Suffering & Our Expectations

Suffering and Our Expectations

Expectations color our reality in tangible ways every day. This is especially true in our relation-ships with others. What we expect someone to do or not do will have a big impact on the way that we get along with that person. There is nothing that will cause more trouble in a relationship than unmet expectations.

The same is true in our relationship with God. Whether we realize it or not, most of us have some type of expectations about God. About who he is or how he will act in our lives. When things are good it’s easy to think that we accept God as he is and follow him without question. But it’s when things go wrong, when we experience suffering, that our expectations of God begin to surface. It’s in those moments that we realize that we have expected God to show up in a particular way and he just seems to have not come through for us.

 

We’re Not Alone

We aren’t the only ones to struggle with these types of expectations of God. When Jesus came to the Jewish people there was much confusion about who he was. Though they had heard prophecies about who the Messiah would be, they seemed to have their own expectations of what Jesus should have done. Jesus just didn’t go about things in the way they expected him to. This is further illustrated by a story about John the Baptist in Matthew 11:2-6.

“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account me.’”

Matthew tells us that John has been thrown into prison by King Herod and it is clear to John that he is unlikely to get out of there alive…apart from a miracle. It is in the midst of this suffering that John hears about all of the things that Jesus has been doing and sends his disciples to Jesus with a question. It’s significant to understand that what prompted John’s question doesn’t seem to be the suffering only, but perhaps also the fact that he’d heard about Jesus helping others. As so often happens, despite all that John knew and believed about Jesus, it was in the midst of his own suffering that his expectations of the Messiah began to surface. Suddenly, he found himself wondering why Jesus would help others and but he wasn’t rescuing him. He wasn’t setting him free.

 

Struggling with a Question

Out of John’s expectations of Jesus arises a question that is not uncommon. He sends his dis-ciples to ask, “Are you the one?” It’s an odd question coming from a man who had preached about Jesus being THE ONE. But it’s not that unusual to us. In fact it seems like a logical way to feel when you’ve expected God to show up and he doesn’t.

But the key to understanding and navigating this question is to understand the reason we ask it in the first place. And that goes back to our expectations. As we said, we have trouble in our relationships when we have unfulfilled expectations. When we expect God to help us in a situa-tion and he doesn’t come through then we are left with this question or why. Why doesn’t God come? Is he really God? Is he really good? And even people who know and believe in God can find themselves asking these same questions of God.

 

How Jesus Responds to Our Suffering

At first glance, Jesus’ response to John may appear harsh. In essence, he affirms what John already knows. That Jesus IS the Messiah, the Son of God. And, that Jesus is NOT coming to help John. But why would Jesus offer this as a response to John, someone who he loved and respected?

While it’s true that Jesus was telling John that he wasn’t coming, he was saying much more than that. In Jesus’ description of what he was doing, he wasn’t just giving an itemized list of his activities. Rather, he was reminding John of the Old Testament prophecies about the Messiah. He was reminding him of who the Messiah was and pointing out that he WAS, in fact, doing the things the prophecies said he would do. He was showing John that John just didn’t quite under-stand who the Messiah was. He was inviting him to let go of his expectations.

And then Jesus invited John to see him as he really is. His final words to John were, “Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” What he is basically saying is,

There is joy for the one who can see Jesus as he is rather than stumbling over their own expectations of what they want him to be.

 

Joy in Suffering

While it’s understandable that we should let go of our expectations and instead see God as he truly is, it’s hard to see how that would allow us to have a sense of joy despite our suffering. Yet the truth is that seeing Jesus as he is, means that we understand a fuller picture of God and of his plans and purposes in the world. And it is from that perspective that we can abide in him despite our suffering. Jesus helps us to see this in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”

When we see Jesus as he is, we can know and believe that though we experience some suffer-ing in this world, it is only a temporary struggle. Ultimately, we know that God’s love and justice will be prevail. We know that this is NOT the end of the story. And it is in the confidence of this truth that we can have peace and joy in midst of our suffering and pain.

There Must Be More Than This

There Must Be More Than This

Growing up I always loved fairytales and Disney movies. I loved these classic stories of hope and redemption. Though at times these stories didn’t really seem to reflect the reality of my every day life, they seemed to speak to some other longing inside – a longing for the way things could be. As I’ve gotten older I still enjoy a good super hero movie, but nowadays I can’t seem to watch without sensing a bigger story. It’s like there are flashes of Jesus and the redemptive narrative of scripture in every movie.

King Solomon tells us in Ecclesiastes 3:11 that we shouldn’t be surprised by this. He wrote that God “has placed eternity within the human heart.” There is literally something inside of us that longs for something more. We are hard wired to believe that there is something greater than what we see. And Solomon tells us that it is God who has placed this feeling inside of us.

Solomon would certainly have been the one to understand this idea because he had it all. Because of the blessing granted to him by God, he was able to acquire wealth, knowledge, power, and every kind of pleasure or experience the world at that time could offer. There was nothing he couldn’t have. At the end of each accomplishment, he came to the same conclusion….everything felt meaningless and empty and he felt a longing within himself….a longing that there must indeed be something more.

There’s no doubt that within the human heart is a searching for something more. Perhaps like the U2 song many of us find ourselves at the place of saying, “I still haven’t found what I’m looking for.”

