Author: Joe Sutton

For Your Connect Groups – 4 June 2017

Here are some study notes and questions for discussion in your Connect groups this week.  We pray they will be beneficial to you.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

The title for our series in James is “Well Done is Better than Well Said,” and this week we looked at James 2:14-19.  What a powerful text we must wrestle with!  And we should wrestle with it: this is evidence we are alive to God.

I’ve outlined below some of the key points this week, with some verses to review and questions to ponder.  Ensure you leave time to share and pray into these topics.  God’s committed Himself to work in our hearts and change us.  So ask Him to do what He’s promised!

Faith & Works

We spent some time talking about how this text stands in sharp contrast to Paul in verses such as Ephesians 2:8-9.  Paul says in Galatians 2:16 that “… we know that a person is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ … because by works of the law no one will be justified.”  But James says in 2:24You see that a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.”  No wonder theologians have wrestled for centuries!  Who is right?

As you will recall, and as you would expect as the Bible is the very Word of God, James and Paul are both speaking the same truth, but emphasising two different aspects.

It’s important to ensure we understand this to the greatest extent we can, because as Christians there are various traps we can fall in.  Consider:

  • Have you ever tried to “make amends” when feeling the conviction of sin by “doing good”, reading your Bible or some such thing?
  • Have you felt that God’s love for you must be greater when you’ve done something good, and less when you’ve sinned?
  • Have you talked yourself out of good works because you know they aren’t “necessary for salvation?”

Read Romans 4:1-8

  • What was the basis of Abraham’s righteousness?
  • Compare this to James 2:21-23, which we’ll cover in detail next week.

Read 1 John 2:3-6

  • What does John put forward as the evidence we know Jesus Christ?
  • What does John put forward as the evidence we’re IN Jesus Christ?

Hopefully, where you’ll end up is to see that:

  • Paul is denying the efficacy of dead works to save.  Merely trying to “do good” will never allow us access to God, and doing good does nothing to increase our favour with God, compel Him to answer our prayers, or any such thing.  We have only done our duty (Luke 17:10)
  • James is denying the validity of dead faith.  Claiming to have believed in the Gospel and be “saved” is invalid if life-transformation is not apparent.  Good works are not optional for believers.

The Life of God

The key point we’re making is that good works are a naturally occurring phenomenon for a Christian.

Read Ezekiel 36:26-27

This is written to Israel but clearly referring to spiritual salvation here.

  • What is removed?  What is replaced?
  • What causes us to carry out God’s will?

Read Philippians 2:13

  • Again, what causes our will to be God’s good pleasure?

Read 1 Timothy 6:18-19

  • How will Timothy’s charges “take hold of that which is truly life?”

Jesus said in John 17:3 that eternal life is to know God, and Jesus Christ.  It’s God’s will and purpose that we abide in Him now, which is the pinnacle of joy and results in good works.

Discuss:

  • Can you testify to the joy of walking with God in obedience?  Any specific examples to share?
  • What other things vie for your attention, claiming to bring joy?  Can you see how they fall short?  What support do you need from your brothers/sisters?

Keep Each Other Accountable

Remember, your Connect Group is meant to be a place you can safely share your struggles and know your brothers/sisters who love you will pray for you.

Galatians 6:1–2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

For Your Connect Groups – 28 May 2017

Here are some study notes and questions for discussion in your Connect groups this week.  We pray they will be beneficial to you.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

The text for our study this week is James 1:26 – 2:13.  The title for our series in James is “Well Done is Better than Well Said,” and this week we discussed the subject of “provenance” – the documentation or other proof that shows the true value of something.  What is the provenance of our faith?  What shows its value?  Three things are in our text:

  1. To bridle our tongues
  2. To love as Jesus loved
  3. To remain unstained from the world

The Tongue

We’ve already spoken about the importance of keeping watch over what we say.  If we don’t, here James says all of our sacrifice and service for God is worthless!  We deceive ourselves if we think otherwise.

Discuss:

  • Why do you think God puts such a heavy weight on this?  Read James 3:1-12 if you need insight.
  • Have you been wounded by someone else’s speech?  Did you forgiven them?  Have you resolved the matter?

Love

In 1:27 James reveals the heart of our Father God: He has compassion on the weak and helpless.  See Psalm 68:5 to see this again.  Another provenance for our faith: loving in the same way as Christ.

Discuss:

  • Be honest, how high of a priority is this for you?
  • If this is a priority for God, how can you make it a higher personal priority?

Unstained From the World

By the term “world”, James means the godless world system.  Christ Himself came to this world, spent time with sinners and rebels, yet was without sin.  He was unstained.  We have the same call: to be in this world, but not of it.  We’re residents here, but we are citizens of Heaven.  We are Christ’s ambassadors.

Discuss:

  • How does this work out in your context?  For example, in the workplace it might look like joining your colleagues in conversation and for a meal, but remaining sober while they drink.
  • Do you find this a challenge?  What helps?  What hinders?

Partiality

In the early part of chapter 2, James zooms in on the subject of partiality.  Literally, “judging according to the face.”  It’s where you and I make decisions and show bias based upon what we see.  James covers the more common case, where we might show favouritism to a rich person, but Exodus 23:3 shows that there is potential for the inverse too.

There are other outward reasons we may show favouritism and partiality.  We think a person may be good for our career.  We think a person is attractive.  And so on.  We sinfully relate to people because we perceive we may receive some benefit.

Discuss:

  • Do you recall how Christ’s title “the Lord of glory” speaks into this sin?  It may help to read back in James 1:16-18.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Remember, your Connect Group is meant to be a place you can safely share your struggles and know your brothers/sisters who love you will pray for you.

Galatians 6:1–2 Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness. Keep watch on yourself, lest you too be tempted. Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

For Your Connect Groups – 21 May 2017

We looked at just a few verses today in James, verses 19-25 in chapter one.  But what verses!  Verses that don’t so much required detailed exegesis, but humble submission and self-examination.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

If you want to listen to the sermon again, or if you missed it this week, it’ll be available on our website and our podcast.  The title for our series in James is “Well Done is Better than Well Said.”

Speech and Anger

In v19-21 James exposes the sin in many of us.  How often are we slow to listen and quick to speak?  How often are we quick to anger and frustration when things don’t go how we wanted?

Take the time to review these three proverbs:

Discuss:

Is this a challenge for you?  Can you think of times when you have not held your tongue?  What was the impact?

Are there particular areas in your life that you are prone to anger?  In Galatians 5:19, Paul lists “fits of anger” under the “works of the flesh.”  Note the seriousness in Paul’s warning.  If this is an area you want God to deliver you, then it begins with confession – agreeing with God about its sinfulness – and repentance – changing your mind about it and seeking to go in a different direction.  Be accountable to your Connect group.  Pray for one another.

Hearing and Doing

In our text today, James is exhorting us to take action.  God’s Word has been spoken, therefore, what must we do?

