Thursday, 27 March 2014

Like children


Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 23rd March 2014
Bible Readings:          Mark 10:13-16   Matthew 18:1-6
                                           He called a little child and had him stand among them."
                                                                          (Matthew 18:2)
Some parents brought their babies to Jesus for Him to bless them but the disciples tried to prevent them. Jesus intervened, welcomed the children and went on to teach an important lesson through them.
1. Everyone is welcome
It was the custom of the times for mothers to bring their children to some distinguished rabbi on their first birthday that he might bless them. The parents were acting according to the custom of the day but in doing so were recognising Jesus’ position and authority as a teacher and leader. They hoped that his blessing and contact with their child would have a positive effect. These parents came to Jesus because they wanted their children to be winners not losers. Throughout history society has seen the rich, the powerful or the accomplished as winners and the rest as losers.
In Jesus’ day it was also believed that being a winner depended upon a person having the favour of God.  Disability, illness, bereavement, childlessness, low social status, scandal could all be reasons to label a person a loser. It was believed that if these things affected you then somehow you or your parents had earned God’s disapproval or even that  the devil had cursed you. In addition your inadequacy, your failures, your lack of moral fibre could also exclude you from God’s blessing. 
Jesus didn’t condemn these parents for wanting his blessing to guarantee immunity for their children from that.  
Jesus also actively called the ones who were able to walk to Him to come to Him themselves. Jesus still calls children to come and follow him. 
85% of the people who come to Christ are people under the age of 18. 
This story is not just about the importance of children’s ministry, but an example of Jesus living out the message he was continually preaching. 
We have lost the impact of it, today but Jesus revolutionary statements which we call the Beatitudes upset the religious establishment to the core. 
See Matthew 5:1-12
Some have interpreted these as a recipe for right living, a list of attitudes we should have But what if Jesus was actually saying something like this? 
Hey! You who have no spiritual references! Come and belong to my kingdom. You, who have lost so much and you who has never been noticed before, I want to give you all the riches of heaven. And those of you whose longing for things to be put right have never been satisfied, I can meet your need. You over there, who have been taken in again and again, used, abused and put upon, you can come under my rule and I guarantee you will never be taken advantage of.  And those who standards are impeccable, my Kingdom will help you be all that you long to be because you’ll see God himself in it all! If you are worn out with the strain of maintaining relationships or mistreated or misunderstood you can lean on the Father because you are a son of God and a citizen of heaven itself for all eternity.”
If Jesus is actually saying that those who are labelled losers can still be blessed by God then these are an announcement of good news.
It is easy to get sucked into the world’s view perception of who should be welcome and drawn into a religious perception of who God blesses.  
Even as committed, Christians we get to feel that somehow there are some things the word of God offers or expects of us that doesn’t quite include us.  Somehow we’ve thought that the Holy Spirit is for extroverts, that ministry is for the gifted and that prayer is only for the pious!
We have to think differently about ourselves, what we can do and what we can be.  
2.  No one should be hindered    
If the kingdom of God is for everyone, then nothing should get in the way of people knowing that and having access to it. Everyone is welcome and no one should be hindered from coming to Jesus.
“Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them; for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these”.
Why did the disciples try to block these parents from getting their children to Jesus?
One problem was that they were extremely busy. Some days they didn’t even have enough time to eat, so they didn’t want to be interrupted.
Maybe the disciples could also see the strain of the impending crisis that Jesus would face in Jerusalem beginning to wear on him and they were trying to watch out for the Lord.
But Jesus’ was still displeased with his disciples and his reaction to the disciples’ attempt to protect him show us that there is never a good reason to consider some people too insignificant or too irrelevant for our consideration.
The disciples hindered the children; Jesus rebuked the disciples and invited the children. The lesson is clear: Disciples of Jesus should remove all hindrances that keep anyone from coming to Jesus.
We do not actively say to people, “Don’t come to the Salvation Army, we don’t want you.” But people are sometimes hindered from exploring faith or receiving the ministry of Jesus through us by things other than words.
It might simply be that people are hindered by lack of knowledge. They don’t know what is on offer. It might be simple things like the times we are available for people.  It might be a perception that they are not welcome because they do not already have their faith sorted out.
Some people are hindered by bad publicity about the Church and stories of abuse. Some are fearful that the church will make unreasonable demands on their time or even that we are after their money.  Jesus is quite clear that we must not hinder people from coming to Him. 
May God help us to see ourselves through other people’s eyes and the message we are giving out. 
3. We all need to be like children
This story is often depicted in nice scenes of Jesus surrounded by cute kids but it is not a totally comfortable one. It contains a warning.
Having child-like qualities is not only desirable but essential. 
The disciples of Jesus had fixed ideas about how Jesus would rule as a King. They were very concerned that when Jesus set up his government they would hold influential positions. Jesus used a little child to illustrate his point that “Unless you change and become like little children you will
never enter the kingdom of heaven.” They might not even get in to the kingdom let alone hold office in it.
Jesus says that unless we learn from children we are losing out on something so vital that we lose touch with God and how He rules the universe.
A child at birth is helpless and cannot provide for himself. There is nothing they can do to feed themselves, keep themselves clean, keep warm or safe. They are completely dependent. 
In our need to be rescued from the power of sin, we need to recognise that we are as helpless as babies. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves.
This was something that Jesus pointed out to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”
As we grow learn to play “let’s pretend”. Let’s pretend we are coping OK. Let’s pretend we are more in control than we really are, let’s pretend we don’t really care etc. etc. As we grow it’s easy to try to hide behind masks and we can find ourselves being less than honest with ourselves, others and God. 
Unless we go back to the place where we cry out to God to help us, in the same way as a baby cries out to be fed or changed or held we will never find our place in the kingdom. 
A child does not have blind faith, but keeps on asking questions and keeps on discovering more. Some adults never come to faith in God because they need all the answers first, but God is just too big for that.
Other adults have a faith which never asks any hard questions but that kind of faith is no use to us in really testing circumstances. Jesus welcomes both belief and questions just as He freely welcomed children.
Jesus loved children. They are teachable. They are not proud, self-important and critical.
We are to come simply to Jesus not with any pride of knowledge or achievement but with the trusting dependency of a small child.

