John 20:11-18

This is a beautiful passage. A passage of a woman approaching the tomb with tears, only to find it empty.
The first verse of John 20 makes it clear that Mary come to the tomb in darkness. That symbolism shouldn’t be lost on us, it indicates sadness and loss of hope. For many that is how they find Jesus. It’s when they are at their lowest, that in desperate need they cry out.
For others, it seems that it doesn’t matter where we look, Jesus isn’t there, And there are those who don’t know where to look. They are looking for something but they don’t know what.
There is a repetition in this passage and a focus in Mary’s tears. It reminds us of what Jesus said himself about what was to come, that ‘you will weep and mourn while the world rejoices, you will grieve but your grief will be turned to joy.’
This is where Mary is at, deep grief. But at the tomb things are not as expected, the body of Jesus isn’t there. With the undisturbed death clothing, the presence of angels we know without doubt that this is not a incident of humanity interfering but of divinity acting.
And in the midst of this confusion as Mary marvels and wonders she doesn’t recognise Jesus until he calls her by name. 
Friends, do you understand that Jesus is interested in you. He knows you by name. You are not anonymous to him, you are significant and valued. In John 10 we read that Jesus as the good shepherd knows his sheep and they know his voice.
Have you heard the call of Jesus? Have you heard him calling out to you but you have ignored him. Do you find it difficult to believe he cares for you – really cares.
For Mary at this point she obviously in her joy and relief grabs hold of Jesus and he responds, ‘Mary don’t cling to me.’
Jesus is saying, Mary things are changing. You can’t cling to me as the Jesus you knew, you can’t hold onto the past. You’ve got to let go.

Saint John Chrysostom said this with respect to  Jesus’ Words to Mary Magdalene,  ” It seems to me that she wished to enjoy His presence still, in the same way as before, and because of her joy at seeing Him, had no realization of His greatness, even though He had become much more excellent in bodily appearance”.

As you go into this week, are you looking to experience and encounter the risen Lord? Are you expecting him to transform you? Or are you holing on to past hurts, past disappointments, past experiences that are holding you back. Is your view of Jesus too small, you haven’t realised his greatness – and maybe Jesus is saying you need to let go. Let go of hurts, let go of disappointments, let go of your misconceived ideas as to who I am, let go of your pride, and let me be God.

When we let go and let God (to capture an awful cliche) we are doing it to fully surrender to him. It isn’t until we have fully surrendered, that we will clearly hear him calling us by name, and directing us. 

Have and awesome God filled and God fuelled week

Jesus Unleashed

Matthew 28

Then the angel spoke to the women. “Don’t be afraid!” he said. “I know you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified.  He isn’t here! He is risen from the dead, just as he said would happen’    

 
Don’t be afraid!! Wow!! – they look into a tomb, it’s empty. There are earthquakes, angels so bright that guards are frozen in fear. BUT don’t be afraid – yeah right
 
What has happened – exactly what Jesus says, he has risen. The question for us is have we experienced what that resurrection represents. It is power – death could not hold Jesus down. He claimed he had power over all of life – that he would die, be buried but he would be back. That’s power. That’s power every bit as powerful as creation itself
 
And it is a power that should impact us – we are his children. He died for us – are we content with life as it is, or are we going to press into the power that is represented by the life of Jesus – 
 
Does Jesus resurrection change us? Are we allowing it to? Do we realise what it means?
 
Paul wrote this, that we wanted to know Christ and the power of his resurrection. Is that us. Paul wants to know the power of Jesus’ resurrection – BUT in order for him to do that, there’s something he has to do first, he has to know Jesus!!
 
That’s the first thing – are we longing to know Jesus. To we want to know him intimately – to fall in love with him and then to know and live the power that his resurrection represents!
 
New life, new hope, transformation.
Are we experiencing his power – is it changing our lives, our perspectives, our priorities?
 
There is much that will keep us down – but Jesus is alive, he is present

That stone has been rolled away Jesus unleashed  – “and the resurrection of Jesus speaks of the total outpouring of the Spirit in the world, the flowing into creation of the immense flood which pours out from the Father in the Son”

 


And that resurrection power is still at work – is it at work in you?

