Wait No More
‘From this man [David’s] descendants
God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.’ Acts 13:23
Waiting can be hard. In many way’s are in a season of
waiting. Waiting in cues outside
shops. Waiting on deliveries. Waiting on schools to open! Waiting (most of all) for good news – good
news that says that Covid-19 is no longer a threat. Waiting on good news about returning the
church, Sunday Club, Youth group. We’re
living in a world of waiting.
I hope this time of lockdown and
waiting has caused us to reflect on our relationship with God. When it comes to spiritual well-being many of
us are waiting. We’re waiting for good
news – good news that says someone has come up with a method, a practice, or a
product that we bring us spiritual well-being once and for all. But if we’re looking to methods, practices
and products, the bad news is that we will be waiting for a very long time –
forever in fact. The good news is that we don’t have to wait on the good news,
because the good news came 2,000 years ago, and it wasn’t a method, or a
practice, or a product – it was a person!
His name is Jesus.
One day, at the turn of the first
century, in a place called Pisidian Antioch, Paul was asked to speak to the
people at the synagogue. Paul knew that
they worshipped God, and that they were waiting – waiting on the Messiah to
come. Paul was about to tell them the
wait was over.
He began by taking them through into
450 years of their history. He reminded
them that God had chosen Israel, rescued them out of slavery in Egypt, put up
with their rebellion during the years they wandered in the desert, and led them
into the Promised Land. He reminded them
that God had provided them with leaders and kings, including David, the
greatest king they’d ever had and the one from whose family the Saviour would
come. Then he reveals to them that from
David descendants God had brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as he promised.
people have had to wait a very long time, but in Jesus Christ, all God’s
promises had been fulfilled. He is the
promised king, who rescues his people, who leads them to the promised land. He is the one who’s heart matches God’s
heart, and has done everything God said he would do. We need wait no more. The wait for salvation can be over today,
because it came in the form of the Lord Jesus many years ago. His life can be your life today if you turn
to him. As we gradually and carefully return
to our church buildings this summer let us commit anew to the Lord Jesus, the
one who came to end the waiting, for the good of the whole world.
The Promise Keeper
‘He is not here; he has risen! Remember how he told you, while he was still with you in Galilee…’ Luke 24:6
We make and break our promises all the time, but Jesus doesn’t. Christ is the great promise keeper and we find those promises in the Bible. Jesus told his friends that he would ‘be delivered over to the hands of sinners’ – that promise was kept. He said he would ‘be crucified’ – that promise was kept. He said that on the third day he would ‘be raised again’ – amazingly this promise was kept! If that’s true, then it’s all true.
So why not believe the promise in Romans 10; ‘If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.’ Or his promise in Matthew 28 to be with us ‘always, to the end of the age.’ Or from Revelation 21 that one day ‘…He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain...’ – those promises will be kept too.
So, as it says in Hebrews 10 "Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful." God keeps his promises. The empty tomb on Easter morning is the proof.
He is risen. Alleluia!
The Inextinguishable Light
‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1:5
Hands up if you’re new year’s resolution has gone to pot already?! If so, you’re not alone! Every new year we plan to better ourselves and our world. We plan to read more, exercise more, reduce screen time etc. in an effort to do better. This is a good thing to do. So why do our plans tend to go to pot so quickly? Could it be because, as Christmas lights are switched off, we lose sight of the Christmas baby – the light that shines in the darkness?
There is a push is some quarters of our society to drive Jesus out of the public square. Some are saying that God is no longer welcome in schools or hospital etc., nor is he needed. Most people at least like the idea of improving our world, but as we turn our backs on Christ’s light we are trying to make the world a better place…by groping around in the darkness.
Thankfully, no amount of darkness will extinguish the light of Christ. So in 2020, as we look to make things better, we can reallocate resources, we can reorganize governments, health systems, and financial systems; we can create new mission statements, provide more education, more therapy, do more exercise, and encourage better understanding and acceptance of others – in the hope that all will be well. But if we do it without Jesus at the centre, we will continue to go around in circles.
Our diocesan 20/20 vision implores us, through bible study, prayer, fellowship and mission, to become community transforming, character building churches. The key to all this is to be Christ-centred. So this year let us strive to make our world a better place. It will never be made perfect until Christ comes again, but it can be made better if we turn our lives and our churches over to him, and learn to love and serve him, confident that Jesus will never be brushed aside - the darkness will never put out the light of Christ.
Hope & Peace
‘The infant will play near the cobra’s den, and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest. They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.’ Isaiah 11:8-9
In David Attenborough’s recent wildlife series Seven World’s, One Planet there was a scene with a viper flawlessly camouflaged against a rock. His tail looked like a spider, so he dragged it back and forth across the rock to entice birds, and of course, when they came too close, the snake stuck and dinner was served! In the Garden of Eden, the snake, looked and sounded good, but he wasn’t. It enticed, tempted, and tricked Eve into disobeying God, Adam followed suit, and all of us have fallen fowl of his tricks ever since. But when Jesus returns and makes the world like Eden again, the devil’s power will be no more, his venom won’t work, and his deceptive camouflage won’t trick us. Isaiah tells us that this is ‘because the whole earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord.’ A knowledge of God will fill the whole earth, every corner, every heart, soul and mind, and so things will be done his way, and all will be well. When Christ’s Kingdom comes, there will be peace on earth, and all those who trust in Jesus will know peace beyond their wildest imaginations. Let’s hold this hope out before us in 2020.
What’s In A Name?
‘Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: the virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.’ Isaiah 7:14
Does the meaning of your name describe you well?! Apparently Alan means ‘hansom’, Sophie means ‘wisdom’, and Ian means ‘gift from God’, although that’s probably a matter of opinion! In the Bible you’ll often find that the names people have been given describe them really well. The most important person in the bible is Jesus, and so finding out what his name means will tell us a lot about what He is like.
In the Christmas story an angel tells a nervous Joseph not to be afraid to take Mary as his wife, because her baby is from God. And that he was to give him the name ‘Jesus’. This happened just as the prophet Isaiah had predicted it would more than 700 years before! He had said that a virgin would give birth to a son and he would be called ‘Immanuel’. Joseph trusted God so he did exactly what the angel had asked him and took Mary home as his wife.
Jesus means ‘God is salvation - the Lord saves’, and Immanuel means ‘God with us’. The baby was given these names by God because he would save his people from their sins, by leaving the comfort of heaven to come down into our world, eventually to die on the cross, to forgive the sins of all those who turn their lives over to him.
So our names might be good, but there is no name as great as Jesus’ name. Jesus is God. He came to earth to be with us. He is our Saviour, and because of him we can have God with us every day forever. At the name of Jesus, every knee should bow.
Return of the King
‘You also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.’ Luke 12:40
Has anyone ever knocked on your door when you weren’t ready? Either the hallway was in a mess or you weren’t dressed properly. Before the door’s opened, there’s a panic as we scurry around trying to cover up the mess and make things look right? Let’s not be like that when Jesus comes and knocks. We can’t fool him with a cover up, we must be ready to ‘immediately open the door for him.’
