To Do or just to Speak, that is the Question!

It feels to me like there has been an increase in the ‘show your support by pasting this’ type of Facebook posts recently. The idea is that is you either share or copy and paste the status in order to show your support for people who are depressed, terminally ill or whatever the particular issue is.

I was thinking about this today and it occurred to me that people who are struggling would probably rather have real and heartfelt support as opposed to lots of people saying they feel supportive but who don’t do anything about it.

It’s easy to speak up and to say we feel we ought to be helping people but it is something entirely different to actually help them.

So, rather than posting to say you are supportive of someone who is depressed, why not find someone who is depressed and give them some of your time. Please don’t do this in a condescending way, just simply give people your time, by listening to and being with them.

When we speak on behalf of the stressed, the struggling and the marginalized, do we do so with the expectation that we also need to do something or do we do it to motivate others so that hopefully we won’t have to do anything?

The Bible says: 14 What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?15 Suppose you see a brother or sister who has no food or clothing,16 and you say, “Good-bye and have a good day; stay warm and eat well”—but then you don’t give that person any food or clothing. What good does that do?17 So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless.
18 Now someone may argue, “Some people have faith; others have good deeds.” But I say, “How can you show me your faith if you don’t have good deeds? I will show you my faith by my good deeds.” (James 2)

If we just speak and never do when it comes to social action then we are not following Jesus in the way that he intends.

Can you imagine if God had posted a Facebook status saying he really loves the world for two hours rather than sending Jesus and that he had been satisfied with that? If he had, we would be lost and far from God but instead God took action and demonstrated his love for us through his son Jesus.

Next time you see a ‘post this to support …’ status, I would encourage you to pray for the people involved and to also pray for the opportunity to show love to someone facing the issues being highlighted.

To Do or just to Speak, that is the Question!

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Shall we be Friends (Part 2)

If you missed it, you can quickly read the first part of this short parable here.

Bill sat in his hotel room feeling lousy. He hadn’t talked to Pete for 3 years and life just wasn’t the same any more.

At first, he hadn’t noticed the difference because work had been so busy that it had demanded all of his attention. He traveled around the world negotiating and closing deals, but lately, even the thrill of winning a contract had gone. Bill was plodding through life and he knew that there was something missing.

As he thought about what was wrong, Bill realized that he missed the purpose, fulfillment, strength and guidance that he had found in his friendship with Pete. He still remembered Pete’s final words to him: “Call me anytime you like, I’m always available to talk to you.”

When Bill had got a new phone, he hadn’t given Pete the number. It had been so long since they had talked and he felt too embarrassed to call, he wasn’t even sure what he would say and he knew he had really let his friend down.

As Bill sat there feeling depressed  he found a card with a website address on it which had been left by the ‘Dingoes’ organisation. (Bill thought that this was quite a strange name and he decided that one day he would have to rearrange the letters to come up with something better).

The address was http://www.PetesWord.net and as he opened it on his phone it and began to read he was astonished by what he found. All of the things that Pete had said to him were written down plus there was some new information there as well. As he read, long into the night he was reminded about Pete’s love for every human being. Eventually he couldn’t help himself, he picked up the phone and called Pete.

He blurted out “Hi, Pete, it’s Bill here” and then came the reply he had been hoping for, “I’ve missed you Bill”.

They talked for hours and Bill was completely overwhelmed by Pete’s love and acceptance for him and that night marked a new start in his life. Accessing, reading and obeying Pete’s Word became a regular and important part of his life as did talking with Pete several times a day. Bill had felt lost and alone but now he was found and he was so grateful!

 

“Everything in the Scriptures is God’s word. All of it is useful for teaching and helping people and for correcting them and showing them how to live.” (2 Tim 3.16).

Do we believe that reading the Bible can be life changing? If we do, then how much time will we make to read it and to talk with Jesus about what we find within it?

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Shall we be Friends?