A sent people

John 17.18 “Just as you sent me into the world, I am sending them into the world”.
 
This morning we looked at this verse which is a part of Jesus’ prayer before going to the cross. If you haven’t read it, you must. It demonstrates Jesus anguish, his obedience, his love for his friends and for us.
 
We looked at three things: who sends, who is sent and why the sending
 
Jesus said in this prayer that he has ‘revealed’ God. That is, he has made the Father known. Often we hear is said that the God of the New Testament and the Old are different. They are not. Jesus revealed the unseen God. How did that happen? By what we call the ‘incarnation’, that is that Jesus is God yet fully human – can you understand the impact of that? 
We looked at a video of the damage caused by the Christchurch earthquake. It revealed a damaged and broken city.  God looks upon his creation like that. What was good, very good, has become broken. The whole of creation groans – the natural world, and the human world, are broken, damaged and scarred because of sin (turning away from God). 
But God acted – he did it by sending Jesus, and Jesus revealed the heart of God. He was merciful, gentle, kind, compassionate, patient, loving. He sacrificed himself for us – how by dying on the cross – by paying the price for sin, by being judged in our place – that’s the God Jesus revealed. A God who saw the damage and did something about it.
 
Then Jesus says, I’ve been sent by God to reveal his heart to you, and now I’m sending you to be me in the world.
We are a sent people. We are sent in that we go into the world, we are a part of the world, we are here to be merciful, gentle, kind, compassionate, patient, loving. God trusts us to lead people back to him. It’s a privilege. We are, as Julie reminded us in communion, commissioned by God to work for him. To be his followers.
 
Why? To show people the heart of God. That’s the heart of a God who longs to see the broken put right. As people couldn’t see God, God sent Jesus. As people cannot see Jesus, Jesus has sent us. By how we live, what we do, what we say we are to reveal Jesus. We are to make him known.
Why? Because the world is broken. We know it, the world knows it. All sorts of solutions are offered, but there is only one true solution, the one who said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life.’
If we care about our families, neighbours, friends and work colleagues. If we know the God who has sent us, we will act as a sent people.
Lets do it.

It’s not what goes in that counts, it’s what is left out

On Sunday we looked at a passage from Mark 12. Jesus notes a poor widow putting two coins into the collection at the temple. It was all she had. In this she contrasted with the wealthy who looked good, and did the good thing by pouring lots of money into the collection containers.
Jesus, sitting and watching says this: “The truth is that this poor widow gave more to the collection than all the others put together”.
And in we noted three things:     God sees what we don’t;  It’s not what goes in that counts, it’s what is left out;     What are we holding back and why
 
God sees what we don’t: Jesus sitting and watching, isn’t impressed by the large amounts that are put in by the wealthy. The giving that captured his attention and his heart was my the nameless woman who gave all of what she held. She didn’t keep anything back. Nameless, vulnerable, poor – but not ignored by God . When our eyes might be captured by the powerful, the influential, the wealthy – it doesn’t matter to God, He notices who others might ignore. Why?
 
It’s not what goes in that counts, it’s what is left out
The wealthy give, but remain wealthy and comfortable. Jesus says the give out of their abundance, there’s plenty left in reserve. But the woman who could least afford to give, held nothing back. Two coins in her hand, to coins into the collection. And while the might not have made any noise dropping to the bottom of a bucket, the made a noise in heaven. She gave generously and sacrificially. This woman who was in need of charity gave all that she could. She demonstrated a love of God and a trust in his promises that the wealthy didn’t. She said, I’ll give what I can and more, and God wont let me down. She gave generously because she knew a generous God. She gave lovingly because she knew the love of God. 
For too many of us, our giving, whether money or time or our talents, doesn’t cost us. We wont let it, we check our budgets see what we need and God might get a bit of the balance. We dont want to be uncomfortable. God’s watching, and it’s not what we put in he’s concerned about, it’s what we dont and why.
 
