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Peace – can I really have it?

Peace, real peace can seem elusive. We may feel we have it for a period, that everything (or enough at least) has fallen into place that we can relax and enjoy life for a while. However, even if we do ever reach this point, it does not last. Something always happens to cause stress, worry, anxiety or sorrow, and our hearts are troubled again as our minds are filled with concerns and doubts. True peace is not easy to come across and even harder to sustain. Yet we read in the Bible of a peace which surpasses understanding.

“the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” (Phil 4v7esv)

This peace is not dependant on what is happening around us or even to us, but flows from something greater than us and our circumstances. It is a peace that can transcend any situation, however big, as it is based upon and comes from knowing someone who transcends all.

It is the peace of God in Christ Jesus. It is not a human peace gained though our own effort or ability. It does not fluctuate with the state of the world or our lives. It is not reliant on our control or management of events or people around us, but on something much deeper and rock solid – the unchanging nature and love of God!

However, to have this peace of God we first need to have peace with God, and this is our central problem. We all by nature and choice have rebelled against God, choosing to live our own way instead of His. Setting ourselves up against Him, in so doing rejecting the peace that is only found in Him. But this is why Jesus came! Through his death on the cross, he has made peace between God and anyone who would turn and put their trust in him. So we can then have the peace of God, as we walk with Him through any trial or tribulation.

There is only one true Peace – God Himself, and only one way to Him – Christ Jesus. Please look into him, there is no other!

Reality Check

Whether we struggle with life or whether we enjoy it, the tragic reality (which we understandably perhaps try not to think about), is that we will all one day die. However, there is much hope! Jesus said “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live even though he dies.” About 2000 years ago, because He loves you, Jesus died on the cross for all who would believe in Him, and then two days later came back to life, defeating death, and is still alive today! Because of this He has made it possible for us to be saved from death and have life now and forever with God.

This is not just talk, it is for real! Please read on to find out more. Nothing is more important than this!

Everyone

In the Bible we read that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. This means every human in the world ever is a sinner, we are all guilty of rejecting God and His law. We have treated God awfully. He created and provides for us, giving us every breath, yet we just ignore Him. The Bible tells us “all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment.” This means that even the best things we do are actually sinful. This is because, in reality, we don’t do them in love for God, but for ourselves whilst ignoring God. This offends God and deeply saddens His heart. No-one can think themselves superior to anyone else, our lives may look different but fundamentally we are all in the same boat!

God is Holy

In the Bible we read “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD God Almighty.” Holy means perfect, unique and totally fair. Nothing God is or does is anything less than the best; He always does what is perfectly right and loving. This is why God hates sin; it makes Him rightly angry as it is a direct insult to, and rejection of who He is and what is good for the world.

Sin & death

In the Bible we read “the wages of sin is death.” This means sin deserves or earns us the punishment of death forever in hell. Sin is breaking God’s good law and rebelling against Him: Living life separately from God, instead of living our whole lives in love for and enjoyment of God as He deserves.

The Rescue

But there is Good News! The The Bible tells us “for God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life”. This means that although God hates our sin, He still loves us and desires to know and be with us more than we could ever imagine! Due to His love for us, God put into action the most extraordinary rescue plan. He sent His perfect Son Jesus to die in the place for all who would believe in Him. The Bible says “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”

The Swap

Jesus died and rose again so that a swap could take place. The swap is that on the cross Jesus takes the punishment our sin deserves for us, and we can have Jesus’ perfect life recorded in heaven as our own! This way God still rightly deals with our sin, but we go free! We are enabled to know and live with God forever, because when God looks at us He does not see all our sin but sees Jesus’ perfect life. All our sins are forgiven; we are washed clean and made perfect in God’s sight. The Bible tells us “not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith”.

This is God’s free gift to us. It cost Him more than we will ever know, but all we need to do, is to receive it. However, if we continue to refuse this gift, we will have to take the punishment for our sin ourselves, as this must be paid for one way or the other. God in His Holy fairness cannot just pretend sin did not happen it must be dealt with.

