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Archive for October 2020

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Christians and culture

Cultures from around this world are individual, unique and diverse. At least 20 are represented here in this room. Have you ever noticed how people from different countries greet each other? Those from Latin America, will kiss each other on the cheeks. Australians will shake each other firmly by the hand, punch each other on the arm, say "G'day" and proceed to jokingly insult each other. English people, however, shake each other by the hand limply, take a step back, start to talk about the weather and look for the nearest queue to join! Americans greet each other with a hug, take a step back, talk to each other and once the other person has left, promptly forget the other person's name. Yet other people from other nations say hello by bowing or even by sucking mouths! All these are generalisations!

So we see that from many different cultures from over 200 countries on this planet, there are many differences - rich in variety and stark in contrast! And that is why we have come together - gathered from many different traditions and cultures, to both see and show brief cultural insights. If we were to take a more indepth look into a culture that is different from our own, we would see in it, both likes and dislikes and also similarities. The things that are acceptable to me in a cultural sense, may well shock you, because of your cultural upbringing. Some of what we are as people is because of the culture we were born into and raised within. Take for example, an El Salvadorian wedding, where the husband at the post-service reception places his wife's left leg on a chair, discreetly lift her dress to the upper thigh and proceeds to pull her garter off with his teeth! This is in front of everybody! He then throws the garter to a gathered group of single men, all eagerly waiting to catch it!

Now if you are offended by this, it is probably because of your upbringing in a culture, where at a wedding, which is not the done thing. Somehow I can't see this happening in a Japanese wedding, in case it was deemed offensive, particularly to the guests! But just because something is different from your own culture, does not necessarily mean that it is wrong. Our cultural heritage and upbringing affects our ethics, lifestyle, family values, and worldview and so on. Culture also has a place and a say in our religion. Some cultures insist that you follow a particularly religion out of respect for tradition, whether that is nominal Christianity, Hinduism, Buddhism Islam, Zionism, Taoism, Shintoism, Spiritism or any other ‘ism' which is your cultural norm. Sometimes there are severe pressures and penalties to pay if you want to change your religion, say to Christianity from Islam.

Now I am a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. I believe that Jesus, was, is and always will be God! So what does Jesus have to say about culture and cultural differences? Jesus kept all the cultural tradition, as a good Jewish man that did not affect his own personal holiness and offend those to whom he engaged in a cross-cultural exchange. Whether it was a Roman centurion; a Canaanite woman; Samaritans; Greeks or other cultures, Jesus was always sensitive to their particular problems regardless of his cultural traditions, taught to him about not touching or talking to foreigners, women, sick and poor people. He continually broke the traditional cultural religious taboos, by doing these things, and that is one of the reasons that Jewish authorities hated him and plotted to kill him. That is ok, you might be thinking if you are not a follower of Jesus. You may well be thinking that I am a Christian because I was bought up in a Christian country and it is your cultural tradition to follow this Jesus.

But if you are thinking that, then maybe you are also thinking that Jesus is only for Jews and those in the West where Christianity is the normal religion. You may also be thinking that Christianity is not for you because your tradition and culture say that you must follow another religion. I am a Christian because Jesus was pursuing me! True my upbringing in a country which at least is nominally Christian did pay a small part in my turning to follow Jesus Christ. But by becoming a Christian, I rebelled against my parents and against my culture. The main reason I am a Christian, is because Jesus Christ was chasing me. I have decided to follow him - will you follow him or reject him?

You may well reject Jesus Christ as your Saviour and the Son of God because you don't know enough about him yet. If that is your reason then read about him in the Bible. Or you may well reject him because you simply don't want to acknowledge him for who he is. That at least is honest! But please, don't reject him simply because your culture says to stick to your own cultural or national religion. That is just patronising nonsense. Jesus is for all people of all time, all nations and all cultures. Jesus, as we read in the Bible, crosses all cultural boundaries and welcomes all to his searching and outstretched arms. Don't let culture be the excuse for not accepting Him as your God and saviour. Jesus is and always will be the Son of God, the saviour for all people of all nations, languages and cultures for all time. In John 12v32, Jesus said that he will draw all people to himself. So, come. Come to Jesus and start to follow him right now! For those of us who are already followers of Jesus Christ, what does the Bible tell us about culture and following Him.

The Bible tells us to be holy, following Jesus Christ as Lord, and growing in righteousness. It is hard for us, because the Christian life is demanding and yet also exciting! We use all sorts of excuses for sinning; that is doing wrong against God and others. Sometimes we use the excuse that is part of our individual cultural identity to do that, so ergo, it can't be wrong! In some cultures, man can have more than one wife; in still others men treat women as a little lower than slaves or dogs. The Aussie culture is well known for its arrogance, insulting and being rude to all and sundry. Other cultures place emphasis on gross materialism & collecting possessions at all costs.

Yet other cultures and countries, allow indifference to the suffering of the poor and sick in their community, putting their low position in society down to bad luck, kismet or fate. Now we know that all these things are wrong because the Bible clearly tells us they are wrong. The Bible says only have one wife, love and respect each other. The Bible says love one another; don't be rude but be humble and not arrogant. The Bible says take care of the poor and sick in the community. The Bible says don't accumulate possessions for possessions sake. And yet we can use the cultural barrier excuse to try and justify our sins, time and time again. When our cultural traditions cross over the lines of sin, drawn out for us in the Bible, then we must at all costs to ourselves, stop doing them!

