Sunday 20th June 2021
We’ve been looking at the Apostles Creed over the last few weeks, and this week we come to the part which boldly proclaims that we ‘believe in Jesus Christ, who… suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended to the dead.’ it’s actually astounding, considering its length, the degree of emphasis that it places on Jesus’ death. In a Creed that’s so economic with its words, the writers are keen to remind us that Jesus suffered, was crucified, he died, was buried, and he descended to the dead. These statements help explain his death and are essential to our understand of Christianity. We might think that a simple ‘Jesus was crucified and died’ would’ve sufficiently summed it up, but the Creed says no, Jesus’ death is so fundamental to our faith, we need to understand it in its fullest scope.
In the bible, the Gospels actually give a significant amount of space to Jesus’ suffering and death, including the events leading up to it. And the cross itself, though intended as a symbol of torture, execution, and power, has become the very symbol of a world-wide religion for the last two thousand years. The creed focuses in on Jesus’ death, because having a right view of these events will lead to a right view of Christianity, because unless you understand the cross, you will never understand what God has done through Jesus Christ. Join us this Sunday as we explore what all this means for us today.
Sunday 13th June 2021
When you look at Christianity from the outside, the claims make about Jesus are pretty outrageous because, by any human reasoning, they’re utterly impossible. Unsurprisingly, the two most objected to claims are Jesus’ virgin birth and his resurrection from the dead. Over the centuries these claims have evoked all sorts of reactions, with mockery and distain probably the most common, and for many today they seem a bit quaint to our ears, naïve even, something for Christians to be a bit embarrassed about, because science tells us it’s impossible. Maybe you’ve even thought that yourself. Well, if you have, you wouldn’t be alone. Belief in the virgin birth has been surrounded by scepticism and mockery for a long time, it really is remarkable that people believed the virgin birth at all, after all, it’s wasn’t as if anyone was expecting it.
The thing with such outrageous claims is that there’s no in between position is there, you either believe it or you think it’s nonsense, Jesus either entered the world by supernatural power, or it’s all a lie. But, if God is truly God, why would we be surprised if it were true? If we believe that God is Almighty, that he is the creator of heaven and earth; and if he is the one who created humanity in the beginning, then surely it is possible for God to continue to act in creative ways. If you believe in God, even in the possibility of God, then of course, you’ll believe that this is possible. That’s why Christians confidently believe it today
Sunday 6th June 2021
Who do you think Jesus Christ is? Christians claim that he’s the saviour of the world, the only Son of God, and Lord of their lives. We could brush them off as wishful thinkers, but what if it’s true? Here’s the thing. If you’re facing that question for the first time, you need to decide whether or not you’re going to accept the claims about Jesus; that he really is the Son of God, that he became human, and that he suffered and died for your sin. You can accept the offer of God’s love and forgiveness in Jesus by believing, that through his death and resurrection for you he has provided a way for you to be made right with God. And by turning from your sin and becoming a follower of Jesus your life is now safe in his hands.
For those of us who already acknowledge Jesus as our Saviour, it mustn’t stop there, because if he truly is our Saviour, then he must also be Lord over our lives, which has massive implications for the way we live. Saying Jesus is our Lord is meaningless unless we put it into action, living as his servants in our world. You see, Christianity isn’t merely an accessory lifestyle decision, it’s way of living that involves complete submission to the will of God in our lives.
If Jesus Christ is our Saviour, then we are freed from slavery to sin, not so that we can go on our merry way and do what we want, but so that we can live for Jesus as our Lord. It means we can no longer do the things that were part of our old sinful lifestyle, giving up all those things in our life that are opposed to Christ and his goodness, truth and love. If Jesus is truly Lord of your life, you will gladly do this for him.
Sunday 30th May 2021
What do you believe, I mean, really believe? C. S. Lewis once said: ‘You never know how much you really believe anything until its truth or falsehood becomes a matter of life and death.’ That’s never more true than when it comes to what we believe about God. You really don’t want to go through life thinking you’ve got it all sorted, only to hear Jesus say ‘I never knew you’ on judgement day do you. What we believe, especially what we believe about God, really is a matter of life and death.
What Christians believe has been written down in the bible, and summarised in the creeds of the Church, the three most often quoted being the Apostles Creed, the Nicene Creed, and the Athanasian Creed. These creeds are important because they boil down the Christian faith to the bare essentials, giving us a brief summary of what Christians are supposed to believe. They’re not intended to replace the bible, but point to the truths found within it. When we say the Creeds, we’re not just reciting something meaningless. We’re declaring that we stand for something. We’re declaring that we belong to someone. We’re declaring what is true. We’re trusting in the facts. We’re seeking to obey. We’re responding to the incredible news of who God is, what he’s done, and what is yet to come. I believe in God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. Do you?
Sunday 23rd May 2021 – Pentecost
I’ve been a Christian for 39 years and in that time, I’ve been a member of 9 different churches. Each one had its own culture and its own way of doing things, with varying results I might say; some were successful, others less so. In that respect, churches can be a bit like a vegetable garden in that they produced different results depending on who’s calling the shots. Some are like potatoes, quietly working away, unseen by anyone. On the surface not much is happening, but when harvest time comes, they produce a nice crop. Others are a bit like the carrots I tied to grow in my garden one year. They had all the razzle dazzle, and on the surface it was all go, I was amazed at what appeared to be happening. But when harvest time came all was revealed, nothing of any substance was found.
For the church, when it comes to producing the type of results that are pleasing to God, really good churches are open to being led by the Holy Spirit. They seek God’s guidance through prayer, asking what he wants them to do rather than just ploughing on with their own ideas. In fact, without the Holy Spirit working in our lives, guiding and shaping all that we do, even the good things that we do will wither away, because God isn’t in it. So take some time this week to stop for a minute and ask God: “How might I serve you today?” Leave it to God to decide what you need in order to accomplish that task, rather than trying to do everything in your own strength. You never know what God might do in and through you today.
Sunday 16th May 2021
What do you think about the bible, is it just a collection of manmade stories passed on down through the ages, or is it something more? What you decide actually depends on what you think about Jesus Christ. Do you believe, as the bible teaches, that he is the only begotten Son of God? Or do you think that he was just a good man, a good teacher, but that’s about all? You see, there are many people who think that you don’t have to believe what the Bible says, and that you don’t have to believe everything that is written about Jesus, you can just believe some of it. Maybe you think that not all of it is true, so you’ve decided that there are some bits you can ignore. A lot of people do exactly that. But if I understand Christianity correctly, there is no middle ground. You either believe that the bible is the infallible Word of God, or you don’t believe that it is the Word of God at all. You either believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God or you don’t believe that He is a Son of God at all. You see, if you believe that the Bible is the revealed Word of God, and if you believe that Jesus is the only begotten Son of God, then you’ll believe that the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ are real historical events that were seen and witnessed by many hundreds of people. The early Christians thought so. They were the ones who say they saw Jesus raised from the dead and ascend bodily into heaven 40 days later, so why would they die for that belief if it wasn’t true?
Sunday 9th May 2021
One of the best-known teachings of Jesus Christ is “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13). But I do wonder if we really understand what that means for us. You see, this is another one of those frequently misapplied bible verses. We unconsciously limit our understanding of this verse to the following: ‘Jesus Christ demonstrated and exercised his love for us by laying down his life. He went to the Cross to purchase our freedom, and it cost him his life. So we too should be prepared to die for those we love.’
Now of course, there’s nothing wrong with reading this verse that way, but is that how the disciples would have understood it? Look at it this way… it wasn’t just on the cross that Jesus lay down his life. From his descent from the glory of heaven to the humble setting of the manger, through the ordinariness of boyhood in Nazareth, and the years of his itinerant ministry around Galilee and Judea, to the ultimate rejection in Jerusalem. In these and many other ways, Jesus lay down his life in loving service for us. It is true that to give one’s life for someone else is the ultimate sacrifice. However, what Jesus is calling all of us to do is to give up our claim on our own lives, to sacrifice, if you like, our own wants and desires, which are often selfish anyway, and to commit our lives to the service of others, showing God’s love for others as his Holy Spirit works in and through our lives. Is it difficult? Yes. But impossible? No. Not if we truly desire to follow the example of Jesus.
Sunday 2nd May 2021
The bible is full of imagery which helps us to understand how God sees the world. One such image equates God’s people to vines in a vineyard. The thing about vines is that, if they’re going to produce useful grapes, they need pruning from time to time. Thinking about ourselves as vines in God’s vineyard, our fruitfulness also involves us being pruned, and, sometimes, that can be quite painful. I can certainly think of things in my life that God has had to remove in order to get my focus back on him. And just like a grapevine, the things God prunes away aren’t necessarily bad. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with a leafy branch on an ornamental grapevine, but if you’re hoping for big juicy grapes, that leafy branch will need to be cut back so that the grapes grow even healthier. There will be times in our lives that God comes along with his pruning shears and take away some otherwise perfectly fine thing that just happens to be distracting us from doing his will.
There’s a warning there isn’t there. Be careful with that favourite toy of yours, or that hobby or sport, those friends, or even that spiritual gift you think you’ve got. Use them by all means as a means of recreation or refreshment when you need to get the stress of life out of your system, but be careful that they don’t take over, or distract you from God’s work in your life, because that’s when God just might come along with his pruning shears and remove them completely.
Sunday 25th April 2021
ANZAC Day has become something of an important, almost religious, occasion in our national life in recent years. It’s become one of the few occasions where young and old stand together to remember the sacrifice of those who fought for the freedoms we hold so dear. I can’t imagine how it must have felt to go off to war, to do the hard thing and put your life into the hands of others. These were brave men who, though likely full of fear and anxiety, did their duty. Those who had faith in God put their trust in the one who is able to bring them safely home, for some of them, though, that ‘home’ would be heaven itself.
We will remember them.
Like many people my age, I’ve had quite a variety of different careers over the years, with many different experiences that have taught me a thing or two about human nature. The one overriding thing that I’ve learnt, despite what we might think about ourselves, is that people are generally quite selfish. An attitude typified by an old boss of mine who lived by the motto ‘He who dies with the most toys wins.’ Presumably his goal in life was to amass as large a fortune for himself as he could, and blow everyone else!
