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Chocolate Christianity

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How not to be a Chocolate Christian

or

How to change Ch-rch to Church!

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Have you ever noticed that chocolate melts under pressure & heat? If you haven’t, take a piece of chocolate and hold it between your fingers! It will soon melt! If you are a Christian, you need to be active in your local church so that you don’t melt under pressure and you will remain firm in your faith! Otherwise you will be a chocolate Christian who easily gives up under the stress and pressure of every day life!

At a church local to where you live, you are needed regardless of who you are!

Perhaps this is you?

  • Interested observer but not a committed Christian
  • Not bothered
  • Not good enough
  • Just want to be left alone
  • Don’t know how to be involved
  • Don’t know why being involved is important
  • Too busy

But why should you be involved?

(more…)

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Psalm 66

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Psalm 66 – True Joy!

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Tonight we are to study Psalm 66, which is a prayer of joy. The reason for this is, because where ever hope can be found, there is always joy. This is particularly true of the Christian life. As christians, our great hope is knowing that through the Lord Jesus Christ we will have salvation. Salvation is freedom. Freedom from injustice, freedom from sin. It is freedom from our prison of looking after our self, to a new life of entrance into self-forgetful worship & service to God. It is freedom from the limits of pain, decay, death, and entrance into a new world of life, immortality, beauty and joy without end. That is the hope of the Christian, and that is why we can have joy as Christians. But joy, is not just for the future. Joy is also for the present, for the here and now. But, what is joy, and what place should joy take in our life today. But first we will look at Psalm 66, and see where joy fitted into the life of the Psalmist.

All together now-applause for God!

Sing songs to the tune of his glory,

set glory to the rhythms of his praise.

Say of God, “We’ve never seen anything like him!”

When your enemies see you in action,

they slink off like scolded dogs.

The whole earth falls to its knees-

it worships you, sings to you,

can’t stop enjoying your name and fame.

5-6 Take a good look at God’s wonders-

they’ll take your breath away.

He converted sea to dry land;

travelers crossed the river on foot.

Now isn’t that cause for a song?

7 Ever sovereign in his high tower, he keeps

his eye on the godless nations.

Rebels don’t dare

raise a finger against him.

8-12 Bless our God, O peoples!

Give him a thunderous welcome!

Didn’t he set us on the road to life?

Didn’t he keep us out of the ditch?

He trained us first,

passed us like silver through refining fires,

Brought us into hardscrabble country,

pushed us to our very limit,

Road-tested us inside and out,

took us to hell and back;

Finally he brought us

to this well-watered place.

13-15 I’m bringing my prizes and presents to your house.

I’m doing what I said I’d do,

What I solemnly swore I’d do

that day when I was in so much trouble:

The choicest cuts of meat

for the sacrificial meal;

Even the fragrance

of roasted lamb is like a meal!

Or make it an ox

garnished with goat meat!

16-20 All believers, come here and listen,

let me tell you what God did for me.

I called out to him with my mouth,

my tongue shaped the sounds of music.

If I had been cozy with evil,

the Lord would never have listened.

But he most surely did listen,

he came on the double when he heard my prayer.

Blessed be God: he didn’t turn a deaf ear,

he stayed with me, loyal in his love.

1. Psalm 66 and joy

a. Joy and the Earth (vs. 1-4) Listen again from another translation to that beginning! ” Make a joyful shout to God, all the earth! Sing to the glory of his name! Offer glory and praise! “. The majority of scribes and leaders of Israel normally only gave praise to God silently and in meditation. This was of course acceptable to God. But here among a great number of peoples the whole earth is encouraged to shout with great joy to God. This also was acceptable to God, and it is quite natural for great crowds of people to shout in harmony. If praise is to be widespread, it must be vocal; joyful sounds stir the soul and cause great thanksgiving spread throughout the people.

God is to be praised with both the voice and the heart. Oh, great joy when all the earth will worship God in joyful harmony. One day, all the earth will sing the praises of God, in every language. The whole earth, everyone, is encouraged to sing of the glory and power of God. The psalmist encourages the worshipers to turn their praises to God. The honour of God should be the focus of our praises. It is our glory to give God glory. We turn in joy and admiration to a God who one day will cause all the earth to fear and tremble before him. One day all the earth will bow down to worship God. For those who are enemies of God, who have never believed in him, they too will be forced into submitting worship to Him They are forced to worship Him out of His power and submission, not because they choose to. But their worship will not be like the saints. The worship of the saints, of those who truly believe in Him, will be of truth, love and pure joy and service. The joy of the earth will be to praise God.

b. Joy and the nation of Israel (vs. 5-12). After the selah, possibly a brief pause in the song, the psalmist now exhorts joy because of what God has done for Israel. He has done mighty works for his people the nation of Israel. Did not God start the nation from Genesis 12 and Abraham? Did not God lead His people out of the Egyptian exile by parting the Red Sea with His mighty hand so that his people could walk to freedom? Does not God rule forever by his mighty power? God watched over that nation of Israel, making covenants with Abraham, Moses and David promising that He will be their God and they will be His people.

The people of Israel were people of joy, because they could look and see what God had done for them, and have a sure hope of what He will do for them in the future. God took Israel through hard trials and exiles. The psalmist here continues to encourage the people to loud praise and joyful noise of God because silver and gold do not become pure without some refining, without being put through fire. God kept the feet of Israel from slipping, even though they turned their back on him. God always kept a remnant of believers for himself. In Israel, God sent them into exile to their enemies for punishment of their rebellion against him, but finally He led them into the promised land, flowing with milk and honey (v 12). That is why Israel could have joy, because of the hope they had in their God.

c. Joy and the psalmist (vs. 13 -20) The psalmist’s joy starts with a sacrifice. Something that cost him. A sacrifice of vows and burnt offerings. What he said he would do, he will do. He gave God promises, and he wants to fulfil his promises before God. Because of his great joy, the psalmist tells others of the source of his joy. He gives testimony to the love of God: how he confessed his sins to God, and how God had listened to him and answered his prayers. The Psalmist told the people to come and hear his story. Listen to what God has done for me. They had all seen God’s work, but they also needed to hear that He was a gracious god, So the joy of the psalmist involves sacrifice, testimony and praise,

