Peace and Hope

There are many names and titles for Jesus…

  • Immanuel
  • Messiah
  • Son of God
  • Wonderful counsellor
  • Prince of peace
  • Lord of Lords
  • King of Kings
  • Saviour
  • Redeemer

No wonder at Jesus’ coming the armies of heaven declared “Glory to God in highest heaven, and peace on earth to those with whom God is pleased.

Whatever kind of year you may have had, I pray you may know something of Jesus, the Prince of peace.  Don’t lose hope.  As we come to a time of prayer now take some time and space to bring your hopes and fears before God in the silence of your heart.  In that silence if you don’t know what to say, why not simply try these words…“Come, Lord Jesus”

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What can I give him?

Christmas is a time for the giving and receiving of gifts.  It is a time when we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

What gift could we possibly give to the Saviour of all of the World?  Do you know what the most precious thing to God is?

We sing “In the Bleak Midwinter.”
“What can I give him, poor as I am?
If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb;
if I were a Wise Man, I would do my part;
yet what I can I give him:  give my heart.

The most precious thing to God is YOU.  His love for you is beyond measure.  And Jesus came to share that love with us and to make his Father’s love known.

What can I give him?  Give him my heart.

No place for the King

God sent his son Jesus…Jesus who was fully man and fully God.  He didn’t come in power and majesty – there was no royal procession – there was no room for him at the inn.

Sometimes we might not feel “good” enough to come before God.  But that is exactly the point.  We aren’t – but through Jesus we are welcomed in to the courts of the King.

If you knew that God’s son was coming…how would you prepare?  We have all been preparing and making ready for Christmas.  For many it is a time of reflection, a time for families, a time for hoping, and a time of joy.  If Mary and Joseph knocked on your door, would you have room for them?  Would you give a space to the Saviour of all of the World in your heart and home?

God with us

Bearing in mind we are living in a connected age, an age in which we can speak almost instantly to people across the world.  Yet sometimes it seems that people have never been further apart at any time in the history of the world.

The thing about God is, he doesn’t do “far apart”. He isn’t distant and far off.  That’s what he has always said about himself.  And we are reminded about that each year at Christmas as we celebrate the Gift of God come  down to man, the dawning of Immanuel which means “God is with us”. Jesus Christ was incarnated, fully God and fully man, to be with us. It had to be that way.

Immanuel – God’s son Jesus came to bring light into darkness, to save people from their sins, to guarantee that we might be close to God and remind us of God’s presence all the time. It is the greatest intervention in history.

And in the coming of Jesus, there is an invitation. Would you like God to be with you, to be that ever present help?

Advent 2

The following notice appeared in the window of a coat store in Nottingham, England:

“We have been established for over 100 years and have been pleasing and displeasing customers ever since. We have made money and lost money, suffered national disasters, rationing, government control, and bad payers. We have been cussed and discussed, messed about, lied to, held up, robbed, and swindled. The only reason we keep going is to see what happens next.”

We read in today’s Gospel that immediately prior to the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry, John the Baptist was proclaiming what Luke has called a “baptism of repentance.” Like so many of the prophets before him, John was preparing the people for what would happen next, he says to the crowds that came to be baptized by him, “Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight…and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth; and all flesh shall see the salvation of God.” (Luke 3:4-6).

So much of our faith journey involves preparation, making ready, inviting God to help us to put our spiritual house in order.  And we do that because we know an honoured guest is coming…someone who we want to bring the most precious of gifts to – and of course the guest is Jesus, the Saviour of all the world, the King of Glory.

And in our Gospel reading we find three steps necessary to help us prepare and make ready. The three steps are:

(a) John went into the desert,

(b) the word of God came to him, and

(c) John left the desert and went about proclaiming the faith.

We also must pass through these three stages to arrive at the stage where we begin to live a life of faith with joy.

Stage 1- We go into the desert.

The desert is a place of being alone with God and incredibly it is in the desert or wilderness that God’s people so often found themselves in a place of transformation or blessing.

We go into the desert when we take time off our normal job and household occupation to be with God in church, in prayer, in reading the word of God. The desert is the place where we encounter God; it is a place free from distractions. We ourselves must take the first step to go into the desert, to reach out to God, to look for God.

