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Archive for May 2016

POD - Psalm 31

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Psalm 31

For the choir director: A psalm of David.
1 O Lord, I have come to you for protection;
don't let me be disgraced.
Save me, for you do what is right.
2 Turn your ear to listen to me;rescue me quickly.
Be my rock of protection,a fortress where I will be safe.
3 You are my rock and my fortress.
For the honor of your name, lead me out of this danger.
4 Pull me from the trap my enemies set for me,
for I find protection in you alone.

5 I entrust my spirit into your hand.
Rescue me, Lord, for you are a faithful God.
6 I hate those who worship worthless idols.
I trust in the Lord.
7 I will be glad and rejoice in your unfailing love,
for you have seen my troubles,and you care about the anguish of my soul.
8 You have not handed me over to my enemies
but have set me in a safe place.

9 Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am in distress.
Tears blur my eyes.My body and soul are withering away.
10 I am dying from grief;my years are shortened by sadness.
Sin has drained my strength;I am wasting away from within.
11 I am scorned by all my enemiesand despised by my neighbors-even my friends are afraid to come near me.
When they see me on the street,they run the other way.
12 I am ignored as if I were dead,as if I were a broken pot.

13 I have heard the many rumors about me,and I am surrounded by terror.
My enemies conspire against me,plotting to take my life.
14 But I am trusting you, O Lord,saying, "You are my God!"
15 My future is in your hands.
Rescue me from those who hunt me down relentlessly.
16 Let your favor shine on your servant.
In your unfailing love, rescue me.

17 Don't let me be disgraced, O Lord,for I call out to you for help.
Let the wicked be disgraced;let them lie silent in the grave.
18 Silence their lying lips-those proud and arrogant lips that accuse the godly.
19 How great is the goodnessyou have stored up for those who fear you.
You lavish it on those who come to you for protection,
blessing them before the watching world.
20 You hide them in the shelter of your presence,
safe from those who conspire against them.
You shelter them in your presence,far from accusing tongues.

21 Praise the Lord,for he has shown me the wonders of his unfailing love.
He kept me safe when my city was under attack.
22 In panic I cried out,"I am cut off from the Lord!"
But you heard my cry for mercy and answered my call for help.
23 Love the Lord, all you godly ones!
For the Lord protects those who are loyal to him,
but he harshly punishes the arrogant.
24 So be strong and courageous,
all you who put your hope in the Lord!

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Think Spot 30 May 2016

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Think Spot - 30th May 2016

As we read the New Testament, we see that the early church had passion for God. For generally speaking, they had a pretty good idea of what it meant for God to become human, when the Almighty, holy & sinless God, became human, became sin and the clean became dirty.

Why? So that humans could choose to enter back into a living and dynamic relationship with God, where they are individually ransomed, healed, restored and forgiven. Is that not a WOW? That is the message of Paul and the early church which grew extraordinarily. As we read the Book of Acts and the letters & history of the very early Church, we see them getting their hands dirty and reflecting the God they claimed to follow - breaking down the barriers...

It is time we as the 21st century church did likewise if we are not already. We can do it - individually, as small groups and as churches together. Go this week and make your own life count for the God you follow and love. Amen.

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God pays a visit to Solomon!

2 Chronicles 7v11-22

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Introduction

You may remember, from a month ago, we looked at David's final recorded public prayer in 1 Chronicles 29. We saw that David's God oozed greatness, power, glory, victory and majesty from all aspects of His very being! All of which are essential attributes of who He is: unchangeable and permanent. We discovered that this God is a God who gives and gives abundantly! The temple was yet to be built but the gifts from the King and the people had come in! People were waiting to start! Not only to build it but to serve within it! We came to the conclusion that we should pray not just for what God can give to us but also what we can give and do for our God! Giving not just money and goods, but our talents and imagination! Because from that, the community we live, work and worship within could be transformed to God's glory!

But now the Chronicler has moved on in his story! The remnant of Israel you may remember has returned from exile and the Chronicler is giving them an abridged version of history! The great king David has died, and his son, Solomon, is now on the throne. Solomon has had his first encounter with God and received the gift of wisdom! In Chapter 6, Solomon has prayed a great prayer to His God! Here, in our first reading, from the first 3 verses of chapter 7, we hear the Chronicler regaling one of the many great WOW moments of the Old Testament, when the glory of the Lord came down like fire and filled the temple to overflowing! The people fell down in worship of a great God, who was their God! This was followed by a great scene of abundantly joyful sacrificial worship to this God!

In the passage before us tonight, v11 to v22, the temple is now complete. Solomon is now probably sleeping in his palace. It has been 13 years since he prayed that prayer in chapter 6! No doubt, during those 13 years, many times has Solomon wrestled in his mind over what he prayed... Then, one night God Himself turns up. Here the Chronicler reveals what God said to Solomon.

The original readers/hearers are a remnant of the great nation of Israel, just returned to their land after being in exile! Probably wondering what happened, because under Solomon, the nation of Israel reached its pinnacle! Asking themselves questions like: Who is our God? Who are we, Israel, as a nation? Why are we in the situation we find ourselves in?