2. Applying it to ourselves.

As we have just seen the psalmist’s joy involved sacrifice, testimony and praise, So how can we apply these things to ourselves,

a. Sacrifice – As christians we should always give our best to God. The psalmist never presents a starving goat to God as a sacrifice, but well fed animals (v 15) of the best fields, Of all we have, whether small or large, we are actively encouraged to give God the best of it. It was not a waste to burn the fat upon the altar of God, nor to pour out the precious ointment upon the head of Jesus. Sacrifices show our heart love to God. Making sacrifices, shows gratitude to God in action, Joy comes from giving to God.

b. Testimony, – Giving our testimony to people should cause us to have great joy. Telling people what God has done for us, should cause everyone of us to have even greater joy than we have already. Telling others of God’s mercy, grace and love is all part of our joy. When we lead someone to Jesus for the very first time, not only do they feel great joy and peace in their heart, but we feel great joy inside of us. The joy of God bubbles up inside of us and demands that we praise our God the Father.

c. Praise, – Praising God lifts our heart, soul and spirit when we are feeling down. The whole earth one day will praise Him and have great joy; the nation of Israel praised Him for the things He had done for them and had given them much joy, The psalmist praised God, and there was great joy in his heart. He had many reasons to praise God, God listened to His prayers, took his sacrifices and worship, forgave him when he had confessed his sins, God had not withheld his love from him. Surely the praise of God’s people causes great joy to be spread amongst them.

Now that is all very well you may be thinking, but just what is joy? Is joy happiness, or is it more? Here are what some people have said of joy. “We are all strings in the concert of God’s joy” – Leon Bloy. “The joy that Jesus gives is the result of our being at one with Him” – Oswald Chambers. Many people, including some Christians confuse joy with happiness, however there is a vast difference. As C.S. Lewis once wrote: “Joy is never in our power, and pleasure is. I doubt whether anyone who has tasted joy would ever, if both were in his power, exchange it for all the pleasure in the world.”

As humans we only feel happiness or pleasure depending on our circumstances, while joy is always separate from our circumstances. Happiness is a surface emotional response to good things; while joy is a deep-down heartfelt response that endures whether good or bad things happen to us. The world says happiness is looking out for number one and negotiating your personal good in all you do. The greatest good is their own happiness, however the happiness doesn’t last long so the search for happiness continues in its circle.

Joy however, is the result of sacrificial love. It is for the good of others, not for ourselves, which is to be our judge of joy. When we give away our will, for the sake of others, we receive the joy that Jesus desired for us. Happiness and joy are radically different. In his autobiography, Surprised by Joy, C.S. Lewis described his pursuit of joy. He tried to find it in humanism, communism, eroticism, and lots of other human philosophies and searches. But they only led him to places where joy had already been. He did not find joy for himself until he realised that joy would come only as a result of putting Christ first in his life. Joy, unlike happiness, is never an end in itself. It is only as we make Christ our overwhelming first priority that joy, almost without our knowing it, comes. If we seek joy, we will lose it, because it cannot be caught. People of the world seeks happiness not joy. Joy is given only by Christ and serving him. Hebrews 12:2 says, “Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” Jesus had the endurance to go through the pain and suffering because he had the end in view. He was affirming his purpose for the redemption of the world, and so he never lost sight of the joy that was set before him. Joy would come to him out of suffering because he gave himself for the redemption of mankind.

Jesus prayed that his disciples would have joy: “I say these things while I am still in the world, so that they (his disciples) may have the full measure of my joy within them.” (John 17:13). The joy of Christ is transferred to us as we go about the task of serving him in this world. Joy is the second fruit of the Spirit. Joy is to be a quality about us just as it was a quality of the Lord Jesus Christ.

However, sometimes we don’t feel as if joy is part of us. We begin to ask ourselves if we have lost the joy of our Christian lives. We look around at the world we live in and see all the misery and injustices; we see the waste of human life in cancer and HIV Aids, and we don’t feel very joyful. But when we do that, we are confusing happiness and joy. If we have lost the joy of our Christian life, we need to put back into perspective what God is calling us to do and consider if Christ is still truly first in our lives. Joy is Jesus Over Yourself. We can never truly lose joy, but we can misplace it if our priorities get out of line. Joy is not something to be worked at or toward. It is not a goal to be reached, nor is it an end in itself. Joy is the result of our relationship with Christ. A relationship of Jesus Over Yourself. Joy was sacrifice, testimony and praise to the Psalmist. It is for us too in the last days before His coming again.

As this is now the night before Easter week, let us end with that comment from the writer to the book of Hebrews in regards to Jesus and joy. “Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising its shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.” As E. Underhill said: “This is the secret and meaning of joy, We shall no longer strive for our own way; but commit ourselves, to God’s way, submit to His will, and in doing so find joy and peace, -.

Go out with joy, today!

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Romans 1 – God of Salvation

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A God of Salvation

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Please do open your bibles to the book of Romans and chapter 1.

Reading firstly from Romans 1:16-17

For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed-a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

And now from Romans 3:21-24

But now apart from the law the righteousness of God has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.

Introduction

Paul in this letter is writing to Roman believers a synopsis of his beliefs, and to church leaders in Jerusalem where he would have to make an adequate explanation of himself. The language and concepts shared in these passages are that the Gospel of God is that salvation is for all who believe; righteousness of God; universality of both salvation and judgment; and that salvation and righteousness are available through faith. The adversative “But” in Romans 3:21 heralds the solution, but the text in between these verses highlights humanity’s unrighteousness and need of God’s righteousness.

1. The Problem

All have sinned” (Romans.3:23). Our inherent sinful nature of unrighteousness comes to all mankind from the first rebellion against God by Adam. To be with God eternally we need to be declared righteous, for unrighteousness cannot enter the holy and righteous presence of God. So for humanity, created in God’s image (Genesis.1:26) to re-enter God’s presence, each person needs to be declared righteous and thereby justified. Justification is the transformation from a condemned criminal to that of an heir awaiting a majestic legacy. If God doesn’t punish unrighteousness, then God would have to destroy not only us, but also Himself. Holiness is an absolute attribute of God, which requires the punishment of any impurity or unrighteousness (that is sin), and if unrighteousness remained unpunished, God would cease to be God and we would cease to be human. Ergo, since the first rebellion God has had a Gospel plan to restore righteousness to man.

