Thinking Backwards

By Jo Cottrell

AN IDEAL FATHER:-

a) is trustworthy and reliable,
b) makes clear the standards he lives by and wants his children to follow,
c) is consistent in his expectations,
d) listens patiently to what his children say,
e) helps them to learn from experience,
f) is always loving, even when punishing,
g) is always willing to forgive,
h) may sometimes put his children to the test, though never beyond their abilities.

Paul was chosen to be the apostle to the Gentiles
he needed to teach them what was in the Old Testament
(which Jews had already spent their lifetime learning)
then he could explain how and why the Jews were ‘God’s Chosen People’
After that he could explain the mystery,
Which few Jews had been able to understand from the Old Testament,
That, right from the beginning, God had been promising,
To extend His promise of salvation equally to anyone in the world,
Who even without the law, was able to give Him
WHOLEHEARTED honour and obedience.

Paul’s converts could then see the relevance of Jewish history to THEIR world,
Likewise, without Paul’s help,
WE would not be alert to the deeper ideas
Behind the stories we have known from childhood

Your turn now – Bibles ready – can you link Paul’s explanations of Bible stories below to the right “hearts” of the Father’s attributes? Some long readings, some short; but the short provoke some extra thought!

 


Communication letting you down?

Is God near you, here, now? Do you yearn for a closer connection? Are you desperate to hear something, anything, from Him, asked Charles last Sunday.

Absent communication can fill us with uncertainty, pain, anguish, as David grapples with in Psalms 39 + 40. He is desperate. Like Job, he asks, why does God so brutally discipline a creature so frail and fleeting as man? We can feel this too, acknowledging our sins, but also wondering why life is so tough. Is God even there?

Like us, David, wracked with anguish, tries to sort it out in his own strength. But internalizing his problems is doomed to failure. The outcome? At the end of Verse 2: “My anguish increased.”

In verse 3 he reflects: “As I meditated, the fire burned.” What fire? Is it the fire of anguish, that God was not delivering his life as he expected. Or is it the fire of faith, and the realization that it was not down to him to resolve these issues. David seems to feel both, warring within him.

He goes on to realize the true context of his fleeting life. Ironic, isn’t it, that so many people spend so much time organizing their life on earth, fleeting as it is, but spend so little time on their role in eternity!

David sees his error. He has to open up, and talk to God. He has to communicate, explain the problem, and listen for an answer. He has to patiently pray, and hear things from God’s perspective. We need to do the same, trusting in God, and waiting patiently, confidently.

And God responds. Ps 40, Verse 1&2: “He turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire, he set my feet on a rock.” What rock? Jesus. Our saviour, the only one who can hold us up.

It is a Christian paradox. Sometimes we must go to the bottom of the pit, before we stop, let go of ourselves, and listen to God. When there is nowhere else to turn, there is God! Amazing! And we’re supposed to be intelligent beings! God is not averse to wielding humiliation, pain, suffering and defeat to help us change our areas of hardness that are so displeasing to Him.

Then we see afresh the loving hand of Jesus, held out to help us up: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

Matt 11:28-30
Christ is the Rock on which we stand – the only rock on which we can stand fast.


Salvation In Action

It snowed in Latvia’s capital city, Riga, last weekend, bringing fresh problems for people already struggling to keep warm and fed.

Bro Slavik and Sis Tanya were living in an uninsulated shed, with no identity documents and only occasional work. Now they are sharing a Christadelphian-funded flat for the winter with Bro Ivan and Sis Judite.

Tanya, who is three months pregnant, recently lost her job washing dishes in a shopping centre. She is painfully thin. Slavik has open sores on both legs, causing him a lot of pain. Visiting a doctor is costly, as is medicine. Neither work and there is no state aid for those without proper papers. Their main food is milled oats from a city charity, supplemented with what they can find, even from bins.

But on Sunday and Monday they get good meals when they travel across the city to the Riga Christadelphian Bible Centre, for Bible reading, breaking of bread and hot food.

Ivan and Judite don’t have work either. But their faith is strong. There is humour in the room, and a strong sense of conviction, that no matter what, God is with them. Slavik and Ivan speak movingly of how they have tried to share their faith with the people they meet.

At the Bible Centre Bro Warren and Sis Jeannie Barton, Christadelphians from Australia, are installing equipment for a children’s play area. It attracts plenty of local mums and toddlers – there is nothing like it in the city. Sis Irma, a long-time member of Riga ecclesia, speaks passionately about God’s hand at work in the city, bringing more people to the centre.

