A Big Picture Perspective

Are we guilty of looking at pixels not pictures? Last Sunday Stephen Talmadge from Ipswich shared a sketch of a sheep to make this powerful point.

We all too easily get fixated on the detail, missing the bigger picture. God, by contrast, sees everything – from the big picture of the whole universe, right down to the minutiae of what’s in our pockets and our handbags. God sees it all. And He cares about it all. All 7 billion people living here on earth.

If each of us is represented by a dot on a wall, and we place dots at a rate of one per second, it would take 217 years to place every dot. Yet God sees us all, and hears us all – our prayers, our songs, our thoughts. God knows the tiny things about us, even the hairs on our heads.

He lavishes blessings upon us, so we are able to meet to praise Him. Many can not. We have food, shelter and warmth, and can read God’s word, while many in the world do not. We are in a very privileged place.

But Jesus says don’t worry about food or clothing or such worldly things. The ravens have all they need. And so do we. God is in control – right down to the tiniest pixel of detail, and at the full universe scale too – it is all in His control.

If only we could see that big picture more clearly, to realise how richly we are blessed materially, and to realise that our spiritual blessings are immeasurably greater still. As Paul wrote to Timothy: our Father’s grace, given to us in Christ Jesus, and revealed through his appearing as our Saviour, has destroyed death and brought us life and immortality, through the gospel.

Thus inspired we can communicate the good news – with our Brothers and Sisters, and others too. We can share our learning, knowing that knowledge alone is nothing. It is the wisdom it leads us to that counts: the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.

In the big picture we all occupy slightly different roles, so tolerance is important. Paul changed his character, as far as east is from west, despite his great knowledge. The big picture, the gospel, requires us to be ready to change, as it guides our lives. We need look nowhere else. But we do need to avoid looking at it like an advertising hoarding three inches from our noses, and step back and see it in its glorious entirety.

God In a Secular Age

IS God still relevant in a secular age? What does “secular” really mean? What does “relevant” mean? Such were the challenges put to us in our family/outreach service last Sunday by Maurice Green of Barnet Ecclesia.

We thought about reasons why so many people today reject God and feel disillusioned about religion. UK society has remarkable freedom. But, in the absence of a belief in God, many fail to show responsibility in their use of that freedom. Core values are increasingly lost; everyone does their own thing; values are ever more self-centred; materialism and hedonism abound. It all sounds so much like the days of Noah before the flood.

Very few people in modern society seem to feel the need to take on the responsibilities that go with the great freedoms they enjoy.

That is despite a current of spirituality lurking beneath the surface – a latent interest in the spiritual, a desire for something greater. But it is confounded by an inability to fathom just what it is all about, as described so clearly in Ecclesiastes.

People often point to the hurdles that deter them. Dogma, science, the misbehaviour of believers, the plethora of religions and religion expression – all hindering understanding, keeping them from God’s straight paths. So, faith is cast aside. A tragedy.

Bible teachings could mend our sick society. Jesus described how that could happen in his Sermon on the Mount. “Love your neighbour and love your enemy”. How relevant could that be to modern society! John 1 goes further – Christ shows God’s character to man, and in John 15 Jesus instructs us to abide in him and show him to the people.

The core values of the Gospel mean God IS still relevant. Those values still apply. They still offer benefits. And we hold the key to them!

Even if many in society consider God irrelevant, we, and they, are relevant to God. If we seek a relationship with God, and follow His ways, we can promote His values to those around us through our daily lives.

Maybe we can then make God more relevant to society. We clearly have great work to do!

Carrying Jars of Water

When Jesus wanted to share the last Passover meal with his disciples, he asked them to go to the city of Jerusalem and look out for a man carrying a jar of water, who would meet them, and take them to a safe place (Luke 22:7-13).

As they approached the city, maybe on a hot, dry, dusty day, the man carrying a jar of water must have really stood out from the crowd. He was a man, carrying water. Not what you might expect. He could just as easily have been a man wearing a red tunic, or riding on a white donkey – or a woman selling dates. But he wasn’t, he was a man carrying a jar of water.

