Keep on meeting together – Hebrews 10.25
“And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near.”
A lady I know has a St Bernard’s dog. The dog is getting older now and doesn’t always want to go out. The lady was worried he was close to dying. One day this lady’s friend got a spaniel dog. Because she works, she allows the lady with the St Bernard’s dog to look after her spaniel while working. When the dogs first got to know each other, something amazing happened. The two dogs became pals. But even better, the St Bernard’s dog suddenly picked up and was more ‘alive’. Instead of being close to dying he was much happier now he’d found a friend. On walks he will go further when the spaniel is with him. It’s brought the one dog back to life in many ways!
The Bible tells us not to give up meeting together as Christians. The early Christians met together and encouraged each other, prayed and sharpened each other up as people and as believers in Jesus. Church isn’t a building – it’s the people. But meeting together and connecting is so important. Yes, you can be a Christian and not go to church, of course. In some places, people can’t get to church. But meeting together is incredibly important as Christians. People look out for each other, cook meals, are social, support each other and encourage each other to live well as believers. The power of unified prayer is also incredibly important. And we need to meet up with others so we can receive but also so we can give. If we don’t go to church, we’re denying others what God has put in us. Find a good church, get along, get involved and stay connected. You might be like the Bernard’s dog who needs some people to help them feel alive again – or you may be like the spaniel who are the one helping others. So stay connected!
Harvest Time – Luke 10.2
Jesus told (his disciples), ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.
What is a ‘harvest’? It’s the time when farmers cut down the ripe crops (fruit, vegetables etc) and then send them to the shops, or store them. This happens at set times around the year when crops become ripe. It may be Spring, Summer or Autumn. Today, many crops are grown in specialist indoor places so things grow all year round. But back in the day of Jesus, there would be a specific time of harvest – gathering in the crops when they were ready.
Jesus takes this principle and applies it to the good news about him making things right between God and people. He said to his disciples – actually, lots of people want to hear this good news and respond but there’s not enough of my disciples willing to get out there and help people hear about this good news. Maybe God is asking you to be one of those people ready to tell people about Jesus and see if they want to make him boss of their lives – maybe a change from living an empty life for themselves to a life with purpose living for God and others.
But Jesus also spoke about this time of harvest. Not everyone is going to like the message of Jesus. In fact some people are very hostile to Christianity, including some people that appear to be quite nice on the surface! Others need time to process the message about Jesus or need to know more. Our part as Christians is to be sensitive. Just as we wouldn’t cut down a half grown apple or dig up a tomato seed before it has matured into a ripe plant full of juicy tomatoes, so we need to be sensitive to where people are with God. The Bible talks about a ‘word in season’. What this means is that God speaks to people and does things in their lives just at the right time – when he knows the timing is right. So our job is to speak the good news about Jesus and ask and trust the Holy Spirit to give us sensitivity for those times when the ‘harvest is ripe’ and we challenge someone to ask Jesus to be boss of their life. That’s one way God grows his church!
Publish the Good News – Isaiah 52.7
How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.”
This quiet-time is about encouraging you if you’re a creative person. There are many spiritual gifts mentioned in the Bible but God also gives us other gifts or he expresses the spiritual gifts he gives us in all kinds of creative ways! If you’ve ever thought of yourself as a blogger, a vlogger, a publisher, a writer, a poet, a rapper, an artist, a worship leader or song writer, then you’ve got backing from another writer called Isaiah! You’ve also got the backing of David who wrote a lot of the Psalms. In Psalm 45 he writes, “Beautiful words stir my heart. I will recite a lovely poem about the king, for my tongue is like the pen of a skillful poet.” So God calls us to express the gifts he’s given us as part of his church in loads of different directions.
So one example is the Christian newspaper called ‘Good News’ that publishes amazing God-stories and life stories of people who have had an encounter with God and who have been changed. Another example would be a website (like this one) where God uses people to write teaching online so others can use it or hopefully be encouraged. There are apps like the many Bible Apps where people can get the Bible on their devices. Or people do video and post it to social media. Churches also do updates and magazines. Others develop websites and do coding to help others put content online. I know someone who does graphic art and puts it online and others who do painting and other forms of artistic expression. It’s all good and all needed. God has created each of us uniquely and it benefits the whole church when we live out the calling God has put on our lives. As the church we all have a different calling. So find yours and go for it!
Looking for a good church – Luke 10.5-9
When we read the Bible, it’s good to read Bible verses around the ones you’re reading. You should also consider what you read compared to the rest of the Bible. Otherwise you can end up thinking the Bible says something that it doesn’t! But sometimes, God may speak something to you about a subject through the Bible that you can use as a principle, even when the verses aren’t about that subject. For example when I knew it was time to leave a church, God spoke to me really clearly from Isaiah 52 which says ‘Go out from there…’ Isaiah 52 isn’t about moving to a new church but it ‘jumped out’ off the page at me, wasn’t against Bible principles and it wasn’t a wrong thing to do. All that is a good test when you think God may be speaking.
So here’s an example, the words of Jesus in Luke 10.5-9: When you enter a house, first say, “Peace to this house.” If someone who promotes peace is there, your peace will rest on them; if not, it will return to you. Stay there, eating and drinking whatever they give you, for the worker deserves his wages. Do not move around from house to house…
Here in Luke 10, Jesus is talking about sending his disciples out ahead of him to preach the good news about Jesus. But if we slightly re-think this, it can also act as a good guide to us about finding a good church and about church life! So if you’re looking for a good church, what can we learn? First of all, when you go to the church do you feel ‘at peace’? Does the church seem to ‘fit’ you? Talk your language – think the way you do – have the kinds of things that you relate to? Or do you feel a bit uncomfortable or like you don’t quite fit? Do you just connect, or feel uneasy? That may be a good guide to whether it’s the right place for you! It’s also good to stay there for a bit, see what it’s like and what the people are like. If it’s the right church then get involved in what the church does and ‘eat’ what they eat and ‘drink’ what they drink. Support what’s going on, pray, give time and money, be part of the church and the people. Don’t just go from one place to the next. If you can’t decide where to go, after asking God and others, think about what the church offers that connects with you and where you’d do the best, where you could have opportunity to be you and give. My friend once came to my church but the two weeks he came, he didn’t connect, so it wasn’t for him. The first week I went I just knew it was right for me. So decide on a church, give it your all and stick with it. You will get back as much as you put in.
