The Spirituality of Fund-raising: Part 1

Fund raising as ministry

How do you view fund-raising? 

Do you see it as someone else’s job because you’re just too embarrassed to ask someone for some money?  I know that is how I have felt.  But is this the right attitude to have? 

Reading Henri Nouwen’s book “The Spirituality of Fund-raising” has opened my eyes to seeing fund-raising in a new way, a way firmly based on Scripture, God’s true word to us.

So how do you see fund-raising?  Is it a response to a crisis? Is it a form of ministry?

Henri Nouwen sees it very definitely as ministry!  Why? Well it does two things.  First it gives us an opportunity to announce our vision (where we want to get to) and mission, and secondly it gives others an opportunity to join us in our vision and mission. 

Scripture tells us that vision and mission are central to the life of God’s people.  The simple truth is this; without vision we perish, and with no vision of where we want to get to, our mission loses its way.

Our first reading from 2 Kings was gloomy.  But it clearly tells us what happens if you have no vision; you have no mission!  (2 Kings 21:1-9).  King Manasseh did not seek God, he did not listen to the words of God’s prophets, therefore he wilfully led God’s people into sin.  His actions angered God and they showed that he had no faith in God.  Not listening to God led to destruction.

On one occasion when we were praying about the children’s and families’ position that Mel Ramos will be taking up, this quote was shared…

‘Vision without action is a dream.

Action without vision is a nightmare.

Vision and action together changes the world.’

(From a resource titled “The Bible in One Year”)

We believe God has given us a vision here that involves stepping up through the gears with regards to children’s and families’ work.  If we don’t act on it our vision is only a dream.  Dreams go nowhere if they stay as dreams; action is needed, and action leads to mission.

We believe that God has shown us a need; for families and young people to be pointed towards God through His Son Jesus.  Such a vision will need resourcing in order for us to meet their needs.  So this vision will lead us, Jesus’ Church here, (that’s all of us), into new directions as it will give us new opportunities for mission (Acts 16:9-10).  This vision calls us to exercise faith in God, not in ourselves, but in God alone. This vision gives us courage to speak when we might want to remain silent (Acts 18:9).

So, fund-raising as ministry, ministry we are all called to, gives us an opportunity to invite people to journey with us in our vision and mission in a clear and confident way.  Such a ministry is not begging, instead we’re saying “We have a vision that is amazing and exciting. We are inviting you to invest yourself through the resources that God has given you — your energy, your prayers, and your money — in this work to which God has called us.”  Success depends on us believing in this vision and mission. 

Another reason that fund-raising is ministry is that it is a “call” to conversion.  What, a call to conversion?  How?

Well it works both ways, whether you’re receiving or giving it doesn’t matter, for however you are responding to the vision, you are being drawn together to others by God, who is about to do a new thing through your collaboration (see Isa. 43:19).

So what is conversion about?  According to Henri Nouwen to be converted means “to experience a deep shift in how we see and think and act.”  Christian conversion also involves being clothed in the mind of God.  The outworking of this is that we come to our senses, just as the younger son did when he was starving far from his true home (Luke 15:17-20).  So, Christian conversion is a shift of attention in which we set our mind on divine things (Matt. 16:23).  Paul in Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect”.

Fund-raising as ministry involves a real conversion. Does that make sense to you? It did to me.  If you catch the vision, then that vision has changed you, you are converted.  You see things in a new way and want to be involved in experiencing its transformative power because you know, believe and trust that it will make a difference. 

If we apply this to fund-raising then it is ministry, because ministry is about inviting people to relate in a new way to the resources they have.  So, in prayer ministry, for example, you believe that prayer changes people and situations for the better.  This gives people a spiritual vision that God does care and that He is able to change situations, and to change you, so you too come more into line with His plumb line truth.  Prayer ministry is there for the spiritual benefit of all who are involved.

As Henri Nouwen says, “Fund-raising from the point of view of the gospel says to people: ‘I will take your money and invest it in this vision only if it is good for your spiritual journey, only if it is good for your spiritual health.’”

You become richer spiritually by giving in accordance with God’s calling.  The Apostle Paul in 2 Cor. 9:11 said, “You will be enriched in every way for your great generosity…”

I hope that you can see that making connections with those we’re asking is important if we want others to really get behind what we’re doing.  It’s much better for all concerned if we don’t merely receive a cheque.  Therefore, in sharing our vision we’re wanting to enter into a relationship with the hearers because we want givers to be fully on board, for when they are they will spread the word about what we’re doing, which in turn may encourage others to give!  This is natural organic evangelism.

We will fail to raise funds if we think that fund-raising is an unspiritual activity.  I think I can see now that fund-raising is not only a secular activity.  As a form of ministry, fund-raising is as spiritual as giving a sermon, entering a time of prayer, visiting the sick, or feeding the hungry.  So, fund-raising has to help us with our conversion too. Are we willing to be converted from our fear of asking, from our anxiety about being rejected or feeling humiliated, from our depression when someone says, “No, I’m not going to get involved in your project”? When we have gained the freedom to ask without fear, in other words to see fund-raising as a form of ministry, then fund-raising will be good for our spiritual life too.

Remember, as we engage in this ministry we are not alone.  We believe that God has a vision for us here, to see His Kingdom grow through people coming to faith in Jesus.  We will achieve this if we stay connected to Jesus.  Remember His teaching on the vine…?

“I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing” (John 15:5).

With him, we can do anything because we know that God surrounds us with an abundance of blessings. So, those who need money and those who can give money meet on the common ground of God’s love. 

“And God is able to provide you with every blessing in abundance, so that by always having enough of everything, you may share abundantly in every good work” (2 Cor. 9:8).

When we shift our attitude about fund-raising – that it is ministry to which all are called, then we can boldly share God’s vision for this place. As we share we are giving others an opportunity to join us in God’s mission as we work towards His vision for us.

Time to think

As you ponder the questions below why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

If “ministry is, first of all, receiving God’s blessing from those to whom we minister” what do you think this blessing is?  Is it catching a glimpse of the face of God?

In fund-raising ministry, we are striving to give people a spiritual vision of the things God is calling us to do.  If people catch this spiritual vision they have experienced conversion. How did your own spiritual conversion to be a follower of Jesus change your outlook on life?  Did it say anything to you about the generosity of God?  If so, what did it say about this?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Luke 6:38 says, “Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.”

This verse teaches that if we live to give, God will see to it that we receive: but if we live only to get, God will see to it that we lose.  This principle applies not only to giving money, but also to the giving of ourselves in ministry to others.  What ministry has God called you to here?  How are you moving forward with this ministry?

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen

St. Ignatius Loyola

The pre-eminence of Jesus

Readings: Colossians 1: 14-20; John 1: 1-14

Everyone worships someone or something. All people give someone or something first place in their life.  The apostle Paul was determined that the church at Colossae give Jesus Christ pre-eminence in everything.  Paul used what is most likely an early Christian hymn to explain how Jesus is pre-eminent in the entire universe and worthy of the church’s allegiance and affection.

