Do you follow? Will you follow?

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“Jesus replied to Simon, “Don’t be afraid! From now on you’ll be fishing for people!” And as soon as they landed, they left everything and followed Jesus.”   – Luke 5:10-11

“Later, as Jesus left the town, he saw a tax collector named Levi sitting at his tax collector’s booth. “Follow me and be my disciple,” Jesus said to him. So Levi got up, left everything, and followed him.”  – Luke 5:27-28

Today everyone is following everyone. Or seems to be. Or so social media would have us believe. Having ‘Followers’ has never been so easy, and yet it is a type of following that requires little commitment and has an easy opt-out. To be ‘unfollowed’ or ‘unfriended’ is now a part of daily life in this digital age.

Jesus called people to follow him. at the age of thirty he started teaching and preaching in the Jewish synagogues, as many did, but there was something different about Jesus the Rabbi. This ‘master’, this ‘teacher’ quickly got a reputation and a following. In the Gospels we see the diversity of those who recognize and address Jesus as Rabbi: private individuals, lawyers, the rich young ruler, the Pharisees, the Sadducees – a broad cross section of the people of His day. Jesus from Nazareth, in a sense, was not doing anything out of the ordinary that other men had not done before and weren’t doing at the time, part from this particular Jesus spoke with authority and backed up his interpretation of the Kingdom with action.

There were reported to be 2.18 billion Christians around the world in 2010, up from about 600 million in 1910. Millions converting from other religions to follow Christ, not just on a whim, but based on a deep conviction that Jesus is the Son of God. This all started when Jesus called those first men, then women, to follow him in Galilee.

Look who he called! Fishermen. Simple men who knew just how to fish. Money swindlers. Political activists. Terrorists. And a doctor (because every organisation needs a doctor!). The most unlikely, motley crew.

We have the most detailed accounts in Luke of Simon (Peter)  and Levi (Matthew)’s callings. In both cases there is clearly a sense of them experiencing something they had never felt before, which caused them both to realise their own failings and Jesus’ worth. Light invading their darkness. For Simon Peter, he realises his own sinfulness when the carpenter Jesus is proved right and he brings in half of the seats fish in one haul. The miraculous breaks into the mundane, and Simon Peter knows he is in the presence of more than a Rabbi. He and James and John, amazed, drop their nets and follow. No small thing, to leave your business behind.

 

And Levi, the tax collector! Why would a man on the make leave his profitable location to follow a man, knowing that he won’t pocket anything and will also be in trouble with the Roman officials for whom he was gathering the taxes? Later on, when Levi is entertaining Jesus, Jesus goes on record and tells the critical religious leaders that the ‘scum’ that he is dining with (the pharisees’ words, not Jesus’s) are the ones he came for. “I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent.”(v32). 

Something in Simon Peter realised in Jesus’ presence that he was sinful, and that he needed Jesus. Something in the call to Levi made him realise that he was so far away from being the man he wanted to be. Made him reassess the decisions he had made, and that he needed Jesus. They and the other disciples  left lives of mending and making do behind, a lives that consisted of struggle, wondering if there was more than this. They were convicted by the person of Jesus Christ and answered the call.

I’d like to tell you that the end of the story for Simon Peter and Matthew was glorious… but I would be lying. It was an up and down journey with Jesus which resulted years after Jesus had gone with their own deaths at the hands of others. Because they followed Jesus. But the transformation of these men’s lives! As Peter later on says to Jesus at a particularly low point, “Where else shall we go? You have the words of eternal life!” “You are the Christ,  the Son of the living God.”

Today, the call is still going out. Will you follow? Do you follow? Is the call irresistible or are we unaffected by the summons to prioritise Jesus and His Kingdom in our lives? You need to decide for yourself. Either Jesus is worth following, or he isn’t. Either he is the way, the truth and the life or he isn’t. Follow, or don’t. The choice is mine, the choice is yours. But let’s not be ambivalent about it. art-blue-boat-194094

Click here to listen to Sunday’s full message.