 

The Beginning

This is really where it all begins. The beginning of poetry, art, music, philosophy, religion – it all stems from a similar longing within the human heart to know the creator and to find meaning for the life we’ve been given. For centuries, we have sought to understand this longing, to define it, to discover how it might bring meaning to what we call life.

In the Bible, there’s a story about a group of people who lived in Athens who were searching, much like you and I, to understand life, searching to discover who God might be and longing to know how God might impact their lives. We are told in Acts 17:22-28 what the Apostle Paul said to these people about God, “People of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: To an unknown God. So you are ignorant of the very thing you worship – and this is what I am going to proclaim to you. The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by human hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything. Rather, he himself gives everyone life and breath and everything else. From one man he made all the nations, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he marked out their appointed times in history and the boundaries of their lands. God did this so that they would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from any one of us. For in him we live and move and have our being. As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’”

 

In Him We Live

All religion begins with a search for God. A search to understand the longing for something greater that lives within all of us. And Paul suggests that this search will only lead us closer to the God of Christianity. The God who gave life to all things and rules all things. The God who needs nothing from us and who gives everything to us. The God in whom “we live and move and have our being.”

Life need not feel empty or meaningless. God has created us so that we would search for him. Not searching endlessly with no hope. But rather, searching knowing that He longs for us to find him. It’s comforting to think that he stays close to us – even as we search. He waits patiently for our hearts to find him and to open up to him.

And it gives me such hope to know that my life, my being, my very existence rests in a God who is near and longing to have relationship with me. St. Augustine said, “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless until they learn to rest in you.”

 

Come Near to God

James 4:8 says, “Come near to God and he will come near to you…”. Sometimes we can overcomplicate faith. We believe that following God must require a lot of difficult steps. That perhaps there’s much we must change about ourselves in order to find God and be fully prepared to meet him.

Yet, we would be wrong to believe this. God simply calls us to come to him. He has already done the work to prepare us for a relationship with him through Jesus’ death on the cross. All we must do is come. It’s so simple.

Perhaps today there is a longing for hope that you are realizing can only be filled by God.

Take some time to pray.

Come close to God.

Reach out to him.

Let him know you are searching for him and he will come close to you just as he’s promised.

Be My Valentine?

Be my Valentine

Stereotypically Valentine’s Day is often loved by women and loathed by men! Comedian Jay Leno suggests “men like to call it Extortion Day!” The hopeless romantic enjoys the opportunity for romance and passion. Others find it a crude reminder of realities they would rather forget. My young sons tend to block their ears and rush away screaming at the mention of ‘love’! There is a host of different reactions.

What we cannot do is ignore it! It has become a significant part of our cultural landscape, partly at least because of the commercial profit to be made and partly because our western culture loves love! Especially the sentimental soul-mate sickly sweet variety!

But where does it all come from?

 

Who was Valentine

The details of his life are sketchy, but Valentine was allegedly a Christian who was canonized by the Catholic Church as a saint. His name is derived from the Latin word valens, meaning strong and powerful.

Confusing matters more, there may have been as many as three ‘Valentines’ who all loved Jesus, were martyred for him, and whose lives have become jumbled up in the re-telling.

One legend claims that Emperor Claudius II outlawed marriage because single men made better soldiers. But a priest named Valentine secretly performed marriages, thereby defending romance and love.

Another legend claims that prior to being beheaded, Valentine prayed over the daughter of his jailer, curing of her blindness.

 

Party Time

The celebration of Saint Valentine was initially fairly minor. But in AD 498, Pope Gelasius chose February 14 as the day for commemorating Valentine’s life because that was the day he reportedly died as a Christian martyr (around AD 270). That day proved to be opportune, as later a medieval legend emerged that birds select their mates on February 14! Saint Valentine’s Day also fell the day before the Roman fertility feast of Lupercalia on February 15. Lupercalia was a festival a little like Freshers’ Week (in the UK) or Mardi Gras and Spring Break (in the US) today! Lupercalia was dedicated to Faunus, the god of parties! Once Saint Valentine became connected with the debauchery of Lupercalia, his Christian influence on the holiday quickly waned.

 

Cards and Gifts

One legend reports that Valentine actually sent the first valentine card; while in prison awaiting his execution, he wrote a love letter to a woman and signed it, “From your Valentine.”

By the Middle Ages, Valentine’s Day was widely celebrated. The first ‘modern’ Valentine’s Day card was reportedly a poem sent by Charles, the Duke of Orleans, to his wife in 1415 while he was imprisoned in the Tower of London. That card remains on display at the British Museum in London. By 1450, to be someone’s valentine was synonymous with being his or her boy or girlfriend.

By the mid-1700s, Valentine’s Day grew in popularity throughout Great Britain, and around that time in American. By the 1840s, the commercial greeting card companies began mass-producing cards. Today, an estimated one billion valentine cards are sent each year, making Valentine’s Day the second largest card-sending holiday of the year, after Christmas.

 

Making the most of Valentine’s Day

Sadly, the holiday in his name completely ignores the great Christian hero Valentine. But why not redeem your Valentine’s Day? Make it about a great Christian hero – Valentine; or a great Christian value – love. How could you redeem Valentine’s Day back to the great Jesus-loving men, all three of them, called Valentine?

