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Daily bible reflection

As you drive or walk past those who are working (remembering advised Social Distancing if on foot) why not pray for them as they go past. Lift them in a silent prayer to God, He knows them and their situation. Those doing postal deliveries, refuse teams and utility workers, to name a few who keep our neighbourhoods working.

We have a growing prayer team here at Christ Church, if you would like prayer, please add it to the comments box. If it is for others please do not include personal details that could identify them to others.

This was titled as a prayer blog but really it is a daily bible reflection based on the New Testament readings for morning prayer. Where the readings may be changed, for a feast day, for example, the bible thread will be maintained for continuity. I do hope that out of these reflections you will find themes for prayer and your own reflection and study.

25/02 – John 6:1-15 is the feeding of the five thousand, a story we probably know well. There is one thing that stands out in a re-reading of the text and that is the comment of Philip: “It would take more than half a year’s wages to buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” That is just a bite, not a meal! We know what happened: Andrew found the boy with five ‘small’ barley loaves and two ‘small’ fishes and Jesus fed everyone with that. Could it just be that we assume we need to plan big for God’s purpose to be made real? So often renewal of churches happens without funding, it’s simply by God’s people in that place putting in the work for the kingdom’s growth, and that really reveals the power of God at work. If Jesus had sent Philip and a few others to do a quick fund raiser, and then buy the provisions, would that have revealed God’s awesome power? We are God’s people, working for God’s kingdom, to reveal the glory of the risen Christ in the midst of our community. If that is on our hearts, in our prayers, and on our lips there is no reason why we will not stand together and marvel at the work God has achieved through us. Our prayer must be that, through the Holy Spirit, we may be empowered to achieve the goal before us with whatever resources we are given.

24/02 – In the first verse of this passage from John 5:30-end, Jesus says: “I seek not to please myself but him who sent me”. That should sum up our motivation as well, never to do something just to please ourselves as we serve our God. Possibly in pleasing God we should put our ourselves in second place to those we serve. Jesus is talking in this closing part of the chapter about ‘bearing witness’ about the testimony that there is to Him. Again He is blunt to the leaders who plot against Him. He tells them that the scriptures they study so diligently testify about Him, but they refuse to see it. He tells them that He knows that they do not have the love of God in their hearts; they stand accused by the scriptures they study, the teachings of Moses, on which they base their laws. Hard stuff for them to take, it leaves them no room to manoeuvre. In order to save face they have to continue in their plot against Jesus or lose all credibility. Is it possible that in the objections and dismissal by people of the Christian faith, the rejection of Jesus, we see the same positioning? If people are so entrenched in their views no reasoning can change them, and the more public their rejection, the more they have to lose by admitting they could be wrong. All we can do is pray that the power of the Holy Spirit will soften their hearts and open their eyes. That they will lay aside their arrogance, hostility, and fears; the darkness that holds them, and move into the light of Christ. We can be the irritation that leads them to think again, but it is not all down to us.

23/02 – What Jesus says in this passage from John 5:19-29 is incendiary material to the ears of the Jewish leaders. Jesus is reinforcing His equality with God in that what He does is at God’s, the Father’s, instruction. Also that ‘The Father’ has delegated authority to Him as God’s Son: “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son”. With the desire to kill Jesus on their hearts, quite what they would have made of the statement that “whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father” is possibly not that difficult to guess. The rest of the passage rubs it in even more, and as the reading continues those leaders find themselves more explicitly condemned . To us, this revelation should be nothing new; it is the basis of our faith and our hope in Jesus. Step back a moment and receive this revelation about Jesus, from Jesus, as new. It is challenging and perhaps startling in its directness. A door has been opened to a new reality. Jesus says “do not be amazed at this”, but how can we not be? As the hymn says: ‘I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean’. But we know that ‘whoever hears His word and believes Him, who sent Jesus, has eternal life’. God, our Father, calls us to repentance, through the death of Jesus, into an eternal relationship with Him through the resurrection. What an amazing message to offer people, what a gift to share. Let us pray for people to be willing to receive it with open hearts and minds. We are the messengers of hope.

22/02 – John 5:1-18 features the events around the healing of the man who had been an invalid for thirty-eight years and was waiting at the pool called Bethesda. When the waters in the pool were stirred up the first person in would be healed. The man had no-one to assist him into the pool. Jesus simply chose to heal him, none of the rest waiting, he commanded him to ‘pick up your mat and walk’. The repercussions are the real feature of this passage. The first minor issue is that the Jewish leaders told the man it was the sabbath and that carrying his mat was work, which he was not allowed to do. At this stage the man was unable to identify who had healed him. However, Jesus sees him again and says “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.” Now the man knows who healed him, he somewhat misses the point of what Jesus says, and identifies Jesus to the Jewish leaders. The leaders now go for Jesus, who, when confronted by them about healing on the Sabbath says: “My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” Very provocative! By saying ‘My Father’ Jesus placed himself on an equal footing with God. We read that “for this reason they tried all the more to kill him”. Quite a few things are happening in this passage, but it does seem as though Jesus is deliberately antagonising the Jewish leaders. There is a definite gear change at this point in John’s gospel; Jesus is identifying who He is (more of that in the next section of the chapter). One could say that Jesus is making a public show of breaking cover as to who He is. Are we secure enough to ‘break cover’ as Christians, as followers of Jesus? There is a risk; Jesus shows us that, but to do His work people need to know who we stand for and that we are prepared to be known for that. Let us pray for the strength to stand with Christ in His service.

20/02 – John 4:43-end is again about someone different, unlike Jesus and His disciples: an official, probably in the service of Herod Antipas, considered a King but was in fact a Tetrarch (a governor of one of four areas appointed by Rome). This account starts with the comment that Jesus said “that a prophet has no honour in his own country”, which is why He comes across in a way that seems almost impatient: “Unless you people see signs and wonders . . . . . you will never believe.” Into this comes the royal official whose son lay sick back in Capernaum, some two days away on foot. Jesus responds almost bluntly: ‘go your son will live’. The official took Him at his word and his son was healed. When he was told of his son’s recovery “the father realised that this was the exact time at which Jesus had said to him, “Your son will live.” So he and his whole household believed”. So, what do we make of Jesus’ comment, “Unless you people see signs and wonders, . . . . . you will never believe”? Was he addressing those in Cana, Galilee, where he would find no honour? The royal official was not from those parts and we assume had no connection, so is Jesus using him as an example to the locals as to what can happen if they would only recognise His authority? (Interestingly, in Luke 8:3 Joanna is listed as among the women who supported Jesus; her husband was Chuza, who managed Herod’s household, maybe the same man?) Perhaps Jesus is making a point to his disciples, as he did using the Samaritan woman, that belief in what He said would make a difference. They needed to open their eyes. In the same way, could this be a challenge to us? Is there a danger that we lose the edge of excitement in what Jesus can do, in what can be done in the power of the Holy Spirit? Should we not be praying for that new awakening in our journey with Jesus, where we start to see things happening and people being drawn to Christ Jesus?

19/02 – John 4:27-42 is the second part of Jesus’ encounter with the Samaritan woman. After her conversation with Jesus she goes home and talks about what had happened. There is a short break in the narrative as the disciples return. Even though Jesus is breaking cultural norms His disciples do not question what they find happening. We are told that the woman tells those in the town about Jesus and offers them an invitation: “Come, see a man who told me everything I ever did. Could this be the Messiah?” Did they argue with her? Or give excuses for not taking her up on her invitation? No, they came out of the town and made their way toward Him. Jesus must see what is happening as He tells his disciples about the mission field and the ripe harvest. Is the Samaritan woman the one who reaps and draws a wage and harvests a crop for eternal life? Is Jesus thinking of her when He says “that the sower and the reaper may be glad together”? For we read that “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him because of the woman’s testimony”; but “they said to the woman, “We no longer believe just because of what you said; now we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this man really is the Saviour of the world.”” The woman led people to Jesus, but it was their encounter with Him that gave them their faith. So it is for us, we can only lead people; sometimes others have done the hard work and we benefit from their labours. We should not let that work go unfulfilled. We have an obligation – actually we are commanded – to go and gather in the harvest. Even though Jesus is talking to His disciples about the ripe harvest and telling them to reap, it is a woman, a Samaritan, who is the example of how it may be done. Let us get strength from that, the simplicity of her approach, simply telling them about Jesus, and inviting them to ‘come and look’. We can all do that!

18/02 – John 4:1-26 is the encounter of Jesus with the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It is such a familiar account and it puts attitudes of prejudice in full frame. This account has so much depth to it that it is almost impossible to draw out just one thing. In asking the Samaritan woman to draw Him a drink from the well, Jesus is breaking through quite a few taboos in the culture of the time, but that is something we should expect from Him. Jesus is freely offering the ‘water of life’ to this woman, even though he knew her background. She, in turn, was happy to accept who He was and to believe what he said and promised. After reading this passage it is hard to understand why some people aren’t challenged as to how they view other people who are different, especially if they are Christians. Perhaps there is a lesson here: when there are differences, take the time to sit and draw water, take time to share in a simple act of fellowship and listen to each other. But that also applies to knowing our neighbour, whoever they may be. In these Covid times there has been an outbreak of neighbourliness, or so it seems. As a Christian community we should make it our intention to keep that alive, to find ways to encourage people to sit and spend time, with each other and us. We are meant to reach out to others. Our prayer needs to be that we can, as a church, and as individuals in the church, enable that to happen. Let us create a ‘well’ of refreshment and listening, for our community.

17/02 – 1 Timothy 6:6-16 is the reading for Ash Wednesday. The words “for we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it” are reminiscent of Genesis 3:19: “remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return”, words used on Ash Wednesday when people receive the ashes of penitence on their foreheads. Paul is reminding Timothy that he should be content with what God provides and not to seek after distractions, such as wealth. We have those words, so often mis-quoted, “for the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil”, not that money is in itself evil. Paul says to Timothy that he is a man of God and should flee from the “many foolish and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction”, that he should “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith”. His charge to Timothy is to keep faithful to his confession of faith that he made “in the presence of many witnesses. In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus”. As God’s people, it is good for us to make a public confession of faith in front of others, perhaps that is where confirmation comes in, we publicly confirm our faith. Testimony given in public is harder to walk away from, and Paul is holding Timothy to that, to be an example, a witness and leader. That charge, “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness” applies to us all, all the time. May we, in this season of Lent make a commitment to confirm our faith. Perhaps we as a church, when we are able to join together again, should jointly affirm our faith together in our shared purpose to be servants of our Lord, and that we may live by the charge given by Paul to Timothy, and be conspicuous as people of ‘The Way’.

16/02 – In this passage, John 3:22-end, both Jesus and John (the Baptist) are baptising people; however, a Jew was trying to drive a wedge between them. He pointed out that everyone was going to Jesus to be baptised and that John was losing out. The Jew was playing to normal human emotions to create division, but John knew the truth as to who Jesus was, and was quite willing to hand over to Jesus: “He must become greater; I must become less.” He has no hesitation in pointing out the difference between him and Jesus: “the one who comes from above is above all; the one who is from the earth belongs to the earth, and speaks as one from the earth. The one who comes from heaven is above all”. John the Baptist is quite clear that Jesus ‘is above all’, and whoever accepts what Jesus says will know that God is truthful, but whoever rejects Him will not know life. There is real truth in what is written. In accepting Jesus we find out God’s truth and faithfulness. For Jesus reveals God’s truth, “for the one whom God has sent speaks the words of God, for God gives the Spirit without limit”. It’s interesting to note that ‘God gives the Spirit without limit’. To hear the truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done is an endless gift of God through the Holy Spirit, poured out upon generations, past, present and future. And we are part of that future, not in competition with others but simply to do God’s will and establish Him as Lord of all. We are called to work together and recognise the gifts we are given and be prepared in our service to Him to let what we think our strengths are and let God reveal His gifts in us. Lord may we answer your call to work together to build Your kingdom as a people bound together in Your love.

15/02 – The readings now move to the start of John’s gospel, to John 3:1-21. The encounter Nicodemus had with Jesus at night so that, as a Pharisee and a member of the Jewish ruling council,  he would not  be seen. All that Jesus was talking about must have been challenging to Nicodemus, who clearly had an open mind and was prepared to listen. In his confusion he came to Jesus, only to be confused even more! What was he meant to make of Jesus saying: “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’” There used to be a question people would ask which was ‘Are you born again?’ as a Christian. It referred directly to this passage, but it was inviting a recognition of a spiritual encounter or awakening in people’s faith journeys. The reality is that it does not always happen like that; God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are gentle, and we are not always aware when the ‘Spirit of God’ is moving on us, but if we have a faith, it is through the opening of our eyes through the grace of God and work of the Holy Spirit. Some long for a spiritual encounter, to see Jesus even but never have that witness; however, they are strong in their faith. As Jesus said to Thomas in 19:29, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Perhaps it is of little interest to God how we find our faith, it is what we do with it. It is how we deepen our relationship with God, in the Trinity, that really matters. Nicodemus was there with Jesus at the end (19:39-42); his journey must have been difficult as a senior Pharisee but it seems he recognised who Jesus was. That is all we can ask of people. If we can stir their questioning, by being with them (known as incarnational ministry) and help open their eyes that is the start, God will do the rest. Let that be our prayer, that we are part of that process, and that we will see the ‘Spirit’ awaken people to find Christ Jesus.

13/02 – John 20:19-end seems to be focused on Jesus’ first appearance to His disciples and the story of doubting Thomas. But alone in all the accounts of Jesus’ resurrection John writes about something unique. We always look to the story of Pentecost, the upper room experience, of the coming of the Holy Spirit, as given in Luke’s account in the book of Acts. But in this account by John we have Jesus breathing on them and saying, “Receive the Holy Spirit”. However, it is for an express purpose: “if you forgive anyone’s sins, their sins are forgiven; if you do not forgive them, they are not forgiven.” It is perhaps tied to the comment made by Jesus before in v21: “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you”. The theology of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross and the power of His resurrection had not been worked out, but Jesus is clearly sending His disciples out in His name, ‘as the Father has sent me’ to reveal the forgiveness of sins that Jesus had released upon all humanity. By going out in Jesus’ name they reveal the forgiveness of sins, but they act as agents of Jesus through the power of the Holy Spirit. They were to lead people to Jesus, to a new relationship with God the Father, one where, if anyone asked, God would forgive them. That first breathing of the Holy Spirit is one we receive. Forget all the writing about gifts of the Holy Spirit for a moment, let’s go straight to the start. We are tasked by Jesus, through the gifting of the Holy Spirit to bring people into a new relationship with God through Jesus. It was His first instruction – “I am sending you” – to lead people to an understanding of God’s love by sharing the Good News.

12/02 – John 20:11-18 can easily strike home as being harsh. We have a distraught Mary Magdalene at the tomb and in her pain and grief she discovers two people in the tomb where Jesus had been. What kind of question is “Woman, why are you crying?” This is a tomb, there are burial clothes still on the stone catafalque, and Mary is asked why she is crying. Her reply seems almost casual: ‘“They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.”’ Then Jesus seems to creep up on her and asks again “Woman, why are you crying?” But adds “Who is it you are looking for?” A logical thought for Mary: this must be the person who looks after the place, so she again asks where Jesus has been taken and whether he had taken Jesus away. It is when Jesus says her name and the familiarity of His voice strikes home that He is revealed to her. What is the greeting she receives? “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’” Really, did that make any sense to her? The narrative almost seems to make light of this encounter, yet it has real depth. What are we to make of it? Firstly, Mary already knew that the body of Jesus was gone; that is what she had told John and Peter, so she must have followed them back to the tomb. So perhaps she was not surprised and was able to ask the question on her heart. She had already had the shock the first time; now it was about processing what had happened and understanding it. That process must be going through the thoughts of so many who have lost loved ones in this pandemic. The body of the person they loved has been taken away and perhaps the world seems insensitive to their loss, when so many are struggling in different ways. Jesus is now ascended. He is with His God and our God, and reigns sovereign. We can hold onto Him because of the hope given to us through His resurrection. Let us continue to hold those who are in grief, trying to make sense of it all. Let us pray that the outstretched arms of Jesus will find them and they will find His comfort and peace and hear His voice.

11/02 – Like John, I seem to have run ahead! Yesterday was the reading for today, so I’ll let the lectionary catch up. It’s interesting that John ran ahead of Peter; it probably wasn’t supposed to prove anything, only to show how keen he was to see if what Mary Magdalene had said was true. John stopped and looked into the tomb; however, Peter came up and, as impetuous as ever, went straight in to check it all out. That reveals something of their characters, but how would we have behaved? Would we have been too sceptical of Mary to want to investigate? How much effort would we have wanted to expend in finding out? Would we have gone straight in or have waited at the entrance? If we think of our faith journey, do any of those questions resonate? John, we have to remember, was a disciple of John the Baptist and became a follower of Jesus. Peter was a fisherman called by Jesus to a completely new way of life. Their journey with Jesus started in different ways. John, in a way, already had the head start, but Peter quickly became the main disciple. He went in where the others, to an extent anyway, feared to tread. Again, does any of that fit with our own journeys to faith? As we approach the season of Lent it is always good to reflect on our own faith journey and to let this period of preparation for Easter slow us down a bit, to re-evaluate. Having done that, we must move forward again, with a refreshed desire to grow closer to our Lord and Saviour. Let us pray that this Easter we can again meet together (inside or outside) to celebrate a new morning, a new day – in anticipation of the awakening dawn.

10/02 – John 20:1-10 is the set reading for today. We follow this chapter till the start of next week when we go to the beginning of the gospel at Chapter 3, which is followed through to Holy Week. What we have now is the events following the crucifixion and burial of Jesus. The discovery of the empty tomb by Mary Magdalene and after her recounting what had happened, the race between John and Peter to the tomb to see for themselves. Sure enough, the body of Jesus had gone and only his grave clothes remained, the only material witness to the traumatic events of the preceding three days. We know that it is not the end of the story but, in many ways, just the beginning. It took a while for Peter, John and the rest of the disciples to understand that Scripture had told them that Jesus had to rise from the dead. There was, then and now, a purposeful inevitability to the death of Jesus, one that frees us and gives us a chance for a greater meaning to our lives, just as it impacted upon John and Peter and all those directly involved; though many disappear from the narrative as new people come to the fore. It is interesting that John ‘saw and believed’ even though he didn’t really understand, and hadn’t thought through the full implications of those events. Many of us can find our faith, become ‘believers’, but we need to research our faith and build it on solid ground, not shifting sand. John saw it all unfold before him, he was part of the story, but we need to read and study, question and find answers, listen to the right voices to inform and build us. Many during this time have taken the opportunity to study in different ways. Let us pray that as a church we can all be confirmed, strengthened and established in the way of truth, through Christ our Lord, in these times.

09/02 – In 1 Corinthians 16 Paul seems to sum up his letter in verse 13, as he writes “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love”. Throughout this letter he was calling the church to be on their guard against all the things that threatened to derail their faith and those who were faithful he called to stand firm. They had to be courageous and strong in their walk with Christ Jesus, something he himself witnessed to, as he wrote about hoping to stay in Ephesus , as a great door of opportunity had opened, even though many opposed him. Paul lived what he preached. Finally that instruction to “Do everything in love”, be it collecting money for the church in Jerusalem, watching out for Timothy, forgiving the hesitancy of Apollos and submitting themselves to those who join them in the work of the Lord. Paul called them to recognise the contribution of Stephanas, Fortunatus and Achaicus. Paul makes a revealing comment about them and the church in Corinth, by writing “because they have supplied what was lacking from you. For they refreshed my spirit and yours also”. Finally, after all he had written about the conduct and behaviour of women in the Corinthian church, Paul conveys the warm greeting of Aquila and Priscilla along with the church that met in their house. Paul seems to be tying up a number of loose ends in his farewell. However, those words from verse 13 should be held up in churches as a model for effective Christian living and ministry: “Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” Paul uses those words to wrap up a lot of issues and models of conduct. Let us dwell on them and infuse them into our thinking as we walk forward in our Christian walk together.

08/02 – I Corinthians 15:35-end: Paul unpacks his understanding of what the resurrection means for us as Christians. Clearly, he stands at odds to much of the popular thinking about life after death today. People hope for some kind of continued life, that we will meet again and perhaps relationships will carry on as they were in our human, earthly, reality. Paul’s quote from Hosea, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” is taken by some to suggest a continued life after death, almost that God lets us carry on as we were before. But Paul is quite clear as to his understanding of life after death. “I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed.” Paul writes about the transformation of seed, into a body created by God: “God gives it a body as he has determined”, a “body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable” . . . . “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” . . . . “We will be changed.” It is through our life spent acknowledging Christ as our Lord and Saviour, and in serving Him that : “just as we have borne the image of the earthly man, so shall we bear the image of the heavenly man”. “Death has been swallowed up in victory” because of our faith and commitment to God in Christ Jesus. In truth, what does it matter how we envisage ourselves in our resurrection in Christ Jesus? Just to imagine that we stand in His awesome glory, we feast at His banquet, and that will be in the company of the saints, should be all we desire. As we surrender our human lives to Him, let us do the same for our eternal lives, and ‘let nothing move you, as you give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord’.