 
God bless
Alan
 

 

Thursday, 20 March 2014

Battles


Exeter Temple message notes
Sunday 16th March 2014
Bible Reading:            Exodus 17:8-16
Isaac had two sons, Esau and Jacob. We know that Esau as the firstborn had a valuable birth right but one day when he was physically hungry he exchanged it with his brother Jacob for a bowl of lentils. The bible says he despised his birth right.
Later he was also tricked into losing his father’s blessing to Jacob and this meant he had to go out and build his own inheritance. He was successful and created a dynasty. He had a son Eliphaz who had a son called Amalek. The Israelites were descendants of Jacob and the Amalekites the descendants of Esau. 
The origins of each dynasty, lead to two very different approaches towards culture and destiny.  The Israelites, when they are not busy grumbling see themselves a people, called into being by God, dependent upon him, rescued from slavery and on a journey to fulfilment of God’s plan and purpose for them as a people.  The Amalekites on the other hand are a people who have forged their own way; they have what they have because they have grabbed it and made it theirs.  Theirs is a culture of self-reliance.  Deuteronomy tells us that they had no fear of God. 
1. Sign up for the battle
In the desert the two opposing cultures came to blows.
In the world today, we face a choice between two opposing ways of living life, of culture and destiny.  Are we a people, with a sense of calling by God to belong to him, to look to him for salvation, purpose and direction?  This is the way we choose, if we choose to follow Jesus. Or do we live life to please our own dreams, driven by our own ambition and reliant upon our own human plans and skills to bring them into being. 
It is our version of the battle of the Israelites with the Amalekites. This passage of scripture is a passage of firsts. It is the first battle Israel fought. It is the first mention of the Amalekites and the first mention of Joshua.
The first battle we fight as Christians is the battle within us, the battle of the worldly thinking against spiritual thinking.
In v9 Moses said to Joshua, “Choose some of our men and go out and fight the Amalekites.
The church is often so weak because its members have not dealt with the part of them which is antagonistic to relying upon God and not on self. There is a part of me that loves God and spiritual things. But there is another part of me that hates the things of God. There is a part of me that wants to read my Bible and a part that says read something else. There is a part of me that says Pray and another part that says don’t bother.
It is interesting that Deuteronomy tells us that the Amalekites method was to pick off those who lagged behind.  Why were they lagging behind?  Who knows but at a guess I would say it was because they were distracted and pre-occupied with something other than the journey they were supposed to be on.
Having fallen prey to the Amalekites once, Moses was not prepared to let it go at that. He knew that they must be dealt with decisively.
Some of our biggest problems are because we won’t go into the battlefield to fight. In other words we want to avoid the issues. But although God will win victories for us he won’t win them without us being engaged with him in them.
2. Rally round the banner 
V9b “Tomorrow I will stand on the top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands.
All battles need someone at the top of the hill. Moses rod raised in the air was a sign of his leadership and his authority under God. When the rod was raised, the Israelites started gaining ground, when it was lowered they began to lose ground.
This would all seem foolish to the Amalekites. Can you imagine their army joking? “Why on earth is he holding a stick in the air? Do they think a piece of wood will save them?
But that is exactly what they thought.  When they saw the rod of Moses the Israelites remembered how he had used it to defeat Pharoah’s magicians and how when he had raised it over the Red Sea they had passed through it on dry ground.
