May 302013

Grace and conscienceHave you ever wondered why Christians can be so different from each other? We all use the same manual but the way we live and the way we do things can often be worlds apart. We differ in many ways but none more so than by the way we ‘do’ church. Some people insist on going to church in a 3 piece suit, while others are happy in a pair of shorts and a vest top. Some think that you should only sing along to an organ while others are happy to worship to heavy rock, rap, hip-hop etc.

So which is right? Should we all be “formal and respectful” or should we be ‘free’ and do whatever we like (as long it’s not spoken against specifically in the bible).

This is not a new dilemma; in fact Paul addresses a very similar issue in the bible. In 1 Corinthians 8 Paul talks about people who were happy to eat meat used in idol sacrifice, condemning (or at least looking down on) those whose conscience wouldn’t allow them to do so. The people who ate the meat would say “now we are under grace we can do whatever we like, our consciences are totally clear!”

The trouble was, the people who didn’t want to eat that same meat did not have the same clear conscience.

Paul didn’t say to those with a weak conscience “come on now, don’t listen to your conscience; you are free now, here, have a steak!” No, he actually tells them to be careful how they exercise their freedom.

This was obviously something that Paul felt strongly about because he also raises the same subject in Romans 14:

Accept the one whose faith is weak, without quarreling over disputable matters. One person’s faith allows them to eat anything, but another, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The one who eats everything must not treat with contempt the one who does not, and the one who does not eat everything must not judge the one who does, for God has accepted them. Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To their own master, servants stand or fall. And they will stand, for the Lord is able to make them stand. One person considers one day more sacred than another; another considers every day alike. Each of them should be fully convinced in their own mind. Whoever regards one day as special does so to the Lord. Whoever eats meat does so to the Lord, for they give thanks to God; and whoever abstains does so to the Lord and gives thanks to God.” (Romans 14:1-6)

A key verse comes later in the chapter:  “So then, each of us will give an account of ourselves to God.” (Romans 12:12)

What I love about God’s kingdom is its enormous diversity. Every culture does things differently and God deals with us in unique ways. The key thing is to follow your conscience. God gives us a conscience for a purpose and it is absolutely vital that we keep it intact; if we ‘sear’ our consciences we can get into real trouble.

“…..holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith.” (1 Timothy 1:19)

The first question to ask yourself is, “is my conscience clear in all that I do?” If the answer is yes, then the next questions that follow close behind are “am I looking down on people because I consider myself freer than they are?”, or “am I judging someone because they live out their Christianity in a different way to me?”. If the answer to either of these two questions is ‘yes’ then you are tending towards pride.

There are of course certain fundamentals to the Christian faith that we should hold onto tightly, even confronting people (lovingly) who are obviously sinning. But there are many grey areas that Christians can disagree on and it is very dangerous to think that we have all the answers.

Let’s have an open heart to learn from all our brothers and sisters who live out their Christianity differently to us. God seems to love having lots of different flavours and colours to make up His glorious church and His plan is that whatever we do, we do it all with love.

 May 30, 2013  Posted by at 3:23 pm God's family, Grace, The Church No Responses »
May 232013

serviceGrace doesn’t only provide for our salvation and forgiveness of sins; it releases us to serve God and His people with grace gifts that have been provided for us.

Grace doesn’t mean we sit back and do nothing; it should motivate us to great works that please our saviour; as I stated in last week’s blog, never because we “ought to” but rather out of a desire to please Him.

Now we are followers of Jesus our calling is to serve Him.

And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God ask of you but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul”. (Deuteronomy 10:12)

Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms”. (1 Peter 4:10)

Every one of us has received gifts to fulfil the tasks that God has given us. These gifts are received by grace and they are acted upon with grace. It is an absolute privilege to participate in the building up of God’s church and to contribute towards the knowledge of His good name throughout the earth.

It is important to note that the gifts we receive are not rewards. They are not given as a result of reaching a certain level of maturity in our christian walk. Just as grace is given freely, so are these gifts given to us freely.

The apostle Paul was not afraid of hard work but his hard work was only accomplished through grace.

But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect. No, I worked harder than all of them—yet not I, but the grace of God that was with me.” (1 Corinthians 15:10)

An important question to ask from this passage is “how can God’s grace be without effect?” Or put another way “how can our response to His grace frustrate the work of His grace in our lives?”

I believe there are a number of ways this can happen:

(1) Grace is ineffective when we don’t believe it.

Doubt can be a major problem in accomplishing what God has given us to do. For example, God chose Moses who came up with a load of excuses about how unqualified he was (and God got quite angry); God called Gideon who was doubtful, saying he was the least in his tribe. Thankfully both Moses and Gideon pushed through and received God’s blessing, but it is possible to disqualify yourself through lack of faith. If God says you can do it, don’t argue; His promises are true and faithful.

(2) We can overdo grace and lean into licence.

Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as God’s slaves.” (1 Peter 2:16)

Don’t have an attitude which says “it doesn’t really matter, I can just do what I like….”

(3) Legalism

I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!” (Galatians 2:21)

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4)

It is very easy to slip into legalism, but if we do we will become ineffective.

(4) Laziness

Hard work is no enemy of grace. The apostle Paul did not seem to mind speaking about his hard work (see previous verse quoted-1 Corinthians 15:10).

Keep going! If grace is central, you will be able to persevere. Life can get really hard at times and serving Jesus can be quite a struggle. As we have already seen, Paul was working tremendously hard, and on top of that he had a “thorn in the flesh” to contend with, but that didn’t stop him:

“…But He said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Also in 2 Corinthians 4:16 it says

Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.”

If you are beginning to lose heart I pray these last few posts will really help you to keep going. Don’t forget, His burdens are light (Matthew 11:30) and He only wants you to keep doing what He has given you to do, not what you feel you ought to be doing.

