While we are not able to meet at St Christopher’s due to the Coronavirus, we will be publishing Midweek Messages at part of The Bridge. The Bridge Midweek Message 5 August 2020

The Bridge Midweek Message 5 August 2020

MATTHEW 5: 27-37

TAKING DECISIVE ACTION

The Lord be with you.

A Prayer:

Almighty Lord and everlasting God,
We ask you to direct, sanctify and govern both our hearts and bodies
In the ways of your laws and the works of your commandments;
That through your most mighty protection, both here and ever,
We may be preserved in body and soul;
Through our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ,
Who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
One God, now and for ever. Amen

Reading:                            Matthew 5 : 27 – 37

We are going to concentrate on the first part of this reading in relation to Jesus’ teaching on adultery. Now in doing so we need to recognise that our culture is obsessed with sexual behaviour, The internet, magazines, TV are full of images, stories and films which include sexual references. We live in a sexualised culture. On the internet, sexualised images are often referred to as click bait – to reel people in.

Needless to say, if our culture has an obsession with sexual behaviour then, as with any obsession, people get impacted and damaged and reeled in and find it difficult to extricate themselves from the situation they find themselves in.

In looking at this passage we need to be aware that because of the way our culture is, we need to tread carefully – decisively yet with tenderness.

  1. The law is more difficult than you think

So let’s look firstly at the law in relation to adultery. Jesus, in verse 27, sets it out saying:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’”

Now it is interesting that Jesus says “it was said”. If we went back to the giving of the Ten Commandments we would conclude not that they were said (although they were) – but rather they were written. So why does Jesus say “it was said?” What he is doing is dealing with the problem of the Pharisees. In verse 20 (just before our reading) Jesus says this:

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The Pharisees knew the law; they knew it back to front and not only that – they could do it. More importantly they would be the quickest off the mark if you didn’t keep to the law – or more precisely, keep to the law as they interpreted it. What they did is ensure that they kept to the letter of the law – which ultimately meant that they did not have sexual intercourse outside what we would describe as marriage (that is a marriage between a man and a woman).

So what Jesus now does is to take the law (as the Pharisees defined it) – but adds the following in verse 28:

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

So Jesus has now taken the law which had been applied to the act of adultery and now applies it to the thought life of people. It is as if Jesus takes the law – which was difficult enough – and now makes it even more difficult. In fact, being a Christian is not difficult – it’s impossible.

So why does Jesus say what he says? Surely our thought life is just that; our thought life?

Why do people commit adultery? It just doesn’t happen. It happens because it has already been played out in the minds of those committing it. The thought is planted; it grows through the attention of the mind to each detail; then bit by bit it is played out and moves from the thoughts of the mind to it actually happening. Our thought life reveals the true nature of our hearts. Our hearts are the engine room of our actions. So this is why Jesus applies the law to the heart.

2. The devil is more cunning than you think

To make matters worse, we have an adversary in the devil and we need to understand his strategy.

Before the law is broken, he will attack your thought life. Typically he may say lies such as – “it’s harmless” or “you’re not actually committing adultery – just thoughts” or “you’re missing out” or even “God will forgive you anyway.” Or even “if you are a strong Christian, you should be able to resist this.” And many more distortions. But notice the attack is your thought life first. It is the land he will seek to occupy first. Ultimately we may find ourselves convincing ourselves that God doesn’t exist. Once he has distorted, confused and muddied the waters – he can then go into phase 2 of his plan.

Phase 2 is once he has you thinking – once the thought has been thought – the action acted out – he runs round the other side and now accuses: “You can’t admit that to anyone” or “Christians don’t do that type of thing – so you aren’t really a Christian” or “God won’t forgive this time.” Note the last one directly contradicts the previous comforting words that God will forgive. So now what you have done or thought becomes something of shame and from this flows hypocrisy, a feeling of failure and loneliness as this is something that cannot easily be shared.

I have a friend of mine who said to me earlier this year: “the devil is a swine – he does not play by the rules.” This is right.

So this sounds impossible. We have an impossible law and an enemy doing his devious work. How on earth do we deal with this

3. God is more gracious and understanding than you dared believe

Let’s look at Jesus’s advice? He says this in verse 29:

If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 

Now on the face of it – this is rather confusing. Clearly Jesus is not saying we should actually gouge eyes out. But what is odd is why does Jesus suggest we should gouge out our right eye? As we would still have a left eye to look at whatever we shouldn’t be looking at.

Firstly – who is Jesus talking to? Christians. But note what Jesus says: “If your right eye causes you to stumble.” Jesus is talking to a Christian who knows (or should know) that he or she has a problem here. The word stumble is (in the Greek) linked to the word “trap”. So Jesus is saying that our looking at someone lustfully (maybe someone we have seen or know or maybe through pornography in all its forms) is actually a trap.

Some years ago I knew a young man who was in a relationship which was potentially damaging. I said to him that he was in a trap.

So be careful about what you watch – who you are seeing – if it is related to adultery, it’s a trap. Maybe you have found yourself in exactly that position. And somehow you can’t extricate yourself from this trap.

So in advising us to gouge out our right eye – what is Jesus saying?

He is saying we should take decisive action. (The danger is that our minds drift onto these things – and it is then we need to take the decisive action.) I think there are two ways we need to take action

  • Take pre-emptive decisive action

Is adultery (in all its forms) something you struggle with? Then take it to the Lord. Maybe if you know you have a problem in the evening – in the morning, pray for help from the Lord. Isn’t it interesting that the Lord’s Prayer says – “lead us not into temptation”. It is to nail our colours to the mast and specifically recognise our weakness in this area and to seek his strength against this temptation early in the day

  • Take decisive imminent action

It maybe that you are being tempted immediately and it is at this point the decisive action is to say “no” (literally say the word “no”) – and ask the Lord to help. Don’t be embarrassed – just ask. He wants you to. Speaking the law – literally saying – “You shall not commit adultery” – helps to clarify what is right and wrong in the fog of confusion our feelings can make.

It’s just worth noting that Jesus says in verse 29 that the “gouged out eye” should be thrown away. I take that as meaning that once you have taken the decisive action – don’t return to the old temptation.

It maybe of course that this is an area you really struggle with. Quite often we may find ourselves asking – how on earth have we got ourselves in this position? And that if we have got ourselves in this position therefore it is up to us to extricate ourselves from this trap. Jesus is far better than that. Jesus can rescue us. You don’t need to wait till you have cleaned yourself up. In any case, you can’t. Jesus does that. It’s what he does. The Lord says in Leviticus 20: 8:

I am the Lord who makes you holy.

It doesn’t says – make yourself holy and I will then do the rest. No. He perfects you. He restores you. He cleanses you. To make you right with God – is a work of God. But it is dependent on you going to him. But he will not condemn you – as Paul says in Romans 8: 1 – “Therefore you are no longer in condemnation.”

1 John 1 8-9 says: If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

God is so much more kind and gracious than we thought

4. Conclusion

The Lord longs for us to lead lives for him and if we are tangled up with sin (in this case adultery) then we will simply not be wholly his and on another agenda. So the Lord wants us to be free of this and will forgive us as he has promised – so the action – the decisive action – is to go to him. Always. Go to him. What he has for you on his agenda – is so much better than what adultery has to offer.

Just one lovely thought – have you read what it says about adultery in the law. In says: “You shall not commit adultery.” You can read this two ways; one is to think of someone pointing aggressively at you, saying: “you shall not commit adultery.” But there’s a better way. What if this command was a promise? That we would be so filled with God himself that he would say of you and me – you shall not commit adultery. That the law would be written on our hearts in such a way that we would not even want to. It maybe that you are not there at the moment but the Lord does want you there.

So it maybe that the Lord is placing his finger on this matter today and saying to you – “Come to me. Come home and simply give all this to me. Don’t be burdened by it all. Place it all on me. Let me make you holy. But come to me.”

So if that’s you – take that decisive step – and go to the Lord. Don’t struggle alone. He’s waiting for you.

A Prayer:

Heavenly Father, help us to put our trust in you and learn the rhythm of a life spent in your grace and love, empowered by your Holy Spirit to be obedient to your word. In the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour and Lord, Amen

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
Your kingdom come, your will be done,
On earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.
Amen

The Blessing:

May God, who in Christ gives us a spring of water welling up to eternal life,
perfect in us the image of his glory;
And the blessing of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit
Be among us and remain with us always.
Amen

The Bridge Midweek Message 29 July 2020

As I draw near to You God, please draw near to me. 

A prayer of Richard of Chichester “May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.”

Here’s a secret for you.  I enjoyed my school days and generally did well but there was one part of the school curriculum that I didn’t enjoy and that was art and crafts.  I was always competing not to be bottom of the class at art, woodwork and metalwork!  I can remember the comments now ‘Andrew tries hard to maintain a mediocre standard.’ 

So imagine my astonishment when a local cultural representative came to our art class to choose a piece of work to be displayed in our local art gallery as an example of children’s art and the piece that was chosen was mine! There must be an ounce of creativity in me somewhere.

Let’s be clear, there is a creative spirit in all of us.  If we are born in the image of God, it follows that we have creativity in us somewhere too and it is the Holy Spirit who brings out this creativity to its full potential. 

Genesis 1 v 1-3 from Revised Version reads:

“In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth.  And the earth was waste and void; and darkness was upon the face of the deep and the Spirit of God moved or brooded upon the face of the waters.”  (Phrase ‘brooded upon’ quite literally means spawning, giving birth or new life to creation.)

In other parts of the Old Testament we get the idea of the Spirit being creative by bringing dead things to life

Ezekiel 37 v 5 ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones:  I will make breath come to you and you will come to life.’ The word for breath is same word for wind or spirit.

In other parts of the Old Testament there are times when the Spirit is given for particular purposes to individuals at a particular time in order to enable creativity e.g. Exodus 31 v 3-5 

It was for the purpose of creating the Ark of the Covenant that individuals were filled with the Spirit to enable them to have ‘skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts’.

The Holy Spirit is creative by nature.  Humans born in the image of God are born with innate creativity, and it is the Spirit within Christians who brings this creativity to its full potential.  There are some people in whom we witness the Spirit working and they very obviously display creativity in their particular skill.  As a local worship leader said to me recently, “I sing because of my gifts and skills, but I can lead worship because I am anointed by God to do so!”  The same is true of people with more practical talents.  Talent alone does not enable us to display our creativity to its full potential.  Our natural talent needs to be guided by the Spirit of God and used for his glory. 

