Reset 9: Disciples Love (pt 3)

We have seen that God is love, that God’s love is shown in Jesus coming for us. We’ve seen that this love is different from the love we find in the world and that we long for it and find it as we look up. But this love cannot leave us unchanged, we are loved to love

How do we respond to such love?  (11-12)“Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.”  How do you hear and read that word ought?  Do you read it as a guilt trip?  As ‘here comes the catch’?  Just someone else who loves you to get something he wants.  That’s the way love so often works in the world.  But this is a different love.  John isn’t saying earn this, deserve it, pay God back.  Because we can’t and God doesn’t need anything we could give him.

Look back at v7-8.  We have been born of God, we’re God’s children, and love is in the family DNA.  Children of God ought to love one another the way a fish ought to swim in water and an eagle ought to soar in the sky, it is what we were made for, it is what our new nature is.

Each believer, each disciple, has been loved by God; Father, Son and Spirit, and bought into a family marked by love, where such love is the new normal.  And so we love because that’s what we were born again for.

In Ezekiel 36v26-27 God promised to give his born again people a new heart, a heart of flesh and not of stone.  And twinned with that promises his Spirit, who moves us to keep his decrees, decrees summed up as love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbour as yourself.

This ought is the ought of a new nature, a new heart, of being born again and Spirit filled.  It’s the freedom of our new nature as children of the God who is love.  John is showing us our new nature, like a volunteer who has to teach a wild rescue animal their nature, how to hunt, how to hide, what dangers there are, before releasing them into the wild.  This is who you are, this is what you have been born again for, this is what you were redeemed to be, this is what you will find joy in – loving one another. If we meet miserable Christians, if we find we’re miserable Christians, maybe it’s because we’re not living out who we have been born again to be – we’re not living loved and loving others.

And look at v12, as we do something amazing happened: “No one has seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.”  As the church loves one another like this, self sacrificially, equally, actively, it’s as if the circuit board of God’s love is made complete and the lights come on in a dazzling display of God’s love for the world to see.

But what does that love look like?

Love worships God.  Maybe that is where you need to start this morning?  In the midst of all the talk of what we’ve lost, what we can’t do, of restrictions, of loss we need to begin by remembering what we have.  That we are loved!  Our current circumstances don’t define God’s love for us, the cross does.  The woman who wiped Jesus feet and poured out her offering was responding to Jesus love in worship and adoration.  Will we? Amidst the lockdown, the face masks, the can’t do’s will we lift our eyes and heads this morning and see God’s love, his generosity, his lavish love in Christ and praise him.

In John 13 Jesus shows us that this love is active.  He stoops to wash his disciples feet, the action of a lowly servant, and a picture of his humbling himself in cleansing them from sin at the cross and then says “A new command I give you; love one another.  As I have loved you, so you must love one another.”  Our love of one another is to be like that, it actively serves, it sees needs and is moved to meet them.  It humbles itself to serve others, that’s what John is calling these believers to, it’s a command we are to obey.  Will you look for ways to do that?  

But that’s hard for those John writes to.  They are wounded, they’ve been hurt, they’re scared, the temptation for them is to turn inward.  To withdraw from others, to look after number one.  To isolate, to shield themselves, they have enough to deal with, with their own hurt and problems.  But John says you were born again to love, to love actively, to love in service.  

That’s a challenge always, but perhaps for us specifically at the moment.  We’re tempted to look inwards, to retreat, to just our four walls and us – it’s one of the way we’re being shaped by the pandemic.  Let’s be honest we’re all struggling.  Parents struggling with home schooling and tiredness, and children who are out of routine and missing friends and family.  Those who are single struggling with loneliness, missing the physical contact of a hug from friends or family, the normal rhythms and routines of contact and friendship.  Those in teaching, or working in hospitals, or in shops, or care homes feeling the daily pressure.  Those mourning the loss of loved ones.  Those struggling with their own thoughts, or with loneliness, or with just the fact it all feels too much.  And the temptation is that just like these readers we withdraw, we shield, we isolate, we narrow our focus, we opt out of loving others.

Don’t let the restrictions shrink your love.  We’re made for community.  Love this week, serve, even if you don’t feel like serving.  In lifting our heads to see others, to ask how they are, what you can pray for we’ll all be helped, we see God’s love for us and to us.  Don’t overwhelm yourself start small.  A phone call, a walk, a card, a gift, a listening ear, a prescription picked up.

In 1 Corinthians 13 we see Paul apply love to the church in Corinth, as he shows them what such love looks like in a church.  Read v1-8.  It is a love that is committed, that’s present with, that is covenantal – it is always there and is revealed in the way we relate to one another, in our attitude as well as our actions.

It ought to mark out our relationships in church with one another.  It ought to mark out our marriages and our pursuit of relationships.  It’s a love that is enduring, permanent not liquid.  Love that looks upwards and worships, and then radiates that love outwardly as it creates community, opens homes, binds up wound, welcomes the lonely, cares for the hurting.

Dearly loved ones love one another.  Begin by stopping and spending some time at the cross.  Staring up at the love of God.  Hearing his dearly loved one.  Stay there until you fell that gratitude and love welling up within you.  Spend time their often.  Because only that love can fuel our love of one another.  

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Reset 9: Disciples love (pt 2)

If we really want to understand love, and our longing for love we need to go to the source of love.

In 1 John 4v7-12 love is sprinkled all over these verses like confetti at a wedding.  It begins (7)“Dear friends”, literally ‘beloved’, or ‘dearly loved one’, which is how he describes them again in v11 – just stop and bathe in that for a minute.  These battle worn, limping Christians, unsure and uncertain are dearly loved – John isn’t exasperated with them, he’s moved with compassion for them, so is God.  They’re loved not despaired of.  Isn’t that an encouragement?  Even in our struggles, even in our questions and doubts, God loves his children.

