You’re eating the seeds!!

MDG : Seed : Plowing a field and sowing seeds in Ethiopia

 

 

10 Now he who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. 11 You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God. 2 Corinthians 9 v 6-15

God gives bread for food and seed to sow.

How do we know the difference?

What happens if we eat what we should be sowing?

If you eat what you should be sowing there will be no harvest & you’ll likely become fat.

The problem is trusting the sowing process…

To the untrained or sceptical eye sowing looks a lot like throwing the seed away – the response might easily be,

What are you doing you could be eating that!!

Yet to the farmer who has learned to trust the process, sowing is the exact opposite of throwing seed away. The seed is being multiplied..

The promise to the faithful sower is multiplied seed (in order to sow again) and a harvest of righteousness.

Zambia & Zimbabwe May 2013 (part 1)

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This was the 5 consecutive year we’ve visited our friends in Zambia. It was the first time I’ve travelled into Zimbabwe & I was expecting to experience a whole new level of poverty. From what I had heard and read Zimbabwe was Africa’s basket case. It was a great surprise to find a Zimbabwe unrecognisable from the descriptions we’d heard. Maybe it’s because we travelled down from Zambia (a 15 hour drive from Lusaka to Harare) and the Zimbabwean roads were SO much better than the Zambian ones.

Apparently abandoning the $ZM and the subsequent adoption of the $US boosted the economy simply by ending the hyper-inflation which had strangled the economy for so long.

The latest economic challenge is the difficulty controlling the outflow of $US from Zimbabwe. As it’s an international currency it’s impossible to monitor (no need to exchange it in order to export it). The thought is that millions are exiting the country.

We spent a week in Resthaven retreat just outside Harare with about 15 Zambian pastors teaching on subjects like ‘The Church’, ‘Leadership’ & ‘Grace’. The is immense benefit in spending an extended time together away form the distractions of your own church & town. These guys are working incredibly hard in circumstances so different from my own.. It is inspiring and humbling to observe their lives and catch some of their faith.

I’ll write more about other aspects of our trip at a later date.

Abel

The joke goes like this

How Long did Cain hate his brother?

As long as he was Abel

Not much of a joke really, not for Abel anyway.

Hebrews tells us that Abel’s offering to God was accepted and Cain’s wasn’t.

By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead.

Hebrews 11 v 4

But the issue wasn’t the substance of his offering but the attitude in which it was given. Abel made an offering in faith Cain didn’t.

Abel gave believing that He was and would receive his gift.

And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Cain was given opportunity to repent and told that his repentance would be accepted and relationship restored. Instead his anger lead him to sin and murder, separation and judgement.

We can think of faith as an elusive and etherial thing, here in Hebrews we have 17+ stories of people who lived a life full of faith.

They orientated their lives around God, their decisions were made believing in His promises. This faith was cemented in action.

Cain failed to understand this at the entry point and it cost him his relationship with God.

5 easy lessons…

pharisee

Jesus most stinging attacks were reserved for the Pharisees. They should have been leading the people to a gracious God instead they presided over a system which prevented intimacy with God.

We need to consider who this group equates to in our experience, my tenancy is to point an accusing finger at others rather than search my own heart for these attitudes.

In mind of some sober self examination here are some attitudes to watch out for.

1. Majoring on external rather than internal issues.

5 “Everything they do is done for men to see: They make their phylacteries[a] wide and the tassels on their garments long;6they love the place of honor at banquets and the most important seats in the synagogues;7 they love to be greeted in the marketplaces and to have men call them ‘Rabbi.’

Matthew 23 v 5-7

 

  • Living by the rules rather than out of relationship with God.
  • Taking pride in your rule keeping.
  • The tendency then is to expect others to do the same.
  • Living outside in, rather than inside out.
  • Needing to have your ‘Righteous acts’ or ‘good works’ seen by others.

TEST YOURSELF – Bless someone this week in such a way that no-one else will ever know.

2. Over-react to failure.

  • There is a difference between perfectionism & excellence
  • The pursuit of excellence is admirable and worthy
  • The trouble with perfectionism is that for the perfectionist nothing is ever good enough. Its exhausting and demoralizing.
  • It can expose the underlying fear that God really isn’t pleased with you.
  • It’s a misunderstanding of the gospel
  • It starts with us – we tend to expect it of others – nothing is ever truly praiseworthy
  • We always find something wrong
  • UNDERLYING ISSUE We feel we are not really praiseworthy.

TEST YOURSELF – Go out of your way to praise someone without finding fault.

3. Unforgiveness & Impatience

  • It’s almost impossible to forgive others until you’ve experienced forgiveness yourself.
  • The Pharisees didn’t acknowledge any personal need to be forgiven.
  • Here was then thing – the Law, the prophets indeed all of Israel’s history was given to lead the Israelites to Jesus, so they would recognize him when he appeared.

