In Memory

During the summer, Ann and I took a walk along a footpath beside Boston Harbour. The views across the water towards the city were quite stunning as various craft weaved their way in and out of the islands. As we walked we noticed several benches had been installed with an inscription ‘In memory of….’ along with a person’s dates of birth and death. No doubt many people use those benches and enjoy the departed person’s favourite view without a moment’s thought for them. For family members, sitting on such a bench is altogether more poignant; perhaps they had walked together there, held hands, kissed, even argued! For them, sitting there is less about the view and more about their connection with a loved one.

Jesus gave his disciples an instruction about what to do in his memory: to share in the simple act of eating some bread and drinking some wine. In some ways this memorial seems as humble and mundane as a park bench, yet actually it is altogether more profound. What goes through your mind as you share communion? Are you like a stranger who barely notices the inscription on the bench; you simply park your bottom to rest your legs and survey the landscape? Or are you a family member who tastes the bittersweet blend of sadness and joy as you reflect on the death of Christ, ‘the friend who is closer than a brother’ (Proverbs 18:24)? Perhaps you experience sadness that your sin caused him such pain; joy that his pain has granted you pardon and forgiveness for all your sin.

In John 6:53-59 Jesus tells his disciples to eat his flesh and drink his blood long before his Last Supper with them. How strange these words must have seemed to them until after Jesus’ resurrection. It is far easier for us to fit those words together with the words Jesus then spoke in the upper room and thirdly the truth of his resurrection. In our churches we tend to emphasise the memorial component of the ‘breaking of bread’. If you read Jesus’ words in John 6 carefully, you will notice that Jesus links eating his flesh and drinking his blood as being fundamental to having life and to remaining in Christ. I believe that in these verses we are being invited to understand that what we call communion is not merely an act of remembrance but is part of God’s provision for us to draw closer to Jesus. If that is true then communion should be the highlight of our Christian walk, the climax of our worship and the place of deepest intimacy with our Saviour. Next time you have the opportunity to share communion, come with great expectancy to meet with Jesus.

This blog post featured in the October 2014 edition of Lifelines

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Life in the Spirit

Recently I attended a meeting where someone posed the question “What is discipleship?” which set me thinking. But before we can even begin to answer that question we first need to ask “What is a Disciple?”

“Easy,” we might say, “simply turn to the pages of the New Testament and start listing James and John, Peter and Andrew and the rest of the twelve Jesus called to follow him. Those are the 12 disciples.” So we might conclude that a disciple is someone who has been with Jesus. I sometimes find myself wondering wistfully what it would have been like to be one of those first 12 disciples and to have the privilege of spending 3 years, 24/7 with Jesus; walking the same dusty roads, sleeping on the same dusty floors and eating food from the same battered table.

Yet it is clear from the Great Commission where he tells us to ‘make disciples of all nations[1] that Jesus saw the group of people called disciples as extending far beyond the 12 to include ourselves. But how can this be when we can’t be with Jesus like the twelve were? Or can we?

Jesus promised that when he went to heaven he would leave behind the Holy Spirit to be our comforter or ‘advocate to help us and be with us forever’.[2] Take a moment to ponder the significance of this promise. Jesus is saying that the Holy Spirit has been given to us so that, like the 12 disciples, we can be in Jesus’ company every moment of every day, wherever we are!

We will begin this autumn term with a series called ‘Life in the Spirit’. My prayer is that we do more than simply learn truth about the Holy Spirit over the coming weeks. Unless we have a genuine experience of the Holy Spirit that causes us to encounter Jesus day by day we are liable to drift from being in relationship with him as his disciples and become merely historians who know about Jesus. Join me in praying that this series will lead us into a fresh encounter with Jesus as we open up our lives to Him.

[1] Matthew 28:19

[2] John 14:16

 

This blog post featured in the September 2014 edition of Lifelines

Holiday or Holy Day?

Holiday season is upon us and this edition of Lifelines will cover both July and August as many of us will be away for a few weeks before September. The length of holiday entitlement varies greatly depending upon where in the world you live. A recent report from Mercer revealed that, when statutory holiday and public holidays are combined, Austria and Malta are the countries with the most generous entitlement at 38 days each. The USA languishes at the bottom of the tables with zero statutory paid leave days!

