God’s Big Story 11 – The Promised Land: Joshua 1

18/05/2015

PPP ICON5Courage

Most of us have something we’re afraid of. Not the exotic phobias we met in last week’s family service, but real, ordinary fears: heights; or needles; or spiders; or crowds. What is your fear?

Now imagine that you have to go into a situation with those: up a tall tower, or having an injection. How will you feel? Afraid! Now imagine someone says, ‘Be strong and courageous’. Will that help? Probably not much, if I’m honest about my fears.

In the Christian life, our struggle is not against flesh and blood: we have reason to fear even greater enemies than our personal phobias. God says to us ‘Be strong and courageous’. I don’t that will help unless we understand what he means, and see what it looks like.

The place to find out is Joshua 1, when Joshua and all God’s people are told to be strong and courageous in the face of a clear and present danger. That story was written for us, for our learning and encouragement.

Follow the Story

‘After the death of Moses’ (v1)

We’re following God’s Big Story. Last time (two weeks ago) we were in Numbers 13-14.  Israel sent spies into the land; they they came back with the grapes on a branch and said the land is good, but it’s filled with giants. They refused to trust God, and that entire generation was condemned to die in the wilderness. The only two men/to go through to the land of milk and honey/were Joshua son of Nun/ and Caleb son of Jephunneh.

Moses is the last one of that whole generation to die: now is the time to cross into the land:

“Moses my servant is dead. Now then, you and all these people, get ready to cross the Jordan River into the land I am about to give to them—to the Israelites.  (Joshua 1:2)

‘The Land I am about to give you’ (v2-4)

The Land is Canaan, and was not chosen at random. God promised PPP ICON3in Genesis 12 he would give Abraham A people, A blessing, and A land. By now Abraham’s descendants the Israelites are a numerous people, they have the blessing of God’s presence with them, and we’re waiting for the last part: the Land that God promised.

God says he will give the land. We see this in the summary of Joshua’s conquest:

So Joshua took the entire land, just as the LORD had directed Moses, and he gave it as an inheritance to Israel according to their tribal divisions.  Then the land had rest from war.  (Joshua 11:23)

Actually that’s a bit of an exaggeration because the conquest of Canaan is only partially fulfilled, and we’ll see that the promise of land is only partially fulfilled in Canaan. See 13.1

When Joshua was old and well advanced in years, the LORD said to him, “You are very old [not very tactful is he!], and there are still very large areas of land to be taken over.  (Joshua 13:1)

‘I will be with you’ (v5)

God gives the land but Israel will have to fight for it. Nevertheless, God is the true warrior because he fights for Israel:

No one will be able to stand up against you all the days of your life. As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you.  (Joshua 1:5)

Remember, though, that there are people living in the land who have no intention of giving it up to the Israelites. The people are strong and well-armed. Israel has good reason to be nervous!

‘Be Strong and Courageous’ (v6-9)

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go. (Joshua 1:9)

I must say that the command ‘Do not be afraid’ is one of the least helpful commands I know. If you are afraid, it’s not much help being told not to be. In many ways, fear is an emotion that comes upon you; it’s like surprise. The question is, once you experience the fear, what do you do to it? Do you let it master you and paralyse you? That seems to me to be the sense behind terrified in v9: don’t let your fear paralyse you. Courageous people still know what fear is. General Norman Schwartzkopf echoes the words of many others, soldiers and civilians alike, when he says

True courage is being afraid, and going ahead and doing your job anyhow, that’s what courage is.

Thinking of war reminds me of another period for violent battles (this is a joke): Two Norman soldiers were relaxing after the Battle of Hastings 1066 (Normans defeated the Saxons). 

“What a battle! What a victory! Someday children will read about this battle as a turning point of history…and we were here!” 

“Perhaps,” said the other soldier, “But I think they will be shielded from most of the details.” 

“Why?” the first soldier asked. 

The other soldier shook his head and replied, “Too much Saxon violence.”

Before we see what that looks like in the Christian life, I need quickly to address three questions before we can move on.

Questions we have

Isn’t the Conquest of Canaan wrong?

In order to gain the land of Canaan, Israel needed to destroy the people who already lived there: the Canaanites, Perrizite, Girgashites, Hivites, Jebusites and others.

When you read God’s commands to Israel, it is clear that he wants them capture the land and kill the inhabitants. Doesn’t that seem wrong? How do we approach that as Christians? (See Chris Wright The God I don’t Understand Zondervan 2008, Chapters 3 & 4)

If we’re going to take the Bible seriously, we can’t write these passages off as ‘nasty OT’ because all of it is God’s Word. We can’t pretend that Israel mis-heard God, because his commands are clear, as are his rebukes when they don’t do what he tells them. And we can’t pretend this is a fable: it’s an historical book.

We can’t take away the violence of the conquest. We can put it in perspective.

  • As a battle tactic is was not unusual (it was normal at the time); and it was not permanent: it was only this generation and in the initial conquest of the land that the capture was to be total. Israel’s later battle conduct was much more merciful.
  • God is the ruler of all the nations of the earth. In that context we see that the destruction of Canaan is not genocide but judgement. The problem with Canaan is not their ethnicity but their idolatry and wickedness. We are all sinful and wicked, but sometimes a nation’s wickedness rises so high that it must be dealt with. The wickedness of the Canaanites was brewing even as God promised the land to Abraham, generations earlier:

In the fourth generation your descendants will come back here, for the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure.”  (Genesis 15:16)

The wickedness of the Amorites (that is those living in Canaan) will reach a point where judgement is mandated. In the conquest of Canaan, Israel acts as the instruments of God’s judgement. Violence is uncomfortable, and our sovereign God uses even that for his good purposes.

The Christian faith centres on a different act of violence: the death of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Conquest and the Cross are both about God’s judgement on sin. The difference is that at the conquest God poured out his judgement on a wicked society that deserved it. At the cross, he poured the judgement of a wicked humanity on himself in the person of his son – who deserved it not one bit.

How should Christians think about this Promise (of Land)?

A second question is how should Christians think about this promise of land. It’s central to the Old Testament. What does this promise of land mean for us Christians?

You may know that this is a contested question: some Christians feel strongly that the promise of land remains unchanged. I want to consider how the NT picks up the promise. It never speaks of the promise of land, but uses the language of inheritance to speak of the Kingdom of God. Just as OT Israel looked forward to entering the land of Canaan, so now Christian believers of all kinds look forward to entering the Kingdom of God. For example when Paul commends the elders of the Church at Ephesus to God’s keeping he says:

Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.  (Acts 20:32)

Hebrews explains that Jesus brings a new covenant so that we can have an inheritance:

For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance (Hebrews 9:15)

This means that what we read about the Land in the OT we can apply to the Kingdom of God in the NT.

What does prospering and succeeding (v8) mean for us?

If Israel are faithful in battle and in occupying the land, God promises them prosperity:

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  (Joshua 1:8)

Within the terms of the Old Covenant, if Israel were faithful they would be wealthy and safe in the land. If they were not, they would be poor and exiled. That’s exactly what happened.

Under the terms of the New Covenant, our inheritance is God’s eternal kingdom. Therefore our eternal wealth and security follow if we are careful to keep the book of the law in our hearts. The story of Israel is that they could not do it, and lost the blessing. The story of Jesus is that he alone could do it and he did. Our wealth and security are guaranteed in Christ.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you,  (1 Peter 1:3–4)

Spiritual prosperity and success come by receiving what Jesus Christ has gained for us in his death and resurrection. It’s not mere material success: it’s far more substantial than that.

Being Strong and Courageous Today

So when do we need to hear God’s promise and command to be Courageous because God is with us? Three areas in NT.

Changing Lives

God wants to bring change to your life and mine. He also has many people in this town who aren’t yet his: family, friends, neighbours, colleagues. How will we, and they, receive the blessings God wants? How will God’s enemies turn their hostility into obedience and willing faith?

God has given us a message about a man who was killed. It’s not much is it? It’s tempting to wonder whether that will make any real difference? There are weeks when I am tempted to be ashamed of this message and long for something, well, stronger. The apostle Paul knew that temptation and he said

I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile.  (Romans 1:16)

The first set of giants we face are the giants of doubting the power of God’s word: in our preaching; in our evangelism; in equipping our children for life; in ordering the life of our church and denomination. It looks so weak!  And in the face of the opposition, it is weak because we are weak! But in evangelism and ministry, just as in Canaan, the strength comes because God is with us:

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Matthew 28:18–20)

Jesus knows evangelism is hard: it is literally a battle for a person’s soul. We are knocked back, rejected, discouraged, misunderstood – even when we’re being tactful, gentle, truthful, loving. That is a time to be courageous and strong because the Lord your God is with us. Let’s stick to his word because it is a powerful and good word. Be courageous and strong because Jesus Christ is with you.

Sin

The second battle is in our own hearts:

Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said,  “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”  (Hebrews 13:5)

Verse 5 quotes from Joshua 1. Greed, covetousness, and not trusting God’s goodness are deadly to the heart.

