Friday, 22 August 2014

The Heart of Mission

Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 17th August 2014
When we ask what is at the heart of mission we have to begin by saying that it is a heart, the heart of God. The first missionary is God himself.
1 John 4 V 9   “This is how God showed his love among us. He sent his one and only son into the world that we might live through him. This is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.
Christ’s coming had nothing to do with God seeing and responding to some signal of love from us. You and I have no love for God. He loved us. Therefore he moved.
Somebody has written, “Christ’s sacrificial blood offering for sin grew out of God’s relentless pursuing, giving, grace-driven love. Love meant God could not leave us as we were. With no reciprocation, with no possibility or response from us he loved us. You and I owed a staggering debt that none of us could pay and Jesus paid. From God’s vantage point you were worth the life of his only Son.”
Stemming from this source there are other things to think about regarding the heart of mission.
 1.        A Mess
At the heart of the mission of Jesus is the recognition that however much religious people and others try to deny it, human beings have a problem which results in messy and dysfunctional lives. 
Bible Reading:  Matthew 9:10-13

 “Our society is involved in an epidemic of selfishness.  Our whole post-modern way of thinking says that we decide what is right and wrong for ourselves out of our own experience; that we as consumers are the ultimate answer to what is right and wrong. It is a manifesto for rampant selfishness. Is there one of your friends who has not been damaged by someone else’s selfishness? Are not marriages breaking down and children being abused because of selfishness? Are not nations at war because of selfishness?What is the answer to this epidemic? 
We can have confidence in the gospel because it has an answer for the deepest sickness in our society.  Let us not rely upon the gospel of comfort where we promise that Jesus will meet all our needs and rescue us from every situation. While this is true in one sense this message plays straight to our post- modern view that our comfort and ease should be our central concern. Let us instead preach a gospel of power to break selfishness as we decide to put Jesus first and make him Lord of our lives.  Let us work together to enable our friends to hear the good news that through Jesus there is a way to break free from the selfishness that can now be seen to be the curse of our families, communities and nations.”
(Laurence Singlehurst)

 2.  Witness
The most convincing messengers about the power of Jesus to cure selfishness are those who have seen it work.  There is tremendous power in first hand witness.
Definition of a witness
“A witness is someone who by explanation and demonstration gives audible and visible evidence of what he has seen and heard without being deterred by the consequences of his action.”

One of the tasks or ministries that Paul included in his list of spiritual gifts and ministries was that of evangelism. It goes alongside being an apostle, prophet or a pastor or a teacher.  Unfortunately many therefore conclude that that evangelism is to be left to the professional but whilst not all of us will have a ministry of evangelism, all Christians are witnesses.    
If there was an accident in a crowded street there would be some people who would have a particular role. A doctor would know what to do for the injured assisted by people around him perhaps, a policeman would come and take control of the situation, a fireman to free people trapped inside vehicles, a garage mechanic to come and remove or repair the damaged cars.  But if you were not fulfilling any of those roles but you were there, there is one thing you can be and that is a witness.
A witness has a first-hand experience. In our case it is of Christ. We know him.
A witness must be able to express in words what they have experienced. Although we may witness through our lives, our work, our relationships, our attitudes, our suffering, even our death we must still tell as we have seen. 
1 Peter 3:15: “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have.”
A witness has compassion for those who are spiritually lost. 
When it comes to mission God’s method of getting the news out there about what Jesus has accomplished and what people need to do about I, the best people to do that are those who are truthful, passionate and convinced because they have   personal experience of its authenticity.
3. Fire
Do you feel the same as Jesus does about your friends and family who do not know him? 
Do you know a passion to reach people with the gospel or do you realise that you think very little about it. 
We are often apathetic and fearful of witnessing.  Some of this is due to misunderstanding the task. Too many of us think that being a witness means that we have to be able to answer difficult theological questions or we have an image in our minds that witnessing has to mean initiating conversations about faith with complete strangers.
Although a good evangelism workshop might address these kind of issues it won’t make a lot of difference unless we sort out whether we have a real passion for God and for lost people.
Much of our unwillingness to be a witness for Jesus or our fear s about it can be overcome by the igniting of passionate love in our lives.
“When the Holy Spirit comes in and Jesus become all and in all to us, the blessing become too big to contain. It just bursts out and overflows through the life, the looks, the conversation, the very tones of the voice and gladdens and refreshes and purifies wherever it goes.”  
(Samuel Logan Brengle)
That kind of quote is music to the ears of some but to others it just highlights for them the difficulty they have with love. It either all sounds mystical or for the saintly few or there is a guilt trip because yet again there is something you are not doing right. They know they don’t love God enough or themselves enough let alone other people. 
If you have a problem with loving God or others enough it will do no good at all to try and summon it up. Loving God comes from the realisation of how much he loves us and receiving his love.
In life we will never have truly loving relationships whilst human beings act like human beings. There is only one being who loves perfectly and that is God. The New Testament states that we are to love God as God loves. If we are ever going to have the same kind of love in our hearts for the lost as God does then we must have the very nature of God in us.
 “The love of God is ours through the work of the Holy Spirit”.  (Oswald Chambers)