A man carrying water, in a jar of clay, probably. A man that was going to show them the way to a room where the Passover could be celebrated, an act of remembrance of a time when God’s chosen people were saved, by daubing the blood of a sacrificial lamb on the doorposts of their homes.

The imagery seems very powerful. Here are the disciples, Peter and John, wanting to make the right preparations, as their Lord asked. Here they are in a hot and dusty world, surrounded by people rushing about doing their own business. And out of the crowd comes a man carrying water – in a jar of clay. Dust to dust, ashes to ashes – surely we can see ourselves as that jar of clay. Into which Jesus has poured living water, by which we are saved!

Surely, Jesus is that water carrier – carrying the life giving water, but carrying it in jars of clay – in us. Carrying us towards a meal with him, in a place of safety, a place that has been prepared beforehand, his Kingdom.

So, do we let Jesus carry us? Do we let him carry us towards a new Passover meal, when he will eat bread and drink wine with us anew?

Do we try to emulate him , as he asked us to do, by being like the water carrier, showing forth to others that the water of life is available to all? Do we share that water with each other, strengthening and uplifting each other on the journey towards that wonderful future?

If the water carrier had been carrying his jar of water covertly, hidden under a cloak, would the disciples have recognised him? Do we think the water carrier was smiling, as he met the disciples, welcoming them to follow him? Do we do the same as we meet each other?

We have the opportunity – each and every day. We can hide the water, inside us, or we can show it forth. We can let the water carrier support us, as he carries us towards his feast of the future. And all this is made possible by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross – a new Passover, in which the blood of a new sacrificial lamb is shed on wood, the wood of the cross. This little passage in Luke seems to make it very clear what we can do.

Is he one of “Us”?

“For whosoever is not against us, is for us.” So said Christ (Mark 9:40). So how do we apply that to our lives? Robin considered the issue last Sunday.

Christ’s comment was in response to the disciples complaining about a man who had been driving out demons, who they had told to stop, because they felt he was “not one of us.”

We know 12 disciples were sent to preach the Gospel. Christ then chose 72 more believers, who he also sent out on a preaching mission. We also know the disciples had complained that they had failed to heal a deaf mute child (Mark 9:28). In effect they were asking: “why couldn’t we do it?”

Christ’s response was, in a sense, a mild rebuke, unambiguously saying: “This kind (of sickness) can only be healed by prayer and fasting” (Mark 9:29). Put another way: “you all think it is easy to do miracles, but it requires a special spiritual state of mind.”

It seems likely that Christ knew this man, knew his integrity, knew he was a sincere servant of God, because quite clearly, without a unity with the Spirit, his efforts would have been as fruitless and futile as the disciples, who thought they could walk on water like Christ, but lacked the faith to sustain the miracle.

So how then should we interact with potential fellow-believers around us? Do we pursue what might be called an ultra-conservatism of separation, cutting ourselves off from society? That can risk the bitter intolerance and heart-wrenching disputes of Patricia Beer’s autobiography Mrs Beer’s House? Or do we pursue a radical new understanding of an open and outward reaching Gospel? Or can the two positions be reconciled?

We know, from experience, that our principles of faith, laid out in our Statement of Faith, do separate us from other people who sincerely believe they are Christ’s servants. The latter can insist, for example, upon the pre-existence of Christ, meaning that as part of the Godhead Jesus could not offer himself for our sins. So, admirable, well meaning, and often delightful as many of our ‘good living’ neighbours are, our first duty is to our master. But God, in His infinite mercy, may still choose to call and grant eternal life to all manner of men and women. They may receive, in His mercy, that same grace for which we pray.

What’s more we do well to remember the principle that to those who receive much, much is expected. If we isolate ourselves, how can we fulfil the role of the Samaritan? Christ is our model. He helped people, made them whole, and let the Gospel message shine through his actions. In that sense nothing changes. And who knows, we may even entertain angels, without ever knowing.

Conduits of God’s Love

Last Sunday Charles exhorted us to let God’s love overflow from our lives into those of the people around us. To do that we need to remove any blockages in the way, maybe the biggest of which is our fear.

