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Going Deeper: Pergamum

‘We must cling to faith in Jesus in the rough and the relaxed times’

Scripture: Revelations 2:12-17

This week we returned to our series on the book of Revelation. We saw that the adversary was attempting to threaten and fight against the church through many strategies. At Pergamum, he had made life rough for the church. Even orchestrating the execution of one of it’s chief members: Antipas. But the church stood strong, and today we too are called to stand strong even if we must die. Most of us, however, won’t have that sort of trial and ordeal for our belief in Jesus. Rather, we are pressed by Satan’s second technique–seduction. We look around at our friends and secretly want to join them in things we know we shouldn’t. We might even develop a theology which makes acceptable joining with them when the Spirit and our consciences say no. Jesus himself shows us that this second attack is the most potent, and that we mustn’t let ourselves water down his ways and thoughts.

Tim

Going Deeper: Responding in Worship

‘Let us have everyday a fresh worship for a fresh salvation’

Scripture: Psalms 98

This week we looked at psalms 98. Here we are invited to Sing, to make a joyful noise to let the earth resound with the splendour of God. Why would we dare to raise our voice loud enough for others to possibly hear and jeer? Because our God is so very righteous and righteously saving. God is so righteous he can’t help but constantly be making right all our wrongs. We may think that injustice will never be done away with, wickedness excused, the evil flourish. In reality, God’s work from beginning to end is undoing all that is wrong with our world, making it all right. It’s because God is righteous and true, two things we often feel fairly ambiguous about. But we ought not because we long for a world at peace, where every evil has been removed, where injustice no longer continues, where the suffering of our broken lives find their perfect balm. God is so righteous in fact that he wants to heal even our own inward backwardness. He wants to fix us too, just like the broken world. Because of this he sent his own arm, His own strength, he brought salvation. We didn’t demand this of Him,  nor suggest it, it’s only out of His love that we can be fixed and loved and freed from our biggest regrets and mistakes. All this means we are saved, saved from all which holds us down, if we belong to Him.

So than our response is real joy-happiness, and real pray. Every day God has been about fixing humanity and our world, and that means that every day we can freshly praise him. Celebrate who he is and give Him our hearts. Not just muttering songs below our breath, not even thinking of what they may mean. Instead full of life and vigour we praise God unashamedly. We focus entirely on Him and his work.

Tim

Going Deeper: The Lord Reigns

‘All creation worships, will you?’

Scripture: Psalms 97

We are starting a sermon series on worship from the Psalms. This week we considered the constant unending worship of creation. Day after day as we go on with the business of survival, creation is celebrating the rule of a meticulous and brilliant God. The question is will we join, will we ask God to reign in us too, be powerful in us, and live out His plans through our lives?

Tim

 

He Will Save His People

‘Christmas is God showing up just in time to save’

Scripture: Matthew 1:18-25

With so many different traditions this Christmas it’s hard to really get what this season is all about. It’s good to remember that we humans are all in need of love, and love came down on Christmas to save. Jesus is the love we need to restore our broken lives and even from birth he was born to set us free–the greatest of all gifts.

Tim

Going Deeper: How Not to Fall Short

‘We will never be good enough to merit Heaven, so we need repentance and faith.’

Scripture: Mark 10:17-32

This week we looked at the rich young ruler, who came to Jesus to make sure he had done enough to merit eternal life. Jesus gently tries to remind him that none are good enough-he can’t even begin to keep the law. But the man doesn’t see it, so Jesus points to his biggest idol and calls him to repent and follow Him. We too may not think that we’ve done anything particularly bad. We may think we’ve tried to be good and so Heaven will be ours, or perhaps we just need a few extra good works just to pad our case. But this is mistaken. We can’t do the law, we don’t really even want to. We need a heart change, and we need Jesus to help. We don’t need one more thing to try and get to heaven, we need with a repentant heart to come to Jesus.

Tim

 

Going Deeper: The Mindset of a Follower

‘To come to Jesus we must come not as know it alls but as needy’

Scripture: Mark 10:13-16

When I was very small, I saw a picture of a lorry with a flat trailer and something on it under a tarpaulin and ropes. “What’s that, mother?” She said, “Nobody knows.” And for many years I went around thinking that lorries with stuff under a tarpaulin were carrying secret cargo that only the driver and maybe the Secret Service knew about. Young children trust kind adults that they know implicitly.

