On the evening of Pentecost I was preaching in the Brooke Memorial Hall from Ezekiel 37, where the prophet Ezekiel is brought to the valley of dry bones. What will it take to raise the dead? Is our hope completely perished? Here we find a promise of the Holy Spirit for the people of God.
Thursday, May 23, 2013
On the evening of Pentecost I was preaching in the Brooke Memorial Hall from Ezekiel 37, where the prophet Ezekiel is brought to the valley of dry bones. What will it take to raise the dead? Is our hope completely perished? Here we find a promise of the Holy Spirit for the people of God.
Wednesday, May 22, 2013
On Sunday morning we continued in our series from 1 Peter, as we came to the climax of the first section, in which Peter teaches the scattered Christians that they are chosen by God. The church is not a building, but rather being built of living stones, Christians, upon the foundation of Christ the cornerstone. It's an all-age Family Service type talk, so may not be the best for listening, but you might find it of some value.
Tuesday, May 21, 2013
This post was prompted by a Twitter conversation based on a post over at Relevant Magazine, where Nicole Unice gave her 10 books everyone should read by 25-ish. I mentioned that I'd only read two of them - the Bible and Mere Christianity by CS Lewis, and that I'm well over the 25-ish limit. So what would my top ten books for reading at any age be?
1. The Bible
2. A Call to Spiritual Reformation- Don Carson
This book will transform your praying! Carson takes the reader through the prayers of Paul in the New Testament, explaining and applying in such a heart-warming way that you will never pray in the same way again. (Review)
3. Knowing God- Jim Packer
This is the modern classic that deserves being read and re-read by everyone. Knowing God is a clear introduction to the God who has revealed himself in the Bible, which continues to be effective forty years after it was first published. Packer writes in a way that draws the reader in and displays the glory of God.
4. Don't Waste Your Life- John Piper
When growing up and looking to the future, it's often difficult to know what to do with your life. In his forthright and engaging style, John Piper urges the reader to not waste their life on trivial things.
(Honourable mention: This Momentary Marriage- a brilliant book on relationships, marriage, and singleness which should really have made the list in its own right! Read it now, whatever your marital status. (Review)
5. The Freedom of Self Forgetfulness- Tim Keller
It may be surprising that such a recent and small book should make it into my must-read list, but the few pages on the way the gospel brings transformation are essential reading for everyone. Keller helps the reader discover that 'The essence of gospel-humility is not thinking more of myself or thinking less of myself, it is thinking of myself less.' (Review)
(Honourable mention: The Reason for God- Clear apologetics for a postmodern generation (review))
6. God's Big Picture- Vaughan Roberts
This is the most accessible and helpful Bible overview book around, and will help the reader discover the flow and 'big picture' of the whole Bible. Building on the work of Graeme Goldsworthy, Roberts takes the reader through the Bible's story, helping to put all the pieces together and make sense of it all. (Review)
(Honourable mention: Battles Christians Face- encouragement in the midst of struggles)
7. The Cross of Christ- John Stott
The classic evangelical book on the cross; its meaning and implications for the Christian. As in all his writings, Stott is clear, concise, and communicates gospel truth in a way that sticks in the mind and moves the heart. (Review)
(Honourable mention: Basic Christianity- or indeed, anything Stott has written!)
8. The Chronicles of Narnia- CS Lewis
I may be slightly cheating here, by including 7 books as one, but then at the top of the list we have 66 in one! Lewis is the master storyteller, explaining and illustrating the gospel through the interaction of his characters in the land of Narnia. Who could not read of Aslan's sacrifice and not wonder at the ransom paid for us?
9. Beyond Greed- Brian Rosner
For any Christian, it's important to control their money and possessions for the sake of the gospel, rather than letting their possessions control them. This is a great book on greed, money, possessions, and gaining control. (Review)
10. Holiness by Grace- Bryan Chappell
A clear book on how grace works in the life of the Christian to bring transformation and the pursuit of holiness. A message we desperately need to hear in every generation, but none more than our own. (Review)
11! Give Me This Mountain- Helen Roseveare
World famous missionary Helen Roseveare tells how she went from school and medical school to establishing a hospital in the Congo, because of the love of Jesus in her life. An inspiring story, which continues in the later volumes of her autobiography.
