There is something sad but poignant about Moses not quite making it to the promise land (Deut 34). He remains among the greatest of the Israelites his story all the more powerful for its end, so near and yet so far. He gets to see but not to touch, he symbolises the importance and the limitations of the law which is linked with his name. As Paul might say it (The Law) will get you so far, it will get you to the brink of the Jordan but you'll need someone else to get you across and that someone else will be called Joshua Yeshua Jesus.
The way Jesus talks about the law points the way. Love God-Love your neighbour because it is wrapped up in Law language and it’s prompted by a question of ‘what is the greatest commandment’ (Matt 22:34-46). It’s seen as a demand but it's not first of all a demand, it is rather a gift. It is what Jesus himself was doing and would do supremely on the cross. It is what, by the spirit, Jesus’ surprised followers found themselves doing or beginning to do. It’s what Paul was determined at all costs to do in his evangelism and pastoral work. It represents, in one sense, the Law working on the inside written on the hearts, and it also encompasses all the continuing externals as well. If you asked a pharisee the question of the greatest commandment he is looking for a way of defining Israel now and in the age to come. But if these two commandments are the greatest, love for the creator and love for one's neighbour that means throwing open the borders to all and sundry and at the heart of Israel law is a sign that reminds Israel that she exists for the sake of the world, and not vice versa.
It all comes together in Jesus as Priest and King. Jesus seems to put forward the possibility that he is Psalm 110’s central figure, both King and Priest and one to whom even David, that greatest of all kings, look up to as Lord. Jesus upstages the existing Jerusalem, priesthood and royal house. Somehow David’s Lord would be David’s son. Get your head around that! And when you do, you begin to appreciate how this new Joshua (Jesus) can do what the Law (Moses) could not do, lead you home, get you to that promised land. Dave
I love a good mystery, Agatha Christie, a good Morse, classic whodunnits etc...
Question: did God really intend Israel to have a King? read 1 Samuel 8 and answers on a postcard please. Another question: did God intend Israel to have a temple? read 2 Samuel 7 and again answers on a postcard.
You know at one simple level these things, a king, a temple seem to be just concessions to Israel’s desire to be like everybody else. To be like every other countries Kings like all the nations. A temple like the one down the road. But there our problems borrowing light from the world instead of being the light of the world. Kings can become corrupt and are exiled, beginning with David himself whose immorality copied amongst his children leads to Absalom’s rebellion.
Temples can very quickly become first idols and then ruins, and yet God desires justice and mercy for his people not unredeemed anarchy. God desires to dwell among his people not to remain distant. A King after God's own heart, a temple that is, I don't know somehow, simultaneously movable and appropriate to God’s Majesty. These kinds of ambiguities, these mysteries converge in an apparently jokey pun in 2 Samuel 7:11. David wants to build God a house so God promises that he will build David a ‘house’, a son who will be God’s own son, whose Davidic throne will be established forever. Why did God change the subject? Had he forgotten David’s suggestion about a temple? No, there was an appropriate way for the living, loving God to dwell in the midst of his people. The stone temple would point the way towards it but would remain just a kind of mysterious signpost. The reality would be a human being reflecting God's image, a King embodying Gods wise ordering of the people. A man after God's own heart whose heart will be broken by the pain of the world but who would, in that moment, render all manmade temples redundant.
Paul says that this is a mystery, it's hidden long ago and it's only disclosed in Jesus (Rom 16:25-26). Luke tells us that Mary wildly becomes the temporary dwelling place of the living God. The presence of the Holy Spirit and the overshadowing of the most high both evoke the temple idea. The passage struggles to say something for which words can hardly exist, that in Mary's womb the temple and King come together once and that the scriptures came true in ways never imagined (Luke 1:26). God found at last the house, neither tent nor temple but flesh and blood that would most truly and fully express his Royal self-giving love. A mystery solved, it was Jesus all along.
We all have regular rhythms of life. These can change as we get involved in new activities and challenges or as we move on from those activities that have become a familiar part of life and into unknown territory. For all of us, our lives today have a very different rhythm, whether we continue to go to our workplaces, often in providing essential services (thank you so much, all of you) or whether we are at home or working from home. This is especially so for the elderly and most vulnerable. How are you coping? Some of us may be enjoying the changed rhythms of life but for some of us we may be really struggling.
