Friday, 19 September 2014

The Heart of Renewal

Exeter Temple Message notes
14th September 2014
Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 30:11-20

 As we think about worship, discipleship, pastoral care, mission and service and all that is involved I wonder if we say, “It’s too hard, it sounds great but it’s beyond us.

At the end of his life, Moses spoke to the people of Israel.   They had been released from slavery and come through the desert and were about to enter the Promised Land as a Covenant people, to enter into a new phase in their history, not just as a loose connection of nomadic tribes but with the hope in their hearts of becoming a settled nation, governed by laws given by God himself.
And many were daunted by the thought.  The phrase, “It’s too hard.” was on their lips. 
We have often I have heard those same words, sometimes from people, thinking about Christianity; “It’s too hard to understand, I’m not good enough, I’m too busy and I’m alright as I am.”  Or perhaps from church members in terms of worship and prayer; “We can’t agree about worship styles and everyone is too busy to pray. It’s too hard.” As for discipleship and holy living, we may have heard people say “It’s so hard, everyone is so materialistic and complacent about spiritual things.” It may be said in terms of mission and service.  The world is different than it was in the New Testament, in the early days of the Army, its more secularised, more complicated, more apathetic, laws are stricter, people are more easily offended, our numbers too small and our lives more pressured. “It’s too hard”.

v11 “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach.” 

In a word the commandments, laws and expectations of God are do-able.

 v12 “It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it?”

God’s will is not up in the sky, it is not so airy, speculative or obscure that we cannot grasp its meaning. It is not among the secret things God has yet to reveal.

v 13 “Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, ”Who will go across the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so that we may obey it.”

In other words you do not need to be superhuman heroes to go and fetch it.

Paul backs all this up in the New Testament.

2 Corinthians 4:6 "For God, who said, ’Let light shine out of darkness,’ made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ.”

God is able to change our hearts. There is nothing too hard for God and He will not give us impossible demands.
We have been considering the 5 Purposes of the church. What has been said has not been new but simply a renewed emphasis with the hope that we will find a renewed passion and commitment to see them operating among us.

1. Reason for Renewal
All of us, throughout our lives and throughout our Christian walk will need personal revival at various times, just as every person needs to take regular baths.  Every church that has survived more than a generation or two will require times of revival if it is to continue to represent and serve Christ in a powerful way.
“Revival is God at work, restoring His church to health.  Walter Boldt

Revival is needed when there is complacency, a religion of good works , lack of concern for the lost, hiding or covering secret sins or we are harbouring ill feeling and an unforgiving spirit towards other people; when there is pride.
These are areas that affect individuals, the church, the Salvation Army and our nation. We need to look at these things, not only with our minds but ask the Holy Spirit to show us what the reality is of our spiritual health. 

2.  Hope for Renewal
We can look back on times in the history of the Church in the UK when God has brought new life, restored health and growth. We can be inspired by our history.  We are not asking for something that has no precedent. There are examples of revival. The Welsh Revival in the 1900’s brought thousands into the church but also impacted society.
Between 1906 and 1910 80,000 people were added to the churches in Korea. Since the Korean War, 15 million have come to Christ in a nation of just over 40 million. There were less than one million Christians in China prior to 1950 but there are no between 70-90 million believers in a nation that contains one-fourth of the world’s population.
 “Lord, you can revive us again. We are not so deep in the mire but that You can lift us out. We are not so dead but that you can make us alive. Will you not revive us again? It is impossible to us, but it is possible to you. Lord, one touch of your hand, a breath from your blessed lips, and it is done.