An early morning train speeds through the grey dawn, as houses come to life in a snowy landscape – cold, grey houses, with lights slowly coming on in kitchens and bathrooms. But does anything other than electric light warm the landscape? Are there warm emotions awakening in those homes –connecting to create a web of love and warmth across the nation?
Maybe there are feelings of love, care, empathy, mutual support, help, friendship? But maybe there is also: antipathy, envy, competitiveness, anger, selfishness …..

It’s a jaundiced view, maybe, but sometimes it can feel like we live our lives at complete odds with the world around us, a world that seems to be a dry and weary place.
In Psalm 62 David reflects a similar uncertainty. He reminds us that God is our rock: “In Him alone we find salvation.” David prayed to God about his troubles. And he was no longer a captive of fear. In God, in Christ, nothing can shake us. That is the power of God’s love.

But do we too overlook that too easily? If that LOVE abounded, how good would that be……
…….. across the landscape, house to house, home to home, family to family. It’s what we dream of, the Kingdom to come, when Christ’s love rules the world. But we feel like we are, as Psalm 63v1 says: “In a dry and weary land.”

We need to grow love in our lives and our communities. But it’s not easy. A small insight into this, a taste of it maybe, came in Brunei Darusalam, in distant Borneo. The country’s name translates as “abode of peace”. Strong moral laws and vigorous welfare support from oil wealth help this small country achieve that in part. It’s not perfect – road accidents, human trafficking, drugs – they all still happen.

But as a Malay Muslim Monarchy it achieves some success, through 3Ms:

  • Malay – reflecting the polite, deferential, Malaysian culture
  • Muslim – God fearing, with a different view to ours, but a strong faith nonetheless
  • Monarchy – living under a monarch’s absolute power, within his benevolence, but also obedient to his directives.

The fact is, it wasn’t a peaceful country because of love, but because of a sort of ambivalence, born of a caring welfare state and an easy lifestyle.

Maybe we can think of our plan for success being a better one, based on 3Cs:

  • Christadelphian – a loving community of respect, friendship and support
  • Christian – looking to Christ, our loving leader, and his loving Father, the one God, the Lord Almighty.
  • Coming-Kingdom – a loving partnership with Christ, as his church, fully obedient to a loving God.

In all 3 Cs love is paramount: it rules supreme. Nothing else. Not judgement, not learning, not study, not preaching, not serving, not giving.…..not doing anything. But loving. Having love in our hearts – the love inspired by Christ, welling up inside us, to help us do what Christ wants us to, in whatever befalls us.

Paul reflects Christ’s message about this in Romans 13v8: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the

So, will we be channels of God’s love, conduits overflowing with what God has given us, so others notice? When we turn the lights on in the morning, will we think: “This is the day that the Lord has made, Let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Will you be a channel of God’s love?

Predictions To Ponder

Last Sunday Russell encouraged us to look at how Joseph’s life acted as a predictor of our Lord Jesus, and how God’s predictions were fulfilled through Christ’s suffering, his glory, and the salvation he made available to us all.

In today’s world we might turn to weather predictions to try to help us plan our days. Sometime they are right. Other times they can prove to be wrong. A forecast of heavy snowfall maybe sets us thinking about days off work, school or college. When a meagre sprinkling of a just little snow falls instead we end up with chaos as we try to press on with our “normal” lives.

God’s predictions are different. They are rock solid. In Genesis we find crucial predictions, told through the life of Joseph, a man not unfamiliar with predictions himself. His whole life was a prediction of things to come, of Christ, and his suffering, his apparent demise, and his return to provide salvation. Indeed, Joseph’s name, in Egyptian, means “one who reveals……, and saves.”

Since Jesus died, and returned, as predicted through Joseph’s life, many have been saved through the Gospel message. As John reports (John 12:24), “unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.”

Joseph was a shepherd (Gen 37:2). Jesus said he was a shepherd too (John 10:14). He said he was a shepherd whose sheep knew him. So we humbly remember him, as sheep, recognizing his voice. And do we love him deeply and passionately, reflecting how well we know him? Do we know him as well as our best friend, sharing our problems with him? We can.