Bill had always found it difficult to make friends, especially at school. He didn’t feel very clever and he wasn’t even good at sport, he felt like a nobody and it seemed like everyone treated him that way.

Life had been incredibly lonely for Bill but all that had changed when Pete joined the school and soon they became the very best of friends.

Pete’s  father had sent him to the Bill’s home town to attend the school. Despite their separation, Bill soon noticed the special bond that Pete and his father had and the way that they often talked on the phone several times a day.

Shortly after he had arrived, a video recording from Pete’s dad  saying how proud and pleased that he was with his son was played in an assembly. It provoked quite a reaction from the other students, after all people pupils were only ever honored in an assembly if they had achieved or had done something special. In contrast, this message from the father spoke of love and being pleased with his son simply because that is show the Father felt about his son and he wanted everyone to know it.

Bill was intrigued by the special relationship that Pete had with his father! Pete seemed to draw acceptance, security, strength, guidance and a purpose from his father and Bill noticed that all of these elements were also found by him in his friendship with Pete.

Pete and Bill were inseparable, they learnt together, they laughed together, they shared hopes and dreams and they even talked about the things that were worrying them.

When they left school, Bill went to work in an office while Pete continued to spend his time befriending people – he didn’t get paid for it but his father always seemed to ensure that he had enough to live on. They continued to meet up and speak each day and Bill was grateful for the fulfillment in life that he had found through their friendship.

Several months later, Pete told Bill that he was going home to his father and that one day Bill could come and live with them, but that it wasn’t time yet.

When Pete left they stayed in touch by phone (in much the same way as Pete and his father had done). It seemed strange at first but while they talked regularly, Bill felt that Pete was still with him and so their friendship continued.

A few weeks later, work was so busy that Bill forgot to phone Pete. His mobile phone had rung several times and although he could see it was Pete, he really didn’t have time to answer and in the end he switched it off as it was distracting him. Bill phoned the next day and apologized to Pete who said that it was okay and that he was always available anytime that his friend wanted to call him.

Sadly that was just the start! Bill got complacent about contacting Pete and he was so busy that he often didn’t switch on his phone for days. Bill rarely phones Pete now which is sad because Pete is always ready and waiting to talk with him.

Is there anyone that we should call?

We may say that we follow Jesus, but how much do we talk with him?

Do we need to deepen our relationship with him by speaking with him more than we currently do?

Want to know what happens next? Click here to read part 2

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Is growing as Disciple of Jesus more like learning to ride a bike or to drive a car?

I currently have a daughter learning to ride a bike and a son learning to drive.

My daughter is 8 and was on the bike riding happily along in no time.

My son is 17 and he has had several lessons but he is not ready to take his test yet.

Learning to ride a bike is fairly instinctive and most people who have a good sense of balance will find this easy.

Learning to drive a car is fairly complicated and takes time. Obviously the mechanics of making it move are easily learnt but then there is how to drive safely on roads, learning the Highway code and finding how to interact with other road users.

So here is the question that I am wrestling with:

Is growing as Disciple of Jesus more like learning to ride a bike or to drive a car?

I have always had a very simple view of discipleship which at its most basic involves reading the gospels and trying to follow Jesus by doing what he says and by following his example.

It is also true though that there are parts of the Christian faith and how it relates to life that can be confusing and unclear. For example, I don’t think there is a clear answer to ‘which party should Christians vote for in the UK general election?’

As we disciple one another, I wonder how we get the balance between simplicity and providing the deeper information that we all need to wrestle with various life issues?

Should we address these two sides of discipleship as equals or with different levels of emphasis?

I have always tended towards the riding a bike metaphor by emphasizing doing and living what we see plainly in the Bible. Jesus said that we should love God and love one another and that these are the two greatest or most important commandments and that all of the rest of the law and the prophets hang on these. If we can do these two things well, then we will instinctively cover a lot of the rest of Biblical truth that hangs or that follows on from these.