What are we holding back and why?
Jesus isn’t criticising the giving of the wealthy, he’s asking us to check our attitude when we give. Do we give willingly and sacrificially because we are grateful to God. To we give out of duty, or love because we know what God has done for us. Are we willing to go without so others can go with. 
Are we so focussed on our budgets on what we need that God and what he asks of us is a distant last? If so what does that say about us? Are we grateful for what we have and acknowledge that it all comes from God? Are we trusting God and willing to sacrifice for him. Are we willing to be uncomfortable, or do we give what we wont miss?
What are we holding back? Our time, our money our talent? If so, what’t the real reason for doing so?
 
God’s watching. Maybe you dont think you have much to offer but you give what you can. God’s heart swells. He loves that. Maybe you’ve got a lot to give, but you have other priorities. What do those priorities say about your trust in God?
 
Folks we have done so well with our giving. Really well. What is God saying to you about yours? Have you asked him?
 
Jesus gave everything for you – what will you give for him

Lord have mercy

On Sunday we looked at Paul preaching in Athens. We noticed that he acknowledged what was good in culture, that is what it was that conformed with scripture. But he also pointed out where it went wrong. Athens was known as a place of learning, and idolatry.  To cover all their bases, to make sure that in the event they were wrong, the had an idol to an unknown God. Paul says, this God who you say is unknown, I’m going to tell you about. This God, doesn’t need idols, nothing we can make is worthy of a God who is the source of creation, the source of all life. You can be as religious as you like, but there is only one God – and in order to be saved we need to repent, to turn from our own self centred lives  fall on our knees and worship him alone.
It sounds easy, but it isn’t. We all have idols – something that fills a space that should be filled only by God. What is it that we look to for meaning, purpose, guidance, security, What do we have that we would hate to lose? Can you think of anything? If so, what does it say about our relationship with God?
We need to be careful that we don’t compromise. And again that is easy to do, because we often don’t see our blind spots. But what are we adding to the teaching of Jesus, or taking away from the teaching of Jesus, to help us to fit in?
We are called to be separate and holy. We are to be passionate, radical followers of Jesus. Why? Because then we show we trust him, then we show others the way to Him.
We talked too about the savage, hateful, evil events of Friday 15 March, and how to respond. I’ve come across an article shared on social media by Brian Harris who used to pastor at Mount Roskill. I’ve set it out below:

Friday March 15, 2019 was indeed, as Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern described it, “one of New Zealand’s darkest days”, for on that day a gunman, (his name best left unspoken), killed 50 worshippers at two mosques in Christchurch, and injured many others.

It was an attack that represents so many things… for the families of victims, a long term journey with grief, sadness and probably rage – for many of them it will never ease; for New Zealand, the loss of innocence, for it has now not been spared the violence present in many parts of the world; for the world, a deeply disturbing outpouring of hate, made all the more visible by this being the first terrorist attack designed for social media. Hundreds of thousands of people (many thousands of them children and teenagers) have – courtesy of Facebook and YouTube – seen the events as they played out… many saw the slaughter in real time. The long term impact of this is hard to predict, but it will not be good.

My family and I lived in New Zealand for nine years – nine glorious years when we were based in the Auckland suburb of Mt Roskill, which at the time was apparently the most multi-cultural suburb in the country. It was certainly a wonderful place to live. We are still New Zealand citizens – and hold that citizenship with pride and deep affection. New Zealand is such a generous, large hearted land. The act of hatred enacted on Friday is dramatically at odds with the true nature of its people. We all know that… which is why the world is especially horrified.

Is there anything to take away from this day – other than the deepest sadness and pure disgust? I’m not sure… I think those are appropriate emotions and I would not like to detract from them. But on balance, I think it is right to dig a little deeper. How has it got to this?

Without detracting from the culpability of those directly involved in this attack, I would suggest that we all dig deeply into our own hearts to review our attitude to those we might classify as “other”. Far too often that classification is based on religion, race, nationality, gender or other equally spurious identifiers – as if all holders of these categories can neatly be assumed to be exactly the same. They are not!