What books would you put on a must-read list for Christians in their 20s and 30s? #asktwitter— Garibaldi McFlurry (@GaribaldiMcF) May 17, 2013
I also asked the question on Twitter and here were some of the suggestions:
@garibaldimcf the me I want to be - John Ortberg... Purpose driven life is good for any age! :) also reading blue like jazz which is great!— Cathy Smyth (@csmyth2) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf Stott - The Cross of Christ. Don't Waste Your Life by Piper. Know the Truth - Milne. God's Big Picture - Roberts. ++— The Vicar's Wife (@thevicarswife) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf Also Issues Xians Face by Roberts. Stop Dating the Church by Harris. The Cross Centered Life by Mahaney.— The Vicar's Wife (@thevicarswife) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf The Father Brown stories by GK Chesterton. The Screwtape Letters by CS Lewis.— eamonhonan (@aquestingvole) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf ragamuffin Gospel - Brennan manning.— Jonny Pollock (@jonnypollock) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf desiring god - piper; basic Christianity - Stott.— Jonny Pollock (@jonnypollock) May 17, 2013
@garibaldimcf The Transforming Power of the Gospel by Jerry Bridges or The Cure by Bill Thrall— Mark Rodgers (@markrodgers79) May 17, 2013
Any other suggestions for this list?
Monday, May 20, 2013
It sounds like a scene from a horror movie. The prophet Ezekiel is airlifted by the Lord into a valley - but it is no ordinary valley. It’s a place of death and destruction. The scene of a heavy defeat, full of confusion and disorder. Ezekiel is in the valley of dry bones. In fact, they’re not just dry, but, as Ezekiel is given a guided tour, he notices that they are ‘very dry’ (2).
It’s here that the LORD asks Ezekiel a very important question: ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ (3) Is it possible to find life in the place of death? Could the valley of dry bones be the scene of victory?
Before we go any further, it might be helpful for us to get our bearings. You see, just as Ezekiel has been airlifted into strange surroundings, so we too have landed in the middle of very strange surroundings. We’re in the Old Testament, in the middle of a book, so we need to work out what’s going on before we can understand what God is saying in this chapter.
It’s always helpful to try and figure out where the passage you’re reading fits into the big picture of the Bible, as well as the structure of the Bible book. In this case, the prophet Ezekiel is in the land of Babylon during the time of the exile - when the land of Judah and the city of Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians and some of the people were taken into exile.
For the first 24 chapters of Ezekiel, he has declared God’s just judgement on the people. Judah has forsaken God and turned to idols. It’s not easy reading, as God exposes their sin and brings about punishment. If you can imagine turning the brightness button and the contrast button down on your TV remote, so that everything is just grey, this is the effect of Ezekiel 1-24.
Did you hear of the snooker commentator who once said that for the benefit of those watching in black and white, the pink ball was next to the green? Well it’s a bit like that here in Ezekiel’s day. There’s no hope, no reprieve, just doom and gloom. After chapter 24, Ezekiel speaks to the surrounding nations, and declares God’s judgement on them too. But then in chapter 33, there’s a hint of brightness, a glimmer of hope, like the first promise of dawn. Jerusalem has fallen, but could there yet be some hope for the people of God?
Can these bones live? Even though the people of Judah are in exile, far away from the land God had promised them, scattered among the nations under the judgement of God, can these bones live?
It’s a question we continue to ask to this day? We see the weakness of the church in the face of a confident secular state, with the government seeking to move forward with same sex marriage. Can these bones live?
We see ministers who deny the cross and the resurrection; who spend their time in the pulpit talking about a poem or something they read in a magazine; the mood seems to be that we’re in decline; things aren’t what they used to be. Can these bones live?
And Ezekiel gives the only right answer. ‘O Lord GOD, you know.’ (4) Humanly speaking, the bones are beyond hope. But if we are depending on ourselves and our own strength and resources, then we are above all men to be pitied. O Lord God, you know.
