Thursday, 30 July 2009
Tuesday, 28 July 2009
Sunday, 26 July 2009
Wednesday, 22 July 2009
Tuesday, 21 July 2009
Monday, 20 July 2009
The book of Acts is really divided into 2 parts. Chapters 1-12 are about the early church declaring that Jesus really is the Messiah Israel had been waiting for. He was the one who would bring about the New Exodus and bring liberation for Israel. The slaves in Egypt had cried out to God because of their slave-drivers and God rescued them from Pharaoh and took them out of Egypt.
After much toil and heartache on God’s part, they reached the Promised Land. But then they forgot about God and the consequences of their turning away from God was exile out of the Promised Land and into slavery once again but this time in Babylon. But God made a promise that he had not forgotten them and that he had plans to redeem them.
They returned to Israel but nothing was as it was before and they were waiting for the Messiah to come and liberate them from the oppression of the Romans.
The first 12 chapters of Acts are about that liberation and how the early church spread the good news that the Messiah had indeed come and had won the freedom that Israel had for so long been waiting for. But the Messiah didn’t use violence to bring about that freedom, rather he had violence inflicted upon Himself.
Rather than overthrowing the King and claiming the crown, he hung on a cross wearing a crown of thorns.
Rather than clenching his fist around a sword, he opened his hands and had nails driven into them.
Rather than holding a shield to protect himself, he hung naked and vulnerable with a spear piercing his side.
Rather than carrying armour on his back, he wore a Cross.
And it was here that Jesus won the victory.
It was here that all the powers of darkness were defeated and the New Exodus began, a freedom from slavery and oppression under the hand of death and sin.
It was this Messiah and this freedom that the early church preached to Israel that we read of in the book of Acts. And the church explodes in growth seeing thousands upon thousands becoming a part of this vibrant, dynamic and loving community.
Chapters 13-28 are how this message to the Jews spread to the Gentiles. Here we see this liberating message spreading outside of Israel to the world around. Nothing can stop this message! Oppression and persecution cannot stop the power of this message! God is on a mission and by His Spirit he is getting that message out into the whole world that the whole world may experience for themselves the freedom that can be found in Jesus!
So we begin in Chapter 28. Why? So we can retrace the steps of the early church and understand what happened and then at the end of the 6 weeks understand why it happened. Today we hear how Paul continued in the mission that God was on and, I pray, we will then know more fully the mission are continuing in. A mission that was handed to the Apostles, the early church and then continuing century after century until today. And we continue preaching the same gospel in the power of the same Spirit, this same Spirit who raised Christ from the dead is at work in us to make this message known and make Christ known in the world!
The final word in the book of Acts in the Greek is Akolytos. This means unhindered or free. This is the framework that Luke wants to paint this book in. Here we have a gospel that is unhindered and cannot be contained because the power of the Holy Spirit is making this message known in the world. Paul may be in chains at the end of the book of Acts but the gospel certainly isn’t! God Spirit is free and the gospel continues to transform lives and today continues to transform lives. Death and persecution and jail cannot stop the good news of Jesus spreading around the world!
Lets go back however to the book of Acts. What we read is of Paul taking the message of the gospel to wherever God leads and perhaps most significantly, to Rome.
Rome is the place where Caesar is and Caesar is Lord. He is the one who the people obey. He controls the political, economic and social climate of the day. He is the one who everyone must swear allegiance to. To deny Caesar is to deny his lordship and his rule. To claim another Lord is to say there is someone greater than Caesar. To say Jesus is Lord is to say that Jesus has ultimate power over all things whether it is religion, politics or whatever. To say Jesus is Lord is to say Caesar is not. It is a bold and provocative statement, and Paul is on a mission to Rome to declare it.
Yet again and again persecution and trouble hit him. Yet again and again God assures Paul that he is with him and that he will get to Rome.
There is beatings and floggings that Paul endures, yet he will get to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord
Paul is arrested and put on a ship and there is a shipwreck, yet God tells him he will get to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord.
They are washed up in Malta and a snake bites him. Yet God heals him because he is going to Rome to declare that Jesus is Lord.
And today, we are called to declare that Jesus is Lord.
