Power and Authority

By Denise Cryer

Mark 1: 21-28

Many, many people around our world, know their Bible better than I do – the religious leaders in the synagogue were very intellectual people; learned scholars, familiar with the scriptures so what made this day in the synagogue so different? It may have been the first time this man had
visited – in which case it’s one heck of a coincidence isn’t it? Jesus just happening to be there too. Jesus often turns up when we’re not expecting him to!

Jesus was a guest speaker on this occasion, but usually it would have been the religious leaders who spoke and taught. I think it’s interesting that all their knowledge, wisdom, insight, clever words – never challenged a demon! Why was that? – because, despite their revered position, they didn’t have the divine power and authority of Jesus! The evil spirit was recognising something in Jesus that was different. It knew its time was up! it already knew that when Jesus addressed it, it was out of there and it wouldn’t be able to taunt and torment this man anymore! It wasn’t Jesus’ clever words, we’re not actually told what it was he said, it was the power and authority in which he spoke. 1 John 3:8 says, “for this purpose Christ was revealed, to destroy all the works of the evil one”

Jesus didn’t use man-given authority in the same way the religious leaders did, the way many politicians do today. I’m sure we all know someone who’s lorded it over US because of their position – perhaps an older brother or sister, perhaps a boss at work, maybe a leader even, in a local church. But this isn’t the kind of authority Jesus executed here. HIS words were coming straight from the heart and mind of God! And Jesus did, what he seemed to do best – he ruffled feathers! Jesus came into the world as a baby in a manger, not at all what had been expected of the Messiah – and ruffled feathers. Jesus was, and still is, ruffling feathers today.

This man in our passage had his life totally transformed – he wouldn’t be rejected any more or dismissed as “crazy”. He was free. Free to build a new life that wasn’t full of torment and torture! All through the New Testament men, women and children encountered Jesus and had their lives
transformed – the blind saw, the lame walked, the mute spoke, all kinds of disease and sickness healed – and they still do today. God doesn’t want any of us to go on living, however ok we might think it is, the life that we have right now. John 10:10 says of Jesus, “I came that they might have
life, and have it more abundantly” God wants to be effective in every area of our life – not only in our illness. There’s a little guy in the Bible called Zacchaeus – a tax collector and one of the wealthiest men in Jericho – until he opened his home and heart to Jesus. That brief visit cost him most of his fortune which he ended up giving to the poor and back to those he’d cheated, but he went on to live a life that was much more valuable than any of the money he’d had! A man called Saul had a promising future stretched out in front of him. Then he met Jesus on the road to Damascus and everything changed – that persecutor of Christians became a disciple of Christ. Over a 1000 years later, Francis of Assisi, the son of a rich cloth merchant and heir to great wealth, encountered Jesus and his life took a radical turn.

Many of US listening today, have met Jesus and had our lives transformed through that same power and authority as the man in the synagogue – who probably wouldn’t have gone there expecting to be healed! He’d probably heard about Jesus and thought he was worth listening to! I wonder – if any of YOU have heard about Jesus and think it might be worth meeting him yourself? I’d really like to encourage you to do that, especially as we continue through these difficult times.

Many of us are experiencing situations we’ve not had to deal with before; fears and worries and anxieties; illness; loneliness; loss and grief; emptiness; financial difficulties – the list goes on. Many of us have been brought to our knees by situations we can’t control, forces that are too
strong for us – and when we’re feeling like this, we need to turn to that power that’s above and beyond ourselves. Jesus is the One who has authority over EVERY battle we might find ourselves in and, as our passage has shown us, even if that battle’s a spiritual one.

The interesting thing, is that when Jesus moves in our life, He doesn’t want us to be stuck in that moment. It’s great when he answers a prayer or heals us, or just loves us when we need it – but it shouldn’t stop there! The final line in our passage says, “news about Him spread quickly over the whole region of Galilee” ! People were excited about what they’d witnessed, and news of Jesus spread quickly.

And this is what Christian discipleship is all about – meeting Jesus – allowing Him to fill US with the same power and authority, so we can live that full life that He came to give us, so we too can share what we know and see of Jesus with others. What a difference it would make in our families; in our circle of friends; in our communities, if we engage in mission through word and deed! If we just get excited about what Jesus is doing, and share with those we know and love.

