Variety Performance

Last month we tried something new as a church. We had an evening of music on a Saturday night. It was an informal concert put on by people in the church.

I remember announcing it a few months back and asking if anybody wanted to take part. I had no idea who would put themselves forward or what the evening would be like. It turned out to be a fantastic time.

The thing that stood out to me was the variety of the performances. There was music new and old. We had classical, jazz and music from the shows; film music, Christian songs and more. There were instrumental solos, singing solos, duets and even a band.

There wasn’t just variety in the performances, but also in the performers. We had beginners, one had been playing only 6 months, and those more accomplished and used to performing. It didn’t matter, all were tremendous.  Some were young, others were older. It was a real mix, but the blend worked.

The evening reminded me of one of the things I love about being part of a church. If you were to come along on a Sunday you’d see that same sense of variety. We’re not a group of younger people or a group of older people. We aren’t a group of children or a group of adults. We are a mix of all kinds of people.

Some have lived in Whittlesey all their lives, others have moved here later. The age gap between the youngest and oldest in the congregation is almost 100 years and there are many in between. It’s not just variety in age or where we were brought up. We are a group of people from different backgrounds and with completely different interests. A right mix.

So why do we meet together? What is it that we all share? It isn’t a love for a building and a desire to see it remain open. It isn’t a love of ‘Christian’ services or of religious ritual. It isn’t because this is something we’ve always done and therefore always will do.

No, the thing that we share is a love for the Lord Jesus Christ. We meet together because of Jesus.

That might sound strange because Jesus lived a long time ago and he only lived for approximately 33 years. Yet, the Bible tells us those years have an impact that is unimaginable. His birth, life and death have a significance for every generation.

More than that, Jesus is bigger than those 33 years. 3 days after being killed on the cross the Bible tells us he rose from the dead and is alive today. In many ways that sounds fanciful, yet it has never been disproven.

This month we have some special services on Sunday mornings, the 5th, 12th and 19th. We’re going to be looking at some of the amazing claims the Bible tells us about Jesus. It would be a good time to come along and find out what we’re all about. All are welcome.


10 Commandments: what’s at their heart?

One day a man approached Jesus with the intention of catching him out. We’re told this man was an expert in the law and he asked Jesus which was the greatest commandment in the law (Matthew 22:36). Here is Jesus’ reply:

“You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” Matthew 22:37–40 (ESV)

These words are a summary of the entirety of God’s law, but especially of the 10 Commandments. They help us to understand what the 10 Commandments are about and how we should apply them.

Relationship not just religion

With his answer, Jesus cuts through the endless debate of the law experts of his day and drives to the very foundation for the 10 Commandments: Love. Love for God, and love for the people around us.

Often when we think of the 10 Commandments we think of them in terms of a rule book that we must adhere to. However, Jesus tells us that God’s plan in giving the law was more than that. Love is a distinctly relational word. The law was not given for religious rules, instead it was given to set boundaries and behaviour so that we might enjoy wholesome and joy-filled relationships with God and others.

When I married Anita we entered into a covenant relationship with each other. It was a relationship based on promises and commitments. If we want to enjoy that relationship we need to keep those commitments. When we break them, discord comes in. The same principle is true in all our relationships whether with God or with others. Bad behaviour wrecks the relationship and stops us from enjoying it.

When we look at the 10 Commandments what do we see? Jesus shows us that they give us the framework in which we can enjoy these relationships. Jesus divides his statements into two areas of love – love for God and love for each other. These two areas are clearly present in the 10 Commandments. Commandments 1 to 4 (for some 5 is included here too) deal directly with how we love God in an appropriate way. Commandments 5 to 10 set boundaries for our love for others.

Love not just affection

But, can love and rules really go together? For some the idea of love and command going hand in hand just shouldn’t be. Love is surely enough by itself and doesn’t need rules. Yet, is that true? Jesus said to his disciples:

Whoever has my commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves me. John 14:21 (ESV)

Jesus clearly combines love and obedience as two sides of one coin. What does this mean? It means that God calls us to love, but that we aren’t free to make up what that love looks like. Our love is individual because it comes from us and not from someone else, but it is only genuine if it is expressed and shown in the right way.

