Music Recommendation, 30th June

Rend Collective Experiment – Second Chance

Some days our hearts can be heavy with the weight of our pasts. That old baggage that we can’t seem to shake off. Jesus never gives up on us. He is the King of second chances. However your day (or your life) seems to be panning out, remember: God’s mercies are new every morning. Lamentations 3: 22-23

Wordclouds of the New Testament letters

I thought it would be interesting to create wordclouds of the New Testament letters using Tagxedo and the World English Bible.

Romans
romans

1 Corinthians
1Corinthians

2 Corinthians
2Corinthians

Galatians
galatians

Ephesians
ephesians

Philippians
philippians

Colossians
colossians

1 Thessalonians
1thessalonians

2 Thessalonians
2thessalonians

1 Timothy
1timothy

2 Timothy
2timothy

Titus
titus

Philemon
philemon

Hebrews
hebrews

James
james

1 Peter
1peter

2 Peter
2peter

1 John
1john

2 John
2john

3 John
3john

Jude
jude

Hebron Gospel Hall, Torquay, 9th June 2013

The following is my message at Hebron Gospel Hall in Torquay on the evening of 9th June 2013.  The readings accompanying the message were

Malachi 3:6-18
Hebrews 3:1-19

and we sang “Great is Thy faithfulness” as one of our hymns.

What a faithful and ever-loving God we have.  I love the old hymns – the sincerity of the words.  Music plays a special role in my relationship with God – it was the way He kept me close, hearing His word, when I was making my own plans, living my own life that I believed didn’t include Him.

God gave us song to convict us of our sins; to remind us that God is God and we are not; that God pours out innumerable blessings and we take them ungratefully, believing that we have earned them and deserve them; reminding us that God is faithful and we are faithless.  The first recorded song in the bible is the Song of Moses and we read the following in Deuteronomy 31:19-22

“Now therefore write this song, and teach it to the people of Israel; put it in their mouths, that this song may be a witness for me against the people of Israel.  For when I have brought them into the land flowing with milk and honey, which I swore to give to their fathers, and they have eaten and are full and grown fat, they will turn to other gods and serve them, and despise me and break my covenant.  And when many evils and troubles have come upon them, this song shall confront them as a witness (for it will live unforgotten in the mouths of their descendants); for I know the purposes which they are already forming, before I have brought them into the land that I swore to give.”  So Moses wrote this song the same day, and taught it to the people of Israel.

If there is a single message running through the bible it is this: Trust in Me, the Lord, your God.  In our first reading we heard God’s challenge to His people: Trust in Me, give Me what belongs to Me, and see how abundantly I will pour My blessings out on you.  The tithe, of course, is symbolic – after all, the whole world is the Lord’s and everything in it.  God’s call is for us to trust Him, to trust His plan, not to keep anything back for ourselves – He calls us to give nothing short of our whole lives to Him.  We might hear the words of the psalmist in this call:

Taste and see that the Lord is good!

The bible is a record of God’s faithfulness, of the promises God has made, and kept for His people.  We might think of:

    • God’s promise to Noah that He would keep Noah and his family safe as a watery apocalypse engulfed the Earth;
    • God’s promise to Abraham that He would lead Abraham’s descendants into the promised land of Canaan;
    • God’s promise to Moses that He would deliver His people from slavery in Egypt and give them peace and prosperity in the promised land;
    • God’s promise that He would send His messiah to redeem the world from sin, fulfilled in Jesus Christ;
    • God’s promise that He would vanquish death, fulfilled in Christ’s resurrection.

    Our God is a faithful God.  There are those who would say that the God in which we believe is fickle; vengeful one moment, craving intimacy the next.  But I say, look again – read how God has stood by those who trust in Him; how He has kept the promises He has made.  As we read in Malachi, God is unchanging – it is we who are fickle.

    If the bible is a love story, it is also a tragedy because it records time and again man’s faithlessness – of how we needed no excuse to go our own way, to follow our own plans, to live for ourselves rather than living as God would have us live.  Sin is not really about doing bad things; it is about not trusting in God’s plan for us and believing that we need to take control of our own lives.

    The times when it has “all gone wrong” in the biblical narrative are those occasions when man feels he knows better than God:

      • the fall from grace was not the result of murder or adultery – it was about wanting to do things in our own wisdom;
      • the failure of the Jews to acknowledge Jesus as their messiah was because He didn’t “fit the bill” – they thought that they knew better;
      • we heard about the faithless Hebrews led by Moses to the promised land – the reason they ended up in the wilderness for forty years, rather than two weeks, was because they did not trust that God would deliver the land to them so they sent scouts fearful that their strength would not be enough.

      Even the disciples, who spent three years with Jesus, day in and day out, are regularly scolded for their lack of faith.  It is only when the apostles saw the risen Lord, that they really understood and trusted in the Lord’s plans.  We read in 2 Timothy 2:11-13 what must have been one of the early affirmations in the early Christian church:

      The saying is sure:
      “If we have died with Him, we shall also live with Him;
      If we endure, we shall also reign with Him;
      If we deny Him, He also will deny us;
      If we are faithless, He remains faithful –
      for He cannot deny Himself.”

      I want to finish by considering two things:

      • knowing that God is faithful I want to reassure you of the promises God has given us, because He will fulfil them;
      • knowing that we are faithless I want to consider what our response should be to God’s call to trust Him and his plans for each of us.

