Saturday, 2 November 2013

Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 27th October 2013
Bible Reading: Mark 11:12-27

Jesus and the disciples were on their way to Jerusalem from Bethany where they had spent the night. Jesus was hungry. In the distance Jesus sees a fig tree in leaf but when he reached it he found no figs on the tree but that was understandable because Mark says it was not the season for them. This raises the question that if it wasn’t the season for figs why Jesus cursed the tree and the next day it was dead. Mark’s statement is puzzling until we understand the growth and reproductive cycles of fig trees.
Fig trees are unusual in that they can produce as many as three crops in a single year. The first crop is produced on the old wood. Early in the year, green knobs or buds appear at the end of the branches. They are called paggim and will appear before the leaves. They do not taste very good, nor do people eat them. They do not ripen until June.  Jesus knows there will be no edible fruit but it seems that this tree didn’t even have paggim, there was nothing but leaves. 

A fig tree in full leaf in April should have been covered with early fruit. Since this tree had no early fruit, it was a sign that there would be no sweet fruit when the time for harvest arrived. This tree had nothing to offer and it was therefore useless! This tree was fit for nothing but to be cut down and fed to the fire.
Jesus didn’t do things without purpose.  His action in cursing the fig tree is prophetic. He used it to speak to his disciples and to make a declaration to the people of God about what is expected and what is possible with God.
1.         God has reasonable expectations of us.
As Jesus expected that fig tree to produce early figs so he also expects his followers to produce something positive in their lives.
All of humanity has been given so much and it is reasonable that God should expect us to use well what he has given.
The fact that we so often waste what we have and fail to share those resources fairly is a terrible indictment on the h
It is also reasonable that God should also expect our gratitude.  Yet so often we take much for granted and instead of gratitude we make petulant demands for more.
It is reasonable that as God is the author of creation that we should seek his wisdom and follow his guidelines for living. It would be supposed that the creator who has given us the ability to love and with a desire to be loved would receive some of that love returned.
The opposite is true and rather than do all those things mankind acts like he were god and rejects God’s right to rule. The Bible calls such unreasonable attitudes and resulting behaviour sin.
God didn’t give up on us but gave men laws to live by, sent messengers to remind men of their very reasonable obligation to God but they are forgotten or rejected. Then he sent his only Son but he too does not receive the perfectly reasonable honour and respect. Instead  he was not even recognised. He was despised, tortured and killed.
Yet though he was dead the Son rose to new life and promises that if we trust in him we can start again. Today many of us here are thankful not only for the creation around us but the work of new creation that God worked in us. 
What does God have a right to expect now? What figs should he be seeing on our tree?  Surely it is our gratitude, our love and our obedience.  As followers of Christ we accept that God is within his rights to ask for fruit in season. 
2 God has unreasonable Expectations?
Just as Jesus expected a fig tree to produce edible figs when it wasn't the season to produce them he expects us to produce fruit in our lives when humanly speaking it is impossible.
A fig tree is expected to produce fruit, in season and it will only do that when the conditions are right. There is a season for figs and there are the right conditions for figs. Israel is a good place to grow figs. Great Britain is not particularly.
But Jesus expected a fig tree to produce edible figs even when it wasn't the season for figs.
Many people look at what they see as the demands of Christian living and say they can’t become a disciple of Jesus because they could never live up to its ideals. It is “impossible and out of the question!” They say I am only human I cannot be expected to produce the qualities of the Christian life. You might as well ask a fig tree to produce fruit the main crop all year round as to except me to be constantly producing Christ-like qualities in my life.
Humanly speaking it is impossible for us to live the kind of life our Christianity demands.  The standards are too high for us to achieve
When Peter observed that the fig tree has died, in v 22 Jesus said, "Have faith in God I tell you the truth if anyone says to this mountain "Go throw yourself into the sea and does not doubt in heart but believes that what he says will happen it will be done for him,"
Mountains in the Bible often signify something strong and immovable, a problem that stands in the way.  Well, when it comes to living as we ought to our human weakness stands in the way.  
But Jesus says to Peter, if you live in an attitude of dependence upon him, mountains can be conquered. 
Jesus had used this image with Peter before. When the disciples had tried to drive out an evil spirit and failed Jesus said that it was their lack of faith that had been the problem.  “Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, “Move from here to there,” and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.’
By faith in God the impossible becomes possible. It is not natural for a mountain to throw itself into the sea. For it to do so would be supernatural. For a person to live the kind of life Jesus commands as often as a fig tree produces fruit is not natural for us it is supernatural. 
We are not all that comfortable with a supernatural God. We would prefer him to be much more in our control.
By faith in a supernatural God means the impossible becomes possible. It is not natural for a fig tree to produce edible figs all year round. For it to do so would be supernatural. It is not natural for a mountain to throw itself into the sea. For it to do so would be supernatural. For a person to live the kind of life Jesus commands and Paul describes in his letters all year round regardless of circumstances and environment is not natural it’s supernatural. 

