Isaiah 30:18-23: People of Zion, who live in Jerusalem, you will weep no more. How gracious he will be when you cry for help! As soon as he hears, he will answer you... Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, ‘This is the way; walk in it.’
The Sovereign Lord has given me a well-instructed tongue,
to know the word that sustains the weary.
He wakens me morning by morning,
wakens my ear to listen like one being instructed.
Mark 6:4-11: [Jesus] began to send them out two by two... These were his instructions: ‘Take nothing for the journey except a staff - no bread, no bag, no money in your belts. Wear sandals but not an extra shirt. Whenever you enter a house, stay there until you leave that town.’
1 Timothy 6:6-10: Godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that."Nothing" and "contentment"... two words that don't often go together, especially in a society geared to ever-increasing consumption. As Bobbie explains, it's not all about what we own, but rather our attitude to our possessions. Does our lifestyle draw us closer to God, or away from him? Bobbie poses some challenging questions.
For you created my inmost being;
you knit me together in my mother's womb.
I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful,
I know that full well.
Daniel 10:15-19: I said to the one standing before me, ‘I am overcome with anguish because of the vision, my lord, and I feel very weak. How can I, your servant, talk with you, my lord? My strength is gone and I can hardly breathe.’
Luke 9:24-25: [Jesus said,] ‘Whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?’Confronted by a terrifying vision, Daniel is literally floored. How can he be worth anything? Yet, as the story continues, he is described as "highly esteemed" or "greatly beloved". Why do we put on a mask and present a false image of ourselves to the world when God loves without limit the true self we hide within? Walking with Jesus, says Geoff, is a journey to our true selves.
‘I will give you hidden treasures,
riches stored in secret places,
so that you may know that I am the Lord,
the God of Israel, who summons you by name.’
If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me
and the light become night around me,’
even the darkness will not be dark to you;
the night will shine like the day,
for darkness is as light to you.
Blessed are all who fear the Lord,
who walk in obedience to him.
You will eat the fruit of your labour;
blessings and prosperity will be yours.
Jeremiah 7:1-7: This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says: ‘...If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the foreigner, the fatherless or the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave to your ancestors for ever and ever.’Jeremiah's prophecy continues in verse 23: "Obey me, and I will be your God and you will be my people. Walk in obedience to all I command you, that it may go well with you." That word "obedience" again! Does God just want us to be mindless slaves? By contrast, Allan points to the best and most fulfilling way of living.
How lovely is your dwelling-place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
Even the sparrow has found a home,
and the swallow a nest for herself,
where she may have her young -
a place near your altar,
Lord Almighty, my King and my God.
Blessed are those who dwell in your house;
they are ever praising you.
1 Kings 19:1-9: [Elijah] came to a broom bush, sat down under it and prayed that he might die. ‘I have had enough, Lord,’ he said. ‘Take my life; I am no better than my ancestors.’ Then he lay down under the bush and fell asleep. All at once an angel touched him and said, ‘Get up and eat.’ He looked around, and there by his head was some bread baked over hot coals, and a jar of water.
1 Corinthians 6:15-20: Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies."Only the spiritual life matters, and the physical body is unimportant or even evil." This idea infected the early church and still persists today, but it comes from Greek philosophy. When Elijah is physically and emotionally exhausted, the solution is sleep, food and drink. If, as Paul says, the body is inhabited by God, it surely needs looking after. Geoff explains the role the body plays in our life with God.
Leviticus 26:3-13: ‘If you follow my decrees and are careful to obey my commands, I will send you rain in its season, and the ground will yield its crops and the trees their fruit... I will put my dwelling-place among you, and I will not abhor you. I will walk among you and be your God, and you will be my people.’
Matthew 6:25-34: ‘So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.’"Hurry is the great enemy of the Spirit," quotes Geoff. The pace and preoccupations of life prevent us from seeing where God is at work and truly encountering him in our everyday lives. Geoff offers some ways of creating quiet moments each day with the God who is never rushed.
Matthew 16:23-25: Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it.’
Mark 10:46-52: ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Jesus asked [Bartimaeus]. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’ ‘Go,’ said Jesus, ‘your faith has healed you.’ Immediately he received his sight and followed Jesus along the road.Walking with God is a powerful metaphor for the Christian life, and it's also the theme of our new sermon series. As Geoff explains, we may walk to reach a goal, to observe the surroundings, to be in the company of others, or maybe just locked in our own concerns. For Jesus' disciples, life on the road meant watching and learning. Geoff challenges us to join them in intentionally walking with Jesus.
Matthew 2:13-23: So [Joseph] got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod. And so was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: ‘Out of Egypt I called my son.’ When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were two years old and under.For Matthew's original readers, mention of Egypt would bring to mind the birth of the nation of Israel and the Exodus that brought them into their own land. In this story there are echoes, too, of the years Israel spent in exile in Babylon. What can we make of the Holy Innocents, those young children murdered by a paranoid ruler? Matt explains how all these events relate to Jesus, the true Israel, the true King and the one whose death would bring new life and hope.
‘All people are like grass,
and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
because the breath of the Lord blows on them.
Surely the people are grass.
The grass withers and the flowers fall,
but the word of our God endures for ever.’
Luke 1:26-38: Mary was greatly troubled at [Gabriel's] words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, ‘Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High.’Confronted by an angel, given this seemingly impossible promise, we might well expect this teenage girl to have a lot of questions. Yet, as Matt explains, she seems remarkably accepting of Gabriel's assurances. Matt talks us through the encounter and encourages us to reach the same point of trust in God and understanding of his ways that the young Mary had.
Luke 1:5-25: An angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing at the right side of the altar of incense. When Zechariah saw him, he was startled and was gripped with fear. But the angel said to him: ‘Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John...’ Zechariah asked the angel, ‘How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well on in years.’You've been praying for something all your life, and then an angel appears to tell you that you will receive it and, indeed, much more than you had asked for. That would seem pretty convincing, but not for Zechariah. What was wrong? As Graham explains, he learned much about God and himself during the subsequent months of Elizabeth's pregnancy, lessons that we too need to learn if we are to be ready to receive God's promises.
Philippians 4:10-23: I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.Paul's words have all the more force because he was writing from prison, yet still full of joy. As Bobbie points out, his attitude to money and material possessions did not come naturally. It takes time for God to work in us and show us the things we really need to care about and act upon.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit...
On that day the root of Jesse shall stand as a signal to the peoples;
the nations shall inquire of him, and his dwelling shall be glorious.
Philippians 4:1-9: Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.Writing from prison, hearing of arguments in this church he loved so much, Paul had every reason to be anxious. Yet he found genuine peace of mind while so many of us fail to do so. Geoff explains what God does and what we need to do to find this peace in our own lives.
Philippians 3: But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things... I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.In his former life, Paul had it all: a zealous Jew with an impeccable upbringing, admired by everyone in his circle. Yet, as Allan explains, Paul now regarded himself as a slave of Jesus and believed that status to be worth more than anything. Allan challenges us to think about what we really value and, like Paul, to press on towards the true fulfilment of our lives.
Philippians 2:12-30: Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.How should we respond to the darkness in the world? What would it look like to live in the light? Speaking on Remembrance Sunday, Geoff points us towards Jesus as our example and the one who can truly enable us, each of us together, to light up the night sky.
Praise be to the Lord,
for he has heard my cry for mercy.
The Lord is my strength and my shield;
my heart trusts in him, and he helps me.
My heart leaps for joy,
and with my song I praise him.
Let each of you look not to your own interests, but to the interests of others. Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God,
did not regard equality with God
as something to be exploited,
but emptied himself,
taking the form of a slave,
being born in human likeness.
Philippians 1:12-30: Now I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that what has happened to me has actually served to advance the gospel. As a result, it has become clear throughout the whole palace guard and to everyone else that I am in chains for Christ. And because of my chains, most of the brothers and sisters have become confident in the Lord and dare all the more to proclaim the gospel without fear... The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.Paul knew better than anyone what it meant to suffer for the sake of the gospel, yet he was full of the joy of knowing Christ. Susan explains why Paul was able to find so much to rejoice about even in his imprisonment and encourages us to support Christians who are persecuted today.
Philippians 1:1-11: I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.Paul really was there at "the first day" when, responding to a vision in a dream, he went to preach the gospel in Philippi. Those first believers were soon leading the church there and Paul has every reason to be thankful for them and for what God was still doing in them. Geoff reminds us that we, too, can find joy in our links with Christians locally and throughout the world. This motivates us to pray and to give towards their needs.
Acts 9.32-43: In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. About that time she became ill and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, ‘Please come at once!’Dorcas, known as a true disciple of Jesus, was dead. Her life was over, so what more could be done? Clearly she had inspired faith in others - enough faith to ask Peter, the leading apostle, to come. What happened next ensured Dorcas' place in history. Peter explains why she was so highly thought of and challenges us to live as disciples in the situations in which God has put us.
Colossians 1:9-14: We ask God to give you complete knowledge of his will and to give you spiritual wisdom and understanding. Then the way you live will always honour and please the Lord, and your lives will produce every kind of good fruit. All the while, you will grow as you learn to know God better and better. We also pray that you will be strengthened with all his glorious power so you will have all the endurance and patience you need. May you be filled with joy, always thanking the Father.Paul has a long list of prayer requests! Why are these things so much to be desired? What can we do to grow in these areas of our relationship with God? Allan describes some practical steps we can take, and also demonstrates how we can pray for anyone, anywhere, any time to receive God's great blessings.
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.
1 Samuel 1:1-18: Eli the priest was sitting on his chair by the doorpost of the Lord's house. In her deep anguish Hannah prayed to the Lord, weeping bitterly. And she made a vow, saying, ‘Lord Almighty, if you will only look on your servant's misery and remember me, and not forget your servant but give her a son, then I will give him to the Lord for all the days of his life.’Hannah's prayer, born out of the desperation of her childlessness, proved to be a turning point in her life and also that of her nation. What had brought her to this point? Chris explains why Hannah's example can be an encouragement to us, and how this has worked out in his own life.
[Jesus said,] ‘When you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask him.
This, then, is how you should pray:’
Matthew 16.13-20: ‘But what about you?’ [Jesus] asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’ Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by flesh and blood, but by my Father in heaven. And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.’It's all going so well for Simon, now given the name Peter. He's a rock! Yet not much later, Jesus says to him: ‘Get behind me, Satan!’ What's going on? Why did Jesus choose Peter as leader in the first place? As Chris explains, Jesus saw what no-one else could: Peter's faithful and willing heart, one that would learn from failure with the help of Jesus' expert mentoring. Chris, who has more experience than most of mentoring others, gives us an insight into Jesus' way of preparing Peter for service and leadership.
Matthew 15:10-20: Jesus called the crowd to him and said, ‘Listen and understand. What goes into someone's mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them... the things that come out of a person's mouth come from the heart.’The Pharisees reduced faith to a set of rules, and then manipulated the rules to avoid having to do what was genuinely right. This made Jesus angry, but as Bobbie explains, his words are a warning to us too. We all need to change, and this has to happen from the inside, living out the new life that God gives us.
Matthew 14:22-33: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake... ‘Lord, if it's you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’There are many stories about Peter in the Gospels, and for the most part he ends up making a mess of things. And yet, as Chris explains, Jesus appointed him as leader of the church that he came to build. Peter was undergoing training in a programme that involved failure, and if it was OK for Peter to fail, it is for us too. The true failure is to let fear keep us in the boat and to cause us to say no to Jesus' call.
Matthew 14:13-21: As evening approached, the disciples came to [Jesus] and said, ‘This is a remote place, and it's already getting late. Send the crowds away, so that they can go to the villages and buy themselves some food.’ Jesus replied, ‘They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.’ ‘We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish,’ they answered.You give them something to eat, says Jesus. But... we don't have enough. We've got nothing worth giving. I'm too young, too old, too insignificant to make a difference. Yet, in Jesus' hands, that small offering is enough to feed an entire crowd, or turn a situation round, or transform someone's life. Rachel challenges us to rethink what we and, especially, children can do if we are only prepared to offer what we have to God.
Mark 8:31-38: [Jesus] called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: ‘Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it.’When Jesus tells his disciples that he must die, it leads to a confrontation with Peter. Now he comes out with more tough words, making it clear to all that following him entails great cost. What sort of Messiah is this, asks Megan, and why should we follow him? At stake is real life - now and for eternity.
