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Reverend Paul Collings BTh (Hons) - - - - - - 01392 206229 - - - 07941 880768

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Tuesday 31 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

Breathe on me, breath of God;
so shall I never die,
but live with you the perfect life
of your eternity.

How do you measure perfection.  I am sure that many of us with recall the scene in the children’s film Mary Poppins where the script show’s Mary saying…. 

“By the time the wind has blown
The weather vane around I’ll show you, 

if I can No matter what the circumstance
For one thing I’m renown
My character is spit-spot spick and span
I’m practically perfect
In every way.”

But what is Perfection in Christian terms. A summary of Wesley’s sermon on Christian Perfection shows how he described this  ‘as having "purity of intention", "dedicating all the life to God", "loving God with all our heart", and as being the "renewal of the heart in the whole image of God". A life of perfect love meant living in a way that was centred on loving God and one's neighbour.’

Our Hymn writer clearly shows that it is the breath of God within that enables the Christian to live a perfect life. And what is the essence of this perfection. 1 John 4:18 tells us, ‘There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.’

“To be a saint,” says Frederick Buechner, “is to live not with hands clenched to grasp, to strike, to hold tight to a life that is always slipping away the more tightly we hold it; but it is to live with the hands stretched out both to give and receive with gladness.” He goes on to say, “[God] wants each one of us to have a loving heart …  When all’s said and done, perhaps that’s the length and breadth of it.” 

Let’s read that verse once more,

Breathe on me, breath of God;
so shall I never die,
but live with you the perfect life
of your eternity. Amen

Monday 30 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

Breathe on me, breath of God;
fulfil my heart's desire,
until this earthly part of me
glows with your heavenly fire.

A valued family text is found in the words of Jesus where he says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21.  The Message paraphrase puts it this way “The place where your treasure is, is the place you will most want to be, and end up being.”

Where do you put what is most precious? Whether on public display or hidden, Jesus asks you to consider the real importance of what is valuable to you. Think about what was important to Jesus, how his words and actions showed the attitude and outlook of his heart. See how what was in Jesus’ heart connects with what is in yours and ask God to help you grow in appreciation of this true treasure.

In this verse of the hymn it would appear that the writer is pleading that the Holy Spirit, breathing through me will not only fulfil my heart’s desire but mirror through grace the heart of God. Ravi Zacharias writes “Time is the brush of God, as he paints his masterpiece on the heart of humanity.”

I recall another verse from childhood that said, 

If one should ask of me, how can I tell?
Glory to Jesus, I know very well !
God’s Holy Spirit with mine doth agree,
Constantly witnessing Jesus loves me.

Have you ever considered that the theological word atonement, finds a greater meaning when written as at-one-meant. This is the prayer of Jesus for his followers that “that they will be of one heart and mind, just as you and I are, Father—that just as you are in me and I am in you, so they will be in us, and the world will believe you sent me.” 

O Lord, my God, thank You for reminding me that You are a loving God. Thank You for reminding me You want to bless me and give me the desires of my heart. Steer me in the right direction, Father. Lead me to You in all things and in all ways. May Your desires be my desires, Lord. Bend my will to Yours so I want what You want. Help me be diligent in seeking Your will and then help me watch You work to make all things that are possible actually happen. I love to watch You work, Father. You are still the God of miracles and You desire to bless each one of Your children with all good things. Increase our faith and belief in You, Lord, and keep our hearts pure and longing to be Yours. Help us give each part our hearts and souls to You so You can mould us as You desire. May Your love flood our souls. Help us bless someone this day. Thank You our hearing my prayer.

Saturday 28 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

Breathe on me, breath of God,
until my heart is pure,
until my will is one with yours
to do and to endure.

Perhaps this verse reflects Jesus sermon on the mount, particularly the Matthew 5:8

A child was once asked for a definition of a saint. She said ‘A stained glass window!' Asked why, she explained, ‘The different colours let in the light and every saint is a different colour of God.' Every one of our unknown saints coloured God in a new way in his or her corner of the globe. On All Saints Day we are grateful for the lives of so many people of every age, church and century who have lived their lives as best they could within the vision and spirit of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

What the world sees as tragic or empty, Jesus sees as blessed: humility, mourning, gentleness, peacefulness and other virtues. Jesus lived by these qualities himself and we can notice them in his words and actions during his life with us on earth. He could encourage us to live in the spirit of the Beatitudes because he himself lived them and knew that a life of integrity and honesty is indeed a blessed life.

