Author: Joe Sutton

Spring Forward

Don’t forget the clocks are springing forward this coming Sunday!  Yes, I’m sorry to say, that means we all get an hour less but to compensate, we do get brighter evenings!

Life Group Notes for Sunday 21 March – 1 John 2:7-17

Life Group Notes for Sunday 21 March – 1 John 2:7-17

7 Beloved, I am writing you no new commandment, but an old commandment that you had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word that you have heard. 8 At the same time, it is a new commandment that I am writing to you, which is true in him and in you, because the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining. 9 Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. 10 Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling. 11 But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded his eyes.

12  I am writing to you, little children,
because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
13  I am writing to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I am writing to you, young men,
because you have overcome the evil one.
I write to you, children,
because you know the Father.
14  I write to you, fathers,
because you know him who is from the beginning.
I write to you, young men,
because you are strong,
and the word of God abides in you,
and you have overcome the evil one.

Do Not Love the World
15 Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. 16 For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world. 17 And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.  1 John 2:7–17 (ESV)

The big idea from the message: The love of God is given to us so that we may show love to others. Love is for others.

Discussion questions:

  1. What key things did you take away from the message?  Is there anything in the text that is particularly striking for you?
  2. John writes that the commandment to love one another is both old and new.
    • In what way(s) is it an old commandment?  See Leviticus 19:17-18
    • In what way(s) is it a new commandment?  See Matthew 5:21-22
  3. One of the key points is that the love we’re commanded to show is “all giving, not getting.”
    • Read Jesus’ prayer for us in John 17:26.  In what way does this empower us?
    • Consider the very first word of 1 John 2:7, the title John gives us.  How does this speak to us?
  4. What should a Christian who feels hatred for another do?
  5. In v12-14 John directly addresses different recipients.
    • From these, what is John’s heart towards them?
    • Do any of them particularly encouage you?  If so, in what ways?
  6. In v15-17 we start to see John’s warnings about misdirected love.
    • What is the key problem with loving the things of the world?
    • Does remembering our definition of agape love love that gives rather than receives – change our understanding of this?
    • How does v17 provide an antidote to loving worldly things?
    • Are there any particular things you find yourself loving?  Or have loved in the past?
  7. Is there any specific thing that the Lord is challenging you to address this week?
  8. How can we pray for your walk this week?

Life Group Notes for Sunday 14 Feb – Romans 12:1

Life Group Notes for Sunday 14 February – Romans 12:1

“I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.”

Big idea from the message: Our bodies, and what we do with them, is important.  The appeal is to continually surrender them to God, saying “not my will, but Yours be done.”

Discussion questions:

  1. What key things did you take away from the message?
  2. Put in other words, Paul’s appeal is “because of God’s mercy” or “in view of God’s mercy.”  Why is it so important to emphasise this?  What can happen if we begin to lose this focus?
  3. We are exhorted to “present.”  Other ways to understand this word are: hand oversurrenderto place at another’s disposal.  Do you think this is more or less challenging than presenting something else, such as a gift of money?  Why, or why not?
  4. The body is important because it’s a conduit for the soul.  It’s the way that the soul’s will is realised, and it’s one of the primary ways that temptation comes in.  Does this challenge your view of your physical body?  Does it challenge your view of others’ bodies?  How does this perspective differ from that typically presented by the world?
  5. Paul’s appeal is that we present our bodies as a living sacrifice.  Did the exposition of this phrase challenge or change your understanding?
    • You may wish to re-read Genesis 22:1-19 to see the Offering of Isaac.
  6. Is there any specific thing that the Lord is challenging you to address this week?
  7. How can we pray for your walk this week?

Calvary is now on Amazon Smile

If, like many, you shop online with Amazon, you may be aware that there is way to give while you shop.  If you register with Amazon Smile and select a charity, Amazon will donate 5p for every £10 you spend.  It might seem a small amount, but it quickly adds up.

Calvary Chapel Southampton is now registered on Amazon Smile, so you can donate to church while you shop.  Assuming you’re already a customer of Amazon, all you have to do is:

  • Go to smile.amazon.co.uk and sign in
  • Press Get Started
  • Search for Calvary Southampton
  • Select the only search result

And that’s about it.  If you then get in the habit of shopping at https://smile.amazon.co.uk rather than plain old amazon.co.uk, you’ll be donating to Calvary without any extra cost to you.

Life Group Notes for Sunday 7 Feb – Romans 12:1-2

Life Group Notes for Sunday 7 February – Romans 12:1-2

Big idea from the message: Paul appeals to us to come down from the mountaintop of theology, and to live it out at ground level.

Discussion questions:

  1. What key things did you take away from the message?
  2. How do you feel about moving away from theology to practice?  Why do you feel that way?
  3. Why did the early believers refer to themselves as “followers of the Way?”
  4. In what ways can we draw parallels between the Exodus and our salvation?
  5. Discuss the phrase “Holiness is neither automatic nor inevitable.”  If this is the case, how do we grow in holiness?  What is our contribution?
  6. Who do you think are the primary people looking at your conduct and way of life?  How conscious are you of this, day to day?
  7. Is there one thing about your day-to-day conduct that the Lord is speaking to you about?
  8. How can we pray for your walk this week?

Advent Reflections

This morning I read through one of the Advent devotionals on the very helpful Bible app from Life.church.  Actually, the thing I found the most helpful was just reading through all the passages that discuss the Nativity.  That’s Luke 1-2 and portions of Matthew 1-2.  Here are a few reflections from my reading.

1. The Birth is Important

The birth story is recorded in the Bible for a few people.  Isaac, Jacob, Moses and Samuel all come to mind, just to name a few.  In each case, it’s recorded because it is important.  For others, like David – a hugely important figure in Scripture – the birth is not recorded because the story isn’t so important for us to know.

What about Jesus?  It’s recorded in more detail than any other nativity story in Scripture.  That’s because it’s important and relevant for the Church today to know, understand and proclaim.  It’s good and right that we take time to celebrate and proclaim the historic reality of the birth of Jesus Christ.

2. The Birth is Prophetic

You can’t escape the number of times Matthew ties the Nativity back to Old Testament prophesies.

  • Matt 2:5 “… for so it is written by the prophet”
  • Matt 2:15 “This was to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet”
  • Matt 2:17 “Then was fulfilled what was spoken by the prophet Jeremiah”

In fact, as I pondered this, I recalled that it was also true for Isaac, Jacob and Samuel.  Each of them were promised by God.  Perhaps that’s why the Lord recorded their births, too.

The coming of Jesus Christ was a fulfilment of dozens of prophesies.  As observed in this article by Derek Thomas of Ligonier Ministries

“Christmas, and what follows, lies deep in the Old Testament. At every turn, Jesus was fulfilling a role that was shaped by more than a millennium of prediction. … Our salvation is something God has been planning for a very long time—outside of time, to be exact.”

3. There was Hardship

Another inescapable reality is the fact that so many of the people in the story are people who suffered.  People to whom “life had been unkind,” one might have said.

