The Importance of Discipleship: Part 1

Christian discipleship – What is it?

Give yourself to God

A young man was eager to grow in His Christian life.  He got a piece of paper and made a list of all the things he would do for God.  He wrote down the things he would give up, the places he would go to minister and the areas of ministry he would enter.  He was excited.  He took that list to the church and put it on the altar.  He thought he would feel joy, but instead he felt empty.   So he went home and started adding to his list. He wrote down more things he would do and wouldn’t do.  He took the longer list and put it on the altar, but still he felt empty.

He went to a wise old pastor, told him the situation and asked for help.  The pastor said, “Take a blank sheet of paper.  Sign your name at the bottom, and put that on the altar.”  The young man did as he was told, and then peace came to his heart.

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God.  I love producing lists, it helps me focus on what I need to do, but having a list of things that I am going to do in order to become a better disciple is not, I think, a healthy thing to do.  You’re putting pressure on yourself.  I like the sentiment of the illustration – God is looking for a blank sheet!  He wants me to invest the whole of my life with His.

The Greek word translated “disciple” means “follower.”  A disciple is a person who invests their life and time learning from someone and then spreading that person’s teachings to others.

In the New Testament, the last words of Jesus encompass the essential aspects of discipleship.  In what is known as the Great Commission, (Matthew 28: 18-20) we read:

Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.  And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’

The main command in this Great Commission is to make disciples.  Three specific parts are given.  First, a disciple is a person willing to go and make disciples of others.  The early followers of Jesus boldly taught the message of the risen Jesus, often facing intense persecution in the process.  Yet within a century, churches had emerged across the entire Mediterranean area.

Second, disciples challenge those they encounter to be baptised.  Baptism represents acceptance of Christ and a commitment to follow His teachings.  While baptism is not what saves a person, it is the public confession of allegiance to Christ and willingness to enter into Christian discipleship.

Third, a disciple teaches others the way of Jesus.  While only some believers are gifted in teaching, all believers are called to share what they know about Jesus with others, and we do this according to the faith God has proportioned to us (Romans 12).  When disciples do this an amazing thing happens, well, actually many amazing things happen, and this is just one of them: the person sharing grows in their knowledge of Christ.

An important early example of this way of making disciples is found in the summary of the first church in Acts 2:42-47.  Rather than a solely academic process, discipleship involved a holistic approach that included relationship building, financial giving, prayer, learning, worship, and every area of the individual’s life.  We read:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.

Also important is the impact this first church had on its community.  Because of its focus on Christian discipleship, we are told new people were saved on a daily basis.  I think that this shows us that healthy Christian discipleship is an excellent form of outreach.  But we have to understand that Christian discipleship is much more than a program or series of steps.  Rather, it is a continual process of growth.  But not just any growth, – Spiritual Growth.  To experience the fullness of spiritual growth a person has to commit their entire life to Jesus, leaning on His teachings as we put them into practice in our daily life.  This will involve dedicating oneself to learning His ways while also doing, sharing, and teaching this way of life to others.

How important is spiritual growth in Christian life?

So what is Spiritual growth?  It is the process of becoming more mature in one’s relationship with Jesus Christ.  Paul and the author of the letter to the Hebrews both talk about the need to move from milk to solid food.  From a spiritual perspective have you moved on to solid food, or are you stuck on milk?

Someone who is growing spiritually will become more and more like Christ.  The spiritually mature person will be able to “distinguish good from evil” (Hebrews 5:14).  Spiritual growth begins the moment a person comes to faith in Christ and should continue until a person enters Christ’s presence in heaven for all eternity.

The Bible makes it very clear that Spiritual growth is expected of the believer.  The author of Hebrews reprimands his readers for “no longer try[ing] to understand” (Hebrews 5:11) and “being still an infant” (v13).  The criticism leads to exhortation: “Therefore let us leave the elementary teachings about Christ and go on to maturity” (Hebrews 6:1).  The apostle Peter says, “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).  Paul asks that God will give His Spirit of wisdom and revelation to the readers of his letter to the Ephesians “so that you may know Him better” (Eph. 1:17-18).

To me this is so exciting: God wants us to learn about Him, and His Son.  God wants us to have His wisdom, to know His mind through the Spirit of revelation so that we will grow in understanding of who He is!  How awesome is that?  As we learn, we go deeper in our relationship with them, and guided by the Spirit we “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”.  This is all about relationship with God – that is a word we could use to describe discipleship, as well as fellowship.

