Firstfruits

Honour the Lord with your wealth and with the firstfruits of all your produce; then your barns will be filled with plenty, and your vats will be bursting with wine. (Proverbs 3:9–10)

September is here and so Harvest will soon be upon us, even though many crops we remember that the Lord has blessed us with have already been gathered in. Such was the case with my honey harvest, which is collected in early August and harvested soon after. Despite the drought, because bees like warm weather, one hive produced a whopping 170lbs! At Harvestime the ancient Israelites were commanded in Leviticus to bring the firstfruits of their crop (or wealth if a merchant)—the very best devoted to the LORD—as a sign of their thankfulness to God and in conjunction with their tithes and offerings, a recognition and sign of their dependence upon Him. Whilst our worship no longer operates in quite the same way under the New Covenant, the principle of firstfruits, and the wisdom of the proverb, is still worthy of our acceptance. Do we bring Him our best (a sign of God’s worth), the first (an act of faith and expression of His priority in our life) or anything at all (an act that worship’s God, or fails to, as the great provider). Bringing our firstfruits in time, giftings, service and monetary gifts is a very important spiritual discipline to cultivate. When we honour the Lord He will in turn honour us. We can give without loving, but we cannot love without giving.

 

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

 

 

Culture meets the Church

We live in an interesting time culturally speaking. In fact there are elements of modern culture that are downright disconcerting. Consumerism, materialism, narcissism along with a whole host of other “isms” plague us. Today seems to be all about me, the ultimate sign of how far society has moved away from God (the first sin was pride, Gen 3:5, see also Ro 1:25). What is perhaps even more troubling is the way culture is leaking into the Church. Whilst we as the Church are not supposed to be conformed but be transformed (Ro 12:2) sadly in many areas believers allow culture to lead them rather than the Gospel of Truth. One area this has become apparent is in “church hopping,” switching churches frequently whenever they cease to meet your needs or try to hold you accountable. In speaking with our missionaries recently who serve in South Korea this is even a problem there! Instead of continuing on I thought it would be worth re-blogging a couple of different articles and a video by an American Christian comedian (the discerning Brit will be able to read between the lines):

What if the church doesn’t meet my needs?

7 bad reasons to leave a church (and while we’re on it, what might be 7 good Biblical reasons to leave a church?)

And finally, check our an comedic episode of “Church Hunters”:

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Excellency of Jesus Christ

easter-2017

I count all things but loss for the excellency of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord.

(Philippians 3:8 KJV)

I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. (Philippians 3:8 ESV)

Can you say this statement along with the apostle Paul? Above all things is Jesus your all in all, your delight? Various Bible versions translate a word from Philippians as either “excellence” or “surpassing worthy.” In this instance I appreciate the way the KJV puts it—excellency. Alluding to a story in the OT (Nu 21:9) Jesus said of himself, “the Son of Man must be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him may have eternal life.” (Jn 3:14–15). To “lift up” means to exult or to magnify. Jesus said this about His being lifted up on a cross for the salvation of sinners, it can also apply more generally to His name being highly esteemed. Does your soul delight when you hear His name? This Easter we are going to be looking at the excellency of Jesus in his life, death, resurrection, ascension and return. Why? So disciples of Jesus may marvel at the excellency of their Lord and so non-Christians might come to behold his surpassing worth, believe and so call Him, “my Lord.”

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

Concert Reflections

IMG-20160415-WA0006On Friday night Rebekah and I had the privilege to go to a Stuart Townend concert at Kensington Baptist Church in Bristol for Rebekah’s birthday. Together with musicians like the Getty’s he has written many contemporary hymns and songs that have become classics such as In Christ Alone.

Recently in our readings we came across this passage of celebration, praise and worship:

As they were coming home, when David returned from striking down the Philistine, the women came out of all the cities of Israel, singing and dancing, to meet King Saul, with tambourines, with songs of joy, and with musical instruments.And the women sang to one another… (1 Sam 18:6-7 ESV)

Music has played a central role in God’s people worshipping Him for ages. Ever since the creation of angels in heaven beings have been praising the LORD in song.

I am a firm believer that in every age of the Church believers have produced both great pieces and those that are best perhaps forgotten. The very best of our songs of praise from each era rise to the top and stand the test of time.

Often some of the best music in Christian history has been written during periods of revival (think of songs such as Amazing Grace written during the Evangelical Revival in Britain). About a half-century ago, there were few new songs being produced. Then about 30-40 years ago there began to be a surge of new songs (some good, some not so) that added to our repertoire. Sadly surge this coincided with the cultural movement known as post-modernism that emphasizes the subjective. This meant many songs were light on doctrine and while great sounding tended to focus on one’s experience in worship vs. conveying anything enduringly meaningful (and in the most extreme cases failing to overtly remember worship is not ultimately about us at all but the Lord).

There have been in recent years a number of Christian artists that have sought to have as their motto “doctrine+sound.” Such individuals and groups have sought to write songs that blend a robustness that had been lacking in such a way that the sounds also engaged and uplifted. Some names of mention would be the Getty’s, Sovereign Grace Ministries, and Stuart Townend to name a few.

