The Lord’s Prayer: A Model of How to Talk with God

Regardless of how long you have been a Christian I’m sure that you have wondered how to pray.  Jesus’ disciples asked him this same question (Matthew 6:5-15).  His response was The Lord’s Prayer.  But this prayer isn’t intended as a prayer to be recited repeatedly (see Matthew 6:7).  Instead, Jesus is telling us how to talk to our heavenly Father.

This teaching from Jesus on prayer begins by setting the right framework.  When we begin to engage in a conversation with God, we need to remember who we are talking to — the Creator of the universe who cares for each one of us.  He knows how many hairs there are on our head! (Luke 12:7).  Along with this we need to recognise that God is to be set apart and revered (“hallowed be your name”).

Next, we need to recognise that God wants to be intimately involved in every part of our life.  Even though we may sometimes feel that our daily needs are not important enough for God to bother with.  Often I have heard people say that they don’t want to bother God considering all the suffering in the world.  That is a scheme of the enemy: to think that God doesn’t have time for us, and that if we pray He won’t be listening because He’s too busy doing stuff that is way more important.

In Jim Carey’s film Bruce Almighty he plays the character Bruce who thinks he can do just as well as God.  God hears of this and meets him, giving him his powers to prove that he is doing the job correctly.

As time goes on, Bruce realises that he is hearing voices in his head.  He re-encounters God, who explains that the voices are prayers, meant for God, and that he must deal with them.  He gets swamped with all the prayers people offer to God.  It is too much for his human nature to respond to!

Bruce’s experience is not how God is.  He cares intimately for each one of us and if we believe in His infinite love then we have to believe in His infinite capacity to listen, hear and understand all our needs.  That’s why Jesus taught each of us to pray that His Heavenly Father’s plans will be worked out in our life (“your will be done”). 

What is the practical implication of this in our life, “your will be done”?  Think of a parent/carer bringing up a child.  When Anna started to crawl we had to be aware of what she was doing, where she was heading and very often we had to warn her that what she was about to do was dangerous.  In this she learnt to yield to our voice and commands, so when she heard us warning her, she knew she had to respond because there was good reason to do so.  It is the same for us.  As God’s children created in His image, He is calling us to yield to His will and follow His commands, because there is good reason to do so.  They are beneficial to our health physically, emotionally and spiritually.  That’s also why we bring before God even the most mundane matters of everyday living (“give us today our daily bread”).  God is always in the detail.

Next we need to look at our sin.  Because sin creates a barrier between us and God and between us and others, God wants us to admit what we’ve done wrong (“forgive us our debts”) and He then instructs us to forgive those who have wronged us (“as we also have forgiven our debtors”).  Matthew 6:14 and 15 underscore the importance of forgiving those who have hurt us.

14For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. 15But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.

If you are like me, you may well think that Jesus is being harsh here!  These two verses give us a startling warning about forgiveness: if we refuse to forgive others, God will also refuse to forgive us.  Why?  Because when we don’t forgive others, we are denying our common ground as sinners in need of God’s forgiveness.  God’s forgiveness of sin is not the direct result of our forgiving others, but it is based on our realising what forgiveness means.  You see, God does not forgive us because we forgive others, but solely because of His great mercy.  As we come to understand His mercy, however, we will want to be like Him.  Having received forgiveness, we will then want to pass it on to others.  The simple truth is this, those who are unwilling to forgive have not become one with Christ, who was willing to even forgive those who crucified Him (Ephesians 4:32; Luke 24:34).  Out of the two it is easier to ask God for forgiveness, than it is to grant it to others.  What Jesus is wanting us to do is that whenever we ask God to forgive us for sin, we should ask ourselves, “Have I forgiven the people who have wronged me?”

Finally, God wants us to live free from the painful consequences of sinful choices, so we pray “lead us not into temptation”.  We say this not because God tempts people to sin, but because we need His help to avoid temptation.

Understand this truth: God doesn’t lead us into temptations, but sometimes He allows us to be tested by them.  This is exactly what He did to His Son Jesus.  He led Him, by the Spirit, into the wilderness where He was tempted by Satan.  Satan is real, he is not symbolic, and is constantly fighting against those who follow and obey God, so as Jesus did, and as His disciples, we should pray to be delivered from any trying times and for deliverance from Satan (“the evil one”) and his deceit.   As testing times and temptations will come we need to be alert and ready for it.  Satan’s role is to try and get us to live his way, or our way, rather than God’s way. 

I am not unlike you: as a Christian I struggle with temptation.  Sometimes it is so subtle that I don’t even realise when it is happening to me.  When temptations seem especially strong or when you think you can rationalise giving in, consider whether Satan may be trying to block God’s purposes for your life, or someone else’s life.  But remember this truth that we need to know about temptation – temptation itself is not a sin!  We sin when we give in and disobey God.  Knowing and remembering this truth will help us to turn away from temptation.

Another truth is this: God has promised that He won’t allow any of us to be tempted beyond what we can bear (1 Corinthians 10:13).  Ask God to help you recognise temptation and to give you strength to overcome it and choose God’s way instead.

The Good News is this: we can believe all that Scriptures teaches about how we are to respond to God’s will and plans for us through Jesus because God cares about us and listens to what we have to say.  As our heavenly Father, He occupies a place of great power, and He listens, hears and does answer our prayers.

The essence of all prayer is communication with God, offered to Him from a sincere and contrite heart through His Son and in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We can never pray too much, all God asks is that we do it and mean what we say!

When we get a good handle on our personal and private prayer then we will be better equipped to engage in other types of prayer which we will explore on other occasions

Living thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Can you identify the following types of prayer in the Lord’s Prayer?

Praise, petition, intercession, and confession to God. (Matthew 6:9–13; Luke 11:2–4).

2. Can you write prayers of praise, petition, intercession, and confession to God?

3. The Lord’s Prayer doesn’t include a prayer of thanksgiving. Look at the following verses and describe a prayer of thanksgiving.

  • 2 Samuel 22
  • Psalm 63
  • Luke 1:38
  • Luke 22:39–44
  • Romans 12:1
  • Hebrews 10:1–25
  • Hebrews 13:15–16

Digging deeper into God’s Word

How do the following verses teach us to remember when prayers seem to go unanswered?

  • Psalm 37:3–9
  • Isaiah 55
  • Habakkuk 3:17–19
  • Luke 18:1–8
  • James 4:2–3
  • 1 John 5:14–15

Prayer Response

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth.  Help me to keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear.  May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory.  Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding.  Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence!  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing.  When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone.  I cannot live without You.  I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence.  Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Biblical declarations

– their role in the life of the Christian

I am a Celtic leader known for my ginger hair and leading the uprising against the Romans. Who am I?

I was assassinated in 1963 as I rode in a motorcade in Dallas, Texas. Who am I?

I am known for being part of a comedic double act and my partner shares the name of an insect. Who am I?

When I was 16 I dropped the ‘a’ in my name and am known for my role of Fanny Brice on Broadway. Who am I?

I am a beloved citizen of heaven, worthy of eternal life. Who am I?

Who are you in God’s sight?  This is what I will be exploring today – Biblical declarations.  These are about our identity in Christ.  We should believe and say that we are who God says we are.  We should believe and say that we can do what God says we can do.  We should believe and say that God is who He says He is. We should believe and say that God will do what He says He will do.

Here are some scriptural statements that all believers can boldly declare. Not all are necessarily “in Christ” realities, but all are true according to Scripture.

