Tell someone who it is you believe in

Here we are at Christmas Eve. We think of all the songs and poems ‘Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house. Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse’ this sense of building anticipation. In all of this we wonder, what is it that we are really celebrating. 
 
A we who are believers in Jesus, what is it that our friends and families understand we believe? Is it some world view that gives us comfort. We believe in God, and that means we have a belief that on our death we go to heaven. Is that it? Are we living and sharing a life of excitement, something that has to be shared?
 
Mark in his gospel begins his book like this: 

“The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Son of God”  Or to paraphrase it, the good news of Jesus Christ Son of God begins here.

 
The good news is not about an experience, it is about a person Jesus Christ. The Bible is the unfolding story of God, it is the revelation of God and what he has done. That’s the good news. That God is not distant and disinterested, God is present and active. Has been, is and always will be. The gospel, the good news is about God so engaged with us, that he came and lived with us. He did so in such an unexpected humble way that he wasn’t recognised. But in Jesus we see the heart of God for us – his love, his desire to give us a new beginning to live a life in relationship with him. To know that despite the mess the world around us might be, the frightening and painful circumstances we are facing, God is in control and will put everything right.

This Jesus, who Mark knew, proved himself to be God not because he acted from a distance but because he came near – Emmanuel God with us. This Jesus who turned water into wine, let’s keep this party going, this Jesus who, listening to the heartbroken cry of a father for his daughter responded and raised her to life, this Jesus who looked at those who society despised and went and ate with them, this Jesus who looked on the disfigured and scarred, and said be healed, this Jesus who stopped as the blind man cried out and said what can I do for you, and did as he was asked and gave him his sight.
 

This Jesus who revealed powerfully the love of God for us. This Jesus who comes to us in the din of huge crowds, soldiers shaking dice gambling for his clothing, and priests raging with hatred against him, crowds who at once loved him and were drawn to him, who later would turn against him.

This Jesus who was so misunderstood that in the midlde of a shouting and cursing crowd is spit at, flogged, treated with shame and dishonour. Has a thorn of crowns pushed onto his head, and in great darkness drinks the cup of suffering on a cross.

It is this Jesus that Mark begins his book by saying this is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ. Why? Because Mark was a witness to the power of God at work in and through Jesus.

What was the purpose of that work? To allow us to begin again. That is the wonderful good news for us. There is a new beginning. Not in our selfish desires, not in us having a God who will do what we want when we want it. Not in a God who fulfils our desires – NO because on our sinfulness we don’t understand what our greatest need is.

Our greatest need is a new relationship with God and a new relationship with each other. And  our relationship to God is based on unmerited forgiveness. Jesus came to fill the gap – a Jesus who will transform our lives and who has begun a new Kingdom.

That’s the exciting good news. We believe in a Jesus who has conquered death, who has shown us there is an eternal purpose to life. A Jesus who loves us so completely that he humbled himself to be with us – to show us we are valued. 

‘That is the beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ son of God. Are you excited? Then make it your goal this Christmas to tell someone who it is you believe in.

Emmanuel

This past Sunday we looked at Mary’s response to receiving the news that her life was about to drastically and dramatically change. It was a three-fold response starting with astonishment. Astonishment that someone so unremarkable, so ordinary, would be the recipient of such incredible grace. A grace that would change her life. She then wrestled with what this meant as it seemed impossible and her wrestling with God’s truth led to her place of acceptance. Acceptance was not a passive response, rather it was an act of surrender. And her wrestling with this happened in community with the friendship of her cousin, Elizabeth. By working through these various stages, Mary’s response was one of adoration, or worship. But she needed to process. She needed to ask questions. She needed the support of someone who could walk alongside her.

Sometimes it is difficult to know how to respond to what is happening around us and to see where God is at work. But, as Henri Nouwen says “True joy is hidden where we are the same as other people: fragile and mortal. It is the joy of belonging to the human race. It is the joy of being with others as a friend, a companion, a fellow traveller. This is the joy of Jesus, who is Emmanuel: God-with-us.”

