Monday, June 25, 2007

Pollokshaws Carnival 07

Thanks to everyone who helped out, visited and prayed for the Pollokshaws Carnival. The weather confounded the forecasts and stayed dry. The Greenview stall was able to give out stacks of leaflets about GV activities and provided lots of opportunities for putting a human face to the church. Let's pray that further contacts and opportunities to show God's love to people in the area will arise from this.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spiritual Yobs

Some thoughts on Titus ch.3

Titus 3 opens with a reminder to Christians to be both law abiding and public spirited citizens. That is, people who both uphold the law but add to that basic obedience by ‘being ready to do whatever is good’. Further Christians are to be marked out in their communities as people of good character, e.g. are peaceable (avoiding unnecessary confrontations); considerate (e.g. where they park, the volume of their music); show true humility (self-restraint – biting their lip, Pr 12:16) and extending this to ‘all men’ – not just those they are trying to suck-up to or are intimated by because of their wealth and status etc.

All of which, of course, is just a reiteration of Jesus’ own teaching: to go the second mile, turn the other cheek, and do to others as you would have them do to you. But it’s a tough call – one that goes against the grain of both our natural egos and our culture. The latter which extols the characteristics of self-promotion and pushiness in programmes like the X-Factor and The Apprentice.

After reading Titus 3:1-2 we might be tempted to think – ‘well Paul, that might be alright for some but you don’t know my neighbours or my colleagues and if you had to put up with the kind of behaviour I do then you might have a different approach’. Almost as if sensing this objection Paul immediately turns to why the attitudes and actions of v1-2 are always the only appropriate ones for Christians to follow.

V3 begins ‘for’ (inexplicably missed out in the NIV) - you were once foolish, disobedient, deceived, enslaved, full of malice, envy and living in a cycle of tit for tat. Strong stuff – but this is the reality of every life outside of Jesus in the sight of God. We were not lovely people in our non-Christian state. In fact we were God’s anti-social noisy neighbours, creational vandals, inconsiderate law-breakers – we were spiritual yobs outside the gates of heaven.

But how did God respond to us? By shutting his windows and hoping we’d go away, by treating us with contempt, by throwing back at us the same kind of inconsideration we had shown Him? No – but with kindness, love (v4), mercy, salvation, cleansing, renewal (v5), with generosity (v6), giving us hope, making us heirs and rewarding us with eternal life (v7).

So we who depend on the fact that God extends to us the very opposite treatment to what we gave Him, who enjoy untold favour and blessing that has no basis in anything we do (v5) – how can we possibly contemplate withholding kindness and love from others. The idea that my sensibilities are so precious or that my indignation is so righteous that I would be entitled to hold a grudge or treat someone with disdain is just outrageous. As my old Pastor, Arthur Campbell, used to say: ‘Don’t stand on your dignity, stand on it!’

Ok, you say, I can see the logic of what you’re saying, but I feel as if you might as well write the word ‘VICTIM’ across my forehead at this point - because it’s a rough world out there and if I’ve got to go out with that kind of attitude I’m going to be eaten for breakfast. Well actually, this call is incredibly powerful and liberating and here are two reasons why….

It breaks the cycle of evil.
This is a well rehearsed observation but one that is worth restating. When we ‘do good’ especially towards those who don’t deserve it we break the endless merry-go-round of ‘tit for tat’ that perpetuates ill-feeling and sinful behaviour. It cuts through the vicious cycle of evil feeding evil. To ‘do good’ as a matter of principle is to live out the Gospel that saved us. Most Christians were not beaten or coerced into the Kingdom of God but were arrested by God’s kindness and love towards them – all the more in the light of their unworthiness of it. Unconditional love shown in the face of hostility is an astonishingly powerful thing.

It liberates us from the tyranny of others.
By treating others with consistent proactive kindness we are making a statement that we are people controlled by God and not 'the crowd'. We are saying: my actions will no longer be determined by how others treat me but by how God has treated me. So whereas the old way and the way of the world is: you cut-in on me while I’m driving and I’ll give you dog’s abuse, or you undermine me at work and leave you high & dry next time you’ve got a problem, or you expose my weakness at church and Ill expose yours. In other words: you yank my chain and I’ll bark! We now go into the world as people whose responses are controlled by God.

This is life transforming and radical stuff. No wonder Paul tells Titus to stress it – so that the people might be careful to devote themselves to doing what is good (v8). This is the Gospel – being understood, being the motivating factor in our lives, and being lived out in the world.

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Attention Perfectionists

Check out this piece on David Field's (Oak Hill lecturer) excellent Blog - for all those who 'worry a little too much and try a little too hard'... 'PERFECTING OURSELVES TO DEATH'

A Senate Prayer

Was sent this prayer via an email with the exhortation to pass it on - it is a prayer that resonates with truth and refreshing clarity. However, I couldn't help but notice that perhaps the No.1 biggest pastoral issue and social failure of the past generation is not mentioned - perhaps just a bit too near the bone even for evangelical pastors to challenge?