Have you written a list, whether physically or mentally, to God pledging how you are going to do this and that for Him, the things you are going to give up for Him, the places you are going to go for Him?  Did that work for you?  Are you able to say with real confidence that you have achieved all you have pledged to do? 

God wants you to come before Him as a blank piece of paper and allow Him to lead you in His ways, so you do the things He asks of you, speak the words He is asking you to say, sacrifice yourself for His service and glory, and go to the places He is calling you to go.  This is a sure way of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.  

Are you, as a disciple of Jesus, investing your whole life in His so you are continually learning new things about God your heavenly Father, and so spreading this teaching to others?

Respond to His call to invest your life with His.

Time to think

Read 1 Corinthians 1:3-9 and Matthew 28:16-20. 

With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. What does Christian discipleship mean to you?  Having read the text above and the scripture references has your view changed, if so how?
  2. How can you grow in Christian discipleship?
  3. Looking back over your life are you able to see how you have matured as a Christian?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. Who benefits from growing in discipleship, you or God?  If it is you how?  If it is God how?
  2. How do you invest the whole of your life with God?

Prayer Response

Lord, you have called us to love and serve you;

And with your help we will.

Give us the wisdom to know what we should do,

The courage to keep on loving and giving,

And the faith that will see us through.

For the sake of your Son,

Jesus Christ our Lord,

Who died that we might truly live.

Amen.


The importance of fellowship (Part 2)

Grace made frequent trips to her local post office.  One day there was a long queue for the counter service.  Grace only needed stamps, so a helpful observer asked, “Why don’t you use the stamp machine?  You can get all the stamps you need and you won’t have to stand in line.”  Grace said, “I know, but the machine can’t ask me about my arthritis.”  People need human contact.

In Acts 2:42 we read that one of the four things the early church devoted itself to was “fellowship.”  Fellowship was a very important part of their reason for meeting together.  It was a priority, and was one of the objectives of gathering together.

Today however, some view fellowship as the occasion where we have casual, shallow conversations over coffee and biscuits.  This is not bad in itself, and can contribute to fellowship, but it falls far short of fellowship according to biblical standards.

Others who may have become fed up with church seek fellowship through viewing a worship service on television, or the internet, but this too misses the picture.  Going down this road creates an emptiness.  Interpersonal relationships are so desperately needed to keep our faith glowing and growing.  The truth is this:  if you drop off your associations with other Christians and disassociate yourself from them in worship and service, you’ll run out of spiritual fervour and dedication in a short time.  There is no substitute for going to church and worshipping with others.

Why do we read that the first disciples of Jesus shared all things in common?  Well, it was because of a common relationship that they all had together in Christ and with Christ, (1 Cor. 1:9; 1 John 1:3).

So, fellowship comes out of a living relationship with God through Jesus Christ which Christians have in common with other believers.  This tells us that fellowship is first and foremost a relationship, rather than an activity.  The principle is that any activity that follows, should come out of this relationship with God.  He is to be the one that motivates all our activity.

It is important to understand that the early church was not merely devoting itself to activities, but to a relationship.  It was this relationship that produced an active sharing in other ways.  It is so important that we grasp this.   Fellowship means we belong to each other in a relationship because we share together the common life and enabling grace of Jesus Christ.  Biblical fellowship, then, incorporates this idea of an active partnership in the promotion of the gospel and the building up of believers.

Now, fellowship has both vertical and horizontal elements. 

Vertical relates to the way we commune with and experience fellowship with the Lord through the Word, prayer, the filling of the Holy Spirit, and the abiding life.  The analogy of the vine in John 15 is a good illustration of what is required to maintain a right relationship, and thus right fellowship, with our Heavenly Father.

Our priority is our 24/7 relationship with Jesus Christ, which must be maintained at all costs.  This is the foundation and source of all our other relationships and our capacity for fellowship with God, and with others.

The passage in John 15 stresses that we need:

  1. The Right Stock – Verse 1 – “I am the true vine”
  2. The Right Vinedresser – Verse 1 – “My Father is the gardener”
  3. The Right Cultivation – Verses 2, 6 – “He prunes”
  4. The Right Connection – Verses 4 – “Remain in me and I will remain in you.” 
  5. The Right Fruitage – Verses 5, 8 talk about how we are to “bear much fruit”

If we are not remaining (some translations use the word abiding) in Christ we will not live in the fellowship that God has intended us to live in.

