21.1.18 – How To Be Amazing – Peter Cheyne

Before Christmas I was writing a story about the wonder of Christmas. I discovered that the word “amazed” occurs 45 times in the New Testament. I was amazed! Frequently, people were left with their mouths hanging open and their eyes wide, saying “Wow!” They saw things – very wonderful things – that they had not expected. They were gob-smacked. They were astonished, a word that is used another 20 times, so that is 65 times. On many other occasions people were amazed but no specific word was used to tell us that. There was a lot of amazement going on.

Sometimes we see magicians on TV who do tricks for people on the streets and leave them looking at each other in wonder and saying, “What? How on earth did he/she do that?” There is a magician in Acts 8 whom the people of Samaria followed because he amazed them with his magic – so much so that they called him “The Great Power of God”. He had powers that took their breath away. But then Philip came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Now the amazing magician was amazed by the great signs and miracles he saw, and he followed Philip everywhere.

In the gospels, of course, it is Jesus who amazes. His miracles stunned people – the healing of the man lowered through the roof, and the demoniac, the raising of the dead girl, the calming of the storm. Each time, we are told that the crowds were amazed and said things like, “We have never seen anything like this before. Who is this man; even the wind and waves obey Him? Could this be the Son of David?”

When Jesus taught, people were amazed at His wisdom and at His authority. “We have never heard anyone teach like this before.” When the leaders tried to trap Him with trick questions, they, and the crowds, were astounded by His wisdom. It was so unexpected. “Where did He get this wisdom? Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?”

John 7:15            The Jews there (in the Temple) were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?

Jesus hadn’t been trained by a rabbi; or trained to be a rabbi. Where had His learning come from?

His miracles, His words but also His character amazed people. Mary and Joseph were amazed when they saw their son in the Temple – in His Father’s house – discussing with the teachers (Lk 2:48). Luke says, “Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (2:47) Later, the disciples were astonished that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem despite His predictions that He would be delivered over to the leaders and killed (Mk 10:32). Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not answer the accusations made against Him (Mt 27:14). What sort of man is this? So, miracles. Words. Character.

In Acts – the story of the church – there are fewer references to amazement but they are still there and the same sorts of things amaze. Miracles: people were amazed on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke languages from all over the world. We read about the reaction to the healing of the lame man at the Temple. The believers were astonished when they answered the knocking at the door and found Peter standing there, when they thought he was locked in prison. Philip’s signs and wonders astonished Simon the Sorcerer. The people on Malta were amazed that Paul simply shook a snake off his hand and did not swell up and die – so amazed that they concluded he was a god. Actually, there is no word in that story like “amazed” or “astounded” or “astonished” or “blown away”, so, even in passages where it is not stated, there was still a lot of amazement going on.

Words: The Cyprian proconsul was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:12). There are examples of amazement because of a person’s character, or change of character. There’s one we will come to in a moment but another example is the amazement of the people of Damascus that Paul, who had persecuted the church, was now preaching that Jesus was the Son of God (Ac 9:21). Etc, Etc, Etc.

Discovering all this amazement raised a question for me: Should we be equally amazing? Should people be blown away by the church? The church is the body of Christ – the presence of Christ in the world. Should the presence of Christ still amaze people? If amazement was such a regular feature of the life of Christ and the life of the church, should it continue to be that way today?

Then a second question occurred to me: Is the church amazing? Well, there is so much variety in the church, isn’t there? There might be lots of amazing churches but I suspect most people in our communities do not find the church amazing. On the contrary, they view the church as being boring, irrelevant and a relic from a bygone age that will eventually just fizzle out. Few people are spreading gossip about the amazing, incredible, fantastic things happening amongst the local Christians.

A third question occurs to me: Why is the church (in general) today such an insipid shadow of what we see in the Bible? And a fourth question: Can we do anything about it? Can the church be amazing again?

It seems to me that what the Bible shows is that it is the presence of God that makes people’s jaws drop. It is when people see something beyond what they see anywhere else in society. It is the supernatural, not the natural. I suggested the biblical examples fall primarily into three categories: miracles, words (of incredible wisdom or incredible authority), and transformed character. All of that is supernatural. Miracles, by definition, are the work of God. That sort of wisdom and authority is beyond anything human. When the people were amazed by Jesus teaching it was because He taught not like the teachers of the Law (Mt 7:28-29). When the people questioned where Jesus (not trained by a rabbi) got such learning, Jesus replied, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me” (Jn 7:16). Some people are clever with words than others but words that come from God have extraordinary power.

The fact that the crowds often were amazed and praised God, indicates that they knew they had just experienced God. Sometimes they even concluded that the human involved was a god.

The third category was “transformed character”. It was the sort of radical change (Saul the persecutor to Paul the evangelist) or the unbelievable character qualities (Jesus’ willingness to walk the path of obedience to His death in Jerusalem or his silence before Pilate) that amazed. We could label those three categories “the power of God”, “the word of God” and “the people of God”.

Too often our churches are simply human and our communities are unimpressed. They don’t even notice the church, or care. We cannot rival the entertainment the world provides. People will not be blown away by our services or our buildings or our fairs or potluck lunches. The world can do better in all of those areas. Even in the areas of caring for the disadvantaged or for the environment, the world often does much better than the church. What is there about the church that leaves people speechless with wonder?

The Acts 3 account of the healing of the man at the Temple talks four times about people being amazed.

Acts 3:9-10          When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:11             While the man held onto Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Acts 3:12             When Peter saw this, he said to them: “People of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk?

The forth one is part of this story but comes in the next chapter. Peter and John were arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin. “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said that the man had been healed by the name of Jesus, whom these leaders had crucified. Peter accused them of having crucified the Messiah. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:13             When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

In this one incident we have a miracle; we have the Holy Spirit inspired words of Peter, and we have a reference to their transformed character. What can we learn from this? How can we be amazing?

  1. The church is meant to be amazing

Peter questioned why the crowd was surprised. Wouldn’t you be amazed if a man lame from birth had been healed? But Peter says, “No, this is normal. Jesus has been healing people for the last three years. Why wouldn’t his church just carry on doing the same things? Don’t be amazed if the church of Jesus Christ is amazing. Being amazing is normal. Why are you surprised?”

  1. Ordinary Christians can be amazing

Peter and John were nothing special. In fact, if we have read the gospels, we have seen how ordinary they were. They say to this crowd, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk? We didn’t do it. Jesus did.” The power is not in the people but in Jesus so even ordinary people can be amazing.

And yet, in other ways, they were anything but normal, of course. What made them different?