It’s when Ezekiel submits to God, that God demonstrates that he is the one who can give life to the dead (Heb 11:19) as he gives the instructions to Ezekiel. He commands Ezekiel to prophesy over the bones, so that they may live.
And so we see in verse 7, Ezekiel does it, and the bones do it. Do you know the wee song: ‘The foot bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the knee bone’ and so on... The bones rattle together, then the sinews, then the flesh. The bodies lie on the ground, whole, but there’s still something missing.
You remember when God created Adam from the dust and breathed into his nostrils (Gen 2:7)? This is what the re-formed bone bodies are lacking. ‘There was no breath in them’ (8). So Ezekiel prophesies again, to bring the breath on them, to bring them to life. Look at verse 10: ‘and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.’
Now what is this all about? In verse 11, God gives the explanation of this strange event. Here we have the key to understanding the whole thing. ‘these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’
The people of Israel (both Israel and Judah) had lost all hope. They were picturing themselves as the dry bones. They had given up. But God gives them a message that he will raise the people up; that he is the God who raises the dead. No one else can do this. No other god could do anything like it. And he does it so that they will know that ‘I am the LORD’. (6, 13, 14).
Whenever we see that word LORD in capital letters, it’s the covenant name of God. And the LORD is saying here that they will know he is the covenant keeping God when he keeps his covenant with his people, and raises them from death, and gives them his Spirit.
The work of raising the dead is something only God can do, and so it’s something that we must pray to him, that he would do it. When we look at the village around us, or this county, or this country, or indeed the world, we see everywhere men and women, boys and girls who are dead spiritually. As Paul writes to the Ephesians, ‘And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked... by nature, children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.’ (Eph 2:1-3).
No one can make themselves alive to spiritual things. It would be like expecting the dry bones of the valley to perform CPR on themselves. No, by nature, by ourselves, we are dead in our sins.
We need the power of God, the covenant LORD, to give us life, and to breathe his Spirit into us. Just as Jesus died and was raised to new life, so we need to be born anew, raised to new life in Jesus, the sentence of death that we deserved having been paid by him.
On this day of Pentecost, we remember that God kept the promise he made to bring new life by the giving of his Spirit, as the Spirit was given to the church, and 3000 were added on that day. As we long to see people saved, as we earnestly desire people to be brought from darkness to light; so we recognise that it must be a work of God - we cannot bring life. Won’t you pray with me, that God will mightily move in our land, that many will be raised to life as they trust in Jesus and receive the Spirit of God; a great miracle that only God can do. Can these bones live? O Lord GOD, you know.
This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall on Sunday 19th May 2013.
Sunday, May 19, 2013
Now, I wonder if anyone can tell me why we’re meeting in the church hall today? Why is it we’re here and not across the road? We’ve got a bit of a building project going on. There was a problem with the paint and plaster peeling off the walls, so while we’re getting that fixed, we’re here in the church hall.
Here are a few pictures of the progress - the plaster has been chipped away, and we can now see the stones in the wall - the big ones, the small ones, all together in the wall.
Now last week if you were with us, we saw that the church is a bit like a garden, where the imperishable seed of the word is sown, with it giving us new birth and bringing the fruit of love. But now Peter moves from the garden to the building site. You might have heard ... mention the stones and builders in the reading.
You might be wondering if Peter was giving some advice to people doing building projects. Was it like a builder’s magazine with some hints and tips for building your house or building a new church? Well, no, because he talks about ‘the living stone’ and other ‘living stones’. Go on to a building site, ask any builder, but you won’t find any living stones. The stones aren’t alive. They’re just stones.
So what is Peter talking about? Or rather, who is Peter talking about? Here’s the description: ‘As you come to him, the living Stone - rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him-’
This living Stone is a person, a man. Someone rejected by men - who men didn’t want to listen to; whom men wanted to get rid of; but was chosen by God and precious to God. Who is it? It’s the Lord Jesus, of course.
Jesus was crucified - the ultimate rejection; but God showed that he was chosen and precious, because God raised him up to new life.
Jesus is the living Stone. And Peter goes back into his Bible and finds something written hundreds of years before Jesus was born, a promise, a prophecy of who Jesus would be: ‘See, I lay a stone in Zion, a chosen and precious cornerstone, and the one who trusts in him will never be put to shame.’
