When you pray, pray like this… Jesus told his followers; and then proceeded to break most of the rules that they’d been brought up with for prayer…
When you pray, address the God of all creation as you would your own father- with that level of love and intimacy… (in another passage Jesus says to his friends that they can call God ‘daddy’ when they pray…)
When you pray, remember also that God is the Lord of all things, sovereign in heaven, and that you are asking his rule on earth to grow through your prayers.
When you pray, remember to include your own life- the simple things like bread, the things you’ve done wrong and those who’ve wronged you… the Lord God knows and cares about such things.
When you pray, ask for help in the things you’ll face, deliverance from the challenges that will come against you.
When you pray, expect that God will hear, and will answer, and will do so because of his love for you rather than your amazing prayers or righteousness.
When you pray, don’t be all ‘ooh, look at me’, you might head off into the shed, or go for a walk, or pray in church… but don’t hog the spotlight and make it all about you- those prayers won’t be answered.
When you pray, put time into it- quality time, just you and the Father, but if something comes up that you need to do- healing or serving others, don’t turn them away for your prayertime… that’s that whole overholy thing.
Oh, and as for how to pray, which words to use in particular, or whether to pray out loud, the importance of tongues, formal liturgy, whether you can smile while praying… Jesus didn’t say a word about any of them.
I was about to post my talk from last Sunday today… but the thing about blogging is that you can, and should, respond to immediate things. So this morning the meeting I was at didn’t start on time, because we prayed. Not hugely surprising for Christians to pray at the start of a meeting, you might say, fair point, but we prayed for Manchester, the city where I used to live, and for all those affected by the attack there last night in which 22 people died. We also prayed for the places we haven’t heard about in the news today, for the unnamed and unknown. We prayed for the injured, the mourning, the scared, the security and medical personnel, and yes, we prayed for those who would attack children and young people. I’m not asking you to be impressed, I’m just saying we did something slightly different, because we needed to.
So, if its ok with you, just stop reading here for a few seconds, and pray (if you like) or think of (if you prefer to call it that), those affected by terror attacks at the moment. And if you’d like to, then plan to do something different as a result of your thoughts and prayers- whether its going to Manchester to help practically, or to be friendly to the next random call-centre person who phones you from an 0161 number in case they’ve been affected, or to make sure you don’t act in fear or hatred to someone who’s ethnically different from you…
(here’s the bit where you stop)
Thanks. You can carry on now, if you want to
And the other thing that struck me was that we carry on doing the same things as normal… we don’t give up… so here’s my sermon from last Sunday as normal…based on Acts chapter 17 when Paul visits Athens.
Paul is at the Areopagus- summoned there by the citizens to present his case… I have wondered whether he was being given the opportunity to speak- a visiting speaker with interesting ideas, or the chance to defend himself- a stranger with some concerning views- was this a pre-trial hearing or a preview of what he’d teach if given permission? The answer probably lies somewhere in between. Paul has explored the city, having visited Phillipi, Thessalonica and Berea, and has begun to debate with Jews, God-fearing Greeks and anyone in the marketplace who would listen… and so he’s been brought to the Areopagus- the meeting place, not quite such an important place as a few hundred years before when Athens was chief among the Greek cities, but still…
As we look at Paul’s message here, we can learn as much about how to speak of God from it as we can learn about God- and for us, this probably something we need to look at- the chances are, if you’ve been coming along to church for a while, you know some things about God- from our prayers, the creed, our Bible readings, our hymns… you know God is the righteous and holy judge, who forgives although he could condemn; you know God is the creator and sustainer of all things, who loves and takes joy in his creation, you know that God has given humanity a role within creation, and that Jesus has given Christians a role within humanity… though you may well say or think you know very little, if you sat down with a piece of paper and wrote down your thoughts on what is God like, you’d be surprised how much you’d put down. Paul’s message is very simple- there is a God who created the universe. He knows you. He sent Jesus to die for you.
But are we able to share that with others? I’m not asking for all the evangelists to stand up and wave, but rather, are we, all of us, able to share what we know and believe with others?
Many Christians might feel that they don’t know what to say, or that its not their place, or that it’s not appropriate.
Lets start with that last one- there are times when it isn’t appropriate, and there are times when it is. When someone asks you, as Paul was asked, what you believe about God, and how you’ve come to believe that, then they deserve an answer.
