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‘Some people have gotten out of the habit of meeting for worship, but we must not do that’ Hebrews 10:25 (CEV)

HEBREWS 10:25

As I was praying for the new term, I felt the Lord lay on my heart this verse for the church. Which in Simon’s translation is ‘Keeping coming to church each week, at the start of the academic year block out Sundays for meeting with Jesus’. There is a growing habit across the UK church to only come to church when it is convenient to do so. At the start of this term I want us all to prioritise coming to Sunday worship each week. Let us break the habit of only coming when it is convenient or when I feel like it. I don’t want to belittle the real struggle it is for many of us to come to church each week and that is why we will once again put on two services on a Sunday. We also are committed through life groups to walk alongside those who work or have unbelieving partners or support family on Sundays so they can be accountable.

A recent study in America showed evangelical Christians do not attend church regularly for the following reasons

1.    They practice their faith in other ways (46%)

2.    Logistical – not have the time or poor health (26%)

3.    They haven’t found a church they like

4.    They dislike the sermons

5.    They do not feel welcome

 

However the survey showed that the majority of those who practiced the faith outside church were those who regularly attended church debunking reason 1 making it an excuse.

I wonder whether you can identify with any of the reasons above, so to help you try and establish a good habit let me share some of the reasons why you should prioritise Sunday worship.

It demonstrates Faith – although we believe that coming to church does not make you a Christian. Just as going to McDonalds does not make you a hamburger but just as you will find hamburgers in McDonalds so you should find Christians at church. Faith the bible teaches is not just belief in God, if this was the case the book of James reminds us, that this would make the devil a Christian. But faith is acknowledging Jesus as our Lord. It is submitting and following him. Putting my belief in action.  Therefore if we submit to him being our Head, we are part of his body, the church. And as Ricky Jones says ‘I want you to understand that being part of the universal church without submitting to a local church is not possible, biblical, or healthy. First, it’s simply not possible. To imply you can be part of the greater community without first being part of the smaller is not logical’. Now you may argue that the bible nowhere dictates about weekly attendance, but surely this verse indicates that when we make Jesus our Lord we become part of a church and we submit to its chosen way of worshiping and following the Lord. So for us as a church this means presently weekly Sunday worship and connection with a life group.

 

It builds Family – when we put our faith in Jesus we become part of his family. As this verse describes we meet to encourage one another. Worship has been defined as ‘relating to God in the presence of others and relating to others in the presence of God.’ Sunday worship is when we gather with our God and his family. Matthew 18:20 reminds us when we gather in the name of Jesus he is there. For us as good Baptists we remember that gathering in his name is ‘retelling’ his story through baptism, communion, word and worship. When we do that we are meeting as a family with our God. We are building healthy relationships with the Lord and one another. If I miss out regularly I may begin to feel less and less connected with the Lord and the rest of his family.

 

It Feeds & sustains my Christian life – we join each Sunday to worship and we come in submission to the Lord – through songs, prayers and the Word. And it feeds and sustains me. I simply quote William Temple’s definition of worship

“Worship is the submission of all of our nature to God. It is the quickening of the conscience by his holiness; the nourishment of mind with his truth; the purifying of imagination by his beauty; the opening of the heart to his love; the surrender of will to his purpose–all this gathered up in adoration, the most selfless emotion of which our nature is capable and therefore the chief remedy for that self-centredness which is our original sin and the source of all actual sin.”

 

It fuels the miraculous – the gifts of the Spirit are distributed to the body. 1 Corinthians 14 reminds us that it is when we come together that we prophesy and use these gifts. We should all come prepared to be used by the Lord in exercising spiritual gifts. It is when we gather in worship that the Lord is present in his church to work the miraculous.

 

It falls short without me – if we truly believe in the description of the church as the body. I am letting down the rest of the body if I choose not to take my place and my part regularly. Have you thought the church might be falling short of all the Lord has for it because I am not taking my place or my part.