The word ‘remain’, which occurs ten times in the passage, means the maintenance of an unbroken connection and thus speaks of the necessity of a constant active relationship between the believer and his Lord.  The resultant life will be productive and so fruitful.

Remaining in fellowship involves renouncing all confidence in our own merit, wisdom, and strength. It means we look entirely to Christ as the source of our merit, wisdom, and strength.

To remain in Christ is, on the one hand, to have no known sin unjudged and unconfessed, no interest into which He is not brought, no life which He cannot share.  On the other hand, the remaining one takes all burdens to Him, and draws all wisdom, life, and strength from Him.  Fellowship is about allowing nothing in your life to separate you from Him.

Fellowship with other believers is horizontal. This includes:

  • Assembling together as a whole body (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 10:25)
  • assembling in smaller groups (2 Tim. 2:2)
  • meeting together one-on-one (1 Thess. 5:11)
  • sharing and communicating Gospel truths together and building up one another (Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Thess 5:11; Philem. 6)
  • sharing together in worship, i.e., the Lord’s supper (1 Cor. 10:16), along with the singing of hymns, psalms, and spiritual songs (Eph. 5:19; Col. 3:16)
  • praying with others – listening to God for His direction and purpose for your life, and seeing how the enemy wishes to oppose God’s good and perfect plans and purposes He has for you, and rebuking them in the name of Jesus Christ (1 Cor. 14:16-17)
  • the ministry of the Word (Acts 20:20; 2 Tim. 2:2; 1 Pet. 4:10-11)
  • sharing together as partners in the needs, burdens, concerns, joys, and blessings for the purpose of encouragement, comfort, challenge or exhortation, praise, prayer and physical help according to needs (compare Phil. 1:5 with 1:19; and 2:4 with 1:27; also 4:3; Rom. 12:15; and 1 Thess. 5:11,14,15; Heb. 10:33)

To do this means we must develop the loving art of communication. We need to be willing to share our own burdens and aspirations and be available to hear what others are saying so we may minister to needs according to the directives of God’s Word. The ultimate goal of RedBRick Connections is to build up and enrich others in the things of Christ that we may all together experience the sufficiency of His life and tune our lives into His.  We need others for that. As the early church was first devoted to the apostles’ teaching, they were also devoted to caring for one another and to sharing with one another what they were learning and what Christ was meaning to them (Acts. 2:42; Heb. 3:12-14).

As we’ve seen, fellowship is first a relationship, a relationship that deals with an objective fact: as a Christian I am related to God as His child, born into His family by the Holy Spirit through faith in Christ.  So, as a believer in Christ, I am related to Christ and to all others who have been joined into union with Him; together we are members of His body through the baptising work of the Holy Spirit.  Fellowship means we share this relationship, an objective fact regardless of our spiritual condition (compare 1 Cor. 1:2 with 3:1-3).

A family went to the cinema. On the way in, the son stopped to buy some popcorn.  By the time he got into the theatre, the lights were dim and he couldn’t find his family.  He paced up and down the aisles in near darkness, peering down each row.  Finally, in desperation, he stopped and asked out loud, “Does anyone here recognise me?”

As Grace queued for stamps she was looking for fellowship.  Some of us take Christian fellowship for granted, but we should see it as a great privilege to be able to share together in the things of God.  Just queuing for stamps is not enough.  Just attending church is not enough.  Being connected with other Christians in a relationship because we have Christ in common is so important.  As we do this we all need to see ourselves as servants of Christ with a responsibility to reach out in true Christian fellowship to our brothers and sisters and, to the needy and vulnerable, especially, to those who we consider to be different to us.  We don’t want anyone to come here and ask, “Does anyone here recognise me?”  Certainly, God doesn’t want to hear anyone say “Does anyone here recognise me?”  or for Him to say that to us!

Time to think

Read Ephesians 1:15-23 and John 15:1-17.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. How can we do a better job of including and incorporating new people in our fellowship?
  2. How has the consumer mentality affected the church?  Should the church see itself as being in the business of “meeting needs?”
  3. How does the concept that every Christian is a minister affect the fellowship of a local body?
  4. How can you develop heartfelt affection for a brother or sister you just can’t stand being around?

You might like to re-visit the first teaching on Fellowship from the 15th November.

Prayer Response

Loving Lord, thank You for all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, and thank You that You have made us one in Him and are building us into a spiritual temple of living stones, each with our own peculiar function, in the heavenly kingdom of God. Instil in each of our hearts an increasing thirst after holiness and righteousness, and give us an ever-deepening love for each other and for You.

