Author: Simon

Calvary Rooted - Students at Calvary Southampton

Welcome Students – Calvary Rooted

Calvary Rooted - Students at Calvary Southampton

If you’re one of the thousands of students who have decided to study in Southampton and make it home for the next three years: Welcome! 

University is an exciting new adventure, but it can also be tough, so we’d love to live through the joys and struggles with you. At Calvary our goal is to help and support you to know God more deeply. Our prayer is that you’ll know Him and be living for Him better than when you first came to Southampton. We’d be honoured to be part of that journey.

We’re a big family and one of the things our students love is the fact that they get quickly adopted into it. We regularly open our homes for each other because we want to love whoever God places in front of us, despite any differences we might have. Student lunches take place each Sunday and our Calvary Rooted group for 18-30’s. This is a chance to enjoy food and laughter together, before chatting through what God has been speaking to us about and praying for each other. It’s a great chance to get to know other Christians and to encourage each other to live for God, so come along. Calvary Rooted is not only for students – people who have already graduated also come along as well as those who never went to uni.

Our students are involved in all sorts at Church: helping with PA, leading in children’s church, leading worship and serving tea and coffee. We’d love you to get involved with as much or as little as you’d like to.

We love students to become part of our Church family, so why not come visit us on a Sunday morning. We meet at 10.30am at Great Oaks School, Vermont Close, Southampton, SO16 7LT.

We are also connected to the Fusion Movement – their vision is to serve students and local churches to do mission. We think Fusion is great and we’d encourage you to get involved.

Both the University of Southampton and Solent University have Christain Unions that you can join. Again, this is a great opportunity to make the most of your time and we’d encourage you to seek out Freshers activities and get stuck in. Both groups have a church search page on their website (Southampton / Solent ) so you can look at all of the church groups they work with.

To find out more about any of this, or maybe just to grab a coffee when you’re first in Southampton (we promise we’ll buy it), please contact us or check us out on Instagram

Letting Go

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.

Last Sunday we explored the commandment “Do not Steal” as given in Exodus 20:15. To get the sermon entitled “The Big Ten: Letting Go” click on this link.

As we’ve been going through these commandments we’ve been exploring the sin behind the sin: the idea that these things are not only commandments from God to keep – “do not steal” – but they also uncover the motivations and attitudes that lead to that specific sin. For example, when we looked at the command “Do not Murder”, from Exodus 20:13, we said that all humans have been made in the image of Jesus Christ and therefore each of us has some intrinsic worth and value because of it. This should lead us to not only protect human life from conception to the grave but it also now motivates towards the positive – aggressive compassion. If we value human life because it’s made in the image of Jesus, we should do everything we can to be merciful and compassionate to our neighbours, friends, colleagues, peers and family.

So as we come to the commandment “Do not Steal” we need to consider the sin behind the sin. What is the motivation for theft? Well, the answer is simply the lack of trust and faith in God to provide what we need. If we are prone to steal, it’s not because we desire something that we don’t have (that’s the 9th commandment by the way) but because we don’t have a relationship with God that trusts Him enough to say “God will provide, I don’t need to take it”. Maybe you steal because you feel like you have to have money to be secure in the future. The problem is that you don’t trust God for your future because you don’t have a relationship with God. Maybe that’s why you don’t give away money, either. You say, “Well, if I don’t have money, who will take care of me in the future? So I can’t give it all away, I’ve got to get more of it.” The problem is that you don’t trust God for your future because you don’t have a relationship with God

So this was originally played out in the Garden of Eden when Satan tempted Eve to take (steal) the fruit. We see the pattern in the Bible that Satan is the greatest taker of what does not belong to him. On the other hand, Jesus Christ is the giver of all that He owns. Jesus said:

The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. (John 10:10)

The thief that Jesus is talking about in this context was the religious leaders who sought to get people to behave outwardly but ignored the inward issues. You could say that they only focussed on the sin, not the sin behind the sin. Jesus continually rebuked them for this because mere adherence to the law doesn’t bring life, it brings death. So mere outward obedience robs us of the desires and motivations of a relationship. Whereas Jesus says that He came to bring life. To bring freedom, knowing that God’s graces and already abundantly been given to you and there’s nothing else you need apart from this.

You see, Jesus gives me security, so, my security isn’t resting on money or things. I have freedom because I’m no longer in the business of trying to gain acceptance and honour from God or others – I’m secure. I no longer have to push my way to the front of the crowd or climb the ladder to get to the top of the tree (Luke 19:1-10). Out of the freedom that God’s generosity provides comes an impulse towards generosity rather than accumulation

Getting to the Heart of Lust

Getting to the heart of lust

Getting to the heart of lust

Last Sunday Bill Diaper shared about the 7th commandment: “Do not commit adultery”. Here is the sermon page for you to check that out, here’s the follow up blog post:

As we have been going through the commandments we have seen that God only wants the best for his children. We have seen him share his wisdom with us. Wisdom that says: “if I was on earth this is how I would live because it is the way of blessing”. So when we turn the 7th commandment “thou shalt not commit adultery” we see the same thing: God only wants the best for us.

He created marriage to fulfil his plans for fruitfulness (Genesis 1:28) and to be a blessing to those involved, as they remained faithful to each other and God. Right from the beginning of the Bible it is obvious that God’s plan is for male and female to become one through marriage and that consummation of this covenant relationship is through sexual intimacy. Also, Genesis 39 shows us that breaking that covenant through sexual relationships with another person was considered to be a sin against God. The 7th commandment makes this clear, regardless of what the culture around might say, we need to keep to Gods clear plan for sexual intimacy, one man, one woman for life.

Now Jesus, in Matthew 7 clarifies this commandment by saying that even looking at a member of the opposite sex with lust is breaking this commandment. Jesus encourages us to always be on the alert against falling into this sin, by avoiding any areas of temptation and finding ways to kill these desires in our hearts. In our context that might mean, putting child locks on our television or PC, avoiding reading certain books, or going to certain places. It might mean talking honestly about these things with your partner, without being judgmental knowing that both partners in a relationship are sinners. Jesus says it’s worth it, walking in obedience to his word brings life both now and eternally, whereas disobedience leads to broken relationships and all the pain that this brings, and also a break down in our relationship with God all the pain that this brings.

There is nothing positive in adultery

But there is also an amazing positive outcome of staying pure and truly working at marriage with your partner even through the hard times. Ephesians 5 tells us we show Christ and his love for his church, we show Christ giving himself for his church, in other words, we reveal the gospel to the world through our committed, sacrificial love for each other. This is simply amazing, and we should be greatly motivated by this truth, and it should create in us a desire to run from sexual sin because it would blur and distort the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And it should create in us a desire to stay pure, washing each other feet so that our marriage might lead others to saving faith in Christ

 – Bill

Murder and the sanctity of life

Murder and the Sanctity of Life

“We stand up for the unborn. We stand up for the aged, the disabled, the persecuted, the immigrant, the orphan, the widowed, the addicted, the prisoner, and the poor. We stand up and say, “The image of God is more significant and more important than anyone’s definition of usefulness.”‘ – Russell Moore

Last Sunday we explored the idea of the Sanctity of Life as described in Genesis 9 and Exodus 20:13. To get the sermon entitled “The Big Ten: Anger and Hate” click on this link.