Secondly- ‘it’s not my place’- if not yours, then whose? If Paul had said, wait here while I sail back to Jerusalem and fetch Peter, that would have taken many months. He was the man on the spot, the one who was asked… We’re not all Paul- we don’t take off on missionary trips around the Mediterranean (though now I think about it like that…)- we don’t have his gifting etc. But lets remember that Paul was not only clueless about Jesus, he was for his early life totally wrong. When he discovered the truth he immediately began to tell others… Very often in life we are the person in the right place, at the right time, having the conversation, and no one else could be there. Yes, there are times when we can reasonably say ‘I think you should talk to…’ or ‘I think you’d be helped by coming on an Alpha/Start course’…
Lastly, ‘I don’t know what to say’. Here’s the bullseye. Lets have a look at this passage from Acts. First of all, before Paul even speaks, we read ‘I walked around, I saw…’ He observed and got to understand something of where he was- if you know someone, you’ll know how to talk to them, and when to, and also you’ll have listened to them. When Paul finally does speak, he gives an Old Testament type preach- God as creator, humanity as offspring of God- he’s making a connection with Greek ideas but also challenging their practices of worship at the same time…He doesn’t really mention Jesus until the end… its not that Paul doesn’t think Jesus is important- just read his epistles if you doubt that, but that he realises how far his listeners need to journey before they can hear him speak about Jesus. So Paul listens and understands. He has spoken with a few people, but here he has been asked to speak, and so he does. And when he speaks, he starts where his listeners are- with things they understand- the unknown god and their poets, and relates them to his understanding of God as revealed in his people’s writings… You know the people around you better than I do, you’re already in friendships with them- that’s why you’re the best people to share the gospel with them.
Sometimes when we talk with others about God and the Christian faith, they may fire off a cheap shot, or make a joke about something, and we can be fearful… we aren’t good at arguing our point, we don’t remember clever things. But we are, each of us, experts in one thing- ourselves. Our own lives and experiences. Often folks will tell you about the God they don’t believe in… and sometimes you’ll agree with them- I wouldn’t believe in a God like that… but can I tell about the God I do believe in, and how my life has been? When Paul speaks, elsewhere in Acts, to Jews and tells them of his experience on the road to Damascus, there is no logical argument to be made against him- its just a case of believing him or not. When you or I speak of our own story, our testimony about our faith, it is our experience, our response to God, that speaks. Often its not even the words themselves, but the spirit in which we say them, that speaks most strongly into people’s lives.
Most often, we’ll be having a conversation with someone, rather than making the sort of presentation that Paul is, but what Paul finds is that at the end of his speech people have varying responses- you may have read the following verse ‘after he said this some of them sneered, but some of them asked to hear more’… When we share our faith with others, they may not respond as we’d like them to, but they may….
And its that ‘maybe’ that needs to grow in our hearts- we need to be like that boy, desperately fearing rejection, but who plucks up courage to shyly ask a girl if she’d like to go for a walk. Like that artist who eventually puts a painting into an exhibition, or the singer who finally shares a song. It may not work out how we hope, but if we’re always too afraid of what might happen, then we’ll never find out if it will.
Last week we held various remembrance services and events- in a local care home, in a primary school, in both our churches on the 11th itself and on Sunday. We don’t glorify war, or at least I sincerely hope we don’t, but we focus on the loss and sacrifices made by many in the wars fought in the last 100 years, and those suffering today.
We used this introductory prayer, which a friend posted on Facebook…
Every week we gather in our church to worship God, and during the week we go out to serve him in our community. Through the year our feasts and festivals provide times when we invite others to draw closer to God as we celebrate the birth of Christ, his death and resurrection and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Today, however, is no feast day. It is not a celebration. It is a day when we, in our church, as part of our worship, serve our community simply by remembering all that has been suffered, all that has been lost, all that humanity has done and still does to itself. And we pray. We pray that the memories of war will one day fade into the past and that we will live in peace with our neighbours. But for now, we cannot forget, for that peace is but a dream and a hope that we have yet to bring to life.
Lest We Forget. War is not just a distant memory. Our world is tragically far from being at peace. In the last week alone 95 civilians have died in Afghanistan. Many of those deaths, including women and children, caused by US air strikes. Lest we forget.
The siege of Aleppo continues. 250,000 civilians are desperately trying to survive bombs, starvation and disease. Food prices have soared, clean drinking water is hard to find, fighting continues and Russian bombs are still falling. Lest we forget that Syria is still at war. And the battle against ISIL continues in Iraq too. Lest we forget.
In the world’s youngest nation, South Sudan, ongoing violence has led to over 1 million refugees fleeing the country. Lest we forget.
Lest we forget Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Myanmar, Palestine and other nations where civil unrest, violence, man-made humanitarian crisis and rape affect countless civilians everyday. So yes, let’s remember those who fell serving our nation. Let’s remember those who gave their lives for us, and let’s remember those who continue to risk their lives in our armed forces. But lest we forget that war is far from a distant memory. Lest we forget that today many ordinary women, children and men, not too dissimilar to you or I, fear for their lives. Sadly, for them, war is very real today. Lest we forget them.