Read John 13:17

  • How does Jesus describe the one who does?

Read James 4:17

  • How does James describe the failure to do what is right?

Again, we can probably all think of times where we have not done the good we knew God was prompting us to do.  James says this is self-deception: we deceive ourselves from the blessing God wants to give us if we persevere in doing good.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  Can you still remember this verse?

1 Corinthians 10:13  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.

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

For Your Connect Groups – 14 May 2017

Continuing in our study through James, we looked at James 1:2-18, focused on the topic of trials.  There was a great deal to challenge us this week, so I’m sure there will be much conversation.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

If you want to listen to the sermon again, or if you missed it this week, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.  The title for our series in James is “Well Done is Better than Well Said.”

As we zoom in on the subject of faith – the human response of believing and trusting God – we looked at the matter of trials.

Trials

To recap, we looked at five headings this week:

  1. The Certainty of Troubles – it’s not if, but when!
  2. The Benefit of Troubles – they produce steadfastness – hyperstand!
  3. The Power of Troubles – in them, God’s wisdom is there for the asking.  We need to conform our souls to the objective reality of God’s promises, rather than seek to conform reality to our desires.
  4. The Problems of Troubles – two problems related to trials are (1) recognising our need for wisdom, and (2) lacking trials, for “sanctified poverty is far more beneficial than ensnaring prosperity.”
  5. The Promise of Troubles – for the one who hyperstands, there is the crown of life awaiting.  Trials are not given to defeat but to perfect.

Discuss:

  • How did these resonate with you in your life?
  • What trials have you faced in the past?  What wisdom did you learn?
  • Are you facing trials now?  How can you focus on work of God, and keep your joy?

Read: 2 Corinthians 4:16-5:10

Discuss:

  • What is the basis for the authors “not losing heart?”
  • Where do they fix their gaze?
  • Is it reassuring that they “groan” in their earthly homes?  Do you ever feel the same?
  • What keeps them in “good courage?”

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  Can you still remember this verse?

1 Corinthians 10:13  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.

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

Entitlement

Having just come back from a week away, it was easy for me to think of it as a “well-deserved” rest.  One works hard, and afterwards I’m due some downtime, right?  I can think of times in the recent past where I feel like I deserve this or that.  It’s my birthday today, so we should do what I want to do.  Or, I’ve worked super-hard over the last few months: I’m owed this rest.  I earned it.  I’m entitled to it.

Do you ever feel like you’re owed something?  After a hard day at work, don’t you just deserve an evening of rest?  Or perhaps you feel owed something else: you’ve tried to do good and obey God, so now you deserve good health.  You’ve been working on personal holiness and obedience, so now you deserve a spouse.  I’ve worked hard at this company for many years, I deserve a promotion.

How does it go when you don’t get what you think you deserved?  Doesn’t feel great, right?  We get angry or resentful, towards the people we think are withholding what we’re due, or – worse still – towards the God Who is saying “no.”

There are many and varies ways in which we can convince ourselves we’re due something.  If this is you, then read this brief excerpt from Paul, and consider the following points.

Ephesians 2:4–10

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved— and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 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.

Praise God we do not get what we deserve

Romans 6:23a says, very simply, “The wages of sin is death.”  As God said and then demonstrated way back in the Garden of Eden, sinning against God leads to spiritual death.  This is what we deserve.  All of us have spent at least a portion of our lives in rebellion and rejection of God, doing things that ought not to be done.  Paul said, “We know that the judgement of God rightly falls on those who practice such things.” (Romans 2:2)

If we are in Christ, then God has shown mercy, meaning He does not and will not give us what we deserve — that is, eternal judgement in hell.  We see that in v4-5 of Ephesians 2.  Even when we were spiritually dead in the trespasses and sins we’d embraced, children of wrath and due nothing but punishment, God had mercy upon us, choosing not to give us what we deserved.

We already have much more than we deserve

God has shown mercy, but furthermore He has shown grace, meaning He gives us what we do not deserve.  As Paul says here in Ephesians, much more than merely forgiven (if I can use the word merely… it doesn’t feel right!) we are furthermore exalted and seated with Christ in the heavenly places, and will richly receive immeasurable riches of grace in kindness.  How many riches will we receive in the coming ages?  Immeasurable.  I mean, mathematicians and physicians can measure pretty big numbers… are we sure it can’t be quantified?  How many zeros are we talking here?

In Christ Jesus, we are possessors of far greater riches, of a far deeper rest, and far greater significance than is available here on Earth.  Greater riches, because the riches in Heaven do not wear out, suffer due to exchange rates, diminish through taxation, or any such thing.  Greater rest, because we have peace with God (Romans 5:1) and have entered into His rest (Hebrews 4:10).  Greater significance, because we’re called to do works that God established in eternity past for us to do: works that will have eternal significance, not merely temporal.  We can see this right here in Ephesians 2:10.

We already have so much more than we deserve.  Hallelujah!

Our obedience is no more than a reasonable response to grace

The Gospel teaches us that God has cancelled the record of debt against us, and furthermore credited our account with all of the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ.  What is the reasonable response to such an incomprehensible act of mercy and grace?

It is obedience.  As Paul says in Ephesians 4:1, we’re urged to walk in a manner worthy of these things.  Jesus told a parable to this effect in Luke 17:

Luke 17:7–10  “Will any one of you who has a servant plowing or keeping sheep say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table’? Will he not rather say to him, ‘Prepare supper for me, and dress properly, and serve me while I eat and drink, and afterward you will eat and drink’? Does he thank the servant because he did what was commanded? 10 So you also, when you have done all that you were commanded, say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done what was our duty.’ ”

You see, if you or if I indeed work hard for our Lord, or focus on personal holiness and spiritual growth, then “we have only done what was our duty.”  We’re called to this, having already received (or been promised) a far greater reward than anything of which we could conceive.  As yet sinful people, who among us could honestly say “I have done all that I was commanded?”  Not me, that’s for sure.

So then, how should we approach things like rest, and holidays, or any other thing we’re due?  As we prepared to leave, our car wouldn’t start.  All of us were sat there, belted in with suitcases packed.  The engine refused to start.  So we prayed.  We praised God for His grace in allowing us to take a week off, and whether or not we actually got to go, we would be content to receive what He had for us.  When we eventually arrived on holiday, we had a real sense of God’s grace.  We weren’t due a holiday.  We haven’t done anything to merit it; who could?  But God, in His grace, chose to bless us with it.  We received it as a blessing, a token of God’s love and grace.  As such, there was an air of gratitude and joy in the Lord.

I think this is how we should receive all things, whether it’s a job offer or promotion, an exam result, whatever.  You and I, in and of ourselves, do not deserve anything.  If we have worked hard, have we not merely used the ability God sovereignly chose to bestow to us?  James said that “every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights” (James 1:17).  So there is no basis for boasting, and certainly none for entitlement either.