What goods were the Ishmaelite traders carrying with them to sell, when Joseph was sold to them? Gen 37:25 – spices, balm, myrrh, as used in mummification in Egypt, to preserve the bodies of the dead. These items were not produced locally, but brought in, from across the desert….

Later, when Joseph’s family joined him in Egypt, they were given the choice lands of Goshen. This favouring of the people was despite them being shepherds – people the Egyptians detested. Jesus, too, was favoured by his Father, despite the “world” hating him. Indeed, his cloak was fought over, just as Joseph’s had been.

Joseph’s ability to interpret dreams was a gift from God. He acknowledged this: Gen 40:8 – “do not interpretations belong to God”. He effectively positioned himself as the mediator between men and God. Just as Jesus is for us.

These and many other parallels between Joseph and Jesus all serve to help us come closer to Jesus, to improve our understanding of our saviour. God’s predictions are not vague, uncertain and unfulfilled. They are precise, sure and being fulfilled as history unfolds. We can put all of our faith in them.

Humility: What’s it to you?

The scriptures command us to humble ourselves. There is an obvious underlying assumption – that we ALL reek with pride!

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God…” (1 Peter 5:6).

Facing up to humility is a little like arriving at a cliff and looking across the valley far below and hearing God tell us to keep going, down into that valley. The valley was made for us to cross, as part of our life journey. But it is such a long way down!

Most people decide not to cross. They, like Nebuchadnezzar, refuse to listen to God’s warning and choose to persist in their pride instead. For Nebuchadnezzar, it was only 12 months later when God confronted him and tossed him from earth’s highest cliff to its lowest abyss. For seven years, he went across the fields as a beast (Daniel 4).

Numerous leaders, fathers, mothers and an endless stream of children have fallen into adulterous and materialistic sins. God has warned each one of them to humble themselves. But each one of them stubbornly resists to take the steps down to humility. They think far too much of their position in life, their self-gratification of desires and confidence in their wealth.
But they only need time before they fall over the cliff. It is a hard way to find humility.

By contrast the brave and discerning dare to look at their lives from God’s perspective. The steps down are steep, but they can carefully descend. They know the quick way down, but, by God’s grace, have assessed that the damage would exceed the time saved! Humbling themselves is much like the careful manipulation of their feet, so as not to plunge down into the depths of the canyon.

Humble, not Proud. If we choose to humble ourselves with God’s help, we can carefully descend. But if we harden ourselves, the scriptures say the path of the proud ends in a fall. So why push God to send us over a cliff? Why not deliberately humble ourselves and go down that valley on our own?! This is what the scriptures exhort us to do.

This is the path of Christ Jesus. The most high and excellent one died a death, for the sake of others, in obedience to His Father. In complete humility.

Humility, so often neglected, stands as one of the foundational teachings for having a growing and fruitful Christian life. In a real sense humility holds the secret for growth, wisdom, perseverance, blessing, salvation, and wonderful relationships.
Are you humbled by the way you have lived as a Christian and heard so little emphasis placed on the importance humility should play in our Christian lives. And yet Jesus placed such great emphasis on humility.

“Whoever then humbles himself as this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:4).
We do not naturally seek the path of humility. But if we seek to follow Christ, then our training must include a number of hikes on the trail of humility. God does not take a man to great heights without first walking him through the darkness of the valley.

Our pathway has been beautifully carved out by the glorious and gracious Lord Jesus Christ. Let’s follow it……

Modelled On Perfection

What model did God use when He made you and me?

Genesis 1:26: God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…”
He made us like Himself, and for a reason. He wants us to be like Him. He made us with that in-built potential. It is His intention.
And what about God’s template for Jesus?

Hebrews 1:3: The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.
Jesus shows us what God is like. He shows us clearly what we might otherwise struggle to comprehend.

Colossians 1:15: The Son is the image of the invisible God.
What we learn from Jesus reveals the character of God to us.

John 1:14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.

