Trinity Church of the Nazarene, York Place, Perth, PH2 8EP

An Unpredictable Swell

Just a little over a week ago, we celebrated the coming of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the Church at Pentecost. It is the day that the Holy Spirit filled the disciples with power as they sat in the upper room, and the day that Peter preached with conviction to the conversion of three thousand people. It was the day which was promised by Jesus at his ascension when He said, “But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” (Acts 1:8) Pentecost is a defining moment for the Church, and there is so much we can learn as Christians from the Day of Pentecost. We can look at the person and the work of the Holy Spirit and all that defines the Third Person of the Trinity. We can also look at the Disciples themselves, where we see the sacred and timid men transform into the leaders and Apostles of the Church, who are filled with great conviction and power. But separate from both of those topics, I would like to take a step back and just observe what God does with the unpredictable movement of His Spirit. As noted before, in Acts chapter two, Peter preaches to the crowds gathered outside their house and large numbers of people come to faith. Acts 2:14 records, “But Peter, standing with the eleven, lifted up his voice and addressed them: “Men of Judea and all who dwell in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and give ear to my words.”  Then, following his sermon at Pentecost, the Bible records, “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.” (2:41) That is a big number! But it is even bigger when considering how small their group was. Just twelve, and a handful of others. During Jesus’s earthly ministry, He had large numbers of followers who would gather everywhere He went. In fact, the week before He was crucified, we see large crowds welcoming Him into Jerusalem as King on Palm Sunday. But following His crucifixion, most of those so-called followers had left. Jesus predicted this mass departure when He said, “If they strike the shepherd, the sheep will scatter.” (Mark 14:27) So considering the small band of followers at Pentecost, it makes the large number who were converted even more striking. But it doesn’t stop there! The book of the Acts of the Apostles tells the story of the birth and growth of the Church. With each passing chapter, more and more people are coming into the family of God through faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus’s statement at His ascension was not only a command but a prophetic blueprint. The Church did in fact start in Jerusalem, then spread to Judea and Samaria, and eventually to the ends of the earth. And all of this unfolded as the unpredictable plan of God! The Disciples wanted Jesus to stay. We would have wanted Jesus to stay. But Jesus said that it was necessary for Him to go, so that He could send His Spirit. (John 16:7) The birth of the Church is nothing short of a miracle! It defies the odds using the lives of a ragtag group of uneducated fishmen and societal rejects who would ride the tidal wave of the Holy Spirit along the largest and most profound religious explosion ever recorded. When God creates a wave, all we can do is stand back in Awe! There is nothing we can do create a wave of God. There certainly is something to say about faithfulness, prayer, and good stewardship that stirs the heart of God (see 2 Chronicles 7:14), but there is certainly something more profound and intangible about the reality of God’s great waves. It is beyond us, and it is something to behold. While it is true that we cannot create a wave, it is equally true that prayer is certainly a precursor to God’s great movements. And it is also something that goes alongside. When God’s people desire a wave, they should pray. And more so, when God’s people perceive a movement, we should get down on our knees and pray. Pray that it continues to swell and pray that no force of man could stand in its way. We are now in eleven weeks of lockdown in Scotland. Yes, some things have started to ease now that we are in Phase one, however, the feeling of lockdown is still very present. It has been challenging for individuals, families, businesses, and churches. It has been difficult to no longer see our friends in the shops, the streets, or the pews (chairs!). And yet, there appears to be a movement of God brewing. But like any wave, it starts below the surface. Indetectable at first. But it is growing. And in this utterly impractical season of church life, God seems to be adding to the number of His People. The promise from Acts 1:8 – that Jesus’s Church would reach the ends of the earth is happening at the speed of WiFi! It is safe to say, nobody wanted this lockdown. We knew it was necessary. But we didn’t want it. We knew it would disconnect us from our friends, damage business, and disrupt life. And we knew it would not be good for the church. Nobody would want to watch services online. This is not how church was meant to be run. And yet, God didn’t ask our permission before He allowed the world to turn on its head. God didn’t ask us what our opinion was for the best method to reach all people with the Good News of Jesus Christ. He just did what He was going to do. And now, more people are hearing about Jesus. More people are coming to a saving relationship with the Living God through the online preaching of His world. More people are actively engaged in prayer services and Bible studies. It is a wave that is growing that seems to be coming from the very hand of God.   Encouragements for this Week
  • Read the Book of Acts (to the best of your ability. It is 28 chapters!). But read it quickly and just observe the Power and Authority of the Spirit to grow His Church.
 