When we “other” people (that is, think of them as primarily belonging to a category that we are not part of – for example, refugee, Muslim, gay, black, unemployed, atheist), we empower our attitude towards them to spread. We might excuse ourselves that we would never personally do them harm, but those same attitudes in a less peaceable person can produce a devastating harvest. Put differently, “othering” is always dangerous. Be very cautious when you talk about groups of people… be a dozen times more cautious if you do not personally know or have any friends in that group. A political mantra used to protect minorities is “nothing about us, without us”. While that means different things in different contexts, at the very least it should guard us against pontificating about “others” we have never got to know personally.

We should dig deeply into the biblical truth that all people have been made in the image of God. At the very least, this should alert us to the truth that all people matter, and should be treated with dignity and respect. This should flow into our patterns of speech and behaviour. No it is not being “politically correct” to speak respectfully about others… it is simply being a semi-decent human being. To this you might of course reply, “So I should speak respectfully about the assassin? Surely not?” About his actions and attitudes – of course not. They are truly depraved. About the gunman himself… I guess respect is the wrong word… but do speak of him with sadness, for the tragedy of someone so completely throwing away their humanity is indeed great.

The second thing I would ask us to query is why so many of us find it necessary to embark upon a “who has suffered the most?” game. Of course this is not the first act of senseless violence the world has experienced, and nor will it be the last. Yes, Christians, Muslims, Jews, Atheists, social activists and a multitude of others have suffered and continue to suffer unjustly. Yes, in the same week as this atrocity happened, there were many others as well. Sadly, there is too much injustice in the world for every violation to be highlighted, and much has to be left in the hands of God. But please don’t start to question how worthy the victims were. This was in our backyard… and via social media, this was broadcast to the world. Let’s face the full horror of it, lest we fail to heed the underlying call from this attack.

Is there an underlying call? Yes. It is for people everywhere to love a little more large heartedly, to spot neighbours when others would prefer us to remain strangers, and to be genuinely curious about, open to, and engaged with those who are currently “other” to us.

This Sunday I preached at three services. At each of them the congregation was led in a time of reflection and prayer for those killed in the Christchurch massacre. I know that there are those who would have us believe that Christians and Muslims hate each other and couldn’t possibly get on. Yesterday I saw that this is profoundly untrue. In the face of such deep sadness, love triumphs over evil, love triumphs over fear.

At one of the services, the congregation participated in this liturgical lament, which I reproduce with the permission of its author, Ellis Taylor. He is happy for you to use it more widely, should you so wish…

A Christchurch liturgy:

For a city in mourning, now under the world’s spotlight, feeling uncertain and afraid

Lord have mercy

For a nation reeling at a callous, despicable act

Lord have mercy

For those killed through no fault of their own

Lord have mercy

For those whose families and futures have been ripped apart by blood

Lord have mercy

For those who are in the care of hospitals, having their wounds bound

Lord have mercy

For those who are now deeply traumatised

Lord have mercy

For those who are scared because yet another violent act has been carried out on people of faith

Lord have mercy

For those who would preach revenge, the need for brigades and who would seek to repay what has been done

Lord have mercy

For politicians who would use your word to blame victims and pander to extremist views

Lord have mercy

For those children watching on, and who see this as an attack against their religion

Lord have mercy

For those who would use this act to sound the alarm, a call to arms in the name of protecting their faith

Lord have mercy

For those innocents now more likely to be led astray by false teaching

Lord have mercy

For us, when we have failed to follow your command to love our neighbour

Lord have mercy

Amen

Poverty of a Soul

Mother Theresa said “We think sometimes that poverty is only being hungry, naked and homeless. The poverty of being unwanted, unloved and uncared for is the greatest poverty. We must start in our own homes to remedy this kind of poverty.”

Poverty causes isolation, shame and fear. As followers of Christ, what is our response to poverty? And not just financial poverty. Poverty of grief, loneliness, or other societal poverty. 

Matthew 25:31-45 gives some very practical and clear instructions about caring for the least of these. 

The basic needs of humanity, according to Jesus, are physical and social needs. We need food, we need shelter, we need nurture, we need belonging. And poverty comes from a deprivation of or an inability to provide, these.

