Wednesday, 10 December 2014

The Kingdom

What is the Kingdom of God? How does it relate to the church? 

Jesus brings in the Kingdom of God ‘The Kingdom of God is the redemptive reign of God dynamically active to establish his rule among [humankind], and that this Kingdom, which will appear as an apocalyptic act at the end of the age, has already come into human history in the person and mission of Jesus to overcome evil, to deliver men from its power, and to bring them into the blessings of God’s reign. The Kingdom of God involves two great moments: fulfilment within history, and consummation at the end of history.’ G.E. Ladd.

Jesus fulfils OT prophecy (I will make you as a light for the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth. Isa 49:6). Remember there hadn’t been any prophecy for 3-400 years. This lead to a crisis. In any good story there is a crisis, and some kind of resolution or rescue. Lord of the Rings—stuck in Helm’s deep surrounded by innumerable orcs and uruqhai and they ride out for one last fight—for death and glory. And there is Gandalf on the horizon ‘Look to my coming at first light, on the 5th day. At dawn, look to the East.’ That is the pivot, the defining moment, in LoR part 2. Definitive moment of history—Jesus’ debut in Galilee. Dawn of salvation (‘fullness of time’ in Paul). Kairos—critical or opportune moment Mark 1:15.

When you became a believer, what happened? Did you assent to some creed, or sign up to some kind of statement? No, you decided to follow Jesus. At that point you entered the Kingdom. That’s how Jesus talks about the Kingdom. You enter it. Jesus simply calls people (outsiders, the poor, etc.) to follow him. ‘The call to the four fisherman is not rooted in the Torah, nor even in the name of God, but in Jesus’ messianic authority alone.’ Edwards. It has struck me recently how Jesus-centred the gospels are. Jesus, by his own authority, heals the sick, raises the dead, teaches a whole sermon that goes beyond the Law of Moses (though not one jot or tittle is replaced), and even forgives sins. All of these are jobs that only God had the authority to do. ‘Who can forgive sins but God alone?’ Yet here we have Jesus forgiving sins. It must have been shocking to the Jewish believers of the time.

Jesus begins a new community (among Judeans, mostly—those who are already believers, those walking with God and, as good Jews, trying to keep the requirements of the Torah). But he also goes cross-culturally to gentiles, a mission mainly carried out by Paul, Philip, and others. Still, it’s easier to start with those who are already open to the things of God. That was Paul’s practice—to go to the Synagogue first. If we plant a church it’s good practice to talk to believers in that area first, of course, and community leaders. We have friends church-planting in a Russian-Orthodox area of the Ukraine and they are going to call it a home-group, not a church, out of respect for the local Priest.

It's all about mission-shaped church (Jesus calls us to follow him, then calls us to service—sends us out to reach others). Book: Martin Robinson (Dr.). Churches need to be able to replicated themselves. Once a church has become comfortable it’s v difficult to turn it around to being mission-shaped again.

  • Sending out? (African model—fishers of people). Contra. S America, Korea, China (52-60 M Christians living amongst 1.3 Billion people
  • How?
  • To do what?
  • If there is a church we work with it and under it.
  • My calling into mission was through v38. We need to be ready to move onto the next village.
Taken from Mark chapter 1.
 Recommended reading: Planting Mission Shaped Churches Today, Martin Robinson, Monarch books. 

Wednesday, 15 October 2014

Yahweh - the God Who Reveals Himself

Did you know, according to the Bible, God rarely appears in human form? It isn't God but Yahweh (the Lord) who mainly appears to patriarchs and prophets:

“When a prophet of the Lord is among you,
I reveal myself to him in visions,
I speak to him in dreams.
But this is not true of my servant Moses;
he is faithful in all my house.
With him I speak face to face,
clearly and not in riddles;
he sees the form of the Lord.
Why then were you not afraid
to speak against my servant Moses?”  Num 12:6b-8

He sees the form of the Lord, not the form of God. There is a subtle difference. The Hebrew word for Lord (NIV), or LORD (ESV), is YHWH (probably pronounced 'Yahweh'). The Hebrew word for God is Elohim. If you search on Elohim and vision you only find a few references, all but one in Ezekiel, and none of them talk about God's form appearing. 

The Lord, however, frequently appears to prophets:

Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.  1Sa 3:7

The vision of Obadiah.
This is what the Sovereign Lord (Adonai Yahweh) says about Edom–
We have heard a message from the Lord:
An envoy was sent to the nations to say,
“Rise, and let us go against her for battle”  Oba 1:1

(Adonai means 'lord' and is sometimes used in place of the divine name, Yahweh. In this case both are used.)

