Today’s Sermon

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The sermon for September 30th 2018 is now available on the New Life web-site.

In this sermon, Margaret Baxter talks about Remembering Jesus

Click here to listen in your browser, here to download the mp3

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Brian Houston- Apostle

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The announcement last week that Brian Houston was withdrawing his Hillsong church network from the Australian Christian Churches denomination cane as a surprise to people on the outside, but it was inevitable.

pastor-brian-houston-89Pastor Brian Houston is a very successful church leader and founder of the original Hillsong megachurch. For a number of years he also served as state and national president of the ACC. Many ACC churches, large and small, have sought to emulate the style and success of Hillsong.

Meanwhile, Hillsong has planted churches around the world and has changed from being an Australian church with overseas churches to being a globally based organisation in its own right.

The movements have parted ways, on respectful and friendly terms. Hillsong will continue to relate to the ACC, but it is not clear how that relationship will progress.

Here are the reasons why I believe that Brian Houston is a true apostle:

  1. He has a big vision, always looking for the next frontier. National borders and locations do not deter him.
  2. He is a strong leader, knowing exactly what he wants from the people who work with him.
  3. He is not afraid to innovate and try new things.
  4. He is a true father in the faith. He has trained and raised up leaders whom he mentors and sends out. Looking at the pastors who are a part of the Hillsong network, many of them are people who have been a part of the Hillsong mission for many years, trained under Brian Houston and moulded by him.
  5. Although there is a strong corporate feeling to the Hillsong structure, it is also highly relational. When I have been to Hillsong, which hasn’t been for some years now, it has always struck me the love and affection which the leaders have for one another.

I believe that the new Hillsong denomination is a part of the restructuring that the Holy Spirit is bringing to the church. Authority is increasingly flowing through personal relationships rather than man-made structures. We still need the structures but it is the father and son relationships that will increasingly mark the church of the 21st century.

Reflection on Mark 9:38-50

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Scripture
“Do not stop him,” Jesus said, “No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me.”

Observation
Some disciples tell Jesus that they saw a man casting out in His name and and they told him to stop doing it because he wasn’t a part of their group. Jesus tells them not to do this as anyone who is not opposed to them is for them.

It is better to rigorously remove sin from our lives, even removing parts of the body if necessary, than to maintain an intact body but go to hell.

Application
Tribalism is strong amongst christians. We love to criticise those whom we think are less pure in doctrine than we are. Google any famous preacher’s name, and there will be a host of hate pages criticising their ministry.

I don’t like Benny Hinn’s style. There are many things that he does that make me cringe. But he has led many people to the Lord, and God has used him to heal countless people. When I am walking in that level of power and authority I might have the qualification to correct him.

Too many people spend too much time pulling other christians apart. Jesus urges us to be more tolerant.

Does this mean that we cannot ever judge ministers? Is everyone who claims to speak for Jesus above correction?

Not at all. Every pastor, preacher, and indeed every christian, needs to be accountable to the Body in some way.

Rather than being critical of people we disagree with or are not part of our group, we must focus on our own ministry, sharing the Good News with the people God has called us to. Then we can leave the judging to Jesus.

Prayer
Lord, help me to be more open to brothers and sisters outside my “tribe” and to accept even those I choose to disagree with. Amen.

Reflection on James 5:13-20

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Scripture

Confess your sins to one another and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results.

Observation

Regardless of our situation we should pray. In hardship, pray. In happiness praise God. In sickness, get the elders to pray for you.

Confession and healing go together. Some sickness is caused by, or related to, sin. We should seek God’s forgiveness and then prayer for healing.

Righteous people pray powerful prayers. Elijah was just a man, but his prayers controlled the rain.

Application

One of the keys to receiving healing is to make sure that we are right with God. Nobody is perfectly righteousness and so, in that sense, we can be prone to attacks from the enemy at our weak places. Confessing our sins enables the Holy Spirit to work more effectively in our lives.

When we are right with God and walking in humble obedience our prayers release the grace of God in powerful ways.

