The importance of fellowship (Part 1)

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

First, is church attendance important?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To sum up…

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

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

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

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

Time to think

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

Digging into God’s Word

Questions

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

Prayer Response

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

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

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

Remembrance Sunday

8th November 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is all about remembering, but what is remembering? 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to think

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

Digging into God’s Word

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

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

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

Prayer Response

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

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

Belonging

All Saints Day, Sunday 1st November 2020

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to think

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

Digging into God’s Word

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

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

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

Prayer Response

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

from the Lutheran Church of Australia.


How good are you at listening?

Sunday 11th October 2020

Isaiah 25:1-9

Matthew 22:1-14

What are some of the differences between listening to the radio and watching TV?  Radio involves one of our senses whist TV involves two.  Tuning in to the radio often requires careful listening, whilst watching TV can be done carelessly; you’re not really listening to the words, just looking at the images.

Throughout Scripture God is calling us to listen to Him.  We are to pay attention and listen carefully.  How many times did you hear your parents or teachers say something along those lines?  How good were you at listening?  Did you answer the right question, complete the task correctly according to the directions given to you?  Or did you do what you thought you were asked to do, but because you weren’t listening properly you missed the mark?

Does this sound familiar?

The Bible shows us how important it is to listen to God.  As God’s Children the Israelites quickly forgot what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt.  They failed to listen and spent 40 years walking round in a big circle.  That meant that most of those who remembered escaping Egypt had died before they could get into the promised land.  They had seen it, but they didn’t get there.

Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God wants us to have. Perhaps you see this in your life.

As God’s people we are not just to inwardly receive the Word but are to outwardly live it before those we share our lives with.  When we do this we will show God’s wisdom and be considered wise and understanding (Deut. 4:6).   You see God is, and always has been deeply interested in the witness of His people by giving the Word to the world.  As Christ’s Church we have a vital mission and if we lose enthusiasm to communicate the news of Jesus, we soon start turning our energy in on ourself – with disastrous effects.  Perhaps you can see where this has already happened.

Context of the wedding banquet parable (Matthew 22:1-14)

So what does this parable say about listening to God?  This parable, the Wedding Feast, is the third that Jesus spoke to the religious and political leaders during His final week in Jerusalem.  The first was the Parable of the Two Sons (Matthew 21:28-32) where Jesus describes the chief priests and religious leaders like two sons, and connects them to the son who appears to obey but does not.  The second was the Parable of the Tenants (Matthew 21:33-46) where Jesus shows the religious leaders that He is well aware of their plot to take ownership of His kingdom and to kill Him.  In the final parable, that of the Wedding Feast (Matthew 22:1-14), Jesus again shows these men how they are wickedly rejecting the kindness and graciousness of God who has invited them to the wedding feast of His Son, Jesus Christ.

This parable looks at how etiquette and bad manners can escalate into violence.  The wedding party began as convention dictates.  A first invitation (a sort of “Save the date!”, which has become popular again) is followed by the summons carried by the host’s servants when the banquet is ready. This is when things start to fall apart.

First, the invited guests simply refuse to come, and when the second call comes, they treat the invitation as a joke and go about their business.  Did you notice that it is not because the invited guests could not come to the wedding feast, but that they would not come (see Luke13:34)?  Everyone had an excuse.  How tragic, and how indicative of human nature, to be offered the blessings of God and to refuse them because of the draw of mundane things.

More than bad manners are at stake, for some invitees even assault and kill the servants.  In his anger the king  then escalates the confrontation by sending in his troops to destroy both the perpetrators and their city. Apparently, the king has judged their bad behaviour to be the opening salvo of a rebellion that must be quelled.

Nevertheless, the party is ready, and the king is determined that it will go ahead, and so the servants are sent out again, this time to the very limits of the territory, (That is what v9 means). They are to bring in everyone, “good and bad” (v 10), so that the hall will be filled.  When the King plans a party, the party will go on!

We need to listen carefully to God’s Word.  How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?

You see, just as the king provided wedding garments for his guests, God provides salvation for humanity.  Our wedding garment is the righteousness of Christ, and unless we have it, we will miss the wedding feast.  Righteousness is found by believing the Word, and the Word is only found in and through the cross of Christ.  The cross is the only way to salvation (John 14:6) and involves us recognising our sin, confessing it and walking away from it with the help of Christ’s power dwelling in us.  We simply can’t do it on our own!

Those who try to do it on their own, who try to get in without going through the cross, will be thrown out into the darkness.  This darkness is existence without the love, grace, mercy and compassion of God.  This is why Christ concludes the parable with the sad fact that “many are invited, but few are chosen.” In other words, many people hear the call of God, but only a few heed it.

The self-righteous Pharisees who heard this parable did not miss Jesus’ point. In the very next verse, “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap him in his words” (Matthew 22:15).

I see this Parable of the Wedding Feast as a warning to us.  Are we listening to God’s Word?  God’s provision of salvation is only found from listening to and then obeying the Word, not on our own good works or religious service.

We are always to keep listening to what God is saying to us.  The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  It stops us from insulting Him and thus destroying ourselves.  The enemy, the devil, is great at attacking our faith.  Having a lukewarm faith is not healthy.  Often when we feel lukewarm it is because of our small attention to God’s liberating Word and too much attention to non-liberating things.

