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Archive for March, 2011

The Sin of Doing Nothing

March 27th, 2011

1 Samuel 2:12-36

  • This time we are looking at Eli.
  • There seem to be 2 ways of living here – Eli’s way or his son’s way – but both, we will find out, got it wrong.
  • The sons are flagrantly wicked – they are greedy bullies who take things and women for their own gratification. This is not unusual in our day.
  • Eli seems the polar opposite – the “nice” guy, the “good” guy. He is effectively in charge of Israel – the closest to a king in that day.
  • When God sends a rebuke, He sends it not to the 2 sons but to Eli – because Eli is responsible and held responsible. A shocking speech is delivered to Eli – fierce prophetic judgement. But why? Eli didn’t do anything! That is exactly why – he did nothing and that is what he is rebuked for.
  • If we’re not in the camp of the 2 sons we think we are “good”, because we’re not doing anything.
  • We think there are 2 ways of living – the “wicked” way or the “good” religious way. We think we can placate God through religious acts – but we can’t.
  • There is the sin of commission but also the sin of omission – not doing the right thing. Eli’s failure is omission.
  • But didn’t Eli try to sort his sons out? The hint is in the language he uses – he only really cares about people’s opinions, about the public reputation of him and his family rather than the honour of God.
  • We often do the same to keep our conscience clear – we speak out against bad things and show off our disapproval. But there is a huge difference between disapproving or complaining about something and actually doing something about it.
  • “Tear your hearts and not your clothes” was a familiar saying of the prophets.
  • Eli’s story is a massive warning to us.
  • Eli is so different to Christlike people of the Bible, e.g. Job. Job 1:15 – Job wants to honour God in every way he can.
  • V.29 – Eli is probably in on the deal of the stolen meat – it’s inconvenient for him to change things because there is gain for him in it. Similarly, we let things persist that shouldn’t because we gain from them.
  • V.29 – God asks Eli why he honours his sons about Him.
  • There is something at the root of all of our decisions.
  • It is possible to dishonour God through respectable, religious ways – like Eli did.
  • Many things we put before God sound right and respectable.
  • If you make anyone else into a god – such as your kids – and put them first above God, you will actually harm them. God needs to be first always.
  • Sometimes we disobey God because we’re frightened of hurting other people – but we’re trying to play God.
  • Kids, marriage, etc can all take us away from putting God first. The idol of popularity can also squeeze honouring God out of the picture.
  • Eli probably wanted his sons to like him and so put them first – ironically though, they don’t like him and don’t listen to him.
  • We are made to show the world what God is like – to be His representatives.
  • What is happening on your watch, under your radar? In other words, what are you allowing to happen?
  • Matt. 10:34-39 – Jesus is kind enough to show us that anything else we put in the place of God will harm and destroy us.
  • Worship is like petrol – you wouldn’t give it to your kids, but only your car. Similarly, you need to give worship to the right source – God.
  • To dishonour God is a dangerous thing – there is nothing worse than God dishonouring you, giving up on you and not speaking to you. You could even be saved and yet still dishonour God for years.
  • How do we honour God? It is neither the evil or the religious way.
  • Only one person truly has honoured God – Jesus. It comes from the heart – loving righteousness and doing the right thing, utterly focused on honouring God above all else.
  • This is a gift given to us by Jesus – we cannot do it ourselves. This is the third way to live – coming to Jesus and receiving His grace to live.
  • Jesus died and rose again for us to give us a new life and new heart that loves righteousness. We partner with Him – He is a loving Master who helps at every stage and transforms us by His power.