Elijah listened to the voice of the Lord, and so he was able to command drought and rain. He didn’t do things presumptuously, but always in the context of a close relationship with God.

We must turn away from sin and pursue the Lord more passionately and more intentionally, so that we are able to be channels of His grace.

This is not a religious thing where we have to live in a certain way, constantly following rules laid down by somebody else. This is about loving our Father and wanting to be about His business.

Prayer

Lord, I confess my sins to you now. I ask for your forgiveness and for the ability to live in righteousness so that I can be an instrument of your grace. Amen.

David Mathis: Why Do Christians Fast?

Why Do Christians Fast?

WHAT THE BIBLE REALLY SAYS

Article by David Mathis

Executive Editor, desiringGod.org

 

At no place, in all his thirteen letters, does the apostle Paul command Christians to fast. Neither does Peter in his. Or John. Or any other book in the New Testament.

And yet, for two thousand years, Christians have fasted. One expression, among others, of healthy, vibrant Christians and churches has been the practice of fasting. However much it may seem to be a lost art today, fasting has endured, for two millennia, as a means of Christ’s ongoing grace for his church.

Why, then, if Christians, unlike Muslims, are not commanded to fast, do we still fast? First of all, Jesus’s teaching in the Gospels, particularly in Matthew, is plain enough. In addition to his own example (Matthew 4:2), and while not directly commanding his followers to fast, Jesus gave instructions for “when you fast,” not “if” (Matthew 6:16–17). More than that, in speaking about what his followers would do after his departure, he says, “then they will fast” (Matthew 9:15; also Mark 2:20; Luke 5:35). Again not a command, but a powerful promise from our Savior’s lips that we’d be foolish to ignore.

Early Christians Fasted

Beyond Jesus’s own words, we find a pattern of fasting as the early church grows and multiplies in the book of Acts. In one of the most pivotal junctures in the story, the leaders in Antioch “were worshiping the Lord and fasting” to seek God’s guidance at a key moment in their church life (Acts 13:2–3). While they were doing so, the Holy Spirit spoke to them, “Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them” (Acts 13:2). Then “after fasting (again) and praying they laid their hands on them and sent them off” (Acts 13:3).

Then Acts 14 provides us with a pattern of prayer and fasting “in every church.” As Paul and Barnabas revisited the cities in which they had made new converts on their first missionary journey, they “appointed elders for them in every church” and “with prayer and fasting they committed them to the Lord in whom they had believed” (Acts 14:23).

 

Why God’s People Fast

Overall, the New Testament may have little to say about fasting, but what it does say is important. And in what it doesn’t say, it leans heavily on the Old Testament. The Hebrew Scriptures do not speak the final word on fasting, but they are vital in preparing us to hear the final word from Christ. I count more than 25 mentions of fasting in the Old Testament, but it might be most helpful to look at three groups of passages with one common thread.

 

Inward: To Express Repentance

The first, most common, and perhaps most fundamental type of fast expresses repentance. Think of it as “inward.” God’s people realise their sin — typically not small indiscretions or lapses in judgment, but deep and prolonged rebellion — and come seeking his forgiveness.

For instance, in 1 Samuel 7, God’s people become freshly aware of their past and present idolatries (and God’s hand of discipline). They want to return to the Lord and newly “direct [their] heart to the Lord and serve him only” (1 Samuel 7:3). They assemble, under Samuel’s leadership, fast as a demonstration of their repentance, and confess, “We have sinned against the Lord” (1 Samuel 7:6). Similarly, in 1 Kings 21, even though king Ahab “sold himself to do what was evil in the sight of the Lord” (1 Kings 21:25), he “humbled himself” with fasting when confronted by the prophet Elijah — and God was pleased to delay impending disaster, even for such an evil king (1 Kings 21:29).