The Chronicler is putting across his own theology as he writes this book of Chronicles! His theology, however, is consistent with the writings of the rest of the Old Testament and indeed the New Testament! So what does the Chronicler wish to convey to the remnant about this God from this encounter with Solomon?

1. A God of all History

The first thing I see, from this passage, is that their God is a God of history! All human history is covered beneath his throne - the past, present and future!

a. God of the past!

He is the God of Israel's past! God throughout history had made covenants with Adam, Noah, Abraham, Moses and here, God reminds Solomon of the Covenant that He made with Solomon's father, David! This covenant promised 3 things!

That there would be:

  • A land forever
  • A dynasty without end
  • A perpetual kingdom

b. God of the present

But not only is He a God of the past, He is also a God of the present! He has heard the prayers and accepted the temple as a place of worship - v12 "I have heard your prayer and have chosen this place for myself as a temple for sacrifices." He is the God of the present because He is speaking to Solomon in Solomon's present! Visiting Solomon, probably while Solomon is snoring his head off!

c. God of the Future

So God is a God of the past and the present, but also a God of the future! And because God is the God of the future, all things are under His control! Even v13 "When I shut up the heavens so that there is no rain, or command locusts to devour the land or send a plague among my people", shows the God of the past, present and future being in control.

The Lord God says in this speech to Solomon, "I will..." several times! "I will hear!" "I will forgive!" "I will heal the land!" "I will open my eyes!" "I will establish your throne!" But not only of these humanly beneficial things but also Gods says in v20 "I will uproot you from here and send you into exile!" All in the future tense!

And in v16 "I have chosen and consecrated this temple so that my Name may be there forever. My eyes and my heart will always be there." Their God, who is the God of all human history - past, present and future - is from everlasting to everlasting!

Nothing in the future is set rigidly! God may know what is going to happen but He also knows all that may happen as well! We see this through the tension of "If you do this, I will do this!" God is all-knowing, far beyond our human capacity and capability!

2. A God Who Lives!

So a God over all human history - past, present and future. So what else is there here about this God? This God is also a God who lives and lives dynamically! This God is not like the gods of Israel's neighbours - a mere inert block of wood, bone or stone to be lumped about, put on a pedestal, have many copies made, bowed to impersonally and chanted manically at. No! This God of Israel is a God who lives! This God lives and wants to live with His people! God is a God who exhibits His life in at least 3 ways from this encounter with Solomon!

a. A God who is Personal!

This God is personal! Fourteen times, the Chronicler uses for God the personal pronoun "I" and fourteen times, he uses "me" or "myself." Twelve times, he uses the word "you" - on a single individual basis as well as a collective "you" on the basis of the nation itself. This God is personal to the individual Solomon, the King of Israel, but also personal to the nation of Israel. The Chronicler is intimating that no other nation had enjoyed a dynamic, robust and intimate relationship with their God, like Israel does! Our God is personal the Chronicler cries out! Because He is personal, it cries out that He lives! This God wants to be intimately involved with the people and nation He has chosen for Himself.

Read through with me as I share some of these with you and hear how intimate and personal this God is!

Listen for the ‘I'

"I have heard your prayer; I shut; I will forgive; I will heal; I have chosen; I will establish; I have covenanted; I have given; I will uproot; I will reject; I will make

This is a personal God! Listen for the ‘my'

chosen this place for myself; among my people, called by my name; seek my face; my eyes will be open; my ears attentive; my Name may be there forever; my heart will always be there; an object of ridicule for my Name,

Now listen for the ‘you', ‘their', themselves' and ‘they'

you walk before me faithfully; humble themselves and pray; You do; Your father David; You observe; Your royal throne; their wicked ways ; if you turn away and forsake; you and go off to serve other gods; they have forsaken the LORD and they embraced other gods

This is a personal, living and dynamic God wanting a personal and dynamic relationship with His people! Not some mere impersonal piece of wood, metal or stone like the gods of the surrounding nations to whom people babble!

b. A God who is Responsive!

This personal God is also responsive! This God, the Chronicler writes, has responded to the worship of the people when at the beginning of this chapter, His glory filled the temple to overflowing! Their worship was pleasing to Him and He acknowledged this with fire! WOW - v1 "the fire came down from heaven and consumed the burnt offering and the sacrifices, and the glory of the Lord filled the temple!"  That must have been an awe-inspiring moment when their living God did that! So awe inspiring that they continued in worship by singing and offering sacrifices! This God responds to His gathered people!

But this God also responds and appears to the individual, in this case, their King and leader, Solomon and with a personal answer to Solomon's own prayer we read in chapter 6!  Here in v17-18, God confirms Solomon's anointing as King and leader of Israel! He reminds Solomon of the importance of the Temple in the life of Israel and as a symbol of commitment to the Covenant of David. This is a direct response to Solomon's prayer we read in 6v16-17.  God is personally committed to the line of David.