(Marcus Mosey, 4th February 2019)

 

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Follow Jesus – our focus for 2019

The world in 2019 seems to be headed for a crisis point. Certainly if you’re living in the UK and you’re over 35 like me, I’d be surprised if you don’t occasionally find yourself looking back to your childhood and then making comparisons with life today and wondering “How on earth did we get HERE?”.  Life is easier than ever yet more complex than ever, more mental illness-inducing than ever. All of the digital improvements in the world seem to have made zero difference to humankind’s bent towards power, greed and self-destruction. How have the politicians, the business community,  the financial institutions, the media, got it so wrong? And how have WE got it so wrong?  What hope is there for the future? For our children?

Don’t worry, I’m not about to burst into a Whitney Houston classic. But a lack of leadership is so evident in our world, and if we are honest, maybe in our own souls too.

The Apostle Paul , writing about Jesus, penned these words…

“But when the time had fully come, God sent his Son…” (Galatians 4:4). This is the same Son of whom a voice from the sky announced “This is my beloved Son. Listen to Him.” (Luke 9:7).

Could it be that the person whose life, deeds, words, death and resurrection have inspired and changed hundreds of millions of lives for over two millennia needs to be heard again? Could this man who claimed to be ‘The Way, the Truth and the Life’ actually be the guiding light that you and I need today? Maybe you know that… but are you listening, watching, asking, pursuing Jesus and His Way?

Come and join New Life Church every Sunday, 10:30am at the The Chapel (White Cross, Lancaster, LA1 4XQ) as we Follow Jesus, and discover Him in a fresh way through the eyes of His disciples. We are also running Christianity Explored,  a seven week journey through Mark’s Gospel. We’re doing that through our midweek Life Groups, meeting on three nights in five venues around the city. You’d be most welcome.  You can go to our Facebook page,  email office@newlifelancaster.org.uk or leave a message at 01524 845544 for more information.

Who knows, as we follow Jesus together we may find the life that we have been looking for,  full of purpose and rest for our souls.

(Marcus Mosey,  2nd February 2019)

 

 

 

 

Galatians 5: What will you do with your freedom?

“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”  (Galatians 5:1)

The whole purpose of Jesus’ coming was to set people free.

We’ve seen so far in Galatians how we were slaves to sin. Jesus and Jesus alone (not Moses’ Law, not our own goodness, trying to pull ourselves up by the boot strings) liberates, emancipates a person, and brings us into freedom; a place of sonship, of right standing before the Father.

So what will we do with this freedom?

Paul says “STAND FIRM.” Don’t get yoked in to slavery again!” 

Our freedom will come under attack, unless we decide what to do with it.

Life habits are hard to change. They are so ingrained. There are two types of habit that I have discerned: 

 – the instinctive self-help ones. Ie., our routines. We just do what we do without thinking. These include survival functions. These habits are ones of self-sufficiency.

 – the self-serving ones. Habits that we know aren’t good for us, but they FEEL good at the time. There’s always a pay-back somewhere along the line. These are habits of self-indulgence, of the flesh.

Believing the Gospel takes you so far. Jesus brings us to the place of freedom. Out of darkness, to light. He had done that with the Galatians. But they were in danger of slipping back. They did not know how to live free, stay free. They were in danger of being persuaded to revert to human habits.

According to the Proverb writer “As a dog returns to his vomit, so a fool repeats his folly.” (Proverbs 26:11)

In this chapter, Paul describes both of these habitual reactions to the outrageous grace and freedom that Jesus has set us free to experience.

  1. FREE TO REVERT TO LEGALISM (V2-12) ?

This danger is for those who have been brought up religious, or in church world. Or in contexts where we have had expectations placed upon us, maybe even by parents. Some of us have grown up in ‘church world’ and we know the Gospel, that it is grace,  but we have still imbibed a culture of ‘evangelical legalism’. Maybe you have allowed your freedom to be taken away by things you hear, prominent people and voices have made you feel like “I must do more, I must be better, otherwise I am not as worthy as those I see higher in the Christian pecking order.” Or perhaps you have doubts in the back of your mind because you have thought and done some REALLY bad stuff…and that’s since you became a Christian! Things  no-one knows about. And somehow you feel you need to do something, add something of your own effort.