“Brothers, Sisters, we believe in God, do we not? And if we do, we believe that whatever state a Church is in, God can bring it out of it! Do not run away from it and say, “God can never bless it.” He can bless it! Pray it up into a blessing and make this the essence of your prayer, “Lord, You can revive us. We believe it, and we look for it.”  Charles Spurgeon

3. Path to Renewal
It is good for Christians to reform and reshape; good to rework our thoughts and to reorganize our programs. It is good but not enough.   We have to go beyond reform to renewal and revival. There is a part that we have to take if we are going to go beyond reform.
True revival always involves the acknowledgement of sin and the forgiveness of sins. As he asks God to be merciful towards a people who have grieved him and caused him displeasure, he does soon the basis of the character of God.  “Show us your unfailing love O Lord and grant us your salvation.”   He sees that repentance is linked to joy. 

We connect repentance with tears but not joy.  But the one leads to the other. To confess our sin and to turn around and set off again knowing that you are now on the right road is to know a tremendous release.

It is sin, not the process of repentance that is the burden.  Revival may bring in tears, but it proceeds to joy. The Christian who is continually grieving on our past sins does not understand the grace of God. Revival and rejoicing go hand in hand. The coal mines in Wales were filled with singing. 

Renewal is not just about emotional moments.  It is on-going; not a spur of the moment trip to the mercy seat.  When we pray for renewal we need to count the cost and examine our motives.
If we want renewal because we want more exciting meetings and we think revival means God will zap everybody with conviction and we won’t need to do any more embarrassing evangelism then we had better forget it.  If we are looking for revival so that we don’t have to work so hard in the church because there will be more people about to do the jobs, forget it.  In Revival the voice of God is more clearly heard and will call us to greater challenges.  And we need to remember that alongside revival there is often also an outbreak of persecution. But to walk with God, in harmony with his will and with his approval has to be worth any cost. 