Process and Crisis

March 20th, 2011

1 Samuel 2:12-26

  • It was a bleak time in the history of Israel – the nation had missed its calling, to be God’s pure people. Even the people in charge of religion were corrupt, stealing and sleeping with the temple women. The end of the book of Judges paints a similar picture.
  • God’s desire through the book of Samuel is to set up the right kind of kingdom and the right kind of King.
  • All God seems to be doing at this time is sending one little boy (Samuel) into the centre of Israel’s corruption. God uses the most unexpected people for the His work – He uses the weak people for great things to show His great strength.
  • None of us have fully obeyed God – we all need rescuing. And God sent a little baby boy to accomplish this – His own Son, Jesus – to achieve the greatest victory in history.
  • God’s power and greatness is made perfect in our weakness. Part of knowing God is that we come to know and see how weak we are. A Christian is no more weak or needy than anyone else – they have just come to realise it. We are all weak and needy whether we feel it or not.
  • God GROWS us.
  • When Samuel was older, he would speak and everyone would listen. He had great authority. But v.21-26 simply says he grew and continued to grow – in stature and in favour with God and man. It speaks of God’s pattern for people He wants to use.
  • God has saved us for a purpose – Ephesians 2:8-10.
  • Samuel achieved the purpose that God had for him, but he had to grow. It took time – it wasn’t glamorous or exciting.
  • We have to accept the process.
  • There’s a big difference between process and crisis (dramatic moments). Process takes time; here are things you can only have or achieve if you submit to the process.
  • Luke 2:52 – Jesus went through the same process of growing as Samuel.
  • Hebrews 12:11 – we need to be trained in God’s “gym” – it’s not pleasant at the time but it is essential and produces fruit.
  • Discipline brings freedom. God wants us to be liberated not oppressed.
  • Our generation prefers crisis to process – we want dramatic moments, crisis solutions, shortcuts and quick fixes.
  • We barely look at the Wisdom books of the Bible, e.g. Proverbs. We need to be learning a life of wisdom in the day-to-day – this is where we truly grow, and not so much in the dramatic/emotional moments.
  • We want instant success but it can take years and years.
  • Proverbs 13:4.
  • We need a plan, to get to grips with God’s plans. Proverbs 13:12.
  • It’s wisdom to not only to plan to achieve something for ourselves, but for our children and our grandchildren – to build a legacy.
  • You have to take the stairs – there is no elevator option. One step at a time.
  • How do we build a life for ourselves and the generations to come? Psalm 1:1-3 – God’s word has to be our foundation, immersing ourselves in it daily, trusting that it will do us good – then we will be truly happy and will be like a tree planted by streams of living water.
  • Samuel also grew in his reputation with men as well as God – same as Jesus. It’s important that we reflect well to others, representing God well.
  • Jesus worked hard in the day-to-day life of carpentry. He grew in wisdom and submitted to His parents. Why? Because He was living the life we should have lived in our place, and also showing us how to live.
  • Submission scares us – we think it’s going to be hard, tough and unpleasant. But we need it – or our hearts will end up sick.
  • Both submitting and not submitting will exhaust us – but Jesus came to give us rest as we submit under His yoke (Matthew 11:28-30). It makes us free, not oppressed, the closer we get to Him.
  • The Christian life is both hard and easy.
  • Jesus is the most gentle and patient with us – so different to what we expect.
  • Jesus took the worst burden for us. He became obedient even to death, on our behalf. Now we can be obedient to Him.

The Test of Faith

March 14th, 2011

Background

James 1:2-4

  • James is the brother of Jesus but doesn’t mention this – only referring to himself as the servant of God; the bond-slave of Jesus Christ.
  • Although James cared about God’s teaching, he was an unbeliever of Christ for a large part of his life (John 7:5, Mark 3:21).
  • James believes in Jesus when the risen Christ appears to him (1 Corinthians 15:7). James was profoundly affected and later became leader of the Church in Jerusalem.
  • The book of James assumes that all readers are followers of Jesus Christ. Of 108 verses, 60 are commands. It is important to remember that Christianity is not moralism – James tells Christians how to live in a godly way in light of what we have become in Christ. First we must accept the Saviour, then we can receive advice.
  • We must look at our brothers and sisters and be able to see qualities of Christ, the refining of godly character. Non-Christians looking in must be able to see this life lived out – to see the action that comes from being loved by God.

