The vital importance of Easter

1 Corinthians 15:1-20 and Luke 24:1-12

What a story Easter tells!  The Son of God in the form of Christ came as a man, truly human, and experienced all that we experience, except that he never sinned, and on top of this he rose from the dead.  His disciples had not expected Jesus to do this.

But if there was no resurrection, then Christ was not raised and so there would be no Easter to celebrate and no message of Christ to proclaim. 

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul is telling the church at Corinth that if Christ has not been raised then his preaching is in vain which means that their faith is also in vain.  So Paul reminds them of the facts about the resurrection.  He quotes the tradition that he received from those who were in Christ before him.

That:

•           Christ had died and was buried according to scripture.

•           Christ had been raised on the third day, according to scripture.

•           Christ had appeared to Peter, then to the twelve; then to about 500 Christians, to James the half-brother of Jesus, to the Apostles, and last of all to Paul himself.

These are the facts of Christ.  Without them the Christian faith has no substance, no meaning and no purpose.

Paul did not begin this chapter by quoting his own experience.  Yes, Christ, in his risen form had appeared to him, but he does not start from there.  Instead he quotes tradition that can be checked and confirmed by others.  I believe that the implication here is that Paul’s experience of the risen Christ was not a private mystical vision, because it was like the experiences of the others who all believed that Christ had risen because they had seen him.

The appearances of Christ were for the benefit of all his disciples and followers.  The same applies today.  When Christ works in and through our lives, he does so for the benefit of others, not for the benefit of self; like when we pray for others, or help others in a practical way.

And I think that the story of the raising of Lazarus from the dead helps us to understand this principle.  Yes, there was a direct benefit for Lazarus, he was brought back to life.  But the implication of this miracle goes beyond that because many came in search of Jesus and Lazarus ‘for on account of him many Jews were going over to Jesus and putting their faith in him’ (John 12:11).  It became a selfless act of witness.

Paul is saying that it was on the basis of these appearances that Jesus’ disciples preached his resurrection from the dead.  So the words “Christ died, he was buried, he rose again, and was seen” are the basic historical facts that Christ died for our sins.  And there has only ever been one person who has died for the sins of the world – Jesus Christ.

Paul himself was one of the greatest witnesses of the resurrection.  When he was an unbeliever he was utterly convinced that Jesus was dead.  He was so convinced that he went to extraordinary lengths to stamp out those who believed otherwise. 

But as we know his life was turned upside down: a change occurred that brought him persecution and suffering.  Paul makes it clear that his salvation was purely an act of God’s grace.  But he allowed that grace to work through him as he served the Lord.  And it is only by the grace of God that we also serve the Lord.

Things happen to us in our lives, some good, some bad, and some, we’d rather not have happen, so to some extent we all face persecution.  And I’m sure that when life for Paul was difficult he must have drawn strength from his conversion, and thanked God for his grace toward him.

But whatever our experiences of the risen Christ, we must not cling on to them.  Mary tried to do that when she saw Jesus in the garden on that first Easter morn.  Instead we must take them out with us, building on them, as we serve those who we share are daily lives with.  Life goes on and just as it was for Paul, so it is for us that by God’s grace we are what we are.

But how do we understand God’s grace?

Well for me God’s grace is based upon at least 4 things:

•           His love for his entire creation

•           His love for his Son

•           The death of his Son

•           The resurrection of his Son

All of this resulted in the forgiveness of our sins and the opportunity for us to receive eternal life, and so one day live with Christ in resurrection glory.  And as Paul found out, God’s grace has tremendous power, because if we accept the above we cannot help but let it change our lives.  We become a new creation renewed in body, mind and spirit, making us more like Christ and so drawing us closer to our heavenly Father.

In my experience God’s grace is ALL powerful, where ALL is spelt in capitals, yet it works so gently as it reveals to us his care, compassion, understanding and above all his love for us.  God’s grace brings us home, into the arms of his love.

So again:

•           if there is no resurrection, then Christ has not been raised

•           If he was not raised, there is no gospel to preach

•           If there is no gospel, then we believe in vain and we are still in our sins

The resurrection therefore is not just important; it is “of first importance,” because all that we believe hinges on it.  Without it we can never get home and my knowledge and experiences are worthless.

Christ is risen…

He is risen indeed!

Living Thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

1.         What is the central point of the Gospel?

2.         What is left of the gospel without Christ’s resurrection?

3.         What are the implications for us of Jesus’ resurrection?

4.         Why did Paul call himself the least of the apostles?

5.         Because he was least, did he just give up trying to accomplish as much as the others?

6.         List all of the implications for us, if Christ did not raise from the dead?

A Good Friday message – A mocking spirit

Based on Mark chapter 15, verses 16-32

Over the time of Jesus’ arrest, trial and crucifixion, a mocking spirit prevailed.

Have you noticed how flocks of crows/rooks/seagulls circle around looking for somewhere to land?  It is as if they are waiting for one bird to take the lead, and as soon as one does, the rest fly in to land.  The mocking of Jesus started in private (v16-20).  There we read how soldiers led Jesus away to the palace, where they mocked Him privately.  In the 16 verses from v16-32 Jesus is mocked again, again and again!

First by passers-by:

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, 30 come down from the cross and save yourself!’

Then by the chief priests and the teachers of the law

31In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!  32Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.’

Finally, those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”

This was public humiliation of the highest order!  All could hear the words of the passers-by.  That was their aim, for all to hear. 

Did you notice how the chief priests and the teachers of the law “mocked Jesus among themselves.”  I expect they did so in order for others to hear.

Finally, Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.”  All very public. 

To me, “hurling insults” means you want it to stick on the person you are insulting.  Heaping insults implies an excessive amount of insults were aimed at Jesus.  This was a prolonged attack!  The mocking spirit was having a field day, believing that the victory belonged to their boss, the devil, satan.

What were they mocking?  They were mocking God’s greatest gift to us, His Son Jesus Christ.

Have you hurled and heaped insults on others? 

Have you circled around like a flock of crows/rooks/seagulls waiting to get in there with an insult? 

Perhaps you’re the first one to land a punch, and as soon as you do, those with you soon join in and the insults come flying in from all directions!

But how did this make you feel?  Did you feel justified, and proud; thinking, “They deserved that”!  A little while later, how did you feel?  Regret at what you said?  Ashamed, remorseful?  Words spoken in haste and judgement are very hard to undo.

Perhaps you’ve been on the receiving end of insults and mocking.  How did it make you feel?  Belittled?  Insignificant?  Of no value?  Worthless?

An insult can be interpreted as an attempt to reduce the status of the recipient and raise the relative status of the insulter.  The insults from the chief priests and the teachers of the law were no doubt motivated by anger surrounding issues of their sense of insecurity – Jesus was more popular than them.

The truth is this: mocking others is a sin.

Thankfully Jesus could take it.  Yet, we had a part to play in the drama of that afternoon because our sins were on the cross too.  Jesus bore all our sin on the cross, all our mocking of who He is, so that we can enjoy and experience the Father’s love for us personally.  The penalty of our sin was paid for by His horrible, tortuous and painful death.  But as with all sin to be free from it means that we first have to recognise and acknowledge when we’ve sinned through insulting others, then repent of this sin with a sincere and contrite heart.  Anything else is folly.

Finally, we are to replace the insulting, mocking spirit, with its opposite – praise!  The enemy hates praise of God.  He can’t stand it at all.  It’s so bad to him that his only option is to flee.

When we commend someone, acclaim them, endorse them, honour them, hail them, we are praising them, and the mocking spirit has to go.  When we do this God sees from heaven and praises and blesses us for such an attitude and effective strategy against a mocking spirit.