In the afternoon Jeannie delivers fresh vegetables to Bro Gennady in his small apartment. Gennady is delighted, as he clearly is with his new glasses and the new mattress that sits on top of stacked technical books that serve as his bed. This 72-yearold former professional metallurgist is determined to give his 14-yearold son Adrian a firm foundation in the Truth.

Two hundred kilometers towards the Russian border Sis Nina’s isolated small-holding is approached down a long snowy track. Donated clothes are hugely appreciated, as are seeds for the spring and plans for a chicken run. Nina values this friendship, to know she is not forgotten, to share fellowship in Jesus. Her contentment, even joy, amidst hardship, is inspiring.

God is working in Latvia. People want the Truth. But the workers are few.


Review and reflect on a new year

Another year, and still Jesus hasn’t come! Do we feel disappointed, depressed, disillusioned, because we felt sure he would come in 2011? Or do we feel one year nearer to his glorious return.

New Year is a time to review and reflect: did we achieve what we wanted. Maybe for 2012 our motto could be to focus, on what really matters, and avoid the distractions, Stuart Walker exhorted us last Sunday.

As Paul urges us in Philippians 4, fix your thoughts on whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. We should put those verses before all we do.

Becoming effective, for God, by being selective, about what we do, will help. Rather than being busy getting nowhere, we can change, and Focus on God, our Growth and His Grace.

Maybe a month of reading about Christ in Matthew will help us Focus? Seek ye first the kingdom of God, live righteously, don’t worry about tomorrow, today has trouble enough of its own. We need to put things in God’s hands and Focus on His will. To do that we need to read His word. We need to prioritise our service to Him. If we picked up the Bible whenever we needed to answer a text, e-mail or phone call, would that help us Focus?

We need to Focus on people and friends who will help us Grow spiritually. Are they:

  • Refreshers – spiritual mentors, who help us Grow
  • Refiners – who sharpen and clarify our vision, maybe challenging us
  • Reflectors – who mirror our energy, enthusiasm and passion for Christ
  • Reducers – who diminish our goals, don’t accept our aspirations and efforts, want to bring us down to their level. Drifting through life, they think they are right. They are unwilling to step out of their comfort zone. They are too busy.
  • Rejecters – who just don’t understand. They don’t know what they want, but they are going all out to get it.
  • We need to choose our friends carefully, as we seek to Grow in Christ. We need to monitor our own performance, maybe keeping a spiritual diary.

Without God’s Grace salvation is impossible. We can’t earn it, or buy it. By God’s Grace we are given what we don’t deserve, by God’s mercy we are not given what we do deserve. Thus leaves no room for self-righteousness. We must see how kind, tolerant and patient God is with us. His kindness is meant to turn us from our sin. As Andy added in the evening: Grace makes us alive in Christ. Let’s ensure 2012 sees us Focus on our own Growth through God’s Grace.


Be what God wants you to be

So, what did you think of the Royal Wedding, of those hundreds of thousands of people all cheering and wishing the best to that happy couple? The sight from the balcony of Buckingham Palace, looking down the Mall to Admiralty Arch, was truly breathtaking. As Princess Catherine said: “Oh, wow!”

And as we celebrated Hans’s baptism last weekend, we reflected that there was an even greater “WOW” in the heavens, as God, his son Jesus, and all His angels rejoiced at Hans’s fantastic decision to commit his life to Christ.

And a lot of what the Bishop of London had to say to the wedding couple, in a talk watched by an estimated 2 billion people, made good Christian sense and could apply to baptism. One person he referred to was Saint Catherine of Siena. Now, we don’t pay much attention to the saints of the established church, but she is credited with saying something interesting: “Be who God wants you to be, and you will set the world on fire!”

We believe that adult baptism helps us achieve just that. Through baptism, God provides a way for us to become exactly the people He wants us to be. And how powerful we can become in doing His will once we accept that is the case.

Hans (second from right)

Jesus helps us to become what God meant us to be, what He wants us to be, what He put us here on earth to be – that is – our deepest, truest selves, faithful servants to Him, promoting His glory in the world in which we live.

God knows everything about us. He knows how we were knit together in our Mother’s womb. He knows our every foible. He can number the very hairs on our heads – be they many or few. It is amazing – God knows all this and He is deeply interested in our lives and what we are going to do with them.

And so he gives us baptism. A time of joy and celebration. Baptism is a truly incredible moment. Through baptism we open our lives to God, allowing His power to flow into our lives and the lives of those around us – if we will but let it.

This is all made possible a generous God, who so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that through Christ we might serve God’s greater glory, and our spiritual lives might grow, as love finds its centre beyond our individual selves, and instead comes to rest with Him. And, as our spiritual lives deepen, we find a door opens onto the real mystery of spiritual life. The fact is that we increasingly discover:

“The more we give of ourselves, the richer our spiritual life becomes; The more we go beyond ourselves in love,  the more we become our true selves, and our spiritual beauty is more fully revealed.”