I have read a couple of blogs recently about our reactions in the Covid-19 crisis which have described the changed rhythms of life as “transition” – a technical term used by psychologists to describe the challenges of the process of adjusting from one rhythm of life to another. And we all experience transition throughout our lives. Life is full of transition – being born, growing up, getting married, buying a house, having family, changing jobs, retiring. There are so many situations we experience in life and all tend to be characterized as leaving behind the familiar and going into something unfamiliar. The only transition I can think of where the move from the old to the new is certain, rewarding and the best we will ever make is our last one – into the eternal presence of God!
But how are you coping? Is isolation challenging for you? How are you sleeping? Are you less patient than usual? Are you finding it difficult to complete jobs well or productively? Do you feel easily tired? Do you miss social interaction? Do you miss seeing family? Are you fearful for the future? How are you coping with the new ‘virtual’ world where we can catch up with one another but at a distance? That’s especially difficult if you love “hugs” – socially distanced hugging is difficult!
Transition is tough because having to change our rhythms of life can be really tough.
A friend of ours (Rev. Jodie Gaston), who oversees GEM missionaries from the US and Canada, working in the UK, had some helpful advice for them recently. The gist of what he wrote is that we should recognize that:
Thanks, Jodie, for that great advice.
Even as many are going through tough times we rest confidently in Jesus’ promise – that He would be walking with us through our whole lives, through every transition and that he would never leave us alone.
Stay safe and well.
I mentioned at the beginning of the year (it seems like years not months ago), how I felt God was speaking to me, particularly through the story of the Samaritan women at the well. John 4:5-42.
I think it’s a story that has so much to teach us about our relationship with God. How much he loves us. How he reaches out to those on the margins. Everything is in this story, salvation, hope, even comedy, double meanings and misunderstandings. Jesus offers the woman living water (the common or garden phrase for ‘running water, as oppose to still or stagnant), and the woman reminds Jesus he has no bucket. Is Jesus greater than Jacob, the original giver of the well (take note of the ’our father Jacob’, tribal claims of water rights, still a sore point in that region). She can’t quote Exodus, since the Jews claim that as their text. When Jesus responds with the promise of a water that will mean she never thirsts again, she suddenly almost becomes submission (This is a massive promise in that region water is everything). I don’t expect she really knows what it is he is really offering, but she wants it.
Similarly as in his response to the rich young ruler, Jesus puts his finger on the point where her life is most in need of living water. The repartee starts again ‘Call your husband’. ‘Haven’t got one.’ ‘No-five down, one to go.’ Oops, change the subject please get the discussion away from me…’ Are you a prophet by any chance? We have this thing about which mountain we should worship on’ (Contextualise: ‘Oh you’re from that church, are you? Bit dodgy’? Always a good distraction).
Objection overruled and Jesus brings it back on track. ‘Spirit, not mountains not even Jerusalem, is what matters; and the one God is looking for Spirit filled-people right now.’ ’Oh very interesting-of course one day the Messiah is coming. He’ll explain all this complicated stuff. ’Phew. Read Let’s not get too far into this stuff. Pause. No way off the hook. The tired thirsty Jewish rabbi Jesus holds her gaze. Ego eimi,ho lalon soi: ‘I am, who am speaking to you.’ Messiah, and…’I am’? (‘’I who speak to you am he.’ Hairs on the back of your neck, moment.) End of repartee. Time for action, full disclosure and life changed. This encounter changes a life, changes a town. Jesus meets us at our point of need and changes us, and in changing us allows us to be involved in changing others.