Perhaps though the learning to drive is a better metaphor? After all, Jesus discipled people by talking and sharing life with them as they drove wandered around together. They talked on the way and he showed them how to live as his disciples in a similar way to a driving instructor teaching a learner. A driving instructor has brakes and a clutch on their side and they can reach the steering wheel but they need to use these things less and less as their students become competent. The disciples watched Jesus talk about God and minister to people and then he sent them out without him to have a go. Like learning to drive, maturing as a disciple of Jesus takes time!

Should discipleship be instinctive and simple or does it require a detailed approach with a test at the end before we let new Christian take off their spiritual L plates?

I’m not sure that this question has a straightforward answer unless the answer is ‘elements of both’! I do believe though that if we neglect the basics to focus on something deeper then we are not living as disciples of Jesus.

The first few verses of 1 Corinthians 13 explains this well:

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

All of the things in this passage are things Christians should aspire to but if we don’t have love then we have missed the point. Christianity isn’t a practical faith that is given to be lived. Discipleship is about so much more than what we know, it is about how we love Jesus by living in a way that is honourable to him as a our Lord and Saviour.

I think the place I currently am regarding the issue of simple or complex discipleship is that it can and should include anything that helps us to love and to follow Jesus more effectively. Discipleship should start with the things that are central to our relationship with Jesus and spread out to look at other areas as our faith develops. Hebrews 5 explains this well:

11 There is much more we would like to say about this, but it is difficult to explain, especially since you are spiritually dull and don’t seem to listen.12 You have been believers so long now that you ought to be teaching others. Instead, you need someone to teach you again the basic things about God’s word. You are like babies who need milk and cannot eat solid food. 13 For someone who lives on milk is still an infant and doesn’t know how to do what is right. 14 Solid food is for those who are mature, who through training have the skill to recognize the difference between right and wrong.

The sign of spiritual maturity is to be able to feed yourself and others spiritually as well as to recognize the difference between right and wrong. It is interesting to note that their immaturity wasn’t to do with not knowing enough, rather it was about them not living out the basics of God’s word.

What does discipleship mean to you?

Do you think that it is more like learning to ride a bike or to drive a car?

Perhaps you can think of an alternative metaphor?

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You don’t want to read that!

I was talking with a Minister recently who was preparing a Sermon on a very well known passage from the gospel of Luke.

They mentioned they were reading a commentary for background information and my instinctive reaction was to say ‘you don’t want to read that’ (that’s the commentary, not the Bible!)

Although this wasn’t the passage, it might be helpful to consider as an example how background reading could help prepare a sermon on the parable of the lost coin from Luke 15:

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Won’t she light a lamp and sweep the entire house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she will call in her friends and neighbors and say, ‘Rejoice with me because I have found my lost coin.’ 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”

The Bible says that a silver coin is lost and the person works hard to find it even though she has 9 other coins. The passage even explains the meaning of the parable, that when the coin is found she rejoices and in the same way there is real joy in heaven when one person turns to God.

You could argue that two pieces of background information help us understand this parable:

The coin was a drachma which was the approximate equivalent to a full days wage

Jews were supposed to give a tithe or or tenth of their income: the amount that was lost was the amount that the person should be freely giving to God.

Neither of these points are essential to understanding the parable and the point it is making, the text tells us the coin is silver which sounds expensive and if I have £100 I could probably live without £10 if I lost it.

Used in the right way though, these two pieces of information do enhance the explanation In contrast to this, an explanation of the different types of currencies available in 1st Century Israel isn’t going to help you to understand the point and will in fact draw attention away from the main point.

The main piece of background information you wold need in covering this passage is found in v1-2 of the chapter. Jesus told this and other stories in response to criticism that he was associating with sinners and so we need to understand that the three parables that follow are him explaining why he is mixing with people who seem far from God.

It worries me that we have theological colleges which are producing Ministers to present well researched information rather than the straightforward meaning of a Bible passage. I do think that it is possible to do both and I hope that comes across in my sermons but in my view the emphasis should always be on the simple straightforward meaning of what the Bible is saying where that meaning is plain in the passage.

