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.

Creeds or Deeds

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Living thoughts

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

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

Digging into God’s Word

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

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

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

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

Prayer Response

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

Create in me a pure heart, O God,

and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence

or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Psalm 51:10-11.

His prayer was favourably answered. So will ours.