We said that all of human life is important because we are made in the image of God. The image of God is not us, but Jesus Himself:

Colossians 1:15 (ESV) — 15 He [Jesus] is the image of the invisible God,

2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV) — 4 … the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

We made three conclusions:

  1. The sanctity of life means you are loved
    1. Exodus 20 seems to be suggesting that the thing that leads to murder is the lack of security in the love of God. This lack leads to fear, which leaders to strife. Strife often leads to anger, which in turn can lead to murder. In essence, those that struggle with anger are in fact still holding out that there must be something about them that is attractive to God.God’s first point in Exodus20 is this: “I am FOR you”. Remember we said that love comes before the law and that God doesn’t want a relationship with us based on what we do. This is grace!
  2. The sanctity of life means you are loved
    1. There is a proper motivation for a love for oneself. Now obviously this isn’t my primary affection otherwise this would be idolatry but there is a proper place to say “Jesus loves you – it’s ok for you to love you”.
  3. The sanctity of life means you must love others
    1. Paul wrote: Owe no one anything, except to love each other, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. (Romans 13:8)
    2. Check out this quote from CS Lewis:

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you can talk to may one day be a creature which, if you saw it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All-day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilities, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people. You have never talked to a mere mortal. Nations, cultures, arts, civilizations – these are mortal, and their life is to ours as the life of a gnat. But it is immortals whom we joke with, work with, marry, snub, and exploit – immortal horrors or everlasting splendors.”

There are two explicit wasy to love others:

  • To honour the image of God show mercy (Matthew 25:35-40, Matthew 9:13)
  • To propagate the image of God by making disciples (Genesis 9:7, Matthew 28:19-20)

 

Rhythms of Rest

On Sunday we continued our study of Exodus there at Mount Sinai as we joined the Israelites amidst the peals of thunder and flashes of lightning, as God continued to speak to his people, giving his ten commandments. We came to the fourth word:

“remember to keep the Sabbath day holy. Six days you shall labour, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, you, or your son, or your daughter, your male servant, or your female servant, or your livestock, or the sojourner who is within your gates. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” (Exodus 20:8-11)

I’d like to share my train of thought throughout our time, before, during and after Sunday, and perhaps an insight into my general thought process.

Throughout my studying of this extensive subject, I came across this quote by the puritan Thomas Watson, which completely rendered me undone:

“When the falling dust of the world has clogged the wheels of our affections, that they can scarce move towards God, the sabbath comes, and oils the wheels of our affections and they can move swiftly on.
God has appointed the sabbath for this end.. the heart, which all the week was frozen, on the sabbath melts with the word. The sabbath is a friend to religion: it files off the rust of our graces; it is a spiritual jubilee, wherein the soul is set to converse with its Maker.”

Rather than join the century-old debate of whether we as Christians in the 21st century should adhere to this seemingly Israelite-only law, (far cleverer men and women have entered into that arena of debate), my concern has come out of a heart that is concerned for a generation of Christians that seems okay with having shallow thoughts about God.

I did not want to spend an hour trying to reiterate what many have spoken far more literately and clearly, but rather I was reminded that God’s heart is above all seeking the good for mankind, and that hasn’t been the case just since Jesus came, but rather that it has always been in his plan right from the beginning of time. He has always had family time in mind. God values his family. If we are born again christians, we have been born again into his family. We are a people redeemed. And therefore, a people free.

We talked about how this law came before Sinai, there in Exodus 16, God had commanded his people to gather the manna from heaven each morning, gathering a day’s portion, except the seventh day, they were to gather on the sixth day double! God was essentially setting them a trust exercise. Trust me to provide for your daily needs.

“Man does not live on bread alone, but from every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” (Deutoronomy 8:3)

We touched on how this idea of resting comes forth out of Genesis 2:1-3, that God rested on the seventh day.

There on the seventh day, we spoke about how God did not need to rest, God did not cease all things, that would have proved detrimental to everything existing, God did not lay back and put his feet up, so to speak, for God was still ‘working’ as sustainer and provider of the universe.

God purposefully chose to bring man into existence there on the sixth day, perhaps to show him, that his intention from the start, was to have a people separated unto himself.
As he said to the Israelites in Exodus 31:13:

“Keep my sabbaths, for this is a sign between me and you throughout your generations, that you may know that I, the Lord, sanctify you.”

To the Israelites, the sabbath spoke of God setting them apart from all the other nations, declaring unto the world, “They are MINE.” It was a gentle reminder that man, who was created and came into being on the sixth day, spent his first initial FULL day, in the presence of God. As if God was already answering man’s un-asked question, “what is my purpose?” And God was answering, “why it is to be in community with me, enjoying our relationship; the overflow of my love.”

We briefly spoke of how by the time we come to Jesus’ time, the laws of God had been modified and extra additions had been made. A day which had primarily been GIFTED to man for his good and to the glory of God, had now been demoted to a “to do list” (or rather “not to do” list in the case of the sabbath). The Pharisees had made it cumbersome. The law of God as God had intended was to be a delight to man, (Psalm 119), it was to be the light to his path, however, it had become a load which men and women could not bear. The sabbath especially.

The Pharisees had loaded heavy burdens on the backs of a people already oppressed, in Matthew 11:28, Jesus utters those sweet words that continue to echo through generations, “come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.”

As I was studying this, I couldn’t help but remember that God calls his church HIS BRIDE, we are in a relationship, that is the basis on which we come to God, we spend time with him not because WE HAVE TO, but rather because WE WANT TO.
HE has set us apart; though we are in the world, we are not of it; He has saved and redeemed us from slavery to sin and its rightful wages; death, and now He even declares unto us, “you are mine” therefore, “come to me.”

One day out of seven, we are invited to come near, that means to separate ourselves from those other things that keep us away from drawing near, (and those things may not even be bad things in of themselves, a little bit of Netflix, scrolling through Instagram, for me, I was a very avid gamer but I was reminded that Ephesians 5:15-16 calls me to make the best of the time, “because the days are evil” and thus the Lord cares about the use of all of our time, 7 days a week, 365.

As I reflected throughout the week, joining several discussions, listening to several different – often opposing views- I have enjoyed the discussion that this topic has brought. Fruitful conversations about God and his provision, how he calls us to trust in him with all of our lives, particularly the section we seem to often keep compartmentalised: work. The Lord invites us to cease. To stop and to come and partake in His rest. He calls us to work heartily absolutely! But in our career focused, success driven age, the temptation is to forget God, even when we are supposedly in church, our minds drift to other matters. Again these may be legitimate concerns, and for some, the issue of paying the bills, or the food for the next day is a genuine issue, But he calls us to come and cast our burdens on him, to trust him, for only He can sustain. Psalm 55:22.

I can only pray that we would have a deeper understanding of the sabbath, and the heart of the God who gifts it, that we might cherish EVERY means of grace given unto us, so that we might be fruitful in our walk with him, as we come to see our wonderful, caring creator who loves us and calls us to come to him.

And so we can declare “this is the day that the Lord has made”.

Over the last 3 years time and again I have been brought back to the 23rd psalm, especially when I am restless and busy striving, I am brought back to that simple sweet verse:

“He makes me lie down in green pastures.”

In that is our rhythm of rest.

We are his sheep, He is our shepherd. Our shepherd calls us to draw near and rest in his presence. Safe and secure. There we shall find our true rest. There all strivings cease. It is there we can truly sing our hallelujahs, whilst resting in him.
He is concerned for us. A God who is like that deserves all of my worship, a caring God like that deserves not only one day, but all of my days. A God like ours is one we can truly say whether we are resting or working, eating or drinking, let us “do all things to the glory of God.”