06/02 – In 1 Corinthians 15:12-34 Paul is questioning the reasoning of the resurrection, firstly by questioning if the resurrection of Christ happened, then playing out the logical argument as to the validity of the Christian faith when looked at from that viewpoint. There are people who do not believe in the resurrection of Christ and Paul is saying to them “if Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins.” Our faith has to take us beyond our human logic into the realm of God’s sovereign power. Our faith is more than just following the humanity of Christ as a governing moral way for our lives. If that is all there is to our faith then “we are of all people most to be pitied”. From this low point Paul lifts us up by stating “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead”. This is after he asserted in vv5-8 the order of His appearances to the apostles. Paul reframes his arguments now on the basis of the resurrection, a new revelation of hope; a hope that is eternal is scribed into the biblical narrative, one that shines a light on the eternal nature of our faith in Christ Jesus. Paul is quite clear: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits; then, when he comes, those who belong to him.” Paul, having established the bedrock of our faith, the faith the Corinthians church was ‘prepared to endanger themselves for every hour”, then delivers a clear message to those that disrupt the church: “’Bad company corrupts good character,’ Come back to your senses as you ought, and stop sinning; for there are some who are ignorant of God — I say this to your shame”. Paul is ceaseless in his desire to bring back those who are lost and do not understand how Jesus calls them to live. Let us pray for all those who hold themselves up as Christians but do not live as they should, those who bring discredit to the body of Christ. May they rediscover their faith and turn again to Jesus. God does not want to lose anyone.

05/02 – Because the Church starts looking forward to the season of Lent next week the lectionary drops chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians and goes to the last chapter. However, chapter 15 is all about resurrection and is well worth a look, so I am going to part company with the morning lectionary readings and continue to cover the full first letter to the Corinthian church. We will break Chapter 15 into three parts 1-11, 12-34 and 35 to the end. The importance of vv1-11 is obvious; Paul is establishing the basics of the Christian message: “that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures”. If they don’t understand that then they “have believed in vain”. Paul reduces his importance compared to the other apostles: “for I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve to be called an apostle”. Paul asserts that this truth is common to all the apostles: “Whether, then, it is I or they, this is what we preach, and this is what you believed.” It is so important for them to understand what they believe, and Paul is asserting, that Jesus ‘appeared to him also, as to one abnormally born’. It draws them into the same relationship; they have the same access to Jesus, a belief on ‘which they (the Corinthian church) have taken their stand’. We have to understand what the resurrection means for us, especially as we approach Easter and celebrate Easter day. A doorway opens for all who believe in the fullness of who Jesus was and is – not just some man who was a wise teacher and performed miracles – that is the least of it. Jesus has given us an eternal hope, and eternal relationship, starting now, a realised eschatology. That should drive our worship and praise, drive our desire to share the faith we have so that the fullness of Christ Jesus is known to a waiting world.

04/02 – 1 Corinthians 14:20-end seems to contain contradictions, but there is a need to understand the quote from ‘the Law’ that Paul uses. It is from Isaiah 28:11-12, but the references around it are on vv9-10. The Israelites had heard a simple, straightforward message from Isaiah but disregarded it because of its simplicity: ““Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast?” As they do not listen, God used the language and actions of the Assyrians: “Through the lips of foreigners I will speak to this people”. Paul then challenges the views on the use of tongues, seemingly contradicting himself, but is in fact making a point. From verse 26 onwards he is making another point about orderly conduct in a place of worship: “for God is not a God of disorder but of peace — as in all the congregations of the Lord’s people”. Next Paul turns to the conduct of women; again he seems to contradict himself if we look at 11:2-16. Verses 34-35 need to be read with verse v36 in mind: “Or did the word of God originate with you? Or are you the only people it has reached?” The word ‘only’ is a masculine plural, ‘are you (men) the only people’. It seems like a rebuke of the views expressed in the previous passage. In vv34-35 was Paul actually quoting suggestions made by people who objected to the role of women in the church? For Paul counters those verses by writing “if anyone thinks they are a prophet or otherwise gifted by the Spirit, let them acknowledge that what I am writing to you is the Lord’s command”. The keyword is ‘anyone’, “therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy”, but keep it orderly! We are all called to use our gifts in worship of our God. We are all called to respect each other, and even to be silent when speaking to let others speak. Paul is calling the church to respect each other and act in a way that will make outsiders say “God is really among you!” As we encourage new people to join us, let us pray that they see God among us.

03/02 – 1 Corinthians 14:1-19 seems to be about the use of tongues, either for speaking to God or for prophecy. But look deeper into the text, look for the underlying context of a church that has not worked in unity, where people have sought self importance; and read into this section a message about conduct and unity. The most repeated word in this passage is ‘speaks’. What is the manner in which the Corinthian church communicates in worship? Clearly Paul suggests it is not through speaking in tongues, “for anyone who speaks in a tongue does not speak to people but to God”. Paul is seeking a way forward that builds the whole church and does not leave some out or give people a sense of superiority. Paul contrasts speaking in tongues with prophecy when he writes, “anyone who speaks in a tongue edifies themselves, but the one who prophesies edifies the church”. However, prophecy must be made intelligible to be of use to the church: “unless you speak intelligible words with your tongue, how will anyone know what you are saying?” Paul continues by writing “since you are eager for gifts of the Spirit, try to excel in those that build up the church”. He concludes in verse 18 by saying “I thank God that I speak in tongues more than all of you. But in the church I would rather speak five intelligible words to instruct others than ten thousand words in a tongue”. Clearly not everyone in the Corinthian church spoke or prayed using a spiritual ‘tongue’; it did not make anyone a lesser follower of Christ. There are, after all, different gifts, but love unites them all. It’s not how much people say. It is the quality and meaning of what they say, and it needs to do three things: edify God, edify His people (the church) and build unity. Let us pray that as we join together in worship, whether using Zoom or later in the church building, we uphold those three principles.

02/02 – 1 Corinthians 13 needs to be read in the context of all that has gone before. It doesn’t matter what gifts, whether it be speaking in tongues or the gift of prophecy, there is a far greater gift that holds all in context. A church in Corinth that had plenty of envy, people who were proud and boastful, dishonoured others and were self-seeking. People who ‘did not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God but considered them foolishness’ (2:14). Their behaviour had discredited the church and those who established and taught in the church: “we have been made a spectacle to the whole universe, to angels as well as to human beings” (4:8-13). But Paul started with “yet I will show you the most excellent way”, the way of love. It is now time for the Corinthian church to grow up. As Paul writes about himself, “when I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me”. At the start of chapter 3 Paul wrote that they were still infants, “I gave you milk, not solid food, for you were not yet ready for it. Indeed, you are still not ready”. Now something has happened; something has changed, the church is ready to hear the character of Jesus as revealed by verses 4-7 and to live that standard out. The Corinthian church has been shown wanting in love. Now it is called to return, as Paul closes this famous section with the words: “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.” It shows that there is always hope; Paul believes the church in Corinth can turn around, that they have a renewed faith in Christ and now they understand the love that Christ has for them. The words about love aren’t an abstract idea; they sum up what we are to become in Christ Jesus and to faithfully model to the world. A high ideal that sadly churches and Christians around the world fall short of. Let us pray that we are able to walk closely with our God, in the power of the Holy Spirit, to witness to Jesus and to avoid the pitfalls our humanity puts in the way. We are not strong enough without Him in our lives.

01/02 – In 1 Corinthians 12:12-end, Paul’s emphasis is on gifts of the Spirit and the unity of the body of Christ. “There are many parts, but one body”. . . “you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it”. . . “there should be no division in the body, but … its parts should have equal concern for each other.” Towards the end Paul lists gifts that are available through the Holy Spirit to the body of Christ, but first he writes “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it”. This perhaps reflects back to the suffering caused by the way some in the Corinthian church had behaved. Now though he looks forward to a church that can rejoice as one fellowship again. The gifts that are to be given to the church are not all available just to a few, but to be distributed through the whole body of the church. As we draw to the start of the famous words of Chapter 13, Paul points forward to the end of that chapter with the words “now eagerly desire the greater gifts”. Later, in 16:13 Paul writes, “be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong. Do everything in love.” The church in Corinth is now on the threshold of a change, a transformation through the Holy Spirit, to take that fellowship in to the future, to face difficulties together and to win disciples for Christ Jesus. Paul, as a past persecutor of the church, knew only too well God’s forgiveness and now he was used by God as an evangelist and teacher, an apostle. If that happened for him why not the church in Corinth? These words on spiritual gifts and being part the body of Christ together apply to the Church today. It is for us to live it out and be distinctive to those around us. Let us make that our prayer.

30/01 – 1 Corinthians 12:1-11 is the introduction to teaching on the Holy Spirit. In verse 4 Paul writes “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them. There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work.” It follows with a list of the way the Holy Spirit works through people. He (the Holy Spirit) is a gift for the building of the kingdom and the means by which the work of God is done. Just as a drain pipe, however ornate, whatever colour, whatever age, is made to carry water, so we as Christians are created as a conduit for the Holy Spirit. But a drain pipe unconnected to gutters does not carry water, so we, if not connected to God, the Trinity, cannot function as God would have us do. Remember this is a divided and dis-functional church that Paul is writing to in Corinth, one that he writes that he has no praise for. Yet he holds before them the gifts and work of the Holy Spirit. He is affirming them as still being used by God, of still having a purpose. The truth is they may not have got their lives in order, they still have much work to do, but God is part of who they are and they now need to turn to being servants for Him. Paul leaves the chapters of correction and discipline behind and turns to teaching and team building. The church today needs the gifts of the Holy Spirit more than ever; so often churches are built on the strengths of the ordinary world, not on the spiritual strengths that are God-given. In the times ahead of us we need to be connected, willing and open to recognise, whoever we are, whatever stage of life we are at, that God longs to let His gifts flow through us to build His body, the Church, in this world, this country, this town and this church. Let us pray for a torrent of gifts to pour through these drainpipes!

29/01 – 1 Corinthians 11:17-end reveals further deep-seated issues within the Corinthian church. For Paul this means he cannot praise them for anything. Even their meetings are doing more harm than good; they completely misunderstand what it means to share in the Lord’s Supper. In the preceding chapter Paul, when writing about idolatry, had emphasised what it meant to participate in the blood and body of Christ, writing “because there is one loaf, we, who are many, are one body, for we all share the one loaf”. Now he challenges that they ‘are one body’. The differences between them are secondary to the fact that they do not share in the Last Supper together and that the act of coming together is subverted by members of the church holding their own private suppers, leaving some to go hungry. Paul asks “do you despise the church of God by humiliating those who have nothing?” “Whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord.” Of all the sins that are apparent in the Corinthian church perhaps this is the greatest betrayal of Christ Jesus, for they “eat and drink judgment on themselves”. If you’re hungry then eat before you meet, Paul suggests, then “my brothers and sisters, when you gather to eat, you should all eat together.” What a mess they were in! Let us pray that today there are no churches that have such an array of problems. Sadly, there are plenty of churches that do have problems and all Christians need to stand firm against divisions caused by self-interest, greed, control and manipulation, among the many sins that lead a fellowship to part company with Jesus. In coming together to share in the Body and Blood of Christ, Paul calls on all who gather to examine themselves, their motivation, so that, in taking part in the Last Supper, they do not bring judgement on themselves. However we view the wine and bread, we share in a powerful and potent symbol of unity, fellowship, forgiveness and love which is the beating heart of the Christian message.

28/01 – 1 Corinthians 11:2-16 is probably viewed by many as a contentious passage. Is Paul being misogynistic? As with the issues over food and sexual conduct, it is not wise to take what Paul writes as being a laying down of the law. However, we have to understand the background of this within Jewish tradition and teaching. Paul is bound to bring some of his tradition into his thinking, and whilst he was clearly against circumcision being imposed on gentiles, some aspects of teaching from the Torah are being integrated into Paul’s teaching, see also 1 Timothy 2:9. Again, remember the problems of sexual conduct in the Corinthian church. Paul’s statement that “I want you to realise that the head of every man is Christ”, has an incredible weight and responsibility placed upon men, if taken seriously. As for the whole issue of a woman covering her head/hair, this could be to reduce the temptation that reveals the weakness of men. Again, go back to the section on sexual immorality. In some ‘strict’ Christian groups, such as the Bruderhof (Anabaptist community) women cover their heads and wear full length dresses. To quote a woman from the Bruderhof community: “We want to avoid clothing that indicates status or wealth as well as anything provocative or sexualised, because Jesus commands us to be pure in heart, soul, and body. We try to represent that in our dress.” In the confused culture of today clothing is an expression of self and many argue that it should not be viewed in a sexualised way; yet advertising constantly exploits sexualised images of women and men to market and sell, even if the excesses of that are legislated against. Bible teaching gives plenty of ammunition to both opposing views of Christian egalitarians and complementarian thinkers, but at the end of the day, we as practicing Christians have to resolve the tensions in the way we live and reflect the integrity of our walk with Jesus. It comes down to respect for each other and an understanding of our uniqueness in Christ, perhaps reflecting Paul’s inclusive statement in Galatians 3:28.

27/01 – 1 Corinthians 10:14-11:1 is the closing section on food. Paul starts by reinforcing  the role of wine and bread as a sharing in the blood and body of Christ. Anything else is unworthy of a Christian; in fact,  how can a Christian possibly mix food that represents the blood and body of Christ with that sacrificed, offered, to ‘demons’? Well, it can’t be done: “You cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. Are we trying to arouse the Lord’s jealousy?” Paul then repeats phrases he used in chapter 6:12: “‘I have the right to do anything,’ you say — but not everything is beneficial. ‘I have the right to do anything’ – but I will not be mastered by anything”, this time though he changes the ending to read “but not everything is constructive. No one should seek their own good, but the good of others”. This takes him on to how we respond when confronted with the possibility of causing offence through our actions. He seems to be saying that if you are not aware there is a problem (in this case, with the food on offer) then we share in fellowship with others, whether or not believers. However if we are told there is an issue that we should be aware of (the food has been offered to idols) then for our sake and the sake of those around we should not share in it. There is a requirement to be seen to be standing for what we believe. So Paul is not eating the sacrificed food to benefit himself, for he writes “I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved”. There has to be a point in our faith and our commitment to Jesus, where we have to take a stand and, in doing that, people around take note; some may criticise but others may respect the stand and seek to find out more – to be saved. We all have to make that choice at points in our lives. Yes, we need to fit in, read again 9:19-23: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some”. That does not mean we do things that offend Christ Jesus and show ourselves to be weak in our faith. That will convince no one of the need for Jesus. Let us pray for each other that we can stand firm when called to do so and by doing that, others ‘may be saved’.

26/01 – In 1 Corinthians 10:1-13 Paul draws on the story of Exodus and the downfall of the Israelites when Moses was up the mountain with God. They turned to idols, and partied and fell away from God, even after all that God had done through Moses for them. Paul draws on the similarities of behaviour in the Corinthian church, ‘the people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry and sexual immorality, Exodus 32.’ The result death: “in one day twenty-three thousand of them died”. Then the warning “these things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!” Our temptations are common to mankind, Paul writes, but we have our Lord, who is faithful and will not let us be tempted beyond what we can bear. It is through the Holy Spirit that he provides us with a way out. Paul is calling on the Christians in Corinth to realise what they are doing, how far they have fallen and drifted away from Christ Jesus, despite the teaching they have received. They need to open their eyes and be saved. It is one of the features of a Christian’s life, to be reflective practitioners, before the Lord, to be honest with ourselves and stand firm and make sure we don’t fall. Ishmael (Rev Ian Smale) wrote a children’s song in the 80’s around that verse (12), it starts with ‘if you think you’re standing firm’ and speeds up each time adding a few more words, till it ends at speed with the whole verse – ‘be careful you don’t fall’. Falling can be all too easy, standing firm can feel like defying gravity. Through the amazing grace of Jesus even when we do fall, when we acknowledge it, his arms are outstretched in welcome. We all need the power of the Holy Spirit to defy the gravity that so easily pulls us down. Let us pray that the Holy Spirit opens our eyes and hearts to how we should live, so that we may be one in Christ: “You are light in the Lord. Live as children of light.” Ephesians 5:8

25/01 – 1 Corinthians 9:15-end is not the set reading for today as the church remembers the conversion of Paul with Philippians 3:1-14. In that, Paul writes that whatever gains he had he now counts as loss “because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” In the Corinthians reading Paul is affirming that Christ Jesus is his Lord, and also the reason he preaches the gospel, a gospel he is “compelled to preach”. And one he preaches for free, expecting no reward. In order to share the gospel with all, he becomes ‘all things to all people so that by all possible means he might save some’, (verses 19-23). From there on, for the rest of the chapter, he talks about running and boxing. Corinth was the site of the Isthmian Games, which attracted thousands of people to the city every other year. In the context of running it is about running to win, it’s about the strict training, and self denial. Something the Corinthian Christians were not doing, judging by all that was going wrong. But that training is in order to win an eternal crown. As for the boxing, in the ‘striking a blow to his body’ he brings his body under his authority, “to make it my slave”. There is a cost to self discipline and a need to focus, in Paul’s case, so that he can preach the gospel in all eventualities, just as he did. Our calling, our ministries have a cost, there is a price to be paid, sacrifices to be made. Not just in the preparation and training, but in its fulfilment, in attaining the purpose for which we are called. The purpose has to be to go and make disciples, the command Jesus gives us all. Let us pray for ourselves that we will be and are prepared, to ready ourselves and do the work for which we have been called.

23/01 – 1 Corinthians 9:1-14 is a text full of rhetorical questions, seventeen in all! And Paul, knowing the Corinthian church, would expect the answers to be positive and affirming. ‘Am I not free’ (in Christ)? Yes. ‘Am I not an apostle?’ Yes. ‘Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?’ Yes. ‘Are you not the result of my work in the Lord?’ Yes. It’s worth looking back to Chapter 7 verses 25-40, about marriage. It is interesting to note that now Paul is asking the question “don’t we have the right to take a believing wife along with us, as do the other apostles and the Lord’s brothers and Cephas?” This highlights the fact Paul is addressing a specific issue in Corinth in the preceding chapters, and not asserting a general policy. Paul is also addressing  the issue of support from the community of the church; does he not have a right to it? For “whoever plows and threshes should be able to do so in the hope of sharing in the harvest”. Paul quotes Deuteronomy 25:4, asking the question: is God more concerned about the ox or people? Perhaps he is placing himself in the role of the ox. Paul is sharing the gospel to feed the people; he’s on the threshing floor. As he does that, should he be muzzled by a lack of support? For the most part we think of Paul as a tent maker in a self-supporting itinerant ministry, but is that the case here? Or maybe Paul is looking to a future reward, one that is eschatological. For Paul is ‘compelled to preach’ the gospel, he is ‘simply discharging the trust committed to him;’ he is under God’s authority not his own. He is a slave to Christ, and as a slave does not have an automatic entitlement to a reward. In these difficult financial times for the church does this text have something to say about paid ministry? In many church traditions the congregation pays for the pastor/minister, and that is true in the Anglican Church, though this is funded through the Parish Share, paid to the diocese, then redistributed. At this time of reducing clergy numbers there is a need to pray for financial giving to support paid ministry. Perhaps we are being called back to the times of the early church and share in a collective responsibility to support those who are ‘compelled’ through their calling to live out and preach the gospel.

22/01 – 1 Corinthians 8 Paul turns his focus to food, – well that’s how it seems. As with the previous chapters, starting in chapter 5 where Paul tackled infidelity and sexual misconduct, Paul for the next three chapters touches on food and idolatry. Again, we need to remember this is written to a specific audience. If we look at Acts 10:9-15 and 15:20-29, along with Romans 14, all these references deal with food in very different ways. So Paul is leading the church in Corinth on a particular path that deals with their issues. Paul starts by hitting at those who are ‘puffed up’ because of the knowledge they have, but “do not yet know as they ought to know”. He makes two other statements: the first that “knowledge puffs up while love builds up”, and the second that “whoever loves God is known by God”.It seems that those who think they have knowledge are doing things that lead others astray. Paul writes “for if someone with a weak conscience sees you, with all your knowledge, eating in an idol’s temple, won’t that person be emboldened to eat what is sacrificed to idols?” What is the result? It is that “this weak brother or sister, for whom Christ died, is destroyed by your knowledge.” We need to be careful how we interpret the word ‘weak’; Paul is writing about those who have not fully grasped the teaching that is true, and look up to others who they view as having superior knowledge, – idol worship in itself. That is so true in many ways, especially now with the internet and the many voices that we can listen to. We cannot just accept what we hear as being right or true; we must test it and check it out. How does it fit with the Word of God? Does what they teach follow the direction of scripture, when looked at on the larger canvass? Let us pray for each other, that we may not be drawn away from what God has revealed in Jesus. Let us pray that each of us is known by God because we love Him.

