Accident or design? Pure chance or deliberate choice?
Whatever the cause we will all have found ourselves in a place we shouldn’t be, where a “No entry” sign denotes the personal dangers ahead or around us. It may be that we are (or have been) exposed to things we struggle to resist because they tap into a part of us which is persuasive, insistent and unlikely to go away without a great deal of personal resolve.
It’s a battle of the will to overcome such trials. It is one that is fought from the point of view of our spiritual standing and understanding. It’s a fight to the death and one we have to deal with personally – but that’s not to say that help isn’t available: it is.
Our messages today based on Genesis 39 and Psalm51 take us across the spectrum from temptation and avoidance to sin, repentance and forgiveness. We can stand firm, but, even if we fall, there is always a way back.
The imagery of “body” and “bride” paint a picture of connection and community, determined and driven by intimacy and trust
The church “works” (if I can put it that way) when we recognise the presence and welcome the use of the variety of gifts God provides. Bringing and keeping life in a church depends on more than simply knowing what we all do. It means that we commit to building each other up, alongside our work in developing the mission of God
This involves practical support (working together) and personal encouragement (valuing and affirming others for who they are and not simply for the work they do).
Getting to the top of the pile means striving for excellence, going for broke – making money and a name for yourself.
What will you do (and go through) to get “there” & gain recognition? How sharp are your elbows, how “in your face” are you prepared to be to reach the top? At the same time, what will you compromise or allow to slip so that you might achieve your goals?
There's few greater contrasts than that between a respected Teacher in the Synagogue and a poor widow with few friends and even less influence. On a spiritual level however it was the widow's readiness to go the extra mile which found favour with God, as opposed to the cold legalism of the Pharisee, the religious conservative.
What does it really mean to be a disciple? Is it simply a matter of blind obedience and then the rest will follow automatically?
The answer (as Paul presents it in today’s passage) has two distinct – but interlinked - elements. It is firstly a change in the way we live (vv. 27): as believers we are no longer directed by cultural norms but by our faith in Christ. The second element reflects a change in our thinking and the way we view the world – this will only come when “…. we have the same mindset as Christ Jesus” (vv. 5).
Heart, mind and soul – changes to these will bring about a change in direction and a new set of values by which we live. It won’t be easy – we are promised a struggle – but it will be, and is, worth it.
With a lot of relevant material to go on, it’s hard to decide what to leave out. It’s a big story to tell, simply because we have a big God whose love for us all is at the heart of it.
There’s always opportunity to use our circumstances as well as understanding who’s listening, to focus on different aspects of Jesus’ life as we seek to make our portrayal of faith relevant to those around us. (After all, Paul himself did it throughout his missionary journeys – he emphasised different things depending on whether he was in the Roman forum, the synagogue or the market place).
One thing Paul always included in any account of his conversion (in fact, in any account of the Christian faith), was explicit references to the cross and Christ’s victory over sin. The cross is not only central to his theology but crucial for our salvation. The power of the cross is not diminished by time: praise God that there will be many saved this Easter as they encounter life through the work of Christ as He died for our sins.
We can all feel drained from time to time, especially if we've been working particularly hard to finish a key project. The same can be true if we've struggled with relationships, have lost someone we love or are struggle to find or hear God when the going gets tough.
At times like this we need a renewed sense of spiritual purpose. We aren't going to get that without a fresh filling of God's Spirit that can only come from a close encounter with God himself. However hard we may have worked, whatever sacrifices we might have made - none of that can "buy" our acceptance with God. We have His love anyway but His greater blessing will come when we commit ourselves fully to serving and following Him - then we will see fruit.
Estimates vary. No one counted and there wasn’t an entrance fee to make the calculation easier. It’s likely that there well over half a million people crowded into the narrow winding streets of the old city. There were all there for a spectacular show but they got more than they ever bargained for.
Passover remains the highlight of the Jewish Festival Calendar. It’s an opportunity for people to celebrate God’s deliverance with communal feasting and worship which engages all the senses. This year, it would be different.
Just as Jesus rode into that city, so he comes into our lives. It’s often unexpected, occasionally unwelcome (we have to rethink our goals) but always for our benefit. The fast of Lent and repentance is almost over, the feast of Easter is nearly here
The harvest is ready and there's no time to waste if the crop is to be gathered at the peak of perfection. It's not just a job for a few - it needs all hands on deck. Anyone who's available has a place on this team and will be duly rewarded for their work.
However much work they do and whenever they join the team, the reward is the same: it's exactly what the farmer has promised - no more, no less. Oh, and they will be paid in reverse order, too.
By some standards it doesn't seem fair: those slaving in the heat of the day get no more than those who have come on board in the last hour. But this isn't about industrial rights rather, it concerns the rewards that come from faithful responses to God's call. It's not a wage but a joy to receive eternal life through Christ, which is far more than we deserve. This is God's grace at work.
Enthusiasm carries us a long way but it's not enough on its own to complete a complex task.
We might be inspired and have all the right skills but unless our hearts are really set on achieving the goal, even the efforts of the great and the good to encourage us and urge us on will come to very little. We may hear the word of God (as the nation of Israel did in Haggai's time) but hearing won't sustain us through difficulty unless we are prepared to take on board everything God says.
We often need just that little bit extra to spur us on.. It might be a simple reminder of what things were like and could be again - it could even be personal assurance that we are in the right place to achieve the right things for God. Whatever we need, God is always ready to supply it. But, be careful: it will change your life and outlook.
A crossroads presents us with a difficult choice. Do we turn to the right or to the left, move straight on or do we retrace our steps?
Spiritually speaking we will arrive at the crossroads from time to time - perhaps more frequently than we might be prepared to admit. If our faith is dynamic, growing and reflective we should expect those "stop, look, listen and move on" moments - we might even come to welcome them.
Stopping causes us to reevaluate our priorities and to (perhaps) re-orientate our direction of travel. It's an opportunity to renew our communication with God if it's been a bit fitful, as well as to reconsider and even restate our key goals and purposes. God is always doing a new work in the lives of those who commit to following Him but He delivers that in the tried and trusted ways and with the everlasting love that reflects His true nature.