Friday 12 August
With John Risbridger
Thank you for your prayers. We have had a great week at this “wee” conference and have thoroughly enjoyed it. I want to express heartfelt thanks to the board, the team and the volunteers. Behind the scenes there are people working incredibly hard to make it all possible. This is an event that is generous in its heart (people from different backgrounds and generations can experience the unity of the body of Christ) and yet grounded in what matters.
There are two key things I hope we are all going to take away from these mornings’ studies:
- That we need to pay attention to our minds, and seek their on-going renewal because the way we think is both a key indicator and a key determinant of our spiritual health.
- That our minds/our thinking is rooted in and shaped by the whole of our human make-up not just the raw processing power of our brains; our choices about what is of supreme importance, what we pursue, what we can’t live without – those gutty choices are a core component of what scripture means by ‘our minds’, so we cannot speak honestly about the renewing of our minds unless we are willing to pay attention to these things. We need to take our heart seriously if we are to take the renewing of our minds seriously.
A fellow was boasting that he was born an Englishman and would die an Englishman. A passing Irishman overheard and retorted, “Good heavens, man, have you no ambition?!” But there’s more than one way to be ambitious. It can be for wealth, success, social power, popularity or fame. But if you’re the ‘anything for a quiet life’ type, it doesn’t mean you have no ambition; it means your ambitions are to avoid trouble and to avoid taking anything too seriously.
Or you might be the ‘always-on-the-go’ type – a child of FOMO (Fear of Missing Out)– so your ambition is never to be bored and you’ll do anything you can to achieve that. I think we are all ambitious, because we all live for something.
In his book Counterfeit gods, Tim Keller talks a lot about what he calls our ‘over-desires’ – by which he means our core, driving desires – the things which we believe we cannot live without – you could equally call them our primary ambitions. They may be good things in themselves but once they become our primary ambitions, our “over-desires”, they become the things that mould our values, determine our choices and shape our thinking.
So, this morning we’re going to land our exploration of the renewed mind on this issue of ambition, which is a core part of our ‘mind’ and ask whether there is a primary ambition which doesn’t decay into idolatry and nurtures rather than hinders the renewing of our minds. Is there a primary ambition for Christian believers?
And according to Jesus, the answer is “Yes”. Matthew 13:44-46, “The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant looking for fine pearls. When he found one of great value, he went away and sold everything he had and bought it.”
“If a man has not discovered something that he will die for, he isn’t fit to live.”Martin Luther King
Jesus is saying, here is the one thing of supreme value. It is worth giving up everything you have to obtain – the kingdom of God. It is the Kingdom of God: the in-breaking reign of God in which he asserts his authority, so as to make things right in his sight.
Because, let’s face it, there is so much in the world around us that is not right in His sight; so much where we long for Him to step in and assert His reign of righteousness, justice and peace.
And to the extent that our minds are truly renewed by the word and Spirit of God, the coming of that Kingdom will be the object of our deepest longings, the primary ambition of our hearts, so that we pray as Jesus taught us to pray, “Your Kingdom come…”
And Psalm 72 puts the flesh onto the bones of that most ambitious of prayers.
Kingdom Ambition – Psalm 72
It presents as a prayer for an ancient King and his reign. The title ‘Of Solomon’ may mean it was written by Solomon (one of Israel’s most famous kings) but more likely it means that it was written about him – perhaps by his Father, King David (see v20).
And with just a glance you can immediately see the driving desire and ambition in the 12 ‘Mays’, 12 appears that introduce each sentence in v 2-11. This is a very ambitious. But this is a very special prayer, birthed by the Holy Spirit in the heart of the Psalmist, articulating a vision of a reign which went far beyond anything ever experienced in Solomon’s Kingdom: it is a vision of the ultimate Kingdom – the Kingdom of God.
And it is therefore a vision that finds its true fulfilment only in the reign of Jesus, the ultimate King. Like yesterday’s Psalm, this one seems to be structured in parallel layers, like a cross section through an onion (aka chiasm), pointing to the central thrust of the Psalm in the middle (8-14 -PPT).
Let’s walk it through. The initial focus is on…
The King of Israel: His reign of justice and righteousness (1-4)
Read v1-2. That is the kind of King that God wants in charge of His Kingdom, because He loves righteousness and justice. And the result of His righteousness will be prosperity for the people, because good government blesses people (3) and the result of His justice will be rescue for the oppressed (4).
The King of Israel: His reign of lasting blessing (5-7)
Read v5. Have you ever thought of one of your First Ministers, “Wow, it’s so good when they are in charge; I wish their term would go on forever?” Probably not – usually a few years is plenty! But when God’s ideal King is reigning, people want it to continue forever – v5. Because the reign of God’s king brings ultimate blessing to those He reigns over and it lasts! Read v6-7 – till the moon is no more! What a wonderful picture.