21/01 – This section of 1 Corinthians 7:25-end is about Paul’s take on the advantages of celibacy in people’s relationships with God, and their ability to do His will. But on the flip side he writes about commitment of a woman to a man, and a man to a woman in marriage, and that being ‘concerned about the Lord’s affairs’ are secondary to the concerns and needs of the spouse. It appears Paul has a somewhat negative take on marriage for he writes; “those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this”. However remember he is writing to a church that has a real problem with sexual morality and infidelity, revealed by his comment – “because of the present crisis”. He is trying to correct a situation that has been revealed to us in the previous chapters and is therefore taking a hard line in his attempt to correct the behaviour of those who have perverted the gospel message. Sometimes desperate times call for desperate measures. So we should be very careful in assuming that what is written here is teaching to be applied to a ‘normal’ situation in a church, in relationships, where the difficulties facing this young church in Corinth do not exist. But Paul really does lay bare the truth that those who are married face, the commitment we must hold toward each other and our commitment to God. In the ebb and flow of relationships, both human and spiritual, it can often be a very present tension to integrate God’s call. I suggested yesterday we pray for Christian marriages, but let us extend that to include God’s involvement in a marital relationship, guidance on direction and calling, commitment to financial giving and the sacrifice of time to the Lord’s work. Let us pray for all those who are married and are making a commitment to God in answering a call to ministry, that there are honest conversations and a shared, prayerful approach, to that vocation.

20/01 – 1 Corinthians 7:1-24 is perhaps a difficult passage but contains a lot of wisdom. However, what comes through is equality, respect and an understanding of human desires. Paul threads it into our relationship with God and the impact our relationship with Christ should have. A recurring theme it seems; Paul also repeats that we were bought at a price. Clearly the Corinthian church had major issues around sexual conduct; here Paul is trying to give some guidance on relationships, not straightforward. It reveals the complexity of relationships, especially when viewed through the lens of the norms and values of today. Paul is also stating that our Christian faith is not a reason to jeopardise our relationships in marriage. Paul writes “each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them”. The primary Christian conduct is faithfulness and mutual respect, in love. In relationships where only one person is a Christian that can be a difficult path to walk. Let us concentrate prayer on those in relationships we are aware of where that tension exists, that God may strengthen them and hold them as they witness their faith in the relationship. In the context of Paul’s writing let us pray for all Christian marriages, that God will strengthen them and that mutual support, love and faith in Jesus, will be the glue that holds them together.

19/01 – 1 Corinthians 6:12-end opens with Paul writing that people say ‘“I have the right to do anything,” you say – but not everything is beneficial. “I have the right to do anything” – but I will not be mastered by anything’, is Paul’s response. Paul also repeats what he put in 3:16: “that you yourselves are God’s temple”. He expands this a bit more by writing “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?” His assertion is that sexual immorality, the subject he has returned to, is a violation of our bodies that are ‘members of Christ Himself’. Nothing, in Paul’s thinking, is a greater sin because it violates that union in Christ. The reason is that ‘all other sins a person commits are outside the body’, and do not then corrupt the relationship we have. Paul states; “you are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your bodies”. The opening quote seems to speak to our times where rights are so central to the way people behave and think. Personal freedom overrides the common good – ‘not everything is beneficial’. The other aspect is with physical fitness and how people look – the need to fit some kind of image. Yet at the same time perhaps, in some cases, that self image is more about ‘attraction’ than respecting what God has gifted them. In fact what Paul highlights in attitude then is very much an attitude of today, where the attitude is probably ‘we owe nothing to anyone; how I behave is down to me, it is my right’. Perhaps this is revealed by those who refuse to wear masks to protect others in places where people gather. But how much of this creeps into our thinking as Christians? How much are we prepared to let God have of us and how much do we keep for ourselves? Challenging, to say the least. What does it mean to be God’s temple? How do we live that out? Some real food for thought and reflection. Paul is addressing a church that is falling apart because the Christians there really haven’t thought their relationship with Jesus through. Let us pray for Christians around the world, in our country and on our doorstep, that they may understand what it is that we are called to be.

18/01 – This section today (1 Corinthians 6:1-11) is sandwiched between issues of sexual immorality. Paul launches into the topic of disputes between members of the church. We aren’t told what those grievances are, but perhaps it’s about conduct. Paul writes that they cheat and do wrong to others in their fellowship; perhaps immorality is part of that (see verses 9-10). The emphasis in this section is about how those issues are dealt with and that reflects on how those in Corinth see their identity. Were they in Jesus Christ or in the world? The church in Corinth was allowing the conduct of church members and their disagreements to be judged by those outside the church, unbelievers, when the church should be standing in judgement of those in the world. The fact that they have lawsuits between members means they ‘are defeated’. The real issue is the integrity of the Church, of those who follow Christ, in relation to the world outside. If we judge the conduct of the world, how, Paul asks, can we be falling so far short that the world is able to judge us and our conduct? That is why Paul is putting so much emphasis on conduct; believers in Christ should be beyond reproach. He accepts that some in Corinth had less than honourable past lives but he reminds them that they ‘were washed, were sanctified, justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God’. There is a certain inevitability that there will be disagreements between people; it is how they are dealt with that matters. Can those people accept church discipline? Can they seek reconciliation and forgiveness? Do they, as Christians, understand what Jesus has done for them and how that is lived out with each other? The next time you read or hear about disputes between Christians, wherever that occurs, pray for them without judgement and pray for those who mediate. The integrity of our Lord Jesus Christ who lives in all who profess His name is at stake.

16/01 – Paul gets even more hard hitting in chapter five of this first letter to the church in Corinth. It seems that to add to the list of things going wrong in the church fellowship sexual immorality is now added. Paul is absolutely blunt about this: expel the wrong doer, don’t even associate with people who are immoral, greedy, swindlers and idolaters. Paul says he has no right to judge those outside the church, that’s up to God, but ‘get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch’. How Paul’s heart must have been breaking to hear all that had gone wrong. He must have been desperate to bring the fellowship he established back to living their lives for Jesus so that they may ‘be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (1:8).Sadly, Christians do fall well short of God’s calling in conduct. It is a sad reality; there is always temptation at the door, and that conduct renders us, as Christians, open to accusations of hypocrisy. But in today’s fluid moral standards, Christianity, as a moral and ethical compass, is losing influence, but it is needed even more. Is Paul being hard hearted? Should he have been seeking to keep those who violate the standards Jesus showed in the fold, in the hope they would change? His advice is clear; “expel the wicked person from among you”. Is that what we should do today? We love the sinner not the sin, (a phrase derived from St Augustine in 211, who actually said ‘with love for mankind and hatred of sins’). Often showing a clear boundary, however painful, is also showing love. We should pray for those who have to discipline others in a church fellowship, pray for those affected, including those who are the cause of the problem. Pray for our archdeacon and bishop because they are so often the ones who have to deal with issues of church discipline. It is a stressful road for them to travel.

15/01 – 1 Corinthians 4 continues with Paul’s quite obvious chastisement of some in the Corinthian church. There must have been some who criticised, judged Paul, but Paul treats it as water off a duck’s back; only the Lord can be the judge. Paul gives a warning: The Lord “will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart”. It seems also some are boastful, puffed up, and it seems have taken leadership and perhaps acquired wealth, and have put themselves above, in front of others, even Paul and Apollos. But, perhaps it is God who has placed Paul and Apollos at the end of the procession, as God’s servants. However, Paul then draws a comparison which seems to highlight the difference between some of those in Corinth and Paul, especially in the statement: “We are fools for Christ, but you are so wise in Christ!” Or so they think. There are real problems in Corinth and Paul is clearly worried, so Timothy is sent to sort them out: “he will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church”. Paul asks the question, “what do you prefer? Shall I come to you with a rod of discipline, or shall I come in love and with a gentle spirit?” If we go back to 3:5 where Paul writes, ‘what is Paul? Only a servant,’ clearly Paul is addressing the issue of misplaced leadership which is damaging the church. Leadership is never a right, it is a gift from God, it’s a position of service, being a servant. Paul was prepared to go through anything as God’s servant; being a fool for Christ, weak and dishonoured, hungry and thirsty, brutally treated and homeless, cursed, persecuted and slandered, treated as the scum of the earth – garbage! How many leaders would want to go through that, and still remain a leader? It requires a strong faith in God and His purpose for us, something often reflected in the Psalms. Let us pray for leaders everywhere, but especially those making huge personal sacrifices as they walk with the Lord.

14/01 – 1 Corinthians 3 starts with a somewhat hard putdown of the young Corinthian church, because of their loyalty to human leaders, choosing between Apollos, Cephas and Paul. Due to that Paul writes that they are still worldly, ‘infants in Christ’; even when he was with them they were not ready for solid food, so he gave them milk. That’s fairly hard hitting! Paul goes on to write that he planted the church and Apollos watered it, concluding that “the one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor. For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building”. Paul points them to the one foundation, Jesus Christ, writing that any other foundation, be it ‘gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw’, will be destroyed by fire which tests the quality of the foundation. Paul goes on to ask the question “Don’t you know that you yourselves are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in your midst?” Paul brings them back to the topic of ‘foolishness’. If any of you think you are wise by the standards of this age, you should become “fools” so that you may become wise. “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight.” In all this only one reality matters and that is that “you are of Christ, and Christ is of God”.Yes, Paul, Apollos and Peter (Cephas) were involved in the Corinthian church, all taught and influenced the growth of the church, but none merited special status as they were all simply doing the work of God. Thankfully, for the most part, churches don’t indulge in idol worship by giving leaders celebrity recognition, but it can come very close sometimes. All who are involved in building God’s kingdom and His people are simply doing God’s work. We seek to gain knowledge from them but it is pointless unless it can be put into practical use to build our foundation in Christ, or to enable us to be builders of God’s kingdom in the world. We have to recognise that “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few”. Our prayer needs to be to “ask the Lord of the harvest, to send out workers into his harvest field”, Matthew 9:37-38. Our task is to become those workers and to find more.

13/01 – 1 Corinthians 2 briefly picks up on the theme of foolishness; Paul opens by writing “I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power”. In verse 12 Paul elaborates by writing: “What we have received is not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, so that we may understand what God has freely given us.” Our work is to pursue that voice in our lives. As soon as we came to faith the work of the Holy Spirit started in us; He it was who unstopped our ears and opened our eyes. It seems human wisdom does not truly reveal God, what we learn we learn as “spiritual realities with Spirit-taught words”. However, wisdom is called for. Too often churches have been led astray and split by words that people claim to be from God but are not, and anything attributed to the Holy Spirit must be tested and set against scripture to see if it fits our understanding of God’s nature in Christ. It is a difficult path because sometimes human judgments need to be set on one side to fully understand the mind of Christ. Underpinning this is prayer, listening for what God’s words are, and not being afraid to test them in the church family. Prayer for our mission, our vision, prayer for the prayer ministry, for God’s healing, prayer for people who will put their hands on the plough and not look back. It’s not really about developing our own spirituality, it is about quietly resting in the presence of our Lord, as the Holy Spirit, ‘the Spirit of God’, reveals to us the thoughts of God. Let us join together as a church, so that when we come through these difficult and testing times, we may be ready to reveal ‘a demonstration of the Spirit’s power’ in who we have become and the love we share.

12/01 – 1 Corinthians 1:18-end is a wonderful text of encouragement. Those with a feeling of superior intelligence look down on what they see as the nonsense of our Christian faith but … the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. We are aligned to the power of God, for “God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong”. We don’t have to do anything in our own strength, “God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things — and the things that are not — to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him”. If we are to boast, “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord”. We are called to have reliance in God and in the Holy Spirit. Yes, God does gift some people with remarkable abilities, with incredible knowledge of scripture and the ability to explain the complex things with simplicity. But He shares His gifts around and we have gifts, not to hide, but to put on a lamp stand, for His glory. We are not to think of ourselves as foolish, weak or lowly; that is not Paul’s message. His message is to have confidence in the message God gives to and through us to others. It is He who empowers us, through His message and the work of the Holy Spirit. How true it is that as we share the gospel message of the cross, it is taken as ‘foolishness by those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God’. We need to pray for their eyes to be opened and their ears to be unstopped, for we live among those who are ‘ever hearing, but never understanding; ever seeing, but never perceiving’ (Isaiah 6:9, Ezekiel 12:2). Thank you Lord that, as you did for your disciples, you have ‘blessed our eyes because they see, and our ears because they hear’ (Matthew 13:16). What a gift!

11/01 – 1 Corinthians 1:1-17 starts with Paul writing: “For in him you have been enriched in every way—with all kinds of speech and with all knowledge — God thus confirming our testimony about Christ among you. Therefore you do not lack any spiritual gift as you eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ to be revealed”. The church in Corinth was a Spirit-filled church, but clearly there were issues of division as highlighted in verses 10 – 17. That was true of many of the early churches, as was revealed in John’s first letter to the church in Ephesus. As in that letter and in this one by Paul, ‘love’ is the gift that is most required. It seems to be human nature to have differences in opinion, to follow people who most identify with a group’s identity. We see that most powerfully demonstrated by American society at present. But that is also why we have different political parties, different Christian denominations, because we are different as people. A gift that is in much need is the ability to listen and to understand others’ views with respect. That is so important within a Christian fellowship, and for that we turn to the bible, not to pick up the fragments that suit our point of view, rather to grapple honestly with the whole truth, however uncomfortable.Having God’s gifts means we have to use them with wisdom, in truth and in love. When that is right then God will confirm us, as His people, by the fruit of His Spirit working in our lives (Galatians 5:22-23). Christians have a history of being mediators, of bringing people together, of healing divisions; that is always in need. We don’t lack any spiritual gifts; we just need to pray for them and recognise them in each other, and to use them in the service of our Lord and Saviour.

09/01 – John bases his letter around three central themes that are central in the life of a Christian. In chapter 2 he describes them; they are: obedience (3-6), love (7-11) and belief (18-27). In the following chapters he takes them and expands on what they mean. In 3 it is obedience and love, in 4 it is love and belief, now we come to 1 John 5:1-12, and he brings all three together. He writes; “everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands.” So this section is about obedience, which he writes is not burdensome. Why? “For everyone born of God overcomes the world.” Again, why? Because of our faith in God. John poses a rhetorical question: “who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.” The section of 6-12 is to counter the false teaching which he highlighted in chapter 4: “many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Briefly, there was teaching around that suggested Jesus was a man and that at His baptism God’s Spirit entered Him and just before His death the Spirit left Him. The heresy as such didn’t persist; the nearest to it would possibly be the Nestorian heresy. If followed through, that would mean Jesus was not the Son of God and that His death has no significance for our salvation. John’s emphasis in his counter argument is that Jesus “came by water and blood …. He did not come by water only”. In effect Jesus was the Son of God, before and after His baptism (water) and death (blood). Jesus pre-existed His birth and in His resurrection was reunited with His Father. “For there are three that testify: the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement”. He closes by writing “whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life”. So to have life we have to believe in Jesus Christ as the Son of God; we have to live in His love and reflect that to our brothers and sisters, and because of our love for Him we obey His commands; we are obedient, to him. So the rub is that loving each other, serving and sacrificing for each other is not optional, it is a command we obey. Who glibly said being a Christian is easy! It’s why we have been given the Holy Spirit, the example of Jesus, and we are a people of prayer; in our strength alone it wouldn’t be possible.

08/01 – 1 John 4:7 to the end is focusing down on love: love for each other, God’s love for us and how we show our love for Him. God’s love makes us complete; He sent Jesus as an atonement for our sins, out of love, because He loved us first. God’s Spirit is the proof ‘that we live in him and he in us’, that through Jesus we should ‘know and rely on the love God has for us’. John writes: ‘There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment’. This section opens and closes with the need to love each other, rather like book ends that hold the essence of what it means to be in, and to show, God’s perfect love.More now than at any other period in recent times, has there been a need to understand how we should not be bound by fear, but we should know that in God’s love we are complete. Individually, maybe, that is something we have need to embrace for ourselves more often in life, though embrace is possibly the wrong word. For that knowledge of God’s love should be in us, not external; God’s embracing of us is internal, complete, totally intimate. How else could He have given us His Spirit to dwell in us? We need to yield to His love and let His peace be with us. How do we do that? God’s love is a gift that shouldn’t stop with us; we are given it in abundance to give away. We often see God’s love as being about nurturing specific people, perhaps like the idea of ‘paying it forward’ but that could be wrong. God’s love to us is more like a nutritious seed bed, fertile soil, it’s there randomly so any seed or plant can grow through God’s intervention. Our giving of God’s love should be indiscriminate and generous, when that happens we truly realise that that is what God has done for us; then somehow, it becomes very specific and personal.

07/01 – The reading jumps to 1 John 3 from those of John’s Gospel. (Just for some background, the readings suggested are governed by the ‘Lectionary’ which has a three year cycle. This allows the three synoptic gospels to be read in full. John’s gospel is not read in full but is used during the year such as in Advent/Christmas season (the start to the liturgical year) and in Lent/Easter season).

Turning to the first letter of John, and chapter 1 verse 5: “This is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light; in Him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with Him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth.” In chapter 2 he writes about Jesus’ atoning sacrifice for our sins and for those of the whole world; he calls on us not to love the world more than God and to remain within the anointing received from Christ. Now in chapter 3 he writes: “See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are!” John goes on to give an example of the love we should show: “Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth”. He builds on that by writing “and this is God’s command: to believe in the name of His Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as Jesus commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in Him, and He in them”. There is a big ‘but’ at the moment: how do we do that in this lockdown? A question that was asked on the prayer WhatsApp, and a challenging one at that. Probably what John is telling us by writing ‘let us not love with words or speech’ is that it is not enough just to pray and not act, or to talk and plan but not act. John is calling us to act, to demonstrate we care, to reach out to show and offer support. If necessary to get people the help they need, if we are unable to provide it ourselves, just contacting others requires action, to be proactive. There is always the risk we find ourselves carrying the pain of others and that is always hard, and we need support. However, if we can’t do anything it does us no good to feel guilty that we cannot be more hands on, we just wear ourselves down.  In all our vision groups let us plan to burst out of the restrictions, as they are eased, (probably like an enthusiastic escapologist getting out of a straight jacket!) and use what we have to bring the brilliance of the light of Christ into the world around us. “God is light; in him there is no darkness at all”. If we are struggling in our own darkness that is very hard to do. Paul in 1 Thessalonians 5:8 writes that we belong to the day, not the night, that we should ‘put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet’, and in verse 11 “Therefore encourage one another and build each other up”. Let us all make that our priority, so that we are ready to show God’s love ‘with actions and in truth’.

06/01 – John 2:13 to the end, is the well known account of Jesus overturning the tables in the temple.  We tend to think of this as Jesus cleansing the temple and very specifically aimed at those people who were exploiting others, though actually the money changers had a legitimate reason for being there. They converted foreign currencies to the Jewish or temple currency. In Acts 2:5 we read that Jews came ‘from every nation under heaven’, so they were needed. They also took the annual temple tax, which was used in part to give loans to people in hardship; the temple also served as a bank. So money changers could be seen today as bankers or brokers. We need to move on through the chapter. The temple authorities question Jesus’ right to do what He did, and later we read that many people believed in His name when they saw the signs He was performing. ‘Believed in His name’ – what does that imply? Perhaps they believed in Jesus as a miracle worker, but, like the temple authorities, not as God’s personal representative or as the promised Messiah. Did that bother Jesus? No it didn’t, “because he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person”. Perhaps what this passage reveals is not Jesus’ displeasure at what was taking place in the temple, but the mindset of all those involved. In their dealings, God had been displaced, and was no longer their priority. There is a warning for us all in that! If we turn to 1 Corinthians 6:19 we read “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price.” Jesus knows our motivation, what is on our heart, and we need to align ourselves to Him, who should be, and is, ‘Lord of all’. As we enter into this second national lockdown let us find joy in serving Christ, taking His love and facing it out into the community around us. In our context the Temple is our church or cathedral and people of no faith regularly visit those. Let us, in our lives, act as such a magnet that as visible, witnessing Christians, we may draw people to Him by keeping Jesus firmly central as our motivation, our energiser and our hope.

