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February 10th 2019
Connecting Through Love:
1 John 4:7-21 is a sublime biblical passage. John, the Beloved Disciple of Jesus, writes with such clarity about the love of God. He reaches heights of insight & understanding which are truly inspired by the Spirit, but which also reflect his own life experience walking with the Master. When reading his Gospel, it is clear that John’s heart & life were completely open to Jesus. He sought to walk as closely with Him as was possible, & he soars into beautiful Descriptive writing as he records Jesus’ life, teaching & ministry. The animal chosen to reflect John’s Gospel by the early Church, taken from the imagery of Ezekiel 1 & Revelation 4, & because of how his Gospel soars in narrating its material about Jesus, was the winged Eagle (Matthew was the winged Man – he focuses on the humanity of Christ; Mark, the winged Lion – opens with the roaring voice in the wilderness; Luke, winged bull – focuses on sacrifice).
Twenty eight times John uses the word, ‘love’ in 1 John 4:7-21. Each time it is either agape love or one of its near relatives. Thus, John explores the power of God’s love in one of its most significant forms, – ‘God is love.’ Agape is most often used to describe the divine, completely selfless & overwhelming love of God. In 1 John 4, this is the love that the church is also to demonstrate, v.11, ‘beloved [agape loved ones], if God so loved [agape] us, we also ought to love [agape] one another.’ As we receive God’s love, each person must learn how to allow it to do its creative work causing agape love to grow & establish itself within. This is no easy process because it requires us to engage with Christ at a level similar to John’s 2,000 years ago, also desiring Christ’s selfless love to grow & flourish within.
In verse 16 John states that God’s love is something we can put our trust in – we can rely on His love. His love is not fickle nor is it only momentary until He changes His mind about us deserving it because of how we live or respond to Christ. His agape love is solid, dependable & reliable in Jesus. When we are in Jesus then He is more willing to fill our lives with it than we are to ask Him to do so. His love flows from His very being. If you were to cut God in half - completely impossible but a good analogy – His love flows from the very centre of who He is & it is an inexhaustible, powerful life-force drawn from the overflowing well of His own love.
This agape love within will then materialises through our actions, words, non-verbal communications, & reactions. In fact, John writes, verse 17, that as we live in God, we mature & are more able to receive & benefit from His love. The more we mature, the less insecure we become about our position in Christ. His love removes any fear that we are not truly accepted as His own in Christ. In fact, the inference is that as we are filled with His love, then that love has the power to transform how we live & love others. People very quickly sense if we are real or false. It is also the case that if we are holding a part of ourselves back, not allowing it to be seen or revealed – then that area often sits in darkness, does not change & ultimately prevents us truly connecting with God’s love, life & light.
The challenge which arises is that the extent of our love for Christ will be revealed in how we love & connect with one another. It can be relatively easy to love someone whom we like or get on well with – it is another matter to love someone whom we struggle to like or even who is our enemy. The level of our spiritual maturity is revealed in the extent to which we are willing to submit to & seek to live out verses such as, ‘love your enemies, pray for those who despitefully use you. In that way you will be acting as true children of your Father in heaven’ (Matthew 5:44-45). In fact, Jesus states in Matthew 5:48, that we are to be mature in faith seeking to be as perfect as our heavenly Father is.
This passage is really relevant to us as a church. The picture I have is that many churches are like a glass with some on the inside enjoying close loving relationships with those others inside the glass/church – while there are others on the outside of the glass who only truly connect with those others on the outside of the glass. I believe God wants us to delve into His love allowing it to do its work of causing us to mature in spirituality & in faith. We may not know how to shatter the glass so that all of us can connect in & through the Church, but embracing & living out His love may be the best place to begin the process. After all, His command is to agape love our fellow believers.
3rd February 2019
Life is complicated enough without making it more so. However, it naturally tends to be complex & often ends up confusing, frustrating or exhausting us. How many times, as human beings, we start out thinking a job will be relatively straightforward only to find that it is so much more than we originally thought it would be. The energy sapping thing is that complexity requires problem solving, &, in the natural, often when one problem is solved - inadvertently two more problems arise because of the solution. I guess this is part of the curse at the Fall of Adam & Eve. It was specifically because of the man’s sin that humankind was held guilty for breaking God’s commandment – known theologically as Original Sin.
The account of God’s response to their sin is recorded in Genesis 3:17-19, NLT, ‘& to the man He said, “Since you listened to your wife & ate from the tree whose fruit I commanded you not to eat, the ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns & thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, & to dust you will return.’ i. The ground is cursed; ii. Sustaining life will be a struggle; iii. Work itself & the place of production will be subject to pain (thorns), & unexpected problems (weeds); iv. Nevertheless, enough will be harvested to sustain life; v. Work will be physically exhausting (sweat of the brow); vi. It is never finished (until you die).
