It's the time of year when Toy makers rely on one thing to increase their annual profits. No it's not higher prices and greater profit margins (although you could be forgiven for thinking as much) but something far more insidious and personal.
Marketing experts have long known the commercial value of harnessing two forms of human behaviour into their sales culture. What's on trend and what's in the mind. You could describe the former as fashion and popularity and the latter as desire and pester power. Those of you who have young children will know what I mean, particularly when it comes to the softening up exercises of a small child who know what they want. Mind you, we adults have our own very special ways and means of getting hold of this year's must have gifts as well.
On the basis of today's reading, you might be forgiven if you came away with the superficial impression that if you pray hard enough, for long enough, God will eventually surrender and give you what you want. Is this really the case - that we can determine the will of God by making a nuisance of ourselves?
The point Jesus makes is that God is nothing like the man portrayed in the first parable. Where the judge is open to bribery, God is not. When the Judge is unjust, God is always righteous. When the judge finds an excuse, God is ready to bless.
Don’t know what to think? Don’t know where to go? Pushed around and feel like you’re not in control of your own life?
If that’s the case you’re in very good company. Most of us have been there at some time or another: some of us are there right now where it feels like we’re paddling madly and working harder just to stand still. Moving on is something else entirely.
That’s just the sort of personal circumstances Jesus saw all around him. Harassed people, driven from pillar to post by economic necessity and the dictates of a system beyond their control. He was moved then and he’s moved now. He invites us all to get involved whether it’s to go and offer help, standing with those in need right where they need it, or being honest enough to admit it when things get too much for us.
Pray without ceasing. It sounds good and wholly spiritual but how do we fit our conversation with God (prayer) into and around our busy lives?
Prayer is much more than that. It’s not something you do occasionally, or even for a few minutes every day. Prayer, when applied to your life the way God intended it to be, is a 24-hour-a-day, seven-day-a-week connection with God. It is a life not a lifestyle.
It is up to us to keep the lines of communication open with God. As long as those lines are open, God can continue to work in your life. If your attitude is wrong, He can help you correct it. If you have sin in your life, He can help you overcome it. If you’re feeling sorry for yourself, He can help you develop a more accurate perspective on life.
We cannot change lives at arms’ length: we need to be involved. Discipleship isn’t just believing the right things or reciting the ancient creeds. Missional churches aren’t missional unless and until they engage with those who need to experience Christ for themselves.
Watching someone else do it is great, Talk is easy but doing it for ourselves (personal action/involvement) is another thing entirely. Disciples have the personal resources (gifts and character) and they also have the authority (power). They also know what’s expected of them – preaching, healing, confronting evil.
Connecting with broken lives is a messy business. It’s costly, time consuming and demands a level of self sacrifice and commitment we may find hard to take. Where the task becomes too much, let’s remember what Christ took on for us (Philippians 3: 12) and our responsibility for sharing that gift with others
Remembrance stands as an example and a corrective to a nihilistic, fatalistic, self obsessed, selfish world. It points us beyond ourselves to recognise and to be thankful to those who have given so much to and for us. It also calls us to examine our hearts because it begs the question: what might sacrifice look like for you and i?
Psalm 46 is a celebration of security. We know where we stand with God because we know from experience what He is like. Whether it is to affirm the position of a nation state or to confirm the standing of an individual, Psalm 46 tells us that our status, development and hope all depend on one thing: our relationship with God.
Whether you’re part of a church or involved in running a business, Mission statements are all the rage.
A few well chosen words – perhaps with a snappy catchphrase - articulate the values and goals of the organisation. A lot of time can be spent getting the statement just right but the real problem lies when you go beyond the words.
How will you deliver the promises that are publicly displayed? How committed are you as an employee/church member to achieving the corporate goals and adopting the communal mindset?
The mission of the church is The Great Commission for the church. We are invited to partner with God in taking the gospel to the ends of the earth. Every believer is expected to participate and no nation will be left out. The opportunity is there for everyone to fully engage with God, to receive Christ and to grow up in their faith.
Battles and wars are fought on many fronts.
On one level there are the strategic campaigns of big battles, fought over large areas, with army pitted against army, man against man. Then, there are the tactical (day to day) matters: small pieces of the jigsaw that go on to make up the big picture of any military campaign. In any battle, though, not everything that contributes to victory or defeat is immediately visible: some things are certainly not as they first appear.
Ephesians 6 places prayer firmly in the context of a battleground where the struggle is both within ourselves and between the (often competing) claims of Christ and culture. Praying in the Spirit is God’s great provision and the church’s biggest opportunity
Men may spurn our appeals, reject our message, oppose our arguments, despise our persons, but they are helpless against our prayers (J Sidlow Baxter)
The closer you are to danger, the further away you are from harm.
