Devotional

Articles on Church Unity

I like to think of God’s people as one church worshipping differently in many buildings, and I long for the churches in my town to co-ordinate and partner together more in serving our community.

My eye was drawn to a few recent articles published in the Evangelical Alliance magazine, Idea, which I thought it worth sharing (links below):

Should we all go to one Church? by Amaris Cole
. . . if we’re aiming for unity as evangelicals, is it a problem that we are split down denominational lines? Shouldn’t we all go to one Church?

The Protestant Reformation and the effect on unity, by David Hilborn
. . . with divergent understanding of scripture, does this merit breaking fellowship, or merely “agreeing to disagree agreeably” within the context of continuing fellowship?

Does Unity Mean Conformity, by Dr Tani Omideyi
. . . most biblical references to ‘conformity’ are negative, often warning against surrendering to worldly norms, but . . .

Bible in One Year – Week 5 #BiOY

Having resolved this yearn to join with my church family (and many others) in reading the whole bible this year, I intend to hold myself accountable by sharing a key personal learning point each week.

This week I was reminded of what Jesus said about following traditions created by men rather than following God. Mark 7:5-13 says:

So the Pharisees and teachers of the law asked Jesus, ‘Why don’t your disciples live according to the tradition of the elders instead of eating their food with defiled hands?’

He replied, ‘Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you hypocrites; as it is written:

‘“These people honour me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me.
They worship me in vain;
    their teachings are merely human rules.”

You have let go of the commands of God and are holding on to human traditions.’

And he continued, ‘You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said, “Honour your father and mother,” and, “Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.” But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God) – then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.’

Later in Mark 8, Jesus goes on to warn the twelve apostles of ‘the yeast’ of the Pahrisees and of Herod:

The disciples had forgotten to bring bread, except for one loaf they had with them in the boat. ‘Be careful,’ Jesus warned them. ‘Watch out for the yeast of the Pharisees and that of Herod.’
They discussed this with one another and said, ‘It is because we have no bread.’
Aware of their discussion, Jesus asked them: ‘Why are you talking about having no bread? Do you still not see or understand? Are your hearts hardened? Do you have eyes but fail to see, and ears but fail to hear? And don’t you remember? 19 When I broke the five loaves for the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’
‘Twelve,’ they replied.
‘And when I broke the seven loaves for the four thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?’
They answered, ‘Seven.’
He said to them, ‘Do you still not understand?’

I pray that I will always have eyes to see and ears to hear, and the wisdom to understand the teaching of Jesus, and to reject that which comes from mere men, whatever their apparent earthly authority.

Bible in One Year – Week 3 #BiOY

Having resolved this yearn to join with my church family (and many others) in reading the whole bible this year, I intend to hold myself accountable by sharing a key personal learning point each week.

This week I really noticed the emphasis Jesus placed on our forgiveness of others. In Matthew 18:21-35 Jesus tells the parable of the unforgiving servant, who received the pity of his master when unable to repay him, but in turn would not show mercy to another servant who owed him money. His master hears of what has happened, and sees that the wicked servant is thrown into prison.

Jesus warns, ‘This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.’ (Matthew 18:35)

– – – – – – –

I was also greatly comforted by these words from Psalm 17:

I call on you, my God, for you will answer me;
    turn your ear to me and hear my prayer.
Show me the wonders of your great love,
    you who save by your right hand
    those who take refuge in you from their foes.
Keep me as the apple of your eye;
    hide me in the shadow of your wings
from the wicked who are out to destroy me,
    from my mortal enemies who surround me.

Called to Be

and I dreamt I had a conversation with my Father in Heaven:

“Who do you call me to be?”

“My child.”

“Where do you call me to be?

“Where you are, and where the wind takes you.”

“What do you call me to do?”

“To live authentically, to glorify your God,
showing your love for your God;

to love your neighbour:
to preach the good news of the Kingdom, and make disciples;
to release captives, and heal the sick;
to care for orphans and widows, feed the hungry,
and serve the poor and needy.”

“Lord, let it be as you say. Amen.

Invitation to a Banquet

INVITATION

to a banquet at my Father’s house

come if you are hungry

come if you are thirsty

there is sufficient for all

and many rooms

come as you are

RSVP

J

Bible in One Year – Week 2 #BiOY

Having resolved this yearn to join with my church family (and many others) in reading the whole bible this year, I intend to hold myself accountable by sharing a key personal learning point each week.

This week I really noticed the barriers pride and familiarity can pose to belief.