If you check out the meaning of ‘holiday’ in the Oxford dictionary it will tell you that the word comes from the Old English haligdæg which means holy day. This reflects that the historical origin of such days was linked to religious festivals when the best most people could hope for would be to enjoy time off on days like Christmas and Easter. The concept of prolonged leisure days at an employer’s expense is a modern one deriving from improved living standards. Despite these more generous work-life balance benefits, many people experience added stress around holiday times. Whether it is the pressure of finishing tasks before heading off for a break, catching up on the backlog on their return or in some cases the continued phone and email contact during the holiday, the holiday season can be at least as stressful as the rest of the year.

Jesus was not immune from pressure and, when the crowds pressed in and tried to set his agenda, he would take himself away to a quiet place where he could be alone with his Father.

Immediately Jesus made the disciples get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowd. After he had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray.

The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 14:22-23). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

If Jesus needed space for time alone away from the pressure of people then surely we, as his followers, also need the same. Jesus’ priority however was time with his Father. Over this holiday season, as you spend time with your family seeking physical and metal refreshment, let me encourage you to also spend more time alone with God and make at least some of your holiday a holyday. Why not set yourself a challenge to read and reflect on more of the bible than you have time for in your daily routine. You could read the whole of a gospel or some of the letters and ask God to show you how these might impact your life. As you do this you will find your spirit refreshed and be better ready to face the pressures of daily life on your return.

 

This blog post featured in the JulyAugust 2014 edition of Lifelines

Whatever you did for the least of these… you did for me!

As we continue our exploration of the letter from James we are discovering that it is intensely practical.  James wants us to understand that genuine faith in Christ is not simply intellectual assent, rather it is a response that so transforms our hearts that it produces changed behaviours. James writes: ‘As the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without deeds is dead.’ (James 2:26 NIV2011) Good deeds don’t make us right with God, but good deeds that are the outworking of faith are the evidence that we are right with Christ.

Since James was the brother of Jesus it is perhaps not surprising that so much of what is taught in this letter has parallels in the gospels. Jesus told a parable where he likened Judgement Day to a farmer separating sheep from goats. Jesus said that the sheep represented those who would be invited to share in Christ’s inheritance; whilst the goats represent those cast into the eternal fire. The basis for the judgement was how they had treated Jesus, in other words their deeds. Both groups in the parable seem surprised by this and ask for an explanation. Jesus’ response is: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ (Matthew 25:40 NIV2011)

Jesus shows how acting with compassion to those in society who are marginalised, despised, sick or needy is in fact to show practical love towards him. People who act in this way are true Christ followers and get to share his reward. Those who ignore those who are vulnerable in society however are judged to be ignoring Christ and are condemned for it.

In the parable the marginalised included the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, and the prisoner. What vulnerable people do you come into contact with on a day by day basis that Jesus would point to today? What acts of compassion are you able to do that would win Christ’s commendation: ‘whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’?

This blog post featured in the June 2014 edition of Lifelines

Gone Fishing!

The only time I ever went fishing was when I was ten years old and away at camp. I vaguely remember sitting beside a river on the Norfolk Broads with a rod and line for hours, not catching anything. Nothing about the experience has ever induced in me the desire to go fishing again!

One of the first encounters with Jesus recorded in Luke’s gospel is when, after an unsuccessful night’s fishing, Jesus commands Peter & Andrew, James & John to let out their nets again on the opposite side of the boat. The four business partners are astounded at the extraordinary number of fish they catch, so they leave their nets and follow Jesus. Jesus speaks directly to Peter and tells him that from now on he will fish for men.

If we are to understand that fishing for men is a picture of gathering people to become Christ followers then it is also helpful to reflect upon the kind of fishermen these were. My fishing with a rod and line was essentially a solitary activity. The two pairs of brothers however would work together as a team, operating the boat and their fishing nets in partnership. Making disciples is a corporate activity for the whole church, working together in partnership, rather than a specialist task for a few key individuals.

In a recent prayer time I felt that God was inviting us to draw an imaginary circle round each of us to represent the different places we go and the different people we meet. As I looked I realised that many of these circles overlapped and created a net that covered our locality. A regular part of the fishermen’s work was mending the nets. The reorganisation of our small groups that we have undertaken over the last few months is akin to mending the nets, getting them ready for fresh fishing adventures.

In one of Jesus’ resurrection appearances we find that these same disciples have returned to Galilee and gone fishing. Again they had caught nothing. Again Jesus tells them to throw to their nets out of the boat. Again a huge catch is landed that threatens to sink the boat. As we launch Connect groups straight after Easter let’s do so in the expectation that Jesus knows where the fish are, and that he will bring in a huge catch. Let us do so recognising that fishing for new disciples is a team activity which depends upon strong connections between the different parts of the whole church.

