Monday, 31 October 2016

For all the saints

Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18 (page 744 in our Bibles) Complicated! The vision starts with four beasts, representing empires emerging from the sea, representing chaos. We then switch to a judgment scene which is presided over by the ancient of days(v. 9) and the climax has one "like a son of man coming on the clouds of heaven" who is given dominion, and glory and a kingdom(v14). But the extraordinary thing is that this dominion shall then be given to the "people of the saints of the most high" (v 27). We share in the dominion of the new heaven and the new earth!
Ephesians 1: 11-23 (page 966 in our Bibles). A glorious piece of writing that talks of our "inheritance", and the seal of the Holy Spirit which guarantees it, and speaks of the church as the body of Christ which fills all in all.  
Luke 6:20-31 (page 862 in our Bibles) These blessings and woes are both directed to the disciples and are a challenging portrait of what the community of believers is supposed to look like. The fourth blessing is especially challenging. The gospel will not necessarily make you popular! We are called to be prophets and our fate may well be similar to the prophets of old.

One of the most inspiring speeches ever given started “I have a dream” when Martin Luther King articulated a vision of a better present and a future for America. Here is Daniel we have a vision, whose scope is much larger than America’s future. This vision is of the future of all creation with a special place within it for us, God’s children.
We start with the glorious prophetic imagery of the book of Daniel, which begins in the chaos of the world represented by the sea and the dysfunctional Kingdoms of this world vying for worldly power which are the beasts that emerge out of the sea.
So all the world seems chaotic, hopeless and random – unjust and unkind. But what books like Daniel are at pains to tell is that no matter how bleak or oppressive or hopeless the situation in the world seems – take heart and strength that God is in control and He has marvellous plans for us and the whole creation and because God is the guarantor of this vision we can be sure that it will come to pass.
God here is called the “ancient of days” and is envisioned as a marvellous spectacle as He takes his seat, he is ancient, denoting wisdom, his clothing is white as snow denoting purity and holiness, and the fire denotes judgement on everything that is going on.
Then comes the prophesy that all these earthly kingdoms vying for power on earth are as nothing because a superior unshakeable kingdom of God will be revealed. And then the coming of Jesus Christ and his kingdom is foretold.
And we know this vision is true and will unfold because the first part of it has already taken place. And behold with the clouds of heaven one “like a son of man” will be presented with a new eternal kingdom, and he will have an everlasting kingship.  And you will know of course that Jesus’ favourite way of referring to himself was “the son of man” and this is exactly this passage in Daniel that Jesus is referring to when he uses that term.
All kingdoms, all empires eventually fall; the Greeks, the Romans, the Persians, the Assyrians, the British, all which once seemed impregnable and unthinkable that they might decay and die. But they did.
But this kingdom, the kingdom of God will never die. Remember that this kingdom formed the content of Jesus’ first ever pronouncement. “Repent, for the Kingdom of God is at hand”.
But then something even more extraordinary is announced. Whilst Christ is King in this new order, dominion is to be shared. Christ is not a dictator.
Who is this kingdom going to be shared with? “The saints of the most high will share this kingdom.
And just in case we didn’t get it the first time this is underlined in verse 27
“And the kingdom and the dominion shall be given to the people of the saints of the most high”
Who are the saints? That is us. We share in the Royal Dominon.  A saint, before the term was highjacked to denote a few super Christians officially declared “saint” was the term Paul used when he was addressing the whole community of Christians.
We are the saints of the most high whose inheritance is to share in the kingship of Christ in the Kingdom of God.
And Paul talks of our inheritance in his letter to the Ephesians. Saint means holy which means “set apart”. We are a people set apart for a great inheritance and our guarantee of that inheritance is the seal of the Holy Spirit. That is why we call ourselves “the body of Christ” and led Peter to refer to the church as “a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession” (1 Peter 2:9)
When we sing “For all the Saints” we are singing about ourselves and all Christians past, present and future who will share in this glorious vision.
Don’t forget we are holy, set apart, different. And Jesus pronounces some blessings and woes. He points out that it is not going to be plain sailing and in fact, it is not going to guarantee you popularity. In fact he says rejoice in that day when people hate you, and exclude you and spurn your name as evil on account of the son of man, for behold, your reward will be great in heaven”.
Jesus talks about our reward, our inheritance as co-heirs of the Kingdom of heaven. If you need encouragement in your faith, keep that vision of the new creation uppermost in your mind.
A glorious inheritance kept for us, the saints of the most high. We have a vision of that glorious future in the book of Revelation.

 21 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place[a] of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people,[b] and God himself will be with them as their God.[c] He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.”