The beginning of the hymn explains that when people see Jesus, they see God. Remarkably, even in His human form, Jesus is God.  Jesus Himself affirmed this when He said, “I and the Father are one” (John 10:30).  Jesus’ deity displays His pre-eminence.

Paul then used a phrase that has often been misunderstood.  He said Jesus is the “firstborn over all creation” (Col 1:15).  At times, people have mistakenly taken this to mean that God the Father created the Son.  The immediate context reveals otherwise, describing Jesus as the creator of all things, who existed “before all things” (v16-17).  Additionally, John as we heard in our Gospel reading, affirmed that Jesus was in existence with the Father at the very beginning: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning” (John 1:1-2).

So, from what I have just said, and proved with Scripture, God and Jesus have been around for as long as each other.  What then is the meaning of Paul’s use of this word “firstborn“?  Well, this is where it helps to have a little bit of understanding of the Jewish culture of Jesus’ day.  The “first born” was significant.   Remember last week we celebrated Candlemas; Jesus being presented to God in the Temple because the Law of the Lord said;  ‘Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord’. (Luke 2:23).

This points to the exalted position held by God, and so the family, of the firstborn son.  So in the Jewish context, “firstborn” implied the highest rank and value.  Therefore, as the firstborn Jesus has the highest ranking and value of all things, both visible (i.e. created) and invisible (i.e. what goes on spiritually and in the heavenly realms).

Paul then pointed to the fact that Jesus created the universe.  He hoped to stretch his readers’ minds by leading them to think about invisible things that Jesus created, including the unseen angelic realm.  When Christians ponder on all of creation, galaxies upon galaxies, unexplored oceans and the complexity of the human body, we can only just begin to understand a tiny fraction of the majesty and power of Jesus.  During His life on earth Jesus demonstrated the very same power that He used to create everything through the “signs” He performed, “signs” such as turning water into wine, feeding the five thousand, walking on water, calming the storm, casting out demons, etc. 

All of these show us His complete mastery over both the physical and spiritual worlds.  “Signs” brought glory to God, and therefore all of creation exists to bring glory to God.  As part of His creation, we too are to bring glory to God.  And we can do this because Jesus dwells in us!  Colossians 1:19 tells us that God was pleased to have all His fullness dwell in Jesus.  So, if the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus and Jesus dwells in us, so the fullness of God dwells in us too!  Isn’t that awesome?  The same amount of God dwelling in Jesus (which is all of God) dwells in us too!

As the firstborn, Jesus is pre-eminent in His church.  Jesus creates, sustains, and leads His church as its Head.  Every church has its challenges and problems; but, because the church belongs to Jesus, Christians should have a heart to build up the church rather than tear it down. Such a heart has to be based on obeying the teachings and commands of Jesus.

Jesus’ pre-eminence shines brightly through His work of reconciling all things through His death on the cross: Jesus’ death and resurrection are among the ultimate displays of His pre-eminence.  Why?  Because of this Good News: Jesus is greater than humanity’s sin. Wow!  Now that should be worth shouting from the roof tops. 

Yet there is more to shout about…Jesus is greater than death! Jesus is greater than the devil, so much greater!  At the name of Jesus, the devil and his minions quiver and shake and look to make a very quick exit before they are destroyed.  Jesus’ name has that much power.  Indeed, in a world that often feels out of control, Christians can rejoice and take hope that Jesus Christ is in fact reconciling all things to the Father and will bring peace to the cosmos.

Last week I preached on a Hebrews passage which showed us just how broad and high Jesus affects the cosmos.  This has enormous implications for us, because Jesus shapes the way we live our lives, right down to the very smallest detail of our daily lives.  As Christ is supreme over all creation, including the spiritual world, we must believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, (that Jesus is God) or our Christian faith is hollow, misdirected, and meaningless, for this is a central truth of Christianity for Jesus is the Lord of all.

When we believe this, we are to share this awesome Good News with others.  There is nothing in the whole of this world, the whole of your life, that is better than Jesus.  Yes, my wife and daughters are amazing and I love them dearly.  Yes, I love cricket, I love riding my motorcycle, driving a classic Mini car.  All of these give me great joy and satisfaction, but all of these pale into insignificance with regards to what I get out of my personal relationship with Jesus.  Jesus is the ONE, He is the way, the truth and the life. 

That certainly has been my personal experience and God wants it to be everyone’s personal experience.  And it can, regardless of your age, circumstances and what you’ve done before with your life.  You see in our life God has given us a route to experience His reconciliation through His incarnate Son Jesus!

To know God, we have to go through Jesus.  He alone has cleared away our sin that stops us having a right relationship with God, so we can have direct access to the presence of the only holy supernatural divine God – Jesus’ Father.  Clearing away our sin doesn’t mean that everyone has been saved from eternal death.  Instead by clearing away our sin, Jesus has shown a path for anyone who trusts Him to be saved. 

All of our life is to openly proclaim the way of salvation to be through Christ alone.  Our life is to be a clear pointer to Christ.  Jesus has laid a clear path that leads to eternal life, a path that is counter-cultural, a path that will bring hostility to you, but a path that has closed the gap between us and our creator God.  Jesus’ way is what unites us to our Creator God.

I can preach for hours on these few verses.  They do have so much to say to us about faith, trust, who Jesus is, (God), who God is, (the sustainer of all things), but the crucial thing to me for us today is this question:

Does your life point people to Jesus?   

In other words, does Jesus have pre-eminence in your life 24/7?  If He does others will see it!

Time to think

Read Colossians 1:15-20 (and pray)

These verses are often referred to as one of the ‘purple’ passages in the Bible on the person and work of our Lord Jesus Christ. It speaks of His Supremacy over creation (old and new) and as a result His Sufficiency in Salvation. This all fits in with the main Idea of Colossians: Jesus Christ is all you need.

As you ponder the questions below why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s word

  1. What does Paul mean when he says that Jesus is the ‘image of the invisible God? Hint: see John 1:18. So, if we could learn something about God outside of Jesus, even if in dreams and visions and myths (the things troubling the Colossians), what would this say about Jesus?
  2. How much of God can we learn from Jesus according to verse 19? How much of Himself has God given to us in Jesus?
  3. Jesus is described as ‘firstborn’ in 15a. Some people think this means that Jesus was created. Look up Psalm 89:24-28 and Hebrews 1:1-3 and reflect of the Biblical meaning of the word ‘firstborn’.

Digging deeper into God’s word

  1. Jesus is Supreme in Creation because He created everything and He holds it all together.  He is Supreme in the New Creation because of His death and resurrection. What does this say about the sufficiency of our salvation in Christ?
  2. Can you think of ways in which Christians are tempted to add to Jesus?
  3. Christians are to point towards Jesus.  Write down the ways that your life points people to Him.

Prayer response

Dear Father,

we have not seen you. We do not even know what it might mean to see you. But you have shown us Jesus, and because we have seen him, we have seen you.