  1. They imitated Jesus

They simply did what Jesus had done. Jesus had healed people so they healed people. The Christian who imitates Jesus will be very different from the run-of-the-mill church member. But imitating is exactly what we are commanded to do. Followers follow. Disciples become like their teacher. Who knows what might happen if Christians imitated Jesus. Peter and John did. How about we imitate Jesus?

  1. They were filled with the Holy Spirit

We might be inclined to say that being like Jesus is impossible, and it is except for one thing: the Holy Spirit makes it possible. This incident happened soon after Pentecost. Peter and John were filled with the Spirit. They would not have said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” prior to their having received power when the Holy Spirit had come on them. The church needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit if it is to be more than a human organisation.

  1. They had faith

They believed that God would act. They took a huge risk. They risked looking like fools. They risked their lives, but there is a not a hint of fear here. They believed God was going to heal and they trusted Him to keep them safe. God has given every Christian at least one spiritual gift – a supernatural gift – but how many have the faith to use their gifts? And yet, it is those gifts that are likely to amaze.

  1. They had been with Jesus

The leaders were astonished that these uneducated men spoke with such courage and authority. The thing they noted was that they had been with Jesus. What had made them who they were? Being with Jesus.

I suspect that, to survive, the church needs to be more than ordinary. It needs to be amazing. The church needs to be where people are stunned because they encounter God Himself. What do you think?

What if the people of a church asked “How can we be amazing?” Maybe they would conclude:

  1. We can be amazing. The church is meant to be amazing
  2. Ordinary Christians can be amazing. You and I can be amazing – because God is amazing.
  3. We can be amazing, if we imitate Jesus
  4. We can be amazing, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit
  5. We can be amazing if we have faith and we exercise it
  6. We will be amazing if we have spent time with Jesus. That is where it started for Peter and John.
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25.12.17 – Has He Made Any Difference? – Peter Cheyne

READ Luke 2:1-20

I have serious doubts that Jesus’ coming has made any difference at all!

Look at the world. It is a complete mess. Are things any better now than before Jesus came? Well, we do have the obvious advances in medical science and technology and transport and communications. Life expectancy is greater but people still die. We can communicate at lightning speed and around the world – even into space – but loneliness is one of our society’s greatest problems. We can communicate online but we cannot communicate face-to-face.

You don’t need me to tell you this. You see it yourself every time you turn on the news. The world is a crazy place of violence, disaster and selfishness. You don’t want me to tell you this. There’s enough bad news without my adding to it. Can we not, on this one day of the year, focus on the positives?

You’re right! Let’s do that. Ummm… The positives…

Of course there are lots of things that are positive. Lots of things are absolutely wonderful. But I am still left with doubts about whether God has kept His promises. Think of some of the ancient promises about Jesus. In Isaiah 9 we read: Light has broken into the darkness and there is huge rejoicing among the people. Why? For to us a child is born. To us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign upholding justice and righteousness forever.

Really? Where is this peace and justice and righteousness? We see the opposite: violence, injustice and wrongdoing. If Jesus is reigning over His Kingdom, He is not doing a very good job of it. Is He?

Or the message of the angels to the shepherds: news of great joy for all people… peace on earth. Really? People are not filled with great joy. Look at the stresses and the sadness. Look at the conditions people live in and the way we treat each other. Has Jesus made any difference?

You could understand people thinking like that, couldn’t you? There seem to be huge promises in the Bible that don’t seem to be realistic.

Has Jesus made a difference? Do those biblical promises mean anything at all? Despite what we see on our devices, the answer is an emphatic yes. For millions and millions of individuals Jesus has made all the difference. Millions of people can tell stories about the peace that they now have and the joy that they now have. For them the angels “good news” isn’t hollow at all. It is full of meaning.

You might have heard of the movie, I, Tonya, that is in theatres at the moment. It tells the story of Tonya Harding, an American figure-skater, who, in conjunction with her ex-husband, conspired to have a skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, attacked. On January 6 1994, a hit-man, Shane Stant, whacked Kerrigan across the knee with a rod, attempting to break her leg and end her hopes of skating in the Olympics.

That is appalling! Who could have any sympathy for a man who would do such a thing? But, for Shane Stant, Jesus has made the difference. He has said, “”The big thing for me is I became a Christian. It sounds really cliche-ish. But it really changed me. I had an opportunity when I was in prison to sit there and go, ‘Man, what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family and your children? What kind of man do you want to be?'” Even wanting to be different, he couldn’t change himself, but Jesus changed him. I’m guessing you won’t see that in the movie.

You probably know the story of the man walking along a beach after a storm when thousands of starfish had been washed up. He came across a little boy throwing some of them back into the sea. The man said, “Sonny, look how many there are. Your little effort is not going to make any difference.”

The boy looked at him and said, “Well, sir, it made a difference for that one.”

Jesus has made a difference for “that one” – for individual people millions of times over.

But Jesus has changed the world as well. An article by John Ortberg, in the Huffington Post, lists six ways Jesus changed the world. The ancient world has little regard for children. They were routinely exposed to the elements to die (especially if they were girls) and were sold into slavery. Jesus’ love for children led to such practices being outlawed, as well as to orphanages and godparents.

Jesus modelled education being available to everybody, not just the elite, as was the practice of the time. That love of education led Christians to establish monasteries and then universities. The great universities like Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard were all established as Christian institutions.

The ancient world could be very brutal. People were killed or discarded virtually on a whim. But Jesus modelled compassion for the poor and the sick. That led to institutions for lepers that later became the first hospitals.

So, children, education, compassion.

Fourthly, humility was not considered a virtue in the ancient world. Virtues included courage and wisdom, but not humility, until Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and talked about servants being first in the Kingdom of God. Historian John Dickson has written, “it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion… Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.” In other words, our society remains shaped by the Cross even though we don’t call ourselves Christians.

The ancient world worked on the basis of revenge and of punishing your enemies. Jesus taught something very different: Love your enemies and do good to them. Seek reconciliation. Forgive.

At that time, some people in society were very much second class – maybe not even considered worthy members of the society – slaves (obviously), women, the poor. But Jesus taught that everybody matters. He included women as equals. He reached out to the despised. He healed slaves. In the early church a slave could go to worship and his master would wash his feet, as an act of humble service. Children, education, compassion, humility, forgiveness and valuing all people.

We look around and we might wonder if Jesus has made any difference. He has on every level. But that truth is in tension with the mess that we see as we look at the world.

Can I suggest that where Jesus is welcomed, He makes a massive difference? He truly is good news for all people. He truly is the Prince of Peace. The coming of the Saviour is a message of great joy.

But, where Jesus is not welcomed, then the world more and more resembles the ancient world with its brutality, revenge, selfishness and some people being thrown on the rubbish heap so that others can prosper. When we despair at the state of the world, it should reinforce for us not that Jesus has failed but that a world without Jesus will inevitably fail. A world without Jesus will be little different from the world before Jesus.