And here’s the talk I gave at one of our churches- which was to a mixed congregation including 40+ young people from our beavers, cubs, scouts & explorers…
If you were at the hut opening last Saturday you might have heard me mention the virtues that the scouting and our national flag stand for- gentleness, joy, peace, goodness, patience, faithfulness, self-control, kindness, and love; and we prayed that the young people and leaders involved with our village scout group would grow in them. In the Bible those parts of our character are called ‘fruit of the Spirit’- when someone is following God those things will be there, just like pears growing on pear trees, or grapes on a vine. The passage that Ellen and Emily just read comes from a place where Jesus makes just that comparison- if you’re following me, you’re like branches that are part of the vine- you will grow and fruit will grow on you- and then he goes on- that fruit will be love. And the ultimate demonstration of love for another person is being willing to give your life for them- as Jesus did for not only his followers and friends then, but through his death on the cross for all who would follow him and be known as his friends. Today we remember those who were willing to give their all for those they love, and we remember also those who’s lives were taken from them- the victims of bomb and gas and shell that target the innocent, the old and the young; those captured who died in concentration camps, those who died, on every side of conflict. We remember them, and we pray that we will learn to love peace.
When you’re at Beavers, Cubs, Scouts, or in any group pretty much- at home or in work, at church or playing sport, there are rules- the things that are written down or you’re told about and they tell you what to do- stand now, say this, try to kick the ball there… and there are values- the things that are often not written down- and they lead to ways of behaving too- good sportsmanship, looking out for the younger children, welcoming visitors… When I learned to climb years ago, the first thing we were taught were the rules- what to say to the person holding the rope, how to tie the knots that would keep you safe etc… but no one ever spent time telling me that you also checked out how other people were doing, gave any help needed, warned everyone about falling stones or other dangers… those were the things you just picked up, usually from someone looking out for you… gradually you don’t need anyone to remind you of the ‘obvious rules’- they just happen, and the other ones too- they become part of who you are. But at the start, you, me, we, we all need some instructions… and the easier they are to learn the better-
Jesus keeps it really simple for his disciples here- they’re one and the same- love each other. It’s the command that is at the heart of the Christian faith, and it’s the thing that all Christians are to do- love the people around you… By obeying that command we will be able to live the life that Jesus calls us to, and the fruit of that love will obvious to those around us, and, well, when you boil it down to that, when you really think about it, its not a difficult choice- Love- with kindness, care, consideration of others (which is way better than tolerance of others!), being happy for others etc… or ‘not-Love’- with well, whatever you get when there is no love… For most of us the difficulty comes in working out that it really is that simple (yes, it is), that there aren’t any catches (no, there aren’t) and in actually doing in our lives… that is the hard one. But you never get that one sorted unless you start. When I became a Christian, on an outdoors activity holiday at the age of 13, (in fact, it was because I loved hiking and climbing that I was there at all) it was really easy at first- I could manage praying, reading my Bible, learning and singing songs that praised God, being pretty good- and then I went home at the end of the week and I didn’t have a timetable, a team leader and a worship band living in my house- instead I had my mum and dad, my brother and my sister. And it was a lot harder. The Christian life is simple, but its not easy. A bit like climbing I guess- you just keep going up, and don’t fall off… It’s not just for kids, in fact you could say its not for kids- its too serious, but that would be like saying that you can’t learn to climb stairs or trees until you’re an adult… But life as a Christian has more meaning, more purpose and brings more joy than climbing or surfing or any other sport that I’ve done. It has risks- sure. But what doesn’t?
I’ve been lost for words at times since Friday morning, and those who know me well will know that is possibly the best thing that has come out of the referendum if you were a remain voter.
I am shocked by the result, deeply saddened that neither the remain or leave campaign seem to have had a plan for what they would do in the event of a narrow leave vote, upset by the finger pointing and accusations made towards individuals who voted as their heads and hearts led them, and utterly appalled by the racist attacks and abuse that have been reported.
I’m white, British, middle-class, middle-aged and I’m not a racist. Anyone who lives in this country is welcome to live near me, to work with me, to build community with me. I don’t care which football team, which religion or which political party you support. But discriminating against someone based on their background, religion, sexuality or skin colour is wrong- so how do I build community with those who disagree with me about that? If I’m supposed to be tolerant and respectful of others, does that mean I have to tolerate and respect the abuse of people simply because they have a different native language?
The first thing to do is recognise that racial abuse is happening, and its happening a lot more since the referendum than before. That is just reality. This is not about refugees being welcome or not, this is people who’ve lived in the UK for years, who’re citizens and residents, holidaymakers and tourists. People living in their home towns are experiencing racial abuse that they weren’t experiencing last week, last month or last year.
The second thing I’m doing is reassuring everyone I know that I welcome them- that they are safe with me. I’m not pretending to be Superman, but I’m not claiming to be from a race of Supermen (or Ubermensch, if we’re still allowed to use foreign words after last week). Racism, when it happens, is not something I support, approve of or agree with- it is not done in my name.