What did Jesus say to Nicodemus in John 3 v 8

“the wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear it’s sound but you cannot tell where it comes from and where it is going.  So, it is with everyone born of the Spirit.”

Sometimes the Spirit’s creative ways can be restricted in our lives.  In his book ‘The Sensitivity of the Spirit’ R. T. Kendell uses the illustration of the turtle dove in comparison with a pigeon, to show how we can restrict the influence of the Spirit in our lives.

It was a turtle dove that alighted upon Jesus at his baptism in the Jordan, the inaugural event in the life of Jesus’ ministry here on earth, at which time there was a loud voice from heaven saying “This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.” When the Holy Spirit comes into our lives, he alights on us and gently guides and steers us through life. 

The significance of the Spirit being represented by a turtle dove is that they are very sensitive creatures.  They are not happy in situations of disharmony, chaos or noise.  They just fly away until the problems are resolved and then when they feel confident that peace has been restored, they return. 

This is true also of the Spirit of God.  Paul writes in Ephesians 4 v 30

‘Do not grieve the Holy Spirit, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption.’ 

So, how might we grieve the Spirit?  R.T. Kendell suggests we grieve the Spirit of God when we behave like pigeons rather than turtle doves. Pigeons and doves are in the same family and look much the same.  But it is the turtle dove not the pigeon that is the symbol of peace and it was the dove not a pigeon that alighted on Jesus at his baptism. 

A pigeon may look like a dove, just like Christians may all look alike but a dove is like the Spirit in its sensitivity.  Christians sensitive to the Spirit of God in the same way that doves are sensitive, are free spirits, they encourage innovation, creativity and experimentation.  If we spend time in God’s presence, we begin to listen to God’s gentle whisper and are able to be led by the Spirit of God.

A final prayer from St. Francis of Assisi

Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace; 
Where there is hatred, let me sow love; 
Where there is injury, pardon; 
Where there is doubt, faith; 
Where there is despair, hope; 
Where there is darkness, light; 
And where there is sadness, joy. 

O Divine Master,
Grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console; 
To be understood, as to understand; 
To be loved, as to love; 
For it is in giving that we receive, 
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned, 
And it is in dying that we are born to Eternal Life. 
Amen.

The Bridge Midweek Message 22 July 2020

Prayer:
Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden:cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Reading: Matthew 5:21-26

What is righteousness?
The 18th century poet and hymn-writer William Cowper wrote:

What is all righteousness that men devise?
What – but a sordid bargain for the skies?

In last week’s mid-week message we heard Jesus telling his disciples: “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (v20). Are we shocked? We should be. Jesus says that the “righteousness that men devise” is totally inadequate in God’s sight.

In Matthew 5:21-48 Jesus gives six examples of the righteousness that God wants. He reaffirms the principle of the (Old Testament) commands, but rejects the scribal traditions and additions. Six times Jesus says “You have heard that it was said…but I tell you…”. The Jewish rabbis never dared to speak like this. Jesus’ authority is breathtaking.

First, Jesus takes the subject of murder (vv21-26). He gives us a severe warning, and a strong command.

1. WARNING: BE ALERT TO THE DANGER (vv21-22)
“You shall not murder” is the command (Exodus 20:13). “Whoever murders shall be liable to judgment” is the scribal addition. But Jesus goes to the root. “He traces murder to its dark lair in human hearts: hatred”, (Michael Green writes).
Anger, malice, hatred are to have no place among the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. Last Sunday we were reminded “you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander and filthy language” (Colossians 3:8). Anger and insults are symptoms of a desire “I wish you were dead”. So the apostle John writes “Anyone who hates his brother is a murderer” (1 John 3:15).
Jesus’ warning in v22 could not be clearer or more solemn – the danger of hell fire. The word he uses is literally “Gehenna” which was the name of the perpetually burning rubbish dump in the valley of Hinnom, just outside Jerusalem. So anger is an attitude for the rubbish dump, not for recycling!
Having given a severe warning, Jesus then gives us a strong positive command.

2. COMMAND: BE RECONCILED (vv23-26)
It is not enough just to avoid anger or insulting language. We are actively to seek reconciliation with others. Jesus says this must take priority even over acts of religious devotion.
Reconciliation with other people flows from reconciliation with God. The apostle Paul implores the Corinthians “Be reconciled to God!” (2 Cor.5:20). Jesus tells us to pray “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”.
In these verses Jesus emphasises the urgency of reconciliation with others, using two illustrations, one from the temple, the other from the law court. But in both cases immediate, urgent action is needed.
Over the years I have been saddened to encounter some families or relationships where there is estrangement, hostility, bitterness and anger, often caused by refusal to forgive or to ask for forgiveness. Sometimes this has lasted for years, even decades.
But the wonderful news is that memories and relationships can be healed, by the grace of God. Reconciliation is commanded by Jesus, and made possible through Him.
In the BCP (Book of Common Prayer) Communion service, we are reminded that we cannot expect to be forgiven by God unless we repent and are “in love and charity with (our) neighbours”. We need to become more sensitive to our easily-held attitudes of anger and malice which Jesus warns about.
Never allow a resentment or bitterness to remain. “Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry” (Ephesians 4:26). Don’t delay; whatever the other person does or does not do, take the initiative, apologise, mend, pay the debt.

Be reconciled. That is the righteousness which God wants.

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Prayer
God of truth,
help us to keep your law of love
and to walk in ways of wisdom,
that we may find true life
in Jesus Christ your Son.

The Family Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Midweek Bridge 14 July 2020

Greeting:

The Lord is my light and my salvation
Whom shall I fear?
The Lord is the stronghold of my life
Of whom shall I be afraid?
Teach me your way O Lord
Lead me in a straight path
The Lord be with you

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending your Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ to break the barrier of sin so that we could be your children, born again into the great family of the church. Thank you that by the power of your indwelling Spirit you have enabled us to be obedient to your word. Help us to resist when temptation threatens to take us away from you and strengthen us in your service. In the name of Jesus Christ Amen.

Reading:                     Matthew 5 verse 17 – 20

Jesus and the Law

Having taught about the character of a Christian and how we should have an impact on the world around us. Jesus goes on to define for his disciples what it means to be righteous before God. How we can live in relation to perfect God.

Jesus said,

17:  “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them.18:  I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

Jesus firstly explains his relationship with the teachings of the Old Testament. Given the criticism he received over his attitude towards the Sabbath and his own ministry, see Luke 6, Jesus wanted to make clear that God had revealed his love for  his chosen people by his constant care of them, and revealed his heart and mind in the Law that he gave to them through Moses.

He taught them how to deal with the sin that separated them from God, how to worship him on his terms and how to live lives that were acceptable to him. The prophets spoke God’s word to his people often pointing out where they had gone astray and looking forward to the coming of the promised Messiah.

In coming to fulfil the Law and prophets Jesus’ mission was to put a face to the loving but distant and unknown God, by his life and teaching reveal God’s heart for his people, and by his death fulfill all that was necessary to deal with the ever present problem of sin once and for all, making it possible for people to be forgiven of their sin, be born again, and be deemed righteous before God. This rebirth in the Spirit made it possible to obey God’s moral Law.

This is what God promised through the prophet Ezekiel:

26:  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. 27:  And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. (Ezekiel 36)

On the other hand, the Pharisees in opposition to Jesus believed that they were the epitome of righteousness because they obeyed the Law as they interpreted it. They had added to the Law in infinite detail giving prohibitions (you can’t do this, you can’t do that), and permissions (you may do this or that under certain variable circumstances), making it a complex legislation that only they had time to understand. By doing this the true heart of God’s purpose was lost to most people.

Jesus came to fulfil the Law in that he presented a true understanding of God’s purposes in the Law and to provide the ultimate sacrifice for the sins of the world fulfilling the requirements of the Law and breaking the barrier of sin once and for all.

The Law and Christians

21:  “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgement.’

Jesus then gives a first example of God’s heart in the Law. Everybody understands that it is wrong to murder someone and if they do they ought to be punished, but Jesus looks beyond the act of violence to the emotional motivation that may drive a person to murder, violent anger, which in God’s eyes is the root of the issue and worthy in itself of divine judgement and punishment.

Indeed, Jesus goes further to say that even a violent argument using abusive language designed to destroy the self-respect and dignity of a brother or sister, could lead to eternal punishment. It is better to seek a compromise and reconciliation before anything else, as to continue a dispute could lead to dire eternal consequences.

For the Christian, our obedience to God’s law is not just a moral, physical choice but a matter of  the heart, a deep yearning to be obedient to God who loved us so much that he sent his only Son to be our Saviour and Lord.

27:  “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ 28:  But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Jesus then turns to the seventh commandment and applies the same formula. The seed of the sinful act is in the heart and mind. That is where Satan really gets to us, usually feeding us with some self-justification which makes the act of sin seem acceptable and making us forget the judgement that is to come.

James reminds us:  4 :7  Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

 Finally, Jesus presents us with a somewhat desperate solution:

29:  If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

30:  And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

To live in obedience to God may mean making personal sacrifices. We need to be aware of where we are easily prone to temptation and ensure that we protect ourselves. It may mean that we avoid certain programs on the television, be careful on the internet, avoid certain books or magazines, and we should choose our means of entertainment with care being mindful that we are to be salt and light in the world but not at the expense of our own souls.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father, we thank you for sending Jesus to be our Saviour and to teach us the possibilities of a life committed to you empowered by the Holy Spirit. As we journey in faith fill us again so that we can be salt and light in this community, bringing people into the light of Christ, healing their wounds by your love, and increasing your kingdom here in Southbourne.

Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer:

Our Father in heaven,
hallowed be your name, your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power,
and the glory are yours, now and forever. Amen

The Blessing:

Jesus Christ is the light of the world
A light no darkness can quench
Stay with us Lord in our daily living
and bind us together in your love,
let your light scatter the darkness
and fill your church with your glory.
The blessing of God Almighty.
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with us and remain with us always.
Amen.

