FROM OUR MINISTER'S SOAPBOX
I commend this poem, by Revd. Jeannie Kendall, to you for reflection. I think it speaks of how we can build authentic community in a world which often would tell us the opposite is the way to be. Maybe you would read it along side these words from 2 Corinthians 12:9, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ And these words from 1Thessalonians 5:11, ‘Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.’
Wholeness and brokenness can be strangely misleading.
We wear our “wholeness” like a badge of honour
seldom recognizing that it is a shield;
our prized invulnerability a mask deflecting gazes
which we fear may linger too long and see what is within.
Yet, if we could but own our brokenness,
find it held by fellow-pilgrims as a sacrament;
we may yet discover
that in our fragile, broken selves
we are more whole
than ever we were hiding behind our strength;
and where we see only fracture
God sees instead a window
His light and life
Have a blessed August whatever you may be doing and wherever you may be going.
Love in Jesus’ name,
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” Matt 11:28
We don't always find it easy to squeeze time for the 'being' part of life. It's all about the 'doing', the
responsibilities, the life admin. We promise ourselves that when our to-do lists are completely crossed off, then we can relax. Then, and only then, will we be able to relish in the
stillness, totally guilt-free. But that time never comes because life is a moving walkway of this and that, all shouting for our attention.
We could literally do, do, do all day, every day, and still not feel as though we're on top of things because 'things' crop up no matter what. And we're really brilliant at giving those things our attention, so much so, that we divert all our attention to those things and then wonder why we feel worn out, done in, stretched like thinly spread butter, exhausted.
In our quest to get everything done, we've stopped hearing how we feel, what we need, even the invitation to step aside that would replenish the metaphorical energy reservoir that's running dry.
We're living an never-ending rollercoaster going up and down, round and round.
But we can press pause. We can. Really.
Stopping doesn't change our worth; we're worthy whether we're doing or not doing. God longs for us to pause and come to him. Not as another item on the to do list but just to be with the one who can restore our souls, re-humanise us. Pressing pause gives us that breather, that breath, that space to hear and heed what's going on for us, before we're forced to stop - because nobody can keep on keeping on indefinitely without a maintenance break.
We MOT our cars regularly to keep them safe, so it makes sense then, that we would have a regular MOT slot for ourselves! Time to check what is in need of a top up, what needs changing, what is working well, doing some repairs so we are ready to go on. And who better to do that with than with the one who made you, calls you by name and delights in you?
Jesus says, come to me because he knows what we need, Guilt-free pauses, to remove the dross, top up the tank, replenish. Those other things can wait, they always can, but our health, physical, spiritual, emotional? Not so much. So find times over the coming days, weeks and years to press the pause button and heed Jesus words, you won’t be disappointed.
I have often heard people say that, “we should, at least, be kind”, that “everybody should be able to do that.” But what does it mean to be kind? For some it means being polite, using the right sort of language, not causing offence, not to rock the boat, for some it means being concerned and considerate to others even if they are different in some way, even if they are not themselves kind. People sometimes do random acts of kindness; something they think will help or bring an unexpected benefit for another
I believe kindness is underrated if we equate it with being nice or pleasant, as though it’s mainly about smiling, getting along, and not ruffling feathers. The Bible presents a different, and compelling, portrait of kindness.
Kindness is listed as a spiritual fruit. True kindness is therefore a supernaturally generous orientation of our hearts toward other people, even when they don’t deserve it and don’t love us in return. God himself is kind in this way.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil” (Luke 6:35). Our kindness reflects the heart of God. “Be kind to one another, tender hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you” (Ephesians 4:32).
Kindness may not be pleasant. Jesus called the Pharisees a brood of vipers. That wasn’t pleasant, but it was kind, because Jesus was exposing their wrongdoing so they might change. A kind physician may cut deep to remove a cancer, a kind parent won’t leave a child playing with a sharp knife.
For this type of kindness we need love for those we think are in the wrong as well as probing questions or truthful comment if it is to be an important part of their journey to faith.
This may lead us to question are we kind toward those around us, or do we think and speak harshly to, or about, them?
For some of us, watching sports, or talent shows, provides an opportunity for airing harsh opinions on physical attributes or lack of talent. Our verbal assaults too easily become part of the entertainment itself.
For some of us, the daily routine becomes a crucible of kindness. Am I generously disposed toward other drivers, including the ones who don’t give way? Am I kind to the person in a hurry who pushes into the queue?
Kindness is no small thing. We imitate God’s kindness by loving our enemies, it is no wonder it is described in the Bible as a spiritual fruit! The ability to be kind all the time rather than when we choose takes time to develop but “Whoever pursues righteousness and kindness will find life, righteousness, and honour” (Proverbs 21:21).
Let us then pursue kindness.
I recently received this from LICC (London Institute of Contemporary Christianity) and found it so encouraging I thought I should share it.
When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and
said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken, and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s
Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
We all have those experiences when a moment of wonder becomes a moment of woe: the family
feast becomes a family feud, or the opening of a parcel becomes the opening line of an email to customer services.
Luke 5:1-9 includes Jesus turning up on Peter’s frontline, preaching from Peter’s boat, enabling Peter to make a miraculous catch of fish. Yet ends up with Peter telling Jesus to go away. What on earth was going on?