2. Initial Questions

2a. What is the Gospel plan?

The Gospel is one, which Paul is separated to according to his own words in Romans.1:1. Paul announces it is the power of God for the salvation of all in Romans 1:16. The Gospel is the good news that God has provided the means for rebellious humanity to be rescued from His wrath and judgment. The Gospel is a two-fold message: it is deliverance from the final judgment resulting from God’s anger against sin and a crediting of righteousness upon sinful man. Not only will humanity be saved, but has been saved. This Gospel creates faith (Romans.1:16-17); brings life (Romans.1:16) and judgment (Romans.2:16)

2b. What is wrath?

When we think of wrath, it is usually of an uncontrollable rage or temper tantrum. God’s wrath does not portray the human weaknesses of vindictiveness, or an uncontrolled pique. We can dismiss such ideas, since due to His forbearance, God’s anger and judgment has been smouldering since the first rebellion of Adam and Eve. God’s wrath invokes justice (Romans.2:5).

2c. What is righteousness?

There are three meanings to this key phrase of Paul’s: “righteousness of God”. Firstly, righteousness is an immutable characteristic of God, in that whether it is a righteousness that judges or a righteousness that saves, it is still God’s righteousness. Secondly, that His righteousness demands God actively keeps the promises He has made. Thirdly, that His righteousness makes us righteous. So, who needs this righteousness?

3. God’s Judgment

When we describe God’s judgment, similarly there are three aspects to it, all of which give a total and clear picture. For God’s judgment to only have one or two of these characteristics, would mean it was not the judgment of a holy God. God’s judgment is inescapable, righteous and impartial.

 

3a. Inescapable

We are inherently self-righteously hypercritical of others. Paul tells us that this makes us hypocritical and we have no right to stand in condemnation over people, as what is common in all humanity is a universal sinfulness or separation from God (Romans.2:1). We set unachievable high standards for others and yet remarkably low standard for ourselves.

 

3b. Righteous

God will judge according to what each person has done (Romans.2:6). While we may be justified and declared righteous by faith, we will be judged based on the works we do, to earn rewards. Our faith is to be supported by good works (Galatians.5:6; James.2:18). Paul here shows two destinies. Eternal life, glory, honour, peace and immortality for those who enduringly desire to perform good works (Romans.2:7,10). Juxtaposed to this are the self-indulgent and disobedient who shall incur God’s indignation, wrath and righteous judgment (Romans.2:8-9).

 

3c. Impartial

God shows no favouritism (Romans.2:11), so whether Jew or Gentile, both can be saved and be declared righteous. God is eternally just and righteous. It is a reflection of His mercy, that nobody can claim God is unfair.

4. All have sinned and need God’s righteousness

4a. The Gentile is in need

Gentiles, non-Jews, require this righteousness of God. Unrighteousness is universally endemic as all humankind has rebelled, “fallen short of God’s glory” (Romans.3:23) which has been passed down since the original sin in Genesis. Whilst God has given the Jew the Law, how has God revealed Himself to the Gentile? He has revealed Himself and His invisible attributes, fully to all humanity through their individual conscience (Romans.1:19) and His creation (Romans.1:20).

In Christ, God has now revealed Himself fully in visible form (Colossians.1:15-17) so that humanity has even less of an excuse not to worship God, follow Him and be obedient to Him. Whether it is through ignorance they did not glorify Him (Romans.1:21); through foolish wisdom (Romans.1:22) or self-indulgence (Romans.1:25); God allowed man free will and gave them over to their desires (Romans.1:26, 28). This is viewed in non-heterosexual practices (Romans.1:26-27) being viewed as an abasement and denial of God. It is noticeable also through idolatrous attitudes and actions. Humanity began as creations’ pinnacle but ended up beneath creation when man started worshipping creation instead of the Creator (Romans.1:23).

Gentiles are without excuse (Romans.1:20) and their actions decree their eternal destiny. Having suppressed God, God thereby debased man’s mind to all kinds of wickedness (Romans.1:28) so that humankinds temporal pleasure may be appeased, and of which, are still in evidence today.

4b. The Jew is in need

Jews had the Law and boasted in it (Romans.2:23). However, possession of the Law was of no consequence to God and Paul claims it is practicing the Law, which matters. Their religion was an external action but not an internal attitude. Jesus’ regular denunciation of the Pharisees reflects this. Adultery, robbery and idolatry (Romans.2:21) were perfectly possible for a Jew to commit secretly according to the Sermon on the Mount.

Instead of being God’s light to the nations, Jews were dishonouring God (Romans.2:24; Isaiah.52:5). Packer in his book “Knowing God” reflects: “The Law cannot save us, for its only effect is to stimulate sin and shows us how far short we fall from God’s righteousness.”

If not the Law, then surely through circumcision a Jew will be declared righteous! After all, the circumcision is the mark of God’s covenant with Israel (Genesis.17).

Again, Paul says no. Circumcision avails nothing if the Law is not kept (Romans.2:25). An uncircumcised Gentile who keeps the law is more acceptable to God than a circumcised Jew who breaks the Law. A Jew is one who inwardly experiences God, not one who exhibits external worship alone (Romans.2:28-29).

Paul continues. All humanity has rebelled against God, both Jew and Gentile. Paul cites Old Testament verses to back his claims that all men are unrighteous before God’s wrath (Romans.3:10-18). There are no excuses. Just like the excuses we come up for when caught speeding in our cars.

