‘God is love, familial love; so we His people are becoming an outward facing family of love’
Scriptures: Exodus 34:5-7, Gen 6:5-8, 12:10-20
‘Then the Lord came down in the cloud and stood there with him and proclaimed his name, the Lord. And he passed in front of Moses, proclaiming, ‘The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; he punishes the children and their children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation.’
We continued our series, the astounding, stupendous, all-amazing God this week, this time looking at God’s incredible love. Many people think that God is love, but they mean different things than what God means when he says He is loving. God began by naming Himself the God who is, and who is constantly providing for His people. This week He elaborated on what it means to constantly provide for one’s people: love. Love is constant provision, the same way that a parent looks after their children twenty four seven, God looks after us, and all this is love. In our passage we see God explaining Himself not by blabbing about what He likes or dislikes, but by how he affects positively others. This is really what God is like, He is defined by his love and kindness to others. God is other focused, and love is other focused too. Love that is self-focused isn’t love at all. God in explaining his love tells us he is:
Compassionate: Love is compassionate: the Hebrew word for womb. God longs to surround us, protect us, supply everything we need just like a mom hovering over the children she delights in. But this love is in the family, a baby in the womb is a family member. Jesus says, ‘you must be born again’ presumably into God’s family. So God longs to be our constant provision for everything and yet this incredible love will ultimately only apply to family members.
Gracious: God doesn’t give us what we do deserve. Noah found favour(grace) with God(Genesis 6). God says that we deserve death for our sins, yet those who are in the family like Noah he spares just the same way that a father spares the child of his love from the full consequences of their actions. God longs to give love to all, Jesus died to give out this grace, and yet the grace is for those who would receive it.
Long-suffering: My child is in the smack everything phase, as I feed him, clothe him, carry him about he inevitably hits my face and hands, yet he’s my child and so I patiently wait for the day his hand eye coordination gets a bit better. Love suffers long the same way, it puts up with not great behaviour and keeps on being loving.
abounding in Love and Faithfulness: People often ask if God is so loving then why does he send people to Hell? One problem we might have is we’ve defined love as purely an emotion, and a rather universal one at that. But the word love here doesn’t just mean emotion. It’s more like faithfulness to a spouse, or continued care to an adopted child; it’s a covenanted love. God says once you join the family, you will always be in. God will never turn away from His children, and he will never stop loving them even for a second. In just the same way that a wayward child who has grown up and rebelled against their parents is still their child, we are still God’s children though we don’t always do what we ought. Faithfulness speaks to the certainty of his choice to continue on with us. God will never be a cheater, and he will never turn his back on those who come to Him. Even when we cheat, yet he remains faithful, he cannot deny Himself.
Because God is loving we are an outward facing family of love: God’s love compels us to love in a dramatically different way then the world. First, we long to support all those around us, we lose ourselves in service. Second instead of being forced to forgive those who sinned against us we become truly gracious looking for opportunities to give people what they haven’t deserved. Why because God’s heart is gracious. Third, we show loving-faithfulness with each other, we don’t fall out with them when they fall out with us. We don’t abandon them when they bore us or no longer benefit us the way they had in the past. Instead we long to show ourselves faithful in giving them love. lastly, because God is always inviting people into the family, we demonstrate this love towards all people in the hopes that they too will join the family.
Going Deeper Questions:
- What if anything struck you about this lesson?
- Has this lesson helped you to see love a bit differently? If so how?
- How is God gracious when so many don’t receive His grace?
- How do we know God will continue on with us when we break His rules and do our own things–what promises do we have?
- What does God mean when he says he is faithful?
‘We really must share the good news but we must share it God’s way. ‘
Scripture: Acts 8:26-40
This week we looked at Phillip and the Eunuch. The story is a great place to see how we can go about evangelism, sharing the good news, and not feel bad about it at the end. If you’re like most Christians you’re probably hoping the job of sharing is for select professionals only. Sharing the good news doesn’t make us feel good, it causes our heads to feel with fears and doubts. But proclaiming the good news is the essential ingredient in growing the kingdom of God. In the book of Acts, there are many good deeds, there is much love, there is plenty of hospitality and even a few miracles, but this is all just a shell for the moment of Spirit inspired proclamation about Jesus. This is how the church grows; love and good deeds followed by words about Jesus.
Looking at Philip and the Eunuch, we see the following things:
- God calls us to obedient evangelism: Philip left something familiar for a lonely hot dessert walk to an abandoned city. He did this because God commanded it and in the same way God commands us too, to do things for the gospel. We too are called to walk a strange road, and to meet a stranger (the Ethiopian Eunuch). We too are dared to talk with someone we never dreamed and to not let our biases get in the way of sharing God’s love with all people. God calls us all to the gospel with whomever he brings along.