Mark 6.45-53: Later that night, the boat was in the middle of the lake, and [Jesus] was alone on land. He saw the disciples straining at the oars, because the wind was against them. Shortly before dawn he went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw him walking on the lake, they thought he was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw him and were terrified.If we follow Jesus' commands, we won't suffer hardship or difficulty. Right? Wrong, says Graham, as the disciples found themselves straining at the oars having run into a storm in the middle of the night. Yet in this extraordinary encounter he came to help them, even though they did not recognise him, and what they learned about him stayed with them for the rest of their lives.
Luke 9:57-62: Still another [man] said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’ Jesus replied, ‘No one who puts a hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.’Jesus' reply to this man, and his replies to two other would-be followers, seem very harsh and even contradictory to other Bible teaching. Allan reminds us of the need to make Jesus our number one priority; to recognise the cost of following him, and to ensure that everything we do is for the sake of the Kingdom of God.
Luke 5:1-11: [Jesus] saw at the water's edge two boats, left there by the fishermen, who were washing their nets. He got into one of the boats, the one belonging to Simon, and asked him to put out a little from the shore. Then he sat down and taught the people from the boat.
Matthew 4.18-22: As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow me,’ Jesus said, ‘and I will send you out to fish for people.’ At once they left their nets and followed him.In order to call his first disciples Jesus went where they were and entered their world. Chris, drawing on a lifetime of experience as a "fisherman", encourages us to follow this example. It takes time, it involves risks, but it sets people free and is truly worthwhile.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
Haggai 1.1-15: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin? ... Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,’ says the Lord.The people of Israel returned from exile with the best of intentions, and made a start on rebuilding the temple. But gradually the work slipped down the agenda and eventually came to a halt. Haggai's prophecy was a call to restore the right priorities. We too can put our God-given dreams and visions off for another day, says Caz, and she challenges us to get back on track and, as the people of Israel did, enjoy God's blessing.
Mark 9:14-29: A man in the crowd answered, ‘Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground... But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.’ ‘“If you can”?’ said Jesus. ‘Everything is possible for one who believes.’ Immediately the boy's father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’If healing depended on the depth of our faith, or our technique in prayer, surely it would never happen. But, says Geoff, healing comes by God's grace. As the desperate father in this story learns, Jesus has the authority to heal regardless of our human weakness. The sermon ends with two stories of healing, the second of which comes from a video which can be viewed on the Great Commission website.
Luke 15:11-32: Jesus continued: ‘There was a man who had two sons. The younger one said to his father, “Father, give me my share of the estate.” So he divided his property between them. Not long after that, the younger son got together all he had, set off for a distant country and there squandered his wealth in wild living.’Having delivered a grievous insult to his father, the younger son continues to make himself a disgrace to his family, nation and religion before being forced to slink back home. Surely, Jesus' listeners thought, this young man would get his come-uppance? Instead, the father embraces his son and gives him a place of honour. Nigel puts the story of the Prodigal Son in its cultural context and shows how shocked those hearers would have been. What sort of father is this? What is your role in the story? God the Father longs for every person to come home and feel his embrace.
[Jesus] stood up to read, and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:
‘The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour.’
Acts 2:1-18: When the day of Pentecost came, [the disciples] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.These events, re-enacted in dramatised form at the beginning of the recording, fulfilled the promise made earlier by Jesus that the disciples would receive the Holy Spirit. The Spirit's power is linked with bearing witness to Jesus, says Geoff, and the church exploded into life that day as everyone present heard the message. After Geoff spoke, four people of different ages and nationalities were baptised. God continues to draw people to himself today.
2 Corinthians 4:1-6: We have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God... And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel.
Acts 26:12-18: [Paul said,] As I was on the road [to Damascus], I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, blazing around me and my companions. We all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”’If the gospel we preach is true, why don't more people believe it? Paul writes from his own experience: he was unable to see the truth, thinking that he could work everything out for himself, until the light of God broke into his life and showed him he needed Jesus. We don't need gimmicks or clever tricks to present the gospel, says Megan. Rather, as Paul did, we should present it faithfully, knowing that God alone can bring light into people's hearts.
1 Thessalonians 1:2-7: We know, brothers and sisters loved by God, that he has chosen you, because our gospel came to you not simply with words but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and deep conviction.
1 Corinthians 2:1-5: I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God's power.If Paul, the greatest gospel preacher of all time, was a poor public speaker, we need not be so ashamed of our own weaknesses, nor bound by our own fears. We should pray that we will be given the right words to speak to each person, says Geoff, and trust in the Holy Spirit rather than in our arguments to persuade the listener to respond.
1 Peter 3:8-17: In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.What is this hope that we have? And what would prompt anyone else to ask us about it? Bobbie reminds us of the reason for our hope - the life-changing power of Jesus living within us - and of the love between us which should mark us out as his disciples. Here's a challenge to each of us, and together as a church, to take the message of eternal life to those around us.
Jonah 1-4: The word of the Lord came to Jonah son of Amittai: ‘Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me.’ But Jonah ran away from the Lord and headed for Tarshish... Then [the sailors] took Jonah and threw him overboard, and the raging sea grew calm. At this the men greatly feared the Lord, and they offered a sacrifice to the Lord and made vows to him. Now the Lord provided a huge fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights.Did Jonah think that by running away he could somehow escape God? If so, he learned an important lesson: that God is everywhere, with power over everyone and everything we could ever encounter, no matter how difficult the situation. Ann's talk - followed by more explanation from Rachel - is very short, introducing the theme of our All In service. After this we went into different zones to write, discuss, think, be creative and even act out the story of Jonah - using a parachute!
Luke 5:17-26: Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, ‘Friend, your sins are forgiven.’
2 Corinthians 5:11-21: If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here! ... And [God] has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ's ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ's behalf: be reconciled to God.Are you willing to serve for the good of others, respecting and listening to those to whom you will go? Do you know and believe in the values of the kingdom to which you belong? Are you ready to go out of your safe space to demonstrate those values to others? God has a job for you, says Allan: that of ambassador, representing the kingdom of God. For the next few weeks we'll be following the theme A message to share leading up to a special time of outreach at the beginning of June.
Matthew 27:62-28:10: The angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples: “He has risen from the dead and is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him.”’Never, says Geoff, has there been an escape story like this one. Jesus, dead for three days, returns to life and breaks out of the sealed tomb. Over the next few days he meets with his disciples and deals with each one in a way that overcomes their doubts and fears. Whatever sorrows we have to carry, whatever sense of failure, the risen Jesus is the one who can give us fresh vision and hope.
Luke 19:28-44: As [Jesus] approached Jerusalem and saw the city, he wept over it and said, ‘If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace - but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side... They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God's coming to you.’This, says Chris, is not a Palm Sunday sermon. Instead, he takes us on a journey with Jesus, among crowds who long for a King, and on to a view over the city that Jesus loved - a city that failed to recognise the one who alone could have brought it peace. Will we in our day help people to see Jesus, the only one who can bring hope to a broken world?
Colossians 3.12-17: As God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.What we choose to wear signals our intentions for the day, and - as the drama near the beginning of the recording illustrates - how we want others to see us. Speaking in an All Age service, Susan describes the sort of qualities we should "wear", and points to the God who alone is able to change us from the inside so that, bit by bit, these "clothes" become a more comfortable fit.
Isaiah 49:13-16: Zion said, ‘The Lord has forsaken me, the Lord has forgotten me.’ ‘Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you!’
Luke 13:31-35: [Jesus said,] ‘Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, and you were not willing. Look, your house is left to you desolate.’On Mothering Sunday, Megan's talk reminds us that love can bring great pain as well as joy. Jerusalem was the city on a hill which was meant to proclaim God's values to the world. Instead it rejected God and crucified Jesus rather than accept the shelter he offered. Megan urges us to find true freedom in Jesus before, as it was for Jerusalem, it is too late.
Matthew 3:11-17: Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by you, and do you come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John consented.Since baptism was a sign of repentance it's hardly surprising that John objected to baptising Jesus, who he knew to be sinless. What was going on? The answer, says Arif, helps to explain the purpose of Jesus' ministry which began at this point. Do we know what God is calling us to do with our lives?
So I say,
‘My splendour is gone
and all that I had hoped from the Lord.’...
Yet this I call to mind
and therefore I have hope:
Because of the Lord's great love we are not consumed,
for his compassions never fail.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley
I will fear no evil, for you are with me;
your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
Exodus 1.1-2.10: Now a man of the tribe of Levi married a Levite woman, and she became pregnant and gave birth to a son. When she saw that he was a fine child, she hid him for three months. But when she could hide him no longer, she got a papyrus basket for him and coated it with tar and pitch. Then she placed the child in it and put it among the reeds along the bank of the Nile. His sister stood at a distance to see what would happen to him.According to Pharaoh's decree, this child - born to one of the Hebrews who were then slaves in Egypt - should have been thrown into the Nile. Instead, he was rescued by Pharaoh's own daughter and returned to his mother to care for him. When he grew up, Moses would become the one through whom God rescued his people from slavery. Speaking in this All In service, Megan reminds us of the need to pray for God's protection for others and ourselves.
‘Do not be afraid; you will not be put to shame.
Do not fear disgrace; you will not be humiliated.
You will forget the shame of your youth
and remember no more the reproach of your widowhood.
For your Maker is your husband -
the Lord Almighty is his name -
the Holy One of Israel is your Redeemer;
he is called the God of all the earth.’
Ephesians 3:13-21: I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord's holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge.Knowing we're loved: that's the theme of our current series of sermons. We know in our minds that God loves us, says Allan, but we need to know it in our hearts as well. He offers 5 different things we can do to allow this knowledge to go deep into our being.
Romans 5:1-11: Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ... Hope does not put us to shame, because God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.
Genesis 2:4-3:13: The Lord God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being... When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.After a dramatic interpretation of the Bible story (it doesn't stick strictly to the words in Genesis) Matt goes on to remind us that the love of God rather than romantic love is what all of us truly need. This was just the first part of our first ever All In service, and we then went on to respond in a variety of different ways. There's more about the service here. The recording ends with a summary from service leader Rachel Fasham.
John 15:9-17: [Jesus said,] ‘Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.’It's an extraordinary privilege, says Geoff, but one that comes with great responsibility. This is a friendship like no other, initiated by Jesus and characterised by sacrificial love.
Romans 8:1-4: There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:12-17: For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God. The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship.In a courtroom, the defendant is found guilty - and is immediately set free. But on what terms? It's wonderful to be forgiven, but God's love goes far beyond even that, says Bobbie. She lists some of the amazing privileges God has given us and the help available to us to become more like the people he wants us to be.
You have searched me, Lord,
and you know me.
You know when I sit and when I rise;
you perceive my thoughts from afar.
You discern my going out and my lying down;
you are familiar with all my ways.
Before a word is on my tongue
you, Lord, know it completely.
John 1:9-13: The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world... To all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.
1 John 3:1-3: See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are.What is it that defines a person? We might think of job, status, possessions, abilities... but to truly know that we are unconditionally loved by God is something that goes to the core of our being and changes us from the inside. The new sermon series Knowing we're loved is aimed at helping us know and live out that truth. To anyone who has not taken the step of receiving Jesus, Geoff recommends the Start! course as a way of discovering more about the love of God.
Matthew 2:1-12: After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.’Why did the Magi think that their long and dangerous journey was worth making? What did they expect to find? What they actually found was a treasure more valuable than anything they could have expected, says John, and we too can find eternal treasure if we look in the right places.
John 1:6-14: The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.It's the greatest nativity play of all, the one where God took on our humanity. And, says Geoff, it has a cast of nobodies, people who thought their lives would never amount to much. God still enters the lives of ordinary people. What might we become if we truly recognise that God is with us?
Luke 1:26-38: The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’ Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.
Mary said... ‘He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.‘
Malachi 3:1-4: ‘I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me. Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple; the messenger of the covenant, whom you desire, will come,’ says the Lord Almighty.
A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him -
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord.
Luke 19:11-27: [Jesus said,] ‘A man of noble birth went to a distant country to have himself appointed king and then to return. So he called ten of his servants and gave them ten minas. “Put this money to work,” he said, “until I come back.”... Then he sent for the servants to whom he had given the money, in order to find out what they had gained with it.’
Matthew 20:1-16: [Jesus said,] ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire workers for his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About nine in the morning he went out and saw others standing in the market-place doing nothing. He told them, “You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right.” So they went... The workers who were hired about five in the afternoon came and each received a denarius. So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius.’"It's not fair!" cried the workers who had put in a full day's shift. As the day went on the vineyard owner hired more and more workers, yet he paid them all the same amount regardless of how long they had worked. What's going on? As Chris explains, the kingdom of God turns earthly values upside down. What if everything we have is an unearned gift from God? It could make quite a difference...
