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8th December 2013
What comes to mind when you hear or read the word 'holy'? The biblical term 'holy' is primarily used to describe God, separating Him utterly from us and from anything else created. When it is applied to God's people, it also means 'set apart' – called out, separated from all other people to be distinctively different, to follow Him and to be His treasured possession. Holiness isn't about behaviour; it's about our position.
For Israel, being holy looked like following very particular and specific rules, rituals, laws and duties. There were the Ten Commandments, but also numerous other laws that God gave His people. Many that we read in Leviticus 19 make sense, but some seem very odd indeed! Why did God set out the Law and all these requirements? To distinguish them from every other nation on the face of the Earth – to show that they belonged to God and were different to everyone around them.
Being holy has the same purpose for us today, but looks very different. The Bible says that those who follow Jesus are "a chosen race, a holy nation, a people for His own possession" (1 Peter 2:9-10). Some of us might be tempted to follow the same protocol that Israel followed; others of us might say we can throw it all out now that Jesus has died in our place.
We can't pick and choose -- we either live up to the whole Law or none of it. Actually, we're not supposed to follow every aspect to the letter, but nor are we to do away with it completely. We live under a better covenant, where Jesus has dealt with our sin so we can be holy. Now, we keep the Ten Commandments in a completely new way. Not because we're obliged to keep them or it's demanded of us, but because our hearts have been changed!
We are called to be holy, to be set apart, and today this happens by God pouring out His Spirit into our hearts, making us distinctively different, living internally transformed with God's laws written on our hearts. We are set apart as holy, called to know Him and surrender ourselves to His will by the power of the Spirit! Being holy starts with our true position – God's treasured possession – and from that, our behaviour changes as we want to follow Christ.
To download the life application questions and the sermon, click here.
Posted by Santino Hamberis
24th November 2013
There are some strange stories in the Bible, and the one in Numbers 22-24 features a king, a prophet for hire, the people of Israel and a talking donkey! It's certainly a bit odd but, like much of the Bible, by looking at it we see the big picture – heaven's perspective – which can be very different to how things look down on the ground.
One of the 'big picture' things we can learn from this story is that the people of God are relentlessly blessed. God had a plan and a purpose for His people and when we join it here, we're 700 years on from God's promise to Abraham. This promised blessing would come to pass because it was made unconditionally, only dependent on the fact that God keeps His promises.
God's blessing on His people meant that He would make them a great nation, making their name great, saying that if people look out for them, God would bless them also, and ultimately all the Earth would be blessed through them. Even when there was a failure in an individual or even a generation, God's promises stood firm.
Whether you were standing beside Abraham when the promise was given, or if you were a slave to the Egyptians 200 years later, or even next to Balaam as he prophesies – wherever you are in the story, you are part of the relentless blessing God pours out on HIs people. The certainty of this rests not on God's people, but on God and His Word. God said it, therefore He would bring it about.
Within this overarching covenant promise and in the 700 years since God declared it, we read about numerous generations, some of which stepped into all that God had promised, while others stood still or stepped away from it. The promise was available for subsequent generations, but we know that it was possible for them to miss it, because some spent 40 years in the wilderness: they were tempted and they gave into it.
We are now part of a generation inheriting all the promises of God, seeing the Church restored to some measure, and now with a mandate to reach out and make a difference in our communities. When we became Christians, we were born into the relentless blessing of God, but we have a choice about what we do with it. We have a responsibility to keep pushing into the things of God, despite flaws, sin, disappointment and setbacks. The Church is the object of God's relentless blessing, and therefore worthy of your best.
Are you in the relentless blessing of God, making the most of all He's given you?
To download the sermon and the life application PDF, click here.
Posted by Paul Mann
17th November 2013
Can we know if God exists? If so, can we know what God is like? And can we know God? The Bible claims to have the answers to these questions, telling us we can both know about God and know Him personally.
Exodus 20:1-19 may sound like a list of rules to you, but actually it tells us a great deal about God. He wants us to know Him: He speaks to us (v1) through creation, through lives He's transformed, through the Bible, even sometimes directly to people. God rescues (v2), is the true God (v3) and is holy and different to anything in creation (vv4-6).
We also find in these verses that God cares about our relationships with each other: He cares about family (v12), which was His plan all along; marriage is to be protected as He designed it to be the most intimate of relationships – one man and one woman for life (v14); human life is sacred, to be nurtured and protected (v13).
Another important aspect of God's design for life we can learn through these verses is that people are more important than stuff! Contentment with what we have is great gain (v17). We're not to steal, but more than that, God wants us to be caring, compassionate and generous (v15). We also find that God cares about people, priorities and rest (vv8-11). We find that our words are powerful and God loves the truth, hates what is false (v16) and cares about how we speak (v7).