People came from everywhere – Mark 1.45
“Instead Jesus went out and began to talk freely, spreading the news. As a result, Jesus could no longer enter a town openly but stayed outside in lonely places. Yet the people still came to him from everywhere.“
Did you know that the church is growing faster today than ever before in history? You’d never know it because the media is silent about it, either because they don’t know, don’t care or don’t want to. But the church is growing. One preacher spoke about how many people are coming to faith in Iran. Another spoke about how the Chinese church is still growing despite increasingly severe and unfair persecution from the communist Chinese government. Another preacher said that in Syrian refugee camps, people were coming to know Jesus in their thousands. Still others spoke about how ISIS have been so brutal and cruel that people who were once Muslims are becoming Christians. Another report spoke about how the Egyptian church is growing, loving and forgiving others despite attacks from terrorists. Their love, faith and fearlessness is seeing many come to know Jesus. These stories could be repeated across the world.
The speaker called J John says that Jesus offers forgiveness from the past, new life starting today and a hope for the future. It’s an incredible offer and it offers an incredible life. But many people reject the message of Jesus and people of all faiths and with no faith are want to silence and persecute Christians. An MP spoke about how Christians in schools in the Scottish Highlands were facing bullying and abuse, with little response from the national media. A European report showed over 500 cases of serious cases against Christians in Europe halfway through 2018. Jesus had exactly the same problem – from traders, from people, from religious authorities. But he kept on loving, kept on being faithful and kept on speaking the good news. In Mark 1, we find that Jesus had to go out of the cities into the ‘lonely places’. But people kept on coming to him. Jesus offers a way of life and a hope that people desperately need and are looking for, even if they don’t know it. Jesus is the way out of every hole and can make every situation turn around. So we tell people about Jesus because we love them and because we want the best for them. We don’t force anything, don’t get abusive, just tell the truth with gentleness, respect and boldness. We never respond to the words people say but to the person behind the words – this helps us answer in truth and love, like Jesus. The church is growing and the Bible promises that nothing will ever stop this! Another fact that shows the Bible is true!
Caring for all the church – 1 Corinthians 12.12-3, 26-27
“The human body has many parts, but the many parts make up one whole body. So it is with the body of Christ… If one part suffers, all the parts suffer with it, and if one part is honored, all the parts are glad. All of you together are Christ’s body, and each of you is a part of it.”
Do you realise that across the world, Christians are daily being imprisoned, attacked, rejected, tortured and killed because of their faith? Christians are by far the most persecuted group in the world – not that you’d realise it with the media mostly silent about this. Christians are locked out of education, falsely accused of blasphemy (speaking against gods), have their houses burned down, churches burned down, are kicked out of their families, go hungry and are forced to flee to other countries. Even in refugee camps, Christians are persecuted by those from other faiths. At the same time, countries like Britain and America don’t take in many Christian refugees and have even removed some back to dangerous countries.
Now imagine for a minute that someone broke your finger. You probably wouldn’t forget about it because you’ll feel the pain. No, your body would tell you that your finger was broken. Then you get a nose bleed… Then you twist your ankle… Then you get food poisoning. By now, you’ll be in real pain and realise that your body isn’t as effective or happy as it was before you got all these injuries.
This is what it is like for the church across the world. The Bible likens the church to a body. When one bit hurts, all of the body hurts. So what can you do to help Christians hurting today? In your nation and around the world? Open Doors, Barnabas Fund and Release International are just some ideas. #take action
The bride, the bridegroom and the church – Matthew 22.1
“Jesus spoke to them again in parables, saying, ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a king who prepared a wedding banquet for his son.'”
In Matthew 22, Jesus was ,making a few points about what the kingdom of heaven looks like. The kingdom of heaven is when only God’s goodness happens – it’s the future for everyone who believes in Jesus. But God also calls us to pray for and to bring his kingdom on earth now, just as it is in heaven. But Jesus was also pretty clear that not everyone will accept this message. The Bible is full of the truth that many people will reject God’s message.
In Matthew 22, Jesus made up a story about a wedding. These made up stories with a point are called ‘parables’ – they are ‘teaching stories’ as in stories that have teaching in them. Jesus made the point that the king invited people to his wedding but many of them just weren’t interested. So he sent his servants out into the streets to find people who were interested. Jesus was telling this story to the religious leaders of the day who were the politically correct top dogs who despite pretending to want to help people, they were only interested in power and looking good. These pharisees rejected Jesus mostly. So the message went out to the people on the streets. It was also a signal that the good news about Jesus would be preached to non-Jews as well as the Jews. Jesus was also clear that the only way into the wedding was to wear the right ‘clothes’. This shows us that we only get into the kingdom of heaven if we wear the clothes that the king gives us. It’s his kingdom and they’re his rules! But we don’t have to do anything to earn this. Isaiah 61.10 tells us that this clothing is the ‘robe of his righteousness’. 2 Corinthians 5.17 tells us that this robe is available only through what Jesus did and saying yes to Jesus.
Finally, this is also a picture we can learn from as the church. This is a picture of Jesus who will one day return as the ‘bridegroom’ – and the church who wile be like the ‘bride’. This is a wedding feast to get excited about and one that we should do all we can to make sure we’re part of it, we’re involved, we’re doing what God says and we are ready. Are you?
Nobody from nowhere town – John 1.46
Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?’ Nathanael asked. ‘Come and see,’ said Philip.
In the time of Jesus, the place of Nazareth was considered to be a nowhere place with nothing good about it. How interesting that Jesus lived there. He came to earth as a baby, leaving the immediate presence of God and the perfection of heaven. He was born in a manger which was a feeding trough for animals. He was in with the animals and all their mess. He quickly became a refugee, escaping to another country for his own safety. When he returned he grew up in a place called Nazareth – a seeming nobody from a nowhere street in a nowhere place. Then when he started his God work on earth at age 30, people ignored him, laughed at him, rejected him, tried to kill him and then eventually he was killed, having been charged falsely with something that he was innocent of. And this is also a message about the kinds of people Jesus came to reach out to – the last, the least, the lost and the lonely. And this is something he also calls us to do.
