Thursday, 5 April 2012

Think about Easter

Why not think about the claims of Jesus this Easter?
Here's a few things you could do:

1. Read a gospel. Mark is the shortest.
2. Ask a Christian friend to tell you what he/she believes about Jesus/Easter and why.
3. Sign up to a course. Christianity Explored is suggested on the video but churches also run Alpha, or maybe check out Identity.
4. Or if you are a student, why not ask a friend, or contact the CU, and look through Uncover (a set of 6 Bible studies designed specifically for those wanting to engage with the person and work of Jesus).

It's a win/win situation for you:
If Jesus really did die and rise again then that changes everything = WIN!
If He didn't, you can pity Christians above all men, as the apostle Paul himself states in 1 Corinthians = WIN!

What have you got to lose?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

The LORD is Peace - Judges 6

The church I am a member of is currently working its way through the names of God on a Sunday evening. At the end of last month I had the privilege of looking at "Jehovah Shalom" - The LORD is peace, as revealed in Judges chapter 6 when the Angel of the LORD meets Gideon.

I thought I might post my thoughts on the passage with this theme of "Jehovah Shalom" in mind.
Generally I find thematic sermons harder to passage than straight exegesis of a passage.

First, the people of Israel are in the land of promise and at the end of chapter 5 we are told there has been 40 years of peace; no war, plenty of rest, and prosperity/well-being.
But, as chapter 6 begins, it all goes pear-shaped again. As we so often read in the book of Judges, "the people did evil in the eyes of the LORD". In chapter 6 the LORD gives them over to Midianites and Amalekites to be raided and pillaged for 7 years. The people of Israel are experiencing covenant curses (no time to go into this).

The people then cry out to the LORD to come to their rescue. They are utterly helpless. As we read what follows we are surprised. The LORD doesn't just reach out His hand and save them, He sends a prophet who reminds them of what the LORD has done for them and then declares that they have not listened. If the passages stops there the people are in deep trouble. They merely want the LORD for a rescue, a return of their prosperity and protection. They do not want the LORD for who He is, just His blessings.

Fortunately the story doesn't end there, and this was the second things I looked at. The Angel of the LORD appears to Gideon who is threshing his wheat in a winepress to he can hide from the raiding parties and have some food.
The dialogue between the Angel and Gideon is fascinating. The identity of the Angel becomes clear, and it is wonderful. He declares that He will be with Gideon. In verses 14 and 16 He is clearly identified as the LORD, not just speaking on His behalf. So, who is this Angel? He is the Eternal Son of God, the second member of the One Triune God, the pre-incarnate Christ. Gideon meets Jesus.

Gideon comes to realise this very fact as he returns with a sacrifice which the Angel burns us with the tip of His staff and then disappears. Gideon's reaction to this speaks volumes. He is terrified. He thinks he is going to die, because he has seen the Angel of the LORD face to face. He equates the Angel of the LORD with the LORD Himself. I think it is fair to say that Gideon believe in a Triune God.
Gideon need to know the peace that the Angel then declares to Him. He need to know the he is safe, secure, not in danger of death. He needs to know shalom.

My final point was, how does this apply to us. How does we know "Jehovah Shalom"?
Quite simply, we know Jesus. We know peace with God because of Him. Here's a list of verses I read out to show peace linked with Jesus (there are many more); Luke 2:14, Colossians 1:20, Ephesians 2:14-18, John 14:27, Romans 5:1, 2 Thessalonians 3:16. Not to mention Isaiah 9 where the Messiah is called the Prince of Peace.
Interestingly enough, one writer says this about the word shalom, that its core meaning is: "reconciliation brought about by payment of a debt, the giving of satisfaction."
That's exactly what Jesus does. Gideon needed to know it because he was a member of rebellious Israel who had turned to worshipping idols, we need to know it because we too worship idols instead of the Triune God of the universe. Jesus dies for us, making peace, defeating sin and death. In Him, and in Him alone, we are made right in the sight of the Father, Jesus' righteousness being credited to us, meaning we can be in relationship and at peace with God.
The Angel who meets Gideon is the One and same Lord Jesus Christ who dies on the cross.

Knowing the peace that Jesus is, brings and gives to us frees us to live lives that are truly fulfilled and satisfied. We are freed from legalism because we do not, and can not, earn this peace.

There is much more to say, but this post is fairly substantial already. Here is the manuscript I preached from. Check it out if you want to see more of the application and content.

(As always, any feedback, comments or questions are welcomed.)

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Gospel, Gospel, Gospel Care

Once again, a privilege bestowed upon me by my current job.
This time it was receiving some training on "Gospel Care" from Steve Timmis (Founder of the Crowded House in Sheffield and also Director of Acts29 Western Europe, amongst other things).

It was a wonderful reminder that the gospel really is the answer to all of life's problems, and just when you think a problem to hard, too big, too deep or too complicated has arisen, that tempts you to adopt worldly practices, or give up, the gospel remains the one true hope.

One of the main reasons for this is summed up in the following quote: "The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart."
One way to view the whole of the message of the Bible is God saying "Trust me!". Then what we see is that the essence of human sin is failure to trust God.

We spent the first of our two sessions unpacking Hebrews chapter 3 and 4. There we see that human hearts are hard, wandering, evil and unbelieving. This is terminal problem. It requires outside intervention, open heart surgery on a spiritual level.

We always do exactly what we want to do. The desires of our hearts control our wills.
The heart is the control centre of the person; affections, will and actions all flow from the heart. That's why the gospel is such good news because we are given a new heart, and that is what we so desperately need.

Our new heart is in dwelt by the Spirit and He changes us from the inside to see Christ as more beautiful and satisfying than anything this world has to offer. This in turn is the answer ultimately to all of the psychological issues that we have or situations we face. Jesus really is the answer for all of us, not just for Sunday school kids!

So, when we come to caring for others, dealing with pastoral issues and seeking to counsel people biblically, all we really need is the gospel. We need to know it well and be able to apply it. We need to be able to exegete people as well as we (hopefully!) exegete Scripture.

Alongside this teaching day we (as a staff team) are currently reading "How People Change" by Timothy Lane and Paul David Tripp. So far, an I am only about a third of the way through, it is excellent. It too advocates really applying the gospel to every situation. (why not check out the Christian Counselling and Education Foundation)

My thoughts on this, as my blog sub-heading suggests, are not fully formed and may seem a bit sketchy. There may well be another post on this as I think it through further and finish the book, but suffice it to say I find it liberating and challenging to truly trust that the gospel is really the answer to all of life's issues.