Rome was the centre of power and rule. Caesar the one who held that power. Yet Paul’s message was that Jesus is Lord and he rules the entire cosmos and that God’s Kingdom is the centre of all power and rule but not through violence and coercion, but by love and grace.
Do you know what I believe was the worst thing that ever happened to the church? Was when it became the centre of power and rule. When it became Rome. And don’t hear me wrong, I am not talking about the Catholic Church, I am talking about the Church as a whole.
When the Emperor Constantine became a Christian and made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity went from being a religion of persecution and oppression to hold power over all the land. Christianity became the symbol of power. Christianity became Rome. And this is where it all went wrong.
Through the centuries the church became convinced that we should have the power and the sway over all affairs, that we should make the decisions. Yet we became power hungry. And this attitude still remains in the church today in the west. It is so ingrained that we don’t even realise.
Jesus was a man of lowly status and poverty. He won victory, not through coercion or power over the people, but through humility and being nailed to a cross naked. The power of the gospel spreads in the book of Acts, not through power and coercion in the worldly sense, but through persecution and oppression. As Christians we are not to Lord it over people but to be the least of all. To be the scum of the earth. To be the lowliest.
Maybe the Church in the west is in the state that its in today because we got too settled in Rome. We became Caesar.
Maybe we struggle to take the gospel into our communities because we have some idea so ingrained that we should have sway over the country that our voice needs to be heard. That we’re being treated unfairly. Yet read the gospels. Read Acts. We’re the ones called into persecution. We’re the ones whose voices are called to be silent. We are not in power, we are powerless. Yet the power that raised Christ from the dead is at work within us! Only by the power of the Holy Spirit will the gospel spread, not by our might nor by our strength.
Maybe our desire for power has caused us to be lukewarm with the gospel.
Maybe the church in the west is now a symbol for Rome and we have for so long called ourselves Lord. Yet the Spirit is blowing ships in with missionaries aboard calling us to repent and once again realise that Jesus is Lord.
The way of Christianity is one of suffering, it is one of the Cross. So as a church in Mersea we must be prepared to go through the storms of trial and tribulation yet be assured that God is with us and sent us on a mission. A mission to declare that Jesus is Lord.
We must be prepared to be shipwrecked at times but ask God to build a fire of passion within us once again for his name and his gospel. The enemy may well bite us seeking to distract us, yet God is with us and will shake the enemy off and use us to bring healing and restoration into our community.
If we believe we are Rome we must humble ourselves and once again return to the Cross and recognise our utter dependence upon the One who brought freedom, namely, Jesus.
The Lord’s Prayer – ‘Our Father’
‘Now the LORD had said to Moses in Midian, "Go back to Egypt, for all the men who wanted to kill you are dead." So Moses took his wife and sons, put them on a donkey and started back to Egypt. And he took the staff of God in his hand. The LORD said to Moses, "When you return to Egypt, see that you perform before Pharaoh all the wonders I have given you the power to do. But I will harden his heart so that he will not let the people go. Then say to Pharaoh, 'This is what the LORD says: Israel is my firstborn son, and I told you, "Let my son go, so he may worship me." But you refused to let him go; so I will kill your firstborn son.' "’ Exodus 4:19-23
‘And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by men. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him. "This, then, is how you should pray: " 'Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.’ Matthew 6:5-13
‘But you are our Father, though Abraham does not know us or Israel acknowledge us; you, O LORD, are our Father, our Redeemer from of old is your name.’ Isaiah 63:16
Prayer is a mystery. It has always been a mystery, yet it is the way through which God chooses to work and act. And prayer is vital to the life and growth of our own relationship with God and for the life and growth of the church here. If the Spirit of God is the breath in our lungs as a church then prayer is the heartbeat that keeps the breath moving through our body. Prayer needs to be at the forefront of everything we are about. Paul urges us to pray without ceasing, which means that the way we live is like prayer, seeking God in everything we are about. If we don’t pray we’re in trouble.