Some of us come with our failures, with our questions, with our doubts, and God says we are his dearly loved ones. Church ought to be a place that embraces those with questions, those limping, those with doubts as dearly loved ones just as John does here.

And the word love appears a further 13 times in these 6 verses.  But what is this love?  He calls them to love on another but what does that mean?  How can we know what love is?

(7-8)“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God.  Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God.  Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.”  Do you see where John starts with his definition of love?  How we know what love is?  Love comes from God.  God is love.  The love in these verses is the love God has for his Son and his people and the love that his children have for God and for one another.  It’s a love that is unique to disciples, a love that only those who are born again can know and show.  The world does love, but it cannot love like this! It’s a love the world cannot understand.

It’s a love that we can only understand as we look up.  “God is love”.  God has always been love.  God the Father has always loved and delighted in God the Son and God the Spirit.  God the Son has always loved and delighted in the Spirit and the Father.  And the Spirit has always loved and delighted in the Father and the Son.  Love is at the very core of who God.  At the core of everything God does.  There has never been and never will be a time when God is not love.

It’s love that leads God to create, not a bare functional world but a world overflowing with beauty and creativity and joy, so his creation can share in his joy and love and delight.  It’s love that marks out God’s rule and reign; every law given because of love, every command an expression of love.  That’s a helpful thing to remember when we come to read God’s law – how is this revealing God’s love? It’s love that marks God’s calling and his jealousy and his justice, his judgement, his mercy and his grace.  God is love – not a soppy sentimental, let you get away with anything, love – but pure, blazing, holy, perfect, purposeful, love.

Don’t settle for pale imitations.  Don’t settle for second best.  See real love.

And (9-10)God shows us his love once for all as the Father “sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him.  This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

Love compels the Father to act, to send the Son.  Love compels the Son to come not to some cushy safe secure planet.  But to enter his sin scarred creation.  Marked by centuries of rebellion and rejection of God, marred by sin, twisted and damaged and torn.  And into that world the Son of God comes, walking on the same splintered shards of broken creation that we do, feeling even more than we do it’s pain and suffering because he knew its purity, potential and purpose, how far it had fallen.

God doesn’t love us at a distance, but up close and personal.  He’s not safe and secure, he isn’t socially distanced, masked and vaccinated.  Jesus doesn’t wear emotional and spiritual PPE.  He walks where we walk yet without sin.  And yet (10)he becomes the sin offering on the cross, the perfect spotless sacrifice against whom our sins are counted, who bears our punishment, our shame, our guilt, because he loves.  So that we might live through him(9), so that we might know God and have eternal life at his expense, because of his love.

Do you see what love is?  That’s what love looks like.

Love incarnate in Jesus Christ says I will give up my rights and privileges for you.  I’ll leave home for you.  I’ll love you even if it costs me everything that’s mine, even if it kills me. Even if it costs me an undeserved agony of body and soul that you could never imagine, I will love you.  If it drives nails into my hands and feet and pierces my head and side, I will love you.  If it leaves me gasping for breath and screaming in agony of body and spirit, I will love you.  If it means I bear God’s wrath for your sin, I will love you.

Do you see what love is?  And God does it all while we were still his enemies.  Whilst we were stood in the crowd baying crucify.

It’s not a comfortable love but a covenantal love.  It’s a love that keeps its promises at any cost.  It’s not a love deserved or earned but freely given.  It is not a love we draw out from God because of something in us, but it’s all of him.

Do you see this morning how you are loved?  How will you respond to such love?

We all search for love.  Maybe you’ve been searching for it your whole life?  Do you know why you search so hard for it?  Why, when we think we’ve found it, we find it slipping through our fingers?  Because this is the love we’re really looking for, this is the love we’re made to enjoy, God’s love.  This is love that sees us as we are and welcomes us.  This is love that forgives and cleanses and washes away shame and guilt.  This is love that will die for us.  Love we don’t have to earn, be worthy of, or attract.  But love freely given.  Perhaps this morning you realise you want to be loved like this?  We’d love to help you explore how, why not get in touch; speak to someone you know from the church, ask someone to help you understand Jesus love.

Maybe you’ve heard enough as you’ve been coming along.  And you want to put your trust in Jesus.  You believe he’s the Son of God and the saviour of sinners.  You recognise your sin and your need and you want to know his love and be God’s child.  You know following Jesus won’t be easy, that there are battles to fight, sins to rip out, costs, but you want to be his disciple.  Why not pray this morning, confess your sin and ask him to save you and be your Lord?  And then tell someone.

Some of us are here this morning and our love for Jesus has grown cold.  Other things have crept like weeds into the garden of our hearts and choked our love for Jesus almost without our knowing it.  God invites us again this morning to see his love, to hear his call to us “dearly loved one.”  To dwell in him.  To bask in his loving welcome.  To thank him.  To praise him.

Others of us know God loves us but we still struggle to rid ourselves of our shame and guilt.  We feel unlovely and unlovable, weighed down by our sin or the sins of others or both.  God says look up and see.  Look at Calvary and see.  I loved you enough to send my son, he’s the atoning sacrifice, there’s no more to pay.  We need to see the once for all nature of his demonstration of his love.  It is not found in our circumstances but at the cross.

And that one of a kind love transforms.

