Enlarging our tent

Luke 4:18-19
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.’
On Sunday we continued with our theme of enlarging our tent. A really encouraging look at what God is asking of us, to be open, spacious to see people outside the family of God move to being inside the family of God. Moving from observation to participation, from isolation to inclusion.
In doing this we looked at these verses from the Gospel of Luke where Jesus sits in front of his friends and family and says what you have been looking for is here. I am the one who has come to bring good news to the poor, to give sight to the blind to give freedom to prisoners and relief to the oppressed.
I am the one, he says, who is going to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.
We were reminded that for Israel this year of the Lord’s favour was one where debts were forgiven, and every 50th year peoples lands were returned to them. This was known as the year of jubilee where trumpets would sound and the dispossessed would get their inheritance back. It was a unique and beautiful series of laws to protect people from those who would oppress them. It never actually happened, the trumpets never sounded in the whole history of Israel. God plans of care and protection of the oppressed never came it never arrived – until now. Jesus says now it is available to you. Now and forever the impoverished the blind, the prisoner the oppressed (which literally means the crushed) are able to have the favour of the Lord. Jesus doesn’t talk simply i physical or economic terms, these metaphors of poverty, blindness, imprisonment and oppression, all spoke of people who are separated from God – but now we have the opportunity to be reconciled (to be brought back into relationship) to God. That’s the Lords favour. And we noticed that the message is a positive one. Jesus says this is what I will do – doesn’t talk of God’s vengeance or anger – he focusses on God’s love and grace. He says this is what God is for – he is for you, he is on your side.
If we are to see our tent stretched – the curtains opened then we need to focus on what God is for too – not what he against but what he is for.
This week if you have an opportunity to talk to someone about Jesus (and there will be opportunity) tell them about what Jesus is for – tell them Jesus is for them to bring them back to him and to shower them with his favour – a favour of sight, and riches of his inheritance and freedom.

Making the Tent Bigger

Isaiah 54:2 ‘Clear lots of ground for your tents! Make your tents large. Spread out! Think Big!’

On Sunday we looked at this passage from Isaiah and we looked at how it motivated a young man (William Carey) over two hundred years ago to step out for God, and in doing so he brought the light and the life and the love of Jesus to countless thousands, and his legacy of going and loving continues.

He believed in a Big God, a God who would equip him to do what others said he couldn’t. He accomplished far more than he could have imagined.

This God who said Make your tents big, is a God who is looking for his people to go into the world and share his good news. We’re not to hold it to ourselves. He is also the God who when he says go, will equip us with what we need to see the tent grow. He is a God who is faithful to his word and true to his promises.

William Carey looked at these verses in Isaiah and he knew that his God would go with him. These verses enabled him to expect great things from God and to attempt great things for God.

He went where it was uncomfortable. He went where there was a cost and obstacles. He went because he believed this is what God called him to do.

He attempted great things for God, because he expected great things from God.

Today what is God calling you to do? What has he equipped you to do? Have you asked him? Are you ready to serve him? How will you serve him? Do you know what gifts he has given you? Because he has gifted you.

God calls us to go into the world and make disciples. Are you praying asking God who he wants you to speak to? Ask him for an opportunity to share what God has done for you this week.

Lets spread the tent of ABC

You can serve God. You pray, you can give, you can go.

Next Sunday we will be doing our collection for Self Denial. Please bring along your waka and your monetary gifts.

God loves us and he wants us to tell others of his love.

Have a great week – have big expectations and share what God has done.

Pray

As we enter into our time of self denial, how truly awesome it is to be reminded of the privilege and the power of prayer.

We are all called to a ministry, the size of it doesn’t matter. This morning we looked at Elijah going to Zarephath. Sent by God to meet, to dwell with and to minister to poor woman and her son.

Elijah had been resting for a while by a brook, God told to to get up and move to a city in the country of his enemies. He went from a place of resting to a place of testing. In that place he learnt to rely more and more on God, and he saw God providing for him in powerful ways and he saw God use him through the power of prayer to bring life in the middle of death.
Are you in a place of testing now? Are you trusting God to provide for you, to surprise you, to move you to a new place.

The place of testing is God’s refinery, he is shaping you so that you will come out better than you were when you went in. God does not waste any experience.

Ask ourself what your relationship with God is like. Are you working at it, are you willing to be used by him. Is living for Jesus the defining cause in your life.

Does your heart reflect the heart of God. Are you praying for those who are suffering, are you believing in a compassionate God. Are you praying passionately for God to act, for his Spirit to descend in such a way, people will know something is happening.

