Victory over death: HRH Prince Philip

Many years ago on a family holiday with our daughters we had a glorious couple of days on the Lincolnshire coast.  There was sand for miles and it was ideal for making a sandcastle.  We had great fun making it, and at the end of the day we left it.  We went back to the same spot the next day, and to our surprise and delight it was still there.  The tide had not washed it away, so we continued to enjoy it and care for it!  But we did know that eventually the tide would wash it away, and what was once there would be there no more.  Thinking on the death of HRH Prince Philip reminds me of that occasion and of a saying that you may be familiar with… life is like a sandcastle on a beach!  You build it, tend it, enjoy it, but you know it is only temporary, for you will have to let it go… the tide comes in and washes it away. 

When reading the Bible, we read about the reality of life; death hangs like a funeral pall over the coffin of life.  There is a sombre repetition of the phrase “and then he died”.  This serves as a reminder that our efforts to extend the realms of our existence are checkmated by death.  Even our most noteworthy achievements are neutralised by death and washed away by the ocean waves of time.  Regrettably, generations in the distant future will not even remember us and our collective efforts.

But there is good news!  For believers in Jesus Christ as the Son of God the sting of death is overcome by the hope of His resurrection, a truth made clear in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58.  In this “lyrical passage,” the author Paul exults in the triumph Christ has won over death itself.  Paul repeated in plain terms that natural, earthly bodies are not suited to a spiritual, heavenly existence.  Indeed, that which is subject to death and decomposition could never receive as an inheritance that which is eternal and glorious in nature (v50). The good news is that living, as well as deceased believers, will have their bodies transformed at the Messiah’s return (v51).

So what is this all about?  Well, perishable, mortal bodies are unfit to inhabit heaven, they need to be transformed into imperishable, immortal ones (v53).  This does not mean that the earthly and heavenly bodies are completely different, for there is a fundamental continuity of identity between the old and new.  This can be described like a person putting on a new robe (v54).  Paul’s quote from Isaiah 25:8 indicates that the sovereign Lord completely checkmates death.  In 1 Corinthians 15:55, Paul also quotes from Hosea 13:14 as if to taunt death, who is a loser and does not have ultimate power to inflict harm on God’s people.

Death has been described in many ways, like a poisonous hornet or scorpion whose stinger has been pulled.  By Jesus’ own atoning sacrifice on the cross and resurrection from the grave, He dealt a fatal blow to death.  The truth is this: all people must die; but when the Messiah returns, He will raise all who have trusted in Him for eternal life, and they will be rescued from death forever.  In this way, the arch-enemy of all humanity, the pain of death, is going to be completely overwhelmed by God’s invincible supernatural power.

This pain of death is caused by the presence of sin in the world and in our own personal lives.  In 1 Corinthians 15:56, Paul tells us, his readers, that it was through the presence of sin that death received its power to hurt believers.  After Adam disobeyed God’s command, death invaded his life and the life of all his descendants (cf. Romans 5:12).  Sin gains its power from the law by using God’s commands to produce all sorts of wrong desires in people and to seduce them into disobeying the Creator (cf. Rom. 7:7-11).  The Bible is clear, people who reject the Lord are powerless to resist sin or overcome death.  Paul gave thanks to the Father for the triumph available through faith in the Son (1 Cor. 15:57).

Paul, the apostle, exhorts us to remain steadfast in his teaching and resolute in the faith, for we have ultimate victory in the Redeemer (v58).  The hope of the Resurrection is meant to spur all on to serve the Lord diligently and wholeheartedly.  With such an attitude our efforts will never be wasted, since in Christ they will bear eternal fruit and reap a heavenly reward.  From this it is clear that only in Christ can work and leisure be enjoyable, beneficial, and fulfilling for people of faith.  So as you reflect on the life of HRH Prince Philip don’t ponder on the finality of death; instead ponder on the hope of life everlasting in the presence of the Almighty God, where we will be clothed with a new body fully fit to live eternally.

Christian living and giving

32All the believers were one in heart and mind.  No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.  33With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus.  And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all 34that there was no needy person among them.  For from time to time those who owned land or houses sold them, brought the money from the sales 35and put it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to anyone who had need.  (Acts 4:32-35)

The first sentence sets the tone for what follows:  All the believers were one in heart and mind. Luke is describing the extraordinary sense of unity that the early believers felt.  The phrase heart and mind indicates to me that their unity was far more than just an intellectual understanding of Jesus; they were united in their faith in such a way that they deeply experienced the feeling of a common bond in Christ.

This experience was so intense that it spilled over into the practical issue of possessions. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own.  Instead they shared everything they had.  This is an extraordinary statement; how was this sharing actually carried out?

Some have claimed that the Christian church practiced socialism or even communism.  But that is not really what happened.  It is true that they shared what they possessed and had everything in common, but Luke’s phrase, “No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own”, indicates what actually went on: sharing here applied to every possession.  In a socialist society, members still have private personal possessions.  You may not own your land or house, but you do possess books, pots, and other items, which you do claim to be your own. The sharing of all possessions expressed an attitude of each believer, not a community rule.

The summary of Acts chapter 2 gives us a clearer understanding of how possessions were held in common.  Believers sold personal possessions to meet the needs of brothers and sisters, thinking that the value of their possessions were no longer reserved for their own ends, but for the common good of their new community.

Luke makes the point that in doing this they regarded personal property as a means to serving the community, acting in the way loving family members would do for one another.  They did all this because of the supernatural resurrection of Jesus from the dead, for His resurrection was proof to them that His teaching on Kingdom lifestyle was the right way to go.

At its heart, Christianity is not a religion of ideals.  It is not a philosophy.  It is a way of life, born out of the transforming power of redemption through Jesus Christ’s death on the cross.  Our lives are changed, not because Jesus has a way of making us agree with His principles, but because the power by which He conquered death comes into those whom He has called to salvation.

So what are the implications for us with regard to giving?  What does this passage teach us individually and as a church about giving?

First of all, we ought to have a mind set for giving.  Again, the impression Luke gives us is that the early believers spontaneously gave to meet the needs of one another, which appears to have risen more out of a natural mind-set that they ought to be looking out for each other, rather than on any teaching given by the apostles because there is no record of such teaching at this stage.

This mind-set for giving is one of the key signs of whether someone has become a follower of Christ, because the one who has experienced the saving grace of Christ, not only becomes conscious of God but of his or her neighbours, especially those who are also in the family of God.  Christians shift from a mind-set of self-centredness to one which sees the needs of others, and it leads to a natural desire to give whatever they have the power to give.  It may be money; it may be possessions; it may be time and attention.

How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing.  Giving starts with caring enough to know the needs.

Do you know the needs of the church?

Do you pay attention to the reports on how well giving is meeting the Parish Share?

Do you know the widows in the church and their needs?

Do you know the families in the church — the names and needs of the children and the help the mothers could use? 

Secondly, we ought to give generously. That is clearly the trait Luke is bringing out in his description of the early church. That sentence in 2:45, — Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need — is not the description of a people who look through attics, garages and sheds, or wherever things are stored, to unload what they had no use for.  They gave generously what was precious to them in order to support all.

