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In Isaiah 11 we learn of the Branch from the line of Jesse, that would one day bear fruit. This prophecy was spoken at a time of great societal injustice, where hope was hard to find and oppression was rife. Isaiah is reimagining a world where the Messiah would come and rescue the oppressed, stand up for justice and love the widow and the orphan. Perhaps there is a call on us today, to also be that champion who raises the banner of justice, loving those within our community and bringing a message that Hope is here.
It’s not yet Christmas. We’re in Advent. A time for waiting. In week one of four, we look at the prophetic words in Isaiah 2. It’s over 700 years before Christ, but there are already hints of what kind of kingdom Jesus will introduce to the world. The mood changes from war to peace. Weapons are being refashioned into gardening tools. The time of conflict is moving over to make way for a time of settling and growth. In the West we are not waging physical war, as such, but often we are engaged in war of words. Social media shows a public square that is more interested in being right, rather than cultivating relationship.
In the hundreds of years after the birth of the Church, men (like Constantine), changed the order by introducing hierarchies. Sadly many of these developments undermined the original vision for the church, specifically the grass rootedness. The Bible portrays a different approach to church structure. One where all generations play an equal part. Read, for instance, the story of the jailer in Acts 16. When he came to faith his entire household were baptised. All the people in his family were welcomed into the household of God. One figure that highlights the status-less nature of the body of Christ is Stephanus. First mentioned in 1 Corinthians 1:16. Easy to miss: the verse is almost a side-note. At the end of the letter, he and his servants (Fortunatus and Achaicus) are commended for the work they’d done in the Corinthian church.
God and humanity The story of Adam is a story of how man tried to be God rather than aspire to be like him. The relationship between God and man was broken. However, as God loved us, his desire was to bring us back into relationship. That meant, for our part, confession. Confession is essential to healing a relationship. It restores trust and it brings us down to a level where we can more fully understand each other Person to person In a similar way, our relationships need work. Often strained relationships are a result of a loss of trust. Forgiveness is a great way for the aggrieved to start the journey of recovery. Confession is where both sides can start to make honest progress. It is possible that a confessional relationship can be even stronger than before. Rupture and repair In Judaism, as people aim to repair a relationship, the ​“apology” is not the first thing that’s said. How often do we even try to skirt a true apology by saying, ​“I’m sorry if…”. The repair means we name the problem, understand it and own it, before we work out what to do next.
Does it feel extremely difficult or too radical to keep the Sabbath? Perhaps that’s why we need it, now more than ever. In our fast-paced modern culture, we struggle with periods of rest and inactivity. However, scripture clearly teaches that having one day to rest, replenish and cease our normal activities is essential for good healthy living. Our mental, physical and spiritual health will all benefit from a regular habit of Sabbath. It is an invitation from the Father to reconnect with him, to rest our minds and bodies in communion with him. A basic template for Sabbath might look like: Stop Rest Delight Worship You will hear from David and Jaci as they share their own experiences of Sabbath and what they understand God’s design for it to be.
Baptism can take many forms in our modern church today. Full Immersion, infant baptism, ​‘sprinkling’ to name a few. While our opinion on these may differ, and we each may have our own preference, perhaps the mode or form of baptism is secondary to the declaration of faith that it stands for? A nurturing community and church family appear to be essential in watering the seed that baptism represents in our lives. We are baptised into community, and as we follow the example of Jesus in practising baptism, we continue to move further along on our journey as part of the family of God.
Justice: 'Mishpat' / Neil Dawson by Grace Community Church
The Holy Spirit can be described as the Breath or Wind of God, that fills all those who know and love him. Sometimes that breath can be soft and gentle, or sometimes powerful and supernatural. Often the work of the Holy Spirit is a mystery to us, but we can have faith that it is always at work, in and through us. The work of the Holy Spirit will reveal to us the heart of the Father, ultimately leading us to love as God loves.
When we sit at the table we encounter God in a physical sense. The bread is a proclamation of the past: a reminder of the sacrifice Jesus made for us. It causes us to stop, pause, look back and remember. The focus is taken off us, and moved onto him. The wine is a proclamation of the present and the future. It’s blood that carries and sustains life. It represents covenant and promise. Often the question comes up as to who is worthy to partake. The immature cause splits, divisions and cliques around their respective opinions. The mature will overlook offence and faults in order to maintain the unity of the bride.