Is this how you see yourself? A bit unimportant? A bit of a nobody? Someone who can walk in a room and be ignored? Someone who’s not part of all the popular people? Do you feel different or pushed to the side by others? Well you’re in good company because that is exactly what happened to Jesus and God says in the Bible that he will do great things through people like you and me, who the world doesn’t consider to be great. But in the kingdom of God, the least is first! Jesus did something really significant. On the Cross, he didn’t just suffer for no reason. He also made a great exchange. He took our sin, our death, our shame, our sicknesses, our poverty, our rejection, the curse – and he paid for all of that. He then went on to offer us an exchange if we say yes to Jesus. In exchange, he gives us his right-standing with God, his life, his glory, his healing, his God-riches, his acceptance with God and his blessing. And he calls us to go and share this life-giving and life-changing message. So don’t ever feel unimportant. If you do, you qualify to be great in God’s eyes and he’s calling you to bring that same truth to others. You are not unimportant. You are valuable, loved and essential in God’s eyes!
Let the people come to Jesus – Matthew 19.14
“But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
When I first became a youth worker I had this passion (and still do!) that Jesus is relevant but sometimes (as the church) we can do a good job of making him seem irrelevant. But reading Matthew 19.14 it says, “But Jesus said, “Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.”
The children were coming to Jesus without anyone organising them. There was something about Jesus that meant children were happy to hang out with him. But the disciples (with some helpful intentions) were trying to stop them (or possibly organise them!) We can often do this. We have ideas and plans or even some rules which may be good and have good intentions. Other we want things our way, or we want things to be how they used to be or we have a set idea of what church or youth work should be. Other times we try to ‘protect’ Jesus from the loud, the messy, the playful, the excitable (like children). But this isn’t the way of Jesus. We must be careful not to put up unnecessary barriers to people coming to know Jesus.
So is your youth work, your church, are you as a person someone who people feel comfortable around? Are they happy to talk to you and share their heart? Are people ‘attracted’ to God in you or your ministry? Jesus tells us we shouldn’t forbid people coming to him. Think about whether there are things in your church that are barriers to people coming to God? How can we stop this happening? How can we make it as easy as possible for people to encounter Jesus? Do we even need to ‘get out of the way’ sometimes? Ask the Holy Spirit to guide you to do what he wants! If you don’t hear anything, make plans counting and wanting God to guide you.
Whatever we do, let’s make our youth work and churches places where there aren’t real barriers to people coming to Jesus.
Get that hat off!! 1 Corinthians 11.1-3
I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. But I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonours his head..
I saw a video on YouTube from Bethel and on the comments, someone posted that the bass player shouldn’t be wearing a hat, according to the Bible. Really? On first glance it would appear that Paul was saying this when he wrote to the church in 1 Corinthians 11. But the reality is very different. Sometimes in the church we build ideas around single verses of the Bible. But this isn’t the way to interpret the Bible. When we read Bible verses it should be from what the whole Bible says otherwise what we believe can be completely wrong! I often wear a hat in worship. One time someone came in to church who didn’t normally attend with a hat on and felt completely liberated that I was wearing a hat!
God sees our hearts, not our outward appearance. We worship spirit to Spirit according to John 4.24. Paul talking in 1 Corinthians 11 was clearly in response to something happening in Corinth. It doesn’t mean it’s not Scripture or not relevant but we don’t know (for example) why people were covering their heads of what with. Simply saying ‘don’t cover your head’ doesn’t accurately reflect God’s heart or do justice to the truth of the whole counsel of Scripture. This is the lens through which we need to read every individual verse so as not to alienate people from God. We must read the Bible in this way and think about life as it is today too (and I don’t mean re-interpreting the Bible). There are so many examples I could give about people wearing stuff on their head! One example is what about those with cancer or medical conditions protecting their head or dignity. And our life of worship is 24/7, so does this mean construction workers can’t worship while wearing their hard hats?! Our measure of love and awe for God shouldn’t come down to what we wear (within reason obviously!)
Disturbed on the way to church – Acts 16.16-18
One day as we were going down to the place of prayer, we met a slave girl who had a spirit that enabled her to tell the future. She earned a lot of money for her masters by telling fortunes. She followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, “These men are servants of the Most High God, and they have come to tell you how to be saved.” This went on day after day until Paul got so exasperated that he turned and said to the demon within her, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And instantly it left her.
One thing that God seems to do is to break into our neat routines! We often have one plan, but God has quite another plan. I recently heard of a couple who went to Canada and through a set of circumstances, ended up with a couple of friends in a prayer room. When they got in there, someone was already in there and was a bit rude. But the couple ended up praying for this man who they believe was healed. They had gone to Canada to have a holiday but God used them to do lots of amazing work for him – in a church, in a hospital and in a prayer room. God broke into their schedule!
In Acts 16 we see an example of God breaking in. One day, when Paul and Silas were ‘going down to the place of prayer’ they had an encounter with a slave girl who was possessed by an evil spirit. The outcome was that Paul commanded the demon to leave her. The slave girl was set free but this was bad for business so Paul & Silas were beaten and imprisoned. Then while they were singing in the night, there was an earthquake, all the prisoner’s chains fell off and Paul ended up seeing the jailer and all his family come to faith (and no prisoners escaped). There must have been many times they wondered what was going on. Paul & Silas may even have been a bit upset at missing the prayer meeting. But God broke in and did something out of the ordinary. Keep watch for God doing the same in your life. It may not be dramatic. It may just be a smile, a word of encouragement, sharing some food or helping someone down some steps. But be alert for these God-moments!
God’s Visions not man’s visions – Ezekiel 12.21-25
The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Son of man, what is this proverb you have in the land of Israel: “The days go by and every vision comes to nothing”? Say to them, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I am going to put an end to this proverb, and they will no longer quote it in Israel.” Say to them, “The days are near when every vision will be fulfilled. For there will be no more false visions or flattering divinations among the people of Israel. But I the Lord will speak what I will, and it shall be fulfilled without delay. For in your days, you rebellious people, I will fulfil whatever I say, declares the Sovereign Lord.”’
