Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 9

The Prayer of Faith

Based on a sermon from Sunday 24th July 2022

James 5:13-20

Since Easter we have been studying the Epistle of James, who is writing to Christians and teaching them what it means to be a mature Christian.  First, we’re to be patient when we find ourselves in testing times.  Second, we’re to practice the truth at all times, and thirdly we’re to have power over the tongue.  We’ve also looked at how we need to have and use Godly wisdom – where our deeds, words and actions are in tune with God’s plan and purpose for us.

Last week we looked at patience in suffering; Christians who are being oppressed.  He urges us to stay patient as we wait.  The day of the Lord, the very same one that our oppressors should be dreading, is one we can look forward to.  It will come.  The Lord is standing at the door and is ready.

In today’s section James focusses on prayer, including that we are to pray and praise God (James 5:13).  Prayer is certainly a high and holy privilege.  Think on this: as God’s children, we can come freely and boldly to His throne and share with Him our needs! 

“Is any of you in trouble?” (v13).  As God’s people going through life, we will endure difficulties that are not the result of sin or the chastening of God.  What should we do when we find ourselves in such trying circumstances?  Well, we’re not to grumble and criticise those who appear to be having an easier time of it (James 5:9); nor should we blame the Lord.  Instead, we should pray, asking God for the wisdom we need to understand the situation and use it to His glory (James 1:5).

No doubt about it, prayer can remove affliction.  But prayer can also give us the grace we need to endure troubles and use them to accomplish God’s perfect will because God can transform troubles into triumphs, as we read in 4:6 “He gives us more grace”.  Jesus prayed in Gethsemane that the cup might be removed, and it was not; yet the Father gave Him the strength He needed to go to the cross and die for our sins.

James indicates that we don’t go through troubles at the same time:  “Is anyone happy? Let him sing songs of praise” (James 5:13).  God balances our lives and gives us hours of suffering and days of singing.  The mature Christian knows how to sing while he is suffering.  (Anybody can sing after the trouble has passed.)  God is able to give “songs in the night” (Job 35:10).  He did this for Paul and Silas when they were suffering in that Philippian jail.  “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and sang hymns to God” (Acts 16:25).

As praying and singing were important elements in worship in the early church, so they should be important to us.  Our singing ought to be an expression of our inner spiritual life.  Our praise should come from the heart (Eph. 5:19) and be motivated by the Holy Spirit (Eph. 5:18).

I do not think that James gave us a blanket formula for healing the sick.  Over the course of my Christian journey I have, with others, prayed for the sick, and sometimes God has given healing.  But other times, He has not seen fit to heal the person.  I remember praying for one person and they received healing, then praying for someone else and they did not!

In verse 15 James states that “the prayer offered in faith will make the sick person well.”  This does not refer to the faith of the sick person, but to the faith of the people praying.  We need to realise that God heals, faith doesn’t, and all prayers are subject to God’s will.  It is also important to realise that our prayers are part of God’s healing process.  That is why God often waits for our prayers of faith before intervening to heal a person.

Christ’s death on the cross has made it possible for us to go directly to God for forgiveness (5:16).  But confessing our sins to each other still has an important place in the life of the church.  So if we have sinned against an individual, we must ask them to forgive us.  If our sin has affected the church, we must confess it publicly.  If we need loving support as we struggle with a sin, we should confess that sin to those who are able to provide that support.  If, after confessing a private sin to God, we still don’t feel His forgiveness, we may wish to confess that sin to a fellow believer and hear him or her assure us of God’s pardon.  In Christ’s kingdom, every believer is a priest to other believers (1 Peter 2:9).

So, the practical lessons from this section must not be overlooked.  For one thing, disobedience to God can lead to sickness.  This was David’s experience when he tried to hide his sins (Ps. 32).  Second, we never sin alone, for sin has a way of growing and infecting others, including the church!  Third, there is a great healing (physical and spiritual) when sin is dealt with, (See Proverbs 28:13)James is being tough here.  In essence he is saying, “Make it a habit to confess your sins to each other”.  So, do not hide sin or delay confession, because our most powerful resource is communion with God through prayer.  The results are often greater than we thought were possible.  Because God’s power is infinitely greater than ours, it only makes sense to rely on it – especially because God encourages us to do so.  Prayer power is the greatest power in the world today.