  • Remember the fact that nobody wanted Jesus to go, but that Jesus said it was best that He did. Jesus knew what was needed. Consider our lives just now. Nobody would have picked this. And yet, God might be up to something.
 
  • Pray for the swelling of God’s Spirit that is bringing new people into the Kingdom of God. Pray for Online Services. Pray for those who might watch, who would have never attended a church before. Pray for the Preachers. And pray for those who are listening.

Unity of the global Church

On Sunday May 31st, Christians all over the world celebrated the birth of the Church remembered at Pentecost. Our church family, the Nazarene British Isles North District, celebrated with our own first-ever Online Joint Church Service. It was incredible to watch dozens of churches collaborate together in worship, prayer, and teaching. It was truly a special act of praise as we sang along with multiple worship leaders from churches across Scotland, Northern England and Northern Ireland. It was faith building to know that the same Holy Spirit who we celebrate at Pentecost, is the same Spirit who binds us together in a heart of unity. Watching and worshipping together with hundreds of other Nazarene Christians brought together the clarity of Paul’s words to the Ephesian Church as he encouraged them to pursue the “unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.”

He writes to them and says,

“There is one body and one Spirit – just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call – one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.” (Ephesians 4:4-6)

The Pentecost service was beautiful. It has now been watched over 1700 times and was a blessing to so many. And if you haven’t done so already, you can still watch the service here.

But more than just the service itself, I am overwhelmed by the power of the gathered Church. It is a beautiful thing when the church dwells together in unity. (Psalm 133) And it has always been God’s design that we need one another.  From the very beginning, God told Adam that it was “not good” that he was alone. God was showing Adam, and us, that we need and flourish alongside one another.

Jesus continued this same message to His disciples. The Gospel of John records Jesus as saying, “Your love for one another will prove to the world that you are my disciples.” John 13:35 NLT

Truly the world is watching. And the world is blessed when the Church dwells in unity. Four weeks ago, dozens of British churches got together and recorded “The UK Blessing”. Currently, the video has been watched over 3 million times. The video has a description stating, “over 65 churches and movements, representing hundreds of others, have come together online to sing a blessing over our land. Standing together as one, our desire is that this song will fill you with hope and encourage you.”  It was Psalm 133 becoming visible over Youtube! And since this video, there has now been numerous more. The Hawaii Blessing, the Irish Blessing, the Malaysian Blessing, and I’m sure there is more to come.

This has been an incredible time of the unity of the global Church.

I have loved watching the blessing that comes with such unity. I have also been brought to humility and prayer in reflecting upon the hurt that the evil one causes with the division and separation of the Believers.  Whereas it is true that we are blessed in unity, it is equally true that there is pain in isolation and disunity. We have already talked at great length in previous blogs, devotionals, and sermons about the mental stress of isolation and the negative effects it has upon our psychological health. There are many online tools and counselors who have been employed to work through such a difficult season. We should all strive to help strengthen our brothers and sisters who are struggling with isolation.

But it is also important to see the spiritual side of such a battle. On Pentecost, we celebrated the “Holy” Spirit who brings power and unity to the Church. But we also must remember that there are other “spirits” who would seek the disunity of the Church. Once again, Paul writes it clearly to the Ephesian Church.

“Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.” – Ephesians 6:10-12

It is a powerful reminder that there is a spiritual war, and that the unity of the Church is a battle point at the center of the war. Followers of Jesus should not only actively work towards the unity of the Church, but they should also have an eye for those who are separated or left behind.  The Bible tells us that “the devil prowls about like a roaring lion”, and we know, lions will always go for the one who is strangling behind.

The Pentecost service, the UK Blessing, and the fellowship of the church are all evidences of God’s blessing and His intention to bring about a united Church. But we should not forget that this unity was fought for in the heavenly realms and can easily be lost if it is not guarded and valued.

Let us honor the Holy Spirit, who brings the Unity of the Believers, by pursuing and keeping the fellowship of the Church.

Let us pursue Love, Grace, and Forgiveness.

Let us “Resist the Devil – so that he might flee.”

Let us “See” those who are hurting or left aside, and strive to bring them in.

Let us Pray.

 

Reflections for the Week

  • Watch the Pentecost service online if you have not done so already. Think about what God spoke to you regarding the service. 
  • Consider the Unity of the Church. What does it mean to you? Do you pray for the Unity of the Church? Could you find a time in the week to create a habit of doing so? 
  • Read Ephesians 6 and think about spiritual warfare. Last week we talked about “End Times” and the encouragement to live in such a way to discern the times. Spiritual warfare is the same. We need to be able to discern the spirits of this age. 
  • Is there any relationship that you know that is strained, or is there a person that you know who is isolated? Pray about it, and then pursue that person in Love.

