The Promise of the Spirit

Acts 1:8;Acts 2:4

What a roller-coaster of emotions the disciples had experienced over the the days before and after the crucifixion. They had undergone all the emotions of bereavement, interwoven with fear, and then Jesus appeared among them in the upper room – suddenly they are filled with hope! But now that that hope was restored he says to them that they must go out and preach repentance and forgiveness of sins in his name. They were the church and must not forever live in the upper room but must go out to take these tidings of joy to all men. To be his witnesses and preach the gospel and heal the sick. The great commission.

This applies to all who love and live for Christ. They must have found this mission scary stuff! Especially as being followers of Jesus would expose them to possible life threatening danger. But Jesus says in effect have no fear because I am going to send you what my father has promised. What was that promise. John 14:16 reads “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you for ever – “

This is the Holy Spirit. The promise is that the Holy Spirit, the Counsellor, is available to all who believe [John 14:17b].

So how does the Holy Spirit help us in our walk with God?.

S-trength. [Acts 1:8 “But 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”] When we are called to do scary things for God the Holy Spirit gives us strength. Whether this be physical [as with Samson] or emotional and mental to produce courage. Is God calling you to be a witness in a particular way for him. Are you doubting that calling because you feel God is appealing to your weakness rather than your strength. Have faith move forward in obedience to God’s call because can turn your weakness into strength!

The Holy Spirit will empower those who receive him to do his will, he will strengthen those areas where we already feel we are strong and strengthen those areas where we are weak. The Holy Spirit also develops in us abilities we did not previously have so that we can become better witnesses for Christ. These we sometimes call gifts of the Spirit. Through these the Spirit inspires confident witness to Jesus.

Jesus is telling the disciples don’t be afraid to move out in obedience to my word, my Father will give you a companion for your soul so that you are not alone and can derive courage to do my will.

P-rotection. [Ephes.1:13-14 ‘ And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth , the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are in God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.’]. The Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin and the judgement to come as we ponder the righteousness of Jesus hanging on the Cross. However, the Holy Spirit convinces us that it is this very event that is willed by God to give us eternal protection – for it is through Christ’s sacrifice on the cross that we are forgiven and saved from judgement. This is the hope to which we are called.

The Spirit also powerfully convicts unbelievers through the work of the spirit in believers. The Spirit is partner to believers in their evangelistic mission by doing what they cannot do –enabling unbelievers to see their sin and their need for Jesus.

Also as we walk in obedience to God and his calling and in partnership with the Holy Spirit we will receive protection from spiritual attack. He gives the protection of spiritual peace amid the turmoil of life’s bumpy road.

Are you feeling anxious and worried about the future? Be assured of God’s love for you, even amid your doubts, and his care for your well being, which he activates through the work of the spirit. I began to doubt in the 90’s when my business began to flounder in the midst of a recession and I got dangerously into debt. But initiated through the partnership of prayer with others, the Holy Spirit moved in a miraculous way and I was protected from financial ruin.

I-nspiration. [Jn. 16:13 “But when he, the spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will only speak what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come].

As we study and pray, the inspiration of the Holy Spirit will show us and teach us what is true and in accordance with God’s will about the way we personally should lead our lives for Christ. He will teach us all things and bring them to our remembrance, Jn.14:26. He promises that if we remain in him appropriate words will come when faced with the need to inspire and comfort others, or indeed as a comfort for ourselves.

The spirit also inspires and encourages through signs and wonders as part of the evangelism undertaken by believers. This was clearly the case in the early church and is still present today and practised in the ministries of Healing and Prophesy. For example, during a visit to Halifax to attend a Healing Rooms Conference I and other members of the healing prayer team were asked by the young Receptionist at the Hotel where we were staying to pray away the tumour on her pituitary gland which was affecting her peripheral vision. We invited the Holy Spirit to heal her. Her peripheral vision was retested and found to be perfect! A miracle had occurred through the healing power of the Holy Spirit. Thus God spoke to her, a Sikh, powerfully through this event and she became a Christian!

R-evealing. [1Cor.2: 12-13 ‘We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words.]. The Holy Spirit is always active – He is always revealing himself. Truth is not man’s discovery ; it is God’s gift. It is not something we create; it is something waiting to be discovered. At the back of all truth is God. At the back of untruth is satan. It is the Holy Spirit that reveals it to us. The Holy Spirit takes the things of Jesus and reveals there significance to us. Knowledge of Jesus, being God, is inexhaustible. NO man has ever grasped all he came to say. No man has fully worked out the significance of all his teaching for life and belief, for the individual, for society, for the nation and for the world. Revelation is the continual opening out of the meaning of Jesus. The Holy Spirit encourages our hearts to be teachable and open to such revelations and to rule over our minds when we harbour doubts. If we listen to God and to what the spirit is revealing to us through scripture and prayer we develop a deeper knowledge of God, ourselves and others which can develop into the gift of prophecy.

I-ntimacy.[Rom.5:5 ‘And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.’]. The work of the Holy Spirit is to empower us to live nearer to Jesus – to know him better. As the Holy Spirit reveals more of God to us we open the gates of our hearts for the Holy Spirit to pour the love of God for us into it. We realise we are so loved by God that the only way we can respond with our love for him is to have a growing and increasingly closer intimacy with him. We talk with him and he talks with us through the channel of the Holy Spirit. Who may do so also worshipfully and prayerfully through a heavenly language.

T-ransformation. [Acts 15:8-9 ‘ God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us’]. This is perhaps the key work of the Holy Spirit for all the others flow from it. He comes to purify us, to purge us of all unrighteousness. The more we become like him, the more he will be able to tell us. He acts to reveal, teach, inspire, protect and empower us to the point that where we are so intimate with God that we cannot help but share our faith with others to continue the great commission for then, as indicated in Jn.7:38, streams of living water will flow from us into others bringing healing, inspiration, protection and revelation to them.

We can all walk in this resurrection power of Jesus as we obey his command to go and spread the good news of God’s love for us to all around us. In this he promises to be with us [through the Holy Spirit] even to the end of the age [Matt.28:20].

Read Ephes1:17-21.

We are all mightily blessed because Jesus ascended into Heaven and sent to us the promised Holy Spirit to counsel, guide and empower us, not only to have a closer relationship with him but to build his church of love bringing his kingdom on earth as it is in heaven.

However, the holy spirit does not force himself into our lives, he is a gentle spirit, who needs to be accepted freely and willingly by all who love Jesus and want to serve him. We need to reaffirm this daily and our walk with God.

Dear reader I suggest that through prayer you now invite the Holy Spirit to visit you in your heart and in your church. Let us invite him to purge us of all unrighteousness and heal us of all bgive us revelation and knoitterness, anxieties and pain. Let us invite him to be with us, to wledge. Let us invite the Holy Spirit to transform strengthen and empower us to become agents for revival so that his Kingdom is built here on earth and the great commission fulfilled. Amen.

RAS 07/06/2022

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Celebrating Old Age

2 Corinthians 4: 16-18

During this first week of June 2022 we are celebrating the Queens 70 years on the throne. I am full of admiration for her Majesty as she continues well in to her old age to perform many of her sovereign duties in serving this Country. This Jubilee is as much a celebration of old age as it is of a long reign.

It appears to me that there is an ambivalence towards ageing in that all of us want to live a long time, but none of us want to grow old. This is fueled by our mass media which depicts old age as a calamity, something to be avoided, a drain on the NHS. In fact, we try to mask the signs of old age or hide it with dyes and creams and elective surgeries to show people that we are not growing old.

The Apostle Paul wrote 2 Corinthians about 20years into his ministry, so he was getting on a bit, probably about 60ish. But he never considered retiring. He experienced what ageing is as well as its effects, and he dealt with it very appropriately. He tells us how we can deal with it ourselves. Growing old and ageing can be a very satisfying, very fulfilling experience if we follow Paul’s advice.

We need to develop a positive image of ageing, we need to take our lives off what is seen. I am not saying that we should deny reality. Paul himself does not deny the effects of ageing. He says that outwardly we are wasting away.

There are a lot of benefits to growing old. One benefit is the fact that we are alive. If we are over 70 we should praise God because you have already beaten the averages. We are the survivors, the fortunate ones.

We can relax and enjoy the things that really matter to us. We can be comfortable with who we are, and see ourselves as God sees us. It can be an incredible time of creativity. Some of the best artists and poets painted or wrote during their retirement years. Colonel Sanders of KFC built his business after he retired. Abraham and Moses were old when called by God initiate and develop a nation.