At Friday night’s concert Stuart spoke of different types of songs that can help the church be edified that go far beyond the monotonous repetitions of some worship choruses.

He spoke about songs that:

  1. Teach doctrine and robustly present specific themes
  2. Tell Bible stories

Of songs that go beyond the category of praise to include:

  1. Lament
  2. Songs that help us worship outside the gathered church.

Below is a small sampling of some songs from this concert that capture some of these points:

May we continue to worship the Lord through music and with our lives and may the Lord continue to bless those musicians either professional or congregation who He uses to build up His Church.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris

The Done’s

I recently met a “done.” It was actually a great initial opportunity to chat with and pray for someone. The “done’s” refer to those who are done with church but who still consider themselves spiritual, if not Christian. This post is dedicated to the “done’s”; to encourage, challenge and equip both you and those of us who are the “not-done’s.” While not exhaustive I hope it gets us all thinking in a [correct] Biblical direction.

Often when you speak with a done they have a variety of reasons for not going to church and generally positively affirm: their belief in God or the divine, angels, prayer, the support they feel they receive from their faith, being spiritual vs. being church (or Christian), etc, etc.

Why did these people become “done”? The reasons vary as to the individual stories but a number of general observations could be noted: 1) they had a bad experience with “church,” 2) the hypocrisy in the church, 3) they were hurt or felt they were not supported in some way, 4) post-modernism- the rejection of institutions, 5) individualism- I can be “spiritual” by myself with no need of public worship or corporate Christianity, 6) acedia (that is spiritual laziness)- I don’t feel like going (or I have other things I could be doing), and that leads to 7) priorities. We could probably think of some others. Many of these are real reasons for being disgruntled with church. Many, even the more valid ones, also find their legitimacy in faulty thinking (which I hope to kindly and rationally challenge).

Let’s address some of these.

What type of church were you done with? Was it a healthy Bible believing, Gospel centred, Holy Spirit led, love and truth filled type of church? Were the ways of the world or the Kingdom most evident? If it was the former than you were actually not reacting against church at all, but a lesser replica. Often people say “I don’t believe in God.” I reply, “Tell me about the God you don’t believe in, I probably don’t believe in Him either.” The same applies to church. Are you reacting against a true picture of the church? If not, ask for the Lord’s help to get back up again and find a church like the one above.

But, even in the best case scenario where the church was all those things albeit imperfectly, we need to remember that the Bible teaches us we are broken. The Church represents the redeemed people of God whom He is perfecting for His glory. If I found The Perfect Church, I wouldn’t join it, because then it would no longer be perfect. The Church is made up of redeemed broken people who continue to be transformed into who they have been called to be by the grace of God through the power of the Holy Spirit. While the true Church, in ever growing degrees, should be more like Christ, we are not like Him yet. Therefore sin and hurt will still happen in the life of the church, however, in a healthy church it will be repented of and forgiveness and restoration sought. Do you have a naive view of human nature that might need altering so you are not disenchanted?

Lastly, are those reasons that are not necessarily someone else’s fault. Sometimes people are “done” because it is convenient, because of the lazy pride of our society. Sometimes being a done is because you are done with God, but still want to feel good as “spiritual,” but really your priorities are somewhere else. Really God is not number one, otherwise many things, including church going, would be different in your life. Is the priority of your life truly God?

Clearly, and I could go on, the topic is much deeper than meets the eye. Likewise to respond to it Biblically would require bringing in multitudes of passages, principles, etc. Let us look simply at one verse that cuts to the chase. Hebrews 10:25 says:

Let us not neglect to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, all the more as you see the Day drawing near.

The apostle John would have wholeheartedly agreed! In His old age, when he had a plausible excuse for not attending public worship, he did the opposite. Church tradition tells us that when he was around 90 years old and could not physically carry himself to worship he would have others carry him. John loved worshipping the Lord, His Lord, with His brothers and sisters in Christ. He loved Jesus, he loved to worship and he loved the Church. He knew it was his duty to worship and engage, but more than that it was his joy. What are you neglecting that is causing you to retreat from the life in the Church you should be living?

You can go to church your whole life and not be a Christian. Going to church does not make you a Christian any more than going to the Mall makes you a commercial product, or sitting in a garage makes you a car. But if you truly have become a Christian through faith in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins, you should want to engage in the life of the local church (and that means going too). As a beekeeper I always say, “you cannot have the bee without the hive.”

What does going to/ participating in the life of the local church accomplish?

  1. It indicates your highest allegiance and life priority,
  2. Our lives are recalibrated towards God,
  3. We receive spiritual teaching and food, encouragement, prayer and fellowship,
  4. We grow in Christ
  5. We are prepared for good works of mission and service in the world
  6. The list of blessings could truly go on…

At the end of the day though, more important than fooling ourselves by either believing we are okay outside or inside the visible church, is whether we are truly a part of the Church (the invisible or universal Church of Christ made up of all true Christians). Do you know and follow Jesus? The answer to that question will determine everything else. When we know and seek Him everything else that should be in place begins to fall into place, as we become undone.

*For more on the gathered and scattered church see a coming BLOG post.

The Lord’s Sweetest Blessings,

Pastor Chris