I think there’s a couple of reasons this doesn’t happen as much as it should. Firstly, I think we need to get excited about God! – about reading His Word; speaking to Him in prayer; through listening to Him, encouraging one another and building one another up! and when we can, sharing quality fellowship with one another.

Secondly, for some of us, it’s easy to talk!! – for others, not quite so. But a good place to start is by asking ourselves a few basic questions – who is Jesus? what does He mean to ME personally? Is He a baby to be adored at Christmas?, a go-to in a crisis? Or Is He a Shepherd to be trusted, to be followed? Is He an answer to my prayers? A healer for my sickness? A comfort for my sadness, my peace in the middle of my troubles?. And when you’ve mulled these questions over – had a good think about them for yourself – then you’ve got something to share with others, then you can ask yourself, “If He means these things to me, what might He mean to my friend, my relative? my neighbour?” how might God’s power and authority change their lives? We’ve all got something to share and we’ve all got someone to share it with.

Its easy to say that we believe in God isn’t it? ; that we believe in Jesus. But can we say, “He’s MY God, Jesus is MY Saviour”?. Let’s plug in to God’s power supply so we don’t just look good on the outside, but so we can share our faith, our experiences of the living Jesus with others as the early church did, our communities; our world will be transformed. In the name and the power and the authority of Jesus,

Amen

Fishers of Men

by Laura Smith

This bible reading tells us about how Jesus called the first disciples. The disciples were people who believed in him, supported him, and lived out their lives devoted to being more like him. Does this sound familiar? Would you think of yourself as a disciple?

First, let’s imagine for a moment the shores of the Sea of Galilee in Jesus’s time. Fishing was big business; the main job people who lived there would do. There would have been lots of boats – some returning with the latest catch and others setting back out into open
water, and lots of people on the shore involved in sorting and salting fish ready to sell. Then there might have been others working in transporting the fish to market, and perhaps even more people preparing food or looking after the hard working fishermen. A noisy, busy, and bustling community, similar to that which some of you may remember – in the coal and steel industries of our local history.

The fishermen themselves were tough and strong, to handle to physical parts of the job, working all through the night, all year round, and in all weathers. They were very skilled, knowing where and how, to get a bumper catch of the best quality fish, and know how to make and keep their fishing nets in good condition. They would also have to be strong in other ways, determined and persistent, so that they didn’t give up if they only caught a few or no fish.

If you enjoy fishing for a hobby, then you might understand some of these things – knowing the correct type of bait to use, the best places to cast off, and the commitment needed to settle in for a long day, or until you catch that elusive ‘big one’ that’s been
toying with you for weeks.

But what does it mean to be fishers of people? Surely, we are not expected to go around with a big net catching as many people as we can and making them go to church. The idea that somehow trapping or coercing people is really not the aim and is something that has always made me feel a bit uncomfortable. I wouldn’t want anyone to feel they had been bullied into becoming a Christian. Instead, in our everyday ordinary activities, expressing care and compassion, and a willingness to share our own stories of faith as well as the good news of Jesus, we can offer an invitation and give people the choice to follow Jesus. As I have thought about this more perhaps actually it is only by choosing to allow ourselves to be caught that makes us free – in Christ.

Some bible commentary suggests that the fishermen’s qualities (hardworking, strong, resilient) are the reason they were chosen, plus the fact that they were ordinary people which put them in a good position to get on well with and understand the people Jesus wanted to reach. These first disciples already knew Jesus and had heard his teaching and were interested in the way he lived – which makes the fact that they dropped everything no questions asked – to follow him straight away a little easier to understand. I still think they were very brave and wonder how many of us would be prepared to do the same.

Myself, I’d need to pack a few things, gather up my bits and bobs – and the electric chargers, get someone to walk the dog, cancel that TV subscription, change my contact details, and Facebook status, make sure someone would feed the dog, make some arrangements for those other important responsibilities, feel free to insert you own commitments or excuses here.