Reset 9: Disciples love (pt 1)

How can I know I’m saved?  How can I be sure that I have genuine life giving faith?  It’s a huge question isn’t it?  Lots of us have found ourselves asking that question at some point as we follow Jesus.  Some of us find ourselves asking it again and again. Maybe as we’ve relapsed yet again in our struggle with a besetting sin, or when we’re reminded of something in our past. Or simply because we grew up in church and can’t remember a specific date and time when we decided to follow Jesus.  Some of us have asked it lots of times, it haunts us when we have questions or doubts or struggles.

How can I be sure I’m saved?  1 John is the spiritual MRI scanner of the Bible, carrying out a deep soul scan for believers.  John writes to a church that’s wounded and weak.  Riddled by questions and doubts.  Some in the church have left (1 John 2v19), led astray by false teachers who deny who Jesus is, and now the church is shaken.  Who’s right?  Who’s wrong?  Who’s really saved?  Was Jesus really the Son of God?  Have we got discipleship wrong?  Are we following the wrong saviour? Is our eternal salvation real or have we believed a lie?

John writes to reassure them about the basis for their faith and to help them see what saving faith is.  He gives them three marks of genuine disciples.  Here they are: firstly, genuine disciples believe Jesus is the Christ the Son of God.  Secondly, they see their sin in all its horror and turn from it by seeking to live obeying God, and finally they love their brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus did.

We’ve looked at the first two in previous weeks in our reset series, but this morning we’re going to think about what it means to love our brothers and sisters.  As soon as I say the word love all sorts of thoughts, ideas, and images flood into your mind.  Our world writes lots about love. Musicians sing about it. Psychologists study it and write reams about it, trying to understand it and codify it. But the Bible has a totally different image of love. But what is the love John writes about?  How is it distinct?  What is John really calling disciples too?  How do we love one another?

It’s worth taking some time to answer that question: what is love? What does love look like? How do you show love to others? How do you receive love from others? How is the love disciples enjoy and show different from other love? And why? And how can you do that to weak and wounded and limping people, those who are battered and weak, who are tempted to turn in on themselves?

That’s what we’ll be looking at in a couple of posts this week.

Reset 8: Disciples choose (pt 2)

In order to choose wisely, to be godly we need to be transformed in our thinking

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

Our brains are like plasticine, they‘re mouldable, shape-able, they’re able to be changed and reformed.  We all have a grid through which we run everything, every decision we face, everything we see or hear to determine if it’s right or wrong, good or bad.  We do it often without thinking.  But where does that grid come from?

Paul says that naturally we’ve been moulded to fit the thinking of the world.  But he calls the Roman believers to be transformed by the renewing of their minds.  The world wants us to think one way and it trains us to do so.  But Christians are to be transformed, to have our minds renewed so that we think and act and decide differently.

Let’s look at an example.  Turn to Daniel 1 where you see this battle to mould the mind, to shape decisions played out in 4 young men, Jews by birth, taught by their parents and their culture and scripture, but then transported hundreds of miles away to Babylon.  What’s the first thing the king orders to be done to these boys?  (4-5)they are to be re-educated in the ways of Babylon.  He wants them to be able to think Babylonian.  They’re to eat like Babylonians and enjoy the privilege and rewards of Babylon as they’re trained for 3 years.  And they’re given Babylonian names, a new identity based on Babylonian worship.  And the carrot is serving the king if they pass the test – life lived enjoying the best.

Do you see the battle for the minds of these young men.  This is basically a reprogramming.  They can worship Yahweh privately but not publicly.  But they’re to be thoroughly Babylonian in their thinking and the decisions they make.  That’s how you make it in life!  That’s how you get the rewards.

How do Daniel and his friends react?  (8)“But Daniel resolved not to defile himself with the royal food and wine…”  It’s a resolution not to be reshaped, not to fit the Babylonian mould and worldview, to remain and serve as God’s people.  That resolution and thinking is vital later on when the pressure comes.  In ch2 it leads Daniel to honour God before the king, in ch3 Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refuse to worship the statue even on pain of a fiery death.  In ch4 and 5 Daniel speaks the word of God even when he knows he speaks words of judgement against a king.  In ch6 when it’s a choice of safe secularity or worship of God he chooses worship.

How are they able to do this?  How do they know what to choose?  Because their minds aren’t moulded by the world, by Babylonian society, but by God’s word.  They know God, they trust his character and his word and his purposes, they know his will is good and pleasing and perfect even when there’s no guarantee of the outcome.

Come back to Romans 12.  The world wants to shape our thinking, in fact it already does.  It’s worldview, it’s grid about what matters most; how we should spend our money, what love is, what marriage is, what’s right and wrong, is taught to us from a young age.  We’re taught it in school, college and university, in our families, in the stories our society tells us be it in books, or films or TV.  It’s taught through the things it rewards and celebrates and holds special days, weeks and months for.  All of it shaping our thinking, our values, our decisions.  It’s not all bad, but neither is it all neutral or good.

“Do not be conformed to the pattern of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  We need to recognise the grid we’ve absorbed from the world, how it impacts our thoughts and reactions and the decisions we make.  And we’re to keep on being transformed by the renewing of our minds.  That word transform is used in the gospels to describe Jesus transfiguration.  It’s to be changed, to be glorified, to be totally other in our thinking, to reveal who we really are as God’s people.

And look what that transformation in our thinking leads to “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.”  Living holy lives, making godly decisions begins with cooperating with the Spirit to be transformed in our thinking so that we treasure and trust God’s will is best for us.

Isn’t that often where the battle is fought?  If we believe that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect then we will find it easy to obey.  But we’ll only think God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect if our minds are transformed, if they’re being renewed, because so often it is the opposite of what the world would say is good, pleasing and perfect.  So how do we do that?