We are so used to the abuse of power but here is a vision of power that refreshes, replenishes and renews. That lifts oppression rather than oppressing the people.
Of course none of Israel’s ancient Kings reigned forever and so none of them could bring the lasting blessing of God’s Kingdom. But King Jesus has risen from death and lives forever, so through Him the blessing of God’s enters our lives and stays forever! Wow!!
So far Israel, but now an even bigger picture opens up – the horizon broadens.
The King of Israel will reign over the nations: His reign lifts the poor (8-14)
v8 ‘May he (Israel’s king) rule…’ Isn’t that amazing? It’s as if this ancient prayer has suddenly burst its banks and is flowing out beyond Israel to the world – 9-11.
I met a guy at a conference in Melbourne Australia ten years ago whose whole life mission was set by v9 and he’s now focused on mobilising people to reach the (mainly Muslim) desert tribes of North Africa for Jesus.
V10: Tarshish – prob Southern Spain; Sheba – Saudi Arabia; Seba – North Africa: and all of them included within this amazing Kingdom. And, in case any part of the globe is missing “may all nations” – v11.
Wow! Some people say that the work of global mission is over but it isn’t. We heard this week about the need for Bible translation; the hunger for the gospel through radio and internet; the challenge of modern day slavery. There is so much more to do: Saudi <0.3% evangelical; in most of North African, the Christian church is tiny. Swathes of ME gospel unknown – and in W. Europe today even the basic gospel events are virtually unknown by a rising generation.
What are we going to do about that? Will we cry into our coffee and wish things could be like they used to be. We can see these days as a time of wonderful opportunity. Gavin Calver fro EA UK says these are the toughest time in UK recent history to be a Christian but also the best. The situation we find ourselves in is like the days of the early church. This is not a time to batten down the hatches. This is a time of great opportunity. It is a time for Gospel Kingdom ambition.
This is a prayer that still needs to be prayed and lives need to be invested in seeing it answered – here and overseas – focus. We are not just talking about mission that is far away. We believe in global mission but this is for us. WE are all called into the mission of God wherever He has placed us.
But why will the nations bow before this King? What will win them?
Not conquest or coercion; not domination or power. No it is because He will deliver the needy who cry out,
the afflicted who have no one to help.
“The kings and nations are won by the quality of mercy in the king”Alec Motyer
That is grace. This is power that doesn’t take, it gives, power that doesn’t damage but it heals. And nothing has changed! Our task as those who want work for the Kingdom of God is still to proclaim the reign of the King and call the people of our city and nation, and the people of all the nations to bow before Him, to love, trust and obey him.
And still it is the quality of His mercy that will win them. To be persuasive, the gospel must be heard in compelling words and it must also be seen in practical love – in justice, compassion and care. Tim Keller talks about pressing value into our communities so they couldn’t imagine life without us.
If we bemoan that people are not coming to our churches ask, can people around us see the quality of mercy of our king in us?
The King of the nations: His reign of lasting blessing (15-17)
This echoes v5-7, but now it isn’t just for Israel, it is for the nations v17.
A vision of Genesis 12:2-3 gloriously fulfilled – in a way which would only truly happen when the risen Jesus ascends to the Father to take charge, and His blessing permeates the nations through all generations!
I have just finished 18 years as a pastor of a church in Southampton. If you look at the first ten years of my ministry, quite honestly I thought that if my sermons were okay and the church was relatively happy, I thought “job done”. We started to consider our response to global mission. I read The mission of God’s people by Chris Wright and it was a seminal moment for us. But as we studied and thought and reflected, there was a nagging awareness. How can we say we will send people away from us to engage in mission if that isn’t the focus of what we do in our city. We have a footfall of 10,000 people past the door of our church. There is one mission of God for the whole world and we are all called to participate in that mission both locally and globally. We started to pray that God would give us opportunities to serve the local city.
The local food bank came and asked whether we could host the food bank. From there are whole raft of things developed. Work with homeless people, work with refugees, etc. Now we are serving the city, we have friends who are not Christians and we are able to talk to them about Jesus. People who are not Christians see what is happening and want to be part of that. In that experience of serving alongside Christians, they have found faith. Two blades of the scissors, word and deed, work together in the kingdom of God.
That calling to serve and reach our communities is at the heart of the church’s calling. If you track the blessing from Genesis 12:2-3; being a blessing to all nations and a blessing on all of life.
And the Psalm finishes celebrating the wonderful deeds of God, whose glory will spill over from Israel and fill the nations.