Paul tells us that the proper image is not to focus on the hazards of ageing, but to focus on the unseen. What is the unseen? For Christians, it means not focusing on the temporary, the material, or the past. It means, as Paul states in 2 Corinthians, to focus on the eternal, the spiritual, the purposeful, on what lies ahead: eternal life, heaven, God’s kingdom and resurrection. It is realizing that with every day that passes, and I give thanks and praise to God for every new day he gives me, we are not counting down our lives, we are counting up to our experience of heavenly glory.

If we do that, Paul says that we are renewed day by day. We experience an eternal glory that will not fade.

Paul says that what seem to be insurmountable problems will become light and momentary as we focus on heaven. As we become older, we come closer to the light. If we are going to experience a more satisfying life, one thing we can do is to spend time getting closer to God and Jesus, our welcomer into that unseen world, that spiritual world. One of the great gifts we have is time. We can spend more time drawing close to the light.

As our lives are drawn closer to that light, our hearts and souls are drawn as well. As we draw closer to God, his promise is that he will draw closer to us. And as he draws closer to us we become spiritual magnets drawing others to him. And this is, perhaps, the greatest positive of old age. We have a story to tell, a testimony to give, that can be an encouragement to others. In many African villages young men gather around the old man, mzee, eagerly listening to the stories he has to tell of his life, the village ancestors of wisdom gained and encouragement to give.

Although our bodies are wasting away, our spiritual experience will be a growing satisfaction of being renewed day by day, so much so that, in walking with our Lord, when we hit those shadow times the light of his glory will penetrate that darkness and we can walk through the valley of the shadow of death without fear because he will be with us always.

The unseen represents much more for Paul. Paul did not retire to give up. We find that Paul lived his life to the full, despite hardships, imprisonment and ridicule, serving his Lord, giving all that he could, until Christ took him home. And what did he have to say at the end of his life? What was his attitude? He says: “Therefore, we do not lose heart. Although outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.”

We oldies still have much to offer. At the time of writing this I am in my 83rd year. Don’t let society, don’t let your kids, and don’t let yourself put you on the side-lines or on a shelf. You are very useful. Make your life count. At the very least it is a time to look back over your life giving thanks and testifying how God has been at work in you. The longer you live the greater this testimony. Finish well.

As we grow older let us take on board Paul’s advice. Don’t focus on the problems and the hazards. When you see a rosebush, do you see a flower with nasty thorns that prick you, or do you see a thorn bush beautified by flowers? Think of the difference in focus. What is your focus of ageing. Our focus should be on the opportunities that we have and things that we can do, the unseen, drawing closer to the Lord, living our lives so that we can walk with him closer. Giving our testimony. Helping and encouraging others. If we do this, ageing can become like an antique car, much more valuable than when it was first made. Think of that image. That could be your image of old age. Let us celebrate, with the Queen, the long lives that we have been given!

RAS 31/05/2022

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LIVING WATER Exodus 17:1-7; John 4:5-42

Have you ever been thirsty – I mean really thirsty! I was once on a project in Africa where I was losing over 4 ltrs a day in fluid. I ran out of water and we still had a couple of hours to go through the heat of the tropical sun. I became very focused on the final destination where I knew several bottles of cold beer awaited. I got irritated at the little hold ups that occurred along the way. Thirst can actually drive you mad. Water is vital for life. Without any trace of water on Mars or evidence that water had been present in the past it would be pointless searching for life. Two hormones come into play when our bodies start to develop what’s known as a water deficit. One affects the kidneys causing them to produce less and more concentrated urine and also slow down or stop the secretion of the salivary glands to conserve water. The other hormone affects a region of the brain called the hypothalamus producing an increased desire for water. It can reach such a point that our minds become one tracked forcing our bodies to spend most of it’s time in the pursuit of water, because we can only live 4-5 days without water.

The Israelites must have been really thirsty for they had for some time been travelling around the Desert of Sin, ‘traveling from place to place as the Lord commanded.’ As they set up camp in Rephidim after hard days of trekking you can imagine what they felt as they discovered that there was no water. This was the last straw. Murmurings grew into grumbles which grew into rebellion where they actually began to quarrel with Moses to the point where they were almost ready to stone him. You can imagine them saying “Woe is me! Why on earth I agreed to follow this man and come on this foolhardy journey I do not know. Promised land indeed! Why? There has been nothing but scrabbling around for food and never enough water and now we have run out altogether. I’m going to die of thirst. The old ways back in Egypt weren’t so bad. We may have been slaves but at least we had food and plenty to drink!” The desire for water was causing them to regret the trust they put in God. Which was strange because they had no other choice in the predicament that they appeared to be in.

Perhaps like me you can identify with these travel weary Israelites. I have often been stuck in my desert of Sin unable to find an oasis. Getting cross with myself and with God who seemed to be punishing me rather than helping to overcome and find my way out of the desert of sin. In retrospect this has nearly always been at times when I was trying to find my own way out. Actually ignoring God. It was only when I came to realise that I had forgotten that that it is only by trusting God that we can be saved in all circumstances of life. For God has always got our best interests at heart.

2000 or so years later we find another scene. Jesus had left Judea on his way Galilee. He had decided to go through Samaria rather than take an avoiding route that would have doubled the time of the journey. This is the same area where the West Bank is today and it is dry and arid. When the sun was at its highest & hottest he came upon the town of Synchar. While his disciples went on a shopping spree Jesus sat down by Jacob’s well. The well was ( and still is) over 100 feet deep and Jacob, who dug it, had watered his many flocks from this well many centuries before. Joseph was buried in a field near this well. It was therefore considered a holy place. Jesus looks down the road and unusually he sees a Samaritan woman coming to draw water. She is lost in thought and thirsty in the mid-day sun. For many months now she has been wandering around in a spiritual desert. She is irritated with herself and her predicament. You can imagine her thinking, “if it wasn’t for my past life I wouldn’t have to come out here in the midday sun to draw water. I wouldn’t be an outcast if I’d stuck at three husbands instead of 5 and I’m not even sure the man who is living with me at the moment wants to marry me. Life is hard. Just as I am feeling thirsty on this dusty road to the well I wish things were different deep down in my soul. But what can you do. There’s no hope.”

She now meets with Jesus and he asks her for a drink. She protests how can you ask me for a drink when you are a man and a Jew and I am a Samaritan and a woman. But Jesus recognises that this woman has a great spiritual thirst and the story goes on to show how Jesus comes to show her how her thirst is really spiritual and how he can quench that thirst.

So Jesus now gives her the answer to all her problems – he says “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.” The Lord was there with her. At first it is clear that she does not understand. She was so concerned with her own wretchedness that she had become spiritually blind.

Sometimes we become so concerned with our own predicaments that we become spiritually blind. She put Jesus to the test with her questioning.

Just as the Israelites centuries before had put the Lord to the test with their grumbling. They to had become blind to the fact that the Lord was with them and would provide. God tells Moses to go before them with the elders to the rock at Horeb and to strike the rock with his staff and it will gush with water for the people to drink. You can imagine what might have been said when people learnt of this water providing strategy given by God to Moses. “There’s no water around the rock at Horeb, it’s still desert, not a plant in sight. You can’t get water out of a rock!”

Just as the woman thought Jesus was mad and tried to humour him “Why you haven’t even got a bucket and the well is deep. Where you going to get this living water? There’s none around here which is why Jacob had to dig a well.” She adds, perhaps sarcastically “Do you know better than him?”

In ordinary language to the Jew Living Water was running water. It was water of the running stream in contradistinction to the water to the stagnant cistern. Jacob’s well got its water by percolation from the sub-soil. To the Jew running, living, water was always better. Jews however had another way of using the word water. They often spoke of the thirst of the soul for God; and often spoke of quenching that thirst with living water. Jesus was not using terms that were bound to be misunderstood. The promise was that the chosen people would draw water with joy from the wells of salvation (Isa. 12:3) Jeremiah’s complaint was that the people had forsaken God, who was the fountain of living waters, and had hewed themselves out of broken cisterns which could hold no water (Jer.2:13). Ezekiel had had his vision of the river of life (Ez.47:1-12). In the new world there would be a cleansing fountain opened (Zech.13:1). Jewish pictorial religious language was full of this idea of the thirst of the souls which could be quenched only with the living water which was the gift of God.

But the woman chose to understand Jesus’s words with an almost crude literalism. She was blind because she would not see. She could not see that, as was written in Jer.17:13. It is the Lord who is the fountain of living water.