  • When we’re fighting against sin, it’s a mistake to think we can conquer it alone. It’s like we saw in Numbers 14, Israel went alone against the Amorites, and were smashed.
  • When we’re fighting against sin, it is equally a mistake to think we can never defeat it:

 God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” So we say with confidence, “The Lord is my helper; I will not be afraid. What can man do to me?”  (Hebrews 13:5–6)

Sin and evil will do anything to stop us entering our inheritance – they are fighting harder than any Canaanite defending his city and homestead. Don’t give up! And when you fight, don’t fight alone! Cry to God and call on him in your struggle.

Death

When Joshua and the Israelites looked into the Land, they saw first the Canaanites whom they had to face. Understandably they were afraid.

Our inheritance is an eternal inheritance. Those who have died in Christ (like dear David Woodman) are rightly described as being called ‘home’. But between here are there stands a great enemy: death itself. Hebrews says we all live as slaves to the fear of death, and that Jesus came to rescue us from the power of death over us

Since the children have flesh and blood, he [Jesus] too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14–15)

By his death (& resurrection come to the seminar) that enemy is defeated. So be courageous and not afraid. What does it look like?

Pilgrim’s progress is an allegory of Christian journeying from the city of destruction to the eternal city. The final barrier is a strong river, which stands for death:

Then they waded into the water, and upon entering, Christian began to sink. He cried out to his good friend Hopeful, saying, “I am sinking in deep waters; the billows are going over my head, all his waves go over me! Selah.” [a reference to a Psalm]

…Christian is afraid and sees his spiritual enemies.

Then I saw in my dream that Christian was in a bewildered stupor for a while. Hopeful spoke to Christian, encouraging him to “Be of good cheer,” reminding him that Jesus Christ would make him whole. With that Christian shouted out with a loud voice, “Oh, I see Him again, and He tells me, ‘When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they will not overflow you.’”

Then they both took courage and crossed the river, and the enemy was as still as a stone. Christian soon found solid ground to stand on, and the rest of the river was shallow. So Christian and Hopeful crossed over the river and arrived on the other side. As soon as they came out of the river, they saw the two shining men again waiting for them. The men saluted the two pilgrims saying, “We are ministering spirits, sent here to minister to those who shall be heirs of salvation.” Then they all went they along together toward the gate.

If we trust in him, he will bring us into our inheritance. He will, as that great Welsh hymn has it, ‘Land me safe on Canaan’s side’.

Conclusion

Be courageous and strong, even when the enemy is strong and your heart is weak. Be bold because the Lord your God is with you:

  • We trust God’s word to be the power of God for the salvation of all who believe: courage means sticking to what God has said.
  • We trust God’s promise and his Spirit to fight with us and for us against sin, whether it’s obvious sins like sex, money and power; or more subtle attacks such as undermining our contentment.
  • We trust Jesus’ death to have defeated the power of death to make us afraid, and to keep us from entering our home.

 

Questions for Home Groups

When are you most in need of courage, as a Christian?

When will God’s promise to be with us be most helpful? See Matthew 28.16-20; and Hebrews 13.5


God’s big Story 10: Unbelief – Numbers 13 & 14

04/05/2015
Introduction: so near and yet so far

Last weekend was the London Marathon. Thousands of runners took part, and for them it as the culmination of months of training. Everyone who finished is, in my book, a winner. And that’s the point: to finish. Older members may remember one occasion on which the front-runner failed to finish: in 1954 Jim Peters was leading the race when, in sight of the finishing line, he collapsed and was unable to finish. Why is this so often cited? Because we feel the pathos of it: so near, and yet he did not finish. All those miles, and then he failed when he was so close.

We need to take something like that sense of disappointment with us into today’s passage.

PPP ICON4

We meet the people of Israel in the wilderness. God has brought them so far. They are God’s people knowing the blessing of God’s presence. But as yet they have not entered the land that God promised. And now in Numbers 13 they stand on the edge of the land ready to go in.They have come so far.

Tragically, they will not go in because of unbelief. That whole generation (with two noble exceptions) perished. God’s promises are inherited by faith, and those who refuse to believe will not inherit God’s promises. That was true for them, and it is true for us now. The tragedy of losing out through unbelief makes Jim Peters’ collapse pale into insignificance.

Let’s follow the story through these two chapters. (Need Bibles open pp. 149-150)

A. Grapes, Grasshoppers, and Giants (Numbers 13.1-14.4)

Reconnaissance 13.1-24

‘Time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted’. Twelve spies, one from each tribe, are sent out from Israel. They are to find out all about the land (v17-20). They returned with news and fruit, including  a cluster of grapes carried over a pole (an indication of how large it was). Even now, the logo for the Israeli Tourist Board has two men carrying a bunch of grapes.

Reckoning 13.25-33 (or Report0

There is good news and bad news:

“We went into the land to which you sent us, and it does flow with milk and honey! Here is its fruit. But the people who live there are powerful, and the cities are fortified and very large. We even saw descendants of Anak [that is, giants] there.  (Numbers 13:27–28)

Despite Caleb’s Minority Report, they conclude:

“We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are.” (Numbers 13:31)

and

“We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33)

Rebellion 14.1-4

Unbelief takes hold and spreads, and in the night there is a rebellion against Moses and Aaron. The people don’t want to enter God’s promise. Instead they say:

“We should choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”  (Numbers 14:4)

Here is the tragedy of unbelief. God brought them to the edge of the land he promised to give them, and they turned back because they refused to believe he could do it. ‘The Giants are too big, Let’s go back to Egypt’

=> The Nature of Unbelief

This shows us the nature of unbelief. Unbelief is a refusal to trust God’s promise. Let’s note a few things about unbelief.

Unbelief does not take account of the evidence (or distorts reality)

The evidence is that God has a good track record. He had promised Abraham three things (Gen 12.1-3):

  • A People
  • A Blessing
  • A Place

PPP ICON3People: By now, Abraham’s descendants were numerous (some 600,000 strong), and free.

Blessing: God is with his people through the pillar of cloud and fire that leads them; in the Tabernacle that dwells literally in their midst; and by his mighty deeds, where he rescued them from slavery in Egypt and brought them across the Red Sea.

Place: God kept every single promised he had made, and had defeated strong enemies before. But faced with the reality of taking on Canaan and the Canaanites, it seems to much: “We seemed like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and we looked the same to them.” (Numbers 13:33) God says ‘Go’, and the people say ‘No’.

Unbelief only makes sense when God’s people aren’t seeing straight. That’s when they think they are grasshoppers. It’s the same for us: it makes sense when we’re not seeing straight and forget who our God really is and what is has done. That’s when we think we are grasshoppers

Unbelief is not the same as doubt

Unbelief questions the goodness and the power of God. Israel thought they would be better off as slaves in Egypt than as God’s free people (denying the goodness of God); and they also denied the power of God that he could defeat the giants in the land.

Doubt questions the logic of God. We don’t understand why God acts as he does, but we trust him anyway. Many believers in the Bible and today have these sorts of questions: there is much we don’t understand about God’s ways, and he can use those questions to deepen our faith. Doubt says, ‘I don’t understand why, but I will still trust you’.

For example, the Nepal Earthquake can trigger both unbelief and doubt. Unbelief says, ‘I refuse to trust in a god who allows earthquakes.’ Doubt says, ‘I don’t understand why one of the earth’s poorest nations should be the one to suffer an earthquake: I will wrestle with it while I trust God.’

In the Bible, Thomas refused to believe until Jesus graciously showed himnself. Job and Jeremiah doubted because they wrestled with God’s logic but never with his goodness or power.

Doubt is not the same as unbelief.

Unbelief is about God’s Universal, Scriptural Promises.

Israel’s promise of Land was woven into the covenant with Abraham. To refuse God at this point is to refuse him at the whole covenant. It’s a central promise.

Under the new Covenant, God offers us new life and a new land – the promised new creation. Life in Jesus and life in eternity are central to life in Jesus. To refuse God at this point is to refuse the whole covenant. Salvation is a central promise.

The promise of salvation is something we either have or we don’t. We are either saved or we’re not. Some of you may be feeling your way towards a clear enough understanding, but all of us need to cross that line of trusting our whole life to Jesus Christ.

I often use a rescue analogy: when rescued by helicopter, you are either in the harness, or not.

The Giants in this story stand for those things that prevent us from finding salvation in Christ. Each of us also has subjective, specific hopes: good things we are praying for which have not been promised in the same way:

  • the conversion of a loved one;
  • the success of a transaction or a deal; for an opportunity to open;
  • for funding for a Parish Centre; for finding people with the gifts to help our ministry.

These are all good things, but none rank alongside the central promise of Salvation in Christ. God does not promise we will have these things. We should pray for these things, and ask God to bring them about: we should be obedient to God in the way we go about them (we can’t lie or cheat). But they aren’t the giants that this passage is talking about.

Unbelief is where God presents a way, and we say, ‘That’s too hard: we can’t do it!’ let me give some examples.