Peter's initial response to the unprecedented catch was one of celebration. ‘Wow, this is amazing – it’s like a month’s worth of fish in one morning’! Celebration then turns to revelation. ‘Who is this man, who heals bodies, speaks to hearts, and has divine knowledge and control of fish?!’ We don’t know exactly what Peter thinks here, it’s not till later that he proclaims Jesus to be ‘the Christ of God’ (9:20).
However, revelation soon turns to consternation: ‘Go away from me, Lord, I am a sinful man’ (5:8). It’s an experience not dissimilar to Isaiah’s in the temple, some 700 years earlier (Isaiah 6:1-5).
It looks like a schoolboy error from Peter. Jesus is clearly destined for big things; surely now that Peter has revealed his own flaws and failures, Jesus is going to drop him like an under-performing football manager.
‘Then Jesus said to Simon, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him’ (Luke 5:10b-11). Just as Isaiah found, the Lord doesn’t disown us in our sinfulness. Incredibly, graciously, he cleanses and calls us to be part of his world-changing mission (Isaiah 6:6-13).
Perhaps at the start of this week, as you head out onto your frontline, you are keenly aware of your own shortcomings. There’s a host of ways we can deal with our sin: deny it; excuse it; wallow in it. Jesus does not allow Peter to wander down any of these cul-de-sacs, and we shouldn’t either.
Whatever you’ve done, however you feel, God is going to work through you on your frontline. Just as Peter and Isaiah discovered, God’s recruitment policy has never been about picking the perfect (1 Corinthians 1:26-29). He just wants us to catch a glimpse of his holiness, confess our sin, be willing to leave everything, and follow him.
For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, and able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart. Hebrews 4:12
I believe God has something to say to each of us this Easter season and beyond, even something unexpected. It's interesting, isn't it, that we can hear or read the same Scripture verses over and over again, but somehow, due to our life circumstances, they can take on different meanings. Paul’s letter to the Hebrews tells us that God’s Word is alive and active and it is constantly at work on our hearts.
As we embrace Easter this year, I challenge you to open your heart and mind to what Jesus wants to show you in Scripture—even the most insignificant detail is a path to God’s heart. What do you see? What do you hear? Who are the characters? What are they saying? Do you identify with any of them or their actions? Who? Why? Did you notice something or someone you haven’t before?
Mary Magdalene, we are told, on finding the tomb of Jesus empty was desperate to know who took His body. In a swift moment, the proclamation of a simple, almost throw-away phrase changed everything:
“Jesus said to her, “Mary.”
With those words, the double edge sword of God’s word thrust a blow, slicing though her heart, that had felt cold and sad like stone, bringing not death, but a heart fully alive in Christ. What must it have been like for Mary to hear her name spoken from the mouth of the risen Christ--His tender tone of love transforming her desperation into relief and joy. Nothing was the same for Mary after that moment, and as you listen again everything can change for you too. Mary was overwhelmed and knew again the living Lord Jesus was not dead and distant but alive and with her.
I believe that if we approach the empty tomb of Christ and other scriptures with our eyes and hearts fixed on the Word of God, we will recognize and meet Christ afresh, like Mary Magdalene, in simple, yet life changing ways, hearing and recognising him as he calls our name.
So, as you enter into Easter celebrations and go beyond them, my prayer for you is this: That the Word of God would come alive anew in your heart, and that through the power of Holy Spirit you would be transformed by the love of our Father who would stop at nothing, not even the death of His own Son, to prove how much He loves you, to break down every barrier that separates and that by Holy Spirit you will be empowered to see Christ with you and be encouraged whatever your circumstances.
Love in Christ Jesus,
There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens. Ecclesiastes 3:1
How many of you are waiting for spring with an increasing sense of urgency? To be honest, some of you may have had that feeling of restless waiting since early November! It seems not everyone is a fan of winter.
Growing up I remember enjoying winters, there were numerous hills on which to sled, friends with frozen paths to slide up and down, footprints to make in the frost, puddles to jump in when it rained and fires to get warm near later. Also on days which were cold and grey I recall the planting of seeds well before spring so plants would be ready to go outside when the time came.
As I have grown older I seem to have enjoyed winter less and less. Driving on slippery roads, icy roads, snowy roads, not being able to keep appointments, dark mornings and evenings all weigh heavier. The many opportunities to enjoy the wintery weather with friends are still there but somehow it seems I have got into the habit of participating a lot less. I simply wait for the snow and ice to melt, days to get lighter, and long for the warm weather to begin.
But maybe seeing as there is a time and season for everything we should become more intentional and focused on making the most of the cold months and not living as though waiting for them to be over as quickly as possible. I finally accepted a truth you probably already know, Focusing only on spring arriving without enjoying winter is simply wasting several months of your year, over time years of your life! But failing to plan for new seasons ahead will also mean you miss opportunities.
I have found the same thing to be true of the Christian life. At times, it can be easy, even natural, to focus your energy on the future. It could be focusing on Christ’s second coming, avoiding spiritual change until “such and such” happens, or waiting for someone else to take the first step. If you are waiting for a better day to take your next step of faith, you might not ever start moving. Instead of tolerating your current spiritual status and longing for change in the future, .
As we enter February many of us are looking for light, not at the end of the tunnel but at the beginning of the day. We have had enough of short days and darkness. We are searching for the light and signs of new life in our gardens, parks and surrounding countryside. In some ways Lent beginning on February the 14th is an interesting parallel of darkness and light. Lent is the time in the church calendar that we prepare for Easter remembering the events that lead up to Christ’s death and resurrection, it is traditionally a time of fasting and reflection, some see it as a dark time drawing parallels with Jesus 40 days of fasting and temptation in the desert. Yet this year as Lent begins on Valentine’s day a day which celebrates love and the sharing of life maybe we can find a link between the light heartedness of Valentine’s day and the darkness of Lent. What can we fast from or give up that might bring life and light to others as Jesus did by his death and resurrection?
