Word on Wednesday with John Mason https://anglicanconnection.com/category/ac-podcast/ The weekly podcast is a Mid-week Bible Reflection that includes Prayers drawn from an Anglican Prayer Book, Bible Readings (typically from the New Revised Standard Version), and a Bible Reflection given by an ordained minister of the Church. Each podcast session is introduced and closed with Music (and may occasionally include a song). Tue, 16 Apr 2024 01:16:23 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=6.5.2 The weekly podcast is a Mid-week Bible Reflection that includes Prayers drawn from an Anglican Prayer Book, Bible Readings (typically from the New Revised Standard Version), and a Bible Reflection given by an ordained minister of the Church. Each podcast session is introduced and closed with Music (and may occasionally include a song). John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. false episodic John Mason: Speaker and writer. President of the Anglican Connection; Commissary to the Anglican Archbishop of Sydney in the USA. John@anglicanconnection.com The Anglican Connection The Anglican Connection podcast A Mid-week Bible Reflection and Prayers, including Music. Word on Wednesday with John Mason https://anglicanconnection.com/wp-content/uploads/powerpress/WoW_logo_v3.jpg https://anglicanconnection.com/category/ac-podcast/ TV-G Weekly 7b78cb1d-75be-5744-97b0-3731eb378a3d 177772188 Goodbye… Or Goodnight? https://anglicanconnection.com/goodbye-or-goodnight/ Tue, 16 Apr 2024 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31657 The post ‘Goodbye… Or Goodnight?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The people of Bondi Junction and Sydney as a whole, are appalled at the horrific knife-attacks that took the lives of six unsuspecting people in a shopping mall last Saturday afternoon. Others, including a nine month-old baby, remain in a critical condition. The shock and the grief are palpable as loved ones lament their loss.

How do we face a broken world where, any day – and I don’t want to be morbid – we might unexpectedly die?

In First Corinthians, chapter 15, verses 3 through 6, we read: For I passed on to you as of first importance 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, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living…

Christianity didn’t start because a group of philosophers had come to the same conclusions about life. Nor was it the result of a group of mystics having visions of God. It began with a group of eyewitnesses. A company of very ordinary men and women who saw something very extra-ordinary happen. In a word it began with history.

It’s important for us to consider this. The four Gospel records reveal that on a number of occasions and in different ways, Jesus prepared his disciples for his death.

In chapter 14, John the Gospel-writer records that on the night of his arrest, Jesus told his disciples the was going to prepare a place for them. “You know the place to where I’m going,” he said. At this one of the disciples, Thomas, expressed his frustration: “Lord, we don’t know where you’re going. How can we know the way?” (John 14:4-5) ‘Where is this Father’s house you’re talking about? How can we know the way to it?’

And when the story of Jesus’ resurrection broke, John tells us that Thomas, who was not with the other disciples on the third day after the crucifixion, said that he didn’t believe it. “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my hand in his side, I will not believe” John 20:25b). A week later he saw him, risen from the dead. “Put your finger here and see my hands,” Thomas, Jesus said. “Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe. At which Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28)

Were these people deluding themselves, trying to make the best of the shock and horror of the crucifixion?

You are doubtless aware that the first Christian sermon was preached in Jerusalem some six weeks later, around three miles from Jesus’ tomb. Nobody was in a better position to test the truth of the story of the resurrection than those who were there that day (Acts 2:24). Significantly, when Peter insisted that Jesus was alive, risen from the dead, we don’t find 3,000 sceptics or cynics at Pentecost following these events. Rather there were 3,000 converts.

The first Christian preachers were insistent. Jesus Christ physically rose from the dead. His tomb was empty on the third day, not because the body had been stolen, or because the disciples had removed it, or because Jesus had come out of a coma in the cool of the tomb, but because of divine intervention.

And, to return to First Corinthians chapter 15, Paul assures us that there were reliable witnesses to Jesus’ resurrection: he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living…

Furthermore, Paul continues: …if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith (15:14).

Suppose someone had turned up with the body of Jesus and had proved without a shadow of a doubt that the body was his; or, suppose someone turned up tomorrow with water-tight evidence that Jesus had not risen from the dead, would you still be a Christian? I wouldn’t. Nor would the apostle Paul.

Jesus’ resurrection was not a mythical story. It was the real God, breaking into real history at a particular place and at a particular time. This, says Paul, is what makes Christian faith credible. It is true because it is supported by eyewitness evidence.

God’s ‘Yes’ to all who believe. In verses 16 and 17, Paul writes: ….If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins. Then those who also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost. If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men and women. But Christ has indeed been raised from the dead, the first-fruits of those who have fallen asleep.

Paul assures us that because Jesus had risen from the dead all who truly turn to him will not only benefit from the cleansing of sin through Christ’s crucifixion but will also rise from the dead with him.

In chapter 15, verse 21 he continues: For since death came through a man, the resurrection of the dead comes also through a man.  For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.

The problem. Because we’re related to Adam, we’re susceptible to death. We’re participants with Adam in turning away from God, and in a very real sense we all share Adam’s curse.

The bad news is that by one man death has come to us all. But there’s good news: by a divine masterstroke, by another man there is now resurrection for all who have turned to the Lord.

When we attach ourselves by faith to Jesus, we can be assured that even though our bodies may rot and decay in a grave, the day will come when we too will be raised from the dead. But each in his own turn, Paul writes: Christ the first-fruits; then when he comes those who belong to him (15:21).

On that great and awesome day when Christ returns, he will give a new resurrected body to all men and women who believe – people from all races and nations. For God’s people death is not Goodbye, but Goodnight!

And so we pray for all who grieve – that they may know the comfort and hope found in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Prayers. Almighty God, Father of all mercies and giver of all comfort; deal graciously, we pray, with those who mourn, that, casting all their care on you, they may know the consolation of your love; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and women and banish from them the spirit that makes for war; so that all races and people may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Easter Day is truly a gala day when we celebrate Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His resurrection underscores the validity of the Christian faith. Without it, we are lost.

That said, our Easter celebration raises interesting questions: ‘Why isn’t an empty tomb the symbol of Christianity?’ ‘Why is the symbol a cross?’ In today’s age when feelings and political correctness trump facts it would surely make much more sense if we focused on the themes of new life and hope that the resurrection symbolizes.

Yet, despite the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion was a bloody and brutal affair, the cross remains the symbol of the Christian faith.

In the opening scene of Luke’s ‘resurrection chapter’ we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body (Luke 24:1-3).

Despair. There was no joy in the hearts of those women that morning. They had watched Jesus die and now were grief-stricken and despairing. They had believed that he was God’s Messiah and were looking forward to a new age of justice and peace, of laughter, love and joy. Now, their only thought was to give his body a proper burial.

We can picture them trudging to the tomb in the gray light of dawn, burdened by their own thoughts and laden with heavy jars of oils and spices for the burial.

But that was not all: when they arrived at the grave, they saw that the huge stone closing the tomb had been rolled away. Was this some underhand action on the part of the authorities?

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them… (24:4). They had despaired at Jesus’ death and now they were terrified: they could only bow their faces to the ground at the dazzling appearance of two angels. And when the angels spoke, the women were even more confused: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” ‘You’ve come to the wrong place.’

Remember! “Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (Luke 24:6b-7a).

The angels could have explained the empty tomb. Instead, they told the women to remember what Jesus had said to them. The focus of Jesus’ words they quoted is important: ‘The Son of Man, the Messiah had to suffer and die and then rise again’. Suffering and death were essential to the work of God’s king.

In every age Jesus’ death has been an enigma – even for his first followers. Yet during the course of his ministry he had foreshadowed both it and his resurrection. Indeed, in his public ministry he revealed that he had not come as a political Messiah to bring in God’s kingdom through force.

Rather, he came as a savior to address our greatest need – our broken relationship with God. He alone could deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the doors of God’s new age.

This theme infuses Luke’s gospel. At Jesus’ birth the angel announced that God’s savior had been born. And when he met with Zacchaeus, Jesus summed up his ministry saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Furthermore, his words at the Last Supper are key to the meaning of his death: “This is my body given for you…”  “This is my blood shed for you…”  These words are amongst the oldest statements of Christianity. We find them in 1 Corinthians, written around 50AD, as well as in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which were written no later than the 60s.

In fact, when we read Luke as a whole we come to see that Jesus’ death is about God’s love and justice – central aspects of God’s character. Some say that Jesus’ crucifixion was a form of child abuse – a father punishing a son for someone else’s wrongs. But we need to remember Jesus’ words in John chapter 10, verse 18 where he said he would lay down his life voluntarily.

The movement of the Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). God, the wronged party, entered the world and bore the punishment that we wrong-doers deserve. God, as the judge, paid in full, once and for all time, the fine owed by the accused who have been found guilty.

Through ‘The Lord’s Supper’ or Communion’ in The Book of Common Prayer Thomas Cranmer taught and reminded us all of the significance of Jesus’ death with these words: Almighty God, our heavenly Father, who of your tender mercy gave your only Son Jesus Christ to suffer death upon the Cross for our redemption; who made there (by his one oblation of himself once offered) a full, perfect, and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

When we understand that only God could provide the sacrifice needed to satisfy his perfect justice, Jesus’ words at his Last Supper touch our hearts and minds when we take the bread and drink of the cup. “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me”, he said. After supper he said of the cup of wine that he passed around: “This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood” (Luke 22:19-21). It is no wonder that the cross, the instrument of Roman brutality, became, and remains today, the symbol of God’s extraordinary love for the world.

How we need to remember with true and grateful hearts the extraordinary gift that God has given us through the death and resurrection of his one and only Son, Christ Jesus.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Material on Luke 24 is drawn from my commentary, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

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In an article in The Spectator UK, Justin Brierley writes of ‘The Surprising Rebirth of Belief in God’ (March 30, 2024). He notes that ‘the New Atheists of the early 2000s – led by Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Daniel Dennett’ – and their bestselling books have led to ‘confusion, a mental health crisis in the young and the culture wars’.

‘It’s not surprising then,’ he continues, ‘that a movement of New Theists has sprung up.’ He notes that ‘influencers such as Joe Rogan and Douglas Murray are increasingly talking about the value of Christian faith and the dangers of casting it off. The former new atheist Ayaarn Hirsi Ali has been praising the virtues of our Judeo-Christian heritage, after becoming convinced that secular humanism cannot save the West’.

Significantly, he comments that ‘Christianity is not just a useful lifeboat for stranded intellectuals. If it is not literally true, it isn’t valuable,’ he writes.

It’s imperative therefore, that we ask whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is an invention. Life and death matters are at stake. If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins, Paul the Apostle writes in First Corinthians, chapter 15, verse 17. If it’s true, it’s life changing. Our lives have meaning and hope.

The first witnesses. In the opening lines of chapter 20 of his Gospel, John records the events on the morning of the third day following Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary of Magdala, one of the women who went to Jesus’ tomb, ran back to tell Peter and John it was empty: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” she said, “and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).

Despite the testimony of women being considered unreliable and inadmissable in first century Judaism, women – as the other Gospels detail – were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. No Jewish writer would have written this if the account were fiction.

Furthermore, John’s own testimony rings true. He tells us that being younger he outran Peter, but he didn’t enter the tomb first. Peter did. Both saw the linen wrappings lying there and the linen cloth that had been around Jesus’ head… rolled up in another place. It was as though Jesus’ body had passed through the shroud which included some one hundred pounds weight of expensive myrrh and aloes (John 19:39) and the head covering had been discarded. It seemed that human hands had not removed the body. What did it mean?

John tells us he saw and believed (20:8), but neither he nor Peter understood it. Like Martha who had said to Jesus that she knew her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead on the last day (John 11:24), John seems to have reasoned that Jesus had gone to be with God the Father, as he had said (John 14:2-4). But neither John nor Peter understood what Jesus meant when he promised they would see him again, physically alive. We need to grasp this, for it underlines the unexpectedness and authenticity of what really happened.

Despair. We also need to appreciate how Jesus’ followers felt when they saw him strung up on a cross. For three years they’d been with him. They’d seen him turn water into wine, heal the sick, restore sight to a man born blind. They’d even watched when, standing at the entrance of a tomb, he called out to a man who had been dead for four days: “Lazarus, come out” (John 11:43). Furthermore, they’d heard him teach and outclass the smartest minds that sought to break him. They believed that he was the Son of God incarnate.

Then to their horror, they’d watched him die! They’d heard his prayer of forgiveness and his promise to the penitent insurrectionist (Luke 23:34-43). They’d also heard his victorious shout, “It is finished” – my work is done (John 19:30) – as he died.

Their minds were numb with the shock and horror that Jesus would die the worst of deaths the Romans had devised – for the slaves and the very worst of society. No wonder they hid behind locked doors.

Resurrection. Yet on the Sunday evening Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John’s words, Jesus stood, contrast with the time they had last seen him – hanging on a cross, wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying the most ignominious of deaths. And when they had seen the spear thrust in his side, they knew he was dead.

Here Jesus was, not weak and limp, but standing, tall and erect, in command, repeating words he had spoken when he was last with them: “Peace be with you”. And to prove he was real and not a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side (20:19f).

Bewildered and confused though they were, they nevertheless knew he was alive. “Peace be with you!” he said again. At their last meal he had promised, “My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me” (John 14:27). His resurrection gave them the greatest assurance of the truth of his words.

They were overjoyed, but their minds couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was like a dream. But, as GK Chesterton once observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

You may have trouble with the idea of miracles in the New Testament because we now know the laws of nature. Dr. John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford University, comments: ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’’.

Jesus’ resurrection is not the result of a natural law that can be tested. Rather, as the New Testament tells us, it happened because God chose to over-rule, using his awesome, supernatural power (Romans 6:4b).

More than ever our confused world needs to hear God’s good news. When we turn to the risen Christ, he says to us, ‘Peace be with you. Have no fear’.

Christ is risen! He is risen indeed. Hallelujah!

A Prayer. Almighty Father, you have given your only Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old influences of corruption and evil, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen. (BCP, First Sunday after Easter – adapted)

You might like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Getty Music.

© John G. Mason

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Have you considered the legacy you would like to leave? I’m not speaking here of a material legacy for your family but a legacy or gift for the benefit of others. Writing in The Weekend Australian (March 16-17, 2024), Nicki Gemmell spoke of ‘the ultimate sacrifice’ of Alexei Navalny, the late ‘Russian opposition leader whose sacrifice was driven by a deep love of his country and of his compatriots’. ‘We’re not used to heroes in real life anymore,’ she wrote.

In commenting on Navalny’s life most commentators miss the point that his sense of suffering, even his willingness to lay down his life in the cause of human rights, arose from his Christian faith – something he came to profess in his adult years. Navalny’s heroism echoed in a small way the greatest sacrifice the world has ever known – that of Jesus, the Son of God.

Come with me to the Gospel of John. In the course of his public ministry, John records, Jesus spoke of his hour. When Mary asked Jesus to do something about the need for wine at a wedding in Cana (John 2:1-11), he replied that his hour had not yet come. Later on, he said it again (John 7:20 and 8:30). But in John 12:23, when Philip and Andrew reported that some Greeks wanted to meet Jesus, a turning point came. It was then that he said: “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified”.

Suffering. It is through Jesus’ death alone that God’s kingdom is open to all who believe in him (Jesus) – Greeks (the non-Jewish world) as well as Jewish people. Twice more, when he was with his disciples in the upper room, Jesus spoke of the time having come for him to depart this world through an event that would be his glorification – he was speaking about his death.

Sin-bearer. We get glimpses of Jesus’ understanding of the purpose of his life throughout the four Gospel records. An important key to the back-story is found in the prophetic words of Isaiah that speak of a coming ‘servant’. Chapter 52, verse 13 through chapter 53, verse 12 are very important, especially verse 6: All we like sheep have gone astray; we have all turned to our own way, and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, was born to suffer and die as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice for the sins of the world. The hidden nature of the depths of God’s love is revealed in the crucifixion. His imminent death would be his glorification – where glory speaks of the outward manifestation of his true inner character.

Glorification. Furthermore, Jesus prays that the Father’s name will also be glorified. Too often we forget that God, whose nature is always to show mercy, is passionate about rescuing the lost. In John chapter 12, verse 28 we read God’s response: ‘I have glorifiedyou (it), and I will glorify it again’ – a reference to Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead, and supremely in God’s raising of Jesus from the dead. Jesus’ glorification is also the Father’s glorification.

Judgement. Another significant facet of Jesus’ crucifixion we often overlook is that the world and its ‘ruler’ were judged then and there. For Jesus’ death involved a conflict with the powers of evil. As Jesus’ crucifixion involved the reversal of the events of Genesis 3, the original tempter needed to be deposed once and for all.

Through his crucifixion Jesus, the Son of God, not only overcame the power of sin, but also disarmed the evil powers of this world and triumphed over them (Colossians 2:15). Yes, the powers of evil are still hell-bent on defacing and destroying the image of God in us. But these very powers are in their death throes, kicking out against what they know will be their end.

The extreme cost to God. In John 12:32 we read Jesus’ words: ‘And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.’ He said this to indicate the kind of death he was to die.Jesus endured the extremes of injustice and torture, suffering and crucifixion.

Jesus’ death was not that of a misguided martyr as in the pop-opera, Jesus Christ, Superstar. Nor is the cross a heartless God punishing a hapless Son. Jesus tells us himself: it was his choice (John 10:14-15), because both he and the Father love the world and are intent on its rescue, no matter the cost (John 3:16). The death of God’s Son on the cross might seem strange, but it reveals the deeper wisdom of God and the invincible power of his love. Only God himself could perfectly satisfy the innermost depths of his righteousness.

In the midst of the noise and suffering of a troubled and evil world, Christ has left us an amazing gift. Through his cross he has not only conquered the power of sin and evil, but also of death itself. The breaking news of Easter Day that Christ is risen, awakens us to a hope and a future far beyond our imagination.

The events of Good Friday reveal that Jesus’ suffering and death weren’t the end of a heroic life, but the inauguration of God’s new age. This is God’s extraordinary gift.

It leaves us with questions we need to address. Do we truly believe this? Have we personally turned to the Lord with thankful hearts in repentance and faith? Is our joy such that we want to pass on the news of Christ’s great gift, no matter the cost, to family and friends, as well as to the wider world? Is this a legacy you want to leave?

On Good Friday and Easter Day may you know afresh – or for the first time – the joy and the hope of God’s gift of new life in Jesus Christ.

Prayers. Almighty Father, look graciously upon your people, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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In his recent insightful and challenging book, The Word of the Cross, Jonathan Linebaugh quotes WH Auden’s, ‘For the Time Being’: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

In First Corinthians chapter 1, verses 18 and 19 Paul the Apostle writes: For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Following the logic of verse 18 we might have expected Paul to say, For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the wisdom of God. Instead, he tells us that it is the power of God. Yes, in verse 24 he does say that the cross is the wisdom of God, but he wants to emphasize something more important. He wants us to know first and foremost, that in the cross of Christ the power of God is active – at work.

Paul doesn’t want us to think of the cross of Christ as a philosophical system set against the folly of others. Rather, he wants us to know that God, in his wisdom, has addressed the root problem of the human dilemma in a way that no other philosophy or religion has – through a powerful miracle.

Let’s think about this. Humanity has made incredible strides in the field of science and technology: people have travelled in space and walked on the moon; wherever we are we can keep in touch with one another and the world through our smart phones. But we still have a major problem: our relationships. There’s always something that causes tension and conflict – between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes.

William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was asked why he wrote it. To which he responded: ‘I believed then, that man was sick – not exceptional man, but average man. I believed that the condition of man was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between his diseased nature and the international mess he gets himself into’.

In First Corinthians, chapter 1 Paul is telling us that where human wisdom has failed to find answers, God has stepped in and miraculously acted. Through the cross of Jesus Christ, God has used his powerful resources to provide a solution to our human dilemma in a way that nothing else could.

The implication is that we live in a moral universe. We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life. We are creatures made in the image of our creator to whom we are accountable. Our deepest problem is that we have rejected our maker and endeavored to live without him. And what happens? The deep divisions in the western world suggest we aren’t able to govern ourselves.

And perhaps that’s our real problem. We don’t want others to govern us. We want to govern.

The extraordinary news of the Bible is that God has stepped into our world in person and that through the scandalous event of the death of his Son on a cross, he has powerfully provided a new start for the perishing. The cross is the place where God has destroyed all human arrogance and pretense.

So, Paul asks, Where is the one who is wise? (v.20). This is a reference to the philosophers of the day, Epicureans, Platonists or Stoics, who all had their views about what life is about and how it should be lived. ‘But what real, lasting solution do they have to offer?’ Paul questions.

Where is the scribe? he continues. This is a reference to experts in the Jewish law: where are they? Apart from focusing on the law which no one can keep, what solution do they propose that might sort out our relationship with God and with one another?

Paul continues, Where is the debater of this age? Where are the orators? Or we might ask, where are the academics or the expert media commentators who can offer a just and lasting solution to our human tragedy? Indeed, can we even trust the news media and commentators?  In February 2015 Brian Williams, a news anchor with NBC, America, recanted on a story he had told that he said he was shot down over Iraq in 2003. He said he had ‘made a mistake’.

Paul is saying that through the cross of Jesus Christ, God made foolish the wisdom of the world. God has upstaged the vanity and pretense of human wisdom by an action of his own.

In verse 21 he writes: In the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom,…

The brilliant minds of the world of academia, the expert voices of media celebrities with their unctuous tones, have not been able to offer a solution to our human dilemma. None point to God, the creator of the universe. And certainly, none point to the scandal of the cross.

There is something strange in what God is doing here, but there is a rightness about it. Paul is saying that God has deliberately ordered things this way so that an arrogant, self-centered people cannot, and will not, find a solution. If we could do this by ourselves, we potentially put ourselves in the driving seat and that would only add to the pride we already have… ‘Ha, God! We can do without you.’

But consider the second part of verse 21: God decided, through the foolishness of our proclamation, to save those who believe. This is breath-taking. Through the preaching of Christ crucified, a message that seems so senseless and inane when we first come across it, God has determined to rescue anyone who believes. I am sure you see the implications of this. God, in his wisdom, has determined on a plan that to human eyes seems ludicrous.

Furthermore, it means that all people – it doesn’t matter who they are – have an equal opportunity to benefit. Priority isn’t given to the highly intelligent, the wealthy, the successful or the celebrities. God’s offer of salvation is open to anyone who, by his grace, trusts him at his word.

The message of Christ crucified is God’s strange miracle that powerfully subverts the wisdom of the world and provides the one and only solution to our human need – restoration of our relationship with God and a motivation and a model for working out our relationships with one another.

As Auden wrote: Nothing can save us that is possible / we who must die demand a miracle.

A prayer. Merciful God, who created all men and women in your image and who hates nothing you have made, nor would have the death of a sinner, but rather that they should be converted and live; have mercy on all people everywhere and take from them all ignorance and hardness of heart and contempt of your Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to your flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of your ancient people, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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An Unforgiving World… https://anglicanconnection.com/an-unforgiving-world/ Tue, 12 Mar 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31598 The post ‘An Unforgiving World…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Vindictiveness and anger are the playbook of life around us today – in the bedroom, social media and the corridors of power. How can we respond?

Forty-five years ago, the historian and social critic, Christopher Lasch, published The Culture of Narcissism: There he wrote, ‘Our society has made lasting friendships, love affairs and marriages, increasingly difficult to achieve. Social life has become more and more warlike and personal relationships have taken on the character of combat…’ He said this before the advent of social media.

Driven by changing and conflicting world-views, society today has become more and more divided. For centuries, the Judaeo-Christian world-view formed the social bond in the Western world. But these days the progressive world dismisses God: we are now adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass. Persuasive voices appeal to our emotions. Profounder, wiser voices of experience that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.

In his book, God Is Good For You, Dr Greg Sheriden, a respected Australian commentator and author, writes: ‘The primary challenge today is not intellectual but cultural…’

For the last five hundred years or so, Christian theologians and church leaders have seen the need to address people’s intellectual questions – about the existence of God, authenticity, suffering, and science and Christianity. But if Sheridan is right and the challenge now is cultural, we need to ask, ‘how do other people see us?’ Is there any difference in my lifestyle and worldview from people around me?

In chapter 3 of his Letter to the Colossians, Paul the Apostle identifies character changes God expects in his people. In verses 5 through 11 he sets out examples of inner transformation. And, from verse 12 he writes of transformed relationships.

In verse 12 he writes: As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience.

Changed attitudes. Paul tells us that if we are to experience and enjoy good relationships ourselves, we need to change our attitudes towards others. We need to put off the anti-social vices of indifference and thoughtlessness in our relationships with one another. Paul puts his finger on 3 attitudes that can cause conflict.

Instead of compassion and kindness, it is easy to distance ourselves from the pain and the suffering of others. Instead of humility and meekness, how easily we focus on our own interests and achievements so that we, even unconsciously, look down on others who are not as ‘together’.

And how quickly we become impatient with those around us because we’re not prepared to put up with their faults or failures. Indifference, pride and impatience can lie at the root of violence and hostility in any human society.

Forgiveness. Paul continues: Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you.

Let me ask, have you forgiven in your heart and before God that person who so badly hurt you? Have you let bitterness take root in your attitude towards them? If we know God’s forgiveness because we have turned to the Lord Jesus in repentance, how can we not forgive those who have offended us?

Martin Luther King Jr. echoed Paul’s words when said: “We must develop and maintain the capacity to forgive. He who is devoid of the power to forgive is devoid of the power to love”. He also said, “Forgiveness is not an occasional act. It is a permanent attitude”. And he further commented, “We must learn to live together as brothers or perish together as fools”. “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope”.

Forgive as the Lord has forgiven you, Paul exhorts us.

Love. And put on love which binds you all together, he continues. Paul knew how easy it is for God’s people, indeed for everyone, to be divided. He understood the corrosive effect of wounded feelings. But he also knew of the one quality that can heal, and enable God’s people to grow into maturity: Love.

He is not speaking of a sentimental, emotional love, but of a love that is grounded in truth and is committed to serving the best interests of others.

This is where we who are God’s people are to be so different from the wider society. For the New Testament insists that God’s people be the one community where the ethics of love and mercy in serving the best interests of others, prevail. As God’s people, we are to pray for our enemies. God expects us to live out the grace of compassion and care for others – especially for one another as God’s people.

How are we to respond to the vindictiveness and division around us? The starting point is to pray that we might live out the life changes that the Lord has brought to bear on us as his people.

Tertullian, the 2nd century church leader commented of the way the wider society saw the communities of God’s people: ‘It is our care for the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of many of our opponents’, he said. “Only look,” they say, “look how they love one another”.’

A prayer. Eternal God and Father, by whose power we are created and by whose love we are redeemed: guide and strengthen us by your Spirit, so that we may give ourselves to your service, and live this day in love for one another and to you; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Augustine of Hippo, North Africa, one of the great minds of the late Roman Empire, wrestled with the notion of God and the question of evil, before coming to believe that Jesus Christ is truly the Son of God. He writes in his Confessions that as a young adult his prayer was, “God, give me chastity and self-control, but not yet”.

One day when he was reading in a garden, he heard a young child’s voice singing, Tolle lege; tolle lege – ‘Take up, read; take up, read.’ He had been reading Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the Romans. Going back to the place where he had left the text, his eyes fell on the words in chapter 13: Let us live honourably as in the day, not in revelling and drunkenness, not in debauchery and licentiousness, not in quarrelling and jealousy. Instead, put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires.

As he read, he found the solution to his heart’s longing. “How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose, it was now joy to put away. You (Lord) cast them forth from me, … and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure…” (Confessions VIII)

Paul’s advice in Romans, chapter 13 is similar to what we find in the first section of Colossians, chapter 3. There Paul writes, Since you have been raised to a new life in Christ, set your hearts and minds on the things above…And in verse 5 he says: Put to death therefore what belongs to your earthly nature…

It is because of the new relationship that God’s people have with the risen Lord Jesus that Paul exhorts us to adopt a new lifestyle that reflects the goodness of God. Everything we think and say and do is to be framed by our new identity. Paul touches on three important areas of our behavior: sex, speech and relationships.

Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry.

Passions. If you know the Lord Jesus, Paul is saying, then sex is for marriage only. ‘You used to do what you wanted to do,’ he says, ‘but now having linked yourself with the Lord, put to death such behaviour.’ People often argue that they are ‘making love’, but with his reference to greed in this context, he is saying that it is really lust.

In recent years studies suggest that the internet is having a negative impact on marriages. People are so consumed by it, especially pornography, that they have less time and inclination for their marriage partner. What a strange paradox: ogling at pictures more than enjoying the precious gift of the personal, intimate sexual relationship in marriage.

As Augustine came to realize, God is not interested in spoiling our fun. Rather, we are reminded, that as our Maker, God has a good and wonderful purpose for us in marriage. Paul frames his exhortation here in the context that we have died and been raised with Christ. When we feel the impact of this, the desires of our hearts will change. We will see the rightness and true joy in living out the Lord’s good plan for us in a committed and faithful marriage – one where there is forgiveness and renewal.

Paul also speaks about the tongue: But now you must get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have stripped off the old self with its practicesand have clothed yourselves with the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of its creator.

It seems strange that Paul writes about controlling the tongue in the same context as he writes about sex. What we forget is that the New Testament sees the tongue as our most sin prone organ. In his Letter, James says that the tongue is a restless evil.

You may think that to get on in life you need to express yourself with vehemence and an edgy vocabulary. But malice, obscenity and anger constantly damage and destroy relationships.

Sometimes people tell me that nobody likes a saint: they’re so self-righteous. But to say this is to forget what true humanity is. To be truly human is to be like Jesus. Let me ask, ‘Do you get the impression that he was a dull, anaemic personality?’ He was man as men and women are meant to be.

Which brings us to Paul’s further exhortation – about relationships:

In that renewal there is no longer Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and free; but Christ is all and in all!

Here in Colossians, chapter 3, verse 11 Paul tells us that we need to recognize the unity we have in Christ and, in turn, provide a picture to the world of God’s new society. One of the significant features of New Testament Christianity was the breakdown of racial and cultural barriers – not least between Jewish and non-Jewish Christians.

Paul’s words set the agenda of unity across the social and racial divisions for God’s people. Yes, we’ll disappoint one another, we won’t always be as tolerant as we should be, we won’t always love one another, or forgive one another as we should. But we must try. That should be our goal.

Put to death therefore what belongs to your earthly nature… Paul writes.

You may find it helpful to remember Augustine’s words as he read the Scriptures: “How sweet did it suddenly become to me to be free of the sweets of folly: things that I once feared to lose, it was now joy to put away. Lord, you cast them forth from me, you the true and highest sweetness, … and in their stead you entered in, sweeter than every pleasure…”

Augustine could sum up, “God, you have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”

Let’s pray. Lord if we are honest, we find our consciences pricked by the lofty standards you have set, of sexual purity, in our speaking, and in our relationships. We know that this failure in us affects the whole world, creating injustice and protest, conflict and war. Lord, please forgive us for our failings. But we also want to thank you for the new world you have made, to which we have title, and upon which you want us to fix our gaze. Turn our hearts to love you and to honor you. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Life in the Darkness… https://anglicanconnection.com/life-in-the-darkness/ Tue, 27 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31539 The post ‘Life in the Darkness…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In March 1973, Pink Floyd introduced the line, ‘The dark side of the moon’. The album was a great success addressing dark questions about life. The theme of darkness arose again in the 2013 movie, Gravity where Sandra Bullock is left untethered in space. The audience feels the visceral terror of darkness and helplessness. The black hole of depression, the sense of having the light of life sucked out of us, is how many feel.

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul takes us beyond the world of music and science-fiction into a realm beyond the universe itself. He tells us that in Jesus Christ, God the creator of the universe, has entered our world and opened the way for us to be transferred from this present world of disappointment and despair, darkness and death, to the kingdom of his beloved Son.

Back in chapter 1, verse 13 Paul put it like this: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves...

In the first two chapters of his Letter, Paul tells us that when Jesus came a dislocation in human history occurred. In Jesus, God’s rule over the cosmos took on a new form: a new world order began, and that new world now co-exists with the one we see around us.

Paul awakens us, not just to the notion of a creator God, but to one who is also working out his cosmic strategy in world events and in the arena of our lives. The key element is now in place: it involved his one and only Son, Jesus. It required Jesus, who is truly God and truly human, to offer his life as the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice to satisfy all God’s just requirements for the sins of humanity. In an extraordinary act of generous love, Jesus freely volunteered to do this, giving his life, the just for the unjust.

But Jesus’ death was not the end. Rather, it was the end of the beginning — the end of the first stage of God’s cosmic plan. It also marked the beginning of the last stage of God’s plan for the cosmos as we know it. For now, a new era has dawned.

How can we be sure of this? Jesus’ physical resurrection from the dead is the key.

The opening lines of Colossians chapter 3 form a turning point to the Letter. We read: So if you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth, …

Jesus’ resurrection was not simply a satisfying ending to a unique life. It reveals that all that Jesus tells us about God, the world, and us, is not science fiction. An eternal realm exists outside of space and time. Furthermore, his resurrection points to a new era in God’s great purposes – an era which we can experience, and in which we can personally participate.

Two great realms now co-exist: the dominion of darkness and the kingdom of God’s Son. In other words, into the dark scene of a world of seeming hopelessness, the light of Jesus has shone.

The dominion of darkness, we could say, is centred around a black hole. It is a shrinking world, shrinking to eternal destruction. But the other world, the kingdom of God’s Son is centred around a bright nova, and it’s an expanding universe, expanding to eternal glory.

For the present, there is an interface between these two parallel worlds, and a door in time allows people to pass from one world to the other. For the present everyone who turns to Jesus and gives him their allegiance has an identity in both worlds. Physically we are still in the old order but our names are registered in the new.

From God’s perspective, everyone who may be healthy and enjoying life but chooses to live without him is dead. However, when we truly turn to Jesus Christ, God raises us up into a new life with Christ. In his mind’s eye we are alive with the risen Christ.

Paul carries this forward in verse 3 where he says, For you have died, and your life is hid with Christ in God. If we are one of God’s people, we exist in two worlds: we have a visible identity in this world, and at the same time an invisible identity in God’s new world.

For the present others only see our physical bodies. The reality of our new and eternal life is hidden. Indeed, because those around us cannot see, let alone understand the new life we now have, there will be misunderstanding, mockery and even anger at the views we hold, and the lifestyle changes they observe.

But, because our faith is grounded in the God who keeps his promises, what is now hidden will one day be disclosed. Everyone will see it.Paul puts it this way in verse 4: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

In today’s world the idea of Christ bursting through the skies in a blazing display of power and glory, seems pure science fiction. But the Bible leaves us in no doubt. From cover to cover it tells us that the world is going somewhere, and the final outcome will involve the return of God’s king.

When we think about it, the events of the life, death and resurrection of God’s Son occurred only some twenty-eight life spans ago – a life span being 70 years. During the course of his public life Jesus predicted the events of his death and resurrection. He also spoke of his return. His words about his unexpected death and resurrection were fulfilled. Is it not conceivable that his third prediction will also take place?

And when he returns, what a day that will be! This present age will be seen for what it is – a time that is a strange mixture of good and evil. However, with the manifestation of the new era in its awesome power and perfect justice, the pure joy and glory of God’s people will be revealed. We will experience life in all its fullness and joy, love and laughter for eternity.

Paul’s words in the opening lines of chapter 3 awaken our hearts and minds to see life now through the longer lens of a time without end – the glory of God’s country. In this troubled world, shrouded in so much darkness, let’s live in the light and hope of the glory to be revealed with the return of God’s King.

A Prayer: O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Spiritual Life… https://anglicanconnection.com/spiritual-life-2/ Tue, 20 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31534 The post ‘Spiritual Life…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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There are times when we feel we are not spiritual enough. God seems distant. Our faith feels cold. We go to church, but we don’t read the Bible or pray from one week to the next. What’s to be done?

Some of us set ourselves a rigorous program, especially during Lent – perhaps rising extra early, fasting on Fridays and following a strict code of rules. Others of us feel we need new spiritual experiences. But in Colossians, chapter 2, verses 16 through 23 Paul the Apostle makes some salutary observations about what we can identify as legalism, mysticism, and ascetism. He challenges us to consider who Jesus Christ really is and the perfection and completion of his necessary work for us.

In verses 16 and 17 he writes: Therefore do not let anyone condemn you in matters of food and drink or of observing festivals, new moons, or sabbaths. These are only a shadow of what is to come, but the substance belongs to Christ.

Legalism. Having a rigorous calendar of saints days and food ritual and ceremonies will not add to what Christ has done for our salvation, he is saying. Yes, the Old Testament had many laws and ceremonies concerning sacrifices and sabbaths, fasting and washing, but that’s all over now. Going back to that type of religious legalism is like people in the 21st century going back to the horse and buggy days of the 19th century. The Old Testament rules and regulations were shadows of the reality that was to come.’

Yes, as we all know, there is wisdom in washing before meals and having a regular break from work. But Paul is saying, don’t think that by making this a legalistic ritual you are going to be more spiritual or more godly. Spiritual legalism received its death knell when Jesus nailed it to his cross (Colossians 2:14).

In chapter 2, verses 18 and 19 he continues: Do not let anyone disqualify you, insisting on self-abasement and worship of angels, dwelling on visions, puffed up without cause by a human way of thinking,and not holding fast to the head, from whom the whole body, nourished and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows with a growth that is from God.

Mysticism. Oriental religions have always thought that people can penetrate the cloud that veils our view of God by participating in occult practices. But Paul says otherwise. Reciting mantras, practising yoga or looking for mystical experiences, won’t work. You lose contact with the real source of life. Mysticism – the occult, drug induced experiences will not help us find God.

Consider what Paul says in verses 20 through 23: If with Christ you died to the elemental spirits of the universe, why do you live as if you still belonged to the world? Why do you submit to regulations, “Do not handle, do not taste, do not touch” (referring to things which all perish as they are used), according to human precepts and doctrines? These have indeed an appearance of wisdom in promoting rigour of devotion and self-abasement and severity to the body, but they are of no value in checking the indulgence of the flesh.

Asceticism. This third group tries to be more spiritual through a program of self-discipline and self-denial. They fast and will eat only certain foods. Diet and physical discipline can become an obsession.

But says Paul, severe self-discipline isn’t going to help you live morally or spiritually better lives. For starters, it’s a human invention. We may give the impression of being pious or wise, but it’s nothing more than a self-imposed religious asceticism.

So, if legalism, mysticism and asceticism won’t help us live better moral or spiritual lives, what will? Paul is telling us that we need to go back to the one who is the only source of true liberation: Jesus Christ. He is the solution to our longing for deeper spiritual experience.

Paul was convinced the Colossian people needed to focus their thinking on Jesus. They needed to ask again: Who is he? What has he done? Back in Colossians chapter 2, verse 9, Paul writes: For in Christ the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, and you have come to fullness of life in him,…

Most people find this hard to believe. Yet the evidence of Jesus’ life was that he is both man and God. Think of the miracles he performed – controlling nature, healing the sick, feeding thousands, even raising the dead. He didn’t do these things because he was a man of great faith. He did them because he was both one hundred percent God and one hundred percent man.

If the fullness of God dwelt in Jesus, then he is all we need. To know Jesus, says Paul, is to have God; one hundred percent of God; the fullness of God through his Spirit in your life. When we grasp this, then all the pseudo-ideas of a spiritual life that might seem attractive, will lose their appeal. When people turn away from a professed Christian faith, their decision often begins with their denial of the incarnation and their denial of the deity of Christ.

You, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross (Col. 2:14).

Prayer. Almighty God, you wonderfully created men and women in your own image and have now more wonderfully rescued and restored them. Grant us, we pray, that as your Son our Lord Jesus Christ was made in our likeness, so may we share his divine nature; we ask this through Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Suggested reading – Colossians 2:8-23

© John G. Mason

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Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent https://anglicanconnection.com/ash-wednesday-the-first-day-of-lent/ Tue, 13 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31530 The post ‘Ash Wednesday: The First Day of Lent’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Today is known in the church calendar as Ash Wednesday – the first day of Lent. Traditionally it is an important time of preparation for the events that we remember and celebrate at Easter – ‘The Last Supper’, Jesus’ crucifixion (Good Friday) and his resurrection (Easter Day).

In the northern hemisphere it is a time of seasonal change from the darkness of winter to the delights of longer days and the new life of spring. Many of God’s people use it as a special time to reflect on what God has done for us to bring us from the winter of life without him, to the new life in Jesus Christ through the events of the first Good Friday and Easter Day.

Some find it helpful to make Lent a time of going without (fasting), enabling them to be more focused on their relationship and life with the Lord Jesus. Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and continues through to the day before Easter.

Doubts. That said, do you ever have doubts about your faith? The world is full of ideas about where we find the meaning of life. Richard Dawkins and others tell us that physics will explain the universe. Books about mysticism and eastern religion tell us of the advantages of meditation and spiritual experiences. And there are work colleagues who tell us to forget all the religious nonsense and to come and have a drink with them.

However, when we look into the subject of faith, we find that some of the finest scientific minds insist that the universe is the work of a supreme intelligence. In his book, Science and Christianity: Conflict or Coherence? Professor Henry F (Fritz) Schaefer, one of the worlds leading quantum chemists, writes that Dr. Allan Sandage was a brilliant cosmologist. He ‘is responsible for our best values for the age of the universe, something like 14 billion years’ (Apollos Trust: Third Edition, 2013, p.71). Dr. Schaefer notes that when Sandage was asked ‘how one can be a scientist and a Christian, he didn’t turn to astronomy, but rather biology: “The world is too complicated in all its parts and interconnection to be due to chance … I am convinced that the existence of life with all its order and each of its organisms is simply too well put together”’.

So, what does the Bible reveal concerning the real problem with the world?

Captivity. Writing in his Letter to the Colossians, chapter 2, the Apostle Paul says: And you, who were dead in trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, having cancelled the bond which stood against us with its legal demands; this he set aside, nailing it to the cross. He disarmed the principalities and powers and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in him (Col. 2:13-15).

The Bible sees history as being divided into two great eras. Before Jesus came there was the present age: ‘the world’. Now that Jesus has come a new era has begun: ‘the age to come’ or ‘the kingdom of God’. God was in sovereign control of the first era, but it was a world in the grip of the elemental principles of the natural world. We were captive to laws we couldn’t keep – and even when God’s law was revealed, we found we couldn’t keep it. Furthermore, we found we were in bondage to a supernatural prosecuting power – Satan.

This supernatural power has set himself up as the prosecutor for our failures. And such is the nature of our failures to love God and to love our neighbors that God that must condemn us. As a result, we are subject to death because our transgressions are, in God’s eyes, a capital offence. Moreover Satan, being the implacable prosecutor he is, insists that the penalty must be paid. And so, what seems an irony, God in his justice cannot refuse Satan’s demands.

C.S. Lewis captures these elements in The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe. Because Edmund betrayed Aslan the white witch demanded Edmund’s life. ‘He has broken the laws of the deep,’ she shrieks. ‘His life is forfeit.’

This is the natural condition of everyone of us. There are laws we cannot keep, we are in the power of spiritual forces we can’t defeat, and we are en route to a grave we cannot avoid. This is what Paul means by captivity.

Liberty. But with the coming of Jesus, God in the flesh, the bars of our spiritual prison have been smashed. For he has paid the moral debt of the laws we couldn’t obey. Furthermore, he disarmed the demonic powers that we couldn’t overcome. As for the death we couldn’t escape, he abolished it. For when you were dead in your sins, he made you alive with the risen Christ, Paul writes.

How is this extraordinary freedom achieved? Paul tells us twice so that we don’t miss it: By the cross. In verse 14 he says that God took it away, nailing it to the cross of Christ … And in verse 15 he says that God triumphed over them by the cross. For Paul, the world that was, gave way to a new and everlasting world.

The Cross is where Jesus paid the death penalty for our sinful human race, turning our captivity into the glorious liberty of the children of God. The invoice, the bill of debt? It’s nailed to the cross stamped, ‘Paid in Full’. The demonic forces who held us in their control? ‘They are publicly humiliated’, declares Paul.

The cross of Jesus Christ lies at the heart of the season of Lent – indeed, every day of our life. So Lent can help us re-set our relationship with Christ and enable us to re-frame our lives throughout the year.

Prayer – for Ash Wednesday. Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Suggested reading – Colossians 2:8-15

© John G. Mason

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So, What’s It All About: Meaning and Hope…! https://anglicanconnection.com/so-whats-it-all-about-meaning-and-hope/ Tue, 06 Feb 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31521 The post ‘So, What’s It All About: Meaning and Hope…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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We’re looking at Ecclesiastes, one of the wisdom books of the Bible.

The wisdom books stand apart from the main narrative of the Bible, asking questions about our experiences of life. Job asks how do we make sense of suffering, especially the suffering of the seemingly innocent? The Song of Songs explores God’s gift of the joys of love and sex. Proverbs provides a framework for street-smart and successful godly living. Ecclesiastes is asking, ‘What’s the purpose of life?’

We turn this week to the concluding chapters of Ecclesiastes where we can identify two themes: ‘What’s the Point of life?’ and ‘What’s the Answer?’

What’s the point of life? What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? is the question that bubbles through Ecclesiastes. We work hard, put in long hours, and give up things we’d prefer to be doing. What’s the value of it all?’

