The Mind of Christ

by Denise Cryer

Colossians 3: 12-17

Today we’re thinking about “the mind of Christ”- and what a mind it must have been! As I’ve thought about this, Its blown me away a little bit if I’m honest” – how can I have the mind of someone who’s so bound together with the Father and the HS ? Someone who’s so in tune with the world around Him; engaged in the culture around Him; passionate about the lives of those around Him? And yet – we’ve been given all we need to live in the realm of the supernatural. Having the mind of Christ is nothing to do with our intelligence! There were lots of clever people around in the early church, people who studied the scriptures and
knew them inside out! – and yet – these people were the Pharisees who Jesus scorned because they thought they knew it all! Knew better than Him – its not a measure of our intelligence because the mind of Christ is given, through the Holy Spirit to all of us as believers, but we do need to “put on” the mind of Christ – let go of our old self – this is true Kingdom thinking.

For Paul, it isn’t enough to believe the right things – right belief should always produce right thinking and right living. If we say we believe in Jesus; acknowledge that He died for our sins – but not let it go beyond that – what kind of faith do we actually have? What we “say” we believe about Jesus, should transform the way we live our lives and respond to each other, and the wider world. God’s continually moulding us, and shaping us to become like Jesus.
When we become a Christian, we take off our old life and put on a new one – that’s a good image isn’t it (actions) we take off the old and put on the new – we’re a new creation! – It wouldn’t be much good if we put nice new clothes on top of the ones that are worn out or no longer fit us – we must take off the old ones first! But sometimes its hard to let go of – an old jumper, for example, its been with us for many years; it makes us feel safe – we’re comfortable in it, but there comes a time when we have to let go.

Every one of Jesus’ disciples had to leave who and what they were, behind, to follow Him. They couldn’t carry on wearing their “old clothes” as it were. But these new clothes look different! WE look different! We might not feel as comfortable, we might be aware that others see us differently – the new “us”! The new “us” is good! The “new us” has many qualities of Jesus! If you’re a football fan, you’ll know how good it feels putting on your team’s latest shirt – it identifies you with your team. Putting on our new clothes identifies us with Team Jesus. But if we just put on the shirt and left it at that – what would that really say about us? if we didn’t get to know the team we’re supporting; if we didn’t engage with other supporters – what would that say about us? Putting on of the new, isn’t a legal requirement – its set in the context of our status as God’s people – a covenant people – a chosen people and our new “outfit should reflect the faith we say we have.

I hear some of you say, “well I put on my new clothes a long time ago” – so did I! we identify with Christ now don’t we? but the renewing of our mind is an ongoing process. Every day we need to study God’s word so we can think about what it says, what it teaches us – the more we read about Jesus, about how he dealt with the situations he met with; the way He dealt with people – those who believed in Him and those who didn’t; the more we’ll respond to life with the mind of Christ.

So – with our new clothes on, we look different but we know that things have to change, but we don’t always like change do we? we don’t often like challenge; don’t like to feel uncomfortable; we often struggle between our old life and our new life, but in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he says, “you were taught…to be made new in the attitude of your minds, and so put on the new self, created by God” (Eph 4:23). A change in the attitude of our mind, has to come. The renewing of our minds takes us to new levels of understanding; – How we embrace one another – encourage one another, forgive one another, show grace to one another, how we build up the body of Christ. How we see the world around us – how we engage with it, how we interact with it.

About 22 years ago I suffered with panic attacks and I was a mess – couldn’t eat, drink, get dressed – couldn’t function. God completely healed me in an instant, here in St L’s after about 3 months but reflecting on that 3 months now, I realize it taught me a lot about how my mind worked, then, and now, and I’m reminded what Paul says earlier in this chapter. “…set your minds on things above, not on earthly things…”

In that 3 months it took everything within me to even ask for prayer – that was the limit of my engagement with God! Its not often easy to set our mind on anything other than earthly things is it? because of all the stuff that’s distracting us, scaring us, challenging us. The stuff that happens in our daily life often just consumes us doesn’t it?

As I’ve been contemplating this “mind of Christ”, I think, for me, the most challenging times have been when I’ve been in conversation with someone else, or particularly when I’m with a group of other people. And the challenge has been not to get caught up in “gossip”; – I think its easy to go along with what’s been said about someone, or a situation – to be critical or derogatory – I think its SO easy to get drawn in then before long we find ourselves thinking “why on earth did I say that or agree with that?”. If only we could respond more quickly to people and situations, with the mind of Christ!

I remember many years ago when I was in my 20’s it was really popular to wear a bracelet with the letters WWJD on – “What Would Jesus Do”. A simple thing you might think but over the years I’ve found myself asking that question in many situations I’ve found myself in – when I’ve had a disagreement with a brother or sister; when I’ve not liked something that’s happening in church; when I’ve not known how to handle a difficult situation; when I’ve come across a homeless man in the street; when I’ve heard someone speaking badly about God – just stop for a moment and ask ourselves “What Would Jesus Do?” I think it’s a good place for us to start.

It seems, from the Bible, that no-one can walk with kingdom thinking, the mind of Christ, without leaving everything behind – the way we thought; the way we acted; the way we lived. Anything we try and hang on to – limits us because it controls us. If we cant leave the old behind and fully embrace the new – we’ll not face life with the mind of Christ. If, today, you need healing of the past; if there’s something you cant leave behind – please find someone you can talk to and allow them to pray with you.