Keep us I pray, from petty arguments and careless words and may we minister to one another in true Christian fellowship and godly love, in a body-ministry that exults You, where the gifts and talents of each member are used and valued in the edification of the others, to the praise of Your holy name.

Be glorified I pray, in each and every member of Your body, and use us all to be a witness of the love of Jesus to those who are lost. And Father, I pray that You would unite us in godly love and Christian fellowship, as we watch for the any day return of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.

The importance of fellowship (Part 1)

Before I kick off with fellowship, I just want to say a few words about the importance of church attendance.

First, is church attendance important?

Let’s start with scripture, what does scripture say about being a follower of Jesus Christ?

Well, in 1 Corinthians 12, (please do read this in your Bible) Paul compares Christ-followers to a body—the body of Christ.  Every Christian is a part of this body (vs. 27), every part needs the others (vs. 21), and every part should be concerned for the others (vs. 25-26).  In addition, no part of the body, no member of the church, can claim to be a self-sufficient unit (vs. 15-16).  Since the local church is the method God has chosen for us to join together and live like a cohesive body, church attendance is very important.  I know we can’t do this at the moment, but when we can we must get back into the habit of gathering together corporately, and we will one day soon be able to do this.

All Christians make up the universal church, but God uses smaller local churches in very specific, important ways.  The local church is where we learn about God (Acts 2:42).  It is also how we build each other up through encouragement (Hebrews 3:13), exhortation (Hebrews 10:24), service (Galatians 5:13), honour (Romans 12:10), and compassion (Ephesians 4:32).

Gathering as church is so important.  The groupings we are looking to establish is a way of being church, of gathering in one way or another as Christ’s Church here.

So what is Christian fellowship, and why is it so important?

Our reading from Acts 2 clearly teaches us that the early Christians emphasised the importance of fellowship.  Acts 2:42 says, They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

So in the early church, day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people, (Acts 2:46-47).  But why is Christian fellowship important?

The New Testament word for fellowship is koinonia.  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying, And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

This clearly teaches that fellowship stirs us up to love; to do good works; to meet together; to encourage others.

There are a number of reasons that fellowship with other Christians is so important.  The verses from Acts 2 gives us two basic reasons that fellowship with other believers is so important:

  1. It helps express love to one another
  2. It encourages good works

A third important reason for Christian fellowship is its impact on unbelievers.  Jesus told His disciples, “By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another” (John 13:35). Jesus clearly tells us that the love we as Christians have for one another will influence others towards faith in Jesus Christ.  Does your life have that level of impact?

Still another important reason for Christian fellowship is the ability to pray together.  Early believers were committed to prayer, both individually and in groups.  In James 5:14-16, elders were called together to pray for the sick as well as for those who had sinned.  This required being together.

Christian fellowship is also important for church decision-making.  In both Acts 6 (the choosing of seven Spirit-filled people, including Stephen), and Acts 15 (the council of Jerusalem & circumcision or not?), the early church gathered together to make important decisions about the future direction of the church.  These required community, prayer, and close discussion.

Christian fellowship is required for baptism.  A new Christian cannot baptise himself or herself because that is not a public profession of faith.  Christians gather together to celebrate a person’s baptism and serve as witnesses of the person’s commitment to a new life in Jesus Christ.

Christian fellowship is required for communion in the Lord’s Supper.  The Lord’s Supper doesn’t quite work the same for an online church, though at the moment it is all we can do, and we have to make the most of less than ideal circumstances.  I hope that those who were able to join us from the end of August through to the end of October will have realised again that time together with other believers makes all the difference, as we remember all that Christ has done for us through the pain and suffering He endured as He hung on the cross when His blood was shed and His body broken.

Sadly, though many believers today do not recognise the importance of fellowship or local church involvement.  The truth is this; Christian fellowship is essential to spiritual growth.  Many aspects of our spiritual lives depend on being together with other believers to encourage, teach, serve, and share life together.

Earlier I used the word Koinonia.  This is the New Testament word for fellowship, but let’s look a bit deeper at this word.

Koinonia is the Greek word for fellowship.  It refers to community, one’s place in a group, and the representation of fellowship such as a joint gift.  It appears over 17 times in the NT in one form or another.

