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7th September 2014
The chapter in the Bible about Daniel and the lions' den (Daniel 6) is ultimately about God's sovereignty and glory. Daniel was exiled to Babylon and lived for 70 years serving the kings of that nation. The Bible tells us he did this with excellence.
Jesus said that his followers are "salt and light" (Matt. 5:16) and in other places in the New Testament we're told to live such good lives that those who don't know God start worshipping Him. How are we doing with living 'excellently'? If you were to hand in your resignation at work, would your boss try to keep you or be relieved to see the back of you? When you're at the supermarket checkout, is your face so long it travels along the conveyor belt, or would the assistant wish every customer was like you?
The key to Daniel's excellence was his relationship with God. The key to Daniel's life is seen in chapter six, verse 10, where we see Daniel go about his usual custom of praying and giving thanks to God three times a day, even though he knew it could cost him his life. Why did he do it? Because he was more influenced by God than by men! He didn't fling up a crisis prayer; he just did what he always did. His behaviour didn't change when circumstances got hard – he had cultivated a lifestyle and habit of reliance on God.
Daniel could've thought, "Well it's only 30 days without prayer – that's not too bad!" What would it take for you to miss 30 days of praying? Would you miss it?! God was so important to Daniel that he counted everything else as rubbish compared to that, which is the same as the apostle Paul in the New Testament (Phil. 3:7-8), and the same attitude we are called to hold. It's about knowing Christ, walking with Him, knowing His voice and enjoying Him. Are you hungry for God?
Daniel's excellence flowed from his relationship with God. But there was a real cost for following God. There were moments when he refused to compromise, even if it cost him his life. We are not in life-threatening situations, but we still need courage to follow God. We all find ourselves in moments where we choose whether or not to honour God. All of our sins can be forgiven, but we can never replay those moments once they've gone.
We're called to be a people who influence, who display something of the goodness of God. We do this as we have excellence in what we do, as we invest in our relationship with God, and as we pay the cost each time he asks us to. Jesus said that those who follow him need to deny themselves (Luke 9:23). When we do, we influence others around us for the glory of God.
To listen to the 'Costly Influence' sermon and download the life application questions, click here.
Posted by Paul Mann
24th August 2014
'Uncompromising' is a word that can have negative connotations. Compromising is a part of many areas of life. In buying houses, we try to negotiate on the price and one party or the other might compromise. Marriages without compromise can run into difficulty fairly quickly!
But there are some areas where we won’t compromise. As a grandfather walking alongside a busy road with my six-year-old granddaughter, I won’t compromise on making her hold my hand for her safety.
Jesus said to his disciples: “You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored?” (Matt. 5:13) When we compromise in our faith, we lose our ‘saltiness’, our distinctiveness.
We read in Daniel 1:1-21 that Daniel used the gifts that God had given him and kept faithful to God – he was uncompromising when it came to following God, yet he also genuinely engaged with the culture around him. How do we live lives like that, uncompromising yet engaged?
Daniel and his friends recognised the hand of God at work in their circumstances. They didn’t become bitter or keep themselves locked away from the culture and people around them, but instead they stood out for excelling in all that they did, because they did it for God.
Like Daniel, Christians are living “as foreigners and exiles” who are called to “live such good lives” that those around us take notice and come to worship God (1 Peter 2:11-12).
There are many areas of life where the Bible is clear on how Christians should live, but there are some areas where it is less clear – for example, what newspapers should I read? What films should I watch? Which political party should I vote for?
When it comes to making those sorts of decisions, there are biblical principles that help us to draw lines in the sand, as it were. Questions we can ask include: Does it glorify God? Is there a clear principle in the Bible to follow? Is it helpful to the growth of my relationship with God? Does it show God’s love? Is it helpful to others?
People who play sports don’t get hung up on where the lines on the court or field are placed. They are just concentrating on winning. Likewise, if we have immovable lines that we have clearly marked down, they help us to live life to the full without compromising.
Compromise can often come at times of sadness and stress or success and celebration. How do we react when we crash the car or get made redundant? Likewise, how do we react when we get a pay rise or a promotion? Is our reaction to hard times to be confident in God, and in the good times to give Him the glory?
The Holy Spirit works in our hearts and renews our minds (Romans 12:2), helping us to know what is right and what is wrong. We also have our Christian brothers and sisters around us who can give input into the decisions we make.
Taking time to think about whether our actions demonstrate the love of God to others will really help us know how to behave. Asking if it will help someone else is also important: it is better to dispense with our ‘right’ to do something, than to offend someone by what we do.
The example of Daniel helps us to consider how we can engage with our culture in an uncompromising way. When we do, we bring glory to God and see others come to worship Him.
To listen to the 'Uncompromising Influence' sermon and download the life application questions, click here.