  • Becoming a Christian/being forgiven. We are forgiven and adopted by faith in Jesus’ death on our behalf. And that means trust in Christ alone. “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to thy cross I cling.” But that’s too hard! You say, “My sins are much more serious than you realise. At least make me do something to make up for them.” or “My life is better than you think; I want God to take account of all the good I have done in my life.” God has presented a way (faith in Christ alone) and if you refuse then that is unbelief. Religion that marries God’s grace to human effort breeds unbelief. We can only become a Christian in the way God has said. By faith in Christ, and by faith alone. Anything else is unbelief.
  • Living as a Christian. God presents a way to live his way in the strength of the Holy Spirit. That means honesty, love, purity in a world that is dishonest, selfish and sex-mad. We say, ‘It’s too hard!’. Ed Shaw, who spoke here last year, finds this with people he talks to about how to live for God. They say ‘It’s too hard’, in other words, ‘It’s not plausible (or sensible) to live like this.’ He has just written a book called ‘The Plausibility Problem’ (IVP 2015) because when people looks at how God wants us to live (and the focus of his book is on sexual purity), they say, ‘It’s too hard. We can’t do it.’ That is unbelief because God’s way is plausible and his Spirit is powerful enough to help us to do it. We cannot do it alone: but if God has promised to bring you this way, he will do it.

The nature of unbelief is refusing to accept God’s central promises because it’s too hard. What happens to the Israelites?

B. Death in the Desert (Numbers 14.5-45)

Pleading with the People 14.5-10a

Moses and Joshua the leaders, and Joshua and Caleb the faithful spies plead with the people to remember that the Lord is with them (v7-9). The people refuse: their rebellion is against God’s promises.

Pleading with the Lord 14.10b-19

The glory of the Lord appeared, and says he will wipe out the (rebellious) people and start again with just Moses. Moses counters by appealing to God’s reputation among the nations (v 15–16): What will they think if you wipe them out? Show your power by bringing them through.  So Moses pleads for mercy:

In accordance with your great love, forgive the sin of these people, just as you have pardoned them from the time they left Egypt until now.  (Numbers 14:19)

Notice that it’s not the first time Israel have been rebellious. Alert Bible readers may remember the same happened with the Golden Calf episode in Exodus 32. (God says they did it ten times, see Num 14.22)

Pardon and punishment 14.20-38

And God graciously forgives. But there are consequences:

So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun.  (Numbers 14:28–30)

That whole generation who saw the Exodus but refused to trust God for the Land, perished in the desert. Handy jingle: Only two men went through to the land of milk and honey: Joshua son of Nun and Caleb son of Jephunneh!

A Really Stupid Thing To Do 14.39-45

The final part of the story can only be described as a Really Stupid Thing to Do. Having refused to go forward with God, they decide to try it without him. Moses explains why it’s a bad idea:

Do not go up, because the LORD is not with you. You will be defeated by your enemies, (Numbers 14:42)

Unsurprisingly they are roundly defeated, and they change nothing. So what are the consequences of their unbelief?

=> The Consequences of Unbelief

The consequence of unbelief is missing out on God’s promise.

God’s promise is to give his blessings to those who trust him. It has to be that way because if it depends on our work, we will mess it up. In the Gospel, God does all the work through Jesus Christ, and all we need to do is to receive it by faith. So in salvation we really only have one job: to believe God.

I don’t know if you have come across the meme ‘One Job’. The idea is that someone was given just one job, and they even messed that up. Here is one example: a Star Wars T-Shirt with a Star Trek spaceship!

God gives us just one job: to trust him. Let me repeat again: it has to be that way because if it depends on us, we will mess it up in the end. That is the wonderful news tat Jesus Christ offers: he has done it all, and offers a free gift to you and to me. We can only accept it by faith: there is no other way. We have One Job – to trust him – because that’s the reality.

The consequence of faith is life, and the consequence of unbelief is missing out on God’s promises.

  • It was true for the Exodus generation: they did not believe and they did not enter the land. God’s promise remained and the next generation entered. But they perished, all of them except for Caleb and Joshua.
  • It is true for us. God’s offer of life comes by faith. Jesus put it like this:

Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him (John 3:36)

The consequence of not believing God’s offer of salvation in Jesus is to miss out on salvation. The Gospel is “the  power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes”  (Romans 1:16). And the consequence of consistently rejecting God’s way of life is also serious: those who live this way “will not inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
So what’s the remedy?

C. Do Not Harden Your Hearts (Hebrews 3.7-19)

The writer to the Hebrews picks up the warning from Israel’s history and applies to Christians today. His warning is that unbelief is serious. He’s writing to Christians who are drifting away from Christ and refusing to believe God’s promises. Their One Job was to trust Jesus Christ, but they seem to be trading it for something else that looks more religious. So he warns them that trading Christ for anything else is unbelief:

So, as the Holy Spirit says: “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the desert, where your fathers tested and tried me and for forty years saw what I did.  (Hebrews 3:7–9)

In Hebrews, every day is Today because Today is the day we decide either to trust God or to move away from him (hardening your hearts, v8). How can we remedy the danger of unbelief?

=> The Remedy for Unbelief

The remedy for unbelief is to keep Christ before you. This passage in Hebrews is framed by two that speak of Christ: Hebrews 3.1-6 explains how he is superior to all others; 4.14-16 that he is the Great High Priest who can help us.

Two commands:

See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called Today, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.  (Hebrews 3:12–13)

First, watch your heart. That is a daily task for every Christian. Every set back, every slight, every disappointment, every success, every blessing, all of these can be an opportunity to harden your heart and to forget God.

Israel’s rebellion against Moses did not come from nowhere: they had a track record of grumbling, and indeed they continued. God’s Holy Spirit makes us more like Jesus and less like grumbling if we cooperate with him. We need to watch our hearts.

Notice it’s something we do together. The whole church has a stake in helping one another. So our corporate meetings must work to keep us from unbelieving hearts by focussing on Christ; and our love for one another too.

Second, encourage each other daily. Remember how Israel’s enemies seemed so big, and how easily they forgot God’s promises and power? Encouraging each other daily means keeping God’s promises and his power to keep before us always.

It’s daily: that means bringing God into our day, every day. Usually best to read the Bible and pray. Can also mark places and consciously pray: school gates, or office coffee machine, and mealtimes.

It’s corporate: that is why you need to come to church regularly and frequently. If not daily, at least weekly. For your sake and for others!

Jim Peters revisited. 

The Christian life is a marathon. We reach the end through the simple means we use to get going: through faith. We have One Job – to Trust God. If we do not do that one thing, unbelief will rob us of the prize.

We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first.  (Hebrews 3:14)


God’s Big Story (9) God with Us (The Tabernacle)

27/04/2015

Exodus 25:8-22 (page 83)   “God with us” (The Tabernacle)

PPP ICON4

 

What does this chapter (and chapters 25-31) teach us about God?

GOD’S PRESENCE (vs 8)

The Tent of Meeting at the centre of the camp (Num 2:17)

See also Matt 1:23; John 4:21,23; Matt 28:20; Eph 2:22

 

 

GOD’S PATTERN (vs 9, repeated in Heb 8:5)

Importance of following God’s plan in detail. See also 2 Tim 1:13; 3:16

 

 

GOD’S PURITY (vs 8)

“Sanctuary” = place of holiness. See also Isa 6:3; 1 Pet 2:22;

1 John 3:5

 

 

GOD’S PROVISION (vs 17)

“Atonement cover” – mercy seat.   Blood sprinkled on this

(Lev 16:14)

See also Heb 9:7-8, 11-12; 1 Pet 1:18-19; Rom 3:25.

 

 

Questions to consider:

  1. How did the Israelites know God was with them – and how can we know that God is with us?
  2. Why are we called to follow God’s pattern? What if we find some parts of His Word difficult to believe or understand?
  3. How can we know God both as the One Who is close to us but also to be worshipped with a sense of awe and wonder? Do we treat Him too lightly?
  4. How do we see Jesus fulfilling the promise of atonement? What was the cost of this?

God’s Big Story (8) Rescue & Life

23/03/2015

God’s Big Story (8) Rescue & Life

Exodus 20.1-20

PPP ICON4

How shall we live?

In 1630, John Winthrop preached an important sermon in an unusual place. He was on board the ship Arabella, and at the head of a group sailing away from England to found a new colony in what is today Boston. Before he landed, Winthrop made a speech laying out what kind of community they were to make:

We must be knit together, in this work, as one man. We must entertain each other in brotherly affection. … We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body. So shall we keep the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. [Graham Beynon God’s New Community Chapter 4. See also for the full text of the sermon ‘A Model of Christian Charity’ http://winthropsociety.com/doc_charity.php (March 2015)]

What a wonderful vision of a community ‘knit together in love’. In stark contrast is another speech, made nearly three hundred years later, in 1928. Herbert Hoover finished up his Presidential Campaign with a speech that came to be known as the Rugged Individualism’ speech.

Two speeches that set out a vision for society. What is God’s vision for society, and for humanity? As we have followed through God’s Big Story we see that his big vision is to bring God’s People into God’s Place to enjoy the blessings of God’s rule. So far Abraham’s descendants (God’s people) have multiplied to vast numbers: in the Exodus he brought them out of slavery in Egypt to be on the way to the Place he promised to give them. What kind of people are they to be? What is God’s vision for society?