The Ten Commandments weren't a contract nor a negotiation. They are a revelation of who God is, showing us what He is like and how He has designed humanity to flourish. But we can have an even clearer picture of who God is and what He is like – by looking to Jesus! The Bible tells us that Jesus is the exact representation of God (Hebrews 1:1-3) – in the same way that when you look in a mirror, the exact image of you looks back, so Jesus is the exact image of God and so when we can look at Jesus we find out exactly what God is like.
But Jesus didn't just come to show us what God is like; He also came to restore our broken relationship with God. The Ten Commandments reveal what God is like, but they also reveal how far we have wandered from HIm, and how helpless we are to restore that relationship ourselves. Jesus died for us, taking all of our sin on Himself, so that we could be restored to God. Those who were baptised today have encountered this Jesus and found that they can know God. How about you?
To download the sermon or the life application questions, click here.
Posted by Paul Mann
10th November 2013
How do you feel when you read newspaper headlines such as:
'British jobs for British workers'
'Secret report warns of migration meltdown in Britain'
'A massive rise in immigration next year could trigger a devastating crisis in Britain's schools, housing and welfare services, according to a secret Government report leaked to [this newspaper]'
'One in four adults in Britain are binge-drinkers and the UK recently topped a poll as Europe's heaviest alcohol drinkers'
'Inactivity is "as deadly as smoking" – a lack of exercise is now causing as many deaths as smoking across the world'
How do you react to those headlines? What goes on in your heart?
In Deuteronomy 10:12-22, we read about what God requires of His people. This is a great question to start each day with! The first thing is to fear the Lord – we read elsewhere in the Bible that this is the beginning of wisdom. Christians aren't to fear anything but the Lord. These verses tell us that God owns the highest heavens and the Earth and all creation. He knows what's best for us, and these verses also tell us that God has set His heart to love you!
This passage of the Bible soon moves to the specifics of what it looks like to fear God and follow His ways. We read that God's people are to walk in His ways and to be socially inclusive. God cares about people; He cares deeply about the most vulnerable people in society. He is full of mercy and compassion for the fatherless and the widow, who represent anyone and everyone who is financially vulnerable, has no protection and no voice, is open to exploitation or overlooked in the population, and who is hit hardest in times of crisis.
God's people were told to care for the most vulnerable. He created safeguards for the Israelites so that the poor didn't get poorer: whatever situation someone got into – whether it was their own fault or caused by someone else – they would get a fresh start when the Lord's Year of Jubilee came around. In the New Testament Jesus is even more provoking, saying that how we treat the hungry, the thirsty, strangers, the sick, those without clothes and those in prison, is a test as to whether or not we are following Christ at all! (See Matthew 25)
Who are the socially vulnerable in our society? Perhaps the mentally ill, those who don't fit into mainstream education, the elderly, the long-term unemployed, the poorly educated, victims within broken families… God cares about the socially vulnerable, and His people are to care about them too. We might feel we have good reasons not to -- maybe you think they brought it on themselves, or they may abuse your kindness, or you think it's your money -- but what would Jesus think of those reasons?
"While Romans generally despised the poor and viewed their misery as largely self-inflicted, the early Christians won the [Roman] empire to Christ by demonstrating the gospel by the way they helped the poor." (Phil Moore, Everyday Church, London)
When we encounter those who are poor and vulnerable, are we hard-hearted and cynical? As Christians, our default setting should be compassion. That's where we should start. If we don't start there, we need to ask if we are thinking with a renewed mind, or a polluted one? Are we thinking in a 'merely human' fashion? (See 1 Corinthians 2:4) Or are we following Christ in our attitudes, thoughts and words towards the poor?
As well as being socially inclusive, God's people are to be racially inclusive. God loves the immigrant -- Israel was told to love the immigrants among them too, because they knew what it was to be immigrants themselves when they were in Egypt. Likewise, Christians are described in the Bible as foreigners here on Earth. The purpose of the Church is to be a light to the nations -- this isn't just going to the nations, but as they come to us too!
"I draw a lot of parallels with Wilberforce's battle with slavery: he saw a whole nation and even the Church changed from thinking that slavery was ok to seeing it abolished. There is a lot of prejudice and misunderstanding about asylum and a lot of injustice, but it's my belief that God can turn a nation's attitude around in the space of a lifetime. That's my prayer: that we become a nation that's proud to take care of the most vulnerable once again." (Julian Prior, Action Foundation)
Again, is compassion our default setting? Are we thinking we a renewed mind, or a polluted one? Are we being 'merely human'?
To listen to the sermon and download the life application PDF, click here.
Posted by Paul Mann