The importance of Sabbath.

posted in: Bible, Living Faith 3

One of my daily scripture readings this week was Ezekiel 20.  I was surprised by what I read.

God speaks through His prophet explaining the reasons for his judgement on the people of Israel.

He explains what he had done for Israel,

Therefore I led them out of Egypt and brought them into the wilderness. I gave them my decrees and made known to them my laws, by which the person who obeys them will live. Also I gave them my Sabbaths as a sign between us, so they would know that I the Lord made them holy.

And then how Israel responded

They did not follow my decrees but rejected my laws—by which the person who obeys them will live—and they utterly desecrated my Sabbaths. So I said I would pour out my wrath on them and destroy them in the wilderness. 

He keeps repeating this throughout the prophecy, again and again he says he gave Israel the laws and the sabbath, but they have continually rebelled in each generation by ignoring the law and desecrating the Sabbath.

What surprised me was the emphasis on the Sabbath, how important keeping the Sabbath holy, not desecrating it, was to God. It caused me to reflect on is it as important to me? To the church?

I considered what does it mean to keep the Sabbath? Is it just about not shopping on a Sunday, and spending a whole day at Church or at least focusing on God? All I have read over recent years have convinced that is not what it is about.

Israel whilst in Egypt were slaves, they had to work every day to survive. They were now free. However, it is not straightforward to live in that freedom, their only experience was as slaves. Hence the Sabbath, a day when you no longer work. A day when you live in freedom, no longer wanting or needing to earn money, or status or respect or anything else we work for. A day where you celebrate that you are no longer a slave.

Israel did not live in that freedom; they were unable to celebrate what God had done for them. That was what was so important to God, that they no longer lived as slaves but as people living in the freedom won for them by God. That is what this prophecy and others means when it gives such an emphasis on the Sabbath.

This brings me back to how important is it to me? To us? Do I live in the freedom that Christ has won for me? Am I able to celebrate that or am I continually drawn back to live as a slave? Do I feel I have to spend all the time working for money, status, respect, value etc? Embracing Sabbath is an indication, a sign that I am living differently to those caught up in the madness, the slavery of our world.

God thinks this is important. I need to ensure I do too.

Learning from John the Baptist.

Matthew 11

When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

I have been reflecting recently on the above passage of scripture, feeling it has important truths for me. I have been trying to imagine myself in John the Baptists shoes. What would I feel like if I were in prison following doing my best to serve God? What would be my primary concern and focus? What would I be praying about, what questions would I be asking God?

I think I would be asking mostly why questions. Why am I in prison? Why haven’t you protected me, or even performed a miracle to get me out of prison? Why hasn’t the revival I had been preaching for not come about? I would also be asking God to get me out of here!

However, that is not what John asks of Jesus, not what is most important or pressing to him. Instead, he asks, are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?

If Jesus is the promised messiah, the one who is to come, then nothing else matters. John can cope with being in prison, can cope with not being able to preach and serve God as he wanted. John knew that it is all about Jesus. If Jesus is the Messiah everything would be ok, everything would eventually turn out fine. Even if he, John, lost not just his liberty but also his life that was under the shadow of the truth that God had come in the person of Jesus. He would put everything right.

We know that God came in the flesh in the person of Jesus, that Jesus was the one that the Old Testament said would come to make all things right. That is more important than anything. More important than us being released from our prison of being victims of a virus or anything else. Nothing can take away that truth, nothing is more important than that truth.

We have a lot to learn from John the Baptist.

What is the purpose of the church and how do we achieve it?

2020 was a challenging year. Not out of the woods yet, but there is light at end of the pandemic tunnel. There are however some positives, e.g., we have earned what is profoundly important, as so much has been taken away. As we move from this season into a new one, I think it is crucial we remember what we have learnt, what is important. Our relationship with God is top of the list. When so much else has gone we have discovered He is enough. I also believe we have learnt lots about church, what is the real essence of church. What is the purpose of church, as we have had to do things so very differently?

Coming into the new year we will start a new sermon series starting on Sunday 17 January. This series that will take us up unto the middle of March. It will explore what is the purpose of church and how do we achieve this purpose. This series has been months in preparation and many of the preaching team will be contributing. We hope it will lay an important foundation for the new season we expect to be arriving throughout this year.

Alongside the preaching series may I commend to you a book, Letters to the church by Francis Chan. A few of us have read the book and found it extremely helpful. It is easy to read whilst being profoundly challenging, dealing with similar issues to those we will be covering on Sundays but in a different way. Our midweek material will be drawn from this book. You do not need to read the book to benefit from the Sunday teaching and midweek discussion. However, if you did read it I know you will get even more out of the series. One important thing to say is that Francis Chan, at the end of the book, describes the structure of his church and how they seek to apply the contents of the book. It is not what we believe is right in our context. We wanted to say up front that we have no intension of copying his way of doing church. As he says each church needs to apply the teaching in a way God leads them. That is what we intend to do.