  • I am redeemed, sanctified and made righteous in Christ (see 1 Cor. 1:30)
  • I’ve been transferred out of the kingdom of darkness and in to the kingdom of God’s Son, the kingdom of light (see Col. 1:13).
  • All of my sins have been forgiven in Christ (see Eph. 1:7).
  • I am a new creation in Christ—my old life has passed away (see 2 Cor. 5:17).
  • God has prepared good works beforehand for me to walk in (see Eph. 2:10).
  • I’ve become the righteousness of God in Christ (see 2 Cor. 5:21).
  • I overwhelmingly conquer in all things through Christ who loved me (see Rom. 8:37).
  • I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (see Phil. 4:13).
  • My God supplies all my needs according to His riches in glory in Christ (see Phil. 4:19).
  • I am called to be a saint (see 1 Cor. 1:2).
  • I am a child of God (see John 1:12, 1 John 3:1-2).
  • My body is the temple of the Holy Spirit (see 1 Cor. 6:19).

This is just a small sampling of positive declarations that we can make based on the Word of God. It’s not a bad idea to make a habit of saying such declarations until the truths they affirm become deeply rooted in your hearts.  The opposite of this is that we should monitor every word that comes out of our mouths to make sure we aren’t taking sides against what God has said about who we are.

But what exactly does it mean to declare God’s Word over our lives?  Is this a Biblical principle?  What do declarations really accomplish?  Have you been taught to do this?  Have you avoided doing this because of the possibility that it is not doctrinally sound?  There is a danger here, because if we are not careful we could go down the road of what’s called the “Prosperity Gospel” which distorts Biblical truth saying that as a Christian you can claim anything and God will give it to you.

So what does the Word of God really have to say on this.  The word “declare” comes from the Hebrew word “achvah” (ach-vah) which means to “make known” or “to set forth an accounting”.

When returning from a foreign country, customs officers ask you, “Do you have anything to declare?”  They are asking you to itemise in detail funds or goods which you have acquired on your trip and are bringing back into the country.

Luke 10:19 reminds us that Jesus gave us all authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and over all the power of the evil one so that nothing can harm us.   Matthew also reminds us in 16:18-19 that Jesus has given us the keys to the kingdom of heaven and whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven when we pray in His Name.

There are many other verses on spiritual authority. Proverbs 18:21 further reminds us that the tongue has the power of life and death.

Just as God spoke everything into existence, we as His children have a powerful weapon in our Words.  We can declare blessings or curses upon our lives and others.  We can cancel out our prayers in moments of doubt, stress, anxiety by complaining and thinking/speaking about what “we” can or cannot handle.

Biblical declarations are used to fulfil Matthew 6:10 “your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven”. Declarations cause truths from the Word and the heavenly realm to be manifested in our earthly realm. So for example when we declare “I am blessed” (based on Psalm 112:1) we are establishing blessing, whilst at the same time separating from anything purposed against it by the enemy.  Thus, we simultaneously are destroying the enemy’s plans against us.

When we declare, we use the Word of God to state our case concerning our home, family, ministry, church, community and any other concerns we have.  We have the authority to expect to see our words manifested in our life.  As Christians we must understand our legal right to have those declarations upheld.  However, we must be careful to declare God’s will (His Word) and not our own.  But when we declare in line with Scripture we:

  • speak God’s blessings upon our lives, 
  • institute the very will and purposes of God 
  • separate and destroy the plans of the enemy 
  • Impose a judgement the enemy cannot oppose

Don’t forget that Jesus has given us the keys to His kingdom so that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven when we pray in His Name (Matthew 16:18-19).

As we can see, God has truly given us authority to equip us in our daily walk with Him.  He longs for us to use this authority.  When we do so we walk in as much victory as Our Heavenly Father has provided for us. Which is far greater than we can imagine!

Non-Biblical Declarations are a mere statement of facts, whereas Biblical declarations are words of truth and promises from God to His children through the Word, the Bible. This is because they have their roots in God’s Word, and God will fulfil His promises when you speak out loud His words into existence, for God honours His words above His name (Psalm 138:2).

If you wish to believe in the power of Biblical declarations you must believe in God first and foremost, believe that God’s Word is the absolute truth and nothing else can prevail against it.  You must also believe in God’s son Jesus Christ because the fulfilment of all promises are through him.

Biblical declaration is, therefore, a power-filled word backed by Holy Scripture.  It strengthens our root of belief in the Word of God, builds up our faith in God, reminds us of God’s promises to us His children, and helps us to memorise scriptures.  Whenever God’s children make declarations in line with His Word, His counsel over their lives comes to pass.  As Christians we are in a partnership with God.  Therefore, if we do things according to His will and His good pleasure (Philippians 2:13), God will always honour His Word to us.

Living thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Reflect on Matthew 16:13-20.  What is it saying to you about the power and authority we as Christians have through Jesus Christ our Lord and Saviour?  What is this power and authority over?
  2. What does 1 John 1:5-10 reveal to you about the role confession and forgiveness plays in the life of a Christian?

Prayer Response

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth. Help me keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear. May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory. Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding. Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing. When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone. I cannot live without You. I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence. Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Illuminating

– a beacon of light and love to the community, which guides safe passage through the storms of life.

We’re continuing the RedBRick Identity series.  As Christ’s Church here how are we being a beacon of light and love to the community?  How are we being a beacon that guides all safely through the storms of life?

Think on this… can you hide a lit up city that is sitting on top of a hill? Light is very powerful!  If something in an open space is lit up it can’t be hidden, it can be seen for miles. Even from space!

So the truth is it’s difficult to hide light.  As this is the case, it follows that the following statement has to be true also… lf we live for Christ, we will glow like lights, showing others what Christ is like because Jesus is the Light of the World. 

But it is easy to hide our light when we live for Christ.  We can do this by

  • being quiet when we should speak
  • going along with the crowd
  • denying the light
  • letting sin dim our light
  • not explaining our light to others
  • or ignoring the needs of others

In your Christian walk of faith, we will go through some tough times when we struggle with life and faith, but remember storms never last forever.  In the midst of the storm seek the Lord and run to Him for shelter.  He will protect and help you endure.

Have you asked yourself… ”Why has God allowed me to go through such hard times?”  “Does He not care about me?”  “Am I saved?”  We have all asked ourselves such questions.  As we walk on our journey of faith we need to be on guard because when we’re asking such questions and questioning God, satan will try to attack.  He will say, “No God doesn’t love you. Look at those unbelievers who are not going through adversity, but you say Jesus Christ died for you, and yet you are going through the worst troubles of your life.”

Don’t let the devil give you fear.  Don’t let him put you in despair and bitterness towards God.  Don’t ever forget the other times God has delivered you because He will do it again.  The devil will try to say it was a coincidence, but with God there is no coincidence.

So cry out to God and block satan off and always remember that we have victory in Christ.  Seek peace through Christ.  Meditate on His promises and be strong.  The sun doesn’t always have to be out to give the Lord thanks so continue to give Him praise.

Through praise, worship and prayer you will draw closer to the Lord and know that His presence is near.  Be still, God will comfort and provide for you.  You can do all things through Christ who strengthens you.

Through praise, worship and prayer as a Church we will find the strength and desire to follow God’s call for us collectively to be a beacon of truth – He doesn’t want us to shut our light off from the rest of the world.  As disciples of Jesus that make up this Church, the light that we are to show and shine is not to be our own.  Instead, we are to allow Jesus, The Light of the World (John 9:5), to shine through us.  

In the same way that a torch needs to be connected to a power source in order to show light, so are we to be connected to a power source in order to give light to the world, and that power source is Jesus.  He is The Light of the World.

What does light do?

  • It illuminates
  • Gives guidance when it is dark
  • Gives a warning of possible dangers in front of you
  • It can also be a focal point, drawing people to a point of safety

As God’s Church here we are to bring the light of His Son to the world through the way we live our lives.  This is called witnessing; when we show God’s greatness and love to those around us. 

We show God’s greatness and love to those around us by the way we live our lives, through our actions, as well as by the words that we use to talk about Jesus and the difference He has made to our daily life.  Jesus’ death has made it possible for all to know that God is real, that He loves us, forgives us and has gifted us with eternal life with Him in heaven.  All of this completely transforms the life of a disciple of Jesus.  As a Church we are to speak of this truth, a truth that we have experienced, heard and known in our own hearts.

