Sunday, 27 April 2014

You Heard it Said #1 Sermon Notes - The Beatitudes. Matthew 5:1-12

Notes for this Sunday's sermon below, accompanying slides here (Apologies for the mixed up ref on slide "5" which should refer to Matt. 6:9-10):

This week sees us starting a new sermon series looking at some extracts from what was probably Jesus most famous public address - The Sermon on the Mount recorded in Matthew 5-7. One strand in that sermon that Jesus picked up on was the teaching his hearers had picked up from their culture / upbringing etc and showed them how, in his Kingdom, everything would be turned on its head.

Jesus had already been announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand and doing miracles to demonstrate it (see Matt. 4). Now, as the King of that Kingdom, he sat down to instruct his newest subjects, the disciples - and anyone else who wanted to listen in. The central point is that one day Earth will be like Heaven is now as the two will be united as one and his subjects (disciples) are to work towards that day (Matt. 6:9-10, Rev. 21).

You and I only have one life to live and how we live it defines our eternal destiny. Our culture has many expectations of us and how we should live it, we have many expectations of ourselves. Jesus cuts through all that noise and opens his sermon with some declarations of what his subjects should be like.
  • Poor in spirit - knowing that however good it may be, they will never be fully satisfied in this life, John 12:25, Phil 1:23.
  • Mourning - because they know the fate of those who refuse to heed Jesus' words, Matt 23:37, Ecc. 7:4.
  • Meek - they look and wait patiently for the vindication of God, rather than taking matters into their own hands. Luke 18:1-8.
  • Hunger and thirst for righteousness - their first question every day is "how can I please my Lord?" not "How can follow my heart and be authentic?" Jer. 17:9, Rom.12:1-2
  • Merciful - this can look like weakness, but Jesus says it is the path to receiving the mercy of God. Matt 18:21-35.
  • Pure in heart - those in whom is no hypocrisy or double standard - their life is an open book. John 18:20.
  • Peacemakers - those who move towards those who aren't like them and befriend them in Jesus' name. Eph. 4:3, 6:15.
  • Persecuted - Jesus was love personified, but he was hated, reviled and eventually crucified. Those who want to be like him should not be surprised if they find themselves treated the same way. 2 Tim. 2:12.
So how did you score as a wannabe follower of Jesus? All of us fall short, the only question is by how much?

The good news is that Jesus did all of those things perfectly for us and God has accepted his life as a substitute for our own if we will put our trust in him. He was not satisfied with this life alone (Mark 9:19, Heb. 5:7). He mourned because of sin (Matt 23:37). He was meek (Matt 26:52-54). He hungered and thirsted for righteousness (John 4:34). He was merciful (John 21:15-19). He was pure in heart (Heb. 5:7). He gave his peace (John 14:23). He was persecuted (Matt 26-27).

But Jesus isn't the great consumer champion, he didn't suffer so that we could lead a culturally expected life that looks like everyone else's, just a little bit more optimised in "moral" department. He came that we might die to this old way of life and live a new way. He died so that we could be new creations, fit to house the Spirit of God and live an extraordinary and exemplary life. He died and was raised that we could be like him. (Mark 8:34)

Monday, 21 April 2014

Summer Holiday

My wife likes listening to me speak French. Couple that with the fact that I've never been to the Alps before, (I know, and I call myself a French teacher!!) and you have the reason why we've just booked ourselves two weeks in the Vanoise National Park.

What is not yet clear is how much cycling I / we will do as I am currently experiencing crepitus in my left knee. (I know - I'm only 36 too!!)

Sunday, 20 April 2014

Trinitarian Humility and Glory

Many are suspicious that God is probably some egomaniac who only created us so that he could make us suffer and then demand worship from us, torturing us in Hell if we didn't comply. That may be because they replace the true God with one made up by their own self-centredness (anthropomorphism).  It's no surprise then, that the "god" they come up tends to be horrible beyond imagination.  Our so called modern generation is no different from all those who went before, we just express it differently. (Acts 17:29)

But the Bible introduces us to a delightfully different kind of God. One who you and I would never imagine up, because we are too self obsessed. (1Cor. 2:9)

The Father, Son and Spirit are all seeking that we prefer the other.

The Father is not interested in his own glory, he wants all to behold his Son. (Matt. 3:17, 17:5)

The Son does not seek his own glory but wants only to honour his wonderful Father, he also tells his disciples that is is better that he leaves, and the Spirit comes, then things are really going to get going! (John 14:28, 16:7)

The Spirit simply wants to honour the Son (John 16:14) as the Son honours the Father (John 5:19).

And so the humble social dance goes on eternally.

Saturday, 19 April 2014

God is Reigning from the Tree

The Cross is not a defeat, it's a victory.  On that theme, four Good Friday meditations from the archive: 1, 2, 3, 4.

Glen has also posted an excellent thought on how Jesus didn't just die for us, we died with him.

Here too, is a hymn adapted from a 5th century poem by a 17th century hymn writer.

The royal banners forward go,
The cross shines forth in mystic glow;
Where he in flesh, our flesh who made,
Our sentence bore, our ransom paid.

There whilst he hung, his sacred side
By soldier's spear was opened wide,
To cleanse us in the precious flood
Of water mingled with his blood.

Fulfilled is now what David told
In true prophetic song of old,
How God the heathen's King should be;
For God is reigning from the tree.

O tree of glory, tree most fair,
Ordained those holy limbs to bear,
How bright in purple robe it stood,
The purple of a Savior's blood!

Upon its arms, like balance true,
He weighed the price for sinners due,
The price which none but he could pay,
And spoiled the spoiler of his prey.

