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Does God change his mind?
God will fulfil his purposes whatever choices we make. He is sovereign and in complete control: see Ephesians 1:11 - God works out all things in accordance with his will. See also 1 Peter 1:20 and Acts 2:23. This is a good thing as it gives us confidence that despite our waywardness, God's way will be worked out in our life.
It is also essential we remember verses like Malachi 3:6 and Numbers 23:19 that speak of God never changing. In theology, it is called the immutability of God. God does not change ... in the sense of backtracking as if he makes a mistake. Why? Because his way is perfect - Psalm 18:30.
Genesis 6:6 tells us that God was grieved that he had made the earth. And in Exodus 32:14, God relented and did not bring the destruction he promised. See also Jonah 3:10 where God relented in response to prayer.
The Genesis passage is a figure of speech - expressing God's heart. He was saddened by the state of the once perfect world that he created. Yet the Fall was always planned so that God could reveal the glory of his saving purposes in Christ (Romans 8:28-39).
The Exodus and Jonah passages are examples of conditional declarations – i.e. God threatens judgement UNLESS people repent. Look for the word 'if'. (Jeremiah 18:7-10 is a good example of this).
These examples show us God's consistency to his character. (God cannot deny his character - 2 Timothy 2:13). IF there was not repentance, judgement would have come. IF there was repentance, mercy would have been shown. Think of this in terms of your own salvation. Romans 6:23 - you and I were facing death. BUT, in Christ we become children of God (John 1:12). Had God changed his mind? Yes. But had he planned to? Yes!
These examples are different to the times that God makes UNCONDITIONAL declarations such as in 2 Samuel 7:6 where NOTHING would ever stop God building his kingdom, or in Hebrews 10:26-29, where NOTHING can be done to save a person who rejects Jesus as the only way to salvation.
So can persistent prayer change God?
The parable of the persistent widow in Luke 18:1-8 teaches us that God loves to hear persistent prayer and often responds. (See also Luke 11:5-13). By contrast, sometimes we do not get because we ask with wrong motives (James 4:3) or because God has a better plan (1 John 5:14).
So can we ask for mercy or blessing where God may not have given it? (in the sense that he knows the end from the beginning and is totally sovereign - see the verses we began with).
We never know what God in his wisdom knows is best for us and so we should ask, but always with the humility that God is a not a divine vending machine. So as an example, can we pray for healing? Of course, and we are told to (James 5:13-14). But God in his wisdom does not always heal this side of heaven. Does this mean prayer 'has not worked'? No - because prayer isn't about us getting our way but about seeking God's way (Luke 11:2). And because, as we seek God in earnest prayer, it changes us and teaches us humble dependence.
Unanswered prayer is probably the greatest mystery to us as Jesus' disciples and for me, is the single hardest thing about being a Christian. But my testimony is also that this frustration and pain is always met by the grace of God to sustain me, despite my prayers often not being answered.
What do you think people mean when they say: 'The worship was really good tonight'?
Neil Turton reports on a gathering of Fellowship of Independent Evangelical Churches (FIEC) leaders in the Oxford area that considered the topic together.
For several years the FIEC churches around here have invited all their leaders (elders, deacons, small group leaders, youth and children’s leaders etc.) to come together with two aims: to be encouraged and equipped in their leadership roles and to build relationships amongst the churches. We praise God for the way the number of FIEC churches in this area has grown over the last few years through new church plants being established; the most recent ones being Town Church Bicester and Grace Church Kidlington.
It was great to have John Risbridger, pastor of Above Bar Church in Southampton address a group of 50 or so leaders from nine FIEC churches at Long Crendon Baptist Church (LCBC) at this year’s gathering. The themes and speakers of previous Leaders’ Days have included: Evangelism (Rico Tice), The Heart of a Leader (Julian Hardyman) and Gospel-centred Church (Tim Chester). Our 2018 theme was Worship in Spirit and Truth and, having recently written a book on the subject, John Risbridger was well qualified to speak to us.
The Bible, Leadership & Life
John led two main sessions on Worship in the Bible and Worship in leadership and life as well as a seminar on Worship in the church. The other seminar choices and speakers were: Worship and small groups (Kitty Brittenden), Worship and young people (Ian Fry) and Worship in all of life (Mark Herbert).
In John’s first session he took us through worship as it occurs in the Bible, suggesting that the most important question we need to answer is how we can be ‘the kind of worshippers the Father seeks’ (John 4) since worship is ultimately to him and for him. He explained how Genesis teaches that human beings were created for worship and how, after the Fall, Exodus shows us that we were also saved for worship. The second half of the book considers what it means for the people to be a worshipping community.
John proposed a Bible overview that could be built around the theme of worship and the worshipping community culminating in the arrival of Jesus as the true worshipper and the creator of a new worshipping community that will one day be perfected.