I’m still trying to work out what step 3 is, and would be grateful of advice. In trying to work it out I’m mulling over whether reconciliation is actually the way forwards, or whether we need to go into this- do we need a bandage or surgery at this point?
A friend of mine blogged this today on shinyheadedprophet here– its really worth reading. In the meantime I hope and pray that you don’t experience any abuse, and that you’re able to reduce the levels of fear and anger in those around you.
I have not blogged for a while … and not really said much publicly about Thursdays elections.
It seems argument after argument is still coming on social media. I, along with many others, was indirectly told to stop posting stuff in a generic ‘stop whinging’ type post and grow up … only to then receive in my news feed from the same ‘stop whinging’ people post after post of silly stuff like ‘if England lose the match on Monday night can we play again if we don’t like the result’.
So remainers are not allowed to whinge, but outers can post ridiculing posts. Why draw attention to this … ?
Someone recently, well on the actual morning of the vote result, reminded me that I am a priest and that I needed to be about reconciliation. I also had scripture quoted at me but no response when I gave counter scripture showing ‘anger’ was ok, particularly righteous anger.
I do believe the country needs reconciliation … and I do believe as a priest I should help that in my community … but at the moment I can not.
At the moment I am still angry …. not at those who voted out because we are in a democracy and we all have a right to opinion and are free to vote as we choose.
I am angry over how people are being treated.
On Friday I spoke to three dear friends who were crying over the vote. Crying because this vote has dramatically changed their lives.
I am angry because I know of teachers who have had to comfort children in their classes who have heard that they are no longer welcome here in the UK.
I am angry over how the vote has been an excuse to gang up on individuals who are trying to cause change for the better.
I am angry over the countless stories of violence towards people in this country since the vote outlined here.
I am angry because decent humans who felt this was their home last week now feel homeless, unwanted and scared.
I am angry … and that is ok for the time being!
Please stop telling me to be involved in reconciliation … that will come … but first …something more needs to happen.
Before reconciliation these things, the divisions we have tried to ignore, our opinions …. everything we value about our lives and how we live together as decent human beings needs to be talked about. Things need to be expressed and heard.
I could ramble but my now retired Suffragen Bishop (when I was in Rochester Diocese) , Bishop Brian, writes so much better here …. a great article from an amazing man and one that we should read and take to heart of we really want to move forward.
In chapter 9 of Mark’s Gospel, we get some of the most misquoted words of Jesus that we’ll find anywhere… the whole ‘if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out’ bit has been used and abused by all sorts of people, particularly grisly monsters in the horror genre (of these, Judge Dredd’s encounter with the Sisters of Death in the 2000AD saga Dead Man/Necropolis has to rank highest for me, but then I’m British and was growing up in the 1980’s, and that has nothing to do with today, so I’m not going to post a link here to the wikipedia article on them).
Alongside this passage, we had the final part of James’ letter to consider in our morning worship… James is a blunt, challenging piece of writing, so what would he have to say about prayer?
Anyway, if you read these two passages, Mark 9.38-50 and James 5.13-20 you’ll probably have many questions that aren’t addressed in the text below, but here goes:
In this passage from Mark’s Gospel Jesus is giving some clear commands to his disciples, in response to John’s genuine question about someone outside their group who seems to be using Jesus’ authority… He’s not one of us, should that be allowed?
Do not stop him- be united with those outside your immediate group
Do not tell him what to do- be supportive of those who do things differently
Jesus then goes on to warn the disciples about the risks they face- this is spiritual warfare and there will be casualties… in your teaching of little ones- whether young in age or faith… be careful to teach them all they need and not shirk from the task… in your personal holiness- don’t lie to yourself, don’t let your left hand undo all the good that your right hand does… most of us would agree that Jesus is, in this point, speaking figuratively rather than literally… but we actually find it hard enough to even listen at that level- what behaviour do we willingly change because we know it damages our relationship with God? Answer- not much
And then this section closes with a reminder of where this started- Be at peace with one another- harking back both to the question that started this off, and also the preceding passage where the disciples argue about who is the greatest…
But why? What is the point of all these things?
James (who may have been one of the 12 and if so was the one who had serious issues with jockeying for position) reminds us in the closing verse of his letter- whoever turns a sinner back to God saves him from death… We need to be getting our priorities straight…
We’re not in disagreement for the sake of arguing- church isn’t a debating society
We’re not in unity for the sake of a quiet life- church isn’t about uniformity or ticking the boxes
We’re in the business of making a difference- miracles, healings, transformed lives all those happen, not every day but prayers in faith have power… relationships amongst us and with others… prayer for others, with others…
The purpose of the church is to make known in the world the glory and power of God, that the world might hear, understand and be saved…
We can be in unity doing that; we can be in disagreement about how to do that; but we are to do that… if we, in this village, want to make God’s love known to the members of the community, we need to accept that we will disagree, but to know that whoever is not against us is for us- the Methodist church is for us, the Gospel Hall is for us, residents in the village who worship in Umberleigh, Barnstaple, Torrington or wherever else… if they are part of God’s church, then they are for us. And our disagreements come secondary to our unity.
