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).

Journey to Hope – Rising on Eagle’s Wings

Based on a sermon from Sunday 3rd April 2022

God stayed with the people leading them with a pillar of cloud by day and with a pillar of fire by night. (Exodus 13:21)

In this series we have been looking at the journey that the Israelites took through the desert to the Promised Land.  We have used their journey to help us look to revival.  If we want to see revival happen here, we need to learn from their journey.  In Numbers 16, Deuteronomy 1 and 2, we learn that the journey the Israelites took should have only taken 3 to 4 months, but it didn’t; it took them 40 years. Why?  Let’s take a look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.

Twelve spies went out, but only 2 came back filled with hope that they could and would be able to step into the Promised Land.  Ten spies had no hope and didn’t trust God.  They were fearful and did not enter it.  These ten spies represented a generation who said they wanted to go into the Promised Land, but when “push came to shove”, and were faced with the realities of freedom, they didn’t want to enter.  They were fearful. They rebelled against Moses.  They grieved over Egypt and wanted to go back.  They moaned and groaned.  They tried to do life without God and take control.  They didn’t listen to the rules and commandments that God gave them, to help them live good holy lives.  They disobeyed God and chose to worship other gods.  They created a golden calf for themselves to worship.  Having a golden calf (a physical, man-made religious altar) was more important to them than a good, living, faithful, loving God.  Even though God had saved them from Egypt, destroyed their enemies in the Red Sea and promised them hope, they still didn’t trust God.

In Deuteronomy, we read that because of their disobedience and lack of trust, a whole generation was not able to enter the Promised Land.

14 Thirty-eight years passed from the time we left Kadesh Barnea until we crossed the Zered Valley. By then, that entire generation of fighting men had perished from the camp, as the Lord had sworn to them.  15The Lord’s hand was against them until he had completely eliminated them from the camp. (Deuteronomy 2:14-15)

If we hold on to our fear, our grief, our religion, and ways that we have to do church, then we will never enter the promises that God has for us, just like the Israelites.  The Israelites were in the desert for 40 years.  God doesn’t want us to stay in our own desert.  If we don’t give our stuff to God, we, like the Israelites may miss out.  God didn’t allow the Israelites to enter the Promised Land until the Israelites were ready and the old generation had passed.  If we refuse to change and give ourselves to God, we may be like this old generation and we many never enter God’s Promised Land and see the revival that is promised.

When this doubting fearful generation passed, God gave them the land.  God fulfilled His promise and God gave them even more.  God fought for them.  God is utterly faithful and true.  God loves us so much and He will fulfil His promises to us.  we can have faith and confidence that God will fight for us too.

In Exodus 33 v7-23 we read of Moses’ hunger for God.  Moses met with God face to face, and he was still hungry for more, more of His presence, more of His love and favour, more of His glory.  He asked God to “Show me your glory” and God did.

‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ (Exodus 19 v4-6)

God is so good and God is so good to us.  We are a Holy people.  We are a kingdom of priests.  We are favoured and God’s treasured possession and therefore we will soar on wings like eagles.

Psalm 91 is awesome and it speaks of the promises of God over Moses, the Israelites and over us too.

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High
    will rest in the shadow of the Almighty.
I will say of the Lord, ‘He is my refuge and my fortress,
    my God, in whom I trust.’

Surely he will save you
    from the fowler’s snare
    and from the deadly pestilence.
He will cover you with his feathers,
    and under his wings you will find refuge;
    his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart.
You will not fear the terror of night,
    nor the arrow that flies by day,
nor the pestilence that stalks in the darkness,
    nor the plague that destroys at midday.
A thousand may fall at your side,
    ten thousand at your right hand,
    but it will not come near you.

We can rest under God’s wings.  Whatever we are carrying, we can bring it to God.  Under His wings of love, trust, peace, comfort and safety, God is our refuge and strength.  We can be vulnerable and exposed with God, because He is good and He will shield us.  God will cover us with His feathers and we will not need to feel shame and guilt.  God is our shield and He will stop the arrows that may come our way.  He loves us and as we drop our baggage, we can grasp and hold on to His wings.  As we grasp on to God, we will soar on wings like eagles.  We can have hope and we will rise.  We will rise above the storm.  We will rise into the hope and promises of God.

Isaiah 40 v28-31

Do you not know? Have you not heard?