As Christians we must be awake and alert. The world we can see is not all that there is. The Kingdom of God has come in Jesus Christ, and because of his death and resurrection, when we become his followers he is delighted to welcome us into the Kingdom. We don’t know when he’s coming again, but we do know he is coming again to judge the living and the dead, and to complete his new creation. So we must keep our lamps burning and be watchful. We must live lives of service to him by serving one another’s needs and reaching out to those in physical, spiritual or emotional poverty. May we always be ready for the return of the King – Jesus Christ.
Cut To The Heart
‘God has raised this Jesus to life, and we are all witnesses of it.’ Acts 2:32
These were Peter’s words during his sermon on the very first Pentecost. He, and his friends, had actually seen the risen Lord Jesus. Not long after the Easter events at the cross and the empty tomb a crowd gathered to witness a strange and wonderful sight. Jesus’ closest friends were filled with the Holy Spirit and they began to teach everyone about the wonders of God. Each person heard them in their own language. Peter went on to tell them that Jesus was no ordinary man, and that they had handed him over to be nailed to the cross. But he had been raised from the dead. He really was the Messiah after all. Imagine the realisation, imagine how their stomachs must have tightened, imagine the guilt, as they realised that the prophesies had been fulfilled and Jesus was in fact God himself. We’re told that ‘they were cut to the heart’ and desperately asked Peter, ‘What should we do?’
Thankfully there is always hope. Despite their complete rejection of Jesus Peter simply says ‘Repent, and be baptized in the name of Jesus so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.’ This is the call the risen Jesus makes to all of us. When we realise who he is we are to turn our hearts away from our sinful desires and turn them over to the Lord Jesus. When we do this, he promises to take up residence in our hearts through his Holy Spirit, and gives us the strength to live sacrificial lives for him and for one another.
The City of God
‘The city was shining with the glory of God. It was shining bright like a very expensive jewel, like a jasper, clear as crystal.’ Revelation 21:11
John’s vision of God’s city shows us that heaven is a beautiful place. Human beings build all sorts of extraordinary cities, from modern places like Dubai, to ancient places like Athens. However, even the most incredible human cities will have nothing on God’s city. We live in a world where many struggle to hang on to their homes or have no home at all. In God’s home place there’s room enough for everyone. When we put our trust in the Lord Jesus he promises to one day take us to be with him in heaven – to the city where there are no tears, and where there is no death or mourning or pain. Sin and wickedness will be no more. God’s people will be wholly free from the presence of sin. Most importantly Jesus will be there and his people will see him face to face. Come to Christ today, and he will journey with you every step of the way in this life, and one day lead you to new life in heaven. He knows the way, because he is the way.
‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’ Luke 23:34
Sometimes it seems like the mob rules. We live in an age where we are flooded with news and opinion via the TV, radio, and most prevalently, the internet. If something of note happens almost anywhere in the world word can spread around the globe in seconds. There are lots of pluses to this of course because we are well-informed, but there’s a dark side to this too. If someone makes a mistake or is accused of something, and it gets picked up by the online world, the mob quickly spring into action. Often with little or no idea of whether a story is true or not they go on the attack. Too often the supposed offender is offered no mercy, no second chance, no room for redemption – the mob want to see them destroyed. 2,000 years ago the mob offered Jesus no mercy and no redemption, and yet Jesus offered mercy and redemption to the mob. They flung mud, lies, and false accusations at him. They led him up a hill to die on a cross. Yet he prayed for their forgiveness on the cross, and when he died and rose again he gave them the opportunity to be reconciled to God. He took the sins of that mob and of all of us upon himself, and as he died he took those sins with him. My prayer is that we can have the courage to remove ourselves from the mob and be like the centurion and the so called ‘good thief’ and see Jesus for the righteous man he was. My prayer this Easter is that we recognise Jesus as the sinless Son of God, and learn to praise him for taking the punishment we deserved for our sins upon himself, so that we can live as members of his Kingdom learning to love him and one another.
Stand By Me
‘The Lord Almighty is with us; the God of Jacob is our fortress.’ Psalm 46:7
When I was buying my wedding ring I was told that the strongest ring I could buy would be one made of titanium. The jeweller said that titanium could withstand pretty much anything! Even so, the strongest and most durable thing in the universe, is not titanium, it’s God himself. Everything in our world has a use-by date. Everything in our world will one day be no more. But God will go on. Even if, as Ben E. King once sang, ‘…the sky that we look upon should tumble and fall or the mountains should crumble to the sea’ - even then God will endure. God is the ultimate impenetrable fortress. No matter who or what attacks him, and no matter if the whole world should literally fall apart, God will stand strong.
If we take refuge inside God our fortress, through faith in his Son Jesus, then we too will endure. We will endure through life’s hardships and hurts, we’ll be sustained as we love and serve the Lord in our daily lives, we’ll walk safely through death when our time comes, and we will live on forever in the city of God (the city that never falls) with God himself. God stands by his followers. He protects them forever. He is our refuge and strength - always.
‘Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!’ Philippians 4:4
For many today, the pursuit of happiness is the ultimate goal. Yet we seem to be living in an age of anxiety, worry, and sadness. The things we are looking to for happiness seem to be failing us, or they bring happiness fleetingly. Happiness is based on our circumstances. If things are going well we are happy, but when things take a turn for the worse our happiness tends to leave us. What we are really looking for is a joy that fills us no matter what our circumstances. The Bible tells us that real joy is to be found in Christ. As committed Christians we know that no matter what is going on in our lives Christ’s promises are steadfast, his salvation is permanent, his Kingdom never ends, his peace guards our hearts and minds, his character and his love never change. Our circumstances change every day, but the Lord never changes, and so we can rejoice in the Lord always.
‘The word of the Lord came to Jonah… “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.” But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish…’ Jonah 1:1-3
Famously, when the Lord asked him to go to Nineveh to preach against its wickedness, Jonah tried to high-tail it and was swallowed by a fish! Why didn’t Jonah want to go to Nineveh? Was he afraid? Nineveh was enemy territory, maybe he feared dying there? A quick read through the book of Jonah would tell you he wasn’t afraid to die. Maybe he didn’t understand what God wanted him to do? A quick read through the book of Jonah would tell you that Jonah knew exactly what God wanted him to do and that he knew God very well - and that was Jonah’s problem! Jonah knew God wanted him to go and call Nineveh out on its sins, and he knew that God was gracious and would forgive anyone who repented and turned to him. These people were enemies of Jonah’s country and Jonah was a patriot. He had no compassion for a people who were different to his, and he hated the fact that God would treat them with the same compassion as Jonah’s people. Are there people out there that we think are less deserving of God’s grace than us and our own people? It is worth remembering that Jesus came into a world just as hostile as Nineveh. Because of our sins we were enemies of God, but Jesus showed a commitment of love towards all people on the cross. So, when we struggle to show grace and compassion for people, think of Jesus’ compassion towards us.