In Nehemiah 9, God’s people “assembled with fasting and in sackcloth” to confess their sins and seek God’s forgiveness (Nehemiah 9:1–2). In Daniel 9, the prophet realizes the time for the end of the exile has come. Daniel records, “I turned my face to the Lord God, seeking him by prayer and pleas for mercy with fasting and sackcloth and ashes” (Daniel 9:3). He “prayed to the Lord my God and made confession” (Daniel 9:4) for the sins of God’s people, in hopes of restoration. So also, Joel 1:14 and 2:12 call for fasts of repentance, to return to God from sin — as in Nineveh when the people believe the message Jonah reluctantly delivers. “They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5).

Old Testament saints often expressed an “inward” heart of repentance to God not only in words but with the exclamation point of fasting. Such fasts did not earn his forgiveness but demonstrated the genuineness of their contrition.

 

Outward: To Grieve Hard Providences

But fasting not only expresses repentance. On many occasions, it gives voice to mourning, grieving, or lamenting difficult providences. The seam that holds together 1 and 2 Samuel is the death of Saul and the nation’s ensuing grief. First Samuel ends with a seven-day fast of mourning for Saul (1 Samuel 31:13; also 1 Chronicles 10:12). As 2 Samuel begins, and news reaches David and his men, “they mourned and wept and fasted until evening for Saul and for Jonathan his son and for the people of the Lord and for the house of Israel, because they had fallen by the sword” (2 Samuel 1:12). It was not an expression of personal sin, but of grief at the death of their king.

When news of Haman’s edict arrives in Esther 4, “there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes” (Esther 4:3). When David prays about his friends’ betrayal of him, he says they rejoice at his misfortune, even though he had “afflicted [him]self with fasting” and mourned when they were sick (Psalm 35:13–14). In Psalm 69, David says he “wept and humbled [his] soul with fasting” (Psalm 69:10), not because of his own sin, but because he was ill-treated. Similarly, Ezra “sat appalled” (Ezra 9:3–4), and fasted (Ezra 9:5), not at his own sin, but having learned “the holy race has mixed itself with the peoples of the lands” (Ezra 9:2).

Fasting gave voice to the pain and sorrow of sudden and severe “outward” circumstances and represented a heart of faith toward God in the midst of great tragedies.

 

Forward: To Seek God’s Favour

Finally, we find a kind of “forward” fast, not in response to sin within or grief without, but more proactive, in a sense, asking for God’s guidance or future favour. The first explicit mention of fasting in the Bible, coming at the sordid end of Judges, has this “forward” component. God’s people not only weep for the civil war unfolding among them but also inquire of the Lord for guidance (like Acts 13:2), whether or not to go out in battle against the tribe of Benjamin (Judges 20:26). We see such a “forward” orientation in 2 Chronicles 20:3: with a great multitude coming against his people, king Jehoshaphat sought the Lord and proclaimed a fast. He pled for God’s direction, “We do not know what to do, but our eyes are on you” (2 Chronicles 20:12).

David also sought God’s rescue on his knees “weak through fasting” (Psalm 109:24) and appealed for healing for his sick newborn with a forward-looking fast (2 Samuel 12:16, 21–23). “Who knows whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?” (2 Samuel 12:22).

Fasting “forward” for God’s favour played a crucial role in the preservation and return of God’s people from exile. Before approaching the king to seek his favour, Esther sought God’s favour first, with a fast:

“Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:16)

God answered and, through Esther, saved his people.

Even Darius, king over Israel’s exile in its final stages, sought Daniel’s deliverance from the lions (in an often overlooked part of the story) with fasting (Daniel 6:18). Before setting out from Babylon, Ezra proclaimed a fast “that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek from him a safe journey for ourselves, our children, and all our goods” (Ezra 8:21, 23). Also for Nehemiah (like 2 Chronicles 20:3), fasting not only expressed grief and mourning (Nehemiah 1:4) but led to seeking God’s favor: “O Lord, let your ear be attentive to the prayer of your servant, and to the prayer of your servants who delight to fear your name, and give success to your servant today” (Nehemiah 1:11). He prayed, and fasted. Then, in faith, he approached the king.

Fasting often served as an intensifier alongside “forward” prayers for God’s guidance, traveling mercies, and special favor.

