Sunday, 30 November 2014

#trending 6: Identity - Sermon Notes

In this final sermon on identity, we aren't looking at the best of what our culture has to offer in helping us to understand ourselves, rather, at a handful of the, sometimes unspoken, assumptions and slogans that fly around in the mainstream of popular culture. Here are a few to get you thinking:

Identity in Popular Culture

  • I have no essential identity – bodies are accidental - Our culture's story of evolution is one which tells us that nothing is fixed - we can become whatever we want.
  • My desires and their fulfillment are my highest duty - How often have you heard the phrase, "Whatever floats your boat…" "Whatever makes you happy…" This is fine when it comes to the colour we want to paint our living room, but as a compass for making moral decisions, it is deeply flawed.
  • I express myself through consumption - Think about the way you dress, and the way you decorate your home - it's all about expressing to the world what you want them to see of you. We are all about image management.
  • My achievements are the definition of my success and self worth - Whereas in other parts of the world, people define themselves by their ethnic / tribal ties - in our culture we define ourselves by what we do. If you haven't "achieved" anything much, you're written off as a nobody.
  • Public responsibility is dead, long live me - whilst we talk a good game about how concerned we are about the environment or human trafficking or other such causes, how many of us have done anything significant about it for any significant length of time.
  • Judgmentalism is the new unforgivable sin - clearly there are some very unloving, ignorant and plain stupid things said by people who have never (or not for a long time) experienced a particular way of life / circumstance, but to then say that we are never allowed to pass any kind of judgment on the choices and / or actions of each other will only serve to further lock us all up in the prisons of our own self-righteousness, suspicion, fear and prejudice.
  • Self-esteem is the new moral currency - Right and wrong is less and less rule based and more and more located in what helps me to feel good about who I am and what I am doing.
  • Government exists to enable my rights & choices - we expect them not to rule over us, but to help us fix our problems and realise our dreams - the obvious destination of this philosophy is anarchy.

Popular Culture in the Church

  • Genie Jesus - God has a beautiful plan for my life - In the survey I did most people said that the one thing that would significantly improve their life right now was money, a partner or a change of job, suggesting that God's "beautiful" plan is to bolster our sense of who we think we are rather than seeing that when he says beautiful, he means sacrificial - in the sense of soldiers at the D-Day landings.
  • Greasy Grace - Biblical commands diluted down into encouragements - We often pick and choose which commands we listen to and ignore the others saying they don't matter or God didn't really mean it.
  • Our public voice is lost – we retreat to the shadows for fear of being labeled - No one who wants to be part of civilised society wants to be labelled a bigot. So we either shut up or retreat to the irrelevant shadows.
  • Success & technique trump faithfulness - Christian bookshops are full of techniques on how to be a better…[fill in the blanks]. We have many manuals about how to be a better spouse, parent, leader, how to grow a ministry or church successfully, but not so many about how to be faithful. In his closing address in the Bible, Jesus in Rev 2-3 says he's not interested in success, but in faithfulness.
  • The world can go to Hell so long as I and my loved ones are alright - Through a twisted desire for self-preservation we have a shrivelled sense of our calling to the world.

The Bible and Identity

The Bible talks about our identity, not as a set of "truth statements" but as a story. The True Story in which all our little stories take place (see Genesis 1-4):

  • Wonderfully made - God carefully made man out of the dust, and breathed life into him. He then went one better - he made woman. Woman is man glorified.
  • A Reflection onto Eternity - Through the family unit (diversity in unity) multiplying and spreading out across the earth, the human race would reflect the joyful, abundant, spreading, outgoing love of the Father, Son and Spirit.
  • The Dark Exchange - But rather than God, Adam and Eve chose to listen to a different voice. Rather than reflecting God, they chose to reflect the serpent, they still wanted all God's benefits, just none of the loyalty those benefits entailed. They wanted to be their own gods.
  • The Irreparable Loss - After that Dark Exchange, Adam and Eve don't repent, they blame everyone else and lock themselves into a place where before God they don't, can't and won't do what is right.
  • The Orphaned Wandering - Adam and Eve, and the human race that would flow from them are exiled from fellowship with God to wander over the face of the earth - as a covering for their shame they build great civilisations over history, with great cultures, but at the centre of all these manifestations are dark, orphaned and rebellious hearts.
  • But…

In Christ, Our Identity is Transformed and Glorified - 1 Cor. 15

  • The Man From Above - Jesus stepped into history 2000 years ago. He was a miracle birth, not born with the same orphaned, corrupted heart that you and I have.
  • Jesus is True Humanity - We are ghosts of our former selves alienated from everything and everyone, but Jesus was and is the true human - relating perfectly to God his Father and all creation. Adam and Eve were created in the image of God, but Jesus is the reality of God.
  • The Death that Swallowed Death - Eternally - In Christ's crucifixion, God takes into himself all the effects of the curse that we brought upon ourselves when we locked ourselves into our orphaned and rebellious hearts and threw away the key. God has made his peace with us for all the offence we caused him, the question is, will we make our peace with him?
  • The Life that Pours out Life - Eternally - Jesus, now ascended to the right hand of his Father pours our his life and likeness to all who respond to the call to make their peace with him.
  • True Life is found in Death - True life is when we give up trying to be the controller of the universe - when we die to the way of life which puts us at the centre and instead, puts us in submission to God. We then receive his life to blossom as he intended.
  • Transformed Sameness - Christians may not look any different on the outside, but their whole reality changes when they put their trust in Jesus, in a similar way to the way life changes when you get married, have kids, turn 18 etc. In one sense everything is the same and yet, everything is different.