Often it is the angel of the Lord that appears, or a mysterious 'man' as in Gen 32 when Jacob wrestles with a 'man' who turns out to be God (Elohim), in a rare case of God appearing in human form. Sometimes men turn out to be angels and one of the angels turns out to be the Lord, as in Genesis 18. There the readers already know, right at the beginning of the story (v1), that it is the Lord, but Abraham only sees three men (v2).

So, what can we learn from this? That when Christians say 'Jesus is Lord' we are identifying Jesus with the Yahweh of the Old Testament, the God who reveals himself and makes covenants with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and eventually with the Israelite people, the descendants of Jacob. In a sense little has changed. We move from Old to New Testaments and find that God is still God, and He is revealing himself to us, and coming down in human form, and identifying with us. Amazing!

Tuesday, 3 June 2014

The Lost Son

The key to this story is a comparison of the younger and the older son. We often focus on the prodigal, who returns home after living what is quite frankly a hedonistic lifestyle but is nevertheless forgiven and accepted back by the loving and grieving father. The lost is found. Rejoicing can begin.

But what about the older son? His words are significant:

‘All these years I've slaved for you and never once refused to do a single thing you told me to. And in all that time you never gave me even one young goat for a feast with my friends. Yet when this son of yours comes back after squandering your money on prostitutes, you celebrate by killing the fattened calf!’ 

The irony is that he sees himself as a servant or slave (doulos in Greek), not as a son. By treating himself as a slave, he shuts himself off from the celebration that he should have enjoyed. The land and animals are still his to inherit, for the younger son has squandered his share of the inheritance, so he should be acting as son and heir. Instead he forfeits is birthright out of meanness of heart as a result of seeing the father's generosity to his brother.

In contrast, these were the planned words of the younger son on his return, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired servant.’ Instead, perhaps seeing his father's act of compassion in running to him and hugging him, or perhaps because he is cut short by the father's response, says the shorter version, 'Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son.' This lacks the key words 'take me on as a hired servant'. Actually the word for hired servant is day labourer. If you go to a certain area of some Central Asian cities today you will still see men standing with spades waiting to be hired at a daily rate. They are mostly poorly educated or even illiterate - in Afghanistan only 25% of the labour force can read - and are willing to do any hard work for a low daily rate. The younger son had been willing to be taken on not as a permanent servant but as one of these daily-paid workers. But his father's love for him changes everything. He simply accepts it as it is and enjoys the celebration that his father has long planned.

The moral of the story: let's rejoice with the Father and all of heaven that what had been lost is now found when people respond to God's love. 

Thursday, 27 March 2014

My Family Tree

Many people like researching their ancestors to find out if they have any rich or famous ones, or just for interest so as to build a family tree. What about our spiritual ancestors? Did you know that, just as we are redeemed 'in Christ' (Romans 3:24), All Nations are blessed 'in Abraham', who lived in the Bronze Age? We can read about this in many passages but here are a couple of key ones:

'in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed' Gen 12:3

'all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him' Gen 18:18

Not only that but the blessing was passed down through Isaac to Jacob:

'in you and your offspring shall all the families of the earth be blessed' Gen 28:14

The word for offspring is zera in Hebrew, and we find the singular form here, not the plural. Could this be a prophecy of the coming of the Messiah who would provide redemption for all who believe? In English better way of expressing 'in' is 'through' - through Abraham, through Jacob and his offspring. Through Christ (the Messiah). So, the Father's plan of redemption began way back when with Abraham Isaac and Jacob, and was fulfilled through the redeeming work of Jesus the Messiah. That's why we need to know our Old Testament history. It shows us that we belong, not only as a believer in Jesus the Messiah, but as heirs of the promise to Abraham. We have a rich inheritance, and an amazing set of spiritual ancestors, dating back to the Bronze Age in the Ancient Near East!

Sunday, 9 February 2014

The Light Shines

4 In him was life, and that life was the light [life] of men. 5 The light [illumination] shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not overcome it. Cf. v6-9
Is often something we often read just before Christmas. It's a dark time of year. I remember people in St Petersburg going to the Fort and basking in the sun to soak in its rays when it came back from seeming oblivion in April... It’s thankfully getting lighter now, but this passage is so important I’d like to look at it in more detail.
Our first three children’s names are Rachel (Old Testament), James (New Testament),  and Lucy (New Age!?). Actually it's from lucia meaning ‘light’ in Latin. Where would we be without light? Recently we had a power cut and there were screams from the kitchen – ironically from Lucy! There is an association of light with life and blessing in the Old Testament – at least that’s one of its uses:
For with you is the fountain of life; in your light we see light. Psalm 36:9

