Friday, 24 May 2019

All the way my saviour leads me

Those who know me know that I am a lover of all sorts of music and especially church music. I enjoy much of the modern church music produced through Hillsong, Bethel, Worship Central and New Wine as well as many older Hymns and chants.

The main thing for me is not the age of the song, it's rhythm or who wrote it but does it at the moment of singing inspire me to want to go deeper in worship to the one who fills and sustains me? As I sing I often find myself transported in my spirit to a different focus from where I was. Often helping me see things in different ways or just being able to let something go that was troubling me. Depending upon my state of mind, busyness and such, different songs affect me.

Last year I went to a worship concert of "Rend Collective" a fantastic evening of singing, worship and connection with my saviour through the music as well as some lovely times of reflection.

Recently I was thinking of using a modern take on an old hymn in a service, only to find that my music team struggled with the way it had been scored, they knew the older version. I gave way, I have to admit a little grumpily. But it really would not have worked well.

Then as I prepared for opening a church members meeting at a church I am helping out during a ministerial vacancy, it came to mind again, but in its traditional version. Hmm! It stuck, It was exactly right as I listened to it.

  1. All the way my Savior leads me,
    What have I to ask beside?
    Can I doubt His tender mercy,
    Who through life has been my Guide?
    Heav’nly peace, divinest comfort,
    Here by faith in Him to dwell!
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well;
    For I know, whate’er befall me,
    Jesus doeth all things well.

Jesus leads us if we will listen, his leading is often gentle, sometimes we listen, sometimes we just don't hear. The Psalmist in Psalm 40 reflects on being given a new song to sing even when they were in dire straights "Psa 40:3  He put a new song in my mouth, a hymn of praise to our God. Many will see and fear the LORD and put their trust in him."

The hymn reminded me that my saviour was in charge, leading me and the church so that any concerns I might have could be let go. Later as we sang it as part of the meetings opening worship, I was once again transported to that place of peace and wonder - All the way my saviour leads me ...

Tuesday, 2 April 2019

Wrath and Mercy

A few weeks back I was reading during my quiet time in the morning and came across a comment by a writer on the subject of God's wrath."If you don’t believe in a God of wrath, you have no idea of your value".  Initially this seemed hard but the more I considered it the more it made sense.

All too often, Christians that I speak with, prefer to stick with the New Testament, Jesus, the disciples and the theme of love as shown through Jesus. The Old testament is at best treated with cursory interest at worst it is put aside. Perhaps a sad reflection on our society and culture, which seems to want to make things after their own image, even God.

For me there is a problem in leaving the Old Testament out of the picture and not wanting to engage with a God who does show anger, who we are told pours out his wrath at the sin of humanity. A number the prophets talk of God's wrath at sin, the sin of his people, who chose their own ways rather than God's. The impact over time was that the nation of Israel became degenerate, broken and self focused. In effect choosing to do whatever seemed OK at the time. (When I look at our culture I see many of the same traits). Ezekiel for example, tells us that God's wrath was to pour on his people as result of this.

What is God's wrath all about? Well it seems to me that it is about the effect of sin. Sin not only is a choice to go against God's ways, it has consequences, one person's wrong doing will affect others. For example our collective attitude to discarding our rubbish - often not in rubbish bins, affects others as it pollutes our towns and cities and even our hedgerows, land and seas. Most of us drive vehicles and most of us use them regardless of distance or need. These pollute, whether using "so called" clean fuel (Electric) or fossil fuel (petrol, diesel) they cause environmental damage - the energy source has to come from somewhere! So when we use them without consideration and damage the planets Eco-systems, what are we doing? When we live lives that are so self focused it leads to the attitude of work till we drop, being busy all of the time, filling every moment with doing. No wonder we suffer extreme stress and mental and physical illness. Not what God intended and hence his best for us is that we take regular rest to regenerate our energy and to help our well-being.

What God created was good, what we do is often not so good and in fact causes serious harm. Now I begin to get it. God's wrath, at least in part, is perhaps related to the impact of sin on everything. We are told that the price of sin is death, ours! Pretty harsh stuff. Measuring sin and its impact multiplied by humanity, past, present and future would be too difficult to compute. But God knows that computation and instead of wiping us out, God's love for us wins. All of that wrath was taken up and drunk by Jesus - read the account of the garden of Gethsemane.

All of the price of all of that sin, all of that wrath at that sin, taken and transformed by Jesus, through love, God's love for us. Love that means that if we accept the free gift of God, we are forgiven, restored to relationship with God, through Jesus. Wrath and mercy meeting through the life changing, live saving work of the cross. And our value? Beyond price I think.

Saturday, 16 February 2019

Status and Servants?

Status and how others see us, have become primary things in the lives of many today. Job titles or church titles, honorific or actual are often far too important to many. Maybe there is a sense that if "I am called some grandiose thing, others will respect me more"? Maybe its about self value and having a title that gives us a better sense of value and worth?

I wonder in Church life how we see ourselves and others? I can recall when we lived in Italy one person in the church "owned" a particular role in the small church community that we attended. As result of that persons desire to hold on to that position and apparent authority, no one else was prepared to get involved with that. In other  church situations I have come across both those in leadership and those who are not, cherishing titles and roles.

Maybe the question we all should ask ourselves in whatever roles we perform in church life is simply for whom do I do this? Me? The church? The people in the church? Christ?

If as Peter tells us:
1Peter:2-9  But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

Then all have a part to play, all are as Paul says, heir to the kingdom, co-heirs rather than heirs in some hierarchical scheme. different parts of the same body with different functions but all needed. It is all too easy to use models of leadership which are more authoritarian, verging on dictatorship and when not challenged, assume that everyone else is OK with that.

Jesus showed his disciples a different way of looking at church and our roles, he washed the disciples' feet as a demonstration of what he meant. And his response to being questioned about rank in the kingdom of God was even more astonishing, learn to be a servant. In effect serve others and you will be great in the kingdom.

All of us who follow Jesus, need to take this on board, no matter what role we have in church life we would do well to note Jesus words and perhaps couple them with the sacrificial love that Christ tells us of, so that what we do is then a joy and a delight. Why? maybe because then we will no longer do things to seek acclaim, a special place, a pedestal, in fact seeking nothing at all in return for serving Christ's church and people in whatever capacity he asks of us. We simply serve as Christ has asked us to.

Then notice, status and position will count for nothing, all and everything we do will be for Him who loved us enough to die for us, expecting nothing in return from us but in the hope that we might accept him and love him as he loves us. We can have no higher value than that.

Friday, 14 December 2018

Christmas Joy

Christmas is nearly upon us and this year as we have travelled through Advent at Harlow Baptist, we have been considering the Joy that is in the accounts of that first Christmas.

For God's people, there was the looking forwards to a time, some when in the future, that the Messiah, the Saviour sent by God, would appear and free them from tyranny and subjugation to other nations.

For Mary and Joseph there were serious issues related to fidelity, trust, supernatural goings on (Angels, Virgin pregnancies ...) and life being turned upside down by God's plans. But the baby, Jesus, they were told would save people, he was the Saviour long awaited.

For Elizabeth and Zechariah, the sorrow and sadness of coming to terms with being childless suddenly changed, by God, to give them a son, John, who would be a joy and a delight to them

Two miraculous births that signalled a change for the world, nothing ever the same again, because God had come among humanity with a plan to save us from our sin / wrong doing. A cause to be thankful and joyful.

Then there were the shepherds on the hillsides, frightened out of their wits by a visitation by Angels, singing and speaking to them, bright and awesome. The core of the message to them - was joy. Joy that a saviour had been born, joy that this was for them, This would be a saviour for the poor and helpless, the outcast and the rich and famous, a saviour for all, a cause to celebrate and rejoice.

Many will be celebrating this amazing set of events that occurred over 2000 years ago. While others will find Christmas a sad time, feeling the loss of loved ones, feeling lonely with no family or friends to share time with, feeling cold and wretched on the streets or in war zones. But one thing will never change, whatever our situation, God is with us and even when handling grief, sadness, poverty or loneliness, joy can be found if we can find the courage to call on Jesus.

I hope you have a happy and joyful Christmas whatever your situation I hope you enjoy this song ...

Monday, 22 October 2018

Reasons to Choose?

Recently I watched with interest a social media thread which started off with a report from the USA about a couple who chose their church to go to based on the coffee it served.Was the article true? I don't know, Its reported here -  however it generated a discussion on what coffee was used - ethically sourced, fair trade or whatever. Was is served before the service, during, after? One (hopefully tongue in check) pointed out that they wouldn't go to a church that served instant granule coffee.

Now there is an argument that says that offering the best kind of refreshments shows a sense of care for the people who come, and there is some truth in that. But not all churches have the resources to provide such things. As a pastor how would folks feel if I complained about their coffee or tea brand when I visit to talk and pray with them? I am happy with whatever they are happy with and blessed with what they provide.

It got me reflecting a little on why I go to church and why perhaps others do. What is important to folks and what perhaps should be important.

When I first went to church over 30 years ago, I went to find out what I could about what our neighbours believed. To be fair if I was not persistent in character that would have put me off, but the people were what kept me going. the people in the home group I started going to. They had an attractiveness about them and they accepted me questions and all.

After moving we went to another church, again friendly, accepting, well mostly as our small children were not the most quiet or well behaved. But then we were not run out of the church when our 2+ year old escaped and toddled up to the priest in the middle of the sermon to offer a drink from his beaker. The priest handled it rather well.

After my wife and I became Christians (another story :-)) we felt the need to be taught and built in God and while we were really involved in church life and loved the people, we were not growing Spiritually except by going to other churches. We decided with a degree of sadness and reluctance to move churches to one where the teaching was challenging, seemed sound and where we would hopefully grow in our faith. There we stayed (well there was a 3.5 year excursion to Italy on business) until I became a full time minister.

Given all of that I wonder where coffee, social life and such have become so important in choosing a church or leaving a church. I accept that these things have a bearing, and lets face it they are things that can easily be changed with a bit of help, encouragement and dipping into our pockets.

I understand that having limited numbers of the age group we or are children are a part of can make a big difference, but in the end is it not about what we can give in worship, praise, fellowship and how we grow from being a part of that, receiving and applying good teaching in our lives and investing our time, love and gifts where-ever we are called to be?

If there were no coffee served or the coffee was not the brand that we are used to at what-ever coffee store we get our regular fill up from, would that church get crossed off of our list? I don't think it would get crossed off of Jesus' list. In some respects such a church could be considered a social outcast. Jesus associated with social outcasts and was scorned and mocked for it.

Are we becoming such slaves to the culture in which we live that we are loosing sight of what is important in church? I wonder how many of our folks would stop coming if we stopped serving refreshments other than water before, after or during the services - maybe something for next lent?

Oh by the way the church I pastor does serve good fair trade filter coffee, tea and such. But if that were the deciding factor in why folks came to the church it would need a serious think about what kind of message we are giving. All of the ones I have asked suggest its actually because of the fellowship, spiritual life, pastoral care, teaching and love.