But how much is generous? Perhaps it is when others begin to question your judgement about your level of giving!  Sensitive Christians will give what they ought to, not because their emotions, or their guilt, are stirred, but because God is telling them to do so.  What should be evident of the Christian is that they give more of their money, talent, and self than the non-Christian.

Thirdly we are to have the right motive for giving.  This motive is to come out of a sense of unity and belonging.  That is what is meant by verse 32: All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.

Like the early believers we ought to feel united to one another.  This is more than simply recognising that we hold the same beliefs.  We ought to feel that we belong to the family of Christ, and as members in a local church we ought to feel that we belong here – to this church and to each other.

That’s hard to do, – to keep the feeling of belonging.  It is hard enough in a family.  How much more difficult then, to feel a unity and belonging in a church where people come and go, come from different backgrounds, have families of their own and other groups to which they belong?  This is all made even harder when we’re meeting on YouTube, Zoom, in restricted numbers and when we have to socially distance ourselves from others!  No, it is not easy, but the very act of giving helps to nurture the spirit of belonging.  When people give and receive out of a sense of belonging to one another, they nurture that bond.

Fourthly, we are to give out of the joy and power of our redemption. I get this from verse 33: With great power the apostles continued to testify to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And God’s grace was so powerfully at work in them all.

We give because of the grace of God working within us. Note what I just said – We give because of the grace of God working within us.  This means that we do not give in response to the grace of God; we give empowered by the grace of God.

Do you see the difference?  The attitude of the early Christians was that they gave because of the joy of giving, not because they felt obligated.  That joy came from the grace of God and the power of the resurrection.

We are created in Christ Jesus to do good works, as we are told in Ephesians 2:10.  All that means is that we are created in Christ to do what we were originally created by God to do – to joyously glorify our God through pouring out our lives in service to him.  And our God takes delight in our serving one another.  It is not an obligation he places on us; it is a joyous privilege that he gives us the power to do.

True Christian giving is not paying God back for anything, no, we are joining in the joy for which God created us and for which Jesus Christ redeemed us.  We are joining in the activity that the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit delight in doing themselves.  That is a wonderful privilege that God has given to us.

So a question to think about as you go about your daily life:

Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do?

Or

have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: Acts 4:32-35 & John 20:19-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of Christian living and giving.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions?

  1. How attentive are you to the needs of others, whether in the church or not?  Ask God to show you the needs of His church here and the needs of the wider community.  As you do this He will show you how to get beyond the “how are you doing” greeting and find out how those around you are really doing. 
  2. Have you added Jesus to your life, to make you feel better about yourself, to help you overcome your personal difficulties, to guide you in what you want to do? ….OR….
  3. …have you completely and utterly submitted yourself to Jesus, given up all that you are, all that you have, given up your whole life to Him in order to know the joy for which God created you and for which Jesus Christ redeemed you through the resurrection?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to these questions.

As you ponder on them, why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Easter Sunday Living Thoughts

For all of us, those of faith and those of no faith, the last year has been like nothing we’ve experienced before.  We have had churches closed for a time.  I have recorded services and posted them on to a YouTube channel we’ve generated for ourselves.  People, young and old, have worshipped from home; you’ve invited your church ministers into your living space each week as you’ve gathered around the TV, laptop computer, or mobile phone.

So when we finally emerged from our months of pandemic quarantine in lockdown 1, it was like breaking free as a butterfly does from a chrysalis.  We were breaking free from the prison of isolation to join a living, breathing world again, all be it one different from a few months earlier.  And then lockdown 3, the same restrictions; here we go again!

There’s a story of a Christian family playing in a public park after lockdown 1.  As they are playing catch with a ball the Mum thinks that she hears singing and then hears the name “Jesus” floating on the air.  Stopping to look around she sees a group of people on a nearby hill, and one of them has a guitar in hand.  She had heard correctly.  Without hesitation she sets off, at a fair lick that surprised even her, to get to the top of the hill! 

At the sound of His name, this Mum ran and with a sheepish look on her face she stood among the startled strangers trying to justify her intrusion into their safe space!  No one said anything for a moment, the music and singing stopped and then the Mum blurted out, “I heard the Name of ‘Jesus’ and just came running.”  She says that months of being out of church had had a profound impact on her; at the name of Jesus she ran toward the source of the name!  She was desperate for the company of other believers, for the love she knew His Name could bring.  In fact, she was so desperate for restoration – to be awakened back to life – that her heart reacted in a way that surprised her, especially for the rest of her family as they hastily gathered up their belongings to chase after her, not knowing where she was going and what she was trying to achieve. 

By the way, she’d run into a worship group recording songs for their on-line service!

Have you ever needed God like that Mum?  Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your circumstances that, given the chance, you’d throw off everything else and just run, in surrender to Him?

In the wake of Christ’s crucifixion, we can guess the apostles were swept over by a range of emotions: confusion; discouragement; isolation; pain, grief, and loss.  I would have imagined there was also despair that what they’d thought was supposed to happen . . . didn’t.  The Bible doesn’t tell us exactly what the apostles’ hearts were experiencing at the time, but it does paint a portrait of their response when Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and other women returned with a report that Jesus was not in the tomb.  No – He had risen from the grave!

The apostles thought these were idle tales.  That is, except for one man.  The Gospel of Luke tells us:

“Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.” (Luke 24:12).

Can you for a moment allow yourself to get caught up in the sheer breathless beauty of that moment – Peter running to the tomb?  What was Peter thinking as he ran to the tomb?  Was his heartbeat drowning out the sound of his sandals pounding on the dirt road beneath his feet?  What did he feel as he approached the stone?  What did he feel seeing it rolled away?  What did he feel when he too found the tomb empty?  Did he cry, did he cradle the strips of linen to his chest in confusion?

As Peter wondered to himself what was going on, I think it was a step back toward redemption for him.  He probably couldn’t see it for himself, but remember, he had denied knowing Christ on the night of His arrest, despite hotly denying he would do any such thing when Jesus told him he would do it!  I think that Peter, standing in the tomb, a grave, was brought one step closer back to life.  Another step was when Jesus appeared to him later in the day.  I believe that this is all part of the truth of the Good News of Easter…we are brought back to life, and in of all places, a grave, one step at a time!  So, out of this specific grave, Jesus’ grave, comes God’s amazing gift of redemption.

The Scriptures back this up….

“Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12)

“In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace.” (Ephesians 1:7)

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” (Galatians 2:20)

Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17)

We may well have felt overwhelmed by the circumstances of the last year.  But I don’t think that is a bad thing.  In fact, from my personal experience, the moment we’re most overwhelmed is the perfect moment to come alive again and embrace all God can do to bring life back to the dead places in our hearts.

So don’t wait for the circumstances to change around you.  If you did this, you could have a long wait!  Don’t waste your time waiting for them to change; instead run to the promises of God.  There is a lot of running to and fro from the grave, as well as to and fro from Emmaus to Jerusalem, on the first Easter Day.  We don’t have a tomb to run to, but Easter is still about running to the life that’s waiting for you in His Word.  Easter is about running to prayer and worship and to the community of Jesus-followers in your life.