We have the unique privilege of being in a faith community together. We journey through some dark valleys and see some glorious sunrises together. We do so because we are brothers and sisters in Christ and, because we have the wonderful reassurance that Jesus was, is and forever will be God-with-us. Because we have this wonderful assurance that we don’t have to face life alone, we can offer our adoration, our gift of joy, despite what circumstances or situations we find ourselves facing. As you reflect on Mary’s response, how might God want to speak to you today? And what does it take, for you, to be able to say “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” (Luke 1:46-47)

An anchor for the soul, firm and secure

Our first Christmas, when we moved back to Nelson in 2005, was spent at the hospice where my mum lost her battle with cancer. Christmas, for me personally, is always bittersweet. It’s a time of celebration as we remember the birth of our Lord, Jesus, but it’s also a time of sadness as I remember the passing of my mum. For some of you, Christmas may not be an easy time. It can be financially stretching or stressful negotiating oftentimes strained relationships with differing expectations. Sometimes it can be really lonely.

Last Sunday I shared Elizabeth’s story from Luke 1:13, 18-25. She experienced the loneliness of infertility, the disappointment of unmet dreams yet her attitude was one of hope because she knew that God was good. Elizabeth eventually conceived in remarkable circumstances as an old woman, and gave birth to John the Baptist. Her story is one of hope: hope because God is still at work even when we don’t know the outcome; hope because God is good and knows the big picture for our lives; hope because Jesus who knows the frailty and vulnerability of being human, knows what we are going through.

There is a quote from an author I read this week, which says:

Deep grief sometimes is almost like a specific location, a coordinate on a map of time. When you are standing in that forest of sorrow, you cannot imagine that you could ever find your way to a better place. But if someone can assure you that they themselves have stood in that same place, and now have moved on, sometimes this will bring hope.

I would like to encourage you that God knows the coordinates for your life and has found you in the middle of your forest and is standing there, right beside you.

Hebrews 6:19 says “we have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure.” As you read this, I pray you will know the comfort of the Holy Spirit and experience the hope that comes from knowing you are deeply loved by God. You matter. Your life matters.

How do you see God at work in your ordinary?

Last Sunday I spoke about Loving the Ordinary and Zechariah’s encounter with the angel as he was performing his once-in-a-lifetime priestly duties. The angel said to Zechariah ‘God has heard your prayer’ (Luke 1:13) and told Zechariah he was going to father John the Baptist. It is a remarkable story of our remarkable God who has a much bigger plan, a much bigger story that He is inviting you to join. Zechariah was doing what was expected of him yet God already had a plan that would change his life, the lives of those around him and ultimately, all of humanity.

We might find ourselves in less remarkable situations than Zechariah. In fact, most days are fairly ordinary, and often repetitive. Yet the ordinary of our lives allows us the time and space to develop trust, patience and joy. It is also an opportunity to develop a spiritual habit, such as prayer. But learning to love the ordinary takes determination, and courage. Sometimes the ordinary of our lives is preparing us for the extraordinary.

This week as I did a google search for something unrelated, I found this quote:

“Let’s see the divine in the ordinary, the big in the small, the meaningful in the mundane and the holy in all things humble.”

How do you see God at work in your ordinary?

Who are those ordinary people God is asking you to love, or walk alongside?

What spiritual habit could you grow in those ordinary activities?

What is God’s story for your life?

Ephesians 4:1 encourages us to “lead a life worthy of your calling, for you have been called by God.”

Remember, your ordinary is extraordinary in God’s hands. You have been called by God, for God. May God bless you as you continue to seek Him and may you know the presence of the Holy Spirit as you faithfully do what is in front of you to do.

Jonah

Jonah, the reluctant prophet. Tasked with a job he really doesn’t want. To tell a nation he hates that God is going to deal with them. Rather than do that, he jumps on a ship and heads off in another direction. Running from God? I’m not sure about that in the literal sense – he know’s he can’t hide from God. In Psalm 139 the Message paraphrase it’s put like this:
I’m an open book to you;
    even from a distance, you know what I’m thinking.
You know when I leave and when I get back;
    I’m never out of your sight.
You know everything I’m going to say
    before I start the first sentence.
I look behind me and you’re there,
    then up ahead and you’re there, too
 
And in Hebrews 4:13 more starkly
 And (no one) is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account. 
 
