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20th September 2015
What does a disciple of Jesus look like? There are five particular characteristics of Jesus that we would like to give ourselves – individually and as a church collectively – to growing in.
The first is that Jesus’ disciples are courageous. We read in 1 John 4:18 that perfect love casts out fear. When we know we are loved and secure, we become more courageous. We are not called to play it safe. Courage comes as a by-product of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
We are called to be a people who step out in courage despite fear – when we feel fear, it’s an opportunity to be courageous because we know God won’t reject us but is we are secure in Him. When we know we’re loved, it gives us the freedom to take a risk and go for it.
Disciples are also joyful. We’re a people who enjoy God, enjoy His salvation and enjoy the Church as well. We learn to rejoice in all circumstances – we can be happy in God even when everything is going wrong. It’s not about pretending everything is fine, but it’s accessing the things that God has given us.
We rejoice in the hope and glory of God. We read in Galatians 5:22 that there is a connection between being filled with the Spirit and being joyful. Even when going through severe tests of affliction and extreme poverty, an abundance of joy and generosity can flow out. That’s how the gospel works: it’s supernatural – two bad things go in but two great things come out (see 2 Cor. 8:1-2).
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit, but rejoicing is an act of the will. The most joyful people are those who spend the most time rejoicing. Rejoicing can be seen and heard. How good are you at rejoicing? How much time do you spend doing it? If you think you’re just not wired that way, read the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Philippians – it’s a master-class in joy.
Thirdly, disciples are authentic. We are called to shine with integrity and purity. Our inside private world matches our outside public word. We don’t try to live to please people, but to please our Father in heaven. There’s something genuine about Jesus’ disciples – the world needs a Church that doesn’t put on a façade but shines with truth and integrity.
We need to have genuine, open and transparent relationships with others, where we open up our hearts to a few people who are part of this church family, and share with them our highs and our lows. Prioritise connecting with people in a godly and real way.
Disciples grow in honour – this is about where we place value and giving value to what God gives value to. We honour men and women on the basis of the fact that they have been created in the likeness of God. Honour is only truly seen in disagreement. It’s easy to honour people we like and people who agree with us.
Finally, as disciples who follow Jesus, we overflow with generosity – we are too be generous with time, emotion, money, energy, and all that we are and have. We are called to live generous lives.
Our communities are looking for a Church that is different from them. These characteristics aren’t for Sundays or for mid-week meetings. Courage, joy, authenticity, honour and generosity should pour out from us, because we have received so much from God and He is with us.
Posted by Paul Mann
9th August 2015
We read in Acts 12 about the ferocity of the persecution of the early church. We join the story just after Herod has killed James and imprisoned Peter. In the middle of the night, Peter is released by an angel and goes to where many of the church are gathered, praying earnestly through the night.
Prayer wasn't something the early church just did in a crisis. They'd learnt to pray from Jesus and it was part of their everyday lives. In Acts 2 we read that they were devoting themselves to prayer; in Acts 4 the place in which they were gathered was shaken when they prayed; in Acts 10 Peter was given a vision to take the gospel to the Gentiles when he was praying.
The first disciples prayed. It was a fundamental part of their lives. Wayne Grudem defines prayer as "personal communication with God". We get to speak to our Father in heaven and hear from Him and experience Him. We know that good communication is key to all of our relationships – it's how they deepen and grow. It's the same in our relationship with God.
It's in our personal conversations with God that our faith grows; that's where we're strengthened and become increasingly courageous. We can so easily, in our society, be self-reliant, but actually we are called to be those who are totally dependent on God for the strength and wisdom that we need.
Prayer is so important to us for a number of reasons:
1. It enables us to get a right vision of God – when we spend time with Him, we learn more about His character, His holiness, His majesty, His grace, etc., etc. Prayer reminds us of who God is and so enables us to have a right perspective of Him.
2. It emphasises our dependency on God – we're often slow to pray, thinking that we can sort things out ourselves or not wanting to bother God, but prayer shouldn't be something we do as a last resort, when we've exhausted all of our own resources. It should be our starting place.