It might look foolish but they knew that whilst there was no power in the rod itself, it symbolises God’s power.
God also saves us through a piece of wood. We call it a cross. It is foolishness to some but to those who believe it is the power of God for our salvation. In this battle against relying upon ourselves, the devil might tell us we are fools but our answer lies in looking to the victory of the cross. When we look to the cross we remember we could do nothing to release ourselves from the bondage of sin, just as the Israelites couldn’t get through the Red Sea without God using Moses rod. We start to realise again that it is God who will see us through this battle too. 
The determining factor in this battle was not which side had the better army or the greater military strategy. The determining factor was whether or not Moses could hold up his hands.
This incident is was a lesson for Moses and all of Israel that they had to come in subjection and humility before God, relying on him and him alone. Only when Moses held up his arms – as if calling on God and surrendering himself to God could God act. When he forgot about God or grew weary and dropped his arms God was not able to work.
God is always there to help us. He will do the fighting for us if only we are open to him and rely on him.

Holding up one’s hands was a symbol of appeal to God for help and enablement. It means prayer. The action on the hill top determined the outcome of the action in the valley . The real spiritual success or failure of a church will not be the talent of the leaders or the size of the congregation. God’s message was this.  In our spiritual conflicts the outcome is not determined by what is seen on the field of battle but rather what happens in the place of prayer.
After the battle was over and won Moses set up an altar and called it Jehovah Nissi which means “The Lord is my banner.” 
A banner even now is a standard that bears the colours by which a military unit is identified. The flag has no power in itself, it signifies that the soldiers who are fighting have behind them the authority power and resources of the person, the nation or the organisation name upon it.
If we are Christians we can fly God’s flag or banner because we have at our disposal all of God’s authority, power and resources.
In our battles of which the first is the battle against our own worldliness God does and is providing us with his banner. He is your banner, he is my banner, he is our banner. We need to rally behind it. If we lock him out of our life and fly our own flag he can’t work.
3. Keeping the flag flying   
In the battle against the Amalekites, Moses became Israel’s focal point and whilst they kept their eyes on him and his shepherds rod was raised the Israelites prevailed but when his arms fell they were losing.
So what could they do?  First they got a seat for him and Aaron and Hur held his hands up so that he hands remained steady until sunset.
This reminds us too of how Jesus needed his disciples to pray with him in Gethsemene. Can you imagine that if the Son of God needed his disciples to pray for him how much more we need intercessors to pray for us?
Why are we so often struggling with our spiritual battles? Why don’t we win the battle of the flesh at times?  Why don’t we want to even engage in dealing with our inner issues sometimes?  We like Moses often plan to go to the hilltop to lift our hands in prayer but we don’t always do it.
Why not?
It is often because we are trying to go it alone. Moses was not so foolish. He took his friends with him Aaron and Hur with him.
T - Together
E – Everyone
A - Achieves
M - More
We are too embarrassed or too ashamed to ask our church family to help with our battle.
Unfortunately, the enemy wins way too many battles because we don’t help each other on the battlefield. Galatians 6:2 (NIV) Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.

