On Sunday evenings, our teenagers have been looking into Ephesians. Last Sunday, we looked at 2:11-22 where Paul contrasts our status before God without Christ with our status before God with Christ: without Christ, we were excluded outsiders without hope and without God in the world (11-12). However, with Christ we are no longer at war but at peace with God; indeed Christ himself is our peace (14). Christ’s death in our place makes all the difference - bringing us near to God, because our peace is real, tangible, lasting reconciliation with him! Peace with God is our greatest need in life and death. But there’s more….
Christ’s death means peace with each other because he has “created in himself one new humanity in place of two” (15). Rather than ‘Jew’ and ‘Gentile’ there is “one body” (16). Hostility is put to death.
Since Sunday, I’ve been reflecting on the implications of Ephesians 2 - they are numerous and profound, but the one I feel most keenly concerns our response to racism. The Bible couldn’t be clearer that all humans are equal before God. No people, race or nation can claim to be superior - all are created in God’s image, and in salvation, as co-heirs in Christ (3:6).
I feel troubled and angry when I see yet more racism and social division on the news. While hesitate to comment on the unrest in the United States because I haven’t followed the story particularly closely and American culture is quite different, nonetheless, the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis last Monday during his arrest by police was an appalling injustice. The history of how black people have been treated in the US is vile and the riots over recent days show just how angry people are. I find it incredible that it’s still a serious problem in 2020 but then again human nature hasn’t changed. By nature, we war against God and each other.
That’s not to say that it’s not a big problem here in the UK. But this last football season black players have been insulted and abused in our national team and in the Premier League. Sadly, similar incidents occur up and down the country in all walks of life and not just on the basis of skin colour. By nature, we divide and discriminate on the basis of all sorts of differences - age, gender, nationality, intellect, education, wealth, accent… the list goes on.
These problems are too big for us to solve but Paul is clear about how we as the Church are to respond to the peace that Jesus brings. Since we have peace with God and with each other, we must reflect that peace in the way that we live. Indeed, the Church - Jew and Gentile united - is God’s means of showing off his wisdom to a watching world (3:10-11). As Christians, we are citizens of the same city, members of the same family and bricks stuck together in the same building: the Church, in all its diversity, was designed to be together (19-22). Let’s ensure, then, that St Peter’s remains a place where all are welcome whoever we are, wherever we’re from and whatever we’ve done.
Finally, let’s pray that our unity in diversity will be intriguing, appealing and compelling for people who join us or look on from a distance. God has put us on display - to show off his wisdom and give peace to all who are prepared to receive it.
I came across this helpful little article while preparing last Sunday’s sermon on John 21:15-25 and wanted to share it with you:
I’ve only just realised the date on it - it was written a number of years ago now but it still rings true. The author, John Piper, is probably one of the most gifted preachers of our time. I certainly find him very engaging and inspiring …so to read of his struggles with comparison to others is enlightening.
As I mentioned briefly in my sermon, comparison comes so naturally to us and, as Piper’s blog post demonstrates, church ministers are not immune! We might think we’re better in a particular area of life than someone else and feel good about ourselves (i.e. proud). Conversely, we might compare and think we’re worse than someone else and feel bad, which is inverted pride. If we’re going to make a comparison, maybe it’s safest to stick to the Lord Jesus, realise how far short we fall of his goodness and purity, and praise him with renewed gratitude and humility for living the life we should have lived and then laying down his life for us.
Isn’t it great that gaining eternal life isn’t a competition but a gift of grace from God?! People around us might ‘disqualify’ us or we might feel that we disqualify ourselves through our own failings. However, the apostle Paul reminds us that God the Father has “qualified” us to share in the inheritance of his holy people in his kingdom. “For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.”
That’s a little taster of Colossians as we begin our new series on Sunday mornings (see chapter 1, verses 12-14).
If you want to read, think and pray more about this topic, there’s a great little book for women which a few female church members have read (https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/compared-to-her). And men: hopefully a Christian writer is using lockdown to write a book for us because I’m sure we struggle with it just as much!
Keep following Jesus (John 21:19, 22).
