The direction you are headed in is more important than where you are right now

Often we focus on where we are and what things are like now, but I wonder what life might be like if we thought more about where we are headed and who we are becoming?

Jesus called all sorts of people to follow him. He called people who Jewish society had labelled ‘sinners’ and he called people who were poor but he also called the rich and those who society had labelled ‘righteous’. Whether we are in a place of desperation or we are feeling secure, Jesus offers us a hope and a future.

When Jesus says ‘follow me’, he reminds us that the direction we are headed in is more important than where we are right now.

Graeme Ross

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Look to the Light: God is Constant in the Chaos

image of lighthouse and the words of Isaiah 40 v28

I have been thinking about how God is constant in the chaos, that He is always present and that His light is always shining, even in the darkest of places.

As a part of my reflecting on this, I have been dwelling on Isaiah 40 v28:

The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.

God is everlasting and he doesn’t grow tired of weary. My prayer is that as His light continues to shine, that we would talk with him more and more and become better reflectors of his glory.

You are welcome to use either of these images that I have created online or in church life. You do not need specific permission to do this, although a link to my blog is required. The square version is optimized for social media and the 16:9 version below is ideal for projecting and use in church services and sermons.

The background image I used to create these images is by Zetong Li on Unsplash

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Joseph’s Story: Learning to Look at Life through the Lens of God

Scene 1: A fictional encounter: Joseph has just found out that his fiancé Mary was pregnant, and he goes to speak to his friend Eliphaz.

Joseph in an angry and agitated state enters the room and SLAMS the door.

Joseph: You’re not going to believe what has happened!

Eliphaz: I just heard Joseph and I’m so sorry. That Mary is a right

Joseph (interrupting): Doesn’t Mary know how lucky she was to have me? I offered her a home and financial security! Who is going to take her in now? I can’t believe that this has happened, and I really can’t believe that God has let this happen to me! I’ve been his faithful servant all my life and I can’t even begin to put into words how much I feel let down by him!

Eliphaz: Mary is such a disgrace! A real embarrassment to her family! I mean, what was she thinking! She is going to get a shock when she stops and realizes how God sees her, I hope that he gives her exactly what she deserves for the choices she has made!  

Joseph: I can’t believe how stupid I was to believe that she was willing to be mine, my precious. I was so looking forward to life together with Mary, I wonder if …

Eliphaz (interrupting): You’ve got to break up with her Joseph. She is making you look a fool, and you need to make clear to everyone that your engagement has ended.

Joseph: God’s law makes clear that I can’t marry Mary, but it also calls us to be merciful and so I will try to end the engagement in a way that doesn’t involve her being publicly disgraced.

Eliphaz: Good look with that Joseph! Mary already is a disgrace; she’s clearly not fit to be one of God’s chosen people and I think you’ve had a really lucky escape here. I’ll get in touch with Bildad and Zophar and we’ll come around later. We really want to sympathize with and comfort you at this time.

Scene 2: Matthew 1.20-25

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”

All this took place to fulfil what the Lord had said through the prophet: “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel” (which means “God with us”).

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel of the Lord had commanded him and took Mary home as his wife. But he did not consummate their marriage until she gave birth to a son. And he gave him the name Jesus.

Joseph’s perspective was changed by the angel of the Lord.

Rather than looking at God through the lens of his life circumstances, Joseph began to see his life through the lens of God.

As Joseph began to see and accept what God was doing, his perspective changed, and he began to make different choices accordingly.

When life feels stressful and we are angry with people, will we pause, listen and try to seek God’s perspective?  Will we try to clarify the facts of a situation before we react to it?

The Christmas story is a traumatic one and understanding God’s perspective, meant that Mary and Joseph were able to endure the pain and rejection that they would have faced from their family and community. This would have helped to keep them going on the long road to Bethlehem, in the rejection of there being no room for them in a town where so many of their relatives lived and also in their terror filled escape to Egypt. God’s perspective made it easier for Mary and Joseph to persist in all that they went through.

Are you open to looking at your life through the lens of God?

God, help us to pause and to listen to you.
When we are angry and overwhelmed, we pray that you would give us your peace and remind us that we need space to seek your perspective.
May our lives continually be changed by encounters with you.

