Theology

The Beautiful Gospel – Brad Jersak at Ivy – #Bgbg2 for @wtctheology

Brad hails from Canada and teaches Gospel Studies on the faculty of  Westminster Theological Centre (which I am delighted to be a trustee of and teach on). My notes from his talk last week. He talks fast so I got as much as I could!! 

The beautiful gospel is of a God of unfailing love.

It’s not a sales pitch I have to convince people of.

A presentation that prisoners and the poor say ‘YES!’ to because it’s good news to them.

The gospel in itself does not need upgrading. It’s a faith once delivered to the apostles from the Lord Jesus.

But we need to be careful how we tweak our presentation of it, for every generation – so they hear it.  We can have approaches, but it’s not steps.

He then showed us the gospel in chairs: with two chairs (one black and one white chair).

How I heard the gospel first off: the version I came to Christ through – was the legal gospel. Composed by Calvin. Courtroom image. Sin is lawbreaking that must be punished. God can either punish the lawbreaker, or Jesus. He saves us from that. (Retributive)

So – Adam and Eve sin and go far from God. People remain estranged, despite religion or promises not to turn away.  They turn away from him, so he turns away from him. Jesus is the only good one. On the cross he becomes sin, takes our curse. God turns his back on Him. Pours wrath and punishment on Him. But because he was without sin he ascends to heaven. So now, if you believe Jesus died for you, you are ‘snow covered dung’ (Luther).  We have Jesus to hide behind now so God’s enmity to us is hidden and in Christ he becomes your friend. If you say no to this, you’ll have that wrath poured out in you forever.

This is the gospel that he came to faith through.

He doesn’t want to reject it, but it needs tweaking

It pits God against you. Actually His primary disposition is LOVE.

And – if God can’t look on sin ; wasn’t Jesus fully God? How could He eat with sinners then?  Is God more like a Pharisee – who would turn he back on a sinner!

And it pits the Father against the Son. Where was the Father on Good Friday? At what point did Jesus stop being God? Never. The idea that God turns away from His Son comes from his cry, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ But he’s actually quoting Psalm 22. And thinking of the whole thing not just the first verse. It carries on! A Messianic Psalm of death, passion and resurrection.  Because ‘He has not despised the suffering of his servant or hidden his face from me…’

There’s another version. We can tell it better! Sin is a fatal disease, that brings death – and needs a great healer. (Restorative)

It starts out the same way, Adam and Eve, image bearers. They come under the curse of sin, what is God doing? He’s always entering co-suffering love with them. Over and over the OT is full of people receiving love and promises and fulfillment and blessings and they keep blowing it and what does God do? He keeps showing up with more love.

He says I’m going to send you prophets with such good news, some of you will get it and turn back to me!

Then comes Jesus. God in the flesh.

God meets a woman who has been through 5 marriages and now she’s off again on a new guy. God comes and sits down beside her, and says. ‘It’s because you’re thirsty you’re living like that. Come to me for water and you won’t be thirsty.’

God comes to a little guy who’s embezzling funds and hated by the community he rips off he is loved back to life.

God comes to a woman caught in adultery. She’s a trap set up to get Jesus. Stone her? What does God do? Kneels down next to her and scribbles in the dirt. What was he writing? Their sins? In Jeremiah it says, ‘Because you have rejected me and my living water, I will write you in the dust.’

What does God say to the woman? ‘Neither do I condemn you. Go and sin no more.’ (Not ‘or else’ but ‘because you’re free!’)

God comes to a man so possessed by evil, demons are bouncing off him. He’s scary! God gets in a boat and steps up to him in the cemetery and sets him free and gives him his mind, clothes, and community.

God comes to a man who’s consigned to a mat, disabled. The culture says it’s because of sin. What does God do? When some guys open the roof and lower the man down toward him. He says – 1) Your sins are forgiven. (He’s not even repented). 2) Gives him a new life and job.

Our God comes – and co-suffers with us. His holiness manifests in compassion and love. He comes to people, who with hatred and shame who turn their back on Him. They put him on a cross – and he forgives from it.

Now when we go to the grave – he is there. He was dead

But now he holds the keys of death and hell – so there is nowhere God’s love is not. It fills all things. Those who receive that love experience it as eternal life.

They who reject that love… continue to receive it – as a consuming love.

What happens to them? His mercy endures forever.

His love never fails. That’s news a broken world needs to hear. That God never gives up on me. He’s always there and always has been. He never changes. His love is steady as an anchor.  Jesus is NEVER against you. Your rejection of him might feel like hell but it’s his version of love.