So what do you feel like you’re owed?  Maybe people have said you deserve this or that, and you’ve started to believe it.  Know that you are loved by God, and if you are in Christ you have something far greater than anything you could possibly feel like you’re due.

For Your Connect Groups – 7 May 2017

This week we began looking at the Epistle of James.  We began with an overview on the topic of faith.  We pray these notes might help you prayerfully review and discuss how the Word of the Lord applies to your lives.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

If you want to listen to the sermon again, or if you missed it this week, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.  The title for our series in James is “Well Done is Better than Well Said”

Well Done is Better than Well Said

This is the tagline for our series in the Book of James.  We as Christians can often talk a good talk: saying the right Christian things, recalling Scriptures, and even praying the right prayers.  James challenges his readers — us! — are our deeds matching our words?  If we profess to trust Christ, do we walk in such a way that shows this to be true?

Spiritual maturity is measured by our walk.  By practicing what we preach.

  • Are there any specific areas in which you know you struggle to do what you know you should?
  • Are there areas you feel stronger?  Recall what Paul said:

1 Corinthians 10:12 Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.

Faith

A major aspect of James’ epistle is faith.  So we asked three questions of faith this week:

  • What is it?
  • What does faith do?
  • What does faith look like?

As you may recall, we answer these (briefly) thus:

  1. Faith is the human response to the Holy Spirit’s testimony.  It is the rational response to God’s revelation.  In comes from hearing (Romans 10:17) and leads to understanding (Hebrews 11:3)
  2. Faith saves you, as we read in Romans 3:21-24.  Righteousness is like a “performance record” — and by faith, God’s perfect report card is reckoned as ours.  God “justifies the ungodly” through faith (Romans 4:5).
  3. Faith looks like pleasure in God.  Faith understands that Christ’s purpose is to give us abundant life (John 10:10, Psalm 16:11) and realising this leads to joy-filled obedience.

Discuss these themes.

  • Do you sometimes feel your faith is “weak” or “small?”  How do Jesus’ words in Luke 17:5-6 help?
  • Are you aware of your faith becoming stronger over time?  How is this happening?
  • What things do you, like the father in Mark 9:24, struggle to believe?  Be sure to encourage one another in the truth of God’s word.
  • Do you find obedience to always be joy-filled?  What helps your joy?

Keep Each Other Accountable

James tells us that there is power in confessing sins to one another.  Remember, we are all tempted in many ways, we are all saved by the same grace, and all of our hearts are, by default, wicked.  May grace abound.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

For Your Connect Groups – 9 April 2017

Continuing through the Gospel of Luke this week, we looked at Luke 22:63-23:25.  As you gather together this week for prayer and fellowship, may these brief notes and reminders guide your time together.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

If you want to listen to the sermon again, or if you missed it this week, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.  The message outline centred around what we learn about Jesus.  He is:

The Promised Messiah

Jesus faces great injustice as He is tried before the Sanhedrin.  Jesus is clear regarding Who He is, using the title “Son of Man” found in Daniel 7, just as He has been clear on His identity throughout His earthly ministry.  As do many today, the Jewish assembly refuse to accept that Jesus is the Christ (or, Messiah), even though they have seen plenty of evidence (see John 12:37).

  • Have you met people who are similar in their rejection of the Lord Jesus Christ?
  • How have you attempted to share Christ with them?  What was the response?

Recall the great importance of bringing people to God in prayer.  Spend some time doing so in your meeting now, and commit to continuing to do so.

Perfectly Innocent

What reassurance we have in the knowledge that the Lord Jesus Christ is perfect!  His innocence is repeatedly declared in our text — Luke 23:4, 14-15, and see also Judas’ own testimony in Matthew 27:4.  There is great witness to the innocence of Jesus!

Paul spoke in Philippians 3:9 of the fact that, through faith, we receive His righteousness–His perfection becomes ours.  Like Barabbas, we are set free and Jesus Christ takes our place as the condemned man.

  • How does this reality affect your day-to-day?  Your relationships?  Your work?
  • Do you need to regularly remind yourself of God’s grace towards you?  How do you do that?

Polarising King

We see in the text how Herod Antipas and Pilate united over their common treatment of Jesus Christ.  Jesus Christ is polarising: one must have a view regarding Him.  We’ve seen this already in Luke 11:23.  See also Matthew 10:34.

  • Did you live for a time trying to “sit on the fence” regarding Christ?  How did things change for you?
  • Do you know anyone today in that position?  How can you help them get a clearer picture of Jesus Christ?

Keep Each Other Accountable

James tells us that there is power in confessing sins to one another.  Remember, we are all tempted in many ways, we are all saved by the same grace, and all of our hearts are, by default, wicked.  May grace abound.

James 5:16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

For Your Connect Groups – 2 April 2017

This week, we were back in our studies through the Gospel of Luke.  We pray that these notes, reminders and questions assist your conversation, meditation and prayer as you meet together this week.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

Today we looked at the nine conversations found in Luke 22:39-61.  Take the time to re-read the text together.  What sticks out for you in the text?  What things from the sermon did you take away?

As always, if you want to listen again, or if you missed the sermon, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.

The Gethsemane Agony

We read how Christ prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying for strength to face the “cup of wrath” that He knew to be before Him.  We heard how the Lord Jesus Christ:

  1. Sympathises with us,
  2. Substitutes for us,
  3. Submits to the Father with us.

He sympathises: take a look at Isaiah 53:3 and Hebrews 4:15 to see this explicitly.

One of Satan’s lies is that the temptations we face are in some way unique to us, and nobody else could understand.  Biblically, we know that no temptation is unique (see 1 Corinthians 10:13 – memorised by many during our evening services!).

  • Are there areas that you do, or have felt, are unique to you?
  • How can your brothers/sisters in your Connect groups support you?

He substitutes: this is what weighed so heavily on our Lord.  He pondered the “cup of wrath” that He was about to drink.  Recall how we learned that God must show perfect, holy wrath upon the unrepentant sinner.

  • Do you still have any trouble reconcilling God’s wrath with God’s love?

The reality is, for we who have put on Christ, we will never know the depth of God’s wrath: Christ took it on our behalf.

The wrath of God against Christ is the love of God towards us

He submits: Recall how we see Jesus fully in control of the timing of these events.  He continued His habit of entering and leaving Jerusalem, and praying at the Garden of Gethsemane.  If He’d wanted to evade capture, He could have easily!  Look at how Jesus rebuked Peter, according to Matthew’s Gospel:

Matthew 26:52–54  Then Jesus said to him, “Put your sword back into its place. For all who take the sword will perish by the sword.  Do you think that I cannot appeal to my Father, and he will at once send me more than twelve legions of angels?  But how then should the Scriptures be fulfilled, that it must be so?”

Christ’s willing submission and agreement with the Father was essential to our salvation.  We then can submit to the Father and to Christ and receive the Gospel.