We are human beings who get things wrong and don’t know everything. Both of these are reflected in the quality of our love which is imperfect. If we want to love as we should, we need more than just affection and a desire to do what’s right. We need God’s law to show us how to love God and one another. This is why the 10 Commandments are so important.

Now, not just then 

By telling us that the foundation of the Old Testament law is love, Jesus doesn’t just give us an understanding of the heart of the law. He also shows us that the 10 Commandments apply to us today as Christians living after the cross of Jesus.

What do I mean by this? I don’t mean that every little application of the law that we find in the Old Testament is to be followed to the letter today (for more on this see the next post when we look at applying the 10 Commandments). What I mean is that the principles of God’s law, which are what the 10 Commandments express, are very much applicable for us today.

The book of Revelation begins with seven letters from Jesus to seven real churches. The first of these is written to the church meeting in the city of Ephesus. Jesus points out that there is much that is good about the church. They are hard workers and are clearly concerned for the truth and uncovering error. Yet, there is a big problem:

But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Revelation 2:4 (ESV)

The church in Ephesus had been characterised by love for God (cf. Acts 19:18-19) and love for each other (Ephesians 1:15). However, this was no longer the case and the embers of love were growing cold. In his letter, Jesus does not treat this as a small thing. He goes on:

Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Revelation 2:5 (ESV)

What are we being told here? Jesus is ready to pull the switch if they don’t sort this out. Love is something of vital importance.

This brings us back to the summary of the law that Jesus gives in Matthew 22. If the 10 Commandments were rules for Israel to keep, we might be able to argue that they were for a point in time and have had their day. Yet, that is not what Jesus says when he summarises them in Matthew 22. Instead, we see they are a framework that shows us what it looks like to love God and to love one another. As such, their relevance is timeless.

How we view the 10 Commandments affects how we see them in our lives and how we go on to apply them day by day. To see them in a relational way is key to understanding and applying them biblically. In our next article we will look at the application side of things and think of some important principles that will guide us.

10 Commandments: what’s their role?

What are the biggest questions Christians have about the 10 Commandments today? You might think they would be ‘what do they mean’ kind of questions. Yet, in my experience people’s questions revolve around a more foundational principle: ‘How am I supposed to think of them today?’

There are several factors that bring this about. Firstly, the 10 Commandments were written approximately 3500 years ago. That’s a long time ago historically, and in our culture old is irrelevant and new is better. More significantly, they were given at a particular point in God’s plan of redemption. The 10 Commandments were given by God to his people Israel as they made their way to the land of Canaan to set up a socio-political nation where national life would be founded on God’s law and principles. That isn’t the context that we face today where God’s people are scattered throughout the world, living in countries where the law of the land and the law of God are often at odds.

Yet, even this is not the most important difference that could affect our way of approaching the 10 Commandments. The 10 Commandments were given by God before the most explosive event of all history – the birth, life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. We live in the time after the cross, the time of the New Covenant, not the Old Covenant, and so do the 10 Commandments have any bearing on our lives today and if so what?

Recently I tried to answer some of these questions in a sermon looking at three fundamental questions:

  1. What is the role of the 10 Commandments?
  2. What is the heart of the 10 Commandments?
  3. How do we apply the 10 Commandments?

Here I’m putting that material into written form in the hope of clarifying what was said and making it plainer.

What is the role of the 10 commandments?

If we want to know how the 10 Commandments should impact our lives today we need to know why God gave them in the first place.

Not a key to salvation

Exodus 20 records God giving the 10 Commandments to Moses and the people of Israel in the desert. Verse 2 is really important. God says:

I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. Exodus 20:2 (ESV)

This verse reminds us about where the 10 Commandments sit in salvation history. God had already saved the Israelites from their slavery before he gave them the 10 Commandments. He did not give them the 10 Commandments in order to better their lives so that they might in some way deserve their salvation. No, God saved them by grace and then gave the commandments to them.

What does this teach us? The 10 Commandments were never given by God as the key to unlock salvation’s door. It was never, ‘Do this and I’ll save you.’ Instead, the 10 Commandments set out the pattern of behaviour that is both right and expected of those whom God has already saved by his grace.