Maybe my sons would be less likely to rush away screaming in horror at the thought of Valentines day if they knew the love it celebrates is not sickly sweet but robust, solid and life-saving? Perhaps that meal out could be so much more than a sentimental rose-petaled evening if its a affirmation of a ‘Valentine-strong’ love in that partnership or marriage?

Anxiety: Cast it don’t carry it

Anxiety: cast it don’t carry it

What are you anxious about? This might help.

‘Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.’ (1 Peter 5:7).

What does it mean to cast your anxiety on God?

The word “cast” is in Luke 19:35. It’s Palm Sunday and the disciples have been sent to get the donkey. “They brought it to Jesus, and casting their garments on the colt, they set Jesus on it.”

If you have a garment on and you want an animal to carry it for you, you “cast” the garment on the animal. You don’t carry it anymore. It’s on the animal not on you. The donkey works for you and lifts your load.

God is willing to carry your anxieties the same way a donkey carries a coat or bag. One of the greatest things about the God of the Bible is that he commands us to let him work for us before commanding us to work for him.

“Come to me, all you who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

“Cast your burden on the Lord, and he will sustain you” (Psalm 55:22).

“Even to your old age I am he, and to gray hairs I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save” (Isaiah 46:4).

“From of old no one has heard or perceived by the ear, no eye has seen a God besides thee, who works for those who wait for him” (Isaiah 64:4).

Throw the garments of your anxiety onto him. He wants to carry it.

 

How Do You Do That?

You do it by trusting the second half of 1 Peter 5:7. It says “…because he cares for you.”

How do you practically make the anxiety transfer from your back to God’s back? The answer is: trust that he cares for you. Believe this promise. Trust him.

That promise does not hang in the air. It is connected to a command and the promise is meant to show you how to obey the command. The command is, ‘Cast your anxiety on God’. The promise is, ‘God cares for you’. He cares about the thing that has you worrying. He wants to be trusted for that.

Often we trust God in the abstract. A text like this says lay a specific anxiety on God. Trust him specifically that he cares about that specific thing. When it says that he cares, it means he cares about that thing; that anxiety. It means he will act. He will work. Not always the way we would – his horizon outstrips ours tenfold. Casting your anxiety on God means trusting him for handling this specific situation, in his wisdom. If you believe that he cares (which is what the promise says) then your fears will be lifted.

 

The Connection of Prayer

Philippians 4:6 says, “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything, by prayer and supplication, let your request be made known to God. And the peace of God which passes all comprehension will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.”

So 1 Peter 5:7 says, “Cast your anxiety on God by trusting that he cares for you.” And Philippians 4:6 says, “Cast your anxiety on the Lord by praying and letting your requests be made known to him.” The connection is simple. Trusting that God cares about your anxiety is expressed in prayer. Prayer is trust turned toward God and expressed.

 

Pray what?

– Prayers of thanks. (Philippians 4:6)
– Prayers for humility (Philippians 2:3–8).
– Prayers for more faith in God’s promises – to know he cares.

What does it mean to be a member of a Church?

What does it mean to be a member of a church?

Is it about a monthly meeting? Is it just for those who are keen? How do I qualify? Does it matter, really?

As we start the new year it might be worth a moment’s reflection – whether you are a member of a church or not. If you would like to consider being a member of our church or would like to refresh your understanding of membership drop Alex a line (pastoralexharris@gmail.com) or come along to the Beacon International Centre at 7.30pm on 2nd Feb and 2nd March.

But here’s something to get you thinking…

 

Is ‘membership’ even in the Bible?

Yes, ‘membership’ is in the Bible. The New Testament assumes a clarity about who is part of the church is.[i] Commands to leaders assume those leaders know who they are leading and are responsible for; the New Testament letters are written to ‘the church in….’ which assumes both the church internally and society externally knew who was meant; and in Acts we read of a number of times of people being sent out ‘by the church’ or of issues arising ‘in the church’ as a defined group.[ii] We may want to acknowledge there are some blurred edges to this group but nevertheless there seems a clear implicit assumption that the church knew who it was.

Chester and Timmis summarise this well:

To be a Christian is by definition to be part of a community…the New Testament assumes commitment to real people in real local churches with all their faults and foibles.[iii]

 

Belonging in church

There are of course lots of ways to belong to church, all to be celebrated and all part of our journey with Jesus.

 

Some are fans

Positive about the church and what it does but who are watching and appreciative as opposed to part of the adventure of faith themselves.

 

Some are friends

Further along than just spectators. They are engaged with faith and with church but perhaps not fully committed – either to Jesus or to the church.

 

All can be family

By trusting Jesus as their Lord and Saviour and then committing to this local church as their immediate brothers and sisters to help them follow Jesus.

We obviously long for people to move from fans to friends to family and celebrate and respect all levels of belonging. But it is the ‘family’ level we now turn to. This is our vision of how we relate, love and lead within the context of being brothers and sisters. This is membership.

This family relationship is defined by love: As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another. (John 13:34-35) But what does this love look like?