Thank you for him who is the image of you, the invisible God. Thank you for creating all things through him who is the first-born of all creation.

Help us grasp what it means that everything – things in heaven, things on earth, things visible, things invisible, thrones, dominions, principalities, authorities, all matter and all energy – was created by him who was before all things, and that all these things hold together through him.

How over-awed we are! We prostrate our bodies, souls, and spirits before him!

In Jesus’ hallowed name we pray. Amen.

Candlemas

Hebrews 2:10-18; Luke 2:22-40

Today we remember the Christ child being presented in the temple.  This was a tradition that Jewish families of Jesus’ day undertook.  I would imagine that both Mary and Joseph were a little apprehensive as they entered the temple.  Even more so, I would have thought, when two elderly people, unknown to them, greeted them and said amazing things about their son.  To me, those two were there by God’s design to say to Mary and Joseph, “You can do it, you can bring up this special child.  You both have what it takes to do the job God is calling you to do, to bring up His child.”

Today’s lectionary includes a reading from the Book of Hebrews.  But what has this to do with Candlemas?  First, let me tell you another story, a parable.

There was a college athletic team that could not win. They were a standing joke, especially over an annual special event – completing an obstacle course which most times they didn’t even complete!  The training coaches came and went, a bit like some Premier League Football managers.

Then one year a gifted coach got the job.  At the first practice, a cynical team member asked, “How long are you going to be here, one week or two?” The coach answered, “I am here for my whole career if the college will let me stay. I believe you can win and I am here to help you do it. I am with you. I am going to be here. Are you?”

As that wasn’t what they usually heard the team didn’t believe him. But he acted like he meant it. At each training session he told them, “There are two things I want you to do. Believe you can win and live like winners.”  The team joked about the coach’s positivity in private. But he acted as if he meant for them to take it seriously.

When it came to work on the obstacle course the coach told the team to watch as he showed them how it should be done.  He did it in record time, and said, “If I can do that, you can do it, too. I am a guy just like you.”  The team members were impressed – but they didn’t believe it.

Still they finished last at the end of the season. But the following season they had more success as bit by bit, the team’s attitude began to change. However, those who did the hiring and firing sacked the coach just before the last meeting.  The team members were shocked.  They didn’t quite know what to do.  But when they came to the competition, they saw their old coach in the stands.  Every time a team member was about to compete, the old coach was heard shouting, “Come on. I believe in you. You can do it.”  They won the event.  As a result, the team members made it their tradition to shout, “Believe you can win and live like a winner.” They became a winning team.

The book of Hebrews is a hard book to read but it tells a story that is similar to that in many ways but much more cosmic in its scope and much more important in its implications for us.

The story begins by assuming our human need. We want to live good and productive lives. We want to live in a good and right relationship with God, with ourselves and with others. But it is hard to do that. Many things in life and within ourselves work against us. We find ourselves living lives of which we are not proud, and with which we cannot be happy. We feel like we are part of that losing team. We can’t win. But God acted to reach out to us, to make known to us what He is always doing for our salvation.

We must remember that God is the primary actor in this story. God sent one who was an aspect of His own being to lead us to life. This one, who will be called the pioneer because he came to lead us into faith and life, is God with us; (See Heb. 1:2-3 & 12:1-2).

So this “One” became one of us and one with us. He came to identify with us. Like the track coach in the parable, he came saying, “I am with you. I am committed to you. I am one of you.” The text says that Jesus was not ashamed to call us brothers and sisters. “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity…” (Hebrews 2:14).

Living as one of us, he experienced life as we experience it. He even experienced temptation.  He experienced uncertainty, anxiety, pain, loneliness, and all of the other things we experience. (Hebrews 2:18 & 4:15). Because of His experiences Jesus was able to accomplish several important things for our salvation.

We heard how he made atonement for the sins of the people (Hebrews 2:17).  Whenever we read about atonement in the Bible, we are reading about God forgiving our sins and not holding our guilt against us. This is a very important part of the saving work of God.  It tells us that we are accepted by God as we are.  Sin is not okay, but God has set our past failures aside so that He can start with us where we are and lead us through confession and repentance into a better life.

Hebrews also tells us that Jesus lived the life that we are called to live and did it under our circumstances to show us that it can be done.  Like the track coach in the parable, he ran the obstacle course of life to show us how to do it and to show us that we can do it.   This reminds me of a friend’s young son who always said “I do it, I do it, I do it, I did it!” whenever he did anything.  Jesus achieved living the life that we are called to live by living a life of faithfulness to the purposes of God, (see Hebrews 3:1-2).  This is the life we too are called to live.

Jesus has also shown us that we don’t have to be intimidated by the threat of death, either by the ultimate death that ends our lives, or by the little deaths with which we are so often threatened by those who want to control us.  Remember Jesus died “… so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death, that is, the devil, and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death” (Hebrews 2:14-15).

Living under our circumstances made it possible for Jesus to suffer for our sins and to set us free from guilt.  Otherwise He couldn’t show us the life for which we were created and neither could He demonstrate that we can actually live it despite our human limitations and circumstances.

But then the story enters another phase. After the death and resurrection of Jesus, He returned to be with God, by sitting at the right hand of God, His Father, in heaven, making sacrifices for us in the heavenly temple, and representing us before God.  In being seated, Jesus is stating; “It is finished.  I have done all my Father has asked me to do.”  Now it is up to us to pick up where He has left off.

All of this may well raise the question: How will life deal with me? Will I succeed?  Will it afflict me, or condemn me, or be indifferent toward me?

The book of Hebrews tells us that, even though many hurtful and cruel things will happen to us in life, the one who stands with us is the one who loves us enough to be committed to our salvation.  After all, He is the one who understands what we are going through because He has been through it too.  After all, He is the one who forgives our sins and accepts us as we are, and the one who believes in us.  He is like the athletic coach sitting in the stands and shouting, “Come on, you can do it. I believe in you.”  This enables us to go to meet life with confidence and expectancy that Jesus will be with us no matter.  (see Hebrews 4:14-16 & 12:1a-2).

This is a reason why we celebrate Candlemas.  This helps us to catch the vision of a life in which God is with us.  He is shouting from the stands, “Come on, you can make it.  I believe in you!”

Time to think

Read Hebrews 2:10-18.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following questions as you dig into God’s word.

  1. Our suffering can make us more sensitive servants of God because we are able to reach out with His compassion to others who hurt.  If you have suffered, ask God how your experience can be used to help others.
  2. How was Jesus made perfect through suffering?
  3. All who dread death should have the opportunity to know the hope that Christ’s victory brings.  How can you share this truth with those close to you

Water into wine

John 2: 1-11

Who hasn’t been in a tricky situation and needed something dramatic to happen in order to get out of it?  Have you longed for something good to come out of the bad?  It could be you’ve got too much to do and not enough time to do it.  It could be you just don’t know what to do, where to start, and you have a deadline to meet… a bit like writing a new sermon!  So, how often have you said, or thought, “To save the day I need a miracle here”!

