I bow the knee

In the football matches this weekend and the marches in various cities of the UK people took the knee. In honour of how a man was killed they take the knee.

For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray … (Ephesians 3:14-15)

The Church needs to bow the knee today before the only One who can help this world.

Paul who has been given revelation of the equality found in the new family of God bows the knee and so must we.

My Father, I refresh myself only so that I can serve you, I rest only so that I am ready when I call, I renew with my eyes still focused on the purpose of my life, so I kneel in readiness of your call (Judges 7:6 “Three hundred of them drank from cupped hands, lapping like dogs. All the rest got down on their knees to drink”)

My Father, before I encourage others to be dedicated to you I do so myself. I look at what I have built and I bring it all to you. I have no answers to the disunity around me; I don’t know why the Church becomes defeated; I am powerless when heaven is closed or when famine and plagues come on the land; I have no guarantees for success and I don’t know what to do with the sin that deeply impacts; but I need you to see me, I need your eyes on me, so I kneel in my prayers to you. (1 Kings 8:54 When Solomon had finished all these prayers and supplications to the Lord, he rose from before the altar of the Lord, where he had been kneeling with his hands spread out toward heaven”)

My Father, I cannot see the purity of your Church anymore. All I see are the double-standards. Racism, discrimination and tribalism are all around and arguments rise against each other. The burden is great, the sin too shameful to raise my head, we carry the guilt of our ancestors and we ourselves are no better today, so I kneel before you in surrender. (Ezra 9:5 “Then, at the evening sacrifice, I rose from my self-abasement, with my tunic and cloak torn, and fell on my knees with my hands spread out to the Lord my God”)

My Father, the enemy of my soul will do all he can to stop me praying to you; through distraction and diversion and deliberate actions. So I am determined to continue. I will do so publicly. I am not embarrassed or afraid to do so. So I will put into the diary of my life, time with you. I schedule YOU so that no one can disturb us and so I kneel before you because you are all important to me. (Daniel 6:10“Now when Daniel learned that the decree had been published, he went home to his upstairs room where the windows opened toward Jerusalem. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to his God, just as he had done before”)

My Father, I stand in this garden crushed by the solitude and the loneliness in my soul. I drop to my knees under the weight of the burden you are asking me to carry. But this is your will for my life and so I kneel in complete surrender. ((Luke 22:41 “He withdrew about a stone’s throw beyond them, knelt down and prayed”)

So I kneel …

I Am in a Prism

Most people have no idea how many Christians there are in the world: More than 2 billion people claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. Malicious leaders have tried to destroy it, hostile groups have persecuted it, and sceptics have scoffed at it. Nevertheless, God’s Church is bigger now than ever before in history.

Every day 60,000 new people come to believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour? By the end of today, thousands of new churches will be started throughout the world, and that will happen tomorrow and the next day and the next.

But the growth of the Church isn’t the glory of the Church.

Paul is pouring out his heart regarding the mystery revealed to him by the grace of God that all are one in Christ. The Jew and the Gentile are worshippers in this new Temple. Then we have these words:-

His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. 12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. (Ephesians 3:10-12)

What a beautiful word ‘manifold’ is and how important during these times to use it.

It means many-coloured and we see the beauty of it in the embroidered cloths and woven carpets.

Nothing in the world compares with the Church. It is manifold. It is a multi-racial and a multi-cultural community.

It is this intent of Christ, the Church, that the rulers and authorities, the earthly and heavenly societies and social structures are confronted with. What do they see?

They are looking at a Prismatic community of people of all ages, of all colour, of all social and cultural background, of all race and tribes, of all languages, together in a united one voice of worship to God.

The Church is a prism because the light of God rebounds off our oneness telling them something about God that the rulers and authorities did not know.

The light of God refracts through human life and human reconciliation.

More of God can be seen through us than can be seen without us.

Our diversity is a gift to the physical and spiritual world which marginalises or kills those who are different.

The message? All “may approach God with freedom and confidence.”

I Have Given my Life to the Cause

Soren Kierkegaard (believed to be the father of existentialism) being a theologian and a philosopher didn’t just believe that the key was for humans to define their own meaning in life but it was so much more than that:

“The thing is to understand myself, to see what God really wants me to do … to find the idea for which I can live and die.”