Before we mock such an attitude, there’s a little bit of that in all of us isn’t there. It’s a completely natural inclination to act in our own interests. Celebrities are a prime example. All those good causes that they promote… why do they do it, what’s their motivation? I’d love to know how much is genuine care and concern for others, and how much is about creating just the right image to appear good and boost their approval ratings while they rake in the cash from sponsorship deals. Maybe that’s being a bit cynical, but it does raise an interesting question: How much do we genuinely care about others? Are we concerned about the lost and the lonely? Or are we a bit selfish, only really concerned about ourselves and making ourselves look good? What would it take for us to be less selfish and put aside our own comfort for the sake of others?
Sunday 18th April 2021
Shame is the new guilt; did you know that? When I was at school in the 1960’s & 70’s I was taught that there was such a thing as right and wrong, if we did something wrong, we felt guilty about it. But society doesn’t work like that anymore, we’ve moved from a guilt-based society, which bases civil life on knowing right from wrong and living by established rules and regulations, to a shame-based society where truth is all relative and can’t be defined to one set of rules for all.
You see, when society loses its moral compass, ideas of defined right and wrong no longer apply, truth and reason become individualised, people just do what they want and if it turns out to be wrong, they just hope they get away with it. In fact, it seems that something is only wrong if you get caught. And when they do get caught, it’s not guilt that they feel, it’s shame, as they worry what their peers will think of them.
The good news is that, because of what Jesus did for us that first Easter, in dying for our sins and being resurrected, our sins, whatever they might be, can be forgiven. No matter how big or how small, and even though we might feel guilt, or shame and embarrassment, for what we’ve done, in Jesus there is forgiveness, which in turn leads to restoration of relationship with Jesus Christ, and through him, our heavenly Father as well. Just as it did for the disciples that first Easter. Shame, then forgiveness, then restoration… all through the grace of God. Marvellous!
Sunday 11th April 2021
When you hear the name Thomas, what do you associate with it? Most Christians would probably say ‘doubt’. Thomas, one of Jesus twelve disciples, has made such an impression on us that we even refer to him as ‘Doubting Thomas.’ This was not meant as a compliment. Thomas has always had a bit of a bad rap, he’s seen as the one who doubted, the naughty disciple. Doubt is like one of those taboo subjects, and we often feel that we shouldn’t doubt, we worry that people will think less of us, that we’ll look stupid if we do. But doubt isn’t an unusual or particularly unhealthy thing. You see doubt is not unbelief, unbelief is intentional, an act of will rather than a difficulty with understanding, whereas doubt is often a step on the road to belief.
Many people come to faith with doubts, we don’t have to understand everything; indeed, it would be highly unusual if we did. In fact, this is what most relationships are like, we don’t know even half of what there is to know about someone before we get involved with them, how could we! In that respect, every relationship has an element of risk to it. Doubts are a reminder that our relationship with God needs further development and growth, a spiritual reminder that we can’t know it all. We may long for absolute certainty and proof, but we should remind ourselves that we are human and our capacity to understand is limited compared to God’s. Trusting in what God has done for us enables us to have faith in the midst of uncertainty. Remember, we haven’t let God down if we have doubts, our faithfulness is proved when we persevere through our doubts and uncertainties and on to belief in the seemingly impossible, just like Thomas.
Good Friday & Easter 2nd-4th April 2021
Graveyards are not, generally speaking, happy places, they might be places for contemplation, some even possess a certain natural beauty, but they are by their nature a place of tears. The women who had gone to the grave where Jesus’s body had been placed on that first Easter morning were full of sorrow, grief and anguish. Their grief was perhaps more intense because of the events surrounding Jesus’ death. They’d witnessed his pain and suffering, all that violence done to the one they loved, betrayed by one of his own and officially murdered. But the events which followed turned their sorrow into a quite different experience. When they went to the grave that morning they encountered not a dead hero, there had been too many of those already, but an angel giving news of the living Lord, that Jesus Christ had risen from the dead. The graveyard that day was transformed from a place of sorrow into a garden of joy in which dreams had come true. It is the greatest story ever told.
Sunday 28th March 2021
Having been born and raised in England I do love a bit of pomp and ceremony, especially those grand military parades like Trooping the Colour to celebrate the Queen’s official birthday, or the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. We love our ceremonies in the church too, all that fancy dress and so on, and for large public occasions like royal weddings we get to combine the two, replete with hundreds of thousands of cheering crowds lining the streets all shouting their praise at those passing by.
As the crowds who welcomed Jesus into Jerusalem on the day we call Palm Sunday found, there’s a certain buzz being in a crowd, a certain excitement in numbers. And at large church gatherings we too can experience great times of worship and learning. It’s easy to be a Christian there. It’s easy to applaud Jesus when you’re in a large crowd all doing the same thing. In a frenzy of celebration, we gladly focus on Jesus, and we can shout praises loudly enough to make any Pharisee complain. It’s between the celebrations, when we go home, that we don’t do so well. Come to think of it, when you leave Church on Sunday, will you give any further thought to Jesus Christ the rest of the week? Or will you be like the disciples who made promises by day and then fled by night, or one of the crowd who praises him one day and then loses interest in Him the next?
My point is, we can’t gauge our commitment to Jesus Christ based solely on the applause we give him. Being a Christian is more than just giving him public praise, it’s about developing a right relationship with God. And the easiest way we can do that is simply to spend time reading his word, in prayer, and with fellow Christians who support and encourage one another to live godly lives. Going deeper with Jesus will sustain us in this life and into the next. Isn’t that what you want? I know I do!
Sunday 21st March 2021
Money, or the lack of it, seems to be a bone of contention for many people. It’s become something of a political football where the rich are lambasted just for being wealthy, and the poor are held up as victims of a capitalist system that doesn’t care. But when it comes to wealth, the answer to the needs of the poor isn’t to jump to some ascetic ideal and force the rich to give it all away. What matters is the attitude of the wealthy to what God has blessed them with and how they use it. The reality for all of us is that all we have is a gift from God and, on a global scale, all of us kiwis are amongst the richest people on earth. Might not seem like it, but that’s only because we’re used to having so much.
Bearing that in mind, there’s nothing wrong with being wealthy… but there are conditions! We cannot be selfish or self-indulgent with what God has given us, perusing our own pleasers or building up our housing portfolio while those around us are suffering. The church is one of the few places where the wealthy company director might stand alongside a poor pensioner or an unemployed young man, or a single mother struggling to pay her rent. It is therefore also a place where the seeds of discontent and jealousy might prosper if we don’t do our Christian duty. So, what’s the answer? Well it is the duty of all Christians to be ready to use what God has blessed us with to do good, to be generous not just in finances but also in good works. When we do that we will lay up a treasure that will last. The best place to invest our money then is not in another rental property, but in heaven!
Sunday 14th March 2021
Respect for our elders is, I think, something we’ve largely lost in our culture, older peoples’ views are often not listened to or disregarded as being not relevant or old fashioned. You can see this blatantly played out on TV. Have you noticed how all the older, more mature news reporters have been replaced by much younger ones in their twenties and thirties, all the older ones have gone! I wonder why.
I think the same is true for those in authority, there’s less and less respect for those who put themselves out to serve others, people like the police, ambulance officers, firefighters, all once respected by the community at large are frequently attacked while trying to do their job. Church leaders were also once respected and sought out for their wise counsel, not so these days, they’re just ignored as a relic of the past best forgotten. But it’s hardly surprising is it, we’ve heard too many stories of leaders abusing their power, taking advantage of the vulnerable, and it rightly offends us.
But the reality is none of us are immune from the temptation to use a position of authority for our own benefit, it can happen to anyone, at any level of leadership. The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé Timothy warning him of the dangers and temptations he’s going to face in Ephesus, his advice is as relevant now as ever; be respectful, keep your motives pure, don’t take advantage of others, and importantly, discipline the disobedient and those who teach falsely. Wise counsel from an ‘old’ man… funny that.
Sunday 7th March 2021
One of my favourite things to watch on TV is rugby, it’s not just the game itself that I enjoy, it’s the knowledgeable discussion and banter between the commentators. It’s great to see former players passing on what they know about the game to us mere mortals. But you know how they say you shouldn’t meet your idols, well it’s all very well seeing these once great athletes on TV, only now, instead of being sleek and fit, they’ve developed a bit of a belly, look a little chubby in the cheeks, they’re stars of the past who aren’t what they once were. It just goes to show that, apart from how age catches up with all of us, if we stop training we quickly lose our fitness and skills. But who am I to pass judgement!
The apostle Paul wrote to his young protégé, Timothy, along similar lines, only he wasn’t concerned about physical training, but training in godliness. In the Old Testament God commanded the Israelite to Be holy for I am holy. (Leviticus 19:2). So godliness is about displaying God’s character in our own lives, we know them as the Fruits of the Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. (Gal 5:22-23). When it comes to godliness, these are the characteristics that we should focus on. It takes time of course, and more than a bit of effort and commitment, but it will be of great benefit to us as it not only prepares us to live our lives for the glory of God today, but also for the time when we stand before the throne of God in the age to come.
Sunday 28th February 2021
Every three years we get to do a very important thing, we get to vote for who’s going to lead our country. Now regardless of what we might think about our party leaders and their policies, voting is a privilege that we should cherish, one which brings with it great responsibility. You see, leadership, whether that’s at a local or national level, is no small thing, and it’s not to be entered into lightly, and the higher responsibility the higher the standard we’re held to. But despite the disrepute that the others might have brought to the role over the years, desiring to be a leader is to desire a noble task. It is a good work, and a great honour. But just having a desire to lead isn’t enough. So, what should we be looking for in our leaders?
From a Christian perspective, above our natural skills and abilities to do the jobs required of a leader, is what kind of person the leader is. Being kind, being a good communicator, is all very useful, but more importantly, we should be asking ‘Are they honest and trustworthy, do they put the community’s interests above their own, even when it’s of no benefit for them to do so. Are they hard working, clear minded public servants, or in it for their own ego?’ And what about their private life? There’s no such thing for a leader, for their whole life will come under the scrutiny of the media. Are they thought well of by those closest to them, how do they treat those around them when they disagree, and are they honest in all their dealings? These are the questions that reveal what type of leader they are and how well they will govern. Raw talent, on its own, is not enough. Character is the measure that reveals who we really are, especially when no-one else is looking.
Sunday 21st February 2021
If you’re a regular reader of the bible I’m sure there will have been times when you’ve read something that jars against your expectations of how things should be, or at least how you’d like them to be. And that’s entirely understandable, we live in a different age, the world has changed over the last 4000 years of bible history.