Our world is in desperate need of people who can share the good news in passionate and creative ways. There is joy over sinners who repent, not over people who have an in depth knowledge of Bible history.

I think that it can be helpful to read commentaries for Sermons, but I pick and choose which Bible passages and themes that I read around the most.

My biggest concern though is not what we read or how we prepare but how we present information.

Most people who come to church aren’t academic and we need to make sure that we present the truth of the Bible in as straightforward and as a creative way as possible.

The crowds flocked to Jesus because the was saying something profound and life changing in an understandable way.

May God help us to see that our priority is to share the good news about Jesus and what it means to be his disciple in as simple and as accessible a way as possible. If using a commentary helps us to do this then that is great but let’s make sure that we keep the main thing the main thing!

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I don’t remember reading this bit before

On Good Friday, some of us gathered to read through the Bible account of the days and hours leading up to and including Jesus’ death.

We read a section together, paused to reflect on what we had read and then there was space for anyone to say anything if they wanted to.

During the comments a few people said something like:

I don’t remember reading this bit before.

This makes you wonder if we really read the whole Bible with enough time and space to take it in? I’m sure that every Christian reads the Bible and we might also hear it read in church but what we are not always so good at is stopping to think about what we have read and to let it sink in. Sermons are often the worst examples of this, where we fling a large amount of information at people, sing a closing song and end the service.

For those of us who preach and lead in church, we need to consider how we build reflective space in to the teaching elements of the service so that we can help people to learn.

Do we try to read the whole Bible over time or do we repeatedly just read our favourite bits?

Do we know what the Bible says about who Jesus is or do we just assume that we know who he is? Do people seriously think he is just nice and pleasant as this cartoon suggests?

Finally, how can we give ourselves the space we need to consider what we are reading in the Bible? What would work for you, being silent, writing notes, being creative eg drawing or painting, discussing with others or perhaps something else?

Any thoughts? How can we read and digest the Bible in a more effective way? Please comment below with any suggestions.

Of course, another way of looking at this is that something new leaps out at us every time we read a Bible passage and for this we thank God.

 

 

 

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Are we Living like Easter Saturday Believers in an Easter Sunday World?

Cleopas and his friend trudged along the road towards Emmaus trying to process what had happened. They had been so sure that Jesus was the Messiah but now he was dead.

If Jesus was the Messiah, he appeared to be a broken and defeated one!

As they walked along in disbelief trying to make sense of the everything that they had witnessed a stranger approached them and started walking with them. He asked them what the matter was and they told about of the death of Jesus. They told him of their hurt and pain that they were feeling about what had happened and of the confusion and disappointment that was filling their every waking moment.

Finally the confessed their deepest and darkest secret:

Some women went to the tomb early this morning but didn’t find the body of Jesus. They came and told us that they had seen a vision of angels, who said he was alive.  Then some of our companions went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said, but they did not see Jesus. (Luke 24.22-24)

These disciples had heard a rumour that Jesus was alive but instead of finding out more, they were walking away from the only place where the truth could be found.

We can only guess what their motivation was in leaving Jerusalem. Perhaps they simply had responsibilities in Emmaus or possibly their disappointment and hurt ran so deep that they couldn’t face getting their hopes up only to be dashed again?

The stranger began to explain to them that Messiah had to suffer and die and as he talked, the brokenness that these men felt seemed to melt away. It was replaced by awe and they began to feel excited as they understood that Jesus had died to save them and that he hadn’t failed at all!

Jesus was the Messiah and his suffering and death had been a key part of rather than the end of his mission.

As they arrived at Emmaus, Cleopas and his friend invited the stranger to stay and later as they shared a meal together he broke the bread and in that moment they saw that he was Jesus. (The Bible passage in Luke 24 says that God had kept them from recognizing Jesus until that moment).

One of the things that struck me as I was thinking about this journey to Emmaus was the way that these men were living like it was still Easter Saturday when in fact it was Easter Sunday and Jesus was alive again.

