Church

God the Centre (Numbers 9-10)

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In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.

Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;

And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.

The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.

Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.

Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.

We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…

Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.

For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…

But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.

The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.

God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?

Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.

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Unified in Jesus (Romans 9:30-33)

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A wave of nationalism and increased polarisation between diverse groups of people is washing over the world stage with issues like Brexit and the increasingly hostile international trade negotiations between the USA and China just current examples.

Within our nation (South Africa), we are experiencing the same wave of polarisation. In our recent national elections, there was a rise in support for the extremes on both ends of the political spectrum and the rhetoric in the public space is increasingly acrimonious.

The church that received this letter from the apostle Paul was needing to work out its unity in diversity, needing to avoid polarisation within the church. The Christians who were ethnically Jewish seemingly had some heart re-wiring that was required. They were in danger of spiritual arrogance, trusting in their traditions and ethnicity. They were at risk of potentially looking down on their Gentile brothers and sisters as being ‘less-than’ in some way or another.

Paul has been at pains in his letter, to show that salvation for all people is not something we can earn personally through law-keeping, is not something we obtain through our ethnicity but that God has revealed a righteousness that is received by faith in Jesus alone. (Romans 3:21-24) and so God is the God of the Jews & the Gentiles equally (Romans 3:29), God is the One who mercifully ‘justifies the ungodly’ (Romans 4:5).

All believers are in the same position. None of us is deserving of God’s grace and mercy, none of us was able to earn it through good behaviour, no one has any ethnic advantage – we all need God’s grace and mercy to be saved!

(Romans 9:30-31): Shockingly to Jewish believers, Gentile believers who didn’t even seek God or deserve anything – have been made righteous by God’s gracious choosing.

And Jewish people who wrongfully put their trust in the Law and their law-keeping efforts have not been made righteous because God has revealed a righteousness that is ‘apart from the law’ (Romans 3:21).

All people are in the same position, all people need God’s grace, and all people need to put their trust in Jesus, not in their law-keeping efforts or their ethnicity or traditions but to put all their faith in Jesus only.

(Romans 9:32-33): Which makes Jesus the stumbling block that Isaiah prophesied about. The proud religious person who believes they deserve or have earned God’s choosing of them will battle to put their trust in Jesus – He is a stumbling block to them, a rock in the road obstructing their way.

Paul is uniting the believers in the church in Rome, destroying spiritual arrogance, digging up pride in ethnicity and relaying the same foundation for all people – “…and whoever believes in him will not be put to shame.” (Romans 9:33).

The great power to overcome polarisation in our nation and the world is the Gospel of Jesus. Whoever believes in Jesus will be saved! No matter what your upbringing was, no matter what your social standing is, no matter what sin you’ve committed – putting all your faith in Jesus is the answer and therefore is also the great equaliser and unifying power in the world. May we, as believers, be part of churches that demonstrate this unity in diversity that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Questions for Reflection:

1. What does this passage teach me about God & faith?
2. What does this teach me about myself, what is God saying to me?
3. What should I do as a result?

United in our need (Romans 2)

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LiU-IAS-Konsekvenser-av-demografisk-och-organisatorisk-mangfaldAs we read Romans, it is helpful to remember who this remarkable letter was written to. The church in Rome was a multi-cultural church with both Jews and Gentiles in it. It appears as though this church was wrestling with how to work out the truth of the Gospel in this multi-cultural setting. Paul is building an extended argument that stretches through this whole letter to show off the Gospel and how we should live.

Jewish Christians would have had no problem with Romans 1, probably feeling like Paul had pagan Gentiles in mind. In Romans 2 Paul points the spotlight on all believers by warning the Jewish believer of being judgemental (Romans 2:1-11) and proclaiming radically that; “God shows no partiality” (Romans 2:11). A radical statement that declares that the problem outlined in Romans 1:18-32 is universal, that all will be judged according to how they have lived (Romans 2:6).

All who have sinned, whether they are Jews under the law or Gentiles apart from the law, all will face judgement equally before Jesus on THAT DAY (Romans 12:16).

The Jewish believers who were rejoicing in, trusting in their heritage, their Jewishness are rebuked here by Paul – “You who boast in the law dishonour God by breaking the law” (Romans 2:23) So, whether you are born Jewish or circumcised is not as important to God as each one obeying God’s moral law (Romans 2:25-29).