Now that's all very well when things are going swimmingly and Israel is being obedient, following the commands and ordinances of their personal God! But what happens if they choose not to obey or serve him rightly?  God administers judgement, but v14 offers a way back - of humble repentance.  However, if they continue to sin and are not repentant, well that leads us to another part of God being responsive - God judges! And not unjustly or recklessly but with justice!

c. A God who Judges and Restores!

In v13 we see that disasters can be sent by God! Droughts and plagues can be used by God to bring people ultimately back to repentance.

In v19-23, we see what happens if Israel abandons their God and continues in their sinful ways (v19)! God abandons them because they first abandoned Him and went away to embrace other gods - gods of non-personality!  Then God uproots them from the land that He had given them and rejects this very same Temple which He chose Himself to be a place of prayer and sacrifice. That's the reason Israel was to go into exile, away from the land of promise.

But if God is the God who judges and does these things, He is also the God who enables restoration! When evil befalls Israel, natural, social or political, it is because of their disobedience and God must judge it or He would be a pretty impotent, capricious, spiteful and fickle God if He didn't! So while God maybe the author of disasters, He is also the agent of restoration!

3. A God Who Expects!

This is a personal God of all human history who lives!  This God judges disobedience but offers a way back through repentance.  Part of His being personal is that this is a God who expects!

a. God Expects His People to be Holy!

How is this? Why does He judge? Because God is holy!  He is of utter moral excellence and perfection. There is and can be no stain of sin and He must be totally separated from sin. Holy is what God is!!  This holiness of God is seen in righteousness, which is holiness in action. God's actions conform to His Holiness. Justice deals with the ab­sence of righteousness. Sin must be dealt with deal with it He will and must!

If God were not Holy, He could not and would not be God! If He were to cast aside his Holiness even for the briefest of times, he would cease to be God!

b. God expects obedience!

Not only is God holy, writes the Chronicler, but His people must also be holy and be seen to live rightly!  God expects obedience! Israel was to be a nation of light reflecting their great and living God to the surrounding nations!  They alone had the law of the Lord and they were to live rightly and obediently before God and the surrounding nations!  They were to worship this living God and Him alone!  In v17, we see the request to walk with God alone and follow His decrees and commands - the law of Moses!  In v19-20, as we saw earlier, there was the penalty for idolatry and abandoning this living God!

c. God expects prayers of repentance

Now you may be saying, yeah right, Dave... If God is just, and of grace, He will provide a way out of these judgments! But you know what! He does! The people can be restored! How can this be? Verse 14 is the key! This is a key of grace: "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves, pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

How does He restore? Through the humility and repentance of the disobedient! Even when this great Living God is angry! Prayers by the disobedient, consisting of humility and repentance are necessary, in order to enable God to forgive and heal the destruction of sin and disobedience.  In 6v32-33, we can see that anyone who acknowledges God's name and authority may pray with utter confidence that God would hear their petitions.  Seeking God's face with humility is the key.

What is repentance? It is a voluntary change in mind, in which the person and nation turn from a life of disobedience to living a life of obedience to God. It is done firstly in the Mind or the Intellect, where it is recognition of disobedience and guilt before God. Then, there is also at an Emotional level, exhibiting genuine sorrow for disobedience, a bit more difficult for us men!  Finally it's also an act of the Will - a decision to turn back to God from disobedience, self-pleasure and self-centredness.

And what is humility? Humility is where total trust is placed in God alone, and He has priority in all aspects of life.  Humility is a lack of pride and of total commitment to God.

This is a living and holy God, who expects His people to be holy, reflecting His holiness and being prepared to make themselves nothing in order to be restored and for their disobedience to be forgiven.

Conclusion

What an awesome and great God this is! This is the God who is the God over all human history - past, present and future! This is a God who is personal and  responsive! This is a God who is holy, commands obedience and yet accepts humble repentance! What a great and Almighty God! Not only those things but He is a God of grace! How do we see that?

This chapter from Scripture, 2 Chronicles 7v11-22, could well be a summary of all 1 & 2 Chronicles, if not the Old Testament and indeed all of Scripture! Some say that grace is missing from the book, just as some say that grace is missing from the Old Testament itself! But as we have hopefully seen, one aspect of God that shines through this passage is that He is a God of grace, with a message of grace as exemplified in v14! "if my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land."

But so what? What are we to do with and for this God?

We are to be personally and collectively obedient to Him. Following closely to the leading of the Spirit and following our leaders, the pastors, elders and deacons as they seek to follow this great God. Dietrich Bonhoeffer once said "You can only learn what obedience is, by obeying."

Lets be an obedient people. How do we do that? By loving God! How do we show we love God? By loving others, for as Jesus said, this sums up the whole Law!. The community out there, which we are a part of, is looking at us. We have this fantastic new building, and I can guarantee you, that there will be some people out there, just waiting for this adventure of ours with God to fail. Let us not allow that to happen.