Peace In The Past, Present & Future
‘Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.’ Luke 2:14
What robs your soul of peace - regret, worry, guilt, shame, fear? Who can bring you the peace you long for? Only Jesus. Remember those angels long ago who appeared to some shepherds in a field near Bethlehem. They brought them the great news that the Saviour had been born. Then they glorified God and announced that his peace would be with all those on whom his favour rested. Jesus can bring us peace from our past because, on the cross, he would deal with our sins, and wipe all believers’ slates clean. Jesus can bring us peace in the present. The world offers us peace in all kinds of places, but it never lasts. By his Spirit, Christ offers us a permanent peace that no difficulty or circumstance can take away. Jesus can bring us peace in the future. Life’s ‘what ifs’ often fill us with anxiety, but there’s no ‘what if’ with Jesus because we know that he sticks with all those who stick with him and that the hope of heaven is very real and cannot be taken away from those who trust in Jesus. May the peace of Christ be with you, and real to you, this Christmas and forever.
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…Love your neighbour as yourself…There is no commandment greater than these’ Mark 12:30-31
Jesus’ greatest commandments are about love. Love is at the heart of Christianity and therefore it must be at the heart of the church and at the centre of every aspect our lives. And that love is to flow from us in three directions. First and foremost we must love God our creator, the one who sustains us and saves us. Not just a little bit, not just on Sundays, but with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Secondly, we must love our neighbour. And you will remember that when Jesus was asked who we are to count as ‘our neighbour’ he answered with the story of The Good Samaritan. Jesus makes it clear that everyone is our neighbour, those people we like and those we’re not so keen on. We don’t have any non-neighbours. Our love must extend far beyond our favourite people. And thirdly notice Jesus says ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’ If the God who made the universe and knit each of us together in our mother’s womb loves us then we should love ourselves. That’s not to say we put ourselves number one. The bible clearly tells us to put ourselves last and servant of all. But we are not to hate or disregard ourselves either. Loving God and loving others is actually the best and most healthy way we can love ourselves. Those who truly love God love all those made in his image.
Losing to Save
‘…whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.’ Mark 8:35
It’s very unsettling when life feels out of control isn’t it? We like to be in control, and so verses like Mark 8:35 above are tough for us to get our heads around. We are told that if we are to follow Jesus we must give up our ambitions and plans, and we’re told that it will be hard. So why do it? As Christians we are called be humble, to serve others, and to give up a lot of things as we try to live like Jesus and serve him. So we may or may not have a lot of possessions or achievements under our belts (either way we won’t be able to take those things with us at the end of our lives), but if we believe in Jesus, we will have true and everlasting life with him. We will live lives knowing God and secure in the knowledge that we are completely loved by God. And though we could lose our house, or our money, or even our health, nobody can take Jesus, or his love, away from us. And nobody can take away our place heaven.
When we see how Jesus gave himself up for us on the cross, so that we could be saved from our sin and know God in his kingdom, we will be happy to give up our ideas for life and hand our lives over to him. And though serving Jesus will be very hard at times we can take heart and be strengthened knowing that it is Jesus, the King of kings, that we live for. We have far less control over things in this world than we might think anyway, so why not hand control over to the Lord Jesus, whom we can trust has our best interests at heart and knows what he’s doing.
Today’s Bread Today...Tomorrow & Forever!
Even though they didn’t understand it, the crowds on the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee in Capernaum wanted what Jesus was offering – eternal satisfaction. Which of us doesn’t long for that? They had seen him provide bread for 5,000+ people the day before, but now he was offering them bread from heaven that would give life to the world. Jesus explains to them that he is that bread; “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry...” (John 6:35) Jesus is permanently to the soul what bread is temporarily for the body. ‘Whoever comes to me will never go hungry’ - ‘whoever’! If you think that because of who you are Jesus wouldn’t want anything to do with you, you are wrong. Anyone can approach him and nobody who truly seeks him will be turned away. During Hurricane Ophelia and ‘Breadmageddon’ there wasn’t enough bread to go around! There is always enough of this heavenly bread to go around. When we believe in Jesus we start to see that all those worldly things we chase after to satisfy our souls only temporary satisfy, if they satisfy at all.
The Lord Jesus gave his life for all of us. He died on the cross so that we could have a relationship with God now and evermore. He gave his life so that we could have abundant life now and evermore. Trust in Jesus day and he will sustain you with spiritual food that never spoils. Pray this summer; ‘Bread of heaven, feed me now and evermore.’
The Heart Of The Matter
“People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” 1 Samuel 16:7
One day God sent Samuel out to look for a new king for God’s people in Israel. The previous monarch hadn’t worked out too well. God had told Samuel that he had seen a new king amongst the sons of a man called Jesse. Jesse’s son Eliab impressed Samuel - he looked the part. But God let Samuel know that Eliab was not the man for the job, and then God told Samuel that he could see in a way that Samuel cannot. Samuel saw what was on the outside, and may have seen something of Eliab’s personality through his words and manor, but God always gets to the heart of the matter. He saw to Eliab’s very core, and he was not the man for the job. Seven of Jesse’s sons passed in front of Samuel, but the Lord chose none of them. We can be easily fooled by the outward impressiveness of others. The movers and shakers catch our eye and our attention, but God looks deeper. Jesse had one other son – a shepherd called David. Though hansom, presumably David was unimpressive at first glance, but God’s standards are different to ours and God chose David (the least likely lad) to be his king. Despite his flaws, David was a man after God’s heart, and so he did great things for God and for his people.
1000 years later God chose another unlikely lad to be the ultimate King – a baby born surrounded by animals in a manger. He grew up to be beaten, whipped and nailed to a cross where he died. At that moment, to people he looked like nothing and he looked like a failure. But don’t miss the heart of the matter. Jesus’ heart was for God and for the plight of God’s people, and on that cross he crushed evil for God’s glory and for us. Then he rose again and ascended to majesty, splendour and glory. His name is Jesus, and there has never been anyone so impressive, and he wants us to be people after his own heart.
‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ 1 John 3v1
There was a recent news story about a Chinese couple who have been reunited with their daughter who had gone missing 24 years earlier. This little girl had vanished from her parents roadside fruit stall in 1994 aged 3. Her parents never stopped looking for her. They pursued her year after year in any way they could think of. Her father even became a taxi driver in the hope that he would one day pick his daughter up as a passenger! Last year a police sketch artist decided to help the family by producing a drawing of what the missing girl might look like as an adult. On the other side of China a woman saw the picture online and was amazed by how much it looked like her, and sure enough, DNA tests proved that she was indeed the missing girl. You can imagine the absolute joy of all involved when the family was reunited.
We are God’s children. He carefully and lovingly made each one of us. Unfortunately we have gone missing! Some of us have never fully realised that we have a loving heavenly Father out there. Some of us knowingly walk away from God by rebelling against him or ignoring him. Either way God our Father is pursuing us relentlessly. Like the man in China never gave up on his daughter, God’s never gives up on us. Through Jesus, he has put an offer of eternal redemption before each one of us, which means we can be reunited with him anytime. If we believe in the name of Jesus we can be re-adopted into God’s family forever as sons and daughters. Imagine the absolute joy of all involved at that family reunification! What great love out Father has lavished upon us.
To those who sold doves he said, “Get these out of here! Stop turning my Father’s house into a market!”’ John 2:16
The beginning of March brought heavy snow, and fun as it was for the children, it was very disruptive to daily life. Meetings and appointments had to be cancelled because travel was next to impossible. Access to all kinds of places was restricted or blocked altogether. On one Sunday we couldn’t even get to church, so the snow and the ice even created a barrier to our worship.
