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Posts Tagged ‘sacrifice’

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.

What Kind of Priest?

February 21st, 2011

1 Samuel 2:11-36

  • The 2 sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, were not pleasant people – the Bible calls them ‘worthless men’, even like sons of a demon, with nothing redeeming about them.
  • We evaluate people all the time – we work out the value of others and encourage each other to evaluate others, even from a young age.
  • But we react saying that no one can evaluate us – we are our own judge. This kind of attitude is applauded in our culture – that we should only have to answer to ourselves. But is this the ultimate truth? Could there be someone else – someone far more important and powerful with far higher standards – who is evaluating us and whom we have to answer to?
  • People assume this isn’t true – they gamble their life on their being no God. But the truth is, we will all have to answer to God.
  • The sons were called worthless men, not because of their behaviour but for this reason: ‘They did not know the Lord’ (1 Samuel 2:12). They were judged on whether they knew God – not on their moral or religious state. They were even in charge of religion in that day!
  • We will be judged on the same grounds: do we know God as revealed in Jesus Christ? The sons didn’t and neither did they want to. They knew about Him but didn’t know Him.
  • Humankind doesn’t want to know about God and none of us seek Him.
  • Jeremiah 9:23 – if there is one thing we can/should boast in, it is that we know the Lord.
  • The apostle Paul’s one goal in life was this: to know Christ.
  • If you’re bored with God, you probably don’t really know Him. The more you get to truly know God, the more you desire Him and the more you hate sin. You see that you can’t love both God and sin.
  • The sons of Eli were priests and were in charge of all the sacrifices. These food sacrifices were God’s way of eating with sinners and making sure the priests were looked after. But the sons wanted all the food – they were greedy, for both the temple food and the temple women. They took what didn’t belong to them.
  • God wants us to represent Him as a generous giver – not a snatching thief.
  • 1 Samuel 2:28 – God is trying to make the sons see how much He has done for them.
  • God’s problem with greed is that we don’t realise what He’s already given us – all the blessings and provision – and that we don’t trust Him.
  • Greed makes us steal and take things that are not ours, whether it’s people or things.
  • Jeremiah 2:7-8
  • In the garden of Eden, God gave Adam and Eve such an abundance – but they went for the one tree God said they couldn’t take from.
  • We don’t expect good things from God and we think He is narrow-minded. But we are the narrow-minded ones! God wants to give us the best but we’re so focused on what we can’t have.
  • 1 Timothy 6:6: ‘Now there is great gain in godliness with contentment’
  • The sons of Eli were a terrible representation of God – they were supposed to be the mediator between God and man.
  • We are also all supposed to represent God as we were made in His image. God was so determined to restore this poor representation that He set up the priesthood. It was a complicated process to show that it is complicated for God and sinners to be friends – but God is determined to be kind to us.
  • God had to deal with Eli’s sons – He was not going to put up with being represented so terribly.
  • But it is not the end; God also promised to raise up a faithful priest, who would show what He is truly like. And He did just that – by His Son, Jesus Christ, who gave up what was rightfully His rather than demanding what was not.
  • Philippians 2:6-8

Hannah’s Husband

January 12th, 2011

1 Samuel 1:1-8

  • The nature of the human heart is that we love stories and want to be apart of them.
  • God is the great Storyteller and He involves people – we get to play a part.
  • The Bible is about the Great Story – and it is true!
  • God created the world to be a place of His shalom – wholeness, things being as they should be. But we rejected God and replaced Him with ourselves, and consequently shalom has been broken.
  • But God’s plan is to restore His shalom – He will not quit until it is complete.
  • In the book of Samuel, God is establishing the idea of a righteous King; King David stands out the most, but even he is not the true King. He points to the King who will come and rule over the whole world forever.
  • This story begins in a dysfunctional domestic situation – we see Hannah, and her situation is a sad one. She is barren – which in that day brought not only grief but also shame on her – and she is in a bigamous marriage, where the other wife Penninah constantly provokes her.
  • Hannah’s husband, Elkanah, has not done a good job and has made brought pain into her life by marrying another woman, departing from God’s design for marriage.
  • Bigamy is not promoted in the Bible – it is merely describing the situation. Not everything in the Bible is prescriptive – the Bible is full of people’s sin, errors and wrongdoing, so we can learn from their mistakes.
  • Throughout the ages we have fled from God’s plan for marriage – from polygamy to co-habitation in our present day. People just go along with the way everyone else in society does it. And women are usually always the ones who suffer because of it.
  • Another of Elkanah’s errors is the way he responded to Hannah’s grief – he effectively tells her just to stop crying being sad, because he can’t cope. He fails to really listen or to sympathise or to enter into her grief with her. He just wants it to be solved and to go away.
  • It is demanding to enter into somebody’s else’s pain, especially when we have our own issues going on.
  • Often husbands will take their wife’s sadness to mean they’ve failed and that they’re not respected – but husbands are called to love their wife above themselves. How can they do this? Ephesians 5:25-35 – Jesus, the perfect Husband, is the role model – He sacrificially gave Himself for His Bride, the Church. He knows more than anyone what it is like to lack respect from His Bride.
  • We need to receive God’s love in order to love other people. God gives us the emotional resources we need to love others – even the unlovely.
  • 2 Corinthians 1:3-7 – God comforts us so that we can comfort others with the same comfort He gives to us.