I’d really like to encourage you to trust Jesus with those difficult things – He’s got your back! He’s experienced the challenge of trusting His Father in the difficult days ahead. God says His ways were higher than ours – but He didn’t say they were impossible to understand. With our human mind yes, but with the mind of Christ, absolutely possible! Of course we won’t understand everything – but we’ll have the ability to discern things as Jesus did; to think as Jesus did in our relationships, in our roles and in our responsibilities; to, like Jesus, make every aspect of our lives bring glory to God. We should be living in the realm of the supernatural – Jesus did! His teaching; His miracles; just everything about Him oozed the HS at work in Him and through Him! And He said, “…you will be able to do all I have done, and more!” There’s anointing and blessing waiting for us if we step into the water and, as we go deeper, Trust Him; trust his guidance; trust His shepherding; trust His love for us.

I’ve noticed that the common theme running through each sermon in this current series is love. Today’s passage tells us that when we’ve put on our new clothes and we’re showing compassion; kindness; humility; gentleness and patience – if we’re bearing with one another and forgiving one another, as Christ’s forgiven us (V14) “over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity”. Tara spoke last week about this unity we have in Christ and she said, “love is the basic requirement of all things Christ-like” – I love that quote! Love is the basic requirement! What does “our” love look like? Does it reflect our unity? Does it reflect a Christ-like mind as we deal with each other, and with those around us? do we express compassion; kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Do we bear with one another? Do we forgive one another if we have grievances? As we come towards the end of this sermon I’d like to pray with a prayer based on today’s reading:-
“ Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, let us clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Let us bear with each other and forgive one another. if any of us have a grievance against someone, Forgive as the Lord forgave us. 14 And over all these virtues, let us put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

Let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts, since as members of one body we were called to peace. Let us be thankful. 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among us richly as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in our hearts. 17 And whatever we do, whether in word or deed, let’s do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Amen.

And a final question: as we move through Autumn and winter quickly approaches, “Which jumper are we going to wear? The old one – or a new one?” The choice really is ours. Of course I’m not talking about a physical jumper but a spiritual one.

Unity – One Mind

by Tara Cryer

I must be honest I feel a little hypercritical bringing you this message today. I think God’s saying to me “practice what you preach Tara”. It’s been challenging for me.

The New Testament calls for Christians to be of one mind, bonded together in the worship of God, and in concern for one another. So – bearing this in mind, with all the changes and challenges we are facing as a team, with all the mix of emotions; feelings; anxieties etc – are we one mind bonded together? Are we prepared to accept each others differences and whoever walks into our family for the first time? Whatever background; culture, colour, personality, disability, sexuality? Realistically how prepared are we?

To Paul, Christian unity has to be more than a theory, it has to be lived out as a reality. Unity, to Paul, is a matter of “simple” principles – all springing from forgiveness and love of Christ. If Paul wrote a letter to the Rivers Team today, what would he say to us? what would he say to me? what would he say to you? I think it may sound something like this:-

To the Rivers Team, my brothers and sisters in Christ. In light of all this, here’s what I want you to do. While I’m locked up here, doing time for the boss, I want you to get out there and walk – better yet, run, on the road God called you to travel. I don’t want any of you sitting around on your hands. I don’t want anyone strolling off down some path that goes no-where. Don’t let your attitude be aggressive; don’t be cocky; don’t be pushy; don’t be tetchy but steadily pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love. Alert at noticing differences and quick at mending fences. You were all called to travel on the same road and in the same direction, so stay together!, both outwardly and inwardly. You have one master, one faith, one baptism, one God and father of all, who rules over all; works through all, and is present in all. Everything you are and think and do is soaked with one-ness. But – that doesn’t mean you should all look, and speak, and act the same. Out of the generosity of Christ, each of us are given our own gifts. He handed out gifts
above, and below, filled heaven with His gifts; filled earth with His gifts. He handed out gifts of Apostle, prophet, evangelist, pastor and teacher to train Christians in skilled servant work. Working with Christ’s body – the church, until we’re all moving rhythmically and easily with each other – efficient and graceful in response to God’s Son – fully mature adults; fully developed within and without; fully alive like Christ – no prolonged infancies among us please. We’ll not tolerate “babes in the woods”, small children who are an easy mark for imposters – God wants us to grow up!, to know the whole truth and tell it in love, like Christ in everything. We take our lead from Christ who is the source of everything we do. He keeps us in step with each other. His very breath and blood flow through us; nourishing us so that we grow up healthy in God, robust in love. Your brother in chains, Paul”
Did that letter speak to anyone? If so, which part of it? was it for yourself? Was it for the team? Actually, it really DID ought to speak to each one of us – because it’s Ch 4 of Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, from the Message and Street Bible.
.