3 Raising our Expectation to God's
Sandwiched between the first visit to the fig tree and passing it again the next day is the story of Jesus turning over the money changers tables in the Temple. 
Mark means us to make a connection between Jesus’ actions with the fig tree and his actions in confronting the practices in the Temple.  Just as the fig tree looked like it was healthy in reality it was barren. 
The Temple was a busy place full of religion and activity. It looked healthy but the reality was that it was corrupt and it was not producing a people who walked in fellowship with him or who live in obedience to him.  There was no faith and there was no true prayer.  It was like a tree that was all leaves and no fruit.  Yet they were proud of their achievements and were outraged when Jesus failed to be impressed and challenged their lack of fruit.
The fig tree produced no fruit but it did produce leaves. Even if it produced no fruit the fig tree might have been of use for shade. What is the use providing cover and respectability for spiritually hungry people if we do not save them from starvation?
Many Christians get to a place where they are frustrated with the lack of fruit in their lives. They go through patches of enthusiasm but mostly they have lowered their expectation. They resort to justifying the fact that they produce leaves not fruit.  We can be in danger of adjusting our purpose to our condition rather than change our condition to meet our purpose.
It is by faith that we are fruitful. If we forget that, the Christian life becomes a feverish burdensome thing, which makes us feel guilty. We take on board the responsibility for fruit production but we cannot do it and we become angry and resentful. We carry on trying but secretly we think that God expects too much and is thoroughly unreasonable.
But God never meant us to do it through natural means.
Jesus said, “No branch can bear fruit but itself it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. "If a man remains in me and I in him he will bear much fruit apart from me you can do nothing
The promise of Jesus that fruitfulness is possible by grace through faith for all of us and for this Corps.
God bless

Harvest: The Reason for the Season

Exeter Temple Bible notes
20th October 2013

What is the reason behind our celebrations in the season of harvest. Harvest Festival is open to a huge variety of interpretations.  A vicar, concerned about poor giving in his church might preach on the responsibility of tithing.  A missionary serving in a poverty stricken part of the world emphasises the responsibility to share our resources.  Another leader might be passionate about environmental issues and want to talk on the future of the planet; a radical evangelical church about the need to harvest souls for the kingdom, a revivalist church about maturing in holiness and a Seventh Day Adventist church about the final harvest of judgement at the end of the world! 
                                                                                                                                               The definitive answer about harvest is that it is about reaping.  
Physically harvest is a time to gather in what has been planted, nurtured, matured and finally produced.  Harvest festival is a time to celebrate the coming to fruition of hopes, plans and hard work; a time to remember God’s part in it all and to be thankful. It is a time to be responsible about what we do with what we reap. There is a parallel with what we reap in terms of the quality of our life and in our character.
Belief in a creator God not only helps us to explain the sense of detail and order that we see in the world but also answers the question of our purpose on earth. What is the point of being born, growing up to earn a living, perhaps producing children and then dying? What’s it all about?
A sense of God brings a sense of purpose and a desire to become all that we were meant to be.   Many of us under-achieve mentally and most of us don’t realise just how much our bodies are capable of achieving. 
There is also a part of us that reaches up towards God and seeks to know him. That part of us is also under-developed.  In fact this spiritual part of us has been starved to death by our self-absorption and over concentration on developing those things that satisfy us physically and materially. That is why we need the death and resurrection of Jesus to bring us new life within. Life is really incomplete if we haven’t set out to reach our spiritual potential. 
In Psalm 1, the writer makes a distinction between the wicked and the righteous.  When the psalm talks about the wicked it is not referring to murderers, rapists or drug pushers but the wicked was a term used in those days to refer to anyone who had little or no time for God or who had ruled God out of his affairs and thinking.  The righteous person is seen as someone who makes God the centre of his life, who concentrates on reaping a spiritual harvest in their lives.