Paul, in effect, says to the Galatians, “You think getting circumcised is going to add to your freedom? If you go down that route again… you’re trapped. And Jesus is of NO USE TO YOU!  You’re ignoring the liberator.” Are we in danger of falling in to the same legalistic trap today?

      2. FREE TO RETURN TO LAWLESSNESS (V13 & V19-21)?

Paul exhorts the Galatians and us today not to resort to indulging our lawless, fleshy instincts again, now that we are free.  He gives an in-exhaustive list of what lawlessness looks like.  We actually lose our freedom if we go down this path. This is not what we were set free to be. Yet we can choose to go back through the door of freedom and revert to what was killing us in the first place. 

Legalism. Lawlessness. Self-sufficiency. Self-serving. Not the life that Christ set us free for.

These are U turns. They are diversions. Paul says “Galatians, don’t be diverted from anything less than the type of freedom that Jesus Christ has set you free for. Don’t be the dog returning to its own vomit! There is a new life for you to live, where the law is a servant not a master, and where self-pleasure is a consequence, not a goal.

There is a third way to live, in freedom.

     3. FREE TO RELENTLESSLY LOVE (V6, 13, 14)

V6 ‘For in Christ, neither circumsion or uncircumcision mean anything, but faith working through love.”

V13 ‘For you were called to freedom: only do not TURN your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through LOVE SERVE ONE ANOTHER.’

V14 ‘For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement ‘You shall LOVE your Neighbour as yourself.’

How do we do that ? 

How do we move on, out of the prison of our own self-condemning thoughts and religious behaviours? Out of self-justification? 

How do we stop the cycle of knowing what is good to do, but just indulging our own desires?

Answer: The Holy Spirit.

We read the list of what the lawless nature wants.  We see the things that we feel we SHOULD be doing to make ourselves better. And it is only through the Holy Spirit that we leave those things behind.

Your spirit wants what the Holy Spirit wants, the bit of you that has been made perfect and right with God by faith in Jesus, it is incorruptible (1 Peter 1:23) But the soul, the flesh, is at war with it still, says Paul. Read Romans 6 and 7. Sin was evident in Paul’s life too! He recognised the war zone of his own heart.

But He looks up, sees Jesus and says “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!”

There is a door to freedom, by the Holy Spirit. It’s a door that leads to a life of  love. As Paul puts it in his first letter to the Corinthians “a more excellent way”.

Walk in the Spirit. Give yourself in your minds to the Holy Spirit. He is here with you, in you, ready to restore and renew you.

The result is love.

Instead of wasting our freedom on the desires of the flesh, the Holy Spirit comes to empower us to produce a different life (v16)

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control.”  (v22-23) There’s no law that will convict you or condemn you of these crimes! 

Walk by the Spirit. Walk free from legalism, from lawlessness, from revenge, from hatred. From habits that do not free you, but instead will ensnare you again.

If you live by the Spirit, Paul says, if you have received Christ and had a new birth by the Holy Spirit, then why not continue to live in the Holy Spirit?

(Marcus Mosey, November 2018)

Outrageous Grace: Galatians 1

“1 This letter is from Paul, an apostle. I was not appointed by any group of people or any human authority, but by Jesus Christ himself and by God the Father, who raised Jesus from the dead. All the brothers and sisters[a] here join me in sending this letter to the churches of Galatia. May God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ give you grace and peace.Jesus gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to rescue us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen.” (Galatians 1:1-5)

This message was brought to New Life Church on Sunday 7th October.This passage will be available to listen to at New Life Church media page . But here is a summaried manuscript, with some questions at the end.