Mark 4:26-32: Jesus also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn - first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’A time to sow, a time to grow, a time to harvest. When we pray, "Your kingdom come", how does this work in practice in a person's life? Who does what to bring about change? Bobbie draws on her own experience of being rescued from despair to encourage us to introduce people to Jesus.
Mark 4:1-20: [Jesus said,] ‘A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants, so that they did not bear grain. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up, grew and produced a crop, some multiplying thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times.’In Jesus' story the seed represents the Good News that he came to bring and the soil represents different types of people, only one of which produces any fruit. Geoff explains what a fruitful life might look like and reveals that his own early life was less than promising in this regard. How will we respond to God's message of love?
John 3.1-17: Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. ‘Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother's womb to be born!’One night, a respected religious leader came to ask Jesus some questions (the recording starts with a dramatised version of that encounter). Later in the service, parents and godparents were asked some questions about faith before a baptism took place. Nicodemus didn't understand Jesus' answers to his questions, so he kept on asking. We should do the same, says Megan, until we're ready to answer the question Jesus asks us: will you follow me?
John 10:1-18: [Jesus said,] ‘I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me - just as the Father knows me and I know the Father - and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.’It's a nice comforting picture: the sheep on the inside under Jesus' protection, and the big bad world kept outside. Except that... Jesus came on a rescue mission and is always working to draw in the outsider. Earlier in the service we had heard from someone who had fallen into debt but had found new faith and hope through our Christians Against Poverty debt advice centre. Geoff reminds us that the church should be shaped to make room for those who are currently on the outside.
Luke 14:7-14: [Jesus said,] ‘When someone invites you to a wedding feast... take the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he will say to you, “Friend, move up to a better place.” Then you will be honoured in the presence of all the other guests. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’Jesus isn't just speaking about etiquette at a dinner party, says Geoff, but about our attitude to life. I'm too important... I'm worthless... She/he/it is beneath me... any of those thoughts indicate that we have a problem. Geoff points to Jesus as our role model and our guide to the true worth of each person.
‘I, the Lord, have called you in righteousness;
I will take hold of your hand.
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles,
to open eyes that are blind,
to free captives from prison
and to release from the dungeon those who sit in darkness.’
‘Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth
and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you
and his glory appears over you.
Nations will come to your light,
and kings to the brightness of your dawn.’
Haggai 1:1-15: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.” ... Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin? ... Give careful thought to your ways. Go up into the mountains and bring down timber and build my house, so that I may take pleasure in it and be honoured,’ says the Lord.Over a decade after their return from exile, God's people had made good progress in rebuilding their houses and farms, but God had somehow been left out of the picture... and things just weren't working out. It's so easy to push God to the margins, says Bobbie, in our individual lives and as a church. If we put God at the centre everything we do becomes an act of worship. What state is our "temple" in?
Luke 13:6-9: [Jesus] told this parable: ‘A man had a fig-tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, “For three years now I've been coming to look for fruit on this fig-tree and haven't found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?”’We know that God wants to produce fruit in our lives - to make us the people that we ourselves would want to be. But we're not there yet... the recording starts with Rachel Fasham leading a time of confession that points us towards the forgiveness and hope that God freely gives. Then Geoff uses some real fruit to illustrate how God works to make us fruitful, and explains the surprising and hopeful end to Jesus' story.
John 9:1-25: [Jesus] spat on the ground, made some mud with the saliva, and put it on the man's eyes. ‘Go,’ he told him, ‘wash in the Pool of Siloam’ (this word means ‘Sent’). So the man went and washed, and came home seeing.This man had never been able to see and had no hope that anything would change - until Jesus came along. Walter, who is the pastor of a church in Bolivia, describes his own experience of growing up spiritually blind, and then God breaking in to transform his life. God has the power to set us free physically, emotionally and spiritually and this service ended with many people coming forward to request prayer for healing.
Jeremiah 29:1-14: ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce... Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”’Aliens in a strange land: an experience known only too well to some of our congregation who are refugees, and earlier in the service Geoff reported the excellent news that three of our number have been granted leave to remain in the UK. There is a sense, too, in which the whole Christian church does not belong in Western, secular society. Should we turn our backs on the world and keep ourselves "holy"? Instead, Jeremiah's prophecy challenges us to get involved in the world around us. Geoff describes some ways in which this is happening locally and urges us to seek the good of our city for the benefit of all.
Genesis 12.1-9: The Lord had said to Abram, ‘Go from your country, your people and your father's household to the land I will show you. I will make you into a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.’David introduces the theme of our sermons for the next few weeks by going back to the very beginning of the story of the people of God. Abram, later given the name Abraham, responds in faithful obedience to God's call and so receives the promised blessing, one which we share as his spiritual descendants. The blessing we receive as we follow God's call is never just for ourselves but rather for the benefit of the people, community and nations around us.
Acts 2:42-47: They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favour of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.The church that grew in the first days after Pentecost wasn't perfect, but it still represents a standard to which every church should aspire. Geoff asks us to consider how Christ Church matches up against that ideal. To what extent do we live out the Christian story as a community? Listen, be challenged and pray!
1 Kings 3:16-28: Two prostitutes came to the king and stood before him. One of them said, ‘Pardon me, my lord. This woman and I live in the same house. I had a baby while she was there with me. The third day after my child was born, this woman also had a baby. During the night this woman's son died because she lay on him. So she got up in the middle of the night and took my son from my side while I your servant was asleep. She put him by her breast and put her dead son by my breast.’One living child, and two women who each claim that the child is hers. Who is telling the truth? How would you have decided the matter? So often we can't work out the right thing to do, or we know what it is but are unwilling to do it. In the Bible story, Solomon's wisdom enabled him to find a solution to the problem. Megan gives us some pointers to resolving life's difficult decisions.
1 Kings 3:1-15: The Lord appeared to Solomon during the night in a dream, and God said, ‘Ask for whatever you want me to give you.’ Solomon answered, ... ‘I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties... So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?’There is a kind of wisdom, says Bobbie, that can only come from God. Sometimes it runs counter to the world's ideas, and Bobbie gives examples from her own life where this has been the case. There's a warning, too, that even a wise person like Solomon can be led astray by their own desires. Ask God for wisdom, then put it into practice.
Choose my instruction instead of silver,
knowledge rather than choice gold,
for wisdom is more precious than rubies,
and nothing you desire can compare with her...
I love those who love me,
and those who seek me find me...
For those who find me find life
and receive favour from the Lord.
Luke 6:46-49: [Jesus said,] ‘As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When the flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built.’Putting Jesus' words into practice, as Geoff admits, is not easy. For the last few weeks we've been looking at some of his hardest teaching to follow. But building our lives on any other foundation will lead to a crash when trouble comes. It's not enough to hear - we have to respond!
Matthew 6:1-6: [Jesus said,] ‘When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.’Jesus' hearers would have regarded giving, praying and fasting as especially important ways of offering service to God. As Jesus points out, it is possible to do the right thing for the wrong reasons and end up serving ourselves. David explains what our true motivation should be, and the nature of the reward that Jesus promised.
Matthew 5:38-48: [Jesus said,] ‘You have heard that it was said, “Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.” But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also... You have heard that it was said, “Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.” But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.’Turn the other cheek. Go the extra mile. These have become familiar phrases, but they would have had somewhat different meanings for Jesus' original hearers. The grievances they suffered through living under Roman occupation had led them to set limits on forgiveness, and we so easily do the same. What does it mean to truly forgive? Should we just let people walk all over us? Graham explores what Jesus was really saying - and acknowledges that it is really hard to live up to.
Matthew 5:27-30: [Jesus said,] ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall not commit adultery.” But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’
Matthew 6:22-23: [Jesus said,] ‘The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are healthy, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness!’The recording begins with David Mole, who led the service, reading a reflection from pastor and author Rick Warren: do we view other people the way God does? As irritations, burdens, enemies, people that matter? As Megan goes on to explain, the way we look at others is known to God and makes a big difference to the way we live our lives. In particular, viewing others as sex objects can end up destroying lives and marriages. Secret shame, addiction, guilt: this is difficult territory but Megan has a message of hope and encouragement.
Matthew 5:21-26: [Jesus said,] ‘I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment... and anyone who says, “You fool!” will be in danger of the fire of hell. Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.’Some Christians, says Geoff, have interpreted Jesus' words to mean that we should never get angry. But didn't Jesus himself show anger at times... and shouldn't we be angry when other people are abused or treated unjustly? Anger has great destructive power, but as Geoff explains the Holy Spirit is working within us to help us to handle it well.
Matthew 6:24-34: [Jesus said,] ‘So do not worry, saying, “What shall we eat?” or “What shall we drink?” or “What shall we wear?” For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.’The recording starts with Ann, leading the All Age service, asking us to list the things that we really need (rather than just want) in order to live. Then Matt arrives with his surfboard and reminds us of the promise that Jesus made to his disciples, who had given up everything to follow him: that God would provide what they needed. With the nation facing an especially uncertain future, our true security lies in belonging to the Kingdom of God.
Matthew 5:17-20: [Jesus said,] ‘Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them... unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.’For the religious leaders of Jesus' day, God's law meant the whole body of teaching laid down in what we now call the Old Testament. It covered food, hygiene, forms of worship and just about every aspect of everyday life. But the word "testament" means "covenant", and as Naeem explains, Jesus came to bring in a new covenant based on what is in the heart rather than outward observance. Naeem is spending a few weeks on a placement at Christ Church as part of his training for Anglican ministry.
Matthew 5:13-16: [Jesus said,] ‘You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? ... You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden... Let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’Who said following Jesus would be easy? Standing up for truth, integrity and justice, and bringing the love of God to a world full of darkness... these are some of the challenges Chris presents us with. Speaking just a few days before a referendum that divided the nation, Chris also mentions the need to repair divisions wherever these exist within Christ Church so that the light of Christ may be shown through our love.
Acts 20.17-36: From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church. When they arrived, he said to them: ‘... I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me; my only aim is to finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the good news of God's grace.’Open Doors was born in an era when it was dangerous to be a Christian in Eastern Europe, the USSR or China, but few people in the West knew much about life there. Today, persecution is more likely to be on religious rather than political grounds, and its effects are being felt even in our own city as its victims seek refuge here. Vaughan reminds us that persecution is the normal state of the church, and those who do not suffer it are in a state of privilege. He outlines some of the ways in which Open Doors supports Christians under persecution and helps them not just to survive but to make a positive impact in their situations.
Joshua 6:1-20: When Joshua had spoken to the people, the seven priests carrying the seven trumpets before the Lord went forwards, blowing their trumpets, and the ark of the Lord's covenant followed them. The armed guard marched ahead of the priests who blew the trumpets, and the rear guard followed the ark... Joshua had commanded the army, ‘Do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout.’As Joshua and the people of Israel marched around the fortified city of Jericho, its walls must have seemed even more intimidating than from a distance. Nonetheless, God's promise that the city would fall proved stronger than the evidence of their eyes. When faced by impossible situations today, who will we choose to believe? Geoff challenges us to be alert to what God is doing in breaking down barriers today.
Joshua 5:13-15: When Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand... The commander of the Lord's army replied, ‘Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy.’ And Joshua did so.Having crossed the River Jordan, the people of Israel face the challenge of capturing the huge fortified city of Jericho. Perhaps Joshua is wondering how he will lead his army into battle when this encounter brings him up short: the battle is God's, and he is in charge. If we are ever tempted to think that God is on our side, we've got it the wrong way round, says Allan: our task is to fit in with his plans and fight for his causes.
Joshua 4:1-18: Joshua called together the twelve men he had appointed... and said to them, ‘Go over before the ark of the Lord your God into the middle of the Jordan. Each of you is to take up a stone on his shoulder, according to the number of the tribes of the Israelites, to serve as a sign among you. In the future, when your children ask you, “What do these stones mean?” tell them that the flow of the Jordan was cut off before the ark of the covenant of the Lord... These stones are to be a memorial to the people of Israel for ever.’The people of Israel set up twelve stones, one for each tribe, to remember for all time God's act of deliverance in bringing them across the Jordan. Bobbie presents five modern-day "rocks": things we should celebrate and thank God for, and ways of remembering them.
Joshua 3: Early in the morning Joshua and all the Israelites set out from Shittim and went to the Jordan, where they camped before crossing over. After three days the officers went throughout the camp, giving orders to the people... Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the Lord will do amazing things among you.’
Acts 1:1-5: While [Jesus] was eating with [the disciples], he gave them this command: ‘Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit.’After forty years of wandering in the desert just one thing separated the people of Israel from the land that had been promised to them: the river Jordan in full, raging, impassable flood. They could only wait for God to intervene, and by obeying his commands they were able to cross the river on dry ground. Jesus' disciples, too, had to wait to receive the power that would enable them to fulfil the mission he had given them. Waiting is hard, says Geoff, but it teaches us not to trust in our own resources and to hand control over to God.