What really stood out for me, is “pouring yourselves out for each other in acts of love”, and how it closes with being “robust in love” It got me thinking…do we, as the Rivers Team family, ”pour ourselves out for each other in acts of love? Are we Robust in love? Do we love each other like God wants us to?
This is something Paul is passionate about and is a strong theme that runs throughout all of his letters. In the NIV Bible, “love” is mentioned, from Genesis to Revelation” 551 times – I believe Paul was onto something! He knew this was a basic requirement for all things Christ like. After all, God IS love. But – what does this love look like in Paul’s letters? I think Paul gives us a clear understanding of ove, in his first letter to the Corinthians, Lets do a little test. Try and answer as honestly as you can.
• Are we patient with one another? (pause after each question)
• Are we kind to each other?
• Is there someone in the team that we are envious of?
• Do we boast about what we do in/for the team?
• Are we proud of ourselves?
• Can we be rude to anyone at times?
• What we do in church – do we do it for ourselves or for the glory of God?
• Are we easily angered at each other?
• Do we forgive or do we keep a record of other people’s mistakes?
How did you get on with that? These are the attributes of love in Pauls letter in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. I didn’t do too well. I am the most impatient person ever and I find it very hard to let go, especially if I’ve been hurt. God has really spoken to me in this sermon. I am now actively practicing being patient and trying to let go of wrong doings. When we actively practice loving one another as Paul urges us to, only then will we be fully prepared to open our arms out lovingly to those who might join our family – I believe only then can we experience unity.
Let’s look at a few of Paul’s thoughts to the church in Rome, “Love must be sincere”; “be devoted to one another in brotherly love”; “honour one another above yourselves”; “never be lacking in enthusiasm but keep your spiritual passion, serving the Lord”; “be patient in affliction”; “practice hospitality”; “bless and do not curse”; “live in harmony with one another”; “do not be conceited”; live at peace with everyone”; “do not take revenge my friends but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written, “it is mine to avenge, I will repay, says the Lord” Wow! Plenty of challenges for us there if we’re going to be united in love!
Perhaps one of the biggest problems, too often, is that we are partial to who we love? – we tend to choose those who “look like us, think like us and act like us” but it’s our unity in Christ that’s the common bond we share.
Let me share a little story I heard. Its Sunday morning in church – the visiting preacher hasn’t arrived and the leadership are getting a bit nervous. Unexpectedly, a homeless man wanders in and, can of larger in hand, sits down in a pew near the back. There were a few nudges as several disgusted church goers noticed him – his clothes scruffy – his face almost covered by a dirty long beard and woolly hat pulled down past his eyes. Regular church members gave him a wide birth as they came into church and went to their seats. As he slowly sipped from his can of beer, the service leader announced that “unfortunately the preacher hasn’t arrived”. At the gasps of surprise, the homeless man stood up and revealed himself to be that preacher! He was making a point!

This congregation who he knew had recently had teaching on love and unity had not loved and embraced this man into their fellowship! What a great visual aid! I’m pretty sure it shocked quite a few people.

I’m sure most of the congregation in that story knew our passage from 1 Corinthians and yet, they didn’t put it into practice – and this is the difference we need to grasp – the difference between knowing it and living it out. If we’re going to be united in love and faith, then, surely, there’s no room for judgement. As Mathew 7:3 says, “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brothers eye, and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye” something to think about. I know I have.

Judgement can be so damaging can’t it. When I announced that I was pregnant with Abel, the first thing many people asked me was are you going to breastfeed. Which I found an odd thing to be asked, it’s not the first question I would think to ask someone who just announced such amazing news. Seemingly simple comments built up over the months, I was bullied, judged and pressured by people with strong opinions, nurses, doctors, friends, etc so by the time I had Abel I was in term oil. The pressure was so intense it did the very opposite of encouraging and I didn’t feel supported, all this contributed to post natal depression. Its not our place to judge, no one considered the possibility that I suffered from a severe anxiety disorder, no one knew my background. And just like in church No one knows the circumstance of individuals and what Gods really doing in their lives. we need to put our own opinions to one side as strong as they maybe and just love and encourage one other to help gifts grow and bloom. We need to be the loving disciples we were all called to be. Can you imagine if all I got, from announcing that I was pregnant, was love, encouragement and support in my own choices, how much different my experience would have been in those early
days. We need think about how our own opinions effect those around us, how it effects our role in our church family. How it may interfere with God’s plans for us. Our main focus is the bond we share in Jesus, that is our priority, that is how we live in love and faith.

I think Pauls letter to the Philippians hits the nail on head. This is taken from the message bible: ”If you’ve gotten anything at all out of following Christ, if his love has made any difference in your life, if being in a community of the Spirit means anything to you, if you have a heart, if you care— then do me a favour: Agree with each other, love each other, be deep-spirited friends. Don’t push your way to the front; don’t sweet-talk your way to the top. Put yourself aside, and help others get ahead. Don’t be obsessed with getting your own advantage. Forget yourselves long enough to lend a helping hand.”
Challenging words, I know I really do, but we must try. Surely being of one mind, is about accepting and loving others as the Liberator loves us. As followers of Jesus, we are obliged to live lives of love, hope and sacrifice. I believe that means we need to encourage one another, to use our gifts, build each other up to build His kingdom, we’re not a one man band. Satan will do anything and everything he can do to divide us. Each of us needs to function within the body of Christ in which we are ALL united.

Prayer (based on 2 passages from Rom 15:5-6 and John 17:23)

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement, give us a spirit of unity among ourselves as we follow Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth we may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. May we be brought to complete unity, to let the world know that You sent Your son Jesus and have loved them as You have loved Him. Amen.

Principles for living in love and faith – Love casts out fear

by Julie Barringer
3rd October 2021

1 John 4 v7-21

At Messy church and family services, we used to sing a song called “Sometimes I feel afraid”.
The lyrics go like this:

Sometimes I feel afraid of getting things all wrong
Of people who will tease me when they see the things I’ve done
Sometimes I feel afraid of being on my own
With no one here to play with me I’ll always be alone
Sometimes I feel afraid of things I cannot see
Of monsters in the dark who might be chasing after me
Then each verse finishes: But then I remember there’s no need to be afraid….

