Saturday, 20 February 2016

Appointed and Anointed

Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 14th February 2016
 Bible Reading: 2 Kings 2:7-15

The prophet Elijah knew that his days on earth are nearly over and wanted to prepare Elisha, his apprentice as his successor. Elijah took Elisha on a tour of the schools of prophets in Gilgal, Bethel and Jericho and at each place, Elisha was given the opportunity to settle and refuse that appointment. Elisha refused to leave Elijah and kept following from place to place.
Aware that something significant was happening 50 prophets also travelled with Elijah, sensing that they ought to stay near him for final instructions. For Elisha there was a sense of destiny and that he needed to be alert to what God was doing. 

1.      Ready (v 7)
Elisha was on the brink of his destiny but the fulfilment of it meant the loss of his leader and mentor.  Given that Elijah and Elisha are prophets it might be expected that a reassuring prophetic word might have been given to Elijah as it had been given to Joshua when succeeded Moses. “Be strong and very courageous, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”  (Joshua 1:9)
But Elisha got no word.
Elisha kept on following, without incentives, and at the same time was aware that he was never off duty, rather he was constantly on call, waiting for the signal to move or act when God said, “I need you now.”
Our trouble is we don't serve God consistently.  We get in and out of touch with him and then wonder why we were left behind when he does a new work or new thing in the world.

2.      Step out (v8)
The Jordan is a very significant place in the minds of Israel as the river that the people of Israel had to cross it in order to enter into the Promised Land.  Like the Red Sea it had been miraculously parted the water so the people of God could cross in safety in the time of Joshua.

The Jordan was always seen as a barrier to be overcome.  It speaks of endings and beginnings, or leaving something behind, in order to begin something new in fulfilment of the promises of God. 

Elijah performed another miracle which gave dry passage across the river. But only Elijah and Elisha crossed over. Unlike the other prophets Elisha stepped into the river and walked across with Elijah to the other bank, risking that the waters might return and overwhelm him. 

For Elijah crossing the Jordan meant being taken up to heaven- and ending. But for Elisha it meant relentlessly pursuing his future destiny.
He crossed the Jordan because he had received God’s call but he had not yet received God’s anointing.  Earlier the prophets said to him "Do you know that the Lord is going to take your master away from you today?" (v.3,5) Elisha's reaction was "Yes, I know. But do not speak of it.” (v 5)   It suggests that he was aware of his own inadequacy for the task.   If he didn’t follow Elijah to the Jordan, he could work but what he did would not be ministry.  For Elisha it was better to risk everything in the hope of getting the Spirit’s anointing than to minister using his own ideas and human experience.

Not all activity that is done in the Church, by the church or through the church is ministry.  We can only call something ministry if it imparts spiritual life to another.   It is not that some kinds of activities are ministry and some kinds of activities are not.  It is not that some roles in the church can be called ministry roles and some cannot.  Ministry happens in all kinds of ways and through all kinds of people.  It happens when someone or something is empowered to give spiritual life. So it can happen that in a Church of 4000 people there can be less real ministry going on than in a church of 40.     

For Elisha the Jordan became the place where he left behind his old way of service, which relied upon Elijah and sought his own anointing.

To go through the Jordan in a spiritual sense is to die to our old life, to die to self- reliance to take up a new life empowered by the Spirit. 
Have you been through your own Jordan or will you forever be just one of the crowd of religious people, interested in watching revival but not participating yourself?
We follow Jesus in this. He went to the Jordan, came out of it and started his ministry in the power of the Spirit?  If Jesus had a “Jordan experience” we had better have one too.

3.      Ask (v 9-10)
Elijah says to Elisha, “Tell me what can I do for your before I am taken from you?” (v9)
The older prophet gives him the opportunity to voice his dream. And Elisha comes straight out with it and asks to be equipped for it.  He asks for a double portion. To ask for a double portion was to ask for the eldest son’s inheritance, to be given a position of responsibility and authority.  This was either the height of arrogance or it was humble obedience to God and was bolding stepping out in faith to claim what God promises.  
We don’t receive because we don’t ask, perhaps through some sense of false humility.  Yet God has given us all his great commission to make disciples of all nations and invites us to wait for and ask for his power and blessing to fulfill the task.
Why don’t we ask?  We think it is rude.  We are scared or being disappointed and we don’t believe it means us.
Jesus said, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek and you will find, knock and the door will be opened.”  (Luke 11:9)

