Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jesus. Show all posts

30 January 2013

Psalms 22 and 23

Psalms 22 and 23 seem to be inextricably linked, death on the one hand and life on the other. Jesus received one, we receive the other. This post digs a little deeper as it examines these two psalms and those around them.

New life springing upA few weeks ago I was reading Psalm 22 which is full of references to the coming Messiah.

There are passages here that Jesus quoted about himself and there are descriptions of him in his bodily suffering and emotional torment. We'll come back to some of those things in a moment.

But what struck me quite suddenly and forcefully was how this psalm is followed by Psalm 23, a firm favourite for so many people.

Psalm 22 is about Jesus' suffering and where it will finally lead, Psalm 23 is about our inheritance as our Father's children. These two psalms are like mirror images of one another. Psalm 22 describes what we deserve but Jesus received. Psalm 23 describes what Jesus deserves but we receive.

Illuminating our hearts and minds - These two psalms would not have been seen that way when they were written, of course. But from the days of the early church right down to our own time they have had the potential to illuminate our hearts and minds in a new way by what they proclaim. And Yahshua himself clearly saw them in this way during his life and particularly as he was hanging on the cross.

I dare say it's been pointed out many times, but I was really excited to have seen the link between these two psalms. Isn't it amazing how he reveals truth while we read and consider his written word? This, of course, is just one of the avenues the Holy Spirit uses to illuminate our hearts and minds.

I wondered if this idea might be taken further.

Psalms 1 to 21 are full of references to Old Testament themes. There are references to creation, the  tabernacle and the temple, and so much more. But Psalm 24 describes the kingdom of heaven. And Psalm 25 and following unpack some of the details of this new kingdom life and inheritance.

But let's return to Psalms 22 and 23. Some of the words and imagery are very familiar to us.

Death in Psalm 22 - Take, for example, Psalm 22:1 'My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?' It's worth mentioning that the Hebrew word translated 'God' is 'Eli' which is related to 'Eloh' and the plural 'Elohim'. The word simply means 'Mighty One' or 'Powerful One'. It is in fact the same word as 'Allah' in Arabic which also means 'Mighty One'. A good translation in English is simply 'Almighty'.

When Jesus quoted this verse from the cross they thought he was calling Elijah because the sound is similar. (Elijah means 'Yah[weh] is the Mighty One'.)

The onlookers shouting at him while he was hanging there unwittingly fulfilled Psalm 22:7-8. Psalm 22:14-18 is a very clear reference to the crucifixion. From verse 22 onwards the psalm turns from his death to what was achieved by it.

Life in Psalm 23 - But Psalm 23 deals with the personal benefits we receive individually in Christ. If we are not in him we have no part in these things although they're available to all who will come to him and believe on his name for rescue. Just as words from Psalm 22 were on Yahshua's lips as he hung dying, so words from Psalm 23 should be on our lips as we live this more abundant life that he gives us.

All these things in Psalm 23 were his, but now they can be ours because he longs to share them with us. He will be our Shepherd, leading us to safe places to eat and drink. A Shepherd makes all the difference, the sheep can safely feed even with a prowling lion in the area. He pours his Spirit over us like oil and we can live with him, not only 'all the days of [our] life' but 'for ever'.

Jesus is new Life springing up in a cold, dark world. Thank you, Lord! HalleluYah!

Questions:

  • What, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 22?
  • And what, for you personally, is the most meaningful thought in Psalm 23?
  • Apart from the snowdrop, what other examples of new life can you identify in the natural world?

See also:

24 November 2012

The seal of authority

Donna and I looked at Haggai and considered the Lord's house and our house. When we work for ourselves like Adam we will struggle and fail. When we obediently work with and in Jesus we will see the church grow and be filled with his presence. Am I working for myself or for him?

Model of the second TempleThis evening, Donna and I read Haggai together. Earlier we had spent some time chatting, listening and praying with a friend.

Afterwards we ate a light meal of pasta with bacon and tomato sauce, olives, sweet pepper, mushroom and courgette, then we sat down with our Bibles.

Yahweh's house - The recent chat with our friend was very much in our minds and we talked about hospitality and the place this has always had in our lives. We know it's one of the functions and purposes Father has chosen for us, one of the useful things we can open our home for.

I felt Father calling us to focus on Haggai 1:2-11, but thinking about it and in prayer other aspects of the book also became clear to me.

We quickly agreed that Yahweh's house is the Temple, and like all Old Testament prophecy there is an application for his people today just as there originally was for the Israelites in Haggai's time. So what is the Temple for us today? Why, we are! We are a living temple built of living stones (1 Peter 2:4-5), he resides in us, he is present, not just among his people but in his people.

His house and our houses - Jesus clearly stated, 'I will build my church' (Matthew 16:18). It's not for us to do, but for him to do with us (as living stones). He will place us and cement us in position. But in our lives we can assist him as he works or we can impede him. If we are obedient then we will assist by doing what he commands moment by moment. If we are disobedient we are unlikely to help him at all.

But what are our own 'panelled houses'? They are whatever we are constructing for ourselves. So let's stop building for ourselves and begin building for him. 'Give careful thought to your ways' (Haggai 1:5-6). What are we doing for ourselves (singly or together as his people)?

Some other things that seem clear are that in doing our own thing we will, ultimately, fail. He has 'called a drought' on 'all the labour of your hands' (Haggai 1:11). We cannot hope to prosper in what he has condemned.

Serving Jesus - I also felt sure that our primary purpose and goal must be to serve him and obey him before anything else in our lives. I must do what he tells me even if, like Abraham, it appears to go against everything that seems logical, just, wise or loving (Genesis 22:1-3). He is love. He will hardly call me to do anything that goes against love. But the requirement is for obedience, not for understanding why or how.

We need to know what he is calling us to do, we need to know that whatever that may be it will be part of building his church, and we need to do it without hesitation or regret. We may find we no longer have time to be busy building our own thing.

What if we remain focussed on our own thing? I think, more often than not, he just leaves us to get on with it. But don't be surprised if he 'calls a drought' on the 'labour of your hands'. Striving by our own effort in thorny ground is what Yahweh promised to the first man, Adam (Genesis 3:17-19). Building his house and receiving his glory is what Father promised to the last man, Jesus (John 17:20-24). We are in Christ and he is our High Priest (Hebrews 4:14) and the government is on his shoulders (Isaiah 9:6). In the same way as Zerubbabel he is like the signet ring (Haggai 2:23). He stamps the mark of Yahweh's authority on everything he touches. We are part of the seal of the Father's authority. How awesome is that!

Which will you choose? The work of Adam or the work of Jesus? Choose wisely, both roads are open to you, one is broad with many fellow travellers and the other narrow and hard - but so worth it!

Questions:

  • Are you building anything that is more important to you than the church?
  • If so, do you think the Lord is blessing it?
  • There are many ways of building the church but they all involve living stones. Can you list some of these ways?
  • Are there ways you can encourage others to be available to Jesus as apprentice builders?