"It seems prayer still upsets some people. When Minister Joe Wright was asked to open the new session of the Kansas Senate, everyone was expecting the usual generalities, but this is what they heard:

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask your forgiveness and to seek your direction and guidance.
We know Your Word says, 'Woe to those who call evil good,' but that is exactly what we have done.

We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.
We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery.
We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare.

We have killed our unborn and called it choice.
We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable.
We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self esteem.

We have abused power and called it politics.
We have coveted our neighbor's possessions and called it ambition.
We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression.

We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh, God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free. Amen!

The response was immediate. A number of legislators walked out during the prayer in protest. In 6 short weeks, Central Christian Church, where Rev. Wright is pastor, 5,000 phone calls with only 47 of those calls responding negatively. The church is now receiving international requests for copies of this prayer from India, Africa and Korea."

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Zechariah Calling

(A sermon from late 2004)

Zechariah’s World: where Z fits into Biblical history.

Abraham: God’s Promise – all nations would be blessed through him.... followed by....

  • Promised Land: reaches peak under David / Solomon;
  • but then Division into Israel and Judah.
  • Israel the bigger part in north (why it got the name ‘Israel’): has only wicked kings
  • until it's finally overrun and absorbed by Assyria in 722BC

Judah, small state in south, mixture of good and bad kings

  • Staggers on, but is overrun by Babylonians in 587BC – the people taken into exile (Daniel etc).

Theologically the Exile was a catastrophe for the Jews
So much of their faith seemed to lie in ruins...

  • The invulnerability of Jerusalem: shattered
  • The place of God’s special presence (Temple): shattered
  • The promise of dwelling in their own land: shattered
  • The promise of being a great nation (looked up to by others): shattered.
  • It was theological meltdown: all they thought was non-negotiable - disappeared.

But there was hope: prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel...

  • pointed beyond the Exile and God’s judgement to Restoration;
  • promises of renewed blessing;
  • of a time when God’s Law would be written on their hearts (Jer 31)
  • when the nations would come up to Jerusalem to worship (Is 49)
  • never again would Jerusalem be given over to her enemies (Is 62)
  • of a new Temple where God would return again in glory (Ezk 43)
    Pictures of great blessing and renewal – surpassing even David & Solomon.

Then in 538BC the Persian Empire under Cyrus defeats Babylon

  • and under Cyrus (e.g. Ezra 1:1-4) the first wave of Exiles return to Jerusalem.

But the return is a major anti-climax

  • No massive return of people – only a trickle
  • They land they return to is about 55km by 65km.
  • Jerusalem itself is still in ruins & barely inhabited.
  • Weak, vulnerable, poor & surrounded by enemies (Hag 1:6).

    A pale shadow of her former glory: never mind the one promised by prophets - a state of humiliation.

In 521BC Darius becomes Emperor and oversees a period of stability in the Empire

  • so while Israel struggles: all around is peace and prosperity (1:11&15).

And it is into this world & this time in the history of God's people...

  • That the word of the Lord comes to Zechariah son of Berekiah …. (1:1)

Ch.1:1-6: So who is Zechariah the Man?

Other than 1:1 we don’t know much about him

  • he was a prophet (obviously);
  • he may have had a priestly background: Priest called Iddo in Neh 12:4
  • certainly has a concern for the Temple.

Big part of his ministry is to encourage the rebuilding of the Temple

  • important because the Temple re-building had stalled (Haggai)
  • Ezra started to rebuild it in 538BC and completed foundations in 536BC
  • but building of the structure didn’t start until 520BC – just before 1:1
  • So Z encourages the governor Zerubbabel to get on with it (Ez 5:1-2).

A Contemporary of Haggai

  • who like Haggai saw the nation’s problems as primarily spiritual.
  • Which is where we begin in looking at the book itself.

So v1, we are directed to an obscure corner of the Persian Empire

  • to this isolated, weary and doubtful people.

What might you say to such people – what would you want to say?

  • a word of encouragement / comfort / reassurance?

Rather v2: the opening words are a reminder of God’s anger – ‘was very angry’

  • pointing them back to the generation before: who experienced that anger.
  • unlike our present culture (even in churches) - the Bible doesn’t hesitate to attribute anger to God – OT & NT (Rom 1:18)

One of the problems the pre-exile prophets faced: was the rejection of the idea of God's anger

  • so Jeremiah is persecuted for declaring God’s anger (Jer 19:15-20:2)
  • false prophets declared everything is fine with God (Jer 23:16-17: 21-22)

But God’s anger is a real issue and must not be forgotten

  • God will judge rebellion and the rejection of His Covenant claims.
  • The previous generation: played fast and loose with the Covenant;
  • so God’s exclusive place became negotiable: widespread idolatry
  • His worship became superficial (going through the motions): hypocrisy
  • His service became optional and dispensable: complacency.
    - and God was very angry

A danger for every generation: one that didn’t disappear even after the Exile experience...

