This Sunday was our fEAsTmas meal and carol service, it’s always been a highlight of the year for me and this was no exception!
Let us take time together to stop and celebrate the good things that happened on Sunday – the things we experienced, the things we tasted, the things we saw, the things we heard, the people we spent time with – and thank God for them all.
Consider how, through our fEAsTs, our understanding of the Kingdom of God is enhanced.
Let’s look forward to the next fEAsT and pray it is increased.
Let’s pray that all who came will know Him more.
I thought it would be a good idea to pick up on a couple of things that I spoke about at the church business meeting the other Sunday. The first of which being service.
Last week we looked at the passage in Ephesians that pointed towards the idea that service (or ministry) isn’t something that only a select few people within the church do, but is something that every person in the church is equipped to do. Everyone in the church is called to serve and minister to the Lord. This service can take on all kinds of forms and isn’t limited to a few obvious ‘jobs’.
Our service can often be guided by the gifts we have been given; those who have been blessed with the gift of hospitality are likely to be found giving hospitality and those who have been blessed with a gift in administration are likely to be found administrating etc.
But ministry in the church doesn’t just begin and end with the gifts we have been given. At the heart of Christian ministry and service lies the idea of sacrifice, since we are called to take up our cross and follow Jesus. This means ministry and service isn’t necessarily all easy or something that comes naturally to us. Serving the Lord will involve us engaging with things that we aren’t necessarily very comfortable doing, in places we wouldn’t necessarily want to be and at times we wouldn’t necessarily choose. This type of serving is costly discipleship which echoes the way of king David who said ‘I will not sacrifice to the LORD my God burnt offerings that cost me nothing.’ (2Sam24:24) If this is the case, serving the Lord needs to be something that is, for all of us, our upmost priority. Not service that fits in and around everything else we do, but something that governs how we live; a way of life devoted to the Lord.
I wanted to write something as a follow up to what I spoke on yesterday in church, as I think it was particularly important. If you weren’t there you can read the thrust of what I said and if you were you can take a moment to reflect on it further. I’m also thinking that it might be worth taking a pause in our journey through Primitive Piety (wherever each group has got to) to reflect together on what I spoke about, and pray and talk through the things that come out of it in our home groups.
The thrust of what I had to say yesterday was that I believe we are in a vulnerable time as a church at the moment. We are now back at home in our church building, but a lot has changed, and a lot is still changing. We are all learning new ways of living together and finding our bearings in a new environment. This period of change is unsettling for many, if not all, of us. However, I believe our unsettledness isn’t wrong, but that it’s something in which God is working in us. Having said that we need to be aware of the reality of this unsettledness.
Particularly over these next few weeks and months, as we adjust to life in the ‘new creation’ of a building we inhabit, we need to be looking after one another. All of us need to be on the look out for each other – some may be struggling, some may be disorientated, some may be excited, some may feel on the fringe, some may feel on edge, some may have the tendency to only look back, others the tendency to only look forward! – but in God’s love we need to look after one another, in particular, the strong need to look after the weak.
Be on the look out for: short tempers, resentment towards others, critical thinking and talking, small issues becoming big issues, fear, tension…..
Be lavish with grace, encouragement, forgiveness, patience, kindness, exhortation, love………
We must remember that we go through this change as one body – the body of Christ. In everything we do we need to be aware of our body!
Whilst we may well be vulnerable and weak at the moment it is the perfect opportunity for God to be strong in and through us. Come Holy Spirit and fulfill your work in us as a church at this moment in time.
Carrying on the theme from last week about ‘Finishing the work’ I wanted to inspire and challenge you with a story from within our own church.
A child in our congregation was asked if they would like to offer some money towards the church building fund. They said yes and having opened their money box they decided to give half of what was in it.
When I heard about this I was really challenged – would I be willing to look at my savings or resources and give half of it?
Then I started to rationalise what had happened. I said to myself that it was easy for the child to give this money because it didn’t have so much meaning to them as it did me. They don’t have bills and a mortgage to pay, they don’t have to worry about buying food and heating the house. At the end of the day if they run out of pocket money their parents will provide all the things they need (not necessarily what they want, but need). So this offering, of half of all they had, wasn’t as ‘impressive’ as it first seemed because, when the piggy bank runs out of money, they know that Dad will provide. Therefore, I concluded, it’s easy for a child to give.
But then I was challenged again, doesn’t childlike faith (that which Jesus esteems) say I can give generously, because I know that, even if I run out, Our Father will provide what we need? Is there any real difference between us and our children?
I share this as a reminder that I believe God is calling us to ‘finish the work’. We are very close to finishing, but further offering is needed and I believe God is calling us to step out in faith in our giving.
Seek The Lord and be led by Him. He is our Father who provides all we need, but also challenges us to live out our faith in believing He is our Dad!
Phil4:19 ‘And my God will meet all your needs according to the riches of his glory in Christ Jesus.’
I wanted to share and reiterate what I said after Ben’s sermon on Sunday, particularly so that those who weren’t there can read the heart of what I said. (This week’s sermon will be up here soon!)
At the time of writing we are just under £6000 short of raising enough funds to complete Phase 2 of our building project.
The title of this blog is taken from 2Cor8:11. 2Cor8&9 are key chapters on the subject of giving in the New Testament, and I feel they speak to us very directly as a church at this moment in time. So before you carry on reading this you might want to take a moment to read them!