Here’s a question for you: does God speak to us today? I’ll help you answer it: yes! If God didn’t speak then how would we ever become Christians? How would we ever get to know God as a Christian? If God doesn’t speak then what would be the point of the Bible?! Some people say that God only speaks through the Bible. But clearly God does speak in other ways. Billions of people through history have heard God’s voice in a dream, a vision, in a picture or in many other ways. This is true in the Bible (Philip) and it is true for many millions of Muslims who have come to faith around the world after Jesus appeared to them in dreams. Many ministries, events, missionaries and new things have happened after God has spoken to people. One famous preacher called Charles Stanley said he didn’t believe God spoke in dreams and visions today – until God spoke to him that way!
But with everything that God does, we need to be on guard for the false side that comes from us as humans getting things wrong or even the things the devil does to trick us. I even know of one church which believes when people give ‘words’ and have ‘pictures’ that this shows God is moving. But these are never tested to see if they’re right or ever happen – and this isn’t right. The key question is does it glorify God and does it bring good fruit? Everything should come under the authority of the Bible (so we go to the Bible first and nothing happens that isn’t backed up by the Bible). Back in Ezekiel’s day, all kinds of people were having all kinds of visions and saying all kinds of things. But people were also mocking the visions that God had sent through his prophets. God said that he would fulfil his Word and his visions. And that should be our prayer – God, take away all false visions but bring your visions and do what you want to do. We can pray it for ourselves, for our churches and for other Christians – we pray for God’s visions not our visions!
Be Afraid (No, not you) – Joshua 2.8-11
“Before the spies lay down for the night, she went up on the roof and said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.”
As a Christian you may feel things are against you. You look around the world and see that Christians are being persecuted, imprisoned, tortured and even killed for their faith. This is happening more and more. Even in so-called democratic countries, those who hate God are trying to silence anyone who speaks about God. You may not see it but it’s gradually happening. When Christians say things even in the UK, they have faced sacking from their job, discrimination, letters of hate, death threats, losing their business, losing freedom of speech and the list goes on. It can be hard to stand up and be a Christian in school and in work.
But there is something that the enemy wants to hide from you. He is afraid of you and the power of God that is in you. God’s Word is like a sword, a weapon, a hammer. It is powerful. So are your prayers – they are powerful and release God’s mighty power. Your life is a great example – you can make a difference by a smile, by being honest, by caring, by wanting justice. And your love for people is strong – God’s love for you is stronger than death and that same love is in you through the Holy Spirit. Perfect love casts out fear. So we can love others so much that nothing they can do will stop God’s love. It’s hard but it’s true. So don’t lose heart. Like Rahab, we should not be afraid (see 1 Timothy 2.7). Instead, it’s the enemy who is scared! Like Rahab’s people, he knows who God is and his awesome power so he wants to silence you. Don’t let him win!
In Him – Ephesians 4.16
“From him (Christ) the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.”
Imagine for a moment that you are in a movie. You have a good part, have learned your lines, got yourself into the character and are ready to be filmed. The director of the movie tells you how he wants you to look, where you should walk into the scene from and who will be doing what. But you’ve got a better idea and decide to do what you want instead. Or maybe you encourage the cameraman to do something different. You’d quickly find that you were no longer part of the movie! The problem? You were trying to direct instead of the director. Now your ideas may be good, they may be brilliant. But only the director knows how your scene works in the context of the rest of the movie.
One translation of Ephesians 4.16 says that Jesus directs everything in the church. He is the director of the church in a much bigger and awesome way than any director of any movie. He sees and knows things we will never know. The problem sometimes is that churches and people within churches aren’t obeying the director. They may not even be listening. They want to be their own director and do their own thing. Jesus doesn’t direct us like a dictator, taking away our personal freedom. The Bible says that the church (the ‘body of Christ’) comes from him. So anything that doesn’t come from Jesus isn’t his body. Just as someone else’s arm isn’t part of your body! We can’t build a brick house without mortar between the bricks – nor can we be or build up the church without Jesus. He is the director; the mortar; the one who joins things, holds things together, helps things grow and helps each part do what it should. Think of it this way – you can have electricity cables in your house but if they’re not connected then you won’t get electricity (and the electricity flows from the company to your house not the other way round). If we’re not connected to Jesus then we can’t be part of the church and there will be no ‘power’, so get and stay connected and let the Jesus direct all you do.
Gospel Forcefully Advancing – Matthew 11.12
“From the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it.”
Some people have often used this verse to suggest that people in the church should forcefully spread the gospel, or at least be very assertive. This is true – we shouldn’t be ashamed of the Gospel and we should take every opportunity to live for and speak about Jesus.
There has been lots of debate about what this particular verse is saying – as well as some confusion from the translations. The Greek words used are about the kingdom of heaven being treated aggressively (being seized, suffering violence, force being used against it), of violent men seizing it (taking by force). One of the pictures it is likened to is violent men trying to storm a walled city.
The key is the Greek word for ‘treated aggressively’. Strong’s Concordance (to help people understanding the Bible and its original languages) says the Greek word comes: “From bios; to force, i.e. (reflexively) to crowd oneself (into), or (passively) to be seized — press, suffer violence.”
To understand this verse, we need to know that the word can be used ‘passively’ (meaning that the kingdom of God is suffering aggression to it); or the word can be used ‘reflexively’ (meaning that the Kingdom of God is acting in a more aggressive way). So we can see this verse as being very ‘God’ like as it means two things at the same time, both of which are equally true – while the Kingdom of God is abused, it is also true that we need to be spiritual warriors and fight for the Gospel. This isn’t through physical violence, but through word, action and deed – standing up and standing out for God’s truth.