The Bridge Message for 8 July 2020

Prayer: Almighty Father, whose Son our Saviour Jesus Christ is the light of the world: may your people, illumined by your word and sacraments, shine with the radiance of his glory, that he may be known, worshipped, and obeyed to the ends of the earth; for he is alive and reigns, now and for ever. Amen.

Reading: Matthew 5:13-16

In Matthew 5:3-12 (the Beatitudes), Jesus spoke of Christian character. Now in verses 13-16 he speaks of Christian influence.

“How to Win Friends and Influence People” is a self-help book by Dale Carnegie, published in 1936. It sold over 30 million copies – one of the best-sellers of all time.
Do you want to influence people? I hope so. (The alternative is to have zero effect on others.) What influence do we have on the people around us, those with whom we have contact?

Jesus uses two simple and familiar metaphors to describe the influence that individual disciples and the church community should have on the world.

Salt
In Jesus’ day (and still today) salt had important functions: it was used in agriculture, and it gave flavour to otherwise bland food. But much the most important use of salt was as a preservative for meat and other foods, in an era before refrigeration.
We may be puzzled by Jesus’ words about salt “losing its saltiness”: surely salt is always salty? Jesus was probably referring to a mineral powder containing sodium chloride (NaCl) but also much else. Dead Sea salt has only about 30% NaCl, which can be leached out of the mineral, leaving it insipid and good for nothing.

Light
Like salt, light is vital for human life to flourish. Light dispels the danger of darkness. Light can be a warning – such as a lighthouse flashing “Keep away”. Light is often a guide – such as landing lights for aircraft.
But if light is covered, it is useless for any of these functions. Jesus in verse 15 points out the absurdity of lighting a lamp and then putting it under a bowl, (literally a peck-measure, a 9-litre bowl used for bread).

In his words about salt and light, Jesus is telling us important truths about the world.

1. The World is Deteriorating
In this context, “the world” means human life and community which God loves, but which has turned away from him, rebelled against his laws, and rejected his rule through the Lord Jesus Christ. As the psalmist writes, “Everyone has turned away (from God), they have together become corrupt” (Ps.53:3). Like meat in a warm climate, the world by itself tends to go bad: it needs “salt” to prevent or at least minimise this corruption.

2. The World is Dark
God sees the world as “the people walking in darkness” (Isaiah 9:2). His purpose for his servant was to be “a light for the nations” (Is.42:6): the people of Israel failed in that role, but Jesus Christ fulfilled it perfectly, saying “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12). We read in John 3:19, “Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil”. Despite Jesus’ coming, the world is still dark.

Jesus’ sayings about salt and light are also a challenge to the church, to us as his disciples.

1. The Church is to be Distinct from the World
Jesus emphasises to his disciples “YOU are the salt…..YOU are the light…”. We are called to live differently from the surrounding culture. Paul urges “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2).
John Stott writes, “Probably the greatest tragedy of the church throughout its long and chequered history has been its constant tendency to conform to the prevailing culture instead of developing a Christian counter-culture”.
As Jesus’ disciples we have a double responsibility to the world around us:- just as salt prevents decay, we are to inhibit the spread of evil; and just as light illuminates darkness, we are to promote truth, beauty, justice and goodness.

2. The Church is NOT to be Distanced from the World
Over the past weeks we have learnt a new phrase – “socially distanced”.
Jesus calls us not to be exclusive or aloof, not to be “distanced” from the world, but to be thoroughly involved in it. To be of any use as a preservative, salt must be rubbed into the meat. We Christians are not to stay in “little ecclesiastical salt cellars, but to be rubbed into the secular community” (John Stott).
A lamp must be taken to a dark place, in order to fulfil its purpose. Christian lights are not just to huddle together, but to shine in the world’s needy places, the difficult relationships, the tough situations.

Jesus told his disciples they were to be “in the world, but not of the world” (John 17:11-18): i.e. distinct, but not distanced. Then others will be blessed and God will be glorified.

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Prayer (from Chris Bowater’s song) As salt are we ready to savour?

In darkness are we ready to be light?
God’s seeking out a very special people, to manifest his truth and his might.
Here I am, wholly available;
As for me, I will serve the Lord.

The Family Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Bridge for Wednesday 1 July 2020

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”      Matthew 5: 10 – 12 

Prayer:

for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Help us Lord to understand, enjoy and share all that we have received through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ.   Amen

Suggested reading:              2 Corinthians 6: 3 – 10 – Paul’s Hardships

Who would have said a year ago that the day would come in the United Kingdom in which it would be against the law to gather in churches, to meet in small fellowship or prayer groups or even to invite a fellow Christian in for a coffee and we would live with a background level of fear and insecurity?  Among the lessons learned, have we had just a very gentle taste of what it is like to live under an anti-Christian regime? Have we gained a slightly deeper understanding of life in a permanent church lockdown? Will it help us in our prayers for those in so many parts of the world where Christians are not allowed to meet together, are strictly monitored or have to remain separated from their families; places where even the social media environment is dangerous?

Our 3 missionary couples have experience of life in countries where Christianity does not enjoy the freedom that we have considered normal in the UK. – Jeremy and Rachel with the terrible violence against the church in parts of Burkina Faso – Simon and Becky who meet in London with refugees from persecution and many of their contacts stand to be isolated from their families if they become Christians – Catherine and Julian whose team is working under the strict limitations of a communist regime. Does our present experience help us to have an understanding of their ministry; does it strengthen our prayers for them and for those amongst whom they work?

The verses we are looking at today offer hope and promises to those who are persecuted for their faith in Jesus. – “Blessed are those who are persecuted – – theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – – – Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven,” What does it mean – “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”- the same promise as for the poor in spirit? (Matthew 5: 3)

Some 54 years ago I was privileged to be a member of a team visiting a number of Christian groups in Hungary and Yugoslavia; both countries were communist at that time and therefore the Christians we met were all paying a high price for their refusal to renounce the Lord as their Saviour; they lived in permanent lockdown with a constant background of fear. Their lives demonstrated many of the details recorded by Paul in 2 Corinthians 6: 3 – 10. In v.10 we read “sorrowful, yet always rejoicing, poor yet making many rich; having nothing, and yet possessing everything.” I met some of the most wonderful Christians I have ever known; that verse 10 describes their spirit as they shared with us.

The promise – “great is your reward in heaven,” – yes, one of their favourite verses was – Revelations 22: 12 “Behold, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done.” They looked forward to the second coming of the Lord and had a firm hope in the resurrection. But what of that phrase – “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”? Do we have access now to this kingdom a kingdom not bound by the limitations of time and geography; a kingdom which “Flesh and blood cannot inherit” and which belongs to those who have “become like little children”? Paul tells us in Romans 14: 17 that – “the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking, but of righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.” The phrase – “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”- seems to indicate a present experience and I found, as I visited those persecuted Christians, they echoed v6 of 2 Corinthians 6 “in purity, understanding, patience and kindness in the Holy Spirit”; and of course – “in sincere love” – a love without any hidden falseness or hypocrisy.

In Galatians 5: 19 – 21 we are told that those who live self-indulgent lives “will not inherit the kingdom of God” but Paul goes on to talk of those who live to the Spirit.  On reflection, it seems to me that the fruit of the Spirit listed in Galatians 5: 22 – “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” could also be listed as the fruit of the kingdom of God. Are we experiencing and enjoying the fruit of the kingdom of heaven as we live to the Spirit? In Isaiah 32: 17, we read: The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence for ever.” As we have lived these past months, deprived of many of the physical elements of western Christian culture, have we discovered afresh the values and the fruit of the kingdom of heaven working within us – is it well with our soul?

But one might say that we in the UK are not really the persecuted church. Let’s look again at some of the words of Jesus in Matthew 5: 11 Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.” I think of many Christians that are having to live and work in environments that have no respect for the values of the kingdom of heaven. My deep concern is for the young folk who desire to lead a Christian life but are frequently mocked and bullied because of their faith. The question I have in my prayers is – how can we encourage and build them up in their confidence and faith so that they can rejoice in the fruit of the kingdom of heaven today? Our prayer should echo the words of Paul in Romans 15: 13 – “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit.”

In our gentle experience of the church in lockdown, have we learnt that the kingdom of heaven is never in lockdown; that through the presence of the person of the Holy Spirit in our lives we enjoy the fruit of the kingdom of heaven daily?

Prayer: 

Father, we thank you that the doors of heaven are never closed to us; that each day we are able to present ourselves before the King and enjoy all the benefits if his kingdom. Help us Lord to share the blessings and fruit of the kingdom of heaven with those we encounter on our way. Father, many of your children are suffering because of their faith, please, Lord, give them that joy of the presence of your Holy Spirit in all that they do as they reach out to you.                                                                       Amen

May the ever-present Holy Spirit enrich our lives as we serve him who died that we might rejoice in the kingdom of heaven, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ. Amen

The Bridge for 24 June 2020

Prayer: God of peace, whose Son Jesus Christ proclaimed the kingdom and restored the broken to wholeness of life: look with compassion on the anguish of the world, and by your healing power make whole both people and nations; through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

We come to the seventh of 8 beatitudes. All of them describe the same group of people – the followers of the Lord Jesus Christ.

 v9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God”
Every Christian is to be a peacemaker, in the world, in the family, in the church fellowship. We are to seek peace and pursue it (Psalm 34:14), to live at peace with everyone, as far as it depends on us (Romans 12:18), to make every effort to live in peace (Hebrews 12:14).

What is peace? God’s gift of peace is much more than the absence of conflict. It is about relationships being put right – i.e. reconciliation. We live in a world which suffers from broken relationships – primarily our relationship with God, but also our relationships with one another and with all of creation. So the world and everything in it does not have real peace.
Sometimes we talk of peace as if it were just an emotion: “I feel peaceful when I walk in the New Forest”. But peace is not just a feeling; it is a real state of being. In fact, our feelings can deceive us. For a few months after September 1939, life in the U.K. seemed to be quite peaceful. But there was in fact a state of war between Britain and Nazi Germany.

I am sure that you, like me, want to live in peace. But peacemaking is more than living peacefully: it is about creating something.

  • Peacemaking does NOT mean keeping everybody happy. (That is appeasement.)
  • Peacemaking does NOT mean pretending that wrong doesn’t matter. (It is not wise or good to ignore conflict in the home, or the church, or the world.)
  • Peacemaking does NOT mean just ending hostilities.