What does God really want me to do?

Have you found the idea for which you can live and die for?

You are not here to play safe, avoid risks and live in fear of what others think of you. Some people have buried themselves and have not lived their lives that God truly had set out for them. There are treasures that have laid dormant for too long.

A man walked into a fortune teller’s booth and paid money for his palm to be read. “I see many things,” the fortune teller said. “Like what?” the man replied. “You will be poor and unhappy until you are 45yrs,” she said.

“Oh” he said dejectedly. Then he had a thought, “What will happen when I’m 45?” The fortune teller smiled and said “You will get used to it.”

People enter old age and die never changing the way they think or behave, ever. They get locked into being a certain type of person.

If you are reading this devotional then the time to become all that you can become is now. The time to utilise your life, your talents, to give love, to breathe joy, to make someone’s day, to honour God, is now. It is time to rise up and be the man and woman of God that you are.

Let’s read some verses and be reminded that we are in the brackets as it were because Paul was about to launch into a second prayer but he thinks more of the oneness in Christ particularly of the new Temple consisting of both Jew and Gentile.

“I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power. Although I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people, this grace was given me: to preach to the Gentiles the boundless riches of Christ, and to make plain to everyone the administration of this mystery, which for ages past was kept hidden in God, who created all things. His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord. In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence. I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” Ephesians 3:7-13

We will look at these verses in 2 devotionals. For today see what Paul knows about himself:

  1. I know what I became

Paul’s Damascus Road experience never left him. It redirected him and his 3 years in Arabia formed him. “I became a servant of this gospel by the gift of God’s grace given me through the working of his power.”

Think with me for a moment. Paul would have further revelations of this but think of Jesus, Son of God in heaven right now. Around the throne are cries day and night, “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was and is and is to come.” Beings are laid prostrate, “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power, for you created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” Think of that that position. It was from this position of who He is and the power He holds that He said, ‘It is not about me, I will go.” Jesus came, humbling Himself as a servant and Paul will tell us more of this as he continues to write in prison.

People with humility don’t think less of themselves, they just think of themselves less.

Paul became a servant of the good news of the equality in the family of God and so must we. He modelled his service on Jesus and so must we. Can you imagine in the much needed discussions and decisions on race and discrimination that people came to the table as servants to this good news?

A servant has a heart that is not motivated by self-interest, either from their own agenda, status or safety ahead of others.

A servant does not react out of their pride or fear when spoken to. They are not quick to judge, take offence or blame others.

A servant is quick to forgive the shortcomings of others. Forgiveness is not a natural response to being hurt, it is an act of the will. Jesus taught it and demonstrated it on the cross and so should we.

  1. I know what I was

Paul was deeply conscious of his unworthiness because he had killed so many believers. In fact, he had persecuted Jesus Christ himself, for it is true that when you attack the body of Christ, you attack Christ. “I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people …” Paul knew what he used to be. He once told Timothy that he had been a blasphemer, a persecutor and a violent man. He knew what he used to be but he also knew he wasn’t that man anymore. Not only did Jesus forgive him but Paul forgave himself and knew that there was now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. Maybe someone today needs to not make Christ’s forgiveness meaningless by not forgiving themselves for what they have done in their past. People end up in prison and they don’t realise it. Today we need to release ourselves from the past.

  1. I know I live for the glory of others

Towards the end of this section before he launches into his prayer, he takes us back to the reality of his prison. “I ask you, therefore, not to be discouraged because of my sufferings for you, which are your glory.” His sufferings are for their glory. He is suffering in prison on their behalf. He is prepared to pay the price for the vision of equality to be a reality.

Is there someone in your life that you are prepared to suffer for so that they will be glorified?

Can you say:-

It’s not about me.

I’m not what I was

I will suffer so that her/him/them will be glorified.

If you can then you have found the idea that you can live and die for.

I will pay the price for the mystery

The spotlight is on Church leaders right now to get God’s house in order and rightly so. We have actually been trying to do so for many years. But in rooting out prejudice in our Christian community the messenger heralding ‘all lives matter’ will pay a price. For when a leader tries to unite then there will always be someone somewhere who is offended.

