With so much attention these days on mega-churches, it’s easy to forget that the vast majority of churches around the world are actually quite small, and many of them are actually struggling for existence from week to week (like the church at Philadelphia). In today’s passage we see what Christ has to say to these dear people, and His words are filled with love and encouragement. It is a clear reminder that ‘church’ is not all about size, numbers, budgets…
Evangelism is the kind of topic that often induces fear into the hearts of Christians – even mature Christians. Yet it is something that we are all called to – Acts 1:8 tells us that we are all called to be Jesus’ witnesses to the world. We often fall down in this area because we lack confidence. Some of us are just not outgoing people, we have different levels of biblical knowledge, and others of us have a real fear of rejection and don’t want to feel a sense of failure if the person we share our faith with reject Jesus. So how are we to overcome these reasons for our lack of evangelism? How are we to evangelise with real confidence? The beginning of Acts tells us that we can have confidence, but not in ourselves! Instead we can have confidence in our message, in the power behind the mission, and in the success of the mission.
The Israelites find themselves as captives in another land and they are afraid. God reminded them through Isaiah his prophet that they had no need to fear because he is the supreme God, they are his people, he is with them. He is their God, who loves them and will go to extreme lengths to free them. An encouragement to us knowing that through Jesus we are God’s people also, his children in fact (John 1:10-14). And he has gone to the most extreme length to free us also (John 3:16).
The physical resurrection of Jesus raises all sorts of questions. First of all: Did it happen? And there have been many books written by experts in support of the biblical claims. Today’s message assumes the resurrection as a fact. But the second big question logically follows: Why does it matter? Pastor Murray helpfully spells out five key reasons why, all of which go to the heart of the Christian faith. As the apostle Paul puts it: If Christ has not been raised our faith is futile… we are still in our sins… we are without hope… and we are of all people most to be pitied (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). It really does matter enormously what we believe about the resurrection!
What do we make of a guy like Judas? He would have to be one of the most demonised characters in the whole Bible… an example of evil personified! Or is he? In this message Pastor Murray helps us see that in so many ways Judas is a person who is just like us. He was a sinner, who gave in to temptation, then failed Jesus in an act of callous betrayal. But who of us has never been guilty in this way? Judas’s real failure was that he never went to Jesus, even while hanging on the cross, to say “sorry” and ask for His forgiveness, which Jesus would have gladly given. That was the tragedy of his sad life! By the way, is this a moment when you need to say “sorry” for betraying Jesus in some way?
We build our lives on a firm foundation by putting into practice the words of Jesus.
To identify publicly as a Christian can be risky business. For a start, many of our friends and even family, may think we are fools. Generally this is because of the message we believe (about Jesus, his death on the cross, salvation by grace etc.) or the life (and lifestyle) that Christ calls us to live. To many people, these don’t make sense. Why would intelligent, self-sufficient people believe in such a fanciful message about a dying Saviour, and then submit their lives to Him as Lord? But that’s the genius of the Christian gospel! In His wisdom God chooses to use these so-called foolish things to shame those who think they are wise by human standards. Still today the fool says in his heart, “There is no God” (Psalm 14:1).
There has been much debate about the subject of worship in the past 40 years. But what is worship and what does it look like? In this psalm we are given three specific ways to worship and each of them flows from a life that has encountered God on a very personal level. True worship should produce joy, humility and obedience in the life of a believer. Are they evident in your worship? Of course, congregational singing is one aspect of worship, but let’s take the much bigger view that Psalm 95 urges us to do.
A well-documented clinical diagnosis these days is what is known as the “Peter Pan Syndrome”. Peter Pan is the fictional character who never grew up. He lived in a fantasy world where he was the centre of attention and could do whatever he liked. Sadly, there is a Christian equivalent. Christians who never seem to move beyond spiritual infancy. In this message, Pastor Murray challenges us to see how God wants us to be growing in our faith, always going on towards full maturity in Christ.
As we start a new year, it’s good to think about what our priorities are. What guiding principles will inform what we do with our time, energy, money etc. this year? The book of Haggai is the word of the Lord, through the prophet Haggai, to the people of Jerusalem in 520BC. They are rebuilding the city destroyed decades earlier by the Babylonians, but they are focused on building their own houses rather than God’s house – the temple. God challenges their priorities. Likewise, we must ask ourselves, ‘When there are lots of opportunities, how will I choose what’s best to do?’ ‘When I face great challenges, what will be most important to me?’ And we will learn that it is better to prioritise God’s glory ahead of our own comfort and success.
How does God want us to live in 2018? The book of Ecclesiastes seriously questions the meaning of life. In so many ways life can be monotonous, unpredictable and unsatisfying… without God. But when we bring God into the picture and live a life of faith, that’s a very different story! This is a life of enterprise, risk, hard work and satisfaction. As we grasp the opportunities God gives and trust Him for the outcomes, we find the sense of purpose and the joy to get up each morning. Yes – there are many variables in life that we cannot control. But knowing the God who does control theses variables makes all the difference! May you experience “life to the full” as you trust God in the year ahead!