A Song of Servanthood

From 4th Sunday in Advent, 19th December 2021

Weddings are beautiful and exciting events with an abundance of anticipation.  Arranging them over the last two years or so has been challenging to say the least!  For any wedding there is always a lot to do.  The “who, what, where, how and why” questions all need to be answered.  The bride’s dress needs to be just perfect for her.  The bridesmaids’ dresses are to be considered and ordered.  Flowers need to be ordered, the guest list sorted and invitations sent.  The marriage venue and meetings with the Rector need to be organised.  Don’t forget the registration for gifts at online sites.  Oh, we mustn’t also forget the groom and his entourage have their lists too.  It’s a flurry of excitement all round!

I wonder how Mary felt about her wedding day?  (Luke 1:26-27).  Her pledge of marriage to Joseph was a commitment of love, faith, and loyalty to her future husband.  Was she looking for everything to be “just perfect” when her day came?

After her pledge of marriage, her world turned topsy-turvy.  Everything changed!  Luke tells us (Luke 1:26-38) that an angel appeared to Mary with an announcement from God.  She had been selected as the entrusted woman to give birth to the Messiah of Israel… and the whole world.  This news must have flashed violently through her mind… did she think that this would occur after she was married to Joseph?  As the angel kept speaking, her mind began to comprehend that Gabriel was not talking about after she was married, but that she was going to become pregnant before the wedding!  Luke states that Mary was greatly troubled at his words and unsure of what he meant.  Being a faithful and spiritual Jewish woman, she wasn’t sure how this would happen.  We sense her confusion as Luke recorded the conversation, “How will this be since I am a virgin?” (Luke 1:34).

Gabriel gave her the specifics:

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the most high will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God…for no word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1:35-36).

Her response should be the response of every faithful follower of God…

“I am the Lord’s servant…May your word to me be fulfilled” (Luke 1:38).

As time passed Mary visits her relative Elizabeth who lived in the hill country of Judea.  Did she go there because there would be no prying eyes?  Did she need someone to confide in, get wise counsel from someone she could trust?

As we heard, when Mary entered Elizabeth’s house, the baby inside of Elizabeth kicked and made her feel good about all that was happening; the Holy Spirit convicted her of the rightness of all that was going on and in the excitement the Holy Spirit gave her the words to say… 

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear…Blessed is she who has believed that the Lord would fulfil his promises to her!” (Luke 1:40-45).

This spontaneous blessing from Elizabeth was an enormous source of encouragement to Mary for she then bursts into a song of happiness and praise, a song we know as the Magnificat.

So what does this song, full of happiness mean?  It has been said that the essentials of happiness in life are something to do, someone to love, and something to hope for.

Yet we know that Mary’s life will be like riding a rollercoaster!  As a young wife and mother she is exiled and homeless, she’ll see her son die, and then miraculously raised from the dead!  But her song shows that as God’s servant she has a deep abiding happiness in God. Do we..?

This happiness enables Mary to glorify God (Luke 1:46-51).  The song infers that God had first place in Mary’s life.  It came from deep within her soul and spirit and rose to her lips as she gave glory to the redeemer of life.

Giving God glory is far more than a sentimental expression of feeling.  It is the absolute knowledge and certainty that we glorify God for His redemptive act in our lives.  His redemptive act comes through the whole Christ event.

John in his first letter clearly states that God’s redemptive act was part of God’s original act of salvation. 

“That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched — this we proclaim concerning the Word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us…And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ” (1 John 1:1-3).

This plan is continued through the birth of Jesus.

“The Holy Spirit will come on you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. So the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

Through faith in Jesus we can see how this plan unfolds.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him” (John 3:16-17). 

It comes to culmination at Calvary and the cross of Jesus.  By shedding His blood on the cross, Jesus took our punishment that we rightly deserved because of our sinfulness, and offered us His righteousness.  As we give Jesus our sin and its accompanying death penalty He gives us His righteousness and abiding presence.

“He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness…” (1 Peter 2:24). 

The ultimate victory of God’s plan comes through the resurrection of Jesus.  Without the resurrection, Jesus would only be a martyr, but because of the resurrection He is our Saviour!  In truth “the resurrection is God’s ‘Amen!’ to Christ’s statement, ‘It is finished’” (Lewis Johnson).

So, Mary’s song glorifies God — a song all of us should be singing during this season!

Finally, Mary’s song is one of faith (Luke 1:54-56).

It has been written that,

“Some generations are more aware of what they have achieved than of what they have inherited, forgetting that the heritage makes the achievement possible.”

How true these words are?  I am eternally grateful for the love, support and prayers of the many who have shaped my faith, my call to ordination and my ministry.  Their names mean everything to me for they taught me the rudiments of faith and helped bring me to maturity.  They have stood shoulder to shoulder with me throughout my life, during the good times and bad.

