Looking around or looking up?

July 6, 2019

Image result for night sky

We’ve been looking at the story of Abram (as he was known then) in our small groups, and we have been learning so much about living by faith.

In Genesis 13 Abram is with his nephew Lot and it is clear that the pasture land they are sharing will not sustain both of their flocks. So Abram gives Lot the choice of where to go. Lot looks around and sees the fertile plains of the Jordan valley.  It is a natural choice, you might think, to go where the grass is greenest. Only next to those pastures is the city of Sodom, and indeed by the next chapter Lot is living right in it. What might sometimes be the most obvious choice can so easily turn out to be the wrong one. Lot was so focused on what was best for him he left the Lord out of the occasion.

And what of Abram? He is left with the scrubby, desert land. How is he going to be blessed? Well, after Lot has gone, the Lord tells him to Lift up your eyes and repeats the promise of the land and of many ancestors.  And indeed, when we look to the Lord we find more blessings than ever we realise – provided that our focus in Him (Gen 13:14-17).

At the start of Genesis 15 Abram is worried because there is still no sign of the promised heir. Even though the Lord has given him a vision, Abram asks O Sovereign lord, what can you give me? He has lost sight for a moment of who the Lord is, and he is only looking around at his present situation. So the Lord takes Abram outside and tells him to look up at the heavens and count the stars. Abram needs to refocus, needs to remember who the Lord is and just how much He is able to give him (Gen 15:1-6).

And Abram’s response? This is a verse that takes us right forward to the New Testament: Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (verse 6, cf. Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6, James 2:22). Abram is no longer looking around at his circumstances. He is looking up at the Lord, and placing his life entirely in His hands. As a result he is declared right before God.

And that same response is demanded of us as well. At the moment our church is going through a time of change. It is easy to look around and to become discouraged. We may wonder what the Lord can give us. We may focus on the immediate and the visible rather than on the eternal dimension. Abram’s example tells us we need to refocus and to lift up our eyes. So the question is: will we follow His example and live by faith, and by faith alone?

 

 

Advertisements

Some important principles

February 23, 2019

Cross and BibleWe had a really good discussion at our small group on Thursday night about sexuality and marriage, and a number of key points came out, which seem relevant to a whole host of other issues as well. Here’s a summary of our conclusions:

God’s people have always been called to live differently. Genesis was written in the world where other cultures worshipped many different gods, participated in fertility rituals and treated women as goods and chattels. The account of creation in Genesis 1 and 2 promotes a radically different picture of who God is, of what it means to be made in His image, and what it means to be male and female. When we live in light of this teaching and we will find ourselves at odds with those around us. That is why, as the apostle Peter puts it in 1 Peter 1:1, we are strangers in the world, and why our experience as Christians is so often that of exile and persecution.

Our identity is not something that we choose. The essence of sin is that we choose for ourselves who we are, and that we change our identity as we see fit. This is not only true of sexual identity but in many other areas of our lives and it is a large part of our general rebellion against God. As believers, our identity comes, however, from being in Christ and accepting the identity that He gives us. This involves fundamentally changing how we view ourselves and others, and such a change can only happen when we allow the Holy Spirit to transform us at the very deepest level.

We all fall short of what God intends. So often the church only seems to focus on homosexuality but there are many and different ways in which we fail to live up to God’s teaching, and we need to address issues such as sex outside marriage, pornography etc. etc. recognising that, according to Jesus, our thoughts matter as much as our actions (see Matthew 5:27-28, Mark 7:22-23). We truly need to be a community of grace pointing one another towards to cross of Christ where alone we can find forgiveness and healing and renewal.

We need to offer a positive alternative. So often we can say that a particular behaviour or attitude is wrong, without offering the necessary help or support that someone is looking for. This is where it is so important that we create a church where everyone finds welcome and support, where there is a safe space to enable people to be real one with another, where there is genuine love and friendship and support.