Monday, 24 October 2016

In the beginning was the word

There is no other book in the world like the Bible. Or rather I should say books (plural). The Bible is a compendium of 66 separate books written at different times and by different people in different cultures over about 2 thousand years.
They include lots of different genres; Law, history, prophesy, apocalyptic, wisdom, poetry, gospels, letters, and they need to be understood both individually and with reference to each other.
What are they? They are a record of God’s dealings with creation, especially humanity, from the very begginning in the Garden of Eden, a relationship which goes wrong, is eventually restored through Jesus Christ and then looks forward to the re-creation of a renewed humanity in a new heaven and a new earth in the book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible. It is the story of our past, our present and our future
Christians have always regarded the scriptures as inspired by God. Or “God breathed” as the scriptures themselves say.
That doesn’t make them dictated by the hand of God but they are “inspired”. Because even the most arcane piece of scripture from the dullest of history books is inspired, any piece of scripture innately carries within it the capacity to inspire, to comfort, challenge or to give voice to our suffering and lament. God is woven into and through the text, so giving us the possibility to connect with God
Here is how Paul describes that facet of the scriptures in 2 Timothy 3:15-17
“and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. 16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness,17 that the man of God[a] may be competent, equipped for every good work.”
Christians use it habitually as a record of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ as God’s plan  to fulfil his promise to humanity not to leave us dangling without hope, without a future but as our rescuer – usually called our saviour or our redeemer. He promises us eternal life in a glorious future.
Jesus is God’s rescue plan for creation. A rescue which was prophesied in many places and our first reading today is one such prophesy in Isaiah. Our gospel reading records that Jesus himself recognised another prophesy was referring to himself when he read from the scroll of Isaiah in the synagogue and declared that “This prophesy is fulfilled in your hearing”. The story of how that life and death and resurrection came about and the consequences resulting from that event are recorded in the gospels and letters and our third reading records one such outworking.
The Bible is our authority because Jesus regarded it as his authority and over time it has proved its worth and usefulness.
The Bible is unique and even in these godless times you may be surprised to know that it is the world’s bestselling book every year.
We all have our favourite bits of scripture from the 23rd psalm to John 1 at Christmas perhaps to Romans 8:38-39 to Revelation. The Psalms are an extraordinary resource expressing every human emotion.
John 3:16 is one of the best known summaries of the Christian faith
“God so loved the world that He gave his only son, that whoever believes in him shall not die but have eternal life”
These, and many like it are words containing life which can inspire us to great things; As a Christian teacher I could do no better thing than lead anyone to the Bible.
We take the Bible seriously because the Bible takes us seriously. It takes our need of a permanent loving relationship seriously, our need for love, mercy and forgiveness seriously.
So as this is Bible Sunday I’ll end with these immortal words from Romans 8:38-39

38 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Monday, 3 October 2016

"1 hour delay 2 miles ahead"

Faith and trust are words that can be almost interchangeable. We place our trust in so many things unconsciously. Getting up in the morning is an act of trust. That the world keeps spinning, the sun will rise and set, that our pay packet or pension is always there, that clean water is always in our taps...etc.

On Thursday and Friday I placed my trust in my satnav to get me to a village in Wales I’d never been to before for my Father –in-law’s funeral. If it had failed I would have been literally completely lost! All my trust, pretty small trust really was placed in that device – a trust that was sorely stretched when it took me down some pretty narrow streets in a Welsh village – but a trust that was rewarded when it did in fact lead me to the exact spot I needed to get to.

Faith in God can be sorely tested as well. Brian, whose funeral I was attending, was my first wife - Alex’s dad. Brian outlived his daughter, my wife, by six years. Consumed by my own grief at that time, I didn’t really stop to consider how bereft Brian must have felt. We both would have agreed with Habbakuk I’m sure when he cries out to God in despair that God appears either unwilling or unable to help.

The second chapter, which gives his own answer is to continue to live by faith or trust in God’s promises. What else can we do? There is a sticky point in Jesus’ ministry when people lose faith in him and start to leave and he turns to his inner core, the disciples and says. “Do you want to go as well?” and Peter answers
“Lord where would we go?. You have the words of eternal life” (John 6:68)

Trust or true faith is one that has been tested by fire through thick and thin, through good times and bad times.
Jesus tells us that we only need a tiny amount of faith to make a huge amount of difference, but also, when our faith leads us to do or achieve great things, don’t expect a reward or any special treatment, because you are only doing what is your duty.

Is there anything practical you can do to maintain or increase your trust in God?

Yes there is, but it takes a bit of effort. The simplest thing you can do is memorise some verses of the Bible that you find inspiring and helpful. The Bible is inspired by God and if you memorise some parts of it, when you say them to yourself you have the word of God on your lips, in your mind, and on your heart.
Some of the most helpful come from two books we have been studying in our home groups, Romans and Philippians;

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (4:13)

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God (4:6)

If God is for us, who can be against us;

John 3:16, the 23rd psalm, the list is endless and intensely personal.

Reading or praying scripture like that connects us with God. So does prayer whether using set words, impromptu words or sitting in silence with God on your heart. Communication with God through prayer and scripture is great for building your faith and maintaining it.

So when a crisis comes, and a crisis will come, our faith has strong foundations and while you will be jolted, perhaps for some time, you will stand firm.

I will end with a memorised piece of scripture that has always helped me and strengthened me.

 Jesus said “In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33)