 

Pentecost 2020

Sunday 31st May 10:30am
As we celebrate Pentecost Sunday, join us online for a great time of prayer, https://www.trinitychurchperth.org/live/

District Pentecost Service 6pm, Sunday 31st May

Today I am excited to share that next Sunday, 31st May, we will join together at 6pm for our District Pentecost Service. We will have amazing worship, kids song, prayers, readings, greetings from the GS, Gods Word shared and we will celebrate Communion together. Please make sure you and your church join us and come ready for Communion with bread and juice.
 
To inform everyone how to watch the service and participate as fully as possible the District Secretary has given us the following instructions ….
 

The Pentecost service will be streamed both on Facebook and Youtube. We would suggest people go to Facebook page to watch and interact with the chat (at appropriate points).

You can also subscribe to the BIND Youtube channel. We will share the actual Youtube video link once it is available. 
If anyone requires audio only, they can connect through Zoom on the details below:
 
One tap mobile
Dial by your location
0203 481 5237 United Kingdom Meeting ID: 991 261 9898

God’s Routemap

In this difficult season, it has been challenging to find hope in the news. But just last week, hope came in the form of a document. Nicola Sturgeon released the Scottish government’s routemap to recovery. It outlined four incremental stages following the base level stage of lockdown, the very one we have been in for the past nine weeks. If you haven’t read it yet, I would encourage you to do so. It is encouraging and humbling at the same time. Encouraging because the end is in sight. Humbling because neither the timeline, nor the specific stages, are ideal. They are painfully slow, and nonspecific in their actual times. I know that I will be grateful for each stage of increased social freedom and return to normalcy. But I also know that I will continue to longingly look forward to the future stages with even greater freedom and normalcy.

It is interesting to reflect upon the similarities of Nicola’s routemap along with God’s own routemap as given in the Bible. Now before we get too excited and carried away, I am not going to talk here about any end time prophecies or predictions.   I don’t have a four-stage plan, or any colorful drawings with charts and maps. I wish I did. It might make this devotional a lot more interesting!

Rather than speculate about hidden things, I would like to point out the few things that have been revealed in Scripture, along with the humbling similarity that we are not in control of said events.

For the past several Sundays at Mosaic we have been looking at the “I Am” statements of Jesus from John’s Gospel. Last Sunday we looked at John 14 were Jesus says,

Don’t let your hearts be troubled, You believe in God; believe also in me. My Father’s house had many rooms; if that were not so, would I have told you that I am going there to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come back and take you to be with me that you also may be where I am. You know the way to the place where I am going.” (John 14:1-5)

If there was anyone needing hope, here it is: Jesus is coming back for us! 

And we can be certain because this promise was made by the same God who has never lied, and even more specifically, the same God who kept His promise regarding the first coming of the Messiah, and so surely, He will keep it yet again for His second coming.

It is the Hope that says the end is in sight. There is a plan in action that cannot be reversed. And we can hold onto this hope when days are difficult, and we feel overwhelmed by the weight of the world.

But similar to the government’s routemap, we are not in control. And there are days that feel like one stage is stretching on for far too long. Ever since Jesus’s death, resurrection, and ascension, we have been living in the “End Times”. It is a stage that has now lasted for two-thousand years, and if it was left to us, we might speed things up. Apparently, the Apostle Peter had to deal with the same questions and concerns regarding God’s apparent slowness. There were followers who were doubting God’s truthfulness because they had expected him sooner. But in 2 Peter chapter 3, he writes, “Bear in mind that our Lord’s patience means salvation!” (3:15)  Peter is saying that God has not yet summed up the ages because there are still people who need to come to know Him.  And God, who is Love, is not wanting even one person to perish.

Now there are some who might be inclined to find close parallels between the stages of the route maps, with clear distinctions of epochs and times. There would be charts to signal the moving from one stage to the next, all culminating with a rapture and a millennium and a beast. But I will not go into that here. Jesus said it was not for us to know the exact time or the hour. If you have further interest in this topic, Pastor Jim preached an incredible series on Revelation and it can be found on the Trinity website sermon archive. Another great book is Reversed Thunder by the late Eugene Peterson. It might not have the charts, but it will give great insight into the heart of God in these latter days.

But I will close with saying that there are some things that Jesus gave us on our Routemap. These things have been happening for the past two thousand years. And while I can not say that these things (and that includes Covid-19) necessitate that Jesus is coming tomorrow, I can say that these things are meant to prompt us to pray. To see that the end is near and to pray for our neighbors and friends.

