Author: Simon

Sovereignty and Free Choice – Quote of the week

This weeks quote comes from Randy Alcorn’s book “Hand in Hand” but the quote is from Spurgeon:

I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I see, and I cannot help seeing, that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

Now, if I were to declare that man was so free to act, that there was no presidence of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; and if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism [lawlessness] or fatalism.

That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be inconsistent and contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other.

If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true; and it is my folly that leads me to imagine that two truths can ever contradict each other.

These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but one they shall be in eternity: they are two lines that are so nearly parallel, that the mind that shall pursue them farthest, will never discover that they converge; but they do converge, and they will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth doth spring.

 

Being Church

With some churches deciding to meet back face-to-face and a growing idea that what we now face is an endemic rather than a pandemic, we want to invite you to a series of special events where we will be discussing how the church can continue to be formed, grown and flourished.

We’ve always said that the church isn’t a place we visit, but the church is the people of God. Now that we don’t have the opportunity to meet, how do we function as the church of God in the place that He has put us? What should our focus be? How can we eventually get back together?

Everyone has something to learn and something to say so please do come along and be part of the the conversation. There are three main 20 minute sessions with breakout discussions afterwards.

The event will be a Zoom meeting on Wednesday 5th August at 7:00pm. Access code is 812 2995 2460 or click here

 

 

 

Blessed Assurance

This is a great song for our current series through Romans where Paul is writing about assurance. Check it out and put it on repeat.

 

“Blessed Assurance” from our new album “Only a Holy God” recorded live at our church St Paul’s Castle Hill available to purchase at
http://apple.co/2h3qIGd
© 2016 CityAlight Music

Words and music by
Michael Farren, Jaywan Maxwell, Rhyan Shirley, Nate Singh
CCLI 7073328

All my attempts to be satisfied
Were vain and empty
Until the moment you rescued me
And your love filled me

My soul sings
Now my soul sings

What blessed assurance
I’ve found in you
I’ve found in you
I won’t be shaken I will not be moved
How steadfast your strong hand
Is keeping me
Is keeping me
I won’t be shaken I will not be moved
Oh blessed assurance

No other love that I’ve ever known
Compares to you God
No other love that I’ve ever found
Has done what you’ve done

Ever my anchor
Ever my strength
Ever my portion
And all I need

Ever my healing
Ever my hope
Ever the truth that leads me home
That leads me home

Are you a disciple?

“When it comes to talking about making disciples, it’s not about individual followers of Jesus, on their own, lone rangers making disciples. It’s about being apart of a body and together making disciples. Those unbelievers need to see evidence of community around Christ. They need to see the love of Christ in action. They need to see the mercy of Christ in action. The church needs to become a picture that, especially for harden hearts of unbelievers, softens their hearts towards the goodness of Christ in the community of faith. We don’t just walk in isolation. We walk in love and service to one another. We’re teaching the Word to each other and the Word is spreading through each other. All of that has to happen in the context of relationships with other people. And so disciple making is intricately tied to commitment with a local church.” – Platt

What makes a healthy disciple? Jesus’ words to His disciples about making disciples was this:

Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age. – Matthew 28:19-20

To “go and make disciples”  suggests to me that there are two major aspects to being a disciple. The first has to do with our own spiritual life – Jesus addressed those who were already following Him. You can’t make disciples if you’re not a disciple. Chuck Smith always used to say “Healthy Sheep beget Sheep”.  The second aspect has to do with the spiritual life of others. Those that were already following Him should help others follow Him. If we are walking with the Lord, it is essential that we have a heart for those that don’t know Him, a deep burning, unquenchable desire to see them evangelised.

As a starting point I’d suggest that there are five indicators that fall into these two main areas. Indicators of both the requirements and evidences for disciples.