How to Receive the Gift

In the Bible we read we need to “Repent and believe the good news!” To repent means to be sorry for your sin, to acknowledge Jesus as your king, and to desire to follow Him and His ways. To believe means to rely on Jesus’ death & resurrection alone to forgive and save you.

If you want to do this now, you can say this prayer to God or use your own words…

‘Holy God, I am sorry for my sin and for rebelling against you. Please forgive and save me. I believe Jesus died and came back to life again for me. I want to follow wherever you lead me, and live to be with you. Thank you that you love me so much, that you are now my Father, and that I now have eternal life with you. Please drench me now with you Holy Spirit, that I may be changed, healed and receive your power to truly live.’

If you have just prayed this and meant it, praise God, you have just done the most important thing in your life! You are now a Christian, a child of God. I would love to hear from you.

If you haven’t yet believed, could I encourage you to keep seeking and asking your questions. This really is the most important thing in the world. Jesus is one day going to return to the earth to bring God’s eternal life or punishment to all people.

(Bible quotes John 11v25esv, Romans 3v23esv, Isaiah 64v6esv, Revelation 4v8, Romans 6v23esv, John 3v16esv, Romans 5v8esv, Philippians 3v9esv, Mark 1v15niv)

This Sunday & more…

I hope you are all doing well in mind, heart and body. Underneath it all your spirit is doing well as it is born of God, let’s learn together to connect to it. I have a few things to update you on.

Firstly it is so important we keep connected during this time. We plan to meet on Sundays virtually and at the same time as usual. This will remain our central family connection point. For every bodies benefit it is important we keep in the habit of this.

For the moment the plan is to keep this in house using google hangouts (but we hope to move to live streaming the talk & using Zoom for interaction). You will be sent a link for this Sunday, please keep an eye out for it. As I understand it, if you use a laptop you do not need to specifically have ‘hangouts’ but if you are using a phone or tablet you will. However, if you have an android phone you may well have hangouts included anyway, or whatever device you have you can get the hangouts app for free from your app store.

We also intend to do Virtual Alpha, Virtual Coffee Morning and have several other idea (e.g. Virtual Fitness). Please also keep in contact with your Community Cluster, more info will be coming out on these and how they will work.

For the moment at least these emails will be the main & fullest source of information (please do read them, if you have not read the last one you can find it on the redeemer blog). Our Facebook page & WhatsApp group will also be used but for shorter info. If you are not connected to any of these please do so.

On Tuesday I was invited to a meeting chaired by the Northfield Community Partnership with local agencies etc. The Plan is to pool & coordinate local services and there will be one number to access this. As well as releasing this number online the plan was to flyer the area for those who may not be online. We (Red) were down to do this area but I was told this morning that flying is now banned. I will keep you updated of developments. Currently the local Food Banks are well stocked, but there may be a need for people who are happy to deliver food parcel & prescriptions.

How can I help:
-First & foremost please pray – for each other, your neighbours, your area, Birmingham, the nation and the world. This is so important and will also help you as well as those you pray for! One of the main ways we stop worrying about our own need is to pray for the need of others!
-Phone, the humble phone call is going to become more an more important, particularly for those who do not have the internet.
-Food Bank donations, even though they are currently well stocked we can help keep it this way by adding an item here & there as we go shopping, most if not all super markets have collection points.
-When you go shopping ask a neighbour or friend if they need anything you can leave it outside for them.
-Connect in to what is going on Virtually in the church to help make it all work and bring the love & joy.

We are facing many challenges but there are many opportunities to develop and grow and love! Let’s take hold of them with both (washed) hands! You grand kids may well ask you ‘did you live through the coronavirus crisis, what was it like?’ Let’s be able to answer them, ‘despite the difficulties we trusted in God together, we saw community built, the kingdom advance, the lost loved and Christ Jesus our Lord glorified!’ - Boom!   

Our key verse during this time of coronavirus outbreak is:

“fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” 
(Isaiah 41v10 esv)

God your Father says this to you, meditate on it and take it deep into your heart until it is not just a thought or idea but a feeling, a conviction!