The Lord is the everlasting God,

the Creator of the ends of the earth.

He will not grow tired or weary,

and his understanding no one can fathom.

He gives strength to the weary

and increases the power of the weak.

Even youths grow tired and weary,

and young men stumble and fall;

but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength.

They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.

We can have hope for Revival here in this community.  We can have hope that salvation will come to our loved ones.  We can have hope that the Holy Spirit will come and renew, refresh and awaken his people.  We can have hope that the sheep who are lost, will be found again.  We can have hope that the prodigal son, will come back into the loving arms of God the Father.  We can have hope that cancer will go.  We can have hope that sick children will be made well and sickness will flee.  We can have hope that the barren women, will conceive and have children.  We can have hope that those who are slaves to addiction, will be set free by the blood of the lamb.  We can have hope that depression will be turned into deep wells of peace and joy.  We can have hope that the lonely will never be forgotten and isolated again.  We can have hope that families and friends who have been at war with one another and separated through disagreements and betrayal, will be united in love, forgiveness, and joy once again.  We can have hope that anger and unforgiveness in this community, will melt into repentance and compassion.  We can have hope that poverty in this community will be eradicated.  We can have hope that the schools will be filled with the sound of children and youth worshipping the Lord our God.  We can have hope that there will be such a hunger for God, that people will be weeping in the street.  We can have hope that this community will be completely transformed by the power of God’s love.

If God has done it in the past and God is everlasting, God will do it again.  We can have hope, because God is faithful and does not break his promises. We can have hope and we will all soar on wings like eagles.

Mel Ramos

Living thoughts

Consider the following questions as you Dig into God’s Word.…  As you ponder on them why not write down your thoughts and share your reflections with others.

Digging into God’s Word

  1. Take another look at Deuteronomy chapter 2.  What kind of “spy” are you?  Are you 1 of the 10 who doubts the hope of the Lord and His promises, or are you one of the 2 spies who said “Yes”?
  2. Remember Moses in Exodus 33 v7-23. How hungry are you for revival and for more of God’s power, glory and love in your life?
  3. Do some research on eagles and watch clips/look at photos of eagles soaring.  Look at Isaiah 40 v28-31 and Psalm 91 again.  Ask God to reveal more of what it looks like to soar in hope on eagle’s wings in your own life.  Repent where needed and then pray for more hope and faith to rise within you, and let it influence the way you pray and seek God.

Our Father in heaven, Hallowed be your name, Your kingdom come, Your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.

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 Easter.

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

Journey to Hope – Religion

Based on a sermon from Sunday 27th March 2022

Holy Spirit, you are our teacher.  Jesus you are the Word and Truth.  Father, may we submit ourselves to Your truth.  Open our eyes and our ears that we may see and hear.  We bind the spirit of religion that would try to make us offended or to hinder us from seeing the truth in Jesus.  Amen.

Moses is spending time with God on Mount Sinai, receiving instruction on holy living.  He’s there 40 days and 40 nights.  Whilst he is there, the Israelites make for themselves a Golden Calf to worship.  It appeared that having a physical item was more important to them, than the living breathing God.  They believed that God wouldn’t provide for them, that He had deserted them.

What things have we made which have become a religion?

What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?

What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?

What are our golden calves?

Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 

Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?

Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

These are all questions I have asked myself on a regular basis.

I believe that we can all fall into an unhealthy spirit of religion when we allow things to prevent us from seeing who God truly is and thus stop ourselves from entering into the throne room of God. 

If we lack joy in our life, would rather skip church, prayer, and scripture reading, if we feel stuck in sin, shame, or condemnation we are likely to be struggling with a spirit of religion.

What is the spirit of religion and how does it impact the local church?  The spirit of religion is a shift from joyful obedience in God and a transformed life through His Son Jesus Christ, to doing things that you think are right.  You do this in an effort to abstain from doing wrong things, but the spirit of religion only allows for outward righteousness.  It does not transform the person or the heart.  Rather, it puts on a front and appearance that is no greater than skin deep.  This impacts the local church by creating divisions between individuals and stealing the joy, freedom, healing, and transformation that comes through the power of God dwelling in us via the person of Jesus Christ.