And on Good Friday, God the Father, Son and Spirit are on the cross.

2 Cor – God was in Christ, reconciling us to himself…

He’s not saving us from God, he’s not appeasing and angry Father but revealing a loving Father’s perfect love (1 John).

If you want to look at God, look at Jesus.

Jesus is the exact representation of His likeness.

God showed him that in a body.

God is now the most accessible person in the universe (1 John 4:15-19).

No Fear!

If He’s so accessible, we should take advantage of that!

Ready – Aim – Preach!

(continuing my series of thoughts on this most vital area for ministry…) 

In 1948 Harold Laswell described the ‘Magic Bullet’ theory of communication. Communication = a process whereby a source transmits a message through some channel to a receiver. It’s called the magic bullet theory because the sender shoots the message out of his brain into someone else’s. The listener is passive in the experience.

Others modified the theory and included the idea of ‘Feedback.’ (How the listeners respond will have an effect on the sender). It seems really simple, and lots of us can think that’s what communication is. Cause & effect.

I preach a message from the Bible, the most powerful text in the world, someone hears it and, ‘Bingo!’ (or maybe no more bingo, if you’re preaching that gambling is wrong).

Message sent (cause) —– Received (effect). I deliver it, you get it.

But anyone who’s ever done it knows there’s a lot more to it than that isn’t there? ‘There’s many a slip ‘twixt ear and lip.’ When you look out at people scratching, shifting, checking the time and yawning; the magic bullet isn’t doing its job. Maybe the gun’s misfiring, or the bullets are blanks?

Or perhaps its because you never took AIM?

Imagine walking through the woods and suddenly you hear the crack of a rifle, you hit the deck as branches snap around you. What the heck?!

Eventually you see there’s a hunter (at least he’d call himself one) wandering around firing indiscriminately until finally, mercifully, he runs out of bullets: You ask him what on earth he’s doing.

“Well, I know there are deer out here in these woods somewhere, I figured if I shoot out enough bullets in as many directions as poss, eventually I’ll hit one.”

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Ever heard preaching like that?  It makes you want to run for cover.

Probably my favourite recent Christian book on preaching would be Communicating for a change, by Andy Stanley.

He starts off the book with a parable of a truck driver who helps a preacher get better;

Lesson 1? Ask where you want to go. Preaching is like a journey; you go somewhere and end up somewhere. ‘The question is do you end up where you wanted to – or just drive round willy-nilly?’

If you don’t have a destination – you’re just driving round! He suggests you DECIDE in advance where you’re headed. In driving and in preaching a clear destination is VITAL.

If I just go on about various things I’m thinking or learning – it can be interesting (parts of it, to me at least).

I heard a Pastor once talk about ‘Preaching the notices.’ Don’t take him literally! What he meant was there’s a way for your sermons to drive the whole church forward – highlighting a value the church needs to have magnified or clarified (eg servanthood) or the vision of the church and a call to get moving or sustain momentum together…taking everyone on the journey with you where they discover truth together.

So, when you get up to speak – can you tell me the destination? Have you got clarity on that?

Ready to Aim? If not – you’re Fired!

Mike Starkey at Ivy – Fashion, Introspection and Providence. #Bgbg2

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Last Sunday evening at Ivy my friend Mike Starkey brought some great thoughts on these three issues, here are my notes: 

Most of the references to fashion in Christian history have been negative.

But our God is a creator, the source of beauty and colour.
Mike wrote a book some years ago about fashion – and was called the antichrist by a Christian who wrote to him for not lambasting fashion as being of the devil. She said that we are meant to be ‘not of this world.’

But does that mean we hide away from it? What does our clothing do?
Our clothing has a lot to do with our identity, increasingly in our society – years ago you had little choice about your place in society. You did what mother and father did, and wore what they did. People could read your status level from your clothing. When people bought clothes rather than made them. That has changed beyond recognition in our generation; technology has changed all that.

Teenagers got spending power, after the war – and were in search of identity. It became possible to buy an identity- off the peg. Subcultures you’d see in the media became available as an option for you to buy into.

We all buy into this! We are skilled at playing with the image we project – people are always communicating something about who they are, or what they are definitely not. Today’s city dweller sees more people in one day than medievals saw in a lifetime, so your clothing is a poster for your art when people walk past you.

People today are caught up in an escalating cycle of self consciousness. Self analysis has become the norm for most of us.  I can shape it through who I am and what I watch and what ‘people like me’ think about important issues.