In the previous section Paul has ended by teaching how Christ had abolished the Jew-Gentile barrier and has created a new, alternative society, a Temple, where He lives. Then Paul continues, “For this reason I … he in intending to write another prayer. In verse 14, “ For this reason I kneel before the Father …” The comparison is so close it suggests that Paul hasn’t finished talking about the oneness of Jew and Gentile. So verses 2-13 can be seen as if they are in brackets. Let’s read some of the verses:

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles— Surely you have heard about the administration of God’s grace that was given to me for you, that is, the mystery made known to me by revelation, as I have already written briefly. In reading this, then, you will be able to understand my insight into the mystery of Christ, which was not made known to people in other generations as it has now been revealed by the Spirit to God’s holy apostles and prophets. This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.” (Ephesians 3:1-6)

  1. The revelation of the mystery was received by grace.

The word mystery to us means dark, secretive and puzzling. But in Greek and for how Paul uses the word it means something that was known but not to everyone. Things which are beyond human understanding but are now known because of revelation. This mystery is the Gift of God. Paul says this revelation came to me and the apostles and the prophets. In 2020 we need more than ever the apostolic and the prophetic ministries in the Church to flow in that same revelation of the mystery. Maybe these ministries could have done more? Perhaps. But Paul says the revelation is a Gift from God. We cannot boast, it is not that we have achieved some revelation, it doesn’t make humans elite from others and so diminishing the mystery, this is of Him. It is grace.

  1. The mystery is that all are equal in the sight of God.

Paul’s revelation is that God always intended for the Gentiles to be equal to the Jews.

  1. The inheritance of the new world to come is theirs. Opportunities.
  2. They are members of the same body, of Christ Jesus. Recognition.
  3. All the promises and benefits of the Jews are also now given to the Gentiles. Privileges.

The mystery is a Gift to each other. Paul’s view is that, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:28) In 2020 Paul would say all one in Christ Jesus means there is no room for racists, misogynists or cultural prejudices. It is about giving to each other the opportunities, recognition and the privileges equally.

  1. This mystery will hurt you.

“For this reason I, Paul, the prisoner of Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles”

Paul was convinced that all the hurt of his life which included the stoning, beatings, storms and now this imprisonment was under the Lordship of Jesus. He is a prisoner for the Lord. However he is fully aware of the reason. This mystery needs a Gift of ourselves. Paul was in prison because he believed in the “all one in Christ Jesus.” He believed and preached the mystery.

So we come back to how I introduced this blog today. There is a price to pay and that is if we truly hold to this mystery then we will need to let go, surrender to Christ and throw our whole lives into this revelation. Those who try and root out always get their hands dirty. Those who speak up will offend because they won’t have used the best and correct words. But at least they are not silent.

May we see opportunities, recognition and privileges for all those who are in Christ Jesus whatever the colour of their skin, gender or identity and may we be willing to neither boast of this revelation nor be afraid of the price that will need to be paid from people on all sides.

I am in a construction called the Church

A survey published 10 years ago said that out of the then population of 61 million people in the UK, 35 million were Christian. Isn’t that amazing?!!

However out of the 35 million Christians only 9 million went to Church!

Do you ever wonder why people have stopped attending Church?

How sad it is when Churches have declined because people stopped going there.

“Personalities united can contain more of God and sustain the force of his greater presence better than scattered individuals.” Dallas Willard.

Transformation requires community. It is how and why we were created. But also hearing God, guidance, healing, His glory is better seen in community.

It is something that Paul isolated in prison writing to enforced scattered individuals because of persecution teaches the Church and us.

There are many in prisons of persecution today who would view it as an anathema that there are 26 million Christians in the UK who are not in a construction called the Church.

My prayer is that as we come out of lockdown and go back to our buildings eventually we not only have a renewed love for the Church but that our neighbours have found a love for us also and that we will reach the 26 million who have left during construction for all kinds of reasons.

Let’s read what Paul says next,

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 2:19-22

In the last few days we have been reading how the Temple with its dividing walls was gone. It was still there at the time of Paul’s writing but he says it is worthless, it might as well not be there anymore. God is doing something new. There is a new building, a new household for people and this is of course, the Church.

Paul shows us what the Church was but we in 2020 need to make sure that what he saw is still there in some form.

Paul’s view of Church:

  1. The foundation was Christ Jesus, the name above all names, the cornerstone was the act of sacrifice, the cross. The floor of the Church has the blood of Christ.

