Apr 222017
 

After spending nearly five months of our “Bible Chapter a Day” (BCAD) project reflecting on the book of Psalms it’s just about time to move on. But let’s pause for a moment and reflect on what we have seen:

  • We’ve encountered wonderful words of praise as people rejoice in the greatness and majesty of God
  • We’ve seen people crying out to God from the depths of despair and asking for his blessing
  • We’ve seen expressions of sorrow and contrition as people recognised their failings and asked God for forgiveness
  • We’ve shared in appreciation for the word of God
  • We’ve entered into the reality of life – joy, despair, great civil occasions, recognition of death
  • and so much more

We’ve seen how people engage with God in many different ways depending on what is going on in their lives – and we have seen people prepared to be authentic and real with God and to express the depths of how they are feeling and what they are looking for God to do. Great examples to us in how we speak with, cry out to, praise our great God.

But, from Monday, we’re going to move on to look at two short letters in the New Testament and then two longer books in the Old Testament.

1 & 2 Thessalonians were written by Paul (with Silas and Timothy) to the church at Thessalonica some time after Paul had established a church there as recorded in Acts 17:1-4. Now he is writing to them again to encourage them, to answer some questions, to defend himself against accusations, to correct some misunderstandings about life after death and the return of Jesus.

1 Thessalonians 414 [widescreen]

1 & 2 Samuel picks up the narrative of the people of God from where we left them at the end of the book of Judges and Ruth. We encounter three key players – Samuel the last judge, Saul the first king and David who replaced him as king over the people of Israel. We will see how their stories intertwine; encounter intrigue, plot and deception; see Saul losing his position, David being chosen in his place and Saul being resentful; David being established as king and reigning although not always happily or without problems.

2 Samuel 52 [widescreen]

Let’s be open to hear what God has to say to us through His word.

 

Apr 192017
 

When the Prime Minister announced yesterday that she was calling a General Election one of the inevitable PM calls electionquestions that arose was how this related to her frequent statement that there was no need to hold one until 2020. Some commentators spoke about a U-turn, others about broken promises, while – among others – there is a recognition that people change their minds as circumstances change.

And, this is something we are having to get used to in many areas of life. A football club chairman expressing complete confidence in their manager leads to speculation as to how soon the manager will go while – back in politics – a Prime Minster expressing full support for a Minister starts speculation as to who will replace them.

This reminded me of an event in the life of Jesus (recorded in John 7) where the question arose as to whether he was going to go to Jerusalem to join in the celebration of one of their annual festivals. His brothers – who didn’t believe in who he really was or in what God had called him to do – encouraged him to go, to take a public role, to show his followers what he was capable of (John 7:2-5).

But Jesus was aware that the religious leaders wanted to kill him (John 7:1) so it wasn’t safe for him to go with them. While it was alright for them to go it wasn’t right for him:

You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.’ (John 7:8)

But then, after they had gone he did go – not publicly as they had wanted but in secret (John 7:10).

So what caused him to change his mind, why did he do what he said he wasn’t going to do?

I think the key is in the phrase “my time has not yet fully come” – Jesus wasn’t going to act according to his brother’s agenda, nor even according to his own agenda, but according to what his Father told him to do, according to what would please his Father. He has previously made this explicitly clear:

By myself I can do nothing; I judge only as I hear, and my judgment is just, for I seek not to please myself but him who sent me. (John 5:30)

So it’s reasonable to assume that between telling his brothers that he wouldn’t go to Jerusalem and choosing to go his Father had made it clear that this is actually what He wanted him to do.

The situation hadn’t changed – he was still in danger of being taken and killed – but he needed to be doing what his Father called him to do. And so he gets up to teach, stuns the crowd with what he says (John 7:14-15) and then as the feast drew to its close he stands up and calls out to everyone who will hear, offering them life and hope and God’s presence.

On the last and greatest day of the festival, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.’ (John 7:37–38)

John 737–38 [widescreen]

Whatever the Prime Minister’s reasons are for calling a snap election it seems that what was motivating Jesus is fairly clear. He wasn’t concerned about his own personal safety, he wasn’t concerned about what those in authority would think of him. Rather he was totally committed to doing what his Father asked of him and prepared to do whatever he could to bring others into a refreshing, living relationship with God.

A much more important question than how we will respond to the issues of this general election is how we will respond to the offer of “life as it is meant to be lived” from Jesus – an offer he made then and continues to make today.

And another important question – for those of us who have made that commitment to follow Jesus – is whether we are prepared to live in a similar way to how Jesus lived and seek to follow what God calls us to do in every part of our lives whatever it may cost us, whatever the implications may be.

 

Apr 102017
 

In an article on Sunday 9th April 2017 the BBC published an article with the provocative title “Resurrection did not happen, say quarter of Christians”. The article was based on a poll that they had commissioned – it breaks down some of the numbers, shows some helpful graphs (showing the views of “All Christians” and “Active Christians”) and includes comments from various groups.

It also – very helpfully – provides a link to the raw data and recognises that some of the results were drawn from people “describing themselves as Christians”.

In the survey 1019 people described themselves as Christians while 315 described themselves as “Active Christians”.

One of the questions asked was how frequently people attended a religious service (excluding special occasions such as marriages, funerals, etc) and of the group who were identifying themselves as Christians 31% said less often than monthly while 37% said never, that’s a total of 68%. While I don’t believe that the only sign of being a Christian is attending church I think there would have been questions asked if I said I was a student at college and never turned up for lectures!

And this isn’t saying anything against the individuals but more a comment on our society where we are encouraged to consider ourselves as Christians even if we don’t have any faith in, knowledge of, God or meet with other people who are seeking to understand who God is and what the Bible teaches. Why is this a label that people hang onto and use to identify themselves?

If we take the group of people who identify themselves as “Active Christians” (people who attend church at least 1-3 times a month) then the numbers look very different:

  • 57% believe in the resurrection of Jesus exactly as it is described in the Bible
  • 36% believe in the resurrection of Jesus but don’t take every detail of the account literally
  • 5% do not believe in the resurrection of Jesus
  • 2% don’t know

So a very different picture to the headline used by the BBC.

But leaving that aside why is the resurrection of Jesus important?

The Bible speaks about the resurrection of Jesus in the four Gospels (the first four books in the New Testament which tell the story of the birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus) – if you want to read the accounts yourself to see what they say you can find them at Matthew 28:1-10, Mark 16:1-8, Luke 24:1-49, John 20:1-29

Paul, one of the early Christian leaders, speaks about the significance of the resurrection of Jesus in a letter to a church at Corinth.

And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. (1 Corinthians 15:14)

And if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied. (1 Corinthians 15:17–19)

He was responding to people who were questioning the hope that people had in life after death (another topic covered in the survey) and arguing that without the resurrection of Jesus any hope in something “beyond” was pointless, that he might as well stop preaching and we might as well all stop believing.

But he then goes on with some wonderfully powerful words:

But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)

1 Corinthians 1519–20 [widescreen]

 

The belief in the resurrection of Jesus is an essential component of the Christian faith, without it we have nothing. It demonstrates that Jesus has defeated sin and death, it gives us real meaning for life today, and it gives us a totally certain hope for life beyond death with Him for ever.

This Easter time would be a great opportunity to call into a local church and find out more about the reality of the resurrection of Jesus and the life-changing impact it has on life today and in the future. Let’s not just accept a doubtful headline but let’s find out for ourselves.