3 So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? 4 Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?

5 But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.

Romans 2 v 3-5

 

  • True too for Christians raises and Christians, not supposed to lead to pride but kindness.
  • Younger brother or older brother, in the famous parable the older brother never understands the grace his father exercises towards the younger brother. He tries to justify his own position in the family based on his behaviour. This cannot ever work – For it is by grace you are saved…not of yourselves.

 

TEST YOURSELF

- Forgive someone who doesn’t deserve it.

- Pray God’s blessing on someone you struggle wit

4. Hand in hand with unforgiveness goes Judging others.

  • Some confusion with this whole issue lets try and clear it up.

There are too types of judging and one is good, right and Biblical.

  1. This guy is in trouble – how can we help?. Jesus knowing our condition reaches out to help, giving himself for the sinner.
  2. A judgmental attitude with looks down it’s nose at sin & failure in others offering no hope of redemption. The enemy only ever condems. There is never hope of forgiveness or a better day.
  • They start in the same place but finish very differently.
  • One reaches out the other despises.
And Finally…

5. Humorless Christianity. – nothing less attractive

  • You don’t get the impression that the Pharisees were a bundle of laughs.

8 But about the Son he says,

“Your throne, O God, will last for ever and ever,
and righteousness will be the scepter of your kingdom.
9 You have loved righteousness and hated wickedness;
therefore God, your God, has set you above your companions
by anointing you with the oil of joy.”[a]

Hebrews 1 v 8-9

 

  • Jesus was the life and soul of the party. Children loved his company
  • Christians can be pretty silly sometimes, we get all worked up over insignificant things are forget life is given to ‘richly enjoy’
  • Don’t take yourself too seriously.

TEST YOURSELF – laugh at yourself

 

Rich Towards God

worshipper

If an unthinking adherence to consumerism is about external issues, which ultimately fails to satisfy, then worshipping God is the cure.

Worship is devotion to something or someone.

True worship, as defined by Jesus

…true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

John 4 v 23-24

Worship is not about a place or a style, yet much discussion happens surrounding both. When we worship we give ourselves to God, handing over our rights and desires. Our heart cries ‘I’m on your side!!’ 

5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength

Deuteronomy 6 v 4-6

Worship is also about understanding and intention. Not just a strong feeling. If it’s the true worship Jesus is talking about it will involve:

all our heart

all our soul

all our strength

True worship will spill out from the heart in expressions of devotion, activity, actually doing something.

A good question to ask is:

What am I doing which expresses my love for God?

Some answers from the bible include:

  1. Serving others
  2. Loving the poor
  3. Reaching out to strangers
  4. Blessing God’s people
  5. Giving money/time to advance God’s kingdom
  6. Being a good Husband/Wife
  7. Honouring your parents

What can you add?

More….

consumerism

Consumerism is a social and economic order that is based on the systematic creation and fostering of a desire to purchase goods and services in ever greater amounts.

Our church had a gift day this Sunday, as gift days go it was a bit of a barn-stormer. The amazing thing is that most of it is going to be given away, beyond the normal running of our church life. Even as we have been processing the gift decisions have been made to pay for the apprenticeship of a young Zambian who wants to become a pharmacist.

The cultural backdrop we face in the UK is consumerism. We joked on Sunday about the ubiquitous demands our society makes on us to consume more and more, to put ‘things’ on the need list that are actually, firmly, on the want list.

Adverts are the sharp edge of consumerism’s evangelical zeal.

Probably the cleverest adverts sell us things we already get for free – water is the most obvious of these.

4.-preview-evian_water_ad_b

I wonder if future generations will marvel at our willingness to pay enormous sums for water which comes, free, from the taps.

I guess the message must be – What you already have isn’t good enough – and therefore:

  • you need this
  • your life isn’t complete without this
  • you’re house isn’t really clean without this
  • you can’t be cool without this
  • you’ll be a better mother if your kids eat this
  • you’ll look sophisticated if you drink this
  • you’ll be comfortable if you have this
  • you’ll be happy if you smell like this
  • people will want to have sex with you if you own this

It is a lie… it doesn’t deliver…. it only serves it’s self

Jesus told this story

13 Someone in the crowd said to him, “Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.”

14 Jesus replied, “Man, who appointed me a judge or an arbiter between you?”15 Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

16 And he told them this parable: “The ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.17 He thought to himself, ‘What shall I do? I have no place to store my crops.’

18 “Then he said, ‘This is what I’ll do. I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods.19 And I’ll say to myself, “You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy; eat, drink and be merry.”’

20 “But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life will be demanded from you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself?’