5. Salvation for all

5a. Revealed for all who believe by faith

All people are under God’s wrath and are therefore condemned. This wrath, Carson writes is brough forth by universal human wickedness”. We are in need both of rescue and to be justified before God. Paul, continuing with the adversative “But now” (Romans.3:21), explains that God has also provided us with a righteousness that is available immediately so that we may be saved from His wrath. The Law as we have seen condemns any who do not keep it. Yet combined with the Prophets, the Law bears witness to this righteousness. How do we achieve this justification? Faith, succinctly described by JI Packer in “Knowing God”, reminds us, “is a self-abandoning trust in the person and work of Jesus.” By exhibiting faith in Jesus, as it is due to him, we have been declared righteous and have a legal status of being justified, if we choose it. Can we earn it? We have seen how both Gentile and Jew have failed in trying to achieve salvation (Romans.3:23). Nevertheless, we need to believe in order to receive the righteousness we have asked for. This grace (Romans.3:24) declares believers “righteous at the beginning of their course, not at the end of it”. This gift, which is free, enables believers to be justified through the act of redemption (Romans.3:24).

 

5b. God’s Wrath Propitiated through Redemption.

Redemption implies ransom. It is the purchase of a slave, simply to set that slave free. It involves a ransom payment. God’s grace pays God’s justice on our behalf so that righteousness can be declared. God’s grace is the origin of our justification. This redemption, results from God the Father presenting Jesus Christ as a sacrifice to appease His wrath. Our redemption involved the death of Jesus as our payment. God’s righteous wrath now averted and appeased through this act of propitiation, means we are therefore liberated as a demonstration of His righteousness (Romans.3:25-26). All humanity are slaves or prisoners to sin (Romans.3:9), and it is from this slavery the Gospel declares we have been delivered. The full consequences of this redemption will not be experienced until we have overcome and persevered to gain our eternal inheritance (Romans.8:23-25).

 

Conclusion

Is there any difference today? People are still blasé and ignorant of God, having suppressed the truth. People still declare that the existance of God cannot be proven by rational science and advanced knowledge. People are still both hypercritical of others and therefore hypocrites. It is to this world, we are to apply our theology. This gospel of salvation, which justifies us in order to declare us righteous, thus sparing us from God’s condemnatory wrath, is the one we are to use to spread the good news, that God’s righteousness is free by faith, to all who humble themselves, admit their guilt and ‘lost-ness’ and ask God for forgiveness.

For those who would already call themselves a Christian, you are to tell others about this salvation and you are to serve Him, where ever you are and where ever you go! Jesus is the one you are following and its on His terms alone that you are His disciple. If you view Him as a superhero, somebody who you call upon only when you need something or even as your boyfriend, then beware: Jesus will not be mocked – He wants all aspects of your life to be submitted to Him!

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German pastor who defied Hitler, wrote these words “When Jesus Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die. Discipleship is not an offer that man makes to Jesus Christ, nor is it hero worship, but intimacy with Christ.” Want to be intimate with Jesus Christ? Worship him alone and exhibit your faith to all you come into contact with! Too often Christians and churches side with the rights of the powerful and elite, while forgetting the poor, oppressed and marginalised. Too often Christians and churches neglect to feed the hungry, seek justice for the oppressed and help the poor. There are enough Christians and churches in the UK to make significant positive change to their local communities. Too often Christians sit around on their backsides discussing good theology while in that same community people die of loneliness & neglect.

You say you have faith in Jesus Christ and are dedicated to Him! Good! Then show it and this community will be transformed to the glory and praise of Jesus Christ! Go tell somebody this good news of Jesus Christ. Won’t you go tell somebody this very day, this week, this message of salvation? Salvation, as a free gift and available to all who ask, because nobody can earn it or buy it. The price has already been paid – by Jesus Christ alone on a Roman cross two thousand years ago. If you ever hear people say Dave Roberts has died, tell them that is false. Tell them Dave Roberts is now more alive than ever before.

For those who would not yet call themselves Christian, you need to bow your knee before Almighty God. If you want to turn to God there is no need for delay. He is ready and willing to take you as His own right now. You only have to ask Him to forgive you and to give you help on the journey ahead. It is a partnership between God and yourself. When you place your faith in Jesus, becoming utterly dependent upon Him, you turn to God. You don’t need to do or change anything to become a follower of Jesus!

However once you have made that decision, you leave behind your spiritual isolation and rebellion against Him.

As you live each day, becoming more involved with Jesus day by day, you will find yourself changing. You will stop doing those things that separated you from Him. You will find yourself doing things that please Jesus and develop your relationship with Him. God asks that you accept his guidance and management of your life. His point of view and His strength become your point of view and your source of strength. You turn your mind, will and heart to Him for all you do.

If you want to become a Christian there are three simple steps to follow. Firstly, admit that you have done wrong against God and His ways. Secondly, believe and trust in Jesus. Call on Him, receive, trust, obey and worship Him, recognizing Him for who He is and what He has done. Lastly, confess Jesus as your Lord and Saviour. Once sin has been confessed, and Jesus is believed in and trusted as Saviour, then you are a Christian. Now you are ready as Peter writes in the Bible, “to grow in grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” 

Welcome to the family of God. God has chosen you; Jesus has paid for you and has put His mark within you through His Spirit. Come and talk to one of us after our final hymn! Lets pray.

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Four Portraits of Jesus Christ

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Jesus in the Four Gospels

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In the New Testament, we have four accounts of the life of Jesus Christ which are Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. These are called Gospels. But what is a Gospel, how are the four accounts different or similar and what were the main points each writer sought to communicate.

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Correct thinking leads to correct action – 1 Timothy 1

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Correct thinking leads to correct action!

Sermon I preached, based on 1 Timothy 1, at Durrington Free Church on 21 July 2013…

A Prayer of Anger

A Prayer of Anger – Psalm 94

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(Reposted because some world events are resulting in a lot of people are still seemingly angry…)

I believe that I would be right in saying that most of us here have prayed. Whether in joy and happiness; or in sadness and grief; in need or in want; in praise or in worship or in confessing sin, or in other ways we have prayed. But how many of us have prayed in anger, following the example of the writer of Psalm 94. Have any of us prayed out of anger to a God who is a judge? Have we cried out in anger to a God who punishes evil? By anger I do not mean that short burst of temper when something happens to us against our will. The kind of anger that rises when somebody does something against you, and you retaliate against them.