And what do we do with that information? We change…

Ephesians 4:20-24: You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

This transformation happens, not through our actions, but because we let God act within us.

Philippians 2:13: for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.
We are created by God acting is us. Indeed, God is creating himself in us.

And who achieves this transformation? Is it us?

2 Corinthians 3:17-18: And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, ARE being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
We are being transformed by God’s spirit.

The more we look at Jesus the more we are changed. So, do people look at us and see the children of the Father, full of grace and glory. Or do people think us miserable? Are we true representatives of God? Do we show forth grace and truth? Maybe we fail to focus on him sufficiently. Maybe we fail to let Him work in our lives. May our focus not slip. May we not prevent God from acting in our lives.

(Based on part of a talk given at Kingston Ecclesia in Jamaica by Bro Tony Isaacs of Atlanta East, USA)

Love is….

What’s love to you? What does it mean? Who do you love? How do you know when you are in love? Does it matter who you love? And what is the difference between being in love with somebody and loving somebody?

Such were the questions Malcolm Churchill asked last Sunday. John summed it up pretty well – God is love. But how do we apply that in our lives?

The “Love is…” cartoon series cites various interpretations of love. So, which works for you? Is love:

  • Walking the dog together
  • Happiness for two
  • Do right, not being right
  • Seeing his/her face everywhere
  • Never wanting to leave / say goodbye /be parted
  • Keeping him/her always in mind

Defining love, like truth and beauty, is not easy. Identifying what is true, beautiful and lovely is easier. Identifying the qualities helps our understanding. Matthew relays how Jesus urges us to love our enemies. Not to be in love with our enemies. But to love them. To decide to be loving towards them. It is the difference between the emotional effects of human nature, that cause us to be in love, and the decision we can take, inspired by Christ, to mirror his perfection by being loving. How many people would you love and care for if you had not heard of Christ?

Loving those who oppose us is not easy. In the UK we don’t often face those who hate us, in the way that can turn our lives upside down. But maybe we can grapple with those who don’t love us. So, does Jesus make a difference to our response to others?

In Mark a scribe asks Jesus what the greatest command is. Love God first and love your neighbour next. This is an extreme statement, with no caveat or balancing requirement.

These are absolute commands. Yet we put things in the way… ”Yes, I agree, but….” This distinction is similar to the difference between emotional happiness and deciding to be joyous, whether we are happy or unhappy.

Unhappiness gives us the opportunity to test whether we are joyous. In a similar way sadness gives us the opportunity to test whether we are loving.

Are you?

Brothers and Sisters of the Boss

Last Sunday David Brown from King’s Heath ecclesia in the Midlands led our thoughts to Jesus by an exhortation about paradoxes.

Paradoxes make us think. They bring together two things that ought to be contradictory, but are not. The Bible is full of them.

In Isaiah we have the greatness of God, from which the people hide, immediately preceded by God’s focus on the fatherless and widows. Isaiah 40 has Jesus the tender shepherd beside God holding the waters in the palm of his hand.

This juxtaposition of God’s greatness and tenderness contrasts with other religions, which treat God as mighty, “out there” and distant. A Biblical faith is different; it sees that God has come down to a human level.

In Psalm 102 the nations revere God – but He hears the prayers of the destitute. In Psalm 147 He numbers the stars, but also heals the broken-hearted.

It is a paradox – the same God who is mighty sovereign over all, also cares about small things. Little things. Little people. They matter.

In the New Testament, in the parable of the lost son, God, the father, is not stern, but throws dignity aside and embraces his lost son. That is our God.

Jesus, the paradox of the servant king, shows us what God would be like if He could be distilled into the form of a man. Jesus’ ministry confirms it, when Bartimaeus’s cry is enough to turn Jesus from his journey to Jerusalem.

As we increase our allegiance to Jesus, we become more obligated to care about the inadequate and powerless. If God cares, we need to too.
Translating that care into action means being concerned about each other. And treating each other as special. How much more effective our church might be if we treated all our brothers and sisters as if they were indeed the very brothers and sisters of our Boss, the Lord Jesus.