This blog post featured in the April 2014 edition of Lifelines

The prayers of God’s People

In my experience followers of Jesus universally struggle from time to time to know that their prayers are heard and have an impact. Sometimes we get an almost immediate answer, this week I have had the joy of seeing two prayers answered in the space of just a few hours. More often it seems that we bang on, again and again, with no apparent impact. It is not that our prayers bounce back off the ceiling, it can seem they don’t even get that far! Is this the reality? What happens to the prayers that seem unanswered, or when the answer does not pan out the way we were looking for? A verse jumped out at me from Revelation that I find provides a helpful insight.

And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. Revelation 5:8 (NIV2011)

At the start of chapter 4 John sees a door standing open in heaven and together with him we are invited to enter the Throne Room of God. What we see is the present reality of what is happening in the spiritual realm; the usually unseen parallel reality where good and evil are exposed for what they are. It is into this context that we encounter the twenty-four elders, representing all of God’s people. If, as I believe is the case, we are to understand that this is a picture of what we are doing in the spiritual realm when we engage with God in worship and prayer in the physical realm then this is massively encouraging. In Revelation 5:8 God’s people are depicted as having harps, musical instruments for worship, and golden bowls of incense which we are told are our prayers.  This reassures us that our prayers reach their destination, and furthermore are a pleasing aroma to God. The image is extended in chapter 8 where we read:

Another angel, who had a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense to offer, with the prayers of all God’s people, on the golden altar in front of the throne. The smoke of the incense, together with the prayers of God’s people, went up before God from the angel’s hand. Revelation 8:3–4 (NIV2011)

Even though our physical senses may not always be touched, and although our emotions may not always be engaged as we worship and pray, that is only half the picture. Revelation draws back the curtain and reveals that our prayers do in fact reach the very throne of God. The next few verses of chapter 5 tell us that God’s people sing a new song of praise to Jesus, the Lamb who was slain. This is an indicator that the balance of our praying needs to be praise and worship towards God so that we get caught up with his kingdom purposes, rather than seeking to bend his will to ours though our requests.

This blog post featured in the March 2014 edition of Lifelines

Busy, busy, busy!

RoundTuitHave you got a ‘Round Tuit’? I have seen a number placed strategically above work colleagues desks, probably given to them by someone exasperated that a backlog of work has been piling up. Whenever they get asked when a job will be completed the reponse is always ‘When I get a round tuit’  Problem solved! They now have a ‘Round Tuit’ – no more excuses!

The humour relies on the fact that we all feel so busy that we are run off our feet. How many retired folk have you met who are now so busy that they wonder where on earth they found time to go to work! As we move into November many will have a sense of foreboding regarding all that needs to be completed before the busyness of Christmas.

Busyness in itself is not a problem, and there are countless self help resources to advise you on how to manage your time more effectively.  The real issue is what lies behind our busyness? Often people feel trapped by their busyness and yet for many it is of their own making. There are 6 root causes of busyness:   a desire to prove ourselves, to meet other people’s expectations, to control our lives, to hide from our problems, to find satisfaction in possessions, or to make the most of this life. You can prioritise your to do list, even reduce your responsibilities but unless you deal with the root causes you will feel overwhelmed by the disease of busyness which is endemic in our society.

Jesus said Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.’  (Matthew 11:28-30 ESV). Interestingly, Jesus answer to being weary and heavy laden is not the absence of burden altogether. Rather he invites us to share the burden. The answer to the disease of busyness is not better time management, rather it is to lean into Jesus and place our trust in him.

In his book, The Busy Christian’s Guide to Busyness, Tim Chester writes: ‘More often than not, those who complain about their busyness are those who are not finding their joy in God. And those who rejoice in God as their Saviour, Master, Provider, Refuge, Joy and Hope do not find their busyness a burden’.

So next time you find yourself talking about how busy you are, don’t wish for a ‘Round Tuit’ rather focus your eyes on Jesus to share the burden.

This blog post featured in the November 2013 edition of Lifelines

One Life. What’s it all about?

YOLO! This acronym was popularised by the Canadian rapper, Drake, through his 2011 song ‘The Motto’. The letters stand for the phrase “you only live once” and imply that one should enjoy life, even if that means taking risks and making mistakes. The philosophy that all we have is one life so we should aim to make the most of it is not new one, at different times throughout history people have advocated living for the moment. Classically the idea was expressed by the Latin phrase “carpe diem” penned by the poet Horace who lived between 85 – 8 BC.