God bless
Carol

Thursday, 13 March 2014

Choices


Bible Message notes
Sunday 9th March 2014
Bible Reading: Exodus 17:1-7
Choices are important and often what we choose to do reveals the underlying values which drive us.  As the Israelites journeyed through the wilderness they had choices to make, not just about whether they did what God told them to but choices about the attitudes they took in the circumstances they faced.
1. Rest or Rush
The place they came to was called Rephidim, It was supposed to be place of refreshment but when they got there, there was no water. 
The immediate response was to rush to demand that Moses resolve the situation, there and then.
In their panic and under pressure they lashed out with the accusation that Moses had made them leave Egypt. Their quick analysis of what was going on was that they were going to die of starvation.  Rushing to conclusions they came near to stoning Moses.
It seems a tall order to have expected the people to rest in such circumstances but that is what faith can do, even when there seems to be no way forward and it looks like we’re finished.
God would not have allowed His people to die of thirst, as they accused.
Had they but waited, God would have provided for them. Their lack of faith was manifested in their impatience. 
Looking back on this part of Israel’s history the Psalmist wrote,
“But they soon forgot what God had done and did not wait for his counsel”. (Psalm 106:13) 
In every instance where Israel lacked either food or water, Israel acted prematurely. God would have provided for His people’s needs in His own time, but this was too late so far as the Israelites were concerned. Unbelief is often hasty; faith is patient and endures. 
2. Respect or Rebellion
The second choice that the people had at Rephidim was to show God the respect His person should command or to arrogantly rebel against Him.
In verse 2 Moses wanted to know, Why do you put the Lord to the test?”
It seems the people of God are turning the tables on the Lord and assume that they can test Him.  They put Him on trial.
C.S. Lewis wrote, The modern man approaches God as the judge: Man puts God in the dock. Man is quite a kindly judge: if God should have a reasonable defense for being the God who permits war, poverty and disease, he is ready to listen to it. The trial may even end in God’s acquittal. But the important thing is that Man is on the Bench and God in the Dock.”
And we are wrong. We are not the judge. He is.
And He will judge rightly every single time.
So we’ve got to get the order right. He’s the Lord. He calls the shots.
They presumed that God must work according to their plan. They sought to demand that God do what they want.
When we demand that someone prove themselves to us we reveal our lack of trust in them.
God is not at our beck and call, a kind of heavenly servant to jump to our every tune. It finally will not be we who will test our God; it will be our God who will test us to see if that God can finally find faith on the earth.
 3. Responsiveness or Resistance
Israel’s response to the lack of water is no mere repetition of their previous grumbling. Their attitudes had hardened.  
When there was no water at Rephidim they went further than just have a moan. They went from grumbling to quarrelling.  They turned on Moses who had put his life on the line for them so many times but more than this they asked the question; “Is the Lord among us or not?”
Based upon what was going on right under their noses that should have been a silly question.  
They had been in the place where there was no water before and God had provided but even at Rephidim whilst there was no water, the manna still turned up every day and the cloud which was the visible manifestation of God’s presence was still there. 
There was no water but there was still plenty of evidence that God was with them, if they could keep their hearts open to Him.  But it seems that somehow the miracles of the past had become co-incidences, the supply of manna, a right rather than a gift of grace and the presence of the cloud an irrelevance. 
It is normal to ask God questions and nobody wants to be  na├»ve, but there is something so soul destroying about becoming reluctant to believe in the genuineness of people and ultimately that God is not out to get us but genuinely loves us and wants the best for us.
None of us want to be taken in, but if our first reaction is always to assume that people who are successful must be manipulating, or that a response to an altar call must be emotionalism, or that people who come to ask for help are really on the take, or that if a method, ministry or expression of faith does not fit my own experience it must be defective will eventually fur up our spiritual arteries and have a devastating effect on our relationship with God.  
As a result Moses renamed Rephidim, and instead called it Massah which means test and Meribah which means quarrel, an epitaph which the Israelites would gladly have stricken from their history.
Thankfully, Moses kept his head. His choice when faced with an escalating tension between him and the people was not to run away but to cry out to God for help.
If it is not presumption to say so, God also had choices.
In the face of the rebellion and resistance God’s response could have been retaliation but instead we see a revelation of his grace.
God said, Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink. And Moses did this, in the sight of the elders of Israel.
The people are faithless but God is faithful.
This is not an encouragement for us to be faithless, it is an acknowledgement that we often are and that even in those times God meets us with one grace after another.
He is a good God. He is faithful. His constant supply and His boundless grace are intended to teach us that He can be trusted.
In the middle of their worst hour, God was there. And He still is and He still pours water from a rock.
Do you know that this story is a foretaste of what God provided through Jesus?  
1 Corinthians 10:1-4  “For I do not want you to be ignorant of the fact, brothers, that our forefathers were all under the cloud and that they all passed through the sea. They were all baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea. They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; for they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ.”
The rock that was struck and broken so that it released life-giving water reminds us of Jesus, whose body was broken so that salvation and life could be poured out upon a world that have no hope of life without Him.  
Do you remember singing in Sunday School, Jesus is the rock of our salvation and his banner over me is love?  I have tended to think of that as meaning that Jesus is a sure foundation upon which to build a life, but it takes on added meaning when we think of Jesus as a rock from which living water flows into our souls.
We face choices as the ancient people of God did, and like them at times our hearts become hard and dry but God’s grace is still the same and we can come to the rock which is Jesus to receive healing and new life.