I’m sure many have helped formulate your faith.  Like Mary, think about those people and thank God for what they helped instil into your heart, life and work.

Mary’s song is an amazing love song.  She loved God and her son, despite the sword that would pierce her own soul!  The ultimate virtue of servanthood is being able to show unending love to those around you.  Life for Christians is all about us instilling that unending love in everyone around us, it is not for us to hold on to.  This love comes from our God-given happiness, it comes from us glorifying God in all we do and it comes from us having faith in Jesus, even if you think that your faith is as small as a mustard seed.

As Christmas approaches let us as servants of the Lord daily praise God.

Living thoughts

Read Luke 1:39-55.  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. Mary’s song shows that as God’s servant she has a deep abiding happiness in God. Do you?
  2. What is this quote saying to you about today’s world?

“Some generations are more aware of what they have achieved than of what they have inherited, forgetting that the heritage makes the achievement possible.”

  • Call to mind those who have helped you formulate your faith.  Spend time thanking God for all that they helped instil into your heart, life and work.

Digging deeper into God’s Word

Mary, a servant of the Lord, spontaneously sang a song of praise to God for His faithfulness. 

Read Mary’s song (Luke 1:46-51) and/or some Psalms of praise, and invite God to lead you throughh His Holy Spirit to spontaneously sing a song of praise (you could just write something or speak something out) to God for all He has done for you.

Prayer Response

Oh Lord, by the power of your Holy Spirit, enable me to live a holy and righteous life so I represent your Son Jesus Christ here on earth in a way that brings glory to your name.

Help me to walk with you in holiness and righteousness so that I will fulfil my destiny and the purpose of my existence.

Lord of righteousness, in this world that is full of violence, selfishness, murder and other evil deeds, teach me the path of holiness, and engrave me to live like Christ in words, thoughts and deeds.

Lord, teach me your word and make it easy to apply it to my life so that I will see goodness all the days of my life.

Lord, give me the spirit of humility so that I will be able to walk with you in holiness.

Lord, engrace me to keep your commandments and take iniquity far away from me, in Jesus name.  Amen.

Father, I have decided to walk and live by faith.  I’ve made my choice. By faith I believe Your Word.  I am living in two realms at the same time. I am in the earth and I am seated at Your right hand, in heaven, with Christ Jesus, at the same time!  Through me the two realms converge on a daily basis. Like Jesus did when He was in the earth, I bring heaven down! Your Kingdom has come. Your will shall be done.  It’s going to happen on earth as it is in heaven, and it’s going to happen through me! I enter this day determined to make Kingdom impact in every meeting, conversation and activity I engage in today, because my life brings the heaven and earth together!  I am an agent of supernatural change! I declare this by faith.

In Jesus’ name. Amen.

All Souls

Based on Ephesians 1:15-23

15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[a] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.

There is a true story about a student who trialled for his college football team. He wasn’t really very good. But the coach noticed that there was something unique about him he had such an irrepressible spirit and contagious enthusiasm.  Because of this the coach had him as an encouragement to the team.  So he was there on the bench, week in, week out.  he never got a game, but his presence was so valuable.

Whenever his father would come to visit him, they would always be seen walking together, arm in arm. To those observing this was a visible indication of the exceptional bond of love that existed between them. They were also seen every Sunday going to and from the university chapel. It was clear that theirs was a deep and mutually shared Christian faith.

Sadly, one day the student’s father died and a few days after his father’s funeral, the student returned to college. His return coincided with the biggest game of the season. The coach welcomed the student back and asked, “Is there anything I can do for you? And to the coach’s astonishment, the student said, “Let me start the game on Saturday.” The coach was completely taken by surprise. He thought to himself, “I can’t let him start. He’s not good enough.” But he remembered his promise to help and said, “All right, you can start the game.” But again, he thought, “I’ll leave him in the game for a while and then substitute him.” To everyone’s surprise; especially the coach’s the student played an inspired game, and his team won.

The coach approached the student and said, “What got into you?” The student replied, “You remember when my father would visit me here at college and we would spend a lot of time together walking arm in arm around college? My father and I shared a secret that nobody around here knew anything about. You see, my father was blind … and today was the first time he ever saw me play.”

When the eyes of our hearts are enlightened, we are able to play over our heads in the game of life and see the purposes, power and love of God. This student knew that his father had crossed over to a better place. A place where everyone is able to see with the eyes of their hearts, and no longer need to see with the eyes in their heads.

Paul in his letter to the Ephesians tells us things we can know by seeing through the eyes of our hearts: first, “the hope to which he has called” (v18) us; second, “the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints” (v18).  Hope and inheritance – two important gifts that Jesus left with us when he “crossed over.”

You see by Jesus’ sacrifice, we have been spared and given hope. We don’t know the number of days we have left on this earth before we ourselves “cross over.” But whatever that number might be, God, the glorious Father, wants us to see that number as a gift.

