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October 6th, 2015

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Christians Against Poverty

April 17th, 2013

 

Even the most cursory review of scripture reveals God’s immense care for the poor; His desire to see the needs of the oppressed, hungry, naked and destitute met and their cause upheld. This concern was lived out through Jesus’ ministry and is also therefore central in the activities of His church.

One of the ways we are seeking to live this out as a church is by partnering with Christians Against Poverty and Grace Church in Stirchley/Cotteridge to run a debt counselling centre here in Birmingham.

The centre has been running for 6 months and we are now working with a number of clients across the city.

As part of Churchcentral’s week of prayer this week, let’s be praying for the CAP Centre. Although there are many specific areas and situations which need God’s intervention, there are basically three things which if our clients receive, their lives will be utterly transformed:

1.      For our clients to find hope, forgiveness and new life in Jesus Christ

2.      For our clients to break out of unmanageable debt

3.      For our clients to find community in the church

It’s wonderful that our God is committed to those in severe need, as well as willing and able to answer our prayers! It’s also great that CAP and the local church are able to offer these things to people in great need here in Birmingham.

If you would like more information or to receive our CAP prayer newsletter please email birminghamwest@capuk.org

Categories: Central Point Tags: , ,

Why are the genealogies of Matthew and Luke so different?

February 3rd, 2013

If you’ve been a Christian for any length of time, I’m sure you will know the feeling. You are reading the Bible, trying to squeeze all you can out of God’s word and hear his voice clearly, then all of our sudden your style of reading changes. Whereas moments before you were reading and re-reading verses in deep concentration, now you are skimming over whole pages, and if you have a more traditional translation, trying to remember what ‘begat’ means. Thats right! You’ve hit a genealogy.

Now some people are very fond of family trees, and so it seems are several of the Bible’s authors, not just in the Old Testament either. Two of the four gospel writers decide to devote good space to Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew 1:1-17 and Luke 3:23-38.

Now, while these passages don’t make for the most rivetting reading, they are incredibly important. They ground the biblical events in history. When a biblical author includes a genealogy, what they’re saying is: ‘This really happened! These are real people who exist in the flow of history, not in the land of fables and fairy tales!’ And regarding the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth (‘begat’ by Joseph and Mary), that is a noble and vital goal.

Except of course, if you get the genealogy wrong!

And that is the accusation that has been put to Matthew and/or Luke by many critics. Their evidence seems pretty conclusive. Matthew and Luke’s genealogies do not square up with each other. Okay, from Abraham to David, they’re consistent, a couple of alternative spellings here and there, but nothing overly problematic, but then they veer away from each other wildly. Matthew begats (I have no idea if I’m using this word correctly anymore, but its a great word!) Jesus from the line of David’s son, Solomon. Luke, from David’s son, Nathan.

This inconsistency has been picked up by a number of the new atheists of the last few years and their concern is a serious one: If the gospels can’t even agree on Jesus’ family tree, how can you really trust them on anything?

It’s a very good question.

However, it does have an answer.

In fact, it has several answers, given by Christian scholars since the early church. Granted some are more plausible than others, and I am not going to give a complete overview. I will however leave you with 3 that I have found helpful in thinking through this difficult issue:

1) Genealogies are not what they seem!

The first is less an answer, more an observation. It would be true to say that nobody really understands the genre of genealogy in the ancient world. Reading lists like those in Matthew and Luke 2000 years later, It looks very simple, like they are writing the ancient equivalent of a modern family tree. Unfortunately, its not quite that straightforward. In ancient genealogies, it was accepted both in and out of the Bible to skip whole generations in genealogies (‘son of’ could mean ‘grandson of’ or even ‘great great grandson of’), and even more confusingly, there are precedents in ancient literature for authors to throw people into these lists who weren’t actually blood relations (with no apparent damage done to their scholarly credentials). As John Nolland sums it up:

‘Ancient genealogies were used for a complex variety of purposes, not all of which can be reconstructed successfully by historical inquiry from such a distance… A complex history of societal function is here reflected, a function largely determined by ancestry but also affected by factors to which we no longer have more than speculative access.’ (Word Biblical Commentary, Volume 35a, Luke).

So there!

While this is helpful to keep in mind, if taken too far, it does seem to drain the genealogies of any of their historical significance. But what can be said is that we must make sure we approach all Biblical genealogies with humility, understanding that there may be elements of these lists that are beyond us, but still confident that they are, at least, largely historical in nature. So, with that in mind, what of our two genealogies?

2) Luke casts doubt on his own genealogy himself!

In Luke 3:23 says:

‘Now Jesus himself was about thirty years old when he began his ministry. He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph the son of Heli… etc, etc’

Now, this could be taken to mean that Jesus was only supposed to be the son of Joseph, but this supposition was false. As Luke has already been at pains to reveal, Jesus’ true father is God. However, it would also be very possible to read it in the original Greek, as ‘the rest of this list is a little suspect, but these were the best sources I could find, so they’ll have to do!’

This would preserve Luke’s integrity as a historian as he is revealing a potentially shaky source. It also preserves the infallibility of Scripture as it was indeed supposed that Joseph’s father was Heli. However, this supposition was incorrect, it was in fact Jacob (Mt 1:16)

While this is possible, it does seem again to make the inclusion of the list a little pointless! Therefore, I would like to suggest the alternative that I go with…

3) Matthew’s genealogy is the genealogy of Joseph, Luke’s genealogy is the genealogy is the genealogy of Mary!

This is, of course, a very neat solution to the problem. Joseph’s dad was Jacob, who was a descendant of Solomon. Mary’s dad was Heli, who was a descendant of Nathan. Job done!

The only problem is that Luke 3 does not seem to leave that option open to us. Or does it? There was a tradition laid down in the Old Testament, by which if a woman had no brothers, upon her marriage, her father could adopt her husband, so that he could have a male heir in his family, and therefore continue his family line through the husband of his daughter (see Numbers 27:3-8, Ezra 2:61, 1 Chr 2:34-35) . Therefore, if Mary had no brothers, her father Heli would have been likely to adopt Joseph according to this biblical  tradition when they got married. If this happened, Joseph would have had two family lines- one by birth, which is what Matthew uses and one by adoption- which Luke uses.

Of course, this may leave you scratching your head, wondering why God made it so complicated. But complexity and apparent misunderstanding were always going to be on the agenda the minute that God ordained that he would speak through human authors, living in specific cultures. This is why it is so important that we become students of God’s word, and appreciate it as both a cultural artefact and a divine revelation. If we miss either of these, we miss the Bible!

Categories: Preaching Series Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 44

October 2nd, 2012

Acts 16:16-40- What must I do to be saved?

‘[The jailer] then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved— you and your
household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house.’

A common response to Christianity today is ‘you can believe what you like as long as you don’t bother anyone else’. That’s certainly not the way Paul and Silas chose to live! In today’s passage we find them boldly seizing the initiative on three separate occasions. As you read these verses, allow God to not only challenge you, but give you faith to live courageously in your context.

Read: Acts 16:16-40

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

  • Paul and Silas demonstrate the power of the gospel by the way their faith gives them confidence even in the midst of huge pressure and uncertainty (v25). God then helps them in a most dramatic way! Miracles don’t always happen in tough situations, but sometimes we give up too easily. How often do you really expect your prayers to be answered?

 

Further study / action:

Bring your biggest requests to God with fresh courage and faith.

 

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 43

October 1st, 2012

Acts 16:6-15- Blocked paths and new opportunities

‘Paul and his companions travelled throughout the region of Phrygia and Galatia, having been kept by the Holy Spirit from preaching the word in the province of Asia. When they came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’

How do you respond when things don’t go according to plan? There can be the temptation to give up when it seems like things aren’t going to work out as we had hoped. However, if we believe that God is sovereign and our lives are in his hands, then we can have faith that even blocked paths will result in new opportunities.

Read: Acts 16:6-15

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

  • There’s nothing unspiritual about making plans, as long as we’re open for God to change them. Are you?
  • What can we learn from today’s passage about how God guides us?
  • Think back over times when God has guided you (even though you may not have been aware that it was God’s guidance at the time!). How could you be more alert to God’s guidance in your life?

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 42

September 30th, 2012

Acts 15:36-16:5- Even apostles fall out!

‘Barnabas wanted to take John, also called Mark, with them, but Paul did not think it wise to take him, because he had deserted them in
Pamphylia and had not continued with them in the work. They had such a sharp disagreement that they parted company. Barnabas took Mark and sailed for Cyprus,
but Paul chose Silas and left…’

We can sometimes have a romanticised view of life in the first church. But, as we’re going to see, they faced many of the same challenges and issues as us: relationships go wrong, there are setbacks and disagreements, there’s a desperate need for new recruits. However, despite the destructive potential of this episode, it doesn’t ultimately thwart God’s mission.

Read: Acts 15:36-16:5

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

  • When someone lets you down, how do you respond? Do you tend to be more like Paul or Barnabas?
  • Have there been times in your life when you’ve been rejected by others? Although Paul rejected Mark, God didn’t – Mark went on to write one of the Gospels! Regardless of what’s happened in the past, God calls us to partner him in his mission.

 

Further study / action:

Memory verse: ‘We know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him’ (Romans 8:28).

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 41

September 29th, 2012

Acts 15:22-35- A light burden

‘We have heard that some went out from us without our authorisation and disturbed you, troubling your minds by what they said.’

If the church is growing, we can expect opposition. It shouldn’t surprise us, it shouldn’t discourage us, and it certainly shouldn’t make us think that God’s no longer with us. We’re in a battle and anything that involves advancing God’s kingdom is likely to meet with opposition. But what if we’re the ones doing the opposing? A lack of grace in our dealings with others in the church can be every bit as dangerous to the church as opposition from outside.

Read: Acts 15:22-35

  • What can we learn from the way the apostles and elders sought to resolve the issue?
  • What strikes you about the characteristics of those chosen to deliver the letter?
  • Can you think of steps you could take to ensure you’re an encouragement in the church?

The wise handling of this potentially destructive situation resulted in further growth in the church. Please do make it your regular habit to pray for wisdom for the leaders of the church.

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 40

September 28th, 2012

Acts15:12-21- Not making it difficult for others

‘It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.’

It’s great when we see people becoming followers of Jesus. But if we’re to effectively welcome new believers into the church we need to honestly examine what we believe and do, to see whether it truly reflects the values of Jesus, or whether it’s just the way we like things to be done.

Read Acts 15:12-21

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

  • How do you expect people to behave if they’re to be taken seriously as Christians?
  • The Holy Spirit challenges us to not only uphold the truth, but also live considerately with others. How might James’ compromise (v20) reflect this tension?
  • What steps do you need to take to put v19 into practice among the non-Christians you know?

 

Further study / action:

‘Search me, O God, and know my heart’ (Psalm 139:23) – Invite the Holy Spirit to highlight any wrong attitudes you may have. Ask for God’s forgiveness and his wisdom with people you know.

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 39

September 27th, 2012

Acts 15:1-11- By grace alone?

‘We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved…’

Are we really saved solely by faith in the gracious work of Jesus on the cross, or do we need to work for our salvation? This question has frequently been asked throughout the history of the church. There will always be people who argue that we need to contribute something in order to be saved, but we mustn’t budge from the truth that salvation is by faith alone.

Read: Acts 15:1-11

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

Everyone loves hearing about new believers (v3). However, it’s not long before some people grow anxious that things aren’t being done right (v5).

  • Circumcision perhaps isn’t such an issue in the church today! Can you think of alternative things that people nowadays feel they have to do to earn, deserve, or pay back their salvation?
  • Now compare these things with verses 8-11. How many of them seem important when measured against this standard?
  • As you reflect on your own life, to what extent are you relying on what Jesus has done for you? And are you ever tempted to think you must work to earn your salvation?

 

Further study / action:

Ask Jesus to help you grasp the full extent of what he’s done for you. Pray that you would go on living in the good of his grace.

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,

Reading through Acts- Day 38

September 26th, 2012

Acts 14:21-28- Encouraging the believers

‘They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith. “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God”, they said.’

The reality is that power and weakness go together. This chapter records many powerful miracles (v1, 3, 8-10, 21), but in each case the disciples faced intense opposition. We need to know that the power of the cross is seen most clearly when we walk the way of the cross.

Read: Acts 14:21-28

Questions to consider/ Things to do:

  • Despite great opposition, Paul and Barnabas were able to report that they had completed the work given them (v26-28). Spend time reviewing this week’s readings. Consider what God wants you to learn (or receive) to help you complete the work he has for you.

 

These notes are adapted from an original version that was first written for Closer to God and are © 2012 Scripture Union and used with permission.

Categories: Bible study Tags: ,