The Word is full of wonderful incentives to return to God wholeheartedly.  Know, believe and live in the knowledge

  • that God “will not abandon or destroy you” (Deut. 4:31),
  • that “beside Him there is no other God”, (Deut. 4:35),
  • that it is His desire to save all people (1 Tim2:3-4, 2 Pet 3:9)

In Jesus we have a safe place to run to, for in Him, the Word, we find pardon and peace.  The heart of God is for all people to be safe.

When the writer of Hebrews calls us to “hear [the Lord’s] voice” (4:7), he also calls us to “approach God’s throne” where our High Priest Jesus Christ has perfect sympathy because He is unhardened by sin and has an endless supply of perfect mercy and grace. Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.

Time to think

First read Isaiah 25:1-9 and Matthew 22:1-14

Perhaps with pen/paper or journal write down your thoughts as you consider the following questions….

  1. Listening is so important.  Without listening we can end up not getting all that God has told us, or shown us He wants us to have.  Where do you see that in your life?
  2. How well have you responded to God’s invitation to enter His Kingdom?
  3. What warnings does this parable show us?
  4. What impact does being lukewarm for Jesus have on our faith?
  5. Referring to the text above what are we to live in the knowledge of?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  1. Can you think of occasions when your failure to listen to God’s word for you led to unwelcomed problems in your life?
  2. The Word is God’s brilliant gift to us.  Ask God to show you where the sin in your life is causing the brilliance of this gift to be tarnished?  Confess this and receive God’s forgiveness.  Then rebuke the enemy’s schemes to dull the brilliance of God’s Word in your life.  Finally declare that you will fill your life with the Word.

Trust what Jesus, the Word, says as you listen to Him.


Prayer Response

  • Give some time as you start your prayer to noticing the immense hospitality of this king. ‘Invite everyone you find to the wedding!’ he says. That is God’s attitude to everyone on earth, and to you. Be grateful for this.
  • What of the man without a wedding robe? This part of the story is to highlight that we need to fill our lives with loving action. It is not a preview of eternal punishment, because God loves everyone even when they don’t reciprocate.
  • God, you are always looking out for us and inviting us to fill the place that is set precisely for us. Let me pray and work for the good of others so that there may be no gaps at your wedding banquet, and that I too may be there.

Stumbling block or cornerstone?

Sunday 4th October 2020

The parable of the tenants, Matthew 21:23 – 22:14

33‘Listen to another parable: there was a landowner who planted a vineyard. He put a wall round it, dug a winepress in it and built a watchtower.  Then he rented the vineyard to some farmers and moved to another place. 34When the harvest time approached, he sent his servants to the tenants to collect his fruit. 35‘The tenants seized his servants; they beat one, killed another, and stoned a third.  36Then he sent other servants to them, more than the first time, and the tenants treated them in the same way.  37Last of all, he sent his son to them. “They will respect my son,” he said. 38‘But when the tenants saw the son, they said to each other, “This is the heir. Come, let’s kill him and take his inheritance.”  39So they took him and threw him out of the vineyard and killed him. 40‘Therefore, when the owner of the vineyard comes, what will he do to those tenants?’ 41‘He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.’ 42Jesus said to them, ‘Have you never read in the Scriptures: ‘“The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes”? 43‘Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce its fruit.  44Anyone who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; anyone on whom it falls will be crushed.’ 45When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard Jesus’ parables, they knew he was talking about them.  46They looked for a way to arrest him, but they were afraid of the crowd because the people held that he was a prophet.

The context

Chapter 21 starts well for Jesus… He enters triumphantly into Jerusalem!  But immediately controversy is aroused.  He cleanses the temple (21:12-17) and curses an unfruitful fig tree (21:18-22). The chief priests and elders asked Jesus, “By what authority do you do these things?” Jesus countered by asking, “The baptism of John, where was it from? From heaven or from men?” When His critics refused to answer Him, Jesus refused to answer them. He then responded with three parables of judgement:

  • The Parable of the Two Sons (21:28-32)
  • The Parable of the Wicked Tenants (21:33-46)
  • The Parable of the Wedding Banquet (22:1-14)

It’s accepted that the Parable of the Tenants is an allegory—a story in which each of the elements (people, things, and happenings) has a hidden or symbolic meaning:

  • The landowner/Lord is God.
  • The vineyard is the nation of Israel.
  • The tenants are the people of Israel or its religious leaders.
  • The servants/slaves are the prophets.
  • The son is Jesus.
  • The other tenants are most likely the church, although some scholars find other meanings for tenants.

Understanding the allegory this way shows us the meaning, that…

  • God established a covenant with Israel (planted a vineyard).
  • God sent the prophets (his servants/slaves) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed (see 1 Kings 19:10, 14; 2 Chronicles 24:18-22; 36:15-16; Acts 7:51-53; Matthew 23:29-39).
  • God sent his Son (Jesus) whom the tenants (the Israelites) killed.
  • God put the original tenants to death (pronounced judgment upon Israel).
  • God leased the vineyard to other tenants (the church) who will “give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41).

The people to whom Jesus was speaking would recognise the vineyard imagery from Isaiah 5:1-2 where the landowner planted a vineyard, built a watchtower, and hewed out a wine vat.  These are the same elements that Jesus used, but with a subtle difference.  In Jesus’ story, the outcome is not the destruction of the vineyard but is instead its transfer to “other farmers, who will give him the fruit in its season” (v. 41).

This landowner must be wealthy.  He spends money freely to make this an excellent vineyard even though it won’t produce fruit for at least four years.  It would be possible to plant a vineyard without a fence or wine press or watchtower, and that is what most landowners did.  This landowner, however, does everything right, – everything! He spares no expense in making this a first-class vineyard; a vineyard that lends itself to efficient operation; a vineyard that gives the tenants every advantage.