Moving on, we might think of the nets as the way we draw people to God, to gather in our church family and communities – casting out and pulling in with love. There are many things that make our nets strong enough to draw people together and towards God, things like knowing and sharing the bible, praying to God – listening and trusting in His guidance, all help to strengthen each knot. Strong knots are vital if the net is going to hold and to stop the hole becoming too big so that people might slip through. A big responsibility for us fishermen!

There are many other things that we can all do to make and maintain these nets. Such as showing love, kindness, compassion, understanding, expressing empathy, unconditional respect, and being genuine. Fishermen will use different sized nets, to catch the different types of fish they are looking for. We can think about this in our fishing for people idea – in the need to create varied, interesting, relatable, and
accessible faith environments. We might need to use a net made of thick rope or thin rope depending on the amount of support a specific group of people may need. We might need nets with different sized holes – for different age groups, families or with specific needs.

Using brand new nets compared to well used and reliable nets, we could say has been required during the pandemic – developing new online services and home worship material, as an alternative to in person more traditional church gatherings. Perhaps reaching people who would not normally come to church, as well as already committed Christians. Of course, we are all hoping and praying for the day when we can return safely to meeting in person.

So, do you think of yourself as a disciple now? If we believe in Jesus and want to live more like him, then we are disciples and fishing for people is part of our calling from God.

Because Jesus came to live like us and died for us so that our sins are forgiven, we become willing to follow him and share our faith stories or testimonies, with other people. This is also called evangelism, and there are many styles, models, and approaches to the best way to do it. I’ve only mentioned a few of the ways we can share with people what we believe – you can probably think of many more.

The most important thing we need in our discipleship is God – we can’t do it without Him guiding us, softening hearts, and providing opportunities and places to cast out our nets.

Amen.

Jesus Calls Philip and Nathanael

by Liz Shaw

What is your calling in life? We will all have different answers but there is one call that is the same for each and every one of us. That is God’s call, His own personal invitation to follow him. God calls us to a relationship with him, he loves us unconditionally, we are all called to turn away from our sins and turn towards God and His plan for salvation. You may have an established relationship with God, a developing relationship and interest in one or not even really thought about it. Imagine God is at one end of the telephone, he wants to connect with you. Do you have your phone constantly at your side, forever looking at it any chance you have? Do you look at it occasionally when you have time? Do you use it only for emergencies or is it switched off?

Have you received the call from God and answered it? Is your response what your relationship with God is like? Is it on mute, is God’s trying to get through to you but you are putting up barriers. Do you let him go to answerphone and think I can’t deal with this now, When life is tough do you think I don’t have time or room in my life for God right now so I’ll respond another time. Or is it on constantly with you responding back and it becoming a two way conversation?

While I have used the example of a telephone call as the link between you and God, He can and does speak to us in other ways. In John 1 v 43-51 Philip and Nathaniel had the honour of meeting Jesus in person. Nathaniel was initially skeptical about the idea of a Messiah coming from Nazareth but Philip encouraged him to come and see. Nathaniel reacted with a confession of faith proclaiming him to be the Son of God because He knew that Jesus spoke the truth about seeing him under the fig tree. In contrast we can look at the story of Samuel where it took three attempts by God before Samuel realized whose voice was speaking to him. The Lord called him and he answered “Here I am” and ran to Eli thinking it was him
speaking. Eli told him he hadn’t called him.

This happened again and again. Eli realized that it was actually the Lord calling Samuel who did not yet know the Lord and told him to say “Speak, for your servant is listening” when he was called again. Samuel did as he was told to and said these words. He received a message from God which he would pass on to Eli. On my own journey I can remember a time when God was trying to talk to me but I wasn’t listening and trying to ignore the signs. I was seeking a deeper relationship with God and feeling frustrated at my Church at the time. I was resisting making changes as I had been going there all my life. Through a visit to a Christian Resources Exhibition I ended up going for a week’s mission trip in Kosova with Smile International. I had a fabulous time sharing in fellowship with other Christians, meeting and helping people in need and experiencing prayer like I’d never done before but I came back to the same frustrations and life carried on. A year later I went back but I came back again with more questions than answers. A few months later a friend of someone from my trip who I had never met said two words to me “false loyalty”. These words struck home and I realised I was staying at my Church out of this false sense of loyalty when really I wanted to move so I moved eventually to St Mary’s. So for me, it took time to really listen to God. God can work at any place, any time and through anyone he chooses.