Saturday, 29 November 2014

Some of the "Identity" Survey Results.

Here some results from the recent Identity survey I did for a sermon of mine:

Setting that in context, according to our membership directory we are about 45% men and 55% women and, currently, on average, we gather a bit more than twice our number of members across our three Sunday meetings.

I think that the following two are fairly self-explanatory, but if you have any interesting observations, do mention them in the comments.

This last one is interesting and if I was better at writing surveys (hindsight is a wonderful thing) I would have framed the question differently. Instead of saying "rank the following in order of which stresses you out the most" I think I should have said "rank the following in order of which you think about the most."

As a consequence, with God's expectations ranked 4th overall in the stress stakes, I don't know if this means that we have a mature understanding of our identity in Christ e.g. Matt 11:28-29 or if it means that we are far too worldly in our thinking e.g. 2 Cor. 10:12 and don't really care about his expectations.


Once again, many thanks to all who filled in the survey. It's also great to get little messages like these two:

I hope, with God's help, to measure up to the expectation that I have created. :-)

Wednesday, 19 November 2014

RFC Bible School 2015 - Open for Registration

2015 will see us running our Bible School for the second time. It's open to anyone at RFC who wants to know the WHOLE BIBLE better, but has either always felt daunted by the task or could never quite mobilise themselves to do it alone.

The nine session course will take place at the RFC Offices on the third Monday of the month (not including July, August or December). We'll start each evening with a pizza buffet at 7pm followed by two taught sessions delivered by one of the Bible School teaching team and finish around 9:30pm.

Whilst we, the team, plan to cover a lot of material, and there are some hard bits, we aim as best we can to pitch that material academically at GCSE / O-level standard. The sessions are as follows:

19th Jan: Approaching the Bible - What do we need to know about this book before we open it?
16th Feb: What's the point of the Bible? How the whole Bible points to the supremacy of Jesus Christ
16th Mar: Starting out - How Genesis 1-4 sets the scene for everything that follows
20th Apr: Leviticus - How the Law brings God near for both death and life
18th May: The Psalms and their Friends: How to learn wisdom from music and poetry
15th June: How the Prophets called the people back to Christ, their first love
21st Sept: How the gospels show us the glory of Jesus from different angles
19th Oct: Reading the New Testament letters in the shadow of Acts
16th Nov: Understanding Revelation - The Last Word, The New World and the Triumphant Love of the Living God

To whet your appetite, here is one of the sessions we (I) taught last year.

There are no formal written assignments in this course, but anyone who wishes to write something to consolidate / build on what they have learned is welcome to do so and will get feedback on it. But it goes without saying that the best way to understand the Bible beyond this course is to read it.

The cost of the course is £70, which is to cover the cost of our food, drink and course handouts over the nine sessions. However, we don't want cost to stop anyone from attending, so if you would like to participate, but finances are tight, bursaries are available - more information on request from the church office.

Book in via Eventbrite, but payment needs to be made via the church office.

Ideally we would like at least 20 people to sign up (it feels like a "proper" class size then), but will happily run it for whoever we get. Due to space issues, the maximum number we can take is 35.

Would love to see many of you there.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

Jesus prayed the Psalms, what did that look like? What does it look like for us when we do the same?

Down history, the church across the world has prayed the Psalms of the Bible. Not in a sugar-coated, fridge magnet Genie Jesus give me nice things way, but in the same way that Jesus used them - to strengthen their hearts.

As a good Jewish lad, he would have learned the Psalms, but when it comes to Jesus, there's more to it. He is the focus of that Psalm's fulfilment. The Psalms are a prophetic echo of Jesus prayer life.

So the next time you pick up a Psalm, ask yourself:
  • What would have been going through Jesus' mind as he read and prayed the Psalms? 
  • At what point was he in his ministry when Psalm [insert no. btw 1 & 150 here] would have come to mind?
So if we applied that principle to Psalm 3, what does it look like? No doubt, Jesus saw A LOT more depth and life than I do, but here's a starter for 10.

Firstly, Jesus tells his Father that he is falsely accused by his enemies.
Lord, how many are my foes!
How many rise up against me!
Many are saying of me,“God will not deliver him.”
Then, he entrusts himself to his heavenly Father  to protect, sustain and vindicate him.  He also looks to the Father as his glory - Jesus was not interested in promoting himself, but that everything he was and did in life would honour the Father and he looked to the Father to order his steps and deliver him from evil.
But you, Lord, are a shield around me,
my glory, the One who lifts my head high.
I call out to the Lord,
and he answers me from his holy mountain.
I lie down and sleep;
I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.
I will not fear though tens of thousands
assail me on every side.
Arise, Lord!
Deliver me, my God!
Strike all my enemies on the jaw;
break the teeth of the wicked.
From the Lord comes deliverance.
May your blessing be on your people.
So then, those who are united to Christ, who are in Christ and are now his hands and feet on the earth can pray these words with the same confidence that Jesus did when he prayed them, knowing that Jesus and his Father, through the Spirit will be just as faithful as the Father and the Spirit were to Jesus, for it is their heart to share all they have and are with us.