  • Zechariah and Elizabeth suffered the deep hurt and sorrow of childlessness into old age
  • Shepherds who stayed out in the field, typically, were social outcasts.  It’s most likely the case for the shepherds in Luke 2, too.
  • Anna the Prophetess had suffered the untimely loss of her husband, and lived the majority of her life as a widow in the Temple
  • Mary and Joseph themselves were paupers, as indicated by their offering of turtledoves.  According to Leviticus 12:8, that was the prescribed offering only if the family could not afford a lamb.
  • There was great weeping and sorrow following Herod’s evil decree (Matt 2:18).

As Simeon declared in Luke 2:34 “this Child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel.”  We rightly rejoice in the Christmas story because Jesus Christ’s advent is the beginning of the glorious good news of salvation and peace with God.  It isn’t, however, the beginning of our lives becoming easy and contented, being filled with rich foods and toys.  Christ was born into hardship, and quite often those who follow after Him will also suffer hardship in the flesh.  What we have, though, is hope.

4. There was Hope

The coming of Jesus Christ ushered in new hope for mankind.  However, even in the suffering and hardships that were contemporary with the Nativity, many of the holy men and women still retained hope.

  • To Zechariah, the angel said: “your prayer has been heard” (Luke 1:13).  Zechariah had continued to pray for a miracle even into old age.
  • Simeon, the prophet, had received a promise of seeing Messiah, and he clung to it in hope.
  • Anna’s worship and fasting in the Temple evidenced her hope that God had better things for her, in spite of her suffering.
  • Mary and Joseph were both exemplary.  They received the promises and the word of the angels with complete faith, taking action in accordance with that faith.

The Lord calls us into a life of hope.  Hope that is founded on promises, and in which we can be 100% certain.  We have a hope that goes beyond the temporary hopes of this life.

He calls us to hold on to hope, even when things are difficult and we are suffering.  That hope needs to be based on the promises God has made.

Romans 5:5 (NASB) “and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.”

Our calling and responsibility, then, is to know and understand the promises of God.  Not just the ones that pertain to the first coming of Christ, but also the second coming – our “blessed hope” according to Titus 2:13.  And also all the ones that apply in the here and now.

Do Virtual Churches Actually Exist?

I read this interesting article this morning by Jonathan Leeman of 9Marks. The question it asks is provocative and the discussion is thought-provoking, especially in this current season.  It also contributes to our conversation around the book “Analog Church.”  Some quotable quotes:

A church, first and foremost, is an assembly of people who identify with and declare the name of Jesus and his gospel.

 

“Virtual presence is actual absence.”

 

[Insist] that the Bible means to inconvenience [our] lives and schedules for the sake of love. In-person love is always better than virtual love.

Jonathan affirms that there is value in online meetings, and great benefit to the resources we have access to online.  However these things can’t ever replace the physical assembly of God’s people.  That is what the word church really means.

https://www.9marks.org/article/do-virtual-churches-actually-exist

On the Romans Road – October

In October we began to look at the challenging chapter 9 of the Book of Romans.  Remember you can always catch up on YouTube here.

God’s Prerogative

Romans 9 has presented a challenge to even the most careful of exegetes over the centuries.  Having very eloquently articulated the incredible saving grace of God for the Church, Paul turns his attention to Israel.  Paul clearly loves Israel!  And because of his love for them, he’s grieved by the very apparent reality that, despite the significant blessings they have, not all of Israel is saved.

Why is this?  Because God is free to do as He pleases.  This is His prerogative.  How has He chosen to make salvation available?  Not by bloodline!  God has a “purpose of election”, according to verse 11.

I think there is a principle here: God will not allow Himself to become indebted to anybody.  Nobody can say to God “because of __________, now You must do ____________.”  No Jew can say to God, “because I’m descended from Abraham, You must reserve for me a space in heaven.”  Nobody can presume upon God.  As we consider this point, we should juxtapose it against another: God delights to make and then keep promises.  Or, in other words, God loves to make commitments to mankind, and then fulfil them.  In the period between commitment and fulfilment, the beneficiary lives by faith in the promise, and in this faith God is well pleased.

  • When we trust in what God has promised, that’s faith, and it delights God.
  • When we assume things of God, thinking we deserve or demanding things from Him, that is presumption, and it offends God.

The immediate objection that Paul imagines his reader saying is this.  Didn’t God make so many great promises to Israel?  How does this new teaching of grace comport with the covenantal promises God made them?  Actually, Paul has already anticipated these questions in chapter 3 of Romans, so it’s worth re-reading that.

Yes, God did make great promises, and by no means have they failed in any respect.  To understand this, we have to go back and ask:

Who is Israel?

Paul uses two illustrations that would resonate with Jewish readership: that of Abraham and his son Isaac, and then Isaac and his son Jacob.  Using multiple quotations from Genesis, Paul shows how God made promises to both men, but that did not mean all of their descendants were beneficiaries of it.  Abraham had Ishmael before Isaac, and he had six more sons according to Genesis 25:1-2.  And, as verse 5 says:

Genesis 25:5 (ESV) Abraham gave all he had to Isaac.

Again, Paul already made clear the principle of righteousness through faith, and the implications this has for both Jews and Gentiles, back in Romans 3 (especially v21-31).  Previously, the emphasis has been on Gentiles also benefitting from God’s righteousness.  Here in Romans 9, we now stress the exclusion of parts of Israel.  “Not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel,” Paul declares.

Who is Israel, then?  It is the “children of the promise” that are counted, as verse 8 says.  It is based on “God’s purpose of election,” according to verse 11.

God had several purposes for Israel.  Chief among them was His purpose to bring forth Messiah from them, which was fulfilled through Isaac, not Ishmael; Jacob, not Esau.  Why one and not the other?  God’s purpose of election, not man’s effort or preference.

(Not) My People

Paul quotes Hosea by name in v25-26.  It is a fascinating citation because Hosea means to say something different to Paul.  Hosea says that the nation of Israel would go through a time of not being God’s people, and then God would bring them back.  Paul is saying that God will bring a people of “not my people”, both Jews and Gentiles.

Paul has a depth of insight and inspiration from the Holy Spirit that enables him to understand the heart of God in Hosea’s writings.  The glorious truth is that God is in the business of taking a group of people and making them His.  On what basis?  Well, as v30-31 says, and as Paul has been saying time and again in this whole book, it’s grace not race.  It’s faith not works.

Praying for the Lost

Paul’s heart for the people of Israel is evident, from 9:1-5 and 10:1-4.  Paul’s prayer is for their salvation; he desperately appeals to God on their behalf.  But, at the same time, Paul understands that they are “ignorant of the righteousness of God” and therefore seek to establish their own.  What does this mean?  It means they are disregarding what God has said He looks for in a person.  In its place, they put their own standards of moral goodness.

As much as we are grieved when we see our unsaved friends and relatives doing things we know God hates, the truth is that correcting their behaviour brings them no closer to salvation.  What is needed is the righteousness of God that comes through faith.  How and where does faith come from?  Well, we’ve read about that in chapter 10.  It comes from hearing the word of God.