The phrase, under the sun is used twenty-seven times in the Book. It’s asking what is life all about if God doesn’t reveal himself? The writer isn’t asking this as an atheist: he believes God exists. He’s asking, ‘What do we make of life if we don’t have a special word from God?’

And there’s another layer to life’s conundrum: The race is not to the swift or the battle to the strong, nor does food come to the wise or wealth to the brilliant or favor to the learned; but time and chance happen to them all (9:11). Life doesn’t always reward the swift or the strong, the wise or the brilliant. So much is a matter of timing or chance. If you’re the wrong age when the position of CEO arises, no matter how successful, how smart or wise you are, you’ll be passed over. ‘What’s the gain?’

In chapter 11 the Teacher exhorts us to try to be positive about life. If time and chance rule, there’s nothing we can do. So, if farmers watch the wind, they’ll never sow seed. Take a chance, give it a go!

Light is sweet, and it is pleasant for the eyes to see the sun,he continues in verses 7ff. Even those who live many years should rejoice in them all;…

It’s good to see the sun, especially after long, wintry days. Enjoy life if you can. But as verse 8 says: … Remember that the days of darkness will be many. All that comes is vanity.Everything is meaningless. ‘When you’re dead, you’re dead’.

So, rejoice, young man, while you are young, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Follow the inclination of your heart …(11:9). Enjoy your youth while you can. You’ve got energy and an ability to learn quickly, so run, swim, learn, pump iron. Enjoy being young and strong, but realize there’s a sobering conclusion: But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.

Verses 1 through 8 of chapter 12 are a poem: Remember your creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come, and the years draw near when you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”; before the sun and the light and the moon and the stars are darkened and the clouds return with the rain;…

A picture of old age emerges. Our world is afraid of ageing. Indeed, there’s a vast industry devoted to anti-aging – creams and botox, diet and exercise programs.

Ecclesiastes tells us life can be fun: enjoy it while you can, but it won’t last. If you try to hold on to it, you’ll find it’s like sand: it slips through the fingers and is gone. What’s the point?

Is there an answer? In chapter 12, verses 9ff we read: Besides being wise, the Teacher also taught the people knowledge, weighing and studying and arranging many proverbs. The Teacher sought to find pleasing words, and he wrote words of truth plainly. The sayings of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings that are given by one shepherd….

Ecclesiastes is composed of the collected sayings given by one shepherd – an Old Testament way of referring to God. It speaks of its sayings as goads, pointed sticks often used as animal prods, challenging us to consider the meaning of life. It likens the words of the wise to firmly embedded nails, something to anchor us.

In verse 13 we read: The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments; for that is the whole duty of everyone.

This is the first time Ecclesiastes says that God has spoken. It’s the first time the Teacher has said that we don’t just live under the sun. We have a word from God. God has given us commandments to live out. We’re not living in the dark.

The Book of Proverbs says the fear of God is the beginning of wisdom. Ecclesiastes gives us the flip-side: to ignore God and his Word is the ultimate foolishness. Honoring and serving God gives us meaning.

Ecclesiastes concludes, not just with reference to the creator God who has revealed his good purposes for us in his commandments, but also as judge. God will bring every deed into judgment, including every secret thing, whether good or evil (12:14). We live in a moral universe.

The New Testament gives us a clearer picture. In Second Corinthians, chapter 5 we read: all of us must appear before the judgment seat of God to receive his just judgment for things done in the body whether good or bad (5:10).

Do you believe these things will come to pass? Prophesies that spoke of the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, his life, death and resurrection, all came true. In the same way the words of Ecclesiastes and of Jesus himself about the coming judgement, will also come true. Such judgement makes sense of our existence. Are you and your family and friends prepared?

A prayer. Let your merciful ears, Lord God, be open to the prayers of your people; and so that we may obtain our petitions, teach and direct us to ask such things as will please you; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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So, What’s It All About: Power, Possessions…? https://anglicanconnection.com/so-whats-it-all-about-power-possessions/ Tue, 30 Jan 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31513 The post ‘So, What’s It All About: Power, Possessions…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Back in 1989 an Australian television and radio interviewer, Caroline Jones interviewed a range of well-known Australians. A question she put to everyone was, ‘How do you find meaning and purpose in life?’

Phillip Adams, an Australian media personality responded, ‘The universe is cold and meaningless. There’s no God, there’s nothing there; there’s no meaning. We invent our own meaning and project it on to things as we want to. The fact you believe or don’t believe in God doesn’t matter very much… most of us on most things tend to agree – it’s important to love, it’s important we shouldn’t kill each other, we should be generous and charitable and so on. I think that’s common sense…’

Why is it common sense? Is that the way the world really is? Are people truly loving, kind and generous?  Is this how the world operates?

In The Book of Ecclesiastes, chapters 4 through 6 the Teacher asks, ‘How do people treat one another under the sun – that is, how do people behave towards one another without reference to God?’

Power. Consider the opening lines of chapter 4: Again I saw all the oppressions that are practiced under the sun. Look, the tears of the oppressed – with no one to comfort them! On the side of the oppressors there was power – with no one to comfort them.

Three millennia after these words were written in Ecclesiastes, Lord Acton wrote to Bishop Creighton in 1887, ‘Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely’.

Over time news is cyclical as an ideology or party rises to power, only to be succeeded by another because of exploitation and the abuse of power. It may take some time but eventually it does.

Ecclesiastes, chapter 4 continues with further examples of futility in life.

Envy: Then I saw that all toil and all skill in work come from one person’s envy of another. This also is vanity and a chasing after wind (verse 4).

But there’s something even more potent: dropping out. In verse 5 we read: Fools fold their hands and consume their own flesh.  Better is a handful with quiet than two handfuls with toil, and a chasing after wind. Dropping out of work, out of life, is foolishness. There’s nothing to be gained at all.

Loneliness is another reality. In verses 7 and 8 we read: Again, I saw vanity under the sun: the case of solitary individuals, without sons or brothers; yet there is no end to all their toil, and their eyes are never satisfied with riches. “For whom am I toiling,” they ask, “and depriving myself of pleasure?” This also is vanity and an unhappy business.

Loneliness is one of the challenges of living in large cities, such as New York. People might live in close proximity to one another in large apartment blocks, and yet often don’t know one another. And, ironically, the advent of smart-phones has subverted personal face-to-face interaction – even over a meal. People increasingly feel isolated and lonely.

Ecclesiastes chapter 5 brings a warning against false religion: Guard your steps when you go to the house of God; to draw near to listen is better than the sacrifice offered by fools; for they do not know how to keep from doing evil. Never be rash with your mouth, nor let your heart be quick to utter a word before God, for God is in heaven, and you upon earth; therefore let your words be few… With many dreams come vanities and a multitude of words; but fear God (5:1-7).

Humanly devised religion with its many words and ceremonies, is the religion of fools. How important it is to heed the words of the true and living God who has revealed himself to us. Fear him.

Self-Interest. Chapter 5 continues: If you see in a province the oppression of the poor and the violation of justice and right, do not be amazed at the matter; for the high official is watched by a higher, and there are yet higher ones over them. But all things considered, this is an advantage for a land: a king for a plowed field (5:8-9).

People use their positions to look after themselves, Ecclesiastes observes. We’re not to be surprised when corruption is exposed in places of power and influence – be it administration, management or bureaucracy.

Money and Possessions. We sometimes hear, ‘you only live once, so live richly now’. But the Teacher confounds this by telling us money and possessions won’t satisfy for long: The lover of money will not be satisfied with money; nor the lover of wealth, with gain. This also is vanity (5:10). In 2001, the year Judith and I moved to New York, the following appeared in The New York Times (in June): The 20-something set is struggling with early success, early failure and early disillusionment (June 24, 2001).

And, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes continues, there is another reason why it is pointless pursuing money: When goods increase, those who eat them increase; and what gain has their owner but to see them with his eyes? The more we get, the more we want.

And then there’s the anxiety about looking after what we have: Sweet is the sleep of laborers, whether they eat little or much; but the surfeit of the rich will not let them sleep (5:12). Who worries more about theft? Those who have. What benefit is that?

The sheer pointlessness of the love of money is driven home with: As they came from their mother’s womb, so they shall go again, naked as they came; they shall take nothing for their toil, which they may carry away with their hands. This also is a grievous ill: just as they came, so shall they go; and what gain do they have from toiling for the wind? Besides, all their days they eat in darkness, in much vexation and sickness and resentment (5:15-17).

When one day we slip off this mortal coil we can’t take anything with us. Ecclesiastes awakens us to the reality that life is a conundrum. Life isn’t without its joys, but for how long? What is the long-term gain from toiling for the wind? Is there a truly lasting hope to be found?

Writing in his Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verses 3 through 7, Paul the Apostle thanks God for the faith and love that his readers have, because of the hope laid up for them in heaven. They have come to this understanding through learning of God’s good news which Paul speaks of as the word of the truth. It is true historically and experientially.

When we turn to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ in repentance and in faith, our relationship with God and with God’s people is changed. We are assured of new life in all its fullness forever. Christ alone is our hope and joy.

A prayer. God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the prayers of your people: and so grant us that whatever we ask for in faith we may surely obtain; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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So, What’s It All About: Time…? https://anglicanconnection.com/so-whats-it-all-about-time/ Tue, 23 Jan 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31503 The post ‘So, What’s It All About: Time…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Last Wednesday, we turned to The Book of Ecclesiastes, asking the question, ‘What’s It (Life) All About?’ Today we’re looking at Ecclesiastes, chapter 3 with a further question with this theme. ‘With the passing of the years and the seasons and our experiences of life, how do we make sense of it all?’

In the 1960s The Byrds and Pete Seeger with the song Turn, Turn, Turn brought the world’s attention to the words in this chapter in Ecclesiastes.

The chapter begins by focusing on the bookends of life: A time to be born, a time to die… It moves on to creative and destructive events: A time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted; a time to kill, and a time to heal. And verse 4 highlights our emotions of sorrow and joy: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Verses 5 and 6 speak of property and possessions, and verse 7 touches on the wisdom of speaking up and remaining silent. Verse 8 speaks of personal and wider relationships – love and hate; peace and war.

We sense the rhythm of the poetry, the movement of time as the years and seasons come and go. We are made aware that there is a time for everything: just as it’s not always summer, so it’s not always a time to speak.

But being aware that there is a right time for everything, we feel the challenge: what do we reckon is the meaning and purpose of life? At the end of an enjoyable summer do we begin to see that it’s time for autumn with its colors and even winter with its cold and snow? The seasons are not just random. How then are we to make sense of it all?

Threading through the Book of Ecclesiastes is the question: what are you looking for in life? What are you working for? What do people gain, or profit from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?

In chapter 3 the Teacher is asking: Does the movement of time and the variety of experiences mean that life is beautiful or meaningless? Is life meaningful or a burden? He tells us it’s both! Verse 9 repeats the theme: What gain have the workers from their toil? And verses 10 into 11 press the point: I have seen the business that God has given to everyone to be busy with. He has made everything suitable for its time.

There’s a beauty about everything in its time – the passing of the seasons, our childhood and teenage years. There’s also a beauty about study and developing our skills; there’s a beauty about being single and a beauty about marriage; there’s a beauty about Thursday afternoon because we know Friday’s coming and a lazy Saturday morning and coffee.

But there is another, deeper layer to our experience of time: Moreover, God has put a sense of eternity into their minds, yet they cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end. God has given us an inner awareness that there is more to life. Philosophers have acknowledged this. Goethe in Faust said: “Everlasting! the end would be despair. No – no end! No end!” And Friedrich Nietzsche who said that God is dead, wrote, “All joy wills eternity – wills deep, deep eternity.”

We all sense there is more to life. It’s another facet of the tantalizing questions: What is life really all about? and, What does the future beyond space and time hold out for us?

So, what is Ecclesiastes’ answer? If you can enjoy life, enjoy it. This is a gift from God. But notice God has a purpose in things. Verse 14 says: I know that whatever God does endures forever; nothing can be added to it, nor anything taken from it; God has done this, so that all should stand in awe before him…

It is here that we find a chilling note: much in life doesn’t seem just: Moreover I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, wickedness was there, and in the place of righteousness, wickedness was there as well (3:16).

In the places where power and authority should be used for right purposes there is corruption, wickedness and injustice. In some countries corruption is endemic. But one noticeable feature of countries that have been influenced by the Judaeo-Christian ethic, is the built-in checks and balances, systems of regulation and accountability.

Even so, corruption still exists. The Australian group, Midnight Oil, bluntly sang: The fat cats still push the thin cats around. That’s the way the world is.

So, is God doing anything? I said in my heart, God will judge the righteous and the wicked, for he has appointed a time for every matter, and for every work (3:17). There is injustice now, but one day there will be a day of reckoning.

If the teacher is right about this, if he’s right about what he says about time, the seasons of life, the times of injustice now and the time of justice to come, what is the state of our own relationship with God?

When Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion, two criminals were crucified with him. One cursed Jesus. The other turned to him and said, ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.’ Jesus responded, ‘Today, you will be with me in paradise.’

There are two ways we can stand before God: either without Jesus, or with him at our side as our defense attorney. The practical wisdom of Ecclesiastes chapter 3 is simple. We cannot afford the luxury of simply enjoying all that we can in this present time without regard to a future time. The Teacher speaks of a time of justice to come. The day will come when we find time gone.

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

You may want to listen to the Getty Music song, Christ Our Hope in Life and Death.

© John G. Mason

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As we begin another year, it’s a good opportunity to ask ourselves, and to ask others, what we really think life is all about. Questions about the meaning of life and the future are surely felt by everyone who reflects on life. Over the next two or three Wednesdays I plan to explore these questions through the lens of the Book of Ecclesiastes.

Consider how the book begins: Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity. What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun? (1:2,3)

The Book of Ecclesiastes is a strange book and it’s rather surprising to find it in the cluster of wisdom books in the Bible. It doesn’t seem to fit easily into the Bible’s storyline.

And, while Ecclesiastes is quite depressing, it raises questions for us all. It’s a little like a water-blaster cleaning machine as it cuts through the nonsense filling our lives, challenging us to ask what gives our lives meaning and purpose. ‘What’s it all about?’ it asks.

The writer, self-styled the Teacher, could have been David’s son, King Solomon who lived around 1,000BC, or someone who wrote up Solomon’s wisdom. Furthermore, embedded in the word Ecclesiastes is the Greek word for assembly: ecclesia. Ecclesiastes is what the Teacher says to the assembly.

How then does the Teacher view life? What do people gain from all the toil at which they toil under the sun?he asks (1:3). Gain is a commercial term, questioning the value or the bottom line of life. We work, we throw ourselves into life, we struggle, but what’s it all worth? What’s the point of it all?

The phrase under the sun (1:3), a recurring theme throughout the book, is a metaphor asking how we view life, as it were, from the outside. What sense can we make of life without reference to God?

The answer is depressing: Vanity of vanities, says the Teacher, vanity of vanities! All is vanity (1:2). The word vanity indicates that it’s all in vain, pointless. The word can also mean a puff of wind or a mist. Later on in the Book, the Teacher speaks about life being like chasing the wind.

A generation goes, and a generation comes,he says, but the earth remains for ever. The sun rises and the sun goes down, and hurries to the place where it rises. The wind blows to the south and goes round to the north; round and round goes the wind, and on its circuits the wind returns. All streams run to the sea, but the sea is not full; to the place where the streams flow, there they continue to flow.

Like a scientist he writes up his observations: the sun rises, sets, and rises again. The wind blows from one direction, then another, and yet another. The streams run into the sea, but the sea never fills up. In our terminology, he observes the evaporation of water and precipitation: the rain falling on the hills, forming streams that run into the sea, then evaporation, precipitation, and so on.

The endless rising and setting of the sun, the blowing of the wind from every point of the compass, the endless movement of water, go on, and on, and on, and on.

It’s a theme with which he begins verse 4: Generations come, and generations go… But, unlike everything around us, we’re here one moment, gone the next! What’s the point of it all? So much of our life is spent working to achieve wealth, power, prestige – and what’s the point? We’re here one moment gone the next.

What’s more, we’re wearied in the brief time we’re here: All things are wearisome; more than one can express (1:8).Furthermore, he says: The eye is not satisfied with seeing, or the ear filled with hearing(1:8). One of Elton John’s songs in The Lion King captures the mood: From the moment we arrive on the planet and blinking step into the sun, there’s more to see than can ever be seen, more to do than can ever be done. Why do we need new songs? Imagine if record companies said, ‘Instead of releasing new songs we’ll only be making available the best songs from the past’.

But ironically, nothing new ever happens: … There is nothing new under the sun. Is there a thing of which it is said, “See, this is new”?(1:9) Nothing ever changes. Not even the news. Even acts of terrorism aren’t new. It’s only the names and faces!

And there’s something even more depressing – the time will come when you and I will be forgotten. Consider 1:11: The people of long ago are not remembered, nor will there be any remembrance of people yet to come by those who come after them.

So, does the Teacher have any solutions? An important test he applies is: ‘Is there anything that’s going to last?’ Ultimate meaninglessness is our issue. What will be left when the waves wipe out the sandcastles of our lives? What will be left when the winds blow on the idols we have erected in our heart? He isn’t saying life is all negative; just don’t stop and think about it.

As we begin a new year, it’s worth taking the time to stop and reflect – even read Ecclesiastes. Yes, there is hope for the future, whatever may happen in the coming year. Ecclesiastes 2:26a provides a clue: For to the one who pleases Him God gives wisdom and knowledge and joy;…

Ecclesiastes challenges us to look for answers about the meaning of life. Significantly its answers take us into the larger biblical narrative, where we learn that God supremely holds out the answer to our questions in His Son, Jesus, whom he has appointed as the Lord over all.

In John 20:31 we read: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God and, that through believing you may have life in his name.

A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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The Ministry that Matters… https://anglicanconnection.com/the-ministry-that-matters/ Tue, 09 Jan 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31461 The post ‘The Ministry that Matters…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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With recent research revealing that some 40 million Americans have left church over the last 25 years, questions are being asked about what ministers should be doing. Years ago an article appeared identifying expectations that people have: a minister should be a first-class preacher, pastor, evangelist, administrator, leader, fund-raiser, and diplomat!

Contrast what the Apostle Paul says about his ministry in his Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 25: he was called by God to make the word of God fully known. God’s plan to reveal himself was not through miracles or social justice, but through words – spoken and written. Paul saw that it was his task to communicate that message, faithfully and fully.

It’s important we consider this, for it sharpens our understanding of the true focus of ministry. God uses the ministry of his Word to sow the seed of eternal life in our hearts and to facilitate its growth. The key to effective ministry that grows vital churches is through the preaching and teaching of God’s Word that touches hearts and minds.

Good preaching draws people into the presence of the Lord and enables them to sense that God, not the preacher, is speaking to them. How important it also is that when God’s people read the Bible at home they can see how and from where preachers drew their ideas and their application. Bible texts are not to be used as ‘coat-hangers’ for themes a preacher wants to develop. Rather, the Bible text must be opened up and applied in its context, letting God speak to us through his Word.

Interestingly, it is estimated that some fifty percent of ‘evangelicals’ who have stopped attending church, would return if they could find a ‘good church’ – one that brought the Scriptures to life in their lives.

Paul also addresses the content of ministry in verses 25-26. For millennia God had kept the essentials of his plans wrapped in confidentiality. But now, Paul tells us, God has chosen to declare himself. His message is for God’s ancient people, the Jews, as well as the non-Jews.

And the central theme of the message is, Christ in you, the hope of glory. There is an extraordinary simplicity to it. It’s the kind of line advertisers dream about putting together. The heart of Christianity can be summarised in just two phrases: Christ in you, and the hope of glory. On the one hand it is about a present experience, Christ in you; on the other hand, it speaks about a future reality: the hope of glory.

For many people Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed they must mindlessly recite week by week. For people like this Christianity seems legalistic and dull.

Paul disagrees. He wants us to understand that at the center of Christianity is a relationship with the One who is at the heart of the universe. Christianity is about Christ in you.

Many feel cut off from God, sometimes by feelings of failure or unworthiness, or ignorance or of unbelief. The simple message of Christianity is that people who are looking for God don’t have to despair. Something has happened which has made it possible for us all to be brought to a personal experience of the supernatural in our lives: Christ in you.

None of us have to wallow in moral despair that we aren’t good enough for God. We don’t have to languish in ignorance or unbelief because the idea of God seems so utterly remote.

Christianity is about the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The tragedy is that many expect too little from Christianity. If we don’t know anything about a vital, personal relationship with Jesus, we are Christian in name only. To know Christ in our lives is a heart experience. We should not be satisfied with anything less.

Furthermore, coupled with this present experience of the indwelling of the Spirit of Christ, there is something else: the hope of glory.

We have a future – far more glorious than we ever dreamed. Glory is waiting for us, Paul says. The good things we taste of Christ living in us now are a glimpse of what it will be when we live openly in the presence of God. The best is yet to be.

How important it is that we, and especially ministers, think this through. There will be times when we’ll feel disappointed with the way life treats us. Indeed, there are times when we can be disillusioned with our faith in Christ because of life’s challenges. We may have thought that becoming a Christian would solve all our problems – be it passing exams, getting a job, finding the right marriage partner or enjoying a successful career.

But becoming a Christian doesn’t mean this. Our bodies are still subject to sickness, marriages are still subject to conflict, and jobs are still subject to redundancy. What the Word of God offers us in terms of life here and now, is not transformed outward circumstances, but transformed inner spiritual resources: Christ in you.

But we also need to understand that there is a future world that we perceive by faith, not by sight: the hope of glory. This isn’t some vague, wistful, ‘maybe it will happen, maybe it won’t’, kind of hope. It is a sure, confident, certain hope because God’s very nature means that he always keeps a promise.

It is only through the faithful ministry of God’s Word that these wonderful, all-glorious truths are opened up for us. How essential it is that ministers make God’s Word fully known.

A prayer. Eternal Father, who declared Jesus our Lord to be your beloved Son at his baptism, grant that we and all who have become his people through faith in his name, signified in baptism, may rejoice to be your children and the servants of all people. We ask this through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding… https://anglicanconnection.com/spiritual-wisdom-and-understanding/ Tue, 02 Jan 2024 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31449 The post ‘Spiritual Wisdom and Understanding…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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How often when we pray, do we focus on what we want? Yes, when catastrophic events occur, such as the conflict in the Middle-East, we pray for God’s mercy. But, in the main when we pray, don’t we expect God to answer our personal requests so that we can enjoy life to the full?

The quest for life in all its fullness is not new. Back in the 1960s the answer was sex, drugs and rock-n-roll. Yet the aspirations of the themes of ‘Love, sweet love,’ and ‘Lucy in the sky with diamonds’ and Woodstock, revealed their dark side in the nightmare of Charles Manson and his set. The hopes and dreams of the 1960s proved to be false.

Two millennia ago, in the first century Roman world, people often looked for solutions in spiritual experiences. And, as happens today, some of these ideas began to spill over into the life of the early churches – the church in Colossae, for example. While there doesn’t seem to have been a specific false teaching there, Paul the Apostle saw the need in his letter to challenge a false understanding of fullness that went beyond the truth of God’s gospel that the Colossians had embraced (1:6).

Indeed, from comments Paul makes in chapter 2, verse 18, we learn the Colossians wanted a knowledge and an experience of God that seems to have been influenced by a Jewish mysticism, merkabah mysticism, that claimed to carry, as if in a chariot, anyone who scrupulously observed the law into the very presence of God.

To provide some context, in the first part of chapter 1 of his letter, Paul had thanked God for the faith, love, and hope of the believers in Colossae. These people had responded to the breaking news about God which Paul speaks of as the word of the truth.

He continues with a prayer of petition: For this reason, since the day we heard it, we have not ceased praying for you… And it’s important we note for what he prays: Asking God that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding… (1:9).

He prays for two aspects of growth. In verse 9 he prays for growth in their knowing God, their relationship with God – hence, knowledge, wisdom, understanding. In verse 10 he prays for growth in their lifestyle – and so, living a life …;   pleasing …;    bearing fruit …

There is an instructive link between knowing God and lifestyle. Paul prays for growth in the depth of understanding of God and his ways so that God’s people may grow in a life of Godly integrity. This is essential if we want to see spiritual vitality.

For example, Psalm 143:10 puts it this way: Teach me to do your will, for you are my God. Let your good spirit lead me on a level path.

Significantly, the psalm doesn’t say, Lord, teach me your will… But rather, teach me to do your will… The psalm-writer knows God’s will but needs to be taught to live it. This is why Paul asks that the Colossians may be filled with the knowledge of God’s will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding…

Spiritual wisdom picks up an Old Testament theme: the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom. This is not an abject fear of God, but rather the humble recognition of God’s might, majesty, dominion and power.

Fullness. Paul’s prayer points to the way we can begin to experience life to the full. It involves a  spiritual understanding which comes, not through ecstatic spiritual experiences or repetitious mantra, but through an understanding of the will of God learned through regular and thoughtful Bible reading. As with every relationship, getting to know God in the experiences of life, takes time.

All this is not simply an abstract exercise: as we come to know God and his mind, so our perspective on life and our lives are changed. We increasingly bear the fruit of living life to the full. Indeed, a clearer understanding of God and a richer relationship with him equips us to live lives more worthy of him. And this includes discerning ways we can be more responsible in our relationships with people with whom we live, as well as our responsible care of God’s creation.

A Prayer. O God, who by the leading of a star revealed your beloved Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life enjoy the splendor of your glorious presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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A New Year: Comfort and Joy…! https://anglicanconnection.com/a-new-year-comfort-and-joy/ Tue, 26 Dec 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31453 The post ‘A New Year: Comfort and Joy…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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With the many and varied changes around us –conflicts in Ukraine, the Middle-East and Africa, China’s aggressive acts, significant political and social divisions in the West, climate-change, gender issues, and the western disdain of Christianity – we might wonder about the future.

In the course of his ministry Jesus spoke of events that would unfold (Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-37). In Luke 21 he spoke more specifically about two events – the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, and an end of time. It’s not surprising that the disciples asked: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).

Convulsions (21:8-11). Jesus begins his response with a specific warning against false prophets who will come in his name. Over the centuries many have predicted the end-time. In the late 20th century for example, Harold Camping predicted the world would end around 1994, and when that passed, he identified another date, May 21, 2011, and then another, October 21, 2011.

We can easily become complacent about Jesus’ warning. We forget his central teaching that there is to be an end of all things as we know them. There will be wars and tumults, he says. “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven” (21:10f).

In contrast to the optimism of people who say that the world will only get better through human effort, Jesus knows us and tells us that conflicts will not cease. He also says that volcanoes and earthquakes, floods and droughts should not take us by surprise.

Nations will rise and fall, empires will come and go, and catastrophic seismic events will continue. Yes, we need to care for the environment as best we can, but most of all we should treat the events around us as reminders of the uncertainty and fragility of life and our world.

Some thirty-five years after Jesus predicted the destruction of the Jewish Temple, the Roman armies under Titus laid siege to Jerusalem from 67-70AD. It was one of the most devastating acts of war in history. The people of Jerusalem were mercilessly put to the sword.

In the course of his words about Jerusalem and its Temple, Jesus warns that these events would not be the conclusion of God’s plan. One more stage remains. The return of God’s king.

There are times when great and unexpected events occur, events that impact the course of history – for example, the fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, the destruction of the twin towers in New York on September 11, 2001, and the Hamas terrorist attack on Israel, October 7, 2023. The first brought joy, the second and the third, fear and anger.

In Luke 21:25-28 Jesus speaks of the coming of the ‘Son of Man’ in a style of language known as ‘apocalyptic’. “And there will be signs in sun and moon and stars,” he says, “and on the earth distress of nations in perplexity because of the roaring of the sea and the waves” (21:25).

The phrase, ‘the Son of Man’, is a reference to Daniel 7:13f where we read: “I saw in the night visions, and behold, with the clouds of heaven there came one like a son of man, and he came from the Ancient of Days and he was presented before him. And to him was given dominion and glory and a kingdom, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him; his dominion is an everlasting dominion, which shall not pass away, …”

The coming of the Son of Man will be accompanied by such strange and forbidding events that people will faint with fear and foreboding… (21:26). It is the scene of the end of time, when ‘the Son of Man’ will be seen for who he truly is.

It is easy to overlook Jesus’ prophecy. During his ministry he spoke of his arrest, death and resurrection. He also spoke of the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple. Now he speaks of the return of God’s king. His first two predictions came true. We should not dismiss the fulfilment of his third prophecy as fiction. On that day everyone “will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory” (Luke 21:27).

It’s important we heed Jesus’ words: “Now when these things begin to take place, straighten up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near” (Luke 21:28).

As we enter a new calendar year, let’s not be fearful about the future but, knowing God is in charge, stay alert and, putting our hand in his hand, pray for the day of the return of the great King.

May you know God’s comfort and joy in the New Year!

A Prayer. Lord our God, you have given us the life of Jesus in his home as an example: grant that all Christian families may be so bound together in love and service that we may rejoice together in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book, Luke: An Unexpected God, Second Edition, Aquila: 2019.

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Christmas: A Thrill of Hope… https://anglicanconnection.com/christmas-a-thrill-of-hope/ Tue, 19 Dec 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31444 The post ‘Christmas: A Thrill of Hope…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The daily round of news can be so discouraging – the continued conflict in Ukraine and now the conflict in the Middle-East, the drugs and alcohol, the homelessness, the violence and rape. Furthermore, many parents are concerned about the influences that distract from the formal education of their children and subvert the traditionally accepted moral values in life – values that all too often are gathering dust on the shelf of history.

So, as we enter the Christmas season, it’s helpful to reflect on the words of Paul the Apostle in his Letter to Titus, chapter 2, verse 11: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all.

Grace is a theme that bubbles throughout the Bible, especially in the New Testament. It speaks of mercy or compassion shown towards the undeserving. Grace and mercy echo the idea of God’s agape love.

Furthermore, the verb appeared tells us that we wouldn’t know anything about God’s love or grace unless he himself had revealed it. And Paul tells us, God’s grace is supremely revealed in his personal involvement in the rescue he holds out to us all in God’s Son, Jesus Christ.

Indeed, Paul’s words awaken within us a thrill of hope associated with the announcement of the angel to the shepherds on the night of Jesus’ birth: “Behold, I bring you good news of great joy for all people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord” (Luke 2:10-11).

Shepherds. At the time of Jesus’ birth, shepherds were at the bottom of the social order. They were the lost, the outsiders. Why did the angel announce the birth to them?  Given the resources of heaven the angel could have pulled off one very spectacular announcement in Bethlehem or, better still, in Jerusalem.

To begin to appreciate the reason the angel spoke to the shepherds we need to consider a back-story we find in the Book of Ezekiel. Ezekiel spoke of the kings of Israel as shepherds, but he knew that many of them were self-indulgent, power-hungry exploiters. In Ezekiel’s day God’s people had been conquered by the Babylonians – Jerusalem was in ruins and its people were in exile. Ezekiel, chapter 34 tells us it was the fault of the kings, the shepherds.

But Ezekiel’s news was not all negative. He spoke of a day when God would raise up a new and perfect king, a shepherd-king in the line of king David – a king whose power and glory was far beyond what anyone dreamed.

The king. With the angel’s announcement to the shepherds, we see that Jesus’ birth is the fulfillment of Ezekiel’s promise. God himself would raise up a king to do things Israel’s kings hadn’t done — restore the weak and gather the lost, offer an amnesty and open up his rule of justice and peace for the world, for ever. “Then they will know that I the Lord their God am with them” Ezekiel had said (Ezekiel 34:30). Jesus’ birth is indeed the very best news the world has known. It truly awakens within us a thrill of hope.

In fulfilment of his promise, the creator God himself has reached down from the glory of highest heaven to rescue and transform the lives of all people, even the lowliest, including the outcasts. No wonder the heavenly choir of angels broke into song: “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth, ‘shalom’, ‘peace’.

In her Christmas Broadcast in 2012, Her Late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II said, “The carol, In The Bleak Midwinter, ends by asking a question of all of us who know the Christmas story, of how God gave himself to us in humble service: “What can I give him, poor as I am? If I were a shepherd, I would bring a lamb; if I were a wise man, I would do my part”. The carol gives the answer “Yet what I can I give him – give my heart”.”

How right this is: Jesus wants us to respond to his grace, his love and mercy, by turning to him, our savior-king, and by giving him our heart in true love and loyalty.

To return to Paul’s words in Titus, chapter 2. He says in verses 11 and 12: For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all, training us to renounce impiety and worldly passions, and in the present age to live lives that are self-controlled, upright and godly…

Paul wants us to understand that God’s grace or mercy is not mere pie in the sky when we die. God’s grace motivates, educates and delights in changing us for the better. Grace is almost personified. It becomes the teacher that trains and nurtures us. Or, put another way, grace teaches us to live as God’s people.

Three words identify the changes that God delights to see in us: sober, upright, godly.

Sober speaks to us personally: we are to live lives of integrity and self-discipline. Upright speaks of our relations with others: we are to live selflessly and honestly, serving others by taking an interest in them, showing compassion and practical care where there is genuine need. Godly speaks of our relationship with God: we are to live for God in loyalty and with joy.

Imagine what the world would be like if God’s people everywhere began to live out these qualities. No, it would not be boring. As studies consistently show, society benefits when people respond to God’s grace and live in its light.

In the Age of Enlightenment reason and will were reckoned to be keys to human behaviour. In today’s post- post-modern world feelings have become the driver. But I am sure you have noticed what Paul is saying here: God’s grace becomes the motivating force for our lives. When we personally experience God’s compassion and mercy, we will be drawn to delight in doing the good that God desires. His grace coaxes the bud of new life in Christ into flower. Yes, it will be a lifetime process, but God’s love will draw us.

The words of the angel on the night of Jesus’ birth speak through the ages: “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord”.

Indeed, when our hearts are awakened to the wonder of this, we can truly sing: O Holy Night… it is the night of the dear Savior’s birth; long lay the world in sin and error pining, till he appeared and the soul felt its worth. A thrill of hope, the weary world rejoices, for yonder breaks a new and glorious morn…

May you and your loved ones know the deep joy of the coming of the Lord Christ Jesus.

A Prayer at Christmas: Loving Father, who sent your only Son into the world that we might have life through faith in him: grant that we who celebrate his birth at this time may come at last to the fullness of life in your heavenly kingdom, where he now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Please consider an end of year gift to this ministry. Donations in the US are tax deductible. Gifts can be made here.

Note: My comments on Luke 2 are drawn from my book, Luke: An Unexpected God, Second Edition, Aquila: 2019.

You may like to listen to the Sovereign Grace, ‘Hear the Gospel Story’ version of O Holy Night

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Advent: What’s It All About…? https://anglicanconnection.com/advent-whats-it-all-about/ Tue, 12 Dec 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31440 The post ‘Advent: What’s It All About…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Despite the continuing developments of science and technology, we are made aware daily of the inability of men and woman to live at peace with one another. At every level of society, there is narcissism and greed, hatred and corruption haunting the human experience. Alienation is a word that rightly describes our plight. So, what’s life all about?

It is not insignificant that in his Letter to the Colossians Paul the Apostle expresses the human dilemma this way: And you who were once estranged and hostile in mind, doing evil deeds… (1:21). Estranged or alienated speaks not just of our outward behaviour, but of what we are like deep within – until the grace of God changes us. In our natural state the desires of our hearts are at odds with a genuine love for God and consequently our lifestyle is flawed.

When we think about it God could have written humanity off as a fiasco. He could have decided to start afresh – as indeed, he told Moses he would (Numbers 14:11f). But that would have been an admission of defeat on God’s part. It would have meant that in some measure God couldn’t allow evil because he knew he couldn’t defeat it.

But no, the Bible tells us that from the very beginning of time, God was determined to beat it. He determined on an infinitely more costly strategy than one of simply writing us off. He wouldn’t abandon an evil and ungrateful humanity that rejected him. He would reach across the divide and rescue it from the consequences of its own folly. He would step in personally and address the penalty his righteous character required. In a word he would do everything needed to reconcile the world to himself. Importantly, he would destroy the hostility without destroying the enemy. He would make peace.

Paul tells us, in very beautiful words, what this meant: … through him (Jesus Christ) God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross (1:20).

Suppose someone very close to you, a wife or husband, or another family member, profoundly hurts you. They trample over your feelings; they repay all your kindness and genuine interest in them with hatred. But a day comes when they are in some kind of deep trouble. If you don’t step in to help them they’re going to perish. What do you do? You could tell them to go to hell.

But supposing when you consult your feelings, you find within your heart a love for them, a love that wants to see them restored to your family circle. You know you need to find within yourself the resources to absorb the pain and righteous anger that boils up within you at the very sight of them, so that you can stretch out your hand and help them.

I find this to be a picture that helps me understand what Paul is saying here, when he says that God was reconciling us to himself through the blood of the cross. Because Jesus and God are one, we see that through the cross of Christ God found the perfect way through which he can absorb within himself the pain and the anger, that are rightly within him, when he looks at people like us who have rejected him.

On the cross of Christ we find the passionate collision of pain and fury, of love and mercy.

And the outcome of this costly sacrifice? … So as to present you holy and blameless and irreproachable before him… (Colossians 1:22b).

Christ’s death on the cross laid the foundation and provided the means for God’s forgiveness. But we await a final day when we will be truly holy, without blemish, and free from accusation. And this, as Paul continues, will only happen provided that you continue securely established and steadfast in the faith, without shifting from the hope promised by the gospel that you heard,… (1:23).

What’s more God plans to use that reconciled human race to populate a reconciled universe. For the reconciliation Jesus has achieved goes far beyond men and women. It will embrace the whole of the cosmos. One day he is going to make a new heaven and a new earth where truth and goodness will reign.

And who will be there, as Lord of that reconciled world?  Jesus! Jesus, risen from the dead.  Jesus glorified in heaven. The name Jesus will resound with joy throughout the universe.

No one who understands these things can ever say that any other name is equal to the name of Jesus. He alone has provided for our rescue from our narcissism and rebelliousness against God. No one else has scars on their hands. No one else has conquered the grave. No one else has provided the means of a perfect, everlasting peace.

This is the central theme of the New Testament. It is at the heart of the season of Advent. It is in the Lord Jesus Christ that we discover what life is all about.

The question is whether you and I will acknowledge Jesus’ supremacy, willingly recognizing him, and turning to him as the one true Lord of heaven and earth. And in turning to him as the Lord, will you acknowledge that he alone is sufficient to present you before God, holy, without blemish, and freed from all accusation on the day of the Advent of the Christ – the return of king? Are you prepared for that day? Do you really look forward to it?

A Prayer – for the Third Sunday in Advent: Almighty God, we pray that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered through your guidance that your church may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Please consider an end of year gift to this ministry. Donations in the US are tax deductible. Gifts can be made here.

You may like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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Advent: Fiction…? https://anglicanconnection.com/advent-fiction/ Tue, 05 Dec 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31423 The post ‘Advent: Fiction…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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It is commonplace for contemporary scientists and philosophers to give lip service to the principle that science decides only the how questions and leaves the why questions to religion’ (italics mine), wrote the late Phillip Johnson (The Right Questions, p.68).

However, Johnson continued, ‘the epistemic authority of science is so overwhelming and the standing of theology so precarious that “outside of science” effectively means “outside of reality”, and the premise that science is taken to entail the conclusion that the world has no purpose is effectively a non-existent purpose; how could we know of the purpose if science cannot discover it?’

Johnson rightly added, ‘The concept of ultimate purpose is probably inseparable from the concept of divine revelation… The right question is not whether God exists but whether God has revealed the nature of the ultimate purpose of the world’ (pp.68f).

In order to begin to provide some answers to this question as well as some keys to opening up the ‘right questions’ with people in the wider community, let me touch on two New Testament statements.

In the Gospel of John, chapter 1, verses 1 and 2 we read: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

And in his Letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes: For he (Jesus Christ) is the image of the invisible God, the first-born of all creation;… (Colossians 1:15)

The Apostles St. John and St. Paul are telling us that Jesus is the projection into our world of the God who exists beyond space and time. Furthermore, we come to understand that out of his very nature, God the Father loves and gives life. Throughout eternity he has given life to a Son – a Son whom he loves and delights in.

This is what the orthodox creeds mean when they speak of the eternal nature of the Son of God. Furthermore, Article II of the Thirty-Nine Articles states: The Son, which is the Word of the Father, begotten from everlasting of the Father, the very and eternal God, and of one substance with the Father,…

The fountain analogy. A helpful way to understand this is to think of a fountain. In the same way that the essential nature of a fountain is to pour out water, so God the Father is eternally flowing with life and love, eternally begetting his Son. Indeed, the prophet Jeremiah (2:13) tells us that the Lord says of himself that he is the ‘spring of living water’.

God the Father and God the Son are distinct persons, but they are inseparable from one another. They always love one another, and they always work together – in perfect harmony. Indeed, God the Father is always pouring the fullness of his own nature into His Son.

The source of life. Furthermore, in John, chapter 1, verse 3 we read: All things came into being through him (the Word), and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.

And in Colossians, chapter 1, verse 16 Paul writes: For in him (Jesus Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him.

We need to catch the flow of both John’s and Paul’s words. Throughout eternity God the Father’s nature gives life and love which we see supremely exemplified in his one and only eternal Son who came amongst us as one of us. Furthermore, the Father hands over to His Son the task of creating others and loving others. God doesn’t need to do this to make up something lacking in his nature. This is who he is and what he does. He loves and he gives life.

Meaning. Drawing these threads together we come to understand that Jesus Christ, the eternally begotten Son of God, is the eternal image and radiance of God. We are created in the image of God and designed to conform to the image of God’s eternal Son – in our love for God and our love for one another. Our existence is part of ‘the continuation of that outgoing movement of God’s love’ (Michael Reeves, p. 43). Here we begin to find the answer to meaning and purpose.

Is all this fiction? Consider the observation of Dr. John Lennox, Emeritus Professor of Mathematics, Oxford, UK: “To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power.”

For in him (Jesus Christ) all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or principalities or authorities — all things were created through him and for him (Colossians 1:16).

A Prayer – for the Second Sunday in Advent: Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Please consider an end of year gift to this ministry. Donations in the US are tax deductible. Gifts can be made here.

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Advent: The Right Questions… https://anglicanconnection.com/advent-the-right-questions/ Tue, 28 Nov 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31419 The post ‘Advent: The Right Questions’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In his book, The Right Questions (2002), the late Phillip Johnson wrote that at the heart of the cultural changes today is the sharp divergence between two very different world views: the Christian view that states (as in John 1:1-4): “In the beginning was the Word…”; and scientific materialism that says, “In the beginning were the particles” (p.136). (Phillip Johnson was Professor of Law at the University of California, Berkeley for over thirty years.)

In an earlier chapter in his book, he observed that “In the beginning was the Word” is dismissed as a ‘non-cognitive utterance of religion’ and therefore one that cannot be evaluated in terms of ‘true or false’ (p.63). On the other hand, he also draws attention to an unquestioned assumption that stands behind scientific naturalism, namely that ‘the laws and the particles existed, and that these two things plus chance had to do all the creating’ (p.64).

In this context Johnson points out that everyone needs to ask ‘the right questions’; especially with respect to the assumptions that stand behind scientific materialism. For example, he draws attention to President Clinton’s announcement in June 2000 with the breakthrough in understanding the human genome: “Today, we are learning the language in which God created life, we are gaining ever more awe for the complexity, the beauty, the wonder of God’s most divine and sacred gift” (p.37). And Francis Collins, the scientific director of the government’s Human Genome Project, said: “It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our instruction book, previously known only to God” (p.38).

Johnson comments that both statements ‘seem to say that the genome research actually supports the view that a supernatural mind designed the instructions that guide the immensely complex biochemical processes of life’. He also notes the negative implications, namely that ‘Clinton and Collins seemed to be repudiating the central claim of evolutionary naturalism, which is that exclusively natural causes like chance and physical law produced all the features of life…’ (p.38).

Yet he also notes that most leading biologists reject the notion of God and God’s involvement.

But can the clear statements of John 1:1-2 be easily dismissed as a crutch for those who need such a foundation for life? In the beginning was the Word, we read, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God… And in John 1:14 we learn, And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

In his Prologue John the Gospel writer speaks of the pre-existence of the Word of God. From all eternity the Word has been enthroned in the magnificence of the glory of heaven. But Joh also speaks of the incarnation of the Word: he is a Person who took up residence with us. The Word incarnate was full of grace and truth, John tells us. We have seen his glory, he testifies. John was either spinning a falsehood or witnessing to a truth that is beyond human invention.

Indeed, The Gospel of John, together with the other three Gospels, reveals a transcendent figure. The esteemed ancient historian Dr Edwin Judge once commented: ‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. … The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’.

Furthermore, Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Colossians, chapter 1, verse 5, speaks of the gospel as the word of the truthHe could have left out any reference to the words the truth, but he doesn’t. He wants to stress that the Christian message is true. Paul’s words reflect not only the words of the Gospel of John but also those of Luke who states that he had verified his account of Jesus Christ with eyewitnesses (Luke 1:1-2). Strange as it may seem the Bible accounts of Jesus are verifiable and true.

Over the years the Christian church has been criticised for taking a western religion to other cultures. But what we often forget is that Christianity is not a western faith. Its origins are in the Middle-East. More significant is the point that Paul makes in Colossians, chapter 1, verses 6 and 7: the Christian gospel is for all the world.