A gemologist (an expert in diamonds), looks at the clarity, cut, caret and colour of a precious stone in order to work out its value. Here, we look at four aspects of prayer that can help us consider how valuable it is: Presence As you pray there is often a greater awareness of his presence. Perspective Prayer causes us to humble ourselves, which means to take the right view of who we are in the eyes of our maker. It also helps us see others as God has made them. Plans God wants to share his plans with us. And he wants us to partner with him in those plans. People When a community prays they share in the desires of God. This is church.
When we think of the church, it might be easy to mistake it for the building we use for worship. However, we are taught in scripture that the church is the people that make up the Kingdom of God. We are the temple for the Holy Spirit to dwell within us. Love is the identifying mark of the church, and as such, our lives should speak of that love – for God and one another.
When we approach the Bible, we might view it through the lens of our own experiences, upbringing and cultural background. Often it can seem like different accounts of the same event can contradict one another, which can lead to confusion in the mind of the reader. In this sermon, Neil explores some of these contradictions and encourages us to see the scriptures as God meeting with his people where they were. We do not need to strive to merge and harmonise all parts of scripture so they say the same thing. In many ways, the differences in accounts between the authors of the bible, is representative of the human nature of God’s people. Ultimately, all scripture and all teaching points to Jesus.
We explore our identity ​“in Him”, with examples from the life of David as recorded in 1 Samuel 30. We discover that David ​“strengthened himself in the Lord”. As we endeavour to receive strength, what practical steps can we make so we can find ourselves ​“in Him”? Five suggestions: Slow down to reflect and pray Stop comparing ourselves to others Read the stories of Jesus Be about God’s business Be with like-minded people
We’ve cut so many stories short. Like Adam and Eve’s immaturity caused their story with God to end too early. Our story is our process of maturity. Like Cain and Abel, the choices we make in our story can have long lasting consequences. When we get to know someone, we learn their story. This enables us to understand why they think and behave the way they do.
We started summer looking at rest and retreat. Now that term time is round the corner and many of us our finishing off our holidays, how do we approach the new (busier) season? One way is to understand the importance of ​“peace”. When Paul talked about fitting ​“readiness” to your feet ​“that comes with the gospel of peace”, the shoes he was referring too were not dissimilar to football boots. These shoes had studs, which gave the soldier grip. They were also tailored for the person wearing them. Peace is found in steadfastness. That preparedness that helps us get ready for trials and endure them when they come.
The prophetic is not just words from a person with a microphone, but it’s something that radiates from someone who’s living in harmony with the heart of God. Prophesy is a reminder of our covenant with God.
If we agree that retreat is good, what does that mean? What does it look like? Animals take time to rest over long periods. We are living creatures. So it is natural that we should change our rhythms for a season. It could be that we set some things down, or that we pick up something new. How we retreat is up to us individually. Everyone’s different. What is important is that we retreat. To do so is vital to our maturity as Christians
Paul reminds us that the battle is not with flesh and blood, but with the principalities and powers. The upside of this is we are not against flesh and blood, but for it! The end of Ephesians recognises that the ruler of the world is the adversary. God’s kingdom is breaking into a world dominated by the powers of darkness. What, though, is our response? Do we panic? Do we protest? Or is there a third way? The strength of God’s Kingdom, and the counter to the spirit of the world, is to recognise our unique identity as brothers and sisters under the lordship of Jesus Christ. We finish this series remembering that what we’ve learnt is to be lived out, complete with the armour of God and a prayerful devotion to Christ.
With guest speaker, Rick Hill (Discipleship & Leadership Development Officer at Presbyterian Church in Ireland) At the start of Acts, the disciples were tasked with bringing the news of the gospel to their own city (Jerusalem), then to all of Judea and Samaria. And, finally, to the ends of the earth. The book of Acts tells the story of their progress as God’s kingdom was preached. As their influence expanded, though, their lives were continually disrupted. They constantly hit what seemed like brick walls, but they were never alone and their faith saw them through. How might God want to expand your vision? How could God use this disruption to strengthen your faith?
We often base our model of relationship on what our culture says, rather than Jesus’ example. The verses in Ephesians 5 are often used to elevate husbands and demote wives. But, if this were the case, the relationship between Jesus and the Father would be one of subordination and superiority. Instead, Paul challenges the cultural norm and effectively shocks a society into seeing women as equals. In our cultivating relationships, we also look at one of the most forgotten staples of Christianity: confession.
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