The way this word is used is that it characterises the church.  John says that the purpose of the Gospel is to lead people to have koinonia (fellowship) with others and with God (1 John 1:3, 6-7).  Several verses also exhort us to have koinonia with the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13:14; Philippians 2:1).

Koinonia refers to more than the warm feeling of relationship.  In Romans 15:26, which lists churches that have made a contribution to the poor in Jerusalem, “contribution” is the word koinonia.  And 1 Corinthians 10:16 says that communion is koinonia.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support and greater spiritual support.  Having koinonia with God and other believers helps us find our place in both the Body of Christ and the work of Christ.

To sum up…

Fellowship in the context of the local church will increase your love for and commitment to the Lord Jesus Christ and His Bride, the new community, the redeemed people of God, the church. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real sorrows, and that through this life together, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called proclaim.

Fellowship originates in and by the Holy Spirit (2 Cor. 13:14).  This results in a relationship with God, the Trinity (1 Jn. 1:3-6) and with one another.  It really means living and sharing life together.

Based on article from Got Questions Ministries @ www.compellingtruth.org & used with permission

Time to think

Read Acts 2:42-end and John 13:31-35.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Questions

  1. What should our attitude be towards fellowship?  (Acts 2:42)
  2. How often should we encourage one another? Why? (Hebrews 3:13)
  3. Read 1 Thessalonians 5:14 and write down the four actions we are to take towards other believers.  Ask God to empower you by His Spirit to live these out in a deeper way.
  4. What attitude should we have towards each other? (Ephesians 4:32, Colossians 3:13)
  5. How long should we let a problem go on with a brother or sister before we deal with it? (Ephesians 4:26-27, Matthew 5:23-24)
  6. What should be our attitude in communicating with others? (James 1:19-20)
  7. How should we treat others? (Philippians 2:3-4, 1 Peter 4:9)
  8. What kind of person will listen to counsel? (Proverbs 11:14, Proverbs 12:15)
  9. What are the benefits of listening to rebuke? (Proverbs 15:31-32)
  10. What should we do with our gifts, talents, or abilities?  (1 Peter 4:10)
  11. How does the Bible define Christian fellowship? 

Prayer Response

Loving Lord, thank You for all my brothers and sisters in Christ Jesus our Lord, and thank You that You have made us one in Him and are building us into a spiritual temple of living stones, each with our own peculiar function, in the heavenly kingdom of God.  Instil in each of our hearts an increasing thirst after holiness and righteousness, and give us an ever-deepening love for each other and for You.

Keep us I pray, from petty arguments and careless words and may we minister to one another in true Christian fellowship and godly love, in a body-ministry that exults You, where the gifts and talents of each member are used and valued in the edification of the others, to the praise of Your holy name.

Be glorified I pray, in each and every member of Your body, and use us all to be a witness of the love of Jesus to those who are lost.  And Father, I pray that You would unite us in godly love and Christian fellowship, as we watch for the return of the Lord Jesus, in whose name I pray, Amen.

Remembrance Sunday

8th November 2020

The parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13)

1At that time the kingdom of heaven will be like ten virgins who took their lamps and went out to meet the bridegroom.  2Five of them were foolish and five were wise.  3The foolish ones took their lamps but did not take any oil with them.  4The wise ones, however, took oil in jars along with their lamps.  5The bridegroom was a long time in coming, and they all became drowsy and fell asleep.

6At midnight the cry rang out: “Here’s the bridegroom! Come out to meet him!”

7Then all the virgins woke up and trimmed their lamps.  8The foolish ones said to the wise, “Give us some of your oil; our lamps are going out.”

9 “No,” they replied, “there may not be enough for both us and you. Instead, go to those who sell oil and buy some for yourselves.”

10 ‘But while they were on their way to buy the oil, the bridegroom arrived. The virgins who were ready went in with m to the wedding banquet. And the door was shut.

11‘Later the others also came. “Lord, Lord,” they said, “open the door for us!”

12But he replied, “Truly I tell you, I don’t know you.”

13‘Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.

This Gospel passage is a story about five foolish and five wise bridesmaids.  It is a story about choices and their consequences, and challenges us to examine how we live.

When we look around our churches we see plaques commemorating the lives of all sorts of people.  Often the older the building the more there appears to be.  Some plaques are easily missed; some are tucked away out of sight because the church has been re-ordered.  Rickinghall has a plaque behind the organ.  It hasn’t been read for decades.  Who is it commemorating?