In John 2 we come across some other, more serious, barriers to worship in the temple at Jerusalem. Jesus arrived to find cattle, and sheep, and doves being sold in the temple courts. Along with that there was the sound of coins being weighed, and no doubt arguing and bargaining going on with the money exchangers at their tables. The temple was more like a mart than a place of worship! Jesus drove out the animals and turned over the money changers tables. Jesus was not impressed because these people were creating barriers to worship. They were physically in the way, and doing (somewhat corrupt) business, in the very place where the people should have had access to God. Barriers to worship had been created, not by snow and ice, but by people.
The difficult question the scene in the temple forces us to ask ourselves is, ‘what barriers to worship might there be in our places of worship?’, ‘what physical, social, psychological or cultural barriers might there be to others coming to worship God in our churches?’ It’s a really hard question to ask, but when God’s glory and honour are at stake, it’s a question that we must always be asking ourselves. It’s a question we must ask God, and listen for his answers.
Lived and Died, Died and Lived!
‘He is not here; he has risen, just like he said…’ Matthew 28:6
Last Easter The Guardian newspaper ran an article entitled ‘What is the historical evidence that Jesus lived and died?’ And it concluded by saying that the ‘abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question…is whether Jesus died and lived.’
The biblical witness tells us that not only did Jesus live on this earth and die on the cross, but also that his death was not the end – he lived again. If he had only died (and not risen again) we would be a hope-less people. But as Matthew 28 tells us, two days after the crucifixion, some women went to Jesus’ tomb. They must have been upset. With the death of Jesus, their Messiah, their hope had been taken away. However, when they got to the tomb the earth shook and an angel rolled back the huge heavy stone from in front of the tomb, and then he plonked himself down on the tombstone! Naturally, the women were terrified. But the angel reassured them, telling them that Jesus had risen. All of a sudden there was a glimmer of hope. They hurried away, terrified and yet filled with joy. Could this be true?! Yes it was – and before they got the chance to find Jesus – Jesus found them. As they recognise their risen Lord, suddenly the women’s hope came flooding back. Jesus really had kept his promise to rise from the dead! He lived and died, died and lived!
Because of Jesus’ resurrection, death is not the end. Jesus’ resurrection earned for us a new life just like his. If we believe in Christ we can be certain of eternal life. Nothing else in this universe can offer us this kind of hope. In the risen Christ alone our hope is found. Because Jesus lives his hope meets us wherever we are. My prayer is that we meet the risen Lord today, and accept him into our lives as Saviour and Lord.
‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’ Mark 8:34
In Mark 8:34 there are three things Jesus asks of us as his disciples. He asks that we deny ourselves, take up our cross, and follow him.
To deny ourselves is give something up for the sake of someone else. When we deny ourselves we don’t put ourselves first anymore rather we think first of God and of others, just like Jesus did. He gave up all the power and riches of heaven to come to earth, and he said ‘I’ll die for you’. He gave his whole life for all of us. To deny ourselves for Jesus is to give up our own plans and ambitions and hopes, to hand them over to him, and to listen to what he has to say to us. Knowing him and his will for our lives will help us reshape our plans, ambitions, and hopes so that they are pleasing to him, healthy for us, and beneficial for others.
We might get mocked or worse for loving Jesus and living for him. It will be hard at times, but this is what it means to ‘take up your cross’. As Jesus carried the cross he was mocked and jeered, even though he was doing the right thing by everybody. If we really trust him we can be courageous enough to do the right thing no matter what others think.
Finally, it’s very important to notice that it is Jesus we follow. A disciple follows their master. To follow Jesus means much more than just believing in him, it means action! We must live for him full of faith in God the Father, and compassion for other people.
My prayer for our churches during Lent is that we continue to grow as real followers of Jesus. May we see how he denied himself and took up a cross for us, how he gave up his whole life so that we could be saved from our sins and know God forever. May we desire to give up our ideas for how our lives should be and hand them over to him. And though serving Jesus and loving others will be very hard at times, may we take heart and be strengthened knowing that it is Jesus that we follow, the one who took up the heaviest cross of all and gave up everything for us.
On Your Marks, Get Set, Go!
‘…Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.” Mark 1:14-15
In Paul’s second letter to Timothy he likens the Christian life to a race. There are three important moments at the start of certain races; ‘On your marks’ is a call to the starting point, it’s about preparing yourself and readying yourself for the task ahead. ‘Get set’ is about steadying yourself, and committing yourself with disciplined concentration to the task ahead, and ‘go’ is about springing into action.
In Mark 1 we find snapshots of Jesus’ baptism, his temptation in the wilderness, and the beginning of his public ministry. And the phrase ‘On your marks, get set, go’ fits nicely here too.
‘On your Marks’: At Jesus’ baptism he readied himself for his public ministry. He prepared himself by joining John the Baptist at the River Jordan, and as he prepared himself those gathered at the river got a glimpse of who he is. The Spirit of God descended upon Jesus, and God the Father’s voice said: “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.” Jesus was ready for his mission.
‘Get set’: Then Jesus spends 40 days in the wilderness facing and overcoming temptations from Satan. In his victory he showed his steadfast commitment to his Father’s will.
‘Go’ – Then we see Jesus springing to action. Jesus preparation had been leading up to him going to Galilee to proclaim the Good News of God. There he announced that the time has come for the long awaited Messiah. Jesus was claiming to be that Messiah. He told the people that they should exercise sorrow for their sins and turn away from them. We know Jesus did not come to condemn the world (John 3:17) and so he gave the people hope by telling them to believe in the good news that the Kingdom of God was near.
‘On your marks, get set, go’. Can that be our motto as we set out on to run the race in 2018? We must get on our marks and prepare ourselves by reflecting on and rejecting the sin in our lives, strengthened by the knowledge that, as we’ve seen at his baptism, Jesus is God. We must ‘get set’ and steady ourselves to be obedient to God in the face of temptation, confident that we live in the strength of the One who could resist all temptation. And we must ‘go’ and live as those who know they are forgiven and utterly dependant on God. We must go and proclaim the good news of the Lord Jesus Christ, who proclaimed that same good news in all he said and ultimately in his death and resurrection.
Let It Be
“Then Mary said, ‘Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.’” Luke 1:38
“Greetings...the Lord is with you”! When Mary heard these words from an angel we’re told that she was ‘perplexed’. Her first response to God’s approach was to feel troubled, but there was more! The angel cuts to the chase with these famous words:
“Do not be afraid, you have found favour with God, you’re going to have a son, he will be great, he will be the son of the most high, God will make him a king and his kingdom will have no end.”
