The Commands of Jesus

One of the core values of the good news of Christ is grace. There are many places in the NT we could go to find the message of grace expressed but one of my favourites is in Ephesians ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.’ (Ephesians 2:8–9). Paul makes it clear that our salvation is 100% the work of God in Christ and 0% our own effort. No amount of law keeping on our part will win us access to heaven. Another way of expressing this truth is ‘Nothing I can do will make God love me more, nothing I can do will make God love me less!’ This is indeed good news and something to celebrate! Christ not only offers us forgiveness but also the freedom from the tyranny of law.

Does this mean then that there are no longer commandments to obey? Absolutely not! Jesus said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them”. (Matthew 5:17). The difference is that our obedience now arises from a love response to the gift we have been given rather than an effort to win God’s favour.

Have you noticed that Jesus actually gave us some new commandments? During the opening weeks of 2017 we will be looking at commands that Jesus gave his disciples and seeing how they apply to us. The first commandment is known as the Great Commandment and is found in both Matthew and Mark’s gospels. Actually we get two commandments for the price of one!

Love God and Love One Another

Only those who know the forgiveness of Christ are able to love God and love people as God intends for us to do. It is a good place to start the year by allowing the Holy Spirit to illuminate again to us how to obey those ‘buy one get one free’ commandments.

The second (third?) commandment we shall look at is also found in Matthew and Mark but is usually known as the Great Commission. It is still very much a commandment because Jesus commands us to

Go and Make Disciples

Some people are inclined towards emphasising either the Great Commandment or the Great Commission but over the next few weeks I hope that we will see that these Commands of Jesus are inextricably combined. For people who have experienced the lavish grace, unlimited grace of God, obeying these commands is perfect freedom; a reciprocating demonstration of a love response to his love for us.

Advertisements

What’s in a name?

‘What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet’

This couplet was one of many that I committed to memory for my O Level English Literature exam. Juliet is pining for Romeo and lamenting that he is a Montague – her family’s bitter enemies. On one level she is right, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet. Yet she knew that as a Capulet she would never be permitted to marry Romeo who was a Montague, such was the animosity between their respective families. The fact is names, especially names given to people, matter.

Christmas is a season of names; names given to Jesus. That is the most common name we use for him and was the name that Joseph was instructed by the angel to give to him. The name Jesus comes through Latin and Greek transliteration from the Hebrew name Yeshua (Joshua or Jeshua) and means rescuer or deliverer, clearly indicating his mission to become the saviour of the world.

One of the classic Christmas Bible readings is Isaiah 9:6–7 which says:

For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.
Of the greatness of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

In this prophecy given some 700 years before Jesus’ birth we are told that he will be called:

  • Wonderful Counsellor – his wisdom and guidance is beyond that of any human advisor
  • Mighty God – his strength and power is unrivaled in the entire universe. In fact he is the source of all the energy throughout the cosmos.
  • Everlasting Father – his love and mercy is eternally unending. His grace is matchless.
  • Prince of Peace – he offers reconciliation to us even while we were his enemies.
  • Eternal King – his reign is just and righteous and endures for all generations.

These are only a few of the names and titles that are attributed to Jesus throughout the bible. Each is rich with significance, directing us towards aspects of his character and nature. Each helps us to see that Jesus is so much more than a cute little baby snuggled in a manger. Each provokes us to worship our peerless saviour.

Take time this Christmas to meditate on the names of Jesus and bow your knee in worship to Him whose name is above every other name in heaven and on earth.

 

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines

India 2016

India is a vast country with a population of 1.2 billion people – a fifth of the world’s total population! It is a land of great extremes. Extreme wealth and extreme poverty. Extreme heat and dryness and extreme monsoons rains. Extreme religious fervour and extreme western materialism. Cutting edge technology (especially IT) and primitive medieval utensils. When you visit India your various senses are assaulted. Your ears are battered by a cacophony of sound – especially vehicle horns! Everywhere you look you see a kaleidoscope of sights that mesmerise. And then there are the smells, ranging from beautiful exotic spices to less pleasant aromas. Someone has observed that whatever you care to say about India it will be true somewhere.