Love in him,
This is worth pondering as we endure this current crisis:
The truth is that God's word can be relied upon. It does not decay and fade away as we do, but stands for ever. The person who cannot rest his or her whole weight on the word of God can never know peace, for in the last analysis, it can be found nowhere else than in a trusting relationship with the God who made us and rightly claims us as his own. Reliance on the word of God is not fatalistic or superstitious. It is not trust in something impersonal like the stars or a good luck charm. It is trust in a person who is committed to us and has all the resources necessary to care for us. It is the word of our God that Isaiah speaks of, a word or message that arises from a relationship. And the truth is that God's word has the same character as God himself. It is as unchanging and reliable as the God who speaks it.
Barry Webb, The Message of Isaiah, p.163
Should I post some more "Plants our Teachers" posts & photos?!
In our weekly church letter/email I shared some reflections on personal evangelism. In many ways life in lockdown has been disorientating and it could be that, like me, you’ve been feeling unsure about how to tell others about Jesus, especially under the current restrictions. While we might be locked down, God’s word certainly isn’t (2 Timothy 2:8-10) and there are various ways to share the good news about Jesus at this time. Here are four:
- Invite them to church on Zoom: Our friends and neighbours don’t have to worry about getting to church, where to sit and whether they’ll know the songs. They can join us from the comfort of their own homes without any fear of embarrassment. They’re welcome to simply eavsdrop with the video off if they wish and it’s a great way for them to hear God’s word and get a feel for church life. Just let us know in advance so that we can send them an invitation and admit them to the meeting.
- Give them a book: While some people are busier than ever during lockdown, others have a lot more time on their hands because they’re no longer communiting or working. Many are using this time to reflect and consider future lifestyle changes. It could be that now is the best time for them to consider the new, eternal and abundant life that Jesus offers. John Lennox’s Where is God in a coronavirus world? is hot off the press and some great digital books, such as If you could ask God one question, are free to download.
- Offer to read a gospel with them: Over the past year we’ve been promoting The Word: One to One as a great way to open up John’s gospel with friends. You can’t do this over coffee at the moment(!) but you can still give it a go with screen sharing over Zoom. The Word: One to One have made their resources available for free. Meeting via Skype or Zoom are becoming more familiar and some people will find it more convenient and less intense.
- Send them a gospel booklet: I know of one church member who has written to her neighbours to offer practical support and prayer and recommend online church services. Could you do this and/or post them a booklet to point them to Jesus. At a time of rapid change and uncertainty they may well be open to hearing about the hope we have in Jesus. Roger Carswell’s booklet Hope beyond coronavirus is cheap to buy and free to download or share. There is also a video of Roger sharing the message on Youtube.
As we know, without prayer our efforts are in vain, so let’s pray for the Holy Spirit to give us boldness to make the most of every opportunity and to work in the hearts of the people we contact. Let’s also keep loving and caring for each other as best we can at because this too forms an important part of our witness to Jesus to whom we belong (John 13:34-35).
Please contact me if you have questions or you’d find it useful to talk about any of these ideas. I’d love to help!
I finished reading Daniel this morning.
I say Daniel. You say, 'Lions' or, 'Fiery furnace'. If you know the book well, you might say, 'Writing on the wall' or, 'one like a son of man'.
But keep going. Get to chapter 11, and you'll find a very long description of the complexity of human conflict: wars, alliances, sieges, deceit, plunder, plots... Historians and commentators have tried to tie the descriptions to historical events, and their reconstructions seem plausible. But this is God's word, not a history text book.
So keep going - what a relief to reach chapter 12! A relief because there's an end - and I don't mean an end to the book of Daniel! There's an end to the war and conflict. There's deliverance for God's people. There's justice in the resurrection, 'many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake: some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.' (Dan 12:2).
And we remember Jesus' own words, 'And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars. See that you are not alarmed, for this must take place, but the end is not yet. For nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom, and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are but the beginning of the birth pains.' (Mt 24:6-8. See also Romans 8). Perhaps Jesus could have included pandemics...
Global happenings are immensely complex and confusing. Especially when they knock at our own doors. They always have been, and will be until the End. And so, where does my work, pleasure, leisure or church fit in? Where do my relationships fit in? What's their place? What's their significance? What's their end?
What's my end?
"Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect." Mt 24:44
Today, I'll simply point you to a blog post by my friend at Biblical Counselling UK, Amanda Naves. I found it helpful, perhaps you will too.