One of the key areas of obedience concerns idolatry! Now we may not go off to other gods and worship them, as Solomon and ancient Israel did. But we can set up false idols of our own, both as individuals and collectively. Calvin wrote that "What is idolatry? It is to worship the gifts instead of the great Giver?" This is a beautiful building!  But let us not worship it and consider it so sanctified even for a moment, that it becomes our idol of worship. Let us be thankful to God for the gift and allow Him to use it for the benefit of the whole community and not just for our own sake.  Let each of us ensure that God takes first place over everything in our individual and collective lives. Let us worship alone our great living God who gives abundantly, rather than commit disobedient idolatry by worshipping the gifts of the Giver.

Then finally, let us hold our leaders up in prayer that they will be, collectively and individually, obedient to God!  As Adam shared this morning, old hairy legs satan likes to stick his nose in and try to get leaders like Adam off track.  Many churches have built new buildings, only for them to lie wasted shortly after, due to personal disobedience of the leadership. Lets not be one of those.

The church I attended in Australia before coming to the UK, 21 years ago this coming Saturday, was very much like PBC is now! Growing, vibrant and they had just finished building a new church building! Everyone was excited and looking forward to the future!  I am not going to say specifically what happened, but within 2 years that church was practically empty. In fact it is still going but it hasn't recovered to the way that it was. The leadership were found to have committed both personal and corporate disobedience and when it became public; it decimated the church and made it a public mockery.  Those people who were in leadership are now restored back into a right relationship with God, but they had to find humility the hard way.

Somebody asked me during the week, "If Solomon was the wisest man on earth, how come he fell into idolatry?"  The answer I gave was not because he had so many wives and girlfriends. Nor was it, as suggested by a certain member of this congregation here tonight, the number of mother in laws.  I think it was because he became proud, forgot not just who he was in God's eyes but he also forgot who God was! That led him to forsake the God of His youth and commit idolatrous acts.

Let's go from here, willing to be obedient to this great God, remembering who we are and who our God is. This great God we love and serve who is the God of all human history - past, present and future. This Almighty God, who is living, dynamic, personal, and responsive: who both judges and restores. This is a God who is holy and expects His followers to be holy, living obedient lives and being quick to seek repentance after disobedience.  Let's go out into our community this week, being His voice and light, confident that our living God is within us, as we engage actively and passively with those who don't know this great God!

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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 32 - John 7:37-38
Living Water


When I was in a youth group in Scotland (a long time ago) we use to sing in what we hoped was a broad Scots dialect ‘I’m as blithe as blithe can be, Ma bickers fu’ an’ skailin o’er’. If you can work out what that means you should get a prize! It is in fact ‘I’m as joyful as can be, My beaker (cup) is full and slopping over’. It was based on the line in Psalm 23 ‘my cup runs over’ rather than what Jesus says here “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me rivers of living water will flow from within them” but it expresses the idea behind what Jesus said perfectly.

It was the last day of the festival of Tabernacles, a kind of harvest festival celebrating the end of the growing season and the last of the harvests. It included both lights (of which more in the next gem but one) and water. Huge pans of water were taken through the city in processions – 5 times on this last day. This was a visual prayer for the rains to come. Their harvest was at the end of a very dry season with no rain at all. To someone living in the UK a very dry season sounds like a very good idea as we have too much of the wet stuff anyway. But many of you living in other parts of the world will have a much better appreciation of how important it is to get rain at the time of the year when you expect to get rain.

Jesus stands up and shouts out these words. There is some doubt about what exactly he meant, hence the alternative reading in a footnote of the NIV, but the overall message is clear - anyone who believes in him will become the source of great riches, both to himself or herself, and to other people. Those riches, John points out in the next verse, consist of the possession of the Holy Spirit, though not quite the Holy Spirit as he later became available to all those who believed in Jesus after Pentecost. But Jesus is part of the Triune God, as is the Holy Spirit, so participating in him by believing in him was not much different from having the Spirit.

Jesus is using another vivid metaphor to explain who he is and what he brought to the people who met him. They, like all of us, were spiritually thirsty. They wanted purpose to life; they wanted to know that there is a supreme God in control of this world; they wanted to know of a source of strength they could draw on when not everything was going right for them; they wanted to have the understanding that this life is not all there is – there is something good to come later. All that is thirst, so Jesus stands up and promises them living water, running water, spring water, clean water, the sort of water it is a delight to drink.

When people get this water, this Spirit, they will not be able to keep it to themselves. It will slop over, sometimes accidentally but also sometimes when we mean it to for someone else’s enjoyment.

The result of his words was chaos. Some thought he must be the prophet that Moses said would be ‘like me’ (Deuteronomy 18: 15); others thought he must be the long looked for Messiah; still others reckoned his background wasn’t good enough for either; the leading men wanted to put him safely behind bars but discovered they couldn’t get anyone to arrest him.

What a wonderful and amazing man he was. To all those who thirst – no other qualification required - he promised riches, the true riches of a fulfilling life, not gold – and we know that he fulfilled that promise - and what he got was chaos. So it is with us - we can choose – either a full and rich life following him or a world of chaos.




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Partakers Friday Prayers!

27th May 2016

A prayer of For the Peoples of the World !

We pray together and when Christians pray together, from different nations, different churches and different denominations - that reveals Church unity! Come! Let us pray together!