Whenever you feel overwhelmed, get up and run toward Jesus; redemption is waiting for you when you do.  But don’t do this just when you’re feeling overwhelmed, no, run toward to Jesus from the moment you wake up first thing in the morning to the close of day.  God is looking for marathon runners, not sprinters!

Christ is risen…

He is risen indeed!

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture we had today: 2 Corinthians 5:14-17, and Luke 24:1-12.  Let them speak to you afresh in light of Jesus’ resurrection.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions found in this week’s sermon:

  1. Have you ever needed God like that Mum?
  2. Have you ever felt so overwhelmed by your circumstances that, given the chance, you’d throw off everything else and just run in surrender to Him?
  3. What was Peter thinking as he ran to the tomb?  Was his heartbeat drowning out the sound of his sandals pounding on the dirt road beneath his feet?
  4. What did he feel as he approached the stone? 
  5. What did he feel seeing it rolled away?
  6. What did he feel when he too found the tomb empty?  Did he cry, did he cradle the strips of linen to his chest in confusion?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Help us every day to come with anticipation into your presence.  As we take this step we ask you to roll away the stone from the tombs of our hearts, O God that we may share in the fullness of the resurrection life that your Son Jesus offers to all who put their faith and trust in Him and who call on Him as their Lord and Saviour.

Alleluia!  Christ is risen! 

He is risen indeed.  Alleluia!

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 7

The Already/Not Yet of the Kingdom

What a moment for the people of Jerusalem!  What a statement from Jesus!

This “very large crowd” who greeted Jesus so enthusiastically as He rode in on the back of a young donkey had a very definite idea about why He had come to Jerusalem in the way He did.  It was obvious to them – here was their political saviour, a warrior King.  They were excited; at last they had someone who might lead a revolution against the Romans.

But it wasn’t to be.  Perhaps some in the crowd realised this because Jesus came riding on a donkey – a symbol of peace.  Also by going straight to the temple to confront the corruption of prayer, rather than to the Roman fortress to confront the unwanted rulers, Jesus showed that He wasn’t going to be their political leader and warrior king.

The Kingdom Jesus ushers in is not the same as the way the world understands the word “Kingdom”.  His kingdom is one of peace and reconciliation, one where there is no worry and total unity.  But some things had to happen before this could come about, namely His death on a cross.

Now over the last few weeks I have often spoken about extending God’s Kingdom here through the ministry of fund-raising and our vision and mission.  The moment someone makes a commitment to Christ they become part of this Kingdom.  So what is this Kingdom, and how should Christians live while on earth?  Part of the answer is that we have to learn how to live in this world and in the heavenly Kingdom at the same time.  We’re living in an “already but not yet” moment!

The truth is this: Christ has defeated Satan—He’s reigning at the right hand of God currently – yet there remains work to be done before that reign is fully realised.  Enemies still exist – chiefly, death. Of course, this isn’t the first time God’s people have been in such a situation. In 1 Chron. 10: 13-14, we see that the kingdom of the first Shepherd-King, David, was inaugurated without being fully consummated.

His predecessor, Saul, was struck down by the Lord and the kingdom was “turned over” to David.  Yet, while this main foe was defeated, and David was soon to be anointed King (11:3), it wasn’t until sometime later (chapter 18) that all his enemies were completely conquered, and his kingdom fully realised.  So how did Israel live in the already/not yet of David’s kingdom during the time their land was claimed by two competing authorities – David’s and Saul’s?

As they lived this “already, not yet” existence, so do we.  Every square inch of the universe, every split second is claimed by God, and counterclaimed by Satan. In riding into Jerusalem on a donkey Jesus defeated sin, death, and the devil.  Eternal life, the Kingdom of God for all, was brought into the world two thousand years ago!  Yet, we’re still waiting for that salvation to be fully realised.  As believers we can know and live a full spiritual life now, but we will also still taste physical death, but one day that won’t be.  Our salvation will be total – spiritual and physical.  All things will be made new.  On that day, when the Kingdom is fully realised, Jesus will wipe every tear from our eyes.  There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things will have passed away.

To use Jesus’ parable (Matthew 13:33 & Luke 13:20-21), we’re still waiting for the yeast of the Kingdom to make its way fully through the dough of the world.  But make its way it will, and indeed, is.  This is the already/not yet tension believers must learn to live in.  Salvation is here, salvation is coming.  So Christ’s reign has been inaugurated, but it is not consummated.

This is the position God’s people found themselves in when David is anointed King, because Saul’s reign is still in effect.  Yet it appears that in responding to the Holy Spirit many people came and pledged their support to David.  So to live faithfully in this present age, we need the Holy Spirit. (1 Chron. 12:18ff).  Knowledge is important, indeed vital, for we cannot witness without it, but to be effective witnesses we need the power and the anointing of the Spirit.  Otherwise we won’t be able to discern between that which is of the world and that which is of God’s age to come.

Secondly, the people lived in unity.  In the battles that led to David’s triumph, those who were working toward that end lived in harmony:

All these were fighting men who volunteered to serve in the ranks. They came to Hebron fully determined to make David king over all Israel. All the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king. (1 Chron. 12:38).

Now, I’m sure there were still differences of opinion within the ranks as to strategy etc., but the point is obvious: they all wanted the same thing, to see the reign of the anointed one of God fully realised.  God’s people today are called to no less a mission, and therefore should have no less a unity.  This is the already/not yet position believers find themselves in today – Christ’s kingdom is here, but still coming.

Indeed, the surest sign that we have the Spirit is that we’re living in unity.  We are a people of Pentecost: we have the spiritual language of understanding.  However, sadly Christians are marked more by in-fighting than by evangelising the nations.  This tells us how much we’ve taken our eyes off of the main objective: to have Christ’s reign recognised by every tongue, nation, and tribe through gospel-proclamation and acts of mercy.

It appears also that the people of David’s day lived unworried and with understanding.  They lived unworried because “there were, plentiful supplies of flour, fig cakes, raisin cakes, wine, oil, oxen and sheep, for there was joy in Israel” (1 Chronicles 12:39-40).

In a sense, the people’s joy is odd.  There are still battles to be fought, still enemies who schemed and plotted.  Yet, their hope was in the chosen ruler whom God supplied.  Why would they be worried by the straggling defenders of a collapsing dynasty?

As Christians we are in the same position – we too are fighting from a position of victory, of abundance.  The battle is won: the enemy’s head has been crushed under the bruised foot the Messiah!  We should never let the current upheavals and uncertainty of the world lead us to forget that the One who raised Jesus from the dead is with us, fighting our battles, winning our victories.  Christians, like Israel of old, should be known as a people of great joy, even during trying times.

Finally, they lived with understanding.  Though God was the One who finally brought about David’s total reign, Israel nevertheless played a part in God’s kingdom-project.  The sons of Issachar are a perfect example of this.  They were known as “men…, who understood the times” (12:32).  Their discernment is being commended, for it is really important to understand the times in which we live, and to understand what those times require.