1.     The Light brings Illumination

Light (in John) mainly refers to spiritual light, illumination that clears away wrong or unhelpful thinking and sets us on right spiritual paths.
Spiritual light, or revelation. 5:35 John was a lamp that burned and gave light, and you chose for a time to enjoy his light. 8:12 When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." 9:5 While I am in the world, I am the light of the world.", ‘The Logos… has come in flesh as a revealer. He comes to reveal to men life (1:4), light (1:4-5), grace (1:14), truth (1:14), glory (1:14), even God himself (1:18)’ (Guthrie).
Some people talk about light and darkness as opposites. For John it is a powerful metaphor for describing the way God speaks to us in the person of Jesus the Messiah, and the possible rejection of that. The key verse is: 19 This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. 20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. 21 But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.” 3:9-21

2.     Victory over Darkness

The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not quenched or overcome it (it is more likely meaning of the Greek than the one in the NIV text). Note the Greek verbs – continuous and punctiliar respectively. It is likely that it is one time to show that Jesus came once; the cross (death and resurrection of) Jesus was one act in history. His victory happened once.
·         Darkness = evil, sin, lack of eternal life i.e. spiritual death.
·         The darkness cannot quench it. What is the speed of light? 300,000,000 m/s. What is the speed of darkness? The same, as it flees from the light. Darkness, you see, is merely an absence of light. Note these encouraging scriptures: The LORD is my light and my salvation--whom shall I fear? The LORD is the stronghold of my life--of whom shall I be afraid? Psalms 27:1; …"Death has been swallowed up in victory."  "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?"  …thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Therefore, my dear brothers, stand firm. Let nothing move you. Always give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because you know that your labour in the Lord is not in vain.’ 1Cor 15:54-58.
What difference is this going to make to our lives? Those we know who are struggling, perhaps on the edge of church – they need more light! Note that we need to come into the light, let the light shine on us, and reflect it to others. This brings me to mission:

3.     Mission

Remember the attractiveness of Jesus (and therefore us as believers, especially as church)!

What difference is this going to make to our lives? We need to receive first, then give. Evangelism, as Michael Green said, is one beggar showing another beggar where to find bread. The importance of world-wide (as opposed to just local) mission: it is not so much that we need to go but that mission needs to happen in certain places that are unreached. Still, the UK church has a lot to offer. We may not be the best evangelists overseas, but we can encourage, help train, coordinate, provide support in all kinds of ways including technical ones. In our new global world mission will be in both directions, but let's not give up sending as well as receiving workers.

(Originally given as a sermon at Twyning Chapel in January 14).

Tuesday, 13 August 2013

No Compromise

At C3 church on Sunday, Julian preached on Daniel. He explained how Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were selected from among the Jewish exiles for a high class education, the best the Babylonians could supply. They were chosen because they were 'from the royal family and the nobility - young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king's palace.' They were given new names, new identities*. But the story goes on to say that Daniel refused to 'defile himself' (the food and drink would not have been kosher) with the meat and wine provided by the king's servant, and he asked to be given only vegetables and water a ten day experiment. If he and his friends looked as healthy or healthier than the other men they were to be allowed their vegetarian diet. They took a stand, and resolved to continue their Jewish lives and beliefs. As I'm sure we all know, this stance eventually lead to them being thrown into the lions' den when they refused to worship the statue set up by Nebuchadnezzar.

Kazan Cathedral, St Petersburg, which was turned into a museum of atheism during the Soviet regime (it is now a place of worship once again)

In the Soviet days young people from all over the world were sent to Moscow and St. Petersburg for education. They were taught Russian, and educated in the latest Soviet propaganda, which was Communist and Atheist. They were encouraged to enjoy Russian high culture, and more subtly perhaps, how to work the system. When they went back to their home countries or Soviet States they were eligible for leadership positions. Some Christians took a stand, and suffered as a result. Many were imprisoned in gulags, or simply disappeared. Some pastors and priests managed to work within the system while continuing to believe. They, like Daniel and his friends, knew when and where to take a stand.

What would we have done, if we had been in Daniel and his friends' position? Are we willing to be different, to take a stand? I see our children fitting in with the culture of their comprehensive school, and wonder how I can support them in being Christians in such an apathetic (in terms of belief) environment. In many countries Christians are actively persecuted, and we need to stand with them, and learn to weep with them, not rejoice at their sufferings. Whether here in the West or in living as a persecuted minority, Daniel is an example we can follow.

*The names they were given, Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, were related to the names of Babylonian gods.

(Actually the Soviets were more enlightened than the Babylonians in that they allowed mother-tongue education up to a certain level - perhaps primary school, or the early years of secondary school, depending whether you lived in a city or a village - but for higher education Russian was considered to be the only International language required.)

Tuesday, 16 July 2013

The LORD Reigns! (Psalm 98)


“John and Pat have a nice arbour (‘arbour).” Are there any ships in it? Sometimes a play on words confuses us. The meanings of words can confuse us.