4.      Receive (v 11-15)
Elijah’s advice to Elisha is to keep watching with the eyes of faith. As they were walking along talking together suddenly a chariot of horses and fire appeared and separated the two of them and Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind.”
Elijah and Elisha are separated. Between them are the fiery chariots and horsemen.  In the Bible this picture always represents the power and presence of God.  Now with eyes of faith, Elisha can see that Elijah’s strength had never been his own natural talent but he had all the might of heaven with him.
Elijah knew that what made Elijah different was not personality alone but the anointing of God’s Spirit but now he saw that the same power w available to him too.  The horses and chariots were next to him.
Elisha tore his clothes in grief at the loss of Elijah but then picked up Elijah’s cloak. In a daring act of faith, he used it to perform the same miracle that Elijah performed earlier. 

God had used Moses to part the Red Sea and the Hebrew people were saved from the Egyptians.  After Moses died Joshua was chosen to be leader.  Confirmation that God was with Joshua as the new leader of Israel was given through God using Joshua to part the waters of the Jordan. In this story that same sign was given to affirm that God was with Elisha as he had been with Elijah.
As the company of the prophets watched they said, “The spirit of Elijah is resting on Elisha.” (v 15)

In the New Testament Jesus was taken up to heaven, not in a whirlwind but in a cloud. (Acts 1) There is no mantle falling from His shoulders to the apostles.  Instead all of the company, waiting in Jerusalem are told they will receive power when the Holy Spirit came upon them. 
“But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon 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)

Every believer is commissioned to go and witness to God's saving grace, to minister in his name.  The Spirit of the Lord that was on Jesus is poured out on all believers who will receive him. 

God bless

Series: The life and times of Elisha 1. No turning back

Exeter Temple Message notes: Sunday 7th February 2016
Bible Readings:  1 Kings 19:19-21, 2 Kings 2:1-18

The role of the prophet in Israel was to deliver God’s word for specific situations, particularly political crises, interpreting the meaning of events and proclaiming God’s will. In time the prophetic role became institutionalized. It formed the third office of the Hebrew government and many prophets became puppets of the King. Becoming a prophet had little to do with divine calling, young men could join a school of prophets as a career move without having any sense of individual calling or personal encounter with the living God. 

Today we still have a remnant of people who get baptized or in our case become soldiers because it was what their family expected?  It is very difficult to try to live on inherited faith and a number of things tend to happen, the person eventually encounters God for themselves, they live a dual life, which often explodes at some point, perhaps in moral failure, some find they can’t stand their hypocrisy and choose to walk away, others are fine whilst church life remains comfortable but flee when the hard times come.

1.      Be faithful through the drought
Elijah was the head of a school of prophets and Elisha was one of his pupils but operated at a time when the majority of prophets, for political and personal security had adopted the mix of pagan worship and Hebrew faith that was advocated by King Ahab.
Elijah, however would not compromise and was persecuted as a result. At times he felt his isolation and despite the fact that he led a school of prophets who were supposed to be his followers he says to God, “I am the only one left.” (1 Kings 19:15)
God reassured him. “There are 7000 in Israel whose knees have not bowed to Baal and all who mouths have not kissed him.”  (1 Kings 19:18)
Among them God told Elijah to select 3 people to take up significant roles in the life of the nation. Two were to be kings and one was to be his successor. He was Elisha.

Elisha had remained faithful to God getting on with the responsibility he had and did that faithfully until God called him to serve elsewhere.   Thought It is often said, it is still true that that we need to be faithful in the little things before we start dreaming about doing great things for God.
Joseph, Daniel and Paul are all examples of people who had to faithfully serve in the background before beginning their more public service. Paul spent three years in a local church before he set off on his missionary journeys.
Jesus had the master in the parable of the talents say to servants who had been good stewards of what they had been given, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master's happiness!”  (Matthew 25:21)
Whilst some churches are seeing growth most of us have lived with the decline of the Church for many years now.
We must be faithful to God in the drought as Elisha was. Keep being obedient to God where you are.

Elisha could not rely upon other people to keep his faith alive and healthy. Part of the cost for Elijah as a leader of the school of prophets was that he would deliver an oracle and then have to flee into the desert, not knowing when he could return.  This left his school of prophets holding on, leaderless through a physical and spiritual drought.

Holding on is not about hanging on in the hope that we can preserve what we know and love.
“If you love your church more than you love your city you will never have revival.”   (Anon)
Holding on is about keeping on believing that the lost can be found, that the prodigal will come home, that a hunger for God’s word will be evident again, that worship in our church and others will be more than performance, that fellowship will be deep and truly inclusive, that radical sacrificial service will be the norm rather than the exception. 