God bless
Alan 

Out of Egypt


Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 2nd March 2013
Exodus 15&16

After a period of about 6 months when they saw the miraculous power of God at work the Israelites it felt like the miracles had dried up as the water supply ran out.
Deuteronomy 8:2Remember how the Lord you God led you all the way in the desert forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands.”
Why would God test them? Why not anticipate their needs and give them what they needed before they asked?  God tests us so that what is in our hearts is revealed, not for his own information or to condemn us but so that our relationship with him is put on a sound basis and we know where its weaknesses are.
1. Marah         Exodus 15:22-27
After three days in the desert the Israelites are desperate to find some kind of oasis or well.  They discover a watering hole but are disappointed when the water in undrinkable. They named the place Marah, which means bitter. It is a place of disappointment. We can be sure life will bring its disappointments.
Naomi and her family hoped migration from famine in Bethlehem to Moab would improve their lives but but instead both her sons died.  On her return to Bethlehem she applied the historical experience of the Israelites to her own situation, “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.” (Ruth 1:20)
The test is, “Can we still believe that God has our lives in his hands that he can either turn our disappointment to joy or lead us to fulfilment in another direction?”
The Israelites took their disappointment out on Moses and Aaron.  One response to disappointment is to lash out at easy targets and apportion blame.  Marah also revealed that the Israelites had a passion for grumbling. God does not view grumbling as inconsequential.
Elsewhere in the Bible he lists grumbling among the top seven things he detests.  In the New Testament, Paul warns believers not to grumble as the Israelite
(1 Cor 10:10) "Instead, trust that God is faithful and he will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear, but will also provide a way out when we are tempted.  Grumbling shows lack of gratitude for what God has already done and lack of trust in God’s word.

Moses was just as thirsty as the people and had the added burden of being blamed for the situation.  He doesn’t fall into self-pity or give up his commitment to God but turned to prayer. God’s answer wasn’t to stop the Israelites feeling thirsty, to provide a new spring or make it rain hard enough for the people to catch fresh water in their water jars. It was to open Moses eyes to what was already there and to a resource that he could use to transform the situation.  He showed Moses a piece of wood which when thrown it into the water, purified it.  There is scientific evidence that shows wood can be used in water purification and it may be a natural principle at work here was magnified by the Lord so that one branch could make a whole stream pure. In the NT 5 loaves and 2 fish was multiplied in the hands of Jesus to feed 5000 people.
Whatever happened when we cry out to God instead of complaining about our situation he will often open our eyes to see his provision in things and in people that were always there but we had dismissed or overlooked. Then with his power, ordinary things can be used by him to meet desperately bitter situations, bitter hearts and minds and transform them. We know that God longs to do that because he declared that that is his nature. He is Jehovah Rapha the God who heals.