All this brings us back to the question of knowledge. When we ask the right questions we discern that there are some essential assumptions that undergird scientific or philosophical naturalism – assumptions that cannot be tested and which require a step of faith. On the other hand, the step of faith in the statement that there is a creator God, is not a blind step. Its essence is grounded in a verifiable historical figure – Jesus.

This is the Jesus Christ to whom the believers in Colossae had responded. He brings us the good news that we need to embrace ourselves and introduce others to, today.

A Prayer – for the first Sunday in Advent: Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Throughout this week, ‘Happy Thanksgiving’ will echo across the land from New York City to San Francisco. The principle of ‘Thanksgiving’ has its origins in a non-sectarian thanks to a loving, merciful and generous God.

While Presidential Thanksgiving Proclamations have at times been associated with a special moment in America’s story – as when Presidents Washington, Adams, and Lincoln made their Proclamations – the principle of a day of Thanksgiving continues. For example, in 1789 the first President, George Washington commended that a Day of Thanksgiving be held on Thursday, November 26 of that year.

Washington’s 1789 Proclamation stated: Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favour; and—Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me “to recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:

When we think about it, Thanksgiving is a very Judaeo-Christian theme, for we find it in both the ‘Law, the Prophets and the Writings’ (Old Testament) and in the New Testament.

The theme of Thanksgiving permeates the Book of Psalms, often setting this in the context of God’s goodness in creation and his mercy towards his people, even when they fell away from their whole-hearted commitment to him.

The opening lines of Psalm 103, for example, read: Bless the Lord, O my soul, and all that is within me, bless his holy name. Bless the Lord, O my soul, and do not forget all his benefits— who forgives all your iniquity, who heals all your diseases, who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy, who satisfies you with good as long as you live so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s (Psalm 103:1-5).

Significantly, King David, the song writer, is not here talking to God as he usually does in his songs or psalms. He is talking to himself – to his soul. In fact, he continues the conversation with himself through the first five verses.

He is telling himself things he knew he needed to hear. He knew himself well enough to realize that he could slide into being a thankless man of God. And so it is that as he considers afresh who God is and what he has done for him: he reflects on God’s goodness. He identifies God’s many blessings, lest in times of disappointment or backsliding he forget the source of his prosperity and success and take God’s grace and goodness for granted.

It’s an exhortation we all need to hear. We ought to treat God with great honor and thankfulness for he is good to us in countless different ways. He is never over-indulgent. He disciplines us when we need it and, for our good, he doesn’t give us everything we want when we want it. Yet his kindness is vast and often unexpected.

The sad reality is that most of us simply forget to thank God for his undeserved kindness and goodness. We take it all for granted. Like nine of the ten lepers Jesus once healed, we don’t offer even one word of thanks.

Yet so important is giving thanks to God that Paul the Apostle urges us when we pray to have a deep sense of gratitude in our hearts: Do not be anxious about anything, he writes in his Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God (4:5-6).

The context in which we find these words of Paul is his exhortation that we rejoice in the Lord (Jesus) always (Philippians 4:4). Glorying in Christ Jesus and all that he has done for us in rescuing us and bringing us into a vital relationship with God, is central. God wants us to so value the Lord Jesus that we long for the smile of his approval in all we do.

This is the context of Paul’s command: ‘Have no anxiety about anything …’ His words are a timeless and universal remedy for anxiety. Prayer and Thanksgiving together commit us into the hands of the God who is Lord, and who is committed to bringing good for us out of every situation no matter what it is.

‘Thanksgiving’ by its very nature does not have its origin within us. As Karl Barth put it: Grace evokes gratitude like the voice of an echo. Gratitude follows grace like thunder lightning.

May your Thanksgiving first be directed to the God from whom all true blessings flow!

A Prayer of Thanksgiving.

   Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.

   And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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With the appalling atrocities in the Middle-East and the unvarnished hatred that has emerged, the unprovoked aggression in Ukraine and the terrorist attacks in Nigeria, we may be tempted to wonder what a good and just God, if he exists, is doing. Furthermore, with the antipathy towards religion in western society we may reckon that any opportunity to bring God into our conversation is a lost cause.

How important it is that we remain calm and remember that God has especially authenticated his existence and his extraordinary love and compassion in the events of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth.

Let’s therefore continue to explore Paul the Apostle’s speech to the Athenian intelligentsia at the Areopagus that we read in The Acts of the Apostles, chapter 17. Using his observation that the Athenians had an altar ‘To an unknown god’, Paul began, “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth …” (17:24).

Furthermore, he continued, “From one ancestor he (God) made all nations to inhabit the whole earth, and he allotted the times of their existence and the boundaries of the places where they would live, so that they would search for God and perhaps grope for him and find him—though indeed he is not far from each one of us. For ‘In him we live and move and have our being’…” (Acts 17:26ff).

His words echo those of the 8th century BC prophet Isaiah who, having spoken of God’s just judgment on Israel and the people being taken into captivity, also spoke of the day of their deliverance. In Isaiah chapters 40 through 45 we read that God would raise up an insignificant prince, Cyrus, to crush the great Babylonian empire. Cyrus would free God’s people from captivity and permit them to return to Jerusalem.

Isaiah is saying (as we find throughout the Scriptures) that God continues his work in the world, constantly using human decisions to work out his own greater purposes for the good of us all. Indeed, it is because of this that Paul writes in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 8, verse 28: And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good,…

Tough times can be God’s wake-up call. It’s easy to blame him when things go wrong. But that is absurd for we all contribute to the problem. It’s easy to say God is distant or uncaring. ‘Not so,’ says Paul to the Athenians: ‘God is near you – nearer than you think. And, quoting from a 6th century BC Greek poet, he points out, “In him we live and move and have our being”. He continues by quoting either Aratus or Cleanthus, “For we too are his offspring”.

In quoting from non-biblical writers Paul lays out a useful principle for us: to reach a cynical audience with the things of God, look for ideas or words in the culture that illustrate a gospel truth. Not all human ideas are wrong – we are all image-bearers of God, albeit distorted ones.

Paul is saying that all men and women are God’s creatures. We not only receive our life from him but our very existence is also dependent on him. ‘Your poets agree that we are God’s offspring,’ he continues. ‘How ridiculous it is, therefore, to reduce God to something less than we are – gold or silver or stone.’ When we create an idol, we are trying to reverse the roles of ourselves and God: we want to make ourselves God’s creator, not God our creator.

So then, is there is any hope? Paul concludes with news of the surprising and unexpected rescue that comes from the One who set the movement of our existence into motion: “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now God commands all people everywhere to repent. For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all people by raising him from the dead’ (17:30f).

In setting up an altar ‘To an unknown god’, the Athenians recognized they actually might not know God. ‘In response Paul told them, ‘you might claim ignorance, but the reality is that God has never left himself without witness.’ As he writes in his Letter to the Romans, chapter 1, God has revealed himself through the natural order of the universe – something that we’ve all tried to suppress. ‘Well,’ Paul says to the Athenians, ‘God in his mercy is willing to overlook your past ignorance. However, he now commands people everywhere to repent’.

Justice. It is a matter of deep offense to God that we try to live without him, to say that this life is all there is, to think that there is no such thing as truth and ultimate justice. We may even laugh at the idea of a day when God will bring us all into his heavenly courtroom.

In the light of this here are some further questions you may want to explore with others – especially in the light of so many leaving church over the last 25 years that we talked about last week, November 8:

  1. Are our cries for justice because we consider judgement gives value and dignity to who we are and what we do? If there is no final justice, is life meaningless?
  2. Should we consider God’s seeming lack of intervention in appalling atrocities a sign of the depth of the outcome of our broken relationship with him? Like the father in Jesus’ Parable of the Prodigal Son, does God allow bad things to happen as a wake-up call for us all – to bring us to our senses?
  3. From your understanding of God, do you think he will find it in his heart to do anything to save us from the judgment we deserve? (The answer is found in the judge he has appointed. It will be God’s day but the judge will be one of us – a man whose name we know: Jesus Christ.)
  4. Why does Paul assure us that the day of God’s judgement will occur by saying that the one who will judge us has been raised from the dead?
  5. So, what do you reckon we should do? (Prepare for the day when we will all stand before Jesus, the Lord of heaven and earth, revealed in all his majestic power, purity and glory.)
  6. How then should we prepare? (Repent of our willful attempts of self-glory and failure to honor him. It means a true and heartfelt repentance for my broken relationship with him and committing to change my life in a way that honors him.)
  7. Are you prepared? Do you pray for those who don’t yet know the Lord?

A personal confession. Dear Lord God, I know that I have turned my back on you and have not honored you as I should. I justly deserve your condemnation. Father, for the sake of Jesus Christ, please forgive me and restore me. Turn my heart to love and honor what you command, enabling me to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A prayer for those who don’t yet believe. Merciful God, who created all men and women in your image and who hates nothing you have made, nor would have the death of a sinner, but rather that they should be converted and live; have mercy on all people everywhere and take from them all ignorance and hardness of heart and contempt of your Word; and so fetch them home, blessed Lord, to your flock, that they may be saved among the remnant of your ancient people, and be made one fold under one shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, world without end. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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In his post, ‘Unherd’, on September 24, 2023, Peter Franklin comments on a new book, The Great Dechurching, by Jim Davis and Michael Graham (August, 2023). They observe that in recent years some 40 million Americans have stopped attending church.

Now it’s easy to say this is not surprising – perhaps because of the shocking abuses perpetrated in various churches, and also the trickle-down impact of the secular liberalism of influential universities, denying the existence of the divine.

However, it seems the reasons are not that simple. For example, Franklin observes that Davis and Graham comment that while it is most likely that young adults are staying away from church, ‘it is those with the most education in this cohort who are the least likely to quit’. Franklin also points out that the writers observe that ‘among people quitting evangelical churches, levels of conservative religious belief remain high’. They further comment that “evangelicals are dechurching at almost twice the pace on the right political flank than they are on the left”.

Significantly, Davis and Graham observe that of America’s absent evangelicals, “more than half […] are willing to come back right now”. To which Franklin comments, ‘They just need better churches.’ He also notes that ‘until then, there are millions of non-college-educated Americans whose religious and political views put them at odds with the secular liberal establishment, but who lack strong institutions of their own’.

Given the complexity of the American church-going scene, and with it, the reality that there is at least a Christian memory in the wider community, let me suggest that you may find it helpful to develop questions to ask family and friends over coffee. To that end you may find it useful to reflect on key points Paul the Apostle raised almost two millennia ago in the course of his address at the Areopagus in ancient Athens.

Responding to the questions amongst the Athenian intelligentsia who were asking, ‘What is this babbler trying to say?’, Paul stood up and said: “Athenians, I see how extremely religious you are in every way. For as I went through the city and looked carefully at the objects of your worship, I found among them an altar with the inscription, ‘To an unknown god.’ What therefore you worship as unknown, this I proclaim to you” (Acts 17:22ff).

It was an ingenious opening to what is both a defense and presentation of God’s good news. Without quoting from the Bible yet drawing from what it reveals about God, he engaged with contemporary ideas within Greek thought.

So, let’s begin by identifying the first of Paul’s key points with a view to developing questions we might ask.

“The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands,” Paul began. “And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24-25).

The view that we live in a world that has been created by one God who is Lord of all was a very different worldview from the Epicureans in Paul’s audience. They believed in chance and the pursuit of pleasure. It was also very different from the pantheism of the Stoics and their stiff upper-lip approach to life. And today, it is a very different worldview from the Hindus, the Buddhists and scientific atheists who all reject the notion of a creator God.

Yet it is a worldview many esteemed scientists today support. For example, Charles Townes who won the Nobel prize for his discovery of the laser has stated: “In my view the question of origin seems always left unanswered if we explore from a scientific view alone. Thus, I believe there is a need for some religious or metaphysical explanation. I believe in the concept of God and in His existence” (quoted in Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer, Science & Christianity, Conflict or Coherence? Third Edition, 2023, p.70).

The universe in which we live did not come into existence by random chance. There is a creator God and logically he can never go away. The Athenians reckoned that they were independent, free spirits, able to make their own decisions without reference to any God.

Nothing much has changed! But Paul won’t have any of it: God is the one who continues to sustain the life he has created. It’s absurd to think that he needs to be sustained by us. And yet we want to domesticate him. We build grand church buildings and put him in there. We don’t let him loose on the street let alone in our lives.

‘No!’ says Paul. ‘We depend on God, not he on us.’ “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands. And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else” (Acts 17:24-25).

How important it is that we find ways to awaken family and friends to these profound truths – especially those who have stopped going to church.

Here are some questions you may want to explore:

  1. Do you agree that our capacity to deceive ourselves is endless? We tell ourselves that what we think must be true. But wanting a win in the lottery never created a win.
  2. Do you reckon that saying there is no creator God is a sign we have lost touch with reality and inhabit a dream world of our own?
  3. Would you prefer that God did your will and turned up only when you wanted him?
  4. What do think of Paul’s words?

More next week!

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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“Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely…” wrote Lord Acton, in a letter to Bishop Mandell Creighton in 1887.

Human institutions and governments don’t give us grounds for optimism, for none is perfect. No matter how good or well intentioned, all are flawed. Is there any hope? Daniel says, Yes! In God alone – the Ancient of Days and the Son of Man, whose kingdom will endure forever.

In Daniel, chapter 7, verses 13 and 14 we read: As I watched in the night visions, I saw one like a Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven. And he came to the Ancient One and was presented before him. To him was given dominion and glory and kingship, that all peoples, nations, and languages should serve him. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that shall not pass away, and his kingship is one that shall never be destroyed.

Daniel’s vision is of a powerful ruler who is not only without equal but whose reign will endure for ever. This ruler is called the Son of Man. In Hebrew the phrase is Ben Adam, son of Adam.

The expression could simply be a substitute for the personal pronoun ‘I’, as in the phrase, I am a man. It could also be a reference to the people of Israel; Hosea, chapter 11 refers to the people of Israel as God’s son. But there is something else: Son of Man was also used to refer to a king. Psalm 2 speaks of the king of Israel as a son of God.

Furthermore, when we turn to Matthew, Mark and Luke we find that Jesus often spoke of himself as the Son of Man. He used the phrase to refer to his humanity as in: ‘I am a son of Adam.’ He used it to indicate that he represented Israel.

However, most significantly he allowed himself to be acknowledged as the Messiah – God’s unique, anointed king.

He drew these ideas together at his trial when the High Priest, as Judge, asked him, “Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed”. To which Jesus replied, “I am”.  He then surprised everyone by quoting Daniel 7 saying, “And you will see the Son of Man coming with the clouds of heaven” (Mark 14:61).

Jesus is saying: ‘I am a not only a man, I am uniquely God’s Son and God’s King. One day you will see the truth of this.

What is amazing is that God gave Daniel a glimpse of this scene 600 or so years before Jesus walked on earth.

Reflect. The reading today alerts us to the reality of a world that chooses to live without God, spiraling ever downwards. On the other hand, it awakens us to the reality of the coming age, when Jesus is revealed in all his power and glory. It will be the age where righteousness and peace will reign, where all God’s people will reign with Christ in indescribable glory. So, let me ask, in what way does Daniel’s vision encourage you to be a biblical realist about the world scene now, and the glory yet to come?

You may find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 7, Mark 14:53-65 and Revelation 21:1-8.

A Prayer. Almighty and eternal God, grant that we may grow in faith, hope, and love; especially make us love what you command so that we may obtain what you have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Many in the West follow the mantra: ‘All religions are the same’. This popular form of pluralism seems to make sense, but it fails to account for the many significant differences between the world’s great religions.

A more sophisticated form of pluralism argues that there is a deeper, grander Truth made clear by all religions. This Truth, it is said, has little to do with Allah requiring 5 daily prayers, or Buddha advocating the subduing of the emotions, or Jesus dying on the cross for the sins of the world. These simply point to a greater Truth that there is an indefinable Reality drawing the world to itself. Defined this way, pluralism claims to have discovered a greater Truth none of the world’s religions has found.

However, this more sophisticated form of pluralism has no response to questions such as the certainty of such a Reality, or the certainty that such a Reality, if it exists, has not already been identified.

Come with me to Daniel, chapter 6, where we learn that public servants around king Darius wanted to bring down Daniel, who had risen to great power in Persia despite being Jewish. Knowing that he could not be accused of being corrupt, they devised a scheme to bring him down.

They devised a law stating that anyone who prayed to any other god apart from the king for a period of thirty days, to be cast into a den of lions. Despite the law, Daniel continued his pattern of prayer in a way that could be observed. And because the law was unchangeable the king, against his own personal wishes, was required to cast Daniel into the den of lions. Miraculously, Daniel wasn’t touched.

In verses 21 and 22 we read: Daniel then said to the king, “O king, live forever! My God sent his angel and shut the lions’ mouths so that they would not hurt me, because I was found blameless before him; and also before you, O king, I have done no wrong”.

The purpose of Daniel’s rescue from the lion’s den is to assure us that there is a sovereign God who not only exists but who also uniquely wields awesome authority over every aspect of his creation. He is the Lord. It’s a truth that is especially exemplified with the resurrection of Jesus from the dead.

Daniel, chapter 6 reveals that God can turn hungry lions into docile pets, overcome cunning, corrupt public servants, and overturn the supposedly unchangeable laws of a King.

This doesn’t mean that every time God’s people stand up for him that he will step in and work a miracle. The Letter to the Hebrews, chapter 11 provides many examples of God’s people who were not rescued from death but who were commended for their faith, knowing that God has a better plan.

Reflect. Daniel chapter 6 assures that there is a sovereign God who has authority over every human institution. It also reminds us of our need to serve God wherever we are. So let me encourage you to ask God to enable you to stand firm in your faith, no matter the cost, and to speak up for him when the opportunity arises, or when the situation demands it.

You may find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 6 and Hebrews, chapter 11.

A Prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, look with mercy on our infirmities; and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help us and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Most of us find ourselves in situations where the name of God is mocked. This was happening at Belshazzar’s great feast described in the Book of Daniel, chapter 5.

Persia, under the military leadership of Cyrus at the time, was threatening Babylonia’s hegemony. Belshazzar was on Nebuchadnezzar’s throne. On the night of the Medo-Persian victory he was feasting, drinking from the vessels that had been brought from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem. Until a finger started writing on the wall.

In Daniel chapter 5, verse 25, we read: And this is the writing that was inscribed: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin.

Mene, Tekel, and Parsin were small weights, in descending order, used in the market place. Here they are metaphors for God’s justice. Daniel interpreted them, saying in effect, ‘Belshazzar, mene means your days are numbered; tekel, ‘weighed’, means God has weighed your life and found it short on goodness; parsin, means your kingdom is divided and given to others. Tonight God will remove both your kingdom and your life.’

Denying the obvious, Belshazzar commanded that Daniel be honored. But no last minute compliment to God’s man was going to alter God’s plan. Humility and repentance towards God were far from Belshazzar’s heart. That night he was slain and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.

What Belshazzar failed to learn while he had the opportunity was that everyone is accountable to the God who made us all. It is only by God’s grace that we enjoy whatever good things, power or position we might have. Nebuchadnezzar had learned the lesson, but Belshazzar hadn’t.

As well as this warning, there is also encouragement for us: God will always have the last word. The writing was on the wall, not just for Belshazzar, but for everyone who thinks they can trample on the name of God with impunity.

Today Christianity is lampooned by television comedians, dismissed by the gurus of radio and marginalized in the corridors of political power. Many of us feel isolated in the office, in the professional world, in the classroom, and even in our family. But no matter what happens, we can be confident. ‘Be assured’, Daniel 5 tells us, ‘the writing is on the wall. God will have the last word.’

Reflect. Do you really believe that you are accountable to God – the Lord Most High? Do you carry this conviction into your prayers for others who mock your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ?

You may find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 5 and Acts 17:22-31.

A Prayer. Lord God, our savior and our guide, make your love the foundation of our lives; so may our love for you express itself in our eagerness to do good for others.  Grant this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

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It takes courage to stand up for what you believe to be the truth.

In the sixth century BC, leading lights in Jewish society: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were, with Daniel, exiles in Babylon at the time of Nebuchadnezzar.

Like Daniel they enjoyed the privilege of Babylonian education and a place in Nebuchadnezzar’s court. However, encouraged by those around him, Nebuchadnezzar had constructed a huge golden statue that he commanded everyone to worship. The three Israelites, despite certain death, refused.

In Daniel chapter 3, verse 18 we read their response to the king: “…Be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods and we will not worship the golden statue that you have set up”.

These men were intelligent, highly educated, articulate young men who held office in their land of exile at King Nebuchadnezzar’s pleasure because of their abilities and leadership qualities. They knew that now they had to take a stand.

Nebuchadnezzar needed to know the God of Israel was not only the God of the Jewish people. He was not simply another God in the pantheon of gods for the Religious Departments of universities to analyze. He alone is the Lord. There is no other.

They spoke of God as, “our God whom we serve”: they had a personal relationship with him built on trust. They were confident that God had the power to deliver them from the fiery furnace they faced. But if he chose not to protect them they would still trust him.

For the Jewish readers of this book who were also in exile, the examples of men like Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Babylon were significant. They had to ask how far they should get involved in this foreign country: would it compromise their faith? The answer in the Book of Daniel is, ‘No! It won’t. Providing you continue to trust and serve God’.

This question is important for us too. Some Christians say they can only fully serve God if they become a Christian minister or missionary. But that is not how God works: he involves all of us wherever we are. And he expects us to continue to trust and serve him in the secularized world of our day.

Reflect. Do you pray for opportunities to talk with others about your faith? As you do, let me suggest that you ask yourself what opportunities you may have had. Pray for those with whom you have chatted about the good news you have found in knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 3 and Colossians 4:2-6.

A Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

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A Changing World: A Dream…! https://anglicanconnection.com/a-changing-world-a-dream/ Tue, 03 Oct 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31351 The post ‘A Changing World: A Dream…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Dreams fascinate us. They can tease us with hopes that they may come true, but they can also terrify.

In the past, as in some cultures today, dreams were often treated as portents of the future. So people called on the ‘wise’ and fortune-tellers to interpret their dreams.

These days modern psychology suggests that dreams can reveal our subconscious desires and fears. However, there are well-documented occasions when individuals have some kind of premonition of the future – particularly of disaster.

Daniel chapter 2 records a dream King Nebuchadnezzar experienced. It was so real that he called in his wise men and scientists, wanting them to tell him its meaning. However, he had forgotten what it was.

They were threatened with death if they couldn’t interpret the forgotten dream. Then Daniel was called in. Being acquainted with the situation Daniel informed his three companions and asked them to pray. Prayer was an essential part of Daniel’s life. He prayed because he trusted God.

In Daniel, chapter 2, verse 19 we read: Then the mystery was revealed to Daniel in a vision of the night

In answering Daniel’s prayer God showed him both Nebuchadnezzar’s dream and its meaning. In essence, the dream revealed to Nebuchadnezzar, Daniel and the Israelite exiles in Babylon, that there would be the rise and fall of four great empires (Babylon, Persia, Greece and Rome). But over all and throughout it all, God would be there, working out his purposes for his people.

This is an extraordinary glimpse into the nature and work of God. He is sovereign over the universe. What is more, unseen behind the noise and drama of human decisions and events, God is tirelessly working out his purposes, especially for his people.

The purpose of the dream Nebuchadnezzar experienced was to encourage God’s people to persevere. They were going through dreadful times. Exiled from Jerusalem, they had lost all that was dear to them. ‘Never give up,’ God was saying to them. He says the same to us today: ‘Never give up your trust in me, your prayer, or your courage to serve’.

Reflect. We cannot live a meaningful life in the present unless we believe something positive about the future. What hope do you have for the future? Is your faith in the Lord Jesus Christ such that it keeps your life fresh and filled with great expectations in God’s plans?

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 2 and Romans 5:1-5

A Prayer. Lord God, you declare your mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: grant us such a measure of your grace so that, running in the way of your commandments, we may obtain your promises, and share in your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

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A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’! https://anglicanconnection.com/a-changing-world-times-to-say-no/ Tue, 26 Sep 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31345 The post ‘A Changing World: Times to Say, ‘No’!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In our changing world the words, ‘In God we trust’ are fading into the mists of time. We’re now living in a brave new world where, in the west, powerful and influential voices believe they can chart a path to a secure future, even though it may mean silencing freedom of speech and freedom of religion.

Such experiences are not new. In the sixth century BC, God’s ancient people found themselves in a world of uncertainty and confusion. In 586BC Nebuchadnezzar had sent his army into Jerusalem; the city was destroyed, and the stones of Solomon’s great temple razed to the ground.

King Nebuchadnezzar’s conquest devastated the Jewish people. Their national pride was in tatters and their religious faith was challenged to the core. For they believed that their God was the one true living God, sovereign over all the gods of the nations. Yet he had allowed this to happen.

An important part of Nebuchadnezzar’s strategy in developing his empire was to take the cream of the Jewish people to Babylon and provide them with a top-rate education and cultural program.

Today, and over the coming Wednesdays, I am touching on key themes we find in the Book of Daniel under the title, ‘A Changing World’.

In Daniel, chapter 1, from verse 5 we read: Then the king commanded his palace master Ashpenaz to bring some of the Israelites of the royal family and of the nobility, young men without physical defect and handsome, versed in every branch of wisdom, endowed with knowledge and insight, and competent to serve in the king’s palace; they were to be taught the literature and language of the Chaldeans. The king assigned them a daily portion of the royal rations of food and wine. They were to be educated for three years, so that at the end of that time they could be stationed in the king’s court. Among them were Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, from the tribe of Judah.

Nebuchadnezzar expected exceptional men like Daniel and his friends to welcome the intellectual and cultural challenges of the three-year program. However, Daniel drew a line when it came to the food menu.

In verses 5 and 8 we read: But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the royal rations of food and wine.

The words, Daniel resolved, suggest he was wrestling with his conscience about Nebuchadnezzar’s plan. The result was that he made a personal determination to take a stand on a principle. He said, ‘No’ to the feasting.

Daniel may have stood firm on the matter of food because in diplomatic circles eating a meal with someone usually implied an alliance. As a member of a nation that had food laws prescribed by Yahweh, the Lord, that loyalty came first. And there was probably something else: Daniel was surrounded daily by dozens of temptations to turn away from his walk with the Lord, temptations to which he knew well he might succumb.

If he was to remain true to the Lord, he would need great self discipline. He could not afford to let himself be softened up by the king’s hospitality. There may have been nothing morally wrong with enjoying the delights of the Babylonian royal cuisine, but it symbolized a threat to his own spiritual commitment. Significantly, as Nebuchadnezzar’s program progressed, Daniel’s decision was honored by God.

Reflect. If we are going to live as believers in a changing world where God is dismissed, we need to have the wisdom to identify temptations that could threaten our faith and the courage to be different. Let me encourage you to pray for God’s wisdom and grace in identifying where it would benefit you to make a stand, and at the same time challenge others around you.

You may also find it helpful to read Daniel, chapter 1 and Ephesians 4:17-32.

A Prayer. Almighty and eternal God, by whose Spirit your people are governed and sanctified: receive our prayer for the many different members of your people; that every one of us in our life and calling may truly and devoutly serve you; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

© John G. Mason

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‘Count your blessings, name them one by one, and it will surprise you what the Lord has done,’ are the words of an old Christian song. How easily we forget to thank God for the countless good things he provides for us. We take it all for granted.

But there is something else we often forget; King David wrote about it in Psalm 103. It seems he wrote this for the great choir he established in Jerusalem. It reflects his personal growth in his understanding of God.

With his opening and concluding words, Bless the Lord, O my soul, we find that this song has the tone of a personal reflection. His exhortation is directed to his inner self – a theme that he especially develops in the first five verses.

In reminding himself of all God’s benefits he begins by focusing on the forgiveness and healing that God held out to him. This suggests the psalm was perhaps another reflection on his affair with Bathsheba and his sickness in the aftermath when he was deeply depressed and ill. Assured now that the sin that had caused his sickness was forgiven, he reflects on the extraordinary mercy of the Lord.

Significantly, David didn’t attribute his recovery to good medical care or healthy foods. Rather, he sees his deliverance as nothing less than God’s personal involvement in his life. He doesn’t even attribute his deliverance to the power of prayer. Instead, he reflects on God’s mercy: The Lord works vindication and justice for all who are oppressed. He made known his ways to Moses, his acts to the people of Israel (103:6-7).

‘My experience,’ he says, ‘is an example of a general truth about God that I read in the Scriptures.’ At the time of Moses God broke into the experience of an entire nation. He revealed what a just and righteous God he is when he delivered his people from oppression in Egypt and opened a way for them to enter the land of Canaan. God showed himself to be merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love (103:8).

Now, it’s important that we think about this. We can’t scientifically prove that God is at work in our lives. Nor can we prove that God answers our prayers. If anyone wants to interpret events some other way, we can’t prove them wrong. All we can say is that our personal experience and the testimony of the Bible mesh together in a way that we find personally convincing. We know God is real because somehow everything hangs together and fits. It rings true. This helps us when we think about our faith, or we are looking into faith.

Years ago, when I was re-thinking my position about my faith, I looked for some kind of logical argument that concluded, ‘The New Testament is true’ and ‘Jesus did rise from the dead’. When I found that the Bible never even tried to offer reasoning along these lines, I felt let down. Then I realized that faith, as the Bible reveals it, is not a logical deduction. We can’t prove that God exists and then decide we’re going to believe in him. This doesn’t mean that faith is a leap in the dark: it is grounded in historical reality.

As others have observed, ‘faith isn’t a logical deduction, it’s closer to what scientists call a paradigm shift’ – what the Germans call a Gestalt phenomenon.

Faith is a new way of looking at the world that makes convincing sense of it. David wasn’t speculating when he spoke of a God who forgives his sin and heals his diseases. He was reflecting on the point that the Bible makes compelling sense of human experience. God had proven himself in David’s experience to be the same God he had revealed himself to be in the Scriptures. The Bible and David’s experience of God meshed together. This is how it feels when we come to faith.

Significantly, David didn’t go on to list all the specific things God had done for him. Rather he focused on essential features of God’s character – God’s justice and his steadfast love.

God’s just anger: God will not always accuse, nor will he keep his anger forever (v.9). Martin Luther once commented, ‘Wrath is God’s strange work.’ Anger is alien to God: it is his response to our failure to honor him and give him the thanks that is his due. There was a time when there was no anger in God; equally, there will come a time when there will be nothing further to rouse his anger.

God’s steadfast love: For as the heavens are high above the earth, so great is his steadfast love toward those who fear him (v.11). Children sometimes ask their parents, ‘How much do you love me?’ and they open their arms saying, ‘This much, or this much?’ When David said this to God, he realized that not even the expanse of the universe can illustrate the vast dimensions of God’s love.

So he continues: As far as the east is from the west, so far he removes our transgressions from us (v.12).  We can’t watch the sun rise and set at the same time. We have to turn our back on one to see the other. Through the lens of the New Testament we see that through the cross of Christ, God found a way of detaching our sin from us, so he could condemn the one without condemning the other. The illustration means that when we ask God for mercy, he has to turn his back on our sin when he looks at us because he puts us and our sin on two different horizons.

We have even more reason than David to bless the name of God, for we live on the other side of the cross that once stood on Calvary’s hill. That cross is a far, far greater measure of God’s love than the unfathomable depths of the universe about which David spoke. The arms of the cross show us the grief that tears the heart of God because of our sin. In Christ, God not only lifts us out of the pit, he lifts us from the depths of hell and raises us to new life forever.

Is there any real praise of God in our hearts? It’s easy to go to church, to sing songs and hymns, and say Amen to the prayers, but to have no real personal connection with him. It’s easy to hear sermons that move us, but we’re not really listening to God because we’re more impressed with the preacher than we are with relating to God.

True blessing. Do you have a sense of God’s blessing in your life, a sense of connectedness with him that comes through knowing Jesus Christ? If you do not, then do what Jesus said: Ask, seek and knock. God promises to open our eyes to the truth.

A prayer. Lord our God, fountain of all wisdom, you know our necessities before we ask and our ignorance in asking: have compassion on our infirmities; and those things which for our unworthiness we dare not and for our blindness we cannot ask, graciously give us for the worthiness of your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Songs for Today – Joy… https://anglicanconnection.com/songs-for-today-joy/ Tue, 12 Sep 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31329 The post ‘Songs for Today – Joy…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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CS Lewis once observed, ‘I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to “rejoice” as much as by anything else’.

Yet, rejoicing is not just an apostolic injunction. Various psalms in the Old Testament Psalter pulsate with exhortations to sing our praise to the Lord with joy in our hearts. So, Psalm 96 begins, O sing to the Lord a new song; sing to the Lord, all the earth. Sing to the Lord, bless his name; tell of his salvation from day to day.

The psalm seems to have been for the celebration of the time, some 3,000 years ago, when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem. The Ark was the sign of God’s steadfast commitment to his people. First Chronicles, chapter 16 quotes the psalm almost in full.

As with any good poetry, a number of themes are tightly woven together. Two particularly stand out: sing and tell.

Sing. Three times we are exhorted to sing to the Lord. Vital Christianity always gives rise to joyful singing because we have every good reason to rejoice. The words, the Lord, stir us to lift our gaze beyond the material world: there is one Lord.

The great commandment that Jesus quoted is found in Deuteronomy chapter 6, verse 4: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone. And Isaiah chapter 45, verse 5 says: I am the Lord, and there is no other; besides me there is no god…  Paul the Apostle echoes this when he writes in First Corinthians: we know that “no idol in the world really exists, and there is no God but one (8:4).

The world we live in is a most unusual place, and the more scientists discover about it, the more extraordinary it seems. There are high-level chemists and physicists who agree that the universe is not some gigantic accident, but rather the product of a creator’s genius. Indeed, when we look around us with open minds, we see how true this is.

Everything that exists came into being at God’s command, be it the structure of the universe, the atmosphere that surrounds our world and enables us to live, or the proportions of land and sea. All reflect God’s perfect design.

The implications are enormous – both encouraging and frightening. Encouraging because we learn we are not alone in the universe: there is a purpose and direction to life. Frightening because all humanity is called upon to do business with this God, for he alone is the Lord.

But there is something else that is most significant. The psalm-writer exhorts us all to sing to the Lord a new song. While new could refer to new music, the context suggests something far more significant: we are to tell of his salvation from day to day. The Lord is not just creator, he is also a merciful savior. We are to glory in and tell of his mercies that are new every day. I wonder how many of us do this?

Personally, I find it helpful to start the day with a Bible reading and prayer – and to end the day with prayer. This helps me reflect on God’s mercies each day. Furthermore, as I recognise God’s daily work in my life, I am more motivated to sing his praises in church.

Which brings us to a second important theme: Tell. Verse 3 reads: Tell the nations…  We are to sing so that the city and the nations will hear. With the word tell, the direction of the psalm changes – from worship of God, to telling the nations. In fact, the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible uses the word from which we get the word evangelize.

There is an important sequence of ideas here. True worship will express itself in gospel proclamation. If we say we worship this Lord, we will want to introduce the nations to him.

From the time of Kings David and Solomon Jerusalem was a busy international city. In Jesus’ day the temple layout included a court for Gentiles where the songs of God’s people would have been overheard by the pagan visitors.

For great is the Lord, and greatly to be praised, the psalm continues. The Lord is to be revered above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are idols, but the Lord made the heavens.

The logic is clear: the majesty and glory of God are to be announced throughout the world for the simple reason that there is only one God. And, as we would expect, the focus of exhortation shifts from God’s ancient people, the Jewish people, to the nations (verses 7-10). In the singing of this psalm, visitors in Jerusalem would overhear the exhortation to attend to Israel’s God, the Lord who not only made the heavens, but whose mercies are new each day.

Psalm 96 is so important in providing a link between worship and witness, between ‘songs to God’ and ‘speech to the nations’, between the reality of faith and gospel outreach.

This theme of gospel language develops in the Old Testament. The prophets spoke of a day when God’s anointed king would be revealed and announced to all the world. For example, Isaiah writes: How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of the messenger who announces peace, who brings good news (gospel), who announces (proclaims the gospel of) salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns” (52:7).

The content of the gospel is the news, “Your God reigns”. From the time of these prophetic words of Isaiah, God’s people looked for the messenger who would announce God’s King. As we now look back through the lens of the New Testament we see that the messenger has not only come, but that he himself is the king. God’s king, the Lord, is Jesus.

The theme that there is only one God who is Lord of all reaches its climax in the closing verses of Psalm 96: Say among the nations, “The Lord is king! The world is firmly established; it shall never be moved. He will judge the peoples with equity.” Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar, and all that fills it; let the field exult, and everything in it. Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the Lord; for he is coming, for he is coming to judge the earth. He will judge the world with righteousness, and the peoples with his truth.

Martin Luther reflected:

Christ is Himself the joy of all, The sun that warms and lights us.

By His grace He doth impart Eternal sunshine to the heart;

The night of sin is ended. Hallelujah!

A prayer. Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Songs for Today – Doubt https://anglicanconnection.com/songs-for-today-doubt/ Tue, 05 Sep 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31323 The post ‘Songs for Today – Doubt’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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One of the things I love about the Bible is its earthy realism. It understands the world we live in – the good and the bad, the grief and the joys. It also understands how we feel about life’s injustices especially when we see people who mock the notion of God, enjoying success. Nothing ever seems to go wrong for them. And as well as the unfairness we often feel, there are the realities of droughts and famines, floods and fires, earthquakes and ruthless autocratic rulers. Why doesn’t God step in? It seems so out of character, if he is all-powerful and truly good.

True faith will always have questions. In fact, faith that refuses to ask questions is one that leaves itself open to the contempt of the skeptic. True faith will want to address tough questions and be willing to experience the doubts that arise.

Now it’s important to note that to have doubts is not to lack faith: doubt is not the opposite of faith. Doubt and unbelief are two very different things. Doubt is something that only a believer can experience, for you can only doubt what you believe.

Come with me to Psalm 73. It’s the first of three Psalms that I will be touching on as we move into a new season. The Psalms are God’s ancient hymn book for his people. They provide meditations on questions raised in everyday experiences. Over these three Wednesdays we will consider Psalms 73, 96 and 103 as we explore the themes of doubt, joy, and mercy.

Doubt. Psalm 73 is a reflection written by a man who experienced doubt. He came within a hair’s breadth of abandoning his faith in God: But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped (73:2). Yet at the end of the psalm he tells us he felt closer to God than ever before: But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, to tell of all your works (73:28). As the psalm unfolds we learn of his spiritual pilgrimage –  how he progressed from doubt to a surer trust in God.

One of his big questions is framed by what we might say is a theological principle – that God is good to the upright (73:1). ‘Why is it then’, he asks, ‘that many who are godless find life easy while I suffer? Where is God?’

Indeed, a tone of bitterness flows through verses 3 through 11. It’s as though he is saying, ‘Come on, let’s face it, whatever we say when we go to church, it is the self-centered, proud, deceitful and ruthless people who succeed. Healthy and wealthy, nothing seems to bring them down. No-one seems to be able to call them to account. ‘They get rewarded for their crimes with popularity’, the psalmist observes. ‘God is irrelevant’, they say in mocking tones, rejecting any thought of divine retribution. Justice is the issue troubling the poet.

Consider what triggered the writer’s crisis of faith: All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence.  For all day long I have been plagued and am punished every morning (73:13f). For many, injustice only becomes an issue when it touches them. In those times we ask: ‘God, why me?’ It’s here that the first person singular pronouns give us away: ‘Why should I suffer?’ ‘Why me God?’ The psalm-writer articulates it: I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked (73:15).

The solution. In verses 15 following, we discover how the poet worked through his doubts. He went to church: When… I went into the sanctuary of God… I perceived their end.

Good churches not only read the Bible, but believe it to be God’s authentic, self-revelation. And so, they teach it and as they do they put God at the center of the vision of God’s people. This is vitally important. For it is only when God is at the center of our vision that we see life as it really is. We’re like the moon – we live on borrowed light. It’s only when we turn our face towards God through his Word that we see the light. But as long as we put ‘me’ at the center of life, our vision will be distorted.

So it’s only when we learn from God’s Word that we begin to see the true light revealed by God. And when the psalmist reflected on God’s Word he began to see what happens to those who choose not to believe: They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms (73:20). As far as the Bible is concerned, this is dreadfully real.

The idea of a final day of accounting is mocked today. But when we think about it, if there is no ultimate judgement the world is reduced to moral indifference: goodness itself has no value. Furthermore, God’s people realize that just because we can’t see the future doesn’t mean it is imaginary. God sees it, even though we don’t.

There is probably no more terrible judgment on godless men and women than the reality that one day God will ignore them forever. ‘Depart from me, I never knew you,’ Jesus will say.  What chilling words to hear from the Lord of the universe. What a terrifying nightmare to be despised by God. When the psalmist went to church and put God at the center of his vision, he understood how precarious is the prosperity of the godless. It won’t last, he realized.

But the psalm-writer also learned that despite his doubts and foolish talk, he was a child of God: Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand.  You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me into glory (73:23). To hear God’s Word in the company of his people is a powerful grace-gift from God. It prompts us to see our doubts for what they are and opens our eyes to the riches of faith. God holds us by the hand, guides us with his counsel, and will bring us to everlasting glory.

We today have all the greater assurance of this because we live on the other side of the life and death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus Christ. Without him we will not know life in all its fullness and joy. CS Lewis once put it this way: All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.

Prayers. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory. Amen.

Heavenly Father, the giver of all good things, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and grant that by your holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by your grace and guidance do them; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Summer Growth – Spiritual Conflict…? https://anglicanconnection.com/summer-growth-spiritual-conflict/ Tue, 29 Aug 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31316 The post ‘Summer Growth – Spiritual Conflict…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In his Screwtape Letters CS Lewis says that there are two equal and opposite errors that people fall into regarding the dark powers. One mistake is to disbelieve in their existence, the other is to believe in them to excess.

In Ephesians chapter 6, verses 10 through 12, Paul the Apostle writes: Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power… For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places…

Paul takes the reality of conflict in the world to another level: ‘our struggle’, literally, ‘our wrestling’, is not so much against ‘flesh and blood’ but ‘principalities and powers’. In Ephesians chapter 1, verse 10, Paul speaks of the day when all things, ‘in heaven’ and ‘on earth’ will be brought under rule of the Lord Jesus Christ. However, as we read in chapter 6, for the present there’s a war between the two spheres of darkness and light.

Spiritually speaking, God’s people live in enemy occupied territory. The epic that the Gospels reveal is that, without fanfare, the true king has slipped into our world to rescue people enslaved by the dark powers. The Gospel of John records Jesus’s words to Pilate: he could have called on a powerful army to rescue him (John 18:36). However, knowing he was the only one who could defeat the prince of darkness, he came alone to accomplish his mission. He knew that only through his sacrificial death could the powers of evil, and death itself, be conquered (so Colossians, chapter 2, verses 13 through 15). Jesus’s resurrection from the dead validates his victory.

However, for the present the dark powers, although mortally wounded, continue to do their worst, attempting to destroy God’s ultimate and sure plan to glorify his people.

Against this background we learn from Ephesians 6:10 that God’s people are caught up in a spiritual conflict as individuals and together. It is here that all too often we are naïve. We think it is only the smooth-tongued and often deceitful influential and powerful who obstruct spiritual truth in the world. No, Paul warns. There are formidable supernatural forces at work – powers that will not respond to reason. And so we are caught up in a conflict that involves dark powers and human choices.

Put on the whole armor of God, we read in verse 13, so that you may be able to stand your ground. There will be times when the dark forces press us morally, whispering that everybody’s doing it. Sometimes they press us intellectually: you’re too clever to believe that. Sometimes they press us psychologically: your faith is so intolerant. And there are times when we are physically persecuted. The aim is always the same: to silence the voice of God’s people.

Stand firm, Paul says. Be alert. Don’t give in. Put on the inner protection of a godly lifestyle. Our loins need to be girded with God’s truth; we need a breastplate of righteousness; our feet need to be shod with the commitment to spread the gospel of peace, and we need the headpiece of salvation. Our lives are most at risk when our inner defenses are broken through. We need the qualities of integrity, of righteousness, of gospel readiness, and the deep assurance of God’s ultimate victory.

The dark powers will do their worst to discredit our integrity, prevent gospel outreach through lethargy and infighting, and demoralize us by discouraging us.

We need protection: the shield of faith with which we can quench the flaming darts of darkness. We can’t cope on our own. We need to trust Christ, for when we do, the darts of darkness will fall useless. ‘The victory that overcomes the world,’ John tells us, ‘is our faith’ (1 John 5:4).

The sword of the spirit. While Paul hasn’t spelled out the meaning of his metaphors up to this point, he wants us to know that God’s Word is a sword. Unlike communism or any other ‘ism’ or ideology, there is no place in Christianity for a literal holy war. God’s new society is not brought in by act of Congress still less at the end of gun. God works through his Word.

The Word of God is not a message of the freedom fighters, but one that focusses on personal repentance and God’s forgiveness: the building of God’s new society and its compassion and care for a lost world. The victory of God’s Word will have eternal outcomes.

Pray: Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints… (Ephes 6:18).