So looking at this parable as an allegory, we see that God has done everything possible to give Israel every advantage.  He has established an everlasting covenant with them.  He has led them through good times and bad.  He has given them the Promised Land as their inheritance, and He has given them the law and prophets to guide them.

In due course the vineyard bears fruit, yet the tenants do not fulfil their agreement – they refuse to hand over the owner’s fruit and they beat and kill those who he sent to collect what was rightfully his.  It’s important to know that this is a story of God’s grace, because in real life the landowner would send soldiers to punish his tenants.

Israel did not treat God’s prophets well.  They killed Zechariah by stoning him (2 Chronicles 24:21)They beat Jeremiah and placed him in the stocks (Jeremiah 20:2).  They killed the prophet Uriah (Jeremiah 26:21-23), and “killed your (God’s) prophets that testified against them to turn them again to you (God)” (Nehemiah 9:26).  (See also Matthew 5:12; 23:29-37).

So the landowner sends his son, saying, ‘They will respect my son’” (v. 37). The son, as the father’s heir and official representative, acts with the father’s full authority and is entitled to the same respect as these tenants would show the father.  But they seize him, kill him, thus attempting to seize his inheritance.

The point Jesus is making is this… that He is God’s Son sent to redeem the world, and that the Jewish authorities are going to kill him.  Murdering the son outside the vineyard will correspond to Jesus’ death on Golgotha, outside Jerusalem (27:33, see also Hebrews 13:12).

When Jesus asks them what the landowner would do they respond as Jesus expected – “He will bring those wretches to a wretched end,’ they replied, ‘and he will rent the vineyard to other tenants, who will give him his share of the crop at harvest time.” (v. 41).  In this verse, the chief priests and elders pronounce judgement on themselves as they tell Jesus how unfaithful tenants should be treated.  As Matthew wrote his Gospel after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., perhaps he associates this judgement with that event, as well as with the call of the Gentiles.

I think this parable is showing us what God is looking for, and what Jesus showed us…God is looking for people who will bring forth fruit.  What kind of fruit?  Holy lives, – lives lived in accord to God’s will.  God won’t judge me based on the number of sermons I have preached or the number of people I have baptised.  He will count me, as He will all of us, as fruitful if we have been faithful.

Don’t let the kingdom of God be taken away from you (v44).  This verse warns us that the cornerstone becomes a stumbling stone for the unfaithful.  Don’t stumble over Jesus the capstone.  Remember to live a righteous life, and as I said last week, you should live a life believing the Word of God, for in His word is power, the power of life! 

Someone once said, “You can’t break God’s laws; you can only break yourself on them.”  A practical illustration of this principle has to do with the law of gravity.  God in His grace has created gravity to anchor us to earth.  We can use other physical laws to counter gravity to permit flight, but the person who tries to ignore gravity or who miscalculates its force can find him/herself crushed by its power.  So also the person who fails to live according to God’s will can find him/herself crushed by God’s power.

This should serve as a warning for us.  The day will come when God will demand an account, and the stone, intended to provide a strong foundation, will crush those who have failed to position themselves in proper relationship to it.

Those who Jesus was addressing knew He was referring to them.  As with the previous parable about the two sons this too is about them and their disobedience.  But they couldn’t do anything because the crowds saw Jesus as a prophet, (v46).   The ordinary people in the crowd had little power as individuals, but together their influence was sufficient to block the actions of religious leaders who have considerable power.

More often than not throughout the Gospels, crowds are usually loyal to those like John the Baptist and Jesus.  Such lives reflect the presence of God.  So as a Christian how are you reflecting the presence of God?  But we know the end of this story.  Soon, and very soon, a crowd will turn on Jesus and shout, “Crucify Him, crucify Him” (27:22-23).  Will those be the same people who favour Jesus now?  We don’t know, but we do know that human nature is fickle and feckless.

Which crowd are you in?  The one that stays loyal to Jesus, living holy and righteous lives, or the one that denies who He is, and is prepared to deny Him and thus crucify Him? 

Living Thoughts

Digging into God’s word

First read Isaiah 5:1-7, Psalm 80:9-17 and Matthew 21:33-end

Perhaps with pen/paper or journal write down your thoughts as you consider the following questions….

  1. God spares no expense.  Where have you experienced God’s amazing generosity in your life?
  2. Someone said, “You can’t break God’s laws; you can only break yourself on them.”  Is God a just and fair God?
  3. How are you reflecting the presence of God? 
  4. Which crowd are you in?  The one that stays loyal to Jesus, living a holy and righteous life, or the one that denies who He is, and is prepared to deny Him and thus crucify Him? 
  5. Particularly at this moment in time many are concerned about their economic health.   How would you quantify the Godly health of your heart?

Digging deeper into God’s word

  1. Today’s readings from Isaiah, the Psalm and Matthew all refer to the vine as a metaphor for the Jewish people, with a common theme of fruitfulness.  Where in your life are you seeing God’s fruitfulness?
  2. The wicked tenants, acting out of selfish greed, saw people only in terms of what they represented for their own ends.  Jesus shows in word and deed that true fruitfulness and meaningful productivity lie in living out ideals of justice, kindness and humility.  To whom is Jesus asking you to show justice, kindness and humility?  How are you to achieve this?
  3. Living fruitfully means living and behaving in a way that supports and enables those around us to live more fruitful lives.  How can we as individuals and as a church, God’s worshipping community in this place, encourage and support those around us to live more fruitful lives?