Through baptism we are brought into fuller life. Through faith we walk towards God. Through Christ we are given the chance to bask in that glorious and majestic presence, imbibing the life-giving energy that we so need to help us grapple with the many, many brickbats and boulders this life seems to throw our way.


What’s in your “Grab Bag”?

If you were living near a volcano, which could quite easily become active at any moment, you would probably have a “grab bag” in the house – stuffed with all the essential things you would need if an emergency occurred.

It might contain a mobile phone, a torch, a radio, a map, a compass, details of your insurance policy, water, items of food, maybe some extra clothing. Not too much – you want it to be light, so it does not weight you down. And some emergency buddies to help you in your time of need would be good too!

So what about our spiritual “grab bag”? What do you have to grab hold of in times of spiritual need, when the volcanoes of this life start to rumble for you, Rob Evans asked us recently? We all have volcanoes rumbling nearby, don’t we. They are the quiet, unpredictable, yet always present issues, just beneath the surface, that could “go off” at any moment. Maybe it is world politics, financial issues, health, work, study, relationships, climate change, resource shortage, population growth, tuition fees, epidemics, Islamic expansion – there are lots of things that we keep a watch out for, that could rumble into action to affect our lives.

So, what is in your grab bag, to help you cope? Maybe the Bible, to light your way, to provide direction, to act as your spiritual compass. What about insurance? How about Jesus, a sure and certain guarantee of a safe future. Something to help “keep in touch”? Prayer is a good way to tune in to real advice about what matters.

And how about emergency buddies? Your fellow believers, there to help you when times are tough and uncertain. And a role model, to inspire and guide. Jesus again, the one we seek to imitate. Food and drink? Our true food and drink is the bread and wine we share to remember to our Saviour. And water? The water of life, flowing abundantly, from the Gospel.

Jesus exhorted us to be on our guard, to stay alert. He encouraged us to be ready. He wants us to share this readiness with those around us. As the “end times” start to unfold, and the world around us wakes up to changing times, we can provide the reassurance, certainty and comfort that others seek. As the “volcanoes” start to rumble we dip into our grab bag for reassurance.

Are you ready?


Overcoming Anxiety

ARE you troubled by sin? Well, we all are really, aren’t we! But, what if it is causing you difficulty in your faith? A recent letter to The Chrsitadelphian magazine may be helpful.

For some, the problem is anxiety, about our sinful nature. About our inability to harness our desires. About our inability to stop sinning. About our perpetual inability to do the good we would do, and to end the wrong that we keep doing.

If that anxiety is yours, it can feel like the anxiety itself is a sin. We know that we must learn to rest in faith upon the strength of the Lord. We know that we should follow the positive instruction to “be careful for nothing; but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God” (Phil 4:6,7). Furthermore, we should follow our Lord’s words to take “no thought for tomorrow” (Matt 6:34).

However, such statements cannot always be taken in isolation. What if these instructions to dispel anxiety could be read as exhortation and guidance rather than as commands? After all, it would appear that our Lord himself experienced anxiety, to an extreme degree. Immediately before his arrest: “being in agony, he prayed more earnestly: and his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:39-46).

The problem is that if we describe over-anxiety as a sin, then the same logic could be applied to stress, depression and loneliness. Rather than label these as sins, it would seem to be more appropriate to regard them as trials that we have to learn to overcome as individuals and as an ecclesial family.

We remember that even our Lord was “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief: and we hid as it were our faces from him” (Isaiah 53:3).


Diet control!

If you haven’t eaten for a long time and you’re desperately hungry, when given a big piece of chocolate cake with lashings of cream, you’re going to devour the lot, no questions asked!

However, if you’ve just had a big 3 course meal, that same slab of chocolate cake is not going to look anywhere near as appealing – in fact the thought of it will probably make you sick!

It’s the same when it comes to being tempted by things that are bad for us. If we haven’t filled up on the good things (reading, praying, mediating, listening to Christian music etc etc) we’ll naturally fall for the slightest temptation that comes our way. However if we have been filling up on the good things (Phil 4:8), the bad stuff isn’t going to look anywhere near as tempting – in fact even the thought of it might make us feel sick!!

Are you experiencing the above in certain areas of your own life. It can be so true can’t it! It also helps to make sense of passages like 1 John 3:9-10 (which is so often explained away…) “No one who is born of God will continue to sin, he cannot go on sinning…” and Romans 8:5-11 “Those who live according to the sinful nature have their minds set on what that nature desires: but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires….”