Praising God (Palm Sunday)

Based on a sermon from 10th April 2022

I’m sure that you have been in a situation like this…

Imagine that you are sat around a table with good friends, a mix of children and adults, that you haven’t seen for a while.  You have so much to tell about what has being going on in your life.  You start to talk, but one of the children interrupts, “I have something to say.”

“Just a minute. When I’m finished,” you reply, and you continue sharing what God has done in your life.  Then another adult starts talking, sharing how they have seen prayers answered in their life.

“Is it my turn yet?” the child who interrupted earlier asks. “Because I want to tell you about my report.”

“We’re almost done,” one of adults says.  The child lets out a big sigh and rolls their eyes!

Eventually, it is their turn. “Finally!” they exclaim. “I’ve been waiting forEVer,” and they launch into an enthusiastic explanation of their school report and what they had discovered in their recent project.  Had they not talked at that point, they would have burst in, unable to contain themselves any longer.

Have you ever felt that way with God?  Unable to contain your praise because of all He’s done?  Yet, often what God has done in our lives is so completely worthy of praise, that we don’t notice it, and we miss the opportunity for sweet worship with God in His Throne Room.

Palm Sunday is a day of praise, and we’re now entering the week of Easter, Holy Week.  As we journey with Jesus we begin with His triumphal entry into Jerusalem.  Jesus loved the city of Jerusalem, and every year He would go into the city as a visitor, participating in the annual Passover feast.

On this occasion as Jesus entered Jerusalem, He did not come as a visitor but as a King to many.  So here we have Jesus making His triumphal entry into Jerusalem, on a colt of a donkey.  The response was amazing; the crowds were celebrating.  They were laughing.  They were cheering.  They were having a great time.

They were shouting,  

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Matthew 21)

‘Hosanna!’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David!’

‘Hosanna in the highest heaven!’ (Mark 11)

 ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!’

‘Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!’ (Luke 19)

“Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord, even the King of Israel!” (John 12:13).

What does Hosanna mean?  It’s a Hebrew expression meaning “Save”.

What does blessed mean?  The word blessed is from the Greek word makarios, which means to be happy or blissful, but it also means a self-contained happiness.  This word has the idea that our happiness is independent of our circumstances.  It is self-contained, meaning that regardless of what is happening to us externally, we can be truly happy internally.  We can be genuinely blessed as followers of Jesus Christ.

This is what the crowd were feeling and experiencing and knowing deep in their knower!  That Jesus saves, and regardless of their circumstances they were truly internally happy.

When we’re experiencing such emotions there can sometimes be someone who questions why we are so happy.  It’s as if they have a bucket of cold water ready to throw over us!

If the Pharisees in the crowd as Jesus entered Jerusalem to such adulation had a bucket of cold water, that is what they would have done to the crowd, thrown it over them!

They said to Jesus:

“Teacher, rebuke your disciples.”

Jesus answered, “I tell you, if these were silent, the very stones would cry out” (Luke 19:39-40).

But what did Jesus mean by saying “the very stones would cry out “?  Now, it wasn’t that Jesus was saying the stones would actually come alive and shout with conscious praise.  But it’s not that God couldn’t cause stones to cry out.  In fact, God uses creation in amazing ways in the Bible.  Remember when Jesus breathed His last on the cross, the earth quaked.  Rather He was saying,

“Don’t you get it? They have to praise me.  They have recognised the significance of me riding into Jerusalem on a never-before-ridden colt, what it really means, and they cannot contain their joy!”

There was great joy in the atmosphere.  The proper and only response was to praise Jesus.  No matter how hard the people could have tried to suppress it, eventually it would have burst out in an uncontrollable way because the presence of God was so powerful and tangible that they just couldn’t help themselves.  They were experiencing a time of “freedom”, of renewal, praising God with heart, body, mind, soul and spirit.

Even if, … no, especially if, you are going through a rough patch, find the reason to praise God.  Then praise Him with all you have left in you, and see if it doesn’t make you feel better, and watch how God will start to work in your life.

What has God done in your life that is worthy of praise?

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 118:1-2 & 19-29 & Luke 19:18-40, and let them speak to you afresh in light of Jesus’ joyful entry into Jerusalem.  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.

When you can’t not praise God

Enjoy this time with the Lord. Reflect on or journal about the following questions, listening for what God has to say to you.

1. What if you don’t feel like praising?  Some days life is so hard that praise is the last thing we want to do. We feel like we have little to be thankful for.  Although the two are closely intertwined, praise can be distinguished from thanksgiving.  Think of praise as saying back to God who He is.  “I praise you for your faithfulness. I praise you that you are holy and true.  You are my rock and my salvation.”  If you’re struggling to praise today, open up your Bible or Bible app to Psalm 147 and read it out loud.  Let it remind you who God really is.

2. Go ahead and give thanks!  What are you thankful for today?  Take time to quieten your soul and spirit and let God bring to mind the things He has done in your life.  Do any surprise you?  Thank and praise God for all He is and all He is doing in your life and the lives of people around you.

3. It’s time to get your worship on!  Choose one or all of the songs to listen to on YouTube, or come back to these songs throughout the week.  They have the power to lift your spirits!

  • Holy, holy, holy is the Lord (Anon)
  • This Is Amazing Grace (Phil Wickham)
  • The One Who Saves (Hillsong)

Journey to Hope – Rising on Eagle’s Wings

Based on a sermon from Sunday 3rd April 2022

God stayed with the people leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21)

In this series we have been looking at the journey that the Israelites took through the desert to the Promised Land.  We have used their journey to help us look to revival.  If we want to see revival happen here, we need to learn from their journey.  In Numbers 16, Deuteronomy 1 and 2, we learn that the journey the Israelites took should have only taken 3 to 4 months, but it didn’t; it took them 40 years. Why?  Let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.

Twelve spies went out, but only 2 came back filled with hope that they could and would be able to step into the Promised Land.  Ten spies had no hope and didn’t trust God.  They were fearful and did not enter it.  These ten spies represented a generation who said they wanted to go into the Promised Land, but when “push came to shove”, and were faced with the realities of freedom, they didn’t want to enter.  They were fearful. They rebelled against Moses.  They grieved over Egypt and wanted to go back.  They moaned and groaned.  They tried to do life without God and take control.  They didn’t listen to the rules and commandments that God gave them, to help them live good holy lives.  They disobeyed God and chose to worship other gods.  They created a golden calf for themselves to worship.  Having a golden calf (a physical, man-made religious altar) was more important to them than a good, living, faithful, loving God.  Even though God had saved them from Egypt, destroyed their enemies in the Red Sea and promised them hope, they still didn’t trust God.

In Deuteronomy, we read that because of their disobedience and lack of trust, a whole generation was not able to enter the Promised Land.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.  15The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. (Deuteronomy 2:14-15)

If we hold on to our fear, our grief, our religion, and ways that we have to do church, then we will never enter the promises that God has for us, just like the Israelites.  The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.  God doesn’t want us to stay in our own desert.  If we don’t give our stuff to God, we, like the Israelites may miss out.  God didn’t allow the Israelites to enter the Promised Land until the Israelites were ready and the old generation had passed.  If we refuse to change and give ourselves to God, we may be like this old generation and we many never enter God’s Promised Land and see the revival that is promised.

When this doubting fearful generation passed, God gave them the land.  God fulfilled His promise and God gave them even more.  God fought for them.  God is utterly faithful and true.  God loves us so much and He will fulfil His promises to us.  we can have faith and confidence that God will fight for us too.

In Exodus 33 v7-23 we read of Moses’ hunger for God.  Moses met with God face to face, and he was still hungry for more, more of His presence, more of His love and favour, more of His glory.  He asked God to “Show me your glory” and God did.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19 v4-6)

God is so good and God is so good to us.  We are a Holy people.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are favoured and God’s treasured possession and therefore we will soar on wings like eagles.