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No, the type of anger I am talking about is the anger we should feel inside us that occurs when we see injustice being done; when we see sin being done to assist in the systematic abuse of other people. The sort of anger that the church should have felt in Germany during the 2nd World War when the creatures of the Nazi regime held mock trials of so-called criminals such people as Dietrich Bonhoeffer for opposing the ungodly views of the state.

The type of anger we should feel when we face today on our television screens when we see the pictures of the innocent victims of war in Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Iraq or any region where people abuse people for the sake of their own power and glory. The sort of anger that should make us cry tears of sadness and humility when faced with the utter poverty of the families living on the streets in the cities of the world such as New Delhi, Mexico City, Rio de Janeiro or Sao Paolo. George Bernard Shaw once described poverty as the greatest of crimes. That deep seated anger that should be amongst us as Christians when we see the oppressed and the poor being used and abused by those who are in positions of power to help them.

We are all quite comfortable with the God of Psalm 93, the God of majesty, strength and magnificence who is from everlasting to everlasting. The God who is mightier than the greatest seas! The God whose glorious holiness covers his house eternally! Yet something, somehow, makes us uncomfortable about praying to God for justice. Perhaps our view of God is too small. For sure our God is a God of mercy but he is also a God of justice. Our God is a God of love, but He is also a God of wrath. His written word affirms all these things. So the writer of the Psalm calls and prays to God for justice to be done. That He, the judging God might be glorified. Has the writer made this up? No, because God has described Himself as Judge and Avenger (Genesis 18:25; Deut 32:35). How many of us here, have prayed for justice to be done? Perhaps we should pray on occasion for burden of injustice to be lifted off the poor and oppressed peoples of this world. But, before we go any further on this thought, let us consider together 3 things about Psalm 94.

1. Whom is the writer praying to (vs. 1-3)?

The obvious answer to this question is God. But what sort of God is He? Let’s look at all the various descriptions given to us about God in this Psalm. A God who avenges (v. 1). To avenge is to seek revenge on behalf of somebody else. Here God is asked to avenge for the poor and innocent against the wicked and guilty people A God who judges (v. 2). To judge is to decide which is right and which is wrong. Here God is asked to judge the wicked and guilty people for their wrong doing. A God who created and creates (v. 9), disciplines (vs. 10, 12); teaches (vs. 10, 12). A God who knows all things (v. 11) through omniscience. A God who relieves (vs. 13), assists (vs. 14, 17, 18), loves (vs. 18) and supports (vs. 18). He is a God who consoles (vs. 19), and who is incorruptible (vs. 20). A God who is strong and dependable (vs. 22) and a God who is a refuge (vs. 22). But he is also a God who repays and destroys (vs. 23) evil men for their wickedness. Is your vision of God still too small?

2. Why is the writer praying (Vs. 4-7)?

The writer js praying because he has seen the wickedness of mankind and has a deep inner anger against the brutality and evil deeds of the wicked. These people may not be foreigners, since many Jewish leaders were also brutal, for example the evil King Manasseh or the cynics of Isaiah (Is. 5: 18ff). What sort of things are these evil people doing, and what sort of people are they? Arrogant and boastful (vs. 4), crushing (vs, 5), oppressing (vs. 5), slaying widows and foreigners (vs. 6) murdering orphans (vs. 6).

The people who do this sort of thing are the object of the writer’s anger. They are not only content to do evil deeds, but also add hard speeches, boasting, threatening and insulting the saints of God. The insults are used so often that they become a natural part of the language. That is the idea behind the phrase “pour out” in vs. 4. Words often wound more than swords, they are as hard to the heart as stones are to the flesh; and they are poured out by the ungodly against the godly. According to verse 4, they even talk to themselves, and of themselves, in spiritual arrogance, as if they were doing some good deed in crushing the poor and killing the widows, orphans and foreigners. Their error is that they believe that God cannot see their doings, and even if He could see, He wouldn’t do anything about it any way. These evil people, who grind the people of God with oppression, crush them with contempt claim that God cannot see them, and so therefore reason that there is nothing to stop them from doing their evil works. There is no limit to the pride and arrogance of these wicked people, as they have lost their senses (vs. 8 ) and lost all common sense. It is natural for them to boast, just as it is natural for godly men to practice humility. The God of Jacob heard him and led him throughout his life and said concerning Jacob “Touch not mine anointed, and do my prophets no harm”, yet these proud and arrogant people proclaim boldly that God neither sees nor knows what we do.

It is true that those whom God will destroy, He leaves to the madness of their corrupt hearts. What is God going to do? In verse 14, is the answer to verse 5. The Lord has not rejected his own people. He has not forsaken those who are his. To do this, would go against God’s very nature. As his inheritance, God has marked out all those who are his saints. God takes a peculiar interest in their well being and delights in them; He has an eternal covenant with them. I will be your God, and you will be my people. Will God not defend his people? In verse 14, we have the answer!! The Lord will not withdraw His love or leave people totally on their own against the evil persecutors. For a little while, He may leave them with the design to benefit them, yet he will never utterly destroy them. He will discipline His people, but never destroy them.

In vs. 15, the great Judge will come, the reign of righteousness will begin, justice will be done and then all the godly will rejoice. The vehicle of right will be driven down the streets of evil, and all those upright in heart will follow it in joyous procession. Are we as the people of God today, following the path of righteousness or are we trampling somehow on the poor and oppressed? Are we keeping silent when we should be speaking out? Some governments of this world, have for sometime been using their power to oppress, but the cry of this prayer will bring back righteousness to the throne of government, and then every upright heart will proclaim loudly with joy!

3. What is the writer praying (vs.8-23)

a) Help!!!! (vs 16-19). The writer is praying for God to judge injustice, and avenge the oppressed (vs. 2). But not only that, as he is also crying out for help (vs. 16). Who is going to rise up against the evildoers? He obviously needs help, and his friends are not there for him, so he calls out to God for help, The soul is safest and at rest, after calling all others to assist and no one comes, when total trust for help is upon God. Today the church sees error and evil coming into her, and faithful godly leaders seem to be a minimum, and fewer still are bold enough to stand up and defy the enemies of truth. Our great hope is that the God of the Bible is with us, and He will call out his champions to defend Him.