Scripture does not name a ‘religious spirit’ but it is clearly alluded to and revealed where people, thinking they are serving God, do in fact collaborate with the evil one and resist the purposes and will of Christ.  Such collaboration reduces our ability to see the power of God working in our lives.  A spirit of religion is most clearly revealed in the attitude and mind-set of the Pharisees, as Jesus told His disciples in our Gospel reading for we read that the disciples were concerned about the lack of bread, forgetting that Jesus can multiply it, if that was needed! 

In Matthew 23, Jesus through His teaching of the seven ‘woes’ outlines the key aspects of the false religious mind-sets of the Pharisees.  These verses provide a broad perspective on false religion.

Jesus also told the parable of the wheat and tares in Matthew 13 and describes the tares which look identical to the wheat as ‘the seed planted by an enemy’.  Satan’s scheme is to render the church fruitless at harvest time.

This false religion is the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and the Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6) and it is highly infectious and only a little is needed to work through the whole batch of dough (Galatians 5:9).  So we must be on our guard against this spirit!

Paul wrote to Timothy about being on his guard against this work of the enemy…

But mark this: There will be terrible times in the last days.  2 People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, 3 without love, unforgiving, slanderous, without self-control, brutal, not lovers of the good, 4 treacherous, rash, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God— 5 having a form of godliness but denying its power.  Have nothing to do with such people. (2 Timothy 3:1-5)

Our enemy, the devil, prowls around encouraging us to operate with this form of godliness, whilst at the same time deceiving us into believing that we are operating out of an appearance of righteousness.  When we do this we deceive ourselves by lowering our definition and understanding of what it means to live as a Christian, we become accustomed to a lack of God’s power in our life and accept it as normal.

Whenever Christians are not operating in consistent power; seeing regular conversions (the Lord added daily to their number…), regular deliverance, regular healings, regular miracles, then we must ask ourselves “Have we become ‘religious’”.

This is a permanent battle to resist.  Every tradition can and will have its own temptation to be ‘religious’.  The ultimate test is encountering the presence of Christ in ministry aligned to kingdom fruit.  We need to continually redefine what is normal and submit ourselves to the searching ministry of the Spirit to reveal the ‘yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees’ (Matthew 16:6).

The spirit of religion has always been around.  It is a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works, forms and traditions.  When people operate out of a religious spirit they attempt to earn salvation.  This evil spirit has established nonbiblical beliefs and customs for generations.  Yet, as believers, we shouldn’t turn a blind eye to the work of the religious spirit.  It is lurking around attempting to cause judgement and destruction among believers and in the body of Christ’s Church.

This spirit is out to wage war against your intimate relationship with God.  It can make you feel distant from God, because no matter what you do, it will never be enough, or it can set you up for spiritual disaster through pride and self-righteousness.  Either way, its goal is to nullify the work of Christ in your life, and make it to no effect for you.  Being set free from a religious spirit can bring major spiritual freedom and breakthrough in your relationship with God, as well as with others!

The good news is that God provides an antidote.  The Lord will not leave nor forsake us.  He always provides a way.  His way is His Word.  We must put on the full armour of God and guard our hearts and minds while praying in the Spirit.

The religious spirit tries to steal our peace and joy, causing fear, doubt, and unbelief.  The Apostle Paul reminds us of this:

“Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 4:6-7)

We must remember the enemy is not the people in our lives; the enemy is the ruler of darkness.  When there is spiritual warfare, weapons of the flesh will not prevail.  It must be fought with God’s armour.

We need to wrap ourselves in His Word and trust in His righteousness while being sensitive to and praying in the Spirit.  Remember these words of Paul’s…

“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. Therefore take up the whole armour of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 

“Stand therefore, having girded your waist with truth, having put on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the preparation of the gospel of peace; above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able to quench all the fiery darts of the wicked one. And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God; praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit…”  (Ephesians 6:11-18)

If we are struggling with a spirit of religion the first step to take is repentance.  Confess your sins to the Lord through prayer.  Accept His forgiveness.  Ask the Lord how you can consciously and intentionally turn away from this mentality and habit.

Remember, God is loving and He is good.  Following Him is a freeing, beautiful, joyful, and life-giving thing.  This may look different from what you have in mind.  However, I can attest to it.  I know many others who would say the same thing.  Continue to pray daily, asking the Lord to release over you His truth, grace, forgiveness, and new revelation so that you may know Him better day by day.

Let us pray:

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.