Paul began in view of God’s mercies – we begin by reminding ourselves of who God is, who he has revealed himself to be, his faithfulness, his love, his mercy and compassion, that he is for us.  And so as we come to his word we know his word is good, he is for us, his will is good, because it is the will of a good Father.

Secondly we immerse ourselves in his word.  We need to pray and ask the Spirit to open our eyes and transform our thinking as we read God’s word.  There’s so much guidance for us in God’s word.  God reveals so much to us about his will.  The call for us to be holy exemplified in Jesus actions seen in the gospels.  The teaching and application we read in the Epistles, the Old Testament law and it’s summary as love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind and strength, and love your neighbour as yourself.

Soaking ourselves in God’s word won’t give us an A-Z guide for every decision.  But it will shape our thinking, give us a new grid, so that we learn to think God’s thoughts after him, we make decisions in line with God’s values and character.  We’re going to explore some of those areas in coming weeks as we look at disciples and money and work and other areas.

We have to recognise that being not conformed but transformed is not painless, it doesn’t happen by digital download.  We must keep on wrestling to be transformed again and again and again.  Wrestling to believe God’s word and will is good even when it clashes with the world’s view, by reminding ourselves of God’s mercy and his goodness and trusting in him.

Let’s come back to Ellie and Phil.  How do they make those decisions?  Partly, what do they know of God and his will already?  God is a merciful Father, he’s not hiding his will but giving us freedom to choose.  His will is about a trajectory, it’s a compass not a road map.  They don’t need to be paralysed by indecision, or fear that one wrong decision will put them outside of God’s will.  They live life in view of God’s mercy and so they pray as they make the decision.  They seek God, study his word, speak to their church family and ask them to pray, trust God’s character, keep his mercy in view and resolve to glorify Jesus.

Disciples choose God’s way, they live lives of worship because of God’s mercy. That means we begin by recognising how the world seeks to shape our thinking, that it will lead us to think God’s word is not good, not pleasing and not perfect.  Maybe this morning you’re already aware of areas where that is exactly the case.  Where you think God’s will is bad, unpleasing and imperfect.   Before we wrestle with that issue we must get our view of God right.  We need to have God’s mercy in view, to remind ourselves of his love that lavishly gives for us, that does what we cannot, that is for us.

Only then in light of that will we know that God’s will is good, pleasing and perfect.  Only them will we test and treasure God’s will.  Only then will we be ready to discover God’s will by immersing ourselves in God’s word so we learn to think God’s thoughts after him.  So that by the Spirit God’s law is written on our hearts and Christ is formed in us together so that we live lives of worship that glorify him.

Reset 8: Disciples Choose (pt1)

We saw last week that God’s plan and purpose is to unite all things under Christ.  That’s where history is headed.  And church is vital to that, as we gather to declare God’s purposes, and are equipped through God’s word to serve and speak the truth to one another in love, the church grows up to look like Jesus, acting as his hands and feet at his direction as he would act.  But what does that look like in the everyday?  What does that mean when we face decisions and choices?

Phil asks you to meet him for a walk.  As you walk he tells you that he’s been offered a new job.  He loves where he is.  He’s got a good team, his work life balance is good.  But this new job is a promotion with a team of his own, should he take it or not?  He’s just not sure, both are good, but how does he know what God’s will is?

On zoom after church Ellie, who is about to go to university, shares that she’s not sure which of her offers to accept.  All are good uni’s.  All have good CU’s and a number of good churches near by.  But how does she decide?  How does she know which one is God’s choice for her?  And what if she gets it wrong?

What would you say to Phil and Ellie?  What questions would you ask?  Is there a right or wrong answer?  Is there one choice?  Is God’s will like a secret code we need to decipher?  And how do you know?

And what about the smaller choices, the everyday choices we make.  The vast majority of choices we make aren’t major changes of direction in life, but they do set our course degree by degree.  Does God care about them?  And how do we discern God’s will for us?

Disciples follow Jesus, but what does that look like when it comes to our decisions?

Disciples live all of life in view of God’s mercies

In Romans 1-11 Paul has been reminding the Roman church of the sheer wonder of the gospel of grace.  Now he urges them “Therefore… in view of God’s mercy, offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God – this is your true and proper worship.”

The phrase “in view of God’s mercy” is Paul’s summary of all of Romans 1-11.  God’s compassionate mercy means that although no-one was righteousness, and all sin and fall short of the glory of God and deserve his wrath, God provided Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for sin.  Christ died for the ungodly so that they are justified – declared innocent – sanctified – made holy, and redeemed from slavery to sin, adopted as sons of God, sealed with the Spirit and given a glorious inheritance.  Nothing can now separate God’s people from the love of God.  All of it because of God’s mercy, none of it deserved.

How should they respond to such mercy?  How should we?  By offering “your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God…”  Redeemed, freed, Spirit-filled followers of Jesus live to please God.  Not to try to earn it, not trying to work off a debt.  But out of gratitude and love for the amazing undeserved, un-earnable, mercy of God.  Such lavish costly love frees us by grace to live by grace, responding to God’s love with love for him.

God’s mercy changes everything – it can’t not!  We know we’re loved, that God is for us, that he is THE good Father and we know that joy is found in living for him.  That our greatest joy is found in his plans and purposes and so we offer our bodies as living sacrifices.

We don’t make a sacrifice every so often.  We live as a sacrifice because we’ve been bought at a price.  We live to please God because we love God and we’ve tasted his love in his mercy.