  • He said that we would face persecution. (Matt 5 / 2 Tim 3:12)
    • Pray for those that are facing great persecution.
  • He said there would be pandemics. (Rev 6:8)
    • Pray for those suffering from Covid-19
  • He said that there would be natural disasters. (Mark 13)
    • Pray for the recent cyclone that struck India and Bangladesh.
  • He said that there would be famines. (Matthew 24)
    • Pray for those who are without food today. It is a fact that there are many who go without food even in our own communities. As Christians we should not be comfortable with this fact. We should feel compelled to act, to give, and to pray.

God in His great love wanted us to know that He is in control and that the end is in sight, but additionally, in His infinite wisdom, decided we do not need to know the details of His timeline. In these “end times” we can believe that God is with us and that we can trust God with our future.

Recommendations for Reflection:

  • Take a moment to Praise God for the knowledge that God keeps His word and is coming back for His people.
  • Peter said that God’s slowness was because of His great love for the world. Pray for those who do not know God at this time.
  • Jesus encouraged His followers to “discern the times.” But this knowledge was not for us to forget the world and look to the skies, but rather for us to love the world and to pray with a sense of urgency. Pray for a greater understanding of the times, and ask for a burden to pray for the world.

Power of words

It’s difficult not to focus on the things we cannot do. Every day we are reminded of our limitations and restrictions, whether it is from the news we read or just by looking out our own windows. There are less cars, less buses, and less people. Even with the reports of the lockdown easing in England and other countries across the world, there is still the strong emphasis of social distancing and extra precautions put in place to keep people safe. There will be fewer seats in the restaurants and coffee shops. There will be smaller class sizes for students. There will be fewer queue lines in tube stations and there will be longer waits for deliveries.  The fact is, things will be restricted for a long time to come. And this is fair, and right, especially when considering that the outbreak is far from being extinguished.

And while this may be good practice for pandemic control, it is wreaking havoc on our psyches. We have already talked a lot in churches, and on blogs like this one, about the difficult nature of quarantine. We have talked about, preached about, and written about the fact that solitude can bring loneliness and bouts with depression. Which is true. And needs to be addressed. And there is a lot that Jesus has to say about the hard times of solitude, as well as the blessing that can come during times of prayerful isolation.

But there is something else that I have been thinking about regarding our time of quarantine. And that is the words themselves. By necessity, we talk about the things we cannot do or the things we have needed to give up. We see shop fronts with signs that declare “closed”, and we read articles about the laws and regulations that are being established to control and restrict our social interactions.  We see post after post on social media about things that have been canceled: birthdays, graduations, holidays, and more.

We have all needed to make an emotional adjustment to these losses, but in the process, I believe that we have allowed certain words to settle into our hearts and minds. Words that have no business clinging to our souls. “Lockdown”, “Quarantine” and “Isolation” are words that define the pandemic, but they are not the words that define us as God’s children. We need to hear Jesus’ powerful words spoken over us once again.

In contrast to the words of the world, Jesus has spoken life over us.

In John chapter 10 verse 10, Jesus says, “The thief (the devil) comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.”

The words of the world describe all that is closed and shut and locked-down. But Jesus speaks words of Freedom.

“If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.” – John 8:36

We are Free and we are Loved. We are children of the Most High God. The Apostle Paul wrote in the book of Ephesians, “We are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” (Eph. 2:10)

We have our identity in Christ, and we have good works that He has given us to do. There are so many things on which we can choose to place our focus.

Yes, some things are closed. But many things are “Open”.  There is an “open for business” sign hanging over so many areas of our lives. It is just hard to see when we are bombarded with the things that are closed.  And so it is up to us to focus on the things that give us life.

In the closing chapter of the book of Philippines, Paul writes:

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true

                Whatever is noble, whatever is right,

                Whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable –

                If anything is excellent or praiseworthy –

                Think about such things.

  • Philippians 4:8

 

There are certain things that are happening now that did not happen regularly before the pandemic. What are those things? Focus on the things that bring you life.

For me, it has been longer mealtimes and conversations over dinner. Dinner has become my favorite part of the day. Meals and conversations are certainly still “Open”.

  • It has also been longer times in prayer and studying God’s Word.
  • It has been extended times to write. Not only for this blog, but elsewhere. I have had more time to reflect and write about many new subjects.
  • It has been long walks and enjoying God’s good creation.

 

We have talked before about the power of thankfulness. It is good practice to close each day ascribing Glory to God for the things we are thankful for.

Likewise, there is power in declaring at the start of the day the life-giving things we get to do.  We can choose to speak life over ourselves.

