The next value we have adopted is a church is that we are called to be people focused.
Like Jesus: caring for and loving people of all ages, from the youngest to the oldest; through our words and actions embodying and bringing the transforming love of God to our local community in Mutley, to Plymouth, the UK and the wider world.
Again, the crucial two words here are ‘Like Jesus’. As his followers we want to emulate his example and follow his teaching. There are countless examples in the gospels (well, okay, you could count them but I can’t be bothered and there are lots) of Jesus being people focused. In fact you could easily say that his coming into the world is because God is people focused.
In preparing for this Sunday’s sermon on this theme, I reflected that the two words ‘caring’ and ‘loving’ are indivisible. They aren’t so much two sides of the same coin as two ends of a kayak paddle. If you don’t have one you end up going around in circles.
Caring is often seen as a practical thing, whereas loving is a more emotional thing. But we care because we love. As I have mentioned before, this is not a mushy romantic love, or even the love you have for family members. It’s a dogged decision to seek the best for another person because of their innate value. That’s the sort of love God has for us. And we express it in practical ways as we care for others.
Caring for someone should involve us in praying for them, which is immensely practical, and in offering practical support and help.
But whom do we care for and love? To use another water-based image, consider ripples that are spreading outwards from dropping a stone into a pond.
At the start of the book of Acts Luke tells us of what Jesus said before he ascended into heaven. He told his friends that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the earth. They were in Jerusalem (local). Which was in Judea (nearby). To the north was Samaria (further afield). And then there’s the rest of the world (the rest). Ripples flowing outwards from the immense splash they would make when the Spirit of God empowered them.
For us, our Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth is: our local community in Mutley, to Plymouth, the UK and the wider world.
What’s yours? How might a people focused Jesus want you to care for and love people in those different arenas?
Those of you who have read previous bloggages of mine may get the impression that I am not the greatest advocate of our current government’s policies and approach. You may well be correct. I did not greet yesterday’s news that Boris Johnson has been elected as leader of the Conservative Party (and hence going to be the new Prime Minister*) with any sense of joy.
And now I am torn. Because although my political views are at odds with our government there is also a strong mandate in the Bible for Christians to pray for those in government and, so far as there is no conflict with my faith, to remain a good citizen of my country, I can do that. Heaven knows that our country is greatly in need of those prayers!
And I have to accept that, however much I disagree with the current government and however much I am astonished or dismayed at the choice of the new Prime Minister, I am supposed to honour them.
1 Peter 2:17: “Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honour the emperor.”
Honour is difficult. It is often something that we feel should be deserved or earnt. But in the Bible it is (usually relating to God, but also to parents and others) something that is due because of who the person is and the role they fulfil.
So if I am meant to honour the emperor, what does that mean? I think it means that I am to honour the office, the role, and the task. It means that I should be respectful of those who have the incredibly difficult job of leading this fractured country, whether or not I support their policies. It means that I should be praying for them, especially if I disagree with them. And it means I will try not to make derogatory comments on social media, or ‘liking them’ no matter how much I may agree with them or find them amusing. To do so dishonours those who are our leaders.
But let’s be clear about this: praying for and honouring does not mean endorsing. Being a good citizen does not mean acquiescing when I believe that something is wrong. Doing those things does not mean that I support the government. It does not mean that I cannot protest against injustice and campaign for the poor and marginalised. It does not mean I can’t write to my MP about issues that concern me (I am not sure whether I am on his blacklist now after all the letters I have written).
So don’t expect me to keep quiet about what I believe is wrong, but do expect me to be respectful, prayerful and honouring in the process.
Be blessed, be a blessing
*Rant warning: please can we remember that Prime Minister is two words. It irritates me no end when it is reduced to Pry-Minister by lazy reporters on the telly. Harrumph.
Carrying on from the last bloggage, I am exploring Mark 1:35-39
A summary of what happened is that Jesus seems to have found himself a good place and time. Jesus went off to a place with few distractions where he was unlikely to be interrupted.
He went very early because he knew the rest of the day would be busy. The fact that the disciples mounted a full-scale manhunt for him suggests that they were not used to him doing this, but if you read the gospels there are lots of times when Jesus took himself off to pray. He set aside time and space to talk with his Father. It’s not that he didn’t talk with him through the day, but he knew the value of giving God his full attention.
Sally will tell you that I am not a morning person so getting up very early to pray is not likely to bless me. But I can find other times in the day when I know I have space and can give God my full attention.
