Dear Theophilus… July 2016

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA“Do not worry”, said Jesus to his disciples. Easier said than done, you may think. There is, after all, so much that we could worry about: our health, our children (which doesn’t stop when they leave home), work, finances, flying, living, dying… The list goes on. But, if Jesus told us not to worry, he must think that it is actually possible not to worry and, presumably, that we have a choice whether to worry or not. So how can we not worry?

There is the familiar World War 1 song which follows Jesus’ sentiments when it asks ‘What’s the use of worrying? It tells us to ‘pack up our
troubles in our old kit bag and smile’. I think this song has part of the answer. Identifying our troubles or worries, and packing them away seems like a good idea. I’m not so sure, though, about packing them in my old kit bag if that means I have to carry them around with me on my back. I don’t think that’s what Jesus intended!

St Peter gave some good advice. He said ‘Cast all your cares on Jesus, for he cares for you’ (1 Peter 3:5). At the heart of this is the truth that Jesus cares for you, a truth that will disperse all the gloom and worry if we take it on board. Jesus died on a cross for all the sin and rubbish in our lives and, while the things we worry about are important in themselves, worrying about them is definitely part of the rubbish he died for. Jesus cares for you.

Jesus also gave some advice after he told his disciples not to worry. He told them that, instead of worrying, they were to ‘Seek first the Kingdom of God’. Worrying will distract us from the good things of God’s Kingdom that we can be doing. But the opposite is also true. Choosing to think and do the good things that are part of his Kingdom will take our minds away from the things we are worrying about.

So, pack up your troubles, place them at the cross of Jesus and turn round to face the abundant life he offers. Easier said than done? Maybe. But it is still doable, step by step.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… June 2016

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJesus’ ministry began when the Holy Spirit descended on him when he was baptized by John. He then went out into the desert in the power of the Holy Spirit, and was immediately tempted by the devil. Jesus overcame these temptations with the word of God in the scriptures, and returned from this time in the power of the Spirit (Luke 3:21-22, 4:1,14).

The ministry of the Church began at Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on the disciples and gave them power to be witnesses to the gospel of Jesus. Not long after that the Church was persecuted and the Christians were scattered. But the Church continued to grow through the preaching of God’s word and the power of the holy Spirit.

Why then should it be any different today? As Christians the Holy Spirit comes into our lives and gives us new life, and we are called to be disciples of Jesus. Maybe a more familiar term today would be apprentices. We are filled with joy and have peace and hope and the assurance of eternal life. But this life now can also be tough. How do we cope? The answer is ‘in the same way that Jesus coped, and in the same way that the early Church coped’: with the word of God and in the power of the Holy Spirit. These two work together: Jesus tells us that the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth (John 16:13) and Paul tells us that the word of God is the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17).

As Christians, let us immerse ourselves daily in the word of God and seek a daily filling of his Holy Spirit. In this way we will overcome the struggles of life, emerge from them in the power of the Holy Spirit and, in the process, see the good news of Jesus proclaimed.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… May 2016

Dear TheophilusOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe principle of rest runs throughout the Bible. We see it in the Old Testament in the story of creation where God rested on the seventh day, and in the laws of Moses with keeping the Sabbath as the fourth commandment.

The situation becomes less clear in the New Testament when Jesus both acts and speaks against the legalism of the Pharisees and their interpretation of the Sabbath, and when Paul seems to teach against the importance of special days and of the Sabbath (Col 2:16, Gal 4:10). And yet the principle of rest is very obvious in Jesus’ own lifestyle, in the way he encourages his disciples to “Come away with me to a quiet place and get some rest” (Mark 6:31), and in his teaching: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

In a world that is never silent, where information is bombarding us every waking minute and where life seems to be constantly lived in the fast lane, we have much to learn from Jesus’ call to come to him and find rest.

Just as coming to Jesus in faith when we first become Christians is an active choice and a commitment, so is coming to Jesus for rest. And, like becoming a follower of Jesus, coming to him for rest should also become part of our way of life, rather than something we only do when we are tired and burnt out. When it does, our rest in Jesus will equip us and sustain us in our daily life and ministry. Jesus follows his call to find rest with these words: Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Matthew 11:29-30).

Jesus’ call to us to come to him and find rest for our souls is both a challenge and a privilege. Let us come to him with joy and find the rest that will sustain our lives and our ministry as fellow workers in his Kingdom.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIt was very early on the first Easter Sunday that the miracle of the resurrection happened; Jesus, the Jew’s Messiah and the World’s Saviour, rose from the dead; having conquered the power of sin, sickness and death. But it was some time before the reality of this event registered with those nearest and dearest to him. They were all dealing with the grief of his death; and they were doing it in many different ways.

There was a group of women gathered at the tomb, wanting to show their respect and do what they could for Jesus’ mortal remains. There was Mary, weeping at the tomb, inconsolable in her grief. There were Peter and John rushing about in a panic, running to the tomb to find out what was going on, and trying to work out what had happened. Then there were the rest of the disciples who had locked themselves away in a room out of fear, Thomas who had gone AWOL and the two disciples who had given up and headed off home to Emmaus. All in spite of the fact that Jesus had told them that he would rise on the third day (Luke 24:6,7).

