£50M Christians?

Football player Fernando Torres recently transferred from Liverpool to Chelsea for a UK-record sum of £50m. So how much are you worth, Graeme Tremaine asked recently.

Your perception of your own worth is important. Jesus knows we can be hard on ourselves, leading to low self esteem. We can stress about not doing enough for our Lord, leaving no room to feel joy in our faith. Our potential is cut and our happiness hindered.

Sometimes this stems from confusing worthiness with worth. Jesus said that even after all we do, we are still unprofitable servants, who have only done our duty. That was to guard against self-righteous works. It was not saying we had no worth.

And in Philippians 2 we are exhorted to esteem others better than ourselves. Here again the emphasis is on the motivation, not that we should have no or low self-esteem. The passage isn’t about our own self-perception, but about how we position ourselves relative to others. As 1 Peter says, pursue humility towards each other, because God opposes the proud, so humble yourself, so God lifts you up in due time.

On God’s scale we can never be worthy, we are always lightweight. But just because we are not worthy, it does not mean we are of no worth – to God or fellow men. Love your neighbours and yourself, Jesus urged. If you don’t love yourself, your love for your neighbour will be of little use.

Hebrews 11 lists many who are counted as holy and who Jesus is not ashamed to call brothers, despite their errors. We too may be ashamed of what we have done. But we need not be ashamed that Jesus calls us brothers and sisters. We have great value in his sight. In the same way, God is not ashamed to be called their God, and our God.

Indeed, we are a living temple in which God is prepared to dwell by his spirit. In Romans 8:28 Paul writes to those who are called according to His purpose… predestined…. justified… glorified. So, we can build ourselves up in this knowledge that God foresaw us and our potential. He values that enough to want us in His Kingdom, as chosen servants, destined for Glory. We should accept God’s valuation of us and be inspired. We should not try to tell Him he is wrong.

The disciples argued about who should be first (Mark 9). So Jesus had to show them that anyone who would be first had to be the very last and servant of all. And now we understand.

As Paul told the Philippians, they (and we) should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God…. made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…… and humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! So God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow….

As we share bread and wine we think of Jesus’s powerful and triumphant return from servant-hood to glory. And in sharing the emblems we say we are part of his family, valued, called, foreknown and loved. And we give thanks from the bottom of our hearts.

No Fear In Love

What is the most used four-word phrase in the Bible, used more than 360 times. It appears in Exodus 14:13. “Do not be afraid”. But why should we not be afraid? The reason is another four-word phrase: “I am with you,” Brian Townsend exhorted us recently.

We are not alone. God is with us, and for a wonderful purpose. “You will see the deliverance promised to you.”

But why are we exhorted not to be afraid, when God knows how prone to fear we are. Look at Paul, flogged, stoned, attacked by bandits, threatened with death. How did he keep going, conquering the fear? Forget what is behind and press on towards the goal, he urges us. That was his motivation to keep going – that God was with him and there was a reward before him.

Jesus must have been afraid too. He knew the agonizing death that was before him. He told his disciples about it several times, and he prayed to God about it, earnestly, sweating drops of blood.

How did Jesus manage? He knew he was not alone. And Paul knew this too. Both could see the future joy, resurrection, to eternal peace. That motivating promise is there for all of us too. Our Kingdom visions help us look forward positively. And God’s assurances are even more amazing than: No eye can see, no mind can even conceive of it.

This light at the end of the tunnel may be bright. Or thoughts and worries may make you afraid and cloud the light. But it is there nonetheless. God is with us and for us. Psalms tell us: Our soul finds rest in Him alone. If we cast our burdens on Him, He will sustain us.

Moses had times of fear. In Exodus 3, despite God speaking to him, he was afraid. In verse 12 we read of the comforting words God gave him. But he still doubted (Ex 4:1). His human weakness is not ignored. He is heped . Hebrew 11 lists all the hard times of being afraid [??], despite knowing God was for them. But God did not hold it against them. That is a comfort for us when feeling negative.

We have been given evidence of our Father’s control over creation. The 10 plagues on Egypt showed God’s mighty hand at work. The miraculous exodus of 2 million of God’s people, 430 years after 70 went down to Egypt with Jacob, are a glimpse of the joy God wants to give us; that we will run and not grow weary; that the ransomed will return with singing. That wonderful time, when fear will be a thing of the past, is the light before us, to drive out all fear.