  2.   Decide to commit to the vision
Elijah symbolically placed a cloak around Elisha’s shoulders as a sign that he had chosen him as his apprentice.
It was a moment for a dream to be born. He wanted not only to be appointed to a position but anointed in a position. 
 “Some men see things as they are and say why. I dream things that never were and say why not.”  Robert F Kennedy

Do you have a dream, something in your heart that God has put there?  Do you sense that this might be the time to act upon it?  We must move and take action on our dreams.  Nothing will happen until we begin to move forward. Elisha had to follow Elijah to see his dream fulfilled.  Faith is active not passive. Time, sacrifice, energy and even money have to be given to it. Elisha destroyed his farming tools as a sign of his decision to break with the past so that he would not be tempted to go back on his decision.  
Many talk with passion about what is needed to bring change and what needs to be done to replace those like Elijah whose days are coming to an end. There are not so many who are prepared to make their dream known and give up their present lifestyle and commit to a new one. This does not mean that everyone like Elisha has to give up their day job or in our context that everyone has to become an officer, but it does mean that the vision God has given you must become your priority.

3. Defend yourself against distractions
Elisha became Elijah’s attendant and he was in that position for a long time, watching and learning from the great man. It is easy to become discouraged having taken a leap of faith things take a long time to happen. We start to ask, “Did God really say that to me?”  

There are distractions that divert our attention from the fulfilment of our calling. Sometimes these are from the devil and sometimes God leads us into situations to test our commitment to our dream.

Nearing the end of his life, Elijah took Elisha on a tour around the locations where his school of the prophets were based. The trip was designed to give Elisha the opportunity to opt out for something other than succeeding him. There was an alternative ministry for Elisha at each place.
 Gilgal = home - the chance to go back and train the next generation of prophets, in a place where he would be honoured.
Bethel = a place of spiritual heritage where Jacob had his dream and built an altar but now true faith needed to be restored.
Jericho =  a place with a glorious past but a barren present. 

Each stop offered appealing ministry opportunities but God had not given Elisha any task than following Elijah.

How many of us have stopped along the way? We have not pursued the dream for long enough. We have allowed things to distract us on our journey, sometimes good things, justifiable things but they are not the real call, they are not the real dream. 

God bless

The spirit of the Gospel

Exeter Temple Message notes:  31st January 2016
Bible Reading: Galatians 5:13-25

In striking a match against a damp match box; you don’t congratulate yourself for the number of marks you made on the side of the box. It’s fire that you’re after. 
There is little point in the Christians in Galatia engaging in religions activities if they don’t result in a vibrant connection with God, holy living, inner peace and loving relationships with others.  That’s the spirit of the Gospel. It’s the fire that we are after.
The life of victory comes not from following an external code but from obeying an internal presence. The Holy Spirit takes the place of the law as the controlling power in the Christian’s life. 

1.      Over selfish desires
"Live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature." Galatians 5:16
The word desire has become a little debased, appearing in the titles of cheap romantic fiction or in the headlines of tabloid newspapers.  But desires are not necessarily wrong. Jesus expressed his desire as; "Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am and to see my glory the glory you have given me because you loved me before the creation of the world.” John 17:24
Peter wrote "As new-born babes, desire the pure milk of the word, that you may grow thereby," 1 Peter 2:1-3
Not all desires are bad desires and not all desires that are good desires have to be what some people would call religious.  All of us have personal desires which contribute to who we are and what we give to the world.  To be passive in what you want and to let others choose for you can be a negation of responsibility, putting the onus of decision making upon others.
But there are some desires that are wrong because they are born out of what Paul calls the “sinful nature.”  This is the part of us that acts in rebellion against God and insists that it rules our lives not him. The other  characteristic of the sinful nature is that it rebels against other people having either a higher or equal place to us.  We often call the sinful nature- selfishness.  A desire becomes wrong when it feeds rebellion against God or when it seeks preference over others, regardless of how it affects them. 
 Sinful desire results in the sinful behavior listed in Galatians 5:19-21.  The Message translation gives the list an up to date reality;
“It is obvious what kind of life develops our of trying to get your own way all the time, repetitive, loveless, cheap sex, a stinking accumulation of mental and emotional garbage; frenzied and joyless grabs for happiness; trinket gods; magic show religion; paranoid loneliness; cutthroat competition; all-consuming yet never satisfied wants; a brutal temper; an impotence to love or be loved; divided homes and divided lives; small minded and lopsided pursuits; the vicious habit of depersonalizing everyone to a rival; uncontrolled and uncontrollable addictions; ugly parodies of community.”