How do we respond when things go wrong, when troubles come, when disaster happens? Probably like the followers of Jesus. We may carry on and do what we can or we may be inconsolable in our grief. We may rush around in a mad panic or hide away in fear. Or we may just give up and leave. Yet in all of these situations Jesus meets his followers. He meets the women by the tomb, he meets Mary in the garden, the disciples (including, eventually, Thomas) in the upper room, and he meets the two on the road to Emmaus. And by his presence he transforms each of their situations.

Jesus has said he will never leave us. So, wherever we go when trouble comes, Jesus will come and meet us in his transforming, resurrection power, to bring new life, new hope, and a message of Good News that we must share with the rest of the world. The Lord is risen, Hallelujah!

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus…March 2016

Dear Theophilus

“Why doesn’t God do something?” How many times have you heard it said, ‘If there is a God, why did he let that happen?’ You may have even said it yourself. Often we don’t know the answer. If it’s any consolation, they said similar things to Jesus when he was being crucified, and they didn’t get an answer either.

First came the rulers of the people who sneered at him and said “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Christ”. Then the soldiers mocked him and said, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself.” Finally one of the criminals crucified with him said, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”

And Jesus said nothing. The only person that Jesus answered at his
crucifixion was the other criminal being crucified who, recognizing his own guilt and the fact that Jesus had done nothing wrong, said, “Jesus,
remember me when you come into your kingdom.” The difference between this second criminal and the rulers, the soldiers and the first criminal is that he had caught a glimpse of the bigger picture; God’s Kingdom.

We are told in Luke 9:51 that Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem. He knew what would happen and there would have been many opportunities to opt out on the way, right up to his struggle in Gethsemane. Even on the cross, Matthew tells us that Jesus could have called on hosts of angels to rescue him. Why didn’t Jesus do something? Because there was a bigger picture. And that bigger picture was revealed on Easter morning when the once dead, now resurrected Jesus burst from the tomb having defeated the power of sin, sickness and death, and opened for us the way to eternal life.

Let us not be arrogant or foolish like the rulers, the soldiers or the first
criminal who question God. Let us be like the second criminal who
recognize both our own sinfulness and let us thank God that there is a
bigger picture, even if we can’t see it at the moment.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… – Feb 2016

Dear Theophilus

When Jesus was travelling to Jerusalem, through the border country between Samaria and Galilee, he was met by ten lepers; men living on the very margins of this marginal community. They called out to him ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us’, and he healed them. Or at least he told them to go and present themselves to the priests, who had authority to confirm their healing and allow them back into the community. Luke tells us that, as they went, they were cleansed of their leprosy and one of them, realizing he was healed, turned back and fell at Jesus’ feet. To him Jesus said ‘Rise and go, your faith has made you well’. Some translations say ‘your faith has made you whole’. (See Luke 17:11-19).

There are three different actions going on here with the lepers. Firstly they call out to Jesus for mercy, secondly they do what Jesus says and set off to see the priests, and thirdly one of them comes and falls at Jesus’ feet in worship. I think all of these actions are relevant to us.

God is a God of mercy and he will always respond when we call out to him for mercy even if, like the lepers, we feel like we are outcasts living on the margins. There are no outcasts and no margins in Jesus’ ministry. But, having called out for mercy, we must get on with what he tells us to do. The lepers were cleansed as they went, not as they waited. Most of what God will achieve in our lives he will achieve while we get on with what he has told us to do, not while we hang around for the right circumstances. Christian discipleship is about learning on the job, not in the classroom.

And then let us remember, like the one leper, to come to Jesus in worship and grow in our relationship with him and with our Christian brothers and sisters. There are a lot of ‘comings and goings’ in the Christian faith; coming to Jesus for mercy, going out in faith and obedience, and coming together for fellowship and worship. Let us do all three.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus…. Jan 2016

Dear Theophilus

I wonder, would you like to know the future? What you will do with the rest of your life? How faithfully will you follow Jesus? How and when will your life end? Could you cope with the knowledge, or would you prefer just to live one day at a time and trust God for the future?

When Jesus was just a baby he was presented in the temple by his parents to fulfil the Jewish rites of purification. Here they were met by two elderly, faithful believers; first came Simeon and then Anna, both of whom gave prophecies about his future.

Simeon said that Jesus would change the destiny, for good and bad, of many people in Israel, and that it would result in great pain for Mary. Anna then spoke about Jesus’ work of redemption. Knowing the future can be a mixed blessing.

These two prophecies were born out of years of faithful service to God and to his people and were inspired by the Holy Spirit. We are told Simeon was righteous and devout and that, having seen the child that was to fulfil God’s plan of salvation, he was ready to die, his work completed. Anna too, widowed as a young woman and now very old, had been faithful to her God in prayer and worship for many years, and she now recognised what God would do through this child.