Mark 10 depicts Jesus as dealing with how different the values of the kingdom of God are from those of society in general, including the Jewish religious society at the time. He’s done marriage and divorce, he is going to do wealth from v17, here he does being adult and self-reliant in one’s way of relating to God. Of course his point is not that we should in every aspect of life avoid becoming adult – the whole of Christianity encourages self-reliance in the sense of being able to tie your own shoelaces and do all kinds of other things in life that mean you don’t have to be a drag on others. (Yet we all need other people for all kinds of things, throughout life, more than many of us would like to think!) But deep in our hearts and on the biggest matters, such as who am I, do I have value, what is the purpose of life, how am I going to cope, and be safe, and have some happiness, is there a God, what does he think of me, will he judge me, how will that be OK? etc etc – on these sorts of questions and matters, God does not want us to be like adults but like little children.

V14 is indicating the importance of children (Luke 18 makes it clear these were very young, just one or two years old), who were largely ignored and often cruelly treated in the ancient world – even child exposure was allowed and not necessarily frowned upon. Little children can easily become members of God’s kingdom even without understanding the gospel and having conversion experiences etc. It’s a matter of God’s initiative and saving grace.

V15 is the main point – see “Truly I tell you.” He means this:

To be saved by Jesus and be a member of God’s eternal kingdom you have to come to him not as an adult but as a 2-year-old child would come to a kind adult they already know.

1. You trust what God says. Isaiah 66:2b: Do we tremble at God’s word, and believe it even when we can’t see how its statements fit together? Even when its teaching contradicts our common sense? We are limited – it makes sense to trust God, especially on things we can’t investigate or directly do experiments on. And anyway, we tend to be so biased that having the Bible, his word written, is a great thing – we can test our hunches and feelings by something solid. After all, Jesus indicated it is God’s unbreakable word, John 10:35. And if you need any persuading that we tend to let our desires affect the straightness of our thinking, just remember the bankers who, leading up to 2008, had good reasons to think it was all going to go pear-shaped, but carried on buying bundles of debt without any idea of how much of it was good rather than bad (Warren Buffet warned in 2002 this was foolish – they didn’t want to agree with him).

2. You trust God’s grace when you are ready to receive from him without thinking that your faith or prayer or anything else that may be good is your contribution. Young children in a happy family just receive their presents on Christmas Day without worrying about what to give back to Mum and Dad; they just say Thankyou (if well brought up!) and then look forward to the next birthday or Christmas! If we just go round to a friend’s for supper or dinner, we want to take flowers or wine and I’m not against this, but if we feel “we must”, we’re probably not wanting to live by grace. Young children aren’t worrying about getting under the control or binding obligation of their parents – they know they are loved and they are quite happy to depend on the love and largesse of Mum and Dad. Not us, especially vis a vis God!

Augustus Montague Toplady sums it up well in his great hymn Rock Of Ages; here are verses 2 and 3:

Not the labours of my hands

Can fulfil your law’s demands;

Could my zeal no respite know,

Could my zeal for ever flow,

All for sin could not atone,

You must save, and you alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,

Simply to your cross I cling;

Naked, come to you for dress,

Helpless, look to you for grace;

Foul, I to the fountain fly,

Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

“Ah but, Chris, we are meant to do good works; the Bible even says so in Ephesians 2:10: ‘We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do.’” Yes, once we have truly come to Jesus by his grace, our hearts are changed and we live differently, to some extent, and that difference then grows as we keep in fellowship with him. BUT NOTICE WHAT THAT VERSE MEANS IN CONTEXT: The whole point of that bit in Ephesians is that even the change and the love for God and the good stuff that comes from being forgiven and having Jesus now as Saviour – it’s all 100% the product of God’s grace; it’s not from us at all!! Philippians 2:13 is similar. Our lack of childlikeness in relating to God even comes out in distorting the meaning of the verses in the Bible that do mention change of life and good works after we come to the Lord. May God help us all, including me. “…may God work in us what is pleasing to him” (Hebrews 13:21) starting with a deeper, more childlike attitude of implicit trust.

Chris

Going Deeper: Safeguard Against the Wicked

‘Pay for Wisdom today, be protected by Wisdom tomorrow.’

Scripture: Proverbs chapter 2

This week we looked at our final section in Proverbs. Here we are called to remember how we reap what we sow. Sometimes we reject God, and that’s like planting seeds that become weeds and wreck our garden. But in the same way that we can plant bad seeds. Asking and seeking for Wisdom is like planting good seeds which one day grow into a luxurious tree protecting, shading and flourishing our lives. If we will seek Wisdom, really repent and give our whole self to God; he will cause us to grow luxuriously. Then at some point in the future wisdom having entered our heart and changed us will protect us to the things which most people fall prey to. We won’t wont bother with anger, pride , addictions, lust because we already love God and there isn’t room for those things with Him. Wisdom will naturally keep us from the doors of destruction that illicitly call out to us. Wisdom with mature us more and more till we end up in God’s house celebrating with Christ forever.