In any battle, communication is vital. In the histories of World War II there is a picture of a young soldier holding together a broken telephone line. Prayer is our field telegraph. Paul urges us to pray constantly, to persevere in prayer, and to be vigilant in prayer. We are to pray in the Spirit.

Romans 8:26f helps us understand this, for there Paul tells us that the Spirit works with us in our prayer. In the midst of suffering we’re often at a loss to know what we should say. In those times, Paul tells us, the Spirit comes to our aid, putting our inarticulate thoughts into meaningful prayer, speaking to God on our behalf.

Despite the noise of opposing voices, God’s work continues to make inroads on the kingdom of darkness. When Jesus stood on the hills of ancient Israel with a handful of his followers, he said, ‘On this rock – the rock of faith – I will build my church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it’ (Matthew 16:18). He was speaking to a small group of humble, un-influential men.

The Lord Jesus Christ is the legitimate ruler of the world. No, much, much more: the universe. Nothing in all creation will prevent the return of the King.

As we conclude the ‘Summer Growth’ season from Ephesians, let’s hold on to the shield of faith, wield the word of God with greater confidence, and most of all, pray – for one another and for others – that we will stand firm, not failing to live under God’s gospel, nor failing to take his gospel to those around us. If you have not already done so, consider TheWord121 as a very accessible ministry to introduce family and friends to the authentic Jesus through the lens of John’s Gospel. You can access it at: www.theword121.com.

A prayer. Almighty God, give us grace so that we may cast away the works of darkness and put on the armor of light now in the time of this mortal life, in which your Son Jesus Christ came amongst us in great humility: so that on the last day, when he comes again in his glorious majesty to judge the living and the dead, we may rise to life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and forever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Every day we make decisions. It’s part of being human. We can choose. But we know that there are some decisions in life where we have a sense of obligation – a sense of duty. But such obligations need to be awakened. Children obey your parents in the Lord, for this is right, writes the Apostle Paul in Ephesians chapter 6, verse 1.

In chapter 6 of his Letter Paul continues the theme of family relationships. Significantly, he speaks of obedience in the Lord in a child’s relationship with their parents.

Obedience. Many in our progressive society today don’t agree with the notions of obligation or duty. Ethics has become subjective, people doing what they feel is right for them. It’s one of the reasons why there’s so much ambivalence about sexual matters, or about honesty and justice. So, when a young child questions a parental expectation, they are told, ‘Because we say so’. But, in time the growing child will question such authority. They will want to know if there is a better reason.

It’s here that many parents today come unstuck. Developing children need to be instructed in the Lord and, in turn come to understand the nature of the relationships that follow – not simply as rules and regulations, but out of the relationship of love that the Lord has for us and, in turn that parents have for their children. They need to come to know God who, though we were dead through our trespasses, in his mercy has made us alive together with Christ. Without such knowledge children in today’s world may as well do as they like.

“Honor your father and mother” – this is the first commandment with a promise: “so that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth”, Paul continues (6:2-3).

The promise. Paul conflates the two different versions of the fifth commandment: “Honor your father and mother, that your days may be long” (Exodus 20:12) and, “that it may go well with you” (Deuteronomy 5:16). The first four of the Ten Commandments are usually understood to refer to our duty to God, and the second six, our duty to our neighbor. Significantly, the Jewish world understood the first five to refer to our duty to God and the second five to our duty to our neighbor. Thus, to honor parents is tightly connected to honoring God, and speaks of children developing and growing in their understanding of God within a relationship of love.

Furthermore, so important is the injunction of obedience to children that Paul promotes it as the first, or primary commandment for children with a promise. While interpretations abound concerning Paul’s meaning – it’s actually the only commandment with a promise – let me suggest that we understand it as a general promise, with reference to a stable society. As Martin Luther commented, a stable society is dependent on a secure and safe family life, where growing children learn to obey their parents within a loving framework.

Now it’s important to note the caveat that Paul includes here: children are to obey their parents in the Lord. That is, children are not called upon to obey their parents in matters that conflict with the Lord’s instruction.

Parents. Fathers, do not provoke your children to anger, but bring them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord, Paul writes (6:4). These words would have shocked the Roman world where the father was the autocratic head of the family, with untold power over his offspring – including killing a newborn or selling them into slavery. Parents, for mothers as well as fathers can translate the word Paul uses, are not to abuse their children in any way, victimizing them and arousing anger and hatred.

Rather, parents are to equip their children in the knowledge and love of the Lord. The words of Deuteronomy chapter 6, verses 4 through 7 come to mind: Hear, O Israel: the Lord is our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. Recite them to your children and talk about them when you are at home and when you are away, when you lie down and when you rise.

The single most important educational influence on our children is their parents. It’s built into the very nature of the parent’s relationship in the child’s experience. Children don’t stop learning when they get home from school: they are learning every waking hour of the day. It’s one of the strong reasons children need to be guided in their use of their phones and social media as well as tv viewing. The best people to instil fundamental attitudes and form children’s self-identity and moral lives are parents. Yes, it’s hard work and requires sacrifice. But it is our duty and the rewards are great.

So, we should never give up talking about our convictions. Create an atmosphere of learning in a relationship framed by genuine love, care and fun – when you’re at home or going out, when you put them to bed and when they wake up. There’s no point in sending your child to church if you don’t go yourself; there’s no point in telling your child to pray and read the Bible, if you never do yourself; there’s no point in telling your child not to lie or swear, if you do yourself.

The home. Think about the time you spend on your phone or in front of the big screen. Use the precious conversations at bed-time and around the dinner table. Answer their questions about life – about right and wrong, life and death, about drugs and alcohol, about climate anxiety, about God. Speak as plainly as you can about what Jesus means to you. These are crucial times. Their educational experiences at home will live in the memories of our children for a life-time.

It’s in the home, as we instruct our children about God and Jesus Christ, that they learn their own value and self-esteem as a boy or girl, made in the image of God. It’s in the home they are socialised: they learn how to get on with other people. It’s in the home, they learn to respect authority and discipline. It’s in the home, they develop as individuals and find their individuality accepted, appreciated and affirmed.

Parents (as well as grandparents and uncles and aunts) are well placed to blend the demands of society and the needs of the child in a way that fully affirms the dignity of the child and yet also makes that child ready for society, to mix with other people and not just to be a self-centered little island.

The big picture. In Ephesians chapter 5, verse 21 through chapter 6, verse 5, Paul sets out the balance of selfless and responsible attitudes that are vital in marriage and family life.

So much more could be said about this important and complex section of Paul’s Letter. You may want to follow up with your local church ministry team.

As Jesus said, “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, whose Son Jesus Christ shared at Nazareth the life of an earthly home: bless our homes, we pray. Help parents to impart the knowledge of you and your love; and children to respond with love and obedience. May our homes be blessed with peace and joy; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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In ‘What Are People For’, an essay in his 2002 The Art of the Commonplace, Wendell Berry writes, “Marriage, in what is evidently its most popular version, is now on the one hand an intimate ‘relationship’ involving (ideally) two successful careerists in the same bed, and on the other hand a sort of private political system in which rights and interests must be asserted and defended”.

In today’s climate of cultural change what is the future for marriage? Today’s views contrast sharply with the joys of marriage found in the Bible – a relationship that is framed by a husband’s and wife’s experience of God’s love and forgiveness.

In his Letter to the Ephesians chapter 5, verses 21 through 33 Paul the Apostle takes up the theme of marriage which he frames in a most unexpected way – Christ’s love for the church. The complex and costly relationship between Christ and his people provides the ultimate picture of marriage – something that is a great mystery (5:32).

Consider Paul’s surprising words to husbands – lengthier than his words to wives. Husbands, love your wives, he writes, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,…

This radical injunction would have shocked the ancient world. And, to stress the point, Paul says three times that husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved his people (verses 25, 28 and 33).

Significantly, the New Testament never uses eros, especially about marriage. Rather than eros, which is about self-gratification, the New Testament uses agape, a word without rapturous, mystical experiences. It’s the word used to express God’s love for us – as in John 3:16. Rather than wanting to take, agape speaks of a selfless, self-giving love, committed to making sacrifices in the best interests of others – and, in God’s case, bearing the pain of the sins of the unlovely.

So, when Paul says husbands are to love their wives as Christ loved the church, he isn’t speaking of some passing infatuation, let alone a domineering, controlling attitude. He’s talking about a faithful, trustworthy and lifelong love that is committed to serving his wife’s best interests – not her selfish whims.

Consider what Paul further says, In the same way, husbands should love their wives as they do their own bodies.  He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hates his own body, but he nourishes and tenderly cares for it, just as Christ does for the church, because we are members of his body. “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.”  This is a great mystery, and I am applying it to Christ and the church. Each of you, however, should love his wife as himself, and a wife should respect her husband (5:28-33).

Let’s think about it. When we become a Christian, we become part of Christ’s body. When a man and a woman marry, they become united: one new flesh. For his part, Christ loves his body, feeds it, cares for it, promoting its maturity. In the same way a husband is to love his wife, nourishing her, and promoting her maturity.

As Paul says, this is a profound mystery, because the parallel is itself profound. It means that the very best model we have for the relationship between Christ and his people, is marriage. Or to put it another way, the very best things we enjoy about marriage – intimacy, trust, confidence, understanding – give us just a tiny glimpse of the intimacy, understanding and love that Christ has for his people, stretching into eternity.

What might this look like in practice? When disagreements occur, a husband needs to take the initiative in resolving them. It also means husbands taking responsibility in the spiritual realm – encouraging Bible reading and prayer in the home and attendance at church. The spiritual health of a family is important. Like Christ, a husband wants his wife to be spiritually radiant (5:27).

Which brings us back to verses 21 and 22 and God’s words to wives through Paul. How important it is that we read these words in context, for the word to wives flows in a tight construction out of the words to all God’s people: submitting to one another out of reverence for Christ, wives to your husbands as you are to the Lord.

Now today, the very mention of submission arouses anger and hostility. And we need to be honest here. In too many cultures women have been, and are exploited and treated as chattels by their husbands. We need to remember that a radical feature about Jesus of Nazareth was the fact that he treated women with courtesy and respect in an era when women were treated as second-class citizens. And, it was Paul the Apostle who wrote that there is no inequality between men and women: There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:28).

So, to return to the words, wives to your husbands, let me say what they don’t mean. With the qualifier, as you are to the Lord can’t mean submitting to anything that God forbids, such as abuse, or moral, physical or emotional control.

We can now begin to see how Paul’s words to wives and to husbands go together. He is setting out a relationship where the wife delights in honoring and respecting her husband, and where a husband makes loving his wife his life’s work so that she can become the person God intended her to be.

Anne Atkins in Split Image (1987) observed: “The husband gives up everything, not only to please his wife but to make her beautiful, holy, happy, fulfilled, and reaching her maximum potential. They are like an actress and her agent; if she has a good agent she will put herself completely in his hands; if he is a good agent he will spend his time developing her talents and furthering her work. He exists to serve her”.

Last Wednesday we touched on the previous section in Ephesians chapter 5 where we read that God’s people are light in the Lord not because they now follow a new set of rules, but because of their new relationship with Jesus Christ. No marriage is perfect. In the same way that God has forgiven us we need to be able to forgive one another. We are to shine the light in the Lord that we are. Our lifestyle is a vital part of our witness in a world of darkness. How important it is that, if we are married, we display the light of God in our relationship.

Prayers. Lord God, you have consecrated marriage to be a sign of the spiritual unity between Christ and his Church; bless all your people who are married that they may love, honor, and cherish each other in faithfulness, patience, wisdom, and true godliness; may their home be a place of love and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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How are we to reach a world where voices in the media and social media criticizing Christianity have morphed from constructive conversation into emotive smearing?

Paul’s words in Ephesians chapter 5, verses 1and 2 are key to the life God calls us to: Be imitators of God… and live a life of love just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us…

Love is the model and framework for our lives. Paul illustrates this by pointing us to the way Christ loved us and gave himself up for us. When he was nailed to the cross, the most unjust act in history, we don’t find him cursing. Rather, we hear him pray, ‘Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they’re doing’.

In illustrating what love is in practice Paul, like any good teacher, tells us what love is not: But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed, because these are improper for God’s holy people… (5:3).

People often confuse sex and love. Here Paul says that sexual immorality outside the marriage commitment is greedy and improper for God’s holy people. He observes that obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking … are out of place. We need to reveal who we are by daring to be holy, modelling the beauty of God’s character in this self-centered, vain-glorious world.

Once you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord, Paul continues. Live as children of light … Have nothing to do with the fruitless deeds of darkness, … (5:8).

Light. God’s people are light in the Lord not because they now follow a new set of rules, but because of their new relationship with Jesus Christ. We are to shine out the light we are.

Our lifestyle is a vital part of our witness. If we aren’t progressing in God’s Word, we can hardly expect that anyone will want to find out what we believe. People who say there are no absolutes won’t be persuaded by logic, but they possibly will be if they see our lives being truly changed.

Be careful how you live, not as unwise but as wise, Paul exhorts. FF Bruce notes that Paul’s readers are ‘a small minority, and because of their distinctive ways, their lives will be scrutinized by others: the reputation of the gospel is bound up with their public behavior. Hence the need for care and wisdom, lest the Christian cause should be inadvertently jeopardized by thoughtless speech or action on the part of Christians’ (The Epistles to the Colossians, Philemon and Ephesians, p.378).

And Paul continues, …making the most of every opportunity because the days are evil. Don’t be foolish. Understand what the Lord’s will is.

We all know how time flies. Paul knew this too: ‘Learn to use it well,’ he is saying. Seize the day – carpe diem!

We need to understand that although God has opened a door for men and women to enter the new era of his kingdom of light, the present age continues to be shrouded in darkness. There is so much evidence of this around us – the Russian aggressive war with Ukraine, the drugs and sex trafficking by racketeers, and injustices perpetrated even within courts of law, as a recent inquiry report in Australia has revealed.

Understand what the Lord’s will is, Paul writes. Our awareness of the suffering world surely stirs us to dig deep into the Bible so we can better understand God and his purposes. The Scriptures reveal that God hasn’t simply wound up the spring of his creation but is working all things towards the day when he will bring all injustice and suffering to account. For us to seize the day involves not only our living a new life as God’s people but also our ever-growing delight in knowing the Lord.

Now, if you are thinking that all this is heavy and burdensome and rather joyless, we need to meditate on Paul’s further words: Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit,… (5:18-20).

The Spirit of God is not a fluid with which we may be filled up. Instead of being under the influence of alcohol we are to be under the influence of God’s Spirit, the Spirit of Christ within us (see also Romans 8:9).

Alcohol can lead to drunkenness and debauchery, which dehumanizes us. We become the reverse of what we were meant to be; no longer the glory of God’s creation, made in his image, we become as the beasts. However, when the Spirit of God fills our lives, he awakens us to be as we were meant to be – evoking song and thanksgiving.

Singing. Addressing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs,… singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts… (5:19).

We may not realize that the earliest churches expressed their joy in music and singing. The Psalms were their hymn book. And, from the New Testament era, praise has not only been offered to God but also to Christ as God. One of the ways we worship God and build relationships is by singing to one another as well as to the Lord what we learn from the Scriptures.

Emotions are an important part of our makeup. When the Spirit of God is at work in us our singing will have the rich sound that comes from people who have a deep joy that comes from knowing the Lord.

Thanksgiving: Always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ  (5:20).

Nothing brings about tension and division more than ingratitude. A thankful heart trusts God, not just in good times but also in tough times. This stands in sharp contrast to fatalism that results in a resigned acceptance of a situation. Thankful people know that in every situation the all-good sovereign Lord is working out his wonderful purposes for us – as we also read in Romans 8:28-30. God’s spirit-filled people who display their indebtedness to God’s grace are people who know peace, harmony and joy.

Here we have a response to the cacophony of voices of our day – voices of people who know not love and joy and peace and who experience the suffering and injustices of life without hope. They have yet to find the God who loves them with a greater love than they ever dreamed.

Carpe diem! Don’t be drunk with wine; don’t be afraid. Rather, seize the day and live wisely in a world dominated by self-interest. And be filled with the Spirit – singing songs and hymns with gratitude to the Lord in your heart.

A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

You might like to listen to The Perfect Wisdom of Our God from Keith and Krysten Getty.

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In Christians: The Urgent Case for Jesus in Our World (2021), Dr Greg Sheridan, Australian foreign affairs journalist and writer, comments: ‘In the West… religious belief has been in serious decline in recent years. The loss of faith is part of a broad movement in the culture. It is also partly, … related to a shocking loss of knowledge’.

He continues, ‘The West is a culture willing itself into amnesia and ignorance, like a patient carefully requesting their medical records and then burning them, so they and their physicians will have no knowledge of what made them sick in the past, and what made them well. … If you believe, as I do, that the Bible is true, this is our society willfully depriving itself of truth’ (p.40).

In his Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 4, verse 17 Paul the Apostle writes: Now this I affirm and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer live as the Gentiles live, in the futility of their minds, darkened in their understanding, separated from the love of God, because of the ignorance within them…

A world without God. Paul is not saying that people who seek to live without God can’t be academically smart. Rather, he is saying that no matter how clever people might be, they need to be taught about God. For no matter how sharp or developed their reasoning, they won’t find answers to the true meaning of life without God.

Furthermore, he comments, minds without Christ produce various moral symptoms: They have lost all sensitivity and have abandoned themselves to licentiousness, greedy to practice every kind of impurity (4:19).

Paul isn’t saying that every unbeliever is a libertine. Rather, he is speaking about the lifestyle humanity tends to adopt when it chooses to live without God. Yes, there are social inhibitions that check our desires – good families, schools, and social conventions. But, as we’re seeing around us, values are changing. Minds without God invariably slide towards self-indulgence and sensuality. And, if we’re honest, when we look into our own heart we will surely agree.

New life – new lifestyle. Having laid out what happens in a world without God, Paul turns to the new life God expects of his people. Put off the old self, he exhorts; be renewed in the spirit of your minds and put on the new self (4:23f). With these active and passive verbs — put off, be renewed, and put on, Paul reveals that we are to play our part in adopting a new lifestyle. God will be working in our lives, but we are to own our responsibility in this new relationship.

And this awakens us to the way God works with his people. We are dependent upon God for our daily food, but that doesn’t mean that we expect him to provide house or room service. We need to work for a living and shop for food. In the same way there is a balance of this process of becoming more like God.

On the one hand, God in Christ puts a new mind in his people – an act in which we are completely passive. On the other hand, there is the part that we must play. This is why the New Testament is full of exhortations: to struggle against sin, to fight the good fight and to run the race. Christianity is not a spectator sport where we are up in the grandstand, watching the Holy Spirit win all these battles for us.

The new life requires effort. The Holy Spirit’s work is not to save us the effort, but rather to awaken us to Jesus and to enable us to run. When we become God’s people we have a new nature within us, counteracting the sin virus. God is now working within us, yes, but we have a part to play in developing qualities of holiness and righteousness. We won’t experience this perfection until the coming of the Lord. For the present we are works in progress.

What then does this new life look like? Be imitators of God… and walk in love… Paul exhorts (5:1f). Love sums up the sort of life we ought to live. However, as love is an abstract noun, it needs definition, which we find in chapter 4, verses 25 through 32.

Love means telling the truth and putting off falsehood, for we are members of one body 4:25). It means controlling our temper: In your anger do not sin. Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold… (4:26). There are times when we are justly angry but we mustn’t let it overwhelm or dominate our lives. God will judge all injustice.

Our useful and honest work is to provide benefit for others (as well as addressing our own needs – 4:28). In our conversations we are not to let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up… (4:29).

We are to honor God, not grieving the Holy Spirit of God (4:30). Furthermore, there is no place for bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, as well as every form of malice in our relationships. But most of all, Paul says, be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other,… Why? Just as in Christ God forgave you.

With these exhortations Paul is not setting out an exhaustive list of rules to follow. He couldn’t do this in a way that would address every situation in life. Rather he sets out illustrations for the underlying principles of honoring God and loving one another.

So, when we find ourselves in situations of moral uncertainty, inventing more rules is not the solution. Rather, we need to reflect on the perfect model – the Lord Jesus. In turn we need to pray for wisdom and strength to exemplify the kind of self-denying love that Christ showed – in his attitudes to those around him and, supremely, when he gave himself up on the cross. We will not go far wrong if we try to live a life like Christ. Be imitators of God… Paul writes. Live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God (5:1-2).

Here then is a response to the spiritual amnesia around us – our growing Christlike lives. Let’s then pray that God will so work with his Spirit and his Word within us that we will grow in the riches of his love and bear the fruit of his Spirit in our lives.

A prayer. Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

© John G. Mason

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Commenting on how we understand Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), Rebecca McLaughlin writes: ‘we hear a call to care for strangers in need. But Jesus’s first audience heard more. They heard a story of love across racial, religious, and political difference, in which the moral hero was their sworn enemy’ (The Secular Creed, 2021: p.11).

To which we might add, ‘Yet how many in the wider community today are aware of the parable of the Good Samaritan let alone understand its significance for us?’ Even more importantly, how many know the Jesus of the historical Gospel accounts?

The key to everyone’s understanding lies in the ministry gifts that Paul the Apostle highlights in chapter 4 of his Letter to the Ephesians.

Having written of the unity of God’s people – there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism and one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (4:6) – he moves on to the theme of diversity. In their unity, God’s people are not monochrome but rather, to change the metaphor, can be likened to the instruments of the heavenly orchestra because of the variety of gifts he gives each one of us. But each of us was given grace according to the measure of Christ’s gift, Paul says (4:7).

Having rescued his people through an act of extraordinary and undeserved grace (2:5, 8), God gives to all his people a grace or gift for the building up of the Christian community. Drawing from Psalm 68 which is associated with the Jewish Pentecost and the receiving and giving of the law though Moses to the people, Paul uses it as an analogy for Christ receiving the Spirit and now giving the gifts of the Spirit to God’s people.  Furthermore, as Christ descended from heaven, taking on human form and dying the death we justly deserve, he has now ascended, being raised from the dead to heaven where he now holds supreme power at God’s right hand (Philippians 2:5-11).

From this position God in Christ now gives each one of his people back to the church as a gift. The declaratory gifts are essential for the growth of the church: The gifts he gave were that some would be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some pastors and teachers,… Paul writes (4:11).

The apostles were a select group, called and sent by Jesus himself – men who had personally met with the risen Lord Jesus Christ and who were equipped by him to reveal and proclaim him to the nations. They would have a true understanding of the significance of his life, death and resurrection. Their unique ministry, together with that of the prophets, is foundational for the church (Ephesians 2:20).

The prophets are also one-of-a-kind in the Bible in that God has uniquely spoken through them. Thus says the Lord characterized their ministry. We therefore need to beware of all who bring new ideas claiming to be prophets.

In some circles much is made of the phrase, ‘apostolic succession’, applying it to bishops and sometimes to church-planters. It is said they stand in the succession of the apostles through the laying on of hands. But Paul is not suggesting this. The biblical way to speak of an apostolic succession is to relate it to the preaching and teaching that is consistent with what the apostles and prophets proclaimed and taught.

Paul next references evangelists (4:11). While all God’s people are called upon to play a part in testifying to their faith. God calls some to have a special ministry as evangelists – being gifted in evangelistic speaking or effective evangelistic equipping of God’s people.

From its inception Christianity has had a global vision, and key to this movement isn’t force of arms but a message. We often forget Jesus’ words, ‘the fields are white (ready) for harvest (John 4:35). With his reference to the gift of evangelists, Paul underlines God’s purpose to rescue men and women and build his church. Every congregation needs to pray for, identify and support evangelists amongst them.

And there is another gift, pastors and teachers. Because Paul omits the definite article before teachers he indicates that the gift of pastor and teacher are paired. A pastor is a teacher and a teacher a pastor. To teach God’s Word is to pastor God’s people. To be an effective Christian pastor, God’s Word needs to be explained and applied.

The pastor and teacher is given by God as a gift to guide and grow his people. The services for the ordination of ministers in the 1552/1662 Book of Common Prayer reflect these principles from Ephesians, applying them to ministers and bishops. They’re not super-holy people; rather, they are gifted as pastors and teachers.

Paul explains God’s purpose in giving these declaratory gifts to his people: To equip the saints (literally, the holy ones) for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, until all of us come to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to maturity, to the measure of the full stature of Christ (4:13).

God is committed to building his church, not just in number but also in maturity. And this is achieved primarily through the ministry of his Word. Evangelists have the task of reaching the wider community. Pastors and teachers are to equip God’s people so that we can all play a part in ministries to one another that promote our unity in Christ and our growth in knowing him. God wants us to become a healthy and mature body of people in our walk together with Christ.

Furthermore, he doesn’t want us to be fickle in our faith, tossed to and fro by every new teaching that arises, new teaching that might at first appear biblical, but which in fact takes us in a new direction that is not biblically-grounded – as happens in churches that are carried along by the culture.

In a world where progressive voices are demanding attention, how much more do we need to grow in our walk with the Lord Jesus Christ. Essential to our growth and our voice in the wider community are the declaratory ministries of God’s Word. The ministries of evangelists and pastors and teachers are essential. We may pray for the ministers of our church, but are we also praying for evangelists in our number?

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Sixty years ago the writer, M.E. Macdonald wrote: The real menace to life in the world today is not the hydrogen bomb… but the fact of proximity without community (M.E. Macdonald, The Need To Believe, 1959, p.82). And nothing has changed.

We see it exemplified on the New York subway where everyone avoids one another’s gaze by focusing on their phone or reading a book. Yet the barriers fall away when the unexpected occurs – perhaps the performance of a group of acrobats that can awaken smiles and even brief comments, before slipping back behind the mask.

Humility. In Ephesians, chapter 2 Paul the Apostle writes that God is building a new society of people drawn from all the nations of the world. Now in chapter 4 he develops expectations for this new community. It’s a theme he is excited about.

Lead a life worthy of the calling to which you have been called, he writes in verse 1. On the night of his arrest, Jesus said to his disciples, ‘A new commandment I give you: that you love one another as I have loved you’ (John 13:34). Our problem is that we keep failing in this. Yet relationships amongst God’s people are so important that Paul tells us we need to work at them. He exhorts us:  Lead a life worthy of your calling, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, making every effort to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (4:2-3).

Consider the flipside of humility and gentleness: conceit and insensitivity. Wrapped up in themselves conceited people dismiss anyone for whom they have little regard. No, says Paul, you are called to humility and gentleness. These aren’t signs of weakness, but rather strength: it is only the strong who can be humble and caring.

To these qualities he adds patience, literally, longsuffering. The flipside is the quick-fire temper that explodes at the least provocation. Most of us have areas of our personality where we respond out of all proportion to a situation. It’s as though we have minefields in our lives. Some have very few mines and relate naturally and easily to others – even when they disagree. Others, however, have personality mines that explode when they encounter someone with whom they disagree. Indeed, it only takes one ‘walking minefield’ to destroy the morale and endeavor of a community.

How then can God’s people develop a vital community? We have a resource and a model that no-one else has: the character of God. God is not without his points of conflict with us, but he is patient and has provided the means whereby he can forgive us. He doesn’t hold grudges and he doesn’t let his anger turn into bitterness.

If we call ourselves God’s people, we are to reflect these qualities in our relationships with one another. In fact this is a request in The Lord’s Prayer: forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who have sinned against us. We ought to be known as people who are forgiving, having a charitable spirit in all our relationships. It is inconsistent with our calling to be argumentative and explosive, resentful and complaining.

Now Paul is not saying that we should be long-suffering because we’re prepared to put up with anything. In verse 15 he says: But speaking the truth in love, we must grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ,… Being long-suffering doesn’t mean that there is no place for admonishment or exhortation. We are called to be non-judgmental. The quality we are to adopt is the spirit of love: love for God and love for one another: lead a life worthy of your calling.

Unity. There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to the one hope of your calling, one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (4:4-6).

How easy it is in life, even when we are at church, to forget the mighty plan of the triune God – namely to draw together his people from throughout time and from all nations. Just as God is one, so his people are one, united through the work of the Spirit. As Jesus indicated to Nicodemus (John 3), it is the Spirit who gives us new birth and who awakens us to the binding power of the one eternal hope the Lord Jesus Christ holds out to us.

Furthermore, there is one Lord, one faith, one baptism. The one faith and one baptism are linked with one Lord because the Lord Christ Jesus is the object of our shared faith. We are not governed by a heavenly Committee but by a person – the exciting, awesome and powerful figure, Jesus Christ. He is the Lord who unites us.

Paul lifts our gaze and our wonder to God the Father when he says there is one God and Father of all, who is above all and through all and in all (4:6). In his Delighting in the Trinity Michael Reeves says, ‘It is only when we see that God rules his creation as a kind and loving Father that we’ll be moved to delight in his providence’.

Indeed, because from eternity the triune God exists in relationship and because God has made us in his image, we are made first and foremost for relationship with him and, in turn with one another. No wonder we long for deep and lasting, meaningful and true relationships. It’s an essential part of our DNA. The starting point is our relationship with God. Furthermore, as Paul has been explaining in chapters one through three, even though we have messed up and broken our relationship with God, such is his nature that he delights to love and give new life.

Surely we will want to pray that God’s Spirit and God’s Word will enable us to begin to experience the riches and beauty of God’s love and so awaken us to a united love for him and for one another.

In a world where, deep down, people long for meaningful relationships, where we’re all encouraged to explore our self-identity, there remains proximity without community. How much more should we bear witness in our own relationships with one another as God’s people, especially in the church we attend, to our relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ who brings us and binds us together.

Tertullian, a 2nd century North African theologian and apologist wrote of the church of his time: ‘Look,’ they say, ‘how they (Christians) love one another’ (for they themselves, Romans, hate one another); ‘and how they (Christians) are ready to die for each other’ (for they themselves, Romans, are readier to kill each other).

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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How can we weather the challenges of our changing and uncertain world?

Come with me to Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 where we find one of the great prayers of the Bible. The curtain over Paul the Apostle is drawn aside and we are given a glimpse of him at prayer.

I kneel before the Father, he begins, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. Genesis chapter 1 tells us that God created us in his image and it is therefore true to say that all humanity has its fatherhood or parentage in God. However, as the Bible unfolds, we see that there is a very special relationship between God and those who are personally drawn to him. Paul is echoing what Jesus taught his disciples: we can call God, ‘Father’.

This really is an extraordinary privilege – to be able to call God ‘Father’. In fact, when we think about it, there is no higher honor that God could give us, for it means we stand in a very special relationship with him as his adopted sons and daughters. This awesome truth stands at the head of Paul’s prayer. And he prays that we might experience this awareness in our lives, so we can relax and enjoy the amazing privilege of being God’s special people at every twist and turn in life. Three themes stand out.

Inner strength. I pray that, according to the riches of his glory, he may grant that you may be strengthened in your inner being with power through his Spirit…

The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists and exercise gurus want us to think, the truth is that our physical bodies are wasting away. The time will come, when as far as our physical body is concerned, there is little hope for the future. But Paul wants us to understand that it’s not all downhill.

If God is at work in our lives, changes for the better to our inner being can occur. It’s here we see the counter-cultural way God works as opposed to the way that the world expects him to work. The world expects God to work with great displays of power. Tempted to think this way too, we might say that God’s power is to be expressed in self-confidence, self-assertion, success. And when it comes to churches, it is thought that God’s power will be seen in high-powered church growth and in dramatic answers to prayer.

But God has a different plan. For the present he chooses to work in secret, changing us from the inside out, not the outside in. It’s an important distinction most of us miss. Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen us at the very root of our character and our lives. He prays that God’s Spirit will so work in our lives and so teach us that we will be strengthened in our appetite for God and our love and loyalty to Jesus. He wants us to focus our hope on Christ, to drop sinful habits and develop a new framework for living.

Paul says that he wants to see the whole of our inner life affected by the Spirit — our hearts and affections, our will, our minds and decisions. It’s radical and it’s painful. Once the Holy Spirit starts to work in our lives, begins to probe, to question, to challenge, to discipline and to develop us, it hurts. For when he takes the Word of God and reaches to the very depth of our being, the Word becomes like a scalpel in his hands.

Transformation. That Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith, as you are being rooted and grounded in love (3:17).

This is the only place in the whole of the Bible that speaks about Christ dwelling in our hearts. Dwell means ‘settle down’, or ‘putting down roots’. Mixing his metaphors Paul prays that we will be well-rooted trees withstanding droughts, and well-built houses that can withstand hurricanes.

There will be many things in us with which Jesus Christ will not be comfortable. Repairs and renovation are needed in our lives. And anyone who has done house renovation and repairs knows it takes longer and costs more than originally expected.

Knowing that this kind of life-changing transformation is what God wants and knowing that it requires God’s power in our lives, Paul prays that God will do what is necessary to make our lives a fit home for his Son.

Christ’s Love. I pray that you may have the power to comprehend, with all the saints, what is the breadth and length, and height and depth, and to know the love of Christ that passes knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (3:18-19).

With imagery that awakens us to the complexity and profundity of God’s love – the breadth and length, and height and depth – Paul prays that we will know the love of Christ. He wants us not only to know but also experience God’s love so that we may be able to say, and really know it and feel it in our hearts, ‘the Son of God gave himself for me.’

This genuine experience of Christ rarely comes to anyone who is not spending time in the Scriptures – for example, meditating on Ephesians chapter 1 through chapter 2, verse 10. The kind of mind-shift we need to prompt us to do this usually requires large explosive power. Sometimes God give us a wake-up call through hardship, bereavement or tragedy. Sometimes it’s not until we see material possessions for what they are, baubles and trinkets, that we begin to comprehend the reality of God’s love.

Indeed, it’s only when God’s power is at work in our lives that we will begin to see what it meant for God to get into our skin and enter our world, what it cost for him to suffer and die in our place. I pray, says Paul, that with all of God’s people you experience the power of God’s love in your hearts, and knowing that experience, the fullness of joy with the transcendent Lord.

Beyond Imagination. Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen (3:20-21).

Paul’s words here startle and encourage us. Our thoughts and imaginations are lifted beyond time and space to the Lord himself. Significantly, the focus of God’s powerful work is amongst and through his people.

Too often we forget God’s awesome cosmic purposes; we focus too much on ourselves. Maybe we are content to swim in the shallows of faith rather than in the deep, clear waters of God’s love. For in his love God has far greater expectations for us than we can even begin to imagine.

A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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The Fourth of July celebrations yesterday bring to mind the words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal”.

Interestingly, Yuval Noah Harari, an Israeli historian and philosopher, observes in Sapiens: A brief History of Humankind (2015: p.109), that the equality of humanity is not self-evident: ‘The Americans got the idea of equality from Christianity which argues that every person has a divinely created soul, and that all souls are equal before God. However, if we do not believe in the Christian myths about God, creation and souls, what does it mean that all people are “equal”?’, he asks. According to Harari who writes as an atheist, ‘Homo Sapiens has no natural rights, just as spiders, hyenas, and chimpanzees have no natural rights’ (Sapiens, p.111).

Harari rightly observes that Christianity teaches that all men and women are equal before God. We often forget that the opening chapter of the Bible describes humanity as being created in the image of God – the climax and glory of God’s creation. And as we read on into the New Testament, we find that Matthew includes non-Israelite women in Jesus’ human bloodline: Rahab, the Canaanite prostitute and Ruth, the Moabitess. Both came to trust Israel’s God (Matthew 1:5).

Furthermore, Luke, in his Acts of the Apostles, records a meeting between Philip and an official from the court of Queen Candace of Ethiopia – ancient Cush, the region south of modern Egypt, into Sudan (8:26-38). While the Bible doesn’t refer to skin color (and so doesn’t note that the official from ancient Ethiopia would have been black), it is vitally interested in our relationship with God. In this instance, Luke tells us that the man responded to Philip’s gospel presentation and was baptized.

Significantly, recent researchers such as Vince Bantu (in A Multitude of All Peoples: Engaging Ancient Christianity’s Global Identity) record the strength and vitality of African churches from the very earliest years. Why did this happen – especially given the antipathetic attitude towards Christianity’s founder amongst the Jewish leaders? We find an important clue in chapter 3 of Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians where he writes of the revelation of God’s mystery.

Mystery revealed. Paul uses the word mystery, not as secrets that are only revealed to the top level ‘insiders’, but rather to refer to God’s plan that had been hidden in the past but is now openly revealed to everyone. He says it has to do with Christ who has opened the way for the non-Jewish world to enjoy full and equal benefits of all God’s promises (3:4, 6). This is radical. He is saying that a unique relationship between men and women and God’s Messiah is now available, and that this relationship removes the barriers and hostility between all peoples, no matter their skin-color or race and includes Jewish and non-Jewish peoples.

Through the years the Jewish people had understood that God would bless the nations through them – as he had promised Abraham (Genesis 12:3); they also knew Isaiah had said that Israel would be a light to the nations (Isaiah 49:6). But there is no hint, either in the Old Testament or in Jesus’ teaching that God planned to involve the non-Jewish peoples of the world as equal beneficiaries in a new international community he is building – a community whose head would be the Jewish Messiah, Christ Jesus.

Mystery proclaimed. In verse 7 Paul writes: Of this gospel I have become a servant according to the gift of God’s grace that was given me by the working of his power.

Saying he is the very least of all the saints, Paul speaks as one of God’s emissaries in announcing the boundless riches of Christ to the non-Jewish world (3:8). The boundless, unsearchable, inexhaustible, incalculable riches of which he speaks is one of the most profound ideas in the Bible. Paul wants us to know we shall never come to the end of the wealth of knowing the Lord Jesus Christ.

An important theme permeates this as he brings together the ideas of revelation and commission: God’s truth is to be passed on! Just think: if we were sure that the gospel is God’s truth and the riches of Christ are for all men and women, not one of us would be able to keep quiet.

The story is told of a conversation between a prominent Russian communist leader and a Western church leader at the height of the cold war. The Christian was bemoaning the fact that the USSR was closed to Christianity. The Russian leader’s response was immediate: ‘You don’t know what you are talking about! We envy you. Look at the vast resources you have to get your message out: you have people.’ When the first Christians came to faith their lives were changed and they talked their faith – gossiped the gospel.

Light and Truth. To make everyone see (enlighten) what is the plan (administration) of the mystery hidden for ages in God who created all things, Paul continues (3:9).

Plan or better, administration refers to the implementation of God’s plan – which is revealed in Bible-believing and teaching churches. So that through the church the wisdom of God in its rich variety might now be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places (3:10).

The mystery of God was no abstract idea. Now revealed, it takes shape as men and women from all walks of life, from all cultural and racial backgrounds, are brought together as one people. It reveals the rich tapestry of God’s grace, power and wisdom. And as the story of this work of God continues to unfold, Paul tells us that there are supernatural watchers, the angelic world, spectators to the drama of God’s astonishing work.

This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord, Paul writes, in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in himI pray therefore that you may not lose heart over my sufferings for you; they are your glory (3:11-13).

Sadly, so many of us have lost sight of the wonder of God’s great cosmic plan. The very existence of healthy, vital churches growing across the nations of the world, reveals the global extent of Christianity and, when we think about it, the impact of the fundamental value that all men and women are created equal.

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Alienation is a word often used to describe our human plight. Everywhere relationships are broken – between or within nations, in the workplace, between friends and within families. The phrase ‘the power of love’ or ‘love is everything’ is said to be the cure-all for brokenness and division. But what do these expressions really mean? What does real love look like?

Throughout the Bible, especially as it relates to God and his relationship with us, we find a radically different way that love is understood. As we touched on last week, in chapter 2 of his Letter to the Ephesians, Paul speaks of our natural state as the walking dead: You were dead through the trespasses and sins, he says (2:1), … children of wrath (2:3).

However, God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us has given his people new life with Christ, raising us from death and giving us a seat beside Christ in his victory and rule (2:4f). God is truly just in judging us because we chose to divorce him. Yet at the same time, he has chosen to love us and reveal his grace to his people because his nature is to have mercy.

He goes on to explain what this means for his non-Jewish readers: Remember that you were at that time without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world (2:12).

Pointing out that they were once without Christ: they didn’t know the Messiah of the Jewish people and were thus separated from God and from God’s ancient people. They were aliens – implying that being men and women made in God’s image, a former relationship with God had been broken. They now lived without hope – something that is quite evident when anyone, especially a celebrity, dies unexpectedly. Then the focus is on the person and their amazing life with no reference to any hope beyond the grave. Similarly, these Gentiles were without God, living in the darkness of self-interest without the light of Christ in their lives. They had no hope beyond this life.

Barriers of power and greed, culture and class, color and race cause division everywhere. Broken relationships exist at every level, as we see exemplified across the political divide. We experience proximity but without community. Remember what you were, Paul says.

Yet how often do we forget and so write our Christian testimonies failing to remember that we were once without Christ, without God, and without hope – that we were saved by grace and now live by grace (2:8,9).

The peace-maker. God could have written off men and women in disgust. But that would have been an admission of defeat. Instead, at an extreme cost to himself, he chose a path that would enable peace between the Jewish and non-Jewish (Gentile) peoples, and also between both groups and himself (God).

Consider verses 13 through 16: You (Gentile peoples) have been brought near by the blood of Christ. In his flesh he has made both groups into one. So that he might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it.

The Bible tells us that from the very beginning of his creating work, knowing what men and women who were created in his image would choose to do, God determined on an infinitely more costly strategy. Instead of abandoning this evil and ungrateful world that had rejected him, he would provide a path to peace. He would rescue people from the consequences of their folly by dealing with the penalty of his own just anger. He would destroy the enmity without destroying the enemy and thus provide a way for peace.

The key is Christ Jesus and the blood he shed when he died at Calvary. It’s the first time in the Letter that Paul has developed the theme of the cross of Christ. And here he is telling us in beautiful words, that when we meditate on Jesus’ crucifixion we see what God has done. In an extraordinary gift of selfless love, he has opened the way to peace through Christ’s sacrificial blood shed on the cross.

Christ is creating a new society in which hostility gives way to harmony; alienation gives way to reconciliation. Of all the great teachers, prophets, mystics and all the isms of the world, Jesus alone has been able to achieve this.

This doesn’t mean that humanity is now united and at peace. Daily the news tells us it isn’t. But while at times it is difficult to believe, there is one group where true community is possible: amongst God’s people.

Citizens of God’s new society. In verse 19 we read: So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God,

You non-Jewish believers, Paul says, are no longer what you used to be— strangers and visitors without legal rights. Rather, you have a new status. Once you were without God, but now you have the same God and Father as Jewish believers: you are brothers and sisters together in Christ. Once you were without hope, now you are joined together with believing Israel and being built into a temple – the people with whom God lives. It’s an awesome picture of the future.

Without the teaching of the apostles and the prophets we wouldn’t have a clue about what God has done. Jesus Christ, the Messiah, is the chief cornerstone of God’s work. Cornerstones were essential in ancient buildings, setting them and keeping them in line and steady. The glorified Jesus is the key to the growth and development of God’s new community.

Not there yet. This doesn’t mean that God’s people are yet perfect. Far from it. It does mean our being honest with God, turning to him in repentance and asking for new resolve and strength to live his good way. It means less self-interest and self-will and more of what God expects of us.

It means putting aside everything that stands in the way of developing true community as God’s people – getting to know one another, including those who are not normally part of our social network, caring for those in need, working at reconciliation with those we have hurt or those who have hurt us. Not bearing grudges or grievances.

Men and women everywhere are looking for meaningful, trusting relationships. In an angry, bitter, and divided world a powerful testimony to the truth of God’s gospel is the local church community where peace, not division, exists. What are we doing with this precious jewel God has given us?

A prayer. God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and divided world. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and women and banish from them the spirit that makes for war; so that all races and people may learn to live as members of one family and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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In an article, ‘Our politicians and media are letting us down’ in The Weekend Australian (June 17-18), Chris Kenny observes: ‘When we see the open deceit and toxicity of politics and the media in the Canberra bubble (Canberra is Australia’s DC), it is tempting to despair … We see persistent tension between truth and lies. We are informed about political systems we do not trust by media we do not believe.’

He comments, ‘The depressing reality is that politics and media are manifestations of human nature, which is stubbornly flawed. Dante knew 700 years ago that the propensity to lie was our greatest flaw … More than 2000 years ago Aristotle warned that the only thing we “gain by falsehood” is to ensure we are not believed when we speak the truth. Yet in the here and now this same battle between truth and lies is the most important daily struggle.’

A little less than 2000 years ago Paul the Apostle took the notion of our flawed human nature to another level. In Ephesians chapter 2, he writes: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived,…

Our real problem. In our natural state we are the walking dead in God’s eyes: our relationship with him is dead, non-existent. Our trespasses and sins – our self-interest and lies, our pride, covetousness and deceit, are all illustrations of this.

Furthermore, Paul identifies there is another layer behind our deeply flawed, self-interested nature when he says that in our natural state we follow the course of this world, following the ruler of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work among those who are disobedient…

We are subject to oppressive influences – our flawed inner self, and from outside the prevailing secular culture. However, beyond both and actively working through both, is the ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us in captivity.

All too often, even so-called gospel churches fail to understand the depth of the abyss into which humanity has plunged because we’ve all turned our backs on God. It is an abyss from which we can’t extract ourselves. Humanity’s problem is not that it has simply taken a by-path in life. Rather we have chosen the path that leads to death. ‘Is there any hope?’ we might ask.

Mercy. All of us are by nature children of wrath, but God, who is rich in mercy, he continues (2:3, 4).

