31 December 2014
It is easy to understand why Martha and Mary chose to send for Jesus when Lazarus became seriously ill (verses 1-3). Jesus knew the family well; He had stayed at their house before. However, He simply didn't turn up. In fact, He chose not to go. I suspect that the sisters kept looking anxiously along the road for signs of His arrival, but He was never there. In fact, the funeral service had been over for 4 days when Jesus finally arrived (verse 17).
Were there good reasons for not turning up? Sure: it would have been incredibly dangerous for Jesus to go there. The disciples knew that. “Rabbi, you can’t do that. The Jews are out to kill you, and you’re going back?” they said (verse 8). There had already been five separate documented attempts to arrest or murder Jesus. In John 10:39 Jesus had slipped away after the latest attempt - and then the word came that Lazarus was ill. Would He go back? It's normally expected that a close friend would rush to a sick friend's bedside - particularly if you loved them - and hang the consequences.
He chose not to go. Didn't He care? Of course He did. Undoubtedly Jesus was looking at the bigger picture. God's ways are not man's ways... He already knew what He had to do. If Jesus had turned up whilst Lazarus was alive, yes, it's likely that Lazarus would have been healed. However, other circumstances might have played out a lot differently.
Interestingly, Jesus said the following in verses 14-15, once He heard of the death: “Lazarus died. And I am glad for your sakes that I wasn’t there. You’re about to be given new grounds for believing. Now let’s go to him”.
Once Jesus had arrived, Martha was, not unreasonably, quite upset. In her own mind it was, by then, too late. She runs out of her house to meet Him, while her sister Mary stays in the house. "Master, if you’d been here, my brother wouldn’t have died", Martha says (verse 21).
And yet, there was still hope in her heart - there was still faith. “Even now, I know that whatever you ask God he will give you.” (verse 22). It's not clear exactly what she expected. Lazarus was dead, and Martha was extremely wary about Jesus' comments about opening the tomb. Understandably - apart from the whole trauma of the event, it was forbidden by Jewish custom to open a grave after the stone was placed upon it. But Jesus loves to turn our usual patterns of thinking upside down...
At a word from Jesus, Lazarus’ spirit returned to his decaying body (verses 41-44). Jesus had bypassed simply healing His sick friend, in order to perform the far greater miracle of bringing him back to life.
There's a tremendous truth here - and it's not an easy one to accept. Sometimes Jesus does not grant the healing or give the resolution that we ask for. Not everyone we pray for gets healed; many of our requests seem to land on deaf ears. Often we feel that all is lost - and turn away from God.
And yet, like Martha, if we step out of our comfort zone and meet with Jesus, talk to Him, and dare to trust in Him (verse 25), we find help to overcome any obstacle. And He may also give us a greater miracle than we had ever hoped for.
Time spent waiting on God is never wasted.
(All scripture quotes from The Message translation).
28 December 2014
A few weeks ago I mentioned that Advent was a time of getting yourself ready for Jesus. Either preparing to celebrate his birth - or acknowledging his redeeming work in your life and preparing for what comes next. It was a timely reminder to keep myself focussed. To keep on my toes. And to stand by...
When thinking about "standing by", the phrase that readily springs to my mind is the opening words to Gerry Anderson's classic SF series, Stingray. The words of Commander Sam Shore ring in my ears...
"Stand By For Action!"
The show featured the work of the World Aquanaut Security Patrol, and in particular the adventures of Captain Troy Tempest and the crew of the submarine Stingray. I loved this show when I was growing up, and have encouraged my kids to enjoy it too.
But those classic words neatly summarise what God is telling me, in His own way, right now.
Because there's a lot of difference between lots of continual, frantic activity - and keeping yourself ready, standing by for action. I'm quite good at the former; perhaps too good. In fact, on occasion, I've done a little too much. However, I now understand that what I need to do is be more like Troy. Ready for action. Allowing yourself to stand ready is often more useful that just "keeping busy". I've got to remember not to fill up my diary with unending tasks, but to keep it open, and stand by, waiting on God...
And as for "waiting"... I have mentioned in this blog previously about the Hebrew word "קוה" (qavah), which is usually translated in scripture as "wait".
Literally the word means to "gather together" or "bind together", like multiple strands which are drawn together to form a strong rope. No one strand does all the work. The strength comes from combining with others.
Looking back today as part of our worship meeting this morning - looking at my busy 2014 diary - I was gobsmacked at all the different types of activities I had been involved in during the year. And God quietly told me that these were all different coloured strands in my life. Different ministries; working alongside a whole variety of different people. Strands that come together to form a rope... a beautiful, rainbow-coloured rope, ready for use.
With Jesus right in the centre.
I just have to make myself ready. Stand ready. Stay ready.
I am so fired up now for 2015. And I am standing ready... how can I be of use for Him in the New Year?
Stand By For Action!
26 December 2014
25 December 2014
On the eighth day, when it was time to circumcise the child, he was named Jesus, the name the angel had given him before he was conceived.
When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every first-born male is to be consecrated to the Lord”), and to offer a sacrifice in keeping with what is said in the Law of the Lord: “a pair of doves or two young pigeons.”