Joshua 2: Joshua son of Nun secretly sent two spies from Shittim. ‘Go, look over the land,’ he said, ‘especially Jericho.’ So they went and entered the house of a prostitute named Rahab and stayed there... The king of Jericho sent this message to Rahab: ‘Bring out the men who came to you and entered your house, because they have come to spy out the whole land.’What Rahab did next earned her a place not only in Israel's hall of fame, but also in the ancestral line of Jesus. She had recognised the power of the God of Israel, and knew that her city would surely be defeated in the coming invasion. So she helped the spies to escape, and bargained for the lives of herself and her family. Rahab the prostitute seems an unlikely hero, says Geoff, but God delights in using people we would write off in order to bring about his purposes. We are in danger of excluding from our churches those who don't fit the mould.
Luke 18:18-26: Jesus... said, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’
1 Timothy 6:17-19: Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment. Command them to do good, to be rich in good deeds, and to be generous and willing to share.The recording starts with a dramatised version of the first reading, which sees a rich young man held captive by his wealth and unable to take on the values of the kingdom of God, described by the second reading. In this All Age service Susan challenges us to think of ways of being generous not just with our money but also with our time and talents. Some members of the congregation contribute their own ideas. What are yours?
Joshua 1:1-9: The Lord said to Joshua son of Nun... ‘As I was with Moses, so I will be with you; I will never leave you nor forsake you. Be strong and courageous, because you will lead these people to inherit the land I swore to their ancestors to give them.’After so many years of waiting and wandering, the time has come for the people of Israel to enter the Promised Land. For Joshua, too, this is the culmination of a lifetime during which God has prepared him for this role. Now he is given some commands to follow, but God makes promises to match each one. Chris reminds us that no matter what stage we are at in life, God is preparing us for something - and Chris also offers us an unlikely sporting hero to hold as a role model.
Deuteronomy 1:19-38: [Moses said,] ‘But you were unwilling to go up; you rebelled against the command of the Lord your God. You grumbled in your tents and said... “Where can we go? Our brothers have made our hearts melt in fear. They say, ‘The people are stronger and taller than we are; the cities are large, with walls up to the sky.’”’Camped in the desert on the edge of the Promised Land, the people of Israel awaited the report of the men they had sent to spy it out. The men returned bearing huge bunches of fruit and the news that the land was heavily fortified. The people for whom God had parted the Red Sea gave into their fears, which meant a slight delay: of 40 years. What opportunities might we miss, asks Geoff, if we become paralysed by fear at the prospect of risk or change? He outlines some specific areas where moving forward in faith could make a difference to our lives and our world.
John 20:19-29: Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, ‘We have seen the Lord!’ But he said to them, ‘Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.’He's gone down in history - unfairly, says Geoff - as "Doubting Thomas". In reality he's someone who cared deeply about Jesus and about the truth. Today our faith rests on a combination of the tradition handed down by the apostles and our own personal encounters with Jesus, and Christ Church should have room for everyone who has genuine questions.
John 21:1-14: Early in the morning, Jesus stood on the shore, but the disciples did not realise that it was Jesus. He called out to them, ‘Friends, haven't you any fish?’ ‘No,’ they answered. He said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish.Were these experienced fishermen fools to take any notice of the mysterious stranger? But what a result when they did. John reminds us of other apparently foolish actions that turned out to be true wisdom, above all, Jesus' death on the cross. Don't be a fool: listen to and follow Jesus!
Luke 24:1-12: When [the women] came back from the tomb, they told all these things to the Eleven and to all the others. It was Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James, and the others with them who told this to the apostles. But they did not believe the women, because their words seemed to them like nonsense. Peter, however, got up and ran to the tomb. Bending over, he saw the strips of linen lying by themselves, and he went away, wondering to himself what had happened.Who could possibly believe such an unlikely story - that a man who was dead and buried could come back to life? Yet each of Jesus' followers, in their own time and in their own way, met with him and were convinced that he is alive. And, says Geoff, people continue to have encounters with the risen Jesus today, and to have their lives changed as a result. Will you just write it off as a tall tale?
John 21:15-25: Jesus said [to Peter], ‘Feed my sheep. Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.’ Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, ‘Follow me!’Did anyone say it would be easy to follow Jesus? If we hand our lives over to him, he might lead us to a place where we would rather not go. But, says Geoff, that is the place where real joy is found - a life truly worth living.
Ephesians 4:14-16: Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ.
Galatians 6:1-2: If someone is caught in a sin, you who live by the Spirit should restore that person gently. But watch yourselves, or you also may be tempted. Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.When we come to faith we begin a new relationship with God and he starts to transform us into the people he intends us to be. This is not meant to happen in isolation, but in relationship with others who are on the same road. Graham explains some practical ways in which we can help each other and be helped by others as we move forward in faith.
Isaiah 6:1-7: ‘Woe to me!’ I cried. ‘I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.’ Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, ‘See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.’”
2 Corinthians 7:8-13: Even if I caused you sorrow by my letter, I do not regret it. Though I did regret it - I see that my letter hurt you, but only for a little while - yet now I am happy, not because you were made sorry, but because your sorrow led you to repentance.It's hard to say sorry: it took a toddler 67 tantrum-filled minutes to reach that point in a video clip we watched earlier in this All Age service. And it's even harder to mean it, to recognise we're on the wrong path and turn back to God. Geoff explains the crucial difference and why it matters.
John 5:1-24: One who was [at the pool] had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.“Do you want to get well?” Who would say no? Yet there are all sorts of reasons why people might hold back from asking for healing, and some of those who came for prayer afterwards said that they were especially challenged by what Chris said about this. The message that growth comes through brokenness is hard to accept, but it's very much in keeping with what we've been learning recently as a church. Some personal references have been edited out, along with an explanation of a special prayer event that was held two days later.
Galatians 3:1-14: Does God give you his Spirit and work miracles among you by the works of the law, or by your believing what you heard? So also Abraham ‘believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness.’
2 Corinthians 12:1-10: [The Lord] said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.
Above all else, guard your heart,
for everything you do flows from it.
Keep your mouth free of perversity;
keep corrupt talk far from your lips.
Let your eyes look straight ahead;
fix your gaze directly before you.
Give careful thought to the paths for your feet
and be steadfast in all your ways.
Philippians 4:8-9: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things.If God is at work in us to change us, do we still need this ancient wisdom for living? Allan affirms that we have to make a daily choice to follow the path of discipleship and explains how we can put these principles into practice in our lives today.
Mark 3:20-34: Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”
1 Corinthians 15:1-8: For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures... He appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.It was clearly very hard for Jesus' family, who had seen him grow through his childhood and teenage years, to accept the radical change of direction his life had taken. Yet some years later we find his brother James playing a leading role in the early church. What made him change? James' story, says Rachel, is one that can encourage us all and give us reason to trust in Jesus.
Romans 8:9-14: if you live according to the flesh, you will die; but if by the Spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body, you will live. For those who are led by the Spirit of God are the children of God.
Galatians 5:22-26: The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.We can't change ourselves by trying harder, says Geoff, but only with the help of the Holy Spirit. So how does it work in practice? Geoff explains what can we do to actively co-operate in the process of change.
Romans 6:1-14: Do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires. Do not offer any part of yourself to sin as an instrument of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness. For sin shall no longer be your master, because you are not under the law, but under grace.
Romans 7:14-25: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God's law; but I see another law at work in me, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within me.If even the apostle Paul felt this inner conflict, says Megan, we should not be surprised or discouraged if we feel it too. She commentates on a brief tug-of-war contest as an illustration of the daily battle we face, and explains how God is literally on our side to help us win.
Galatians 4:1-7: You are no longer a slave, but God's child; and since you are his child, God has made you also an heir.
Romans 5:1-5: Since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand... God's love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.What greater privilege, what higher status, could anyone have than to be a child of God? Yet so often we don't see ourselves in that way, but live in fear of rejection. Geoff explains why this is so damaging and points the way to finding our true identity.
2 Peter 1:1-10: [God's] divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness. Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.
2 Corinthians 3:7-18: Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.Geoff begins our new series on spiritual formation with some good news: God wants to change us to make us more like Jesus, and he has given us everything we need to make it happen. Yet so often we feel that we're stuck the way we are, or that somehow this kind of thing is not really for us. Geoff has some encouraging words... and there's much more to come on this theme over the next few weeks.
Luke 2:21-38: There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout. He was waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.Also in the temple that day was the elderly prophet Anna, who, like Simeon, recognised at once the child for whom they had waited so long - the one who would fulfil the hopes of Israel. At the start of a new year, Allan encourages us to hope for the right things and to stay close to God so that we can recognise his voice.
Matthew 2:7-23: An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.” So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.
Matthew 1:18-25: Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife.”
Luke 1:8-22: The angel said to him: “Do not be afraid, Zechariah; your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you are to call him John... He will bring back many of the people of Israel to the Lord their God. And he will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the parents to their children and the disobedient to the wisdom of the righteous - to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”To Elizabeth and Zechariah, a faithful but childless couple, would be born a son - John the Baptist - whose purpose included the restoration of family relationships. How would this help prepare the way for the Lord? Because, says Chris, the way we relate to our human fathers is crucial to really knowing God as our Father and accepting his love. This is not guilt territory: the emphasis is on healing.
Luke 5:17-26: Some men came carrying a paralysed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus.These friends brought the man to Jesus seeking physical healing but Jesus gave him something extra that he didn't know he needed: forgiveness. It all happened because the friends would stop at nothing to bring him to Jesus. Megan challenges us to give our friends the opportunity to meet with Jesus, especially at Christmas when so many more people are willing to attend a church event.
John 4.43-54: There was a certain royal official whose son lay ill at Capernaum. When this man heard that Jesus had arrived in Galilee from Judea, he went to him and begged him to come and heal his son, who was close to death. ‘Unless you people see signs and wonders,’ Jesus told him, ‘you will never believe.’ The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ ‘Go,’ Jesus replied, ‘your son will live.’When this man got home he found that his son was indeed healed, and the whole household came to believe in Jesus. If you don't believe that this kind of thing happens today, hear Susan's story (in the middle of the recording) of what happened when people all over the world prayed following the discovery of a serious heart condition in her then unborn daughter. Geoff maintains that healing is an integral part of proclaiming the gospel message today, in Christ Church and elsewhere.
Acts 8.26-38: An angel of the Lord said to Philip, ‘Go south to the road - the desert road - that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.’ So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official... This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the Book of Isaiah the prophet. The Spirit told Philip, ‘Go to that chariot and stay near it.’
John 4.27-38: Leaving her water jar, the woman went back to the town and said to the people, ‘Come, see a man who told me everything I've ever done. Could this be the Messiah?’ They came out of the town and made their way towards him.
John 4:1-26: When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, ‘Will you give me a drink?’ (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.) The Samaritan woman said to him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Luke 10:1-21: After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.’Meeting opposition is hard; meeting indifference is possibly even harder. Stephanie draws on Jesus' example to offer practical steps for crossing barriers and making him known to others. In the end it's God working in people that makes the difference: we can only be partners in what we is doing.
Luke 10:25-37: An expert in the law stood up to test Jesus... He wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’Who, in response to the ancient commandment, should this man “love as himself”? If the answer he had in his mind was “someone like me”, Jesus' reply contained a shocking twist: the hero of the story we have come to know as the Good Samaritan came from a race that was despised and hated by the Jews. Speaking on Remembrance Sunday, Geoff uses some wartime stories as examples of enemies showing mercy to each other. To truly follow Jesus' example we have to show kindness to those others would reject, not just people like us.
John 8:1-11: The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group and said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?’What Jesus said and did next marks out a crucial difference between him and the Pharisees: he actually cared about the woman and wanted to restore her and set her on the right path. The way we think about people affects how we speak and act towards them, says Bobbie, and as always Jesus is our role model for dealing with people that we - and the world - might want to reject.
Matthew 14.22-33: But when [Peter] saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, ‘Lord, save me!’ Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. ‘You of little faith,’ he said, ‘why did you doubt?’We've stepped out in faith, taking a risk in obedience to God's call, and then - it all seems to go wrong. Why is this happening? How can we ever trust God again? This is another long talk but full of insight into how to respond to this kind of situation - and how not to. John speaks from personal and painful experience of failure and of being led on by God to a place of trust and growth.
