Friday, 11 April 2014

Blue is the colour

Bible Message notes: Sunday 6th April 2014             
Theme: Blue is the Colour

Blue is a colour that represents both the sky and the sea, and is associated with open spaces. Although when we feel down in the dumps we might say we are feeling blue it is many experts will say that the colour blue has positive effects on the mind and the body by invoking rest and causing the body to produce chemicals that are calming. It is believed that it helps to slow human metabolism, is cooling in nature, helps with balance and self-expression and is also an appetite suppressant!  
In the Bible the colour blue is used as a teaching tool about the character of God and as a reminder of how we need to respond to him. The Hebrew word used in the Bible for the blue used in worship is tekhelet.  Tekhelet was produced by a special blue dye which came from a sea snail found in the Mediterranean.                                                                                                                                            
There are four uses of tekhelet in the Hebrew Scriptures.
1. Royalty
The process to produce the tekhelet dye is complicated and so tekhelet was always been expensive. For this reason alone it became a symbol of kings in the ancient Near East.  Ezekiel 23:5–6 speaks of the Assyrian nobles who were dressed with blue and Esther 1:6 describes the Persian royal palace has having white and blue wall hangings.
There is also a connection with blue and authority.  When God was confirming his covenant with the Israelites he invited Moses, Aaron Nadab and Abihu and 70 elders to come before him.
Exodus 24: 9-10 says that they went up and “saw the God of Israel. Under his feet was something like a pavement made of sapphire, clear as the sky itself.” 
The two most powerful things in the experience of man outside of God were the blue sky and the blue sea. Life and death came from them both as in many ways it still does. Here in Exodus is a God who has them both as a pavement upon which to rest his feet. He is not subject to nature, he is above it.
The book of Ezekiel opens during a time when Israel had been overtaken by the invading Babylonians.  People of any leadership ability were taken into exile and those left behind struggled to survive after years of war and famine.  At this worrying time the word of the Lord came to Ezekiel. In the midst of many spectacular visions Ezekiel sees the throne of God.
“Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord and when I saw it I fell down and I heard the voice of one speaking.”  (Ezekiel 1:26-28)
 Following this vision of the sapphire blue throne, Ezekiel would forever remember that though things seemed out of control, God was still on his throne.
Jesus taught us to pray, “Our Father in heaven hallowed by your name.” (Matthew 6:9)
When we prayer that prayer we are not just announcing God’s postal address but declaring his status in the universe. What Moses and Ezekiel realised through their experience was that God’s heavenly position was not about location but about his ability to take control.
When children are small they often assume that their parents can do anything. They soon learn that whilst sometimes parents can do what is asked there are other occasions when it is beyond their power to do anything about it.
But with God we do not just have a father but a Father in heaven. A God who can act without the limitations of humanity to support, provide for, redeem and liberate his children.  
2. Priesthood
The second use of blue in the Bible is in the tabernacle and later the temple. There were four layers of curtains covering the tabernacle. There were patterns woven into the inner curtains and blue was a main part of the colour scheme. 
Also the formal ritual clothes of the High Priest who served in the house of God were dominated by the colour blue.  Exodus 28:31-43.  In these verses  the linen robe called an ephod, the breast piece, and the headpiece all had blue in them. Overall the High Priest’s outer robe was to be entirely made of material dyed with tekhelet.   
This was a reminder of God’s sovereignty but also of his holiness. Whilst white is the most obvious symbol of purity to us, the Israelites lived in a climate, where much to the year they experienced the clear, blue cloudless skies and the sun shining down on the unpolluted blue waters of a lake. It is dazzling and breath-taking. 
The High Priest represented people before God, while at the same time representing God to man. When they saw the robe of the High Priest, they were meant to catch a symbolic glimpse of the dazzling and breath-taking righteousness and purity of God.
The reality was that the priests themselves just wore the robe.  Although hopefully they lived obedient lives, like all men they failed to perfectly reflect the righteousness and purity of God.  The priests themselves were sinners and therefore had to make sacrifice for themselves as well as the people.   Also when they died the priests had to be replaced.
If we have a God who is so great that he can have a sapphire sky as a mere footstool but we also have the image of the blue robed priest, who is a forerunner of the great high priest Jesus of whom Hebrews 4:14 We have a great high priest who has gone into heaven and he is Jesus the Son of God.  That is why we must hold on to what we have said about him. Jesus understands every weakness of ours because he was tempted in every way that we are. But he did not sin! So whenever we are in need we should come bravely before the throne of our merciful God. There we will be treated with undeserved kindness and we will find help. “

What an amazing God we serve!