Jesus is this stone, this chosen and precious cornerstone. Now what is a cornerstone? It’s the most important in the whole building. It’s the one which all the rest is built upon; it’s the one that keeps the whole building straight. It’s like a foundation stone.
So what do you do on a foundation stone? You build on it, of course! But it’s not with bricks and mortar. It’s not with stones. Rather, what is the building Peter is talking about? Let’s see what he says: ‘As you come to him... you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house...’
Peter is talking about building the church - a spiritual house, a place for God to dwell - but it’s not a church building; it’s not a parish church; it’s not the place across the road. We used to sing a song in Dundonald, but I couldn’t find the words or music to it: ‘Church is not a building, it’s the people there inside; people who love Jesus ...’
You see, it’s us - we are the building; we are the church. We’re each like a stone being fitted together and being built up to be the temple where God lives, inside us. In the mountains of Mourne there are the famous dry stone walls, where the stones are placed together to build the wall. It’s like that with us. We are being joined together.
I’ve brought along a visual aid to help us see this. We’ve got the foundation stone - Jesus. But we also need the individual stones. Here they are. We’re going to write our names on these, and then we’re going to see them being built up together - on the foundation of Jesus, built up.
One more picture - this time not on the wall, but as we join together. Stand up, join hands, end of row join up with people in front - we are the people of God, we are being built together.
As we come to Jesus, we’re added to his church, we’re built into this spiritual house. But verse 7 reminds us that not everyone comes to Jesus. Peter tells us that we who believe know that the stone, Jesus, is precious. But some do not believe. Some people reject Jesus.
What about them? What will they do with Jesus the living Stone? Rather than building on it, instead they stumble over it. The stone is sitting, and they trip over it.
One of my interests is history. I love to explore ruins and castles. But when you’re visiting castles you have to be careful. Look at this picture and see if you can notice something odd about it?
The castle stairs were carefully built to help the defenders and make it difficult for the attackers. There’s a trip step. In your house if you’ve got stairs, they’re probably all the same height. They’re regular. But in a castle, there would sometimes be a trip-step, one of a different height. The defenders knew the stairs, how they were arranged, but the attackers wouldn’t, they would get so far and then trip; they wouldn’t be as quick on the stairs.
For those who don’t believe, Jesus is the stone that makes them stumble. You may not really believe that Jesus rose again from the dead; you might think it impossible that there is anything after death; you might not think that Jesus is the only way to God. You can’t accept what Jesus says about himself - the way, the truth, the life. Please think carefully - to reject Jesus is to stumble over him and to finally fall.
But the focus isn’t on those who fall. Rather, the focus is on Jesus, the living stone. Some may reject him, but ‘the stone the builders rejected has become the capstone’ - the most important in the whole building.
Peter reminds his readers and us as well of the change that comes about as we come to Jesus, as we’re built together in him. He uses some more pictures from the Old Testament.
We are a chosen people; a royal priesthood; a holy nation. We have been changed from being in darkness to being in light. We have been brought from not being a people, being on the outside, to now being on the inside, the people of God. Once we had not received mercy, now we have received mercy.
It’s what happens as we come into the church - the people of God, as we believe in Jesus and are built up together. And what is our purpose? It’s to ‘declare the praise’ ; to offer spiritual sacrifices of praise - not just on Sundays, but on every day, wherever we are!
I’ve got a stone for everyone to take away, to be reminded of Jesus the living stone, and of our part in his body.
This sermon was preached at the Family Service in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 19th May 2013.
Thursday, May 16, 2013
I've been living and working in a scenic part of rural county Fermanagh for over a year and a half now, having left suburban Belfast behind. It might raise eyebrows that I was reading a book like 'Unreached: Growing Churches in Working-Class and Deprived Areas' with its emphasis on large towns and cities with substantial housing estates. Was it totally unrelevant, a waste of my reading time?