Stage 2 – The word of God comes to us.

Once we open our hearts to God in the desert, God Himself comes and fills us up. A saint once said that when we take one step to God, God takes two steps to us. At this stage God takes the initiative to come to us, to fill us, to renew us, to transform us, to remould us into His image that we are created to be. This is the stage that some people call being born again. When this happens to us we would like to spend the whole day alone with God in church, in prayer, in Bible reading. But like John we must go on to live our lives and carry out our duties in the family and in the society.

Stage 3 – We go about proclaiming the faith.

Having experienced the goodness of the Lord in our own lives, our next desire is to share this experience with others. It’s like we are wearing a T-shirt with the inscription, “Wow, God is great!” People look at us and see the joy and peace and serenity that radiates from us and they would like to be like us. They would like to be our friends. And then we can in turn help them by showing them the pathway to the desert, the place where they, in their turn, will encounter God personally. The experience of God is like the experience of love. You can tell people about it but they will not understand what you are talking about until they themselves experience it.

We desperately need prophets in the church today who can encourage us to make ready, to prepare, to listen to God. What happens next – what we are preparing for – is truly spectacular and it is incredible if we seek to live our lives in the knowledge of that. Remember, Jesus has come; Jesus will come again.  As you journey through advent and prepare for what happens next my prayer echoes that of Paul… that your love may overflow more and more with knowledge and full insight to help you to determine what is best, so that in the day of Christ you may be pure and blameless, having produced the harvest of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ for the glory and praise of God.  Amen

Inclusion

We live in very political times. Post modernity and post Christendom has left the church politicised. We hear a lot about rights and inclusion these days, and that’s good. But what we don’t hear about is moral and Godly responsibility. God hates sin, but loves the sinner. So why is it that people seek to redefine sin to accommodate their lifestyle choices?

I say this because whenever we say we are for one group or another, we are inadvertently leaving out other groups. Such practice is anything but inclusive. I want people’s rights to be remembered but not at the price of mine being taken away.  I want people’s rights to be remembered but not at the price of everyone else’s being taken away.

And let’s also remember that with the privilege of rights comes the precious burdens of responsibility and accountability .  Do we consider ourselves to be accountable to one another and more importantly accountable to God?  Are we prepared to take up that burden of responsibility and use it to bring glory to God, or are we merely seeking self glorification and pursuing our own agendas?

These are questions that many people seek answers for but for some reason the answers aren’t out there.  When we who are accountable to one other ask such questions, a resounding silence speaks volumes.

Let our banner read ALL are welcome and let’s try together to have the mind of Christ and kneel before a Holy God.  Let’s read Philippians 2 and may it be a wake up call to all of us as we are presented with what it is to have the mind of Christ.  No point in being silent before him since he knows our inmost being and our thoughts from afar.

God’s Presence

1 Kings 19

There are things that if we are honest we may find we are fearful of.  I don’t mean the fear of creepy crawlies and things like that.  I mean the things that make us feel sick to the stomach with dread.

Elijah went from being incredibly bold and courageous – in power and strength – to a quivering wreck in the blink of an eye.  In faith he orchestrated a miracle before Ahab, with no fear of recrimination or doubt of the outcome.  His trust in the Lord was complete.  So what happened?  With one message from Jezebel, Elijah’s faith seems to have evaporated and he was fearful.  Elijah had succeeded in cutting himself off from God, the fountain of his strength and allowed self doubt to creep in.

What is interesting is where Elijah went.  He went into the wilderness.  Some people fear wilderness experiences.  Yet the Holy Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness and Jesus returned from the wilderness full of the Holy Spirit.  God is always present, if we take a moment to acknowledge him. Sometimes we have to journey through the wilderness before we find that we can listen.  Elijah will have arrived there disappointed and exhausted – and all poured out.  How many times have we found ourselves in that place?