If we describe the sinful nature that way, then it is easy to see how contrary it is to the way of the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Jesus.
“Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.”  Galatians 5:24

In the time Jesus lived on earth only criminals were condemned to die by crucifixion and our selfishness is to be treated as a criminal. Death by crucifixion was lingering but it was certain. When we nailed our selfishness to the cross by coming to faith in Christ we can put it to death.  Of course when a criminal was crucified he was left to die but soldiers kept guard to ensure no one took him down before he died.  We must leave our old selfish desires natures on the cross to die and not give in to the cry to let them come back off every so often.  When we do that we are living by the Spirit.

2.      Over how we live
The Spirit doesn’t just deal with our past selfishness but comes into our lives to take control over how we live day to day.
  “But if you are led by the Spirit you are not under law.” Galatians 5:18
What starts off as something we wanted can become something which enslaves us and then we battle to change and try to produce right actions whilst inwardly desiring to do the opposite.  The gospel message is that a person who has the Spirit within finds that their desires have changed and now they don’t need rules and regulations to force them to do right, they want to do it.

Many people were worried that if Paul kept on preaching that people didn’t need to be controlled by strict religious laws, then chaos would reign and people would think they could sin in the morning; get forgiven in the evening and do it all over again tomorrow.  But Paul argues that indwelling of the Holy Spirit in a person means that what you ought to do becomes what you want to do and what you now want to do, you can now do.

The Holy Spirit produces in us a desire for God’s way.  We don’t lead him; he leads us. We are being led by him through the stronger desires he awakens within us. Being led by the Spirit" stresses the Spirit’s initiative and enablement. The work of the Spirit in our lives is not just about eradicating something. It is about producing something.  If our sinful nature produced that ugly list I read out, the life under the control of the Spirit produces fruit.
 The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such there is no law.” Galatians 5:22-23

3.      Over what lies ahead
Since we live by the Spirit let us keep in step with the Spirit.” Galatians 5:25

Waiting and walking with a person is a sign of respect, of recognition of friendship.  If we applied the same language to a husband and wife, we could put it, “Since we entered into a permanent committed relationship with one another let’s consider one another in the decisions we make and let’s do things together.”  
Exchanging external religion for reliance upon the inward power of the Holy Spirit is more than a doctrinal procedure it is the beginning of a life of partnership with him.   It means practicing faith becomes a lifestyle, not an occasional event.
 “Since this is the kind of life we have chosen, the life of the Spirit, let us make sure that we do not just hold it as an idea in our heads or a sentiment in our hearts but work out its implications in every detail of our lives.”   (Galatians 5:25 The Message)

It means that we don’t just do our own thing, we find out what the Spirit wants.  This applies to us as individuals but this is also a corporate aspect to this. As a community of believers, if we are living by the Spirit, we will not just come up with good ideas and schemes we will consult the Spirit.

Living in step with him means we can never become static.  The imagery Paul uses of life in the Spirit being like a walk shows us this. Walking indicates a forward movement. Walking with God implies our making progress or advances in the divine life. Walking, in the very first idea of the word, seems to suppose a progressive motion. A person that walks, though he or she may move slowly, still go forward and do not continue in one place. and so it is with those who walk with God.

The scriptures indicate that we should be making progress more and more in our Christian walk. “grow in grace, and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ.
2 Peter 3:18

Rather than drift about and vegetate spiritually perhaps it is a time for us to really ask the Holy Spirit, “Where do you want me to go next with you?  Where do you want us to go with you as your people


The Source of the Gospel

Exeter Temple Message notes:  24th January 2016
Bible Reading:        Galatians 3:14
God’s plan to redeem fallen humankind was formed before the world began and was put into operation through Abraham.
-        He is the ancestor of the Jews (Hebrews) through his son Isaac
-        Muslims regard him (Ibrahim) as the ancestor of the Arabs through his son Ishmael
-        Christians also regard him as their spiritual father through Christ. 
“I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”  Genesis 12:2-3
 “Your name will be Abraham for I have made you the father of many nations.”  Genesis 17:5

1. The Blessing of Abraham
These 2 promises are known as The Blessing of Abraham.  The scope of this promise is wider than physical ancestry and its content touches the whole of human need.