Wow, that’s quite a thing to hear! Mary’s response this time is to say, ‘but how, it’s not possible?’ The angel goes on to tell Mary that by the power of the Spirit, she will conceive and give birth to a holy child…nothing is impossible with God. We might worry about what people may think if we openly serve God, but Mary’s courage should put that into perspective for us. At that time, for a young unmarried girl to be pregnant would have made her a disgrace in the community’s eyes. What would people think? Yet listen to Mary’s response this time… “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”
Despite her doubts and fears Mary let God come into her life when he revealed himself to her. She played an enormous part in God’s plan, by bringing Jesus the Saviour into our world - the one who would show us how to be people of love, peace and selfless compassion and, even more importantly, the one who would reconcile us to God by taking away our sins through his death on the cross. Are we willing to be open to God’s message and to being part of his plan to draw people to himself and to renew this world? Are we willing to seek the will of God in our lives? This Christmas are we willing to speak words of wisdom and say ‘let it be’ to God.
God Gets The Job Done
'It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.’
Revelation 21: 6
Are you the type of person who writes ‘to do’ lists? If you do, are you the type of person who gets those jobs done?! Sometimes we are great at getting the job done, but sometimes we decide we’ll do it later and it never happens – the shabby fence remains in need of paint, the shirt with the missing button remains ‘unbottonable’, the creaky door will forever creak! The bible assures us that God’s ‘to do’ list will be completed. Thankfully we serve a God who gets the job done. Once upon a time sin crept into the world and it still creeps into our lives. However God made a rescue plan for humankind. Out of love for us he sent his only Son Jesus to die on the cross to take the punishment we deserve for our wrong doing. Jesus paid our debts, and so when we turn our lives over to him he unites his life with ours and covers over our sins.
Revelation 21 paints us a picture of God’s completed work describing heaven as a beautiful city, prepared for God’s people, like a bride prepared for her husband. I’d imagine there are no weathered fences or creaky doors in God’s city! The most spectacular thing about this stunning place is that God himself will live amongst his people, and there will be no doubt that he is their God. This has been the goal of God’s rescue plan all along. The fullness of salvation, now and forever, is freely given to all who want it. We can be a part of God’s completed work because of the Cross of Christ. All we need to do is respond to his invitation, ‘Come!’ Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life’ (Rev 22:17). God gets the job done. This month let’s pray that our group of parishes ‘to do’ list prioritises serving the Lord.
The Kingdom Set In Stone
“…the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed…” Daniel 2:44
In Daniel chapter 2 we come across a hugely successful Babylonian King called Nebuchadnezzar. He had, power, wealth and fame, and yet, he had an agitated soul. His dreams disturbed his sleep and his mind. Once he dreamt of a huge, stunning statue, with a gold head, a silver chest, a belly of bronze, legs of iron, and feet of iron and clay. Then this mighty and frightening statue is hit by a rock, which smashes the feet. Then the statue falls and disintegrates while the rock becomes a huge mountain which fills the whole earth.
The disconcerted King gathers his wise men and councillors to interpret the dream for him, which might not have been a problem if it wasn’t for the fact that the king wouldn’t (or maybe couldn’t) tell them what the contents of the dream were! Needless to say the wise men got nowhere fast. However, while many mysteries lie in darkness for human beings, nothing is unknown to God. So God tells Daniel the details and meaning of the dream, and Daniel informs the king.
The different metals of the statue represented different kingdoms. Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom was represented by the head of gold. The other metals represented other kingdoms that would follow Nebuchadnezzar’s Babylonian empire. The rock that strikes and destroys the statue represents the Kingdom of God. We see again that the kingdoms of this world, no matter how mighty or intimidating, will one day be no more. The kingdom of God, begun in Christ the rock, will one day swallow them all up, until it fills the whole earth. Though none of us know what may happen tomorrow, God has revealed to us what the future will ultimately hold. The Kingdom of God will outlive all earthy kings and kingdoms, and because of what King Jesus has done for us we can become citizens of that everlasting Kingdom paradise today and forevermore. With confidence in the eternal Kingdom and its King, let’s pray that this month our churches help reshape this world into a place that is more like that heavenly kingdom we belong to.
The Vast Supper
‘…the disciples came to Jesus and said, “This is a remote place, and it’s already getting late. Send the crowds away, so they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.” Jesus replied, “They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.”’ Matthew 14:15-16
Often in the gospels when Jesus comes across someone in need we’re told he felt compassion toward them. Seeing people suffer affected his very core and so it is out of compassion that Jesus actively met people’s needs.
The bible tells us that we should be working hard not to be self-obsessed, rather to look out of ourselves with love for God and loving compassion for others. Unfortunately we are often our own prime concern…and self-absorption dulls compassion.
One time, after getting some bad news, Jesus wanted some ‘me time’, so he went off on a boat for some solitude. However when, he arrived at his destination and found more than 5,000 people waiting for him on the shore and his plans were scuppered. But Jesus was not self-absorbed, so immediately he saw the people’s needs, felt compassion, and unhurriedly spent the day healing the sick. When evening came and the crowds got hungry the disciples suggested that Jesus send them away to eat. Jesus insisted that they did not need to go away. It’s striking that Jesus’ people need never leave his presence in order to have their needs met. Not in the least bit intimidated by the enormity of the problem, Jesus takes the measly offering of five loaves and two fish and multiplies them so that there is more than enough to satisfy everyone. We worry about what we a lack but Jesus uses what little we have to do great things!
Everyone needs compassion and we see Jesus’ compassion most completely at the cross. Not intimidated by the enormity of our sin and the sins of the world, he saw our need, and out of compassion he made the ultimate sacrifice by giving himself so that our sins could be forgiven. And what he has done on the cross is enough – every soul can know God and be satisfied. When we come to understand that Jesus has met our greatest need out of compassion, and when we have become his followers, we too must become compassionate people, training our ears to listen, our hearts to love, and our minds and bodies to respond to people’s needs with action. Who will you share the Lord’s compassion with today?
A Feast For The Famine
“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations…and surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’” Matthew 28:18-20
We live in an age where many are trying to push God out of the centre of society. Yet, at the same time, there is a spiritual hunger that people are desperately seeking to satisfy. There’s a spiritual famine out there. People trying all kinds of things to satisfy that hunger, but trying to spiritually feed yourself spiritually with anything other than God is a bit like trying to feed your physical hunger with fast food. It might taste nice at the time but it will catch up with your system and, in the long run, it’s not good for you.
In Matthew 28 Jesus lays out his plan to alleviate global spiritual hunger. As Christians, it is our job to feed and nourish the people with the things of Jesus, who is the bread of life. God satisfies people’s spiritual hunger through his Church. That’s us! Jesus has been given all authority and so when he sends you out on mission you are being given a task from the top. The task is to ‘go and make disciples’ everywhere and anywhere, to introduce people to Jesus, to help them take their first steps into the faith, and to stick with them along their journey of faith. This is Jesus’ plan to feed the spiritually hungry. In a sense he is the Head Chef, and we are the waiters, serving the people the gourmet spiritual food he has cooked up. It’s a daunting task, but Jesus says “I am with you always”. This truth should reassure us and equip us to carry out his task of spiritually feeding the world.
Psalm 34:8 says “Taste and see that the LORD is good…” When it comes to spiritual hunger the Lord Jesus Christ is the only thing on the menu worth turning to, and when we have fed on his goodness, we are duty bound to become his waiters, serving that goodness to others, until the day that Jesus takes us to be with him, to a place where he will satisfy our spiritual hunger completely and forever.