But how often have you thought that your prayers won’t be answered, or haven’t been answered because you feel that you are not good enough to be in God’s presence and ask?  We look at Biblical characters like Elijah and say, of course God answered his prayers, he was after all a prophet of God!  But listen again to what James says… “Elijah was a man just like us,” (5:17).  In other words, he was not perfect; in fact, right after his glorious victory on Mount Carmel, Elijah became afraid and discouraged and ran away.  But he was a “righteous man,” that is, obedient to the Lord and trusting Him.  God’s promises of answered prayer are for all His children, not just for ones we may call the spiritual elite.  Elijah prayed in faith, for God told him He would send the rain (1 Kings 18:1).  It has been said that prayer is not getting man’s will done in heaven. It’s getting God’s will done on earth (Robert Law).  Elijah was not only believing in his praying, but he was persistent.  “He prayed … and he prayed again” (James 5:17-18).

James concludes his letter with a challenge to his readers: make an attempt to bring back those among you who have wandered from the truth.  He refers to people who were once part of the Christian community but have lost their way.  Perhaps James has in mind believers who became spiritually weak.  Perhaps these were never true believers in Christ, at all, but merely part of the community.  In either case, they’ve wandered away after false ideas.

James doesn’t address how we might accomplish this rescue, only that we should try.  Even reaching out to someone who has wandered from God’s truth, with grace and compassion, is sometimes enough to bring them back into the community.  However we reach out it should be made with great love and concern for their souls.  James is not speaking of condemnation, judgement, or arrogance. He’s speaking of a sincere interest – a loving effort – to help someone else.

So these final verses that close out the letter are encouraging those who believe in God to show it.  This is most readily shown by praying in response to every circumstance.  We should pray for ourselves, praise God, and invite the spiritual leaders of our churches to pray for us when we are sick, or spiritually weak.  Healing will follow; sins will be forgiven.  We should confess sins to each other so we can pray for strength for each other to overcome sin.  Prayer works; God hears and responds.  If we really believe this is true, our behaviour will reflect it.

James’ letter is a very practical one, it’s emphasis is on faith in action.  God calls every believer to serve with compassion and grace, and to live in obedience to His commands.  When we do this, we are able to love one another.  When we show such love we are bringing glory to God as we show that heaven is here on earth.  All of this helps to draw people to Christ so they too find God’s amazing love for themselves.

In a nutshell, James’ letter encourages us to believe in God, place our faith in Him, and place our trust in Him.  Such belief, faith and trust needs hands and feet if Christ’s church is to grow here, and these hands and feet are yours and mine!

Living thoughts

This is an 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.  Re read the Bible passages above and the sermon before considering these questions…

Digging into God’s word

This brings us to the end of our study of James. His emphasis has been spiritual maturity. This would be a good time for us to examine our own hearts to see how mature we really are. Here are a few questions to assist you:

  1. Am I becoming more and more patient in the testings of life?
  2. Do I play with temptation or resist it from the start?
  3. Do I find joy in obeying the Word of God, or do I merely study it and learn it?
  4. Are there any prejudices that shackle me?
  5. Am I able to control my tongue?
  6. Am I a peacemaker rather than a troublemaker?
  7. Do people come to me for spiritual wisdom?
  8. Am I a friend of God or a friend of the world?
  9. Do I make plans without considering the will of God?
  10. Am I selfish when it comes to money? Am I unfaithful in the paying of my bills?
  11. Do I naturally depend on prayer when I find myself in some kind of trouble?
  12. Am I the kind of person others seek for prayer support?
  13. What is my attitude toward the wandering brother? Do I criticise and gossip, or do I seek to restore him in love?