 

A note from Simon:

During our Life Group on Wednesday we discussed this exact heart that John has so carefully highlighted in this blog – the seventh day is given for us to enjoy God and His people because it’s His Sabbath and a gift to us for that purpose. We discussed several practical outcomes to how we can remember the Sabbath:

  1. We said that there wasn’t anything holy one day over another (Romans 14:5) but there gathered people of God should choose a day in which to gather and enjoy God together, not forsaking the gathering (Hebrews 10:25).
  2. At the beginning of the day acknowledge the gift and thank Him for it
  3. Prepare our hearts before church by reading the passage that will be preached on and praying for personal and corporate revival,
  4. If God has given us this day to enjoy Him, come with anticipation to meet with God and the faith to expect it.
  5. Give ourselves away to each other in service and love
  6. Come early. Lateness demonstrates that my heart is apathetic towards meeting God and his people
  7. Come joyful. We’re exhorted to “Come to me all who are weary”. If we prepare our hearts, we can truly come in joy.
  8. Dedicate the day to meet with other Christians in fellowship who will be able to “exhort one another” (Hebrews 10:25)
  9. At the end of the day Thank God for the day he has given.

 

Where does my faith come from?

The function of faith in salvation is an important theological issue. Since faith is essential for salvation, where does faith come from? As I was writing a previous post on Ephesians 2:1-10 I was urged to try (note, that I said I’d try!!!) to answer that question – and the question that comes from verse 8 in Ephesians 2. Here’s the text, Paul is writing:

Ephesians 2:8 (ESV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God,

Here is the question: in most translations, there is some ambiguity around the subject of “it” in the last phrase. Here are some other translations to help frame the problem:

Ephesians 2:8 (KJV) — 8 For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:

Ephesians 2:8 (NKJV) — 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God,

Ephesians 2:8 (NIV) — 8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—

Ephesians 2:8 (NLT) — 8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.

So the problem is this: is “it” salvation, or is “it” faith? Is “it” salvation that is a gift from God and therefore not of yourselves? Or is “it” faith that is a gift and therefore not of yourselves?

One really important, overarching conclusion that Christians agree on – before we get into the trying to answer the question – is that salvation is not of us. I think we all can agree with this. We didn’t do anything to earn it, achieve it or merit it. This is the main point that Paul is actually driving home.

So let me ask this question: is faith the gift that Paul is referring to? Well, one of the cardinal rules of Biblical interpretation is to allow the Bible to interpret itself. That means that we look for other places in the New Testament where Jesus or one of the apostles teaches on this same topic. (Incidentally, given the gravity of the matter, we can assume that there are more teachings to be found, rather than just one verse). Paul wrote to the church in Rome and said:

Romans 6:23 (ESV) — 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Doesn’t that seem to put a nail in the coffin of this argument? Salvation (eternal life) is a gift from God.

Amazingly John Calvin agreed. He wrote:

“And here we must refute a very common error in the interpretation of this passage. Many persons restrict the word “gift” to faith. But Paul is only repeating in other words the former sentiment. His meaning is, not that faith is the gift of God but that salvation is given to us by God.”

So, from Ephesians 2:8 we cannot conclude that faith is a direct gift from God.

However, the idea that faith is a gift of God is not only unbiblical but it also creates a number of problems for us. For example, if faith was a gift from God how is it that demonic activity can restrict that gift? Here’s two verse that highlight that problem:

Luke 8:12 (ESV) — 12 The ones along the path are those who have heard; then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.
2 Corinthians 4:4 (ESV) — 4 In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

A really great problem is found in the gospels when Jesus stands back and marvels at the lack of some people’s faith:

Matthew 8:26 (ESV) — 26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
Matthew 14:31 (ESV) — 31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
Matthew 16:8 (ESV) — 8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?

So, can you see why I have such a problem with understanding faith as being a direct gift from God. For me, it’s neither Biblical or logically sound, and creates even more problems that it solves.

So why do some believe that faith is, in fact, a direct gift from God? Well, it’s not only a misinterpretation from the text, but it’s also drawing a false conclusion from the text. Here’s what I mean: we just agreed that we didn’t do anything to earn, achieve or merit our salvation. That is true. So where does faith come from? Well, so goes the argument, it must come from God because we can do nothing. After all, we’re dead and we need God to first make us alive, then give us faith to respond with, so that we can then be saved.

Ok, so I have a massive issue with something called pre-faith regeneration and I’m not going to go into here because there just isn’t enough room on this here internet …

Here’s the problem with that line of reasoning that says faith comes from God: the Bible nowhere says it. I could point to more, but here are eight examples where Jesus refers to faith as belonging to the person, rather than God:

Matthew 9:2 (ESV) — 2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven.”

Matthew 9:22 (ESV) — 22 Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well.

Matthew 9:28–29 (ESV) — 28 When he entered the house, the blind men came to him, and Jesus said to them, “Do you believe that I am able to do this?” They said to him, “Yes, Lord.” 29 Then he touched their eyes, saying, “According to your faith be it done to you.”

Matthew 10:42 (ESV) — 42 And whoever gives one of these little ones even a cup of cold water because he is a disciple, truly, I say to you, he will by no means lose his reward.”

Luke 7:50 (ESV) — 50 And he said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Luke 8:50 (ESV) — 50 But Jesus on hearing this answered him, “Do not fear; only believe, and she will be well.”

Luke 17:19 (ESV) — 19 And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.”

Luke 18:42 (ESV) — 42 And Jesus said to him, “Recover your sight; your faith has made you well.”

The truth is that faith, everywhere, is ascribed to man, not to God

Here’s a problem that springs up from the idea that faith does not come from God …  if faith does not come from God, but comes from man (I don’t actually agree with that phrase but for argument sake, we’ll go with it ….) …. isn’t that something I’ve done and now God has to respond to my faith? What was that we said about “we’ve done nothing”? Well this problem is easily solved by recognizing that faith is not a work, but is instead the opposite of works. James actually states it clearly:

James 2:24 (ESV) — 24 You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.

James clearly draws a distinction between works and faith. They are two different things.

Ok, so now let’s try and answer the question: what is the source of faith? Where does it come from? Well to do that I’d like to ask a number of questions that all have the same answer – they all have the same answer but each one has a different Bible verse to back it up. Then, we’ll draw a conclusion about the origin of faith.

  1. How are people made alive / born again?
    1. 1 Peter 1:23 (ESV) — 23 since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God;
  2. What does God use to “bring us forth”?
    1. James 1:18 (ESV) — 18 Of his own will he brought us forth by the word of truth, that we should be a kind of firstfruits of his creatures.
  3. What is the order of salvation?
    1. Ephesians 1:13 (ESV) — 13 In him you also, when (1) you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, (2) and believed in him, (3) were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit,
  4. Why is God’s Word so important? (HERE’S THE ANSWER)
    1. Romans 10:17 (ESV) — 17 So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.

So let’s summarise ….

  • Salvation is a free gift, given apart from our works or merit
  • Faith is how we acquire salvation
  • Faith is not a work
  • Faith comes when the “word of truth” (the gospel) and the “word of Christ” (I take that to mean the Spirit’s call and conviction) coincide in such a way that the person responds positively to both the message, the call and the conviction (through repentance) and as a result is made alive/born again/becomes a Christian.

 

Notes on Ephesians 2:1-10

In this post, I will be reflecting on one of this year’s Creation Fest UK messages as well as adding some of my own thoughts. The second message that was given was on the festivals main stage was given by Carl Beech, who is the Senior Pastor of Redeemer King Church in Chesterfield.

Carl is a preacher and evangelist and this is clear when you hear him! Whilst he did not exegete the text per se, when sharing the gospel he is passionate, engaging and relevant, which, as it happens, is at the heart of this passage of Scripture. So, that makes this post quite a challenge as Carl was full of great stories that came alive when he told them. As he didn’t go verse-by-verse through this text I’m going to give you my impression of the text rather than his.

Ephesians 2:1–10 (ESV) — 1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins

Paul isn’t condemning us here by using the word “were”. He is putting all of the first three verses in the past tense because that is what God has done. He keeps all of our past in the past. The use of “were”, “once”, “walked”, “followed” are all in the past and are significant ways in which the gospel has changed believers.