  • Are there areas in your life that you have recently learned to submit to God?  Share how this has affected your walk.
  • Are there areas right now you are aware need to be submitted?

Peter’s Denial

We read Peter’s three-fold denial of Jesus Christ in verses 54-62.  We heard how there is both a warning and encouragement: a warning of the great sorrow that comes with denying the Lord (see v62), and great encouragement in that the Lord restored Peter in the passage in John’s Gospel.

  • Have you ever had an occasion where you have known God wanted you to speak up, and you did not?  What was the result?
  • Have you had an occasion where you did obey the Spirit of God and speak up?  What was the result?

Recall how we considered five contributing factors that may have been part of Peter’s failure:

  1. He boasted too much
  2. He prayed too little
  3. He acted too fast
  4. He followed from too far
  5. He warmed himself at the enemy’s fire for too long

Did any of those points resonated with you?  Share how God is exhorting you.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Recall this verse from Ecclesiastes about the blessedness of having a brother or sister to bear you up and encourage you:

Ecclesiastes 4:9–10  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Colossians 1:9–10 … we … pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God;

For Your Connect Groups – 26 March 2017

This week, we concluded our two-part mini-series looking at the Book of Habakkuk.  May these notes, reminders and questions assist your conversation, meditation and prayer as you meet together this week.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

Today we looked at Habakkuk 2-3.  Here, Habakkuk receives a response from God concerning his complaints, and he is transformed by it.  Please take a moment to re-read the text together.

  • Was there anything that particularly resonated with you in the sermon, or as you re-read it now?

As always, if you want to listen again, or if you missed the sermon, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.

The Centrality of Faith

The key verse for our passage this week is arguably the key verse for the entire Bible!

Habakkuk 2:4     “Behold, his soul is puffed up; it is not upright within him, but the righteous shall live by his faith.

In comparison to the prideful person, the righteous one–the one whom God will accept–lives by faith.

The verse is used as a proof-text in three different New Testament passages.

Read Romans 1:16-17

Paul is introducing his letter discussing the power of the Gospel.

  • Discuss how Paul is using this verse to support his argument

Read Galatians 3:10-11

Here Paul is exhorting the Galatian church not to revert to seeking righteousness in keeping the Law of Moses.

  • Again discuss how Paul uses this verse to make his point

Read Hebrews 10:35-39

In this text, the writer seeks to encourage and exhort believers to steadfast living by looking ahead to what has been promised.

  • Once more, how is the verse used to make the point?
  • What is the hope to which we should look forward?

Habakkuk’s Psalm

In the third chapter, we see a changed man.  Far from the questioning and complaining of the first chapter, we see dependence and praise.

  • Reflect on how Habakkuk got to this place.  Is there anything you can learn?

I hope it is clear that Habakkuk’s transformation was initiated by his honesty before God, effected by God’s word spoken to him, and completed by his faith in embracing the word.

In the psalm, Habakkuk seems to juxtapose both the history and the prophetic future of Israel into one.  However, he puts both it all in the “divine past tense.”  Hopefully, you’ll recall the basis for God putting future events in the past tense: God sees the past, present and future equally as He is eternal.  We, in contrast, cannot see the future!

  • How should you and I embrace future events?  (Hebrews 11:1)

Look at the challenges to faith that Habakkuk anticipates in verses 17-19 of his psalm.

  • Are there things in your life that you can substitute for the six material things he mentions?
  • Does anything keep you from being able to make this statement with Habakkuk?

God’s desire is to be in His rightful place as your Lord and Master.  In contrast to the Babylons, who are seen in Habakkuk 2:9-11 as seeking to be selfishly independent, God wants us to be wholly dependent upon Him for security.

  • Pray for greater dependence upon God.
  • If there are things you cling to for dependence, confess them to each other and exhort one another that God is greater!

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  As we’ve been memorising over the last several weeks:

1 Corinthians 10:13  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.

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

For Your Connect Groups – 19 March 2017

This week, we began a two-part mini-series looking at the Book of Habakkuk.  May these notes, reminders and questions assist your conversation, meditation and prayer as you meet together this week.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

Today we looked at Habakkuk 1:1-2:1.  In our text, we see Habakkuk wrestling, trying to reconcile what he knows about God with what God is saying and doing.  Please take a moment to re-read the text together.

  • Was there anything that particularly resonated with you in the sermon, or as you re-read it now?

Don’t forget if you want to listen again, or if you missed the sermon, you can listen to it here or via our podcast.

Take It to The Lord in Prayer

Habakkuk’s main question to God is “how can You use such a wicked people as the Babylonians to judge Your relatively righteous people, Judah?”  For God, Whom Habakkuk knows to be “of purer eyes than than to see evil and cannot look at wrong,” to use evil for His purposes seems impossible to understand.

Habakkuk’s response in this is to take it to God.  We heard how Habakkuk is one of several examples of people who take their hardest and most difficult things to God.  Job, the Sons of Korah in Psalm 88, and others.  We could look at Hannah’s prayer (and how she prayed), too, in 1 Sam 1:10ff.  This kind of prayer, where we are honest, emotional and passionate with God, is intimate, and God wants intimacy with us.

  • Are you in the habit of bringing your concerns and cares frequently before God?  Or are you more content to pray once and be done?  Recall the Persistent Widow parable in Luke 18:1-8.
  • Are you comfortable with being passionate in prayer?  Is it easier alone with God, or in corporate worship?
  • What barriers do you encounter to being honest with God (and with others) with your struggles and doubts?

God Will Judge Sin

All that Habakkuk has seen and heard is because God hates sin.  He will judge all sin.  The ugliness and brutality of the Cross is our reminder of God’s heart towards it.  We saw in our passage from Exodus 34:6-7 both God’s desire to pardon and show grace, but also His necessity to repay unrepented iniquity.

Numbers 32:23 “… be sure your sin will find you out.”

There is a degree to which all of us accept and tolerate sin in our hearts and conduct.  God’s heart is to be clearing out the leaven of sin.

  • Is there any area of your life that you are aware God’s working on right now?
  • Can you share with your group an example of where you have had deliverance from a persistent sin?

God’s Surprising Ways

Another theme we touched on this week was the surprising way God works.  That which we would, in the moment, consider to be awful and terrible, God will ultimately use for God.  Recall Joseph, who endured threats of murder, being sold into slavery, years as a slave, then repaid by being thrown in prison.  What did he say concerning this, in the end?

Genesis 50:19–20  But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.

  • Do you have any examples of where that which seemed bad ended up clearly for good?
  • Conversely, can you think of any examples where you got what you wanted, and it ended up harmful and bad?
  • Do these help you to keep trusting God as He works in often unexpected ways in your life?

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  As we’ve been memorising over the last several weeks:

1 Corinthians 10:13  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.

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

For Your Connect Groups – 12 Mar 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.  My prayer is that these reminders and questions will assist your conversation, meditation and prayer.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

Today we looked at Luke 22:21-34, where Jesus lovingly rebukes His disciples for disputing over who among them was regarded as the greatest.  Review the text to remind yourselves how Jesus spoke to them.