For us westernised Christians, it’s the letters of the apostles in the New Testament that seem to cause the most trouble, they clash against our cultural understanding and expectations of what’s right, fair, or wrong. It’s the task of those who teach the bible to get to the nub of what’s being said, and interpret the bible without losing any of its intended meaning for us today. Most of the time that’s no problem, but it isn’t always that easy especially when what we read challenges our cultural expectations.
When that happens it’s really important that we bear in mind two things: One is the cultural setting in which the letters were written… it’s very different from our own, and whether we realise it or not, we’re influenced by our own culture too, and not always for the better. The second thing is that when we come across bible verses that we find challenging, try and remember not to read them in isolation from the rest of the bible, because the wider application of what’s being taught may well be clarified elsewhere. We need to approach the difficult parts of the bible with a sense of humility, accept that we don’t know everything, and consider that our own culture may well have got a few things wrong! If we can do that, we may well be able to see things a bit more clearly.
Sunday 14th February 2021
Before the days of GPS satellite positioning everyone navigated via a compass, it was the most important instrument on any ship, it’s how sailors knew where they were and worked out where they should go. If the compass was broken or lost, they were in deep trouble. They could easily drift onto rocks or run into a reef and be shipwrecked. The compass, if I can call it that, for the Christian is the gospel handed down to us by the apostles, and the word of God that we have in our bible. Christian leaders have a duty to preach that gospel message, and no other, to teach the true and authentic word of God. We must not be swayed by the false teaching around us, but cling to the gospel.
But that’s only part of the good fight. Our lives must be consistent with the gospel too. Our deeds have to match our words. We’re to stand firm in our faith and have a good conscience, which can only come when we live faithfully to the gospel! The danger is that if we lose one, we lose the other. If we abandon sound teaching, it will soon show up in how we live. And if we don’t try to live as God desires, if we abandon our conscience and lose our moral compass, then our faith will end up shipwrecked, just as happened to sailors who lose their compass. So watch out! The only way we can stay on course, is to fight the good fight. To cling to the gospel with everything we have so that we don’t become lost, or shipwrecked.
Sunday 7th February 2021
Every now and then Hillary and I go through our kitchen cupboards for a bit of a clear out. Inevitably we come across odd tin of food that has gone past its expiry date, well past sometimes. Realising that we’ve been using some ingredient that expired a couple of years ago isn’t exactly the best feeling! Well, we haven’t died yet so it can’t have been that bad.
The other day I was bit surprised to find an expiry date on a packet of sea salt, you’d think wouldn’t you that, being salt, it will never go off. Seems like a bit of marketing mischief to me. But there are ways that salt can lose its saltiness. It can be diluted, by adding water to it, and the more you add, the less salty it tastes. Add too much and it’ll have no value as salt at all. Salt can be polluted too, by mixing other things into it, mix in too much and it’s really no longer salt, it might still look like it, but it’s now something else. Where am I going with this. Well, as followers of Jesus, we’re supposed to be the “salt of the earth” (Matt. 5:13), but our saltiness can be lost the same way as the salt in my cupboard. Our Christian lifestyle can be so watered down that we lose our distinctiveness. It happens when we stop going to church regularly, or when we stop reading our bible or praying. People look at us and can’t see that we’re any different to them. Or perhaps we slipped into believing things we’ve heard that are contrary to what the bible teaches, and our distinctive Christian identity has been lost due to pollution. The remedy of course is to stay salty – it’s what Jesus wants, so don’t let things into your life that will dilute or pollute your Christian faith.
Sunday 31st January 2021
Jesus often equated God’s relationship with us as being like sheep with their Shepherd. Apparently, one characteristic of sheep is that they don’t think about where they are going, they must be led. One the one hand this is a good thing as sheep have complete trust that their shepherd will never lead them into danger. However, that being the case, they could also be easily misled. Jesus said his sheep would know his voice and follow Him. But we can only do that if we actually listen to what that voice is saying instead of tuning it out and listening to the voices of others, ourselves, or for that matter the devil.
So how do we do that? Well, it is when we become familiar with God’s Word preserved for us in the bible that we’re able to clearly hear his voice. We learn to recognise the truth and apply it to our lives. If we don’t, if we fail to pay attention to what God is saying, to what he’s done and said, it will be all too easy to get caught up in the cultural influences and values around us and find ourselves conforming to a very different gospel than the one to which God called us and be led away from the Kingdom of God, not towards it.
Sunday 3rd January 2021
In 1995 one of the biggest songs of the year was “One of Us” by Joan Osborne. It’s a song of spiritual questioning, about conceiving God in a modern age, and it poses the question ’What if God was one of us?’ Now I’m not claiming that this song has any of the right answers, but it does ask an interesting question, kind of like the central question in all of history, and the answer to that question, if it were known, would do no less than change every conceivable aspect of life for people on planet earth.
The problem is most people today aren’t asking about the existence of God, at least not the God of the bible. But that’s not to say there’s not a lot of ‘belief’ around today, indeed there is, only it’s not necessarily belief in an all-powerful all-seeing God of the universe. Rather it’s a belief in ‘spirituality’, which may or may not involve a god of some sort. So, to answer Joan’s question… what if God was one of us, would we even recognise him? Well that’s another interesting question because, as Christians already know, God already has come among us and many then didn’t recognise him. What does that say about us? The fact is God came among us in Jesus Christ, and God is still willing to come among us, to take part in our human lives by his Holy Spirit. If, that is, we want him as part of our lives. What if God was one of us? Well it’s up to us whether he is or isn’t, isn’t it?
Sunday 27th December 2020
Well Christmas has come and gone, most of us gave and received gifts, and you may have even like some of them! Maybe you were also able to enjoy a family get-together, shared a meal, ate, drank, laughed and talked. I know we did, and it was all very nice. And for many people, that was all Christmas was, nothing more, nothing less. But all of that is really just the cultural side of Christmas. What did Christmas mean for you spiritually? Were you busy just entertaining and unwrapping gifts, or did you manage to consider for a moment what Christmas really means?
There are many people, you may have met one or two, who are quite satisfied with their lives, spiritual and otherwise, without the need for all that ‘religious’ stuff. Indeed some of them even soothe their consciences by volunteering once in a while at food bank or some other community project, or they help out at the annual city Mission Christmas Dinner. They may even say a prayer or two. So they think, maybe, just maybe, that will be enough to get them to heaven, or whatever form of after-life they believe in. After all, it’s better than what most of the other people they know do. Well I wouldn’t be so sure about that.
But I do know an easier way than trying to get there by doing good works and hoping for the best. It is simply to acknowledge what Jesus has done for you, and allow his Spirit to be born in your heart. To come to God in humble submission and allow his Holy Spirit to transform your life. The truth is, there’s no other way to get to heaven, salvation is only through the Messiah, Jesus Christ, the one who’s birthday the wold had just celebrated, even if they don’t really know him.
Christmas Day 2020
One of the things that Christians have become only too aware of in recent years is that for many people Jesus is no longer the focus of their Christmas. It’s all about the gifts we give each other, the food we eat, and spending time with the family. Jesus barely gets a mention, if at all. It seems that we’ve forgotten that Christmas is not primarily about us, our family, friends, church, or presents, but about Jesus. It’s easy, isn’t it, to get so wrapped up in the great present exchange and Christmas dinner, that we forget what it is we are supposed to be celebrating, the birth of the saviour of the world.
Christmas is being reinterpreted away from the idea of the birth of the Saviour of humanity, towards a time for the family, a time for sharing. There is a secularism which seems offended by our faith. Of course, they still like the idea of Christmas, just not what it means for our lives if we take it seriously. Christmas has become a celebration, not of Jesus, but of ourselves, one which is competing for the place in our hearts that should belong to the Son of God. But even without buying into the world’s ways, we can still forget what Christmas is all about by forgetting about Jesus, and the busier our lives are, the easier that is to do. Which is why we need to remind ourselves that Christmas means not only remembering the Saviour in the manger, but also the impact Jesus has had on our lives. We’re reminded that this baby grew up and went to the Cross to pay for our sins, that he rose again to give us a new life, and that he lives in our hearts today and brings us joy! Not only was Jesus born in Bethlehem, but by faith, and by his Spirit, he lives in every Christian’s heart. Now isn’t that a cause for celebration?
Sunday 20th December 2020 – Advent 4
Christmas is coming and we’ve been busy putting up our Christmas decorations at home. As well as the usual Christmas tree and so on, we have a nativity scene, it’s got all the usual characters, Mary, Joseph, baby Jesus, wise men, and shepherds, oh and a couple of camels too – not sure why they’re there, maybe they belong to the wise men. The story of the Nativity shows us that God reached out to ordinary people, even unsavoury shepherds, so they and everyone else, wouldn’t miss out on the best present ever. God still reaches out to each one of us afresh at Christmas, people who are just like the shepherds, ordinary people with a less than perfect past. It didn’t matter to God that they weren’t perfect, and it doesn’t today. God is a God who reaches out to us time and time again. Each time offering us a new opportunity to know more of the real Jesus in our lives, to experience an ongoing and deepening relationship with the creator of the universe, the God who became incarnate in Jesus Christ. The profound mystery of our faith which we celebrate on Christmas Day.
You see, Christmas isn’t just about family, presents, and stuffing ourselves ‘til we’re full-to-bursting, in fact it’s not about that at all! Christmas is an invitation to meet with God, to experience the real thing, the living power of God in our lives. Whether that’s for the first time, or for the hundred and first time, we can all meet with him afresh. Now that’s the best gift anyone can receive, at Christmas, or any other time of the year.
Sunday 13th December 2020 – Advent 3
As we approach Christmas it’s easy to get caught up in the rush of consumerism, searching for that elusive gift that we hope will bring happiness to those we care about. Now I loved Christmas as a child, what kid doesn’t, and over the years my parents gave me many great gifts. But the greatest gift I ever received wasn’t from my parents, but form God. The greatest gift I received was in February 1982, when I admitted my need for Jesus and was adopted into God’s family. And that wasn’t an easy thing for me to do. I wasn’t even looking for God, I was far more interested in my Norton Commando. But God pursued me never-the-less. You see, God loves us so much that he even pursued a sinner like me. And when he’d got my attention he called me to a life of obedience and faith in Christ, and gave me a job to do… so here I am.