God doesn’t want you to just grow old—His heart is for you to continually grow in spiritual maturity.

Prayer Response

Lord, we praise you for your straightforwardness.  You make it plain to hearts that want to know what you are saying and foolish to those who just want to fight you.

We thank you for the power in Christ we have to choose peace even when peace is not offered from others.  We always have the choice of how we will react and if we will choose to sow peace or harshness.  May we believe your truth and put it into practice: “A gentle answer turns away wrath but a harsh word provokes anger.”

Give us the strength, wisdom, and courage to sow in peace so we can reap a harvest of righteousness, which reflects your divine character.

In the One who was tortured for our sins, yet still asked for us all to be forgiven, realising we didn’t know what we were doing – Amen.

Remember, Celebrate, Anticipate

Based on a sermon from Sunday 5th June 2022

Isaiah 43:18-19

Forget the former things;

    do not dwell on the past.

19 See, I am doing a new thing!

    Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?

I am making a way in the wilderness

    and streams in the wasteland.

It’s good to remember the past, but we are called to anticipate the future, and God calls us to do this with faith in Him.  This is a fascinating and instructive switch between the previous two verses of Isaiah 43 (16-17) and Isaiah 43:18-19.  In the two verses before (Isaiah 43:16-17), Israel was told to look to the past by remembering the great things God did for them at the Red Sea.  But then in Isaiah 43:18, they were told, do not remember the former things, nor consider the things of old.  This shows us that there is a sense in which we must remember the past, but only in terms of God’s great work on our behalf.  There is also a sense in which we must forsake and forget the past, with all its discouragement and defeat, and move on to what God has for us now, today and in the future.  We can anticipate the future with faith.

We are to always remember that we have been created and formed by God.  We are no accident, for we are the work of God.  As we are no accident we all belong to God!  Because of this God has something new and exciting for us in our present situation.  So He wants us to be looking expectantly for what He is about to do.  He does not want us to live in defeatism and hopelessness.  Instead we are to be looking for Him to change defeatism and hopelessness, i.e. the desert, from badlands, into a fruitful place, because He will create rivers for us in the desert.   This new thing, will be a new blessing for us!  Sadly, too often we look for God to do for us exactly what He has done for us in the past.  But here in Isaiah, we learn that He wants to do a new thing for us, in a new way. 

Paul, writing to the church in Corinth, told them that if anyone belonged to Christ, then they were made new, the old ways of life have passed away.

“From this time on we do not think of anyone as the world does. It is true that in the past we thought of Christ as the world thinks. But we no longer think of him in that way. If anyone belongs to Christ, then he is made new. The old things have gone; everything is made new! All this is from God. Through Christ, God made peace between us and himself. And God gave us the work of bringing everyone into peace with him.” (2 Corinthians 5:16-18 International Children’s Bible, ICB)

Because our Queen’s faith is central to her life, central to her identity, she lives her life with a strong sense of belonging to God.  The God the Queen worships, our God, is undoubtably the one true God, the first and eternal and all-powerful being (Isaiah 43:10-13).  Her Majesty proclaims that God, through His Son Jesus Christ, has sustained, guided and strengthened her throughout her long reign, and she expects Him to continue in this vain.  But she doesn’t just focus on how God has worked in and through her past, she looks to see what God is doing now and so by faith she anticipates a good future.

This is to be our response.  What is God doing now, today, in this moment in time, here in this place?  You see God is always doing a new thing.  Lamentations 3:22-23 says this,

22 The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases,

    his mercies never come to an end;

23 they are new every morning;

    great is your faithfulness.

The words “they are new every morning”, that’s what gets to me, God’s love is new every morning.  It is always fresh vibrant, exciting, full of life, full of compassion and mercy, never stuck, always moving forward.  What an awesome love! 

The Good News is this; God wants to do something new for you in your life.  Do not get stuck by looking for Him to do the same things that He has done for you in the past, in the same way.  He wants His relationship with you to remain exciting, not stagnate and boring.