Jesus calls us to live in the hope of the cross, and living like that, we have nothing to lose. Because living or dying, we have hope. Hope for today, and for tomorrow. Hope for here, and hope for there, with Jesus, on the other side. Faith in God helps us to this with the eyes of our heart. Then through the eyes of our heart we can see the riches of God’s glorious inheritance among the saints.

All followers of Jesus have already been named in a will that makes us all rich, and most of the time we don’t even think about it.  If we look at life through the eyes of our hearts, things look different. Including what makes a person successful, what makes a person wealthy, particularly what makes a person healthy. These all look different through the eyes of the heart.

The worst disability is when your heart becomes blinded, and you can no longer see the riches that God has heaped upon you.  The truth is this: we are all wealthy people because we have inherited the riches that Jesus has left to us. They are riches that can only be seen through the eyes of your heart.

This helps us to see that God has no limits. You see God’s power is immeasurable. Why? Because He cares about what happens to one little being on one little planet in one large solar system in one enormous galaxy!

That’s the core of Christianity… that this great and powerful God who created all that exists, further than the eye can see (unless it’s the eye of your heart, that is), still cares about you. You may feel like one unique snowflake in the midst of a snowstorm, but God, the powerful and glorious Father, cares about what happens to you and me.

Jesus, just as powerful and just as almighty, was sent here to teach us something about God’s wonder. Jesus was sent here to live and to die so that one day we might be able to join Him in another place. Jesus, just passing through, shows us that there is more than meets the eye, even the eye of your heart.

We are, in reality, all ‘just passing through’. So as you continue to pass through, remembering those who have gone ahead of us, I pray that you might see as God sees with the eyes of your heart.

As you do this you will know the hope of Jesus, to which God has called us all, a hope that enables us to enjoy the riches of His glorious inheritance so that as the student in the illustration did we live with the eyes of our hearts enlightened by the immeasurable greatness of God’s loving life-giving power.

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.


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.


Jesus and the Cushion!

Does this happen to you..? You read something familiar, something you have read many times before, but suddenly out of nowhere a word, a phrase or sentence jumps off the page and hits you in the face, stopping you in your tracks!  Well as I prepared for today and read the Mark passage, that’s what happened to me.  It is a familiar account of Jesus’ life, mentioned in Matthew (Matthew 8:23-27) and Luke (Luke 8:22-25) also.

It’s a typical day in the life of Jesus.  He has had a full day of teaching a crowd by a lake.  At the end of the day Jesus said, “Let’s go over to the other side.”  So, Jesus and the disciples climbed into a boat and headed out.  It’s not clear who’s boat this is.  What happens next is something that a friend of mine experienced when they were visiting the Holy Land and took a trip in a small boat on to the Sea of Galilee.  A storm came up.  Not being an experienced boatman, it was a frightening experience for him.  He survived, and now he knows what the disciples went through.  Yet the disciples were capable fishermen, familiar with this bit of water.  Why did they wake Jesus, screaming over the noise of the wind and water, “Do you not care about us, at all?!”  Fear gets it grip on the best of us.

Jesus got up, told the storm to settle down, and in an instant the wind and the waves died down.  Now the wind can die down suddenly, but when it is blowing over water the waves normally take a while to settle down!  Then in the eerie quiet Jesus said, “Why were you so afraid?  Do you still have no faith?”  Terrified, the disciples asked each other, “Who is this?  Even the weather obeys him.”

To many this is a familiar account in Jesus’ life.  But something jumped out at me…. I noticed the cushion in Mark’s gospel. “Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion.” (Mark 4:38).  How many times have I heard or read about Jesus and the storm and never noticed the cushion?  Neither Matthew nor Luke mention it.

For the last year we have been living through chaos.  Who knows when this chaos will end?  And what is chaos but the unexpected storm? The paralysing fear “of waves sweeping over the boat” (Matthew) or that you are “swamped and in great danger” (Luke). Where is Jesus whilst this chaos is going on?  Sleeping… on a cushion.

In the past, when I read this story, I identified with the disciples.  In the midst of chaos, I can bail water, panic, and scream with the best of them.  As I reflected on this situation I felt Jesus say, “What if the cushion isn’t just for me?  It is for you too.  Will you join me on the cushion when chaos churns?”

It seems absurd, doesn’t it? It is fine for Jesus to sleep during chaos; He is, after all, Jesus, the Son of God!  But still my mind was saying, “I should be doing something to help alleviate the chaos”!  Then I sensed Jesus saying, “It was not God asleep, it was the very human form, the man Jesus, asleep on the cushion.  Calm can be a human response to chaos.”