Have you noticed that none of the things listed here are physical things? We might be afraid of spiders, mice, rats, birds, snakes – the options are endless but those invisible, hidden fears such as what will people think of me or what if I do the wrong thing are the ones that really affect us the most. The ones that stop us going where we want to go or doing the things that we want to do.

How often do people not go to church because they fear that they will be condemned for something they have done in the past or because of their current lifestyle or just because they feel that they don’t belong. Even within our churches, there are people who are keeping parts of their lives hidden because they worry about what people will think of them. And, to be honest, they have grounds for thinking such things because there are parts of the church who have been very condemnatory in the past, and some who still are.

But the church is full of sinners! Just look around you – and don’t forget to look back at yourself! And there is no ranking for sins. You can’t say your sin is worse than my sin so it cannot be forgiven. All sin is failure: Romans 3: 23 For all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. If you have failed your driving test by a couple of minor faults or by several major ones, you have still failed and are not permitted to drive. Most of us know this to be
true and believe that we have been forgiven so how can we believe that there are those who might not or, even worse, should not be forgiven.

I came across a quote on Facebook the other day which is relevant to this topic (who says that God cannot speak to us through social media?). The quote is from Thomas Merton, who was a Trappist monk in the United States, was born in 1915 and died in 1968. I don’t know how much you know about Trappist monks but they are a very ascetic order, who are very much into self-discipline and abstention, which makes what he said even more amazing. He said
“Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy.” Apparently, these words came to him while he was walking the streets of New York, amongst the whole mix of humanity that was there. When I investigated further, the quote actually goes on “Our job is to love others without stopping to inquire whether or not they are worthy. That is not our business, and in fact, it is nobody’s business. What we are asked to do is to
love, and this love itself will render both ourselves and our neighbours worthy. So, these words come from a man who set himself the highest personal standards and heard God telling him that he should love everyone regardless of who they are and what they might have done.

Our love should be unconditional, wholehearted and for everyone. Of course, we have the greatest example to follow – we know that Jesus died for all. Sometimes it is easy to say those words and just think about “the whole world” in a fairly distant sort of way but try adjusting your view a bit; focus in on the people around you, the people you live with, the people you work with, the people in this building right now. You are called to love them all in the same
way that God loves you – totally, completely and unconditionally. There will be people that you don’t agree with, but you’ve got to love ‘em, people who you don’t like much, you’ve got to love ‘em, people whose life style you don’t approve of, you’ve got to love ‘em. No exceptions, no buts, no what ifs.

Verse 21 of 1 John 4 in The Message translations reads: The command we have from Christ is blunt: Loving God includes loving people. You’ve got to love both. The thing is love is sometimes hard. The Street Bible says that Love is not “our weedy, warm squidgy fluffy feelings towards God. No, love is his world-shifting passion for us that gave him no choice but to send his Son as a virgin sacrifice to lose the mess that blocked any chance of getting us and
God back together again.” Love is not easy. Anybody who thinks that the Christian life is a soft option has got it all wrong. We are called to forgive the unforgiveable and to love the unlovable. And that is hard. We can only do it because we know that God has shown his love for each one of us and we are secure in that.

So, let us be an open, welcoming and loving church. Let no one be afraid to come in through our doors because they feel that they will not be accepted. If anyone wants to say that we are mixing with sinners, then let them! They said the same of Jesus, so we have a great role model to follow. If we can offer unconditional love to all who are in the church now and all those who come through our doors, then there should be no need for anyone to fear anything. God
does not want any of us to live in fear and I am confident that Jesus will not accuse any of us of loving too much.

I said at the beginning of this that the last line of each verse of the song went: And then I remember there’s no need to be afraid:

This is why:

Because my God He is big
He’s gigantic He’s enormous
He is powerful and strong
He is amazing and He’s awesome
And there’s nothing in this world
That He couldn’t pulverize
So I know I’ve got nothing to fear No! No!
So I know I’ve got nothing to fear

Principles for living in love and faith – 1 Made in the image

by Revd Philip Barringer

12th September 2021

Psalm 139: 1-6

Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, grace mercy and peace to you. Over the next few weeks, we will be learning together what it means to be the ‘Big Family of God’ and looking at 6 principles for living together in love and faith. The first of these is to recognise and acknowledge prejudice.

So, here’s a question. What do you see when you look in the mirror? The answer might seem obvious, we see ourselves looking right back. But what do we really see? Do we see ourselves as others see us? Or as we see ourselves? And how do we feel about what we see? Increasingly as I look in the mirror, I see my dad looking back at me. When I was younger, had more hair and carried a bit less weight I didn’t see any resemblance, but it seems that the older I get the greater the resemblance.

It may be that you look in the mirror and wish you could change what you see, but scripture declares that we are all made in the image of God. Genesis 1:26-27 says, “Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness…” So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” At the same time scripture affirms that we are all made wonderfully unique, in our reading the Psalmist exclaims “Thank You for making me so wonderfully complex! Your workmanship is marvellous.” So when you look in the mirror, what you see is in some sense a unique reflection of the image of God. This understanding must be foundational in how we relate to each other and, in particular, how we deal with difference and diversity. Because in some way we each uniquely reflect the image of God, we should receive diversity and difference as a gift from a God who created all things and saw that they were very good, and rejoice in the fact that we are, each one of us, fearfully and wonderfully made.