Key verse:       Romans 5:5 “And hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit.

As in the current advert the Bible also suggests that we: “Rise and shine, get up and go.”
But as you go, don’t forget that along with the command of Jesus to go and engage in mission outside of the base camp of the church is a promise of passion and power.
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth.”  (Acts 1:8)

God bless

Saturday, 16 August 2014

The Heart of Discipleship

Exeter Temple Bible notes: Sunday 10th August 2014
Psalm 25

Dallas Willard writes, “There is nothing in what Jesus himself or his early followers taught that suggests you can decide just to enjoy forgiveness at Christ’s expense and have nothing more to do with him.
Salvation Army teaching agrees with him. Our doctrine book states, “The commitment of faith made at the point of salvation must be followed by a continual development of our trusting and obedient relationship with God. The moment of salvation must lead to a lifestyle which reflects our understanding of God’s will for our lives. ………..Obedient faith is marked by a desire to know the will of God, prayerful dependence upon him and dedication to living a life that is consistent with his known will.”
The word "disciple" literally means “one who learns.  In the first century lots of people were disciples of someone or other.  Disciples were individuals who had attached themselves to somebody else in order to learn from them.  Discipleship meant much more than just the transfer of information but referred to imitating the teacher’s life, embracing his values, and reproducing his teachings.
Psalm 25 embodies the goals of a disciple that our doctrine book states should be ours. In its original language this Psalm is an alphabetical acrostic. The first line of the first sentence begins with the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet and then the second and so on. 
In a similar vein this look at Psalm 25 will also use an acrostic, based on the word:
David begins his psalm, “To you O Lord I lift up my soul, in you I trust, O my God.”
He says 3 times that his hopes are in God and in v 15 that his “eyes are ever on the Lord."
David knows that ultimately God is the only one who can really make sense of his life and ultimately make the most of the person who is David. The reassurance comes from the Psalm that whilst human leaders, teachers and helpers may be fail the Lord remains good and upright.      
A central factor in the call of Jesus to his mission was that he called disciples to follow him rather than a cause or a set of ideas. He claimed that he did not just offer bread, he was the bread of life, he did not just offer light, he was the light, he did not just give guidance; he was the way.  Our discipleship is caught up with the authenticity of Jesus and if we want to be his disciple, then we must settle once and for all who we think Jesus is. If he is all that he says he us then how could do anything else by look to him to be our hope and our guide for life.  Once we have discovered that this Jesus is so completely worthy of our trust and our commitment then the New Testament urges us to keep him as our focus. “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:2)

 2. E- Environment                                                                                                      God does not teach us in the cosiness of a classroom. He teaches us in the environment of life and circumstances.  David reveals that he is writing at a time of his life where he is under immense pressure. He talks about enemies, being troubled in heart; he speaks of treachery, loneliness, afflictions, humiliation and troubles. Yet at the same time he is asking God to teach him, guide him and instruct him. 
We fall into the trap of letting circumstances, conflicts and emotional hurts to de-motivate us in terms of our willingness to learn and grow. Instead David wants God to use his present messy problem filled existence as his classroom. We need God to help us to see that it is the actual difficulty, trial or issue we are facing that is our very opportunity to learn to pray, to learn to deal with our attitudes, to learn to share our faith, to learn what is means to be Christ-like.