Matthew 14.22-33: ‘Come,’ [Jesus] said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came towards Jesus.Peter put himself in a situation where he was forced to trust Jesus. It's only by leaving the place of safety in response to God's call that our faith can truly grow. John describes what that call might look like, and how we can recognise it - and why it is better to follow it than to try to avoid it.
Matthew 14.22-33: ‘Lord, if it's you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’Why did Peter say this? The reasons tell us a lot about his relationship with Jesus and what it meant to him to be a disciple. We need the same kind of relationship, says John, if we are to be transformed and to change the people and situations around us. This talk had a big impact on many of us at the Weekend Away, so don't be put off listening by its length (nearly an hour).
Matthew 14.22-33: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. ‘It's a ghost,’ they said, and cried out in fear. But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’In the middle of the storm, Jesus came out to meet his disciples. What follows next in the story provides the theme for John's talks in our 2015 Weekend Away, but in this introductory Friday evening session he simply focuses on the fact that Jesus wants to meet us. Come, Lord Jesus, make your love more real to us, and make us ready to hear and respond to your voice.
John 15:26-27: “When the Advocate comes, whom I will send to you from the Father... he will testify about me. And you also must testify.”
John 16:5-15: “When [the Advocate] comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment: about sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.’We must tell the world what we have seen and heard of Jesus. That sounds hard, and it is. But earlier in the service we watched a short video showing how to make cycling easier by closely following someone directly in front. In our case it's the Holy Spirit - the one Jesus referred to as the Advocate - who does the hard work that we cannot, and Chris gives some examples of how this works in practice.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
Jonah 4: But to Jonah this seemed very wrong, and he became angry... But the Lord said... ‘Should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people who cannot tell their right hand from their left?’“The end is nigh!” This was the message that Jonah, after first attempting to run away, took to the city of Nineveh, and he hoped that it really was true. To his horror the people repented and, as Jonah had feared, God spared the city. We make the same mistake if we ever think that God cares only about a chosen few, says Geoff. We need to ask God to give us a heart of compassion for all people no matter how undeserving we think they are.
John 1:1-18: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind.
Jeremiah 2:9-13: Has a nation ever changed its gods? (Yet they are not gods at all.) But my people have exchanged their glorious God for worthless idols... They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.We start a news series Regaining confidence in sharing our faith by looking at the culture in which we live and which seems so hostile to the Christian message. We've been here before, says Geoff, and in any case our confidence is in God and not in any formula or prepackaged method for telling others about Jesus. Nonetheless we need to understand the factors that make it hard for those around us to hear the good news.
Matthew 14:22-32: Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified... But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don't be afraid.’ ‘Lord, if it's you,’ Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.’ ‘Come,’ he said.With images of Syrian refugees making perilous boat journeys very much in our minds, Geoff begins with a reference to another small boat which took St Columbanus and other Irish missionaries to continental Europe many centuries ago (sorry the microphone did not pick up the first minute of the talk). Like Peter, they were willing to take risks in obedience to God's call and to step outside the comfort zone. If we could do what we are doing without God's help, we're still in the boat - and missing out on the adventure of faith.
Hebrews 10:19-39: Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on towards love and good deeds.Thanks to Jesus' sacrifice, which Allan spoke about last week, we can have confidence to enter God's presence. Chris reminds us that we need to keep on drawing near to God in order to receive the benefits that he intends. Chris also offers some practical suggestions to help us to keep going through all the distractions and difficulties of life.
Hebrews 10:1-18: Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest [Jesus] had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, and since that time he waits for his enemies to be made his footstool. For by one sacrifice he has made perfect for ever those who are being made holy.The idea of one person giving up something - even their own life - for the sake of others is known and understood in every culture. Yet no-one ever made a sacrifice that was more costly, or had such far-reaching effects, as that made when Jesus gave up his life on the cross. Allan explains why that sacrifice was necessary and how it brings new life and hope to each of us.
Hebrews 4.14-5.10: Since we have a great high priest who has ascended into heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to the faith we profess. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to feel sympathy for our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are - yet he did not sin. Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.You may not think you need a high priest, but who doesn't need mercy and grace? Chris Turner, who led the service, begins the recording with a story illustrating this theme. Stephanie goes on to explain how Jesus can meet all our needs in building a relationship with God, and has more stories of how this has worked out in her own life.
Hebrews 3:1-19: See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called 'Today', so that none of you may be hardened by sin's deceitfulness. We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end.Following Christ, as David reminds us, can be a bumpy ride. When the going gets tough, it's tempting to take the easy option and turn back. David explains why fixing our full attention on Jesus is the best way to ensure that we hold on everything that makes life worth living. There's a topical reference to Caleb, who was one of the very few who remained faithful to God in the wilderness: it's also the name of the baby born to youth worker Ellen Dann just a few days before David spoke.
Hebrews 1:1-4: The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word.If you want to know what God the Father is like, look at Jesus. That's one of the fundamentals of the Christian faith with which the writer begins this letter. John uses a well-known Bible story to remind us that we too, imperfect though we are, are called to grow to become more like the Father and reveal God's character to the world.
1 Peter 2:9-12: 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."Just who do you think you are?" The answer to that question, for a Christian, is pretty extraordinary. Our status is completely undeserved and cannot be earned, but it does mean that much is expected of us in the way we live. Allan describes how some of these things have worked out in his own life and challenges us to actively share our lives with others.
Colossians 1:9-13: [The Father] has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves.
Hebrews 12:18-28: Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.The writer of the letter to the Hebrews explains the differences between the terrifying and unapproachable picture of God revealed by the old covenant and the kingdom of God to which we are privileged to belong. Chris describes some characteristics of the "acceptable worship" that is fit for this kingdom and how it helps us to draw closer to God and each other.
Mark 1:14-15: After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!”
Matthew 10:1-15: [The twelve apostles] Jesus sent out with the following instructions: “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans. Go rather to the lost sheep of Israel. As you go, proclaim this message: ‘The kingdom of heaven has come near.’ Heal those who are ill, raise the dead, cleanse those who have leprosy, drive out demons. Freely you have received; freely give.”What does the kingdom of God look like? Is it just an abstract concept, or confined to a specific historical time and place? Not if these demonstrations of God's power through Healing on the streets are anything to go by. Geoff encourages us to see the reality of the kingdom of God today and to learn to live in it.
2 Kings 6:8-23: When the servant of [the prophet Elisha] got up and went out early the next morning, an army with horses and chariots had surrounded the city. “Oh no, my lord! What shall we do?” the servant asked. “Don't be afraid,” the prophet answered. “Those who are with us are more than those who are with them.” And Elisha prayed, “Open his eyes, Lord, so that he may see.” Then the Lord opened the servant's eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all round Elisha.It's hardly surprising that we feel intimidated when the opposition's forces are powerful and highly visible. As Geoff reminds us, it's a situation that is common in fiction as well as in real life. We start a new series The reality of the Kingdom with this reminder that God's resources, though hidden, are greater than any power we may ever encounter. Yet as the story goes on we discover that grace and compassion, not self-preservation, should be our true motivation.
Deuteronomy 31:14-23: The Lord said to Moses, “Now the day of your death is near. Call Joshua and present yourselves at the tent of meeting, where I will commission him.”... The Lord gave this command to Joshua son of Nun: “Be strong and courageous, for you will bring the Israelites into the land I promised them on oath, and I myself will be with you.”
Deuteronomy 32:48-52: On that same day the Lord told Moses, “Go up into the Abarim Range to Mount Nebo in Moab, opposite Jericho, and view Canaan, the land I am giving the Israelites as their own possession. There on the mountain that you have climbed you will die and be gathered to your people... you will see the land only from a distance; you will not enter the land I am giving to the people of Israel.”So often the pattern has been repeated throughout history: one person does the hard work of starting and leading a project, only to find themselves moved aside as someone else enjoys its fulfilment. As Megan observes, God's treatment of Moses seems especially harsh in this case, but what was his true motivation for all those years of service? Our acts of service, big or small, may have consequences that we never get to see.
Genesis 1:26-28: God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”
1 Corinthians 12:21-26: God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it.Paul uses the physical body as a metaphor for the Christian church: everyone valued, everyone an essential part of the whole. Many of us in Christ Church have personal experience of disability, infirmity and other long-term conditions. In this context, what does it mean to be made in the image of God? Geoff explains the essential contribution that people with disabilities make to the life of Christ Church and every church.
Exodus 18:5-27: When his father-in-law saw all that Moses was doing for the people, he said, ‘What is this you are doing for the people? Why do you alone sit as judge, while all these people stand round you from morning till evening?’ Moses answered him, ‘Because the people come to me to seek God's will...’ Moses' father-in-law replied, ‘What you are doing is not good. You and these people who come to you will only wear yourselves out. The work is too heavy for you; you cannot handle it alone.’Sometimes it's induced by today's can-do culture; sometimes the pressure comes from within, from apparently good motives. Moses was at risk of burnout, says Graham, and he advises us to take account of our own weakness and avoid heading down the wrong track. We need God's grace in order to fulfil God's call.
I am ridiculed all day long; everyone mocks me...
The word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long...
Why did I ever come out of the womb
to see trouble and sorrow
and to end my days in shame?
Matthew 26:47-56: While [Jesus] was still speaking, Judas, one of the Twelve, arrived. With him was a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent from the chief priests and the elders of the people... Going at once to Jesus, Judas said, ‘Greetings, Rabbi!’ and kissed him. Jesus replied, ‘Do what you came for, friend.’ Then the men stepped forward, seized Jesus and arrested him... Then all the disciples deserted him and fled.
Philippians 3:12-16: One thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus.Failure is a universal, and unpleasant, human experience. It was shared by all twelve of Jesus' closest disciples at the time of his Passion, yet Judas went on to a very different destiny from the rest. Megan reminds us that when we fall down, as we surely will, God's grace calls us to get up and walk again. Who will have the last word in our lives?
Luke 3.15-18: John [the Baptist] answered them all, ‘I baptise you with water. But one who is more powerful than I will come, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’
Acts 2.1-21: When the day of Pentecost came, [Jesus' disciples] were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.The same Spirit that filled Jesus and enabled him to change so many lives was now at work in his disciples. They received the same power, and, says Geoff, the same task: that of transforming the world. That's still what the church is here for, but it's only possible if we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and work in us.
2 Corinthians 12.1-10: In order to keep me from becoming conceited, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ's power may rest on me.“If only I didn't have this or that problem, I could achieve so much more.” When our goal is to be more effective in serving God that seems a reasonable thing to wish for. But, as Paul discovered, God's priorities are different from ours. Whatever our “thorn”, says Allan, it's an opportunity for God's grace to flow.
2 Corinthians 10:7-18: You are judging by appearances. If anyone is confident that they belong to Christ, they should consider again that we belong to Christ just as much as they do... “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.” For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends.A few days before Chris spoke, the nation had subjected its leaders to the ultimate popularity contest: a General Election. When Paul's leadership was attacked, his response was very different from that of any politician. Chris outlines Paul's manifesto: to point people to Jesus rather than himself, highlighting his own weaknesses rather than his strengths.
Exodus 4: Moses said to the Lord, “Pardon your servant, Lord. I have never been eloquent, neither in the past nor since you have spoken to your servant. I am slow of speech and tongue.” The Lord said to him, “Who gave human beings their mouths? Who makes them deaf or mute? Who gives them sight or makes them blind? Is it not I, the Lord? Now go; I will help you speak and will teach you what to say.”It's hard to blame Moses really: God had just told him to go to Pharaoh and bring the people of Israel out of Egypt. When called to perform a task for which we feel inadequate, don't we too make excuses? Speaking in an All Age service, Megan reminds us that it's God's power, not our abilities, that make us qualified to serve him. At the start of the recording, Ellen describes some situations that have made particular people fearful: can you identify with any of these?
Luke 22.7-23: When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfilment in the kingdom of God.” After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”The Passover, the greatest of the Jewish festivals, commemorates God's rescue of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. At this particular Passover meal Jesus gave it an additional meaning as he instituted a remembrance of the rescue act that he himself was about to perform. Speaking in this special service, with two children about to join in receiving Holy Communion for the first time along with other young people and adults, Bishop Maurice explains why Jesus wants so much for us to share this meal with him, and how this celebration helps us to give Jesus his proper place in our lives.
1 Corinthians 1:26-2:5: “I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and him crucified. And I came to you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. My speech and my proclamation were not with plausible words of wisdom, but with a demonstration of the Spirit and of power, so that your faith might rest not on human wisdom but on the power of God.”
Luke 24:13-35: That same day [as the Resurrection] two of [the disciples] were going to a village called Emmaus... They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.Two travellers, dispirited and confused, are walking along unaware that the risen Jesus is with them. A unique journey in history, maybe, yet there is much that we can identify with today. Megan explains how Jesus gently turns lost hope into transformed lives as, step by step, he reveals the truth about himself.