I recently read one commentator putting it this way, “I do not think "purity" means perfection, nor is it an unreachable goal. When Jesus calls us to purity of heart, he's calling us to an inner journey toward an ever-widening heart of love and compassion for all others, all creation, and the Creator. Purity of heart or inner purity is a process, a way of life, not a static goal. He calls us to a soft heart that beats, not a cold heart of stone. When understood this way, this Beatitude becomes an exciting invitation to an inner journey of love, compassion, nonviolence, and peace.” 

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires are known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: Cleanse the thoughts of my heart by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that I may perfectly love you and worthily praise your holy name. Through Christ I pray, amen

Friday 27 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

We now turn to another Pentecost hymn. 

Breathe on me, breath of God:
fill me with life anew,
that I may love as you have loved
and do as you would do.

Throughout scripture there are many occasions where we read of God breathing upon humankind. Right from the time of creation we read of the life giving breath of God and now in John 20:19-23  

“When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, "Peace be with you." After he said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples rejoiced when they saw the Lord. Jesus said to them again, "Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, so I send you." When he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you retain the sins of any, they are retained."

In a gesture of wonderful intimacy, Jesus ‘breathed’ the Holy Spirit into his disciples. The act evokes God’s promise to Ezekiel centuries earlier, to give us hearts of flesh instead of hearts of stone. We may also ask as disciples of today, if we refuse to believe ourselves forgiven, how can we forgive others?

Jesus came to the disciples at the time of their great fear. He came to them although the doors were locked. He comes to us too, wherever we am locked in by fear, and he gives us his peace. We think now of those areas in our lives where are we afraid. Can we imagine Jesus coming and standing before us and saying “Peace be with you”. And in that place stay  for a little while, looking at Jesus, hearing his words of peace, feeling calm return to my heart.

Then in that sacred presence Jesus breathes upon us and gives us the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of peace and truth and joy. May we turn to the Spirit for help whenever fear threatens to overwhelm us. Breath on me breath of God. Amen

Thursday 26 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

And so the yearning strong
with which the soul will long
shall far surpass the power of human telling;
for none can guess its grace
till we become the place
in which the Holy Spirit makes his dwelling.

I recall reading in the 1970s a book by Michael Harper entitled “none can guess” that plotted Michaels spiritual encounter with the Holy Spirit. Michael Harper was an Anglican Priest whoserved on the staff of All Souls, Langham Place, London. Yet from his ministry experience in the west end of London his journey of faith was to make a number of twists and turns. Eventually he left the Church of England and became a cleric in the Orthodox Church.

In John 15:26-16:4 we find Jesus saying to the disciples, "When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf. You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning. I have said these things to you to keep you from stumbling. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, an hour is coming when those who kill you will think that by doing so they are offering worship to God. And they will do this because they have not known the Father or me. But I have said these things to you so that when their hour comes you may remember that I told you about them. I did not say these things to you from the beginning, because I was with you." John 15:26-16:4 

Here the Spirit that God bestows through Jesus on his disciples, will be the one who will comfort and strengthen them in the sometimes difficult days ahead and will guide them in their fuller understanding of what Jesus has taught them. The Spirit will confirm all that Jesus has said and done.

The disciples too, with the help of the same Spirit, are to give witness to all that Jesus has said and done. We are invited to do the same today through the power of the same Spirit who will help “to keep (us) from stumbling”.

I wonder if the disciples had ever guessed where their following would lead them as they listened to Jesus.

Jesus is preparing his disciples, and us, to life after his departure from this world. But he will not leave his followers alone, for he will be sending them the Spirit, his Spirit. The Spirit comes from the Father and from Jesus, the third person of the Holy Trinity, God himself. He is the Spirit of truth, and he will bear witness that Jesus himself is the truth. Through his presence, Jesus’ followers too will give witness to the world of the truth of Jesus’ message.