- God calls us to go along with what he is doing: Phillip didn’t have to do a lot. His audience was loudly proclaiming a prophecy about the Messiah! Yet Phillip didn’t blurt out, ‘It’s Jesus’ Instead he started with a question, ‘Do you understand what you are reading?’. Why? Because in order to figure out what a person needs to get to Christ you need to understand where they are at on their journey towards him. Randy Newman -the evangelist, not the singer, invites us to consider the alphabet a = a person who doesn’t even think God exists, and z is someone who is ready to commit their life to the Lord. We need to find out where people are at, through questions, and help them get one step closer to z. Questions help people internalise and cement their thinking (or think it for the first time).
- God calls us to let Him convict hearts rather then us; Phillip could have really pressured the Eunuch into baptism. probably, if he had the man would have been willing. Yet, it’s not God’s heart. God convicts the world of sin, the Spirit convicts us of the truth of gospel. So we don’t need pressure, far from it, we should not be rushing toward the commitment finish line but encouraging our hearers to think deeply about whether they really want to give their lives into God’s hand.
Going Deeper Questions:
- What if anything, struck you about this sermon?
- Do you believe the central claim of the sermon that we must share the good news about Jesus? If so what kind of change to ones life would that entail?
- God commands Phillip five times in this section, how do you feel about being commanded by the Lord? Why is this not a bad thing?
- How comfortable do you think Philip was in this situation? Why is it that sharing the gospel usually entails getting out of our comfort zone?
- What was the first thing that Philip said to the Eunuch? How does this inform what we say first when sharing the good news?
- Whose idea was it to get baptised(hint, there’s more than one answer)? What is the implication for how we share the good news?
‘God really does want us to be happy, but he doesn’t want happiness to be our god,
so we must seek Him first and get happiness thrown in too.’
you can listen to the whole lesson here:
This week we looked at happiness; everyone is looking for it and yet nobody can seem to hang onto it for long. Happiness this most sublime of feelings is the real force behind so many choices. People even live and die by whether they are satisfied from day to day.
So what are popular authors today saying about happiness? While they are all written by different authors with unique perspectives, still they have similar themes 1. happiness is ultimate and getting it is our right 2. Happiness is subjective, no one knows what will really make one happy. Some things we believe will make us happy don’t and some things we think won’t bring happiness do. 3. Therefore try lots of activities, set goals, think positively, read (and buy) their book, take time with family, vacations, be true to self/ find your inner person, mindfulness, removing toxic people and ideas etc… 4. but beware happiness wanes, satisfaction for any one experience has a diminishing rate of return over time. This explains how people become addicted to drugs. They need more and more just to have a passable experience. It also is true of every event we find satisfaction in. No matter how massively brilliant it seems at first, it’s bound to leave us eventually longing for more.
While some of the above ideas are of some merit, much of it fails from a incorrect focus. We asked, ‘what does the Bible have to say about happiness?’ On the surface it may seem not much. Indeed, we’re probably hard pressed to remember a verse with the words happy or happiness. But that’s just the thing, happiness has been removed from our Bibles with words like ‘blessed, joy, rejoice.’ in their place Look at these verses and think about how the meaning changes when we translate them a bit more emotionally.
‘Truly happy is the one who does not walk in step with the wicked or stand in the way that sinners take’ Psalm 1:1
We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our very great happiness complete 1 John 1:3-4
Be constantly happy in the lord always, again I will say it be constantly happy Philippians 4:3
So then God really does want us to be happy. But even so God doesn’t want us to seek happiness as ultimate. In fact, if one does seek happiness this way, one won’t be happy. Why? Because we’ve set up our ultimate satisfaction as the highest priority, the god of our lives. Instead, God calls us each to come surrender our lives and he will give us great joy. Jesus says
Seek first the kingdom of God and all these things(food, clothing, shelter…and happiness!)all that will be added to you’ Matthew 6:33
the Scriptures tell us that we find happiness as we come to God:
‘Oh taste and see that the Lord is good, truly happy are all those who trust in Him.’ Psalm 34:8
Lastly we see that God gives us a strong root of happiness, his gift of a Saviour:
Behold I bring good tidings of great happiness that will be for all people : today in the City of David a Saviour has been born Luke 2:10-11
So therefore if we really want to be happy, the way forward is to forget about seeking happiness and receive God’s grace and purpose for our lives. Than as we submit ourselves to the Lord he will fill us with a happiness that will never go away. We will know that we both are right with God now and that we will spend forever with Him, and even in the sad moments of life we will have this greater hope helping us to be satisfied and cope.
Going Deeper Questions:
1 Was there anything from this lesson that struck you particularly?
2. Do you agree that the way to be happy is to forget about it and focus on something else?
3. What was one of the happiest moments of your life? Did it come about because you were seeking happiness or was it something else?
4. How does God give us happiness as we surrender to Him?
5. In what way is it incredibly freeing to not have to be a happiness seeker?
6. Have you ever felt supremely happy while at church, doing something for Jesus, or in prayer? What caused this?
7. How could we possibly be really happy even in the midst of tragedy; loved ones dying, people turning from God, friends falling out unfairly with us, bad diagnoses arriving?
