Friday, 22 January 2016

FIGHT: for joy

Scripture
In your presence is fullness of joy and at your right hand are pleasures evermore. -- Psalm 16:11
Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. -- Psalm 37:4
Though you do not see him you love him and you believe in him and you are filled with inexpressible joy. -- 1 Peter 1:8 
Observation

The Christian life involves a fight. We've been looking at that concept together now for several weeks. We are told to stand against the devil and his demons and to not be unaware of the Enemy's schemes against us. We can't pretend like we're living during peacetime, we're not.

As a Christian I believe God wants me to be happy and, since he wants for me to be happy, I have a responsibility to fight for my joy and contentment. Consider the scriptures we've just read. God is happy, overflowing with and possessing joy evermore, pleasures in abundance. We as Christians share in his joy. Peter describes the experience of Christians everywhere when he says 'although you haven't seen him face to face, in the flesh, you love him and... are filled with inexpressible joy.'

Let's consider a few facts about God and joy:

  1. FACT: God is happy. 'Whatever the Lord pleases, he does,' Psalm 135:6
  2. FACT: Jesus is happy, 'God has anointed you with the all of gladness above your companions.' Hebrews 1:9
  3. FACT: We are made to know God. 'All can know you from the least, to the greatest.' Hebrews 8:11
  4. FACT: Knowing God makes us happy '...filled with inexpressible joy.' (see above)
  5. FACT: Sin offers the pleasure and happiness we were made to find in God. Deuteronomy 28 for example.
With that in place the question becomes 'how do I seek my happiness in God, who is the eternal and ongoing source of joy, rather than in the fleeting and shallow pleasures of sin?' Now, that's a good question.

We've shared before as elders about ways that we seek joy in God. Andrew calls it 'joy fuel' (or #joyfuel if you prefer).

Some of the things Andrew's got on his list of 'how to fight for joy in God' are:
  1. Put Jesus before church/ministry. Make bread & wine a regular activity in your life.
  2. Use electronic media wisely. Avoid the sites and places that rob you of joy and instead find blogs and video clips that lift your spirits rather than drain them.
  3. Get the relationship between body and soul the right way round. As the body behaves, the soul often feels. We dance our way into delight rather than waiting to delight in God before we dance. God deserves our noise, our kneeling, our clapping and our cheering. We give it to him, and our soul is reminded and responds with joy.
  4. Read the scriptures. Don't be intimidated by the size of the Bible as a book. 'Bite off' small chunks if it helps and spend time reflecting on them until the light of revelation floods you with joy. 
  5. Fast sometimes. To fast means 'to fasten ourself to God' and clinging fast to him gives us more of him; and he is happy.  
  6. Speak positively. Words have the power to create or to destroy. As the mouth speaks, the heart believes.
  7. Get baptised in the Spirit again and again. Wait on God's Spirit, until he fills you. Being baptised means to be 'plunged into'. When you were baptised in water, you knew about it. When you're baptised in the Spirit, you know about it. 
Which one's can you identify with, pick up and apply to your life as they are? Go for it. Fight for joy. Don't settle for drinking from puddles when God has promised rivers of living water to flow out from your inmost being. 

Weekly Challenge

This week, your challenge is to come up with you own list of what you could do and where you could go to get happy in God. Is it a regular meeting with a close friend? If so, schedule it in. Is it a private Bible study? If so, schedule it in. 

We do not get to know God accidentally, we do not get happy in God without meaning to. 

Find out what makes you happy in God and make a habit out of it. 

Try starting with a list of 5 things, five pieces of #joyfuel if you will. Then, if you're really serious about joy, think of some activities that correspond to particular 'rhythms' or 'seasons' in your life. Try thinking of 2 weekly, 2 monthly and 2 annual activities you could do. For me, that would look like:

Weekly:
1. At least 3 mornings of Bible journalling and prayer
2. Praying with Amy at least 3 times a week

Monthly:
1. Spend time with a good friend who makes me laugh and encourages me
2. Go on a prayer walk in the countryside

Annual:
1. Fast from food for a day or two (usually during the Hunger rhythms at Kings)
2. Have a holiday where a switch off all phones and computers

What would it look like for you? 

Have fun. Seriously, have fun!

Thursday, 7 January 2016

Essence: Rescued

Scripture

Following on from Sunday's message, today's Bible reading is Colossians 1:13-14.
He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14 in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.
 Observation

Tim Peake made history recently when he became the first British ESA astronaut to visit the international space station. On 15 December 2015 at 11:03am he took off on board the Soyuz TMA-19M en route to the International Space Station where he'll remain for 6 months performing experiments on behalf of researchers on Earth.

The weightlessness being experienced by Peake must be a strange and remarkable reality to get used to. I heard one commentator mention that astronauts new to the space station spend much of their time in the first few days losing things. Their belongings simply don't stay put any more, but instead seem to take on a life of their own floating away from wherever they're left. For this reason instruments have velcro on them in order to be easily stuck on to an astronaut's space suit. The simple fact is that in space different rules apply to those on Earth. In weightless conditions human beings need to learn to live by a new reality.