Three main religious faiths are found in India. The majority of the population would be considered Hindu. This is a faith system that is hard to define as it is characterised by the worship of as many as 330 million gods. As a result each community, even each family will focus on a limited number of gods that are important to them and there is wide diversity in how religious devotion is practiced. The main unifying factor is whether or not the Hindu texts or Vedas are considered sacred. Many Hindus are quite happy to accept Jesus Christ as another god among many.

Christianity varies in significance according to regions. The stronger Christian presence is historically found in the west and south and there are reasonable levels of religious freedom in those places. In other parts of India there can be great hostility towards Christians. Officially there is complete freedom of religion however Hindu government officials will often turn a blind eye to attacks on Christian businesses and homes meaning that persecution is a real threat in many places, especially those that are more remote or rural.

Islam also has a significant presence in India and in places there can be great tension between Muslims and others. Part of the independence package imposed on India by Britain led to the creation of Pakistan and Bangladesh through a process known as partition. This was an attempt to try and resolve some of these tensions.

Indian is the world’s largest democracy and the current ruling party are Hindu. They are implementing some welcome reforms such as ensuring that everyone has access to decent sanitation. They are committed to generating economic growth and trade but at the same time seeking to break free from historic western influence. So for example many cities have reverted to Indian names (Bombay becomes Mumbai, Bangalore becomes Bengaluru).

The two national languages are English and Hindi, and educated people will speak both quite fluently. Each of the many states also has its own regional language which will be spoken by many people. There are thousands of other languages spoken across the country. Some poorer and less educated people may speak little English or Hindi and so have limited opportunities to better themselves.

Our connection with India arises out of the longer term relationship between Commission and Newfrontiers India. A relationship that dates back to the era when there was just one apostolic sphere of Newfrontiers churches in the UK. We have a particular relationship with a church in Mumbai and a church in Goa. If you visit www.commission-together.org you can find a map that indicates where the churches that Commission relates to are distributed.

During November a team of people from Life Church will be heading to India to spend some time fellowshipping and encouraging our Christian brothers and sisters there. The team members are David Grant, Jo Grant, Angie Colebrooke and Dave Whiteman. Please pray that they will be kept safe while travelling and be free from illness. Please also pray that they will be a blessing to the people they meet. If you would like to have details of their itinerary please ask David Grant.

This blog post featured in the November 2016 edition of Lifelines

Who Cares?

Imagine thousands of people from hundreds of churches across our region all mobilised together with the aim of sharing God’s love with hurting people in our community. That is the vision that the Who Cares? team have for Hampshire and the surrounding areas.

When I first floated the idea of bringing the Who Cares? strategy to this area I thought my role was just to be a prophetic voice. I assumed that someone else would pick up the baton and lead the team. To my surprise everyone else in the team felt that I was the person God wanted to head up this initiative for this region. A few weeks later I was at a conference when a prophetic word was spoken over me that directly confirmed this call. Right down to details such as equipping churches across a geographical region and having access to the Bishop’s office.

It has been exciting to see how a vision that originally just embraced Basingstoke and outlying areas has expanded; first to include all of North Hampshire, and more recently to include the rest of Hampshire and parts of Dorset.

The mission consists of 2 phases:

  • The Listening Phase. This phase starts on Sunday June 4th which is Pentecost Sunday. We are praying for the Holy Spirit to fall upon the church as on the first Day of Pentecost 2,000 years ago when the room that the disciples were hiding in was unable to contain the mission of Christ. Over the following 8 weeks Christians from participating churches will be mobilised to ask friends and family, neighbours and workmates, along with others in the community one simple question. ‘What Hurts The Most?’ or put another way ‘What one thing in life do you find most difficult to handle?’ The answers that are received will be collated on computers and analysed centrally to help churches understand the needs of their communities.
  • The Responding Phase. This phase runs from September through to December. During this season churches will tailor their programmes to address the key hurts of the people they have been listening to. They will run Alpha Courses, do Café Church, sermon series (and much more) all with the focus of addressing the hurts that people have identified. The churches in Norfolk who ran a mission like this in 2014 found that hundreds of people heard the Good News that Jesus cares for them and many became followers of Jesus after 1,200 guests attended an Alpha launch supper.