How about you?

As you look honestly at your life and faith, does it feel more like you have an Easter Saturday or Sunday faith?

On Easter Saturday it looked like God was powerless and it felt like the powers of evil had won.

On Easter Sunday it was clear that God is more powerful than anything else and that he had won!

Sometimes, Christians and churches are stuck in an Easter Saturday mindset. Prayers are offered but there is no real expectation that the God, who feels incredibly far away, will act in power.

The good news is that Jesus wants to walk with us through life!

Jesus promises to be with his followers but we have to ask ourselves whether we want to be with him? When we do acknowledge that he is with us, do we talk with him or just at him?

Cleopas and his friend talked at Jesus. They poured out their hearts to him about everything they were feeling but then they listened as he spoke to them. If they had just talked at him rather than with him then they would have continued in their brokenness and hurt and nothing would have changed.

Caravaggio painted two works based on the supper at Emmaus. This is the later one that he created towards the end of his life. Both paintings are almost identical in terms of the characters. Jesus, the two disciples and a kind of innkeeper figure appear in both of the paintings. The one difference is the servant girl who is listening in. Some people think that this was Caravaggio’s way of representing himself in his painting, that he felt like an outsider listening in wondering if Jesus would talk with him and accept him as well.

Jesus was heading past Emmaus but Cleopas and his friend invited him to stay and Jesus did.

Whether you are Cleopas, Caravaggio, a servant girl or someone else, if you invite Jesus to stay then he will!

Cleopas and his friend were walking in the wrong direction! They were heading away from God’s plan for their life but Jesus still followed them and walked with them!

You may be heading the wrong way like Cleopas but Jesus will still come and walk with you. As he does will we welcome and talk with him?

We may be past Easter Sunday but Jesus is still alive and he is willing to walk and talk with us. How will this affect the way you live today?

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They hoped they could move the Stone but what they Found was so much Greater!

A few days after his death, Mary and her friends went to Jesus’ tomb to embalm his body. As they got closer they began to wonder how they would move the large stone that was blocking the entrance.

We can only imagine the bizarre mix of emotions that they felt as they approached and saw that the stone had been moved. The brief joy that the stone had been moved would ahev been eclipsed by worry, shock and surprise as they found that the tomb was empty. Their despair at the loss of the body of Jesus was soon overwhelmed with Joy (and plenty of confusion!) as they realized that Jesus was alive.

The large stone couldn’t be moved easily by people but for God it was easy!

What are the things you are finding difficult? Do you have the faith to believe that God is greater than those sitautaions?

God had raised Jesus from the dead which was way, way, way beyond the expectations of the people who had come to the tomb that morning!

What are the things that you have decided are impossible? Do you have the faith to believe that God is greater than them and that he can do all things?

The women who went to the tomb 2000 years ago, left shocked and surprised and my hope and prayer is that God would continue to shock and surprise us today.

God really is stronger and greater that anyone or anything else and he can still do more that we might ask or think.

If you are interested in finding out more about the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection then you might like to look at the other posts I have written about Holy week.

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Don’t forget in the Dark what you have seen in the Light

It had been less than 24 hours since they had watched their friend, mentor and lord die in agony and the disciples couldn’t believe that Jesus had failed!

The agonizing and humiliating death of Jesus filled and consumed their thoughts leaving them feeling numb, desolate, disappointed, confused and alone!

They had thought Jesus was the Messiah but now he was dead and buried they assumed that he couldn’t have been! Their hopes were dashed and their lives were in pieces.

Jesus had told his disciples that he would rise from the dead but in the midst of the roller coaster of circumstances and emotions that they were on, this had got lost and was not in their thinking.

Whilst it looked to the disciples like Jesus had failed, they were soon be reminded that he had in fact won his greatest victory as he defeated death and sin through his sacrifice on the cross and his resurrection from the dead.

Sometimes it feels like we are living in an Easter Saturday world!