3. Obedience
It is a fact of human nature that if we do not have something to remind us we tend to forget about God and fall back into our old ways.
In the Old Testament the way God’s people were helped to remember God and his commands was through blue ribbons.
In Numbers 15:37–41 God instructed His people to put tassels on the corners of their garments.  On each of the fringes they were to place a blue cord or ribbon.  This instruction had this purpose. “You will have these tassels to look at and so you will remember all the commands of the Lord that you may obey them.” (v39-40)
The tassels are a reminder of God’s word, his truth and his commands. When they looked at the tassels they were reminded that the God who is holy as command that his people be holy as he is holy.  They are called to live lives in line with the character and ways of God, which has been revealed to them through the law.
A problem arises from the fact that people despite the reminder on their clothing they failed to be holy as God is hold and failed to keep the commands. Sometimes they lost sight of the fact that keeping the law was not just a matter of outward observances but a matter of loving God with all their heart mind and soul.
This sometimes led to hypocrisy.  In Matthew 23:5 Jesus says about the Pharisees, "But they do all their deeds to be noticed by men; for they broaden their phylacteries, and lengthen the tassels of their garments.”
So what is to be done?
The prophets of old saw the problem and received the promise from God when the word of God would just not be written on tablets of stone and remembered by tassels and ribbons on clothes but it would be internalised. Through Jeremiah God promised “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.” (Jeremiah 31:33)
And this promise was fulfilled through Jesus. According to John 1:1 and 14, Jesus is the word of God made flesh. Jesus lives out the written word of God.  We are promised that through the Holy Spirit, Jesus the living word comes to live in us and empowers us to fulfil God’s command to be holy and righteous. Paul prays with confidence, “I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”  (Ephesians 3:16-17)
We are a people who are called to a performance religion but a people who are given the means to actually fulfil the commands of Christ through his indwelling presence in our hearts.  We call that holiness.
We are not any different to Pharisee who lengthened the tassels on their robes to parade their religious superiority if all we do is turn up for parade on a Sunday morning but don’t live the life and if we are just outwardly conforming to rules but not loving him. 
The blue in our flag doesn’t just point to the fact that God is holy but that through the sacrifice of Jesus and the empowering of the Holy Spirit I can be holy too. 


Saturday, 5 April 2014

Children of God

Sunday 30th March 2014
Exeter Temple Message notes
Bible Reading:      1 John 3:1-3
The Authorised Version of 1 John 3:1 says, Behold what manner of love the Father has given unto us that we should be called the sons of God.
Behold is derived from an old English word bihaldon which is a combination of bi meaning thorough and haldan which means to hold. So beholding is about being thorough in the way you observe something.
The CEV says: Think about how much the Father loves us. He loves us so much that he lets us be called his children, as we truly are.”  

1.  Think about what the love of God is like
The NIV misses the phrase out but still declares God’s love to be great. “How great is the love the Father has lavished on us.”
Whatever translation we use it is clear John wants to realized that God’s love is beyond the ordinary.
After the disciples saw Jesus still the storm on the lake they asked each other, “What kind of man is this?” (Luke 8:25) They knew they were dealing with a man who had power that they had never seen the like of before. 
Someone has said, “God may be out of the world, but he’s not out of the picture.”
Instead God’s love has been lavished upon us. It is more than just someone loving us. It is someone loving us in an uncommon and extraordinary way. We take this too much for granted. John was not a young man when he wrote these words but he still stands in awe of it