In the Bible we see that peacemaking is divine work, and is costly work.

1. DIVINE WORK
The Bible describes God as the God of peace, and his work is peacemaking, reconciliation. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19, the apostle Paul calls the gospel “the ministry of reconciliation” – which starts with God, “who reconciled us to himself through Christ”.
The scope of God’s peacemaking is breathtaking: “God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in Christ, and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross” (Colossians 1:19f). As Justin Welby (Archbishop of Canterbury) wrote, “The idea that God’s reconciliation with us can be contained simply within the Church is ridiculous – God is far too generous for that…”.
Because of this, “when we engage in peacemaking, something of the very character of God rubs off on us”, writes Robert Warren. That is why Jesus says that peacemakers will be called children of God.

2. COSTLY WORK
Genuine reconciliation is not cheap or easy: it comes at a price. We have seen (in Colossians 1:20) the price which God in Christ paid – nothing less than his own life. Peacemaking is cross-shaped.
Justin Welby has for many years had a passion for reconciliation. He wears a pectoral cross made of nails – a vivid sign of the pain and cost of peacemaking.
I receive news from a wonderful organisation called “Musalaha” (Arabic for reconciliation), which works for peace in the Holy Land, particularly between Jews and Arabs. Last week they asked “help us build up a generation of peacemakers amidst the conflict, through reconciliation”. They know how difficult and costly that work is.

3. YOUR WORK?
Jesus Christ intends every follower of his to be a peacemaker. To share today in his peacemaking is a great privilege and joy. But it is dangerous: peacemakers are often seen as troublemakers, or meddlers in other people’s lives. Peacemaking may involve the pain of apology or rebuke, of listening, of risking being misunderstood, of ingratitude, of failure. Are we prepared for that?
Only when I am gripped by the utterly wonderful grace of God’s reconciling work in Christ, will I be ready and willing to take part in God’s mission – to bring everything into harmony.
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
What greater privilege can there be?

++++++++

Prayer
Lord, make us instruments of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let us sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy;
for your mercy and your truth’s sake. Amen.

The Family Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

The Bridge for 17 June 2020

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

A Prayer

Heavenly Father we bless you and praise you for the gift of your Holy Spirit whose cleansing presence within us enables us to be pure and righteous in your sight. Please continue to flood our lives with your grace and love so that we can be true witnesses for you. In the name of Jesus Christ our Saviour. Amen

Reading               Matthew 5 : 1 – 12 and Psalm 24 : 1 – 10

By now we have become used to constant hand washing and purification to the stage where the wrinkles hardly seen to vanish, or maybe I am getting old! In Jesus’ day the Jews were very concerned with physical cleanliness. Facilities for ceremonial washing were provided outside the Temple so that the people could enter God’s house physically cleansed. The Mosaic Law provided instructions on what made people unclean, how long it lasted and what ritual and / or sacrifice had to be undertaken to be cleansed. After giving birth to Jesus, Mary was deemed unclean for forty days at the end of which Joseph and Mary with Jesus attended the Temple to sacrifice a pair of doves.

The Pharisees were very keen to follow these instructions about outward cleansing but in reality, in their hearts and minds, were hypocrites. Jesus took them to task:

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness. (Matthew 23 : 27 – 28)

The Psalmist expresses clearly what God requires is a consistency between our outward living and our personal, private inner life with God:

Who may ascend the hill of the LORD? Who may stand in his holy place?

He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false. He will receive blessing from the LORD and vindication from God his Saviour. (Psalm 24 : 3 – 5)

We are to have clean hands, we are not to involve ourselves in physical or material activities that we know are abhorrent to God as far as our knowledge of him and his Word is concerned, and at the same time we are to keep the slate clean as far as our conscience is concerned. We should always confess and repent of our sins before God, depending on his promise of forgiveness, ensuring that our relationship with him is always as close as a child with a Heavenly Father.

If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word has no place in our lives. (1 John 1 : 8 – 10)

Our Father God, through his Son, Jesus Christ, and in the power of the Holy Spirit should always be the sole object of our devotion and worship. This is where real honesty and integrity shine through, as the children’s song says, “Shine, from the inside out”. How many of us have this total honesty, presenting to the world our true selves, without guile or hypocrisy, our whole lives transparent before both God and people, our thoughts and motives being pure without any deviousness, ulterior or base motives? Jesus alone was perfect in this respect being absolutely pure in heart and entirely guileless.

How can we attain this Christlikeness? By inviting the Holy Spirit to rule in our hearts and lives. Allowing him to constantly challenge us and change us into the likeness of Jesus as we become fruitful in our being.

 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.

The blessing that results from this state of being is that we will see God. In the upper room Philip asked Jesus, “ Lord, show us the Father”. Jesus replied, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father.” As children of God, cleansed of our sin and through our faith in Jesus we have a vision in our hearts and minds of the risen Lord, just a foretaste of our life in eternity when we will stand before the throne of God and see him in all his Glory.

Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.

There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Revelation 22 verse 1 – 5)

Song:
1. Purify my heart, let me be as gold and precious silver.
Purify my heart, let me be as gold, pure gold.

Chorus:
Refiner’s fire, my heart’s one desire is to be holy,
Set apart for You, Lord.
I choose to be holy, set apart for You, my Master,
Ready to do Your will.

2. Purify my heart, cleanse me from within and make me holy.
Purify my heart, cleanse me from my sin, deep within.

Brian Doerksen

The Blessing
God the Holy Trinity make us strong in faith and love,
defend us on every side, and guide us in truth and peace;
and the blessing of God Almighty,
The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit,
be upon us and remain with us always.
Amen

St Christopher’s Midweek Bridge 10 June 2020

Blessed are the Merciful

The quality of mercy is not strain’d, It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest; It blesseth him that gives and him that takes: ‘Tis mightiest in the mightiest: it becomes The throned monarch better than his crown; His sceptre shows the force of temporal power, The attribute to awe and majesty, Wherein doth sit the dread and fear of kings; But mercy is above this sceptred sway; It is enthroned in the hearts of kings, It is an attribute to God himself; And earthly power doth then show likest God’s When mercy seasons justice. (Shakespeare from the Merchant of Venice)

A Prayer:

O Lord, from whom all good things come:
Grant to us your humble servants,
that by your holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by your merciful guiding may perform the same;
through our Lord Jesus Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit
one God, now and for ever Amen

Reading:              Matthew 5 : 1 – 11 also Psalm 51

Psalm 51 : 17  The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.

The blessings that Jesus has given us so far come, as the Psalmist has written, from a broken and contrite heart. A humble person, seeking earnestly after a relationship with their Father God. Now Jesus presents us with an idea which is quite different, blessed are the merciful.

Shakespeare is quite right when he says when referring to mercy “It is an attribute to God himself”.  We are familiar with the idea of God being a God of grace and mercy. His grace is a free gift of forgiveness and eternal life although we of ourselves do not deserve it and there is nothing we can do to earn it. Whereas God’s mercy means that although guilty of sin and deserving of punishment we escape our punishment because Jesus became the ultimate sacrifice for sin and died on our behalf.

God was able to do this as he is the great creator of the universe and judge of all we are and do. Even for us it is always important that justice is seen to be done and by sending his Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ to die on Calvary God exercised both grace and mercy to enable us to be born again as his beloved children.

Jesus tells us that as children of God having experienced God’s mercy to a new life in him, we should, in our relationships, always be merciful to others. Even when we are humble in our relationship with God because the difference between us in power and authority is unmeasurable, when we are dealing with our neighbours or even our brothers and sisters in Christ it is far to easy, if we have some measure of authority over them, to try and exploit that situation for our own ends. We are human after all!

We should remember that at all times we are answerable to God and in truth all sin, in what ever form, is ultimately against God and therefore he expects us to treat others as he has treated us, with love and mercy.

Recorded in Matthew 18 and verses 21 Jesus tells the disciples a parable about a king who forgave his servant a huge debt that he was unable to pay. That same servant then threatened a colleague with prison because of a much smaller debt he was owed. Even though the colleague pleaded with him the servant would not relent. When the king got to know about this through a whistleblower he was angry and said to the servant, “You wicked servant, I cancelled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just I had on you?” In his anger the king handed him over to the jailors to be tortured until he could pay back the debt.

The blessing of being merciful is that we continue to live in the mercy of God. As we live in Christ day by day we often make mistakes, do not follow God’s plan for us, we sometimes willingly do the things that we know displease him and so we need his constant mercy, grace and forgiveness.

We think of the words of the prayer that Jesus taught the disciples regarding forgiveness, “Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us”, and the same principle applies. We are a new creation in Christ, and it should be his character that shines through us in our dealings with each other.

With Psalmist we should pray:

  1. Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.
  2. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.
  3. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me.
  4. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight, so that you are proved right when you speak and justified when you judge.

A Blessing:

Deep peace of the running wave be ours,
deep peace of the flowing air,
deep peace of the quiet earth,
deep peace of the shining stars,
deep peace of the Son of peace.
And the blessing of God Almighty.
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be with us and remain with us always.
Amen.

Midweek Bridge 3 June 2020

As I draw near to You God, please draw near to me. 

A prayer of Richard of Chichester “May I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly, and follow thee more nearly, day by day.  Amen.”

One of the biggest restrictions that has been imposed as part of the lockdown measures has been ‘social distancing’ and ‘social isolating’

Social distancing has created a ‘new normal’ shopping experience with queues of people waiting to enter shops and a new way of taking exercise whilst trying to keep the 2-metre rule.  Our most vulnerable group are ‘shielding’ and has led to people becoming ‘housebound’ before their time and there are strange images of new born grandchildren or great grandchildren being displayed through windows, along with longer than usual stretches of coping without human contact or physical touch.  The new normal method of communication for this group has become, the telephone conversation!

During this time, I have found the most important contact is with God and I have enjoyed quiet in His presence again in a fresh way and in this we are following Jesus’ example.

Mark 1 v 35 ‘Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place.’

Mark 6 v 31-32 Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, Jesus said to his disciples “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”

And it was on one of these occasions when Jesus was praying that one of the disciples asks him “LORD teach us to pray.”

Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name,
your kingdom come, your will be done,
on earth as in heaven.
Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours
now and for ever.   Amen
.

My friends, that is what I am encouraging you to do today.  And not only today.  May this practice become part of the new ‘normal’ as we restructure our lives after lock down.

Come aside…be still…quieten your soul…spend time in prayer.

And it seems that this thirst for God has become the new normal for many people.  I heard about a Danish professor in Economics who has just written a paper during the corona virus pandemic entitled “In Crisis we pray.”  She talks about the many fold increase, in views to on-line articles about faith and prayer. 

It’s not only in Europe.  On the ‘Sunday’ radio programme about faith matters, and this story was picked up by the Guardian recently. Mel and I were encouraged to hear that rather than depressing figures about church attendance of about 5% of the population, there had been an increase between 25% of the adult UK population watching or listening to services on-line, and some 45% people have prayed during this pandemic. 

Now I know that there are many people who have suffered greatly at this difficult time and our hearts and prayers go out to the many who have been personally affected but I do think there is going to be an upsurge in faith and a thirst to get involved in prayer and an openness to matters of the soul following this pandemic.

Henri Nouwen, one of my favourite Christian writers said in one of his books: “Solitude is the furnace of transformation”

Solitude for some becomes the great struggle.  The place where we try to put on a mask between us and God and where we present the false self and try to avoid change.  But for others, it is the great encounter.  The chance to meet with the living God who wants us to grow closer to His image each day.  Remember the prayer of Richard of Chichester that we read at the beginning of this reflection.

For many of us Christians, as we spend more time in solitude, in our own homes, there is time to reconstruct our lives of faith.  Have you ever seen the Repair Shop TV programme?  This time of lockdown feels like the Lord has taken us to that repair shop and he is taking everything apart, cleaning bits that need a good clean, repairing bits that need repairing, and making new parts that are beyond repair.

As Dom Bernard Clements puts it:
‘God is the master workman.  He never takes a wrong tool to a human soul.  And he is washing away and cutting away at your soul and mine, until He gets rid at long last of all the rubbish and dross that covers the surface of our lives, and He reaches that pure gold that He has set in each of us, the image of Himself.’

God delights in us coming to him to be put in order.  God longs for us to spend time with him.  Away from the distractions of which there are many even during these times of self-isolation.

In a recent quiet time, I discovered these words in one of the shortest Psalms in the bible Psalm 131:
‘My heart is not proud, O LORD, my eyes are not haughty;
I do not concern myself with great matters or things too wonderful for me.
But I have stilled and quietened my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within in.
O Israel, put your hope in the LORD both now and evermore.

A final prayer.
God, of your goodness, give me yourself; for you are sufficient for me.  I cannot properly ask anything less, to be worthy of you.  If I were to ask less, I should always be in want.  In you alone do I have all.                                                                                    Julian of Norwich

Midweek Bridge 27 May 2020

Continuation of Matthew 5: 1 – 12

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne, 
Love and faithfulness go before you.”   Psalm 89: 14

Collect: Be with us Lord, in all our prayers, and direct our way toward the attainment of salvation, that among the changes and chances of this mortal life, we may always be defended by your gracious help; through Jesus Christ our Lord.    Amen

Text: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5: 6                        

Prayer: Father, we thank you that through your Son, our Saviour, Jesus Christ, we are able to freely come before the throne of grace. Please Lord help us to receive your word to our hearts at this time.         Amen

Suggested reading: Isaiah 51: 1 – 8: “my righteousness will never fail.”

The first verse of Matthew 5 says“Now when he saw the crowds,” – those who had come to see this man, Jesus. The listeners and the hearers – all types of folk – would be attentive to the words of Jesus that day. How would they react when they heard those words – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled?” – How would they respond?

There would be some Pharisees. They might, at first, be nodding in agreement at those words, after all they knew how to be righteous. But, – then they would perhaps hear the words of Matthew 5: 20 “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”  Surely that isn’t possible; how can anyone be more righteous than the Pharisees? Perhaps they would understand some time later when Jesus said to them: – “you have neglected the more important matters of the law – justice, mercy and faithfulness.”– Matthew 23: 23. Would they stop nodding in agreement?

There would also be those present who firmly believed that doing acts of goodness was the righteous way to live; they also might nod their heads in agreement with the words of Jesus in Matthew5: 6 until, later, in Matthew 5: 16 – Jesus said “Let your light shine before men, that they may see you good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” That’s all very well but, surely, they should get the credit for their righteous acts. But then Jesus added in Matthew 6: 1 – “Be careful not to do your acts of righteousness before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” That’s pushing it a bit; I mean, the whole point of doing good deeds is to get noticed. They were perhaps ignorant of the words of Isaiah 64: 6 – “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags.” Those who put their confidence in righteous acts wouldn’t nod in agreement with Jesus for long.

Then there would be the cynics present that day. They would agree with Jesus about the Pharisees being a bunch of hypocrites; they had seen through their false piety. The self-righteous attitude of those who demonstrated their good deeds had sickened them for years. No, to the cynic the whole world is at fault; everybody else is to blame for their ills and the terrible state of the world; all this “hunger and thirst for righteousness” leads to nowhere; we’ve seen it all before – people don’t change- it’s the way it is.

But – there were also present that day those who truly hungered and thirsted for righteousness; they saw a wonderful promise in those words of Jesus – “they will be filled.” Yes, they agreed with the cynics about the Pharisees and those who self-promoted in the acts of righteousness, – but – they had looked inside their own hearts; they had found the falseness and vanity of their own desires. They, perhaps, in their hearts, had echoed the words of David in Psalm 51: 3 – “For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.”  And then v7 – “Cleanse me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” Or even v10 – “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” These were the folk who hungered for a righteousness beyond themselves – untainted and pure, full of truth and faithfulness. They wanted to be clean – they thirsted for inner peace, wholeness and holiness – they sought forgiveness.

As they heard Jesus that day would they be asking – is this the one promised in Jeremiah 23: 5 and 6? Could this man be the “Branch”? is this man from “the line of David”?  Is this man – “The LORD our Righteousness.”?

Perhaps they would remember the words of Isaiah 51: 6 “But my salvation will last for ever, my righteousness will never fail.” Or v10 “But my righteousness will last for ever, my salvation through all generations.” Would they understand the words in Isaiah 51: 1 and 2 – “Look to the rock from which you were cut – – – – look to Abraham, your father”? we are told in Genesis 15: 6 – “Abraham believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness.” Could they – by faith – take hold of the promise that Jesus gave that day – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”? Was faith in God the answer? Later, if they heard the words of Jesus in John 3: 14 – 15 – “Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the desert, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.” – would they have struggled with their faith? Is it possible for the unrighteous to enter the kingdom of heaven by believing in Jesus?

Was this the revelation that the apostle Paul had when Jesus met him on the road to Damascus? The righteous Pharisee, Paul, who said of himself in Philippians 3: 5 “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless.” But then, in Philippians 3: 9, Paul expresses his desire – “To be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness which comes from God and is by faith.”  Had he learned that all his “righteousness is as filthy rags” Do we see this again in Romans 3 where in v.10 he says – “There is no-one righteous, not even one.” And then goes on with several OT references to prove his point. Then we come to Romans 3: 21 – “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify.”  A righteousness from God? – v22 – “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Is this possible – that we who have – “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God,” – can be “justified freely by his grace.”?  Later, in Ephesians 2: 8, Paul writes – “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.”

The promise that Jesus gave that day – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – is parallel to that which Peter quoted in Acts 2: 21 “And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Is this your experience? Peter continues in Acts 2: 38 “Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” – is this saying – “they will be filled”?

Perhaps following the words of Isaiah 51: 2 – “Look to Abraham, your Father.” – Paul – in Romans 4: 3 quotes Genesis 15: 6 – “Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.” In Romans 5 Paul argues that – “The man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” Time and space do not permit me to continue with Paul’s arguments in Romans 4 but I would like to include v16 – Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring.” That is – the people who believe God. I suggest you read Romans 4 v.22 – 25 and ask yourself – do I believe?

In Matthew 5: 6 we have a promise – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, – – for they will be filled.” The questions are: – How hungry and thirsty are we? – and – What are we actually hungry and thirsty for? If the answers are – truly and God’s righteousness – then the promise – “they will be filled.” – is yours. When I first became a Christian, I know how desperate I was for God’s righteousness. Many things changed in my life but I was disappointed to find that I hadn’t become perfect. Eventually I learned that there is a continuous sense to the promise – “they will be filled.” In the Lord’s grace – I find that whenever I return – hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness – the promise of Jesus is fulfilled. The promise continues to this day. I have also found, as stated in Isaiah 32: 17 “The fruit of righteousness will be peace; the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence for ever.” – How wonderful it is to have peace with God and to know his presence in love. Don’t you find it amazing that God is offering to us, the unrighteous, his Righteousness as a free gift? He is “The LORD our Righteousness.” (see 1 Corinthians 1:  30)

On a Sunday mornings, we confess our failings before the Lord. How sincere are we and what are we seeking?  Let’s finish by using the traditional words as our prayer of confession and then follow with the Lord’s prayer.

Almighty God, our heavenly Father, – we have sinned against thee and against our neighbour, – in thought and word and deed, – through negligence, – through weakness, – through our own deliberate fault. – We are heartily sorry and repent of all our sins. For the sake of thy Son Jesus Christ, – who died for us, – forgive us all that is past, – and grant that we may serve thee in newness of life to the glory of thy name.                                           Amen

For absolution“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, – – for they will be filled.”

Our Father in heaven, – hallowed be your name. – your kingdom come, – your will be done, – on earth as in heaven. – Give us today our daily bread. – Forgive us our sins – as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation – but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours – now and for ever.                                                                                   Amen

May all our hearts be assured of His Righteousness at this time.

“The LORD our Righteousness.”

Midweek Bridge 20 May 2020

Prayer: (based on Colossians 1:9-10)
God our Father, please fill us with the knowledge of your will, with all the wisdom and understanding that your Spirit gives, so that we may be able to live as you want and always do what pleases you; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Reading: Matthew 5:1-12

We continue our series in the Beatitudes, which Jesus gave to teach his disciples how to live as his followers. What does God’s blessing mean?

v5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth”
You must be joking! These beatitudes get more and more far-fetched. Meek people get nowhere – they are just door-mats!
In the eyes of the world, meekness is weakness. To be meek is to be a wimp – and who wants that?
But the Bible points us to a totally different view of meekness, through wonderful promises, challenging commands, and radical definition.