This does not mean they will not encounter difficulties or persecution, even death, for the sake of witnessing to Jesus. Perhaps we should look at our resistance to suffer for the truth and pray to be given the Spirit that enables us to be a true witness of Jesus. We pray for those who suffer violence and even death for their faith. May they always feel the presence of the Spirit of Jesus in their lives, and may they always feel the solidarity of those who, like us, share their faith.

Wednesday 25 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

Let holy charity
my outward vesture be,
and lowliness become my inner clothing;
true lowliness of heart
which takes the humbler part,
and for its own shortcomings weeps with loathing.

This verse reminds me of Jesus teaching gleaned from the Widow’s Mite incident where the gift of the heart is of far more importance than the value of the pocket or purse. In Luke 21:1-4 we read

“Jesus looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins. He said, "Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on." 

How does this story impact on our lives? Are we challenged by Jesus' words or attitude? Might there be some wisdom in this story for us?

In this gospel Jesus places the poor widow up as an example of someone who put her total trust in God’s providence. She gave everything to him.

Who do we identify with in this story? Those who casually give money that they will not miss in the slightest? Or those who give from the little they have. This can also include not just money, but giving of our time, energy, abilities to others even when we are tired or very busy. There is a difference between ‘giving alms’ and sharing ourselves, our goods and good fortune with those who have less, a lot less, than us.

Preaching on this passage, Pope Francis said: ‘Faced with the needs of others, we are called to deprive ourselves of essential things, not only the superfluous; we are called to give the necessary time, not only what remains extra; we are called to give immediately and unconditionally some of our talent, not after using it for our own purposes or our own group’.

Now that needs more than my intention, no matter how good or altruistic my reason; it needs the Spirit to work in me so that my ‘giving’ become my inner clothing; and the blessing of true lowliness of heart.

Father, in Micah 6:8 You say, “O people, the LORD has told you what is good, and this is what he requires of you: to do what is right, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” Today we choose to walk humbly with You. We choose to live by Your Holy Spirit and to follow Your lead. Help us to hear You clearly, for we do not want to walk by pride or self-sufficiency, we want to walk with You.

In Jesus name, Amen

Tuesday 24 May 2022

That’s the Spirit

Today we move on to the 2nd verse of Come down O love Divine with firey words. 

There let it freely burn

till earthly passions turn

to dust and ashes in its heat consuming;

and let your glorious light

shine ever on my sight,

and make my pathway clear, by your illuming.

In Matthew 3:11 we find John the Baptist saying, "I baptise you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire." 

John the Baptist warns that a deeper purification is to come, at the hands of the ‘one…coming after me’ - purification by fire. We remember what had been said long before - that no human can look on the face of God and live ‘you cannot see my face; for no one shall see me and live.’ (Exodus 33:20). The brightness and holiness of God could burn up any impurity in sight.

So much of the discussion of this passage focuses on whether fire means judgment or purification. All sorts of interpretative clues are examined. Scholarship is divided. So which do you think it is? My answer is "Yes! Jesus both judges and purifies." From this passage and its parallels, I believe John the Baptist probably intended for us to hear both points. 

There are many occasions throughout the bible that speaks of God's fiery presence. But as Samuel Chadwick says there is something about the “Spirit filled souls that are ablaze for God. They love with a love that glows. They serve with a faith that kindles. They serve with a devotion that consumes. They hate sin with fierceness that burns. They rejoice with a joy that radiates. Love is perfected in the fire of God.”

Come, Holy Spirit, fill the hearts of your faithful
and kindle in them the fire of your love.

Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit,
did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise
and ever to rejoice in His consolation.
Through Christ our Lord.

Monday 23 May 2022

That's the Spirit

As we move towards Pentecost, we are going to look at three hymns that may help us to a clearer understanding of this momentous gift of God, his Spirit.

I start with perhaps my favourite Pentecost Hymn “Come down O love Divine”.  The text  originated as an Italian poem, "Discendi amor santo" by the medieval mystic poet Bianco da Siena (1350-1399). The poem appeared in the 1851 collection Laudi Spirituali del Bianco da Siena of Telesforo Bini, and in 1861, the Anglo-Irish clergyman and writer Richard Frederick Littledale translated it into English.

We start with the first verse; 

Come down, O Love divine, 
seek thou this soul of mine, 
and visit it with thine own ardor glowing; 
O Comforter, draw near, 
within my heart appear, 
and kindle it, thy holy flame bestowing.

