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Aug 282015
 

MercifulBlessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy (Matthew 5:7)

The first four beatitudes have already shown that a person is blessed if they are poor in spirit, they mourn and are meek and they hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are all attitudes of the heart and are mainly internalised.

With all this happening inside and an increasing appreciation and gratefulness to God, we now come to an outworking of that appreciation.

It is clear from the bible that it is impossible to pay God back for all He has done for us, but we can do good works out of gratitude and appreciation. It’s almost impossible not to, when we fully grasp what He has done. Acts of mercy are a natural response from those who have received mercy and they also demonstrate the new heart we have received as children of God.

Just as we saw last week that righteousness is a quality of God we see supported throughout the bible, mercy seems to be in evidence even more so. It is very often used in conjunction with that other popular biblical word ‘grace’. ‘Grace and mercy’. These words are similar but not identical. Grace is a kindness shown to somebody that is undeserved. Mercy is the moral quality of feeling compassion and especially of showing kindness towards someone in need. Grace is love when love is undeserved, mercy is grace in action. Mercy is reaching out to help those who are helpless and who need salvation. Mercy indentifies with the miserable in their misery.

Christians have many gifts and ministries that God has given us, but we all have the ministry of mercy.

So why should we be merciful? There are many ways, but here are just four:

(1) Because God has shown me mercy

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (Ephesians 2:4-5)

When Jesus gave the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18, in verse 33 The King says to the person who had been forgiven a lot and refused to forgive a little “and should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

(2) Because God commands us to be merciful

No, O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God (Micah 6:8) (NLT)

(3) Because I’m going to need more mercy in the future

There will be no mercy for those who have not shown mercy to others. But if you have been merciful, God will be merciful when he judges you. (James 2:13) (NLT)

(4) Because showing mercy brings happiness

Do you remember what we said a few weeks ago, that another word for blessed is happy. It’s a simple, God given blessing, that the more we show mercy, the happier we will be.

The sinner despises his neighbour, but he that has mercy on the poor is blessed (Proverbs 14:21) (Jubilee version 2000)

The merciful man does good to his own soul, but he who is cruel troubles his own flesh. (Proverbs 11:17) (World English bible)

There are many opportunities to show mercy to people on a daily basis, because I don’t know about you, but other people can very often get on my nerves for all sorts of reasons.

It is wrong to withhold mercy from someone just because we don’t feel like it. Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to do it. (Proverbs 3:27)

We can also do it begrudgingly, as a duty, but Romans 12:8 tells us to show mercy with cheerfulness. If mercy comes from the heart it should be administered in a kind way;

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you. (Ephesians 4:32)

Mercy can be extremely hard to give if we feel we have been wronged, but it is a big part of forgiveness as we have already seen in the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18.

We are also told; And you must show mercy to those whose faith is wavering. (Jude 1:22) (NLT) not just those, but for outright sinners (we are all sinners, but we can be tempted to see some sins as worse than others). Jesus was especially good (and still is) at loving sinners. In Matthew 9 He called a tax collector called Matthew who promptly held a party for all his friends, who included tax collectors (who were the lowest of the low at the time) prostitutes and other sinners. The religious leaders were outraged, but Jesus quoted a passage which He actually used on a couple of occasions “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13) He was quoting Hosea 6:6.

You see God isn’t too impressed with religious people, with those who proudly offer the correct sacrifices at the correct times and places but have no compassion for people. God is a merciful God, because He has compassion for people; the hurting, the afflicted and the dying. Those religious attitudes were actually the opposite of mercy.

Let’s finish by considering the most merciful man who ever lived;

For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:15-16)

What a privilege to show mercy, knowing we have received it so abundantly.

 August 28, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, Mercy, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Aug 212015
 

Hunger and thirstBlessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (Matthew 5:6)

This is now the fourth beatitude and it indicates a slight change of tack. The first three spoke about our desperate position before God. We are poor in spirit due to the realisation of our sin, which then causes us to mourn at our inability to help ourselves and we are meek because we have handed everything over to God. Now this fourth beatitude takes us to the desire that comes when we have submitted our lives to Christ.

The words hunger and thirst in this context don’t just refer to an empty stomach or the feeling that perhaps it might be dinner time, no, these words are powerful; a deep hunger close to starvation and a parched thirst. But does anyone really have that sort of hunger for God? Isn’t that taking our ‘religion’ a little too far? When I speak in these terms you may be tempted to think about religious nutcases and weirdo’s who you cross the street to avoid. Is that what we are talking about? We need first to ask a pertinent question;

What is righteousness?

As you can imagine the bible uses this word many times and on many occasions. It is often used as a description of God himself.