Psalm 131 at 3 verses long in the NIV Bible is titled “Trust and Contentment.  Quiet trust in God is the basis for our contentment.”  It also has a title “A song of ascents”.  From a Biblical point of view ascent is used to indicate that a person is moving closer to God.  David, the author, is writing about how he is moving closer to God.  A baby in the arms of a mother demands to be fed regularly, but after weaning the child is glad just to be with the mother, resting trustfully in her love.  The Bible pictures God’s care for us as a mother, or father’s love. (See Deut. 1:31; Isaiah 46:3; 49:15; Hosea 11:3-4).

I think in this Psalm God is reinforcing His heart for us in chaos.  Jesus is inviting us to sit with him on the cushion, for when we do this with Him we will find calm in the middle of chaos.  It’s worth marking this Psalm in your Bible to be read regularly.

The story of Jesus and the storm, and Psalm 131 seem to go together.  Jesus calmed and quieted the storm (wind and waves), and then He asked the disciples why they were afraid.  Did they have so little faith?  Psalm 131 tells us that David calmed and quieted himself and then asked Israel to put their hope in the Lord.

Both refer to calm and quiet.

Both point to faith and hope – in the Lord.

Both create space for chaos, be it an unexpected storm, or matters that are too great for us to understand.

Both show that calm can be a response to chaos.

Mark could have easily left out the cushion.  Like Matthew or Luke, he could have simply said, “Jesus was sleeping” which would have still stood out as an unusual response to a violent storm.  But he added the detail about the cushion.

David tells us he has calmed and quieted himself.

Too often, we think we need the storm to stop for us to be quieted and calm.  But part of the good news Jesus came to proclaim is that external circumstances do not have the right to dictate internal responses.  Of course we will still be influenced by what is going on around us in life.  We will still be rocked by the storms.  Jesus did not levitate in the boat, separated from the reality of the storm around him.

Having emotions in chaotic situations is good and a normal response.

Dealing with chaotic situations is good and a normal response.

Being calm in chaotic situations is also good and the calming of the storm event in Jesus’ life helps us to see that being calm in chaotic situations is the normal response that Jesus is looking for us to have.  Jesus is asking you, “Will you join me on the cushion when chaos churns?”

Time to think

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

Digging into God’s Word

Re-read Psalm 131 and Mark 4:35-41 and ask God to show you what it is that He wants you to learn about Him through these words.

If hard things in life could be thought of as storms, what is the worst storm you have ever experienced?  What is the most recent storm you have faced?

How did you get through these storms?

Have you ever gone to God when you have been experiencing a storm in your life?  If it made a difference, how did it make a difference?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

Are you ever annoyed when it looks like God is sleeping and ignoring the situation that has “swamped” you and threatens to drown you?

Why do you think the disciples wake Jesus up?

Did they want Him to calm the storm or to take cover?

In what areas of your life are you tempted to respond with fear rather than faith?

Prayer Response

Dear Jesus,

You are so good to us.  When we face life’s storms, thank You for being beside us and giving us peace.  Sometimes we don’t know what to do when we face these difficult times in our lives, but how good it is to know that You are waiting for us to come to You.  We don’t want to face these storms alone.  Open our eyes, Jesus, to the places where we need to let You help us, guide us and change us. 

We long to live our lives in an ever closer relationship with You.  Come into our storms and give us our Heavenly Fathers peace and love that we need to live each day as His sons and daughters.

Amen.


Freed from the past

For many of us it is wonderful to have something new.  Maybe it is new clothes, shoes or handbag.  Maybe it is a new tool, you know the one that you’ve never had, but once you’ve got it you feel good because you know that when that job comes around you’ll have the right tool!  During the year we end up with new things; Christmas, on our birthday, wedding anniversary, at the beginning of a New Year with calendars, diaries and New Year resolutions.  We all like new things, and so does God. 

This is His instruction to the exiled people in Babylon through the prophet Isaiah.  As I re-read these verses the other day I was struck by how relevant they are for us now as we emerge from “lockdown”.

“Forget the former things, do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! 

Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 

I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland”

(Is 43:18-19)

Today I believe that these words help us avoid the trap of old mind-sets on how we have done things in the past.  I believe that as we emerge from lockdown, God through His Spirit, is initiating new things for us to do in our lives, church, community and world.

Like the Jews in exile, whom this is said to, we too easily harp back to the “good ole days”.  We romanticise the past.  The Jews were thinking back to the days of Israel’s successes, of the awesome temple worship and religious feasts, and their powerful kings.

Calling the idealised past to mind stirs up nostalgia and invites comparisons, leading to discouragement and desires to return to the sacred beginnings or traditions that held power.  The Lord prohibits this.  It is a distraction that keeps us looking backwards rather than forwards.

The way of God is to start fresh… yet we can so easily be held captive by our past.  Past things we’ve done.  The world is cruel when people don’t let us change ~ a poor reputation can haunt us.  One of the problems with the internet is that things don’t always disappear, unflattering pictures can stay alive for years!  A disproportionate number of online reviews are negative.  Even if action is taken to rectify the problem the review does not change.