What is the purpose of saying all of this given the fact that he has already laid out the blessings that we have in Christ, in chapter 1? I think the answer to that starts in verse 8 with the emphasis on “grace” not “works” and continues through the chapter with the idea that the calling of the church was God’s idea hidden in the Old Testament but now revealed in Christ.

Notice two important words in the first verse – “dead in. Note that it’s “dead in”, not dead “because of”. The difference is that “because of” implies that our works have made us dead and that we were originally good or born good. Paul is not saying this. Paul is saying that we WERE “dead in” which means that we were already dead, and had no ability to do anything else other than walk the kind of life that was in separation from God. That’s what “trespasses” and “sins” means. Trespasses here refers to “wilful acts’ and “sin” here means “natural acts”. So, we were born dead by virtue of our natural acts and we compounded this through our wilful acts. All in all in a positive outlook!

However, verses 2 and 3 don’t let up …

2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.

So where Paul says that we “walked” he means that there was a way of life, a habitual, progressive, way of living that the opposite of the way to walk with Jesus. We followed a power that was usually found in the “sons of disobedience” – probably a reference to the fallen angels. The same power that was alive in them, was influencing us.

All in all, Paul paints a very sobering picture of our past. But then verse 4 comes shining through …

4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— 6 and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, 7 so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. 10 For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.

Let’s deal with some of the details of this wonderful text:

First, note that it is God who is rich in mercy. The idea of being rich in the Bible is “having something in abundance”. It’s an overflow. An excess. That’s how merciful God is!

Secondly, note that He has taken the “dead in” and “made us alive”. This phrase is proceeding with the idea of “even when”. So here there is no room for anyone to claim that God has made them alive based on their own performance.

Thirdly note that being made alive is coupled together with Christ. Here’s what that means .. In the bible we have two kinds of “becoming alive”: we have the person who was dead and was raised from the dead, to die again. Lazarus is a prime example. He died, Jesus raised him from the dead, and when Lazurus was old he died again. The point is that this first kind of “being made alive” was alive to the old life. The second way the Bible speaks about being made alive is in the term resurrection. The idea of being “born again” is being made alive “together with Christ”. it’s being made alive to a new kind of life that is actually the life of Christ in us. It’s this latter one that aul is speaking about here – we have been made alive together with Christ, not raised from the dead to live our own lives again.

Fourthly note that this “being made alive” is by grace. This is God’s unmerited, undeserved favour.

Fifthly note that salvation isn’t the goal, but habituation is the goal. His is what he says in verse 6 in the term “raised us up with him and seated us with him”. This is His goal for us: to dwell with God! Salvation isn’t enough … adoption is the great goal for our lives!

Sixthly note that the reason we are saved by grace is so that God’s love will be a marvel and spectacle to the “powers” and “sons of disobedience” found earlier in the chapter.

Seventhly, Paul sums up in verse 8 what has already been said in the previous verses – that God does the work and it is apprehended by us, by faith. Now, in another post, I’m going to deal with the question “Where does my faith come from?”

Book Review: Confronting Christianity

One of my Summer reading books this year was the book by Rebecca McLaughlin called “Confronting Christianity”. I had been eager to read this book given that a number of people I knew had recommended it, either face to face, via twitter or GoodReads.com.

Rebecca poses 12 questions that are commonly asked by non-Christians about the Christian faith and whilst most of the questions do pose a challenge for Christians, most in their answer actually reinforce why the Christian faith is undeniably true. There is everything you’d expect (in terms of the type of questions) from a book on apologetics: “Aren’t we better off without Religion” and “Doesn’t Religion cause violence” but she also tackles other questions such as “Doesn’t the Bible condone slavery?” and “Isn’t Christianity homophobic?” Rebecca uses the most recent research to give robust Biblical answers to these important questions. However, this isn’t a book of theory. Chapter 9, for example, is written from an autobiographic viewpoint and is as powerful as it is robust.

By far my favourite quote is this:

“It’s often said that you should respect other people’s beliefs. But that’s wrong: what’s vital is that you respect other people.”

In a world where extremes of opinion seem to dominate the media landscape and people are quick to caricature each other, I was helpfully reminded that people aren’t the enemy. Didn’t Jesus exemplify this so well, and Paul teach us to “Speak the truth in love”? We should not hide away from speaking the truth, not should we be nervous about challenging worldviews that are different from ours. The difficulty is always to see beyond the person we are challenging, love them and graciously speak the truth.

I’d highly recommend this book to anyone who wants to know how Christianity answers some of the toughest questions that challenge it. It’s a fairly easy read, Rebecca’s style is engaging and relevant.

The Wealth of the Christian

In this post, I will be reflecting on one of this year’s Creation Fest UK messages as well as adding some of my own thoughts. The first message that was given was on the festivals main stage was to a packed out “Big Shed” full of attendees – both Christian and non-Christian – local, national and international.

The message was entitled “The Wealth, Walk and Warfare of the Christian” but focused more on the Wealth that we have in Christ from Ephesians 1. The sermon was given by Brian Brodersen who is the Senior Pastor of Calvary Chapel in Costa Mesa, California.

Ephesians 1:3–14 (ESV) — 3 Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,

here we have the blessings already given to us but they are located in the heavenly places – in the spiritual realm. They are not primarily, nor predominately earthy and material blessings but heavenly and spiritual blessings. Those that confuse spiritual blessings with material blessings simply don’t understand the gospel.

There is a theology that is prevalent and becoming more so – that says that if you are sick or poor it’s because God’s blessing isn’t on you. It’s known as the prosperity gospel: that somehow there is a sin to be repented of and since you haven’t, you have this or that material problem. God wants you to be materially and physically wealthy. What people don’t understand is that the promises of material wealth found in the Old Testament were tied to the land promises given to Israel. One of the errors of Replacement Theology is that it replaces Isreal with the church so that all of the promises to Isreal now are inherited by the church.  But the promises of health and wealth were given to Isreal, not the church. If anything, in the Old Testament there is the promise of prosperity to Israel, but in the New Testament there is the promise of adversity to the church.

There is also an important distinction that should be made in these opening verses between the POSITIONAL  reality of these blessings and the PRACTICAL reality of them. For example, as believers of Christ, our position in Christ is that of complete and perfect righteousness. This is how God sees us, in Christ: our position is seated in the heavenlies already (Eph 2:6). However, this is not the PRACTICAL reality for any of us! We still struggle with the “old man” and we still struggle with the effects of the brokenness of this world. We still feel very much grounded in this world and on this earth. Practical holiness is the state of journey towards positional holiness. the former, we must engage in and work towards, the latter has already been granted to us by grace through faith.

4 even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him.

Notice that all of these blessings come to us because we are “in him”. We cannot have these blessings without being born again believers of Jesus Christ. And this promise is that we will become holy and blameless. This is a promise that one day we will grasp and anyone who responds to the call of God by faith is chosen to be holy and blameless.

In love 5 he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will, 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, with which he has blessed us in the Beloved.

The purpose of predestination is found in this text and in also Romans 8:29:

Romans 8:29 (ESV) — 29 For those whom he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, in order that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.

The purpose of predestination is for adoption – that we are conformed into His image and made co-heirs with Christ. So this is a promise not to those who don’t believe but to those who do.

7 In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace, 8 which he lavished upon us, in all wisdom and insight

He has redeemed us through His blood. Jesus said of Himself that:

Mark 10:45 (ESV) — 45 … even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Since Jesus is the ransom for our sins, we are now free from shame and guilt. Paul wrote:

2 Corinthians 5:17 (ESV) — 17 Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.

9 making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ 10 as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.