As John says in 1 John 4v18: “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” And Jesus left us with a clear message of encouragement. John 14v27: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

The Full Chicken Caesar Salad

God’s Spirit is in us and is active, if we will let it be, Matt and Coren Miles of Finsbury Park ecclesia enthused the Horley Praise Day on Saturday.

What is a chicken Caesar salad if the chicken, croutons, Parmesan cheese and mayonnaise are left out? A bowl of lettuce!. Just a bowl of lettuce. Missing all the good bits. And we are the same, if we leave the good bits out of our lives, the bits God wants us to include.

So, what are those good bits? What guides us? What is at the centre of our lives? Is it God, Jesus, the Bible, belief, faith, family, culture, love? For the Jewish community it is the Law. But what about us?

In Jeremiah 31:33 God takes the Law, which had been written on stone, and puts His law in our minds and writes it on our hearts. In Ezekiel 36:26 God gives us a new heart and puts a new spirit in us; He removes from us our heart of stone and gives us a heart of flesh. In 2 Corinthians 3:3 Paul explains how we show that we are a letter from Christ, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts, our hearts. The Law is transferred from being something outside us, on tablets of stone, to something inside us!

Turn to Acts. At Pentecost, the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Law, the Spirit came down on the 12 apostles, just as the Law had come down to the people from the mountain.

Peter recognised the change (Acts 2:37-39): “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Paul picks this idea up in Romans 7: 1-6. It can seem a complicated and confusing passage. But the gist is that we could find ourselves like an empty bowl of lettuce, no longer married to the Law, because it died. But the Bible says we are not committed to a bachelor life, the love is actually still there, but we now love somebody else, the Holy Spirit. We serve in the new way of the Spirit and not in the old way of the Law.

The Holy Spirit is an important thing in our lives, it is guiding us and giving us our values. Without it our lives are like a Caesar salad with all the good ingredients taken out. Rom 8:1-2 –
the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free. And this theme recurs again and again in the Bible.

So, IF the Spirit dwells in you he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you (Rom 8:10-11). Why are we ashamed that the Spirit lives in us?

In Matt 5:17 Jesus says: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” We still have a law, but it is now the Spirit. But our tradition omits it.
Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God, Paul explains in 1 Cor 6:19. The Temple contains the Holy of Holies, in which is the ark of the covenant, in which are the tablets of the Law. In the same way, we have God’s Spirit inside us. Otherwise, we are a chicken Caesar salad with the good bits taken out, and we are to be most pitied of all, because we are trying to do it all ourselves and do not have the things God gave us at the centre: His Spirit in our inner being (Ephesians 3: 14-19).

God wants us to be eating the whole salad. If we live by the Spirit, we also walk by the Spirit.

OK. That’s clear. And?

The Holy Spirit is God’s power, to do. So, is the doing the problem, the idea that the Spirit does things? Indeed, it was not what Jesus said that wound up the Pharisees and Scribes, it was what he did, his miracles.

All through the Bible, when things needed doing, God gave people the Spirit to get things done. Noah, Moses, Samson, the Apostles. And interestingly it’s up to God who He gives the Spirit to, to get things done. It is not based on how good people are. In Acts, for example, some Greeks receive the Holy Spirit, before they have even been baptised.

So, the question for us, if the Bible says the Holy Spirit is inside us, is what is it doing inside us? It is not just making us feel good, it is there for a reason.

The parable of the talents tells how God chooses how much each servant should be given. The fact that he who received 10 coins produced 10 more shows His choice was right. And one hid his coin in the ground. So, the question for us is what is God’s power doing in us?

Look at the Acts of the Apostles, describing their works. It is actually the Acts of the Holy Spirit, and how it underpinned their actions, as detailed on almost every page. It’s not about the power to sit in an armchair and to not sin, to seek to really understand and to believe. It’s not for that. It is for us to DO.

It is strongly linked to the idea of whether we have been saved, are being saved, or will be saved. It is a debate that can split us. But Acts 2:46 says “those who were being saved.” Not had been, or will be. But are being.

A fluke? Paul says in 1 Corinthians 1:18 “who are being saved.” And in 1 Cor 15:1-2 “are being saved.” And 2 Cor 2:15 “are being saved….are perishing” It’s a dynamic process.