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

  • What things have we made which have become a religion?
  • What things have we created that stop us from looking at the face of God?
  • What is stopping us from trusting God more fully each day?
  • What are our golden calves?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way we think that worship/communion can be done? 
    • Do we believe that we have to dress in a particular way to worship God?
    • Is it a belief that there is only one way to sing and pray before the Lord?

Prayer Response

Father, Jesus, and Holy Spirit – I give you liberty to rewire my brain. I confess where I have given the spirit of religion access in my life.  Change my thinking and my emotional attachments to anything involving a religious spirit or attitude.  Your word says I have the mind of Christ therefore I shall have it!  Thank you for your goodness and your faithfulness.  I apply the blood of Jesus to cleanse, heal and restore me over my mind and my emotions from this day forward. Amen.

Journey to Hope – Into the Throne Room

Based on a talk from 20th March 2022

By day the LORD went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. (Exodus 13:21)

We are continuing our series “Journey into Hope” and today’s theme is “Into the Throne Room”.

What is the Throne Room?

Quite simply, the Throne room is heaven. Moses, Isaiah, Daniel and Micaiah and all described seeing the LORD on his throne. In Isaiah 66 the LORD says, “Heaven is My throne and the earth is my footstool.

In Revelation 4:2 John describes his encounter with heaven. “Immediately I was in the Spirit; and behold, a throne was standing in heaven, and One sitting on the throne.”

We’re going to look at the history and structure of Biblical worship to help us understand how worship allows us access to the Throne Room. Jesus is written into every part of the Tabernacle. It all points to Him. Worship is all about Jesus!

Plan of the Tabernacle

The Flow of Worship

  1. Enter (Entrance/Jesus)- First, we enter, we make a decision and a conscious effort to come to worship, and we come through Jesus. Psalm 100:4 says,

Enter his gates with thanksgiving

    and his courts with praise;

    give thanks to him and praise his name.

Praise and thanksgiving are not worship in itself but bring us into the place of worship.

  1. Sacrifice and Confess (Bronze Altar/the Cross) – We need to confess and repent to be able to come before God. In Old Testament times that meant offering animal sacrifice. There is a cost involved in repentance. We should not take repentance lightly. We no longer sacrifice because Jesus has become the sacrifice for us, but we still need to repent.
  1. Cleansing and forgiveness (Bronze Laver/receiving forgiveness) We need to acknowledge and receive forgiveness. This is where we are washed clean. We leave those sins and failings behind. It should feel like when you step out of a bath or shower. There should be a lightness in our spirit.

This is also why the font was traditionally placed near the entrance to a church, signifying our need to be cleansed before entering into the worship space.

  1. Worship – We are now able to worship. If we are harbouring pride, fears, disappointments, bitterness, resentments, rebellion and the like we are unable to enter fully into worship.  When we worship we can
    • expect to hear from God in revelation (Lampstand/Jesus being light)
    • to receive from Him (Showbread/Jesus as bread/receive communion)
    • intercede for others (Altar of Incense/Jesus as intercessor)
  1. Encounter- Finally we reach encounter with God.  The veil in the temple was torn in two at the moment that Jesus died. His sacrifice for our sin and inadequacy opened the way for us to encounter God face to face.

As Charles Wesley’s “And Can It Be” says,

“Bold I approach the Eternal Throne

And claim the crown through Christ my own.”

Worship is our gateway into encountering God. Worship should not be the end. It is a means to step into the very presence of God; to enter His Throne Room.

Moses ecountering God

Read Exodus 33:7-23

Moses has previously encountered God several times in supernatural ways, going back to his first encounter with the Burning Bush.

This passage follows on from Moses on Mount Sinai where God had given him the ten commandments and detailed instructions for building the Tabernacle. However, while Moses was away the people had built themselves a golden calf to worship instead of God.

Now Moses goes to the tent of meeting to talk to God. He pleads with the LORD for His presence to remain with them. From my reading the “tent of meeting” mentioned in this passage is a more temporary structure which Moses used while the tabernacle was being built.

Verse 11 states, “The LORD would speak to Moses, face to face, as a man speaks to a friend.”

Moses shares his concerns about leading the people and the LORD promises that His presence will go with them, saying, “I will do the very thing you have asked, because I am pleased with you and know you by name.” (v18)

How incredible, to have God speak to you so directly and clearly: to have God say that He is pleased with you and knows you by name.

Moses, however, wants more! He is bold enough to say to God in verse 18, “Now show me your glory.”