1.      Position                                                                                                              
Any farmer or gardener knows that production depends upon how we start and prepare. A good position is often a factor in how well a plant will grow.
The Psalm compares the position of the righteous and the sinner. And keep in mind what is meant by the righteous and the sinner. The righteous man is like a tree that is planted whilst the sinner is like chaff blown by the wind.
When something is planted it is not where it is by accident. It is planted in a certain place for a certain purpose. It might be to provide a shield against the wind maybe to produce fruit or wood but it has a purpose.
The chaff in comparison is a waste product for which no one has any particular plan. The choice is ours. We can either make ourselves available to God for him to place us and position us for his purposes; or we can simply follow the winds and whims of our feelings and desires and take a chance where we end up. 
Psalm 1 says, “Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.”                The Bible teacher Ray Stedman says that “to walk in the Bible, refers to the decisions we have to make. The crucial question is who is the guiding influence on those decisions?  
To stand is a picture of the people and causes to which we commit ourselves. It is what we base our life upon. 
And to sit speaks of the attitude and disposition with which a person regards life. To sit in the seat of mockers is to become the sort of person who blames everyone but themselves, for all that is wrong. They are cynical of everything and everybody.
All in all, the person who wants to reap a spiritual harvest does not walk, sit or stand according to selfish designs but as v 3 tells us “his delight is in the law of the Lord.
They do not attempt to draw up their own production methods to create a happy life they go to God and follow his plan.

2. Provision
The God centred person is like a tree planted by a good water supply.  But those who try to live without God are like chaff, they have no roots with which to draw up water.
We tend to think that saintly people, who know God and are filled with an infectious kind of joy and peace, are like that because they have that kind of personality or that they somehow have an in-built goodness that they inherited.  Or we think they are like that because they have worked really hard at being religious.  But they would be the first to deny it was any of those things.  It is not a question of ability or aptitude it is simply that they have discovered a source of strength upon which they can draw. 
The hope of the Christian faith is not based upon who can fulfil a list of rules but upon the promise that when we give our live to him, God promises to come and live in our hearts and minds through his Spirit.  Paul talked about the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory. (Colossians 1:27)
Sadly sometimes when we Christians try to share our faith we can appear to be seeking to impose our views on others and create the impression that we are better than others.  But really the motivation is simply to share good news.  We have found a something that helps us live with power and purpose.  If we fail and do not sometimes appear to live any better than the godless that is not the fault of the source of strength it is the fact that we have failed to draw often enough from it.

3. Production
This Psalm is not so much about actions but attitudes. It’s about where you stand, sit and walk in relation to God.   We have a choice in that. Choices do have consequences.  Where you stand, sit and walk in relation to God has an effect upon our life and upon what kind of things we reap.
The life centred on the developing a relationship with God and the life that fails to give that part of life any attention both bring results. The God centred life yields fruit.  The other produces something but it is something that cannot last. 
 “The Lord watches over the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish.” (v6)
There are some things that last the distance and some things that don’t.  The only thing that will count after we have past the best of our mental and physical powers is character.  If all that the Bible says is true about there being an eternal life, then what will count most of all is the state of our relationship with God. 
1 Corinthians 13 says, “Where there are prophecies they will cease. Where there are tongues they will be stilled, where there is knowledge it will pass away……..But these three remain, faith, hope and love and the greatest of these is love.”

The word Paul uses here is agape. This love can only be produced through a relationship with God.  And so if it is the only love that remains and it is only found in God then common sense tells us that we had better be growing it and we had better be rooted and grounded in God in order to produce it.
Harvest is about reaping love and God loves to produce it in our lives.  So much so that when he gets to work in our lives we discover that we reap more than we sow. Gypsy Smith was a small boy when his mother died and he had no hope. But after he gave his life to Jesus he got a vision at age seventeen to be a preacher. At the end of his life he could say. ”God did much more for Gypsy Smith than he ever could have expected.”                                                                                                                                                  In celebrating harvest it is good to give thanks for God’s material provision; we do need to remember our responsibilities in sharing our resources with other but if we are to really reap the benefit from our celebration we need to think about how much we will allow God to govern us, so that our everyday life is a harvest of love. Like Gypsy Smith it will then be possible to say, God did far more with us than could have been expected.

God bless




The Fruitful Word of God

Exeter Temple Bible notes:  Sunday 13th October 2013
Bible Reading  Isaiah 55:8-13

In Isaiah 55 the prophet deals with the fact that there is a huge contrast between human beings and God.                                                                             
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are my ways your ways.” declares the Lord. “As the heavens are above the earth so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” (v8-9)
1.            The Contrast
a)            He is more powerful
The promises of God are a way of referring to everything God has said.  According to the OED a promise is: an assurance that one will do something or that something will happen.  As human beings we only have limited authority to state something is so or can be so regardless of how much we might want it or plan it.  But this is not true of God.  He is all knowing, he is all powerful and he is everywhere.  As a result when God declares something is so or can be so, it is.                                                                                                                                                                                  “My word will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”  (v11)
The word of God is creative; every time God says something it happens. His word is his agency for action.”       (Carlton Williams)                                                                                                          
Every word God has ever spoken has significance. His words are always productive and they never stop working.                                                             
V 10  “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater so is my word that goes out from my mouth.”   
Nature illustrates the way in which God’s word operates.  It doesn’t disappear, it is conserved. As recycled rain is part of our ecosystem that cause plants to grow so the eternal word of God  it appears again and again to transform and bring life to hearts and minds.  This means that the words spoken by God in his word have relevance for every generation.
b)            He is more effective
Man’s world is filled with himself, his importance, his achievements, his advancements.
“When they measure themselves by themselves they are not wise” (2 Corinthians 10:12)
“The way of peace they do not know; there is no justice in their paths. They have turned them into crooked roads; no one who walks along them will know peace.” (Isaiah 59:8)
There are 3 basic human needs