As you prepare to ‘give up’ consider these options:
Give up complaining —— focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism —— become a realist.
Give up harsh judgments —— think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry —— trust God’s Provision.
Give up discouragement —— be full of hope & encouragement.
Give up bitterness —— turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred —— return good for evil.
Give up grasping —— freely give.
Give up anger —— be more patient and caring.
Give up gloom —— enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up jealousy —— rejoice, pray and trust.
Give up gossiping —— control your tongue.
Give up giving up —— hang in there and take action!
Maybe harder than giving up chocolate maybe not but more life changing and more in line with the fasting the Lord requires, a fast that will transform lives starting with yours and impacting others!
God bless you
Happy New Year! Catherine Williamson was kind enough to share this recent homily by
Pope Francis with me and having read and reread several times I thought it was well worth sharing with you ...
"You can have flaws, be anxious, and ever angry, but do not forget that your life is the greatest enterprise in the world. Only you can stop it from going bust. Many appreciate you, admire you and love you. Remember that to be happy is not to have a sky without a storm, a road without accidents, work without fatigue, and relationships without disappointments. To be happy is to find strength in forgiveness, hope in battles, security in the stage of fear, love in discord. It is not only to enjoy the smile, but also to reflect on the sadness. It is not only to celebrate the successes, but to learn lessons from the failures. It is not only to feel happy with the applause, but to be happy in anonymity. Being happy is not a fatality of destiny, but an achievement for those who can travel within themselves.
To be happy is to stop feeling like a victim and become your destiny's author. It is to cross deserts, yet to be able to find an oasis in the depths of our soul. It is to thank God for every morning, for the miracle of life. Being happy is not being afraid of your own feelings. It's to be able to talk about you. It is having the courage to hear a "no". It is confidence in the face of criticism, even when unjustified. It is to kiss your children, pamper your parents, to live poetic moments with friends, even when they hurt us. To be happy is to let live the creature that lives in each of us, free, joyful and simple. It is to have maturity to be able to say: "I made mistakes". It is to have the courage to say "I am sorry". It is to have the sensitivity to say, "I need you". It is to have the ability to say "I love you". May your life become a garden of opportunities for happiness ... That in spring may it be a lover of joy, in winter a lover of wisdom. And when you make a mistake, start all over again. For only then will you be in love with life. You will find that to be happy is not to have a perfect life. But use the tears to irrigate tolerance. Use your losses to train patience. Use your mistakes to sculpture serenity. Use pain to plaster pleasure. Use obstacles to open windows of intelligence. Never give up .... Never give up on people who love you. Never give up on happiness, for life is an incredible show." Pope Francis.
I hope it will bless you as you ponder,
Love in Jesus’ name,
“A child will be born for us. A son will be given to us. The government will
rest on his shoulders. He will be named: Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, and Prince of Peace.
… The Lord of Armies is determined to do this!” — Isaiah 9:6-7
Christmas was coming! No one could stop it. Redemption was released that very first Christmas and its power was enough to set every prisoner free—even you, even me.
I remember when I was 7 years old, just the thought of Christmas would surely bring me unspeakable joy. Not only because of anticipated presents, although I was barely containable when I woke up to find a stocking on the end of my bed! Not only because of all the wonderful food, although that was good too; but mostly because of the spirit of love which filled me as I read about Jesus birth. A baby born to a young Mum far from home who, despite this, was surrounded by love and would go on to do amazing things. Later I found that same spirit of love bringing joy in unexpected places, between siblings who often quarrelled, in the street where the Salvation Army played carols to weary shoppers, in shelters for the homeless who were glad to be indoors, in hospital wards amongst the sick. Experiences of love in unexpected places I suppose are like the surprise of Jesus born in a stable yet surrounded by love and filled with potential. I have never lost that ‘joy of Christmas’ feeling, sometimes it does get buried but it always breaks through again!
How can I keep a sense of joy, even unspeakable joy in my heart that bubbles over at even thinking about Christmas? Well, it is not a shallow joy, No! The angels brought this kind of joy during the birth of Jesus mentioned in Luke 2:10, which says, “I bring you good tidings of great joy which will be to all people.” The joy I feel comes from knowing God is with us, that he chose to cross the universe for us, for me for you, to save us and because of this we too are surrounded by love, God’s love, and filled with potential to do amazing things!
I pray you too may know this sense of joy that is independent of your circumstances as you prepare to celebrate the birth of Jesus, may his love be revealed to you and through you bringing joy.
WALK OF FAITH
Recently I attended a course, part of which included a fire walk. Waiting pensively, the heat from the coals warmed us but equally whipped up our fear. The most
experienced leader set off on the coals. She bailed after her first step frantically wiping her feet on the wet grass. The second leader sensing it all going wrong, set off at speed, but too jumped
off three steps in with burning coals stuck to the side of his feet.