Church, worship, service: part 2 – Isaiah 6.1-8
So what else can we learn from the experience that Isaiah had when he saw God in his temple in heaven? Well, there’s a lot more…
The seraphs – as we’ve seen, are like fire. There is a purity about being in God’s presence as we’ll see later. The seraphs have been serving and worshipping a holy God. We must also realise that God is called a ‘consuming fire’ in the Bible and give him the respect he deserves. The seraphs are also shouting with loud voices declaring who God is (holy) and what he is (the whole earth is filled with his glory). This is what God is asking us to do as well. We are to declare who he is to the lost world around us (and in worship songs) and we are to explain that God’s glory is in his people and he wants to share that glory with all people. The Bible tells us that God doesn’t want anyone to be lost! When the seraphs spoke, the temple was filled with smoke. This is representative of the Holy Spirit. When we speak God’s Word, the power of God is loosed by the Holy Spirit. That is why knowing your Bible is so important and why the evil one is trying to silence the Bible across the world. God also used the seraphs to touch Isaiah. In the same way, we are God’s hands and feet on the earth and although we’re a bit dumb sometimes, God chooses to use us!!
Isaiah’s response – Isaiah realised that in God’s presence he was unholy and full of sin. In fact, such was God’s holiness that Isaiah thought he was going to die. If the people in the world truly realised who God is, they wouldn’t disrespect him. When God does reveal himself through history, people usually fall to the floor, broken. In the New York Prayer Revival, sailors on passing ships would fall to the floor on the ship such was the weight of God’s power and confess their sins! But God went further. He brought restoration to Isaiah and Isaiah’s sins were paid for and his guilt was taken away. Interesting the coal came from the altar (Jesus effectively laid his life down on the altar). This was a free gift that God gave (the Bible tells us that being saved is a free gift we cannot earn). Then Isaiah responded back to God when he heard God’s voice (he was in a place where he was able to hear God, broken but restored by God). Then Isaiah said, “send me.” Our act of worship is not just hearing God, it’s responding to his voice and every day, wherever we are saying, “send me.”
Church, worship, service: part 1 – Isaiah 6.1-8
Isaiah is caught up in a vision. In this vision, he gets to see something of God in his full glory in the temple in heaven. Around the throne are angels with 6 wings flying and declaring how holy God is, how the whole earth is filled with his glory. The sound of their voices were like a thunderstorm, so that the temple shook. The sight is too much, too overwhelming, too pure, too holy and Isaiah is overcome. He cries out, ‘I’m done for. I’m as good as dead. This is too much for me. I’m so dirty and filthy inside, I’ve seen the Lord and now I can only die.’ But one of the angels (‘seraph’ taken from a word meaning ‘fire’) places a burning hot coal on Isaiah’s lips and tells him, ‘see, your guilt has been taken away and the price has been paid for your sin.’ Then the Lord’s voice boomed out asking who he could send to do his work. Isaiah cried out, ‘send me!’
What’s this got to do with church or our life as a Christian? Well, if we read through it we see an interesting picture emerge that we can relate to church, becoming a Christian, worship and our Christian life in general…
We find that the seraphs in heaven are worshipping God. More specifically, two of the wings are ‘serving’ (flying), four of the wings are ‘worshipping’ (covering their faces and their feet). This is a pattern we can follow – 2/3 of our time is worship (this doesn’t just mean music, though music is part) and 1/3 is service. Out of our worship, flows our service. If we’re not filled up with God, we can’t give out to others! The Bible tells us that out of what’s in our heart, our mouth speaks. John 15 tells us that we need to ‘abide’ in Jesus – that means we learn to live with him in charge, at peace with ourselves, listening to him ready to obey.
We learn from Isaiah 6 that God is on the throne and that he is interested in people like you and me. He sees and knows what we do, he wants to use us and he will meet with us to work his plan. We’ll all have a unique experience and journey with God. But today he wants to meet with you. Why not sit and focus on Isaiah 6 and ask God to speak to you in the silence.
Tithing – Hebrews 7.8
Tithing is when people give 10 per cent of their money to their local church. Over time, it has become a real big issue for many. The idea of tithing comes from places in the Old Testament like Malachi 3 where God speaks of the people of Israel robbing him by not bringing him the tithes and offerings they had covenanted to give to God.
In Hebrews 7.8 (in the New Testament), the Bible appears to support tithing. “In the one case, the tenth is collected by men who die; but in the other case, by him who is declared to be living.” The writer of Hebrews is comparing the Levite priests (priests who served in the temple in the Old Testament) to a strange person called Melchizedek, who we read about in Hebrews. When some preachers read Hebrews 7.8 they think the Bible is saying that just as the Levites gave 10 per cent of their money, so we should give 10 per cent of our money to Jesus today – as Melchizedek is a kind of representation of Jesus. However, the Bible is not talking about Jesus, but comparing the tithes Abraham gave to Melchizedek as being superior to the tithes the Levites brought to their priests, at the time when Hebrews was written. This was nothing to do with tithes, but a complex argument that the priesthood of Jesus is superior to the Levite priesthood. Bible scholars can’t agree whether Melchizedek was Jesus, or a representation of Jesus, or not! (Notice how Hebrews 7.11 tells us that perfection didn’t come through the Levitical priesthood and that another priest was needed – Jesus). Those arguing this also forget that Hebrews itself was written to Messianic Jews originally!
These same preachers also quote verses like Matthew 23.23 where Jesus seems to suggest that the Pharisees did right to give 10 per cent of their money, but had forgotten about justice. Those who argue Jesus is telling us to give 10 per cent forget that he was in fact not making a point about tithing (but criticising the Pharisees for their hypocrisy) and that his comments, being directed to the Pharisees, were about the Old Testament law they followed – not the new life and new way we have in Jesus.
There is nowhere in the New Testament that actually talks about tithing. Paul talks about supporting those who preach and teach, but never mentions tithing. Paul does talk about giving in 1 Corinthians 9 and 2 Corinthians 9. Jesus talks about giving in Luke 6.38. But there is no record of Jesus or any of the New Testament apostles and teachers ever getting or giving tithes. Jesus summarised everything as love God and love your neighbour. Beyond this, the Bible tells us that we are joint heirs with Christ and adopted into his family – and Jesus ‘owns’ everything. We are under a law of grace – Jesus tells us that he wants all of us, all our time, money, heart, body, mind etc. This is not an excuse not to give – in fact, in a sense the New Testament is about self-sacrifice, dying to self and unreservedly giving everything we have to God. Not just 1/10th. That was the Old Testament law. Now it’s about grace and responding to God in love for what he’s done for us. So we give because we love God, not because he demands our money! This should make us even more generous!!