Immediately, it should be apparent that the 10 Commandments are relevant to us today in the New Covenant. God has saved us by his grace in Jesus Christ. Through faith in Jesus, the Bible tells us we have been set free from the slavery of sin and death (Romans 6). How now should we live? How do we walk in a way that is pleasing to God? The 10 Commandments are clearly an important part of that answer.

Seeing the 10 commandments in this way is supported by the actions of the early church. In 125 AD a Greek philosopher named Aristides wrote an apology for the Christian faith to Hadrian the emperor of Rome. In it he examines the religions of the known world and speaks about how different Christians were in their faith and lives. Here is part of his description of their lives.

Wherefore they do not commit adultery nor fornication, nor bear false witness, nor embezzle what is held in pledge, nor covet what is not theirs. They honour father and mother, and show kindness to those near to them; and whenever they are judges, they judge uprightly. They do not worship idols (made) in the image of man; and whatsoever they would not that others should do unto them, they do not to others; and of the food which is consecrated to idols they do not eat, for they are pure.

The Apology of Aristides the Philosopher (

Notice the clear inferences to the 10 Commandments in that description. Clearly, to the early church and to those observing the 10 Commandments were seen as a meaningful and important pattern for the life of God’s people.

Not primarily about us

One of the mistakes we can often make when we look at the Old Testament is to forget that it is just as much about Jesus than the New Testament. Jesus points this out as he is teaching in a sermon we often call the Sermon on the Mount. He responds to criticism that he is doing away with the Old Testament with these words:

Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. Matthew 5:17 (ESV)

Here Jesus says that he is the goal of the entire Old Testament and that his presence, life, person and work are what will complete its words. We often refer to Matthew 5:17 when we think of the sacrifices of the Old Testament and see them as pictures of what Jesus would do in the ultimate sacrifice as he gives himself on the cross. We might also refer to it when we think of the promises and predictions of the Messiah in the Old Testament and see how Jesus fulfils them.

Yet, Matthew 5:17 is just as true when it comes to the 10 Commandments. Before these commandments become words that guide us as God’s people, they are words that speak of the role and place of Jesus in Salvation.

In Exodus, God lays out a condition of the new covenant relationship that he is forming with his people. He says:

Now therefore, if you will indeed obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession among all peoples, for all the earth is mine; and you shall be to me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Exodus 19:5-6

In order to receive God’s blessings the people must keep his commands. As we go through the Old Testament we see that Israel fails to keep this condition. Over and over again they disobey God’s words and eventually this leads to the fall of the Northern Kingdom at the hands of the Assyrians and then the fall of Judah at the hands of the Babylonians.

This failure to obey God’s law is not only apparent in the centuries before the cross. From the New Testament onwards, history is littered with God’s people getting it wrong, and if we examine our own hearts we will find the same is true of us.

So what hope do we have today? How can we know that we too will not fall and, therefore, lose our place among the people of God, his treasured possession? The answer is Jesus. The Bible tells us that Jesus was perfect and didn’t sin. He didn’t live a perfect life for himself, he did that for us. He took our sin and the punishment we deserved, and we, through faith, receive his righteousness in return. In Romans 8, we are told this guarantees that we will never ever be separated from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:33–34 (ESV)

This is really important. When we look at the 10 Commandments by ourselves they only condemn (we’ll look at this next), but when we look at them through the lens of Christ they are commands that Jesus has fulfilled for us and, therefore, speak of our hope and joy in Jesus. The good news of the Gospel is not that God has lessened his standards, but that Jesus has kept them for us.

Not an easy read

None of us like to feel uncomfortable, but the Bible tells us that this is actually one of the purposes of the 10 Commandments. In Romans, Paul writes:

… if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. For I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” Romans 7:7 (ESV)

The 10 Commandments don’t only inform us of the pattern of life that God calls his people to live. As we study them with the guidance of the Holy Spirit we will see our own sinfulness and be convicted in our consciences and hearts.

Let me give you one example. When I was preparing to preach this material I read through the 10 Commandments several times thinking about each one and how it applied to my life. I came to the third: ‘You shall not take the name of the LORD your God in vain’ (Exodus 20:7). I was reminded that we so often think of this command as an injunction against using God’s name as a swear word. Clearly, that is a misuse of God’s name or the name of Jesus, but it does not exhaust the commandment. This refers to any light or frivolous use of God’s name, or anything that brings his name into disrepute.

As I thought about that my mind went back just an hour or so ago. I had just come back to my desk with my lunch in my hand. I’d opened the lid and ‘said grace’ before eating my sandwiches. Did I really pray though? No, actually, I mouthed some words, my normal words, without thinking or even switching on that I was talking to God. I was convicted. Why? Because I had not honoured God’s name, I’d come to him in a light and unthinking way. I needed to repent and so I did.

Now you might read that and think, ‘That wasn’t so bad. There are far worse ways to break the third commandment.’ That’s not the point. The point is that when we look at the 10 Commandments in a prayerful way our sin will be exposed and we will find ourselves needing to repent over and over again, trusting in the reality of the cross: that Jesus has paid for all of our sins – past, present and future.

This exposing of sin was not just something that the Israelites needed around 1500 BC. It was something that Paul needed in his walk with Jesus, and it is something that we still need today.

As I think about these three roles the thing that strikes me is that the 10 Commandments are not just a text for a previous generation. They are not just for those who lived before the cross, they are also for us who live after it.  In the next post we’ll look at the heart of the 10 Commandments and consider how that should affect the way we approach them.

Is it what it’s cracked up to be?

I’ve always been someone who’s enjoyed messing around with technology. I remember our first computer, a BBC Micro. At risk of labelling myself as a ‘geek’, I didn’t just enjoy playing games on it, I also learnt to write programmes for it.

Technology has fast become an integral part of our lives. Tablets, phones, watches and smart devices are all advances that mean technology and day to day life are becoming more and more intertwined.

These aren’t just developments that are happening around us, there is also pressure not to be left behind; to keep up and buy into what is new. Imagine the comments when your phone rings and you pull out an old flip phone from the 90’s. “What’s that, you mean all you can do is talk and text!”

The advertising for these devices is slick and the promises are clear. Here are some statements from leading brands. ‘Life is better with ……’ ‘A whole new way to communicate’. ‘Start making life better’. The companies give us a clear message, if we get these devices our lives will be changed for the better.

Yet, is that entirely true? I remember the excitement when I got my first laptop. It was a reconditioned one and I ordered it from America. The doorbell rang, I opened it and there was the parcel guy with the parcel in one hand and a customs invoice in the other. That was disappointment number 1. I hadn’t factored in that I would have to pay import tax.

I got the computer set up and began finding my way around. It worked well and was quicker and more powerful than anything I’d had before. Two weeks later things didn’t look so good. I turned it on and was greeted with a blank screen and smoke rising from the middle of the keyboard.

Could I get it repaired? Yes, but not for less than I paid for it in the first place. I decided to park it as a failed experiment. It promised much, but in the end just disappointed and frustrated.

Have you ever been in that place? You get something new and there is the initial excitement and the promise, this thing is going to change my life and make it better. Yet over time the attractiveness, happiness and enthusiasm gets less and the promise evaporates.

As a Christian I want to tell people about Jesus because he’s different to other things in our lives. The Bible makes an extraordinary claim about him. That unlike everything else in our lives, he can satisfy and bring lasting happiness. He said, ‘I have come that they may have life, and life to the full’.

I don’t know what you think about that claim? During our morning services in November we’re going to be looking at some of the big claims that the Bible makes about Jesus. If you want to come along and find out more, you’d be more than welcome. The talks will be available on our website at

Times of change

September always seems to me to be a month of change. Summer turns into Autumn, the temperature drops, the evenings draw in and the leaves begin to change colour. Schools, Colleges and Universities start back which brings with it new classes and new experiences. Looking back, this time of year marks other significant changes for me such as starting new jobs and moving to a new home.

As I sit at my computer thinking about what to write it’s the subject of change that’s on my mind. Some changes are positive. They come with doorways of opportunity and the excitement of adventure. They mark progress and achievement and we embrace them willingly.

Yet, other changes are not so welcome. These changes can hit us hard. The onset of illness or tragedy come with pain and heartache. Loneliness can become a companion as we lose a friend or loved one from our lives. There is that pit in the stomach feeling that comes when things begin to crumble around us.

Uncertainty can dominate as we look at the shifting scene of our nation and the world around us. Fear can replace confidence as we see more and more terror attacks. Despair can replace hope as we lose trust in the systems and people who govern us. Economic, political, cultural, community and personal change impact our lives and set us off balance.

How do you deal with this? As a Christian, when I see and experience these changes, I am thankful that the Bible teaches me there is someone who never changes. It says, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).

What does that mean? Well, it means that no matter the circumstances I face, I can know that Jesus is just as loving, kind, gracious, merciful, just and right as he always has been and always will be. No matter how the world changes, Jesus is still the Son of God who died for sin and rose from the dead and promises to be with me. He is 100% stable and a rock that will not crumble.

As I sit here and think of change, I find myself wondering what changes the next 12 months might hold. Do any of us know? Not really.  Yet, I do know I can face them with confidence because Jesus never changes.

Loving Jesus means loving his people

Over the last week I’ve been reading the book “Connected: Living in the light of the Trinity” by Sam Allberry. It’s been a good reminder of the biblical truths of the nature of God and how they apply to our lives in so many ways.

Today I came across this passage that pulled me up short and made me think. The context is a reflection on 1 Corinthians 12:27 and the truth it teaches that the church as a unity of saved individuals is the body of Christ. Therefore, how you treat the church is reflective of how your heart is towards Jesus. Here’s where the author runs with that. What do you think? Too hard or bang on?

In any church there will be some who have virtually nothing to do with the rest of that body of Christians. I’m not talking about visitors, or those whose main church is elsewhere but come occasionally for a friendly catch-up, or those one or two who can’t handle large crowds right now and so keep a very low profile on a Sunday, or those who are not yet Christians, but who come regularly and are still working their way through the claims of Christ.

I’m thinking of those who come regularly and think of this as their church and yet make minimal effort to get to know all the other people. At our own church, they are those I have to race to the door just to greet them before they disappear. Every church has them. You might even be one of them.

If that’s you, then I can’t stop you behaving that way. But I can tell you that each week when you snub your church family, you are snubbing Jesus himself. You may be theologically sharp as a pin. You may be very disciplined in your devotional life. But if you are not interested in your church family, then you relationship with Jesus is very poor indeed. Your attitude to them is the true guide to your attitude to him. Ignore the church by all means, but please don’t pretend you love Jesus.

Allberry, S, Connected: Living in the light of the Trinity,  pp 129-130

Being there

Practical, Pastoral and Penetrating. This book is a great help to anyone wanting to know how to support someone through trials, or even just how to be a biblical friend.

Writing from personal experience Dave, a pastor on the Arabian Peninsula, has written a book that will both encourage those who are struggling and guide those seeking to help them. It begins with two chapters that encourage a biblical and gospel oriented approach to the struggles of life. The remaining chapters deal with seven practical areas setting out how to be a friend and help to someone in pain.

There were three things I particularly appreciated about this book. First, the size. I know size isn’t everything, but I find it matters especially when it’s a book I would want to give to others. This book is big enough to get to the heart of the real issues, yet at the same time not too big that it would scare anyone.

The second thing I really appreciated was the gospel heart of the book and its author. This isn’t a book offering a quick fix for any situation or a checklist of spiritual friendship. Rather it works from the foundation that Jesus is the answer to all our situations and then seeks to encourage us to be friends that both know Jesus and point others to him.

Then, third, this book is a gold mine of wisdom gleaned from others. Don’t get me wrong, it is so much more than a collection of quotes, but the ones that are there are worth reading and spending time meditating on. I was particularly challenged and encouraged by the passage quoted from Horatius Bonar’s, ‘Words to winners of souls’.

In his pain Job had some ‘friends’, but they did not serve him well. Here is a book that will help us to think through and work out how we can be more helpful to people around us who are suffering. It is sure to both challenge and encourage.