You see, the greatest Christmas present we can give people is to introduce them to Jesus. After all, isn’t that what Christmas is supposed to be about, a gift of salvation simply received from God? And what a Christmas present that would be, to know that we have become a child of God. Perhaps it’s time to look past our gifts, and past ourselves as the givers, and towards the greater gift, Jesus Christ.
Sunday 6th December 2020 – Advent 2
2020 seems to have been a year of waiting; waiting for this Covid virus to end, waiting for the lockdowns to end, and now waiting for a vaccine to end it all… if only. But amidst all our waiting there’s this thing called Christmas Day, the day when we celebrate another long waited for event, the birth of someone who was destined to change the world forever, the birth of Jesus Christ, the Messiah. His birth was long hoped for, but when he came not many recognised him, he was not what they expected. No wonder God sent a messenger ahead of him to prepare us for his arrival, and even then, not many understood what God was doing. That messenger was John the Baptist.
Isn’t it interesting that the good news of God’s intervention into our lives to redeem us from sin and death, always starts with a messenger. Whether it is an angel whispering in Mary’s ear, or shepherds beholding the heavens open to proclaim the birth of God’s Son, or a skinny prophet standing waist deep in the Jordan river calling us to repent, God always seems to begin with a promise, spoken by a messenger.
John proclaimed that someone was coming, someone so spectacular that it was not enough simply to hang around waiting for him to arrive. He called upon the people to be honest with themselves, to step back from their daily routines and prepare their hearts to receive the one whom God was sending, who would redeem them from their sin, and offer them new life. He challenged them to repent, and embrace the Son of God. That same message calls out across the ages, to all humanity, ‘Come, the waiting is over, prepare your hearts to receive the Saviour of the world!
Sunday 29th November 2020 – Advent 1
This Sunday marks the beginning of Advent, the four Sundays prior to Christmas Day, and it’s all about watching and waiting. But while we usually associate Advent with Christmas, it’s also the time when Christians are encouraged to look to the future, to the time when Jesus will return once again to take his rightful place as Lord and King. So, what are we supposed to do while we wait? Well, sorry to disappoint you, but it doesn’t mean that we can all stand around with our hands in our pockets, hoping that one day Jesus is going to appear on a cloud and take us all away with him without us having to do anything.
Actually, I find it kind of ironic that we associate Advent with warm fuzzies and chocolate calendars in anticipation of Christmas Day, because it all it starts with Jesus giving his disciples terrifying warnings of disastrous and disturbing events. A quick read of chapter thirteen of Mark’s Gospel ought to shake us out of our cosy, comfortable, commercialised Christmas ideals.
That’s because Advent is not Christmas. It’s the time we encourage one another keep watch, keep alert, and remain faithful God’s word, as we await the coming of Jesus, not on Christmas Day, but at his coming among us for the second time, the day when he will judge the world. The fact that Jesus has warned us about what’s going to happen should give us real hope for our future. You see, Jesus doesn’t want his return to be a painful experience for anybody. He wants it to be joyful, just as it was the first time, and of course, as we will be when we celebrate his birth on Christmas Day. But in the meantime, as we watch and wait, we should live each day ready to meet Jesus face to face.
Sunday 22nd November 2020
Sometimes, our lives can be like a bunch of flowers. Flowers are lovely, who doesn’t like flowers, they not only look beautiful, they also have a great aroma, well most do! Sometimes though we can be like a bunch of artificial flowers. Now personally I don’t mind artificial flowers, mainly because they don’t demand anything from me. I don’t have to water them, I don’t have to fertilise them, and they don’t give me hay fever. I can just stick them in a vase and their beauty will last forever. They do however have a few shortcomings. They can’t reproduce, and they have no life or aroma of their own. Because they’re fakes. They look good but that’s about all. Real flowers, on the other hand, are far superior, especially when it comes to the pleasure they can give to others.
I have a question about flowers. If a plant doesn’t have flowers on it, is it still a rose or a geranium or whatever? Of course, it is isn’t it. That’s because the flower is just the fruit of a plant, the plant itself is the root, stem, branches and leaves. Even if there were no visible flowers on the plant, it would still be a rose, or whatever. But if it never produced a flower, what then? It’d be pulled up, cast aside and another planted in its place.
My point is this: Good deeds are the fruit of a Christian’s salvation, they’re not the root of our salvation, but they are the flower of a Christian’s faith, a reflection of our love for God. But, and here’s the difficult bit, if we’re not doing good deeds, if our lives aren’t producing the fruit which God expects of us, watch out!
Sunday 15h November 2020
I am unsettled, a bit a bit discombobulated at what I see happening in society. It seems our world is increasingly at odds with itself, especially here in the west. Division and discord abound, one word said out of place or to the wrong person invites the sort of abuse and denunciation that we would never have dreamt possible just a few short years ago. It isn’t nice. Some think that we need to change the way the world works, be more inclusive, create a fairer, kinder society. Sounds nice doesn’t it, quite noble in fact. However, from what I’m seeing on the news it would be a society built on demonising those who disagree, labelling them as deniers, haters and wreckers. They say they want ‘peace and prosperity for all’, but only it seems for those that agree with them. They mis the point.
Here’s the thing, there are those who wish us to be one big global family all with the same values and ideals, but it is an unattainable fallacy. Without difference our world would be a dull and unimaginative place to live. Christians should be clear; real peace and genuine hope for the world can only come when the call of God to humanity is heeded. God invites us to participate in making this peace and hope known on the earth, to offer true hope to a world which seems increasingly in conflict and determined to shatter itself apart with civil disruption and unrest, just look at what has been happening in the USA or Europe.
There’s a better way; honour the past and celebrate our differences, but also continue to look to the future for the hope which God alone can offer. Politics, diplomacy, even armed forces can be an important supporting element for peace, but true peace can only come when God is at the centre of all our efforts.
Sunday 8th November 2020
Jesus warns his disciples that if we really do want to be a part of God’s kingdom then we need to be ready when the time comes for him to return. Over and over again we hear him say “So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him” (Matthew 24:44). That’s not too difficult to understand, is it? Seems clear enough to me. But what does ‘be ready’ actually mean for us? Well for one thing it means that we mustn’t be complacent about putting into practice in our daily lives what God has said in his word. You see there’s a danger that we can become so familiar with the gospel that we fail to take it seriously anymore, it becomes part of our cultural memory but has no real impact on the way we live.
One of my concerns, even within the church, is the great moral disconnect between personal faith, and our behaviour. Some Christians seem to have lost their moral conscience, or at least lost the will to respond to it. The whole message of Jesus’ warnings to be ready had to do with remaining faithful to his word. Being ready meant actively living in faithfulness to God. It is more than just calling yourself a Christian and attending your local church. It’s a commitment to live a lifestyle that is honouring to God. The problem is that there are many people today who wear a sign saying they are a Christian, but they fail to deliver the goods. And then there’s the even greater tragedy of far too many churches who do not deliver on what the sign out front says. They do not teach what the bible says. They are, as Jesus says in another parable, ‘wolves in sheep’s clothing’, and will be left outside when the doors of God’s kingdom are closed. Sobering stuff!
Sunday 1st November 2020
What’s the one the one thing we all desire, regardless of our race, religion, where we live, or our social status? We all desire contentment, to be at peace with ourselves and the world around us. Everyone, the whole world in fact, longs for the time when we have no more worries or concerns about the future, either for ourselves or our loved ones. The only time I can remember feeling like that was when I was a small child. I hadn’t a worry in the world, I knew, had faith if you like, that my parents would always be there for me, that they would provide all that I needed to be happy, safe, and secure. And indeed, they were, and I was.
But as we grow up we become aware of the world around us, and eventually we realise that everything is not as it should be, or at least not as we’d like it to be. We find ourselves with a sense of lost innocence. That feeling we had of utter peace and contentment as a child is no longer there, whether we realise it or not, something is missing in our lives. And when the tough times come, as they inevitably do, making sense of it all, finding peace, is all the more difficult. Like Adam and Eve after the fall, our eyes have been opened to the harsh realities of a world which doesn’t know God. Attempts to recapture that sense of child-like contentment are elusive as we cannot return to being that small child, nor un-see what we have seen. However, those who choose to trust the one who created them know that God will see them through this life, no matter what it may throw at them. We may never be fully contented this side of heaven, but we need not be concerned or anxious about our future because we are safe in God’s hands.
Sunday 25th October 2020
We humans like to put each other into boxes, in our minds we sort people out into groups… those we like and those we don’t like, those like us and those not like us. We do it as much today as any other time in history. We’ve polarised society into factions of conservatives and liberals, right wing and left wing, rich and poor, victims and oppressors. And in our minds, we can justify all those boxes we put each other in. This is not the way of Jesus, though, not the way we’re supposed to be if we’re to call ourselves God’s children. Samuel Clements, better known as the writer Mark Twain, is supposed to have said something like this: “It’s not the bits of the bible that I don’t understand that bother me, but the bits I do understand” and Jesus’ command to love our neighbour as ourselves undoubtedly bothers some people!
You see, if we’re to take seriously the command to love God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, that sort of mindset simply isn’t open to us anymore. Jesus has shown us the way, he loved both those that came to him, and those that rejected him. Just because someone opposed him didn’t mean that Jesus wrote them off as a lost cause, redemption is always possible, even his own family initially thought he’d lost the plot but later came to worship him as Lord and Saviour, with one of them, James, even going on to lead the church in Jerusalem. Here’s the thing, we define ourselves by who and what we love, and our souls are enriched or diminished by the objects of our affection. As we learn more of what it is to love and be loved by God, the quality of the other relationships in our lives are inevitably be enriched and deepened as a result.
Sunday 18th October 2020
Politics and journalism, if there were ever two professions which deserve each other, I think it’s these two. You see, there’s a trend in modern journalism which I find quite disturbing, they seem to have taken a somewhat adversarial approach to their role. It’s almost as though they’ve set themselves up as judge, jury, and sometimes, executioner, seeing themselves as arbiters of the truth, as if they and they alone know what right and wrong and what’s good for us. And none more so than when they’re interviewing politicians. They like to set a trap for their unsuspecting guest to fall into, and when they do, they go for the jugular.
