30th April 2012

An Image Of Our Future Too

“Let us be glad and rejoice and give Him glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and His wife has made herself ready”
Revelation 19:7 (NKJV)

A year ago yesterday was the Royal Wedding. Looking back on all the pageantry and spectacular set pieces—the parades, the balcony scene, the fly passes, the crowd control, and so on—I think we all would have to agree, when it comes to such occasions we do them better than most.

Of the three similar events—the first marriage of Prince Charles; the funeral of Diana, Princess of Wales; the funeral of Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother—all three were very different, but all three were, again, very well done.

There was all the solemn pageantry at Westminster Abbey, of course, for Catherine and William, and the day ended with a number of traditional gatherings, which we can lump together under the catch-all heading of “wedding breakfast”.

I couldn’t help thinking last year as I watched some of this on and off during the day, that someday Christians will be involved with a wedding breakfast of their own. The occasion will be when Christ ‘marries’ the church. I have often speculated to myself whether it might not also be the time of the coronation of Jesus Christ as King of kings. If so, then we will be taking part in that ceremony too, as the church becomes his consort.

All of which is a daunting prospect. Prince William and Princess Catherine have a difficult, but glittering future ahead of them. For Christians, nothing less awaits them either. Indeed, we don’t really know very much about our future, other than that it will be spent with our ‘spouse’. We are told that forever we will be with the Lord (1 Thessalonians 4:17).

As we watch with interest their progress in life (you can’t miss it in the constant media coverage!), perhaps it will be helpful to remember that ‘There, by the grace of God, we too will walk one day.”

Most gracious Father, thinking back on all the pageantry and sense of occasion, we offer our best wishes and prayers for Catherine and William’s continued success in life through you. But we also add our own names, Holy Father, remembering our futures with your Son. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by John Stettaford

29th April 2012

Acts Of God

“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Romans 5:6-8 (NIV UK) 

You may have forgotten but just over a year ago large parts of the North-eastern Australian state of Queensland were inundated with major flooding. Flood water covered an area the size of France and Germany combined. Officials and relief workers struggled to cope and said it was a “disaster of biblical proportions.” That is the way we often describe major natural disasters. Insurance companies call them “acts of God.”

“Act of God” is an actual legal term—a way of saying that no human was to blame. Such language can give people the idea that the Bible is primarily about catastrophes, and that we’re all at the mercy of an often bad-tempered God whose ‘acts’ are destructive, unpredictable and life threatening. But that’s not the message of the Bible.

The primary, central ‘act of God’ described in the Bible is not bad news, but wonderful good news. It tells us about a God who, far from being angry and destructive, loves us with a love that is so great—he did everything that had to be done to save us as the apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (quoted above).

The Son of God became a man, suffered and died as one of us and in doing so took humanity itself into God’s own being. It means that when we suffer, God suffers with us. We all know that every person who lives will eventually die, but the good news is that death is not the end of our story. Jesus’ death changed death itself. He made death a pathway to resurrection, to new life, to a new creation in which, as Revelation 21:4 tells us, “there is no more death or mourning or crying or pain.”

Christians hold this hope in faith—faith that God, who freely took up our human cause as his own, even to the point of dying as one of us, is true to his word. Every person who dies will live again, and all who believe God, who trust him, will share in the relationship Jesus has with his Father. The core message of the Bible is not one of doom and gloom, but that despite the suffering we experience in this life, God loves us with a love of “biblical proportions,” and our eternal future is secure in his hands.

Holy Father, the more we consider your works, the more we marvel in how you show your love for us in what you have done for us. Help us, as we marvel, to respond in love to you. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Study by Joseph Tkach

28th April 2012

The Only Sensible Response – Sincere Love

“Let love be without hypocrisy.”
Romans 12:9 (NKJV)

Paul is instructing us to love in truth, to be sincere in our love.  How can it be anything else?  True love cannot be other than sincere, but love that is not love, love that is just a screen behind which we behave in unloving ways, is not sincere, it is not true love at all!

Love has become a very glib word that is used to convey various meanings.  We speak of loving all kinds of things that are not actually lovable; movies, songs, clothes, motor cars, ice cream.

Love of people is what Paul is speaking of, and he asks us to love in truth, sincerely and without falsehood.  Because Paul instructs in this, it is likely that we do not easily do it.  The biggest problem that we human beings struggle with is selfishness.  Selfishness is the opposite of the love of which Paul speaks.  True love is outgoing, it moves away from the self and seeks to bless others, and this requires a complete change of mind.  Naturally we are the centre of our world, we are ego-centric and everything revolves around us.  Even the good and generous things that we do are often tinged with selfishness.