1.     The LORD is the One who straightens things out (for us)

We have to start by reading the Psalm in its original context. This is an enthronement Psalm (v6). The Lord is going to return to the temple, and Israel would proclaim Him as king! But in the meantime that wasn’t the case. Israel was surrounded by the nations, who were polytheists, worshipping gods (each nation had a god or gods – Psalm 96) they believed brought fertility to the earth, which was deified (much as in Hinduism today – Hindus treat nature as divine). Psalm 98 is counter-cultural, in that it brings the created order under God’s control, and creations’ praise of Him is personification, not deification v7-9. God is not just God of history (removing the sacred from nature) but the God of creation. Often we meet people today who believe that creation is sacred – if you ask the question ‘Do you believe in God’ they have to qualify it: ‘What do you mean by God?’ – New Age, walking the lay lines of Britain.
God is in charge, he ‘rules’ (shephot – same root word as for Judges who lead Israel – they were the shophet – the rulers). He will visit to save/punish as appropriate (trouble is English word ‘judge’ often comes across negatively). If it is about judgement, it is about a present visit of God to save and punish. The Message:

A tribute to God when he comes,
When he comes to set the earth right.
He’ll straighten out the whole world,
He’ll put the world right, and everyone in it.
The translation of ‘Judge’ into Tengir was difficult. One word came across meaning ‘condemn’, so we had to use the other, more neutral term.

God has won the victory (v3 – Salvation, vindication and victory are very close ideas). We have experienced God’s saving work in our lives. Isa 52:10 ‘all the ends of the earth shall see the salvation of our God.’ It’s the same in Hebrew (prophetic perfect in Isaiah). From God’s perspective the victory is already won! Remember this is an enthronment Psalm (The Lord is going to return to the temple, and Israel would proclaim Him as king!). In the OT there was no fulfilment, after the exile, of the hope that the Lord would return to the temple in His glory (with a cloud or fire and the presence of the LORD Exo 40; Lev 9; 1Ki 8 or even Isa 6). For the fulfilment we have to look to the NT, to the coming of Jesus, who’s name means Saviour, and who Luke, John and others frequently remind us is the Saviour of the World. ‘We know that we live in him and he in us, because he has given us of his Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent his Son to be the Saviour of the world.’ 1Jn 4:13-14
Application: we are living in a place of victory. Not as individuals but as a people who know they are part of God’s covenant plan (v3). How do we do this?

  • Don’t dwell on past injustices
  • Dig into God’s word together. Meditate on God’s word – let it seep into your bones
  • Be filled and refilled with the Holy Spirit
  • Share and pray for each other. Encourage one another with prophetic words, songs, and whatever ‘builds up’
  • Take part in ventures for God together (more on that later
  • Expect revival! Expect the LORD to arrive in power! If the Jews could expect the LORD to come, how much more can we!

2.     The LORD is the One who straightens things out (for all)

However it’s not just for us. The original covenant was with Israel, but ‘the redemption of Israel will provide the opportunity for the nations to turn to Yahweh’ (Anderson) v2-3. It is God’s Mission. The ‘Mission of God’. ‘If God owns the universe, there is nowhere that does not belong to him. There is nowhere we can step off his property, either into the property of some other deity or into some autonomous sphere of our own private ownership’ (Wright, 2006: 403). Ultimately, as I say, Jesus, as God’s ambassador, won the victory. What does that mean? The good news is that God saves, and this can be known by all nations.

What should our response be? Praise. A new song. ‘God’s praise is inexhaustible’ (Anderson).
Music-lead worship are so important, using whatever instruments are appropriate. Maybe a dutar (two-string) if you are in Central Asia? There is a department in our organisation called ethnic arts. Here’s a story they tell: one church had 100 hymns translated from other languages, but there was no church growth. As soon as they had some songs written in the way they like (their melodies, rhythms, etc.) the church began to grow.

ESV Psalm 98:1 A PSALM.
Oh sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvelous things!
His right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. 
2 The LORD has made known his salvation;
he has revealed his righteousness in the sight of the nations. 
3 He has remembered his steadfast love and faithfulness to the house of Israel.
All the ends of the earth have seen the salvation of our God. 
4 Make a joyful noise to the LORD, all the earth;
break forth into joyous song and sing praises! 
5 Sing praises to the LORD with the lyre,
with the lyre and the sound of melody! 
6 With trumpets and the sound of the horn make a joyful noise before the King, the LORD! 
7 Let the sea roar, and all that fills it; the world and those who dwell in it! 
8 Let the rivers clap their hands;
let the hills sing for joy together 
9 before the LORD, for he comes to judge [rule] the earth.
He will judge [rule] the world with righteousness, and the peoples with equity.