O God,
who has made of one blood all nations
for to dwell on the face of the earth,
and did send Your blessed Son Jesus Christ
to preach peace to them that are afar off,
and to them that are near,
grant that all the peoples of the world
may feel after You and find You.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord
in the power of God the Holy Spirit.
Amen



(Based on a prayer Bishop Cotton of Calcutta)

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Church Leadership

Session 8:

What can we learn from Stephen – a member of the first team of deacons?

Last time we looked at Timothy as an example of an effective church leader – today I want us to consider Stephen – one of the first cohort of deacons appointed in the early church.

Please do read Acts 6 – and 7.

We see from Acts 6 that there was a complaint (no surprises there, then – after all this was church!). Thankfully, this one led to a positive outcome – would it were so in every case?

Stephen is one of seven chosen as “deacons” – or servants – but they too had to be full of the Holy Spirit. We don’t hear much more about the others (except Philip) – but they probably quietly got on with the job they were assigned to do. And there is a lesson for all of us in that – quietly serving God and His Church without becoming grumpy.

As we read about Stephen – remember his role is as a deacon (a “waiter on tables”) - one word seems to keep coming up – he was a man who was full!

1. Full of the Holy Spirit – Acts 6:3; 6:5; 7:54

This was his lifestyle – and he clearly stood out from among the other disciples – many thousands by this time. He was also noted among the seven as being full of the Holy Spirit. The impact of what was about to happen to him gave him a special anointing (7:54) as is often the case in extreme circumstances.

2. Full of wisdom – Acts 6:3
He knew the promise of God recorded for us in James 1:5 – and sought the Lord for the wisdom he needed to do what he was doing. As we see from Acts 7, he understood his roots and how that was important for the God’s people and was able to set his message in context. We need to have the wisdom required to make the message of the gospel relevant today – and that means understanding our origins and the truths of the Old Testament as well as the New.
We live in an era of instant accessibility to information. We also live in an era of complexity. Whilst it may be tempting to rely on education, the internet, intelligence or experience, we need God’s wisdom. Different from information, different from knowledge, wisdom is God’s and accessed through humble prayer and openness to his ways.

3. Full of faith – Acts 6:5
Without faith we cannot please God - Jesus is the Author and Finisher (or perfecter) of faith (Hebrews 12:1ff.). It is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. It is about turning belief into action – faith is a “doing” word. He was full of faith!

4. Full of God’s grace – Acts 6:8
Grace is a Divine attribute – often linked with compassion (e.g. Exodus 34:6 and Numbers 6:25). Jesus was described as being “full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Paul began most of his letters with the salutation “Grace and peace from God the Father”.
In Stephen’s case it was probably describing a compassionate kind, thoughtful man – one who was showing evidence of the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22). He would have also understood the impact of God’s grace in his own life – he knew forgiveness and cleansing and the freedom in Christ which is ours through grace.

5. Full of God’s power – Acts 6:8
“Power corrupts – absolute power corrupts absolutely” But not in the case of one who recognises that the source of his power is God and who uses that power under His authority.. Through this power Stephen did great wonders and miraculous sings among the people (6:8) – and he was only a deacon – a “waiter on tables”!

6. Full of courage – 7:51 ff.
He was not afraid to tell the spiritual leaders of the nation “where it was at”. The nations need such a prophetic voice today! His immense courage was evidence of his faith (Hebrews 11: 32 – 40) – and he received the highest reward possible – being welcomed into the presence of God. We may not need to face what Stephen did, but let us be courageous in sharing our faith wherever we find ourselves.
As I thought about Stephen’s “fullness”, my mind went to Paul’s prayer for the Ephesians as recorded in his letter to them (Ephesians 1:15 22):
“For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers.
I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know Him better.
I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which He has called you, the riches of His glorious inheritance in His holy people, and His incomparably great power for us who believe.
That power is the same as the mighty strength He exerted when He raised Christ from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly realms, far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come.
And God placed all things under His feet and appointed Him to be head over everything for the church, which is His body, the fullness of Him Who fills everything in every way.”


As we come to end of this session, it is worth recapping on what we’ve looked at so far.
  • We saw that Jesus is the Head of the Church – so He is in charge.
  • We have looked at some of the expressions used in the New Testament for leaders in churches.
  • We have considered four leaders from the Old Testament – Moses, Daniel, Joseph and Nehemiah – and two from the New Testament – Timothy and Stephen.
  • We have considered the ‘code of conduct’ for both elders and deacons as set out in Paul’s letters to Timothy and Titus.

In our final four sessions I want to seek to answer the following questions:

  • "How do I know I am called to leadership?” or: “Why would I want to be a leader?”
  • “What are the marks of a good leader?” or: “Is (s)he a leader worth following?
  • What happens when it all goes wrong?
  • What can God do with a leadership team that is totally committed to Him?