“Forget the former things…” God says.  I think this is to include both the bad and the good.  “Do not dwell on the past…” therefore, do not live in the past. 

“Forget the former things” also included Israel’s individual and corporate failures of idolatry, rebellion, refusals to pay attention to the prophets.  When I focus on my failures, I can easily despair over things that I can’t go back and re-do.  It is important to carefully discern how things went wrong, to learn from past mistakes so as to not repeat them.  But the replaying of failures must come to an end; otherwise regrets, remorse and discouragement will result.  To resist replaying our failures God calls us to honest confession and repentance, the receiving of His forgiveness and choosing to listen to His voice now, today.

“Former things” can also include past hurts and traumas that have wounded and crippled us, causing us to see ourselves as victims.  Israel’s past traumas are called “oppression” (Is 52:4) and “former devastations” (Is 61:4).  Blame, resentment, bitterness, and hatred towards those who have harmed us can invade our lives.  False guilt, shame, self-hatred, and despair can also then become installed when we listen to, and internalise accusing voices.

Rather, we must learn to identify and carefully name offenses, uncovering the wounds to the healing light and cleansing waters of Jesus Christ.  This will help us to engage in the process of grieving, lamenting, and receiving God’s healing and comfort, through the transforming power of His beautiful life-giving forgiveness.

At the beginning of the passage, God calls himself “your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel” and describes the destruction of the Babylonian perpetrators and the liberation of the oppressed using the language of Exodus from Egyptian slavery.

The Lord makes “a way through the sea, and a path through the mighty waters.”  The chariots, horses, army and mighty men “they lay there, never to rise again,” writes the prophet.  Here God is stating His commitment to effectively addressing injustices that traumatise, rather than overlooking them.  I believe in this He is calling people to forget about past atrocities and traumas, for He can be trusted 100% about liberation and life.

 “See, I am doing a new thing!  Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”  An important word here is “See.”  It’s an invitation from the Lord Himself.  The next phrase makes it clear God is already doing something new ~ “Now it springs up…”  This is telling us it is growing!  God loves doing new things.  God does new things.  He is making a path for us through the wilderness of Covid-19.  He is causing the stream to flow through the desert.

God’s promise of something new is underway, both in the future and even immediately – now!  “Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?”  This evokes God’s original creation (Gn 2:9), righteousness (Is 45:8), the living word (Is 55:10); recovery (Is 58:8) and newness of life (Is 61:11). 

Waiting and watching for the new here and now requires active faith, described earlier in Isaiah 43:10-11:

“You are my witnesses,” declares the Lord, “and my servant whom I have chosen, so that you may know and believe me and understand that I am he. Before me there was no God formed, and there will be none after me. “I, even I, am the Lord, and apart from me there is no saviour.”

In order to become an active witness of the new work of God in the midst of life today, we must surrender and cooperate with God for we are chosen so that we “might know and believe and understand” that the Lord (identified as Jesus in the New Testament) is true and real – the One – and that there’s no other saviour options.

Faith in Jesus is required if we are to identify and attune ourselves to the “something new” that’s springing up. This is how we receive the mind of Christ, rather than relying on our own way of thinking.

There’s a familiar phrase: “In order to go where we’ve never been, we have to do something we’ve never done.” If we want to grow into an ever-increasingly closer walk with God, individually and collectively, we are going to have to allow God to lead us in places we’ve never been before; God is already at work whether we see it or not.  Accept the invitation to SEE, pray for open eyes, ask God to reveal His ways and what He is doing.  There is a wilderness, but God is building a path.  There is a desert, but a stream is flowing.  God loves doing new things.  God loves showing us new places.  God loves using new methods.  Open our eyes Lord, to what you are already doing among us and in our personal life.

May we allow God to bless us all with active faith so we will become more aware of His leading, for as we follow His leading we can fully participate in His new movement for these times.

Time to think

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

Digging into God’s Word

Re-read Isaiah 43:14-21

What is this saying to you about how God wants you to move forward from this time as Covid-19 restrictions are further lifted?

In the light of this week’s sermon (text above) consider the following…

  • Is God showing you past mistakes, or problems? 
  • Is He asking you to sort them out and then to forget them so you can move forward in His transforming power? 

Spend time in prayer asking God to show you what He wants you to confess and so be set free to move forward.

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

God’s promise is always for something new, something fresh… He is always calling us to live in the now, in the present.  How is this passage warning us not to think that the answer is to recapture good things from the past?

Prayer Response

Spend time praying that you will become freed up from focusing on the past to perceive the new works that God has prepared for us in this season.  God is calling us to notice and step onto the pathway He is making in the wastelands, and drink from the rivers in the desert.