Tucked behind the kitchen door of a parish church is a plaque commemorating the life of a young man called William.  An only child, he died in Italy in 1918 at the age of twenty-one.  He had been on active service since his seventeenth birthday.  The plaque is easily missed.  It has never been moved, but the church has been re-ordered with a kitchen integrated into the porch.  So there it is, looking down on all the cups and saucers as they pile up in the sink.  It is only the elderly members of the church who can remember how the building looked before – and there is no one who remembers William.  We can only imagine the love and grief that gathered in his parents’ hearts and led them to commission the plaque.  They wanted him to be remembered.

We have to remember.  It is good to remember.  We are in a season of remembrance, last week we had All Saints and All Souls’, today we have Remembrance Sunday, and in a couple of Sundays we celebrate Christ the King. 

This is all about remembering, but what is remembering? 

To remember is to re-member: have in or be able to bring to one’s mind an awareness of someone or something from the past.  In other words, it is about bringing the past into the present.  And we have to do this, because if we don’t, people who have been too young to see what has gone on before, particularly the destruction, pain, suffering and death caused by war, will have no knowledge of what can happen.  They will not understand the value of life and the freedom that they have.

The Kohima epitaph is carved on the memorial of the Second British Division in the cemetery of Kohima in northern India.  It reads:

 When you go home, tell them of us and say, for your tomorrow, we gave our today.

The remembrance of many, happening in hundreds of places today, and the telling of their stories, is important. 

The Gospel we are given for today is about being ready.  It tells of ten bridesmaids – young women, who have the whole of the rest of their lives ahead of them.  They have oil lamps to keep alight when the bridegroom arrives.  And although they are initially ready, as time goes by half of them become ill equipped and run out of oil.  When the moment comes for them to stand up and welcome the bridegroom, their lamps go out.  They ask the others for help, but are refused.  So they run off to the shops to buy more oil, but they are too late.  When the bridegroom arrives, they are nowhere to be found, but have gone to buy what they think they need.

Perhaps, like the ill-equipped bridesmaids, we only partially attend to our spiritual life.  We could think of the oil in their lamps as prayer, meditation on God’s word and other spiritual practices.  We may be developing an excellent relationship with God by these methods, but at some point we become distracted and lose focus.  The oil has run out and we put off going to buy some more.  It’s very easy to do, and it may be just at the wrong moment, when we are on the verge of moving on to something deeper, or when something happens that requires a depth of spiritual maturity to cope, or to make the most of an opportunity.

Each of the wise bridesmaids, however, has made her preparation and has made sure she is spiritually prepared.  But being prepared is something we cannot transfer to others.  Their refusal to give oil to the foolish bridesmaids is not an act of selfishness but a lesson in how each of us is expected to make his or her own preparations.  We have to take responsibility for our own actions.

The surprise created by the early arrival of the bridegroom is followed by two further developments in the story: the door is shut against those who arrive late (verse 10); and the groom refuses to recognise the foolish bridesmaids: “I do not know you” (verse 12).  Those who are not prepared, or are too late in their preparation, are refused entry to the Kingdom.

This seems shocking when we think that this is the same Jesus who taught, healed, and broke bread with anyone who would join him, and who has particular compassion for the poor and outcast.  Why is Christ now portrayed as someone who would shut the door on half of those who are waiting for His arrival?

But what are the expectations of the majority of people in our society today?  What would they prefer most?  The values of this world’s kingdoms … or the demands and expectations of the Kingdom of God?

The exhortation to “Keep awake” (verse 13) is a call to be prepared for the coming of the Kingdom of God, for the Second Coming of Christ. How ought we to do this?

Think back to the readings of the three previous Sundays, about rendering on to God the things that are God’s (Matthew 22: 15-22); about living by the two great commandments – loving God and loving our neighbour (Matthew 22: 34-36); and about living by the spirit and not merely by the letter of the Law of God when it comes to discipleship (Matthew 23: 1-12).

The one person the foolish bridesmaids really need is the bridegroom Himself.  If they were to stay put and confess their lack, perhaps they could put their hand in His and walk in His light.  But they have missed Him.  One of the things this parable shows us is that, when we know we don’t have what we need for salvation – when we know we’re not ready to meet Christ – then, rather than running off in some other direction, it would be best to swallow our pride and come to Jesus.  Christ has all we need.  He took all our un-readiness to the cross, and made it possible for us to step into the new life that only He can give.