A prayer: “Thank you, Jesus, for the example of Stephen. Fill me again with Your Spirit so that I can be what You want me to be. Amen”

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Think Spot 23 May 2016

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Think Spot - 23rd May 2016

One of the key verses in the Apostle Paul's letter to the Philippian church is
 "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain." (Philippians 1:21)

Indeed, as we read the life of Paul and his ministry and witness for Jesus Christ, those words could be said to be Paul's motto or maxim for his life of service to God. The Apostle Paul's view of God and of Jesus Christ was not too small. Over 50 times in this letter to the Philippians, Paul states the name of Jesus or of Christ and that doesn't include the pronouns such as he, his and him. Paul was besotted with God. Paul was besotted with Jesus Christ.

Are you, if you are a Christian, besotted with Jesus - the God you claim to follow? Go into this week, knowing that God loves you and safely knowing that He cares deeply for you. Put your cares and concerns in His hands and let Him lavish his care upon you.

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Aspects of Covenantal Love

(Song of Solomon 8:5-7)


Schedule

Introduction

1. Dependency (Song of Solomon 8v5a)

2. Data (Song of Solomon 8v5b)

3. Desire (Song of Solomon 8v6)

4. Devotion (Song of Solomon 8v7)

How can we respond?

Introduction

There are 3 main ways to interpret this book. Firstly as a story about the joys of biblical love between a man and woman. That bit even I can see. Some would say that it was erotic, but as a white Australian male, I just don't see it! Secondly, the earliest commentators and readers saw it as an allegory about God's love for His people Israel, particularly with their coming Messiah in mind. The third way shows that this Song of Songs speaks not only on a physical level about the importance of human love and intimacy between a man and a woman, but also the intimacy that exists, blossoms and grows between a person and Jesus Christ.
Martin Luther called it the "noblest of all songs". Tonight we look at what could be considered the key verses of this book. The couple have now entered a covenantal relationship - a relationship committed to one another.
 
Song of Solomon 8:5-7.

These three verses are the key verses of the Song of Solomon or the Song of Songs as other people call it. As the couple, the Lover and the Beloved, have now entered into a Covenant of love, we are, tonight, going to look at 4 Dimensions of Covenantal Love. A Covenant is a contract - a promise. Throughout Old Testament history, God had made covenants with people - people such as Adam, Noah, Abraham and Moses. The original readers and commentators would have known that and understood that. Download the sermon mp3 to hear the rest of this sermon...

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Gems in the Gospel of John

Part 31 - John 7:24
Decision time


“Stop judging by mere appearances, but instead judge correctly,” said Jesus. Or perhaps approximately ‘make up your mind - follow me or don’t follow me!’

Our acquaintance with decision-making will vary enormously according to where we live. I remember visiting our son and his family in a Central Asian city. They wanted to buy a small bicycle for their son. Eventually they found one after a long search. There was no decision to make – it was this or nothing. I also remember a grown woman who had been living in an African city telling us that she had come home to the UK, gone into a supermarket, burst into tears and rushed out. The degree of choice was too overwhelming for her to take.

You are going to have to listen to, or read, what follows very much according to your background. Jesus was telling his hearers to decide whether what he was saying and doing made sense, in which case they should follow him, or not, in which case they should not. That was, and is, the biggest decision anyone ever has to make for it determines the whole course of one’s life from there on forever.
Rather strangely this is most difficult for those of us who live in a part of the world where there is a huge choice in the supermarkets. We are too used to making decisions and then changing them for another one next week. We live in a consumer society so we too easily act as consumers over everything, including whether or not we should follow Jesus. Then, if it doesn’t suit us because the church meets at the time we want to play football – or something, next week we will give up on following Jesus and do something else.

It may well be that our life is a chaos of conflicting events. But then so is this chapter. It is easily the most chaotic chapter in this Gospel so far. Jesus starts off in Galilee, goes up to Jerusalem late for the festival, has to dodge the authorities, and then challenges his hearers over his latest miracle in Jerusalem. That is: when he healed the man at the pool of Bethesda on a Sabbath. It was that last event which lead to this direct challenge to decide whether what he did, and the way he justified what he did, meant that they should not judge him on the basis of the rules and regulations but on the basis of the effects of what he did. Effects which included not just an infringement of the rules but accepting that he stood above the rules because he was the Messiah, the chosen one of God.

In a way this seems a lot to base on this one incident, but no doubt they would have heard something of what he had been doing in Galilee, both the miracles that John has recorded and the many healings he had carried out that the other Gospels tell us more about.

Jesus tells us not to judge by mere appearances, but to think carefully what we are doing first so that we make good decisions. That is good advice for anything and everything we have to decide about. Unfortunately it is not the way we tend to act. The whole advertising industry relies on our inability to make wise choices, but to go by appearances.

What about you? And what about your decisions for or against Jesus? Those decisions are fundamentally different from all the others you can ever make in life because they are two-way decisions. The Holy Spirit comes into them as well. In his goodness and his graciousness the Lord God has allowed us to think that we make the decision to follow Jesus, in much the same way as we decide all the other things of life. But hidden behind our decision is the work of God the Holy Spirit calling us to follow Jesus. As we have noticed before those two things don’t logically add up but they are nonetheless real for that.