Like Paul, we need to cultivate a heart-felt desire and prayer for those in our lives who do not know God.  We should be ready in and out of season to share the good news of the Kingdom with them, expecting and anticipating that the Lord will make opportunities to do so.

Worship

Worship in Practice

WorshipOver the last two Sundays we have considered the topic of worship.  The heart behind this was to make space to focus on worship, especially in light of the changes we’ve made in this Covid world.  When we initially discerned the need to focus on worship, it was during the time we could meet – but without singing!  Seeing things changes so rapids only underlines the need to be clear on what worship is, why it matters, and how we express it.

In the last blogpost, I reviewed what worship is, and how it is in all of our hearts, manifesting itself in our activities and priorities.  Don’t forget you can listen back to the messages on our YouTube channel, too.

In this post I will recap the key points from the second message.

Worship in Practice

A key passage on the subject of worship is found in John 4, where Jesus is speaking with the Samaritan woman at the well.  He remarks that worshippers “must worship in spirit and truth.”  This means:

  • Worship that is filled with spiritual zeal and emotion is insufficient without a true understanding of God, as revealed in His Word.
  • Worship filled with truths about God, but done in an obligatory, perfunctory way is also deficient.

As David expressed in Psalm 40:6-8, it is not the acts of worship per se that God delights in: it is the heart of a worshipper.  God delights in those who have a true knowledge of God, and delight in Him in truth.

Singing in Various Forms

It’s not difficult to see from the Bible, from church history and from the contemporary church that singing is a major aspect of Christian worship.  We don’t need to look far in the Scriptures before encountering the command to sing out in praise – see Psalm 47 and 98 for examples.  Sing, sing, sing! we are instructed.

Not all of us naturally desire to express praise in this way.  That’s fine; we are all different.  However, what we must do is reserve our deepest and most profound joys for God and God alone, however we express them.  If we are dispassionate about God and the gospel, yet excitable about lesser, worldly things, what does that reveal about our worship?

As well as loud and exuberant praise, we also saw how the Psalms validate intimate, personal worship as appropriate.  You can see this in Psalm 5, for example.  We quickly see that the Book of Psalms covers a whole spectrum of praise.

Singing in Various Styles

The Church, throughout history, and indeed the people of God, have always had different ways and styles to sing praise.  Indeed, from the Psalms we can see that a variety of instrumentation was used, from stringed instruments to percussion such as tambourine and cymbal.  Anyone who argues that percussion is disallowed from contemporary worship should go back to the Scriptures!

From acapella to pipe-organ to contemporary band, it seems to me impossible to declare any particular style of music off-limits, provided it meets the purpose of worship.

Colossians 3:16 – Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 

That is, the praise music has a purpose in teaching and admonition for the church.  If the music we offer is lyrically rich with truth, and the melody is singable and memorable to aid retention of that truth, then you have something useful for worship!

Lockdown Worship

In the current climate, where we are not currently able to come together, it would be easy to think that our worship is impacted.  I argue that our worship is not and cannot be impacted: only how we express it is impacted.   For worship resides in our hearts.  The worshipping heart simply needs to look for alternative ways to express itself.  Here are my five thoughts:

Remember the Reasons for Worship

Keeping before our eyes the heart of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, deliberately recalling the wonder of our salvation, is the primary way to stir up our hearts in worship.  There is more profound or glorious truth than the fact that the perfect, infinite and righteous God condescended to take the form of a man, so as to suffer and die in our place, thereby enabling us to receive the free gift of salvation through simply placing our faith and allegiance in God.  This is true for us in every season of life!

Reflect on what we Still Have

Being unable to physically come together is disheartening and upsetting.  However, it would be remiss of us not to take advantage of what we still have.  The Lord has seen fit to make video technology ubiquitous in our day: even the most basic smartphone today is capable of video calling, and – assuming you have internet connectivity at home – you can do it for free.  Here at Calvary, Lord willing we will continue to provide praise music each Sunday, and I encourage you to enter in: stand to sing like you would on a Sunday.

 Prioritise Personal and Family Worship

How do you express worship at home?  Have you thought in those terms?  Daily setting aside time to read the Word should be done as an expression of worship, and not as a perfunctory act.  Have you considered including praise music, and actively singing praise with it, rather than as background music?  Perhaps you could do this as a household?

Consider the Full Spectrum of Worship

We worship in multitudinous ways.  Singing praise is just one!  Any act that we do that comes out of a pure heart that longs to please God is an act of worship.  Your work can be worship, if you do it with sincerity of heart, as Paul outlines in Colossians 3:22.  Your giving can be worship, if it’s done for God and because of God, prayerfully asking the Lord to use the funds for His purposes.  Paul says he was eager to remember the poor in Galatians 2:10; that’s because he had worship in his heart.

Colossians 3:17 – And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

For us as a church, we’ll need to look to other ways to worship corporately, too.  It’ll look different, depending on whether we can meet or whether we are online.  On Sunday we read together from the Psalms, something we’ll do frequently.  While at home, we’ll continue to use praise music for worship.

Remember that it WILL get better

My final thought is to keep in our minds and hearts that things will get better.  Our worship was never perfect: nothing ever is in this current epoch.  But the Day will come when we see our Lord face to face, and our worship of Him will be utterly perfect, utterly fulfilling, utterly glorious in every respect.  Until then, as Psalm 84:5 says, we take strength from God, and keep in our hearts that we’re on the “highways to Zion” – we are on a journey to Heaven where all the trials and struggles of the present time will be forgotten.

How is the worship in your hearts working out in these days?  How can you encourage others to worship?  What ideas do you have for corporate worship?

Worship

Worship in Theory

WorshipOver the last two Sundays we have considered the topic of worship.  The heart behind this was to make space to focus on worship, especially in light of the changes we’ve made in this Covid world.  When we initially discerned the need to focus on worship, it was during the time we could meet – but without singing!  Seeing things changes so rapids only underlines the need to be clear on what worship is, why it matters, and how we express it.

Worship in Theory

In the first message we made the following points:

Everybody is a Worshipper

While it looks different for different people, we all worship something.  The root meaning of our word “worship” is worth.  That which we consider worthwhile, that to which we attach value.  To say “I worship God” really means “I consider Him to be valuable, significant and worthwhile to me.

Every person attaches value and significance to things.  Whether it’s their family or job, or perhaps a sports team, everybody has things important to them.

This, in and of itself, is not a bad thing.  This is true because this is how God made us.  He created us with a capacity to be amazed, and then created an amazing universe for us to inhabit.  His purpose in this was that, in our appreciation and wonder of it, we would recognise and acknowledge the Creator God as the most worshipful God He is.

Your Worship is Reflected in what you Care About

How do I know what I’m worshipping?  It’s quite simple: where does your time go?  Where does your money go?  Where does your physical and emotional energy go?  What are you passionate about?  What do you think about when you have a few spare moments?

This is a deeply personal area that we all should reflect on.  If there are things in life that cause me to fear, that speaks to what’s important to me.  If there are passions that I pursue, that speaks to what’s important to me.  Our emotions are a window into our souls, and asking God to help us discern them, and what’s behind them, is extremely valuable.  The Lord’s desire is that, above all else, He is our highest good, most valuable asset, our most significant concern and deepest fear. 