So in illuminating God’s greatness, we are to become His beacon of light and love to the wider community.  As we do this we will be able to offer safe passage to those around us in this community through the storms of life, as well as journeying with them through the joyous moments of celebration.

Every evening Rickinghall church illuminates God’s greatness.  When the light comes on inside this building to illuminate the Millennium window all can see Jesus, the Saviour, and Light of the World, radiating out to the village, calling all to Him and offering safe passage to all who choose to follow Him.

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father, we claim your promise that you will not despise or reject us when we share the deepest parts of our soul with you.  Teach us to better understand that being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak, instead, it helps us better connect with You, something that you long for us all.  Give us the courage to talk to You about what’s really on our hearts.

Thank You for meeting us with unconditional love and acceptance. Amen.

Living thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Imagine a lighthouse.  What does the light do?
  2. What does the Light of Christ do?
  3. How are we as Christ’s Church drawing others to the Light of Christ?

Digging deeper into God’s Word

  1. Because the light of Christ shines out from you does your life expose other people’s sins?
  2. Does the light of Christ shining through us offer a safe passage through the storms of life?

Prayer Response

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth.  Help me keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear.  May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory.  Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding. Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing.  When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone.  I cannot live without You.  I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence.  Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Divine – Illuminating

Today we’re looking at what it means for us as a church to be Divine.  On our RedBRick Identity Sheet we find this:

A people who are honest and raw and reflect the supernatural realms of heaven

Dictionaries give this definition of the word Divine:

  • of, relating to, or proceeding directly from God
  • directing something to God i.e. divine worship
  • Heavenly i.e. relating to the supernatural realms of heaven or experiencing the blessed state of heaven
  • Godlike i.e. resembling or having the qualities of God

Vulnerable and raw

Mirrors reflect.  When looking at yourself in a mirror it can make you feel uncomfortable.  We start to notice the wrinkles, our skin with all its imperfections. Maybe you notice more greying hair!  There’s a whole host of things that we notice, all of which that can make us uncomfortable.  In truth looking at ourselves in a mirror can make us feel vulnerable.

Vulnerability with God

As we grow in our intimate connection with God it’s important to learn to be vulnerable with Him.  Some believe vulnerability makes us weak or feel out of control.  Others are afraid to be vulnerable with God because the world tells us that it is shameful to be so.  If you show vulnerability you are considered to be not worthy. 

I guess that was how I felt when I knew that God was calling me to ordination; I am not worthy of such a role!  In all honesty I still have moments when I feel like that, and I have been ordained for 25 years.  But over the years I have learnt this vital truth: vulnerability is the gateway to connection with God.

I have been vulnerable with you here in this place – many a time out of my vulnerability I have cried in front of you all.  If we are going to reveal the Divine God we believe in then we have to be prepared to show vulnerability.

Moses felt vulnerable when told by God that he was going to lead God’s people out of slavery.  He made excuses as to why God had got it wrong.  But God assured Him He would be with him every step of the way.  And He was!

The Psalms of King David describe in great detail his vulnerability.  David’s words are raw, honest, almost too painful in their revelation of his vulnerability.  He pours out his heart to God in a deep and personal way, which the majority of us never do.  He should become a model for us in our relationship with God.

Let’s look at an example:  Psalm 142:1-7.  David is experiencing deep sorrow.  He feels abandoned and in need.  He feels emotionally exhausted and weak, but instead of hiding from God, he runs to God and pours it all out.  There’s no hesitation, or mask.  David feels seen, understood, and heard.  He then goes on to declare the goodness of God.  What a beautiful way to relate to God. 

Being vulnerable is a divine attribute of God.  Think about Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane on the night of His arrest.  Look again at Matthew 26:36ff.  Jesus knows that He has been betrayed by Judas.  In going to Gethsemane to pray He was in fact running into the arms of His Heavenly Father. 

He still spoke about being “sorrowful and troubled”.   We read He is “overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death” and asks His disciples to keep watch with Him whilst He prayed.  He falls face down and prays, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will.”

He prays three times and returns three times to His disciples to find them sleeping.  When He was at His most vulnerable His disciples desert Him.  Luke, to get this point really home, adds further detail: Jesus was feeling so vulnerable that “his sweat was like drops of blood falling to the ground.”

He is experiencing raw vulnerability!  His enemy, satan, was certainly prowling around Him, looking for the opportunity to devour Him.  But vulnerability leads to connection.  Think on that for a moment, vulnerability leads to connection.  Jesus, despite His vulnerability felt seen, understood, and heard by His Heavenly Father. 

Consider this quote about vulnerability from, Daring Greatly, a book by Brene Brown:

Our rejection of vulnerability often stems from associating it with dark emotions like fear, shame, grief, sadness, and disappointment – emotions that we don’t want to discuss, even when they profoundly affect the way we live, love, and work. Vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity. It is the source of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual lives, vulnerability is the path.

Vulnerability; a pathway to a deeper connection with God

So, vulnerability is the pathway to a deeper connection with God.  In Jesus’ display of vulnerability, He drew ever closer to God and was able to go ahead with fulfilling God’s plan of redemption for all.  Vulnerability will help you feel safer with God.  God already knows everything we’ve done, thought, said, or will say, and yet, He loves us, completely.  We cannot wrap our heads around this unconditional love and acceptance.  It’s too great to comprehend because our human relationships are filled with the opposite.

However, there is hope.  Time and time again we see in Scripture just how compassionate, kind, slow to anger, abounding in love, gracious, forgiving and faithful God is.  He is able to redeem any heart that turns towards Him.  This is a God we can feel safe with, and be honest with, regardless of everything that may be going on inside us and around us.  When we come out of hiding, we are met with a God who sees, knows, and loves us, (Luke 15) and isn’t that the truth we want to rest our hearts on most of all; that we are loved?

As we come out of hiding and meet with God we can experience His Divine presence and grow in His qualities; qualities of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity, of hope, empathy, accountability, and authenticity.  Vulnerability connects us with the divine nature of God’s unconditional love and acceptance and helps us to reflect His divine nature to those around us.

Let’s pray

Heavenly Father, we claim your promise that you will not despise or reject us when we share the deepest parts of our soul with you.  Teach us to better understand that being vulnerable doesn’t make us weak, instead, it helps us better connect with You, something that you long for us all.  Give us the courage to talk to You about what’s really on our heart.  Thank You for meeting us with unconditional love and acceptance. Amen.

Living Thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Read again the the verses from Psalm 147 and Matthew 26.

  • Do you see yourself in these verses?  If so how?
  • When you have felt vulnerable how has it made you feel?
  • Do you feel seen, understood and heard by our Heavenly Father? If so how?

We all experience deep sorrow.  Who do you run to in such circumstances? 

  • Look back at the text of the sermon.  Who did David and Jesus run to?
  • How is vulnerability the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy, and creativity?
  • God’s promises bring hope, courage and strength.  Which of His promises sustain you and thus help you reflect the divine goodness, love and nature of Him to others?

Prayer Response

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth. Help me keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear.  May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory. Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding.  Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing.  When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone.  I cannot live without You.  I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence.  Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Harvest – faith and giving

Then he said to them, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; a man’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.” Luke 12:15 (NIV)

If you are presented with two different size slices of pie, which one will you choose?  The larger or smaller one?  That reminds me of a story about a brother and sister.  On returning from school the two were hungry. Remembering the pie they’d had earlier in the week, Frank said he’d cut it in half whilst his sister, Jessica, could pour them some milk to drink.

When Frank put it in on the table Jessica said, “Look what you have done!  You’ve given me the small slice and kept the big slice for yourself.”  “Well, how would you have done it?” Frank asked.  “If I were serving the pie,” said Jessica, “I would have given you the large slice and kept the smaller slice for myself.”  “Well, what are you complaining about?  That’s exactly what I’ve done!”