A similar dynamic is true for us as Christians. As followers of Jesus our identity has changed. We no longer live by the old identity and the old rules. Before we were believers we lived in the 'domain of darkness', whereas now we are in the 'kingdom of God's beloved Son.' Before, we were enemies of God whereas now we are friends and sons/daughters, coheirs with Christ and members of Christ's body. A similar relearning process needs to take place to that undergone by the astronauts.

This week we're considering the idea that we are rescued ones. Just as Tim Peake needed to be inside a vehicle for transportation out of gravity's reach and into weightlessness, so we needed rescuing out of darkness being unable to help ourselves. We could not and cannot save ourselves. Prior to becoming Christians we are bound by the power of satan, sin and death and there's nothing we can do about it. Powerless, we live separated from God under the restrictions of darkness's domain. And there's nothing we could ever do to get free from it. This is worth stating again; there's NOTHING we can do to get free by ourselves. 

No amount of moral effort or energy and no amount of religious observances, of church attendance or fasting, can set us free from this domain. Any attempts to do so simply don't appreciate the severity of our condition. It's as foolish as thinking you can reach the moon by jumping off a high tower. In gravity's domain you need something more than hard work to break free. Gravity bound earthlings need a space craft to be free from its control and for those in the realm of darkness, a saviour is needed. A rescuer needed to come and, praise God, a rescuer has come. As Isaiah promised long ago 'On those living in a land of deep darkness, a light has come.'

Jesus came to rescue all those who are willing to admit that they need it. He has come to take us out of darkness and bring us into light. Today as you go about your day, remember - you needed rescuing, you could not save yourself and as such you need to remain humbly dependent upon the saviour. We never graduate beyond being a rescued one.

Weekly Challenge

Scripture is an essential guide for helping us live in the good of our newfound rescue. It makes sense then, that we give ourselves to learning it and being shaped by it. Becoming familiar with truth doesn't happen accidentally. Spend this week reciting daily the following statements that relate to our identity in Christ:
In Christ I am God's child (John 1:12)
In Christ I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
In Christ I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self control (2 Timothy 1:7)
In Christ I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)
In Christ I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
In Christ I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8)
In Christ I am a saint (Col. 1:1)

Wednesday, 6 January 2016

A Sword For the Fight

Scripture : Today's full reading can be found here
10 Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might... 16 In all circumstances take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one; 17 and take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God, 18 praying at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication. 
Observation:

Paul concludes his letter to the Ephesians with an instruction to put on spiritual armour. After all he's communicated to the church about the Christian life, about their position in Christ, about their need to be filled with the Spirit and about how they are to prize unity he concludes by saying, essentially '...and don't forget, it's a fight!' 

In this fight we're given metaphorical armour to help us: Faith is like a shield, righteousness becomes like a breastplate, salvation a helmet. It has often be pointed out that all of the equipment we're given to help us in this struggle is defensive and protective; all of it that is apart from one item, the sword of the Spirit. The sword of the Spirit, we're told, is the word of God. The one thing that can help us gain ground and not simply stand it, is scripture; the Bible, the good Book, God's word.  

I was reminded of this recently when praying through something I was struggling with. I have become quite good at trying to reason with my anxiety. I'll analyse facts in cold blood, I'll discuss what I'm worrying about with others, and I'll attempt to pick apart negative thought patterns and reduce them in size. All the while failing at actually picking them apart and reducing them in size. While praying (or worrying aloud as it often becomes) it struck me how little I was using the truth of scripture to help me in my struggle. I was essentially trying to break apart a mountain using only plastic hammer and chisel. It wasn't working and neither could I expect it to. Reason doesn't have anything like the power that scripture does. 

Jesus when tested and tempted by the Devil in the wilderness (here) didn't try to win the argument or reason the Enemy into a corner. Instead he leaned on and trusted in the power of scripture to help him. Read it for yourself and you'll notice the repeating statement of Jesus 'it is written.' The devil tempted him with self sufficiency and independence from God and he replied with 'it is written...'. The enemy offered him success over his enemies, fame and glory and he replied 'it is written...'.

If Jesus leant on scripture this way, then I need to as well - and so do you. You cannot flourish as a believer without it, you cannot withstand the onslaught of the enemy or even the onslaught of your own sinful desires without it. We need to lean on and trust in the same truth that Jesus trusted in. And the promise comes that as we draw near to God 'he will draw near to us' and as we resist the devil 'he will flee from us.'

Weekly Challenge

Since scripture is so essential it makes sense that we give ourselves to learning it and being shaped by it. Becoming familiar with truth doesn't happen accidentally. Spend this week reciting daily the following statements that relate to our identity in Christ:
In Christ I am God's child (John 1:12)
In Christ I belong to God (1 Corinthians 6:20)
In Christ I have not been given a spirit of fear, but of power, love and self control (2 Timothy 1:7)
In Christ I am born of God and the evil one cannot touch me (1 John 5:18)
In Christ I am holy and blameless (Ephesians 1:4)
In Christ I am forgiven (Ephesians 1:8)
In Christ I am a saint (Col. 1:1)