Now I am not saying do away with all our cultural traditions - just those that are clearly unbiblical and hinder our path to personally holiness and personal righteousness. Let us follow the example of our Lord Jesus Christ. Be prepared to sacrifice your cultural taboos at all cost to yourself and run the race set for you, whilst keeping your cultural differences. So, in conclusion, those of you who are not yet followers of Jesus, don't let your culture and traditions stop you from deciding to follow Jesus and running to those outstretched arms that are waiting for you. For those of us who are already followers of Jesus and believe in him for our salvation, let us stop using our cultural traditions as excuses for sinning. Repent of any attitude, behaviour or action that causes you to sin.

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Issues - Individualism

 Partake - Issues

Individualism

 

The Apostle Paul writing in Philippians 2:3-4 "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." And finally, the Apostle Peter writing in 1 Peter 5:5-6 "All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time."

Individualism

Contrast those values to those of the twenty first century society, where morality can be summed up in this kind of attitude: "The more you care for others, the more they will care for you."  So look after the interests of others and you will also be looked after. In other words everyone is on level parity and there is total equality within society.  In some of the more narcissistic and cynical parts of society, there is no other, the order is "me, me and more me and I am far more important and higher than anyone else".  Individualism is where the individual's importance is placed higher than all others and is imbued with self-reliance and personal independence.  Even when help and compassion are offered, so often there are strings attached and hoops to be jumped through. If you do this, we will do this for you. 

And sadly, it is not just within society that this exists, but also within the church and amongst Christians. It is as if we are denying the basic rule of compassion and mercy, which dictates that we are to be serving others, because they are also humans created in the image of God, loved by God and so should be loved unconditionally by those who proclaim to be God's people - the Church. Denying that basic need to others is pure unadulterated selfishness and places others below our own selves. Individualism within the church, lends itself to hypocritical behaviour and attitudes, which are inconsistent with Scripture and behaviour.  Individualism, where you as an individual are placed at the front of the queue, is not loving others and not considering others higher than yourself.  It certainly could not be construed as serving other people to always place your own desires above all others. There is an old acronym JOY - Jesus first, Others second, Yourself last.

Relationship

The basic aspect of love is that it involves relationship, so therefore there must be more than one person involved.  God is love, and is a trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  If God were not Trinity then God could not also be love. The church community is meant to be a radical community of service and love, which is a reflection of the Trinitarian God.  Being part of a radical community of service and love would mean the Church going back to basics.  The Church needs individuals to be living radical lifestyles of devotion to Jesus Christ, engaging with the culture, counting the cost of discipleship and reflecting true humanity.  But being an individual in community involves much more than merely being an individual in isolation.  Christians are to be involved within communities, and not as isolationists.  So what does a radical Christian community of individuals look like?

Creative Community

Firstly, the church needs to be a community that is seen to be radical by the surrounding society.  At Pentecost, the church began when the Holy Spirit filled the Disciples (Acts 2v4).  This momentous occasion started the Discipleship process of how Christians were to live as God's people.  The hallmarks of this community were commitment and transformation.  This community was radical. It was where people's lives were being changed as the Holy Spirit filled them.  Instead of being a withdrawn people filled with fear of retribution from the Roman government and Jewish leaders, they became a people filled with boldness and joy.  The New Testament church grew by being a radical community imbued with radical individuals engaging with others. The very existence of the church today is proof that Jesus Christ really did rise from the dead, for if He did not, those who were His disciples would have disbanded and gone back to their old lifestyle and the Holy Spirit would not have come.

Creatively Radical

If we want the church of today to grow then we need to be building a strong community of faith.  A community, which involves joining together isolated and solitary individuals and where people are imbued with love, valued and are showing care to each other, in particular the frail, elderly and young, with what the theologian Jürgen Moltmann calls a "creative passion for the impossible." 

An inherent human need is the need to belong, and by fulfilling relational needs, the radical Church community will become relevant to the people within it.  It will then also become relevant to those who are on the outside and looking in. For example, by using virtual reality, digital space and social networks, the housebound and geographically isolated peoples can also be included and cared for. This involves improving present societal conditions, rather than remaining a conservative community, which merely repairs the status quo.  In doing this, today's church will be emulating characteristics of the early church (Acts 2v44-45).  As individuals Christians were added to the church, discipline helped ensure that the community was being seen as a holy community.  We see in the early church as recorded in the Book of Acts, that to be excommunicated from the community for gross sin, was a severe punishment. 

However church discipline is not primarily about punishment, but rather a formative and corrective service as part of Discipleship.  Church community discipline is foundational to the making of Christian Disciples, because it concerns the community's spiritual health, and strengthens the bonds with the local community.