We need to tell a better story. The evening ended, after the study, with folk talking about their favourite TV series. We are all influenced by the media we watch, and we need to be aware that each has their agenda, to influence how we think about issues such as sexuality and marriage, and to promote acceptance of an ever wide range of lifestyles. Our church needs to be a place where we have testimonies of God changing lives for good, where the witness to the work of the Holy Spirit is so compelling and so attractive others are drawn to our story and discover the joy of obeying and loving God.

Our ultimate fulfilment is not in this life. The agenda of the world is that this life is all that matters, and in most cases that sex is the ultimate fulfilment of our identity. As Christians we are called to have a different perspective – that all things will be made new in Christ. Even the best and most satisfying marriage will be as nothing compared to being in the presence of our Saviour, and, whether we are called to singleness or marriage, we need to always keep this ultimate reality in mind. Otherwise there really is little point in self-denial: “Eat and drink (and have sex), for tomorrow we die”. Such indeed was the view of the pagans in Corinth and such has been the attitude of the world ever since. But what was Paul’s response?  “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.”(1 Cor 6:19-20)

There was a lot of ground covered that evening! But even so, at the end, we still felt there was so much more much we needed to discuss and to pray over. I really want to thank the group for their openness, their honesty and their willingness to wrestle with the tough questions. Next week we are going to continue our exploration and look further at the implications of the fall. Others will be very welcome to join us, and even if you can’t make it, do leave a comment or a question on this blog. This really is a debate well worth having.


What is God’s word saying to us?

July 24, 2018

Image result for niv bible

One of the most important tasks I face as a minister is preparing the preaching programme for the next few months. It requires a lot of planning and prayer to discern which passages or themes we need to look at next. But somehow the Lord always manages to use whatever is chosen, and I have been particularly struck by how appropriate the teaching material has been over the last few months. We have all learnt (myself included!) from our series about why we come to church, and the current series from the book of Colossians has taught us so much about what it means to be the church of Jesus Christ and why it is so important if we call ourselves a Christian to belong to His people. If you have been away and missed a sermon or two – head over to the ministry page, you won’t want to miss out!

So what about in the Autumn? Well, first of all there will be plenty of special events – our 175th anniversary weekend of 29th to 30th September (details out shortly), Harvest, Remembrance Sunday and the run-up to Christmas. But through all of it we are going to carry on in Luke’s gospel and look at what it means to be a follower of Jesus. We may have looked at this theme before but there is always so much more we can learn about what it means to be a disciple, serving and loving Him each day.  And with the start of Remembrance Sunday we are going to prepare for Advent as we consider what it means to say Jesus is coming back. Finally over Christmas we are going to ask, in the words of a well-known carol, What child is this? I hope you can see that in all this our aim is to promote Jesus, to inspire all who come to know and love Him more.

I haven’t yet put together a programme for the New Year but at the moment my plan is to work through the early chapters of Genesis as we answer questions such as:

  • Has science disproved God?
  • Why should I care about the world?
  • Why can’t I work 24/7?
  • What does it mean to be made male and female?
  • Why is the world in such a mess?

As always if you have ideas about what we should cover, or particular themes, then I am always willing to hear them. And let’s pray that as God’s word goes out, lives are changed for good, to the glory and praise of Jesus, who as we discovered a few weeks ago, is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation (Colossians 1:15)


To the church in Devonport

June 18, 2018

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus
by the will of God
and Timothy our brother

To: The holy and faithful believers
in Christ
in Devonport

Grace and peace to you from God our Father!

We always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ when we pray for you:
because of your faith in Christ Jesus
because of your love for all the saints
because of the hope stored up for you in heaven

We thank God you are part of a growing global movement and you are not alone

We give thanks for those who brought you the gospel and handed it on down the generations.

So we are praying for you that God might fill you with knowledge of His will, in order that you might live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way:
bearing fruit in every work and growing in the knowledge of God
being empowered by His Holy Spirit so you may have great patience and endurance
joyfully giving thanks to the Father who has called you into His kingdom

And as you live for Jesus, don’t forget what the good news is all about!
You have been brought out of darkness into light
You have become members of God’s kingdom
You have been redeemed
Your sins have been forgiven

Grace be with you all,

Paul

(From Colossians 1:1-14)

 

 

 

 


Click on this!