Rules? We love them and hate them! (v1-2) 

The Ten Commandments, which we find in Exodus 20, set out God’s vision for society. They are, as the DVD showed, also ‘Ten Ways to be Perfect’.[Sally Lloyd-Jones and Jago The Jesus Story Book Bible DVD]

They show us how God wants his people to live.

And they are Rules.

Many people imagine that the Ten Commandments are a test to see whom God will accept: you can be a Christian if you’re good enough.

Last week we imagined a Border Post at the crossing of the Red Sea, to allow only Israelites through when in fact a mixed multitude crossed (Ex 12.38). Now imagine there was a kind of ‘Cricket Test’ instead – you can cross if you have kept these commandments.

That’s is utterly wrong! For a start, the order of events is wrong. See how the Commandments are introduced in verse 2:

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.  (Exodus 20:2)

God gave the commandments three months after the Israelites left Egypt (See Ex 19.1-2). The Commandments are not rules for earning God’s favour. Before we look at what they are we must recognise we have a love-hate relationship with rules:

We hate rules when we want a relationship

Rules can describe a relationship but they cannot define it. Take marriage as an example (I know this will be sensitive for some, but you will understand better than most the seriousness of the issue being illustrated). Yesterday I took part in a service of thanksgiving for 50 years of marriage. It was a wonderful celebration. All the women present were jealous because the bride/wife wore her original wedding dress from 50 years ago!Marriage

Part of the ceremony was the renewal of marriage vows: for better for worse and so on. But the relationship is not about the rules: it is about loving the other person through think and thin. We hate rules when we want a relationship that goes further

On the other hand, the rules can reveal where we fall short: and nobody enjoys that experience! Those vows are in a sense rules – if you fail to keep the obligations, there are grounds for divorce. The problem with God’s rules is that they present us with God’s standards. We’ll return to that.

We love rules when we don’t want a relationship

On the other hand, we love rules when we don’t want a relationship because rules mean you can know when you have done enough. That is not a relationship! I don’t reach a certain point in the day with Christa and tell her, ‘I’ve been nice about your hair (once today) and clothes (once today) now I have done your duty. That’s it for the day’! Relationships don’t work like that.

The Commandments are rules that describe the relationship God wants, but they do not define that relationship. God called Israel to a relationship that would mean they obey the commandments: but we will see in coming weeks that Israel preferred to settle for rules rather than relationship. If we focus on the rules, we lose sight of the wonderful relationship God wants.

There’s a well known story of a man who was recruiting a new driver. The last three candidates were invited to a cliff-top car park. The challenge: “How close to the edge do you think you can safely drive me?” One drives to within 1 metre. Next to within 50 cm. Third walks away. “I’m not going anywhere near the edge!” Who got the job? The third man because the man wanted to live! Clifftop

Do you see that by seeing how close to the edge they could go, the two others lost sight of the objective: to keep the man safe! And in the same way, by concentrating on seeing how close to disobedience they could get, Israel and us lose the real prize, which is knowing God.

The rules are pointers to God. They reveal God’s blueprint for us – the Good Life – We learn this from what they forbid and what they promote. After that we’ll see they point to the Good News of how God works today.

The Good Life: A Compelling Vision (v3-17)

Behind each negative commandment is a positive vision or virtue that God commends to us. Let me show you:

(1) “You shall have no other gods before me. (Exodus 20:3)

The heart of this commandment is to worship knowing there is only one God. It forbids God’s people to worship other gods in order to promote joyful worship of the one true God. True delight comes from worshipping the true God, and that comes by avoiding false gods.

(2) You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them;…  (Exodus 20:4–6)

If the first command was about whom to worship, the second is about how to worship. Within a a few chapters of this part of Exodus, Moses’ own brother Aaron will set up a golden calf for Israel to worship. He thought it would be a good way to worship the Lord. It seemed a good idea. But God is not like the others gods: he is real, living, and unseen: he reveals himself by words not images. Aaron failed to listen and so led Israel into a great sin. We too must constantly ask, ‘What does God say about how we are to worship him? And how can we do it?’

(3) “You shall not misuse the name of the LORD your God, for the LORD will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name.  (Exodus 20:7)

This command is about treating his name as weighty. God is not to be taken for granted: he is to be taken seriously. In the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, when Susan first hears about Aslan she asks, ‘Is he safe?’. No Dear, says Mrs Beaver, ‘I never said he was safe. But he is good.’ Aslan stands for the God of the Bible: good, but not safe.

In that sense we should be cautious about singing songs in which God’s my ‘mate’: there is intimacy in our relationship, but he’s Almighty. (And Scripture never calls God our friend).

(4) “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. (Exodus 20:8–10)

God works on the Sabbath and rests when he has finished his work. We are to rest on the Sabbath, whether our work is finished or not. We can keep the sabbath because we trust that God can cope without us for day.

(5) “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the LORD your God is giving you.  (Exodus 20:12)

The first four commandments have been mainly about our relationship with God. The last five are mainly about our relationship with others. This, fifth, Commandment is the bridge between the two. We honour our parents because the family is the basic building block of society that God has given. It’s a continuing obligation: I am to honour my parents now: my mother who is alive; and my Father’s memory now that he gone.
The Family is also the place we learn about all our other relationships, including the value of life, purity, truth, treasure, and contentment. That is why the family is the link between the first four Commandments and the last five.

(6) “You shall not murder.  (Exodus 20:13)

Jesus made clear that the commandment reaches far beyond shedding blood: it means loving others and cherishing their life and their wellbeing. It means loving life when it is weak and strong: when it is kind and unkind; when it is just and unjust. Remember that it is Christians who have led the way in caring for the sick, the weak, and the dying. And it is now non-Christians who are leading the way in calling for the removal through assisted suicide or euthanasia of the sick, the weak, and the dying. It’s a beautiful vision of loving life.

(7) “You shall not commit adultery. (Exodus 20:14)

Here is a vision of pure relationships in which men and women honour one another as people not sexual objects, and find right ways to delight in their love and desire for one another. We have seen many cases recently to illustrate the ways in which there are wrong relationships: historic sexual abuse (it’s not OK to molest or sleep with teenage fans); grooming (it’s not OK to seduce vulnerable women and men); rape (it’s not OK to have sex where consent has not been given); teenage pregnancies and disease (it’s not OK to be pregnant under 16). What is lacking is any positive vision of relationships in which men and women, boys and girls are safe and cherished and protected and able to delight in the sexual pleasure God gives the human person. Many people see Christian sexual ethics as repressive, when they hold out a vision for purity and protection. We Christian believers shun immorality because we’re captured by a better vision.

(8) You shall not steal.  (Exodus 20:15)

This commandment is about treasure: what’s mine, what’s yours: of course it can all come, and it can all go. We can’t take it with us. When we seek lasting treasure, that is when our attitudes to possession in this life come right: everything we have is given by God for his service: we spend our resources – time, gifts, money, use of home and car – to serve God’s purposes. And there is great joy in putting those gifts to work.

(9) You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. (Exodus 20:16)

Jesus memorably said that when satan talks, “he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44) The positive vision is of a community that is held together and built up by the truth. It’s the vision for the church that we are speaking the truth in love (Eph 4.15) and

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.  (Ephesians 4:29)

And then finally

(10) You shall not covet your neighbor’s house (Exodus 20:17)

To covet is to desire what you don’t have. Coveting or Covetousness is a ‘gateway’ sin because it opens the door to other sins. You might know the expression ‘gateway drug’ alcohol or pot can open the door to abuse of more serious drugs like heroin or cocaine. Covetousness is a gateway sin because coveting leads to other sins. For example, when King David saw beautiful Bathsheba bathing on her roof, he desired her. His coveting led to first adultery, then lying, and then murder. (2 Samuel 11)

The thing about Coveting is that it’s hard to catch someone at it. With murder and theft and adultery, you can be caught doing at least the outward forms of those. Coveting is all in the mind and in the heart. Only God sees the coveting until it makes you do something else.

=> Thus while the commandments paint a wonderful picture, a vision of how God’s people should live, they tell us all too clearly that we don’t match up to that in our hearts at least. You may be a respectable, law abiding person outwardly: but inwardly you fall short of God’s standards and cannot love him and please him fully. The Law brings our sinful hearts to light, as Paul discovered:

For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “Do not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. (Romans 7:7–8)

The Good News: God’s Building Site (v18-20)

The commandments spell out all too clearly how great is the distance between us and God. Let’s return to the end of Exodus 20:

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance and said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.”  (Exodus 20:18–20)

We must take that God, and God’s holiness, very seriously.

The Commandments cannot save us. We need a mediator, and Moses points to the one, true mediator between men and God, Jesus Christ. He is able to deal with sin through his perfect life and atoning death:

For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.   (Romans 8:3)

Those whom God pardons (when we become Christians), he renews. The Holy Spirit’s work is to dismantle your sinful nature and to rebuild your heart and soul according to the pattern of the Commandments, all of which Jesus kept.

When work begins on the Parish Centre (and by the way do use this week to pray for the funding New centre logowhich will be decided on Friday 27th March and we’ll find out after Easter), we will see the old outbuildings taken down, and the new building take shape. For a long time there will be mess: but for those who know the plans, you will see the new building taking shape.