On more thing: one day Jesus will return and will establish His Kingdom. Remember that reading from Isaiah? He will reign on David’s throne and over his Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

God has not yet fulfilled that promise but He will. One day, Jesus will reign. All that is wrong in the world will be purged out and His Kingdom will be perfect. Jesus is making a difference now but one day, He will make all the difference. In the meantime, let’s be sure that we are among those who receive Him and follow Him. Jesus makes a massive difference for those who welcome Him.

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10.12.17 – A Christmas Rap – Peter Cheyne

We all know the story of the babe in Bethlehem
And I guess we also know what happened to Him.
His mum and His dad took part in a census
They travelled to the town of David’s ancestors.

There in a manger little Jesus was laid
The world was changed by that first Christmas Day
Angels came from heaven as a massive choir
Singing of His glory, their voices rose higher.

(Wait 4 beats)

Out in the fields, some shepherds were sleeping
The angels woke them up with their trumpets beeping
The shepherds quaked in fear; their eyes were staring
The angels sang louder and their trumpets kept blaring

“Don’t be afraid, you are not in danger
The Saviour has been born; you’ll find Him in a manger.”
The shepherds rushed to town, this Saviour to see
Then ran through the streets, praising God with glee

(Wait 4 beats)

They weren’t paragons of godliness
But now they knew they could confess
God had provided a Saviour for the world
And that included them. They were so thrilled.

They didn’t go to temple or to the synagogue
But now they knew they were not far from God
He had come near; He had chosen them
All they had to do was believe. Amen!

(Wait 4 beats)

It’s the same for us ‘cos of Christmas Day
Jesus is the Saviour who’ll wash our sins away.
His life was amazing. It showed the people there
That the Kingdom of God had at last come near

The blind could see; the lame could walk
Lepers were cleansed and the dumb could talk
The Son of God walked on the earth
God had come through a humble birth

Right before their eyes the people could see
The nature of God in this Man from Galilee.
The crazy thing is that even so
Some hated Him and said He must go

(Wait 4 beats)

He’d done nothing wrong but they didn’t care
They simply told lies. The trial wasn’t fair.
Soon He was condemned to be crucified
Just as the scriptures had prophesied.

They didn’t know it, but their evil scheme
Fulfilled God’s word and its central theme.
God, in His grace, sent His precious Son
Who laid down His life and said, “It’s done!”

(Wait 4 beats)

Three days later the tomb was bare
They looked in vain but Jesus wasn’t there
He met His disciples; He had beaten death
He gives eternal life to those who have faith

(Wait 4 beats)

We are rebellious but He took our sin.
We deserve to die, but instead it was Him.
Thank you, Jesus. We trust in You.
We’ll follow You, your work to do.

God, You gave Your Son, that first Christmas Eve
We cannot repay; we can only receive.
But we wanna show our love in the things we do
We give our lives to glorify You.
We give our lives to glorify You.
All of our lives to glorify You.

(c) Peter Cheyne

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17.12.17 – Wonder Lost – Peter Cheyne

READING Luke 1:26-38

It was a tradition in the Williams home that there was always a large nativity scene in their lounge. Mark and Julie, and their children, loved Jesus and wanted Him to be the centre of their celebrations.

Another tradition was that the Christmas tree, beside the nativity, went up on Christmas Eve after the kids had gone to bed. That way, the first time they saw it was on Christmas morning.

And a third tradition was that Grandad Steve always came to stay. Steve didn’t sleep very well so, on Christmas morning, he was up, and sitting in the chair in the corner of the lounge before the children stirred. It wasn’t long though until he heard them moving and their excited chatter, before footsteps ran down the hall. All three of them burst into the lounge and stopped dead in their tracks, their mouths wide open. They stared at the tree. It was beautiful. They edged closer, pointing out the things that were different from last year. There were little squeals of delight and excited giggles.

They then turned to the manger. “Wow! Look at baby Jesus! Look at his tiny hands! And look at Mary’s beautiful clothes! Look how she is looking at him with such love in her eyes. Oh wow! Thank you, Jesus for coming into the world at Christmas.” The children joined hands and danced around in a circle, singing and giggling.

“Hi, Grandad”, they called when they saw him, and broke out of the circle to give him a hug. They then ran out of the room but Steve could still hear the sounds of excitement coming from other parts of the house. He smiled, thinking about their enthusiasm.

It wasn’t long before Mark and Julie were also up. They came into the lounge smiling. “Hi Grandad” they said before each giving him a hug. Then the children burst back in. “Get the Bible, Lukey”, Mark said, and Luke raced off to the bedroom. When he returned, Mark and Julie sat on the floor and the children sat around them, pulling in close to hear the story. They read from Matthew and Luke so as to get the whole story.

When they heard about the angel visiting Mary, their eyes and mouths were wide open imagining what it would have been like to be visited by an angel but even more so, imagining what it would be like to be told you were going to have a baby – a miracle baby – not just a baby but God’s baby. “Do you think it would be funny walking around knowing you had God in your tummy?”, Emma asked, and everyone laughed. Luke added, “What I think is amazing is that this baby was going to be the Messiah. Imagine being the girl who was told she was going to be the mother of the Messiah! How amazing would that be?”

“Mummy,” Sophie said, “how long was it between Adam and Eve and Mary?

“I don’t know, Honey.” Julie replied. “Why do you ask?”

“I was just thinking that God told Adam and Eve about the Messiah, didn’t He?

“Well, yes. He didn’t call Him the Messiah at that point but He said that Eve would have a descendant who would crush Satan. He was obviously talking about Jesus.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Sophie continued, “so when was that?”

Julie laughed. “Good question, Honey. I don’t know. It’s kind-of before recorded history even started. Some people would say a few thousand years. Others would say it was millions of years. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking how amazing it must have been after all those thousands or millions of years, and all those prophecies of a Messiah, that it was actually happening. This was perhaps the biggest event in the history of the world. Generation after generation after generation had heard God’s promises but nothing had happened. And now suddenly it was! That is awesome! Yay God!”

“Yeah, true!” Luke shouted. “That is amazing! God kept His promise even after thousands or millions of years. And, one day, Jesus is coming back. People might think it is never going to happen but God will keep that promise too, won’t He. Imagine how history is going to change when that happens!”

“What’s the matter, Wee One,” Mark asked suddenly concerned. Emma was crying. Everyone looked.

“I don’t want Jesus to die.”

