Jesus made the statement “I am the way and the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father except through me”. This is an uncomfortable statement to make within 21st Century British Culture as most people believe that what is true for me is my truth and what is true for you is your truth. As Christians how do we understand that statement within our cultural setting?
If we are ready to grow, then what is it that will encourage our growth? How can we make sure that we are in the right place (condition) to carry on growing?
Becoming the best God’s wants us to be is something we cannot achieve for ourselves. It is dependent on the grace of God which jump starts and which also drives our faith and belief.
Living as God intends isn’t pay lip service to a cause: it is committing the whole of what we are and do to Christ. Nothing is beyond God’s reach and no element of our life is to be excluded from His rule
Who or what is the greatest influence on your life?
Are you more concerned about following God than you are about what your friends might think? Or, does your inbuilt desire to fit in override your (very real) concerns about the cultural standards you are expected to conform to?
We’re pulled every which way. The invitation to embrace all that the world has to offer is tempered by the clarity of the bible’s moral compass. How do we make sure that we cross the right lines, with the right motives to the correct ends?
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