For the sake of time, I’m not going to give a long winded explanation, but try to put it as simply as possible.

Righteousness is being in right relationship with God and also living in the way that He intends. It is a position and an action, a relationship and a lifestyle.

From the very start we encounter a problem and that is:- nobody has a natural hunger and thirst for God. We just don’t. We are all rather selfish and would much rather go our own sweet way thank you very much.

Even the bible agrees with this. In Romans 3 it says in verses 10 to 12

None is righteous, no, not one; no-one understands, no one seeks for God. All have turned aside, together they have become worthless; no-one does good, not even one. It then goes on in verse 23 to say; for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

So is Jesus just mocking us in these verses? Is he saying that you will be blessed if you hunger and thirst for God, oh but by the way, no-one will be blessed because you will never hunger and thirst for God, so just forget it!

You may have heard that Jesus came preaching the ‘gospel’, well that word means ‘good news’. The good news is that the initiation has come from God himself. He has given us the hunger and thirst and the means by which it can be satisfied.

The good news tells us how God makes us right with himself (Romans 1:17) (New Century version)

The very next verse after Romans 3:23 where it says that all have sinned and fallen short, it says “and are justified by his grace as a gift.” That’s right, it is a free gift, one you can take right now.

If you are reading this, and for the first time you are starting to feel this hunger and thirst for God, that is because God is doing a work in you right now, He wants to make you right with Himself.

You see, the part where we don’t seek God, where we turn aside and do our own thing, that is called sin and it separates us from God. The good news is that God has bridged that gap. In the book of Ephesians in the bible in chapter 2 it says that we were “dead in our trespasses and sins” (v1) It describes how our only desire was to do our own thing and have nothing to do with God. It describes our state then as “Children of wrath” (v3) we were against God, we were actually His enemies. But this all changes from verse 4;

But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you have been saved

God has satisfied our deepest hunger, a hunger we didn’t even realise we had.

Is that it then? Our hunger and thirst satiated for the rest of our lives? Well yes and no. Yes we now have access to God, our hearts have been changed and our sin and rebellion dealt with, but if we have been truly changed our hearts will want ever more of God. We can’t just add salvation to our life’s ‘bucket list’ and carry on as we were before. God has now set our bias towards Him and knowing Him better should be our daily desire. But it isn’t always is it? Living in this ‘sin sick’ world, our desires can be a bit warped and influenced by our surroundings. A loss of appetite can often indicate that something is not quite right, so to finish this post I’m again going to borrow some excellent pointers from Rick Warren as to how we can maintain this spiritual hunger for God and regain our appetites.

(1) Remind yourself just how much God loves you.

We can often get it the wrong way round and concentrate on our love for God, which can frequently change according to our feelings. The thing that will most influence and stir our emotions is not thinking about how much I love God, but how much He loves me. There are loads of passages in the bible about how much God loves us. You need to soak in them daily. One of the most famous is:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him will have eternal life. (John 3:16) also

See what kind of love the father has given to us, that we should be called children of God (1 John 3:1)

Why not see how many you can collect and stick them to the fridge or somewhere else you go regularly?

(2) Stop filling up on junk food

A wise person is hungry for truth, while the fool feeds on trash (Proverbs 15:14) (NLT)

Have you ever been somewhere where there is really nice food, like a wedding reception or a banquet, but filled yourselves up with all the nibbles, crisps and bread rolls before you started the feast? Our lives can be like that. God gets pushed to the edges while everything else crowds in. These are not necessarily bad things on their own but can be bad if we prioritise them before God. Things such as; money, houses, cars, games, sports or even family and friends etc.

(3) Make knowing God your number 1 goal

O God you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water (Psalm 63:1)

The thing you should want most is God’s kingdom and doing what God wants, then all these things you need will be given to you (Matthew 6:33) (New Century version)

(4) Get into God’s word every day

Just like you eat physical food every day (you wouldn’t dream of having just one meal a week) feed on ‘soul’ food as often as you can.

You must crave the pure spiritual milk of the word so that you can grow into the fullness of your salvation. Cry out for this nourishment like a baby cries for milk. (1 Peter 2:2) (NLT)

(5) Be with like minded people

Have you ever noticed, when being around passionate people, that some of their passion rubs off on you? When you spend time with other people who hunger and thirst for righteousness, guess what? Your hunger and thirst will grow too!

Join the company of good men and women who will keep you on the path of the righteous. (Proverbs 2:20) (NLT)

Aug 142015
 

Meek 1 Meek is a very unfortunate word because it sounds like weak and we can often associate the words together, but they are, in reality, quite different.
The Greek word translated “meek” is praos and refers to mildness, gentleness of spirit, or humility. Meekness is humility toward God and toward others. It is having the right or the power to do something but refraining for the benefit of someone else. It could be described as ‘strength under control’ just what happens when a wild horse is ‘broken in’ it loses none of its strength but has been taught to control it. Paul urged meekness when he told us “to live a life worthy of the calling [we] have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love” (Ephesians 4:1–2).