And yet, in all kinds of different ways, most of us, if we are honest about it, have areas where we find difference difficult. We are all conditioned by our experience of life, positively or negatively, and we tend to gravitate towards ‘people like us’, those who can relate to our life experiences. We all have characteristics that some people find difficult to relate to, and we all
have difficulty relating to certain kinds of people, whether this is based on age, social background, gender, race, sexuality, churchmanship, theology, or anything else.

One word for this is prejudice, and it is probably prejudicial to say it, but each of us harbour prejudice in some form or another! And this can extend into how we relate to one another both as, and within our different congregations across the Team.

Yet the gospel calls us to value all people, and seek to see Christ in all our neighbours, because all are loved children of God, and the cross of Christ is for all, and this principle must infuse all
our relationships, and especially with those who are ‘not like us’.

So how do we ensure that we welcome people as they are, rather than welcoming them in the hope that they will become and behave ‘like us’? How do we love people unconditionally with a positive attitude that is without judgement or question? How do we relate to each other, as a diverse people, in a way that the world sees, takes notice of, and wants to join in?

To start with we must acknowledge and address our own prejudices, both individually and collectively. And where we see them, we need to call them out and bring them to light, with humility and repentance.

In this we need to keep our focus on Jesus, who is the image of the invisible God and in whom God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell (Col 1:15-19), and learn from the way Jesus met and dealt with the lost, the least and the lawbreaker, the ways in which Jesus loved the unlovable, touched the untouchable, forgave the unforgivable, welcomed the stranger, dined with the outcast, elevated the weak, drew in the marginalised. And then allow that to shine a light into our life together.

Jesus commissioned the church to do the things that he did, to show the unconditional, overwhelming restless love of God. I believe this is something we have to do together, celebrating our differences and diversity and recognising that whilst only Christ – in whom God ‘was pleased to have all his fulness dwell’ – fully reflects the image of the invisible God, individually we each bear something the image of God, and by the Holy Spirit in us we each carry God’s presence, however, precisely because of our uniqueness and diversity, it is
together that we will reflect more completely the image of Jesus and be more fully filled with all fullness of God. So, the closer we are in our relationships as the ‘big family of God’, the
more we revel his glory. The more we see, value, and give expression to the unique gifts of every person in the church, and truly embrace the gift of our differences, the more fully we
will reflect his likeness. And this needs to be expressed in practical ways, the difference needs to be visible and celebrated, our collective worship, our leadership, and ministries should reflect the diversity of experience and gifting we are blessed with, and our welcome and hospitality needs be all embracing and extravagant.

There will always be people we feel more naturally aligned to, but we all need to make a
conscious effort not to allow this to exclude others, but to have porous borders and to be
intentional in drawing people in, focused on the things we do have in common, and
recognising that while we were still far off Christ died for us. Hallelujah! Amen.
With love and blessing, Rev. Philip

A prayer to accompany this series:

Lord of the Church forgive our failure to acknowledge and address our prejudices:
open our hearts and minds to value those with whom we disagree;
forgive the way we collude with silence and imprison others in it:
give us courage to speak words that liberate and heal;
forgive our reluctance to address our ignorance:
lead us into the truth that will set us free;
forgive the cycles of negativity that trap us in fear:
cast out our fear with your perfect love;
forgive our failure to admit our hypocrisy:
give us grace to grow in self-awareness and personal integrity;
forgive us when disparities of power undermine trust:
shape our conversations with humility and mutual respect;
that we may live well together
and rejoice to be disciples of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Esther – right person, right place, right time

by Denise Teal
28th August 2021

So, here is a question for you: Can you remember a time and a place that something significant happened entirely by chance? Perhaps you were able to help someone at a time you hadn’t intended and it left you thinking “I couldn’t have planned that better if I’d wanted! What are the chances?” When we read the story of Esther, it seems to have a lot of these chance events in her life… each one, a meaningful coincidence. “Meaningful” because they led to her being in a position to save her people from an act of genocide, remove an evil, manipulating courtier and still keep her place as queen with the love of a very powerful ruler. As Christians, we don’t have to see these meaningful moments as random, chance events but as opportunities led by God.

What were Esther’s “chance” moments? To start with, she was an Israelite in exile in Persia who happened to be talent spotted among many beautiful maidens who were probably being presented one per night for about 4 years. (Over 1,400 …That’s a lot of beautiful eligible women to find.) Of all that beauty, the king happened to immediately show love…for Esther. While her uncle, Mordecai waited to hear news of her progress in the royal court, he happened to overhear a plot to kill the king and so saved the king from assassination and when the king wanted to honour someone special, through more twists of fate, each move by evil Haman became opportunities for Esther to use her position wisely at the right moments; to please the king and also turn the tide on Haman’s evil plans.

Here is a story that needed right time, right place and wisdom working together. At first glance, modern women might want Esther’s story deleted from our reading list as sexist. But when you look behind this style of prose and what looks like exploitation of women, there seems to be a definite thread of a quiet laugh (400 BCE-style) at the king with all that power and those pompous courtiers… men that think they’re in control, with the plotting that goes on to keep it. Yet, in the background there is a quiet goal for one woman’s cleverness, making the power of those great men ineffective by their own hand.