We might laugh at that story, but selfishness and greed is a very serious subject.  Every day we see people who not only want the biggest slice of the pie for themselves, they want it all!  So Jesus, knowing what we’re like, told a story about a man who was like that.  This man was very rich.  He had a large, fertile farm which produced very good crops.  Notice what Jesus said: “the ground of a certain rich man produced a good crop.”

What that says to me is that the man didn’t put in any extra hard work in order to get a good crop.  It was a blessing from God.  Perhaps that’s why the man said: “What should I do?  I have had such a large harvest that I don’t have room in my barns to store all of it.”  So, what should he do?

He should have shared some of what he had with those who didn’t have very much.  But that is not what the man did.  Instead he said, “I know what I will do.  I will tear down my barns and build bigger ones.  Then I will say to myself, ‘You have plenty of everything.  Enjoy it. Eat, drink, and be merry.'” God said to the rich man, “You fool! You will die this very night.  Then who will get everything?”

Because of God’s goodness towards us He has given most of us more than we need; we are indeed rich in Him!  But do we really believe that?

The question is, “what will we do with what God has given to us?”  Will we share it with those who don’t have as much, or will we greedily keep it for ourselves?  Is our faith and relationship with Jesus stored away, for us to use just when we want to?  The truth is this, our faith and relationship with Jesus is not just to be stored away for a rainy day.

There’s a car show I like to watch; it’s called Car SOS.  Maybe you are familiar with that programme.  If not, the concept is this.  Someone has a classic car in urgent need of repair/restoration and it is whisked away by two likely lads, without the owner’s knowledge, who do the necessary work to get it back on the road in tip-top condition.

All of these cars have been stored away in a garage, shed, or parked on a drive.  All are kept under cover, hidden away.  Many have been stored for years and years, with the owner waiting for the right moment to do the work, but it never seems to come for one reason or another.  Often this is because of poor health, so making it impossible for them to do the work themselves.  So, they are stored away, not used. On being restored the owners do enjoy them, they use them.  They bring them joy.  Now the owners can get in their car and go places!

God is wanting us to go out and use our faith by living it.  If it is going to grow, we are going to have to share it by living it.  How do we live our faith?  By involving God in every area of our life.

To do this you’ll need to get to know God.  And we do this through prayer, reading our Bibles, and hanging out with other believers.  In getting to know God He wants us to ask Him to protect us from evil and sin, and to ask Him to give us the wisdom and courage to make good choices.  As we do these things we will find we are sharing our faith, thus, it shapes our lives, it takes us on a journey with Jesus.

We won’t use up all our faith, for Godly faith is limitless, and as we live by faith we will learn from it.  With Jesus living in us, we are on the path of eternal life!

So, how ready are you to be a better disciple of Jesus by walking His path of eternal life?  Are you ready to let Him disciple you?  Are you ready to be taught by Him, and when necessary, disciplined by Him?

By saying “yes” to this you are showing a willingness to grow in faith and so produce a rich crop for God to harvest in the future for His glory.  The wonderful blessing is that as we live our faith we discover the beautiful generosity of God. 

So remember the warning that Jesus gave to the listeners of His story. Don’t store things away.  If you do you’re really only thinking of yourself.  Recognise that all that you’ve got is from God.  Be thankful and generous with all that you have, especially your faith, and share it with others. 

When we are thankful and generous with what God has given us, especially our faith, He will bless us with a full prosperous life. So if you are presented with two different size slices of pie which one will you choose?  The larger or smaller one?

Living Thoughts

Why not write done your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.  Please re-read Luke 12:13-21

Digging into God Word

  1. Are you ready to be taught by Jesus and…when necessary, disciplined by Him?
  • Is it wrong to seek to improve your financial condition?  What about wanting to get rich?  Give biblical support.
  • How can you be on guard against all greed?  Is all luxury wrong?  How do you define luxury in light of the world’s poor?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

To be really rich, Jesus says that we must be rich toward God by laying up treasure in heaven.  Paul says that we do that when we are rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.  We should think of ourselves standing before God, giving an account of what He has entrusted to us.  Will we be really rich on that day?

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, we give you the highest praise because you are worthy of all praise and glory and honour.  We thank you for being our greatest need and supplying us with your wonderful riches.  Help each of us to value you as our most precious Saviour, King, and friend.

Father open our eyes to see the realities that your Word clearly declares; that life on earth is temporary and eternity is what matters most.

Protect us from all forms of covetousness, desiring the things of the world beyond our needs which You provide.

Help us Lord to examine our behaviours and attitudes toward materialism.  Help us to recognise and resist temptations that pull us into sin.

Lord search our hearts and reveal how we may be like the Rich Fool and grant us the grace of repentance to turn away and seek You.

Father renew a passionate love in our hearts for our Lord Jesus in whom we live and breathe and have our very being.

Father give us heavenly wisdom in the way we may lay up treasures in heaven.

Father, by your grace may we be good stewards of all that you have given to us.  May we be fruitful servants in your glorious Kingdom.

In Jesus name.  Amen.


Safe Haven

Oak Tree – A trustworthy, rooted and reliable place of welcome, comfort and restoration.

We often ask ourselves, “Who am I?”  Maybe we follow that up with, “To what do I belong?”  As we go through life we will answer this question about our identity differently.  But God’s identity, Jesus’ identity, is constant.  It does not change!  If their identity is constant, then if we believe in Jesus as the Son of God we need to know our identity in Christ.

Over the next 3 months we are going to be looking at our identity as Christ’s church here in Redgrave, Botesdale and Rickinghall.  It’s important to know our identity in God, how He sees us, because if we do not know it, we will forever be asking ourselves, “What am I doing”, “What do I belong to?” Not knowing who we are will mean that we are directionless.

Currently, we are being bombarded from all sides about our identity.  Most of it is questioning our identity, so this question about our identity in Christ is an increasingly relevant one. Nationalism. Patriotism. Privilege. Ancestry. Gender. Politics. These are all elements that we are being encouraged to question, to challenge and be prepared to chop and change our views on at a whim!  It can leave us feeling unsettled as we don’t know what to believe because we don’t know who we are.

But listen to what Peter says in his first letter, chap 2

“But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his possession, so that you may proclaim the praises of the one who called you out of darkness into his marvellous light. Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.” (1 Peter 2:9-10).

Wow, what words! They clearly show us who we are.

  • A royal priesthood.
  • A chosen people.
  • Those who have received mercy.

We need to know these truths at a deep heart level. 

Why is it important that we know who are identity as Christians?

Well…

1.  Our identity tells us where we belong.

We need to know that we belong to something.

2.  Our identity tells us we are wanted.

Just breathe that in for a second. You are not only loved, you are not only accepted, but you also are wanted.

3.  Our identity puts a weapon in our hands.

Our identity comes out of who Jesus declares us to be. Identity is not a matter of feeling or even of choice; for identity is a matter of declaration. We fight our feelings with the knowledge of Jesus’ declaration as to our identity.

4.  Our identity gives confidence to our actions.

When we begin to accept that God has declared us to be a royal priesthood, a chosen people, His own possession, we start to act in godly confidence.

5.  Our identity reveals to us our deeper purpose.

The greater end of our identity, and therefore our actions as Christians, is the glory of God. And there is no greater end than that.

What we are going to be looking at over the next few weeks is only going to scratch the surface of what we will be exploring together!  We can spend many hours on each of the 6 elements that we believe God has shown us in terms of our identity in Him.

This morning I’m going to be looking at Safe Haven, and we will use the example of a large oak tree

Safe Haven – The need to be rooted

We all need to be rooted in something good in order to grow. “Safe haven – Oak Tree: A Trustworthy, rooted and reliable place of welcome, comfort and restoration.”

Oak trees live for 100’s of years!  To live for so long what do they need?  Good roots.  If roots are shallow they will easily be blown over.  If they go deep they will stand tall against high winds, with branches spread out wide and producing a good crop of acorns.

Ephesians 3:16-19 says this:

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

We can describe Safe Haven “as being safely at home”!