Even with the variation of interpretation it is still an alien concept to the majority of our society. Why should meekness and gentleness be an important quality? Surely we are programmed to believe it is the strongest and most forceful who will ‘inherit the earth’, the ‘survival of the fittest’. But as we have already seen in the first two beatitudes, God’s ideal is what the world would describe as “upside down”.
If we look at the life of Jesus we will see the perfect model of meekness. In Philippians 2:6-8 it describes Him like this; “being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death—even death on a cross!” Being “in the very nature God,” Jesus had the right to do whatever He wanted, but, for our sake, He submitted to “death on a cross.” That is the ultimate in meekness.
Meekness was also demonstrated by godly leaders in the Old Testament, but only one other person in the whole bible apart from Jesus was described as meek. In Numbers 12:3 it says that Moses “was very meek, more than all people who were on the face of the earth”.

In this beatitude Jesus was almost certainly quoting Psalm 37:11. In context this Psalm is speaking about not worrying when evil people and wrongdoers are succeeding, we need to have a bigger picture. God is in control and ultimately it will be His meek people who eventually inherit the land. “Be patient” He is saying “keep trusting in me and doing the right thing. I will make it all alright in the end.”

As I was researching this subject I came upon some excellent material from Rick Warren and the following are 8 benefits he describes from a life of gentleness;

(1) Gentleness defuses conflict

It curbs anger

A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. (Proverbs 15:1) (NIV)

When people raise their voice you lower yours

If your boss is angry at you, don’t quit! A quiet spirit can overcome even great mistakes. (Ecclesiastes 10:4) (NLT)

(2) Gentleness disarms critics

If you stand for something, anything, you will be criticised

When our reputations are attacked, we remain courteous (1 Corinthians 4:13) (GW)

People who love to criticise seem to just love getting into a fight. If we return with calmness we dampen their fire, when we react we add fuel to it.

Your conversation should be so sensible and logical that anyone who wants to argue will be ashamed of himself because there won’t be anything to criticize in anything you say! (Titus 2:8) (living bible)

Gently instruct those who oppose the truth. Perhaps God will change those people’s hearts, and they will learn the truth. (2 Timothy 2:25) (NLT)

We need to have a tough skin and a tender heart.

(3) Gentleness is persuasive

Nagging doesn’t work.

Through patience a ruler can be persuaded, and a gentle tongue can break a bone. (Proverbs 25:15) (NLT)

A wise mature person is known for his understanding (Proverbs 16:21) (TEV)

A good maxim to use is; I’m never persuasive when I’m abrasive.

(4) Gentleness is attractive

But you, man of God, must avoid these things. Pursue what God approves of: a godly life, faith, love, endurance, and gentleness. (1 Timothy 6:11) (GW)

“May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant (Ruth 2:13-14) (NIV)

Rather, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. (1 Peter 3:4) (NIV)

(5) Gentleness communicates love

Husbands, love your wives, and do not be harsh with them. (Colossians 3:19)

(6) Gentleness earns respect

A gracious woman gains respect, but ruthless men gain only wealth. (Proverbs 11:16) (NLT)

(7) Gentleness is a witness to unbelievers

to speak evil of no one, to avoid quarreling, to be gentle, and to show perfect courtesy toward all people. (Titus 3:2)

but in your hearts honour Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defence to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, (1 Peter 3:15)

(8) Gentleness makes me like Jesus

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. (Matthew 11:28-29) (TLB)

Don’t be concerned only about your own interests, but also be concerned about the interests of others. Have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had. (Philippians 2:4-5) (GW)

These are all excellent, but you cannot achieve these sufficiently in your own strength. We are generally not gentle by nature and we may be able to put it on for a while, but it is impossible to fake gentleness for any length of time. Our inclination is to use the strength we have for our own benefit. Meekness is something God does to you, it is a fruit of the spirit, that He gives freely out of His generosity.

 August 14, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Aug 072015
 

Those who mournBlessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.” (Matthew 5:4)

Just like last week when we talked about the poor in Spirit, on the surface this phrase doesn’t make any sense either. How can you be blessed if you mourn? It sounds strange to us, mainly because we live in a society whose sole purpose and goal is the pursuit of happiness. We can very easily get caught up in this mindset as we live in this society where these attitudes are screaming at us every single day.

I’m going to start with what I believe was the application that Jesus was getting at when He said these words, but then I will look at a number of other ways that God can bless us through mourning.