So let’s be alert and look expectantly for the NEW things that He desires to bless us with today.  As you do this keep your eyes fixed on Jesus, for in a changing world, we can truly trust our unchanging Lord, for “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and for ever.” (Heb 13:8).

Holiness, Me and the Church – Part 5

Faith and Deed – James 2:14-26

Based on a sermon from 22nd May 2022

Here’s an age-old question:  Can faith with no works save you?  Works and faith have often been at the centre of debate in the church.  So, what exactly is necessary for salvation?

Some groups have gone the legalistic route, trusting in their good works to save them, believing that by strict adherence to rules they can earn favour with God.  Others have said the mind is most important and physical actions aren’t. Therefore, just believe and you will be okay.

It’s a fundamental issue and one that James covers in detail here.  Remember James is a practical book so it is natural he will emphasise the practical side.  Is faith without works of any use?  Can that faith save him?

James gives an illustration to prove his main point (that faith without works is dead).  The example is this.  A person in need comes to you for help.  With smooth words you bless the person and wish them well, sending them on their way.  Judging only by your words it would appear that you have great love, compassion, and mercy for this person.  However, you do nothing tangible to help this person.  They go away exactly the same as they came, – in need.  Your beautiful words did nothing to satisfy their need.

Here’s a rhetorical question: What use is that?  The obvious answer; it is no use.

The response to the situation above is hypocritical.  It would be better to just truthfully say “I won’t help you.  I don’t want to help you.”  The implication is that words are not as important as actions.  Empty words are useless.

So, James is saying that faith without works is dead (17).  This is the point of his previous illustration, and is a major theme of his epistle; Christianity has to be lived out practically in everyday life.

In chapter one, he showed that trials test true faith.  Perseverance in trials is an indicator that a person’s faith is real and that they are truly saved.  Thus, response to trials is test number one.

Test number two is works.  The point is similar to the one at the end of chapter 1 about hearing and doing.  Knowing a lot of things is pointless unless that knowledge changes how you live.

Simply put, this means that a person with real faith will live a changed life.  A person who is genuinely saved will bear fruit.  Jesus taught the same thing.  In Matthew 7:17 Jesus says; “So every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.”

We are to evaluate our own spiritual condition by examining our fruit.  Are you zealous for the Lord?  Are the fruit of the Spirit evidenced in your life?  Do you love sharing the gospel?  Do you delight in studying God’s Word and prayer?  Do you sacrifice things in your own life in order to pursue God?

Those things are evidence that you are a good tree.  On the other hand, going to church, being baptised, joining the choir, praying a prayer, owning a Bible, calling yourself a Christian are not very good indicators of salvation.

Warning!  Not all belief is saving faith (19).  There are some kinds of belief that don’t save.  The demons believe God.  Satan and demons have mostly orthodox doctrine.  They know personally the Father, Son, and Spirit.  That is, they believe in His existence and power.  They certainly know God created the world.  We know they believe in the judgement to come (Luke 8:31).  But they hate God with all of their hearts and fight against Him with every breath even though they know He is real and the Judge.

Demons believe God, but they do not submit to Him; neither do they rest in Him.  So, although they believe God, they do not believe in God, that He is worthy of their adoration and praise.  This verse shows us very clearly that head knowledge doesn’t save.  Even acceptance of the fact that God is true doesn’t save.  One must place their faith in Jesus and submit to Him as Lord in order to be saved.  So, agreement to a list of facts about God is not enough, (Acts 16:31).

As we look at these verses it appears that James may be contradicting Paul’s teachings of justification by faith.  How can we reconcile James’ teaching with Paul’s?  Is he contradicting Paul?  It’s not a necessary disagreement, as this passage actually complements the message of Paul very consistently.  The reason for confusion involves a mistaken view of the biblical definition of “faith.”  Saving faith is not merely agreement; it is trust.  James makes it clear that the “faith” which he says cannot save is mere intellectual belief.  True faith saves, but it also results in works.