Eagerness to Argue

The word “dispute” in verse 24 speaks not only of the argument, but the fact that the disciples were desiring to quarrel together.  Not only the act, but the readiness to get into it.

There is a place for discussion, but God calls us to preserve unity in it.  If you want to discuss this subject further, consider the following passages:

Worldly Greatness

Jesus speaks in verse 25 of how the world organises itself into hierarchies.  Notice that Jesus is not explicitly condemning hierarchies.  We know from 1 Timothy 2:1-3 that it is “good” for us to pray for those worldly authorities God has placed over us for our good.  Consider also what Paul said in Romans 13:

Romans 13:1 Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.

The point Jesus is making is that this is the way of the world; He does NOT intend His Church to be that way.  Christ does not want exalted titles and positions in the Church.  Rather, we are all of equal value and worth.

The hierarchies and ranks that the world has frequently lead to selfish ambition, selfish desires, and pride.  We reviewed several texts about this, including Galatians 5:19-21, 1 John 2:16, Philippians 2:3-4 and Jeremiah 45:5.  But look at how James put it:

James 3:13–17  Who is wise and understanding among you? By his good conduct let him show his works in the meekness of wisdom. 14 But if you have bitter jealousy and selfish ambition in your hearts, do not boast and be false to the truth. 15 This is not the wisdom that comes down from above, but is earthly, unspiritual, demonic. 16 For where jealousy and selfish ambition exist, there will be disorder and every vile practice. 17 But the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere.

  • What are some of your contexts where you may be tempted to be walking according to “earthly, unspiritual, demonic” wisdom?  Perhaps in your career at work?  Perhaps when people ask your advise?
  • How can you have greater victory in this area?  Do v29-30 of today’s text help?
  • Reflect on the outcomes of godly wisdom that James has presented.

Character Above Action

One of the key points this morning was around how we assess greatness.  How do we form an opinion about spiritual maturity, in ourselves and in others?  The challenge we were given was to consider character, not achievements.  The real question should be: what is it that our God is looking for in us?  And as we saw, God is looking for humility:

Isaiah 66:2b … But this is the one to whom I will look:
he who is humble and contrite in spirit
and trembles at my word.

We had three practical focus points to help us walk in humility.  These were:

  1. Go to God often in prayer
  2. Meditate on the magnificence of God
  3. Serve in secret

How are you doing with these?  The fact is, if it were easy, everyone would do it!

  • Are there specific times or contexts in which you find it harder to maintain humility?
  • Are there areas of your life where you see a greater need to model humility?

God has given you everything that pertains to life and godliness, according to 2 Peter 1:3.  Do you believe this?  Included in things given you are your Connect Group friends, so share and pray with and for them.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  As we’ve been memorising over the last several weeks:

1 Corinthians 10:13  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.

We all struggle in many ways, so be encouraged so share together and pray together.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

For Your Connect Groups – 5 Mar 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.  My prayer is that these reminders and questions will assist your conversation, meditation and prayer.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

This week we looked at The Passover, as described by Luke in Luke 22:1-23.  We looked at many of the elements that would have been used during the Feast at Jesus’ time.

Review what you learned during the Sunday morning service.  Did any elements or any aspect particularly speak to you?

The Lamb

The elements were given to the Jews to be done as an act of faith.  In the New Testament, it’s clearly revealed that the feast was given to predict the Messiah (see, for example, 1 Peter 1:18).  The Church continues in the Holy Communion, which Christ Himself established at this time:

1 Corinthians 11:26 – For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So the Passover pointed the Jews forward to Christ, and the Communion we take together points us back.  It is all about Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.

Examine One’s Self

You’ll recall that the Passover began with the playful removal of leaven.  This is from Exodus 12:15, where God commanded the leaven be removed.  The purpose of this is to depict the sober activity of self-examination.  Am I tolerating sin in my life?  Are there areas I’m not fully submitting to the Lord?

1 Corinthians 11:28–29 Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup. 29 For anyone who eats and drinks without discerning the body eats and drinks judgement on himself.

Galatians 5:9 A little leaven leavens the whole lump.

Aim to talk on this topic for the bulk of your Connect group this week.

Remember, the parsley dipped in salted water is intended to depict how newness of life often comes with the bitterness of tears.  Finding greater freedom and even more abundant life comes through ever fuller surrendering to Christ.

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  Again, let this be your focal point this week.

James 5:16  Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Chess Battle

Origin of Satan

In my last post, I started a new series on the topic of spiritual warfare. We started looking at how, prior to Christ, we were in bondage to Satan. But, all glory be to God, through the Cross of Jesus Christ, there is victory over Satan. His hold on us is defeated, and we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 3:16). We know we have eternal life and are fully secured in Christ.

Before we continue further looking at aspects of the warfare in which we find ourselves, I want to take a moment to review what we know, from the Scriptures, about our enemy.

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In Ezekiel 28 we find a lamentation against the king of Tyre. However, it quickly becomes apparent that Ezekiel’s words go way beyond the human king, and speak about the power behind him. Notice, from verse 12:

Thus says the Lord God:

“You were the signet of perfection,
full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.
13  You were in Eden, the garden of God;
every precious stone was your covering,

On the day that you were created
they were prepared.
14  You were an anointed guardian cherub.
I placed you; you were on the holy mountain of God;
in the midst of the stones of fire you walked.
15  You were blameless in your ways
from the day you were created,
till unrighteousness was found in you.

We discover that Satan was not created evil (see Genesis 1:31); he was created as an “anointed guardian cherub.” He was glorious and beautiful, probably the most beautiful creature God ever created. Small wonder, then, that he is so skilled at appearing attractive, even as an “angel of light” according to 2 Cor 11:14. In Isaiah 14:12-14 we read of “the Day Star” — or Lucifer — and how he in his pride wanted to exult himself over all God’s angels and be equal with God.

It seems from Scripture, then, that Satan was originally created as a beautiful, powerful angel, who became prideful, thus sinful. From Genesis 3, we know he has wanted to usurp God’s plans from the time of Adam and Eve, and stands to this day as an enemy of both God and mankind.

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The Bible gives us insight into how Satan will be finally defeated. In Revelation 12:7-12, we read of a future conflict in the heavenly realm between the archangel Michael and Satan, each with an army of angels. Satan is cast down to earth, for which “woe” is cried as Satan is “in great wrath,” knowing his time is short. Then, in Revelation 20, we find the record of Satan being bound for a 1,000 year period. After the great Millennial Reign, Satan’s final defeat comes in 20:9-10, where he is (very easily!) defeated by fire from heaven, and he is thrown into the lake of fire “forever and ever.” According to Matthew 25:41, hell is prepared for the devil and his angels. Unlike for mankind, God has prepared no salvation plan for angels; no route to repentance exists.