Advertisers are selling me a vision of who I could be, if I buy a particular brand.

I think about things. I think about myself thinking about things,
And how do I feel about how I’m coming across to the person I’m relating to?

This is subtle, but very spiritual. We don’t notice it happening. And you’d hope when we come to Jesus we’d have the identity issue sorted out? But now there’s a whole new set of things to be self conscious of.
Should I still swear a bit to I show I’m a ‘cool’ Christian at work?

This self focus is a normal part of living now.
Naming it helps lift off the burden.

We can rediscover a sense of providence; which means ‘God is doing stuff.’

Genesis 24 - it’s the story of what happened before online dating.
But behind it all, God is working out his purposes.

The obvious solution to who Isaac should marry is ‘a nice local girl’ but Abraham knows Miss Right isn’t living round there. So he sends the servant off, and says, ‘Don’t forget – it’s not about luck. We are part of a bigger story!’ There’s an angel going too – but getting some other girl than God’s right choice would spoil the bigger story.

Notice – even before the servant has finished his prayer, along she came. Almost as if there’s a God!

Behind the scenes of human action there’s a bigger story being told. A deeper drama about God making a family and inviting people to be part of that. Something bigger than me is going on.
Always!
God is at work behind the scenes -
Always!
He is already doing stuff.
Stirring up dissatisfaction and needs. So I join in the missio dei.
Some groups in Christian history have emphasised providence, others free will.
Is it – ‘God has got a plan’ or have we got a choice? Look at Whitefield vs Wesley, they fell out over this.
It’s a false division! Both are true! God has a purpose and we are invited to participate in it.

Abraham said the girl will be free to say no. But it’s all according to God’s plan. How does that work?

We don’t know, except that we have a strength outside of ours that come from a story bigger than we could see.

Sometimes, we only see the story as we look back. The journey of faith is not me inviting God into my story. It’s me looking outward beyond myself. And saying ‘I want to play in your story.’

Blah Blah Blah Preaching

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I once heard Andy Stanley say, “Our approach to preaching should be shaped by our GOAL in preaching.”

What’s your goal with this Sunday’s sermon? Why are you doing this? What do you want to accomplish? Someone can say, ‘This is my goal’ but did you ever come out and wonder – what was that ABOUT?

It was Stanley again who said that instead of DETERMINING our goal, many of us INHERITED a goal. (from our church, pastors, preachers, theological college etc). I’ve gone through all of these goals during my time as a speaker;

a) Teach the BIBLE to people

Here, the Bible comes before people; you’re so focused on digging into the content the listeners are secondary, listening in on your musings. Success in this scenario is, ‘I got through it, I covered the material, and nobody died before we finished.’

Some home group leaders are like that. I was, when I led one. If the notes were two pages long I hated not finishing and would cut off a meaningful pastoral conversation because we still had to fill in the blanks on John 3:16 (For God so loved the _______). Teaching the Bible like this requires no real wrestling with the text itself, little creativity, no application, no visuals so it’s remembered. You just have to know a little more information about the Bible than the people and line by line tell them what you found out, till your slot is over and we sing a hymn.

People do this with varying levels of success. I remember being told about a young preacher who was asked for feedback by the old church warden, he said ‘There were only three things wrong with that sermon. You read it. You read it in a boring voice. It wasn’t worth reading.’

b) Teach PEOPLE the Bible

This is a little more audience focused, you want them to really know the Bible, so its not as dry, you get some personality involved, 4 things that rhyme, even better if they rhyme in Greek and start with the same letter, maybe throw in an application at the end.

People like me who take copious notes love this kind of preaching! We go away with more of our Bible coloured in saying, ‘I’ve learned something deeeeep today, I bet the apostle Paul didn’t even know he meant that when he wrote it!’

One of the first churches I was a member of had a leader who was a master at this; we’d do six weeks on one verse in Romans. I remember him telling us about when Paul referred to barbarians it was because to the Jews that’s what all the other languages sounded like to them ‘Bar, Bar, Bar…’ I loved that fact. Wrote it down. Remembered it for 25 years so far. One day it might win me a pub quiz. But it’s unlikely to solve any of the problems of the world or even answer the questions of a hurting individual. You’re not meant to be Stephen Fry on QI.

It’s good to help people know the Bible of course – but Jesus had most problems from the people who’d memorised most of it, so maybe knowing more is not the BEST goal. It’s not the Bible you know that matters, it’s the Bible you apply.