1. PROMISES TO THE MEEK (sometimes translated humble, gentle)
Please read Psalm 37:1-11.
This lovely psalm describes the blessings of true meekness, especially in v11, which Jesus was clearly quoting. Other psalms set out God’s promises to guide meek people in what is right and teach them his way (Psalm 25:9), to sustain them (Psalm 147:6), and to crown them with salvation (Ps.149:4). Through Isaiah, God promises that the meek will obtain fresh joy in the Lord (Isaiah 29:19), and that the Messiah is coming to bring justice for the meek of the earth (Isaiah 11:4).
Wonderful promises to those who are meek.
The Bible also contains:

2. COMMANDS TO BE MEEK
Through the prophet Zephaniah, God commands his people to “seek meekness” before it is too late (Zephaniah 2:3).
In New Testament letters, Christians are urged to “be completely humble and meek” (Ephesians

4:2), to “clothe yourselves with meekness” (Colossians 3:12), to show true meekness towards all people (Titus 3:2), and to receive meekly God’s saving message (James 1:21).

We need these commands because being truly meek does not come naturally: in fact, meekness is the opposite of our fundamental human problem – self-centredness. (I speak from personal experience!)
But the good news is that meekness is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:23). So God gives us the power to be genuinely meek.

But how can we know what being meek means? Nowhere does the Bible define it. So:

3. WHAT IS MEEKNESS?
The Bible shows us very clearly what true meekness is, not by an abstract definition but by real-life examples.
In fact, there are only two people whom the Bible describes as meek – Moses and Jesus.
Moses was “very meek, more than all people on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3). Yet he confronted the powerful tyrant Pharaoh of Egypt, and led the Israelites out of slavery to the brink of the Promised Land. At the burning bush, the Lord had called Moses to fulfil God’s good plan for his people.  Moses (eventually) obeyed. He shows us that to be meek means to say “Yes” to God’s loving, wise purpose for ourselves and for others.
As Michael Crosby wrote, “Meekness means committing our lives to fulfil God’s plans”.

Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday as God’s anointed King, “meek and riding on a donkey” (Matthew 21:5). His gracious invitation is “Come to me…Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am meek and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls” (Matthew 11:28-29). So we, as his disciples, are to learn from him what true meekness is. Jesus shows us that to be meek is not to be pushed about, but to discern and choose God’s way, whatever the cost.

Moses and supremely Jesus, give us the blueprint for meekness.

But what about “inheriting the earth”?
The promise is to inherit, not to own, the land/earth; i.e. to receive it as gift, not as something to be earned. Writing to the Christians in Corinth, the apostle Paul describes himself and his co-workers as “having nothing, and yet possessing everything” (2 Corinthians 6:10). He reminds them that “All things are yours…all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God” (1 Corinthians 3:21-23). That is just as true for Christians in Southbourne (or wherever) in 2020AD.
As John Stott wrote, “The condition on which we enter our spiritual inheritance in Christ is not might, but meekness, for…everything is ours if we are Christ’s”.

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Meekness and majesty, manhood and deity,
in perfect harmony, the man who is God…
Bow down and worship, for this is your God.

Prayer: May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day,
              by his love and power controlling all I do and say.

The Family Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

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Midweek Bridge 13 May 2020

Lord Jesus Christ we come to you. You are Life, and Health and Peace.
Take from us all that hinders your Spirit. In your mercy, wash away our sin and fear.
In faith we claim your power to forgive, to heal, and to restore.

Reading: Matthew 5 : 1 -12

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted

In a time when there is endless news of sickness and death, we can take comfort from the words of Paul written in his second letter to the Corinthians 1: 3 – 7

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit we are able to be a support and strength to those we know who are suffering one way or another, because we have found that during our own times of darkness God is with us “even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death”.

As we consider verse 3 of the beatitudes however, we understand that it is part of a sequence of expressions that Jesus gave his disciples. Last week we considered being poor in spirit and now Jesus gives us the response to our spiritual poverty which will bring a blessing. We mourn, not for the loss of a loved one, but the loss of our innocence, the loss of our true relationship with God and the anxiety and misery that follows. Confessing our spiritual poverty is one thing but to be truly happy in Christ we need to repent, we need to turn away from our former lives and live in obedience to God’s Word in Jesus Christ.

Once upon a time a man was given a donkey but unfortunately it would not submit to any instructions no matter what the man did to it. He decided to take the animal to a donkey trainer who had a good reputation for dealing with difficult cases. After a great deal of pulling and pushing the man delivered the donkey to the trainer who put it into a small field. The trainer walked to one corner of the field and straining, picked a large boulder. He staggered over to the donkey, lifted up the rock and smashed onto its head. He then went to another corner, lifted a boulder and repeated the process. The owner, by this time, was concerned that he might end up without a donkey at all. The trainer went to the third corner and lifting another rock walked to the donkey and was about to smash it down onto the head of the somewhat dazed animal when the owner panicked and exclaimed his concern. The trainer looked at the man saying, “look, if I am to teach him anything I have to get his attention!” (This method is not recommended by the RSPCA).

What is God saying to our generation? Will our nation, so damaged and disrupted by this pandemic, return to Christ? We as God’s chosen people, having repented of our own sins,  are called to mourn for the apathy and sins of our nation and pray that there will be repentance and a renewed faith in God through Jesus Christ.

A prayer:

We thank you heavenly Father that we have a sovereign who is always willing to express her faith in Jesus Christ, bless her we pray. We pray also for our political leaders, may they be guided by your spirit in all their debates and decisions in this unprecedented time. We pray for our nation that they will be open to the gospel and that we as your people will be light and salt for all to see and know. In the name of Jesus, Amen.

Last Sunday evening we would have prayed for all those we know who are unwell. Please use the weekly notice sheet and pray for each of our brothers and sisters by name.

Prayers for healing:

Heavenly Father we come in the name of Jesus and in the power of the Holy Spirit and pray for all those of our church community who are unwell in body mind or spirit

Alison who has a functional neurological disorder
Tina
Alan
Michelle
Julie who is now in a care home in Southbourne, but she has not settled in too well.  She is lonely with no visitors and still struggles with her many disabilities.
Fleur who is having is having treatment for breast cancer
Dot who has broken her wrist and is suffering with pain in her hip
Andrea who has broken her tibia bone behind her knee
Leanne who has anorexia and is in St Ann’s Hospital

We ask that you bring comfort, peace and healing to each one of them just now.
Jesus, in faith we claim your power to forgive, to heal, and to restore.
There will be those known to you who are not on the list so pray for them in the same way.
Let us now pray for all those who continue to care for our nation:
Heavenly Father, we pray for all those who serve the public health in the NHS,
For those who work in hospitals, hospices and residential homes and those caring for loved ones at home.
For those wounded and damaged in mind and spirit in war,
For those broken by bereavement, for those who bear their burdens alone.
For all in pain in body, mind and spirit.
Jesus, in faith we claim your power to forgive, to heal, and to restore.

The Lord’s Prayer:
Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name your kingdom come,
your will be done on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread.
Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.
Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.
For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours, now and for ever. Amen

The Blessing:
Let nothing disturb you, nothing frighten you; all things are passing, but God never changes!
Patient endurance achieves all things; those who belong to God want for nothing, alone God is sufficient.
And the blessing of God Almighty
The Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, be among us and remain with us always. Amen.

Midweek Message 6th May 2020

Prayer
Almighty God, in Christ you make all things new:
transform the poverty of our nature by the riches of your grace,
and in the renewal of our lives make known your heavenly glory;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord. Amen.

Introduction
Over the next two months our mid-week messages will be exploring and expounding the Beatitudes – recorded in Matthew 5:1-12. With these words Jesus began his “Sermon on the Mount” (Matt. 5-7), teaching his disciples. So, this instruction is NOT about how to become a Christian, but how to live as a follower of the Lord Jesus Christ.

I frequently say to friends and family (in person or on the phone) “God bless you!” We often pray for God to bless someone in particular need. What do we mean? What does being “blessed by God” involve? The Beatitudes open up the wonderful, extraordinary meaning of God’s blessing.

But these words are among the “hard sayings” of Jesus; not hard to understand, but hard to put into practice. As Mark Twain wrote, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand”.

So I think we should start with a
WARNING: this teaching of Jesus should seriously affect the way we live.

Reading: Matthew 5.1-12

V3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”
What a way to run a universe, or to start a religion! To assert that real life is found in being poor! Yet these words have inspired people such as Francis of Assisi and Mother Teresa. They have shaped monastic and missionary communities, have given hope to the desperately needy, and have guided many of the most influential people in history.
But these words puzzle us. Their message seems to threaten the foundation of our culture, even our personal hopes and agendas. Robert Warren writes that this beatitude “clashes with the values of a consumer culture; runs counter to our perceptions – endlessly reinforced by the myths of advertising – that happiness lies in having much; and confuses us because we struggle to make sense of what Jesus meant”.

Why did Jesus say this?
In the Old Testament, people of faith acknowledged their poverty before God. Often the Psalmist cries out “I am poor and needy”. In Psalm 34, David describes himself as “this poor man”. As Hannah prays, she knows from personal experience that the Lord “raises the poor from the dust” (1 Samuel 2:8).

Then the Lord Jesus Christ came, bringing “good news to the poor” (Luke 4:18; Matt.11:5). The poor are the ones who come to him, seeing in Jesus a source of hope and rescue. The poor are those desperate enough to ignore social rules and cry out for help, as Bartimaeus did (Mark 10:46-52). Simon Tugwell writes, “It is really only the poor who can, actually, have anything, because they are the ones who know how to receive gifts. For them, everything is gift.”

What did Jesus not mean?
Taken by itself, this beatitude might be taken as encouraging an attitude of self-rejection – “I’m useless”, “I’m no good”. Robert Warren describes this as “a great big inner put-down”.
But Jesus cannot have meant this: in Matthew 5:13-14 he describes his followers as “salt of the earth” and “light of the world”. Later he assures them of their value to their Father God (Matthew 6:25-33 and 10:29-31).
So being poor in spirit does not mean having a negative attitude to ourselves.