See also:

12 October 2012

Jesus is the pattern

What are the best methods for making disciples and planting churches? Are there techniques we can learn, best practices to follow? Becoming a beekeeper is a good analogy. What can go wrong and how do we get it right?

Learning beekeeping
Ross Rohde asks some good questions at the end of his most recent blog post. Ross describes three patterns guiding the way we work. He invites his readers to choose one of the questions and respond. I recommend Ross's article, refer to it for more detail. Also take a look at Felicity Dale's post 'Principles or techniques?'

Question and answer - I've chosen the question, 'Do you think we can do ministry Jesus style just by following the pattern ourselves or treating it as one more technique? Is the pattern itself enough?'

My answer is that doing what Jesus did is not enough. The gospels contain plenty of examples of what he does, and those examples form a clear and striking pattern. But underlying the pattern and the examples is a fundamental cause.

If we can identify the cause that drives and motivates Jesus and adopt that as our own we will be well on the way to doing what Jesus did. It's not just a matter of copying specific examples, it's a matter of understanding the underlying principles.

The beekeeper - An example may help. A beekeeper collects honey, stores it in jars, and sells the honey to make a living. Let's suppose we want to become a beekeeper. One strategy would be to watch a beekeeper at work, note down the pattern of behaviour we see, and then follow the pattern.

He has wooden boxes in his garden, painted white. He has bees inside the boxes. He wears white overalls, gloves, and a hat with netting over it. He opens the boxes and takes out honey. He puts the honey into jars and labels them. He sells his honey to the local shopkeeper. That all seems quite easy!

Right, let's get started! We buy some timber and nails, knock up a few boxes and paint them white. Then we head out into the garden with a net to catch some bees. After a few hours work we've collected quite a few bees and we manage to get most of them into one of the white boxes. How long should we wait for the bees to make some honey? Hmm, we'll give them a week...

Next week we open the box. There is no honey to be seen, but there are quite a few dead bees.

What went wrong? We didn't understand the principles of beekeeping. If we recognise our ignorance we have a chance to do so much better. How can we get the knowledge we need? Let's go and ask a beekeeper!

Apprenticeship - The beekeeper chuckles at our story but commends us for making the attempt. He offers to train us in beekeeping. Expecting a college course we are surprised when he tells us that instead we are to come and work with him. Over the next year we watch what he does, ask questions, listen to what he tells us, and get a chance to try all the necessary tasks while he watches us and corrects our mistakes. We are apprentices. Not only do we learn to look after bees and make jars of excellent honey, we also have a lot of fun together and become close friends of the beekeeper. We are apprentice beekeepers.

It's just the same with Jesus. It's not about copying a pattern, Jesus is the pattern! We must follow Jesus because he is the expert and we are apprentices (disciples). We would be seriously mistaken if we thought we could simply follow a method. A method is the same series of actions repeated every time. Here are the actions we must repeat again and again if we are following Jesus.

  • Watch and do
  • Listen and speak
Jesus says that he does only the things that he sees his Father do. He says only the things he hears the Father say. So watching, listening and obedience must be key to all we do (as with any apprenticeship).

So let's stop following mere patterns of behaviour, formulas and techniques. Instead let's begin by watching and listening. Then we can start doing and speaking what Jesus shows us and says to us. When I know him well in my heart and mind I will always be watching and listening, then I will be able to carry his life and love and purpose into the world.

If there is any pattern for us to follow it is Jesus himself.

From the archives - More articles on listening.

08 October 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
This is a repost of something I wrote in June. It seems appropriate to use it as link six in a chain blog started by Alan Knox on the topic 'One Another'.

Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen understood these principles. The quote below is a meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

Here's a challenge. Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

See also

  • Henry Drummond wrote an essay called 'The greatest thing in the world'. It's on love and is available as a free download. Highly recommended.
  • Greg Gamble's list of 'The One Anothers' as basic rules of engagement for believers.



This post is the sixth link in a chain blog, started by Alan Knox, on the topic 'One Another'. Please have a look back through the other links and comments to join in the topic. You can even join in the chain – read the rules below to participate.

 Links in the 'One Another' Chain Blog
  1. Chain Blog: One Another - Alan Knox
  2. Linking One Another - Swanny
  3. What Does It Mean to Love One Another? - Chuck McKnight 
  4. The treasure of 'One Another' - Jim Puntney
  5. This is how the world shall recognise you... - Kathleen Ward
  6. Accepting one another in love - Chris Jefferies
  7. One Another-ing: A meta-narrative for the church - Greg Gamble (also see part 2)
  8. Individualism and 'one another' - Pieter Pretorious
  9. All Alone with One Another - Jeremy Myers
  10. When it's OK for Christians to compete - Joshua Lawson
  11. Jesus Christ: the Corner Stone for One Another - Peter
  12. Be Superficial With One Another - Jon Hutton
  13. The Unmentionable One Anothers - Alan Knox
  14. Loving more fully and widely - Chris Jefferies
  15. The one another weapon - Dan Allen
  16. Corporate one anothering (Part 1) and (Part 2)- David Bolton
  17. The last revival - Tobie van der Westhuizen
  18. Love: a 'one another' comic - Dan Allen
  19. I can only love you if... - Rob
  20. Who will write the next link post in the chain?
Chain Blog Rules
  1. If you would like to write the next blog post (link) in this chain, leave a comment on the most recent post stating that you would like to do so. If someone else has already requested to write the next link, then please wait for that blog post and leave a comment there requesting to write the following link.
  2. Feel free to leave comments here and discuss items in this blog post without taking part in the actual “chain.” Your comments and discussion are very important in this chain blog (both this post and the other link posts in the chain).
  3. When you write a link in this chain, please reply in the comments of the previous post to let everyone know that your link is ready. Also, please try to keep an updated list of links in the chain at the bottom of your post, and please include these rules at the bottom of your post.

24 September 2012

Seven times?

How many times must I forgive a person who wrongs me? We take a look at forgiveness in terms of Cain's murder of Abel, Israel's history, and the teaching of Jesus. There's a pattern, a thread running through all these themes. We see how forgiveness is protective and comes without limits.

Forgiveness at its source
When Yahshua told Peter he should forgive not just seven times, but seventy times seven (Matthew 18:21-22), he was clearly making the point that forgiveness is something that should be seen as having no limits.

But this is not the first time these words are found in the Bible.

All wise and all knowing as he is, Jesus would have been very familiar with the earlier texts in Genesis 4:15 and Genesis 4:24. He intended Peter (and us) to get the deeper message. So what is that deeper message?

Cain - Read Genesis 4:8-26. In verse 8 we see how Cain attacks his brother and kills him. Which is the greater sin, attacking my brother or killing him? Most of us would agree that murder is worse than injury. But is it? We'll come back to that.

Cain's punishment is more than he can bear, he understands he is to become an exile, hidden from Yahweh's presence, and a restless wanderer at risk of death. Even so, Yahweh protects him by placing a mark upon him and decreeing seven-fold vengeance on anyone who dares kill him.