James 1 says there’s a way to handle the Bible so it really works inside of a person. But there’s a way too of  just listening to more information when we haven’t a goal to change or apply it is blatant self deception. It can be as much use as someone saying ‘Blah, Blah, Blah.’

“Do not merely listen to the word and so deceive yourself – DO what it says.”

What does it SAY?

What should we DO? Don’t just parse the verbs. VERB the passage. Put it into action.

Anyone who chats through a Bible study, takes a page full of notes, gasps at the insights and knowledge, but does nothing about it in their life except, ‘That’s interesting, shall we discuss it a little further?’ is like a person who looks at themselves in the mirror and sees a huge bogey on their chin and goes ‘Arrrggghhh!!’ – then just gets on the bus and goes on with their day regardless.

You get no credit for looking in the mirror and knowing you’re a mess. What will you do? This is the difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking apparently. In the West we think we know because we know, but the Hebrew mindset says you show what you know by what you do.

James doesn’t say you’ll be blessed by what you KNOW. You can memorise 12 great principles of anointed marriage and still be instant messaging behind her back to that young girl in the office. It’s the same with money, parenting, or business. The blessing doesn’t come because I know. Or don’t.

It’s what I do. Or don’t.

There is no blessing in knowledge. The more we know about what God says and the less we do about it, the deeper our self deception.

And I know it’s all grace, but I can’t help tremble a little at the copious amount of words that I have written in my notebooks at those conferences and those churches, together with all the things I have taught as if I have known, but not done, will condemn me on that day when Jesus comes back.

20 years ago, George Bebawi told me, ‘Any knowledge that doesn’t help us love God or love people more, is useless.’

I’m up for the kind of knowing that gets us doing, but I love the way the King James puts this verse: ‘Knowledge puffeth up…’ LOVE is more important than knowledge. Thats’ a great goal for preaching, for us all to be loving more than knowing what agape means.

Together With People DO The Bible

There’s a lady in our church called Mavis. She has learning disabilities, and she is one of the most spiritually mature people I ever met. She always wants to love people. What she knows, is love. When the offering plate comes round, whatever she has in her purse goes in.What she knows, is generosity. She loves the people who help her, what she knows, is gratitude. She loves the worship. I’ve never heard her complain. I’ve often had a word of prophecy right from God through her when needed it. Often it sounds like a big smacking kiss on my cheek.

I want to grow more like her. I want Ivy to be more like Mavis. Because then we’ll all be more like Jesus.

Greg Surratt – 10 Things That Make You Want To Quit

@gregsurratt brought us a great devotional today at the start of our time together at the @leadnet learning community.

Gal 6:9

So let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.

Weariness and discouragement happens to us all.

10 things that cause it…

Too much work

Staff issues

Money Challenges

Worship Leaders!

Fighting Ecclesiastical Systems

Biting Sheep

My own Expectations

Family problems

Health

Your own sin

Some of these things you can solve. You have the power to fix them if you have the courage.  Sometimes you are just going to live with them because you can’t.

Andy Stanley would call this a tension to be manage rather than a problem to be solved.

Hope is the antidote to discouragement.

This scripture says – YOU WILL REAP A HARVEST

The Sovereign God has promised this

You will!

When?

At the proper time.

When is that – when I resign as general manager of the universe and let him deal with the size of the harvest, and the time of the harvest.

God is omniscient (so it’s hard to surprise him) and he is at work on the solutions before we even know there’s a problem.

What if I had quit at that low point a while ago? We would never have seen the harvest.

The harvest is coming. How are you preparing for it?

Most times when you want to quit – it’s too early.

WHAT MORE COULD HE HAVE DONE FOR US?

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(This is from last Sunday night’s talk at the Ivy AGM – Awesome Gratitude Meeting)

One of my favourite author/ speakers died last year – his name was Brennan Manning. If you have ever read ‘Ragamuffin Gospel’ you’ll never forget it.

I have read lots of what he’s written and listened to many of his talks, but it was only this week I heard the amazing story about how he got the name “Brennan.” Because his real name was Richard Xavier Francis Manning – a good Irish catholic name, to be sure.

While growing up, his best friend was Ray. The two of them did everything together: went to school together, bought a car together as teenagers, double-dated, and so forth. They even enlisted in the Army together, went to boot camp together and fought on the frontlines together in the Korean War.

One night while sitting in a foxhole, Brennan was reminiscing about the old days in Brooklyn while Ray listened and ate a chocolate bar. Suddenly a live grenade came into the trench. Ray looked at Brennan, smiled, dropped his chocolate bar and threw himself on the live grenade. It exploded, killing Ray, but Brennan’s life was saved.