“Oh wow,” Mark said. “It is horrible to think that this little baby would be hated and killed, isn’t it? People didn’t treat Jesus very well. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. But you know what? God was still in control. This was all part of God’s plan. The angel had said to Joseph that the baby was to be called Jesus because he would save His people from their sins. He had to die to save us. But remember… He rose again. Jesus had to die. It looked like death defeated Jesus but, in the end, Jesus defeated death.”

Emma smiled and the children jumped up and down chanting, “Jesus wins! Jesus wins!”

They had heard this story many times before, of course. They knew the details well, but every time it seemed to fill them with wonder.

Steve was delighted seeing his grandchildren so engrossed in the story and understanding it so. Oh to be a child again and have that sort of wide-eyed awe. But then he wondered why you had to be a child. Why couldn’t he be equally amazed? The story contained many amazing things – truly incredible things – why did they no longer cause him to dance and sing? What happens when we become adults? What do we lose?

Steve began to wonder about wonder. He loved Jesus but he was hardly ever blown away by the wonder of it all in that wide-eyed sort of way. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat with His mouth open when he had realised something of the magnificence of Jesus.

He thought about some of the reactions of the personalities in the actual Christmas story. Mary was deeply troubled when the angel appeared and was told not to be afraid. When had Steve felt the fear of being in the presence of God? Was He taking God for granted? John the Baptist had leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary, with her baby in utero, had entered the house. My goodness, imagine the power of the presence of God when one unborn baby can have that effect on another unborn baby! Mary had broken into a magnificent song of praise and prophesied about the nature of the Kingdom of God.

Even John the Baptist caused extraordinary reactions. The neighbours were filled with astonishment when he was named John. Zechariah, when he was able to talk again, praised God and the people were filled with awe. When had Steve – or actually, anyone in his church – last been astonished or filled with awe?

When the angels had appeared, the shepherds had been terrified but, after having seen Jesus, they glorified and praised God and told everybody about this child. And, again, the people were amazed. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. Anna likewise. And Mary and Joseph marvelled at what was said about Jesus. They were blown away by it. The Magi were overjoyed when they knew they were in the right place to see Jesus and they bowed down and worshipped Him.

Yeah, but all of these people were excitable Mediterranean types. Steve was a Kiwi and an introvert; they were just more expressive people. But suddenly “introvert” sounded cold and passion-less. He could jump up and down and scream at the TV when the All Blacks were playing. Was he really passion-less when it came to Jesus? As he understood it too, the same personality types existed in all cultures. Did even the introverts in the Christmas story still sense the awe?

Being an introvert, maybe he was less likely to express it but did he even feel it? Even if it wasn’t visible on the outside, did he feel it on the inside?

Steve thought about the fact that when Jesus taught, the crowds were amazed. There was something so different… so authentic… so true… so powerful about Him that the people were blown away. Jesus was different. Jesus was – is – God. Demons screamed in His presence and pleaded for mercy. When Jesus healed the lame man lowered through the roof, the people were filled with awe and praised God.

Steve picked up his iPad and started searching the Bible for words like “awe” and “wonder” and “amazed”. He was surprised how many there were. People were constantly blown away by Jesus. He didn’t find “blown away” or “gobsmacked” (although he thought God-smacked might have been appropriate.) But the word “amazed” occurs 45 times in the New Testament. Jesus (and even the disciples after Him) did things that took their breath away. “We have never seen anything like this!” they said shaking their heads. And Steve realised why signs and wonders are called wonders.

He was particularly troubled though by

Hebrews 12:28-29      Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.

Acceptable worship involves reverence and awe. Steve began to wonder if his relationship with Jesus had become too ordinary… too boring. He knew about Jesus; he appreciated Jesus; he talked to Jesus, but why was he no longer in awe of Jesus? If the real Jesus was constantly amazing people, was Steve even relating to the real Jesus – or just to a domesticated, safe, no-longer stunning, replica of Jesus?

Steve did not want his relationship to be just boring. He wanted it to be a walk with the real Jesus. “God, please give me again a sense of wonder. When I was first saved, I was amazed that you could love someone like me. I was amazed that You cared enough about us to send Your Son. I was amazed that the immortal God would become a man and would suffer and die. But now that is just routine. I talk about it with no sense of wonder. I am not stunned by it. Lord, please touch my heart again. Please open my eyes again to the wonder of it all.”

He felt a little hand on his leg and he opened his eyes. Emma, the youngest one, had come back into the room. “Grandad, do you see it?”

“See what, Wee One?”

“Look at the manger, Grandad.”

His eyes opened wide and he spun around to see the cause. True enough, it was just the way the sun was shining through the exposed beams at that moment, but on the manger there was a very distinct, brightly-lit cross. And, although he knew it was impossible, he was convinced that the doll was looking directly at him and smiling.

He swept Emma into his arms, holding her tight, and started crying.

“What’s the matter, Grandad?”

“Honey, I think God has just answered a prayer for me, and you were part of it. You and Luke and Sophie were a big part of it. I think God just showed me that He is a lot bigger – a lot more amazing – than I had remembered. Do you know that song “Our God is a great big God”?”

Hearing the sounds, the rest of the family came back into the lounge and saw Grandad and Emma singing together at the top of their voices, tears streaming down both of their faces.

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3.12.17 – Celebrating A “Pagan” Christmas – Peter Cheyne

Martin found Brad quite intimidating. Brad seemed to know so much about the Bible and he had strong opinions. Whatever the conversation, Brad let you know what he thought and what the Bible said about it.

Martin, on the other hand, didn’t know so much. He was learning. He was reading his Bible most days, listening carefully to the sermons and taking notes, but he still felt like he was just skimming the surface. There was so much he didn’t seem to know. It was when he talked to Brad that he felt most ignorant. Brad swamped him with his knowledge. Martin truly admired Brad’s depth of understanding but, with every conversation, he felt more and more useless.

Never mind; one day he too would know as much as Brad.

When he had become a Christian, Brad had invited him to meet once a week to chat and to do some Bible study together. Martin felt really privileged that Brad was willing to give up so much time to help him grow spiritually. Martin was hungry to learn; Brad was eager to teach. Perfect.

It hadn’t turned out to be quite so perfect though. Martin had questions that had cropped up during the week but Brad seemed to have an agenda of his own. He seldom listened to Martin. He was more intent on describing the latest theological argument that he had been in (and, according to him, always seemed to win.) Or explain the latest academic article he had read. Most of it went straight over Martin’s head, and he left their meetings slightly resentful that he had wasted his time – again.

Martin wanted to know how to pray and how to resist temptation. Brad talked about the fourth century bishop, Gregory of Nyssa, and whether or not his theology had been influenced by Neoplatonism. Or the latest trends in the study of Pauline eschatology.

Brad had lots of theories that he talked about as if they were incontrovertible facts. And Martin was always the ignorant student. Brad was a King-James-only, Calvinistic, pre-tribulationist. And he could defend it from the Bible.

