Because it's God's perspective.

As we enter this new decade, let us as His children remember our hope eternal - Jesus and His victory - and press on into pursuing all He has prepared for us and the people around us. Let us not be dissuaded by statistics and news items, but encouraged to living out lives that demand a Gospel explanation. For Him, our hope eternal.

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Sunday, January 31, 2010

"Everyday Living in the Shadow of the Cross" - sermon notes for 31/1/10

(hear the sermon here)

1 Peter 2.13-25

1.“Honour everyone” - v13-17

Note: Peter starts at the top of pile: the Emperor; not condemning the ultimate authority, nor demanding all believers seek to overthrow him. P says “be subject to”/”honour” (to hold in high respect). If he's telling us to submit to the guy at the top, then it goes without saying: honour all beneath him too. If we're called to submit to the PM, then MP's, councillors, employers, etc too. Rom 13.1: “Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.”

This is a call to honour ALL, so our lives advertise & glorify Christ within us. And the will of God is: v15= “SILENCE ignorant talk” ('silence' = lit. to “muzzle” yelping dogs!)

v15-16: “Live as free men” = not absolute freedom! TERTULLIAN: “as Christ was crucified between 2 thieves, so the doctrine of justification (the Gospel) is ever crucified between 2 opposite errors” = Legalism/Antinomianism (“anti-law”) = we are free to submit/obey. See the difference?

2.“Suffer well” - v18-20

Peter's stressing to slaves that although they're saved, it does not give them veto to announce their own political freedom (1 Cor 7.20-24). We still have a God-given station in life, whether we like or not. Peter's message = understanding suffering & position in life (if you're always comparing yourself with others, you'll always end up full of pride or jealousy)

Our lives are meant to advertise the Gospel. We're called to live honourable lives: easy when it's Obama/Brown. But Hitler/Stalin/Idi Amin/Mugabe? Surely there's a get-out clause? God's Word does not give us that.

Take another look at v20b: “a gracious thing in sight of God”: we must remember that perspective! Our life is a life of faith – the things we do not see. This world is focussed on what is seen/stuff and we get sucked into same line of thinking. We must remember what the Holy Spirit shows us, the bigger picture that our physical eyes can't comprehend.

3.“Christ: our example” - v21-25

The cross is described as “the great jewel of the Christian faith”: all precious jewels have many facets. Christ's work on on the cross means He's our sacrifice, our ransom, our expiation, our propitiation, our victor, our reconciliation, and so on... and our example. Christ was slighted over & over again, to the point of beating, torture, death. And still He lived honourably.

Phil 2.5-8 and Heb 12.2-3

Ever been rejected? Despised? Accused? Discriminated? Treated unfairly? Abandoned? Called names? Bereaved? Jesus was. And how did He respond?

But it's easy for our reaction to be, “Yeah, but He was Jesus, He was God.” Note: He was “fully God and fully man” (“hypostatic union”) It took the church 100's of years to get to grips with this. The two dangers are treating Him as only man = liberal, dangerous, wrong; or as a kind of Superman. Again, wrong! Answer this: if He was simply GOD in flesh and bone, then why sweat blood before His arrest? Why the need to sleep? Why would an unchanging eternal God be described as growing in wisdom and stature (Lk2)? Get hungry (Matt22.18)? Thirsty on the cross (Jn19.28)? Because he chose not to lean on His divinity.

So, what's His secret? How did Jesus the man, not leaning on His Divinity, live the life He lived? It was by the Holy Spirit:

Lk1-2: conceived by the Spirit
Lk3: John declared Jesus would baptise in Spirit & Spirit descended on Jesus @ baptism
Lk4: “full of the Holy Spirit” & “led by the Holy Spirit”
Lk4: began His 3-yr ministry by reading “Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is upon me”
Lk4: returned to Galilee “in the power of the Spirit”
Then came healings, raisings from dead, calming storms, casting out demons...
Lk10.21: “rejoiced in the HS”
Then His arrest & death, and then He rose again BY THE HOLY SPIRIT (Rom 8.11)

This same Spirit that empowered Christ to live such a great example is available to us. You really think His Word would tell us to follow His example and not let it be possible?

So, just as Christ exemplified, we are called to sacrifice self daily/hourly/continually. As we turn the other cheek, as we honour those who may not deserve it, we present the Gospel in our actions. It is NOT weakness. It may look like that to the world, but why should we care? We do, but shouldn't. It's how Christ lived – and as far as I'm concerned He's the strongest, most forthright, most honourable man the world would ever know. What an example. And it is Biblically possible to follow in His footsteps.

(Jeff Vanderstelt on 1 Peter 3.15): “To 'be prepared to give an answer... for the hope that is in you' starts with living a life that demands a Gospel explanation.”

Cell Q's:

1.Share personal testimony of times you've suffered unjustly or as a result of circumstances and how you reacted (be honest and brave!)
2.How has the sermon enabled you to change your perspective on any current situations/circumstances?
3.Do you feel your life demands a Gospel explanation? What do you think you can do to enable that? Think of specific areas in your life.
4.Minister to each other for an increased outpouring of the Holy Spirit in your lives.

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Saturday, January 2, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #18: "Plans and Purposes"

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish.'” (Luke 14.28-30, ESV)

Yes, it's the New Year again... The Noughties have been and gone, and here come the... um... err... "Tens"? "Teens"? "Twenty-tens"?

Whatever they may be called, one thing is for sure: we have a choice in how we apprehend this decade. We can wait and see what happens, "letting" God do His will in Herne Bay and beyond while we enjoy the show, or we can decide to participate in pursuing all He has prepared for us. Guess which of those God would prefer us do?

The above verses relate some everyday common-sense regarding a deliberate attitude to the Christian life: you want to follow a certain career path, or ensure certain values are established in your family/home/lifestyle, or you intend to grow in the giftings God has prepared for you. All of these are available, God-willing, but we do have to become serious about it ourselves. Planning, setting goals, putting routines into place, setting aside specific times to study, none of these are counter to trusting in God's sovereignty. His rule over all things does not mean we should do nothing and become spectators, nor does it mean we are puppets with no say in the matter! It means we get the unbelievable opportunity to labour alongside the King of all kings in His endeavours! We get to explore His adventure as it unfolds!

Luke's text in chapter 14 is in the context of not taking the decision to follow Christ lightly. As we prayerfully "work out our salvation" (Phil 2.12), we unfold His purposes for us. As we plan how we approach the next year and further - personal goals are a great way to start - we unearth God's own plans for us too. I'm determined to be more deliberate in pursuit of what God has prepared for myself, my family and His church than ever before this year. How about you?

("You won't accidentally get close to God" - On this same Touchpaper theme, check this link for a great help on developing stronger devotional times)

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