January 20, 2018

If you are reading this, the chances you are already browsing through the Internet or flicking through Facebook looking for stories. I have less than 20 seconds to grab your attention, so here’s a cute picture of my cat, taken a few years ago:DSCF9076

But seriously, how we engage with social media is not something we tend to think about that much. Yet the more I work and live online, the more I see that actually we all need to stop and think about how this brave new world of communication impacts upon the way we practise our faith. So take a few minutes to scroll down this article, and let me know if you agree with what I’m saying.

‘Cos it seems to me there are three important issues we all need to think and pray about:

Mastery Psychological studies have shown that social media can be as addictive as gambling or alcohol. We have to keep checking on Facebook to see if anyone has liked our post. We want to see if our friends have responded to our latest Tweet. We find ourselves compelled to click onto the latest cute cat or dog video.

All this seem very harmless, but actually it can become a habit that we find harder and harder to break. Yes, we need our down time, but our compulsion to be online can so easy interfere with our working lives, or our time with our family, or indeed resting properly. And anything that becomes a strong habit will inevitably interfere with our devotion to the Lord.

Now I’m not saying that social media is necessarily evil. At the best it is a great communication tool to share prayer requests, to learn what the Lord is doing around the world, to support friends in need. But we need to have the spirit of self-discipline so that social media is our servant not our master. What we find online is virtual reality, not the ultimate reality who is God Himself. It is in our relationship with God that we find our meaning and our fulfilment, and we must not let anything get in the way of that, not even the apparently harmless habit of spending hours, say, on Facebook or Snapchat.

Manipulation More and more we are learning that what we read online is not neutral or unbiased. We talk about the great “information revolution” that happened at the end of the 20th century but now in 2018 we are more aware than ever that not all news is real news. We can be tricked and deceived in all kinds of ways, and we need Spirit-filled wisdom to discern what is good and right and true.

As we are bombarded with more and more news, we also need to be aware of the overwhelming pressure that is put upon us as believers to conform to the world’s point of view. If you’re not clear what I am saying, try posting on a public platform that you believe in the traditional, Biblical understanding of marriage. The downside of such free flow of “information” is that anyone can comment in an instant, and if you are out of step with the times, you can expect all kinds of abuse and vitriol to rain down on you. Paul says in Romans 12:2: Do not conform to the pattern of this world but it is hard when your views put you at odds with what the majority believe. Just look at the example of Tim Farron and how his view on marriage caused his downfall as Liberal Democrat leader.

This is yet one more reason why we need as Christians to support and encourage one another to stand firm on the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just by meeting on Sundays but also by supporting and encouraging each other online. Yet sad to say I find many church members are reluctant to engage with this vitally important area of online ministry. I get far more response to these kinds of articles from those who are not part of St Barnacles. Yet if our voice is to be heard and sustained, and if we are to help our young people avoid being manipulated by the world of social media, this online ministry is not an optional extra, but a vital part of our discipleship.

Meditation To me the biggest challenge of social media to the Christian faith is that it crowds out our space to reflect, to think, to meditate. The church has always grown and flourished when men and women, young and old, have created space and time to pray, to be with the Lord, and to listen to what He is saying. Paul urged the church in Colosse: Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly and I believe that is an urgent command also for our day.

Yet social media is causing our attention span to shorten. Once we have read something, we might pause for a moment to share it. But then we go onto another story. We search for the next thing that grabs our attention. If what we find doesn’t grab our attention within about 20 seconds, we discard it, and move on. And I am concerned, really concerned, that we are not creating the space to allow the word of the Lord to get into our lives, indeed that we are losing the discipline entirely of simply reading our Bibles, being still and allowing the Holy Spirit to minister to us.