So how to be in unity- Prayer is the first and greatest way. If I ask you to pray for me, then I trust you. If you ask me to pray for you, likewise. If we pray together for our neighbours and the village, then we trust each other… and so on. The first and greatest thing we can do, is to pray together for our community. The second Saturday of each month we gather to pray here at 9.30. If that’s no use to you, the church is open every day, all day- gather at a time that suits you. If you’d rather pray elsewhere, do so, if you like to pray during the week in the context of worship, come to the joint prayer and communion service each Thursday morning… there is no right time of the day, no special location… just pray. When we pray for things that we’re excited about, when we pray for things we’re not so sure about, that intentional bringing a situation and the people before God… it brings us closer together.
Secondly- to remember our calling. We exist for the sake of the world. Not for the sake of the church. This building was not built for us to rest in, but for the world to be rescued by- over the years many churches have become more like clubs, museums and ? but we should rather think of ourselves as lifeboat stations, fuelling stops and hospitals…
Hospitals- to care for the vulnerable, those who need healing…
Fuelling stations- to prepare for the journey, a top up or a refill…
Lifeboat stations- if we had to pick just one… the purpose of the church is to rescue those who are in peril… everything else flows from that, everything serves that purpose… our discussions about worship styles, preferred seating options- the disciples talking about who was the greatest or whether anyone else could heal in Jesus’ name… we have to keep our priorities as our priorities.
The whole lifeboats thing has been significant for me over the last few years- since spending some time with the folks at St Andrew’s church in Chorleywood I’ve found it a recurring and powerful image. If your situation is far from the sea, then it may not resonate with you, but I wonder what would?
Last Sunday evening we had a slightly different time in church- there was no organ or worship band, nor even a CD or ipod. On arrival the small group of us sat facing the back rather than the front, and when we started there were no notices… what is going on?
We were gathered for our monthly time of worship and prayer, where we’ve been learning some new songs and praying together, often in ways that allow us to be more vulnerable and be more supported than is often the case in our gathered times. On this occasion, however, I wanted to try using some of the ideas around mindfulness, but from a Christian perspective, which has been described by Shaun Lambert appropriately as ‘mindfullness’- not just being aware of what is going on in your head and life, but also filling yourself with God as you do so and orienting your thoughts and actions in response to what you see of God.
This was fairly new to me, and not something I’d led before, so we were all doing something new together- and to honest I was quite glad that only a few folks had come along! But it seemed to go well, and we’ll do it, or something similar, again in the near future. The reason, BTW, that we were facing the back of the church is that we used the Parable of the Good Samaritan from Luke chapter 10 as something to aid our thinking, and we’ve got a large stained glass window depicting that parable a the back of the church…
Mindfulness- consciously stopping to observe and become aware of our thoughts and feelings, in order to move from a place where they control our actions and lives to a place where we are mindful of our intentions- living and acting proactively rather than reactively.
Contemplative prayer, coming into the presence of God, losing ourselves in worship, Lectio Divina and other Christian traditions all use this same idea, and it is based on things we see Jesus doing and the NT church practising.
It is similar to secular and Buddhist mindfulness in the same way that all chairs are things to sit on, but they are not the same chair- each form of mindfulness has its own structure and intention, but they share some commonalities.
Why specific Christian mindfulness? Because as Christians we want our intentions to be informed by and sustained by God’s love and will for our lives rather than anything else.
What can mindfulness do? Help us pray, help reduce anxiety and stress, help us to perceive God in the world, help us to live as Christians… or none of them if we choose not to…
What are the pitfalls? Mindfullness isn’t Christianity, it doesn’t replace being part of a church or following Jesus- it’s a useful tool, not the end goal
Some main points:
Being aware of your Body
Observing your thoughts, body and feelings
Accepting them and being Aware of them more fully
Adopting a Compassionate attitude towards ourself and the world- non-judgmental and forgiving
COAL as mnemonic for Bible reading: Curiosity, Openness, Attentively, Living it out
Others like to talk about Lectio Divina… at its heart is reading the Bible so that its truth enters into you rather than you trying to make it fit your truth…
Luke 10.25-38- Parable of the good Samaritan…
I’ll read the passage, then we’ll have some quiet while we each allow it to speak to us- you’ll want to have a Bible to hand, and be sitting somewhere where you can comfortably read, or look at the window…
During the quiet I’ll give a few invitations to how you might like to progress your thoughts
As our time draws to a close we’ll take the opportunity to put down anything- both in terms of things you need to release and let go of, and also to put down on paper any thoughts that you need to retain and reflect on further.