I started, on Sunday, by giving thanks and testimony of an offering I had received from a friend last week. This man and his family had already sent us £1000 at the beginning of our fundraising effort, but after reading an email update I had sent out last week, decided to send us a further £600. After reading my update and discovering that Phase 1 of the project had overspent by £600 he wanted to contribute to the shortfall. The reason why I tell this story is not because these are generous amounts given by an outsider to our church – the amounts are actually incidental and could have been £10 and £6, or 10p and 6p. The thing that spoke to me was that this was the action of living and thinking faith. Here is someone who has given an offering to a project they believe God is in, but rather than thinking that now their job was now complete, they have continued to be interested in, and be a part of, the project. This continued commitment has caused them to want to contribute further when they saw the need arise.
The reason why I share this story is not to make people feel guilty or to compel people to give money they don’t have. But, as Paul puts it ‘I am not commanding you, but I want to test the sincerity of your love by comparing it with the earnestness of others.’ (2Cor8:8) It is often when we witness and are confronted with the action of other people’s faith that we are stirred and challenged to act in faith ourselves. The commitment of people outside our church to our building project is a significant test to those of us in the church and of our sincerity to the mission. I want to reiterate, this is not about the size of the offering but the outworking of ongoing commitment to the work of God in our church. ‘For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what he does not have.’ (2Cor:812) This is about us continuing to offer to The Lord willingly as the need arises, and in doing so there is something Christlike about what we are doing (2Cor8:9)
So ‘here is my advice about what is best for you in this matter: Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means.’ (2Cor8:10-11) We started last year with a total of over £75,000 to raise, now we are £6,000 away from the completion of Phase 2! Let’s finish the work! Let us not think our job is done but consider what we can offer now to the project. I have never been concerned with how much each person gives, but more that everyone gives what God has given them to give (2Cor8:13)! To this end even some of our children have pledged bits of pocket money – the amounts may only buy a door knob, but they are offerings given willingly and according to their ability.
I will finish with a quote from someone, who after hearing yesterday’s message, decided to offer a further pledge of money. They said to me ‘I need Christmas luxuries far less than the people of Addlestone need the King’s Centre!’ They echo Paul who said, ‘This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of God’s people but also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, men will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and your generosity in sharing with them and everyone else.’ (2Cor9:12-13)
Now let us finish the work!!
If you are making an offering please let Chris know so that it gets allocated to the building fund (or else it will just go in the regular church funds).
Love and blessings
Jesus gives us a short and simple teaching on the practice of fasting as part of the Sermon on the Mount.
Notice He does not begin by trying to persuade His listeners that fasting is something they should do. His teaching isn’t an argument in favour of fasting but simply assumes that God’s people will fast as part of their devotion to God. Jesus says ‘When you fast….’ not ‘If you fast!’ My guess is that this is quite shocking to a large number of modern, western Christians. Jesus is teaching that fasting isn’t simply an optional extra for particularly keen church goers, but assumes that is part of the basic spiritual rhythm of life for all His followers.
With that said the rest of Jesus’ brief teaching on fasting concerns the direction in which we are fasting. As with Jesus’ previous teaching on giving (Matt6:1-4) and prayer (Matt6:5-15), fasting is to be directed toward God and not man. Fasting isn’t to be a show of outward spirituality (characterised by sadness and gloom) for everyone to see and marvel at how spiritual we are. Fasting is to be an inward commitment (characterised if anything by joy!) between you and God. I sense Jesus may well be drawing on His own experience of fasting in the wilderness. Fasting in the wilderness is something that leaves a person completely alone to be with God – there are no other people involved just the one fasting and the Lord. In the wilderness Jesus Himself was tempted to do something to ‘show off’ in front of the crowds. The devil tried to get him to perform a mini skydive off the top of the temple onto a cushion of angels, presumably for all the crowds below to see (Matt4:6-7). But Jesus resisted, knowing that His wilderness fast was something done in secret between Him and the Father.
Keep persevering in prayer and fasting. Allow Father God to develop and deepen your relationship with Him through it.
For Group Discussion
You may want to reflect together further on Matt 6.
Take time to share together some of the things God has been speaking to you and doing in you as you have been fasting and praying. This may include words, pictures and scriptures God is saying to you individually and to the church, but it also may include the struggles and discoveries you have made about your flesh and will struggling with God’s.
How is God guiding your prayers as you fast?
In this passage we read how Jesus overcame the devil in the wilderness during a 40 day fast. The very place where Israel floundered and succumbed to temptation is the very place where Jesus succeeds and overcomes temptation. For Jesus, the victory over the devil, which happened on the cross, began in the wilderness.
Whilst this was Jesus’ quite unique fast (and we are not Jesus!) I think there is something to learn from this passage for our own fasting and prayer. What we see in Matt4 is that fasting is a spiritual struggle. We can easily understand fasting as a physical struggle as our bodies yearn for food – the struggle to overcome the temptation of food and drink is very real and physical. But beyond the more obvious physical struggle there is also a spiritual battle. In fasting our desires wrestle with God’s desires. In fasting we are tested as to whether we will rather follow the devil’s lead or God’s commands. In all of this we see that will prevail if we are empowered and led by the Holy Spirit just as Jesus was (Matt4:1).
In Eph6, Paul tells us that our battle is not against flesh and blood, but a spiritual battle. Too often the church tries to fight things in the physical and not approach things the way Jesus did, which was spiritual first. Before the physical act of going to the cross, Jesus had won the spiritual battle in fasting and prayer in the wilderness and at Gethsemane. Our fasting and prayer isn’t just an interesting exercises in self denial of the body! It is something that is potentially very powerful if we understand it as something primarily as spiritual struggle. Our prayers become very powerful when we truly come to the point of praying ‘Not my will, nor the devil’s will, but God’s will be done.’
Take some time to reflect on Jesus’ fast in Matt4.
But make sure you also spend some time wrestling in the Holy Spirit. Daring to pray boldly and fervently for God’s will, knowing that the victories ahead of us as a church are won first spiritually in prayer and fasting.