Now there was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying:
“Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace.
For my eyes have seen your salvation,
which you have prepared in the sight of all nations:
a light for revelation to the Gentiles,
and the glory of your people Israel.”
The child’s father and mother marvelled at what was said about him. Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”
There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
(picture: taken at the Christmas Day celebration meeting at our church today. Yours truly, front right!)
24 December 2014
After Jesus was born in Bethlehem village, Judah territory— this was during Herod’s kingship—a band of scholars arrived in Jerusalem from the East. They asked around, “Where can we find and pay homage to the newborn King of the Jews? We observed a star in the eastern sky that signalled his birth. We’re on pilgrimage to worship him.”
When word of their inquiry got to Herod, he was terrified—and not Herod alone, but most of Jerusalem as well. Herod lost no time. He gathered all the high priests and religion scholars in the city together and asked, “Where is the Messiah supposed to be born?”
They told him, “Bethlehem, Judah territory. The prophet Micah wrote it plainly:
It’s you, Bethlehem, in Judah’s land,
no longer bringing up the rear.
From you will come the leader
who will shepherd-rule my people, my Israel.”
Herod then arranged a secret meeting with the scholars from the East. Pretending to be as devout as they were, he got them to tell him exactly when the birth-announcement star appeared. Then he told them the prophecy about Bethlehem, and said, “Go find this child. Leave no stone unturned. As soon as you find him, send word and I’ll join you at once in your worship.”
Instructed by the king, they set off. Then the star appeared again, the same star they had seen in the eastern skies. It led them on until it hovered over the place of the child. They could hardly contain themselves: They were in the right place! They had arrived at the right time!
They entered the house and saw the child in the arms of Mary, his mother. Overcome, they kneeled and worshipped him. Then they opened their luggage and presented gifts: gold, frankincense, myrrh.
In a dream, they were warned not to report back to Herod. So they worked out another route, left the territory without being seen, and returned to their own country.
22 December 2014
And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”
Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom his favour rests.”
When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”
So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
21 December 2014
This is how Jesus Christ was born. A young woman named Mary was engaged to Joseph from King David’s family. But before they were married, she learned that she was going to have a baby by God’s Holy Spirit. Joseph was a good man and did not want to embarrass Mary in front of everyone. So he decided to quietly call off the wedding.
While Joseph was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord came to him in a dream. The angel said, “Joseph, the baby that Mary will have is from the Holy Spirit. Go ahead and marry her. Then after her baby is born, name him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”
So the Lord’s promise came true, just as the prophet had said, “A virgin will have a baby boy, and he will be called Immanuel,” which means “God is with us.”
After Joseph woke up, he and Mary were soon married, just as the Lord’s angel had told him to do. But they did not sleep together before her baby was born. Then Joseph named him Jesus.
Mary didn’t waste a minute. She got up and travelled to a town in Judah in the hill country, straight to Zachariah’s house, and greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary’s greeting, the baby in her womb leaped. She was filled with the Holy Spirit, and sang out exuberantly,
"You’re so blessed among women,
and the babe in your womb, also blessed!
And why am I so blessed that
the mother of my Lord visits me?
The moment the sound of your
greeting entered my ears,
The babe in my womb
skipped like a lamb for sheer joy.
Blessed woman, who believed what God said,
believed every word would come true!"
20 December 2014
But the angel said, “I am Gabriel, the sentinel of God, sent especially to bring you this glad news. But because you won’t believe me, you’ll be unable to say a word until the day of your son’s birth. Every word I’ve spoken to you will come true on time — God’s time.”
17 December 2014
16 December 2014
14 December 2014
Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, they should do so as one who speaks the very words of God. If anyone serves, they should do so with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.
11 December 2014
10 December 2014
8 December 2014
6 December 2014
5 December 2014
4 December 2014
3 December 2014
"The trouble with you, it's that you always take things too much to heart. I think you're thinking far too deeply..."
Sure, I've heard things like this before... and then today I come across these words...
“The seeds that fell on rocky ground are the people who gladly hear the message and accept it. But they don’t have deep roots, and they believe only for a little while. As soon as life gets hard, they give up.” (Luke 8:13 CEV)
Just think of one of those nice little summer bedding plants. It has very few roots, so although it may initially sprout leaves, then a flower, and look good for a while, it doesn’t last.
I want to last. I want to really listen to God’s Word; to allow it to nurture me, to change me.
I don't really want to be pretty and petty and shallow.
I want to be deep. I want deep roots so that in times of trial, I can keep going, keep bearing fruit. When the storms of life come, I want deep roots that keep me strong.
So, I don't want to be a pretty flower.
I want to be a tree. Old, gnarled, full of character. But still standing in spite of it all.
I am Groot. :)
2 December 2014
The beginning of the good news about Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God, as it is written in Isaiah the prophet: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way’ – ‘a voice of one calling in the wilderness, “Prepare the way for the Lord, make straight paths for him.”’
And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him. Confessing their sins, they were baptised by him in the River Jordan. John wore clothing made of camel’s hair, with a leather belt round his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. And this was his message: ‘After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptise you with water, but he will baptise you with the Holy Spirit.’