Churches are places of harmony, acceptance and unity.
That may be God’s intention but it isn’t always what we find in real life. The smallest of issues can generate the widest of divisions , where “discussion” brings more heat than light to the table. It’s very easy to draw lines and erect barricades when that happens, rather than finding common ground on the things that really matter (there’s a big clue there).
The early church was far from immune to such problems. Human nature being what it is, some people found it hard to accept that they had to change (Acts 14); others thought that any practical changes to expected behaviour would be watering down the faith (Galatians 1).
It was serious stuff – did God want the gospel to go to all nations and was circumcision so important? Tune in today to two messages which develop the theme of freedom in Christ bringing harmony to the church.
You can throw seeds down on any old patch or earth but you can’t expect them to grow unless the conditions are absolutely right.
In my day, we spent a long time in O Level Biology, studying the growth of seeds: it was an all Boys’ school, after all. I seem to recall that seeds wouldn’t grow correctly without light, water or gravity (the last being very tough to prove). Above all, nothing would happen unless there was an effective growing medium even if it was simply cotton wool or paper, on which we sowed cress seeds.
I won’t grow unless I have the right conditions … and I’m not talking quality pies here either. You and I need nourishment and light as well as the right growing medium. God feeds us through His Word (the Bible) and brings light into darkness in Christ but how ready am I to grow?
For Hosea and the people of His time the real stumbling block was an inadequate seed bed. Nothing could take root in the kind of hard heart that had closed itself off from God, however persuasive the message might be. How might the church today need to change to break down our tough ground that faith may be rekindled and the fire of mission might burn?
Six Mile Bottom. Grunty Fen. Nasty. Ugley.
You can’t make it up: every single one of these names is the real life location of someone’s home. Like it or not – whether it’s a wry smile or notoriety you’re after – if you live here you are stuck with the name of your hometown or village.
To everyone else these names really mean little if nothing at all. The same goes for pretty much every village or place in the UK and further afield. Unless you’ve been there or read about them, most places simply don’t figure on our radar even if they appear fleetingly on a road sign, as a reference point on a map or in an atlas.
Iconium, Lystra and Derbe are a world away from 21st century Britain. Acts is written about the 1st century church and its spread from the very first believers in Jerusalem. All the same, the church then has so much in common with us today – it faced its challenges head on and grew through the Grace of God and the faithful witness of ordinary people. As today, power came from and through the Holy Spirit – an event we celebrate today at Pentecost.
There isn’t really a good day to bury bad news. It always gets out sooner or later
Hosea has a responsibility that few of us would welcome or would wish to share. Bad news is one thing, outlining the negative consequences of people’s behaviour is quite another. Relaying God’s judgement to a self obsessed and self righteous nation is neither commonplace nor likely to boost you in the popularity stakes.
The positive outcome – and it’s a real message not political spin – is that there is still hope. Circumstances outcomes and people can change. Even though we reject God, he is willing us to sort it and ready to welcome us when we turn round to rejoin him.
Ever wanted to be part of something special? Now here’s your chance.
From voting in elections to volunteering in community groups, there’s always something you can do to be part of something much bigger. It may not feel like it at the time but your contribution is always vital, even if it might not always be appreciated.
“If not me, who? If not now, when?” On the 4th June 1989, these words appeared on a banner in Tiananmen Square in Beijing, China. They represented the commitment of those who were rebelling against the repressions of communist regime that had been in power since 1947. Many of those who took this on board lost their lives in the battles that followed, others were imprisoned but, their legacy remains.
Conversion is not just an intellectual assent to welcome ideas. It is a commitment to a new way of living and to rolling our sleeves up, getting involved when the need arises. If you want to be part of something really special, get deeply involved with God and His church today.
As dysfunctional families go, Hosea’s takes the biscuit.
His new wife has a very insalubrious past and will have a racy future. God tells him to name his children in such a way that they reflect the state of the nation: imagine being called “God scatters;” “not loved;” not my people. It puts some of today’s celebrity choices like “Bear” well into the shade.
There’s a real point to all of this. Poor leadership and selfish personal choices have left the nation divided and on the brink of ruin. How can it ever recover?