After a rapid team talk, realising the coals were too deep they raked them to spread more thinly. Then it was my turn. I was instructed to shut my eyes, breathe
deeply and imagine flying like an eagle. Across I went barely aware of the heat. Waiting at the end, a wonderful woman in her mid-70’s enveloped me in a hug where my heart was intentionally pressed
against hers. Immediately, I longed for my Mum and I wanted another hug. On reflection all I needed to do was ask but in haste I set off over the coals again for the awaiting hug. This time there was
no preliminary breathing, no imagining myself soaring like an eagle and half way across I saw my quarry getting tapped on the shoulder by a delegate who was now getting my hug. Like Road Runner I
stopped in my tracks and burnt my feet! Ouch!!
My foray on the coals reminded me of Jesus walking on water. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried
out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
When I observed Christians from the outside it seemed easy to believe their faith in God protected them like a magic spell from being metaphorically burned. Many
years later I have come to see how naïve that projection was. Being a Christian isn’t the easy option. Just look at the grisly deaths of most of the apostles, who despite seeing Jesus flogged and
crucified still set out to ‘spread the word’.
When life is being particularly testing and painful does it serve to strengthen our faith or test our faith? The hot coals experience reaffirmed this to me. It’s
about setting off in faith, but taking that leap of faith does not guarantee it will be pain free or you won’t be tested. In fact, quite the opposite. Are we really able to do God’s work from the
comfort and safety of our armchairs or do we have to get out of the boat in order to walk on water?
Catherine Williamson (our minister is currently away)
Isaiah records an inspiring vision for anyone looking
beyond or above their current circumstances, of life or heart: "Those who hope in the LORD will renew
their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint" (40.31). That's a passage that has lifted my heart many times, especially when facing uncertain times or difficulties.
However, I've also found that I can't exactly just grab that verse and leap into the blue with it, as if I were hang gliding off a cliff. Hope and inspiration lifting your heart are one thing; grabbing hope and insisting that it transport you above the clouds is a taller order especially when you have experienced hopes dashed or dreams frustrated repeatedly.
What do we do then when our wings fold up under us, when we slow to a crawl or crash land? Do we give up? Surprisingly not, people's nature is usually not to give up. What then? Complain to whoever or whatever will listen? Why not, it's a national pastime! But aside from blowing off steam what does that accomplish? Well sometimes, especially when we choose carefully who we speak to it helps change our perspective and give us enough lift to take off again or at least to dream again, hope again. If our hope is in God who better to talk to than God and his people? In doing so we can find fresh clarity that will bring God given dreams and visions nearer to fulfilment as we gain the strength to fly again, even soar!
Anything that begins, begins with a dream, vision, or idea, that someone did something about. The paper or technology you're reading this on; the chair or sofa or bed you're sitting on; everything you see around you was either some human's idea, or God's idea, or both. So dreams and visions aren't necessarily unrealistic; that's how life actually happens all the time.
If you seem to have come to a stop don’t lose heart, start dreaming again with God and his people of ways to make a positive difference. Don't wait for someone else to do the work, at least join in! Take inspiration from spending time with God and others then dream up ways to together make a difference, bring your vision to reality one step at a time.
Who can make a positive change? ... it's you and me and every other person whose heart hopes in God, his plans and purposes.
The world has always changed ... for better or worse ... on the power of ideas and dreams, and every dream fulfiled is a process, often with ups and downs, not a sudden event.
So let’s not get tired of doing good but rather look to God, knowing he has plans and purposes for all of us. As we put our hope in him we will see he has a mission for us to join him in and a vision that all should know his love. When we follow him our strength will be renewed and we will soar again and again.
The Psalmist wrote, ‘The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.’ Psalm 19:8. Bell had an idea which resulted in the telephone, where would we be without our phones! Marconi had an idea from which came the radio. Fleming looked at mould and it led to antibiotics.
God can put an idea in your mind that changes the direction of your life and maybe that of others too...
God, who is the creator, gives creative ideas to people all the time. But you must act on them; otherwise He will give them to somebody else. Maybe it’s time you asked Him for one of His ideas for your life? The fact that you believe in God is wonderful. But here’s something equally wonderful—God believes in you! Instead of looking at your present situation and thinking, ‘I guess my life’s as good as it’s ever going to get,’ or ‘I’m too old for new tricks’ start asking, ‘Lord, what do You have in mind for me?’ Life can beat you down and make you feel low, lost, lacking, and limited in ability and potential. And if you act on these feelings and thoughts instead of what God says about you in His Word, you’ll never move forward and fulfil what He put you on this earth to do. You may say, ‘God has never given me one of His great ideas.’ Maybe that’s because you have never asked Him for one or acted on one because you missed it! He gives ideas to seeking hearts, prepared hearts, faith-filled hearts and obedient hearts, hearts that are moved by compassion to act for the good of others. Here’s a profile of the kind of person God gives great ideas to: ‘His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on His law he meditates day and night…Whatever he does shall prosper’ Psalms 1:2-3.
So, as the season is changing, make this a season to read God’s word that it might delight you and give light to your eyes so you can see God’s way ahead and step into it boldly. Share your ideas so that they can be tested and refined and acted on. Who knows how it will prosper you and your community, making lives fulfilled and fruitful as God intends.
Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a
breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I’ll have good cause to
be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You’ll be living proof that I didn’t go to all this work for nothing.-Philippians 2:14-16 (NIV)
When I recently travelled to the coast I looked into the night sky expecting to see many stars twinkling in the darkness but alas on this occasion it was not to be, mostly I could see black! There were too many low level clouds to see more than the occasional star. It reminded me of living in the city when only the brightest stars can be seen through the dust and light pollution and of course clouds!