There are 168 hours in a week.  Take out time for sleeping and you have 112 hours left over.  Our society divides life into sacred and secular.  You do your sacred stuff in your hours with church, but the rest of your time is your own – it’s secular.  It’s really easy for us to fall into that mindset, in fact we’re pressured to do just that.  But Paul is saying something revolutionary.  Worship isn’t just about what happens in church but in all of your 112 hours, in fact in all of your 168 hours – God cares even about our sleep.

Society encourages us to think of life as two boxes.  A secular box and a sacred box.  You put this is here and that in there and never the two meet.  But God says there is only one box and you can worship me in all of it.  My mercy applies to all of it, so live in view of it.  God cares about our cooking and cleaning, our work, our changing a nappy, our reading a book, watching a film or Netflix, our marriage, our family and friendships, our leisure time.  All of it is to be an offering to God.

Jesus didn’t just redeem part of our lives.  He didn’t die on the cross to purchase a timeshare.  He redeems all of us.  That means everything matters.  That’s great news because worship isn’t another thing to fit into our already busy days, it’s not an extra to do.  It’s great news because it tells us God cares about all of our life nothing is insignificant to him.  We can worship God as we play sport, as we work, as we eat and enjoy his goodness in food, as we laugh with friends, even as we rest.

Perhaps this morning though we need to begin by confessing that we’ve been thinking of life as two boxes.  Living for God in some areas of life and not in others.  Or not even thinking about what it looks like to please God in our playing sport, or work, or parenting, or marriage.  God is merciful, he is compassionate, he waits ready to forgive, he wants us to realise Christ has redeemed all of us, he wants all of us.  Repent and find forgiveness and rest, taste God’s love and goodness, keep God’s mercy in view and from it flow lives lived in gratitude not constrained by guilt.

But that raises another question doesn’t it?  If all of life matters then how do I please God in all of life?  How do I know how to please God, to choose his will, when I’m facing the big decisions like Ellie and Phil and the everyday decisions?

Reset 7: Disciples Grow

Disciples grow to maturity as they see God’s big plan for his glory through his people gathered together, equipped by his word, serving one another. But that’s only part of the plan. Ephesians 4v13-15 show us what Christian maturity looks like: “attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ… We will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.”

What does it look like to be mature as a disciple?  It’s to become more and more like Jesus together.  To live and love and look more like him as we’re taught about him and serve those he’s called us to serve out of love for him.  (15)pictures the church as Christ’s maturing body and him as the head that thinks and directs that body.

Have you ever played that game where one person sits at a table with a bowl of jelly or custard in front of them and puts their hands behind their back.  Then someone else comes and slides their arms under the first persons armpits and feeds them without being able to see?  It’s messy chaos, because the head and the body don’t work together, there’s a disconnect, the head has no control over the body.

The church is Christ’s body and maturity in the body means a growing connection with the head so that the church acts at Christ’s leading, it obeys Jesus thoughts and words, it increasingly becomes like Jesus.  As we hear God’s word taught, as we speak it to one another, that’s what shapes us to serve. So that we serve as Jesus body, controlled by him.

Disciples follow Jesus and growing up looks like becoming more and more like him as we’re equipped by his word, as we speak the truth to one another and as we serve one another in ways that speak of Jesus.  We learn the gospel from those teachers Jesus gives us in the church who teach us the Bible and we recirculate that gospel, it’s the oxygen of the church, as we speak the gospel to one another again and again.

And as we grow up we’re no longer infants(14).  We’re no longer unstable, lurching from one idea or fad to another, swayed by false teaching or the latest cultural norm or societal about face on a moral issue.  But consistent and stable in our growing faith and discipleship because we’re surrounded by those who speak the truth of the gospel into our lives again and again and again.

That speaking the truth in love isn’t a job for a few but for every part of the body(16).  Every member of our church family needs every member of our church family speaking the truth in love to them if we’re to grow up as disciples.  Biblical conversation needs to be the norm not the exception.  As we challenge each other and encourage each other.  As we point each other to Jesus, listen to each other, care for, and serve each other. Not with our wisdom but with Jesus wisdom, with the truth of the gospel.

We’ve always been strong in the practical service area, though we have our challenges at the moment.  But I wonder if this is an area we really need to work at.

Love compels us to speak the truth as Jesus did.  Love compels up to be concerned for the maturity of those in our church family.  Love means I know my brothers and sisters don’t need my wisdom but the gospel of Jesus Christ.  The gospel leads me to see that I can’t do this alone, I need the gospel spoken by others so I can see my blind spots, be confronted when I sin, encouraged when I’m low, corrected when I’m wrong, comforted when I mourn, and rejoiced with when I rejoice.  So that we grow up to be like Jesus.  But how do we speak the truth in love?

Why not start with the questions we put up at the end of a service?  Why not try discussing them with someone else?  It could be someone in your family group?  Or maybe you want to phone a friend on Sunday afternoon after lunch and chat it through?  Perhaps you could meet for a walk midweek and ask each other what you’re reading in your devotions and what you’re learning?

Or men join us at Yorkie on the 22nd.  Or come along to Gospel group midweek where there is a great opportunity to speak the truth in love to each other.  Or ask someone to meet up and read and pray together.

But perhaps that idea terrifies you.  You fear being exposed, people knowing your struggles, or the things you simply don’t know.  We shouldn’t need to fear in the church.  All of this flows out of the gospel being taught and the gospel being spoken.  Grace is vital to church life, it’s the fuel in the engine.  If we’re speaking the truth of grace and listening and responding with grace then we don’t need to fear exposure.  And Paul says it’s done in love.  A love that won’t shy away from the truth, but always points to Jesus and forgiveness, welcome, and power to change.

