Saturday, 9 February 2013

Experiencing God through Worship

An Army corps should be a place where people encounter a relevant, personal and dynamic God. It is not all about religion but relationship

Laurence Singlehurst, author of Future Church, Loving the Lost says, “The underlying thrust of everything we do should be people meeting with Jesus and being changed by him. We want every church member to be regularly encountering the presence of the living Christ, whether through scripture, being prayer for, seeing God through other members of the church or experiencing him personally.”
It is tragic when the trappings are there, there is a lot of activity and churchy language is used but the people don’t actually connect with the real God.
The letter to the Hebrews reveals a people who had been trying to connect with the living God in a satisfactory way. The ways they used were not intrinsically wrong but they were inadequate. The letter explains how since Jesus came there is a better way. Through his sacrifice on the cross a way has been opened for all who believe on him to enter into the very presence of God and meet with him without having to rely on a complicated ritualistic system, which didn’t work properly anyway. The people to whom this letter was sent knew all of this but were being pressured to reject the new way and settle for back to the old religion instead of embracing God’s amazing promise. 
Hebrews 8:10 “I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts I will be their God and they will be my people. No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother, saying, “Know the Lord because they will all know me form the least of them to the greatest. For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”

Internal power
“I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts”
The Jews had been given the law and they recognised that it was good. The Ten Commandments summarise the law and in them we see what our attitudes and actions should be towards God and to our fellow human beings. Love God, value life, respect other people, recognise you are part of a community so don’t live selfishly are all sentiments contained in these ten laws. The laws are good and a person who did these things we would say was a good person. We also sense that fulfilling the law will please God.
But human beings struggle with this. They see the standard but fail to meet it. And it becomes a terrific burden to them and a source of huge guilt.
The solution that people tend to come up with is to put a huge emphasis on doing. They say, “Do as much good as you can and eventually if you keep on doing good; you will become good. They say, tell the truth and keep on telling the truth and you will become honest. They say, think good thoughts, keep on thinking good thoughts and you will become pure in mind. They say, go out and help people and you will learn to love them. Then you will be good and then you will please God.
What we end up with is a person who often outwardly does the right thing but inwardly desires to do something else. That person ends up with inner conflicts that often result in a moral explosion.
But God says he will put his law in our minds and write it on our hearts.
Jesus tells us that we can’t really do any good unless we first become good.
Matthew 12:33-35 “How can you being evil speak good things? An evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil things. A good man out of the good treasure of the heart brings forth good things.”
An attempt at becoming good by doing good things is like taking a bag of apples and tying them onto a telephone post thereby expecting the telephone post to become an apple tree! The tree must be an apple tree then it will produce fruit after its kind.
What God is saying he will do is change us on the inside so that doing the right thing will be the natural outcome not something we force ourselves to do.
2 Corinthians 5:17 “If any man be in Christ he is a new creature old things are passed away behold all things become new.”
If your religion has not transformed you it is not worth very much.
At times the Christian church has lost sight of this. Instead of emphasising what we can obtain through Christ we have urged people to attain a standard of behaviour. Instead of asking people to accept a gift through us we have only accepted them when they have fitted into our way of doing things. We have said try when the Bible has said trust.

Intimate Relationship
“I will be their God and they will be my people”
The promise of God is intimate relationship. The promise of relationship with the Father comes through Jesus. Jesus said, “He who has seen me has seen the Father.”
Religion places emphasis on principles and creed the gospel emphasizes a person. When Jesus was asked what was the most important commandment he spoke in terms of relationships “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your mind and all your soul and your neighbour as yourself. A religion that forgets relationship is best forgotten.

Individual Access
 “No longer will a man teach his neighbour or a man his brother saying, “Know the Lord” because they will all know me from the least to the greatest.”
What God promises is that knowledge of him will not be confined to a privileged few but too all. You need to remember that in the Jewish religion only the High Priest could enter the holy of holies where God was said to dwell. And he could only enter after fulfilling the strictest of regulations and he could only go in once a year. But with Jesus as our high priest we can all go in whoever we are. We have his invitation.
There is no second class with Jesus. There is a leadership role for some but this is not about prestige or acceptability to God. It is a distinction of function not of importance or access to God. God does not listen any more readily to the prayers of the General than he does to the little lass in the primary.
But we must also issue a warning here. If this better way means that everyone can have access to God through Christ, it means that no one can rely on someone else to sort out their relationship to God for them. With Christ there is no such thing as second hand religion. You cannot rely on the fact of birth or association for it to work for you. No one but you can make the decisions that need to be made about committing your life to Christ. As much as we desire our loved ones to come to Christ we cannot make the decision on their behalf
Whilst we would want no-one to feel threatened or pressurized churches can become so desperate to make people feel comfortable that they begin to feel embarrassed about the passion they have for their God. We are so frightened of our enthusiasm and our own confidence putting people off that seekers after God can be left wondering if we our faith means that much to us after all.