Amen.

Bonus Content: A special prize for anyone who can work out why Joseph’s friends are called Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar (Note that due to budgetary restrictions, the special prize is knowing that you worked it out and then, if you are able, you can pat yourself on the back!)

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Following Jesus can feel like a White Water Raft Ride

In this past year, things have changed massively in our lives and the lives of the churches we are a part of. Now that we have the opportunity, do we want to go back to how things were or are we willing to continue in any of the areas that we have learnt about? Will we follow and obey God even when things seem overwhelming and we want to turn back?

This video is a part of a series of short videos we produced for the Eastern Baptist Association week of prayer. At 3 minutes of less, they are designed to provoke thought and to inspire us to seek God for his leading.

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Where is your Focus?

These two photo’s were taken by the same camera, from the same angle of the same view but they are very different because of their focus.

Where is your focus?

In the picture on the left, everything is blurred in the background because the focus is on the mug and I wonder if this illustrates what fixing our eyes on Jesus means? That we are so focused on Him that the things of this world grow strangely dim? Perhaps, a better analogy would be that Jesus should be the filter through which we see the world, that as we focus on him then we can learn to more consistently see the world through his eye and then we can respond accordingly.

The image on the right illustrates what often happens, that we can be so focused on and overwhelmed by what is happening around us that we lose sight of Jesus. In these moments, we need to spend time refocusing on Jesus, calling him out of the corner and back into the centre of our vision.

Are we being Led by our Lord?

Over the past few years I have heard a number of people in different contexts use the phrase ‘it’s time to give Jesus his church back’. If you think that this phrase seems overly harsh because you have a deep desire that Jesus should be Lord of his Church in every way then I would encourage you to consider what your church report would look like if the Angel Gabriel turned up for an Ofsted Godsted inspection? I don’t think there would be many churches that wouldn’t have the recommendation that they need to fix their eyes on Jesus more consistently and I think that this is something that we should aspire to do more.

We are here to make disciples

At the start of the first lockdown we held a series of meetings in the Eastern Baptist Association on Zoom which asked what might God be saying to us. What we discerned together was that discipleship is about relationships more than it is about programmes and that God is continuing to call us to make disciples as part of our everyday living and by connecting with people beyond the church in new ways.

All of this will require us to focus on God as we listen to and rely on Him! As we emerge from lockdown into the new normal, my hope is that we will prioritise fulfilling and applying these principles that we have discerned together.

If you want to hear me talk about our focus and these pictures then you can watch this short clip:

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The Emotional Turmoil of Holy Week

Man person crying tears

Have you ever stopped to think of the emotional turmoil that Jesus went through in the week leading up to his death and resurrection? His anguish in Gethsemane gives us a glimpse into the level of emotions that were churning inside him and whilst people often explain this as being about the cross, we need to also realize that there were many things that happened that week that caused the son of God deep pain.

We all know about the fickleness of the crowd who shouted HOSANNA (save us) one day and CRUCIFY HIM a few days later but have you ever considered that both of these shouts were linked to the salvation of the world? Whilst Jesus knew that the cries of crucify were essential to God’s plan, this wouldn’t have made the words less painful as some of the people who he had come to save at such a high cost called for his execution!

At Easter, we often focus on the beginning and end of the events of Holy Week, we know about Palm Sunday and then Maundy Thursday onwards but what about the days in between? The gospel writers record several examples of the Pharisees and the Sadducees asking questions that were designed to trip Jesus up. Can you imagine Jesus’ frustration? That some of the people who he had come to save were behaving like spoilt children who didn’t want to share their toys. They were trying to hold on to their power by discrediting Jesus at the time when the son of God was continuing his incarnational trajectory of making  himself vulnerable and completing his mission through sacrifice rather than by power.

As Jesus was responding to these trick questions, he must have been aware of Judas drifting away. Judas who had longed for Jesus to start a revolution to remove the Romans spent those days drifting deeper into despair and disappointment with Jesus to the point where he began his shocking act of betrayal. Jesus had invested so much in him and his other disciples and we can’t imagine the depths of his disappointment that he felt during the betrayal and also during Peter’s denial.