In the opening chapter, it appeared as if it wasn't going to be helpful. The introduction opens with a question about where the thriving evangelical churches in your local area are situated. 'The chances are they will be in the 'nice' areas of town and their leaders will be middle class.' For a start, the thought of towns with lots of churches, and indeed towns of a suitable size to have 'nice' areas - they must be writing about huge towns or even cities. Perhaps I should have passed on this book to a brother in Belfast?
The rest of the introduction, though, and indeed, the rest of the book, helped me to see that it was a very helpful book, one that has been and will continue to be useful, because it helps the reader to think about the culture of the local community (whether it's a housing estate or a country estate; urban jungle or farming families), and how the gospel can be effectively communicated to the people there.
Chapter One focuses on contextualization. Having discussed the various types of people found in working class and deprived areas (itself a helpful reminder that people are different and we can't just lump everyone in an area into the same category), Tim Chester then seeks to provide a Christian view of culture: 1. God created cultures and diversity; 2. Sin distorts cultures; 3. The gospel affirms and judges every culture (at different points and places); 4. Christians should both affirm and transform culture (discovering the bits that align with the gospel, but confronting the bits that are ungodly); 5. The gospel transcends cultural differences; 6. Missional engagement is a two-way process (sometimes the 'missionary' will learn as much as the culture being missioned). These points were very helpful, and have led to lots of reflection to help identify the cultural characteristics of the community I'm reaching. While it's different from the main focus of the book, this general stuff has been very good.
In Chapter Two, the theoretical material about culture is now examined in the precise setting of those working class and deprived areas. Again, while the specifics were different, there are useful pointers - the need to contextualize on a person-to-person basis, because every culture is part of a common humanity (sharing the same basic problem), but also that each individual may not be the stereotype of the cultural norm, and have their own unique mores. As Chester points out, the broad characteristics are best used as shortcuts to reach an individual, rather than definitive guides to the person. It's also important to get to know your neighbourhood (which I have found by living and working in the same community).
Chapter Three builds on the previous chapters, by looking at Key Gospel Themes, mentioning lots in brief, and then three in detail. The Fatherhood of God, victim mentality, and the sovereignty of God are discussed, analyzed and applied to the community and how the gospel brings to bear on the issues raised. For anyone in any mission situation, the issues will be different, but how to work through them and present them are ably demonstrated in this chapter.
Chapter Four thinks specifically about evangelism and how to share the good news. There's an interesting discussion of the merits of social action and evangelism, with a right emphasis on the importance of doing more than just 'good deeds' but actually sharing the faith. The four Es of evangelism (plus another) are presented: enter, explore, expose, evangelise (and engage). The suggestion is to discover the idolatry of the community and use it as the way in to show the gospel as the true fulfillment of those desires, hopes and dreams. Using some basic ideas, there are helpful ways to meet the community in the four points of intersection between peoples' stories and the gospel: creation; fall; redemption; consummation. I also found the following a useful suggestion in the four truths about God as a diagnostic: God is great; God is good; God is glorious; God is gracious. How do my behaviours or thoughts conflicting with these truths? In this way, presenting issues are used as a window on the heart - where change is effected, rather than simply making working class people middle class.
There are some good thoughts on discipleship in Chapter Five, with the reminder that the gospel is not just the ABC of the Christian life but the A-Z. 'We become Christians, continue as Christians and grow as Christians through the gospel.'
Chapter Six brings the book to a close with the focus on teaching the word in a non-book culture. The new person arriving at many of our churches to be greeted by a news sheet, prayer book, hymn book and such like must be off-putting for those who cannot or choose not to read. Bible studies shouldn't just be English comprehension lessons, but rather an engagement with the text as we meet the God who speaks his word to us.
Perhaps surprisingly, while I may not be the primary audience for this book, I have found it really helpful, and it's certainly up there in the best books I've read this year. The principles of mission and cross-cultural engagement are explained and applied in very clear and simple fashion, and the need to understand the culture (whatever the culture and wherever you're working) has been prompted even more in me. If you're hoping to move into a new area and reach people with the gospel, this is a must read book - and not just if you're church planting in a housing estate.
Having asked on Twitter if IVP or Christian Focus or The Good Book Company have any resources for rural ministry and mostly drawn a blank, it seems that in the mean time, this is going to be the best type of book to help work through the issues and opportunities of engaging with the prevailing culture and bringing people to Christ. Maybe the rural mission book will spring forth in a few years time... Unreached is available from Think IVP and as an ebook.
Tuesday, May 14, 2013
On Sunday morning I was preaching from the next chunk of Peter's first letter about the imperishable word - God's word is like a seed planted in our hearts, causing us to be born anew. To bear the fruit of love, we need to do some weeding. To grow strong as Christians, we need to long for the pure spiritual milk of the word. Listen in or download to your mp3 player.
Monday, May 13, 2013
Perhaps it's just more prevalent these days with a certain sort of picture that does the rounds on Facebook. You know the sort - Sunday evening, and you see this:
And so it continues, only being surpassed by the Monday morning images:
as well as others that I would prefer not to post...
So why do we not like Mondays? What can we do about it?
Mondays seem to be the day after the weekend before. For many, it's the start of the week, back to responsibilities and work - after all the 'weekend' is over. So we must be starting a new week? Right?
Perhaps if we were to return to what the Bible teaches, that Monday morning feeling wouldn't be just so bad. There we discover that Mondays aren't the first day of the week. The first day of the week is Sunday, the Lord's Day, the first day of creation and the first day of re-creation in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. So rather than Sunday being the weekend, it's the start of a new week.
How good it is (as far as you're able) to give the first day of your week to the Lord, gathering with his people, hearing his word, to set you up for the rest of the week that's just beginning. Would that transform your mournful Monday into a more joyful experience, with what you've learned and experienced on Sunday being applied on Monday morning?
Besides which, every morning when we awake, even a Monday morning, is a fresh gift of God's good grace to us. The new day starts out only by God's will and pleasure. As we discover the Lord's presence with us, no day need be like those being touted on Facebook.
Happy Monday, and may you know the Lord's presence with you as you continue this week!
Sunday, May 12, 2013
I wonder if you’ve got green fingers. I know for sure that I definitely don’t have green fingers - if you have any plants you’re wanting to perish, just give them to me to look after. I’m not even very good when it comes to recognising flowers - I know lilies, and daffodils, and roses, but beyond that, I’m stumped. But if you’re a gardener, you might have been drawn to the picture at the heart of our reading today, where Peter writes of seeds and grass and flowers.
Many of you know the way and the time to plant your seeds and bulbs; your gardens could compete at the Chelsea Show, with your amazing azaleas, colourful crocuses, and your perfect petunias.
But when Peter writes of grass and flowers, he’s pointing to the fact that they don’t last very long. The snowdrops have sprouted and are long gone. The daffodils are on their way out. The grass withers and the flower falls, says Peter, and they’re a sign of our perishable nature. Peter quotes from Isaiah 40, where the prophet declares that ‘all flesh is like grass and all its glory like the flower of grass. The grass withers, and the flower falls.’ We’re only too aware of this fact. None of us is around forever - just this week I was at the funeral of a minister who died aged 62.
We’re all perishable. The contrast is with the imperishable. It’s a word Peter likes to use. Already he’s reminded us of the imperishable inheritance which is ours in Christ (4) through the imperishable blood of Christ (19). Now, he’s talking about the ‘imperishable seed.’
But what is this imperishable seed? What is it that lives and endures and carries on? ‘the word of God’ - or as Isaiah puts it, ‘The grass withers... but the word of the Lord endures forever.’ That means that what God has said will always be true - his word is unchanging, ever living.
Just think what it will do for us and to us. The word of God is this imperishable seed - now what do we do with seeds? We plant them. So how was this seed of the word planted? ‘That word is the good news that was announced to you.’ Peter is saying that the gospel, the good news, as it is proclaimed, is the seed which is planted in our lives. We’re given new birth through the seed - we’re ‘born anew’ and made new as we hear and receive and respond to God’s word. We’re changed from being perishable to being imperishable, as we look forward to our inheritance, life with God for ever more.
So as we gather together, as God’s word is proclaimed, it’s as if the seed is being sown - I wonder if and how you prepare for Sundays? Even though I’m not much of a gardener, I know that you need to prepare the ground - you need to get it ready so that the seed will go down deep and be able to grow. So how do you prepare for church? It’s not just about getting dressed and bringing your envelope and making it on time - do you pray? Lord, help the preacher today as he speaks. Lord, help each of us as we hear your word. Lord, may your word go down deep and bear fruit.