I believe, in Christ, we can redeem the workplace & transform it into a new place of hope & productivity. Jobs can be Vocations during which we seek to work & to serve Christ, & other people. We acknowledge that God set in place Creation Ordinances: 1. Marriage; 2. Procreation; 3. Dominion; 4. Labour/Productivity; 5. Sabbath rest. These are timeless & enduring principles which God has planted into the very heart of His Creation. He has endowed humanity with the capacity to rule reflecting some of His communicable attributes including His Love - Spirituality – & Morality, He is always good.
People were made in God’s image with these unique qualities unparalleled in Creation – all other animals were made after their kind or species – humankind after His image. Our ability to accurately reflect His image was seriously marred through the Fall. Calvin said that God’s image in humanity was smashed like a mirror whose glass is broke into pieces but which all have remained in the frame. In Christ, a repair process begins of the broken mirror which continues throughout our lives enabling us to increasingly accurately reflect Christ’s image.
May God help us to reflect Christ’s image & nature in our workplaces so there will be harmony & accord, His blessing & provision at work through our lives. May He supply the grace & power to turn them into productive, caring & enjoyable places to work, fulfil His call, serve His purposes, & other people in love. We pray for the creation of a culture of excellence - for a culture of encouragement which supports & enables people to grow & flourish - for a culture which enables the development of each person’s unique skill-set - for a culture that facilitates good teamwork & produces mature leaders & workers whose combined efforts multiply many times over their own individual effectiveness.
I especially pray that where thorns or weeds grow – God would grant us the grace, strength, resilience & skills to be able to still produce a good, healthy, lasting & bumper harvest. We ask for help to embrace the ‘sweat of our brow’ & the pain associated with production & work recognising His hand, through the curse, of producing this reality, but also the wonder that, in Christ, He has provided sufficient grace to be drawn daily upon to help us thrive, flourish & bring much glory to our Lord Jesus. That He will empower us to be salt & light in our workplaces – good ambassadors for Christ & His Kingdom, soul winners for Christ. Amen
Many Blessings – Pastor Leslie
30th January 2019
Climbing to the Next Level
I recently watched the movie ‘Everest’ about the 1996 death of several climbers on Mt Everest & the events surrounding that disaster. Mountaineering is a specialised & dangerous thing to attempt. It also requires a good head for heights. In the movie some climbers reached their maximum height & could go no further. One reached the top but did not have the energy to get back down again. The reasons for this varied from altitude sickness to illness to endurance issues. Very few of us will ever venture beyond climbing Snowdon, or the Wrekin. Even these two require a certain level of fitness to reach the top. It is not easy setting out & climbing these if you are not used to climbing them or if you have health issues. Last year was the first time I climbed the Wrekin – many years struggling with endurance because of ME or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome.
From the age of 28, when I first took unwell, I struggled with endurance issues & could not do many of the things others of my age took for granted. Simple tasks beyond doing my work left me exhausted. I haven’t played football since I was 34, only could play 9 holes of golf at a time until last year, & was not able to join in with the children in strenuous things. It was hard because I loved doing sport with them or doing challenging things that stretched our fitness. One of the main issues I had to face over the years was fear & anxiety. The original illness was so debilitating, & the road back to a measure of health so hard, it deeply affected me. Only Joan really knows what it was like because I hid it well from others. She was important to my recovery.
Other factors included the prayer of others. I may not have got any better when people would lay hands on & pray for me, but I stopped getting worse. Gradually, as I read the Bible, rested & leaned into Christ, stood on His promises, refused to settle for a life of ever decreasing activity, battled through the panic attacks, learned how to cope & keep going when completely exhausted, to step a few centimetres beyond what I was capable of yesterday – I regained an ability to endure seven months after the illness started.
Endurance is the thing, in my experience, that is completely banjo’ed with ME. I would think that I feel okay, step out & find after a few minutes that I had no power & no energy left. Instead, a world of exhaustion & anxiety would rise up & invade my life. Three years later I had a huge relapse, not quite as far as before, but it changed the course of my life. I recognised a call to ministry on my life & knew that I needed to begin to answer that call seriously. I started a part time Church Training Course in Northern Ireland while farming. The two years of that course helped reorientate my life bringing me to a place where I was willing to lay everything down for the sake of Christ’s service. Joan has always been the one who stood with me, & she was also in the place to say, ‘yes’ lets follow the Lord’s call!
Bible College began in 2002 in England. Three years after the last relapse, second year of Bible college, another major relapse very near led to me giving up on Bible college. Again the battle was very tough but I managed to survive until Christmas, & continued into the spring. Out of this suddenly my grades dramatically improved & these marks continued until I finished Bible College. In February 2006 another relapse which was so severe that it really took me two years to even begin to function beyond survival mode. The last relapse was thirteen years ago – it took two years to actually function beyond leading the church, & only since 2013 that I am able to take on more than church. Jon Adams said something about fear which had a profound impact on me which led me to dive into Christ to find victory over it. Praise the Lord – He guided me to a place of victory.
