Monday, February 19, 2024

Lenten Prayer

 My Lenten meditations include a prayer of Henri Nouwen's which not only sets the scene for these 40 days leading up to Easter, but expresses so much honesty and desire about making daily choices Jesus gives us.  It is a fitting coda to my last couple of posts. It really challenges me.

Lord Jesus Christ

It is time to be with you in a special way, a time to pray, a time to fast, and thus to follow you on your way to Jerusalem, to Golgotha, and to the final victory over death.

I am still so divided. I truly want to follow you, but I also want to follow my own desires and lend an ear to the voices that speak about prestige, success, human respect, pleasure, power, and influence.  Help me to become deaf to these voices and more attentive to your voice, which calls me to choose the narrow road to life.

I know that Lent is going to be a very hard time for me. The choice for your way has to be made every moment of my life. I have to choose thoughts that are your thoughts, words that are your words, and actions that are your actions. There are no times or places without choices. And I know how deeply I resist choosing you.

{;ease. Lord, be with me at every moment and in every place. Give me the strength and the courage to live this season faithfully, so that, when Easters comes, I will be able to taste with joy the new life which you have prepared for me.

Amen.


Wednesday, February 14, 2024

WIJDWU

I should have added this to the earlier post because What Is Jesus Doing |With Me Now is necessarily individual.  That's where discipleship begins. But in our hyper-individualistic culture it is vital to add the all-important corporate dimension.  Disciples belong to the body of Christ. When we gather together, seeking to be imitators of God, He desires us to be his holy people sharing in his mission.  We need to ask: What Is Jesus Doing With US now?

How important it is to ask what God is asking of us as his church!  Our daily prayer life should always include community issues about which the gathered church is asking WIJDWUN  Where is God leading us now as his local church?  Too often we act as though we know exactly what God's agenda is. We keep doing what we did last year.  We assume we know how to run church efficiently. Same as, same as!  But so often we don't know what God could do with us and through us as his community, alive with Jesus Christ.

So, I need to add WIJDWUN to my prayer life. 

Second point!

Sorry for the delay if you were waiting for the second truth that must accompany the first (last post).  But you will know what it is anyway!

The second truth: Jesus is alive and by his Spirit walks the narrow way with us. For real. Because of his great love for us God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ (Eph.2:4). I am sure I have mentioned before about WWDJ and the way that it still emerges from time to time. It's based on a older book of fiction that imagined the vast difference it would be if people analyzed seriously their daily actions by asking What Would Jesus Do?  But it seems to miss the essential truth that we don't have to try and imagine how different things would be. It almost assumes that the first point about Jesus asks us to make a hard choice is all about me. No. 

It's much clumsier but it ought to be WIJDWMN!  What Is Jesus Doing With Me Now.  We are so often going to drift from the narrow way. That's why confession with repentance and fresh starts are essential to Christian living. But if we are going to be really different we need to set our minds and hearts intentionally (and that's a loaded word) by saying to Jesus every day: Help me.  Intentionality means that we set our minds and will to act on what we believe. Being Jesus' disciples today, being imitators of God, doesn't just happen. It's not some vague spiritual state - we really need God's help to desire being different. 

Jesus said: The greatest command is to love God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind  and with all your strength (|Mark 12:10).  Copying the world comes easily.  God wants us to be as his best.  For our own sakes, and so vitally for our church communities and neighbours too.

Oh yes, WWJDWMN!

Tuesday, February 6, 2024

Deja Vu Preaching 3)

When I wrote there are two vital truths that we should not forget, let me be clear - that I should not forget! As I reread these verses about the nitty-gritty of effective Christian living I felt the challenge acutely.

First, Jesus asks us to make a hard choice. There is no better way of living than to follow Jesus and to live among people who take the command to imitate God seriously in being like Jesus. It is the way to eternal life.  His love and his grace are the world's best news BUT he asks each of us to make the toughest choice to enter by the small gate and follow along a narrow road. Matt 7:14 gives a graphic picture.  The small gate is highly unpopular for the narrow way involves restrictions and high expectations. Jesus demands disciples with discipline!  After all he is Lord.  

What a contrast with the wide gate and broad road which is as wide as contemporary culture, allowing us to move with maximum choices about how we live. The broad way goes with the flow of culture - how the majority of people think and behave. It involves everything - habits, ideas, customs, values, and it's subtly insidious, creeping in everywhere.  The more secular culture becomes the more it minimizes God, and the more it allows self choice and self-assertion. 

In the States I learned the expression attractional church.  Often larger churches, they blacked out any windows with seating as comfortable as a cinema's.  In fact, the whole experience was rather like being in a movie theatre with spotlights on the front stage, where a music group would be singing to the audience, before an articulate amusing preacher came on stage.  Coffee and doughnuts were constantly available with movement when refills were required.  And the preacher winsomely spoke of the love of God expressed in Jesus, who died for us that we might be forgiven and receive eternal life. 

But not one word about a small gate and narrow word.  About restrictions and high expectations of following Jesus.  Nothing about the intentional hard choice required to obey the Lord.

I know I am guilty of some parody here but the contrast between the narrow road and broad way is a critical challenge today, isn't it?  