Application

=> Which Commandments are you most comfortable with? Thank God for the strength he has given you in that area, and pray that he will further build the character of Jesus through your obedience. Remember the Cliff top: not how close to the edge, but how much more like Jesus you can become.

=> Which Commandments are you least comfortable with? Are you fighting against sin or have you surrendered already to it? Remember the building site: God wants to transform your life in every area, including that one. Pray for God’s Holy Spirit to convict you of sin, to assure you of forgiveness, and to strengthen you to change.

Let me read the Commandments through, then pause and then pray.

Read Commandments

Pray

PPP ICON3


God’s Big Story (7) Rescue & Victory

09/03/2015

Exodus 14.1-18

PPP ICON4

Introduction: the Cardinal Rule of Warfare

Napoleon Bonaparte was an extraordinary general and  leader. The only fact I really knew about him was his defeat at the battle of Waterloo in 1815. I know if because when I was very young, we lived in Waterloo which is a suburb of Brussels.

Before losing at Waterloo, Napoleon had won a lot of battles: his winning streak had last ed about 20 years. One battle, in the heart of Austria took place on the Danube and in the course of that battle, the bridges were destroyed. Napoleon and the Austrians were on the same side, with the river at Napoleon’s back. He could have fought his way out, but did not because of a cardinal rule of warfare: do not fight with a river at your back.

Instead, Napoleon had a bridge built across the Danube and then engage the Austrian Army. The bridge enabled him to fight and eventually subdue the armies of Archduke Charles in 1809.

The cardinal rule of warfare: do not fight a battle with water at your back: it seems that no-one told the God of Israel about that Cardinal rule, but the children of Israel found themselves in exactly that corner. We’ll find out more in a moment: yet it is that tight corner which allows them – and us – to see God more clearly.

From Israel’s time in Egypt we have learned about

  • Ex 3 God the saviour: God rescues his people personally.PPP ICON4
  • Ex 12 Rescue thru’ sacrifice: God rescues through sacrifice
  • Today: Ex 14: Rescue & Victory: God’s rescue means a victory.

 

1. God saves when it seems impossible (vv 1-14)

An Impossible Situation (v1-12)

To pick up the story, Israelites were slaves in Egypt. God told Pharaoh to let them go, and he  said, “No!” After nine plagues, the tenth plague was God’s judgement on the gods of Egypt, the night of the Passover. In the night, Egypt pleaded with Israel to go, and they are, finally, free to go. It happened very quickly so that there was no time to bake bread for sandwiches: instead they took unleavened bread. That should have been the end of the story but Pharaoh changed his mind yet again:

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, Pharaoh and his officials changed their minds about them and said, “What have we done? We have let the Israelites go and have lost their services!” So he had his chariot made ready and took his army with him.  (Exodus 14:5–6)

When the army caught up with Israel, the situation was a tactical nightmare: on one side, the army of Pharaoh, armed to the teeth with chariots; in the middle was Israel; and behind them was the Red Sea (or Sea of Reeds, a deep marsh). It’s a desperate situation and they are backed up against an impassable waterway. They are scared!

As Pharaoh approached, the Israelites looked up, and there were the Egyptians, marching after them. They were terrified and cried out to the LORD. They said to Moses, “Was it because there were no graves in Egypt that you brought us to the desert to die? What have you done to us by bringing us out of Egypt? Didn’t we say to you in Egypt, ‘Leave us alone; let us serve the Egyptians’? It would have been better for us to serve the Egyptians than to die in the desert!”  (Exodus 14:10–12)

In other words, we were better off as slaves!

=> Their fears are our fears too. Our God is the master of impossible situations: but too often our first response is to blame God rather than trust God – just like Israel. We may not face the Red Sea, but things like unemployment, illness, opposition and obstacles, especially those that come because we have been courageously faithful to God: when we face those things, the common response is to be like Israel here: ‘We were better off before God got involved.’

That is a lie! We are always better off with God! God is always at work for our good. Let’s pick up the story at the Red Sea:

An Invincible Saviour (v13-14)

Moses answered the people, “Do not be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today. The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.”  (Exodus 14:13–14)

God has rescued the Israelites, and Pharaoh has come to undo God’s salvation. God’s reply to Pharaoh, as to all other opponents Israel will face, is to speak a resounding “!No”

God defends his people:

The LORD will fight for you; you need only to be still.

He does it with the Pillar of smoke and by parting the Red Sea:

The Pillar When Israel left Egypt, they were led by a pillar of smoke and fire. We can see this just before our passage starts:

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.  (Exodus 13:21f.)

The pillar leads the people. But when they get to the dead-end at Red Sea, the pillar comes round behind Israel, so that it is between Israel and Pharaoh’s army:

Then the angel of God, who had been traveling in front of Israel’s army, withdrew and went behind them. The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel. Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.  (Exodus 14:19–20)

The Sea then God commands Moses to stretch out his hand and a wind parts the Red Sea so there is a way through:

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and all that night the LORD drove the sea back with a strong east wind and turned it into dry land. The waters were divided, and the Israelites went through the sea on dry ground, with a wall of water on their right and on their left.  (Exodus 14:21–22)

It was an amazing rescue from an amazing God.

Response: when Faith is Tested

It was an amazing rescue: but it was not on the face of it a necessary rescue. God could have led them out of Egypt by another route: Exodus itself says so:

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”  (Exodus 13:17)

What determined God’s choice of route?

God’s choice of route was determined by what would bring the Israelites to the Promised land. God’s purpose in bringing them out of Egypt was to bring them in to the land of his blessing. God’s purpose in allowing Israel to face testing and hardship is exactly the same. God. The Lord chose the hardships and protected them from trials that have been too much so that Israel would be tested and mature to reach home.

God allows testing so that they will learn about him. That’s what the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart is about:

I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians so that they will go in after them. And I will gain glory through Pharaoh and all his army, through his chariots and his horsemen. The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen.” (Exodus 14:17–18)

Hardening the heart means polarising Pharaoh’s attitude against God so that there is a confrontation.

It happens every time there is a decision or an election. We saw it clearly most recently in the Scottish referendum. For the floating middle, there were reasons for staying in; and reasons for leaving. But the referendum forces people to decide because each person can either vote 100% yes or 100% no. So the mainly Yesses were hardened into 100% yesses, and so on.

When God hardened Pharaoh’s heart it was as if his mainly No to God (in his case about 90%) because a 100% No to God. That brings Pharaoh and God head-to-head, and the result will show us what God is really like.

The Egyptians will know that I am the LORD when I gain glory through Pharaoh, his chariots and his horsemen (v18)

God hardens Pharaoh to reveal his own character more clearly: he tests Israel’s faith that they might see him more clearly. Israel’s testimony should be that “Our faith will never be untested, and our God will never be inattentive

Sometimes God allows all our other means of support to be stripped away until we have nothing except God. Everything else is taken from us: and when all we have is God, we find out how rich and secure we are with him. God used this impossible situation (the Red Sea) to show Israel how great her God is. And he uses our smaller crises for the same purpose: to see our invincible saviour.

=> Some of you face very difficult situations: some a crises, others are chronic situation, all are hard. Many could have been avoided if God had ordered things differently. As you face your own personal Red Sea vs Pharaoh moment, look to Israel and see that you have the same God who defended them, defending you. God does not want to break you through this: he wants you to know him better. The price has is willing to pay and to ask you to pay shows that this – knowing God – must be a really valuable goal.

When God tests our faith it is never to break us: it is always to strengthen us for the journey to our eternal home. Our faith will be tested, and God will always be watchful, wise and good.

2. God Defeats the enemy completely (vv 19-31)

Israel were across the sea but would not be safe until Pharaoh was defeated: in other words until they could see bodies on the shore

Victory over Egypt: Bodies on the shore (v19-31)

When Israel crossed the Red Sea, Egypt followed:

The Egyptians pursued them, and all Pharaoh’s horses and chariots and horsemen followed them into the sea. During the last watch of the night the LORD looked down from the pillar of fire and cloud at the Egyptian army and threw it into confusion. He made the wheels of their chariots come off so that they had difficulty driving. And the Egyptians said, “Let’s get away from the Israelites! The LORD is fighting for them against Egypt.”  (Exodus 14:23–25)

Egypt chased Israel and the Lord made them get stuck in the middle of the crossing.

Then the LORD said to Moses, “Stretch out your hand over the sea so that the waters may flow back over the Egyptians and their chariots and horsemen.” Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and at daybreak the sea went back to its place. The Egyptians were fleeing toward it, and the LORD swept them into the sea. The water flowed back and covered the chariots and horsemen—the entire army of Pharaoh that had followed the Israelites into the sea. Not one of them survived.  (Exodus 14:26–28)

Verse 25 is right: the Lord fought for Israel and defeated her enemies. The rescue was complete when the victory was total:

That day the LORD saved Israel from the hands of the Egyptians, and Israel saw the Egyptians lying dead on the shore. And when the Israelites saw the great power the LORD displayed against the Egyptians, the people feared the LORD and put their trust in him and in Moses his servant.  (Exodus 14:30–31)

When Israel saw the bodies on the shore, that is when they knew God has rescued them: they saw God’s power and trusted him and his servant Moses. It’s a total victory because Egypt does not bother Israel again. The Bible refers to this victory 25 times: it’s a big deal.