Disciples grow up to live, look, love, serve and speak like Jesus.  They grow together not alone.  They grow equipped by his word, motivated by love to serve and speak the truth of the gospel, so that the church becomes a body that obeys Christ it’s head.

Maybe a right response this morning is to begin by repenting.  To repent of our failure to grow up, of our immaturity seen in our struggle with isolation and individualism.  Maybe it’s to see the immaturity the current restrictions can so easily funnel us into, it shouldn’t surprise us that this pandemic brings a spiritual battle as well as all the others.

For all of us it calls us to come again and see Jesus.  To behold him in his love and grace and mercy and welcome.  In his love that serves and speaks the truth and to be equipped by it to serve one another and speak the truth and then to plan to do that this week fuelled by his grace because we know where history is headed and that things that echo in eternity are taking place among God’s people as we do this for his glory.  

Reset 7: Disciples Grow (pt2)

Having seen that disciples will only grow as they follow Jesus where he is leading them. In Ephesians 4 we see how God helps us grow from immaturity to maturity.

So how do we grow up as disciples?  How do we become mature?  There’s a danger that we misread v11-13.  We live in a world that thinks education is the answer to everything.  Drug problem – more education.  High teenage pregnancy rates – more education.  Crime – re-education.  There’s a danger that as we read v11 we think maturity will come through being taught the bible.  And so we resolve to redeem lockdown by making it the greenhouse for our growth as disciples by watching 5 livestreams on Sunday and loading our podcast feeds with audio bibles and sermons from great preachers.  We go home and order books by theological heavyweights and actually read them.  None of those things are bad.  But notice how individualistic they are.

But here’s the surprise; that’s not what Paul says!  Look at what Paul actually writes(11-13).  The risen and ascended Christ gives the church Apostles and prophets who are foundational in writing the scriptures we have, and evangelists, pastors and teachers who open up the Bible for us, helping us know Jesus.  But that isn’t what makes us mature.  That’s just the first step to maturity, that provides the framework and foundationon which maturity flourishes.  Those teachers “equip God’s people for works of service.”  Bible teaching matters because it equips us, it shapes and trains us and prepares us to serve those in the church with us.

Those works of service can look like any number of things, it can be giving lifts, providing meals, walking with someone, talking to them, doing someones shopping, providing a listening ear.  Equipped by the Bible, shaped by it and all it teaches, compelled to serve by awed wonder and devotion to our Saviour, we serve one another in the church and build each other up until we reach maturity.

Do you see the steps: Bible teaching equips all of us for ministry to one another.  And those works of service build up the church and lead to maturity.

There are a few things that tells us.  Firstly we can’t become mature disciples outside or on the fringes of church.  You can learn more on your own but you can’t apply that learning in service of others.  Maturity isn’t just about what I know but about how we apply what we know in having a heart to serve others and receive the service of others.

Secondly, ministry isn’t the ministers job.  We live in a society that hands responsibility for things over to professionals.  Teachers teach our children, speech therapists correct speech patterns, dog trainers train our dogs.  Do we bring that into the church, thinking ministry is the ministers job?  We need to change our terminology – ministry isn’t what happens up here on a Sunday it’s what should happen as a result of the Bible being preached and taught.  As we see more of Jesus, as we grasp more of the depths of his love for us, his compassion for us, his grace lavished on us our eyes and hearts are opened to those around us and we serve others as Jesus calls us to.

That’s harder to do at the moment with the restrictions we’re living under but it’s not impossible.  Lots of our brothers and sisters round the world always live with far harsher restrictions on their faith than we currently have and still serve one another.  The pandemic doesn’t excuse us from serving others, it’s not the spiritual equivalent of the note you gave to your PE teacher to get out of cross-country.  If we think it does the church will exit lockdown and the pandemic far weaker than we entered it and possibly never recover previously healthy patterns.

We can still hear God’s word together as we gather in the hall and online.  But it’s only stage one; equipping us to serve one another.  Will we?  We may have to be a bit more imaginative, it may take more effort but there are still works of service to do if we all want to grow up in our following of Jesus.

It’s been encouraging to see some of that happening as people send cards and letters and post books to encourage others.  As people steward, read and pray for us on a Sunday, as PA and livestream is run faithfully week by week, as music was organised and played at Christmas so we could sing.  As people meet up in their local areas to walk together.  As people meet on zoom to read a book together or simply chat and pray.  It’s been encouraging to see others gather to pray, to study the Bible together, to help with childcare.  But we should always be hungry to see more of it because we long for one another to grow up in our faith.

Our gathering together to hear and study God’s word matters but that isn’t ministry, it’s equipping for ministry, preparing us to serve as Jesus served in gratitude for his service and love.  It’s vital but not total.

Growing up as disciples begins as we gather and continues as we minister to one another trained by the word of God.  But what does that look like?

Reset 7: Disciples grow (pt 1)

What does immaturity look like?  The immature person doesn’t grow up.  They don’t take responsibility or build healthy relationships.  They’re easily led and influenced by those around them, easily swayed, rarely stable, their character changing depending who they’re with.  They can’t see passed their own needs, or imagine how others feel.  They’re quick to fall out with those with a different point of view, quick to quit when things are hard.  They never apologise, can’t admit mistakes, want everything their own way and sulk when they don’t get it.

What does the immature disciple look like?  There’s lots of overlap. The immature disciple is easily led or influenced, prone to chase after the latest idea or fad.  Lacking self-discipline they’re up and down spiritually.  They think individually; their needs, their wants, their preferences, and are slow to consider and serve others.  They’re quick to seek conflict and slow to forgive and reconcile.  They don’t know their bible or see the need to.  They listen to Bible teaching but don’t apply it.  They’re double minded; trying to live both in the world and the church.

