Wednesday, 30 March 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Measuring the Immeasurable Love of God

"How long is a piece of string?"

That's something we say as an answer to questions like "How long till we get there?" or "How long till you finish fixing the bathroom?"  It's a way of telling someone that the answer is immeasurable.  After all, a piece of string could be any length!

But it is possible to get an idea of the length of a piece of string.  You just need to know where the ends of the string are, and then you'll have an idea of the distance between them.

Actually, it's a little more complicated than that.  If the string is wound up into a ball, the distance between the two ends is actually very small compared to the actual length of the string.  So to have an idea of how long the string is, you need to know where the ends are when the string is fully stretched.  Then you can get an idea of its length.

For example, if you know one end is in the lounge, and the other end is in the kitchen, in your mind you have a rough understanding of its length.  If, on the other hand, one end is in the North Pole, and the other end is in the South Pole, then you have a very different picture of its length!

Ok, so right now you're probably why I've started an Easter message with a maths problem!  The answer is simple:  today, I would like us to try to measure something immeasurable: the love of God for us.  To do that, just like with a piece of string, we need to work out where the ends of God's love can be found when it is at full stretch; when it is being tested to its limits, and is at its greatest and most glorious.

How can we find those two end points?  They're described to us by the apostle Paul:

"God demonstrates His love in this; that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5v8)

So here is one end of the string: "While we were still sinners"

Where does God's love for us begin?  Usually, love begins with attraction.  We see something beautiful in someone or something else, and it draws love out of us. It can happen in a variety of contexts, e.g. getting married, choosing a pet, or getting a book from the library.  

This kind of love makes a great movie plot: the handsome hunk begins to look beyond the outward appearance of the plain girl in his college class, and notices that she's actually a really wonderful person.  He stops paying attention to the superficial, but looks deeper, finds beauty, and begins to love.

Is it the same with God?  It's tempting, perhaps, to imagine that our sin is the superficial bit of us; that God looks beyond that, sees that we're actually good people deep down, and begins to love us.  But God tells us that the opposite is actually true.  God looks beyond our superficial goodness, and sees the darkness of our hearts.

We considered this last week as we looked at Haggai chapter 2.  God tells His people His view of the good works they did during the period when they ignored His request to rebuild the temple: "What you offer me is unclean." (Haggai 2v14).  We also saw in Isaiah that "all our righteous deeds are like a soiled garment" (Isaiah 64v6).

Jesus reiterates the view that our sins are far greater than we realised.  In Matthew chapter 5, he says that a lost temper is like murder, and lust is like adultery.  We have all lost our tempers; we have all lusted.  We have all been selfish, malicious, deceptive and many other things.  "We have all sinned, and fallen short of the glory of God" (Romans 3v23).  

Our sins are a barrier between us and God.  We are "alienated from the life of God" (Ephesians 4v18).  In a sense, we are excluded from the presence of an omnipresent God.  Wherever we go, God is there - and yet beyond our reach.

God sees all the darkness in all of us - He knows us while we are still sinners.  He sees us at our very worst.

And that is where He begins to love us.

The other end of the piece of string: "Christ died for us"

Love often requires sacrifice.  Usually, the greater the love, the greater the sacrifice a person is willing to make.  The apostle Paul tells us here that God's love is so great, He sacrifices His Son.  God "so loved the world that He gave His only Son." (John 3v16)  

Consider the value of the life that is sacrificed!  The life of Jesus, Creator of all things.  His life is without a beginning and without blemish.  He is pure, and perfectly loyal to God the Father.  His name is above all other names.  One day, all knees will bow to the name of Jesus.  

Consider the value of the relationship that is sacrificed!  We must never imagine that God was simply balancing a spiritual equation when He sent His Son to the cross.  God loved His Son with a love that was as uncreated as the Son.  Yet their eternal interaction is interrupted as Christ is crucified carrying our sins.  Jesus cries: "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"  

Consider the lyric:

How great the pain of searing loss, the Father turns His face away
As wounds which mar the chosen one bring many sons to glory


They nailed him to a tree planted by a crimson stream
The Father's voice fell silent as the Son began to scream

God brings us into His family by sacrificing His only Son.  He mends our hearts by breaking His own.