Last week we looked at the blessedness of being poor in spirit. We discovered that we are blessed because we have come to the realisation that there is nothing we can do to add to our salvation and that Jesus has done it all. We are blessed when we humbly approach Him with a penitent heart and make Him the Lord of our lives. Today’s phrase follows on immediately after the statement about the poor in spirit and I believe it is linked to it by the mourning being a deep anguishing grief over our personal sin. This word ‘mourn’ has 9 different references in the New Testament to express grief and sorrow. This instance is the heaviest form of mourning, for example the mourning for the dead, an anguishing grief that is internally deep and exhibits itself through tears, weeping, and lament etc.

Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. (James 4:9)

This “mourning” is not just the initial feeling of deep repentance when we first get saved but it continues through a tender conscience that causes us to be very aware of our sinful failures when we do sin and to grieve over them. It’s a present continuous experience. This Godly sorrow produces repentance as it says in 2 Corinthians 7:10-11

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment!

This all leads to an awareness of our constant need for a saviour who comforts us. The believer groans within himself because of his foul sin, and looks forward with expectant hope for deliverance from it!

Those who don’t experience this sorrow are often hard hearted and this can be due to a number of reasons;

1. They have become comfortable with their sin or even have a love for it.

2. They are in despair feeling they are beyond God’s help, which is actually underestimating His power.

3. It could be conceit or arrogance, feeling that their sin is not ‘that bad’.

4. Presumption. A person who feels they are good enough and has had no sense of the depravity of their sin.

5. Procrastination. “I’ll repent tomorrow.” “Today, if you hear his voice,do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion” (Hebrews 3:7-8)

6. Shallowness. They don’t want to think too deeply about anything, especially their sin.

When we consider this subject, we need to realise that God doesn’t expect us to be happy all the time. Life is not some musical where we are supposed to be singing and dancing through it. Life is hard because the consequences of sin and rebellion are terrible. The bible is so honest and makes it clear that sadness and sorrow are seasons we have to go through;

a time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance (Ecclesiastes 3:4)

Let’s look now at some other ways that God uses mourning to bless us and comfort us;

(1) God draws us close to Himself

The Lord is near to the broken hearted and saves the crushed in spirit. (Psalm 34:18)

Keep your life free from love of money, and be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Hebrews 13:5)

as sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor, yet making many rich; as having nothing, yet possessing everything. (2 Corinthians 6:10)

(2) God grieves with us

We were made in God’s image and He is an emotional God

He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief;
and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. (Isaiah 53:3)

When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who had come with her also weeping, he was deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled.And he said, “Where have you laid him?” They said to him, “Lord, come and see.”Jesus wept.So the Jews said, “See how he loved him!” (John 11:33-36)

to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour, and the day of vengeance of our God; to comfort all who mourn; to grant to those who mourn in Zion— to give them a beautiful headdress instead of ashes, the oil of gladness instead of mourning, the garment of praise instead of a faint spirit; that they may be called oaks of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he may be glorified. (Isaiah 61:2-3)

(3) God gives us a church family for support

so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another……..Love one another with brotherly affection. Outdo one another in showing honour…….. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. (Romans 12:5,10,15)

(4) God uses grief to help us grow.

Sometimes it is to get our attention and sometimes it is to bring good out of bad

And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28)

(5) God is preparing us for eternity;

For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison,as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. (2 Corinthians 4:17-18)

We can so easily forget that this life is not all there is. The life we live now is nothing compared to eternity, it is just a sneeze!

But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope.               (1 Thessalonians 4:13)

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. (Revelation 21:4)

(5) God uses our pain to help others

who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. (2 Corinthians 1:4)

Sometimes, your greatest ministry can come out of your deepest hurt and God will use it for His glory. Now isn’t that a comfort?

 August 7, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 312015
 

poor in spiritBlessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:3)

Today we start looking at some absolutely amazing sayings by Jesus on his famous ‘Sermon on the mount’. It all starts with a list of sayings mostly starting with the phrase “Blessed are…” commonly called ‘The beatitudes’

I would love to have been on that mountain when Jesus said these words and looked at the faces of His listeners and said some totally unexpected things. You have to understand the context. Jesus has just started His ministry and there is a huge air of expectation. He has already performed some amazing miracles, demonstrating He is someone quite special and quite a crowd is gathering. He has chosen His disciples, but there are many more following on. “Could this at last be the messiah, the one who is finally going to overthrow the Romans and defeat them with the sword, to raise up a Jewish army which conquers all before it?” In many eyes (including His disciples) this is what Jesus was about to do and this is the expectation. That is why this message would have been such a shock then and it continues to still shock and surprise people today.

