Sunday, 11 March 2018

Sunday service

Today, the Lords Day, involved preaching about him. Nothing new about that, but maybe there should have been. Because if it was not new, what was it? I dont mean new in doctrine, that would be wrong. Yet speaking about Jesus should be fresh.

Spent some time this afternoon reading a couple of paragraphs from the life of William Hewitson, a Scottish preacher from the nineteenth century. He had taken part in a communion Sunday, which in those days involved a lot of preaching.

His biographer mentions two responses that Hewitson had to his preaching. The first was this: Sitting in his own room, after the protracted services were over, he said, with that holy, calm solemnity which so habitually characterised him, not only in the pulpit and at the communion table, but in society and at his own fireside  Oh for an immortal, a spiritual body, which should never grow weary in serving our glorious Lord!

The second was this: Lord Jesus! what thinkest Thou of this days work? Hast Thou been seeing of the travail of Thy soul?

Perhaps those two quotations say it all.

What should we talk about?

What is our message to the world? There are lots of things we could say, but saying them may mean that people don't hear the message God wants us to speak to them. We know that there are many things wrong with our society even as there were many things wrong in the society of the first century into which the apostles went with the message God wanted them to declare.

It is obvious from the Book of Acts that one element of their message was the resurrection of Jesus. The fact that it occurred has consequences for everyone because it means that he will yet be the Judge of all, as Paul made clear when addressing his listeners at the Areopagus in Athens. What else did the resurrection of Jesus mean for Paul? It meant that he could declare the existence of a living Saviour who had defeated death.

Another element of the message conveyed by those early servants of Jesus was their emphasis on the cross as the place where he suffered in the place of sinners. Why did he do so? One answer to that question is that he did so because of the Father's love, as John 3:16 makes very clear. Yet Jesus also did so because of his own love for sinners, as Paul mentions when he says that Jesus loved the church and gave himself for her. So they declared the existence of a loving Saviour, one who was willing to suffer the agonies of the cross because of his love for sinners. The existence of a loving Saviour raises the issue as to how the message about him should be declared. Surely it should be announced by those who have a strong love for the loving Saviour.

A third feature of their message was that Jesus had the power to set people free from the grip of sin. This release flows from the fact that Jesus gives a new heart to sinners and they discover that they have been changed, that they have become new creations. This means that they declared a liberating Saviour, one who renewed them by giving new life to them and changed them into individuals whose lives were marked by the fruit of the Spirit who works powerfully in them.

The fourth detail of their message concerns the faithfulness of Jesus to those who trust in him. What might be regarded as unusual in this regard is that he was faithful often to those who were not devoted to him. Most of the apostles came into that category Yet they had discovered that Jesus remained faithful to him and they were able to mention in their messages that he was a loyal Saviour.

One way of saying the above is to say that their message was about Jesus, even when mentioning different things about him. This must still be our message, that we speak to others about Jesus and his activities. We can do this when speaking to believers or when interacting with others. Our responsibility is to ensure that we tell them about Jesus, because if we say something else, what have they heard? They will not have heard about the living, loving, liberating and loyal Saviour.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

What does God want from us?

What does God want from us as his people? The place to find the answer to that question is in the Bible. It provides a very clear answer. God wants worship from us. This is the case wherever we look in the Scriptures and it remains his desire throughout all periods of history. Here are some examples.

When God made humans at the beginning, they were designed to worship him. Indeed, the account of the garden in Eden in Genesis is a description of a temple in which God met with Adam and Eve. Even after they rebelled against him, he quickly revealed to them how they could worship him through the promise of a future Deliverer.

Later on, God created a nation in which worship of him was central. Israel, after they were delivered from Egypt, went to Mount Sinai to worship God. Bizarrely, while they were there they chose to worship an idol, the golden calf. Nevertheless, God gave them instructions connected to his worship and it was practised in the tabernacle and the temple.

When Jesus was here on earth, he informed the woman of Samaria that the Father sought worship from people like her. Paul and his fellow workers preached the gospel so that sinners would turn from idolatry and worship God instead. After they had embraced the gospel they became members of churches in which worship was offered to God. Again we find in the New Testament letters that among those who should have worshipped him some did not always do so.

Will God have a time and a place where perfect worship is given? We know that he will. The pictures we are given of heaven is that it is a place of worship. In the world to come, there will be perfect worship of God because sin will be gone. The Lord will have what he desires and will be satisfied. And so will we if we find ourselves there, made perfect in holiness and glad to be in his presence.

We know that we have not reached that world yet. Instead, we exist in churches with flaws and failures and disappointments. Should we delay worshipping until the perfect situation arrives? Of course not. Instead we worship the One who forgives and restores, who guides and comforts, who sends his Spirit to reveal to us the things of Christ and to give us anticipations of the glory that all his people will share. These reasons for worshipping will be there every time we gather together as believers in Jesus.

Living in a changing world

Paul was an observant person. He noticed what was taking place around him, even if his eyesight was not very good. Some people cannot see trees even if they are standing in a wood whereas others can see the small acorns that eventually may become a forest. Christians are meant to see the times and understand the age in which they live. Such a way of seeing is more than observing the obvious.

And it is obvious that we live in a non-Christian society. There is nothing surprising in this experience because it is the kind of society in which most Christians live today. It is also the kind of society in which the church has been usually found ever since Jesus sent out his apostles with the gospel.

In Britain, the church has been living in a non-Christian society for at least a couple of centuries, probably since the Enlightenment of the eighteenth century. Much of the Enlightenment influence that affected the world arose in Edinburgh through the likes of David Hume (whose statue is turning blue outside St Giles). Yet, at least, they were rational in their proposals and the church was able to interact with and critique their propositions.

Today, the worldviews that we encounter usually avoid logic. For the last half-century, many people have adopted the idea of doing their own thing, without any thought as to whether they are pleasing God or anyone else. Such an outlook is basically selfish and is usually connected to the moment, which means that it can often be impulsive and without any thought for consequences. We can read of numerous examples every day in the newspapers.

How should we as Christians live in such an era? Do we need new insights that no one has thought of before? While it can be helpful to have new initiatives, the fact is that we must follow the teachings of the Bible if we want to have true success.

And what does the Bible tell us to do? Simple things, and quite basic. It tells us to put Jesus first always, it tells us to pray fervently and often, it tells us to love others, and it tells us to witness to the gospel to those we know who are strangers to it.

If we don’t do them, all other activities will fail to have an effect for good. But if we do them, who knows what the effect will be?