The doctrine of joy in trials

  • Count it only joy when you meet trials and times of testing, rather than looking at it as punishment or the absence of God.
  • The word ‘meet’ is not sufficient, we will be set upon by trials and they will be sudden and savage. Everybody who wants to live a life in Jesus will be persecuted (2Timothy 12). But we must find God’s purpose within the trial, rather than just praying that he remove it.
  • Trials might come in God calling us to hard things which might require the laying down of cherished things. Whether these sacrifices of our own desires are sinful or not, God is calling us to sonship and His intent is for us to receive the riches of Christ.
  • We must count it (the testing of faith) all joy because trials produce endurance/steadfastness. We gain stability in the place of anxiety and confusion. God wants to show us what we’re made of and to trust him in our time of testing. All things work together for the good of those who love Him (Romans 8:28).

James 1:12

Difference between temptation and trial

  • Temptation and trial are similar in that they both mean ‘testing’.
  • Temptation is often associated with overstepping and being indulgent. God sees it as selling ourselves short and settling by not attaining to that which he has purchased for us. We must trust his ways, otherwise we will be left disappointed and bitter.
  • We are also tempted to doubt, fear and avenge. But His perfect love drives out fear.
  • There are two shades of testing. Trials test us to prove character and to show us what we’re made of. Temptation aims to disprove and tests us for destruction.
  • The Devil is the one who tempts us, but he can only do it with our own desires and with a door that we have left open. Do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:22).
  • Temptation can lead to sin and in doing so, will affect our view of God. We must repent and break the barrier that we have created with it.
  • 1 Corinthians 10 – God will not tempt us beyond what we can handle. He is sovereign and has control over everything, even the Devil. He does not commit evil but permits it to happen for His purposes.
  • Evil comes from ourselves and what man has done with his relationship with God. We ushered death into the heart of creation.
  • We have a will and our will may suggest ideas to us, but if we are in Christ, then our will is under the control of the Holy Spirit.

Tempted in every way but without sin

  • It was God’s will to lead Jesus into temptation and to test his resolve, but Jesus’ weapon was scripture. The words of God in the hands of his children are powerful.
  • Jesus experienced temptation to a far greater extent, we give in before it can fully take hold.
  • Because Jesus was tempted, we have a high priest who can identify with our struggles and walk us through them.
  • God wants to establish us; He is looking for progress and wants to restore and build us up. We must take action (Job 5:17-18).

A matter of exclusion – Michael Ramsden

March 9th, 2011
  • We are asking why is the Christian faith so exclusive?
  • Whenever you say that something is true, you are automatically saying that any contrary statement is untrue.
  • For someone raised in an Islamic culture, Christianity can clearly be seen as a different message from Islam, however, in the West, many would argue that Islam, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism are basically the same. Maybe we need to allow the adherents of these beliefs to explain their own systems.
  • Surely if God is loving, isn’t being a good person all that matters? Jesus was very clear, all good people are going to heaven. When someone came to Jesus, asking, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered, “Why do you call me good? No-one is good, but God alone” (Mark 10:17-18) If good people are going to heaven, and only God is good, then who is going to heaven?
  • In Luke 18:9-14 Jesus tells a story that is pertinent to our situation, which shows us that there are only two possibilities as to how a person can become righteous, either (1) we make ourselves righteous or (2) someone else makes us righteous.
  • A Phariseeand tax collector were both praying at the same time in the temple. The Pharisee thanks God for making him such a good person, the tax-collector beats his breast – a strong gesture of remorse. The tax collector literally prays, “may this sacrifice be for me“. Jesus has come into the world as the sacrificial lamb which takes away the sins of the world.
  • Richard Dawkins argued after the Asian tsunami that it is morally reprehensible that an innocent man should be sacrificed for the guilty.
  • Why this emphasis on sacrifice, why is the cross at the centre of Christian teaching?
  • The answer is that we cannot separate love and judgement.
  • In Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth Bennett rejects Mr Darcy’s eloquent proposal of marriage, because Darcy states that he loves her against his will, reason and better judgement. He claims to love her though he does not know her.
  • Most of us project an image of ourselves which is better than the person we really are, the danger of this is that people fall in love with the image, not the real person. Love is only truly meaningful if the one who loves us truly knows us, but God sees everything, therefore, his love is truly meaningful.
  • True love can only exist in the presence of judgement, “If you never know truth then you never know love” (Black Eyed Peas, “Where is the Love?”).
  • If your sister is raped, and the judge lets the offender go free, saying, “we must be merciful” then where is the justice? In Christianity alone, God exercises mercy through the exercise of his justice.
  • Jesus, teaches us that the man who prayed, “may this sacrifice be for me” went away having received God’s gift of righteousness. Christianity is radically humbling – not only does it teach that no-one is good, but also that no-one can make themselves good.
  • Jesus’ answer to the question, “don’t all paths lead to God?” is that there are no paths that lead to God, only the path that God has made in coming to us.