Psalm 91 is awesome and it speaks of the promises of God over Moses, the Israelites and over us too.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.

We can rest under God’s wings.  Whatever we are carrying, we can bring it to God.  Under His wings of love, trust, peace, comfort and safety, God is our refuge and strength.  We can be vulnerable and exposed with God, because He is good and He will shield us.  God will cover us with His feathers and we will not need to feel shame and guilt.  God is our shield and He will stop the arrows that may come our way.  He loves us and as we drop our baggage, we can grasp and hold on to His wings.  As we grasp on to God, we will soar on wings like eagles.  We can have hope and we will rise.  We will rise above the storm.  We will rise into the hope and promises of God.

Isaiah 40 v28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

We can have hope for Revival here in this community.  We can have hope that salvation will come to our loved ones.  We can have hope that the Holy Spirit will come and renew, refresh and awaken his people.  We can have hope that the sheep who are lost, will be found again.  We can have hope that the prodigal son, will come back into the loving arms of God the Father.  We can have hope that cancer will go.  We can have hope that sick children will be made well and sickness will flee.  We can have hope that the barren women, will conceive and have children.  We can have hope that those who are slaves to addiction, will be set free by the blood of the lamb.  We can have hope that depression will be turned into deep wells of peace and joy.  We can have hope that the lonely will never be forgotten and isolated again.  We can have hope that families and friends who have been at war with one another and separated through disagreements and betrayal, will be united in love, forgiveness, and joy once again.  We can have hope that anger and unforgiveness in this community, will melt into repentance and compassion.  We can have hope that poverty in this community will be eradicated.  We can have hope that the schools will be filled with the sound of children and youth worshipping the Lord our God.  We can have hope that there will be such a hunger for God, that people will be weeping in the street.  We can have hope that this community will be completely transformed by the power of God’s love.

If God has done it in the past and God is everlasting, God will do it again.  We can have hope, because God is faithful and does not break his promises. We can have hope and we will all soar on wings like eagles.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Consider the following questions as you Dig into God’s Word.…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Take another look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.  What kind of “spy” are you?  Are you 1 of the 10 who doubts the hope of the Lord and His promises, or are you one of the 2 spies who said “Yes”?
  2. Remember Moses in Exodus 33 v7-23. How hungry are you for revival and for more of God’s power, glory and love in your life?
  3. Do some research on eagles and watch clips/look at photos of eagles soaring.  Look at Isaiah 40 v28-31 and Psalm 91 again.  Ask God to reveal more of what it looks like to soar in hope on eagle’s wings in your own life.  Repent where needed and then pray for more hope and faith to rise within you, and let it influence the way you pray and seek God.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you.  Grant us your light as we enter into Easter.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love.  Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Journey to Hope – Religion

Based on a sermon from Sunday 27th March 2022

Holy Spirit, you are our teacher.  Jesus you are the Word and Truth.  Father, may we submit ourselves to Your truth.  Open our eyes and our ears that we may see and hear.  We bind the spirit of religion that would try to make us offended or to hinder us from seeing the truth in Jesus.  Amen.

Moses is spending time with God on Mount Sinai, receiving instruction on holy living.  He’s there 40 days and 40 nights.  Whilst he is there, the Israelites make for themselves a Golden Calf to worship.  It appeared that having a physical item was more important to them, than the living breathing God.  They believed that God wouldn’t provide for them, that He had deserted them.

What things have we made which have become a religion?

What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?

What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?

What are our golden calves?

Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 

Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?

Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

These are all questions I have asked myself on a regular basis.

I believe that we can all fall into an unhealthy spirit of religion when we allow things to prevent us from seeing who God truly is and thus stop ourselves from entering into the throne room of God. 

If we lack joy in our life, would rather skip church, prayer, and scripture reading, if we feel stuck in sin, shame, or condemnation we are likely to be struggling with a spirit of religion.

What is the spirit of religion and how does it impact the local church?  The spirit of religion is a shift from joyful obedience in God and a transformed life through His Son Jesus Christ, to doing things that you think are right.  You do this in an effort to abstain from doing wrong things, but the spirit of religion only allows for outward righteousness.  It does not transform the person or the heart.  Rather, it puts on a front and appearance that is no greater than skin deep.  This impacts the local church by creating divisions between individuals and stealing the joy, freedom, healing, and transformation that comes through the power of God dwelling in us via the person of Jesus Christ.

Scripture does not name a ‘religious spirit’ but it is clearly alluded to and revealed where people, thinking they are serving God, do in fact collaborate with the evil one and resist the purposes and will of Christ.  Such collaboration reduces our ability to see the power of God working in our lives.  A spirit of religion is most clearly revealed in the attitude and mind-set of the Pharisees, as Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel reading for we read that the disciples were concerned about the lack of bread, forgetting that Jesus can multiply it, if that was needed! 

In Matthew 23, Jesus through His teaching of the seven ‘woes’ outlines the key aspects of the false religious mind-sets of the Pharisees.  These verses provide a broad perspective on false religion.

Jesus also told the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 and describes the tares which look identical to the wheat as ‘the seed planted by an enemy’.  Satan’s scheme is to render the church fruitless at harvest time.

This false religion is the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6) and it is highly infectious and only a little is needed to work through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9).  So we must be on our guard against this spirit!

Paul wrote to Timothy about being on his guard against this work of the enemy…

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Our enemy, the devil, prowls around encouraging us to operate with this form of godliness, whilst at the same time deceiving us into believing that we are operating out of an appearance of righteousness.  When we do this we deceive ourselves by lowering our definition and understanding of what it means to live as a Christian, we become accustomed to a lack of God’s power in our life and accept it as normal.

Whenever Christians are not operating in consistent power; seeing regular conversions (the Lord added daily to their number…), regular deliverance, regular healings, regular miracles, then we must ask ourselves “Have we become ‘religious’”.

This is a permanent battle to resist.  Every tradition can and will have its own temptation to be ‘religious’.  The ultimate test is encountering the presence of Christ in ministry aligned to kingdom fruit.  We need to continually redefine what is normal and submit ourselves to the searching ministry of the Spirit to reveal the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6).

The spirit of religion has always been around.  It is a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works, forms and traditions.  When people operate out of a religious spirit they attempt to earn salvation.  This evil spirit has established nonbiblical beliefs and customs for generations.  Yet, as believers, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the work of the religious spirit.  It is lurking around attempting to cause judgement and destruction among believers and in the body of Christ’s Church.

This spirit is out to wage war against your intimate relationship with God.  It can make you feel distant from God, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough, or it can set you up for spiritual disaster through pride and self-righteousness.  Either way, its goal is to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and make it to no effect for you.  Being set free from a religious spirit can bring major spiritual freedom and breakthrough in your relationship with God, as well as with others!

The good news is that God provides an antidote.  The Lord will not leave nor forsake us.  He always provides a way.  His way is His Word.  We must put on the full armour of God and guard our hearts and minds while praying in the Spirit.

The religious spirit tries to steal our peace and joy, causing fear, doubt, and unbelief.  The Apostle Paul reminds us of this:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

We must remember the enemy is not the people in our lives; the enemy is the ruler of darkness.  When there is spiritual warfare, weapons of the flesh will not prevail.  It must be fought with God’s armour.

We need to wrap ourselves in His Word and trust in His righteousness while being sensitive to and praying in the Spirit.  Remember these words of Paul’s…

“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”  (Ephesians 6:11-18)

If we are struggling with a spirit of religion the first step to take is repentance.  Confess your sins to the Lord through prayer.  Accept His forgiveness.  Ask the Lord how you can consciously and intentionally turn away from this mentality and habit.