Victory over Sin and Death: (Hebrews 2.14-15, Revelation 5.5-6)

Salvation means that God fights for his people. God will protect us from danger and he will also defeats our enemies.

Our enemy is sin and death (not Egypt), and God fights for us through his Son, Jesus Christ. Jesus came down to human life because that is where we face the battle with sin:

Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.  (Hebrews 2:14–15)

We live between the defat of satan (at the cross) and the final destruction of satan (when Jesus returns). We do not yet enjoy all the fruits of Jesus’ total victory over sin. A really helpful way is to remember the three tenses of salvation:

The Past Tense: We have been rescued from the Penalty of sin. When Jesus died on the cross, he took away the punishment for every sin of every person who commits their life to him. So if you have trusted your life to Jesus Christ, then your sins are paid for. Paul writes, “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 8:1).
=> When you come to communion it declares you live by this statement: ‘I am a sinner and Jesus died for my sins’.

The present tense is that we are being rescued from the Power of sin.  When God frees us from slavery to sin, we need help to be truly free of sin’s hold on our lives: there are strong habits, temptations and inclinations. As Paul says,

For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want.  (Galatians 5:17)

The Christian life is a tug-of-war, crucially with the Holy Spirit pulling on our end of the rope!
=> Come to Holy Communion resolved to know God and to fight sin in his strength. If you don’t want to fight that fight, then I suggest you wait.

The future tense is to good news: we will be rescued from the presence of sin. When Jesus returns, all sin will be removed, totally. Only then, finally, can we enjoy the blessing of God’s rule, untarnished by sin. Then  we will fully enjoy the fruits of Jesus’ victory on the cross. His resurrection guarantees that he will bring us there. Then we will join the chorus in heaven that gathers around Jesus and proclaims

See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed.  (Revelation 5:5)

=> At communion, we “proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.” (1 Corinthians 11:26)

Response: Praise and Progress (Exodus 15.1-3)

Which brings us finally to our response of praise and progress:

Then Moses and the Israelites sang this song to the LORD: “I will sing to the LORD, for he is highly exalted. The horse and its rider he has hurled into the sea. The LORD is my strength and my song; he has become my salvation.  He is my God, and I will praise him, my father’s God, and I will exalt him. The LORD is a warrior; the LORD is his name.  (Exodus 15:1–3)

What do you do when you learn how great God is?

Two things:

  • Praise. Christians sing because we have good news to sing about. When we sing, it is about God and what he has done first, and then us and how we feel about it. God’s praise begins in God’s deeds. He is the warrior who fights for us against sin and death and all spiritual enemies.
  • Progress. God’s purpose was to bring Israel home. That is why he defeated their enemies; and that is why he tested their faith. It’s the same with us: he saved us to bring us home. That may mean testing here and now: every crisis is an opportunity to know God better and walk with him more closely. What may seem a setback to your personal plan is a deliberate part of God’s sovereign plan to bring you home. Use it!

What song will your life sing this week?

PPP ICON4


God’s Big Story (6) – Rescue and Sacrifice

02/03/2015

Introduction: Reuel’s story

E2E picture 4 (Exodus-Passover) adjusted

Hello, my name is Reuel. I’m a slave. I’ve always been a slave, and so have all my family. We have no land of our own, no name of our own, and no power at all. Our work, our toil, our profits – they all belong to someone else. We are slaves and we belong to someone else. It’s been that way for the past 400 years. I suppose if you’re used to it, life as a slave is OK.

But recently everything changed. I think everything has become far, far worse. Uncle Nathan does not agree. In fact he’s very excited that God is going to do something for us. I’m not so sure.

Everything changed with the new Pharaoh. He wants to wipe us out. He sent new slave drivers, really horrible ones, and I think they want to work us to death. Then our midwives were told to kill all the baby boys they delivered. The new Pharaoh hates us. (Mum says he hates God, but since we’re God’s people, the Pharaoh’s taking it out on us).

We hoped that Moses and Aaron would be able to persuade the Pharaoh to let us go. God’s done great signs to prove that Moses is a prophet, but Pharaoh won’t listen. He says we belong to him, not to God, and he won’t let us go and worship God anywhere, ever.

Since then we’ve had nine dreadful plagues. First all the water turned to blood (that was smelly); then there were frogs everywhere, and they smelled when they died; then there were biting insects (gnats) everywhere, that was no fun! Then flies everywhere – well actually only on the Egyptians but still it was no fun. 

Still Pharaoh said no. And he’s so horrible to us. So God sent some more plagues to warn Pharaoh not to mess with him. They were grim: first the Egyptians animals died (ours were spared); then we all had boils (less said the better), then there was hail (on the Egyptians), and then there were locusts, sitting everywhere like a huge dark blanket lying on the land. Still he said no. He’s so wrong – yet everyone else seems to think he’s right! Why won’t they see sense? Last week they had the Darkness (we escaped it again): darkness so thick you could feel it. And you really could see nothing – for three days.

There’s going to be another tonight. Father says it will be different, because tonight will be the first night of our freedom. He may be right, but I’m scared because tonight God is going to bring judgement on the whole land. Every first born – human or animal – is going to be killed. That’s Pharaoh’s son, and the flower girl’s daughter, every first born child is facing certain death.

I’m a first born child, and I’m scared. Dad says I’ll be safe. I hope he’s right. What we must do is kill a lamb – one for our whole family – and then paint the blood on our door posts. We’re safe if the Lord sees the blood on our door (and we’re inside of course). Dad says that when the Lord passes through the land, when he sees a house with blood on the door, he will pass over. And I will live. I won’t be nipping out for a quick cigarette, I can tell you. I’m staying here, in the shelter of the blood. But I hope it works. I’m scared.

What this young Israelite and his family are about to experience is the Passover Night on which God rescued his people from slavery, for service.

The Passover Night ushered in Israel’s first day as a free people. The Exodus which followed was their escape from slavery in Egypt towards the future that God had promised them.

For Israel, the Passover was a great rescue. It turns out that what they thought was the substance of their rescue (from slavery) was a shadow of the reality: God’s rescue of all his people from slavery to sin. The death of Jesus fulfils that Passover rescue. Passover points to the Cross of Christ.

God’s rescue from Egypt is the pattern of God’s rescue from sin. God’s Big Story is the account of how God reverses the effects of sin in his beautiful world. PPP ICON

  • At first God’s People (Adam & Eve) were in God’s Place (the Garden) enjoying the blessing of God’s rule.
  • Sin ruined everything.
  • God’s wonderful promise is that he will take steps to reverse thePPP ICON2 effects of sin so that once again we can be God’s People; and once again there will be a beautiful PPP ICON3God’s Place to enjoy the blessings of his rule.

How will God keep those promises to his people when they are slaves in Egypt?

Three elements

  • God must rescue his people in order to make them his very own. Until he does that they are bound elsewhere and not free to be his. That was true then and that is true now
  • When God rescues people to make them his very own, he rescues through Judgement, and he provides a substitute.
  • The rescue is the start of a journey

1.God must rescue his people to make them his very own

There were nine plagues on Egypt, and each time Pharaoh said, ‘No’. The tenth plague is different because God must rescue his people. Unless he rescues them, they will never be truly free.

At the Oscars ceremony this year, several winners used their acceptance speeches to speak for causes and groups. A Mexican director spoke for the many illegal Mexican migrants in the US: they are out of Mexico but they are not free because they have no right under US law to be there. They will only be free when the government acts to make them free.

In a similar way, God’s people are not free from the power of Pharaoh unless God sets them free from that power. (In the same way, God rescues us from sin, and unless he rescues us we will never be truly free.)

Pharaoh must see that he is illegally holding God’s possession: See Exodus 4:22-23 [speaking to Moses..]

Then say to Pharaoh, ‘This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, “Let my son go, so he may worship me.” But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.'”

But the heart of Pharaoh’s evil is the refusal to accept that God is God. The Lord says, “let my people go”, and Pharaoh’s reply is his way of saying, “they’re not yours, they’re mine.” The rescue must involve the judgement of Egypt’s rebellion. That is why the Passover is a judgement on the gods of Egypt: to end Egypt’s claim on them:

I will bring judgement on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD (Ex 12.12b).

We can be like Pharaoh to when we say, ‘It’s my life!’ when he calls us to worship him. ‘Worship’ means to give God his due, his worth. He made us and we are his: we sin when he either refuse to worship him, or even worse if we give that worship to idols and other gods.

The question is not why God will judge, but how on earth can anyone stand before him? If God rescues, how will he keep his people safe from that judgement?

2. God rescues by means of a substitute

Let’s return to Reuel – our fictional Israelite – and see why he survived, while their Egyptian neighbour did not? Turn to v29f.

At midnight the LORD struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon, and the firstborn of all the livestock as well. Pharaoh and all his officials and all the Egyptians got up during the night, and there was loud wailing in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead.  (Exodus 12:29–30)

Remember that the Lord promised he would pass through the homes of Egypt and Pass Over the homes of Israel.