So how do we measure the love of God?  How long is this piece of string?  It is the distance between the worthlessness of the ones loved and the worth of the one sacrificed; the distance between a sinful, ungrateful created people and a sinless, pure uncreated Son.

We cannot measure this distance precisely, but we have an idea of its length.  There can be no greater love.

As a closing thought, God's love is more like a tightrope than a piece of string.  It's something that you trust your life to.  So the question you might want an answer to is: "How strong is this tightrope?"

In Romans 5, the apostle Paul tells us the love of God for His people is eternally secure through the resurrection of Jesus Christ:

"Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we saved by him from the wrath of God.  For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life." (Romans 5v9-10)

Put simply, God will love His children for as long as Jesus lives - and Jesus lives forever!  Believe the gospel, and trust your life to the love of God.  Perhaps you've made terrible mistakes in the past.  You might think "God can't love me as I am."  But He already has!  Before you could do anything to win His approval, He gave His Son for you.

The death of Jesus Christ demonstrates the love of God.  The resurrection of Jesus Christ secures the love of God.  What a glorious gospel!

Wednesday, 23 March 2016

Some Words For Wednesday - The Contagion of Sin and the Costly Commitment of God

(These are some brief notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

We've reached the final part of our series in the book of Haggai.  What have we learned so far?

a.  The temple today is the people of God built upon the Son of God.  The foundation of the temple is the gospel, and the walls are the people who believe the gospel.

b.  If we want this temple to be a dwelling place for God, we must learn to live as the family of God.  If we are parts of the walls, we are not to behave like bad Lego, dropping in and out of the community life of the church.  The temple is to exist everywhere and all the time, not just Sunday and not just in the building the church uses for meetings.

c.  When God dwells within the temple, His glory will be revealed.  We will begin to reach out more confidently, know God's glory is being displayed.  We reach out with the gospel not to hold onto God, but because He holds onto us.  We work because He is with us, and therefore nothing is impossible.

We now arrive at the end of the book of Haggai.  The people are now engaged in rebuilding the temple.  God seeks now to encourage them to continue trusting in Him.

1. The Contagion of Sin

Haggai initially gives a couple of illustrations (v12-13).  Essentially, he points out that holiness does not transfer itself from one object to another, but uncleanness does.  Imagine wearing some pure white gloves, then picking up a clump of mud.  The mud does not become "glovey", the gloves become muddy.  The gloves do not transfer "pure white gloveness" onto the mud - the mud transfers dirt onto the gloves.

The Lord is telling His people about what happens when they ignore Him.  Their previous rejection of God affected and infected everything that they did, even their acts of worship.  "What they offer is unclean" the Lord says (2v14).  And so God had withdrawn His contribution to the community life of His people.  Their expectations regularly became disappointments (v16-19).  But God's aim was to prompt them to turn back to Him (v20).

Today, a sinful rejection of God creates a sin-spreading infection.  Sin is contagious - it soils everything we do.  This is referred to in the prophecy of Isaiah: "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment." (Isaiah 64v6)

But if our best efforts can never be good enough because of our sins, what hope is there for us?

2.  The Costly Commitment of God

The people have now been rebuilding for two months.  The Lord has already expressed His commitment to them: "I am with you" (2v4).  But they had had to wait for renewed blessings (v16-18).  Now the Lord says: "From this day on, I will bless you" (v19).

We cannot earn the favour of God by being good.  But God has done something instead.  Before we could contribute, he committed Himself to us, to bless us.

"But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Romans 5v8)  God didn't wait for us to crawl out of the mud.  He sent Jesus to take our place - to take our sins upon himself - to carry the contagion and become untouchable, even by His Father.

God committed to being with us and blessing us, and the cost of that commitment was His only Son.

How do we receive the blessings of God?  By faith.  We must trust God's promises of eternal life and eternal blessings that are won through the death of His Son in our place.  We then wait to receive all of those blessings in full, but they belong to us now because God is faithful.

God then tells Zerubabbel, the leader of the people, that everything is going be shaken (v21-22).  But He would remain faithful to His people, and choose a leader to be His signet ring (Haggai 2v23).  What does that mean?