In 2020 the Church still needs to give Jesus the highest honour, no one else, just Him. The floor of the Church should not have any other blood there, only the blood of Jesus.

  1. The foundation of apostles and prophets was clear to see, even from an apostle in a prison. He doesn’t mention the other 3 offices of the 5 fold ministry which is clearly of importance to him as we will see soon. These were the heralds, the authoritative messengers, those who heard and spoke.

In 2020 the Church still needs the apostolic (people sent with spiritual authority) and the prophetic (people who are inspirational carriers of the Word of God and who bring revelation by His Spirit).

  1. There was no outsiders. Unlike the Temple no one was excluded. Both Jew and Gentile together in the same household.

In 2020 the Church still needs to post its “All are Welcome” signs. In localised Churches it just may not be relevant to find Jews and Gentiles together. But what is relevant is there to be no racial divide, no cultural prejudice, no ‘what’s in it for me?’ attitudes. Egos are left behind, ‘no one tells me how to live’ is not the spirit of the church. There are no pretences, deception and lies. Before you think I am heading for utopia, there is no fantasy of what Church is either. Bonhoeffer said, “He who loves his dream of community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter.”

  1. A place where God lives. The Temple was always known for the holy of holies. Where God chose to be. Paul says God is now living in the Church of points 1-3

In 2020 God still loves this Church. The call is for us also to love the Church the way He loves it. We must speak of the Church and treat the Church the way He does with the full knowledge of what Christ did for the Church.

Finally, before you launch into a depression over the imperfection of your local Church, note that Paul says we are a work in progress. We are rising to become, we are being built together and we are becoming a dwelling. He is not finished with us yet. It will get even better. Maybe it has to. But it will.

I am equal

I have a friend called Kenton, he is from Hong Kong and he lives in London. Recently he was being taken to Heathrow airport by a Romanian taxi driver and who he led to Christ during that journey.

Three nations and one Christ is a beautiful picture.

December 1st, 1955, on a bus in Alabama, Rosa Parks did something that would be a catalyst for a whole new world-wide movement. This was the moment she was born for. James Blake, a white bus driver, ordered that she gave up her seat for a white man who had boarded the bus. This black lady had become so tired of the treatment of her minority. We will never know what was in her mind that day but something broke in her heart as she spoke out, “this time I’m not moving, this time I’m not going to the back of the bus because my skin is black. This time I’m not going to subject myself to indignity.” She was arrested that day and sent for trial.

That was on a bus but not in Church.

What Rosa Parks did opened the pathway for Martin Luther King Jr.

King wrote what he believed the Apostle Paul would have said to the church if he were alive in 1956, “I understand that there are Christians among you who try to justify segregation on the basis of the Bible. … Oh my friends, this is blasphemy. This is against everything that the Christian religion stands for,” he wrote. “I must say to you as I have said to so many Christians before, that in Christ ‘there is neither Jew nor Gentile, there is neither bond nor free, there is neither male nor female, for we are all one in Christ Jesus.’”

That was America not Britain.

Archbishop Welby, issued a statement following a debate on social inequality in November 2019 outlining a story of Doreen Browne, who made a 14 day journey from Barbados to London in 1956, aged 16, and described the racism her mother experienced as “very unfair.” Browne recalled that a priest barred her mother from even entering his London church for Sunday worship.

That was 1956 not 2020.

Recently in Britain a new movement different to previous social justice movements has emerged that is not attached to the church or any religious leader. There is no organisation or charismatic figure leading it. We are all one. Which is at least part of what King quoted Paul as saying. But where is the Church? It can be said it is nervously sitting at the back of the bus because this movement has activists who in supporting ‘we are all one’ does so for the LGBTQ community amongst other things. Some of the Church are not even boarding the bus because it wants to be known for what it opposes and not what it supports.

King earlier quoted of course from Paul in his letter to the Galatians.