It almost reads like a dark comedy through the exaggerations we read in it. For example, it took six months to plan a celebration, a whole year to beautify potential wives like Esther who were already the most beautiful in the land. Also, the gallows Haman builds to hang Mordecai are 27 metres high! And there was Xerxes; a powerful king over a great kingdom with unprecedented wealth, and a tendency to have people put to death if he hasn’t pointed his sceptre their way when they visit… having to ask for marriage guidance from his noblemen who tell him to find another queen because his own has refused to be shown off at a banquet and theirs might follow her example.

When a friend of mine wandered through a men’s outfitter department in London, she recognised a couple of government ministers there with their wives, choosing clothes. A risible, witty thought crossed her mind: men in charge of steering our nation but needing their wives to choose their clothes for them? Hiding in full view is also an important lesson for Christians today. What looks like exploitation of power, with its exaggerations, kingly egos and all that plotting by pompous courtiers, we see another, quieter achievement from people with faith
where God will deliver opportunities to be in the right place to do His work and to make a difference.

Though God is never mentioned directly in Esther’s story, faith and trust are implied through the words of Esther and her uncle, Mordecai. First, Esther asks for her people to fast. This shows respect for God…a way to make amends with Him and stop a catastrophe. Secondly, God’s influence is implied through Mordecai, with faith in God’s timing, when he tells her: “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to
your royal position for such a time as this?” He’s saying that God will save her people, but if Esther doesn’t act, someone else will get the job done for Him… it’s her missed opportunity to serve God.

Pride and power like that of Xerxes and Haman… are no guarantee of success in God’s world. Sometimes, the best approach is the quiet, steady patience of one that listens and watches for the right opportunities, at the right time, like Esther. We find a reminder of this in Ecclesiastes.3: “to everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose … time to be silent and a time to speak”. There are other stories all through the Bible where God works through people who He brings to the right place at the right time. They had to make the right
responses too. In Acts.8, Philip obeys the divine instruction to be on the right road at the right time to explain the scriptures and help the Ethiopian take a decisive step to faith in Christ. Who knows how many more came to faith from this event? We too, can find ourselves led at some time, to some place, to someone who needs to hear a word from us. When we can see where God is moving and what God is blessing, that’s when we’re where we need to be. Then the ordinary moment becomes extraordinary and God multiplies the blessings of that event.

This is not just a story about putting only a woman’s beauty on a pedestal, under the “veil of coincidence” but that God is invisibly at work through opportunities with any of us then and today and “In all things God works for the good of those who love him who have been called according to His purpose”(Rom.8:28). Who knows but that God has placed any of us where we are right now to do His work? Is it time to look around where God is… in this place and this time in our lives, and have a think about the opportunities that he gives us to serve him, right here, right now? And who knows but that like Esther, you have come to where you are now, for such a time as this? Amen.

The Sons of Thunder

By Chris Butler
Mark 3:13-19,10:35-45; Luke 9:54

Have you ever been given a nickname? The disciples James and John were given a nickname by Jesus – The Sons of Thunder. It was given as a reflection of their personality. The name has connotations of being wild and angry, just like their fiery temperament.

In our readings we learn how this pair lived up to their nickname. As Jesus travelled around he sent messengers ahead to the various villages along his route to make arrangements for their accommodation. But one of the villages in Samaria refused to give them hospitality. When James and John heard about this they were incensed. So they turned to Jesus and said: ‘Do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, as Elijah did?’ They wanted instant justice – to strike down this entire village of men, women, and children! Their rage at the Samaritans was so great they wanted to take on the role of God’s executioners. Jesus was not pleased and he rebuked their cruelty.

Then we have the incident in Mark Chapter 10 when James and John come to Jesus and say “Give us whatever we ask”. Right off the bat, we can tell they are only thinking of themselves. “Let one of us sit at your right and the other at your left in your glory” they ask. Here we can see their selfish ambition coming to the fore, secretly vying for positions of power and glory for themselves – to be seen as the greatest and most important of disciples. But of course Jesus denies their request. Instead he gives them a lesson: “Whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. Real power in God’s kingdom is not about exercising authority or claiming privilege. The greatest people in the kingdom are those at the bottom of the ladder, gladly serving others who they place above themselves.

So James and John were no choir boys. On occasion, they could be intolerant, judgmental, and vindictive. On occasion, they could be conniving, greedy and proud. But despite their faults, Jesus didn’t expel them from the pack. Instead, he drew them closer to himself. Along with Peter, who was another rough diamond, they became part of Jesus’s inner circle. Not because Jesus was showing favouritism, but because they needed to be remoulded. Jesus allowed them to spend quality time with him – getting to know him, listening and learning from him. And their extra time with Jesus had a deep impact upon them. By the end of Jesus ministry, their selfish ambition and their judgemental attitude had evaporated.

At Jesus crucifiction, despite the threat of the crowd, John’s love for his master was so great that he was the only one of the disciples there. And Jesus knew he could now rely on John’s compassion as he entrusted his mother Mary into John’s care. From that day he looked after her as his own mother. John became a giant of the faith and wrote 5 books in the New Testament. He became known as the apostle of love because He emphasises love so much in his writings. In his 1st epistle alone he uses the word 27 times. And in John’s gospel he mentions ‘love’ more than all the other gospels put together.

As for James, he previously wanted a place of prominence, and well he got it. But not by selfishly muscling his way to the top of the ladder but rather by laying down his life for his master and becoming the first apostle to be martyred. And the fact the Jews were so eager to kill him suggests that his ministry was a particularly powerful and influential one.