Tim

Going Deeper: Look Before You Leap You Gullible

‘Since wisdom has the last laugh we need to repent today’

Scripture: Proverbs 1:20-33

Steve

 

Going Deeper: God or Gang?

‘Money is a wretched master, though a good and useful servant – which it can be if Jesus Christ is our Master.’

Scripture: Proverbs 1:8-19

V8-9: Heed the wisdom of father and mother! It’s good stuff.

V10-15: Don’t go with the gang to rob, steal, defraud, and generally make easy money.

V16-19: If you do, it’s evil and you may slide into worse and worse stuff; and also you are crazy – crazier than the birds. If they see a net to catch them, they avoid it; but you are just sailing into what will obviously in the end get you. Yes, you may make some cash, you may make some very easy money, maybe even a lot of it; but while you think you are getting it, what’s really happening is: It’s getting you. You can gain the whole world in fact, and lose your own soul.

“The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil” – 1 Timothy 6. Now, it’s not money that’s evil, or private property; it’s the love of it that is bad news and leads to a lot of bad stuff. Having some interest in it, or being happy if your savings have grown by more than the rate of inflation in the past year, that’s fine. The desire to have more that leads you to work harder or organise your affairs better or hold back on a some self-indulgence – that’s OK. Some interest in it is perfectly fine. But loving it – feeling you must have it, it will give you security, it will make you feel important and successful rather than a bum, it will enable you to enjoy yourself otherwise your life will have no joy – this kind of attitude means you are thinking you’ve got to have more of it. It becomes a main driver of your life, and it starts to be a kind of greed. This desire can easily lead to the kind of thing portrayed in a sort of cartoon-script form in verses 10-15 of Proverbs 1.

Why does the love of money get into our hearts so easily, and grab us so tight?

1. Security: We all like the idea that we have got our needs and our future security nailed. Now, saving and being sensible is good, it means we are less likely to have to sponge off others later. But living as if we just have to look after ourselves and no one else is going to is practical atheism. So many parents of even 5 and 6 year olds in London are thinking: “My child must work hard now, and in a year or two I’ll have to find a tutor, and then they’ll have to get to a good secondary, and then get good GCSEs and A levels – and then go to a good uni and get a good job and….. earn lots of MONEY.” So the parents are stressed and they are making the lives of the little ones miserable too. All for money. It’s a social evil. Or you listen to the middle class’s radio station, Radio 4; what gets them spitting feathers on there quicker than just about anything else? You would sometimes think that millions were being slaughtered; no, it’s this: that kids with good degrees and good jobs, now in their 20s or even 30s “can’t get on the property ladder.” What’s the big deal? Millions live quite happily without owning property. It’s financial security, long-term. Property is just about the ultimate form of investment now. Whereas Psalm 62:10 says, “If your riches increase, do not set your heart on them.”

2. Ego: Why does executive pay go up and up? One reason is that the guy on 1,500,000, who doesn’t need another penny, not even for the extension or the next holiday, knows that the guy down the corridor or in the building opposite is on 2,000,000, so he feels he’s a nobody unless he gets it too. Money, having a lot or earning a lot or being able to spend a lot makes me feel I’m someone. You go and spend quite a lot in a classy restaurant, and you feel, “We are the crew, us eaters here. I wonder how much the poorly paid staff are looking up to us and respecting us.”

3. Fun: with money you can but stuff that’s enjoyable – you can live the good life, and do whatever is your preferred equivalent of “wine, women and song” – you have choices.

How to get out of this

Just thinking to yourself: “I shouldn’t be like this, and I can’t take it with me, and it’s ruining my health or my relationships with family or I’m running risks of getting into trouble with the law for cutting corners, or it’s ruining any chance I have of knowing and loving God and preparing to meet him…. I must change, I will change,” – just trying to make a decision like that won’t cut it; Andrew Carnegie knew he was gripped by the love of money and vowed to quit making it in his all-out, ruthless way when he was 35; but he couldn’t quit and didn’t, and carried on exploiting the steel workers and others till the end of his career. Every 2 weeks they had to do 24-hour shifts in appallingly hot conditions.

We can only break the roots of this kind of desire and idolatry (for greed is idolatry, Colossians 3:5; Ephesians 5:5) if we have a better master, the only Lord who will really free us, the Lord Jesus. He stepped into Zacchaeus’ life in Luke 19 and set him free and changed his heart by calling him, loving him, bringing him salvation. If we see the love of Christ, and his power to forgive and change and heal, then we call on him and he breaks the roots of these idols, and we start to find security, and significance and joy in him. That’s the way.

Chris

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