  1. Personal responsibility for your own spiritual health – daily prayer, bible study, fasting.
  2. Every day evangelising of pre-Christians with the good news gospel of Jesus – engaging where people gather (i.e. the workplace, social media). This is the “Go” of Jesus’ command to make disciples. We are to “go” each and every day with the message of the gospel on our lips.
  3. Intentionally meeting with pre-Christians and new believers to help them along in their faith. The act of making disciples is about investing time to meet with people and explaining the core beliefs of Christianity and how these are applied to individuals lives.
  4. Engagement with a local church beyond “sit and soak” – owning a shared vision, being an advocate for the ministry, knowing your role/call & faithfulness to it
  5. Gathering with the local church to mutually encourage, exhort and instruct other believers towards discipleship (disciples make disciples)

These help us to evaluate whether or not we are disciples. Anything missing? How do you fare?

Work out your own salvation

Philippians 2:12 – work out your own salvation

Some people develop a passive view of Christianity that says that they don’t need to do anything towards their sanctification. They just carry on living however they want to live and hope that God does the rest.

That is not the gospel.

Here’s the reason: faith is the link between God’s work and ours. This is what Paul is saying in this verse. THe idea of “work out” is an imperative to do something. Even though it is God who does it, the link between my doing and His is faith.

Essentially you’ve got to work out what God works in.

Look at some of these bible passages:

Colossians 3:1–10 (ESV) — 1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory. 5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator.

Galatians 2:20 (ESV) — 20 I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.

2 Peter 1:3–7 (ESV) — 3 His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, 4 by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. 5 For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, 6 and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, 7 and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.

What each of these passages mean is that God’s work enables our work because God lives in us. As we exercise faith, that God is doing what He said He would do, and we start to put action behind it, God continues to be faithful in His work.

So faith involves two things: a will and a work. It involves radical devotion to God in our lives (the will) and it involves radical dependence on God’s work in our lives (a work).

Paul wrote:

1 Corinthians 15:10 (ESV) — 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.

This is what makes sanctification happen. Getting up in the morning and declaring “God I can’t do this today, I need your grace to sustain me and empower me”  and then exercising  faith in God as you start to walk in it.

You believe that God will continue to show grace to you so you do your devotions  and you share your faith as best you can and at the end of the day you say – not I but the grace of God in with me

Covid19 July Update

This post updates you about our response to the Governments lifting of the restrictions on church meetings and how we intend to move forward as a result.

Here’s our July update and some things you can specifically pray into:

  • Sunday morning services will continue online for the foreseeable future at live.calvarysoton.co.uk – please share this link widely on social media.
  • Virtual Life Groups will continue online via Zoom and I can’t encourage you enough to get involved in one of these.
  • Virtual Men’s Bible Study and Women’s Bible Study will still be meeting online.
  • Please meet with one other household. If you can maintain a safe environment we want you to actively pursue face to face fellowship.
  • We’re putting some emphasis on discussing what church should look like, both in our current situation but also when restrictions are finally lifted and we’re meeting again. So, there are two events that we want to invite you to:
    • On 5th August we will be having a special event where we will be talking and discussing what church is and how we can navigate the current crisis. The event will be a Zoom meeting and start at 7:00pm.
    • On the evenings of 10-14 August, we’ll be joining CGN at their international conference as they discuss what are the essentials of church. We’ll discuss what this means for us here in Southampton. More details of this conference can be found here

We will praying and listening for the Holy Spirit to lead us and we covet your prayers. Watch our for a August update coming in the next few weeks

Chat about Church

With some churches deciding to meet back face-to-face we want to invite you to a special event where we will be talking and discussing what church is and how we can navigate the current crisis.

The event will be a Zoom meeting on Wednesday 5th August at 7:00pm. We will let you know the Zoom code nearer the time.

Worthy of the gospel of Christ

Philippians 1:27 – “let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,”

Every day you are making a statement. Whether you know it or not, whether you like it or not, you are speaking. Whether it’s in the way we dress, in our facial expressions, in the words that we use, we are saying something about what we believe to be true.

The Greek word that Paul uses for “manner” means “politics”. Now don’t run to the hills because of that! It simply means that if you are an MP you have a duty to behave in a certain manner. When that duty is not performed, quite understandably, there are questions that need to be asked.

To fully understand what Paul is referring to it’s helpful to remember that the city of Philippi was given to the 28th Roman Legion. They were the ones allowed to retire in Philippi, then it around 30BC the city was given the highest privilege any city could be given at that time – ius italicum. It was a city that was to be governed by Roman Law with the citizens of Philippi becoming Roman citizens. Everything from the legal system, to the way the roads were made, was a copy of Rome. Philippi was called by Rome to be Rome outside of Rome.

Paul is urging the church in Philippi to be that to heaven. Called by heaven to be heaven outside of heaven.

And the people, to have one duty: let your life be worthy of the gospel of Christ,

Worthy means “equal”.  In the same way that two scales are “worthy”, we are to live our lives in demonstration of the truth and power of the gospel

God The All

One of the things I really find helpful is to read and write prayers. A book I have had for many years is called “The Valley of Vision” – prayers from the Puritans. Here’s one from this collection:

o God whose will conquers all,
There is no comfort in anything
apart from enjoying thee
and being engaged in thy service;
Thou art All in all, and all enjoyments are what to me
thou makest them, and no more.
I am well pleased with thy will, whatever it is,
or should be in all respects,
And if thou bidst me decide for myself in any affair,
I would choose to refer all to thee,
for thou art infinitely wise and cannot do amiss
as I am in danger of doing.
I rejoice to think that all things are at thy disposal,
and it delights me to leave them there.
Then prayer turns wholly into praise,
and all I can do is to adore and bless thee.
What shall I give thee for all thy benefits?
I am in a strait betwixt two, knowing not what to do;
I long to make some return, but have nothing to offer,
and can only rejoice that thou doest all,
that none in heaven or on earth shares thy honour;
I can of myself do nothing to glorify thy blessed name,
but I can through grace cheerfully surrender soul and body to thee,
I know that thou art the author and finisher of faith,
that the whole work of redemption is thine alone,
that every good work or thought found in me
is the effect of thy power and grace,
that thy sole motive in working in me to will and to do
is for thy good pleasure.
O God, it is amazing that men can talk so much
about man’s creaturely power and goodness,
when, if thou didst not hold us back every moment,
we should be devils incarnate.
This, by bitter experience, thou hast taught me concerning myself.

Valley of Vision

Covid 19 update – June

This weeks announcement by the Government about the lifting of restrictions on churches has no doubt filled some of you with delight and some of you with anxiety. Our Church leaders are meeting to pray and discuss the next steps and so the main thing we want to ask you to do is pray for wisdom as we evaluable the government’s guidance. We’re getting some great guidance from FIEC and EA, Simon is also hosting a weekly pastors prayer meeting (and has been since March), and some good discussions are taking place there.

Here’s our June update and some things you can specifically pray into:

  • Sunday morning services will continue online for the foreseeable future at live.calvarysoton.co.uk – please share this link widely on social media.
  • Virtual Life Groups will continue online via Zoom and I can’t encourage you enough to get involved in one of these.
  • Virtual Men’s Bible Study and Women’s Bible Study will still be meeting online.
  • Given the opportunity from the government, we will look at opportunities to socially gather in outdoor places but at the moment this is still restricted to 6 people. However, we are now allowed to meet one other household in our homes. If you can maintain a safe environment we’d encourage you to do this AND / OR meet up in a public place like a park
  • We will continue the decentralisation of pastoral care to the wider leadership team but if you have any specific pastoral needs please don’t hesitate to contact us.
  • Tea and Chat will discontinue from Friday 5th July (that will be our last one). This was only ever a “stop-gap” before restrictions eased and they have so this will be the final meeting. We’re planning something fun so please do come along and bring the family.

We’re will praying and listening for the Holy Spirit to lead us and we covet your prayers. Watch our for a July update coming in the next few weeks

What are you dying for?

Philippians 1:21 (ESV) — 21 For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.

In this remarkable phrase, the apostle Paul sums up what it means to live life as a Christian: to die for gain. That’s it. To live the life of a Christian is to live in such a way that dying is actually gain. Here’s the rest of what he says about living for Christ:

1. to live Christ means to exalt Christ in everything we do

Look at what he said in verse 20: “as it is my eager expectation and hope that I will not be at all ashamed, but that with full courage now as always Christ will be honoured in my body, whether by life or by death.”

This is just another way of stating the great goal of the Christian life, which is to glorify God by everything we are and do.

To glorify God means to make God look good, as He truly is.

We find a similar sentiment in Job 13:16

Job 13:16 (ESV) — 16 This will be my salvation, that the godless shall not come before him.

In that story, Job was suffering and he was on trial by his “friends” who were saying that God was punishing him because of sin. Job had lost his whole family and all of his belongings had become sick and he wanted to be “saved” from being found to be a hypocrite. That in spite of all that he had suffered, God was still the one to follow and trust in. So, Paul perhaps is reminded of that story and recognises that the Philippian church are praying for his salvation, not spiritual, but being saved from denying Christ and disgracing the gospel at his trial before Caesar.

And so, even in terrible hardship, Paul’s goal was to magnify Jesus.

2. to live Christ means that He becomes our all in all

One of the things we have seen as we have journeyed through the book of Romans is that the thing that enables us to make Christ our all is that we were the object of God’s love. Because of that we are now alive to God in Christ

Romans 6:10–11 (ESV) — 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

one of the other things we are learning is that although this is our true standing before God we have to continue to grow in our experience of the reality of that standing so that each and every day we are living in fellowship with Christ, communing with Him and depending on Him for everything. This means growing to know Christ intimately

Colossians 1:10 (ESV) — 10 so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.

Every person who professes Christ as Saviour must grapple with the question, “Is the thing you’re living for – the thing worth dying for? Is Jesus really what you want?

3. To live Christ means to die to selfish desire in order to serve others for Jesus’ sake

This is what Paul writes in verse 22:

22 If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. 23 I am hard-pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better.

So this is not an easy decision. Why is it so hard? Because life is hard! The prospect of departing from the pain, suffering, and hardship of earthly life in order to be with Christ is clearly better and who wouldn’t want that? Let’s be honest … If anyone deserved a break, it was Paul! His desire was to depart but he also knew that others needed his ministry. So he was willing to deny his desires for the sake of serving others for Christ’s sake. The obvious implication is that if you’re not denying self in order to serve Christ, you are not “living Christ you’re living for self.

Gospel Fellowship – Philippians 1:5

Phil 1:3-5 I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy, because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now.

In a previous post, I wrote about Paul’s history with the church in Philippi and the kind of people that God uses.

He is thankful for them.

He is thankful for the fact that they have been unable to keep their salvation stories to themselves!

That’s what he says in verse 5, that is thankful for their partnership in the gospel. These were the kind of people that the partnership (or as some versions put it – the “fellowship” of the gospel) was at the centre of their relationships with other believers.

The word that Paul uses for “partnership” is the Greek word “koinonia” and we do often translate it as fellowship. Over time this we have come to think of fellowship as something like Christian friendship. We talk about fellowship in terms of what we do after church service but I don’t think the New Testament talks of fellowship in that way. This is why the translators of the ESV have translated it as  “partnership”.

What I think Paul means is that we have a joint commitment to an enterprise. So to enter into “koinonia” is to have a commitment, together, to see the gospel as the shared goal. In this letter Paul will thank God for their partnership in this way

  • the money that they sent to help Paul continue with his ministry
  • their prayers for him
  • their commitment and love for each other

Christians have a “joint enterprise” to see that God’s purposes in the gospel come about in the area that they can influence. Each of us has a duty to this gospel goal. Practically supporting ministry, spiritually supporting ministry through prayer and showing acts of kindness and mercy to one another is the way we join in this partnership.

 

Saturday Prayer

Most blessed God and Father! I bless you, I praise you, and I desire to love you, in and through Jesus.

And while my whole soul benefits and enjoys the person and work of Jesus, keep me always mindful that it is you, most gracious and almighty Father, that have made him most blessed forever. Your glory is great in his salvation! And the glory of the Son of God is great in your salvation!

Yes, blessed Jesus, I would cast all upon you: sins, sorrows, trials, and temptations. You are the Almighty Burden-bearer of your people, for the Lord Jehovah has laid on you the iniquity of us all.

And as you bear all our sins, so you carry all our sorrows. And do you not bear every one of your redeemed? Do you not bear all our troubles, temptations, trials, and difficulties? The government is upon your shoulder. The care of the church is all with you.

So will I not cast all my care upon you? Will I worry about many things, while Jesus says, “Cast your burden upon the Lord, and he will sustain you”?

Lord give me grace to let loose all things, and to leave all things with you. Lord, bear me up when I am falling, support me when weak, uphold me against all my enemies, carry me safe through a life of grace here. And, finally, bring me home to your glory, to behold you, and dwell with you forever, amen. —Robert Hawker

Elmer, Robert. Piercing Heaven: Prayers of the Puritans (pp. 104-105). Lexham Press. Kindle Edition.

Colour, Creed and Calvary

I’m walking into this debate very tentatively knowing that I don’t have the full picture or full understanding. However, when things happen in the world it’s good for us all to stop, take a breath, read our Bible and consider what God might be saying. Nothing could be truer than the time we are living in relation to the murder of George Floyd a the hands of four police offices, whilst in police custody.

I’m not going to address the incident or 100’s of similar incidents like it that go unnoticed from the lens of the camera. I can’t. I’ve seen the footage and read the reports but I wasn’t there and certainly don’t have enough information to make any meaningful comment about whether or not the officers knew what they were doing or whether this was an incident of racism. As we’ll see, biblical reconciliation does not depend upon a person having a complete understanding of the facts or issues of the day. True reconciliation consists of understanding God’s view on colour, creed and what was accomplished at Calvary by Jesus.

The following are three things that I can say, that need to be said, in order for true racial reconciliation to take place.

1) ALIGN OURSELVES TO WHAT GOD SAYS

Here is where we have to start: with what God says. I’ve listened to some great commentators over the last week or so and later on I’ll recommend two books that are a book primer on the issue but listen .. we need to understand that there is only one human race, not multiple races. As a person who has a “mixed-race” heritage (African-American Grandfather) I’m not half “this”, quarter “that”, quarter “this other thing”. I’m of the human race made in the image of God

Genesis 1:26–27 (ESV) — 26 Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” 27 So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.

The Bible supports the idea – Jesus supports the idea – that Adam and Eve were our first biological parents and all humans are of the same family. Now skip forward a few chapters in Genesis to a time when this family started to behave pretty dysfunctionally. Actually, the family was outright disobedient and rebellious. So, God’s answer to this was to divide the nations to stop their rebellious collaboration against Him (Gen. 11:1-9). This was made along national lines not according to ethnicity.

From that moment onwards the writes of the Bible used extraordinary examples to reinforce the “one race of God”, and set it apart from whatever the cultural notion of the day was. For example, Abraham was from modern-day Iran, two of his descendants (Judah and Simeon) married Canaanites, while their brother Joseph married an Egyptian. Moses’ wife was a black African woman from Cush (Num. 12), Rahab was Canaanite (Josh. 2–6), Ruth was from Bethlehem which is currently in The West Bank. A servant of king Zedekiah called Ebed-melech, who saved Jeremiah was Ethiopian.

The great climax to God’s story is, of course, played out in heaven where we see from Revelation 7 that there are every tribe, nation and tongue represented before the throne of God together worshipping Him.

Revelation 7:9–10 (ESV) — 9 After this I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes, with palm branches in their hands, 10 and crying out with a loud voice, “Salvation belongs to our God who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb!”

Interesting that Jesus taught us to pray:

Matthew 6:10 (ESV) — 10 …. your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

which, in this context presumably means that the biblical model for all people to be in unison as we praise and serve God – whatever our ethnicity.

So, here’s the point … we derive our understanding of race, ethnicity and identity by what the Bible says and, as Christians, this is rooted in the person and work of Jesus. (Eph. 2:11-19; 2 Cor. 5:17). This the beauty of Calvary:

Galatians 3:28 (ESV) — 28 There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

And so before we go on we must consider where this is the identity we have! In one of my recent sermons, I talked about “considering ourselves dead to sin and alive to God” (Romans 6:11). We must become all that we are in the process of becoming and we do this as we preach the gospel to ourselves in realising that Jesus has united us in Him.

2) BETTER TOGETHER

So in light of what God says about race, let’s think about how this affects my own attitudes. Bryan Loritts has some interesting things to say but probably stops short of what needs to be said. Here’s his 5-minute video:

I’m assuming you just watched it. It’s ok. His basic point seems to be that we need to hear each other’s cultural perspective in order to see the whole. I couldn’t agree more. However, this means that we have to go beyond simply hearing the other viewpoint but really making a habit out of practising preference for others and going together to God in faith. I liked his story of the Head of Donald Trumps Campaign asking for anointing and prayer from the “mainly African American elder board”. This showed that the church was practising preference for others – particularly those that each party might disagree with politically. Practising showing preference to others – and particularly those that are distinctly different from us (in all ways) demonstrates faith by saying we are getting ready for the Kingdom that is to come.

Paul, writing to a church trying to make sense of racial reconciliation (Philippi) wrote:

Philippians 2:3 (ESV) — 3 Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.

Failure to do this is the root of racism. Failure to humble ourselves and consider others more significant is the root of every kind of prejudice and discrimination.

Dr Tony Evans, pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship in Dallas, Texas and author of “Oneness Embraced”  released this insightful video that is well worth a watch:

3) LOVE LIVED OUT

By love, I am referring to the kind of love Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13 that demands we live in a way that involves others! We can’t say that we love someone and spend no time with them! We can’t say that we love someone and seemly be “neutral” in that love. Love is borne out of patience and longsuffering! Love demands that we honour, respect, uphold and defend the object of that love.

Columnist Jack White once observed, “The most insidious racism is among those who don’t think they harbour any.” His point is that those people (regardless of ethnicity BTW) who claim “I’m not racist” and leave their stereotypes unexamined will inevitably carry them forever, perhaps even pass them on to others. We would add that failing to come to terms with our assumptions about race and ethnicity will keep us blind to important aspects of biblical teaching.

Again, Dr Tony Evans on “Pastors Perspective” opens some of this up for us in a way that I can’t do so this is a must watch.:

The honest truth is that this is SO much that could be said on this subject but until sin is repented of and Christ embraced we are going to continue to be a people divided. May God help us.

I mentioned at the beginning of this post two books that I think are good reading. The first is by The Color of Law: A Forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America by Richard Rothstein. Amazon describes it:

Widely heralded as a “masterful” (Washington Post) and “essential” (Slate) history of the modern American metropolis, Richard Rothstein’s The Color of Law offers “the most forceful argument ever published on how federal, state, and local governments gave rise to and reinforced neighborhood segregation” (William Julius Wilson). Exploding the myth of de facto segregation arising from private prejudice or the unintended consequences of economic forces, Rothstein describes how the American government systematically imposed residential segregation: with undisguised racial zoning; public housing that purposefully segregated previously mixed communities; subsidies for builders to create whites-only suburbs; tax exemptions for institutions that enforced segregation; and support for violent resistance to African Americans in white neighborhoods. A groundbreaking, “virtually indispensable” study that has already transformed our understanding of twentieth-century urban history (Chicago Daily Observer), The Color of Law forces us to face the obligation to remedy our unconstitutional past.

The second book is by Christian author Jemar Tisby called “The Color of Compromise” and specifically addresses the church. Here’s what Amazon says:

An acclaimed, timely narrative of how people of faith have historically–up to the present day–worked against racial justice. And a call for urgent action by all Christians today in response.

The Color of Compromise is both enlightening and compelling, telling a history we either ignore or just don’t know. Equal parts painful and inspirational, it details how the American church has helped create and maintain racist ideas and practices. You will be guided in thinking through concrete solutions for improved race relations and a racially inclusive church

Church is not a Transaction

Like most people in church leadership, I’ve been thinking a lot about the conditions for reopening church when the government gives the go-ahead. As I’ve been thinking about this I think it’s valuable for us to again stop and consider what church is, as well as what it is not. I think it’s an important question because as the UK starts to “open up” again, we see shops, for example, being given the go-ahead to reopen but churches have not yet had the nod to do likewise. It’s easy to look at Government and accuse them of overlooking places of worship, deeming them unimportant. But, I think the fact that at the time I’m writing churches have not yet been allowed to resume normal services is an acknowledgement that churches are fundamentally different from shops.

The church is different.

There’s a type of Christianity that I’ve been warning about for years, something called “Consumer Church”. It’s not the church. It’s an imposter.

“Consumer Church” is the mindset that churches are basically a place where a transaction occurs. You pay an agreed (it’s even a suggested) amount and in return, you receive an item, service or experience. If what you get isn’t to your satisfaction, you can usually get your money back – or get what you need somewhere else.

Let’s be honest … who hasn’t walked away from a church service feeling less than satisfied by the worship, preaching or quality of experience? (It’s not always the case that this is evidence of this mindset … sometimes preachers don’t perform … oops, there it is!)

It’s important to think about how transactional church thinking has crept into our thinking in light of the current COVID-19 crisis. This will then help us to decide when and how we are to reopen church buildings.

Church is Open

When the word “church” comes up in conversation, the first thing we think of is a building. We have this mindset that church is a place we go to on Sundays. As we get our family dressed, fight through traffic and get a good seat, it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that we aren’t just going to church; we are the church. Here’s the first thing I want to communicate: the church has NEVER been shut. Buildings have been closed but the church is very much “open for business”. The Church was never about brick and mortar.

In the Bible, the church is always a reference to people, not a place. The church is a body of believers that live out the truth that the Gospel changes lives.

So the church is very much open. We’re not closed. The church has a nature that moves forward even against the most fierce opposition (Matthew 16:17-19).

Church is not for the Spectator

I love the fact that our gatherings are structured so that everyone and anyone can come along. You can sit in the back and watch. We’re ok with that. However, being part of Calvary means that you are church. There are expectations on you. Expectations to love, serve, contribute, grow and help others do the same. We don’t sit back and wait to be ministered to. We are the ones doing the ministering.

If we don’t like something, we don’t discount it on the basis of our preference.

If we like something, we don’t accept it on the basis of our preference,.

Each person has a different role to play. For some that means that they are more visible than others but not more important.

We are measured on our faithfulness to what we have been called to do in the Kingdom.

Church is Supernatural

Gathering is important

Jesus gave us the principle that when two or three gather together in the name of Jesus, the presence of Jesus is there.

When Jesus wrote to the 7 churches, recorded in Revelation, He described Himself as one who walks with and amongst the people.

This is God’s way – to dwell among His people (Ex 29:45-46) – not in some kind of omnipresent way, but in a very real tangible way.

There is something supernatural and spiritual that takes place when God’s people gather. We should not devalue this important Biblical teaching.

Historically, throughout the centuries, “church” has been understood as taking place when the Bible is taught, the sacraments are administered, and church discipline (formal and informal)  takes place. So, for example, three Christians meeting for coffee, talking about sport is not “church” even though they are Christians meeting. “In Jesus’ Name” means that His authority is brought to bear in our lives.

So gathering is important.

We Gather to Disperse

We don’t gather for gathering’s sake. We gather to be equipped and encouraged so that we can disperse. Jesus called us to “Go into all the world”. We gather so that we can live lives in honour to God, whether that be in a work place, education or home. We are called to take the message of good news to this world. Church helps us do that.

So I hope you can see that church doesn’t need a building. Maybe God is calling us to be church?

Do you qualify?

Here’s my quote of the week:

“in the kingdom of God, the one thing that qualifies you is knowing that you don’t qualify, and the one thing that disqualifies you is thinking that you do.

Consider the string of accounts in Matthew’s Gospel that we have touched upon. In every passage, a central character assumes that one has to ‘qualify’ to gain some corresponding approval.

  • The disciples thought little children needed to qualify by being a certain age in order to gain Jesus’ attention (19:13-15).
  • The rich young man thought he needed to qualify by law-keeping in order to gain eternal life (19:16-22).
  • Peter and company thought they had to qualify by making a sacrifice in order to gain a reward (19:23-30).
  • The workers who were hired early thought all employees had to qualify by doing sufficient work in order to gain a day’s wage (20:1-16).
  • In our moments of spiritual sanity, you and I know that we are no different. We tend to assume that in order for God to approve of us — really approve of us — we need to qualify. And at that moment, the gospel has shifted out of the burning fireplace of our heart and into the cold and dusty attic of self-contribution. A Christian is not someone who has been enrolled in the moral hall of fame. A Christian is a happily recovering Pharisee.”
  • -Dane Ortlund “Defiant Grace”

    The People God Uses – Philippians 1:3-4

    Philippians 1:3-4 – I thank my God in all my remembrance of you, always in every prayer of mine for you all making my prayer with joy,

    Paul visited Phillipi twice. Once on his second missionary journey in around 50 AD and again on his third missionary journey in around 56 AD. It was an impressive city established in around 356 BC by around 2000 soldiers from the 28th Legion who retired there and colonized the city.

    God uses normal people to do extraordinary works.

    The church in Phillipi wasn’t founded by former war heroes or even an apostle. In fact, the people who started the church were pretty ordinary: a Turkish businesswoman, a Greek Slave girl, and a prison guard.

    The businesswoman was a late called Lydia who owned a company called Purple Inc. (Ok, I made that bit up). But she did sell purple clothes to the rich and famous. She was from a town called Thyatira which is in modern-day Turkey. One day she gathered with a group of women to hear the Scriptures explained by Paul. God used Lydia in a tremendous way because she asked some friends to join her in seeking God.

    This little girl stands in absolute contrast to Lydia. Where Lydia is Asian, this girl is Greek. Where Lydia is in control, this girl is impoverished, enslaved, and exploited. While Paul and Lydia meet in the context of a formal, orderly group meeting, Paul and the slave girl meet as she follows the missionaries around, screaming her head off. She is disruptive. “These men are servants of the most high God and show you the way of salvation,” she said. Paul doesn’t turn around and say, “I’m doing a seminar Saturday on ‘Crazy.’ I would like for you to come because I think you have crazy in you.” What happens is, in an act of Holy Spirit power, he rebukes and exorcises the spirit that rules her and enslaves her on the inside. The girls becomes an evangelist and brings dozens to the Lord.

    The prison guard was a tough guy. He was told to keep Paul and his companions safe but instead, he tortures them. He put them in stocks where their hands and feet where he forced the body into all shapes, locking limbs and joints in place to the point of making the entire body cramp. This jailer is very good at his job, and he probably likes it more than he should! As Paul and Silas started praying for him there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.

    I’ve heard people with voices like that: when they sing everything starts moving.

    This isn’t because they can’t sing it’s because God has heard them. The prison guard turned to the Lord.

    A Turkish businesswoman, a slave girl and a prison guard. Probably not exactly your dream church-planting team yet God uses the ordinary people to do extraordinary things.

    So by the time Paul writes to them it’s been roughly 1-15 years since he first visited. So it’s fitting that he thanks God for them. But now, he’s no longer writing to the businesswoman, slave girl prison guard. In that time they have changed and grown.

    I wonder how old the slave girl is now. What sort of young woman has she grown up to be?  I wonder if she has found a good man. Does she have children?

    What about Lydia? What has Lydia done for the good of the gospel with all her wealth?

    What about the jailer—has he softened, or is he still rough around the edges?

    What has God down with you? Looking back can you say that you’ve been used in extraordinary by God and now, through that process, God has changed you?

    Please update

    As the church we are using Zoom quite a bit and just in case you’ve not noticed this reminder in your email, Zoom needs to update.

    Please update all your software to now or before May 30th.

    How:
    You can either use this update link or give it an extra 10 minutes when you sign after 30 May and it will automatically do it for you.

    We’re looking forward to seeing at Tea & Chat on Friday, and at our Post service Fellowship on Sunday (more details to follow)

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