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When Brennan became a priest he was instructed to take on the name of a saint. He thought of his friend, Ray Brennan. So he took on the name “Brennan.”

Years later he went to visit Ray’s mother in Brooklyn. They sat up late one night having tea when Brennan asked her, “Do you think Ray loved me?” Mrs. Brennan got up off the couch, shook her finger in front of Brennan’s face and shouted, “What more could he have done for you?”

Brennan said that at that moment he experienced an epiphany. He imagined himself standing before the cross of Jesus wondering, Does God really love me? And Jesus’ mother Mary pointing to her son, saying, “What more could he have done for you?”

We sometimes might wonder, Does God really love me? Am I important to God? Does God care about me?

We might look at our church and think about making big plans and whether it’s really possible for us to make a massive impact on the city. Will God give us what we need?

The answer is in Romans 8:32 He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things?

What MORE could he have done for us?

And how do we honour what Jesus has already done for us?

Two ways:

1) By being really, deeply, increasingly GRATEFUL and…

2) By asking for MORE. Because that shows we know what a kind God he is, so we can ask again.

Saul of Tarsus never got over God saving him. He never got tired of telling the story of his conversion. Over and over, just look through the book of Acts, he’s unstoppable, every chance he gets. Later he writes -

1 Tim 1:12 I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence.

Paul says he was once so far away. Anti-God and he didn’t even know it. Religious but self-righteously so wrong – about everything. Some of us know the feeling.

Likewise, I never want to get over the most important thing that ever happened in my life, when Jesus Christ saved it, revealed his love and his glory to me, and I wasn’t even his friend – I was his enemy.

I threw the grenade he fell on! He died in my place. He was battered and whipped and suffered for my sin. He shed his bled for me. What more could he have done for me?

But then there was more. Always more.

I’ve been a moaner and a worrier and a complainer at times. I’ve not been anything like as appreciative as I should have been of people who have helped me so much through the years, or the God who put them there so many times. But he has forgiven me of so much, protected me, rebuked me, kept me from falling countless times. Wow.

What more could he have done?

Always more. He’s given me a wonderful wife, an incredible family, every one of whom is walking with him too. Of course there have been hard times too along the way but I’m also grateful tonight for the tough times too because He has always only ever been good in all of that. He’s given me the best friends anyone could want, good health, blessings and blessings and blessings.

The list is endless. Because there was always more. He has been pleased to use me. Called me to serve him full time, for which I am eternally grateful. What more could he have done?

But then there was more! 5 and a half years ago he called us back to this city with this personal promise from Genesis 31:3 right at the centre of the call here to Manchester: The LORD said…”Return to the land of your father and grandfather and to your relatives there, and I will be with you.”

Ivy was and is a church full of incredible people. I tell leaders all over the nation and all over the world about the changes we’ve been through and the unity and loyalty here is astonishing! Ivy people amaze me time and time again. And they attract more and more Ivy people who amaze me more and more. You can’t out-challenge Ivy people. They step up and step out in faith, time and time and time again.

I am so grateful for the leaders who’ve been there on the journey and everyone who has waded in with us as we’ve moved from here to there, then to there, then to there, and then back here at about the same time as going there and then there, and now we’re going to go here, there – and everywhere. Ivy people get excited by being on that journey with God. This is not a normal church.

Who wants normal?! Normal is over-rated, and underachieving.

In the last 5 and half years God has done so much for us. I am stunned as I consider how many hundreds of people he’s added to the family. Just looking back over the last year! WOW. What more could he have done for us?!

Phil 4:6 says Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.

We have some major building plans before us as we look to transform our existing building into a missional hub. That involves bigger financial targets, as we prepare to grow a national church planting network as part of New Thing, a global network we belong in now. This year we plan to do more mission, plant more Ivy churches, train more and more leaders, make more disciples, and reach more places in the nation and the nations.

According to the God, how much of this should we worry about? (Fill in the blank ________ )

How much should we pray about, ask God about, make requests about? ALL OF IT.

But the phrase I want to underline here, is ‘WITH THANKSGIVING’.

Because I’m in danger of taking so much for granted.

I know as a ‘Go for it’ leader there are times when I have been very focused on the front end at times of getting people on board with the projects, but not thankful enough for those who didn’t just get onboard but without whom we’d never have a hope of getting there.