We believe that God is good, loving and all powerful but when we watch the news, it can be so full of evil and despair that it can leave us wondering where God is and why he isn’t fixing things in the way that we would try to?

Do you ever feel like God is failing?

Do you ever feel like God has lost control of the world?

As I have been reflecting on this I remembered a prophecy that was given to my father in law. God said to him:

‘Don’t forget in darkness what you have seen in the light’.

Have you ever been left in a pitch black room as the result of a power cut? As you consider where the nearest torch or box of matches is you also have to think about where the furniture and doors are around you.

Those things don’t cease to be there because you can’t see them!

When our lives and circumstances are full of light it’s easy to see who God is but in the darkness of an Easter Saturday experience, it is easy to forget God and what he has promised!

We need to continue to believe that God is still good and at work even when it doesn’t look that way from our limited perspective.

On Easter Saturday, Jesus was dead and buried. Everyone was certain it was all over but the next day Jesus rose from the dead and everything changed.

If you feel like you are living in dark times then rather than despairing, perhaps you need to pray to see more of God’s light. If as we pray, we don’t see more of his light then I hope we can still cling to the reality that the light of Jesus is still shining and that God is still good even if we can’t see it.

Jesus had promised to rise from the dead, but in the darkness of Easter Saturday the disciples had either forgotten or had lost faith in this promise.

May we look to the light and not be consumed by the darkness and may God increase our faith as we trust in him in this dark world.

If you would like to consider this some more you could try reading A light in the darkness or the light shines the brightest in the darkest of places.

If you are interested in finding out more about the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection then you might like to look at the other posts I have written about this.

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Jesus died to make it possible for Enemies of God to become his Friends

I was reading the part of the Easter story where Peter cuts off the ear of the High Priest’s slave. Usually this is a part of the account that gets missed out but as I thought about it, I began to see how clear a picture that what happened next is of what Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross.

This poor slave was a part of the group who were arresting Jesus and as a slave he almost certainly had no choice about being there. This makes it especially unfortunate that he was struck by Peter.

Can you imagine the headline if this happened today?

Church Leader Dismembers Man in Savage Attack?

Peter panicked and lashed out. He saw his friend, mentor and lord being arrested unfairly and so he attacked. It is fairly astonishing that Peter went on to become one of the key leaders in the early church despite having a record for GBH. Peter though, learnt a lesson that day and later in life when he was arrested he handled the situation very differently by choosing to speak about Jesus rather than by lashing out!

James Tissot [No restrictions or Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

What is more astonishing though is Jesus’ response.

Jesus reached out and healed the man.

As Jesus was being arrested and taken away, he healed the person who was with his enemies!

The moment is captured perfectly in this painting by James Tissot. Jesus is in chains and is being pulled forcefully in one direction whilst he stretches out in the other to heal.

Although Jesus was surrounded by hatred, his heart’s desire was to heal.

This act of grace is incredibly inspirational and challenging  all at the same time. Whilst we are in awe of the way Jesus behaves here, we also have to pause and ask whether we would be willing to heal and to bless our enemies even when they are trying to do us harm?

This picture of Jesus suffering whilst reaching out to heal is a reminder of why he died.

Jesus died to make it possible for Enemies of God to become his Friends.

The Bible says

Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. (Ephesians 2.13)

Jesus died to break the separation and enmity between humanity and God. He took the sin of the world on himself in order to give us the opportunity and the freedom to turn to God for ourselves.

Good Friday is Horrendous Friday for Jesus!

He suffered and died in agony and whilst this is very bad for him, it is really good for us as he removed the barrier of sin that separated us from God.

Good Friday reminds me why I follow Jesus. If he is God and he was willing to go through everything that he did to save a world that had rejected him then he is worthy of our admiration, worship and our everything.

Jesus is worthy of all these things but will we offer them to him?

If you are interested in finding out more about the events surrounding Jesus’ death and resurrection then you might like to look at the other posts I have written about this.

You might also find this song helpful if you want to reflect further.

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