Have you decided to follow Jesus? Or, should I rather ask whether the Holy Spirit has called you to follow Jesus?


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Partakers Friday Prayers!

20th May 2016

A prayer of Praise!

We pray together and when Christians pray together, from different nations, different churches and different denominations - that reveals Church unity! Come! Let us pray together!


O God, you are the most beautiful and most priceless One!
O God, you are the most glorious and uncreated One!
O God, you are the eternal and holy One!
O God, you are the infinite and blessed One!
O God, you are the immense and Living One!
O God, you are the Everlasting and wise One!
Accept these words of praise from our mouth and our hearts!

O ever-loved & ever-loving One;
Make us, O holy God, your treasured one;
Make us, O glorious Lord, your precious one;
Make us, O highest Good, your longing one;
Make us, O blessed Word, your chosen one;
Make us forevermore your loving ones.
Amen


(Based on a prayer of Cardinal Newman)

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Why I am a Christian?


The Apostle John, writing in 1 John 5:9-12 - "We accept man's testimony, but God's testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son. Anyone who believes in the Son of God has this testimony in his heart. Anyone who does not believe God has made him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about his Son. And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life."

Why Is It So?

A testimony is an assertion offering firsthand authentication of a fact. For the Christian Disciple, classically it is generally expressed as how they became a Christian Disciple. But I think it is more than just how, and should expressly include why you are a Christian Disciple. I wonder what is your testimony about how you became a Christian Disciple? When was the last time you thanked God for your testimony?

Have you even thought about your testimony of how you became a Christian Disciple? I am sure you have all heard kids in the supermarket yelling out "Why?" to their parents. We all have, I am sure, questions we want to know the answer to. Why? The question I am often asked is "You are a Christian. Why is it so?"

My father, was and remained throughout his life a convinced agnostic and in the few conversations we had about religion and Christianity, he could never understand why it was, that I could not just admit that I would never know if God existed or not, far less a God who was personally interested in me. My reply as ever, was that the very question "Why is it so?" needed to be answered, in order for me to be satisfied.


Why I am a Christian?

Now I could say that at the age of 12, we moved to a town on the coast of Australia, and was invited along to a local youth group and several weeks later, gave my life to Christ and became a Christian. Of course that is partly true. I can't even claim to be a Christian because I was raised in a Christian country. Australia was and is probably the second most secular country on this planet. Sure Australia has its moral base grounded in historic Christianity, but for the latter part of its history, Australia has been thoroughly secular and non-religious. Even if I had been raised in a country such as England, with Christian parents, that would also, only be partly true and I could have rejected Christianity as many people do. The reason that I am a Christian is not because I chased God, but rather He chased me. Unknown to me at the time, God was chasing me and following my every path with the urgency of a lover after the beloved, just as described in the Song of Songs 2:2-14.


God had been pursuing me

This piece of poetic Scripture speaks about the love that God has for his people, and the energy He puts in to calling his people to Himself. He is always reaching out, for all to return to His arms. As for me, it wasn't until I was a 12 year old that I heard that I needed to accept Jesus as my Lord and Saviour. Before that I didn't know I had to do anything with this Jesus. Jesus was only a curse word for me at the time. That or was just someone or something that the RE teachers bored me with at school.

We are primarily Christians, not because we come to church services or just happened to have been born in a supposedly Christian country. We are primarily Christians, because God first chased and harried us into His arms. We are Christians, if you are one, because God first loved you. And as a tremendous lover, He beckons and calls people all the time to respond to His call, and back to Him. How does He chase us with His love? He chases each person differently, just as each Christian testimony is different.




Take for instance the Apostle Paul in Acts 8 & 9. God chased him through Paul's mind and his religious upbringing and education. Paul had known about God from his childhood. Paul was a righteous Pharisee who saw persecuting these ‘Christians' as his religious duty, so that he may somehow find favour with God. As Paul was gloating over the death of the martyr Stephen, God was pursuing Him, probably raising doubts in Paul's mind as to why Stephen would say at the point of death "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit and forgive them for what they do" (Acts 7:54-60). Surely doubts must have been raised in Paul's mind as he approved of this death (Acts 8:1).

Paul was also wrestling with his conscience. Externally he was a righteous man, a Pharisee of Pharisees. Yet when he internally examined himself and his heart, he found himself failing regarding covetousness, which is the last of the Ten Commandments. Then finally, Jesus himself makes a sudden and dramatic appearance before Paul and confronts him directly, "Why are you kicking against me? Why are you rejecting my advances?" (Acts 9) Paul's conversion to Christianity is often described as being sudden. But the only thing sudden about his conversion was this climatic appearance of Jesus.

Just as that was true of Paul, it is true of me, just as it is true of all those who profess to call themselves a Christian Disciple.


I am a Christian Disciple not because of anything I have done, but rather because He first chased me, and because He first loved me. Jesus himself said "I came to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10).

If you are a Christian today, it is not because of anything you have done. It is because of the events at Christmas and Easter that you are a Christian, when God entered this world as a human baby and took all the necessary steps so that all people could have the choice to be His people or not.