Committed Community

The church must be a community of committed individual Christians, willing to radically follow God in lifestyle and behaviour.  Being holy for the Christian means radically exhibiting love for God and others.   It is by being seen as different from the surrounding society, that the church community will grow.  Often when prayers are said, it is within the perception of the individual pray-er of what the answer to that prayer will be!  It is as if the answer is there, we are just waiting for God to confirm our presupposition. 

When, in fact, prayer is to be where God is answering the prayers in His own way and timing - often unexpectedly!  By the church community and Christian individuals thinking and acting creatively, many more people would be seeing God in action.  Instead of independence, one of the prime hallmarks of being a follower of Jesus Christ is the need to be dependent on others as well as being dependable. This is imbued within the story of Jesus Christ washing His disciples feet.

Transformed Community

The Church community is to be actively engaged in radically helping people to be transformed and not merely happy.  Transformation is a powerful witness to the power of God and shows the relevancy of God and His people.  The best way to show this transformation is for the Church leadership to set the example, and show a way forward.  Good leadership has good accountability to each other and to the whole Church community.  If the church leaders are displaying a transparent life of creatively loving God and others, then the individual Christians within those churches will also seek to be transparently loving God and other people.  The media love to report when a Church and/or Church leader has done something inherently wrong Finally, Jesus recommends that those who follow Him be wise like serpents and innocent as doves (Matthew 10v16b).  This means that we are to be skilful and shrewd in making decisions that are characterised by intelligence, patience and shrewdness. 

Additionally, we are to be gentle and harmless, like doves.  This would make our church leaders and us accountable to live a life of integrity worthy of the gospel (Philippians 1v27). This is a life, which is seen to be as holy and blameless.  In order to do this, we need to depend on the Holy Spirit for strength and caring for others is a vital necessity for you and I.  By relying on the Holy Spirit who indwells us, we are therefore perpetually connected to Jesus Christ, who is after all, the Head of the church community who are His bride. The antidote to individualism is the continual creation of radical communities of transformed individual Christians, willing to be totally devoted to God, and each other and being sustained by the Holy Spirit who indwells, empowers, comforts, transforms, sustains and guides! 

By being radical communities thinking and acting creatively, we will be reflecting a creative Trinitarian God, and the Church will fulfil her bridal mandate of faithfully serving Jesus Christ, in submission to God the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus in Matthew 5v43-45 gloriously explains how to do this: "You have heard that it was said, 'Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.' But I tell you: Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven." And then to verse 48 "In a word, what I'm saying is, Grow up. You're kingdom subjects. Now live like it. Live out your God-created identity. Live generously and graciously toward others, the way God lives toward you."

Now that is the key to radically transformed communities and the antidote to individualism! For more to think about please do ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. What in my life could I change, so that the focus is away from myself and onto helping others?

Q2. How can my church and I reflect the Trinitarian God by being creatively loving, transforming and serving?

Q3. How can I help my church be more relevant in the community where it is located?

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Issues - Worship

 Partake - Issues

Worship

 

I often hear people say that their church has the best worship and that other church worship services are inferior! Or I hear that a person has moved churches, because the experience is different and better there!  What are we to think as Christians in the twenty first century about biblical worship?

The Psalmist writes in Psalm 105:1-6: "Give thanks to the Lord and proclaim his greatness. Let the whole world know what he has done. Sing to him; yes, sing his praises. Tell everyone about his wonderful deeds. Exult in his holy name; rejoice, you who worship the Lord. Search for the Lord and for his strength; continually seek him. Remember the wonders he has performed, his miracles, and the rulings he has given, you children of his servant Abraham, you descendants of Jacob, his chosen ones."

Today there are many different churches using different worship styles to worship the one True and Living God!  We can even think of different churches in the New Testament worshipping differently, such as the church of Philippi church being more liturgical and ordered, while the church of Corinth is more free and less controlled! As His followers and His worshippers, we are required to worship God and to worship Him publicly and with others!  There is a meaning of worship, whereby our very life is to be a spiritual act of worship according to Paul in Romans 12.  Paul meant that every aspect of our life is to be an act of worship, where our life is to be for the majesty and honour of God!   However, the definition of worship I want to talk about today is about public acts of worship, such as in a church or chapel service.  Where worshipping is to give respect, honour and glory to God! When this is done in reverence, in truth and in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ, then the Christian Disciple continues to mature and grow spiritually.  Let us look at the what, why and how of Biblical worship!

What is worship?

Worship is, by way of act, attitude, or thought, a way of giving supreme honour and reverence to God!  As Christian Disciples, God Almighty alone is worthy of our reverence, submission and worship. There are many other things that are worshipped and thus are ‘gods', with a small ‘g'.  Money, careers, possessions, other people are 21st century examples of things which are worshipped by humans.  Thus the threat of materialism is a huge danger to Christian Disciples, because the worship of material possessions takes the supreme place of worship to God, and some Christian Disciples have been duped by it!  But the Bible clearly states that God alone is to be worshipped.  For God is to carry the worshipping Christian Disciple, and not the Christian Disciple to carry the god.

Why worship?