Remember, God is loving and He is good.  Following Him is a freeing, beautiful, joyful, and life-giving thing.  This may look different from what you have in mind.  However, I can attest to it.  I know many others who would say the same thing.  Continue to pray daily, asking the Lord to release over you His truth, grace, forgiveness, and new revelation so that you may know Him better day by day.

Let us pray:

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.

Living thoughts

Please consider the following questions…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  • What things have we made which have become a religion?
  • What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?
  • What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?
  • What are our golden calves?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 
    • Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

Prayer Response

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.

Journey to Hope – Into the Throne Room

Based on a talk from 20th March 2022

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exodus 13:21)

We are continuing our series “Journey into Hope” and today’s theme is “Into the Throne Room”.

What is the Throne Room?

Quite simply, the Throne room is heaven. Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and Micaiah and all described seeing the LORD on his throne. In Isaiah 66 the LORD says, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is my footstool.

In Revelation 4:2 John describes his encounter with heaven. “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”

We’re going to look at the history and structure of Biblical worship to help us understand how worship allows us access to the Throne Room. Jesus is written into every part of the Tabernacle. It all points to Him. Worship is all about Jesus!

Plan of the Tabernacle

The Flow of Worship

  1. Enter (Entrance/Jesus)- First, we enter, we make a decision and a conscious effort to come to worship, and we come through Jesus. Psalm 100:4 says,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

Praise and thanksgiving are not worship in itself but bring us into the place of worship.

  1. Sacrifice and Confess (Bronze Altar/the Cross) – We need to confess and repent to be able to come before God. In Old Testament times that meant offering animal sacrifice. There is a cost involved in repentance. We should not take repentance lightly. We no longer sacrifice because Jesus has become the sacrifice for us, but we still need to repent.
  1. Cleansing and forgiveness (Bronze Laver/receiving forgiveness) We need to acknowledge and receive forgiveness. This is where we are washed clean. We leave those sins and failings behind. It should feel like when you step out of a bath or shower. There should be a lightness in our spirit.

This is also why the font was traditionally placed near the entrance to a church, signifying our need to be cleansed before entering into the worship space.

  1. Worship – We are now able to worship. If we are harbouring pride, fears, disappointments, bitterness, resentments, rebellion and the like we are unable to enter fully into worship.  When we worship we can
    • expect to hear from God in revelation (Lampstand/Jesus being light)
    • to receive from Him (Showbread/Jesus as bread/receive communion)
    • intercede for others (Altar of Incense/Jesus as intercessor)
  1. Encounter- Finally we reach encounter with God.  The veil in the temple was torn in two at the moment that Jesus died. His sacrifice for our sin and inadequacy opened the way for us to encounter God face to face.

As Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be” says,

“Bold I approach the Eternal Throne

And claim the crown through Christ my own.”

Worship is our gateway into encountering God. Worship should not be the end. It is a means to step into the very presence of God; to enter His Throne Room.

Moses ecountering God

Read Exodus 33:7-23

Moses has previously encountered God several times in supernatural ways, going back to his first encounter with the Burning Bush.

This passage follows on from Moses on Mount Sinai where God had given him the ten commandments and detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle. However, while Moses was away the people had built themselves a golden calf to worship instead of God.

Now Moses goes to the tent of meeting to talk to God. He pleads with the LORD for His presence to remain with them. From my reading the “tent of meeting” mentioned in this passage is a more temporary structure which Moses used while the tabernacle was being built.

Verse 11 states, “The LORD would speak to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.”

Moses shares his concerns about leading the people and the LORD promises that His presence will go with them, saying, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and know you by name.” (v18)

How incredible, to have God speak to you so directly and clearly: to have God say that He is pleased with you and knows you by name.

Moses, however, wants more! He is bold enough to say to God in verse 18, “Now show me your glory.”

And what is more, God agrees. Although Moses had this intimate relationship with God, His glory was still too much for Moses to withstand. Moses is placed by God into in the cleft of a rock and the LORD covers Moses’ face with His hand as He passes by.

We should have awe and wonder when we come into the LORD’s presence. We should be brought to our knees by His glory and holiness. However, we can come into His presence, and we can ask Him to reveal more of Himself to us.

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel, which we looked at in part one was one verse. Matthew 27:51 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open.

When Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom. This signified that there is no longer any obstacle to anyone entering the Holy of Holies: the throne room of God. There is nothing, but our own selves, to prevent us from entering God’s presence, just as Moses did. If we seek this, we can enter God’s Throne Room whenever we come into God’s presence in worship.

Finally let us consider what happened when Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to meet with God. Verse 10 states; “Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they all stood and worshiped.”

When we come together in worship, “in Spirit and in truth”, and in the manifest presence of God, the community around us will notice. They will find themselves drawn to worship too. This is what revival is.

And to conclude, how do we know we can enter God’s throne room? We know Jesus, the Great High Priest!

As Hebrews 4:14 and 16 says;

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Barbara Norburn

Living thoughts

Please consider the following questions. As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

  • Re-read the teaching on worship in the Tabernacle, and the account of Moses encountering God in Exodus 33.
  • What are the implications for how you worship as an individual, and how we worship together?

Prayer response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you. Grant us your light as we enter into Lent.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You. We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love. Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Journey to Hope – Fear

Based on a sermon from Sunday 13th March 2022

Exodus 16:33-35

This is the second of our 5 part series in which we look at the journey that the Israelites took in the desert to the Promised Land.  We feel that this journey is similar to the journey we are on as a church, except our “Promised Land” is revival.  Some of the Israelites didn’t make it to the Promised Land because they were carrying baggage that they wanted to keep.  Last week we talked about Grief.  Many of the Israelites complained and wanted to go back to slavery in Egypt.  They grieved the “so called riches” they had in Egypt, such as meat to eat.  They wanted to go back to slavery, and they didn’t want or know how to enter freedom.  They complained to Moses and blamed God for their misfortunes, even though they were free.  They had just seen the 12 plagues, God had parted a huge sea and killed all their enemies in front of their eyes, but they still complained.

Yet, God was so good and he remained faithful to the Israelites.  We hear in the scriptures that out of God’s goodness, God gave the Israelites what they wanted, (see Exodus 16:13-18).  Moses asked them to take what they needed, not too much or too little, (see also 16:1-20).  Moses gave them an instruction not to keep any of the bread for the morning, but they ignored Him, and the Israelites kept the bread anyway.

Why did they keep the bread when Moses told them not to?  Because they didn’t trust Moses.  Moses had led them out of Egypt and through the parted sea, surely with his track record and the relationship that Moses would have built up with the Israelites, you would have thought that they would and should have listened and trusted Moses?… but no, they didn’t.  They didn’t trust Moses and so they therefore didn’t trust God.

Why this lack of trust?  Because they didn’t trust that Moses and God would look after and provide for them.  The Israelites took the bread and kept it so they could provide for themselves for the next day.  They were scared, worried and fearful that the bread wouldn’t come and that God wouldn’t provide.  They took control of the situation and they tried to provide for themselves.  By keeping the bread for themselves it revealed two strongholds and sin patterns; fear and control.  “I’ll do this myself, because I don’t think God will give me what I need” – that was control.  Blaming Moses and trying to sort things out for themselves – is was result of their own fear.

I can imagine that these two sin patterns of fear and control were so normal and natural to the Israelites.  Remember that these Israelites would have been born slaves.  They would have been beaten, abused and at the mercy of the Egyptians.  They were living in fear of what would happen next.   Because of this, I can imagine that they did everything they could to survive.  In Exodus 1 we read that the new Pharaoh betrayed the Israelites and made them all slaves.  He put slave masters over them with forced labour.  He oppressed them and worked them ruthlessly.  He tried to kill all the boy babies so they wouldn’t multiply.  The Egyptians were not kind.  For years the Israelites were oppressed and under a heavy blanket of fear without any hope of freedom.