The God of Israel: His glory will fill the earth (18-20)
When God steps in to reign things are put right! There is justice for the oppressed; power is wielded with righteousness; the people are blessed and that blessing lasts; the guilty are forgiven, the weak are rescued, the poor are lifted and the nations are included! This ancient prayer with all its richness is a prayer we can appreciate even more than the first person who ever prayed it. This kingdom has come in the person of Jesus.
The Kingdom today
The true and ultimate King – King Jesus – has come and through Him, this saving reign of God has begun and people from all the nations are bowing before Him and coming into His blessing. And they love and worship Him because of the quality of His mercy, because His blessing comes not to the strong who believe they can earn it, but to the weak who know they need it.
And that mercy was displayed supremely on the cross, where He died to pay the penalty for all our rebellion and failure, and break the power of evil, so that we could be forgiven, brought into His blessing, and set free from all that binds us.
And so people from all the nations bow before Him and proclaim “You are worthy… because you were slain and with your blood you purchased people for God from every nation, tribe and language”.
So what will it look like for us to make the Kingdom our primary ambition? (1 Peter 2:9-12)
We can get crushed by the idea that mission is something we have to do solo. But 1 Peter 2 is addressed to “yous” – it is addressed to churches and communities and calls us to work together in mission.
A standout community (fighting social poverty) – v9
Mission is meant to be a team sport! Our churches are called to be communities in which our love for one another makes the message of Jesus visible. But did you see the language of ‘priesthood’ there – in other words we’re not meant to be focused in on ourselves; the truth and love of Jesus is meant to overflow to the people around us, to the city, welcoming the excluded and giving the lonely a family!
A healing community (fighting emotional poverty)
– v9 chosen, royal, holy, special… Amazing words aren’t they?
And especially powerful for those who feel abandoned and excluded.
The message of Jesus is much more than a ‘get out of hell free’ card! The rejected are invited into a chosen community; the forgotten into a royal community; those trapped in shame into a holy community; the abandoned into a community which is God’s special possession!
Chosen… royal… holy… special. Wow! We need to let those words sink deep into our hearts, because they are healing words!
But they’re not just words to absorb; they are words to share; words to fight the emotional poverty that overshadows so many lives.
A vocal community (fighting spiritual poverty) v9
Did you see the connection? God has called this community together so that together we may declare the good news of what he has done!
We were excluded but Jesus brings us into a community, a people (10); we were guilty but Jesus paid for our sins to bring us mercy; we were in darkness but He brought us into God’s wonderful light! We have wonderful news to proclaim. This is the heart of the gospel.
Being a Christian is not about a few rules and rituals. It’s about finding the relationship you were made for – a relationship with God who loves you perfectly and unconditionally! It’s relationship that has been broken forever through human sin and selfishness but Jesus came to pay the penalty for all that so that the relationship can be re-made! And that, Peter says, is like walking out of darkness into light. It’s great news!
And we’re not meant to be silent about it! Read 9b and praises of Him. So I shouldn’t speak about Jesus in an embarrassed or detached way. No! I worship as I declare!
Let it be known that Jesus isn’t just an option if you want him; or a top up if you need a bit more. No, He is wonderful, unique, excellent – and there is no greater privilege available to us human beings than to know Him and be His disciples!
We are called to be a vocal community with the good news that fights spiritual poverty! Finally…
A distinctive community (fighting material poverty), v11-12.
This is Kingdom ambition: a determination to work together and together with Jesus, to fight social poverty, spiritual poverty, emotional poverty and material poverty! Because we want to put things right.
If a friend looked at your bank statements, would it be obvious that this is your deepest longing, your prevailing ambition?
If a life coach looked at your diary to see your use of time would it be obvious that the Kingdom of God is your first ambition?
If a visitor spent a week in your church to see it in action would it be obvious that this is your shared longing and ambition?
So what will be the impact in your life of this week at NH? A great time with friends and family? A great feast of spiritual food? Great memories of inspiring worship and praise? All good things. But God is looking for deep change; a liberating, life-giving encounter with His grace which overflows into the renewing of our hearts and minds, around a passion for Jesus to be front and centre, honoured and worshipped in every sphere of our lives and a deep ambition for his Kingdom to come.
Will you give up your small ambitions – ambition for control, ambition for popularity, ambition to fit in, ambition for an easy life, ambition for church to be just the way you like it. And will you allow God’s word and Spirit so to renew your mind that the primary driving ambition of your life lines up with the great prayer Jesus taught us to pray: your kingdom come.
And so to him who is able to do immeasurably more than we ask or even imagine, according to his great power at work in us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, now and forever. Amen.
If you have appreciate the ministry of New Horizon this week through John Risbridger and the other speakers, please consider donating to support the work for the coming year.