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

Endings and beginnings

If you are like me, you probably don’t really enjoy films where the main character dies at the end of the story.  Sometimes you know that the character is going to die, other times it may come as a shock to you.  When this happens I feel cheated; it wasn’t supposed to end like that, they died before their time.  I want a happy-ever-after ending, something to give me hope and to make me feel good about life. 

If this was my outlook on life – a happy ending – then I am going to be sorely disappointed every time someone I love dies, and then disappointed when I die!   But the truth is we all have to face death.  However, the times we’re going through at the moment are making this truth too much of a reality.  People are dying before their time.  Death is very visible, it’s all around us.  When will it end?

Films are stories that remind us that for each of us our lives are a series of stories that join together over time to form one story, one that is unique to each of us.  Our story deserves to be listened to and taken seriously, because to know a person’s story is the only way to truly understand them.

I wonder how many of the people you know, know your whole story?  You may think that your closet family members, or a particular special friend, know everything about you, but they will only have journeyed with you from the time they first met you.  What you did before you met them will only truly be known to you. 

Regardless of the number of accounts we hear about a person – it is never fully complete, only God knows the full story.  And the sad fact is that for all of us our stories end in death.  Even when death comes at the end of a long and full life we still want our stories to end happily.  But sadly we know that they don’t. 

In today’s Gospel reading we heard how after the horrific death of Jesus we find two of his followers trudging wearily to Emmaus, (Luke 24:13-35).  For these two disciples it was too short a life for Jesus.  His story simply didn’t end as they wanted it to end.  Jesus’ life had filled their lives with hope and meaning, and had ended in a humiliating and painful death, which no doubt only added to the sadness and emptiness they were experiencing as they trudged down the road.

Then, so unexpectedly, Jesus joined them on their journey, but they failed to recognise him.  Who would have?  After all, no one expects someone who died three days before to be walking and talking to you! 

As they walked together did you see what Jesus encouraged them to do?  He encouraged them to talk, and they poured out their whole sad story to him.  They told Him the good parts of it, and then its sad ending.  For them the death of Jesus signified the end of the story, the end of a dream, the end of everything.

The other thing Jesus did, something that He is very good at, was that He patiently listened to them.  And having done this, He took up the story where they had left off.  He filled in the beginning and the end of His story.  It was not the end, He showed them that through His death, far from being the end of the dream, it was just the beginning to a new chapter, paradoxically the very means by which they thought their dreams were crushed they were actually fulfilled. Jesus on the road repeated what He had said earlier to all His disciples before His death.  Did not the Messiah have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?’

During the meal they shared together He opened their eyes in a way that enabled them to recognise Him.  Looking though spiritual eyes, the penny dropped.  The very one who they thought was dead is alive and sitting beside them.  So Jesus was right, death did not have the last word in the story after all.

Far from having a bad ending, the story had a brighter ending than they could ever have imagined. Jesus had journeyed through suffering and death to a life of glory, in heaven.  And it’s only through His death and resurrection that we too are offered a life that goes on beyond this life we know here on earth.  A new chapter for our own lives, a life which is free from pain and suffering, free from the sickness and disease that cause so much despair and lock down!  A life which is free from tears because we will be with the only one that truly knows the real us.  The one who knows our full story.

That is the gift that God offers to all of us.  This is part of what living a resurrected life now is all about, and Jesus wants us to understand that He made this amazing and awesome provision for each of us: to journey with us both now and into eternity.

As soon as we live our lives for Jesus, with Him as our Lord and Saviour, we are living the resurrected life that our Heavenly Father has always planned for us.  For it is Jesus alone who has destroyed the bonds of death, for it is Jesus alone who can lead us into a new life of love, freedom and hope, now and for the future.

It goes without saying that God’s desire is that we accept His offer of His Son walking along side us in a resurrected life.  Why?  Because one day we will come face to face with the God who truly knows more about us than any other.  By accepting this offer from our Heavenly Father we can choose the last chapter of our life, which is eternal life. 

As we walk in eternal life, walking in a resurrected life, we will hear Jesus calling us by name, just as He did to Mary at the tomb on the first Easter Day.  That call gave her great delight, instantly lifting her out of all her doubt and fears. 