But in our next verses in Ephesians, Paul says this:

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. (2: 14-18)

The greatest barrier in Paul’s day was in the Temple. The Temple was built on a platform. On the same level around it was 3 courts. The Court of the Priests, next to that was the Court of Israel, a place for the laymen and next to that the Court of the Women, a place for the laywomen to worship. From this level there would be steps down to a wall and then on the other side of the wall, more steps to another wall, beyond this was the Court of the Gentiles, this would run right around the Temple. The Gentiles could look up and view the Temple but could never approach it. On this dividing wall there were warning notices not to enter. In fact one was found in 1871 which stated, “No foreigner may enter within the barrier and enclosure round the Temple. Anyone who is caught doing so will have himself to blame for his ensuing death.”

Paul says in our verses, this barrier has been broken down because of the death of Christ on the cross. Yet at the time of him writing from prison it was still standing. It didn’t get knocked down until AD70.

So Paul is saying spiritually it is broken down, it may still be standing, but it is worth nothing, it is out of date. Through Christ everyone can have access to God. Everyone is equal.

That is the Temple not the Church.

I think you can see what I am moved to say. It’s a bus, it’s another nation, it’s in another time period or it is in another culture. It isn’t now. It isn’t here. It isn’t in my Church. It isn’t in me. Is it?

The Church is really good at building walls of division. Barriers for people that say if you want to come in here then you are going to have to change and if you cannot change then you cannot come in. Paul would say that kind of Church is worth nothing. It knows nothing of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The Church needs to reflect what the new heaven and new earth will look like.

The explosion of Paul’s first century Church came about because people would look at it and see they were all one in Christ Jesus. There was no ethnic division, no racism, no class structures, it was unique, different, every one treated equally. There was a body on earth that said Jews, Gentiles, black, white, slaves, masters, men and woman, the horrendous segregations of their time and culture that came together as one. The world observed and said, ‘that’s the body I want to belong to.’

There have been many times when God allowed the Church to be silenced. There have been times when He silenced it Himself. He spoke through one Pastor at a time when God’s people were loving their singing and each other’s fellowship. Yet at the same time the people were ignoring the poor, oppressing the minorities, guilty of spiritual hypocrisy, deception and lies. God said, “That’s enough singing. I cannot stand it. It is just noise, worthless noise to me. You might be enjoying it but I’m not.” The name of the Pastor was Amos.

There hasn’t been much gathered singing lately around the world. Our Church buildings have been silent. We are all looking forward to going back to congregational worship. I hope God is. I hope we have changed. I hope we will want to do better.

I can make a difference

“Therefore, remember that formerly you who are Gentiles by birth and called “uncircumcised” by those who call themselves “the circumcision” (which is done in the body by human hands)— remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” Ephesians 2: 11-13

Paul, in prison, has been writing wonderful things of our true position in Christ and the beauty of God in our lives despite our circumstances.

He now lifts the lid on the reality of the world they lived in. A reality of hate. From this point on, Paul exposes the division between Jew and Gentile.

The Jews have achievement (but he says it isn’t from God it is merely the hands of man) but the Gentiles you are called the uncircumcised by those who think they are something. He reminds his readers of their state before they met Christ; separated, excluded, foreigners, without hope and without God. Interestingly we get our word ‘atheist’ from ‘without God’. A word that the Gentiles used of the Jew because they didn’t have any statues of their God nor worship the God of their empire. It is difficult perhaps to see the depth of the animosity between these 2 groups. The Gentiles looked on the Jews as arrogant and foolish, The Jew was lazy because they wouldn’t work on the Sabbath and they were revolting because they circumcised their sons. The Gentile was created by God to be fuel for the fires of hell according to the Jew. If a Jewish boy married a Gentile girl or the other way round then a funeral was held of that Jewish boy or girl.

Just a simple research brings you to a fuller understanding of the hate between the two. Pause.

Let’s advance a few centuries, to the 5th century.

Most of us will have either visited the Colosseum in Rome or seen it on pictures and films. We know of the barbaric gladiatorial games and what passed off as obscene entertainment. But there was a much worse entertainment. That was the fact that Christians were being brutalised and killed daily. Wild animals were kept in pits till they were crazed with hunger.  Then they were released upon Christians—boys and girls, old men and women. Christians were soaked in oil then lit on fire as if they were living torches.  Men and women were torn with iron hooks, grilled on irons, sawed asunder, and placed in boiling pots of oil. Young women were brutalised sexually. It was evil at the core. Pure hatred for humanity in turning our species into objects of hateful desire. Through it all songs of hymns would be heard from the blood-soaked floor of the hell that these people endured.