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So what about today? While Satan received a crushing defeat at the Cross, he is still described as the “prince of the power of the air” according to Ephesians 2:2. Paul would still have us “not ignorant of his designs.” What designs?  We will look at these in subsequent posts, but for now I feel led to unpack a very key point.

As a created being, he is neither omniscient or omnipotent. In other words, he does not know everything, and he cannot do absolutely whatever he pleases. We can see this in Job 1. Satan is speaking with the LORD, expressing frustration:

Job 1:9 Then Satan answered the Lord and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.”

Notice how Satan expresses how he is unable to harm Job or any of his property, as God has “put a hedge around him” and everything he owned. It’s only because of the next verse, where God gives Satan permission, that any harm befalls Job.

For us, this leads to a simple yet glorious truth, perhaps best expressed by Paul in Romans 8:28

Romans 8:28 And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose.

Everything that befalls us is completely and fully under the sovereign hand of God. He has tied Satan’s hands, and permits him to do nothing except that which God has approved, and that He will use to “work together for good.” What an awesome truth! There is nothing that falls outside of this. If you consider again the story of Job, he endures 39 chapters of suffering and questioning — where is God in all of this? How could He permit this to happen to me? Job didn’t have the benefit of reading chapters 1 and 2 in advance! God did have a plan, and He used it all for good: He gave Job a blessing twice as great as he had before, but more than that, God gave Job a deeper revelation of Himself: Job said:

Job 42:5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear,
but now my eye sees you;

You and I would do very well to keep this in mind. God always uses things for good in our lives. Very often, you and I need to choose to believe this, because it’s not always obvious, is it? It’s not always clear, when something disrupts our plans, or we don’t get the results we hoped for, that this is all within God’s good purposes for our lives. This is why we need faith. Faith is our choosing to believe when it is not clear to us. Consider how Hebrews 11:1 is rendered in the Amplified Bible:

Hebrews 11:1 (AMP)
NOW FAITH is the assurance (the confirmation, the title deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality [faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses].

Paul’s saying here that faith is what allows us to perceive as real that which is not revealed to our five senses.

So what challenges are you currently facing? What disappointments?  Are you aware of any attempts by Satan to attack you?  Be reminded that, by faith, you are eternally secured in Christ Jesus for a glorious eternal inheritance.  By faith, you know that Satan has no capability to do anything to you, or to derail any plan or cause any suffering, except that which God our Father will use for ultimate good.  And by faith, we know all this to be true even if, in this life, the ultimate answers to our specific sufferings and challenges are never revealed.

For Your Connect Groups – 26 Feb 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.  My prayer is that these reminders and questions will assist your conversation, meditation and prayer.

Pray Together

For those of us who attended the study group this evening, you’ll recall that our prayer is precious worship to God.  It pleases Him!  Keep this in mind as you pray together.

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

This week we looked at Luke 21:25-38, where Jesus is continuing the Olivet Discourse.  This time, the focus is very much on the end of the age: while last week we considered the near-term fulfilment of Christ’s words (in 70AD), this time we looked at the ultimate fulfilment at the Return of Jesus Christ.

The Times of the Gentiles

We saw how Jesus uses the technical term “the times of the Gentiles” as the period in which we currently live.  It stretches all the way from the captivity of 586BC, through present day, until Christ returns.

Three things typify this period:

  • Deception (v8)
  • Disaster (v9-11)
  • Persecution (v12-19)

These things will increase until culminating in the events described in v25-28.

Discuss:

  • Does it help us to have this prophesied? (see Mark 13:23)
  • How do we reconcile this with texts like 1 Timothy 2:1-7?  Should we respond by hiding away, or by action?

Doctrine Becomes Duty

In verse 28, we noted Jesus’ commands to us: straighten up and raise your heads!  When we see the fig tree leafing and budding, which is the national privileges of the nation of Israel being restored, then “the kingdom of God is near.”  Then, three potential “weights” to our souls are identified in v34:

  • Dissipation – misspent money
  • Drunkenness – misspent time
  • Cares of this life – misplaced focus

This is a real area of concern for us, and it is easy to get out of balance!  Read the following Scriptures carefully:

  • 1 Corinthians 6:12 – Paul says all things are lawful, but not helpful.  He refuses to be “dominated” by anything.  See also 10:23 (not all things “build up”)
  • 1 Timothy 6:17 – We set our hopes on God “who richly provides us with everything to enjoy.”
  • Matthew 19:21 – Jesus urges the rich young ruler to sell all he has for riches in heaven.

Discuss together:

  • Are there things that you have found “dominate” you, either now or in the past?  Examples might be mobile phones, the internet, or television series.  Addition to these things is a real issue that affects many.  God wants you free of any form of addition.
  • How do you balance enjoying what God has richly provided, with storing up treasure in heaven?  Are there areas you are currently thinking about, or feel the Holy Spirit convicting you?

Keep Each Other Accountable

Your Connect Groups are intended to be a place where you can talk and share openly and honestly about the areas in which we struggle.  Be careful to encourage and thank one another as you walk together.

Ecclesiastes 4:9–10  Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their toil.  For if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up!

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

Chess Battle

Spiritual Warfare

I had one of those “chance” conversations last week. It came out in conversation that I was a “church boy” (I think that’s how it was put… how flattering!) and we soon got to talking about what true Christianity is. Praise God for these opportunities to witness.

What was remarkable to me was that this individual claimed to be atheist, and yet accepted the existence of ghosts. They spoke of a time they were asleep, and in the night felt a force or being pulling off the bedcover, and they were physically struggling to keep it on. Spooky! In the course of conversation, I explained how Christianity accepts and affirms spiritual manifestations, but that it is demonic, not ghostly. What is the purpose of it? I was asked. The answer: deception. I don’t believe the spirit had particular interest in making this person chilly for the night! No, the objective is to deceive. If Satan can lead people to believe anything other than the simple and profound truth of the Gospel, then he is pleased. Whether one believes that there is no spiritual realm, or is in utter bondage to spiritual powers; whether one is puffed up with self-righteousness, or self-abased and feeling worthless and unlovable, Satan is satisfied. Believe in ghosts all you want. Or don’t, and be an avowed materialist. Either way is fine by him.

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Before we come to the Lord Jesus Christ, we were Satan’s. Take a look at this passage:

Ephesians 2:1-3

And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 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—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.

Here’s Paul’s assessment of our lives pre-Christ. Our behaviour was governed by our own passions and desires, and we followed the world’s course, but notice also the spiritual element: “the prince of the power of the air” is a spirit at work in “the sons of disobedience,” that is, everyone outside of Christ. So in you and me — pre-Christ — Satan’s spirit was at work, keeping us in bondage.