David explains what it is he wants to get out of this godly education programme
“Show me your ways O Lord, teach me your paths and guide me in your truth.” (v 4-5)
David wants to be aware not just of what God does but how he does things. Two different people can approach the same task, the same opportunity or the same problem with a completely different mind-set. God’s ways are different to those of human beings.  Paul tells us that the wisdom of God seems like foolishness.  David recognises that he might not naturally do things God’s way so therefore he needs God to educate him. 
What are the underlying values he needs to build into his life? What should be his priorities?  David was just as susceptible to outside influences as the next man. His prayer was that he wouldn’t be influenced by the false philosophies of the world but that God would guide him in what was true.                                                                                                    
As Jesus is the one person who always acted in the way God intended we need look no further than Jesus to guide us.  Also we have been given the Holy Spirit as our teacher within so that we can think like Jesus, speak like Jesus and act like Jesus.

4. R- Relationship
We get the picture in this psalm of a close teacher pupil relationship. We are not talking about a lecturer and a hall full of students or distance internet course. For David, the experience is more like that of one to one mentoring. 
In v 14 that the Lord God himself “confides” in those who fear him.  
Think about the immensity of the privilege of having God himself through the Holy Spirit as you own personal mentor, confiding in you.  This is something confirmed by Jesus in John 14:26, “The Holy Spirit whom the Father will send in my name will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”
It is a relationship that imparts not just information but invites the pupil to live life in tune with the outlook and practice of the teacher.
In Colossians 1: 9 Paul says that he prays for his friends that they might be filled with the knowledge of God’s will.  JB Phillips interpreted that as “We are asking God that you may see things as it were from his point of view.” 
This is of course even more amazing when you consider to whom he gives this gift of education.  It is not to the wealthy, the gifted, the wise or the perfect.
In the psalm David confesses his sinfulness four times. He asks to be accepted not according to his past record but according to God’s love. Being sinless is not a prerequisite to God taking us on. His willingness to answer David’s desire to be taught comes not because He is impressed with us but because He looks at our helplessness and acts in mercy.     

5. N – Nurture
How does God take our desire to learn and nurture our faith?
David refers to 3 different ways that he might learn about these things.
-          Show
There are times when we are given flashes of insight; the truth inspires us and fires us into action.

-          Teach
But a good teacher does not just take us on exciting field trips that give us inspiration but wants us to process what we see and apply it. The word to “teach” means to show the fundamentals or skills of something, to impart knowledge.  This may not be exciting but it is vital that we do ground work stuff with God. 

-          Guide
The first two steps deal with God speaking to us and developing our understanding which lead us to being able to move out into his further plans for us. We cannot move into being guided and led until we have responded to and obeyed what he has already said and done.

Ultimately our learning comes through trust. When sign up to be a learner in his school of faith he will take us to places that are far beyond the limits we had placed upon ourselves but he promises never to leave us or forsake us.
When we pray like David for God to teach us we should not be vague.
What is it that I need to learn right now in my life?
What is the Lord trying to teach me through my present situation?
What is the Holy Spirit telling me to do next in order to progress in my journey of faith as his disciple.