James readily acknowledges that salvation is a gift from God (see James 1:17-18) and quotes Genesis 15:6, which says that “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.”  So, it is clear that James does not believe in salvation by works alone and this passage as part of Scripture cannot be teaching that.

So what then is the point?

We know that James is a book stressing practical living and showing us some tests we can apply to see if we are genuinely saved.  In this passage James is emphasising the action that must come out of genuine, living faith.

So which came first, Abraham’s faith or his offering of Isaac?

His faith came first.  He first demonstrated faith many years earlier by obeying God’s call to “go to the country I will show you.” (Genesis 12:1).  Even when God commanded Abraham to sacrifice Isaac he first left his place and travelled to the location to be used for sacrifice.  From the beginning, he believed that God would raise up Isaac from the dead (Hebrews 11:19).  His steadfast belief in God led him to obedience.  So we are saved by faith alone.  But practically speaking, this faith must show itself through action or it is dead.

Then we have another example of Rahab, who demonstrates faith in action, because her works proved that her faith was genuine.

Joshua 2:9-11 tells us:

9 and (Rahab) said to them, ‘I know that the Lord has given this land to you and that a great fear of you has fallen on us, so that all who live in this country are melting in fear because of you. 10 We have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea for you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to Sihon and Og, the two kings of the Amorites east of the Jordan, whom you completely destroyed. 11 When we heard of it, our hearts sank and everyone’s courage failed because of you, for the Lord your God is God in heaven above and on the earth below.’

This is Rahab’s statement of faith.  It shows very clearly that she believed God is the real God of heaven and earth.  She followed this statement with actions that proved that she meant what she said.  She risked her life in order to save the lives of the spies.  In essence she betrayed her own country, people, and idols, because of her faith in the real God.

If Rahab had spoken these words to the spies and then reported them to Jericho’s authority, it would have proved that she still was loyal to her own idols.  It would have proved that her faith in God was not genuine, certainly not strong enough to change her lifestyle or affect her choices.

James said that Rahab was “justified by works.”  These works proved to Israel that she was loyal to Jehovah.  It was on the basis of these works (saving the spies) that she and her family were saved.

Faith and works are two sides of the same coin.  Without faith, Rahab never would have risked her life for strangers.  And without her deeds of protection, her professed faith would have been empty.  As James says in verse 26, “faith without deeds is dead.”

This is a stark warning of the need for personal examination.  Your faith should change how you live your daily life.  Would a neutral party observing your life find any evidence that what you believe is changing how you live life on a day to day basis? 

Living thoughts

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

Read again the sermon and the two passages from Scripture: James 2:14-26 and John 14:23-29, and let them speak to you afresh in light of remaining steadfast to the Gospel.  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.

Digging into God’s Word

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

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

  • Ask God to show you two ways your faith has changed how you live on a day to day basis.
  • Now ask God to show you two more ways that your faith needs to be reflected in your daily life.  Again, give thanks to God for what He shows you and ask Him to give you strength and courage to believe and do, so you live both with faith in Christ and deeds for Christ.

Prayer Response

God, I pray for a softening of my heart, an openness to your Word, and for spiritual awakening in my soul and spirit.  I pray that your fruit, planted in me by your Word, will yield a harvest hundred-fold more than was sown, for your glory’s sake.

God, I pray for your word to bear fruit in the lives of all families, all churches and all communities, and among the nations that we will witness revival in your name. Through Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Journey to Hope – Grief

Based on a sermon from Sunday 6th March 2022

What is grief?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What do we grief over?

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

The effects of a pandemic on our community of faith?

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

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

5 Stages of Grief

There are five stages of grief…

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

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

How we learnt to grieve

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

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

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

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

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

Processing through Grief

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living thoughts

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

Digging into God’s word

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Prayer Response

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

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

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

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

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

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

Adapted from Jane Holloway, World Prayer Centre

Where does obedience lead?

Based on a sermon from Sunday 6th February 2022

Simon and his partners had been out on the Sea of Galilee fishing all night.  As they pull their boats on to the beach they had empty stomachs, and empty boats!  I’m sure you can imagine that they were frustrated, working all night and catching nothing.  But still, they had to prepare the nets for their next sailing.  Maybe then they will get a good catch.