A point of interest… “Listen to another parable(v. 33a). This is one of only three parables to be found in all three Synoptic Gospels (see also Mark 12:1-13; Luke 20:9-19)—the other two being the Parable of the Sower (13:1-23) and the Parable of the Mustard Seed (13:31-32).

First look at yourself before you judge others.

Sunday 27th September 2020

I was reading Psalm 36 earlier in the week and as I read it I thought about people that this Psalm could apply to, as well as the organisations that are forcing their false ideologies on to us all in the name of freedom! 

But then something happened…. God spoke to me clearly…. Before I can apply this to others I first have to look at myself.  God also gently reminded me of Jesus’ teaching on judging others (Matthew 7:1-5). I need to take the plank out of my own eye before looking “at the speck of sawdust in my brother’s eye”

The OT prophet Jeremiah made this observation:

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure” (Jeremiah 17:9).

As I prayed about Psalm 36 I sensed that God is calling us to use this Psalm to look at ourselves. So let’s spend a few minutes doing just that, because this Psalm is not just addressing unbelievers. 

The opening section of Psalm 36 helps us to understand the universal condition of sin with a blunt description of the wickedness that resides in the hearts of all peoples. 

The Bible teaches us that left to ourselves, we would gravitate away from the Lord and toward an arrogant and destructive sense of ambivalence toward spiritual truth, which leads to self-deceit, evil and, ultimately, the wilful rejection of all that is good (Psalm 36:1–4).

We all have a bad part. Saint Paul called this bad part “the old man” in us, and it makes the Christian life difficult for us. (Romans 6:6; Ephesians 2:15; 4:22-24; and Colossians 3:9-11) There’s a song by the Christian singer-song writer Amy Grant called Shadows.  It’s about how there are two of us, one does the right thing the other does wrong so we have to keep a watch on our shadows.

This illustrates how we all live in a tension, because just as God can speak into our heart His words of goodness, hope and love, so the enemy, the devil, can speak into our heart the opposite.  Remember how Satan attacked Adam and Eve?  He spoke into their heart and convinced them that God would not be angry with them if they acted in disobedience to His command not to eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil.  When we allow the enemy to speak into our hearts we are in great danger of losing any sense that terror of the Lord will come upon us because of our evil deeds.  That’s what happened to Adam and Eve, they lost any sense of the terror of the Lord coming upon them.  That’s what wickedness does, we lose any sense of anticipation that God’s judgement will come upon us because we allow our own voice to delude and flatter us.

When we allow the enemy space to speak into our heart, our words reflect our old flawed character, we thus show wickedness and deceit and we cease to be wise.

But our hope is this: the way of wisdom is constantly encouraged throughout Scripture. So by knowing Scripture we can be shaped by the story of God, the story of His great rescue plan.  We can be shaped by His ways, His character, and His mind. Therefore, wisdom comes from being transformed by the presence of God, through His Son Jesus Christ, and then living life in all of its complexity.

This Psalm, therefore, clearly teaches that sin deceives, and confuses our minds to the extent that we speak in a way that flatters ourselves beyond reality and makes us believe that we will never be caught. So when you read this Psalm do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart?

But God is Good as we read in v5-9.

The Psalmist tells us to look at our world. We can see clouds in the sky. We can see mountains and seas. God has put these there to help us remember what He is like. When we see the sky, we must remember His kind love. When we see the clouds in the sky we must remember His truth. So the clouds and the sky tells us that God will do what He promised. In other words, God will always be faithful.

When we see a mountain we must remember that God is good. But He is more than good, He is righteous because He can only do what is right, never what is wrong. And when we look at the sea we must remember the justice of God because in the end what is right and fair will happen, not what is wrong and not fair.

The New Testament teaches us that the way of righteousness is to take the Father at His word and believe that His Son is the only way of salvation. As we trust this promise of God as revealed through His Son Jesus Christ, we become righteous and are welcomed into God’s covenant of righteousness.

So when the Bible refers to the righteousness of God, it’s not saying that God is morally good. That has to be taken for granted, because He’s the standard of all goodness and morality. Rather, the righteousness of God refers to His faithfulness in keeping His word.

I love the second part of verse 9: “In your light we will see light”.

You see, Jesus is the Light of the World, so in God’s light, His Son, we see what is right and just in His world.  Then we are able to live lives of love, faithfulness, righteousness, and justice.  Without God’s light we will live lives described in v1-4.

That’s why the Psalmist prayed that God would give His kind love and goodness to the people that know Him, as well as to help us remember how to see God in the world around us.  God is a God of protection; we do find refuge in the shadow of His wing.  Remember how God protected His people in the wilderness with the pillar of cloud and fire.  The Psalmist also prayed that bad people would not stop God doing this, protecting His people (v10-12). 

We too must pray as the Psalmist prayed – that sinful humanity will not stop God working in His world.  We are to see “the evildoers lie fallen, thrown down, not able to rise “. As we offer such prayers we are to know that God will decide when this will happen.

The good news is this: it’s as if the Psalmist can see God’s triumph over our enemies.  Because of events 2000 years ago God has started to answer this prayer: Jesus, who is the very image of God (2 Corinthians 4:4; Colossians 1:15), definitively answered the psalmist’s request on behalf of all people by giving His life as a “ransom for many” (Matthew 20:28) to save us from our sins so that all who confess their sins and believe “might live through Him” (1 John 4:9) and receive His gift of eternal life, (John 4:14). 