Martin didn’t have the courage to say he didn’t want to meet any more.

One day, Brad said “Martin, mate, tell me please that you do not celebrate Christmas.”

“No… no, of course not! As if I would!” Martin replied, knowing that he was lying. Why would he not celebrate Christmas?

Brad was determined to pursue the subject anyway. “It’s not Christian, you know. It’s a pagan festival.”

Martin was already struggling. How could celebrating the birth of the Christ not be Christian?

“Jesus wasn’t born on 25 December”, Brad chortled contemptuously. “We don’t know when Jesus was born but it almost certainly wasn’t in the winter. Shepherds wouldn’t have been out in the fields in the middle of winter. So, where do you think the 25 December date came from? It’s pagan. It was an ancient Roman celebration of the birth of the god Mithra. How can Christians possibly adopt pagan events and false gods? The Bible says we are to have no other gods than the real God. People who celebrate Christmas are directly disobeying the Bible and will burn in hell.”

“Wow! This looks serious,” Martin thought. Brad certainly knows his stuff. He’s done his research. Martin didn’t have a clue how to respond.

“Christmas is never mentioned in the Bible,” Brad continued. “We should do only what God has told us to do. He has told us to celebrate Jesus’ death, for example, in Communion, but we are never told to celebrate His birth.”

“I thought Christmas was mentioned in the Bible,” Martin objected.

“Where?”

“Well, we have the stories of Jesus’ birth. Where are they? In Matthew and Luke. We know about Mary and Joseph and their journey to Bethlehem and the shepherds and the wise men. That’s in the Bible.”

Brad snorted. “We know about His birth but there is no annual celebration called “Christmas”. We’re not meant to celebrate it.”

Martin knew he was on dangerous ground trying to debate with Brad but he was getting a bit resentful. Brad seemed like the ultimate Scrooge trying to take all the joy out of Christmas. It seemed to Martin that the angels had celebrated Jesus’ birth with a huge choir and the shepherds had worshipped and the wise men had acknowledged His birth and worshipped and given gifts. How come it was OK for them to celebrate it but not OK for Christians?

Brad had made other points though that Martin had no idea how to answer. In fact, maybe Brad was right. Maybe it was simply a pagan festival and not appropriate for Christians. The overwhelmingly materialistic and commercial nature of modern Christmases certainly looked pagan. Maybe that did reveal the true character of Christmas and Christians had been sucked into something evil. Maybe he really would burn in hell for celebrating Christmas. It seemed strange. He couldn’t quite understand it but maybe going to church on Christmas Day and giving thanks for the birth of the Saviour condemned a person to hell.

“Where do all our Christmas traditions come from,” Brad asked. “They’re pagan too. Worshipping decorated trees and hanging mistletoe and burning yule logs. It’s all pagan. It has nothing to do with the birth of Jesus. And what about Santa Claus? What has he got to do with Jesus and yet he is the hero of Christmas.”

It was looking pretty compelling, Martin thought. All this evidence was mounting up against celebrating Christmas. Mind you, he didn’t remember actually worshipping the tree.

It seemed that Brad had read his thoughts. “Don’t you bow down when you put the present under it? You bow down to the tree! That’s worship, man! And the Bible specifically condemns Christmas trees. Listen to Jeremiah 10:2-4. 2 This is what the Lord says: ‘Do not learn the ways of the nations or be terrified by signs in the heavens, though the nations are terrified by them. 3 For the practices of the peoples are worthless; they cut a tree out of the forest, and a craftsman shapes it with his chisel. 4 They adorn it with silver and gold; they fasten it with hammer and nails so that it will not totter. Do not learn the ways of the nations. Do not adopt pagan practices. And Colossians 2:16-17 say that religious festivals and special days are a shadow of the things that were to come. The reality is found in Christ.”

One thing Martin knew was that he wanted to live a holy and God-pleasing life. He didn’t understand all of this but it did seem that there were multiple reasons for not celebrating Christmas. And he knew that obedience had to come before his love for his family. He rang his Mum and said he wouldn’t be coming to the house this Christmas. He’d catch up with his brothers and sisters and nephews and nieces maybe the day before or the day after but he couldn’t be there on Christmas Day. His mother was very disappointed but Martin stuck to his principles. Christian disciples must put Jesus ahead of family.

His absence that day only made his family even more dubious about what had happened to him when he had become a Christian. And Martin sat at home alone watching TV. He wasn’t quite sure how that was godlier than going to church and remembering Jesus, giving thanks for His coming into the world to save sinners, and being with family. However, Brad had said so and Brad always knew best. Fortunately, and typically, there was nothing on TV even remotely Christmas-related so Martin wasn’t even tempted to think of Jesus’ birth and thereby sin. He was sure he was being very holy but it was actually the worst Christmas ever.

It was so bad that he decided to do some research. That Jeremiah reading that so clearly condemned Christmas trees. When he looked it up, he discovered that it wasn’t about trees at all. It was about idols carved out of wood. The next verse made it clear. What about the Colossians one about religious festivals and Sabbath days being worthless – only Christ is real? He saw that that was talking about Old Testament festivals that had been rendered obsolete when Jesus came. Observing them could not save; they were simply pointing to Christ. “But,” he thought, “I wasn’t trying to be saved by celebrating Christmas. On the contrary, I wanted to rejoice in the gift of the Saviour.”

His suspicions had been aroused and his appetite whetted. He dug deeper into the research. Christmas trees, he discovered, were not pagan; they were Christian! In Germany, the main prop for a medieval play about Adam and Eve was a fir tree hung with apples, representing the Garden of Eden. German Christians set them up in their homes on December 24, the religious feast day of Adam and Eve. They hung wafers on it representing the bread of Communion – the body of Christ; redemption – and they hung candles on it representing Jesus. Over the years this became the Christmas tree.[1]

Santa Claus and the commercialism were still a bit of a problem but Martin discovered that it actually is possible that shepherds were in the fields in December and Christians have believed that 25 December was the date of Christ’s birth of Christ’s birth since the second or third century. But, even if Jesus wasn’t born on that day, is it not still a good thing to celebrate His coming at some point? Martin wasn’t sure if it was relevant but he noted that Queen’s Birthday is not actually on the Queen’s birthday either.

He felt a bit peeved. He had missed Christmas and all because of Brad’s penchant for splitting hairs and making up rules based on not even being careful about how he read the Bible. Martin decided he was going to do something about it!

He rang his family and apologised for having been an idiot. His day had been miserable and he had damped theirs because he had been a bit sort-of super-holy. He had acted as if he was a bit superior. His family weren’t Christians but they laughed and said that he was forgiven and they invited him to join them for the evening. Martin thought their forgiveness was maybe close to the real meaning of Christmas.