  • At midnight the Lord came through (v23) and when he came to the Egyptian house in judgement, the first born (parent, child, animal) died. It was a terrible time, and there is wailing in every house of Egypt. Judgement fell on that house (v29-30).
  • But when he came to a house with blood on the sides and top of the door, he saw the blood and the LORD ‘passes over.’ The first-born was spared because Judgement has already fallen: the lamb has died instead.

There was a death in every home. Either the lamb died (and its blood was painted on the door), or the firstborn. There were no exceptions.E2E picture 4 (Exodus-Passover) adjusted

Reuel was spared, God saved him, because the lamb died instead. God rescues by means of a substitute.

During the war in 1800s between Britain and France, men were conscripted into the French army by a kind of lottery system. When someone’s name was drawn, he had to go off to battle. There was one exception to this, however. A person could be exempt if another was willing to take his place. 

On one occasion the authorities came to a certain man and told him he was among those who had been chosen. He refused to go, saying, “I was shot 2 years ago.” At first they questioned his sanity, but he insisted that this indeed was the case. He claimed that the military records would show that he had been conscripted 2 years previously and that he had been killed in action. “How can that be?” they questioned. “You are alive now!” He explained that when his name came up, a close friend said to him, “You have a large family, but I am not married and nobody is dependent upon me. I’ll take your name and address and go in your place.” And that is indeed what the record showed. This rather unusual case was referred to Napoleon Bonaparte, who decided that the country had no legal claim on that man. He was free. Another man had died in his place, and indeed, in his name!

God’s rescue is by means of a substitute. The NT teaches us that this principle is fulfilled in Jesus (Passover in the NT). Let me read a couple of verses to you:

The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” John 1:29

And

Christ our Passover lamb has been sacrificed. 1 Cor 5:7b

On the cross, when Jesus died, he died as a substitute – the innocent, perfect Son of God in the place of guilty sinners. As Peter says:

Christ died for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring us to God (1 Peter 3:18)

God’s rescue is by means of a substitute. Think of the alternatives.

  • If the cross is only an example of suffering, then what does your Christian life look like? It is a life of imitating Christ’s example, hoping it will be good enough. That will not save, and there is no place for joy. The substitute saves so that we may imitate Christ’s example of suffering.
  • If the cross is only an example of [extreme] obedience to God, taken to its extreme, then the Christian life is always striving and never arriving. And there is no place for mistakes. When you fail, as Peter did when he denied Christ three times, what help is there? None, unless Christ died as a substitute in which case there is pardon and restoration, as Peter discovered. Christ died as the substitute in order to give us power to obey God as Jesus did.

Christians never move on from the cross: it is with joy that daily we pick up our Cross and follow Jesus.

=> Have you put yourself in Reuel’s shoes? Remember this young man was due to die, but the lamb died instead. When you look at the cross, you and I must see that but for Jesus, our sins would crush us. We should tremble – until remembering that Jesus did more than die for the sins of the whole world. He died for your sins.

That is why Jesus deserves our daily praise and thanks. Do you begin each day with a prayer of thanks to God for our rescue? Thank you Jesus for dying for me. My life is not my own, I was bought at a price. I am yours, all yours, lead me and use me as you decide. Lead me, and I will follow, my Lord and my Saviour.

3. God’s Rescue: the start of a journey (v17-20)

The Passover Night gave way to the day of the Exodus. And there was no going back.

“Before Passover, Israel could not leave Egypt; After Passover, they could not stay” (Alec Motyer, BST Exodus p. 130)

The sign of the journey was the feast of unleavened bread. Getting rid of the Egyptian yeast was a way of cutting off the past completely. There is no going back to slavery, only forwards to freedom. Yeast stands for a return to Egypt. A clean break is needed, hence 7 days to de-tox the home.

My Jewish friends have fun with this and will make the children hunt high and low in the home to make sure they have found every last bit of yeast. Their mum will even hide some yeast to keep them vigilant!

If the yeast stands for Egypt, the Passover means there is no going back. At all. The New Testament explains that this is about sin: because Jesus died for us, we are not to go back to the old ways. See again 1 Corinthians 5:7-8 again

Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast – as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

God’s rescue means a clean break with the past, and a determination to make a fresh start. Without Christ we cannot escape from sin: but once rescued by Christ there must be no going back to sin. Salvation is the start of a journey with God, leading and guiding by Holy Spirit.

Journey with God

When I say ‘journey with God’ some people hear ‘Journey to God’ The idea is a noble, heroic, arduous and utterly uncertain journey. We don’t find that in the Bible because God comes to find us. Grace means he seeks and saves the lost.

Rather God’s journey is from slavery to sin to full freedom in Christ, through the Spirit. The image of getting rid of yeast is a good one: it means turning away from sin and malice and wickedness, and determining to live God’s way and with God’s ingredients.

And from time to time we find resident sin in our lives, rather like a packet of yeast that my Jewish friend hid and forgot about. With God’s help, turf it out because it doesn’t belong here. What kind of sin might it be?

  • Deliberate sin for a pleasure you knew was wrong. It’s serious but all is not lost: like the prodigal son, come to your senses, get up, and return home. Find forgiveness in Jesus Christ. Talk to someone about it.
  • Hardness through suffering and sickness. Someone you love (maybe you) has been suffering, and you’re angry with God for being at a distance. You’re not alone if you feel that way. The Psalmist cries out to God and realises, “[You] put my tears in your bottle. Are they not in your book? (Psalms 56:8 ESV). God has not missed anything. Draw near to God and he will draw near to you.
  • Stopped moving forwards. A standstill. Come back to God’s love. John says, “We love because he first loved us.” (1 John 4:19). Warm your heart around the fire of Jesus’ wonderful love for you.
  • Apathy. Does it matter? Imagine if Reuel’s had no bothered with the lamb. And imagine if your Heavenly father had not bothered with his on Son. Of course it matters to God. And to you.PPP ICON4

Picture of passover door from a painting by Libby Ham.


The Ministry of the Pew

25/02/2015

We recently looked at this article in PCC (Church Council). It is originally from The Briefing and can be found here. Enjoy:

Factotum #1: The Ministry of the Pew

The ‘Pew Prayer’

Some years ago a pastor, Ray Ewers, instructed me in the finer art of how to walk into church. To most people, this might appear to be a rather basic accomplishment requiring little or no tutelage. Perhaps a family with five toddlers would appreciate some advice, but most of us would never give it a thought. Ray’s instruction was very brief: “Pray about where you sit”.

Praying seemed like a great way to walk into church, better than grumbling about the full car park or feeling annoyed that the first hymn, ‘Tell Out My Soul’, was sung to Tidings and not Woodlands. But of all the things to pray about, why should I be concerned with seating position? After all, I sit in my pew every week.

Ray’s advice was based on a particular view of church. He saw church as a place where Christians go to work. Church is a gathering of God’s people to hear his word and respond in faith and obedience. In this gathering, we are in fellowship with each other, through the blood of Jesus, and, because of our fellowship, we seek to serve each other. We use our gifts and abilities to strengthen one another and build Christ’s Church—‘edification’ is the word often used to describe what goes on in church. All believers are involved in building the church, not just clergy or preachers. The New Testament consistently teaches that in the growth of the body of Christ each part must do its work (see Eph 41 Cor 12-14). Because of this, we aren’t to see ourselves merely as part of an organization called ‘St Hubert’s Church’, but as servants of God’s people, eager to meet the needs of others even if it means sacrificing our own.

Ray’s view of church was spot on. With this perspective, his advice to pray about my choice of pew makes perfect sense. If at church we are working to strengthen our fellow believers, where we sit becomes important since part of our work will be talking to our neighbour in the pew, welcoming people, helping each other understand God’s word and praying with each other.

The ‘Pew Prayer’ was a significant turning point in my understanding of what church is all about. It changed my reasons for going to church. The shift was made from being the ‘helpee’ to the helper, the served to the servant. Church is where we seek spiritual food and encouragement in order to become more godly; but church is also where we go in order to feed other people and encourage them. In God’s mercy, we become more Christ-like in the process, as like him we deny ourselves for the sake of others. But our purpose in gathering with God’s people is to strengthen them and build the body of Christ. We look for opportunities to assist the growth of the church in practical ways, which is what Factotum is all about. There are numerous ways in which we can carry out the ministry of the pew. In this issue of Factotum, we’ll look at some of them.

Bring others to your meetings

One of the obvious ways we can build the church is to invite others. The minister or the evangelism committee only has limited opportunities to attract others in to your church meetings. The members in the pew, however, are in touch with hundreds of people in the community.

There are several reasons we baulk at inviting people to church:

1. WE THINK CHURCH IS FOR CHRISTIANS NOT UNBELIEVERS

Our understanding of church as a gathering of God’s people to hear his word tends to make church inward-looking and create a ghetto-like mentality which excludes people. We can easily think that church is only for the faithful. However, church is about growing in godliness and the God whom we serve is outward-looking and concerned for the salvation of all mankind. The Word which we meet to hear is a message of salvation for all people and so we must seek out others as God has found us. Paul expected that unbelievers would be in the church (see 1 Corinthians 14:22f).