Abiding in Christ’s love

John 15:9-17

We’re now in the last few days of the Easter season.  We’re fast approaching Ascension Day (when we celebrate Jesus rising up to Heaven), and Pentecost, (when we celebrate the outpouring of the Holy Spirit).  So, in our gospel passage for today we heard words of Jesus at the Last Supper.  The language of this discourse is perfectly simple; the style repetitive.  I encourage you to read it through slowly, several times  If you do this I think that you will find that it moves in circles, or, perhaps better, in spirals.

Why is this?  Because it’s all divinely revealed wisdom.  Here is unveiled for us the theology of the Holy Trinity, and the meaning and purpose of human life.  We can never come to an end of reading these words of Jesus, meditating on them, wondering at them, rejoicing in them; for they are both life for us and our glory.  In these words, we find a secret; we find the value of life!  We are to pass this secret on; yet the secular world has no understanding of it whatever.

God is great!  Last week we were able to use the first 8 verses of chapter 15 to help us prayerfully think about the shape God wants His Church to be here as we come out of lockdown.  These verses can also help us with this discernment process.  Last week I spoke about remaining/abiding in Jesus; this week we’re looking at how we are to remain/abide in His love!  Only God could orchestrate His Word to work like this for us here.

In these verses we have Jesus opening His heart to His intimate friends.  Jesus speaks about love – (ἀγαπη). This is agape love, the highest, most powerful kind of love, meaning the love one feels for humanity, for God, and for human connection.  The word occurs 31 times in this final discourse of Jesus.  The love He speaks of is not trivial or sentimental.  On the contrary, it’s too big for us.  In principle this love is utterly beyond our comprehension, although precisely this is what we are called to enter into and live by.  Its source and reference point is the love by which the eternal Father loves the eternal Son.  He loves the Son so much that He gives Him everything He Himself is, retaining only the relation of paternity.

But this love entered another mode when the eternal Son became Incarnate.  Jesus speaks of His Father’s love for Him, not just because of His identity as the Son, but also because as man He perfectly abides in His Father’s love, and perfectly fulfils His commandments.  That is, Jesus lives permanently in the presence of His Father, loving and worshipping Him without the least sinful thought or action ever interrupting their loving communion.  And He obediently and perfectly fulfils His mission, which is to bring us into the circle of this Trinitarian love.

Jesus pours out His love on us not only divinely but also humanly; so much so that He lays down His life, and pours out His blood for us, in order that we might become, with Him, children of God.  Reflect on that for a moment, – Jesus did all that He did in order for us to become, with Him, Children of God!

The Holy Spirit is not explicitly mentioned in the words of today’s Gospel, but I think we can sense His presence.  As the Father has loved me, says Jesus. The Holy Spirit is in Person the love which the Father eternally pours out to the Son, and which the Son eternally pours back to the Father.  So I have loved you.  As the man Jesus was filled with the Holy Spirit, so in that Spirit He also loves us.  And the ultimate term of His love for us was to give us the Holy Spirit.

According to John, Jesus handed over the Spirit at the moment of His death.  Then on Easter Day He breathed that same Spirit in power upon His Apostles.  Then He says Abide in my love.  It is by the Holy Spirit that the love of Jesus abides perpetually and actively within us.  And also it’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that we are able to abide in that love.  So love is the Holy Spirit in action!

How do we abide in Christ’s love?  He gives us both gift and command.  The gift of the Holy Spirit puts love into our hearts where there was none before.  Yet also the grace of the Holy Spirit enables us, if we wish, to return that love with our own love, personally, freely, actively.  After all, this is the task of our Christian lives.  We carry out this task in the first place by living in faith.  Such divine love abiding in us should free us from sin.  So sin could be defined as having no-love, or as any obstacle (item, attitude) that we put in the place of Jesus’ love for us.

Without abiding/remaining in Christ’s love we would find it so hard to love others, especially to love God.  If we tried to do this by ourselves we would have to have immense strength, immense determination and perseverance.  We simply can’t do this by ourselves, hence why we so easily act spitefully, angrily, selfishly, proudly, lustfully.  But by abiding in Jesus’ love we can cultivate humility and purity of heart.  These qualities lead us into bearing much fruit.

What is the fruit of love?  I think that it is simply more love.  We bear fruit for God when we respond to His love by loving Him and one another; when abiding in that love we live as befits the children of God.  Abiding in Christ’s love then must mean never ceasing from remaining in His Word, from prayer, from adoration of God, of thanksgiving toward God, of interceding for others, and from acting out of God’s love for others.  Abiding in His love also means standing ready to defend the Christian faith, even when all around us in society are saying that a certain type of behaviour/ideology is okay, we are to stand up for Jesus and God’s design for His world.  Many do this and experience being crucified (not necessarily physical crucifixion), all in the name of abiding/remaining in Jesus’ love.