We got more technical, looking at the different uses of worship words in the Bible: worship as homage/honour (proskuneo), worship as grateful obedience/service (latreuo) and worship as awe and respect (seb-).
John’s seminar session on Worship in the church included some more practical application in terms of planning a service and brought together the roles of word and Spirit in Ephesians 5:18-21 and Colossians 3:15-17. He emphasised our responsibilities to minister to one another in song and explained how corporate worship should lead to going out to live the whole of life as worship.
In the second main session after lunch on Worship in leadership and life John challenged us as leaders to be committed to growing worshippers as we minister to others through the overflow of God’s grace in our lives. The implication is that we need to be giving generous portions of time in our personal prayer life to worship. We spent some valuable time in the Psalms considering how we can give the whole of ourselves to God in worship and what it ‘feels’ like to lift hearts, voices, bodies and indeed our whole lives to God in praise.
We were pleased that the day achieved its objectives and were grateful to John and the other seminar leaders for their ministry to us.
John’s book The Message of Worship is published by IVP in the BST series. The talks are now available here (both plenary sessions and one of the breakout sessions ) which can be listened to by clicking on the links below:
At LCBC we want to play our part in training the next generation of gospel workers.
This week information regarding one strand of our commitment to training has gone online: The Ministry Training Programme. Do check out the info and as you do please keep in view the words of our Lord Jesus which ring just as true in our generation...
‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few’ (Mt 9:37)
Notice that Jesus doesn’t say there are few believers but few workers. There is a harvest to be reaped in this world and we long to see a generation of committed followers, who are equipped and ready to labour by the grace of God in HIS harvest field.
‘Ask the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field.’ (Mt 9:38)
This isn’t our work but his. Will you join us in praying that God would bring the right people to be a part of this programme and that through it there might be a steady trickle of future leaders who leave a lasting gospel imprint in this world?
To God be the Glory…
Are you feeling exhausted, overwhelmed and over-scheduled? I'd really encourage you to take some time out to work through this series of talks by Bill Hybels - very challenging and I believe timely for a world that is ever speeding up. Good to listen to, whether you are a person of faith or not.
Hope they bless you.
Following the headline news of this week that Donald J. Trump has won the presidential election and now awaits his inauguration into office on January 20th 2017, how have you responded? We join millions across the world watching on, waiting and wondering. Some with a sense of anticipation. Many with outrage and deep concern. The recent demonstrations across America and the burning of an effigy of Trump in Los Angeles only goes to show how sharply he divides opinion. In many ways it is a good thing that this news stirs up passion and conjures emotions in all of us. This shows that we believe politics matters. Leadership matters. Our world matters. The prevalence of social media today means that it has never been easier to express instant opinions for many to see. My concern however is this: are we quicker to express opinion at a world-changing event than we are to turn to the Sovereign Lord of all things in prayer? If we are Christians, we are called to be different to the world around us. So here is a question for us all to reflect on today: does our trust in a risen and ruling King impact how we will react to this week’s news?
The Bible helps us by reminding us firstly that Jesus Christ reigns. Have a read of Psalm 2 in which God declares that there is only one King who rules supreme. His name is Jesus. Earthy rulers, however powerful, have no ultimate authority. Secondly, we are given advice about the responsibility we have to pray for our rulers. The Apostle Paul tells Timothy: ‘I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people - for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth’ (1 Timothy 2:1-4).
Can I encourage us to follow this example and ensure that we as a church hold on to the hope of the gospel and avoid getting dragged into the hopeless despair of the world. God knows what he is doing and so we continue to pray that his kingdom would come and his will be done. This starts with our own hearts.
Having just returned from the FIEC leaders conference, an hour window remains open to reflect on the last 3 days before the school run kicks in and normality is resumed. As well as a cold apartment 2 things stand out from our time on the East Coast. Firstly the wonder of the gospel and its power to change lives. Secondly the desperate need for that gospel in the UK. Latest figures suggest that there are roughly 68 million people in the UK who have not yet trusted Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. When you hear a stat like that how does it make you feel? How does it provoke you to act? Does it provoke you to act?
In Luke 19 v41 we witness the stunning sorrow of Jesus as our sovereign Saviour weeps over the city of Jerusalem.
Luke 19 v41: As Jesus approached Jerusalem and saw the city he wept over it…
This moment maybe more than any other in scripture captures the heart of Christ for those who reject him. It echoes the heart of his Father in Genesis 6 who looks out on the whole of creation and is grieved to the very core of his being.
God’s heart breaks for those who choose death and not life. Does ours?
However as we reflect on the state of our nation and turn to pray for it, we must first recognise that before we weep with Jesus he wept for us. We were once of that number, alienated from God and enemies in our minds because of our evil behaviour. Marvel first at the reality of your own inclusion and let that joy spill over into seeing others know that same joy.