God Bless, Dave
It feels a lot longer than a week and a bit since we were last all together! What strange times. There is a great deal of positivity on social media, encouragement, help, ideas, motivation. People really are making the best of a bad situation. I have seen or heard of, people delivering food and medicine, streaming their fitness classes online, donating hot drinks to emergency services, teaching their children fitness classes, painting rainbows in the garden, planting seeds, reading books, learning a new language, teaching children to cook, meditating, spending more time reading the Bible and phoning friends and neighbours. It’s uplifting and yet, at the same time, I feel drained, disorganised, lazy, not quick enough with offers of help, not calm enough to meditate and just not together enough to be coping best with this situation. With the collapse of any routine I seem to be in disarray; behind with the laundry, toys all over the place I seem to have less time for quiet reflection, video and phone calls with a toddler and baby aren’t of the greatest quality and Bruce is already having far more snacks and hours of screen time than I thought I would allow! A quick thinking neighbour set up a What’s App group a week ago and another neighbour had already delivered bread and magazines to the two elderly ladies in the road before I had even asked if they needed anything. Am I too slow off the mark to demonstrate Jesus’s love to others? Can I keep up with all the acts of kindness, Christian or otherwise? How do we demonstrate that the compassion of God is different, all powerful, everlasting, full of grace?
Well, I believe that the love we share will be different. Because of its source. Because we live in the Spirit and He in us. Because we rely on God’s strength (thank goodness!). Because ours is a love that perseveres. In the coming weeks and months, as social and mainstream media calm down and people look back to themselves, we will continue to look outward. To search, with Jesus’s heart, for those who are in need, vulnerable, suffering grief, hardship, loneliness as a result (or not) of this series of events. We will love everyone with God’s unconditional love as people reflect, argue, blame, accuse. We will love those who delivered groceries to others in the same way that we will love those who hoarded toilet paper! When we are tired, desperate, uninspired, we will still be able to love others and look outward instead of inward because we are not drawing on our own, limited, human resources, but the power of the living Spirit. A Spirit of love, grace and compassion. Because, however dark times seem, we will always speak hope into the lives of others. Because, while love is the “greatest”, without faith in our salvation by grace and without hope for our future in His Kingdom, it becomes just human love. Which is nice and everything, but, what a great love we have found in Jesus! Who shows us how to live and share in God’s love
So I will keep on praying, while I wash my hands. And I will keep searching for ways to show Jesus’s compassion from my messy, busy life, which God can use if I just give it to Him. I did manage to watch most of Woodies morning service online (while Bruce watched cartoons!) and I would like to leave you with the verse of one of the worship songs used;
God, I look to You, I won’t be overwhelmed.
Give me vision to see things like You do.
God, I look to You, You’re where my help comes from.
Give me wisdom, You know just what to do.
They’re not my thoughts but they hold a certain resonance for me and hopefully will for you. We do an awful lot of stuff as church and it’s important stuff but in doing the stuff let’s make sure we don’t forget why we’re doing it. In all the clutter let’s not bury Christ…
It’s not about buildings or systems or programs.
It’s not about apps or branding or design.
It’s all about Jesus-following Him, loving Him and learning to walk the way He walked.
And when we say it’s all about Jesus, what we really mean is’
It’s all about what Jesus did for us; He gave us all full access to God.
Pointing us to His Father God, His gift of life, His creation, His son, His sacrifice, His way, His truth, His life.
Ultimately it is his Church.
If you forget everything else, remember this, keep it simple.
Follow the example of Jesus.
Who lived a simple life;
Told simple stories;
Sat and ate with people, every kind of person;
Encouraged His followers to travel light;
And when challenged about what was the greatest commandment, He simply said,
‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength and all your mind’ ’and ‘Love your neighbour as yourself’’ Luke 10:27
Jesus is WHY the church does what it does. It’s only through Him that we can see families made whole, relationships healed, broken hearts restored and lives and communities transformed.
If there is one part of the Gospel and one part of the Lord’s prayer (we are looking at this in
Men’s breakfast), that I and others struggle with, it’s that whole area of forgiving others and
what it looks like and how to do it. I’ve seen it again and again in relationship breakdowns be
that marriages, parent child, sibling relationships. I can’t forgive, how can God ask me to?
Forgiving others may seem to be a choice, and in one sense it is a choice, but God has been
very clear about forgiveness. He has given us specific direction in numerous Scriptures, all of
which can be summed up in just one word -- forgive! God's Word says, "And when you stand
praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may
forgive you your sins" (Mark 11:25). "Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not
condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven" (Luke 6:37).