See, I will create new heavens and a new earth.
The former things will not be remembered,
nor will they come to mind.
But be glad and rejoice for ever in what I will create,
for I will create Jerusalem to be a delight
and its people a joy.
Mark 16.1-8: As they entered the tomb, they saw a young man dressed in a white robe sitting on the right side, and they were alarmed. “Don't be alarmed,” he said. “You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen!”He is risen indeed! But how can we be sure of that, and what does it all mean for us today? Let Allan and his helpers unwrap the Easter message as they open some chocolate eggs and discover some surprises inside.
The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the broken-hearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion.
Matthew 25:31-40: The righteous will answer [the King], “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you ill or in prison and go to visit you?” The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”As we prepare to launch our Debt Advice Centre alongside 5 other local churches, David, who is Regional Manager of Christians Against Poverty, describes how CAP operates and, just as important, why. There's an opportunity and a need for members of all the churches involved to play a part in turning round the lives of people trapped in debt. We hear also from David's wife Wendy who explains what it means to give our lives to Jesus and leads us in a prayer of commitment.
Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter -
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Turn to me and be saved,
all you ends of the earth;
for I am God, and there is no other.
By myself I have sworn,
my mouth has uttered in all integrity
a word that will not be revoked:
before me every knee will bow;
by me every tongue will swear.
They will say of me, “In the Lord alone
are deliverance and strength.”
All who make idols are nothing,
and the things they treasure are worthless.
Those who would speak up for them are blind;
they are ignorant, to their own shame.
Who shapes a god and casts an idol,
which can profit nothing?
You will praise the name of the Lord your God,
who has worked wonders for you;
never again will my people be shamed.
Then you will know that I am in Israel,
that I am the Lord your God,
and that there is no other.
Mark 5.25-34: A woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years... When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak, because she thought, “If I just touch his clothes, I will be healed.” Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering. At once Jesus realised that power had gone out from him... He said to her, “Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace and be freed from your suffering.”Life is messy, says Bishop Raphael. How do we respond when we get hurt? Jesus made himself vulnerable to pain and so was able to bring healing to a hurting world. Raphael uses his own story to show how God's strength is revealed through human weakness. He explains why each of us, and Christ Church as a whole, is called to follow this path.
Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.
‘You are my witnesses,’
declares the Lord,
‘and my servant whom I have chosen,
so that you may know and believe me
and understand that I am he.
Before me no god was formed,
nor will there be one after me.
I, even I, am the Lord,
and apart from me there is no saviour.’
But now, this is what the Lord says -
he who created you, Jacob,
he who formed you, Israel:
‘Do not fear, for I have redeemed you;
I have summoned you by name; you are mine...
Bring my sons from afar
and my daughters from the ends of the earth -
everyone who is called by my name,
whom I created for my glory,
whom I formed and made.’
Here is my servant, whom I uphold,
my chosen one in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will bring justice to the nations...
I will keep you and will make you
to be a covenant for the people
and a light for the Gentiles.
Mark 1:4-13: Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptised by John in the Jordan. Just as Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’Why did Jesus choose to be baptised - a sign of repentance that he surely did not need? And what must it have meant to Jesus, at the very beginning of his ministry, to hear those words of affirmation from his Father? Geoff reminds us that we, too, are meant to be confident of our identity before God, and that our worth lies in who we are and not what we do.
Matthew 8:18-22: A teacher of the law came to him and said, ‘Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’
Hebrews 13:1-3: Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are ill-treated as if you yourselves were suffering.Caring for people in need is an integral part of our faith. So Sarah, who works for Thrive Together Birmingham, reminds us. People can find themselves on the streets or in hostels and temporary B&B accommodation for a wide range of reasons, as this video about youth homelessness illustrates (we watched part of it just over 6 minutes into the talk). Churches can and are doing something to help: for instance, the Birmingham Churches Winter Night Shelter Project which Sarah's organisation set up. Download her talk and listen to the story, then watch this video which shows the shelter in action. After that... pray, and see what's really going on in our city!
Matthew 2.1-23: Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” ... On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh.
Luke 2:25-40: There was a man in Jerusalem called Simeon, who was righteous and devout... It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord's Messiah. Moved by the Spirit, he went into the temple courts. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to do for him what the custom of the Law required, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God.We don't know how long Simeon had to wait for the fulfilment of the promise God made to him, but when it did happen, it was probably not in the way he expected. Megan acknowledges that waiting is not easy, but we have to learn to live in accordance with God's plans rather than ours and to let him surprise us by the way he works. There's no need to wait to hear Megan's talk, because it's available for immediate download.
Colossians 1:9-20: The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation... all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.If the one who created the universe really came into our world, he would surely make a difference. John reminds us of some people whose lives were changed by their encounters with Jesus, and challenges us to let Jesus change us today.
Mary said, ‘My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Saviour...
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones, and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.’
Luke 1:26-38: In the sixth month of Elizabeth's pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee, to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin's name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you.’While this story presents no problems to a child performing in a nativity play, it raises many questions in the mind of a 21st century adult. Chris argues that the story makes sense if we believe in an all-powerful God, and also that it is very relevant to the way God calls us and leads us through our lives today.
Matthew 25:1-13: [Jesus said,] “Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom. Five of them were foolish, and five were wise. When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them; but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps... At midnight there was a shout, ‘Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’”This is a story rooted in ancient customs, and Matt - speaking in an All Age service - takes the opportunity to test our knowledge of wedding traditions in various countries. In the story, only the bridesmaids who are ready for the bridegroom's arrival - even at an unexpected hour - are welcomed into the banquet. We, too, need to be ready to meet Jesus when he returns.
Matthew 25:31-46: [Jesus said,] “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was ill and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’”As for those on the King's left, a rather different fate awaits them. But is it really true that there will be such a final, permanent separation? If so, how will God decide each person's destiny? Geoff presents some answers to these difficult questions. For now, the main issue is whether we are moving closer to God each day or away from him.
Matthew 10:22-28: [Jesus said,] “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Mark 9:42-50: [Jesus said,] “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.’”“If what you believe happens, when I die I'll be in a bit of a mess.” So Bobbie, introducing the service, recalled a remark once made to her by a non-Christian friend. Of all the teachings regarded as Christian, the idea that anyone should suffer eternal torment is the one we would least like to believe in. But is that really what Jesus taught? Geoff continues our series asking the difficult questions and affirms that there is a message of hope in Jesus' warnings.
Ephesians 2.1-10: You were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air... But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved.The bad news really is bad. Chris explains the heart of the human problem: the human heart, which constantly leads us astray and builds a barrier between us and God. But this makes the good news that much more wonderful: the good news of what God has done to break down the barrier and to change us from the inside. Chris admits to speaking for a bit longer than he intended, but it's hard to be brief with a message that can change a lifetime and an eternity.
Luke 13:22-30: [Jesus] said to them, “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don't know you or where you come from.’”So how do we get to heaven? Obeying the Ten Commandments... going to church... doing more good things than bad... believing in God... not doing anything really bad? Those are some of the popular answers Megan alludes to one minute into her talk. Jesus warns anyone who thinks that they are entitled to a place in heaven that a relationship with God is what is required - and continues on his way to Jerusalem to give up his life to make that relationship possible.
John 3:14-21: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him.
The Lord is gracious and compassionate,
slow to anger and rich in love.
The Lord is good to all;
he has compassion on all he has made.
Romans 8:22-27: The Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans. And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for God's people in accordance with the will of God.Some things leave us speechless: they may be so wonderful, painful or shocking that there's nothing that we can say, to God or anyone else. Stephanie reminds us that prayer is more - much more - than words, and that God can speak to us in many different situations - which leads to some surprising suggestions for ways of spending our money.
How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.
Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved.
John 6.35-51: [Jesus said,] “I am the bread of life. Your ancestors ate the manna in the wilderness, yet they died. But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which anyone may eat and not die. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. Whoever eats this bread will live for ever.”Bread is a staple food for millions around the world, and our Harvest service highlighted some people in poorer countries who rely on growing basic foodstuffs to keep them alive and provide an income. But Jesus clearly isn't talking about physical bread here. Bobbie explains how she discovered, through painful life experience, that Jesus really is the living bread who can meet our deepest needs.
Daniel 9:3-23: “Lord, you are righteous, but this day we are covered with shame - the people of Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem and all Israel, both near and far, in all the countries where you have scattered us because of our unfaithfulness to you. We and our kings, our princes and our ancestors are covered with shame, Lord, because we have sinned against you... Lord, listen! Lord, forgive! Lord, hear and act! For your sake, my God, do not delay, because your city and your people bear your Name.”
1 Timothy 2:1-4: I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people... This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.
Colossians 4:2-6: Pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should.We rightly want the best for those close to us, but most of the prayers recorded in the Bible have a much bigger horizon, encompassing whole nations. Matt encourages us to follow Paul's instructions in these two letters and to pray big prayers.
Acts 4:15-31: When [the believers] heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God... “Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness. Stretch out your hand to heal and perform signs and wonders through the name of your holy servant Jesus.” After they prayed, the place where they were meeting was shaken. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly.We face many different kinds of difficulty. On this particular morning we felt a great sense of loss following the death of Jenny Mason who had been like a sister and mother to so many of us over the years. Later in the service we prayed for Christians in Iraq and Syria who face murderous persecution. As Megan explains in her talk, the apostles had spent a night in prison and then faced down the authorities' demand that that they should not speak any more about Jesus. Megan describes how and why we should pray in good times and bad and so build a healthy relationship with God.
Luke 18:1-8: Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up. He said: “In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, ‘Grant me justice against my adversary.’ For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, ‘Even though I don't fear God or care what people think, yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won't eventually come and attack me!’”
Luke 11:5-8: Jesus said to them, “Suppose you have a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; a friend of mine on a journey has come to me, and I have no food to offer him.’ And suppose the one inside answers, ‘Don't bother me. The door is already locked, and my children and I are in bed. I can't get up and give you anything.’ I tell you, even though he will not get up and give you the bread because of friendship, yet because of your shameless audacity he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.”That first reading provoked laughter from the congregation: in both these stories Jesus presents us with vivid, even shocking, pictures to make the point. Geoff assures us that God is not like the unjust judge or the stingy neighbour, but he does want us to be persistent and patient, contrary to today's "get it instantly" culture.
Zephaniah 3:9-20: ‘On that day you, Jerusalem, will not be put to shame for all the wrongs you have done to me, because I will remove from you your arrogant boasters... At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honour and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes,’ says the Lord."Things can only get better" goes the song, yet so often our experience is just the opposite, just as it was in the days of ancient Israel. Yet, as Allan explains, Zephaniah's prophecy looks forward to a day when God will indeed be fully present with us. It's a wonderful promise, but also a warning not to oppress those to whom the kingdom will one day belong.
Woe to the city of oppressors,
rebellious and defiled!
She obeys no one, she accepts no correction.
She does not trust in the Lord,
she does not draw near to her God...
“I have decided to assemble the nations,
to gather the kingdoms
and to pour out my wrath on them -
all my fierce anger.
The whole world will be consumed
by the fire of my jealous anger.”
Haggai 2:1-9: “Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it not seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, Zerubbabel,” declares the Lord. “Be strong, Joshua son of Jozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,” declares the Lord, “and work. For I am with you,” declares the Lord Almighty."This is not how it was supposed to go." We've all been there: discouragement sets in when our grand plans and hopes just don't work out. The people of Israel experienced it too, as the realisation grew that their rebuilt temple would lack the magnificence of the original. As Matt explains, Haggai's message of hope is not just for his own time, but is true for God's people throughout history.
Haggai 1: This is what the Lord Almighty says: ‘These people say, “The time has not yet come to rebuild the Lord's house.”’ Then the word of the Lord came through the prophet Haggai: ‘Is it a time for you yourselves to be living in your panelled houses, while this house remains a ruin?... Give careful thought to your ways.’”
Mark 6:1-6: Jesus left there and went to his home town, accompanied by his disciples. When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. ‘Where did this man get these things?’ they asked. ‘...Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?’ And they took offence at him.The recording starts with service leader Ellen Dann, plus young helpers, using some pieces of wood (photos below) to illustrate that there are two sides to every story - and especially in people's understanding of who Jesus was. John goes on to tell us about a time when he failed to work out who somebody was. Are we ready to welcome the living God into our lives?