What may be true in Tolkein’s fantasy land of Middle Earth is rather different when it comes to real life decisions. It is, as they say, one of those battles where you have to choose very wisely. The martyr syndrome isn’t attractive but the importance of standing our ground on well thought out principles and beliefs won’t necessarily win you many awards.
We all know the story of the furnace but we can easily overlook the reasons why the King saw it as the solution to those who wouldn’t toe his line. For the 3 young men it was a matter of principle, a line that shouldn’t – couldn’t - be crossed. Their choice, to remain faithful to God or to reject all they had stood for, is one we have to make daily: it’s often not easy but God will always reward the faithful witness of His church.
What happens when you are in trouble? When someone comes to you in need, what do you do? Ignore them, add to their misery or extend the hand of help and support?
When you see someone going off the rails physically and spiritually do you leave them to God to get sorted out? Do you shrug your shoulders, thank God that you are not like that, and remind yourself that it’s His job to do it?
If there is one thing we can learn from the New Testament, it’s this: our responsibility as believers extends beyond ourselves - and our actions and our attitudes have a significant impact on the life of the church as a whole. Our calling as members of the body of Christ is to share the burdens, to enjoy the triumphs and to celebrate the joys of one another within the church community.
It’s the next step in conquest but the battle lines are drawn in an unexpected manner. There’s opposing “sides” as always but this time there’s more to the fight that one army against another.
It’s holy ground. It’s God’s fight.
Battle hardened strategist Joshua could have ploughed straight into the battle with scarcely a second glance at a man standing in the middle of the road. Mindful of his commission – be bold, be strong, be courageous – he advances with care as he learns that God has it all under control.
It’s easy to jump in when we think the plan is clear enough. Joshua’s example reminds us that it’s vital to follow God’s directions not our own inclinations. The latter will only result in confusion at best and disaster at worst (as chapter 7 illustrates).
There's nothing more inspiring than the power of example.
When we see a friend involved in something they feel is important and which clearly lifts them significantly, we'll want to join in if we can. When it's clearly a vital part of their life, there's an added impetus for us to take part.
The disciples have been with Jesus as he's taught the crowds, healed the sick and shared food and drink with outcasts. They've seen demons cast out, the religious system (and its leaders) challenged and have committed to following him. Seeing Jesus pray they ask for guidance on how they, too, might keep close to God.
Meg Atkinson works for SASRA, a Christian Charity focussing on direct mission and support to those in the Armed Forces. Over 40 years of experience means Meg has a few stories to tell as well as a message to share.
The film “Wall Street” (1987) tells the story of a stockbroker who is willing to do anything to get to the top. This includes trading on the (illegal) inside information he obtains through the ruthless exploitation of a young man he takes under his wing. Profit and position are the immediate priority and the ultimate goal: as Gordon Gecko says in the film “Greed is good.”
The material extremes of 1980’s New York are just the latest manifestation of what has existed throughout human history. There has always been – and until the fulfilment of God’s Kingdom, there will always be – the “haves” and the “have nots.” This is starkly illustrated in today’s reading where the focus moves quickly from the circumstances of the Rich Man and Lazarus towards the underlying attitudes and behaviour.
Our misplaced priorities, finding practical expression in self centred behaviour and self indulgence at others’ expense, are not representative of the values and attitudes of God’s Kingdom. If not addressed there are significant consequences for our relationship with God.
"True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that - it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth." (Charles Spurgeon)
What does that spiritual transaction really look like for us? How can we really engage with God when on the one hand we have a long list of concerns, and on the other, we readily pray “thy will be done?”
Something always happens when we pray. If we really mean business, then we begin by recognising that prayer says something about God - both His character and His intervention in everyday lives and events. At the same time, there’s some very specific advice in our passage today about the way we approach God – it’s a privilege not a right, borne out of our need for Him.
When John Keats described this time of year as “a season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,” he portrayed what might, to our modern eyes, be seen as an over romanticised view of the English countryside. His words paint a picture of a rural Eden bursting with fruit, watered by warm rain, slipping slowly into the grip of winter.
Celebrating the harvest in the form we know it today began with a celebration service first used by Reverend Hawker at Morwenstowe in the middle of the 19th century. Then, it was an opportunity for small communities who were wholly dependant on the produce of the land, to thank God for all He provided.
Today our involvement with the harvest may not so be personal, but we are still dependent on the fruits of God’s creation. At the same time as giving thanks to God specifically, harvest is a time to thank God generally for all the good things he provides for us. It’s an opportunity to thank God for what we have as well as celebrating the fruit that God brings into our lives through knowing Jesus, His Son.