Elders, staff (Past and present), buildings team, children’s and youth workers, coffee makers, chair putter outers, welcomers, generous givers, sound team, worship team, missions team, Ivy team. Sundays and through the week. There’s so much going on – life bursting out everywhere and I can’t catalogue it and I literally CAN’T thank everyone, enough. But I’m sorry when I didn’t.

And I just owe God so much, I know I am a favoured man. God’s been so good to me. But at times I’ve just been good at asking and whatever supplicating means and making my requests known – but paid so little attention to the thanksgiving that was missing.

One thing I used to love when I was leading an Anglican church, there were some great prayers people had written to help you pray. Sometimes the words, written centuries before, would just resonate. There’s one for when you’re just generally thankful – but especially for Jesus. That has always been a favourite!

How much MORE could He do for us?

It’s Ivy’s year of more. I believe it, even though I don’t know much of what it entails, we make the path as we step into it.

But even if he never did anything more for any of us; we owe our ultimate gratitude for God’s ultimate gift, as these words from the C16th remind us. Why not pray it where you are?

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, 
we thine unworthy servants do give thee most humble and hearty thanks 
for all thy goodness and loving-kindness 
to us and to all men. 


We bless thee for our creation, preservation, 
and all the blessings of this life; 
but above all for thine inestimable love 
in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; 
for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory.

And, we beseech thee, 
give us that due sense of all thy mercies, 
that our hearts may be unfeignedly thankful; 
and that we show forth thy praise, 
not only with our lips, but in our lives, 
by giving up our selves to thy service, 
and by walking before thee 
in holiness and righteousness all our days; 
through Jesus Christ our Lord, 
to whom, with thee and the Holy Spirit, 
be all honour and glory, world without end. Amen.

LEFTOVERS vs FIRSTFRUITS #bgbg2

A quick announcement that this is my first blog as one of 100 ‘Charter bloggers’ invited to join the Bible Gateway Blogger Grid – hence the hashtag. I’m honoured to be asked by the most visited Christian site in the world which gets 120 million hits a month – selected for being someone who encourages people to get into the Bible.

I HATE LEFTOVERS!

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I know, it’s a first world problem for sure – but even so by now, turkey and sprouts have definitely lost their appeal.

Under the sacrificial system in the Old Testament the people were reminded again and again that God is a great King worthy of the best sacrifice and he not only asked for but expected they would present for him “an animal without defect.” Why? Because all those sacrifices prefigure the perfect sacrifice of Jesus on the cross that would bring us home to know the love of God.

Shorthand summary? Don’t give God leftovers.”

In a couple of weeks at Ivy I’m going to be speaking about the difference between Cain and Abel’s offering – and why the attitude of leftover giving left God cold.

Why would God say that? Because the temptation would still be there for us wouldn’t it? To go through the herd looking for what you could give, one from my herd’s just going to be sacrificed. It’s going up in smoke anyway! So grab the scrawny, scabby, one eyed, three legged, stubby runt of the litter (called Lucky) and say, ‘This’ll do!’

But God always gives the best. He gave US his very best didn’t he? After all, he gave us JESUS! The Bible says he ‘gives us all things richly for our enjoyment.’ We only ever give BACK from what he already gave, so – do we want to give him the best in return?

God was getting tired of people giving leftovers, thinking, ‘That’ll do’ instead of ‘What’s the BEST I can do?’

Do you ever think, “This’ll do!” When it comes to God? Let me be specific in application for a minute – because most of us haven’t got sheep. But you have got money. That’s your commodity of exchange. When the plate comes round if that’s how you usually give to the things of God – do you ever wonder, “What’s the least I can give, and it still be okay?”

Be honest! I’m talking about looking for the LEAST we can give, rather than the BEST. God wants his people to bring him the FIRSTFRUITS. That means you give the best, first.

All through the Bible there’s this call from God where he says, “I’m going to be your provider now. I’ll look after all your needs and you can trust me. Just give me the firstfruits, I’ll look after the rest. Trust me.”

Jesus told his followers in one of his most famous recorded talks that they shouldn’t worry like everyone else about questions like, ‘What will we eat, drink and wear?’ Most of our worries fall into one of those boxes don’t they?

Jesus says the secret of happiness is not that you shift banks, but that you shift focus.

You focus on HIS KINGDOM. When we do, we learn contentment and trust that our physical needs will be met. He says seek FIRST the Kingdom of God.

What does that mean? It means focusing on the things God is interested in. Advancing the gospel. Fighting poverty. That’s the Kingdom! What if your focus today was instead of worrying how to make a living, you thought FIRST about GIVING?