Paul continues in Ephesians 2 to speak of the great salvation we have. But look how he puts it here in Colossians:

Colossians 2:15
He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him

At the Cross, the victory was won. He triumphed over Satan, death and hell, and by believing in His Name, we receive “the immeasurable riches of His grace.” The war has been won. And yet, I think you and I both know, battles still rage. Satan still fights to keep the lost, and remains fiercely antagonistic to the Christian life.

In 2 Corinthians 2:11, Paul is teaching “so that we would not be outwitted by Satan; for we are not ignorant of his designs.” Paul says this because he knows that Satan is a real, malevolent opponent of God, the Church and the Gospel. To Paul, it’s important that we understand Satan’s M.O. and how we can have victory. So, this post is the first of what I plan to be a mini-series on spiritual warfare. Over the next few weeks, I aim to explore each of the following headings, focusing on how Satan’s attacks may come, and how we ought to respond.

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As I’ve already discussed above, one of his primary weapons is deception. The very name, Satan, means deceiver. No wonder, in John 8:44, Jesus Christ calls him the “father of lies.” Why was it, by her own confession, that Eve ate the forbidden fruit? “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.” How does Satan deceive today? How can I recognise deception? What can I do to mitigate against it?

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The name of “the Tempter” is used of Satan in Matthew 4:3 and 1 Thessalonians 3:5. He tempted the Lord Jesus Christ, and Paul expressed concern that he could have also caused harm to the Thessalonian church through temptation. Temptation is a very real experience for all Christians, and many of us struggle to the point of accepting defeat. How can we move forward on this, and have greater victory?

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Once we have succumbed to his temptations, he then swiftly moves to his role of accusation. The word for Devil, in fact, means “slanderer.” In Revelation 12:10 he is called “the accuser of our brothers.” What provision has God put in His word to help us? Is there any action we should take if we experience this kind of attack?

I hope this will be a useful short series. Questions and comments are welcome!

For Your Connect Groups – 19 Feb 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.  My prayer is that these reminders and questions will assist your conversation, meditation and prayer.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

This week we looked at Luke 21:5-24, where Jesus gives the famed Olivet Discourse.  Read through the parallel passages found in Matthew 24 and Mark 13.

  • What similarities can you see in the accounts?
  • What differences are there?

Sufficiency in God

We heard from Pastor Simon how, while the disciples are admiring the awesome Temple, Jesus is considering the poor widow, who demonstrated complete sufficiency and trust in God by giving all she had.  What Jesus considers important is not the amount given, but the amount kept.  This is a far better indicator of our faith!

It is true that we cannot take anything material with us into Heaven.  It’s been well said, however, that we can send it on ahead of us!  By surrendering our time and money by faith to God, we offer an acceptable sacrifice that will be rewarded in eternity.

  • What things do you cling to too tightly?  Are there things that, in your flesh, you cling to, but in your spirit know should be released?
  • How does today’s text speak into this?

We looked at Psalm 52:7 and Proverbs 18:11 – it may be worth reviewing them now.

When Is The End?

In our outline of Luke’s account of the discourse, we have:

  • v8-23: the near-term fulfilment
  • v25-38: the ultimate fulfilment

Verse 24 serves as the pivot verse between these two epochs.  The text we studied this week pertains to the fall of Jerusalem, now known to have occurred in 70 AD.  This event serves as a prototype of the destruction at the End of the Age, which we’ll see in the text next Sunday.

Take the time to review the text.  Look for time-specific words and phrases, such as “before all this” in v12, “when you see” in v20, and “until” in v24.

For these disciples then, and for us, the text is about living now in the midst of trial and danger.  Take another look at the text today, and consider:

  • What are the warnings and dangers that Jesus mentions?  For example, the first one in verse 8 is “being led astray.”
  • Does Jesus command any preparatory tasks?  (see 21:13-19)
  • Read Luke 24:48-49, and then 1 Peter 3:15.  Discuss how these verses direct our “witness-bearing” today.

In verses 16-19 we see the heartbreaking message that disciples of Christ are often hated, even by family members.  This is a reality for many today in the wider Church, particularly in nations where other religions are in the majority.  We looked at Proverbs 10:30 and Hebrews 12:28.

  • Have you experienced any kind of persecution?  How did you respond?
  • Read Exodus 23:4Matthew 5:44.  What response would God have from us?
  • Read 2 Peter 3:9.  What is God’s desire for His enemies?

Commit to pray for one another to be strengthened.  This life and its suffering are not permanent; our hope is permanent, and it is soon and very soon!  Pray also for those who are antagonistic to your faith, because God wants to save them.

Keep Each Other Accountable

There is great power and freedom in sharing our struggles together.  We all fall short in many ways; different, perhaps, in its outworking but the same in essence.  Cultivate a relationship where you can humbly and honestly share your lives together.

Pray for One Another

Paul urges us to pray with perseverance for all the saints.  Make it your commitment to pray for your Connect Group members this week.

Ephesians 6:18

praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. To that end, keep alert with all perseverance, making supplication for all the saints,

For Your Connect Groups – 12 Feb 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.  My prayer is that these reminders and questions will assist your conversation, meditation and prayer.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

This week we looked at Luke 20:27-21:4.  Jesus rebutted the ridiculous question of the Sadducees concerning the Resurrection.  Take the time to review Job 19:25-26, Daniel 12:2, and John 5:28-29 to get a good Biblical overview of the Resurrection.  You may also wish to look at Isaiah 26:19-21 and Psalm 17:15.

The Resurrection

Unlike the Sadducees, who have no hope beyond this life, you and I as believers in Christ have Eternal Life.  This life starts now, as it’s defined by a relationship with God (see John 17:3), and continues into eternity in perfect relationship with.

We spoke about things that will “never again” be able to impact us.  This includes things such as sickness, temptation and weakness.

  • Are there any that particularly impact you?
  • How does the hope of the Resurrection help?  Are you in the habit of recalling our hope in difficult times?

Read 1 John 3:1-3 together.

  • What aspects of our future hope does John present here?
  • Can you testify to the relationship between hope and purity that John presents?

Keep Each Other Accountable

James tells us that there is power in confessing sins to one another.  Remember, we are all tempted in many ways, we are all saved by the same grace, and all of our hearts are, by default, wicked.  May grace abound.

James 5:16 (ESV)

16 Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.

 

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

This week at Calvary Family Ministry

For you to discuss and engage in the spiritual life of your children here is what we looked at this week at Calvary Family Ministry.

Topic:

Daniel was rescued (Daniel 6)

Synopsis:

God showed His power to rescue Daniel from the lions, but Daniel was just a small part of a much bigger story. God ultimately rescued us from a much bigger problem—sin and death—through His Son, Jesus.