Perhaps the greatest reason that we worship is because God commands it! The 10 Commandments (Exodus 21v1-3) insist that God alone is worshipped, adored and paid homage to!  As humans we are made in His image and as Christian Disciples, He owns us because we claim Jesus to be our Lord and Master! So it is right and just that we give worship to this God who paid the penalty for sin, so that we may be His children, and wants us to call Him Father!  As Christian Disciples, we discover an inner personal satisfaction when God is worshipped and adored, both for the present and in the future (Romans 12v2; Col 3v24)! Another reason to give worship is that God deserves our worship! All of God's attributes demand that we revere and worship Him! His holiness, goodness, love, mercy and providence are but a beginning as to why He, and He alone, is worthy of our worship.  It is by His grace, and through His grace alone, that we worship Him!

How are we to worship?

In some church services, a general confession of sin comes at the start.  This is because before engaging in exultant praise, Christian Disciples should approach with penitence and examine their inner selves just as Isaiah did in Isaiah 6.  We also gather in expectation of meeting God and that He will receive the worship! Worship services should consist of more than just singing songs.  The church is 2000 years old and in that time a lot of resources can be found to help people worship, apart from singing songs!  There are items like responsive prayers and psalms, whereby prayers and psalms are spoken between the congregation to each other and to the leader! 

There are times of silence, or times of spoken liturgy where truths of God are both spoken and heard.  Saying the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed help build the body in affirming their belief in an awesome God worthy of worship! Times of worship should be more diverse than just singing songs and should express the cultural and personality diversity of the people worshipping!  Remember, Jesus and certainly the early church participated in services which would certainly have contained liturgy, Scripture reading and songs! Other core parts of some worship services are the Holy Communion and Baptism! 

These were fundamental in churches in the New Testament period and are just as important today! 

  • Holy Communion is where we as Christian Disciples remember Jesus' death for our sin, acceptance of His death for us, and our dependence on Him for our spiritual life. 
  • Baptism is where Christian Disciples identify with the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
  • The third element of worship is the reading and preaching of the Bible! This where God's word is read in public!  This is where God's Word is preached so as to that God's word can be applied to the hearer's lives! 
  • Sermons can be the pinnacle of a worship service as God's revealed word is expounded, talked about and explained! Yet, sadly, for a lot of people its not considered worship! It most certainly is!

The whole of a church worship service should be where the spiritually comfortable are discomforted and those spiritually uncomfortable are comforted!  From 1 Corinthians 14:25, worship should be where non-Christians present can proclaim, "God is really among you".  So often our church worship services are flat, feeble and weak spiritually.  At one extreme in churches, we have worship services that are flippant and no consideration to make worship an awe-inspiring time of devotion to an awesome God!  At the other extreme, we have worship services where everybody looks like they have been sucking on lemons and where grace is obviously lacking.  Somewhere in between, is where public worship should be. 

In the broad spectrum of being neither trivialized nor grace-less, is where our church worship services should be!  Sometimes we need to worship, even if we don't feel like it and pray for God to help us worship Him.  Over all this, is 1 Corinthians 14v26, which plainly states: "Everything that is done must be useful to all and build them up in the Lord".

Public worship is for the encouragement of the gathered worshipping group of believers and not for the individual worshipper. The modern construct of only worshipping when its enjoyable or because the experience feels right is not a biblical construct.  When you find yourself in a worship service with others, as long as what is being said and sung is biblical, keep worshipping. Even if the style or method is not to your own personal taste! Just because the church down the road from you worships in a different style to you, doesn't make their worship in valid! We have a God worthy of all types of worship!

Don't grieve the Holy Spirit by trying to validate your own style over a different style, by saying your church worships better than any other!  The Holy Spirit works in different places in different ways! Stop limiting the Holy Spirit!  Through the energy and power of the Holy Spirit, any and all acts of church worship are done in reverence, in truth and in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ. Done regardless of our own personal taste, enjoyment level or experience.  Main thing is to worship in Spirit and in truth, and that is surely to be a cause of joy, regardless of worship style!  Let us use the diversity of worship styles to worship the One True Living God!

For more to think about please do read 1 Corinthians 14v26-39.

Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. When I attend worship services, is it for the encouragement of others or just for myself?
Q2. What are my favourite elements of worship and how should I react to those elements I don't like?
Q3. Does my life of following Jesus Christ, match the words I sing and words I speak in church worship services?

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Issues - Standing Alone

Issues Facing Christians Today

Standing Alone

Jesus speaking and from the Gospel of John 15:18-21 "If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.  The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you.  Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.' Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you.  They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the One who sent me."

As Christian Disciples, those who proclaim that they follow Jesus Christ as the Son of God, we have a new identity.  What are we to do with it?  The Bible is very clear that we are to stay faithful to Jesus Christ, particularly when it is difficult! It means staying faithful to Jesus and His will, regardless of opposition and alternatives. By doing this we are standing alone and being faithful to Him. Satan brings pressure to bear on Christians to reduce their standards and commitment.  Christian Disciples undergo challenges from those that either don't like or understand us.
We are constantly tempted to do wrong things or we are tempted not to do right things.  Either way, we are tempted to sin against our God. So we are to be separate from sin but not separated from a sinful society. This is what Jesus meant when He said we are to be "In the world but not of the world" (John 17:15-19).  The key to standing alone is to have constant identification with Jesus Christ in lifestyle and words.  It is to have a permanent reminder that we serve a faithful God and that Jesus Christ is to be our Master.  When we sin, either actively or passively, it is because we have some form of memory loss about who we are, if we call ourselves a follower or disciple of Jesus Christ, the one and only Son of God.