God bless

Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 7th September 2014
Theme:  The Heart of Service
Bible Readings:  Isaiah 61:1-3 and Luke 4: 14-21
Between chapter 40 and chapter 55 of Isaiah are four prophecies which are known as the Servant Songs.  God calls this servant to lead the nations, but the servant is horribly abused. The servant sacrifices himself, accepting the punishment due others. In the end, he is victorious.
Traditionally, many Jews see the identity of the servant as a personification of the nation of Israel, in the same way as we might talk about Britannia when referring to the UK.  Others saw the Servant as an individual whom God would raise up to save Israel and restore its glories, a Messiah.
Christians have always seen Jesus as the fulfillment of these prophecies, Some scholars also link in Isaiah 61:1-3 which we read earlier to the Servant songs, because even though the word servant is not there, it speaks of an “anointed one who has been sent."
700 years after Isaiah, in Luke 4:18 -21 Jesus quotes Isaiah 61:1-3 and applies it to himself as the anointed Servant who will bring the Jubilee.
1. Anointing v 18
To anoint means: to rub on or to smear oil on.  Used symbolically the rubbing in of oil, onto a person indicated that a person was being set apart and given authority for for a specific role or for a specific task.  Anointing was also about being equipped with ability to do fulfil the role.
Prior to this event in Luke 3:21 the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus and a voice from heaven said, “You are my beloved Son; in you I am well pleased.”
This was God’s endorsement upon Jesus.  True anointing is the power and influence of the Holy Spirit saturating and permeating a person.  The anointing of the Holy Spirit makes ministry and service effective. In the synagogue at Nazareth, Jesus effectively declared that he accepted the role of being the One to bring in the jubilee.
When we become disciples of Jesus we take on his mandate of ministry. We are also called to preach good news to the poor, to bind the broken hearted, open the eyes of the blind and set the captive free.
Jesus said to his disciples, “As the father has sent me I am sending you.”  (John 20:21)
At Pentecost the Spirit came to us so that we could be enabled to continue Jesus’ work in the world.   It is the anointing of the Holy Spirit that takes the ordinary things we do and makes them ministry.
Oswald J Smith wrote that, "self- sufficiency is the great obstacle and lack of desire for the Spirit’s anointing."  
"Do I want the power of the Spirit more than anything else in the world? Am I in earnest about it? Is there a real thirst? Would I be will to part with all I possess if only I might be a Spirit –anointed worker? How great is my hunger? How strong is my desire?  
As soon as I give up in despair and refuse to be denied, just so soon will He (the Holy Spirit) satisfy the hunger and thirst of my heart.”
2.  TO  v 18-19
The prophecy of Isaiah is about a servant who would come with a purpose. He came “to” a particular kind of people and to do something particular for them. He was taking action to bring the liberty and freedom of jubilee to the world.
Some Christians will argue that when Jesus used these words he was speaking about spiritual poverty, spiritual blindness and spiritual oppression and spiritual freedom, recovery and release. 
Others use this passage and Isaiah 61 to support their stance that Jesus didn’t just come to get people ready for heaven but that the building of God’s kingdom on earth is about changing society.  At the polarised ends of this debate you have those who decry a social gospel which improves a person physically and materially but doesn’t address the issue of personal salvation from sin and at the other end those who say to see people as “souls who need to be made ready for heaven but to do nothing to address their physical, material and emotional needs is to misunderstand the humanity for whom Jesus died.
William Booth saw proclaiming the message of personal salvation and reaching out in living service to others as so mixed up he said they were like Siamese twins to divide them is to slay them.
Mission, evangelism and social action for the Salvationist go hand in hand, 
Transformed people transform their environment. People who know Jesus take hold of the command to love the Lord their God with all their heart, all their mind and all their soul and they love their neighbour as themselves. They therefore have to stand against unloving things that cause their neighbour to feel unloved. 
 “Evangelism and social action are more than ways in which the church carries out its mission in the world. The mission is the external expression and sharing of what is happening internally.  When nurturing and growth takes place within a fellowship there is an overflow that occurs and the overflow is the mission of the church.  Otherwise it is merely charitable works on behalf of outsiders. Evangelism and social action are the refreshing and renewing overflow of the life of the Church. In carrying out its mission the Church is actually embodying not so much what it thinks it should do but what it is.” Commissioner Phil Needham
If the Servant comes to liberate can we who share his task enslave one another? If his Jubilee doesn’t extend into our own patterns of living, it’s good for nothing. Jubilee, means that the citizens we must live out of generosity that transforms the way they deal with one another
 3.  News          v 18
The idea that prophecy was going to be fulfilled was news. At first Jesus impressed them with this news and the way he delivered it.  They could even have thought that Jesus might be the one to bring it about.
The problem started when Jesus began to preach about Elijah and how God went out of his way to show special favour to a pagan widow in Zarapheth and a Syrian called Naaman.  Here was Jesus effectively saying that Jubilee was not just for them.
William Barclay says that “It was beginning to dawn on them that there were things in this new message the like of which they had never dreamed.”
What is the point at which the message of Jesus is too hard for us? 
nI the world it is the rich and powerful who have servants but Jesus came to be the servant of people who were usually the servants. Jesus says it clearly, He has sent me to………the poor, the prisoner, the blind, the oppressed.
Although serving the rich and the powerful can be an oppressive thing because our life would be in their hands, at the same time they have the ability to give in exchange for our service, food, lodging, wages, and possibly a place of respectability.  But when you are sent to be the servant of the poor, the broken and the oppressed, they have nothing to give you back but their mess.
And that is why many of us walk away from service to the messiest people because we thought they would at least be grateful.  What is the heart of true service?  Isn’t it to love and go on loving where love is not returned?
4. Today          v 21
We are living in the now of the kingdom of God, the now of Jubilee.  Not yesterday or someday, but now is the time. We do not need to wait to proclaim the good news. We have the go ahead to reach out as Servants to those who are broken-hearted or under oppression, whatever form that takes now.
And Jesus speaking to the people of Nazareth had already begun. He had already transformed the lives of people in Capernaum, through bringing miracles of healing .
We are not called to live in the past and remember the good old days and only sing the good old hymns and be imprisoned by the way things used to be.  And we are not called to live in the future either, dreaming of an ideal tomorrow when one day we will have a building that doesn’t need fixing and our own car park.  Someday our church will have the money and the volunteers to do everything we ought to be doing. 
At the heart of service is being sent by Jesus, it is being empowered by the Spirit, it is serving through evangelism and social action, it loving where love is not returned and it is a heart that beats now. 
God bless