Romans 2 could be summarised as a warning to the Jewish believers in Rome not to be self-righteously confident in the wrong things (their Jewish heritage). The problem of sin outlined in Romans 1 is not a Gentile problem, and they who were Jewish believers are not in a privileged position as believers, God looks on all obedience with no partiality. As Paul declares succinctly in Galatians 2:28; “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

We are united in our need since no one has fully obeyed the law of God. And we are united in God’s provision for our need, the good news about Jesus, His son sent for us… But more on that when we get to Romans 3.

Two Faithful People (Luke 2:22-340)

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Nothing is known really about Simeon, but Scripture describes him as a man who was waiting with expectation and hope. The NLT translation vs25-26 says of Simeon;

He was righteous and devout and was eagerly waiting for the Messiah to come and rescue Israel. The Holy Spirit was upon him 26 and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Simeon, was waiting eagerly. He believed that God would come to comfort His people by sending the Messiah. In fact he had heard God speak to him by the Holy Spirit that it was imminent, that he would not die before seeing the Messiah.

We have no knowledge of how long Simeon had waited with faith and expectation, but we know that in the period of delay, of waiting, he just kept coming (vs27) to synagogue (the equivalent of church in his day). He didn’t get discouraged waiting, he showed his faith by being consistent in coming, didn’t moan at God about delay but trusted God in it!

How do you handle delay? I urge you to keep being faithful, to keep trusting God even when you’ve had to maybe wait a long time. God is faithful. Decide to be disciplined in the delay!

More than this, he came ‘in the Spirit into the temple’ (vs27). He was like the person coming to church full of faith and expectation that He was going to see God do wondrous things, and that day recorded in Luke 2 was his day.

When Simeon met Joseph and Mary and their small child Jesus, he saw not in the natural (just another baby boy) but he saw Jesus’ destiny, he saw that Jesus was the Messiah the Saviour of God’s people (vs29-32). He picked up their child and blessed him recounting Scripture over Him speaking of His destiny, prophesying to Mary about Jesus’ future life.

All the longings in Simeon’s heart were fulfilled in a moment seeing Jesus! Now I can die in peace he said in effect (vs29). One meeting with Jesus, satisfied Simeon. Jesus is the answer to all our questions, the fulfilment of all our longings, Jesus is the One who alone can and does save those who trust in Him.

Luke tells us of another person who met Jesus that day in the Temple, an old woman called Anna. Anna was a prophet, she had lost her husband many years ago and was now 84yrs old but she too, recognised who Jesus really was when she encountered Him and so she exclaimed the truths about Jesus to those listening (vs38), telling them of who He really was.

Simeon and Anna are such examples of long-obedience, long-suffering faith, and the joy of encountering the real Jesus.

Jesus is all you need. The good news is you don’t need to wait for Jesus like Simeon or Anna did. So, why not reach out to Jesus now, call on Him, speak to Him in prayer. Jesus is so willing and ready to meet with you and to speak with you and to transform your life.

This link is to a song Michael Card wrote about this moment if you want to listen to it – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rBZiPRPogn0

Simeon and Anna were patient in waiting for God to do what God had promised.  Is there something you are tempted to give up in, tempting to stop trusting God for?  Why not come again to God and to ask Him to fill you with the Holy Spirit and to give you the heart that Simeon and Anna had.

They had been with Jesus… (Acts 4:13-22)

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Let’s re-cap for a moment the story thus far…   Jesus spoke to the disciples just before His ascension, ‘wait for the Promise’!  Then the promised Holy Spirit came with a remarkable manifestation of joy & power which resulted in a boldness in the disciples that catapulted them onto Jesus’ mandate and mission for their lives.  

Peter preaches the first sermon and 3000 people put their faith in Jesus on that first day!  The new community formed through the Gospel is a radical one which starts sharing life and possessions and devotes themselves to God in prayer and to one another.

In the days that follow, Peter and John then meet a paralysed man begging at the temple.  However, rather than meeting his financial need they decide to give him the very best that they have to give – faith in Jesus!  They pray for him and this man crippled for 40yrs is instantly healed in public which creates a crowd and a context for Peter to preach again about who Jesus is and what God did through Jesus on the cross in fulfilment of myriads of Old Testament prophecy.

All the commotion, the big crowds and the multitudes professing faith in Jesus (now about 5000 men so more like 10 000-15 000 women children!) raised the ire of the Jewish religious authorities who subsequently arrest Peter and John. 