05/01 – The reading before Jesus turns the water into wine is about the calling of Philip and Nathanael as disciples, found in John 1:43-end. It seems it simply took “follow me” from Jesus for Philip to become a disciple. Nathanael, however, on hearing that Jesus was from Nazareth, responded; “Nazareth! Can anything good come from there?” Even with this scepticism he went with Philip to meet with Jesus. How did he expect Jesus to greet him? What would you expect? Jesus said to those around him “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit”. Nathanael was won over by Jesus saying that He saw him under the fig tree before talking to Philip. “Rabbi, you are the Son of God”, Nathanael responds. Jesus challenges him; if Nathanael thought that was impressive, just wait! When we talk to people about Christianity, whether our journey to faith or just saying we are Christians, do we get greeted with honesty, or does a smoke screen go up as a defence tactic, sometimes thick and toxic, rather like battleships of old where they would produce a smoke screen to escape the enemy. How do we deal with that smoke screen? The best tactic: ask questions and really listen to the answers. It is not so much about pushing our Christianity but more about listening to their history and views before gently countering them. It means building trust, developing a relationship, before we say much about Christ. Jesus knew Nathanael’s prejudice, for that is what it was, but He also respected his honesty and willingness to trust Philip, and journey with Philip to Him. The role of Philip, who had accepted Jesus’ call willingly, is our role. “Come and see,” is our invitation to others, ‘join us and find out what it is about’. You don’t have to say much; sometimes people respect that more, but a warm invitation can go much further, especially if you offer, as Philip did, to journey with them. Let us pray for the opportunities to open up before us, so we can journey with others that they may encounter Jesus and get to know Him.

04/01 – John 2:1-12 is the account of Jesus being at the wedding feast in Cana, by invitation, along with His mother and His disciples. We know the story: six stone jars of water turned into good quality wine. Jesus did what His mother suggested, and it seems only she and His disciples knew what was taking place. Was the bridegroom aware of the embarrassment he was about to face had the wine run out? How many people were aware of the situation? Was Jesus’ mother the only one to pick up on it? Was Jesus really that indifferent that He could dismiss his mother by saying: “Why do you involve me? My hour has not yet come”? There is another instance in John’s gospels where Jesus is put in a position where he is challenged to act. In Chapter 7 Jesus’ brothers urge Him to leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that His disciples could witness to the works He was doing; Jesus responds to them by saying “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do.” The interesting point John makes is that “His own brothers did not believe in him.” He then did what his brothers suggested, but went in secret to the Festival of Tabernacles. Do we try to push Jesus to act as we would want? Are our prayers on our terms and not on His? Like Jesus’ brothers, do we sometimes pray in the hope that a result could bolster our lack of faith? In every case where Jesus is in a position where He did not anticipate a need to respond, did respond. He may have challenged or questioned, but He responded, always with a positive outcome. As we move forward we need to understand our motivation for asking Jesus to act, but know that He sees our needs. We may find ourselves challenged, but Jesus listens to our heartfelt prayers. If you have become jaded in prayer, perhaps no longer think Jesus hears, know that He does, and at the right time, in the right way, He will respond. Renew your prayer life if it needs it. If you are in a good place with prayer, build on that, pray with others who may struggle, or simply form a prayer partnership or prayer triplet; we can use phones calls, text messages, emails for prayer. Let’s not just pray for each other, let’s pray with each other.

02/01 – We enter a new season in the church’s calendar, that of Epiphany. The reading is from John 1:35-42, and is the identification by John (the Baptist) that Jesus is the Lamb of God. From that we are led to Andrew’s testimony to Simon (his brother, later called Peter) saying “we have found the Messiah”. It is also the season where we remember the visit of the Magi, the wise men from the East, and their testimony that Jesus was to be a king. What can we draw from these events? The one that stands out is that of identifying Jesus as King, Messiah, Lord and Saviour, to name a few titles, to others. Right at the beginning of Matthew’s gospel, and again at the end (28:19-20), we are called to witness to, and proclaim Jesus. That is the command of Jesus, given to the Church universal, and to us locally. Our vision fits well with Jesus’ command, not a request or a suggestion, but a command. Let us focus our prayer, be intentional, on our vision, that together we as a church, under the authority and power of the Holy Spirit, may be empowered to win people for Christ our Lord and Saviour, that God may be glorified. The year ahead is a year of real opportunity as, hopefully, restrictions are eased and we can meet with people again. People are hungry for interaction with others. Let us be ready with our invitation and welcome. Lord God, our Father, we pray for all the needs around us in these difficult times, especially for our hospital staff and health care providers as they meet the growing needs as the infection rate increases. We pray for the vaccination roll-out and that its efficacy will not be compromised. But Lord God, give us the vision to see past the present to the future that we may be part of the healing that needs to take place, in the loss suffered and pain encountered in relationships. May we witness to Your healing.

01/01/21- Greetings for the New Year. Interestingly, the reading this morning is the same as the Sunday just gone: Galatians 4:4-7. We are adopted by God, “and because we are His children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts”. God has sent, past tense. We have received the Spirit of God’s Son, we have been transformed from slaves to children of God, into a unique relationship where God invites us to call Him ‘Abba’, reinforcing the fact He sees us as His children. That relationship presents challenges, does it not? Children can be disobedient, rebellious, disrespectful; however, they are locked into a relationship that cannot be undone. As maturity comes, so often does understanding, reconciliation, respect and a deepening of love and the knowledge of a bond that can’t be broken. There are plenty of films that use the narrative of reconciliation between an adult child and a parent and it is often a difficult journey.So it is for people turning to God from difficult child/parent (or visa versa) relationships. Those human relationships can scar us and shape us, but can also be a blessing, if we choose. As we enter a New Year, how do we see our relationship with God, as Father? It is a vital question because it will shape our relationship with our sisters and brothers in Christ. Can we transfer the love we receive from God to each other, in the church family and beyond? We need the Spirit of the Son, the Holy Spirit, to accomplish that. There is another way to draw close to God, in the words of the song written by Lauren Daigle: ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace’. As we step forward into 2021 let us lean more upon Jesus as our strength and our way. This year is a crucial year in our mission for the centenary vision, one we all need to take responsibility for, to pull together as one family in mutual support, encouragement and action. God is calling us, let us this day, pledge to respond.

28/12 – Today is the church’s festival of the ‘Holy Innocents’ in which we are called to remember the small children killed by Herod in his attempt to eliminate Jesus. He was blinded by his own fears, the threat he felt from an infant who would be a king, but never one that would seek an earthly kingdom. The birth of that infant king, which we have just remembered, would never threaten Herod as he imagined, but certainly was a threat to all he stood for, the greed, the lack of God in his life, though he was a Jewish king. Herod put himself first, obsessed by his power and control over others. How sad it is that we can look around the world and still see leaders like Herod, even see ordinary people like Herod, where self-gratification is their only moral compass.

In Matthew 18:1-10, today’s reading, Jesus warns those listening about putting stumbling blocks before children, and the price to be paid by those who do. However, Jesus is realistic: “occasions for stumbling blocks are bound to come”, “but woe to the one by whom the stumbling-block comes!” Those who teach are called to instruct children in an overview of world religions; that does not mean Christ or Christianity should be de-emphasised. What it does mean is that those who share in a church-based ministry of teaching about Christ have a ministry of great significance that needs to be fully supported and encouraged. Parents need to be part of that ministry. So much can be done at home that makes faith in Jesus real, a faith that is lived, that is of value in all aspects of life. That needs support, encouragement and prayer. If we, as a church, can orientate children to a moral compass that is God-inspired, that points to God in all circumstances, even when the ‘stumbling-blocks’ present themselves, the gift they will have been given is beyond measure. Let each one of us pray for our ministry to children, especially in these odd time of Covid lockdowns, but also to a time when we will be free again to welcome people into our church building. May we be ready and inspired by the Holy Spirit to reach out to grow our ministry to children.

25/12 – Paul in his letter to the church in Philippi writes: In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness.This Christmas may we be able to express that servant nature, many of us sacrificing the joy of being with family or friends in order to protect them. I pray that this will be a unique Christmas, one consigned to the history books, but may it help us to look to Jesus, who is the reason that most of the world stops, even if people no longer realise. Jesus, as a man, shared in the pain of others and took our pain and shame with him to the cross. In our isolation let us not isolate ourselves from him and if we have the chance to share ‘air’ time with family and friends let us not leave Jesus out in the cold. As we move forward, let us seek to acquire the ‘mindset of Jesus’ in our service to each other. My heartfelt thanks to all who serve, a service given in many different ways that build the body of Christ in this place. May God be praised for the blessings you share and the hope you all bring. I pray that you all may know the abundant blessings that God longs to pour out upon you, may God rain his blessings down and fill you to overflowing!

24/12 – Remember when we were children and Christmas took forever to come? Now the year seems to fly by and here we are at another Christmas Eve
In chapter 3  cf 2 Peter, Peter addressed the impatience of some Christians about the promise of Jesus’ second coming and it had not occurred. You can almost hear them sighing “Nothing ever changes.  It’s all the same as before.”
Peter reminded his readers that time to God is not the same as our perception of time. In his own time God created the world  and in his own time will recreate it in the model of the united new heaven and earth the home  of righteousness.  (v13).  That’s a promise from God for us.
In the meantime Peter tells us “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish., but everyone to come to repentance “
At the first Christmas Eve, like generations before them, there were those waiting patiently for the Christ to come.  At this Christmas Eve we again join the past generations of faithful Christians before us and celebrate the birth of Jesus into our world. But we are not only looking back people. We are called to be the looking forward people: not to a future of despair and hopelessness but one of certain promise.
When we consider the state of the world and its problems, we could despair of it being put right and be like those early Christians that Peter addressed who doubted God’s promise.  It is not that God is slow; rather it is we who are slow in making Jesus known. Peter reminds us “Bear in mind our Lord’s patience means salvation.”.
God gives us the grace for the task of making Jesus known.  That’s why Peter finished his second letter with the doxology:
“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.  To him be glory both now and forever.  Amen.”.

22/12 – This morning, just before 7am, when it was still dark the planet Venus – the morning star – came up above the horizon in the eastern sky.  It heralded the coming of dawn.  About an hour later the sun rose – daybreak. In beautiful imagery, Peter points to Jesus as being the One who is ‘the lamp that shines in dark places until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.’

One of the blights of this age is the light pollution that prevents us seeing the glory of the night sky – ‘the heavens’ which ‘declare the glory of God.’ Psalm 19.  Maybe many aspects of modern life act like spiritual ‘light pollution’ which prevent men and women from seeing Jesus clearly as the One who is ‘radiant with the glory and goodness of God’ and who ‘by his divine power gives us all we need for life and godliness.’ 

The ‘world’ is at odds with God’s purposes; its bright lights and attractions dazzle – they deceive and distract us from seeing what is true. They lure us away from the One who is calling us.

Peter reminds us that a way has been made possible for us to live a life pleasing to God – and that way is to get to know, personally and intimately, the One who chooses and calls us and gives himself to us. 2 Peter 1:3

The season of Advent is one where we have great opportunities to give attention to our relationship with Jesus – to take stock and reassess and put in place in our lives all the things that strengthen and deepen that relationship. One writer puts it like this; Jesus is the One who has chosen us ‘Let’s choose to be chosen.’

21/12 – We start the second letter by Peter, and bearing in mind the similarity of topic with Jude, (15 verses are almost the same) both warn against the deceptions of the world. It’s worth turning straight to verse 5: “For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.” Clearly the attributes listed do not stand alone. Peter makes them stack up, each upon the other from the base of ‘faith’. Faith with goodness, thought and action. Perseverance and godliness, action to attitude, godliness and mutual affection, attitude to action – then crowned by the result – ‘love’. Love for Jesus and our fellow Christians. In a way it’s like mixing concrete; there’s the binding agent, cement, then aggregates such as sand, different sized stones, then admixtures, polymers, fibres, reinforcing, and let’s not forget the agent that makes it work – water. Put together, it is a solid base, or a solid structure. Remove any component, get the mix out of balance and it is weakened. If we are to stand firm against all that assails us we need to take what Peter writes about and solidify our faith, not only as a foundation but as a building that is a visible witness to Jesus and His gospel.In times like this it is not just about resting and trusting in God, it is about sharing together, sharing our testimony, holding each other and persevering. Keeping our hand to the plough and not looking back (Luke 9:62). Our trust should always be in our Lord and our Saviour. “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, make every effort to confirm your calling and election. For if you do these things, you will never stumble.”

19/12 – The letter of Jude, the fifth shortest book in the bible (measured in its original language), but packed with concern that the teaching of the apostles was being corrupted and people were being led astray. There is much to link Revelation and 2 Peter; in fact some commentators think Jude is referencing 2 Peter in his letter. Note the relationship Jude ascribes himself: servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James. He does not elevate himself to being the brother of Jesus, but places himself as His servant. Jude is addressing a problem, he “felt compelled to write”. But best you read the short letter and understand the worries he shares with his readers. There’s a book by Sandy Miller (HTB and co author of the Alpha Course) called ‘Gagging Jesus’ that looks at the uncomfortable things Jesus said that people choose to ignore or bend to suit themselves. Even at the time of Jude that was happening, Jude is taking the difficult path of a pastor, one of correcting and warning; today with the more liberal approach it seems to be a role less trodden.But let’s look at the start: how does Jude address the people he is writing to? As people ‘called’, ‘loved by God’ and ‘kept for Jesus Christ’; whom he holds in prayer as having an abundance of ‘mercy, peace and love’. He writes to them as people of ‘faith’, a faith entrusted to them, ‘once for all’ as God’s holy people. He calls on God’s holy people to “be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire”.Jude closes by affirming their reliance on “Him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Saviour be glory, majesty, power and authority”. It is a letter that speaks volumes today as so many “deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord”. This is a rallying call for us to stay true to Jesus and biblical truth, to sift and make sure we stay on course; “through Jesus Christ our Lord, (who was) before all ages, (is) now and forevermore! Amen.”

18/12 – Time is one of those things we don’t have enough of and at times in our life when we have too much time on our hands.  Balance is good and in chapter 3 of 2 Thessalonians, Paul encourages the believers in the church at Thessalonica to use their time well.  Paul’s commission as an apostle was to proclaim the Gospel and plant churches with new disciples; that’s how Paul used his time.  He asked the Thessalonians to give time to pray for him that the message would spread rapidly and be honoured, and he and his companions would be delivered from wicked men who would seek to harm them.   

To give time for prayer is often a challenge and the evil one is more than happy to keep us from it.  That’s why Paul reminded the believers the Lord is faithful and will strengthen and protect us from the evil one. God has all the time of eternity.  God’s time for us never fails.  He calls us to give time by setting our hearts and minds to pray for the work of God’s mission to the world in Jesus Christ.   And time to pray for the mission of Christ Church in our parish and locality.  God doesn’t give us idle time and Paul was anxious the believers don’t sit back with idle time on their hands.  That’s not to say God doesn’t want us to have times of rest and relaxation because we need the right balance between work and rest.   God gives us all the time we need for our lives to be lived well and fully in honour of him.  Paul tells the church “Never tire of doing what is right” (verse 13).  That’s time blessed by God. 

Paul finished his letter with the prayer “Now may the Lord of peace himself give you peace at all times and in every way.” 

Heavenly Father, thank you for the time you give to us.  May we share it in prayer for the mission of Christ Church and for the purposes you have for us.  May we be kept at all times in the peace of God that passes all understanding.     Through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen   

17/12 –  At the time of the 1973 Oil Crisis an Elder of the church we attended was a senior executive of a large UK bank (that was before the days of “casino banking”).  He told us that during a break from a meeting of leading bankers and economists at a meeting to discuss the Crisis, some expressed their dismay about the future and who could put the world right.  Our friend’s response was the world would be put right only when the Lord Jesus returns.   There was no response.  

In chapter 2 of 2 Thessalonians, Paul continued the theme about the return of Jesus that Christians are to expect and look for.   The world does not look for Jesus’ return; in our time there are mixed feelings about the future.  Many are dismayed about the condition of the world and don’t have any hope that things will get better; whilst others believe we will inevitably progress to put things right ourselves.  Paul doesn’t hide the fact there is a force of evil at work in the world that will eventually come to a climax, and when the worse is present the best will immediately become present by the return of the Lord.  Paul spoke of a powerful delusion because people refuse to love the truth and so be saved, choosing to believe a lie.  Delusion is pernicious and Christians need to guard against it and challenge the falsehood of denial by living, loving and talking the reality of God’s truth with Jesus in us.  Hearing and receiving the Gospel is the antidote to delusion.  

Paul tells us Christians are called to share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ; that’s our ultimate purpose and our present encouragement. The chapter concludes with the doxology:  “May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal  encouragement and good hope, encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.”    Let’s respond with a big AMEN!  

16/12 – 2 Thessalonians 1 – In this passage Jesus is more than a little terrifying; Jesus revealed in blazing fire, wreaking terrible punishment and destruction on those who aren’t counted worthy of God’s kingdom.   Where is Jesus who knowing that we are all deeply flawed still loves us – so deeply that he gives his own life to redeem us and comes to us by the Spirit to make us holy and worthy of God’s kingdom?

The Christians in Thessalonica lived in a pre-Christian culture under a brutal regime. The persecution they faced was terrible.  They were powerless in a perilous situation.  There was no court of human rights to appeal to – only God could bring them justice. It must have been some consolation for them to think of Jesus fighting their cause and meting out justice on their behalf. The writer of the letter thanks God for them as a community – it is their collective behaviour that is being praised.  And two things in particular are being acknowledged; their growing faith in God and their increasing love for one another. These are the mark of their new life in Christ and it contrasts starkly with the culture of their time. There is no way of accounting for it except the work of Christ in them. This gives all churches a benchmark to measure up to; in whatever we are doing – creating a vision, planning a mission strategy, worship, teaching, pastoral work – are we ‘growing in love for God and love for people.’

Over these last months of the pandemic I believe that the Christ Church community has held together remarkably through all the , not inconsiderable, difficulties we have faced. Technology has helped us but also the visits people have made, the telephone calls and messages, walks together, our worship and prayer. Let’s give thanks to God for all the ‘growing in love’ that has taken place and also determine that as we move to a ‘new normal’ we will do all that is necessary to continue to grow in faith and love so that God will be ‘glorified in his holy people’ and we may be ‘worthy of his calling’ and a place in his kingdom.

15/12 – 1 Thessalonians 5:12-end. The season of Advent has a double focus; Christ’s first coming in great humility to the manger in Bethlehem and then it leaps across time to the fulfilment of all things with Christ’s second coming in glorious majesty. But let’s not forget the time in between, which these two great ‘advents’ frame. For Christ also comes to us now in the present time – ‘Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age’. So maybe Advent is a particular time to be watchful and alert for the advent of Christ who comes to us in our lives now to ‘make us holy and whole’. (5:23 The Message)

N T Wright suggests that this passage from Thessalonians give three ways in which Christ can come to form Christlikeness in us now; through the Christian community and through developing certain habits of behaviour:- 

  • Through giving attention to and valuing those who work hard to teach and lead in the community (v12,13)
  • Through every Christian having a responsibility to look out for the needs of others; comforting, warning, encouraging and strengthening one another. (v14,15)
  • Consistently engaging in behaviours that will eventually become as naturally as breathing to the Christian; (v16-22)
    • Be joyful always
    • Pray continually
    • Give thanks in all circumstances
    • Don’t quench the Spirit
    • Being discerning – holding on to what is good and avoid every kind of evil.

These passages from Thessalonians don’t always make for easy reading. But there is value in using them as a yardstick to consider the way we are living our lives. They may be helpful for bringing us more into line with God’s ways – ready for ‘the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ’  ‘The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it!’

14/12 – On Saturday we read Paul writing that we should encourage one another with the knowledge that “we will be with the Lord forever”. Now in 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11 at the end Paul writes “therefore encourage one another and build each other up”. He writes about the Lord coming like a thief in the night (Matthew 24:43, Luke 12:39 and Revelation 3:3), that we should be people of the day and not be found asleep; writing in verse 8 “since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.” We are to encourage each other with the knowledge that Jesus died for us, and know “we may live together with him”. Paul is writing about the second coming that is now part of the function of Advent: ‘Lo! he comes with clouds descending, once for favoured sinners slain; thousand thousand saints attending swell the triumph of his train’. Paul is calling us to be encouraged and to encourage. This is an expression of the shared faith and relationship we have with each other. We are not called to be inward looking; our faith is not a private matter. We are called to hold each other in many ways, to build each other up, to be family. It is good that at the start of the church year we look to Jesus and His presence among us and we praise and lift Him high.’Yea, Amen! let all adore thee, high on thine eternal throne; Saviour, take the power and glory: Claim the kingdom for thine own: O come quickly!’ (Charles Wesley)

12/12 – In 1 Thessalonians 4:13-end we have an abrupt change of topic. Paul must be tackling an issue that was causing the Christian community problems, especially when viewed through the lens of persecution and the loss of those in the community that Paul has been calling them to love. Paul writes that he does not want the Christian family to “grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope”. It so often seems that in non-religious funerals any sense of hope has indeed been lost, that the temporary nature of life is reinforced, death is the end – full stop. For Christians, however, “we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him.” That pain of separation is no less, perhaps why Paul deals with the ‘end days’ (the Parousia) when, “we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air,” (known as the ‘Rapture’). Whether living or dead “we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words”. With a headline death rate in England, where Covid is mentioned as one of the causes of death, of 62,438 so far, it makes this loss of hope and the pain so much worse. It reinforces the injustice of death, people’s lives being robbed – which feeds anger and other strong emotions. We, as Christians, have a real role to play in the healing process in grief, of bringing hope into the darkness of loss. Being able to make sense of death and suffering, something as Christians we are not exempt from, is important. We need to be able to put a (figurative) arm round people, to share the love Jesus gives us and walk with people in their loss. But also to share hope; death needn’t be the end. Why not visit our website, on the welcome page you’ll find Lauren Daigle (Christian singer, Grammy Award winner) sharing the story of the loss of her grandfather.Lord God may we, in our walk with others, bring hope into the pain of loss and light into the darkness. Lord may we be channels of Your healing .