21 “This is how it will be with anyone who stores up things for himself but is not rich toward God.”

 

Luke 12 v 13-21

Next time we’ll look at being rich towards God.

Fishers of men

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This is Sam, our youngest son, doing a fine job of fly fishing.

It’s something of a running joke in our family that to use the term ‘fisherman’ you actually have to produce some fish. The more accurate phrase for the fishless is ‘casterman’. This is made all the more painful considering my track record of late.

 18 As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. 19 “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” 20 At once they left their nets and followed him.

Matthew 4 v 18-20 

Jesus said ‘follow me and I will make you’ those fishermen understood what he was talking about. I wonder how they would have reacted if he had said ‘give me your hearts’? I suspect they wouldn’t have understood that he was talking about – I don’t think men today do either.

 

God speaks

I was walking to work a few weeks ago, it’s a very pleasant walk past thatched cottages and low, white, typically Devonshire buildings. As I tend to do when I’m walking I was praying about the day ahead. I got to asking God what success would look like for our church over the next five years. I guess I was pretty much on autopilot and so when someone acting strangely caught my eye I didn’t break stride and headed on my merry way to work.

I’m pleased to say I didn’t get much further before I realised I couldn’t just walk on happily praying while someone was struggling.

It turned out to be a homeless man in need of medical attention. It was a source of satisfaction and a great practical help that we have people in the church who are far more able than me to respond in such situations & so we were able to help.

It wasn’t until later in the day that I managed to connect the dots…

4 Sing to God, sing in praise of his name, 
   extol him who rides on the clouds[b]
   rejoice before him—his name is the LORD. 
5 A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, 
   is God in his holy dwelling. 
6 God sets the lonely in families,[c] 
   he leads out the prisoners with singing; 
   but the rebellious live in a sun-scorched land.

Psalm 68

Jesus is astonishing, he chose to make friends with those who were despised and rejected. He hung out with “tax collectors and sinners”  and they felt completely at home in his company.

My question and the answer to my prayer of that particular morning is this..

If Jesus was surrounded with people like this and if our church is full of middle class people with middle class friends…. who are we following?

 

 

Zambia Leaders 2011 – Lusaka

Friendship is universal.

I remember Simon Pettit saying that all kinds of cultural differences could be covered with a broad smile and a warm embrace. These last few days here in Lusaka have been full of both. 30 church leaders from each of the 9 Zambian provinces have just met together for 4 days of teaching, encouragement, prayer and friendship. Those thirty men represent hundreds of churches across the nation. As we have talked together over the last week the overwhelming response has been a deep appreciation of the values and friendship we have come to love as Newfrontiers.

There have been many groups and streams pass through Zambia in the last 20 years, some have been a blessing others not so much. Few have offered genuine friendship and love with a deep desire to partner for the gospel.

I had the joy of preaching on grace for 2 hours as an opening to the conference. So many here have been denied an expansive understanding of grace fuelled by the fear that ‘the people’ will run wild if you don’t tell them exactly how they should behave. If that doesn’t make you angry, it should!

Paul writes to Titus saying.

11 For the grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. 12 It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright and godly lives in this present age, 13 while we wait for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, 14 who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify for himself a people that are his very own, eager to do what is good.

Titus 2

Guess what it works for Africans too.

I spent the last part of the conference sitting with a young american missionary worker who was been sent to Zambia. He comes from a conservative, cessationists, church background. A few months ago he was filled with the Holy Spirit and has seen some incredible miracles. On a recent trip to a remote town (chikankata) a girl was dramatically released from a demonic stronghold which led to many in the village renouncing their faith in spirits and turning to Christ. In a pretty dramatic way the wineskin this young man has been in for a very long time has burst and he has got into some considerable trouble as a result. His eyes lit up as we talked about a NT model of church life with the Holy Spirit welcome and active. So his question ‘can you help us’ came from a deep need for friendship and partnership. I gave the only answer I could, ‘lets be friends and see what God does’ ….. I can’t wait to see what God does.

God is working right across Zambia, it has been a privilege to be part of what He continues to do…

42…

Today is my 42nd birthday. According to ‘The Hitchhikers guide to the Galaxy’ the number 42 is the answer to Life the Universe and Everything.

I guess the quest for answers is one of the prime driving forces behind much human endeavour.

1. Why am I here?

2. What is life all about?

3. What should I do?

Jesus, aware of the way these questions dominate human thinking, provides a surprising answer which would have stunned and possibly angered his hearers.

I am the way, the truth and the life.

These few words have proved life transforming for millions of people for over 2000 years. I have, as of today, believed them for 38 years. I’m more convinced today that they are true then I ever have been, and I remain determined to live my next 42 years in the light they cast them.