 

A wonderful word in the Bible to describe this: Koinonia [iv]

This is the Greek word translated as membership, partnership, or fellowship in English. One definition has it:

The New Testament describes bonds so vital and genuine that a deep level of intimacy can be experienced among the members of a local church…The word has such a multitude of meanings that no single English word is adequate to express its depth and richness…It is a complex, rich, and thoroughly fascinating approach to building community or teamwork.[v]

In Luke 5:7 it is used to describe the fishermen Jesus first called. They are family linked biologically as two sets of brothers. They are partners linked financially and socially. They are mutually-reliant on each other, linked physically in a dangerous and demanding profession. So a commitment to become a member is a commitment to others of this magnitude. After 50 years leading in the local and global church John Stott can write:

Our growth into maturity, according to the purpose of God, takes place in the context of a family group…it is lone members of the congregation who hold themselves aloof from a more intimate Christian fellowship, who are likely to stunt or damage their spiritual progress.[vi]

Koinonia is both about rules in an organisation and relationships that are organic. It is more enduring that a legal document and more tender than an informal relationship. More binding than both ink and blood.

It is expressed by 59 ‘one another’ verses in the New Testament: to love, to be at peace, to encourage, to correct one another, and so the list goes on. You can see the full list in the footnotes.[vii]

 

Summary

The weight of the Bible’s material on membership is toward being a committed band of brothers and sisters helping each other and loving each other so the world can see through our relationships what God is truly like. Therefore:

 

It is about real support in each other’s lives.

Sometime called pastoral care but perhaps better simply called ‘loving each other’ this is the heart of church membership. It is truly, practically, lovingly, bravely and enduringly being brothers and sisters who are commitment to seeing Jesus reflected in each other and ready to correct and be corrected when we drift from that. It should be both organic and relational, and organised and central. So any structure around membership is mostly about creating the environment where relationships can flourish and steering people toward committing to love each other come what may, including the necessary tough love we all need at times. It is about being family.

 

It is about a public, verified statement of your faith as genuine.

Leeman answers the question ‘What is church membership’ like this:

It’s a declaration of citizenship in Christ’s kingdom. It’s a passport. It’s an announcement made in the pressroom of Christ’s kingdom. It’s the declaration that you are official, licensed, card-carrying, bona fide Jesus representative.[viii]

When we accept someone as a member we are saying to them and to the world – you are a Christian; look here if you want to see a representative of Jesus. It is about mission.

 

It is about purposeful support of the church family’s mission.

It means being delighted in getting involved as and how you can in all sorts of ways in the corporate life and mission of the church. It means contributing in time and skills, money and wisdom as Jesus’ family together on his mission, sharing an agreed vision and carrying an appropriate part of that shared burden.

 
 
REFERENCES
[i] Jonathan Leeman, Church Membership (Crossways, 2012) chapter 2 ‘Membership sightings in the New Testament’ is a good summary.

[ii] It’s worth noting here we butcher the biblical meaning of the word ‘church’ in English. It can mean the people, the building, an individual church, the churches across a town, the global church, the universal church of all believers across time and space, the ‘national, Anglican church, etc. In Greek it simply and only means ‘a gathering of people’.

[iii] Tim Chester and Steve Timmis, Total Church (IVP, 2007) p.84-85

[iv] John Stott, The Living Church (IVP, 2007) has a brilliant, short chapter on the meaning and implications of this word. Chapter 5: Fellowship: The Implications of Koinonia (p.91ff)

[v] New Bible Dictionary (IVP)

[vi] John Stott, The Living Church (IVP, 2007) p.92

[vii] 1. “…Be at peace with each other.” (Mark 9:50) 2. “…Wash one another’s feet.” (John 13:14) 3. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34) 4. “…Love one another…” (John 13:34) 5. “…Love one another…” (John 13:35) 6. “…Love one another…” (John 15:12) 7. “…Love one another” (John 15:17) 8. “Be devoted to one another in brotherly love…” (Romans 12:10) 9. “…Honor one another above yourselves. (Romans 12:10) 10. “Live in harmony with one another…” (Romans 12:16) 11. “…Love one another…” (Romans 13:8) 12. “…Stop passing judgment on one another.” (Romans 14:13) 13. “Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you…” (Romans 15:7) 14. “…Instruct one another.” (Romans 15:14) 15. “Greet one another with a holy kiss…” (Romans 16:16) 16. “…When you come together to eat, wait for each other.” (I Cor. 11:33) 17. “…Have equal concern for each other.” (I Corinthians 12:25) 18. “…Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (I Corinthians 16:20) 19. “Greet one another with a holy kiss.” (II Corinthians 13:12) 20. “…Serve one another in love.” (Galatians 5:13) 21. “If you keep on biting and devouring each other…you will be destroyed by each other.” (Galatians 5:15) 22. “Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.” (Galatians 5:26) 23. “Carry each other’s burdens…” (Galatians 6:2) 24. “…Be patient, bearing with one another in love.” (Ephesians 4:2) 25. “Be kind and compassionate to one another…” (Ephesians 4:32) 26. “…Forgiving each other…” (Ephesians 4:32) 27. “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs.” (Ephesians 5:19) 28. “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” (Ephesians 5:21) 29. “…In humility consider others better than yourselves.” (Philippians 2:3) 30. “Do not lie to each other…” (Colossians 3:9) 31. “Bear with each other…” (Colossians 3:13) 32. “…Forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another.” (Colossians 3:13) 33. “Teach…[one another]” (Colossians 3:16) 34. “…Admonish one another (Colossians 3:16) 35. “…Make your love increase and overflow for each other.” (I Thessalonians 3:12) 36. “…Love each other.” (I Thessalonians 4:9) 37. “…Encourage each other…”(I Thessalonians 4:18) 38. “…Encourage each other…” I Thessalonians 5:11) 39. “…Build each other up…” (I Thessalonians 5:11) 40. “Encourage one another daily…” Hebrews 3:13) 41. “…Spur one another on toward love and good deeds.” (Hebrews 10:24) 42. “…Encourage one another.” (Hebrews 10:25) 43. “…Do not slander one another.” (James 4:11) 44. “Don’t grumble against each other…” (James 5:9) 45. “Confess your sins to each other…” (James 5:16) 46. “…Pray for each other.” (James 5:16) 47. “…Love one another deeply, from the heart.” (I Peter 3:8) 48. “…Live in harmony with one another…” (I Peter 3:8) 49. “…Love each other deeply…” (I Peter 4:8) 50. “Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.” (I Peter 4:9) 51. “Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others…” (I Peter 4:10) 52. “…Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another…”(I Peter 5:5) 53. “Greet one another with a kiss of love.” (I Peter 5:14) 54. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:11) 55. “…Love one another.” (I John 3:23) 56. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:7) 57. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:11) 58. “…Love one another.” (I John 4:12) 59. “…Love one another.” (II John 5)