The next day they are hauled before the council and questioned about under what authority are they acting – Peter full of the Holy Spirit (Acts 4:8) stands up and preaches again proclaiming with razor sharp clarity the Gospel crescendoing with;

“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”   (Acts 4:12)

The Jewish council are dumbstruck!  They remark at the incredible boldness and clarity of these everyday men, who are unlearned fishermen and yet proclaiming with clarity and boldness regarding the Scriptures.  They can’t deny the miracle of the healing of the crippled man standing before their eyes and witnessed by the multitudes.  But they want to shut this movement down and so call Peter and John in again and try to intimidate them commanding them to stop speaking about Jesus as if He was Messiah and in authority.

Peter and John boldly refuse to be shut down, and so reply to this command saying effectively; ‘you decide whether we should obey you or obey God!  We cannot stop speaking about Jesus and all we have seen and heard!’

The council threatened them again and then had to let them go because the multitude was praising God for this miracle God had done.

It’s so important to hear the assessment of the Jewish council, Peter and John were ordinary men!  However they had been ‘with Jesus’ (Acts 4:13) and we know that they were now also filled with the power of the Holy Spirit & full of faith in Jesus.  Incredible things are possible if we will walk closely with Jesus in our daily lives, if we will be full of faith in the power of the name of Jesus and if we will be continuously full of the enabling power of the Holy Spirit!

  • What’s God saying to YOU through this passage?
  • What are you going to PRAY for as a result?
  • What do you want to START doing more of?
  • Is there anything you feel you need to STOP?

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

Devoted! (Acts 2:42-47)

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With the World Cup Soccer 2018 reaching fever pitch level on the excitement scale for many around the world, when I read this passage and read the word ‘devoted’, I am reminded of all those soccer fans colourfully arrayed in their teams colours.  Faces painted, hats on, scarves, socks, shirts, tattoos even themed underwear!!!

In moments like this words like devotion, passion are on display in technicolour.  In our passage today, Luke uses the Greek word that is translated into English as ‘devoted’.  The underlying word means to be earnest towards something, to persevere in something, to be constantly diligent in something, or to continue to adhere closely to something (like with teaching or instruction).

The converts from Peter’s first Gospel message joined the 120 disciples and together they formed the first church on the planet.  A church, a new community of faith that had previously not existed, people that did not know each other or even have much in common instantly became a family that together devoted themselves to some things.

  1. The apostle’s teaching (which is the Scriptures now for us)
  2. Fellowship/Community/Partnership
  3. Breaking Bread (Communion)
  4. Corporate Prayer

Now, we know what a devoted Brazilian, English, French…. soccer fan looks like, they are hard to miss really.  So what would a church community that’s DEVOTED to these things look like?  And, who doesn’t want to be part of a church like that?

Which reminds me of something Nicky Gumbel said; 

“Stop looking for a perfect church.  It does not exist.  Join an imperfect church and serve in everyday you can to make it nearer to perfection”.  

This church we have in Acts 2 is radically wonderful!  But don’t go looking for one, rather make the church you’re in like one, because you’re there and because you get it…

These brand new believers kept on meeting (vs44) with one another in the big meetings, all together in the temple and then also meeting in homes (small groups) (vs46), they ate meals together (vs46), they had their view of personal finance transformed by their faith.  

So much so, that these devoted Christ followers ensured that no one amongst the family of faith had any need because they provided for another through sacrificial giving to the church by liquidating assets and investments to provide in abundance (vs45) for God’s church.

This was a worshipping (vs47), glad, supernatural (vs43) community who were also in awe and reverence of God (vs43).  A church where reverence, wonder and amazement is dead will also have worship that is dead.  That’s because wonder, reverence and ‘strong affections for God rooted in truth are the bone and marrow of biblical worship’. – John Piper

So, let’s believe God for churches like this saturating our cities and towns just like this church started to impact Jerusalem with its devotion as the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved (vs47).

Pray: 

  • Pray that you would be freshly filled with the Holy Spirit like these believers were.
  • Pray that you would be full of awe, wonder, thanks and praise
  • And pray that you would be devoted to Scripture, Fellowship, Communion & Corporate Prayer like they were
  • Pray that your whole life would be transformed by the Gospel including your finances, your view of your time, resources, relationships…
  • Pray asking God to ‘do it again’, to cause churches like this one in Acts 2 to fill your city!

Act:

  • Don’t look for a church like this one, make one!  
  • Live the change you desire!
  • Be devoted!