If you are anything like me you may often be burdened by your past. Like me you may have said in the past if only I had trusted God more and lived more like he has wanted me to live. If only I had more faith in Him I would feel less burdened and more at peace.

The Israelites went on to see a miracle. Water gushing from a rock. Water which enabled them to quench their thirst. Which gave them hope that they would not die of thirst. Living water. They had tested the Lord, saying “Is the Lord among us or not?” And the Lord had answered showing them that just as he stood before Moses at the Rock he was always with them.

Sometimes it may seem that God is far from us when he is there with us “the Rock of our salvation” Ps 95 just waiting to fill us with living water.

Jesus replies: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks this water I give him will never thirst. Indeed the water I give him will become in him the spring of water welling up to eternal life.” In Rev.22:1 we read that it is from the very throne of God that the river of life is to flow. Jesus is saying just as water is essential to life, living water is essential to spiritual life. “Go on then, tell me where this living water is” she says “so that I can get some and will not have to walk to the well day after day.” She was jesting with a kind of humouring contempt about eternal things. But Jesus reveals to her that he knows all about her and she realises he is who he says he is. She realises that at long last she has found someone who can accept and love her for who she is and is offering her the gift of himself as the rock from which she can obtain this living water freeing her from the bondage of her sins.

Are you feeling far from God, is your soul dry and alone in that desert? Is being a Christian difficult for you, are you saying I wish I had never set out on this journey? Are you grumbling at God for not leading you beside still waters? Then take heart because Jesus is with you. He was tempted in the desert. He knows how you feel. For he too found the journey difficult. But He is the rock from which living waters gushforth filling us all and quenching our thirsty soul with living water. In Rev. 21: 6 we read the promise: “To the thirsty I will give water without price from the fountain of the water of life.”If you feel that you are in a dry spiritual desert you are promised in Rev: 7:17 that the Lamb will lead you to the springs of living waters.

But first like the woman at the well we have to face the truth about ourselves and when at last we do see we must turn away from our old selves, drink of this living water, receive God’s forgiveness, love and acceptance and like the Samaritan woman tell others about it and where they must go to find the rock of salvation so that they too may drink of its water and never thirst again.

RAS 24th May 2022

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A Matter of Life or Death.

A Meditation for Good Friday

John 18:28-40

In this word from the gospel of John we learn of a discourse between Pilate and Jesus where the discussion is a matter of Life or Death. In this meditation I want to turn our attention to just two of the players in this scene: Pilate and Jesus.

Pilate.

As a governor he was complete failure. He had contempt and complete lack of sympathy and religious sensibility for the Jews. He’d already killed and threatened Jews in an argument over bringing graven image of the Emperor God on his standard into the Old Palace of the Herods. He’d also raided the Temple treasury to resource the building of a new Aquaduct, causing a riot in which he and his soldiers finished with killing many of the rioters. At another time he’d refused to remove special shields made in honour of Tiberias the Emperor god from the palace of the Herods, for which the Jews reported him to Tiberias who ordered him to remove them.

Little wonder, then, that Pilate acted as he did. The Jews blackmailed him into crucifying Jesus. They said in effect: “Your record is not too good; you were reported once before; if you do not give us our way, we will report you again to the Emperor, and you will be dismissed. On that day in Jerusalem Pilate’s past rose up and haunted him.

Have there been times in our own lives when fear of loss of security, status or job have forced us to make decisions we know are wrong that later cause us to be racked with guilt.

Pilate did not want to condemn Jesus, because he knew that he was innocent; and yet he was caught in the mesh of his own past.

So how did all this affect his conduct of the trial?

  1. Pilate began by trying to put the responsibility on to someone else.

He said to the Jews: “You take this man and judge him according to your Laws.” He tried to evade the responsibility of dealing with Jesus; but that is precisely what no one can do. No one can deal with Jesus for us; we must deal with him ourselves.

  1. Pilate went on to see what compromise could do.

He ordered Jesus to be scourged. This he perhaps thought might satisfy, or at least blunt the edge of Jewish hostility and avoid him having to give the verdict of the cross. Once again, that is what no man can do. No man can compromise with Jesus; no man can serve two masters. We are either for Jesus or against him. Let us seek forgiveness for the times we have compromised our faith when challenged by the secularity of our culture.

  1. Pilate then tried to see what appeal could do.

He led the scourged Jesus out to the people and asked: “Shall I crucify your King?” He tried to swing the balance by this appeal to emotion and pity. But no one can expect the appeal to others to take the place of his own personal decision. No man can evade a personal verdict and a personal decision regarding Jesus.

In the end Pilate abandoned Jesus to the mob because he lacked the courage to make the right decision and do the right thing.

Now let us come to the central character of the drama – Jesus.

  1. First and foremost we can see in this encounter the sheer Majesty of Jesus There is no sense that he is on trial. When a man faces him, it is not Jesus who is on trial; it is the man. Pilate may have treated many Jewish things with arrogant contempt, but he did not treat Jesus in this way. We cannot help feeling that it is Jesus who is in control and it is Pilate who is floundering and at sea in a situation which he cannot understand. The majesty of Jesus never shone more radiantly than in that time when he was on trial before men.

2. Jesus speaks with utter directness to us of His Kingdom .It is not, he says, of this earth. The atmosphere during Passover was particularly explosive which is why extra troops were always drafted in, but if Jesus had wished to raise the standard of rebellion and to fight it out he could have done so easily enough. But he makes it quite clear that he claims to be a King and equally clear that his kingdom is not based on force but is a spiritual kingdom built on love. His was a conquest of love. Have we understood the immensity of the suffering that Jesus voluntarily endured on the cross to bring us all through the gates of heaven. Have our hearts been conquered by his supreme act of love?

3.Jesus tells Pilate, and us, why he came into the world.

He came to witness to the truth; he came to tell men the truth about God, the truth about themselves, and the truth about life. That is one of the reasons why we must either accept or refuse Christ. There is no half-way house about the truth. And Christ is the truth regardless of what the world may say. He is the way and the life. And He is the only way by which we can pass into eternal life.

4. There is the physical courage of Jesus. Jesus stood a scourging from which few remained conscious and some died or became raving mad. Pilate led him to the crowd and said: “See the man!” It is always true that whatever else we do or do not say about Jesus, his sheer heroism is without parallel. Here indeed is a man! Oh, that those of us who know him would show one small iota of that courage in witnessing and spreading the good news of his kingdom. Were better at keeping it a secret than spreading the news!

5. We see here in the trial of Jesus the spontaneousness of his death and the supreme control of God. Pilate warned Jesus that he had the power to release him or to crucify him. Jesus answered that Pilate had no power at all, except what hade been given to him by God. The crucifixion of Jesus reads like a story of a man caught up in a web of circumstances over which he had no control. Jesus was not hounded to his death; those last days of Jesus were a triumphant procession towards the goal of the cross with all its agony and pain. Let us ponder on the infinite sacrificial love and courage that that entailed.

6. There were the times when Jesus was silent.

Not only before Pilate, but also before the Jewish authorities. Let us think about, with regret, the times when our minds have been so shut by pride and self-will that there is nothing that Jesus can say that will make any difference. At these times he remains silent; but never absent, waiting patiently for us to turn back to him, seeking forgiveness and re-aligning our wills to his.

So in the dramatic trial scene in which matters of life and death are discussed we see the immutable majesty, the undaunted courage and serene acceptance of the Cross of Jesus. Never was Jesus more majestic as when men did everything to humiliate him.

Lastly in one final scene we find Pilate, faced with an urgent decision as to what to do with a man he knows to be innocent in a politically charged situation turning to the crowd appealing for them to make a choice – this guilty man Barabbas or this innocent man Jesus.

The choice that faced the mob in Jerusalem is still before our world. Whom will we follow? Whom will we make our king? Ourselves? Our Career? Our sporting heroes, etc? Barabbas continues to represent an alluring alternative, the fulfilling of worldly ambitions and dreams, the gratification of human lusts and hungers, the nationalist dream, the political kingdom. But Jesus still stands before us also, knocking on the door of our hearts, offering his truth, a knowledge of the Father which, beginning in the valley of confession and repentance, leads forward along the pathway, guided and directed by the Holy Spirit, of daily surrender to him as King. Though on the surface less attractive, however, that choice frees those who make it to serve him in the world. It carries them at the last beyond the passing shadows of this earthly life into the enduring order of the heavenly kingdom which will have no end.

Every day we are faced with a decision to choose Barabbas or Jesus as our King? Maybe, like me, and like the apostle Peter there have been times when you rejected him; usually when the going gets tough. However, perhaps more importantly, can we like Peter accept the forgiveness that comes with repentance.