True Worship should Reflect our Redemption

The Bible frequently speaks of all creation worshipping God.  For instance:

Psalm 65:13 (ESV)
13  the meadows clothe themselves with flocks,
the valleys deck themselves with grain,
they shout and sing together for joy.

Everything that is created has ample reason to praise and worship God.  This includes us, of course!  If we have our health, we can praise God for that.  If we have food and shelter, we can praise God for that.  And, conversely, those who refuse to acknowledge and worship God are without excuse.  We saw this in Romans 1.

But, so much more than this, we have the gospel.  We have the good news of redemption in Jesus Christ.  We have the incredible reality that, while we were sinfully worshipping other, lesser things, God took the initiative and provides salvation by grace, through faith.  Reflecting on this should cause our hearts to want to burst in worship.  If it doesn’t, do we really understand the depth of the gospel?

True Worship is Deeply Fulfilling

It should be no surprise, since God created us with the capacity and the hard-wired desire to worship, that when worship is properly aligned and focused on God, it is supremely fulfilling and profitable.  To render to God the things that are God’s — namely, our very selves — is right and proper.  As such, it is also satisfying, because God created us to be satisfied in Him.

Not only this, but God has a purpose for our good in it, too.  In Colossians 3:16 we read about how the worship of God by the gathered church has didactic value — it’s instructing for us.  Seeing one another declare praise-filled words is encouraging and instructive for us.  Then in Acts 16, we read of how the faith-fuelled praise of God from the prison cell spoke to the other prisoners and was a step on the journey to faith for the Philippian jailer.

Online Church

Church Tomorrow is Fully On-Line

Online Church

We’re On-Line Only Tomorrow

As you’ll have seen from our email earlier this week, unfortunately we’re unable to meet together in person tomorrow.  Church is probably going to look a little like the above for a few weeks!

While this is naturally disappointing, we fully support the leadership of Great Oaks School in their decision.  They have very graciously allowed us to use the hall with a small team.  So, I, along with a core team of people far more technically-minded that me, will strive by God’s grace to live-stream church from there.

Here are a few notes and suggestions:

Check the Time!

While it may seem extremely counter-intuitive given today’s weather, it is still technically the Great British Summertime, but only until 2am tonight!  Most likely, half your timepieces will update, the other half will not, and you’ll spend a good portion of the morning trying to figure out which clocks to believe.  Hopefully you’ll get to grips with the time before the service begins!

Connect with us for Prayer

I was really looking forward to seeing you all tomorrow.  Since we can’t, let’s come together on Zoom to pray.  In faith, I choose to believe that we’ll have all the technical things set up on time.  So, at 10:00 please join the Zoom prayer meeting at this link:

https://us02web.zoom.us/j/84334016965?pwd=amE2M1IzaFhIYm5JUDk3S0E5SDBNQT09

It’s also an event on the church calendar so you’ll see it on the website and in the subscription if you’ve subscribed.

Be ready to worship

Over the next two weeks I’ll be leading a couple of studies on the subject of worship.  It would be easy for us to think that our worship is inhibited by the enemy – or by the government.  That would be such a mistake!  You and I can still worship our Heavenly Father, so be ready to do just that.

  • Can you plug your computer into a TV to get a bigger picture and better sound?
  • As we sing together, why not stand and raise your voice?  We’ve been unable to do that at Great Oaks, so give it your all tomorrow!
  • Can you gather with someone?  The guidelines still allow up to six people to come together.  By my count, that’s three couples that could pray and worship together.  Whom could you invite?

 

On the Romans Road – September

Our excursion through the book of Romans continued in chapter 8 in September.  This was made all the more wonderful by the fact we were able to study this while meeting together again at last!

God’s Stunning Love

When was the last time you paused to consider the depth of God’s love for you?  As Stuart Townend penned for us:

How deep the Father’s love for us!  How vast beyond all measure;
That He should give His Only Son, to make a wretch His treasure.

Paul is pondering in his spirit this same love, asking “what then shall we say to these things?”  What could we possibly fear?  What could stumble us?  In v35 he lists seven things that we would all wish to avoid.  But Paul’s point is that when we weigh these things next to God stunning love for us, they are trivial.

What are the things that are on your mind this morning, or whenever you’re reading this?  I know things are challenging right now.  Things are difficult for virtually everybody, and more difficult for some than for others.  Some people experience greater tribulation than others; some greater distress.  I want to urge you — and myself! — to ponder afresh the stunning love of God.

  • God did not spare His only Son.  Why?  Because of His love for YOU.  He wanted to save you.
  • God has given the most valuable thing He could: His Son.  How on earth could we think, therefore, that He would withhold anything else that would be good for us?
  • Jesus Christ was raised from the dead.  His resurrection is a foreshadowing of that which is promised us.  You and I will rise from the dead, never to die again.  What then is there to fear?  Who could be against us?
  • Jesus Christ is praying for you and for me, right now.  When we feel weak, Jesus intercedes.  He knows and has experienced the same weaknesses we have; His compassion is perfect, just as is His power.  What greater prayer warrior could we desire?

The love of God is IMMENSE, and it is directed towards you.

More Than Conquerors

Paul uses this phrase in the ESV translation to describe our relationship to the world, and the worst that it can throw at us.  It’s fascinating to see how other translation teams have tried to express the language Paul used here.  One said: “we are winning a most glorious victory.”  Another “we are triumphantly victorious.”

How many times a day do you feel like you are winning a most glorious victory?  Maybe don’t answer that.  Does that mean the Word of God is failing?  Of course not.  How often do you think that the Romans under Emperor Nero felt like they were triumphantly victorious?

This word becomes fulfilled when the trials we experience cause us to run towards our God.  When the enemy brings hardship, and those hardships drive us to prayer and worship, rather than despair and turmoil, we are more than conquerors.

This isn’t easy!  We saw that even the psalmists struggled.  What they needed to learn, and what we need to learn, is that we can choose how we respond to hardship.  Making the right choice begins with the choice to turn to God, in prayer and through the Word, remembering His stunning love for us.

As far as Paul is concerned, nothing can separate us from God’s loving plans for our good.  He is convinced of it.  He would pray that we have the same heart and spirit.  And, of course, this is the same as Christ Jesus prays on our behalf, even now as you read this.

Family Ministry on Sundays

As we prepare to return to in-person Sunday worship – we can’t wait! – we’ve needed to make some changes to the Family Ministry. In keeping with our desire to be one of the safest places to be, please see the guidance below.  In particular, please familiarise yourself with “what we need the children to do.”

If anything isn’t clear, please by all means drop us a line.

Overview of Family Ministry Process

  • Children’s Church is available for children in school years 1-6, or aged 5-11.
  • Younger children are welcome to sit in the creche area of the main hall, but parents will need to have booked their seat in advance.
  • At 10:20, children will be welcomed into the classroom from the marquee waiting area. Parents may accompany their child to the classroom if needed.
  • The children’s ministry will last for the whole duration of the service.
  • At the end of the service, parents will be asked to go and collect their children while the other adults leave the hall.
  • Parents and children will then immediately exit the premises through the hall, maintaining social distancing at all times.