Cain goes into exile but raises a family and builds a city. His descendent Lamech also commits a murder and claims seventy times seven-fold vengeance. Notice in verse 26 that it was after these events that people began to call on the name of Yahweh.

Israel - We can see much in the history of Israel that mirrors these events. The life of Cain is, in a sense, prophetic. Joseph's brothers were jealous, they sold him to Egyptian traders and told their father that he was dead. For all they knew it was true.

The nation passed into slavery in Egypt, hidden from Yahweh's presence. When they were released from Egypt they became restless wanderers at risk of death, but they carried the mark of circumsision and were protected from destruction at the hands of the Egyptians and other nations.

They began to call on the name of Yahweh and worshipped him - first in the Tabernacle and later in the Temple.

Forgiveness - Let's move on again, to the conversation between Peter and Yahshua. Peter wanted to offer the protection of Cain to his brother, but Jesus requires the protection of Lamech. What is really going on here?

Peter's forgiveness is just like the forgiveness of the Father. It is the thing that protects from vengeance. Peter either forgives his brother, the fault is forgotten and the relationship restored, or he does not. And he needs to treat every repeat offence as if it's the first. And like Peter, we too are called to forgive without limit, without counting. It's what the Father and the Son have done for us, forgiven without limit. How can I do less for my brother, my sister?

It is the word of the Father that he will demand life from anyone who harms us. We have only one enemy - the evil one - and he cannot stand against our Father.

The pattern set by Cain and Lamech (pre covenant) comes down via Israel (Old Covenant) to the church (New Covenant). Cain was offered a mark and a seven-fold protection. Lamech claimed a seventy times seven-fold protection.

Israel (before the Messiah) was given the mark of circumcision and protection through repeated but temporary ritual sacrifice.

In Yahshua we (with Israel) are given the mark of the Holy Spirit and protection through ongoing and indefinite forgiveness. But like Lamech we must claim that protection. In our case we can only do so by believing and confessing Jesus as Lord.

Oh yes... Murder or injury, which is worse? Jesus pretty much equated anger and murder - don't murder, don't injure, and don't even be angry. Anger is the source of murder in my heart just as it was for Cain.

Read Matthew 5:21-22, 1 John 3 and 1 Corinthians 6 for more on this topic.

Did you know? There's a 'Worldwide Forgiveness Alliance' that was formed to promote forgiveness in all situations. The organisation declares that 'Forgiveness is the greatest healer of them all' and 'Without forgiveness there is no future'. They have some great stories about forgiveness.

I'd say that Jesus is the greatest healer and without him there is no future. But Jesus came to open the way to forgiveness, healing, and eternity.

17 September 2012

Organic leadership?

I thought it would be good to repost this from April 2010 as we've been thinking about leadership recently. This old article is a good reminder that it doesn't really depend on us, it depends on Yahshua. He is the one who builds the church!

Oak leaves and acorns
Brian Hofmeister has tried organic church and found it difficult. He writes about his experiences in a report in Christianity Today - Leadership. Brian's conclusion is that leading organic church was just too onerous, and was not achievable without some degree of professional input.

However, this has not been my experience, nor that of many others. And I don't believe it was the experience of the early church either. There's little evidence of paid leadership in the New Testament.

So what went wrong for Brian and the people he met with? To answer that we need to go right back to define what is and is not organic church. The word 'organic' implies an organism, whereas much of our experience of church comes from organisations. An organisation usually has a top-down management structure and a hierarchical authority structure. Something which is organic begins from a seed and grows until it reaches maturity and produces more seeds which grow in their turn.

In this way, one tiny seed may produce not just a tree, but an entire forest. It takes a certain amount of time, but it speeds up dramatically with each generation and will eventually fill the space available. Trees and forests can be managed, but they don't have to be. There were very successful forests in many parts of the world before human explorers arrrived to manage them!

I think that Brian simply tried too hard to manage and guide and educate and persuade. But that's not organic. The seed that germinates and grows amongst a small group of people is the expectation that Yahshua himself will do the managing, guiding, educating, and persuading. He said, 'I will build my church.' And he really meant it! He is the only one who truly knows how to do it.

Church is a community of people who love one another because Christ has first loved them. When we come together to meet it's just the tip of a giant, hidden core of fellowship and community. When we meet, Yahshua is there at the centre. He is with us because we are his and he loves to bless us and guide us. But he's also with us day by day as we live our lives, he is with us in defeat and in victory, in sorrow and in joy.

A group of new believers, if they focus on Jesus, will help one another along the road to maturity. The wiser and more mature will look out for the others. There will be problems, but rather than training programmes and theological studies the believers need to discover how to be disciples. They need to be walking with the Lord, listening to what he says and watching what he does. Reading the Bible together will provide a lot of useful guidance. Eating together when possible, helping one another with practical things, and having good, family fun together will help too. Encouraging one another, praying for one another, all these things help to build community.

But the key is listening to the Lord and doing what he says. Out of this will come mission, church growth, and all the rest.

Brian tried an alternative model of church and found it wanting. But it wasn't really organic church. My advice to him would be try again but to do a whole lot less while expecting Yahshua to do a whole lot more!

For some related ideas, click the 'Links' button at the top of the page, some of the links will lead to other useful material - books, mp3s, DVDs, videos and more. But above all pray and ask Jesus himself to guide you, he won't let you down.

22 August 2012

Science and faith - again

How do science and faith stack up against one another as ways of knowing the truth? Science provides truth about the physical universe while faith provides truth about spiritual things. Is there any overlap?

Sarewitz article in Nature
Nature has just published a short article entitled 'Sometimes science must give way to religion' by the atheist and scientist, Daniel Sarawitz.

In it, he argues that there are scientific concepts we cannot really understand except mathematically. He offers the Higgs field as an example.

This field provides other fundamental particles with their mass, preventing them from travelling at the speed of light. The famous Higgs particle is associated with the field, and is the evidence that such a field does, indeed, exist.

Sarawitz is right, it is difficult to visualise such things, or understand them in the way we might understand that gravity causes things to fall towards the ground. The Higgs is not part of our everyday experience, falling objects are. But Sarawitz goes on to say that therefore faith is involved in accepting the evidence for the Higgs.

But the early comments on his article take Sarawitz to task, pointing out that this is nonsense. They argue that accepting the Higgs is not a matter of faith, it's more a matter of accepting that the scientists involved in the discovery have track records of good science, honest hearts, and deserve our trust. The conclusions are rational and are based on evidence.

I agree with them. Faith has no place in science, and evidence (in the scientific sense) has little or no place in religious belief.

My career began in biological research. I have a BSc and an MSc, I understand the principles and practices of science. I am also a follower of the Way, a follower of Jesus. It's not a blind faith, I have my reasons for thinking and acting the way I do.

I would argue that there is a knowledge of material things that is advanced by science building on what is already known, but that there is also knowledge of spiritual things that is given from above. Many people accept one or the other, some people accept both.

To me, accepting both seems the obvious and right thing to do, and I find no conflict in doing so.