Praise be to the Lord’s name as we experience in greater depths the glorious power of His loyal priceless covenant of love, faithfulness, righteousness and justice, knowing in our “knower” that we find a holy and supernatural refuge in and over our lives.


Digging into God’s Word
  1. When you read Psalm 36 do you hear echoes of our own words and thoughts, and hardness of heart? How does that make you feel?
  2. Psalm 36 describes a way that evil takes a grip on people. Can you give examples of this from your experience?
  3. What does this Psalm teach you about the person of God?
  4. Do you see Jesus within this Psalm? Where?
  5. How are the wicked described in this psalm?
  6. What happens to the wicked according to this psalm?
Digging Deeper into God’s Word
  1. What are the two contrasts laid out in the psalm? As you hear the contrast between the wicked and the righteous, where do you stand?
  2. How are we confronted by wickedness in the 21st century?
  3. How are the godly described in verses 7 to 9?
  4. Which of the many pictures of God in this Psalm are the most important to you? Can you explain any reasons why this is so?


Be Still and Know that I am God – Going Deeper

20th September 2020

Last week Barbara and I attended a zoom Jesus Ministry Pastor’s Day and this verse from Psalm 46 was discussed;

Be still, and know that I am God.

And it got me thinking…. how do we discover how to be still and know that God is God? 

This can be hard when we look at the news headlines, about how nations rage against nations, about mental strife, the strain on marriages, strain on children, racial tensions and pandemics.  Storm clouds are looming.

I suspect we have trouble living it because we are rarely still, we rarely sleep without tossing and turning, our heads are on the fast spin cycle, and we hardly ever live sold out that God is God and we are not.

Well, then, what are we to do? How can we cease our striving and “be still”? How are we to accomplish such peace and trust?

The clues are back in verses 8 and 9 of Psalm 46.

Verse 8 tells us to “Come and see what the Lord has done,” and it is fascinating to consider what those works might have been. Psalm 46 was likely written after the defeat of one of Judah’s enemies, probably a time when God clearly did the defeating–for example, when an angel of God destroyed the Assyrians in their camp (as we read in 2 Chronicles 32:20-21). So verse 8 is a personal invitation to the people of Jerusalem to come look at the destruction of their enemies and witness God’s complete deliverance: He saved His people once again. It isn’t until verse 10 that God Himself tells us to “Be still, and know that I am God.”

Therefore, part of being still, or cease striving, is to “Come and see what the Lord has done.” When we notice His work and deliverance, this helps to assure us that we can be still and know that He is God.

I’m going to look at 4 ways we can Be Still and Know that God is God, but these are not the only ways!

First – Consider the Nations . . . and Turn Off the News

This psalm shows us that throughout time, people have been concerned about world events. Although the world situation as it comes to us through 24-hour news seems negative and out of control, this psalm reminds us that God is in charge of it all. In the midst of all of the turmoil, God is with us and will deliver His people.

Is there something you’ve noticed in world affairs in the past or at the current time that shows that God is in control–that He is with us?

Perhaps you have read the stories of Jesus appearing to people in many parts of the world in dreams and visions, and how their lives have been dramatically changed like Paul’s was on the road to Damascus, and this despite the persecution many face for turning to Christ.

Remember when the Berlin Wall came down? God proved the impossible possible.

Have you considered the consequences had the Allies not won World War II?

Yes, conflicts still rage and injustice requires voice and action, but when we get anxious, it is helpful to remind ourselves what God has done.

As part of this strategy, perhaps we could “fast” from social media, such as Facebook, twitter, Instagram (maybe you could delete them from your phones!).  As well as doing that let’s fast from the news. After all, it is man-made, because instead of helping us to consider the works of the Lord, it causes us to be anxious about temporary problems and angry at people who disagree with us. This is not from God!

Instead take captive the thoughts of God and think on more honourable and noble things as Philippians 4:8 says,

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things.  (Philippians 4:8 NIV)

So, the first way, make time to remind yourself what God has done for the nations, and focus on the Good News, not the fast spin cycle of the 24-hour news.

Second – look outdoors

One of my favourite ways to see what the Lord has done – which, in turn, helps me to be still and know that He is God – is to look around while I am outdoors. You can notice the colours of the sky in the early morning, midday, and sunset. Try to count the shades of green in the trees around you. Ponder the transformation of a caterpillar to a butterfly and all that the process involves. Take in the fresh air, supplied with perfect amounts of nitrogen, oxygen, carbon dioxide, and water.

Treasure words such as these written in Scripture, which are there for our nourishment and hope….

The heavens declare the glory of God;

  the skies proclaim the work of his hands. (Psalm 19:1)

3 For the Lord is the great God,

    the great King above all gods.

4 In his hand are the depths of the earth,

    and the mountain peaks belong to him.

5 The sea is his, for he made it,

    and his hands formed the dry land. (Psalm 95:3-5 NIV)

Third – Look at others

A third strategy is to look at the people around you and to consider how God has worked in the lives of your friends and loved ones. Has He healed a broken heart, turned a wayward soul, or changed a countenance, both in terms of you being able to see that they look different because they have experienced something of God, and in terms of them accepting that God is real and that He loves them?

These are wondrous works of the Lord. Behold them, and be still: let yourself be in awe of what God has done.

Fourth – Look at yourself

What works has God done inside of you? How has He delivered you? What peace has He brought to you?

These are some of God’s most phenomenal works, works to behold, works that help us to be still and know that He is God. So are you seeking to “Be still, and know that I am God”?