When the Israelites left Egypt, they had to re-learn how to follow a leader who was kind, loving, tolerant, forgiving and good.  When Moses came, he spoke of God and God’s faithfulness to the Israelites.  Moses had compassion on the people.  During the 12 plagues of Egypt, God used this time to teach the Israelites about His faithfulness, love and goodness.  God had not forgotten His people and God delivered them.  God parted the Red Sea and now God was giving them the food and water that they needed in the desert daily.  God was constantly miraculously providing for them.

Still they were unable to let go of the past and the pain of their deep betrayal and mistreatment by the Egyptians, and because they hadn’t dealt with their pain, they complained to Moses.  They didn’t trust him.  They grumbled.  They talked about him behind his back.  They were angry towards him.  All the unresolved pain, unforgiveness and anger they had for the Egyptians, resulted in the Israelites putting this baggage on Moses.  They couldn’t move forward away from the pain of their past and into the freedom of their future.  We can be just like these Israelites.

God only wants good things for us.  God is good.  God can’t help himself.  God cannot do anything but be good. Gods’ divine goodness is at the centre of God’s character.  If God is not good, then God is not God.

In A.W. Tozer’s book The Knowledge of the Holy, he says “If God is not good, then there can be no distinction between kindness and cruelty.  Therefore, heaven can be hell and hell, heaven.  The goodness of God is the drive behind all blessing He daily bestows upon us.”

Goodness is the reason why God does everything He does.  When God made the earth, His creation and Mankind, God said it was good. Genesis 1v31 “God saw all that he had made, and it was very good.”

If God is the same yesterday, today and forever, then God still thinks Mankind is good today and He only has good things for us.  God is unchanging and so therefore his goodness is unchanging also.  If God is good, then everything He has for us is also good.  Therefore, if everything He has for us is good, why do we doubt God?  Why are we fearful?  We cannot make anything more good than God, because God is the creator of good.  He only has good things for us. That is God’s nature. He can’t help it.

God’s goodness is the ground of our expectation. If we do not know the goodness of God and His love for us, then we will have low expectations of God and therefore low expectations of God’s goodness.  We will then have low expectations for our lives and the future that God has for us.  We will have low levels of hope.  God’s goodness and love is the foundation for our lives.

Again Tozer writes, “Sin has made us timid and self-conscious.  Years of rebellion against God have bred in us a fear that cannot be overcome in a day”.  This fear was the reason why the Israelites were unable to enter the Promised Land.  They had lived in fear their whole lives.  They didn’t know how to not be fearful.  Their fear was not going to be overcome in a day, but even after all they went through, they continued to doubt Moses and therefore they doubted God.

If we want to know more of God and His goodness, we only need to look at Jesus. Jesus came to walk with men, so we would see for ourselves what God the Father was like.  Jesus was consistently loving, kind, gentle, gracious and good.  Jesus teaches us, how good God has been and forever will be.

“The greatness of God rouses fear within us, but God’s goodness encourages us not to be afraid of him.” (Tozer).

If like me, you struggle with God’s goodness, all we need to do is look at Jesus.  We just need to look at how good Jesus was and how he died on the cross for you and me.  If like me, you struggle with the goodness of God, just look at your past and how faithful God has been.  Just look at the reason why you are here. It is because of God’s goodness that you are here in this room, saved and redeemed.  It is because of God’s goodness that He blesses you daily.

Today, we are looking at fear.  Just like the Israelites we have fear which can cause us to take control and not trust God.  We can have; fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of the future, fear of the past, fear of the journey, fear of the Holy Spirit, fear of leaving your baggage behind, fear of leaving betrayal behind, fear of forgiveness.  None of us fully understands the goodness of God, because God’s goodness is so big, full of mercy, grace and blessing.  We will never deserve the goodness and blessing God wants to shower us with, but God is good.  God’s goodness is faithful.  His goodness is everlasting.  His goodness is new every morning.  His goodness gives us hope.  God’s goodness and faithfulness gives us a future.  God’s goodness gives us a hope for revival.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

Please consider the following questions.  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Get your Bible down and read these verses…

  • James 1v17
  • Psalm 34v8
  • Romans 8v28
  • Psalm 107v1
  • Psalm 145v9

Try and summarise the message from each verse in your notebook.  Can you respond with thanksgiving to God for what they say to you?

Re-read these verses from our first reading above, Exodus 16:33-35.

Manna was placed (the daily miracle bread God showered them with), in a jar to remind them of God’s goodness and faithfulness, and to tell future generations of all that God has done.  I am sure many of us have testimonies of God’s faithfulness and goodness.  Ask God to remind you of them, write them down and put them in your own Omer Jar.

The Bible reveals God’s character, faithfulness and goodness. Below are some Bible passages that reflect these.  As you read them list the good qualities of God.

  • Colossians 1:17
  • Malachi 3:6
  • Romans 8:35-39
  • John 5:26
  • Psalm 33:6
  • 2 Timothy 2:13
  • Psalm 34:8
  • Psalm 145:8

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Dwell in these words from scripture, and ask God to show you His plans for you, and then ask Him to show you His peace and thus experience His peace of heart.

“For I know the plans I have for you declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you.  Plans for a future and a hope” Jeremiah 29v11

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.  Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14v27

Read The Knowledge of the Holy, by A.W. Tozer, which is all about the character of God.

If this subject has brought things up for you, please do get in touch if you would appreciate a listening ear, or someone to pray with.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you, grant us your light as we enter into Lent.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name. Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love. Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Journey to Hope – Grief

Based on a sermon from Sunday 6th March 2022

What is grief?

What many of us never fully get is that the tragedies over which we lament are of greater concern to God.  When we weep, God weeps with us.  God is a God who suffers with us in the midst of tragedy.

When we grumble, as the Israelites did in the wilderness, we are grumbling against God!  They had gone through a hard time, being at the beck and call of their Egyptian taskmasters.  And it always appears to be that the longer people are at the beck and call of others the harsher they are treated.  For the Israelites it led to them having to make bricks without the raw materials being provided for them, they had to find the straw and the mud and still make the same number of bricks!  Not an easy thing to do.  They were going through a time of tragedy.  Now in the wilderness they were going through a grieving process.

We’ve all gone through a time of tragedy – the pandemic.  Thankfully we appear to be coming out of it, but now we’re plunged into another one – Russia’s seemingly fruitless invasion of Ukraine – for what ends?  To show who is tougher in the playground?

The longer we go through tragedies the further God can seem to be from us, and so the less we live in the Hope of God.

We struggle to see that there is hope in the world.  However, in God all hope is not lost because the Bible clearly teaches that God is the God of hope.  The word hope in the Bible is from the Greek word “Elpis.”  It means “a desire of some good with an expectation of obtaining it.”  So in a Christian sense we can have a joyful and confident expectation of eternal salvation!

The truth is this; there is hope in the world.  Jeremiah 29:11 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”  And Romans 15:13 says “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

It has been said that “The edge of disaster and the brink of a miracle are the same place.”  The last 300 years of history shows us that when cities and nations have been on the verge of collapsing morally, God has raised up people who would pray, and God brought spiritual revivals and spiritual awakenings, and brought people back to “a right standing with God.”

Lent and our Sunday series, Journey into Hope, and our Revival sessions are a time to pray to God and turn our hearts back to Him and turn away from our rebellion against God and His word, so that our children, our families and our nation might have God’s hope and be saved.

But God’s hope can be clouded by grief.  This is the first topic of our series Journey into Hope – grief.  If we are to live in God’s authentic Hope, we need to deal with loss and grief in a manner that is emotionally intelligent, i.e. with the ability to perceive, control, and evaluate our emotions.  But at the same time we need to have the ability to understand, interpret, and respond to the emotions of others.  If we struggle with this, then grief that is not processed well drains and undermines the heart’s capacity to lay hold of the power of God’s supernatural life giving and sustaining hope. 