But there’s nothing new in this, it happened all the time to Jesus, people would try to trap him into saying something that they could use against him, especially the religious leaders, who saw him as a challenge to their authority and a threat to their way of life. And it’s in the way they lived their lives that Jesus had the most problems. Theirs was a life of rules and regulations rather than faith, head knowledge about rights and the wrongs, rather than enabling the people to come to know the heart of God. He was very clear that they repeatedly failed to acknowledge God in the way they lived their lives.
I wonder if we inadvertently do the same sort of thing. Come to think of it, we probably all have, dividing our lives into our God bit and our secular bit, worshipping God on Sundays without really paying God any attention the rest of the week. We
forget that God has a claim on us. In fact, each one of us is like a ‘coin of God’. He has stamped his divine image onto each of us, and that comes with responsibilities as we render our whole lives to God.
Sunday 11th October 2020
Have you ever told a lie to someone because you didn’t want to hurt them? I ask that because, sometimes, we say things, with the best of intentions, that aren’t actually truthful, or at least we don’t tell the whole truth, because we don’t want to lose a good friendship. Just think about it for a moment. Christians often talk about God’s love for all people, but at the same time we leave out the bits we think people might not like; the bits about sin, about repentance and the need to change our ways, and about the punishment that awaits those who reject Jesus. You see, the church is very eager to tell anyone who will listen that God loves them, which of course is true, but we also have a tendency to convey the impression that everything will be ok, that it doesn’t matter what you do because God loves everyone.
But that’s a half-truth, a lie in fact. Whilst it’s true to say that God does indeed love all people, it’s also true that God actually requires something in return for his love: our honesty about our own condition. Just imagine how painful it would be to be standing before God on the last day and suddenly realise that you’ve been lied to. Someone told you, a friend, perhaps even a family member, that you didn’t have to change, that you could come just as you are and it would be ok. But it wasn’t, and it isn’t. How would you feel if you were that person? You’d be angry, wouldn’t you? And how would you feel if someone you loved was condemned because of what you were too afraid to say? It’d be awful wouldn’t it? A life transformed by the gospel is special to God. So let’s allow ourselves to be transformed into his image as we tell others, not just about God’s love, but also about his power to change their lives for the better.
Sunday 4th October 2020
Promises, I expect we’ll be hearing a lot of those over the next few weeks. Politicians and electoral candidates will be making all sorts of promises, but as we’ve seen these last three years, promises, even worthy ones, are easier said than done. Of course, it happens at every election, but this time, something’s different, it just feels like we’re being asked not judge our politicians on their failure to deliver what they promised last time, but to judge them on their intentions. Well you know what they say don’t you: ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions.’ God save us from people who mean well!
But if we’re being honest here, there have also been times when we’ve made promises ourselves, and then, for reasons that seemed sensible to us at the time, failed to keep them. It starts with the simple things, perhaps you’ve even done something like this yourself, unintentionally of course. How many times have you said you’ll pray for someone, and then forgot to do it? Or what about this one: “If there’s anything you need, just give me a call…” That’s a kind of half-hearted offer, isn’t it? We say it because it sounds supportive, but doesn’t actually commit us to doing anything. None of us plan for this to happen, we just get tied up in the busyness of our own lives and, unintentionally, end up letting other’s down. The answer lies not in trying harder to keep our promises, but keeping our focus on the things that matter, which is our relationship with God through Jesus Christ, and our promise to be his disciples in the world.
Sunday 27th September 2020
Two thousand years ago, a handful of people turned the world upside down. How? Was it because they were especially smart? Well, there’s no evidence of that. Was it because they were powerful? No, because they were from the bottom rung of the social ladder. Was it because they were strategically placed? No, because they were Galileans, country bumpkins from the isolated far north of the country. They had such an impact on the world because they were totally dedicated to following Jesus. They’d given their lives to Jesus and he’d turned them into fishers of men. They’d made themselves vulnerable, let go of their traditions, and placed their lives in God’s hands.
Of course, it’s easier said than done isn’t it. It’s far easier to follow our familiar religious traditions than it is to trust God with our lives, and step out into the unknown. Don’t get me wrong, religious traditions are fine, but only when they serve the purposes of God. Perhaps we should remind ourselves that when we first came to Christ we did two things; We declared that Jesus is our Lord and Saviour, and we made a promise to be his people, to be his servants here on earth. But have we kept that promise? My guess is we probably all have times when we’ve said we’ll do something, but for some reason that seemed reasonable to us at the time, we failed to do it. We don’t like it when people fail to keep their promise to us, though do we. Well I don’t suppose that God appreciates it when we break our promise to him! I guess we can be thankful then that it’s never too late to do something about it.
Sunday 20th September 2020
For those of us who’ve been Christians for many years it’s tempting to see heaven as the place where those who have done well in this life are justly rewarded by a grateful God won over by our commitment and hard work for the gospel. Of course, in our more enlightened moments we know that not how the Kingdom of God works. Indeed, whether we’ve been a Christians all our lives or accepted Jesus on our death bed, we’re all shown the same Grace and Mercy from God, and when in heaven, we will all enjoy the promised feast that we haven’t earned.
You see, it’s human nature to want to think that we are in some way better than some other person or group, that God loves us more because we have earned it by serving him all our lives. We may even unconsciously have this expectation that some people will be treated better by God than others when they reach the pearly gates. However, God is not in the business of showing favouritism. God’s grace and mercy are freely given to all. We serve a generous and loving God, one who opens his arms of mercy to the least expected of people.
So let’s be careful not to be judgemental or envious of others. Should we one day in heaven meet those we once thought of as our enemies remember that what we too have received from God something that we did not deserve, or could ever have earned. Eternal life with God is given freely to anyone who turns to God in repentance and faith, no matter when they came to believe.
Sunday 13th September 2020
Forgiveness is a wonderful thing, isn’t it? After all, we all like it when someone forgives us don’t we! Actually, I think forgiveness is rather tricky. You see, it seems to me that everyone loves the idea forgiveness, until, that is, they need to forgive someone themselves. Then it’s not so easy, because forgiveness actually requires us to love one another, even our enemies, those who have wronged us, and that, we find, is hard to do.
The good news is that we ourselves have been forgiven, by God and probably by those around us as well! But, and here’s the tricky bit, it also includes the noisy neighbours next door, and the young man with his noisy car with the lowered suspension doing burnouts in your street late at night. I’m not so sure we like that idea though, do we, not when we think about how they have affected our lives. We can be very selective when it comes to forgiveness, can’t we. The thing about forgiveness is that it begins with God, and God works in us and through us as he enables us forgive others. But we have to be prepared to open that door and let him in for that to happen. I know it’s hard, there was a time when I felt deeply wounded by false accusations against me, and it took good a few years, more than I care to recall, to learn what forgiveness in that case looked like in practice. You see, forgiveness doesn’t erase accountability, it doesn’t just let someone off the hook for what they’ve done, it’s about understanding that we’re all inherently flawed, and that there’s always the possibility of transformation and redemption through Jesus. And that, I think, is something we can all be very grateful for.
Sunday 6th September 2020
God, it seems, has a funny way of catching us unawares. I’ve been in ministry, either training for it or ministering in various parishes, for twenty years, and I still find myself being surprised by God’s amazing faithfulness and love. When I first went to Bible College I thought I already knew a fair bit about the bible and about God’s will for his church, but the more I learnt, the more I realised how little I know. Even today I find that God is far more gracious and kind than I ever imagined.
The thing is, we like to think we have God all figured out, that we know how God wants us to live and act and trusts us to just get on with our lives and do the right thing. On one level that’s true, God does indeed leave us to make our own decisions in life, but not completely on our own. Our problem is that we think we know God so well we, in effect, put God in a box of our own understanding in the belief we’ve got it all figured out. And that’s a problem. God, of course, will have none of it, hence he can catch us unawares as he does something in our lives that causes us to stumble over our own presumption. In doing so God gently leads us back to himself, his Holy Spirit prompting and guiding us to the only place where we can learn the truth about ourselves, and find comfort and strength to live our lives in grateful thanks for what he’s done for us through his one and only Son, Jesus Christ.
So next time you think you’ve got God all figured out, just remind yourself that God is far greater than any of us could ever imagine, and no human, however great, can ever fully comprehend his awesome majesty.
Sunday 30th August 2020
Jesus once said ‘If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it.’ (Matthew 16:24-25). This is one of those often-misunderstood sayings of Jesus. We tend to think of denying ourselves and taking up our cross as either one of the following: Some people liken it to denying ourselves the good things in life, like some monk or spiritual hermit living in a cave somewhere, or at least keeping themselves separate, living in some remote community, very much apart from the world around them. While others liken taking up our cross as some physical or spiritual burden that they must bear, or some suffering they must go through to show their love for God. You’ll be pleased to know that both of those are wrong.
What Jesus means, and what he wants from his disciples, is for us to deny ourselves… by putting aside our own dreams and ambitions in life, so that we are free to ‘take up our cross and follow him’, that is, to live for Jesus and not ourselves, serving his purposes in our world, not our own, and allowing his Holy Spirit to minister to the world through us.
You see, the Christian life is a life of devoted service to the glory of God. When we live for God, we do so as people who still interact and enjoy the world around us, but also as people who have the knowledge of who Jesus is, and the love that God has for the world. Essentially, Jesus is saying if you want to live your life as you wish, you will lose it. But if put aside your life to focus on what God wants you to do, you will find what true life really is.
Sunday 23 August 2020
Odd as it may seem, the events which surrounded Jesus ministry occurred at a time that wasn’t much different from today. It was a time of many competing ideologies and religions, where any prospective believer had to think about what was important, make their minds up, and decide who this Jesus really was. So, I ask you, isn’t that the context in which we find ourselves, today? There are still many competing religious movements all vying for our attention, even within the church! We may have made our minds up, but the people whom we live and work alongside are faced with multitude religious choices. And some of them are earnestly searching for religious faith or meaning for their lives. So, there’s a decision that has to be made, amongst all the different religious voices we hear we still have to decide who is this Jesus.
This is the root of our identity as Christians, to know who Jesus is, is vital. It’s not enough to believe that he was very important, or to believe that he was like other religious leaders, or even to believe he was a great religious teacher. When the apostle Peter declared: “You are the Messiah”, he was saying what has to be said for us to be called Christian. To be Christian means believing, among other things, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, the Saviour of the world. Anything else, anything less, might seem religious, but it isn’t Christian.