For me, the two concepts featured in this verse are the gift of Love Divine and the coming of the promised Comforter.

Charles Wesley often used the term Love Divine, perhaps most famously found in the hymn of that name. The notion of Love Divine is that it speaks of the deep and rich love that God has for humans, the God of love who deigns to share His life of love with anyone willing to receive.

But notice both Wesley and da Siena speaks of Love Divine rather that Divine love. For me the later speaks of a characteristic of the Divine, where as Love Divine speaks to me of love personified. 
Secondly this personal Love Divine is spoken of as the Comforter. Elsewhere the term is translated a Advocate, Counsellor, Friend, Intercessor, Strengthener, Standby.  In fact we read how Jesus in John 14:15-18 promised ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you. is aware that the imminent loss of his physical presence will be a big blow for his disciples. He reassures them “‘I will not leave you orphaned”. 

Jesus was so aware that the loss of his physical presence will be made up to them by the sending of the Holy Spirit, who will be with them permanently.”

In our changing and increasingly secularised society, one can easily feel a sense of loss and abandonment, but the Holy Spirit continues to guide and inspire us into new and creative forms of communicating the Good News in ways that are relevant to today’s world.

The fact is that we do not need to rely on our own resources but turn to God who promises to help us, ready to send the Holy Spirit. To be open to the spirit, we must quieten first our body, then our heart. In this time of quiet God teaches us to see our world differently; we don’t act in it alone but am accompanied by God’s ever-present Spirit.

God my Comforter, I praise and thank You from the depth of my heart for all the goodness which You have promised me. I praise You for having guarded me as the apple of Your eye. I firmly believe that in Your presence there is fullness of joy. Your presence manifests Your glory. On this day, help me to praise You whole-heartedly for I know that this is God’s will concerning me to receive the fullness of joy. Give me the grace to rejoice always in You.
In Your matchless name I pray.

Saturday 21 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 15:30-33 I urge you, brothers and sisters, by our Lord Jesus Christ and by the love of the Spirit, to join me in my struggle by praying to God for me. Pray that I may be kept safe from the unbelievers in Judea and that the contribution I take to Jerusalem may be favourably received by the Lord’s people there, so that I may come to you with joy, by God’s will, and in your company be refreshed. The God of peace be with you all. Amen.

I recently read this article about this passage.

What is prayer? Prayer is too often associated with a ritual that makes us feel better, rather than seeking the face of a gracious God. Catholics pray the rosary, repeating memorised prayers with each bead on the rosary. Muslims have similar prayer beads by which they mindlessly utter memorised phrases to Allah. Some organisations teach prayers to memorise and pray on certain occasions. However, in most of these situations, prayer is comparable to a lucky charm.

Let me give you a definition of prayer: Prayer is a declaration of our dependence. Every time I pray, I am saying, "God, I need you” or “Thank you God for helping me!" We ask God's forgiveness, because we know we are dependant upon Him to forgive. We thank Him in prayer, because we know that whatever we are, or have, has come from Him. We petition Him, because only He can give us what we need. We know that God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble, and that prayer is humility in action. It is saying, "God, I can't do this, so, I come to you acknowledging my need." There is nothing in our Christian experience in which we manifest our dependence on God, thus glorifying Him, more than in prayer.

We glorify God by prayer. We ask God to do for us through Christ what we can't do for ourselves. Prayer is the open admission that without God we can do nothing. And prayer is the turning away from ourselves to God in the confidence that He will provide the help we need. Prayer humbles us as needy and exalts God as wealthy.

A prayerless Christian is like a bus driver trying alone to push his bus out of a rut because he doesn't know Clark Kent is on board.

There are two spiritual activities that should never cease in a believers life: the reading of God’s Word and prayer. When we pray, we speak to God; when we read His Word He speaks to us. The Bible and prayer make up the interchange between us and God. Scripture says we are to be unceasingly involved in both activities.

Paul asks the Roman believers to pray for two concerns: that the unbelieving Jews in Judea would not kill him and end his ministry; and the Jewish Christians would accept the financial gift from the believing Gentiles. So Paul urges the Roman Christians 1,000 miles from Jerusalem to ask God not to let that happen.