It made me wonder, how brightly are we shinning and what gets in our way? When everything seems to be going our way it is easy to be witnesses for Jesus. We can love, serve, and say all the right things when all is well, but what about when it is not? People and circumstances can often arouse our anger and frustration; leading us to react in ways that are not befitting to a follower of Jesus. If we have allowed situations around us to take control over our thoughts and actions, we have become bound by them and have permitted them to obscure the work that Christ is doing in our lives, we have been tarnished. Admittedly, it is impossible for us on our own efforts to live up to the standards God has called us to and He knows this full well. That is why He gave us His Son, so that when we have allowed Him to dwell within us by His Spirit and carry out His redemptive work in our lives, He will help us shine for Him in this dark world. Only when we have allowed Him to take reign over our attitudes and reactions will we be able to display His love, kindness and righteousness being manifested in us regardless of what we may be facing. When we allow our circumstances to rule us we become dull and difficult to distinguish from the background.
The world is watching, let us look to Jesus in our struggles and let Him shine His light through us, He will make us shine like stars in the sky, bearing His hope and love to a world in such need and make us rightly proud of each other.
Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24)
Now, when Paul says this, he doesn’t mean to imply only one of us will win the prize. That is pressing Paul’s image too far. Instead, what Paul wants us to do is run the race of the Christian life in such a way that we will each win the prize, that we will hear God say, ‘Well done’ in this life and the next.
As Christians we must not give up. We can’t be lackadaisical or half hearted about our Christian walk. If we are, we may not cross the finish line and win the prize. We must keep pressing forward, despite setbacks, road blocks, and distractions.
The encouraging part of running the Christian race is that we don't have to run it in our own power. When we accept Jesus, not only is our heart created anew, which causes us to desire to run for Christ, but we are also empowered by God to run. Paul tells us to:
"Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for His good purpose." (Phil. 2:12b-13)
Do you see what Paul is saying? We are to work out our own salvation - run with all our might, striving for the finish line - but we don't run in our own power or alone. God runs with us, empowering us by opening our hearts to truth, causing us to want to work to please Him, and giving us the strength to press on. What a glorious truth!
Paul tells us to succeed we also have to exercise self-control and self discipline, as we do our assurance that we will finish the race grows, which provides us with motivation to keep running. Rather like when we go on a diet and increase in confidence as we see pounds drop off because we have controlled our eating!
One way we can exercise self-control is by having a greater desire to please God than ourselves. I don't know about you but my desire to please God grows when I remember what Jesus has done for me.
As we remind ourselves of the gospel, all Jesus has done for us, a sense of gratitude towards God and a desire to please Him should grow in our hearts. Our affections should be for God and to please Him. When our desires, are more for God than anything else, we will exercise self-control, resisting the temptations, which should give us assurance and motivation to keep running the race.
Let us then encourage one another to keep moving forward, after all we are one in Jesus, one body, and we don’t want to leave any part behind!
As the Church enters the season of Pentecost, I share exerts reflecting on the Holy Spirit from Searching for Sunday: Loving, Leaving, and Finding Church. By Rachel Held Evans
The Spirit is like breath, as close as the lungs, the chest, the lips, the fogged canvas where little fingers draw hearts, the tide that rises and falls twenty-three thousand times a day in a rhythm so intimate we forget to notice until it enervates and its fragile power awes again. Inhale. Exhale. Expand. Release. In the beginning, God breathed. And the dust breathed back enough oxygen, water, and carbon dioxide to make an atmosphere, to make a man. Job knew life as “the breath of God in my nostrils,” given and taken away. With breath, the Creator kindled the stars, parted a sea, woke a valley of dry bones, inspired a sacred text. So, too, the Spirit, inhaled and exhaled in a million quotidian ways, animates, revives, nourishes, sustains, speaks. It is as near as the nose and as everywhere as the air, so pay attention.
The Spirit is like fire, deceptively polite in its dance atop the wax and wick of our church candles, but wild and mercurial as a storm when unleashed. Fire holds no single shape, no single form. It can roar through a forest or fulminate in a cannon. It can glow in hot coals or flit about in embers. But it cannot be held. The living know it indirectly—through heat, through light, through tendrils of smoke snaking through the sky, through the scent of burning wood, through the itch of ash in the eye. Fire consumes. It creates in its destroying and destroys in its creating. The furnace that smelts the ore drives off slag, and the flame that refines the metal purifies the gold. The fire that torches a centuries-old tree can crack open her cones and spill out their seeds. When God led his people through the wilderness, the Spirit blazed in a fire that rested over the tabernacle each night. And when God made the church, the Spirit blazed in little fires that rested over his people’s heads. “Quench not the Spirit,” the apostle wrote. It is as necessary and as dangerous as fire, so stay alert; pay attention.
The Spirit is like a seal, an emblem bearing the family crest, a promise of belonging, protection, favour. Like a signet ring to soft wax, the Spirit impresses the supple heart with the power and prestige of God, and no one—not kings, not presidents, not the wealthy, nor the magisterium—can take that identity away. The bond of God is made of viscous stuff. He has put his seal on us, wrote the apostle, and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee (1 Corinthians 1:22). In the rite of confirmation, which acknowledges the presence of the Spirit in a believer’s life, a thumb to the forehead reminds God’s children of their mark: the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. It’s as invisible as your breath but as certain as your skin, so pay attention; don’t forget who you are.