 May 23, 2013  Posted by at 7:59 pm Grace, Reward No Responses »
May 162013

What have I done to deserve thisGrace is so unfair. We like to think that everyone gets what they deserve. Good people deserve good things and bad people deserve… well, punishment. Or at the very least, nothing.

God’s grace isn’t like that though. It defies our understanding.

Abraham was one of the first people to receive grace, not because he deserved it or was better than anyone else; he wasn’t. In the mystery of God Abraham was chosen and grace was lavished on him. God is an extravagant God and Abraham’s blessing is still going on now thousands of years later.

When God bestows his grace, however, it is no guarantee of an easy life. In fact it can make things harder! Joseph, one of Abraham’s descendants, received great grace in the promises he was given by God, and he also received grace to sustain him through the trials that came along because of those promises. If you have received God’s grace, don’t expect everything to be plain sailing. But you can expect Him to be with you every step of the way.

God’s choice – unexpected

Throughout the bible and beyond, God never seems to go for the obvious choice. This should be a real source of comfort for you and I (especially if, like me, you don’t have much to shout about). If you are clever, attractive or influential you should be even more grateful that God has made an exception of you!! It says in 1 Corinthians 1:26-29:

Brothers and sisters, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not—to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him.”

Before David was chosen as King, he was in exactly this position, even overlooked by his own father when Samuel came to pick the future king from among David’s 7 brothers. Everyone had overlooked David. He was just a shepherd boy out in the fields, but God saw that he was the sort of person he could use and chose him to be king. The rest as they say is history!

So don’t disqualify yourself too quickly. God in His grace has chosen you and appointed you for great things in His kingdom. You may have once been an adulterer or even a murderer (as David later became) but that doesn’t mean that God cannot use you. No-one is too far away from His grace.

Let’s look at one more character from the bible; Peter. He boldly proclaimed in front of Jesus and the other disciples that he would never deny Him, but within a few hours of this proclamation he had disowned Jesus, not just once but 3 times. He would have felt totally condemned and worthless at the realisation of what he had done, but Jesus graciously and lovingly restores him. Within a couple of months, on the day of Pentecost, Peter is leading out and proclaiming boldly the news about Jesus.

God’s grace not only chooses us but it also sustains us when we fail.

This grace is absolutely astounding! We can only ask in astonishment the same question as David did in 2 Samuel 7:19 “Is this your usual way of dealing with men, O LORD God?”. (Net bible)

What have I done to deserve this? Absolutely nothing. Amazing!!

 May 16, 2013  Posted by at 7:13 pm Grace, Temptation 3 Responses »
May 092013

rewardsLast week we looked at the whole subject of dead works and what they are. But did you know that whatever work we do which is not a ‘dead’ work will be rewarded?

The one who plants and the one who waters work together with the same purpose. And both will be rewarded for their own hard work.” (1 Corinthians 3:8)

Each one of us will have our works examined and we will give an account to God for them. Later on in the same chapter of Corinthians it says what will happen to all of our works:

But on the judgment day, fire will reveal what kind of work each builder has done. The fire will show if a person’s work has any value. If the work survives, that builder will receive a reward. But if the work is burned up, the builder will suffer great loss. The builder will be saved, but like someone barely escaping through a wall of flames.” (1 Corinthians 3:13-15)

All the dead works we talked about last week will be burned away.

We get an idea of how Jesus is going to judge our works in Mark 12. Jesus was watching the people putting money into the temple treasury: “…Jesus sat down near the collection box in the Temple and watched as the crowds dropped in their money.” (Mark 12:41). He saw the actual gift, the motivation and resourcefulness of each person. He also observed the attitude of people as they made a public show of their ‘generosity.’ Jesus did this through His limited human nature, but one day He will do it as God, the all-knowing judge who knows every motivation of our hearts.

As we come to realise that Jesus is the one who judges us rightly, we are released from what others may think and say about us. The apostle Paul puts it clearly in 1 Corinthians: “I care very little if I am judged by you or by any human court; indeed, I do not even judge myself.My conscience is clear, but that does not make me innocent. It is the Lord who judges me. Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” (1 Corinthians 4:3-5)

The bible also encourages us to carry out our works in secret as our heavenly rewards far outweigh any rewards this earth can offer: “…And when you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites. For they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, that they may be seen by others. Truly I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you.” (Matthew 6:5-6).

It is clear throughout scripture that Jesus is for rewards. We really shouldn’t be too pious to dismiss them. Our motivation, of course, is always to please Jesus but we should also be eager to receive the gifts He has promised. By playing down rewards we are playing down the joy of the Giver who is outstandingly generous and delights in giving extravagantly.

The apostle Paul didn’t seem too worried about working towards and gaining a reward:

I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day—and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for His appearing.” (2 Timothy 4:7-8)

The danger of ‘ought to’.

Finally on this whole subject of our works: It is a very common trap in Christian circles to busy ourselves doing things we feel we ‘ought to do’. In fact we can burn out by attempting to do everything that needs to be done, feeling overwhelmed by our task. It is so important that we find out exactly what God’s will is for our lives and concentrate on that. We will always find good and noble works to do that occupy our time. God has not called us to save the world on our own – He has a specific plan. Be like Jesus: “My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” (John 4:34)

After all, He said that His burden is light (Matthew 11:30). He has uniquely gifted you for the task He has given you to do. It may be hard but it is do-able, because a loving father would never give his child a task to do that the child is not suited to. If you find your work load impossible, you need to go back to God and ask Him what it is that you are doing that maybe He has called somebody else to do.

 May 9, 2013  Posted by at 8:21 pm Grace, Reward No Responses »