I question how earnest I am in prayer?

Love Maria Wills spoke of prayer this way in her hymn……

Father, hear the prayer we offer:

not for ease that prayer shall be,

but for strength that we may ever

live our lives courageously.

Not for ever in green pastures

do we ask our way to be;

but the steep and rugged pathway

may we tread rejoicingly.

Not for ever by still waters

would we idly rest and stay;

but would smite the living fountains

from the rocks along our way.

Be our strength in hours of weakness,

in our wanderings be our guide;

through endeavour, failure, danger,

Father, be thou at our side.

Friday 20 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 15:7-13 Therefore welcome one another, just as Christ also welcomed us, for the glory of God.  Now I say that Jesus Christ has become a servant to the circumcised on behalf of the truth of God, to confirm the promises made to the patriarchs,  and that the Gentiles might glorify God for His mercy, as it is written:

“For this reason I will acknowledge You among the Gentiles, and I will sing praises to Your name.”

He also says: “Rejoice, O Gentiles, with His people!” And again: “Praise the Lord, all you Gentiles; let all the peoples praise Him.”

And again Isaiah says: “There shall be a root of Jesse; He who shall rise to reign over the Gentiles, in Him shall the Gentiles hope.”

Now may the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

My thought for today is simple to draw your attention tor Rev’d Fred Kaan’s hymn “Help us accept each other”. Kaan explains the origins of the hymn, “Help us accept each other”: “This text was set in motion upon reading a Bible study article on Romans 15. He recalls that It was almost accidentally and at the last moment included in the fourth edition of Cantate Domino [an ecumenical and cross-cultural hymnal published by the World Council of Churches in 1974], … and it so happened that my “Hymn of acceptance” was just the right length to fill the two blank pages that needed filling.”

The words became more widely sung when they were set to music by American composer John Ness Beck (1930-1987) as an anthem. Beck’s anthem setting was then adapted as a hymn tune ACCEPTANCE.

This is one of the most powerful hymns on reconciliation and forgiveness composed in the last half of the 20th century. Romans 15:7 provides a scriptural basis for verse 1: “Receive one another, then, just as Christ also received you, to God’s glory.” The hymn also reflects Ephesians 4:15: “But practicing the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Christ, who is the head.”

Verse two asks for grace to accept all people unconditionally: now that’s a big but essential ask isn’t it?

Help us accept each other
as Christ accepted us
teach us as sister, brother
each person to embrace.
Be present God, among us
and bring us to believe
we are ourselves accepted
and meant to love and live.

Teach us, O God, your lessons,
as in our daily life
we struggle to be human
and search for hope and faith.
Teach us to care for people,
for all not just for some.
to love them as we find them
or as they may become.

Let your acceptance change us,
so that we may be moved
in living situations
to do the truth in love;
to practice your acceptance
until we know by heart
the table of forgiveness
and laughter’s healing art.

God, for today’s encounters
with all who are in need;
who hunger for acceptance
for righteousness and bread.
we need new eyes for seeing,
new hands for holding on
renew us with your Spirit;
and free us, make us one!

Thursday 19 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 15:1-7 "We who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbours for their good, to build them up. For even Christ did not please himself but, as it is written: “The insults of those who insult you have fallen on me.”For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope. May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you the same attitude of mind toward each other that Christ Jesus had, so that with one mind and one voice you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Accept one another, then, just as Christ accepted you, in order to bring praise to God. "

In a  similar way to yesterday’s reading from Romans 14, Paul continues to exhort his readers to bear the failings of the weak. The idea is not to just “put up with” but “bear with.” The Greek word means “to support as a burden.” It’s the same word used when Christ “bore” our sins on the cross. Our sins weren’t just a passing weight – but He supported us by bearing our sins. He will bear the marks of that burden for all of eternity on His hands and feet.

Sometime we view the way someone else behaves, or their attitude we often assume it  as a weakness. But in discipleship terms, how do we handle people who disagree with us? Paul gives us some good advice on how to listen actively, respond prayerfully, and watch circumspectly when dealing with the less mature in Christ.