What did Jesus mean?
To be poor in spirit means to be like Jesus in his humanity.
The apostle Paul wrote “You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…” (2 Cor.8:9).
We can glimpse the poverty of Jesus in his baptism: (please read Matthew 3:13-17). The sinless Son of God submits freely to the Father’s purpose. He chooses to become poor in spirit: he is open to God as the one who defines him (v17).
Far from self-rejection, Jesus shows us that being poor in spirit leads to a strong sense of self-acceptance as a result of divine acceptance.
Henri Nouwen wrote, “Self-rejection is the great enemy of the spiritual life, because it contradicts the sacred voice that calls us “Beloved”.”

Conclusion
This beatitude (like all the others) is a glorious paradox. To be poor in spirit is to live life to the full, to possess the infinite riches of heaven – of God himself.
“You know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich”.

Prayer:           Just as I am, poor, wretched, blind!
                        Sight, riches, healing of the mind –
                        all that I need, in you to find:
                                    O Lamb of God, I come.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen. 

The Bridge Midweek Message 29th April 2020

In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength.” Isaiah 30: 15

Prayer: Help us, Father, as we come before you acknowledging the folly of our lives, help us to enter that glorious rest of faith, to take hold of the joy of our salvation and to offer our lives in your service,  in peaceful assurance of your grace, confident of your mercy and faithfulness in all the circumstances of our days.

Collect: Almighty God, who inspired your apostle, Peter, to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God: build up your church upon this rock, that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.                                

Reading:  1 Peter 2: 1 – 12

 “you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house”

To support his arguments of the previous chapter Peter turns to many promises from the Old Testament. To help me understand this passage I see it as a multi-layered sandwich the central layer being v6 – 8. In those verses Peter uses three quotations from the Old Testament to strengthen his argument. Let’s go back to those original quotations in the Old Testament.  

First: from v6Isaiah 28: 16 – 17a – So this is what the Sovereign LORD says: “See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation: the one who trusts will never be dismayed. I will make justice the measuring line and righteousness the plumb-line;”

We, like Peter, have come to recognise this “tested stone” as the Lord – “a sure foundation”. In most buildings the foundation remains unseen but, as we accept its presence by faith – “the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” – we find God’s justice and righteousness become the reference lines in the building of his “Spiritual House”. – As we go on to 1 Peter 2: 7 – Now to you who believe, this stone is precious. And, indeed, we do find him precious as we believe – But to those who do not believe, – the next two quotations give a warning:

Psalm 118: 22 – 24 The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; The LORD has done this and it is marvellous in our eyes.

And then in v8Isaiah 8: 13 – 14 – `The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread and he will be a sanctuary; but for both the houses of Israel he will be a stone that causes men to stumble and a rock that makes them fall.

To those who follow the way of the Lord – he will be a sanctuary; – but, for those who reject the Lord, – the capstone – Peter says – “They stumble because they disobey the message – which is also what they are destined for.” This follows OT teaching (ref Deuteronomy 28) – those who follow God’s way are destined to receive rich blessings but those who reject God’s way are destined for punishment. – But – we must never forget the words spoken to the rebellious in Isaiah 30 v18 – “Yet the LORD longs to be gracious to you; he rises to show you compassion.”

Peter has written this letter to those who do believe and follow the way of the Lord – I hope that includes all of us. This brings me to the first middle layer of my sandwich – v4 and 5

v4 – As you come to him, the living stone – rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to him – v5 – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.

We are fond of saying that the church is not the building but the people and, in our present situation, we are without a building or even the means to physically come together in fellowship but – As you come to him – the living stone – – – – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house. The building of the “Spiritual House” continues and we are seeing this daily in the various ways we have been communicating in love at this time. This brings to my mind Isaiah 56: 7 “these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.” – – A Spiritual House?

1 Peter 2: 5 continues – to be a holy priesthood – holy unto the Lord and, being priests, accepted at the altar of the Lord – offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. Isn’t that wonderful? That we are able, freely, to come before the Lord; as we are being built into his Spiritual House as living stones –through Jesus our Saviour and – yes – our sacrifices are acceptable to God.

Which brings me to the lower, middle layer of my sandwich v9 – But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Do I have to say more? – a chosen people – priests to the King – a holy nation. In Isaiah 26: 2, we read – Open the gates that the righteous nation may enter, the nation that keeps faith. A, worldwide, holy nation of faith and we are members of that nation – isn’t that amazing? Then in v10 – Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. Can we really grasp God’s grace? Once we weren’t a people but, now, we are a people who belong to God – a chosen people – a holy nation – a holy and royal priesthood bringing acceptable sacrifices and praises to God and being built into a spiritual house. – all that and more through our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

So now let’s go back to what Peter has been saying to us. As we have been so wonderfully blessed through the grace of our Lord, Peter tells us to examine our lifestyle – first in the top layer of the sandwich. We start with a “Therefore” which refers to chap.1 and the continuation of the discussion in these verses from chap.2

1 Peter 2: 1 Therefore, because of all that we have in Jesus – rid yourselves of all malice and all deceit, hypocrisy, envy, and slander of every kind.”  – – (Repentance and rest??) – – Let us indeed get rid of all those things which hinder our walk with the Lord – and then -2 and 3 Like new born babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good. Let us seek the spiritual food – – (Quietness and trust??) – – that will cause us to grow in faith and in the knowledge of God for we have certainly tasted that the Lord is good.

Then, lastly – in the bottom layer of the sandwich: v11 Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Again – let us rid ourselves of all those things which rob us of our peace with God. Jesus said in Matthew 5: 16 “let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.” And so, Peter finishes this section with v12: Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

A holy priesthood – a chosen people – members of a worldwide nation of faith – being built into a spiritual house – our sacrifices of praise being acceptable on the altar of God – Therefore – – let us rid ourselves of all that hinders our walk with the Lord and offer ourselves in service to him, especially in these times.

Many years ago, my wife and I were faced with a real desert experience; we were very young Christians. The Lord spoke to us through the chorus of a hymn:

Channels only, blessed master, but with all thy wondrous power,

Flowing through us, thou canst use us, Every day and every hour.

Over the years that have followed we have passed through many deserts – as I’m sure you have – but we have always found that as we have offered ourselves once more to the Lord we love – yes, often through repentance – we have entered that promised rest of faith and in confidence and trust we have been able to move forward in the Lord’s purposes. We are a holy people – a nation of faith. Let us as a church at this time offer ourselves – as an acceptable sacrifice – to be those channels of the Holy Spirit and to let His wondrous power flow through us, out to this sad world., a world to which he longs to show compassion.

Prayer: Father, we can only stand amazed at all that you have done for us – – once we were not a people but – now – we are your people. Help us Lord to rid ourselves of all that hinders us in our walk with you and to offer ourselves as an acceptable sacrifice in service for your glory.         Amen                                                                                      

As living stones being built into a spiritual house let us join our minds, first in a prayer of reconciliation then in our family prayer:

Prayer: Father, we have sinned against heaven and against you. We are not worthy to be called your children. We turn to you again. Have mercy on us, bring us back to yourself as those who were once dead but now have life through Christ our Lord.          Amen

Our Father in heaven,

hallowed be your name your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven.

Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.

Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil.

For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever.                                                                                   Amen

May the Lord’s peace reign in our hearts.

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The Bridge Midweek Message 22nd April 2020

Collect: Almighty Father, you have given your only Son to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant us to put away the leaven of malice and wickedness, that we may always serve you in pureness of living and truth; through the merits of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Reading: 1 Peter 1:13-25

About 30 years after that wonderful barbecue breakfast on the beach with the risen Lord Jesus, Peter wrote to Christian believers who had been scattered (isolated?). He gave them a message of comfort, hope and encouragement to stand firm. He writes “Be holy in all you do” (v15).
I wonder what picture or image comes to your mind when you read that. What does it mean to be holy? What does a holy person look like? Someone with a long face? A grey, colourless life? It is easy to assume that holiness is for some people, but not for us: it is for monks, nuns, missionaries, clergy – but not for ordinary Christians like us.
The Bible gives us a very different picture of holiness. George MacLeod wrote “We should be biblically holy – that means facing up to the totality of life, in the power of the cross”.
Peter writes “Be holy” to ordinary Christians like us. In today’s reading we can see why we are to be holy, and what it means to be holy.

1. Why we are to be holy
Peter gives two basic reasons:
a) Because of Relationship
A Christian is someone who has a new relationship with God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. We can see this indicated in v14 (children), v17 (Father), v23 (born again), v22 (brothers).
God has adopted us into his family by grace: he has brought us into the closest relationship with him. He calls us to be like him (vv15-16). Holiness is simply taking on the family likeness.
I expect you have heard it said “You’re just like your father/mother!”
To be holy is to be like God our Father.

b) Because of Redemption
Peter writes “You were redeemed…with the precious blood of Christ” (vv18-19). Jesus is the Lamb of God, sinless and spotless. We have been bought by God: the price has been paid, by Jesus giving his life on the cross for us.
The apostle Paul wrote “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore, honour God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).
Do you know how much God values you? Therefore, be holy.

2. What it means to be holy
Peter tells us what being holy involves:
a) How we think
“Prepare your minds for action” (v13). Literally “Gird up the loins of your mind”! In Peter’s day people often wore long flowing robes; so, for action, those needed to be hitched up – so they didn’t get in the way. An Olympic athlete does not run a race wearing a long overcoat and Wellington boots!
Holiness involves our mindset. In vv13-14 we are urged to self-discipline. Discipleship means discipline, including our thought-life. What do we spend time thinking about? What are we longing for most? What is our hope fixed on?
Our mind is a battle-ground (2:11): we face strong pressures to think as the non-Christian world does; e.g. adverts tell us we “need this”, we “must have that”, or we will be missing out.
Holiness starts with our thought-life.

b) How we behave
“Be holy in all you do” (v15). At home, at work, on holiday, in shops, behind the wheel…
Picture your life as a house with various rooms: there are to be no rooms where Jesus is not welcome and honoured as Lord.
Do we think of some tasks or jobs as “holy” and others not? God wants holy engineers, holy cleaners, holy business-people, holy teachers, holy carers.

c) How we love
In v22 (and in 4:8) Peter writes about our Christian relationships: “love one another deeply/fervently/earnestly”, (literally “stretched-outedly”). This sort of love is not just a feeling, but is active, hard-working, thoughtful.
Relationships within the Christian community are vital. Being holy includes loving people we may find unattractive or difficult or tiresome! Let us thank God that in these weeks of “lockdown”, we are experiencing more of what it means to love one another.