A signet ring was used by a monarch to give the seal of approval.  It's a bit like the image of the Queen's face that is on a stamp, which gives the seal of approval for a letter to be delivered.  God's disappointment with previous kings of Judah had led Him to remove them like removing a signet ring (Jeremiah 22v24-25), but now He promises a leader who would be that signet ring.

We find that leader today in Jesus Christ.  He is God's seal of approval - it is Christ's image stamped upon our prayers that gives the seal of approval so that they can be delivered to God.  "For God, who said "let light shine out of darkness", has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ." (2 Corinthians 4v6)  

If you live in Christ, you are sealed with God's approval.  In Christ, you are blessed forever.  As we continue to do the Lord's work, we can trust in our God - He has demonstrated His commitment to His people.

Great is thy faithfulness, O God my Father;
There is no shadow of turning with thee;
Thou changest not, thy compassions, they fail not;
As thou hast been, thou forever wilt be!

Monday, 21 March 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Man of Sorrows

I'm a little late scheduling this, so apologies for being brief! Here's a song that we'll be learning over the next few weeks: "Man of Sorrows" from Hillsong Worship and the album "Glorious Ruins".

Saturday, 19 March 2016

Friday to the Father - 18/3/16

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

Today, we looked at an alternative venue for our Sunday meetings.  Although we're grateful for our current meeting place, we've become more conscious of a couple of challenges.  Firstly, the acoustics aren't very suitable for group meetings due to an echo.  Secondly, we've realised we need more space for a creche, and potentially a Sunday school.

So today we visited another community centre in Welshpool.  I went with Ruth, Charlotte and Charlotte's four children.  The facilities were great, and very suitable for meeting and eating.

With better facilities comes a higher rent!  This won't stop us hiring the centre if we believe it's the Lord's will for us, but we're conscious it will be another step of faith.

So please pray that we would have wisdom and faith regarding this decision.  It seems to be a good thing, and we can see many potential benefits.  For example, the room would be prepared for us, and there is sound and video equipment on site.  There's a large kitchen there, and we could envisage using the centre when we cook for people on Christmas Day.

Please pray that the Lord will direct us, and that He will provide everything we need to continue in His will.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, 16 March 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Haggai 2: Sequelphobia

(These are notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

Do you worry about sequels?

I watched the trailer for Captain America 3 a few days ago, and it looks awesome!  I am a huge fan of the character and the recent movies he has been in.  But...what if it isn't that good?  Sometimes, great movies end up with very disappointing sequels - I am sure you can think of a few!

So when you hear of a sequel to a great movie being made, you might worry that they won't do it justice - especially if the first movie was one you really loved. refers to this as "sequelphobia" - a fear that the sequel won't live up to the original.

That's what some of the people of God were feeling when they began to rebuild the temple.  They worried that the second temple would not be as great as the first - Solomon's temple.

The structure and decor of Solomon's temple was so eye-catching, the description of it takes up two whole chapters of the Bible (1 Kings 6-7).  But when the Babylonian army led the Jewish people into exile, they also destroyed the important buildings, including that iconic place of worship.

Now the Jewish people were back in their homeland, rebuilding the temple.  But there were mixed feelings about it.  In the book of Ezra, we read that those who could remember Solomon's temple wept as the new foundation was laid, even while others rejoiced (Ezra 3v11-13).

This is reflected in the Lord's words in Haggai 2v3: "Who is left among you who saw this house in its former glory?  How do you see it now?  Is it not as nothing to you?"  The anticipation of disappointment paralysed the people and halted the work.

You may be tempted sometimes to compare the church you're in now with a church you used to go to.  You think of the building that church met in; the style of service; the number of people.  You compare it with your experience today, and think: "We'll never be as good as that church!".  The anticipation of long term disappointment paralyses you, and you start to think that it isn't worth the effort.

God's remedy for this was simple.  He helped the people remember what made Solomon's temple so great - the covenant faithfulness of a great God.

When Solomon's temple was dedicated, the people reacted with thankfulness.  But what were they so thankful for?  The wonderful building?  The beautiful decor?  No - they gave thanks to the Lord "because He is good, for His steadfast love endures forever!" (2 Chron. 7v3).  In that moment, they recognised that it was the faithfulness of God that made the temple great.