I find it interesting that among the prophecies spoken over us as a church are things like ‘you will be a David among churches’ and ‘you will punch above your weight’. It seems that this is happening as more than a hundred of leaders are looking to Life Church, Hook for vision and leadership in this initiative.

I would invite you to get behind this project and support it by joining me at the Vision Night on Saturday 8th October, 7:00pm at Aldworth School, Western Way, Basingstoke. Admission is free but you will need a ticket which you can obtain via our website.

This blog post featured in the October 2016 edition of Lifelines

Sex was God’s Idea!

Many people, especially Christians, get hung up over sex. Sadly we are bombarded with all kinds of ideas about our sexuality and how to express it. This can lead to confusion and disappointment. Misinformation in this area is not a new problem. As we shall see when we resume our studies in 1 Corinthians this week some strange ideas were floating around in the first-century church. Most notably the idea that abstinence from sexual intercourse was the best and most spiritual course of action. Fortunately, Paul makes it clear that this is far from the case and he gives some really helpful advice for married couples concerning sexual intimacy.

As part of my preparation for preaching through what Paul has to say on a number of issues related to sex and marriage I have read a couple of books that you may find helpful. These go into the subject with greater depth and thoroughness than I will be able to in a few brief sermons.

My first recommendation is What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex by Ryan Howes, Richard Rupp and Stephen Simpson (ISBN 978-0-8010-6774-7). As the title suggests the book is targeted at men, however there is a chapter specifically for women. The authors candidly show how the Bible is not coy about sex, and in places is actually quite explicit in its celebration of the act of love between a husband and wife. Although I wouldn’t agree with every statement made the overall message is helpful in teaching that sex is part of God’s design for healthy marriages. It includes sound advice for sparking up our sexual relationships in a godly way.

Buy What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex from Amazon UK
Buy What Wives Wish Their Husbands Knew About Sex from Amazon US

My second recommendation is The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage by Gary Chapman (ISBN 978-1-4143-0023-8) You may recognise the author who wrote the 5 Love Languages. In this book Chapman uses the analogy of spring, summer, autumn and winter to describe phases that marriages go through. Just as during our lifetime we experience many seasonal cycles so in a marriage we may go through these phases many times. He offers hope for those whose marriages have become cold and frozen as in winter, that it is possible to move back into the heady days of spring and summer again. As well as describing what marriages in each season look like he provides helpful strategies for enhancing the seasons and advice on developing an appropriate action plan. Obviously it is a book that is best worked through together as a couple but he is realistic enough to address that sometimes only one person in the marriage desires to make a change and gives advice for them alone.

Buy The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage from Amazon UK
Buy The 4 Seasons of Marriage: Secrets to a Lasting Marriage from Amazon US

If you are married I would encourage you to read either or both of these books and pray that doing so will enrich your marriage.

This blog post featured in the September 2016 edition of Lifelines

20:20 Vision

What does it mean to be a Commission Church?

Commission is an international family of churches working together to make disciples, reach the nations and transform communities. Led by Guy Miller and his team, Commission has churches in the UK, India, Spain, Portugal and other nations.

Our churches actively work together and support each other in seeing the Kingdom advance through:

  • Going to the nations and reaching the unreached
  • Starting new churches and caring for existing churches
  • Raising and training leaders
  • Social action and community development

At the recent Commission Prayer gathering in Bournemouth, Guy shared with us his 20:20 vision for our family of churches. This vision is expressed by the following statement:

To see thousands of lives transformed, through hundreds of churches, in tens of nations.

Many people find it helpful to understand what this means by setting targets. The overall target for Commission is to double by the year 2020. To double 50 UK churches to 100, to double 50 Indian churches to 100, to double the number of countries that Commission is working into. To see 1,000 people baptised across the UK churches.

What does this mean for us?