As Jesus sends out the twelve apostles, he is mindful that there will be those who will not hear their message, and warns of the consequences of their unbelief:

‘And if the house is worthy, let your peace come upon it, but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. And if anyone will not receive you or listen to your words, shake off the dust from your feet when you leave that house or town. Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.’
– Matthew 10:13-14

The comparison with the judgement of the city of Sodom is revisited in the next chapter as the people of three cities located at the north end of the Sea of Galilee have clearly not repented after hearing Jesus’s teaching:

‘he began to denounce the cities where most of his mighty works had been done, because they did not repent. “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgement for Tyre and Sidon than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgement for the land of Sodom than for you.’
– Matthew 11:20-24

I was reminded of the account in Mark’s gospel where the people of Jesus’s own town were so familiar with the Jesus they thought they knew that they could not perceive him as anything other than the man they had known for so many years:

‘He went away from there and came to his home town, and his disciples followed him. And on the Sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astonished, saying, “Where did this man get these things? What is the wisdom given to him? How are such mighty works done by his hands? Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joseph and Judas and Simon? And are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offence at him. And Jesus said to them, “A prophet is not without honour, except in his home town and among his relatives and in his own household.” And he could do no mighty work there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and healed them. 6 And he marvelled because of their unbelief.’
– Mark:6-15

‘Familiarity breeds contempt’ is a well-known idiom, and I am sure many will recognise the challenges of witnessing to close friends and family and friends who don’t share the same faith – those who know all our faults and failings which then act as a barrier to their own conviction.

Bible in One Year – Week 1 #BIOY

I shared last week about my resolution to join with my church family in reading the whole bible this year, and would like to hold myself accountable by sharing a key personal learning point each week.

This week I would like to focus on Matthew 6, and the command to be inconspicuous, firstly in our giving, so that the generosity of spirit is untainted by personal profile:

“Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honoured by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
– Matthew 6:1-4

Similarly, when we pray, Jesus teaches us to avoid doing so in a way which promotes ourselves:

“And when you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.”
– Matthew 6:5-8

And when we fast:

“When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”
– Matthew 6:16-18

We live in a continuing age of conspicuous consumption, where so many people admire the wealth and excess of the rich and famous. Yet Jesus teaches us not to store up

“Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! “No one can serve two masters. Either you will hate the one and love the other, or you will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and money.”
– Matthew 6:19-24

How better instead to be conspicuous only for the difference Christ makes in our lives: to be authentic in our love for God and others, to be unashamed of our testimonies, to boast only in the certainties which come from God – so to be known for worshipful lives of love and faith, humility before God and service to others.

Thursday is Verse Day @FaithUnlocked – Matthew 4:23-25

aleppo-church

The solution to the world’s problems, in all its regions, has always and always will be, Jesus.

Jesus went throughout Galilee,
teaching in their synagogues,
proclaiming the good news of the kingdom,
and healing every disease and sickness among the people.

News about him spread all over Syria,
and people brought to him all who were ill with various diseases,
those suffering severe pain,
the demon-possessed,
those having seizures, and the paralyzed;
and he healed them.

Large crowds from Galilee, the Decapolis, Jerusalem, Judea and the region across the Jordan
followed him.

– Matthew 4:23-25 (NIV)– Matthew 4:23-25 (NIV)

New Year’s Resolution #1 – to read the Bible in one year

And we also thank God continually, because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as the word of men, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.
– 1 Thessalonians 2:13

Our vicar has challenged our church to read the whole Bible in the course of 2017, and the members will be encouraging and supporting one another to do their best to achieve that. After false starts of my own in 2015 and 2016, I really want to make 2017 the year when I complete the challenge.

‘There is no better way to get to know God than to read the Bible. The books in the Bible were gathered together by God’s people in the power of the Holy Spirit to tell the story of how God made us, how we make a mess of things, and how God calls us back to life both now and for eternity. It shows us the way God teaches us to live. It shows above all else how committed God is to us and how much he loves us. It is more of a library than a book (it has sixty-six books in it) and takes quite a commitment to read it all – even though it has some of the best things ever written within it. But when we read it and are open to God speaking through it, the experience of many Christians down the centuries is that God does.’

So please join us in reading the whole Bible this year. We have a plan which will support our church teaching through the year, but there are bibles available designed to allocate God’s word into daily portions, and I also recommend the Bible in One Year app which provides excellent commentary and teaching alongside each day’s readings.

Imagine what God will reveal, and what may be achieved in His name through a simple act of faithful discipleship!

“There are times when solitude is better than society, and silence is wiser than speech. We should be better Christians if we were more alone, waiting upon God, and gathering through meditation on His Word spiritual strength for labour in his service. We ought to muse upon the things of God, because we thus get the real nutriment out of them. . . . Why is it that some Christians, although they hear many sermons, make but slow advances in the divine life? Because they neglect their closets, and do not thoughtfully meditate on God’s Word. They love the wheat, but they do not grind it; they would have the corn, but they will not go forth into the fields to gather it; the fruit hangs upon the tree, but they will not pluck it; the water flows at their feet, but they will not stoop to drink it. From such folly deliver us, O Lord. . . .”
― Charles Haddon Spurgeon