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is - his good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
I know for me it is so easy to stay comfortable in my spiritual life, to just fall into the routine of things. But reading Romans 12:2 reminds me how important it is for me to be continually transformed by the renewing of my mind. It is not a one off fix, as becomes obvious when we consider all the unhelpful thoughts and ideas that go through our unguarded minds, it is an ongoing work. A work in which both we and God need to be active.
This has been a scripture I’ve been thinking a lot about these past couple of weeks. What does it mean to be transformed, and how can we be continuously transformed. It is I believe telling us of our need to consciously put off the old self with its futile thinking and be clothed in the new self becoming the new creation that God has made us to be, where godly thoughts lead to godly living.
One of the most important tools for doing this is God’s word, which is living and active. If we know it and apply it we will discover it has amazing power to change us.
For me, Proverbs 3:5-6 has always grounded me in my faith and turned my heart to God:
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him and he will make your paths straight."
I’ve read this scripture many times now, and it seems every time I read it, I am reminded of how powerful God is. I’m reminded how his understanding of things is so much greater and deeper than my own and that encourages me to delve deeper into His word. Life is full of joys, sorrows, struggles, failures and victories. And all these experiences shape and affect our lives; they stir our emotions and change our understandings. But in all of that, this scripture continues to teach me about submitting to God and the guidance and protection he provides in every situation. This scripture gives me patience and peace in making decisions and dealing with uncertainty or stress. It renews my mind. And if we read the Bible regularly and wrestle to understand it with help from Holy Spirit we will find so much more to help and renew us. Even Jesus used scripture in the battle of the mind when he was tempted by Satan in the wilderness. God’s word is living and constant. It is cutting and revealing to our hearts, it strengthens, it guides and renews us!
It is therefore crucial for all of us to be reading and thinking on scriptures that can transform us, because they stimulate that renewing of our minds by keeping our hearts and minds on things above and on God’s Word pushing out the darkness and negative that try to take hold. So I encourage you all to find these scriptures, and share them with people! God gave us relationships for a couple of reasons, and one is so that we can connect and help one another be transformed. I'd love for those of you reading to share a scripture or two that has continually renewed your mind in your spiritual walk and is transforming your living. I look forward to hearing from you.
Easter is almost here, the time we celebrate Jesus resurrection, his rising from death to life. But many ask so what?
About 25 years ago, as I began following Jesus, the gospel started getting complicated for me. I could talk about how Jesus’ work on the cross atoned for my sins. I was clear about the need to confess, repent and enter into relationship with Jesus and receive eternal life. But if that meant just carrying on with life waiting for new life in heaven, well I realised I wanted more.
I started to learn about the way my heart ran after many things other than God to provide a sense of meaning, purpose peace and security. I began to wrestle with failing to change my behaviour and underlying “wants.” In the struggle, and healing from God by his Holy Spirit, I began to learn that my salvation was about much more than a ticket to heaven. I was not just saved out of the world for my sake, but I was also saved to be in the world for its sake.
So as followers of Jesus we are not to mark time waiting for a future ‘eternity.’ That just misunderstands the richness of what Jesus accomplished on the cross. So consider this as an attempt to encapsulate, briefly, more of what Christ has done for us and maybe you will have more to live for and celebrate!
We were created to live in relationship with God, and to participate in his purposes in creation, and enjoy him forever. It is in this relationship that we experience God’s love in ways that give us a deep sense of peace and security. It is living under his reign now that we find our significance and satisfaction in life.
Our sin is that we have chosen to be our own master, believing that we do not need God. We try to fill the gap with, work, possessions, family, even religion, only to realise that we are enslaved by them. We know these have control over us because we experience anger (when we lose them), guilt (if we don’t perform), shame (when we feel unworthy), fear (if we don’t work hard enough) and drivenness (because we are not satisfied).
Recognising the sin, folly and hopelessness of being our own lord and savior, we can turn to Jesus, confessing our sin and embracing his death and resurrection on our behalf. In cooperation with God’s overtures of grace, this good news begins to free and transform us to become the people God always intended us to be. Fully us. Fully alive.
As we continue to grow in Christlikeness, we will find ourselves becoming the kind of people that freely love and serve others at home, at work, in community because that is who we have become. We can take great delight in being able to live out what we were created for, bringing as Dallas Willard put it “the presence of the kingdom and its king into every corner of human life.”
May you not find not a free pass to heaven, but an abundant and world changing eternal life this Easter!
God bless you.
FROM OUR MINISTER'S SOAPBOX
The season of Lent has started on 1st March, a time when people often fast - give things up - even when they don’t know why. Traditionally it is to focus on the life of Jesus and prepare for the celebration and feasting of Easter. So as you prepare to ‘give up’ consider these options that I have suggested before but we may not have completed!:
Give up complaining —— focus on gratitude.
Give up pessimism —— become a realist.
Give up harsh judgments —— think kindly thoughts.
Give up worry —— trust God’s Provision.
Give up discouragement —— be full of hope & encouragement.
Give up bitterness —— turn to forgiveness.
Give up hatred —— return good for evil.
Give up grasping —— freely give.
Give up anger —— be more patient and caring
Give up pettiness —— become mature.
Give up gloom —— enjoy the beauty that is all around you.
Give up grumpiness ------- practise cheerfulness and compassion
God bless you.