  • it hasn’t disappeared today: it was still the concern of Zechariah
  • the danger of ‘boredom in worship and immorality in life’. (DRD)

These were warnings Israel's fathers failed to heed (v4)

  • No doubt reassured by the false prophets: God won’t mind etc
  • Perhaps, it was so long in coming: that they just didn’t believe it would.
  • After-all, the warning had rung out for centuries: since Solomon
    · and you know, they had got by until now
    · nothing had happened, there was always still time: tomorrow!

But WOW, it actually happened – the warnings came true

  • Jerusalem was smashed, the land ravaged, the people killed & scattered
  • and here they are now: this rump, this stripped out band of refugees.

V5 Where are you forefathers now? Gone, judged, ruined!

  • where are the prophets now? The warnings aren’t endless.

V6 Understand this, get to grips with this: my Words are true.

  • They’re not dependent on being popular/convenient
  • They don’t have ‘sell-by date’: e.g. they don't become redundant even when those who brought them are gone
  • They stand on their own – in God’s authority – and will be fulfilled

Let’s take this on board in our lives: learn this lesson.

  • God’s warning to us: about idolatry / hypocrisy / complacency
  • are not without precedence – and neither are His judgements on them.

    Let’s not be seduced by words of false security, e.g.
    · it doesn’t matter how I live;
    · it’s ok that God is compartmentalised in my life;
    · or that I’ll sort these things out 'soon'

But one day – for each of us...

  • God’s words will be fulfilled.
  • we’ll find out He means what He says

What He says: to Zechariah’s community and to us is that:

  • Salvation cannot be separated from real relationship with God
  • Blessing cannot be divided from obedience.

So Z says to the people: don’t make the mistake of your fathers : v4

  • but ‘Return to me’ and ‘I will return to you’ v3
  • if you Repent/ Return - I am ready to receive you: restored relationship

But we might ask: what is it that this generation are to repent of?

  • It was their Fathers who sinned & who were judged
  • and they, when judged, acknowledged they had been wrong (v6b)

Well answer is probably in Haggai (Z’s contemporary: compare dates Z. 1:1 & H 1:1)

  • H's concerns about the people’s slackness in building the Temple (H 1:2)
  • This failure to get on with this task – is the key to this warning call

At one level their stalling here is understandable
· Know from Ezra: lots of opposition, discouragement, hardship.
· No work on the Temple in the two years prior to Zech 1:1

But the restoration of the Temple was central to Covenant renewal....

  • Central to getting their relationship with God into order: getting it running properly is getting the Temple sorted out
  • which is why: Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai & Zech are so concerned with it.
  • why it’s final completion in Ez 6 (motivated by Z&H) is such a joy.

But here in Ch.1: the people seem to have given up on it.
· It probably seemed too much hassle;
· Too much opposition, feeling of being vulnerable and weak
· perhaps doubts about God’s promises after all that happened

Easier to play down the God stuff and do up the house (Hg 1: 3)

  • Result of this neglect was the withholding of Covenant blessing (H 1:5-6)
  • Nothing wrong in itself with a bit of DIY
  • but the problem was: was what was being neglected as a result!

They wanted to live a normal life: but that’s not what God had called them to:

  • One writer: calls it the sin of being normal’. (Webb)

But they were to be a Kingdom People, a peculiar people, a covenant people

  • Called not to fit in and just be like the rest
  • but to build God’s kingdom, to stand out for God,
  • to put God (relationship and service) at the top of their list of priorities.

A big temptation for us today: in a day of 'small things'

  • When God’s promises to build a kingdom that will fill the earth and last forever seem remote
  • When we feel outnumbered, weak and increasingly out on a limb
    - is to want to just fit in, go for the easy life, and be like everyone else.

God’s call to Zechariah’s community is to Return to Him

  • To put that relationship and service at the heart of our activities and lives.
  • To know again the fullness of His Covenant blessing.

We realise, of course, that New Covenant blessings are not crops and land...

  • but blessings are still based on obedience to God’s call;
  • a return to the Lord: confident that His Word is sure: His promises are true

If we want to see God’s blessings in our lives and as a church:

  • then God needs to be at the centre of out lives: knowing Him,
  • attending to our relationship with Him, serving Him: must become our priorities.

Need to pray that, if God has spoken to us in this...

  • We will confess where we have become complacent and turn afresh to Him,
  • that we, as a church community, will be delivered from, ‘Boredom with worship and immorality of life’.