Is there someone like the poor woman at Zarephath that God has brought you in to contact with for you to pray for, Is there someone who is dying for their lack of knowledge of the life giving gospel of Jesus that you have been given by God a responsibility to pray for?

Do you believe God will hear you and answer your prayers?

If we are serious about God been engaged in our world, we need to get serious about praying.

Elijah, after his period of testing went to a mountain and changed a nation. What can God to with you, if you are patient with him and dedicate yourself to prayer.

Bitterness

Hebrews 12.15 See to it that no one falls short of the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many.

Bitterness is destructive. As we read this verse from Hebrews we see this strong command to not all a bitter root to grow.

Bitter people are hurt people and that hurt can come about as a result of so many events and circumstances. We can be hurt by things people have said, by things people have done, and by things that have been taken from us.

We will not go through life without been hurt.

I know that I have held on to injustices (real and sometimes perceived), and how quickly doing so can lead to bitterness. Bitterness in turn has effects on us and on people around us. It can rob us of a sense our peace, the root of bitterness can take hold of our mind and we can’t seem to shake it.

As a result bitterness can affect us physically and emotionally. Sometimes we can’t hide it, it appears on our faces, and it affects the way we act. We become critical, we become angry, we become defensive, we become judgmental, it can cause us to build walls. We protect ourselves from hurt by not allowing people close to us.

The bitterness becomes a constant companion it has taken root. S.I. McMillen, in his book “None of these Diseases” said: “The moment I start hating a person I become that person’s slave. I can’t enjoy life…he controls my thoughts…I can’t escape his/her grasp on my mind. He or she may be many miles away, always in my mind.”

Bitterness leads to hatred.

How do we combat it? Derek Kidner writes that ‘An obsession with enemies and rivals cannot be simply switched off, but it can be ousted by a new focus…’

So what should that focus be? Look at what Paul wrote to the Ephesians in 3:17-19

“And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Let a different root take hold of you, the root of love. And as we do that learn that we are to forgive others as God has forgiven us.

Here are some practical steps.

1.Choose to live in the present and not the pastWe can’t change the past, but we can change how we will deal with it going into the future.

2.Choose to forgive those who have hurt you. We are called to forgive as God has forgiven us. Ask God to help in doing this.

3.Remember that in the injustice, God is present. God is the God of justice, and he cannot be unjust. As someone wrote, God is reoccupied with justice, he sent his son to the cross.

5.Choose not to retaliate. Vengeance is God’s business, not ours.

We need to remember that God is a sovereign God, and this means he is sovereign even over the evil things people do. Look again at the story of Joseph in Genesis and what he says in chapter 50. God will use even that evil act, that harmful word, that event that has robbed you of something to ultimately work out his plans for you. He will always work to accomplish what is for your best. Romans 8.28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

This week think about that metaphor of the root as it relates to bitterness. Is there something you need to deal with? Is there something you are holding on to because you can’t or you don’t want to let it go.

Is there a seed of bitterness that you are aware of that might be taking hold of your life?

Don’t let bitterness take root. Dig it out and throw it away.

Quoting again something I read this week (i’ve forgotten where I found it)

‘Bitterness is a sin, and sin is never ok. If you live with bitterness it is because you choose to.’

I’m very conscious as i write these words that overcoming bitterness can be difficult and a process, and processes take time.

If you need help please ask we have people who will support you and pray for you, and if professional help is needed (as it can be) then seek it

Blessings

Forgiveness

On Sunday we had a Q & A session looking at the question of forgiveness. In light of what has occurred in Nice, France recently and other acts of evil on a large scale, what is our Christian response. Are we to simply forgive? Are we to forgive automatically?
Below is an article I’ve written for a local community paper. Maybe you could read this and give some thought to important questions about forgiveness. Does God forgive unconditionally? Do certain have to be met before we can forgive? What do we do about forgiving people who have died? What do we do about people who have ‘sinned’ against others but not us? Can we forgive them? What about people who we feel have sinned against us, but they don’t se they have done anything wrong?

Forgiveness is not easy. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

‘’The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is the attribute of the strong.’

Mahatma Gandi

I wonder what we make of this quote? I think we would agree that no one finds forgiveness easy. The concept has difficult questions that surround it. In the 23 November 2015 issue of Time magazine the headline article was ‘What it takes to forgive a killer’.

The story focussed on the murder of 9 people during a church prayer meeting at Charleston, Carolina in June 2015 and the church’s and community’s response to that heinous act. In the course of the article the follwing questions are asked:

“Can murder be forgiven, and if so, who has that power? Must it be earned or given freely? Who benefits from forgiveness—the sinner or the survivor? And why do we forgive at all? Is it a way of remembering, or of forgetting?”