On February 2, 1984 President Ronald Reagan told the following story to an audience attending a National Day of Prayer event. The true story is found in the writings of Theodoret, Bishop of Cyrrhus in Syria (393-457 A.D.).  Reagan’s story was a lot longer than the original but he was an actor after all (and he got the century wrong)!

 “This power of prayer can be illustrated by a story that goes back to the fourth century. Telemachus, an Asian monk living in a little remote village, spent most of his time in prayer or tending the garden from which he obtained his sustenance. One day, he thought he heard the voice of God telling him to go to Rome. Believing that he had heard, he set out. Weeks later, he arrived there, having travelled most of the way on foot.

“It was at a time of a festival in Rome. They were celebrating a triumph over the Goths. He followed a crowd into the Colosseum, and then, there in the midst of this great crowd, he saw the gladiators come forth, stand before the Emperor, and say, ‘We who are about to die salute you.”’ He realized they were going to fight to the death for the entertainment of the crowds. He cried out, ‘In the name of Christ, stop!”’ His voice was lost in the tumult there in the great Colosseum.

“As the games began, he made his way down through the crowd and climbed over the wall and dropped to the floor of the arena. Suddenly the crowds saw this scrawny little figure making his way out to the gladiators and saying, over and over again, ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’ They thought it was part of the entertainment. At first they were amused. But then, when they realized it wasn’t, they grew belligerent and angry. As he was pleading with the gladiators, ‘In the name of Christ, stop,”’ one of them plunged his sword into his body. He fell to the sand of the arena. In death, his last words were, ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’

“Suddenly, a strange thing happened. The gladiators stood looking at this tiny form lying in the sand. A silence fell over the Colosseum. Then, someplace up in the upper tiers, an individual made his way to an exit and left, and others began to follow. In the dead silence, everyone left the Colosseum. That was the last battle to the death between gladiators in the Roman Colosseum. Never again did men kill each other for the entertainment of the crowd.

“One tiny voice that could hardly be heard above the tumult. ‘In the name of Christ, stop.”’ It is something we could be saying to each other throughout the world today.”

Telemachus did not say, “In the name of decency, stop.” Neither did he say, “In my opinion you should stop,” or “If you don’t stop you’ll burn in hell.” He didn’t even say, “I’m the founder of Monks for Morality, you need to stop.” He simply said, “In the name of Christ, stop.” A very ordinary man, he spoke with authority. That he was willing to surrender his life to deliver the message showed that he was delivering a message of love, not judgment. God, not Telemachus, deserves the credit for ending gladiator contests. God’s Holy Spirit touched the heart of each person who silently left the Colosseum. It was God who touched the heart of Emperor Honorius who then banned gladiator fights. Telemachus just played his role in a scene God wrote.

Pause.

What will it take to stop such hate?

Paul says in v13, “But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

Pause.

We need to know this today: I can make a difference.

In a world divided and filled with hatred of each other the Church can make a difference.

How?

It needs to follow the lead.

The Church needs to get on to the Cross and in to the Colosseums.

I am created to do good works

Over the weekend I watched the film, ‘A Beautiful Day in the Neighbourhood.’ I recommend that you watch it also. It is the story of Fred Rogers which if you are an American is a name you probably have followed since you were a child. Most famous for being the host of ‘Mister Rogers’ Neighbourhood’ which ran in the U.S. from 1968-2001. He died in 2003 aged 74yrs. A musician, puppeteer, writer, producer and Presbyterian minister but known for being the most empathetic individual who changed people’s lives for the good.

The film centres around a journalist named Lloyd Vogel who was not a nice man but was sent to interview Fred Rogers. Vogel’s view of the task was to demean it straight away. He was a judgmental, selfish and angry man prior to meeting Rogers but the film shows how he changes, simply because he meets a good man who did good works.

In one scene on the set of the programme, Rogers is kneeling before a troubled young boy with an oxygen tube attached to his nose, wildly swinging a toy sword as his parents look on in distress. Rogers kneels down looks him directly in the eye and gently, patiently, calms him with soothing words, and ultimately, the sword put aside, hugs him.

Watching Rogers interact with others and seeing how he meets people without judging them, Vogel is moved and begins to feel healed.