So God inspires the people again as he repeats His promise of steadfast love: "Work, for I am with you." (Haggai 2v4)  God's faithfulness renewed their strength to labour for Him.

Their history as God's people was meant to encourage them, not discourage!  God doesn't say "Stop looking back - just look forward!"  Instead, He deliberately points them to the past, and their exodus from Egypt (2v5).  They could see the faithfulness of God demonstrated, and He had not changed!  He would always keep His promises.

Today, we look back to the cross to see the faithfulness of God.  Or course, we can see His commitment to us as we look back over our own lives, but the death of Christ provides evidence that is unmistakable and irreversible.  God demonstrates clearly how committed He is to being with us - to being the "I am with you" - as He becomes a man and gives His life to save us.  His commitment is reaffirmed as He gives His Spirit to dwell with us (Haggai 2v5).

We are therefore not to be discouraged by what we lack, but encouraged by what we have - a God who is with us, and who has proven His commitment through the gospel.  The gospel therefore becomes the foundation of the spiritual work ethic of a church.  We do not work to earn God's commitment, nor to pay it back, but simply because He is with us and will not forsake us and, therefore, nothing is impossible.

God has now provided a greater temple for all nations.  He tells the people that things are going to be shaken up.  The world will change; nations will rise and fall; and it will all be part of His purposes (2v6-7).    There will be a greater temple with greater glory; a place where people will no longer cling to temporary treasures, but find lasting peace (2v7-9).

We find this place in Jesus Christ.  He is the temple of greatest glory, one that can never be destroyed.  As we abide in him, what is our reaction to be?  "Let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe" (Hebrews 12v28).  

We are to concentrate on being a worshipping community, a dwelling place for God.  He will fill His home with His glory.  He has given His Son for us.  He has given His Spirit to us.  We can trust Him to provide all we need to do all He has planned.

So don't go compare.  Just go to work, for God is with you.

Monday, 14 March 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - An Easter Song

Something a bit different this week.  This is an Easter song called "Hallelujah! Glory be to God the Son", which I wrote about a year ago.  It takes us from the prayer of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane to his arrest, crucifixion, resurrection and return.  I've put the words at the bottom of this blog post.

Since first writing the song, I've tweaked the tune and the words in an attempt to make the song more suitable for corporate worship.  If you are interested in trying out the song at your church, please contact me via email:  I'm happy to send the words with guitar chords, and would be grateful for any feedback.

He agonised at Gethsemane
He sweated blood as he prayed for me
Then angels came to soothe the Son
As he bravely said: "Your will be done"

A gentle kiss used to betray
His closest friends all ran away
The hammers fell; his foes rejoiced
But when he died, it was his choice

Hallelujah!  Glory be to God the Son, our Saviour!
Thank you, Lord, for all you've done to rescue us!
Oh Jesus!  We can't grasp what you went through!
We just stand in awe of you!

The sky went dark; the ground turned red
His cry rang out; he bowed his head
A lonely man on a bloodstained tree
The Son of God dying for me

Hallelujah!  Glory be to God the Son, our Saviour!
Thank you, Lord, for all you've done to rescue us!
Oh Jesus!  We can't grasp what you went through!
We just stand in awe of you!

The third day came, his tomb was checked
Our hearts now rise 'cause we know what's next!
Death overturned!  An empty grave!
Now the Son of God lives to save!
Now the Son of God lives to save!

Hallelujah!  Glory be to God the Son, our Saviour!
Thank you, Lord, for all you've done to rescue us!
Oh Jesus!  As you rose, so we'll rise too
Then we'll look in awe at you
How we'll look in awe at you!

Friday, 11 March 2016

Friday to the Father - 11/3/16

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

Praise God for a good trip to Kidderminster on Tuesday to meet Nathan Smith, one of the pastors at Grace Church Bristol.  Brandon and I met Nathan through the Worship God UK conferences held in Bath (although this year, the conference will be in Bristol).

We had lunch at a lovely little restaurant called Le Petit Gare.  As we ate, we shared how God was at work in our different situations.  We were encouraged as we recognised how much we can give thanks for, and how God provides when we trust Him and follow His will.