We commonly only think of grief as being related to death, and in doing so miss the need to grieve over more commonplace losses.  If we don’t recognise grief then we cannot grieve well, and then we get stuck in a pattern of repeating the original loss around us, and so we make poor decision after poor decision.  Every one of us will have experienced grief but many of us have not been taught how to deal with it.

What do we grief over?

  • The death of a loved one, a friend, a colleague.
  • The loss of dreams or of a hope that failed to materialise.
  • Plans that fell apart
  • The loss of relationship/s – divorce, boyfriend/girlfriend, people moving on from our church
  • Betrayals
  • Financial loss and its consequences
  • The loss of a home, a job, a reputation….
  • Loss through your own failure
  • Loss of health
  • Loss of a part of yourself (such as loss of confidence, loss of vision, loss of trust)

The effects of a pandemic on our community of faith?

Covid will have affected us in many different ways as a community of faith:

  • loss of church members
  • loss of church finances
  • members dying
  • members moving
  • members falling away
  • loss of plans
  • loss of momentum
  • loss of time with each-other

5 Stages of Grief

There are five stages of grief…

  1. Denial: Avoidance, Confusion, Numbness, Blame, Fear
  2. Anger: Frustration, Anxiety,Irritation, Shame, Embarrassment,Blame
  3. Bargain: Desire to tell one’s story, Struggle to find meaning, Wanting to make deals
  4. Depression: Overwhelmed, Lack of Energy, Despair, Hopelessness, Over/under-eating
  5. Acceptance: Exploring new options, Willing to consider the future, Coming to a place of peace.

These stages of grief were first identified and named by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross in 1969 in her book, ‘Death and Dying’.  This process of grieving has been recognised and acknowledged over the last 40/50 years, as well as developed by others.  Grief is a journey that needs to be walked through.  We aren’t meant to camp in it, nor avoid it.  The five stages of grief are a navigational aid to help us recognise and accept the emotions that we experience on the journey at different points.  It’s important to understand that these 5 stages are not necessarily linear.

How we learnt to grieve

Many of us have been taught and trained to minimise or ignore our significant life losses.  We somehow think that if we can do that we will not be ‘brought down’ by the loss.  Loss can feel so traumatic to our souls that the message from others, (from unprocessed grief that others often have) is that if you don’t skip over it, the loss itself will swallow you – that the emotions of grief will destroy you!

This can result in a lack of awareness of grief – we don’t even recognise it.  If it starts to emerge, we find ways of stopping it, burying it, reasoning ourselves out of it – kidding ourselves that “others have it much harder”, saying to ourselves “onwards and upwards”.

The opposite of this is like falling off the horse on the other side!  Our emotions become so huge that all else is eclipsed, including the grief of others, and life falls apart.

Maybe this is what you have done – the grief of the death of a pet during Covid became your main topic of conversation, even to those who had recently lost someone close to themselves.  The emotions can be so overwhelming that they become the focus, rather than the loss itself.

These reactions can see-saw from generation to generation, or indeed from situation to situation, as people try to put right past wrongs, but neither reaction is actually processing of grief, nor is it dealing with loss.

Processing through Grief

In order to walk through grief, we need to pay attention to it, accept it and express it – only then will we learn, receive and grow.  These are some pointers that can help us to process grief…

  • Processing grief is best done with a healthy mix of doing it alone, doing it with God, doing it with others.
  • Connecting to trusted people who are close to you in a vulnerable way is helpful.  The more we withdraw to sort it out ourselves, the longer it takes.  Trusting people when you are in pain and experiencing discomfort is extremely healing.
  • An important aspect is to value what you have lost.  So recognise what was good about that which has been lost.  If a person you love has died, this is often obvious.  You will remember all the good moments.  Flash backs and memories will invade your thinking.  This is your system helping you process.  Go with it.  Write things down, make picture books, find ways to mark and treasure what was precious.  This process is harder, but just as important, if it is a broken relationship, a divorce, a miscarriage, an abortion, a lost job, a failure in a venture, or the loss of health in some way.  This applies to issues brought about through Covid too.

It is important not to dismiss or devalue what you have lost.  Seek to find what was good, what you are actually grieving.  We don’t grieve things we don’t value.  We grieve the good and what could have been if…

  • Sometimes you need to forgive someone for the loss you are experiencing, including forgiving the person for dying – even if it was obviously not their fault.  You may need to forgive people who contributed to your loss, maybe even the church you belong to, the prime minister ….

When a friendship dies or a marriage breaks up, when betrayal seems to be the order of the day or you have lost a job, when people have misunderstood you or accused you – remember to forgive, because it enables you to move forward.

  • When we experience a form of failure we can feel deeply ashamed, as if it were our fault, as if we were not ‘enough’ and we want to hide withdraw and run away from the humiliation.  Don’t let shame define you.  Face your shame, acknowledge yourself condemnation and listen to the Father for His wisdom, truth and affirmation.  Shame is a human emotional expression when false identities get exposed.  God’s presence and His word are key in delivering us from shame-based identities and into true love-based identity.
  • By faith begin to learn to adapt to the new shape that is your world now.  Losses always teach us amazing things about God and ourselves if we can dare to let it.  In the noise of grief and pain we can often learn to hear God’s whisper.  We can lean on His word (His rod and His staff comfort us).  Don’t make an idol of the lost person/s or ministry or state of affairs (or event).  Look up and look forward and choose to believe that God will bring good out of bad, life out of death and joy out of mourning.

Living thoughts

Please consider the following questions…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

In a time on your own, name three losses that have been significant in your life over the last two years of pandemic.

As you think about Grief meditate on these passages from Scripture and ask God to speak to you about the meaning of these verses.  Is there a word or phrase that speaks in a fresh way?  If so, why?

Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. Psalm 23:4

One thing I ask from the Lord, this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze on the beauty of the Lord and to seek him in his temple.  Psalm 27:4

I remain confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.  14 Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.  Psalm 27:13-14

Praise be to the Lord, for he has heard my cry for mercy.  The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.  My heart leaps for joy, and with my song I praise him.  Psalm 28:6-7

If this subject has brought things up for you please do get in touch if you would appreciate a listening ear, or someone to pray with. 

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you.  Grant us your light as we enter into Lent;

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation, with your love, as we prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land.  In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.

May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name.  In Jesus Name.  Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe in you for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love.  Amen

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Ash Wednesday, Righteousness and Peace

2nd March 2022

Psalm 85, Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

What does it mean that “righteousness and peace kiss each other” in Psalm 85:10?

When Psalm 85:10 states that “righteousness and peace kiss each other,” the psalmist is personifying two of God’s attributes and how they work together.

Psalm 85 was written by the sons of Korah (great leaders in choral and orchestral music in the tabernacle during King David’s time) and recalls God’s restoration of Israel.

Verses 1–3 demonstrate how God had restored Israel in the past and turned away His wrath.  Remembering God’s mercy in restoring Israel, the psalmist petitions the Lord to restore them yet again (Psalm 85:4).

Knowing of God’s mercy and unfailing love, the psalmist rhetorically asks if the Lord will remain angry forever (Psalm 85: 5–7).

Based on God’s faithful salvation, the psalmist is confident that He will not continue in His wrath.  God promises “peace to his people, his faithful servants,” but urges them to stay away from folly, for the Lord will save those who fear Him (Psalm 85: 8–9).

Fear of God may refer to fear itself, but more often it refers to a sense of awe, and submission to His supernatural divine deity.  This is what it means here.  Fearing God is good because it saves us from caving into our own sinful nature. That’s why hearing someone is God-fearing should actually make us trust that person more.  If they fear God, they are more likely to keep their word and treat others with kindness.