11/12 – The section from 1 Thessalonians 4:1-12 starts with: “as for other matters, brothers and sisters . . .” but actually it is still about love, but focused on the way we demonstrate that love. With all that has been happening over the lockdowns and restrictions on life, one sad and disturbing fact is unavoidable. That is the growth in domestic abuse and child abuse. Paul plunges us into that murky side of life when he writes that “each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of a brother or sister”. Paul makes it clear that we are not to be ‘impure’, but we are called to live a ‘holy life’. This, in today’s society, could be taken by some as an infringement of our freedom where ‘me’ is the god. This is a cultural clash, but there is enough evidence that even ‘christian’ relationships fall below the standard God calls us to. Paul’s answer seems to be to expand the circle of love that we have for each other; he says love all of God’s family throughout Macedonia. He says to make it our ambition to live a quiet life, doing honest work and not getting involved in the affairs of others. However, that does not stop us praying for those who struggle in their relationships; families who are confined to their homes, with no work for their hands (or minds) puts on an immeasurable stress. And where communication breaks down the results can be disastrous. This is where faith and walking with God in common is so important , the power of prayer and looking out for each other and knowing that we ‘should not take advantage of a brother or sister’, even if  that be a spouse or partner. Lord Jesus, we hold up to you those trapped in toxic relationships, and Lord those who are struggling with the pressures that Covid has put on their relationships. Lord, may they find You to be the light that gives new life and healing in their situation. Lord, may love abound and grow.

10/12 – “How can we thank God enough for you in return for all the joy that we feel before our God because of you?” (1 Thessalonians chapter 3)Paul draws so much from the Christians in Thessalonica; he understands their trials, and in turn they understand what he is going through. That sharing of experience is so powerful and often it is the common experience of hardship, loss and grief, that draws people together. But what hits home is the joy that comes through from Paul. He is overflowing in his heart because he has found them safe and strong in their faith. In Chapter 2:8 Paul writes, “we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God but our lives as well.” That bond has continued beyond their physical encounter and Paul knows its power which is why he writes: “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, just as we abound in love for you.” (v11)We are called in the same way to share in that powerful bond of love but to do that we, like the church in Thessalonica, have to live it. When the first Covid lockdown occurred many hoped for a new experience of community and common sharing, perhaps in some way a reflection of the care for others that happens during the Christmas season. Very sadly that outpouring of care seems short-lived. It could be that the emphasis on ‘bubbles’ took away from ‘community’ and centred people back on themselves. Let us look to the call that Paul makes to us, through his letter to the Thessalonians, to really live love so that those around us want to be part of it, to be part of the person who is behind it, in it and builds it. Jesus, our Saviour and Lord.

09/12 – “You accepted …the word of God, which is at work in you who believe.”  1 Thessalonians 2:13 Words we hear and receive have implications for good or bad.  Think of the conspiracy theories that bounce around the web which say that Coronavirus is all made up by government (why?) and a vaccine is either useless or harmful.  Those people who accept bad words risk damage to their health or even worse: death.  When Elizabeth the wife of Zechariah knew she was expecting her son John, she declared “The Lord has done this for me.”  (Luke 1:25).  No conspiracy theory here but Elizabeth’s acceptance of God’s word and that her son will be  part of God’s good plan for all humanity. Paul in his letter to the young church at Thessalonica commended the new believers for accepting the word of God he had proclaimed to them.  But it is not a word stuck in the past rather like an old memorial on a church wall, but is God’s living word and as Paul explained “is at work in you who believe.”  Paul knew those new Christians were going through a tough time of persecution but that didn’t mean God was not at work in their lives.  Rather, the good words of God were active to sustain them in faith and in the hope of the promise of eternal life. Advent is especially a time of God’s good words.  They are the antidote to the bad words that bring people into denial, fear, and hopelessness.    May God through His Son our Lord Jesus Christ keep us as a people confident in God’s word, and pray for it to be working to sustain us in faith, hope and love.  May God’s good words reveal the bad words for what they are, and that our words reveal the good God and Saviour in whom we believe and serve. 

05/12 – The book of Revelation draws to a close at 22:6-end: “These words are trustworthy and true. The Lord, the God who inspires the prophets, sent his angel to show his servants the things that must soon take place.” The angel says to John, “do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near”. Quite unlike the end of Daniel’s vision where he recounts being told: “you, Daniel, roll up and seal the words of the scroll until the time of the end” (Daniel 12:4). John’s vision is to live on, open for all to access. In verse seven,  was John writing what he heard directly what Jesus is saying? “Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll.” The “coming soon” is repeated again in the penultimate verse, and it is John’s words that respond “Amen. Come, Lord Jesus”. The angel, whom John had just tried to worship at his feet says “Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this scroll, because the time is near. Let the one who does wrong continue to do wrong; let the vile person continue to be vile; let the one who does right continue to do right; and let the holy person continue to be holy.” Why is that said? Look back in revelation, few repented who were not already God’s people. The angel is saying it is God’s chosen who repent, others choose to remain as they are. Throughout the New Testament people are called to repentance. In Advent we remember John the Baptist calling out “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 3:2), but look also in Romans 13:11-13, James 5:8 and 1 Peter 4:7, all telling us how to behave as the time is near. There is an inevitable polarisation between good and evil, so evident in Revelation. Verses 12-15 are the words of Jesus. He is speaking, once again, the second of three times “Look, I am coming soon!” But more, a repeat of the previous chapter and the Book of Life, Jesus says: “My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done”. Jesus asserts His right, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End”. Jesus lets it be recorded that all that John has seen and heard, the witness he bears of the angels is because, “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches”. It is His divine inspiration. There are only two times in the bible where Jesus identifies himself as Jesus, once to Saul on the road to Damascus and once here in Revelation. Verse 17 challenges us: “the Spirit and the bride say, “Come!” And let the one who hears say, “Come!” Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life”.  Is that John writing his words, or is it Jesus speaking? For many commentators it is Jesus making the invitation, as He is the only one who truly can.  The reality is that Jesus makes the invitation. Christianity shares a universal gospel of salvation, a free gift, but the gospel is not a universal salvation. Not all who are invited to the wedding feast of the lamb choose to accept and God will not take away human free will, so in our time evil will never disappear even though the victory is won. We live in hope, bound together in love, one in Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen. Come, Lord Jesus.
The grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s people. Amen.

04/12 – Revelation 21:23-22:5 marks a complete break with all that has gone before in the establishment of temple worship. The temple is now redundant, the whole concept of remote access to God through some kind of gateway is gone, “because the Lord God Almighty and the Lamb” are the city’s temple. At last the people and God are in one place in perfect communion. The words “The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp” says it all: Jesus is the way the truth and the life (John 14:6). Next we are taken to the new image of the garden of Eden, a “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from the throne of God”, either side of which was the “tree of life’, to bring healing to the nations and remove forever ‘any curse’. The people will see His face, and His name, as we have already been told, will be on their foreheads. Again, that image of a perpetual light is given to us; all darkness is removed. God’s people ‘will reign for ever and ever’. So much of this resonates back into the chapters before. It is as if, as we reach the end, there is a harmonic, the new song, that reaches its climax as we read that the gates to this new city will never be shut. God is ready and waiting to greet His people, the great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb (7:9). “They are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will shelter them with his presence. ‘Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat down on them,’ nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” (7:15-17) May we continue to be part of the ‘new song’, not just as words but as a powerful emotion, words we feel, we internalise, and that lift us to serve our Lord and Saviour, and, in so doing, generously serve each other, to His glory.  “To God be the glory great things He has done, so loved He the world that He gave us His Son, who yielded His life an atonement for sin and opened the life-gate that all may go in.” (Fanny Crosby)

03/12 – Revelation 21:9-21 fills in some of the detail of the ‘Holy City’ that John saw coming out of heaven from God (21:2). The size is staggering: 12,000 stadia in length and width, that’s fifteen hundred miles! That is, no doubt why the angel had to take him to ‘a mountain great and high’. How else would he have been able to see it? The original Greek does not define the wall as ‘144 cubits thick’, it simply says 144 cubits,  it is probably the height. This city, it would seem, is a cube. There is nothing diminutive about this New Jerusalem, the mention of jasper reminds us of 4:3: “And the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby”. This is a place that is radiant with God’s creative splendour, the list of precious stones, the walls of gold, all speak of the purity of God. The glory of God, clear as crystal, the gold, pure as glass, the streets of gold, as pure as transparent glass. All of these require heat in their making and refining, God’s refining fire: (Zachariah 13:9) “and I will put this third into a fire, and refine them as one refines silver, and test them as gold is tested. They will call upon my name, and I will answer them. I will say, ’They are my people’; and they will say, ’the Lord is my God’. So it is here, this huge city is built for God’s people, all who have been refined in the fire of God’s love. There’s no problem getting in either, there are three gates, each of a single pearl, three on each of the four sides, twelve in all. There is so much in the symbolism here that points to the completeness of God’s redeeming work, calling His people together, and yet more follows in the rest of the chapter.  This new world, this new creation, is God’s desire for His people who stay faithful and true. The interesting thing is that compared with Babylon where the jewels were expressions of wealth and greed, of exploitation and corruption, here the wealth is irrelevant, it is an expression of perfection in creation, a visually expressive gift of what God offers in His creation. It has no value, no need to hoard, acquire, keep; only to appreciate, and understand we are part of that glory that John, in his vision, lays out before us. We can walk into that city knowing we are part of God’s glory, part of His perfect will, part of His plan. Heavenly Father, in all we do, may we be part of Your perfect plan. ‘Guard us, guide us, keep us, feed us, for we have no help but thee, yet possessing every blessing if our God our Father be’. (James Edmeston)

02/12 – At the end of Revelation 20 we are told about the dead being judged according to what they had done, and anyone not found in the book suffered the same fate as death and the grave and were, along with the dragon, beasts, those who were deceived by them, and the false prophets, thrown into the lake of fire. But what happens to those whose names are in the book of life? Chapter 21:1-8 supplies the answer in a very visual way: “Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” “for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away”. All that had been before had gone, “the earth and the heavens (skies) fled from his presence, and there was no place for them (20:11). Why does John observe that there was no sea? Probably because the sea was like a grave, and the sea had given up her dead like the grave. But in all this the focus is drawn to the ‘New Jerusalem’; the One sitting on the throne will make everything new. In that new order “there will be no more death’ or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” (Reflect on Isaiah 65:17-19.) God calls us to be His people and He will live among us, we will be His children. The words seem to crash upon John, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End”, truly enough to take your breath away! Then comes the final condemnation, the final death, the ultimate separation from God: “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” The contrast can’t be more stark, for the “victorious will inherit all this” new reality, where God “will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.” Note the contrast. The new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. How was Babylon depicted? As a corrupt prostitute, dripping in jewellery at the expense of others, with no interest but to corrupt and exploit. This passage looks back to the seven churches and the call to those in each who would be ‘victorious’ faithful in each church. This passage is their homecoming, their victory with Christ. We are called to be the’ victorious’; not to gloat or be arrogant, but rather to walk humbly with our God, in the blessed assurance He gives us. Colossians 2:8-10: “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ. For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and in Christ you have been brought to fullness. He is the head over every power and authority.” Knowing that fact, what a privilege and joy it is to serve Him in any way we can, to share His love with those around us in these times of need. Let us pray that God will equip us and strengthen us for His work.

01/12 – Revelation 20 covers a lot of ground and is quite complex. There are a number of questions raised from the text. Satan is named, but what is the context of the ‘one thousand years’? What does John mean by ‘those who had been given authority to judge’? Finally, what does it mean that ‘the earth and the heavens fled from his presence’? There are more issues but there’s no room in this reflection to grapple with them! So, working our way through those points: The ‘one thousand years’ time scale: Satan is bound for one thousand years, the saints, those who had “not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands”, reign with Christ. Then we have satan back again, getting up to his old tricks for one thousand years before being “thrown into the lake of burning sulphur”. John writes that “he saw’ three times, is that a continuous ‘seeing’ or is it three visions, one after the other, distinct from each other? If the latter is the case, our understanding is shaped differently. Firstly satan, specifically named, not disguised as the dragon, is bound, then released. Going back in Revelation, and the idea that Babylon is Rome, we link it to our understanding of history, that John’s revelation is about what was happening, just as with Isaiah and Jeremiah, but the ‘one thousand years’ changes that. This is a time scale outside our human one, it is the unfolding future, before satan’s ultimate defeat, it is God’s millennium measure. We don’t have to look far to see the deceit and deception of satan around us and the battle between good and evil. As suggested before, people who interpret Revelation may want to help our understanding by placing John’s vision in his historical context. That may be true, but Jesus is using that in these visions as the grounding for a different reality and that is what we have to understand. Next, we find John ‘seeing’ those who are given authority to judge. Is it not only God and Jesus who have the power to judge? We need to look back to chapter 6:9-10 and  the souls under the altar (on earth) who ask, how long ‘until you judge the inhabitants of the earth?’ It is not that they are able to judge, but rather that God has given a judgement to them, a judgement in their favour. In the bigger context, this judgement has been place upon all who had “not worshiped the beast or its image and had not received its mark on their foreheads or their hands”, and those who, “because of their testimony about Jesus and because of the word of God” had suffered. 
Finally, how can heaven flee from God’s presence? The problem lies with translation, the Greek word used for heaven can also mean ‘sky’ and its use is dependent on the translators, but heaven makes no sense. John is referring to what he sees around him, and we need to remember that in chapters 8:6-12 (the seven trumpets) and in 16:4-12 (the seven bowls), the natural world was part of the judgements. It should read ‘the earth and the sky fled from his presence’, this would also fit better with 21:1.  A final thing to note is that Hades refers to the grave, not hell; it means the graves are opened up. “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54. Lord God, thank you that You free us from the grave, that our testimony in life is to You alone; in Jesus Your Son. Strengthen us to share Your word, in the power of the Holy Spirit. 

30/11 – Revelation 19 – What celebration and praises ring out from God’s people! The great multitude sandwich the ‘twenty-four elders and the four living creatures’ in their praises. They gain prominence, as John puts it: “The great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, a deafening volume” (see back to 14:2). “Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgments.” The elders and living creatures reply “Praise our God, all you his servants, you who fear him, both great and small!” The multitude reply “Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory!” Then we have the invitation to the wedding! “For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.” Note the brackets “(Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of God’s holy people.)” In verse 14 we have: “The armies of heaven were following him, riding on white horses and dressed in fine linen, white and clean.” See also the letter to Laodicea. After all the praises the vision goes back to John writing: “there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True”. On his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: “KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”. Is that the same white horse of 6:2? “I looked, and there before me was a white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown, and he rode out as a conqueror bent on conquest.” Probably not, with what follows on from 6:2 it would suggest it represents the false prophets not Jesus. We have to discern in Revelation the to and fro movement between God and Jesus and the false prophets, and those who lead people astray. It reinforces the conflict in the world that is almost at its completion, or at least put on hold for a thousand years (20:4). The end of the beast and the false prophets are fairly gruesome. Again remember this was written at a time when life was brutal; death was all around; so was injustice; the readers would have been used to it. The violent nature of Revelation is a step above ‘normal life’, the brutality of persecution, public crucifixions and so on. It is designed to shock the readers out of the realities of life, also the difference between the battle and the victory to come is even greater, and worth living (and dying) in that hope. What we see as brutal, as injustice, is nothing compared to first century life and that is easy to forget. It makes the impact of Revelation harder for us to take on board and understand.  Lord God, open our minds to the power of Your word. May we understand it more, especially as it guides us in growing and walking closer to Jesus. Lord, may we be united in fellowship with You and those we walk through life with. 

29/11 – We look today at a small part of the vision given to Isaiah in 2:1-5, concerning Judah and Jerusalem. Chapter one is fairly damning of Israel, “I reared children and brought them up, but they have rebelled against me,” says the Lord. The people are sick: “Your whole head is injured, your whole heart afflicted.” The land is sick; it is “being stripped by foreigners right before you”. God compares Judah (the people, the tribe of Judah) and Jerusalem (Judah’s main city) to Sodom and Gomorrah. In the vision the Lord condemns the sacrifices they offer and their prayers. We have a familiar comparison: “See how the faithful city has become a prostitute! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her – but now murderers!” God will avenge the decay, “I will turn my hand against you; I will thoroughly purge away your dross and remove all your impurities.”  But there is a message of hope if the people wash and make themselves clean. “Take your evil deeds out of my sight; stop doing wrong. Learn to do right; seek justice. Defend the oppressed. Take up the cause of the fatherless; plead the case of the widow.” So when all is done “you will be called the City of Righteousness, the Faithful City”.  So we come to the much quoted passage of today, especially at the start of Advent, one of promise and hope: That the presence of the Lord will be established again, and people will turn to the Lord, and Jerusalem will again be a beacon of hope where “The law will go out from Zion, the word of the Lord from Jerusalem. He will judge between the nations and will settle disputes for many peoples. They will beat their swords into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore.” The section ends with: “Come, descendants of Jacob, let us walk in the light of the Lord.” But that is a fleeting glimmer of the ideal, as chapter 2 reverts to condemnation of the state of the people. They are ‘full of superstitions’, their land is ‘full of silver and gold’, ‘full of idols’, they are arrogant and proud.  It is almost impossible not to draw comparisons with the book of Revelation. Babylon, like Jerusalem, was destroyed and rebuilt; both were cities of great importance, though Babylon today is mostly ruins, in Iraq. At its peak it is thought to have had a population of 200,000. Isaiah predicts the fall of both Jerusalem and Babylon and the exiles after Babylonian and Assyrian invasions. As many of the predictions made by Old Testament prophets relate to their historical context it is understandable that that scenario is taken forward by interpreters of Revelation. But a fundamental difference occurred: God’s only Son was born and lived among people; God sought reconciliation, not destruction. He called His people through Christ. Advent is a season to look forward to the second coming of Christ Jesus and pray that swords will be ploughshares and spears pruning hooks, and wars will cease. When we look at Revelation we need to see through a new lens, that of Jesus, the Lamb, who died for us, not through prophets of old. We may not feel we understand John’s vision so well, but perhaps we should be happy with a glimpse into the victory we are part of.  Lord God, we pray for humanity to see the need for Your presence and to follow the teaching we have in the bible to lead us into the light and out of darkness: ‘Let us walk in the light of the Lord’.