These are thoughtful and important questions. It seems that we rush to forgiveness, but often questions like these are not asked first. We rush to it (forgiveness) because it seems noble to do so.

Of course the rush to forgiveness is not true of everyone, and indeed in the context of the Charleston shooting there were those in the church who struggled with forgiveness, and understandably so.

The trouble is that forgiveness involves a process, and often in that process some important observations about forgiveness are forgotten. Forgiveness does take time to unpack. Often the act that requires forgiveness has resulted in deep hurts, deep emotional scars.

To be true to these scars we have to acknowledge that forgiveness isn’t about denying that a wrong has been done, it’s not about excusing behaviour and sweeping it under the carpet and it’s not about pretending that the wrong has never been done.

Forgiveness has multi faceted components and they can’t be dealt with here. But an observations is important. Christianity has as it’s most basic assumption that we all have a need for forgiveness and that God offers it. The Bible says a lot about forgiveness. It says that there is a God who is willing to forgive in order for us to be brought back to a healthy relationship with him. A relationship that is ultimately for our good.

But at the heart of God’s forgiveness rests our willingness to ask for it and admit our need for it.

Christianity says more, not only do we need forgiveness but because we have received it from God, we are to be willing to offer it.’

Forgive us our sins as we forgive others

On Sunday we had a very brief introduction to the concept of forgiveness. A word many of us will be familiar with, but a concept that is difficult.

When Jesus teaches us to pray there are two things relative to forgiveness that are apparent:
God assumes we will forgive other;
God is willing to forgive us
When we pray this prayer we are, as Charles Spurgeon put it, reading our ‘death-warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” Why? Because we are not forgiven unless we are forgiving.

We will explore this more in the coming weeks, because forgiveness is much more complex and nuanced that we tend to understand.
What we know is that God loves us so much that he longs for us to be in relationship with him. That the gift of forgiveness is God’s way of bringing us back to a relationship with him. A relationship with God without asking for forgiveness is impossible.
Isaiah 59:2 ‘But your sins have separated you from God; your sins have hidden his face from you so that he will not hear’

We need forgiveness and we need to offer forgiveness. It sounds too simple, and if something sounds to easy we can dismiss it. But God’s word tells us 1 John 1.9 that if we confess our sins God forgive us our sins. If we don’t believe that then we are not believing in God.

Forgiveness is all about reconciliation. Us with God and us with each other. It is central to the Gospel message.

As we go forward on this, I’m praying we will understand more of what God has done for us and be motivated to be forgiving ourselves and see lives transformed

Prayer

Last Sunday was different. An interactive focus on prayer. An activity so central to the Christian life, and yet also so difficult.
What are your prayer rythmns ? What are your habits, what helps you as you pray. Do you use a devotional, have you a special space, do you read set parts of the scriptures, have you a list you work through as you pray?

Do you do a prayer walk? Do you pray through scriptures? Do you have a specific discipline? Maybe you have something you would like to share. Please let me know because what you have might be a help to others, even if it is a change, something to break a routine even for a little while to add freshness to your prayer life.

I’d love to hear from you. But most importantly God wants to hear from you, he wants us to be focussed on building a relationship with him. God is just a prayer away.

Hebrews 4:15- “For we do not have a High Priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but was in all points tempted as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore come boldly to the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

1 Peter 5:7- “casting all your care upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Matthew 6:30- “”Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? Therefore do not worry, saying, what shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear? For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things.”

2 Thessalonians 3:3- “But the Lord is faithful, who will establish you and guard you from the evil one.”

The Lost Sheep

In Luke 15 and following Jesus tells us a number of parables, stories with a message, and one of them is about a lost sheep.

Most of us will know this story well. A sheep is lost and the shepherd goes out to find it.

The focus of the story isn’t the sheep, it’s the shepherd. And what Jesus is saying is that those who are lost, those who are lonely, those who are vulnerable, are valued by God. He actively seeks them out he wants to bring them home.

The picture that develops is a beautiful one. The shepherd goes out of his way to find the sheep, and when he does he puts it over his shoulder and carries it. Doesn’t that speak of the value of the sheep. He’s got another 99 at home, but it’s the one that is lost that concerns him. And when he finds it he tenderly cares for it.

We will all have those moments when we want to be loved like that. When we feel alone, vulnerable, lost. Jesus is looking for us, he’s looking for you, and he wants to carry you home. You’re not alone, you don’t have to be alone, you can surrender to the love of Jesus and allow him to carry you.

The shepherd doesn’t leave the sheep alone. He brings it back to the flock, to the other sheep.