Sunday 16th August 2020
I’ve been thinking about the way we live our lives and how what we do is seen by others. If we do good things people generally think well of us don’t they, and if you’re a Christian they might even say you’re ‘holy’. But what does that really mean, to be ‘holy’, and what constitutes ‘true holiness’? This is important because it affects who can be admitted to God’s kingdom. It would be a mistake to think of holiness as merely our efforts to stick to rules and regulations, doing good deeds, or dutifully turning up at church each Sunday, thinking that’s enough, that’s what the Pharisees did and look how it went for them… not well! No, God looks at our hearts, which can both betray what we really think about other people, and reveal our true devotion to God’s will for our lives.
The conclusion I’ve come to is this. Holiness isn’t strict observance of the law, or in our case church rituals, our holiness is revealed in how we walk about others and seen in what we pray for, much more than any good deeds we might do. If that’s the case then maybe we should all take a look at our own wants and desires and consider if they really match up with what God wants our lives.
Sunday 9th August 2020
Asking someone to come to church with us can be rather daunting, especially if we’re not in that habit of doing so. I’ve been giving this some thought this week and I was reminded of the phrase ‘If you want to walk on water you have to get out of the boat’. I guess we all know what that means… that we’ll never likely achieve anything unless leave the comfort and security of the familiar. Occasionally though great things are achieved when people are brave enough to do the seemingly impossible. Like in Matthew’s gospel where the apostle Peter walks on the water. Thank goodness we have Jesus to help us.
Just as Jesus called Peter to leave the safety of the boat and try something new, something he never imagined possible, he calls us to step out of the comfort and security of our church setting and become involved in the lives of those around us, walking with them through their trials and tribulations, offering our friendship, prayers and support, just as much as we would for our church family, and yes, inviting them to church with us. The waters may not be calm, indeed they may even feel like we’re in a storm, but we are not alone. We may not be able to physically walk on water, but if we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus we will be safe, even as we leave the security of the boat.
Sunday 2nd August 2020
There’s a bit of debate at the moment about whether NZ citizens returning home from abroad should pay for their government enforced quarantine. This has got me thinking because, as Christians, our actions will be judged against how God responds to those in need, and that is, with compassion. This raises a further question; how should Christians respond to those in need generally, especially those around us. We tend to want governments and institutions to deal with them. And we are right, governments should address the big issues of education, care for the sick, elderly, refugees, the homeless, and financially struggling families.
But we can do something too, and I’m not talking about just volunteering our time for a worthy cause. There’s something that everyone needs, even the powerful and wealthy of this world. And that is to know Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord. It’s a need that we often overlook as we help others, because we don’t want to be accused of having ulterior motives. Sad but true. We also easily overlook that Jesus didn’t just have compassion for people because of their physical needs, which were many, his compassion was driven by their spiritual need to receive the bread of life from him. He is the bread of heaven that never runs out and which sustains us for all eternity. Christian compassion holds those two needs, the physical and the spiritual, together. Perhaps we should bear that in mind next time we’re feeling good about helping someone in need.
Sunday 26th July 2020
You know, most people in our world don’t recognise the treasure that is often right before their eyes, especially those of us who live in the west. I think it’s fair to say that, even though we’ve had the benefit of a Christian heritage, the vast majority of people have not got their priorities right. In fact, they’ve got all sorts of excuses as to why they don’t want to come to church. After all, how many times have you heard someone say that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. In part that may be true, but for most people it’s just an excuse, because I guarantee they’re not at home on a Sunday morning praying or reading their bible by themselves. And almost certainly they are not involved in serving God. No, what they’ve done is make a choice: They’ve decided that other things are more important than having a relationship with God and his people. They’re free to do that, of course, but when they do, they inevitably make that choice for their families too. Their choice has an effect which rebounds down the generations. You see, when parents stop going church their children stop going to church, then they in turn don’t take their children to church.
So that today we have a generation of people that have not had any contact with Christian teaching whatsoever, and that means no spiritual grounding in their lives, and no moral compass to guide them. That’s where we are as a country, with people largely adrift, with no spiritual anchor to inform their ethical, moral and life decisions. Is it any wonder our country is in such a mess?
Sunday 19th July 2020
One of the things about God that every human being that has ever lived can be eternally grateful for, is that God is full of grace, mercy, and abounding in love. He is also patient and kind, something that we are often not! There are times when we’re frustrated with the way things are, times when we want God to act more quickly to address the evil and suffering in the world or perhaps punish some person we have deemed to have wronged us in some way. There are certainly times when we want God to do things our way, to rescue us from our problems, or heal our loved ones. But here’s the thing, God is so committed to the world he created, that he’s given us all, even those we think are too far gone, time to accept his loving gift of salvation. And they can’t do that if we cut them off, ignore, or worse, persecute them. One look at the cross shows us the depth of God’s love and commitment for a people that spurned and rejected him time and time again. For a few short days it seemed that evil had triumphed over good, but the cross showed the world that God’s goodness triumphs over evil.
Our job is not to sit here in judgement of others, because if we did that none of us would be able stand. But to spend our time nourishing our spiritual lives, connecting with God through prayer and the reading of scripture, talking to those who wish to hear it about what God has done in our lives, and being encouraged by the good things which we see God doing in our world. It is there, we just have to choose to see it.
Sunday 12th July 2020
There’s a time and a season for everything isn’t there. No, I’m not talking about the weather, I’m talking about how our world changes around us, sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes for the worst, but change it does, and sometimes unexpectedly. The thing is, when change comes we have to think how we’re going to respond in the Christ like manner that God expects of us. For that we have to be prepared. But if we haven’t paid enough attention to feeding our spiritual lives, through the reading of God’s word, through developing a prayerful relationship with our heavenly father, and through regular fellowship with other Christians, what hope have we got of responding to whatever it is God might be calling us to do?
You see, as any decent gardener knows, like good soil, we need to feed and nurture our spiritual lives so that we’re ready to receive what God might plant in our hearts to do for the building up of his kingdom. We need to be prepared, because when God sows the seeds of change, we need to be ready to respond appropriately. So, are you ready for any changes that might come your way?
Sunday 5th July 2020
Kindness is a bit of a buzzword these days, and the kindest person you will ever meet is Jesus Christ, he said some of the kindest in the whole Bible. In fact, in the old 1662 service we call them the ‘comfortable words’. He said: Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30).
Now I’m guessing most of us carry a burden of some kind or other, because life can be hard at times. In that case, Jesus speaks these words to all of us. But if we choose to ignore him and live without God in our lives, seeking strength in all manner of other places, then we’ll be disappointed. Searching after fulfilment elsewhere, even in worthy causes like environmentalism or social justice, without Jesus to help and guide us, will only burden our hearts and souls even more.
Only Jesus promises to share our burdens. He offers his help, not so that we can live a life of ease, but so that we can further his kingdom in a life of service, by living life his way. If we decide to take him up on his offer then we will indeed, as the old service says, find it comfortable for our souls, we will find that walking with him will bring the peace and fulfilment that we yearn for deep down inside.
Sunday 28th June 2020
You know, the more I understand what Jesus came to do, the more I realise that our lives are truly not our own. And the more I realise what the bible means when it says we have ‘been bought with a price’, that we are indeed God’s servants, that he is our master… with all that that entails, the more I realise how woefully short of that mark we often come.
So let me ask you, how much of your life is Jesus really Lord of? Are you holding onto some small part of it to call your own? How about your bank account, what governs your spending there? And what about the good works that you do, are your motives pure, or are they done out of a desire to appear better than you really are? Is Jesus really Lord of your whole life?
The message of Christianity is not just that we can be ‘saved’, but that we can be transformed. We do not have to be a slave to our desires and weaknesses. Through the power of the Holy Spirit we can be made new. We are not just forgiven people, we are transformed people who are being made into the image of Christ. Neither are we perfect people, but we are growing in our ability to understand the kind of life God wants us to live and the ability to live it. And we can not only be transformed, we can be used by God for his purposes — and that’s exciting, isn’t it?
Sunday 21st June 2020
O to be wealthy. I’m sure there’s not a single one of us who hasn’t dreamt at some time or other of being rich. It’d solve a lot of things wouldn’t it. You’d be able to have all you want AND be able to be generous to others. Because that’s what we do, isn’t it? We think of ourselves before others, and give out of what we have left. So why would it be any different if you suddenly had a lot of money? Because I guarantee you this; it doesn’t matter how much you’ve got, you’ll inevitably convince yourself that you need more stuff in your life. Ok, that’s a bit provocative, but I think it holds true. You see, no matter how good our intentions are, we naturally default back to what we usually do, and that isn’t something that’s going to change overnight.
So, how should we manage our money, what’s the proper response to what God has blessed us with? Because, for Christians, wealth comes with a responsibility to manage our money in a godly way, learning to be content with what we already have. No one wants to be poor, but poor by whose standards? We in New Zealand certainly aren’t poor by world standards. What we can all do is learn what it means to demonstrate a generous heart, what it means to be a joyful giver. As God has given generously to us out of his abundance, we can give generously to others out of ours.
Sunday 14th June 2020
As I’ve come to understand it, the Christian life is about hearing and understanding the word of God, and then living out that reality in our lives. And just as Jesus sent out his disciples into the harvest fields, we too are challenged and encouraged to step into the world around us, so that we can put God’s words into action. I guess the question on all our minds right now is this: Where is my harvest field? And what might Jesus be asking me to do?
It’s at this point that Satan wants to deceive us with negative thoughts about our own abilities, he makes us fearful that God wants us to do something we think we could never do, and it’s a lie that’s continually whispered into our ears. But here’s the thing, the disciples couldn’t do what Jesus asked them to do either, it was the Holy Spirit working through them. They could only do what they did because they had a living relationship with Jesus. And that’s where it all starts for us.
So, the answer is actually easier than you might think. Depending on your gifts and abilities, or even your age, God might be calling you to do just one thing, like praying for others, or he might be calling you to help your neighbour in some practical way, and yes, God may even be calling you to talk to those you meet about Jesus. For all of us, though, it starts with having that close relationship with God through prayer and the reading of the scriptures, that we might know God, and ourselves, better. Then, on only then, can we productively look out for, encourage, and support one another, and go out into the harvest fields around us.
Sunday 7th June 2020
This week churches all over the world will be celebrating Trinity Sunday, the day when ministers will attempt to explain to their congregations one of the deepest mysteries of the nature of God, that there is only one God, made up of Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Now if that sounds rather contradictory to you, don’t worry, you’re not alone, it is indeed a difficult thing for us mere mortals to understand.