a)       Purpose and plan
God would lead him to the place where that would be fulfilled.
 “Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you.”
b)       Family
 “And I will make you into a great nation.” 
Nation-hood is about belonging and connecting with other people. 
This was especially important to him at that moment as he was leaving his home and tribe in Ur and the only people going with him were his wife who was barren and his nephew Lot. 
c)       Provision

“and I will bless you.” Blessing infers that Abraham’s needs would be met and that God would not leave him without help in the new life to which he was called.   
a)    Significance
“I will make your name great.”
Abraham is significant in history.  Jews, Moslem’s and Christians all refer to him as important to the roots of their faith. Abraham’s name is also always associated with his great faith in God.
b)   Channel of blessing
 “You will be a blessing, I will bless those who bless you and whoever curses you I will curse and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
God picked out one man but there was still scope to touch the wider world as Abraham is used as a channel of blessing.  

2. Receiving the Blessing of Abraham
 The blessing of God to Abraham was initially passed down the genetic line but although God never changed His mind about blessing the descendants of Abraham, their ability to live under that blessing was hampered by their refusal to co-operate with God.  
God gave them instruction through the law but although it showed them what they should do, they failed to do it.
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the book of the law.” Galatians 3:10
Neither ancestry nor the Law was effective in receiving the Blessing of Abraham because of the stronghold of sin.  Jesus was the only person who was without sin and was therefore able to fully receive the Blessing of Abraham. As the Blessed One, he became the channel of blessing by taking our sin himself, removing the obstacles in the way of our receiving the Blessing of Abraham.  
“He redeemed us in order that the blessing given to Abraham might come to the Gentiles through Christ Jesus so that by faith we might receive the promise of the Spirit.” Galatians 3v14

It is now the condition of our heart which determines who we are related to. In church we call people brother and sister because we are all in the same spiritual lineage. Through Jesus and by faith we are connected to Abraham and every promise made to his descendants is ours. 

 “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male or female for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise.”  
(Galatians 3:28-29)

The Promise given to Abraham deals with the crucial, fundamental needs of all human beings.

a.    Plan and purpose - Satisfaction
given to God’s people in the Old Testament is therefore a promise given to you and me.
“In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths.”
Proverbs 3:6
Every human beings wants to know the satisfaction fulfilling their purpose and matching what they do to their gifts and motivations.
b.   Belonging – Acceptance
“You are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation a people belong to God.” (1 Peter 2:9)
If we are trying to be God we are always going to be striving to reach an impossible goal, which leaves us feeling unacceptable and failing. The Blessing of Abraham gives acceptance into a family where we are welcomed and belong based not upon performance but God’s promises.
c.    Provision- Security
 But my God shall supply all your need according to his riches in glory by Christ Jesus.”  Phil 4:19
The rebellion against God, which says I want to be Lord of my own life, is accompanied by the anxiety that I need to provide for myself.
d.   Significance
Human beings need to feel that their lives matter, that they count for something. Although we may never be famous here on earth, God’s word tells us that those who trust in Christ have their names written down in the Lambs book of life.  You miss the Blessing of Abraham – you miss what makes life work.

3. Blessed to be a blessing.
Society always falls apart when people are consumed with meeting our basic human needs and the world is tense with people seeking blessing rather than being blessings to one another. God doesn’t bless us just to make us happy; He blesses us to make us a blessing.

Abraham was told that the entire world would be blessed through him. The Jews were not chosen by God for special privilege, but for special service. It is the same for Christians and for anybody else who receives God’s blessing. 

The gut instinct of Zacchaeus when he was changed by Jesus was to announce that he would give back to all those he had defrauded.  He didn’t take the blessing of salvation and pay Jesus, he used his blessing to bless others.
When Jesus testified to his anointing by the Spirit he also declared the blessings which would flow out of that to others.  "preaching the gospel to the poor, healing the broken-hearted, delivering the oppressed, announcing freedom for the captives, sight for the blind and the blessings of God, to one and all" (Luke Chap 4:18-19).

The command of Jesus to His disciples before He ascended to heaven was focussed outward. “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea and to the uttermost parts of the earth.” (Acts 1:8)

Every gift of the Spirit mentioned in the New Testament epistles is meant to bless others
“It was he who 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 works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up….”  (Ephesians 4:11-12)

We need to stop looking at everything as consumers. 
We are blessed to be a blessing.