The love of Christ as described here, is a terrible thing.  It demands absolutely everything, and must cost us everything.  Sometimes people are delighted with this love, and embrace it wholeheartedly; but then somehow lose sight of it, and refuse to go any further towards it.  Having given so much, they will give no more.  This is always sad, because in so far as we give, so much the more do we receive – grace upon grace – and as our love is called upon, and exercised, and stretched, so is it purified, and deepened, and widened, and strengthened, until finally it flows easily, spontaneously, naturally, with all the joy of the Holy Spirit.  To reach this state is the highest conceivable good for us.  Human aspiration cannot go beyond that.  To live according to this agape love is to be perfectly happy.  To live without it is to lack the beatitude for which we were created.

At the Last Supper, along with His new commandment of love, Jesus also gave us the Sacrament of love.  Here, ever and anew, we have immediate access to His sacrificial death, which is the perfect expression of His love, and the source from which it flows out on us.  Here then, in this amazing Sacrament, we directly receive, ever and anew, the love Jesus has for us, and also the grace we need to be able to pass on to one another.  Here, by the power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with Jesus and with one another in one Body: for our own infinite good, and for God’s eternal glory.

So over the coming week can I encourage you to re-read this passage from John 15 slowly as I said at the beginning, and as you do this continue to ask God to show you how He sees His Church here – How are we to minister to this community?  What does the mission God is calling us to engage in look like?  God has new plans and purposes for us as we come out of lockdown.  We need to spend time asking Him what they are. 

Alleluia! Christ is risen….

Living thoughts

Digging into God’s word…

Read John 15:9-17 slowly, several times.  Do you notice that it moves in circles?  If you do notice what are these circles?  Is spirals a better way of describing what in going on in this reading?

Digging deeper into God’s Word…

Over the coming week, read and re-read this passage from John 15 slowly.  As you do this continue to ask God to show you how He sees His Church here…

  • How are we to minister to this community? 
  • What does the mission God is calling us to engage in look like? 
  • How is coming out of lockdown going to impact your ministry and mission for Christ’s Church here?

God has new plans and purposes for us as we come out of lockdown.  In your quiet place spend time asking Him what they are. 

When you do this write down what God tells/shows you and forward to me or to Frances Lamb.

Father God, thank you that as your loved children you deem us worthy to be part of the answer for your plans and purposes for your church here.  Thank you for choosing us to live the unique ministry and life that you have ordained for us.  Thank you, Father, for the fruit that we can bear in your name, and may all the glory and honour always go to you.  Amen.

Spirituality of Fund-raising Part 4: Asking

Did you find a quiet place and seek the Lord and ask….

“What of mine is God asking me to be prepared to offer to Him for use in extending His Kingdom here?”

If you did that how did you get on? Any surprises?

Going back a couple of weeks I spoke about the Kingdom of God being our security base because the Kingdom is where God provides for all that we need. It is the supernatural heavenly realm of sufficiency, where we are no longer pulled here and there by anxiety about having enough.  And this amazing Kingdom of God is all about relationship.  So how we relate to an eternal loving God who has come down to us, is all important if we’re going to see fund-raising as ministry.  This then begs the questions: What is your relationship with money like? Are you free from it?

If we have a strong security base with God then we’re likely to trust God, and step out in faith, feeling free to share the Good News of Jesus.  The same is true when asking for money.  If our security is totally in God, then we are free to ask for money.  Only when we are free from money can we ask freely for others to give it.  This is the conversion to which fund-raising ministry calls us.  Already we have seen that many people have a hard time asking others for money because money is a taboo subject.  Why is it a taboo subject?   Because when our own insecurities are connected with it, we are not free.

Also, if we’re jealous of the rich, and envious of their money we probably don’t have a free and healthy relationship with money ourselves.  In the same vain, we are not free if we feel anger towards those who have money.  We may believe that they have made their money in a dishonest way.  So, if rich people make us jealous or angry, we reveal that money in some way or other is still our master, and so we are not ready to ask for it.  It’s not honouring to God at all if we ask for money out of anger or jealousy, especially if we suppress these feelings behind polite words.  Requests for funds under such attitudes may well not be successful.  It may well put the person in a defensive position.   As I have already said in all our asking, it’s best to see it as an opportunity to draw someone into responding to the invitation to journey with us on the road of faith.  We do this by sharing the vision God has given us.

But once we are prayerfully committed to placing our whole trust in God, and we are concerned only for the Kingdom; once we have learned to love the rich for who they are rather than what they have; and once we believe that we have something of such great value to give them, then it will be easier to ask someone for a large sum of money.  We are free to ask for whatever we need with the confidence that we will get it.  That is what the gospel says: “Ask, and it will be given to you; …knock, and the door will be opened to you” (Matt.  7:7, NIV).   In all that we are doing, whether asking for money or not, we’re to do it out of faith in God, believing we can find God, that He hears us, and responds to us.  God doesn’t leave us hanging and waiting for His high five in return!   We’re not to give up.  Instead we are to be persistent, keep asking, for if we’re asking in line with God’s plans and purposes we can trust that the Spirit of Christ, who is guiding us, is also guiding the person we’re asking.