28/11 – Revelation 18 starts with an angel saying “‘Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great!’ She has become a dwelling for demons”, in a mighty voice. This is again where many associate this with the fall of Rome, almost to the point of assuming it as obvious. Perhaps we should be cautious though. Again we need to look to the Old Testament, to Isaiah 13:19-21 or his words about Edom in Isaiah 34:11-17 (Edom was founded by Esau and means red (see Genesis 25:25)), about the destruction of those two cities. Also Jeremiah 50:8, 51:6,9,45 and Isaiah 48:20 and 52:11 about fleeing from Babylon (compare Revelation 18:4-8). So in the time of those two great prophets the city of Babylon was to get the full force of God’s anger. See also 50:23-24 “How broken and shattered is the hammer of the whole earth! How desolate is Babylon among the nations! I set a trap for you, Babylon, and you were caught before you knew it; you were found and captured because you opposed the Lord.” In John’s time the oppressor was Rome, so it is logical that the link is made. However, that is dependent on a human time frame of interpretation. So, as previously, I ask the question, what shapes this revelation given to John, – his understanding of contemporary history and his hope for God’s intervention or God’s future, unknown to John, us and even Jesus (Mark13:32). Assuming the interpretation of Revelation is all about Rome, and its destruction, could just be putting us on dodgy ground.  What was the source of Babylon’s wealth as described in 17:4: “the woman was dressed in purple and scarlet, and was glittering with gold, precious stones and pearls. She held a golden cup in her hand”? Babylon, like Rome and countries today, made its wealth from trade, at that time from countries they subjugated. In verses 9-20 we read the three woes, from the ‘kings of the earth’, ‘merchants of the earth’, and the “sea captain, and all who travel by ship, the sailors, and all who earn their living from the sea”. Could we say that Babylon was not only guilty of the persecution of Christians but also of exploitative trade? Why are merchants and conveyors of goods singled out as losers in Babylon’s destruction? Just a thought, but could global capitalism be in the cross hairs, where the global strong exploit the weaker producers?  In this chapter God appeals to His people twice, perhaps revealing the reason for this revelation to John, and referring back to the seven letters again. God wants His people to disengage with all that is wrong. “Come out of her, my people,’ so that you will not share in her sins, so that you will not receive any of her plagues” (v4), and “Rejoice over her, you heavens! Rejoice, you people of God! Rejoice, apostles and prophets! For God has judged her with the judgment she imposed on you (v20). Look at 2 Corinthians 6:17-18: “Come out from them and be separate”, says the Lord. “Touch no unclean thing, and I will receive you.” Finally what is the response of God’s people to be? “Give back to her as she has given; pay her back double for what she has done. Pour her a double portion from her own cup. Give her as much torment and grief.” How is that done? By living out Luke 6:27-28 and letting God alone be the judge. Also we need to look at 1 Peter 3:9, Romans 12:14, 17. For in verse 8 we read “She will be consumed by fire, for mighty is the Lord God who judges her”. The judgement ends as “a mighty angel picked up a boulder the size of a large millstone and threw it into the sea”, “With such violence the great city of Babylon will be thrown down, never to be found again.” Again this refers back to images used in Jeremiah 51:60-61, 63-64. It closes with two statements, one aimed at merchants: “Your merchants were the world’s important people. By your magic spell all the nations were led astray.” The other is condemnation for all she had done against God’s people: “In her was found the blood of prophets and of God’s holy people, of all who have been slaughtered on the earth.” Let us reflect on how our lives and what we consume impacts upon others. As Christians we need to see the damage our consumption can do. It is why, as God’s people, our respect for His creation, all people, is so fundamental in living out our walk with God. 

27/11 – As we start to look at Revelation 17 it would be good to look back at 1:4: “Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come”, and 4:8: “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come.” Why do we need to look back at those verses? Because we read here about the angel repeatedly parodying the beasts by saying (v8) “the beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and yet will come up out of the Abyss and go to its destruction”, and again “they see the beast, because it once was, now is not, and yet will come”. In verse 11 it is repeated again; “the beast who once was, and now is not, is an eighth king”. Then, as a crushing assertion, the angel says “the Lamb will triumph over them because he is Lord of lords and King of kings”. This all follows the identification of the “woman sitting on a scarlet beast that was covered with blasphemous names and had seven heads and ten horns.” She is identified as Babylon. Later, when the angel says to John, “the woman you saw is the great city that rules over the kings of the earth” we can then go back to a previous identification of the great city – Sodom and Egypt. So Babylon is representative of the evil nature, that is, is to come, but will pass. The angel also explains to John: “The waters you saw, where the prostitute sits, are peoples, multitudes, nations and languages.” But the fascinating revelation is that the “ten kings who have not yet received a kingdom, but who for one hour will receive authority as kings along with the beast” will ultimately “hate the prostitute. They will bring her to ruin.” It is actually the perpetrators of evil who will accomplish God’s purpose.  All this, however, ignores the statement that “the seven heads are seven hills on which the woman sits”. This, more than anything, has led to the link between Babylon and Rome, for Rome (Romulus) was founded on the Palatine Hill, then expanded to Capitoline, Quirinal, Viminal, Esquiline, Caelian and Aventine. In John’s time that would have been well known. We also have to remember the superstition, mentioned before, of Nero Redivivus, Nero coming back from the dead. This has shaped much interpretation of this passage and the subsequent chapters that follow. Is that interpretation right? Possibly, but – we have to remember that this vision given to John is about the future, though it may also represent the past, present and near future. The timing of all this is God’s hands, in Mark 13:32, “about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Be on guard! Be alert!”   However, the number of Emperors who ruled Rome was seventy, though possibly eight could be identified as the worst (the bloodiest). But that said, persecution of Christians went on for a long time reaching various peaks, those being the Neronian (first century) persecution, the Decian (250AD), the Valerianic (253-260), and the Diocletianic persecution (303-313). These persecutions involved ten emperors, so history  doesn’t quite back up the reality of the vision placing Rome as Babylon.  We also have to note that in verse 13 the kings give their authority to the beast, and where is that authority from? “God has put it into their hearts to accomplish his purpose.” The authority is from God. It seems that God sowed a self-destruct activation into the evil that was so evident. The last thing to ask is: who is involved in the victory of the Lamb? “His called, chosen and faithful followers.” Who could that be? Perhaps Revelation isn’t in the detail but in the journey and the bigger picture. There can be deception in focusing on the small things. That can be true in life too. We are always part of something bigger, God’s unfolding story for each one of us. If we always focus on the ground immediately in front of us we can easily fall over. Looking further ahead is the better option. Besides, looking at our feet means we miss so much of what is around. Let’s lift our heads to see the glory of God, the Almighty. If we have eyes, let us see.

26/11 – In Revelation 16:12-end we read that the sixth bowl leads to the kings of the whole world being summoned by the evil spirits that came out of the dragon and beasts and out of the false prophet. But, more importantly it is also made obvious that the impending battle is already lost by the demons – for John observes they are gathered ‘for the battle on the great day of God Almighty’. Victory by God is being declared; John has dropped a spoiler in! Then, for the first time since the letters were dictated to John, Jesus again speaks. His words echo the gospels: “Look, I come like a thief! Blessed is the one who stays awake and remains clothed.”  (Matthew 24:43, Luke 5:35-36 and in 1 Thessalonians 5:2). The demons gather the kings together in a place that is called in ‘Hebrew, Armageddon’. Today the meaning has been changed by science fiction and disaster films to mark an event, the end of the world. But clearly in John’s account it is a place. However, it is a Hebrew name, with a Greek equivalent replacing the ‘H’ with an’A’. It seems the Hebrew is Harmageddon, ‘Har’ means mountain so it would translate as the ‘mountain of Mageddon’. In Joshua 12:21 and Chronicles 7:29 Megiddon is mentioned. We are also told in Judges 5:19 that ’the kings of Canaan came and fought, at Taanach near Megiddo’s springs’. It seems from research that Megiddon is on level ground; ruins have been found on the plains in Northern Israel near the Carmel Pass. What is the point of all that? No mountains! So we are left asking the question, was John coming up with a contradictory name that actually didn’t identify a specific location, was he suggesting the battle could take place anywhere? As the seventh angel pours out his bowl a loud voice declares “It is done”. Then, again we have the book end: ‘there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder and a severe earthquake.” We read that ‘the great city split into three parts, and the cities of the nations collapsed’. In 11:8 the great city is named as ‘Sodom and Egypt’. We then read of the hailstorm (the seventh plague in Exodus) where the blocks of ice, ‘each weighing about a hundred pounds, fell on people. And they cursed God on account of the plague of hail, because the plague was so terrible.’ When looking at the destruction of the cities, God remembers ‘Babylon the great, and gave her the cup filled with the wine of the fury of his wrath’. Babylon has been mentioned before in Revelation, in 14:8 and 16:19, but we have to wait for chapter 17 to learn more about Babylon. Unlike with the seventh trumpet, the seventh bowl does not bring people to repentance; we have to wait for John’s vision to unfold further to understand the reason. In the meantime, let’s reflect on John’s vision so far, thinking about the way it builds, from the letters to the seven churches, and the promises Jesus made to those who stay faithful. The seven seals, trumpets and bowls are punctuated with praises to God by the elders, angels and the great multitude that no one could count. The prayers of God’s faithful who withstand even the dragon and the two beasts. We are now entering the final acts of the revelation to John, ones that point to the ultimate victory of Jesus and the establishing of a new reality. We are part of the unfolding story. Every time we pray ‘Your kingdom come’ we engage in the spiritual battles. But let us focus on where we are in our walk with Jesus and be ready, holding His light high, and seeking to lead people to meet Jesus as He waits by the open door.

25/11 – Revelation 16:1-13 reveals again God’s wrath as played out by the angels releasing the plagues. The first was ‘ugly, festering sores’, the sixth plague to affect the Egyptians in Exodus. The second angel released their bowl and the sea turned to blood. The third released theirs and the rivers and springs turned to blood as well. The first page in Exodus was the Nile turning to blood. The angel who looked after the waters is heard saying “You are just in these judgments, O Holy One, you who are and who were; for they have shed the blood of your holy people and your prophets, and you have given them blood to drink as they deserve.” The blood of the Israelites was shed by the Egyptians so it seems now that the Nile turning to blood was the price of God’s chosen that was spilt, just as we hear now in John’s revelation. The fourth angel causes the sun to ‘scorch people with fire’. Now, for the first time, as these plagues are released we are told that the people refused to repent and glorify God; in fact they cursed God ‘who had control over these plagues’. The plagues get personal at this point as the ‘fifth angel poured out his bowl on the throne of the beast’, the beast who caused the people to turn away from God, who deceived the people and blasphemed; he had his kingdom plunged into darkness. But again we learn that the people ‘cursed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores, but they refused to repent of what they had done’. It seems a repeat of the seven trumpets, where it was only after the sixth angel blew their trumpet that people repented. We leave this passage with the action of the sixth angel as they pour out their bowl ‘on the great river Euphrates’ and the water dried up. Why? ‘To prepare the way for the kings from the East’. Look back to 9:14 when the sixth angel sounded his trumpet and a voice from heaven said “release the four angels who are bound at the great river Euphrates”, and ‘mounted troops numbering twice ten thousand times ten thousand’ destroyed a third of mankind.  When will humanity listen, how many terrible ‘woes’ will people endure before they recognise God’s awesome power? Through all this, though, we have to remember God’s love for His chosen is unflinching; it is solid. It can be easy to feel that God is a vengeful God, but we must remember that Jesus died for all humanity to reconcile mankind to God. In 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 Paul writes that God “through Christ, reconciled us to himself and gave us the ministry of reconciliation; that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their sins against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” All who hear can be saved after all, continuing with the verses before from Corinthians: “we are ambassadors for Christ, God making His appeal through us”. Paul continues “we implore you on behalf of Christ be reconciled to God”. In those words Paul makes clear the urgency that is before us, not just for ourselves but for all those we come into contact with. So in all we have read about in Revelation so far we must not forget God’s love. John 15:13; “greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends”.

24/11 – With Revelation 14:14-end of 15 God’s wrath, having taken a slight pause before, is introduced yet again with references back into previous visions that John witnessed. There is a strong element of continuity in it. In the opening verse 15 John writes “before me was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man”. Is this meant to refer to Jesus? Or is it just a human figure instead of the angels that keep appearing? Yet again we seem to be back at the temple. The human figure has in his hand a sharp sickle which an angel, from the temple, tells him to “Take your sickle and reap, because the time to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is ripe”. What harvest? Is it one of grain, the fruits of the earth? Possibly, because ‘the earth was harvested’, but there is no account of humility being involved. Now another angel appears, again with a sickle. Then “still another angel, who had charge of the fire, came from the altar” and commanded the angel with the sickle to “gather the clusters of grapes from the earth’s vine, because its grapes are ripe”. The angel with the sound voice, “who had charge of the fire”, seems to refer back to 8:3-5, possibly the same angel who “took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth”. Now judgement falls on those mentioned in 14:10, those who fell under the power of the beast, for “they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath.” That is about to happen with a shocking result, for the “angel swung his sickle on the earth, gathered its grapes and threw them into the great winepress of God’s wrath. They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press.”  At the start of chapter 15 we have John writing he saw a ‘marvellous sign’. Often he starts another sequence by describing what is before, such as ‘I saw another mighty angel’ (10:1), ‘a great sign’ (12:1). He does that here to introduce seven more angels, this time with “the seven last plagues”. When the sequence of the seven seals reached the last one in 7:9 the angel with ‘the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth; and there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake’. This time John saw “what looked like a sea of glass glowing with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name. They held harps given them by God”, for they were singing a song about “God’s servant Moses and of the Lamb”: Jewish and Christian narratives brought together. The seven plagues follow the pattern of Exodus, but in reverse, and the scene where “the temple was filled with smoke from the glory of God and from his power, and no one could enter the temple” goes back to Moses in Exodus 38:21, 40:34.  It seems the dramatic events unfolding as with the seals are in response to the prayers of God’s people, or perhaps, God’s anger at the way His people have been treated. His people, however, are held in a special place, protected. They stood around the ‘glass glowing with fire’. We need to pray that we remain ‘victorious over the beast and its image and over the number of its name’, and live as Jesus teaches, remembering we need to pray for those who have done harm to the children of God. Let us live in such a way it challenges them to think again and seek God through Jesus Christ.

23/11 – There is so much content in Revelation it is impossible to draw out all the elements of any given passage. There is a danger, when observing a tapestry being made, that one looks only at one thread as it is sewn in, so missing its full context and grandeur. These reflections can only ever be a small part of the story. Revelation 14:1-13 again presents a lot to engage with. There is much nuanced text within these chapters that can lead off in different directions. Let’s try to focus on where this vision is taking us. Heaven it seems is a place of much song. We have that again here; there is another new song, but one, in order to be authentic, only the 144,000 can learn. Sometimes we hear music that is technically spot on, is brilliant in its playing, but we sense that there is something lacking, there is no conviction, no emotion, no heart in it. Without that the notes alone are inadequate; the song does not convey its full meaning and power. The 144,000, which is now a representative number that includes the “great multitude that no one could count” (Rev 7:9) are the souls who have given their lives to the ‘Lamb’, to Christ. They it is who give authenticity to the music. Because “they follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among mankind and offered as first fruits to God and the Lamb”.  It seems the beasts are missing from John’s vision at this point, only getting a mention later on, but the consequences of their time are still evident as we read on. John now sees another group of angels,  three of which speak out messages. The first is “Fear God and give him glory” and “worship him who made the heavens, the earth, the sea and the springs of water.” The second is the first mention of the city of Babylon in Revelation, “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon the Great which made all the nations drink the maddening wine of her adulteries”; it echoes the words in Isaiah 21:9 and Jeremiah 51:7; more on Babylon follows later. Then the third angel who makes it quite clear as to the consequences of ‘drinking from that cup’ and “those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.” God’s judgement, God’s fury, will be poured out. Again we hear those words of caution to the faithful: “this calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus.” This implies that those alive then and now are still involved in this vision, part of the growing “great multitude that no one could count”. We are called to remain faithful, whatever happens, keeping God’s commands and enduring the problems around us. We have a God who is faithful to us, to Him we turn. Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me! Pardon for sin and a peace that endureth, Thine own dear presence to cheer and to guide; strength for today and bright hope for tomorrow, blessings all mine, with ten thousand beside!Ephesians 1:13-14 “And you also were included in Christ when you heard the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation. When you believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.”

22/11 – Luke 19:29-41 is the account of Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem and the adulation from the people with the words “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” This Sunday as we prepare for the Advent season is where we celebrate ‘Christ the King’. To the complaining Pharisees, Jesus said, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace – but now it is hidden from your eyes. The days will come upon you when your enemies will build an embankment against you and encircle you and hem you in on every side. They will dash you to the ground, you and the children within your walls. They will not leave one stone on another, because you did not recognise the time of God’s coming to you.” We are usually led to understand this as Jesus predicting the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans in the Roman subjugation of the Jewish Zealots in Jerusalem and the city’s destruction along with the temple. This, and other battles that followed, led to the diaspora (scattering) of the Jews around the world.  Jesus and king are never used together in the gospels, however ‘Christ’ means the ‘anointed’ – a king. The gospels do identify Jesus as king though. In Matthew 2:2 the wise men ask “where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?” In Luke 1:31-33 Gabriel tells Mary, ‘you will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”’ John, in his gospel, tells of Pilate in 18:33 asking Jesus if he is the king of the Jews; the cryptic answer Jesus gives is “my kingdom is not of this world”. Paul, in the concluding verses of his first letter to Timothy, writes “… of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession. I charge you to keep this command without spot or blame until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, which God will bring about in his own time — God, the blessed and only Ruler, the King of kings and Lord of lords, who alone is immortal and who lives in unapproachable light”. Putting all this to one side, the real question has to be – is Christ a King to us? Do we acknowledge His authority and rule or does he represent the modern take on monarchy, just a ‘titular head’ with no power? There is no point in holding this feast day (Christ the King) if, in reality, we have dethroned Him. In Revelation 19:16 John writes: “on his robe and on his thigh he has this name written: KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS”. To give power to Jesus, in the spiritual battles of this world and in heavenly realms, we, like Daniel, must pray, affirming Jesus as King of all, not as words but as a reality. Lord Jesus may You rule in our hearts and in our lives as we name You ‘King of Kings and Lord of Lords’. May no-one come between us as Your people, and You, as our God and Saviour.

21/11 – Revelation 13:11-end is one of the most intriguing and at the same time difficult passages in the revelation to John. There is a quite fundamental question here and that is – is this vision which John conveys to us from God or has John put his own stamp on it and manipulated it to be political polemic against Rome? If we take the latter to be true, which many commentators seem to, then we have to question the opening verses of Revelation: “The revelation from Jesus Christ, which God gave him to show his servants what must soon take place. He made it known by sending his angel to his servant John, who testifies to everything he saw – that is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ.” People who have no real interest in the bible are drawn to this part of the revelation to John and approach it from a secular perspective where the influence of God is irrelevant. This, by consequence, has shaped much of the thinking and interpretation of these passages. If we are to place God and Jesus Christ as the originators of this vision to John then our interpretation has to change. We should go back to Thursday’s reflection and the quote about history repeating itself if we don’t take note of it. Yes, this part of the vision may be about what had been a main influence, in terms of persecution, on the Christian community in the time up to and including the exile of John to Patmos. But this is a warning for the future that we have to take note of. This accounts for the verses 12:13, “hold fast their testimony about Jesus” and 13:10 “This calls for patient endurance and faithfulness on the part of God’s people”. The second beast, in this part of the chapter, is subservient to the first and “the second beast was given power to give breath to the image of the first beast, so that the image could speak and cause all who refused to worship the image to be killed”. Idolatry seems central to this action narrative. However, moving on, the item that has gripped people the most is the number 666 at the end of the chapter, especially given that John puts “for it is the number of a man”. Ever since John’s revelation people have engaged in gematria. This is a numerological system developed by those who followed Kabbalah, a form of Jewish mysticism, where the characters in the Hebrew alphabet (it has 22) correspond to numbers. The problem is that names can be made to fit, but that does not mean it is right to do so. However, there is another way of looking at this that perhaps takes it away from John’s imagination and moves it more in God’s direction. Seven is a common number in Revelation, and half of seven years is 42 months or 1260 days. These values are used as a divine limit on events, for example, the authority of the dragon and the beast. The value of six falls short of the divine value of seven, 666 would represent a triple shortfall of the perfection of seven. Are we being told that we are to look out for anything that falls short of good (God) and by implication is evil (satan)? The engagement with the dragon and two beasts is one that is ongoing where “this calls for wisdom”. John writes “Let the person who has insight calculate the number of the beast”: Could this be a suggestion to have wisdom in discerning the presence and influence of evil at work in the world,  to identify those who promote or perpetrate it, and to stand firm in Christ? “That is, the word of God and the testimony of Jesus Christ”. This is self-evident in the letters to the seven churches in Asia, well worth a re-read to give context. Lord God, we pray for the gift of vision, that we may share in Your future. We ask that we as a church family may work to fulfil the future as You would have it be, to move forward under Your protection, knowing Your will. Lord we pray for the joy of knowing we are part of Your kingdom here on earth.