So he knows he can’t run away from God. The question is, if he didn’t want to do what God asked him to do, why not stay put? Why get in a boat? Clearly he wanted to get away from God’s presence – that objective is repeated twice in verse v3. So what did he decide to do? To go somewhere where God wasn’t known. To hide in a culture where he wouldn’t be confronted by God through all that surrounded him.
We do that too – we sometimes want to ‘hide’ from God – to get out of the glare of his stare. How do we do that? We shut ourselves off from God’s people.We shun church, we don’t spend time with his people – we mix with others. We distract ourselves – we fill our time with activity, and business, and play. None of which is bad – but all of which is bad if it means we are closing out ears to God.
 
Friends, we can’t hide from God. We have a God who in his love pursues us, and he does so for a purpose – to be his voice in this world. Jonah slept in the boat while a storm raged outside. Those in the storm needed him, and couldn’t believe he was sleeping. 
 
Are we sleeping? Are we being indifferent to the storm around us? The world needs us. We have the message of a new Kingdom that is good news. We can’t keep it to ourselves, that’s not what we are to do. We have to share it – because God in his sovereignty will use us way beyond what we can imagine.
 
Church – we can’t sleep. People are in a storm, a Godless storm that leads to destruction. We need to wake up, and tell them that there is a Jesus who loves them and can still the storm.
 
Who needs to hear from you this week. Who is looking at you expectantly, longing for you to wake up and tell them what God wants them to hear, and what they need to hear?

What an awesome GOD

2 Kings 3.18 ‘But this is only a simple thing for the Lord, …’
 
Simple? A dry river bed, a dry valley, no wind, no rain. People and livestock desperate for water. Watch!! See that dry river bed, I will fill it with water so you can drink. For God, that’s simple – nothing to it. It doesn’t rain, it simply fills with water at the word, the command, the direction of the Lord.
 
As i read those words earlier this week again I was reminded of the awesome power of our God. Nothing is too difficult for him. 
 
I was reminded of his amazing grace. Here he was providing refreshment, just what was needed, for a people, a King who did not deserve it. 
 
We go through those times where what we want more than anything else is a break from the dryness of life. We want something that reminds us that God has not forgotten us. We want something that reminds us God is on our side. 
 
As you have been going through this week, how have you been feeling? Drained and tired? Dry and cracked? Sun drenched, and now in need of refreshment? 
 
Who is the God that you trust in? A God that you know will come through for you? A God that, despite your current circumstances, you know has not forgotten you? A God that you know can do way more than you could imagine?
 
Have you checked in on yourself? Are you working on your relationship with him? Are you taking time to praise him, thank him, soaking in his WORD. Are you reminding yourself  how awesome our God is? Are you longing to be obedient to him, wanting him to direct you and guide you.  Are you putting him first? Letting go of your wants, and asking him what is wants for you are? 
 
Are you showing him the dry valleys in your life and asking him to fill them? Are you letting God be BIG. Are you expecting lots from him, or have you decided he can’t do what seems to hard to be done?
 
Where are you at? Is your soul dry? Are your words dry? 
 
As church what are we longing for? Do we expect God to do BIG AUDACIOUS THINGS ? When we call for prayer, where are you? Are you pointing out the dry valleys of the lost, and asking God to drench them with his presence? Are you believing God will grow our church, and asking him what he wants you to do?
 
Is the God you worship the one you long to tell others about? Is he a God that you know nothing is to difficult for him? 
 
Folks, we need to expect God to do wonderful things, we need to believe that he is true to his word, we need to be earnestly seeking him – it’s too easy to slide into the dry cracks, keep our heads down, feeling ourselves becoming dry and not seeking the refreshing he longs to pour out on us – do what he longs for us to do – love him, trust him, praise him, spend time with him – be patient, be expectant and watch has he pours out refreshment in ways you could not have imagined

Why should we live a life in the Spirit, what’s in it for me?