If for some reason a person says “No,” to our request then out of our security base we will be free to respond gratefully.  Perhaps their financial resources are more urgently needed elsewhere.  Maybe they are not yet ready to make a real commitment to our vision.  Perhaps we need to listen more deeply to the Spirit so that our asking will be clearer and our vision more attractive.  If we approach potential donors in the Spirit of Christ, we can do so with an attitude, and in an atmosphere, of confident freedom.  “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Gal. 5:1, NIV).  This freedom is freedom from self.  In Christ we are now free to do, with Him, what we considered impossible to do before.

Asking people for money is giving them the opportunity to put their resources at the disposal of the Kingdom.  So to raise funds is to offer people the chance to invest what they have in the work of God.  Whether they have much or little is not as important as the possibility of making their money available to God for Him to use to extend His Kingdom here.

This is what we see in the feeding of the 5000.  With only five loaves of bread and two fish, Jesus was showing us how God’s love can multiply the effects of our generosity (Matt. 14:13-21).  What He was initially given seemed completely insufficient, but in His hands it became more than enough.  We often feel that our contribution to Jesus is meagre, but He can use and multiply whatever we give Him, whether it is talent, time or treasure.  The truth of this miracle is that when we give all that we have to Jesus our resources are multiplied, not for us, but for God.  God’s Kingdom is the place of abundance where every generous act overflows its original bounds and becomes part of the unbounded grace of God at work in the world (2 Cor. 9:10-15).  God has given us resources to use and invest for Him.  Paul gets us to think about seed; they are not foolishly thrown away, hidden, or devoured.  Instead seed is sown in the ground and tended until it produces its harvest, which in turn enables farmers to produce both food and also more crops.  So when we invest in God’s work, He will provide us with even more to give in His service. 

This brings spiritual rewards to us who give generously to God’s work.  It’s unlikely that we will become rich through our giving, but those who receive our gifts are helped, for in giving we are blessing others.  In return we too will be blessed by our loving, generous, and gracious Heavenly Father.

When we truly enjoy God’s unlimited generosity,

we will be grateful for what our brothers and sisters receive.

Jealousy will simply have no place in our hearts.

“Bread for the Journey” by Henri Nouwen

Time to think

This is your opportunity to spend time alone with God.  The more time you spend with Him the more you will get to know Him as He reveals more of who He is to your heart, soul and spirit. This time will be personal and wholly unique to your faith journey with Him.

Read again the two passages from Scripture: 2 Corinthians 9:10-15, and Matthew 14:13-21.  Let them speak to you afresh in the light of giving, stewardship and fund-raising as ministry.  As God speaks to you, why not write down in your journal what you sense God is saying to you?

The benefit of writing down your thoughts helps you to check them against Scripture, and then plants them more firmly in your heart and mind than just simply thinking on things.

Can I ask you to consider this question:

Who is God asking you to share His vision for this place with?

Go into a quiet place and invite God to show you how He wants you to respond to this question.

As you ponder on it why not write down your thoughts and share any reflections with others.

Prayer Response

Lord Jesus, teach me to be generous;

teach me to serve you as you deserve,

to give and not to count the cost,

to fight and not to heed the wounds,

to toil and not to seek for rest,

to labour and not to seek reward,

except that of knowing that I do your will.

Amen.                                                             

St. Ignatius Loyola

Summary of Fellowship, Discipleship and Evangelism

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

Why are fellowship, discipleship and evangelism so important?

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

So what have I learnt about fellowship?

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

Hebrews 10:24-25 shares this idea, saying,

And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.  Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

The natural result of koinonia is that there is no fellowship without action.  Hence, we believe that RBR Connections will result in deeper practical pastoral support as well as greater spiritual support. 

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

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

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

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

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

What have I learnt about Discipleship?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What have I learnt about evangelism?

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

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

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

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

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

Ephesians 2:8–9 explains why.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Worry List

Reading: Matthew 6:25-34

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

START A WORRY LIST.

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

THEN TURN YOUR WORRY INTO A PRAYER LIST.

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

NEXT TURN YOUR PRAYER LIST INTO AN ACTION LIST.

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

Why not start right now?

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

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

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

For in the day of trouble

  he will keep me safe in his dwelling;

he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent

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

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

Surely your goodness and love will follow me

    all the days of my life,

and I will dwell in the house of the Lord

    for ever.  (Psalm 23:6)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Chinese Christian told this parable:

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

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

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

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

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