It might seem strange then that our gospel reading for Trinity Sunday comes from the final words in Matthew’s gospel where, after giving the disciples the great commission to go and make disciples, Jesus declares: ‘And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’ But bear with me for a moment, this is an indication that God is indeed a Holy Trinity. You see, if Jesus is with us now, with us in our struggles and worries, amidst the confusion in our church and society, then he is with us in his Holy Spirit, that was the promise which Jesus made to us.
Trinity Sunday invites us think about God more deeply, that God the Father, and God the Son, have come to be with us in God the Holy Spirit, to strengthen and encourage us as we take up Jesus’ great commission. What an incredible thing that is. Now I don’t think we will ever fully understand the full extent of God nature as a Holy Trinity, but what I do know is that God loves us, and has called us to be his children, to do his will, making disciples as we go on our way, so that we may all know the one true God, as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen
Sunday 31st May 2020
We’re finishing off a sermon series on the life of Moses at church this Sunday, and while writing my sermon I came across this quote from Robert Woodruff, a former head of Coca-Cola, it’s quite enlightening I think:
“There is no limit to what a person can do or how far they can go if they don’t mind who gets the credit.”
That kind of sums Moses up, doesn’t it? Moses never wanted to be a leader, he was quite happy minding his own business shepherding sheep in Midian, then God came knocking on his door.
What made Moses such a great leader was his willingness to serve, despite own desire for the quieter life of a shepherd and his awareness of his own shortcomings and failings. You see, God sees all of a person’s life, not just the edited highlights, not just our mistakes, but the whole sum of a person’s character. There’s also the fact that he was teachable. A willingness to serve & and a teachable spirit, that’s what God is looking for in all of us.
So, we might well ask ourselves ‘How teachable am I, really?’ You may well have your dreams and aspirations, you probably do! But are you willing to set aside what you desire, whether that’s to keep a low profile and aim for the easy life or be a leader in the church or your field of work, and instead serve God in whatever way He calls you to? Are you really willing to serve in a role not of your choosing? That’s what Moses did, and look what happened!
Sunday 24th May 2020
Tell me, who of us have never gotten angry at someone for what they’ve done? Answer… none of us! So, before we sit in judgment on anyone else, remember that we all have that same potential to get angry, the only difference is in the way we control it.
One of the things I love about the bible is the way it never tries to sugar coat the truth. The picture we get of biblical heroes is warts and all, not one of them was perfect… and neither are we. Even the great Moses was a man prone to losing his cool. In fact, it’s clear that he never did get his anger completely under control. And that should give us hope. If a man like Moses struggled with frustration and anger, then we don’t need to feel so bad if we struggle with it too.
On the other hand, when we see the consequences of Moses’ uncontrolled anger, it ought to warn us to keep working on controlling our issues. You see, although our acts of disobedience can be forgiven, there may still be a price to pay, just as God forgave Moses for his sin but didn’t remove its earthly consequences. In that single moment of anger at the rock of Meribah, Moses forfeited his right to lead Israel into the Promised Land. The sad fact is, we cannot go back and undo what we’ve done. None of us can. We cannot undo sinful deeds or unsay sinful words. We cannot reclaim those moments when we were in a fit rage, or lust, or indifference, or pride. Like Moses, we can be forgiven for those sins, but we may still have to live with their earthly consequences. Despite all that, consequences and all, I am still so grateful that my sins are indeed forgiven. It inspires me to desire to walk much closer with God, to keep short accounts with Him as I lean on the Holy Spirit to guard my heart. Aren’t you?
Sunday 17th May 2020
There’s a saying that we seem to love, it’s ‘Majority rules’. Whilst we love the fact that everyone can have their say, we also hold to the notion, even if just tacitly, that the majority must be right. That’s kind of how western democracies seem to work as well; we have an election, we cast our vote, and the one with the most vote wins, unless you have MMP as your form of government, in which case Winston Peters wins.
It’s a bit like that in the church too; we have AGM’s to elect parish councils or vestries, and synods reps, all of which in turn make decisions by voting. The majority rules, that’s how democracy works. But what happens the majority are wrong? Some people, despite all the evidence that says otherwise, think they know best just because the majority agrees with them.
Talking of people who think they know best, the Israelites never really seemed to learn from their mistakes did they. They survived enforced slavery and desert wanderings only to reject new opportunities in the Promised Land… because they listened to the voice of the majority.
When they heard the report of the twelve spies sent by Moses to go and explore the Promised Land, they wept, sulked and complained… again. But the majority were wrong. Only two of the twelve spies – Caleb and Joshua – stood firm on God’s promises and lived to enter the Promised Land.
Sometimes the right thing to do is to go against the grain and take the minority position, to withstand unhealthy and negative peer pressure, public opinion and powerful people. You see, in God’s economy, majority doesn’t rule, God does. What we need to do, just as the Israelites needed to do, but didn’t, is to trust God.
Sunday 10th May 2020
It’s easy to be an armchair critic isn’t it, especially of the government, and especially at times like these. But, to be fair, these are unprecedented times, and we’re not the ones having our every decision scrutinised in the media are we. So, it’s kind of predictable that they’ll make mistakes. It’s equally predictable that the keyboard warriors on social media will hammer them for it. Because you can’t please everybody can you.
The fact is, if you don’t want any criticism in life, all you’ve got to do is ‘say nothing, do nothing, and be nothing’. But you can’t do that if you want to serve God, can you. You see, there’s a consequence, a price to pay if you like, of stepping out in faith… and that is that you paint a big fat target on your back for Satan and his minions to take pot-shots at you, and he will use all and every means to discourage you, even those closest to you.
The apostle Paul actually warns us about this in one of his letters to Timothy,
he wrote: …everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted… (2 Timothy 3:12). The apostle Peter also warned us that: …the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ And he urges us to: Resist him and, stand firm in the faith. (1 Peter 5:8-9)
But, we don’t have to fight that battle on our own. If we remain faithful to God and his word, and not respond to our detractors in kind, then, in the end, we will be vindicated. The God of heaven will always come to our aid. Remember what Jesus said: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.” (Luke 9:23-24)
So as you step out in faith remember this; no one ever said the godly life is easy, but it is eventful, and worth all the trouble and effort in the end!
Sunday 3rd May 2020
‘May you live in interesting times.’ Seems like it’s supposed to be a blessing doesn’t it, but it’s actually meant as a curse. It’s an ironic phrase. You see, life is supposed to be better in ‘uninteresting times’, because they’re the times of peace and prosperity. The ‘interesting times’ are those where trouble, fear, and pain seem to find us.
The Covid-19 virus has caused a great deal of fear and pain around the world hasn’t it. Our own government has introduced severe restrictions on our freedom of movement. Consequently, the economy has tanked and will likely take years to recover. Worse than that, people are beginning to lose their jobs and businesses. It might be well said then that we do indeed live in interesting times.
Of course, the government can do what they’ve done because they have the authority to do it. And most people will obey because they recognise the government’s authority to make the rules. They have both a respect for the rule of law, and fear the punishment that the government can impose on them. A healthy fear and respect for authority is especially true when it comes to God. While it’s common for us to emphasise God’s love and grace, how often do we talk about God’s holiness, justice and wrath? There’s a balance that needs to be struck between the two isn’t there. After all, God’s word says: “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge, but fools despise wisdom and instruction” (Proverbs – 1:7a). The trouble is, we can be far too casual in our approach to God.
Many contemporary ideas about who God is and what he’s like are too shallow. God is not some who merely loves us and comes running, ready to do our bidding when we need Him. Our God is holy, and is exalted above all things. He is the only wise God, the Creator, the sovereign Lord and Master. He tells us what to do, and we have no safe option but to obey. There is no alternative god, one made in our own image. We have but one directive, and that is to do His will. To be God’s people, then, means having a healthy dose of fear and respect for God and His Word, such that when we come to meet with God we do so with the right attitude and respect for the authority he holds over our lives.
Sunday 26th April 2020
How good are you when it comes to listening to advice or accepting help from others? Perhaps you’re a bit like me… I’m old enough to admit that sometimes I find it a bit of struggle. Of course, it works the other way too, some of us find it hard to ask for help in the first place.
Well I’ve been giving that a bit of thought this week, and I wonder if maybe it’s our pride that stops us, because no one wants to look like they don’t know what they’re are doing do they. Or is it that we don’t really trust the person offering to help us? That can be the case sometimes. Or maybe it’s that we don’t like the advice we’re being offered because we didn’t think of it ourselves… some people are like that.
The reality is that life can, and often is, complicated. And complicated lives need all the help they can get. For all of us, whatever we’re involved in, when someone we trust suggests that it is time to make a change we need to listen, and take it to God for confirmation. Solomon, the wise man of the Old Testament wrote: Listen to advice and accept instruction, and in the end you will be wise. (Proverbs 19:20). Regardless of our life or job situation, all of us can benefit from learning how to accept advice and share the load. May God bless us and help us as we try to learn these lessons and apply them to our lives.
Sunday 19th April 2020
“You know what… You’ve done nothing but complain ever since you got here?” If you’ve ever had that said about you then you’ll know how much a statement like that stings, nobody wants to be known as a complainer do they. Of course, there are always those who believe that their grumbling and complaining is completely justified, convinced as they are of their own moral or intellectual superiority. It’s human nature, isn’t it, to pass judgment on the actions of others. We’ve all done it, maybe you’re doing it right now, because we all think we know what’s best, well, best for ourselves anyway. After all, it’s not like any of us have made mistakes is it. Oh no, wait a minute, we have haven’t we.
So why do we do it? Why do we want to pull others down, or as we think, ‘put them in their place’? I think it all starts when we see a problem that either we think isn’t being dealt with quick enough, or it’s not being done the way we would do it, or its simply that we don’t trust the one making the decisions. Whatever our reasoning, we seem to manage to convince ourselves that any decision they make is bound to be the wrong one.
So, this week, let’s check our own attitude before we open our mouths about others – and ask ourselves; are we naturally inclined to grumble, or are we able to exercise a bit of humility? You see, the keys to facing our trials without grumbling and complaining lay in our being humble enough to admit that we don’t know all the answers, put our trust in God that He knows what He’s doing, and show our gratitude through our praise and thanksgiving when we come through it.