On Sunday we looked again at this idea of ‘life in the Spirit’, we moved on from the how we live it and what it looks like to the why question. Why should we live a life in the Spirit, what’s in it for me? 
 
In doing so we read through Romans 8.1-17 – a lengthy passage with a whole lot of gold buried in it, and we considered three really good reasons why:

Freedom

Transformation

Adoption

Freedom. Paul writes to the church at Rome and he says, There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. No condemnation – we are free. Free from the natural consequence of the weight of the law – a law that we are incapable of fulfilling, and a law under which we are always condemned. We are found wanting, we are weighed and measured and found to be wanting, We dont measure up, we can’t measure up. We know it. Oh we  might fool ourselves a little and think we are doing ok. But when we stop and think, we know we might be good, but we’re not good enough. If the standard is the law, and we’ve got to live by it, then we have to admit, we can’t. And the consequence of that is condemnation . BUT life in the Spirit says, no anymore. You are not condemned, the law has been fulfilled on your behalf. You are freed from it, and you are empowered by the Spirit to be more than you could ever have been. Freedom, that’s life in the Spirit.
 
Transformation. We are transformed. We are no longer what we were. We are no longer lost, we are found. We are no longer weighed down by the weight of the law, we are lifted up  by the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit, Paul says. We are calibrated. We dont think the way we used to, our minds have been changed, reordered. given new life. Our perspective has changed, the way we look at life has been changed. There is meaning and purpose, and it is the Spirit that does that work for us.
 
Adopted. We have a complete change of identity. We are no longer fighting against God, we belong to him in a whole new way. So tightly are we bound to him, that he calls us his children. The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ. We become children of God, we are now entitled to all that he has promised. His promises are now for us. Our future is certain. Doubts as to what life is all about are gone. We are made new.
 
Why would we want life in the Spirit? Because we are free, transformed and adopted. We cannot be without it.
 
Let the Spirit of God remind you this week just whose you are, who you belong to and how loved and  precious you are

Life in the Spirit

“A spiritual life is basically, in the Christian understanding, a life lived from the direction and the power and the motivations and the character of Jesus Christ Himself. It is Christ in you that gives you a spiritual life. And of course with Christ come His two best friends, God the Father, and God the Holy Spirit.” Quote but I can’t remember where from

In the life of Jesus, we by pass 30 years or so of his life. He’s born, we then see him as a 12 year old in the Temple, at 30 or so, he’s baptised, tempted, busy teaching, healing, reading minds, walking on water, tried, found guilty, crucified and raised, ascended, sends his Spirit

That’s a snap shot. Read the gospels to get the full picture.

The point is this. For the majority of his life, it was ordinary. Yet he walked in the Spirit, filled with Spirit, lived life in the Spirit. An ordinary life.

When we think of the Spirit filled life, we easily jump to the mystical, the visible, the miraculous. We think of prophecy, healing, tongues etc.

But the Spirit filled life is for every one now, a  life lived from the direction and the power and the motivations and the character of Jesus Christ Himself.

How do we know we are living a Sprit filled life?Here’s some thoughts.

Do you love Jesus – really love him, and want a deep relationship with him?

Are you wanting to be obedient to him. Not an expectation of being perfect, but a life that is directed to that, to living the life Jesus wants you to live?

Are you reading the Bible – spending time in it. Valuing it as the word of God that is good for you.

Are praying, really praying heart felt prayers. Prayers for the lost, for the church, for how you can live the life Jesus asks of you?

As a church are we seeing the Spiritual gifts at work? Are we desiring them so that the authenticate the word of God. Seeking them,  not for their own end, but because it will point to Jesus

Are we cultivating a relationship with the Triune God – Father, Son and Holy Spirit?