  • Background to Paul’s letter to the Galatians

It’s written in about AD50, many of the experts reckon. Maybe Paul’s earliest recorded letter.He has travelled throughout the area which we now know as Turkey. Part of that landmass was called Galatia. Paul had visited cities and towns in this area on his missionary journeys. It was populated by the Gauls. Huge numbers had travelled, conquered and settle there many years before. Now it was part of the Roman Empire, and had a mixture of religious influences. There were diaspora Jews in the region, and as was Paul’s habit, on his journeys he first went to his fellow Jews to share the Gospel. Those who believed then joined him in preaching the Good News about Jesus to the non-Jews. And churches were planted.

Years later, the church is subtlely being turned away from the message that they had heard from Paul. 

Some of the teachers in the churches in Galatia were now insisting that the non-Jewish Christians practice all the ceremonial customs of the Law of Moses, including circumcision and dietary laws. All this in order for their faith to be acceptable to God.They were creating social and racial unrest. And these ‘Judaisers’, as Paul calls them, have gone on the offensive with a two-pronged attack. The Gospel is under attack. And so is Paul. The teachers of this  different Gospel want to discredit Paul’s apostleship and authority, and in so doing discredit ‘his’ Gospel.

There were three aspects of the first chapter which we explored.

  • The Source of the Gospel – Revelation

In this opening chapter, Paul is saying “If you doubt me, then you are doubting the revelation of the Gospel.”

The Gospel is not a system or a moral code. It is the revelation of a person, Jesus Christ, and his actions at Calvary on our behalf. Paul had received that revelation and a mandate from the risen Christ whilst on his way to Damascus to imprison and maybe kill some of Jesus’ followers.  His story is found in Acts 9. This revelation changed his life forever. He comments on this in v13 and v14. After all his pious works and attempts to know God through his own zeal and religiosity, he realised they counted as NOTHING! A pile of dung, as he writes to the Philippians (3:8). 

vs11 and 12, Paul in effect challenges the teachers that are disputing the authenticity of his calling and his Gospel, but Paul maintains that he is an Apostle by the revelation and choosing of God.  This message was and is direct from God. 

The  Gospel is Revelation. It is so good, so generous, so unbelievably benevolent and life-changing…you couldn’t make it up. You can’t systematise it. You can’t add to it, tweak it. You cannot control GRACE! 

  • The Substance of the Gospel – Grace.

The Gospel in a nutshell is right here in the first verses of Galatians.  If you ever need to explain the Gospel in fewest words possible, Paul has done it for you.

v4 “Jesus Christ gave his life for our sins, just as God our Father planned, in order to RESCUE us from this evil world in which we live. All glory to God forever and ever! Amen!”

If the Galatians actually believed that, then there would be no need for this letter!

 – Who are we? We are helpless and lost (v4)

That’s what the word ‘rescue’ implies. Think about it. If you saw a man drowning in the River Lune, you wouldn’t read him a manual from the banks of the river on how to swim, would you? You’d throw him a lifeline! Or jump in!

 Jesus did not come as a teacher primarily. Yet that is what the average person on the street thinks. He didn’t even come to parade as the Son of God! He let people come to their own conclusions on that rather than broadcast it. 

He is first and foremost a RESCUER! Because that is what we NEED! Why? Because we are helpless and lost.

 That is what the Law of Moses points out more than anything….we are doomed because we cannot change ourselves to become what God intends us to be – perfect, holy, selfless, good stewards of all we have. The Gospel is clear about our problem, which God makes his own problem. 

 – What did Jesus do to rescue us? (V4a)

He  “gave his life for our sins”. He made a sacrifice for us which we should have had to make. Not as a one-off, or hoping that it would be enough. No, this is substitutionary atonement. On behalf of. In the place of. This is why the Gospel is so revolutionary, so outrageous, and should not be tampered with! Jesus, the perfect example of life without rebellion against the Maker, sacrifices himself not just as a general sacrifice, but as a specific sacrifice to cover every thought, deed, attitude that has not been  good in my life, and yours. And for everyone.

500 years before Jesus was born the Jewish prophet Isaiah foresaw God becoming flesh (53;6) “He was pierced…bruised… the punishment that brought us peace was laid on HIM… God laid on HIM the iniquity of us ALL”. My sin, laid on him.