So Jesus sits down (which was the custom of a teacher in those days) and starts His sermon by saying “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Jesus was setting out the requirements for those who want to follow Him and He made no apology for it.

These are not just a collection of random sentences. I believe there is a reason why He begun his discourse talking about the poor in spirit, which we will look at in a minute. Let’s first consider what He means by being ‘poor in spirit’. I think it is clear that he is not talking about economic or material poverty but spiritual poverty. The Greek word He uses for poor here is ‘ptochos’ which is not just poor but extremely so. Someone with no resources whatsoever, entirely dependent on others and poverty stricken. It would be someone who was worthless, powerless and would have to resort to begging for their very existence. The word contains the feelings of crouching and cowering, the lowest one could be.

This is very important because that is the condition we need to be in to approach God – in total humility. We are nothing, we have nothing and we can do nothing in our own worth that contributes to our salvation, we are spiritually destitute. Our righteousness is like filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6) We crouch and cower on the floor in desperate need of His mercy.

The second and third verses of the famous hymn ‘rock of ages’ by Augustus Toplady explain our condition very well;

Not the labour of my hands
Can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know,
Could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone;
Thou must save, and Thou alone.

Nothing in my hand I bring,
Simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Saviour, or I die.

It is obvious why this Beatitude is the first, as it is the foundation upon which all the others are built. Without an understanding of his extreme spiritual poverty (i.e., a deep emotional understanding of one’s lack of righteousness,), man in his lost condition doesn’t recognize his great need to turn toward God. But when we do, how blessed (happy, fortunate) we are because in that condition God welcomes us into His kingdom. “kingdom of heaven” essentially refers to salvation. The kingdom of heaven is both eternity in heaven with God after death (Romans 6:23) and the eternal quality of life with God before death (John 10:10).

There are a number of ways we can live out this attitude in our walk with God;

1. Depend on God’s wisdom and not our own

The only way we can continue in this is to keep close to God by praying and reading His word. I would be so bold as to say that if you are not regularly doing these things you are relying on your own wisdom and not His.

There is a way that seems right to a man, but its end is the way to death.(Proverbs 14:12)

We can be quite convinced we are in the right and everything seems right but God knows all things and we need His wisdom.

Another great proverb in this regard is Proverbs 3:5-7

Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding.In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.

2. Depend on God’s strength not yours

Our strength is limited, His is unlimited

Blessed are those whose strength is in you, in whose heart are the highways to Zion.(Psalm 84:5)

but they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint. (Isaiah 40:31)

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 of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Corinthians 12:9-10)

3. Depend on God’s timing and not our own

God’s timing is always just right. A classic example of someone who couldn’t wait for God’s timing was Abraham who fathered an illegitimate child, the consequences of which are still being felt in the middle-east to this day.

For still the vision awaits its appointed time; it hastens to the end—it will not lie. If it seems slow, wait for it; it will surely come; it will not delay. (Habakkuk 2:3)

There are many other examples in the bible of this sort of trust, not just; wisdom, strength and timing but God defending you, keeping, saving and providing for you. As you can see, being poor in spirit is a richness beyond anything you could dream of and an inheritance into the kingdom of heaven.

 July 31, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Beatitudes, The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 242015
 

The beatitudesThe first part of the ‘sermon on the mount’ is called the ‘beatitudes’ and it is probably the most famous part of this sermon and the words that Jesus is most associated with. The famous Hindu, Mahatma Gandhi was so impressed with these teachings that he even wrote a whole book on the subject. Even though Ghandi wasn’t particularly impressed with Jesus’ followers, as he felt they were hypocritical, he was very impressed with Jesus himself and His teaching of love tolerance and acceptance.

But are the ‘beatitudes’ just a lovely bunch of sayings which everyone would naturally follow or are they actually counter cultural? If you have been a Christian for any length of time, you can get very familiar with these phrases and essentially lose the impact of what Jesus is saying and their radical nature. Culturally they are completely upside down. In fact people who have read them for the first time have actually been quite offended by them. When you think about it, why would anyone describe as blessed someone who is poor in spirit, crying, meek and picked on? We will look at each of these sayings in depth over the next few weeks, but to make my point about them being ‘upside down’ I’m going to turn them the right way up (In the world’s eyes) and show you how the opposite would be much more palatable to our society;

Blessed are the spiritually rich because they have inner contentment and have learned to love themselves. Blessed are the happy and cheerful because they have learned how to cheer others up by making them laugh. Blessed are the strong and assertive because they look after themselves and make things happen. Blessed are they who are full of righteousness. Blessed are those who ‘look after number one’ because unless you do, you will never be able to help anyone else. Blessed are those who refuse to get trodden on, because no-one wants to be a doormat. Blessed are those who avoid being persecuted by compromising, because no one likes an arrogant or intolerant person. If people try to pick on you, be assertive, refuse to let them put you down. Stand on your own two feet and give as good as you get.