In a day in which information moves at the speed of light, trust in our political institutions is at an all-time low, and the family is disintegrating before our very eyes, the church is desperately in need of more “sons of Issachar”, people who can interpret our culture, as well as interpreting Scripture, so we can better understand the dangers and opportunities of our times.

One greater than David has come: He came riding on a donkey to shouts of acclamation.  He conquered His enemies and all things have been placed in subjection to Him.  While the principalities and powers of the old order hold on by their fingernails, we as Christians can live confidently in God’s Kingdom because it is both present and future, here and coming, already and not yet.  The Lamb who was slain has begun His reign. Alleluia!

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: 1 Chronicles 10:1-6, 13-14, and Mark 11:1-11, and let them speak to you afresh in light of God’s Kingdom.  As God speaks to you, why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions based on this week’s sermon:

  1. How have you experienced God’s Kingdom in your daily life?  Over the last few weeks has your understanding of God’s Kingdom changed?
  2. Can you think of times when you have experienced God’s Kingdom as “already but not yet”?  How did that make you feel?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 6

Prayer and Gratitude

Today we’re looking at prayer and gratitude.  Prayer is essential to a Christian and needs to be learnt as a discipline as we grow in our daily walk with Jesus.

There have been many occasions when I have known the importance of prayer in my life, no more so than when we were experiencing difficulties with the challenging behaviour our oldest daughter Rachel was exhibiting as a teenager!  We didn’t know where to start.  Actually we didn’t know how to pray, let alone where to start!  Eventually I realised that we should ask God how He wanted us to pray.  That was what we He was saying to us – “Ask me how to pray”!

When I did this He gave a clear and simple strategy and vision: praise Him for Rachel.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Anything more would have meant that I was overstepping the boundaries He was clearly setting out for us.  Anything less would have been an act of rebellion toward God.

We really didn’t want to do this, because her behaviour was testing us to the limit.  But when we got on board with God’s vision and strategy for how He wanted us to deal with, and pray for Rachel we gradually began to see a positive change.  So much so that Rachel herself, after about three months, asked us what we were doing because she could see that we had changed and that she also could see that she herself was changing for the better.  When we confessed what we were doing, because God had told us so, she did stomp off, but we were undeterred!  We’d got in the habit of praising God for her, so we held on and remained obedient to the vision and strategy God had given us.  He was true to His word.

Praying in a disciplined way, the way God had commanded us to pray, meant that we went from hostility and suspicion to hospitality and greater love for Rachel.  We were grateful for Rachel in a new way.  We had a new attitude of gratitude toward Rachel.

I know we weren’t praying for money with Rachel, but we couldn’t have done this if our security base in God wasn’t strong, so how do we become people whose security base is God and God alone?  How can we stand confidently with rich and poor alike on the common ground of God’s love?  How can we ask for money without pleading, and call people to a new communion without coercing?  How can we express not only in our way of speaking but also in our way of being with others the joy, vitality, and promise of our mission and vision?  In short, how do we move from perceiving fund-raising as an unpleasant but unavoidable activity to recognising fund-raising as a life-giving, hope-filled expression of ministry?

For us, with Rachel, prayer was the spiritual discipline through which our hearts and minds were converted from hostility and suspicion to hospitality and greater love for Rachel.  Our thoughts and attitudes about her were reoriented toward God, and not self.  So, with regard to fund-raising the same principle applies; prayer is the spiritual discipline through which our mind and heart is converted from hostility and suspicion to hospitality toward those who have money.  Gratitude is the sign that this conversion is spreading into all aspects of our life.  From beginning to end, fund-raising as ministry has to be grounded in prayer and undertaken in gratitude.

Prayer is the radical starting point of fund-raising because in prayer we slowly experience a reorientation of all our thoughts and feelings about ourselves and others.  To pray is to desire to know more fully the truth that sets us free (see John 8:32).  It helps us discover the truth of our identity in Jesus.  For us with Rachel, God’s truth was to praise Him for her.  So, prayer has the power to uncover the hidden motives and unacknowledged wounds that shape our relationships.  As we praised God Barbara and I had a lot of confessing to do in regards to the mistakes we’d made in bringing Rachel up.  The Good News of prayer is that it allows us to see ourselves as God sees us.

Prayer is radical because it uncovers the deepest roots of our identity in God.  In prayer we seek God’s voice and allow God’s word to penetrate our fear and resistance so that we can begin to hear what God wants us to know.  And what God wants us to know is that before we think or do or accomplish anything, before we have much money or little money, the deepest truth of our human identity is this: “You are my beloved son.  You are my beloved daughter. With you I am well pleased” (see Luke 3:22).  When we can claim this truth as true for us, then we also see that it is true for all other people who claim this to be true for themselves, regardless of who they are, and what we think of them.  God is well pleased with us, and so we are free to approach all people, the rich or the poor, in the freedom of God’s love.  Whether people respond to our fund-raising appeal with a “Yes,” a “No,” or a “Maybe” is less important than the knowledge that we all are gathered as one on the holy ground of God’s generous disposition toward us.  In prayer, therefore, we learn to trust that God can work fruitfully through us no matter where we are or who we are with.

So, God commands us to be grateful; it is for our benefit, not His, that we are.  If you list out the ways God has loved you – He saved you, redeemed you, made a way for you, has forgiven you, lives in you, is transforming you, welcomes you into heaven, – we will be reminded of the magnitude of His love for us.

Hebrews 13:15 says,

“Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise – the fruit of lips that confess his name.”

In this context, what is confession?  It is acknowledging and recognising God’s hand at work, which in turn requires looking for the places where God is at work.  It’s easy to go through the day focused on self; what I am trying to accomplish, overcome, or fix?  A posture of gratitude keeps my thoughts focused on God and what He is doing in me and around me.  It reminds me that I am not alone.

Gratitude is all about paying attention.  It’s a habit of noticing, and responding to what God is doing.  Becoming continually God-focused and grateful takes practice.

As our prayer deepens into a constant awareness of God’s goodness, the spirit of gratitude grows within us.  Gratitude flows from the recognition that who we are and what we have are gifts to be received and shared.  Gratitude releases us from the bonds of obligation and prepares us to offer ourselves freely and fully for the work of the Kingdom.  When we approach fund-raising in a spirit of gratitude, we do so knowing that God has already given us what we most need for life in abundance.  Therefore, our confidence in our mission and vision, and our freedom to love the person to whom we are talking about donating money, do not depend on how that person responds.  In this way, gratitude allows us to approach a fund-raising meeting without grasping neediness and to leave it without resentment or dejection.  Coming and going, we can remain secure in God’s love with our hearts set joyfully on His eternal Kingdom.

Living thoughts

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture, (Psalm 100 and John 5:18-23), and let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship, fund-raising as ministry and developing an attitude of gratitude.  As God speaks to you, why not write in your journal what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Please consider these questions based on this week’s sermon:

  1. How do we become people whose security base is God and God alone?
  2. How do we move from perceiving fund-raising as an unpleasant but unavoidable activity to recognising fund-raising as a life-giving, hope-filled expression of ministry?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 5: A New Communion

In Henri Nouwen’s book “The Spirituality of Fund-raising” we read this…

“People have such a need for friendship and for community that fund-raising has to be community-building.”