 

It is the fire of evangelism – we all struggle with evangelism. But do you realise that the greatest act of personal evangelism is commitment to church. The church is the Lord’s evangelistic strategy for the world. So if you are wanting others to come to know Jesus – commit to church. This is because Jesus tells us it is not the miraculous or the persuasiveness of our arguments that will convince people but our way of community, of love of being church. Also it demonstrates to my family and friends where my priorities lie. Also it where when we all gather as a body Jesus is present and people can meet him and he uses my gifts to speak to others.

 

I know there are many other reasons to commit to church this term. I saw Hillsong posted 99 reasons to attend church (I didn’t read them) but I hope as you pray over these 6 reasons you will prioritise a Sunday worship service and your life group each week. And if we all did that I am sure renewal and revival would break out at Wallingford Baptist Church or whatever church you belong to.

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You are an overcomer Luke 4 #beonemakeone

In Luke 4 we see the temptation of Jesus. I remember writing my first sermon and it was on this passage. And I was only 10years old. I think therefore I can be excused for missing the main point of this chapter. But like most people I focussed on what we can do to overcome temptation. And although this is valid and we will also use this passage to think about this – the main focus of Luke is not to give us a method to overcome temptation but to declare that as Christians we are already overcomers!

Let me explain.

Luke 3 ends with the genealogy. And it is by no accident that Luke located it where he did. As we saw last time he was demonstrating the uniqueness of Jesus being the start of something new, a break from the old and the start of something new – a new humanity. Luke would have remembered Paul’s teaching that Jesus was the new Adam. Therefore it is not surprising that like the first Adam, Jesus would be tempted by Satan. We see that in chapter 4. It was a temptation that was the same as Adam’s and I think Luke switched the order from Matthew to show this more clearly. It was a temptation to the Lust of the flesh (desires/appetites) , lust of the eyes and to the pride of life (wisdom, pride) see also 1 John 2:16.

But the focus of this passage is the obvious difference between Adam and Jesus. Jesus overcame and did not give into temptation. The new humanity would be different. Therefore the conclusion is that through our baptism we are included in Christ and his new humanity and so guess what – You are an overcomer. You have overcome sin.

This is the truth. We have to know this truth. The problem is that when we focus on our old humanity we feel shame, guilt and fail. But when we believe that we are in Christ there is no shame or guilt when we confess our sin and we can then start to live from our new identity.

This does not mean that we do not battle with temptation but we do so free from shame, guilt and inevitability. We battle from a place of victory. Perhaps that is why the temptations of satan lead us to doubt 1. God’s character (that he doesn’t care) or 2. his Word (promises) or 3. his way (that suffering can’t be God’s plan). Because if we doubt God, we doubt our identity and then give in to temptation.

Jesus had to learn here and in the garden of gethsemane that avoiding suffering, pain and hardship is not God’s way but that suffering can be redemptive.

So whatever you are facing don’t doubt God and know that you are overcomer.

But as overcomers we can have a strategy to live in victory and we see in this passage a number of practices we embrace as overcomers

1. Know your identity 3:22

2. Be filled with the Holy Spirit 4:1

3. Embrace the wilderness times 4:1

4. Find solitude for prayer and word 4:2

5. Consider fasting as a discipline to live from God and his word 4:2

6. Remember we are in conflict with a liar/deceiver 4:2

7.Discover your ministry and purpose in serving God 4:14

Jesus has overcome and therefore you are ‘more than a conqueror’. Start believing it.

Luke 3 BEONE #beonemakeone

As we know Luke also wrote Acts. I am sure as Luke wrote this passage we know as chapter 3 he clearly had in mind the conclusion of Peter’s sermon in Acts ringing in his ears. Peter concludes his first sermon with the response of those wanting to be followers of Jesus..

‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit’ Acts 2:38

And in this passage Luke leads us through the same process if we are to know the Lord’s salvation and be his disciples.

1. Repentance – Verse 18 tells us that John’s baptism was the gospel. It was good news. It was through repentance and baptism that the people could know forgiveness of sins and escape the wrath of God’s judgement. Luke is telling us that repentance is first a heart condition. A turning around and towards God. The Pharisees were condemned as they did not see their need to repent (cf Luke 5:30-31). They had no heart response. Repentance of the heart leads to confession. Matthew records that they confessed with their mouths their sins. And finally confession leads to change in actions. For us to repent it needs to start with the heart felt need which leads to a confession of the mouth which leads to a change in actions. Have you truly repented? What actions do you need to take to demonstrate this?