Hindrances to standing alone

As we live the Christian life, as Christian Disciples we will face hindrances to identifying with Jesus.  Here are three major areas that as Christian Disciples, we all undergo.
Firstly there is an inborn fear of what others will think - fear of being different and being laughed at.
Then there is the fear of losing friends. To have the right friends however, a person must be willing to have enemies. Jesus made friends on the basis of who would accept Him and His message. We may be excluded from the company of those who reject Jesus (Luke 6:26).
Another one is the desire to be like those in the world. In Psalm 73 David envied the success of the godless, until he realized their destiny was disaster; and that he had God and needed nothing else. Always taking what is best is no sacrifice.

How to stand alone

So if they are some of the hindrances, what are some of the keys in battling these hindrances?  As Christian Disciples we have to remember God's way of life is superior.  It is a life filled with abundance according to Jesus in John 10:10!  Then we realise that acting as light & salt in the world, you are co-operating with God and He is being glorified according to Peter in 1 Peter 4:12-14).  Remember; if you give people no reason to ask about the hope and faith you have in Jesus, they probably won't ask!  Jesus said in His final words before His ascension in Matthew 28:18-20, that we are to expect persecution for being his Disciples.  If that's how we identify with our lifestyle how do we identify verbally with Jesus?

How to verbally identify with Christ

Never apologize for what you know and believe to be a superior way of life.  However, that does not mean to be smug and arrogant about it because we are commanded to walk humbly and meekly.  Then just be natural about it.  As a college principle told me a long time ago and I still remember the words "Let your spiritual life be natural and your natural life be spiritual."

One way to do this is to project the idea that you are not your own boss - Jesus is your Lord and let him take both the strain and glory.  Remember that those who reject you also reject Jesus.

Making right decisions in questionable areas

Imagine you are in a situation and you have to make a correct decision in a questionable area.  What do you do?  Why not ask yourself questions and tell yourself statements such as:

  • Does it bring glory to God? (1 Corinthians10:31)
  • Can I thank God for this activity - could Jesus accompany me?
  • Does it build Christian character? (1 Corinthians10:23)
  • Will it cause another Christian to sin/stumble? (1 Corinthians8:9-13)
  • It should not control me habitually (1 Corinthians6.12)
  • If in doubt, throw it out. (Romans14:22-23)
  • Ask other people for advice. It is important what other people think.
  • Abstain from all appearances of evil (1 Thessalonians5:22)
  • Rely on the Holy Spirit to help you! Ask for His help and guidance!

Ask yourself the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them.  Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together. For more to do and think about please do read for yourself, John17:15-19.

Q1 - Have I given every area of my life to Christ in order to be faithful to Him?
Q2 - Am I prepared to be holy and obedient to God in all circumstances?
Q3 - Am I willing to sacrifice my desires for God's Will, so that I can clearly be seen identifying myself with Jesus in lifestyle and in words?

 

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Issues - Troubles

 Partake - Issues

Times of Trouble

 

Paul writing in 2 Corinthians 4v16- 18 "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal."

I wonder if sometimes you feel just like giving up, throwing it all away and just be buried by whatever is burdening you.  I guess, almost everyone has felt like that at one time or another.  Maybe its because you are undergoing troubles or suffering - physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually. Whatever it is, as a Christian you are to persevere. We persevere, because we are not alone in our troubles.  Also, if we think about it, in the light of eternity, the time of endurance through these troubles, is but the blink of an eye! Wow!

Persevere!

How are you and I to respond to suffering and other troubles?  Naturally, we either treat them too flippantly or far too seriously.  The response that God wants His followers to have is to be exercised by it.  When we undergo any suffering or trouble, we are to commit it to God, endure it and understand that He is faithful and that it will eventuate in His glory and for our own good (Romans 8v28; 1 Peter 4v18).  We are to be joyful when enduring suffering (James 1v2).  Now I admit, that that can be pretty hard to do, but we are not left alone.  The Holy Spirit indwells us if we are His followers and as one of His names suggests, as the Comforter, He provides comfort during the difficult times. So, just as He perseveres, so are we!

Perseverance in relation to God and His work is the continuous operation of the Holy Spirit in your life as a believer. It is a work of divine grace that is begun in your heart, which is continued and brought to completion.

As a Christian, you will never perish, and nobody or nothing can snatch them out of His hand (John 10v27-29). You have eternal life and you will not be condemned, passed from death to life (John 5v24). God, who began a good work in you, will carry it on to completion (Philippians 1v6). You are shielded by God's power (1 Peter 1v15). Nothing can separate you from God/Christ's love (Romans 8v38-39).

God's whole purpose for you is to transform you into the image of Jesus Christ. His purpose for you is to make you holy. This is where perseverance for you as a Christian comes in.  He may well, as we have seen, use some form of temporal suffering in order to achieve it, but in the light of eternity, it will not be for long!