Talking Point:

The fifth chapter of Daniel ends with the death of King Belshazzar when the Persians took over Babylon and Darius was put on the throne. Babylon was on the decline—no longer the powerful, prosperous empire it once was. By this time Daniel was an old man, probably in his early 80s. He served the new king as one of the three leading supervisors in the kingdom. Daniel was very good at his job. So good, in fact, that King Darius planned to put him in charge of the entire kingdom. The other supervisors and governors were jealous of Daniel. They watched for him to do something wrong so they could complain to the king. Read Daniel 6:4. Daniel was “trustworthy, and no negligence or corruption was found in him.” Through the malevolent persuasion of the king’s leaders, King Darius passed a law that no one could pray to anyone but him, the king, for 30 days. Daniel continued to pray boldly to God. Guide kids to imagine how Daniel might have felt. Was he worried about getting caught? Did he have nightmares about being eaten by lions? Even the king’s threat of death did not stop Daniel from praying. The jealous officials turned him in, and Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den. As you teach kids, emphasize that Daniel was faithful to God—the true King—and God rescued Him. God’s protection of Daniel served to show all the people that the God of Daniel “is the living God, and He endures forever; His kingdom will never be destroyed, and His dominion has no end” (Dan. 6:26). God also calls us to trust and obey Him no matter what. God sent His Son, Jesus, to rescue us from something much more dangerous than lions. Jesus rescues us from sin and death. Pray that through your faith, and that of the kids you lead, “may the name of God be praised forever and ever” (Dan. 2:20).

Questions to discuss with your child:

Q: How should we obey God?

A: We trust God to help us obey Him.

Discuss: Daniel was faithful to God and God rescued him.

Key Unit Passage:

Daniel 2:20

Next Week:

God brought His people home (Ezra 1-3)

For Your Connect Groups – 5 Feb 2017

As you come together this week to pray and read the Word, here are some reminders and reflections from this week’s sermon.

Pray Together

  • What are some of the church needs you’re aware of?
  • Who in the church needs your intercession?
  • What are you and your loved ones praying for at the moment?
  • What wider situations can you pray into?

Read Together

This week we looked at Luke 20:1-26, where the authority of Jesus Christ is questioned, He gives a stinging parable against the religious elite, and He shows that we ought to submit to our governing authorities, which is actually part of our greater act of submitting to God.

Jesus, our Final Authority

Jesus Christ has proven over and over again that He has the authority of God on earth.  As such, the question from the Jewish leaders is disingenuous.  We heard how the authority of Christ is perfect, just as is His love.

  • Are there things in your life you’re choosing not to submit to the Lord? Why do you think you are better off not submitting them?
  • Are there things you have previously tried to hold on to, which you now yield to Christ? If so, consider sharing this with your group.  What was the result of your submission?

Misused Religious Authority

Jesus used a parable about the vineyard of Israel to denounce false teachers and bad leaders.  As we saw, false teachers are still rampant in the Church today.

  • What is our defence against false teaching?
  • Discuss things you have learned or been reminded of recently in the Word.

Worldly Authority

Jesus was asked a trick question regarding giving taxes.  He responds that we are to “give back” that which is due, both to the worldly authorities and to God.  We discussed our Biblical mandate to be in prayer for the leaders God has set up for us.  It may help to re-read Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Timothy 2:1-4.

  • Are you in the habit of praying for your leaders? If not, why not?

Keep Each Other Accountable

How are you keeping up your fellowship with the Lord?  Is He your life?  Is your walk in submission to God this week, or are there areas that need repentance and prayer?

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.

Pray for One Another

Share your prayer needs and requests.  Commit to pray for one another, not just now but throughout the week.

Members who Belong to One Another

Paul, in his first epistle to the Corinthians, says at the end of chapter 6:

You are not your own, for you were bought with a price.

I think we understand that, at an intellectual level.  Before Christ entered our lives (or, rather, became our lives — see Colossians 3:4), we were slaves.  Romans 6 speaks of how we were slaves to sin, simply indulging in impurity and lawlessness, things of which we are now ashamed.

The Good News of Jesus Christ — the Gospel — is that we are purchased by Jesus Christ: purchased out of the “slave market” of sin, and granted freedom.  The currency of the transaction was His very blood (see Acts 20:28, Hebrews 9:12-14) — a weighty price indeed!

Thus, we are set free, and become God’s.  We are His people (Psalm 100), His workmanship (Ephesians 2:10), His house (Hebrews 3:6), His children (1 John 3:2), His treasured possession (Malachi 3:17).  As Paul says in Romans 14:8, “whether we live or whether we die, we are the Lord’s.”

We are the Lord’s.  Hallelujah!

Given to One Another

I was struck by what Paul says in Romans 12, though, as I read the New English Translation:

12:4For just as in one body we have many members, and not all the members serve the same function, 12:5so we who are many are one body in Christ, and individually we are members who belong to one another.

In the text, Paul is making the point that the Church of Jesus Christ is like a body, and each person in the Church is like a different body part.  In a physical body, each part needs to carry out its function — in fact, if that isn’t happening, we call that being sick!

Look how Paul puts it.  We belong to one another.  The NLT and NIV bring out this meaning in the Greek, too:  “… each member belongs to all the others.”  Paul then goes on, in Romans 12, to speak of the gifts given to the church, and how they’re gifts to use in the church, for the church.

Jesus Christ has purchased us by His blood.  He then gives us to each other.  I am here, in the church, for you.  You, if you are in Christ, are in the church for me and for us.

When you do the things God has called you to do, EVERYBODY benefits:

  • The church benefits from the God-enabled service you do.
  • You benefit by experiencing the joy of God’s strength and power at work in you.  You also have the future blessing of heavenly reward, see 1 Corinthians 3:14.
  • God is pleased by your obedience (yes, soteriologically, God is pleased with us only in Jesus Christ, but take a look at Phil 4:18, Col 1:10, 1 Tim 2:1-3 to see God being pleased by the obedience of His saints).

What happens, though, if you and if I choose to please ourselves instead?  Actually, I think I’ll have a lay in this morning; after all, it was a late night!  Or, I think I will take some “me-time” this evening and …

You are GOD’s.  He bought you.  And He gave you to the church.

He has given you and me to the church.  In fact, to this very fellowship.  He’s put us here, in accordance with His will, His gifting and His foreknowledge of the church’s needs.  He’s called us to serve Him through service to one another.  I’m not simply talking about signing up on the rota; I think God calls us to serve spontaneously as well.  Through arriving early to pray.  Through staying late to help pack up.  Through opening your home.  Through weeping with those who weep, and rejoicing with those who rejoice.  Through a loving rebuke, or a word fitly spoken.  Through encouragement.  In so many ways.

There is such blessing available to us as we walk in these good works.  When we choose to say “no” to our own selves and plans, and “yes” to God and serving His people, there is a joy and peace that is incomparable.

Isn’t this why we come together?  To love, serve and encourage one another?  Isn’t this why we have our Connect Groups, to be intentional in looking how we can bless, serve and build up one another?

May the Lord God show you how you can serve the church in which God has placed you.

“God did not call 20 percent of the church to serve the other 80 percent.  He called 100 percent of us to serve each other.”
Tony Adams

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