Each day we are to take time to consider the works of God in our own life; how He has redeemed us and called us by name. Has He changed our heart or our attitude? Has He lifted our chin to see His face more clearly? Has He helped us to forgive ourselves or others?

Are you seeing the works of the Lord, especially the deliverance He has accomplished for nations, for your friends and relatives, and for yourself? Are you noticing His handiwork in creation? Are you resting easy in the truth that He’s in control?

God is calling us to rise up in our spirit and to see things from the heavenly perspective.  We are to live out of our risen self, because as resurrection people we are alive in Christ and so can be still and know that God is God.


Digging into God’s Word: Be Still and Know that I am God

  1. Psalm 46 is both a challenging and comforting psalm! Read verses 8 to 11 again, but slowly, noticing the sureness of God, His control over the nations (a good reminder for these times), and the deliverance of His people.
  2. Of the ways spoken about in finding God’s stillness and peace which ones will you use to see the works of the Lord?

Digging a BIT Deeper: Be Still and Know that I am God

Take time to be quiet with the Lord, either now or throughout the week. If you like, you can journal about these questions and sing with the songs linked below.

  1. In what area of life do you need God’s peace today?  Over what do you need to cease striving?
  2. Practice beholding the works of the Lord. Choose one of these areas and journal about it reflecting on what you can learn from God’s faithfulness and deliverance?

Idea 1: Consider the nations . . . and turn off the news.

Idea 2: Look outdoors.

Idea 3: Look at the people around you.

Idea 4: Look inside yourself.

“Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” (1 Peter 5:8).  Where in your life have you agreed with the enemy’s schemes, thus allowing him to steal your stillness?  Confess them and rebuke the enemy’s schemes.  Then replace them with God’s peace and stillness.

God’s Word is meant for us to apply to our own lives. How does verse 11 of Psalm 46 help you today?

11 The Lord of hosts is with us;

the God of Jacob is our fortress.

Let these songs minister to your soul as you sing along or listen to them:

Be Still and Know (Hillsong)

I Lift My Hands (Let Faith Arise, Chris Tomlin)

One Thing Remains (Jesus Culture)           

Find them on YouTube.

A Prayer…

Be still and know…that God is near. (Ps 46:1-3)

Be still and know…that God is reliable. (Ps 46:4-7)

Be still and know…that God is in control. (Ps 46:8-9)

Be still and know…that God is to be worshipped. (Ps 46:10-11)

Be still and know…that God is.

God, Creator of time, we hurry from task to task, from crisis to crisis, carrying the weight of the world. Or in this current season, we let time pass without meaning. But the world is yours, and everything in it. Let us lay down both what keeps us too busy to be still and stillness that is void before you so that we may lift our eyes to your glory. Lord, we come into your presence. Make us still in you.  Amen

God’s harvest

35Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. 36When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. 37Then he said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. 38Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.”  Matthew 9:35-38 (NIV)

I love seeing combine harvesters at work I stop and watch… I find it such an idyllic sight!  Despite living in the countryside I am often disappointed at not seeing that many fields in the process of being harvested.  One day a field looks white for harvest, the next it is all cut and baled.  How did I miss it… again?  As always, farmers don’t hang around.  All has to be gathered before the weather turns against them.  For the last few years I have endeavoured to spend a day with a local farmer during harvest.  Graciously he has welcomed me aboard his combine.  I’m like a boy with a new toy!

But what is the season of harvest all about?  Well, it’s a season of hope.  Seeds planted the previous year, or earlier in the year, are bearing their fruit.  It is a time to gather in the fruit of the labour spent preparing the land, planting the seed and caring for the first sights of tender shoots.

As Christians, we are to know that God IS the Gardener supreme, and He is looking for a spiritual harvest from us!  That is what Jesus is talking about in our reading from Matthew.  This type of harvest does not depend on a particular time for harvest.  We are the fields, and our prayers and lives are the seed.  So we can plant seeds of faith, eternal hope, love, joy and peace in and out of every season. 

As we plant such seeds we can gather in the lost, bring back a wandering soul, for it doesn’t have to be a fixed harvest time, because God controls His spiritual harvest.  So a harvest for Jesus is available anytime because to God it’s always harvest time.

God, as Gardener supreme, has placed us at the centre of the world He created.  He has fed us, and equipped us with what we need to survive physically.  Having provided for us physically, He looks to a different harvest from us.  A fruitfulness of lives, in service to Him and others.

For us to live fruitful lives in service to Him we need to let the God of harvest, feed us, prune us, harvest us so that our lives bring glory to Him.  You see, God doesn’t have to plant, water, and wait for a harvest.  Yet, He chooses to be the Gardener supreme – with us as His fields and our prayers as seeds.

This is a picture of us co-labouring with God to bring Him glory – what an honour (1 Corinthians 3:9) to work with Him.  As we co-labour with God He encourages and urges us, to plant our faith firmly in His Holy Living Word and in His supernatural power.  As we do this He bottles up every tear of fear and disappointment (Psalm 56:8-11) to water the harvest of His glory.

This leads us to become His fruit, a fruit ripe with testimonies that feeds the faith of others to know that they, too, can and will overcome all the evil schemes of the enemy (Revelation 12:11) and fulfil God’s plans by reaping His harvest.

Here’s what we know about God: He is a finisher.  When He begins the good work of planting you, He is faithful to bring you, His field, to a flourishing finish!  Because God plants with the FULL expectation of a vibrant, glorious bloom.