Jesus did all we need to do but are helpless to do.

If Jesus really paid for our sins, on our behalf, than we can never fall back into condemnation (Read Romans 8:33-35)

Stop fretting about your failures, wondering if you can atone for them. No you can’t. And no, you don’t need to for God. Because of what Jesus has done in our place, as Saviour, as Rescuer, you are never under condemnation. 

We were helpless and lost, and he rescued us. And what did the Father do? He accepted the work of his son on our behalf by raising Him from the dead, it says in v1, and v3. we are left with grace and peace from the Father through Jesus to us.

Why? 

V4 – ‘Just as God our Father planned it’. In another version, ‘according to the will of God the Father’. The Father, in His grace, PLANNED what we needed. Even when we didn’t realise we needed it. Paul revisits this in v15, when he is giving a defence of his own Apostleship. “But even before I was born, God CHOSE men and CALLED me by HiS MARVELLOUS GRACE. Then it pleased Him to reveal HIS SON to me…” 

Paul’s testimony was simple. This is GOD’s doing, GOD’s grace. NOTHING CONTRIBUTED TO MY SALVATION BY ME!  He is stating to the Galatians, “This is GOD’S work, it’s COMPLETE, and it brings Him Glory. So don’t diminish it or think you need to complete it in some way.”

There is nothing that we can pat ourselves on the back for. His calling; His plan; His action; His Son; His sacrifice; and so it is He who gets ALL the Glory!

  • The Sham Gospel – it’s not the Gospel

Paul gets tough now, having in a few words already laid out the manifesto of the Gospel. He gets tough to deal with the perversion of the Gospel that is being spread around the churches.

vs6-7 “I am SHOCKED!” APPALLED! That you’re turning away from God’s mercy in Christ!”  The literal meaning is ‘transferring your allegiance, you are taking part in a revolt, you are deserting. You are perverting it.’ 

“You are following a different way that pretends to be Good News…but it’s not.” “You are being fooled by those who deliberately twist the truth concerning Christ.”

Paul argues “God CALLED you in Christ…. This was MERCY! This was GRACE!’ This is the order of the Gospel. God ACCEPTS us in Christ…..THEN we follow Him! Not the other way round. The Gospel-twisters were saying “Do this, do that, do the other… become like US, earn your badges…then you’re accepted by God.”

This is how religion works. Show God something, give God something, then He accepts you. It’s not the Gospel.

Don’t be fooled today in to believing a perverted Gospel. If you are trying hard to make God like you and accept you, stop. Receive grace and mercy instead.

It you have given up, because you know you are a bad Christian, then good. Start again. Recognise mercy and grace for you again in Jesus Christ. 

A shammy, add-on performance-related  gospel does no-one any favours. It rejects grace – the very thing that saves us and enables us to live –  and it means we undermine and diminish God’s ability to save. It’s criticising the master. It’s disrespectful to God.

The Gospel is received by revelation, it is grace, it is not to be tampered with, just as you would never dream of drawing a moustache on the Mona Lisa to improve it. It’s Heaven’s masterpiece plan. 

Paul is in effect saying, “ You change this masterpiece of Good News, it’s no longer the masterpiece. You forge a copy and change it, it’s a fake. CURSE you if you do this! ANYONE WHO PREACHES A DIFFERENT GOSPEL TO THE ONE I RECEIVED AND PASSED ON, I WILL SAY IT TWICE….CURSED!”

  • Final thoughts

Jesus came to rescue us from the constraints and the demands of the law, and to transform us by his grace; to make us righteous instead of having us strive to become righteous; to atone for us and forgive us instead of us having to atone for ourselves.  Paul says, (v11-12) the gospel message he preaches to them is received, not reasoned. Received not from a person, but from God. Received through blindness, through falling off a horse, through hearing the gracious voice of the one he was trying to kill.