Much love to you all, God bless :-)

Update

What a strange & potentially unnerving time we find ourselves in. However, God’s message to us is clear:

Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”
(Isaiah 41v10 esv)

What a relief to know we are no less in the hand of the Almighty than we ever were or will be. And more than this the Almighty is our Father who cares for us dearly with an infinite love! Jesus is alive, death is defeated, the victory is won!This situation will be affecting us all differently. For some of us our lives already look very different; working from home or self-isolating. For others not much has changed as work still requires you in and the kids are still going to school. Some will have jobs that will continue to pay, for others this is a very real concern. The economic announcement of the government yesterday is a real mercy but does not cover all issues (more is still said to be announced). Some will have more time on their hands others will have less. Some will not catch the virus at all and sadly others may loose loved ones.Let’s trust in God and help each other trust in God! If you have more time on your hands use it wisely. Let’s get into the word of God & get into His presence. Be in contact with each other, I think the humble phone call will become increasingly important (why not drop someone a call/text just to ask how they are and how it is affecting them, this will be as good for you as it is for them). Exercise is important, even if this is just running on the spot & doing press-ups and sit-ups (I set you all the target of being able to do more press-ups after this time than you could before). My prayer is that we come out of this time spiritually, mentally, emotionally, physically and community wise more healthy than we came into it! This is very possible – let’s make the most of it!

We are looking into different platforms in order to see what we can do Sunday in way of a virtual church meeting. More info will follow on this. I have a message to share and it is super important we continue to connect both in smaller ways (e.g. Cluster connections) and also as a whole church family. Even I (after resisting for years) am now having to download whatsapp (although I can’t get it to work). I may even do a video update at some point (although I may not – lol).

Please being praying; for each other, your neighbours, the local area, Birmingham, the nation and the world – this is so important!

Be wise, be kind, have joy in Jesus!

Much love, God bless you all :-)

Info

Following the current advice on the spread of the coronavirus we believe the wise & loving thing until further notice is to postpone all our normal meetings in order to help our nations effort to stem the spread of the virus. However, although physically distanced we do not need to be relationally distanced. We can still work together to increase connectivity & community. It is in-fact extra important at this time that we do so!
If during this time you become in any way in need please be in contact. As a church we will do what we can to best serve each other and the wider community.
Your Community Cluster leaders either have or will set up a whatsApp group (or the equivalent) so you can be in contact with and encourage each other during this time. If you are not part of a Cluster we encourage you to still connect with one of these groups. Feel free to contact a group directly if you know of one, or be in contact so we can direct you to a group.
More information on what we will be doing & encouraging as a church will follow.
At this time (as always) we need to focus our thoughts & feelings on Jesus!
“let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.” (Hebrews 12v1-2 esv)
This is a time for Guts, Grit & Grace – remember that guts & grit are a grace! We cannot drum these up but they flow from enjoying the lavish grace of God on our lives!

Victim or Rebel?

The bondage of blame shifting

We must all decide if our fundamental problem is that we are a victim or a rebel. All of us have been wronged, some of us in profound and horrendous ways. This is truly tragic, and God’s heart bleeds compassion for you. So, I really do not want to play down the great evil & suffering that people have, are or will go through.

However, our own offense is far worse than anything done against us. Our offense is against the almighty, eternal God and so an almighty, eternal crime. Therefore my essential problem is not that I have been wronged but that I have wronged, not that I am a victim but that I am a rebel.

For a number of reasons this realisation is so important. One of which is that identifying as a victim or primarily focussing on the wrong done or said to us actually opens us up to emotional harm rather than dealing with it.

As a born again person we can only be damaged in our inner life if we allow ourselves to be so. Please do not misunderstand me; I am not saying that tragedy, hardship & suffering are not very real, and that deep grief, sorrow & anger are not the appropriate response to such things. But I am saying in Christ and Christ in us we have the power to resist these turning into emotional hurt. Our new nature is ‘imperishable’ 1 Peter 1v23ESV. If we choose to connect to and live from this nature via our thoughts, our emotions will be primarily influenced by it and not the attacks and turmoil of the outside life.