But Paul encourages us to a different level of love, to a level that truly puts the other first even at cost to ourselves.  After all isn’t that the kind of love that Jesus gave when he walked among us?  His love was demonstrated in the ultimate sacrifice, the giving of himself entirely for our sakes.  There was no hypocrisy here, only genuine outgoing concern for others, in fact, for all others.  This is the goal of our Christian life, to emulate our Saviour in his life of true love.

The apostle Paul encourages this in his letter to the church at Philippi, “Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.  And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death—even death on a cross!” (Philippians 2:5-8 NIV)

There is no hint of selfishness here, only true, sincere love.  This is what we should pray for, and strive to live, as our only sensible response to what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.

Father in Heaven, please forgive me for my selfish nature.  Strengthen me in my resolve to emulate Jesus in his selflessness, in his life of true outgoing love for all mankind.

Study by David Stirk

27th April 2012

Foxes And Birds

“As they were walking along the road, a man said to him, ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ Jesus replied, ‘Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’”
Luke 9:57-58 (NIV UK)

Sometimes Jesus appeared to say strange things. 

In the passage above someone says that he has a total commitment to Christ and that he would follow him anywhere. We all might say something similar. We have a dedication to Christ and a desire to follow him wherever he leads. 

Jesus’ response to him was to talk about foxes and birds. Was he smiling as he spoke? What exactly was the point that Jesus was making? 

In their zeal to evangelize, Christians may paint a rosy picture. They may say that, when we come to Jesus, life will improve and things will get easier. But here Jesus was implying that following him involved a cost. 

That cost would mean being out of our comfort zone. Maybe sometimes there would not be much of a chance to rest physically as foxes do in holes or as birds do in nests. I remember once seeing a young fox cub scurry away into the safety of its den when it sensed danger. Jesus knew that he himself would not run away from the sacrifice that lay ahead for him. For Christians, sometimes there is no hiding place as they follow Jesus and share in his sufferings. 

I wonder what happened next. Did the man wander away perplexed by what Jesus had said? Or did he renew his commitment more deeply? 

What would you have done? 

Thank you, Lord Jesus, for your unswerving commitment to us, and help us through your Spirit to stay committed to you in good times and in bad.

Study by James Henderson

26th April 2012

God’s Wedding Feast

“And Jesus answered and spoke to them again by parables and said: ‘The kingdom of heaven is like a certain king who arranged a marriage for his son, and sent out his servants to call those who were invited to the wedding; and they were not willing to come. Again, he sent out other servants, saying, “Tell those who are invited, ‘See, I have prepared my dinner; my oxen and fatted cattle are killed, and all things are ready. Come to the wedding.”’”
Matthew 22:1-14 (NKJV)

It was around a year ago that the world eagerly watched the Royal Wedding of Prince William to Miss Catherine Middleton.  There was a lot written in the press about who was invited and who was not.  In the Parable of the Wedding Feast, those invited declined to come, so others were invited.  Read verses 5-7, “But they made light of it and went their ways, one to his own farm, another to his business. And the rest seized his servants, treated them spitefully, and killed them. But when the king heard about it, he was furious. And he sent out his armies, destroyed those murderers, and burned up their city.”

Many people think God esteems clergy or holy men, and casts out the inferior—those who cannot do difficult austerities like scourging or long fasts. But in this parable God judges those who should have been at his feast by their attitudes of indifference, scorn, or even murder. Remember, these people were already invited! But we see in verse 8 that “They were not worthy.”

Verses 9-10 show the working of grace, “‘Therefore go into the highways, and as many as you find, invite to the wedding.’ So those servants went out into the highways and gathered together all whom they found, both bad and good. And the wedding hall was filled with guests.” God extends his invitation to all through the sacrifice of Christ. However, we have to respond—those without a wedding garment may not enter in (verses 11-14).

In Jesus’ prayer recorded in John 17 he says (verse 3), “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.”  Our response is acceptance and belief (verse 8).  So it is not wealth, rank or deeds, but our attitude to God that counts.

Holy Father, we thank you for your wedding invitation that others refused and which we gratefully accept. May we always have our wedding garment ready to hand so we may be clothed in the righteousness of Christ when we stand before him.

Study by Keith Le Flem

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