“How to reap your reward”: Hebrews 12, Acts 8

What it takes to inherit spiritual rewards, and how to live consistent with our faith in those rewards

It is easy to grow weary and lose heart in the Christian race.  Hebrews chapter 12 provides us with the inspiration of Jesus, and Acts chapter 8 provides us with the inspiration of the early Christians. In this lesson, I examine how their examples help us to not give in to the temptation to become weary and lose heart.

Thank you for watching and listening to this recording. Please leave a comment on anything you saw or heard.  We learn best when we learn in community.

Please pass the link to this recording on to one other person.

God bless, Malcolm

“Warnings and Promises from Hebrews”

The final class from the Hebrews teaching series 2018

In this final class we look at some of the warnings and promises in Hebrews.

Click for the Handout.

Please leave a comment with your own thoughts, or post a question.

“Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Heb 13.20-21

God bless, Malcolm

“Aspiring to Acts”

Summary lesson for our "Church Aspirations" series

As someone once said, “The Gospels produce acts”.   We take a look today at what the book of Acts shows us in connection with our five church aspirations. To be:

  1. God focused
  2. Relationship-based
  3. Enabling our children to become Christians
  4. Always free, yet spiritual
  5. Toiling to build the church well

The Scriptures used are in the attached handout: Aspirations summary sermon handout

Please leave a comment or question below. We learn best when we learn in community.

God bless, Malcolm

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“How to finish the race”, Hebrews chapter 12

Hebrews series 2018

What will it take to finish the Christian race? We take a look at the exhortations, warnings and inspiration in Hebrews chapter 12.

Thank you for watching and listening. You can find more episodes on the topic of spiritual disciplines here.

Please add your comments on this week’s topic. We learn best when we learn in community.

Do you have a question about personal spiritual growth? Is it theological, technical, practical? Send me your questions or suggestions. Here’s the email: malcolm@malcolmcox.org.

Have a super day, and some wonderful quiet times.

God bless,

Malcolm

“How To Have Fun in the Mist”

Quiet Time Coaching Episode 11: James 4.14 and combining memory verses

Fog of Life

Have you ever got lost in the fog? The fog of war is well-known. But what about the fog of life?
 

Dog in the Mist

Walking across Cassiobury Park this morning on my regular prayer walk I heard a man shouting. Shouting in the fog. I couldn’t see him, but I could hear him. Then, there he was. A shadowy outline in the mist. He pulled back his arm and threw something. It was then I noticed a smaller figure. It was his dog. The dog ran after the ball that had been thrown.
Then the man did something rather unexpected at 7 o’clock in the morning. He started laughing. While the dog was running after the ball in one direction, he took off in the opposite direction. I could see him running and hear him laughing. His dog picked up the ball, turned around and, in confusion, could not see its master. It soon heard him laughing and ran after him. I chuckled to myself as a former dog owner recognising this child-like desire to play games with one’s pet.
 
If you look really closely you might be able to see the man in the photograph.
 

Vanishing Mist

Mist can be an opportunity for fun. But it can also be an opportunity for soberness. As James wrote,
 
“Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.” (James 4:14 NIV11)
 
We don’t know about tomorrow. It may never come. As Jesus said,
 
“…do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” (Matthew 6:34 NIV11)
 

Misty Humility

We are a mist. James does not write this because we do not matter, but to prompt us to humility. A healthy Christian mindset carries an equal blend of security and humility. We are unquestionably loved more than we can imagine. We are also undoubtedly unloveable. At least in human terms.
 
How can we carry both the confidence of God’s love and the humility of our mistiness together in a healthy way?
 

Misty Momento

I’d suggest we take a leaf from conquering Roman Generals. When they returned from victorious campaigns the adoring crowds saw them paraded in a chariot. The General heard two ‘voices’. One was the adulation of the crowd cheering their name. The other was that of a slave whispering in the ear, “Memento homo (remember you are (only) a man).”
 
They heard legitimate praise and sobering advice at the same time. We need the same. Combining memory verses makes this possible. Put together two verses of the Bible. Here is one example:
 
Combine,
 
“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.” (John 15:9 NIV11),
 
with,
 
“clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but shows favour to the humble.”” (1 Peter 5:5 NIV11)
Thus the prayer could be, “Father, thank you for loving me as much as you love Jesus, help me to enjoy this love and to clothe myself with humility toward others, because you oppose the proud but show favour to the humble.”

Over to You

If you were going to combine two verses with these areas of focus, what would they be? Put together several combinations and commit them to memory. Recite them and pray them.
 
We may be in the mist. We may be the mist. But we’re laughing in the mist. Joyful in our mistiness because we know we’re loved. Rejoicing in being loved because we know we’re on our way to him.
 

Question

Have you tried this verse-combo practice? Which verses work for you?
 
Please leave a comment here so that we can all learn from one another. We learn best when we learn in community.
 
I hope you have a wonderful week of quality quiet times.
 