What did Elijah really want?  What did he really expect.  He said “It is enough; now, O LORD, take away my life, for I am no better than my ancestors.”  We are not told of Elijah’s reaction to the angel appearing before him; his actions certainly don’t seem in any way to question the angel.  And so he ate and drank a heavenly banquet in the middle of the wilderness, heavenly because it was provided by that ever present God, and heavenly because it was sufficient to sustain him for forty days and forty nights as he journeyed on to Horeb, the mount of God.

God showed Elijah that he wasn’t simply present in the “earthquake” and “fires” and “winds”, but he was also present in the silence.  With this in mind, God asked  “What are you doing here, Elijah?”   Elijah had to relearn where his help came from.  He needed to lift his eyes up to the mountains.  He needed to learn humility and know that if God was present it was enough.  Lord, open our eyes that we might see you.

Draw me closer, Lord

Draw me closer, dear Lord

So that I might touch You

So that I might touch You

Lord, I want to touch You

Touch my eyes, Lord,

Touch my eyes, dear Lord

So that I might see You

So that I might see You

Lord, I want to see You

Your glory and Your love

Your glory and Your love

Your glory and Your love

And Your majesty

Acceptance

There is a huge difference between acceptance and giving in.  Giving in takes you to a place of inaction and paralysis. Acceptance takes you to a place of choice…it is a place you consciously journey towards.

In Gethsemane, Jesus didn’t give in. He came to that place of acceptance. He made that choice to lay aside his majesty and drink from the cup. He had to do that. He had to go into the place of pain and brokenness so that it too might be transformed and redeemed.

It is in that place of acceptance that the things that hold us back are robbed of their power and hold over us. It allows us to no longer pour out all our energy on the things that we cannot change, the things that at the end of the day no longer concern us. It is in that place where the things that clamoured for our energy and attention are silenced.

It is in that place where we can say “Lord, may your will be done. May your Kingdom come.” It is in that place that we begin at last to listen. It is in that place where, free from distractions, we might listen to God. Job came to that place too. “The Lord giveth, and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.

There are truths that help us to come that place of acceptance and these truths are the ones we need to tell ourselves again and again until they become written on the tablet of our hearts.

Three of these truths are:

  • We are precious in God’s sight

Nouwen said we must believe in the yes that comes back when we ask of God “Do you love me?”  We are created in God’s image and likeness and destined for adoption as his children; we are chosen by God.  We find our dignity, our esteem and our humanity in Him.  We must choose the yes of God’s love even when we do not experience it because his love endures forever; we need to know that whatever we come through in life, Jesus’ blood covers even that…His grace is sufficient.  It has to be sufficient because otherwise Jesus’ death was for naught.   It is an answer that does not lie in rehashing old events, or in guilt or shame – those are symptoms of leaving the place of acceptance.  All of those make us dissipate our self and leave the rock on which our house is built.  It’s not simply a case of positive thinking and thinking the right thoughts, important as they may be…it comes down to belief…do we believe it when we are told that God loves us?  Do we hear Jesus when he says “walk with me”?  Do we believe it when we are told to cast our cares upon the Lord for he will sustain us? Do we believe that we are precious in God’s sight?

  • We are not alone

In coming to that place of acceptance, we need to remind ourselves that nothing can separate us from the love of God.  So we need to try and come to that place of knowing – that deep inner knowing – that actually we are not alone.  God is with us, that ever present help in a time of trouble.  Our Wonderful Counsellor and Prince of Peace.  If we have the courage to keep returning to the foot of the cross and look around us we will find that we are not alone.  We always need to keep coming back to the foot of the cross.  And should we ever have the courage to really look carefully, we will see that the cross is empty and the risen Christ is right beside us, journeying with us.

  • God understands

Sometimes we may feel like God is far off or that God doesn’t understand, and yet when the prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming Messiah, of Christ our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer we are told:

He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not.

Surely he took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows, yet we considered him stricken by God, smitten by him, and afflicted.

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed.

When Jesus was resurrected and appeared before his disciples he was known by his wounds; he still bears them and he bears them for you and I.  He knows when we sit and when we rise; He perceives our thoughts from afar.  He discerns our going out and our lying down; He is familiar with all our ways.  Before a word is on our tongue He knows it completely. God understands…he really understands.