And what is more, God agrees. Although Moses had this intimate relationship with God, His glory was still too much for Moses to withstand. Moses is placed by God into in the cleft of a rock and the LORD covers Moses’ face with His hand as He passes by.

We should have awe and wonder when we come into the LORD’s presence. We should be brought to our knees by His glory and holiness. However, we can come into His presence, and we can ask Him to reveal more of Himself to us.

The reading from Matthew’s Gospel, which we looked at in part one was one verse. Matthew 27:51 51 At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split 52 and the tombs broke open.

When Jesus died the curtain in the Temple was ripped from top to bottom. This signified that there is no longer any obstacle to anyone entering the Holy of Holies: the throne room of God. There is nothing, but our own selves, to prevent us from entering God’s presence, just as Moses did. If we seek this, we can enter God’s Throne Room whenever we come into God’s presence in worship.

Finally let us consider what happened when Moses went into the Tent of Meeting to meet with God. Verse 10 states; “Whenever the people saw the pillar of cloud standing at the entrance of the tent, they all stood and worshiped.”

When we come together in worship, “in Spirit and in truth”, and in the manifest presence of God, the community around us will notice. They will find themselves drawn to worship too. This is what revival is.

And to conclude, how do we know we can enter God’s throne room? We know Jesus, the Great High Priest!

As Hebrews 4:14 and 16 says;

“Therefore, since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. . . Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.

Barbara Norburn

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

  • Re-read the teaching on worship in the Tabernacle, and the account of Moses encountering God in Exodus 33.
  • What are the implications for how you worship as an individual, and how we worship together?

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

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.

A Commitment to Hope

From 2nd Sunday in Advent, 5th December 2021

The story is told of young boy in a church Christmas nativity play who had one line to remember.  His role was that of the Angel of the Lord and his one line consisted of: “Behold, I bring you good tidings.” He wasn’t clear about the word “tidings” so he asked his mother what it meant. She defined it as “news.”

Sunday morning came, the play was going smoothly and all was well.  He was sent on to the stage as the Angel of the Lord announcing to the shepherds about God’s message.  When he got on stage and looked out at the crowd he froze!  Stage fright overcame him and his brain went to mush.  He couldn’t remember the line for anything.  Then all of a sudden his mum’s definition flashed back and he blurted out to the shepherds, “Hey! Boys, have I got news for you!”

John, the cousin of Jesus, is the man God had chosen to be the instrument that would lay the foundation for the ministry of Jesus.  God called John to preach and his message sounded like the prophets of Old Testament times.  John preached that the people had to repent of their sins and change their lifestyle from complacency and carnality to hope and holiness in the God of Israel.  He was laying the foundation for the one who would come after him who could actually forgive their sins and bring purity to their lives.

Making preparation for hope (Luke 3:4a).

The preparation that John made was an announcement of good news! The one that the people of Israel had long been waiting for was in their very presence.  The long awaited Messiah stirred among them.

The message of hope is that “all people will see God’s salvation” (Luke 3:6).  John’s message comes approximately 30 years after the shepherds on the hillsides around Nazareth heard basically the same message.  The angel said, “…behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy which shall be to all people. For there is born to you this day in the city of David a Saviour.” (Luke 2:10-11a). What does a Saviour do for his people?  He saves them from their predicament.

John’s role at that Advent season was about preparation.  His message to us today is the same.  We need to prepare our hearts, soul and spirit, as well as our homes for the Christ who has come to save us.  This is a celebration of the birth of the Saviour.  He is saying to us, “Get ready.”  Make preparation for the night we celebrate the entrance of the Saviour into the world.  Think, pray, meditate, and put your actions where your heart is now! God has sent the Saviour to change your world.  We are making preparation for the hope of salvation that comes through Christ.  Someone once wrote that John’s bold and brazen call for repentance is not something we can do on our own — no matter what we do or say, or how much we try we fall short to produce our own salvation.  As many good deeds as we do, we still cannot succeed.

The hope of salvation is the work that God has provided in the way we humans are to be delivered from our sinful condition, by the sacrificial death of His Son Jesus on the cross and the authorisation through the resurrection.  Death on the cross would only be a martyr’s death if it were not for the power of the resurrection.  Jesus’ entrance into the world marks the beginning of our rescue…our salvation deliverance.  John is preparing the way for our grasp of that glorious truth.