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But perhaps you feel that this biblical holiness is too demanding, impractical for ordinary Christians. If so, please see what Peter writes in chapter 2 verse 9: “You are…a holy nation”. In other words, the call to be holy is simply “Be what you are in God’s sight!”
And God gives us his Holy Spirit, to change us from the inside out.

“As obedient children, let yourselves be pulled into a way of life shaped by God’s life, a life energetic and blazing with holiness. God said “I am holy; you be holy.”” (vv14-15 The Message)

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Prayer:            Take my life and let it be
                        all you purpose, Lord, for me;
                        consecrate my passing days,
                        let them flow in ceaseless praise.

                        Take my love – my Lord, I pour
                        at your feet its treasure-store;
                        take myself, and I will be
                        yours for all eternity.

The Family Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

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The Bridge Midweek Message 15th April 2020

They still did not believe for joy’ (Luke 24:41).

I love that translation of verse 41 in Luke chapter 24. On Easter Sunday evening many churches all around the world will listen to Luke’s brilliant description (in Luke 24:36-49) of what happened at the end of the first-ever Easter Day—when the Risen Jesus surprised the disciples, gathered fearfully and secretly in an upper room in the city of Jerusalem, by suddenly appearing in their midst and giving them ample proof and evidence that he was indeed back from the dead and gloriously alive!

In the final episode of my audio-book, The Week that Changed the World, which some of you might want to listen to during this coming week, I try to help listeners to imagine what it must have been like to be in that room: no more than 25 people (Jesus’ young male disciples, plus the two back form Emmaus, plus Jesus’ female followers including his mother, Mary) all wide-eyed with disbelief and then hugging and clasping each other with the unexpected thrill and excitement of having their beloved Master and Teacher back with them again. All the horrors and nightmares of the preceding Friday suddenly fall off their grieving shoulders, and they can start to live again.

So many different emotions will have eddied around that room, as each individual found themselves being swept along by a rapid tide of unexpected wonder, whilst bumping into the stubborn rocks of disbelief and normal reality. “He’s alive!”, they find themselves saying. “But he can’t be!”, they then hear the rational part of their brain objecting in reply. Conflicting emotions—both within each one of them and then between each of them—will have swirled through the room, engulfing them and overwhelming them.

All of this is caught so pithily by Luke in those few words: ‘They still did not believe for joy’. They did believe, but they did not believe. They wanted to give way to the tidings of joy, but they could not fully give themselves over to that joy—for fear it might be an illusion which, once proved false, would send them crashing backs onto the rocks of despair.

I well remember the first time I heard someone preaching on this passage and highlighting the power and brilliance of Luke’s wording here. I was a young man, myself studying in Jerusalem at the time, and I was there in church one evening in the Easter season to hear this godly Anglican bishop unpacking this phrase and helping us all to see its paradox and sense its power: ‘they dis-believed for joy’!

Caught within those few words are two parallel journeys: the disciples are simultaneously being moved from doubt to faith and from despair to joy. Twenty-four hours earlier they had all been in the ‘slough of despond’ (to use an apt phrase from Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress). They had been racked by doubt and drenched in despair. Their Master was dead, rejected by their own religious leaders and crucified by the Romans. The powerful effects of his ministry had been snuffed-out, causing his wonderful teachings and powerful miracles to become a sad and fading memory, best-forgotten. As Cleopas succinctly put it, “We had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel!” (Luke 24:21). But by that Saturday evening all those hopes had been dashed to the ground—and indeed buried under the earth. Truly that was a time for doubt and despair.

But now…! But now … the Master seemed to be back from the dead! Could it possibly be true? Were their eyes deceiving them? If it were true, they could rush headlong to the other extreme immediately: from darkest doubt to fullness of faith, from deepest despair to genuine joy.

But could they? Could they really set out on that rapid journey? What if it were indeed an optical illusion? Or what if the figure seemingly before them proved to be only a ghost? What if they were somehow being cruelly tricked and taken on a wild-goose chase? What if the Evil One were playing some cruel, sick joke on them?

We know some such questions must have been surging through them all, because of Jesus’ calm questioning: “Why are you troubled and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (v. 38) But Jesus goes on to allay those fears and conquer their doubts, as he proceeds to show them the nail marks in his hands and feet and then eat some fish before their eyes (vv. 40-43).

And so they gave in to faith; and they let their hearts give way to joy. Both pathways had been opened up for them by the Risen Jesus: he gave their rational minds the hard evidence they required so that their hearts could be invaded and flooded with love and joy.

And, because the Risen Jesus is alive today, he can open up both pathways for us too. He does this supremely whenever anyone moves from disbelief in Jesus to personal faith in him, whenever someone is ‘converted’ or ‘born again’ and comes to put their own personal trust into the reliability of Jesus. At that moment an individual can rush from one end of the spectrum to the other in an instant: from doubt to faith in a matter of seconds. Yet we all know that, once we are believers, we inevitably ‘come and go’. We wax and wane. “Two steps forward, one step back”. We set out on the journey but there are things which knock us down. Sometimes we seemingly hit brick walls and feel ricocheted by the rebound. We believe, but we find ourselves also saying, “help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

Easter is the time in the year when we are given an annual opportunity, by focusing again on the solid rock and reality of Jesus’ Resurrection, to blast through those walls of unbelief; we can blow away the cobwebs of doubt, and open the windows of our hearts to let in a strong breeze of fresh, clean air. We all get troubled and ‘let doubts rise in our minds’—not least by our own fear of death and our worries for those we love in this time of national emergency—but this Easter season we can be those who, invited by Jesus, let our spirits once more rise up in faith and confidence and who let our hearts dare to give way to joy.

Doing that is always risky. There can be fears lurking deep down within us—fears that it might all be untrue, fears that our trust in Jesus’ Resurrection is unfounded and that we will turn out, after all, to be ‘of all people most to be pitied’ (1 Cor. 15:19). There can also be a real reluctance emotionally to open our wounded hearts up to the possibility of joy, only to be bruised again by cold disillusion and harsh disappointment.

But this Risen Jesus will not let us down. His Resurrection is a Rock of Reality on which we can build with confidence and can cause us to look into an unknown future with hope. For on that first Easter Day he indeed opened up this double pathway—from doubt to faith and from despair to joy. So, in this Easter season, let our minds dare to give in to faith; and let’s dare to let our hearts give way to his joy! AMEN

THE WEEK THAT CHANGED THE WORLD: following the in the steps of Jesus from Palm Sunday to Easter Day. If you would like to listen to Peter’s recording of the events of the first Easter Day, please phone 01202 037375

  • Your call will last 13 minutes and will be charged at normal local rates.
  • For the full 12 instalments, giving you a complete Audio-Guide to Holy Week (albeit one week late!), please visit https://walkwaybooks.com/the-week

The Bridge Midweek Message 8th April 2020

The Bridge Midweek Message 1st April 2020. Thank you to David for this message

The Bridge Midweek Message for 25th March 2020

Prayer: Thanks be to you, Lord Jesus Christ, for all the benefits which you have given us, for all the pains and insults which you have borne for us. Most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother, may we know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly, day by day. Amen.

Reading: James 5:1-12

The Covid-19 pandemic raises big questions. How long is this going to last? Who knows? How will we be able to cope if it goes on for months? years?? How should we live?

“Be patient” says James. He writes his letter to first-century Christian believers, to encourage them in difficult times. They had big questions. They faced injustice and oppression because of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. They were tempted to give up. “How long is this going to last?”

Throughout the centuries and today, many Christians face opposition and persecution. In fact, that is the “normal” situation for faithful disciples. Jesus said “If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also….In this world you will have trouble” (John 15:20 & 16:33).

James 5:1-12 addresses two different groups of people:
vv1-6 is a warning to wealthy land-owners who were oppressing poor Christians.
vv7-12 is encouragement for Christians who were suffering for their faith, whether because of the land-owners or for some other reason. We’ll focus on this section, particularly on the three exhortations which James gives.

1. Be Patient! (v7)
Four times in vv7-10 James refers to being patient. Christian patience is not just sitting back and waiting for something to happen (like waiting at a bus stop). It is active, joyful, faithful endurance in the face of trials and testing, as James wrote earlier in his letter (ch. 1:2-4, 12). So if we ask God to make us more patient, we should expect more testing!
This patience is a result of God’s gracious work in our lives: it is part of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:22).
Be patient! How long? Until Jesus comes again!

2. Stand Firm! (v8)
Literally, “Strengthen your hearts”. Your faith is not based on outward circumstances, whether good or bad. It is not based on your feelings. It is not based on people’s opinions, or the fads and fashions of society. It is not based on your health or wealth.
Your faith is founded on the Rock (Deuteronomy 32:4): on the promises of God and their fulfilment in the Lord Jesus Christ. So stand firm in faith, because His coming is near.
Stand firm! How long? Until Jesus comes again!

3. Don’t Grumble Against Each Other! (v9)
Don’t complain against others. We live in a “blame culture”: it is easy to “point the finger” at others, but when we do that, three fingers point back at us! Jesus told his disciples, “Do not judge”, and James echoes his words here. There is only one rightful Judge, to whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden. He is at the door!

James ends this section of his letter in verse 11 with the fundamental reason for us to be patient, stand firm in faith, and refuse to grumble: “the Lord is full of compassion and mercy”. He knows. He understands. He loves. That is the ground of our confidence and security, whatever happens.

Prayer: Merciful God, teach us to be faithful in change and uncertainty, that trusting in your word, and obeying your will, we may enter the unfailing joy of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

The Lord’s Prayer: Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as in heaven. Give us today our daily bread. Forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us. Lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For the kingdom, the power, and the glory are yours now and for ever. Amen.

Thank you to John for writing this for us.


Category: Prayers , The Bridge , Thought for the week , Uncategorized

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