One who has put their trust in the death of Jesus is a child of God (John 1v12), loved by the Almighty, a co-heir with Christ (Romans 5v5, 8v17). We are not a victim but a conqueror (Romans 8v37).  Our rebellion is no longer recognised because the very righteousness of Jesus has replaced it (Jeremiah 23v6), our standing and identity is no longer sinner but saint (1 Corinthians 1v2). We have died to sin (Rom 6). The circumstances and horrors of life do not reign over us but we can reign over them (Romans 5v17)!

We must all make a decision, either that someone & something else is our biggest problem in life or that ‘I’ am! If it is someone or something else, then we are at the mercy of this person, thing or situation, with the power of true change, life and joy being beyond us, out of our control.  If ‘I’ am my biggest problem then in Christ and Christ in me I am able to sort it out and take the steps forward required for true change, life and joy!

Let’s humbly take responsibility for our own life; own it and everything that comes with it. Through Jesus we have all that we need His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness’ 2Peter 2v3 ESV. This is either true or it is not! To grasp truth is to start to take control of our life and the rest will follow!  

Express or Invert

Flourish or Perish

For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 2 Corinthians 2v10 ESV

Part of repentance is to express what we feel to God & others. Which requires admitting to ourselves what we really think & feel. Even healthy, godly grief unexpressed can turn into unhealthy worldly grief with regret. However, this is not just true of grief but of all emotions. For godly emotions to remain so they need to be expressed and for worldly emotions to be processed & dealt with they too must be expressed as part of turning to God (repentance).

By definition emotions or feelings must be expressed in some form or way. An unexpressed emotion is a suppressed & therefore incomplete emotion. The only alternative to emotions being expressed is for them to be inverted in on our-self. That is for them to become focussed on & centred upon self rather than God and others. This is the exact opposite of what emotions are for. They are for us to feel internally what is going on externally. Not to obsess with ourselves, but to delight in God and care for others. This is the difference between godly grief and worldly grief; godly emotions and worldly emotions.

Sometimes we use the phrase ‘my feelings are hurt’. I would like to suggest that often when we say this or something similar it is actually our pride that is hurt. It is our concept or perception of self that has been wounded. The identity & glory I attribute to myself has been challenged and it is this that I feel.

So, it is best to be as specific as we can when we express our emotions both positive & negative, so we can see what we feel and why we feel it. What is healthy & godly and what is unhealthy & worldly; what is appropriate & fair to feel and what is inappropriate & unfair to feel.

Phrases like ‘I feel sad that…’ ‘I feel happy about…’ ‘I love that…’ I feel bitter about…’ are far more specific and helpful than ‘you hurt my feelings’ or ‘I’m upset’. Let’s find helpful ways to express our negative & positive godly and worldly emotions, and live without regret as we more fully turn to God in Christ. Pour out your heart before him; God is a refuge for us. Psalm 62v8 ESV.

Think – Feel – Do

The pathway of change

Change starts with our thinking, the Bible makes this very clear;

do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind Romans 12v2 (ESV)

We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. 2 Corinthians10v5 (NIV)

Many would agree with this but still see little deep and lasting change in their lives. Ironically often the problem is that we are unaware of our misconceptions, our unhelpful thoughts, our misunderstanding of truth and lack of grasp of the gospel. We ‘think’ we believe it all but an inner emptiness and dissatisfaction can suggest otherwise.

Often ‘pretension’ or as the ESV puts it ‘lofty opinion’ is lurking more than we are aware of or would like to admit. If we are (I am) honest so much of our lives is not the real thing but as shell, a shadow, pride, a performance based not on Christ but on self.

It is fairly easy to hide what we really think and how we are really doing behind either our intellect or our behaviour. However, it is much harder to hide behind our emotions.  We may be able to explain great doctrine but if this leaves us unmoved emotionally we can’t have really understood it, or at least how it applies to ourselves. We may perform all sorts of good activities but if we do not feel anything towards God and those the activity is supposedly for, then a performance is exactly all that it is.