Seek a life in the Spirit – to be empowered to be the witness God has called you to be. A life in the Spirit in the midst of the ordinary

It’s time to go

Jesus tells his disciples in Matthew 28  “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
GO!! That’s what he says – we’ve prayed together, we’ve done ministry together – now it’s your time GO
 
Church, that is what he says to us – all of us – GO. 
We have been given work to do. We have a purpose – Glorify God by enjoying him (as John Piper paraphrases the Westminster Catechism ) and more – to go and tell others that Jesus has come. That the one who can turn life back to the way it should be, the one who fully understands us, the one who will accomplish all that we long for (that’s if we are looking of love and joy and peace etc) and an eternity of fullness of life, has come and has done everything that needs to be done to put everything right – the whole of the created order to what it is intended to be.
 
BUT wait, there’s more, and Jesus has come so we can know the Triune God in all his fullness, Father Son and Holy Spirit. He has done it.
 
The time has come for us to GO – why? Because it is urgent!!! The world needs to hear the news about Jesus. It needs to. Our friends need to, our neighbours need to, our work colleagues need to, and our family need to. Life in all its vitality and wonder and joy is best with Jesus. Without him, we live a shadow of a life.
 
How? Well he said he’s with us. He hasn’t left us. He has given us his Spirit to give us creativity, and boldness, and wisdom. We’re not alone. We can do it – and it’s for all of us.
 
How? Being a friend is great. Being helpful is wonderful. Being kind is marvellous – BUT we need to speak. It’s daunting. Don’t be put off – pray, pray really hard. Be specific. Lord I want so and so to know you, please help me to be your witness. Lord please give me an opportunity to share your good news today. Lord – give me wisdom and the right words at the right time.
 
Spend time with Jesus, and with people. Especially if it’s possible, those you’d love to know Him.
Be patient – but look for opportunities.
Listen – really listen. What are people saying? What is happening in their lives. What worries do they have? What is it that scares them and frustrates them.
 
Ask questions, be interested in them. 
 
Be brave – ask if they have ever been to church. If they are married, were they married in a church? Have they been back to church? What do they think of church.
Do the like reading? Have the ever read the Bible (consistently the best selling book in the world). If not why not. If so what did they think?
Do the believe in God? If so what does God mean to them, what does God look like to them.
 
Be prepared to give answers – think about your own testimony. What was life like before you met Jesus, how has it been after, what have you learned about yourself and God. How has it helped you knowing Jesus.
 
Be prepared. Be prepared for God to do way more than you could ever have imagined. Be bold and GO

Keep on Trusting God

Matthew 4:1, ‘Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.’
On Sunday we looked at the temptation of Jesus, probably better referred to as the testing of Jesus. Jesus is led into the uncomfortable, dangerous desert after his Baptism. Jesus is baptise, the Holy Spirit descends on him, his father speaks of his love and delight in him – his ministry is about to start, but he is taken by the Spirit into the desert. He isn’t taken to a place of comfort, he isn’t prevented from suffering, he isn’t taken into the central city and declared the Son of God – he is taken to a desert.
He is led by the Spirit into the desert, he is taken out of the desert in power by the Spirit. The Spirit is his constant companion – working in him and with him to enable him to meet the demands that will be placed on him. The devil isn’t in control, God is!
We will all have desert experiences – your desert might be financial concerns, it might be a sickness, it might be getting old, it might be worrying about children, it might be relationships that are teetering, it might be worry about your children.  Whatever your desert might be, you are not alone. The Bible never says that we won’t have trouble. It says the opposite – but it says we are never alone, and that Jesus has overcome – he is the victor, he is the mighty warrior that has conquered the devil.
His testing in the desert proves it – in everything that the devil did to get between Jesus and the will of his Father, he failed.
The lessons for us in this are that we must keep on trusting God – recognise that in the desert times, you may feel distant from God, but at the same time, draw closest to him. Are you seeking the company of the Holy Spirit? Are you trusting in him to hold you, teach, guide and lead you? Are you submitting to him? Are you reading your Bible, allowing God to speak to you? Are you spending time in prayer with God – are building your relationship with the Spirit so that his work in you can be seen by others?
Dont give up – recognise you desert times as growth times – trust in God – lean on him and allow him to carry you through.