Mark 3:13-35: Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, ‘He is out of his mind.’ And the teachers of the law who came down from Jerusalem said, ‘He is possessed by Beelzebul! By the prince of demons he is driving out demons.’If you've ever been misunderstood or criticised, you're in good company. It was arguably worse for Jesus because the criticism of him was never justified. Chris has much personal wisdom to offer on how to deal with these unpleasant experiences and turn them into opportunities to learn and grow.
Luke 9:10-17: Late in the afternoon the Twelve came to [Jesus] and said, ‘Send the crowd away so they can go to the surrounding villages and countryside and find food and lodging, because we are in a remote place here.’ He replied, ‘You give them something to eat.’ They answered, ‘We have only five loaves of bread and two fish.’It's hard to argue with the disciples' analysis of the problem, but they had missed one crucial element: Jesus wanted all those people to be fed. Geoff reminds us that God is calling us to work in partnership with him, and the little we have to offer is enough for him to achieve great things.
[The Lord] will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into ploughshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war any more.
Romans 12:14-21: Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord.In four years of bitter fighting that took the lives of millions of soldiers and civilians, the old European order was shattered and the seeds sown of future conflicts that still scar our world today. The scale of the suffering raises many questions about morality and faith, and Geoff challenges some of the myths and simplistic assumptions that have crept into our popular understanding of the First World War, at least in Britain.
Luke 17:11-19: One of [the men with leprosy], when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus' feet and thanked him - and he was a Samaritan. Jesus asked, ‘Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?’ Then he said to him, ‘Rise and go; your faith has made you well.’When we express our thanks, everyone benefits - including ourselves. All Age service leader John introduces the topic by giving some recent examples, then Matt describes some of the horrors of skin diseases (without photos, fortunately) and what it must have meant to those men to be healed by Jesus. Why should Christians particularly be those who are grateful? What are some of the effects of being thankful? Matt asked us to discuss those two questions and write our answers on large sheets of paper... and you can see what we wrote by following the links above, along with our descriptions of what we're thankful for and what we take for granted.
Mark 5:21-34: One of the synagogue leaders, named Jairus, came, and when he saw Jesus, he fell at his feet. He pleaded earnestly with him, ‘My little daughter is dying. Please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live.’ So Jesus went with him. A large crowd followed and pressed round him. And a woman was there who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years... When she heard about Jesus, she came up behind him in the crowd and touched his cloak... Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was freed from her suffering.
John 5:1-15: One who was there had been an invalid for thirty-eight years. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’ ‘Sir,’ the invalid replied, ‘I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.’ Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.These stories tell us of three people who received bodily healing from Jesus. What about their inner selves? Stephanie reminds us that our deepest needs are not physical, and can only be met by being honest about them with God and with each other.
Mark 1:35-38: Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed. Simon and his companions went to look for him, and when they found him, they exclaimed: ‘Everyone is looking for you!’ Jesus replied, ‘Let us go somewhere else - to the nearby villages - so that I can preach there also. That is why I have come.’
Mark 12:28-34: ‘The most important [commandment],’ answered Jesus, ‘is this: “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” The second is this: “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’Does self-denial mean being available to everyone else all of the time? Or caring for others without any thought for ourselves? Jesus evidently didn't think so, and Geoff explains some of the reasons why we need to set boundaries in order to truly serve God and others.
Ephesians 4:1-16: Speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work.So the church is about relationships, not just a collection of individuals; and we are to become more like Christ. Graham discusses what this means in practice and why we should care for each other all of the time, not just at times of crisis. Also, why online questionnaires may not be wholly reliable.
Galatians 6.1-10: Carry each other's burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ... As we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.Early arrivals for this All Age service had the opportunity to donate towards Oliver's trip to next year's World Scout Jamboree, and received an immediate reward in the form of a bacon sandwich. Helping others isn't usually so straightforward, as some sketches performed by the Beavers, Cubs and Scouts illustrate (the first of these was unfortunately not picked up by the microphones and is not included in the recording). What's the secret that enables us to help each other through difficult times? John explains, with the help of custard and his own scouting memories.
Romans 12:9-21: Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in love. Honour one another above yourselves... Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.
1 Corinthians 12:12-27: Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we were all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body - whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free - and we were all given the one Spirit to drink. And so the body is not made up of one part but of many.
Ezekiel 34:9-16: I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
John 10:1-15: [Jesus said,] “I am the gate for the sheep. All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture... I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. I am the good shepherd.”If Jesus is our model of pastoral care, that really is something to live up to. Geoff discusses what it means for us as the people of God to apply the rural image of a shepherd in our everyday urban society.
Philippians 2.3-5: In humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
Luke 10.25-37: On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. ‘Teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ ‘What is written in the Law?’ he replied. ‘How do you read it?’ He answered, ‘“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” and, “Love your neighbour as yourself.”’ ‘You have answered correctly,’ Jesus replied. ‘Do this and you will live.’ But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, ‘And who is my neighbour?’Why would you go where you don't want to go and spend money you would rather not in order to help a stranger in need? Where can we find the motivation to truly care about those around us, and to become aware of their needs? Chris points us towards some of the answers, and encourages us to keep asking questions and listening to one other as we seek to become a more caring community.
John 13:31-38: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’
Genesis 1:25-31: God blessed [the man and the woman] and said to them, ‘Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.’Why should we care - for each other, for those around us, for the whole of creation? “It will make me look good... I'm told I've just got to... Because God won't love me if I stop caring...” These are some of the wrong answers that came out in a piece of drama before Geoff spoke. Rather, says Geoff, caring is a response to the love God shows to us, and to the example we see in Jesus.
John 20:19-31: Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among [his disciples] and said, ‘Peace be with you!’ Then he said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’ Thomas said to him, ‘My Lord and my God!’It's hard to blame Thomas for his desire to get things straight in his mind and not just to rely on the word and experiences of others. The good news is that Jesus does not criticise Thomas but meets him where he is. David reminds us how Jesus dealt gently with others who needed reassurance and how he led them into new places of faith and service.
John 20:1-18: [Jesus] asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).The Resurrection changed everything. Jesus' ministry, once restricted to a small area of Palestine, would now extend to every age and place. Mary Magdalene's life had once been a mess, but Jesus had set her free to find her true self. He still calls us by name, says Chris, and he can give us that same freedom if we will let him.
John 18:28-40: Jesus said, ‘My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place... the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth.’What sort of kingdom is this? No territory, no weapons and, at the time, very few signed-up members. Yet, as we have seen in this series, Jesus challenged the established order, and he still stands in contrast to the world's way of doing things. Let him have authority over our lives, says Geoff, and he will transform them.
Luke 5:27-32: Levi held a great banquet for Jesus at his house, and a large crowd of tax collectors and others were eating with them. But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law who belonged to their sect complained to his disciples, ‘Why do you eat and drink with tax collectors and sinners?’
Luke 7:36-50: A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee's house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.We thought we were at an All Age service, but instead we found ourselves back in the first century - with our tax collector host receiving some unexpected guests at his party. Who is good enough to stay, and who should be thrown out? Jesus has some surprising views on the matter.
John 12:20-33: Jesus replied, ‘The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified... And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to show the kind of death he was going to die.The people and things that seek to rule over us - whether human authorities or our own desires - do not, on the whole, have their own death on their agenda. Jesus has a radically different way of breaking their power and proving who really is in charge. If we choose to live under his rule, says Geoff, we have to go down the same self-sacrificial path.
Mark 3:1-6: Jesus asked them, ‘Which is lawful on the Sabbath: to do good or to do evil, to save life or to kill?’
John 5:1-18: The day on which this took place was a Sabbath, and so the Jewish leaders said to the man who had been healed, ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ But he replied, ‘The man who made me well said to me, “Pick up your mat and walk.”’The Jewish leaders had got their religion nicely sorted and packaged, explains Bobbie. They also never saw any miracles - until Jesus appeared on the scene and exposed the hardness of their hearts. Bobbie draws on her own past to highlight the difference between rule-based religion and a genuine, life-giving relationship with God.
Matthew 9:2-8: “When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the man, ‘Take heart, son; your sins are forgiven.’ At this, some of the teachers of the law said to themselves, “This fellow is blaspheming!’”
John 10:22-42: “Jesus answered them... ‘My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’”Why things turned dangerous for Jesus is a new series looking at some of the things Jesus said and did which brought him into conflict with the leaders of his day. As Allan says, it was unthinkable for a Jew to claim to be God, yet the healings Jesus performed and the quality of his teaching could not be denied. It's a challenge for today's world too: how should we respond?
“I cry aloud to the Lord;
I lift up my voice to the Lord for mercy.
I pour out before him my complaint;
before him I tell my trouble.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-11: “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.”There's a saying that if you want to complain, you should go straight to the top. Who else can sort things out? In this and many other psalms, David follows exactly that principle. Geoff explains that pouring out our troubles to God is an authentic Christian experience. Seeking health, wealth and happiness is not... here's a challenge for us and our churches.
“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?
But with you there is forgiveness,
so that we can, with reverence, serve you.”
Luke 15:11-32: “‘But while he was still a long way off, his father saw [his son] and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him. The son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’”This youth-led service focused especially on the story of the Prodigal Son, which Jesus used to paint a vivid picture of repentance and forgiveness in very human terms. As Katie and Jack remind us, it's a familiar story - but can we really identify with either of the sons? Both failed to recognise how much their father loved them. The psalm affirms that whatever the circumstances, nothing can ever change God's love for us and his desire to welcome us home.
“Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth.
Worship the Lord with gladness;
come before him with joyful songs...
Enter his gates with thanksgiving
and his courts with praise;
give thanks to him and praise his name.”
Revelation 5:6-14: “I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, saying: ‘To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!’”Why does God want us to worship him? Is he just attention-seeking? What if we're feeling miserable, or just can't sing? Graham answers all these questions, and more, as he gets to the heart of the matter... our relationship with God.
“How lovely is your dwelling-place, Lord Almighty!
My soul yearns, even faints,
for the courts of the Lord;
my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God...
Blessed are those whose strength is in you,
whose hearts are set on pilgrimage.
As they pass through the Valley of Baka,
they make it a place of springs;
the autumn rains also cover it with pools.
They go from strength to strength,
till each appears before God in Zion.”
Hebrews 10:19-25: “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.”In ancient Israel those who lived far from Jerusalem had to undertake difficult and dangerous journeys if they wanted to worship God in the Temple. Our journey towards God is different in nature but we still have to go through difficult places. Stephanie explains how we can find encouragement and help each other as we make that journey.
“As a deer longs for flowing streams,
so my soul longs for you, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When shall I come and behold the face of God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
while people say to me continually,
‘Where is your God?’”
1 Peter 1:3-9: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.”The Jews in exile in Babylon mourned for the loss of the Temple and, as it felt to them, for their abandonment by God. Geoff encourages us to be honest about our feelings, especially when we feel far from God, and to ensure that we are truly seeking him - who alone can satisfy our deepest needs.
“Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered.
Blessed is the one whose sin the Lord does not count against them and in whose spirit is no deceit.”
Mark 2:1-12: “[Jesus said,] ‘I want you to know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins.’ So he said to the man, ‘I tell you, get up, take your mat and go home.’ He got up, took his mat and walked out in full view of them all. This amazed everyone and they praised God, saying, ‘We have never seen anything like this!’”The Gospel reading, which was acted out before Ellen spoke, describes a man with obvious physical needs: he was paralysed and had to be carried to Jesus by his friends. Yet Jesus put his need for forgiveness even above his need for healing. That forgiveness is available to each of us when we turn away from what we know to be wrong and come back to God instead. No wonder repentance really is a blessing!
“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?...
Yet you are enthroned as the Holy One;
you are the one Israel praises.
In you our ancestors put their trust;
they trusted and you delivered them.”
“Vindicate me, O Lord,
for I have walked in my integrity,
and I have trusted in the Lord without wavering.
Prove me, O Lord, and try me;
test my heart and mind.
For your steadfast love is before my eyes,
and I walk in faithfulness to you.”
1 Peter 2:9-12: “Conduct yourselves honourably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.”At first sight the words of David's psalm make him appear self-righteous. But he clearly knew he wasn't perfect, as his other writings and his life experience show. As Bobbie explains, integrity is more about an attitude of heart, and with God's help we can set our hearts in the right direction.
“One thing I ask from the Lord,
this only do I seek:
that I may dwell in the house of the Lord
all the days of my life,
to gaze on the beauty of the Lord
and to seek him in his temple.
For in the day of trouble
he will keep me safe in his dwelling;
he will hide me in the shelter of his sacred tent
and set me high upon a rock.”
Hebrews 4:14-16: “Let us then approach God's throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
“Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.”