God is calling you, He wants to be in a relationship with you. Being open we come to know the truth. Will you answer Him straight away, will you put Him on hold or choose to ignore him? Be ready to listen and respond like Samuel did by saying “Hear I am.”

Amen
Love & Blessings from Liz Shaw

The Baptism of Jesus

by David Vickers

The account of the baptism of Jesus shows a bridge between the Old Testament and the New. John the Baptist was a prophet in the style of the old scriptures. Those scriptures contain prophecies of one who would come to prepare the way for the Messiah (in Exodus, Isaiah and Malachi). The Israelites at this time were desperate for a saviour. They had had enough of Roman occupation.

John was a relative of Jesus. Their mothers had spent time together when both were pregnant. John’s mother was old and assumed to be barren when Zachariah, his father and a priest was visited by Angel Gabriel and told Elizabeth would give birth to a son. John was brought up in the temple and well taught in the scriptures.

When he was thirty, he started his ministry, six months ahead of cousin Jesus. Like prophets of old, John’s preached a message of repentance and forgiveness of sins He was carrying on the warnings of those old prophets to the nation of Israel who had turned away from obeying God Jehovah and were facing the consequences.

This simple-living son of the temple knew his calling. He attracted people from all over Judea, Jerusalem and beyond. Could this be the promised Messiah. Many heeded his words and were baptised in the Jordan and other water as a public declaration of their faith. Baptism was symbolic of ritual cleansing and of initiation into a community.

So why did Jesus come to be baptised? He was without sin. He did not need the forgiveness of God the Father. But Jesus is the Word of God made flesh. He is all man and all God. As a man, He had the need to identify with mankind along with this community of men who were being baptised. Before the voice of God was heard from the rent in Heaven, Jesus had not been revealed as the Son of God. He was a man being initiated into this community of the prophet John. When His godhead was revealed and his communion with the Father and the Spirit, the Trinity was complete.

This was the start of a ministry that would lead to his perfect sacrifice for all mankind. When the Spirit of God descended on Jesus in the form a dove (like the symbol of hope to Noah in the Ark) Jesus was ready to face all that the world would throw at him. This would start with a period being tempted in the desert and end with his crucifixion and resurrection.

When followers of Jesus are baptised, they are making a public declaration that they have been adopted into God’s family – his community. Either, as babies, our parents and god-parents make promises to raise us in this family, or as adults we are baptised to declare our commitment. Our new life in Christ comes when our old self dies and we rise again with Jesus. Jesus baptises us in Spirit to equip us from our journey with Him, though life’s troubles and challenges, sure in the comfort of an earthly and heavenly family, looking out for one another through His love. We are also equipped as disciples, sharing this good news with those we meet.

Whether or not we have been baptised as infants or adults, the important thing is that we are a part of a caring family, our church, with a community of people empowered with the power of God’ Spirit.

The Magi

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAby Philip Barringer

Dear Brothers and Sisters, Happy New Year, grace, mercy and peace to you from our Lord Jesus Christ. As we come to the end of the Christmas season and enter 2021, the church celebrates the visit of the magi as recorded in Matthew 2v1-12 and for me this is one of the most intriguing parts of the story of Christmas and perhaps the one that has attracted the most layers of wrapping and padding, which have become deeply embedded in the folklore of Christmas.

Think about some of the carols we sing, the nativity scenes you see or the cards you receive, and you’ll see what I mean. When we hear this story, I wonder how many of us automatically think of 3 kings? But there weren’t necessarily 3. The biblical account doesn’t give a number, most old Greek manuscripts use the word Magoi which is plural, so there were probably more than one, but 3 comes from the number of gifts they gave. They weren’t kings either! They are described as Magi and there is nothing in the Gospel record that implies that they were rulers of any kind. Rather, early readers reinterpreted Matthew in light of Old Testament prophecies that describe the Messiah being worshipped by kings, so they elevated the status of Magi. Later Christian scholars have largely rejected this idea and it is more common to talk about wise men these days, and this is probably closer to the mark. Magi is literally ‘magician’ or ‘sorcerer’, but covers interpreters of omens, dreams, and astrologers. Clearly there is evidence for this in the text as they ‘saw his star rising’, or they ‘read it in the stars’.