I am looking forward to all that God has for us in the coming year and to be journeying with you.

God Bless,

 

Tony Thompson

Speaking about the Son of God.

posted in: Tony Thompson 1

I have just read a very thought-provoking blog by Andrew Wilson on the way we speak about the Son of God. The original blog is found here.

https://thinktheology.co.uk/blog/article/should_we_call_him_jesus

Andrew quotes from a forthcoming book by Jen Wilkins, Ten Words to live by. In it Jen points out that the gospel writers use the name Jesus to describe the historical person, this is true in the gospels and the sermons recorded in Acts addressing unbelievers. However, everyone else in the gospels calls him teacher or Lord. The only exception is a group of demons who call him Jesus of Nazareth.

Then in the letters Jesus is mentioned 28 times, the title Lord or Christ is mentioned 484 times. 95% of the time a title of respect is used.

I am not surprised by this now it has been brought to my attention, but it was not something that I had considered before.

My 6-year-old granddaughter is told to refer to her teachers by their first names, she goes to a “progressive school”. Being more old fashioned I find this unusual and feel it results in a lack of respect for authority.

What does my habit of mostly speaking of Jesus rather than Lord Jesus or Jesus Christ say? Whilst it recognises the intimacy and friendship that exists, does it display a lack of respect and reverence? Does it bring Christ down to my level rather than acknowledging that he is even now sitting at the right hand with the Father?

Even in writing this blog I have had to resist the temptation to continually describe the Son of God as Jesus!

I have concluded that I need to work harder to break my habit, to get in line with Scripture and to usually refer to the Lord Jesus or Jesus Christ rather than always use the more familiar term Jesus. To offer due reverence and respect to the Son of God.

Something you too might like to ponder.

Refining, pruning and discipline all for our good.

The Bible uses a variety of different metaphors to describe the process by which we work with God to become more like Jesus. All of them describe the fact that this process can be challenging and at the time is not always easy or fully understood.

Peter talks about the testing or refining that happens to metal when it is heated up in a furnace so that the dross or impurities are burnt away to leave the pure metal. Peter equates this to what was happening in the church at the time. They were under pressure, they were suffering. This was for their good so that they may become purer. The pressure we are under causes imperfections to come to the surface so that they can be dealt with. Insecurities, fears, unhelpful emotions such as anger and rage, desire for control which may have been unnoticed suddenly surface and can be dealt with.

1 Peter 412 Dear friends, do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal that has come on you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.

Jesus says something similar using the image of pruning, so that we may become more fruitful.

John 151“I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes[a] so that it will be even more fruitful.

The writer to the Hebrews quoting from the book of Proverbs to describe the discipleship process as similar to a loving Father disciplining his son. At the time it does not feel pleasant but it for our good.

Hebrews 12And have you completely forgotten this word of encouragement that addresses you as a father addresses his son? It says,

“My son, do not make light of the Lord’s discipline,
and do not lose heart when he rebukes you,
because the Lord disciplines the one he loves,
and he chastens everyone he accepts as his son.”

 

These different perspectives create this overall picture of the difficulties and challenges we face are used by God to help us grow. These are important truths for us to embrace as we face different challenges associated with the restrictions and the uncertainties of the current pandemic. God is using the circumstances to refine us, prune us, mature us. We may not fully understand what he is doing, but he is at work and we will come to understand. We shouldn’t be surprised. He is our loving caring Father.

 

Coronavirus and mystery

This pandemic has been going on much longer than many of us ever thought possible. I remember reading early on that we need to be thinking along the lines of an ice age rather than a blizzard. At the time people could not get their minds around it, but now we must. We are six months in, and the truth is none of us know when we are going to get through this.

Increasingly I am finding some Christians confidently asserting that they have a hot line to God and that variously, this is all a tactic of the Devil to force us to have the sign of the beast or that this is God calling His people to repentance or …….. The list is exceptionally long and mostly contradictory and frankly unhelpful. This has finally provoked me to speak into the discussion and declare that we need to allow for a level of mystery. A level of humility. We must be incredibly careful when we claim to speak on behalf of God. We also need to be focusing on the right questions, not why but what should I be doing. The coronavirus seems to have provided some people with a megaphone to say, more loudly, what they were wanting to say anyway! I do not think this is at all helpful.

We need to allow for mystery.