That sounds more like something a modern self-help guru might say.

The word ‘blessed’ is used constantly in these sayings and it is important to realise what the word means. The Greek word is ‘Makarios’ and it can have three aspects to it; blessed, happy or fortunate (lucky). As Christians we don’t like to refer to ourselves as fortunate or lucky, so this aspect may cause us a little trouble, but in many ways we are fortunate but not through some random quirk of fate. As a Christian I often feel incredibly lucky that God should choose me when many of my friends are still floundering in their sin. It certainly wasn’t because I was any better than they.

Being blessed by God is the experience of hope and joy, independent of outside circumstances. That’s why we can also be happy. It’s not just a temporary state of mind, happy one minute, sad the next.

Every single one of us is in pursuit of happiness, that is our goal and our mission in life. For many, eating a lovely cake will make them happy but for those that don’t eat it, they are looking to their future happiness of looking thin. Whatever we do, the ultimate motivation will always be our happiness. Even to the extreme of those that commit suicide, they are looking for a release from their sadness and expect that death will be better than their current state.

The beatitudes are saying though that we will never be blessed or happy if we pursue those things in and of themselves. The beatitudes are not conditions of salvation and they are not saying that you should look to be in the state of mourning or poor in spirit etc for any length of time but they do suggest the qualities of the true children of God. True blessedness and lasting happiness is found in God alone and that is what these sayings are pointing to.

My hope is that this all becomes a lot clearer as we study each one in the following weeks. Next week we will start by looking at what it means to be poor in spirit.

 July 24, 2015  Posted by at 9:15 pm The beatitudes, The sermon on the mount 2 Responses »
Jul 172015
 

Sermon on the mountI’ve been wanting to do a series on the ‘sermon on the mount’ for quite some time and as I have not received any suggestions for any other subjects, I’m going to do quite a lengthy series on probably Jesus’ most famous sermon. I’ve been brought up on the tradition of expository preaching and so this series is going to be in that manner, nice and slow, covering these 3 chapters of Matthew ‘in depth’.

The ‘sermon on the mount’ was spoken on a mountain and not the back of a horse! It is the longest discourse by Jesus in the bible although I doubt it is word for word or He would only have taken about 10 minutes to say it! Hardly worth climbing a mountain for. I think that this message in Matthew chapters 5 to 7 are the main points of a sermon that Jesus preached regularly (most probably, knowing Him, with a lot of Illustrations). In fact we know of at least one other time He preached these ideas, which can be found in Luke 6 and is often referred to as ‘the sermon on the plain’.

These teachings have been described as the nearest thing to a ‘manifesto’ that Jesus required of His followers. In fact, if you look over His life, it is remarkable how closely He lived out these principles. As I write, I will bring out many examples from Jesus’ own life and ministry.

Jesus is recognised as one of the foremost preachers in the whole of history, even by non-Christians. In general it seems that people have a lot more problem with Christians and the church than they do with Jesus himself, but I can only assume they haven’t really comprehended what He is really talking about. I am amazed that there aren’t more people offended by His teaching than there are. On the surface it all sounds very lovely, Jesus is protecting the poor and downtrodden, what a nice man! But when you analyse it, his teachings are incredibly counter-cultural and ‘upside down’ to the way our culture thinks. Why on earth should the poor and meek be blessed? Why should just a lustful look at a woman be considered adultery? What reason could we possibly have to turn and offer the other cheek when someone slaps us? The world says get even, look after yourself and think about number one.

The sermon on the mount covers the ‘beatitudes’ (blessed are..) It covers being salt and light, loving your enemies, loving money, anxiety, the Lord’s prayer, taking logs out of your eye, building your house upon a rock and many other amazing sayings, which we will look at in depth.

As we investigate this sermon, we will very quickly discover that what Jesus is asking of us is impossible to do in our own strength, as is the Christian life in general. It can only be done by people who have had their hearts transformed and changed by an encounter with Jesus and are filled with His Holy Spirit. The more we follow our saviour and this incredible man of history, the more we will find out about Him and the easier we will find this way to live.

My prayer is that this study will be life changing as we go on this journey of discovery together. I hope you can join me

 July 17, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm The sermon on the mount No Responses »
Jul 102015
 

Gay marriageI’m not normally one to comment on current affairs, but following the recent US ruling allowing Gay marriage in all states and having read a number of articles and blogs I felt compelled to write. This is a big issue, which can cause a lot of consternation and argument, so I wanted to try to deal with it sensitively and as far as I am able, to bring a biblical perspective.