Giving FIRST, then living. We don’t think like that usually do we? But the people hearing Jesus’ words first time around lived in an uncertain world too, and Jesus says “if you make MY KINGDOM priority number ONE, take care of MY needs – the poor and making disciples – I will CERTAINLY take care of yours.”

Imagine what God could do with us if we became people like that. We put GOD and what HE wants FIRST, we give him the FIRST and the BEST in our lives – not the scraps and left-overs, then we don’t worry about where the food and clothing is coming from because he says, “I’ll get that!”

As a church leader I’ve found there are really only two types of givers,  and it’s not a matter of Amount but Attitude: some people give firstfruits, and other people give left-overs.

I’m thinking about this as we prepare for our FIRSTFRUITS offering at Ivy which we’ll receive on 12th January. (We have asked people to reign it in over Christmas so they can give it in, in the New Year). People who give to that at the start of a year are seeing everything differently.

It’s about how you see God – who is your provider?

Left-over givers aren’t necessarily greedy – just FEARFUL, because they see THEMSELVES as responsible for meeting their own needs. With families to feed, stuff to buy, and whatever’s left over (if there is any) goes to helping God’s work in the world.

Firstfruit givers on the other hand ask themselves, “Who is better able to meet my needs – me, or God?” They see that everything belongs to God (including the responsibility to meet their daily needs). So, because they have shifted focus to that other Kingdom, they feel free to invest in his interests first – and trust him for their needs second.

Leftovers or Firstfruits? It’s up to you.

No Such Thing As Private Morality.

Tomorrow we finish a series I have loved us going through at Ivy, all about David. We’ve been in his life for months and learned a lot.

But as we draw a close on his life, I’m left wishing he finished better – and praying that I will finish well.

David was a man after God’s own heart. But as we track through his life we know that David’s heart was often broken. All of our hearts are broken by sin. By wrong things we’ve done and things done to us. Last week we saw how at times, temptation won and sin reigned in David’s heart and controlled him.

If you want to check out my video teaching on that fall with Bathsheba it’s available free on ‘Ivy Player’ on www.ivymanchester.org now

Now while David was forgiven of that because he turned to God in repentance, consequences came back to bite him. That’s something we often forget ahead of our sin, or even post confession.

Consequences.

There were consequences with regard to how much God could bless him, because that was linked to how much God could trust him. Ouch.

God effectively said to him, ‘I’d have done so much more through and for you…’ But David’s legacy was limited because of his sin.

And of course there were massive consequences in his family.

As I have observed it, people who go their own way and ignore God’s advice and commands about marriage, relationships and sex INVARIABLY end up with much more complicated lives.

All kinds of consequences. Mixed up, messed up families.

There’s no such thing as private morality.

‘Well what goes on in private doesn’t matter to anyone else.’

Crap.

It doesn’t just affect you – it affects generations of people, it affects society. David was told in scripture really clearly that a King should not ‘multiply wives.’ One’s more than enough! But he thought ‘I know best, and I have these needs, and I’m the special one…’ so he added lots of wives. Seven official ones, some count eight. He probably lost count too, what with all the concubines as well.

Then Bathsheba, someone else’s wife. And twenty children. Talk about complications!

The Bible pulls no punches in describing the murky gory detail of what went on with David’s kids, following his sin with Bathsheba. The terrible example he had set, his private contrition but public abdication of responsibility as a father; it’s X rated stuff at times, Game of Thrones has nothing on these power games and lies. Everyone’s in bed with someone or wanting to be.

To say the family ends up a mess as the years go on is a massive understatement.

So in the week a new prince was born, tomorrow we finish the series with the story of King David and a prince called Absalom in a royally messed up family. You’ll be able to listen to the talk on our website free podcast next week if you like.

But I want us to reflect on the families around us. To pray for and think about our own families. Families in our culture. What does that even mean these days?

Because David modelled sin to his kids as they grew up, then ended up as a passive father while they went from bad to worse. Probably because of his own failure, because of guilt and shame, because he’d set such a bad example, he was frozen solid as a dad. He didn’t engage with his wives because he had too many, he didn’t step up, discipline or confront his family as it went more and more dysfunctional.

Why? It seems David needed to be liked by his children more than he needed to be a Dad to them. He cried a lot and got pathetic around them but he wanted to be a pal not a parent.