Last Sunday I preached a slightly rambling version of this text, having conducted a wedding the day before (weirdly the most tiring thing I do in my job…) and generally feeling slightly odd… apparently the last 5 minutes of the talk were really good, so you may want to fast forward the audio from our website or skip a few paragraphs… anyway, from chapter 8 of Mark’s Gospel…
Jesus’ preaching tour continues, and at this point he ask his disciples for some feedback- who do people say I am? And the answers they give are quite revealing-
John the Baptist, who we all know is dead, but somehow people aren’t paying attention to what they know is true…
Elijah (or another one of the prophets)…
Interestingly, all of those were people who came to draw people towards God and also to speak God’s words to people… so the crowds have got something right- they know Jesus isn’t just a teacher and a wise man (which if you were to conduct the same survey in Barnstaple today would be the most widely offered responses by folks in town).
But, its as if they’re so close, but just missing out- there was an expectation that Elijah might return as a forerunner to the messiah, and John had claimed to be doing just that… and yet they think Jesus is also fitting into that mould- why is that? Maybe its because its easier that way- its ok to get excited about something that is on its way- you can look forward to it and get ready for it, but until it gets happens you can pretty much carry on as you were… the messiah is going to come YES!, the messiah is on the way YES!, the messiah is coming YES! But in between whiles nothing has to change. The messiah has arrived and is in the next village- that requires a shift in thinking, a shift that many people weren’t ready for. And many still aren’t.
But not Peter- You are the Christ, which is the greek translation of messiah. You are the anointed one of God who comes to save. And you’re also challenging people and changing things, and while some may not have been happy with that, Peter was.
As Christians we have to acknowledge that we have changed- that is what it means to be baptised and live in the light of our faith- we’ve been forgiven for our sins and brought to new life- it doesn’t matter when it happened or how slowly it happened, but we have been changed by God. If we have always been a Christian for as long as we can remember, then it can be really hard to understand this, but it is the basis of our faith.
Peter accepted that, he’d seen enough of Jesus, and was able to say ‘you are the messiah’.
But, and this is really important for us to hear- Peter still messed up. And Jesus didn’t just say ‘its ok, you had one moment where you got it, that’ll do fine’. No- he rebuked him, and then called him to come further along the road- further into the life of following Jesus, of discipleship. If we’re going to be Christians, it involves change- not just once but again and again- because it involves growth- growing in the knowledge of God’s love for us, growing in love for the world, growing in compassion and in the gifts that God has given us- both the natural talents that we have and the spiritual gifts that the Spirit brings…
The difficulty of change- its painful but essential to accept that if, like the disciples, we’re going to change, we have to have come to the realisation that we are spiritually hard of hearing and short sighted… if God’s desire is to change us and ours is to remain the same, its probably not that God has a mistaken view of us or an overblown idea of our potential… This is for all of us- there’s no super holiness exam… everyone who is a Christian is called to deny ourselves and take up our cross and follow Jesus.
To deny ourself is to put God first- to say that his will, his word has the final say in the decisions we make, rather than the things we see on adverts or read in papers.
To take up our cross is to recognise that those decisions will have an impact and they may cause us to suffer, to be rejected by others.
But we follow Jesus- to remember that when we do this we are following the one who has saved us and changed us and has promised to be with us and offers us life eternal.
This life of following Jesus starts with us, just us, and him. Just the same as it was in the beginning. A few people working out what it means to follow Jesus and committing to that path, encouraging and helping one another- that’s all we mean when we talk of mentoring…
And the single most important thing we need, the greatest thing we have, the thing we see Jesus and the early church doing throughout the New Testament, is prayer. That’s why we pray so much when we’re gathered together in worship- because it is important. But we don’t just pray using the words of our learned prayers. Sometimes we pray in silence, and our thoughts and the prayers of our hearts are guided by and inspired by the world around us- that’s what we’ll be doing this evening, if you can join us. Sometimes we pray out loud in our own words- not because they’re any better, but because they are from our own heart. Sometimes we pray with others to be encouraged and held accountable (that’s Thursday morning each week here in the church) and sometimes we pray our prayers in solitude- whether it’s the Lord’s Prayer at noon or the daily office of Morning or Evening Prayer. Sometimes it’s a putting aside a chunk of time- going to the House of Prayer this week or during our prayer days, sometimes it’s a fleeting prayer, fired like an arrow… We don’t always get the answer we want to those prayers- God hears and responds, but doesn’t obedient to us… we’re obedient to him in our prayers and our lives.