Let us meditate on, confess, repent and accept Jesus’ loving forgiveness of wrong choices, let us accept the righteousness before God which he bought for us on the cross, which gives us a pass into his eternal kingdom. And let us also have the courage of our convictions.

It is a matter of life or death.

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Light for our Darkness

Jn 9:1-41; Ephes.5:8-14.

In these dark days of winter and of darkness penetrating many areas of our fractured culture I am reminded that Jesus’ birth is described as the unquenchable light shining in the darkness. We are now in the season of Epiphany where the birth and significance of Jesus was revealed to three wise men from the East as a bright new star in the heavens [possibly a Super-Nova] they were motivated in their spirits to follow the star which guided them to where Jesus was born.

Light is the energy source upon which all life exists and is maintained. This was one of the first acts of God in creation; He spoke let their be light, and there was light in the creation of stars. Life receives light by a process of photosynthesis carried out by chlorophyll bearing organisms that convert solar energy into chemical energy. The source of this light is our Sun. If the world became blind to light, for some reason plunged into darkness unable to receive light through, say, a thick blanket of dust cloud, all advanced life would soon cease. Light is also very important to us in revealing the make up of things around us we “Hold things up to the light to help us to see the detail of what things look like, to avoid obstacles in our path.” Without light things are hidden from us, often dangerously so. Imagine walking blindfold along the road outside your house. You would be feeling your way groping and stumbling over obstacles that are in your way. You would risk bumping into people and falling down man-holes! What a daft thing to do you would say!

But spiritually this is the exact cause of humanities problems. We are groping around unable to see who we are, where we have come from or where we are going. We go through life blindfolded, groping in the darkness, stumbling and tripping over many obstacles. The man Jesus saw was blind from birth (Jn.9:1) but are we not all born spiritually blind at birth, worse still we are born into a dark world without light.

God saw that what we needed was light to drive away the darkness. According to Strongs concordance there are over 250 references to light in the Bible about a hundred of them in the New Testament. God’s love and grace made provision to meet our need. Jesus came as Light for our Darkness. He describes himself by the words: “I am the bread of life. I am the door. I am the good shepherd; I am the way, the truth and the life, I am the resurrection and the life; I am the light of the world.” Jesus Christ is the light of the world. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. All things were made through Him and without Him nothing was made that was made. In Him was life, and the life was the light of men.” Jn.1:1-4. We need Light to see; and what we see with our eyes is only possible when there is light. When there is absolute darkness, we cannot see anything even with exceptionally good eyesight. When however the problem is with the eyes no amount of light will enable us to see unless sight is first restored.

The man Jesus met was born blind and for him everything was in darkness since the day of his birth. He had never seen the light of day and, since he couldn’t work, was forced to beg. Asked by the disciples the reason for the man’s blindness Jesus declared that he was born blind so that God could reveal his great work of salvation in him; so that God, through Jesus, could show his majesty, his power and his great mercy (Jn.9:2-3). In the sovereign providence of God, this man was born blind so that the Lord Jesus Christ could heal him of his physical and spiritual blindness as a symbol or a sign for all mankind.

Since we are all born spiritually blind into a dark world because of sin, we need Christ the light of the world, to restore our sight. Jesus is the great sight giver. Without this inner sight we grope around in a spiritual darkness. What does this imply?

When we are spiritually blind we are unable to discern the truth (Ephes.5:9 ) and as a result we cannot see things as they really are and therefore run the risk of valuing the wrong things. Without light and without sight we cannot see and understand the truth about God. Our eyelids are often closed over those weaknesses in ourselves. Sometimes when the light exposes these things to us we develop spiritual cataracts of guilt which blind us to the solution. Only Jesus can restore our sight to enable us to see things as they really are; illuminated in the light of Christ.

The tragedy for many people is that they are not conscious that they are blind and are in darkness because they have rejected the light. Why? Because one of the properties of light is that it exposes things that are hidden in the dark.(Ephes. 5:11-13) We often are fooled by the dark into believing we do nothing wrong. We often do things in secret that we do not want others to know about. We prefer to live without the light because being in the light means that we have to give up too much.

The Pharisees accused the blind man of being “steeped in sin at birth” (Jn.9:34). What they did not see was that they too were sinners who needed to be saved. They were blind to their own sin and the need for salvation. Instead of rejoicing that people were being healed and lives changed and taking advantage of the healing taking place they were only concerned about the observance of the Sabbath (Jn.9:16). Keeping the Sabbath was more important to them than caring for the needs of others. Because of their blindness they did not realise that God never intended the Sabbath to prevent an act of mercy or kindness.

Christ the light of the world disperses our darkness and restores our sight. He brings us into the light so that we can also become light (Ephes.5:8). When certain materials are exposed to light they absorb that light and re-radiate it in the form of fluorescence. Paul asserts that we should witness to others the difference that light makes in our lives. We should live as children, a re-radiance, of that light. Many of the people that Jesus healed wanted to go with him. He always refused and advised them to stay where they were to serve as a fluorescing light for those who had known them and where the difference in their lives was evident for all to see. Christ came into the world to give light but it is left to us to accept that light or reject it. The gospel is not only good news to those who receive it but bad news to those who reject it. The gospel heard and accepted is life ; the gospel heard and refused is death.

The story of the healing of the blind man is both a miracle and a drama of central conflict going on in the gospel. When first healed and asked about the miracle the man replied that “a man called Jesus” healed him (Jn.9:11). The next time he was asked he replied that “He is a prophet”. When pressed again about Jesus he asserts: “If this man were not from God, He could do nothing.” And when he finally came face to face with Jesus, he fell down and worshiped him. The man who was healed gained not only physical sight but also spiritual sight as he recognised Jesus as his Lord. Contrasted with this is the hostility of the Pharisees. At first some of them defend Jesus but soon they all decide that Jesus’ defiance of the Sabbath is inexcusable and they told the man who had been healed to “give glory to God,” declaring that they new him, Jesus, to be a sinner.

Light represents what is good and holy and darkness what is sinful and evil. In the dark good and evil look alike. In the light they can clearly be distinguished. Just as darkness cannot exist in the presence of light, so sin cannot exist in the presence of a Holy God. Let us come into the light and put aside our sinful ways of living.

There is to be a distinct walk on the part of those whose sight has been restored and who are in the light. It is a walk and lifestyle that is different from that of the world. It is a life that is blameless and pure. We are to live in such a way that our behaviour is above reproach (Ephes.5:9 -11). It is not living a perfect life, but a life that nobody can point a finger at. We should live a life that will astonish a darkened world. “People may doubt what you say, but they will always believe what you do”. As people in the light we are to be light. It is only when we feel at home in the light of Christ that we can face many challenging temptations, which come to us in the ordinary experience of life. Whenever Jesus performed a miracle, it provoked all kinds of questions. Often these questions give the believer an opportunity to witness for the Lord.

The man who had been blind, at first did not know how or why he was healed, but he knew that his life had been miraculously changed and he was not afraid to tell the truth. His testimony was simple, yet convincing. Like the blind man we do not need to know all the answers to share the light of Christ with others, it is only necessary to tell others how he has changed our lives.

Unfortunately the world seems to prefer the darkness to light. We live in a fallen world, in a culture that today I believe has lost its way and gone astray blindly groping in its own way, where absolute God given morality has given way to relative personal standards of liberality, blind to the light of guiding star that leads to Jesus; the source of eternal truth and true freedom. When blind to the light of Jesus we trip and fall down the ‘man-holes’ of life. Today Jesus has sent us the gift of Holy Spirit to heal us and and remove the cataracts from our spiritual eyes.

Those who admit they cannot see are given sight, but those who insist that they can see perfectly, without Jesus, are confirmed in their blindness. Spiritual sight comes from a personal encounter, an Epiphany, with Jesus and leads to a new life in relationship to Him. In the world today there is light and darkness. There are those who accept to live in the light and those who chose to remain in the dark. Darkness prevents us from seeing things clearly. It hides the reality from us. It also hides the dangers that threaten our well being and even our life itself. Light enables us to see clearly. We can see where we are going, see what we are doing and have a fuller awareness of all that surrounds us. Turning on a light in a dark room brings darkness to an end. Jesus is the light for our darkness. By his death on the cross he has disarmed and overcome the powers of darkness so that we can turn away from the darkness, come into the light and become a light. The light of Christ will never be overcome by darkness; nor will those who live in the light.

