Family matters for us all

What F word describes our ecclesia? Followers? Fellowship? Friends? Or family? Dan Fox, from Shirley ecclesia, encouraged us to think of our family in Christ at Horley, a family just like Joseph’s family of 66 members from all those years ago.

Like Joseph’s family, we all have one Father, even if we have different mothers. We have problems, just like Joseph’s family had problems. We are prone to fight, be jealous, commit bad actions. Each member is different. Some are more spiritual, others focussed on work and career, some of us doing things we shouldn’t. Ecclesias are by no means perfect. BUT, like a family, like Joseph’s family, we can show love.

In Gen 37:16 we find Joseph seeking for his family, just like Jesus, for whom he is so clearly a type. And the other 11 brothers clearly represent the disciples….and us, reflecting the range of character types in every ecclesia. Reuben, physically strong, but spiritually weak; Naphtali, doing things alone; Levi and Simeon, quick tempered and fast to react. And Judah.

In Gen 37:26 we find him taking an active role, trying to prevent Joseph from being killed. But then in Gen 38:1 he leaves the family and goes “down”, away from the ecclesia, the family, to spend time with an outsider, Hirah. And why? To make money.

Why doesn’t God prevent him from doing this and the bad things that follow? Simple. Because it is his choice, just as we have a CHOICE.
Fortunately, Judah recognises his errors, when he is humbled by Tamar, his daughter-in-law. He had been thinking of himself only, when he should have been thinking of his family too. Despite being outside the family, outside the ecclesia, God was still working on him

In Gen 43:1 he is back in the family, the ecclesia, and leading, as the family seeks salvation from starvation in Egypt, where Joseph now oversees the land. God has brought Judah back, a changed man, humbled and contrite like Paul (1 Cor 15), recognising God’s grace.

In Gen 43:8 Judah takes personal responsibility for his brother, Benjamin. 1 John 3:16 embodies the concept: “this is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”

In the same way, around us are all our brothers and sisters – Isachar, Reuben, Gad….. Would you be willing to lay down your life to prevent the spiritual death of any of them? Judah had recognised that our whole purpose in life is to seek, to look out for, each other.

Jesus’s mission was the same. Heb 2:9 “But we see Jesus… crowned with glory and honour ….bringing many sons to glory…but the one who makes men holy and those who are made holy are of the same family. So Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers.”

Jesus’s whole mission is to seek us, to keep us alive. So let us remember how we are a family and lay down our lives for the spiritual good of each other too.

If God is for us, who can be against us?

How strong is your faith? Do you have the faith and confidence in God to really believe we are His children and servants, with all that entails? Last Sunday Robin stepped in for Jim Bilton to remind us of the strength of conviction available through Christ.

Indeed, we could be the very tools with which the final shackles are struck off the gates of the Kingdom. Yet, despite this great potential, our lives can seem small and petty, a round of the mundane, leading to feelings of meaninglessness and futility.

If last year was not a year of significant progress for you, does that make you apprehensive for the future? If so, look to Paul. His desire, like ours, was to always do good. Yet he couldn’t seem to make that happen. Instead he saw himself doing wrong, even when he didn’t want to. How human!
Indeed, it is the sin within that acts. And, thanks be to God, through Jesus Christ our Lord, that sin can be blotted away. This is the very nature and purpose of our religion – to believe, really believe, so we can derive those benefits. Because, let’s face it, evil is no part of God. It is a self-inflicted human wound.

So, what reasons, during the tests and trials of life, including all the small mundane ones, do we have for believing that a higher power is working for the good of all creation, and for our benefit?

We know the victory was achieved through the apparent weakness of Christ, the only perfect man. True religion teaches that we do not need to be snared in our old selves. True peace of mind comes with our attempts to serve him. Nothing more. Not mysticism. Just Christ’s “easy burden” of simple belief, acted out. Paul did this, and it amazed the Jews. God protects His true servants. As Peter says: “We did not invent clever stories.” Abraham believed God and it was credited to him as righteousness. Not that he only believed. He acted on his belief too – through his preparedness to sacrifice his son Isaac. As James says, faith without deeds is no good.

So, maybe 2010 was not good. No matter. It is buried. What matters is the opportunities that remain to us. Do not be despondent, be cheerful. We are part of God’s family and He will look after us. God did not spare His own son, graciously giving us all things through him. “I will surely bless you and give you many descendants.” And we are those descendants if we do His will. And if we do, that will rid us of the fear and despondency that can catch us out.

“If God is for us, who can be against us.”

Gathering, the Gospel, and Giving

Sometimes our thoughts become dominated by what we want! We lose sight of what we actually need. There is a huge difference between the two. We might want more material possessions, experiences and opportunities. By contrast, God knows what we actually need.

Last Sunday Barry reminded us of Stewart’s encouragement to just stop between tasks, between all our rushing about, and recognise God’s role in the world and in our own individual lives.

Barry reminded us about the blessings of fellowshipping together, especially through Gathering, the Gospel, and Giving. These are things we need to build our characters in the way God wishes us to, to promote His message and to be a lightstand for the Gospel message.

In Acts 20 Paul commits the Ephesians to God and to the word of His grace: “which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.”
That is why these are the things we need. So much more valuable than what we often want.

Gathering: probably the area where we all have most room for improvement. Joining together and appreciating each other’s company meets a need we have, for the right focus in our lives. Maybe it pays to reflect how much effort a speaker makes preparing the topic for the gathering. All we need to do is turn up and receive one idea to make it worth our while attending!

Gospel: this is all about ministering to each other. Through grace we have a great reason for common fellowship, because we have such a great thing in common. And our fellowship, which is all about joint actions, and only uses words when necessary, will bind us together more strongly.

Giving: to each other and gracefully receiving too. Remember, it is more blessed to give than to receive. Here the emphasis is on giving as in sacrificing something out of love, as opposed to donating, which involves little real effort. Jesus knew the difference. His giving is the one thing that makes us know for certain that Jesus loves us – his sacrificial gift of his life, given in service to his Father, for us.

If we confuse wants with needs we are on dangerous ground. If we choose to care for another, we choose to benefit them, which involves sacrificing ourselves, showing our love. If they do something in return, with the same motivation, the love grows. If it is done to meet a want, it is more about paying a tax, an obligation, done grudgingly, with no sacrifice and no love. This applies at an individual and ecclesial level. And it works at God’s level too. So, what will you do for God and for Jesus, to show your love? Something you want to do, or something you need to do?

New Year’s Resolutions

So, how was your first week of the new year? Another week closer to God’s Kingdom? Another week of good works, building towards a more Christ-like personality? Another week of laying down strong growth towards the
character God wants you to be?

Last Sunday Stuart Walker exhorted us to seize the opportunity of the New Year to resolve to commit ourselves to a closer walk with Jesus towards God’s Kingdom.

A week later it is easy to reflect on how tough that walk can be. Not just thwarted by wilful acts of disobedience, but hampered by the seemingly never-ending onslaught of daily life, preventing us from doing the things we want to do and pushing us into actions we never intended.

Amidst these challenges, stop, and ponder. God has showered upon us rich blessings – a knowledge of the Word, rich fellowship, the necessities for daily life, and forgiveness of our mistakes through Christ, What rich blessings! Furthermore, all those slips and mistakes we make, despite being so unintended and so unwelcome, are helping us towards the characters God wants us to be – provided we learn from the experiences. Like a tree growing in the forest, some years are good for growth, some less so. But even the tough times produce growth – as we adapt our characters to cope with the
knocks we take, Charles suggested in last Sunday’s family service.

We need not lose heart. Look back over the years, at where you have come from, and think about where God is taking you. Think of that ancient Great Basin Bristlecone Pine, known as Methuselah (left). What has it gone through that has influenced the development of the growth rings that run through its trunk, as it stands in California today, aged 4,844 years! Our mortal lives are shorter, but filled with incident. So, surely, our three top priorities must be to:

  • Recognise more clearly the hand of God in our lives and the affairs of the world around us;
  • Review the many blessings we have in our daily lives;
  • Reaffirm our number one priority to be developing our relationship with God.

Perhaps then we will see that come what may, we are continuing to lay down successive rings of growth, some stronger than others, but all contributing to the overall character God so wants us to become.
As a result, perhaps we can approach the year ahead with greater confidence, And we can have in mind the image painted so clearly in Jeremiah 17:7, as suggested by Julia Ricci in last week’s Prayer Circle e-mail.

May God be with us all as we strive to walk in his paths until Christ returns.