3. Prayer brings supernatural intervention – when we pray we are coming to our heavenly Father who can intervene with signs, wonders and miracles. Prayer takes us from spectating to participating, as we call down God's supernatural power into our communities and situations.
4. It deepens our own relationship with God – as we walk with Him, hearing His voice and responding, we grow closer to Him. It's also when we pray that God highlights areas of our lives where we need to repent and receive His forgiveness. It's really important to cultivate a habit of praying. When we build prayer into our routine, it becomes a joy, as well as a strength in our times of need.
"I have come to know God a whole lot better since I slowed down to pray. I have been astonished by His approachability, endeared by His care, stilled by His presence, encouraged by His affirmation and challenged by His insatiable desire to make the truth known." (Bill Hybels)
5. Prayer builds us together as a church – in Matthew 18 we read that Jesus said that when two or three of us are gathered and agree in prayer, God will answer. It's good to pray together: when we do, we're encouraged and inspired and are built together.
6. Answered prayer strengthens our faith – our faith is founded on the knowledge and understanding that God is good. He listens to our prayers, prompting and directing us about how to pray, and then answering us.
7. Don't let disappointments put you off – we trust God through the painful times, through the times we don't understand. In Acts 12 we read that James had just been killed; no doubt the disciples had been praying for Him, yet He died. This didn't deter them from praying for Peter when he was in prison. Sometimes God doesn't answer us in the way we want Him to. We don't always understand why or why not; we can't always explain it, but we keep trusting God because we know He is good.
Why don't you resolve, over the coming days and weeks, to go deeper in your personal relationship with God by setting aside time to pray each day?
In September we have a week of prayer and our 7am Sunday morning prayer meetings start up again. Why don't you come along and pray with us?
Posted by Steve Young
2nd August 2015
Have you ever had a nickname? Some nicknames are just a fun play on our actual names; others have a meaning – they are connected to how we behave and what we do. Barnabas had a nickname with a meaning.
When the church in Antioch was just getting started, the apostles in Jerusalem sent Barnabas. When they were looking at who to send, they picked an ordinary member of the Jerusalem church and sent him.
There are three reasons for this. Firstly, Barnabas was an encourager. It was so much who he was, that it had become his name. His actual name was Joseph, but it was changed to ‘Barnabas, son of encouragement’.
Encouragement is seeing the good in someone and building them up, helping them to grow through our words. It’s really counter-cultural, so we need to be really proactive about doing it. We don’t quickly build up with our words – we pull people down, complain and criticise. So we need to become encouragers behind closed doors, firstly, so that pulling out the positives and speaking well of people becomes how we are publicly too.
Do people feel built up when they’ve been with you, or do they go away feeling torn down?
The way Barnabas encouraged people was to point them to Jesus. When we encourage someone by pointing them to Jesus, we are helping them to be courageous. If our hearts’ desire was to help people to stick with Jesus and look to Him, our church would mature at an incredible rate.
The second reason Barnabas was chosen to go to Antioch was that he had a good heart. God is far more concerned about our character than about our gifts. Barnabas is the only person in the book of Acts to be described as “good”. Does goodness characterise you?
Barnabas was also filled with the Holy Spirit. This is vital to being who God has created us to be. We need to cultivate a habit of being filled with the Holy Spirit and being dependent upon Him. Barnabas was full of faith too. Faith is about trust and it is based on the character and promises of God. We don’t muster it up or manufacture it by effort – it comes by meditating on the Word of God.
Thirdly, Barnabas understood what it means to forgive others. It was Barnabas who brought Saul (later called Paul) into the church, even though he had approved Stephen’s execution. Barnabas understood God’s forgiveness – he knew that God had sent Jesus so that we could be forgiven, and he knew that he himself had been forgiven.
Sometimes we struggle to forgive because we’ve misunderstood what it is: forgiveness is choosing not to hold something against someone, even though it still hurts. Ultimately it’s saying that God’s the judge, He’ll work out justice, and I’ll leave it to Him. Forgiveness isn’t a one-off thing; it’s a choice we sometimes have to make over and over again.