After bringing Nathan up to speed regarding the gospel work in Welshpool, we asked him if there were any particular needs he wanted us to pray for:

Pray for the services being organised over Easter.  Grace Church Bristol holds an Easter egg hunt on Good Friday as a way of meeting people from the local community.  Please pray that this will be an effective way of building more bridges.

Pray that the gospel will be powerfully shared as the church gathers on Easter Sunday.

Pray also for the following Sunday, when the church will be holding an evangelistic family service.

Finally, pray for the Worship God UK conference being organised for September 2016.  Its aim is to encourage and equip church communities and church leaders.  Pray for Nathan (as he is one of the main organisers) and pray for us.  In previous years, Brandon and I have gone without our wives, but this year we really want to take them with us!  However, this will be tricky to organise, so pray that the Lord will enable this if it is His will.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - An indwelling God will create an outreaching church

(Some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

We're continuing our series in the book of Haggai.  Last week, we looked at chapter one and started to consider what a modern day temple should look like.   We recognised that the temple today consists of a gospel foundation with gospel-believing walls.  The foundation is Jesus Christ and his saving work, and the walls are the people who have trusted in him.  This community becomes a dwelling place for God.

So what does God's home look like?

1.) Gospel-centred, Spirit-filled and God-glorifying.

Jesus Christ is the cornerstone of the church, and the teaching of the apostles and prophets (recorded for us in the New Testament) fills the rest of the foundation.  The foundation is the gospel and all its implications, and therefore the teaching of the church will centre on Jesus Christ and what he did to save God's people. The church will be gospel-centred, and the lives of believers will demonstrate their response to the gospel.

The church community will seek the help and direction of the Holy Spirit.  It is the work of the Spirit to make us gospel-centred.  When Jesus was speaking about the Holy Spirit, he said "he will glorify me because he will take what is mine and declare it to you" (John 16v14).

It's no surprise, then, that when the apostle Peter is "filled with the Holy Spirit" (Acts 4v8) he declares "this Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone.  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 4v11-12).

When we are Spirit-filled, we become gospel-centred.

As Jesus approached the hour of his death, he declared that his aim was to glorify the Father (e.g. John 17v1).  When we are filled with the Spirit, we will glorify the Father by recognising Him as the source of all good things (Ephesians 5v18-20).  In other words, when a church is gospel-centred and Spirit-filled, it will be God-glorifying.  Informed by God the Spirit, our response to the gospel of God the Son will glorify God the Father (John 15v8).

2) Everyone will be involved, but not in the same way.

In Haggai 1v14, everyone is involved in the building work - but clearly not in the same way!  Within that diverse community, there would have been people with different strengths, knowledge, passions and abilities.  They would have taken different roles in the work.

In the church, God enables everyone to be involved, but we're not identical.  We are like different parts of the same body.  Everyone is able to contribute to the life of the church in different ways.

We must therefore learn to be patient and submit to one another, and recognise that people will respond differently to the same situation because they have different gifts.  I must learn not to be offended by other peoples' gifts because they aren't passionate about the same things as me.

We must also learn not be scared as the church changes.  If you're at home, and the walls start to move, it's right to be scared!  That's not meant to happen!  But that isn't the case with God's home.  In God's home, the walls are meant to move.

In other words, the structure of this temple is always meant to be developing, just as a body matures and develops.  The foundation should not change, but the structure is meant to change as individuals grow up in the Lord.  In fact, the more solid the foundation is, the more movement you'll see in the walls.

Finally, this temple isn't meant to exist only on a Sunday, and lie in ruins for the rest of the week.  As a church, we must be a dwelling place for God everyday, everywhere.  Whatever the setting, when we're with other members of our spiritual family, we should be ready to love and serve one another.  We must crucify our embarrassment, and replace it with encouragement.  For example, praying, singing, and sharing from the Scriptures are not activities reserved only for prearranged church meetings.  They are to be a part of the community life of the church.

But why focus so much on being a community, a spiritual family?  What about unbelievers?  Shouldn't we be focused on them instead?

3) An indwelling God creates an outreaching church, not the other way around

As I mentioned in the last blog post, it is tempting for churches to think that as long as they're busy, they're being a church.  E.g. As long as they're busy reaching out to the community through social events, then corporate prayer, Bible teaching and fellowship aren't that important.  Outreach makes them a church.