Making Preparation for the good news (Luke 3:4b)

The world has trouble with the good news scenario because it started with a baby in a humble setting.  The Jewish people wanted a warrior king who would emancipate them from foreign rule and bring back the Davidic dynasty of power and authority.

The Good News is the incarnation of Jesus combining God and humanity as one.  That is difficult for us to wrap our minds and hearts around, but as a matter of fact and faith it is true.  The incarnation is the living embodiment of the invisible God seen through the human Jesus.  He is the Messiah and is the very expression of God come to earth to bring God’s love, salvation, and hope to a world lost in its own sinful ways.  The Good News is God is more than capable of identifying with us.

In Jesus, God has come to identify with our pain, hurts, struggles and failures.  He knows the joys of life as well as the temptations.  In the Bethlehem stable He came, not just looking like one of us, but truly as one of us.  He has come to be our Saviour and will leave no one out who will accept Him into their lives.

Making preparation for salvation (Luke 3:6)

Luke quoted the prophet Isaiah to remind us that everyone will see the salvation of God.  Who is the salvation of God? Jesus is His name!

His salvation is more than an intellectual pursuit; it is also a spiritual endeavour. Christians are on a spiritual quest when they follow God on His journey of salvation.  This journey is to last a lifetime.  For some this journey is many years, for others it may only be minutes.  Regardless of how long our journey of salvation is, with God all are welcomed equally; all are loved equally.

God’s salvation of an individual’s soul is of utmost importance to Him.  C.S. Lewis wrote that this individual soul is “…more important than the production of all the epics and tragedies in the world.”  This vital importance is summed up in John 3:16:

“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.”

The reason for the season? God gave us all His Son. His salvation lights up my world.  His light dispels the sin of legalism, the insatiable vices of morality, hatred, racism, injustice, and the fear of satan, evil and hell!  No longer do you and I have to live in darkness. Every person in the world can come to Jesus for He is the shining light for all of us.

John the Baptist looked forward to the dawn of life.  The cry from John and the cry from heaven on that Christmas night was “Behold the SON!” and the son of righteousness has come.  Salvation has come to all who will receive Him.

Amen

Living thoughts

Read Malachi 3:1-4 and Luke 3:1-6.  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. Who is Jesus?
  2. Why did Jesus come?
  3. And what does Jesus demand of me?

Digging Deeper into God’s Word

“So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen, since what is unseen is eternal” 2 Cor 4:18

What difference can this passage possibly make in our lives in the 21st century as we go out into the routine of a new morning?  Does it really need to make any difference?

Prayer Response

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 on 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 on 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 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.

All Saints

Based on the reading from St John 11:32-45, Jesus raises Lazarus from the dead.

Have you ever felt as if God had let you down, had withdrawn His protecting arm from you? Even the question seems foolish, because we know the answer before we ask it. I know many who have walked hospital corridors with loved ones and seen their prayers go seemingly unanswered. As a parent I prayed earnestly for my son John’s healing, but to no avail.

How many times have you said, or heard it said; “Look, if prayer is the answer, why don’t I get an answer to my prayers? Why doesn’t God speak?

Why doesn’t He at least offer an explanation? Why is He so silent?” This is a common experience for us.

Before we pronounce judgement against the silence of God, we must remember that God’s knowledge is greater than our own. He knows both the beginning and the end of the road. We know only the beginning, and the part we’re traveling on now. So who are we to assume that we know what is ultimately best for us?  You see God may seemingly deny what we ask in order to give us something better. This I believe is a point we can take from our Gospel reading.

Lazarus has fallen ill, and his sisters, Mary and Martha, sent a message to Jesus that their brother was ill and that Jesus should come quickly and heal him. But Jesus dawdled and dallied around for three days. So Lazarus dies. When Jesus finally arrived on the scene Mary rebukes Jesus: “If you had been here, our brother would not have died. But you didn’t listen to our prayer.”

But wait, they didn’t realise that God, through Christ, had passed the miracle of healing to display the greater miracle of resurrection from the dead.  And this is so, even though the people who are sitting and mourning the death of Lazarus have seen God’s power on display through the miracles and signs Jesus performed. They have seen him perform astounding healing miracles and Mary, at least, firmly believes that if Jesus had been there when Lazarus was ill, Jesus would have been able to heal him.