Now when we’ve done fundraising here in this parish one comment that I hear over and over again is that it has drawn us closer together.  This seems to be said regardless of how much money is raised by a single event.

Last week I spoke about asking people for money, saying that when we do this we are to do it from the viewpoint that we want them to help us strengthen and expand the work of God’s Kingdom here.  When we do this we are also inviting them into a new spiritual communion.  This is very important.  In Paul’s letter to the Romans we read:

We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. 23 Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption to sonship, the redemption of our bodies. (Rom. 8:22-23, NIV).

The New Jerusalem Bible has this as the last part to v23; “waiting with eagerness for our bodies to be set free”.

Because we are made in the image of God this groaning comes from deep within us, and as God has created all things this groaning comes from within all creation.  It is the sound of a yearning for all things to be in glorious communion with God and with one another, a communion that transcends the limitations of time and space.  If we are not careful, we limit God but He is bigger than all of us put together. 

In times such as these I believe that God is calling us to step out of the limitations that we impose on Him and on ourselves.  We think that we have to be in physical proximity with others in order to sense God in worship.  I just don’t believe that.  Yes, worshipping corporately with others is truly amazing and powerful, but when we can’t do this because of Covid-19, God has the power to transform us so that even when we’re either reading a weekly service on our own or with A. N. Other, or when we are watching a service online we can still experience His supernatural divine presence drawing us ever closer to Him, and one another.  After all, by His Word He brought absolutely everything into being!  By His Word He raised His Son from the dead, so defeating death, and at the same time flinging wide open the doors to Heaven to allow all who put their faith and trust in Him as their Saviour and Lord to enter in and bask in eternal life in fellowship with Him, His Son and the Holy Spirit!  The good news, though, is we enter into this eternal life the moment we personally confess and profess Jesus Christ as our Lord and Saviour.

This groaning, therefore, expresses God’s passionate yearning for communion with us and with all that He created.  God desires; “that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” (Rom. 8:21, NIV).

This is the freedom of true spiritual communion.  When fund-raising and asking for money we have an opportunity to call people into this communion with us.  We are saying, “We want you to get to know us.”

When we’re gathered together by a common yearning, we begin to know this communion in a deeper way as we move together toward our vision.  Our vision here involves taking on a Children and Families Worker to help and encourage us all to draw families and young people deeper into this fellowship and communion with God.  Why?  Because being in communion with God is amazing and worth inviting others to experience for themselves.  Remember the parable of the hidden treasure and pearl? (Matthew 13:44-46).

To me this is spiritual communion manifesting itself in a concrete way.  When fund-raising as ministry calls people together in communion with God, and with one another, it will hold out the real possibility of friendship and community.  Covid-19 has clearly shown us that people have such a need for friendship and for community, therefore fund-raising has to be community-building.  Do we really realise that as Jesus’ Church here, community is one of the greatest gifts we have to offer to all people?

So, if we ask for money, it means that we offer a new fellowship, a new way of belonging.  We have something to offer – an opportunity for all to know the transforming power of Jesus in their personal lives through friendship, prayer, peace, love, fidelity, affection, and ministry with those in need.  These things and so much more are so valuable, and when people catch it for themselves many are willing to make their resources available to sustain them.  Therefore, fund-raising must always aim to create new, lasting relationships, relationships that flourish because of nurture and support.  If these people have money, they will give it; but that is not the point.  When compared with new freedom and new friends in a new communion, money is the least interesting thing.

Spiritual communion also reveals itself in a new fruitfulness. Here the radical nature of fund-raising as ministry becomes clear.  In the world, those who raise funds must show potential donors a strategic plan that convinces donors their money will help to increase the productivity and success of the organisation.  In the new communion, productivity and success may also grow as a result of fund-raising, but they are only by-products of a deeper creative energy, the energy of love planted and nurtured in the lives of people in and through a relationship with Jesus.  With the right environment and patient care, these seeds can yield a great harvest, “thirty and sixty and a hundredfold” (Mark 4:20).  This is a vision of fruitfulness, so every time we approach people for money, we must be sure that we are inviting them into this vision of fruitfulness, a fruitfulness that reveals God’s generosity to all who give cheerfully and freely. We want them to join us so that together we begin to see what God means when He says, “Be fruitful” (Gen. 1:28).

Fund-raising, as Henri Nouwen says, also gives us an amazing opportunity to grow in faithfulness toward our own personal calling, our own unique vocation and ministry.  At times this may well bring us right to the heart of our struggle with our vocation, for who does not from time-to-time struggle with the vocation God has set upon our hearts?  Yet, it is through our struggle that we can give God an opportunity to help us become more fruitful. He does this by calling us to deeper commitment to our particular ministry and vocation, so fund-raising helps to make visible the Kingdom that is already among us. This is part of the fruitfulness of the community of love.

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit.  This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15 & Matthew 14:13-21.  Let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal, or on the spare pages in this service booklet) what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider these questions:

  1. What does God mean when he says “Be fruitful” (Genesis 1:28)?
  2. Read Matthew 13:44-26.  How do you respond to the actions of the man and merchant in these parables?  Is God asking you to sell something of great worth to you so you can be part of His plan to extend His Kingdom here in these communities?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen

 St. Ignatius Loyola

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 4: Asking

Did you find a quiet place and seek the Lord and ask….

“What of mine is God asking me to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here?”

If you did that how did you get on? Any surprises?

Going back a couple of weeks I spoke about the Kingdom of God being our security base because the Kingdom is where God provides for all that we need. It is the supernatural heavenly realm of sufficiency, where we are no longer pulled here and there by anxiety about having enough.  And this amazing Kingdom of God is all about relationship.  So how we relate to an eternal loving God who has come down to us, is all important if we’re going to see fund-raising as ministry.  This then begs the questions: What is your relationship with money like? Are you free from it?

If we have a strong security base with God then we’re likely to trust God, and step out in faith, feeling free to share the Good News of Jesus.  The same is true when asking for money.  If our security is totally in God, then we are free to ask for money.  Only when we are free from money can we ask freely for others to give it.  This is the conversion to which fund-raising ministry calls us.  Already we have seen that many people have a hard time asking others for money because money is a taboo subject.  Why is it a taboo subject?   Because when our own insecurities are connected with it, we are not free.

Also, if we’re jealous of the rich, and envious of their money we probably don’t have a free and healthy relationship with money ourselves.  In the same vain, we are not free if we feel anger towards those who have money.  We may believe that they have made their money in a dishonest way.  So, if rich people make us jealous or angry, we reveal that money in some way or other is still our master, and so we are not ready to ask for it.  It’s not honouring to God at all if we ask for money out of anger or jealousy, especially if we suppress these feelings behind polite words.  Requests for funds under such attitudes may well not be successful.  It may well put the person in a defensive position.   As I have already said in all our asking, it’s best to see it as an opportunity to draw someone into responding to the invitation to journey with us on the road of faith.  We do this by sharing the vision God has given us.