“To those who through the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ have received a faith as precious as ours” 2 Peter 1:1
Have you ever thought of your faith as precious? The apostle Peter certainly considered his faith to be precious. The opening verses of his second letter in the New Testament go some way to tell us why. Essentially, through our faith we can know Jesus, we can know who we are and who we can be.
In the first four verses of the letter Peter tells us who Jesus is, describing him as God, Saviour, Christ and Lord. Through our faith we can know that Jesus is not merely a man or a good teacher, but God. We can know that he came to save us from our sins. We can know that he is God’s promised Messiah. We can know that he rules the world and should be served as Lord.
Through our faith we can know who we are and who we can be. Peter tells us that we are people with evil desires that play our part in corrupting this world, but he also tells us that, by Jesus’ divine power, we can escape that corruption and become more like Jesus. By knowing Jesus we have been given everything we need to live like him here on earth and to one day share in his Kingdom in heaven. This is precious faith indeed!
Peter wrote his letter to counter some dodgy teachers who were peddling ‘fake news’ about God. Some Christian’s were being taken in by them but, as someone who actually knew the man Jesus and had been commissioned by him to build his Church, Peter is a reliable source for the truth. So the gospel he brings us is not fake news, it’s great news about the Lord Jesus. What a precious faith we have be given by our precious God.
What Does This Mean?
‘Amazed and perplexed, they asked one another, “What does this mean?” Acts 2:12
At Pentecost, when we read Acts 2, we read about rushing wind and flames of fire appearing over people’s heads as they begin speaking in languages they had never learned? And we may well ask the question, ‘what on earth does this mean?’ You may be glad to know that many of the witnesses to the events of Pentecost were asking the same question. The answer is that Jesus, through his Holy Spirit, is still at the very heart of the church today. This is both deeply profound and moving, but in of itself that answer still provokes the question ‘what does it mean?’
It means the Holy Spirit has come upon the church. Before his ascension Jesus told the disciples to wait until they had been ‘clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). Jesus meant that they were to wait for the gift of the Holy Spirit. The commotion in Acts 2 is the very noticeable arrival of the Spirit as promised.
It means that Jesus is who he said he was. The people knew that prophets like Joel had said that ‘in the last days’ (meaning in the time after the Messiah had come) the Spirit would be poured out upon people and they would begin to teach about Jesus. So, if the Spirit had come, it meant the Messiah had come too.
It means that we as believers have a purpose. The last thing Jesus says to the disciples before he ascends into heaven is: ‘…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Just as the Spirit is a witness to who Jesus is, we are to be witnesses to who Jesus is, and the Spirit dwells within us so that we can do this.
The Spirit came first to where God’s people were gathered, just as Jesus had promised, and he still comes to each believer where they are. Be encouraged to know that Jesus, through the Holy Spirit, is still at the very heart of the church today.
The Road From Despair to Joy
‘…beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, Jesus explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself.’ Luke 24:27
Bewildered and downcast two disciples set out on the seven mile journey westward along the gently climbing path to the village of Emmaus. At some point along the road a mysterious stranger had come up to join them. They didn’t know it yet, but in their darkest hour, the Lord Jesus himself had come alongside them and to journey with them. Although they’d been talking about him all the way along the road they didn’t recognise him. One commentator put it a lovely way saying that ‘the disciples were walking in both a fog of doubt and in the presence of the risen Messiah at the same time.’ So if you’re filled with doubt about Jesus or the resurrection, you’ll be encouraged to know that some of Jesus’ closet friends were the first sceptics. They thought the cross had ruined their hope by taking away their Saviour, when in fact it had increased their hope beyond anything they could ever have imagined by taking away their sin.
These disciples had forgotten Jesus’ words. He had told them many times that he would have to suffer and die, and that on the third day he would rise again. When we forget God’s Word we forget about God, we forget about who he is and about his mighty acts throughout history. His promises become fading flickers in our memories and our understanding becomes garbled until he no longer makes sense to us. We head for despair. But despair about our eternal futures becomes joy at the thought of eternal paradise when we immerse ourselves in God’s Word. On the road to Emmaus Jesus intervenes and teaches the two men, opening up each part of Scripture and showing them how it all pointed to a suffering servant. Long story short, the disciple’s eyes are opened, fresh hope to springs up in their hearts, the fog was gone, their sight was clear – and they saw Jesus.
The journey from Jerusalem to Emmaus was a journey from utter despair to unbridled joy. The story of Easter takes us on a journey from despair to joy. Despair under the weight of our sins, to joy at the release of God’s forgiveness. Despair at an unknown, or bleak, on non-existent eternity, to the joy of knowing we can be with the Lord Jesus both now in this difficult world and forevermore in paradise. This is what Easter is all about.
Never Give Up Praying
‘Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.’ Luke 18:1
Prayer can be difficult. Sometimes it frustrates us, sometimes we’re just too busy, and sometimes we are just so absorbed in conversation with daily life and the world around us that we don’t have time for conversation with God. One of the root reasons we may give up on prayer is because we don’t believe in God’s promise that his Kingdom will one day come. In the parable in Luke 18:1-8 we come across Jesus is telling his disciples ‘to pray always and not to lose heart.’ He tells them a story about a judge with high status, great authority and power. But we’re told that he’s a man who had nothing to do with God and couldn’t care less about people. A vulnerable widow, involved in some kind of dispute, comes to the judge looking for justice. Under the circumstances justice for this widow didn’t seem likely. And yet, through her persistence the heartless judge gives in to her and justice is what she gets.
Jesus’ point is that if this important judge who couldn’t care less about anybody but himself eventually granted justice to the lowly widow how much more will the God of love and compassion grant justice to his people. ‘Will not God grant justice to his chosen ones who cry to him day and night...I tell you, he will quickly grant justice to them.’ (Luke18:7)
Though at the moment we live in a broken world that often puts us off praying, as Christians we believe that Jesus will return and make this world whole again, and we should long for that day to come. Jesus wants us to pray day and night for his Kingdom to come and through our words and actions to play our parts in making his Kingdom visible to those around us. Never give up praying, because we pray to a God who never gives up on his promises to us.
The Visible Church
‘…let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Matthew 5:16
Although Christ is invisible to us for now, his Church is not, and so we have a duty to act on Christ’s behalf, with his help, in ways that show others who he is and what he is like. When discussing Matthew 5:13-16 in his book The Cost of Discipleship Dietrich Bonhoeffer says that the Church is called to be both ‘salt’, cleansing and preserving the earth, and ‘light’, which by definition must be visible. He goes on to point out that for a church to become invisible is to deny Jesus’ call. Bonhoeffer says that followers of Christ ‘are a visible community; their discipleship is visible in action which lifts them out of the world.’ So Christians must follow Jesus and allow him to shape them, rather than allowing the culture of the world to shape them. In obedient response to Jesus, by being ‘salt’ and ‘light’, the church has a duty to transform the culture. We must make a difference.