But that isn't the case.  We mustn't assume God dwells within our church community because we're too busy to notice Him.  He wants to be sought, acknowledged and enjoyed.  It is not the activity of sacrifice that draws Him, but the attitude of heart (Psalm 51v16-17).

God is then glorified as He dwells in the temple among His people (Haggai 1v8).  If we want unbelievers to see the glory of God - to hear the gospel and, by faith, see "the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ" (2 Cor. 4v6) - it doesn't begin with God working within their hearts; it begins with God working within our hearts.  God must dwell within us as a community rather than as individuals who happen to get together occasionally.

This doesn't mean we wait to begin outreach work.  But we're not to view our ministry to each other as being unrelated to our ministry to the lost.  How we share the gospel with each other as a spiritual family has an impact on how we share the gospel with unbelievers.

As you reach out with the gospel, recognise the importance of God dwelling within the church.  No matter what you do, a torch will not shine if the bulb has been removed.  God's glory will not shine if He is not dwelling within a church community.  

But it will shine wherever He makes His home.  An indwelling God will create an outreaching church.

Monday, 7 March 2016

Just Another Melodic Monday - Lamb of God

We're meeting with Nathan Smith tomorrow, a pastor of Grace Church Bristol.  We first met Nathan at the Sovereign Grace conference he helped organise in Bath a couple of years ago.  Since then, he's met with me and Brandon on a few occasions to catch up and give us encouragement.

It's funny to think back over the last few years.  There was a point when I was struggling at work due to stress, and struggling at church due to a conflict with the pastor.  Brandon and I went to a lunch in Bristol, organised by Nathan, and we heard a message from Jeff Purswell, who serves at the Sovereign Grace Church of Louisville.  We were encouraged as the Word was ministered to us, and by the friendly fellowship we experienced afterwards.

Looking back, I know now that I was there looking for someone to rescue me from the painful situation I was in.  In the weeks that followed, I came to realise that Jesus was that rescuer, and that he would provide everything I needed as long as I simply trusted him and followed his will.

Now, in a different job and a different church, I recognise how blessed I am, and that the source of those blessings is God.  So tomorrow, as we meet with Nathan, I'll seek to be the encourager more than the encouraged!

It seemed appropriate, due to Nathan's involvement with Sovereign Grace, that I share a song from the latest album produced by Sovereign Grace Music called "Sooner Count The Stars".  This song, "Lamb of God", helps us to see the glory of Jesus as the eternal God who died to save us and will return to take us to glory.

Friday, 4 March 2016

Friday to the Father - 4/3/16

Jesus said: "This then is how you should pray: 'Our Father in heaven...' " (Matthew 6v9)

Praise God for his continued provision for us as a church, and for our individual families.

Please pray for the well-being of those who have committed to being a part of the church plant in Welshpool.  It's not appropriate to share each individual situation on a public forum like this, but please pray that God will support each one in their different struggles, and that He will teach us how to support each other.

I was asked to lead a service at a crematorium last week.  As I hadn't led that kind of service before, I was grateful that I was able to get advice from my father-in-law, who has had years of experience as a pastor.  Thank God for maturer saints who are able to share their wisdom and experience.  

Please pray for guidance as we plan our Easter services.  We're considering having an evangelistic family service the Sunday before Easter.  Please pray that God will help us in this.  There is a lot to organise - pray that we'll be able to share the responsibilities and that we'll be able to advertise the service effectively.

Thank you for your continued prayers.  Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

Wednesday, 2 March 2016

Some Words for Wednesday - Too Busy to Build (Haggai Chapter One)

(Here are some notes from the message shared last Sunday when we gathered as a church.)

We're continuing our series in the book of Haggai.  Last week, we considered how we should understand the Old Testament.  Here's a summary of the main points:

a. If Jesus is your guide to life, then he should be your guide to the Old Testament.  In Luke 24, when the risen Jesus appears to his followers, he teaches them the gospel through the Old Testament.  In doing so, their minds and the Scriptures are opened.  To fully understand the Old Testament, we must see what it teaches us about the gospel.

b.  In the Old Testament, the way God saves His people from temporary situations tells us something about the way He saves His people eternally through Jesus Christ.  The Old Testament is not fundamentally about me - it's not a story that teaches me how to become the hero.  Instead, it directs me to see how Jesus would be the hero - a better hero than any other.

c.  Jesus has replaced the temple as the place where we meet with God.  The book of Haggai is about rebuilding the temple.  Today, the temple is God's people built on the foundation of God's Son.  The foundation of the temple is the gospel; the walls are the people who believe the gospel.