Pray that the Lord would give us a vision not just for our own community but for our nation.
Preaching on Acts 4:32-5:11 last week, one of the phrases I encouraged us to think about as a church was having 'open hearts, open homes'. It is an expression that I believe captures much of what the Biblical command to 'love your neighbour as yourself' (Mark 12:31) is all about.
As we continue thinking this through, I hope the following article will be useful:
September is a busy month: schools start back, businesses pick up pace following the summer break and Strictly Come Dancing is around the corner! The temptation with busy months is to jump on the treadmill like everyone around us and start running faster ourselves to keep up. However, wisdom would suggest otherwise.
Jeremiah 6:16 is a wonderful verse for us to all reflect on together. The context is one of desperation. Jerusalem is under siege by the Babylonian superpower, God's people are in despair and the prophet Jeremiah is no doubt feeling overwhelmed. Adrenalin would have been surging. How would you have responded if you were Jeremiah? Most of us would either give up or choose to jump into action to fix the mess. This may seem wise but as the treadmill speeds up, it won't be long before you or I get thrown off and collapse to the ground in a painful mess. Yet what does God call his people to do?
This is what the Lord says: “Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls.
When life is overwhelming, we all need to stand still, look to our great God who is in total control and ask him for wisdom. What does HE wants us to do? How does HE call us to respond? What is HE teaching us? What truths is HE seeking to speak into our lives? Being still before God and asking for his spirit to still our hearts and guide our thinking and actions is not an easy discipline, but it is an essential one.
Let us commit as a church family to standing still, looking to God and asking him to lead and direct us. For as the verse ends, the promise for those who find God's good way and walk is that we will find rest.
CC image http://www.cnskaty.com/
Our first sermon series of 2016 has focused on some of the ‘one another’ commands from the Bible: we started with our verse for the year which is to ‘be devoted to one another in love and honour one another above yourselves’ (Romans 12:10) and then looked at what it means to ‘forgive one another’, ‘teach and admonish one another’, ‘be humble towards one another’ and ‘encourage and build one another up.’ What all these have in common is a willingness to consider others before ourselves.
When we see these values being lived out in others, there is something very beautiful about it. I recently attended a funeral of a retired professor who was very successful in his field of food science and yet his lasting legacy will not be what he achieved by way of scientific discoveries (which will be incomprehensible to most people!) but the kindness and humility he showed to the people he met.
These are attractive values and yet, if we are honest, we often find it hard to put them into practice because we are so turned in on ourselves that we put our own pleasure before that of others. As Christians, we are aware of this natural tendency of ours and for this reason ask God for his forgiveness. We also acknowledge our struggle to change which is why we ask the Holy Spirit for the strength he provides to help us become more like Jesus who was the only one to live out these values perfectly.
We also appreciate that God has given us one another to help us. At a recent all-age service at LCBC we looked at how the root of the word translated ‘encourage’ in our Bibles is ‘para’ which means alongside. Jesus came alongside people while he was here on earth and then sent the Holy Spirit, the ‘encourager’, to come alongside us. I would like to recommend a book I read recently called Side by Side – walking with others in wisdom and love by Ed Welch, which emphasises the fact that we are all both needy and needed people who are here to encourage one another in the strength that God provides. In short, it is about true friendship.
As I write this, I’m sitting in a coffee shop in a local garden centre and beginning to think about writing some talks for our December Carol Services. It’s the first of December, I’ve just flicked through a depressing edition of the Times newspaper, with a creamy flat white, whilst being serenaded by Christmas Carols playing in the background. The CD is clearly set on repeat and is now probably on its fourth play through. Anyway, enough of my situation, how are you? 18 days until Christmas. 18 days to get that shopping done and find the right gift for the right person. When it comes to the Christmas dash, perhaps you love it, perhaps you dread it, perhaps you haven’t even thought about it and if so I’m sorry for bringing up the subject! Most of us like to give gifts, especially when they hit the mark and bring joy to someone.
But as I reflect on this annual shopping tradition, I like to spend a moment to think about the purpose behind giving and receiving gifts. The Bible reminds us that ‘every good and perfect gift comes from above’ (James 1:17) and in another place ‘God gives us all good things richly to enjoy’ (1 Timothy 6:17). If you can believe this, perhaps you may ask a follow up question: why?
The purpose of giving and receiving gifts at Christmas is to point to Jesus, the greatest gift ever given, and the Giver, God himself. As the Apostle John writes: ‘This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him’ (1 John 4:9). If you want to find out more about this wonderful gift, we’d love to meet you at one of our events over Christmas. You'd be very welcome. Right. Time to get back to the talk writing...but maybe another coffee and mince pie first!
Can I wish you a VERY happy and peaceful Christmas,
(Assistant Pastor at LCBC)
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