Saturday, 6 September 2014

The Heart of Ministry

Exeter Temple Message notes
Sunday 31st August 2014

Ephesians 4:1-16 give some of the principles of ministry within the church of Jesus Christ.                                                                                                                  

 1. Equality Inclusion and Diversity                                                                          
Equality is about making sure everyone is treated fairly and given opportunities.
Inclusion is about ensuring that people are able to feel a sense of belonging and given levels of supportive energy and commitment from others so than a person can do their best.
Diversity is about recognising, respecting and valuing individual differences.
These are words which are in popular use in our society and which government legislation insist are taken seriously but they are not just a modern idea.

Ephesians 4:4-7 “There is one body and one Spirit just as you were called to one hope when you were called- one lord, one faith one baptism; one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it.”

The same passage in the Message translation says, “You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together both outwardly and inwardly. You have one Master, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who rules over all, works through all and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is permeated with Oneness. But that doesn’t mean you should all look and speak and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each one of us is given his own gift.”

v 11 and 12 focuses on diversity.

He says that Jesus gave, “some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists and some to be pastors and teachers to prepare God’s people for service.”

It was never God’s intention for one individual person to meet all of a congregations needs. Jesus has given every one of us spiritual gifts that God has designed for the express purpose of building a team that will help the church to fulfil its purpose in the world. 
J. H. Newman says, “God has created me, to do him some definite service; he has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission. I am a link in a chain, a bond of connection between persons. He has not created me for nothing; I shall do good and I shall do his work. Therefore, I will trust him; whatever, wherever I am. I cannot be thrown away.”

2. Equipping                                                                                                                                                       Paul paints a glorious picture of a people living in equality and diversity where everyone can feel included.                                                                                                                                                                  v 16 “From him (that is Christ) the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”

It is a description that evokes an image of a body in great condition such as that of an athlete.  But Paul is also a realist. This picture of the church is something that needs effort to attain.

v 3 “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit

v 12 recognises that there is a process that has to take place for the body of Christ to even get to the possibility of health and growth.

The phrase “prepare God’s people for works of service” in some translations says “equip God’s people for works of service

Equipping was originally a term that was used for the setting of bones which had become dislocated. When bones are dislocated, the particular limb to which they belong is not perfect. So the idea in the word used by the Apostle is that these different parts and portions of the body [you and me] should be put into the right alignment, should be properly adjusted, and that each one should be fully developed”

In the Church we are sometimes out of alignment with one another for a number of reasons.

a) Individualism
The gifts of the Spirit are personal, but they are not intended to be private.                                           
“God gave me a gift, not for me but for you, and God gave you a gift, not for you but for me. If you don’t use your gift, you’re depriving me; if I don’t use my gift, I’m robbing you.” 
Rick Warren                                                                                                                                                                    Individualism focusses only on what affects me and not on the fact that we belong to something bigger than our needs and our little corner of the world but this is very short sighted.

b) Ignorance
“Now about spiritual gifts, brothers, I do not want you to be ignorant,
1 Corinthians 12:1                                                                                                                  
A person may never have grasped the teaching of the New Testament that they have a ministry and they may feel they just don’t know how to go about discovering their spiritual gifts, how to identify their passion and use their natural talents and life experience in God’s service.  At the same time the church may never have offered teaching on the subject, may have assumed that lack of involvement was disinterest and never bothered to help them find their place.

c) Intimidation                                                                                                                             
Intimidation by those who see wider participation of others in the church as threatening may happen but more often people hold back from ministry because they believe the lie that to put ourselves forward or to admit that we actually might be good at something is to be arrogant, pushy or pretentious.  Romans 12:3 tells us not to think of ourselves more highly than we ought to but is immediately followed by the affirmation that we all have different gifts and we should use them.