Today with Covid-19 we’re looking for something good to come out of the bad.  Can good come out of this bad time we’re in now?  Can Jesus make something good come out of this bad time?

Jesus and his disciples had been at a wedding celebration, and midway through, the hosts ran out of wine. This was unheard of and highly embarrassing. We don’t really know a lot about Mary, the mother of Jesus, but we see her compassion, and a fortitude in this account.   She feels the pain of the hosts and knows Jesus can resolve this situation, and so she makes His miracle-working abilities public, a little bit too soon if we take verse 4 at face value, “Dear woman, why do you involve me?”  Jesus replied. “My time has not yet come.”

Had Mary seen her son do something as He was growing up that would indicate He could make something good out of this embarrassing lack of wine? Mary must have seen something different as Jesus grew up for she clearly knew He could do something to make good to come out of the bad.

So what did Mary know?  Have you ever thought about that?  I have to say I haven’t given this much thought, but as I thought about this, could it be that Mary on an occasion burnt the evening supper?  Burnt fish lingering in the house, and Jesus comes in and restores it to its pre-burnt state! Maybe one of His brothers skinned their knee and Jesus healed the cut! No need for Band-Aids in that Nazareth home!

The Bible does tell us that she knew that her child was special for she pondered on all the things that happened. After all, wouldn’t you think your child was special if you had angels appearing telling you of about the birth of a child you are going to have? 

Furthermore, Luke tells us in chapter 2 that after they returned safely from their trip to the Temple with Jesus when He was a boy, and after He had stayed behind in His father’s house, Mary “treasured all these things in her heart.  And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.”  Obviously there were many characteristics that showed Mary the uniqueness of her son.

The Bible doesn’t tell us these details, but Mary knew something. She knew Jesus could take a bad situation and make it right and not only right but so much better than anyone could have imagined.

When the master of the feast tasted the water-become-wine, he called the bridegroom to one side (he didn’t make a scene) and said to him;

‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’” (John 2:9-10)

Did you know that changing water into wine involved an entire change in the molecular makeup of the water? It’s not like Jesus added some food colouring or a teaspoon of salt. No, he changed the atomic structure of the liquid — a feat that required a staggering amount of energy.  This shows us that Jesus has a real mastery of the natural law, far beyond the comprehension of the world’s best scientists.

Isn’t that typical of Jesus?  The change He brings is not a minor modification, no He brings about a complete remake!  The classic Austin/Morris Mini car only had minor modifications for 40 yr., then… in 2000 it had a complete remake… Mini One! 

So why did Jesus turn water into wine? What is its significance?

Water-into-wine teaches us that Jesus is all about making us completely new.  He doesn’t change bits and pieces here and there because He has the power to change us completely, as if he is changing our whole molecular structure. Like water-into-wine.

Before we look at this further, it’s worth noting that John refers to what other Gospel writers call miracles as “signs”.  Why?  Well, signs emphasise that there is something significant about the action just undertaken, rather than the marvel of what has just occurred. So what is the significance of Jesus turning water into wine?

Jesus turned water into wine to prove that He is the source of life. Changing the water to wine offered a symbol of the new supernatural spiritual life Jesus brings from the old mortal in conversion. As Paul said in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!”

Many people make a mistake here; they want to improve themselves into being worthy of God before they accept Christ. The truth is the other way round it is by accepting Jesus as Saviour that God counts us worthy of entering His presence…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Jesus turned water into wine to prove His real nature to the disciples. For this was the ultimate purpose of the miracle: to reveal His Glory! This resulted in them putting their faith in Him.

From what we read Jesus had no interest in recruiting faith in the members of the wedding party, or the master of the feast. Even though the servants knew the provenance of the wine, Jesus didn’t perform the miracle to convince them. His only interest was to reveal His true, inner being to the six men He had handpicked to be His disciples; two of John-the-Baptist’s followers, one of whom was Andrew, who finds his brother Simon Peter, that’s three.  Then Jesus finds Philip who then found Nathanael, that’s five, and I’m assuming John was there, as it is his Gospel, so that makes six.  This glory would only be completely uncovered once during his ministry – at his transfiguration in front of a select few. But this sign, of water into wine, achieved its purpose, for His disciples believed in Him.

As Jesus continued His ministry many who came to believe in Him through His preaching, miracles, claims and example understood what glory meant… in Christ, God had become a mortal.  In Christ, God put on a human face – a reality verified by John when Jesus appeared to him as we read in Revelation 1:12-18.

 I turned round to see the voice that was speaking to me… His face was like the sun shining in all its brilliance. When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.

When we put our faith in Jesus and believe who He is, the eternal invisible God will be made visible to us all.  This is redemption through Jesus Christ.  In essence then, this miracle proved more about the someone Jesus was than the something He did. He is the only person who has the power to remake us completely so we can know and experience his supernatural divine glory personally for ourselves. A glory that leads us to believe in Him.

Time to think

Read John 2:1-11.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word.

  1. When has God shown up in ways you did not expect?
  2. How has He worked something good in your life that you could not have pictured?
  3. Can you imagine that He can do it again at this moment in time?  If so ask Him how He is going to do that.

Summary of Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. (Acts 2:42)

Why are fellowship, discipleship and evangelism so important?

God’s truthful word to us teaches us that these three things are needed if His church is going to grow here on earth, therefore God expects all Christians to engage with them. I hope that over the last few weeks you have seen that all that I have said has its foundations in Scripture.  Without the truth of Scripture, we would not be here today, and Christianity would have died out with the first Disciples.

So what have I learnt about fellowship?

I was reminded of the New Testament Greek word for fellowship: koinonia (koy-no-nee-uh).  This expresses the idea of being together for mutual benefit.  So it’s all about relationships. 

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.

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 as well as greater spiritual support. 

Fellowship enables us to see that the local church is a community with real names, with real faces, with real joys and with real pain and sorrow.  This is another purpose of RBR Connections. Through this shared life as a community, we become a visible manifestation of the Gospel we are all called to proclaim.

Fellowship originates from the Holy Spirit, expressed succinctly by Paul; May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. (2 Cor. 13:14) Thus fellowship results in a relationship with God the Trinity, and with one another.

We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (1 John. 1:3).

Fellowship means living and sharing life together.  So it is to be a priority; one of the objectives for gathering together. 

Godly fellowship then is about sharing and communicating Gospel truths together, which in turn will build us up. Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.  (1 Thess 5:11; see also Rom. 1:11-12; 2 Tim. 2:2; Philem. 6)

What have I learnt about Discipleship?

Being a Christian is about willingly submitting the whole of yourself to God. 

The Greek word translated “disciple” means follower, someone who invests their life and time learning from someone else, and then spreading that person’s teachings to others. This is in-line with the great commission of Matthew 28 in which Jesus commands us to go and make disciples by telling others the way of Jesus.

Yes, some are gifted in teaching, but all believers are called to share with others what they know about Jesus, in accordance with the faith God has proportioned to them, (see Romans 12). 

Isn’t that great?  We act in proportion to the faith God has given us, and as our faith grows so does what we share.