But even she has not yet grasped the fullness of what Jesus is capable of, while some of the others who are keeping her company are openly sceptical. They see Lazarus’ death as a sign that Jesus’ power is either waning, or perhaps was never as great as people made out. Perhaps, they guess, Lazarus was too seriously ill for Jesus to heal him. Perhaps Jesus really isn’t all that special.  Certainly, Jesus seems very vulnerable and shaken as He faces this death of a friend. In this He is not different from the rest of us in feeling the awful separation.

Although He speaks to Mary with absolute confidence, and acts decisively, still we are told that He is “greatly disturbed”.  But His sense of loss does not prevent Him from trusting in God and acting for God. Even Martha and Mary, two of Jesus’ most ardent supporters, do not believe that He can do anything for their brother now that he is actually dead.

Already, the processes of decay are starting, and Martha and Mary expect nothing from Jesus, except that He will share their grief.  And, indeed, He does share their grief, but not so strongly that He loses touch with God.  This is a key truth – no matter what was before Jesus He never lost touch with His heavenly Father.

Moved and saddened as He is, He steps up to Lazarus’ tomb and calls his friend back to life. And instantly, Lazarus responds. This is, after all, the voice that called all creation into being.

It is hard not to envy Jesus with His power to bring His friend back to life. How we have longed to be able to do the same for someone we love. But Jesus tells Mary that He is doing this so that she — and all the watching crowds — “would see the glory of God”.

That is why Jesus calls Lazarus back from death, not because He cannot bear to be without him. You see Jesus knows that soon enough He himself will face the dead, and that His ordinary human relationships will change for ever. But in the meantime Lazarus is alive again to show the power and glory of God.

Mary and Martha believed that death was the end, but Jesus showed them that there is no end to a life lived in love of God. This is the glory of God.  This is the very nature of God that God is life and that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from the overwhelming life and love of God.

So the Christian belief in life after death is a belief in the never-ending vitality of God. It is not a sentimental and unrealistic desire to maintain unchanged our precious human relationships, but a realisation that our love for each other mirrors in a small and imperfect way God’s love for us and his creation.  Therefore, we can trust our God absolutely with those we love as well as with our own life.

Living thoughts

We’re now in a season of remembering, so we will do something different this week. Instead of Digging into God’s Word you’ll have an opportunity to remember those who have gone before us. Maybe you would like to have a candle to light. Why do we on such occasions light a candle in memory of a dear departed loved one?

Lighting a candle is a prayer:

When we have gone it stays alight, kindling in the hearts and minds of others the prayers we have already offered for them.

Lighting a candle is a parable:

Burning itself out it gives light to others.  Christ gave himself for others. He calls us to give ourselves.

Lighting a candle is a symbol:

Of love and hope, of light and warmth.  Our world needs them all.

A Service of Light

We remember before God those whom we love and light a candle to symbolise the light of Christ which eternally shines and brings hope. Jesus said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

You O Lord are my lamp – You turn our darkness into light

With you O Lord is the well of life – In your light shall we see light

Jesus Christ is the light of the world – A light no darkness can quench

Light a candle in memory of a dearly departed loved one.

Prayer Response

Jesus, Son of the Living God, you summoned your friend Lazarus from death to life: raise us at the last to full and eternal life with you.

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.

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!

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.

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 and only true God.

Hear us, risen Lord, our resurrection and our life.

God’s harvest

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Based on a sermon first delivered on 13th September 2020

Sharing suffering

Photo by Jack Sharp on Unsplash

The book of Job shows how not to help others who are suffering.  Job’s comforters get so many things wrong.  They try and take control.  But if the storm is raging, only God can calm the storm.  Our role is not to take hold of the tiller and try and steer the boat, but to be in the boat with our friends.  Everyone feels pain and suffering in a different fashion, meaning it’s dangerous to use generalities.  God is a personal God who deals with His children equally but differently.  God has no “one size fits all”. Sometimes all that can be done is to be quiet and listen.  We tend to shy away from people in suffering because we feel awkward and embarrassed.  We need to overcome and accept this feeling and reach out to them.  It’s also fine if – as is more often the case – we don’t know the answers.  Sometimes just our presence is good enough.