We’re going to spend the next 6 weeks looking at the Lord’s Prayer as a means of helping our understanding of who God is and then how we should pray. The Lord’s Prayer is a prayer that cries out for justice, forgiveness and deliverance and therefore is a prayer that is very relevant for our world today. It is a prayer that Jesus taught us to pray and, just like John 17 does, it gives us a glimpse into Jesus’ eternal relationship with his Father as we listen to this prayer. We begin by looking at ‘Our Father’.
Many have said over the years that when Jesus addressed God as ‘Father’ it was a revelation and something unique that people had never heard or experienced before. People have said that Jesus introduced us to a new intimacy with God and that no-one had ever called God ‘Father’ before. And while I would want to agree that Jesus reveals to us a new intimacy with God unparallel, his use of the term ‘Father’ was not something new. Indeed, I believe that when Jesus said ‘Father’ he was evoking in his Jewish hearers memories and promises of their past that would have filled them with hope and expectancy. You see Israel in their history already knew God as Father, for in their slavery in Egypt God calls Israel his firstborn and how he was going to deliver his firstborn out of slavery into the promised land. So as Jesus said Father he was declaring that the time of the new-exodus was upon them. An exodus that would see all of creation delivered out of slavery and into the Promised Land. And this new exodus was to brought about by Jesus. Yet this time God would not strike down the firstborn of Pharaoh. This time the ‘Moses’ would not take a staff in his hand, but a cross on his back. No, this time the Son of God, the firstborn over all of creation would be killed on a cross and this is the way the new-exodus would occur.
Jesus was the firstborn that Israel failed to be. When God refers to Israel as his firstborn it is a way of saying that Israel were called to reveal to other nations who God is. The firstborn you see was the one who received all the blessing from the Father. The firstborn is the sign of the Father’s strength (Deut.21). The firstborn receives the blessing and honour of the Father. Yet Israel failed in her calling to be a blessing to other nations and to reveal who God is. But Jesus fulfilled everything and achieved where Israel failed. Therefore Jesus is called in the NT the firstborn over all of creation (Col.1) and the firstborn from among the dead (Rev.1:5). Jesus is victorious and is bringing about this new exodus that we are invited to be a part of. Not only that, but Jesus invites us to call God ‘Father’ that we may share in the blessings of the firstborn. As we call Jesus Lord and Saviour we share in his blessings as the firstborn over all of creation by being created new and ourselves being new creations. As we call him Victor and Lord we share in his strength and victory as the firstborn from among the dead and so have the hope of being raised from the dead ourselves and joining in the celebration of all of creation in the victory of Jesus over sin, death and hell and with the whole of the cosmos, march into the Promised Land. As we say ‘Our Father’ we are speaking in exodus language hopeful of the time when all of creation will experience freedom from death and decay and experience newness when there will be no more death or pain. So how do we apply this to our lives?
Jesus said that he only did what he saw the Father doing. So when we say ‘Father’ we should be seeking to be imitators of Christ and only do what we see the Father doing as he only did what he saw the Father doing. This however is a bold and risky thing. To say ‘Father’ is to say ‘I want to be involved in our Kingdom and do what you do’. And that can involve suffering. Not only that, but Jesus came and fully revealed to the world who God is. ‘If you see me you see the Father’ were Jesus’ words. So Jesus wanted people to see who the Father is and what he was doing by looking at him. And we have been called to continue in that. When people look at the Church they should see what God is like. When people look at us they should glimpse at what God is like. They should see a community who is passionate about God. They should see a community who seeks to see God’s Kingdom of love, justice and beauty come here on Mersea. They should see a community that desires to feed the hungry and be full of grace and forgiveness. They should see a community that desires to see God honoured in all areas of life. Of course we fail again and again in our calling to be imitators of Christ, but as we say ‘Father’ we call on the grace and mercy of God to forgive us our sins and help us to become more and more like His Son Jesus. And as they see who God is, we invite people to come and experience for themselves this Jesus who leads us out of slavery. As they meet with this Jesus they receive the blessings of the firstborn.
So, as Jesus showed us through his words and actions that God is Father, then we can humbly yet boldly take on our lips the opening line to this amazing prayer and say ‘Our Father’ and in saying it we are poised to see his Kingdom come.
Friday, 17 July 2009
Thursday, 16 July 2009
Wednesday, 15 July 2009