It’s an unflattering picture isn’t it?  None of us wants to be immature.  The Bible calls us to grow up as disciples.  But how do we grow?  What does a mature disciple look like?

What is God’s plan for you?  That’s a basic question every disciple should be able to answer.  How we answer it will shape how we follow Jesus.  Where is Jesus leading you?  What’s he leading you to?  And what does that leading look like?

In Ephesians Paul is helping a small church see God’s big plan.  Ephesus was a big bustling prosperous port city.  Heavily influenced by Roman and Greek culture in terms of it’s values, thinking, norms and worship.  It had a synagogue, a lecture hall, and a temple to Artemis among others.  It loved and worshipped commerce and wealth, ideas and idols.  Against that backdrop and worldview Paul writes to encourage what were probably small house churches by showing them that the most significant thing happening in the city of Ephesus wasn’t what was happening in the market place or lecture hall or temples but in the church.

In ch1v3-10 he unrolls God’s blueprint for history from eternity past to eternity future.  God planned from eternity passed to bless his people with every spiritual blessing by sending his Son to redeem, forgive and secure their adoption.  And to reveal to them the mystery of his plan (10)“to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.”

That’s God’s plan and he’s called them to be part of it.  Not to spectate but to play a crucial role in it.  Not as individuals but together as God’s new humanity reconciled in Christ.  Jew and Gentile united in Christ as a new humanity; a glorious display of the power of the gospel and a teaser trailer of where the universe is headed when Christ returns and everything is united under him.  The church in Ephesus isn’t insignificant, it’s vital to God’s plans and purposes; 3v10 “His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realm, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

The diverse yet united, Christ following, God glorifying, Spirit filled and empowered church is God’s declaration to every power and authority in the spiritual realm that the gospel is glorious and will achieve God’s purposes in Christ.  It shows how everything will one day be; united under Jesus.

Do you see God’s purpose for you?  We mustn’t shrink God’s purposes down to a more manageable size.  God’s saves and calls us for a hugely significant, cosmos shaping, task.  If we think too small, if we minimise God’s plans for us, we’ll get discipleship wrong, we won’t be following Jesus because this is what he’s leading us to.  We will never grow, never mature unless we see what God’s purpose is for us.  Our joy will be stunted and circumstantial, our hope will be fragile, our prayers will be about management and comfort not change and glory.

God’s plan for us is corporate not individual.  The call to follow Jesus is bigger than our small selfish me-ism.  God’s cosmic plan always gathers people together.  It began in the garden with the need for more than one and the mandate to fill the earth and create communities of worshippers.  It’s what Abraham is given a vision of; God’s people in God’s place enjoying God’s presence and protection fulfilling his plan.  It’s what Jesus inaugurates as he gathers disciples and creates a new community.  Disciples can only mature as they gather together.  The first step to mature discipleship is to see God’s plan and purpose and repent of and resolve to fight our sinful tendency towards isolationism and individualism.

But secondly seeing God’s plan reminds us that church is significant, from the largest to the smallest gathering.  We tend to copy our culture and think bigger is better.  But Ephesians reminds us that no church is insignificant, every church, where Jesus followers gather round his word to serve him and worship him is where things happen that will echo into eternity.  Is that how we think of church?

But having grasped God’s plan in it’s sheer staggering scale.  Having seen that maturity begins together how do we grow as a church?  What does that look like?

Reset 6: Disciples Pursue Holiness (pt3)

So we’ve seen that disciples follow Jesus and having been made holy live with their hope fixed on Jesus return and the kingdom he brings, and so we live holy lives as we pursue God and become like what we behold. But what Peter says next seems to jar.  The gears seem to stick and grind.  

Peter calls these believers to be fearful.

What do you fear?  I don’t mean our small fears like rats or spiders or clowns.  I mean what do you really fear?  Our deep fears reveal what we love.  We fear our children getting hurt or being ill because we love them.  We fear losing our jobs because we love the security and identity they give us.  We fear rejection or criticism because we love people’s approval.  What do you really fear?  Let me slightly change the question.  What do you fear more; sin or being uncomfortable?  People or God?

As Peter calls these scattered believers to be holy, to live in light of their eternal hope, he makes a connection I’m not sure we would.  He connects their real life holiness with fear of God.  “If you call on a Father who judges each person’s work impartially, live out your time as foreigners here in reverent fear.”

Fear is up there with holiness in terms of biblical ideas we misunderstand.  There are two types of fear of God in the Bible.  There’s the fear of the rebel against God, the sinner, who runs away from God because he fears judgment and doesn’t know or want grace.  Like Adam, who when he sins runs and hides from God because he’s afraid.

But there’s also the fear of God of the child of God.  It’s not a cowering terrified fear of God that runs and hides.  But an awe filled amazement that approaches God in wonder that the holy God in all his glory and goodness and justice and grace has made it possible for us to come into his presence as his child.  Our fear is a fear that both trembles at the awesomeness of the privilege and rejoices at the grace and welcome that makes being God’s children possible.

Look at v18 we fear “For we know it was not with perishable things such as silver and gold that you were redeemed form the empty way of life handed down to you from your ancestors, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.  He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.  Through him you believe in God, who raised him from the dead and glorified him, and so your faith and hope are in God.”