We can declare the Freedom we have in Christ. We are not “locked-down”!

We can announce the “open for business” routines we still get to practice.

We can focus on the fact that Love breaks out of quarantine and has no bounds.

 

Thoughts for Reflections

  • Do you recognize the demonic power of speaking death over our lives? Instead, listen to the words of God, who is the author of Life.
  • What are the good things that God has placed before you that give you life? What positive things encourage you just now?
  • Read Paul’s letter to the Philippians. Paul, who was in prison, could have focused on the negative aspect of his life, but instead, he gave Glory to God and focused on all that was good.

 

The Promise Course 16th May

Do you want more?

On Saturday 16th May, our next series of The Promise begins. This is a Christian discipleship experience to help you walk with increasing spiritual power, everyday – not just on your best ones. This interactive programme will initially run for 8 weeks on Saturdays between 10.30-12 GMT. It’s unique format is designed for us to collectively encounter all God promises. https://www.thepromise.global/discovering-it/

Click here for more information https://www.thepromise.global/discovering-it/, or to register your place just email kathryn@fruitministries.com

 

What is The Promise?

A Christian discipleship experience to help you walk-out your everyday life, with spiritual power.

Why has it been created?

We can’t do this in our own resilience! The good news is we don’t have to. The Promise helps you rise above your circumstances, to discover, become and live out the full depth of what God has waiting for you.

How does it run?

It’s lonely doing it on our own, so The Promise interactive has been created. This is an online programme offering weekly sessions that provide an opportunity to interact with a virtual community of people just like you. A zoom live event runs for 8 consecutive weeks and provides fresh, interactive guidance, that will leave you inspired, encouraged and enabled. Each session lasts around 1.5 hours.

Who is it for?

Anyone who is either longing for more from their faith, a spiritual jump-start or a practical way to break-through the status quo.

What’s different?

We often invest in learning what we come to know and believe. So, with an abundance of amazing teaching already available, this is not about more theology. The Promise is about how to practically apply it. This is approached through the testimonial lens of a life-lived, rather than through academic theory.

We are all at different places in our spiritual walk, so this type of development can’t be prescriptive. Whilst structured teaching, input and activities are provided, the programme creates a space for the wind of the Holy Spirit to move, through live prayer and encounter.  This caters perfectly for the unique needs every person will have and the diverse requirements of every group. No two sessions will be the same.

The programme content

Over the past ten-plus years, a biblically under-written framework has been created, which enables people to discover how to practically walk in the Spirit. This framework provides seven interconnecting key themes, that collectively, are the gateway to a life of victory.

 

When is it?

The first online programme will run Saturday 16th May 202 for 8 weeks. However, further sessions may follow, depending on demand.  If you would like more information you can visit www.thepromise.global, or to register your interest in any forthcoming group, please contact Kathryn Brook-Simpson at kathryn@fruitministries.com.

 

This is not the time to pull away and neglect meeting together, as some have formed the habit of doing, because we need each other! In fact, we should come together even more frequently, eager to encourage and urge each other onward as we anticipate that day dawning’

Hebrews 10:25

The Fairness of Grace

“That’s not fair!” It is a phrase felt and said by everyone at some point in their lives. But never more so than in a house full of children. Every minute of every day presents some opportunity for an infraction of justice that erupts in a declaration of personal rights.

“That’s not fair… they got more sweeties!”

“That’s not fair… they get to stay up later!”

“That’s not fair… we have to clean up all the dog poop while you and mum just sit and drink coffee!! (personal favourite)

But as adults we know that fairness is more complicated than just a matter of equality. Rather, it is an issue of wisdom and rightness. A 7-year old and a 14-year old do not have the same bedtimes, but rather different times that are appropriate for their respective ages.

As we get older we know that the cries for fairness from a child are steeped in immaturity, and we know that the world is a complex place with different scenarios with different answers for different people. No longer do we cry for equal dessert portions (unless it is cheesecake, and in that case, “you cut – I pick”), but we do feel the sting when life feels unfair. Right now, across the world, government leaders are in the midst of some of the most difficult decisions any leader has ever had to make. And I do not envy their position. It is not a simple decision of when to end lockdown, but a complicated series of decisions of who and when. What types of businesses and in what capacity? Who gets government money and how much? Who needs to remain in lockdown longer and for how much longer? It is incredibly complex and needs a great deal of wisdom to execute any workable plan.

We can’t speak for other countries, and other cultures, which are entitled to their own feelings of fairness. But as Britons, we (mostly) have a trust in the government with a collective desire for the social good. We love our NHS and believe that everyone is due human rights, even if that means that some need more help than others, and that some need to pay more in order to make that happen. We feel this way about our country because we know that “fairness” is not always everyone getting what is equal, but what is right.