Are you one of God’s champions? Is your foot slipping, are you feeling weak at this moment in time and need help? Take courage, we feel our weakness, and see our danger, and in fear and trembling we cry out. Our inbred sin is dragging us down and we need help. God, in His supreme mercy and love, helps us and our joy is that His mercy endures forever, and is always available to help us in times of danger to support us. From my sinful and proud thoughts, my thoughts of sorrow, my cares, my conflicts, I will hurry to the Lord. This is a cry of the writer, yet are we the same? The Lord alone is consoling, and yet not only consoling but delighting in me. How sweet are the comforts of God the Comforter, the Holy Spirit? Who without feeling joy, can think about eternal love, trustworthy promises, the coming to earth of the Redeemer in Jesus Christ, the risen Saviour and his next coming again. The little world within us, that is full of confusion and strife becomes calm when we rely upon Jesus to say “Peace be with you!”

b) Can a corrupt throne be allied with you? God enters into no promises with those governments who are corrupt, and He gives no help to unrighteous laws. No assistance does He give. They might legalize robbery and violence and then say in defense, it is the law of the land, yet it is still evil and wicked. No injustice is permanent, for God will not set His seal upon it, nor have any fellowship with it, and therefore one day it will fall. An example of this was the slaughter of the Jews during the 2nd World War. The German church in general, allied itself along with the laws and decrees of Hitler, and changed its theology to that of white supremacy. We all know that the plans of the Nazis failed. Or take for example South Africa, which up until recently had a policy of separating whites and others. For a long time the mainstream Church held as its theology that this was true. Since then, the walls of apartheid have fallen, and the church has confessed this sin to God. No evil regime lasts very long. The unrighteous join together, in order to attack the righteous. The guilty join each other to attack the innocent. No crime is too great for them. Yet there is good news. Let the ungodly join together, the Psalmist is not afraid, but sweetly sings that the rock upon which he stands his the Jehovah God, Yahweh who is his fortress and refuge. Firm is the rock of God’s love, and in Him we go for shelter. He is indeed a tremendous lover.

As if in answer to his own question of verse 16, “Who will rise up for me against the wicked and evildoers”, the final verse gives us an answer. The natural result of oppression, against the innocent, the poor, or the righteous is the total destruction of the ungodly. The great God who is judge, will repay their sins, and destroy their wickedness. While the bread and food they have stolen is in their mouth, God’s wrath will slay them. God himself, visibly and noticeably, visits them and reveals His own power to them. To go over what we have seen so far. Firstly we have seen that God can be and indeed is both a lover and judge. Secondly we have seen the type of people that the writer faced in his battle against evil. He constantly called upon them to wake up and see sense, and repent of their sins before God destroys them. Thirdly we have seen that we should by faith, read the present in the light of the future, and end the song with a powerfully strong note.

Conclusion.

Firstly, our vision of God should not be too small. We need to acknowledge him as a great lover, but also as a terrifying Judge. Remember, it is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews 10:31). To quote John Stott – “God is not at odds with himself, however much it may appear to us that he is. He is ‘the God of Peace’, of inner tranquility not turmoil. True we may find it difficult to hold in our minds simultaneously the images of God as the Judge who must punish evil-doers and of the Lover who must find a way to forgive them. Yet he is both, and at the same time.”

Secondly, can we rightly pray, in the light of the New Testament, for the vengeance of God to come down against the ungodly? No, we cannot, for then we would be no better than those who do not know Him. The vengeance of God has already come down upon one man. One day his judgment will fall, and it is from this terrible event that this man is our deliverer. This man, the Lord Jesus Christ when He died on the cross, for you and me and all our enemies, took upon Himself the full vengeance of God. He took the anger of God upon himself, so that no-one may face the judgment of God without first having the opportunity to turn to Jesus in repentance of sins. We should be praying for the governments of this world that abuse the widows, orphans and innocents of today, that they will see their errors and turn away from them. And not only that, we should pray that the members of these governments will turn to God in awe and wonder to worship Him. One day all men and women will be called upon before God to give an account of themselves to Him. If they do not know this Jesus as their Saviour, then God will cast them from His holy presence. We should also pray that godly men and women will become members of the governments of the world to help protect the innocent and the righteous, that leaders will be raised up, who know God personally to stop the abuse of the innocent.

Thirdly, even in the face of abuse and persecution, we should turn to the living God for comfort and help in our circumstances. Too often we rely on ourselves or others for strength in times of trouble. It is God alone who can help us, and it is God alone who will destroy the evil in the world. The judgment of evil, according to Psalms, is a time for universal rejoicing. Ps. 67:4; 96:12-13; Ps. 35:24. Let us rejoice together when good overcomes evil in this world. Finally, let us pray and cry out in anger against the suffering and evil in this world. And not only pray about it, but do something about it. We, as Christians, should be as light and salt to the world of darkness and evil. What will you and I do about being light and salt to a world where the innocent suffer, the widows and orphans are abandoned and murdered?

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Developing a Strategy to Cope

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Developing A Strategy to Cope

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How can we, as 21st century Christians, keep from falling away. I would call it the COPE strategy: Consider, Persevere and Encourage.

Keep Considering! (Hebrews 3:1-6)

The first thing we do is to consider Jesus or as the NIV here puts it “fix our thoughts”. Now remember, that these are Hebrew believers. I guess we would call them Messianic Jews today. They believed that Jesus was their Messiah, Saviour and Lord. They were obviously coming under pressure from their Jewish friends and leaders to deny this Jesus and return to the fold. They would have been told how great Moses was. In the previous chapter we read how Jesus is greater than the angels, because He is God, but was made a little lower than the angels when he became a man.

Moses was cool

In this chapter, we read a comparison between Jesus and Moses. Moses to the Jews was like a super-hero. Moses was revered because it was to him that God revealed His will. Moses was the key figure in the establishment of Israel as a nation – God’s chosen people! Moses suffered persecution and rejection from the rest of the family of Israel. He had great zeal for God and was willing to sacrifice everything for God. He had fellowship with God. Yet all this is merely a shadow and a prophetic sign of what was to come in Jesus. Moses, we read in Numbers 12:7, was faithful to God’s house, God’s people. The house of God is the people of God. It was this Moses who was held in such high regard by the Jews, that some might well have been tempted to renounce Jesus and go back to the old ways.