As church we want to build our relationship with Jesus, but we also need to build our relationships with each other. There is no such thing as individual Christianity. We are meant to be together. God calls a people to be his, and that people are his church.World wide and local.

The local church is important. It’s the area of mission to the world, it’s where we love each other, build each other up, support and care for each other. All so that we are equipped to go into the world and change it one life and at time for God.

A part of that being together, it being committed to each other, and expressing that commitment. A way in which we do that is membership where we covenant (make promises) to each other and we allow others permission to speak truth in love into our lives.

We are not independent Christians we are dependent. The imagery of the church in the bible is of family, of a vine and branches of a body. Always a picture of connectedness. A picture of a life shared together.

We love being together as church, and we long for everyone to feel welcome and a sense of belonging whether a member or not to our church.

But if you think you want to express your commitment in a more formal way, such as membership then please speak to me or one of the elders.

Our Daily Bread

‘Love loves to be told what i already knows…it wants to be asked for what it longs to give.’

When we look at the Lord’s prayer and prayer in general, what do you make of the line, ‘give us this day our daily bread’?

Do we think of it as presumptuous? Who am I to ask God for anything? Or do we not give it any thought, we approach it as an inalienable right to come before God and demand he acts as we ask?

Or does it fill you with a sense of awe that the creator God invites us to make our requests known to him.

Jesus, in his model prayer, the Lords Prayer, seems to suggest that we rush in to prayer. We immediately become the centre of attention. We have our list and we want to get to it.

But he says wait a moment. Focus your attention on the giver of all good things. Remember whose presence you are coming in to. You’re are coming before your Father in Heaven. Take time to enjoy his company. Before he begins his prayer he says go into a secret space. Find a place, create a place to spend time with you Father. Enjoy him.

Then he moves on and he says, but don’t be shy to take your requests to him. It’s a relationship he seeks. He wants to hear from you, he wants to know about your day. You are free to bring even the most trivial things to him – ask for bread.

In doing that we are acknowledging that we are dependant on him for every area of our life.

This God longs to hear from us, he knows what we need, he knows what is good for us.

How about we take time to spend with him – poor out your heart. Don’t rush, tarry a while with him and enjoy him. Doesn’t that show him we love him? And then tell him what you need, and allow him to shape your needs to. Trust him, he won’t let you down

The Lord’s Prayer

Over the last two weeks we have looked at the Lord’s prayer. Prayer is a huge privilege for us, this invitation that we have to come into the very presence of God. A God who longs for us to come to him. Jesus instructed his disciples in how to pray, and the Lord’s Prayer is part of that instruction. But it is important to note, that it is a guide as to how to pray, we are not meant to be tied to its words, not to simply repeat it without ceasing.

It begins, ‘Our Father in Heaven’, here is this remarkable acknowledgement that God sees us as his children. He loves us, he knows us and he knows what is best for us. And in case we struggle with the concept of a ‘Father God’ for reasons that might be complex and hurtful, Jesus reminds us that God is not like our earthly fathers, he is our father in heaven. The perfect, wise, gentle and loving father.

We can get so caught up with praying, we struggle with it, and sometimes we feel that our prayers are not sophisticated enough, not spiritual enough, that we don’t pray we wait until we feel we are ready to pray.

But God wants to hear from us, warts and all. CS Lewis put it like this: ‘Lay before God what is in you, not what ought to be in you.’

We can’t hide anything from God. He knows us, he loves us and he wants to hear from us. Prayer changes us, not God. So pray, and keep on praying.

Your Kingdom Come

We can be conscious that our prayers are selfish prayers – often a model of self serving importance. But we are reminded to get our order right pray for what God wants – it’s a challenge.

Our western culture in particular can be a culture consumed with individual autonomy. We want to do whatever we want to do, however we want to do it, and whenever we want to do it. We want absolute freedom. We are our own kings and queens.

But Jesus says, no, there is a king who has a kingdom (which king doesn’t) and it is the will of the king the kingdom that reflects the king that we are to pray for. That’s some prayer. We need to put aside our desires and say God, you be king, you rule, let my life, my home my work, my school, attitudes reflect your kingdom.

Paul describes God’s kingdom as one of righteousness, peace and joy in the spirit. (Romans 14.17) We are to seek this kingdom, to see God’s character shape our lives and our world.

So try it this week. When you pray say, God here I am, you rule. let me understand what you want, what you want my life to reflect, and God let your kingdom come.

There is an alternate kingdom, we so easily fall into it, but God the Father has what is best for us in store, so lets seek what God’s plans for our lives are and expect him to change us.