We are called to do good deeds, but not so that we look good to others or so that we feel good about ourselves, but to glorify our Father in heaven. The good that we do should show God’s love to others. Through us people should taste and see God’s goodness and glory. Through the Church people should see that Jesus is the true light of the world, and that he is the salt that came to cleanse us from our sins and to preserve us in this life and into eternity. When we are salt and light for the Lord, people’s lives will be changed both now and forevermore. I wonder what you could for God and neighbour today?
“…everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock” Matthew 7:24
There’s an old children’s chorus that goes:
I met Jesus at the crossroads, Where the two ways meet;
Satan too was standing there, And he said ' Come this way,
Lots and lots of pleasures I can give to you this day.'
But I said 'No!’ There's Jesus here, Just see what He offers me:
Down here my sins forgiven, up there, a home in heaven;
Praise God that's the way for me.
When we meet with Jesus, we meet him at a crossroads where two ways meet. One road takes us the way of the world and the other takes us Jesus’ way. And so, when we meet Jesus, we have a decision to make. Are we going to go follow Jesus down his path or are we going to go off in a different direction to him? As the chorus above tells us, Jesus’ path offers sins forgiven and a home in heaven. John 10:10 tells us that Jesus’s path offers a full life!
In church in the run up to Lent we will be taking a look at Jesus’ famous ‘Sermon on the Mount’ found in Matthew 5-7. This sermon may well be the best place in the Bible for us to see what a Christian should be and what a Christian should do. Throughout the sermon Jesus contrasts the world’s way and His way and at the end he tells us that listening to his words and putting them into practice is wise because it’s like building your house upon a solid foundation. When the storms come it doesn’t fall down. In the same way, a life built upon Jesus can weather any storm, and stay standing on into eternity.
My prayer is that, in 2017, as we stand at the crossroads we will recognise Jesus’ way as the way of life and that each of us will be singing ‘Praise God that’s the way for me’!
God’s Plans Cannot Be Derailed
‘In his name the nations will put their hope.’ Matthew 12:21
Superman is a film that will almost certainly appear on TV at Christmas-time. Good old fashioned super hero stories appeal to many because we enjoying seeing the hero win the day. Despite every wicked attempt of the villain to cause chaos, we have every faith that the hero’s plan to rescue the world will come to fruition.
This is the story the human race longs for in real life, but it’s a story we find ourselves struggling to believe really exists. We live in a world where it can often feel like the bad guy is winning and the hero is nowhere to be seen. And yet, when we look at the story of Jesus’ birth in the bible we begin to see that the heroic story does exist and that, despite every wicked attempt of the villains, the hero’s plans cannot be derailed.
In Matthew’s gospel, immediately after we read about the birth of the baby Jesus who came to bring light, salvation, restoration and hope, we read about a super-villain, called Herod, bent on death and destruction. When Herod hears about Jesus’ birth he feels threatened. His anger burns and he gives orders to kill all the children under 2 in Bethlehem in a desperate attempt to get rid of his rival. Thankfully, even this devious plan was not going to stop our hero. God warns Joseph about Herod in a dream and they hide away until Herod’s death. Jesus was born to go to the cross to make a sacrifice for all of humanity, and despite his direct and brutal attempts, Herod the super-villain couldn’t stop God’s plan. Jesus would come up against many other villains in his life and yet he still fulfilled the plan to beat death and to defeat sin for all those who believe in him.
Though there are still villains afoot, and much hardship in this world, there’s no need to worry because the hero is still at work. There’s more to the plan and, just like in the superhero movies, we know that the plan is going to work out. We have an assurance that despite the chaos now, ultimately good will prevail. The heroic story that the human race longs for does actually exist. God’s plans for Jesus’ life were not derailed and neither will God’s plans to make all things new. The hero wins the day!
‘One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him…’ Luke 17:15-16
Have you ever been given a gift and not been thankful? If so it probably means that either you didn’t value the gift or you didn’t care about the giver. Or possibly, it meant that you loved the gift so much that you forgot all about the person who gave it to you. In Luke 17 Jesus meets ten men with leprosy. All ten of them cry out to Jesus for mercy from a distance. All ten receive mercy and are healed. However, only one comes back to thank Jesus and to praise God. The other nine were so delighted with the gift they had been given that they neglected to come back and thank the giver. They used Jesus for what he could give them but they showed no interest in Jesus himself. So, though they were healed physically, they may well have missed out on the greater and more important spiritual healing that Jesus offers everyone. At Christmas time we thank that relative who gives us the terrible present because we love them! Well, Jesus is the greatest giver and he has given us the greatest gift. In fact, Jesus himself is the greatest gift we have ever been given. He gave us his very self by dying on the cross to take away our sins. Surely he deserves our thanks. Why not commit to giving him thanks every day this month?
The Great Escape
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Exodus 20:2
The baby in a basket, the burning bush, the fearsome Pharaoh, the plagues, the crossing of the Red Sea, the bread from heaven, the Commandments, and the awesome presence of the God almighty! The story of how Moses and the Israelites escaped from Egypt has it all. In the book of Exodus we read about how God led his people out of slavery in Egypt and into the desert towards the promised land. His people were to go from serving the cruel Pharaoh to serving the living God. It makes for an exciting read but, as Tim Chester puts it, ‘the book of Exodus is not simply an inspiring tale from the past. It is our story’ (Exodus For You, p9). The human story is one marred by the problem of sin, but just as the great escape from slavery in Egypt was a master plan of the Lord’s, our great escape from slavery to sin is a master plan of the Lord’s, and so there is great hope for humankind. The whole of the exodus story points forward to Jesus and the cross. Through Moses, God made a way through the Red Sea for his people. Through Jesus on the cross God made a way through our greater problem – the problem of our sin.
Maybe you feel like your sins and the sins of the world are crushing you today? If so remember the Lord your God. The same God who untangled Israel from their oppressors wants to untangle is from those sins and situations that overwhelm us. My prayer for us this month is that we turn to this great God in worship and praise and remember the great things he has done for us.
What is Grace?
‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me’ Psalm 51:10
In 2 Samuel 11 & 12 we have the story of David, an exemplary king and a great servant of God…losing the run of himself altogether. It’s the story of a man in a privileged position abusing his power, committing adultery with Bathsheba and sending a man who has risked life and limb to protect and serve him, to his death. So David, one of the great heroes of the bible, doesn’t really stand up to cross examination does he? But he’s not the only one. Jacob deviously deceived his own family members, Moses was a murderer, Peter denied Jesus to protect himself, the other disciples abandoned Jesus, and the list goes on. Do we think we are any better than these people? The fact of the matter is that we are all flawed and all capable of all sorts of things, and not one of us can overcome sin on our own. God recognised our sin, and the fact that we could do nothing about it by ourselves, and he sent Jesus to earth to take the punishment upon himself for all the wrong things we have done. Jesus used his position to serve us, so that we could be justified. All we need to do is to trust him - the truly exemplary King.
God’s grace is seen most clearly in Jesus on the cross. Grace is an underserved gift, freely given. God’s grace is on offer to everyone. Unfortunately, in our materialistic culture, we tend to be suspicious of things that are free, or we assume they have no value, and so many of us pass up on God’s grace. As members of Christ’s Church, we must learn to let God’s grace invade our lives so that it changes us from the inside out. In Psalm 51 David recognises his guilt and cries out for mercy and forgiveness, but he also recognises God’s grace - ‘Cleanse me…and I shall be whiter than snow.’ It’s only by the grace of God that our sins are washed away. Good news for anyone who happens to have ever done anything wrong!