And yet, oftentimes, the childlike cry of “That’s not fair!”, is still ever crouching at our door. When a coworker gets promoted ahead of us. When a neighbour gets a new car. When a friend finds a spouse but we struggle with singleness. Whatever it may be, there is always something. There is always a desire for something we don’t have but can see that someone else has attained. And so we ask, “Why?” “Why them, and not me?”

This deep sense of inequality and unfairness is inherent in our humanness. We don’t see the big picture, but rather only what is right in front of us. Personal contentment is elusive and we are pained with the feeling of unmet desires of our flesh. And so we are faced with the option of wallowing in our pity, or turning to the God of All Wisdom. We can focus on what we don’t have, or we can turn to the Giver of All Good Things.

Jonah is a personal favourite. Yes there is the fish. But there is so much more. It is a story of Grace and it is a story of the sickness of the human heart. And God, like a good surgeon, cuts with precision to reveal the sickness within.

Most of us know the story from childhood. God calls. Jonah runs. Eventually Jonah relunctantly comes, but is thrown into the sea and swallowed by a fish. He prays. He is spit up on the shore of Nineveh. He preaches. They repent. All is well… Sort of…

I love the last chapter. After all is done: the Ninevites have repented and the country is saved, Jonah then decides to go and sit on the hillside and pout.

It displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. And he prayed to the Lord and said,

“O Lord, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster. Therefore now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for it is better for me to die than to live.” (Jonah 4:1-3)

Jonah is mad, to say the least. And he tells God that it is because of His Grace that the Ninevites did not get what they deserved. They deserved destruction but got salvation. And it is God’s fault that things have turned out this way.

I love Jonah, because we are just like him. We are prone to getting angry when we feel life is unfair. Whether someone DID get what they didn’t deserve (or at least something we wanted for ourselves), or whether they did NOT get some punishment that we thought they should have received (mostly because we think that punishment would make us feel better). Either way, we are angry because our personal sense of fairness is not being met.

I love Jonah, and apparently so does Jesus. So much so that he repeated the exact same story but in a parable. It is the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. We mostly know it as a beautiful story of God’s Grace and how nothing can keep us from the love of God. Which is true. But it is also about the older brother who struggled with his own understanding of fairness. After the father forgave the younger brother in a grand measure, the older brother would stand outside the party, like Jonah, and pout, “It is not fair!” The older brother accuses the Father of giving the younger son more than what he feels he deserves. He believes the younger brother is lazy, foolish, and now is getting a party. But in a kind rebuke, the father says, “Son, you are always with me, and all that is mine is yours.” The father is reminding the son that he might not always get what he wants (thank you Rolling Stones), but, all that he needs, he has in the father. The father is teaching the son that we can trust Him to do what is right. We can trust his wisdom. Things might not always be equal, but they will be fair according to the Grace and Righteousness of God.

Reflections for the Week:

– Reflect upon all that you have in God. Praise God for all that you have to be thankful for: Life, health, salvation in Christ, and everything else.

– Pray for those who might not have what you have; entrust their care to the Father.

– Take time to read Jonah 1-4 and Luke 15.

– Ask God to reveal to you what things you might feel are unfair in your life, and to bring to the surface the bitter roots you might be harbouring. Ask God to heal your heart and to give you trust in His wisdom and discernment.

The Noise Behind the Noise

The Noise Behind the Noise

“Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.” (Mark 4:9)

I love Zoom. I know. I know. Nobody does. It is awkward and difficult. It drops calls with bad reception and obscures faces with blurry screens. And yet I still love it.  I love all video calls.  But not because the quality is great. And not because I think it is better than face to face. I would prefer a hot americano with a good friend at my favourite coffee shop any time over a video call.  But I love video calls because they have wondrously brought us into the personal spaces of peoples’ lives. And as they talk I can’t help but to observe the background. And not the made up background that Zoom allows you to create, but rather the real life background. I love the kids running in the next room. I love the dog sitting on the couch just behind. And most of all, I love the sounds. Sounds inside and out. So many people film outside in an attempt to escape filming in the dreary light of our living rooms. And outdoors the world is alive.  When the speaker, or preacher, is waxing eloquently, I love the colours and the sounds of God’s good creation. A sermon or devotion is a wonderful thing. But so is a songbird chirping its delight in the bright springtime sun.