God bless, Malcolm
 

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The Weeping God

Luke 19.28-48

I’m preaching on Luke 19.28-48 tomorrow. What a corker! The verse central to the section is:

“As he approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it” (Luke 19:41 NIV11)

Jesus weeping. It’s not the first time (John 11.35) and he’s not the only one (Luke 7.13; 8.52; Romans 9.2-3) But why now? Why here? Is he weak? Is he controlled by his emotions? Are the tears motivated by regret, fear or horror? The word translated ‘weep” could equally be ‘wailed’. Jesus burst into sobbing. Something serious and meaningful is happening. But what? Let’s note three things:

  1. Jesus saw things as they really were. The crowd rejoiced (19.37), but Jesus wept. It was not that they should not rejoice, just that they could not see the bigger picture. How we all struggle with this. Are we willing to accept the reality of where we are in our faith, our relationships, our parenting, our marriage? Or are we so blind as to not see and admit where we are in the wrong, where we are weak, and where we need help? Are we also ready to accept the lostness of the world around us? We do not need to despair, but we do well to lament.
  2. Jesus lamented the lost opportunity. He did all he could to speak truth and act in love so as to convince people that the kingdom was coming/had come. Yet, the vast majority of the people who heard him, saw his miracles and felt his love did not respond. Jerusalem (city of peace) was to be a war zone in a few years. It’s ironic, but terribly sad, that the city of peace does not know how to enjoy peace. Has God put an opportunity before you to respond to his love? Take it while you can. You do not know how long you have.
  3. Jesus wept for others, not himself. The self-forgetfulness of Jesus is inspiring and, in fact, divine.¹ He was not weeping because he was to suffer and die in the city spread out before him. That would be reason enough, but his focus was not, and had never been, on himself. He knew God had a plan and, though it would be difficult, it was a good plan – for the the people he could help. How tragic, then, that those he longed to help and could help, are the very people rejecting such help. No wonder he wept!

Why is Jesus weeping? Because he saw things as they really were, because he longed to gather people to a place of peace with God, and because he knew how much he could help.

He did not weep every day, and neither should that be our goal, but a little weeping could go a long way to help us have the heart of Messiah.

God bless,

Malcolm

¹For more on this see Keller’s excellent short book:

Here’s just one quote, “The way the normal human ego tries to fill its emptiness and deal with its discomfort is by comparing itself to other people. All the time.” Jesus is so different, he feels no need to make comparisons. Instead, his energy is used for compassion.

“The Judge and the Lover” – A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

god-first
“The Judge and the Lover”

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

  • Preamble
    • Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.
  • Summary
    • Campbell argues that since God is interested in relationship above all, we do better to recognise him as lover first and judge second. His argument develops in a little over 100 pages divided into eight chapters, plus an overview and afterword. A devotional reflection on the events of Good Friday concludes the book. Whether you agree with his emphases, you will find much to stimulate a healthy reassessment of your view of God.
  • Body of the Book
    • If there is a theme scripture to the book it would be, “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins…We love because he first loved us.” 1 John 4.10,19 (NIV11). Campbell would have us find our motivation from the prospect of reward rather than the fear of punishment. Of course, fear can be a helpful motivator, but it is not a mature one (“The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” 1 John 4.18b NIV11). Although I do not recall him putting it in so many words, perhaps the Christian life is an on-going transition from a fear-dominated motivation to one dominated by love. This may depend on one’s starting point, character, personality, family and church upbringing and other factors. Yet, there is not much worth arguing about regarding becoming more and more ‘perfect’ or ‘complete’ (GK: teleioo) in love as we grow in Christ.
    • It must be pointed out that, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge,” Prov. 1.7 NIV11, (and many similar scriptures), hence defining ‘fear’ would be helpful. Campbell does not spend much time on this issue, and it might have helped some readers for him to have done so, since Jesus does not eschew fear as a helpful tool (see Luke 12.5).
    • Our words betray our views (Luke 6.45). I found fruitful reflection considering Campbell’s challenge to evaluate whether the words coming out of my mouth are consistent with the Bible’s description of God. Do I speak about a loving God as much as the Word does? When I speak of God, do I talk about Him as one with whom I have a relationship? Although the relationship is not exactly the same as human one, it must share some of the same language and focus. And, also important, do my actions match my words?
    • Campbell’s forthrightness is refreshing, as when he writes, “The funny thing is, of course, that an unconditionally loving God will only ask of us what is for our own good. But then, many of us are afraid of what might be best for us. Stupid, but true!” page 38. And he is correct in stating that we want intimacy with God, but fear it at the same time. Our relationship with God is just as complicated as any human relationship, indeed more so, since He will retain some elements of His mystery until the next life. How do we deal with this? Jesus is the one who, “can bridge that fearful gap between creature and creator.” p36
    • His portrayal of the atonement will relieve some and confuse others. It appears he is suggesting a Christus Victor and/or healing model and not allowing for the redemptive aspect of the cross, “The idea of redemption is burdened with the overtones of buying back and repayment. Love does not demand redemption; love forgives.  A loving God does not need to redeem us; a loving God forgives us.” p52. But God’s love is so intense that He will redeem (see Hosea). Is there not a place for both redemption and forgiveness as a gift? I remain a little unclear as to whether he is arguing almost completely against the concept of redemption, or simply considering that the issue of salvation, God’s love for us, is primary. The role of Jesus on the cross is not something he avoids, “The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world can be richly understood as removing all that blocks our acceptance of God’s love rather than as paying off the debt of sin.” p101 But, again, I’m not sure these issues are contradictory.
    • Chapter 8 on “The Mystery” is helpful in that it accepts the unknowable aspects of God as a challenge, while holding to the knowable as a reality. What we can and do know leads us to a place of desiring greater oneness with God, not less. This God has given us unconditional love, thus, “In accepting a loving God, we may be letting go of God the fixer.” p90 God may not ‘fix’ everything they way we want because his love for us is enough, and he is more interested in love than justice.
    • Some would argue with the assertion, “Christ’s incarnation is the central expression of God’s unconditional love of human life.” p99  A case can be made for the cross (and resurrection) as central, but that’s a discussion for another day.
  • Conclusion
    • A book written by a scholar, but wearing his intellect lightly. Much to be admired.
    • Personal stories and those about other people illustrate significant points. Some hit the mark for me and others missed, but that’s a personal choice.
    • In decrying the authoritarian interpretation of scripture, consequent distancing of God as a relational figure, justification of fear as a motivational agent and use of such fear to manipulate people, I applaud Campbell’s work. He writes persuasively on the theme of God as one who loves first, foremost and always.
    • Perhaps he overstates his case, not in arguing for the fulsomeness of God’s love, but for the inappropriateness of fear, and for a model of the atonement that appears to deny a direct connection between the cross and salvation.
    • “God first loved us” may be a help to anyone looking to grasp God’s love better. I made plenty of notes that refreshed my view of God, and the subsequent prayer times were deeper.