Firstly we need to decide if gay marriage is ‘right’ according to the bible and then we need to look at how we, as Christians should handle this thorny issue.

That we should be discussing whether gay marriage is right or not shows just how far our society has influenced the church. We are called to be a ‘light on a hill’ to proclaim God’s truth boldly, no matter what the reaction. But sadly the church (especially in England where I live) has remained largely silent.

Let’s look at what the bible says, which should be our plumb line for every matter. The first mention of homosexuality in the bible is in the context of God’s judgement against Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 18 and 19 where it appears that the main reason they were destroyed was because of their homosexual practices. Some people would take issue with this, but just a few books further on in the bible, the condemnation of homosexuality is more conclusive;

You shall not lie with a male as with a woman; it is an abomination. (Leviticus 18:22)

A couple of chapters later in chapter 20:13 it even commands that two men sleeping together should be put to death!

You may say, that is just the Old Testament and things have changed since then, but moving into the New Testament the message is much the same. In Romans chapter 1 it describes the way mankind have continually rejected God and as a consequence “For this reason God gave them up to dishonourable passions. For their women exchanged natural relations for those that are contrary to nature;and the men likewise gave up natural relations with women and were consumed with passion for one another, men committing shameless acts with men and receiving in themselves the due penalty for their error.” (Romans 1:26-27)

Finally (and I could include a lot more) The Apostle Paul lists some sins that prevent someone from inheriting the Kingdom of God “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality,nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

It is clear then from an unbiased point of view that God considers homosexual practice a sin, which of course must include Gay marriage which by the biblical definition is not marriage at all. A strong and loving commitment maybe, but not marriage.

So how are we, as Christians, to proceed? I have a number of observations which I hope will help us negotiate this controversial issue;

· The first thing that occurs to me is to ask that well known question “what would Jesus do?” As followers of His, we should act in the same way that He did. A clear example of how He handled sexual sin is found in John 8:1-11 where the religious leaders bring to Him a woman caught in adultery. There is no question she is guilty, but Jesus exposes their hypocrisy and forgives her, but crucially tells her to “Go and sin no more.”

· Love should and must be our highest motivation. We are children of a loving God and we are called to love in every circumstance. All too often Christians have been known for their judgemental spirit and not for their love. However much we disagree, we must find a way to be consistently loving.

· Through this loving spirit, rather than avoid the LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender) community, we should engage with them and find ways to bless them. There has traditionally been a lot of suspicion between each other, mainly due to a reluctance to engage. We as Christians must take the initiative.

· It is possible to have healthy, accepting, loving relationships with those you disagree with without compromise. Jesus was known as a friend of tax collectors and sinners (Matthew 11:19) and yet he maintained His purity.

· When the time comes, we must stand for truth, whatever the world says and however much we are opposed. The world may hate us, but we owe it to them to show them the right way. We may suffer for it, but Jesus never promised it would be easy. That’s why he calls us to take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). This means we deny ourselves and prefer Him.

· We must remember that this is relatively easy for us. A homosexual who comes to Christ must be prepared to live a life of celibacy. This is, as you can imagine, incredibly hard and so we must be building communities that provide loving and emotional support, commitment, security and friendship to everyone who accepts Christ, whatever background they are from. Following Christ is the highest calling and the most fulfilling one there is. When everything else is stripped away and Jesus is all that you have, you will find that Jesus is all that you need.

If you want to read more about this and similar subjects, the ‘Gospel Coalition’ website has gathered 50 (yes 50!) articles on the subject. I have not read all of them, but it is a great resource for extra study. Click on this link http://www.thegospelcoalition.org/article/50-resources-for-equipping-the-church-on-homosexuality-and-same-sex-marriage

Have a good week.

 July 10, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Gay marriage No Responses »
Jul 032015
 

Apologetics reviewBelieve it or not, I’ve been looking at the subject of apologetics since the beginning of the year. I really hope you have found it useful. As I don’t like my blogs to be too long, some of the subjects have not been as ‘in depth’ as I would have liked. And believe it or not, I could have said a lot more.

I thought that this week I would finish the series by providing some links to some great resources on apologetics in case you fancy studying the subject further. I have also listed some of my favourite apologists.

One of the best sites with thousands of apologetics links is ‘Apologetics 315’ http://www.apologetics315.com/which has all sorts of resources, such as; Articles, blogs, podcasts and a whole page of excellent MP3 downloads. It can be a bit overwhelming when you first look at it, but it’s fun to explore.