To tell others about Jesus we need to get to know God and His Son in a deeper and personal way. This involves not only learning the truths of the Gospel, but showing them to others in a loving, caring and compassionate way.  Truths such as

  1. Jesus is God incarnate;
  2. His death and resurrection was a sacrifice that we could never make as an atonement for our sin;
  3. His sacrificial death abolishes the power of death to separate us from God. 

All of which means we are saved fromthe penalty of sin, the power of sin, and sin’s presence.

As a disciple of Jesus Christ we move from living under the power of sin, shifting instead to living in the hope of His coming, His second Advent.  All of which assures us of eternal salvation.

What have I learnt about evangelism?

This is the tricky one. In sharing Jesus, we must share the truth of Jesus, a truth based on the need for all people to repent. 

Matthew 4:17 tells us that Jesus challenged people with the words,v“Repent, for the Kingdom of heaven is near”.    This means explaining three realities:

  1. the inherent sinful nature of mankind,
  2. the holiness of God,
  3. the existence of heaven and hell. 

The only means to escape the punishment of sin is faith in the sacrifice of Christ on the cross. While many Christians begin their evangelistic efforts with God’s love, that is really the second half the story, because the message of God’s love is lost on unbelievers unless they first come to grips with sin, judgement, and punishment.

There is no doubt that God is a loving God. But He is also holy and righteous, thus hating sin.  However, because God’s nature is full of love and mercy He provided the only acceptable sacrifice for our sin –  His Son! 

Ephesians 2:8–9 explains why.

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

We’re saved not because we deserve it or can earn it, but by God’s grace!

Only those whose natures have been changed to be in line with God’s can escape His wrath, and thus experience His transforming nature expressed through His love and grace. If we believe these things, we will live eternally with Him in the joy of heaven.  If we do not, our eternal destiny is hell.

Jesus was God on earth.  We can say this with confidence because in John 5:19-20 Jesus, in His own words, tells us that He only did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing in heaven.  God, through the person of Jesus, was revealing His transforming power to the world.  This transforming power moves us from an earthy perspective to a supernatural heavenly one, so that we too can do what we see our heavenly Father doing in heaven. 

And Jesus unashamedly acknowledges that He “can do nothing by Himself”. 

This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything and our life will be insipid and of no use to God. 

Because Jesus is confessing that as “the Son (he) can do nothing by Himself” we can have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are utterly dependable, truthful and worthy for all to hear.

So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words have spoken powerfully to us personally, transforming us into His likeness, and that through us He can speak powerfully to others, transforming them too, because that is what He has done us!

Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism are things we need to work on in our daily lives if we want to see God’s kingdom here on earth as it is in heaven.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 3

Then Jesus said, ‘Therefor go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

We’ve been looking at fellowship, discipleship and evangelism, elements and principles that a professing Christian needs to understand if the Kingdom of God is to be extended here on earth as it is in heaven.

These three things are not something that have been made up in order to see church growth.  No, these are all things that can be found in Scripture, The Word of God to us, and Jesus’ own words are no exception, as we see in our Gospel reading.

In John chapter 14 through to, and including 17 we read Jesus’ final discourse to His Disciples before He is arrested.   In the verses we had from Chapter 17 Jesus begins to pray for His disciples and in essence He is saying that they have come to believe four specific things about Him (7-8). The prominence of these four things, here in this prayer, and the way they are mentioned elsewhere in John’s Gospel points to their importance. They were vitally important for the founding of the church and for its growth and security against error. Getting these beliefs about Jesus right is important for us too, and so important for how we tell people about Jesus. The four things were:

1. Jesus’ ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (v7): Jesus transformed people.  He took them from living by an earthly perspective to one with a supernatural heavenly one.  As professing Christians, we have all experienced a supernatural moment with God.  Jesus commands us to share the Gospel and when we do, not if we do, it is important for our message not only to be true but for our message and method to demonstrate that Jesus can radically and powerfully transform lives. In your own life do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?

2. Jesus spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a): Read John 5:19-20 and what do you see…” the Son can do nothing by Himself”.   Jesus is clearly declaring the secret to how He lives.  This is the most radical statement to be found in the whole of Scripture as it indicates that any effort made to use God’s power for our own benefit will leave us feeling hollow and empty; it will never achieve anything.  Even if you become really successful in your field and have not found this secret your life will be unsatisfactory, insipid and of no use to God.  “The Son can do nothing by Himself”.

Yes, Jesus could have done things apart from His Father, just as we can and do, but He chose not to because He never chose to exercise that power for His own benefit.  Never!  God willingly and lavishly gives His power to those who will not use it for their own benefit.

If Jesus hadn’t lived out this secret, totally and utterly dependent on another – His Father God – then He would have violated His integrity, it would have cheapened His whole life, and been a total contradiction to what He said and did.  So by saying …” the Son can do nothing by Himself” Jesus is saying, no admitting, He could do things apart from His Father, but He did not, and He never did. All Jesus did was totally and utterly in line with the holy and supernatural character of God.  Today God’s holy and supernatural character is revealed to us through The Word, and through the life, death and resurrection of His Son.

This is why we should have confidence in our core being that the words of Jesus are of the utmost importance for us and for others. So in sharing the Gospel we must have confidence that Jesus’ words can speak powerfully to people and transform them because that is what they have done to you.

3. That Jesus came from the Father’s presence, i.e. that Jesus is truly God, (Vs 8b): This reminds us of Christ’s humility.  He was prepared to jump from the truly amazing glory of heaven to the depth of the slimy pit and into the mud and mire for me and for you.  He rolled His sleeves up, got, and still gets His hands dirty in order to sort out my life and your life.  And when He left His glory He knew He had to take the pain and sorrow of all my sin, and your sin, upon Himself because only the one true God is able to pay the price for sin.  In taking my sin, your sin, upon Himself He unites His divinity with our flesh in such a way that we are now able to know and share His Spirit because it is through this sharing we become children of God.  And as children of God we are given eternal life, the most wonderful of all gifts; eternal life through the knowledge of forgiveness for all confessed sin.

4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c): While Jesus gave himself for us, we mustn’t forget that the initiative in our salvation begins with the Father. This helps us to remember that the Father loves us just as much as He loves His Son, that He is not angry with us or somehow less loving than Jesus; God and Jesus are one and the same!  Knowing this in the depth of our being reassures us that all things work together for our good and salvation. So we can share the Gospel because of our own personal experience and knowledge of the love of God for ourselves, a love that impresses on us that the Father Himself has an enormous love for the lost too.

So know these four things about Jesus

  1. His ministry was only possible by the power of the Father (Vs 7)
  2. He only spoke the Father’s Words (Vs 8a)
  3. That Jesus is truly God because He came from theFather’s presence (Vs 8b)
  4. He was sent by the Father (Vs 8c)

These secrets of Jesus’ life, which He willingly shares with all, are to be pressed down into our own soul and spirit, until they run over, because from there they will become for us a well spring of life that leads us on to evangelise to those who live in darkness.