The contrast between verses 3 and 4 is astonishing. It is completely at odds with how love is understood today. God’s just anger in condemning us is not incompatible with his love. The two can be held together. God can be truly just in judging sin and at the same time choose to forgive because his nature is always to have mercy – choosing to love and to give life. Indeed, his justice reveals the depth of his mercy.

And consider what his mercy means for all who turn to him: Out of the great love with which he loved us… he made us alive together with Christ … and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, (2:4, 5b, 6).

Although we were dead to God because we had chosen to ignore him, he nevertheless chose to give us a new life with Christ, raising us from death and giving us a seat beside Christ in his victory and rule because we are now tightly linked in him through his Spirit (1:13).

God has done this, Paul tells us, so that in the ages to come he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness towards us in Christ Jesus (2:7). Out of God’s pure love he acted in rescuing the Ephesian Christians. He also planned that the overwhelming nature of his mercy he had shown would be seen in the ages to come.

‘Can all this be true?’, we might ask. Or is it another lie to promote the noise of the churches and to prop up the cripples of life? Two great themes in this passage provide an answer: the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and the witness and evidence of the changed lives of genuine Christians throughout the ages (2:6, 7).

In verses 8 and 9 Paul restates the extraordinary mercy and gift of God: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God – not the result of works, so that no one may boast.

Three foundation gospel words stand out – salvation, grace and faith. Salvation is more than forgiveness: it is the deliverance from death and the gift of new life in Christ in all its fullness. Grace is God’s free and undeserved mercy towards us. Faith is our response of trust by which we each receive God’s free gift for ourselves.

There is no place for asking, ‘How much penance should I do?’ God’s gift of forgiveness and new life is full and free. It echoes Jesus’ words to the repentant criminal as he was dying on the cross: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Good works. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life (2:10).

We are God’s work of art. Our salvation is God’s masterpiece in his creation. In the Sistine Chapel, Michelangelo’s masterpiece, ‘The creation of Adam’ portrays God reaching out to Adam. Paul wants us to know that God’s masterpiece is of a totally different order: salvation is not just creation, or re-creation. It is a new creation.

Furthermore, we are created in Christ Jesus for good works – good works that God prepared beforehand. Before God in his mercy brought us to Christ we walked in trespasses and sins in which self-interest and the powers of evil had trapped us. Now we live out the good works God has eternally planned for us to do.

There are many things happening around us today that are troubling. Our only hope is to be found in the depths of God’s mercy. Let me encourage you to reflect on these words of Paul and ask the Lord to awaken the riches of his love in you, stirring you to live out each day the good works he has prepared for you to do. When we do this, others will notice – especially if we wisely play a part in helping them to discern truth in the midst of the deceptions around us. Maybe then, they with us will come to know the hope and joy that only God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ, can give us.

A prayer. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts and have broken your holy laws. Going our own way we have not loved you as we ought nor loved our neighbors as ourselves. We justly deserve your condemnation. Father, for the sake of your Son, Jesus Christ, forgive us all that is past. Turn our hearts to love you and obey your will. Help us to live for your glory, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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AA Milne’s, Christopher Robin’s prayer, ‘Little Boy kneels at the foot of his bed…’ has touched the hearts of millions. The poem is a picture of childhood innocence, a mixture of God language and the distractions of inner thoughts: ‘Wasn’t it fun in the bath tonight?’ and, ‘If I open my fingers a little bit more, I can see Nanny’s dressing-gown on the door’.

For adults it raises questions about prayer. Is it something we grow out of? If we do pray, what should we pray: ‘God bless the family, friends and me?’ And why are there all those distractions in our prayers? Will we ever grow out of them?

Paul the Apostle provides very helpful answers to questions we have about prayer in Ephesians chapter 1. Thanksgiving and prayer are two themes in the chapter, setting out a balance for our prayers. Our relationship with God is not just asking for things: it also involves thanksgiving for the riches of God’s love and the inexpressible joy we have in him. C.S Lewis once commented: I think we all sin by needlessly disobeying the apostolic injunction to ‘rejoice’ as much as by anything else.

In verses 3 though 14, Paul thanks God for the faith and love and hope evident in the lives of the Ephesian church – features that have been awakened and made possible through the complex work of the triune God. This involved the calling, rescuing and sealing a vast company of people for eternity.

Now in verses 15 through 21, he prays for the Ephesians – especially that they might continually grow in the riches of all God has done for them. His prayer is not simply, ‘God bless the church in Ephesus’!

Know God. So what precisely does Paul pray for – a second blessing experience? No. The key to his prayer is verse 18: So that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know… Paul’s prayer that the Ephesians may know, isn’t simply about intellectual understanding – although this is present. Rather, it is a relationship word.

In verse 17 he writes: I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him,…

Knowing God involves wisdom and revelation. Proverbs tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – the beginning, not the ending. We also need God’s self-revelation, and this is what the Bible says of itself: God breathing out (inspiring) his thoughts (2 Timothy 3:16). The Anglican Thirty-Nine Articles speaks of the Bible as ‘God’s Word written’ (Article XX). As in all meaningful personal relationships we need to reveal who we are and for others to do the same. In the same way we need God to reveal himself, otherwise we will only have conjecture, not relationship.

Adolphe Monod, a great Protestant French preacher once commented, Philosophy taking man for its center says, ‘Know thyself’; only the inspired word which proceeds from God has been able to say, ‘Know God’.

So Paul prays that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, (or the glory) may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation. While most translations spell spirit with a lower case ‘s’, it’s more likely that Paul’s reference is to the Holy Spirit, since the Bible speaks about him as the Spirit of Truth – the agent of God’s self-revelation.

It is because of his confidence in the Spirit’s ministry that Paul continues his prayer: so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know… The eyes of the heart is a reference to the whole of the inward self – mind and emotion. Our natural bias is to turn away from God and thus from truth. This is the reason the world is in the state of turmoil and conflict it is.

It is the Spirit who opens the eyes of our heart and turns us to God. It is that same Spirit and the Word of the Spirit that continue to bring us more and more into the fullness of God’s truth. It is for such ongoing enlightenment that Paul prays.

Hope. Paul continues his prayer: So that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you,… (1:18a). God has called us to something and for something – something rich, exciting and worthwhile.

Features of knowing God include freedom (freedom from the judgment of God’s law) and peace (in Christ we experience harmony across the barriers of age, gender and race). Paul prays that, now enjoying fellowship with God and with one another, our eyes will be opened to the hope that lies before us.

Glory. So that you may know what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,.. Inheritance refers to what God plans to give us – one that is guaranteed by the Holy Spirit (1:14).

While our inheritance is beyond our wildest imagination, there are moments when the New Testament lifts a corner of the curtain for us. We’re told we shall see God and his Christ, that as this vision unfolds we will worship him with great joy in our hearts.

When Christ appears we shall reflect his glory, not just outwardly but in our inner character. God’s plan for his people will include a great banquet for the vast multitude – far too great to number. His people will be drawn into his presence from every nation throughout time. Clearly Paul doesn’t think it is presumptuous for us to think about this future or even to anticipate it with joy and gratitude. On the contrary, he prays that we may know it and know the riches of glory and live with the joy of it in our hearts.

Power. Paul continues: So that you may know what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power (1:19).

Paul knows we need the energy and strength of God’s power in our lives if we are to come safely to our final inheritance. We know the reality of our human weaknesses: our tongue or our temper, malice, greed, lust, jealousy or pride – things that are beyond our power to control. But are our weaknesses beyond God’s power?

Paul answers this by reminding us of God’s supremacy. Jesus’ resurrection, enthronement and headship over all things are examples of God’s power (1:20 – 23).

It is because of Christ’s resurrection from the dead and his absolute lordship over all other authorities including the powers of evil that he’s been given headship over the church. The resurrection and the ascension were decisive demonstrations of divine power. Paul continues his great prayer saying that Christ fills the church in the same way he fills the universe – empowering his people with wisdom and understanding, inspiring and motivating us to a new way of living.

What a far cry this is from the vesper prayer of the young Christopher Robin. Like any good parent, God wants us to grow up – to know him and to enjoy him forever. But he also knows that we need his help – his power at work within us. And this he promises to do.  All we need to do is ask.

A prayer. Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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With the anticipated arrival of summer in the northern hemisphere, the Word on Wednesday will offer a series of reflections on the Letter to the Ephesians entitled, ‘Summer Growth’. The substance of the Letter goes to the heart of quintessential Christianity and plumbs the depths of biblical truth, providing riches that shape the mind and warm the heart.

The Letter was written to be read in churches in the region of ancient Asia Minor, modern Turkey, starting with the church in Ephesus. It may be helpful to imagine yourself sitting in church with the first eager listeners when the wonders of this Letter unfolded – after all we are members of the same family.

Consider the opening lines: Paul, an envoy of Christ Jesus by the will of God ­– commissioned through God’s decision – to the holy ones in Ephesus – regular people whose lives were separated from God through sin, and who are now walking a new life of faith in Christ. Grace to you and peace – being reconciled with God, may the rich kindness and favor of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ rest on your minds and hearts.

Then in one long sentence, from verses 3 through 14, we are drawn into God’s awe-inspiring presence and cosmic plan – a plan that reveals the extraordinary grace of the triune God.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the realm of spiritual realities – Paul begins. He continues by breaking out what this looks like – in terms of God’s pre-cosmic plans for his people which includes their redemption and remission of their sins in Christ (verses 4-6), and their inheritance in Christ (verse 11), a relationship and hope that is sealed by the Spirit of God (verses 13f).

The theme of God’s grace is palpable, dominating the whole scene. God is the subject of almost every main verb: It is he who has blessed us … ’; He has freely bestowed upon us his grace (verse 6); He has made known his will and purpose which he set forth in Christ… to unite all things’ (verses 9f); He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (verse 11).

Contrary to a stereotyped view, the God of the Bible delights in giving life, is kind and generous, warm-hearted and loving – so different from the impersonal Force of Star Wars and the cold-blooded, ruthless rule of human dictatorships.

How easy it is to nod sagely at Paul’s words and yet fail to consider their substance, especially what they teach us about God’s grace. In verses 5 through 8 we learn what that grace cost God: He destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of his glorious grace that he freely bestowed on us in the Beloved. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace that he lavished on us.

God’s glory is revealed in his grace, his extraordinary love for the unworthy: and despite what we like to think, none of us is worthy. And that glorious grace is supremely seen in the costly death of his Son.

At the turn of the 5th century AD, Pelagius, a popular preacher, challenged the immorality of his day and urged people to live pure lives. His preaching seemed biblical until the north African theologian and bishop, Augustine, began to review his teaching. He pointed out that Pelagius was saying that it was only through ‘right living’ that we had any hope of eternal life – in other words, our hope of eternal life lay in using God as the one who sells us heaven.

Augustine rightly commented that the Bible teaches that we are designed to love, but the tragedy is that we have turned love in on itself – from loving God to loving self. Our hearts need to be changed – something we can’t do ourselves.

In our western world today there’s a culture of victimhood that blames the ills of the world on others. Underlying it all is the rejection of any sense of my personal failure. It’s what happens when self-love dominates. And, if there is life after death, most people reckon that they’re good enough to make it.

Tragically, many professing Christians and churches have not grasped the reality of the meaning of God’s grace. They tell us Christianity is about love, but the focus is on loving one’s neighbour and caring about the injustices of the world. They have no vocabulary for the cost of God’s grace that required Christ’s substitutionary death on the cross. In turn they don’t have a ministry or a liturgy that calls for repentance for sins and the assurance of God’s forgiveness.

God’s plan is to build a vibrant, new community of forgiven people. Eleven times we read the phrase, in Christ or in him. And in verses 9 & 10 we learn that God’s ultimate plan is to bring everything and everyone under the rule of Christ.

Assurance. Having believed, you were marked in him (in Christ) 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.

God seals us as his own by putting his Spirit within us. Long before, he had promised his people that he would take up residence with them (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Ephesians is now telling us that the presence of God’s Spirit within us is a down-payment on our future inheritance.

When one day I am asked why I should be given entrance into God’s presence, I will ask that the Book of Life be checked. The presence of the Holy Spirit within me now, assures me that my name will be found in the great Register of God’s people – listed as an adopted son of the Father, signed in by Jesus Christ, embossed with the great seal of the Holy Spirit of God.

It is with humble, heart-felt thankfulness for the humility of our great and wonderful, all-glorious and loving God, that I look forward to that day with joy, because he has honored me with a part in his epic story.

A prayer. Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commandments we may please you both in word and deed; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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‘Do you want to live forever?’ was the catchy question leading into an article, ‘From Here to Eternity’ in The Weekend Australian magazine, (May 27-28, 2023). ‘Coming back from the dead, then living as an immortal?’ the article begins. ‘It sounds like science fiction,’ the article continues, ‘but the pioneers behind this wild venture are true believers’.

The article takes up personal stories of a small number who believe in the science of freezing their body at death, and holding it in ‘cryonic suspension’ until they are revived. This will be at a future time when science and medicine will have permanently addressed the issues of aging, disease, and death.

While almost all scientists reject such a development, two features stand out: only a very tiny number would benefit; second, given the world’s history of conflict and war, there is little hope that anyone ‘waking’ in fifty or three hundred years will find a world of just and lasting peace. Would we really want to live forever in such a world?

Come with me to the Gospel of Matthew, chapter 28 where, following his own resurrection from the dead, we read these astonishing words of Jesus: ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me’.

He then laid out what we might call his royal mandate to his disciples that, going, they are to make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you’ (28:18-19).

Significantly, embedded in Jesus’ commission is that disciples in all the nations are to be baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. These words provide the key to a more assured hope of life everlasting in a world where true and lasting peace exists. Why do I say this?

Significantly Jesus uses the singular word, name in speaking of the three persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. This tells us that three persons constitute the one God. Everyone who is baptized is to be instructed in the existence and the triune nature of God. It’s important we think about this.

In his introduction to his Gospel, Matthew records that Jesus is of royal human lineage – a descendent of Israel’s King David. Furthermore, before Jesus was born, an angel had appeared to Joseph who was wondering if he should marry Mary because she was pregnant and he wasn’t the father. The angel informed him that Mary’s baby was conceived from the Holy Spirit and that the boy was to be named Jesus for he will deliver his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20f).

We also learn that even though Jesus was conceived in a way no other human has ever been conceived, he was born in the same way we were. His flesh and blood were conceived by the Holy Spirit, so that even when there was only one cell of him in the womb of his mother Mary, that cell was fully human and fully divine.

He wasn’t some spiritual hybrid, half man and half God, like the mythical centaur, half horse and half man. Rather, Jesus was 100% human, and 100% divine — or as the Nicene creed puts it: Very God of very God; begotten not made…

And as Matthew’s Gospel unfolds, we learn that at his baptism the Spirit of God descended on him like a dove… and a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased’ (3:16, 17). Furthermore, when the imprisoned John the Baptist asked if Jesus was truly the promised Messiah, Jesus responded with words from a messianic prophecy in Isaiah 35: ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them, and blessed is the one who is not offended by me’ (Matthew 11:4-6).

Furthermore, when Peter confessed that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, Jesus responded, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven…’ (Matthew 16:17).

We can see why Jesus taught with the richest understanding of the Old Testament law and its application – as we find in his Sermon on the Mount (chapters 5-7). We can understand why he taught with power and authority and could heal the sick and overcome the forces of evil with a word of command. He could walk on water, still a raging storm, and even raise the dead to life.

In every situation throughout his public life, Jesus revealed a profound understanding of God and the true nature of humanity. When challenged by the finest theological and legal minds, he outclassed them – and not least when they tempted him with a ‘Gotcha’ question.

His teaching and his miracles, the profundity and power of his words, his compassion for the poor and the sick, reveal someone who stands unique in history.

Indeed, HG Wells, author of The War of the Worlds and The Time Machine observed, ‘I am an historian. I am not a believer, but I must confess as a historian that this penniless preacher from Nazareth is irrevocably the very center of history. Jesus Christ is easily the most dominant figure in all history.’

Throughout his public life Jesus also revealed a power and authority that are not simply unique but are signs of the supernatural. Supremely his resurrection from the dead testifies to this. He alone has broken through the barrier of death thus opening a future for all who truly turn to him.

That the life beyond the grave he offers will be one of true and lasting peace is assured by the nature of the relationship between the three Persons, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Throughout eternity they enjoy perfect harmony and peace with one another, for unlike the relationships amongst the pagan gods, there is no envy or jealousy, tension or conflict between them.

In our world of ongoing injustice and conflict, sickness and death, the remarkable advances of science and medicine seem to offer us some hope for a longer life. But do they offer what we really long for – a life for ever in a perfectly restored world where peace reigns?

It is the triune God who made us to enjoy him who, in his love holds out the key to our future. It is Christ who has opened the way for us to enter God’s presence; it is the Spirit who, working with the word of the gospel, opens our eyes to this wonderful truth, and now lives within us (Romans 8:9). It is in coming to know this triune God that we find a sure hope for life beyond the grave – a hope that awakens within us a true joy and an inner and lasting peace.

A prayer for Trinity Sunday: Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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You might like to listen to, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

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Over the last twenty years or so God’s people have been increasingly put on the defensive about their faith. In a climate where people of faith are dismissed as intellectually inept and even as ‘terrorists’, many are fearful of speaking up about what they believe.

Come with me to a significant scene that occurred on the day of Jesus’ resurrection. It’s recorded in John chapter 20, verses 19 through 23. That Sunday evening, the first day of the week, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John doesn’t say how Jesus came to be there: he simply records, Jesus stood.

Last time the disciples had seen him, he was wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying on a cross. When they had seen a spear thrust in his side and the fluid that had flowed, they knew he was truly dead. Yet here he was, not weak and limp but standing tall, speaking the very words he had uttered at the Passover meal: ‘Peace be with you’. And to show he was physically alive and not a ghost, he showed them his hands and his side.

Terrified and overjoyed they doubtless were, they knew, extraordinary miracle though it was, Jesus was truly alive again. ‘Peace be with you’, he repeated. On the night of his arrest he had said, ‘My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me’ (John 14:27).

In a world of turmoil and injustice, the peace he held out to his followers was not meaningless comfort. His resurrection was now proof of that. Yet it was surreal. But then, as GK Chesterton observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

The Commission: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you…’, he continued (20:21). More than once they had heard Jesus say, ‘As the Father has sent me…’ But now he was drawing them into this work as well.

Jesus had been sent to speak God’s words in person to the world. Supremely he had been sent to be lifted up on a cross at Calvary to rescue humanity (John 12:32). Now, he was sending his disciples and in turn, his people, to announce his life-giving news to the world.

And significantly they would not be alone: they need not be fearful. The peace of Christ would be with them at every twist and turn along the way. Consider what follows.

The Gift. Jesus breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven, if they are retained they are retained’ (20:22).

Let’s think about this: Jesus’ words bring together the announcement of God’s gospel and the work of the Spirit. Neither God’s Word nor his Spirit work in a vacuum. They are necessarily interlinked.

We should notice that Thomas wasn’t present, and that John’s Gospel doesn’t record separately the events of Pentecost and the coming of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, the verb breathed doesn’t have an object – despite some English translations.

Jesus’ words peace be with you speak of his warm, personal relationship with them, even though they all had failed him. This is reinforced with his gift of his Spirit whom he had promised on the night of his arrest (14:16-24). As Paul the Apostle later says, the Spirit would assure them of their rich inheritance with Christ (Romans 8:14-17; Ephesians 1:13-14).

The Spirit’s presence was not only for the benefit of the disciples. As Jesus had promised, the Spirit would enable the disciples to remember and to interpret accurately all he had said and done (14:25-26). But he would also awaken the world to a spiritual awareness and convict it of its failure to honor the great high king who so loved us that he gave his life for us (16:8-11; 3:16).

Jesus’ reference to the retaining and forgiveness of sins is significant. Being in the passive voice, the two verbs indicate that it is not humanity, but God, who retains or forgives sin. When people fail to believe they remain isolated from the Lord. But when they turn in repentance to the Lord, they receive his forgiveness.

Bringing together the threads of Jesus’ words in the context of John’s Gospel as a whole, it is not our human prerogative to retain or forgive sins. Rather it is the outcome of the ministry of God’s Word, the gospel, and the work of his Spirit.

The ministry Jesus gave the disciples laid the foundation for our gospel ministry, namely the verbal announcement of God’s gospel that the Spirit uses to transform lives. This stands behind the Anglican Connection vision and mission: ‘Connecting for Gospel Led Regeneration’. Our work is not tied one denomination but to like-minded, gospel-focussed ministers and churches.

It is the kind of gospel vision that Timothy Keller who was gathered into the presence of the Lord last Friday, exemplified throughout his ministry. I experienced this personally when he, a Presbyterian in New York City unexpectedly invited me, an Anglican minister from Sydney, Australia, to talk with him about setting up a new church in Manhattan. Under God I was involved in setting up Christ Church NYC and what is now Emmanuel Anglican NYC. We thank the Lord for gospel-focussed leaders such as Tim Keller and pray the Lord will raise up many more.

Yet how often do we overlook Jesus’ words to his disciples in John chapter 20 and elsewhere in the New Testament. All God’s people have the wonderful privilege of being sent by Jesus to play our part in announcing his good news. Yet many today are fearful. Let me encourage you to pray that the Spirit will make real your experience of the peace of the Lord within you. Pray also that that God’s Spirit will awaken you to the riches of your inheritance with Christ, and open your eyes to opportunities to introduce family and friends to the Jesus of the Gospels.

Let me also encourage you to check out TheWord121 – an annotated version of John’s Gospel – that anyone, no matter how young in the faith, can use to introduce others to God’s good news. Find out more at: www.TheWord121.com.

Prayer. O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: so enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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You might like to listen to, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

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Why don’t we pray more often than we do? And how often when we do pray, do we look to the model prayers we find in the Bible – and not least from the lips of Jesus?

Dr. JI Packer once commented, ‘I believe that prayer is the measure of God’s people, spiritually, in a way that nothing else is, so that how we pray is as important a question as we can ever face’.

Come with me to the prayer that Jesus’ prayed on the night of his arrest. We find it in John chapter 17. In verse 1 we read: After Jesus had spoken these words, he looked up to heaven and said, ‘Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you,…’

Glory. Knowing he was about to die, Jesus prayed that he would be honored in carrying out God’s previously hidden plan. His impending death was now a certainty, for John tells us that Judas had gone out into the night to do his dark work of betrayal. And now, as Jesus looked into the darkness of this evil, he prayed that he would not only remain faithful to his mission, but would also be glorified.

The meaning of glory often eludes us for we tend to think of it more in terms of the splendor of fame or beauty. But the meaning of glory here is more subtle. It refers to the outward splendor of hidden, inner nature and qualities.

In praying, Father… glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you, Jesus was asking God to clothe him with glory because his cross would reveal for all time the nature and cost of God’s love.

Furthermore, he prays that as he himself is glorified, in carrying out this supreme mission, men and women will see the splendor of the extraordinary love of the Father for men and women, even though they choose to divorce him.

Ashley Null has observed that for Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury during the reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI, ‘The glory of God, is God’s love for the unworthy’.

The theme of glory through his crucifixion continues in verse 4: ‘I glorified you on earth by finishing the work that you gave me to do’.

Jesus is saying that he has completed the work God had given him to do. In his teaching he brought further revelation of God and in his miracles (signs) he revealed God’s compassion and power. One great work – his greatest work – remained. When he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary, he would bear in himself the sin of the whole world (John 3:14-15 and 16).

In John 19: 28 & 30 we read Jesus’ final words on the cross: “It is finished”. With his death, Jesus had completed his mission. He had offered the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world, once and for all time. To try and repeat it, is to diminish and dishonor his work.

Jesus’ prayer continues: ‘So now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had in your presence before the world existed’ (John 17:5).

The words of John Stainer’s Crucifixion capture something of John’s record: ‘Far more awful in Thy weakness, more than kingly in Thy meekness, Thou Son of God… Here in abasement; crownless, poor, disrobed, and bleeding: There in glory interceding; Thou art the King!’

Prayer for the Disciples: ‘I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).

The greater part of Jesus’ prayer is for his disciples. This tells us of their importance. They are to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Much will depend on their understanding of Jesus as the Christ – the Messiah – and their courage and loyalty.

So he prays that the Father will give them eternal life. In verse 11, he prays that the Father will protect them; in verse 15, that the Father will keep them from the powers of evil; in verse 17, that the Father will make them holy in the truth; and in verse 16, that the love God the Father has for the Son, will be true for them as well.

Jesus knows that the road ahead for the disciples will not be easy. Yet he doesn’t pray that they will be taken out of the world, but that they will be kept faithful and guarded from the powers of the evil one.

Prayer for his people: ‘I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one.’ (17:20-22).

In praying for his people through the ages, Jesus alerts us to the heart of his disciples’ mission. Their ministry is to be a declaratory (Word) mission. The content of their preaching and teaching will be that Jesus is God’s king who has come for us – to restore God’s friendship with us. Furthermore, Christ has come so that he might be in us – the oneness of God’s people (not denominational structures) will draw others to faith in Christ. In turn all his people through the ages will share with him as heirs in the glory to come.

Which brings me back to prayer and the theme of God’s glory. How often do we pray that God will be glorified? After all, Jesus taught us to pray, ‘Father, hallowed, glorified be your name’ (Luke 11:2). In this era of God’s mercy shouldn’t we be praying that God will glorify his name in the changing lives of his people – in you and me? Shouldn’t we also be praying that God will honor his name in drawing the lost to faith, turning hearts to their true home in Jesus Christ?

A prayer. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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The loss of someone deeply loved awakens a profound anguish and grief within us. Even some time after a loved one has gone from us, we can unexpectedly find ourselves tearing up.

In the course of his last evening with his close followers Jesus told them he was going away and that they could not come with him (John 14:3). He knew what his going would mean for them and likened their state to orphaned children – destitute and alone. Significantly, he didn’t offer glib platitudes about his going but promised them a Counselor – literally, a Comforter.

In chapter 14:15-21 John the Gospel writer sets out the record of Jesus’ words of comfort and hope to his disciples. He was not going to leave them bereft. Rather, he promised them another companion to comfort and strengthen them.

‘If you love me you will keep my commandments,’ he said. ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…’ (John 14:16-17).

When we first read these words and the reference to the Spirit we might think that Jesus is speaking about an impersonal power or force. Indeed, in Acts chapter 8 we learn that Simon Magus thought the Holy Spirit was a force he could purchase (Acts 8:18f).

However, the personal pronouns ‘him’ and ‘he’ in John 14:17 with reference to the Spirit indicate that Jesus is not speaking about some impersonal force or a power, but a person. In the original language the word ‘spirit’ is a neuter noun, an ‘it’ word. But John breaks the rules of grammar. He refers to the Spirit as ‘he’: He dwells with you

The moment we think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’, we miss the profundity of Jesus’ promise. He, Jesus, is going away. ‘He’ is to be replaced, not by an ‘it’, but a ‘he’, the ‘Helper’, the ‘Spirit’.

Helper translates two words in the original text – the preposition alongside and the verb, called. The fact that Jesus promises another Helper implies that He himself has been helping. Now in this time of the disciples’ deep need he promises the Holy Spirit – a Helper, a Comforter.

Furthermore, this Helper or Comforter doesn’t provide comfort like Linus’s blanket, nor is the Comforter simply a hot water bottle for cold, hard times. He comes to strengthen our hearts and minds – putting ‘backbone’ into our lives. Jesus has been helping for three years, now the Spirit of truth comes to help.

‘The Spirit of truth is not known by the world,’ Jesus says (verse 17), but ‘you know him – and he will be with you forever’.

We are living in the age of the Holy Spirit. Jesus is not physically in the world now, but he is through his Spirit. This is astonishing and something we don’t usually think about. The Lord Jesus Christ is present and at work in the world now, not in a physical way that we can see, but invisibly through his Spirit.

It’s something that was foreshadowed in the Old Testament. There we read that God’s people dearly wanted God to live with them. Even so, they found the whole idea hard to grasp. In his prayer at the beginning of his reign, King Solomon asked: ‘But will God indeed dwell on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain you;…’ (I Kings 8:27). To which the answer was ‘yes’: the Temple in Jerusalem was not only a place of worship, it symbolized God’s dwelling with his people, God’s special relationship with his people.

Furthermore, Ezekiel chapter 37, verse 27 says: ‘My dwelling place shall be with them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people…’ What Solomon thought God was far too big for, God himself said he would do. He would come amongst his people.

The amazing thing is that the Bible tells us that God notices us and cares for us far beyond anything we can begin to imagine. Remember, back in chapter 1, verse 14, John records: And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth.

Now in John chapter 14 we begin to see the wonder of Jesus’ promise: ‘And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…’

The Spirit of God, the Spirit of Christ will not just be with us but also in us. Jesus takes his promise to another level here. He is saying that he is personally present with us in our lives. This is why Paul the Apostle writes in First Corinthians, chapter 6: Do you not know that your bodies are the temple of the Holy Spirit?

What does this mean in reality? Think of it like this. If someone put a powerful explosive in our apartment what would we do? We’d call in the explosive experts and keep clear. But if the newly crowned Charles III came to our place, what would we do? We’d surely welcome him and take the opportunity to get to know him.

Jesus promises his followers a powerful person, a counselor, a companion. For many, Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe. But Jesus is saying, ‘I want you to understand that the faith I am talking about is, in its deepest essence, about a relationship, a relationship with the one who is at the heart of the universe.’ It’s about knowing Jesus and having him live with us through his Spirit. ‘God in the soul of men and women,’ is how one ancient writer put it.

Sometimes we can feel cut off from God by a sense of failure or unworthiness, ignorance or unbelief, or abandonment. Jesus is saying to his first followers, and to you and me today, ‘Do not despair: you can experience me in your life.’ We are not alone in life.

In his Letters Paul the Apostle develops this astonishing work of the Spirit. For example, in Romans chapter 8, verses 15 through 17: … You have received the Spirit of adoption as sons and daughters, by whom we cry, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs – heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we might be glorified with him.

CS Lewis picks up this theme in his Narnia books with the analogy that the sons and daughters of Adam and Eve are the kings and queens of Narnia. The Bible tells us that God’s Spirit awakens us to the privilege God’s people have of being joint heirs with Jesus Christ in his inheritance.

A prayer. Heavenly Father, the giver of all good things, fill our hearts with thankfulness, and grant that by your holy inspiration we may think those things that are good, and by your grace and guidance do them; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Glen Scrivener’s recent book, The Air We Breathe (2022) compellingly explores the way that Christianity has shaped the moral values of the West. It is a book for those who believe and those who don’t know what to believe. It especially awakens those of us who believe, to why we need God’s strength to honor him in our lives as well as promote him afresh. Yet how often are we silenced through our fears, forgetting what the Bible reveals about Jesus Christ.

For example, at the opening of John chapter 14 a dark cloud was hanging over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had been with him and were increasingly confident he was God’s promised king. But at the Passover meal he had told them he was going away. ‘Don’t be troubled,’ he said. ‘Believe in God, believe also in me… I go to prepare a place for you’ (John 14:1, 2b).

Frustration and Doubts. Thomas’s response to Jesus’ words expresses a frustration we can all feel: ‘Lord, we do not know where you’re going…’ For him, knowledge is based on concrete realities not abstract metaphors. ‘Where is this Father’s house you’re talking about Jesus? How can we know the way?’ Thomas was frustrated and doubted.

Jesus’ reply is breath-taking, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ (John 14:6). Significantly, he didn’t say, ‘I’ll show you the way’ but rather, ‘I am the way’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll tell you the truth’ but, ‘I am the truth’; he didn’t say, ‘I’ll give you eternal life’ but, ‘I am the life’.

He is saying that at the heart of the universe is not a mathematical or scientific equation, but a person. This news is ‘the air we have come to breathe’.

Now many dismiss the existence of God and a supernatural realm – especially the idea that the supernatural can enter the material world. Maybe Thomas thought this too. Perhaps this is why later on, he couldn’t accept that Jesus had risen from the dead (John 20:25).

Let’s think about this. You may attend church but never admit your doubts, silently going along with the church crowd. It would have been easy for Thomas to have pretended to believe what Jesus was saying. At least he was prepared to admit his doubts. And, helpfully for us, Jesus doesn’t cut him down. When, a week after his resurrection Jesus saw Thomas he said, ‘Put your finger here Thomas. Don’t be faithless but believing’.

In the midst of cynical voices today, it’s also encouraging to know that there are eminent mathematicians who testify to the trustworthiness of the Bible’s record and the existence of the supernatural. For example, Dr. John Lennox, professor emeritus of mathematics at Oxford University, has said, ‘The rational intelligibility of the universe,… points to the existence of the Mind that was responsible both for the universe and our minds. It is for this reason that we are able to do science and to discover the beautiful mathematical structures that underlie the phenomena we can observe’ (cited in Barnett, Gospel Truth, p.21).

Jesus is saying that the only way we’re to make sense of our existence is by recognising that he is the complex person who is the Mind behind the universe. People who can hardly recall their two times tables can be closer to the truth than many high-level scientists or mathematicians – because they have a relationship with him.

Questions. Phillip, another of Jesus’s disciples, had a follow up question: ‘Lord show us the Father. That’s all we need’ (John 14:9).

Philip wanted some tangible experience of God that would assure him of Jesus’ words. He may have wanted a special appearance of God such as Moses experienced at the burning bush (Exodus 3:1-6). Or maybe he was influenced by the Greek mystery religions and had in mind some kind of inner ecstasy, a spiritual trip that would lift him to new levels of consciousness. Either way he wanted to see God.

Jesus’ response is astonishing: ‘He who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

We would not have been surprised if Jesus had replied, ‘Don’t be silly Philip. You’re asking the impossible’. Rather he says, ‘Don’t you know me Philip, even after I’ve been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’.

Many who read history still regard Jesus as one of the world’s great teachers. But this doesn’t come near to what he is saying: he isn’t just an emissary from God, but God himself.

Consider how Jesus continues: ‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves’ (John 14:11).

Think about it, Jesus is saying: ‘You’ve seen me turn water into first-class wine; you’ve heard that I cured a young boy at a distance; you’ve seen me heal a man paralysed for 38 years, provide food for thousands at a word, restore sight to a man blind from birth, as well as bring a man dead for four days out of a tomb. Doesn’t that tell you something about me?’

It would have made sense, explaining many extraordinary events over the last three years – how Jesus could out-teach the academics of his day: he knew what he spoke about because he is from God; how Jesus could raise people from the dead, because he is the source of life.

The cumulative impact of Jesus’ life – the signs he performed and his revelatory teaching – exemplifies the truth of the opening lines of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men and women … And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, … (John 1:1-4, 14).

Blaise Pascal, the 17th C French mathematician, philosopher and physicist, wrote in his Pensées‘: ‘People despise religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is just to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men and women wish it were true, and then show them that it is’.

To rephrase Glenn Scrivener’s words, ‘Is this the air you breathe’?

A prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Elections and the resulting political discourse remind us how much most people long for a leader who will bring us justice and peace, protection and prosperity. However, on every occasion our aspirations are dashed as leaders reveal their flaws and failures and self-interest. No one proves to be the ideal leader.

Let me suggest one exception: Jesus who said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).

Many today view shepherds through rose-tinted lenses, imagining them with their faithful dogs, caring for the sheep on grassy hillsides. The reality is that the shepherds of ancient Israel lived dangerous lives. And because sheep were the equivalent of money in the bank today, shepherds had to contend, not only with marauding animals, but also with thieves and armed robbers.

Every village had their ‘banks’ – sheepfolds – with their door and security guard. In John 10 Jesus twins the images of Door (or Gate) and Good Shepherd when he says: ‘…He who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out (John 10:2-3). And in verse 7 he says, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep’, and in verse 10, ‘I am the good shepherd’.

Shepherds. Usually poor, and often treated as outcasts, shepherds played an essential part in the life of Israel. Israel’s kings were described as shepherds. King David, the greatest of the Old Testament kings had been brought from shepherding sheep to shepherd God’s people Israel. But it was not only the kings who were called shepherds, but also the religious leaders. In Ezekiel 34 we read that when they abused their position and failed their spiritual duty, God declared that he himself would shepherd his people. Ezekiel 34:1-31 echoes Psalm 23 as it speaks of God himself as the shepherd of his people.

A millennium after David, Jesus says that he is the door and the good shepherd. As the good shepherd he brings together shepherd as a metaphor for the Messiah and the theme of death. False messiahs took the lives of men and women. The true Messiah gives life to men and women. And the life he gives, is life to the full (10:10). But it comes only at the cost of his own life ‘…Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep’, Jesus says (10:15).

We begin to see what Jesus means when he says he is the good shepherd. He is not a do-gooder, for they tend to be more interested in themselves and what others think of them. This good shepherd is willing to take our death from our shoulders and bear it himself. That is what he means when he says he is the good shepherd who gives his life for the sheep. He didn’t die just to prove how much he loved us. He died to save us from death itself.

Furthermore, eternal life in biblical terms is not an existence that goes on and on. Rather it is the expansion and intensification of the very best experiences we enjoy in life now. Jesus is not interested in the quantity of life but in the quality.

An underlying theme we often miss in John chapter 10 is the distinction that Jesus makes concerning his goal and his method compared with those who went before him and would come after him. Jesus was not a political Messiah.

In John 10:8 Jesus says: ‘All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, they will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly’.

The thieves and robbers were the false messiahs, the political activists of Jesus’ day. In their endeavors to free Israel from Roman rule, they used violence in various forms. But Jesus charts a very different path in the cause of real life and true freedom.

As the door, he is the only one who has the right to open the gate of heaven and have the title Messiah. As the good shepherd he has given his life to open the way to the freedom and joy of God’s long-promised kingdom.

When we consider these words of Jesus here, we discern their application in our 21st century world. The only real hope of freedom and life the progressive materialist has to offer is some kind of embodiment of Karl Marx’s classless society. According to Marx people could only find real happiness if they freed themselves from the imperialism of economic oppression and exploitation. Only then would the hostilities between races and nations be resolved and humanity be able to develop its full potential.

But don’t be misled, Jesus is saying. ‘These people have come to steal – they have no respect for personal property or enterprise. They have come to kill – they don’t value human life.’ Think of the millions who died under the 20th century revolutionary movements led by Lenin and Stalin, Hitler and Mao, Pol Pot and Idi Amin. And to what end? No perfect peaceful and just society has emerged.

‘I am the good shepherd’, Jesus says. Have you personally heard the voice of the Good Shepherd through the Scriptures? And having heard it, do you trust him with your life and follow him? That is what he calls us to – a life of discipleship; a life with the people who respond to his call.

I can’t tell you where that life may lead. I cannot say that life will be a bed of roses, or that all your problems will evaporate overnight. But one thing I can promise, because Jesus, the good shepherd promises it: you will find his leadership perfectly satisfies all your longings.

Only those who truly turn to him will find true life and liberty. They alone find true deliverance – they are saved. They alone find true fulfillment – they find satisfying pasture.

If we want to find true freedom, deep satisfaction and real life, we need to turn to Jesus Christ – who carried not a gun, but a cross.

A prayer. Almighty God, you alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men and women.  Help us so to love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Material in today’s Word on Wednesday is adapted from my book in the Reading the Bible Today series: Luke – An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

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In his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Dr. John Lennox, emeritus Professor of Mathematics Oxford University, writes, ‘To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power’.

Transcendent Power. Yet in today’s world where influential voices sometimes angrily dismiss such a possibility, it is easy to overlook the transcendent power that was at work on the first Easter Day when Jesus physically rose from the dead. When we consider the evidence, it becomes clear that Jesus’ resurrection didn’t occur because of some natural mechanism. It happened because the creator God chose to intervene (Romans 6:4b).

The four Gospel writers record that on the third day following his crucifixion and burial, Jesus’ tomb was empty. He was seen physically alive by his close followers and many others.

Eyewitnesses. In First Corinthians – one of the earliest New Testament Letters – chapter 15, verses 4b-6a and verse 8, Paul the Apostle writes: … Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and …he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still living… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Paul is saying that Christianity didn’t start because a group of fanatics had invented a story about their hero, nor because a group of philosophers had come to an agreed conclusion about life, and not even because a group of mystics shared the same vision about God. It began with eyewitnesses – ordinary men and women who saw something very extra-ordinary happen. In fact, it began with the history of a man who had risen from the dead.

Grand Design. Furthermore, there was a far-reaching purpose in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Luke chapter 24 – the ‘resurrection chapter’ – the dominant theme is Jesus’ crucifixion: It had to happen.

In his conversation with the two on the road to Emmaus Jesus said: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter his glory?” (24:26). He also pointed out, ‘If you knew the Scriptures you would have known that for me the road to the crown was through the cross. That was the message of the prophets. I am the suffering servant of whom they spoke’ (for example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

And later, when he met with the disciples, he spelled out God’s grand design. He showed them how the Scriptures pointed to the Messiah’s necessary suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day (24:46). Jesus’ death and resurrection were an essential part of God’s grand design, a plan formed even before creation came into existence and reaffirmed with the creation of men and women (Genesis 1:26a).

God’s good news. Luke tells us that Jesus went on to tell the disciples what now needs to happen: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his (Jesus’) name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:47). Jesus’ death and resurrection are tightly linked to the announcement of the forgiveness of sins.

Indeed, Paul identifies this when he writes: For I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and was raised on the third day … (1 Corinthians 15:3)

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not merely that of a dead man who came back to life, nor that of a dying and rising god. Neither is it a romantic story that tells us that death is not the end. It is the record of Messiah’s shameful death by crucifixion, suffering the pains of God-forsakenness on our behalf because we have broken God’s holy law.

Simply to say that Christ died is insufficient. Historians agree that he died. But the New Testament explains that his death was a voluntary sacrifice with a purpose – to satisfy God’s perfect justice, once and for all, on behalf of guilty humanity. Unless sin had first been dealt with, Jesus’ resurrection would not point to forgiveness and new life.

To enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection we need to turn to him in a spirit of repentance, humbly asking God to forgive us for following the devices and desires of our own hearts and so breaking his holy laws. A gospel presentation without the call to true heartfelt repentance is not the gospel.

Jesus’ resurrection bears witness to God’s grand design for men and women – a design that offers full and free forgiveness, and a life of meaning and hope, love and joy forever.

In his final Narnia story, The Last Battle, CS Lewis metaphorically opens our eyes to an ever-larger picture of God’s Grand Design: ‘And as He (Aslan) spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

‘And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’

A prayer. Almighty Father, you have given your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old influences of corruption and evil, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Note: Material in today’s Word on Wednesday is adapted from my book in the Reading the Bible Today series: Luke – An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

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Christ is Risen…! https://anglicanconnection.com/christ-is-risen-2/ Tue, 11 Apr 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31141 The post ‘Christ is Risen…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In his book God’s Undertaker: Has Science Buried God? Dr. John Lennox, emeritus Professor of Mathematics Oxford University, writes, ‘To the majority of those who have reflected deeply and written about the origin and nature of the universe, it has seemed that it points beyond itself to a source which is non-physical and of great intelligence and power’.

Transcendent Power. Yet in today’s world where influential voices sometimes angrily dismiss such a possibility, it is easy to overlook the transcendent power that was at work on the first Easter Day when Jesus physically rose from the dead. When we consider the evidence, it becomes clear that Jesus’ resurrection didn’t occur because of some natural mechanism. It happened because the creator God chose to intervene (Romans 6:4b).

The four Gospel writers record that on the third day following his crucifixion and burial, Jesus’ tomb was empty. He was seen physically alive by his close followers and many others.

Eyewitnesses. In First Corinthians – one of the earliest New Testament Letters – chapter 15, verses 4b-6a and verse 8, Paul the Apostle writes: … Christ was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and …he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at one time, most of whom are still living… Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Paul is saying that Christianity didn’t start because a group of fanatics had invented a story about their hero, nor because a group of philosophers had come to an agreed conclusion about life, and not even because a group of mystics shared the same vision about God. It began with eyewitnesses – ordinary men and women who saw something very extra-ordinary happen. In fact, it began with the history of a man who had risen from the dead.

Grand Design. Furthermore, there was a far-reaching purpose in the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. In Luke chapter 24 – the ‘resurrection chapter’ – the dominant theme is Jesus’ crucifixion: It had to happen.

In his conversation with the two on the road to Emmaus Jesus said: “Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter his glory?” (24:26). He also pointed out, ‘If you knew the Scriptures you would have known that for me the road to the crown was through the cross. That was the message of the prophets. I am the suffering servant of whom they spoke’ (for example, Isaiah 52:13-53:12).

And later, when he met with the disciples, he spelled out God’s grand design. He showed them how the Scriptures pointed to the Messiah’s necessary suffering, death, and resurrection on the third day (24:46). Jesus’ death and resurrection were an essential part of God’s grand design, a plan formed even before creation came into existence and reaffirmed with the creation of men and women (Genesis 1:26a).

God’s good news. Luke tells us that Jesus went on to tell the disciples what now needs to happen: “Repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his (Jesus’) name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (24:47). Jesus’ death and resurrection are tightly linked to the announcement of the forgiveness of sins.