You are to keep your eyes focussed on Jesus Christ, carry your cross daily and be willing to obey Him. You are to run the race with eyes fixed ahead, forgetting what is past and not looking back at what in the past had entangled us.  And yes it is hard to forget, but with the help of the Holy Spirit, it is possible! 

As a Christian, persevere in your relationship with God. Obey Him and follow Him. Ask questions humbly of Him and expect Him to answer, particularly if you don't understand something. Persevere in your prayers, your relationships with God and with other people. God will persevere with you, turning you gradually into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. God will not abandon you, but you are free to abandon Him. If you did abandon Him, He would still continue to call you back to Himself. So if He perseveres, so must we! But why do we persevere?

 

Character

Character results from persevering! As a Christian you are to be transformed and developed, working on improving your service and being transformed in the image of Jesus Christ.  That is God's ultimate purpose for you! But in order to do that, we need to find out what needs to be developed! These characteristics will help you to measure how much the Holy Spirit has been free to develop your character.

1. Persistence & Endurance - Persistence & endurance is developing staying power, to hold courageously under fire. In other words - bulldog tenacity. Things like criticism, circumstances, opposition & problems can stop you cold, if you allow them.. The problem is that we sometimes think the Christian life is a sprint race.  When in fact it is a marathon, where a second wind of the long hard grind is necessary. What is it that stops you? The size of a person is determined by what it takes to stop him or her. Winners are people who have formed the habit of doing things that failures hate to do. Don't let anything stop you!

2. Resistance - This is not resistance to ideas but resistance to opposition. Criticism is the occupational hazard for leaders (1 Peter 2v20-24). Discouragement is a cancer of the Spirit. Be resistant to discouragement and hyper-criticism. Let the Holy Spirit encourage you!

3. Servanthood - Matthew 20v26-28 "Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave." The first shall be last and the last shall be first. Priority is be given to service. An essential part of developing character, is serving. If Jesus, as King, could be a humble servant, in that He came to earth as a member of His own creation, then you and I can also be identified as humble servants..

4. Consistent Example - Modelling is the greatest unconscious form of learning what we know. As Paul writes in Philippians 3v17 - 4v9 "Follow me as I follow Christ". Whether you like it or not, people are following you, but are you following Christ closely? Those who are following and watching you, do not do what you tell them to do, but do what you do!

5. Self-mastery - You need to be unencumbered by the things that weigh you down. This is the danger of an affluent society. (Hebrews 12:1-2) "Travel light". You need to decide what is good and what is evil. The real decision is between that which is good, that which is better and which is better or best. Choose the best!!

6. Virile Private Life - Two things to keep in balance are involvement & isolation. You cannot do enough for others if you are constantly in the company of others. You also need time alone but not as a complete hermit!

7. Confidence - The number one problem in our culture today, is a lack of confidence. Paul said in Philippians 4v13: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me". For you as Christian Disciple, self-confidence is Christ-confidence - this is not egotism. Say to your self "I can't lose. I can only make mistakes". Confidence is spawned by the ability to say no. The New Testament is the doctrine of moderation in all things. You don't have to do everything you are capable of achieving.

8. Teachability - You are to be teachable because you have an unlimited ceiling of being taught. A key part of your being a Christian Disciple is a willingness to be taught by other people, even if you are in a teaching role!

9. Positive Attitude - A danger in becoming negative, is that a root of bitterness sets up. The greatest therapy is that of thanksgiving & prayer. God says you can do it. Satan says you can't do it.

10. Your capacity to believe God - What is there in your life that you are trusting in God for that He alone can do? (2 Corinthians 4v7) In your life, Jesus is to have the supremacy and glory over all things!

Whatever you are going through - persevere and develop character. Allow yourself to be transformed daily by God the Holy Spirit into the image of God the Son in obedience to the will of God the Father.

For more to think about please do ask your self the following questions, writing them down if you can, and see how you respond or react to them. Then why not share your answers with your spouse or a close friend, so that you can pray over any issues together.

Q1. After reading 2 Timothy 2v11-13, what motivates me to endure and persevere?

Q2. After reading Philippians 3v17, how can I follow Jesus Christ more closely?

Q3. After reading 2 Corinthians 4:7, what is there in my life that where I show trust in God for that which He alone can do?

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Issues - Self Interest

Partake - Issues

Self Interest

Philippians 2:4,21 "Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. For everyone looks out for his own interests, not those of Jesus Christ."

Those verses written by Paul almost two thousand years ago still resonate loudly today. In our culture, particularly in the west, selfish individualism is endemic and rife.   "I can do what I want, when I want, because I am right and always right."  "Me, me, me", people cry through their actions and attitudes! Where material possessions take precedence and the desire for more is ever evident throughout all aspects of life.  The interest of others is placed at the bottom of the pile - people are placed below possessions.  These are twenty-first century gods and idols.  Including, alas, even within the church itself!

The god of the twenty-first century is "self-interest" and humanity bows to this god quite willingly, because it offers no threat. At its very source is pride! Their actions and attitude proudly proclaims "I am first, and everyone else is last".  As Christians, what should our reaction be to this aspect of our culture? as Christians living within this societal culture, how are we and the Church to respond?

