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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
13th October 2012
I read something along these lines on Twitter today: "If all your prayers from the last 30 days were answered, would anything change in the world, or just your world?"
Challenging, isn't it? It's pretty obvious that Jonah wasn't thinking globally, and it's easy for us to restrict our vision to just our immediate needs, our circle of friends and family, or even the borders of our town or just the people we like. But God's compassion extends to the farthest corners of the world – and no people group is excluded because He's out to save people of every nation, tribe and tongue.
In The Jonah Complex, Greg Haslam asks: "Is there anyone in our thinking who is beyond God's mercy?" Here is a summary of a challenging story from Greg's book:
Notorious American serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer was convicted of viciously torturing and mutilating at least 11 kidnapped victims, resorting to necrophilia and cannibalism. He was completely cold and expressionless during his trial, voicing no remorse or repentance for his actions. The jury and public hated him and wanted him to face the electric chair, but instead he was sentenced to life imprisonment without parole.
A few years into that term, Dahmer was visited by Christians who, over a period of time, helped him to see the corruption of his soul through his early exposure and subsequent addiction to pornography. Dahmer deeply repented of his former life and came to believe in Jesus Christ as the only one who could reverse his depravity and save him. He became a Christian and was baptised. Later, he went public with his new perspectives on his crimes in the sincere and strong hope of deterring others from ever repeating them.
The surprising news of his conversion became widely known and vilified as a cheap shot to elicit public sympathy. The media went into a frenzy of protest and angry reports. One striking headline asked: WHO IS RESPONSIBLE FOR THIS OUTRAGE?
And the answer, of course, is God! It was God's idea to save Jeffrey Dahmer.
This story of one of the world's worst and most cold-blooded killers and the questions it inevitably arouses, might well cause us all to think of the possibility that a Jonah may lurk somewhere in the hidden recesses of each of our hearts...
Readings: Jonah 3; Romans 9:15-26
Question: How do you react to the story of Jeffrey Dahmer?
Next prayer meetings: Tomorrow, 7am at THC and 7pm at The George in Rye
Posted by Natalie Williams
11th October 2012
A few months ago, I noticed on an acquaintance's Facebook profile that under 'Religious Views', she had written: "Religion is a crutch for the weak." My first thought was that she can't have ever got to really know a religious person (ignoring any quibbles about the use of the word religion – let's just assume it means someone with faith). I also guessed that the 100,000+ Christians killed on account of their faith each year for the last decade would not agree! (Not to mention the thousands of people of other faiths who are martyred, too.)
And I'm sure Jonah would've disagreed. God asked him to go somewhere he didn't want to go and to proclaim a message to a people who may very well have killed him for it. Most of us don't find ourselves in such dangerous situations – in fact, we can languish for years in a comfortable, mediocre Christianity if we choose to – but when we actively pursue God, our faith is challenging, transforming and demanding.
Being a Christian means submitting to an authority higher than yourself – this can mean, for example, choosing to do something you may not particularly want to do (forgiving when you'd rather hold a grudge, giving to charity/those in need when you'd rather buy a new TV, being kind to someone who is unkind to you, etc), and deciding to align your beliefs, attitudes, behaviour – your whole life – to what God says is true and right, because you trust that even when you may not like it, God's ways are higher than your ways and He knows better than you!
Of course, in one sense, our faith is a crutch and we are weak. On the journey to faith, an essential step for the Christian is recognising their personal, desperate need for a Saviour. And the Bible tells us that "God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong" – our God is especially concerned about those who the world might judge as weak and He makes it His delight to lavish His mercy on those who know they need it! We also know that God is "an ever-present help in trouble", so in one sense it's absolutely true to say He's the One on whom the weak can lean to be upheld. (But I doubt that's what my Facebook acquaintance means!)
Faith in God – our Creator and our Father who is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love – is wonderful! But it is also often hard, because in the words of the famous hymn: "Love so amazing, so divine / Demands my soul, my life, my all!"
Readings: Jonah; 1 Corinthians 1:27-31; Psalm 46:1-3
Question: How is God asking you to align your ways with His ways at the moment?
Next prayer meeting: Tonight at 7.30pm, THC
Posted by Natalie Williams
8th October 2012
Jonah 4 depicts a rather dramatic Jonah displeased with God's decision to show mercy to the people of Nineveh. Jonah knew God to be a God of mercy and compassion, and he knew that if God saw true repentance from the people of Nineveh, he would spare them from His judgment. You would think this would cause Jonah to rejoice, yet his response was one of anger! The Amplified version of the Bible puts it like this:
"And he prayed to the Lord and said, 'I pray you, O Lord, is not this just what I said when I was still in my country? That is why I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and [when sinners turn to you and meet your conditions] you revoke the [sentence of] evil against them.'" (Jonah 4:2)
After pondering Jonah's response, I started asking myself the following questions: how would I have reacted in the same situation? Do I really care about the lost? Am I willing to be inconvenienced so that God can use me to reach out in mercy and compassion?
Life can be so busy and full of distractions, I guess the challenge is to keep God at the centre and stay open for God to use us in whatever way He wants. God wants us to have hearts and minds that are open to Him and are aware of those around us, that we would be people who are always looking for opportunities to bless, encourage and reach out, so that God can show his compassion, grace and mercy. What a great God!
Reading: Jonah 4:2
Question: Do you have God's heart for the lost?
Next prayer meetings: Tomorrow at 12.30pm and Thursday at 7.30pm, both at THC
Posted by Clare Burford