He kept telling himself, ‘It’ll be okay, it’ll be ok.’ It was not okay!! The snowball was just getting bigger and bigger and bigger…

Problems don’t go away just because we want them to, or ignore them long enough. Resentments grow stronger. Patterns get deeper. Rifts become wider. That’s why God wants us to deal with and discipline sin, not deny it! He wants us to see sin for what it is and the damage it causes. To confront it and take action.

Before private sin leads to public shame.

Help us Jesus.

Debra Green @debrajgreen Work, Rest and Pray. 2 Sam 7 Building The House

David was the second king of Israel his reign – 1010 to 1002 BC A righteous king, but not perfect.

2 Sam 7:1-16
David has built himself a great house, satisfied and at peace at last, with material provided by the King of Tyre.
But then he looks at ark in its tent and starts to think, ‘What about God?! His house?’
I think he had a good motive for this, he wanted to bless God. He wanted God to feel at home. Nathan says yes.
But then he prays.
Prophets have to pray not just say!
And God reveals that it’s a good plan, but ‘I am going to build YOU a house, David!’ His vision becomes a REvision. He revises it.
Plans are not a bad thing. But we need to Work, Rest and Pray! We need to take our plan and pray it through.
Do not go with your plan.
It’s good to write down our list.
To honour God and reflect something of his glory by building the best. To take inspiration from other people.
Study. Be diligent.

And submit your plan to him.

And wait to hear from God. He may want to do something far better!

A divine appointment is better than what is in your diary.

Our best intentions? His are better!
Work
God has a plan to blow your mind.

God says ‘and I will give you rest.’ Bring your heart to God today, it’s not too late. Rest. Rest is not the opposite to work- it’s just putting ourselves in his will.

Pray!
God has a bigger plan and he will give you more than you expect. He will take what you offer him He will bless the house (vs 27)

Unless The Lord builds the house, the Labourers labour in vain

Fire carriers – Rachel Hickson at the Message Prayer day

rachel_hickson_800 copy

What are Fire Carriers?

People who carry presence, passion and power

Lk 3:16
We are meant to be baptised with the Holy Spirit and with fire! Fire and water mix in God’s economy.

Stay wet – monastic
And on fire – mission

When dry people carry fire it’s dangerous.

But we get wet and put our feet on Britain’s dry ground.
Isaiah 44:3
This is not just for us, it’s for our descendents.

Wet people burn!

If we are dry and we burn we get burnt out. Some people are scary for all the wrong reasons. So stay wet in the presence of God
1 Kings 18:33-38
The prophets of Baal were the new spirituality.
They set up a dry altar. Prayed to the God of fire.

Elijah says – wet it again and again. Let the water overflow. It’s seriously wet! Because you have serious challenges and God wants to put some serious fire on you. Fire that touches you touches everything around you.
Are you a fire carrier?

It’s great to touch the dry ground – but we have to be wet first.

Ps 42:2
Are you thirsty?!

Where can I go?! Ever feel that?

Acts 3:19
Change your mind and priority. Think different!
Be far more determined to be close to Jesus.

Don’t look at who you are – you can’t even preach one sermon without Him!

God has a call on you and he wants you to hit the mark. The designation on your life is different to anyone else’s.

Have a time of refreshing!

Dt 28:12
Let the rain fall – open up heaven I’ve me!

2. God wants you to be Passionate People

You will make friends, and others will hate your passion.
Nothing great was ever accomplished with Passion.

The Enemy wants to silence true passion.
Passion is irritating. It causes a response. Others get their status quo threatened and want us to calm down. Like the crowd in Mk10:48 – who tried to calm Bartimaeus’ shout.

What’s the cry in you?
The Jesus shout!

Acts 4 – here was a passionate church. And a passionate church is usually a persecuted church. History tells us this. We think miracles are all we need. But look at Acts 4:16-20

Jesus is always the name they want to shut up and spread it. But Peter & John say ‘We have a Passion for that name!’

You carry a heavenly virus
It lives on dead people
Those who have died to our name
And come alive to his name.

There will never be an innoculation that works against this virus.

Jer 20:9
There’s a fire inside you. When we yet to hold it in, we get weary. Our weariness comes because we stopped letting Jesus out. We are Jesus people.

Don’t run out of steam
Don’t lose the main thing!

3. Be Power Carriers

Isaiah 8:18
We are for signs and wonders in the land!
Let signs & wonders be the children, the twins we walk around with.

Signs and wonders are extraordinary events that make people Wonder about God!

So many people need that key of hope to unlock the gates.

Mk 16:17-18
We are to change atmospheres!
To set people free from whatever torments them.

Be people of Presence. Passion and Power to make a difference.