I'm interested to hear  your views on this. Please scroll down and leave a comment. Are science and faith incompatible? Do you have difficulties with one or the other? How do you deal with those issues? Does science show faith to be false? Must we reject science if it appears to contradict the Bible?

See also:

19 August 2012

Is the church alive?

Jesus says we are his body here in the world. He is alive so his body is also alive. We are to do the things he did (and even greater things). We are to say the things he said. We are alive, not just as individuals but as his body expressing his love, his wisdom, his authority.

Biological processes
We are not just able to express love, wisdom and authority individually, but communally. It is not enough that you and I express our own love. It is not even enough that we individually express Christ's love.

The mystery is that the church herself, the Bride of Christ, is also able in her own right to express Christ's love. We are not a bunch of loosely associated individuals, we are Christ's Bride.

I am deeply troubled that the Bride is fragmented and damaged. So many different forms of church management and government compete for our loyalty. Differences in doctrine, in faith, and in tradition are everywhere.

So let's take one of the many ways of understanding church and see if we can usefully extend it.

Church Multiplication Associates considers that church life, like biological life, depends on its DNA. The idea is that her DNA determines the nature of church, in particular how she is structured, functions and expresses herself. See Neil Cole's article 'What is at the heart of the organic church movement?'

Controlling DNA - Taking this a little further we might recognise that a living organism is more than the product of its DNA. There are subtle factors at work controlling how and when that DNA is expressed. For example these factors are responsible for the fact that babies in the womb do not develop ears on their legs. Every cell in the body contains the full set of instructions, but cells only act on a subset of the DNA.

It's the same in the church, we all have the same DNA which is the nature of Christ, and we all partake of that one nature. Yet we are not, as Paul points out, all ears. Why not?

The Holy Spirit - One factor I can identify immediately is the prompting of the Holy Spirit in the moment. How I behave is controlled, not simply by the DNA, but also by what I am hearing at this present moment. The DNA is not diffused throughout the entire body. Every cell, whatever its function, has a full set of DNA while only using a subset.

Perhaps we should not expect every member of Christ to express all of the DNA. Or, even more significantly, perhaps we should not expect any member of Christ to express all of the DNA!

Instead, perhaps we should expect that particular parts of the DNA will be expressed by particular individuals at particular times for particular purposes, and that each individual will do so based on constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

The environment - Another important factor in living systems is the environment. The expression of DNA is affected by the environment. For a simple example consider the effect of sunshine on human skin. Too much sun causes damage - burning in the short term and perhaps skin cancer in the longer term. Melanocyte cells in the lower epidermis respond to exposure by creating increased amounts of a dark pigment called melanin. The DNA contains the instructions for making melanin, but the environment determines when and how much it is expressed by skin cells.

In the church, one such factor of the environment is persecution. The persecuted church is different from the unpersecuted church.

Prompting by the Spirit and environment both affect the appearance and behaviour of the church. We should not overlook these factors.

Can you think of other factors that might control the expression of the the church's DNA?

04 August 2012

Renewing the temple

Two visions at a recent meeting have some encouraging things to say about the future of the church. Both of them speak of something that has been destroyed, both of them speak of recovery and renewal.

Broken masonry
Donna and I and some friends visited Faith Camp at the Peterborough showground on Wednesday 1st of August.

Colin Urquhart was speaking that night, a veteran from the old days of the Charismatic renewal in the 1960s and 70s. He's still as good as he ever was! He spoke about the seven 'I AM's in John.

During a time of individual reflection and prayer and focussing on holiness and love, the Spirit gave me two pictures. I'd like to share them here, they are about holiness and love and the future of the body of Christ which is the church.

A broken plant - I saw a plant with the leaves cut off at ground level, as if it had been carelessly run over by the lawnmower. There appeared to be nothing left, no hope of recovery, a total loss.

But then I saw that there was a deep root and a tuber that were intact and I knew that stems and leaves and flowers would spring up fresh and new. And the Spirit showed me that it needed only a little time (patience) and a little rain (refreshment).

The broken temple - A little later I saw the ruins of a stone building. Just some broken, low walls remained, and some scattered stones. I had no idea what it represented.

While I was looking at these and wondering what they meant, the Son of Man came and sat on the stonework, and somehow I knew that this was the Temple and he was sitting exactly where a throne had been. (Yes, I know, the temple in Jerusalem did not contain a throne. But this is what I saw. However, there was the mercy seat, the Ark of the Covenant. Remember, Yahshua is our King as well as our great High Priest as well as being the Son, one aspect of the Mighty One whose name is I AM.)

And as I watched the ruins were transformed into a complete building. Stone fitted against stone, timbers appeared, and the entire structure was covered in gold and fine jewels. Jesus continued to sit there throughout this process. Indeed, I realised that the transformation came about because he was sitting there.

A song - And then the words of an old song came into my mind...

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in his glorious face.
And the things of Earth will grow strangely dim
In the light of his glory and grace.

The meaning - I am convinced that the Spirit is saying that a time of revival and renewal is coming to the church, because Jesus is coming to the church in a fresh and extraordinary way.

I believe he is also saying that we will need to be patient, that the refreshing living water is a necessary resource first. Jesus needs to be sitting in his proper place amongst the ruins before any restructuring and renewing can begin.

He is already among us. He is going to sit amongst us in new ways. The church is not dead but it has been badly damaged. He is going to do a new thing (he always does a new thing).

The roots of the damaged plant are still there below the surface as are the foundations of the damaged temple as is the foundation stone of the church which is Christ.

So rejoice, be patient, and be full of expectation! This is a time for experiencing the Messiah's holiness and love. It is also a time for all of us - individually and together - to allow his holiness and love to pour out through us as a great flood. This flood from Jesus needs to flow between us one to another, and it will also flow out into the world.

Our response - Whether I have understood all this correctly and fully or not (probably not), it would be good to hear what others think.

What do these two pictures say to you? What have I missed or distorted? Have you or those you know had similar revelations and expectations? What do you think the Lord will do next amongst us? Do you see evidence for these changes in the world around you? In church life? In your own life?

See also: Another wave rolls in - from Felicity Dale's blog 'Simply Church'

30 July 2012

Walking on water

Part 5 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

Strange events take place at night on a dark and stormy Sea of Galilee. The disciples and the crowd lose track of Jesus but he later reappears on the lake. We can learn more about him and about ourselves by reading John's account of these events.

2000-year-old Galilean fishing boat
For the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

Jesus and his close followers were very familiar with the Sea of Galilee. It was on the shores of this large lake that he called the fishermen Peter and Andrew, James and John.

As fishermen's kids they had known boats and fishing and the conditions of the lake since they were children.

Travelling by boat would have provided a good short-cut to walking around the circumference of this nearly circular expanse of water. This is something they must have done many times before. And it would have been a good way of escaping from the crowds.

Here's the passage from John, then we'll ask ourselves the usual four questions.