God bless

The Heart of Worship

Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 3rd August 2014
Bible Reading: Psalm 96

1 The heart of worship- Recognition
3 words key words
a) Worship                                                                                                              
Old English   = worth-ship 
To worship something or someone is to recognise their value – worth.                    
Psalm 96: 4 “For great is the Lord and worthy of our praise.”                                           
Hebrew = Shachah   - to bow down in submission or prostrate oneself.                                                      
Greek     = Proskuneo -   to kiss (as in the way subjects kiss the hand or feet of the sovereign) 
b) Glory                                                                                                              
Psalm 96: 8 “Ascribe to the Lord the glory due to his name”                          
Hebrew = kabod -  heavy in weight                                                                       
To glorify someone is to recognize their importance.  If we say someone is a lightweight, we often mean that their power, their influence has little significance but someone who is regarded as a heavy weight is someone who can make a difference.  If someone starts throwing their weight around, we mean that they are trying to use authority they do not have. But God has glory. He has all authority, power, and strength.
c) Holiness                                                                                                                 
Holiness = qodesh – God is in a league of his own. We should recognize his complete “otherness” both to human beings and to so called other gods.  
Psalm 96: 9 “Worship the Lord in the splendor of his holiness.”  

C S Lewis “If you ask why we should obey God, in the last resort the answer is ‘I AM’. To know God is to know that our obedience is to Him”.

2. The Heart of worship – Response
Worship from a human perspective is primarily a matter of response.
“Worship is the believer’s response with all that he is – mind, emotions, will and body to all that God is and says and does.” (Warren Wiersbe)
The first response to the immensity of the love of God is adoration. “We love, because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19).
We worship God because He has made Himself known to us. 
“For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever. Amen” (Romans 11:36).
Fallen human beings could never approach a righteous and Holy God, so God in the person of Jesus Christ made us just and righteous by His work on the cross for us. The Holy Spirit of God works within us to enable us to worship (Philippians 3:3).  Worship is directed to the Father (John 4:23).
Worship is from God, through God, and to God.
 “Prayer is the human response to the perpetual outpouring of love by which God lays siege to every soul. When our reply to God is most direct of all, it is called adoration. Adoration of the spontaneous yearning of the heart to worship, honour, magnify and bless God.”  Richard Foster
It is sometimes said that there are two sides to the worship of God, one is telling God how much we love Him for who He is and the other is giving praise for all He does. To only value God when we are on the receiving end of His good actions is a bit like a Mum only being appreciated for her cooking, and not for her company and conversation. 
Yet it is also a bit of a false distinction.
How do we know the extent of God’s love?  It is through an action. It is through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
As a result of all that God has done we are as A.W. Tozer, “called to an everlasting preoccupation with God."
Why do we not spend more time simply giving God praise and telling him that we love him? 
Sometimes we need to remind ourselves of how much we actually do love the Lord, and how deeply thankful to Him we really are.
We need to lay aside some of our other obligations and clear a path so that we can attend to remembering the extent of God’s for us. When we remember His love, we open ourselves up to receive it again. 

3. The heart of worship        Expression
The psalm lists a variety of expressions of our recognition of God and our response to him                                                                                                        
 -Sing                                                   v 1, 2              
-Proclaim                                            v 2
-Declare                                              v3
-Ascribe                                               v7, 8
-Bring an offering                               v8
-Come into his courts                          v8
- Tremble before him                         v8

We are taught that it is wrong to seek praise for oneself and yet God seems to seek our praise and worship. He hardly needs our approval to make Him feel better about Himself. If he did He would be a poor kind of God.
God urges us to worship Him as much for our sake as for His. He wants us through a worship relationship to enjoy Him. God does not force worship on us. He did not terrorize the human race to impel worship from them.
Just as we find great delight in the things we know are worthy and so being in the presence of God whom we value beyond every other is joy beyond compare. True worship is deeply satisfying and thrilling.
We naturally need to express our appreciation of what we value and enjoy. It is frustrating to discover something wonderful and have to refrain from expressing it in some manner.
The fact is that when we take time to recognise and respond to God then we will want to do all these things the psalmist suggests.
Many of us love singing but not everyone is Pavorotti. It can come through the words we speak, art, flower arranging – people in our history have built Churches as an expression of worship, some bang the tambourine, others raise their hands, and some bow their heads. God even tells us that when we feel frustrated that our words are inadequate the Spirit intercedes for us. He will express our hearts longing for us. We would be foolish to suppose that singing itself is praise or worship.
It has simply been a vehicle, which we have used to recognise again that there is but one god who alone is the proper object of Christian worship.
 “Do we sing as much as the birds do? Yet what have birds to sing about, compared with us? Do we sing as much as the angels do? Yet they were never redeemed by the of Christ? Birds of the air, shall you excel me? Angels, shall you exceed me? You have done so, but I intend to emulate you, and day by day, and night by night, pour forth my soul in sacred song.”   (C. H. Spurgeon)

Where is this expression of worship to take place?  Well the psalmist does advise the people to come into the temple courts and bring an offering to God but theya e also told to proclaim God’s salvation day by day and they certainlu didn’t go to the temple every day.