“Keep watch,” says Jesus, “because you do not know the day or the hour.”  It is as true for us now as it was for the bridesmaids, and as it was for William in 1918.  And we will never have enough oil.  We cannot do this waiting, this readiness, through our own strength.  If this parable says anything to us, it says that how we live, and what we do, and who we are with – and where we are looking – are important.  And this time of year says that too.

So how can we honour those who, like William, gave their lives for others?  And how can we honour his parents, who placed a plaque so that others would remember?  Most of all, we can do it by how we live: by living well; by loving one another, putting others first, making peace where peace is in our power to make.  Are we making good choices in our life – really good choices? 

But there is a deeper question for today as well;  how can we truly be ready to meet Christ?  Perhaps today calls us to hold out our burnt-out lamps, and own up to our lack of oil, and trust ourselves to the God who, in infinite mercy, calls us, always and everywhere, to life in all its fullness, for He is the way, the truth and the life, and no one can come to the Father except through Him. 

As Christ followers, our role is to go and live this out, showing all around us that all can only find God through the person of His Son Jesus. 

Despite the terror, destruction and death caused by war, Jesus has been there and continues to be there in the midst of the fiercest fighting, holding out His nail-scared hands to all.  And those who put their hands into His find the way to salvation as they walk in His light.

Are you making good choices in your life – really good choices? 

Time to think

Read Matthew 25:1-13.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Has there been a time when you anticipated the return of a loved one? If so what was that like?
  2. How did the anticipation of a person’s return change your everyday life leading up to the return?
  3. What does this passage teach us about God?
  4. What does this passage teach us about humanity?
  5. What is a command to obey in this passage? What has God revealed in your life that needs changing? What truth can be applied to your life about the gospel?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. What is this passage saying about the kingdom of heaven?
  2. What keeps people today from being prepared for Christ’s return?
  3. How can we help people be prepared for one of the most important days they will ever face?
  4. If this parable is true, how should it change the way we live?  How should it change the way we relate to our neighbour, co-worker, family, etc.?
  5. What is one thing that you can change that will better prepare you for Jesus’ return?

Prayer Response

Father, keep me from being distracted by busyness, the cares of this world, and a heart of unbelief.  Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Help me to “keep in step” with the Spirit as I keep watch.  Father give me a longing for the return of Christ and keep my eyes focused on the prize that is set before me.

Read Paul’s charge to Timothy and the testimony of his life in 2 Timothy 4:6-8

Belonging

All Saints Day, Sunday 1st November 2020

At the age of ninety, Mary moved into residential care. It was clear to her family that she could no longer live alone.  Mary’s daughter helped her to pack the things she would need in the small room that would become her home.  During the weeks before the move, her daughter collected photographs of all Mary’s children and grandchildren, as well as pictures of her late husband, her own parents and her siblings.  She stuck them onto a board, which was framed and mounted on the wall of Mary’s new room. As the months went by, Mary gradually forgot the names of the people in the photos.  But each day she would run her fingers over their faces and smile.  It seemed she knew that these were her people, the family she belonged to.  And although she could not remember who they were, they remembered her, and when they visited or sent a card, the love that was shared made Mary’s face light up with joy.

Today is All Saints’ Day. It is a day when we remember the vast family we are part of.  If we could imagine a photo album with pictures of all the saints down the ages, the famous ones and those who were never even noticed, we would find our own photo somewhere on the pages.  That is the joy of today – we know we are included in God’s family.

When Jesus sits down to teach the words that have become known as the Sermon on the Mount (Matt, 5:1-12), He sets out the characteristics of this family, those tell-tale traits that reveal family members.  These characteristics are a mixture of beautiful and painful things.  They contain within them the harsh realities of human life – poverty, hunger, pain and sadness.  They also contain the promise of comfort, fulfilment and riches beyond measure.  And they contain descriptions of purity and mercy and humility.  They are not passive descriptions, but very active ones.  They speak of the hard work of peace-making, the reconciliation that is at the very heart of the Gospel.  This is work that all Christians are called to be part of.  They speak of the hurt of persecution that comes when people stand up for what is right.  And they speak of the mercy that flows into our own lives when we ourselves act mercifully.

Above all they speak of blessing.  Blessing is about being filled with God and it gives the strength we need to keep on going when things are so hard.  It gives the simple joy that comes from knowing that God is with us, whatever may be happening in our lives.

This is a role of the new Groupings that we’ve been discussing – to encourage us to live out the life Jesus is calling us to live as described here in Matthew 5. 