[viii] Jonathaon Leeman, Church Membership (Crossways, 2012) p.64

Let Light Shine 2017 Vision

2017: Vision

Just a couple of times a year, and New Year is an obvious one of those moments, we try and articulate something of the vision we feel God has given us as a church. It’s simple really. It’s laid out in places like Acts 14:21-25. The church’s (any church!) strategy is:

 

To Reach People

“They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples.” (21). The church has a burning, unflinching, self-sacrificing ambition to tell people who haven’t heard about Jesus about Jesus. And to do that in rationale, persuasive, engaging, truthful, integral ways that mean people are ‘won’ – lots of them.
 

To Grow Disciples

“Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. ‘We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,’ they said.” (22). Conversion to confidence in Jesus is only the start. Then they are to build, grow, strengthen, reinforce, and establish those people as firm followers of Jesus.
 

To Catalyse Churches

“Paul and Barnabas appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord, in whom they had put their trust”. (23) People are reached, then grown and then organised into a vibrant church with committed leadership and a growing, mutual trust in Jesus. Churches that repeated the cycle so not only are we disciples-making-disciples but churches-making-churches.
 

And to start again!

“After going through Pisidia, they came into Pamphylia, and when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia.” (24-25) And then they start again…and again…and again. The church is to never outgrow this basic, three-fold sequence; reach, grow, catalyse.
 
 

What does that mean for Beacon Church – one church with many beacons – in 2017?

We think it means seeking God to birth some things in 2017, and to conceive others ready for 2018.
 

Planning, praying, hoping and working toward seeing God birth:

• A Sunday Morning, monthly meeting as part of the congregation on Highfields, starting late January/February time and called PubChurch.
• A step evolution in Sunday Afternoons at Sandon Road with the swell in numbers, especially of children. Under 11s out number adults and we need to readjust how we do this!
• To initiate two Sunday Morning meetings to replace the one we now have at the Beacon International Centre to enable us to reach more people, love each other more effectively and practically fit in the building. This will probably be in April.
• To start a weekly meeting on Marston Grange, small but authentically a true congregation of the church. This will start early February.
 

Praying, hoping, giving, pleading and plotting God would conceive for a 2018 birth:

• A significant opportunity to reach the 6000 students that will populate the Chinese education centre (to be called The New Beacon Centre) that used to be the Staffordshire University campus next door to the Beacon International Centre.
• To journey with discussions of planting a church reaching students at Staffordshire University Stoke campus and Keele University.
• To explore a strategic partnership with HEBA, our regional Baptist network, to assist the rejuvenation of churches in Staffordshire.
• To begin relationships, conversations and a prayer network to see the 4000+ Burleyfields Development in south Stafford reached. Building of these homes is underway.
 
We are daring to believe God will move us from six to eight congregations by the end of 2017, and to around a dozen by the end of 2018.
 

God is able. Will he do it?

It is vital we remember it is Jesus’ work and we are called not to commit unyielding to our plans but to his glory. We are praying and working hard to see many, many people reached and won for Jesus. But we do not claim God has promised any of this. Indeed, we realise we may fail. But we want to have a go for Jesus and not die wondering what might have happened if only we’d trusted more and tried harder. We have no idea how Jesus might enable us to keep multiplying. We are content to wait upon him. In fact we rejoice to recognise that ‘our vision’ may well be accomplished through other networks, people and generations – we are glad to serve them if that is the case. God has granted us a tremendous sense of momentum and an exciting suspicion that we have only just begun and so we ‘strenuously contend with all the energy Christ so powerfully works in us’ (Colossians 1:29) and trust him for the rest.
We shared a more detailed version of this vison on Sunday January 8th (audio coming soon). Afterwards one paragraph from the Bible was repeatedly highlighted by various people. It is appropriate to hear it again:
 
‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’ (Joshua 1:7-9)

Men, Women and Marriage Q&A

The first five questions: on dating, singleness, fearless wives and advise for husbands.

In total on Sunday 15 questions were asked about marriage, singleness, husbands and wives. Thank you to everyone who took the risk and texted in a question. Every one was brilliant and over the next three weeks I’ll try and offer a very brief answer to them in the weekly email. Here’s the first five!