To thee, eternal Three in One,
Let homage meet by all be done:
As by the cross thou dost restore,
So rule and guide us evermore.


You can hear a slightly different version of it, here.

And my favourite Easter video, here. Get the tissues ready.

Thursday, 17 April 2014

Moses and Jesus

Doing some prep on an upcoming sermon and fascinated by the connections between Moses' life and the life of Christ. Whilst I won't be commenting on these parallels directly, as only having 25mins there are more pressing matters, they are interesting to note…

Moses' prophecy in Deut 18 that one like him but greater than him would one day walk amongst them had finally come true.

Wednesday, 16 April 2014

Reporting on our China Trip

Whilst Elli and I are still processing our sentiments from our recent trip to China, here are some shoot from the hip observations.

  • China is urbanising at a phenomenal rate. We were staying in a backwater city, the equivalent of a market town like Worcester, but it still had a population of 5 million - bigger than every city in the UK apart from London.
  • China is communist pretty much in name only - whilst officially the political system remains - probably still strong in the rural areas - the ideals being flaunted on their billboards and TV commercials, are the American dream played with new Chinese actors.
  • We never saw a house whilst we were there, only blocks of flats and parks.
  • The Chinese work so hard, because they are highly motivated, but also because their odds of success are small.  Like everywhere else, there are many more people than jobs.
  • The one child policy means that soon, there will be one child supporting up to six adults - his parents and grand-parents. The whole of the developed world is getting top heavy.
  • Due the one child policy, sex selective pregnancy has been rife. There are many more boys around than girls.
  • Property speculators are buying up new flats in the hope of selling them on at a profit, but this is driving the price of property up for everyone else who can't afford them now. Like in the UK, a starting teacher has to move back in with his parents and get a job in their home city or rent a room somewhere - social mobility is still relatively limited.
  • Most of China is still ethnically monochrome. Apart from one English conversation teacher we met at the school, we were the only non-chinese people we saw all week in a city of 5 million and as a result we were looked at a lot - especially by small children.
  • Food - amazing and very healthy, if at times a little spicy - we ate loads and put on no weight!
  • Friendliness - all the people we met were genuinely warm and welcoming especially our hosts.
  • Appreciation of cultural heritage - students and teachers alike all had a strong affinity to their history and tradition - unlike us English teachers who, when asked to sing Auld Lang Synd, could barely remember the words between us! 
  • Chinese education is free at primary and middle school level, but families have to make a contribution to high school education.
  • Progress to the next year is about stage not age. So you will often get different aged kids in the same class. 
  • Teachers only teach two lessons a day, but with classes of 60 students, there's a heck of a lot more marking.
  • Teaching is genuinely child-centred. This is what surprised us the most. Children are told to chase their dreams not conform to state expectations.
  • Teachers all enter a national teaching competition with heats and a final winner.
  • High school kids finish lessons at about 8:30pm and then have about 4hrs homework.
  • Chinese teachers face the same issues there as we do here. Namely being caught in the middle between central government's obsession with outputs and the deep conviction that what makes life worth living is more than the sum of our measurable achievements.
And for those who love pandas...

Here is a video from the Panda Preservation Reserve in Chengdu:

Noah - A Film

Elli and I went to see this latest cinematic offering last night.

The main similarities with the biblical text are the following:
  1. There's a guy called Noah (and another named Methuselah and another named Tubal-Cain who is a forger of iron, but I don't see him playing any of his brother's nice musical inventions - Gen. 4:21-22).
  2. There's a boat.
  3. There are a lot of animals.
  4. There's a lot of water.
If you take a snapshot view, of the film other similarities occur, but when set against the flow of where the Bible has come from and where it is going. The film's portrayal of the original story is simply unintelligible and bizarre.

That said, I thought two sentiments were well expressed and helpful to me.

Firstly, the way that wicked king Tubal-Cain twists the commands of God to his own advantage - using "the Creator's" blessings not as an opportunity for service and self sacrifice, but for domination and self aggrandisement. He views his actions as not only his right, but his duty and he is justified in his own eyes - no matter how morally depraved he actually and clearly is.

Secondly, Noah's insistence that all should perish including himself and his family. The wickedness that he sees in humanity, he sees in himself and his family, so why should he / they escape? The rest of his family move too quickly (for my liking) to the glib humanist cliches about guilt and innocence, justice and mercy.

Salvation is not a right. It is never earned. It will never be merited. God doesn't see a glimmer in our unregenerate eyes and think - he could turn out a good'un. Our benchmarks of justice, mercy, guilt and innocence are far too skewed by our own over optimistic assessments of ourselves.

Mercy is, by definition, undeserved.

In the film, Noah is an inhumane, mystical eco-warrior charged with saving the creator's creation. The aim is preservation.

In the Bible, Noah is a picture of Christ who preaches to all, but who is reviled and ultimately saves only those who are made like him, transporting them with him through the waters of judgment and death to a renewed world. The aim is transformation.

I'm not on Facebook atm, but my wife told me that a friend of mine posted this excellent article which blows my well meant, but stupid little review out of the water!

Friday, 4 April 2014

Trip to China

View of Luzhou, Sichuan
Courtesy of Wikipedia

On the date of our first anniversary, Elli and I will be on a plane to China. We are going with a group of teachers to experience and find out more about how the Chinese education system works. Our destination is Luzhou in Sichuan province. We fly direct to Chengdu from Heathrow.

With the media going on about how amazing Chinese maths teaching is, it will be interesting to see where the dividing line is between truth and spin, and see first hand what is replicable back home here and what is not.

Will also try and wangle some business class seats, at least for our flight out... :-)

We're back on 14 Apr.