If God’s Grace is that effective, then does it really matter if I keep on sinning?
That’s the question that faced the first Christians – and it affects us today, too. Released from the penalty of the law through the death of Christ on the cross, we have a new freedom that some would argue brings a kind of immunity against the consequences of continuing to sin.
When we remember how we arrived at our new status and what it cost (Christ not us) to get there, then that paints a very different picture. Sin is always serious and, if we are truly converted then we will want to live a life worthy of the calling we’ve received. That means immersing ourselves in God as well as applying a personal act of will to reject what’s wrong and to follow what’s right.
We cannot be slaves to sin and to right living: as the law reminds us – reject sin and death and choose life!
It’s tough enough summoning the courage the leave the building but that’s only the support act for the challenges that follow.
At times like this, successful outcomes depend on keeping to the plan making sure that we don’t drift away from the support base of others on the same journey. Even when we get “there” (wherever “there” is), we can’t let our guard slip for a moment: it’s still easy to lose sight of our mission and to find ourselves, lost and bewildered, down some dead end streets.
The battles are over, the enemy defeated and the land is being settled. It’s easy to pat ourselves on the back once that’s happened but, if we do that, we’ll have overlooked who the author of our success really is. Good times bring their own particular opportunities to broaden our horizons but that doesn’t remove us from the continuing responsibility to follow God, holding nothing back from Him in the process.
Trying to get your point across? Where do you really want to get to in your passionate defence of your views or position?
We all like to be right, to have our solution affirmed and our opinions justified. It’s not always easy getting to that point but there’s a certain amount of (self) satisfaction in getting there.
Whilst a well thought out argument or a slick presentation may justify our position, nothing will justify our inherent status. Humanity is separated from God by sin: this is a wrong that can’t be put right by any means at our disposal however sophisticated or brilliant they might be.
As we explore our relationship with God, we begin by recognising that it is only Christ who can really deal with the ultimate wrong in our lives. It is God’s work but we have to receive it for it to be effective.
When you leave the building what do you take with you? I’m not talking umbrellas on rainy days here nor smart suits for job interviews. It’s more of an attitude thing: what are we like and what values do we take into everyday life?
Leaving a building is more than simply going out the door. It’s a step into a different world often far removed from our place of safety (home or church). We may be going out like lambs amongst wolves (Luke 10:3) but, whatever the circumstances, it will mean that our values will be on the line if we are to remain true to ourselves.
We choose what we take or rather, as Christians, we choose who we take. We cannot begin to make Christ known unless we know Him for ourselves. The choice on who we take with us, begins with the decision over who we will commit to following.
Decision making doesn’t come naturally to us all.
It’s not so bad when everything is clear cut and is the way forward is pretty obvious because you have all the facts to hand and can really weigh the alternatives. The problems come when we stretch beyond our capabilities or when it looks too close to call. What do we do then – take a risk or step away?
Spiritually speaking, stepping away isn’t an option for God. Whilst He gives us total freedom, our choice in response to that has far reaching consequences whatever the direction we go in. God, though, sees us as we are, and he knows our hearts for what they might become. What’s unclear and to us now will always be in sharp focus to him – what we do won’t save us but the way we express our relationship with God – living out our faith – makes all the difference.
Are you ready to leave the building?
For too long the church has cultivated a siege mentality when what we really need to recognise is that we are in a battle. It is not a question of overcoming our enemy by constructing the strongest defences, it is a call to arms that takes the fight out of the building and onto the front line.
If we find ourselves happier inside a building following comfortable rituals and rarely bringing our faith in direct engagement with our community and culture, we will be relatively safe but spiritually ineffective. This is not God’s plan for the church – whether it’s GHBC or the universal church. Committing to make Christ known is more than having a preaching station on a busy street – it is a daily engagement with every fibre of our being, wherever we may find ourselves, bringing Christ into conversations, minds, lives and homes.
The study of end times has very personal implications. It addresses fundamental questions which everyone asks from time to time: What will happen when I die? Will the world end with a fizzle or a bang? Will things get worse or better?
Central to our understanding of the last things is the conviction that Jesus will return in glory to receive those who have committed their lives to Him. The words of Jesus in John 14: 1 – 4, 28 assure us of this; but they also show us how the Holy Spirit, now at work in our hearts and the community of Christ, are the tangible evidence of the reunion to come.
The implication of this work lie in the way Christians live – being in the world but not of the world. The challenge is to live today for today yet not losing sight of the final goal to which all believers are called.
Faith is not a spectator sport. We learn from the example of others and from the teachings of the bible it’s true, but discipleship involves a lot more than watching (observation) and waiting (reflection).
True discipleship means that we follow God’s will and live by His standards. We’re involved in His mission and we’re committed to His cause. As a result, the attitudes we adopt and the way we live, will be (or should be) markedly different from those values generally adopted by wider society.
In a media rich age, communication takes many forms and all of them have been used, at one time or another, to explain the gospel. How, though, do we take our explanation of Jesus’ love beyond the level of personal example? How might we put our experience of Christ into very simple and straightforward terms that becomes both understandable and attractive to our friends?
Pearly Gates (that's an entrance by the way not a cockney whelk seller).
Blue sky. White fluffy clouds. Haloes and white kaftans.
Renaissance artists really do have a lot to answer for. Ok I know it’s not easy laying on your back painting the ceiling but I sometimes wonder why they didn’t stick to their equivalent of Trade Matt White emulsion instead of trying to explain the bible in big pictures. Their vision of heaven (for that is what this is all about) has coloured the thinking – and, dare I say it – twisted a fair bit of the church’s theology down the years. As a result we’ve lost sight of the real heaven even if we know why we’re going there and how we’ll arrive at our destination.