In my more smug moments I used to congratulate myself for being a Christian. How proud I was that I, was a Christian and that God was a jolly lucky God that I had decided to follow Him. It was during one of my less self-deluded moments, that I examined myself and I found God pricking my conscience and correcting me, and I read the New Testament "For the Son of Man came, not to be served but to give His life as a ransom for many" (Mark10:45).



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Church Leadership

Session 7:

“What can we learn from Timothy – a New Testament Church leader?

Today I want to look at Timothy (whose name means “honouring God” or “precious to God”) and see what lessons we can learn from what we know about him and the counsel and support he received from his “father in the faith”, the Apostle Paul. Here are just a few high points about his life that we learn from the New Testament:

  • Timothy was a teenager when he met Paul. His family lived in Lystra so he was a Galatian. His father was a Greek man; we know nothing of his faith. But Timothy’s mother and grandmother were faithful Jewish women who taught the Old Testament scriptures to their son/grandson (Acts 16:1; 2 Timothy 1:5).
  • In Lystra, during Paul’s second missionary journey, he learned that Timothy had an exceptional reputation among the local Christians (Acts 16:1-2);
  • Because he came from a mixed racial background, in which his mother was Jewish and his father was Greek, his familiarity with the Jewish and Greco-Roman cultures made him an ideal travelling companion for Paul.


The life of Timothy gives us many examples that we can use both in our personal lives and as leaders.

Timothy was a team player: He joined Paul and Silas in telling Jesus’ followers what the apostles and other leaders in Jerusalem had decided at the recent conference (Acts 15:19-20; 16:4). These apostles urged their fellow Christians to follow these instructions. As a result of the witness of Paul, Silas, and Timothy, the churches grew stronger in their faith. Each day, more people came to faith in Jesus (Acts 16:5).

Timothy was set apart by prophesy: Paul reminded him of this is 1 Timothy 1:18 and 4:14 and urged him not to neglect the gift he had been given.

It took time, in distinctive ministry environments, for Timothy to mature and become an effective Christian leader. Similarly, our path to maturity and increasing ministry effectiveness does not take place all at once. Instead, the process of spiritual growth occurs in differing circumstances involving numerous people, often over many years.

Timothy served the Church in an unselfish manner. In our contemporary, “celebrity culture”, there is the temptation to make ourselves the centre of our ministry endeavours. We must conscientiously resist this trap, remembering that the proclamation of the gospel and the building up of believers are intended to bring glory to God – not to make a name for ourselves.

Paul encouraged Timothy to remain faithful to his pastoral call and duties. The Holy Spirit has called us to a life of devoted Christian service, which must include looking after to our own spiritual needs, as well as being attentive to the concerns of Jesus’ followers around us. It is a lifelong responsibility that requires our active involvement.

Timothy was effective in ministry because he remained committed to the gospel. If we fail to uphold the historic teachings of Christianity, we undermine the effectiveness of the Gospel.

Timothy was accountable to God for his actions. The Lord holds us responsible for what we think, say, and do. This should serve as an incentive for us to be faithful stewards of the time, talents, and treasures the Lord has entrusted to our care.

God’s power and love in Timothy’s life enabled him to be fearless in Christian service. The Lord promises to be with us as we are courageous in sharing the good news with others. The Holy Spirit can give us the insight and energy we need to be effective witnesses for Jesus.

Timothy refused to become side tracked by dead-end philosophical issues.
We also must not allow ourselves to be distracted by pointless matters that consume the attention of false teachers and time wasters. Our God-given mandate is to herald the gospel, encourage those who are struggling, and confront those in the Church who need a “prod” from time to time. The Holy Spirit can empower us to remain calm and patient as we shoulder our important, but often difficult, leadership responsibilities.

Towards the end of his first letter to Timothy, Paul urges Timothy to “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12) and towards the end of his second letter, he tells Timothy: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (2 Timothy 4:7). Paul was not asking Timothy to do anything he was not prepared to do – what a testimony to an incredible “spiritual father”.

We could not leave this brief look at Timothy without commenting on his age – he was a still a young man when he was at Ephesus (“Don't let anyone look down on you because you are young” – I Timothy 4:12). Paul urged him to “flee the evil desires of youth” (2 Timothy 2:22). He goes on to expect him to live right – read these two verses again in their context. Age is no barrier to service for God – we can’t say we are too young or too old.

Years ago, I picked up a leaflet at a church on the Channel Island of Guernsey. Among other things, it included the following:

Abraham was middle-aged and well-heeled
when God called him to leave all he knew behind
Samuel was called by God to be a prophet
when he was still a child.
Mary was called as a young woman
to be a mother - with a difference
And over the twenty centuries of the Christian church,
God has continued to call young and old,
rich and poor, to follow Christ in specific ways.
He’s still doing it today - If we’re listening.


A prayer: Father, thank You for the example of Timothy – may we serve You well, whatever our age, experience (or lack of it) and, for those who are older, may we continue to run the race effectively.
Amen

Next time we will look at Stephen – an amazing example of a deacon.


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