Now we approach the book of Haggai.  What was happening at the time?  God's people had returned to their land after a period of exile.  The temple was in ruins, as were many other buildings.  The people began to rebuild the temple, but were halted until the second year of the reign of King Darius (see Ezra 4).

However, they did not return to the rebuilding work.  Haggai then brings God's message to the people and their leaders in chapter one.

1.  Too busy to build 
Haggai first approaches Zerubabbel and Joshua, who were the leaders.  Instead, they were being led by the people!  "These people..." Haggai begins (v2).  As a parent of four children, I've sometimes had to remind my kids who is Dad!  Here, the Lord's words imply that the people need to be reminded who is God.

So in verse 3, Haggai begins to speak to the people.  They had focused their attention on their own homes, and overlooked God's home, the temple.  "My house is in ruins!" the Lord declares, while the people had elegant homes, with paneled walls.

They had lost sight of what was most important - the acknowledged presence of God in their community.  They didn't recognise that without the Lord, something was missing in every area of life (v5-6).  The people were safe - life was getting back to normal - and perhaps they thought that God didn't need to be so present anymore.  So they put their efforts into making their lives nice and comfortable.

The people were busy (v9b), but they were treating God as a second-class citizen, when He should have been treated as the heart of the community.  

As a church community today, we mustn't allow a culture to develop where being busy is more important than being godly. It can be tempting to think that the most vital thing for a church is to be busy.  As long as you're a busy church, it doesn't matter whether or not you meet to pray, or to be taught, or to simply have fellowship - as long as you're busy!

But we must never forget, we are to be a dwelling place for God.  If we ignore Him, everything we are busy with will be missing something.  Here, in Haggai, God says that His blessing has been taken away (v10-11).

The best kind of home is one where everyone is involved; where everyone contributes to the life of the home.  God contributes something vital to the community of His people.  If we exclude Him - if there is no desire for His constant presence - then we lose His contribution to the life of the church. 

Without Him, we cannot hope for the impossible (Matt 19v26).  Without Him, the best we can do will be temporary, and the worst we can do will be eternal.

So how do we maintain a dwelling place for God today?

2.  Build everything on the foundation of the gospel
Put all your trust in the foundation of the temple - God's plan of salvation through Jesus Christ.

What prompts the people to go back to building?  The message of God's faithfulness (v13) - "I am with you."  God's faithfulness inspires action - His covenant promises to the people are the true foundation of the temple.

Today, the gospel is our foundation because it brings a message of God's faithfulness.  His covenant promises find their fulfillment in the work of Jesus Christ.  

While Jesus lived on earth, he was the God-Man, the true "I AM with you".  When he dies, God's message of faithfulness is declared to the world.  Paul recognises this in his letter to the Romans.  "If God is for us, who can be against us?  He who did not spare His own son but gave him up for us all, how will He not also with him graciously give us all things?" (Rom 8v313-32)  

All the glory ultimately belongs to God, therefore, because He provides the foundation.  Everything we do will sink into the mud if there isn't a solid foundation underneath it.  God is glorified in the temple (v8), and He is glorified in church communities today as they seek His presence, knowing that it is only through His covenant promises that they are able to stand.

3.  Don't behave like bad Lego
As a closing thought, consider now the people who believe the gospel, those who make up the walls of the temple.  For how much of the week does this temple exist?

Does it just last for the Sunday?  Just while the service is going on?  And then fall apart like bad Lego after everyone has gone home?  Does is look good for that one day, but lie in ruins for the rest of the week?

God wants to be pleased with His home (v8).  So we are not to behave like bad Lego, leaving gaps in the walls as we drop in and out of church community life.  If we want to enjoy God's presence in our churches, and have a consistent witness in our communities, we must learn what it means to be a church all the time, everywhere.  

Next week, we'll consider in more depth what that might look like in practice.