When evening came, his disciples went down to the lake where they got into a boat and set off across the lake for Capernaum. By now it was dark and Jesus had not yet joined them. A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough. When they had rowed about three or four miles they saw Jesus approaching the boat, walking on the water; and they were frightened. But he said to them, ‘It's me - don’t be afraid!’ Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading.

The next day the crowd that had stayed on the opposite shore of the lake realised that only one boat had been there, and that Jesus had not entered it with his disciples, but that they had gone away alone. Then some boats from Tiberias landed near the place where the people had eaten the bread after the Lord had given thanks. Once the crowd realised that neither Jesus nor his disciples were there, they got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus.

When they found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, ‘Rabbi, when did you get here?’ (John 6:16-25)

Here are the four questions suggested by Neil Cole with some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there are the disciples. Why did they leave without Jesus? (Hint: check back in verses 14 and 15.) There was a strong wind, so why were they rowing? How do you think they felt, in the dark, with a storm brewing and the waves getting bigger?

Next is the crowd. What do they do when they realise Jesus and the disciples are missing? Why?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why do you think Jesus had stayed away until late evening? (Check verse 15.) What was he doing? He was walking on the water, that's a little - unusual! What does it tell us about him. Was he trying to impress or was he just being practical? What was the result of him speaking to the scared disciples? What was the result of having him in the boat?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like the disciples or are you like the crowd? Maybe, in some ways, you are like both. Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently? How do you explain what Jesus did?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - Galilean fishing boats were quite small and storms on the lake can be sudden and fierce. A boat could easily be swamped and it might have been safer to row than to sail. If the wind was in the wrong direction rowing would have been the only solution.

Wikipedia has further images of the 2000-year-old boat and information about its discovery and preservation.

< The crowds are fed | Index | The blind man sees >

28 July 2012

Jesus in Zechariah

We look at chapter six of Zechariah, investigate the meanings of some names, discover Jesus hidden in this Old Testament passage, and see that following in his footsteps we are truly a royal priesthood.

A crown for the KingSean and I have been working our way through Zechariah for a few weeks, and we've been finding a whole lot to ponder on.

Last time we read chapter six, and the section from verse nine to the end seemed rich with meaning (Zechariah 6:9-15). It's all about Jesus!

Zechariah is called to accept gold and silver from three returning exiles. Their name are Heldai, Tobijah, and Jedaiah. These names are not accidental.

The meanings of the names - Curiously, Heldai can be translated 'mole' or 'worldly' or 'rustiness'. Moles dig underground, and rust reverses the hard work of smelting iron, converting it back to dust. So the name seems to suggest the world and its influence.

Tobijah on the other hand means 'Yahweh is good', and Jedaiah means 'Yahweh's friend'.

The silver and gold is to be made into a crown and set on the head of the high priest whose name is Joshua (ie Jeshua or Yahshua or 'Yahweh saves'). New Testament English translations render this name 'Jesus'. And Jesus of course is, indeed, our Great High Priest.

Let's ponder this a little before we move on. The corruptible world, the goodness of the Most High, and his friend bring silver and gold. And they bring it from the place of captivity, the place of exile.

Heldai represents you and me. We are worldliness. Every believer in Jesus, every one of us, has been rescued from a place of exile. But now we have come out from captivity and from death. We have come to the throne of glory, we are covered by grace, we have come to new life in Christ.

Tobijah represents the Almighty who is pure and good in every way. He is Emmanuel, the Most High with us, he came (as Jesus) into the place of captivity to find us and he travels out from exile with us.

Jedaiah represents the friendship between Heldai and Tobijah. Through Christ we have now become Yahweh's friends, not by our own merit but solely through his. Yahshua said, 'I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.' (John 15;15)

The crown - The gifts of silver and gold are things that will last, things that are worthy of being forged into a crown fit for the King. They're the gold and silver and costly stones that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 3:10-15, things that will remain after the fire. The crown is the church, the bride, the thing that complements and completes the King upon his throne. We, his people, are the lasting gifts brought out from captivity and exile and wrought into a holy crown. To us he gave his glory, the glory that the Father has given him. We are his crowning glory, the work of his own hands (I will build my church). This is a mystery revealed to those who have eyes to see. It is an eternal work. It will never fade or fail.

And all of this is laid out by Zechariah, hundreds of years before Jesus of Nazareth called the fishermen from Galilee and brought the vision to ultimate fulfilment in his own life and death and resurrection.

The Father speaks to the Son - In verses 12-15 we read a message from Yahweh Elohim to Joshua the High Priest - or if you like, a message from the Father to the Son. We read about the man whose name is 'The Branch', he is also mentioned in Isaiah and Jeremiah, he is clearly Jesus. He is the one who builds the Temple, he is the one who is clothed in majesty and rules on his throne. He will be a priest on his throne, and there will be harmony between the two. In other words there will be harmony between kingship and priesthood.

This was unheard of in Israel, but in Christ kingship and priesthood are combined. We inherit this harmony through him, hence we are a 'royal priesthood'. (But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. - 1 Peter 2:9)

I'd like to leave you with a question. If Jesus is the High Priest and we are priests, what does Jesus being the King make us? Does this affect the way we see ourselves and live our lives?

21 July 2012

Security in a button?

I received a message about a button from my friend Ash. The Spirit gave him a picture of the button and then showed him how it represents security. I like what he shared and I think it deserves to be more widely circulated.

A button on denim jeans
Ashley sent me a message about a button and wondered if I might use it on the blog.

The answer was 'Yes, definitely!' So here it is.

Read it first, then I'll comment on it, and finally you can comment too if you wish.

I hope we do have a conversation in the comments. It could be rather useful.

Put on your thinking-cap and start stroking that keyboard or tablet.

Secure in Jesus...

I belong to a small home group which meets on a weekly basis. This week we met as usual and we were encouraged to discuss, and then try sitting quietly and listening to God. As the group compromises of Christians young and mature, we shared how to go about getting to listening and hearing.

It is something I have learnt to do and had some good experiences from over the years. God talks to me via pictures a lot and also through other people. Today when I was preparing my spirit for my quiet time God quickly gave me a picture of a button. I sat in his presence for not very long when I had back that the significance of this picture was about being secure.

A pair of trousers, like life is no good unless they are secure. Trousers with no button could have you holding them up manually, maybe with one hand so you are not as effective as you could be in what you do on a daily basis with two hands. If you stopped trying to hold them up, they would fall down around your ankles and could cause you to fall over them. Life holds no security for us as anything is temporary. We are all at anytime able to lose a job or a loved one for example. Total security is only available in a relationship with Jesus.

Everybody at some stage in life will wear trousers and want them to be secure, just like at some stage in life we will want Jesus to help us to be secure. Jesus does not want this at some stage approach. He wants us to be in a lifelong relationship with him, trusting in him and getting to know him.

Thanks for sharing, Ash.

I love the idea of a button providing security. A button is a small thing, almost an insignificant thing, yet for lack of one we might be seriously embarrassed and inconvenienced.

In what ways might we be embarrassed and inconvenienced without a relationship with Jesus? How might our security be affected?