When he gave his Father his full attention prayer flowed. We don’t know what he said,but from other prayers he prayed we know he would remind himself who his heavenly Father is, he prayed for guidance, strength, for the state of his relationship with his Father and other people, he would pray that God’s will be done…
That feels like a good model for our praying doesn’t it? And of course it’s actually the model we call the Lord’s prayer.
Are you feeling guilty yet?
It’s really easy for us to look at Jesus, or at other people and their amazing prayer lives and feel like a failure. My prayer life is nothing like what I have just described.
But God wants us to be us, not to be someone else.When it comes to praying we can be really good at beating ourselves up because we don’t think we’re very good at it. Or we wallow in guilt because we don’t pray as much as the preacher says we ought to. Or we resolve on a Sunday that this week we’re going to do better, and have forgotten that resolve by the time we tuck into our Sunday roast at home.
If you come away from today thinking, “I must try harder,” or “I must do better” then I will have failed. Because that’s not the message I am bringing you. You see Jesus didn’t pray out of a sense of duty or obligation. He prayed because it was natural for him to talk with his Father,and because he was full of the Holy Spirit whose role is to enhance our relationship with God. Jesus must have found immense benefit and blessing in praying. If he didn’t he wouldn’t have got up so early to do it. He made time and space to give his Father his full attention.
Recently I have joined a gym. It’s part of my desire to continue my rehabilitation following surgery earlier in the year. When I started at the gym I found most of the exercises were hard and left me feeling exhausted. The next day my muscles ached terribly. But I have been going to the gym twice a week for most weeks since and I have found that the exercises are becoming a bit easier. I can lift a little more weight, walk and row and cycle a bit faster and further. And I find I am even enjoying it.
To compare our prayer life with going to the gym is rather inadequate but the similarity is that while we may struggle at first,the more we pray the easier it gets.
Let me change the image. When I first started going out with Sally we didn’t really know each other very well. We had to get to know how each other thought, we had to understand each other better and in order to do that we had to talk with each other. We have been married for over 29 years now and conversation between us is much easier because we know each other so well. Sometimes we know what the other one is going to say even before they say it.
So it is with God in prayer. The more you talk with him the better you get to know him and the easier the conversation (prayer)flows. And to help you get started I would suggest that you may find it helpful to find a space where you won’t be disturbed or distracted. You may find it helpful to find a time when you have not got lots of other things to do. And when you are in that space, tell God what’s on your mind.
Be honest with him because he already knows it anyway,but by being honest with him you’re being honest with yourself. If you don’t know what to pray, remember the things Jesus prayed about – use the Lord’s Prayer if that helps you. But instead of rattling through it pause and think about each phrase and tell God what images and thoughts it conjures up in your mind. What does it mean that you pray to your Father in heaven? What does it mean to say that his name is holy?
If you struggle to pray on your own, find someone or a couple of people you know and trust and join together on a regular basis to share and pray together. Or you could join a home group. Find support in your local church.
Relationships are deepened and enhanced by spending special time with the other person and giving them your full attention, and that includes our relationship with God.
I had an epiphany this morning but it’s okay, I’ve got some tablets for it.
No, seriously (and yes I can be), I had an epiphany – a sudden message from God that stopped me in my tracks. The passage of the Bible I read this morning* was one that I have read many times and it didn’t jump off the page at me like it did this morning. It seems to summarise brilliantly so much of what we are considering at the moment in our church under the banner of a 2020 vision and what God is saying to me personally.
It comes from a letter Paul wrote to a church in Colossae and it’s worth remembering that it is written in the plural – ‘you’ means the church not an individual on their own and ‘pray’ means ‘pray together’. The extract of Paul’s letter is Colossians 4:2-6
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.
This encourages me immensely. It encourages me because it confirms (if we needed confirmation) that the direction in which we feel God is leading us is entirely in harmony with the Bible. If it wasn’t I would be worried!
It encourages me because it reminds me of something I said on Sunday morning in church – that church is God’s Plan A for the world and he’s not working on a Plan B. The task to which he has called us as followers of Jesus is the same today as it was for the earliest Christians – to grow deeper in our relationship with Jesus so we can be better free samples (individually and collectively) to those who aren’t yet followers.
It encourages me because it reminds me that everyone in the church is involved in the same task that God has called me to, and I have the privilege of being paid so I can devote myself to encouraging, teaching, supporting, resourcing and blessing everyone else as you fulfil your calling in your daily lives.
It has been a ‘shiver down the spine’ moment – literally – and those moments are usually when I sense God has spoken to me loud and clear.