Another great resource is ‘be thinking.org’ which is a student Christian union site with a lot of material for further study http://www.bethinking.org/apologetics

One of the first sites I discovered, when I first became interested in this subject is CARM which stands for Christian Apologetics Research Ministry https://carm.org/They have some great material on just about every ‘apparent’ contradiction in the bible giving a reasonable explanation for each one. They also have a lot of information about all sorts of religious groups and cults which I have found very useful.

If you are looking for more information on creationism, you won’t do much better than ‘Answers in Genesis’ which has a lot of good scientific material. The link is https://answersingenesis.org/

Some of my favourite Apologists who are my heroes at defending the faith are:

· Ravi Zacharias http://rzim.org/

· William Lane Craig http://www.reasonablefaith.org/william-lane-craig

· Michael Ramsden http://www.bethinking.org/author/michael-ramsden

· Lee Strobel – author of many great and accesible books such as “Case for Christ” http://www.leestrobel.com/

Another one I have discovered recently is Cliffe Knechtle (thanks Arthur) who has amazing conversations with college students. He has a YouTube channel called “askcliffe” In fact all of these people you can find on YouTube. Ravi and William Lane Craig have some great debates with Atheists such as Richard Dawkins.

If you know of any good websites that you have found useful, please put the links in the comments box below.

Next week I will be starting a new subject, but if you would like me to cover a subject, please let me know. God bless

 July 3, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »
Jun 262015
 

PostmodernismThere’s just one more subject I want to cover in this series on Apologetics before I wrap it all up next week.

This week I want to look at the whole subject of postmodernism.

Don’t be put off by the title as I will try as best as I can to explain it simply.

Post modernism is quite difficult to explain in detail but the basic concepts can be understood because they are such a part of our everyday culture. Put simply, postmodernism is a philosophy that affirms no objective or absolute truth. This viewpoint immediately puts it in opposition to Christianity, because we believe, with certainty the truths of the bible and what God says is the absolute truth.

Some Christians have attempted to combine post modernism with Christianity, but I’m afraid the results are so watered down that you can’t really tie anything down beyond ‘Jesus was a really nice guy and he just accepts everybody, no matter what they believe’ which is totally insipid!

The danger of post modernism is that everybody can believe what they want as long as it is true for them. That is why there is a picture of pick and mix at the top of this blog, because that is just what it is like. It is possible to choose beliefs that are mutually incompatible, however no-one can tell the chooser how preposterous that is, because their view is just as valid as anyone else.

All beliefs are given equal weight and are considered equally valid. This is called relativism. That is why people can state that ‘all paths lead to God’ (which is what I argued against a few weeks ago). It is plain to see how dangerous this thinking is when you consider the truth claims of Jesus, when He said things like “I am the way, the truth and the life, no-one comes to the father except through me” (John 14:6) and many other definitive statements.

One comment you will encounter regularly is the comeback “That may be true for you, but it’s not true for me’ There are also other similar comments you will hear such as “You can’t know anything for sure” and “You shouldn’t judge”

So how do we answer that sort of comment?

Firstly, we have to step very carefully as we don’t want to appear intolerant. That is the biggest sin in many people’s eyes and I’m afraid that sort of statement made in an arrogant way can be totally off-putting to many people. Jesus was very direct, but dealt with people in just the right way. Most people haven’t got a problem with Jesus, so it is good to talk about Him as soon as you can. Jesus would look for some common ground, something that the person would agree with. That is a good place to start.

We need to show people that these kinds of statements are logically inconsistent (we dealt with logic right at the beginning of this series). People who say ”That’s true for you, but not for me” are referring to subjective truth, which is like favouring one chocolate bar over another. The truth claims of God cannot all be true, as different religions hold contradictory truths. When it comes to God there must be absolute truth.

Going back to the people who make these statements, you can carefully show them their own intolerance by turning their statements back to them. The conversations could go something like this;

Other person: “You can’t say that, you cannot know anything for sure”

You: “Really? Are you sure about that, are you sure you can’t know anything for sure?

Other person: “You shouldn’t judge”

You: “Is that your judgement? It sounds like you are judging my choice to judge!”

Other person: “What is true for you is not true for me.”

You: “That’s true and what is true for me is that you are wrong, so who is right?”

These examples show how illogical relativism is. What if I was to say that 2+2 = 5, does that make it right, because I sincerely believe it? Of course not. The answer is 4 whatever I feel, think or believe. This is what we need to get over and I must admit it is very difficult. It’s just as well it’s not just up to us or no-one would believe. We need the Holy Spirit to help us and He most certainly will, if you ask him.

Next week I am going to finish off this series by including lots of links to where you can find all sorts of materials about apologetics and talk about some of my favourite apologists. Until then, have a great week.

 June 26, 2015  Posted by at 12:00 pm Apologetics No Responses »