Indeed, Paul identifies this when he writes: For I passed on to you as of first importance that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, and was raised on the third day … (1 Corinthians 15:3)

The story of Jesus’ death and resurrection is not merely that of a dead man who came back to life, nor that of a dying and rising god. Neither is it a romantic story that tells us that death is not the end. It is the record of Messiah’s shameful death by crucifixion, suffering the pains of God-forsakenness on our behalf because we have broken God’s holy law.

Simply to say that Christ died is insufficient. Historians agree that he died. But the New Testament explains that his death was a voluntary sacrifice with a purpose – to satisfy God’s perfect justice, once and for all, on behalf of guilty humanity. Unless sin had first been dealt with, Jesus’ resurrection would not point to forgiveness and new life.

To enjoy the benefits of Jesus’ death and resurrection we need to turn to him in a spirit of repentance, humbly asking God to forgive us for following the devices and desires of our own hearts and so breaking his holy laws. A gospel presentation without the call to true heartfelt repentance is not the gospel.

Jesus’ resurrection bears witness to God’s grand design for men and women – a design that offers full and free forgiveness, and a life of meaning and hope, love and joy forever.

In his final Narnia story, The Last Battle, CS Lewis metaphorically opens our eyes to an ever-larger picture of God’s Grand Design: ‘And as He (Aslan) spoke, He no longer looked to them like a lion; but the things that began to happen after that were so great and beautiful that I cannot write them.

‘And for us this is the end of all the stories, and we can most truly say that they all lived happily ever after. But for them it was only the beginning of the real story. All their life in this world and all their adventures in Narnia had only been the cover and the title page: now at last they were beginning Chapter One of the Great Story which no one on earth has read: which goes on for ever: in which every chapter is better than the one before.’

A prayer. Almighty Father, you have given your only Son, Jesus Christ, to die for our sins and to rise again for our justification: grant that we may put away the old influences of corruption and evil, and always serve you in sincerity and truth; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to Christ Is Risen, He Is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Note: Material in today’s Word on Wednesday is adapted from my book in the Reading the Bible Today series: Luke – An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

The post ‘Christ is Risen…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The Cross…! https://anglicanconnection.com/the-cross/ Tue, 04 Apr 2023 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31132 The post ‘The Cross…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Easter Day that we celebrate this Sunday is a gala day as we remember Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. His resurrection underscores the validity of the Christian faith. Without it, we are lost.

That said, our joy with Jesus’ resurrection raises interesting questions: Why isn’t an empty tomb the symbol of Christianity? Why is the symbol a cross? In today’s age when feelings and political correctness trump facts it would surely make much more sense if we focused on the themes of the new life and hope that the resurrection symbolizes.

Yet despite the fact that Jesus’ crucifixion was a bloody and brutal affair, the cross remains the symbol of the Christian faith.

In the opening scene of Luke’s ‘resurrection chapter’ we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body (Luke 24:1-3).

Despair. There was no joy in the hearts of those women that morning. They had watched Jesus die and now were grief-stricken and despairing. They had believed that he was God’s Messiah and were looking forward to a new age of justice and peace, of laughter, love and joy. Now, their only thought was to give his body a proper burial.

We can picture them trudging to the tomb in the grey light of the dawn, burdened by their own thoughts and laden with heavy jars of oils and spices for the burial.

But that was not all. When they arrived at the grave, they saw that the huge stone closing the tomb had been rolled away. Was this some underhand action on the part of the authorities?

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them… (24:4). They had despaired at Jesus’ death and now were terrified: they could only bow their faces to the ground at the dazzling appearance of two angels. And when the angels spoke, the women were even more confused: “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen.” ‘You’ve come to the wrong place.’

Remember! “Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (Luke 24:6b-7a).

The angels could have explained the empty tomb. Instead, they told the women to remember what Jesus had said to them. The focus of Jesus’ words they quoted is important: ‘The Son of Man, the Messiah, had to suffer and die and then rise again’. Suffering and death were essential to the first coming of God’s king.

Which brings us back to the subject of the cross. Richard Dawkins and others reckon that to say, ‘Jesus died for our sins’ is vicious and disgusting. ‘Why couldn’t God simply forgive sins if he so chose?’ Dawkins asks.

In every age Jesus’ death has been an enigma – even for his first followers. Yet during the course of his ministry, he had foreshadowed both his death and his resurrection. Indeed, in his public ministry he revealed that he had not come as a political Messiah to bring in God’s kingdom through force.

Rather, he came as a savior to address our greatest need – our broken relationship with God. Only Jesus Christ, the man from heaven, could deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the doors of hope for the future.

This theme infuses Luke’s gospel. At Jesus’ birth the angel announced that God’s savior had been born. And when he met with Zacchaeus, Jesus summed up his ministry saying, “The Son of Man has come to seek and to save that which was lost” (Luke 19:10).

Furthermore, his words at the Last Supper are key to the meaning of his death: “This is my body given for you…”  “This is my blood shed for you…”  These words are amongst the oldest statements of the New Testament. We find them in First Corinthians, chapter 11, written around 50AD, as well as in Matthew, Mark and Luke, which were written no later than the 60s.

In fact when we read Luke as a whole we come to see that Jesus’ death is about God’s love and justice – central aspects of His character. Some say that Jesus’ crucifixion was a form of child abuse – a father punishing a son for someone else’s wrongs. But we need to remember Jesus’ words in John chapter 10 verse 11, where he said he would lay down his life voluntarily.

The movement of the Bible tells us that without the shedding of blood there can be no forgiveness of sins (Levitcus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). God, the wronged party, in his extraordinary love, came amongst us in person and bore the punishment we deserve. God as the judge, paid in full, once and for all time, the penalty owed by us, the accused who have been found guilty of dishonoring the name of God.

When we understand this, Jesus’ words at his Last Supper: “My body given for you,” and “My blood shed for you”, we begin to see why the cross, once an instrument of Roman brutality, became, and remains today, the symbol of God’s extraordinary love for the world.

The cross is not a charm, but yesterday’s barbaric execution tool. Yet this was the price for our forgiveness required by the holy and just God. We surely tremble at the cost God was willing to pay for our restoration.

Prayers – for Good Friday and Easter Day.

Almighty Father, look graciously upon this your people, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Note: Material in today’s Word on Wednesday is adapted from my book in the Reading the Bible Today series: Luke – An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

The post ‘The Cross…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The King…? https://anglicanconnection.com/the-king/ Tue, 28 Mar 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31124 The post ‘The King…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Royal events attract the attention of millions around the world. It is estimated some 4 billion people watched the funeral of her late Majesty, Queen Elizabeth II – more than twice the population of the world when she was born.

How different was another royal occasion, when Jesus rode into Jerusalem to the acclamation of the crowds calling on him as God’s King.

A King’s Welcome. The Gospels tell us that Jesus deliberately set the scene for his entry into Jerusalem that day. Riding into the city on the back of the foal of a donkey, he was fulfilling a prophecy about the Messiah made by Zechariah some 500 years before (Zechariah 9:9).

When Jesus prepared to ride the donkey, the disciples threw their cloaks on its back, and Luke records that as Jesus rode down from the Mount of Olives people kept spreading their cloaks on the road. His entry into Jerusalem had the hallmarks of a king entering his city (Luke 19:35f).

Indeed, Luke along with other Gospel writers wants us to feel just how much of a royal procession it was: As he was now approaching the path down from the Mount of Olives, the whole multitude of the disciples began to praise God joyfully with a loud voice for all the deeds of power that they had seen, saying, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!…” (Luke 19:37f).

The crowds were singing one of the festival psalms for the Passover Feast (Psalm 118:26). It’s a song of victory, a hymn of praise to the one God who never loses his battles and establishes his kingdom.

Peace was another theme: “…Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!” they sang. Peace was the angels’ song at the announcement of Jesus’ birth. Glory to God in the highest and peace to his people… the angels had sung (Luke 2:12).

However, there was an irony here that the crowds in their enthusiasm seemed to have missed: this king was not riding a warrior horse. It was no royal or presidential motorcade with an armed security.

And there is another element to that first Palm Sunday which Luke records: As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side. …  because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (Luke 19:41-44).

As Jesus came over the top of the Mount of Olives and saw the city, it is clear that uppermost in his thoughts were his suffering and the destruction of nation’s capital, David’s royal city. Yes, he was the king coming ‘in the name of the Lord’ as the people sang. But he knew he was not coming to take up David’s throne at that time as everyone expected. Rather, he foresaw the city of Jerusalem – a smoking, desolate ruin.

Why would this happen? Because Jerusalem failed to recognize the One who had visited it.

On that first Palm Sunday there were joy, acclamation, and tears. Yet, five days later the unthinkable occurred: Jesus was put to death by crucifixion. The contrast between the first Palm Sunday when crowds acclaimed Jesus as king and the day he was strung up on a cross, could not have been more stark. One day the crowds were saying he was God’s promised king; within a week the dying Jesus was exposed to the vulgar frivolity of the Roman soldiers as they offered him wine and made a party of it. “If you are the king of the Jews,” they mocked, “save yourself” (Luke 23:37).

The events of that Thursday evening and Friday had moved swiftly. Jesus had been betrayed, arrested, brought to trial before the Jewish religious leaders, before Herod, and before Pilate. Herod and Pilate had declared him innocent of the charges against him. But the Jewish leaders were adamant he should be put to death.

And when Jesus was nailed to the cross, Pilate the Roman governor in Judea had ordered, as was the custom, that the charge against Jesus be nailed above his head – ‘King of the Jews.’ With Jesus’ resurrection and his conquest of death, Pilate’s notice was prophetic.

Why then did Jesus die? Jesus himself answers the question. In Luke chapter 19, verse 10 he says, “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost”.

The whole of the New Testament and the voice of the Holy Spirit in our hearts tells us why: he died for you and for me. As we read in Romans chapter 5, verse 8 the punishment for our sin was laid on him. Indeed, when he was dying, he prayed, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34).

Everyone watching the scene that day knew he was innocent. The them he was praying for are all who shut their minds to the voice of truth, the voice of the Spirit, and the testimony of their conscience. He was praying for the Roman soldiers and the Jewish leaders; he was praying for the crowd and his followers. But he was also praying then for you and me, for none of us has perfectly honored him as we should.

And isn’t it also true that although we have heard the story of the cross, there are times when we have refused to let it change us? How often have we failed to reckon that our indifference or arrogance towards him contributed to his pain.

How encouraging it is to reflect on the twin themes of Palm Sunday and Good Friday. As we consider their significance, we need to ensure that our own relationship with the king is secure. And when the joy of that really touches us, surely we’ll want to share it with family and friends as well as many others.

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, in tender love towards humankind you sent your Son, our Savior Jesus Christ, to take our nature upon him and to suffer death on the cross, so that all should follow the example of his great humility. Grant that we may follow the example of his suffering and also be made partakers of his resurrection; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

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The Dead are Raised… https://anglicanconnection.com/the-dead-are-raised/ Tue, 21 Mar 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31117 The post ‘The Dead are Raised…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The subject of death is not something we usually discuss. It’s too personal and confronting. Yet it’s the ultimate certainty we all face. It’s why literature, film and philosophy so often dwell on the themes of our mortality. But it’s rare that anyone claims they can do anything about it. Death is assumed to be the inevitable end for everyone.

In John chapter 10 we learn that life had been heating up for Jesus in Jerusalem. The Jewish leaders had attempted to stone him for his apparent blasphemy (10:31).

So Jesus left the city for the region east of the Jordan River. There he learned that his friend Lazarus, brother of Martha and Mary, was dying in the village of Bethany, near Jerusalem. Then learning that Lazarus had died, and against the advice of his disciples who feared the Jewish leaders, Jesus returned to Bethany where he was first met by Martha.

In the course of their conversation where she said to Jesus that if he had come sooner her brother would not have died, he made an amazing assertion: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.”

His words are astonishing, for in saying, “I am the resurrection and the life…” Jesus wasn’t saying, ‘I promise resurrection and life’. Nor was he saying, ‘I procure,’ or, ‘I bring’ but ‘I am the resurrection and the life.’

Furthermore, in saying ‘I am’ he uses the very words God used when he disclosed his name to Moses. Unless Jesus is equal with God his words are nothing short of blasphemy.

“I am the resurrection and the life…” he says. “Do you believe this?” he asked Martha.

John records that Jesus then met Martha’s sister, Mary who fell at his feet and said, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

Once again Jesus was rebuked for not having come sooner. But unlike Martha Mary allows her grief to flow. John tells us then that Martha and Mary weren’t the only ones to grieve:

Jesus wept (11:35).

These words constitute the shortest verse in the Bible. How poignant, how stark it is.

The word wept that John uses speaks of a deep anguished cry of grief. It’s the cry of heartfelt loss, the kind of grief that explodes from the depths of our inner being.

Why did Jesus react this way? He didn’t weep like this when news came that Jairus’s daughter had died. Certainly Lazarus was a close friend but Jesus knew he was going to pull him out of that tomb.

Jesus wept. I suggest he was grieving for our human plight. No matter how successful we are, how good and compassionate we are, death awaits us all.

Men and women, created in God’s image, are now broken images and broken images cannot endure the pure light of God’s perfection and glory. Jesus was grieving for what we as men and women had lost. As in Adam all die, Paul the Apostle writes in First Corinthians chapter 15.

At Lazarus’s graveside, Jesus felt the full impact of this and wept. But there is a sense in which Jesus grieved at what our loss would mean for him. It would mean that he himself would have to die. Only through his death could he conquer death and raise to life anyone who turns to him and believes in him. For as in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Cor. 15:22).

Could it be true? The witness of Jesus’ own resurrection, the New Testament, the evidence of history, the existence of the Christian church, point to the conclusion that Jesus’ words were the truth. Apart from Jesus Christ we have no certainty about the future.

And if there is a future life, how can we be assured that we are good enough to achieve it? Most people are aware of their failures – failures that we don’t want to talk about, let alone tell anyone about. It’s one of the reasons John Newton’s Amazing Grace is so well known: it speaks to our sense of lostness, our need to be rescued and our hope for the future.

John’s record doesn’t stop with Jesus’ words to Martha and Mary. He went to the tomb and asked that the stone be rolled away. We can only imagine the scene. A graveyard, a cave in a hillside, filled with bodies and bones. The stench of rotting bodies as the gravestone was rolled aside.

And then, standing at the entrance of the tomb, Jesus called, “Lazarus, come out!”

For a moment everyone must have thought he was mad. But then, a sight to behold emerged: still in his grave clothes Lazarus appeared.

Voices around us today insist that because we now know the laws of nature we can be sure that miracles like this can’t happen. To which Dr. John Lennox, emeritus professor of mathematics and philosophy at Oxford University, responds, ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as ‘a miracle’’.

Men and women have come a long way in understanding and harnessing quantum chemistry, physics and medicine, but nothing compares with the naked power that Jesus wielded at that moment.

The scene is a picture of a time yet to come when Jesus will once again appear on the stage of world events. On that day he will cry out in a loud voice, “Come forth,” and all the dead from throughout time will rise.

The question Jesus had asked Martha that day was: “Do you believe this?” Let me ask, can you say with Martha, “Yes Lord. I believe that you are the Christ, the Son of God, who was to come into the world?”

Death is not the end of our story. Rather for all who turn to Jesus and believe in him, death opens the door to a new beginning of life that is everlasting.

A prayer. We beseech you, almighty God, to look in mercy on your people; so that by your great goodness we may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

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In our troubled world many long for the days of the great revivals – perhaps the days of the Wesleys and George Whitfield in England and in the US, or the years of Billy Graham, or the days of great revival in East Africa.

Let me suggest we shouldn’t be discouraged. Jesus himself began with a small group of men and women and look what happened: by the 4th century AD the influence of God’s gospel had had spread throughout the Roman Empire. This hadn’t happened through armed conflict but through the work of God’s Word and God’s Spirit.

Come with me to the events that unfold in John chapter 9 – a chapter that reads like a drama in three Acts.

Act 1. As Jesus passed by, he saw a man blind from his birth. And his disciples asked him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’ Jesus answered, ‘It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be made manifest in him. We must work the works of him who sent me’ (9:1-4a).

A blind man begging on the side of the road was a familiar sight. But this man hadn’t contracted blindness through the dusty, disease laden air of those roads. He had been born blind, and the question Jesus’ close followers asked reflected Jewish theology: ‘Who sinned? This man or his parents?’ they asked. People often ask a similar question today when things go awry: ‘What have I done to deserve this?’

Jesus’ response was unexpected: ‘Sin hadn’t led to this man’s blindness. Rather, it was to reveal God’s power’. Consider the simplicity of the drama that followed. Jesus doesn’t look for any expression of faith, he simply acts. And like all the gospel miracles, he wields the creative power of God. It’s a miracle which speaks of the uniqueness of Jesus. Jesus is a unique man doing unique things.

He spat on the ground, made clay and anointed the man’s eyes. ‘Go and wash…’ he commanded. The man obeyed and returned seeing.

Just think how this simply stated drama would be written up today. There’d be a detailed description of what Jesus said and did. There’d be interviews with people who witnessed it, together with the inevitable question: ‘How did you feel?’ The gospel record almost seems flat and disappointing. But what mattered was what was done, not what was felt.

A marvellous miracle had occurred. Now what?

In Act 2 five very different conversations unfold, revealing that the man had not only been physically blind but also spiritually blind. The first conversation was with confused neighbors. ‘I am the man,’ he said. ‘The man Jesus healed me’ (9:8-12).

But signs of tension emerge with a second conversation. The Pharisees disputed the credentials of someone who had healed him on the Sabbath (9:13-17). No one from God would heal on the Sabbath; how could a sinner do such signs? ‘What do you think?’, they ask the man. ‘I think he’s the prophet,’ he responded.

In a third conversation the Pharisees spoke with the healed man’s parents. In response to their questioning, they insisted their son was born blind but could now see. Anyone who said the man who had healed him is the Christ, would be excommunicated, the Pharisees warned. ‘Don’t involve us,’ the parents said. ‘Ask our son. He is of age.’

And when the Pharisees spoke with the healed man, they aggressively observed that he had been born ‘in utter sin’. ‘Keep quiet and all will be well,’ they said. But the man wasn’t shaken. He knew that he was born blind and that now he can see. He was also beginning to see that these revered leaders were blind to the truth.

‘We know that God has spoken to Moses,’ they said, ‘but as for this man, we don’t know where he is from’. ‘You call Jesus a sinner,’ the man responded. ‘If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.’

The fifth conversation is one of the most beautiful found in the Bible (9:35-37). The man has just been rejected by the religious leaders, but Jesus seeks him out. ‘Do you believe in the Son of Man?’, Jesus asks. And the man’s response is honest and open: ‘I would believe if…’ Jesus’ response is stunning: ‘You have seen him. With your own eyes you have seen me, the Son of Man, And now I am speaking to your mind and heart, reaching the depths of your soul with who I am.

Lord I believe,’ he responded. And he worshipped Jesus as though he were God.

There are few mountain peaks higher in John’s gospel. The man began by calling Jesus a man (9:11); then a prophet (9:17); and then, ‘this man must be from God’. Now he worships Jesus as Lord.

It’s a road that many people travel as they awaken to their understanding of Jesus: he did live; he is a prophet; he must be from God; He is God – He is my Lord.

But there is a Third Act as Jesus draws out the meaning (9:39-41). “For judgment I came into this world,” Jesus said, “so that those who do not see may see, and so that those who see may become blind”.

Whenever Jesus spoke, he created tension within people. This continues today, for every time we talk about Jesus, people will react in one of two ways. Some will want to find out more and in time, come into the light of faith. Others will choose to be drawn into the darkness of unbelief – a terrifying thought.

But there is a very positive side to the healing of the formerly blind man. Through the miracle Jesus performed, through his own testimony, and through the testimony of the healed man, John reveals that Jesus is truly the man from heaven.

Furthermore, the miracle is a parable. In the healing of the man born blind, God shows us his greater purpose: to give us spiritual sight – something he alone can do. We can’t get it by our own efforts. God opens eyes, drawing us to the truth and a living faith in the Lord Jesus.

A prayer. Almighty God, grant that we, who justly deserve to be punished for our sinful deeds, may in your mercy and kindness be pardoned and restored; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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In his Pensées Blaise Pascal, the 17th century French mathematician and philosopher wrote, ‘Everyone seeks happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war and of others avoiding it, is the same desire in both, attended with different views. They will never take the least step but to this object…’

John the Gospel writer tells us of a woman at a well in Samaria two thousand years ago who would have agreed.

Like us, she longed for happiness, but it had eluded her. Five failed marriages testified to that. Thinking that love and sex and marriage would give her life meaning and happiness, she thought that each new man would be the answer. But each time she made the same mistake. Her life was a mess. She felt insecure, lonely, and dissatisfied.

An unexpected conversation. But there came a day when her life was transformed through an unexpected conversation with a Jewish man.

Ignoring social, cultural and political taboos, Jesus initiated a conversation with her through a simple request for water from the well. He didn’t talk about her life or matters of faith – at least to begin with. Rather he spoke then, as he speaks to us today, with concern and respect, meeting us where we are.

However, it wasn’t long before he took the conversation to another level by speaking to her about living water. This provided a natural opportunity for her to open up about her hopes.

It happened this way. Jesus said to her, “Everyone who drinks of this water will be thirsty again, but those who drink of the water that I will give them will never be thirsty. The water that I will give will become in them a spring of water gushing up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water, so that I may never be thirsty or have to keep coming here to draw water” (John 4:12-15).

Jesus offered her water that would satisfy her deep inner spiritual thirst. He was saying that he is the answer to the emptiness and the longing for happiness that gnaw at our souls.

Most of us aren’t willing to acknowledge this and the woman that day was no exception. We pretend we’re doing well but the reality is that we often live closer to despairthan we admit. So, we endeavor to offset our sense of emptiness by filling our social calendar, making money, being a success, even pursuing sexual adventure. But it never works.

No matter how successful we are, no matter how intense the emotional relationships we might experience, nothing can be a substitute for the relationship with God for which we are made. But if we’re going to find Jesus’ answer to our longing for happiness, first we have to admit our need.

Jesus said to her, “Go, call your husband, and come back.” The woman answered him, “I have no husband.” Jesus said to her, “You are right in saying, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one you have now is not your husband. What you have said is true!” The woman said to him, “Sir, I see that you are a prophet…”(John 4:16-19)

Suddenly she realized that Jesus, whom she had taken for a progressive Jewish man, was nothing less than a prophet with supernatural knowledge of her life. She knew enough about religion to realize that she was being challenged to sort out her relationship with God.

The big question was where to do this – the temple in Jerusalem, or a house of worship in Samaria? Jesus’s response is, in today’s world, politically incorrect: “You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:22-24).

Jesus isn’t saying that it doesn’t matter what you believe so long as you’re sincere. Spirit and truth are not just synonyms for sincerity. When Jesus speaks of truth, he is talking about the inner reality of God’s being which becomes visible to us through him.

True worshippers must worship the Father in spirit and truth. This can only relate to who Jesus is and what he has done for us. Later Jesus says, “I am the way and the truth and the life; no one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

The woman responded, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When he comes, he will proclaim all things to us”.Jesus’s response is breath-taking, “I am he, the one who is speaking to you” – literally, ‘I who am speaking to you, I am’ (John 4:26).

Twelve hundred years before, God had revealed his name to Moses: “I am that I am that is my name”. Jesus was not just claiming to be the Messiah but to be one with God.

The water that Jesus promised the woman that day would not just quench her thirst for real life but would bring her into a deep, satisfying and eternal friendship with the one true creator-redeemer God.

Four centuries later, Augustine, the Bishop of North Africa wrote, ‘Our souls are restless until they find their rest in Thee (God)’.

The eternal life that Jesus talks about, the water that will truly satisfy us, isn’t found in the acquisition of the latest phone or some new sexual experience. Indeed, the answer to our cry for happiness isn’t in a new religious experience. It involves a personal, mutually committed relationship with Jesus. Jesus is God in the flesh. He gives us life by giving us himself.

Consider what the woman did. Leaving her water jar John records (4:28). The symbol of her emptiness now lies abandoned at Jesus’ feet. She had found the living water for she had found Him. Things would never be the same again.

There are tens of thousands of people like that woman, with empty lives. We don’t have to wait for anything special to happen to start a conversation with them. Rather, we need to be praying that God will open our eyes to opportunities to stimulate curiosity, awaken an awareness of need. It could even start with a question, ‘Have you ever read the real story about Jesus?’ followed by an invitation to look into the first eighteen sentences of that story over coffee (using TheWord121 – a very accessible annotated version of John’s Gospel).

A prayer. Almighty God, we confess that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves: keep us outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls, so that we may be defended from all adversities that may happen to the body, and from all evil thoughts that may assault and hurt the soul; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

© John G. Mason

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God so loved the world… https://anglicanconnection.com/god-so-loved-the-world-2/ Tue, 28 Feb 2023 23:42:56 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31093 The post ‘God so loved the world…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In today’s world, God is not so much dead as cancelled. He is not to be spoken about. If he does exist, there’s nothing good to say about him: he is grim and uncaring.

How different this is from what the Bible actually says about God. Consider the most well- known words in the Bible: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

They occur in the context of a conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, a Jewish leader who had come to see him late at night. Nicodemus was one of the thousands who had been impressed and he wanted to meet Jesus for a personal chat.

Jesus’ rise to stardom had happened very quickly and his popularity was enormous. He said the most amazing things and backed them up with the most extraordinary actions: he healed the sick, raised the dead to life, and overcame the powers of evil. No matter what confronted him, he was always in control. His person and presence had so great an impact that he is also mentioned by other historians of that era – such as Tacitus and Josephus.

God’s love. The Bible tells us that God’s essential nature is love. In Psalm 145:8-9 we read: The Lord is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love. The Lord is good to all, and his compassion is over all that he has made.

The theme of the love of God permeates both the Old and New Testaments. What is more, we find that his love is not sparked by something attractive about us. God loves because love is at the very heart of his being.

Now it’s important to note that our English word ‘love’ translates four Greek words (the language in which the New Testament was written). One word is eros, from which we get our word erotic. It’s a word associated with intense emotional feeling. It’s a word that pagan religions have long used in part as a reference to the mystical experience of the supernatural. One form of yoga in Hinduism exploits sexual intercourse as a technique for achieving spiritual enlightenment.

But nowhere does the New Testament use the word eros. It uses a rare word in the original Greek: agape. There are no rapturous, mystical experiences associated with agape. Rather, agape is committed to serve the best interests of the ones who are loved.

Furthermore, John tells us, God so loved the world that he reaches out to all men and women. This is breath-taking. God could have shut humanity down at the moment of their rebellion. We deserved nothing less. But God in his love had a bigger and very costly plan in mind that would benefit a world that rejected him.

God’s gift. He gave us his Son…

John is not saying that God loved world enough to give his Son. Rather, it was out of God’s love for the world that he gave his Son.

These words are amongst the most famous in the Bible. Consider what they say about Jesus. He is ‘the one who came down from heaven, the one and only Son of God’ (John 1:14).

Being from God, the Son personally reveals to us what God is like. As Jesus says later, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). More than ever we need to hear him and respond to him.

But significantly, God didn’t give his Son just to shine his light into a dark and troubled world. God so loved the world that he gave his Son to rescue it. The gift would come to its climax and fulfillment when the Son was crucified.

t was with Jesus’ death that we discover the immeasurable depth of God’s love. For it was through Jesus’ voluntary, sacrificial death that God opened the door once and for all whereby he could forgive men and women who had shown no love for him.

God’s offer. John tells us of the offer that God holds out: Whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Eternal life is contrasted with perishing. John doesn’t tell us what perishing is but he does tell us that it will be a most unwelcome experience. Elsewhere we learn, mainly through Jesus’ own teaching, that it is a very serious thing to refuse God’s gift. Perishing won’t mean perpetually partying with friends. Everything that is good, beautiful, and true will be lost. T.S. Elliot put it this way, Hell is oneself. Hell is alone…

Life eternal will be a life of perfection and beauty, where there will be no more pain or suffering, self-absorption or injustice. It will be fullness of joy in the glory of the Lord.

God’s beneficiaries. John tells us who will benefit: Whoever believes in the Son… We can’t achieve eternal life by our own efforts or merits. We are totally dependent on God’s generous gift. To turn to Jesus, the Son of God and to trust him, is the key to our benefiting from God’s precious gift.

In our natural state we don’t want to accept God’s offer because we know it would mean a radical lifestyle change. And we don’t want to change. We would rather stay in the dark than move into the light and admit what we are really like.

I’ve wondered how long the conversation between Nicodemus and Jesus recorded in John chapter 3, lasted. Nicodemus had arrived late at night. Could it be that as he left there were the first glimmerings of dawn on the horizon? And as he saw the rising sun, did he smile with joy at the dawn of a new day, or did he turn his eyes back upon the darkness of the night?

This is the choice that confronts you and me, and indeed the world.

A prayer. Almighty God, we ask you to look on the heartfelt desires of your servants, and stretch forth the right hand of your power to be our defense against all our enemies; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

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Ash Wednesday https://anglicanconnection.com/ash-wednesday-4/ Wed, 22 Feb 2023 05:06:14 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31085 The post ‘Ash Wednesday’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Human relationships on the personal and international level must rate as the greatest challenge for the world’s future. As I remarked this day last year, the invasion of Ukraine reveals an unspoken issue that confronts us: humanity is flawed.

The Russian author, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn once commented, If only there were evil people somewhere insidiously committing evil deeds, and it were necessary only to separate them from the rest of us and destroy them. But the line dividing good and evil cuts through the heart of every human being. And who is willing to destroy a piece of his own heart?

Today is Ash Wednesday, the first day of the season of Lent that continues through to the day before Easter Day. You may find it helpful to use the six weeks of Lent as a special time for daily Bible reading, honest reflection, and prayer.

Indeed, the prayer for Ash Wednesday and for Lent, focuses on God’s forgiveness of the repentant person and spiritual renewal. The Lord Jesus challenges us to know the Scriptures, reflect on them and to pray, not just in Lent but throughout the year.

However, such is our flawed nature that we can all deceive ourselves. We can say one thing and do another. We may read the Bible and pray, attend church, and give to the poor, but our hearts can remain unchanged in our relationship with the Lord, as well as with one another.

Consider Jesus’ warning against hypocrisy in his Sermon on the Mount: “Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1).

Knowing better than we, how deceitful our hearts can be (Jeremiah 17:9), Jesus warns us against using our faith to win the praise of others and make a name for ourselves.

In a world where religion is publicly decried, we may not win popularity in the wider community. However, it can be a different story within the life of the church. Preachers and church leaders, musicians and generous givers can generate praise if they work at it. And social media can easily be used to promote this.

It is against this that Jesus warns us. Professing Christians who long for the accolades of others will miss out on the true reward that comes from the living God. All they have is an empty faith, with no lasting value.

Consider what he says about giving and prayer.

Giving. Look at v.2: “So whenever you give alms, do not sound a trumpet before you, as the hypocrites in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be praised by others.”

Trumpets may be a metaphor: we shouldn’t sound our own trumpet or boast about our giving to the needy. But trumpets may also have a literal meaning. In Jesus’ day the Temple trumpets were sometimes blown, calling on people to make a special donation when there was a pressing need. Anyone watching would see who responded.

Giving to support the ministry of God’s Word and providing assistance for those in need is biblical. Here Jesus is saying that to give so others know what we’re doing, whether in church or at a charity function, is hypocritical.

Hypocritical religion is not from the heart. It’s motivated by self-interest. Jesus is saying here that hypocrites give in order to be honored by those around them. And, he states, “I tell you they have their reward.

“But when you give alms,” he says, “do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your alms may be done in secret; and your father who sees in secret will reward you.”

To ensure that we’re not proud or smug about our generosity, Jesus uses a vivid metaphor: the right hand should not know what the left hand is doing. No one, apart from God, will know about this private giving. He will see our real motives.

To be rewarded by God is the best kind of blessing. Approval by others is transient. Approval from God is eternal.

Prayer is another area where we can be tempted to look for human recognition. Look at verse 5: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward…”

Prayers in the synagogues were typically led by a synagogue member. To be invited to lead the prayers was a mark of distinction. But again, Jesus knows how easy it is for anyone leading prayers to draw attention to themselves – perhaps through the literary quality of their prayer or their tone of voice.

Significantly, Jesus focuses on private prayer. He isn’t critizing public prayer, but he well knows that who we are when we pray in the privacy of our room is who we truly are. In praying privately, we can be nothing but genuine and honest before God. And uncluttered, heartfelt prayer is what God hears.

How important it is that on this Ash Wednesday – and every day – we heed Jesus’ warning: “Beware of practising your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” God delights in our honest and heartfelt, loving and loyal relationship with him.

A prayer for Ash Wednesday: Almighty and everlasting God, you hate nothing that you have made, and you forgive the sins of all who are penitent: create and make in us new and contrite hearts, so that we, lamenting our sins and acknowledging our wretchedness, may obtain from you, the God of all mercy, perfect remission and forgiveness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

A prayer for peace. God of the nations, whose kingdom rules over all, have mercy on our broken and troubled world, especially the people of Ukraine and other war zones. Shed abroad your peace in the hearts of all men and women and banish from them the spirit that makes for war. We ask this so that all races and people may learn to live as members of one people and in obedience to your laws; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A prayer for all in need. Almighty God, we commend to your fatherly goodness all who are in any way afflicted or distressed, especially the people of Turkey and Syria suffering from the catastrophic earthquake. May it please you to comfort and relieve them according to their needs, giving them patience in their sufferings, and a happy issue out of all their afflictions. All this we ask for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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The Hope of Glory… https://anglicanconnection.com/the-hope-of-glory-2/ Tue, 14 Feb 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31074 The post ‘The Hope of Glory…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Aspects of Christianity can seem far-fetched to our 21st century minds. The miraculous elements can make it feel like the story of Santa Claus or fairies at the bottom of the garden. But before we dismiss the supernatural events of the Bible as fiction, it’s worth remembering GK Chesterton’s words about truth and fiction: ‘Truth must necessarily be stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it’.

I make these comments because today we turn to an extraordinary event recorded in the writings of Matthew, Mark and Luke.

In Matthew chapter 17, verse 1 we read: Six days later,… Matthew wants us to be in no doubt that, just as the previous conversation had occurred when Jesus had asked his disciples, “Who do you say that I am?” (16:15) so did the event that he now records.

Eyewitnesses. Matthew is specific. Jesus took three of his close followers, Peter and James and John, to a high mountain. Unlike what we find in other religions, there was more than one eyewitness to times of supernatural revelation. In this case there were three eyewitnesses to this significant moment in Jesus’ life.

And what an astonishing occasion it was. Jesus was transfigured, literally, metamorphosed before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became white as light (17:2).

The dazzling white light of the sun is Matthew’s metaphor for the brilliance and purity of the bright light that emanated from Jesus. In both Luke and Acts the reference to clothes as white as light speaks of supernatural glory.

Furthermore, two of the great prophets, Moses and Elijah – representing the law and the prophets – were present and spoke with Jesus. (17:3).

In a conversation six days earlier, Jesus had asked the disciples who people thought he was. They had first responded, ‘John the Baptist or Elijah, or one of the prophets.’ And when Jesus had pressed them for their own view, Peter had replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (16:16).

But here on the mountain it was obvious that Peter had not yet worked out what this meant for he said to Jesus: “Lord, if you wish, I will make three tents here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah” (16:4). Peter had no idea what he was saying.

God’s voice. But before he could burble on with something else, a cloud enveloped them all and they heard a voice, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased; listen to him” (17:5). God the Father was speaking! Overcome by the awesome scene before them and the words they heard, the disciples fell on their faces and were terrified (17:6).

But Jesus, seeing their fear, told them to get up and not to be afraid. Furthermore, walking down the mountain that day, he commanded Peter, James and John not to tell anyone what they had witnessed until after he had been raised from the dead (17:9).

God the Father’s words confirmed Jesus’ identity as his unique Son. That day Peter, James and John witnessed Jesus’ majestic glory – the glory that reveals the utter holiness and power of the eternal Son of God who had taken on human form.

Much later, Peter writes of the event in his Second Letter: We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ but we had been eye-witnesses of his majesty (1:16).

God’s words not only confirmed for the disciples the divine status of Jesus and his supreme power and authority, but also assured them of the authenticity of all he taught and promised.

Significantly, the scene also revealed that there are at least two persons in the Godhead. The event also unveiled the extraordinary humility of God in his willingness to serve us in our greatest need. God’s Son was willing to put aside his true glory and come amongst us as one of us.

And so we should heed God’s voice and listen to the Son. In the midst of the myriad of voices today it is so easy to get distracted and depressed because we neglect to read and meditate on God’s Word.

As we look at Jesus’ transfiguration through the lens of his death and resurrection and ascension, we begin to see its greater significance. Imagine if Jesus had just disappeared after his resurrection and ascension. The transfiguration is a preview of Jesus in his ascended and kingly glory. It also gives us a glimpse of his glory when he returns.

The transfiguration confirmed Jesus’ status as he prepared for his coming arrest and death. It also informed and inspired the disciples in their mission and their preaching and ultimately, in their writing.

The hope of glory. And there are further implications. The day will come when all of God’s people will share in the glory of Christ! In his Letter to the Romans, Paul the Apostle writes: I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory about to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the children of God (8:18).

In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis puts it this way: ‘If we let Him – for we can prevent Him, if we choose – He will make the feeblest and filthiest of us into a god or goddess, a dazzling, radiant, immortal creature, pulsating all through with such energy and joy and wisdom and love as we cannot now imagine, a bright stainless mirror which reflects back to God perfectly (though, of course, on a smaller scale) His own boundless power and delight and goodness. The process will be long and in parts very painful; but that is what we are in for.  Nothing less.

A prayer. Father in heaven, whose Son Jesus Christ was wonderfully transfigured before chosen witnesses upon the holy mountain, and spoke of his suffering in Jerusalem: give us strength so to hear his voice and follow him, that in the world to come we may see him as he is; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry here.

You might like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death, from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

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Freedom… https://anglicanconnection.com/freedom/ Tue, 07 Feb 2023 21:16:26 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31063 The post ‘Freedom…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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“This world has no importance and whoever recognizes that wins his freedom. And that’s just it—I hate you because you are bound. I alone am free. Rejoice, for you finally have an emperor to teach you freedom…” So speaks the Emperor Caligula, in Albert Camus’ play of the same name.

But did Caligula represent true freedom? History records he used his power in self-indulgent extravagance, no matter how cruel or disgusting. He did whatever he pleased.

Many consider freedom is the ability to do whatever you want without external restraints. For the extreme capitalist it means no market controls; for the extreme socialist it means the power of the collective to impose its will on the individual without restraint; for the extreme hedonist it means the license to follow the lusts of the heart.

In his highly respected Sermon on the Mount Jesus lays out the pattern for living that he expects of his people. Significantly, he doesn’t simply set out a list of do’s and don’ts. Rather he opens up the real meaning of love for God in loving our neighbor. Let me touch on themes we read in Matthew chapter 5, verses 21 through 48.

Anger (5:21, 22): “You have heard that it was said to those of ancient times, ‘You shall not murder’; and ‘whoever murders shall be liable to judgment.’

‘You shall not murder’ is the 6th Commandment of the Ten. But consider Jesus’s words: “But I say to you that if you are angry with a brother or sister, you will be liable to judgment”. He is saying that our angry and hateful thoughts are just as problematical as the actual action of murder.

“…And,” he continues, “if you insult a brother or sister, you will be liable to the council; and if you say, ‘You fool,’ you will be liable to the hell of fire.

Anyone who thinks or says to another, Fool or Idiot, says Jesus, is subject to the fires of God’s judgment – separation from God and from all that is true and good, a separation he likens to the fires of Gehenna, the Valley of Hinnom outside Jerusalem where the city refuse was dumped and burned. The judgement we think is reserved for the literal murderer, also hangs over everyone who is angry, bitter or contemptuous.

“So, when you are offering your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first be reconciled to your brother or sister, and then come and offer your gift (Matthew 5:23). DA Carson comments, ‘How easy it is to substitute ceremony for integrity, purity and love; but Jesus will have none of it.’ Before going to church, Jesus says, ensure your relationship with others is sorted out.

Lust. “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery’” Jesus continues (5:27). Society often turns a blind eye towards adultery, undercutting marriage as a lifelong commitment. However, Jesus sharpens the focus: “But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (5:28). By labeling lust adultery, he reveals a deeper level to the 7th commandment in terms of the 10th which prohibits covetousness.

Jesus is not prohibiting sex: the sexual relationship between a man and woman in marriage is a God-given gift. Nor is he prohibiting the normal attraction that exists between men and women. His issue is with the desires of our hearts controlling our thoughts and behavior.

Oaths. “You have heard that it was said in ancient times, ‘You shall not swear falsely, but carry out the vows you have made to the Lord…’” Jesus says (5:33).

There are Old Testament references permitting oath-taking, even in God’s name. For example, in Deuteronomy 10:20 we read, You shall fear the Lord your God. Him you will serve, to him you will cleave, and you will swear by his name. There are also references in the New Testament: Paul swears on God’s name and calls on God to be his witness – as we read in Romans 1:9;  2 Corinthians 1:23; and 1 Thessalonians 2:5. We also find God swearing oaths – that he will not flood the world again (Genesis 9:9-11); that he will send a Redeemer (Luke 1:68, 73); that he will raise his son from the dead (Acts 2:27-31).

All this swearing points to its real purpose – the importance of telling the truth. As one commentator has noted, swearing an oath makes the truth all the more solemn and sure.

Why then does Jesus speak about swearing falsely? Jewish commentary on the Old Testament law in Jesus’ day set out to define what oaths were binding and what were not. One rabbi taught that if you swore an oath by Jerusalem, you were NOT bound by your oath. If, however, you swore an oath toward Jerusalem, you were bound by your oath.

The swearing of oaths became a game you played. Depending on how you played it, you could get away with lying and deception. It was against this kind of casuistry that Jesus spoke.

By relating every oath to God, because everything is ultimately under God’s direction, he presses the point of truthfulness. Let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes’ and your ‘No’ be ‘No’. Who hasn’t distorted the truth – for example, to put others down and to push ourselves up? Or who of us has said we will do something and then reneged on the commitment?

Rights. “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…’” (5:38) – words of the Mosaic law found in Exodus 21 and Leviticus 24.

The law is both prescriptive and restrictive. If an assailant knocked out another person’s eye, one of the assailant’s eyes is forfeit – but not the second eye. The law provided justice but at the same time it prevented the escalation of feuding and bloodshed.

Into this scene Jesus now introduces a radical response: “But I tell you, Do not resist an evil person…” Does this mean Jesus’ followers shouldn’t take up arms, enter the police force or become sentencing judges and magistrates?

Commentators agree that Jesus is speaking about personal abuse towards his people. In times where we might suffer because of our faith, we should nevertheless stand up against evil for the sake of our neighbours.

Love. “You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you…” (5:43).

Behind Jesus’ words lies the deeper truth about God: how good and gracious he is to both the righteous and the unrighteous – he makes the rain to fall on the just and the unjust. If God is like this, what would our world be like if God’s people prayed for all who oppose God?

Perfection. “Be perfect therefore as your heavenly Father is perfect” (5:48).

People used to say how much better the world would be if everyone got back to the basics of the Ten Commandments. But this isn’t what Jesus is saying. His diagnosis of the human dilemma isn’t a matter of do’s and don’ts. Rather he sees a much deeper problem – the desires of our hearts.

Indeed, under certain conditions the muck at the bottom of our hearts, surfaces. We all need God’s help and, amazingly, this is something God is willing to provide.

We get a glimpse of this where Jesus continues: ‘so that you may be children of your Father in heaven…” (5:45). God wants to work within us, to pass on his moral genes. He wants us to bear the fruit of the Spirit – fruit that reveals the work of God’s Word and his Spirit in our lives.

Jesus is telling us that our broken relationship with God has consequences: judgement and the fires of Gehenna. But as we read on in Matthew and the rest of the New Testament, we learn that Jesus himself has paid the penalty of our self-absorption.  Yes, we all like sheep have gone astray, but the Lord has laid on Jesus the penalty we deserve. He did this because God’s nature is also to have mercy. When Jesus died, he took the penalty for our hatred, our deceit, our lust, our insistence on our rights, our lack of love – indeed for all our imperfections.

Where is our hope for freedom – in a long list of do’s and don’ts? Or is our freedom found in confessing our broken relationship with Christ and in a heartfelt desire to honor him?

Camus’ Caligula seemed free to do anything he wanted. But was he really free? The play concludes with Caligula facing his murderers, saying: “I have chosen a wrong path, a path that leads to nothing. My freedom isn’t the right one…. Oh, how oppressive is this darkness!”

True freedom is not the licence to do as we like, but the liberty to do what we know is right.

A prayer. Almighty and most merciful Father, we have erred and strayed from your ways like lost sheep. We have followed too much our own ways and the desires of our own hearts, and have broken your holy laws. We have left undone the things that we ought to have done, and we have done what we ought not to have done. Yet, good Lord, have mercy upon us; restore all those who are truly penitent, according to your promises declared to us in Jesus Christ our Lord. And grant merciful Father, for his sake, that we may live a godly and obedient life, to the glory of your holy name.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Salt and Light in a Troubled World https://anglicanconnection.com/salt-and-light-in-a-troubled-world/ Wed, 01 Feb 2023 04:27:55 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31057 The post ‘Salt and Light in a Troubled World’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Loud voices today insist there is no God, leaving us adrift on the ocean of life without an agreed moral compass. Persuasive voices appeal to our basic, albeit unthinking instincts, while the profounder, wiser voices that speak to the depths of our souls are drowned out.