Incredible answer to man’s deepest need
 “For I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.”
Man’s deepest need is to be forgiven by God.
The need for forgiveness is not just of isolated wrongs that we have committed but the meaning of the word in the Bible has often got the meaning of “Crookedness or twisted nature. We need God’s forgiveness to straighten us out to unravel the tangle we have to ourselves into by our attempts to play God. We’ve all sinned. We’ve sinned through our acts. We sinned through our attitudes, things like anger, lust and envy and pride. But we’ve also sinned through our nature. We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are sinners. The answer to guilt is not denial or cover up or trying to balance out our bad deeds with good ones. It is forgiveness. And when God forgives he will not bring it up against us anymore.
If we are to be essentially Christian then we are going to have to talk about the “S” word. Sin is mankind’s biggest problem. This is not to make people feel bad but because God promises that he can deal with it effectively. How we can call ourselves Christian if we avoid dealing with this issue? Yet the temptation is to do so because it is not fashionable to do so.
The Church can become the place we go to find release from tension and frustration or adversely a place to get a spiritual high. It can be a place where we make social contact, meet people of like mind and get to know the neighbours. Churches can be places to act on our social conscience. It can be a place where our minds are intellectually challenged as the Bible is studied with depth and the scholarship of great theologians is grappled with. It can give us a sense of place, as maybe we follow on from the tradition of our loved ones who have gone before us.
None of those things are wrong. In fact many of them are very important but they are not what Church is about if whilst we engage in them we seek to avoid dealing with the issue about which Jesus died.

In the end it is not an anaesthetic or a teapot or political banner or a family photo album that is at the heart of Christianity but a cross.

And if we forget that we can call ourselves whatever else we like but we cannot call ourselves Christian.

God bless


Embracing a Discipleship Lifestyle.

 It is vital that we make up our minds that Jesus’ claims are reliable, that he is to be trusted. If he were a politician we would want to be convinced that his policies make for a fulfilled personal life and a better society. However as a Christian Church we need to do more than canvass for votes for Jesus. Being a Christian is not just about ticking a box which says I choose Jesus as opposed to Communism, Islam or Secularism. Becoming a Christian is entering into a new relationship with Jesus, which touches every aspect of life.
AW Tozer “There is nothing in the Bible to suggest that we can decide to enjoy the forgiveness of Christ and then have nothing more to do with him. Salvation apart from obedience is not possible.”
Matthew 7:21Not everyone who says to me Lord, Lord will enter the kingdom of heaven but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”
The word that sums up what we are really after is the word disciple which literally means “one who learns”. In the ancient world it was used of a follower or a student. However we must not think of disciples simply as people who turned up for lectures so many hours a week in order to get a certificate.
For the first disciples, following Jesus meant coming with him, living in his presence, going wherever he went, allowing him to direct their lives, obeying him. It involved a commitment to him as a person, not just as a teacher. In a practical sense being Jesus’ disciples means not just adding Jesus to your life but Jesus becomes your life.
Definition of a disciple
A disciple is someone who decides to be with another person in order to become capable of doing what that person is capable of doing or even becoming what that person is”

1. Being with another person
When Jesus called his disciples it says in Mark 3:14 that he did so that "they might be with Him."
He called them to intimate communion and fellowship with himself. His desire was to impart his life to them, to reproduce himself in the disciples. The only way life can be imparted is to spend time sharing that life.
Many people want an automated faith where they make a deposit and then someone else takes care of the rest. Many Christians rely only upon the spiritual food provided for them by professional preachers and teachers but left on their own they are unable to feed themselves.
The first priority we have is fellowship with Jesus. If we would make real progress in our own Christian lives, we must partake of the life of Jesus by being with Him. Apart from spending personal time with Jesus in fellowship through his word, prayer, and listening to the Holy Spirit we simply will not grow. Jesus calls us to communion with him to share His life.