Do you come expecting to hear from God? Or is it just a part of your routine? I heard recently of a minister being asked if there was anything special at church that Sunday. He almost said no, that there was nothing special; no gimmicks, no visiting speaker. But then he caught himself on. Of course there's something special - God, the creator of the universe, is speaking through his word to us.
That brings us to the fruit we should expect from the seed of the word. What will the fruit look like in our lives? What will be the sign of the imperishable word being planted in our hearts? Will it be bigger heads as we’re filled with lots of bible knowledge and trivia? No! The fruit of the word according to Peter is ‘genuine mutual love.’
Remember Peter is writing to the church, to the gathered believers. As we receive the word, as we’re born anew, so we are brought into this new situation where we love one another. In other versions it speaks of ‘brotherly love’ - of being brought into God’s family and relating to each other in love. Peter urges us to ‘love one another deeply from the heart.’
We're called to keep on loving as we hear the word, which teaches us to love. You see, in the church there are different people and personalities and likes and dislikes, backgrounds and achievements. But the way we know that we have been born anew through the word is in the way we love one another. It’s like nothing else on earth.
I’ve been in workplaces where no one got on together, everyone hated each other and tried to undermine each other. Families can be at war behind the net curtains. Clubs and societies are bound by a common interest whether it’s crochet or croquet, food or football. But the church is a group of very different people bound together in the family of God, with a genuine mutual love.
I’m not much of a gardener. The only things I’m good at growing are weeds. But I know that if you want a good garden, you need to uproot the weeds. That’s why Peter says that if we’re growing the fruit of love then we need to get rid of certain things. They’re out of place: ‘Rid yourselves, therefore, of all malice, and all guile, insincerity, envy, and all slander.’ Notice that they're all related to how we relate to others.
Perhaps lists like this one are something to work through - do I grow malice? Am I envious? Have I slandered? What the things in my life that prevent me from loving my brothers and sisters in the church family? What do I need to do to change that? How will I seek to love those around me today?
As Peter continues, he wants us to keep going and keep growing. Now here’s a quick question for you. What does a car need to go? Petrol or diesel. Has anyone ever put the wrong fuel in? What happens? Well, you’re going nowhere. The car won’t go, unless it gets the right stuff.
Or what about babies? I’ve heard of mums and dads being worried by health visitors monitoring babies to make sure they’re gaining in weight. How do babies grow up big and strong? They need their milk. And how do they let you know they need their milk? You soon know of it - the baby will scream and cry to say: give me milk! It’s great to have lots of children and babies in church, and it’s fine if they make some noise - Peter uses them as the picture of the Christian, wanting to grow; needing the nourishment to become big and strong; longing and craving for the pure, spiritual milk.
I wonder would that picture represent you and your need for God’s word? Is that your attitude to the Bible, that you desperately need it; you can’t do without it; it’s like your milk to make you grow into salvation. You see, there’s no secret to growth as a Christian. It’s not a series of principles or ten step processes. The word that gives birth is that word that grows us.
God’s word is all we need as we are changed and made new; as it leads us to get rid of the ways we used to do things and brings us to love one another deeply. It’s the good news about Jesus that we need to hear and be reminded of and be feeding on.
Would a baby survive on one bottle of milk in the week? Come back next Sunday for another wee drop? Of course not! Or what about you - one big dinner on a Sunday to do you through this week? It's ridiculous! Yet Peter says that the Bible is our pure spiritual milk, the thing we need to grow strong in our faith.
Perhaps this week you will decide to take up your Bible and read a few verses or a chapter each day. You could start with Mark's Gospel or Philippians or even 1 Peter. Ask God to speak to you as you read.
God in his grace has given us his word which is the imperishable seed that brings us to new life in Jesus, which helps us to grow, and calls us to love one another as sisters and brothers of our heavenly Father. Let's do it.
This sermon was preached in Aghavea Parish Church on Sunday 12th May 2013.