Into this world of confusion and noise, anger and division, Jesus’ timeless words to all his followers stand out: “You are the salt of the earth” and “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:13, 14).

Jesus’ metaphor of salt is double-edged: his followers are to bring out the flavor of what it means to be men and women; we are also to act as a preservative, slowing down the decay of society. Both a tall order!

He has in mind the impact of the counter-cultural lifestyle he has just identified in his eight beatitudes – the ‘blessed’ who would experience the incomparable joys of God’s kingdom (Matthew 5:3-12). They are the people who understand their spiritual poverty before God, who mourn their failure to honor God and who grieve for a world that turns its back on God; they are ones who, instead of engaging in the power play and deceptions of the world, walk the tougher path of humility and service, truth and peace.

Indeed, it was because Jesus knew humanity without God would always spiral away from truth and goodness, that he called on his followers to be the salt of the earth. He expects everyone of us who has turned to him in repentance and faith, to live in a way that exemplifies the beauty, goodness and joy of Godly living, and slow down the rot of self-interest and greed, of injustice and the unchecked power-play of social elites. Today’s world either ignores or simply rejects the reality that none of us is good. We’re all flawed.

As Jesus was all too aware the world needs good and godly examples pointing to him and his kingdom. But this will only happen when his followers don’t become insipid. That’s why he warns against salt losing its saltiness: “…if salt has lost its taste, how shall its saltiness be restored? It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13b).

NaCl is a stable compound. However, in the ancient world, salt was obtained more from salt marshes and contained many impurities. The actual salt could be leeched out, leaving a substance that tasted salty but in fact was worthless. ‘Watch out,’ Jesus warns, ‘that you don’t become insipid, wishy-washy fools’.

How do people view you? Do you claim to be a believer, but your life remains unchanged? Is your lifestyle directed by the culture or by the Bible? Are you just as greedy, unforgiving, and as selfish as everyone around you? ‘If you call yourself a follower of mine,’ Jesus says, ‘let your life be transformed by my words, for “You are the salt of the earth”’.

In his Letter to the Colossians Paul the Apostle writes: Conduct yourselves wisely toward outsiders, making the most of the time… Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone (4:5-6).

Salt here is a metaphor for sparkling conversations that trigger questions about life. Have you considered ways you could use news items and opinion columns to ask questions and spark conversations about the goodness of God and his good news?

“You are the light of the world…” Jesus continues (Matthew 5:14). Negatively he is saying that there is a darkness about our human existence – something we easily forget because we live in an age that has turned away from God’s compass bearings.

Up until the 1970s morality in the West was grounded in the Judaeo-Christian ethic. But now all has changed. Few leaders anywhere would challenge the prevailing assumption that there is no morally binding objective authority or truth above the individual.

Some 700 years before Jesus was born, Isaiah wrote of the birth of God’s King. In chapter 9 he speaks of the people walking in darkness and seeing a great light: On those living in a land where the shadow of death falls, a light has dawned. A child will be born. He will be called “Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”

Indeed, in John chapter 8 we read Jesus’ electrifying words: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life”. God, the source of all true light, has come into our world in person. Jesus, the light who reveals God, calls us out from the darkness of our own ego into the light.

But how will our world today come to know him? “You are the light of the world,” Jesus says. “A city built on a hill cannot be hid. No one after lighting a lamp puts it under the bushel basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all in the house…” (Matthew 5:14f).

‘Everything you are, everything you do,’ Jesus says, ‘must reflect all I have taught you.’ He expects us to reflect the light of God in our lives to the world. Yet do we? Do we endeavor to live out what he teaches in his Sermon on the Mount? Or do we hide the light of our faith?

“Let your light shine before others,” Jesus says, “so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven…” (Matthew 5:16).

‘Live your life in the light of my words,’ he says, ‘and others will be drawn to my light and love’. It’s an awesome thought. We’re all involved. When we’re tempted to despair at the moral decline around us, we need to ask ourselves, ‘How do my family and friends, my colleagues see me? Just like everyone else, or as someone who knows the hope and the joy of God’s gospel?’

Jesus calls us to two tasks – to be salt and light. As salt we are to play our part as Godly examples of what it means to be men and women and so slow down society’s decay. As light we are to awaken people to God’s truth, with its hope and joy. Beware therefore of sin or compromise that reduces your Godly influence as salt. Beware of hiding the light of your faith through laziness or fear.

How are we to do this in a world that thinks it has all the answers? Ask questions. Ask if there is any real and long-lasting hope in the noise of today. And look for ways to show how good God is.

Pray for God’s grace that the light in your life will shine for everyone to see – in your kindness and care for others; in the way you cope with the challenges of life. Jesus will use our good works and our words to draw people to his light so that on the last day they too will glorify God. “You are the salt of the earth,… You are the light of the world.”

Prayers: God, our refuge and strength, the author of all godliness, hear the prayers of your people: and so grant us that whatever we ask for in faith we may surely obtain; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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The King’s Speech… https://anglicanconnection.com/the-kings-speech/ Tue, 24 Jan 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31047 The post ‘The King’s Speech…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Great leaders are remembered for their speeches as well as their accomplishments – George Washington for his Inaugural address as President, Abraham Lincoln for his iconic Gettysburg address, and Martin Luther King for his Washington Speech, ‘I have a dream…’.

Today we turn to the introduction of a most memorable speech – Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount recorded in the Gospel of St Matthew, chapter 5, verses 1 through 12.

In chapter 1 Matthew introduces Jesus as God’s long-promised king, a descendent of the great King David (1:1). Foreigners, the Magi, came from the East and worshipped him as king (2:1-6). At his baptism Jesus is called God’s ‘Son’, a title reserved for the kings of Israel (3:14-17; cp Psalm 2). And by the close of chapter 4, we learn that people have come to hear Jesus from the reaches of the vast empire that David and Solomon had ruled in the golden age of Israel’s history some thousand years before (4:23-25).

But there is something unexpected about the opening chapters: Matthew doesn’t record one word from Jesus himself. It seems deliberate. Matthew wants us to know that when we do hear from Jesus, we are not simply hearing from a ‘nice guy’, but from the great king. The Sermon on the Mount, we could say, is the King’s Speech!

Matthew chapter 5 opens on a new scene. A huge crowd had gathered on a hillside and Jesus used the natural amphitheater to address the two groups of people present – followers and a large crowd of onlookers. And despite the diversity of his vast audience, Jesus’ words are electrifying: “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

Known as Beatitudes each line in his introduction begins, Blessed are … Blessed is sometimes translated happy, but that identifies just one aspect of the meaning. To be blessed is to receive God’s approval and as this is God’s universe, God’s blessing is the greatest honor anyone can receive. From the outset Jesus’ words challenge us. Do we want the blessing that comes from celebrity status because we are perceived to be successful? Or do we truly want, above everything else in life, God’s blessing?

The first beatitude reveals that the really blessed are the poor in spirit. Jesus isn’t speaking here of the materially destitute or the psychologically impoverished, the spiritual elite or the prayerful mystics. He’s referring to the spiritually destitute.

Poverty in spirit is exemplified by the tax collector in Jesus’ story in Luke 18:9-14. Over against the pride of the Pharisee, the tax collector humbly and honestly prayed from a corner in the Temple, ‘God, Be merciful to me, a sinner’. Poverty of spirit is the admission of our failure to love and honor God first in our lives.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted”, Jesus continues. These people grieve for personal failure before God. They also mourn because, even dimly aware of God’s purity, they see how the world without God lives in darkness. They weep because of the erosion of truth, because of the greed, cynicism, and lack of compassion evident everywhere.

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth” (5:5). Meekness isn’t a reference to the weak or insipid. It is a strong word, referring to the deep, selfless resolve to serve the best interests of others. Meekness is not insisting on your rights. It’s thinking of others before self – and hence not being on the front foot with criticism. No one of us is perfect. Jesus himself is the supreme example of true meekness.

The meek learn to look at life from God’s viewpoint and are content. Their egos are not so inflated they think they must always have more. In Christ they see themselves as possessing everything (2 Cor 6:10; cp 1 Cor 3:21-23). Furthermore, a billion years into eternity (if we can speak of eternity in terms of time), God’s people in the new heaven and the new earth will still be rejoicing that this beatitude is literally true. They will be grateful that by grace they learned to be meek during their initial threescore years and ten.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness” (5:6). Hunger and thirst are vivid images of desire. Righteousness suggests justice and truth. To hunger for righteousness is to long that our lives reflect the mind and will of God. There’s an inner longing for heaven where righteousness and justice will prevail.

“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy” (5:7). Mercy embraces forgiveness for the guilty, and also compassion for the suffering and needy. The promise isn’t mercy from others but significantly from God himself.

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (5:8). Throughout the Bible the heart is the center of our being – of who we are. Purity in heart is indispensable for our relationship with God, or to use Jesus’ words, for seeing God.

Purity of heart isn’t outward conformity to rules. Rather, our heart, our thoughts and attitudes need to be pure. ‘What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral?’ Jesus asks. ‘What dominates your private thoughts? Do you let your mind linger on sights that have tempted you? Is the real inner you expressed in your outward words and actions?’

Psalm 24 asks, Who shall ascend unto the hill of the Lord? They who have clean hands and a pure heart,… and in The Letter to the Hebrews we read, Make every effort… to be holy;  without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14).

The pure in heart are blessed in that they will see God. While this will be especially true in the new heaven and the new earth, it’s also true now. Our perception of God and his ways, even our fellowship with him, depends on the purity of our heart.

“Blessed are the peacemakers” Jesus says (5:9). Jesus isn’t talking about those who yearn for peace, but all who work at making peace. Jesus is the greatest peacemaker ever – through his cross, making peace between us and God by removing the stain of sin that separates us. His death also makes peace possible amongst all men and women.

Jesus isn’t only speaking about gospel peacemaking. He is also saying that his followers are to be peacemakers, seeking solutions to ease tensions, to reduce conflict, and to ensure that people understand one another. This isn’t easy, especially when we personally have been hurt by others. It’s very easy to forget that ‘a soft answer turns away wrath’, and that we shouldn’t allow ‘the sun to go down on our anger’ (Ephesians 4:26). To be a peacemaker means that we don’t bear grudges or nurse our anger.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (5:10-12). Jesus here restricts the blessing to all who suffer persecution because of righteousness — people who are determined to live as Jesus lived. Persecution can take the form of physical hardship, torture, imprisonment, death. But there are more subtle forms: mocking and personal rejection. This beatitude is potentially the most searching, for if we never experience some kind of rejection for our faith in a fallen world, are we truly a follower of Jesus?

Who then are the truly blessed? Jesus expects our lives to change radically. Instead of self-sufficiency in our relationship with God, we need to understand our poverty. Instead of dismissing unbelievers, mourn for a world that ignores God. Instead of playing for power to achieve kingdom ends in a fallen world, walk the tougher path of humility and service. Hunger for truth and righteousness. Show mercy, pursue purity, and work for peace. Reckon on the reality that life won’t always be easy for God’s people. But, Jesus says, stay with me.  It will be worth every bit of it.

Prayers. Lord, you have taught us that whatever we do without love is worth nothing. Send your Holy Spirit and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love, the true bond of peace and of all virtues, without which whoever lives is counted dead before you: grant this, for the sake of your only Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Expect the Unexpected… https://anglicanconnection.com/expect-the-unexpected-2/ Tue, 17 Jan 2023 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31039 The post ‘Expect the Unexpected…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Heraclitus, the 6th century BC Greek philosopher observed, ‘Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain’.

Come with me to Matthew chapter 4, verses 12 through 25. Matthew records that following the arrest of John the Baptist, Jesus began his public ministry in the region of Capernaum in Galilee – the land of Zebulun and Naphtali.

Back in the 8th century BC powerful Assyrian forces had gathered in that very region preparing to conquer the northern kingdom, Israel (720BC). Yet into that darkness Isaiah the prophet spoke of the day when a light would dawn on the northern horizon, and God would honor Galilee of the Gentiles (Isaiah 9:1-2).

In chapter 4, Matthew tells us that Jesus began his public ministry in the north – not in the capital, Jerusalem. ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’, he said.

An Unexpected Message. The kingdom of heaven is not a location but rather refers to God’s supreme rule. Jesus’ words at hand implied that with his presence this had taken on a new immediacy. His words would have awakened the hopes of God’s people who lived with the expectation of the coming of God’s king, the Messiah. Prophets such as Samuel, Isaiah and Ezekiel had spoken of such a time (2 Samuel 7: 11b-13; Isaiah 7:14, 9: 6-7, 11:1-5; Ezekiel 34:23-24).

But Jesus’ call for repentance may well have come as a surprise, for the king was expected to bring in God’s reign of peace and prosperity. He would judge the nations: the time for repentance would be over. The work of the prophets, including John the Baptist, was to prepare the way for the king’s coming.

But Jesus was still calling people to repent, suggesting that there were deeper truths he needed to address before he revealed himself in all his awesome glory, dominion and power.

The real issue Jesus sees with all of us is that we have a heart problem. Heart in the Bible is not just the pump that sends the blood around our bodies, nor is it the seat of our emotions. It refers to the real us.

Let me ask, why do we hurt people we love? Why, in this technologically advanced world are there still divisions within nations and wars between nations? Why is there still so much injustice? It has to do with the desires of our hearts – in our relationships with one another, and especially in our relationship with God. When Jesus was once asked what is the greatest commandment, he responded, saying the first and greatest commandment is that we should love God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength (Mark 12:30).

An Unexpected Call. It was the practice for good teachers or rabbis in Jesus’ day to have disciples with them. “Follow me, Jesus said to two fishermen, Peter and Andrew, who were brothers. It wasn’t a command but rather a call. They had choice: they could follow or remain where they were.

But notice Jesus wasn’t just calling them to be followers – to listen and to learn; he was also inviting them to join him in becoming fishers of men and women.

The prophet Jeremiah had spoken of ‘fishing for men and women’, meaning catching men and women for judgement. But the mission Jesus was inviting Peter and Andrew to join him in, was to rescue men and women from judgement – an unexpected call.

Two other fishermen, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were also invited to join Jesus in this mission. All four immediately left their families and businesses and followed Jesus.

Jesus wasn’t asking them to sell up their homes or businesses. But such was his impressive nature or his teaching that they were willing to leave their businesses in the hands of others and follow him.

An Unexpected Compassion. With deft brush strokes Matthew introduces us to the pattern of Jesus’ ministry – preaching the good news of the kingdom, as well as healing the sick, and exorcising the demon possessed, at a word and in a moment of time.

Today, the notion of miracles, especially those recorded in the New Testament, are dismissed because ‘we now know the laws of nature’. Against this Dr. John Lennox, Oxford Emeritus Professor of Mathematics and Philosophy responds: ‘The laws of nature that science observes are the observable regularities that God the creator has built into the universe. However, such ‘laws’ don’t prevent God from intervening if he chooses. When he does, we are able to identify the irregularity and speak of it as a miracle’.

If Jesus is God’s unique Son – not just a man, but God in the flesh – if he speaks and acts with the authority and power of God, it is quite consistent for him to be able to perform what we call ‘miraculous’ feats. Indeed, if the Bible is authentic – and it claims to be so – we should expect the unexpected.

Indeed, we shouldn’t be surprised that Jesus wielded such extraordinary power that crowds came in droves from near and far – even from far away Jerusalem.

But there is another layer to Jesus’ acts of intervention: they were temporary. People were only restored for a time; they would still all experience death. Wouldn’t the Messiah conquer even death itself?

Here was another potential unexpected twist. Jesus presents us with so much expectation and hope, but he also leaves many questions unanswered.

Three unexpected themes: Jesus commands us to repent, for God’s rule has taken on a new dimension; we need to sort out our relationship with him while we have time. He calls us to follow him and play our part as fishers of men and women: helping others to find the truth. Jesus cares for us at all times, intervening in our lives for our good, giving us a taste of the perfection and joy to come.

What will you do with Jesus? He is both extra-ordinary but very ordinary. He does the expected but constantly says and does the unexpected. But shouldn’t we expect this?

A prayer. Lord God, the strength of all who put their trust in you: mercifully accept our prayers, and because through the weakness of our mortal nature we can do nothing good without you, grant us the help of your grace, so that in keeping your commands we may please you both in will and deed, through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Compassion… https://anglicanconnection.com/compassion/ Tue, 10 Jan 2023 22:31:12 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31032 The post ‘Compassion…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Predictions about the global economic outlook for the new year are not encouraging. Nor is the news of the ongoing aggression by Russia in Ukraine. Given the rise of powerful despots and divisions within western democracies, is there anything that we can do?

Two and a half millennia ago the Jewish people were in exile. In 586 BC Babylonian forces had rampaged through Judah, conquering Jerusalem, razing its walls and its temple to the ground. Political obliteration seemed inevitable as the cream of the population was taken to Babylon.

Yet the extraordinary thing was this: Judah’s morale was not destroyed. There was a glimmer of hope on the horizon. Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of God’s impending judgment on the nation, had also sounded a voice of hope.

“Comfort, comfort, my people,” Isaiah chapter 40 begins and in the following chapters the prophet speaks of a ‘Servant’ whom God would raise up to rescue and restore his people.

Isaiah tells us that God’s plan involved Cyrus, an insignificant prince from the north of Babylon. Despite humble beginnings Cyrus rose to defeat the Babylonian forces and paved the way for the Persian Empire under Darius. With his rise to power Cyrus had the authority in 520BC to decree the release of the Jewish exiles, permitting their return to Jerusalem and the restoration of their city – a miraculous event. Isaiah speaks of Cyrus as God’s anointed (45:1).

But as we read on, we learn from Isaiah chapter 49 that God had greater plans for his Servant. In verse 1 we read God’s words:  Listen to me, O coastlands, pay attention, you peoples from far away!

God’s people were crying out for rescue, but this Servant doesn’t speak directly to them. Rather he speaks to the world at large, the islands and distant nations. The mission of this Servant is not just to God’s people, but also to the nations. His vision is global.

Yes, his work would involve the restoration of Judah, for in verse 5 we read: And now the Lord says, who formed me in the womb to be his servant, to bring Jacob back to him, and that Israel might be gathered to him, for I am honored in the sight of the Lord, and my God has become my strength—

But there is something more. A needy world is waiting to hear the truth about God: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth” (Isaiah 49:6).

In fulfillment of his promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3b), God’s plan is to extend his salvation to the nations. And, while verse 7 says that God’s Servant will suffer at the hands of the nations, a day would arrive when they – and even their leaders – would come to him.

Centuries before Jesus’ birth, Isaiah was opening a window on elements that would characterize his life. Wise men did come from the East to pay him homage at his birth. People from around the world have been coming to him ever since.

As we look back on Isaiah’s words through the lens of the New Testament we see that he was right. God’s king has now come. In his words and his actions Jesus revealed that he is God in the flesh. He not only taught with great authority but he also revealed God’s compassion for a needy world – feeding the hungry and healing the sick, overcoming the powers of evil and even raising the dead. But most of all, he dealt with our greatest need – our selfish, broken relationship with our Maker. Once and for all, at great cost to himself, he offered himself to die the death we deserve.

As yet, most people don’t know about Jesus, let alone acknowledge him as Lord. Many who do know about him may agree that in Jesus we have the greatest moral teacher who has ever lived. To follow his teachings, the world would certainly enjoy peace: nowhere did he ever encourage violence or evil. In fact, even when he was betrayed in a most ugly way, he told one of his followers to put away his sword. Jesus taught and exemplified truth and love, compassion and peace.

The Getty Music Compassion Hymn sets out the theme of God’s love and compassion and his commitment to rescue the lost:

There is an everlasting kindness You lavished on us when the Radiance of heaven came to rescue the lost; You called the sheep without a shepherd to leave their distress for Your streams of forgiveness and the shade of Your rest… / How beautiful the feet that carry this gospel of peace to the fields of injustice and the valleys of need – to be a voice of hope and healing, to answer the cries of the hungry and helpless with the mercy of Christ / What boundless love, what fathomless grace You have shown us, O God of compassion! Each day we live, an offering of praise as we show the world Your compassion.

The 17th century philosopher and mathematician, Blaise Pascal observed: ‘Humanity despises religion. They hate it and are afraid it may be true. The cure for this is just to show that religion is not contrary to reason, but worthy of reverence and respect. Next make it attractive, make good men and women wish it were true, and then show them that it is’.

Will you join me in praying for God’s grace to let the light of his love and truth shine in our lives? Will you join me in praying that the Lord will open our eyes and give us the words to say to family and friends so that they too will come to learn of God’s goodness and compassion through reading one of the Gospels? John’s Gospel using TheWord121 (www.theword121.com) is a good place to start.

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, ruler of all things in heaven and on earth, hear with mercy the prayers and petitions of your people, and so grant us your peace all the days of our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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A close source pointed me to an article by Marylynn Rouse in Christian Heritage London, about the 250th anniversary of Amazing Grace. She comments, ‘It’s not often that a pop song in the charts can claim to have been around for 250 years. John Newton’s hymn Amazing Grace featured in hit parades all over the world in the 1960s and 70s, but was written for New Year’s Day 1773.

‘Newton was then curate-in-charge (senior minister) at the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Olney, Buckinghamshire. He took for his text 1 Chronicles 17:16,17 – And David the king came and sat before the Lord, and said, Who am I, O Lord God, and what is mine house, that thou hast brought me thus far? And yet this was a small thing in thine eyes, O God; for thou hast also spoken of thy servant’s house for a great while to come, and hast regarded me according to the estate of a man of high degree, O Lord God.

‘Newton began his sermon by saying “The Lord bestows many blessings upon his people, but unless he likewise gives them a thankful heart, they lose much of the comfort they might have in them.”

‘His objective then was to arouse in his listeners “a thankful heart”.’

As we begin a new calendar year, it’s worth pairing two great themes in Isaiah chapter 40, Comfort, and in chapter 60, Glory.

With the Babylonian conquest in 586BC, Isaiah’s first readers had lost their city, the temple (the symbol of God’s presence) and their king. We can only begin to imagine their reaction to Isaiah’s words in chapter 40, for he was now telling them that the time of God’s judgment was over. God had not forgotten them: they would have a future.

Comfort, comfort my people, says your God.

There’s a timelessness about these words, for they speak to us all as we face life with its difficulties, challenges, and suffering. In the midst of our cries from the heart, ‘Comfort’ speaks of God’s tenderness.

The theme continues in verse 11: ‘He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom…’

Isaiah knows that in tough times only a big God can sustain us. And our God is a big God. Only he can overrule our world when it is falling into chaos around us. Only he can say to us with any degree of credibility, ‘Comfort’.

Isaiah continues by awakening us to God’s awesome majesty and kindness, with questions such as, ‘What is God like?’ Can we compare him to the great ones of the world? Some try to pose as gods! Nebuchadnezzar, the great emperor of ancient Babylon, tried it for a while. So did Augustus Caesar and other Roman emperors. So too, do some autocrat leaders today.

To which Isaiah responds: Have you not known? Have you not heard? Has it not been told you from the beginning? Have you not understood from the foundations of the earth?  It is he who sits enthroned above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers; who stretches out the heavens like a curtain, and spreads them like a tent to live in; who brings princes to nought and makes the rulers of the earth as nothing…

We search the universe in vain for an adequate comparison to God’s majesty. There is nothing we might worship – be it science or technology, intelligence or wisdom, military might or political power, or even the sun or the stars – that can be compared with him. Yet our world today has walked away from the very thought of God.

‘Is God kind and compassionate?’ we ask. Have you not known? Have you not heard? Isaiah says. The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable (40:28).

No matter how heart-breaking our situation, no matter how perplexing, we remain in the hands of a kind and limitless intelligence. He knows what he’s doing. Events that trouble us don’t mean that God’s hands have slipped from the helm. We may not always understand his ways, but we have every reason to trust him.

Indeed, God is good and caring: He gives power to the faint, and gives strength to the powerless.  Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, and note this: they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint (40:29).

Walk and not faint. That’s what we need when life is tough and incomprehensible.

In times when resentment, bitterness and pain make it hard to believe and hard to pray, hard to sing and hard to read the Bible, we need to turn afresh to Isaiah 40.

Which brings us to Isaiah chapter 60: Glory. Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord has risen upon you. For behold, darkness shall cover the earth, and thick darkness the peoples; but the Lord will arise upon you, and his glory will be seen upon you. And nations shall come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your rising… I am the Lord; in its time I will hasten it (Isaiah 60:1-3, 22b).

The darkness of this world will one day give way to light, gloom will give way to glory. Isaiah 60 prepares us for the coming of God’s king in all his glory. It speaks of the city God has planned for his people – the new Jerusalem where, as Revelation 21:1-4 tells us, there will be no more pain or suffering, crying or death. Above all we will know the deep joy of God’s presence with us.

But this city lies on the other side of a cosmic divide. Isaiah’s words will only be fulfilled through the personal intervention of God himself. Only then will we be delivered from the pain of our present world.

Miraculously, the exiled Jewish people in Babylon returned to Jerusalem in 520BC. It is a picture of a far greater promise – forgiveness and new life for all God’s people in a city where there will be a perfect freedom we can only dimly understand. It will involve the manifestation of God’s King in all his majestic power and glory. And, come what may, it will happen. No human authority, no evil power is greater than God’s.

As we begin a new calendar year, how important it is that, as we look forward, we also look back with thankful hearts to the greatest blessing of all that God has given humanity – the coming of his king amongst us and, through his death and resurrection, the offer of a full and free pardon and forgiveness for all who turn to him. We can face the future with hope and goodwill in our hearts.

No wonder on a New Year’s Day, two hundred and fifty years ago, John Newton penned the words, Amazing Grace…

With thankful hearts may you know the blessing of God’s joy and peace in this New Year!

A prayer. O God, who by the leading of a star revealed your beloved Son to the Gentiles, mercifully grant that we, who know you now by faith, may after this life enjoy the splendor of your glorious presence; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

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Wisdom for the New Year… https://anglicanconnection.com/wisdom-for-the-new-year/ Wed, 28 Dec 2022 21:07:23 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31019 The post ‘Wisdom for the New Year…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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An op-ed on Christmas Eve four years ago in The Australian (12/24/18), referenced a lecture by Dr. George Weigel.

The article noted that Weigel ‘argues that Christianity, including the values highlighted at Christmas, has an important role to play in revitalizing democratic, market-oriented societies … These are struggling on both sides of the Atlantic and elsewhere, including Australia, producing unrest, instability and disillusionment.’

‘If free politics and free economics are to produce a genuine human flourishing, Weigel says, the strength of the public moral culture, flourishing institutions that earn public confidence and a concern for the common good are vital. Christmas offers a chance to reflect on such issues and to take stock of the bigger picture…’

While it is not my purpose here to explore the relationship between Christianity, politics and a free-market economy, let me observe that the article is similar to ones often found towards the end of a year, calling for a reawakening of the meaning and application of the real Christmas story.

Articles like this invite us to focus on the themes of the poverty and weakness, the love and compassion embedded in the birth of Jesus – all of which are true.

But here is a problem. Driven by the trickle-down effect of writers who have adopted Nietzsche’s anti-theology – that God is dead – our culture tells us that the Bible is a series of fanciful stories and fictious stuff.

But this conflicts with the opening lines of the longest Gospel – Luke. Dr. Luke wants us to know that he was writing history, not fiction. He followed the principles of writing adopted by historians such as Thucydides. Furthermore, he tells us that he verified his account with eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, people who had been with Jesus during his public ministry – the ‘keepers of the Jesus record’.

In their various ways the four Gospels witness to the reality of Jesus as God who has come amongst us as one of us. His public life reveals his authority and his compassion for a very needy world – especially our need to be rescued from our self-love – captured by the line: ‘me, myself and I’. We have turned aside from the true love and worship of our maker.

Matthew chapter 2 provides an example of true worship. In verses 1 through 12 he records that Magi – wise men – visited Jesus from the far East to bring him gifts and worship him.

In chapter 1 Matthew tells us that Jesus was born in Bethlehem, the town where Jacob had buried Rachel and where King David was born. Known from that time as the City of David, the prophet Micah spoke of Bethlehem as the place where God’s Messiah would be born (Micah 5:2).

The legends that have developed around the magi following a star and visiting the baby Jesus in Bethlehem shroud the veracity and the surprise of Matthew’s account. He doesn’t mention the number of the wise men who visited Jesus, nor does he say they were kings. Nor does he tell us their names. Who then were these people who travelled so far?

The Magi were a tribe of priests in ancient Persia and were known for their study in astrology – making predictions from the stars. In the ancient world the movement of the stars and the planets was understood to frame the orderly pattern of the universe. Any interruption to this was seen to mark some new significant event that would impact the human story.

Piecing together the astronomical studies of the past, it seems that the Magi observed a conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter that occurred in 7BC around the time Jesus was born. In an age before telescopes, the conjunction would have given the appearance of a very bright star which some of them followed.

Coming from Persia where the Jewish people had been in exile in the 6th century BC they would have known the Jewish Scriptures which include the prophecy of Balaam in Numbers chapter 24, verse 17: I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near: a star shall come out of Jacob, and a scepter shall rise out of Israel;…

The conjunction of Saturn and Jupiter occurred three times in 7BC, suggesting that when it had first appeared the Magi travelled westward to Jerusalem, Israel’s capital. Given the distance, they would have arrived there about the time of the third planetary conjunction. It was when they were in Jerusalem that they learned of the baby’s birth in Bethlehem – as Micah had foretold.

Matthew records: Going into the house, they saw the child with Mary his mother, and they fell down and worshiped him. Then, opening their treasures, they offered him gifts, gold and frankincense and myrrh (Matthew 2:11).

Their gifts were prophetic: gold, a gift for a king – the greatest king of all time lay before them; frankincense, used by the priests – the highest priest of all was the one they saw; myrrh, for the burial of the dead – this baby, born to be king would be crowned through his suffering on a cross. Significantly, and to us surprisingly, these highly respected, wise, non-Jewish men fell on their knees and worshipped this baby.

At the time when Matthew wrote this Gospel account, non-Jewish peoples from across the known world were acknowledging the crucified and risen Jesus as their king and savior. Matthew here is highlighting yet another facet of the fulfillment of the prophetic promise concerning God’s King: Nations will come to your light, and kings to the brightness of your dawn… (Isaiah 60:3).

Articles that call for our world to revisit the Christmas story are a fresh illustration of the way Jesus Christ fulfills Isaiah’s words. They give us the opportunity to take people around us to the true story revealed in the Gospels. And while the percentage of Christians in the US has fallen, Christianity is still the majority faith.

Let me ask, are you praying for family and friends that they might turn to the King of Kings – in repentance and worship? Are you looking for opportunities to live out and pass on the very best news our troubled world has received?

A prayer. Lord our God, you have given us the life of Jesus in his home as an example: grant that all Christian families may be so bound together in love and service that we may rejoice together in your heavenly home; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, for ever and ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – End of Year gift here.

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Christmas – Giving and Getting https://anglicanconnection.com/christmas-giving-and-getting/ Mon, 19 Dec 2022 09:45:17 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=31008 The post ‘Christmas – Giving and Getting’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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‘What is Christmas all about?’ asks Charlie Brown, in Charles M. Schultz’s A Charlie Brown Christmas.

When A Charlie Brown Christmas was first released (December 1965), the overwhelming positive response took the television network executives by surprise. It was watched by forty-five percent of the television viewing audience that night. And now, over fifty years later it is still a Christmas classic and continues to draw millions.

Tired of the commercialism of Christmas, Charlie Brown wants to know its real meaning. We see Snoopy’s answer when he enters a Christmas lighting and decoration competition. For Sally, Charlie Brown’s young sister, it’s all about getting.

When once again Charlie Brown asks his question, Linus responds by taking center-stage and reading from Luke 2:8-14:

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And behold, an angel of the Lord stood before them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, Do not be afraid: for see – I am bringing you good news of great joy for all the people: to you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign for you: you will find a child wrapped in bands of cloth, lying in a manger. And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying, ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will amongst those he favors’.

In an interview, Charles Schultz’s wife, Jeannie commented that her husband pushed back against the idea that there is no place for a Bible text in a cartoon. He insisted that the Bible is not just for God’s people – it is for everyone.

Schultz understood that Christmas is the twinning of Giving and Getting. God gave; we get or receive.

Indeed, this Advent season I have been drawing attention to the way, some seven centuries before Jesus was born, Isaiah foretold that a young woman would conceive and give birth to a son who would be named Immanuel – God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

But that is not all. In Isaiah chapter 9 we read that into the darkness of Israel’s experience at the time, a light would dawn in the north, the region of Galilee: Nevertheless, there will be no more gloom for those who are in distress, Isaiah says.

Galilee was the region that had been subject to the Assyrian invasion. As Isaiah chapter 9 unfolds we read that a day of joy would come (verse 3); the signs of war would cease (verses 4 and 5); and the shadow of death would disappear. For, as verse 6 of chapter 9 says: To us a child is born, to us a son is given…

The sign of the dawning of the new day in God’s purposes would be something weak and insignificant – the birth of a baby. Yet, as Isaiah foreshadows, the government will be on his shoulders. His name was to be called, wonderful counsellor, mighty God, everlasting Father, Prince of Peace (9:6).

Through the lens of the New Testament we see the beginning of the fulfilment of these words – the first instalment, as it were. Matthew chapter 1, verses 21 through 23 records the words of the angel to Joseph: ‘(Mary) will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins’. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had spoken by the prophet: ‘Behold a virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and they shall call his name Immanuel’.

So often we simply do not appreciate the full weight of this event. We may believe the baby born in Bethlehem to be the Son of God, but how often do we let the intense meaning of this birth pass us by?

How often do we pause and reflect on the reality that divinity walked the streets of Jerusalem? That infinite Wisdom and Power humbly took on human nature? That God poured his heavenly resources into rescuing us, even though it meant the violence and horror of a crucifixion?

It is for our sake that Christ condescended to such monumental humiliation. The lowly birth in Bethlehem points to Christ’s voluntary decision to set aside his glory for our sake. He came and he gave, to enrich us.

Because of God’s gift to us, we will want to respond with true repentance and deep thanks.

We will also want to emulate, no matter how feebly, the unspeakable generosity of God’s gift. Because God gave, we will want to live God’s way and to share with others the gift of joy and hope. Not condescendingly or aggressively, but graciously and generously.

There is a story about a fourth century bishop in Turkey. One Christmas he wanted to express his gratitude to God for the gift of Jesus. Going into a slum area of the city carrying a heavy sack on his back, he knocked on the door of one of the little mud houses and was greeted by the dirty faces of three young children. Taking the pack off his back he gave them each a warm woollen coat before disappearing back to his own home. The bishop was Nicholas of Myra.

The story of Nicholas, now thoroughly commercialized, is nevertheless a good example if true; a useful parable if a legend. He felt the weight of the words of Paul the Apostle in Second Corinthians, chapter eight, verse nine: For you know the generous gift of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that by his poverty you might become rich.

Here is the greatest reason of all for Christian giving – and not just at Christmas.

You may want to find a way to watch A Charlie Brown Christmas with your family.

You may also want to give a special Christmas gift for the ministry of your church or a gospel mission. You may also like to make an end of year gift here to the ministry of the Anglican Connection. (Gifts in the US are tax deductible.)

May you know afresh the joy and rich blessing of God’s love this Christmas!

A prayer. Almighty God, you have given us your only Son to take our nature upon him, and as at this time to be borne of a pure virgin. Grant that we, being born again and made your children by adoption and grace, may daily be renewed by your Holy Spirit, through our Lord Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – End of Year gift here.

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It’s said that familiarity breeds contempt. Christmas celebrations can at first fill us with awe. But with the passing of the years, we can become indifferent and sometimes even cynical about them.

Whenever familiarity produces contempt, we are potentially in danger. We can disengage and become weary and cynical. Amidst the familiar trappings of Christmas, it’s easy to become blind and deaf to the overwhelming significance of the humility of God.

How many of us have become so familiar with the account of Jesus’ birth that its reality and true meaning no longer touches our hearts. We forget that it fulfilled God’s promise made seven centuries before, that a young woman would bear a son whose name would be ‘Immanuel’ – God with us (Isaiah 7:14).

How would we respond if we celebrated Christmas only once every ten years?

It’s important to think about this, for Christmas celebrates the birth of one who stands unique in history. We see in the Gospel records the integrity of his character, his compassion for the needy, the profundity yet simplicity of his teaching, and his extraordinary powers.

Hegel, the German philosopher observed, ‘One of the lessons of history is that we don’t learn from history’. Secular progressivism’s outright denial of the reality of the uniqueness of Christianity’s founder is one of the tragedies of our age. Jesus Christ is not just great: he is goodness incarnate. His voice is the voice our world desperately needs to hear and heed.

Indeed, every generation needs to hear or rediscover the Gospel truth. Furthermore, it is up to all of us who believe to play our part in ensuring that God’s gospel is effectively passed on to the younger generations.

As we endeavor to do this it’s very easy to forget the lessons of the past. We’re tempted to ask, ‘Is God really in control?’ ‘Does he really care?’ ‘Will his Spirit continue to open blind eyes and unstop deaf ears?’ Has he left us alone to fend for ourselves?’ ‘Is there any hope for the future?’

At the time of Isaiah the prophet, it seems that these kinds of questions were in the mind of King Ahaz when he was confronted by the Assyrian threat on his northern border.

Into this situation Isaiah spoke: ‘Keep calm Ahaz. God will give you a sign – any sign, all you have to do is ask’ (Isaiah 7: 10).

But Ahaz was not interested in any sign. Even though God had given him this special offer, Ahaz refused. Second Kings, chapter 15 reveals that Ahaz chose to do it his way: he paid tribute to the Assyrian king, hoping the danger would disappear. Ahaz turned his back on the familiar – what was known from Israel’s past. Prayer and listening to God’s Word were not part of his response.

We can be like Ahaz. We ignore the enormous influence for good that Christianity has had on the western world and look for human solutions, not God’s solutions to the challenges we face. We have allowed a liberal, secular progressivism to drive our thinking. And tragically it’s happening in many churches.

Yet what does the current wisdom of the world have to offer? In its apparent care for the needy, secular progressivism appears to resemble Christianity in that it encourages love and compassion, tolerance and the relief of poverty and injustice. But at its center it is myopic and cruel because it teaches that life as we know it is the only life. It ignores the lessons of history revealing that God not only exists, but that he has acted in great humility to serve us in our greatest need: our need to be rescued from our self-absorption.

For the first Christians, the incarnation and the events of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, the Son of God were real. Their familiarity with these truths didn’t weaken their faith but enhanced it. Their lives were rooted in God’s promises.

The daily insecurities of the decaying Roman Empire with its organized persecutions didn’t affect their basic confidence. They looked for the day when Christ would return.

Indeed, they heeded Jesus’ words: ‘Stay awake at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that are going to take place, and to stand before the Son of Man’ (Luke 21:36).

Familiarity with the Christmas story can breed an indifference to the miracle of the incarnation and the uniqueness of Jesus. Are you praying that the Spirit of God will keep your faith vital and fresh, confident in God’s promises?

Are you also praying that God’s Spirit will awaken hearts that have grown cold towards him because familiarity has bred contempt? Recent research shows that one-third of those who have not been in church for some time would accept an invitation to go to church. Christmas is a great time to invite them.

A prayer. Lord, we beseech you, pour out your grace into our hearts; so that, knowing the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ by the message of an angel, we may be brought to the glory of his resurrection by his cross and passion. We ask this through Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Jesus Shall Reign from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

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I’ve been intrigued by the promotion of Advent calendars, online and in large retail stores this year. Looking into it, I find it is becoming a pre-Christmas accompaniment, advertising wine, coffee pods and chocolate, lego (for Advent) and, of course the calendars themselves.

Back in November 2016, Ysenda Maxtone Graham drew attention in The Spectator UK to the season of Advent. She spoke of Advent as ‘a season of death, judgment, heaven and hell’ (November 26, 2016).

‘I relish the frisson of gloom,’ she wrote, the ‘foreboding and fear of judgment you get at Advent, alongside the hope. The Holly and the Ivy is all very well, but it’s the minor chord at the end of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel that I crave.’

‘More goose-pimples erupt in the naves and transepts of our cathedrals during the Advent service, than at any other in the liturgical year’, she comments. ‘It’s the mixture of bitterness and sweetness that does it,…’

It was Isaiah the prophet, writing in the 8th century BC, who was amongst the first of the prophets to speak, not only of the first coming of God’s King (Isaiah 7:14; 9:6-7), but also of his second coming (Isaiah 11:1-9).

It’s important we think about this. Often we’re not aware of elements of the Christian heritage that touch people in our wider society. Christmas retains an ongoing point of connection; now we’re seeing an interest that extends back into Advent.

Given this interest let me consider one of the readings set for this Advent season – for this Sunday, December 12.

The Book of Isaiah, chapter 35, verses 1 and 2 read: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

A brooding theme in Isaiah chapters 1 through 39 is God’s impending judgment of his people. In 586BC the Babylonian forces would destroy the city of Jerusalem and take its people into exile. But Isaiah chapter 35 shines a light in the darkness, bringing news of God’s promise of a new day.

Isaiah’s poetry is powerful as he likens the experience of joy and singing at the coming of the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God, to our response when flowers burst into bloom in parched lands after refreshing rain.

It is a vision that inspires courage and fearlessnessStrengthen the weak hands and make firm the feeble knees. Say to those who are of a fearful heart, ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God..’ (35:3-4a).

But Isaiah 35 also sounds a warning note. Because God is holy, his very nature means that he must judge what is unholy.

In chapter 35, verse 4b we read: ‘…He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense…’ We would be happier to overlook this aspect of God’s character. We’d much prefer to listen to and pass on a message of blessing – of justice without judgment, of salvation without a cross.

However, the wonderful news is that the nature of the God of the Bible is always to have mercy. Isaiah continues: ‘…He will come and save you’ (35:4c).

We all know that despite the incredible advances in science and technology, humanity continues to make a mess of relationships – between the nations and amongst families. It is self-evident we have no power of ourselves to save ourselves: spiritually we are blind and deaf, lame and mute (Isaiah 35:5-6).

The wonderful news is that God himself promises a future for us. He will build a highway for his people into his very presence! He will bring us to our true and lasting home where there will be joy and gladness… Sorrow and sighing shall flee far away (35:8, 10).

Isaiah uses the language of redeemed and ransomed of the Lord (35:9-10) to speak of everyone who is brought into God’s presence. These words look back to the rescue from Egypt; they also look forward to the saving work of Jesus Christ.

There is also something here that we miss. The highway to God is called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it… (35:8). Having been rescued we are now called upon to work at the quality of life that reflects the holiness of God. Paul the Apostle puts it this way: we all… beholding the glory of the Lord, will be transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another (2 Corinthians 3:18).

Isaiah, chapter 35 is a great reading for Advent. We see in it another facet of Isaiah’s vision of the glory of the Lord as he points us to the glorious day of the final coming of the Lord. We can drink it in and take new courage as it speaks to us of the everlasting joy and gladness we will then know.

Surely this is news we will want family and friends to know – so they too will see glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God.

The interest in Advent reveals the deceit of a secular progressivism insisting that life now is all there is. This is cruel, denying the reality of a day when perfect justice will be done. It also rejects what, deep down in our hearts we know: eternity exists (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

As I write, I am praying that we will all have a renewed commitment to shape our priorities, decisions, and relationships in the light of Jesus’ return. Yes, he will return – perhaps when we least expect it.

So, will you join me in praying for five people who don’t yet know Jesus? You may want to take the opportunity to invite them to church, as well as to coffee to explore the first eighteen sentences of John’s Gospel using TheWord121 (www.theword121.com). If others don’t hear, how can they be prepared to meet God’s King?

A prayer. Almighty God, we pray that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered through your guidance that your people may joyfully serve you in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Where Is Our Hope…? https://anglicanconnection.com/where-is-our-hope-2/ Wed, 30 Nov 2022 00:23:07 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30993 The post ’Where Is Our Hope…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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The world around us seems to be growing more selfish and corrupt. The values that spring from a general acknowledgement that we are the special creation of a personal God are gathering dust on the shelf of history. Parents are concerned about the influences of social media and the impact of gender issues. Drugs and alcohol, homelessness, violence and rape seem more prevalent.

Is it possible to feel hopeful?

Two and a half millennia ago hopelessness was staring the little kingdom of Judah in the face. In the 8th century BC the Assyrian imperial army rampaged through the Middle East and sacked the northern kingdom of Israel. A century later the Babylonian armies were on the rise, and it was only a matter of time before Judah received the unwelcome attention of those powerful forces.

How would Judah survive? She had no army to speak of, no money and no allies. Greater nations had already been cut down. Political obliteration seemed inevitable. Yet despite the odds, Judah’s morale was not destroyed. A glimmer of hope was on the horizon.

It was Isaiah, one of the prophets who had spoken of doom and despair, who wrote about a special leader who would be raised up. In Isaiah chapter 11, features of God’s promised king unfold.

A leader after God’s own heart. Isaiah was disappointed by the politicians of his day. They were corrupt: they took bribes, ignored the poor, and turned a blind eye to justice. King Ahaz, for example, had broken every trust given to him. He had even used the gold of the Temple to try to bribe Assyria and prevent her march on Jerusalem. He’d failed. He was another ruler who’d let his people down.