God’s Messiah would need to be greater than Moses, and Jesus is and was this Messiah. Later on in the book of Hebrews, we discover that Jesus is greater than Aaron through whom the law was ministered; but here we see that Jesus is greater than Moses, the lawgiver, the servant of the house of God.

Moses and Aaron represented God’s house in Israel; Moses was the Apostle or Prophet and Aaron was the High Priest. Jesus, an Apostle and Prophet as well as being the High Priest, joined the two together. By Apostle, I mean as a Messenger – that’s what an apostle is – a messenger or representative. As the Apostle of our faith, Jesus was faithful. Jesus was God’s representative for us, making God known to us. Jesus was totally faithful, means to be both trusting and to be capable of being trusted.

Moses was the one to whom the Law was given – the Mosaic covenant under which the Jewish people lived. This covenant with Moses commenced with the stipulation “Now if you will obey me and keep my covenant, you will be my own special treasure from among all the peoples on earth; for all the earth belongs to me.” (Exodus 19v5). This covenant was to Israel in order that those who believed God’s promise to Abraham, could know how to live rightly in accordance with how God wanted them to live.

This covenant with Moses covered the three areas of life:

  • The commandments were given so they would know how to relate socially to God (Exodus 20v1-6)
  • The judgments were given in order that they could relate socially to each other (Exodus 21v1 – 24v11)
  • The decrees dictated their religious life so that God could be approached by humanity on His terms (Exodus 24v12 – 31v18).

This covenant that God made with Moses and the ancient nation of Israel was never meant to be as a means for providing salvation. It was given so that they could realize the helplessness and futility of their own efforts and their need of God’s help. It was to serve only as a protective fence until the promised Messiah came; the long waited for Saviour of all humanity, so that the whole world, Jew and Gentile, could be made right with God through faith and faith alone.

In Comes Jesus

And that is where Jesus comes in. As their Messiah and Saviour, Jesus ushered in the New Covenant, which was promised by God through the prophets Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

What are the features of this New Covenant or promise?

Four features of this covenant are:

  • Regeneration -God will write His law on the hearts of people.
  • Restoration – God will be their God, and they will be His people.
  • Promised Holy Spirit – God will indwell people and they will be led by Him
  • Justification – Sins will be forgiven and removed eternally

This new covenant is sealed only through the perfect sacrifice of the God-Man Jesus on the cross. His blood ensures the truth of this New Covenant. His death pays the penalty for the sins of all people who say yes to God and are ready to run the race and travel the course. This New Covenant finalizes what the Mosaic Covenant could only point to: the follower of God living in a relationship with God conforming to God’s holy character. That is one very specific way of Jesus being superior to Moses! The original readers of this letter being God-fearing Jews would be aware of all this.

They would also be aware that it is sin, which separates humans from God and as a consequence leads to both a spiritual and physical death (Romans 3v23, Romans 6v23, Isaiah 59v2). In the Old Testament, sins were dealt with by blood sacrifices of atonement as coverings for sin (Leviticus 17v11), for without the shedding of blood there could be no remission of sin (Hebrews 9v22). A blood sacrifice is God’s way of dealing with sin. These blood sacrifices of the Old Testament signified several things:

  • It provided a covering for sin.
  • It showed the great cost of sin.
  • It was an exchange or substitution.
  • It was only always going to be a temporary measure, as it pointed forward to Jesus’ death and it needed to be done over and over again.

 

So how is Jesus better than Moses? The answer lies in the solution to sin. The ultimate solution to sin lies not in the continual animal sacrifice under the Covenant with Moses, because as the writer later in Hebrews 10v4 stipulates the blood of animals cannot take away sin but was only ever going to be a veneer or a covering. That was why it was necessary to repeat time and time again!

It is only through the victorious death of Jesus, that sin is permanently taken away (Hebrews 9:v11-15, 26-28), because Jesus is the permanent sacrificial substitute! It is as if the writer is saying give up on Jesus, stop considering Him and you would still be in your sins – that’s the way the original readers would have understood it!

And as for us?

As followers of Jesus Christ we are built together so that the Spirit of God may join us together in love. Both individually and as a group, we are the house of God. Jesus said, “We will come and make our home in you”. We know Jesus has been faithful as a Son over God’s people. We celebrate His faithfulness at Easter, when we acknowledge and rejoice at the sacrifice He made for us. We remember it in the act of Communion, which we will have later. Jesus suffered persecution and rejection from his peers. We know Jesus was godly and full of zeal for God, and was willing to sacrifice everything for God and his people. We are the house of God. And yet, do we not reject Jesus sometimes, or do we keep on considering? Do we give Him and trust in His faithfulness to complete the good work he has started in us?

This NIV translation has “fix your thoughts”. Here is how the New King James Version puts verse 1 “Therefore, holy brethren, partakers of the heavenly calling, consider the Apostle and High Priest of our confession, Christ Jesus”. I personally think that that is a better way of putting it. And not only because it has the word partakers in there!

To “consider” has a much broader meaning than just “fixing your thoughts” as the NIV puts it. It means to seek, to fully understand or comprehend as well as fixing thoughtfully. To consider means to contemplate, to think about, to persevere with, to concentrate on and to fix eyes and thoughts upon. We have to allow Jesus Christ to permeate every aspect of our life, if we are to be partakers of Him. To consider not just how Jesus would do something, but how Jesus would think. What attitude would Jesus take? What would Jesus not do? Just as the Hebrews receiving this letter were told to do, in their race of the life following Jesus, we too are to hold fast to our courage, but only by considering Jesus and trusting in Him relying on the Holy Spirit to help us as we ask Him.