So after spending time with Jesus, these rough diamonds were transformed into sparkling jewels. And Jesus can do the same for us.
None of us are perfect. Like James and John, we can all have a tendency to sin. But Jesus does not reject us or expel us from his presence. Instead He invites us to spend quality time with him, like James and John. If we immerse ourselves in the bible, speak to him in prayer and spend time in worship and praise, then we too can expect to be transformed. As we are led by the Holy Spirit and come under his control, we will tend to shun evil, and instead produce the fruit of the Spirit listed in Gal 5:22-23. Like the Sons of Thunder, we will be remoulded and reshaped like clay in the potter’s hands to become more like the Lord Jesus Christ himself.

Jeremiah

205052995_4002898273113281_7888532548955859096_nby Revd Philip Barringer

15th August 2021
Dear brother and sister in Christ, grace, mercy and peace to you in the name of our Lord Jesus. I hope this finds you keeping safe and well and able to enjoy a return to something closer to normality as the COVID-19 restrictions are eased.

As we continue our summer season looking at various bible characters, this week it is the turn of Jeremiah. He was the son of a priest in the land of Judah, and lived around 600 years before Jesus was born, and he prophesied over a particularly turbulent time in the history of the Israelites.

Last week we saw how Daniel was taken to Babylon when Jerusalem was captured by Nebuchadnezzar, and Jeremiah prophesied about this event warning the king and the people to return to the Lord.

 

Like Daniel, Jeremiah was a teenager when God called him, possibly aged as just 13. We read in Jeremiah chapter 1:

“The word of the LORD came to me, saying, “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born, I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” Alas, Sovereign LORD,” I said, “I do not know how to speak; I am too young.”
But the LORD said to me, “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’

Jeremiah tries to say that he is too young, but God is having none of it. God’s call on our lives comes before we are even born, before we are even conceived. Our children and young people might think they are too young to be called by God, and our adults may believe they are too, but time and again in scripture we see God calling and anointing children and young people to minister, and this is perhaps particularly true of prophetic ministry.

Last week we heard how the young man Daniel, was called and served the Lord in a foreign land. Samuel was called as a prophet when he was a young boy, Joseph was just 17 when he had his prophetic dreams. King David was in his youth when he killed the giant Goliath. In the New Testament we are told of the boy who, with prophetic faith, brought his lunch of 5 loaves and 2 fish to Jesus, who then fed 5,000 people When the Holy Spirit came on the Day of Pentecost, Peter reminded the crowds of God’s promise through the prophet Joel that the Holy Spirit is for everyone, regardless of age, gender or background “God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.”

Children and young people are not the church of the future, they are not ministers in waiting, we should be expecting our young people to be called minister before the Lord and in His church, and our ministry structures and patterns need to facilitate this.

One of the great joys for me through lockdown and our online services was to see our children and young people on camera taking an active part in our services.

I remember when I first felt called by God into ordained ministry, I was 14, and the word of the Lord came to me when I was at the Keswick Convention. I shared this with one of the speakers, who wrote these words from Jeremiah in my bible “Do not say, ‘I am too young.’ You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I
command you.”

When I shared this with my vicar, he looked for ways in which I could develop in ministry, so whilst it took 30 years for the established church to recognise and affirm this calling, my local church recognised and affirmed it and enabled me to grow and develop into it.

In my view, children are ideal for prophetic ministry – the are great at speaking truth to power, and their imaginations are open and fertile places, receptive to the prompting of the Holy Spirit.

I want our churches to be places that are expectantly excited at the prospect of God calling and anoint our children and young people, particularly in the realms of the prophetic and be prepared to change the way we do things to encourage this and open to being ministered to by them, to create culture where it becomes part of our
normal experience of church to see, hear and receive the ministry of our children and young people in the power of the Holy Spirit. As a church we need to be like Eli, who taught the boy Samuel to listen for, hear and speak out the word of the Lord, and the king and people in Jeremiah’s time, we need to be willing to hear and receive that word.

May the Lord enrich us with grace and humility that we might receive his word from the mouths of children and infants, from whom he has ordained praise.

With love and blessings

Rev. Philip

Daniel

by Revd Philip Barringer

8th August 2021

Dear Brothers and sisters, grace, mercy and peace be with you. Our bible character this week is undoubtedly one of my biblical heroes. Daniel, A young nobleman, probably in his mid to late teens, is forcibly relocated along with several other young Israelites, when King Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem in around 605BC. He is enrolled into the ‘university’ of Babylon to further his education on a three-year course in Civil Service and Administration in readiness to serve in government at the King’s palace.

Thrown into this alien environment, with multiple temptations and pressures to conform and blend in, it would be no surprise if Daniel and his friends had given up on their faith and the God who had allowed all this to happen. But, instead, as I think is so often the case in scripture, and in life, we find young people leading the way and setting an example of faith and faithfulness. So as we draw out lessons from the life of Daniel that encourage us to be prepared to stand firm in our Christian faith in a world that increasingly holds very different values, I want to affirm the faith and faithfulness of our young people, and encourage us all to look at and learn from them.

Daniel resolved not to defile himself, and along with his three friends decided to make a stand, one that would separate them out from the crowd and make it clear where their ultimate allegiance lay. When we find ourselves faced with pressures to conform to the standards of this world, we may need to be ready to make a stand and to push back.