So here’s a challenge. Before you click off this post, take time to read Psalm 119:97-104 

If you no longer possess an actual Bible, click on the link and ask yourself:

What does it mean in today’s digital age to meditate on God’s law all day long? How far is Scripture my source of wisdom when I browse the net?
Do I let social media or the word of God be the ultimate authority over my life?

For the sake of the gospel, let’s get this conversation going.

 

 


Looking again at the Lord’s Prayer

September 12, 2017

Lord's Prayer in Scottish

We are all used to saying the Lord’s Prayer. We say it every week in church. We say it at funerals. We say it at significant moments in our lives. We may sometimes hesitate as to whether we say the old or the modern version, but apart from that, the Lord’s Prayer is a very familiar part of our lives, and of countless believers around the world. It has been translated into hundreds, if not thousands of languages over the centuries. My favourite version is one in Scottish I saw in Israel a few years back (see above!).

But sometimes we can be so familiar with the Lord’s Prayer that we don’t really think about what we are saying. That’s why I set the young people at the Monday group a challenge – to rewrite the Lord’s Prayer in today’s language. It was a fascinating exercise and it taught us a number of things:

  1. There are words in the Lord’s Prayer which we say but don’t necessarily understand. What does it mean for the Lord’s name to be hallowed? Or for His kingdom to come? It certainly reminded me we need to teach and teach again on the Lord’s Prayer (maybe a future sermon series!?)
  2. There is so much meaning in each phrase it is really difficult to sum up all that Jesus is saying in other words. Plus, some of the concepts in the Lord’s Prayer really are quite unfamiliar to our Western world today, such as keeping the Lord’s name holy, or depending on Him for our daily bread.
  3. We also notice how much of the prayer is about “Our” and “Us”. So often we think of the Lord’s Prayer as something we say as individuals. But the prayer is Jesus’ gift to the church and designed to be said together by the whole family of God.

All in all, by the end of the evening, we ended up with a new appreciation of Jesus’ words and decided that the original was the best. However we have written up our own version, and we’ll be leaving it in the hall area over the next few days. Can you improve upon it? We look forward to your suggestions!

 


Small group update

January 21, 2017

DSCF1865

Here is a quick update on our small groups:

Our Monday evening group called Grow the Word for the young at heart and young in faith may be small but they are having a great time! We are looking at the stories from 1 Samuel and seeing how these stories connect with real life today. Looking at issues such as prayer, friendship and jealousy, we are learning so much about our faith and how it impacts on our everyday life.

Our Wednesday evening group called Live the Word group takes the theme of the Sunday sermon and asks the question, “OK, we’ve heard the words – now what?” Taking seriously Jesus’ call to make Him Lord over every part of our life this group is seeking direct, practical application of Scriptural truths to the issues that confront us daily.

Our Thursday afternoon group known as a GIFT Group (Growing in Faith Together) is at the moment tackling that most important of subjects – prayer. The disciples asked Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray” and this group is seeking to learn the lessons Jesus taught them.

Our Thursday evening group called Know the Word recently finished Luke’s gospel after two years! We learnt so much along the way, we have decided to plunge into the sequel, otherwise known as the Acts of the Apostles. We have grown so much by studying the word of God and we have seen so many answers to prayer. It is thrilling to see confirmation of the Scriptural truth that the word of God is alive and active.

Once a month (except this February) the groups get together for the Big Picture. The aim is to look not so much at a small chunk of Scripture but get an overview of the whole story of the Bible and see our part in it. We’ve looked so far at creation, at human sexuality and at sin. Plus we’re trying to learn the books of the Bible in order – who knew clothes pegs could be so useful?

Whether you are used to a small group or not, there must be something here for you. To find out more, just ask, and don’t be afraid to show up! Our small groups are there for you, to help you discover more about the life Jesus offers you, and to provide the support we all need week by week.

And if you don’t feel you are ready for a small group yet we also offer Christianity Explored for those who just beginning to look at the Christian faith.

Why not join us?