The psalmist urged the people to declared God’s glory among the nations.  They could not do that through confining worship only in the temple, the nations were not allowed in there. If they were going to declare God’s glory among the nations then it had to be as they went about their daily business, engaged in politics, dealt with justice issues and in their family relationships. 

Each moment of our lives is to be a joyful expression of worship. Our time in front of the television is to be an act of worship. The way we eat and what we eat is to be an act of worship. The way we raise our children and grandchildren is to be offered to God as an act of worship. Sex is to be an act of worship. Our conversations, our relationships, our driving, our walks in the park, our time in the gym, the way we care for our bodies, the way we dress ourselves are all intended by God to be offerings to Him of worship! “So whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God!”

How radically different our lives would be, and how much more pleasing to God our lives would be if we saw each moment, each word, each attitude, each conversation, each bite, each act an offering of worship to God! Let me ask you something: is God deserving of your daily worship? Is He deserving of you living for His glory? Does He deserve for you to declare that glory each day?
“Whenever you feel indifferent, apathetic, or bored with worship, it means you’ve forgotten how amazing God’s grace really is.”  ( Rick Warren)


Wednesday, 6 August 2014

The Foolish Bridesmaids

Exeter Temple Message Notes
Sunday 27th July 2014
Bible Reading: Matthew 25:1-13

 Wedding customs vary around the world. Jesus' wedding story is rooted in the time and culture of 1st century Israel.  Parents played a major part in the choosing of the bride, although the son could inform his parents of his choice. Both sets of parents would arrange a dowry.
Jesus referred to himself several times as being like a bridegroom and His followers, who became the Church as being like His bride. Just as there was some cost to the groom in taking his bride there was also a cost for Jesus in making the Church His own. The cost for an ordinary groom was money or goods but Christ made the payment for His bride with His life.
There was also a period of about a year between the binding contract of betrothal and the wedding. During that time they couple were seen as belonging to one another, even though the bride still lived with her parents. To separate, the couple would have to go through a formal divorce. The husband would go and prepare the home and then after everything was ready, the word went to the bride’s family that the groom was done with his preparation and was coming after his bride.
Jesus told His disciples just before His death that He was going away from them because He was preparing a home for believers.
The followers of Jesus did not understand at that time what He meant. On Good Friday it must have felt that Jesus could not keep His promise of union with them but the events of Easter Sunday and Pentecost reassured them and as  they watched Jesus ascend into heaven they received the promise that one day Jesus would return visibly to earth again.
Acts 1:10 & 11 says; “They (that is the disciples) were looking intently up into the sky as He was going, when suddenly two men dressed in white stood beside them.  “Men of Galilee”, they said, “why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen Him go into heaven.
In Jewish culture it was the groom for whom everyone waited. On the evening of a pre-arranged day, but not at a prescribed time, the bridegroom would come to escort his bride to the wedding banquet.
The bride would have her bridesmaids go out into the streets and wait for her husband and his friends.  There were not any street lights and they would carry torches that would light the way for the groom to come to collect his wife. Various ceremonies would be held at the bride’s home before they all set out to the groom’s home where they would have the wedding and the reception. Many of the friends and family would join in this “parade”. Everyone was expected to have his or her own light. Anyone without a light was considered to be a “party-crasher” and would not be allowed into the celebrations which could last up to a week.
There are three things that our parable relates to.
·         The return of Jesus to this world.

·         The timing of Jesus return which is unknown

·         The need to keep awake and be ready.