Or could it be said that it is a sign of our immaturity the way we look upon another in a derogatory manner. John Ruskin once said, “the individual who is wrapped up in himself makes a very small parcel.” Whilst another writer said, “Be assertive, but not arrogant. Believe in yourself, but believe in God more.” Hence Paul puts such faithful living as, “live in complete harmony with each other—each with the attitude of Christ toward the other.”

The story is told of a learned professor who went to visit an old monk who was famous for his wisdom. The monk graciously welcomed him into his temple and offered him a seat on a cushion. No sooner had the professor sat down than he launched into a long, wordy account of his own accomplishments, his own knowledge, his own theories and opinions. The monk listened quietly for awhile and then asked politely, “Would you like some tea?”

The professor nodded, smiled and kept right on talking. The monk handed him a teacup and began pouring tea from a large pot. The tea rose to the brim of the cup, but the monk kept right on pouring while the professor kept right on talking. Finally the professor noticed what was going on, leaped to his feet and demanded, “What are you doing? Can’t you see that the cup is overflowing?” To which the monk replied, “This cup is like your mind. It can’t take in anything new because it’s already full.”

May the mind of Christ, my Saviour
Live in me from day to day,
By his love and pow'r controlling 
All I do and say.

May the word of God dwell richly 
In my heart from hour to hour,
So that all may see I triumph 
Only through his pow'r.

May the peace of God, my Father, 
Rule my life in ev'rything,
That I may be calm to comfort 
Sick and sorrowing.

May the love of Jesus fill me 
As the waters fill the sea.
Him exalting, self abasing:
This is victory.

May we run the race before us, 
Strong and brave to face the foe,
Looking only unto Jesus 
As we onward go.

Wednesday 18 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 14 (selected verses) 13-14 Forget about deciding what’s right for each other. Here’s what you need to be concerned about: that you don’t get in the way of someone else, making life more difficult than it already is. I’m convinced—Jesus convinced me!—that everything as it is in itself is holy. We, of course, by the way we treat it or talk about it, can contaminate it. 15-16 If you confuse others by making a big issue over what they eat or don’t eat, you’re no longer a companion with them in love, are you? These, remember, are persons for whom Christ died. Would you risk sending them to hell over an item in their diet? Don’t you dare let a piece of God-blessed food become an occasion of soul-poisoning! 19-21 So let’s agree to use all our energy in getting along with each other. Help others with encouraging words; don’t drag them down by finding fault. You’re certainly not going to permit an argument over what is served or not served at supper to wreck God’s work among you, are you?

It seems that today everyone has an opinion on how others should behave, often pointing the proverbial finger and as such setting their opinion as the arbitrator of what is right or what is wrong.

In Roman’s 14 the debate is about food.  Under Jewish laws there were certain prohibitions as to what one could eat. Subsequently when Jewish followers of Jesus encountered Gentile followers arguments flared as the two cultures clashed. Because the Christian community consisted of both former Jews and Gentiles there were often disagreements still over certain ritualistic practices which had been carried over from Judaism.

To the Jews, the attitudes of the Gentiles seemed very lax, if not downright wrong.  To the Gentiles, some Jews seemed over-scrupulous and legalistic.  What Paul recommends is that each one be tolerant and understanding of the weaknesses of others and not to cause unnecessary offence. 

Perhaps there is a lesson here for the 21st century social media chaos that exists today, with even people resulting to court action over the tweeted pronouncement of one party over another. It was George Washington Carver who said, “Resolve to be tender with the young, compassionate with the aged, sympathetic with the striving, and tolerant of the weak and the wrong. Sometime in life you will have been all of these.” 

More simply and directly, in the gospel we have Jesus answer when folk came to him and accused a women of adultery, “When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” John 8:7

Jesus knew that there were times when many words might be spoken and times when words would not help. Perhaps we should pray for the wisdom to know when our words need to be fewer and for God's inspiration to choose the right words.

The people asked a question for which they wanted to hear only one answer. Jesus did not engage in a dialogue with them. As we come to pray, we are reminded to listen for the voice of Jesus in dialogue with us, not saying only what we want to hear. 

A Prayer

Oh, let me feel Thee near me;

  The world is ever near;

I see the sights that dazzle,

  The tempting sounds I hear;

My foes are ever near me,

  Around me and within;

But, Jesus, draw Thou nearer,

  And shield my soul from sin.