Significance                       Security                               Satisfaction

When those needs are not met we have no peace and our capacity to reach our full potential as human being is severely hampered.  We are designed for those needs to be fully met through our relationship with God.                                                                                                                                         “My God shall supply all your needs according to his riches in glory.” (Philippians 4:19                                                                                                 
Without God people develop elaborate systems to try to ensure their needs are met another way.  When these don’t work they invent coping mechanisms to try and handle these emotions.  Some of those coping mechanism become addictive and are often very damaging. Man’s way is ineffective but God has promised to supply all our needs effectively.  What confuses us is that his way of doing that is very different to our way. When human beings both Jews and Greeks looked at the man who claimed to be the Saviour of the world, hanging on a Roman cross they could not believe that this could ever be part of God’s plan.  Paul commented, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing. To human thinking the cross looks like failure but Paul ends the sentence, “but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. It seems like madness but it works.
c)            He is more loving
God does not just operate from a position of power but from a heart of grace.  God’s power always operates in harmony with his nature of love. We need to look back a little further into the passage to see this.

V6-8 “Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts.  Let him turn to the Lord and he will have mercy on him and to our God for he will freely pardon. For my thoughts are not your thoughts neither are your ways my ways.                                                                                                  
Again there is contrast here.  God is a lot kinder than us. I read something really liberating this week in my daily devotions. “Far be it from our heavenly Father to demand impossibilities of his children. It is possible to please him in all things for he is not hard to please. He is neither a hard master nor an austere Lord……….. It is really much easier to please him than to please men.”  EM Bounds:
God never asks us to do anything for which he doesn’t supply the resources; people often expect other people to make “bricks without straw” God loves to freely pardon (v 7) human beings often want not only justice but retaliation. 
Psalm 36 describes the love of God. “Your love O Lord reaches to the heavens, your faithfulness to the skies, Your righteousness is like the mighty mountain, your justice like the great deep.”

 2.            The Choice
Isaiah does not just tell us this about God to make us feel inferior to him but to help us to see that God’s superior power, wisdom and character makes it imperative and desirable that we know him.  He urges us to “Seek the Lord while he may be found and to call on him while he is near.
We are free moral agents we can choose our own way or choose to receive his revealed word to govern our life and actions. And when that happens our living is transformed.
In his dealings with the church at Corinth, Paul was exasperated by the way the people there were jealous and quarrelled with one another.  He said this about them in  1 Corinthians 2:2 “ You are still worldly, for since there is jealousy and quarrelling among you are you not acting like mere men?”
What we need to remember here is that to live according to God’s word, that is living in harmony with his thoughts and his ways is to be raised up to another kind of living.  He seems to suggest that as big as the gap is between men and God, human beings do not have to settle for living as mere men. The Bible promises that the word of God becomes implanted in the very heart of man.

 In hope against all human hope
Self desperate, I believe
Thy quickening word shall raise me up
Thou shalt they Spirit give                                            (Charles Wesley)

 1 Thessalonians 2:13 “And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.”
How is God’s word at work in us?  It is through the Holy Spirit.
I am persuaded that the mistake that thousands of people make is to imagine that Christianity is a natural thing, a natural life lived on a higher plane than the ordinary life.  This is not so. It is a divine life manifested in the energy of the Spirit.”  (HA Ironside) 
And so the powerful promises of God, the higher and more effective wisdom of God and the loving ways of God operate in our lives and the consequence is transformation and fruitfulness.  “And you shall go out with joy and be led forth in peace.”
 “God is saying, "That which has caused pain to you shall be turned into blessing; in its place shall grow up beauty and love." I have seen this happen in many lives. Some people have the thorn of cynicism and sarcasm growing in them, but let them be touched by the Word of God and soon the graceful fir of patience and understanding grows in its place. Some harbour the brier of malice and envy, but let them be touched with the Word, the rain and the snow from heaven, and there will grow up in its place the delicate myrtle of compassion and kindness.” (Ray Stedman)

The word of God is transformational. It does not always conform to human logic but when we trust it, we see God’s thoughts; God’s ways expressed in his words are true and right and bring fruitfulness.

God bless