What has God given us that will sustain and deepen our relationship with him so that we love and adore him more?
How will his love for us fill our hearts until it overflows to others?
God’s great gift is Scripture - the Bible - his word written. Scripture is full of information about God himself and his dealings with humanity. There’s also practical wisdom, commands, promises, prophecy, teaching and so on. But it’s entirely possible to develop a deep understanding of the Bible without any real engagement with God himself - and if we’re to be sustained, to grow, to overflow in love we need deep, personal engagement with Christ.
So how do we read Scripture in such a way as to interact with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit in this way? How does Scripture bring Christ into our lives and our lives to Christ?
Let’s suppose that my Bible reading this morning included John 20:19-20
On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” After he had said this, he showed them his hands and his side. Then the disciples were overjoyed when they saw the Lord.
First, I’m going to remember where we are - it’s still “Easter Sunday” - the day the women and disciples discovered the empty tomb. Jesus has appeared to Mary and she’s passed Jesus’ message on to the disciples, ‘I am returning to my Father and to your Father, to my God and to your God,’ (v18). Now, afraid of the Jews, they’ve locked themselves in.
Now I pause for the first time to imagine. But imagination can be a dangerous thing if it’s allowed to run away into fanciful ideas, so I’m going to keep myself in check and firmly tethered to the Scriptures as I imagine the disciples’ confusion and fear: “When would Jesus return to his Father? What will the Jews do to us? What happens now?”. I begin to feel their uncertainty, anxiety and fear. I empathise with them in a small way: coronavirus has brought uncertainty; trying to lead the church family through these times brings me anxiety, questions and even the fear of getting it wrong or missing people out.
Now, back to the text with my fears. Despite the locked doors, Jesus comes and stands among them, ‘Peace be with you!’
And now imagine again… imagine the disciples’ faces and emotions as they see Jesus, his hands still marked by the nails and his side pierced by the spear. He really is alive! And he’s the same and yet he’s different. Frightened? Confused? Yes, probably, but more than anything, ‘overjoyed’ - that’s what John (who was there) tells us, so we’re on solid ground here.
It’s the Lord, Jesus, crucified-and-risen who stands there and offers his peace. Crucified: I sin, I fail, I’m not worthy, but Jesus stands before me in my imagination, ‘Peace be with you.’ Risen: I fear coronavirus finding Sarah - but I see (imagine) the risen Jesus standing before me, ‘Peace be with you.’ This isn’t mere history or Bible truth. This is Jesus offering me peace in the here and now.
But does Jesus really say this to me? Isn’t this just addressed to those disciples? Yes and yes! And no! “Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ,” says Paul at the start of his letters. God’s peace is for all his saints - including me!
And can I really be overjoyed with the disciples? Again, joy is for all. But to enter into it I need to slow down, pause, imagine. Then, slowly, joy begins to assemble somewhere deep down.
And so I respond, ‘Lord, forgive me for locking you out of my life. Forgive me for thinking I can overcome anxiety with greater effort and skills. I hear you. ‘Do not let your heart be troubled. Trust in me.’ ‘I am the good shepherd.’ ‘I am with you. Always.’’ And I trust him afresh. I entrust the future of the church family to the head of the church. I entrust my own family to their true Father.
But is this all too fanciful? Am I playing fast and loose with Scripture? No, I don’t believe so because I’m always circling back to it. I don’t allow the tether to loosen or become too long. But I’ve allowed God’s word to move from the page, to my head, to my heart so that it affects my desires and my longings. It’s no longer merely a text, but the Lord’s word to me, now. And I’m different. My heart has turned to Christ. For now. Tomorrow, I’ll need to be reminded, but not as much - I’ll come back to Christ more quickly tomorrow.
[While my approach is somewhat different to that which Steve Midgley outlines, he’s helped me to clarify and put into words how I approach Scripture. See his talk, “Meditative Bible Readings” and Midgley, S., Meditating for a Change: Embracing a Lost Art, Journal of Biblical Counseling, 34:1 (2020): 20–39.]
Reading: John 17
Reflection: Re-read verses 20-26. Jesus prays specifically for us here (v.20). At a time when we are unable to meet together in person, take a few minutes to reflect on our:
- unity with God - the closeness and intimacy we enjoy with the triune God. Jesus describes our unity with God as being like his unity with the Father (vv.21, 23, 26)!