He had a great time with them but he said he wanted to make it up to them. He wanted to do more. He wanted to really celebrate Christmas. And so he proposed that they get together again 2 weeks later. He would organise it. He would pay for it but they would have a top-notch celebration.

He told them about the journey he had been on and how silly Christians could be sometimes. But he also added that there were still some things that troubled him. The materialism and commercialism were, he suggested, totally contrary to the real message of Christmas. “Let’s have no presents. We don’t need another round of presents. And let’s not spend mega-bucks. Can we have a really good day? Can we love each other and have a lot of fun, but can we remember that it is about God giving us His Son?”

They were OK with that. Why not make it the real thing? “Actually,” they said, “we’d quite like to know what it really does mean. We know about the spending, and the over-eating and over-drinking, and Santa but we have little idea about Jesus and no idea why He is such a big deal to you. Why not tell us?”

And so it was that on January 7th Martin and his family celebrated Christmas. He didn’t know it but so did maybe 300 million Eastern Orthodox Christians as well. Martin got to tell his family the story of Jesus and all of them said it had been better than their other Christmas.

READ Col 3:15-17

http://www.equip.org/article/should-christians-celebrate-christmas/

https://bible.org/article/should-christians-celebrate-christmas

[1] 3. The New Encyclopedia Britannica: Micropaedia, Vol. II (Encyclopedia Britannica, 1981)

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26.11.17 – If I Prayed, Am I Saved? – Peter Cheyne

If I have prayed, inviting Jesus into my life, I am a Christian. I don’t have to do anything else.

When I put that on the wall two weeks ago, it got a heap of yellow spots meaning that it is a statement that we are not sure about or have questions about. Clearly this is very relevant to all of us. How can we be sure we that we have been saved? Is it just a case of praying or do we need to do something? Can we think we are saved but actually not be? Might we get turned away on judgement day?

What I am going to say will be controversial. You won’t hear this teaching many other places, which means one of two things: either this is what the Bible teaches and we need to change our thinking or this isn’t what the Bible teaches and I am misleading you. You need discern what the Bible says? Have your Bibles open and test me.

When we were talking about Martin Luther, we referred a couple of times to…

Ephesians 2:8-9  For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

Sola gratia – by grace alone, not by works. It is a gift; we cannot earn it. By God’s grace, when we put our faith in Jesus. Sola fide – by faith alone. But…

James 2:24          You see that people are justified by what they do and not by faith alone.

Uh oh, we have a problem!!! Paul says that we are not saved by works but by grace through faith. James says that we are saved (or justified) by works and not by faith alone.

Has James got this completely wrong? Martin Luther wrote that James’ epistle was an epistle of straw (as opposed to gold or silver.) You can understand that when Luther had rediscovered the truth of salvation by faith and here was James saying that faith alone is worthless. James said that faith alone was worthless so Luther said that James’ letter was worthless. Is James wrong? Let’s read the passage and then compare James with other New Testament authors.

I have tried to summarise James’ teaching in two diagrams. Do they accurately reflect what James says?

James 2:14-26

14 What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if someone claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save them? 15 Suppose a brother or a sister is without clothes and daily food. 16 If one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace; keep warm and well fed,’ but does nothing about their physical needs, what good is it? 17 In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

18 But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’

Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds. 19 You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.

20 You foolish person, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? 21 Was not our father Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? 22 You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. 23 And the scripture was fulfilled that says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,’and he was called God’s friend. 24 You see that a person is considered righteous by what they do and not by faith alone.

25 In the same way, was not even Rahab the prostitute considered righteous for what she did when she gave lodging to the spies and sent them off in a different direction? 26 As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.

James says that our deeds prove the reality of our faith. Faith that produces works that is real and will save. So-called faith that produces no works is dead; it is not real faith and therefore will not save. Abraham had faith but it was his willingness to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) that proved that he really did trust God. He could say he trusted God but it was his actions that proved it. It was when Abraham had the knife raised above Isaac that the angel intervened and said, “Now I know that you fear God.”

James says that works are necessary for our salvation. If there are no works, then there is no faith. And if there is no faith, then there is no salvation. Does anyone else in the New Testament agree? For each passages, ask 2 questions: Does it mention works? What is the relationship between works and salvation?

What about Paul himself?

We read Ephesians 2:8-9 but look at v.10. [Questions]  We have been created in Christ Jesus to do good works that God prepared in advance for us to do. At the very least, that says that God expects more from us than just a prayer. He expects us to do the works He has prepared in advance for us to do.

Romans 1:5 and Romans 16:26 – the beginning and the end of Romans. [Questions] Paul says that the gospel had been made known, and he had been called to be an apostle, to call the Gentiles to the obedience of faith. We are actually called to the works (to the obedience) but that obedience comes from faith. First we must have the faith but we are called to the obedience. That looks exactly like James!

Romans 2:4         Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, forbearance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness is intended to lead you to repentance?

“The riches of God’s kindness, forbearance and patience.” That is the grace of God, but we show contempt for God’s grace if we do not repent. The intention of grace is to lead us to repentance. Repentance is about what we do. It is about doing a 180o turn and living differently.

Then Romans 2:6 says God will repay us according to what we have done. This passage (vv.1-16) is very clearly about judgement. It is slightly difficult but it repeatedly says that God judges us on the basis of our works. Maybe Paul is saying, along with James, that works produced by faith are the evidence of real faith. It is the faith that saves but the works that prove the reality of the faith.

1 Thess 1:3          We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ.

Faith, hope and love are all internal but they all produce external evidence. The evidence of love is labour. The evidence of hope is endurance. The evidence of faith is work. That sounds exactly like James.

1 Thess 1:8b-9     …your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore, we do not need to say anything about it, 9 for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God…

Everybody in the provinces of Macedonia and Achaia was talking about the faith of the Thessalonians. What were they saying? They were talking about how they had turned from idols to serve the living and true God. The evidence of their faith was their new lifestyle and it was a lifestyle of serving God. The reality of their faith was seen in their works.

Maybe Paul and James are not saying contradictory things but actually teaching the same thing. We are saved by faith but real faith produces works. Our actions prove and complete the faith.

Let’s go to the top. What about Jesus Himself? What did He teach?

“By their fruits you will know them” (Mt 7:16,20). How can you tell if a tree is good or bad? Look at the quality of the fruit. How can you tell if someone has faith? Their actions will tell you.

He also said, “You did not choose me but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit – fruit that will last…” (John 15:16) We have been chosen to serve, producing fruit that will last – eternal fruit – Kingdom of God fruit.