These words of Matthew 5 are full of tenderness.  What Jesus is saying is not too difficult for us, neither is it beyond our reach.  Moses, as God’s people waited to enter the promised land, exhorted the people saying, “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach” (Deut. 30:11).  Moses then points out they don’t have to climb to heaven (Deut. 30:12) or cross the seas (Deut. 30:13) to find someone to help them because the Word is right there (Deut. 30:14).  This is a vital point for us today because all other religions have ladders to climb or pilgrimages to make in order to find some sort of answer.  But not so for the Christian, for God, along with His Son, the Lord Jesus, is in the business of coming “to seek and to save” (Luke 19:10).  God has come down, and through Jesus, he has crossed the gulf for us His people, so we may know in our heart, soul and spirit that we are part of the mighty family of God and that there is a place for us in heaven.

No wonder Paul quotes Deut. 30:11-14 in Romans 10:6-8, because God’s initiative is so great, and costly, we have only to “call on the Name of the Lord” to be saved (Romans 10:13).

But how do we hear these blessings, or Beatitudes, today?  They are not exactly easy listening.  Many of us know something of the raw pain of bereavement and we long for a comfort that can really smooth and alleviate it and so lighten our load of pain and suffering.  When life seems to have lost its meaning we long for a sense of future.  I’m sure many are feeling this right now.  Perhaps we’re beginning to once again feel that as we look into the future it is as if we are looking into a fog – we see shapes, but things aren’t that clear.  But then many of us know something of the joy that comes after hurt, whether it is when we are forgiven or when we ourselves can begin to forgive another, or when we suddenly realise that the pain caused by the death of a loved one isn’t leaving us feeling so crushed and helpless as it did before.

The great and wonderful news is this; extraordinary holy people are not the only ones who become saints!  It is us, living our ordinary lives, navigating our way through the pains and the joys, the brokenness and the healing, the loneliness and the companionship and all the other things that make up our complex existence.  All our lives are a mixture of deep need and deep fulfilment.  Sometimes we know fulfilment now, and sometimes it is ahead.  Today is a day to remember that we are not alone; we are part of a huge family, included in the great mercy of the kingdom of God.  Listen to these words of comfort, hope, tenderness and love from Revelation 7:17.

For the Lamb at the centre of the throne
    will be our (their) shepherd;
He will lead us (them) to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from our (their) eyes.

Think on this picture of our Saviour being our Shepherd, leading us to springs of living water.  And as he does this He wipes away every tear from our eyes.  Wow, what a God!  It’s enough to bring me to tears of joy.

So just as Mary could trace her finger round the faces of the people she could not remember, and know that somehow she belonged to them, so we can trace the lines of the Beatitudes and know that this mix of blessings is for us, just as it has been for all those other saints who have gone ahead of us into the fulfilment of all that is promised.

Time to think

Read Matthew 5:1-12, 1 John 3:1-3 and Revelation 7:9-end, and with pen and paper (your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Someone suffering from dementia may not be able to remember their family’s names, but they know that they belong to them.  How do you know that you belong to God?
  2. All Saints’ Day reminds us that we are included in God’s family.  What does it mean to you to be part of God’s family today?
  3. The Sermon on the Mount speaks into the realities of our lives, the mix of joy and pain.  Write down the joys and the times of pain you have experienced in your life and then thank God that He has brought you safely through to this time.  Maybe you could ask Him to show you where He was when He felt distant to you.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. The Sermon on the Mount applies just as much to us as it did to Jesus’ first disciples.  By re-reading Matthew 5 slowly, pausing to let the words sink in, ask God to show you where you are not applying this teaching to your life.  Once you have recognised where you are not living this out confess it before the Lord and replace whatever you have confessed with the joy of Jesus’ words.
  2. Read Revelation 7:9-17 and then re-read it slowly several times, letting the imagery sink into you.  Pause at the end of each section so that you can enter into the picture this is painting of Heaven, God’s heavenly Kingdom, in which you, as a follower of Jesus, you are made most welcome.

Prayer Response

God of life, we give thanks for the love you have shown to the world through all your saints, and we celebrate our continuing communion with them whenever we worship.  We look forward to being part of the crowd around your throne in heaven on the last day.  In the meantime, keep us looking to Jesus and help us to keep giving a clear witness to him, living the holy lives you have called us to live by the power of the Holy Spirit.  In Jesus holy name we pray. Amen.

from the Lutheran Church of Australia.