Both of these people had glimpses of the future, the joys and the sorrows, but both of them walked faithfully with God through the good times and the bad.

As with Simeon, and many others throughout history, God may sometimes reveal things to us through his Spirit, but in the mean time, let us follow the example of Simeon and Anna and walk faithfully each day in righteousness, in worship and in prayer, until our work in this life is complete.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

 

 

 

Dear Theophilus… December 2015

Dear Theophilus

The news of a pregnancy is usually, though unfortunately not always, greeted with joy and excitement. Such was the case with Mary, once she had got over the shock! It was a joy she shared with Elizabeth, her elderly cousin, who was also expecting a baby.

Mary’s joy was expressed in a song which starts with the words “My soul glorifies the Lord and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour.” It’s a song that talks about God’s blessings being expressed, not just to her, but to the many generations that will follow. “His mercy extends to those that fear him, from generation to generation.”

The truth of this blessing extending from generation to generation, is borne out by the fact that you and I share in those blessings two thousand years later and, along with another 1.35 billion Christians around the world, will soon be celebrating again the birth of this child.

Becoming a Christian is described in the bible as receiving new life. Each one of us who has received this new life has the opportunity to share it with others, and so to share in the joy of seeing a new birth and to watch a Christian ‘baby’ grow in faith. This is a joy we will share with the angels, for Jesus tells us that there is great joy in heaven every time a sinner repents.

God is not ageist; I am sure there is as much joy in heaven over a pensioner who repents as over a teenager who repents, but sharing our faith with the generations that will follow us is a key part of God’s plan for his Church and for his world. It is so important that we find ways to communicate our faith with the younger generations.

Christmas will give us all many opportunities to talk about our faith, and many events to which we can invite friends and family. Let us make the most of the time, and share in the joy of sharing the good news from generation to generation.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… Nov 2015

Dear Theophilus

If you have ever made bread at home you will know the importance of yeast. Without it you will produce something that could double as a house brick. With it you will produce a light, springy, more-ish loaf. And you will have that wonderful fragrance of freshly baked bread pervading your home.

Jesus told a parable about yeast. In it he said that the Kingdom of God is like yeast that is mixed into a large amount of flour until it worked all through the dough (Luke 13:21).

Jesus came to announce the coming of the Kingdom of God; that person, community or place where the reign of God is recognised. You and I, if we are followers of Jesus, are part of that Kingdom of God and, as such, we are like yeast that is mixed into the flour and works throughout the dough.

We may feel like an insignificant part of our community, whether it is in our family, our workplace, our social group or our community. We may seem like a mere tea spoon of yeast in half a kilo of flour, but we can make a significant difference for good, bringing life to those around us. We can do this, not because of who we are, but because of the Spirit of God within us.

Jesus refers to yeast earlier (Luke 12:1) when he tells his disciple to be on their guard against the yeast of the Pharisees which, he says, is hypocrisy; empty words that are designed to draw attention to the speaker and make a name for him or herself.

Let us serve the Kingdom of God by being people who carry the life of God in humility and let us endeavour to influence the situations around us for good. But, let us remember that our significance is not in the attention that we draw to ourselves, but in what God is able to achieve through us by his Holy Spirit, often without recognition.

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

Dear Theophilus… October 2015

Dear Theophilus

Truth can be revealed in many ways. I might look at the garden and say ‘The grass is green’. As a statement of fact this is either true or false. A professional gardener might describe the different plant species in great detail while an impressionist artist would reveal truth in a different way; the greens of the grass would blend with the greens of the trees, the browns of the soil and the blues of the sky.

The truth about God is revealed to us in many ways in the scriptures. The bible contains simple statements that Christians believe are true: In the beginning God created; God is love; Jesus died and rose again. The events of the Old and the New Testaments reveal truths about God through his dealings with his people, while the nature of God is revealed most fully in the life and person of Jesus who himself taught many truths about God.

But the truths that Jesus taught were not always simple statements of fact. Almost a third of Jesus’ teachings were in the form of parables where he used an illustration taken from daily life to convey truths about God or about the Kingdom of God: a farmer sowing seed, a mugged traveller, a runaway son, a wedding banquet. And in many cases he didn’t give the people an interpretation; he left it to them to discover the truths about God for themselves as they reflected on his parables.

The truth about God cannot always be reduced to a simple ‘yes or no’, sometimes it is ‘yes but’ or ‘both and’, and sometimes we only catch a brief glimpse, or see an image like a badly focussed photograph or an impressionist picture. Meditating on the scriptures, led by the Holy Spirit, will help to bring the truths into sharper focus, but God will always be bigger than our minds can comprehend. The parables of Jesus leave room for the truths about God to be discovered and to be worked out in our daily lives.

The Word of God is like Mary Poppins’ carpet bag…

David

Theophilus is the guy for whom Luke wrote the Gospel of Luke and the book of Acts. (Luke 1:3 and Acts 1:1) Theophilus means ‘Lover of God’ so, if you love God, it was written for you!

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