In Matthew 7, after saying “By their fruits you will know them”, Jesus was even more direct.

Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. 22 Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?23 And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’

Can you imagine what it will be like for these people? They fully expect to get into heaven. They call Jesus ‘Lord, Lord’. They have done amazing things for Him – in His name. Very clearly this is about entering the Kingdom of Heaven. But Jesus will say, “I never knew you.” Only those who do the will of God will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Those who are obedient will be saved. These people have done great works but they hadn’t done what God had asked them to do. What a shock to be absolutely confident and then to be turned away. Some people say this is the scariest passage in the Bible.

Just in case we haven’t understood, Jesus then told the story of the two men who built houses, one on the rock and the other on the sand. When the storm came, the one on the rock stood but the one on the sand collapsed. Does the storm represent judgement? What was the difference between those two men? What determined whether the house stood or fell? Obedience. They both listened to Jesus but only one put Jesus’ words into practice.

It has often been taught that if you just pray the sinners’ prayer – you tell God that you need forgiveness and you believe that Jesus died for you and you invite Him into your life – you are saved. Is that in the Bible? If that has been our understanding, then Jesus’ words about obedience might be terrifying. We might have thought that our salvation was assured but have we been doing the will of God?

There is more. Think of all the parables about a master or king who goes away. When he returns the big question is: Are his servants doing the work that he left them to do? If not, all of those parables contain graphic descriptions of those servants being cast into outer darkness. Jesus seems to agree with James. Are we doing the work that Jesus has left us here to do?

What about John? Does he also emphasise the importance of our works for our salvation?

1 John 2:3-6        Now by this we know that we know Him, if we keep His commandments. [Wow! Obedience is the proof.] 4 He who says, “I know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him. [It is not what we claim; it is what we do.] 5 But whoever keeps His word, truly the love of God is perfected in him. By this we know that we are in Him. 6 He who says he abides in Him ought himself also to walk just as He walked. [If we say we are Christians then we must live like Jesus.]

John answers the question “How can I know that I am saved?”

1 John 3:10         This is how we know who the children of God are and who the children of the devil are: anyone who does not do what is right is not God’s child, nor is anyone who does not love their brother and sister.

Did you know that there is so much emphasis on works in the Bible? We are not saved by our works. We are saved by grace. Salvation is a free gift from the gracious, generous, merciful, forgiving God. It is received through faith in Jesus. But real faith produces works and so the works are test.

If this is true, will you be saved? Are you being obedient to God?

One reaction would be to say, “I must do more good work. I must try harder.” That would be the wrong reaction. We are not saved by doing more or trying harder. Do not focus on the works. It is faith that produces the works and it is the faith that saves, so focus on growing in faith. Actually, just focus on Jesus. Focus on knowing and following Jesus. The better you know Him, the more you will know that you can trust Him. That is faith. That faith will then produce good works in your life. When we really love Jesus, and know that we are loved by Jesus, we will obey His commands.

I cannot emphasise this enough. We are saved by faith, not by our good deeds. But what is the evidence of genuine faith? Obedience. “Is my faith real?” The test is: Am I being obedient to God? Maybe we are at the beginning of the journey; maybe we are not obedient in everything; maybe we never will be 100% obedient. God is forgiving and merciful. But the question remains: Am I being obedient to God? Does my life show that I am following Jesus?

The Reformers – like Martin Luther and John Calvin – used to say, “We are saved by faith alone but faith is never alone.”

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12.11.17 – Sola-Powered: Is Another Reformation Required? – Peter Cheyne

This was part of a less formal, interactive service. It might not make complete sense. I will add the results of people’s voting later in case it is of interest.

Five or six years ago I was in a discussion group at a conference and an elder in the church related this conversation she had had. Someone said to her, “I am not a Christian.” Her reply was “Yes you are. You do good things”!

You should be on your feet. There should be howls of protest. You should be in tears!

Here’s why you should be in tears. Last week we looked at the five solas of the Reformation – the five big themes

  • Sola scriptura – the Bible alone is our authority. Is that the teaching of the Bible? No, it is exactly the opposite of what the Bible teaches. How come a leader in the church is that ignorant? Because the Bible is not studied and the Bible is not taught and the Bible is not known.
  • Sola fide – we are saved by faith alone. And yet, here is an elder teaching that we are saved by good works. There is no mention of faith.
  • Sola gratia – we are saved by the grace of God alone. Salvation is a free gift from God. And yet, God wasn’t mentioned. His grace was not mentioned. On the contrary, this elder taught that salvation is not a free gift but something we earn.
  • Solus Christus – salvation is found in Jesus Christ alone. Was this person pointed to Jesus? No, if salvation is earnt by doing good works, Jesus is not even required.
  • Soli Deo Gloria – glory to God alone. Who was glorified in this exchange? The person. You are a good person. Nothing about the goodness of God. You are a good person. Go you!

You should also be in tears because this person was being led away from salvation. She will never find salvation in Jesus if she has been told that she doesn’t need it because she’s OK. And you should be in tears when you see that this is the state of the church.

But is that an extreme example or is that typical of the church in our country? Obviously there are some very fine churches and lots of amazing Christians who relate closely to God, who know the Bible and obey it, who give God glory daily, etc. But, in my opinion, there are also many churches around our country where there is little understanding of the Bible and little spiritual maturity and little commitment to mission. In fact, they probably don’t even know what the mission of the church is. There are many churches that are little more than social clubs – in my opinion.

I think there is a conventional understanding of what it means to be a Christian and a church, but it is miles away from a biblical understanding. By “conventional” I mean a generally held understanding – an assumed understanding because it is just what everybody thinks – but it is not what God thinks.

I think that is true of whole denominations, but I think it is also true of local churches, and I think it is true of vast numbers of church members. Many Christians cannot tell you what the gospel is. Many Christian leaders cannot tell you what the gospel is

If I am right, then there is a need for another reformation. There is a need for the church to look again at the Bible, see how far it has drifted and be willing to turn back and obey God. Another Latin phrase associated with the Reformation is “semper reformanda” – always reforming; the church is always in need of reform. The church is not yet perfect. We can drift away from the Word of God and become corrupt or simply weak. We have blind spots and we don’t even realise it. There is always the need to read the scriptures again and to be willing to repent.

But what do you think? Let’s do a little exercise to explore this a bit. I have put up the following 15 statements.

Sola scriptura (The Bible only)

  • The Bible is the Word of God. I read it regularly to hear God speak.
  • The Bible is of little relevance to the practical needs of today. I don’t read it much.

Sola Fide (Faith only)

  • I know I deserve judgement but I believe Jesus died so that I can be forgiven.
  • If I am a good person, I will go to heaven.
  • If I have prayed, inviting Jesus into my life, I am a Christian. I don’t have to do anything else.