  • It means prayerfully being ambitious to play our part.
  • It means connecting with other Commission churches and partnering with them in reaching these goals. One current example is the way the ylife team have connected with Harvest Church Alton to go to Newday together. Of course Westpoint is the flagship event for Commission churches to gather together. It is not simply about getting away for a long weekend of fun, worship and teaching, but it is a tangible way of expressing our connectedness to the bigger picture. It is not too late for you to book in and attend this event – all the details are on our church website.
  • It means praying for and expecting growth in our own church. What would it take for us to double in size over the next four and a half years? Do you dare dream that this will happen? Perhaps you find that hard to imagine but remember our God is the one ‘who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us’.

This blog post featured in the July/August 2016 edition of Lifelines

In, Out, In, Out … Shake it all about

europe-flag-1332945

The referendum debate reminds me of the Hokey Cokey. Overwhelmingly people I speak to are undecided whether we should be in or out of the EU. The overall attitude to the subject seems to either be one of confusion or of boredom.

As we approach Thursday 23rd June one thing is certain and that is that everyone will be glad when it is over, for now at least. If the opinion polls are right it will be a close run decision which means that a sizeable minority of voters will be disappointed with the outcome. Regardless of the outcome there will be yet further analysis of the implications of the decision and how it will be worked out over the coming months and years.

The public debate seems to have revolved about matters such as immigration and also about how much better off we will be financially. Each side it seems tries to outdo the other in instilling fear over the consequences of making the wrong decision. The difficulty it seems is knowing who to believe.

What if there could be another way to approach the issue? One that did not place self-interest at the heart of the debate? One that instead put the priorities of preaching the Good News about Jesus at the centre?

I understand that this approach may not get an airing on TV’s Question Time, but it seems to me that it is the approach that fits best with a biblical understanding of how we as Christians should approach any manifestation of human government. In 1 Timothy 2 Paul urged ‘that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people-for kings and all those in authority’. What Paul is inviting us to is concerted and effortful praying.

He is also specific in what we should request. The biblical agenda in verse two is radically different from the matters of financial stability or national sovereignty that have driven the campaign. He says we should pray ‘that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.’ He then goes on to say that ‘this is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.’

This insight may not change the way that you vote on 23rd June but hopefully it will inspire you to pray that the outcome will be good for the preaching of the gospel across the whole of Europe. It is always good to pray in this way for our political leaders, but especially at a time of referendum which is expected to set the course for our nation for the next 40 years.

 

This blog post featured in the June 2016 edition of Lifelines

More Than Conquerors

When I was a boy I sang in a church choir. One of the perks of the job was to sing at weddings on a Saturday afternoon, for which we would get paid. If you were lucky there would be 2 or even 3 weddings in the afternoon. Even luckier if a full choir couldn’t be raised as we would then share the wages of those who were missing. It was sat in the choir stalls that I learned Romans 8:28 (And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose) as this was one of the vicar’s favourite texts for the wedding sermon.

Indeed this is a favourite verse for many Christians, bringing comfort through all kinds of trials in life. Some people seem to think that it means that things will get better in this life. However if you read the passage around it (v18-39) it is clear that Paul never envisaged that following Christ would result in an easy life. The good that he speaks about in verse 28 is only fully realised in our eternal destiny.

Paul’s own experience was hardship. He was beaten, whipped and stoned for following Christ. He was shipwrecked and adrift in the open sea. He was in danger from his fellow Jews, and from Gentiles, in the city, in the country, at sea and from false believers. He knew hunger and thirst, went without food and been cold and naked. Yet despite all these hardships he could say “we are more than conquerors through him who loved us”

Paul’s confidence was based in the promise that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus. I don’t know all the challenges that you are facing at the moment. I don’t know whether your circumstances will get better or whether they will get worse. I do know however that your circumstances are covered by Romans 8:38-39 where Paul says: ‘For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.’

We too can be more than conquerors if we learn to take our eyes off our circumstances and place our confidence in the love of God knowing that nothing, not even death, can separate us from Him.