There is the obvious answer of eternal life, but there are also several less obvious ways in which he gives us security. Anyone care to comment?

Does the Holy Spirit speak to you? If so, how? Do you have any particular advice to help others learn to listen or listen more attentively?

20 July 2012

So - who is my neighbour?

Henri Nouwen looks at the parable of the good Samaritan in a slightly different way. So who is my neighbour? Have I always misunderstood the main thrust of this story, or does Nouwen have it wrong. Or am I missing the point?

Henri Nouwen and the good SamaritanHenri Nouwen wrote some great books, full of depth and character resulting from a lifetime of learning and growing in Christ. He was a gentle, careful, caring person. He was an encourager and a calming influence. He had substance - not in himself but in Christ.

I've been reading the daily meditations from the Henri Nouwen Society (highly recommended, by the way). This is today's extract.
'Love your neighbour as yourself' the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38). But who is my neighbour?

We often respond to that question by saying: 'My neighbours are all the people I am living with on this earth, especially the sick, the hungry, the dying, and all who are in need.' But this is not what Jesus says.

When Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan (see Luke 10:29-37) to answer the question 'Who is my neighbour?' he ends the by asking: 'Which, ... do you think, proved himself a neighbour to the man who fell into the bandits' hands?'

The neighbour, Jesus makes clear, is not the poor man laying on the side of the street, stripped, beaten, and half dead, but the Samaritan who crossed the road, 'bandaged his wounds, pouring oil and wine on them, ... lifted him onto his own mount and took him to an inn and looked after him.' My neighbour is the one who crosses the road for me!

What do you think of this idea? Is Nouwen right? Has he seen 'beneath the surface' as it were, and recognised a deeper spiritual truth?

To me it seems more fitting that we should love those that need our love rather than those that help us. So is this one of those rare occasions when Nouwen got it wrong? Although the text supports his conclusion if we take it literally, is this what it really means? Is this what Yahshua intended as he spoke to the lawyer? (See the entire passage - Luke 10:25-37)

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

18 July 2012

The crowds are fed

Part 4 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

People are hungry - and there are a lot of people. Jesus asks the disciples about feeding them and then shows that neither money nor large supplies of food are necessary. We finish with the usual four questions.

Traditional Jordanian breadFor the background to the signs in John and links to the other articles in the series, please read the index page.

At Tabgha on the north-west shore of the Sea of Galilee is a church at the traditional site of the feeding of the five thousand.

About 300 years after the crowd ate the bread and fish, a woman called Egeria visited and wrote of this site.

'In the same place (not far from Capernaum) facing the Sea of Galilee is a well watered land in which lush grasses grow, with numerous trees and palms. Nearby are seven springs which provide abundant water. In this fruitful garden Jesus fed five thousand people with five loaves of bread and two fish.'

So let's read the passage from John and then ask the usual four questions.


Some time after this, Jesus crossed to the far shore of the Sea of Galilee (that is, the Sea of Tiberias), and a great crowd of people followed him because they saw the signs he had performed by healing those who were ill. Then Jesus went up on a mountainside and sat down with his disciples. The Jewish Passover Festival was near.

When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, ‘Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?’ He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do.

Philip answered him, ‘It would take more than half a year’s wages[a] to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!’

Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’

Jesus said, ‘Make the people sit down.’ There was plenty of grass in that place, and they sat down (about five thousand men were there). Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.

When they had all had enough to eat, he said to his disciples, ‘Gather the pieces that are left over. Let nothing be wasted.’ So they gathered them and filled twelve baskets with the pieces of the five barley loaves left over by those who had eaten.

After the people saw the sign Jesus performed, they began to say, ‘Surely this is the Prophet who is to come into the world.’ Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.’ (John 6:1-15)

As for the earlier signs in John, I'll now ask the four questions suggested by Neil Cole and provide some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - We'll list all the people who are mentioned.

First, there is the crowd. Why were they following Jesus? Travelling around on foot would have been quite an effort, they would have been both tired and hungry. Any who were not young, fit and well might have been really struggling. Right at the end the people are mentioned again. How did they respond to what had happened?

Next is Philip. His solution to feeding the people is to buy food, but he knew this was unaffordable for so many.

Andrew knew they had some food, but only a token amount among so many.

The disciples (including Philip and Andrew) are mentioned later. Jesus tells them to pick up the pieces. This might have seemed an unnecessary chore (the were no littering laws in those days). How did they respond? What were they thinking as the baskets filled up?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Jesus crossed to the far shore. He was always travelling about the land. Why?

His initial response to the crowd was to go up into the hills. But they followed him. What is his attitude to this crowd?

Notice how he uses questions to teach the disciples, getting people to think and verbalise is more effective than just giving the answer.

Jesus tells the disciples what to do - make them sit down - gather up the pieces. Who is in control here?

Right at the end, is he taken by surprise by the intentions of the crowd? Does he approve of their desire to make him a king? What is going on here?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in the story? Are you like all of them in some way? Which do you identify with most? Which do you identify with least? Might you have thought and behaved differently?

Who else needs to hear this? - Who do you know who might benefit or be challenged or encouraged by hearing this sign of John?

Additional points - John mentions 5000 men in this crowd. The total size of the crowd would have been more, perhaps substantially more if they had counted women and children too.

< An invalid is healed | Index | Walking on water >

17 July 2012

An invalid is healed

Part 3 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

Jesus heals a lame man and tells him to pick up his mat and walk. As it's the Sabbath, this leads to trouble with the Jewish leaders. Once again we will ask four questions after reading the passage.

Remains in the vicinity of the Pool of Bethesda
Here is the third sign in John, for the background please read the index page.

Parts of the Pool of Bethesda are still visible in Jerusalem. The archaeology is not straightforward to understand because of the presence of later structures. But remains of the pool are definitely present.

The covered colonnades have long since gone, but they would have provided cool shade where the sick would have waited, hoping that the water would be stirred so that one person might be healed each day.

Some time later, Jesus went up to Jerusalem for one of the Jewish festivals. Now there is in Jerusalem near the Sheep Gate a pool, which in Aramaic is called Bethesda and which is surrounded by five covered colonnades. Here a great number of disabled people used to lie – the blind, the lame, the paralysed. One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’

‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’

Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.

The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’

But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’

So they asked him, ‘Who is this fellow who told you to pick it up and walk?’

The man who was healed had no idea who it was, for Jesus had slipped away into the crowd that was there.

Later Jesus found him at the temple and said to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ The man went away and told the Jewish leaders that it was Jesus who had made him well.

So, because Jesus was doing these things on the Sabbath, the Jewish leaders began to persecute him. In his defence Jesus said to them, ‘My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.’

As for the earlier signs in John, I'll now ask the four questions suggested by Neil Cole and provide some pointers for finding the answers in the material quoted above.

What does this story tell us about people? - Let's work through them systematically.


There was a crowd at the Pool of Bethesda - a 'great number' of disabled people lying there. Why were they there? And why so many of them? What were their expectations of success?