Be encouraged today. Don’t give up before you see the fruit of your prayer labour.  Right now, you may be sowing seeds of tears and prayers with no sign of a bloom in sight.  Trust that the Gardener supreme sees your tears, that He hears your cry, and has every intention to bring your purposed bloom to fruition for His glory.

Those who sow in tears shall reap in joy.  He who continually goes forth weeping, bearing seed for sowing, shall doubtless come again with rejoicing, bringing his sheaves with him. (Psalm 126:5-6)

Based on a sermon first delivered on 13th September 2020

Church discipline

15 “If your brother or sister sins, go and point out their fault, just between the two of you. If they listen to you, you have won them over. 16 But if they will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ 17 If they still refuse to listen, tell it to the church; and if they refuse to listen even to the church, treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector. 18 “Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will bebound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will beloosed in heaven. 19 “Again, truly I tell you that if two of you on earth agree about anything they ask for, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven. 20 For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” (Matthew 18:15-20)

Who understands verse 19 of our Gospel passage to mean that if you and someone else agree about something here on earth it will be done for you by God?  For a long time, I thought that if I asked for something of God and someone else agreed with me then it would be done for me by my Father in heaven.

As I have journeyed with Christ over many years I have grown to understand that God doesn’t quite work like this!  I can’t give Him a shopping list of wants or desires, even if I have found someone who agrees they are good for me, or good for others. 

Actually such an understanding of verse 19 is completely wrong.  This verse can so easily be taken out of context, because it is tied up with the verses that come immediately before it.  Which are all to do with church discipline. 

Here, Jesus is teaching His disciples, who became the Apostles of Christ, the first leaders of the church, how brothers and sisters in Christ are to deal with those who sin against each other.  Therefore, verse 19 is all about discipline.

So how is church discipline to work? If a professed Christian is wronged by another, they are not to complain of it to others.  In other words, they are not to gossip, as too often is done.  Instead they are to go to the offender privately, and state kindly the matter.  This should resolve things.  But Jesus knows that because of our human frailty it won’t always work like that.

So if the first approach does not work you are to take one or two others along with you.  These are not necessarily eyewitnesses of the sin, but those who can testify as to how the attempt at reconciliation goes. If the reconciliation fails, we are to treat them as an unrepentant sinner.

Paul commanded the Thessalonian Christians to observe this principle, saying, In the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, we command you, brothers and sisters, to keep away from every believer who is idle and disruptive and does not live according to the teaching you received from us. (2 Thessalonians 3:6).

The church is to relate to the rebellious person as an outsider, a person of no faith, – spiritually dead.

Therefore, we have to understand three things about this teaching of Jesus…

  1. That it is for Christians, not unbelievers
  2. That it is for sins committed against you, and not against others
  3. That this is how we are to resolve conflict in the church, not the community at large.

It would be difficult to resolve issues between people using Christian principles, if they don’t subscribe to such concepts.

The first recipients of this Gospel were Jews, and this would have reminded them of passages in Deuteronomy, concerning the law.  Deuteronomy 17 and 19 speak of 2 or 3 witnesses gathered to testify in court.  The witnesses were necessary to establish a case in court.

So we need to know our Scripture, because when you read these 6 verses from Matthew chapter 18 we find that this whole chapter is about Jesus teaching His disciples how they should handle situations of interpersonal sin and conflict.  These instructions from Jesus immediately follow His parable about the lost sheep (which emphasises restoring someone who has gone astray) and precedes the parable of the unmerciful servant (which is about being willing to cancel and forgive an outstanding debt). The themes that are present in these 6 verses are forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation with a brother or sister in Christ who has sinned against you or who has gone astray.

Therefore, when two of you agree, or have the same mind, feelings, and opinion, about the sin that has been committed, and if forgiveness, restoration, and reconciliation has been achieved between the parties involved, whatever you ask of God in this situation will be done for you.  This teaches us that as Christians we have a responsibility to maintain the welfare of God’s church in a wholesome and life-giving way.  For such a way brings unity.

Our first reading from Act 1 shows the church putting these words of Jesus into practice.  The Council of Jerusalem in Acts 15: 1-29 is another illustration of how the early church dealt with conflict.  And the common factor in these examples is prayer.

So to resolve conflict, prayer has to be at the centre, but those who pray must be gathered together in the name of Christ, for this means that they are doing three things:

  1. Trusting that Jesus is interceding for them
  2. Praying in a way that their words are not utterances of the natural but of the spiritual person
  3. Asking in entire, total submission to the will of their Father in heaven

If these three things are not there then such prayers are like the prayer of the sons of Zebedee, when their mother asked Jesus if they could sit at His right and left hand in Heaven.  Because this was not the will of God it would not be granted.  As followers of Jesus they would get to heaven but what they set their hearts on would not be granted (Matthew 20:20).

Praying in accordance with God’s will is so important, for when we do, our requests will be granted by our Father in Heaven. whether we pray as individuals or as a church.

Of course, this is to be understood with some restriction.  The request must be reasonable, good in itself, expedient for the petitioner; the prayer must be earnest, faithful, persevering and in line with God’s plumb line truth.  If such conditions are satisfied, the desire will be granted in some form, though, perhaps, not in the way or at the time expected.

So in all our proceedings, including church discipline, it is essential that we seek direction in prayer; we cannot prize too highly the promises that this brings us, because Jesus ends this teaching with a blessing, saying that He will always be with us.

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 6th September 2020

Making sense of suffering

1 Peter 4:12-19

Image by Anemone123 from Pixabay

Since mid-June I’ve been preaching about what the Bible says about suffering, so if there is a God who is loving, why does He allow such suffering?  Can we avoid suffering by being ultra-cautious?