Responses to questions

(In response to a question asking why each religion confirms the truth of the previous religion, but persecutes the followers of the religion that came after it) – The first point is not true, the later sayings of Muhammad abnegate the earlier sayings (which are more tolerant of Judaism and Christianity), Buddhism arose out of the rejection of the Vedas and the Hindu caste system. The second point is, sadly, true. People have persecuted others on the grounds of religion, however, Jesus explicitly denies the use of the sword for the propagation of the faith, and Paul argues that the fruits of the Holy Spirit (see Galatians 5:22-23) should be what people taste when they bite into the life of a genuine follower of Jesus.

(In reponse to a question asking why, in Romans 2, Paul argues that people will be judged by what they know, and whether this means that people can be saved through Christ indirectly) – We are not saved by an idea, we are saved by a relationship, even if that relationship is confused – is this relationship with God a reality in your life?

(In response to a question, asking that, if love is inseparable from truth, how it is that God can only love us when we have been given a righteousness which is not ours, and is therefore untrue)  – The message of the gospel is more radical than that God forgave us when we begged him for mercy, God loved us and paid the price to make forgiveness possible, long before we sought him, when we were still his enemies. We forgive people when we think that they have earned forgiveness, but this is not the message of the gospel, God is offering us forgiveness BEFORE we repent, our repentance is the means whereby we receive God’s forgiveness and the relationship is restored.

A matter of inflation? – Michael Ramsden

March 9th, 2011
  • It is often argued by sceptics that the church has, over time, inflated Jesus’ claims about himself
  • It is a matter of historical record that early Christians worshipped Jesus as God, even pagan opponents, such as Pliny the Younger record this.
  • The argument that the Church inflated the claims about Christ fails on a number of levels, but, perhaps the clearest is that the time-line involved is too short.
  • The books of 1 Corinthians and Galatians are almost universally accepted by scholars as having been written in the mid 40s A.D. about twenty years after the events that they record.
  • In 1 Corinthians 15:3-8 Paul cites a creedal hymn about the death and resurrection of Christ, which had been passed down to him. We know from Galatians that Paul met with Cephas (i.e. Peter) around 34-37 A.D. and Cephas would doubtless have passed the core teachings about Jesus down to him at that time, only years after the death and resurrection of Jesus.
  • Even the leader of the Jesus Seminar, which argues that 90% of the recorded sayings of Jesus in the New Testament are false, has recently argued that the Gospel message was held by Christians from day one, although he argues from this that the church was wrong from day one!
  • Another question raised by sceptics is why Jesus didn’t just tell us that he was God. The gospel of Mark is probably the first gospel to have been written and in it, Jesus is asked whether he is “the Christ, the son of the Blessed One” to which he replies “I am” – this is not a question of interpretation. Even though some may not accept its authority, they do so because they don’t like what it clearly says.
  • This question as to whether Jesus’ claim to being God has been inflated can be answered using a passage of scripture accepted by almost all scholars.
  • In Ezekiel 34, the shepherds of Israel are denounced for feeding themselves at the expense of the sheep, until the true shepherd rescues the sheep from their abuse. At the end of the passage, it is made explicit that God is the good shepherd, the people are the sheep and that the bad shepherds are the religious leadership.
  • We should note from this passage that God is disgusted at the behaviour of the bad shepherds and that he himself has promised to intervene as a good shepherd, to seek out the lost and rescue them.
  • In Luke 15:1-7 Jesus compares himself to a good shepherd who searches out the lost sheep and asks the religious leaders whether they would not leave the ninety-nine safe to seek after the one lost sheep.
  • “This is who I am” said Jesus, and this is why the bad shepherds killed him. Jesus wasn’t killed because the religious leaders misunderstood him, they killed him because they understood.