But once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God, and we are concerned only for the Kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of such great value to give them, then it will be easier to ask someone for a large sum of money.  We are free to ask for whatever we need with the confidence that we will get it.  That is what the gospel says: “Ask, and it will be given to you; …knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matt.  7:7, NIV).   In all that we are doing, whether asking for money or not, we’re to do it out of faith in God, believing we can find God, that He hears us, and responds to us.  God doesn’t leave us hanging and waiting for His high five in return!   We’re not to give up.  Instead we are to be persistent, keep asking, for if we’re asking in line with God’s plans and purposes we can trust that the Spirit of Christ, who is guiding us, is also guiding the person we’re asking.

If for some reason a person says “No,” to our request then out of our security base we will be free to respond gratefully.  Perhaps their financial resources are more urgently needed elsewhere.  Maybe they are not yet ready to make a real commitment to our vision.  Perhaps we need to listen more deeply to the Spirit so that our asking will be clearer and our vision more attractive.  If we approach potential donors in the Spirit of Christ, we can do so with an attitude, and in an atmosphere, of confident freedom.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1, NIV).  This freedom is freedom from self.  In Christ we are now free to do, with Him, what we considered impossible to do before.

Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the Kingdom.  So to raise funds is to offer people the chance to invest what they have in the work of God.  Whether they have much or little is not as important as the possibility of making their money available to God for Him to use to extend His Kingdom here.

This is what we see in the feeding of the 5000.  With only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus was showing us how God’s love can multiply the effects of our generosity (Matt. 14:13-21).  What He was initially given seemed completely insufficient, but in His hands it became more than enough.  We often feel that our contribution to Jesus is meagre, but He can use and multiply whatever we give Him, whether it is talent, time or treasure.  The truth of this miracle is that when we give all that we have to Jesus our resources are multiplied, not for us, but for God.  God’s Kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world (2 Cor. 9:10-15).  God has given us resources to use and invest for Him.  Paul gets us to think about seed; they are not foolishly thrown away, hidden, or devoured.  Instead seed is sown in the ground and tended until it produces its harvest, which in turn enables farmers to produce both food and also more crops.  So when we invest in God’s work, He will provide us with even more to give in His service. 

This brings spiritual rewards to us who give generously to God’s work.  It’s unlikely that we will become rich through our giving, but those who receive our gifts are helped, for in giving we are blessing others.  In return we too will be blessed by our loving, generous, and gracious Heavenly Father.

When we truly enjoy God’s unlimited generosity,

we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive.

Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.

“Bread for the Journey” by Henri Nouwen

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15, and Matthew 14:13-21.  Let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you, why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider this question:

Who is God asking you to share His vision for this place with?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.                                                             

St. Ignatius Loyola

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 3

 How rich are we?

I believe that all who are in Christ are rich beyond measure.  But still we see so much poverty around, not only materially, but more importantly, spiritually.

So how can our Bible passages help us here?

There could be 3 ways to look at the statement “you will always have the poor with you” from Deuteronomy 15 and Matthew 26, (see also Mark 14:7 and John 12:11):

  1. that we can never end poverty,
  2. that it is the role of Christians, not the government, to try to care for the poor, or
  3. that Jesus, rather than the poor, should be our concern.

Do these words say that we can never end poverty, or does it support a movement to abolish poverty with the poor taking the lead?  In Matthew’s account of the anointing of Jesus, an unnamed woman appears at Simon the Leper’s house with a jar of expensive perfume.  Right at the very beginning of this event in Jesus’ life is poverty, for Simon is a leper, an outcast, who lives in Bethany, which means “the house of the poor” in Hebrew.

Mark and John also have an account of Jesus being anointed a few days before His death.  John’s account happens, however, before Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem, whilst both Matthew and Mark place it after this triumphal entry.  Whenever it happened I want to suggest that it is a turning point in Jesus’ ministry; it puts Jesus on a collision course with the Roman Empire, a course that leads directly to His betrayal, crucifixion and then resurrection.

Nowhere else in the Gospel of Matthew is Jesus anointed. Only the unnamed woman does this. The Hebrew word for anointed is “Messiah”.  The Greek word for anointed is “Christ”.  So, Jesus is made Christ and considered to be the Messiah only a few days before His death.  There are probably multiple meanings of this anointing*, but the obvious one is that Jesus is being anointed for His burial.  This unnamed woman in Matthew and Mark’s account is the first person to recognise that Jesus is going to die and wants to ensure that His body is prepared.

(*Jesus is anointed on his head with a special anointing ointment for kings – the same process that David and the other kings in the Hebrew Bible are brought through. It seems that Jesus is set up as an alternative king to Caesar when he’s anointed in this passage.)

When the woman anoints Jesus, she is chided by the disciples for doing so. They accuse her of wasting this very expensive and valuable perfume. They say that if they had sold that perfume, they could have earned a lot of money and given it to the poor.

(Now John’s version is slightly different here: Judas criticizes the woman.  And it reads that Judas says this not because he cares about the poor but because he’s the treasurer and regularly steals from the coffers.  Judas uses the poor as an excuse to make money for himself.  Something that still happens today!)

The disciples’ concerns in Matthew seem to be asserting a common way we still use in addressing poverty. You earn money, or come upon nice things in some way or another which you sell, and then use that money to donate to the poor.

But in this story, Jesus doesn’t praise the disciples for their idea of addressing poverty. Instead, He praises the woman for her alleged waste of the perfume.  And then to make matters worse, Jesus then says this classic line:

“The poor are with you always but you will not always have me.”

For someone who’s concerned about meeting the needs of the poor, this sounds pretty bad. This sounds like Jesus is justifying poverty.

But Jesus’ response to the disciples and praise of the woman with the line “the poor are with you always” echoes or actually quotes Deuteronomy 15, – one of the most liberating “Jubilee” passages in the Old Testament. Deuteronomy 15 explains that if people follow God’s commandments there will be no poverty. In fact, this passage lays out the Sabbath and Jubilee prescriptions that are given so that the people of God know what to do to ensure that there is no poverty, – that God’s bounty is enjoyed by all.  It concludes that because people do not follow what God has laid out, “there will never cease to be some in need on the earth” (or, “the poor you always have with you”), and because of that, it is our duty to God to “open your hand to the poor and needy neighbour.”  Jesus’ followers would have understood His reference to Deuteronomy 15 and would have known that God had other plans for addressing poverty.

What we read here in Matthew 26 highlights a main theme of Jesus’ teachings: in caring for the poor, in Jesus’ way, we can end poverty.  There are other passages in scripture, such as Matthew 25 where Jesus reminds us that what we do to the least of these, we do unto him.  The Old Testament prophets all emphasise our duty to care for the widow, the orphan, the alien, those in need.  There is the community of goods in Acts 2 and 4 that tells us that the early Christians had no needy people among them because they shared and cared for each other.  Even the Apostle Paul following his revelation of Jesus started a collection for the poor of Jerusalem that he discusses in Romans, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Corinthians and 2 Corinthians – more than any other single theological issue.