Oh, let me hear Thee speaking,

  In accents clear and still,

Above the storms of passion,

  The murmurs of self-will;

Oh, speak to reassure me,

  To hasten, or control;

Oh, speak, and make me listen,

  Thou guardian of my soul. Amen

Tuesday 17 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 13:8-10

“Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbour as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbour; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.”

The following excerpt was originally published in  Fred Beuchner’s Whistling in the Dark  and later in  Beyond Words:

When Jesus comes along saying that the greatest command of all is to love God and to love our neighbour, he too is asking us to pay attention. If we are to love God, we must first stop, look, and listen for him in what is happening around us and inside us. If we are to love our neighbours, before doing anything else we must see our neighbours. With our imagination as well as our eyes, that is to say like artists, we must see not just their faces, but the life behind and within their faces. Here it is love that is the frame we see them in.

In today’s reading Paul , "Owe nobody anything." It seems a thing almost unnecessary to say; but there were some who even twisted the petition of the Lord's Prayer, "Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors," into a reason for claiming absolution from all money obligations. Paul had to remind his people that Christianity is not an excuse for refusing our obligations to our neighbours, whoever they are; it is a reason for fulfilling them to the utmost.

There is a famous saying, "Love God--and do what you like." If love is the mainspring of our hearts, if our whole live are dominated by love for God and love for our neighbour, we needs no other law.

A Prayer

When we hold out our hands to be cuffed by loneliness, you clasp our wrists
to pull us into your heart. When our lives are shattered by the injustices done to those passed over by the world, your love puts us back together, so we can serve them with your hope. Emancipating God, we praise you!

When we would build walls between us and our neighbours, you come to be the welcoming gate. When we would curse someone who has hurt us in our souls, you sing us songs of blessing. When we would focus only on our needs and our desires, you hand us the dinnerware  and ask us to set the Table. Ever-near Salvation, we would follow you!

When we would feed on  our bitter brokenness, you would offer us  the Bread of reconciliation. When we would grasp  the Cup of peace,  and drink it to the last drop, you whisper, 'offer some to those you don't like.' Liberating Spirit, we would be filled with you! Amen

Monday 16 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 12: 1-2 J B Phillips paraphrase. “With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to him and acceptable by him. Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the plan of God for you is good, meets all his demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.”

I think that J B Phillips, in his paraphrase of this short passage succinctly captures Paul’s concept in a contemporary fashion. “Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within.” Other translations put Paul’s ideas in just as helpful ways; here are just a two.

Eugene Peterson in the Message writes, “Don’t become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking”

The Living Bible paraphrase puts it this way, “Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but be a new and different person with a fresh newness in all you do and think.”

Each gives a different facets of the one truth. Don’t let yourself be squeezed, take care not to become well-adjusted to our culture and don’t replicate the behaviours and customs of the world around us.

When an individual or a congregation has the attitude of compromise in regard to spiritual values and truths, dark days are ahead. All who strive to be Christians feel a certain amount of pressure from the world. Through the strength that Christ gives, we can overcome the world and its temptations.

A man starting a fish business put out his sign that read, "Fresh Fish For Sale Today" and invited all to visit his place of business on opening day. Many came and congratulated him on his new business, but one suggested that he change his sign. "Why the ’Today’? It is today." So he removed the "Today".

Someone else said, "Why, ’For Sale’? Everybody knows you have fish for sale--or else why the store?" The words "For Sale" came off the sign.

Another said, "Why the word ’Fresh’? You are a man of integrity, that guarantees your fish to be fresh." "Fresh" came off the sign.

Only one word was left, "Fish" and one complained about it. "I smelled your fish two blocks away."

The individual or congregation that tries to satisfy everybody ends up by pleasing nobody. If we start compromising, we will end up serving not able to be true to our calling. The man should have put up his sign and then stood by it. This is what we are to do in life. Accept God’s will for our lives and stand on His promises even if it call us to be living sacrifices.

A Prayer

God of Grace, you call us to be different from the world,

but the world is seductive, and so we come here to be strengthened.

God of Vision, you hold before us an alternate way of life,

different priorities, different loyalties, different values.

But we know that the world is not only seductive but powerful,

and so we are drawn in to following its priorities,

accepting its values, showing loyalty to its gods.