During those days, Jesus tied to offer hope, he spoke of the end of time and of the offer of salvation. He tried to prepare the disciples for his death by sharing bread and wine with them but as he poured out his heart to them at that passover meal, the disciples responded by arguing amongst themselves about which of them was the greatest.

As Jesus prayed in anguish in Gethsemane, in his hour of need, his disciples fell asleep. At the very time that he needed them, Jesus was left feeling abandoned, isolated and alone! As he hung on the cross, this sense of aloneness culminated in his cry of ‘My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?’ If we take scripture seriously we know that nothing can separate us from God’s love and that God will never leave or forsake us. I personally don’t believe that Jesus was separated from God as he died (even though I have heard it preached, it doesn’t fit with my understanding of scripture) and I certainly don’t believe that God had forsaken his son. For me, Jesus’ cry reveals the depths of emotion and pain he felt like he was drowning in as he hung on he cross.

When you think about all of this emotional turmoil, it is astonishing that Jesus still chose the cross! All of these situations that he faced could of dragged him back and diverted him from his sacrifice but instead he went to the cross because of ‘the joy set before him’.

And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. (Hebrews 12.1b-3)

The joy of saving humanity helped Jesus to overcome and to see beyond the irritation and pain that people were causing him in those days leading up to his death.

This past year has been full of emotional turmoil for many of us and in the midst this, I hope we have found and will go on finding moments of pause to consider what the joy that is set before us is. What is the hope in our future? How are the sacrifices we are making going to bring hope and help to others?

Jesus chose to die so that we could live forever, he chose to give his life so that enemies of God could become his friends.

In our emotional turmoil and in the difficulties we face, may we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus so that we will not grow weary and lose heart.

If you would like to reflect more on the events of Holy week then I would suggest reading through the end of each of the gospels from Palm Sunday onward. You might also find these daily reflections I have written about the events of Holy Week helpful.

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Is Lent primarily about giving things up or giving more time to God? (Lent short reflection 1)

Lent is most commonly associated with giving things up but if that is all that it means to us then we may be missing the point.

This is the first in a series of short videos which can be used by churches and individuals during Lent. Each video will ask a question which relates to the Biblical accounts of Jesus in the wilderness.

Churches are welcome to download and use the video in their own services, each one will be less than three minutes long so they can easily be used in services alongside any theme they are exploring for Lent. You do not need to ask permission to do use or share the video but it is always encouraging to hear how the content we are producing is being used. You can also use share the video link with individuals or for small groups to use as a discussion starter.

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Are we Learning to Look to our Lord in Lockdown?

Philippians 4.8 Bible verse  with a background image of a person looking into the sunrise

So, let’s be honest, many of us are struggling! 2021 began with such hope, Covid vaccines were becoming available and the end to the pandemic appeared to be just around the corner and yet we find ourselves in lockdown again.

I was recently reading Philippians 4 and I was struck by how positive the chapter is, as Paul talks about rejoicing, peace and gentleness. As I read, I began to try to imagine how happy Paul’s life must have been to be able to write these things but then I remembered that Paul wrote the letter to the Philippians from prison.

Astonishingly, his lockdown experience didn’t leave him feeling defeated or deflated!

  • What can we learn from Paul and his focus and attitude in lockdown?
  • What does God have to say to us when times are hard and what does the presence of God mean when we feel isolated?
  • What is our focus in life and who or what are we looking to for stability and fulfillment in life?

I have recorded some thoughts about this and I hope you find them helpful, thought provoking and challenging. I would suggest that you read Philippians 4 v1-13 before watching to the video.

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What is it like to live as a black person in the UK?

If we want to take a stand against racism then we need to educate ourselves so we can have a better understanding. I am grateful to Keegan and his sister Dianah fo speaking about their experiences as black people living in Cambridge.

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Being Shaped by God: Some thoughts and questions to help explore Acts 6

We are living in a world where everything feels like it is constantly changing. In Acts 6, the early church faced up to some major issues and as they did so, God continued to shape them. Are we open to God shaping us, even when it is painful along the way?

I was asked to write this article to help a church explore the passage and having written it it felt worth sharing more widely. I hope that you will find these thoughts and questions helpful.