Posted by Steve Young
17th August 2014
We are good at measuring evil – we all have an idea of what is evil and what is more evil. We have become desensitised, though, to much that is evil; we flick through newspapers and barely notice some of the things that deeply grieve God. Often today, the only things that shock us are those that we consider to be utterly depraved.
For the Christian, every day is a battle between letting the light of God within us shine, or hiding that light under a bowl. Every day we make choices between God's ways and evil ways, and whether we will influence those around us for good or for evil. When we look at Haman, who features in the story of Esther, we see a man who made many bad choices and was hugely influential – for evil!
Haman was extremely proud and arrogant (see Esther 3:1-6 & 5:9-14). Haman's agenda was always centred around wanting more. No matter how much power, wealth, honour and status he had, he wanted more. One of the obvious things we notice about Haman is that he was totally self-absorbed: everything was all about him. I wonder how you would finish this sentence: 'Everything would be fine if only...' Our answer to that question reveals something about the priorities of our hearts.
Another thing we notice about Haman is that he fails to recognise sin and deal with it early enough. Sin is like weeds – if we don't deal with it when it's small, it grows bigger and bigger. We need to weed out the seeds of sin before they grow, because when we sin, we become more tolerant of it and addicted to it. What are your 'weeds'? Can you name your weaknesses? John Owen said: "Be killing sin or it will be killing you."
John Piper points out, though: “A Christian is not a person who experiences no bad desires. A Christian is a person who is at war with those desires by the power of the Spirit. Conflict in your soul is not all bad. Even though we long for the day when our flesh will be utterly defunct and only pure and loving desires will fill our hearts, yet there is something worse than the war within between flesh and Spirit— namely, no war within because the flesh controls the citadel and all the outposts.”
Warring with sin is good. It means the Spirit is at work within us. Haman didn't fight sin, and so his actions became more and more evil. A third thing we see about Haman is that he surrounded himself with people just like him. Esther had Mordecai to challenge her, but Haman didn't make himself accountable to anyone. Sin is like a mushroom – it will grow in the dark. Bringing it into the light breaks its power. Accountability is about submitting to one another (Eph. 5:21), being humble (1 Peter 5:5), and encouragement (1 Thess. 5:11).
The good news is that there is true freedom from sin in Jesus Christ. We won't struggle with sin forever; Jesus has dealt with it and one day we will live in the full freedom of His death on the cross and resurrection. As the hymn says: "A million sins incurred my fall, But Christ died once, and crushed them all!"
Listen to the 'Evil Influence' sermon and download the life application questions here.
Posted by Aled Cousins
10th August 2014
God's people throughout the ages have been told to be courageous – from Joshua (1:7) through to Jesus' disciples (John 14:27), we are told not to be afraid but to have courage.
Courage can be defined as the ability to control your fear in dangerous or difficult situations or to be brave and confident enough to do what you believe in. Courage doesn't happen as a vacuum – it is exercised when fear strikes.
Our courage isn't based on our own abilities or circumstances, but on the fact that God is with us wherever we go; He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us; the God of the universe is with us and for us.
We might imagine that it makes no difference whether or not we have courage, but there are consequences when we do nothing. There was a responsibility on Esther's shoulders (see Esther 4), and there is a responsibility on our shoulders too. We are called and equipped to bring the good news of Jesus Christ, and to reflect His Kingdom on the earth now, being salt and light to those around us. Matthew 5:13-16 says we are to be salt and light. Isaiah 60:1-3 and 61:1-3 tell us we're called to bring a completely different order to the planet – bringing heaven to earth.
Just as Esther was in the right place at the right time, often we are too. God is sovereign and in control of all things. Acts 17:26 says God has determined the times and places of our lives. We might find our circumstances hard, but perhaps God has you where you are for a reason. Esther needed Mordecai to point this out to her. Likewise, we need good friends around us who will remind us that maybe we are here for a reason!
Faith is required for courage. Fear didn't drive Esther away from God; it drove her towards Him. She gathered a group to fast and pray. She trusted in God. When we are under intense pressure, the best thing we can do is pray, and fasting helps us to develop a deeper relationship with God too. There's no place among God's people to do things as a lone ranger. Like Esther, we need each other.
Esther exercised huge courage in 'death to self'. She put the wider concerns of her people above herself; she was willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of the nation. That's what real love looks like – when our agenda dies for others.
Christianity is a costly faith: it requires our whole lives. Courageous influence means being aware that there are huge consequences when we do nothing. It means understanding that God might just have us where we are for a reason. It means placing full trust and faith in God alone. Real courage means 'death to self', for the sake of others.
How can you exercise courageous influence today?
Download the 'Courageous Influence' sermon and life application questions here.
Posted by Santino Hamberis