 

This blog post featured in the May 2016 edition of Lifelines

King of kings

I have recently obtained copies of a book entitled ‘The Servant Queen and the King she serves’ which recounts the journey of faith that our Queen has taken over the 90 years of her life. It is an interesting read and vividly describes how she has looked to Christ as a source of comfort and strength throughout her long life. It reminded me of a story that is told about Queen Victoria who also was a woman of faith.

It is recorded that in the year of Victoria’s coronation she attended a public performance of Handel’s oratorio ‘The Messiah’. Traditionally during the famous ‘Hallelujah Chorus’ the audience rise to their feet as a mark of respect and honour for Christ. Queen Victoria however was advised by her courtiers that it was her royal prerogative to remain seated. As the chorus began and the audience rose, a struggle took place in the Queen’s mind. Should she observe court etiquette or should she honour the Lord she loved. As the choir sang the inspiring words: ‘King of kings, and Lord of lords’, she rose and stood on the royal Box bearing witness to Christ the Lord. On another occasion she uttered the words ‘Oh, I wish He would come today, so that I could lay my crowns at His feet!’

Both these queens enjoyed the longest reigns of any English monarch. Queen Victoria ruled over the British Empire in its heyday, and Queen Elizabeth II has presided over the British Commonwealth. Yet despite the pomp and pageantry associated with their positions both women have publicly stated that there is a far greater King, a king that they love to honour and serve. That king is Jesus Christ.

In Philippians we read these words: Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11

One day every knee will bow and acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord. Everyone from the greatest to the least will declare that He is King of kings and Lord of lords. It is wonderful to know that England’s longest reigning monarchs were pleased to set aside their earthly majesty to honour Christ.

What about you? Are you pleased to own Him as King of kings and Lord of lords?

 

This blog post featured in the April 2016 edition of Lifelines

 

 

The Cross Stands Above It All

I love Easter! It is the festival in the church calendar that for me towers above all the others. It is fun to celebrate Christmas. I love the power of Pentecost. Yet without Easter these other highpoints of the church year would cease to exist. Easter is the kingpin that holds the Christian faith together.

The Easter season covers between 7 to 10 days of Jesus’ 33 year long life yet the gospel accounts devote a disproportionately large amount of space to it, because of its fundamental significance. Easter morning is fantastic as we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead!

When I was younger I used to want to rush through to Easter morning. Partly for the chocolate! But mainly because I find the Good Friday account of Christ’s death made me sad. Sad because the hero of the gospels, the saviour who I love, dies. Sad because of the injustice of the illegal, kangaroo court, that convicted Jesus on trumped up charges from false witnesses. Sad because of the gruesome brutality of the floggings that Jesus endured from the soldiers. Floggings that left a man’s back raw with flesh and were capable of ripping his internal organs out. Sad because of the suffering on the cross as Jesus hung naked and ashamed, surrounded by mocking onlookers as flies buzzed around his open wounds, and the heat of the sun bore down on his exposed body.

Despite the undoubted sadness of the crucifixion I have come to realise that it is the centre point of the gospel. When doubts enter my mind, it is the historical evidence for Christ’s resurrection that stabilises my faith and reassures me of the truth of the gospel. Of course without the crucifixion there could be no resurrection, but Christ’s crucifixion is not merely a precursor to the resurrection. If it were I am sure God could have found a less blood chilling manner for Jesus’ death.

Throughout the New Testament writings we see that Christ’s death provides the transaction that means that we can be forgiven for our sins. As we have seen in our study in 1 Corinthians, the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing (the society around us) but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. Time and again, in Paul’s writings especially, we see that Christ’s death is the very means by which we are saved. On the cross Jesus took the punishment we deserve, he died the death that we should die in order that God’s justice could be complete. The cross stands above it all!

As we approach Good Friday and Easter Sunday I encourage you to take time to linger at the cross and reflect on its power and significance. Rejoice that Christ has paid your debt and allow this truth to stir and strengthen you. As you do I am sure that this will only heighten the sense of joy as we celebrate his resurrection on Easter Day.

 

This blog post featured in the March 2016 edition of Lifelines