So how do we “grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God”?

By digging into God’s Word.  This is key to becoming deeply rooted, to become a safe haven. In God’s word we find His love and design for us, so the more we understand God’s love and design for us, the more we can grow spiritually.

If you are trying to grow in your Christian faith and stay the course, the key to being rooted is to always come back to Jesus. You have to make sure that Jesus is your foundation.

Think, Peter and the walk on water. When his eyes were not focused on Jesus, he felt himself slipping. If you find yourself becoming weary in well-doing, you need to take a step back and have a talk with our Heavenly Father.

We need to constantly assess if our thoughts and actions are truly being led by God.  If they are, then that’s great. If not, then we need to re-align. (Colossians 2:6-7)

Ephesians 3: 17 reminds us that we must have love in our hearts in order to be a safe haven.  The implication of this is that we have love for God and all of His people. On some days this will be really tough. Yet God commands us to do so. Therefore, in order to fulfil this command, we need to be rooted in our heavenly Father, in Christ.  When we are, we will be better able to be trustworthy and reliable, thus to be a safe haven!

Then we will be welcoming, comforting and offer restoration to all who we engage with, whether here in a church building or in our homes, or when we meet people on the street.

If we want to see Christ’s church here to be welcoming, comforting and offering restoration we have to take responsibility for this ourselves, because God can only do what God can do when we take responsibility for our own actions.  Therefore, are we prepared to be welcoming, comforting and restorative towards all who walk into our life, whether they are our enemy or friend?

Living thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Over the coming week may I encourage you to read one of these passage a day and ask God to show you what it is He is saying to you about His Church being a safe haven here in these villages.

Colossians 2: 6-7

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.

Ephesians 3:16-19

I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge – that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

Galatians 1:10

10 Am I now trying to win the approval of human beings, or of God? Or am I trying to please people? If I were still trying to please people, I would not be a servant of Christ.

Psalm 1:3

He will be like a tree firmly planted by streams of water,

Which yields its fruit in its season

And its leaf does not wither;

And in whatever he does, he prospers.

1 John 4:10-12

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 11 Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. 12 No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us.

Psalm 107:28-31

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. 29 He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed.  30 They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. 31 Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for mankind.

Psalm 23:1-4

The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.     He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters,     he refreshes my soul.

He guides me along the right paths    for his name’s sake.  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.

Prayer Response

Dear Heavenly Father, thank You, Lord for loving me and reminding me of Your Truth. Help me keep my eyes on You, especially in times of fear. May I remember that You can use all things for my good and Your glory. Give me a heart that trusts, and take away the desire to lean on my own understanding. Thank You for Your protection, provision, and presence! In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Father, I want to live in the shadow of Your wing. When life is hard, and I don’t know what to do, help me remember that You are with me and that I am never alone. I cannot live without You. I cannot face tomorrow without the promise of Your presence. Today I choose to walk and live under the protection of You, The Most High. In Jesus’ name. Amen.


Creeds or Deeds

Mark 7:1-8, 14, 15, 21-23

We all want people to behave well around us, whether it be our neighbours, husband or wife, boyfriend or girlfriend, son or daughter, sister of brother. As wonderful as good behaviour is, none of it compares to having a neighbour, a friend, a husband, a wife, a son, or a daughter with a good heart. When you discuss good behaviour, you are discussing the quality of a person’s self-control.  When you discuss a good heart, you are discussing the quality of the person.

This is the focus of today’s Gospel reading.  Pharisees and teachers have come down from Jerusalem and, interestingly, they are gathered around Jesus watching the disciples.  The disciples are eating a meal.  It appears that they have come in and have started to eat without washing their hands.

The Pharisees cease upon this ceremonial oversight and question Jesus:  “Why don’t your disciples live according to the traditions of the elders and clean their hands before they eat?”  Jesus’ response is to stick up for His disciples, as He turns on these teachers and says in essence, “Why don’t you live according to the traditions of God and clean your hearts?”

What mistake did these Pharisees make?  What is Jesus trying to convey, not only to them, but to us as well?  You see, it is just as easy for us to fall into a good habit and leave behind a good heart.

I believe that Jesus is warning us not to look at the outside habits but rather the inside motives.  It is interesting that the Pharisees chose to send a delegation all the way from Jerusalem to Galilee, a 60-mile journey.  The delegation is not there for a spot of tea!  They were not on a fact-finding mission but a fault-finding mission.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law believed that outside rituals made them saints.  But do clean hands make for a clean heart?

To answer this, Jesus called the crowd to His side and with the Pharisees and Teachers looking on He said, “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean.’”

Dirty hands do not make a dirty heart.  From within, Jesus said, not from without.  It is greed not grime, malice not money, deceit not dust, arrogance not alcohol that makes us unclean.  Water will not wash away sexual immorality.  Religious rituals will not cleanse us from envy, slander, and arrogance.  All these evils, Jesus said, come from inside and make a person “unclean.” God is more interested in good hearts than good habits.  He is interested in the inside not the outside.

Many years ago someone I knew regularly complained that worshipping God with hands raised was not proper!  On one occasion when he said this yet again to me, he’d been watching Songs of Praise from Spring Harvest,  I said to him, “When it comes to worship what really matters is that it is coming from the heart”!  God is really interested in the state of our heart.

But there is one more point here and it is buried within the story.  You have to think slowly through the story to get at it.  Jesus is letting us know that God requires good Hearts and good deeds, but He is also saying God requires good creeds.

On first reading it sounds as though Jesus is condemning ritualistic religion.  But He is not.  Rituals are good things.  If pouring water over our hands to remove dirt reminds us that we need daily, to wash our hearts, and practice generosity, kindness, faithfulness, humility, and fidelity to our spouses then that is a good thing.  If, on the other hand, we think the simple act of pouring water over our hands makes us acceptable before God then that is a bad thing.

Traditions are good things.  Every church has them.  But our traditions should never stand in the way of God’s command to love Him first, neighbour second and self last.  Strict adherence to tradition comes from a demonic spirit of religion, which has no heart.

Creeds are good things.  They are necessary.  For about 1900 years the Church has been declaring what it believes through a statement of faith known as a creed.  It is one of our rituals, one of our traditions.  Does saying it make you holy?  No.  Does memorising it make you a saint?  No.  But if from your heart, you earnestly believe all that the creed teaches, then you are holy. You are a saint!

You can perform all the right rituals and recite word for word the creeds but they won’t make you clean before God.  For faith-based religion to be good religion, it has to come from the heart.

Over the next few weeks we will be spending time looking at our identity as Christ’s church here.  If our identity, as individuals and a Church, reflects God’s heart, then we will be like a sweet smelling acceptable sacrifice before the Lord.  If we are not reflecting God’s heart we’re not living the transformed lives He calls us to live!

“Be of good heart”, or “they have a good heart” are phrases that we hear.  God is looking for us His people, His children, to be of good heart toward Him and others.

As we journey through God’s identity for us we shouldn’t be surprised at what we hear because God has over the years consistently shown us how He sees us, but as we come out of lockdown it is right that we remind ourselves of how He sees us.  It’s too easy to get into the habit of not living out of the identity of who we are in Christ when we haven’t been able to freely engage in fellowship, discipleship and evangelism. 

To use a word banded about at this time we need to “reboot” and remind ourselves afresh of how God sees us, and how He wants us to be a safe haven, divine in His sight, illuminating His light to those in darkness, revealing His generosity to others, living courageously and united for Him.  All things that we will explore over the coming weeks.

As we reflect on these, may we continue to allow God’s transforming renewing grace to work in us from deep within so that together in this place we offer Christ’s healing grace through worship and service.  You see, God requires deeds not recited words of a creed, love rather than following law and tradition to the nth degree, and hearts of flesh over good habits. Amen.