A glorious church – Ephesians 5.25-27
“…just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.”
Nearly every girl and woman will have used or know about make up. Even blokes know quite a lot, in a world obsessed with youth and how people look. The purpose of make-up is to make people look and feel good. It can cover up spots, lines, wrinkles and skin problems. It can enhance a woman’s natural beauty and cover up a lot of things that people want to hide. In a way, we can hide behind make-up and beauty treatments (male and female) – not just hiding what we look like, but who we are.
The incredible thing about what Jesus did on the Cross is that he willingly gave up his life to set us free and to change us to be like him. He did that for us as individuals, and for the church as a whole. Dying on the Cross and then being raised back to life was a one-off act that means we can be connected back to God again through Jesus. But beyond this, Jesus is still doing a work in his church today – washing the church clean through his Word. If you never used soap, never had a shower or washed, you would stink! The same is true spiritually. We need the Word of God (water) and the blood (that Jesus shed on the Cross) to keep us clean – this is why we need to accept Jesus in our life and then go on to know the Bible and apply it to our lives, allowing the Holy Spirit to change us. The purpose of this is to present the church as a radiant church, a perfect bride – without any stain, wrinkle or blemish – holy and without blame. If we go back to our make-up example, what Jesus wants and will do with the church is like a woman not needing any makeup, but instead having absolutely stunning and perfect skin without any fault. We’d all love that! Well, this will be the picture of the church one day. So let’s do everything we can to obey God, and help build the church. His church.
Giving to the House of God – Nehemiah 10.35-39
The act of giving is an act of faith, especially where you give away more than you can reasonably afford to give. Many Biblical scholars (such as David Pawson) argue that the tithing of 10% of your money no longer applies under New Testament law. Whatever you believe, there is no doubt that it is a privilege and an honour to give money to God and to the poor and needy, wisely. In Nehemiah 10 we find that the people of God re-committed themselves to giving to the Lord. The gave their first-fruits of the their crops and of every fruit tree; the firstborn of their sons (not to kill, but to dedicate!), firstborn of their cattle, herds and flocks; first of their ground meal, grain, offerings, new wine and oil.. And so on.. This was generous giving of all of what they had, in almost every area. How do we give in the same way today?
Well, we can give money, we can give to the poor, we can give to our church, to appeals, to charities. We can give our time to the needy, go out of our way to help others. We can invest time in children, young people’s work, in caring and loving our families. We can give to God by serving in our church, by training others, by buying equipment for our church. We can invest by supporting other churches, by doing outreach events, by doing schools work (often for free) and more. We can serve God by offering all he gives us back to him. When I got a new laptop, I knelt down and dedicated it / offered it to the Lord. If it had been a PC, I would have chopped off 10% of it and handed it over (would have worked better). But it was a Mac so I didn’t! But, that laptop, as with all I have and do, is for the Lord. I’m not blowing my own trumpet at all. But this is the kind of lifestyle that Jesus calls us to.
But there is also one more thing we learn in verse 39, ‘We will not neglect the house of our God.’ You are an essential person in your church. If you don’t function, your church won’t function as well as it could. So give yourself. But often, we have a church building. I’ve been into churches with shabby buildings, crumbling. Sometimes it is because of laziness and negligence. Make sure your church building isn’t one of them. We honour God by building up both the temple of his Holy Spirit (ourselves / the church body) and by building up the temple (the physical church). Not only does it honour God, it honours the church body and those who come into it, including people who don’t believe in God yet. Make the most of every opportunity to honour God. A shabby building, an uncaring church does little to witness to the lost.
Planting your ‘seed’ into fertile soil – Mark 4.1-8
In this parable, Jesus speaks about seed falling onto different kinds of soil. Some seed fell on the path and was eaten by the birds. Some seed fell on rocky ground where it initially grew but then died as it had no roots. Some seed fell on thorns where it was choked by the weeds. Finally, some seeds fell onto good soil that grew up, producing lots of fruit and other seeds. Jesus used this as an illustration of his message of truth. I don’t know what percentages Jesus was thinking of, but we could reasonably say that only one quarter of the seeds fell onto good soil. The same may be true when we preach and live the Gospel message. But it’s an encouragement to continue, as we know the Word of God never comes back empty (Isaiah 55) and we know that people’s lives will be changed by God – you never know whose lives either – so keep strong!
My challenge today is to those of us working in the church or doing church ‘stuff’ (or even normal ‘jobs’). Are you planting seed in good soil? I was in a church where many hours were spent serving God faithfully. We saw some great things happen, but mostly very little happened compared to my expectancy of what God can do. Ultimately, for my own spiritual growth, I moved church (not something I do or advise lightly). What I found was that when I planted the same ‘seed’ it came back with a much higher ‘yield’ of God’s fruit in my life and other people’s lives. What was the difference? The soil that the seed was planted into. My challenge is that we all have little time on the earth (may not seem that way when you’re young). Where can you best spend your time for God? You may be serving faithfully, but in the wrong place, or a place with rotten soil. Is this a word to you today? Be wise, seek God – but get somewhere there is good soil, take the hard decisions and plant your seed and just see if God won’t multiply it by 30, 60 or 100 times!
Access points to Jesus in your ministry – Matthew 19.14-15
Some children were brought to Jesus so he could lay his hands on them and pray for them. The disciples told them not to bother him. But Jesus said, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these.” And he put his hands on their heads and blessed them before he left. (NLT)
We don’t have to be part of or relate to a culture around us in order to reach people in our church and youth work ministries. Having said that, it helps. I know of 2 churches reaching out using hip hop culture throughout their church life (both in Tampa, FL) as that reflects the community around them, but not all the folks doing the outreach are hip hop experts. It’s the heart not the ‘cool factor’ that matters often.
What’s more important is that in our churches and youth ministries, in our Christian lives, we need to provide ‘access points’ for people around us to touch and connect with Jesus. Sometimes we in the church act like the disciples in Matthew 19 when the little children were brought to him. They wanted to push the kids away – they had a pop at the people who brought the kids to Jesus. The disciples seemed to want to protect who and how the kids reached out to Jesus. But Jesus said to his followers, ‘no, let them come to me..’ These were kids responding as kids do, Jesus was open to that response and met with them. If we look at our churches, sometimes we say, ‘nah, you can only come to worship God, hear about God etc. if you do things this way or that way’ (usually the ways we can deal with). We try to protect access to Jesus.