So, as followers of Christ, what is our response?

37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 

40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

Jesus, because of his incredible love, gave his everything for you. For me. The challenge in this passage of Matthew’s gospel is that it is not simply enough to be a good person.  

It is simply not enough to live a kind and generous life.

If you are struggling with where to start in caring for the least, it’s really quite easy.

Who’s hungry? Feed them.

Who’s thirsty? Give them something to drink.

Who doesn’t have enough? Clothe them with generosity.

Who is a newcomer? Make them feel part of our family.

Who is sick? Take care of them.

Who is imprisoned? Let them know they aren’t alone.

The opportunity to love generously, give freely and care deeply comes from knowing who we are. We belong to Christ. Our hope is in Christ. Our identity is in Christ and our capacity to care for the least of these begins with and points to, Christ.

Let’s be intentional about looking out for and meeting the needs of our church family. Let’s be honest and vulnerable about sharing our needs. Let’s be a people who are known for their genuine expression of love for one another. 

God bless you this week.

God’s Love

One of TV’s most popular show in the 1970’s was a Korean War army hospital show called MASH. The theme tune that played was called ‘Suicide is painless’. I thought of that line as the NZ Herald on 26 February this year focused on NZ’s appalling statistics on youth deaths, and the role suicide played in those statistics. These numbers for NZ are a national shame. No only amongst our youth but amongst middle aged, men in both categories in particular. Though the incidence of women attempting suicide is higher, the ‘success rate’ (what a vile way to think of it) among men is much much higher.
We have the worst statistics in the ‘developed world’. For far far too many, death is preferable to life. 
How do we reconcile this with the knowledge that NZ is an educated, wealthy, peaceful beautiful country?  Something is devastatingly wrong with the message too many of our people are hearing. 
 
It is often said that suicide is selfish. In the eyes and lives of those who are affected by it, it is. For those who lose loved ones, work colleagues and friends in this way, it is devastating. It leaves people laden with guilt, it leaves questions unanswered, it leaves unimaginable pain. 
 
The NZ Mental Health Organisation says this: ‘Most people who attempt suicide don’t want to die – they just want their pain to end or can’t see another way out of their situation’. And Rick Warren, a world renowned Christian author and pastor says this: ‘‘suicide is a permanent irreversible attempt to solve a temporary problem.’ (Rick lost a son to suicide).
 
Suicide is an action taken out of pain. It isn’t the act of the selfish, it is the act of the broken. Broken by loneliness, financial pressure, confusion, not conforming to expectations, being bullied – in each case a sense of hopelessness. 
 
Suicide affects a wide range of people – good people, Christian people, successful people, lost people damaged people. Young, old, men and women. 
 
It should be seen and is as a national crisis. What then is the church’s response?
There are a number of biblical responses that can be made to suicide, I won’t cover them all. 
 
Firstly – it is a sin. The derivative of the word is self-murder. And murder is condemned in the bible; this includes murder of self. Suicide is the intentional taking of a life, even if it is your own. 1.    It’s a breach of God’s command, it fails to acknowledge the beauty the power the value of life, even your own – it disregards the sanctity of human life, it is a stain on the creative work of God.
 
Secondly – it feeds into a narrative that says suffering is to be avoided at all costs. That isn’t a scriptural view of the world this side of eternity. We are reminded through scripture time and time again that we are in a world that is fallen, that suffering is a part of the world we are in. In the West in particular we are increasingly failing to see value in suffering. Where as many parts of the world acknowledges that suffering can be an integral part of finding value in life. For a Christian, the way we respond to suffering is one of our most valuable forms of witness.
 
Thirdly – it can show us that we have our love priorities out of order. The things that are defining us when they are removed from us, cause us such pain that we feel we need to escape. Money, health, looks, popularity, success, these become the most important things in life. But we are called to love God above everything.
 
Fourthly – suicide is an indication that we have lost hope. In the Christian view, this means we have lost trust in God. We have failed to see that God is always with us, knows us, understands us, cares for us, loves us and will never ever leave us. We have forgotten to remind ourselves over and over again that we are loved by God and that he is faithful to his promises to us. 
 