They were from the east, which means that they came from outside the Roman empire, whose eastern boundary lay just beyond Judea, probably from the Persia and Parthian Empire, the region of those old enemies of Israel, Assyria and Babylon. Nations whose kings had previously sent armies, taken them as captives into exile and demanded their worship, now come in homage. We know that the kings of Persia, Assyria and Babylon consulted astrologers, magicians, and sorcerers cf (Dan 2:2) so it may well be that these men were royal advisors – the policy think tank of their day.

The Israelites were warned against practicing magic, sorcery, divination of any kind, relying instead on God to speak to them directly through prophets and the scriptures. Hence, when Herod called in his wise men, it was the chief priests and teachers of the law, and they referred to the scriptures. These eastern visitors would have been regarded as pagan charlatans.

When you think about it there is so much about this story that is shocking and scandalous. You see, despite its history, its access to God’s word and all the benefits of being part of the ‘big story’ as God’s chosen people, nobody in Israel knows about or recognises this boy, born to be king; but he is recognised and sought after by pagans and charlatans. It’s striking, isn’t it – Magi from the East, Gentiles, are coming to Jerusalem to inquire ‘Where’s your new King? We are here to worship him.’ And yet in Jerusalem, with all that history and heritage in the story of salvation, there are no such preparations, their priests, wise men
and kings, who have been looking forward to the event for hundreds of years don’t see it coming.

Interestingly the major religion in the Parthian empire used a word similar to magi for priests or members of the ‘priestly’ tribe. So, these men may even have been priests from a different religion coming to worship Jesus as king, whilst the priests of Israel miss it completely, because what God is doing does not fit their expectations. Shocking!

Here’s a danger we need to be aware of, God bursts through, often in unexpected and uncomfortable ways, and we, as the church need to expect the unexpected. Large parts of Jesus teaching and the New Testament letters encourage the church to be ready, to be watching and waiting for signs of the kingdom and the coming of our Lord, not necessary in the obvious, but under the radar, hidden in plain sight, in subversive and uncomfortable ways, that are no less transformational and life changing. We need to be humble enough to
expect and be looking for God at work outside of the community of faith and revealing Jesus to those who don’t have the same heritage and Christian tradition that we have. We need to be seeking God’s word to guide and direct us to the place where Jesus can be found today. Particularly, I believe, as we move forward and look to the time when our lives are less affected by the Coronavirus, we need to be ready to shake off some of those things in our history and traditions that perhaps obscure or obstruct us from recognising
where God is breaking through and doing a new thing. To recognise where ‘practicing religion’ has replaced exercising faith. To see the signs of our times and look for direction in the revealed word of God. To be willing to lay our collective gifts before the Lord and allow him to use them as he directs not necessarily as we think he should.

Covid-19 offers a unique opportunity for us to reimagine, refocus and realign our mission and ministry in 2021. Things cannot simply go back to the way they were. Matthew tells us that having met with Jesus, the Magi returned by a different route. Our route this year will inevitably be different, but if we listen to God together and respond obediently, we will see his glory revealed in Jesus in new ways. Amen

The angel appears to Mary

by Alison Shaw
Luke 1: 26-38

Today is the second Sunday in advent. We are looking forward to Christmas and the countdown has started. We light a candle on the advent crown, and you may have an advent calendar. I have a chocolate advent calendar.

In our Bible reading today we heard about Mary, a young woman who lives in a small town called Nazareth. She has recently become engaged to Joseph, a local man who is a carpenter. Mary will have a plan. They’ll get married in a few months’ time, maybe move into their own house and start a family.

However, things don’t go to Mary’s plan. The angel Gabriel visits Mary, startling her and gives her some news that COMPLETELY turns her world upside down! The angel told her that she was going to have a baby, but not with Joseph. This baby was coming soon and is the son of God!

In Jewish families it is common for the first child to be named by their father, the second child by the mother, and so on in turn. The name given to a child is believed to define them and possibly affect their personality, so children are given names that have strong positive meanings.