I’m not usually that distracted of a person. In a church service I love to zero-in on the preacher and listen to the message being delivered. I read books, or write sermons, in noisy coffee shops, and drown out all the background noise. But there is something different about this time. I feel I have been provoked by God to listen in ways I might not have listened before. And so I am trying to slow down. To really listen. And to hear the message behind the message. To listen to the noise behind the noise.

Jesus was constantly encouraging His disciples to see and to hear what was less obvious to them. He would tell stories and parables, and while the disciples thought it was about one thing, He would need to redirect their attention to something else altogether. And then He would say, “He who has ears, let him hear.” It was Jesus’ enigmatic way of saying, “Try listening in ways that are attuned to God.” Jesus would oftentimes point out that we are prone to pursue personal interests, and in doing so, miss what God is doing and saying. But in the slowing, and the re-tuning, we can see and hear the words of God.

The Sermon on the Mount is Jesus’ most famous sermon. It is widely known and frequently quoted. And yet, I think it asks much more of our attention than we give. Jesus’ words ask us to sit and consider with great discernment in a process that takes more than a 5 minute morning devotional. In a type of summation of his teaching, Jesus said,

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” (Matt 7:24-25)

I have heard these words many times. I have studied them in commentaries. I have sung them as a nursery rhyme for kids. I have drawn pictures, seen videos, and heard sermons on this passage many many times. And yet, the words still stick out to me with a gravitas that demands my attention… “anyone who hears these words of mine.”  And the exhortation is the same. I need to slow down, and listen.

Reflections for the Week:

  • Ask yourself honestly, have you truly allowed yourself to slow down, rest, and listen in this strange new time.
  • Find new ways to hear from God in old routines. Take a walk on a normal route, but look for 5 things that you have never seen before. Read a familiar passage in the Bible, but ask God to reveal something to you that you haven’t seen before.
  • Slowly read the sermon on the mount (Matthew 5 – 7). Take time to reflect and ask God to help you “hear these words of mine.”

 

Here to Help

The Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. (John 14:26 ESV)

In the past couple weeks, across the UK, thousands of households have been transformed into classrooms. Following the lockdown and the closing of schools, parents have bravely taken up the role of teacher alongside their many other tasks of mum & dad, house cleaner, cook and dishwasher, laundry master extraordinaire, and household administrator. And so on top of all of that, parents have had to dive deep into their memory banks to extract long forgotten math formulas and proper english spelling and sentence structure. Every household with school-aged children has been impacted, including ours with four children. Every room in our house has been converted into a mini-classroom as each kid stakes out their territory with different projects, teacher zoom calls, and reading assignments. In some blissful moments, the house is quiet with everyone working. However only to be interrupted every few minutes with a loud call from across the house, “mum!” or “dad!”, followed by some query regarding math, science, or the dreaded technological question.

As much as this interrupts my day, and disrupts my flow of thought, it always pulls at my heart to come into a room and see a younger child in tears because they are stumped by some question. Whether the sums are too challenging, or the zoom call is not working, whatever it is seems to be an insurmountable problem for the child. And there seems to be dozens a day. But my answer is always the same, “Don’t worry, I’m here to help.” And I roll up my sleeves and tackle a P7 math question or crush a P3 writing assignment. And after it is solved and done, I ask, “Why were you so upset? I told you that I am here to help, and that we can always do this together.”

After condescending from my office to the makeshift classroom, and returning back again, I am struck by how much I forget that we have the Helper in our life, and yet oftentimes I am brought to an emotional end after a difficult encounter and have failed to see that “He is here to help”.

The night before Jesus died He was having supper with his friends. The Last Supper. And He was telling them that He was going to die. And that where He was going they could not come. It was an emotional dinner to say the least. But in typical compassionate form, Jesus assured the disciples that He would not leave them alone. In the middle of their grief, He told them plainly, “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper (or Advocate, or Comforter), to be with you forever. (John 14:16).

The word used by Jesus is hard to translate into english. In Greek it is Paraclete, and it is best described as “one who is called for” or “one who comes alongside.” That is why we have such beautiful words to describe the Holy Spirit as “Helper”, “Comforter”, or “Advocate”. It describes the active work of the Holy Spirit as He comes alongside us in love to help, comfort and strengthen us. It is also incredible how Jesus says, “another helper”. It shows us the united character of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. We are assured that in the manner Jesus loved and cared for His people as the Good Shepherd, the Holy Spirit will care for us in the same way. And when we are afflicted and distressed, we can cry out and the Holy Spirit will fill us with all comfort.

