Living by God's design

Whilst these studies won't follow our Sunday teaching - they will apply some of the teaching points from the sermon series on the life of Paul, 'Breaking the chains' to be preached in May and June.

The aim of this series is to consider what we might mean by Christian Community and how that relates to our discipleship and personal relationship with God.

Study 11: A connected community

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Creation began with harmony and order but rapidly descended into sin and chaos. The rot really set in when an attractive option for fast food overrode God’s one boundary: don’t eat this one fruit!

Sibling rivalry, jealousy and murder followed and, despite God’s intervention in rebooting creation through the flood, human nature remained unchanged. Man and God remained divided.

Study 10: A Holy Community

What do you think when you hear the word "holy?"

holiness-chambers.jpgTypical answers would range from a honest description of God to a slight change (“holiness”), with the cynical addition of two words. “Holier than thou” reflects the impression that – rightly or wrongly – some people have of the church

Even in the church we are not always clear what holiness is or what, practically, it might involve. Many Christians would recognise it as one of the defining aspects of God’s character but may not make the connection that holiness is a spiritual goal for church and believer alike.

Study 8: A forgiving community

Everyone needs forgiveness.

forgiveness 2That’s an easy thing to write but a much tougher action to embrace  – particularly as I’m writing this some 36 hours after the bomb at Manchester Arena which killed 22 people and injured scores of others. A terrorist organisation has claimed responsibility and the UK Government’s response is to raise the threat of terror alert to the highest level possible. Armed Police and Military personnel now guard what are considered as the UK’s primary targets.

Can we, should we, find a way to forgive those who perpetrated such a terrible crime? Does forgiveness have its limits, especially when the people involved see nothing wrong in embracing violence to further their political ends?

Study 6: A cross centred community

One of the deepest human needs is the desire for acceptance and for our life to have meaning. 

ApprovalThe way we see (or imagine) ourselves is often determined by the approval or rejection of those around us. We can try to win favour by saying or doing things which we think they will find acceptable or profitable. We may even be motivated by the desire to be in with the “crowd” or with those who pull the levers of power.

If we follow that way of thinking and behaving towards other people then, sooner or later, it will begin to be the default way of life we adopt. Finding it hard to escape its clutches, we will end up trying to earn God’s favour in the same way, perhaps even out of a sense of guilt.

Study 4: A loving community

Pop groups sing about it, soap operas spend years working it out, Rom Com’s pack the cinema seats and it’s the vital spark at the heart of chick lit. Like it or not, there’s no escaping our society’s obsession with love.
love like jesus small

The trouble with obsessions is that it is all too easy to lose sight of the real deal when you’re bombarded with visions of the ideal. Aspiring to the kind of relationships enjoyed by the rich, the famous or the wealthy will only result in disaster when reality bites.  The less-than-happy times are airbrushed from the media but they remain only too painful for those experiencing them at first hand.

The net result is that our responses are torn between a culturally created and unattainable “god” on the one hand and a trivialised and superficial approach to relationships on the other.

Study 2: A healed community

ThLeroyEims.pnge gloves are off. There’s everything to play for: an electorate to persuade and a future to shape.

In just over 7 weeks from now (I’m writing this on Thursday 27th April), we’ll discover which party has been successful in the 2017 General Election, having the unenviable task of setting the political and economic agenda for the next five years – major disasters excepted, of course.

Study 9: A Servant Hearted Community

It’s a question that has driven wedges between believers since the early days of the Church: what are the most important rules that we have to follow in order that we might be considered real Christians?

Some of the rules do vary – depending on the time in history you are in and/or the denomination or sect to which you belong. Whether it’s what you wear, the sports you’re interested in or even sporting facial hair, someone, somewhere has a drawn a spiritual line around it.

Keep to the line and you’re ok – cross it and you’re living in rebellion. Even today, a Southern Baptist has different interpretations on some matters of behaviour compared to someone who is a member of a Baptist Church in the UK.

Study 7: A compassionate community

When we become Christians, we have a new status: we are no longer our own, we have been bought at a price (1 Corinthians 6:20). Yet we live among people who are more interested in pleasing themselves than in pleasing God.

world compassionSome churches approach this dilemma from the perspective of separation: seeing great danger in engaging with the world, they withdraw from it. The net result is often culturally naïve and introverted groups who are isolated from the wider community.

On the other hand, some churches intentionally approach their idea of building God’s Kingdom by focussing on social justice at the expense of a clear and consistent presentation of the Good News.

Which is the correct approach in our context? How do we keep our Christian integrity when faced by apparently conflicting interests? What might “grace” and “truth” look like when we are faced by the need to proclaim the Kingdom and reach out to those in need?

Study 5: An honest community

Honesty is the best policy: confession is good for the soul.

I sometimes wonder who it was that coined these famous phrases and just what it was which prompted the responses, worded in these very precise terms. The realist today might wonder how their understanding can possibly have any relevance for us as, after all is said and done, isn’t it possible that the things we face are likely to be very different from theirs?

This may indeed be the case but there are some vital principles for the koinonia (the fellowship of the church), which are found in the idea of honesty, confession and forgiveness.

Study 3: A Gathered Community

Despite the shrinking world and global news, surveys tell us that people believe loneliness to be their greatest prlife is better in communityoblem. We long for a sense of community: we may have more acquaintances but fewer real friends.

Our diaries and calendars might be filled, we have a greater choice in how we spend our leisure time but does anyone really know us? Do we really know anyone else?

The Bible describes a revolutionary way of life designed for any society, in any age. It offers the blueprint for a spiritual kingdom where the King's subjects are loved, nurtured and protected. In this kingdom, everyone has distinct gifts, yet real differences bring people together. Anyone can be included, yet each person is irreplaceable. When citizens in the kingdom are wounded, the whole community hurts; when new life or growth breaks out, the whole community celebrates.

Study 1: A commissioned community

The New Testament is clear that Christian Community has two main elements:

  • we are to be together, worshipping in community (John Wesley once said that “…the Bible knows nothing of solitary religion”)
  • we are to work This has implications of practical partnership: what some have termed body ministry, based on 1 Corinthians chapters 12 and 14

Although there is always a cost to following Jesus, (Luke 9: 57 - 62), there are still those who are ready to be used by God.