Fear of God flows from an awareness of the cost of our salvation.  It’s to stand amazed at God’s glory and purity and become shamefully aware of our sin and unworthiness, and then to behold Jesus; God’s beloved, righteous, holy Son, without blemish or spot offered to redeem us and make us God’s holy children.  And to live that experience on repeat; to stand awestruck again and again, to draw near with both rejoicing and trembling.  To fear God is to love God and not want to do anything that might forfeit the joy of knowing him or dishonour him whom we love.

That fear that loves, that trembles and rejoices, is what leads us to long to live holy lives as we wait for the coming of Jesus.

Disciples are called to be holy.  How do we pursue holiness?  For some of us that will mean reckoning with our wrong fear of God.  We’re terrified of him because we know we deserve judgement and we’ve never trusted Jesus.  You’re right to be terrified of him.  He is the just, holy, perfect judge and you will never meet his standard.  But Jesus has met it for you.  Only he can make you holy.  Will you confess your sin and trust in him?

For some of us we’ve done that but we still struggle with that fear of God that wants to run from him and hide.  That fears his finding out what a fraud we really are, the sins that lurk in our past, in our hearts our heads.  If I don’t like myself, we think, how can God love me?  That fear paralyses us, we never grow, we struggle to pray, we make excuses to not read our bibles because we don’t like the us we see there.  

We need to go to the cross again and see Jesus.  The holy God without blemish or spot who has redeemed you, knowing everything you’ve done and do and who loves you just the same.  We need to come and ask him to remove the fear that makes us want to run and to change us by his grace so that we rejoice as we tremble at the sheer joy of his welcome.

For some of us we need to wrestle with this fear of God.  We don’t think about living a holy life, we cheaply excuse our sin because we have a cheap view of grace and an inadequate understanding of the holiness of God.  Even God’s blood bought, redeemed children are to fear him.  Not a fear of terror that runs from him.  But one which stands in awe as we learn more of the holy awesomeness of our God and become more aware of the sheer depths of our sin and it’s staggering cost and yet see the holy love of God which in Christ pays for that sin so that we can be his children.  Will we come rejoicing and trembling.  That right fear of God leads us to pursue holiness not presume upon grace.

Disciples pursue holiness.  We pursue holiness as we set our hopes on Jesus return, as we behold God’s holiness and pursue him and become like what we behold, and as we fear God with that unique fear of the believer that both trembles and rejoices.

Will we pursue holiness?  It’s what we’ve been saved for.

Reset 6: Disciples Pursue Holiness (pt2)

What we long for will affect what we live for.  (14-16)Peter calls these believers to be the holy children of God that God has called them to be.  That means not living the same way we did before we were saved.  Before we knew Jesus we were ignorant about God, who he was and what he’d done to save us by grace, but we were also ignorant of what it meant to live as his children.

But now it’s different.  “But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.”

We need to begin by understanding God’s holiness.  Because we are holy children adopted by our Holy Father to bear the family image.  It’s easy to misunderstand God’s holiness.  That was the Pharisee’s problem, they shrank holiness down to law keeping.  A list of do’s and dont’s and then hedged their bets by adding extra guidelines to make sure you never got anywhere near breaking the law.  We’re tempted to do the same, to minimise holiness and make it manageable and limit its scope.

But God’s holiness is so much bigger than that.  God’s holiness is about more than just his moral perfection.  It’s God’s set apartness.  His being different in everything.  Holiness is the outshining of all that God is.  God is holy in his justice and righteousness, love and grace, faithfulness and integrity, compassion and mercy.  As God reveals himself to us in the pages of scripture we see the beauty of his holiness in everything.

As we read about God the Son made man in Jesus we see what that holiness in everything looks like lived out.  As he loves God with his whole being and loves his neighbour as himself.  As he both teaches about the need for righteousness and lives the perfect sinless live, but also in his love and compassion and welcoming of the most notorious sinners.

And now you know him, you are his children, you gaze on his holiness in all its majesty and complexity and beauty, live out your identity as holy children.  Be who you were made to be, bear the family image!  Be like God in your compassion and mercy, your generosity and goodness, in your faithfulness and loyalty, in your integrity and grace.  In your care for the poor, the orphan and the widow.  In your love and welcome of the refugee.  In your hatred of sin and pursuit of righteousness and your love that reaches out in compassionate care for and welcome of the sinner.  Be like God in your holy love for his church and your desire to see Christ formed in his people.

Being holy doesn’t shrink life down.  It doesn’t shrivel our hearts and tie us to rules and drive us from people.  Being holy like Father, Son, and Spirit does what we see in 2v11-12, it means we fight sin and live godly lives doing good in the world loving, inviting and welcoming the lost to know God in Jesus.

And this isn’t just about holiness in one area of life.  Peter quotes from Leviticus 19v2, part of the holiness codes, where God calls for his people to be different in every area of life; from the way they respect their parents, to their worship, to their generosity, their truthfulness, their payment of workers, their work, their care for animals, their eating, how they use their bodies, how they treat the elderly, their neighbours, as well as how they treat God.  Peter summarises all that with the little phrase “in all you do.”

Holiness isn’t a Sunday thing.  We mustn’t reduced it to a religious thing.  It is the disciples’ identity in all of life.

Disciples pursue holiness.  We are made holy in Jesus to be holy.  God’s children as they behold their Father, the Son and the Spirit in all their holiness become like him.  Are we beholding God’s holiness?  Seeing it lived out in the Son so that we become like what we behold?

So pursuing holiness is intrinsically linked with pursuing God. We become like what we behold, so pursue the Father. Reading scripture and ask what aspect of God’s holiness does this show me? What is there to praise God for? What is there to stand and marvel at in his character and beauty?

We become like what we behold. Pursuing holiness begins with pursuing God.