Matthew 2:7-23: “An angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. ‘Get up,’ he said, ‘take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.’ So he got up, took the child and his mother during the night and left for Egypt, where he stayed until the death of Herod.”In a quiz that preceded the talk we learned that Herod had a considerable track record in disposing of potential rivals, so the threat to the infant Jesus was very real. Joseph may well have wondered why God chose to expose his son to such dangers... but as Stephanie explains, God can be trusted to work out his plans.
Luke 2.1-20: “While [Joseph and Mary] were there, the time came for the baby to be born, and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
Luke 2.52: “Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and man.”For most of the year, we think of Jesus as a man: teaching, serving, dying, rising. Bobbie reminds us that he needed 30 years of growth before he was ready for these things. We, too, need a lifetime of faithful service to become the people God intends us to be.
John 1.1-14: “The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it... The true light that gives light to everyone was coming into the world.”Darkness can be frightening - and it can also be a place to hide. With Christmas Day about to begin, Chris reminds us of the difference that Jesus made by his coming, and how he still shines a light today.
Luke 2.1-20: “There were shepherds living out in the fields near by, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, ‘Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord.’”Speaking in the Christmas Carol service, Chris reminds us that the shepherds weren't the only characters in the Nativity story to react with fear... and in today's world, too, fear and anxiety are rampant. Chris points us to the only one who can give us true peace of mind.
“A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit...
Righteousness will be his belt
and faithfulness the sash round his waist.”
“And you, my child, will be called a prophet of the Most High;
for you will go on before the Lord to prepare the way for him,
to give his people the knowledge of salvation
through the forgiveness of their sins,
because of the tender mercy of our God”
John 17:20-26: “I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me.”"That all of them" - that's the church throughout the ages - "may be one". Given our poor track record, is it any wonder that most of the world does not believe? Chris explains what it is that truly binds Christians together (spoiler: it's not committees!), and what we can do to maintain that unity and make it count in the world.
2 Corinthians 2:12-17: “We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life.”
John 17:6-19: “‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one. They are not of the world, even as I am not of it... As you sent me into the world, I have sent them into the world.’”
John 15.1-17: “‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.’”The process of pruning sounds painful - and it is, as we have to let go of some things we would rather hang on to. But, as Geoff explains, the loving and expert gardener in charge of the process seeks our greatest good. He gives some examples of how God can demonstrate his love when he gets to work in individuals and communities.
John 14.15-21: “I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you for ever - the Spirit of truth.”
John 14.1-14: “Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don't you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.’”Many people have asked the same question as Philip, in one form or another. Show us what God is really like! Geoff describes some of the bad experiences that can distort our view of the true God, and reminds us of where we can find that perfect view, and the real life that goes with it.
Luke 6:12-16: “One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles.”Who on earth would choose those twelve people in particular to lead a movement that would change the world? Unpromising though they were, the time they were to spend with Jesus would transform them. Chris leads on to an extraordinary and very personal story that followed from his recent decision to spend time with God. The cost of following Jesus is high, but it's worth it to truly know his love.
Mark 12.13-17: “Jesus said to [the Pharisees], ‘Give back to Caesar what is Caesar's and to God what is God's.’”
Colossians 3.22-4.1: “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”Geoff continues our What in the world are we supposed to do? series by looking at work (whether paid or not). Why and how can we bring glory to God through our work - especially if it is boring? Geoff has lots of ideas, as well as experience of boring jobs.
John 21.15-23: “Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?’ ‘Yes, Lord,’ he said, ‘you know that I love you.’”Peter had let Jesus down, and badly. Now he had to face the risen Jesus and also face the truth about himself. Was he better or worse than anyone else? It didn't matter, because God had a plan and purpose that was for him alone. And that's our story too, says Adrian, as the church becomes a place for healing and restoration, and each of us becomes more truly the person we were made to be.
1 Peter 3.15: “In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.”If we have truly encountered the love of God, we will want others to have the same experience, but sadly it's all too easy to turn good news into bad news. In the unlikely event that you have never come across a crass or embarrassing attempt to share faith with others, Adrian has a couple of examples here - and he also has much advice to help us to be good news and to share our faith in a way that is natural to us.
Luke 5.6-10: “When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus' knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ ... Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don't be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’”It's one thing to believe that God loves us, but another to really know and experience the love of God and for that to be our main motivation for serving him. Peter was quite overwhelmed by his encounter with Jesus but once he knew that he was accepted, there was no turning back.
Luke 5.1-5: “When [Jesus] had finished speaking, he said to Simon, ‘Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.’ Simon answered, ‘Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.’”Adrian began his Surprised by God theme by considering Peter's tired response to Jesus' instruction. It's easy to lose sight of the joy and love that God intends for us. But Peter recognised something special in Jesus - and his life was turned upside down as a result.
“He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.”
Acts 16:6-12: “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’ After Paul had seen the vision, we got ready at once to leave for Macedonia, concluding that God had called us to preach the gospel to them.”It was not a dream that prompted a group of 12 Birmingham Christians - most of them from Christ Church - to spend 3 weeks in Bolivia in July and August, but the call was just as clear. In this recording the members of the team report on their experiences: how the churches in Bolivia are reaching out to those around them, the inspirational work they do with children, what we can learn from them and much more. Towards the end, Geoff describes how God's powerful intervention transformed the church in Bolivia.
Hebrews 13:11-16: “Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise - the fruit of lips that openly profess his name. And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”What in the world are we supposed to do? Over the next few weeks we'll be exploring how to live out our faith in practical ways in the world around us. To begin with... if you talk about "going to church to worship" you may need to think again about what church is, and what worship is. Geoff provides some explanations and practical advice for whole-life worship.
“Lord, who may dwell in your sacred tent? Who may live on your holy mountain?
The one whose way of life is blameless,
who does what is righteous,
who speaks the truth from their heart.”
Matthew 21.17-20: “Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig-tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, ‘May you never bear fruit again!’ Immediately the tree withered.”In this special service, we were focusing on the values that we adopted as a church nearly 2 years ago. Geoff's talk is a bit longer than the average sermon, but is full of practical actions that any of us - young or old - could commit to in order to demonstrate these values in our daily lives.
“Sing to the Lord a new song;
sing to the Lord, all the earth.
Sing to the Lord, praise his name;
proclaim his salvation day after day. Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous deeds among all peoples.”
Luke 10.1-4, 17-20: “[Jesus] told them, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.’”The people of Israel were given the privilege of a special relationship with the Creator of the universe, and also the responsibility of telling other nations of his greatness. It wasn't a complete success... but do we, their spiritual heirs, do any better? Allan encourages us to recognise and reflect on who our God really is, and to face up to our difficulties and fears about taking that message to others.
Titus 3: “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate, and always to be gentle towards everyone... When the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy”Between a rock and a hard place... that's how the Christians of Paul's day must have felt as they wanted to proclaim and live out their gospel-based faith but had to live in a society dominated by an entirely different worldview. If we feel that tension today, how much more so for Christians in countries afflicted by social and ethnic conflict. David explains Paul's teaching on how to live when big ideas collide.
1 John 3: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! ... No one who is born of God will continue to sin, because God's seed remains in them; they cannot go on sinning, because they have been born of God.”So how are we doing? John wrote to counter false teachers who claimed that it doesn't matter how we live. Chris explains the reasons why it does matter, and gives some encouragement for those times when we feel ourselves to be much less than the people God wants us to be.
Philemon: “It is as none other than Paul - an old man and now also a prisoner of Christ Jesus - that I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains... If you consider me a partner, welcome him as you would welcome me. If he has done you any wrong or owes you anything, charge it to me.”Short stories, as Bobbie points out, can be very compelling. This letter, in which Paul makes a highly personal appeal on behalf of a runaway slave, draws us into some delicate relationships between individuals in a Christian household. Did Philemon, with the help of the local church, "do the right thing" or did he conform to the culture of the day? Bobbie can't tell us that, but she can explain some of the lasting principles that lay behind what Paul wrote.
Mark 10.13-16: “Jesus... said to them, ‘Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these. I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.’”What is it about young children that makes them so special to Jesus? Is this just a sentimental story? Stephanie explains why Jesus' words are relevant to all of us, whatever our age, experience or ability.
Philippians 3:1-11: “But whatever were gains to me I now consider loss for the sake of Christ. What is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things... I want to know Christ - yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings.”What could I do, or be, to make God love me more - or less? Paul once thought that his Jewish heritage and scrupulous observance of the law would earn God's favour, but now he considers them worthless. John gets to the heart of the matter and explains the benefit, and cost, of knowing Christ.
1 Corinthians 2.1-14: “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling.”Weakness, fear and trembling: feelings that might have been appropriate to the team about to depart for Bolivia - of which Chris was a member. But how could Paul, the world's greatest ever evangelist, have such an attitude? Chris explains why, and gives us an idea of how to identify people with this gift.
1 Corinthians 4:6-17: “It seems to me that God has put us apostles on display at the end of the procession, like those condemned to die in the arena. We have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings. We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ! We are weak, but you are strong! You are honoured, we are dishonoured!”Few people actually enjoy looking foolish, but this recording from an All Age service begins with service leader Joe asking for revelations of embarrassing things people have done in the past (don't try these at home - though a video clip of thieves who broke into a security shop and were caught on 17 CCTV cameras outdid us all). In a Christian context, it's hard to resist pressure to conform when we know God wants us to be different. Geoff's talk includes some drama exploring these conflicts - and be ready to vote in a game of “Judge That Ministry”.
Acts 4:32-35: “All the believers were one in heart and mind. No one claimed that any of their possessions was their own, but they shared everything they had.”
2 Corinthians 8:1-7, 13-15: “We want you to know about the grace that God has given the Macedonian churches. In the midst of a very severe trial, their overflowing joy and their extreme poverty welled up in rich generosity. For I testify that they gave as much as they were able, and even beyond their ability.”We might expect rich people to be more generous than poor people, but it doesn't always seem to be that way. The generosity that the first Christians demonstrated sprang from a shared experience of the risen Jesus and not from examination of their bank balances. Allan gives examples of generosity that he has experienced and some practical advice for breaking out of the self-centred rut.
Luke 9:57-62: “As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
John 4:39-42: “When the Samaritans came to [Jesus], they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days. And because of his words many more became believers.”Time management consultants: Graham is not stealing your business, though you might want to make your seminars more lively than the sleepy affair he showed us a picture of near the start. Jesus was concerned about more fundamental matters: ensuring that we are not distracted from serving God fully so that we can truly have the right priorities. Graham does have some practical advice too... it has to be worth 23 minutes 1.2 seconds of your time.
1 Kings 17:7-24: “‘As surely as the Lord your God lives,’ [the widow] replied, ‘I don't have any bread - only a handful of flour in a jar and a little olive oil in a jug. I am gathering a few sticks to take home and make a meal for myself and my son, that we may eat it - and die.’ Elijah said to her, ‘... First make a small loaf of bread for me from what you have and bring it to me, and then make something for yourself and your son. For this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: The jar of flour will not be used up and the jug of oil will not run dry until the day the Lord sends rain on the land.’”
1 Peter 4:7-10: “Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling.”We'd all love to be hospitable, but our homes aren't tidy enough, we're a bit busy really and there just isn't enough to go round - and frankly we're a bit suspicious of strangers. Anyway, what's it got to do with Christian values? Rather a lot, says Geoff, as he deals with our other objections.
Romans 12:3-8: “In Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us.”
1 Corinthians 12:27-31: “God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, of helping, of guidance, and of different kinds of tongues.. Now eagerly desire the greater gifts.”Yes, we are all different, with a wide range of gifts and abilities that are needed for the church to become what God intends it to be. So what kinds of gift are useful, and how can we learn to use them? Since Chris generously offers us his gift of preaching, you can download this sermon and find out.
Matthew 6:19-21: “[Jesus said,] ‘Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.’”
Luke 12:13-21: “Someone in the crowd said to [Jesus], ‘Teacher, tell my brother to divide the inheritance with me.’ ... Then he said to them, ‘Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’”We don't often get sharp-suited financial experts sharing their secrets of wealth in Christ Church - especially in All Age services - and when you hear what special guest Rick has to say you will realise why. Perhaps Jesus' teaching is a bit smarter even than Rick's suit? And why does that expensive medallion look so much like a CD?
Luke 15:11-24: “While [the son] was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms round him and kissed him”
1 John 3:1-3: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!”"It's outrageous!" The story which we have come to know as the Parable of the Prodigal Son broke numerous cultural and religious taboos, and would have been truly shocking to Jesus' hearers. Yet, says Geoff, understanding that God's love comes with no strings attached is the key to enjoying a full relationship with him. Later in the talk a student described her recent personal experience of discovering the outrageous love of God.