 

1. As a man, how do I start to implement this?

Proverbs 27:17 says ‘As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.’ Jesus had two extremely close friends. Paul wrote about his ‘dearest friends’. We are meant to do life together – it’s the lone wolf who starves, the isolated soldier the sniper strikes. So find another person to share your life with. We have smaller, mid-week groups for this, or get along to the men’s night at Jonny’s (14 Henry Street, Stafford) on Wednesday at 7.30 to pray and connect with other guys (if you’re a guy!)

 

2. I am dating a Christian girl. How far is too far physically?

I get asked this lots by young people and University students. It’s a wrong question! It’s like asking ‘how close to sin can I get?’ A better question – at this moment, with this person how do I ‘love God’ & ‘love my neighbour’ best (Mark 12:30-31)? And God (whose ways are both right and better) says restraint. Why? Two very practical reasons spring to mind.

Restraint shows:
– You trustworthiness. If you can be self-control now she can trust you to show that same self-control over the next 50 years. If you can restrain from sleeping with her before you are married she can trust you more not to sleep with someone else once you are married.
– Your seriousness. That Jesus is most important for you, and amongst Christians that is deeply attractive.

 

3. I find singleness really difficult – why is that?

The Bible, for example is places like 1 Corinthians 7, calls singleness and marriage BOTH a gift and grief. In marriage there is gift (like intimacy, children, commitment) and grief (like compromise, conflict and loss of independence). In singleness there is gift (time, independence) and grief (lose of intimacy). The Bible says, whether single or married gift and grief will be woven together for us. So singleness is partly difficult because we live in a culture that idolises relationships and loads them with freight they cannot and were not designed to carry, but also we should not, as Bible Christians, expect it to be different. Whether married or single we will experience aspects of gift and aspects of grief.

The key is what we do with the gift and the grief.

We are to serve with the gift – help and benefit others.

We are to help each other with the grief. So invite those who are single into our home and families if we are married; journey together in friendship; if single find ways to surrogate-parent others’ children (for their and your sanity!). All these and more are ways we ‘mourn with those who mourn and rejoice with those who rejoice’ (Romans 12:15)

 

4. Last week we talked about fearless women. As someone very anxious how do I become more fearlessness?

This ‘fearlessness’ is not something we try and squeeze out or self-generate, beating ourselves up as failures if we are fearful. Peter says this fearlessness comes from a ‘hope in God’ (1 Peter 3:1-6). It comes from an ever-deepening and growing knowledge of God and his sovereignty in all circumstances. You are fearlessness in the face of what is frightening because you know God has it in control.

Do you fear failure? Remember, Jesus has already succeeded for you so you will ultimately win.
Do you fear punishment? Jesus has already been punished for you so you can be loved.
Do you fear abandonment? Jesus has already been forsaken so you won’t be.

Of course there are forms of anxiety which rightly benefit from medical and professional assistance – please accept that help.

 

5. I get married next year – what is the best advise you would give me about being the best husband I can be?

Ephesians 5:21-32 speaks to husbands very clearly. Fundamentally, ‘Husbands, love your wives as Christ loved the church…’ So the best way to be a good husband is to be a good Christian – saturated in knowing how Jesus loved the church and emulating that in how you love your wife. How did Christ love the church? He was strong, sacrificing, unflinching, and servant-hearted, even to the point of death. Be like Jesus was. After all that is the main point and purpose of marriage – to put Christ’s love for the church on display for all to see – ‘This is a profound mystery but I am talking about Christ and the church’ (Ephesians 5:32)

 

Next week includes what to do when we ‘fall out’ of love; responding to feminism; divorce; and living with a non-Christian partner.

What can we tell our children about Father Christmas?

what-tell-about-father-christmas

 

Father Christmas – a third way

Christians have three options when it comes to culture, including culture’s approach to Christmas. We can reject it and try to have no part with it, segregating ourselves. We can receive it and accept it as good. We can redeem it, seeking to transform what we can for good without necessarily endorsing the whole.

 

What can we do about Father Christmas?

Some let their children know his fantasy identity from the start. Others allow the magic to remain until they are a little older. There is no right or wrong. But there could be a third way, even a better way, to consider.

Since Santa and Father Christmas are pervasive in our culture it is nearly impossible to reject them outright, especially in terms of our children’s experience at school and nursery and among friends. They are here to stay. That does not mean as parents we can only receive the entirety blindly. The third option is to redeem by remembering the fact behind the fantasy.

 

Fact that is better than fantasy

The historical roots behind today’s Santa only increase our children’s excitement and thrill at Christmas. The facts are better than the fiction – by a mile!

We have told our kids these true stories behind the ‘mythical’ Santa Claus. We play-act his heroic deeds, wonder about his motivations, draw pictures of ‘Santa Claus’ not bearded and jolly, but facing danger and saving people and helping others – the true Santa Claus. And of course talk about how that original man was driven to such acts because Jesus was his forever king.

So who was the original Santa Claus?

 

The Truth about Santa Claus

Santa Claus was a real person, though many of the aspects of today’s character have been added such as the flying reindeer, living in the North Pole, and delivering presents to every child in one night. Today’s Santa is a combination of a true man and some mythical extras.