I would imagine that where they were was a natural amphitheatre.  Maybe it was a place where Jesus had taught before.  Maybe Peter had met Jesus there before.  As we often read in Scripture, people would crowd around Jesus; what attracted people to Him?  One reason was the way He taught.  He taught with authority, not as the Pharisees.  His explanations of the Scriptures brought the words to life.  His message was articulate and captivating.  He had a unique way of making the common and ordinary and menial into significant meaning.  People were inspired and moved by His message.

Maybe Jesus felt as if He was being pushed into the water, so seeing the boats Jesus sees a way He can speak without getting His feet wet, a way in which all will be able to hear.  So Jesus continues to teach the word of God.

Obviously Peter and his crew were with him in the boat and when Jesus finished He turns to Peter and says “Let’s go fishing.  Launch out into the deep and let down the nets.”  I’m sure many eyes were on Peter.  How would he respond?  After all Jesus is not suggesting that Peter does this; He is demanding it.

“Master,” Simon says, “we’ve been fishing all night. But, because you say so, I will do it.”

Notice what Simon did not say.  He did not say, “Jesus, don’t you tell me how to fish.  I’m a professional.  You’re an amateur.”  He didn’t say, “Jesus you stick to preaching and I’ll do the fishing.  I know the best fishing spots and the most favourable conditions for making a big catch.”  He didn’t say, “Don’t you know that the night is the best time to catch fish on the Sea of Galilee.  And the best fishing is in the shallow water along the Sea’s edge, not in the deep water.”  He didn’t ask any questions.  He didn’t listen to his feelings.  I’m sure he was dog-tired and ready for breakfast and a warm bed. Simon, simply, obeyed.

We don’t know what lessons Jesus had been teaching.  But there is a lesson in this conversation with Peter; it was a lesson on obedience and the difference that can make to your life.  Yes, there are rules for fishing, but there are also rules that are higher.  These are God’s rules.  I not only believe, but I also know that all of God’s rules are designed to protect and bless us.  You see, by obeying His rules/commands we can be a difference maker in the world.

Out of respect for the one Peter knew as “Master,” he did as he was asked.  And the catch was so large that the other boat had to be summoned for help, and even then the catch was of such massive proportions that both boats began to sink.  Their jaws must have been on the floor at what they were seeing.  They were in the midst of a miracle.  Simon knew it.  He also knew that Jesus was no mere man, He was special; He was a supernatural deity.  In the previous chapter we see that Jesus is not simply a preacher; He is a healer, but now Peter sees Jesus as the Lord of the sea and fish.  In response he throws himself down at the feet of Jesus pleading for Him to go from him because he recognises his own sinfulness.  As always Jesus puts whoever He is with at ease; “Don’t be afraid”!  In essence Jesus is saying, “Do you want to spend the rest of your life catching fish or do you want to invest your life in something bigger?  Today you have a chance to make a difference in this broken world. What will you do?”

With the largest catch of fish in his life Peter and his business partners pull their boats up on to the beach and leave all behind to follow Jesus.  That catch may have made them very wealthy, it could have opened new doors for the business! 

What a story.  Obedience leads to abundance and freedom.  Obedience to Jesus’ commands leads us to experience an overflowing of generosity from the creator and giver of life!  Such abundance and freedom come from obeying God’s rules, which violates everything the world teaches us. 

Christians are called to yield their will to God and obey His set of rules.  Jesus states this clearly, “If you love me, you will obey what I command” (John 14:15).  Jesus did not mince words.  Obedience to Christ and His words is a distinguishing mark of a Christian.  As with Simon, Jesus is not suggesting obedience; he demands it.  Following Christ involves another kingdom, the supernatural kingdom of God.  A kingdom has a king and a follower is obedient to that king – Jesus.

Out of this account in Luke’s Gospel we can see that obedience demands action.  Jesus desired all His listeners to do more than just listen, He wanted them to act.