2. Becoming capable of doing the things he was capable of doing.
What did Jesus do? The gospels show us that he preached the Kingdom; he healed the sick, exercised his authority and laid down his life for the world.
They also show us that Jesus expected his disciples to do those things.
Mark 3:14 “He appointed twelve -- designating them apostles -- that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach.”
Matthew 10:1 adds “and to heal every disease and sickness.”
Jesus proclaimed the good news and as his goal was to reproduce himself in the lives of his disciples they were all called to be messengers of the truth of the Kingdom of God.
Nothing changes in this regard for the people of God. All have been called to proclaim the gospel message by what we do, by what we say, by our example, by our priorities, by our commitments. We are to speak loudly to the watching world.
The job of the Church is not to impact the Church but to impact the world. Everywhere Jesus went there were desperate people who flocked to Jesus for help. It is in this context that Jesus chose His twelve disciples. His divine strategy of Jesus for meeting the needs of the world was to be through his disciples. His method of expanding the Kingdom of God was through the multiplication of his own ministry in the lives of others.
Having our character transformed by Jesus is absolutely essential but sometimes we have believed that we can imitate his attitudes but not his actions. We all need to have attitudes like Jesus but what good would the attitude of compassion been for the leper if Jesus had simply said, “You have my sympathy” and done nothing else. He would still have been a leper. Good actions come out of good attitudes.
The gospels indicate for us that with Jesus’ authority the disciples did go and do what Jesus sent them out to do, including preaching, healing and casting out demons. They were called to teach Christ’s truth and act in his power. This means those first disciples also knew being a disciple meant risk. Jesus was taught and did radical things, which ran against the grain of the traditions of men
Christ is not a happiness capsule; He is the way to the Father. But the way to the Father is not a carnival ride in which we sit and do nothing while we are whisked through various spiritual sensations (Calvin Miller, quoted in God – What the Critics Say, Hodder & Stoughton)
When Jesus issued the call to be disciples his early followers had a decision to make: Would they come to Jesus? It would mean forsaking all the worldly things, which they held dear, to follow a man who would likely get them into serious conflict. Would they, could they identify with such a man? That is the same question we are facing today. We are asked to count the cost.
3. Becoming what that person is
It has been said, “A student learns what his teacher knows but a disciple becomes what his master is.”
2 Corinthians 3:18  And we all with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” Being a Christian differs from being religious, just as players differ from spectators. Players prepare before the game, players play the game and players learn while playing. They get better at their sport and receive the blessings of victory when the game is over. Spectators don’t grow, learn or improve for having watched the game.
But for the player or the disciple to learn there has to be willingness to keep moving on.
Superficiality is the curse of our age. The doctrine of instant satisfaction is a primary spiritual problem. The desperate need today in not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people but for deep people.” (Richard Foster “The Celebration of Discipline” )

“The Church is 3,000 KM wide. We are everywhere but we are 3 cm deep.” (Jim Packer)
We cannot afford to be content with gloss and spin. Jesus calls us to a deep life with Him, a life where boundaries are constantly pushed, where baggage from the past is cleared out and the things in our lives that stop us becoming like Jesus are decisively addressed.
Christianity without discipleship is not the real thing.
Learning to live as Christ’s disciples is our lifetime quest.
Our task as a people together is to help each other in that quest.

God  bless   Carol

Extending God’s Kingdom through Mission

The mission statement of Exeter Temple Corps is:
The Salvation Army in Exeter exists to please God and make Jesus known.”