Responses to questions

(In response to a question about why God would allow bad shepherds) – All leaders fail. Leaders are called biblically to lead first by example. Our trouble is that we are so obsessed with image that we sacrifice honesty. The extent to which the leader is able to be honest and vulnerable about struggles and failings is the extent to which the congregation will be able to have the same honesty and vulnerability. David remained a leader, even after his sin with Bathsheba.

(In response to the accusation of the film “Zeitgeist” that the claims of early gods are the same as the claims of Jesus, and that the claims of Jesus are simply derived from those of earlier stories about gods) – In Greek mythology, for example, the stories of the gods are influenced by other stories. Pre-Christian stories of pagan gods contain none of the alleged similarities with the story of Jesus, these only appear in the pagan stories centuries after Christ. Also, there is a universal need for redemption which is found in all religion and in all good literature.

A matter of convenience – Michael Ramsden

March 9th, 2011
  • This is a challenging and difficult message, but we must note how the world sees us in order for us to be able to minister effectively.
  • We should acknowledge that some of the things which the “new atheists” say about us are 100% correct!
  • Luke 10:25-37 – An expert in the law asks Jesus what he needs to do to inherit eternal life. Jesus’ answer is a relational answer about love for God and for others.
  • The lawyer’s next question is “who is my neighbour?”  One of the key accusations levelled against the church by the “new atheists” is that Christianity makes life convenient for us
  • Professor John Gray, the author of “Straw Dogs” argues that there is nothing special about being human, and attacks humanism as being simply Christian morality dressed up in secular language, ignoring scientific reality. According to his argument, all human morality is a matter of convenience, something which people follow when things are going well, but discard in tough times, when we revert to acting in our own interests.
  • Jesus replies to the lawyer’s second question “who is my neighbour?” with the story of the Good Samaritan. Jesus’ first audience probably wouldn’t have been surprised that the priest walked past on the other side. The priest was not only in danger, but in a moral dilemma.
  • The story continues with the appearance of a Levite, one who served the priests.
  • Audiences in Jesus’ time would have expected a story about a priest and a Levite to be followed by the appearance of a member of the congregation of Israel, who served the Levites, however, Jesus departs from this formula by introducing a despised Samaritan as the rescuer of the wounded man.
  • It was manifestly not convenient or safe for the Samaritan to help the wounded man, but he did so.
  • When Jesus ends the story the audience must have realised that the Samaritan may have had literally to lay down his life for his neighbour.
  • Jesus therefore changes the question, from “who is my neighbour?” to “who is neighbourly?” We are called to “go and do likewise” and love everybody, whatever the cost to ourselves.
  • This moral choice is particular problematic for those, who, like us, live in an affluent part of the world. It has been found by sociological research that affluence often leads to a lack of a sense of meaning to life. If our Christianity is too convenient, we should not be surprised if the world is not impressed.
  • Is your Christian faith simply a matter of convenience?
  • In struggling with addictive behaviours (such as internet pornography) have you so accommodated God into your way of living, that you barely feel guilt anymore?

Responses to questions:

(In response to a question about whether we should treat people differently on the basis of their behaviour) – We are sometimes worried that the redemption of those who have done terrible things means that justice has sometimes failed, and misses the point of forgiveness. Forgiveness is not about making us feel good about ourselves (as though God were some sort of “forgiveness ATM”) but about restoring our relationship with him.

(In response to a question about how best to speak to others about Jesus in a non-threatening way) – We should have such compassion for people that we do not need to preface our comments to them with words such as “I need to speak the truth to you in love” (which is often neither loving nor truthful). A good approach is to put yourself in a position where you have no power over the other, and everything to lose if you speak inappropriately, and then seek God’s wisdom!