As we continue during these days may we allow Jesus to come up alongside us and walk with us.  As we recognise Jesus, may the eyes of our heart, the centre of our spiritual activity, light up our lives so that other people will see the God we know, and will turn to follow Him for themselves.

During this time, I pray that all who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour will be designated by both believers and non-believers as wise (1 Kings 3:12, etc.), pure (Psalms 24:4; Matthew 5:8), upright and righteous (Genesis 20:5 Genesis 20:6; Psalms 11:2; 78:72), pious and good (Luke 8:15).

Every new morning, may we cloth ourselves afresh with His supernatural wisdom, pureness, righteousness, sincerity, humility and goodness.  When we do this our hearts will not harden and we will see the true impact that sin has on our life, and be able to deal with it confidently in the knowledge that God can forgive us through His Resurrected Son Jesus Christ.

Based on a sermon from 26th April 2020

Christ is risen!

Image by TC Perch from Pixabay

Over 10 years ago I said these words….

As I look around, I see great events playing out on the world stage: Efforts are being made to bring democracy to regions of the world where there is none. World health organisations are working around the clock to stem the tide of TB and SARS, diseases which if not fought might become another black plague. We now have an unprecedented ability to communicate ideas and beliefs to any part of the world and to any person in the world. We now have the ability to move produce and goods around the world which makes it possible as never before to bring significant relief to regions of the world that suffer.

All these efforts were to help bring life, and the world appeared to have become so small…

Yet, as I watch the world today, I think, “wow, what a difference Covid -19 has caused”.  We are facing a new black plague… the whole world is in lock-down.  What an impact this is having on our daily lives.  Before our very eyes the world appears to be re-shaping; many things may never be the same again.

But then I am reminded of two things.

First, I am reminded that no event in history has shaped the world like the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and secondly, I am reminded of this simple fact about life; life does not go on forever. There is death.

Every one of us must face our mortality.  Now is the time to think about our own death – what arrangements have we made so that our loved ones know our desires and plans?

Advances in science and medicine cannot prepare us to answer the ultimate questions in life.  And yet this morning through Jesus’ Resurrection I can boldly proclaim hope and life. Yes, there is death.  But life is in Jesus Christ, the hope of our resurrection.

Questions many often ask have taken on a new immediacy, questions such as:

  • Is there hope?
  • Is there new life?
  • Is there life after death?
  • Is there reason for joy?

The answer to such questions has arrived this day (Easter Sunday). It is here waiting for you. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

This is good news for the depressed.  Good news for those who have lost loved ones.  Good news to those who have lost their joy.  Christ is risen!

But what are the implications of Easter?

First, the disciples were changed. The most telling evidence of the resurrection is not the empty tomb but the transformation of the disciples to new life. Their disappointment changed to exhilarating joy. Their fear changed to an evangelical boldness.

They assumed a new audacity. In less than two months they went from cowardly disciples who locked themselves behind closed doors for fear of the Jewish authorities, to courageous apostles who stood before thousands in the presence of the Jewish authorities proclaiming the Good News of Jesus Christ.

Secondly, because of the resurrection our view of death has changed.  The resurrection affirms our instinctive conviction that death is not the end of a person’s story.  For Christians their story is rooted in the heart of God, who is the source of all life.

It is, of course, true, that a day shall come when we shall all die and in time no living person will speak our name.  But the resurrection affirms that God will always know our name, that he will never stop loving us because He has gifted us with eternal life.  Death has been swallowed up in the victory eternal life.

Finally, because of the resurrection, our view of Jesus has changed. It is interesting that the story ends as it began. At the birth of Jesus, the angel’s message to the shepherds was: Be not afraid. When Mary comes to the tomb on that first Easter Sunday the message is: Be not afraid.

We have come full circle. Yet it appears that we are frightened of God, despite being taught that God is love!  And we have good reason – we know God’s purity and we know our inadequacy. Yet, because of the resurrection, our whole understanding of God is different. Why? Because our understanding of Jesus is different. The one on the cross and the one who rose from the dead is none other than God incarnate. Jesus the Galilean is God in human form.