By Anna Ryder


Get a Fitness Regime

Does exercise fill you with fear and loathing, Richard asked us last Sunday. Well maybe we need a spiritual fitness class.

When Jesus was tempted he resisted. We too are constantly tempted, by things against our belief, or things that are just not good for us. We need to prepare.

But changing habits is difficult. It can be like a dance class – we may be trying to do good steps and putting in plenty of energy, or less energy and just watching and going through the motions. It is a good analogy for our Christian lives.

Think about dieting too. It’s all about what we put into our bodies. We need to feed our spiritual lives. Jesus’s experiences in the wilderness tell us much. He used the scriptures to knock back temptation. That didn’t happen by accident. It followed a lifetime of feeding on a diet of scripture. So, we need to:

  • Include God in all we do, influencing all our decisions, throughout the day. “Do it all for the glory of God.”
  • Minimise the impact of non-spiritual things, maybe cutting some out, even if they are tempting. “All things are possible, but not all beneficial.” It’s the same as a diet – we need to cut something out. There are many things we need to give up, and we do at baptism, but we also need to review and check if we’ve given up enough, or need to give up more. They may not, necessarily, be wrong things, but they may not help us towards the Kingdom either.

It’s not easy, but it is an ideal. We could all do a bit better. The bottom line is that we need to think more about what we are putting in our bodies, spiritually, to become better Christians. We need to exercise too, spiritually. Do we put in enough effort or just turn up and watch, or merely go through the steps without commitment. Putting the effort in is the key, regardless of whether you get the steps right. James 1:22-25 reminds us: Don’t merely listen, but do. And James 2:14-17 says because of faith we do good deeds, so we can’t have faith and not do good deeds. In Matt 22:36-40, Jesus shows how the commandments prove this.

We need more spiritual food, rather than junk food. And fitness ready for Christ’s return. And God has given us what we need to achieve that. We have a spiritual gym, here at our church, and can exercise where and when we want, and take spiritual food from the Bible every day. We do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from God.

And one more thing, and it’s the biggest problem for dieters – keeping it going. Sustaining it all is difficult, not returning to our old ways. We need to keep going or end up back where we started. We need to keep eating the right spiritual food and committing ourselves to God.

Finally, the Bread and Wine, unlike other health foods, can overcome all the previous week’s Junk Food – feeding us spiritually and covering over all our prior obstacles, errors and omissions.


£50M Christians?

Football player Fernando Torres recently transferred from Liverpool to Chelsea for a UK-record sum of £50m. So how much are you worth, Graeme Tremaine asked recently.

Your perception of your own worth is important. Jesus knows we can be hard on ourselves, leading to low self esteem. We can stress about not doing enough for our Lord, leaving no room to feel joy in our faith. Our potential is cut and our happiness hindered.

Sometimes this stems from confusing worthiness with worth. Jesus said that even after all we do, we are still unprofitable servants, who have only done our duty. That was to guard against self-righteous works. It was not saying we had no worth.

And in Philippians 2 we are exhorted to esteem others better than ourselves. Here again the emphasis is on the motivation, not that we should have no or low self-esteem. The passage isn’t about our own self-perception, but about how we position ourselves relative to others. As 1 Peter says, pursue humility towards each other, because God opposes the proud, so humble yourself, so God lifts you up in due time.

On God’s scale we can never be worthy, we are always lightweight. But just because we are not worthy, it does not mean we are of no worth – to God or fellow men. Love your neighbours and yourself, Jesus urged. If you don’t love yourself, your love for your neighbour will be of little use.

Hebrews 11 lists many who are counted as holy and who Jesus is not ashamed to call brothers, despite their errors. We too may be ashamed of what we have done. But we need not be ashamed that Jesus calls us brothers and sisters. We have great value in his sight. In the same way, God is not ashamed to be called their God, and our God.

Indeed, we are a living temple in which God is prepared to dwell by his spirit. In Romans 8:28 Paul writes to those who are called according to His purpose… predestined…. justified… glorified. So, we can build ourselves up in this knowledge that God foresaw us and our potential. He values that enough to want us in His Kingdom, as chosen servants, destined for Glory. We should accept God’s valuation of us and be inspired. We should not try to tell Him he is wrong.

The disciples argued about who should be first (Mark 9). So Jesus had to show them that anyone who would be first had to be the very last and servant of all. And now we understand.

As Paul told the Philippians, they (and we) should have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: who, being in the form of God…. made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant…… and humbled himself by becoming obedient to death – even death on a cross! So God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow….

As we share bread and wine we think of Jesus’s powerful and triumphant return from servant-hood to glory. And in sharing the emblems we say we are part of his family, valued, called, foreknown and loved. And we give thanks from the bottom of our hearts.