Tuesday, January 30, 2024

Deja Vu preaching 2)

I do believe that repeating sermons is permissible.  In fact, when I was itinerant with a full-time job, it was my Plan B.  But, with the theme: Be imitators of God, I knew I needed a fresh word. Rereading the whole passage, immersing myself, putting aside commentary helps or past sermon efforts I focused on Gal 4: 29-5:7, though the rest of chapter 5 is vitally involved too..

Among the many responses possible, it struck me how many imperatives crowd in - almost in a shouty way!  Recently, my local church has started singing the Phil Wickham song: Yahweh, Lord of all the earth we shout your name, shout your name. Some psalms encourage shouting and certainly my church lets rip. Right through the song it's SHOUT your name.

We should note how some passages of Scripture also shout at us.  Many words are to be heard in bold,  action words to make us sit up and take notice. Megaphone words.  Like WAKE UP (5:14). stop sleep walking. They come thick and fast: Be imitators of God (v1), Walk in love (v2), Don't partner disobedient people (v7), Be very careful how you walk (v 15), Don't be foolish (v17).  There is urgency and seriousness. It really matters to God that we behave better.   The Message paraphrases Be imitators of God: Watch what God does and then you do it, like children who lean proper behaviour from their parents.  Much of Chapter 5 is about proper behaviour and the crunch question comes: IS IT WORKING?  

After all, the gifts of God's love in Christ should result in different living. I remember one senior minister confiding in me: Michael I have been preaching to this church for years now about the difference Jesus makes but they never seem to change for the better. You can never tell the difference sharing good news can make, but our nitty-gritty behaviour shows whether we behave as God copiers. That's a continuous challenge to us as disciples, together.

There are two truths in particular that we should never forget.

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Deja Vu preaching

As is obvious from my postings I am rarely invited to preach nowadays.  For this I am mostly grateful - only too aware that nearing 80 others should take my place.  But, in a couple of weeks I have another opportunity and, strangely, the Bluntisham church preaching plan gives me the same chapter in Ephesians as I preached in 2022.  Chapter 5!  I no longer have my notes so I thought I would dig out the recording on our church web site. My first thought was that having prepared a sermon I could recast it!  However, the listening experience was dismal. I knew that my voice has lost much power but, in addition, I seemed to be suffering from an irritating cough that, frankly, was extremely irritating to hear. With moderate self-criticism I confess the content it did not feed my soul though, in common with many preachers, I admit my general dislike of hearing myself..  

At the same time, my daily devotions came to Acts 14:1-7 as Paul and Barnabas continue their pioneering missionary preaching tour to reach Iconium. The NIV translates the end of verse 1: There they spoke so effectively that a great number of Jews and Gentiles believed. I had missed that word effectively in past readings.  How extraordinary to use a quantitative word like that.  Presumably, the opposite applies that we can preach ineffectively!

I immediately went to find out what the original word is. All of us who preach long to be effective. What characterizes this particular preaching event?  I found the word effectively was an attempt to translate four Greek words, literally, to speak so as to believe. The KJV translates literally: They so spake that a great multitude both of the Jews and also of the Greeks believed. 'So spake' expresses a particular quality of speaking that God things happened. I guess that the NIV translation 'effectively' is as good as any way of expressing this particular quality. 

It is clear in Acts 14 something special occurred. God's Spirit moved in a powerful way through their speaking. God's involvement is strikingly confirmed  by accompanying signs and wonders. Yet their preaching was essential.  The bearing of immediate spiritual fruit in faith responses remains a glorious sign of effectiveness and, of course, there are  other desirable outcomes of biblical preaching, especially its role of upbuilding Christ's people.

However, the conjunction of hearing an old sermon with a challenge to effectiveness gave me a much needed jolt.  So I am working afresh, asking the Lord to wake me up to the new things he is saying to me that I should share.  Perhaps it might be worth sharing and who knows, past preparation may be leaking into the process!

Monday, January 15, 2024

Olive tree, soap, antibiotics

When I take down our Christmas cards I always dilly dally, spending time absorbing pictures and messages before disposing of them.  And among them are charity gift cards where friends have made donations in our name.

This year, unusually, one told us that an olive tree has been sponsored on our behalf which (hopefully) will be planted in Palestine in Spring 2024.  The card explains how for the Middle East planting olive trees is an act of hope and resilience as they grow, bear fruit and provide sustenance for generation.  Healthy olive trees help the Palestinian people maintain their ancient ties to the land and preserve an important source of income.

An accompanying card had to be registered in our names and sent off to the organization Embrace the Middle East which promises to send a Planting Certificate telling the story of the farmer we have supported. What a great idea but what a tragic context. I cannot help but see the signs of devastation on the current news.  I wonder when it is going to be possible for farmers plant freely with all the destruction around them. I eagerly await that Planting Certificate as a sign of  hope and promise to celebrate in a posting.

Another friend sent two colourful charity donation cards telling us of antibiotics and hygiene kits that Christian Aid is given to people in emergency disasters in our name.  I feel very grateful and extremely lazy that such vital gifts are going to needy places this year courtesy of such kind good friends' thoughtfulness.  It's a powerful reminder of how little us can make a difference in a world of need because Jesus Christ is Immanuel. And a challenge to my priorities in 2024.