I think this is clear in many places in the Bible. E.g. the book of Job. Any sensible reading of the book will result in us being cautious about making grand pronouncements. Job’s friends concluded that he needs to repent, it was obvious that sin was the problem. The point of the book is that may seem obvious, but it was the wrong conclusion to draw. In fact, the book of Job does not have a simple answer, no satisfactory resolution to the issue of suffering. Job gets more sons and daughters to replace the ones he lost, but does that make it all right? Of course not. God has revealed his power and might to Job, and Job realizes he cannot compete; but does even that make it all right? I think the point of the book of Job is that the issue of suffering is not easily and quickly answered. As Paul says, all creation is groaning as in the pains of childbirth. It points us to God, leaves us breathless in the face of Him. It leaves us with mystery.

We need to focus not on the why but what.

A similar truth is taught in the gospels, but they go further. Jesus heals a man born blind; this is described in John 9. His disciples ask Jesus whose sin caused this man to be blind, was it his sin or that of his parents? Jesus refuses to speculate, neither he nor his parents sinned, it happened so that you might see the works of God displayed in him. Jesus is saying, stop looking back, looking for someone to blame. Jesus says, do not focus on why but focus on what God is going to do about it. God is going to demonstrate that He is the Light of the world.

We need to look at Jesus before we look at the world.

We must start with Jesus, when we start looking at the world around us and jump to conclusions about God, we will get it wrong. If we do not start with Jesus, we may come up with something that looks attractive, sounds spiritual but is wrong. Jesus is the light of the world. Jesus who is the image of the invisible God. If Jesus is not Lord of all, he is not Lord at all.

Looking at Jesus we find the answer to what.

His death and resurrection are now the single, ultimate ‘sign’. The cross is where all the world’s sufferings and horrors have been heaped up and dealt with. The resurrection is the launch of God’s new creation, of his sovereign saving rule on earth – starting with the physical body of Jesus himself.

Trying to jump from an earthquake, a tsunami, a pandemic or anything else to a conclusion about ‘what God is saying here’ without going through the Gospel story is to make the basic theological mistake of trying to deduce something about God while going behind Jesus’ back. If there is One God, and if he has come in the person of his own son to unveil his rescuing purposes for the world, then there can be no other signs, no other warning events, to compare with this one. The call to repentance, the unveiling of the kingdom comes through Jesus not through wars, earthquakes, or plagues.

Looking at Jesus we see that our understanding of God’s sovereignty, his being in control, must centre around his death on the cross.

We see that God’s purpose is about restoring God’s Kingdom to how it was meant to be before the fall. The fulfilment of this will be at the end of the age when Jesus returns, then he will be seen by as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. In the meantime, we work towards bringing the future into the present.

That purpose is worked out by loyal human beings serving God. We can ask why doesn’t God send a thunderbolt and put things right? Why doesn’t God just take control and stop disasters of various forms? The answer is he does get involved. His intervention is through the poor in Spirit, the meek, the mourners, the peacemakers, the people hungry for justice. They are the way God wants to act in his world. These people, prayerful, humble, faithful, people will be the answer, not to the question Why? But to the question What? What needs to be done here? Who is most at risk? How can we help? Who shall we send? God works in all things with and through those who love him.

From the time of Jesus onward we see Jesus’ followers telling people about God’s kingdom, and summoning them to repent, not because of any subsequent events such as famines or plagues but because of Jesus himself. When the world is going through great convulsions as at present, the followers of Jesus are called to be people of prayer at the place where the world is in pain.

When we read the gospels, we expect God to be, as we might say, ‘in charge’: taking control, sorting things out, getting things done. But the God we see in Jesus is the God who wept at the tomb of his friend. The God we see in Jesus is the God-the-Spirit who groans without words. The God we see in Jesus is the one who, to demonstrate what his kind of ‘being in charge’ would look like, did the job of a slave and washed his disciples’ feet. That is what God sends us to do.

God has in fact delegated the running of many aspects of his world to human beings. In doing so, he has run the risk that they will grieve him to his heart. But when this happens, he will hold people responsible.

In conclusion the signs of God work in the world are not things like earthquakes or famines, plagues, or floods. These things are not sent to frighten people into belief or warn them of the world coming to an end. There are signs of new life, new creation around us though, signs of God at work in the world. They are signs of God coming into the ordinary and making it extraordinary. Coming to bring healing to a world of sickness. Giving bread to the hungry; sight to the blind; life to the dead. They are signs that the world was coming into a new springtime. A new beginning. We are part of that.

I think we need to stop speculating on why and focus much more on what am I called to do at this time. Allow a level of mystery. Embrace the fact that each of us is meant to be a sign of the Kingdom. What better time to do that than now?

This blog has been heavily influenced by God and the pandemic by Tom Wright. I highly recommend it.

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