Sunday 12th April – Easter Sunday
Easter Sunday… What’s it all about? I ask that because, from my observation at least, Easter seems to have become just another public holiday to enjoy, a 4-day weekend of fun and no work, all chocolate bunnies and Easter eggs. As for the real meaning of Easter… well it’s just another story we don’t believe in or understand, if that is, we’ve even heard the story in the first place. It seems to me the world, at least the western world, has collective amnesia. In turning from an empty tomb to an Easter egg as our symbol of hope we have forgotten what a marvellous thing God has done for us. The symbol of the Cross and the empty tomb? That’s just been replaced by the Easter bunny. The real meaning of Easter seems to have escaped us.
I wonder, though, if it were possible to recapture it, to retell the story to a world which doesn’t seem to want to hear it, what would we say? How would you explain the meaning of Easter, the death of one man for the sins of the whole world, the resurrection of the dead, to a world where those are completely alien concepts. Might I suggest that that the first step is to understand Easter for ourselves.
For Christians, Easter Sunday announces the very real possibility of unimaginable joy of being right with God. The resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, alone in all the acts of God, holds the promise of life after death for those that put their faith in him! It brings the hope of a better life, the possibility of being able to know and enjoy a deep relationship with the creator of the universe. And who wouldn’t want that?
Today, millions of people around the world will be celebrating the fact that some 2000 years ago, on a cool Sunday morning in a small, politically turbulent country in the eastern Mediterranean, one man, Jesus of Nazareth, was raised from the dead. So, if Easter means anything, it means Jesus Christ really is Lord, he really is the Saviour of the world. He alone has authority over life, over death, and over salvation. And because of that, the word was changed forever.
Friday 10th April 2020 – Good Friday
Why on earth do we call Good Friday, ‘good’? It seems a bit daft to call something ‘good’ when to all apparent evidence it seems dreadfully bad. This was the day that saw Jesus betrayed and nailed to a cross, after all. What do you see when think of Good Friday, do you see a man, the Son of God, the Saviour simply dying on a cross for the sins of the world? Or do you see Jesus Christ dying on the cross for you — specifically for you – because he loves you? Dying for your sins, for your forgiveness, for your life.
The apostle Paul wrote: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8). ‘While we were still sinners…’ Even without obeying him, without us loving him, Jesus still gave up his life for us… because he cared about us; he valued us and showed us his love… while – we – were – still – sinners.
Good Friday is not supposed to be a day of celebration, but of mourning, not just over the death of Jesus, but for the sins of the world that his death represents. Yet, although it’s is a solemn time, it is not without its own joy. Because, while it is important to place the Resurrection against the darkness of Good Friday, the sombreness of Good Friday should always be seen with the hope of Resurrection on Easter Sunday. What we know as Good Friday was not a good day for Jesus, in purely human terms it was a manifestly bad one. It was a day of betrayal, beatings, violence, rejection, pain, loneliness, and death. Make no mistake, it was a bad day.
We all experience bad days and times of trouble at some point in life, and being a follower of Christ does not exempt us from those trials. We are called to take up our cross, meaning that we too will suffer. But on the cross, Jesus left us an example to follow that will help us deal with the bad days, because we too need to realise that we also need to be able to say: “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they’re doing.” (Luke 23:34)
Sunday 5th April 2020 – Palm Sunday
Easter is fast approaching. Everyone knows what Easter is all about, well most do… ok some do… those who go to church perhaps. Less people know about Palm Sunday, the Sunday before Easter. It tells the story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey for the Jewish Passover festival the week before he was crucified. The crowds who followed Jesus into the city were fed up with being oppressed by the Romans, they desperately wanted something to happen. They even looked for God to help them. Then along comes Jesus, their Messiah. Only he wasn’t what they were expecting, he didn’t do what they expected him to do, and they didn’t get the answer they wanted.
Given our current circumstances coping with a worldwide pandemic, I suspect that we too would like Jesus to ride into our world and sort things out. But usually it’s the more ordinary things in life that trouble us, like paying our bills, healing for our sick families and friends, or help with our physical or emotional pain. We want God to help us, and we usually want it all sorted by tomorrow!
The irony is that God does answer those prayers, just as He answered the prayers of the crowd when he provided them with a messiah. The people wanted a Messiah and a Messiah came, but they didn’t recognise Him. The people wanted to be rescued from evil powers that oppressed them, and Jesus did just that. But He didn’t do it in the way they expected.
This story of Jesus riding into Jerusalem on a donkey wonderfully illustrates the mismatch between our human expectations and prayers… and God’s answers. The crowd were actually disappointed in Jesus, He wasn’t what they wanted, a fact proved so publicly on Good Friday when they all called for him to be crucified. But as the reality of Christ’s mission unfolded over the next few days, weeks, months and years, they would realise that their prayers had been answered, and that their praise on that first Palm Sunday was indeed justified, but not for the reasons they expected.
Sunday 29th March 2020
We really are living through some very strange times aren’t we. Maybe you’re feeling a bit cornered, up against the wall, caught between a rock and a hard place. Maybe your anxiety levels are rising and you’re feeling it’s all a bit too much. If that’s you, then do not despair, know that you are under God’s guidance and protection through this time. God has much to teach us; About community, about connecting to each other, and about what it means for us to surrender our lives into His care, as He leads us through our enforced isolation from one another.
Remember during the Exodus, when the Israelites found themselves boxed in and facing being run down by the Egyptian army? Well their journey to the Red Sea was just as much a part of God’s plan as crossing it. We must do what Moses commanded the Israelites: “Don’t be afraid. Stand firm and you will see the deliverance the LORD will bring you today” (Ex. 14:13). And we must remember that God is bigger than the most desperate of situations. He can make a way where there seems to be no way. God is able, in fact more than able, to redeem us from any situation. Our job is to trust God – to keep our eyes on the Lord. So ‘Don’t be afraid. Stand still. Keep quiet. Watch the Lord work!’ To God be the glory!
Sunday 22nd March 2020
This week we received the news that due to the CoVid-19 virus Bishop Jay and the Standing committee of the diocese of CCA have had to make the decision to cease all public worship from Monday 23rd March, and to cease Holy Communion with immediate effect. This it something that all the denominations in NZ have agreed to do.
This decision obviously makes today the last time we can gather together until we are informed otherwise by the Diocese. But that doesn’t mean we stop meeting altogether. Parish council will work to ensure that some form of small gatherings can take place on Sundays, and an audio recording of the sermon will continue to be available on our website www.allsaintschch.org for those who want it. Homegroups will also continue as normal until we are instructed otherwise by the diocese. That’s a lot to take in isn’t it? I realise also that not everyone will agree with this decision, but that is out of our control. Some may also be anxious about the medical impact of the virus, or concerned about the financial impact of all this, that is very understandable… So in this time of anxiety and uncertainty, let’s not forget one another, especially those who live alone. Keep in contact, pray with and for each other, in person or over the phone. And let’s not forget to whom we belong, God will be with us through this difficult time.
Sunday 15th March 2020
God has told us that He is a jealous God, and as such, will not tolerate us putting other gods before Him. We are called to serve the LORD, first and foremost, and to not allow anyone or anything to become a rival in our lives. Looking back at the history of God’s people and it’s easy to see that God didn’t tolerate the idolatry of Egypt or any of the other nations surrounding Israel indefinitely, nor did He tolerate the idolatry of Israel, and He definitely won’t tolerate it in us either. So, ask yourself this question: ‘Do I have an idol in my life right now? Is there anything that I place on a pedestal that I give higher priority to than Jesus Christ? Is there anything more important to me than my service to him?’
The thing is, if we are not careful, we can be serving the god of recreation and entertainment, or the god of family, putting the wishes of parents, mates, or children ahead of God. If we are not careful, we can be serving the god of finances and worldly possessions, or the god of pleasure… If we’re not careful.
We live in a very tempting and seductive world, one where there are many gods we can be serving, but only one God we should be serving. So know this… God does not take pleasure in correcting his children any more than you or I do when we have to discipline our own children. But God loves us too much to allow us to remain in sin and He will bring judgment whenever necessary to bring us back into obedience to His will… while there is still time to repent.
Sunday 8th March 2020
Have you ever had one of those days that went from bad to worse? I’m sure we all have at some time or other. They’re the sort of day when nothing seems to go right. You wake up late for work one morning, rush to the bathroom, have a shave and cut yourself. You put on your shoes and the shoelace snaps. You miss breakfast, rush out to the car and it won’t start, so you make a dash for the bus just in time to see it go sailing past you stop.
You know the kind of day I’m talking about don’t you. We all have days like that, maybe not all those things at once, but days when nothing goes our way. It’s how we deal with them that shows whether we’ve learnt from our past experiences.
But we’re not alone in having bad days. In one sense, Jesus last day was a bad day, the apostle Paul had them, Jonah, certainly had them, and so did Moses. So, when our days go from bad to worse, as they sometimes do, we must turn to God and trust Him. Our dependence on God in the midst of our ‘bad day’ will lead to patience, which will lead to wisdom and maturity. We all want to grow up, but we want to do so without experiencing any growing pains, but that is not possible. So, fasten your seat belts, the ride is often turbulent, but the destination is worth it.
Sunday 1st March 2020
When someone asks you to do something, what’s your first reaction? Is it, ‘Oh yes, I’d love to help’, or does your mind immediately default to the many excuses why you can’t help? Some of them may even be valid, but sometimes doing the right thing is being prepared to be inconvenienced.
Let’s be honest, we’re all quite good at making excuses, we have excuses for just about everything; why we missed school or work, why we’re late, why we didn’t pay our bills on time, why we went off our diet or new exercise plan, and for why we haven’t been in touch with friends. We also have excuses regarding spiritual matters too. We have excuses for why we’ve been missing church, we don’t give more of our time or money to the work of the gospel, or why don’t pray or read our bibles at home. Most of our excuses though aren’t very good ones.
The thing is, God doesn’t want to hear excuses, He’d rather hear our confessions and resolutions. God wants to see genuine repentance and faithfulness in our lives, a willingness to serve Him and His purposes. He’s not without compassion though, he doesn’t write us off at our first failure, in fact he gives us time to come around to his point of view. The reality is that all of us are called by God; into a saving relationship with him, to become godly servants. What he calls us to do will be different for each one of us, based upon our different experiences. But we are all called to serve in one way or another. So let’s allow God to help us overcome our reluctance and our excuses so that we can become God’s faithful followers and servants in the church.