God who blesses the meek, the peacemakers, the merciful,

forgive us when we lose sight of these qualities,

when we misunderstand their role in the world. Amen

Saturday 14 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

 J B Phillips entitles the Romans 11:30-35 passage as “:The whole scheme looks topsy-turvy, until we see the amazing wisdom of God!”:

"Just as in the past you were disobedient to God but have found that mercy which might have been theirs but for their disobedience, so they, who at the present moment are disobedient, will eventually share the mercy which has been extended to you. God has all of us penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all.

Frankly, I stand amazed at the unfathomable complexity of God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge. How could man ever understand his reasons for action, or explain his methods of working? For: ‘Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has become his counsellor?’ ‘Or who has first given to him and it shall be repaid to him?’

For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things. To him be the glory for ever, amen.”

I recently read of He a man who couldn’t keep a job. He was a church organist and composer and while he was a great organist the pieces that he composed himself were often considered too showy to be played in church, and so eventually the church would grumble and he would move on. So glad churches today don’t grumble about music.

And he was no doubt forgotten by the churches he had worked for but certainly not forgotten by history.

His name was Johann Sebastian Bach, maybe you recognise the name!. Once when the pastor of one church was relaying the concerns of the congregation Bach responded by saying: The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Some people do this with music that is simple. I haven't chosen to use a simple style, but my music comes from my heart as a humble offering to God. This honours God no matter what musical style I use."

The main purpose of my music is to glorify God. Can we say that about what we do?

Here is a sample of one of Bach’s compositions, and notice down here at the you’ll see Soli Deo Gloria - For the Glory of God Alone.

We are told when Bach began to write a new song that he wrote the initials JJ at the top of the page, which stood for “Jesu Juva” Latin for “Jesus Help Me” and when he finished the work he wrote For the Glory of God Alone.

I wonder what doxology we would put against our lives?

A Prayer

Holy God of Love,

There is light in our lives
because of the abundance of your steadfast love.
A love so vast, so deep, so real,
that you became one of us.
May we live within the power of this love.
And may we share its light with a world
where too many dwell in darkness. Amen.

Friday 13 May 2022

A Journey Through Romans

Romans 10:8-10 “Salvation that comes from trusting Christ—which is what we preach—is already within easy reach of each of us; in fact, it is as near as our own hearts and mouths. For if you tell others with your own mouth that Jesus Christ is your Lord and believe in your own heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved, For it is by believing in his heart that a man becomes right with God; and with his mouth he tells others of his faith, confirming his salvation.”

There are two kinds of magnets, steel magnets and soft iron magnets. The steel magnet receives its magnetism from the load stone, and has it permanently; it can get along very well alone in a small way; it can pick up needles and do many other little things to amuse children. There is another kind of magnet, which is made of soft iron, with a coil of copper wire round it. When the battery is all ready, and the cups are filled with the mercury, and the connection is made with the wires, this magnet is twenty times as strong as the steel magnet. Break the circuit, and its power is all gone instantly.

We are so like soft iron magnets; our whole power must come from the Lord Jesus Christ, but faith makes the connection. Good works flow from a connected relationship with God by faith. Works and faith do not go hand-in-hand, as though they are two rails of a train track. No, works flow naturally from a life of faith; works are the product, not the partner, of genuine lasting and purely biblical faith.

Paul says this word is “near you, on your lips and in your heart” (Romans 10:8). This means that “the word of faith” must be part of everyday life. “Near you” means Christians must live with it in their workplace. “On your lips” means that the truth of the gospel must be spoken boldly in public space, in streets or in shops. But this proclamation of the word comes out of the heart because the word is “in your heart” (Romans 10:8). This implies that every spoken word of faith must reflect the deep inside of the heart where the Spirit dwells.

Dear Father, May the word of Christ always be on my lips and in my heart. May I make known to everyone in every place that Jesus is Lord and that you have raised him from the dead. Remind me continually that I have no cause to be ashamed of my faith. Grant not only that I myself should believe but that I should also become partners with others in sending them to proclaim the Good News to the world. Thank you that Christ is preached. Thank you for the belief you have put into my heart. Thank you for the salvation that comes from this. In Jesus' name. Amen.