Living thoughts

Why not write down your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Read Mark 6 & 7:1-8, 14, 15, & 21-23

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Do you believe that there are differences between someone’s behaviour being modified and someone’s heart changing?  If so, what are those differences?
  2. The question from the Pharisees and teachers of the law was their own expansion of the Old Testament law.  In light of some of the events that we read about in Mark chapter 6 including Jesus feeding the 5,000 plus, Jesus walking on the water, and Jesus healing many sick people, is the question from the Pharisees’ and teachers of the law in verse 5 ridiculous?  If so how?
  3. Why does it seem that the people of God, the disciples and the religious leaders are the ones who fail to see what they should see about God?
  4. What if anything do you think this says about you as a disciple of Jesus today?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. When you find yourself making decisions that do not honour God and who He is, it’s not about blaming someone else or blaming a set of circumstances.  It should be about you taking full ownership and responsibility for your decisions including doing some wrestling with God about where your heart is at with Him.

So when Jesus says what He does in verses 20-23, what in essence is He saying about people taking ownership and responsibility for decisions that do not honour God?

Prayer Response

King David left us a beautiful consoling prayer that we can make our own:

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51:10-11.

His prayer was favourably answered. So will ours.


Living Christianity Part 5

Christians As Citizens: Embracing our Christian citizenship in society today

Readings: 1 Peter 2:9-17; Matthew 22:15-22

This is the final part of Living Christianity.  Over the last four weeks we have looked at what it means to love as a Christian in today’s world.

Let me start by asking you a question: Have you ever really thought through what it means to live as a citizen in society, and how that fits with our responsibility as Christians? Well, the Bible teaches that God has placed us in specific times and places for a purpose, and we are to live honourably and faithfully to Him no matter how difficult our individual circumstances.

But how we engage in a secular society has always raised debate amongst Christians.  On the one hand, some think it best to disengage with contemporary society and live in their protected environment of church and family.  Some who do this focus on texts like 1 John 2 verse 15: “If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”

On the other hand many believers see engaging in the world of politics and social reform as an opportunity to bring in something of God’s kingdom.  They emphasise that we should be making an impact on our society for God’s glory, like Joseph and Daniel did in their times.

But what does the Bible tell us we should do? The Bible tells us that all authority comes from God whether governments realise this or not.  So how we engage with the state is vitally important, (Romans 13:1).

Due to the failings of humanity and rebellion we know that our world is far from perfect.  But Scripture repeatedly tells us that God will never abandon His work on earth. Psalm 24 states: “The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (v1).

Colossians 1 adds: “whether thrones or dominions or rulers  or  authorities  –  all things were created through him and for him… and in him all things hold together” (vv16-17).

So God is not indifferent to how nations and leaders behave.  Rather, He uses governments to care for and develop human societies.  The Bible refers to rulers and kings as those who are responsible: “to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.” (1 Peter 2:14).

As it has been from the days of Jesus, and before, the stability that governments bring is a God-­intended context for the proclaimation of God to flourish.  But one thing a state cannot do is to change sinful human hearts.  So no society can ever reach perfection until Jesus returns.

So what should our individual response be to the state?

As we know some state authorities are actively hostile to Christians as state-sponsored persecution of Christians happens.  In fact it has always happened, (see Rev 1:9) and will continue to happen.  The UK itself is not imune to this.  And so, taking this all on board, what should our individual response be to the state?

There’s a repeated emphasis in the Bible on submitting to authority, whether that’s at home, at work, or in society at large. Peter says: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.” (1 Peter 2:17). To live this Scripture out we have to honour those in power, which means we are to be respectful and not scornful of those who hold power.

Second, we should simply pay our taxes.  Jesus addresses this directly in his earthly ministry when He said give to Caesar what belongs to Caesar, and to God what is God’s (see Matt 22:21 and Romans 13:6-7).  In saying this Jesus was indicated that government is not absolute because human authorities do have limitations.

And thirdly, we are to promote peace, not strife and disorder, in society.  Paul told the Romans: “as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18. See also Proverbs 24:21).

Having said all this there can be extreme situations when direct conflict arises between the commands of the state and our obedience to God.  For example, in the Old Testament when Daniel’s three friends – Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were commanded to bow down to a pagan statue, they boldly said: “we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up” (Dan 3:18).

Whenever this type of situation happened in Scripture, those being persecuted spoke to hostile leaders with respect, and certainly didn’t work for their overthrow.

So Scripture shows us that the Christian’s role in the state shouldn’t simply be limited to that of dutiful submission. Micah chapter 6 says: “And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” (v8) 

Our God-given role as citizens should be that we want to shape society to be more in line with God’s perfect will.  This is to include speaking up from a biblical perspective on a range of social issues, such as civil liberties, medical ethics, free speech, sex education, freedom of religious expression and so on.

However, key to any engagement with authority is prayer. 1 Timothy 2 urges: “I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.”

So it’s clear that our prayers must not be confined to personal and church life, but that we should also pray for those at all levels of government.

On top of praying for those in authority, Jesus taught that we are to “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matt 5:44).

Jesus also tells His followers that they are the salt of the earth and the light of the world  (Matt 513-16). 

This implies that He expects believers to have a direct influence on the society and people around them.  This means that we are to be living in the world, not completely separate from it, in touch with people around us, aware of what’s going on and willing to speak up for what’s good and against what’s bad.  This is a crucial part of loving and caring for our neighbours.

We are therefore to engage positively within our communities, because as Christians  we  should always seek to encourage and promote a positive vision of how, by following the Bible’s teachings, society can prosper and thrive.  Having said that, there is already much to value in our society, often influenced by Christian thinking of the past.

Aspects of life such as law and order, the right to vote, access to healthcare, educational opportunities, and transport.  These are among many of God’s common grace benefits.  But what we take for granted today took a lot of time, effort and sacrifice on those who were pushing for these necessities in order to live peacefully.  We should also value and make use of the democratic freedoms we have to be a positive influence in our corridors of power.  Some Christians will be particularly gifted in this area and may even end up holding major political or administrative responsibility.

So what about you and me?  Even though we may not be on the frontline of political debate, our supporting actions remain vital.  Being a positive influence on all kinds of levels really does make a difference.

Promoting the Gospel

We need to remember that governments cannot meet the deepest needs of humanity.  Only Jesus can do that.  Therefore we have to reach out with the gospel, and lead people to a life-transforming encounter with Jesus Christ.  Through him they can be set free from the penalty and power of sin and empowered to live God’s way.  So we should always be looking for opportunities to introduce people to Jesus.

The Church has a unique mission: ‘go and make disciples’ of all nations.  But it doesn’t end there; disciples are then to ‘obey’ all of Christ’s commands.  Therefore, as well as sharing the gospel we have to play our part in promoting a society where biblical values work to the benefit of all people.

We have come full circle with the gospel.  We started this series by asking the question, ‘what is the gospel?’ and we end it with a call to go out into the world and proclaim it.  And as the gospel takes root in us, its effects should become increasingly apparent to those around us in society, as we grow in our saltiness and shine brighter for Jesus.

It’s important therefore to seize every opportunity to be an active influence which both honours God and works to the benefit of our neighbour.  So the demand on us to stand up and fulfil our Christian responsibilities is as great today as ever it has been.

Living thoughts

Why not write done your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Read 1 Peter 2:9-17

When Peter writes of “the king” (vv13-17 NIV) he will have in mind Nero, Roman emperor 54-68 AD. Peter was martyred during his reign.  Christians were often regarded as troublemakers and opposed  to state authority.  Here Peter sets out why Christians will in fact be model citizens.

  • What are the blessings and responsibilities of being ‘a chosen people’?
  • According to the passage, what  is the role  of  the state?  What should be our response towards the state?  You may also find Romans 13:1-7 helpful.
  • Where are the limits of state authority?  Under what circumstances (if any) can we say, ‘we must obey God rather than men’? (Acts 4:19-20; 5:29)

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  • How can we have a positive influence on state authorities as well as being obedient to them? (See also 1 Timothy 2:1-4). Don’t forget that the ‘state authorities’ includes local councils and public sector bodies such as Ofsted, as well as central government.
  • What opportunities do you have to influence society – locally and nationally?  What opposition can you expect?
  • Take a moment to reflect on what you have learnt in this series.  Discuss what you think are the key challenges.  How are you going to respond practically in your daily living?