Remember the story of the tightrope walker who was rolling a wheelbarrow back and forth across Niagara River on a tightrope. Thousands of people were shouting him on.  He put a two-hundred-pound sack of dirt in the wheelbarrow and rolled it over, and then he rolled it back.  Then he turned to the crowd and said, “How many of you believe that I can roll a man across?”

Everybody shouted!  One man in the front row was very excited in his professed belief.  The tightrope walker pointed to his excited professor and said, “You’re next!”  You couldn’t see the man for dust!  He actually didn’t believe it.  He said he believed it, he thought he believed it – but he was not willing to get in the wheelbarrow.

Peter sat in the boat with Jesus.  He listened to his words.  He believed in him.  But now it was time to act, and he obeyed.

Obedience is faith in action.  It is transposing the promises and provisions of Christ’s words into service and obedient behaviour.

Obedience means doing things because Jesus says so, even when it doesn’t make sense.  There was nothing logical about going back out again for Peter.  It was absurd.  But Jesus said “Go” and Peter said, which I think is the key phrase in this narrative, “. . . because you say so, I will let down the nets” (Luke 5:5).

Why can we take Jesus at His word and do what He asks simply because He says so?  Because Jesus’ perspective is greater than our perspective.  God grants to us a limited perspective.  Like the headlights reach on a car driven at night is limited, God can see the whole road – where we’ve been, where we are now, and where we are going.  We can obey Him because He sees all and knows all.

The most powerful test of obedience is to do those things that don’t make sense simply because Jesus says so.  Jesus was calling Peter to the greatest task of all – sharing the good news of Jesus with other people.  A task all of us are called to.  But for many this is too daunting.  Perhaps that is because we don’t willingly obey God in the menial and behind-the-scenes tasks.  Perhaps deep down we want the glamorous and attention-getting jobs instead.

Until we are obedient in the little things God can’t use us in the big things of life.  The reality is that if we are not making a difference for God where we are, then in all likelihood we will not make a difference for God wherever we are.

I don’t know if you noticed, but in the story of Simon there was one physical feature that was present in every scene.  Did you see it?  It was the boat.  The boats were at the water’s edge.  Jesus preached from the boat.  The miracle was performed on the boat.  Peter’s confession was made on the boat.  And the final scene Simon pulls up the boat on shore, leaves it behind to follow Jesus.  I think that boat is highly significant in this story.  Why?  Because the boat represents Simon’s livelihood, his business, his security, his peace of mind, his future.  Simon had made his boat available to Jesus, and Christ had used Simon’s business as a platform for ministry.  That’s great.  That’s needed.  Too often we tend to separate the secular from the spiritual.  We attempt to partition off our Christianity from our career, family, friends, social life.  But, Simon’s boat was what was keeping him from a life of total and complete obedience.  His boat and what it represents was preventing him from living a fully devoted life of obedience.

What about you?   What’s your boat? What’s keeping you from a life of obedience and freedom in Christ?  A job, a relationship, a security, a bank account, a drive for materialism, a fickle feeling that being a fully devoted follower of Christ is not exciting enough or would hurt your status?  What’s preventing you from making a difference for eternity’s sake?

When it comes to obedience there is no middle ground. Once we have heard the Lord speak, we either act on it or we don’t.  We either obey or we disobey.  What will you do?

Living thoughts

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

Digging into God’s Word

  • Read Isaiah 6:1-8 and Luke 5:1-11, what’s keeping you from a life of obedience to and freedom in Christ?
  • Have you ever done anything that didn’t make sense to you at the time but you did it anyway?  What was the outcome?
  • Have you ever done anything that didn’t make sense to you at the time but you did it anyway because Jesus asked you to?  What was the outcome?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

  • What in your life do you feel God is calling you to leave behind in order to more fully commit your future to Him?

Prayer Response

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

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

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

How overawed we are! We prostrate our bodies, souls, and spirits before him!  In Jesus’ hallowed name we pray. Amen.

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.