2. Believe – Although John’s baptism was good news it was not complete without Jesus (see Acts 19:1-6). This chapter is pointing to belief in Jesus. From the comparison of human authorities in verse 1, through to John’s confession if him as the messiah whose sandal straps he is not worthy to untie and his confession that he will baptise with the Holy Spirit and will judge. Luke is showing with his reference to John’s imprisonment that Jesus is starting a new era which is emphasised at the end of the chapter by reference to the genealogy of Jesus back to Adam. Jesus is the start of a new humanity – the last Adam. Therefore to know salvation there has to be a a belief and confession of Jesus as the Son of God.

3. Baptism – To receive this Salvation there also needs to be a baptism. Not just a baptism of repentance but one of identification with Christ. To enter into the new humanity and to be a disciple of Jesus.

4. Receive the Holy Spirit – however Luke’s emphasis in this passage is on the gift of the Holy Spirit. This gift is from Jesus and for those who have put their faith in Jesus and identified with him through baptism. It is interesting that only Luke records the action of Jesus as he received the Holy Spirit – he was praying. How much more than Jesus (who was fully God but in his humanity prayed for the infilling of the Holy Spirit) do we need to pray for and receive the Holy Spirit. Have you asked him. (see Luke 11:13).

Like Jesus as we receive the Spirit, the Spirit of adoption, we to can have the witness of the Spirit that we are a child of God, loved by God and perhaps most significantly that God is pleased with us – before we do anything! This is the identity that we live from and comes as we pray for the Holy Spirit.

So the question is what is stopping you repenting, believing, being baptised and asking for the Holy Spirit. This is how you become a disciple of Jesus. #Beone

Matthew 28:20 ‘I am with you always’

My final advent reflection is a little late but perhaps it is better as a New Year promise. We have been looking at Matthew 28v18-20 – The great commission. But the great commission comes with a great promise ‘I am with you always’. What difference would it make to you if you believed this was true. And for those who have come to faith, been baptised and are living in a church community it is true.

So my question to you today and for this year is how will it change your attitudes and actions if you were to start living in confident expectation of what Jesus can do and that Jesus is with you.

The promise of the presence of Jesus with us echoes the promise to all the saints down the ages. God made this promise to Isaac, to Jacob as he fled in fear at Bethel, to the fearful, doubting Moses at the burning bush, to Joshua on the death of Moses and the challenge to win the land, to the people through Haggai who returned to rebuild the temple that seemed so small and insignificant , to Jeremiah the prophet….we could go on but through the lives of these saints we see what can be accomplished through faith, how the most challenging obstacles to faith can be overcome, what mighty deeds and miracles can happen all through faith in the presence of God with them.

Let us read these stories to inspire us to attempt much for the Lord and to have courage to face our challenges. The Lord reminded the people many times in Isaiah that with the presence of God we can overcome all fears, challenges and obstacles – ‘When you pass through the waters I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze…..Do not be afraid, for I am with you‘ Isaiah 43

How will this promise change your attitudes and actions if you were to start living in confident expectation of this truth.

The writer to the Hebrews reminds us as well of the promise of the presence of Jesus in Hebrews 13:5. The presence of Jesus he writes helps us to learn to be content with what we have and to commit faithfully in our relationships and not shy away from suffering, hard work… What great New Year resolutions. But we don’t have to try in our own effort, as the writer to the Hebrews exhorts us let us say, proclaim with confidence

The Lord is my helper, I will not be afraid. What can mere mortals do to me.’

We can do this because ‘Jesus is the same, yesterday, today and forever‘.

So let us read the gospels in confidence that Jesus is the same today, what he did then he can do today and let us put ourselves and our situations into the gospels and know that this Jesus is with us today. That he is our helper.

So as you start this New Year whatever this year may hold know that Jesus is with you. How will this change your attitude and actions TODAY.