Weeping and crying is good: Jesus weeps at the tomb of Lazarus.  I have wept on many occasions with people as I have ministered to them and when I have been ministered to.  Sometimes it is because of their story, sometimes it is because of my story!  We may feel its “unbiblical” to cry. But grief is godly and natural.  Sadly, our culture doesn’t like mourning.  But Jesus was a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3).  In the process of walking through pain and suffering it is not up to us to tell the sufferer when they are done.  Sometimes people will never stop grieving.  But ‘God gave His people a counsellor who wept with them, put the pain of their loss into words, ministered to their guilt and grief, and brought hope and healing from the ashes of their loss.’  (Colin Smith, senior pastor of The Orchard Evangelical Free Church).

As I’ve said before, the Bible doesn’t shy away from suffering.  On its pages we find suffering from natural disasters, suffering from other people, suffering from disease, suffering from relationships, suffering we bring on ourselves, and many more scenarios.  So, when we experience suffering what are we to do?  Well, there is no better place to start than with God’s word.  It could be helpful to read to a suffering friend suitable Bible passages.  For me the best place to start in the Bible is the Psalms which cover the whole gamut of human emotions.  These words were prepared by God thousands of years ago and have been used ever since to provide comfort in times of need and suffering.  Sometimes in Psalms there isn’t even an answer.  Last year I spent time reading the Psalms, starting at the beginning and going through to the end.  At times I was shocked as some seem to end bleakly.   Psalm 88 is one such example, it ends bleakly, without even the hint of an answer let alone a ‘happy ending’ and that’s true sadly sometimes in life.  The Bible doesn’t flinch from reality and it doesn’t always wrap things up neatly.

One thing Job does is he shows us that If we feel angry or upset with God, we can tell him.  God is big enough to cope with our emotions.  It is very striking that Job is angry with God, going well beyond anything that the majority of us would otherwise consider reverent or proper, yet God rebukes his comforters at the end by saying “You haven’t spoken well of me, as my servant Job has“.  We need to get over the feeling that, “I’m helping you by being strong”.  Actually, suffering will impact us all, we are all sufferers; we all need Christ’s presence.  In my previous Chris writes… I shared about the suffering we experienced through the life, birth and death of our son John.  One thing that struck me about John was that Christ shone out of him.  In his suffering he still trusted us and at the same time truly helped others through their suffering.  On one occasion he flung himself at a friend who was have a hard time of getting a job.  He’d literally just told us that he hadn’t been successful, again, and John leapt out of our arms (he was only 9 months old) and hugged our friend.  No words were spoken the hug was all that was needed for us all!  

To me this illustrates that often there is little or nothing that we can do except be present and pray. Prayer is a wonderful privilege.  A 19th century hymn sums this up so well.  The composer, Joseph Scriven, experienced suffering when his fiancée died just before they were to get married.

Oh what needless pains we bear
All because we do not carry
everything to God in prayer.

There is a story of a badly deformed person with leprosy who was very bitter and who very nervously went to a local church where a man just patted the space next to him on the pew, indicating that he should come and sit next to him. This simple act deeply touched the suffering man.

As you read through the Book of Job you see that he is continually looking for a friend, an advocate, someone to represent him, someone to support him.  We now know that he was looking for Christ.  God’s ultimate answer to suffering is not a philosophy or even theology but a person.  When nothing else makes sense, and nothing else is left, Jesus is there, and He will hold us fast.  This also means that if we are not sure what to do, we won’t go far wrong if we follow Christ’s example in dealing with suffering, above all in showing compassion. James in his letter says:

As you know, we count as blessed those who have persevered. You have heard of Job’s perseverance and have seen what the Lord finally brought about. The Lord is full of compassion and mercy. (James 5:11).

Suffering helps us to develop perseverance and steadfastness.  Romans 5:1-5 says tribulation leads to perseverance, and perseverance in turn develops character, which gives us hope.  When we choose not to give up during difficult circumstances, and look to the person of Christ, we allow God to build up good qualities in our life that will keep us going in the long term.

As we suffer did you know that we participate in the sufferings of Christ?  So nothing should be more valuable for us than to know Christ (Phil. 3:8-11), and to truly know someone we have to relate to their life and experiences.

God at times allows us to suffer so we can humbly recognise how much we need Him.  When we trust His will, He uses those trials in amazing ways.

Prayer:

Lord God, You are the strength of all who put their trust in you.  Mercifully accept our prayers and, because through the weakness of our human nature we cannot do anything good without you, by the Holy Spirit grant us the help of your grace so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in will and deed through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Based on a sermon first delivered on 28th June 2020