But who are we kidding? Jesus said ‘I’ve come to reach those who are ill, the sick need a doctor, not the healthy people.’ (Matthew 9.12). Our call is to enable as many access points to Jesus as we can. This means allowing people to meet with Jesus on their terms (as far as we can) and believe that Jesus (as he has promised, by his Spirit) to bring change in their lives. The Kingdom of heaven belongs to people such as these. Or it can do, will do. But we have our part to play too.
The church faces tough times – Acts 6.8-15
There may come a time of difficulty for your church or in your church. Where God moves, there’s often a bit of opposition where the enemy tries to disrupt. A friend of mine used to work at a church in Preston. He used to think ‘Yes, God’s at work or gonna do something’ when cars in the church car park got broken into! A documentary on Channel 4 recently showed the 24-7 Prayer team out in Ibiza. They were out there to be Jesus to the clubbers. One night the team were burgled and loads of stuff got nicked. The next night they had a great night.
Whatever happens in the life of your church or ministry (stuff you do for God), remember that God is with you, looking over you.
If we read on in Acts to chapter 7 verses 54 through 60 we see that the apostle called Stephen was stoned to death. He was what’s called the first known Christian ‘martyr.’ That is someone who is killed because of their faith. We find from that day on, the church and believers started getting hassled and even killed because of their faith in Jesus.
Sometimes, God may give us a shake as he did me when my brother was killed and I had to confront death head-on. For you it may be something smaller, like falling out with a mate or breaking up with your boyfriend, girlfriend. It may be you get verbals at school.
The question is how are you gonna react? For me, the day my bro was killed, I gave my life to Jesus. For the apostles it meant not denying Jesus and seeing the church spread into Europe and then through the world as believers were persecuted and had to move elsewhere. What about you? If Jesus gave you a prod in the back, what would it mean for you? Has God being calling you, other young people around you to start a CU in your school? To pray for your mates? To go on mission? Do it.
Matthew 15.3 – Tradition vs The Bible
There is a move through time that overall the church will become more and more as Jesus wants (see Revelation). The downside is that it’s likely that false traditions and false teachings become more widespread as a reaction to the increase of God’s truth. This is because people get fooled and because people’s own selfishness drives them away from accepting truth. No worries though, his is nothing new!
In Matthew 15, Jesus confronts a bunch of Pharisees, up themselves with their own self-importance.. You can imagine them looking down their arrogant noses and questioning Jesus in a nasty voice..
Did Jesus rise to their stupidity? No, as ever, Jesus had the perfect answer that spoke truth, insight, love and grace at once. He replied to the Pharisees with a question, ‘And why do you refuse to obey God’s command so that you can follow your own teachings?’
The same question is for us today too – why do we as people and in our churches – refuse to follow the Bible’s teachings, choosing instead to follow our own ideas. All churches do this. The charismatic church that accepts all kinds of wobbly teachings in their search for spiritual gifts. The old fashioned church that resists the Holy Spirit and teaches untruths from God’s own Word. Even in the mainstream churches there are wrong teachings, division and denominational trends. What is going on people?!?
It’s time to get back to the Bible in our churches, set aside agendas and personal ideas and denominations, and seek God’s truth in his Word by his Spirit together. Today, ask God to open your eyes to his truth. Seek God not self. Speak truth, live truth. Don’t disrespect others but in love, seek and witness to a life of truth.
Coming back from a Christian festival on a high – 1 Kings 19.1-18
There you are, coming back from Soul Survivor or Spring Harvest. You have to come back to your church and you find it so hard and dull. Do things have to be this way? Nope. Have you got the ability to bring change? Yep. But how do I do this? I love that story of a boy on a beach throwing starfish back into the sea. There are thousands on the beach. A man says’ how do you expect to be able to make a difference here, there are so many?’ As the boy chucks another starfish back into the sea, he answers ‘it made a difference to that one.’ We can make a difference one life at a time. There is a movie clip of a boy explaining that if we impact 3 people, those three people can impact another three people. Before you know it, hundreds of people have been affected. Take time in your church to invest in people, in lives, in giftings, in friendship, in encouraging people in their faith. Watch as things and people change. This is no magic formula. Some churches will die. They have to as they refuse to change or even accept Bible teachings. They are too comfortable. But things don’t and won’t stay that way. You can be a man or woman of God prepared to bring change as God shows you his will. Start small. Get involved in worship, prayer, youth or children’s work, start new initiatives, help around the church building. Serve God in small things and he will trust you with big things. Just get rooted in the Word, seek prophecy, speak truth in love, expect great things from God and just be available and obedient to God. I believe in you. More importantly, God believes in you.
SONGS OF PRAISE (aagghh!) – READ 1 Chronicles 16.8-36
Do you wonder why people stand up and sing songs to the video projector screen every week? Do they go into some kind of weird trance every week or do they just like singing?
In 1 Chronicles 16, David’s song of praise is written. Now, you’d hardly say David was a bit of a wimp. This man killed a giant with a stone, fought great battles and even ‘married’ a load of wives – he must be a brave bloke!
But, David was grateful to the Lord. That’s why he sung his song. He was praising the Lord, thanking him and getting into God’s presence by his song. What can we learn from this? David praised God, told about his miracles, worshiped God with all his heart, said he trusted in God’s mighty power, said that God is good and his love never fails Worship comes from the heart. Singing to God should be like David, thanking & praising our great God. Remember, it can be any style, not just the style you like.. God gave it, so sing it bro! One of ‘Mary Mary’ said, ‘Someone’s gotta sing about God and that’s me’. What about you?
‘Sing to the Lord, because he is worthy of great honour; he has thrown the horse and its rider into the sea’ (Exodus 15.21, YB)
Miriam had a reason to thank God. It may be different for us, I mean unless God’s just led you and your people out of slavery from a foreign country, then it will be different…
1 Thessalonians 5.18 reminds us to give thanks to God whatever happens because this is what God wants you to do through the power of Jesus in your life.