In fact, Romans 3, a classic chapter on sin, says that our chief sin is that we “have no fear of God at all” (Romans 3:18).  So how does fear of God, who is perfect love, take away fear?

The theologian, William D. Eisenhower puts it this way in his article ‘Fearing God” in Christianity Today:

Unfortunately, many of us presume that the world is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than the world …. When we assume that the world is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, the world’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to the world’s equal ….

That got me thinking…. What happens if I use the word Russia in this paragraph….

Unfortunately, many of us presume that Russia is the ultimate threat and that God’s function is to offset it. How different this is from the biblical position that God is far scarier than Russia …. When we assume that Russia is the ultimate threat, we give it unwarranted power, for in truth, Russia’s threats are temporary.  When we expect God to balance the stress of the world, we reduce him to Russia’s equal ….

William D. Eisenhower goes on to say…

As I walk with the Lord, I discover that God poses an ominous threat to my ego, but not to me.  He rescues me from my delusions, so he may reveal the truth that sets me free.  He casts me down, only to lift me up again.  He sits in judgment of my sin, but forgives me nevertheless.  Fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, but love from the Lord is its completion.

And, of course, the ultimate example of fear and perfect love working together is Jesus Christ.  He warned us at every turn to fear God, not humanity, not Putin, and He confirmed this in everything about His life and death.  He spoke lovingly but frankly to all and didn’t mince words when people needed to face their sin and repent.  But He also demonstrated love beyond human understanding when He lived out His words, “There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13)

With love like that, what is left to fear but God?

So back to the Psalm, in verse 10 the psalmist turns to personification:

“Love and faithfulness meet together; righteousness and peace kiss each other” (Psalm 85:10).  Other translations say that righteousness and peace “will embrace” (GNT) or “will unite” (CEV).

The idea is that the Lord’s attributes of righteousness and peace would harmonise to provide comfort to Israel.  The attributes of righteousness and peace are also linked in Isaiah 32:17:

“The fruit of that righteousness will be peace; its effect will be quietness and confidence forever.”

A kiss was a common form of greeting in ancient times, and still is in many cultures.  The word picture painted in Psalm 85:10 is one of two friends greeting each other as if they had been separated for a long time.  Righteousness and peace have been estranged, but now they are friends again.

As long as Israel remained in a sinful, unrepentant state the righteousness of God was opposed to peace on earth, but now they are united the result is joy, a friendly embrace, and delightful harmony.

The personification in Psalm 85 is continued in verse 11:

“Faithfulness springs forth from the earth, and righteousness looks down from heaven.”

Here we see that faithfulness is described as springing up “from the earth,” and righteousness as looking down “from heaven.”  The mention of heaven and earth suggests that more is being unified than just the attributes of God.  Heaven and earth are uniting, resulting in peace and blessing for God’s people.

I think that this description is a foreshadow of the angels’ song in Luke 2:14:

“Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”

Using the imagery of a harvest, the psalmist is then assured that God will answer Israel’s prayer for restoration:

“The Lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest.

Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Psalm 85:12–13).

Despite the wrongdoing done by the nation, God would extend grace to the Israelites.  Despite the wrong-doing of Russia invading Ukraine, God will extend His grace to the Russians.  He cannot do anything else! 

So this Psalm teaches an amazing truth: God’s grace is greater than our sin, in fact greater than any sin.  Through His righteousness, peace, faithfulness, and love coming together God would bring peace to Israel once again.

But note, righteousness comes before peace and from my study of Scripture wherever righteousness and peace are mentioned together righteousness always comes first.  So if we want peace in our life, and in God’s world, we need to be living in righteousness with God, where righteousness is acting in accord with God’s perfect divine and moral law.  When we do this, we experience freedom from guilt and sin.

The last thing I wish to say is this:  The ultimate fulfilment of love and faithfulness “meeting together” and of righteousness and peace “kissing” is found in Jesus Christ’s work to reconcile the world to God.  Spinning the Ukraine situation on its head God could be giving us all, during this season of Lent, an opportunity through Jesus to experience a fresh peace with God and forgiveness of sins (Romans 5:1).  You see God never wastes an opportunity for us to come closer to Him. 

Today God wants us to know in a new and deeper way that because of His love and mercy, we can have eternal life through His death and resurrection (Romans 10:9–11).  Just as God didn’t deal with Israel as they deserved in the Old Testament, so He has offered us His unmerited grace in spite of what we’ve done.

In Jesus, we are declared righteous, not because of who we are or what we’ve done, but because of who He is (Ephesians 2:8–9).  The “kiss” of righteousness and peace brings us peace with God.  Because of this we need not live in fear of what is going on at present, as worrying as it appears. 

You see as Christians we should know that due to our identity in Christ, based on the truth that we are beloved friends and children of our heavenly Father, we should be certain of our ultimate destination, heaven. 

In closing I would like to share this picture with you, from one of our parishioners last week.

Jesus is the Door

One day, in a quiet place, I was considering this teaching from John 10:7-10, 7Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.  8All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them.  9I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved.  They will come in and go out, and find pasture.  10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.’

As I was quietly considering possibilities of other ways and the consequences of being a “thief and a robber” a clear picture came into my mind: I was in my house, this represented the world, standing at the bottom of a staircase that led up into heaven, the next world; Jesus dressed in white was standing halfway down with arms outstretched towards me welcoming me up. I felt safe and knew He was the Way …

Come, all of you who are weary of what is going on around us in the world, look up, see Jesus is standing in front of you with arms outstretched, welcoming you into His glorious presence.

Footnote Of all the psalms in the Bible, eleven are attributed to the sons of Korah.  These beautiful psalms express a spirit of great gratitude and humility to an awesome, mighty God.  They express a longing for God and deep devotion.  These poetic songs include Psalms 42, 44—49, 84—85, and 87—88.  Psalm 42:1 contains the beautiful line, “As the deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God.”  Psalm 84:1 states, “How lovely is your dwelling place, O God.”  Psalm 46:1–3 conveys the powerful message, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.  Therefore, we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.”

Journey into Hope

Lessons from Wilderness wanderings

From a sermon delivered on 27th February 2022

Haven’t the last two years been tough?  I know I have found it tough, and I know many others have as well.  It is as if we wandering around in a wilderness or desert.  Now Russia has invaded Ukraine!  Lord, when will it all end?

The question most people have when they’re led into a desert experience is “Why?”.  But take heart; God will use our experiences here to cause a desert season to blossom like a rose.  For this to happen we have to use every ounce of God’s strength in us to push on through to the end of the wilderness. 

I can say this with confidence because in the desert, God the Father speaks and awakens our hearts to hear.  In fact, the word for “desert” in Hebrew means “the place of speaking.”

When God freed His people from slavery in Egypt, He didn’t bring them straight into the Promised Land.  He took them on a journey first.  And not just any journey – He took them into the wilderness for 40 years.

So today’s sermon is by way of an introduction to a series titled “Journey into Hope” which will be based on the wanderings of the Israelites in the wilderness.  Wanderings that led them to their revival when they entered the Promised Land. 

But before they got to the Promised Land they went through grief, fear, had the exhilaration of entering into the throne room of God, through the Tabernacle and finally rose on wings of eagles!  Through all of this God spoke to them and revealed Himself to them more than ever before.

A Path through into the Wilderness

Too often we try to avoid the uncomfortable in life.  Why?  Because we think we have very legitimate reasons for doing so.  When our life hits a “desert” time, it is very hard to recoup.  Our heart and mind feel burnt out, everything seems lifeless and even taking a single step seems to require an extreme amount of effort.  And yet, the desert is not presented as a hopeless place in the Bible.  God has used the desert and the wilderness to speak with His people.  If you are in the middle of a desert season, you’re actually not alone.