We all have our own picture of heaven. How much of it is wishful thinking and what is real remains to be seen. It’s important, though, for the church today to recognise the relationship between hope and heaven: we are grounded, then, in our engagement with the world and with the certainty that this – here, now – is not all there is.
Rights: we all like to stand our ground or fight our corner for our deepest convictions or for those we love the most. Without that kind of dogged determination, we’d have few of the freedoms we associate with our modern world.
As a Roman citizen, Paul enjoyed specific freedoms but his loyalty and very identity went deeper that that. Rights do not stand alone – if we are to be true citizens, our identity will be determined by the privileges and responsibilities we share, alongside the rights we have fought so fiercely for and (occasionally) so vehemently demand.
Citizenship seems an antiquated concept today when we all live very individual lives. Yet the very heart of citizenship touches on our very identity – who we really are and what makes us tick. It’s a very helpful picture when we consider our spiritual development: no longer citizens of this world our responsibility and privileges reflect our identity in Christ and our call to become the church as we grow and learn together.
Moving on to the future without letting go of the past is like tying your arm to a post while catching a train.
Standing on the mountain top and looking around is a great way of seeing where the road ahead might be leading. The thing is, we’ll get nowhere unless we come down from the heights and set off on the road into 2018 and beyond.
We grow more from participation than we do from observation. Perseverance (keeping on) is a means by which we get closer to Christ. Not controlled by our past we look forward with single minded purpose to where Christ is leading us.
What has God got to say to us on this Christmas Eve?
With so many worried about the future, why worry about what happened so long ago? Aren’t today and tomorrow more important that all our yesterdays? When you are as exhausted and stressed out from the preparations for “the big day, ” what possible relevance can a 2000 year old birth have?
It’s not as if Christmas is different from year to year. Same old TV programmes, same old food, same old indigestion, same old credit card bills in January. We hear the same story, the same Bible passages are read, we sing the same carols. We've done it all before. Two thousand years is a long time to repeat the same story.
Let us not forget, though, that once, one night, for Mary and Joseph, for the wise men and the shepherds, it was exciting and new. To accept that freshness and wonder for ourselves it’s important to look closely at a story we think we know, perhaps too well for our own spiritual good
How do we find our way to an unfamiliar destination when the Sat Nav is on the blink?
It’s bad enough when you’re on a important journey: it’s tougher still when you’re at a crossroads in life, uncertain which way to turn. If the advice you need or the direction you seek isn’t clear, you can find yourself down some dead ends or even setting off in the wrong direction entirely.
A Kingdom in chaos, a dithering leader with dark forces massing at the borders. Political collapse is matched by spiritual emptiness in a nation simply going through the motions with no coherent plan of what to do next. It’s just at that point that God sends a sign to show where and what the right way really is. We may be hesitant to ask, slow to understand and reluctant to pursue it but His sign and His way is the only route to real life.
God with us: the real story of Christmas
Why me? Why this? Why how? Why?
Some conversations are far from easy. Others are trickier still, especially when we realise that the discussion will lead us to take part in something that will demand our total commitment to a cause or circumstances we struggle to understand.
Angelic visitations are rare events. God’s messengers don’t usually turn up on a regular basis unless He (God) has something very special to share with us. And when it does happen, it can be hard at first to get to the heart of the matter: why is it that angels always begin with “Don’t be afraid…?”
What follows is something beyond anyone’s wildest dreams. However strange and unworldly it may seem – and undoubtedly is – it is right on the money for all of us. God’s message is that He cares about us, enough to intervene in our world through the humility and acceptance of a simple teenage peasant girl dreaming of her forthcoming marriage.
The best stories are the ones that are true, which invite you not only to join in, but which present you with a life changing choice.
Philip is a man with a mission. The Ethiopian Civil Servant is returning from Jerusalem: he may have been on official business but he's taken the opportunity to worship God.
He's a high ranking official in some ways but an ordinary man in another - like so many people he's trying to make sense of his world and his life. There's something missing.
Read on to discover what's missing and how he finds his new direction
Responsibility. It’s more than a long word – it’s also a big ask. There are certain things we can’t avoid; Mark Twain famously said these were “being born, dying and paying taxes.”
It’s the latter that Paul addresses in Romans 13. It’s not so much the mechanisms of payment but our commitment to be responsible citizens. Rome was hardly a hotbed of tolerance and justice but the Christian’s duty – as Paul explains it – is to ensure that they are a good example to follow. They should not be indebted to any secular authority.
When it comes to our relationship with God, then it’s exactly the opposite. We’ll always be in debt as we can never repay the cost of freedom. Our commitment here is a continuing one: however tough our circumstances, however challenging the people involved – love must never go out the window even if everything else does.
If you want to have dinner with a famous person, it can be arranged. The only snag is that it will either cost you an arm and a leg or you will already be in a position where your influence will get you a place at the top table. That kind of encounter is not for everyone: only the privileged few will ever get to sit next to a celebrity.
Today’s reading concerns a posh dinner. The invitations have been issued, the honoured guest waits at the table but all similarities with a modern celebration end there The expected guests don’t show and their reasons for staying away come across as excuses rather than explanations.
This is one dinner to which everyone is invited but it has its own exclusions. The honoured guest has sent the invites out but it is up to all the guests to decide whether to come or not. It’s a one off and there are no guarantees of a repeat event: the greatest blessing comes from a decisive response to aceept what’s on offer.