Prayer Response

  • for the Government and others in authority
  • for continued freedom for Christians to live a “peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way” (1 Timothy 2:2)
  • that you will be ready to make the most of your opportunities to influence society

Session 5 Bible references

1 John 2:15: Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.

Romans 13:1: Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.

Psalm 24:1: The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;

Collossians 1:16-17: For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. 17 He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.

1 Peter 2:14: …sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

Revelation 1:9: I, John, your brother and companion in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus

1 Peter 2:13-14: Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, 14 or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right.

1 Peter 2:17: Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.

Romans 13:6-7: This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing. 7 Give to everyone what you owe them: if you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

Rom 12:18: If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

Prov 24:21: Fear the Lord and the king, my son, and do not join with rebellious officials

Matt 22:21: ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied.  Then he said to them, ‘So give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’

Dan 3:18: …. we want you to know, Your Majesty, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’

Micah 6:8: He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.  And what does the Lord require of you?  To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.

1 Tim 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – 2 for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. 3 This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, 4 who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.

Matt 5:44: But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,

Matt 5:13-16: ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled underfoot. 14 ‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. 15 Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. 16 In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.

Dan 4:27: ‘Therefore, Your Majesty, be pleased to accept my advice: renounce your sins by doing what is right, and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed. It may be that then your prosperity will continue.’

Titus 3:1-2: Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, 2 to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle towards everyone


Living Christianity Part 4

Life, gender, marriage and family: Valuing God’s good design for all areas of life

This fourth part of Living Christianity is very challenging!  Some may find what I am going to say controversial as I have an orthodox view on what I am going to be talking about this morning.  I feel convicted by God’s Spirit to say what I am going to say. 

We’re going to be looking at life, gender, marriage and family; a very broad subject!  I don’t have enough time now to go through this all in detail, so I am going to be selective in what I say, and focus briefly on gender and marriage, God’s moral obedience and His forgiveness.

Western culture as we know it developed on Christian foundations.  But today our culture is experiencing a sharp clash of values on many issues, especially sex and gender.  Thankfully God has provided us with some solid foundations through His word to us in Scripture, for His word reveals His good design for a stable society, something that I hope you have picked up in the previous three parts to this series.  And as I have said over the last few weeks, we live in a fallen world, therefore we cannot expect perfection until the new heaven and the new earth arrive.  We will as Christians make mistakes, just like any other person!  Because of this, how we engage with society must reflect our love for God and our neighbour.  Why?  Because as He is the creator of human life (don’t forget we are the pinnacle of His creation) we must respect the sanctity of life at its beginning as well as its end.

God is a morally good God.  In other words, He only ever does good things, things that prosper us and bless us, that help us to flourish as human beings for the common good of all.  God has set standards – clearly taught in Scripture.  These standards do not ebb and flow, change with the wind.  No, they are set, non-negotiable!  He practices what He preaches because God is a holy, righteous and loving God.

But some think that biblical morality is only relevant to Christians. However, God’s design is for the good of all people, (His common grace) not just Christians.  Marriage, for example, is beneficial to all of society and worth preserving for all of society, not just Christians.  It was given before the fall – just like work and rest.

Our gender is very much part of our identity.  Genesis 1 clearly shows us that God created male and female in His image.  For centuries this has been regarded as obvious and uncontroversial.  Today, however, many are arguing that gender is merely a social construct, and that there is some kind of mismatch between sex and gender because we are experiencing a shift from accepting gender as a fixed male and a female identity.  Those involved in the transgender movement argue that there are any number of alternative genders.  Transgender people are biologically male or female, but believe themselves to be members of the opposite sex. This feeling of being ‘trapped in the wrong body’ may lead to a transgender person seeking a ‘sex change’. This involves the use of hormones and surgery to change their external appearance.  But it does not change the XY or XX chromosomal pattern set at conception.

You may have heard of the term ‘gender fluid’.  This is used by those who say that they are more female on some days, more male on others, or that neither term (male of female) accurately describes them.  It appears that subjective feelings override simple biological reality!  All this is currently being pushed hard in our education institutions, in Government.  Pressure groups are calling for a change in the law to redefine gender.  This pressure exists also in the church.  

To me this goes against God’s created order, and I believe we are to respond.  But our response has to come out of the love God has for us all, so we are to speak God’s truth in love (Eph. 4:15).  Our sexual distinction is a God-given reality.  Challenging this God-given reality leads to painful and disastrous consequences, so as we engage in discussion we have to show genuine compassion for those struggling with such issues.

In my understanding of Scripture, we are called, taught and commanded to show God’s love to any who want to live as someone of the opposite sex, but at the same time we must realise that it is not loving to affirm their life choice, or suggest that a sex change, whether by hormone treatment or surgery, will solve their problems. 

In my own pastoral experience, I have ministered to those who went ahead with a sex change, despite counselling them that this was not the best option for them.  They threw a pebble into a still pond and many years later the ripples are still causing pain and hurt.

Departing from the Bible’s teaching only leads to confusion, which in turn leads to uncertainty and chaos.  Some years after the 1917 revolution of Russia an attempt to abolish marriage was made.  It caused chaos with “men (taking) to changing wives with the same zeal which they displayed in the consumption of the recently restored 40% vodka”.  (A quote by a Russian woman)

You see the Bible clearly teaches that marriage is the exclusive and lifelong union of one man and one woman (Gen 2).  Implicit in this is that God has reserved sex exclusively for this context.  Sex is part of God’s good design for humanity.  Adam and Eve were told to “be fruitful, multiply and fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). 

Jesus reminds us in the gospels: “a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Matt 19:5).  Today such a view runs against the gain of culture.  Casual sex and the practice of living together before getting married are the norm.

Despite all this marriage and sex still remain good and are for the benefit of society.  This is because God intends marriage as a covenant commitment for life, where husband and wife commit to one another regardless of any difficulty they experience, until one of them dies.  Such marriages are a stable setting for the raising of children with both a mother and father playing a crucial role in their upbringing.  By living out and promoting God’s design for marriage we point to a more stable and meaningful way for families to flourish. Marriage is clearly something God attaches great importance to.  Hebrews 13: 4 declares: Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure. 

Having said all this, human life still finds fulfilment in singleness and celibacy.  Scripture teaches that both are honourable (see 1 Cor. 7:8).  Indeed, Jesus, the most fulfilled human being, never married! 

According to the Bible’s teaching, both heterosexual immorality and homosexual conduct are incompatible with God’s creation.  At the start of Paul’s letter to the Romans he clearly states that homosexual and lesbian activity, as well as heterosexual immorality, are markers of a society that is not seeking God.  As Christians we are not immune to these human failings and weaknesses either.  But in all of this we should always remember that God is able to forgive people who live immoral and sinful lives. In 1 John chapter 1 we read: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (v 9).

We all need God’s forgiveness for our thoughts, words and actions, especially with so much temptation all around us.

However, it was in a society where poor morals and hedonism were the norm that the early church spread and transformed the moral foundations of the whole of the western world.  As God’s people, we need to show that same courage and faithfulness right here and now.  After all, the gospel hasn’t changed – it’s still the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes (Rom 1:16).

We are to actively uphold and promote biblical truths by sharing God’s perspective on such things because they are of such great value to wider society.  Engaging with the issues facing us today and responding to them in a clear, yet compassionate way will be tough, but it is essential if we are to live and love as Christians in today’s world.

Living thoughts

Why not write done your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

Read Psalm 1

  1. This psalm highlights a fundamental division in humanity. Compare and contrast the two groups.  How are they different?
  • Explore and consider what it means to ‘delight in the law of the LORD’ (v2)?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  • If God created us male and female are there consequences for society if we go against His design?  See also Romans 1:18-32.
  • If we went against God’s design what impact would this have on Christ’s Church?
  • Should Christians try to promote biblical morality in wider society?