In Luke 4, Jesus reads from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah and announces that He has come to fulfil this passage – to proclaim release to the captives, to bring good news to the poor, to let the oppressed go free. This is the beginning of Jesus’ ministry. It’s the first place where He really shows what He’s made of, and what His life on earth is about.

So Jesus demonstrated that poverty would not exist if people follow God’s laws and commandments, i.e. living out the “Sabbatical Year” and “Jubilee.”  Jesus is saying that poverty is the result of society’s disobedience to God by following the laws and ways of the world.  There is no poverty in God’s Kingdom; there is no exclusion.  All of God’s children are valued and all life is affirmed.

But I think in loving the poor, God is not just considering those who have little or no money, for anyone who does not accept Jesus as the Son of God and follow Him as their Lord and Saviour is poor in spirit, and poor in their quality of life!  We must claim the confidence to go to these people and say:

“We love you because of who you are, a person created in the image of God, and we want you to know God personally for yourself through the transforming power of His Son Jesus”!

The woman who anointed Jesus’ feet at Bethany was showing an amazing level of generosity, both materially and spiritually.  I believe that she was acting directly on behalf of God, who knew how it was going to end for Jesus, that His body would not be anointed for burial as it should be.  (As it turned out there wasn’t time to do the right thing.)  So God arranged for it happen before His death.  She acted as God called her to act.  There was no apathy or tightfistedness here from this woman. 

Prompted by God she acted in a way that can inspire us to give what we hold most dearly to the Lord, offering it for His service.  I believe God wants us to see all we have, especially the most precious objects we have, our skills and giftings, and our money, as belonging to Him, to be used as an offering to bring glory to Him, even if it means giving them away.

Having such an attitude will demand a sea-change in us.  It is challenging to offer our most prized possessions to God for Him as a sacrifice.  But when we are prepared to do this we bring glory to Him.

I believe that is the reason why Jesus said, “what she has done will also be told, in memory of her”.  In God’s Kingdom there is no apathy or tightfistedness.

As brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ we have inherited a priceless spiritual wealth. So in considering this passage from Matthew’s Gospel about giving, stewardship and fund-raising I conclude with a question:

What of yours is God asking you to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here in these villages?

Can I encourage you to find a quiet place and ask yourself that question.

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture; Deuteronomy 15:1-11 and Matthew 26:6-13, and let them speak to you afresh in light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you.

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind, than just simply thinking on things.

I concluded the sermon with a question:

“What of yours is God asking you to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here in these villages?”

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to answer this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.                                                             

St. Ignatius Loyola

The Spirituality of Fund-raising: Part 2

Helping the Kingdom Come about

Last week I spoke about the ministry of fund-raising being a conversion experience as it helps us to realise our vision and mission.  Vision and mission is all about extending God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.  Likewise, fund-raising is a very concrete way to help the Kingdom of God come about.

But what is the Kingdom?

Jesus spoke on many occasions about the Kingdom.  His message was, “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near”.

Scripture clearly teaches that we are to make the Kingdom our first priority, and when we do, “all these things will be given to you as well.” (Matt. 6:33).

The Kingdom is where God provides for all that we need. It is the realm of sufficiency where we are no longer pulled here and there by anxiety about having enough.

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself.” (Matt. 6:34).

Jesus also compares the Kingdom to a mustard seed:

“It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.’” (Mark 4:31-32).

God’s love is strong enough to sacrifice His Son for our sake.  Our response to this is to willingly sacrifice self for Him, and when our love is in line with God’s love we experience Kingdom love, a love we find that it is stronger than death (1 Cor. 13:8).   We are called to plant and nurture such love here on earth, and when we do this we are releasing the Kingdom of God here.  Our role as the children of God, Christ’s Church, is to create a community of love for all to see.  Paul is clear about this: “Follow the way of love” (1 Cor. 14:1).  In other words, make love your aim!

Covid-19 has given us all an opportunity to demonstrate this way of love, the Kingdom of God way.  Many have given themselves to connecting with friend, neighbour and family in a way that is offering God’s love in both practical and spiritual ways.

The Kingdom of God is all about relationship.  How do we relate to an eternal loving God who has come down to us? If fund raising is ministry then what is our relationship with money like? We will never be able to ask for money if we do not know how we ourselves relate to it.

What is the place of money in our lives?

How many of us know how much money those closest to us earn, or used to earn, at the moment?

Do we normally talk with them about their money?

Is money ever the subject of dinner table conversation?

Are family conversations about money usually anxious, angry, hopeful, satisfied?

Did our parents talk with us about money when we were children?

Do they talk with us about it now?

Did they teach us skills in how to handle money?

And in our own turn, do we discuss our financial affairs with our children?

Are we comfortable telling them how we earn it and how we use it?

Often, when it is too late, animated family discussions centre around money.  Growing up as a child it was tight and it led to tensions.  When I speak to wedding couples, we have discussions about money, and too often they say they have never had such conversations before! 

Money is not only a central reality of family relationships, but it is also a central reality in our relationships with people, institutions, and causes beyond family life.

So how do we spend the money we have?

Are we inclined to save it so we will be prepared for emergencies, or do we spend it because we might not have it later?

Do we like to give our money to friends, to charities, to churches, to political parties, to educational institutions?

Where are we, in fact, giving our money?

Are we concerned about whether our gift is tax efficient?

How would we feel if people used the money we gave them in ways other than those for which we gave it?

Imagine giving a thousand pounds to someone thinking the money would be used to help needy children, only to find out that it’s been used to pay for a foreign holiday.  Would we get angry?

How does having, or not having, money affect our self-esteem, our sense of value?

Do we feel good about ourselves when we have a lot of money?

If we do not have much money, do we feel bad about ourselves?

Is a low or even modest income a source of embarrassment?

Or do we think money doesn’t matter at all?

How do we feel when people ask us for money?

If you are of a certain age you may remember Pink Floyd’s song Money, from their Dark Side of the Moon album. It highlights how money and power go together, and how it can make you selfish!  That’s what money does.  There is also a real relationship between power and a sense of self-worth. I’m sure you’ve known times when money has been used to control people or events.  Perhaps you’ve done that yourself.

It’s worth asking ourselves, do we use our money to make things happen the way we want them to happen? Do we ever use money simply to give others the freedom to do what they want to do? A few years ago Barbara and I gave some money to another church saying that they could use it as they see fit.  A year or so later we heard that they’d used it to take their staff away on a retreat, it was a real spiritual treat for all!

If any of these questions makes us uncomfortable, it may be because talking about money is hard for us, harder that talking about sex or religion!  This is most noticeable when we must do some fund-raising, we feel being up front is not easy! 

Henri Nouwen (see footnote [i]) says that this has something to do with the intimate place in our heart where we need security, and we do not want to reveal our need or give away our security to someone who might, maybe only accidentally, betray us.  This highlights an independent spirit we all have, whose voice can shout very loudly when we’re being asked to financially support someone or a project!!  “If I give will I have enough for myself?”