There’s a lot of talk around at the moment about “alternative truth” – circumstances where it seems as if everybody apart from one person knows what’s right but the power broker is able to weave a very different web. It’s hardly surprising that more and more people are increasingly sceptical at what may or may not be real life events.
Saul’s conversion didn’t get the Antioch church pulling out the hymn books for a praise and worship service. They were, perhaps understandably given his history, rather suspicious of this one time Pharisee who was now claiming a close encounter with God.
The proof is in the pudding. Saul’s commitment to the cause of Christ is amply demonstrated by his readiness to tell a story and to give all the glory to God.
Learning to ride a bike is a lot harder than some people make out. Many of us only learned to stay upright because we had the stability of two training wheels, giving the confidence and balance necessary to ride off into the sunset. I still have training wheels. A strange confession you might think but perhaps it's not so unusual after all. I've a lot to learn about my life - it's called discipleship - and I don't think I'm that unusual in that respect. Today's reading tells us the story of Jeremiah's call from God. His reservations and excuses overcome, he embarks on a prophetic ministry which will speak to the nation at a time of uncertainty and which will, ultimately, lead them back to God. His training wheels may still be on but his challenge to His time and ours remains a potent call to holiness.
It can be a pretty lonely place especially if you are on your own. It’s tougher still if the reasons for your isolation are misinterpreted or misunderstood.
The church isn’t the world but unless it is part of the world then faith will never impact the lives of ordinary people. It’s not easy to work this out and remain true to our calling as, from time to time, churches have compromised by being too intimate or have created conflict by being too other worldly. Sharing God’s love with the world isn’t just about spreading wider – it demands we grow deeper as well.
News travels fast, even in the ancient world. Unexpected events and acute personal need mean that it’s sometimes better to deal with things in person, face to face, rather than sending instructions by letter. There’s always something to get lost in translation.
That’s especially true when the unity of the church is threatened by those who want to be at the forefront of the action, when they are better equipped for a supporting role. The wounded pride which follows a loss of the limelight leads to all kinds of selfish behaviour, impacting the unity of the church. The only answer is to remain faithful, serving everyone even when they are not known to us.
There’s lots of ways you can make your point about something important. Blogging, web pages and printed media have their place but they don’t grab everyone’s attention. The old adage – actions speak louder than words – still holds true. After all, you can’t really avoid something you see with your own eyes and experience with your own emotions.
Palm Sunday paints a very vivid picture of Jesus’ arrival. His entry into the city involves much more than entering Jerusalem to make a point at the Passover festival. In a very special and significant way, Jesus comes into the hearts and lives of us all as He completes the work He had been sent to do.
Patience is a virtue. Try saying that to yourself when you’re desperate for something to happen or if you want to escape from circumstances where you’re not able to thrive. As the light at the end of the tunnel recedes, it can seem as if the light in your life is being extinguished as well.
Joseph made sound choices following his involuntary change of circumstances. Instead of catapulting him into a comfortable future, those choices drove him into prison on the back of another’s lies. Even there, so far away from family and the new life he had carved out for himself, God had not abandoned Joseph. All he had to do was to wait and to take advantage of the opportunities God provided.
When we’re confronted by something that challenges our understanding of the world – some revolutionary new thinking, for example – we don’t always take everything in right away. Quite apart from working out whether it’s an acceptable and necessary change, it takes time to grasp new ideas or even fresh understandings of things we’ve been used to.
There’s no real substitute for experience, whether it’s reflecting on the tried and tested or the discoveries that come from working with something new, learning as you go along. Discipleship, the building block of the church, is a good example of this: we grow through what we have experienced and, in being open to the leading of God’s Spirit, are invited to embrace the unfolding vision God has for His church.
Many of us will find ourselves in a position of responsibility at one time or another. Whatever the outcome of those circumstances, there’s a couple of things common to all such events. To be responsible is to be in a place of trust, where you also set a clear example to those around you.
Trust is particularly fragile. It’s tough to get hold of but easy to lose. One small slip, seemingly unconnected to the real matter in hand paints a picture and our good example is blown out of the water It’s bad enough – and very embarrassing when something has happened, far tougher when we – like Joseph – find ourselves at the rough end of some devious power play, where lies are far more interesting than the truth.