Let's face it. Postmodernism (which denies the absoluteness of truth) and individualism (which downplays the importance of community and resents authority) have dangerously affected the way people go about their daily lives, including their faith.
While easy enough to observe in the wider culture, postmodernism and individualism have influenced even those who would profess to believe in God, would say Jesus is Lord and Saviour, and even to an extent those who have committed (in theory at least) to local church membership. Perhaps this wouldn't be such a big deal if church were a venue filled with disconnected people going through religious motions that are ultimately inconsequential.
The biblical concept of church though is a committed community of Christ-followers, made family in and by faith for lives of good works that help others and worship God. Knowing (who we know, what we know, how we know) is the foundation of healthy church life, and doing (doing the Christian life, doing church, and doing evangelism) is its demonstration.
Join us for both services over the coming Sundays, starting 25 June 2017, as we learn more from some key Bible texts about what it means to be a healthy church.
Love existed before the dawn of time, eternally displayed in God's relationship with himself - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then, when God created the world, he created man in his image and likeness, to reflect this love. We therefore not only have a capacity for love, but love is intrinsic to our nature, hardwired into our DNA, and though so damaged by sin, death, and the dark, cruel world of dying sinners we live in, it remains. In created humanity it is manifested in different ways: relationally as we love friends, family, neighbours, and humanity in general; romantically as a man and woman notice each other, fall in love, pursue a relationship built around that love, get married, and build a new life and family together; religiously as those who have come to know and enjoy the love of God as their heavenly Father respond to it in acts of worship and service. This big picture seems pretty clear cut, doesn't it? If only love were quite so straightforward in the details...
The Old Testament book of Hosea is a story of love suited to the murk of human experience. A young man named Hosea (whose name means "salvation") marries an unfaithful woman named Gomer, according to God's command. She promiscuously prostitutes herself, even bearing children out of her adultery. A seemingly irreconcilable rift estranges the young couple but the Lord speaks to the heartbroken Hosea and says "Go again, love a woman who is loved by another man and is an adulteress..." Why? Plot twist! This is how "the Lord loves Israel even though they turn to other gods"! Gomer has fallen so low, she is being sold as a slave, and the husband she wronged buys her back.
Though in our individual human relationships we sometimes find ourselves on different sides of a Hosea/Gomer style conflict, as the people of God we stand in Gomer's place. A favourite hymn includes the desperate lines "Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it!/Prone to leave the God I love!" And devastatingly we sometimes do just that, personally and congregationally, pursuing our sinful feelings instead of God's saving faithfulness. We have not so much lost our love, as we have left our love. But the cry of the damaged, torn-up prophet Hosea reverberates still today: "Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God, for you have stumbled because of your iniquity!" (Hosea 14:1). And the promise of the Lord still stands: "I will heal their apostasy. I will love them freely, for my anger has turned from them" (Hosea 14:6). God has not left you, you have left God. You have grown cold, distant, and have been unfaithful to God. He still loves you. It's time to come home.
Psalm 10 begins with the anguished cry of a man who wonders where God is in all of the suffering: "Lord, why do you stand so far away?" To be clear, the psalmist believes in divine existence - why else would he address his petition to the Lord? His struggle is rather if he can observe evidence of divine intervention. As the psalm progresses, his feeling that God does not care digresses, not through some naive denial of the harsh realities of life or the prevalence of evil in sin-saturated society but through a fresh realisation that "the Lord is king forever and ever" and knows the score! The psalm gives insight into what the wicked think, say, and do (reasons why some feel that God doesn't care), before showing us who God is and what God does (how we find, with the psalmist, that God does care), informing our prayers and and guiding our path through challenging times.
We all do. Our lives as individuals are filled with tests and our life as a community of Christ-followers is assaulted by trials. The New Testament letter of James is a big help for us here, and is the focus of our present series of expository messages on Sundays. Studying its pages we see a map of dangerous obstacles to our progression in Christian growth and patience for Christ's return: the winds of doubt (1:2-11), the seductive lure of desire (1:12-18), the stain of the world - especially seen in anger and partiality (1:19-2:13), the grave of inactivity that is "faith" apart from works (2:14-26), the devastating fire of the tongue (3:1-12), and like the boss level of an ever intensifying video game, the two headed demon of jealousy and selfish ambition (3:13-5:6). It is all a bit grim and would be utterly unbearable were it not for God, who graciously gives wisdom to help us navigate life's very real problems, pitfalls, and pains.