Hannah’s Song

March 1st, 2011

1 Samuel 1:21-2:11

  • Hannah did something astonishing – she gave away the one thing she asked for, the one thing she had been longing for her whole life, which was a child. Her baby boy was her answered prayer.
  • Her decision seems irresponsible, but she is actually being bold and is not a victim, but is liberated in this decision.
  • She goes away singing after giving her son to Eli the priest – she expresses her emotion and something of a summary of what she has learnt. She is an extraordinary woman.
  • Her song teaches us a number of things – firstly, that God is holy and unique – He is much bigger and greater than we think, and should be taken more seriously than we do. It is like she is getting our attention and warning us – she has seen what God is like and knows that we cannot just live our lives as we please.
  • God is the only true rock – we base our lives on many things (money, relationships, etc) but they are all useless.
  • Everything we have is a gift of God – He is the only reason we have anything. When we understand that, it is so much easier to give things back to Him.
  • We need to be warned off any arrogance or pride. We are wired to think that if we do good things for God, then He has to do good things for us, like He owes us – many people think this is how religion works. Christianity goes flat in the face of that – it’s based on the arrangement of a free gift. None of us deserve God’s favour or grace or mercy or any of His gifts. We need to get to know the God of mercy who gives way beyond anything we could imagine. This is the God of the Bible.
  • The only thing God could have given to redeem us was Himself – His very own Son. When you meet this extravagant God, you start to see things differently – like the way Hannah did. You begin to live more risks – someone who hasn’t met God won’t take many risks.
  • V.8 – Hannah is saying she can trust in God. Even the poorest, the lowliest can be raised up if they trust in God. This gives us freedom to be generous and take risks because we know that God will look after us – He has our backs.
  • God also guards our feet – He shows us where the next step is and we can trust Him with our future.
  • God meets our needs in the process of risk-taking.
  • Hannah is like another hero of the Bible: Abraham, who was willing to give up his son – the one who was promised and who he waited so long for. Abraham obeyed God and totally trusted Him – even to the point of believing that He could raise his son from the dead.
  • Sometimes God will take us to the wire, where we need to be willing to let our dreams die – willing to give up the things we’ve longed for.
  • God’s desire is to prove Himself – to raise up things in life where we have experienced “deaths”.
  • It’s not that God is a slot machine – but He will always supply our needs. Sometimes He doesn’t provide in the way we’d like Him to, but He is always faithful.
  • We don’t know what the future holds, but we know Who holds the future – that is what counts.
  • Hannah ended up bearing more children – she didn’t know  or expect that that would happen. We mustn’t presume on what God will do when we give, but we can trust Him.
  • Hannah also learned that she has a greater purpose in life than her own purpose. She speaks of her hope that God will set up a great Kingdom and a great King; at that time there was no king, no order, no standards – she was living in a nation that was far from God, living in darkness. And what came upon her was a terrible sorrow for her nation.
  • God wants us to see the bigger picture – He wants us to have a heart for our nation, for our city – to long for His Kingdom to come.
  • Hannah knows one thing for sure: God will rule one day. And in some way she believes that her giving of her son Samuel to God, He will accomplish this. The greater King was to come.
  • Hannah saw that, if God can do the impossible of giving her a son when she was barren, then He could sort her nation out as well.
  • If God can raise His Son from the dead, He can bring restoration in our nation and our city. He can change the hearts of those who reject Him. This can happen when we give ourselves and our money to God.
  • It’s so much more than just our small dreams – the real dream is Jesus and His Kingdom.
  • God is doing something extraordinary all around the world – but what about our continent, our nation, our city? God will do miraculous things as cities like Brighton become alive with the gospel and Jesus is exalted.
  • Giving is very practical – we have to actually do something. It is also painful. V.24 is very slow – God wants us to understand how hard it was for Hannah.
  • The death of the bull can be seen as symbolic for the death involved in Hannah giving up her son.
  • Be need to put to death the love of money – it will either kill us or we will kill it.
  • It’s appropriate to sing and celebrate when we give – the two things go together.