Reading Acts 6 

The Problem

The Hellenistic Jews (those who spoke Greek and who thought and behaved like Greeks) complained that their widows were being overlooked in the daily distribution of food by the Hebraic Jews (those who spoke Aramaic and who were immersed in the Hebrew culture). Whether this problem is an example of overt racism, where those distributing deliberately withheld food from a group, or whether it is an example of covert racism, where the withholding of food was to do with an unconscious bias within those distributing, is unclear. Jews and Greeks had always existed as opposites, but these first Christians were going to have to learn and accept that ‘There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus’ (Galatians 3.28).

What prejudices do we have and how do they affect the views that we have of those around us?

Time to bury your head in the sand or to grasp the nettle?

Churches are places which usually prefer to avoid conflict. In my experience, Christians often prefer to bury their heads in the sand rather than to grasp the nettle of a problem so that it can be dealt with even, though this would be painful along the way. Thankfully, the Apostles were willing to grasp the nettle which they did by gathering the disciples together and naming the issue. It is especially significant that there is no discussion about whether what was happening was right or wrong but rather they jumped to putting the injustice right. It is reassuring to be reminded that neither overt nor covert racism should have any place in the church!

Would we rather hide from conflict or face it in order to move forwards? How can we ensure that the church that we are a part of is a place where there is a willingness to talk about difficult issues and to seek God’s leading in moving through and being transformed by him in the process?

The solution: Correcting the injustice

It’s especially significant that each of the seven who were chosen had Greek names. The body of believers who consisted of both Hebraic and Hellenistic Jews chose seven who are Hellenistic rather than a combination of people from both cultures. In this wonderful moment of church unity and discernment, the Spirit guides the church to implement Galatians 3.28 before it had even been written. Until this point, the leadership of the Church consisted entirely of people from a Hebraic Jewish background and in this meeting, there is a realisation that an ethnically diverse church should have an ethnically diverse leadership. That those who had been treated unjustly should be part of the solution to correcting that injustice rather than still being excluded from the decision making.

Are there those who we have unconsciously excluded from positions of leadership based on their ethnicity, gender, or age? If so, how can we correct this?

The solution: The Body of Christ at work

The Apostles recognize that they cannot do everything and so they choose to stick with their core calling of explaining God’s word to people and to prayer whilst releasing others to serve the church by distributing the food. It’s worth noting that neither of these roles are seen as more or less important and in fact the church was only to consider people who were ‘full of the spirit and wisdom’ to distribute food. This is an early example of the different parts of the Body of Christ at work and a reminder that service in the body doesn’t always involve what happens in and around Sunday services. It’s also a reminder that the church should reject the consumerist culture that suggests that we pay a Minister to do everything, and that we come to church so that they can serve us like a paid employee. The passage is a reminder that we are all ministers but that the ministries that God calls us to will involve us serving in different ways.

What is my part in the Body of Christ?

Sometimes we need others to encourage us so that can see more clearly what our gifts and calling is. Is there someone in the church who you could encourage by telling them how they are a blessing through the way they use their gifts and talents to serve God?

The result: Growth

As an injustice is put right and more people are released into service rather than the same few running around doing everything, the church continued to grow (v7).

Are there things that are stopping the church from growing? How can we remove these barriers?

God at work

Stephen, who was one of the seven chosen to distribute the food, ‘performed great wonders and signs among the people’ (v8). We see the Holy Spirit at work in and through him to the point where his face was like the face of an angel (v15).

Are we open to God’s Holy Spirit working in and through us or do we believe that He only works through others?

God is the Potter

The Bible says that God is the potter and we are the clay but it feels to me like sometimes that Christians behave like they are the potter and that church life and even what Christianity is can be shaped by us. In response to this sort of attitude, God says to his people ‘You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to the one who formed it, “You did not make me”? Can the pot say to the potter, “You know nothing”? (Isaiah 29.16)

In Acts 6 we see God the Potter at work, shaping his church and the lives of his people. They act willingly and submissively like clay that is willing to be shaped by the master. How about us?

Are we willing to surrender completely by placing ourselves in God’s hands to be shaped knowing that the result will be of his choosing rather than ours?

Image by LuAnn Hunt from Pixabay 

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