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Prepared for Jesus

June 7th, 2011

Sunday 5th June 2011

Stef Liston

A tenant waiting for a visit from the landlord would work hard to ensure that the landlord was pleased with how the property looked. Even if the landlord is a nice person there would still be an element of dread.

In the same way, God owns everything and has leased his possessions and responsibilities to us as his tenants. Jesus often warned us, in his parables, that he will be coming back, and, unlike human landlords in the UK, he doesn’t have to give us 24 hours notice. We should be prepared for his visit.

God often prepares his servants over a long period of time to work things into their hearts (e.g. Moses as a shepherd, Joseph in prison, David on the run, Hannah in her childlessness). Likewise, John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus.

The message of today’s sermon is “are you ready?”

Are you ready to meet with Jesus (perhaps for the first time)? Are you ready for him to speak into your life? Are you ready for his return?

There are many things which can distract our hearts from Christ, including worries, desires, longings and false-promises.

Luke 3:2-6

There are valleys, mountains, crooked paths and rough places which can obscure Christ to us, and obscure Christ in us.

When we are born again, we are given new hearts and can gaze on Christ with unveiled faces. The more clearly we see him, the more clearly others see him in us.

1. Valleys

Biblically, valleys are places of refuse, decay and death, places where the sunlight does not reach.

What are the hidden things which we tolerate in ourselves and are not bringing to the light of Christ? What are the things that need to be confessed to another trusted brother or sister (James 5:16)?

Christ has been punished in our place for the vile things that we have done, yet some believers still live in shame. We should remember that both David and Peter committed terrible sins as believers and yet were restored (see Pslam 51, John 21). We can be trapped by the hidden shadows of the heart, let us bring these things to the light (1 John 1:9), remembering that we are to be the light of the world (Matthew 5:14).

2. Mountains

Mountains are insurmountable objects. Guilt, shame, the fear of other people, addictions, futile ways of thinking etc. can be like Goliaths in our lives, mocking our attempts to be Christlike.

The answer to this is remember that the LORD is lord. Too many believers are tragically unimpressed with God. If we consider who God is, and make him our dread, he will subdue the other dreads in our lives (2 Corinthians 10:3-5, Colossians 2:13-15).

3. Crooked paths

Crooked people can put a spin on things to make themselves look better than they are. However, God is truth, it is impossible for him to lie (Titus 1:2, Hebrews 6:18). We should not be devious, manipulative or hypocritical.

A big element of British culture is that we don’t tell the truth to one another in love (e.g. being far too ready to say “I’m fine” when we are hurting). Let the Spirit deliver us from this cultural baggage (Ephesians 4:25, Matthew 18:15-17).

4. Rough places

These are things in our lives which may not seem like great sins but which still obscure Christ in our lives (e.g. holding to to a sense of humour full of bawdy jokes and put downs, critical talk, gossip, control, things which are part of the “old” us). We need to clear these boulders out of the way (Psalm 139:23-24).

In conclusion, we must engage and face issues in our lives for the glory of God. We are not to be sin-focussed and introspective but we must be responsive to the Spirit, and deal with what he reveals in our lives.

Jesus is coming back, we will see him face to face and all will be well. Let us live our lives now in the light of this truth.

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Listening to God

April 4th, 2011

1 Samuel 3:1-4:1

  • This is a practical message. It shouldn’t freak us out – we were made to hear from God
  • The problem is with us, we have resisted God – we grow complacent and ignore God, which leads us to become deaf. God keeps talking however and is creative with how He speaks
  • This book teaches that listening to God is very important
  • 1 Samuel 3:1 – God rarely spoke as the people had become deaf. This is tragic and dangerous
  • 1 Samuel 3:3 – the lamp was nearly out and Eli the priest was almost blind – situation was very bad
  • God starts speaking again to a little boy – He began with the weakest
  • If it seems that God is speaking we must take it seriously
  • Heb 3:7-11 – challenged to take God seriously
  • Matt 13:9
  • Samuel heard an audible voice – is that normal?
  • In the Bible there are some who uniquely hear God’s voice but there is a hint that we all should – Joel 2
  • It is possible to be a Christian and still live in the Old Testament – saved but not hearing God
  • God expects us to talk and listen to Him – our prayer life should be a 2-way conversation
  • How does hearing God actually work? Are there principles?
  • On the surface there doesn’t seem to be!
  • God spoke to Samuel in a unique way – unlike in Exodus when God’s voice was thunderous God spoke to Samuel like Eli
  • God isn’t predictable! He talks in very different ways
  • God’s style changes but His message is consistent
  • 1 Samuel 3:12 – God is building on what He had already said

 

Keep the Bible central

  • Everything God says matches up to the Bible
  • We test what people say is God by the Bible – the Bible doesn’t have to be tested
  • God speaks through the Bible – it is alive
  • If the Bible doesn’t speak to you, you’re reading it wrong!
  • Preaching is meant to be powerful
  • It is disastrous to wander away from the Bible but still be “spiritual”

 

Serve the Church

  • God speaks for the benefit of everyone
  • When Samuel hears God, he goes to Eli for help and to check out what he’d heard
  • A mistake people can make when God speaks: they get puffed up and start to think they don’t need the church. This is pride and God will stop talking. Be careful and be humble.
  • Hebrews 3: 12-13 – there are two choices: a hardened heart or go to church
  • We need to exhort one another
  • There may be some who feel like they’re in a spiritual desert – this is because they have isolated themselves
  • If God told you something, be humble and submit it to someone
  • If God spoke, it will happen.

 

Accept Pain

  • God will tell you to do something that you’ll not want to do – say something or change something about yourself
  • 1 Samuel 3:15 – Samuel had to tell Eli hard things from God
  • Hearing from God is a privilege but it can bring pain
  • As we learn to walk in obedience God gives opportunities to speak
  • Take risks, sometimes we can be unsure – the more risks we take, the more we grow and learn to discern God’s voice

 

Stay humble

  • Listening to God will be painful and sometimes lonely, but Jesus has been there
  • Matthew 26 – Jesus had to bring awful news
  • We are never forsaken by God and we will never be completely alone

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!

Alternative City: All The Media

December 9th, 2009

alt-city-2

Throughout the Autumn at CCK
we’ve been working through a preaching series from 1
Corinthians entitled –
Alternative City.

This series by Joel Virgo began in September and will continue into the new year as Joel continues to explore the letter of Paul to the Church in Corinth. Relating Paul’s instruction to the Corinthians with our own 21st century experience of life in a city such as Brighton, the series has touched on issues like ‘alternative attitudes’ and ‘alternative fathers’. A brief summary of each week so far, as well as links to the audio and video content is listed here…

Read more…

In View of Mercy

July 7th, 2009

Download video | Download audio

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