Those whose blindness Christ has restored, those who see the light of our Lord Jesus Christ become children of the light and will remain in his light forever.

Do you have a clear vision of your future with Christ? Are you sharing that vision with others who may yet see? I hope so.

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Immanuel -God with Us


Isa. 7:10-16; Matt.1:18-25.

There are times when we find it hard to trust God to look after us. Especially today as we look back over the past year with the ravages of Covid 19 pandemic bringing fear, pain and heartache and economic disaster to us individually and to our way of life. There are times when we think our situation is so bad there seems to be no way out. There are other times when we think we know the best solution to our problems so we don’t bother to ask God for help.

All three of those statements were true for Ahaz, as Jerusalem lay surrounded
by the armies of Israel and Syria. It looked like Jerusalem was doomed. The
people were starving and there didn’t seem to be much hope unless they were
rescued by another nation. In fact Ahaz had it in his mind to form an alliance
with Egypt or Assyria. Maybe that would solve their problems.

Unfortunately, too often when we make these sorts of short term decisions we
overlook the long term consequences. If they formed an alliance with, say,
Assyria, they’d lose their independence, The nation of Judea would be handed
over to a pagan king. Jerusalem would become a secular city just like any
other city in the world.

I wonder what you do when you’re faced with some impending disaster? Do
you use your own political savvy, your own applied logic, to find a way out by
yourself or do you ask God to intervene? It’s difficult isn’t it, because either
may be appropriate. God promises to help us, but he also tells us to act to help
ourselves.

In the case of Ahaz, God decides to help him out. He sends Isaiah to speak to
him and say “Be careful, keep calm and don’t be afraid. Do not lose heart
because of these two smouldering stubs of firewood.”
Ahaz could relax in the
face of this threat, because God was with him. This was God’s city and he
wasn’t going to let these almost burnt out enemies take it captive. In fact he
tells him that Israel will be gone within 65 years. That’s what happens when
you play politics with a greater military power. But in the meantime Ahaz
should trust in the Lord and ask for his help.

That sounds good doesn’t it? What is there to worry about? Just get down on
your knees and pray. God has already sent his prophet to assure him of his
help. He tells him to ask for a sign. That’s what Gideon did when he wasn’t
sure. And God gave him a sign – twice. It’s OK to ask for a sign. God
understands our lack of confidence at times like this.

But did you see how Ahaz responds? He doesn’t want to put the Lord to the
test! God has gone out of his way to help his people and their king doesn’t
want to bother God. Perhaps he thinks this is a trap that Isaiah is setting for
him. Or perhaps he’s just too scared to step out of his comfort zone and trust
God rather than his own political maneuvering.

Well, Isaiah isn’t going to let him get away with that. He may be the king but
this is God’s city, God’s people. So he gives him a sign anyway. He speaks a
word of prophecy: “A young woman is with child and shall bear a son, and
shall name him Immanuel.”
The naming of a child is a common technique in
the prophets to bring a message to God’s people. Hosea uses it to warn them
of God’s judgement, then to promise his restoration. Here the child is to be
named Immanuel, that is, “God is with us”, to assure them that God is ready to
stand with them against their enemies. And if God is with us who can stand
against us.

In the end the words Isaiah spoke came true. Both Israel and Syria were taken
over by Assyria. Even Jerusalem was threatened, but it wasn’t defeated
because God protected them. That would happen later.

But of course the history of Israel isn’t actually our focus today. Today we’re
interested in the way that prophecy had its outworking in the birth of Jesus.
As
we read in the passage from Matthew 1, Matthew identifies this child with that
prophecy of Isaiah 7: “They shall name him Emmanuel,” which means, ’God is
with us.’”

So what does it mean that with Jesus birth God is with us? Is this just to do
with the incarnation. God has come in human form to live among us? Here is a
child who is both human and divine at the same time? Well that’s certainly
true. This is a unique event in human history. The word of God has become
flesh and dwelt among us. But it’s clearly more than that. Matthew certainly
thinks so. He tells us that this child is the fulfillment of Isaiah’s prophecy.
A lot
of water has passed under the bridge since Isaiah’s day. Jerusalem is no
longer under attack from Syria, now it’s in the hands of the Romans. So things
are even worse than they were then. If ever the people needed to know that
God was with them, it was now.
And they needed to know not just that he was
with them but that he’d protect them, save them.

Here’s the interesting bit though. In Isaiah’s day the prophecy meant that God
would save Jerusalem from it’s enemies who were camped outside the gates.
But this saviour who appears in Bethlehem isn’t coming to save the nation or
the city from its enemies.
In fact in a mere 70 years time Jerusalem would be
destroyed and the Jews driven out of it almost for good. He’s coming to save
his people from their sins. The angel gives him the name Jesus for that
reason.

Can you see what the name Immanuel has to do with that?

This child, as God with us, is a sign that the separation we experience from
God is coming to an end
. What separates us from God? It’s our sin isn’t it?
Jesus has come to deal with our sin; to save us from it and to enable us to be
restored to full communion with God. God is with us, not to make us feel safer,
but because he’s about to save us from the reality of the judgement we
deserve.
God is with us in a new way, a way that allows us to be with God.

It’s a complex idea isn’t it? Jesus is both a sign of God’s protection and the
means of that protection. Jesus both assures us that God is fulfilling his
promise to restore the creation and is the means by which God brings about
that restoration.

And what about right now? We look back on the events of the first century and
we know them well. We know that God has brought about the salvation he
promised in this young child. We know Jesus grew up and chose 12 disciples
and in the end was killed but then rose again. And that might be all we get out
of a passage like this. But that would be to miss, again, the deeper
significance of this name, Immanuel. Because this baby Jesus continues to be
a sign for us, doesn’t he? He continues to act as a reminder, as a token of
God’s ongoing love and protection.
When we look back to the birth of Jesus,
and to his death and resurrection, we’re reminded again and again and again,
that God is mighty to save.

We read about Ahaz hearing about the alliance of Syria and Israel and being
afraid that they might come and defeat him and it all seems such a long time
ago. But really, his situation isn’t that much different from what many of us
experience from time to time. There are times when it seems like everything is
stacked against us; when it feels like the weight of the world is on us. And as
Christians we often feel like we’re on our own; pitted against forces beyond
our ability to resist, let alone overcome. Each year around this time we see the
forces of political correctness trying to limit the celebration of Christ’s birth
and turn it into the holiday season instead. In various places Nativity scenes
are banned, as are Christmas carols; carols by candlelight is turned into a
festival of popular culture. Santa Clause is the focus of Christmas celebrations
rather than Jesus, and I could go on.

Of course most people would wonder what’s the issue. It’s only us, a small
minority of the population, who actually care. The rest of the world couldn’t
care less. We’re just a small part of an increasingly secular world.

But here’s the good news of Christmas. We’re not alone. We’re not facing
insurmountable opposition. God is with us. He came in the form of the baby
Jesus. He lived as one of us. He died and rose again. And in his last few hours
with the disciples before his death he promised them this:
“I will ask the
Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. 17This is
the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him
nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in
you. 18’I will not leave you orphaned; I am coming to you.’”

Then before he ascended to the Father he gave this promise: “Remember, I am
with you always, to the end of the age.”

Jesus is still with us. His Holy Spirit dwells within each and every
Christian. He is with us so we need never be afraid.

Paul puts it like this in Rom 8: “What then are we to say about these things? If
God is for us, who is against us? 32He who did not withhold his own Son, but
gave him up for all of us, will he not with him also give us everything else?”
God promises to remain with us. He’s given up his only Son for us. What more
could we ask for that he wouldn’t give if that’s the level of his generosity
towards us?

So let me encourage you today to have confidence, not in your own ability to
overcome those who oppose the gospel, but in the God who sent his only Son
as both a sign of his love for us and as the means by which that love could
bring about its purpose for his people. Have confidence in the God who
continues to be with us through all the trials of lif
e.

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Have Yourself a Mary Christmas

LUKE 1;26-38

There are three 3 lessons we can learn from the life of Mary,
the mother of Jesus Christ, which are found in Luke 1:26-38.

  • NO MATTER WHO YOU ARE, THE LORD CAN USE YOU. (v.
    26-27)
    Do you remember the last time you filled out a job application?
    You have to give them all your vital statistics, summarize your
    background, your education, your experience. Many of them
    now ask that all important question: what is it that makes you
    uniquely qualified for this position? How do you answer that
    question without coming off as a snob? Employers assume
    your availability, but what they really want to discover is your
    liabilities (things that would make you unsuited for the job)
    and your usability- what skills, talents will help you do the job.
    But God doesn’t operate this way. Mary teaches us God is not
    as interested as your abilities as He is in your availability. No
    matter who you are, God can use you. Vs. 26-27. Look at Mary
    – she was an ordinary girl with some serious liabilities:
    • She was young. Mary was pledged to be married. At that
    time, it was customary for girls to be engaged at 12-13 years
    of age (around the time of reaching puberty). One reason was
    to ensure girls maintained their virginity until marriage. It’s
    very possible that Mary could have been as young as 12-13, or
    as old as 16 when Gabriel visited her. You and I might think
    this girl is too young for God to use her, but apparently God
    didn’t think so. But also
    She was poor. We read Luke 2:22-24 that Mary and Joseph
    took baby Jesus to the temple to be circumcised. They were
    required to bring one of two offerings: either a lamb for a burnt
    offering and a dove or a pigeon for a sin offering.
    If a lamb was too expensive, the parents could bring a second
    dove or pigeon instead. Mary and Joseph brought the two
    doves, because they couldn’t afford a lamb. You and I might
    have thought this family is too poor to provide for Jesus but
    apparently God didn’t think so. Mary was young, and poor, but
    also
    She was from Nazareth. Apparently, Mary was a young girl
    from the wrong side of the tracks. Nazareth was a town with a
    bad reputation. Remember what Nathanael said when He
    learned Jesus from Nazareth?
    John 1:46 And Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good
    come out of Nazareth?” …

    You and I might have thought No way. No telling what this girl
    grew up seeing and hearing and doing in a bad town like that.
    Apparently, God didn’t take this into consideration in choosing
    Mary to be mother to His Son.
    Mary was young, poor, and from Nazareth—all characteristics
    make her seem unusable by God. But God chose Mary for one
    of the most important jobs He ever asked anyone to do.
    Through God’s choice of Mary, He teaches us: no matter who
    you are, the Lord can use you.

    You might think you are too young, that you don’t have enough
    money or talent for God to use you. You might think your
    background or past mistakes might make it impossible for God
    to use you. Don’t limit God. He can use you if you trust Him.
    Out of all the queens, princesses, daughters of the wealthy
    and influential, God chose a poor teenager from a town with a
    bad reputation to be the mother of Jesus. She had two vital
    characteristics God looks for: humility and faith. She knew she
    wasn’t worthy of the honour God offered her. Yet she still
    believed God could use her, if she trusted Him. Do you believe
    God can use you? Or do you think you’re too small—too young,
    too poor, too weak to be used by Him?

    If you think you are too small to be effective, you have never
    been in bed with a mosquito.
    Do you think you are useless to God? Think again. God is
    searching for humble people to take part in His amazing plans.
    Will you be one of those people in 2022?
    Mary teaches us no
    matter who you are, God can use you. She also teaches us
  • NO MATTER WHAT PROBLEMS YOU FACE, THE LORD IS
    WITH YOU. (v. 28-33)

    There are some things you just don’t want to go through alone;
    Christmas, for instance. I don’t know of anybody who likes to
    spend Christmas all by themselves. I’m sure there are some,
    but most of us want to be share the celebration with people
    near and dear to us. Let’s pray that we will be free to do
    But we don’t like to go through trouble alone, either. If we get
    sick with nobody to sit up with us or comfort us, we’ll probably
    be more miserable. When we lose our job, or our spouse or our
    child, we need somebody with us to help you make it through.
    Of course, the One Person we need more than anybody else
    when we face problems is the Lord. Mary teaches us that no
    matter what problems we face, the Lord is with us.
    The angel says in vs. 30, “Do not be afraid.” But we wouldn’t
    blame Mary if she were afraid. Imagine the fears she might
    experience as a result of her pregnancy:

    Possible divorce by Joseph. Joseph at first assumes that
    Mary has been unfaithful to him. What else would he have
    thought? He decided to divorce her (which, according to their
    law, was necessary to end the engagement) before he was
    told in a dream that Mary’s baby was, in fact, conceived by the
    Holy Spirit.
    But right now, Mary doesn’t know how all of that will work out.
    But she does know God will be with her, whatever Joseph
    does.
    • Possible rejection by her family. Did Mary’s family believe her
    story that the baby growing inside her was the Son of God?
    Would you believe that if your daughter told you that story? We
    are never told anything about Mary’s parents’ reaction to her
    pregnancy. But it’s very possible that they didn’t believe her
    story. But Mary believes God is with her, no matter how her
    parents may react.
    • Certain rejection by her community Imagine the gossip that
    must have circulated Nazareth. The people have Nazareth
    would have accused her of adultery—a sin that was not looked
    on lightly as it is today. It’s likely that Mary was shunned by
    those who had once been her friends. But Mary believes God is
    with her, even if her friends abandon her.
    Possible death by stoning
    According to the law, this was the penalty for adultery. By
    New Testament times stoning was rare, but it was still a
    possibility.
    The message from the angel totally changed Mary’s life. She
    was getting ready to be married and live a normal life. But now
    her life would be anything but normal. How could she be calm
    and courageous as she faced all of the problems that her
    pregnancy might cause? She would cling to the words the
    angel spoke in vs. 28: “The Lord is with you.” The Lord would
    be with her. He would help her. He would give her the strength
    and courage to face anything.
    The same Lord makes that same promise to you and to me.
    Psalm 118:6 The LORD is on my side; I will not fear. What can
    man do to me?
    Hebrews 13:5 …For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you
    nor forsake you.”

    Mary’s story teaches us that no matter what problems you and I
    face, the Lord is with us.. Mary faced the possibility of
    rejection from Joseph, her family, and her community and even
    the possibility of being stoned, but she knew that the Lord
    would never abandon her.
    One of the titles given to Jesus was “Immanuel,” which means
    “God with us.” One of the great themes of the Old Testament is
    the concept of God living with His people. Jesus is our
    Immanuel. He is “God with us.”

    Human life was meant to be dramatic. We are meant to be
    God-inhabited
    . Our religion is not organized around keeping
    God at a distance. It allows us to go see him when we want. If
    we really want God to be with us, then our lives will be
    different from ordinary human life – we will be peculiar people!

    We are meant to be God-inhabited. Jesus came to make God’s
    presence a conscious, living reality in our lives. Whatever
    problems you are facing right now–whatever worries and fears
    are harassing your heart–don’t let them discourage you. No
    matter what your problems, the Lord is with you. Bring those
    problems to Him and trust Him to work them out, and He will,
    just as surely as He worked them all out for Mary.
    Two lessons from Mary: no matter who you are, God can use
    you. No matter what problems you face, God is with you. Look
    at one more:
  • NO MATTER WHAT HE PROMISES, THE LORD CAN DO IT. (v.
    34-38)

    A little boy asked his mother where he came from, and also
    where she had come from as a baby. His mother gave him a
    tall tale about a beautiful white-feathered bird. The boy ran
    into the next room and asked his grandmother the same
    question and received a variation on the bird story. He then
    scampered outside to his playmate with the comment, “You
    know, there hasn’t been a normal birth in our family for three
    generations.”
    The Bible records several instances where there was not a
    “normal birth.” God sent a son to Abraham and Sarah long after
    they thought having a baby was possible. In Judges 13, an
    angel of the Lord told Manoah and his barren wife, Hannah,
    twould have a special son they would name Samson. John the
    Baptist’s mother, Elizabeth, was in her sixties or seventies
    when she gave birth to the prophet. But none of those special
    births was as amazing as the birth of Jesus Christ. His birth
    was a virgin birth conceived by the miraculous work of the
    Holy Spirit.
    Now that sounds even more abnormal today than possibly it
    did then. But look at Mary’s reaction in vs. 38 (read.) Even
    though the angel’s news was unbelievable, she believed it.
    Mary didn’t understand it, but she also didn’t doubt it. She
    believed that no matter what He has promised, the Lord CAN
    DO IT.
    Jesus’ miraculous conception remains impossible to
    understand by human reason alone.
    God chose not to explain
    the details of it to us. The real issue is not whether a virgin
    can conceive; the real issue is whether anything is impossible
    for God.

    Mary knew that a virgin birth is impossible, but she also
    believed that “nothing is impossible with God.” And if he
    considered it necessary for the salvation of mankind, then she
    was obedient to God’s will. Whatever God promises, He
    delivers.
    No matter what He promises, He will do it.
    What promises of God are you tempted to doubt? You’re
    reading the Bible one day, and your eyes light on one of the
    promises of God.
    John 11:26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never
    die.
    Do you believe this?”
    1 John 5:14 Now this is the confidence that we have in Him,
    that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us.
    John 10:10 …I have come that they may have life, and that
    they may have it more abundantly.