It is surely our feelings and desires, or lack of, which reveal what we really think as they flow from our deepest thoughts, perceptions & understanding. And they speak of the authenticity of our behaviour as they are the motive & force behind it. Therefore, the appropriateness of what we feel is a thermometer of how we are spiritually, a gauge of our engagement with reality, an indicator of our grasp of truth, a measure of our appreciation of beauty.

Feelings and thoughts are coupled together so closely they cannot be separated. Wherever there is a feeling there is a thought or perception behind it that has produced it. So the only real way to change how we feel is to change how we think, and then in turn our new feelings empower a change in our behaviour. But it is our feelings, our emotions and desires which highlight our true thinking and understanding, showing us where our mind needs renewing and which thoughts need taking captive.

If we are prepared to be honest with ourselves and God (and each other) about how we feel and the roots of these feelings then we are in a place to start real deep change in our lives. Our thinking flows into our feelings which flow into our doing, so new thinking can transform our lives. However, to accurately and deeply change our thinking or renew our mind we need to be honest about our current feelings, so that our real thoughts, understanding and perceptions can be laid bare. 

Please(d)

The pleasure of salvation

We are called to ‘please God’ (1 Thessalonians 4v1esv) but how are we meant to do this? What is it that God finds pleasing?

Jesus tells us the greatest commandment is ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ (Matthew 22v37esv). Loving God with our all, above anything else declares him to be of supreme satisfaction and worth. Loving or cherishing, taking delight, joy & pleasure in God recognises him for whom he is, and is to relate to him as he is. In other words we please God by taking pleasure in him.

Unfortunately, this is the very thing we don’t do. The essence of our sin is that we prefer to take pleasure in almost anything above God. In so doing declaring it to be of more value and interest than the Almighty and so turning our backs on him.

The good news is that this is why Jesus came. He lived, died, rose again and ascended back to heaven, so that through faith in him we can be totally forgiven of all our sinful displeasure & dishonouring lack of joy in God, and be given Jesus’ righteousness as our own.

not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God’ (Philippians 3v9esv).

To be given Jesus’ righteousness, is to be given his record of rightly relating to, or correctly valuing God. That is, we are given Jesus’ perfect record of total pleasure in God, and so declared 100% pleasing to God 100% of the time, just as Jesus himself is!  Therefore we are brought back to God, enabled to come into his presence and to take pleasure in him, to the honour of his name and delight of his heart. 

This is wonderful news; you will not hear better. But at this point confusion can set in. We can think ‘how do I please him who is already totally pleased with me?’ And in our attempts to do so, fall back into trying to make God pleased with us; trying to win his approval. 

The problem is that often we can confuse ‘God being pleased with us’ and ‘us pleasing God’. They are not the same thing. The first is justification (how God feels towards us; pleased), the second is sanctification (how we feel towards God; increasingly pleased).

Once we put our trust in Jesus we are pleasing to God, how he thinks and feels towards us does not and cannot change, as it is set in Jesus Christ (justification).

Once this is the case we can please God day by day, moment by moment, because he is already totally pleased with us. We please him by allowing him to have what he finds pleasing, namely ourselves in Christ & Christ in us. That is, we turn to and please God, by enjoying/being pleased with the fact that he is pleased with us in Christ. Thrilling his heart, in walking with him, by delighting in him & all he is for us (sanctification).

This is just another way of saying we glorify God by knowing him. Through faith in Jesus, God is totally pleased with us, so we can please him, by taking pleasure in Him! So, salvation is a pleasure for all involved; God and the believer.

It’s that time again…

Alpha time!

We only do one Alpha a year but it seems to come around so quick, and that time have come around again. Alpha kicks off @ 8pm on Wednesday 24th Jan at the Black Horse (Northfield) side bar. This is the ‘Alpha Taster’ which is an introductory session so you can see if you like the taste of Alpha and if you want to come back for more or not. The evening includes a short talk and a free curry so that it is not just concepts you are tasting but food as well.

If you have never done Alpha why not this year, why not this month, why not on the 24th Jan at the Black Horse? What’s the worst that could happen?!