Suicide is an evil.
 
What is our response?
 
We need to acknowledge that there are people who are hurting, and we need to be looking out for them. And if we are hurting we need to acknowledge that we are and reach out. People don’t know what they don’t know. 
 
Men particularly bottle things up. Worried about appearing weak. But asking for help isn’t weakness. Not seeking it is. Ambrose (Bishop of Milan in the 4th century) wrote , Not all weeping proceeds from unbelief or weakness’, after all Jesus wept. Be vulnerable, reach out.
 
In our community no one should be alone. 
 
Helmut Thielicke (a German theologian) wrote, “There are many suicides — not because people have too little money or suffer disappointments in love but because they lost the meaning of life and see themselves confronted by a black wall.” There appears to be no solution for the problems they face. Overcome with intolerable despair the individual feels trapped in a “no exit” situation. Suicide seems the only way out.
 
It is the erosion of hope that makes suffering unbearable. But dear friends there is hope. We are not alone in feeling despair.    Scripture is full of those who felt it, who felt alone and afraid. David, King of Israel , expressed his in the Psalms frequently. This man who was called a friend of God.
 
There is hope. The gospel, God’s story is good news. That Gospel is a Gospel of Hope. That is God’s story from Genesis to Revelation. The world is screwed up, our lives can feel screwed up – this agonising sense of aloneness, loneliness , not been understood and seeing no way out.
 
There is hope !!! It is into that despair that God steps. He looked at broken world, he looks at broken us, and says, ‘I’m doing something about it’, I’m not leaving you alone. 
 
In Psalm 23:4 David writes, ‘ Even when I walk through the darkest valley,  I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me’.
 
David writes that he does not fear because God is with him. He relies on God’s presence, and it brings him strength and comfort. The picture here is David in a valley, the mountains are casting a shadow plunging him into darkness. But for there to be a shadow, there has to be a light. I don’t know what your “valley of the shadow of death” is, but I do know who the Light is that is walking with you in that valley – you are never alone. 
 
We can’t determine God’s love for us based on good or bad circumstances. We determine his love based on the cross and what he did for us on it. And what does that cross mean? It means that it isn’t the end because the story didn’t finish there. We are children of the resurrected Christ – we have hope based on that resurrection. Our future is one of perfect unhindered, uninterrupted love, love with God and with others.
 
If you are feeling desperate, if your energy is getting low, if you are feeling lonely, afraid or hopeless. Talk to me, talk to the elders. We are here for you. Let us pray for you, the Bible says in James 5  ‘ Are any of you sick? You should call for the elders of the church to come and pray over you, anointing you with oil in the name of the Lord.  Such a prayer offered in faith will heal the sick, and the Lord will make you well. And if you have committed any sins, you will be forgiven. Confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed. The earnest prayer of a righteous person has great power and produces wonderful results’.
 
Remind yourself of the promises of God. Rely on his word, and speak his words to yourself. Listen to these verses for example: 
  • Psalm 46:1-3 God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble.
  • Proverbs 18:10 The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.
  • Nehemiah 8:10 Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.
And there are so many more.
 
Remind yourself of God’s great love for you. You are valued. Don’t you understand that ? The creator God has made you, he knows you, he loves you and has plans for you for your good. He will never leave you, you are always safe in his arms. 
 

Psalms 86.5 ‘You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you’

Psalms 86.15 But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. –

Psalms 136.26 ‘Give thanks to the God of heaven, for his steadfast love endures forever’. 

Zephaniah 3.17 ‘The LORD your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing’. 

1 John 4.9-11 ‘In this the love of God was made manifest among us, that God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. Beloved, if God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’. 

Romans 8.37-39 ‘No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of Godin Christ Jesus our Lord’.

May you know God’s deep deep love and his hope

Living for Christ

Philippians 1.21 “ For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”.

Imagine if this could be the words we all were able to say!! Take a moment to think about the man who wrote them, the Apostle Paul.