But its prayer, however we do it, that will help us to stand, like Peter and say ‘you are the Christ’, to give up what we have for the what we will receive…
People may wonder how we Christians know that prayer works… and one answer I’ve heard is that if prayer doesn’t work, then there is nothing to lose by trying it… try praying consistently about something that is of importance to you, every day, for a month, and honestly ask yourself at the end whether anything has happened. And whether it is in you, in others, or in the world, I believe that you will find that your prayer will be answered. You may want to pray about the question that Jesus asked- Who are you Jesus? I want to know who you are… you may want to pray about what happened next ‘Help me to have in mind the things of God’… you may be struggling with following Jesus instead of the values of the world- help me to follow you… you may have forgotten your faith and what it once meant to you, and need that reassurance and forgiveness… help me to know I’m forgiven…
God’s desire is for you to come deeper into relationship with him, for us to grow as a church both in depth and in strength, and the way that he calls us to do that is through prayer.
So, I live in a mono-cultural part of the UK, not because of any ethnic segregation but because of distance and work availability. Or at least, it used to be monoculture, and monochrome (I do remember meeting, quite literally, the first black African who lived in the village, and the first Thai family who moved into the next village…). Now, 15yrs on, the culture is predominantly white british, but with a lot of diversity at the fringe- there are families from all over Europe, Africa and Asia who’ve moved here with work (schools and the hospital plus the beach lifestyle/tourism mostly); but very much in the minority.
The question I have is whether race is an issue here- is someone’s colour and ethnic background a marker or just an identifying feature? Does it cause someone offence to describe them by their background/hair style/skin colour/employment? I know folks who’d answer both ways to that question…
But the question of race isn’t just colour- its status: refugee, migrant worker, incomer (that’s me, by the way), ex-colonial and so on. Here the question is as much about the camps in Calais, the welcome we give EU nationals working here for a summer, how we treat the families of those who’ve been recruited from overseas to run our healthcare…
Anyway, with all that in mind, I read the post below on Gospelrelevance and thought I’d share it:
One Year Later: 7 Ways To Respond To The Ferguson Aftermath
This past week marks one year since the death of Mike Brown. How should you respond to Ferguson aftermath?
I grew up in St. Louis, in a placed called “North County,” about 15 minutes away from Ferguson. I lived in North County most of my adult life until moving away for college. Having spent most of my life in NoCo, as they call it, these are familiar grounds. And I know about the hardships of this area: my uncle was innocently murdered when I was in 4th Grade by a stranger over some chump change.
I’m not saying I’m the most qualified to write this post. But I’m certainly not ignorant. I’m not on the outside looking in, I’m on the inside crying out.
So what should you do?
Last year I wrote a response post right after Michael Brown’s death. My aim was to challenge Christians to respond in a proper, godly way. But now that it’s been over one year, I think we should revisit the question: How should Christians respond to Ferguson?
Here’s at least 6 ways:
1) Continue to pray.
As soon as you mention prayer, some Christians reply, “I know, I know. But what else can I do.” If this is your attitude, you don’t understand the importance (or power) of prayer. Sure, activity is crucial. You can’t just sit around and do nothing. But to think lowly of prayer is to think lightly of the Savior — the one who is ready to grant requests according to his will for those who ask, seek, and knock. Pray for humility, for reconciliation, for wisdom, for love, for help. Prayer is the first step.
2) Perform a self-examination (again).
It’s easy to criticize the media, but this is of no value to you if you don’t examine your own heart. Do you struggle with racism? Do you racial-profile others? Do you show favoritism to your race? Others might not know, but God does. Confession and repentance is the fist step for healing.
3) Start a racial dialogue.
I think a “Win” in the past year has been the increased emphasis of CNN and Fox News and other media outlets on having more conversations about race, social justice, and the like. Sure, the info is sometimes incorrect and biased. But at least a discussion is happening, and the emphasis being made more prominent. The media — and Social Media — are talking.
What about you?
You probably won’t be on CNN this week. But you can have a dialogue with your neighbor.
One week after the shooting, I went to a gym in North County. Eager to learn, I pursued a dialogue with an African-American about the situation. I was hesitant and timid and didn’t know if he would reply in an adverse way. But he didn’t. I asked a ton of questions about his upbringing and negative experiences. I wanted to know what it was like to walk in his shoes. And I learned a lot.
That one conversation taught me more about race and injustice than all the articles I read combined.
The good news is that you can do the same.
Can you have someone of a different race over for dinner this month? I promise you won’t regret it.
4) Build multi-ethnic churches.
I’ve been in the church since 7th grade, visiting dozens and dozens of churches in my lifetime. The number of times I’ve been the only minority in the room is staggering. This is a problem. Pastors in St. Louis — and all around the world — should be committed to building multi-ethnic churches.
There have been books, blogs, conferences, and movements dedicated to this point. All of which can be helpful. But something John MacArthur one said stuck with me that I think can help.
During a Q&A session, a pastor asked MacArthur for advice because his church was struggling with evangelism, seeing very few people converted. “The first thing I would do to help is hire someone with the gift of evangelism on my staff,” replied MacArthur. He explained how this can ignite a fire within the church staff, and the church itself.