3. End result              
v13a  We achieve unity.
Paul talks about reaching unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God. When a church operates “every member ministry” for one purpose, for our one God there is a huge sense of “we are all in this together” that unites us and binds us together.

v13b  We achieve healthy growth

“And become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

Nothing helps you grow as a Christian like service.  Nothing makes your trust God more than when you know that what you do matters to the kingdom and to the life of another. The sense of responsibility teaches you to lean on God and when we lean on God our faith grows. 

It is also true that churches where everyone can develop in ministry are more likely to grow numerically. 

Thom Rainer was intrigued by a problem he kept coming across in American churches.  These churches seemed to be able to attract new people but found that they lost as many people out of the back door as it were as they got in at the front. He did a particular study of a hundred churches and wrote a book called High Expectations. The main discovery he made was that one of the marks of a healthy church was that they successfully not only attracted new members but did a good job of keeping them. In every case they did this because they had high expectations of them. They expected and encouraged their active involvement in the life of the church. They discovered the truth that if a church is not providing opportunities for our members to serve it stifles that member’s spiritual growth and they become frustrated and leave feeling that they are not really wanted or needed.

4. We achieve stability
What is the one thing you need in a hurricane or storm?  It is an anchor. Paul says that unity and maturity lead to stability.
Verse 14 “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by cunning and craftiness of men  in their deceitful scheming.”
There are dangers in encouraging everyone to find a ministry they can get involved in. Too often jealousy has arises because people have been given opportunities that others thought they should have had. Sometimes people have seen some areas of ministry as more important than others. but despite the difficulties, if the purpose of the gifts is to build up the church and equip it to become mature and complete, then each of us have a responsibility to find out in what ways we have been gifted so that we will become a productive part of the body of Christ. We help to build up others and at the same time they help to build us up.
What is reassuring is that the Lord has not left the Church to generate its own resources. From the moment of his ascension into heaven he did not expect his followers to go it alone.
The Holy Spirit is able to fill each believer and every Christian community with power so that they can become channels to fulfil God’s will. 