Time to think

Read John 17:6-12.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand give yourself time to think about the following as you dig into God’s word…. 

  1. Think on the times (v7) when you have felt Jesus ministering to you.  Now write down how these experiences made you feel.  What did you experience? Comfort, peace, healing, forgiveness, joy, love, God’s powerful presence?
  2. In your life today do you have confidence that Jesus still ministers powerfully to you and through you?
  3. Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to His listeners.  Write down the times when Jesus’ words spoke powerfully to you.  How did they make you feel?
  4. Real life is only available through Jesus Christ living in and through you.  How well do you know Jesus’ words? (v8)

Digging deeper into God’s word

Jesus only ever did what He saw His Heavenly Father doing.  In a time of quiet invite your heavenly Father, through Jesus Christ, to show you what He wants you to do for Him for the next few days.  If you sense God inviting you to do something, test it against Scripture (1 Thessalonians 5:21).  All that we do must be in line with the plumb line of God’s character and truths.

Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Prayer response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth–the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.

Amen


Worry List

Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

How easy it is to worry about things.  We can be anywhere, sitting in our car, at home, doing the shopping, the gardening, talking with friends on the phone or over the fence, lying in bed as you try to get to sleep.  Worrying is one of those things that can be done anywhere, anytime and by anyone.  No training is required, we’re all experts!

I love having bird feeding stations in the garden as I enjoy watching how they dart about getting the seed that is in the feeders and on the bird table.  I also get blackbirds and thrushes looking for worms and there have been many occasions when I have seen them catch a worm, and quickly it is gone.

All of this reminds me vividly of Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:25-26,

‘… do not worry about your life… Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they?

At this particular moment in time it is very easy to worry about our current situation and Covid-19.  I am very aware that many have been extremely cautious, not going out, having as much as possible hand delivered, not handling items delivered for 48 or even 72 hours, and sanitising everything that comes into their homes.

I am aware of many who are worried about their health, and that of their relatives, because they are more vulnerable, either because of their age, or because of underlying health issues.  Now with the new strain of coronavirus many are worried about younger people as they seem more vulnerable than before. And we can go on adding to our worries.

Through these words from Matthew 6 Jesus is warning us of the ill effects of worrying.  We’re reminded of God’s promise that He will provide us with all our basic needs.

You see, worrying damages our health; worrying can end up consuming all our thoughts; it can disrupt our productivity, and impair our relationship with God.  Worrying can negatively affect the way we treat others causing us to snap at them and rebuff them.  Worrying can lead us to reduce our trust in the Lord.  You see, worry immobilises, whereas concern moves us to action!

There are many strategies out there for coping with our worries.  This is one that I have come across.  Perhaps we could use it….

START A WORRY LIST.

Write down what you’re worried about. The bills. Your job. Your children or grandchildren. Your health. The future.

THEN TURN YOUR WORRY INTO A PRAYER LIST.

Ask the Lord to show you how He wants you to let Him work in those situations you’re concerned about. Remember Jesus only ever did what He saw his Heavenly Father do in Heaven (John 5:19).  As you do this you allow Jesus to live through you, not just in you.  Jesus depended totally on His Father whilst He was here on earth.  As our model that is what we are to do also, and this will lead us to pray specifically for our needs and deepen our dependence and trust on Him.

NEXT TURN YOUR PRAYER LIST INTO AN ACTION LIST.

If you receive insight from the Lord on something you can do for your cares, do it. Through the graciousness of our Lord He can enable us to turn our worries into prayer and action.  The result of this is that our paralysing anxiety can be replaced by concern for the responsibilities of life as worries immobilise, whereas concern moves us to action!

Why not start right now?

As you start can I encourage you to mediate or reflect on these verses…?

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.  (Romans 8:28)

The words ‘We know’ here means that as Christians we already know that we have had this experience. God is already working in our lives. Undoubtedly we have in the past suffered pain and disappointment. At the worst of these times God was working for our benefit. After all He is our Father, who loves us, and so He promises to continue to look after the people who love him. 

For in the day of trouble

  he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

 and set me high upon a rock. (Psalm 27:5)

As Christians, God not only lives with us but He also lives in us. We are the house of God.

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

    for ever.  (Psalm 23:6)

As believers in Jesus we can say with confidence, “I will always live (dwell) in the house of the LORD.” The house of the LORD is in heaven.

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.  (Psalm 139:7-10)

Because God is omnipresent he is always with us, we cannot hide from Him, so He always knows our worries.  Give them to Him.

Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things above, not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God.  (Colossians 3:1-3 NIV)

Christ came so that everyone could have a full life (John 10:10), and this full life comes when we concentrate on Christ, whereas concentrating on the world leads to worry.

The words from Psalm 40 are amazing.  They offer such hope!  They help us to put aside any worries we have.

I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry.
He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.
He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.

A Chinese Christian told this parable:

A man fell into a dark, dirty pit, and he tried to climb out but he couldn’t.  Confucius came along.  He saw the man in the pit and said ‘Poor fellow.  If he had listened to me, he would never have fallen in.’  And he left.  Buddha came along and he saw the man in the pit and said, ‘Poor fellow.  If he can climb up here, I’ll help him.’  And he too left.  Then Christ came along and said ‘Poor fellow!’ And he jumped into the pit and helped him out!

Isn’t that amazing? Our God is the only God prepared to roll up his sleeves and get his hands dirty to sort us out!  No other God does this. 

In Psalm 55:22 we are encouraged to cast all our cares on the Lord because he will sustain us; he will rescue us from the “pit”.  As He does this He will give us a new song to sing, a song to sing because we’ve experienced God’s deliverance from trouble through His Son. 

Know and live out this truth: God will never let the righteous be shaken. 

As we start this new year may we cast our cares on the Lord, for God is calling us to trust Him to meet all our needs, for when we trust in Him alone He will dispel all our worries and replace them with concerns that move us to actions that are in line with His Kingdom actions and thus reveal to us His divine righteousness living in us.

Christmas Day Message, 2020

Who was the Angel Gabriel? Few creatures are as misunderstood as angels. But I love the role they play in bringing about God’s plans and purposes.  The Bible tells us that these heavenly messengers are supernatural beings, – not human beings who have “earned” wings in the next life by being good in this one. The Bible also tells us that when people encounter an angel, they tend not to say “Aww, how cute” like we do when we see the artist Raphael’s chubby baby cherubs. On the contrary, angel seers are filled with awe. ,They fall to the ground, and if they could, they would reach for the nearest defibrillator!

The Angels were certainly busy for a while as they played their part in ushering in God’s purposes.  Gabriel is one of only two angels whose names are mentioned in Scripture (the other is Michael). Whatever epic assignments Gabriel had previously undertaken for the Lord, this one surely topped them all. He was sent “to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary” (Luke 1:26–27).

Only heaven knows how long Gabriel hovered unseen above the girl before he made his presence known.

Mary was so . . . young! She didn’t seem old enough to have a child, much less this child. Nevertheless, Gabriel spoke and delivered his message:

You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus” (Luke 1:31).