 

Common Thread: Godward

This is not all the Old Testament has to say about fasting (for instance, see the correctives of Isaiah 58:3–6; Jeremiah 14:12; and Zechariah 7:5; 8:19), but the three general categories hold: fasting expresses (inward) repentance, grieves (outward) tragedies, or seeks God’s (forward) favor. And a common thread holds all true fasting together. Fasting, like prayer, is always Godward.

Faithful fasting, whatever the conditions of its origin, is rooted in human lack and need — for God. We need his help, his favor, his guidance. We need his rescue and comfort in trouble. We need his forgiveness and grace because we have sinned. We need God. He, not human circumstances or activity, is the common denominator of fasting. Fasting expresses to God our pointedly felt need for God. We have daily needs, and unusual ones. We pray for daily bread, and in times of special need, we reach for the prayer-amplifier called fasting.

 

Christian Fasting Is Unique

Christians have one final and essential piece to add: the depth and clarity and surety we now have in Christ. As we express to God our special needs for him — whether in repentance, or in grief, or for his favour — we do so with granite under our feet. When our painful sense of lack tempts us to focus on what we do not have, fasting now reminds us of what we do. Already God has come for us. Already Christ has died and rose. Already we are his by faith. Already we have his Spirit in us, through us, and for us. Already our future is secure. Already we have a true home.

In fasting, we confess we are not home yet, and remember that we are not homeless. In fasting, we cry out to our Groom, and remember that we have his covenant promises. In fasting, we confess our lack, and remember that the one with every resource has pledged his help in his perfect timing.

“Christian fasting is unique among all the fasting in the world,” says John Piper. “It is unique in that it expresses more than longing for Christ or hunger for Christ’s presence. It is a hunger that is rooted in, based on, an already present, experienced reality of Christ in history and in our hearts.”

In Christ, fasting is not just a Godward expression of our need. It is not just an admission that we are not full. Fasting is a statement — in the very midst of our need — that we are not empty.

Francis Chan: Stop Treating the Book of Acts Like Hyperbole

From Christianity Today

Francis Chan: Stop Treating the Book of Acts Like Hyperbole

The former megachurch pastor asks today’s churches to measure their practices against the New Testament standard.
Francis Chan: Stop Treating the Book of Acts Like Hyperbole

Image: Daley Hake

Eight years ago, Francis Chan resigned as senior pastor of Cornerstone Community Church in Simi Valley, California—the church he helped grow from 30 people gathered in a living room to a multimillion-dollar ministry. He wasn’t burned out. There was no disqualifying moral failure. He’d simply grown convicted over his challenges in steering a large ministry in accordance with biblical values.

 
 
Letters to the Church
Letters to the Church

David C. Cook
2018-09-01
224 pp., $10.19

Buy Letters to the Church from Amazon

Chan sold his house and spent a year traveling through Southeast Asia, visiting churches and interacting with church leaders. Returning to California, he began planting churches in his home and the homes of others in his San Francisco neighborhood. His latest book, Letters to the Church, is a pastoral call for American churches to consider whether their values and practices are consistent with Scripture. Writer and fellow Bay-area resident Rachael Starke spoke with Chan about the blessings that come from recommitting to church life as God designed it.

Your book exhorts churches to recommit to Acts 2 practices like extended prayer, radical love and service, and intimate fellowship within the home. But many of these run counter to the digitized lives we live today, especially in places like San Francisco. How have revolutions in technology influenced American church practices and habits?

Technology is really about speed: doing everything faster and with less effort. We’re tempted to want the church to be the same way—let me accomplish what I want in as little time as possible. But the blessing is going to come from the work itself, from the hard work you do to love and serve one another. What could be greater than that?

Many books about church ministry emphasize adults ministering to kids. But you propose some intriguing ideas about children serving the church. What does that look like?

My kids have all these “aunts and uncles” who are really just brothers and sisters in Christ. Right now my older kids are taking my younger kids and others and discipling them. We love each other’s kids: Someone’s always sleeping over at my place, or my kids are sleeping over somewhere else.

