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19th July 2015
The kingdom of God comes in very ordinary ways. In Matthew 13:31-33, Jesus explains that the kingdom of God is like a mustard seed: although it's the smallest of all seeds, it grows, very slowly, into the biggest tree. Similarly, Jesus likens the kingdom of God to "a leaven that a woman took and hid in three batches of flour, until it was all leavened".
The kingdom of God is mostly very ordinary – which is brilliant news!
God loves ordinary life, but Satan hates it. We need to think more like God in this area. Look at what he created in Genesis 1-2: days, nights, land, plants, animals, sex, eating, drinking, travel, work, family. And he said that it was good. The snake said, "It's not enough! Boring! Aim higher! Eat this, and you'll be like God!"
The majority of the world follows the snake, always wanting to be anything but ordinary. We want life-changing. Dramatic. Explosive. Breakthrough. Extreme. 'Everything is Awesome!'
The problem is, the Church often looks more like the snake and the world than it looks like God. In Christian mass media, we constantly see '10 keys to X' or '7 ways to transform Y'. Everyone wants a dramatic testimony; no-one wants to say: "I grew up in a Christian family and kept going." Yet many of us can say, "I started trusting Jesus as a child, and although Satan has been trying to take me out for 25 years, through doubt, suffering, opposition and fear, God has kept me safe."
As churches, we need to be aware of how easily we're drawn to the Next Big Thing: everything from contemporary music to the way churches are run. There's nothing wrong with these, but we need to reject 'microwave Christianity': press, wait, ping! Instead, we have the ordinary woman who gets up, clears the stuff out of her eyes, makes tea, reads the Bible for 10 minutes, shares the gospel sometimes, repents of sin quickly and goes to church.
We need to embrace the ordinary for three reasons.
Firstly, it helps us to avoid being distracted by the exceptional. Exceptional moments are just that: exceptions. We are shaped by a culture that overvalues the exceptional. In the media, everything has to be new to retain interest – the election results are already out of date! The same is true of celebrity culture, where we value unusual people.
It's easy to get distracted and constantly look for quotable, marketable, soundbite experiences. Even in our Christian life, we look for conferences, high points, breakthroughs; not many prophecies say, "You're going to live an ordinary life, loving God and your neighbour, for 70 years."
Essentially, it's immature living: children are drawn to novelty, but adults can keep focused on the same thing for a long time. A lot of damage can be caused when we expect the exceptional. It can make you feel like a failure if it doesn't come. It can bring burnout. It lets people down by putting others on pedestals. Tragically, it can breed cynicism, not faith. By promising so much and not delivering, people can get weary. Rejoicing in the ordinary stops us from getting distracted.
Secondly, we need to embrace the ordinary because is helps us to honour the power of the everyday. It's hugely counter-cultural, but that's how the kingdom of God grows. It's like a seed turning into a tree; like yeast spreading through a loaf; like wheat getting taller.
Everything from evangelism to family, giving to spirituality, even church, works through faithfulness in forming everyday habits. One philosopher described showing God's love as "a long obedience in the same direction".
A lot of what happens in our lives isn't very memorable – how many memorable breaths or meals or drinks have you had? – but these are the most important parts of our lives. It was one of the greatest contributions to the Protestant Reformation: while the Roman Catholics emphasised the magical and mystical, the Reformers loved ordinary life – streetsweepers, mothers, retirees and peasants alike. Today, we need to learn that embracing the ordinary helps us to honour the power of the everyday.
Finally, we need to rejoice in the ordinary because it helps us to remember the gospel. In all the impatience of the contemporary church, there is a real risk that we forget that Jesus has already done it – it's not about us trying to do more.
Take the metaphor of fire. Christians often use this word to describe things we do: passion, zeal, evangelistic fervour, devotion to holiness. As the song says, "This girl is on fire!" But in the Bible, the fire is God's, not ours. Jeremiah 23:29 and Hebrews 12:29 make it clear that He's the fire – we're just the fuel.
Again, in John 15, Jesus says: "I'm the vine, you're just branches. Stay right there, and you'll be fruitful." The fruit depends on him – I just have to stay where I am! In other words, don't just do something, stand there. Embracing the ordinary helps us to remember the gospel – that He has done it. It is finished.
None of this is to undermine prayer, mission, social justice, worship, or loving our neighbours. Far from it! It actually strengthens all of those things by reminding us that all of life – ordinary, everyday, humdrum life – is significant.
We musn't live as if any new programme, project, diet or initiative is the Next Big Thing. As Horton puts it, "The Next Big Thing is the return of Christ!"
Posted by Andrew Wilson
14th June 2015
When you read the gospels, you become impressed with the life that Jesus led, but unimpressed with the lives of the disciples! They were not an impressive band of brothers – when their leader was arrested, they scattered and ran away! Yet there was an extraordinary turning point that led to these very unimpressive guys into powerful and courageous exploits.
The turning point was the Holy Spirit coming and filling the disciples. They would have known about the Holy Spirit already from the Scriptures – we read in the Old Testament about people such as David, Gideon, Samson, Moses and others being empowered and enabled by the Spirit. They were ordinary people who did extraordinary things when the Spirit came upon them.