Luke 1:1-5 Disciple #beonemakeone

The call to discipleship

Luke’s gospel was written to Theophilus whose name means ‘friend of God’. And this is the gospel (good news) of Luke and all the gospel writers that we can be friends of God. This gospel was written so that Theophilus could ‘know this’. So as we begin this series on discipleship know that you are called to be a friend of God. Read this gospel so that you can know that this is what a Christian is – a friend of God. Jesus came to ‘seek and save the lost’ (19:10) to make you a friend of God.

The challenge of discipleship

Theophilus was also a person. He is called ‘most excellent Theophilus’. A term also used by the author in Acts to refer to a Roman Official. (Acts 23:26 & 24:3). So Theophilus is most likely to be a Roman Official. So this gospel was written so Theophilus could live out being a ‘friend of God’, a disciple of Jesus in his challenging situation. It would not have been easy (nigh on impossible) to be a Christian and a Roman Official but this gospel was written so that Theophilus would not full away but follow. The greek word translated ‘certainty’ is asphaleia. This literally means to prevent someone from falling or stumbling. So this gospel was written so that a disciple of Jesus would not fall or stumble in very challenging times. We too, live in challenging times to be a follower of Jesus. Let us use this gospel as a guide and encouragement to prevent us from stumbling, compromising, falling away or back.

The case for discipleship

Discipleship involves believing, learning and living. This gospel was written so that Theophilus would trust and live out what he had been taught. The greek word for ‘taught’ is katecheo the word we get catechism from. To be a disciple is to be instructed, to learn and to live out what they have been taught. When it comes to discipleship today we prefer feelings to learning facts, solace to study and worshipnto work. But the challenge in these opening verses is to be a disciple is to learn, study and obey. How about picking up a bible study or theology book. How about committing to learning the New City Catechism or memorising some scripture as part of your discipleship this year. Or better still try and find a Luke who will take time to disciple you.

Because this gospel needed an author. Although not identified in this gospel from AD 120 has known to be Dr Luke. We know the author also wrote Acts and this author was a travelling companion of Paul (see Acts 16 &20) and therefore we accept tradition that it was Dr Luke as referred to in Col 4:14, 2Tim 4:11 & Philemon 24. We also know that this was wriiten by someone who ‘investigated’ , ‘ordered’ and gave a detailed account – skills of a trained Dr. And so for Theophilus to be discipled he needed a Luke to research, study, share the gospel. And so this year the challenge is not just to be a Theohphilus (a disciple) but also a Luke (a disciple maker). This will involve pray, research, study and preparation but also more than that – the phrase ‘from the beginning’ is translated in Johns gospel as ‘from above’ and I think this perhaps reflects Luke theology better. Luke has seen the necessity to serve the word (logos) but also to have the empowering of the Spirit. And so to be a disciple maker we need to serve the logos (gospel) in the power from above – the Holy Spirit.

So stay in the word and keep on being filled with the Spirit and you will not only beone but also makeone. Let us change our world.

Advent 3 Following is Obeying

immanuel

When we hear these words of Jesus ‘teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you’ we are reminded that Jesus was a living, breathing, talking person who taught us. This Advent Sunday we remember that God came into the world, Emmanuel and dwelt among us as the Light of the World. Jesus inhabited history. So this Christmas let us celebrate the coming of God into our world. We celebrate the Word becoming flesh but let us also celebrate the word of God, the bible, which is not only an accurate account of God’s interaction and intervention in history but as Christians believe the very word of God.

So how do we know what to teach the followers of Jesus – not our own ideas, or philosophies but the word of God – the bible. So let us be those who work hard in understanding and following the word of truth (2 Tim 2:15).

In this verse Jesus is specifically calling us to follow his commands. Have you ever spent time listing the commands of Jesus. How about to begin with  ‘Come to me’ ; ‘be born again’; ‘pray’;’give’; ‘witness’; ‘heal the sick’; LOVE ONE ANOTHER………

However this verse reminds us that we are not to just teach the commands of Jesus but teaching them to be obeyed. We are not to just add burdens to disciples but to help them obey. This surely includes teaching but also demonstrating, pastoring, walking alongside, picking up, forgiving, not judging, as well as teaching how the Holy Spirit is given to enable us to obey. I came across this quote recently ‘What if discipling is about journeying with others in order to make them like you?’