 

A Gift-Giver

The myths surrounding Santa Claus derive from the very real person of Saint Nicholas. Nicholas was born in the third century in Patara, Turkey to an affluent family. When young his parents died tragically but had raised him as a Christian, which led him to spend his significant inheritance helping the poor. He frequently gave gifts to children, sometimes even hanging socks filled with treats and presents.

 

A Courageous Leader

As an adult he was a well-loved Christian leader, eventually voted the Bishop of Myra, a port city Paul visited (Acts 27:5-6). Nicholas reportedly also travelled to the legendary Council of Nicaea to defend the deity of Jesus Christ in A.D. 325. He died on December 6, 343 and was canonized as a saint. The anniversary of his death became the St. Nicholas holiday when gifts were given in his memory. He remained a very popular saint among Catholic and Orthodox Christians. Some two thousand churches were or are named after him. The holiday in his honour eventually merged with Christmas and moved to December 25th.

 

A Freedom Bringing Saviour

Nicholas also risked his own life and freedom intervening to rescue young girls and women from being forced into the sex trade. One story records how he saved three sisters by secretly placing gold coins in their stockings, hung out to dry, until they had accumulated enough money to buy their freedom. Their ‘owners’, knowing their example might encourage other girls to do the same, them sort to imprison then. Nicholas led a group of men in a midnight raid, freeing the girls and paying for them to begin a new life elsewhere.

 

A Forgotten Hero

During the Reformation Nicholas fell out of favour with Protestants who did not accept canonising certain people. In Holland his legend as Sinterklass lived on though most countries gradually forgot him. In Germany, Martin Luther replaced him with the ‘Christ-child’ as the object of holiday celebration called ‘Christkindl’. This became pronounced Kris Kringle and became another name for Santa Claus.

 

Mythical Extras

Legends became attached to this historical figure.

There was a myth in Nicholas’ day that a demon was entering people’s homes to terrorize children and that Nicholas could cast him out. There was a Siberian myth (isn’t that near the North Pole?) that a magical-shaman entered people’s homes through their chimneys to leave them mushrooms as gifts. He would hang them in front of the fire to dry where reindeer would eat them and become intoxicated. The shaman and his deer were believed in be able to fly. Hence our modern image of Santa Claus traveling from the North Pole to slide down chimneys and leave presents on fireplaces before flying away with reindeer.

 

Redeeming Santa Claus

The real Saint Nick was a wonderful man who loved Jesus and served him faithfully, generously and bravely. We do not need to reject Santa Claus nor receive him as culture as defined him. We can and should redeem him, especially for our children as he points to Jesus and true devotion to Jesus. It’s a true story of a great Christian full of adventure and fun and victory – what child won’t enjoy that Christmas reality told them?

Hearing God

 

Hearing God

As a church we believe God’s voice is heard when God’s Word (the Bible) is taught.  It is one of our values: Bible Saturated.  Yet often it makes us bored, fidgety and unable to remember anything we heard (except perhaps a humorous story told by the speaker!). What can we do?  How can we listen to talks from the Bible so we really do hear from God?

 

This was the question asked by a number of different people in a number of different ways following Sunday’s preaching.  Peter told us that the Bible is a ‘living and enduring word’ (not dead, dying, temporary or passing!) and is laden with miraculous potential to cause change so radical it’s like being literally ‘born again’!  (1Peter 1:22-25)

 

To answer those questions, and you may have them as well, I have reproduced the six hints and helps I think the Bible points us toward.

 

1) Expectantly
We are to listen to talks on the Bible expectantly because Jesus gives the authority of God himself to the speaker who teaches the Bible accurately, prayerfully and obediently. Of course it is good when people who can, study the Bible themselves privately or in smaller groups, but it is vital (if you want to hear from God) that you hear the Bible taught publicly. According to Peter the living and enduring word of God is the word that was preached to you (1Peter 1:23-25). He goes on to explain that if anyone speaks (and the context is the Bible being taught in church) he should do it as one speaking the very words of God (1Peter 4:11). In the Old Testament Bible teaching is described as a face to face meeting with God (Deuteronomy 5:4-5). Therefore when the Bible is reliably taught we should expect that God will speak and that we will be changed by his Spirit.

 

Action Point: We do not instinctively hear preaching as the voice of God. Our natural reaction is to take it simply as the voice of people and disregard it (especially if we don’t like them or what they are saying). This is why praying is vital: for the speaker during their preparations; for ourselves and others as we listen; for God’s Spirit to change us as we obey what we hear.  Did you know we pray from 9-10am at the Beacon every Sunday morning, not least for God’s voice to be heard as we gather – why don’t you join us?

 

2) Alertly
It is not always true that when we hear the voice of the preacher we hear the voice of God. Whether we hear the voice of God or not depends on one thing – is the speaker reliably teaching the Bible? Are they saying what the Bible is saying? Is the speaker’s main point built from the passage or are they just using the passage as a springboard for saying what they want to say? We are not asking how well or poorly the speaker communicated, but whether the message came clearly from the Bible.

 

Action Point: We should be looking at our Bible and asking the question ‘where did they get that from?’ and ‘is that really what the Bible teaches?’  That is why we have Bibles readily available in our gatherings and encourage people to have them open themselves.