But that is not surprising, after all we live in a culture where we’re encouraged to secure our own future.  Such an attitude cannot be supported by Biblical teaching, however.  I know I have preached on this numerous times before; Jesus knows our need for security. He is concerned, because security seems to be such a deep human need.  Remember His words from Matthew’s Gospel,

‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matt. 6:19-21).

So what is your treasure?  God, or money?  This is saying, if our heart is divided we cannot find security.  In Luke 16 Jesus says something very radical:

‘No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.’ (Luke 16:13).

What is your security base; God or Mammon?

So if we believe God, (which we do), is calling us to appoint a paid worker for children’s and families’ work, are we trusting in God or self to fund such a role?

If Jesus were here I think this is what He would ask, “Is your security in God or Mammon?”  We cannot put our security in God and also in money. We have to make a choice. Jesus’ soundbite is “Put your security in God, and His kingdom.”  We have to make a choice where we want to belong, to the world or to God. Our trust, our basic trust, Jesus teaches, has to be in God.  As long as our real trust is in money, the harsh reality is that we cannot be true members of the Kingdom of God.

All the questions I have asked are simply to help us consider whether we are, perhaps, still putting our security in money.

“Those who trust in their riches will fall, but the righteous will thrive like a green leaf.”  (Prov. 11:28).

What is the true base of your security?

Is your security base based on the truth of the ways of Scripture, and so of the Kingdom, or on the lies of the ways of the world?

Time to think

Read the two passages from Scripture (1 Corinthians 12:31b – 13:13 & Matthew 6:19-24 & 33-34) and let them speak to you afresh in light of fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you why not write down (in your journal) what you sense God is saying to you.

In the text of the sermon there were many questions.  Don’t feel that you have to go through them all in one go, instead choose a couple to ponder on each day over the coming weeks.

As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others?

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.

St. Ignatius Loyola


[i] Henri J.M. Nouwen, “The spirituality of fundraising” published by Upper Room Ministries, (2004)

Basic aspects of the Good News

Ash Wednesday 2020

Lent is a penitential season.  The 40 days of Lent give us a time to humble ourselves before God with sincere and contrite hearts, asking Him to show us the sin in our lives, for we all have sinned and thus fall short of the glory of God.  When we recognise our sin, out of His compassion, grace and love for us God deals with us, be it ever so gently, showing us our sin and pointing us to the one who has overcome all sin and taken that sin upon Himself, His Son Jesus.

For this reason, Jesus is good news!  The word evangelism means “good news”.  But Jesus only becomes good news when we are willing to receive Him as our Lord Saviour, recognising Him as the Son of God.  So, at the heart of Lent is the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and this Gospel of Jesus Christ is good news for us because it addresses our deepest needs and longings as human beings.  No other faith, philosophy or worldview can meet this need.  This amazing Gospel tells us many things, but there are three things that are basic to the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus.

Last year in the run up to Valentine’s Day a well-known high street jeweller had a strap line “Show her that you know her”!  Surely, for Valentine’s Day it should have been “Show her that you love her”!  But perhaps to be known is to be loved.  That is very much part of the good news; we are known by God and His deepest desire is that we get to know Him, as He knows us.  He wants us to know that He notices us, after all, He sees all that goes on.  Scripture is full of accounts where people try and hide away from God only to discover that He has been with them along! 

The Gospel of Jesus tells us that we are seen, known and loved.  Do you remember who first witnessed the resurrection of Jesus? Mary.  She was a woman previously shunned and ignored by the people she lived with, now she sees Jesus face to face, when He calls her by name ‘Mary’!  From that moment she is seen and known, and this is the foundation on which she is the first witness to the resurrection of Jesus.  The Gospel of Jesus is good news because it tells us that we are seen, known and loved with an extraordinary love.  That’s the first thing, the Gospel tells us we are loved!

Secondly the Gospel tells us that we are forgiven.

Knowing that we are loved by Jesus is only part of the story, for love alone is not enough.  As I mentioned above the Gospel deals with one of the biggest problems we have as human beings; sin!  Paul in Romans 3 says, “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”  Such a statement applies to everyone, but for many, sin seems difficult to talk about.  That is why we encourage people here to engage with Jesus Ministry as this helps us to see that God is so quick to forgive when we repent of our sin.  For many though the idea of there being a God we have wronged seems archaic, but we’re still extremely good had harming others, and ourselves, all of which leaves us feeling broken, guilt ridden and powerless to change.   Despite all our advances we still live from a selfish centre.  This shows us that sin is a form of idolatry where we assign our love toward something else rather than toward God who made us and loves us. 

While the Gospel makes clear our sinfulness, it makes even more abundantly clear Jesus’ extravagant, relentless and selfless love for us.  The events of Good Friday announce to us that whilst we are more sinful than we like to admit, we are loved more than we could ever dare to hope for or imagine.  The good news is that Jesus has come for sinners exactly like you and me.  As I have often said, forgiveness is an amazing and tremendous gift to us from a loving God who wants a personal relationship with us.  Every time we confess and repent, we experience what the prodigal son experienced when even before he was home his father ran to meet him.  Come close to God and He will come close to you!

This is the good news we are called to share – through forgiveness we are welcomed home!!

So the good news of the gospel tells us that we are loved and forgiven.  Thirdly the good news tells that we do not have to fear death.

What a time we are living in… death is all around us, every night on the news we hear how many people have died who tested positive for covid-19 in the last 28 days.  This doesn’t include any who have died for other reasons!  We’re being forced to come face to face with death on a daily basis.  This current generation hasn’t had to do this before so fear has grown, many are afraid to go outside.  We feel powerless; we cannot control the situation.  Perhaps that was why we all bought so much toilet paper and pasta!

Scripture refers to death as the final enemy (1 Cor. 15:24-26) and we also know from scripture that the enemy, Satan, has a powerful strategy to make us live in fear (Hebrews 2:15).  Remember how Jesus stood up against death?  Through His tears He called out to Lazarus, inviting him to leave the tomb, and he did!  We may think that death is natural, but it isn’t; God is eternal and Jesus says I am the Alpha and Omega.  Think how old the characters written about in scripture were when they died, far older than any of us.  You see, to God, death is a rupture in the fabric of our human existence (pg. 24 Living His Story by Hannah Steele).  In raising Lazarus from the dead, Jesus was demonstrating the power He has to overcome the final enemy, death.  This miracle prefigured His own resurrection, an event we celebrate in six weeks’ time.

The good news we live and tell is built on the foundation of the resurrection of Jesus.  If we have a personal relationship with God through Jesus we can say with confidence “I have seen the Lord”, for He is alive.  Because He is alive, death, the deepest fear for so many, has been met with resurrection and new life.  The resurrection of Jesus, which actually happened, is therefore, the most important event in the history of humanity.

So just as the Gospel of Jesus declares that we are loved because we are known personally by God, and that we are forgiven because Jesus was the ultimate sacrifice once and for all for our sin, so the promise of new life, eternal life, in the name of Jesus must not be hidden or kept out of sight.  Over the next six weeks live as Gospel people:

People who know that they are loved

People, who whenever they confess and repent, know they are forgiven,

People who know that death is defeated, for we believe in, and worship an eternal loving God.