 
2. Desert of Sin       Exodus 16:1-12

45 days into the desert provisions were getting scarce. The people were wishing that they had never left Egypt.
Moses didn’t exaggerate the troubles of the past or play down the difficulties of the present but turned their attention to God.
Moses reminded the people that God was listening to their lack of faith in him and ignoring his presence.  “You are not grumbling against us but against the Lord.” he says.   And that is serious.
The test here was to keep their vision alive.  Would they keep moving forward towards the Promised Land despite the fact that the route to it was tough?
The Israelites had a selective memory problem. They were forgot the seriousness of the crisis that God had just delivered them from and began to romanticize their slavery as the "glory days" of Israel.  But in truth, they were slaves to the Egyptians.
These people talked freedom, but thought slavery. Canaan and Egypt were in the same valley but in extreme opposite directions. To reach one, you had to turn your back on the other.
Many times we would rather go back into the bondage of the enemy than to fight for the victory. We’d rather settle for mediocrity, than to strive for the pursuit and possession of God promises.
Aaron encouraged by Moses addresses the whole community and reminds them about what their focus should be.  They should look to God.“Come before the Lord for he has heard your grumbling.”
In verse 10 comments about the way that Aaron had the people facing whilst he spoke.
“Whilst Aaron was speaking to the whole Israelite community, they look towards the desert.”  They were looking towards the Promised Land, not back to Egypt.
And as they did that, there was the glory of the Lord appearing in the cloud.  The Lord’s glory was really seen in his willingness to listen to the cries of his people, even grumbling and complaining and his willingness to lead them forward into a new future, with the promise that he would provide for their needs along the way.  
Will we take this as a promise for the Salvation Army as we engage as a UKT in Fit for Mission and for this Corps and we continue to review our Mission Development Plan? 

3 The Twilight Zone     Exodus 16:12-15
God said that he would provide meat at twilight and bread in the morning.
There are several tests here. 
When God answered their prayers would they acknowledge his answer and give him credit?
Now they have what they wanted would they listen to his instructions on how to use his provision?
Would they be satisfied with what had been provided?
They didn’t connect the manna with God’s promise and were suspicious of it.  They didn’t listen to God’s instructions through Moses about how to use the manna. Although they were adequately provided for with bread they complained it was boring. Numbers 11:5 we are told that what they really longed for was fish, cucumbers, melons, onions and garlic!
The people complained and disrespected him but he still fed them.
Luther: “All this he does only because he is my good and merciful Father in heaven, and not because I have earned or deserved it.”
Every time we put food in our mouths, we should remember that God loves us for Jesus’ sake and does not treat us as our sins deserve.
The Lord provided manna for the whole time they were in the desert. There was no need for hoarding.  God said he would provide every morning and every evening and he did. 
Our needs spiritually are about the same. Many of us attempt to live on yesterday’s manna.  Someone has said, “Living on yesterday’s spiritual experiences as if they are today’s adventure with Christ will starve your spirit. It will turn your service for Christ into a wormy leftover.”
The reason God gave the children manna fresh every day was so they would learn to depend on Him daily and not wander. It is the same with you and I.  Our daily dependence on Him spiritually is vital to our vitality as servants of Christ. 

Questions                                                                                                                       

1.  Why was it so difficult for the Hebrew people to trust God after he had shown his love for them and demonstrated his power to deliver them?
2. Read Exodus 2:24-25. List the verbs that describe the reaction of God to the plight of the Hebrews. What does this say about the nature of God?
3. Why does God test us?   Can you think of any examples from your own life of testing?                                                                                                                                             4. What is the difference between temptation and a test?

God bless
Alan and Carol