The angel tells Mary that the baby is to be called Jesus. This shows that God is the father because he has chosen the name, and the name Jesus means ‘saviour’ or ‘salvation’.

The angel goes on to tell us more about Jesus: ‘He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His
kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33)

So this is not just going to be any baby, but a very special one. Mary’s world had been shaken by the angel’s news. Verse 38 says that Mary accepts what the angel had said: “I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.”

Our lives this year have been completely turned upside down in ways that none of us could ever have imagined. We’ve had to stay at home for months. We’ve had to work from home or do home-schooling. We might have been furloughed or lost our job. We might have had to work more, and school feels very different now.

We’ve had to change how we show people we love them. Instead of meeting up and hugging them, we’ve had to keep a safe distance. We’ve re-examined what brings us happiness and what is important to us.

Christmas is only a few weeks away and this year we’re having to make new plans to celebrate. As we open the doors on the advent calendar, we notice that they are not in a fixed pattern. The direction keeps changing and it can feel like things are all over the place. Much like our life at times! Was I surprised that there was a chocolate behind the door? No, because it says on the box that underneath each door is a chocolate.

And as our lives go through unexpected twists and turns, we need to remember that underneath it all God is with us. Our plan is not the same as God’s plan, and God’s plan is always greater and better. Isaiah 41:10 says ‘Do not be afraid—I am with you! I am your God—let nothing terrify you! I will make you strong and help you; I will protect you and save you.’

Powerful words, and something that we can cling on to in difficult times. As Christians we have a reason for the season, not just a party and some presents to brighten up December. No matter what it might say in the newspapers, Christmas isn’t cancelled this year – let’s look forward and celebrate the birth of Jesus!

Lord, we thank you that You are the hope living in us, You are the rock in whom we trust. You are the light shining for all the world to see – Lord we believe! Amen.

The Mind of Christ

Lizby Liz Shaw

Philippians 2 v 5 – 18

Dear Friends,

While Paul was in prison, he wanted to encourage The Church in Philippi to persevere and continue to be obedient to the teachings of Jesus. He was encouraging them to carry on without him there. Paul fulfilled many of the roles of a leader, but ultimately he wasn’t their leader. That was Jesus and Paul was pointing them in His direction.

To me, this sounds very much like us in the Rivers Team and other Churches across the country where we have no ordained minister having oversight. We are needing to be more self sufficient by taking on more decisions, more responsibilities and continuing to make disciples. This all sounds and feels like a mammoth task but Paul says later in Philippians 4 v 13 ‘I can do all this through him who gives me strength.

Paul is effectively saying, don’t look to me but to Jesus Christ. Many people are searching for meaning and direction in their lives and look up to leaders in different places. Status, wealth and power are important to these leaders. Are these important to Jesus? No they are not! If Jesus was here today he would be found on the streets, in homeless shelters, in prisons, in hospitals, refugee camps and anywhere there was a need. Jesus humbled himself. He didn’t abuse his equal status with God, He became human and took the ultimate punishment of dying on the cross.

Paul is telling the Church to have the mind of Christ. To do so a person must first have the holy spirit within them. This comes with a saving faith in Jesus. If we say we follow Jesus, we must also say we want to live as he lived. We need to view the world through Christ centered lens. Everyone is created in God’s image so we need to see them how God made them. Regardless of what they have done, who they are, every person should be treated with love, respect, dignity, care and attention just like Jesus would.

There is so much hatred, evil, pain and suffering in this world. We know that the solution to this is for people to become to know Jesus as their Lord and Saviour. How amazing would that be if every single knee in the whole world should bow
down and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord!

People need to hear this message but if no one tells them about it, they won’t know about it and receive the benefit! To do this is to go out into the world but Paul gives the warning first to do everything without grumbling or arguing. As Church families we do not always agree on what we should do, how we do it and get stuck on the same issues and never resolve them. The wider Church also has divisions and differences of opinions such as the ordination of women Bishops.