In the parable the focus is on the actions of those waiting for the return of the bridegroom. It seems they all had good intentions of welcoming the bridegroom and they all knew what was expected of them but at the end of the story 5 bridesmaids were excluded from the party.  
1. They were not prepared for a delay.
The bridegroom’s procession to the bride’s house was often delayed as it passed through the towns and villages en route but the bridesmaids were not prepared for that.  It was customary in New Testament times when lamps were being carried about for the bearer to attach a small container of oil to one finger by means of a string.  Then if the lamp needed to be replenished at any time an adequate supply of oil was readily available. The unprepared bridesmaids had to go to town to try to find oil so presumably they had not followed this normal practice. Instead of trusting in time honoured wisdom they thought they knew best.
In the first century AD it was unthinkable that young unmarried women would move around in the dark without carrying lamps, not only for safety’s sake but in terms of their reputation. Carrying the extra oil might seem unnecessary but it was a practice that protected you.
Some think that they can abandon the time honoured and biblical practices of prayer, study of the Bible and fellowship with believers.
These are the things through which we are resourced. They bring us the fuel we need in order to light the way for Bridegroom to come.
We know Jesus will come suddenly, that death sneaks up on most people as can times of persecution.  We know that every time we face a critical trial the readiness of our faith is tested. We need to be prepared.

2. They did not remain alert to the danger of their oil running low
In the Bible oil represents the reality of the presence of God through the Holy Spirit.  In the story all the bridesmaids had a supply of oil to begin with, so their lamps were all burning brightly.  But as time went on the lamps dimmed and needed trimming.
Paul reminded Timothy of the need to “fan into flame the gift of God within you.” 
(2 Timothy 1:6)
They represent those in the Church who have had a real Christian experience but who have let  the cares of the world to diminish their experience.
Vigilance as well as preparation is needed in spiritual experience. Whilst we do not need to be introspective we do periodically need to examine our habits, our priorities, our leisure activities and our friendships to see if we shining as brightly as we should and if not quickly do something about it.

3. They relied on a mistaken assumption
They thought they could borrow oil from their companions.  However the wise bridesmaids refused to give them their oil. Whilst this seems unkind it should be remembered that it was illegal be out at night without a light.  For the wise women to give the foolish women their oil, causing their lamps to go out would force them to break the law. 
Also the oil represents that which cannot be transferred or borrowed. 
 “The foolish virgins found it impossible to borrow oil, when they discovered they needed it. A man cannot borrow a relationship with God; he must possess it for himself. A man cannot borrow a character; he must be clothed with it. We cannot always be living on the spiritual capital which others have amassed. There are certain things we must win or acquire for ourselves, for we cannot borrow them from others”. (William Barclay)
The foolish maidens in this story of Jesus looked just like the wise ones. They had an emotional attachment for the groom, but no depth of nature and conviction. They had let the flame of faith go out and had not been vigilant about resourcing themselves with the oil of the Holy Spirit. In the end they could not fake it and they knew it.

 4. They tried to get ready when they should have been ready.
It was not that they were now asleep and missing what was going on. They knew the Bridegroom had arrived but also knew that they weren’t prepared so they rushed off to get oil.. 
Anyone who has ever done an exam knows that cramming cannot make up for attendance at classes, and revision. It’s too late. And equally there comes a point where it is too late to prepare ourselves to meet with Jesus. 
The foolish bridesmaids were off looking for oil after the party had started and when they eventually got there they found the door was shut. This was something that really happened in Israeli weddings. When the bridegroom had arrived and the door had been shut, late comers to the ceremony were not admitted. 
The other interesting fact was that when the foolish bridesmaids asked for admittance they were not told “You’re too late.” They were told, “I don’t know you.”
They were treated as strangers because it was known that family and friends would have known the Bridegroom was coming and would have made sure they were ready. 
Jesus did not tell this story encourage people who are very religious to feel smug that they have a ticket to heaven whilst others do not. He tells it so that everyone does what is needed so that they can enjoy the party.

We need to sense the excitement that Jesus is coming back and take every opportunity to serve the Lord with our lamps always full of the Spirit.

God bless
Alan and Carol