 

Some discussion/ study questions (some of them unashamedly from John Stott’s studies in Galatians)

  1. What key themes are there in the first 5 verses in response to the controversy with the false teachers?
  2. How significant was it for Paul to say He was an Apostle, “sent not from men nor by a man, but by Jesus Christ and God the Father?”
  3. Re-word in your own way an outline of the Gospel in a nutshell, based on verses 1-5.
  4. In his other letters, Paul goes on after the greeting to pray for the readers, praise them or thank them. But what does he do in this letter and why?
  5. Contrast grace thinking and works thinking, as you understand them.
  6. Verses 8-9 tell us we should judge the teacher by the Gospel and not judge the Gospel by the teacher. Why?
  7. There is a popular view in the wider church that the Gospel changes with the changing times. How could you argue against that using Paul’s perspective in this chapter?

Application

  • Have you been swayed by a false Gospel at all? Ever? What was false about it?
  • When are you or others most likely to judge the Gospel according to a teacher rather than judging the teacher by the Gospel?
  • How does the Gospel of Outrageous Grace make you feel about the Father and the Son? What effect does this Gospel of Grace have on you today?

 

(Posted by Marcus Mosey, Sunday 7th October  2018)

 

Pray for the World (Part 4)

Praying for nations and missionaries that we know can be difficult, and it’s too easy to just revert to a list that we have been given in a newsletter. Truth be told, many circular newsletters don’t even get opened, or fully read! But there are real needs that real people whom we know have as they seek to be ambassadors for Christ in different places around the world where God has called them to be. I think of Ivi who is with us. Working for the Gospel in a foreign, secular land that has different culture and even church culture has its challenges. I think of Becky who is soon going to Peru. I think of Anna Forber, who is spending the summer in Uganda. And there are others.

So how should we pray for those who are on short-term and long-term mission around the world?

One of our small groups recently looked at this resource by Wycliffe together, using the following link. Seven ways to pray, with scriptural basis for each one. Why not take time today, read it, and pray for those you know working for the Gospel abroad?

https://www.wycliffe.org/prayer/how-to-pray-for-missionaries

Praying for the World (Part 3)

There are many overseas missions agencies in the UK that communicate what is happening around the globe. One of the best of these is Open Doors.

Open Doors logo

It started over 60 years ago when a Dutch man, known as Brother Andrew, visited persecuted Christians in the Soviet countries. He went on to smuggle millions of Bibles into places where God’s Word was forbidden. In his own words…

“Our very mission is called ‘Open Doors‘ because we believe that any door is open, anytime and anywhere. I literally believe that. Every door is open to go in and proclaim Christ, as long as you are willing to go and are not worried about coming back.”

Today Open Doors works into countries where Christians are persecuted for
their faith. Check out their World Watch List , the fifty hardest countries to live in and be a Christian. We have a paper copy stuck to the wall in our downstairs toilet (near the World Cup chart!), but the best interactive way to learn about the persecution and needs of our brothers and sisters in these countries is through their website. They have also produced the BEST video explaining persecution to children. Check that out right here.

Some of the stories that Open Doors report are both heart-breaking and faith-inspiring at the same time. If you dare to engage with this website enough, or order their monthly publications, you will be changed and challenged in how you live. You’ll catch something of the heart of God for His church and His world.

(Marcus Mosey, 27th June 2018)

Praying for the World (Part 2)

International sports events like the World Cup can be a great way to help your children become world-aware. At the same time, why not pray for those countries as they play? Last night Iran came close to beating Portugal, and Morocco gave Spain a fright. As I watched the hi-lights (after Christians Alive beat Heysham 5-1!), I wanted to know more about Morocco and Iran, so that I could pray for these countries. But where do I get that info?

You can use Wikipedia, but even better….

Operation World. Many years ago, Patrick Johnstone and his wife started to research and compile data form every nation in the world. Today you can still buy revised paper editions, or find all you need online. Just click below. It gives you a country to pray for each day, or you can decide fir yourself. It hi-ights the ethnic groups in every country too, and will especially help you to find out which ones are unreached with the Gospel, and what is already happening in each country. Just click below, there will be link to the app store there aswell.

http://www.operationworld.org/prayer-app/