Let us go outside the camp

April 9, 2017

No doubt by now you will have seen the photos of our Palm Sunday procession, and it always fascinates me to see how people react to a bunch of Christians walking up a street praying and singing. Some put up their hoods and walk past as quickly as possible; some put out their cigarettes and disappear back inside the pub; a few join in; while I am sure that at a distance not a few mutter unfavourable comments about these strange religious types.

dscn3932

And I guess for some of us the idea of taking part in a procession seems perhaps rather odd or embarrassing. After all, if you are a shy British introvert like me, the last thing you want to do is to make a public spectacle of yourself. Witnessing in the open air takes you way outside your comfort zone, and you may well be wondering why on earth you are taking part.

But that is precisely the point of the Palm Sunday procession. As we enter Holy Week, we are remembering our Lord who exposed Himself not only to the praise of the crowds, but also the ridicule of the teachers, who just a few days later was openly humiliated by jeering crowds as He carried His cross to Calvary. Our procession is a sign that we are willing to identify with this Jesus and follow in His footsteps, a recognition that we are not called to a comfortable faith, but a willing, obedient faith, whatever the cost.

The writer to the Hebrews had it spot on when he wrote:

And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore. For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Heb 13:12-14)

After all, if we as a church were a merely human institution striving to raise our profile, then we would be doing something far more user-friendly to attract more members. But our goal is to build the kingdom of God, as we look forward to the city that is yet to come. That is why we take up our cross; that why we process, and why we keep on witnessing, no matter what others may think of us.

So next year will you join our Palm Sunday procession?

And in this Holy Week what will you do to identify with Jesus, who for our sake was humiliated, stripped and nailed to a cross?

Advertisements

In the Upper Room

March 26, 2016

Maundy Thursday and Good Friday have been for me very special events this year.

On Maundy Thursday we had long planned a  fellowship meal followed by a simple act of Holy Communion. How exactly the evening would run was another matter. But the nearer Maundy Thursday drew near, the more we sensed we wanted to create something of the atmosphere of the Upper Room, and not just in the sharing of the bread and wine.

Whatever else may have happened there, we know Jesus celebrated the Passover, read the Scriptures and taught His disciples. So during the course of the meal we tried however faintly to follow this example. We read through Matthew 26, and on each table we put out cards with questions about forgiveness, for folk to use as they saw fit.

How the evening would turn out, I had almost no idea. But what I found fascinating was how through the words of the Bible, and the conversations one with another, the Holy Spirit was so clearly at work. As folk openly and honestly shared real life situations, so we began to understand each other so much better and deepen our sense of unity as the body of Christ.

Nobody, I think, found the whole subject of forgiveness easy. We all could tell stories of when it was hard to forgive, and when our efforts to bring peace had failed. But certainly for my part, as we discussed the issues we faced, it made me realise what a mighty work God achieved in Jesus Christ by forgiving us our sins. We so often and so lightly talk about the forgiveness God offers, but the cost to Jesus was painful and it was real.

After all, as I shared briefly, Jesus on that night was betrayed by the chief priests (who should have welcomed the Messiah), by Judas Iscariot, even by Peter. When He took His friends into the garden of Gethsemane, they fell asleep instead of supporting Him in prayer. When He was arrested, all the disciples deserted Him and fled in terror. It’s hard to imagine such a lonely, terrible experience for Jesus, and all that even before the beating, the insults and crucifixion. Yet Jesus went through it all so that in Him we could experience the forgiveness of our Heavenly Father by dying in our place for our sins.

It was only natural, then, that our conversations led after the meal to a act of Holy Communion, and a simple act of passing the loaf and cup to one another reinforced our sense of belonging to Christ and to each other. We ended up by singing, “When I survey the wondrous cross”, and for me the evening was summed up by the last lines of that hymn which took on a new and profound significance:

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my life, my soul, my all

 


Unity in Worship

March 20, 2016

Throughout the Bible unity is commended.

Psalm 133 tells us:

How good and pleasant it is when brothers live together in unity! It is like precious oil poured on the head, running down on the beard, running down on Aaron’s beard, down upon the collar of his robes. It is as if the dew of Hermon were falling on Mount Zion. For there the LORD bestows his blessing, even life for evermore.

Jesus in the Upper Room prayed for His disciples, according to John 17:20-23:

My prayer is not for them alone. 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. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one: I in them and you in me. May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me.

Paul teaches us in Ephesians 4:11-13 that unity is a sign of Christian maturity, as the gifts of the risen Lord Jesus are used in His service:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

Unity is an essential part of our gospel witness because it shows how the Lord is able to turn a group of disparate people into His body, and our oneness testifies to the truth that Jesus is Lord.

That is why as Christians we should always seek unity.

We should seek unity in the local church. Unity is a sign of spiritual health and a precursor of growth. By contrast, where there are factions, where there is disunity, we can hardly be surprised if the Lord does not bless our gatherings. To put it another way, where there is division, the body of Christ cannot multiply. That is why we constantly need to live under the cross, practising radical forgiveness one with another, and keeping the Lord as our main focus.

We should seek unity across churches. When I arrived in Devonport nearly fourteen years ago, there was no history of collaboration across denominations. It has been a long, long wait but over the past few years gradually the Lord has raised up leaders with a common vision for the gospel. This evening we had our first regular united service and I long for this unity to reach on down into the lives of every member of every church.

Unity may be costly. Unity may involve sacrificing our personal agendas. Unity may force us to consider how to love our neighbour as ourselves. But as we enter Holy Week, we need to remember Jesus gave up His life not just for us as individuals but to win for Himself a holy people who would serve as His body here on earth.

So let us make this prayer which Paul prayed for the church at the Rome our very own. Romans 15:5-6:

May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus, so that with one heart and mouth you may glorify the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Because that spirit of unity is the Holy Spirit, and where the Lord is at work by His Spirit there is truly no limit to what He can do in us and through us.

 

 

 


Lent Blog Day 40 – Christ is Risen!

April 20, 2014

I can’t do any better than repeat the words that Paul writes at the start of Rom 5 – my Bible reading for the day:

1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ,
2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we  rejoice in the hope of the glory of God.
3 Not only so, but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance;
4 perseverance, character; and character, hope.
5 And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.

A happy Easter to you all!