The world today sorely needs more of Rogers’ kind-hearted decency. Our world wakes in anger, in pain and fear. It needs disciples of Jesus who know they are “God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10).

We have not been put here to simply struggle, to be overwhelmed by life’s predicaments.

God has a purpose for your life and it is to do good works.

The ultimate is not just faith in Jesus, following Him and going to heaven.

It is also to do good to those here on earth.

Imagine for a moment if every disciple of Jesus woke today with one thought only and that is to do good. To alleviate someone’s hurt, to listen to someone, to kneel before a sword-wielding child with the soothing words to heal that troubled soul. Can you imagine if the Church during lockdown had an epiphany and came back to their buildings as a body more like the character of Fred Rogers?

The immature enter ‘their’ church and are more interested in ‘serve us’ than ‘service’. After a while they begin to say ‘it’s not working for me here.’ NO. The church was never meant to work for you.

The mature follower of Jesus stops asking ‘who’s going to meet my needs?’ and starts asking, ‘whose needs can I meet?’

You don’t need a title or a trophy to do a good work. You don’t need training to be nice to someone, to help them smile and to make life a little easier. You just have to think less of yourself.

You may be in a prison today but don’t allow it to dictate how you spend your life. Wherever you are you can do good to others and that is the calling on your life. Many years ago I buried a man who thought he would be healed because ‘God has something for me to do, I don’t know what it is yet Pastor but I know He will tell me.’ I buried him with regret that this man had not seen the importance of good works.

Let me finish poignantly by telling of a scene of Fred Roger’s show that was aired in May 1969. It was a year after the murder of Martin Luther King Jr. It was a time of shameful racism when swimming pools were still segregated between white and black people. The scene has Fred Rogers soaking his feet in a child’s inflatable pool of water and then invites a black police officer to join him. Not only that but after they had soaked their feet they shared the same towel. Their casual intimacy exposed the bigotry of their society. A good work embarrasses the darkness.

In 1993, Rogers and the man who played the police officer, Francois Clemmons re-created that scene they had acted 24 years previously. But by this time the world had come to know of a secret that was not known in the first scene, that Clemmons was gay. The scene was also slightly different in that they not only shared a towel but Rogers took the towel and dried the feet of Clemmons himself. Seeing the imagery of Jesus washing his disciple’s feet, he was moved by the scene and later said, “I am a black gay man and Fred washed my feet.”

In 2018, on being interviewed by a journalist, Clemmons said, “I carried the hope inside of me that, one day, the world would change. And I do feel that the world still has not totally changed, but it is changing. We’re getting there.”

It is true but we need to get there more quickly. All over the world we need the disciples of Jesus to do good works. We ourselves will face discrimination because of our faith. I recall the time I was in Pakistan being told the story of a great persecution on a Christian family because of a child in a school who drank water from the same cup of a Muslim girl, in a society where Christian schoolchildren still have to use sub-standard toilets than Muslims. In some sense there is an expectation of persecution for the faith. However, what is not expected and what must definitely stop is the hateful tribalism, the insidious superiority and the systemic racism that is seen across the globe to people who are different in some way than the other.

How can we stop this?

We can start today by doing good works to all people.

I Am A Poem

Paul is in prison but God is at work.

Wherever you are and whatever is happening, God is at work in you, right now.

God isn’t at work producing the circumstances you want; God is at work in bad circumstances producing the YOU He wants.

Let’s read what he says:

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” Ephesians 2:8-10

We get the word poem from the word Paul used, ‘workmanship’. It means ‘that which is made’.

So we know a poem is, ‘a piece of writing in which the expression of feelings and ideas is given intensity by particular attention to diction (sometimes involving rhyme), rhythm, and imagery.’ Think about how you are His poem …

God makes us and He uses us. He uses us and makes us.

Moses is remembered for the 40 amazing years of leading God’s people through the wilderness. But before that he spent 40 years as an unknown shepherd.

Joseph became 2nd to Pharaoh but before that he suffered for 13 years.

David became the most famous King of Israel but before he that he was in exile.

Paul in prison, the apostle with the greatest revelations has already known 3 years in the Arabian Desert. He is not attributing the prison to a work of the evil one. Disciples know that God is the active working agent in their life and there is no other, no schemes of man nor plans of Satan that can thwart the beautiful poem which God is producing in you!