Why do Christians feel the need to share their faith with others when they appear quite happy with their status as a non-believer?
If we believed that faith was simply a lifestyle choice, then we could leave it at that and would feel no compulsion at all to feel it necessary to advertise the advantages of following Jesus or of pointing out the disadvantages of rejecting him.
Why do we spend so much energy sharing our faith, or feeling guilty about not doing it, why do we examine the reasons for our failure to lead other people to adopt our faith and find it so rewarding and exhilarating when someone says they want to join us? 
It is because we believe we have:
Good News
The word gospel means “good news” It is not like so called local news that is boring, not that important and nothing much to do with us. Rather it is as Romans 1 v 16 says “the power of God for our salvation.”
CS Lewis: “Christianity if false is of no importance and if true is of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important.”
This Jesus story is history changing, world impacting, with cosmic implications for every person on the planet of whatever race and in every generation.
Whilst life on earth can be amazing and wonderful it can also be the most troubled, harshest and disturbing of places. Man’s inhumanity to man, the rampant greed and selfishness lead us to fear that this earth might be on a collision course to complete destruction. The Bible claims that this sense that something has gone wrong with a good world is down to the response of humanity to a choice God gave them.
Genesis 1:26 tells us that human beings were given the job of being site managers of the earth, under the authority of the Creator. However, when given the chance of staging a take-over bid, human beings could not resist the chance of having the power and freedom to do what they liked.
It was a choice based upon a delusion that the power that humans had over the rest of creation was in-built rather than something that was channelled through them when they were in harmony with God. It is rather like thinking an electrical plug is the source of power for an appliance, whereas it is only of use when it is connected to the mains supply.
God’s answer to this collapse is not to abandon the world but to offer a plan of restoration, through Jesus Christ. He is the power of God for our salvation. The plan was to send his Son to become a man. Jesus who was both God and man did not rebel against God in any way. As he did not sin so he did not need to suffer the same consequence of a broken relationship with God as the rest of us. Neither did he have to face either physical or spiritual death. Yet the incredible plan of Hof is that this beloved son should choose to suffer those things on our behalf, letting us go free and reconnecting us to God again.
And having availed ourselves of this we discover not just a legal turn around in our position before God but a new and wonderful restored relationship with God, which brings peace and indescribable joy.
Having heard the good news, having proved that it is true, how can we help but share it with others?
We share it because:
Jesus sends us
Matthew 28:18-20Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.”
That sense of being sent by God to share a message from him makes all the difference to our confidence in sharing it. Have you ever been in the dilemma where you know something and you are dying to discuss it with someone but it’s not your news to share?
We have no worries on that score with the gospel. The verse above tells us that it is our news to share, with anyone.
Paul was not on a one-man mission. In Romans 1:8 Paul recognises that his readers are also engaged in sharing their faith. “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you because your faith is being reported all over the world.” It is not only super-star Christians who are sent by Jesus to share the Good News.
E Wilson Carlisle said, “Evangelism is the perpetual task of the whole Church not the peculiar hobby of certain of its members.”
We bother because of our
Passion for God and the lost
The Christian’s motivation is that they love Jesus and love others so we want to arrange an introduction to Jesus.
Loving Jesus means that we long to see Jesus name be honoured and lifted up.
We long to see that he is given the respect and the honour that we believe is due to him. We want to promote him. Our hearts should be grieved that his name is derided and ignored in our world. We care about the things that he cares about.
Loving Jesus means we also love the lost.
The Bible also shows us that there is a consequent connection between loving God and loving people. Do you still believe that without the gospel people are not just missing out on a good thing but that they are lost? You will never get passionate about evangelism if you your hope of heaven is not accompanied by a belief in the consequence of an eternity without Christ.
William Booth used to say that if you wanted to motivate Christians for mission a trip to hell for the day would do more good than years on evangelism training courses.
The letter to the Romans is not just an academic study. Paul’s love for them is real. In Romans 1:8-13 Paul pours out his heart about his love for the people to whom he is writing. v 13I want to have a harvest among you just as I have had among the other Gentiles.”
William Barclay says of Paul that he was “haunted by the people outside of the Church.”
Jesus himself reveals what his heart is for the lost in his parables or the lost coin, the lost sheep and the lost son. He will go to any lengths to bring them home.
A passion for evangelism is not stirred by stoking up emotions or sending people on a guilt trip but is kindled by receiving the heart of Christ for the lost. It is not found by striving but through receiving.
Romans 5:5 “God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit whom he has given us.”

“Why do Christians share their faith? Perhaps the questions should be, “Why don’t Christians share their faith with others more? They do not always seem focussed on the task that Jesus himself has given them to reach out with the good news
General John LarssonBecause the Salvation Army is a permanent mission to the unconverted the corps as a whole and each of its constituent parts must give its priority to evangelism. This is easily lost sight of in the day to day life of a corps. It is probably true that for many Salvationists corps life consists of going to meetings and a series of practices.”
If we have any sense of compassion we must let others know about the possibility of spending eternity separated from our Father, never knowing the completeness of a restored relationship with him.
We do not try to extend through mission to keep up our membership, in order that our Salvation Army club does not die out.
Romans 1:5 reveals Paul’s secret, “Through him and for his name’s sake we received grace and apostleship to call people.”
It is for Christ’s name sake, and for the compassionate love that his name stands for that we reach out. And it is through him and only him that we have any hope of growing and bearing fruit for the kingdom.