What we will do

  • Ensure facilities are clean, sanitary and safe for use.
  • Ensure seating is 1m plus between sibling groups
  • Ensure the classroom is well ventilated.
  • Maintain 1m plus between staff and children
  • Provide hand sanitiser for use on entry, and exit
  • Provide handouts that have been treated in a sanitary way.  Note that no stationary or refreshments will be provided.

What we need the children to do

  • Be able to sit for one hour
  • Be able to take themselves to the toilet (or with an older sibling if present)
  • Be comfortable without a parent present
  • Have their own water bottle, Bible and pens for writing and colouring.
  • Please, no eating
  • Have suitable clothing (windows will be open to ensure optimal ventilation).

 

Information Fatigue

I came across a tweet recently by Richard Caldwell. It reads:

“Could it be that God didn’t wire us to carry every event, taking place in every part of the world, at every moment, as it if were ours? Could it be that technology has produced a faux omniscience and omnipresence that is hurting mankind not helping it? Just a thought.”

People have written for some time about the amount of information modern humans are exposed to.  This article, from a couple of years ago, offers 34 GB as the volume of daily data we consume.  This is surely a real issue; no wonder we’re tired so often!  We mentally sift through it all, trying to discern between fact and opinion. 

But Mr Caldwell is actually getting at something else.  Specifically, the breadth of exposure to news and major current events, and the impact that has on our souls.  Alan Shlemon of Stand To Reason ministries wrote this insightful piece on it, entitled “How 2020 is taking a toll on your soul.”  I encourage you to read it, but I’ll cover the gist of it. 

Two Illusions

Newspapers, then television, then computers, now smartphones: more information is available about more tragic events and bad news, and it’s available sooner than ever before.  Which is to say nothing about the bias and motivation of the one reporting the information to you.  There are two illusions to point out with respect to this:

  • The quantity and breadth of information available to us leads to the illusion that we are everywhere, seeing and experiencing all the major events that affect our planet and our kind.  This is faux-omnipresence.  Whether it’s a huge explosion in Beirut, or black man being murdered by a police officer in Minneapolis, we witness these tragedies and see the suffering of those directly affected.  We see the sorrow, the anger, the grief, and it affects us.  Can our hearts and souls really bear that much?  Are we able to cope with a planet-load of emotion?  As we observe and spend emotional energy on these events, are we then less able to bear one another’s burdens in our local church community?
  • No matter how much we see or news articles we read, we still don’t know everything about it.  This is faux-omniscience.  Even if we saw a video of an event, we didn’t see all of the events leading up to it.  Nor can we see all of the actions and motivations behind it.  Only God truly knows these details.  Only God is truly omniscient.  This becomes especially important to remember when events demand a response.  “Did you hear?”  “What do you think?”  “Who is at fault?”  “What should be done?”  With the speed of the information comes the speed of the requirement to opine about it.  It’s exhausting!

A Response

To be honest, I’m working through what this means for me.  What is of chief importance is that being immersed in the Word of God must take precedence over being immersed in the news.  Do I read the news?  Listen to podcasts?  Read blogs and articles?  Sure.  But look, there is far more content out there than I can possibly read.  Even if I reduce that down to content I am interested in, there is still too much.  So what do I prioritise?  It must be the Bible.  The Bible is soul food, and reading is intended to nourish.  Bible first, then the news.

Another thought: there are tragedies that unfold.  There always will be.  In Luke 13:1-4 Jesus is informed of a current tragedy that has unfolded.  How does He respond?  He used it in a didactic way.  A terrible fate befell some people.  That is not because they were particularly sinful, Jesus says.  There is a far worse fate awaiting all who refuse to repent and believe the gospel.  Jesus doesn’t initiate a protest against Pilate, start a campaign for Galilean lives, or indeed for more stringent building regulations for tower construction.  Rather, He steers us back to what really matters: our standing before God.

What do you think about this?  Is your soul wearied by the amount of news and content we see?  Do you think it’s taking its toll?  Is it impacting your ability to spend emotional energy on your spouse, family or church community?

On the Romans Road – July

Wasn’t it just awesome to finally arrive at Romans chapter 8?  Chapters 1-7 are, of course, an indispensable foundation, showing how mankind is completely without hope apart from Christ.  Even just in the preceding few verses, Paul spoke of his continuing wrestling match with his flesh: yes, in Christ he has peace with God (Romans 5), dead to sin and is released from the law.  And yet, at the same time, the old man of the flesh is still around, tempting us to do the things we don’t want to do in our new spirits.  Who will deliver us – at last! – from these bodies?  God Himself, through Jesus Christ.

Condemnation and Conviction

As we launch into Romans 8, we are immediately confronted with this word: condemnation.  It means the judgement due to sin.  It’s not the same thing as conviction, which is the awareness and understanding of sin.  The law brings about conviction as it shows sin for what it is.  In Life Group, we discussed how, following conviction, we can choose to confess (an interesting word in Greek, literally meaning “to say the same”, i.e. to agree with God) and thereby find grace.  Or, in the case of the unrepentant, we can choose to suppress the truth which, ultimately, will lead to a judgement – condemnation.

It’s key for us, as Christians, to understand the difference here:

There IS conviction, and conviction is a good thing.

It means the Holy Spirit is working to show us where we need to repent, change and grow.  Hebrews 12 even speaks of God’s discipline as proof that we are His children.  Greater awareness of our sin is a good thing: it’s evidence of God’s work in our lives, which is evidence of our salvation!

There IS NO condemnation.

When we sin, the enemy is so often there to rail on us, and tell us whatever egregious thing we’ve done is proof we are unregenerate, and/or that God is done with us.  These are absolute lies!  There is a judgement for our sins, but thanks be to God that it fell upon Christ, and not upon us!

When the Lord makes us aware of sin, confess it.  Agree with God.  Remember the gospel, and that it means there is no condemnation.  And then pray: pray that God will continue your sanctification, that He would help you practice repentance through making changes.  Pray that He would help you walk away from temptation.

No condemnation for whom?

When we read “there is therefore now no condemnation for whose who are in Christ Jesus,” whose name do we substitute in there?  If you’re like me, don’t we sometimes see our own name there, praise God for His mercy, but then fail to acknowledge it applies to others, too?  Aren’t we so often quick to condemn others?  When our brothers and sisters sin, they may need our help to see it so that conviction can take place.  But there is no condemnation: not from God, and there should not be from us, either.  Instead, there is grace from God and there should be grace from us, too.

This verse means that we are all freed from pretence that we are fine.  God’s intention and heart for the church is that deep and trusting relationships arise, in which iron can sharpen iron, and we can be part of one another’s sanctification journey.