‘It’s far to easy to miss grace, replacing it with pride and place’
Scripture: Acts 7
This week we considered Stephen’s testimony. It’s only half of what Stephen had intended to say as he loses his life before he can finish it. What he shares is a history lesson. A history lesson that shows God’s people tend to reject his grace and spokesmen. Stephen puts the dramatic image of Moses on God’s command having to drag the Israelites to the promised land kicking and screaming. Why won’t his people trust him, and let him save them and give them good things? Stephen reminds us that the prophets message of repentance and forgiveness in the coming Messiah had been rejected virtually every time it was spoken. The Bible says when it comes to God giving us grace we often have a very hard heart. Why should it be thus, after all, God is acting in our benefit to feed us, lead us to safety, change our hearts and take us home to be with Him? Most of us want these things, but somehow it’s easy to do anything but receive Gods grace by trusting him. God calls this having hard hearts and being stiff necked, imagine hearing that prognosis in the doctors office! We can live our lives in such a way that we pattern ourselves to reject good things at the outset, not even to give them hearing.
In Stephen’s sermon he outlines two reasons we reject God’s grace; pride and place.
Place: The Israelites had begun to think of their religion as primarily a location, Israel and the temple. Yet, Stephen reminds us that God made all things and inhabits the whole universe. He wants to come and have a relationship with us. However some end up more enamored with the 12th century gothic church structure than they are with turning toward God and giving our hearts to Him. Well many of us don’t struggle with being over focused on a building, the question for us is; ‘What’s our temple?’ What thing do we elevate as high as God and His grace, and it messes with our ability to really listen to the Lord?
Pride: The Israelites of that day prided themselves on being the children of the patriarchs, Abraham , Isaac and Yaacov. But these people were needy and flawed sinners just like us all. The people prided themselves on being Hebrew of Hebrews. But God says he chose Israel not because it was the greatest but because it was the smallest and most neediest (Deuteronomy 7:7) Thus we find that Abraham is described as a Babylonian, Joseph as kicked out of his family, Moses as an Aristocrat Egyptian who then becomes a Midianite in the dessert. God is saying that we shouldn’t glory in our heritage to the extent that we cannot receive grace because we are a lofty glorious so and so who doesn’t need help. Yet don’t we all have tremendous personal pride? Isn’t it the case that we are loathe to admit we are desperate and prone to affirm we are better than most? Even those who self hate do so many times because they are trying to motivate themselves to be the better person within they secretly believe they are. The bible says the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately sick, who can understand it. Pride is the biggest obstacle to receiving God’s good grace.
God says this sort of hard hearted rejection of grace is always happening in his church (Acts 7:37 assembly = church )It’s been going on for thousands and thousands of years. Perhaps we will listen to Him and let him change our hearts and minds.
Going Deeper Questions:
- Was there something particular about this lesson that struck you? Something you agreed or disagreed with?
- What reasons does Stephen give for God’s people constantly rejecting Him and His grace? What are some modern things that people reject God for?
- the Bible speaks of regular pride but also a spiritual pride. Pride based on ones well kept religion and faith. Why is this pride bad and how does it play into our sermon?
- Read John 4:16-24 What is Jesus’ point about temples and what does he mean by worshipping in Spirit and in truth? Are we those who worship him in Spirit and truth? If so how?
- Read Matthew 21:33-44 What does ‘this stone’ represent? What does Jesus’ parable tell us about the danger of spiritual pride?
‘the mature believer has a race to run, agony to undergo, and glory forever’
Scripture: Acts 6:8-7:1 and 7:54-8:3
Scripture: 2 Timothy 4:22
Chris celebrated his final sermon at Wilton Community as Lead Pastor by talking about the importance of God being with us, with us especially in grace. Empowering and working in us for the mission he has for each of us so that we don’t have to go in our own strength.
Scripture: Whole book of Malachi
‘Stop just going through the motions, instead faithfully honour God each day’
This week we looked at the last book of the Old Testament. A book you might think would be full of praise instead makes us think that some things never change. God confronts Israel and us six times, like a spouse a wayward partner. He shows us how easy it is to lose our love for God and replace it with dry and dull religion. God shows us that our worship falls flat, our relationships are broken, and we’d rather spend on ourselves than tithe to His cause. But then he says it’s not okay, not proper, we owe Him the glory due his name. The book shows us that if we want to restore our first love we must be willing to listen and obey, and also to accept His love for us. It’s a constant reminder that wherever we are in our walks with Jesus, when we find ourselves drifting we can reignite the flame of our commitment through fearful obedience of the God of love
‘Put God first and He will take care of you and your things’
This week we looked at the book of Haggai. To get life right, we must put the Lord as our highest priority. Why? Because he will make us a success, He will grow us into His image, He will shape our destiny. Just like the Israelites returning and learning to put God first, so we too must learn to put God first in all things