God spoke to Abraham while he was in the wilderness.  God brought the Israelites into the wilderness, because He wanted to speak to them.  In the wilderness Elijah met with God.  God spoke to John the Baptist in the desert, where he spent most of his life in those rough conditions.  He became known as “A voice of one calling in the wilderness” (Isaiah 40:3).  Each of these stories are filled with miracles.  In the wilderness God was present, and in the desert, He made Himself known.

Hebrew Meaning of the Word “Desert”

The Hebrew language, the main language of the Old Testament, carries so much depth.  The problem this causes with translation is that we can sometimes lose the complex meaning of a word.  Many seemingly different words can actually be connected in Hebrew, because they have a common root – three core letters.

The Hebrew word for the “desert” is MIDBAR.  Because there are no vowels in Hebrew, the letters that spell it out are M-D-B-R.  Coincidentally, this is also how you spell another Hebrew word, MEDABER – “to speak.”

The wilderness of the Judean hills is where the Holy Spirit sent Jesus before the start of His public ministry.  Jesus came to the MIDBAR – the desert, so that God could MEDABER – speak to him!  Jesus didn’t wander into the desert by accident.  He went there on purpose, because He needed to hear from God.  Abraham, Moses, Isaiah, Elijah – none of them were in the wilderness by accident.  God wanted to speak with them, and what better place for an important meeting than the one where there are no distractions.  

There are a number of named wildernesses in the desert wanderings of the Israelites.  Exodus 15:22 says this:

22Then Moses led Israel from the Red Sea and they went into the Desert of Shur.  For three days they travelled in the desert without finding water.

Shur is a Hebrew word that means “a wall,” “hemmed in,” or “limited.”  God led them along a wall!  They could not escape that desert. 

In the same way, none of us were able to escape the wilderness of the coronavirus.  We were in a place of restriction and limitation that made it impossible to move forward without a miracle.  During Covid we were up against a wall like the Hebrews were.  They had followed the cloud to a place of limitation.  This was not because of their rebellion or disobedience.  It was because of God’s plan to trade their limitation for His limitless grace, mercy, love, and power.  They needed to be in that place for their advance, and so do we.  Limitations are God’s veiled opportunities for His miraculous provisions.  There is a realm of plenty just beyond our limitations.  The end of your strength is the beginning of His.  You could say it this way: the wilderness is simply a place in life that you don’t want to be in.

But it’s the place where the God of glory meets with the barren soul, showing us the deepest lessons of our life.  Here are a few lessons that we can learn from our wilderness experiences.

Great problems often follow great victories:  After the parting of a sea, there’s usually a desert.  The Israelites had just been delivered from their enemy at the Red Sea and were on their way to the promised land when, three days in, they experienced a shortage of water.  After the dance of victory, we now see them bitter and complaining.

I think naively we assume that a continual experience of victory is the norm when in fact, victory is often sandwiched between the lessons we learn from our difficulties.

Testing comes before resting:  When we turn our faces to Christ in the midst of pain and impossibility, Christlike character is formed within us.  Miracles are meant to do more than fascinate our soul; they’re meant to convince us that God’s faithfulness will not fail when the dry desert days come.  The Israelites knew that God was powerful, but they did not yet know that He was good.

Christians, throughout the ages, have discovered that God will turn everything into good if we will but love Him through the difficulties of life.  In the midst of our difficulties, God designs tests that teach us His ways.  The Israelites had made a three-day trek into the wilderness when they ran out of water. So when they saw the waters of Marah they must have been elated.

But they soon became upset when they found that it was bitter and undrinkable.  And so they named it Marah, which means “bitter,” “grief,” or “calamity.”  They were all dry, dusty, and upset.  How could this happen?

The Hebrews cried out to Moses for water, but not to God.  The same God that can handle the Red Sea can handle deserts and drought.  He can take the bitter waters of Marah and make them sweet.  In the same vein, we too can experience a great breakthrough and then three days later are griping about the way leadership has, in our opinion, led us wrong.

Instead we need to look at ourselves first and then take our problem to the Father who can right all wrongs.  We can shorten the wilderness by allowing God’s purpose to be fulfilled in it.  The sooner we learn the lesson of Shur, the sooner we can move out.

Although we often see the wilderness as the outside circumstances around us, it’s the wilderness within us that the Lord is really after.  We must go heart and spirit deep.  The beginning of your miracle is even now at work inside you.

So, I ask you this question: what is it that the Lord is doing in you right now?  I believe the Lord has something personal He’s doing in every life.  Are you anchored to hope?  Hope in God is not a wishful fantasy.  Rather, our hope is an anchor that has gone through the veil and into glory where He is seated on the throne.  Christ himself is the anchor of our soul, both sure and steadfast.

When we run into His heart to hide ourselves in His faithfulness we find His strength and comfort, for He empowers us to seize what has already been established ahead of time—an unshakable hope!

We have this sure and certain hope like a strong, unbreakable anchor holding our souls to God Himself, (Hebrews 6:18–19).  The wilderness is an unpleasant place, fleshly speaking.  We naturally want prosperity, health, and easy going.  But the same God who created the garden also created the wilderness.

There will be times of trial and pressure.  Our faith will be tested.  But the God of grace will meet us even in the wilderness, for God is always asking for us to believe that He’s our healer and our redeemer, and that He’s awakening our heart during this difficult season to trust His love for us.  May our heart be awakened!

Living thoughts

Digging into God’s Word

Please consider the following meditation and questions…

As you think about the wonderings of the Israelites in the wilderness, and how it prepared them for the revival of entering into the Promised Land, perhaps you can use these following words as a meditation to commit to God your willingness to let Him teach you at all times, all places and in all situations.  Think of them as God speaking directly to you….

“So stand firm in Me until I have become your confidence.  Set your eyes upon Me, and don’t be worried about your future and your calling, for I am the God who begins and completes, the Alpha and the Omega.  Lean into Me and lean into My Word and find all that you need.  The rest I bring will be sweet to your soul.  Let Me arrange your priorities and remove your distractions.  Your true life is discovered when you lean into Me.  Weakness disappears and worries vanish when you lean into Me.  And I will cause My strength to overshadow you, and it will give you the courage and discipline to move ahead.  I have purposes for you that embrace eternity, and I have now begun to hasten those purposes to completion.  For I have chosen you before time began to live in the fullness of My Spirit.

“Surrender to Me this day and do not hinder My Spirit’s work to make you into the image of My Son, and you will see that I will perform miracles for you and in you. Amen!”

Copyright Candice Simmons

Digging deeper into God’s Word

  1. What is it that the Lord is doing in you right now?
  2. Are you anchored to hope of God, or hope of the world?
  3. How does this statement speak to you

The wilderness is simply a place in life that you don’t want to be. But it’s the place where the God of glory meets with the barren soul, showing us the deepest lessons of our life.

Prayer Response

Jesus, the hope of all who trust you; the power of all who serve you; the wisdom of all who follow you; the one who unites all who worship you. Grant us your light as we enter into Lent.

Fill us with strength and boldness according to your promises, that we might reach our needy nation with your love, as we start to prepare for Easter.  We humbly acknowledge our weakness and failure, but our eyes are fixed on you.  Fulfil your purposes and plans that your name may be honoured in our land. In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.

Father, thank you that in a world of despair, you are our Hope.  In a world of darkness, you are our Light.  In a world of sorrow, you are our joy.

Help us to share the Hope of our hearts with one another.  Enable us to give Hope to others through Your work amongst us.  Use us to transform our nation and to spread Your Hope to everyone in this nation.  May our land flourish by the preaching of Your word and the praising of Your name. In Jesus Name, Amen.

Holy God, our only hope is in You.  We thank you for the past, trust you for today and believe for the future; that all Your promises will come to pass so we can rest forever in Your love, Amen.

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre