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Friday 31 July (Put up on Thursday)

“I AM” (John 8:21-30)

Once more Jesus said to them, ‘I am going away, and you will look for me, and you will die in your sin. Where I go, you cannot come.’

This made the Jews ask, ‘Will he kill himself? Is that why he says, “Where I go, you cannot come”?’

But he continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins; if you do not believe that I am he, you will indeed die in your sins.’

‘Who are you?’ they asked.

‘Just what I have been telling you from the beginning,’ Jesus replied. ‘I have much to say in judgment of you. But he who sent me is trustworthy, and what I have heard from him I tell the world.’

They did not understand that he was telling them about his Father. So Jesus said, ‘When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will know that I am he and that I do nothing on my own but speak just what the Father has taught me. The one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what pleases him.’ Even as he spoke, many believed in him.

‘Jesus’ use of the words “I am” has an even deeper significance. In John 8, Jesus stated, “you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am” (8:24), and then again, “when you have lifted up the Son of Man, you will realise that I am” (8:28). These sentences only make sense if Jesus is using “I am” as a title. At the end of the chapter, he claimed that “before Abraham was, I am” (8:58). At that, the Jews were about to stone him (8:59), which was the usual punishment for blasphemy (see Leviticus 24:16), indicating how serious an offence Jesus had committed in their eyes. So how are his words blasphemy? The personal name for God in the Old Testament, YHWH, is translated “I am who I am”, or “I am” (see Exodus 3:14). Jesus applies this divine name to himself in order to explain his origin (8:58), his suffering (8:28; 13:19), and his saving significance (8:24; see also 6:20). The Jews rightly recognised that Jesus was making a claim to share in the being and identity of the one true God of Israel! The Christian faith affirms that Jesus’ teaching about himself was true: he is the great “I am”, he shares the being and identity of YHWH, and so he is able to give life and hope to the whole world’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Peter and I have decided that from August 1st we will be placing a weekly reflection on the website, probably on Monday morning of each week.

Every Blessing & stay safe,

Robert.

Thursday 30 July

I am the true vine (15:1-5).

‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’

‘The vine, or vineyard, was a common image for the whole nation of Israel in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 80:8; Jeremiah 2:21). They were supposed to produce fruit of righteousness for God, the vine-keeper. But instead, they produced little fruit – and what fruit they did produce was bad. Jesus teaches his disciples that he is the true vine (John 15:1): he is all Israel were ever supposed to be. His 66 disciples are branches on the vine (15:5), which means that as long as they remain connected to him they will receive the pruning discipline of the Father (15:2-3), and bear good fruit from the resources of Jesus’ life that will flow into them (15:5). Remaining in Jesus is all his disciples need in order to be pleasing and productive for the Father’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong, were the first people to set foot on the moon in July 1969. Buzz Aldrin wrote: ‘Our powered descent was right on schedule. With only seconds of fuel left, we touched down at 3.30pm. Now was the time for communion.

‘I unstowed the elements in their flight packets. I put them and the Scripture reading on the little table in front of the abort guidance-system computer. Then I called Houston. “Houston, this is Eagle. This is LM Pilot speaking. I would like to request a few moments’ silence. I would like to invite each person listening in, wherever and whoever he may be, to contemplate for a few moments the events of the past few hours, and to give thanks in his own individual way.”

‘For me, this meant taking communion. In the blackout I opened the little plastic packages which contained bread and wine. I poured wine into the chalice my parish had given me. In the one-sixth gravity of the moon, the wine curled slowly and gracefully up the cup. It was interesting to think that the very first liquid ever poured on the moon, and the first food eaten there, were consecrate elements.

‘Just before I partook the elements, I read the words which I had chosen to indicate our trust that as a man probes into space, we are in fact acting in Christ. I sensed especially strongly my unity with the church back home, and with the church everywhere. I read, “I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever remains in me, and I in him, will bear much fruit; for you can do nothing without me.”’

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 29 July

I am the way, the truth, and the life (14:6).

Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.’

‘“Way”, “truth” and “life” are all images that spring directly from the Old Testament’s teaching about obedience to God’s Torah. If the Israelites were careful to walk in the way of God’s commands, then they would enjoy blessing and life as God intended (Deuteronomy 5:32-33). Since God’s law is the way to life, it was celebrated by the Israelites as truth (eg Psalm 25:5; 119:43). Jesus tells his disciples that they can follow him to God’s new creation, where they will live in perfect fellowship with the Father (John 14:2-3). The way to get there – the way of truth that leads to life – is no longer God’s Torah but Jesus himself (14:6). Jesus defines what it means to live in the kingdom of God, both now and forever. Jesus’ words still speak powerfully today of his uniqueness: there is no other way to true life than through him’(Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

As the Way, Jesus is our path to the Father. As the Truth, He is the reality of God’s promises. As the Life, He joins His life to ours, both now and eternally. Jesus said: ‘If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples. Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.’ Jesus does not give us freedom to do what we want, but to follow God. As we seek to serve God, Jesus’ perfect truth frees us to be all that God meant us to be.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Tuesday 28 July

I am the resurrection and the life (11:25-26).

Jesus said to her (Martha), ‘I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die. Do you believe this?’

‘Israel knew that only God held the power of life (eg 2 Kings 5:7). Death, as the ultimate result of sin, disrupts God’s good creation and threatens to remove even God’s own people from their awareness of him (see Psalm 6:5; 88:10-11). In one of the greatest visions of the Old Testament, God promises to speak to the dead and dry bones of his people and raise them up to new life and fellowship with him (Ezekiel 37:1-14). Israel’s resurrection hope was not just new spiritual life, but new physical life too, in God’s renewed world. In John 11:25, Jesus tells the grieving Martha that he is “the resurrection and the life”: he is the powerful Word of God who has come to breathe new life into the world. He raised Martha’s brother Lazarus to show the truth of his words (John 11:41-44). Jesus’ teaching pointed forward to his own death and resurrection, by which he defeated sin and death. He brings new spiritual life now, but will completely fulfil his promise in the future when he will return to bring “resurrection and life” to all his followers’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

The resurrection of Jesus Christ is the centre of our Christian faith. Because Jesus rose from the dead as He promised, we know that what He said is true; He is God. Because He rose, we have certainty that our sins are forgiven. Because He rose, He lives and represents us to God the Father. Because He rose and defeated death, we know we will also be raised as we trust and follow Him. He is the resurrection and the life now and in the future.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 27 July

I am the good shepherd (10:11-18).

 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me – just as the Father knows me and I know the Father – and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life – only to take it up again. No-one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.’

‘If Israel were seen as sheep in the Old Testament, then God was their shepherd (Psalm 23:1). However, God shared his care of the flock with Israel’s leaders (eg Joshua  in Numbers 27:17; also 2 Samuel 7:7), and in particular the king (especially David, 1 Chronicles 11:2). Apart from David and a few other good leaders, these “shepherds” did not take care of Israel, but led her into idolatry and wickedness, and allowed her to become prey for other nations, all the while making themselves comfortable with warm clothing and rich food (see Ezekiel 34:1-6). So God promised through Ezekiel to take the flock back under his control and rescue his sheep (34:11-16). He would appoint a new David to care for his renewed flock (34:23-24). Jesus announces that he is this new good shepherd – he is the true ruler over God’s people (John 10:11-16). Unlike the wicked leaders of Israel, Jesus is prepared even to go to his death in order to rescue his sheep from destruction (10:11). Jesus teaches his disciples that his suffering and death are God’s means of gathering his people together. Far from being a failure, Jesus is the good shepherd who brings health and care to his wandering sheep (note also Luke 15:3-7; 1 Peter 2:25)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Some time ago now, I went walking in the Lancashire countryside near Rawtenstall. On crossing a farmyard, I met a shepherd coming down off the moor with a lamb over his shoulders. The mother was unknown, perhaps fallen on the moor, and the lamb was going to be reared in the farmhouse kitchen.

Every person is unique and special to God; every person is of incredible value and worth to Him and, rather like that shepherd showed for one little lamb that had lost its way, so God goes to incredible lengths to rescue and guide the people He loves.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Saturday 25 July

I am the door of the sheep (10:7-9).

Therefore Jesus said again, ‘Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture’. 

‘Gates or doors in sheepfolds are important for the safety and security of the sheep; they prevent the sheep from wandering away and predators from attacking the flock. A flock of sheep was a common image for God’s people in the Old Testament (eg Psalm 100:3). The gate, for them, was God’s Torah, entering through which they would experience salvation and blessing (note Deuteronomy 6:9). Jesus declares that he is the new Torah – he is the new gate of the flock of God’s people, entering through which they will discover life in abundance (John 10:9-10). There is no other legitimate way into God’s fold (10:1). Jesus will watch over the coming and going of the sheep (10:9), which echoes the constant watchful care of God himself in Psalm 121:8’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

May we be enabled by God’s Holy Spirit to point people to the Gate, Jesus, today; the Person who gives life abundantly and cares for them and us with an everlasting love.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 24 July

Continuing our look at the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus:

 I am the light of the world (8:12).

When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’

‘Throughout Scripture, light is an image of God’s activity of creation (see Genesis 1:3) and salvation (see Exodus 13:21; Psalm 27:1). The world has become a dark place because of sin, so God set his people in the middle of the world to reflect his own light, revealing the way to him (see Isaiah 42:6; 49:6; 60:1-3). Israel often failed to be the light of the world because they also were affected by the darkness of sin. Jesus declared that he is what Israel were always supposed to be (8:12). However, Jesus is not just a reflection of God’s light; he is the source of light itself and so is able to give it to others, as he demonstrates by healing a blind man (9:1-7). As John comments at the beginning of the Gospel, Jesus is the true light, who was at work in both creation and salvation (1:3-5,9). Just as Israel were to reflect God’s light, so Christians are to reflect Jesus’ (see Matthew 5:14; 2 Corinthians 4:6; 1 John 1:7)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

May we reflect Jesus’ light as we go about our lives today, asking the Holy Spirit to guide and direct us so that others may see his light and want to follow him. It is a dark world out there, let us spread his light and make a difference, because he is with us.

Every blessing,

Robert.

Thursday 23 July

Over the next week or so we are going to be looking at the ‘I Am’ sayings of Jesus

‘Early in John’s Gospel, Jesus meets a Samaritan woman at a well (4:7). In conversation with her, Jesus tells her that the age-old controversy between Samaritans and Jews about where to worship God (4:20) is no longer necessary – all people everywhere can worship God “in spirit and in truth” (4:23-24). The Samaritan woman replies that she expects the Messiah will clear up all the confusion (4:25). Jesus’ response is simple, “I am – the one who is speaking to you!” (4:26). In Greek, his statement begins ego eimi, “I am”. On one hand, Jesus is simply saying, “It’s me!” But these specific words recur throughout John’s Gospel at key moments, hinting at their significance for Jesus in his teaching about himself. In particular, John’s Gospel contains seven “I am” statements through which Jesus explains who he is to his followers’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

 I am the bread of life (6:35-40).

Then Jesus declared, ‘I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. All those the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all those he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’

‘The previous day, Jesus had fed the crowd with five loaves and two fish (6:1-13), and now they had returned to him wanting more miraculous food (6:26,34). They thought that Jesus was the promised prophet like Moses (Deuteronomy 18:18; John 6:14), so they asked him for a sign to prove himself (6:30), just as Moses had provided “bread from heaven” for the Israelites for forty years during their exodus journey from slavery in Egypt to the promised land (6:31; Exodus 16:4,35). Jesus corrected them: it was not Moses who had given the Israelites bread, but God (6:32). Now God was providing a much better bread for them – Jesus himself – which would feed them on a much more profound exodus: the journey from sin and death to eternal life (6:35). Jesus is not just a prophet like Moses who can ask God to send provision; Jesus himself is that provision! God sent bread from heaven during the first exodus because that was what was needed then. But Jesus has been sent “from heaven”, because he is the essential provision for the new exodus: no one can come into the eternal life promised by God except by him (6:50-51). Jesus’ teaching about himself as the bread of life is echoed in the Lord’s Supper (6:52-57; Luke 22:19), and in the prayer he taught his disciples (Matthew 6:11)’ (Open Your Bible – An all in one Bible Guide).

Jesus is the one who satisfies our need for salvation from our wrongs and our need for a new life in God. He is the one we need when times are good and when times are difficult.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 22 July

This is a really helpful reflection on the Parable of the Sower from Bob Stoner, formerly from Sleaford, currently a Methodist Pioneer Deacon in Todmorden, but moving soon to a new post in Glasgow:

What paths did you expect not to be on?

There’s a story about some paths: some with good soil, some not. Monty DonCharlie Dimmock and the Rich Brothers would have thoroughly enjoyed themselves. We’d like to say which path we are on – but sometimes we are not on the path we would have chosen.

Where to start? Do we look at the good soil, having a feeling that this is the best? I think we should start with the bit we might have missed. It’s right at the start of Matthew 13 and the Parable of the Sower.

Where are we?

He’s just had a hard time speaking to crowds of people and said, “Who is my mother and who are my brothers?” The response, especially from this close to him must have been interesting to say the least. We can often jump from one chapter to the next without thinking that some time may have elapsed between the incidents. In fact, it could have been days or weeks or a metaphorical incident. 

Here we read that on that day Jesus sat beside the lake. We have had that opportunity to just sit, watch the waves lap the shore line down at Baitings Reservoir.

There, no one joined us – Jesus just can’t get away from the crowds.

When peace is needed

In the Greek it speaks of ‘many crowds‘, where we get the term hoi polloi from.  I wonder whether they were socially distanced, calm or eager to get closer, demanding possibly that Jesus do something for them, right there. 

Jesus gets into a boat and sits down. From this moment of peace he can see the noisy crowds – quite a difference. Peace so he can reflect upon the situation, of the noise from their perspective.

What can we see?

From this vantage point he can see these people, not in judgement, but to really look into their faces, examine why they may be here. Have we ever looked at passers-by, possibly in a train station, asking yourself what burdens these people may be carrying?  They find their way through the crowds, but often have to stop – it’s not the path they would have chosen or preferred. In a rush, not a chance to stop and lay down that ‘baggage’ – physical and/or mental.

He speaks to them about someone sowing seeds. What kind of seeds? What are you thinking?

Today the farmers have soil analysis to know of the yield of the expected crop, they would use GPS tracking in their tractors to ensure that, of course obstacles are avoided, but also to ensure that the seed density is maximised where it is needed. Here, the sower casts the seeds liberally it would seem, not really caring where they go. Surely they’d be more careful. They’d ensure that the seeds go only onto the good soil. 

What do these paths signify?

The seeds fall onto the road. It may well be a road or a well-heeled path. The ground compacted, sealed in some way, not allowing the rain to permeate deep into the ground. Many of us walk this path. It is the well trodden path of expectation. But often we feel pain and it is hard work. The phrase ‘the evil one’ in the text, is actually when translated means painful or toilsome – no, not the Devil. This path is one where the kingdom should exist. We often strive to find that kindness, that radical gesture to which can help others, but societal issues block us, prevent us. It may not be an individual problem but one that is resolved by society shifting, moving as it may now be doing in small ways. Our hearts need to change, be transformed. Think of slavery in the past – expectation was changed for the better. But the change needed is continual. It’s perhaps the new normal? Perhaps Change is constant?

The types of paths – which one are we on?

Now it’s rocks!

Some of the seeds fall onto rocky ground. Here the seeds immediately sprout and then fall away. They find that the ground is good but with little resilience. Now again please don’t start to identify yourself here. This isn’t about us. Where it speaks of root, there is the word joy. I know mind blowing to think that all this time we keep thinking of growing stuff when it is about growing us closer to Jesus.

Here people who walk this particular path need someone who will walk alongside them. This isn’t the path they would have chosen, but now they could have people listening (Matthew 13:20) to them, hearing their story as they journey, and have the time to find favour, deeper more sustainable growth. We have spoken in recent weeks of traditional and online churches and also of those people who don’t attend a service but are still very much of faith.

Possibly we have seen and come to understand that God has made us wonderfully different. Some prefer the traditional format whereas others like the ‘freedom’ of the online services. Each to their own I suppose, and perhaps there are people who appreciate both forms. Then again, due to a myriad of circumstances we have people who haven’t attended church for some time, or don’t really engage with the formal ambience of chapel or the structure of the service but still have a lively valid real faith.

How do we support these folk? They are loved and welcome, but do they fall onto rocky ground?

Ah my sort of garden…thorns!

Some of the seeds fall amongst thorny ground. I recognise this type of ground, plagued by thorns and weeds in past gardens.

We know of one person who was contacted by a neighbour recently and it was asked whether they had any weedkiller. No they replied, ah well perhaps you can use some of our’s to get rid of your weeds on your drive…

A helpful hint… perhaps. Or perhaps it speaks volumes of what burdens they may be facing. It may well be that’s not the path they would have chosen to walk along.

As Jesus looked into the crowd that day, what might he have discerned?  We may see anxiety caused by individual injustices, or the improper use of privilege from riches of this age. Again we are back to society permitting such travesties. The Church has not been reticent in coming forward to stopping such injustice. The Joint Public Issues Team, a group from the Baptist, Methodist, United Reformed Church and the Church of Scotland, are forthright in providing us with appropriate information on systematic issues which affect our society. It may not be affecting us, but it does affect many in our community.

Will the thorns, the weeds of our own life, deny us that opportunity to see, to help others?

I’ll return to weeds later.

The text then speaks of the crop being unfruitful – so it’s fruit??! If you were expecting a crop of golden delicious apples or even exotic pomegranates then ….just checking…no it’s grain. The reference to fruit comes from the thin stalk above the stamen in the flowering bud.  

Are we accountable by our yield?

Lastly, the bit we were all waiting for, the good soil. Often we might be able to identify with this. It speaks of the crop being 100-fold, 60-fold or 30-fold: although in Luke’s account of this story, he does not. What’s really odd is that it does not say that this is a league table, where we are to strive to be our best. Our yield is what we can seek to provide for others. It is not age dependent, or how mobile we are, we do what we can.

So what does that all mean to me?

All the paths have names, names of people who walk along them. People who are carrying great loads or burdens. We ourselves may have or are walking along such paths. These paths may carry influence, or be busy, or rutted or even free-spirited. 

The well-trodden road may be one where we can allow time for others, so we can stop and listen. We may ourselves find that the path is ploughed into something new, and us also transformed. We may also be allow others to change us.

The path with rocks, may be one where we do not know the names of those who we meet. They come and go, faceless, not able to identity or resonate with them. Can we give people that privilege to get alongside them.

The path with thorns may be one where we find ourselves overwhelmed with anxiety – I have been there. But in resting with Jesus, rooted in Jesus there we can find joy.

Note that the sower sowed liberally – for all are worthy, all are valued and wonderfully made by God. The sower was God. We are called to listen, care, support and love the person in front of us.

Our role is to not seek out those weeds, as we see them, but love them. 

Sometimes we may find ourselves on paths that we would not have chosen. At such times, look up, take steps forwards, fulfil our calling to love one another.

Yes the weeds will encroach at times, show them love. It is up to them whether they accept that offer, God does the rest.

We may not see an instant change, just as those in the crowds were seeking, but we walk alongside Jesus. Our path seemingly fleetingly came to Todmorden, but now Glasgow beckons. 

Is this your path? It is ours.

Whatever path we find ourselves upon let us give ourselves and others time, so that we may listen to God, to them, to journey with them, so we may pray for them and even with them – so they too may find joy.

Tuesday 21 July

Resting in the Empowerment of God from Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College

Moses said to the LORD, ‘Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.’ The LORD said to him, ‘Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the LORD?  Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.’ Exodus 4:10–12

A chaplain I know once asked how many burning bushes Moses may have missed before he noticed the one we read about in the Scriptures. She wanted to make a point about the persistence of God, who calls us despite our fear and doubts. A bush is burning but not consumed, the voice of ‘I AM’ is heard, and a series of signs are given, all of which convince Moses that the Lord is calling him.


Persuading him that he is the right person to go to Pharaoh, however, is a whole different story. Moses is aware of Pharaoh’s power: he has seen the weight of his might and Moses is under no illusions about where he himself stands in the scheme of things. Fear is a normal reaction.


Moses’ reflections on whether or not going to Pharaoh is a good idea may well have been based on what he would have seen from the political engagements in the palace. It is likely that he would have been aware that those who gain an audience with Pharaoh must be fluent, confident, and able to speak well… and so he counted himself out.


Fortunately, God does not limit himself to the power analyses and strategies which we devise in our own human wisdom. This means we have to overcome the temptation to lean on our own understanding when God calls us to something new. Yet we should also trust that he will do immeasurably more than we imagine… so we could be in for some surprises along the way.


It seems Moses will have to make some adjustments now that he is no longer walking alone in Midian but instead with the God who ‘gave human beings their mouths’ and their ability to see, speak, and hear. This God, the God of his ancestors, is worthy of all his trust.


It can be unnerving yet wonderfully surprising to walk with the God of Moses. At times, we might feel out of our depth with what God has called us into. We may wonder whether he has got it wrong. But he knows you by name, he knows where you have been, and he will guide you on by the power of his gentle hand… even if he has to light a few bushes along the way.

 Every Blessing, Robert.

Monday 20 July

This was a sermon preached yesterday at Windsor Methodist Church by a local URC minister; I found it very helpful.

Matthew 13: 24-30, 36-43
THE WHEAT AND TARES IN A COVID CONTEXT

It is not very hard to see what Jesus was driving at when he told the story of the wheat and the tares. The useful and valued wheat plants standing for true followers are sufficiently similar in growth and even appearance to the tares. It is a story about judging – or rather, not judging. It is very human to judge those who don’t think and act the same as us, Jesus is right to caution us against prejudgment of others.
There is nothing quite like an emerging pandemic to test the difference between our own stated values and our actual values. We assumed that when the pandemic arrived our collective effort (as those who claim to follow the Jesus way) would have produced systems to look after the least able. We needed to assure ourselves that our country was one in which everybody throughout every section of the population would be able to access hospitals and respirators. And, mostly, we have done. Yet aren’t the poorest nations in the world denied aid? Our own nation spends 0.7% on overseas aid – yet those living unnoticed in refugee camps will be denied help from nations like ours now the COVID virus is arriving. Not a great reflection on ourselves.
It is blindingly obvious that we are living in momentously changing times. But what do these changing times mean for our whole way of thinking, which includes our faith, our customs and our attitudes to one another? Let’s think for a moment about just one of the more dramatic changes. One of the biggest shifts for many communities around the world is deciding what to do when confronted with those who come seeking refuge. Looking at my own community, as the sense of equilibrium is threatened, our response so often comes across as unwarranted judgment.
If today’s gospel reading of the parable of the wheat and the tares is still valid for the modern Christian, it does rather prevent us from prejudging prospective immigrants.  Of all Jesus’ parables, this seems curiously appropriate for a modern age. Jesus chose a farming analogy to make his point. The Greek word translated in Matthew is about “zinzania” – the weed that fools you. The commentators suggest he was talking about is better known as darnel. Note that it is not the darnel itself which is poisonous. Darnel by itself is perfectly edible. The problem is that darnel is host to a fungus called the Ergot Smut fungus, which causes the ill-effects. Bread contaminated with this fungus is poisonous. Initially the sprouting darnel – the “zinzania” – looks superficially like wheat. Later on it does become more obvious – because the grain from the darnel is smaller and darker and the plant itself is shorter, yet in practice as any farmer would tell you, weeding a wheat field once growth is underway is damaging for the subsequent harvest. Back in Jesus’ time the standard solution was to reap above the height of the darnel –whereas these days, the wheat and weeds go through a thrasher that first removes the chaff from the wheat and run it over a sieve to allow the smaller darnel to fall through and be cast off with the chaff. The deadly fungus goes away with the darnel.
Jesus’ main point was of course that, like the tares and the wheat, with people of claimed faith, we cannot make an early judgment as to which are the real deal and which ones are the ones with the poison.
There is always the temptation to assume that one’s own group are the ones with the real right to life whereas the others are the poison or in faith terms the hypocrites. For Protestants there is an assumption that the Protestant faith is the right one and infinitely better than for example, the faith of the Muslim, the Hindu, the Buddhist, the Jehovah’s Witness, the Catholic or the Mormon.
Yet serious reflection makes us remember that any religious label will be no real guide to what the follower has understood and is starting to live.
Remember the parable teaches that it is not we who should be the judges of who the weeds represent in his story; indeed he suggests leaving the judgment of this to the harvest of final outcomes.
It seems reasonable to suggest that if more followed Jesus’ advice, there would be more by way of religious tolerance – fewer examples of religious genocide and far fewer examples of unpleasant attitudes towards those of other faith shown in places like Northern Ireland, Bosnia, Kosovo, Macedonia, Cyprus, Nigeria, Sudan, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan, Afghanistan, India, Sri Lanka, Philippines, Indonesia, and the U.S. And in fact if we really want to get down to it, to a neighbourhood very near you.
If more people accepted their religion as one path to understanding, but at the same time recognized that there are other religions which offer other insights of spiritual truth, perhaps there might be more acceptance of other systems of morality, and other religious practices. Remember that, despite their presumed shortcomings, most religions have followers, whose beliefs motivate them to lead better lives, caring for the poor and respecting human rights.
While we may lack understanding of, or empathy for those of other faiths, we should not assume that we are the true wheat and it is the others who are tares. After all if the true growing plants can be confused with the harmful weeds for most of their growth then are we perhaps the tares?
I have often heard it said that Islam is a systemically bad religion –because it leads to ill-treatment of women and the existence if suicide bombers. Yet if you read what many Muslims are saying, they are claiming that it is the Christians who are dangerous. It is certainly true that soldiers who are Christian have killed many innocent civilians in places like Rwanda, Yugoslavia, Iraq and Afghanistan. We also have the evidence from numerous surveys telling us that those identifying as Christian are not markedly different in their behaviour from those who do not call themselves Christian. Almost the same marriage breakdown rates, similar crime statistics and so on. At the very least this should give us cause to pause before claiming that we alone have our lives as they should be
You will also hear Church folk criticising those they consider to be heretic – the conservative Christian view of Jehovah’s witnesses and Mormons for example. The words the so-called heretics use are, after all, little different from the words we use – but those words are the easy part. The real test comes in what we do in response to the words we say.
That is important.
We regularly get glimpses of the starving children in Africa in short segments of the TV news. If we are eating a nice dinner while we are watching – and doing nothing in response to what we are seeing – should we really be certain that it is only other hypocrites who need the judging? Should we therefore remain certain that it is the Buddhists, the Hindus and the Muslims who are in need of enlightenment?
Well. Who is right? Jesus is very clear in this allegory of the wheat and the tares. No-one, he seems to be saying is sufficiently wise to sort out the good from the bad in another person’s heart. Frankly we do not know what is in another’s heart. Some may get a raw deal in life. You may be born with a brain defect….a chemical imbalance which gives you anxiety or depression. What you become is a product of many starting points and many influences. Whether or not the outcome is the best possible is not for others to judge. That may well be a question for final judgment yes – but it is not our final judgement.
 I am reminded of the opening words of Charles Dickens’ David Copperfield. “Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether the station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show”.
I am sure for many, Christianity seems to be simply measured by which group you are connected with. Are you an Anglican – or a Methodist – or a Roman Catholic – a Muslim or a Hindu – but if we know that, is that sufficient? Well - according to Jesus – no. And there are some very good reasons why his parable is justified. For a start statistics show clearly that most people stay more or less with the faith they are born into. If you happen to be born in Saudi Arabia to Muslim parents, you would almost certainly be brought up Muslim; whereas in the US Bible belt it would be almost as certainly be a conservative Christian. It would seem manifestly unjust if you were to take the blame for where you were born.
In any case, if it were Christianity you were born into while you may well accept the label of Christian yet this is no guarantee you would be following the entire spirit of Christianity. You may for example greatly admire a Christian – perhaps it was the one who introduced you to the Gospel; your mother, or perhaps your Sunday School teacher – and of course there is a place for wise teaching. But sooner or later you have to decide how to order your own life. The fact that your mother – or Sunday School Teacher or Bible class leader or Minister or wise friend happens to be a good Christian won’t necessarily help you when it comes to your own situational choices in later life.
Yet sometimes we have blindness about ourselves. Perhaps we should finish with the following from a work called The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho:
“If someone isn’t what others want them to be, the others become angry. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of how other people should lead their lives, but none about his or her own.”
If we insist on judging it could be that first we ought to start with ourselves.

 

Saturday 18 July

Here is the third reading for this coming Sunday, designated as Rural Mission Sunday. The Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The New Testament is from Acts 16:12-15, Paul and Lydia:

From Troas we put out to sea and sailed straight for Samothrace, and the next day we went on to Neapolis. From there we travelled to Philippi, a Roman colony and the leading city of that district of Macedonia. And we stayed there several days.

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman from the city of Thyatira named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth. She was a worshipper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptised, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.

Paul’s encounter with Lydia speaks of ‘heaven in the ordinary’ in several different ways as we observe the change that’s taken place in him, transformed by God from Saul the zealous Pharisee to Paul the Christian leader. We see him prepared to share with a Gentile woman in a way that would have been unthinkable in his previous life, meeting her in a place of business and domestic activity.

Lydia and the other women may well have first met each other as they did their laundry in the river, a humdrum activity that opened the way for shared conversation and prayer. The women come together to worship, building common ground despite their different backgrounds, common ground becoming holy ground.

For Paul to search for, and then join these women in their worship is astounding. That Paul accepts Lydia’s invitation to her house is another extraordinary glimpse perhaps of the ordinary becoming holy ground.

  • Have you been surprised to find who you are supporting or receiving support from?
  • What have you learnt over the past months about seeing God in unexpected people?
  • When we can gather again, who will you invite to celebrate with you?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 17 July

Brian McLaren, a member of the Centre for Action and Contemplation Living School faculty, reminds us why it matters that we pay attention to our health, not only physically but spiritually and ethically as well.

In these challenging, difficult times, we are discovering a wisdom that we needed all along, and that wisdom is that we are all connected. We are not separate. We used to think that we caught diseases as individuals: “I’m sick; you’re not.” But now we realize, no, we catch diseases as individuals who are part of families, and families who are part of cities, and cities that are part of states and nations. We realize now that our whole species can become infected, and that our whole globe can be changed because of our interconnectedness. . . .

Maybe this is also an opportunity for us to become enlightened about some other viruses that have been spreading and causing even greater damage, without being acknowledged: social and spiritual viruses that spread among us from individual to individual, from generation to generation, and are not named. We don’t organize against them, and so they continue to spread and cause all kinds of sickness [and death]. Social and spiritual viruses like racism, white supremacy, human supremacy, Christian supremacy, any kind of hostility that is spread, based on prejudice and fear.

What would happen if we said, as passionate as we are about being tested for coronavirus, we all wanted to test ourselves for these social and spiritual viruses that could be lurking inside of us? And then, when I come into your presence, I, in some way, inflict this virus on you. I make you suffer. What an awesome opportunity for us to say and begin to pray that we would be healed and cleansed, not just of a physical virus, but of these other invisible viruses that are such a huge and devastating part of human history. . . .

In this pandemic, many of us are nostalgic for the old normal. We want to get back to our favourite coffee shop, our favourite restaurant, our church service. And of course, there’s nothing wrong with so many of those desires for the old normal. But I’d like to make a proposal. If we are wise in this time, we will not go back unthinkingly to the old normal. There were problems with that old normal many of us weren’t aware of.

The old normal, when you look at it from today’s perspective, was not so great, not something to be nostalgic about, without also being deeply critical of it. As we experience discomfort in this time, let’s begin to dream of a new normal, a new normal that addresses the weaknesses and problems that were going unaddressed in the old normal. If we’re wise, we won’t go back; we’ll go forward.

Stay safe

Peter

Thursday 16 July

As I wrote on Tuesday, this coming Sunday has been designated as Rural Mission Sunday and the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The Gospel reading is Matthew 13:31-35, the Parables of the Mustard Seed and the Wheat:

He told them another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.’

He told them still another parable: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like yeast that a woman took and mixed into about thirty kilograms of flour until it worked all through the dough.’

Jesus spoke all these things to the crowd in parables; he did not say anything to them without using a parable. So was fulfilled what was spoken through the prophet:

‘I will open my mouth in parables,

I will utter things hidden since the creation of the world.’

In Jesus’ day people were much more connected to the land than we are. For them, a bad harvest could mean disaster. By drawing on the ordinary scenes of daily life to talk to God, Jesus is taking common ground and making it holy ground (see Tuesday).

The parable of the mustard seed is a reminder that the work of bringing in the Kingdom of Heaven happens at God’s initiative. No farmer would plant just one seed, but this is a reminder that God works in small and often hidden ways. We see this picture again in the parable of the woman using yeast to bake bread; something so small transforms flour into a light loaf.

Both activities require patience: we have to wait for the seed to grow and for the yeast to raise the dough. We cannot control either process; we must wait on God. Many of us have felt disconcerted by just how out of control life has felt recently. We have had to learn to depend on God, to find and stay on holy ground in new ways and unlikely places.

  • What do you need to be patient about?
  • What do you do when you feel life is out of control?
  • Take a walk and look for the small things that will grow?

(If you cannot go out, take a virtual walk on the Lee Abbey Devon estate on their website: https://leeabbeydevon.org.uk/resources/immersive-meditations/ )

God bless you as you grow in His Kingdom,

Robert.

Wednesday 15 July

I introduced you on Monday to the Happy Givers; this is a powerful piece from them on justice:

“To “do justice” means to render to each what each is due. Justice involves harmony, flourishing, and fairness, and it is based on the image of God in every person—the Imago Dei—that grants all people inalienable dignity and infinite worth.” Eugene Cho

 The book of the prophet Amos was written while the kingdom of Israel had become a prosperous nation under King Jeroboam II. They were experiencing peace as a nation, great social prestige and had achieved military might. But the poor suffered like dogs, the foreigners experienced oppression and the widows and orphans died unattended.

Does that ring any bells?

Well, watch out!

Here comes the prophet.

Like alcohol to a wound, the seer spoke the words of God, to the people of God, for the sake of God.

I can't stand your religious meetings.
I'm fed up with your conferences and conventions.

I want nothing to do with your religion projects,  your pretentious slogans and goals.

I'm sick of your fund-raising schemes, your public relations and image making.

I've had all I can take of your noisy ego-music.  When was the last time you sang to me?

Do you know what I want?
I want justice—oceans of it.

I want fairness—rivers of it.

That's what I want. That's all I want.

Can you hear God's intensity and passion?

I do. And I need more of that kind of passion (and commitment) to real justice.

Lots more.

You see, most of us can "handle" injustice.

We see it on the news, cringe a little, maybe #thoughtsandprayers and then we let it pass. We’re really good at pretending like we care about something that is unfair (and social media has given us a platform to be masters of it). We see racism, we tweet about it. We see war, we blog about it. We see hunger, we share the WorldVision.com website without actually signing up for a sponsorship.

And I know that social media is a good first step to awareness and action, but don’t let it deceive you into feeling righteous.

That’s why God highlights the real problem for us... justice.
Because justice demands that we do something.
And that’s precisely what He wants; flowing like an ever-flowing stream.

Now, there are two aspects of justice in the Bible that are distinctly defined.

The first is called Punitive Justice. It works likes this; an eye for an eye; i.e. what you took from me, I can take from you. It’s fair and just enough, and at a core level we all filter life through it. Also, most world governments, employee handbooks and courses on parenting are rule by it.

You kill, you get killed.
You rob, you pay back with cash, time or work.
You are unfaithful to your marriage vows, you lose half of what you own.

This punishment driven justice creates a sense of fear, of analyzing consequences and making decisions based on what will happen to the individual if found guilty. My momma used to called it, The Fear of the Lord.

But there’s another aspect of justice that is at the heart of more than half of the verses where is says the words, “righteousness” or “justice”.

It’s precisely what God is talking about in Amos 5.

IT’S CALLED RESTORATIVE JUSTICE.

And this is the kind of fairness that sees all, both the abuser and the abused, as worthy of mercy.

Multiple times a year, I get to witness this in all its splendour. Our church family had connected with a ministry called Proverbs 22:6. Their sole purpose is to bring fathers (who are in prison) together with their children (who are the most likely to go to prison next). In 2016 we had two events inside of Central Prison in downtown Raleigh. The first event we did was called, “Forgive Me Dear.” We chaperone 15 kids into a maximum security facility so they could spend a day with their fathers. Some of the kids had never even met their fathers before. Some had only seen them through a glass and spoken to them through dirty prison phones. And most had never-ever been hugged by their dad.

Volunteers from our church had spent months before the day preparing the fathers on how to connect with their little ones. They were teaching them how to ask for forgiveness, how to hold her children's hands and how to look into their eyes while they spoke to them. There was even some basic training in foot washing.

This is restorative justice, were both the oppressor and the oppressed (the father who committed the crime and the innocent children who had nothing to do with it) get to walk in the redemption of Christ. This is the stream that God is thirsty for.

When the Bible talks about justice I used to imagine a white old man with a white long beard in a white big throne, angry and ready to destroy. A Zeus-type figure who’s mighty flashes would consume all who broke the law.

The magnificent news for me and you, for those kids and those dads, is that the Righteous Father is exactly like his Humble Son. And if we have seen the Son, then we have seen the Father.

He’s the Son who stopped the execution of the adulterous lady in John 8. And he did it because that's what he saw the “white old man on the throne” doing. He did it because the Godhead is more interested in restoring humanity than punishing humans. He did it because the Holy Spirit empowered him to preach good news to the poor. To heal the broken hearted. To set at liberty those who are captive. To open the eyes of the blind. And to declare the year of the Lord’s favor.

This is his mission statement.

Confirmed and approved.

Vision casting done!

Jesus, borrowing the words of the prophet Isaiah, clearly articulated his assignment in Luke 4. This was the reason the Holy Dove descend on him. It was not to impress us with flashy miracles or uppity sermons. The Holy Ghost came upon the Holy Son to empower him with this holy purpose.

I would like to invite you to make this your own.

Say it out loud, over yourself, “The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty those who are oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

I agree with Jesus.

And I agree with you.

Amen.

God bless you all

Peter

Tuesday 14 July

This coming Sunday has been designated as Rural Mission Sunday and the Arthur Rank Centre at Stoneleigh in Warwickshire has published some reflections on the Old Testament, New Testament and Gospel readings they have allocated for the day.

The Old Testament reading is Exodus 3:1-6: Moses and the Burning Bush.

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God. There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, ‘I will go over and see this strange sight – why the bush does not burn up.’

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, ‘Moses! Moses!’

And Moses said, ‘Here I am.’

 ‘Do not come any closer,’ God said. ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.’ Then he said, ‘I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.’ At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

It was an ordinary working day for Moses. Being a shepherd was hard work: the Sinai desert is a dry wilderness and a shepherd needed to know where there might be some grass or water for the sheep. Shepherds might spend days alone with their flocks.

Moses has come to Mount Horeb, which became known as ‘the mountain of the Lord’. As he walks, he notices a bush on fire, not in itself an unusual thing in a desert. However, Moses notices that the bush is not being burnt up; this is very strange and so he turns aside to look further. The voice of God calls him by name and instructs him to take off his sandals, ‘for this is holy ground’.

God calls Himself the God of ‘your father and of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob’. We don’t know if Moses had worshipped God before this point. God is showing the connection through the patriarchs to God’s people now, whom He has heard and wants to save.

Suddenly Moses’ ordinary day is turned on its head. His eyes are opened to the fact that God is all around him if he can only stop and look. This episode is transformational: as Moses steps into holy ground, he is called and commissioned to be God’s instrument of deliverance for the people of God.

  • How do you experience God in the ordinariness of your day?
  • How have you experienced God in the past few months?
  • What may have helped you to glimpse holy ground?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Monday 13 July

Recently I bought a t-shirt from a Christian charity in the US called The Happy Givers who manage and assist a home reconstruction program in Puerto Rico, a children's home in Peru, as well as partnering with organizations supporting migrants ... plus creative relief work when there are natural disasters. The owners are young Christians, and they post a blog on their website. This one challenges those of us who are a bit older to think seriously about why the younger generation is leaving the church in droves:

“If we hand our sons and daughters a faith exposed as misogynistic, racist, unconcerned about creation and the poor, they aren’t wrong to leave it.” -Jonathan Martin

Dear (Spiritual) Parents,

This letter is for you. Yes, for all you God-fearing pastors, mentors and 1990’s youth leaders. And for all you Bible-believing mums and dads who taught us about the value of hard-work and going to church well-dressed.

I’ll start with gratitude, because your journey is part of the foundation on which we stand.

And yet where we stand looks so different to what you built. The tide is drastically changing, and somehow we need to understand each other (because we need each other to heal).

So it's with humility that I’ll write for us, in the hope that this will help you understand why we think, vote, tweet, dress, differently than you.

And note that we are fully aware that we could be wrong about all of this.

BUT MAYBE WE’RE NOT.

You see, we are not afraid of words like socialism, homosexuals or Hollywood. We are cool with tattoos, doing a bit of yoga, drinking a bit of wine and hanging out with Muslims and/or communists and/or people who would be “left behind.”

More than that, we believe in the message of the cross more than we believe in having a cross in every corner. We believe in God’s love for all humanity more than we believe in only Israel and America as God’s elect. We believe kindness and compassion are more powerful than fear and judgment. And we won’t vote conservative just because they say they are anti-abortion.

To be properly pro-life for us means EVERY life.

The immigrant.

The refugee.

The man on death row.

Both the mother and the little one.

So we will preach more pro-humanity than anti-abortion. We will sing more pro-love than anti-sin. We will deny patriarchy, deny racism in all its forms, and deny any kind of hate to those who our different to us.

This is NOT rebellion against you.

You were good at getting us into the Bible, that we started to read it for ourselves and started paying attention to Jesus.

AND WE’RE CONVINCED THAT JESUS IS WHAT GOD HAS TO SAY.

This is what we actually want to be conservative about… conserve (and preserve) the words and style of Christ himself.

His gospel of peace.

His good news for the poor.

His healing of the broken-hearted.

Because of that, we care more about the Kingdom of God than about Western Christianity. We care more about being in mission than getting a mortgage. And we care more about the future of our planet than whatever is good for the stock market.

Yes, there might be a measure of pride and assumptions in what I write. And I know these generalizations sound unfair, they obviously don’t represent every spiritual parent everywhere, but please keep reading.

Because we’re intentional about spending time with people from other cultures / religions / races, we’re intentional about standing with them too. The old systems that keep our friends in bondage are not cool with us anymore. So we march and protest and share #hashtags that might rub you the wrong way.

And FYI, we're done with abusive pastors and chauvinistic leadership.

Now, in order to keep growing what you planted, we must try a different way of farming. To continue building what you started, we need to demolish the idols of old.

We’re aware that there are elements of pain and bitterness that drive this conversation, but we know that all things work together for good! So we’re trusting God that the pain from the past will become healing for the future (and awakening from the ungodly system that initiated the pain and bitterness).

Also, if we stop going to church, that does not mean that we are going to hell. We might just need a break from what we're used to so we can create what we hope for.

Yes, we know that there is a lot of good in the body of Christ, but we’re dreaming of the actual good old days. The days of Matthew and Mark and Luke and John… and the possibility of the books of Acts all over again.

The whole turn the other cheek and love your enemies bit has really captivated our hearts! And it’s affected how we look at war and Islam and North Korea.

In a way… we know that you’re the same.

It’s just that the out-working of it looks different.

Very different.

And that hurts sometimes, because there’s an obvious disconnect in social media and dinner tables between our generations.

So we’ll end with an honest request: Please don’t quit on us!

We need your mothering and fathering. We want your challenge and invitation. Because we know that your experiences are valid. Yes, we see things differently, but without your empowering we might end up repeating the same mistakes and patterns you want us to prevent.

Forgive us for our presumptions and misunderstanding. May the prayer of Jesus in John 17 guide us today.

I hope we can make it work.

Will we?

PEACE.

“He will turn the hearts of the parents to their children, and the hearts of the children to their parents; or else I will come and strike the land with total destruction.” – Malachi 4:6

Every blessing

Peter

Saturday 11 July

Some of us received this letter from Keswick Ministries:

‘I’m writing to tell you about Virtually Keswick Convention, a free online event between 27th and 31st July, and to let you know of some ways churches are thinking of using it to complement their existing ministry, to give you some ideas.

‘You may well have heard that the Convention, which we normally hold each summer in Keswick, was cancelled this year due to Covid 19. The online event has the new theme of Hope, and gives Christians a chance to be part of something bigger, across denominations, cultures and countries under the banner "All One in Christ Jesus," with hearing God’s Word at the heart of it.

‘Our Bible Reader, Christopher Ash, will speak of that Hope in Jesus from the Psalms each morning at 10am. There will be a daily seminar from 11am exploring hope from a different angle. One will look at hope amidst grief and trauma, another at hope and crying out honestly to God. In the evenings, at 8pm, a celebration will highlight a different aspect of the hope found in Jesus Christ with speakers Mike Cain, Andy Prime, Amy Orr-Ewing, Graham Daniels and Jeremy McQuoid. There’s also a great programme for children and youth, a daily devotion for adults with learning disabilities and additional events – an Awesome Cutlery concert and Keswick Unconventional Night Shift.

‘The full programme is available on our new Virtually Keswick Convention website: (https://vkc.keswickministries.org/). During the online Convention, sessions will be livestreamed on the website and via YouTube – and all events will be available for catch up, after broadcast, from the vkc website and our YouTube channel. Participants can also post comments on our website, or our Facebook and Twitter accounts #KesConv20.

‘Depending on regulations, of course, some churches are thinking of gathering groups of children or young people together to watch the daily Keswick streams. Others are thinking of encouraging people to watch the Bible readings and then meet together afterwards on Zoom or in smaller groups outside or on a walk to discuss them. You may have other ideas. We’d be very glad to hear what you’re thinking of doing.

‘We hope that you will be able to join in and that this will be a source of encouragement to you and your congregation.

In Christ,

James Robson, Ministry Director, Keswick Ministries.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Friday 10 July

(If you are reading this on Thursday don't worry, I have a busy day tomorrow)

The following has appeared in Country Way, the magazine for the Arthur Rank Centre which helps rural churches with their mission:

Looking forward, looking back

Looking back… • What one word best sums up you experience of living through COVID-19?

  • What was the best decision you made?
  • What was the greatest lesson you learnt?
  • What was the most loving service you performed?
  • What is your biggest piece of unfinished business?
  • What else do you need to do / say to be complete with your experience of COVID-19?

Looking forward • What is God calling you to do / be next?

  • What would you be most happy with completing during the rest of 2020 in response to COVID-19? • What would you most like to see change?
  • What about your ministry are you committed to changing and improving? (We encourage individuals to interpret this term in whatever way is most appropriate to them; it’s not just ordained people and ‘leaders’ who have ministries!)
  • Where have you flourished during COVID-19 and how will you continue to make that part of your life?
  • What Bible passages have become important to you during COVID-19? Could you learn them by heart?
  • What one word sums up your ongoing approach to learning and growing as a result of COVID-19?

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Thursday 9 July

The following is a Word of Encouragement from Issachar Ministries:

AN UNANSWERABLE QUESTION:
WHEN WILL THINGS BE 'NORMAL' AGAIN?

There are a host of suggestions, but nothing definitive. Much depends on your current standpoint.
Back in the 1970s, God breathed His Spirit over many churches and fresh life occurred, with many leaving their old, dead churches to join  those with whom they could celebrate real Christian life in all its fullness.  New groups were formed, many were just small house fellowships, which later merged into national, even international (new) denominations. However, many remained just local groups. These risked the danger of becoming cliques, so independent, that they became cut-off from the wider body of Christ and a little narrow or extreme in belief and practice.
These are different days. The world is a different place, full of wonderful technology, but still unable to share resources to meet all the needs; rich, rich people in the highly materialistic West, yet, poor, such poor folk in the Third World; a multiplicity of religion, spiritual and non-spiritual; sexual freedom, perversion and moral decay throughout societies; broken families, corrupt administrations; war and want in so many areas.  It is a sad situation, but no less than has been prophesied in God’s Word, (2 Tim. 3:1-9)
More than ever, there is a need for believers to stick together, for mutual companionship and support, to learn together, to worship together, to study to know God’s word and ways together, (2 Tim 3:14-17).  Conversely, why is it that so many folks are leaving traditional churches? Is it disenchantment, other interests, boredom, loss of faith, or, more seriously, wrong doctrine and teaching? Whatever the reason, contemporary Church bears little resemblance to the simplicity and enthusiasm experienced in the fresh New Testament churches of the first century.
After the Resurrection, Jesus met with the disciples several times before his ascension. Their emotions had been shattered by the events surrounding the cross and his crucifixion. Now, they gradually understood that they were to be the forerunners amongst his followers in a new era. He appointed them as his witnesses and heralds of the good news, the Gospel, “Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation”, (Mark 16:15).
Similar words recorded at the very end of Matthew’s gospel also added the promise of his personal companionship, “always, to the very end of the age”, (Mat 28:20). 
Jesus continued to encourage and nurture them right up to the day of his ascension, (Acts 1:1-5).
Whilst these apostles waited for the empowerment of the promised Holy Spirit, they continued to spend time together, no doubt praying and discussing how they were to enact their master’s instructions.   Indeed, “they were all together in one place" on the day of Pentecost, (Acts 2:1), when the Holy Spirit came upon each of them in such a significant way, such that they, nor those around them who observed the manifestation, could be left in any doubt that here was the commencement of the movement, the gathering together of followers known initially as “The Way”, then later on, grew into the early Christian church.
As Peter, with the other Apostles, preached the gospel, Acts 2:41 tells us, “Those who accepted his message were baptised, and about three thousand were added to their number that day”.  By any standard, that is phenomenal growth, and it did not stop there.  The very last verse in this second chapter says, “And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved”, (Acts 2:47).
If we continue to chart the growth of this early group of believers in the book of Acts, and on through the various epistles, we shall see many clues as to the manner in which they operated, as their groups came together to worship and to praise and to learn the vital lessons of what it means to be a follower of Jesus, i.e., a Christian. We shall note the remarkably simple structure of their group meetings. The original Greek word that describes these ‘gatherings’ is ecclesia.  

Looking back in order to move forward
Several important principles are mentioned in this brief look at the early church. Today, some have been laid aside, even forgotten, in the pursuit of contemporary evangelism methods and the desire to keep or increase church attendees. If there is to be a genuine spiritual revival, it will begin when individuals find and deepen their personal relationship with the Father, the Son and The Holy Spirit, thus begin again to experience ecclesia in a similar manner to those first century believers, meeting together for worship, studying the Living Word for mutual support and encouragement: real fellowship!
What a wonderful new “normal” that could be!

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 8 July

I received this thought for the week from Selina Stone, Tutor and Lecturer in Political Theology at St Mellitus College

Resisting the Powers that Oppress

The king of Egypt said to the Hebrew midwives, whose names were Shiphrah and Puah, ‘When you are helping the Hebrew women during childbirth on the delivery stool, if you see that the baby is a boy, kill him; but if it is a girl, let her live.’  The midwives, however, feared God and did not do what the king of Egypt had told them to do; they let the boys live. Exodus 1:15–17

We can often recall the names of people who have taken a stand against evil and injustice, and recount the details of their history-making exploits. However, they never arrive there alone. This is no truer than in the story of Moses, the leader whose calling by God to speak truth to power has inspired Christian movements for liberation throughout history.
 
Moses is born at a time of infanticide. Pharaoh, the King of Egypt, seeks to control the Hebrew immigrant population by killing all male babies and effectively ending their family lines. Under this bloodthirsty regime, the midwives receive a murderous command: kill the baby boys. Instead of obeying, however, they resist the reign of evil that would be enacted through their hands. Their resistance protects the lives of many Hebrew sons – one of whom grows up to become Moses, the liberator of his people.
 
These Hebrew women are not the people we might think of when we consider what it means to change the world. We are led to believe that it is only by holding positions of power in institutions or commanding huge budgets and having wide influence that we can really make a difference. But these women were able to have an impact right where they were, in acts of resistance which shaped an entire generation. The time did come for the historic acts which we read about in the subsequent chapters, but it all begins in a tent, with one woman giving birth, and her midwives refusing to comply with the demands of an evil regime.
 
We live in a world filled with narratives, agendas, and objectives that undermine the good intentions of God for his creation. The task of resistance lies with all of us, whether we are the ones to stand in the place of power, the ones who have a role to play in someone else’s organisation, or in the simple relationships of family and friends.
 
At our particular time in history, there are groups of people who, like those babies, are vulnerable and threatened with violence and oppression. In our own contexts there are people whose futures are at stake because of the choices and agendas of those more powerful than them. May we, in our small choices and larger decisions, act with the courage of these midwives, to resist and protect those unable to defend themselves.

Every blessing,

Robert.

Tuesday 7 July

Following on from yesterday, here is the rest of Psalm 146: 7-10:

‘He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry.

The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous.

The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked.

The Lord reigns for ever, your God, O Zion, for all generations.

Praise the Lord.’

This part of the Psalm seems to have echoes of the prophecy of Isaiah 61, which Jesus quoted in the synagogue in Nazareth in Luke 4.  ‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’  This shows us the people and situations God is particularly concerned for and also shows us something of God’s heart.

There are many organisations and charities which are seeking to meet the needs of the most vulnerable during this pandemic. For example: Crisis, with their focus on the homeless; Open Doors, with their focus on persecuted people around the world; Tearfund and Christian Aid and many others. We can play our part by praying and by giving and by looking out for those around us.

Every Blessing,

Robert

Monday 6 July

'Praise the Lord.

Praise the Lord, my soul.

I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.

Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.

When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing.

Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.

He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them – he remains faithful for ever.' Psalm 146:1-6

This Psalm begins with praise to God, ‘Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.’ Praising God helps to lift our thoughts away from problems , worries and fears and helps us to focus our hearts and minds upon the sovereign Lord.

The Psalm reminds us that He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea and everything in them; knowing that to be true helps us to put everything into perspective, whatever the situation. Verse 3 says: ‘Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save.’ Our world leaders, however powerful, are, like all of us, mortal men and women, created beings who have limited understanding and power and who, ultimately, cannot save.

Verse 5 continues: ‘Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God.’ There is only One who truly knows and understands all things, our mighty God. 1 Timothy 2:1 urges us to pray for our leaders; they certainly need our prayers at this time.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Saturday 4 July

Earlier this week, I received the following from CWR (Crusade for World Revival):

‘We are all looking for certainty and trying to find answers to questions this week. As restrictions are lifted and new guidelines are announced we are living in limbo. We’re not in complete lockdown anymore, but we’re also not free to live our usual lives.

‘There’s a verse in Hebrews that describes the hope we have in God’s love for us as secure and certain as an anchor:

‘We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’ Hebrews 6:19

‘God’s promises to keep us securely linked to Him. But, just like an anchor is attached to a boat, there are times when we feel like we’re floating aimlessly, unsure of where we are headed. Perhaps there’s a storm throwing your life into chaos, or you feel like you are drifting away from God.

‘At a time when we are all looking for a sure footing and a definite direction, we are renewing our hope in God, and our promise is to help you stay connected to Him as you care for yourself and others.’

Looking to the future, I will be sending out a questionnaire today to help the leadership at Riverside make decisions about the reopening of the church building. It is important that we keep everyone safe in this time of transition.

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Friday 3 July

These are some thoughtful reflections on the Lord's Prayer from the Equipped for Grace website. Margaret and I are away for a week, so I'll be back here on 13 July.

Every blessing

Peter

Pray Like Jesus

Prayer is crucial to a believer’s life. We cannot begin to walk in a manner worthy of God’s calling for us without aligning our will to His in prayer. When disciples of Christ pray, we can approach the throne of grace with boldness to receive mercy and forgiveness for our sins, and receive God’s grace to help us persevere (Hebrews 4:16).

Jesus’ disciples often asked Him questions, and He would respond in various ways. Sometimes He would ask a question in return, offer a parable, or answer directly. When His disciples asked to learn how to pray, Jesus gave them an example to follow: “The Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6.

Consider How You Pray

Matthew 6 is a truly insightful chapter. Jesus teaches His followers how to give, pray, fast, deal with our possessions, and cure anxiety. He cares so much that we understand what pleases God that he both models and instructs us on how to pray so we can enter the throne room and speak to our Lord. But before He demonstrates how to pray, He cautions us:

“Whenever you pray, you must not be like the hypocrites, because they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by people. Truly I tell you, they have their reward. But when you pray, go into your private room, shut your door, and pray to your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. When you pray, don’t babble like the Gentiles, since they imagine they’ll be heard for their many words. Don’t be like them, because your Father knows the things you need before you ask Him.” 

As Jesus said Himself, our prayers should not be a way for us to boast about how “holy” we are or to vainly repeat mere words. Prayer gives us direct access to the Lord, so we can speak to Him as He listens.

Acknowledge the Lord

In verse 9, Jesus begins His prayer by opening with “Our Father in heaven,” addressing the Lord. Here, He demonstrates to us that we must begin our prayers by recognizing who God is. This centres us on what is most important: that God is above us, He is our source for strength, and we live our lives for Him.

Praise Him

Next, Jesus praises God for His holiness: “hallowed be Your name”. He shows us to honour the Lord, and recognize His awesome nature and omniscience, omnipresence, and omnipotence. Take this time of prayer to soak in God’s gloriousness, thanking Him for all the ways He has blessed you.

Align Your Will to God’s Will

“Your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” (v.10). This part of prayer is so important. It’s easy to get into the habit of asking God to accomplish our will for our lives. We may want specific things for ourselves, and beg God to make them a reality without considering if they align with His will. This verse reminds us of God’s ultimate goal for us: “To make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe and obey all the things Christ Jesus commanded us” (Matthew 28:19-20). Any Christ-follower wondering why they’re here on this earth? This is God’s plan for our lives. When we seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, all our needs will be provided (Matthew 6:33). Don’t be afraid to pray BIG and BOLD prayers!

Ask for What You Need

Jesus Himself told us, “Ask and it will be given to you. Seek, and you will find. Knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). God hears our cries for healing, justice, strength and comfort. He knows and understands what we go through. He loves us and listens when we pray. The more we pay attention to what we pray for and how God provides for us, the more we will recognize the power of prayer. It does not guarantee that we will get everything we want, or that we will be healthy, rich and popular. It does, however, guarantee that whenever our prayers align with God’s, He will answer us well.

Forgive Others and Ask for Him to Forgive You

Forgiveness can feel impossible when we have been hurt or betrayed by someone we trusted and loved, yet God requires us to forgive them. Forgiveness frees us to move forward with our lives, and allows us to experience God’s forgiveness for our own sins and transgressions. In verse 15, Jesus tells us that if we refuse to forgive others, God will not forgive us. We must pray for God to forgive the sins we willingly committed, the sins we unknowingly committed, and the sins resulting from our unwillingness to do the right thing. But first we must ask Him to give us the strength to love our enemies and forgive those who have hurt us (Matthew 5:44).

Pray for Protection and Deliverance from Temptation

God does not tempt us or cause us to sin. In James 1:13-14, it says that no one should say “I am being tempted by God,” because God is not tempted by evil, and does not tempt anyone. Our temptations come from our own evil desires. When we give into these temptations, we sin. Although we cannot escape trials and temptations, as they are part of our earthly lives, we can ask God for strength and protection to fight our evil desires and do good instead.

As we consider this breakdown of Jesus’ model prayer, let us be more intentional about our prayer time. It might help to begin a prayer journal, where you can write down your prayers according to Jesus’ example, and follow up in a few days, weeks, or months with how God answered those prayers. We can also write down all the things we are grateful for, and go back to this list during the times we praise God.

The joy of prayer is that it comes from our hearts. As we reflect on God’s goodness and righteousness, we are moved by our love for Him to spend more and more time in prayer.

 

Thursday 2 July

Psalm 139 is a great psalm of David and is worth reading all the way through. David is completely honest with God as he acknowledges that God knows him through and through. The Psalm ends with these words:

Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.

See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

4 things: God knows our hearts so David can say: Search me, O God, and know my heart.

God knows when we have anxious thoughts so David can say: test me and know my anxious thoughts.

God knows when there are things that get in the way of our relationship with Him so David can say: See if there is any offensive way in me.

God wants to lead us in the way of truth so David can say: lead me in the way everlasting.

Jesus said, ‘‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me. Our relationship with God always needs to be based on faith and commitment to Jesus as Lord and Saviour.

The following was shared by Penny at the Tuesday Group Zoom meeting this week which I thought was worth sharing more widely:

Used by Wes Sutton of the Acorn Christian Healing Foundation Webinar on 'Do not be anxious', 25th June

" If we know we are loved we are at home in His [God's] presence

  If we're at home in His presence we are comfortable in His will

  If we are comfortable in His will we will experience His grace

  If we experience His grace we will know His power at work in us"

Every Blessing,

Robert.

Wednesday 1 July

This dropped into my inbox yesterday morning and it gave me pause for thought about the importance of always reading the Bible in context, and recognising that things can change over time.

Every blessing

Peter


  • Matthew 6:33

    “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”

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