An intriguing painting was once displayed at the Louvre art museum in France called “Checkmate”, painted by Friedrich Moritz August Retzsch. It is now said to be in private hands after being sold at Christie’s in 1999. This painting depicts 2 chess players, one is Satan whom appears arrogantly confident, and the other player is a man who looks forlorn. If Satan wins, he gets the man’s soul. According to legend, a chess champion visited the museum once and after studying the painting, noticed that the arrangement of the chess pieces were incorrect. According to him, the devil who thought he was winning, was in fact not winning. The man, who thought he was losing, was winning, because according to the pieces left on the chessboard, his king had one more move left, which would make him the winner of the game! He called the curator and they determined that the title didn’t fit the scene because the forlorn-looking player actually has the ability to defeat his opponent, though he obviously doesn’t realise it. The painting is a lie. His king can still make another move!

Disciples know that their King always has one more move.

The widow of a man from the Elisha school of prophets has lost everything and the creditors are not satisfied. They took everything apart from one small bottle of oil and now want the sons as slaves. Its checkmate. But the KING has one more move.

Thousands of people have walked miles and miles from home just following the Jesus’ team. They are now in danger of suffering through hunger. No one has enough money. There is only 5 loaves and 2 fish. But the KING has one more move.

On some people today checkmate has been declared. The person who wrote that is a thief, liar and a killer. But the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords has one more move.

There is still a move the King can make. It’s not over.

Pain is not bigger than purpose. The enemy’s best plot is not bigger than God’s purpose for your life.

He is the active agent in your life; He will never lie to you; He will never confuse you; He will never leave you; He will not renegade on His promise to you; He will not take back His gifts; He will never be defeated; He will never be too big for your problems; He will never be too small for your problem; He will never cancel your calling; He will never be overcome; He will never be too late; He is working in you. You are His poem!

You will never get to heaven and be met with an apology, ‘I tried my best.’ You are His work. His poem

We are God’s poem, His writing in our lives, His feelings and ideas with rhyme, rhythm and imagery! Isn’t that beautiful?!

I am of the Undeserving (part 4)

The final part of a simple thought that we are so undeservingly blessed because of who God is and what He has done for us through Jesus Christ.

Paul is writing from prison.

Under pressure. Opposed. Questioned. Yet overflowing with the riches of God.

We have undeservedly received the abundant benefits of God in our lives. Today we close the list that Paul spoke of in these verses.

“Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. 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. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Ephesians 2: 3-7

Incomparable riches of His grace.  It means to excel, go beyond the mark and to surpass. With what? It is with Grace meaning loving-kindness and favour. An abundance of grace releasing the potential in the person. But there’s more …
Grace covers identity: Grace exposes the dark side of our lives, it is for Judas and Peter to say “yes I did that” but one of them could not accept that they had done such a thing and made things worse; the other accepted it and found their identity in grace. To live by grace means you are not denying or trying to forget the dark side of your life, but by allowing grace to expose it you find who you really are.

Grace opposes self-pity: Not that we end up depressed and whipping ourselves in a frenzy of guilt and shame over our sinful lives. Self-pity will never motivate you. Self-pity will not move you to grace any more than the victories, visions, successes and miracles will. Self-pity will keep you locked in failure, away from your home. Grace calls you to keep coming back to Jesus, let Jesus bind up the wounds, don’t let your self do it.

Grace is honesty: An honesty that says we keep breaking the rules. An honesty that says “I am cautious to say God told me … Because I could be wrong.” An honesty that displays character and silences the tongue. An honesty that says I may never be the person I want or should be but God loves me now as I am.

And finally in these few verses:

Kindness in Christ.

This is goodness. It is kindness that is fit for use.

God is an upside down God. He is not where you may think He may be. He hangs around communities you would not want to go near. His kindness is amazing but it also offensive. It is not fair. There seems to be no justice.

It throws parties for sons who have wasted the inheritance.

It promises assurance to dying thieves who ask to be remembered in the next life.

It is found in defeat not victory.

It refuses to break the bruised reed that everyone wants to break or snuff out the smouldering wick that everyone sees as useless.

You may be hurting, beating yourself up, troubled in your heart, held in the addiction to sin, feel this is for anyone but you, but the call remains, ‘receive my kindness.’