Prayer Response

  • Praise God that we are ‘fearfully and wonderfully made male and female in his image’.
  • Pray that the Church will continue to champion the fundamentals of human identity and Christian marriage as instruments for a flourishing society.

If you want to go even deeper…

Should Christians try to promote biblical morality in wider society?


Living Christianity Part 3

Christians and work: Getting clear on our calling to live as Christians at work

Work – we love it, endure it, hate it!  I’m sure we’ve all had these emotions when we’re working.  And when I speak of work I am not just talking about paid work.  A parent/carer bringing up a child is work, a volunteer at a luncheon club is working, being a sidesperson, or lector is working.  This morning I’m going to be talking about work in relation to being a Christian.

But first a quick re-cap on the last two weeks.  We looked at how the Bible teaches us to have a concern for society and the wider world in which we live.  Secondly, we’ve looked at how our view of the world and our role in it should be both positive and purposeful, for we need to remember it’s God’s world and we were created by Him to represent Him in it.

So let’s look at work and the Christian.  Have you ever asked yourself any of these questions?

  • Why do we work? 
  • Where does work fit into our calling as Christians?
  • What does the Bible say about work?
  • How does God view our work?
  • What impact does our work have on community and wider society?

These are big questions that I’m not going to be able to unpack in the time I have, but the questions at the end of this piece will help you to explore them.

But there is a question worth considering before we go any further… Have you ever thought of God as a worker?

Before ordination I worked in industry, and there came a point when I felt God’s calling into ministry, but in my stubbornness and rebellion I refused to listen to Him, and so suppressed my calling.  As I did this, work got tough – but I didn’t make the connection.  It wasn’t until I accepted God’s call on my life that work literally overnight became easy.  The road to ordination was still rough, I was made redundant twice within 9 months, but God provided work, both paid and voluntary. 

I learnt that being created in God’s likeness meant I was ‘made to work’.  Why?  Well, I discovered that’s what God is, – a worker!

From beginning to the end of Scripture we see God at work.  His best known works include His world in which we live, ourselves as we are made in His image, and His Son Jesus, sent to be the Saviour of the world.  All the work of God!

God has commanded us to continue and develop His creative work on earth.  He put Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it (Gen 2:15).  But the work was not just to be confined to Eden, they were to: ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’ (Gen 1:28).

To me, Scripture shows us that in all our activities we are called to be co-workers with God in His world.  We have been given a central and vital role.  Therefore, we should want to work because we are made in the image of God – it’s a core part of our identity as human beings.  And the Bible’s perspective on work is clear for it consistently tells us that work really does matter.  Right from the early chapters of Genesis we are presented with a vast arena of challenging, yet satisfying work, with references to sea, air, mining, farming, buildings, raising children and so on.

But that all changed when sin entered the world at the fall.  It became hard work.  We will all, at some point, labour in toil and hardship, through many sleepless nights (2 Cor 11:27, Genesis 3, Ecclesiastes 4).

However, the Bible does offer plenty of encouragement too.  Proverbs 12:11 says: “Those who work their land will have abundant food”, and in Philippians 4 we read: “I can do all this through him who gives me strength” (v13).

As we dig deeper, we see that we are not to be lazy or unproductive (see 1 Thessalonians 4:11-12; 2 Thessalonians 3:11-12).  If we follow Jesus’ example, He taught that work is part and parcel of being His disciple.  Therefore, we are not to separate out our lives into those activities that are ‘Christian’, from other parts that aren’t. No, our faith in Christ should permeate everything we do because, as Scripture tells us, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters” (Colossians 3:23).

The Bible is full of such examples:  David was a shepherd, Joseph a carpenter, Luke a doctor, and Lydia a trader.  They all worked for the Lord!

Our work for the Lord, and our work for our employer, or for our self if we are self-employed, should not be separated out.  Our responsibility is first to the Lord, because God sees our endeavours as running hand-in-hand with His plans.  The important point to remember is that whatever we end up doing, we should all have a common purpose: the desire to honour and serve God through our work.

Out of this we are to be generous in sharing our time, talents and money as partners in the work of the gospel.  The New Testament teaches that we should be generous in sharing the rewards of our labours.  And that must include ensuring that those who are called to full-time ministries are properly resourced and looked after, (See 1 Corinthians 9:14 & Ephesians 4:28).

In and through work we honour and serve God.  All of which He uses to both advance His Church, and to the benefit of society.

As the Bible talks a lot about the importance of community, our work is not just to meet our own individual or even our family’s needs.  It is also to go beyond supporting our local church, because our work is a means of serving wider society so that we encourage human flourishing.  Flourishing happens when, through God’s common grace, our different human endeavours work together in harmony with God for the benefit of all. 

Examples of this include the police and the legal system.  They are a means to punish those who do wrong (1 Peter 2:14).  Also we see it through the farmer, the baker and the grocer, God is at work.  As we read in Isaiah, God gives seed to the sower and bread to the eater (Isaiah 55:10).

As all authority comes from God, so it is with work.  Work is part of God’s reality, therefore we all have a role to play in order to make everyday life possible and more palatable, because through our churches, by being helpful neighbours, we have many opportunities to reflect God’s common grace and saving grace to others.

The bottom line is this: our calling to work, whether paid or unpaid, has tremendous potential for good in our communities.  So how we conduct ourselves in our attitudes, our honesty, integrity, and our striving for excellence, are all key to our witness as God’s people.  Our awesome God can accomplish great things through our work because when we understand that our work is to be transformed by the truth that we serve Jesus in all we do, we will begin to live out Colossians 3:22 which talks about achieving success at work with sincerity of heart, and fear/awe of the Lord.  And Proverbs 16:3 also encourages us to: “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and he will establish your plans.”

As I sum up, the Bible consistently tells us that work really does matter.  From the first page of the Bible to the last we are presented with a vast array of challenging, yet satisfying work: fishing, mining, farming, building work, raising children and more. This should not be surprising, since God Himself is a worker.

God’s instruction to Adam and Eve to “fill… subdue… rule over” in Gen 1:28 is re­emphasised after the fall in Gen 8:22-9:3 when God speaks to Noah at the end of the flood.  Yes, the nature of work changed once sin entered the world, but it’s still immensely worthwhile because it still has meaning and purpose. Work is part of God’s plan and it is an intrinsic part of being a disciple of Jesus.

Living thoughts

Why not write done your thoughts as you ponder these questions.  Perhaps you could share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Read John 5:1-9a, 16-19 – Have you ever thought of God as a worker? (v17)
  2. Read Genesis 1:26-2:20 & 3:17-19 – What changes about work? Can we still say work is good?
  3. “There are all kinds of jobs that are good for Christians to do, but the best job is to preach the gospel”. Do you agree?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

It Is important to see that work (paid or unpaid) is worthwhile in itself, not only as an opportunity for evangelism or to get money to support mission work. Read Colossians 3:23-24. Christians have a unique motivation in their work.

Has being a Christian made any difference to how you approach your work? Has anyone noticed? Is there anything you need to change?

Serving others through our work could mean serving customers, managers, employees and/or shareholders. It also Includes providing for your family.

How do you serve God and others through your work?

Prayer Response

  • Give thanks for one another’s work
  • Share some encouragements and successes and praise God for them
  • Share any current challenges you have serving God in your work and pray about them
  • Pray for your colleagues/employer/employees
  • Pray for anyone you know who is looking for work

If you want to go even deeper…

  • What “thorns and thistles” have you faced (or face you) in serving God in your work? What has encouraged you?
  • God “rested on the seventh day from all his work” (Genesis 2:2). How can we achieve a balance between work and rest?
  • Read Daniel 1:1-16.

What would you do if your work involved doing something that compromised your faith?