This phrase “to consider” is perhaps the central theme of the book of Hebrews. We are to consider Jesus, the Apostle and High Priest of our confession. Jesus was faithful to the purpose of His Coming to be among people. His purpose in coming to earth, as a mere man, was to die for sins and be raised up on the third day so as to be victorious over death and sin. This Jesus perfected our human nature in His life of simplicity, suffering, devotion and obedience. He now lives at the right hand of the Father in heaven, to communicate to us His life and blessedness through the indwelling Holy Spirit. We must therefore consider Jesus in everything we do, every thought we think and in every attitude. This is the aim of the writer to persuade these Hebrew Christians that if they knew Jesus to be the faithful, compassionate Almighty apostle and priest in Heaven, then they would find everything in Him that they needed for life. Moses couldn’t help them, but Jesus could! Moses had died, they could perhaps visit his tomb if they wanted to. But Jesus, well, Jesus’ tomb was empty! Jesus is alive! The life of these Hebrew Christians would be united with their faith, and united with the life of Jesus whom their faith would glorify God. To these Hebrew Christians their salvation was based on Jesus, but to renounce Jesus and go back to following Moses was apostasy. Moses couldn’t offer salvation because the Law was not meant as a means of salvation! But what about you? Are you trusting in this Jesus for salvation or are you even subconsciously relying on your own good works or something else?

That was what these believing Hebrews were to do – consider how vastly superior Jesus is to Moses. We also are to consider how superior Jesus is to all other things that would try to entangle us and allure us away with false promises.

 

Keep Persevering!

 

 

(Hebrews 3v7-12, 15-19)

And then after considering Jesus, these Hebrew Christians were to do something! They were to persevere in believing. The writer now warns these Hebrew believers against the sin of unbelief, which is the hardening of their hearts. The writer quoting from Psalm 95 reminds them of the way Israel rebelled against God in the desert. He warns them not to be like their forefathers, who did not trust fully in the Lord their God. From Psalm 95, he proceeds to remind them of their ancestors’ deeds of unbelief. The privilege of the house of God is in hearing God’s voice. By choosing not to listen to God’s voice, peoples’ hearts grew hard and cold. These words are of course written to believing Christian Hebrews, not unbelieving Jews, and are as appropriate for us today, as it was for them when they received it.

As the people of God today, the Church, we need to be ready to listen to God’s voice. As we see God working in us, our trust and belief in Him grows. If we do not believe in Him to help us, then of course our hearts will harden against him. As we grow and run the race, willingly sacrificing what needs to be sacrificed, we realize the glory and majesty of God, His holiness and perfection, His love and tenderness, and gladly listen to hear what He says to us, and willingly receive what He gives us.

When you pray, do you have your Bible open? When you read your Bible, do you do so prayerfully and considerately? Bible reading and prayer go together! Unbelief stops a person from holding fellowship with God. Our God is alive, not a dead idol on the shelf or in the bank. This church of Hebrew believers, for all their Christian profession and religious exercises, were in danger of falling away from God, due to their not believing totally in Him. God would not abandon them, but they would abandon God!

We need to take care, in case we also fall into unbelief. Unbelief and falling away act upon and react to each other. If we have any unbelief in our hearts tonight, then let us ask God to give us a heart that believes in Him so that we may not fall away from Him. And what is one of the main ways we can stop from falling away or letting others fall away into unbelief?

 

Keep encouraging!

 

 

Hebrews 3v12-14

So we keep on considering Jesus. We persevere in our believing in Him. Now thirdly, to show we are considering Jesus and are persevering in our believing Him, we are to encourage and be encouraged! In verse 12, we read, “See to it, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God”. This means, that we are not only to take care of our own hearts, but as verse 13 goes on to say, we are to encourage and ensure no one is in danger of falling away. We who are believers, have to make sure that each one of us is staying on the path that leads to life, that is, the race towards Jesus.

This group of Hebrew Christians were to help and encourage each other! And so are we! For us, maybe it is by phoning somebody you haven’t seen in a while or to phone somebody you get a random thought about! If we see a brother or sister that we know is starting to fall out of the race, we need to do all we can to stop them falling away. We need to encourage them, to continue considering Jesus and believing in Him. We all know of people who are new believers, full of joy and zeal for God, that end up falling back into unbelief, unable to hold fast to the end. To some degree, it is because the Church body has failed to encourage them to continue on in the race. It is our duty, and our daily responsibility to encourage people on in the race or the journey.

However, to encourage is not just these easy things. To encourage can also mean to rebuke, to correct in love. I look back at my tutor, during my first stint of Bible College back in the 1980s. His name was Ed. Ed the head we called him. We had weekly tutorials then. Every week he would get me to read a chapter of Knowing God by JI Packer and a chapter of Mere Christianity by CS Lewis. Then during our tutorial I would have to try and explain what I learnt from both those chapters. It was a slog at times I tell you. Sometimes I would get a clip round the ear for being stubborn or just being plain thick! But it gave me a good grounding for my Christian thinking and life of discipleship to Jesus.

Or I think back to my dear friend Rose, a kind and dear elderly lady from the church I used to attend back in the 80s. She would have us young adults back to her house overlooking the ocean for coffee after church on a Sunday evening. She would always be showing love, caring and encouraging to all people – ready to lift them when they were down and eager to cheer from the sidelines. She was also a tough cookie at times and if we got out of line, she would say so in no uncertain terms! Not so much an arm around the shoulder then but a good swift kick! Both methods of encouragement when required!

When we see somebody sinning or contemplating Therefore in considering Jesus, believe in Him and encourage others to do the same. That is the purpose of encouragement mentioned here. Let all of us give ourselves to the service of Jesus to watch over other people: let all the fresh grace and deeper knowledge of Jesus we see, be for the service of those around us. Where will you and I be spiritually next year, in 10 years’ time, in 25 years’ time? Will you be able to honestly say to yourself at that time, I have grown spiritually and haven’t fallen away?

If you would call yourself a Christian, and you are unsure where you are, then do this. Look back and remember what Jesus has done for you. Consider Him as you look back to your first profession of faith in Him. Consider that just as He died, you died in the waters of baptism. Consider that just as He rose to physical life, you rose from the waters of baptism and will also rise again when you physically die. Consider that just as Jesus will be glorified, so too will you be glorified before the Father – if you hold out until the end. Be assured of who you are – you are a child of the living God – hold out to the end. He has a firm grip on you, so maintain your grip on Him! Remember who you are!

The way to cope with the rigours of 21st century life as a Christian believer, is to keep considering, keep persevering and keep encouraging.

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