Gabriel answered a few of Mary’s questions, then added, “For no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:37).

Mary seem to willingly accept this mission, however impossible it might appear to be.

A few weeks later Gabriel visited Mary’s shocked fiancé Joseph to explain the reason for this situation and this particular name: “because he will save his people from their sins” (Matthew 1:21)

Perhaps, when thinking about this later, Joseph wondered if he’d really heard correctly.  Had an angel really spoken to him?  Things can look so different in the cold light of day.

But how do you picture angels?  Do you think about what they thought as they winged themselves back to heaven after playing their part in God’s plans and purposes to save humanity?

I wonder if Gabriel puzzled over the meaning of his visitations. As he winged himself back to heaven, did he ponder a thousand inscrutable questions:

Really, the Eternal One entering into time?

The Almighty becoming a helpless, tiny baby in the womb of an unmarried girl?

Deity in nappies?

The One who built the universe from scratch becoming the adopted son of a common carpenter?

Why not break into history in a more spectacular way?

Perhaps you can see Gabriel shaking, or even scratching, his big golden angel head.

Maybe it didn’t work that way. Maybe God’s heavenly servants aren’t given to such musings. But we earthly servants should be.

are we musing over the events of Christ’s birth today? Or are we caught up too much with Covid 19?

As we celebrate the birth of Jesus may we allow God to leave us staggered with speechless wonder by the story of God coming amongst us.

Amen.

Midnight Message, Christmas Eve, 2020

Readings: Isaiah 52:7-10; John 1:1-14

What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. (John 1:3)

“Trinity”, by Andrei Rublev

The famous Russian artist Andrei Rublev, completed his best-known icon in about 1442.  It is titled quite simply Trinity. Take a moment to look at the image. In a striking combination of colour and light, three messengers from God are seated round a table, and our eyes are drawn to the gentle, loving circle of the figures, with their restful expressions which seem neither masculine nor feminine, and the unity of the three heads, faces and postures.

The right-hand figure, is considered to be the Holy Spirit, as there is a mountain behind his head thus reminding us of the transfiguration (Matt 17) of Jesus, when Moses and the great prophet Elijah appeared in a cloud with Jesus in front of three of Jesus’ disciples.

The middle figure is considered to be Jesus, as it is dressed in a red and gold tunic and there is a tree behind, suggesting the cross.

The slightest of the three figures, the Father, has an air of mystery with a translucent robe, and a house with many rooms above his head.  A reference to the passage in John’s Gospel when Jesus is comforting His disciples before his arrest and tells them that He will go ahead a prepare a place for them because in His Father’s house there are many rooms (John 14).

The cup of sacrifice and life is on the table, and if you look carefully, there in the open space created at the front of the table is a rectangle symbolising the world… (Remember the world was not known to be round in the fifteenth century).

With the three looking the way they do it is as if they are inviting the whole world to receive and join in with the gift of life and love that these three messengers possess. Here, the gift of God is made visible. 

So this icon is a human attempt to express something of who God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit is. It is a gift to us from the Artist!

 

These beautiful opening verses to the Gospel of John set forth the entire intention of John’s Gospel: which is to proclaim and testify that Christ is the Son of God.  So who is this Christ? John tells us that Jesus is the eternal Word, (the Logos of God), because He reveals God and the hidden things of God, and in himself declares the beauty of God the Father, God the Son and God the Holy Spirit, in other words the triune God. The Word, who existed with God and creates and holds all things, is the Christ.

These words, like the description of the Icon I described a few minute ago, are John’s, attempt to show us that Jesus is essential to obtaining true life. Life as God created it to be, for it is Jesus who reveals both the Holy Spirit and God to us. And Jesus’ desire is to communicate this truth to all people. 

When we accept and understand that it is He, Jesus, who brings us into a new relationship with God we are brought into a living and dynamic relationship that reveals God’s reconciling, healing and glorifying life, light and, above all, love. 

But Christ who came to the Jews first can, if we wish, come to us now, tonight, as the true gift of God. In this gift, He brings blessing, grace and the truth of truths, and, as with all gifts, we are invited to accept, and then receive the gift which has been revealed to us from the heart of God the Father, the Son of God.  And then Christ, the expression of God, will be known in our hearts, just like a beautiful icon, a colourful sunset, an exquisite flower, a sparklingly adorned Christmas tree, a child’s delighted face on Christmas morning easily fills us with inexpressible delight, warmth and peace,

So the gift of God which is revealed to us and celebrated by us at Christmas is to lead us into a fuller experience and understanding of God’s presence in our lives.  And when we willingly receive into our lives the light and power of the life that God offers through Jesus Christ we receive the gift of being ‘children of God’.  And we do this by recognising the one who lived amongst us 2000 years ago to be the Son of God, foretold by the prophets of old. 

Why did He come?  He came to save us from our sin by helping us to recognise what sin is.  Through His death on the cross Jesus offers us an escape from sin, for sin leads to eternal death and separation from God.  This offer is God’s awesome gift of repentance.  As we recognise this we will then know that Jesus makes and remakes us day after day for the whole of our life in order to know God in new ways, by knowing the depth, height and width of His love for us.  You see, out of His love for us God wants us through Jesus to allow Him to live His life in our personal world.

With the increase of knowledge with each new generation, with the increase of our experience via the media of global suffering, with the pressures of materialism, competition, and visible success motivating so much of what we do, let us spend time this Christmastide reflecting on the beautiful gift which God has given us in His Son.

Let me encourage you to take time to remind yourselves, and your loved ones, of this child, the greatest gift of all time, to enjoy the presence of this gift around your table, to feel uplifted by the gift in creation when you take a walk (whatever the weather), to consider the gift in your conversations, and to dwell on the gift in your prayers tonight and every night.

As you allow the truest gift, the Word of God, namely Jesus Christ, to be part of your Christmas celebrations, may you allow Him to be part of your daily life as you continue your journey through life.

If you choose to do this, know that your life will be held in His grace, truth and love. For all of life is gift.

In the name of the Father Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

The Importance of Evangelism: Part 2

Then Jesus said, ‘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, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’  (Matthew 28:19-20)

As I said last week, evangelism is a challenge; many people, and so many churches, struggle with this.  For some, evangelism is an important objective, “we’ve got to get out there and evangelise”, but the methods of pursuing can appear vague or ineffective.  For others, the term itself is uncomfortable.  Fear grips them!  The very word can bring to mind doctrinal rigidity or the use of manipulative ways of leading people to faith.  So what to do?

Focussing on the characteristics of biblical evangelism can help de-mystify evangelism and strengthen our evangelistic efforts.  Four key practices; proclamation, community, service, and witness, are rooted in scripture and have proven effective in the history of the church. Employing these four practices as we share the gospel moves us, as well as the listener, closer to God.  So let’s have a look at each of these practices in turn.

1. Proclamation

After the second world war ended, it is said that there were some Japanese soldiers deep in the jungle who carried on fighting because they hadn’t heard the proclamation that the war was over!