    Do you ever read promises like these and say, “Yeah, right.
    Like that’s gonna happen. Not for me, not now, not after all I’ve
    been through.”
    But those promises are made by God. It doesn’t
    matter how impossible they seem—there is nothing, nothing
    nothing impossible with God.
    Whatever He promises, He
    always does, without fail. What you have to do is what Mary
    did believe and obediently say, “Let it be to me according to
    Your Word, O Lord.”
    Little faith will bring your soul to heaven, but great faith will
    bring heaven to your soul.—Anonymous
  • ‘That’s the way it worked for Mary. That’s the way it can work
    for you, if you will believe
  • So Mary can teach you and I:
    No matter who you are, the Lord can use you.
    No matter what problems you face, the Lord is with you.
    No matter what He has promised, the Lord can do it.
  • Won’t you take these truths to heart this Christmas? Won’t you
    take them with you as you walk into 2022, into your home,
    your school, your work, and live
    out a Mary Christmas in your life.
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The Kingship of Christ- Matthew 25:31-46

A Passport authenticates my citizenship of the United Kingdom. I need it if I am to enter another Kingdom. It tells officials in that Kingdom who I am so that they can check if there is any reason why i should not be allowed to enter and to put their stamp of approval on it. In another sense, since I am a Human Being, I am a citizen of the world.

Sunday November 21st was called stir up Sunday. Traditionally the last Sunday before Advent and also known as Christ the King Sunday.

Although celebrated a couple of weeks ago, as it is Advent and we joyfully wait to celebrate the arrival of Jesus among us I want to say something about the Kingdom of which Jesus is King, the King himself and the implications, as outlined in Matthew 25, for the citizens of this Kingdom.

The Kingdom

Jesus sits at the right hand of God and rules over all creation. His Kingdom is, therefore, not only the whole earth and everything that is in it but all the Universe with billions of suns [stars] in each of billions of galaxies.

Our Lord Jesus Christ made the Kingdom of God His primary teaching focus. He is, of course, the door to His Kingdom, as well as the foundation and the capstone. His Kingdom was and is His Central message. If you research and compile all the major teachings of Jesus you will see clearly that His foremost concern was for His disciples to know as much as possible about His Kingdom.

For example, in the Lord’s Prayer, the concern after honour to His Holy Father was, “Thy Kingdom Come.” Jesus is born as God’s son in absolute oneness with His eternal, loving, holy and almighty Father. His primary concern is for the Kingdom of God to be fully established to give great and worthy honour to His heavenly Father.

This suggests that there is a parallel spiritual kingdom which is eternal. The Kingdom is now, real and physical, as well as spiritual and eternal: a Kingdom of Honour and righteousness.

The Gospels describe Jesus as proclaiming the Kingdom as something that is both “at hand” and a future reality [Mark 1:15]. Jesus Christ, through His incarnation, death, resurrection and exultation, has ushered in the messianic age so that the Kingdom of God, in both its material and spiritual dimensions, may be understood to be present in an incipient fashion, while at the same time awaiting consummation in the future age following the second coming.

The cross can be seen as a singularity bringing together not only the spiritual and physical creation but the past, present and future work of God in His Kingdom.

The present aspect of the Kingdom refers to the changed state of heart or mind [metanoia] within Christians [read Luke 17:21]. Jesus emphasises the spiritual nature of His Kingdom by saying, “The Kingdom of Heaven is within [or among] you.” The reported activity of Jesus in healing diseases, driving out demons, teaching a new ethic for living, and offering a new hope in God to the poor, is understood to be a demonstration of that Kingdom in action in the here and now. The King, as Jesus Christ, has already come in disguise and in humility and through his Holy Spirit wants to exercise His kingship over each and everyone of us.

The Kingdom of God is within the heart of every believer. Is Jesus sitting on the throne of your heart? There is a sense in which the Kingdom of God is not yet complete. There is yet to come a time when God’s perfect will be done on earth. Because God loves us He cannot force us to do His will; but there will come a time when we will all choose to do that. This will be a time when Jesus will return in Glory [v.31]. This return will be sudden, without warning and decisive.

The King Himself

I remember sleeping out in the open in the African bush and waking up in the middle of the night staring up at the night sky. Wow! What a vast array of stars! I realised I was just a spec. upon a spec. of a vast Universe of over 2 trillion galaxies!! I was reminded of Paul’s writing in Collossians 1: 16-17. ‘For by Him all things were created: things in Heaven and earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities all things were created by him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.”

Jesus is therefore first and foremost our creator King, we owe our very existence to him as creator and sustainer of the universe and our own humanity. He made the things that we can see and the things we can’t see (scientists are more and more making visible what was previously invisible to us- however, a vast proportion of the universe exists but may always remain invisible and a mystery to us). He is ruler and creator of kings, kingdoms, rulers and authorities. Everything has been created through him and will ultimately be for his glory.

It is little wonder then that Paul reminds us in Phil.2:9-11 quoting Isa. 52:13, ‘Therefore God exulted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.’

Jesus, as God of an infinite as well as a finite universe has so many characteristics that his Kingship is almost indefinable. How do you picture Jesus? As the Good Shepherd? As a friend of children? As one who loves unconditionally? As one who stills the storm? The one who heals? The teacher?

He is all these things and more but the passage from Matthew 25 brings us face to face with Jesus the judge. We don’t often picture Jesus as the Judge. Maybe we are reluctant to speak of Jesus this way because Jesus as judge is connected with the Last Judgement: and the last judgement is something that many in our present time find incomprehensible or offensive. That some would find themselves cast into hell seems inconsistent with a loving God. So what does the passage form Matthew tell us about our

Citizenship in God’s Earthly Kingdom

It tells us, as we wait at the Customs Gate of the eternal kingdom that judgement awaits everyone, there will be no exceptions, no favourites, no excuses. It tells us that we are accountable. That Jesus will look into our passport and check us against his list in the book of life. I am free to live my life as I please, but in the end I shall have to give account to the one who gave me my life – Jesus the King. And he will decide whether I wil be allowed to reside in his restored and renewed eternal kingdom.

It tells us that we are not all going in the same direction though by different roads, as many like to believe in this pluralistic age. We will not all end up in the same place. We may not have the right visa in our passport. It is possible to be utterly lost, and Jesus warns us of that possibility here.

It tells us that there will be great surprises on that day. Many who are confident of their condition will be undone and many rate themselves very lowly and unworthy will be surprised at their reception.

It tells us that the heart of Christnity is the relationship with Jesus Himself which shows itself in loving, sacrificial care of others, in particular the poor and needy.

It tells us that people who have never heard the Good News will be judged by their response to what light they had, and in particular to their response to suffering humanity.

Our challenge is to mould our lives according to the Kingdom values upon which Jesus will judge us, and these values are all motivated by self-less love of Jesus and our neighbour spelt out Matth25:35-40. If we live by these values, prompted by love, then as we stand before the judgement seat of the king we will see our name indelibly printed across our passport image and He will see Himself sitting on the throne of our hearts and we will hear the words, “We done my good and faithful servant; come share in my glory.”

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No Theology Without Ecology.

Hosea 4:1-4; Romans 8: 18-25

As we, the UK, are about to host Climate Change Conference I am motivated to write a post raising this and related issues from a Christian perspective.  The crisis the world faces, not just in Climate Change but also in Global Ecology is the result of the impact of humanity, especially in the West, and a free market which relies on continuous and infinite economic growth. Simple arithmetic tells us that this is ultimately unsustainable. Ecosystems are being damaged by greedy comfort seeking capitalism resulting in damaging climate change and tragic loss of biodiversity, which in turn ultimately impacts the global economy.

Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation reports that: Ecological Debt Day is happening earlier year on year. In 2021 it was July 29th. Sometimes called overshoot day, it marks the date when humanity has exhausted nature’s budget for the year.  After that date until the end of the year humanity is living ecologically beyond its means.

Economy, therefore, needs to be considered as a subsidiary of Ecology; not the other way around. We need to explore alternative ways of doing business with minimal damage to the environment and global ecosystems if we are to avoid global catastrophe.

What as Christians should be our response to this?

There are two world views concerning our relationship with the natural world.

The anthropocentric view  says that the world is here for human use and enjoyment. Sustainability is simply our responsibility to provide enough for our fellow humans and for future human generations.

Christianity has often been seen as supporting this position.

But this kind of anthropocentrism owes more to Greek philosophy and renaissance humanism than to biblical traditions. For we understand that the world is ultimately for God, not for human beings. Psalm 24 states: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it.” Paul in Colossians 1.17 goes further in saying all things were created “by and for” Jesus Christ.

The anthropocentric view is ultimately fundamentally flawed, because:

It sees humans as above or separate from the rest of the biosphere. It places too much faith in human endeavour to find solutions to the crises we cause.  It leads directly to technocentrism – faith in the ingenuity of humanity, in the progress of science and its practical applications.

And because people who are comfortable don’t want to change!

The ecocentric view sees  humans as simply one part of an interdependent biosphere, with no greater rights than any other part. We sustain for the greater good.

The ecocentric view is profoundly attractive to post modern people, disillusioned with ‘progress’ and the empty benefits of materialism. Christianity has more in common with the eco-centric view than is often realised. Humans are part of the eco-system rather than above it, interdependent rather than independent. Genesis 2 speaks of Adam being made from adamah – the dust or soil. The majority of the Old Testament is about the inter-relationship of people and place – chosen people and promised land. The biblical narrative shows that there is, ultimately, no theology without ecology!

In practical terms, the problem with an eco-centric view of sustainability is that it quickly leads to ethical dilemmas over interventions. If humans are merely one amongst millions of species, with no inherent distinct value or role, what right have we to intervene in natural systems? This dilemma is seen particularly in the conservation world.

John Stott elegantly encapsulates the flaws respectively of the eco- and anthropocentric positions in saying: We must not treat nature obsequiously as if it were god, nor behave towards it arrogantly as if we were god. [From an address: “Caring For God’s World-the Biblical Imperative for Conservation”]

There is, however, a third model of understanding of sustainability based on biblical principles.

This is:

The theocentric view  which sees the world – human and non- human – as deriving its value from being created and sustained by God.

There are three principles upon which this understanding is built.

The first principle is simply that, ultimately sustainability is not entirely dependent on humanity, because God is both Creator and Sustainer.

The world’s faiths, despite there being varied creation myths, unite in seeing the earth as more than a product of random chance.

Judaeo-Christian Theology is not anthropo-, eco- bio- or geo- centric, but theocentric. It begins neither with human rights and responsibilities, nor with intrinsic natural values but with God.   In biblical terms, sustainability must begin with God both as Creator and also crucially as sustainer. God is the one by whom all things are made, and who holds all things together –  in whom all things live and move and have their being.

This is both disturbing and comforting. It is disturbing, because humans dislike admitting their cosmic insignificance. We are not masters nor sustainers of the Universe. It is comforting because the track record of human beings is so poor. It challenges both anthropo- and ecocentrism. In a time of environmental despair, Christian theology offers much needed hope in the promise that ultimately God is committed to sustaining and renewing the earth.

From this understanding of God’s creating and sustaining love, flow several key ethical imperatives, two of which are:

  1. If the earth is God’s not ours and, if God retains oversight and involvement, then attitudes of respect and even reverence towards natural systems ensue.

Every part of creation should be respected as having intrinsic value, because it is fashioned by the creator of all. This is critical in our thinking about sustainability – without belief in a Creator, it is very  difficult to find value in living or inanimate things apart from their instrumental value to human beings. True value lies not in measurable monetary wealth, or in usefulness to human beings, but is intrinsic in being created by God. Thus every object and every creature must be respected, not simply as resources, but as unique repositories of God’s wisdom.

  • Belief in God’s sustaining involvement also leads to an ethical attitude of restraint.

We should exercise great caution in our intervention in natural systems, respecting the natural wisdom of the Creator, and observing the ability of nature to adapt to changing circumstance without human interference.

So, the first principle of a Christian theology of sustainability is that God is Creator and sustainer. At this point some, including Christians, may argue: “If  God is the sustainer, does that not let human beings off the hook? Does it not encourage the idea that if God is in charge, we can do what we like – exploit, destroy, live unsustainably – knowing that God will sort it all out in the end?”

Good question – poor theology! Because:

The second Principle is that of Biblical covenantal stewardship.

Biblical stewardship understands that the earth is God’s, not ours – removing any ‘rights’ to use its resources without constraint. It also contains the vital notions of responsibility and accountability – stewards have to answer to the owner. Biblical stewardship is a contractual and binding agreement between God, people and the land. The creation covenant of Genesis 9, with the sign of the rainbow, conveys God’s commitment to the whole earth and every living creature within it – a commitment not to destroy the earth again, no matter how bad things get, and thus a commitment to sustaining creation.

The human responsibility to rule over creation, given in Genesis 1:26-28, belongs within this covenantal context. The world is God’s – by creation, ownership and sustenance. Humans are given the sacred trust of being God’s stewards – or tenant trustees. Summarised in Genesis 2:15, the invitation to ‘work and take care of the garden’ [‘to work the ground and keep it in order’ The Message] is at the heart of the practical Christian understanding of sustainable stewardship.  

It is about restraint and respect, never taking from natural systems beyond their capacity to renew and replace. There should never be an unsustainable ecological debt day. It is about conservation, seeking to maximise fruitfulness – both in terms of yield and biodiversity, always in such a way as to leave enough for other species and for future generations.

Covenantal stewardship implies responsibility and delegated rule.

The Old Testament can be seen primarily as a story of the three way relationship between people, God and the land – or natural environment. One of many examples of this comes in Deuteronomy 22: 6-7, where the people of Israel are told what to do if they find a ground nesting bird in the field. They are permitted to eat the eggs or chicks, but commanded to leave the mother bird – so she may of course nest again. It is a brilliantly simple example of sustainable use of the natural world.

Alongside the pillar of covenantal stewardship – with the power and responsibility that it gives to human beings, is the

Third Principle – which can be described as the creation – fall – redemption  paradigm.

The concept of sustainability has arisen at a time when the world is under great threat from human carelessness and abuse. As Hosea 4: 13, implies we have lost our way with God, there is much unrepented sin. And because of all this, the very land itself weeps and all within it is grief stricken.

At its simplest an analysis of both the human condition and the state of the planet can be summarised in three short statements –

  1. God made a good world, therefore, the world is worth sustaining – it has value and goodness.
  2. Human moral failure (sin) causes a breakdown in relationships between God, people and all creation, therefore, humanity has spoiled its good home, threatening our very future.
  3. God in Christ provides hope for humanity and for the whole material creation, therefore, it is worth doing something about this – a sustainable future is achievable.

How can we put right what has gone wrong – with ourselves and the world around us? Christianity’s radical claim – and that which differentiates it from other world faiths – is that we cannot do this ourselves – no amount of rebuilding can ever put Humpty Dumpty together again. We are thrown instead on the mercy of God, a God who in Christ enters the created material world and through His death and resurrection enables all that is broken to be restored

In the first 9 chapters of Genesis – a world that God declares good, a perfect garden inhabited by innocent people are all spoiled through human selfishness. The result is a breakdown in relationships between God, people and planet – the earth itself is cursed in Genesis 3 as a

result. However, the Noahic story of  Genesis 6-9 brings God’s rescue and restoration not just of people but of every living creature upon the earth. Similarly in the New Testament, the death and resurrection of Christ are also clearly put within a cosmic context of reconciliation and restoration. Passages such as we have read in Romans 8 and also from Colossians 1 amply demonstrate this.

The ethical and practical implications of all this for our thinking on sustainability are immense.

We live at a time of crisis in the global environmental movement.

It is more than anything a crisis of hope.

Sustainability is dependent on HOPE. Without it, there is no point in struggling to sustain the unsustainable. The Christian message of a world redeemed by God in Christ, offers a hope that is wider than human activity, but also compels humans, especially Christians, to respond in hopeful action.

Because of Christ we have hope for the world, and can live and act hopefully.

Today’s global environmental crisis is caused by one species – Homo sapiens. People are the problem, but they also – under God – hold the key to the solution. A theocentric view of sustainability is characterised by a humble acceptance of the human privilege and duty to act as caretakers of God’s world. With Christian hope, we can humbly and confidently take on this mandate. We trust not in ourselves, but in God for the ultimate future, and we must work now to live in the light of that future and act to create signs that point to it.

Let us, therefore, adopt an attitude of repentance for the damage done to the earth and seek reconciliation with nature, with our fellow human beings and with God.

Let us repent of our complacency and work towards becoming the greenest and most conservation minded people on the planet; and be an example to others in the actions we take towards that end.

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