On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh Matthew 2:11
We are at the end of the Christmas season, the beginning of a New Year. The second Sunday after Christmas day is sometimes called Epiphany (a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization) and marks the visit of magi to Jesus. Imagine yourself in the presence of Jesus, and Mary. We are surprised to see men of eastern appearance come. They see baby Jesus and fall on their knees. They offer him worship and give him presents of gold, frankincense and myrrh; gold because Jesus is king, frankincense since Jesus is divine and myrrh prefiguring his Passion. They tell us about the star and about Herod who knew nothing about Jesus’ birth. After their stay they set out on their return journey eastwards but not via Jerusalem since they want to avoid Herod. After their departure we spend time with Jesus. We do not have gold, frankincense and myrrh to give, what shall we give as we come to realise who Jesus is? Our love? Our time?.....
Jesus, even while a little child experienced both acceptance from the magi and rejection from Herod. The wise men and Herod had two opposing attitudes, searching for God and being closed to God. The wise men were blessed in their search for Jesus by finding him. Let us ask Jesus to help us in drawing closer to him, being open to him, the revelation and surprise he brings, at the beginning of this year.
Not only had the wise men and Herod different attitudes to Jesus, they also had different attitudes to life. The wise men were generous; Herod was selfish wanting to hold on to his throne. The magi gave gifts; Herod killed all boys less than two years of age. The wise men were willing to put energy and goodness into life, Herod wanted to get all he could from life. Let us ask Jesus to help us to foster a healthy attitude towards life, giving and caring, instead of grasping, being selfish and possessive at the beginning of this year.
The magi were blessed. They were given the guidance of a star. In the darkness of this world we have all been given help on our journey to God; the beauty of nature, the Word of God in Sacred Scripture, Spirit-filled witnessing and preaching, the faith and friendship of others and our own faith.
Let us thank God for giving us stars to lead us to him and ask him to make us stars for others this year.
May this year be a year of epiphany for each one of us as we seek to follow Jesus.
Are you ready? Are the presents bought and wrapped, cards in the post, menus planned, parties scheduled, food and drink ordered... Do you feel stressed already, is your heart racing or stopping just thinking about Christmas??!
Stop! Make time for what matters most, hope, peace, joy, love.....Jesus Christ......the baby in the manger and saviour of the world. Make room for Jesus and share him with all those you love this Christmas season.
On the night Jesus was born the angels sang, "Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests" (Luke 2:14)
My Christmas hope for all of us this year is that we become more mindful of the precious gift of life that we all share, of the wonderful personal relationship we can have with Jesus and that we look into our hearts for ways that we can demonstrate love, compassion and caring toward our fellow beings, human and otherwise.
When we accept Jesus we are all instruments of God’s peace. As many struggle to make sense of all the business, all the stuff, the financial and emotional pressures at this time of year and find some meaning and purpose in life, may we remember that God, Emmanuel, is always with us and is often found in the person of those who walk this earth with us. Take time over the next month to stop and be with Jesus for there you will find rest and peace for your soul and then share that peace with those you meet. So much of the help God sends to us lies in our willingness to reach out and support one another.
Let there be love shared among us, let there be peace on Earth, this Advent and Christmas season and let it begin with us.
Let us think about opportunities. Every one of us has them, opportunities for good or bad,
to better ourselves or not, to serve God to a greater or lesser degree. Opportunity can be defined as a combination of circumstances favourable for a purpose. Generally good opportunities do not wait
around for the fainthearted nor the slow to move. They must be seized! Opportunities are being presented to you on a daily basis. You will either seize them or you will let them slip by.
Often the reason we let them slip by is because we are insensitive to them. A lot of people want what has happened to others but they're not willing to do what others have done to get there or assume because it is not straight forward it is not an opportunity at all! But the Amplified Bible says this, "For a wide door of opportunity for effectual service has opened to me there; one great and promising and many adversaries." 1 Corinthians 16:9 Notice Paul says that a wide door of opportunity has been opened to him but with adversaries. It would be wonderful if he had left that part out. But he didn't. The devil is not going to sit down, roll over, and play dead and let us seize God opportunities without some kind of fight.
Every opportunity that God gives you demands a steadfast, persevering spirit. Ambition alone is not enough. You've got to be willing to take risks, lay it all on the line, and even be willing to lose it all in order to seize an opportunity. Your attitude and perspective about the situation has everything to do with your outcome. When the armies of Israel saw Goliath, they said, "He's too big to kill!" When David saw Goliath, he said, "He's too big to miss!" Same problem, different perspective!
Someone once said that if all you see is obstacles, then you've taken your eyes off the goals. You're no longer focused on your vision. You're no longer focused on Jesus. If you hear someone talking only about their problems, that's a good indication that they've taken their eyes off Jesus (The Answer)!
Hebrews 12:1 (NIV) says, "Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
The fear of failure can keep you from seizing opportunities. All of us have failed at some time in our lives, but failing is not final. Setbacks need not be permanent. We should not allow ourselves to become stagnant and stuck because of the fear of failure. Persistence, patience, faithfulness, always looking to Jesus, and never giving up will cause you to make the best of the opportunities you have. The greatest rewards that you'll ever know come only when you have stood fast on the Word of God and refused to quit.
So when God gives you an opportunity, a vision, seize it and don't quit until you succeed!
God bless you,
God called Abraham with a great big vision–descendants as many as the stars in the sky. Back in Genesis 12 when Abraham (then called Abram) was first called all God said was, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse, and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed.”