God bless   Carol

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Engaging in Authentic Christian Fellowhship

Here are sermon notes from Sunday 27th January 2013
Preached by Alan at Exeter Temple

 Bible Reading: Acts 2:42-47

In our fragmented society people are genuinely looking for community. There is a hunger for meaningful relationships.
Phil Potter, “The rest of the world is aware that life is essentially about relationships and the battle to get on with people. They recognise only too clearly that community is important but all around them they see conflict and sadness. No wonder then that they often demand a decent model from Christians before they will believe.”
One Pentecostal minister said, “Not until the Church engages the power of the Spirit in our life together, will we be what God called us to be”.
All Churches need to be places where people can experience the benefits of real love and acceptance. When people encounter Christians they need to see a living demonstration of the grace of God. If that is so, then relationships need to exist between us outside of our meetings. We need to find more ways of encouraging close community such as is demonstrated in Acts 2:42. What emerges wouldn’t be exactly like it was in Acts 2 because we live in a different culture and a different age, but we can share the commitment, support, servant-hood and focus expressed there.
Too often rather than a model of good community the church has been a mirror image of what we find in our culture.
A Christian community should be a place where we can be honest with one another, where we take the masks off.
Ephesians 4:14
“Speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ.’ (NIV)

‘No more lies, no more pretence. Tell your neighbour the truth. In Christ’s body we are all connected with each other’ (The Message)

James 5:16 ‘Confess you sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed.’

We cannot just expect people to bare their hearts if when they do they receive criticism or become the target of gossip. A fellowship works best when people share what is really going on in their lives but trust has to be built up.
A Christian community should be where we can be real with one another? This doesn’t mean we have to abandon privacy but we have to get beyond what one church leader calls “the veneer of hymns” and “how are you?” clich├ęs.”
We sometimes fear that if we are honest, people will despise us but in reality honesty helps people to understand us and to each out to us.

Colossians 3:13 ‘Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.’
Cupboard love is an affection we have for others when we are being given what we want, but is withdrawn when we don’t. It is based on feelings and it moves on from one person to another. Community will never be built with cupboard love.
Covenant Love is based upon commitment, a better or worse kind of commitment. It is not based upon feelings alone but neither is it just a cold and calculated determination not to break a promise.

Romans 12:10 “be devoted to one another in brotherly love.’
Brotherly love and devotion are not emotionless words. When the Spirit is amongst us we will find a growing affection for one another even for people we may find difficult.

Ephesians 4:32 brings in the importance of forgiveness. ‘Be kind and compassionate, forgiving one another just as Christ forgave you.’

Forgiveness towards others is the overflow of the life that has been forgiven. At the cross God didn’t give us what we deserve, he gave what we needed, which was His mercy and we received forgiveness. We are instructed in God’s word to be merciful as He is merciful. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven.
Selwyn Hughes said that if we fail to forgive those who have offended us we break the bridge over which God’s forgiveness flows into us.
Since God requires us to forgive it is something we can do. God never asks us to do something impossible. Don’t wait to forgive until you feel like forgiving. You will never do it. Feelings may take time to heal after the choice to forgive has been made, not before. Forgiveness may be tough but it is possible and if we are to have authentic Christian community it is absolutely necessary. Bear with one another.

Galatians 6:2 ‘Bear one another’s burdens.’
We are to love as those who are responsible to help one another. Of course there are different kinds of burdens, physical, material, emotional and spiritual. Sometimes we Christians do need to be much more practical and bearing a burden literally means carrying someone’s shopping, digging a garden or babysitting. But at the same time do not think that praying for someone is a second best way of bearing someone’s burdens. We underestimate the power of prayer.
There are many people who need their burdens carried in our community and it would not be hard to find someone to help.
Many of us will help in any way we can if we are asked to do it, but I would suggest we take it a step further and we look for opportunities and ways we can bear someone else’s burdens.
Sometimes we are the ones that need a burden carried and lifted from us, and we need to be willing to let other people help us carry them at times. That is not always easy because we have the sense in our minds that we do not want to bother anyone or be an inconvenience to someone else, but we may need to accept the help of others at times instead, Bear one another’s burdens.
To some people this picture of Christian community is one they really desire. They have had enough of only a superficial surface fellowship with other Christians. To others it sounds a bit demanding and to be honest true community is costly. The question is, “Can we be truly Christian without it?”

1 John 4:19-21 “We love because he first loved us. If anyone says “I love God yet hate’s his brother he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.”
The devil hates us to enjoy true Christian community. He will do everything to keep us at a distance from one another. A united, supportive community means we will be much more effective at building God’s kingdom.
This is because God blesses unity.
Psalm 133 says; that when brothers dwell together in unity the Lord bestows the blessing’.
In the Bible when God’s people are in one accord the Holy Spirit has so often been poured out.
Revival may hinge on our willingness to bare our hearts, bear with one another and bear one another’s burdens.

God bless