2.  Think about who we are in his love 
There is a sense in which all people are children of God just because God loves and created every person but John is clear in his letter that there is a personal child/parent relationship we can have with God that we have to deliberately enter into.
"Yet to all who received him, to those who believed on his name, he gave the right to become children of God." John 1:12  
God extends the free invitation to be a part of his family to everyone, but it is up to us to choose whether we will receive it or not. 
This is astounding because of our sin and rebellion and the fact that to bring us into his family God sacrificed his own son.                                                                                                                           
In the world there are three ways that you can become part of someone’s family.  First of all you can be born into it biologically.  And the majority of us stay with that family and grow up in it.  Another way is through the law. Adoption is a legal action by which parents take into their family a child who is not their own, in order to give that child all the privileges of their own children. An adopted child according to the law of the land is entitled to all the rights and privileges of a natural born child.
A third way is through marriage. Two people from two different families join together and become a new family but also in a sense join the family of their spouse.
All three ways of becoming part of a family have their parallel with becoming a child of God and part of God’s family.
When we join with Jesus Christ we enter into a covenant relationship as deep as a marriage that separates us from our old life and joins us to the divine family. Collectively believers are known as the bride of Christ and Jesus Christ as the bridegroom.
Adoption is referred to in the New Testament. Ephesians 1:5 “God was kind and decided that Christ would choose us to be God’s own adopted children.” (CEV)
There are reasons why people adopt children; a person has a longing for children but they cannot have any of their own, they might feel compassion towards children who have no family;  they might be attracted to a particular child or a bond may exist between the adoptees and the child’s natural who have died. When we ask what makes God adopt us there are no logical reasons. God is God, he does not need us his life in order to complete him; there was nothing about us that he should be attracted to us. Such is our sin, that we do not even deserve his compassion. We have been adopted simply because God loves us.
When John writes about our becoming children of God he is not thinking just in terms of marriage or adoption but of new birth.  The word translated children” is the translation of a Greek word meaning "born ones." John Piper writes that when a child is adopted as a baby, the new parents loved it and their love and their values influence its life but nothing they do can cause the child to be born again with their personality traits and temperament. But God does. God does not merely take care of paper work and adopts us but he moves into our very nature by his Spirit and implants his nature in us.  Jesus described it like this, Humans give life to their children. Yet only God’s Spirit can change you into a child of God. Don’t be surprised when I say that you must be born from above.” (John 3:6-7 CEV)
John says we are called the children of God and adds, “And that is what we are.”  We are not just children of God through covenant, through adoption but by rebirth. We are not merely “called children of God” but we actually “are children of God.”

3. Think about how his love shapes our future
Only a person who knows God through Christ can appreciate what it means to be called a child of God and even they do not fully grasp the full implications of this for their future lives.
We are already God’s children though what we will be hasn’t yet been made known but we know that when he appears we shall be like him for we shall see him as he is.” (1 John 3v2)
We know something of Jesus here and now, we are being changed in this world and are becoming increasingly like the Lord Jesus but that is nothing compared to the fact that when Jesus Christ returns we will see him as he is in the fullness of his glory and we shall be like him.
The famous preacher Charles Spurgeon reflects on this.  We shall never see him as he was. In vain our fancy tries to paint it, or our imagination to fashion it. We cannot, must not, see him as he was; nor do we wish, for we have a larger promise, "We shall see him as he is."
He goes on to consider that this means we will not see him bound by human limitations or battered by temptation or suffering under the onslaught of evil.  We will see the nail prints in his hands but not the nails for they have been removed. We will see the marks of thorns but as the song says, “the head that once was crowned with thorns is crowned with glory now” We shall not see the Christ wrestling with pain, but Christ as a conqueror.
The result of Christ's appearing is that we will be like Him.  Christ’s victory is ours. We like him will no longer be bound by our human limitations, battered by temptation or suffering under the onslaught of evil.
Yet you and I were not adopted into God’s family to simply sit around and wait for Christ to return.
We have human limitations but we are also born again so we have the life of Christ within us through his spirit, yes we are battered by temptation but we are children of God and we love him and that guards our hearts. A true child of God, who has experienced the love of God, has no desire to sin against that love. We suffer from the onslaught of evil against us but what we have already seen and experienced Jesus helps us to keep faithful. We have the promise of the Word of God and the presence of the Holy Spirit which supports our confidence in the hope of our future state.
 “And everyone who has this hope fixed on Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.” or as the CEV says, “This hopes makes us keep ourselves holy, just as Christ is holy.” (v3)
The Holy Spirit inspired hope of seeing the Lord Jesus arouses the determination to be pure like Him. Then the grace of God touches the will of the Christian to motive him to action.
A Christian writer said, “When I didn’t know as much about Jesus as I know now, I wasn’t as impressed with Him as I am today. And this is amazing because in every other case, the better you know people, the more disillusioned you become as you begin to see their cracks and flaws. Not so with Jesus. The longer you walk with Him and the more you learn about Him, the more you will be impressed by Him, and the more you will long to see Him. Even though now we only see Him through a glass darkly (1 Cor. 13:12), I like what I see! The more and more clearly I see and understand Jesus, the more and more I want to be like Him. What about you?”

Think about how much the Father loves us.  
Think about what that love is like
Think about who you are know because you have received that love
Think about what you have to look forward to because of this love
Think about how that affects the way you live now because of all you have through this love.