2 Cor 3:17-18 – we are being transformed. It is a very present tense transformation, by degrees.

So, do you want to change? Yes, we become Christians by changing, through baptism. But does it then stop? We soon recognise that baptism is the beginning of the transformation process. The change is being caused by God’s power to do, through the Holy Spirit – to change who we are and what we do, our values, the very core of us and the fruits, the outpouring, that results from those changes. And that’s why it is written on our hearts.

Galatians 5:16-18 tells us how the bad things we hold onto stop us from being transformed. If we try to carry the old ways of doing things, the yoke Christ offers us is very heavy. It only becomes light if we throw those old things away.

So, which comes first, faith or works? The fruit (works) come as a result of a strong tree (faith). The good things we do are a result, not of us, but of the goodness God has put inside us. We can’t just create good works ourselves. That would be like creating plastic (artificial) fruit.

Galatians 5:24-25 “Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.”

Transformation pushes us way beyond where we are comfortable. So don’t try to transform your own life, by your own effort, even though it is something we are all tempted to try. It only happens by God’s power. The Spirit gifts (healing, miracles, prophecy, discerning spirits, tongues, interpreting tongues, administration, helps, wisdom, knowledge, faith) are not ours, but God’s, given to us. They help us to jump out of the armchair and leave behind the old ways, because Christ’s way is a better way than our own way.

Heb 11 lists those who acted by faith, by a gift from God, as God used the Holy Spirit to get things done, for the common good (1 Cor 12:7). Abel offered God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain, and all the other examples cited in Hebrews 11, came from faith, from God, through the Spirit, not from people being good.

Those people in Heb 11 all provide signs of the coming Kingdom. So, what’s our sign? Three spring to mind: baptism, breaking of bread, and church unity. They show forth the transformation; the proclamation of Christ’s resurrection; and unity around the faith. Are they done by us, of ourselves? No, but because God has given these gifts to us, for others to see.

So, let us shine, like John wants the seven churches to shine, as vessels of the Holy Spirit on fire, showing the fruits: love, joy, peace, long suffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.

Eph 2:18-22 – For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord.  And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit.

Time to open clenched fists

We are here to leave our loads, safe in fellowship, in love, centred around the huge love God shows us through His son. So, let’s try to leave our loads in the left luggage office, so we can enjoy the blessings God gives us, Rob Clements exhorted us last Sunday.

In Psalm 53:2 we find God looking down to see if there are any who understand, any who seek God. The message is clear. We, like David, should seek God, even in dark times. Ps 69 v32,33: “the poor will see and be glad, you who seek God, may your hearts live! The Lord hears the needy and does not despise His captive people”

And we are needy. Needy of the forgiveness and love that Jesus brings us, his captive people. We can feel captive, hands tied, in a kind of prison. That’s why Jesus says “seek first His righteousness”. That’s what makes us tick. We should focus on what Jesus tells and shows us.

We know how good it feels when we feel in tune with God. But it doesn’t last. We are patchy in our lives. Paul was the same, human like us, and equally frustrated. Just as it is going well, it goes wrong. He too was subject to the struggle (Rom 7:15), feeling the inner delight (v22) but feeling another law at work, making us prisoners!

He knew the answer, as he praised: “thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord,” (Rom 7:25). For the truly tremendous thing is that Jesus lifts us up, further than before, even when we fall.

Who rescues us? “In all these things we are more than conquerors, through him who loved us, because we know that in all things God works for the good of those that love Him, who has been called for His purpose.” Rom 8:31 – “If God is for us, who can be against us. He who did not spare His own son, but gave him up for us all.”

So, our response is to be for God in return. God has called us, so we respond by calling others, helping each other, so we really feel there is nothing separating us from the love of God, that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Paul has 3 suggestions to help:

  • Rom 1:20 – God’s eternal power has been clearly shown, in His creation all around us. There is no excuse. So take time to see that and realise, His eternal power is demonstrated all around us.
  • Rom 12:10,13 – Be devoted to one another, in brotherly love. Share and practise hospitality, as a group and as a team, working, celebrating and commiserating together.
  • Rom 12:12 Be faithful in prayer, together and individually, in public and in private. Pray for one another.

It all means we need to let go of our individual blockages and sins – let them go from our clenched hands – to open those fists and give and receive as God intends.