So when Jesus told the disciples to wait – to not even start – until they had power, they would have had some knowledge of what He was saying to them. The prophet Joel had said hundreds of years before that the outpouring of the Spirit would, in the days to come, no longer be reserved for special people, such as kings and priests, but would be for all people, for sons and daughters. There was going to be a supernatural dimension that would make this an unprecedented, broad experience for the least to the greatest.
We live in that time now: today, we can know God at home, we can know Him in the supermarket, we can know Him wherever we are, because the Spirit has come – the same Spirit who transformed the disciples from being ineffective and scared to courageous and powerful.
We can look at the day of Pentecost and wonder where we fit in and how it relates to us. Was it just for those disciples because they walked with Jesus? For the rest of us, is there anything more after we have been saved? We read in Acts 8:12-17 that there was a group of Christians who had not received the Holy Spirit – there was a delay between their moment of conversion and their baptism in the Spirit. The Apostle Paul was converted on the Damascus road, but wasn’t filled with the Spirit until three days later (see Acts 9:17). Likewise, a group of disciples in Ephesus weren’t filled with the Spirit until Paul laid hands on them (Acts 19).
There was a supernatural dimension that followed the laying on of hands. The teaching that says you receive everything at conversion is not true for everyone – we can at least say that. The examples above show us that for some, there is a subsequent empowering that takes place as they are filled with the Holy Spirit. In the Bible, followers of Jesus didn’t grow into the things of the Spirit or have them gradually released within them – no, they were filled and empowered in a moment.
Another school of thought says that we wait and then the Spirit comes, but after the day of Pentecost no one else was told to wait. The reason the first disciples had to wait was because Jesus had not yet been glorified (John 7:37-39), but now He has! (Acts 2:32-33) So from then on the disciples just laid hands on Christians – some who had just been saved moments earlier – and the Spirit came. There was no delay; there is no longer a ‘not yet’.
Jesus didn’t tell them to wait because they weren’t ready; He told them to wait because He was not yet glorified. But now He is, so the Spirit can fill you right now. You don’t have to wait; you don’t have to be special; you don’t have to have everything in your life sorted out. Simon Peter was a mess who had just denied Jesus three times – he was not a very good Christian. You just have to come to Jesus, believing in Him, receiving the promise of the Spirit by faith (Galatians 3:2). And when you are filled with the Spirit, you will be transformed. God wants to empower us – the promise is for you!
Posted by Terry Virgo
6th July 2014
We read in Acts 8:26-40 about a Holy Spirit set up! This meeting between Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch was set up by God. Philip had just come from an atmosphere of revival, where he had been seeing people set free and joy in the city. But the Spirit whispered to him about leaving that revival environment to go out to the desert road.
The Ethiopian had travelled hundreds of miles to visit the temple, but he wouldn’t have actually been allowed into the temple because he was a eunuch. He went thinking he would meet with God, but all he found was religion that kept him out.
What the eunuch needed was not a set of rules, but someone to stand in the gap and invite him in. He would’ve been struck by the verses in Isaiah that talked about God giving eunuchs a legacy – and indeed we are talking about this one 2,000 years later!
He would’ve been struck by the passage he was reading, where it mentions the man who had no descendants. No wonder the Ethiopian wanted to know who the man in Isaiah is! It is Jesus – and just as Jesus knew what the eunuch was going through, so he knows what we are going through.
For the eunuch, it wasn’t about what had gone before. It was about what he would do now. The end of the race is always more important than the beginning of the race. Some of us have done things of which we are deeply ashamed, but the end of our race is more important than the beginning – today, you can draw a line under the past. Jesus died the death that you should’ve died so that you can live the life that he should’ve lived.
The apostle Paul had persecuted Christians, but when he came to the end of his life, he could say: “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” (2 Timothy 4:7)
It’s not how you’ve started your race, it’s what you’re going to do with the rest of it. No matter what’s happened so far, are you going to finish well?
Listen to the 'Finishing well' sermon here.
Image: 'The Finishing Line' by Pete.
Posted by Tom Head
6th May 2014
What’s got your attention at the moment? Your job, your family, your income, or the lack of any of those? When Sam Akrasi preached on Sunday he reminded us that Peter’s gaze was on fish (Luke 5:1-11), or rather the lack of them. He had fished all night and caught nothing and, as Sam said, he was probably thinking what on Earth was he going to tell his wife!
Then Jesus came into the picture and His gaze was on Peter. He stepped right into Peter’s life and turned it around. But the strange thing was, in that moment, Peter had all the fish he could ever have wished for, and he left them behind to follow Jesus.
About 100 years ago, I remember singing a chorus:
Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face. And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of his glory and grace.
It’s a bit twee compared to the songs we sing now, but it captures something of what Sam was talking about on Sunday. We can be struggling with our circumstances and trying to find the best way through, and really what we need is an encounter with Jesus.
So the important question is not: what’s got your attention? But, how deep do you want to go with Jesus?
Listen to Sam's sermon 'Going deeper with Jesus' here.
Posted by Kevin Rose