Simply, we know the future! He has made us to know the purpose of His will. God has a purpose for each and everyone of us and this is not only linked to the promise of individual “glorification” (Romans 8:29) but also cosmic subjugation. Paul says that everything will one day be untied in Him. It’s the thing that all creation currently groans for:

Romans 8:22 (ESV) — 22 For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now.

11 In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will, 12 so that we who were the first to hope in Christ might be to the praise of his glory. 13 In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, 14 who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.

Finally, we have been sealed with the Holy Spirit. In modern Greek, the word “guarantee” is the same as a wedding ring. So, Jesus has given us a “wedding ring”, a promise that He will come good and fulfil that which He started.

 

God and God Alone

We began our mini-series on the Ten Commandments this morning by looking at Exodus 20:1-6.  This blog post is intended as a reminder of some of the points we discussed.  If you missed the message, you can listen to it on our site

Exodus 20 begins in a fearful scene: Mt. Sinai is ablaze with the fire, thunder and lightning of the Lord.  As God begins to speak directly, not just to Moses but to all the people, they tremble with fear (see 19:16-20 and 20:18-21).  They have had first-hand experience of God’s saving power, and every day they receive the miraculous bread from heaven.  They know God is for them, yet they fear.  They fear because the Lord is greatly to be feared, and because the giving of His holy Law is an awesome event.

I Am The Lord

The Lord’s first utterance is His self-disclosure: “I am The LORD, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.”  God’s self-disclosure is not as Creator, Master, or King, even though He is all of those.  He is Deliverer.  The context of the Law being given is salvation.  God calls a people unto Himself, delivers them out of slavery by His own hand, and then gives them the rules of His covenant.

What this shows us is that the Ten Commandments are not simply an ethical code of conduct to follow.  No, they are grounded in the eternal God.  They are the absolute standard of righteousness.

No Other Gods

God’s first demand is in the strongest possible terms: God is to be number one on a list of one.  Nothing else should be close in terms of our priorities and affections.  When a husband and wife say “yes” to each other, they implicitly say “no” to all others.  So it is to be with all who say “yes” to God.  We say “no” to all other objects that would compete for our affection and joy.

The Lord continues with a prohibition of idols and images set up for the purpose of worship.  There is a prescribed way to worship God, and there are prohibited ways.  Exodus 32 and Judges 17 are examples of people worshipping the Lord… using idols!  Their worship is not acceptable.  Those who would worship God must worship in Spirit and in Truth.

Modern Idolatry

There are many idols and false religions extant in our world today.  But for those who’ve accepted Jesus Christ, is idolatry an issue?  I found it interesting to look at some of the Canaanite gods: there’s Astarte, god of love and sex; Ba’al, god of power.  We hear about those.  There’s also Eshmun the god of healing and Sydyk the god of justice.  I know that many, many people today would prioritise their desire for love, power, justice or healing above the One True God.

What about us?

My challenge for you this morning was to take some quiet time before the Lord.  With pen and paper at the ready, ask yourself these four questions:

What is competing for your attention?  What are you giving your time to?  What’s the thing you keep returning to in your mind?  What do I consider to be important?
What is competing for your affection?  What do you love, what gets you impassioned and excited?
Where is your money going?  After bills are covered, what happens to the rest?  Is it going exclusively on you?  What does your bank statement or credit card bill say you worship?
What do you need to feel secure?  What is your source of trust and stability?  Where do you run when things are tough?

For each thing you write down, ask the Lord: am I putting this ahead of You?  Have I elevated this thing to be “before you?”

Walk by The Spirit

So what do we do if the Lord convicts us?  Well, I think our calling is always to focus on the Lord, not on the sin.  Paul says in Galatians 5:16

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh.

That is, when we focus our attention on God, through worship, prayer and service, this will cause our desires to shift.  The things this world has to offer become weaker and less attractive, and the fruit of the Spirit will grow up in us.  As Paul says, “against such things, there is no law.”

Summer Reading

It’s that time of year when my reading schedule quickens it’s pace. Normally I’ll read at least one book a month but in the 2 or 3 weeks of Summer I’ll probably read between 4-5 books. I think it’s important that you know what my spiritual diet looks like so here’s what’s on my list this Summer:

Church leadership: The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace by Jared Wilson

Many evangelical churches face the problem of the open “back door”—even as new people arrive, older members are leaving, looking for something else. Combined with this problem is the discipleship deficit, the difficult truth that most evangelicals are not reaching the unchurched at the rates they think they are. In fact, many of the metrics that we often “count” in the church to highlight success really don’t tell us the full story of a church’s spiritual state. Things like attendance, decisions, dollars, and experiences can tell us something about a church, but not everything.

To cultivate a spiritually healthy church we need a shift in our metrics—a “grace-shift” that prioritizes the work of God in the lives of people over numbers and dollars. Are people growing in their esteem for Jesus? Is there a dogged devotion to the Bible as the ultimate authority for life? Is there a growing interest in theology and doctrine? A discernible spirit of repentance? And perhaps most importantly, is there evident love for God and for our neighbors in the congregation?

Leading a church culture to shift from numerical success to the metrics of grace can be costly, but leaders who have conviction, courage, and commitment can lead while avoiding some of the landmines that often destroy churches. Wilson includes diagnostic questions that will help leaders measure—and lead team transparency in measuring as a group—the relative spiritual health of their church, as well as a practical prescriptive plan for implementing this metric-measuring strategy without becoming legalistic.

Most attractional church models can lean heavily on making changes to the weekend worship gatherings. And while some of these changes can be good, thriving grace-focused churches are driven by a commitment to the gospel, allowing the gospel to inform and shape the worship service and the various ministries of the church.

Book Club: Keeping the Heart by John Flavel

I’m part of a lovely little book club with some other sin our church and this is our latest read. This book is going to be a challenge – Flavel believes that Christians should be marked by their holiness, therefore matters of the heart are of the utmost importance in the Christian life.

AutoBiography: Holy Sexuality and the Gospel: Sex, Desire, and Relationships Shaped by God’s Grand Story by Christopher Yuan

Christopher is one of our guests at Creation Fest UK this year and I’ve wanted to read this book for a while. It’s his story – the story of an agnostic gay man had put his identity in his sexuality, who then become a Bible professor and put his identity in Christ alone,

Faith Strengthening: Confronting Christianity: 12 Hard Questions for the World’s Largest Religion by Rebecca McLaughlin

Although many people suggest that Christianity is declining, research indicates that it continues to be the world’s most popular worldview. But even so, the Christian faith includes many controversial beliefs that non-Christians find hard to accept. This book explores 12 issues that might cause someone to dismiss orthodox Christianity–issues such as the existence of suffering, the Bible’s teaching on gender and sexuality, the reality of heaven and hell, the authority of the Bible, and more. Showing how the best research from sociology, science, and psychology doesn’t disagree with but actually aligns with claims found in the Bible, these chapters help skeptics understand why these issues are signposts, rather than roadblocks, to faith in Christ.

Sermon help: Keeping the 10 Commandments by J.I. Packer

They’re often mistakenly considered God’s “rules”-his outdated list of do’s and don’ts that add up to a guilt-ridden, legalistic way of life. But as beloved author and Bible scholar J. I. Packer probes the purpose and true meaning of the Ten Commandments, you’ll discover that these precepts can aptly be called God’s blueprint for the best life possible. They contain the wisdom and priorities everyone needs for relational, spiritual, and societal blessing-and it’s all coming from a loving heavenly Father who wants the best for his children.