20/11 – Revelation 13:1-10 is a return to John’s visual engagement, “I saw”, with the vision before him. In previous chapters 11 and 12 John said a “sign appeared in heaven”, recounting rather than witnessing, and in 12:10 John writes, “I heard a loud voice”. In these John was not part of the picture. Now, in this situation, John is there as the beast came out of the sea. The description of the beast is similar to 12:3; a family resemblance perhaps, is this beast an offspring of the dragon? Would this be why “the dragon gave the beast his power and his throne and great authority”?  Verse 3 presents us with issues to resolve. John writes that “one of the heads of the beast seemed to have had a fatal wound, but the fatal wound had been healed.” Do we look to Genesis 3:15: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”? Some commentators have suggested that this is a statement about Rome, the heads being emperors, and Nero being the wounded head. However, is this based on the assumption Nero would come back to life, a myth called ‘Nero Redivivus’, which circulated from the 1st century to the 5th? The myth led to pretenders who posed as Nero and led rebellions. A third such pretender was in the time of Emperor Domitian, who was responsible for John’s exile. In later Christian thinking the myth that Nero lived on led to Nero being viewed as the ‘antichrist’. So the contemporary conspiracy theory that Elvis is still alive isn’t new! The question that needs to be asked before accepting this idea is – would John have known and believed the Nero Redivivus myth? The danger is that the Nero interpretation is derived from future chapters, but did John intend those chapters to be used to supply an interpretation now? We have to read Revelation as it unfolds, just as reading the gospels, without knowing the final act, has the greatest impact. To grasp John’s revelation and its impact is to read it as it unfolds. What we need to be doing is not second guessing John’s given revelation, but rather asking questions such as ‘where has this appeared or occurred before?’ In order to really grasp the power, and often frightening aspects, of Revelation we have to immerse ourselves in the moment of the account.  The outcome of the appearance of the beast and the dragon is that “the whole world was filled with wonder and followed the beast. People worshipped the dragon because he had given authority to the beast, and they also worshipped the beast and asked, ‘Who is like the beast? Who can wage war against it?’” And in verse 8: “All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast – all whose names have not been written in the Lamb’s book of life.” “Whoever has ears, let them hear”, – where have we heard that before, apart from the letter to the church in Ephesus? Matthew 11:12: Jesus says that “from the days of John the Baptist until now, the kingdom of heaven has been subjected to violence, and violent people have been raiding it. For all the Prophets and the Law prophesied until John. . . / . . .  (15) Whoever has ears, let them hear”. God in the previous chapters rained His judgement down, till humankind repented and worshipped Him. How fickle humanity is! They have lost their worship of God so quickly. But maybe that is the story of the Old Testament relationship of the Israelites and God. How will this play out in John’s revelation? Lord God, forgive us when we neglect You and turn away. Heavenly Father, protect us from the distractions and false gods around. May we be ever faithful seeking to grow in Your word and to live out what we learn in our lives.

19/11 – As we start to look at this section of Revelation starting with chapter 12 it’s worth pausing to ask some questions. What is it that shapes John’s vision? We are coming to witness a cosmic battle that is between good and evil. We could ask what frames that? Why was John on Patmos? The island of Patmos was used by the Romans as a place of exile and John was there due to the persecution of Emperor Flavius Domitianus (81-96AD).  John was persecuted like many others over the preceding years; accounts are in Luke’s Acts of the Apostles. We already have the stage set for the very real conflict between Christianity and the Roman cult of Emperor worship. In verse 7 John references the battle between Michael and the dragon and their angels. Is this influenced by Daniel’s account in Daniel chapter 10, and 12, his encounter with Michael, and the conflict that was to take place?  The whole segment about “a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet and a crown of twelve stars” who was about to give birth, being pursued by the dragon, probably refers to Mary because her son is described as a male child, who “will rule all the nations with an iron sceptre.” (Look back to the letter to Thyatira 2:27.) Her child “was snatched up to God and to his throne”; this is undoubtably about the birth of Jesus. Look at the references in the gospels to see that when Jesus was born a spiritual battle was taking place (the slaughter of the children, Matthew 2:16) and the prediction of Simeon in Luke 2:33: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.”   Is the fall of the dragon (satan) referencing Isaiah 14:12-15 “How you have fallen from heaven, morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth”?  Some may interpret this coming section of Revelation as portraying past historical events or the persecutions by Rome, especially those in the time of Emperor Nero (54-68AD). However, limiting John’s vision to those influences and basing interpretation on that could be, as suggested before, a misdirection. The philosopher George Santayana wrote “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it”, a quote repeated by Winston Churchill. Are the influences that help shape the visions given to John, as much a warning about the future, as a reflection on the past? Finally, should we assume that the influences that shaped who John was, and how he thought, invalidate the vision given by God in His revelation to John? To say that would be the same as suggesting that God doesn’t use the things that have shaped us to draw us to Him. God uses who we are, our life story sometimes, to make us understand and know the reality of His presence. The influences that bring us to encounter God, do not invalidate His call, His presence or our faith. Perhaps the closing verse of chapter 12 carries a warning: “then the dragon was enraged at the woman and went off to wage war against the rest of her offspring – those who keep God’s commands and hold fast their testimony about Jesus”. We stand in the victory of Jesus, through the cross, but the battle is ongoing – “for a time, times and half a time”. Father God, you give us gifts and insights, give us also the confidence to use them for Your glory and praise. May we build each other up as heirs to Your kingdom, through Your Son our Saviour, Jesus Christ.

18/11 – Revelation 11:15-end is the culmination of this section of Revelation. The seventh trumpet doesn’t bring God’s judgement but instead heralds the praises of God’s people led by loud voices in heaven, who proclaimed “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” We are then united with the twenty-four elders, who again “fell on their faces and worshiped God”. What is it they sing? “The nations were angry, and your wrath has come. The time has come for judging the dead, and for rewarding your servants the prophets and your people who revere your name, both great and small.” However, their worship ends with a bleak note – “and for destroying those who destroy the earth”. Next the bookends: “God’s temple in heaven was opened, and within his temple was seen the ark of his covenant. And there came flashes of lightning, rumblings, peals of thunder, an earthquake and a severe hailstorm.” Next we move onto Chapter 12, which introduces a completely new sequence of events, reflecting some of the book of Daniel. The ju dgement of humankind is complete and the population of the world is reconciled to God. The loud voices also said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign for ever and ever.” Who can threaten the rule of God? The action is about to change, a new conflict is about to erupt. Lord, whatever happens, may we, like the elders and loud voices, always proclaim Your greatness, Your glory Your sovereignty.  Ephesians 5:9 – “speaking to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord.”

Over the mountains and the sea Your river runs with love for me And I will open up my heart And let the Healer set me free, I’m happy to be in the truth And I will daily lift my hands For I will always sing Of when Your love came down (“I could sing of your love forever” – Delirious & Hillsong worship)

17/11 – In Revelation 11:1-14 John is given a task “to go measure the temple of God and the altar, with its worshipers. But exclude the outer court; do not measure it, because it has been given to the Gentiles. They will trample on the holy city for 42 months”. This raises some questions, where is the temple? Is it Jerusalem? That would seem plausible if it wasn’t for the fact that the temple and altar in Revelation are always in heaven. Could that mean that the Court of the Gentiles is on earth, or is it earth in its entirety? Could this refer back to Luke 21:24, when Jesus says; “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” That seems to take us full circle with no clear answer, though verse 8 ends with “where also their Lord was crucified”.  What does it mean to measure? In Ezekiel 43:13 as in Revelation 21:15 it means measure, but some commentators suggest it means to count the worshippers because John is told to measure ‘with its worshippers’. As the people would make no physical difference to a spacial measurement, perhaps it is more about  the worshippers. Was the commission to measure given by God? For it seems God now speaks to John about the appointment of His two witnesses, who “will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth”. We could go down the route of trying to identify who the two are, as many have done through time, with some interesting results and sects forming out of it. However, it’s more about what they do and what that achieves, that is of interest. Firstly the two witnesses seem to have the power of the first two trumpets: no rain, and water turns to blood. They have God’s protection during the time they are prophesying, but at the end of that time “the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them”. (This is the first mention of the ‘beast’.) The beast kills them and they are left in the public square then, interestingly, “for three and a half days some from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies” – the very people that John was told to prophesy to. Then, we are told, God will breathe life into them and summon them to heaven. “At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven.” At last a result: people repented and “gave glory to the God of heaven”. Good place to end; perhaps skip to the last two chapters. Well, no, for “the second woe has passed; the third woe is coming soon.” The seventh trumpet is yet to sound. Heavenly Father, so often it can seem the message You ask us to share is difficult and makes us uncomfortable. So Lord, strengthen us to know how and when to share the hope and joy that You give, Lord, that through sharing the good news we may bring others under Your protection and love.

16/11 – Revelation 10 hits the pause button between the sixth and seventh trumpet in the same way that there was a pause between the sixth and seventh seal. Again, a scroll is introduced, but is it the same scroll that had the seven seals? This is a ‘little scroll’, which John takes from the angel who “planted his right foot on the sea and his left foot on the land”. This is the second use of ‘mighty’ in the context of an angel, the first being in 5:2: “And I saw a mighty angel proclaiming in a loud voice, “Who is worthy to break the seals and open the scroll?”’ There are descriptive similarities between these two references of the ‘mighty angel’, in both cases the angel is holding a scroll, but this time it is open, so is it the same scroll with the seven seals removed? We have seven thunders, but John is told not to write down what they say or do. Why are we not given the information about the seven thunders? Is it that what they were to bring would have no effect? For the judgement brought down on humanity so far had failed to shift those who rejected God; still they did not repent.  We also need to remember that the scroll was taken by ‘the Lamb’ and that the four creatures and twenty-four elders sang a new song: “You are worthy to take the scroll and to open its seals, because you were slain, and with your blood you purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.” perhaps the people referred to in 7:9.  John now holds that scroll and is called to eat the scroll, which he obediently does.  In so doing he becomes part of God’s plan. If we look back to Ezekiel 3:1, he had to eat a scroll: “Son of man, eat what is before you, eat this scroll; then go and speak to the people of Israel.” As with John, the scroll tasted sweet, as sweet as honey. Ezekiel was called to prophesy, “whether they listen or fail to listen”. John is told, “You must prophesy again about many peoples, nations, languages and kings.” John doesn’t seem to prophesy; however, the written ‘revelation from Jesus Christ’, which God gave John to show his servants what must soon take place, is his prophetic warning. We are given a hint of what is to come, even though we can take an educated guess: “in the days when the seventh angel is about to sound his trumpet, the mystery of God will be accomplished, just as he announced to his servants the prophets.”  However, there is another woe to come before the final one of the three. As we reflect on the three woes, it is worth dwelling on Jesus’s condemnation of the Pharisees and scribes, the seven ‘woes’ in Matthew 23:13-36; in the light of Revelation, what power those words carry. Lord God, we thank you for Paul’s words to the church in Thessalonica; “but since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. For God did not appoint us to suffer wrath but to receive salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Heavenly Father, through the Holy Spirit remind us to put on ‘faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet.’ And may we live our lives showing we have done so.

15/11 – The reading for today is Revelation 4, which we’ve looked at already, the alternative is Daniel 10:19-end. Perhaps, as Daniel is seen as an influence on John’s revelation narrative, this is not an inappropriate link. However, whilst there are lessons here, there could also be an element of misdirection in giving too much emphasis to Daniel’s visions in Revelation. That is not to dismiss any influence at all. In reading the book of Daniel, his life story or his encounters with God and His angels, Gabriel and Michael, one thing should stand out. That ‘one thing’ is Daniel’s commitment to prayerful preparation (fasting) and prayerful commitment, a commitment acknowledged by Michael when he said: “Do not be afraid, you who are highly esteemed”. Daniel, through his prayer and commitment was part of the battle that was in heaven; his prayers were felt in the heavenly realms. That is echoed in Revelation. It is the prayers of the martyrs and all God’s people, that are driving God’s judgement; a judgement made out of love for His own. It makes sense of Paul’s statement in Ephesians 6:12 that “our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.” Jesus tells us in Luke 15:7 that there is celebration in heaven when even one sinner is saved. What we do has an impact in heaven! Could we be more trans-dimensional than we ever thought? Can heaven and earth meet through us? Awesome!  Daniel made huge commitments to God. Maybe it’s an approach we need to follow, after all that is the lifestyle of those who, over centuries, have lived in the monastic traditions. They knew that a relationship with God took effort and time.  Lord God, help us, through Your Son, to build a deeper relationship with You, one that bears fruit in this world and in the spiritual realms. Strengthen us to put in the effort that is needed to hear Your words to us and to do Your will.

14/11 – Revelation 9:13-end is the narrative of the sixth trumpet and follows on immediately after the fifth. It heralds the release of the four angels whose work it is to “kill a third of mankind”. These angels had been waiting for this moment; they had a vast army of mounted troops at their disposal and they wreak havoc on the world. The incredible description of the mounted horsemen, though horses with heads of lions, would have been beyond the imagination of most people at that time. However, with mankind’s creativity and the use of the biblical images and names in books, films and computer games we have become annealed, or perhaps inoculated, to the disturbing power of the images. The interesting thing is, that despite the destructive nature of all that is happening to the people on earth, the “rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood — idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.” Perhaps thinking back to Exodus 32, and what happened to those who worshipped the golden calf, when three thousand were killed, and God sent a plague, and a whole generation were wiped out before the people could move on to the promised land (Deuteronomy 2:14-15), we can understand God’s judgement. However, in Revelation the judgement is on all who do not acknowledge God as Lord of all, living lives that reflect their faith. The letters to the seven churches call people to repent (Ephesus 2:5 for example), in fact up to this chapter a call to repentance has been made eight times. It is why each time we gather to worship, each time we approach our God, we are called to repent through the confession prayer, a prayer of approach. We can only enter if we acknowledge we are cleansed by the ‘blood of the Lamb’, Jesus Christ, our only salvation. The Catholic sacrament of Penance, made through a priest, is not in our tradition. Our confession is made directly to God, the only one who can absolve us because of Jesus. However, that sacrament of penance does show how central and important it is to repent, and we shouldn’t lose sight of that.  Our mission, God’s mission, of which we are part, is to reconcile the world to God, to bring people to that place where they can ask for forgiveness, a requirement of every new believer. As part of the absolution a Catholic priest would say “God, the Father of mercies, through the death and resurrection of his Son has reconciled the world to himself and sent the Holy Spirit among us for the forgiveness of sins; through the ministry of the Church may God give you pardon and peace”. The ‘ministry of the Church’, that is us, is to supply living examples of pardon and peace, as the first witnesses to God’s reconciling love, acceptance and pardon. In conversation with people about Jesus, a good starting question is ‘why should you go to heaven’? In the context of Revelation perhaps, why should you carry “the seal of God” on your forehead? Lord God, help us to be worthy to carry Your seal on our foreheads. Help us to answer Your call, in the revelation John was given, and Jesus himself called, to repent. Lord, through the Holy Spirit may we live lives worthy of You. Absolve us, Lord we ask.

13/11 – Revelation 9:1-12 perhaps starts with the end of Chapter 8 – “As I watched, I heard an eagle that was flying in mid-air call out in a loud voice: “Woe! Woe! Woe to the inhabitants of the earth.” Yes, there is worse to come! We now get to witness the trumpet sound of the fifth angel and the resulting repercussions.  Another star crashes to earth, but has a “key to the shaft of the Abyss”, from which comes “smoke from a gigantic furnace”, the sun and sky are darkened, and out of the smoke come locusts, except not quite what we expect if we look back to Exodus 10:1-5,  because these had power like scorpions. They are not going for the vegetation as in the swarm of locusts described in Joel 1:1-4. The natural food of the locusts had mostly been destroyed by the first and second trumpets. What was the locusts’ commission? “They were told not to harm the grass of the earth or any plant or tree, but only those people who did not have the seal of God on their foreheads. They were not allowed to kill them but only to torture them for five months.” We have a graphic description of how they look, then John tells us, despite what it says in Proverbs 30:27, that “locusts have no king”, but these ones do: “they had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon and in Greek is Apollyon (that is, Destroyer).”  The previous judgements, for that is what they are, were from above, this is from below. It implies that they come from the evil powers associated with death, destruction and the grave. We have to remember it is all under God’s authority. It is He who handed the key. In Luke 10:19 Jesus said “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. I have given you authority to trample on snakes and scorpions and to overcome all the power of the enemy; nothing will harm you. However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.” They are the ones with ‘the seal of God on their foreheads’; protected from all that is happening around them. Remember the seventh seal, the silence as the prayers of all God’s people are gathered before the altar of God, when the angel took “the censer, filled it with fire from the altar” and threw it down to earth, starting off this whole sequence of judgements as each of the trumpets are sounded. All this so far, up to the fifth trumpet is fairly disturbing, but “the first woe is past; two other woes are yet to come”. To counter what we read we need to revisit the positive promises to the faithful in each of the seven churches written to by Jesus, the promise made to the martyrs by God to be patient and the promises of 8:15-17. For God’s faithful Jesus’ promise that “nothing will hurt you” remains a constant. Perhaps we understand a bit better why the elders and angels fall down on their faces before the throne and continually praise God. We  too easily forget the words of the song we sing in church (Awesome God by Rich Mullins) that we do indeed have an awesome God – There’s thunder in His footsteps and lightning in His fists: Our God is an awesome God.  Lord God, keep alive in us Your awesome power, Your awesome love for those who call upon Your name in faith. Lord let us never diminish You by making You like us in size and knowledge. You who threw stars into the heavens and created all we see around us and give us life. Deuteronomy 31:8: “And the Lord, He is the one who goes before you. He will be with you, He will not leave you or forsake you, do not fear”. 

12/11 – In Revelation 8 the seventh seal is opened and . . . silence! Perhaps a silence that gathers the prayers ‘of all God’s people’, not just the martyrs as before, yours are in there as well. So ‘another angel’ is given responsibility of the golden censer. These prayers are incense before the golden altar, before God. Then a dramatic change; “the angel took the censer, filled it with fire from the altar, and hurled it on the earth”. Then “there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning and an earthquake”. Look to see how thunder, lightening and earthquakes seem to be used as bookends as John describes the events he sees. The seventh seal leads us to seven trumpets, to be blown by seven angels. Like the opening of the seals, the first four trumpet blasts stand alone in the events they lead to. Any links to the exodus? The plagues that were inflicted on the Egyptians? The results of the trumpets blowing are the disruption of the elements of life, the human environment, earth, sea, fresh water and sky, as those alive in that era understood it. The first trumpet disrupts the earth. The sound of the second trumpet results in “something like a huge mountain, all ablaze, was thrown into the sea”. Is that something to do with Mark 11:23 when Jesus says “I tell you, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in their heart but believes that what they say will happen, it will be done for them”. There are links with Exodus 19:17 and Moses’ instructions from God to the people. The third trumpet heralds a great star, blazing like a torch; a star called wormwood. In Jeremiah 9:15 God says, “I will make them eat bitter food (wormwood) and drink poisoned water, because from the prophets of Jerusalem ungodliness has spread throughout the land.” Does this look back to the letters to the seven churches and the activity of the Nicolaitans, the teaching of Balaam, and of Jezebel? Wormwood is not an agent of the devil, it is God’s retribution. Why is all this happening? Remember the start, the silence, the prayers of all God’s people, the call for God’s retribution. 6:10 – “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” That is what is unfolding here; like it or not, God’s judgement is loosed on a fallen world in answer to the prayers of all His people. Your kingdom come – well, perhaps this is about God’s kingdom coming. God, the avenging God is doing this out of love for His people, at their request. How can we stop this revelation taking place? Only by spreading the gospel, by sharing God’s love given through Jesus Christ, and saving people from all that John warns us about. Heavenly Father, help and guide us to people who long to hear the truth about You, and Lord let people near us hear about You. We ask that the Holy Spirit opens their eyes and unblocks their ears and frees their minds from the distraction and false teaching around, that our lives may be a witness to them of You. 

11/11 – In Revelation 7:1-4, 9-end we continue with the results of the sixth seal being opened. We have those dressed in white waiting, “they were told to wait a little longer”, until their number was complete. Now all the activity on earth stops, awaiting the identification of the 144,000 who would have a seal put on their foreheads, as the servants of God. Then comes the roll call of the twelve tribes, followed by an event which seems to reflect the entry of Jesus into Jerusalem, for the great multitude and holding palms branches and shouting praises to God and Jesus. ““Salvation belongs to our God, who sits on the throne, and to the Lamb.” They are then joined by the angels, who in turn sing praises to God and Jesus. Then we have a question that John is asked by an elder, who it appears already knew the answer, just as John thought. The elder identifies them as “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” That takes us forward to 22:14; then we have wonderful song of hope for the future, again, almost anticipating the ending of John’s revelation. This passage ends with “for the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; ‘he will lead them to springs of living water.’ ‘And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.’” This echoes Psalm 23:2 and Isaiah 25:8.   We have to note that John writes that before him “was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. They were wearing white robes”. So the 144,000 is an indicative number, for he ‘heard’ the number of those that were sealed, he didn’t see them or count them. Instead, what John was given, as he watched the unfolding vision, was of a great multitude no-one could count, who had died in the service of Christ, their blood was washed away from their garments by the blood of Jesus. So, what joy, the great doors of heaven didn’t slam shut at 144,000, Jesus hasn’t returned, by implication, there’s still room! But that’s not a call to complacency. There is much work to be done and there are many who will die proclaiming the name of Jesus.  We need to put our hands to the plough and not look back (Luke 9:62), keep focused on the incredible goal revealed in the revelation to John. Paul in Philippians 3:12, writes’ “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been perfected, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me …(v14) I press toward the goal to win the prize of God’s heavenly calling in Christ Jesus”. Lord God, help us to ‘press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of us.’ We thank You, God our Father, for taking hold of us, for bringing us together in fellowship, to support and walk together to the door where Jesus stands waiting. All for the purpose of Your coming kingdom.