      God promises us:

      • that if we trust in Him He will transform our hearts, pouring out His Holy Spirit into us so that we might show our faith and love of God through the fruits of the spirit – love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, fidelity. But He tells us truthfully that we will endure difficulties as Christians, but trusting in God these trials will purify our hearts.
      • He promises that He will come again to bring in His new kingdom and claiming the faithful as His people.
      • He promises that we will rise again with Him into everlasting life.
      • He promises that we shall dwell with Him in heaven, where there is no sadness, no tears, no hatred or hurt, just unbridled joy and love for our unchanging ever-faithful God.

      God is faithful – these things will come to pass.

      Like David, it remains for us to ask God to search our hearts so that we can cast out any part of our lives that is contrary to God’s will. We must examine ourselves and ask if we really trust in God’s plan for us, or do we cling on to areas in our life where we long to remain in control. We need to ask God to renew us; renew our hearts; renew our faith and breathe His Holy Spirit back into every aspect of our lives.

      Digital Kickstart

      I’ve just come back from the Digital Kickstart day in Exeter and I’m feeling really excited about the possibilities for connecting people in our church and engaging new people with our mission.  Whilst the ideas and technologies weren’t entirely new, it was great to spend the day thinking about how we can make social media work for us.

      It was incredible to be reminded how the church has embraced new technology through the ages, such as the codex form and the printing press, to make God’s word accessible and I pray that we can play some part online in spreading God’s love.

      Music Recommendation, 19th May

      Bethel – I’ve found a love

      Something is missing in your life. Something untangible, you can’t put your finger on it. A silent, unexplained emptiness and a sense of being lacklustre. What you need is some soulfood: God’s love. He’s waiting if you’re ready.

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kv3epxmXzM4

      Not good enough for heaven

      There seems to be this popular misconception that Christians are “holier than thou” and that somehow by following God’s commandments we make ourselves better than everyone else and more worthy of getting to heaven.  The truth is almost the exact opposite: Christians are just people, who are as prone to being self-centred as the next person.

      The cornerstone of Christian theology is that, by our own actions, we do not deserve to enter into heaven.  This is precisely why we need Jesus – his sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty we deserve for our sins (which is why Jesus’ last words on the cross are “It is finished”).  In dying, Jesus literally became the scapegoat for mankind and in rising again, Jesus proves that he is who he claimed to be: God incarnate.

      This is grace, that rather than being given the punishment we deserve for our actions we are offered entry into heaven as a friend of Jesus, and shows how vast God’s love is for each of us.  The only question worth asking then is “do you accept Jesus’ sacrifice as atonement for your sins?”.

      Finally, a word about those “holier than thou” Christians – once you truly realise how awesome, undeserved and deep God’s love is for us, the only possible response is to live a life dedicated to Him, serving others as Jesus commanded and showing them the same love that God shows us.

      On the train to London on Thursday, the following popped into my head – if anyone wants to use it as the refrain for a song or hymn then feel free to share your ideas:

      I’m not good enough for heaven,
      But I know they’ll let me in,
      For my faith resides in Jesus,
      Who redeems me from my sin.

      Music Recommendation, 3rd May

      tobyMac – Me Without You

      Ever felt like you don’t know where you are heading? God provides you with direction. Listening to Him means your actions start to make sense, because He sees the bigger picture. Where are you without Him?

      I’d be packin’ my bags when I need to stay, I’d be chasin’ every breeze that blows my way…

      Casting Crowns

      I’m listening to a lot of Casting Crowns at the moment.  I really love their driving sound and heartfelt biblical lyrics to their songs.  It’s difficult to pick out any favourites but I’m going to highlight two songs in particular.

      Courageous is an anthem for the modern Christian man and I think it is particularly apt for where we are as a church at present – seeking to engage in meaningful outreach that makes an impact on people in our communities.

      Just another birthday is a heart-rending song that brings me close to tears listening to it.

      I can definitely recommend you get more Casting Crowns in your life!

      Music Recommendation, 13th April

      Gwen Smith: Broken into Beautiful

      One of the best things about being a Christian is the positive transformation that appears in your life (if you choose to accept it). Gwen’s song expresses this transformation: God turns worthless into precious, hungry into satisfied, broken into beautiful. This song highlights the sense of weariness felt when you do everything in your own strength; in contrast, accepting that you need God in your life permits Him to step in and change things. Which definitely takes the pressure off…

      When I were a lad …

      Many of my fellow Christians seem to believe that the nation is suffering from moral decline and that Britain is no longer a Christian country.  So my question is simply this:

      When exactly was the golden age of Christian morality?

      Britain has a pretty bloody imperial history and significant wealth came from its slave trade, so presumably we have to rule out any time before the 19th century.  The Victorian era wasn’t exactly a great advert for Christian morality with swathes of the population in crippling poverty, the workhouses and child labour.  Of course, the first half of the 20th century is scarred by two world wars and up until at least the 1980s, society wasn’t exactly a bastion of gender, racial, religious or sexual equality (and to be fair we’ve still got a long way to go with these issues).  But then, presumably the last 30 years of rampant consumerism, wars over oil and political dishonesty form part of what the critics deplore as unChristian behaviour.

      I’d appreciate your thoughts and comments.