Notice God never said how or when, just to go do this thing, do what I have asked.
It takes 25 years from the time of God’s calling in Genesis 12, with little bits and pieces of clarity along the way, before the birth of one tiny baby brings everything to light. Slow growth! Once Isaac is born, there are many more challenging years of waiting and trusting God before that one baby could become anything like that vast sky full of stars. It is over hundreds of years before God’s plan truly takes off with the birth, life, death and resurrection of the Saviour, Jesus Christ. But it is through Abraham’s faith in a vague calling centuries before that the Saviour even came to be.
I have been serving in Radford Semele for seven years this month. Before I came here God told me, ‘to go to Radford Semele and you will see many stars come out’. I was living in London and there the night sky can be rather underwhelming. The city lights dull the brilliance of the stars, masking our eyes from the full picture. In Radford Semele I was amazed how many more stars I could see. And when I look at the night sky I remember God’s words promising blessing to Abraham and to me.
I have often asked God, ‘When and how will I see the stars come out?’ Recently I re-read Abraham’s story and realised that the seven years since I arrived is no time at all! Yet, since I’ve started this journey, it’s been humbling to see how the little things are adding up to bring clarity to God’s promise. People have grown in their faith and are shining more brightly than they did.
That is one sense in which the stars are coming out, almost as if they had been hidden behind clouds that have now gone. Opportunities to serve God in new ways are opening up as God provides new people to add to the gifting he gives us as a church, as he frees up others time and energy for kingdom building efforts. More stars make light work! God is on the move among us. We do not need to rush or hurry but we need to be faithful and keep moving forward, growing up with God. God’s plan unfolds in its own time but he keeps his promises, giving enough direction and encouragement to keep us moving with him if we are faithful. So let us be encouraged and press on together to see ‘many stars’ added to Abraham’s descendants J.
“God is the Father who is full of mercy and all comfort. He comforts us every time we have trouble, so when others have trouble, we can comfort them with the same comfort God gives us.” 2 Corinthians 1:3-4 (NCV)
Life is full of unforeseen circumstances that can bog us down and depress us. Sometimes these circumstances come about because of the great enemy of mankind, “Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” 1 Peter 5:8 (NIV)
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10 (NIV)
While the enemy may not be doing these things in the literal sense, he will cause hurt to happen in whatever way he can. He devises ways to kill your peace and destroys your joy. Sometimes these circumstances and hardships come about because of choices we and others have made in the past or more recently. And although we don’t like the consequences God allows us to make our own mistakes but he does not leave us. He loves us too much to ever leave us or forsake us. ‘Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture: They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We’re sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one. None of this fazes us, we are more than able to overcome because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.’ Romans 8:38-39 (The Message). When we find ourselves in the midst of trials and burdening situations, God is waiting to help us. When the current events of this world rob you of joy and peace, He is here to renew you. When your life has been turned upside down by tragedy, He wants to provide you comfort by his presence and expects that we will be His presence to others in their times of need.
Jesus loves us and waits for us to turn to Him and seek his face. He promises when we seek Him we will find Him. When we do this our focus will shift, the darkness will lift and the light will begin to shine again. Even if we still have to live with unpleasant consequences.
God is always there for us. As Psalm 46:1 says ‘God is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in time of need.’
Whatever your need today, whatever your trouble God be your refuge and strength, your comfort so that in the future you may bring those things to others as you stand firm in your faith.
Go well and God bless you!
I recently read an article by Geoff Knott and have used it for this article.
Jesus said "I will build my Ekklesia (Church)" (Matt 16:18). The Roman meaning for Ekklesia was different than the Greek. To them it meant a group of citizens - people in the community, business men and women, educators, government officials, called out of a conquered region to learn Roman ways. They then would return to their roles and teach the language of Rome, the culture of Rome, until everything walked, talked and acted like Rome. Jesus redefined this term giving the context for our calling to be salt and light in our communities.
Jesus could have said I will build my ‘Temple’ - one place in the world to come to worship God. He could have used ‘Synagogue’ – a local
building attended by believers. No, he used Ekklesia (Church) – far more dynamic, every day of the week, every moment, people coming together learning about Jesus and his kingdom and taking that out
everywhere they went. Think of the people Jesus spent time with. Ordinary people called out from the wider community - tax collectors, fishermen, tentmakers, wives, the young, the old, the well, the
sick, etc. They spent time with Jesus forming Ekklesia (Church), a close but open community, and went out to tell and show what they had experienced and learnt. They changed the world. You can
Jesus is still sending believers to their workplaces, communities, everywhere. They should bless, build relationships, minister and tell people about Jesus - sowing, watering, reaping (Luke 10). Some that you tell will come from different communities bless them anyway! Hopefully they will go back to where they come from and relate to their local church, encouraging and equipping it to be all Jesus intends it to be. Thus the church grows. The particular group of believers that you relate to may not grow from your efforts but it could grow from other people's efforts:
"What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe – as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow." 1 Corinthians 3:5-7 NIV
How do believers learn and be equipped to do His work? That's where apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers come in (Eph 4:11-12); working hand in hand with believers, coming together as Church, all sharing their gifts that they have been given by Holy Spirit for building up the Ekklesia. Jesus’ Church grows when we all do our part and share what we have with those we meet wherever that may be.
Are you using your God given gifts to build God’s kingdom? If not, look for opportunities to do so! If you have ideas of how that might happen through RSBC then let me know!
Go well and God bless!