I have actually been able to do things that I never believed I could do again including climb the Wrekin, play 18 holes of golf, & have a quick recovery time after exertion. It is amazing how God has used ME to sanctify me & align my will with His – His Spirit is so full of life. I still, when difficulties overwhelm or the unexpected curve ball comes, lean into, rest & abide in Jesus – He is so full of mercy, grace & love. My story is not unique & I am certainly nobody special. Perhaps you need to read this & lean into & learn to rest in Christ. Climbing to the next level may simply be stepping, by a few centimetres, beyond what you accomplished yesterday. If you do that every day, you may even have climbed to the next level in your journey without even knowing it...
Love & God Bless
22 January 2019
4th January 2019
Faith, Obedience & Righteousness
Three times over Christmas I heard the same phrase at three different services: Christmas Eve Midnight – Christmas morning – New Year’s Eve. The phrase was: ‘God is always at work.’ It really struck me that first night when I heard it. Is God always at work? The answer is yes, He is. Jesus said in John 5:17, ‘My Father is always working, & so am I.’ In the context of John 5, the Jewish leaders were angry that Jesus had healed a man who had been infirmed for 38 years on the Sabbath – they believed such work to have been proscribed under the Sabbath regulations given by Moses. Jesus answer to their harassment of Him for breaking the Sabbath rules made them even more angry – for His answer meant that He was claiming to be equal with God (5:18).
How can God always be working? Theologically, the Bible has much to say about God transcending the limitations of human energy, endeavour, ability & power. In fact, the Bible clearly states that God is all-powerful, able to do anything, never fails, & never sleeps nor is tired. Jesus certainly in His Incarnation as a man got tired, needed to rest – yet He also raised the dead, healed the sick, set the demonised free from their distress, & delivered the sinner from the guilt of his or her sin. It also says that Christ upholds the entire Creation by the word of His power (Hebrews 1:3), & in Him all things hold together (Colossians 1:17). In His Incarnation, even as a baby, although His divinity was veiled it was not diminished. He was still God with all the prerogatives of God.
Out of that first mention of ‘God is always at work,’ I started to think about why we do not see the evidence of God’s work in Christ to the same degree today in our setting as some in the past have experienced it? Is it because He is less present with us than He was with our forefathers in the past? Well actually, no; according to His word the Spirit has come to remain to create the Church & to enable the Church to do the works of God. If the Spirit is just as present with us as He was previously – then why are we not seeing the amazing works that our forefathers in Christ did? First of all, sometimes it is easy to look back & see the wonderful things as an everyday occurrence. The truth is that many times biographies & historical studies gloss over the everyday mundane nature of ministry, also the setbacks, difficulties & opposition faced by many of the great ministry leaders. Oppression, opposition & uncertainty were part of their lot too.
The second answer is linked to something that I recently read; namely, that it is not that God’s power is diminished nor His presence among His people less today. God has not withdrawn. As I reflected on these issues, then three things came to the fore – namely: Faith, Obedience & Righteousness. i. Without faith I cannot please God. When I come to Him I ‘must believe that He exists & that He rewards those who sincerely seek Him’ (Hebrews 11:6). Faith is fundamental to engaging with God on God’s terms. What is faith? John Piper said that ‘the last bastion of human pride is the belief that we are the originators of our faith’ (God has allotted to each a measure of faith’ Sept 23, 1998, www.desiringgod.org/articles/god-has-alloted-to-each-a-measure-of-faith). He wrote this in connection with Romans 12:3-8. This is not the faith which is mentioned as a spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12:9), it is the faith given by God as a gift to each believer through His grace in Christ.
We do not have to work faith up; instead, we are to lean into the faith God already has placed in us as we read His word & hear it being preached. There is also something about associating with people who are living fully in the measure of faith they have received. Their example rubs off on us & we begin to lean more into our own measure of faith. I wonder if many of us today are so indoctrinated with Secularism & Rationalism relying on the world of sense & logic that we are aliens to the life of faith?
ii. Obedience is better than sacrifice. It opens the door to further breakthroughs in our lives (See Psalm 107:10-22). An obedient Christian is not only submissive to Christ, but he or she actually honours Christ’s Lordship in how they live their lives. True biblical obedience is accountable & recognises our accountability to God for what we do, & to one another in love. iii. In Matthew 5:6, Jesus said, ‘blessed are those who hunger & thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.’ This is not the righteousness whereby we are justified before God so that He can accept us in Christ at our salvation – that is imputed righteousness – this is imparted righteousness, the day by day righteousness that comes to us by the Spirit’s ministry within, through applying His word – what is known as sanctification righteousness. This latter type of righteousness is a breastplate for us. The opposite is an unrighteous or sin-dominated life.
May God guide us into a new season of actually walking in faith, being obedient to Him each day, & standing in His righteousness in Christ. As we enter this new way of life, then we will see God always at work around us & be a partner with Him in His work...