This is won’t always be available. But if he or she fits the biblical qualifications, I can see how hiring a minority on staff can help promote the cause of the pursuit of multi-ethnic churches.
Many movement promoting racial justice have sprung since Mike Brown’s death, with Black Lives Matter rising to prominence. This is good. It’s a healthy sign that people are being shaken out of apathy, and are moving towards activity. But here’s the deal: apart from a gospel-centered moment, the impact of various movements will be limited. What people need is not just behavior modification, but heart transformation. And that power is only available through the gospel.
Racism exists because of sin, and Jesus is the solution. Even John Piper admitted to growing up racist, and I have had my battles, being picked on from multiple ethnicities. The solution? Preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Good News preached and taught through the power of the Holy Spirit is what will change our racist tendencies, and provoke a love for one another. Not gonna lie: a part from Jesus changing my heart, I would be a racist, prideful jerk. Jesus is — and will always be — the solution.
7) Continue to press forward and look to eternity.
Call me pessimistic, but I’m not sure we’ll ever see a remedy this side of things. Even without violent or prejudicial actions, racism exists because of sin, because of you and I. It’s easy to point the finger. But we should be looking in the mirror. And this sin is not going away, not until Jesus returns.
And he is. His perfect life, death, and resurrection has made a way for God’s people to live forever with him. One day, in a way that I don’t understand, all this wrong will be made right.
“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall their be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
All the tears shed from injustice and racism will one day be wiped forever. Until then, press on.
Actually, what I don’t mean by that title is that we should write all our prayers in textspeak, although there is a guy who writes Twitturgies– daily prayers in 140 characters or less.
What I’m talking about is how we send a text message, email or Facebook message to someone and have an expectation that they will receive it- and the speed with which people often responds shows just how plugged into our communications devices most of us are. So we’re expectant that our message is received, and that we will receive a reply in turn.
We’re also, to varying degrees, very comfortable sending those messages out at all times of day and as often as we want to- we might not knock on someone’s door, or phone them, but we’ll send a message with little regard to the time, or whether we’ve already sent 5 messages already today…
In all things pray continually. That’s how Paul taught about prayer. Not continuously, but continually- God never gets fed up of our prayers, and neither does he tire of their content.
… if you’re at all familiar with the Gospels you may be racking your brain now and wondering when Jesus does anything that could remotely be compared to going to the gym or doing some baking-
is it when he walks on water… nope
the hike up the mountain with his friends… nope
maybe the baking link is easier- the feeding of the 5,000? or the breaking of bread at the last supper or after his resurrection? Nope, nope and nope.
Ok- here’s the connection. Its when he prays.
When Jesus prays for his disciples, as recounted in John’s Gospel, chapter 17, it reminded me of both those things, and here’s why… BTW this is a paraphrase and adaptation of what I said yesterday morning in church…
Jesus prays for his disciples that they’d be protected- that God would protect them. He doesn’t pray that they would stay safe and sound, or be kept from dangerous places, but that God would be alongside them and protect them in those situations… if you want to make bread, or bake cakes that taste wonderful, then you have got to turn the oven up hot and go into the kitchen. And most chefs I know have a few burn marks on their arms, but they also use the protection to hand- aprons, towels, oven gloves… those things that are available and intended to protect you in that place. Oven gloves are useless when typing blogs or tying shoelaces, but essential when removing hot items from the oven.
God’s protection over the disciples, and over Christians today, is not for when we’re sitting in a comfy safe place, but when we’re in a place of risk and danger. Jesus prays that God would protect his followers because he expects them to be in those situations.
Ok, and the gym? Well, Jesus also prays that his followers would be ‘sanctified’- made holy. And that’s a process, an ongoing process. Its one which is best done with a guide and a goal, with some advice and gradually… rather like signing up for membership of a gym, only this one is a spiritual gym. When you first go to a gym its all a bit scary looking and everyone seems more confident and fitter than you, but with the advice of the person who took you along, or the fitness coach there you can find the best starting place for you and work from that… Spiritually we’re all at different starting points- whether we’re struggling to know how to pray, can’t easily engage in worship through singing unless we already know a particular song, just don’t ‘get’ reading the Bible as a way to hear from God or find ourselves caught up all too easily in bad habits of our past…
It takes effort to move off the spiritual couch…we need to actually put on the spiritual oven gloves… we need encouragement and maybe a bit of coaching… and here’s Jesus, on the night before his arrest and execution, and his highest priorities in prayer are- oven gloves and a coaching session so that his disciples can flourish rather than wither, can grow in strength and become all that he sees in them.
I don’t know about anyone else, but I know which I prefer. See you there?
"He brought me to his banquet hall and raised the banner of love over me. Restore my strength with raisins and refresh me with apples! I am weak from passion... His left hand is under my head and his right hand caresses me" - Song of Solomon 2:4-6