Among them is this one particular man. We don't know his name, but Jesus spoke to him. How did he respond to Jesus' question? Why didn't he simply answer 'Yes'? Was he healed as Jesus spoke or as he obeyed? How does he reply to the Jewish leaders who quiz him after he is healed? And later, after he meets Jesus again in the Temple, why might he have gone back to the Jewish leaders?


Next we must consider the Jewish leaders themselves. Are they glad to hear about the healing? Whose interests do they have at heart? What motives underlie their question to the healed man? What was their attitude to Jesus?


What does it tell us about Jesus? - Why was Jesus in Jerusalem, what does this tell us about his attitude to Jewish traditions?


He also went to a place where there were many sick people. Is he willing or unwilling to deal with the pain and misery that people sometimes face? Did he heal everyone, if not how many?


What is his view on rules like working on the Sabbath? Are there things that he sees as more important? If so, what? How did he explain his attitude to the Sabbath regulations?


What does it tell me about myself? - Are there any ways in which you are a bit like the characters portrayed here?


Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know anyone who might be encouraged by this story? Do you know anyone who needs healing? Do you know anyone with strong religious attitudes about following rules and regulations? If you know people who need to hear this story, who will tell them? Might you need to tell them?


Additional points - Jewish law was quite strict. Picking something up and carrying it counted as work and was not allowed on the Sabbath.

< Healing at a distance | Index | The crowds are fed >

15 July 2012

Throwing stones

The law brings judgement and death. Grace brings forgiveness and life. And what I receive I should also freely give to others. There is no advantage in receiving grace if I do not also share it around liberally. As I judge, so will I be judged.

Writing in the dust
While I was walking back from town two days ago I was thinking about the woman caught in adultery and brought before Jesus by the scribes and Pharisees. And I was struck powerfully by a sudden thought. I realised what Jesus had meant when he said that the one without sin should throw the first stone. he was talking about himself!

Looking the passage up later I discovered, of course, that others had come to this conclusion ahead of me. But the sudden revelation while walking left its mark nonetheless. It had been a revelation to me. It was an example of how abruptly and quite without warning we can grasp a new aspect of something. We suddenly 'get' it, and usually for no particular reason.

These flashes of inspiration or revelation are valuable, but they don't seem to come from careful and exhaustive study. Rather, they are like small movements caught in the corner of the eye. Our attention is caught, our gaze shifts, and we become suddenly aware of what we had not known and were not looking for.

Here is the passage I was pondering...

Early next morning he returned to the Temple and the entire crowd came to him. So he sat down and began to teach them. But the scribes and Pharisees brought in to him a woman who had been caught in adultery. They made her stand in front, and then said to him, “Now, master, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. According to the Law, Moses commanded us to stone such women to death. Now, what do you say about her?”

They said this to test him, so that they might have some good grounds for an accusation. But Jesus stooped down and began to write with his finger in the dust on the ground. But as they persisted in their questioning, he straightened himself up and said to them, “Let the one among you who has never sinned throw the first stone at her.” Then he stooped down again and continued writing with his finger on the ground. And when they heard what he said, they were convicted by their own consciences and went out, one by one, beginning with the eldest until they had all gone.

Jesus was left alone, with the woman still standing where they had put her. So he stood up and said to her, “Where are they all—did no one condemn you?”

And she said, “No one, sir.” “Neither do I condemn you,” said Jesus to her. “Go home and do not sin again.” (John 8:2-11, JB Phillips New Testament)

Jesus said the one without sin should throw the first stone. But there was one person in the room who had no sin and who therefore had the right to throw that first stone. And that was Jesus. All the others had left, aware of their own sin and, perhaps, not wanting to have it pointed out!

So instead of condemning her, Jesus simply told her 'Neither do I condemn you, go and don't sin any more'.

This is grace at work. The law demanded the death penalty. Jesus alone had the right to pronounce and carry out that penalty. But he forgave her and let her leave in peace. If we are not forgiven by the one who has the right to exact the penalty, we are not forgiven at all!

Thank you, Lord, for your grace - freely given but never deserved. Thank you for your love towards us. Thank you for your peace resting upon us. Thank you for your presence amongst us and your fellowship with us. Where two or three are gathered... Thank you, Lord.

10 July 2012

Water becomes wine

Part 1 of a series - 'Seven signs in John'
< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

Jesus was invited to a wedding in the village of Cana. While the wedding reception was still under way the wine ran out. How embarrassing for the bridegroom! There is so much to learn from the people and events in Cana that day.

A modern British wedding reception
This is the first sign in John's gospel. Just to recap, here is John's explanation about the inclusion of this sign in his book about Jesus.

'Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book.'

'But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.' (John 20:30-31)

Now read John's account of this first sign.

On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine was gone, Jesus’ mother said to him, ‘They have no more wine.’

‘Woman, why do you involve me?’ Jesus replied. ‘My hour has not yet come.’

His mother said to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’

Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from eighty to a hundred and twenty litres.

Jesus said to the servants, ‘Fill the jars with water’; so they filled them to the brim.

Then he told them, ‘Now draw some out and take it to the master of the banquet.’

They did so, and the master of the banquet tasted the water that had been turned into wine. He did not realise where it had come from, though the servants who had drawn the water knew. Then he called the bridegroom aside and said, ‘Everyone brings out the choice wine first and then the cheaper wine after the guests have had too much to drink; but you have saved the best till now.’

What Jesus did here in Cana of Galilee was the first of the signs through which he revealed his glory; and his disciples believed in him. (John 2:1-11)

We'll go through the four questions in turn, and although I'm not going to provide answers I will try to point you to where those answers might be found.

What does this story tell us about people? - There are several people in this short passage, consider them carefully one by one. Bear in mind that the people in the story are just like us; although they lived two thousand years ago they have the same characteristics and motivations and do the same sorts of things.

The disciples are mentioned twice, near the beginning and again at the end.

Jesus' mother knew her son just as any mother would. What does she do and how does she respond to what he tells her?

Don't forget the servants, they are easily overlooked. Remember that servants would not be expected to chat with the guests, but they would be expected to be attentive and do whatever they were told. What do you think they might have been thinking as they took the water to the MC?

Then there's the Master of Ceremonies, he's supposed to be in charge but he doesn't seem to have noticed where the new supply of wine came from. In what ways are we like him? He was familiar with the little tricks people often use, do you sense his surprise? What does this tell you about people?

And how do you suppose the bridegroom felt when the wine ran out? Why might this have happened? (I can think of several plausible reasons.) Have you ever been in a situation where you were responsible for something important and didn't get it quite right?

What does it tell us about Jesus? - Was Jesus stuffy and religious? Notice that he was invited to a party and was happy to be there. Is he aloof or approachable?

Why do you think he says one thing to his mother and then seems to do the opposite? Who told him it wasn't time yet, and who told him, 'Now is the time'? Remember that he said, 'I only do what I see the Father doing'. Is he being difficult, or just being obedient? Compare this with John 7:8-10.