Debtors and Heirs

It’s a strange pairing, isn’t it?  In Romans 8:12, Paul declares that we are debtors.  It means that we have obligations – there are things we ought to do (or not do).  Paul says our obligations are not to the flesh, but leaves it to us to fill in the blank: we’re indebted to live according to the Spirit.  Why is that, Paul?  Because, he says, we received the Spirit of adoption, and became heirs!  We don’t normally associate heirdom with the burden of debt, which is why I think the work “obliged” probably works better.  An heir does have obligations to conduct him or herself in a befitting way.

Whatever our experiences of earthly fathers, we have a Perfect Father in Heaven now.  The Holy Spirit says He will help us to acknowledge that, and to call on Him.  Our Heavenly Father is worthy of our worship – not just meaning our singing, but worship through conduct.  By living for Him.  That’s the obligation we have.  As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:20 “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us.”

That’s our challenge and our privilege as His heirs!

On the Romans Road – June

The psalmists spoke much about the joy of God’s law, and how obedience to it leads to blessedness (read: happiness).  And that’s all fine in theory, but that reality is not actualised for us.  Why?  Because, as James says:

James 2:10 (ESV)
10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.

Our consciences are sufficient for us to discern that we’ve not kept the whole law.  If, for some reason, our conscience isn’t enough, then we have the first three chapters of Romans to show us.  “All have sinned” to some degree or another.  Therefore, no matter how diligently we might obey God, our past disobedience means we remain guilty, and any minor infraction today or tomorrow would nullify all obedience.  Reliance upon law is HARD!

This is precisely why God’s plan and purpose has always been to save mankind by grace through faith, not obedience to law.

Believers and Sin

In our studies in Romans, Paul has been discussing two question that arise concerning how believers relate to sin and law.  If we are saved by faith in Jesus Christ’s atoning sacrifice, and not by rote obedience, then what place does obedience have?  What is the impact of disobedience?

Paul first draws out two questions in chapter 6.  The first asks: if grace is greater than sin, and it abounds to cover all sin, then we could deliberately sin now to increase grace!  If grace covers sin, then more sin means more grace, and more grace is a good thing!  Well, Paul shows that this argument fails.  Salvation is all about resurrection; sin is all about death.  They are opposites.  It’s never going to be a good thing to increase that which brings death!

Rather, Christ solves death problem: He died, having never sinned.  Then God resurrected Him, never to die again.  Believers are brought into that death-to-life, so that we receive the hope of the same resurrection.  Correspondingly, a key aspect of salvation is our death, that is, dying to sin.  Therefore, if we continue to sin, it’s simply inconsistent with this new identity of ours.

Does Sin Matter?

The second question Paul considers is: if we’re no longer under the law, then does sin matter?  If I’m not under the law, does it matter if I break it?  Paul shows that yes, it absolutely matters.  Why?  Well, beyond what we’ve just said about sin leading to death, sin is a slave-master.  When you or I disobey God, we are obeying sin.  We can either serve God, the outcome of which is joy and life and peace, or we can serve sin.  You gotta serve somebody.  Either sin, which leads to slavery and death, or God, which leads to sanctification (greater holiness) and eternal life.

So yes, it matters for us to eschew sin and choose to obey God.

Believers and Law

Now Paul turns his attention to law.  What is its relationship with sin?  Is law the cause of sin?  What purpose does the law have, if God saves through grace and promise?  Romans 7 answers these questions.  The first part speaks to the legalists: those of us who overemphasise law-keeping today, thinking they can enhance their relationship to God.  The second speaks to libertines: those inclined to overemphasise our freedom in Christ, disregarding holiness, discipline and godly living.

Unbound from Law

First, Paul uses the law itself to show that death frees us from law.  This is why it’s so important that death is central to salvation.  In Christ’s death, we also die, and that death releases us from the law.  Paul refers to the law as the “old way” of serving God, which was through all the do’s and don’ts.

This point is critical for those of us who feel the weight of legalism.  If we are in Christ, united with Him in His death, then the old law is not binding on us anymore.  What a relief!  No longer are we living in fear of the gavel of God the Judge coming down.

However, we still serve God.  Paul says that the mode of service has changed.  Previously it was “in the old way of the written code.”  Now, we serve “in the new way of the Spirit.”  There is still service!  What’s changed is the heart and reason behind it.  Simply put, in changes from “I have to, I must, I’ve got to” and into “I get to, I’m able to, I’d love to.”

Law’s Purpose

So what is the purpose of the written code?  Well, as we saw in chapter 7, the law does three things: it exposes sin, it provokes sin, and it condemns sin.  You can see this with young children.  Tell them not to do something, and what do they immediately want to do?  As Paul said, he wouldn’t have coveted without the law saying “don’t covet.”

Paul’s snapshot of his current life can be hard reading.  Why such struggle for the Christian?  Because, as he says elsewhere:

Galatians 5:16–18  But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. 17 For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. 18 But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law.

The struggle remains because we have to make a continual and active choice to “walk by the Spirit.”  There is an ongoing inner struggle between the “old man” of sin and the “new man” of the Spirit.  There is the part of us that delights in God and says “amen!” to His commands to do right, and there is the part of us that clings to selfishness and sin.

The Law’s purpose for a believer, then, seems to be complete.  It served as a “schoolmaster” (see Galatians 3) to show us the impossibility of salvation through obedience.  Now we’ve come to Christ, the law of God is fulfilled in us by Christ.  Paul urges us to “serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code.”

On the Romans Road – May

The Book of Romans is super-concentrated, isn’t it?  It’s so valuable for us to step back and reflect on what’s come before.  I pray this will be a useful meditation as we continue through the series.

Recap

In the early chapters, Paul has taken pains to ensure it’s clear that everybody needs saving from the consequence of their sins, and there’s only one provision for this: grace.  God always intended to found the outcome of Heaven upon grace, rather than performance.  God has always wanted to bring people in to His eternal Kingdom, but He doesn’t want anybody to think they earned it!

All the Benefits!

In chapter 5 of Romans, Paul outlines for us many of the benefits we have.  We’ve been justified — that means “declared to be righteous”.  That’s awesome!  So what?  Glad you asked, says Paul!  Well, you have peace with God.  The shalom peace that means more than just cessation of conflict.  It’s that, plus heart and soul rest.  Plus the seeking of our welfare.  Plus provision.  We know that the fullness of this is yet future, but Paul’s putting it in the present tense for us.  We have peace with God now.

We’ve also obtained access to God.  I think this is something to reflect on.  Think about Isaiah, when he was granted to see the Lord’s throne room.  You recall there in Isaiah chapter 6: Isaiah saw the Lord upon His throne, the heavenly temple shaking because of the worship taking place there.  What was Isaiah’s reaction?

Isaiah 6:5 (ESV) And I said: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”

I wonder what Isaiah would have thought if, perhaps towards the end of his life, he heard this teaching.  I really think he would have short-circuited.  Access by faith into God’s favour?  You can come into His presence, just like that?

Let’s reminder ourselves of just one more benefit.  This one from Romans 6:9, where Paul says that we’ve been justified by Christ’s blood, and much more shall we be saved by His life.  It’s such a comfort to me that we’ve not arrived yet.  To know that God’s only really just gotten started with me is such a wonderful thought.  Yes, I’m work in progress.  But God’s begun a good work.  And He has much more yet to do.