But I believe the main way to teaching disciples to obey is to help them understand who they are obeying, They are obeying the one who has all authority and therefore knows and has authority for the way to peace, blessing and life. However Christmas reminds us all that we are obeying the one who did not force his reign or kingdom on us but came humbly as a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger. A baby come to be received gladly into our lives and loved simply for who he is. That is why Jesus himself said that it is those who love him that will obey his commands.

This Christmas let the story draw you to receive and love Jesus and then obey the commands of the one who though he was rich yet for our sake became poor, so that we through his poverty might become rich. His commands are then not burdensome but an act of love and trust.

#be1make1 – be1 by obeying the commands of Jesus and then make1 to obey the command of Jesus

Advent 2 -Where is Jesus today?

maat 28 all

In this advent season we remember Jesus is coming back the question that follows is ‘Where is he coming back from?’ or ‘Where is Jesus today’?

Our advent verse helps us answer this. First it reminds us that ALL authority in heaven and earth has been given to him. Who gave it to him? The Father is the obvious answer. And so we believe that Jesus is now reigning in heaven with his Father with his enemies as his footstool. (see Hebrews 1:3). So we can have confidence in his sovereignty in our lives and in the world. And we are those who go into the world to see his reign established in our lives and our world.

However in another sense the authority referred to here is the authority of Revelation 5. The authority to bring the whole of history to climax and fulfilment. Jesus has this authority because he has triumphed at the cross and resurrection. Because he has ‘purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation….and they will reign on earth’. Revelation 5:9-11.

Therefore , as the verse emphasises, the command of his disciples is to #beonemakeone. The call to go to ALL nations and peoples. To bring them back to serve/worship God because Jesus has purchased/redeemed them. The greek work for ‘nations’ is all peoples or people groups, all gentiles or peoples not like us. The word go is a participle ‘in your going’ a reminder that wherever we happen to be going our call is to make disciples -this is the standard for all Christians. So in your going to work, going to sports club, going to the school gate… the command is to make disciples.

However the participle is linked directly to the command to make disciples and so carries an imperative sense. So we need to do more than just see this as a standard for Christians but we need a strategy to fulfil it. Jesus gave the disciples a strategy to begin in Jerusalem and then move out. Peters strategy was to the Jews and Pauls to the gentiles. What is your strategy to reach the nations? Is it to give financially to a particular overseas mission or country/people group? Is it to pray for a particular overseas mission or country? Is it to go? What is your part in the strategy?

I have been challenged by the young missionary John Chau who was martyred trying to reach a forbidden island (North Sentinel Island). I have my own questions about his actions and wonder whether he got his strategy right or worked with the church to reach out. But I do admire his desire. I dont know the full story but I just wonder whether going solo was his error. We were never meant to fulfil the great commission on our own.

For our verse gives us another location of Jesus. Jesus is with the disciples who are following this great commission. In other words Jesus is where the church is. This is our ecclesiology that we are the body of Christ. And the body of Christ should be doing the same (or even greater) things than the physical body of Jesus did. We should be going, finding the lost, baptizing and teaching obedience to the command of Jesus. This is the task of the church. And we are a global, international body,  being the body of Jesus in all the nations in the world. So let us make sure we are part of one and accountable to one. And let us also see how we can support the church in mission across the world working with the local church.

This Sunday we as a church are praying for and giving to help the persecuted church. Not to take them away from their ‘going’ in sharing Jesus is tough places but to pray for them, encourage them and release resources for them to be the body of Christ.

So this advent make sure in all your going you seek to obey the command to make disciples. However more than that make a strategy to reach the nations. Get involved in overseas mission. Strategy takes research, conversations, commitment and action. Make a strategy and be involved in our churches strategy. Talk to someone form the mission fund group or find a group you can talk late into the night and strategize with.