Well, first of all suffering wasn’t part of God’s original plan.  The world was made by God and it was very good.  There was no suffering or death.  So, what happened?  Well, suffering results from what Christians call “the fall” – human beings deliberately deciding, when presented with a choice by God, to choose evil.

And the Bible explores the human experience of being caught up in suffering.  The Old Testament devotes an entire book (Exodus) to the experience of an enslaved people and their journey from slavery in Egypt to the challenges of being a nomadic people.

The Old Testament prophet Jeremiah writes of his people exiled and oppressed by a foreign power.  The generational oppression of invasion and foreign rule is expressed by the psalmist who laments “by the rivers of Babylon we sat down and wept” (Psalm 137).

There is a whole book of the Bible devoted to an exploration of grief and lament for a people ravaged by war, violence and death – it is called Lamentations.

So the Old Testament shows us that God allows suffering, that He allows bad things happen to good people as seen in the Book of Job.  This is a mysterious book that deals head-on with the question of suffering.  It shows us that God is in control of everything, including evil. In it, Job questions God, and says something along these lines to his accusers… “I am suffering.  I haven’t done anything really wrong.  Therefore God is unfair”

God eventually answers Job out of the storm, but He only gives him a partial answer. Because of Jesus today we can see the big picture behind God’s purposes while Job couldn’t.

I think that we are all “Job” – we are in the suffering story and often we struggle to see any rhyme or reason in it.  However, when we meet God face to face everything, I believe, will click into place.  But how do we live in the meantime?

Job senses his need of a person to help with his suffering, a friend, an advocate, and a mediator, someone to represent him, someone to help him, someone to get alongside him.

Now, finally, here comes the good news for all of us experiencing suffering. God didn’t leave us (as we deserve) to the consequences of our own sin and to deal with suffering on our own.  He intervened with a rescue mission to offer us a way out of suffering.  And that rescue mission involved God himself suffering.

The four Gospels show us how God in the form of His Son Jesus suffered.  This Son was born as a Jew into an occupied territory, the child of a refugee teenage mother, who goes on to be unjustly accused and tried by a powerful and corrupt system of collaborators and Roman oppressors.

So the pain of suffering and injustice is not ignored or swept over by the Bible.  It is a prominent concern in both Old and New Testaments, and a significant focus of the ministry of Jesus.

But as we heard in our reading from Peter we are told to rejoice because of our sufferings.  Let me say that again, so I can check myself even as I read it!  We are, Peter says, to rejoice because of our sufferings, (v.12-13). Why?  Because fiery trials are designed to test us by proving to ourselves and to others the genuineness of our faith.  As we endure, what we believe becomes more precious to us. So rejoice. 

Secondly, we are not to be ashamed of our sufferings.  Privately we are to rejoice because of them, publicly we are not to be ashamed of them.  Instead we are to consider ourselves blessed to suffer as a Christian because then the Spirit of glory and of God rests on us.

Peter says if you want to see someone upon whom the Spirit of glory actually rests, don’t look to their successes, look to their struggles and see how they are enabled to endure.  Your endurance is evidence that God is at work; He is near, even resting upon you.

Finally, Peter says we are not simply to rejoice and consider ourselves blessed because of our suffering. Instead it ought to make us fearfully entrust our own souls to God in the midst of it. This is completely in keeping with Peter’s theology of grace.  We are unconditionally loved but this should never lead us to presume on the lover.  Verses 17-18 are ultimately intended to point out the end of all those who oppose God and his people; they shall not be saved, no matter how strong they look today.

You see God is the faithful Creator who cares for all who take refuge in Him, but He is also the undeniable, unassailable judge, and here Peter says His judgement has already begun.  What? Where? Where are we to see God’s judgment today?  Peter says among those who profess His name.  It is in God’s household.  But why?  Why is God seated in judgement over the church?  Well, His judgement is seen on the sufferers who turn away from Him.  Those who do this are exposed as having shallow roots.  This is why suffering is to take on a refining edge, to cause all who call upon God out of a pure heart to entrust themselves more and more to him.  Suffering acts like a great wedge that is driven into the church, sometimes with small taps, at other times with great heavy blows, separating the true from the false believer.  “Therefore, let those who suffer according to God’s will entrust their souls to a faithful Creator while doing good” (v.19).

Peter’s uncommon strategies for enduring suffering are of course only echoes of how Jesus Himself endured when He suffered on the cross for us. Not only are we to live by Him, but we are also to live increasingly like Him. Revelation 21 clearly describes our reward for doing this:

“God will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.  And the one sitting on the throne said, “Look, I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:4,5)

In some ways this reminds me of our oldest daughter Rachel.  She was ultra-cautious.  But one day as a small child she fell off her tricycle.  As her father I ran to her, as I could see that it was going to happen, and I sat her on my knee, took care of the wound, and with a tissue wiped away her tears.  She was comforted and soon stopped crying and got back on her tricycle.

Isn’t this an amazing, and indeed staggering, image that we find right at the very end of the Bible.  God himself will ‘sit us on his knee’ and wipe away all our tears and pain.  All suffering and pain and even, I suggest, the memory of suffering, will be removed.  Everything that’s gone wrong will be made right, for evil itself has been defeated and destroyed!

How? Through Jesus’s death on the cross.

Why?  Because He loves us

What should our response to this be? Trust in the suffering servant – the Lord Jesus Christ.

Amen

Based on a sermon first delivered on Sunday 30th August 2020