Not too many year before, these words would have been unimaginable coming from him. This man who stood at the stoning of Stephen, a death he heartedly agreed with. This man who ravaged the church, who was determined to crush it to get the followers of Jesus in oder, now says ‘living means living for Christ’

Paul was doing what he thought was right. He saw this group who followed Jesus as a threat to his lifestyle, his belief system, the community that he was a part of. But confronted with the living Jesus on the road to Damascus he is confronted with the reality that what they said about Jesus was right. Jesus lives!!

The two takeaways are these:

  1. No one is beyond the grace and transforming love of Jesus. Those who we might have given up on, Jesus doesn’t. Those who we think cannot change Jesus can change. Transformation is Jesus work – ours is to be faithful to him
  2. We are in a cultural war. We live in a world who’s culture is against God. They don’t know it, but their ideals, their values, their lifestyles that the long to protect are against God’s perfect ideals. Paul saw the followers of Jesus as a threat to his lifestyle. We have to ask the question, are we a threat to the lifestyles, the value systems, the priorities of the world? Do we live a life of tension – following Jesus makes us different. Does it really? Are we living and speaking a gospel that challenges others?
Jesus came to give us life in all it’s fullness. That fullness comes in a life that is wholly dedicated to him. 
Church, lets do it. Lets be passionate followers of Jesus, so that like Paul we can say, “For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better”.

What is to prevent me from being baptised?

Acts 8.36  ‘What is to prevent me from being baptised?’
 
What a question. We easily from this distance miss its power, its significance.  Here was a man who could come to the outside but wasn’t welcome into the inside of God’s people. He could look in he couldn’t join in. He was scarred, he was different, he was an outsider. BUT with Jesus his death and his resurrection all that had changed. As a man named Philip sat beside him and the spoke together about the meaning of a Bible passage, his eyes were opened to the grace, mercy and love of Jesus. This event is surprising on many levels. Philip, say with someone very different from him. But the gospel drew the two together. Philip acted in obedience to a prompting of God. God was a work and Philip joined in. 
 
An African eunuch here’s the good news of Jesus explained, and knew he was no longer on the outside but was a child of God’s. His response for baptism was his recognition that his life was changed. His post baptism experience is one of joy, and the news of Jesus spreads.
 
What opportunities are you expecting this week to share the good news? Pray for them, look for them and trust God to lead you into them. The news is too good to keep to ourselves

The Seed

In the verses we looked at on Sunday, (Acts 7.54 to Acts 8.4) we saw Stephen stoned to death (the first Christian martyr) and we saw Saul persecuting the church. An occurrence that has gone on to various degrees in various parts of the world ever since, and we are not immune from it today.
What was the purpose of this anger toward Christians? It was and is to stop the spread of the good news of Jesus Christ. But the intended effect was defeated. The church grows and it continues to grow. Persecution of the church doesn’t shut it down, doesn’t kill it off, it opens it up and grows the church.
Tetullian ( A christian who died in about 220 AD)  wrote these words, “Kill us, torture us, condemn us, grind us to the dust…The more you mow us down the more we grow, the seed is the blood of Christians.’
This is the sovereign work of God. God is God, he is in complete control. Of all things. His work of growing his church will not be defeated. But there is a cost. And that cost is an uncomfortable one.
For us at Albany Baptist Church, for us as individual Christians what does that look like? When we speak of evangelism, of sharing the good news of Jesus, what are we prepared to do? What are we prepared to give up? How radical do we want church to be, how different?
When it looks as if things are falling apart, when it appears as if we are not making any head way, when life seems against us, don’t give up. Remember God is in control. He sees way beyond what we do – we focus on the short term, whereas God is seeing into eternity.
We mustn’t give up, but we must be prepared to pay a cost. That cost is obedience, that cost is holiness, that cost is courage, that cost is being different.
God is going to build his church. Are we going to let him build us as well?
 
Prayer and fasting
 
How are you going? Are you pushing into God, are you giving him space to speak. What is he saying?
Continue to pray for the lost, for new people to come into ABC, for  us to reach those who need to know the good news of Jesus effectively. Continue to pray for an increasing sense of his Spirit at work among us, for us to grow in obedience and holiness.