- unity with each other - Jesus’ desire is for us to be united as believers (vv.21-23). How can you express your unity with brothers and sisters at St Peter’s over Easter? Who do you need to phone, encourage, write to and pray for?
- witness to the world - Jesus’ prayer is that this unity would move the world to believe that he is the Son of God sent by the Father, who loves us just as much as he loves his Son (vv.21, 23)! What part can you play in bearing witness to non-believers you know during this lockdown period?
Prayer: God our Father, you have called us to proclaim the death of your Son until he comes: may he nourish us by his presence and unite us in his love; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever, Amen.
I stand amazed in the presence
Of Jesus the Nazarene,
And wonder how He could love me,
A sinner, condemned, unclean.
How marvellous! How wonderful!
And my song shall ever be:
How marvellous! How wonderful!
Is my Saviour’s love for me!
For me it was in the garden
He prayed, ‘Not my will, but Thine’;
He had no tears for His own griefs,
But sweat drops of blood for mine.
He took my sins and my sorrows,
He made them His very own;
He bore the burden to Calvary,
And suffered and died alone.
When with the ransomed in glory
His face I at last shall see,
’Twill be my joy through the ages
To sing of His love for me
Charles Homer Gabriel 1856-1932
Reading: John 19:28-42
Reflection: Pilate’s questions in 19:10 give the impression that Jesus was a bit clueless and that he had failed to grasp his predicament. Jesus’ response in 19:11 and his actions in our passage prove that he knew exactly what was happening and was in control even as he hung on the cross.
Jesus knew that he had finished the work his Father had given him to do on earth (17:4, 19:28). What may have looked like hapless failure was in fact his moment of glory. At the cross, Jesus brought to completion God’s plan of salvation, a plan made before the creation of the world and prophesied many hundreds of years beforehand. Jesus’ final declaration, fulfilment of the detail of the Scriptures and flow of blood and water, confirming his death, should all inspire confident faith in us. Jesus really did conquer sin and death for us at Calvary.
All that remains is for him to return in glory.
May God grant us deep gratitude and humility this Easter for as we reflect on all that he has done for us through his Son.
Prayer: Eternal God, in the cross of Jesus we see the cost of sin and the depth of your love: in humble hope and fear may we place at his feet all that we have and all that we are, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.
Hark! the voice of love and mercy
Sounds aloud from Calvary;
See, it rends the rocks asunder,
Shakes the earth, and veils the sky:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Hear the dying Saviour cry.
“It is finished!” Oh, what pleasure
Do these precious words afford!
Heavenly blessings without measure
Flow to us from Christ, the Lord:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Saints, the dying words record.
Finished all the types and shadows
Of the ceremonial law!
Finished all that God had promised;
Death and hell no more shall awe:
“It is finished!” “It is finished!”
Saints, from hence your comfort draw
Jonathan Evans 1748-1809
I once received a postcard from a relative with the message ‘Don’t worry!’ all over the front: ‘Don’t worry! ‘Don’t worry!’ ‘Don’t worry!’ The sender definitely meant well and the personal message on the back was reassuring, but I wasn’t particularly helped by the message on the front.
As a brothers and sisters at St Peter’s, we vary in personality and temperament, and some of us are more prone to anxiety than others. For those of us who worry, to be told ‘Don’t worry!’ (effectively ‘Stop it!’) - isn’t very useful. We need more than a command not to do something. Indeed, we might soon start worrying about not worrying! If there’s something that’s troubling us, its’s hard to stop thinking about it. Sometimes, it seems almost impossible to put whatever it is out of our minds and focus on something else. Anxiety can be overwhelming and all-consuming.
As I watch the news, receive updates from church ministers and mission partners or speak to members of St Peter’s, I get a sense of the various things that are troubling us at the moment. We’re concerned for the health and well-being of loved ones, especially those who are elderly and vulnerable. We’re anxious about the daily death rate of the coronavirus and some of us are already grieving the loss of friends and family. We’ve been worrying about whether there will be enough food in the shops and how we will make ends meet if we can no longer work. We’re anxious about church members living alone or in lockdown in care homes. Tensions can run high at home and we’re worried about whether we will get on with each other and how long this lockdown will last! The list goes on and these are valid concerns. Some of us are really troubled by these and other things. In the midst of such anxiety, can we do any better than ‘Don’t worry!’?