Faith That Works
‘…faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ James 2:17
It has been said that how we act reveals what we really believe. So, as the Church, we must ask ourselves whether or not our actions tell people that we believe in Jesus? In his New Testament letter James paints a picture of a Christian in need of clothes and food, and makes the point that wishing someone in need well is pointless if ultimately we sit around and do nothing about those needs. The Christian faith must be more than words. If we claim to have faith in Jesus then that must translate into action because, as James points out, faith without action is dead faith. Believing in Jesus as Saviour is vital but so is showing him that we love him as Lord by living as he wants us to. True faith drenches every part of our being. When our bodies, minds and souls are saturated with Christ’s words, love, grace, forgiveness and Spirit, then our words and thoughts and actions begin to reflect that. People will see that we have been transformed by Christ. True faith loves, true faith serves, true faith acts. In dying for us, Christ gives the perfect example. Therefore, if our faith is in Jesus, our faith must be a faith that is acted out.
This summer at the Bailieborough Group we will be taking a close look at the Letter of James on Sunday mornings and in our bible study group. Can I urge you to read it through in preparation (that’s right, homework!), and we will look forward to seeing you at church this July and August.
Pass It On
"Day after day, in the temple courts and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah.” Acts 5:42
The Olympic flame was lit in Greece in May, and over the next while it will be passed in relay from person to person as it makes its way to Rio in Brazil in time for the beginning of the Olympic Games. The president of the International Olympic Committee said that “the Olympic flame will be a message of hope in troubled times – the flame will carry this message…into all the world.” It is a lovely sentiment and in many ways it is true. The Olympics bring people together and show what human beings can achieve. However, the 2016 games will pass, and just like the Olympic flame, that hope will flicker and eventually go out.
The message of the gospel on the other hand, will never go out, in fact, it will never even flicker. The hope found in the message that God loves us to much that he gave his only Son Jesus to die on the cross, taking the blame and punishment, for our sins – this hope will never pass. The hope found in the promise that, if we turn our lives and our plans over to Jesus, we will be taken into eternal paradise with him – this hope will never go out.
So like we see with Peter and Paul and the other apostles in the book of Acts, when we receive this life changing message, we must pass it on. This is our calling. This is the purpose of the Church. The hope found in the Lord changes all kinds of lives in ways that are eternal. It’s our job to pass it on to people. Our lives and our words should point to Jesus, and just like with the Apostles, even in the face of opposition, we should never stop teaching and proclaiming the good news that Jesus is the Messiah. When it comes to the gospel the temptation can be to pass on it, but the Church’s job is to pass it on!
Blinded By The Light
‘…This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.’ Acts 9:15
Saul was not ‘church’ material, in fact he hated Christians and he resisted Christ with all his might. One day, on the way to Damascus to terrorise any Christians he might find there, a light from heaven flashes around Saul and he hears Jesus’ voice. This light from heaven blinds Saul and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. However, his spiritual eyes were about to be opened. God wanted to use Saul, of all people, to spread his message, but first he needed to be converted from his state of blind resistance to the straight ways of God. When a man called Ananias lays hands upon Saul, the scales fall and, both his physical and spiritual eyes are opened. Saul’s sight is recovered and immediately, as he finally surrenders to Jesus, his priorities change. As Saul becomes Paul, he goes from violently persecuting Christ and his people to boldly preaching Christ and restoring people. Even when we have surrendered our lives to Jesus we may feel that God is not likely to want to use us to do the work of spreading his message and his love. We may feel that we are not the right type of person. Well think again! Take a look at Paul’s story in the New Testament, if anyone wasn’t the ‘type’, it was him, but God did amazing things through him. God can use anyone to do his work, even you!
To The Ends of The Earth
“…you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1:8
Our son loves nothing more than to throw stones into the water. Lough Sillan, Mullagh Lake or the Castle Lake, it doesn’t matter. Give him a pile of stones and some water and he’d happily stay there all day. On a still day at the Castle Lake the water can be like glass, and we all know the satisfying feeling of throwing a stone into the motionless water and seeing the ripple effect. We like to watch the concentric circles work their way out, seemingly endlessly, into the distance.
Well much like how concentric circles have a common centre point, our churches have a common centre point. That centre point is Jesus himself. His ministry, preaching the good news of the arrival of the kingdom of God, had a starting point in Galilee and worked its way out to Jerusalem, onto the cross and beyond. After Jesus rose from the dead he ascended into heaven and in one sense he was gone. But in another sense he was not gone because he continued the work he had begun in and through his followers. He sent them the gift of the Holy Spirit to help them with their commission to be his witnesses, beginning in Jerusalem and working their way out to the ends of the earth.
They were to have a ripple effect, and they did. We meet together to worship God because those ripples have reached us. So our churches must be like pebbles in the water. With the help of the Holy Spirit we must create a ripple effect in our communities. Through us the good news of God’s kingdom must ripple outward through the streets, across the townlands and the farms, into homes, schools and businesses, into hearts, minds and souls and into the very lives of those we meet. It’s not easy, but remember that the centre point of the ripple is Christ himself, our Saviour and Lord.
In church, for the next few months, we will be exploring the ripples made by the early church by looking closely at the Acts of the Apostles in a series called ‘To The Ends of The Earth’. Come along and join us.
Even Better Than The Real Thing
‘…See, your king comes to you, gentle and riding on a donkey…’ Matthew 21:5
You will probably know me well enough by now to know I like my music. If Springsteen or U2 come to town I’ll be there! Recently Jenny and I saw U2 play and since we were sitting in the very back row of the arena, we could see the whole 20,000 strong crowd. There was plenty of hustle and bustle, excited chatter and singing before things got underway, and a collective euphoria of sorts as the band arrived on stage. One odd thing that stuck me pretty quickly was just how many people in the crowd were filming the performance with their phones. Some spent the whole show looking through the screen of their phones at images of U2 when the real thing was right in front of them?!
The Jewish people in Jesus’ time had an image of what their Messiah was to be like. They knew their Scripture so they knew a king was coming, but they pictured a warrior-king who would swoop in, chase the Roman Empire away, and take his place on a throne to rule. So when Jesus their Messiah arrived in Jerusalem during Passover week there was euphoria. Crowds thronged to lay cloaks and branches on the road before him in order to give him a royal welcome. But their image of the Messiah wasn’t the real thing. They were looking at him through the screen of what they thought they knew, and missing the real thing that was right in front of them. The donkey he rode on should have been a clue. This king was different. He was gentle. His idea of triumphant victory was different to theirs. He was not on the way to an earthly throne, but to an earthly cross. This king didn’t come to take power, but to give up power, and to give up his life that his followers might live forever in his perfect heavenly kingdom. So, when you find yourself looking through the screen of the chocolate-egg-meaning-of-Easter, enjoy, but make sure you don’t miss the real thing – Jesus Christ, the servant king, who came to save the world – he’s right in front of you!