What do we learn about his power and authority in the world?

Does he do everything himself or does he send others?

What does it tell me about myself? - Are you like any of the people in this story? In what ways?

Who else needs to hear this? - Do you know people who need to hear this story, this 'sign'? If so, who is going to tell them? Could you share this with others individually? Could you share it with a group of friends?

Additional points - The wine had run out so there must have been plenty of empty wine jars and/or wineskins around. So why did Jesus used the hand-washing water jars? Would you want to drink washing water?

Consider using this blog post as a discussion outline for a CU meeting or for a home group or cell group. Use it as part of a Bible study or for informal sharing. There are all sorts of possibilities.

< No earlier items | Index | Healing at a distance >

09 July 2012

Seven signs in John - INDEX

(See indexes on other topics)

The seven signs in John are a useful way of engaging people's attention on who Jesus is. He is more than an historical figure, more than a wise teacher, more than many people realise. These particular seven events were written down to help us see his true nature and significance.

Seven signs in John
Near the end of John's spiritual biography of Jesus, he writes these words.

Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name. (John 20:30-31)

What 'signs' is John referring to here? - There are seven of them, and over the next week or two I plan to write short notes on each one. John wrote about these particular signs '[so] that you might believe'. He regarded them as especially useful in drawing people to believe that Jesus was the Son of the Most High. We should surely take note of them and use them in reaching others.

Click the links in the list to read the articles.
  1. Water becomes wine (John 2:1-11)
  2. Healing at a distance (John 4:46-54)
  3. An invalid is healed (John 5:1-17)
  4. The crowds are fed (John 6:1-15)
  5. Walking on water (John 6:16-24)
  6. The blind man sees (John 9:1-41)
  7. Raising the dead (John 11:1-54)

Neil Cole - Neil has written about the seven signs and suggests a useful way of approaching them in simple conversations. I'll examine them in a little more detail here, though still aim to leave readers to reach their own conclusions. Being told something is not as powerful as drawing meaning out for yourself. Sometimes an open question is more valuable than a closed answer.

Neil suggests asking four questions about each sign.

  1. What does it tell us about people?
  2. What does it tell us about Jesus?
  3. What does it tell me about myself?
  4. Who else needs to hear this?
You might enjoy listening to Neil Cole speaking about the usefulness of these signs.

See also: RESPONSE - Seven signs in John

15 June 2012

Accepting one another in love

All around us are people who seem to be difficult, unlovely, angry, and burdensome. If we follow Jesus we will find a way to love all these people. And the benefits of doing so are boundless.

The Henri Nouwen Society website
Showing is more powerful than telling. Doing and showing is how Yahshua often revealed the truth. That doesn't mean he didn't use words, but he did things like washing his follower's feet and then used words (if necessary) to clarify the meaning of the action.

To love or to judge? - A difficult situation arose amongst friends recently, and the Spirit of Christ showed me that the best way to resolve it will be to demonstrate love. Isn't this always the best way? I think so.

We are not called to put one another right. We are called to accept one another just as we are, to love the unlovable. If I cannot do this, how will I ever love anyone? And if those around me can't do this, how will I ever be loved? Papa loved us long before we began to love him. If I am truly made in his image I will love others before they love me. Sometimes this may be very hard - but it is also very necessary.

If I demonstrate love and others copy my example, great benefit and joy and peace will result! If I demonstrate judgement and others copy my example, great misery and shame and angst will result. Why do we find it so hard to go first in love? And why do we find it so easy to go first in judgement?

Henri Nouwen - understood these principles. The quote below is today's meditation from the Henri Nouwen Society website. You might consider signing up for these emails yourself, they are always helpful and always so gentle and wise.

Small Steps of Love - How can we choose love when we have experienced so little of it? We choose love by taking small steps of love every time there is an opportunity. A smile, a handshake, a word of encouragement, a phone call, a card, an embrace, a kind greeting, a gesture of support, a moment of attention, a helping hand, a present, a financial contribution, a visit ... all these are little steps toward love.

Each step is like a candle burning in the night. It does not take the darkness away, but it guides us through the darkness. When we look back after many small steps of love, we will discover that we have made a long and beautiful journey.

In the life of Jesus - Here are some other examples from the life of Jesus (there are many more, the gospels are full of them). Jesus was quick to feed the hungry crowd, speak to the woman at the well, call to Zacchaeus in the sycamore fig tree, die for our sin, release the woman caught in adultery, heal the sick, cast out demons, turn water to wine. In every case people were needy, inconvenient, sinful, unlovable, pressing in, without hope. In every case Jesus touched them in their need and error and unloveliness.

A challenge - Who will you find to love today? And how will you express that love?

13 June 2012

A letter from the heart

What follows is in the form of a letter - a letter from my heart to yours. It's a letter I imagine writing to people who will understand it and be excited by it. It's an invitation to experience Jesus more powerfully and to do so together, in community.

A letter to friends
Here's the letter. And yes, I have particular people in mind as I write.

In fact, I have in mind friends right here in and around St Neots. Are you one of them?

But wherever you live in the world, this letter is for you. This experience of Christ is your inheritance. It is your birthright. Don't let the world snatch it from you.


Dear brother/sister,

Have you ever been in a meeting where everyone loses themselves in Jesus and his Spirit soars and flows amongst us and around us? I love it when he has the opportunity to be really free amongst his people. It's what I have always wanted, but I've experienced it all too rarely over the years since I first tasted his overwhelming presence like this in the mid to late 1970s. Sometimes parts of meetings carry hints of that familiar aroma.

Why does this happen so rarely? I think that unless we can allow him the freedom to have his way we will miss the best he has for us. Nothing we can devise or arrange or intend can come close!

I'd love you to read this guest post by Steph. She captures the essence of life with the Spirit of Jesus far better than I can hope to do. See what you think.

I suppose I'm looking for people who might join me in the adventure of recapturing this life of community around the King. And as I grow older I'm looking for those to whom the torch can be passed. The church seems so needy and there is such treasure stored up ready for her - a mighty inheritance of everything that is Christ's - his intimate presence, his power, even his glory (John 17:20-22). He wants to restore things to be the way they began and should have remained. But to receive this we must let go of everything we have thought of as necessary. Structure, planning, goals, vision statements, all that hurly-burly of humanness has to be stripped away. It must be Christ and his bride without any interfering clutter. And that has been so hard to find all these years.

I am getting desperate! His call is so strong. Who will come with me? Or must I go alone? OK, not alone, Steph certainly understands. She is on the same journey but in a different continent :-) There are others here in the UK, too, who understand well. Father knows no boundaries.

But for those of you who live in or near St Neots, would you consider exploring these things with me? Maybe we can meet to talk about this and test it - what say you? I'm not suggesting leaving what you are already part of. I'm talking about exploring an extra dimension.

Grace, peace, blessings and abundant love in Christ,

Chris

PS - If this excites you please leave a comment below. This is a letter you can add to. Tell me about your own experiences of Jesus amongst his people. Or if something seems unclear, ask a question.

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