A Tale of Two Men

There’s a part of me that’s still taken aback by Paul comparing Adam with Jesus Christ.  He even says that Adam is a type of Christ, the One to come!  Surely, a creature and his Creator cannot be compared in any comprehensible way!  But there is a clear point of comparison: Adam and Jesus Christ both committed a single act that had eternal ramifications.  Adam’s choice to disobey God’s direct command did several things:

  • It introduced sin, and sin introduced death.
  • Death effectively became “king” — it began its reign, and death continues with us to this day (in case you hadn’t noticed!)
  • It lead to condemnation for all (v18)
  • It rendered us all sinners (v19)

It’s shocking stuff, isn’t it?  But there’s a great phrase Paul uses twice: “much more.”  Yes, sin did and does so much damage, but much more does God’s grace, and God’s free gift of salvation abound.  Yes, death reigned through that one man, but much more will believers reign in life through Jesus Christ.

The king is dead; long live the King!

Choices and Consequences

Choices have consequences, don’t they?  Nothing we do is done in isolation.  I don’t imagine that Adam quite knew the full extent of his choice that day he ate the fruit.  But certainly Jesus Christ knew the extent of His act of obedience.  It made justification and life available to all men!  Many will be made righteous!  But there is still a choice to make for this to be effective.  As Paul already took great pains to articulate earlier in the book, it’s the choice of faith.  The choice to pledge our allegiance to Christ Jesus, instead of ourselves or whatever other thing.

As we move into Romans 6, we’re challenged to consider that the old way of life is dead.  The idea of incorporating Christianity into our lives is totally foreign to Paul.  You’re buried with Him if you’ve believed in Christ.  The old you is in the ground, six feet under.

Paul couldn’t use stronger terms than “dead” and “alive.”  But these statements don’t remove our need to act.  Paul says “you must consider yourself dead to sin and alive to God in Jesus Christ.”  The fact that it’s absolutely true doesn’t negate our need to consider this actively in our day-to-day lives.  We had those four imperatives there in Romans 6 that we considered last week.

I wonder how you put this into practice?  I was reminded of a verse we memorised a long time ago now:

1 Corinthians 10:13 (ESV)
13 No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

There is no temptation to sin that is too strong for you.  One of the tools we have when facing temptation is to remind yourself — preach to yourself –– that you are dead to sin.  Consider it so.  Recall that what is theologically true provides a practical tool to resist the enemy’s lies.

How do you work these things into your daily lives?

On the Romans Road – April

Paul has constructed his argument over the opening chapters of Romans: while it may appear that there is a marked difference between “saint” and “sinner,” the truth is, all have sinned.  Whether a little or a lot, we all have disobeyed and stand condemned before God.

Total Inability

Paul’s quoted the Psalms for his theological crescendo.  He says that “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God … no one does good, not even one.”  You have to pause and ask – “is that really true Paul?”  Not a single person does moral good deeds?  We observe every day, don’t we, people doing good.  Right now, we rightly celebrate the sacrificial good work done by keyworkers.  The NHS staff are daily putting themselves at risk, while the rest of us are hunkered down at home.  At the same time, we have Biblical examples of individuals like Joseph and Daniel who seem to live holy lives.  And then you have passages like Matthew 1:19, where Joseph, the adoptive father of Jesus Christ, is described as “a just man.”  The word for “just” there is more typically translated as righteous.

What are we saying, Paul?  We’re saying that no person consistently and earnestly seeks God.  Nobody always, every day, lives well enough.  Nobody meets the standard.  And whether we fall short by a million miles or by a few centimetres, we fall short.  As David said in Psalm 51:5, sin is with us from the moment of birth.  Job agrees in Job 14, saying of mankind “who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean?  There is not one.”  James argues that if we bread the law in one point only, we are guilty of it all.  The law is broken, and it can’t be unbroken.

That’s what we mean by Total Inability.  We are unable to save ourselves because it only takes one act of disobedience, one moment of self-seeking rather than God-seeking, and it’s over.

Called Right!

After that devastating conclusion, Paul is keen to move us forward into hope!  Having shown there is no distinction amongst us in terms of sin, there is also no distinction regarding salvation.  Paul writes “[as] all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and [so all]:

  • are justified – meaning, they’re declared to be right.  Not made right, but called right by God Himself.  How?
  • by His grace as a gift – it couldn’t be by any other method.  We were totally unable to earn it, so therefore it has to be a gift of grace.  But how can it be offered?
  • through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus – Paul uses the metaphor of the slave market.  Redemption means that a transaction has occurred: one party has paid a sum to another, that a third party may go free.
  • Whom God put forward as a propitiation – this technical term refers to the act of paying a satisfactory sum.  In this case, it’s the sum to cover the penalty of sin.  What was the sum paid?
  • by His blood – there it is: the Law of Moses always declared that without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins (see Hebrews 9:22).  The eternal blood of the Incarnate God, Jesus Christ, is the only sufficient sum.
  • to be received by faith – and here at last is the differentiator.  All have sinned, but are all justified?  Clearly, not: we do not hold to universalism, which is the view that everybody goes to Heaven.  The differentiator is faith.  God holds out a free gift.  He says “I HAVE MADE A WAY THAT YOU MAY BE JUSTLY DECLARED RIGHTEOUS.”  We who have gone astray – some a little, some a lot – have an equal offer of a free gift.  It’s there for the taking.  How do we take it?  By believing all these things: that I need it, that I don’t deserve it, that God is able to offer it.  And that belief, or faith, leads to faithfully living for Him.

Abraham the Example

Paul then wants to illustrate the point for us.  To do this, he refers us to the highly revered figure of Abraham.  Abraham, the father of the Jewish people, the first to receive circumcision, the one who received the promise of the Land, etc.

Paul shows that, while the Law of Moses does indeed give hundreds of rules for living and good conduct, it came after a more fundamental teaching.  As such, it is subordinate to that teaching.  What teaching?  That righteousness comes through believing God.  Paul argues: yes, Abraham received circumcision and is the father of the circumcised people, but that came after.  After both the promise, and the faith in that promise.  Yes, Abraham obeyed (Hebrews 11:8ff makes the point), but obedience came after and because of faith.

In the same way, for you and for me, we should walk in obedience.  We ought to do works of faith.  James argues this in James 2:22 – again using Abraham as his example – “faith was completed by his works.”  We ought to aim to live holy lives.  But we ought not to think this leads to more favour before God.  It doesn’t purchase good will or God’s blessing.  It doesn’t mean God will preserve our jobs or any such thing.

No, they are simple tokens that our allegiance has shifted.  We once were dead in our selfish ways; we are now alive and free, and able to live as we were made to live.

What are you learning from this series?  How is it impacting your lives?

Reflections on The Cross

It is always good for us to take time to reflect on the Cross.  The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is not merely a key doctrine to our faith.  Rather, it is absolutely central and of primary importance.  Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:

If Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain and your faith is vain. … If in Christ, we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.