God is saying that it is in our own best interest to forgive! He is not talking about what is in
the best interest of the person who needs to be forgiven. We are the ones who God is trying
to protect. We are the ones who receive the most benefit from forgiveness, not the other
person. A spirit of unforgiveness complicates and compromises our walk with God. Forgiving
others releases us from anger and allows us to receive the healing we need. The whole
reason God has given us specific direction is because He does not want anything to stand
between us and Him. God's love for us is beyond our comprehension. Forgiving others spares
us from the consequences of living out of an unforgiving heart.
Forgiving others does not carry with it a single decision that we need to ponder. God has not
qualified one sin as being more grievous to Him than another and He has not qualified one sin
committed against us as warranting forgiveness and another not. For example, God is not
saying, "If a person lies to you or steals from you, you should forgive him, but if they do
something worse, you can hold them in unforgiveness." He is saying to forgive everyone,
Forgiving others often starts as a decision of surrender-an act of our will. This surrender
invites God to begin working in our lives in a deeper level, allowing God to heal us. We need
to make the choice to be open to forgiveness and reconciliation.
Remember, forgiveness does not justify the deed or the person, it does not provide God's
forgiveness for their actions, because only God can do that. While nothing can undo the past,
we can do something about the condition of our own present and future. Forgiving others
makes a way for our own healing to begin.
It’s hard and of course it revolves around the extent we have been forgiven and how we live
As we learn what it’s like to be forgiven, we begin to discover that it is possible to forgive
others. As we start inhaling God’s fresh air there a good chance we will start to breathe it out
It’s not often, as a church leader, you get to recommend a book with deep magic and dragons in the title but I had a book on my shelf that I’ve been meaning to read for ages but never quite got round to it. Then a few days ago I picked it off my shelf and began reading it. The book in question was ‘’Deep Magic, Dragons and Talking mice’ ’by Alister McGrath and what a treasure that book turned out to be. It’s an introduction into the life and work of CS Lewis. I guess more than anything it’s attempting to try and get another generation into discovering and reading CS Lewis, famous children’s writer, apologist and Christian speaker as well as being an important English literature scholar. Alister McGrath still thinks Lewis has plenty to say not just to the Christian but as an apologist writing for the sceptic. In a lot of ways Alister McGrath is a brilliant person to write about CS Lewis. They were both radical atheist in their teens, both experienced seismic conversions to Christianity and have both worked as Oxbridge academics while also having careers as apologists in the media. McGrath has been reading Lewis for 40 years and has published a well-received biography of him in 2013 (which is going on my Christmas list). You can tell from the title that he is going to look at the Narnia books but he goes far beyond that giving the reader a huge sweep of Lewis’ thought and throwing in influences and events from Lewis’ life. McGrath demonstrates that Lewis was no dry and dusty academic. (He is very scathing of a recent film about Lewis shadowlands on that score). He shows his ideas were deeply connected to his life experiencehis childhood, academic pursuits, seeing active service in a war, friendships, loves and losses. Deep Magic is an easy read. I’m not sure the conversational style, let’s have a chat with Lewis, always works and can get in the way a bit but McGrath is very good like Lewis at presenting very sophisticated ideas clearly and simply. We get to look at everything from the meaning of life to friendships, the Narnia books, the art of apologetics and the use of the imagination as well as rational argument. Suffering, hope and Heaven it’s all there. The subtitle to the book is ‘How reading CS Lewis can change your life’ and for once this is not a publisher’s hyperbole. Multitudes of people have had their lives changed by Lewis; their thinking deepened, their faith strengthened and their imagination expanded. If you are not familiar with Lewis’s thought—or only familiar with part of it—I recommend Deep Magic, Dragons, & Talking Mice as well worth a read. It will also act as encouragement, I’m sure, to read Lewis again. Well it certainly has to me. Give this book a go and then go and read some Lewis. ‘Mere Christianity’, ‘Screwtape Letters’, ‘A Grief Observed’, ‘The Problem of Pain’ and so on not forgetting the Narnia books as something to read to the children and grandchildren and the child in us all.