When things are going well it’s easy to thank God. When the hard times come it’s not. But you have a choice. You can either thank God for whatever happens or you can disrespect God. When my brother was killed I said, ‘God, I need you. I don’t like what’s happened but I want to go forward with you.’ Perhaps that’s a prayer you need to pray today.
‘You should not stay away from the church meetings but you should meet together and encourage each other’ (Hebrews 10.25, YB)
In John 17.15-22, Jesus prayed that his followers would be one. He wanted his disciples and Christians through the ages of time to be united, to be one body, reflecting Jesus to a needy world.
Acts 2.40-42 says that Peter preached and 3000 people became followers of Jesus. The Bible says, ‘They spent their time learning the apostles’ teaching, sharing, breaking bread and praying together.’ (Verse 43, YB)
Acts 4.32-35 records how the early church supported each other, prayed for each other, cared for each other in every way – even when persecuted for their faith. These are some of the reasons we need to meet together as Christians. It’s not about being a clique, it’s about support & encouragement. How can you be this to other people in the church or among the young people?
I know, probably better than many others, that it can be hard to attend church – but keep connected to Jesus.
GO INTO THE WORLD AND MAKE DISCIPLES – READ Matthew 28.19
Read Matthew 28.16-20. Three questions for you today:
a. Are you a Christian? Following Jesus is not about going to church, having Christian parents or knowing all the answers. It’s about having a relationship with Jesus where you have said sorry for all you’ve done, told Jesus you’re going to turn your back on wrong and invited him to be in control of your life – as your Master and friend. If you’re not a Christian get sorted today!
b. If you are a Christian, are you fired up for God? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit (this means are you obeying God willingly and seeing your life change)? Jesus wants radical disciples, not wimps. What about it?
c. Been baptised? The word ‘baptism’ means ‘to cause to be dipped or immersed’. I believe it’s about going under the water (& up out again to be ‘washed’) to make a public commitment to Jesus – but let’s not argue over the how. It’s the principle. It’s an essential part of faith. Challenged?
MUSIC – READ Joshua 6.2-5 & 1 Samuel 16.23
God created music & made a pretty good job of it too! In Joshua, God used music in different ways. 7 priests played the trumpet as they marched in front of the Ark (a symbol of God’s power to the Israelite people), they trumpeted as they marched around a city, then they played one long blast on the trumpet.
What kind of music are you into? I’m into dance music and hip-hop so that’s what I use to worship God, as well as the usual guitar based worship bands. Some people like drum’n’bass, r&b or grime. Some of you like heavy stuff like Metallica. Others like classical or just chart stuff.
God loves variety and he made us all different so music type is not always important. That is, unless you like music that slags off God, or music with loads of swearing in, or music that is written by people who are plain evil. God does want you to use your music for him. If you’ve got offensive music, it’s time to chuck it. If you haven’t, God says – enjoy music but worship God. And hey, people always say one kind of music or another isn’t ‘Christian’ but don’t worry. If God’s called you, go for it. Heaven is going to be filled with people of all nationalities, races and cultures. Each one of us does music and worship differently, so don’t ever get hung up on musical difference. One day we’ll all be singing together in
Church Life – Read 1 Corinthians 12.12-17
If your legs decided they’d had enough one day and left for Ibiza, leaving the top half of your body behind, it would probably be a serious problem…
It’s the same in church life. God brings people together to a certain church. he gives each of us gifts and skills to use to make that particular part of his church effective in what he wants them to do. If someone doesn’t do what Jesus wants or just doesn’t turn up, there are problems.
You are part of a church. You have been called by Jesus himself. He really wants you to serve him and help him. You are an essential part of the church – you really are. Today, think about how you can be more involved – in the youth work and in church life. Do children’s talks, make the tea & coffee, go into the creche, be a steward, welcome people, be part of the worship team, think about new areas of church life that you could set up, go to prayer meetings, help out around the church, tidy a room. You are part of God’s team. Question is, where?
But remember that although there are many parts to the body, they aren’t all connected together. They are all connected to the body, but not all to each other (your hand isn’t connected to your foot, fortunately!) What you do should be connected to the body (the church) but not necessarily the same as other areas of the church. Some parts work well together (wrist and fingers), but some parts operate more independently or with other parts of the body. Think about it, find your area and passion and serve God there.
Read Luke 12.49-53 – In ‘The Message’ if you can
Jesus was pretty fired up here – he said, “I’ve come to set fire to the earth and I wish it was blazing away right now. I’ve come to change everything, turn everything right side up… Do you think I came to smooth things over and make everything nice? No way. I’ve come to confront and disrupt… even families will turn against each other.’ (sort of from The Message)
Everything Jesus did was radical. He didn’t do it for the sake of it. He did it because the world is so messed up it seems radical. Jesus broke the religious rules, started religious arguments, annoyed people, used bizarre stories which he often didn’t explain, confronted evil head on and even said nothing in his own defence!
Are we too nice in our churches? Are we stepping out in faith enough? Do you have the bottle to live the real life of following Jesus rather than the one many churches play out? Why aren’t we making a difference in the UK like Christians are in the two-thirds world? What are YOU, gonna’ do about it?
Read Philippians 4.4-9
Be full of joy that comes from God – it’s the most amazing feeling when you’re close to God, right with God, receiving from him & living for him. The Bible says we should be full of that joy – always!
Let people see that you are gentle and kind. Are you always feeling steamed up about something but it’s really nothing? Get right with God and say sorry! Are you unkind or angry? Stop. It’s not what God wants.
Are you always worrying? Tell God what’s on your mind, ask him to take the load off your mind. Listen, we’ve all got problems. The only way to deal with them is by giving them to God. And think, talk – about those things that are good, pure, respected, praise worthy. Then you get God’s peace. Too many people in churches don’t have peace from God. Many of them spend too much time being critical. Stop it! Be encouraging and full of God’s life-giving words. Criticism is destructive and it blows back in your face. Honesty, yes. Criticism, no. When was the last time you praised someone? Read Philippians 1 and see how Paul wanted the gospel preached more than he wanted any particular style. What about you?