How often have you heard, or even said of non-believers, “They need to hear the gospel”? In Romans 10:14, Paul writes, “How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in?  And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard?  And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?”

The key is the ending where Paul says, “And how can they hear without someone preaching to them”.  Here, preaching (Greek kerygma) can also be translated as proclamation.

I like the use of the phrase “proclaiming to them” as it implies that you are not talking about preaching as a professional occupation.  I think Paul is talking about someone willing to share the good news verbally.  If we think of proclamation as something only done by professionals, it lets the majority of us off the hook.  But I believe Paul is arguing the opposite — that all of us are called to proclaim the good news so that someone might hear it, and have the opportunity to be saved.

Too often individuals believe that because they pay the minister/pastor to proclaim they do not have to do it.  The truth is this; as we grow more comfortable in our congregations we tend to share less.  And as a result, fewer and fewer of us are proclaiming the good news. We need to reclaim the understanding that all believers are responsible for the practice of proclamation.

2. Community

The best model of Christian community is found in the Trinity and the way in which Father, Son, and Holy Spirit make room for each others’ gifts.  The three-in-one God models for us what is possible when we are willing to share our gifts with the community and make room for the gifts of others.  It is a community constructed on love, trust, and accountability.

Throughout the history of the church, community has been a key factor in successfully engaging new people. Look at Acts 2:42:

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

More recently in the Wesleyan revival people found community with one another in societies, classes, and bands that were essential to their personal transformation.  My own experience of belonging to a CYFA group (Christian Youth Fellowship Association) laid a firm foundation for my faith in Jesus Christ.  We still mimic this approach through encouraging people to be part of a small group.  But the results are often mixed because we copy the form of Wesley’s small groups while ignoring the rationale for connecting people.  This is why we’re developing the RedBRick Connections, groupings of people who are committed to working at connecting to other people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred way that engenders God’s love, trust, and accountability.  Our evangelism efforts today need to focus on connecting people in an authentic Gospel and Jesus-centred community and not just copying a certain model of community.

3. Service

In Ephesians 3:7 Paul uses a form of Greek word for service (diakonia) when he talks about being a servant of the gospel.  The idea of being in service to something or someone is challenging in our culture because of the history of slavery.  But the language of servanthood is prominent in Paul’s letters, particularly being a servant to Jesus.  Paul understood his role as carrying on the work that Jesus started, and we are called to do the same.  To be in service to Jesus means engaging in holistic ministry that addresses your entire being, body, soul and spirit.  Notice how Jesus provided for those in need while sharing the transformative power of the gospel.  If, on the one hand, we simply respond to physical needs, we are merely providing a social service.  On the other hand, if we are simply sharing the gospel, then we are not addressing the concrete challenges people experience.  Holistic ministry in Christ’s service is always both. The idea of serving is never to be disconnected from an expectation of an ever-deepening spiritual transformation.

The struggle we have today is we have disconnected service from an expectation of transformation through Christ.  In an effort not to offend we do things for people and hope they figure out our Christian motivation.  I am not suggesting clubbing people over the head with the gospel, but a holistic understanding of service must include sharing the transformative power of Christ, that He takes us, sinners, and through forgiveness leads us into new life with Him.  Too many of us ignore the importance of letting others see that without the act of repentance of sin we are denying Jesus’ transformative power to take what is broken and make it whole again.  That is what I believe happens every time we receive the bread at communion… by taking something broken, the bread (aka Jesus’ body) we are being made whole, made complete, being born again!  This is how God’s love intersects with us in a transformative way.

4. Witness

This word has its root in the word martyr.  The truth is, when we hear the word martyr, we immediately think of someone dying.  Martyrs of Christ literally give their lives for the gospel.  But we are not just required to die to witness to Christ.  When Jesus was eating with His disciples before He ascended back to heaven after His resurrection we find this command in Acts 1:8, “you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem … to the ends of the earth.” This form of the word martyr (martureo) is not about death.  A martyr or witness is someone who gives their whole being to something.  It is more than proclamation because one’s entire life becomes a sign pointing to God.  In Acts 1:8, Jesus is asking the disciples to devote their entire being to telling His story.  What Jesus does not want is a half-baked effort.  The disciples are to dedicate themselves to the work of witnessing.

For many of us, witnessing has become a technique rather than an expression of our divine supernatural spiritual identity.  Perhaps we just see it as a means of getting people to our church.  Many times when we witness, people are not hearing about God’s transforming love that opens their eyes to see the need for repentance.  They hear “come to my church.”  The Wesleyan movement was successful because witnessing was a part of their DNA and not a technique.  We need to reclaim this dimension of witness.  RedBRick Connections is a way we can release our evangelistic DNA which is already in each of us.  How do I know it is in each of us – well, we are often very quick to witness to the things we enjoy doing, particularly our hobbies.  As this is the case how much more should we be prepared to engage in evangelism for God’s sake and His created world.

These four practices should work together in an integrated, synergistic way. But too often, we make them into separate things, lessening the overall impact of our evangelism. A holistic, biblical approach to evangelism employs all four practices in ways that inform and enhance one another so that we share the gospel and all move closer to God and to neighbour.

Time to think

Read Romans 10:1-15.  With pen and paper (maybe your journal) to hand consider the following questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

  1. Paul is sharing the gospel in these verses. Please write down the quote that he uses to clinch his powerful gospel presentation (Romans 10:11).
  2. Paul also uses Old Testament scripture to defend his missionary zeal (Romans 10:14-15). Complete the logical steps Paul develops in these two verses.

How can they call upon the Lord if they haven’t _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they believe unless they have _______? (Romans 10:14)

How can they hear unless someone ________ to them? (Romans 10:14)

How can they preach unless someone _______ ? (Romans 10:15)

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

First, please read and reflect on this quotation from Chuck Swindoll, an award-winning author and senior pastor of Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, TX.

Because God gave you your makeup and superintended every moment of your past, including all the hardships, pains, and struggles, He wants to use your words in a unique manner. No one else can speak through your vocal cords, and, equally important, no one else has your story.” 

In last week’s Time to Think (The Importance of Evangelism: Part 1) I encouraged you to write down your story of how you established a living relationship with God through Jesus. Perhaps you can share it with someone.  To start with, why not share it with another Christian as a way of honing your story?

Prayer Response

Lord of the Harvest, we see that Your harvest field is ripe and ready all over this nation and the world! We long to see Your kingdom come on this earth, so may we allow you to strengthen us to obey Your commission to go into all the world. May we as individuals, as families and as Your Church allow you to show us how you want us to serve You, to respond to Your command in whatever way You call us, so we answer Your call to go.  Show us how to pray effectively for the protection, boldness, clarity, health, and fruitfulness in your mission and ministry here in our communities. May we actively seek to align ourselves with Your heart so that our hearts would be obedient to the desires of Your heart, and the whole earth come to a saving knowledge of the truth – the Lord Jesus Christ, in whose powerful name we pray.  Amen.