Not only does Packer deliver these truths in brief, readable segments, but he includes discussion questions and ideas for further study at the end of each chapter. This book will challenge you to view the commandments with new eyes and help you to understand-perhaps for the first time-the health, hope, and heritage you’re offered there

I’ll also be blogging my way through the Letter of Paul to the Ephesians – this will come with help from CreationFest speakers!

Use the comments box to share what books you are currently reading.

The Big Ten

The Big Ten

The Big Ten

Mark Twain tells the story about a man who had memorised the Ten Commandments. He told Twain that his ambition was to go to the Holy Land, stand on the Mount and recite loudly the Ten Commandments. Twain replied, “Have you ever thought about just staying home and keeping them?”

Ha ha! That’s easier said that done! Still, coming next week (4th August) we start a Summer Study Sermon Series that will cover the topic of the 10 Commandments. I’m pleased to say that there will be a number of different speakers bringing the message each week until the end of September. Please do keep us in your prayers as we prepare for this.

The topic of the 10 Commandments is one that is often misunderstood. Often we’re not really sure, as Christians, whether they actually apply to us today. We’ll cover this issue as we go through the series but it’s important to remember that the 10 Commandments weren’t given in isolation. They are part of the story of Israel’s deliverance from Egypt and their arrival in the Promised Land. In each of these commandments God is teaching the Israelites something about Himself, and something about us. For example, the 10 Commandments show us about the righteousness of God. They are a manifestation of God’s character. However, they are also a manifestation of the human character – that we fall so short. In this way, the Ten Commandments are a mirror to show us how desperately in need of God we are.

So how do we relate to the commandments? I found this sermon by Chuck smith very helpful:

 

Going Deeper in Exodus: Egypt vs Babylon

During my study for Exodus 14, I encountered a connection between the account of Israel’s enslavement in Egypt and Israel’s enslavement in Babylon. I thought this too technical and long-winded to talk about on Sunday so I’m posting some ideas here for you to read instead.

I’ll open the discussion with these verses from Isaiah 43:16–17 where Isaiah (writing to exiles) is writing about Israel’s deliverance from Babylon – yet wanting his readers to understand that this release as another Exodus:

This is what the LORD says—
he who made a way through the sea,
a path through the mighty waters,
who drew out the chariots and horses,
the army and reinforcements together,
and they lay there, never to rise again,
extinguished, snuffed out like a wick.

The context of this passage is the same as our passage in Exodus 14 – Israel’s unfaithfulness and God’s mercy. Notice that in this passage above God promises that He will bring Israel out of Babylon despite the fact that they have forgotten how God is (note the major theme of Exodus is about reminding Israel who God is). God is, in effect, reminding the Israelites that He has done this kind of thing before and He will certainly do it again. The departure from Babylon will be another Exodus.

Of course, to most readers of the Bible, the parallels that exist between Israel’s enslavement in Egypt and their exile in Babylon are pretty straightforward. Here’s the summary:

  • Israel is in a foreign land
  • Israel is held against their will
  • Israel needs to be delivered
  • Israel is in need of divine intervention in order to deliver them

Ok. Good so far, but let’s delve a little deeper.

There is a theological connection between Genesis 1 and the creation story, and these two events. Recall that in both the exodus and the return from exile God displays His power in a mighty way, resembling what he had previously done in creation. It’s too much to explore all of it here so I’ll give you an example from Isaiah 51:9–10:

Awake, awake! Clothe yourself with strength,
O arm of the LORD;
awake, as in days gone by,
as in generations of old.
Was it not you who cut Rahab to pieces,
who pierced that monster through?
Was it not you who dried up the sea,
the waters of the great deep,
who made a road in the depths of the sea
so that the redeemed might cross over?

Notice a couple of things: Isaiah is calling us to remember the works of God “in days gone by,” and “in generations of old.” The way those acts are described is most certainly a reference to Exodus 14 when God parted the Red Sea. The interesting twist actually appears in his reference to “Rahab” who He cut into pieces. Huh! Now that’s not something we read about in Joshua where the story of Rahab appears. It’s also not remembered in Hebrews 11 where Rahab is illustrated as a woman of remarkable faith.

So who is this “Rahab”? Well, the Near East is filled with stories about who the world came into existence. One of those stories depicts a world in conflict and the creation as the subduing of the sea creature called “Rahab”. As the story goes, it was necessary to tame this monster so that the world could be inhabited. Whichever “god” won the struggle was elevated to the highest order of “god” over other “gods”. In other words, Isaiah is saying that God won this “struggle” against Rahab and by doing so has tamed the chaotic waters.

So, we now see a little more clearly the connection between the cutting into pieces of Rahab and the dividing of the waters of the Red Sea i.e. the power God displayed over the Red Sea in Exodus is another slaying of Rahab.

Isaiah 30:7 and Psalm 87:4 as two further examples of how the writers make a connection between Egypt and Babylon.

Now think about another angle. Think about Pharaoh as Rahab. Isn’t Pharaoh seen as a chaotic figure who is bent on lifting himself up and encroaching on God’s created order? Wasn’t it Pharoah who was preventing God’s creation mandate to humankind to be “fruitful and multiply”. Wasn’t it also Pharoah who was preventing God’s promise to Abraham from taking place? Wasn’t that the purpose of the plagues? To reverse creation back into chaos? These punishments are the reintroduction of the watery chaos found in Genesis 1:2 and the death of the Egyptian army in the Red Sea is the final climatic end to this struggle between the true God and the monster Rahab/Pharoah, where, once again, the waters are tamed.

What happens, in the end, to the Egyptian army (and more importantly) to Pharaoh? He is swallowed by the sea. What happens at the end of the story … I mean … the real end of the story? In Revelation 18:21 we’re told that Babylon “is thrown into the sea.

Curiously, in the new world, there is no sea. (Rev 21:1). There is never the opportunity again, for chaos to reign.

 

Away Day Highlights

Woah! What an amazing time we had last weekend at our Church Away Day. Here are my highlights:

  • The incredible service from our Life Groups – particular thanks to Geoff for the scavenger hunt, Felista for the rounders, paul for transporting our kit and Esther for the all-day tea and coffee service!
  • The BBQ was delicious – thanks Ollie!
  • The skittles competition was so much fun! I was just pleased Lorrie didn’t beat me!!! Thanks to Joe and Ali for organising this.
  • Watching Bill play zip zap boing – there is a video somewhere!
  • Our song for the day was “King Forevermore”. The lines that really resonated around the hall “Lifted high, the sinless man
    Crucified, the spotless Lamb, Buried by the sons of man, Rescued by the Father’s hand, To reign as King forever”. That’s to Chris, Joe and the team for leading so well!
  • There also seemed to be a genuine desire for us to do all things together – this really just made my day.

 

  • Our theme was Hebrews 13:20-21 and the two talks were focussed around how “God equips us in everything good to do His will”. We said:
    • Christians are generally blind to two things: Sin’s power and presence; God’s provision and process
      • We underestimate sin’s power over us and sin’s presence in us
      • We also undervalue God’s provision for sin and the process He takes to rid us of it
    • We are sheep in need of a Shepherd (v 20)
    • As long as Jesus is alive, I’m alive because He is alive in me (v 20)
    • God is working for my growth not my comfort (v21)
    • Some of the take-homes were:
      • Are we growing in our affection of Jesus?
      • Do we have a discernible spirit of repentance?
      • Do I have a personal responsibility for my spiritual growth?
      • Do I have a growing love for God and love for my neighbour?

We had such a good time that we’ve booked the same venue for next year. Date is to be confirmed!

My Current Playlist

Every now and then I get asked what I’m listening to. As a musician, I find it incredibly difficult to find music that I just like listening to. In my opinion, so much music, Christian and secular, is overly commercial and extraordinary “samey”. So if you’re looking for some new tunes here’s what my current playlist looks like:

Strings of Light – Yussef Kamaal.

If you like British Jazz with a twist of electronic Dance Music then you’re in for a treat. Listen here

Nicotine – Meg Lawrenson

Of course, she is never far from my playlist – not only is she a crazy wonderful daughter … she’s become a really awesome singer-songwriter. Listen here

Mausoleum – Seryn

This starts as a pretty chilled out vibe – perfect for a sunny Saturday morning! Some profound lyrics … “In the walls of the mausoleum, And we’re all just trying to reach the other side” Listen here

Endless – Portico Quartet

Portico Quartet are an instrumental band from London and are well known for their use of the Hang (a weird but cool modern percussion instrument – think Steel Pan meets Cajon). Listen here

Our Lady – Mark Guilians Jazz Quartet

Sorry … if you don’t like Jazz then you can skip this one too. Listen here

Tico Tico – The Black Market Trust

On Tuesday I spend the day playing this on my sax with the Royal Marines Band Service so it’s standard .. gotta be on my list. Listen here

Symphony No 7 Op 92: Allegretto – Beethoven

This is another work-related piece. One of my ensembles that I direct are playing this in concert this week so again, gotta be on my list Listen here

King Forevermore (God The Uncreated One) – The A Cappella Company

How’s this for a choral version of one of my favourite songs – King Forever! Listen here

No other gods

No other gods

No other gods

No other gods

In our studies in the book of Exodus, we have discovered that God is at war with the gods of Egypt, but who exactly are these gods and why are so many pages of Scripture given to talk about these “other gods”?

The gods of Egypt

There has been a lot written about the gods that the Egyptians worshipped and how the God of the Bible, seeking to release the Hebrews of slavery, proved that He alone is the God to be worshipped. The Egyptians deified a great many things: the river Nile, bulls, frogs, thunder, the sky etc. They believed that since certain things were valuable to life there must be some kind of power in the background that orchestrates it. For example, they saw the power of the life-giving Nile river, how everything around it was green and good (particularly when contrasted with the desert) and as the seasons came and went – and prosperity with it – they concluded that they must be a “person” directing and empowering the movement and flow of the Nile.

So, one by one, God comes against these things that the Egyptians attributed to a, or many gods. But are there actually “gods” behind these things?

Well, when we look outside of the book of Exodus we see that the entire Bible is literally full of references to “other gods”. Verses like:

  • “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment”. (Psalm 82:1)
  • “There is none like you among the gods, O Lord” (Psalm 86:8)
  • “For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised; he is to be revered above all gods” (Psalm 96:4)

One of the most extraordinary verses is actually found in Deuteronomy 4:19 where God forbids the Israelites from worshipping “the sun, the moon and the stars, all the host of heaven . . . [which] Yahweh your God has allotted to all the peoples everywhere under heaven.” In other words, they were told not to worship other gods, not because those gods did not exist, but because they were supposed to rule other peoples, not God’s people.

Turning to the New Testament we see that there is, again, an acknowledgement that other gods do actually exist and they are not just personifications of natural things. Paul, writing to the church in Corinth explained:

In their case the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelievers, to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God. (2 Corinthians 4:4)

Paul acknowledges that there is a REAL “personality” with REAL power that is REALLY invested in the life of this world. Further, Paul writes about the rulers, the authorities, the cosmic powers and the spiritual forces of evil (Ephesians 6:12) whom he has  “disarmed” and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them” (Colossians 2:15).

So it’s clear, just from a brief examination of Scripture that there are actual forces that power certain things that pertain to life here in this world. They are not personifications of natural events or occurrences but they rule, having cosmic power to wield evil.

Why is it important to understand “other gods”?

Jesus said that Satan, the chief “other god”, is the “father of lies” (John 8:44). Paul says that he can actually appear like an angel of light (2 Corinthians 11:14–15). Additionally, Paul says, his servants also disguise themselves as “servants of righteousness”.  This has a number of implications for us each and every day:

What in the world is going on?

Theologian N. T. Wright helps us to understand why this cosmos seems to be at war, both spiritually and politically. There is a world, unseen, that is hostile to God and His people. It is no surprise that history is full of conflict, because its driving animus is conflict between supernatural forces, which are visibly represented by both religious and political communities. In other words, the reason we see so much conflict around the world is because of what powers conflict. When people say that religion is the root cause of war I believe it! Why? Because wars between nations were really only the shadowy surface of the deeper and more fundamental combat between spiritual powers. Daniel 10 suggests that these powers and principalities that Paul writes about in Ephesians 6 are located to geographical areas, responsible for empowering Kings and nations. If that is true it’s hard to suggest any other reason for worldwide conflict. For a really interesting read, I’d suggest Clinton Arnold’s book ‘Power and Magic: The Concept of Power in Ephesians” as well as Samuel Huntington’s classic “Clash of Civilizations”.

False teaching and false apostles

In Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians, he is making the point that since Satan and his followers are able to disguise themselves as something that they are not, so too can false teachers and false apostles. He writes:

such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. 15 So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. (2 Corinthians 11:13-14)

Paul is making the point that we need to be careful about who our Biblical teachers are, and what we believe about God, because the source of the teaching may actually be false. Paul wrote to Timothy and said:

For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. 2 Timothy 4:3–4

This absolutely typifies the current spiritual climate of churches up and down the country. Notice what Paul says:

  • The time will come – that’s a certain truth
  • people will not endure sound teaching
  • preferring instead to “accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions” – the word accumulate means to “pile up in heaps”. The thing they are piling up is “teachers” who tell them what they want to hear.
  • as a result, they “will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths”

Peter says that “there will be false teachers among you.” (2 Peter 2:1). Peter isn’t writing about what is taking place “out there”, apart from the church. Notice those words “among you”. He is writing about the people in the local church, members of a local congregation. Satan is the counterfeiter. . . . He has a false gospel (Galatians 1:6-9), preached by false ministers (2 Corinthians 11:13-12), producing false Christians (2 Corinthians 11:26). . . . Satan plants his counterfeits wherever God plants true believers (Matthew 13:38).

We must be careful and we must not be ignorant. There are powers behind false teaching. The authority of the Bible must take centre stage.

Where is our power from?

Perhaps the biggest implication for us is re regard to our own sanctification. This is exactly how Paul frames “other gods” in Ephesians 6:10-20. The summary: the Christian’s opponents are superhuman spiritual forces and so mere human resources will not work. Be filled with the Spirit (Ephesians 5:18) – rely on the power and protection of God, embracing the Word of God through specific obedience and fervent and focused prayer.

The reality is that many Christians rely too much on themselves and not enough on the grace of God. In this famous passage, Paul is clearly calling believers to stand firm, not on their own ability or effort, but in the grace of God.

Link Round Up

Every now and then I post a list of links to articles, blog posts and interesting things I’ve been reading this week. So, stand by, here’s this weeks list:

Bible Reading

This week .. the book of Romans four times. Once in the ESV and three times in the NLT. Favourite part Romans 16:25-27 – “25 Now to him who is able to establish you in accordance with my gospel, the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, 26 but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from[f] faith— 27 to the only wise God be glory forever through Jesus Christ! Amen.”

Articles

I Hate “Hate Speech”

Pastor, author, and blogger, David Robertson regularly engages with difficult topics and I appreciate the way he writes, as well as his insight. Here is a great post on hate speech

Where do our thoughts come from?

In her book “Am I Just My Brain”, neuroscientist Sharon Dirckx lays out the current understanding of who we are from biologists, philosophers, theologians and psychologists, and points towards a bigger picture, that suggests answers to the fundamental questions of our existence. Not just “What am I?”, but “Who am I?”—and “Why am I?. The blog post introducing the book is here

Stop praying “be with” prayers

Alister Begg is a firm favourite of mine and as I was reading the above post I also discovered this gem of a post

Calvary Global statement on women in ministry

There is not much to say about this one but I’m grateful that the CGN leadership have clearly articulated what they believe. Here’s the link


Podcasts

Talking to Teens

Jane Nelsen, author of the Positive Discipline books reveals some positive strategies of rebellious and defiant teenagers. Even though Nelsen comes from a humanistic psychology perspective there were some great nuggets like “connect before correct” and the idea that teens need belonging and significance – which I am trying to relate to the hundreds of teens I interact with every day.

Expositors Collective

In this weeks episode my friend Mike Neglia presents a podcast on “Clear Communication Only comes through critical thinking” which is definitely one of the episodes I need to listen to again, with a pen in hand


Books I’m Reading

Christians in an Age of Outrage

Honestly … every Christian should read this book. If you can’t .. here’s the 1hr 45min video version ... here’s the book

The Gospel-Driven Church: Uniting Church Growth Dreams with the Metrics of Grace

I’ve just started reading this .. I’ll let you know how it goes! For those interested, here’s the book


Videos

Why I’m Not A Calvinist

Oooh, controversial (but true) and .. I’m just saying …. I watched it. That’s all 🙂 Here’s the video

Learn How To Do Apologetics in the Twenty-First Century with Ravi Zacharias

In this message Dr. Ravi Zacharias shares strategies for answering faith questions in the twenty-first century. Worth your time. Here’s the video


Favourite Tweets

It might be supernatural, it doesn’t mean it’s God. Don’t validate everything that’s miraculous as the Kingdom. @mrbeechy

If Paul showed up in one of our “churches,” I think we would get a letter. @lensweet

We made an astonishing find in the Galilee this week, 3000 year old standing stone @chris_sinkinson

Moralism divides the world into bad people and good people. The gospel divides the world into bad people and Jesus. @MattSmethurst

Pastors are never instructed by God to preach “what is on their heart.” We are solemnly charged to “preach the Word” (2 Tim. 4:2). Text-driven preaching produces thoroughly equipped men and women. The tools I can equip my congregation with come directly from the Biblical text. @jakegwright

The greatest stumbling block for a child in worship is a parent who doesn’t @johnpiper

What a fantastic start to the Calvary Chapel UK Pastors and Leaders conference! Worship, prayer and the pouring out of the Holy Spirit! @Darnold317

 

Play up Pompey .. and other things about worship

I love to sing! There is something gloriously primitive and powerful in the human voice. For most, it’s a raw, unpolished, stomach wielding expression of emotion. The trouble is, those that are outside of the church, often, sing better than we do. Think about it … The football Europa Cup Final last week saw two teams being cheered on by thousands of fans who were all … singing.

Singing well.

Singing loudly.

Singing like their team depended on their raw, unpolished, stomach wielding voices to lift them and motivate them to score a goal.

Singing as if no one else is listening (apart from their team)

Of course, the stark contrast is that for Chelsea and Arsenal fans the 22 players on the football pitch need help. Out God does not need help.

“You only sing when you’re winning”

Such is the chant from the seats in the stadium when the opposing team are losing.

Such is the fickle nature of our church worship. We sing when we “feel” like it. When we sense God working. When we are on the mountain it’s easy to sing. Not so much in the valley. Not so much when we don’t like the song because it doesn’t fit our tradition.

At yet God is wining .. all the time … so much so that God’s victory, this side of the cross, is always explained in the past tense. That means that we don’t cheer God on so as to motivate Him to try harder and score a goal.

We sing because the battle is over.

We sing because in Christ we’ve won.

We sing wherever we find ourselves, on the mountain or in the valley

“….. top of the league ….. top of the League”

“Chelsea top of the League”

“United top of the League”

“Southampton top of the League” …… (as if, but we can hope)

It is possible … probably pretty likely … that we don’t always get that into our hearts and minds. Sometimes I can believe something with my mind but not really embrace it with my heart.

So when Paul addresses the messiness of the Corinthian church he throws out this gem about the relationship between our spirit and our mind:

What am I to do? I will pray with my spirit, but I will pray with my mind also; I will sing praise with my spirit, but I will sing with my mind also. (1 Corinthians 14:15 ESV)

Singing powerfully cements truths into our conscious life. Think about your school days … learning the alphabet song, the periodic table song etc etc. Attempts by the teacher to cement truths into you.

This means that we do have to be mindful about the sort of songs that we sing. At Calvary we take each song on its own merit – is it true and is it helpful? But it also means that a powerful way to disciple each other is to sing.

“Oh when the Saints go marching in”

If you head down to St Mary’s Stadium on any given home game you will most definitely hear this song. Like many around the country, it’s a song about community and belonging. (This particular one is borrowed from the tradition of African-American Spirituals that were around in the late 19th century. Given the historical connection that Southampton Football Club has to the church this song has worked, it’s way onto the terraces of St Mary’s Stadium). Songs like this are not unique. Each club up and down the country have their own version of songs encouraging community and belonging that are based around a common truth.

“You’ll never walk Alone” – Liverpool

“Marching on Together” – Leeds United

“United Road take me Home” – Manchester United

“We’ll keep the blue flag flying high” – Chelsea

When we think about singing in church we actually see a very similar scene. The church is a community that has been formed in response to the gospel. Singing together is a way that we rehearse the great truths of God’s grace that have been extended to us. Singing like this forges devotion and moves us from understanding gospel truth to living a gospel response.

The gospel should make us want to sing but not perform

Worship in wonder but not put on a show.

Singing together brings us closer together.

May the God of endurance and encouragement grant you to live in such harmony with one another, in accord with Christ Jesus, that together you may with one voice glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore welcome one another as Christ has welcomed you, for the glory of God. For I tell you that Christ became a servant to the circumcised to show God’s truthfulness, in order to confirm the promises given to the patriarchs, and in order that the Gentiles might glorify God for his mercy. As it is written, “Therefore I will praise you among the Gentiles, and sing to your name.” And again it is said, “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with his people.” (Romans 15:5-10 ESV)

“We are the Champions”

Originally a 1977 song by the rock band Queen it’s found its way onto the football terraces and is sung by fans around the country when they win a game or trophy. It’s sung to remind each other (and the opposition) just in fact who has won.

I find this fascinating because if we just face the facts it’s clear about who the victors are – we have the score sheet to prove it. And yet, there seems to be a need to sing about it. To make a proclamation that it is indeed true. To perhaps … even … dare I say … mock the opposition. To declare again and again, over and over – so that you NEVER forget – “we are the champions”.

And that’s the problem isn’t it? I’m forgetful. Your problem is, you are too. I need you to sing loudly beside me this Sunday because I’m prone to forget the glorious realities of grace and salvation. I need to know that it works for people like me. I need to see losers and strugglers, who can’t sing in tune or hit those high notes, reminding me that Christ is sufficient for my messy life.

This is why the Psalmist writes: “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (Psalms 22:22 ESV)

“We’re going up”

Singing is a brief taste of heaven.

Praise is faith lived out through voices.

Our ragged choir of losers is a grad display of the power of the gospel.

But the story hasn’t ended. It’s really only just begun. Our singing together is an affirmation that soon this life will be done and even though the road can sometimes be incredibly hard, we’re on our way to the top of the league.

We’re going up

Singing helps me to lift my gaze to my home.

To thrones above.

When we’ve been there ten thousand years,
Bright shining as the sun,
We’ve no less days to sing God’s praise
Than when we first begun.

So … join me in singingly loudly this Sunday.

I can’t wait to hear your voice.

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