While you are having fun YOLO can seem quite an attractive philosophy, but at some point the pursuit of happiness can start to seem hollow or life can become tough for some reason. It is at those times that we may begin to wonder “what’s it all about?” The Catholic thinker, writer and apologist G.K. Chesterton in his book ‘What’s Wrong with the World’ wrote “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.”

Followers of Jesus believe that there is more to life than our brief human existence and that true purpose and meaning is found by following him. Many people have heard about Christian belief but have never really explored it for themselves which is why starting in October we are running the ‘Christianity Explored’ course which aims to help us understand the claims of Jesus though the window of Mark’s gospel. You are welcome to join us on Wednesday or Thursday evenings (whichever suit you best) for coffee and cake at 7:45pm in Life Church Centre. We will watch a short video presented by Rico Tice and then discuss what we have just seen. If you would like to join us then please contact cecourse@lifechurchhook.org

This blog post featured in the October 2013 edition of Hook Focus

Exploring Mark

QI fact: Mark’s Greek nickname was Colobodactolus which means ‘stubby fingered’! Hardly the most flattering of names for the writer of a gospel, but then Mark is not the most obvious author of such an account. Although he spent time with Jesus he was not one of the apostolic band and any references to Mark himself in the gospels are cryptic and elusive. He does appear again later in the New Testament but only ever as a ‘number two’; first as an assistant to Barnabas, then Paul and Barnabas together and finally to Peter. It was from spending time with Peter that he gathered together the material for his account of the Good News about Jesus.

Mark captures Peter’s sense of action and adventure by emphasising what Jesus did more than what he said, prioritising miracles over parables and discourses. Unlike most modern biographies, a third of the book concentrates on the last week of Jesus’ life. The snappy, news bulletin style appeals to 21st century people used to sound-bites and tweets, making this a refreshing way to encounter Jesus. In this book Mark exposes us to the manifestation of the Kingdom of God. He also depicts Peter’s weaknesses rather than his strengths pointing to a concern to ensure we focus on the person and work of Jesus.

During October and November we will be ‘Exploring Mark’ on Sunday mornings to complement Exploring Christianity’ midweek. If you have never read a gospel from beginning to end in one sitting I encourage you to read Mark this coming week. It will take you between 30-45minutes and will give you a broad overview of Jesus’ life that will open your eyes again to the things he did and said.

My prayer over the next two months is that however long you have been following Jesus you will find your walk revitalised as together we take a fresh look at him through the eyes of Mark.

This blog post featured in the October 2013 edition of Lifelines

Pointless

One of the quiz shows that Ann and I enjoy watching is ‘Pointless’. In case you haven’t seen it, the format is based around the players giving the most obscure answer they can to each question. Prior to the show, 100 people are each given 100 seconds to give as many answers as they can to the questions that will be asked during the show. Correct answers are assigned a point value equal to the number of panellists who gave them, so that less commonly given answers have lower values. Players on the show attempt to give answers worth as few points as possible, aiming to have the lowest score amongst the players in each round, ideally finding an answer that no one gave – a pointless answer!

This month we are embarking on our Big Questions series where we are answering the most common question submitted to our survey in June. Many gallons of ink have been spilt over the centuries tackling these issues from various philosophical angles. Our conviction is that, tough though these questions are, they all have answers that can be found in the pages of scripture. Our goal is to be neither popular nor obscure in our responses, rather to proclaim the revealed truth of God.

However, this whole exercise becomes pointless if all we do is answer the questions, regardless of how compelling those responses might be. Jesus told a story about a wealthy farmer who made a great profit in his business so he retired to live off the wealth he had earned anticipating many years of leisure and luxury. That very night he died and lost everything, including his soul. Jesus’ punch line in that story was “…whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?” Luke 9:24–25

In other words a life lived without Jesus is pointless. However successful you may appear to be, however intellectually satisfying your worldview, it all counts for nothing if that is what you are living for. Jesus says ‘you can go your own way if you want, but please don’t! If you do you will lose your soul, the most valuable thing you have.’  The biggest question of all is addressed to you: Are you willing to give up your own agenda and become a follower of Jesus?  Until you do that, everything else is pointless.

This blog post featured in the September 2013 edition of Lifelines