 

3) Humbly
If a speaker is teaching the Bible reliably then at some point it will hurt! We all come to God with our lives messed up; with prejudices, wrong beliefs, and confusion about God. This is true however long you have been a Christian. I come to the Bible as a thoroughly broken person who cannot think straight, act as I ought, or speak right. Therefore the Bible is going to tell me to do and change things I don’t want to do and change. I need to recognise that God knows best and should be obeyed. I need to listen humbly, admit the Bible is right, and that I need to change, to get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly except the word planted in me (James 1:21). I need to be ready to listen and obey.

 

Action Point: Work hard not to fall into the trap of criticising the speaker as a way of avoiding the Bible criticising you. Don’t spend lunch lamenting the speaker’s inadequacies or commending their excellence. Rather discuss the Bible truths and life-changes you are going to focus on from the talk.

 

4) Communally
The normal place for hearing the Bible taught is your local church. God’s purpose is not to shape a collection of individuals, but to form a community of his people. There is no such thing as a ‘virtual’ church. Though it is great that technology means we can access talks on the Bible from renowned teachers, this must never replace our being regularly in our local church (even if our pastor is not quite as good a speaker as those online!). When we listen to a talk online we are not really listening to what God wants to say to us, but to what God had to say to someone else. It is an echo. When we listen to a talk together we are accountable to one another to listen well. It is more difficult to doze off in church than at home alone. And of course at home, if the recorded speaker starts to address a topic we find uncomfortable, we’re in control to switch them off. That’s why Hebrews 10:24-25 says ‘let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good works. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing.’ Though it can be supplemented, nothing can replace hearing the Bible taught in your local church.

 

Action Point: Make being at church a priority. Regularly going to church to hear your pastor speak to you as part of your community is vital to hearing God’s voice.

 

5) Obediently
Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says (James 1:22). We need to be those who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering, produce a crop (Luke 8:15). We must not be those who hear words but do not put them into practice (Ezekiel 33:32). A great threat to obedience when it comes to talks in church is entertainment. We live in a world of entertainment and many of us come to church with an expectation to be entertained. Yet the role of the speaker is not to entertain you but, by God’s grace, to change you.

 

Action Point: Avoid asking questions about how the speaker could change to be more engaging. Instead ask questions about how you should change to become more like Christ.

 

6) Demandingly
It is one thing to listen to good talks – and the major part of choosing a church is to make sure whoever does most of the speaking reliably teaches the Bible. But how are we to listen to bad talks that do not explain the Bible reliably, or are so dull it is almost impossible to listen? Good listeners demand and encourage excellence from their Bible teachers.

 

Action Point: Encourage the good. Focus positively on aspects you want to encourage (which will be far more successful that a long list of complaints). Gently ask for clarity about things that were said which you could not see in the Bible passage. Earn the speaker’s confidence by regularly listening to them, obeying the Bible, and encouraging them where you can.  When was the last time you helped one of our regular preachers by giving considered feedback?  Or encouraging them in the task by showing how it has made a real difference to you?

 

 

*based on a blog post from October 9th 2012 and again in May 2014

This is the word that was preached to you.

Peter describes God’s word as ‘enduring’, ‘living’ and containing all that is needed for for us to be ‘born again’ (1 Peter 1:23-25).  ‘This is the word that was preached to you’ he says.  This Sunday I will be unpacking this at our Sunday morning main meeting.  It has made me think of a few of those who personally have most helped, encouraged and corrected me as God’s Word first took root and continues to endure and live.

Who has most helped you?    Mine include:

Peter Guinness
Available and Integral
Peter was the first preacher I ever heard before, as and after I became a Christian at University.  At its most basic preaching needs to be available to be heard.  I was at University in the town Peter led a church.  That church was open and welcoming of students (not least it had a service starting at 9pm in the evening for us!).  Peter stood up week by week and spoke about Jesus from the Bible.  He made that Word available.  But he was also integral.  When he wasn’t preaching, after three earlier services, he would still be at that late evening gathering, usually in T-shirt and jeans handling the tech desk.  I knew he didn’t just come to preach.  He came because it mattered.

John Piper

Intellectual and Emotional

Preaching should be both deeply intellectual and wonderfully emotionally satisfying.  Preaching should both fire neurons that have lain dead and blaze bright cavities of the heart left too long darkened.  Preaching should be both.  Piper does this.  He taught me God wanted to birth new life in heart and head by his Word.

Resource:   http://www.desiringgod.org/resource-library

Graham Daniels

Winsome and Faithful

Preaching should be both winsome and faithful.  Preaching should both be enjoyable and enjoyed (the listener can find pleasure in preacher and preaching); and rigorous and true (God must be pleased with our faithfulness to his Word).  Preaching should be both.  ‘Dano’ taught I didn’t need to sacrifice truth on the altar of attractive but preaching God’s Word could and should be both.

Resource: http://www.christiansinsport.org.uk/resources.asp?section=27&sectionTitle=Resources

John Stott

Word and World

Preaching should be both saturated in the Word and intelligent about the world.  In Stott’s own analogy preaching holds in one hand the Bible and in the other hand the newspaper and has delved the depths of both.  Preaching should know Christ and know culture and shine the former onto the latter.  Stott, a remarkable man of God, taught me their dual importance.

Resource: http://www.allsouls.org/Groups/180546/Resources/Sermons_and_Media/John_Stott/John_Stott.aspx