Malcolm Cox

www.malcolmcox.org

What we’re reading: “God First Loved Us”

god-first

 

A review of “God first loved us: the challenge of accepting unconditional love”, by Antony F. Campbell, S. J.

Which is primary? God as lover or God as judge? What does the Bible reveal, and how do we see it? The way we answer these questions has profound ramifications personally and collectively.

“Who’d be a hater?”

hateeg 300w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-768x576.jpeg 768w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001.jpeg 1024w, http://www.malcolmcox.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/11/Lk14.001-285x214.jpeg 285w" sizes="(max-width: 300px) 100vw, 300px" />My next sermon text is Luke 14.25-35 (Sunday 10.30AM, Laurance Haines School, Vicarage Road, Watford). What do you think of the first two verses?

“Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: “If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:25–26 NIV11)

There might not be a more controversial, hard-to-accept verse in the entire Bible.  What does it mean to ‘hate’ in the way Jesus intends? How can Jesus talk about hate in any positive sense?  Didn’t he tell us to, “Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you,” (Luke 6:27 NIV11) It’s in the same gospel. Is he contradicting himself? Well, we’ll look at this in more depth on Sunday, but for now let’s consider the following issues.

First, the word, “hate”. We need its cultural context. According to Kealy, Hebrew, “had no suitable words to express different shades of meaning. Thus words such as “love” and its opposite “hate”…were used to express the idea of preference.”¹ Hence we should not see this as a a call to literal hate, but more one where a preference of one over the other is involved.

But does God never hate? Yes, He does. He hates insincere worship:

“Your New Moon feasts and your appointed festivals I hate with all my being. They have become a burden to me; I am weary of bearing them.” (Isaiah 1:14 NIV11)

“I hate, I despise your religious festivals; your assemblies are a stench to me.” (Amos 5:21 NIV11)

With this understanding we can surmise that Jesus is saying, “Are you ‘all-in’? Are you ready to be fully committed, truly sincere?” This fits the following two parables (we’ll look at these in more detail another time). We cannot be divided in terms of who is first in our affections: “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.” (Luke 16:13 NIV11)

If we are to love all people (and loving our enemies must include our families even if they are also our enemies!), Jesus cannot be asking us to literally hate our families. So, what does he mean? Perhaps it is that the love one of his disciples has for him must be so strong  that the highest other human love is hatred by comparison (see also Matthew 10:37). In other words, Jesus comes first. Always. In everything.

Such an interpretation does not weaken the command. On the contrary, it strengthens it. We are called to a radical reordering of priorities. Our devotion to Jesus is so total and complete, so wholehearted and genuine that observers will see love for friends, family and things as hatred in comparison. This is not so much a call to remove love for family as a call to ensure love for Jesus is so hot that all other loves we have are cold by comparison.

How do we sustain this love? Recall that eternal life is on offer: “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (John 12:25 NIV11) As well as many other great and special promises: “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come eternal life.” (Luke 18:29–30 NIV11)

More reflections on this passage will be coming later in the week. But, for now, what are your thoughts on this passage? How do interpret the “hate” Jesus is talking about?  How do explain it when talking to other people? I’d like to hear your ideas. Please drop me a line via email, or leave a comment on this blog

God bless,

Malcolm

 

¹Kealy, C.S.Sp, Seán. Freedman, David Noel, Allen C. Myers, and Astrid B. Beck, eds. Eerdmans Dictionary of the Bible.