Sola Gratia (Grace only)

  • Salvation is a free gift from a good God.
  • Because God is so loving, everyone will be saved.

Solus Christus (Jesus Christ only)

  • Jesus is the only way to God.
  • There are many roads to God besides Jesus

Soli Deo Gloria (to the glory of God only)

  • Every day and in every way I seek to show people that God is good.
  • I must look after my own reputation so I never mention God.

Judgement

  • Because of our sin, without faith in Jesus, all people are in danger of God’s judgement.
  • Concepts such as sin, judgement and wrath are old fashioned and unhelpful.

Mission (Why does the church exists?)

  • The church exists primarily to look after its members.
  • The church’s primary task is to share the gospel and to train Christians.

Can you please take your black dots – black dots only – and choose the four statements that you think are most typical of the church today in New Zealand. What do people in our churches believe? If you feel you don’t have a sense of where the church is at, think about the people you know – whether church members or not. What do you think are the things they believe most strongly?

Now, please take your red, orange and green dots. Green means “yes”. Find the five statements that you most strongly agree with. Orange means “I am not sure” or “I have questions”. Find the five statements you have the most doubts about. Red means “Stop! This is wrong. This upsets me.”

How are we going to decide whether a statement is true or not?

The five solas give us a grid to measure them against. But more importantly, what does the Bible say?

I have had some experience of the wider church. There are many churches that I have huge admiration for but, by-and-large, the church is not in a good state. IMHO, many churches have no idea why they exist and the members have little understanding of the Bible.

In broad terms, I think the conventional thinking about the church favours comfort

  • God won’t judge
  • Salvation is easy. All you have to do is pray this prayer.
  • I don’t need to make any changes to my life.

Clearly the Bible teaches about comfort as well but also there is a much bigger component of commitment and cost. God is looking for people who will pay the cost.

Read Luke 9:57-62

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’

58 Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’

59 He said to another man, ‘Follow me.’

But he replied, ‘Lord, first let me go and bury my father.’

60 Jesus said to him, ‘Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.’

61 Still another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’

62 Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’

  • Am I willing to be transformed by the word of God and the Spirit of God?
    • God change me
  • Am I committed?
    • God use me

 

 

 

It always needs further reformation; it always needs to return to the scriptures. That is true of the church as an institution. But equally, who is the church? We are. We are always in need of being transformed and being called back to the scriptures. In my view, the church of today needs another reformation. Let’s explore that using the five solas.

 

Sola scriptura. Does the church believe that the Bible is the Word of God and the only authority? If we need a question answered or an issue resolved, do we search the scriptures to find out what God has said about it?

 

No, surveys have shown that the levels of Bible reading, and Bible knowledge, amongst Christians are abysmally low. At a higher level, in the politics and decision-making of the church, the Bible is hardly ever referred to. Much preaching is not a revealing of the message of the Bible but pop psychology or self-help teaching or the latest political fad with an occasional quote from the Bible if it supports the view of the preacher. Is the Bible front-and-centre? Is the Bible honoured?

 

In today’s church, the Bible needs to be rediscovered and re-honoured.

 

Sola fide. If you go to a funeral, often the message is “Tom will be in heaven (if there is any belief in heaven) because he was a good man.” The general impression in our society is that God loves good people and basically we are all good (except, perhaps for the very worst offenders). But that is a million miles away from what the Bible teaches. Who will be in heaven? Those who have recognised that they are not good people and who therefore repent and put their faith in Jesus. When the church fails to teach the good news of salvation through faith in Jesus, it leads people straight into hell.

 

But there is also an opposite problem. Sometimes the church goes too far with the message of faith alone, teaching that all you have to do to be saved is pray a particular prayer. Say this prayer and your eternity is assured.

 

Rubbish! Where does the Bible teach that? Again, that leads people straight into hell. It is a terrible thing when Christians are leading people into hell.

 

The Bible teaches that true faith will always lead to good works. Do you want to know if a person has faith in Jesus? Look at that person’s life. Jesus said, “By their fruit you will know them.” Is this person trusting Jesus daily? Is this person obedient to Jesus? Is this person serving Jesus?

 

Remember the passage we read last week, from Ephesians 2.

 

Ephesians 2:8-10 8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

 

Matthew 7:21      Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven.

 

That is a very scary scripture because many people are sitting in our churches thinking, “I have faith in Jesus. I said the prayer once” but they are not daily obedient to God. According to Jesus, they will not be saved. It is not about saying, ‘Lord, Lord’; it is not about singing worship songs. It is about doing the good works that God has prepared in advance for us to do.

 

The Reformers taught that we are saved by faith alone but faith is never alone. All we need to do is trust in Jesus’ death in our place. But if we do, that will always lead to a life of daily obedience to God. If is no obedience (no good works), then it shows that there is no faith and there is no salvation.

 

We need to rediscover faith. But we also need to rediscover obedience.

 

Sola gratia. We have already said that many people believe that we are saved by our good works not by the grace of God. That is a problem but again there is an opposite problem. Some churches stress the grace of God to the point of teaching that everybody will be saved. God is so loving and gracious He would never judge anyone. Forgiveness is automatic. Everyone is forgiven. Everyone will go to heaven.

 

Rubbish! There is no way the Bible teaches that. Francis Chan says, “If you don’t believe in judgement, you haven’t read the Bible.”

 

Again, people are being told that they are saved when they are not. And because they think they are, they have no incentive to turn to Jesus in faith and repentance.

 

We need to rediscover grace. But we also need to rediscover some of the more challenging teachings of scripture such as sin, judgement, holiness, repentance.

 

Solus Christus. Well, that is an unpopular teaching today, isn’t it? How can Christians be so arrogant to claim that Jesus is the only way? Every religion teaches good things. There are lots of good people. God will save every person of good will.

 

That completely contradicts the Bible.

 

John 14:6            Jesus answered, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

 

Acts 4:12             Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.

 

I know that that raises questions. What about those who have never heard of Jesus? Nevertheless, it is what the Bible teaches and I trust God to do the right thing. I am sure God knows about what is just and fair. I know that God is good and merciful. We do not need to advise Him on these matters.

 

If there is salvation apart from Jesus, then Jesus is not required. Jesus’ death was unnecessary and pointless. Really? Was the cross pointless or was the cross what made salvation possible?

 

I seldom read the sPanz magazine that the Presbyterian Church publishes but sometimes I scan it just to see how many times Jesus is mentioned. Not many! So much for “Jesus only”. We say we are followers of Jesus. Shouldn’t He then be very prominent in our teaching and our conversations?

 

We need to rediscover Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria. This, it seems to me, is a forgotten doctrine

 

 

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