Christianity without the death and resurrection in empty, vain and futile.  It would have nothing to offer.  But Christ HAS died, and he HAS been raised.  Let us pause and reflect on a few thoughts:

The Cross is Historical

The death of Jesus of Nazareth is one of the best attested historical events.  Plenty of books and articles do a far better job that I could of articulating this.  Lee Strobel’s book “The Case For Christ” is noteworthy here.  Even the Wikipedia article, which is hardly sympathetic to Christianity, agrees that the Crucifixion is one of “two historically certain facts about Jesus.”

The Cross was Brutal

Most of us will have seen Mel Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”  I found it very difficult to watch, and that’s intentional.  Crucifixion was utterly brutal and repugnant, specifically designed to provoke a visceral reaction and hopefully dissuade others from crime.  It was an extremely painful way to perish – so much so that the word “excruciating” was invented to describe it.  But more than that, it was shameful.  It shamed the victim to hang there, totally exposed and open to insult and ridicule.

In connection with this, let’s consider two things:

First, Jesus did not deserve this brutality.  He was declared innocent at least three times by the presiding judge (John 18:38, 19:4, 6), and the trial was an illegal sham anyway.  His execution is probably the greatest miscarriage of justice the world has ever seen.

Second, Jesus Christ could have easily avoided it.  Remember how easily He slipped away from His would-be murderers in Luke 4:30?  Or how he refused to give any defence against the (false) charges against Him (see e.g. Matthew 27:13-14, John 19:9)?  He rebuked Peter when he tried to fight back, saying (Matthew 26:53):

Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?

Amazing, isn’t it?  He could have avoided the horrors and the shame, but He didn’t.  These two together leads to a third point:

The Cross was Purposeful

The Cross was not an accident, a tragedy or a defeat.  To meditate on this point, and how seriously Jesus took it, look at how He answered Peter.  Peter, in his characteristically misplaced zeal, rebuked Jesus when He started speaking of His imminent death.  The response:

Matthew 16:23 (ESV)
23 But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”

This is a stinging rebuke!  To Peter, the idea of a crucified saviour was a nonsense, but Jesus knew the Cross was integral to His being the Saviour.

Not a tragedy, but an accomplishment (see Luke 1:1).  How is it an accomplishment?  In that it fulfilled many specific prophesies, and is the antitype to many types, in the Old Testament.  Again, many more learned than I am have undertaken to catalogue these.  my purpose for this meditation is only to remember that those bloody events of Good Friday were foreseen and predicted centuries beforehand.

The Cross was NOT Christ’s Fear

I think any mere mortal who faced a Roman cross would be afraid.  Christ, indeed, just before His arrest, prayed in agony such that His sweat mingled with blood (Luke 22:44).  But I submit He was not afraid of the nails.  When you read the accounts of the Passion, in contrast to Mel Gibson’s view, Jesus never cries out in pain.  After the flogging, as He makes His way to Golgotha, He ministers to the women there with Him (see Luke 23:26ff).

At what point did Jesus Christ cry out?  What was it that finally caused Him to cry “My God, My God!  Why have you forsaken me?”  It was when the darkness had come, and when that Temple veil was torn in two, top to bottom.  It was when, as Peter says, He “bore our sins in His body on the tree.”  It was when He was “put forward as a propitiation by His blood, to be received by faith,” as Paul says in Romans 3:25.

That was Christ’s fear.  The only moment in eternity when the fellowship He enjoyed with God the Father was severed, and He experienced separation.  This was the fearful thing He anticipate in Gethsemane.  Not the nails.

Christ was Victorious

We cannot ponder the Cross without recalling the glorious Resurrection that we celebrate tomorrow, on Easter Sunday.  We remember, paraphrasing Peter  in Acts 2:24, that it was impossible for death to hold Him.  He rose triumphantly.  So let’s conclude by finishing Paul’s thoughts from 1 Corinthians 15:

1 Corinthians 15:20–22 (ESV)
20 But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. 21 For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. 22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

There is our hope!  The Cross speaks of death, yes, but defeated death.  Through faith in Jesus Christ’s death, that it was for you, you can find forgiveness and hope.

I pray that you know this hope!

On the Romans Road – March

As we continue through Paul’s letter to the Romans, it’s good for us to reflect on what we’ve seen so far.  Again, much of the value of Bible study comes from the time taken to meditate – to ruminate – on it.  That’s the best way to allow it to bring transformation.

Who Needs the Gospel?

Paul has already outlined the gospel for us: it’s the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes.  But who needs that salvation?  Paul’s spent a good deal of time discussing “those guys” in chapter one.  The ones who suppress the knowledge of God, choosing to be ignorant.  Those ones filled with envy, murder; the foolish, faithless, heartless and ruthless ones.  That’s not you and me, though, is it?

Chapter 2 has blown all that nonsense away.  We saw how he now takes aim at those good-enough religious types: those who try to appease God through repeatedly doing things they think God likes.  And, so often, they then look down on those ne’er-do-wells in condemnation.  Chapter 1 called out gossip and slander, but how frequently do we see that in the Christian community?  How frequently am I guilty of gossip and slander?  The thought that we often pass judgement (in our minds, if nowhere else) on people based on what they do, but we’ll always judge ourselves on our motivations…  Ouch! I know that’s me right there.

What Paul’s showing us – showing me – is that we all need the gospel.  We never get past it.  All have sinned and fall short of the standard.

Credits and Debits

Paul zooms in specifically to talk to his Jewish kinsmen there towards the end of chapter 2.  He says to them: we have the Law – the very word of God!  We have the right lineage, we rightly boast in having the true God, and we have the right mission.  But that doesn’t mean we are favoured on that basis.  Those are all good things, but it’s not enough to render us perfect.  We have the Law, but are we keeping it?  Really?

You recall how we looked at that Rich Young Ruler from Mark 10.  He thought he was doing great.  Yes, Lord, I’ve kept the Law!  Yet he knew he had a lack (commendable!) and, as Jesus showed him, he failed at the very first commandment.  The young man had another god whom he worshipped: his wealth.  On the outside, he looked like he had, along with this physical assets, a great deal of credit with God.  Highly favoured, and highly blessed.  But, as Paul says in Romans 2:28 “no one is a Jew who is merely one outwardly, nor is circumcision outward and physical.  Let’s edit that a little to make the point.

No one is a Christian who is merely one outwardly, nor is salvation outward and physical.

What makes you, or me, a Christian?  Is it the attending church and life group?  Is it the vocabulary?  Or is it the reading and the prayers?  Paul would say:

But a Christian is one inwardly, and salvation is a matter of the heart, by the Spirit, not by the letter.

There is a great debt we all have accrued through sin, and no amount of doing the right things will erase it.  What is needed is the infinite credit of Jesus Christ the righteous!  Paul says in 1 Timothy that “Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.”  That I speaks to me, just as much as it did to Paul.

The Romans Road

As we continue on our journey through Romans, we’ll soon see Paul’s climactic statement: “None is righteous, no not one.”  Paul’s leading us to the conclusion we’ve been ensuring is clear upfront in our series: the righteousness of God is what we need, and praise God indeed that He has revealed in to us in Jesus Christ.

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