This gives us the happy dilemma of making church work for Christians and unbelievers. Over the years, many churches have run separate services for believers and outsiders—a ‘regular service’ and an ‘evangelistic service’. However, this solution is often based on the false premise that preaching to Christians is fundamentally different to evangelising non-Christians.

But all Biblical preaching should be gospel preaching. Any and every part of the word of God is ultimately instructing us in the gospel of Jesus. It is too limited a view of the gospel to think that it is only preached in a sermonette from John 3:16. To preach the Bible without being Christ-centred is to mis-preach the Bible. To preach the Bible in a Christ-centred fashion is to evangelise as you teach. If we preach the word of God, the gospel of our salvation, the church will be edified in both the conversion of sinners and the godliness of believers. So church is always a scene of evangelism.

Our personal evangelism with friends and contacts is strengthened by this church-based evangelism. It is easier for new converts to commit themselves to church if they have already attended. The preacher can be more direct and confronting than in personal relationships. Through expository preaching, they learn how to read the Bible and see the grand sweep of God’s purposes in Christ. They see the unity and historicity of the Scriptures which are impressive evidences for authenticity. They see the lives of other Christians, reassuring them that you are not a freak and removing prejudices against Christians and church, thus enhancing gospel communication. They also see in concrete terms how being a Christian will effect them. We can also capitalise on the teamwork of our church. Some are good at making friends with non-Christians, others at explaining the gospel, others at following-up new Christians.

2. WE ARE EMBARRASSED BY OUR CHURCH MEETINGS

We will only invite our friends to church if we are enthusiastic about what happens there. If the gospel is not being preached, there is no point bringing outsiders. We have to do all in our power to make sure that our church preaches the gospel, or find one that already does. There are too many churches in our land that are not preaching the gospel and there is no reason for a Christian ever to be supporting one.

If our church is preaching the gospel but doing it poorly, in a way that is inaccessible to non-Christians, the members in the pew can often provide the motivation for improving things by their commitment to bring others along. Those who are gospel-minded will want to re-examine traditional service styles, if they see that these are a hindrance to newcomers. But sometimes they won’t recognise the problem until unbelievers are actually sitting in the pews. Only then do we start to see our meetings through the eyes of outsiders and we feel the healthy pressure to change what is alienating to newcomers.

When we find church dull, boring and irrelevant, there is no way we will invite friends. If they do happen to turn up, we are desperately embarrassed, cringing over every fault and flaw in the meeting. On the other hand, if we find church challenging, exciting, enjoyable, meaty and worthwhile, we will want to invite our friends and neighbours to share with us.

3. WE ASSUME PEOPLE WON’T COME TO CHURCH

As I write this, a Telecom technician is doing some work in our house. I should invite him to church to hear the gospel, but I can’t imagine him coming. He wouldn’t fit in; he probably lives too far away; he’ll be suspicious of my motives; he’s so frustrated with the job he would probably hit me—I’ve just talked myself out of making the invitation. I’m a pessimist.

Actually, Australians are far more willing to go to church than Christians are willing to invite them. It’s hard for strangers like my Telecom man to accept such an invitation, but those who share in other social events with us—our friends, colleagues, neighbours and relatives—will often come to church.

But we have to be optimists, not pessimists. Seligman, author of the bookLearned Optimism, produces evidence that successful salespeople are optimists. However, the reason for their success is not that optimists have better skills in selling, but that they don’t give up. Unlike pessimists, they keep knocking on doors and making phone calls because they believe in the product and that people should have it. If we are optimistic about people joining us in church, we will keep making invitations on the assumption that some will come. If we invite people often enough we are sure to get some along. My problem is that I become a pessimist after a few knock-backs.

Thinking through ‘people work’

However, the ministry of the pew goes far beyond advertising and inviting people to hear the gospel. Once we make the attitude shift from being passive pew sitters and receivers to active workers and givers, there is no end to the difference we can make to others and to the running of the meeting. All of the suggestions below are of the informal type—things we can do at our own initiative. They are the types of involvement that every congregation member can have. The key to people work is to observe what happens around you and respond to people’s needs. Think through your church meetings chronologically. What can we do before, during and after the meeting?

Before

PREPARATION

One of our great contributions is our preparation. The minister should not be the only one preparing for church. We prepare by praying for the preacher, the musicians, the service leader, the Bible readers and the newcomers. We prepare by studying the Bible passages so that we maximize this learning opportunity by being sensitised to the issues and questions in the passages being taught. Such preparation also has other benefits. We are better equipped to enter into discussion with others if we have looked at the passage beforehand. It is also a great encouragement to the preacher to know that the congregation is eager to understand the Bible and willing to put in some effort. Preaching is hard work, both for the preacher and the listeners. An intelligent question, comment or observation upon the sermon is an enormous motivating factor for the preacher who, week by week, has to try and engage the congregation’s minds and hearts in the word of God. Those who sit in the pew can make a great contribution to those teaching from the pulpit.

MEETING VISITORS AND NEWCOMERS

We enjoy meeting our friends at church, but we need to develop a nose for new people. We need to sit with them and help them feel comfortable in this strange place by introducing ourselves and explaining what is going on. We should greet the non-Christian friends of other members and introduce our friends to others. It’s all about genuine hospitality. The way we welcome and look after people when they visit our homes should be a model for the household of God. And genuine, relaxed hospitality will slowly evaporate some of the prejudices held by outsiders.

ARRIVING EARLY

All of this requires that we arrive not on time or late, but early. That may be the greatest miracle of all.

During

ACTIVE LISTENING

People in the pews have an enormous impact on those who are teaching and leading. Communication is always a two way process. Energetic listening through taking notes, making eye contact with the preacher, sitting at the front, laughing at jokes (even old ones), will spur on the preacher. It is very hard to preach enthusiastically to a sleepy, distracted, fidgety group. Our active listening will also infect others with enthusiasm for learning, just as our fidgeting will discourage them. Unbelievers will also pick up that these ideas are worth listening to if they see rows of regulars eagerly soaking up the Bible.

SINGING

Similarly, those in the pew can be a great help to the singing and leading of music. It is everyone’s responsibility to share in the corporate singing of the congregation. The music may be well chosen and played but if it is poorly sung it is disheartening. Our enthusiasm and gusto in singing the great anthems of the faith is of great help to those around us and those leading the music, even if we can barely hold a tune. Just pretend you’re under the shower.

LOGISTICS

Each member in the pew also has an important part to play in the smooth running of the meeting. The devil will use anything to distract people from hearing the word of God. We musn’t rely on ushers to fix things. If the window needs to be opened, get up and do it. If the microphones are not right, signal to the speaker so the problem can be fixed before they continue on without being heard.

NEWCOMERS

Keep attending to newcomers’ needs. If they can’t find their way around the Bible or the service outline, or they don’t have a Bible, or they need to find the creche, help them yourself. It is your meeting, not the minister’s. It’s all about being observant and outward-looking.

After

DISCUSS GOD’S WORD

We have just heard the word of God and we spend all of morning tea talking about last night’s video. It isn’t right and we know it, but many of us are just uncomfortable starting up ‘spiritual’ conversations. If you get the ball rolling, others will pick it up. During your preparation and the sermon, think up some comments or issues to raise with others. Asking “What did you think of the sermon?” will usually put your neighbour into a coma, but making a specific comment like “I didn’t know Abel was a prophet. What makes someone a prophet?”, may generate a fruitful conversation. Even if the conversations don’t always get off the ground, your enthusiasm for learning the Bible will be contagious and non-Christians will see that church is not dull and boring but fascinating and life shattering.

PRAY WITH OTHERS

Use the supper time to meet others and find out their concerns and pray quietly with them. This will look a bit weird to newcomers with pairs of bowed heads all around the building, but they will know that we love each other and trust God’s providence.

NEWCOMERS

Newcomers tend to leave fairly quickly so we have to move fast by identifying the visitor in our pew and offering them conversation immediately after the service ends. It’s all very purposeful: make sure they are welcomed properly by you and your friends, maybe introduce them to the minister and help them see how they can fit in to the congregation. You may have to postpone catching your friends until after the newcomers have been cared for.

STAY LATE

Once you catch this vision of church, you are always the last to leave because the opportunities to minister don’t end until the last person leaves. Gone are the days of fitting church in between breakfast and brunch. Ministry of the pew takes time. In the forthcoming issues of Factotum, we’ll continue to explore practical ways in which we can be better Christian servants. Sorry to have ruined your ‘day of rest’. Church requires a lot of effort, if we are to build the body of Christ. Don’t worry: you have Monday to Saturday to rest so that you’ll be fit for next week’s work at church.

Training outline

This outline can be used to discuss Ministry of the Pew in a small group to work out how to implement these ideas in your church.

  1. Why think about where to sit in church?
  2. How would your church members express their reasons for attending church?
  3. How do these reasons affect what they do in church?
  4. Who in your church is actively engaged in the ministry of the pew? How can you encourage and support them?
  5. What is the attitude of your members toward bringing others to church?
  6. What practises in your church meeting last Sunday would have alienated non-Christians?
  7. Next Sunday carefully observe who in church is ‘left out’ in some way.
  8. What are your plans for your ministry from the pew?

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 378 other followers