The nail prints in his hands tell us that our Almighty God experienced human suffering. Yet, He is none other than your shepherd fighting for your survival in the valley, your bread sustaining you during the famine, your counsellor who defends you on judgement day.

He is the door, the vine, the gate, the light of the world. He is your sacrifice before God for the sins you have committed. So the nail prints qualify Him to stand before God and plead our case.

And how do I know this? One reason….. He lives!

The empty cross, and His resurrection to new life gives us a whole new understanding of Jesus. Because of the resurrection we have a hope and a new life that the world cannot give, and that cannot be taken from us so…. do not be afraid.

The message that all have been waiting for has this day arrived. It is a three-word message:

Christ Is Risen!

Easter Day, 12th April 2020

Bible reading: John 20:1-18

Hope

Hope

In our Bible reading (Rev 21 :1-7), a prophet who lived in violent times dreamt of peace, for the Book of Revelation is a book of prophecy.  It may come across as violent, but that’s because it comes from a turbulent time.

When it was written, Christians were a tiny minority in the Roman Empire and Rome had unleashed extreme violence on them.  The writer fears that there is more to come.  So in writing of dragons, plagues, wars, horse riders going into battle he was reflecting violent times.

The purpose of this book was not to frighten Christians but to reassure them. For in these visions, there is one thing which is always true – the enemies of Christ never win, for we read Christ will be victorious – for Jesus Christ is Lord!

So the book of Revelation is an extraordinary, imaginative portrayal of the spiritual realities underlying our world.  At its heart is the understanding that the world is a spiritual battleground, in which the forces of evil far too often seem victorious.  Nevertheless, Revelation 21 gives us a vision of hope.  As we reflect on the end of World War One, here’s what I believe these verses say to us today.

FIRSTLY the world cannot save itself.  World War One was the first in which killing took place on an industrial scale.  The poet Wilfred Owen spoke of those ‘who die as cattle’.

No doubt many feel conflicted about the war today and so hesitant about just celebrating it as a victory.  One reason for this is that we are painfully aware of its cost.  Another is that we know it was not, as HG Wells said, “the war to end war.”  As Christians, war is not the answer, because it never achieves a good end by itself.

SECONDLY we are promised a better future.  One of the great gifts that God gives us is hope.  We want to look for something better, beyond the trials of this life. Striving for this looks different in peacetime, and in some ways it’s harder – people are more selfish and it’s easy to lose sight of the goal.  So in peacetime our enemies include poverty, selfishness, greed, ignorance and injustice.  However, what Jesus calls us to do is to believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word.

So hope is the divine gift of discontent with how the world is, and… the desire to change it.

THRIDLY in the end, all our hope is in God!  The Bible is a story with a beginning, a middle and an end, and Revelation 21 is about the end.

The story begins in a garden in which God walked with Adam and Eve, and ends with a city in which He walks with a multitude of His people. This city is perfect, because it comes down ‘out of heaven’.  God comes to us to dwell with us forever, and every tear will be wiped away, and everything will be made new.

When the Great War ended in 1918, many people hoped the world would be a better place. But Revelation tells us that we cannot build a perfect world without God.  The proverb says that ‘God writes straight with crooked lines’ – In other words He brings good out of our mistakes and failures. But without God, all we’re left with are our failures!

We don’t know how or when God will bring His new creation to completion, but when we are with God, with our sins forgiven and our future secure, we will be like Christ!  We will truly be made perfect in Him.

This is because the Trinity will finish off the work of salvation which God started when He created everything in the first instance, which Jesus continued with His redemptive work on the cross and which will be completed when the redeemed are invited into God’s new creation.

May we be willing to catch this vision of God’s future.  If we do this we will begin to see the world change, for this vision is an assurance that things will not go on for ever, that the suffering of today will finally give way to the hope of heaven, where God will dwell with us.

I believe that God wants us to know that nothing can take that away from us, for God will be faithful and deliever us from all evil.  Then there “will be no more death or mourning, or crying, or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21.4 NIV).

Our future joy and life lie with the risen Christ!

Remembrance Sunday 11/11/18.  Based on Revelation 21: 1-7, and on notes by Mark Woods.

https://www.christiantoday.com/reporter/mark-woods