God bless

The Heart of Fellowship

Exeter Temple Message notes:
Sunday 24th August 2014
Bible Reading 1 John 3:16-24
 “We are forbidden to neglect assembling together. Christianity is already institutional in the earliest of documents. The Church is the bride of Christ. We are members of one another.” 
(CS Lewis)
God doesn’t just call us to believe; he calls us to belong.  Whether that sounds like a good thing may depend upon what your experiences of belonging to a group of believers has been like. The New Testament does not give us the option of having a Christian faith without also embracing the concept of community. 
What is at the heart of true fellowship?
 “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”  (v16)
Just as love is at the heart of mission so love is at the heart of fellowship It is love is that can only be understood or experienced among us through sacrifice.
The thing that created the barrier between God and the human race was the desire of human beings to place their ego in front of their relationship with God. Pride and selfishness stand in the hearts of all people, like an immovable wall separating them from the God who loves them and from one another. The love of God flows towards every human being but it hits the wall of their ego, their pride and their selfishness. 
The only person of whom this is not true is Jesus. In him there is no wall- no ego, no pride, no self-centredness and he proved it by putting aside his own life so that like a mighty river overflowing it’s banks, the love of God sweeps into the lives of sinners who come to the cross. The challenge is then for us
“In the midst of a world drenched with enmity, the Church is that society of persons who take their stand where enmity was robbed of its power, they stand at the cross and serve one another in love through the power of the Spirit.”  (Commissioner Phil Needham)
Often “laying down your life” is seen as meaning death but the Greek word “tith-ay-mee” can also be translated as “commit, give, kneel down, ordain, purpose, or set forth”
There are some things that we need to lay down for one another if we are going to have fellowship.
 1. Lay down a tick box mentality
n the 4th century when Emperor Constantine made Christianity a legitimate the church ceased to be an underground movement. It was now free to create buildings which became the centre of worship and the whole dynamic of church changed.  The concept of going to church, rather than being the church entered into the consciousness.  It led to a large scale attitude in society that Christian duty could be fulfilled by regular attendance at a worship service and participation in particular ceremonies, such as baptism, communion and paying your tithe.  They were ticking the duty box. At the same time the ministry of the church, rather than something all Christians engaged in, was something that was done by specialist professionals.   It was therefore possible for people to see attending church in the same way they support the local football team. They tick the supporter box.
Another trend of recent years is the consumer Christian who treats going to church in the same way as they treat going to the supermarket.  For them it is not about how their attendance ticks a box for God but about how an expression of church ticks all the boxes on their list.  They will go to the place that ticks all the boxes in terms of enjoyable worship experience, convenience, comfort, emotional therapy and cultural relevance.     
If we truly want to get to the heart of what true fellowship is about we have to lay down the tick box mentality and enter into messy, inconvenient, time consuming, demanding relationships with people.  In Christ we are a community of faith, a special place where we can minister and be ministered to. We need each other. Therefore, the community of faith needs to be a priority in our lives.
 “The experience of authentic community is one of the purposes God intends to be fulfilled by the church. The writings of Scripture lead one to conclude that God intends the church, not to be one more bolt on the wheel of activity in our lives, but the very hub at the centre of one’s life. (Randy Frazee)
Acts 2:42 says that the early believers “devoted themselves to fellowship.
2.  Lay down my personal ambition
Having seen who Jesus really was John the Baptist stood aside to let Jesus take centre stage. The least that John could have expected was to have been chosen to be Christ’s right hand man.  Instead Jesus chose Peter, who had been John’s disciple first. Sometimes it is tough to make way for Jesus but human beings can find it is even harder to make way for one another and accept that Jesus has other ideas about what he wants to do, who he wants to use and how he wants to use us in his plans.
For example, Ananias had to deal with Saul, Peter with Cornelius and Philemon with Onesimus.
 “What causes fights and quarrels among you?  Don’t they come from your desires that battle within you? (James 4: 1)    
You want something and you don’t get it. The solution to overcoming this is “Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will lift you up.” (James 4:10)
 3. Lay down rocks
“If we walk in the light as he is in the light we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7)
John says that it is in the light that we have fellowship with one another but the reality is that most of us don’t operate that way when we try to have fellowship with one another. 
We operate from the idea that I need to keep my sin hidden otherwise people will know what I am
really like and we will suffer their rejection.  But God’s word says the opposite.  It is actually when we are real with one another that we can have true fellowship.
This involves risk because sometimes when we have attempted to be honest about our struggles and our sin, people have thrown rocks at us.
Why would they do that?  It is because throwing rocks keeps people at a distance and at a distance you can’t see the flaws, the sin; the failure.  
When that happens to us we respond by retreating to the darkness and throwing rocks back.  As in the story of the woman caught in adultery (John 8:1-11) it is a wonderful thing when the grace of Jesus steps in and stops us stoning one another.  The cross is the place where we all stand on level ground and the place where we can lay down the rocks of criticism, condemnation, self-righteous judgement, back-biting and gossip and our hands are free to offer one another the ministry of forgiveness, understanding, healing, accountability and practical help.   
 “We are not minimizing sin when we maximize Christ’s mercy. We are not white washing sin; we are blood washing it. The world sees a church with rocks in its hands looking for adulterers and sinners. We have become the “Church of the angry Christians.” In the drama that is unfolding in the world today we have not been playing the role of Christ but rather the part of the Pharisees.  Let us drop the rocks from our hands, and then lift up our hands, without wrath in prayer to God.”  (Francis Frangipani)
"We ought to lay down our lives. John writes not intending to give a grand challenge for heroic Christians but an everyday commandment for ordinary Christians. The Christian life is a life laid down for others, a life built on self-sacrifice.” (Ronald Cole-Turner)
Every time we respond in love to someone else, we are laying down our lives for them. For Christians this isn't something exceptional, but something quite ordinary.
God bless