The Scriptures are full of commands not to worry: “Do not fear…” “Do not be afraid…” “Do not be anxious...” “Do not worry…” However, they don’t simply leave us with commands. One of the things I love about the Scriptures is that they give us positive alternatives - positive commands of what to do instead. Here are two personal favourites:
Luke 12:22-34: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear… But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.” Wonderfully, Jesus tells his followers, “Your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom” …so the kingdom is already ours! We seek his kingdom by living and speaking for Jesus - seeking his righteousness in our lives (compare with Matthew 6:33) and sharing the good news of the kingdom with others. Adopting a ‘kingdom perspective’ helps us focus on what’s most important - on what Jesus wants for us. This command also comes with a promise: God has got our daily needs covered. Rather than worrying about food and clothing, we focus on his kingdom knowing that God will provide.
Philippians 4:4-9: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.” The alternative here is to pray with thanksgiving. God loves it when we depend on him in prayer and he welcomes our requests about the big things and the details of our lives. One of the encouragements of the prayer meeting on Wednesday was the number of prayers of thanksgiving. Mike commented that it would be easy for us to grumble but people expressed gratitude to God about all sorts of things. Paul doesn’t downplay anxiety here as if our troubles don’t matter but there are plenty of things to thank God for despite the problems we face. Christians may struggle with anxiety, but because of Jesus we can be joyful (v4), gentle (v5), prayerful (v6) and peaceful (v7). The promise that accompanies this command is divine protection for our hearts and minds.
So don’t worry… seek God’s kingdom and pray with thanksgiving. As you do so God will provide for your needs and give you his peace.
Love and prayers,
I hope you're well and enjoying lockdown with your children! It's a shame we can't meet at church for Climbers for the time being, and we're conscious that the Sunday sermons are geared more towards the adults than the children so we thought you might like some ideas of simple and fun ways to help your children learn about Jesus over the coming weeks.
- HOME CHURCH: Faith in Kids is an excellent Christian charity which offers plenty of free Bible based resources for parents and children. They offer 5 downloadable, interactive sessions following Luke's account of the Easter story: https://faithinkids.org/resources/app/resource/161/title/the-wonder-of-easter. There's also a video on their Facebook page to help parents prepare https://www.facebook.com/faithinkids/videos/643470046478742/.
- EASTER CALENDAR: The Good Book Company is probably the best publisher and provider of Christian resources in the UK. They're promoting the Easter calendar edition of 'The Garden, the Curtain and the Cross' https://www.thegoodbook.co.uk/the-garden-the-curtain-and-the-cross-easter-cale. Lucy and I have enjoyed reading the book with Seb and this new family devotional for Easter looks great. Check out their website for other books and resources for kids, some of which are free: thegoodbook.co.uk/kids-at-home.
- PODCASTS: If you don't think you'll have time for the suggestions about, Lockdown is proving to be very popular: try the Faith in Kids podcast https://www.buzzsprout.com/237067. Make sure you choose podcasts entitled 'Faith in KIDS' for your children. You may well find the 'Faith in parents' podcasts helpful but they are aimed at helping you as you seek to share Jesus with your children whereas the 'Faith in KIDS' ones are aimed at children.
- ONLINE VIDEOS: Another easy idea which takes no prep time at all is 'Saddleback Kids' videos on YouTube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HL8R158Ujp4&t=219s. I've shown a few of these in Climbers, so they'll be familiar. Seb and Sophie enjoy them at home. There are about 150 videos which are 2-5 minutes long. I've watched most of them now and they're generally very good. They stick to the Bible passage and don't offer legalistic or moralistic messages as many online Sunday school videos do. You could simply watch one, discuss it for a few minutes and then finish with a prayer.
Please feel free to get in touch if you have any questions, and be assured of our prayers for you and your family.
Love in Christ,
We hope and pray that the SPLOG (St Peter's blog) will provide encouragement & spiritual food during the coronavirus crisis. It's mainly for the St Peter's church family, but everyone's welcome to read it!