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How not to be a Chocolate Christian

or

How to change Ch-rch to Church!

Have you ever noticed that chocolate melts under pressure & heat? If you haven't, take a piece of chocolate and hold it between your fingers! It will soon melt!  If you are a Christian, you need to be active in your local church so that you don't melt under pressure and you will remain firm in your faith!  Otherwise you will be a chocolate Christian who easily gives up under the stress and pressure of every day life!At a church local to where you live, you are needed regardless of who you are!Perhaps this is you?

  • Interested observer but not a committed Christian
  • Not bothered
  • Not good enough
  • Just want to be left alone
  • Don't know how to be involved
  • Don't know why being involved is important
  • Too busy

But why should you be involved?

Why? You have talents to be used!!

When Jesus said to His apostles "I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father." (John 14:12), it was through the promised Holy Spirit (John 14:17), and the impartation of Spiritual Gifts that His words were fulfilled.

The reason that the Holy Spirit imparts spiritual gifts to Christians is so that the body of Christ is built up (Ephesians 4:12), for the common good of the church (1Corinthians 12:7, 14:12) and "so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ." (1 Peter 4:12). 

These three reasons signify that God wants Christians to be active in service and not still like stagnant water.  That is why we have been given gifts and if these gifts are not used for God's purposes, then they are utterly useless and meaningless.  And the gifts are not just the supposedly spectacular gifts but also the supposedly mundane!  Cleaning is as much a spiritual gift as preaching is!

As we are not to neglect our gifts, or let other Christians neglect their gifts, we are to fan the gifts into flame (2 Timothy1:6).  Much like blowing on embers and stirring them up will restart the flames of a fire!  To do this, as Christians, we are to employ the gifts faithfully and by asking God to continue their development, strengthening and for opportunities to use them! Seek gifts that build up others, commands Paul (1 Corinthians 14:1-12). Ask God faithfully for gifts that give opportunity for service to God and others!

Why?  We are dependent on each other

As Christians, we are dependent upon each other, just as one part of the human body has dependence on another part.  That is why we serve each other and use the gifts generously given by God.  As all Christians have gifts, we have a responsibility to discover and develop them (1 Timothy 4:14)!  God has called Christians and equipped them with spiritual gifts, and they are not to be neglected! You are a member of the body of Jesus Christ the church! If you are not being active that means the Church body is affected aversely! Its like a part of your body failing to do as it should!

Why? Improve your serve!

They are opportunities for Christians to serve other people.  Some gifts like teaching, helping or leadership quite possibly are enhancements of natural abilities whilst others like faith, healing and miracles are from the Spirit's empowerment alone.In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), Jesus intimates that those who follow Him, will be judged according to all that they have been given stewardship of!  This includes things such as Spiritual Gifts (1 Corinthians 12:1-10), acts of service (Galatians 5:13) and material possessions (2 Corinthians 9:6-8)! These are used to accomplish three other items of Stewardship: mission, message and people.

Why? To follow Jesus

The Christian life is not to be static or inactive - it was never meant to be!  The Christian life is to be dynamic! It is to be active.  The word servant is key in Scripture.  It is used at least 500 times in its various derivatives. When a Christian serves, God's honour is released.  This is done because service shows the beauty and glory of Jesus Christ to those being served and to those watching.  That is to be our motive for service. 

Serving is never to be about what you and I can get out of it.  When that is the motive, God is not glorified. God's glory, honour and supremacy are to be the goal of a Christian's life.  Spiritual growth comes from serving rather than being served.  This is because what ever is given in service of God and others, your faith grows and Jesus Christ gives back even more.

Jesus speaking in Matthew 25:15-30 tells of the rewards for faithful service and the penalties for being faithless.  Serving others is a sign that you are trusting in and having faith in God.  It's a visible aspect of your invisible faith.  Service is the outward expression of your inner beliefs. Serving is an outward expression of your inner faith - an external working out of your inner salvation. Serving God and others is the mark of a spiritually mature (or spiritually maturing) Christian and through service, the greatest servant of all, Jesus Christ, is reflected in our lives. 

"For Jesus Christ, came to serve and give his very life for others" (Mark 10:45).  As Christians we are to be as Jesus Christ (Romans 8:28; Philippians 2:5) and to serve.  Yet if we are honest, we sometimes feel incapable, just as Moses did (Exodus 3).  When the church is built up, unity will inevitably prevail and be built up.

GO!

So if you find you are currently inactive in your local church, then please go and make yourself available to serve there!  Ask your pastor or church leader how you can help out! By doing so, and submitting yourself to the Holy Spirit who indwells you, the lives of other people could be changed for God's greater glory because of your acts of service and worship.

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Issues - Government

 Partake - Issues

Government

 

In the UK, when we have a General Election, that is where people vote for their political representatives. After al the votes are counted there will be a government elected! This of course, is not unique to the UK! All people all over the world live under some from of leadership or government.  That government may be democratically elected, a monarchy or even an oppressive dictatorship. 