To be united in our thoughts and actions we all need to be reading scripture, praying together and listening to God speak. God will give us the guidance and direction we need as a Church. Our minds need to be renewed consistently. We need to be moving closer to God and further away from the body.
Having attitudes and behaviours that turn people’s attention to God’s truth and grace will according to Paul make us shine like stars in the sky. Verse 15 says “Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life” Stars are not just beautiful objects in the sky, they are used for navigation and show us direction just like when the wise men were searching for the baby Jesus. As stars ourselves we can lead people or illuminate the path towards Jesus. We can do this through our words and actions.

Paul’s aim of his letter was to encourage the Church, to have the mind of Christ, to focus on Jesus and be united in what they do. This spiritual unity is
what we also need to focus on especially in these turbulent times.

I pray that these words from the hymn by Arthur Barnham–Gould are a prayer we can all truthfully live out together

May the mind of Christ my Saviour, Live in me from day to day, By his love and power controlling, All I say and do.

Love and Blessings from Liz Shaw

Paul’s Desire to Advance the Gospel

by Denise Teal
Philipians 1: 12-26

An unknown author once wrote “Be an encourager. The world has enough critics already.” When we look at Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the word “encouragement” stands clear. In the first part of Phil.1, Paul is starting a letter to a church in Philippi that was going through some trials. It was Paul’s first “plant” but he was many miles away. It is similar to many letters with its greeting; thanks for sending any help and a bit about how things are with the writer.

But Paul is in prison awaiting trial. People didn’t go to first century prison to be punished. They were awaiting trial or execution, either of which can take a long time. I’m sure most people in prison there had good reason to be miserable.

Paul was in miserable circumstances but he was not miserable. He was under house arrest on trumped up charges awaiting a trail whose outcome could result in his execution. We are not sure where he was, but his trial would be in the presence of Nero, whose attitude towards Christians would not have been kindly. On the way to Rome, Paul had experienced shipwreck, being bitten by a poisonous snake, and spent another two years waiting for his trial. In prison, he would have no privacy. Every few hours there would be a different praetorian guard. He would be chained up. If someone didn’t send food and money, he wouldn’t eat. Back in his beloved church at Philippi, 700 miles or so distant, tensions were building.
There were people with designs on leadership; preaching Christ “out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so out of love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition… supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains.” (Phil.1:15-17)
But Paul had something in his favour. The Philippians loved and cared about him enough to send food, money and fellow workers to his prison and Paul guided them from afar.

There would be people on the inside, metaphorically snapping at Paul’s heels to preach their way; and plenty of people outside the Philippian church… wanting to muddy the reputation of this growing faith; offering Roman PC alternatives that were ‘in vogue’ to keep up their social ‘standing’ there. Does any of that sound familiar, today? But it’s not good if Christians can’t agree. A church starts to take sides and forget why they are there; unity lost, to personal differences. Paul sensed this happening in Philippi, even among Christian converts.

Despite his own lockdown, how did Paul deal with division? He implied “do nothing”. (V.18) A unified church finds the good in people…the talents that work for Christ and brings them out.

Like us, Paul has a bigger priority…to encourage things that give us hope for our life with Jesus. Encouragement keeps hope on the go, doesn’t divide the church and doesn’t drive anyone away.
Paul’s letters have every indication that he was speaking as a confident, respected and loved leader to a church that listened to him.
What can we learn from Paul’s letter to this church? It can be summarized in the word “encouragement”. Throughout it, Paul is encouraging the people of Philippi to live lives obedient to God, in ways that are uplifting to one another. He is full of hope. He explains how his imprisonment has done a great deal to advance the Gospel. (Phil.1:12-18) Paul is confident of his faith and joyful in it. In v 19, Paul encourages the things that work in our faith…he continues to rejoice because he knows that prayer and the spirit of Jesus are im-portant to any growing church.

We grow together when we’re encouraged to think as Paul did. That’s Christian encouragement at its best! Even in lockdown, social distancing and all its difficulties…Paul’s words encourage us to be unified in faith: Phil.1:.27: “stand firm in one spirit, striving together with one accord for the faith of the gospel”. What if our encouraging words are the only source of strength in someone’s difficult day?

After all, “It’s not who we challenge… it’s how we serve”.

Prayer: Father, we all have needs, but we pray that we will look beyond ourselves to others, as Paul did. Make us aware of how we might offer encouragement to those that are struggling to cope, this week. Amen

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