When we gather, my kids are involved in leading the music—playing instruments and singing. They share what they’re learning in their Bible reading. During one gathering, my 12-year-old son talked about leading his friend to the Lord; this friend “has two dads” and isn’t allowed to come to church. He talked about how he’s the only discipler his friend, this new young believer, can have right now. On another occasion, they invited their science teacher to our gathering. They convict the room with their obedience more than I ever could.

 

If Francis Chan leads someone to the Lord, it’s kind of expected. But when my seven-year-old has been praying for her friend for weeks or months, and then that friend ends up in our house gathering, that’s a beautiful thing.

You challenge churches to test their traditions and practices against the ones God actually prescribes in the Bible. What would you say to those who regard those traditions as contemporary means for accomplishing biblical ends?

There is a sense in which all things are permissible. What I’m saying is, let’s obey the commands first. It may be that you’ve spent so much time on what’s permissible, you’ve neglected what’s actually commanded.

Let’s also consider the byproduct of doing some things that seem harmless. Sometimes good things happen and we don’t consider the cost, whether it’s money spent or time invested. As a young pastor back in the ’90s, I remember going to this church growth event, a Christmas musical. What if the people of that church had spent those hours actually talking to their neighbors? Some churches in America don’t believe they can do discipleship or evangelism. But in countries like China and India, they fully expect they can do it, and it’s done.

American Christians are increasingly paying attention to so-called justice issues, like alleviating suffering or fighting religious persecution at home and overseas. But your book doesn’t mention these issues in much depth. Why not?

When I came back from Africa the first time, I was obsessed with the people there who were starving and suffering. I was so in love with the Sudanese refugees, and I wanted to learn as much as I could about issues affecting them, like human trafficking. Those were all good and necessary, and I’m grateful for how God was at work through those efforts. But I didn’t have Christ at the center.

There has to be a way to care about suffering and injustice that doesn’t elevate them above Christ himself. Do I hear people who call themselves Christians talk like Paul does in Philippians 3—that everything else is “garbage” compared with Christ (v. 8)? Loving Jesus has to be central. I wasn’t trying to avoid justice issues in the book as much as I was trying to emphasize what the Bible itself emphasizes above all.

In many quarters, bivocational ministry is viewed, at best, as a necessary compromise when there isn’t enough money to hire a full-time pastor. Why have you made this model a hallmark of your churches?

I don’t say it’s the only way; if I did, I’d be in sin. There’s certainly biblical precedent for paying Christian workers. I only advocate bivocational ministry because I’ve seen the benefits. Right now, we have around 40 pastors, representing all walks of life—a cop, a school teacher, a tech guy, a restaurant worker, and a guy who was homeless two years ago. These are my leaders. When people see them, they think, “I have no excuse for not making disciples.”

Adjusting to new paradigms for church life is hard; you mention a person in your congregation who compared it to switching from figure skating to competitive hockey. How should those in leadership positions—or those sitting in the pews—initiate conversations about making big changes?

I wrote an addendum titled “Surviving Arrogance” to address this exact issue. I could see people marching into their pastor’s office and saying, “We’re screwed up and Francis Chan says so.” There’s a humble way to raise these issues and a not so humble way.

When I was at Cornerstone, I wanted to change everything overnight. I was trying to do it through a sermon or a change in programs. But discipleship takes time. I thought if I preached this one sermon it would change everything right away. This work takes a long time and lots of effort.

I hope that people won’t be attracted by the numbers. I’m hoping that new leaders will arise who will start their own churches. I’m hoping that some existing leaders will step away because they see sin in their lives and take some time to get their walk right. But I’m also hoping that people will read the book and have a new sense of hope—that the things I’m writing about are for today just as much as they were for the early church. I want them to stop looking at passages in Acts like they’re hyperbole instead of the actual Word of God.

Some church leaders are leading out of arrogance, but others are scared to look foolish or make a mistake. That’s their own pride or fear of failure at work. For those who are arrogant, I hope this book encourages them to humble themselves by leaving. But for those who are pridefully afraid of failing, I hope this book encourages them to humble themselves by doing—stepping out in faith and obedience.