Whatever kind of government we find ourselves with, we have one!  If there was not a government in place, as hard as it is to imagine, total chaos would reign and people would just do whatever pleases them, regardless of consequences and regardless of other people.  Therefore, regardless of whatever government we live under, what does the Bible say should be our reaction and attitude to the government. 

By government, I mean all levels of government and authority - from local authority to federal government. 

But first of all, lets look at what the Bible has to say about the function of human government, before going on to look at our responsibility to Government and our community.

The Function of Human Government

Paul writing in Romans 13 "Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and he will commend you. For he is God's servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God's servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also because of conscience. This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God's servants, who give their full time to governing. Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour."

Here Paul indicates that there are at least three functions of a human government: protection, punishment and promotion.

  • Protection: From the moment Adam sinned, it was plainly obvious that human civilizations would need some form of restraint and law, in order to protect their citizens - form themselves and others.  We see this clearly in Acts 21, where the Roman soldiers step in to save Paul from being killed by other people in Jerusalem. 
  • Punishment: Paul stipulates that duly appointed government officials and servants are to be considered as servants of God (even if they don't believe in God!) 
  • Promotion: Human government, as thought by Paul, was to promote the broad-spectrum welfare of all the community and not just select groups, where its laws are in effect.

 

Christian Response to Human Government

 

Paul in 1 Timothy 2:1-3 writes: "I urge, then, first of all, that requests, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for everyone- for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour,"

The Apostle Peter goes further when writing in 1 Peter 2v13-17 "Submit yourselves for the Lord's sake to every authority instituted among men: whether to the king, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God's will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of foolish men. Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God. Show proper respect to everyone: Love the brotherhood of believers, fear God, honour the king."

From these passages of Scripture we see that it is clearly impossible to be simultaneously a solid Christian and a poor citizen.  As Christians we have responsibilities to our government.

  • Firstly we have a responsibility to recognize and acknowledge that God ordains the Government. We see that from Paul's writing in Romans 13 and Paul was writing when the Emperor Nero was in power and systematically persecuting and torturing Christians!  We also see this thinking in the passage from 1 Peter. There is no authority except as given by God.  Even to the most sadistic, dictatorial or atheist governments - they have power only because God has allowed them.  So we are to obey our government!  But it is not to be slavish obedience regardless of what laws are decreed! No!   The exception to this is where obedience to the Government would require the Christian to actively or passively disobey God.  For we read in Acts 4v18-20 that the believer is to live in obedience to God rather than man.
  • Secondly, as much as we probably hate to, we are commanded to pay taxes to the government!  For by doing so, the government can set about ensuring, for example, that the weaker and more vulnerable sections of the community are cared for and protected!
  • Thirdly, and quite possibly, most importantly, Christians are to pray for their leaders, governments and those in authority!  Both Peter and Paul command and recommend it!  To pray for them is to love them and it is also a way for God to shine into the lives of people.  One of the things we are to pray for, is that the government governs righteously, honourably, honestly and with integrity. The Christian, as a citizen, is free to be law-abiding, conscious that they are under submission to Almighty God. It also means giving respect to all members of society from the lowest to the highest!  As Christians, we are to submit ourselves to our Government and be living lives worthy of the Gospel of Christ. This may indeed win some for God, win the recognition of their government as well as influencing Government policy and law.  Whatever government you find yourself under, pray for your leaders even if you thoroughly disagree with some or all of their actions.  They are in power, only because our God has allowed them.  They will answer to Him one day for what they have done with the power given to them by God alone.  God is in control, and He is on the ultimate throne and is the definitive power!

 

Community Responsibility

But just as we have responsibility to our Government, we also have a responsibility for those in our community - both local and global.  We are also to work for social justice and be involved in social action - that's part of our loving of other people.  The oppression and persecution of people is to be anathema to us as Christians, just as it is to our God!  Where a minority is maltreated and discriminated we should be at the forefront of demanding justice for all!  We are to be promoting civil rights and using all aspects of the law to do so.  We are to be working to ensure the poorest members of our community, both local and global, are cared for and the oppressed freed! In your country, this could mean peaceful demonstrations and interacting with your political representatives! 

Look at some of the great reformers or social activists of the past: Wilberforce helping to abolish slavery; or Martin Luther King Jr. at the forefront of ending segregation and racism.  May each one of us, on both a local and international scale, play some small part in ending prejudice, suffering, racism, poverty, bigotry, abuse, oppression and other injustices. 

As John Stott once said: "The reason for our acceptance of social responsibility... is simple uncomplicated compassion.  Love has no need to justify itself. It merely expresses itself in service wherever it sees need."

As Jesus of Nazareth once said: "Love God and love other people."

Some questions to help your thinking!

  1. In what way can I influence and encourage my government to promote justice, free the oppressed and take care of the poor?
  2. How can I help my government authorities to protect, punish and promote?
  3. When was the last time I actively prayed for those in authority over me, whether Christian or secular? Thank you.

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Exploring Romans

Part 8. Romans 12:9-13

9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. 10 Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves. 11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord. 12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. 13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practise hospitality.


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Exploring Romans

Part 7. Romans 12:1-8

1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship. 2 Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

3 For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. 4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

6 We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith; 7 if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; 8 if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.


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