10/11 – In Revelation 6 we witness the opening of six of the seven seals, a series of events that confront us with many questions. We have the first four riders, from the first four seals, none of which offer us any comfort. The first: a “white horse! Its rider held a bow, and he was given a crown”; The second: “a fiery red one. Its rider was given power to take peace from the earth and to make people kill each other.” The third: “a black horse! Its rider was holding a pair of scales in his hand.” Now finally the fourth horse: “a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him.” Often these are known as the ‘four horsemen of the apocalypse’; conquest, war, famine and death. First we have to work out who the first rider is to make some sense of the following three. Is the rider of the White Horse Jesus, or the gospel taken to the world? As we read on in Revelation that seems very unlikely; perhaps the rider could be false prophets, or false messiahs, some would suggest Apollo even, as he is often depicted, in Greek mythology, as riding a white horse and carrying a bow. If we refer back to the gospels, looking at Mark 13:5, 21-22, Jesus refers to false prophets as the first sign of the end of the age. As the book unfolds it could be reasonable to term the first rider as ‘antichrist’. All the remaining riders bring chaos upon the world. All this within the knowledge and will of God. Perhaps this is where our filtered perception of God as all-loving and forgiving goes off the rails and we find ourselves confronted with the fact that God does judge, as does Jesus. In Deuteronomy 32:23-25 and Ezekiel 5:16-17, God sends His arrows of judgement against His own people, sending famine, pestilence, plague and a sword will be brought against them.  The fifth and sixth seals, which run together, as we are introduced to the “souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God”, represent the prayers of God’s people, represented by the golden bowls. They cry out “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” Again, aren’t we taught to forgive and not look to avenge? Yes, but who says they will do that on our behalf? These souls are visible, not some kind of spirit entity; they are people with real bodies and voices. Remember God’s judgement of Cain for killing Abel in Genesis 4:10, what about Paul in Romans 12:20 when he writes “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head”: That is the judgement of God upon them. We can turn to Luke 18:7 “and will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.” The sixth seal is the response to the cry of the martyrs, for “the kings of the earth, the princes, the generals, the rich, the mighty, and everyone else, both slave and free, hid in caves and among the rocks of the mountains. They called to the mountains and the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!”” That is where our prayers should be, for those who stand under God’s judgement, that they may see what they have done to Christ, by their treatment of His people, and in that realisation turn to Him in repentance seeking His forgiveness. 

09/11 – Revelation 5 moves from the image of God at centre stage, and brings Jesus firmly into frame, but after John reveals his pain when realising that no-one was worthy to open the scroll, to break the seals. But the images and mood change with the introduction of the ‘Lamb’, “standing at the centre of the throne”. How big is this throne? For next we read that “He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne.” So dismiss the idea of some seat, this is a space that represents the seat, as in a place, of all power and authority, of all creation. It is a place that is inhabited by both God and Jesus, a place that existed, exists now and into the future: all this is happening now.  We also are involved; the twenty-four elders who are “holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people” – these our prayers. Jesus the Lamb is acclaimed as they sing a new song: “you were slain, and with your blood You purchased for God persons from every tribe and language and people and nation. You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God, and they will reign on the earth.” Pause – that’s about us. This is not some solitary act, but part of an amazing act, for we are joining with the voices of many angels, numbering thousands upon thousands, and ten thousand times ten thousand”. Singing together “Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!” Under God’s authority the focus moves to Jesus, as he starts to open each of the seven seals on the scroll; each seal depicts an event. The sheer magnitude of this event, this revelation to John is breathtaking in so many ways. The depth and meaning pitch “the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David”, words that resonate with Jewish believers, against the image of “a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain”. This image of Jesus as ’the Lamb’ recurs throughout Revelation. The Jewish expectation of the Messiah is transformed by the life and ministry, crucifixion and death, and the resurrection of Jesus, to the fully Christian Messiah. In the vibrancy of the images, Jesus comes out, as though emerging from a mist, a shape not fully recognised, until that moment when “every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, are quoted as saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever!”” A breathtaking revelation! What is our response? Perhaps just to focus and take in the magnitude of that statement, to take time to adjust our thinking. Jesus isn’t just some man who walked the earth, did signs and wonders, and died. His true identity is one with God, merged but apart, but definitely the same narrative. Lord God, praise Your name and that of our saviour Jesus Christ, who took upon Himself all the darkness of this world so that we may see Your light conquering the darkness and shining in the brilliance of Him, who is alive.

08/11 – It’s not long since we looked at Paul’s letter to Timothy, and in 1 Timothy 2:1-7, Paul writes “that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people.” On this Sunday of Remembrance, perhaps the focus Paul gives us is especially appropriate. He calls us to pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness.” Conflicts between nations start because of the decisions and actions of those in authority; however they impact on us all. In verse 8, Paul suggests that all people, everywhere, should pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. True prayer cannot be agenda-driven. ‘Holding up hands’ is a surrendering to God and doing so ‘without anger or disputing’, is about letting God have His way and being prepared to surrender to His will alone. God’s desire is that all people should be saved. He wants no-one to die without knowing the Truth. What is the Truth? That “there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus.” Jesus is the ‘one mediator’, the only one who communes with God with our deepest prayers and intercessions for others.  So as we, and our brothers and sisters in Christ, lift leaders around the world to God above all else may they know the real Truth. Lord Jesus, in these volatile and changing times we pray for all who make decisions that impact on the welfare and lives of others, Lord, that those in leadership may learn of You and turn to You, and seek to make lives better. We need to lift nations that are in conflict around the world, conflicts that are destroying the lives of so many innocents. 

07/11 – Revelation 4 marks a change. John now enters the throne room of God. He is no longer a scribe taking down dictation. He has been drawn, by invitation, into the presence of God. We again have that image, used in the letters, of an open door; through that opening he is summoned. The voice, that of Jesus, is not waiting for him to make the move. John is commanded: “Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.” There are similarities between what we read here and the vision in Ezekiel 1:4 onwards. The throne room John enters is one of constant activity, of permanent presence, one that John sees in his vision as ongoing, he sees into time. He interprets the majesty and power that surround and make up that space into the images that for him describe the indescribable. Ezekiel in 1:26 identifies God as present. John holds back and is unable to do anything but say, “the one who sat there had the appearance of jasper and ruby. A rainbow that shone like an emerald encircled the throne”. The elders present “were dressed in white and had crowns of gold on their heads”. Images spring out from the letters to the churches of Sardis and Laodicea, being part of the fabric of the throne room. The four living creatures, also a feature of Ezekiel’s vision, a part of the fabric of the throne. It is almost as though John is describing the four legs of God’s throne being alive. The throne room is a living, thriving, worshiping space, of which God is the central character. Those words of worship and acclamation, “‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty,’ who was, and is, and is to come,” reflect the eternal nature of the worship. The three repeats of holy aren’t a trinitarian representation but an indication of ongoing acclamation, a praise to God ‘who was, and is, and is to come’ – who is eternal. It is only at the end of this passage that the elders identify for us, the one on the throne: “You are worthy, our Lord and God.” Why is He worthy? “For You created all things, and by your will they were created and have their being.” The result, is that God should “receive glory and honour and power.” Though that is not the order that John uses, it is what it is all about. That does not deal with all the imagery that John tells us about, but the point is made. So, following the letters to the seven churches, we are introduced to the dynamic force and presence of God, a God, who through Jesus, leads us into His awesome presence. Perhaps sometimes we fall into the trap of making our God too small, of confining Him in the limits of our understanding. The truth is, that like this vision John wants us to experience, God is beyond our comprehension. No wonder in the Old Testament people feared seeing God; one could not survive the experience of such an encounter.  Let us not limit God. If we do, we too quickly limit Jesus and the power of the Holy Spirit and our faith becomes impoverished. Lord God, help us to know You as far as we are able, to seek to be as close to You as we can get. Lord let us not limit our understanding of You, but be willing to know that, in the here and now, we can only know You in part. In all that, Heavenly Father, may we see You at work in our lives and in the lives of others. May we be Your expectant people.

06/11 – Revelation 3:14-end is the last of the seven letters, this time to the church in Laodicea. This is famous for the quote “I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other!” In fact they are categorised as ‘lukewarm’, and therefore rejected. It is a complacent church, one that does not have the wisdom to see how it is failing God. As in the letter to the church in Philadelphia, Jesus uses the image of an ‘open door’. However, in that letter he places the people in front of the open door, that ’no-one can shut’. To those in Laodicea he says; “Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me”. In each of the letters Jesus makes promises to those who are ‘victorious’. A different promise in each one, but the promises are about unity in Christ. To be in paradise with God, resurrection, they will be given a new name, authority over the nations and also the morning star, will always be written in  the book of life, will be a pillar in the temple of my God that Jesus will never leave, and finally to be given the right to sit with Jesus on His throne. It is reminiscent of Genesis 18:22-32, where Abraham negotiates with God in order to save those who are righteous in the city of Sodom, however few there are. In all that is wrong in the seven churches there are still people who are faithful, to whom Jesus will give a special place.  The other feature is that all but two of the churches, those in Smyrna and Philadelphia, are called to repent, all the others have fallen short in some way. But of the church in Smyrna Jesus says; “I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich!” and to those in Philadelphia He says; “you have kept my word and have not denied my name”, and “you have kept my command to endure patiently”.  There is a lot happening, or about to happen, to the churches in Asia, but the interesting thing to note is that wealth and success are not the criteria Jesus uses as the measure of true faith. He acknowledges those who are tired, are poor, and who suffer but persevere, those who sustain their faith in hardship.  The simple truth is that our relationship with Jesus is not easy and requires us, whatever the circumstances, to build relationship with Him, through His truth. The common theme in all the seven letters is that of steadfast commitment to Jesus, whatever the temptations, whatever is happening – then we become the ‘victorious’. That word is common in all the seven letters, we are called to live a victorious faith. In Philippians 4:12-13 Paul writes “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through Him who gives me strength.” Lord God, give us the strength we need to resist temptations and false promises, to recognise Your word and build on it as our rock, our foundation. Lord, whatever situation we find ourselves in may we find our strength in Jesus Christ alone.

05/11 – Revelation 3:1-13 moves on to two more churches, Sardis and Philadelphia. In these two churches, and the previous one, Thyatira, Jesus urges his people to ‘hold on’. To Thyatira; “hold on to what you have”. To Sardis; “what you have received and heard; hold it fast”, and to Philadelphia; “Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown.” The letters to the two churches in this readings seem to reflect tired congregations, “wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God” and “see, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name.” Paul urges us  in 1 Corinthians 9:24 to run the race. He writes: “do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it.” In Isaiah 40:31: ‘But they who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings like eagles; they shall run and not be weary; they shall walk and not faint’. Perhaps the words by Alan Jackson, in his song ‘O soul are you weary and troubled?’, reflect the same message in the chorus. ‘Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace’. Jesus is promising His faithful in those two churches that “the one who is victorious will, like them (the few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes) be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels.” And “the one who is victorious I will make a pillar in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God.”  It’s all about focus, and looking beyond the obstacles and working through the tiredness, about constantly repenting and trusting in God’s redeeming love through His Son our Saviour Jesus Christ.We have unfinished work, and if anything the space we are given in the Covid lockdowns is more tiring than refreshing. There is a real danger it robs people of purpose and delays our desire to achieve things for God’s coming Kingdom. In this time we must ’turn our eyes upon Jesus’, to find in Him the joy we need to be positive and fruitful. We can use the time to be creative for Him, to plan (in the vision groups perhaps) for the future together. That we, as a church, and individuals, may come out running the race, be lifted up as if with wings like eagles, ‘in the light of His glory and grace’. Let us continue to pray for each other, with each other. Let us serve each other and be a people who build each other up, that the ‘things of earth will grow strangely dim’, as we rise to see His Kingdom coming in!

04/11 – Revelation 2:12-end continues with the next two letters to the churches in Asia, this time to Pergamum and Thyatira. Pergamum (Bergama), now only ruins, was a highly influential city where rulings were made that affected the whole of Asia Minor. But at its heart it had many temples to other gods, to Asklepios, the Greek serpent god, to Athena and the great altar of Zeus. It also had three temples dedicated to the worship of the Roman emperor. Hence Jesus says: “where Satan has his throne”. We tend to think of the word throne as a ceremonial seat, but at that time the throne seat was where the master of a house sat. The inference is that satan was at home there, it was his domain, he was master of that house. On the arrival of Christianity the pagan priests rose up against its influence and the bishop there. “Antipas, my faithful witness” was put to death for not making offerings to the emperor and not declaring him ‘lord and god’. He was killed on the altar of Zeus while he prayed for the church in Pergamum. In the 1930 the Germans, having removed the altar, with the permission of the Ottoman Empire,  put it in a museum in Berlin, allegedly calling it the ‘throne of satan’ (now called the Pergamon Altar). The museum still exists with part of the altar still there, though the foundations exist at the original site in Turkey. Note also that, again, the practices of the Nicolaitans are condemned. Thyatira, today known as Akhisar, again seems to be a Christian community in difficulty, for Jesus says; “I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols.” The use of Jezebel could refer back to the wife of King Ahab of Israel in 1 Kings 16:31 who violently purged the prophets (18:4) of Yaweh and in 19:1 threatens to kill Elijah. Perhaps, with that in mind, the vengeance against the Jezebel in Thyatira, is so great. The Christian community existed till 1922, when the Orthodox Christian population was deported by the Turks.  A thread running through these letters so far does seem to be one of sexual immorality. Christian conduct in this area seems to be one God cares about greatly and Jesus in Revelation condemns. Both the churches in Ephesus and Pergamum are called to repent of what is taking place. We need to take this seriously, especially as we witness the effect of such sin upon victims. At the same time we witness a decay in sexual morality and conduct. Much is made of minor issues whilst there is a far greater decline that is tolerated (as in Thyatira). What would Jesus be saying about all that is happening? But in truth, it is possibly only because it is more open now, perhaps it has always been there but under cover. More reason to stand firm, as Jesus says to the church in Thyatira; ‘Now I say to the rest of you, to you who have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, except to hold on to what you have until I come’. Lord God, protect Your people from sin, from the harm of desires You have gifted us, but which can be used to harm, not bless. Lord grant Your people self-control and make us a people of blessing, in the wholeness of Your love.

03/11 – Revelation 2:1-11 is the start of the seven letters to the churches in Asia. The letter to the church in Ephesus makes interesting reading when we think back to Paul’s letter to the Ephesian churches and to Timothy, addressing the way they seem to have lost their way. The Nicolaitans mentioned are thought to be a Christian sect that broke away from traditional teaching and engaged in practices that Paul condemned such as sexual promiscuity. The origins of the sect are fragmented and unsubstantiated, but some of the early Christian Fathers lay the blame for its existence at the feet of Nicolas from Antioch, one of the seven deacons chosen in Acts 6:5-6. The other interesting feature of this letter is that Ephesian tradition suggests that John founded the church in Ephesus with Mary the mother of Jesus. This would seem to be contrary to the book of Acts and Paul’s letters to the churches in Ephesus and his commission to Timothy.  The letter to the church in Smyrna, taking the accuracy with which John writes about Ephesus, would be a fair depiction of the future of the church in that city. Smyrna (today known as Izmir) was a centre of Greek learning and Christianity and the churches there were probably established when Paul was in Ephesus as it is about 95 miles north. In 1922 the Turks took over the city and set about destroying it and obliterating any Christian presence. This period of time, with action against Armenians and Greek Christians and the resulting genocide, is termed as the first holocaust of the twentieth century. That somewhat transforms what is written by John and moves it closer to our timeframe.  Both these letters end with the promise of the future hope for the faithful in Christ. Firstly Jesus says “I will give the right to eat from the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God”, then to the church in Smyrna He says: “The one who is victorious will not be hurt at all by the second death.”  We live within the eternal protection of God, through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, who has called us to be His. Today people are still led astray by false teaching and deviant Christian sects that exploit people. Christians are still subjected to persecution and imprisonment around the world. We need to be praying against all of this as warriors against the powers and principalities of darkness. Lord God, You know and feel the pain of those who are suffering for their faith, just as Your Son, our Saviour suffered at the hands of people who knew no better. Lord we pray that those today who persecute Your church may recognise You and be changed. Lord we pray they will be redeemed.

02/11 – We now start on the revelation John was given on the island of Patmos, starting with the first chapter. It isn’t going to be possible to unpack all the imagery in depth. This is only meant to be a daily reflection that leads us on in our daily walk in faith. But as the book unfolds the images that John puts on paper are his best account of the audio visual spectacular that happens in front of, and around, him. Today, perhaps, it would be like putting on a VR (virtual reality) headset and having the immersive experience unfold around you. Some images are familiar in the Old Testament, from Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel, but in fact Revelation uses a fifth of its language from the first seventeen books of the Old Testament. The style is prophetic and apocalyptic (destruction of the world), however, it differs from the Old Testament routes by focusing on Jesus Christ as the ultimate salvation for the world. A lot has been written about Revelation, some quite fanciful, some very factual, being set in a specific time reference, one that has passed by. Perhaps the truth of interpretation lies in the middle ground. John is making specific prophecies about Babylon and Tyre that are shaped by books such as Jeremiah and Ezekiel, but perhaps some of that reaches into the future as well. Humanity’s path is perhaps more predictable than we would like to think. There are lessons from history and the book of Revelation plays some of those out for us. In the first chapter John opens up by identifying Jesus in rich imagery and quoting Jesus as saying “I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever!” John understands the commission before him: “Write, therefore, what you have seen, what is now and what will take place later.” So we are prepared for the letters to the seven churches in Asia; Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea. Much has been written and spoken about these opening words to the seven churches, but before that comes up it is perhaps worth reflecting on what we think Christ would say about our own church. How do we perform as a lampstand? Lord Jesus, reveal to us how we are serving You, what we do well and where we are lacking. Lord gives words to those who will hear You, so the whole church may learn and grow. Lord show us where we are overwhelmed and where we are whelmed up. (whelmed: noun – whelmed up – instance of flowing or heaping up abundantly; a surge.) Lord, may we do Your will, for only then do we bear true fruit. 

01/11 – We’ve been looking at the writing of Paul, as he applied his strong faith in Jesus Christ to his life and ministry. That being said, some would suggest that Paul subverted the teaching of Jesus and transformed it into a Pauline expression or interpretation of Jesus. If we look at Luke 9:18-27, the reading for today, (also in Matthew 16:13-16; Mark 8:27-29) through the lens of the life of Paul, that seems to suggest the opposite. Jesus asked, “Who do the crowds say I am?” Were the answers offered by the disciples only conjecture, were they responding for the ‘crowds’ or themselves? When Peter steps forward with “God’s Messiah”, was that his recognition or that of all the disciples? As we read on in Luke it is sometimes hard to identify if they really understood who Jesus was. Place over that doubt and confusion, Paul’s understanding, one of total certainty and commitment, one he constantly shares in the hope that others will grasp the truth. If we read on in verses 21-27 Paul reflects the positive commitment that Jesus talks about: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me . . . whoever loses their life for me will save it.” Paul was selfless in his faithfulness and was never ashamed to profess Christ Jesus as Lord, whatever his situation. His life bore out this text in Luke. Yes, Paul has the advantage that he had a direct conversion encounter with the risen Jesus, so it was a different time and situation, but that does not diminish who he had become, through the grace of God. And, yes, we read of the transformation that took place on Pentecost Sunday that changed the disciples, with most eventually dying for Jesus. How well do we rate if we lay our lives over the matrix of the words that Jesus spoke as a reflection of our commitment in discipleship? Really difficult, isn’t it? And challenging. As we read this text, do we interpret it as Jesus only speaking to the disciples at that time? Or do we allow Jesus to speak those words to us now? If so what is our response? What does it really mean when Jesus says; “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me”? This should challenge us, but not diminish in any way our experience and walk of faith. Jesus knows and loves each one of us, and yes, we will negotiate our relationship with Him, but He is patient and kind; the personification of the values of love that Paul writes about in 1 Corinthians 13. We must never be ashamed to profess Jesus as our Lord and stand up for Him. Lord Jesus, guide us in our lives to live for You, to hold the things of this world lightly, but to hold on to You tightly. Lord, as a church family, may we grow ever closer to You. ‘Closer by Your sweet Spirit draw me, till I am all like You; quicken, refine, and wash and cleanse me, till I am pure and free.’ (Words by Igene Perry Chapman)