Choosing to follow a vegetarian diet during their training a point of resistance to their assimilation into the Babylonian culture and spiritual life, and in choosing this particular point, Daniel and his friends pick their battle well. There was little they could do about much that was happening to them, but in this matter, they could make a statement. And they did so with great wisdom and grace, that won them the favour and compassion of the palace official with responsibility for their education.

Careful not to back him into a corner, but to bring him with them, they suggest a trial period for their restricted diet and leave him to judge the outcome. We don’t have to be prickly and confrontational in standing up for our faith, and in setting up things in this way, Daniel trusted the outcome to God, and therefore ensured that God was glorified.

I believe that Daniel and his friends learnt a valuable lesson here, one that we see played out when they are faced with a more difficult challenges to their spiritual integrity in the future. When they faced the fiery furnace, they said “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to present a defence to you in this matter. If our God whom we serve is able to save us from the furnace of blazing fire out of your hand, O king, let him deliver us. But be it known O king, that we will not serve your gods, and we will not worship the golden statue you have set up”. And, even though he knew that the king had signed a decree prohibiting it, and faced with a den of lions, we are told that Daniel “continued to go to his house… and to get down on his knees three times a day to pray to his God and praise him, just as he had done previously.”

Daniel and his friends had learned that God contends and overcomes on their behalf, the battle and the victory belong to the Lord. It is so easy for us to think that we are fighting our battles and winning victories, but throughout scripture we are reminded that the battle belongs to the Lord and that we stand in the victory that Jesus has already won for us.

God not only overcomes for Daniel and his friends, but he also elevates and honours them, rewarding their faith above and beyond all expectations. The outcome of the 10 day dietary trial was that “they appeared better and fatter than all the young men who had been eating the royal rations”, and at the end of their training “no one was found to compare with Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah” and “In every matter of wisdom and understanding concerning which the king inquired of them, he found them ten times better than all the magicians and enchanters in his whole kingdom”, because “to these four young men God gave knowledge and skill in every aspect of literature and wisdom…” God honours and elevates when we remain faithful and allow him to contend for us.

Daniel served at the highest level of Government in a foreign land for a period of around 65 years. 3 different kings, all of them ruthless and vain each found Daniel to be the most trustworthy and wise of their advisors. The foundations for this career were laid in a simple act of faithful resistance when he was young, disoriented and under pressure to conform.

Wherever you might need to make a stand for the Lord, may his grace prove sufficient for you.

With love and blessings

Rev. Philip

Barnabas The Encourager

by Liz Shaw

Have you ever felt discouraged? Maybe at school, at work, at home or in Church? Do you feel that you are maybe doing the wrong thing because no one is there with you and supporting you? How do you feel when you have had encouragement, when someone has said something positive, given you a Good Luck note or taken time to listen to your ideas and feelings?

Barnabas is mentioned in the book of Acts which records the start of the early church. He was a man actually called Joseph who was a Levite from Cyprus. The apostles called his Barnabas which means ‘Son of Encouragement’. He is described in Acts 11:24 as “a good man, and full of the holy spirit and of faith” So how did he get this name? For him to have his name changed with a profound meaning attached to it must have meant he was well respected. If you remember Paul, he was a man very opposed to the teachings of Jesus and persecuted those believers. He then had an amazing conversion on the road to Damascus. The disciples were a little skeptical at first of this change in Paul. He had done a full 360 degree turn and was he trustworthy? Barnabas on the other hand took him under his wing and vouched for his commitment. He bridged the gap between Paul and the disciples. Paul was accepted by the disciples and as we see in the rest of Acts Paul served the Lord and the Church spread.

Like Paul, New Christians can come with reputations and some that are difficult to leave behind. But none of us are perfect! The true meaning of the Gospel is that the forgiveness of sins and freedom from guilt are available through faith in Christ. New Christians and indeed all Christians need people, like you and me to come alongside them, encourage them and welcome them into the Church. If Barnabas hadn’t stood up for Paul where would the Church be today? We might not have been here today learning more about God’s truth.
Are we continually building people up and encouraging them? Encouraging words can bring life, courage, hope and truth to the recipient. They can help people catch a glimpse of how God sees them. I have a piece of paper that says on it “words of encouragement from cell group” A few years ago the cell group I was in had to write a sentence about each other, no names were put on it, although you could guess the handwriting for some! It was for you to keep.

At times since we did this exercise, I have looked at it and it does give me encouragement and reminds me how others see me and not how I see myself which can at times be negative.
We need to help people become more like Jesus. It is not a role for experts or people with decades of wisdom. Those who have a relationship with Christ, are living in fellowship with others and growing in faith through reading scripture and prayer can come alongside others. We should also look for opportunities to praise those who bring glory to God in their lives. Barnabas in Acts 11 :23 – 24 encouraged believers to say true to the Lord. He gave help, encouragement, comfort and wisdom to those around him. He helped others accomplish their ministry.

The following Bible verses reminds that it is important for us to encourage each other,

Thessalonians 5: 11 “Therefore, encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.”

Hebrews 3 v 13 “But encourage one another daily as long as it is called Today so that none of you may be hardened by sins deceitfulness.”

Therefore, can you be a Barnabas, a son of encouragement to others? Do you know a new Christian, someone struggling with doubts about their faith or someone having a difficult time?
Do you need someone to be a Barnabas to you? Tell someone your needs or concerns, ask for and receive prayer.

Hebrews 10 :24 -25 says “And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching”

Amen

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