What happens in a church when someone like Barnabas is sent? It thrives and it plays its part in God’s mission. The church in Antioch became known for their love of Jesus – these were the first people called Christians. It was a negative nickname, but it was based on the fact that they were characterised by their love for Jesus.
It also became a church that heard from God and acted in response, foretelling a famine and deciding to send money to help those affected.
The Antioch church understood God’s heart: that’s why they sent money to people they didn’t know, cutting across geographical and ethical boundaries. Just as Barnabas had demonstrated through accepting Saul and bringing him to Antioch, so the church showed their understanding that God’s forgiveness brings equality.
We need lots of people like Barnabas. We need lots of sons and daughters of encouragement so that our church will thrive and play its part in God’s mission.
Are you a Barnabas? If someone was giving you a nickname, would ‘Barnabas’ fit? Do you encourage people by pointing them to Jesus? Are you focusing on your character, being full of the Holy Spirit and faith? Do you understand God’s forgiveness so it leads you to forgive others?
How can you be a Barnabas this week?
Posted by Andrew Bunt
26th July 2015
God’s grace has no limits. You will never exhaust or run dry the well of grace, mercy and love that He has for you. He likes you! He loves you and delights in you!
Have you ever found out about a party you weren’t invited to? Sometimes when we read the Old Testament it can look like God is only interested in some people – a select few who receive God’s blessing. It looks like God’s grace is limited and not everyone is included.
The truth is that God has always had a plan to provide a means of salvation for all who would come to Him. He has always been concerned about the multitudes. The whole Bible is a book about rescue. God promised Abraham an inheritance from all nations, more numerous than grains of sand on the seashore.
God has always wanted a people for Himself who are noticeably different to everyone else – He has set this people apart and made them distinct. In Exodus 19:5-6 God identifies His people – the Jews were God’s “treasured possession”; there was an exclusivity to it. They did things that other people groups didn’t, and they refrained from things that others did. They were the only people to inherit God’s promise.
If we fast-forward to a few years after Jesus has died, been raised, and ascended to heaven, we read in Acts 10 the story of Peter (a Jew) and Cornelius (a Roman centurion who is generous and prays to God, but is not a Jew).
Both men have visions. Cornelius sees an angel who tells him to bring Peter to his house. Peter sees a sheet lowered down with animals – some clean and some unclean: some Peter would not touch let alone eat. But God says, “Rise, Peter; kill and eat.” Not eating certain food was one of the things that made Peter, as a Jew, distinct. By telling Peter to eat ‘unclean’ meat, the distinction between Jews and Gentiles is being broken down.
This is a key turning point in the spread of the gospel: the boundaries of God’s Kingdom and grace are changing!
Peter’s initial response is, “No!” But God tells him, “What God has made clean, do not call common.” God isn’t primarily talking about food here – He’s challenging Peter’s understanding of the gospel story: the distinction is no longer between Jews and Gentiles, but is now simply whether you have been adopted by God and brought into His Kingdom – and the doors are open to anyone! No one is ruled out.
Most of us were like Cornelius – excluded from God’s promises, outside of His grace, not His people. But now God’s grace has no limits, meaning those who were not God’s people can now be His people, His beloved, sons of the living God (Romans 9:25-26). We are now included in God’s promises and part of Abraham’s inheritance.
Jesus came not just for the Jews, but for everyone who would put their trust in Him. There is no longer Greek or Jew, but all are one in Jesus (Galatians 3:28-29).
So Peter enters the house of a ‘common’ Gentile to bring salvation from God, which would have never been possible before Jesus. Cornelius and his household were baptised in the Holy Spirit and Peter declared: “Truly I understand that God shows no partiality.” (Acts 10:34)
What this meant for Cornelius is also what it means for us: God overcomes our rebellion and brings conversion (Ephesians 1:4); He overcomes our condemnation and brings us forgiveness (Psalm 103:12); He overcomes our wrongdoings and brings righteousness (1 John 1:9); He overcomes our sadness and brings joy (1 Peter 1:8).
Do you understand that you were once cut off, but have now been brought near? Do you understand the great cost for you to be brought into God’s family? Do you rejoice in your salvation?
Posted by Aled Cousins