Jesus said (promised) “In this life, you will have many troubles.” (Jn 16:33) and He wasn’t kidding. We might have grown past crying over math sums, but we don’t make it far throughout the week without encountering some form of trouble. In my own pride, I attempt to solve the problem with my own grit and determination. And oftentimes only seem to make things worse. But in a moment of clarity and humility, I remember that I am not left to myself, and in a gentle voice I hear God say, “I am here to Help”.

Thoughts for Reflection

  • Take time this week to meditate on the nature and person of the Holy Spirit.
  • In what ways has the current state of the world filled you with anxiety and distress?
  • Read John chapters 14 -16 and take notice how Jesus describes the Comforter.
  • What stands out to you?
  • How does Jesus portray our Need for the Comforter?
  • Acknowledge before God the ways we tend to go about things on our own, without any given thought to the Holy Spirit. Confess our sin of self determination, and invite God the Holy Spirit to come alongside us and help.

Doubting Thomas and the Compassionate Saviour

“So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he (Thomas) said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)

I feel for Thomas. One of the great disciples of the Lord. He led a faith-filled life of following Jesus and would be one of the twelve apostles who would go on to turn the world upside down. Following the Resurrection, he would live the rest of his life devoted to spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the ends of the world. Tradition says that Thomas died a martyr in India after travelling that great distance to spread the Good News. And yet, many of us know Thomas as “Doubting Thomas”. It is an unfortunate nickname that originated from Thomas’ struggle to understand and believe in the Resurrection of Jesus. The other disciples had seen Jesus while Thomas was absent, and they proceeded to tell Thomas of their great visitation. But Thomas could not believe their testimony. No matter how much they tried to persuade him, he could not be convinced. Thomas would say to them, “unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” It is a strong statement of disbelief, and one that wouldn’t be recanted until Thomas actually saw Jesus and put his finger in His wounds. Jesus would say to Thomas, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” It was a beautifully prophetic statement speaking of all the saints down through the ages. Of those who would follow and not see the risen Christ and yet would believe. Saints like you and me.

It was a strong statement from Thomas, and yet, it was uttered after hearing astonishing news. The Saviour had come back from the grave. It truly is an “unbelievable” story. I find that I am drawn to Thomas and his doubt, because it is a familiar story. It wasn’t just Thomas who expressed doubt (even though he is the one with the unfortunate nickname). Mary Magdalene had been told of the resurrection from an angel, along with Mary the mother of James and Salome, and yet when Mary saw Jesus she thought He was a gardener. Her grief had overcome her eyesight. Only after Jesus convinced her of his own identity by calling her name did Mary then believe and finally run off to tell the disciples. And guess what? They didn’t believe her either. The Gospel of Mark records, “When they heard that Jesus was alive and that she had seen him, they did not believe it.” (Mk 16:11) But it wasn’t just the resurrection. All throughout His earthly time with the disciples, Jesus would have to encourage, challenge, and chastise the lack of faith in the disciples. We might think it gets better with the coming of the Holy Spirit, but the book of Acts tells us of several instances of the Lord doing tremendous things and the disciples struggling to find the faith to comprehend what was happening.

The fact is, faith is hard. More than that, Life is hard. And faith is our wrestling with God trying to understand, believe, and follow in spite of all that is happening. Some days our faith is fierce and strong. And some days, all we have is the sliver of hope that God is holding on to us because we have nothing left to hold.

Following Easter, and the Resurrection of our Lord, many of us will be filled with hopeful hearts believing that God continues to live and move today in the same power that He did when He raised Jesus from the grave. We will see opportunities to share this great news with others and a deep belief that each day holds infinite possibility for God to do something incredible. But others might not look at each day with such jubilant expectation. And hope and faith might come sparingly. But the Good News is that Jesus did come for Thomas. Even amongst the doubt. And I don’t think that Jesus uses the same nickname for Thomas. In great compassion, Jesus met Thomas in his doubt and without condemnation allowed him to explore the wounds in his side resulting in Thomas exclaiming, “My Lord and my God.”

And God will meet us in the very same way. He will fill us up when we are low. Without condemnation, He will meet us in our fears and doubts and will lead us in compassion and love until we too exclaim, “My Lord and my God.”

Reflections for this week:

  • Consider the Resurrection and all the great implications it means for each and every day. Think about the incredible fact that the same Spirit who raised Jesus from the dead, lives in us! Allow faith to fill your mind with an expectant hope of what God can accomplish through us each and every day.
  • But also be real about the fact that our faith doesn’t always rise to the level for which the empty tomb demands. Be real about our own struggles, as well as the struggles of others. Such struggle does not label us as “Doubting Chris” or “doubting (your name)”
  • In such moments, ask God to meet you in the same way He met Thomas. Realise that “there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ” and allow God to fill you up with faith and hope.