Time and time again, rulers and governments do that. In most western democracies today election promises are constantly consigned to the trash.

In chapter 11, verse 1, Isaiah offers hope: A shoot shall come out from the stump of Jesse, and a branch shall grow out of his roots.

Jesse was the father of King David, the great king in the Old Testament. Just as David himself had come out of obscurity, Isaiah is saying, so too a new king would emerge, and he would be greater than David and his son Solomon.

The spirit of the Lord shall rest on him, the spirit of wisdom and understanding, Isaiah says, the spirit of counsel and might, the spirit of knowledge and the fear of the Lord. His delight shall be in the fear of the Lord (Isaiah 11:2-3).

Wisdom, understanding and knowledge would characterize this king’s rule. But fundamental would be his willingness to learn from God. There would be no political blunders in his rule. Furthermore, corruption would not plague his government; the media wouldn’t be able to destroy him – either over his personal integrity or his policies. No one would be living in poverty or without a home.

A leader who would use his power for peace. The metaphors in verse 6 are vivid: The wolf shall live with the lamb, the leopard shall lie down with the kid, the calf and the lion and the fatling together, and a little child shall lead them. Peace would be the mark of this leader’s rule.

Periods of world peace are fleeting. The war in Ukraine has expunged the view that the world had at last entered a time of safety, security and prosperity. Yet Isaiah insists, under God’s ruler there will be no incompetence, no corruption, no violence – only peace. Could it be true?

A leader who draws his people from the nations. Isaiah doesn’t stop there, for in verses 10 though 16 he portrays people coming from all parts of the world, like a scattered army, to rally around this ruler. It will be a victorious, redeemed community, he says (11:15). People will come from the East and the West. Highways will be built to God’s City so that people from every nation can come. It’s a vivid and poetic picture.

Understandably we ask, ‘Could it happen?’ ‘Who is this root of Jesse, this ruler to whom the people rally, who will restore creation to its pristine harmony?’ Jesus.

Some seven hundred years before Jesus came, Isaiah predicted the first coming of God’s king as well as his return. This is one of the amazing things about the Bible that convinces me that it is what it says it is – namely, God’s deliberate, progressive, self-revelation.

Centuries before Jesus came, Isaiah opened a window on Jesus’ life and work. Wise men did come from the Far East to pay him homage at his birth. And people from around the world have been coming to him ever since his death and resurrection.

The Gospel writers reveal that Jesus not only taught but backed up his words with action that showed God’s compassion for a sick and sorry world. He fed the hungry, healed the sick, and dealt with the powers of evil.

As the New Testament unfolds, we learn that the coming of God’s king is in two parts: his first coming was a rescue operation; his return will reveal the king in all his might, majesty dominion and power. He will bring his perfect justice to bear and, with the unveiling of his own glory, will reveal the glory of all who have truly turned to him.

His first coming we celebrate at Christmas. In the season of Advent, the four weeks before Christmas, we focus on the reality of his return.

Our hope is bound up in God’s king. For the death of the king on the cross comes between God’s good creation, ruined by human sin with which the Bible begins, and the promise of a restored creation with which the Bible ends. God will wipe away every tear from our eyes… there will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Revelation 21:4).

A prayer. Blessed Lord, you have caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning, grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn and inwardly digest them, so that, encouraged and supported by your holy Word, we may embrace and always hold fast the joyful hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Thanksgiving https://anglicanconnection.com/thanksgiving-3/ Tue, 22 Nov 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30987 The post ’Thanksgiving’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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‘Thanksgiving’ in America is one of the delights Judith and I experienced when we moved to New York in 2001. Despite the evil events of September 11 that year, people at the Thanksgiving Dinner we attended expressed their thanks for the way the Lord had used the events of 9/11 to build their trust in him.

When we think about it, thanksgiving is a theme that permeates the Bible – especially the Psalms. And while we do live in an uncertain world, there is still much for which to be thankful.

Come with me to Paul the Apostle’s Letter to the Philippians, chapter 4, verses 4 through 9.

Rejoice: Rejoice in the Lord always; Paul exhorts. And, as he doesn’t want us to skim over this, he repeats it, Again, I say, Rejoice.

Paul was in prison when he wrote these words. He is repeating his earlier exhortation, Rejoice in the Lord (3:1). God wants us to so value our relationship with Jesus Christ that we long for the smile of his approval in all we do. Nothing else matters. He is our joy.

Now notice Paul doesn’t say we are to rejoice in the Lord in all circumstances – some situations may be evil. Rather, we should rejoice that the Lord still has his hand on the helm of the world’s events and our personal affairs, working out his good purposes for his people. It challenges us to ask if we trust him in every situation – be it the loss of a job, disappointments, or sobering medical news.

Furthermore, in exhorting us to rejoice, he is not speaking about our being happy, always having a smile on our face. The joy he speaks about is the deep inner peace and contentment that springs from a personal trust in Jesus.

For this reason, he urges us to pray with thankfulness in our hearts: Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Don’t be anxious … Timeless words and a universal remedy for anxiety.

So, Paul urges us to pray for concerns about life; petition the Lord with our particular needs, with thankfulness in our hearts for his goodness and mercy. Here is the antidote to anxiety and the prelude to the experience of peace. Such prayer and thanksgiving express trust in God in every situation.

Let me ask, can you honestly say you are assured that Jesus is not only in control but that he truly loves and cares for you?

Peace. In verse 7 we read: And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, and in verse 9: …And the God of peace will be with you.

Peace, Shalom is a word of security. Paul was in prison for his faith when he wrote these words. He knew what it was to be anxious, even fearful about life’s disappointments. He knew the barbs that can hurt – be they lies or literal persecution.

Encouragingly he speaks about God’s peace guarding our hearts and minds. Guard in this context conveys the positive idea of protection. As a Roman citizen, he may have had in mind the Praetorian Guard. It’s a great thought – God’s ‘Praetorian Guard’ providing security for our hearts and minds, and so giving us peace.

Furthermore, heart is the Bible’s way of speaking of what is deep within us – our desires and will, our emotions and our very soul. And mind refers to our thoughts that spring from our inner longings.

Now, if we remove God’s promise of peace from its biblical context, the idea of peace is lovely but without substance. Peace in the Bible is meaningful and profound, true and full of strength. The God of peace is the one who has made peace possible between himself and you and me.

On the day of his resurrection, Christ met with his disciples in a locked upper room. ‘Peace be with you’ were his first words. It wasn’t a conventional greeting, for he immediately repeated it.

The God of peace is also the God of power. It is the God of peace who brought again from the dead, our Lord Jesus. The resurrection of Jesus is the New Testament standard for God’s mighty power. Peace is associated with the kind of power that not even death can stand against. These great promises are grounded in the peace that God himself has secured. Through Jesus’ death and resurrection he is the author of just and everlasting peace.

How much there is for which we can be thankful. Is this real for you? How often do you express your thankfulness? Just at Thanksgiving? Or every day?

A General Thanksgiving.

Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give humble and hearty thanks for all your goodness and loving kindness to us and to all people. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your amazing love in the redemption of the world through our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace and for the hope of glory.

And, we pray, give us that due sense of all your mercies, that our hearts may be truly thankful, and that we may declare your praise not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up ourselves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be all honor and glory, now and forever. Amen.

You may want to listen to the song, May the Peoples Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Gramercy https://anglicanconnection.com/gramercy/ Wed, 16 Nov 2022 05:19:07 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30983 The post ’Gramercy’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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No, I’m not talking about Gramercy Park, New York City – although I’ll come back to that. I’m referring to an old English word, gramercy, used by Shakespeare, that is derived from the French, grand mercy, meaning ‘heartfelt, big thanks’.

That said, the name ‘Gramercy’ for the only locked private park in New York was derived from the Dutch, Krom Moerasje, ‘little crooked swamp’ – which is what the park originally was.

Now permit me a personal note about Judith’s and my ‘heartfelt thanks’ following September 11, 2001. That day we were living Downtown in the New York City financial district, quite near the Twin Towers. With the destruction of the towers, our apartment building was in the original Ground Zero. We needed to find a new place to live.

Unexpectedly, I received a call asking if we would be interested in moving to an apartment in the Gramercy area. ‘Yes, please!’ How heartfelt our thanks were – to the Lord and to the phone-caller. For us ‘gramercy’ took us back to the earlier English meaning. It also reminded us of the ‘big thanks’ everyone of us owes God.

Consider the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion in Luke chapter 23, beginning at verse 33.

Two others, criminals, were crucified with Jesus at a place known as The Skull (which in Latin is calvaria, hence our ‘Calvary’). The positioning of Jesus between these two seems a deliberate way of implying that he was just another criminal. This also fulfilled the prophecy: He was numbered with the transgressors (Isaiah 53:12).

We can identify two important themes – a prayer and a promise.

A Prayer. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing’ (23:34).

Everyone watching that day knew Jesus was innocent. They knew the injustice of it all. So, for whom was he praying? Some suggest his prayer was for the soldiers, but in that case he might have said, ‘Father, understand their situation’. They were doing their duty. Others say his prayer was for the Jewish leaders who had stirred events that led to his crucifixion.

We make better sense of the prayer when we read it all: ‘for they do not know what they are doing’. Jesus was praying for people who shut their minds to the voice of truth. Yes, he was praying for the Jewish leaders who taunted him (23:35). And he was praying for the Roman soldiers who mocked him as the ‘King of the Jews’ (23:36f). Significantly, with his prayer he was putting into practice the law of neighbor love that he had spoken about in his parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:28-34). In his hour of crisis, he prayed for others and forgave them their ignorance.

But, he was also praying for his followers and the watching crowd. And, let me suggest he was praying then for you and me now. At one time or another we have all have mocked the dying Christ. Deep down all of us have rejected his claims to be our Lord.

An inscription stating the charges against Jesus, was put over his head in accord with normal Roman practice. Significantly, Pilate wrote: This is the King of the Jews (23:38). He quoted back to the Jewish leaders their accusation against Jesus. In doing so, the Roman governor was also stating the deeper truth we find in Luke’s narrative: Jesus is the king of the Jews. He is the Messiah and the Lord. This theme is illustrated in the conversation that follows.

A Promise. One of the criminals being crucified with Jesus was contemptuous: ‘Are you not the Christ?’ he mocked. ‘Save yourself and us!’ (23:39). He chose to die as he had lived – dismissive of anything religious. Even his colleague was shocked, ‘Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation?’ he said (23:40). As a minister who has been at the bedside of many dying people, it is tragic to witness this kind of death. There is no peace and no hope of the future.

The second criminal chose another path: ‘Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,’ he asked (23:42). Now this man’s life was no better than his colleague’s. He freely admitted that he and his colleague deserved to die – ‘receiving the due reward of our deeds’ (23:41). Yet, as he died, he reflected on his own unworthiness compared with the innocence he recognized within Jesus. His conscience was stirred.

Something about Jesus impressed him. It may have been the sharp contrast between Jesus’ prayer and the bitter anger of his colleague. He knew Jesus was innocent: ‘This man has done nothing wrong,’ he said (23:41). However bad his life may have been, he feared God enough to recognize his need.

The simplicity and directness of his requests are striking. He isn’t religious or pretentious. He may have remembered what he was taught as a boy about God, and about God’s promise that one day he would send a successor to the great King David. Perhaps he began to see that Jesus was that king, and so he asked the king for a place in his kingdom – when Jesus was enthroned.

His repentance came in the closing hours of his life; his faith may have been no bigger than a mustard seed, but Jesus made a promise: ‘Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise’ (23:43). Paradise was a Persian word meaning garden. Found a number of times in the Old Testament it had a special reference to the Garden of Eden. Used here, it is a metaphor for the experience of God’s blessing in the world or age to come.

Jesus was assuring this man of the blessing he would know on his death. His dying would not be without hope. And his experience would be immediate: ‘Today’ you will experience this. There would be no purgatory or hell. We can hear the echoes of King David’s Psalm 23: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I fear no evil, for you are with me… To die with Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is very different from dying without him.

The repentant criminal would have died that day with hope in his heart. With heartfelt, big thanks to Jesus who made that promise he could have said from the depth of his soul: Gramercy!

Which brings me back to a personal comment. Having been given sanctuary after 9/11, Judith and I used gramercy in its old English sense to express our heartfelt thanks to the Lord for protecting us and for providing us with a new home and, in turn a place where we could launch what became Christ Church NYC and later, in 2010, what is now Emmanuel Anglican Church NYC.

In God’s mercy, the ministry that ‘God is the Lord whose nature is always to have mercy’, continues in both churches today.

A prayer. God our Father, whose will is to bring all things to order and unity in our Lord Jesus Christ; grant that all the peoples of the world, now divided and torn apart by sin, may be brought together in his kingdom of love; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Expect the Unexpected… https://anglicanconnection.com/expect-the-unexpected/ Tue, 08 Nov 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30977 The post ’Expect the Unexpected…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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History and archaeology documentaries have made us more aware of past civilizations and the splendor of their buildings. However, while ancient buildings can be awe-inspiring, they testify to the rise and fall of nations. No matter how great an empire may have been, no matter how rich its accomplishments or powerful its armies, it didn’t last.

All of which makes Jesus’ response to his disciples comment about the magnificence of the Jerusalem Temple significant. During the week leading up to his arrest, they remarked on the magnificence of the Temple: …Some were speaking of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings (Luke 21:5).

At the time, the Jerusalem Temple was some fifty years into an eighty-three year reconstruction facilitated by Herod the Great. The temple was immense, constructed of massive stones – some over sixty feet in length. It covered a thirty-five acre site, more than twice the size of the original World Trade Centre Twin Towers site in New York City. Tacitus, a contemporary Roman historian, commented on the grandeur, the beauty and wealth of the Temple (History 5.8.1). Luke himself notes the extensive decoration that adorned it.

The unexpected. Jesus’ response to the disciples’ comment was unexpected: ‘…the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down’ (21:6).

Just as it would have been outrageous for anyone to have predicted the destruction of the Twin Towers in New York City before September 11, 2001, it would have been even more so for Jesus to say the temple would be razed to the ground. As N.T. Wright observes, ‘The temple occupied central place in the life, religion and imagination of the Jewish people’ (Wright, NT., Luke for everyone (2001), p.251).

The temple signified God’s presence with his people. It was also the place where sacrifices to atone for the sins of the people were made. Foreshadowing its destruction, Jesus pointed to the obsolescence of what the Temple materially represented in terms of God and his people.

Earlier in his ministry, Jesus warned of catastrophic events yet to come (Luke 12:35-48; 17:20-37). It’s therefore not surprising the disciples asked: “Teacher, when will these things be, and what will be the sign when these things are about to take place?” (Luke 21:7).

Their words, these things, are key to the themes that unfold. Three of the Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark and Luke, record Jesus’ words about the last things.

However, there are differences. Matthew and Mark for example, weave together Jesus’ words about Jerusalem and the end of time, making it difficult to unravel the themes. Luke however, sets out the two scenes more clearly – perhaps because he writes primarily for a non-Jewish readership.

Central to Jesus’ response about the timing of these things are his words: ‘…And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for these things must first take place, but the end will not be at once’ (21:9). He restates a tension he had already spoken of, namely the tension between immediacy and delay regarding the timing of events (Luke 12:41-48 and Luke 19:11-15).

He expands this by identifying the first two sets of events that we should expect as, under God, the world moves towards an end time: convulsions and persecutions.

Convulsions (21:8-11). He begins with a specific warning about false prophets who will come in his name making predictions about the end of time. Don’t be taken by surprise, he continues. There will be an end of time, but before that ‘nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences. And there will be terrors and great signs from heaven’ (21:10f).

Jesus warns of wars and conflicts. Three years ago, who would have expected a global pandemic and, twelve months ago, the Russian invasion of Ukraine? Furthermore, Jesus also warns of natural disasters and upheavals.

Consistently he taught that by our own efforts we are not good enough to create a world of universal peace. Nor can we control the massive forces that lie beneath the earth’s crust – forces of such magnitude that cause earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

We should not be taken by surprise by the rise and fall of nations as well as seismic and climatic events. As Paul the Apostle writes in Romans chapter 8, verses 21 and 22, the present creation is subject to decay and groans in travail awaiting the day when we will enjoy the perfect fulfilment of all God’s promises. Why is it that we live with our eyes so focused on life now that we fail to walk in the light and wisdom of the Lord?

Persecutions (21:12-19). Jesus also warns of occasions when God’s people will be marked out as undesirables – some will be imprisoned and even brought before the heads of state. However, he assures us, we will not be alone. He will equip us with any defence that might be needed: ‘settle it therefore in your minds not to meditate beforehand how to answer’. To which he added a promise no one could make, except by the authority and power of God: ‘for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict’ (21:14-15).

While Christianity offers light and love, joy and hope to the world, it is the faith the world loves to hate.

We need to take hold of Jesus’ words of warning and encouragement when we encounter the unexpected – praying for his grace and wisdom to remain strong in our faith, secure in his promises. No matter what we may experience, our life with him is assured (Luke 21:19).

Let’s also pray for and support those who are persecuted for their faith and look for opportunities to talk with others about the joy and the hope that can be found in Christ.

A prayer. Almighty and most merciful God, out of your bountiful goodness keep us from everything that may hurt us, so that we may be ready in body and soul cheerfully to accomplish whatever you want us to do: through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Testing Times… https://anglicanconnection.com/testing-times/ Tue, 01 Nov 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30972 The post ’Testing Times…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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One of the conundrums of life is the oft irrational hostility towards the Christian faith. Yes, sadly some professing Christians have carried out terrible abuses. But the big picture is that over the centuries God’s people have shown care and compassion for the poor and the needy – exemplifying a facet of the public ministry of Jesus – seeking the welfare of the city (Jeremiah 29:7).

Ironically, but perhaps not surprisingly, the media in all its forms chooses to overlook such welfare. I say ‘not surprisingly’ because people in every generation want to cut down anyone who threatens them. The Jewish leadership felt threatened by Jesus of Nazareth. So much so that they endeavored to trap him with gotcha questions which could discredit and destroy him. This was increasingly evident during the days before the Passover – at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.

In Luke chapter 20, verse 25 Jesus had responded to the question, ‘Teacher, … is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor?’ with ‘… Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor’s, and to God the things that are God’s’.  Confounded by his answer they were silenced (Luke 20:26).

Nevertheless, despite this unexpected setback, the aggressive questioning continued. This time the Sadducees, another group of Jewish leaders, pressed him on the subject of the resurrection.

The Sadducees were conservative aristocrats. The high priests were drawn from this group. Willing to work with the Roman authorities, their privileges were protected.

However, they were treated with suspicion by Jewish loyalists and pious Jewish people. In his Antiquities Josephus tells us that the Sadducees only accepted the written Scripture, not oral tradition which the Pharisees accepted (xiii.297; xviii.16). However, the Sadducees denied life after death and therefore, resurrection. This was the question on which they challenged Jesus (Luke chapter 20, verse 28).

Using the law that required the brother of a man who died childless to take his brother’s wife in marriage (levirate law), the Sadducees framed their question. Yet, given that there are only a few recorded occasions of levirate marriage – one being that of Ruth and Boaz (Ruth 4:5, 21) – and that the practice seems to have been dropped by the time of the New Testament, their question was more hypothetical than real.

They posed the situation of seven brothers successively marrying the same woman. None of the marriages produced any children. In turn they asked Jesus whose wife the woman would be in the resurrection (20:29-33). Implying there could be no answer to their question, they used it to argue there could no resurrection.

But Jesus responded: ‘Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage’ (20:34). His implication is clear. Given the successive marriages portrayed by the Sadducees, Jesus affirms the norm and the appropriateness of marriage between a man and woman. Significantly, in saying this he also confirms the creation order of Genesis 2:24.

But he didn’t stop there. He continued by contrasting our present experience and that in the life to come: “Those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage…” (20:35). In a tightly worded sentence he affirmed the reality of life beyond death and also the resurrection.

‘Life in the age to come will be significantly different for all who are considered worthy,’ he says. Not everyone will experience the new age and the resurrection.

His words here are consistent with the movement of thought that unfolds in Luke: only those who have been rescued (Luke 19:10) will enjoy life and resurrection in the coming age. Marriage as we know it will no longer apply. It will no longer be needed for ‘they cannot die any more…’ (20:36b).

One of the reasons for marriage is the procreation of children in a world where everyone dies. But in a world where death no longer reigns, marriage and the birth of children is unnecessary.

Notice Jesus didn’t say they no longer die but rather, they cannot die. In the coming age we will share something in common with the angels: ‘… they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection’ (20:36c).

So important was the question of resurrection that Jesus used the opportunity to point out that it was implied in the Old Testament. Drawing from the scene when God revealed his name to Moses (Exodus 3:15), Jesus drew attention to God’s description of himself as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob (20:37). Jesus then drew out the logic of God’s words, saying: “Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive” (20:38).

Abraham, Isaac and Jacob were long dead when Moses was alive. The statement that God is the God of these men, can only be true if they are alive, even though they have died. The alternative is to say that God is the God of people who no longer exist, which is nonsense.

Luke then includes words not found in the other gospels, ‘…for to him (God), all of them are alive” (20:38b). To us they are all dead, but that is not how God sees them. Death cannot break God’s relationship with them.

The Sadducees were silenced! And at least one other group the scribes, who did not necessarily like the Sadducees, agreed: ‘Teacher, you have spoken well’ (20:39). They were pleased to see the Sadducees silenced: For they (the Sadducees) no longer dared to ask him another question (20:40).

The 17th century mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal commented in his Pensées, ‘… The God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob, the God of Christians, is a God of love and of comfort, a God who fills the soul and heart of those whom He possesses, a God who makes them conscious of their inward wretchedness, and His infinite mercy, who unites Himself to their inmost soul, who fills it with humility and joy, with confidence and love, who renders them incapable of any other end than Himself.’

A prayer. Merciful God, it is by your gift alone that your faithful people offer you true and pleasing service.  Grant that we may so faithfully serve you in this life that we do not fail at the end to obtain your heavenly promises; through the merits of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Christ is Risen, He is Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn lived at the time when Soviet communism sought to harness human engineering to create a new society. The goal was to develop a new kind of human being. Greedy, competitive and alienated individualists were to be transformed into co-operative and generous altruists. Capitalist men and women were to be changed into a socialist society.

Even before the fall of the USSR, Solzhenitsyn concluded the experiment had failed. It suggests that dreams of a better world and a better life based on human invention and force will founder. But let me suggest that we don’t have to despair. A ray of light shines in the darkness of our world.

Come with me to an unexpected encounter that changed a wealthy money-grabber into a benevolent philanthropist. The man’s life was changed more rapidly and more radically than even Karl Marx would have believed possible. We read about it in Luke chapter 19, verses 1 through 10.

Zacchaeus was very rich, yet his wealth didn’t earn him respect. In fact, the reverse was his experience: he was a social outcast. He was a chief tax collector.

Jewish tax collectors were regarded as traitors because the money they collected went to the treasury in Rome. And, if that wasn’t bad enough, it was reckoned that 99% were crooked.

But there seems to have been something appealing about Zacchaeus. Short in stature, there was a touch of humorous eccentricity about him. And this was evident when Jesus of Nazareth came to town.

As do celebrities today, Jesus drew huge crowds wherever he went. Zacchaeus wanted to see him but, pushed back by the crowd, he discovered he couldn’t. Thinking outside the box, he climbed a tree.

We easily miss the incongruity of the scene. Here was Zacchaeus, an eminent, affluent public servant, shinning up a tree to get a look at the man who, himself, was considered an outsider by the elite. Zacchaeus risked being ridiculed by the crowd.

What prompted Zacchaeus? Curiosity?  He certainly wanted to see the celebrated miracle-working teacher from the north. People have always been attracted to celebrities and heroes, and encounters with Jesus often begin like that — curiosity about a celebrity.

But consider what happened: When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, hurry up and come down; for I must stay at your house today’ (Luke 19:5).

We can only imagine how startled Zacchaeus must have felt. It was a critical moment. He didn’t expect this. How would he react? He hurried and came down and received him joyfully (19:6).

Perhaps it was more than curiosity that prompted Zacchaeus to climb the tree that day. He may have felt growing regret over his lifestyle.

Over the years in ministry, I’ve encountered people like this. They find life doesn’t turn out as expected — a broken marriage; difficult children; money ill-spent; a lost reputation. They feel trapped. But they know they can’t turn the clock back.

Zacchaeus may have felt this sense of despair. But maybe he’d heard how Jesus had changed other people’s lives – Matthew, another tax-collector, for example. Whatever prompted him, Zacchaeus jumped out of the tree and without a moment’s hesitation took Jesus in for lunch.

It was a life-changing moment, for clearly Jesus impressed Zacchaeus. So much so that during the meal Zacchaeus stood up and said, ‘Behold Lord, the half of my goods, I give to the poor;  and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I restore it fourfold’ (Luke 19:8).

Zacchaeus’ promises are specific and immediate. There’s no fabrication. We can almost hear him turning the key in the lock of his safe. Meeting Jesus led this self-centered wealthy, but probably lonely man to a radical change within. He turned away from greed and revealed compassion for the poor and powerless. He also demonstrated a sense of justice.

What caused the change? Zacchaeus suddenly understood who Jesus really was: he called him ‘Lord’. This was more than a courtesy title. He knew he was in the presence of greatness.

In his work Zacchaeus would have experienced the deceitfulness of human nature in paying their taxes, and the dishonesty of tax-collectors in collecting taxes. He now knew he was in the presence of someone who could see right through deception and fraud. Jesus was the one man with whom you had to be completely honest.

There’s a transparency and humility about Zacchaeus’ reaction. His awakened conscience had led to his heartfelt repentance.

‘Today salvation has come to this house…’ Jesus said (Luke 19:9). It wasn’t good works or making amends for past wrongs; it wasn’t his generosity to the poor, that saved Zacchaeus. Rather it was his personal encounter with Jesus and his genuine repentance.

It was a significant moment: a man’s life was transformed. It’s the kind of transformation that politicians try to achieve through economic and other strategies. Revolutionaries use a gun. Jesus did it by inviting himself to lunch.

You may be thinking this kind of change can’t really take place in our world today. But consider Jesus’ further words: ‘Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham’ (19:9b). Because of his repentance and the evidence of that repentance, Zacchaeus, formerly an ‘outsider’ was now an ‘insider’ in his relationship with God and his people – he could now be called a true son of Abraham.

Significantly Jesus goes to the heart of the reason for his coming: ‘For the Son of man came to seek out and to save the lost’ (19:10).

Let’s think about this. From God’s perspective every one of us is lost. Created to know and love God and enjoy him forever, we have all succumbed to self-worship: we fail to love him first. However, God didn’t reduce us to the particles and dust from which he had formed us. Rather, he spoke to one man, Abraham, and made three promises: ‘I will give you a land’; ‘I will make your name great’; and ‘I will bless all the nations through you’ (Genesis 12:2-3).

The history of Abraham’s family and their dealing with God is not a pretty one, but God persisted. He had a plan, and at the right time came amongst us in person. It was this God/man whom Zacchaeus encountered. Jesus came into the world to awaken us and rescue us, by laying down his own life so that we might enjoy life in all its fullness now and forever.

When we know Jesus, we will want to fall on our knees in repentance and love. In turn we will surely also want to find ways to arouse the curiosity of others – perhaps inviting them to coffee – so that we can introduce them to him too.

A prayer. Almighty and eternal God, grant that we may grow in faith, hope, and love; especially make us love what you command so that we may obtain what you have promised; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

You may like to listen to Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Worship… https://anglicanconnection.com/worship/ Wed, 19 Oct 2022 02:27:24 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30960 The post ’Worship…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In Mere Christianity CS Lewis comments, ‘According to Christian teachers, the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride…. It was through Pride that the devil became the devil. Pride leads to every other vice: it is the complete anti-God state of mind’.

Consider Jesus’ parable recorded in Luke chapter 18, from verse 9: He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: “Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector”.

In Jesus’ day the Jewish people considered tax-collectors traitors and thieves – traitors, because they were employed by the Romans; thieves, because they took a percentage of all taxes they collected. Yet the Pharisees at that time were regarded as exemplary, morally upright people.

The context of the parable suggests that the two men had gone to the temple for either the morning or the afternoon ritual sacrifice. Yes, both offer their own prayers during the service, but it seems this was customary at the time the priest was offering the sacrificial lamb.

Religion. It seems that the Pharisee stood at the front of the temple, apart from the main body of the congregation. This is consistent with the content and tone of his prayer. Reckoning he was righteous before God he considered himself superior to everyone else.

Indeed, in his self-conceit he didn’t pray for the tax-collector but rather prayed so that the tax-collector might hear him: “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers or even like that tax collector” (18:11). He moved from what he no doubt considered to be the general sins of his fellow-worshippers to a ruthless denigration of the tax-collector.

And he did not stop there, but outlined his own credentials: he fasted twice a week – whereas the Law required fasting only once a year (on the Day of Atonement); he gave ten percent of all he earned – this too was beyond the Law’s requirements.

Despite all of this the Pharisee, Jesus tells us, had a very real problem: he had the outward form of religion but no personal relationship with God.

Relationship. Jesus’ story does not stop here: “But the tax collector, standing far off would not even look up to heaven” (18:13). Standing, as was the Jewish custom, the tax collector was at the back of the temple. He was under no illusion about his moral and spiritual condition. There’s no self-congratulation: rather, he beat his breast.

There are only two places in the New Testament where people ‘beat their breast’ – here and in Luke 23:48, where men and women went away from the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion. Only in times of deep emotional stress and grief would people, men especially, beat their breast. Clearly the tax collector was aware that his broken relationship with God was real and that it arose from deep within his heart. Elsewhere Jesus identifies the heart as the seat of all human sin (Mark 7: 21-23).

We can imagine his words bursting out in gasps expressing his inner torture: “‘God be merciful to me, a sinner!’”  He felt as if he were the only sinner in the universe.

There is something else significant: merciful here is not the usual Greek word. Have mercy on me is normally, eleeson me (as in Luke 18:38). Here the wording is literally, God, make an atonement for me…! It is a reference to the sacrifice of atonement.

The tax collector very specifically asks that God will turn away his just anger through a sacrifice of atonement (or propitiation) so that he might be forgiven. Unlike the Pharisee, this man knows that his only hope is to throw himself totally upon God and God’s heart of mercy. Mercy is the only thing he knew he could ask for.

Jesus’ concluding comment is breath-taking and would have shocked his first hearers: “I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted” (18:14). The tax collector’s prayer is the kind of prayer God hears.

Significantly there is a change in the order as the two men walk away from the temple. The tax-collector now leads the way. He is the one who is justified.

Justify is the language of the law courts and is central to the Apostle Paul’s teaching about salvation. Significantly it is found first on the lips of Jesus. The tax collector is reckoned righteous in the same way that a judge declares or acquits an accused person of charges against them.

Kenneth Bailey comments: ‘For centuries the Church debated whether the sacraments have an automatic effect on the believer irrespective of their spiritual state. Here in this simple parable we already have an answer, and the answer is no!’ (Bailey, Peasant Eyes, p.155)

The parable goes to the heart of our relationship with God. And this includes our attitude when we attend church. It is only when we come into God’s presence honestly and with a repentant heart, that God in his mercy declares us pardoned and absolved of our sins. Yet, how often when we go to church do we leave with the same mindset with which we came? Our pride and self-worship have not been challenged by the Scriptures stirring us to confess our true state before God.

The tax collector had gone to the temple that day because he knew he needed a relationship with God. He knew he was unworthy of any good thing from God. The encouraging news is that God always hears and answers the honest and humble prayers that come from our heart.

It is so easy to be proud of our good works, thinking they give us credit with God when compared with the seemingly godless lives of others. We forget it is not religion that God wants of us but relationship.

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, look with mercy on our infirmities; and in all our dangers and necessities stretch out your right hand to help us and defend us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

You may like to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith and Kristyn Getty

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Prayer is a very special privilege for the people of God. Why don’t we pray more consistently than we do?

Come with me to the parable in Luke chapter 18, verses 1 through 9. It is about a powerful judge and a powerless widow. Because women at the time often married much older men, many were widowed and ill-provided for; they were vulnerable to exploitation.

The widow here seems to have been unjustly treated over a property or financial matter. A relative may not have passed on her rightful inheritance.

But her problem didn’t stop there. Her case was being heard by a judge who neither feared God nor regarded man (18:2). Every society knows powerful people like this. The Jewish historian, Josephus, observed that King Jehoiakim was ‘Neither reverent towards God nor fair towards human beings’ (Antiquities 10.5,20).

The judge in the parable is either unjust or dishonest, or both. He seems more interested in money than morality. What hope did this poor, powerless woman have? We can imagine the stillness amongst Jesus hearers as the drama unfolded, asking themselves, ‘What would I have done?’

The scene is dramatic and unexpected: The widow kept coming to him’ (18:3). She used the only weapon she had – persistence. ‘Grant me justice against my opponent’ (18:3) she insists.

For a while the judge acts true to form: he does nothing. But in time he relents, not because he is a changed man but because of her perseverance: ‘Though I have no fear of God and no respect for anyone,…’ he says (18:4).

The words no respect are significant. Kenneth Bailey comments that ‘Middle Eastern traditional culture is a shame/pride culture. That is, a particular pattern of social behavior is encouraged by appeals to shame’ (Bailey, Peasant Eyes, p.132).

Whereas the judge should have felt shame about the way he treated the widow, he didn’t. No appeal of goodness or mercy could be made to him on behalf of the destitute woman. Money may be one thing that persuades him… or is it? His soliloquy continues, “Yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will grant her justice, so that she may not wear me out by continually coming” (18:5).

The woman is persistent, and the judge realizes she will not give up. Indeed, her perseverance provokes this powerful, corrupt man to bring about justice: he not only hears her case, he settles it in her favor.

Jesus comments: “Hear what the unrighteous judge says. And will not God vindicate his elect, who cry to him day and night? Will he delay long over them? I tell you, he will vindicate them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?” (18:6-8)

The word delay literally means patience. It’s a word in the New Testament especially linked to God’s act of salvation, such as we find in 1 Timothy 1:16 and 1 Peter 3:20. In each instance the stress is on the long-suffering nature of God’s patience in dealing with us.

Two commentators, Bailey and Horst, observe that the sentence, Will he delay long over them is not a question but rather a statement, better translated, He is also slow to anger over them. All of us are sinners. None of us either through our efforts or because of who we are, can claim God’s kindness, let alone his vindication of us. We are totally dependent on his mercy.

This is key to understanding the parable. To paraphrase Kenneth Bailey (Through Peasant Eyes, p.139), God’s people ‘are sinners, not sinless saints. If God is not willing put aside his anger towards us, we can’t approach him in prayer. We dare not call out for vindication lest, as the prophet Amos warns, the Day of the Lord is a day of darkness, not light (Amos 5:18-20). To seek vindication does not make us righteous’

It is only because God is long-suffering and patient that he will be slow to anger towards those who persist in calling on him and throwing themselves and their needs upon his mercy.

Through this parable Jesus brings our attention to profound and encouraging themes about prayer. In the face of life’s uncertainties, he wants us to know that we can and should pray. Persistence in our prayer invites God’s long-suffering patience and mercy towards us.

God is not capricious but is a loving, compassionate Father who will vindicate our cause. He will do this, not because we deserve it, but because he is merciful. While we will delight in seeing the perfect manifestation of this on the final day, we can also be assured that there will be times when God will vindicate us in our present life’s experience.

We can be confident that God is at work in the drama of human history and in our lives, bringing his good purposes to pass, including the final vindication of his people.

So, Jesus asks you and me about our prayer and our trust: When the Son of man comes, will he find faith on earth?”

The real issue is not with God’s willingness to answer our prayers but with our refusal to ask.

So why don’t we pray? Is it because God doesn’t seem to answer our prayer? Is it because we have been swayed by our culture and think of prayer as a psychologically therapeutic exercise, making the pray-er feel better, but having little other effect?

Or is it because we think that God will do what he wants anyway, whether or not we pray? If that’s what we think, we misunderstand Jesus and what the New Testament says elsewhere. Prayer is a powerful gift God has given to us – not because of the prayer itself, but because we are praying to the great King of the universe. God has given us the privilege of being caught up with his purposes in the world. Why don’t we pray more consistently than we do?

A prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

You may like to listen to the hymn, Holy Spirit Fall Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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Gratitude… https://anglicanconnection.com/gratitude/ Tue, 04 Oct 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30949 The post ’Gratitude…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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One of the many things that impressed Judith and me on moving to the United States was the Thanksgiving holiday. In November 2001, we were invited to a Thanksgiving meal by a family in the city. Towards the end of the meal our hosts invited everyone around the table to name one thing that had happened during the year for which they were thankful. Everyone had a story to tell, especially as we had all experienced 9/11 in New York City. What special encouragement it was to look back together and thank the Lord for the good things he does in our lives.

Every year just before Thanksgiving, the local news includes a segment with a reporter asking children what they are thankful for.

In Luke chapter 17, verse 11 we red that Jesus was in the border area between Samaria and Galilee. As he entered an unnamed village ten lepers began shouting out.

Outcasts. We can imagine the scene. Outcasts of society because of their infectious disease, they were compelled by law to live beyond the fringes of the town. Coming as near as they dared, they tried to attract Jesus’ attention, calling out, not specifically for healing, but for mercy – charis (17:12-13).

The words, when he saw them, suggest that there was a time delay before Jesus noticed them. This is another detail indicating the authenticity of Luke’s report. The simplicity of Jesus’ response is remarkable: he didn’t lay his hands on them, he didn’t pray a loud, lengthy prayer, or tell them they were healed. Rather, he simply told them to do what was required of anyone who had been cured of leprosy – namely, go and show themselves to the priests who were charged with the task of health inspection (so, Leviticus 14:2ff).

Jesus put their faith to the test by telling them to act as though they had been cured. So it was, as they went, they were made clean (17:14). Their act in going was a response of faith and obedience. If they had not believed in the power of Jesus’ words, they would not have gone.

Healing. But the narrative doesn’t end there. Verse 15 tells us that one of the nine, seeing that he had been healed, turned back to Jesus, praising God with a loud voice. He would not keep quiet. Having seen God at work that day he wanted to let everyone else know about it. And 17:16 tells us he understood Jesus’ extraordinary power and compassion. In an act of humility and gratitude he prostrated himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him.

Almost as an afterthought Luke adds: And he was a Samaritan. It is a telling comment. In the parable of the Good Samaritan there is an underlying theme: the Jewish disdain, even hatred for the Samaritans. But such were the horrors of leprosy that in this instance Jewish people and Samaritans had been brought together. It says a great deal that Jesus did not isolate the nine Jewish sufferers for special blessing; both the Jewish and the Samaritan were equal beneficiaries of his compassionate word of power.

Only one. Further, it says a great deal that the Samaritan was the first and only one who turned back to thank Jesus, even though Jesus was a Jewish rabbi. It almost seems as though the Jewish lepers expected God’s compassion and action as a matter of right: they had no need to thank him.

With three deft questions Jesus exposes the failure of the nine to express their gratitude to God for their healing. Apparently caught up with their new found happiness they forgot the source (God) and instrument (Jesus) of their cure. It was clearly too much bother for them to make the effort to return to Jesus and thank him.

Understandably Jesus was saddened by this: “Was none of them found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?” he asked (17:18). How easily we forget to thank God for all the good things he does for us.

For the man who turned back to Jesus there seems to have been an added blessing: “Get up and go on your way; your faith has made you well,” Jesus said (17:19).

While the nine were certainly healed of their leprosy, the words translated here, has made you well are literally, has saved you. For this man there was a healing of his soul as well as his body.

Is thanksgiving a regular part of your prayer? Paul the Apostle writes in Philippians chapter 4, verse 4: Rejoice in the Lord always; again I say, Rejoice. …  Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

A Prayer. Almighty God, creator of all things and giver of every good and perfect gift, hear with favor the prayers of your people, so that we who are justly punished for our offences may mercifully be delivered by your goodness, for the glory of your name; through Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

You may like to listen to the hymn, May the Peoples Praise You from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – One-time gift here.

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If you want to be known and celebrated these days you need to ensure that the cameras are focused on you and that you are looking directly into them.

This focus on self stands in stark contrast to the best traditions of British royalty. In theory Royalty exists, not to promote themselves but the interests of others. The Royals don’t look into the camera: the cameras follow them.

Humility is the theme in an often-overlooked parable recorded in Luke chapter 17, verses 7 – 10. Having just spoken about genuine faith amongst would-be followers, Jesus contrasts the role of a master and servant, warning against pride.

Building on a common theme in the first-century Middle East, he uses the typical pattern of a master-servant relationship to illustrate the relationship between God and his people. It is a scene that will seem unfair to anyone who lives in a society that prizes egalitarianism and freedom, for the parable portrays acceptance of authority and respectful obedience to that authority.

However, the late Kenneth Bailey who spent many years in the Middle-East, comments that we need to be aware of ‘the security that this classical relationship provides for the servant, and the sense of worth and meaning that is deeply felt on the part of a servant who serves a great man. These qualities of meaning, worth, security, and relationship are often tragically missing from the life of the… worker today… The servant offers loyalty, obedience, and a great deal of hard work, but with an authentic Middle Eastern nobleman the benefits mentioned above are enormous’ (Through Peasant Eyes: p.119f).

Jesus asks, “Who among you who has a servant ploughing or keeping sheep will say to him when he has come in from the field, ‘Come at once and recline at table?” (17:7) He expects the answer, ‘No one’.

“Will he not rather say to him,” Jesus continues, “‘Prepare supper for me, … and afterward you will eat and drink?’” (17:8) Commentators have noted that the meal envisaged here is not late at night. More likely it would have been at three or four o’clock in the afternoon. The master isn’t a bully, demanding harsh and unfair hours of his servant.

The parable is asking the question, ‘Does the master provide special privileges to a servant who does his/her duties?’ To which the answer is ‘No’.

Jesus uses the parable to draw our attention to the nature of the relationship between himself and his followers – which we also find in other places. In John 15:15 for example, Jesus calls his disciples friends but then qualifies this by noting that the servant is not greater than his master (John 15:20).

Nowhere in the Bible do we find a casual egalitarianism between God and his people that is envisaged in some Christian circles today. God alone is God. And Christ is our Lord.

Verse 9 presses the application. Using a form of question similar to that in verse 7, Jesus asks, “Does he thank the servant…?” – again expecting the answer ‘No’.

Jesus doesn’t use the usual Greek word for thank (eucharisteo). Rather he uses the word charis – meaning grace/favor. Literally he is asking: ‘Does he (the master) have any grace/favor for the servant?’ This is significant, for the theme of grace or favor is dominant throughout the Bible, and not least in the New Testament.

For example, in Luke chapter 1, verse 30 we learn that Mary was told by the angel that she had found favor with God. This doesn’t mean that Mary had won favor with God because of some special action that deserved merit. Rather, the context reveals she was given a gift that was far too great to have been earned. God, of his own initiative had granted her a favor, purely as a gift.

More than just thanks. Here in Luke chapter 17, verse 9 the question is even deeper, for it is asking if the servant now deserves more than just ‘thanks’ for a day’s work well done. Is the master now indebted to his servant? Is his work now worthy of merit – grace/favor? This is the central question the parable addresses. To which the answer is ‘No’: the servant has simply done what he was required to do. He has no grounds for claiming special favor.

The point is wrapped up in the final comment: “So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, ‘We are worthless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done!’” (17:10)

The original word translated worthless is difficult to express in English. Indeed, in his book Through Peasant Eyes (p.123f), Kenneth Bailey suggests that we need to review how the word has been translated in Middle Eastern contexts. Following the 11th century Syriac and Arabic versions we can better translate verse 10: “We are servants to whom nothing is owing, we have only done our duty.”

This is truly significant. It underlines yet again a theme Jesus develops: salvation is a gift. It is not merited in any way, shape or form. It anticipates his words about the purpose of his coming – to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10).

The parable challenges everyone of us who has turned to Jesus and become his follower. We are not employees who can expect payment or honor. Rather we are servants of a master, in a very positive sense, who has committed himself to be completely responsible for us.

We enjoy the benefits of his security as we work in his service from a sense of loyalty and obligation. We don’t work expecting great rewards: we are simply doing our duty.

A prayer. Lord God, you declare your mighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: grant us such a measure of your grace so that, running in the way of your commandments, we may obtain your promises and share in your heavenly treasure; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to the hymn, For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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Make Friends for Yourselves… https://anglicanconnection.com/make-friends-for-yourselves/ Tue, 20 Sep 2022 22:09:48 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30938 The post ’Make Friends for Yourselves…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Money and what money can buy dominate our lives. The title of one book says it all: Born to Shop.

To follow up last Wednesday’s consideration of the Parable of the Dishonest Manager, we noted that the parable brings together several key biblical themes. The property owner in Luke chapter 16 is an honorable man. Confronted by a manager who is corrupt the owner justly dismisses him, but in his mercy does not have him immediately imprisoned. By his silence the manager admits his guilt.

A dark parable. However, perceiving the owner also to be merciful, the manager pursues a bold strategy that will rescue his future. But it is a strategy that is entirely dependent upon the mercy of the owner. It’s a dark parable about life and death issues – our corrupted character and the extraordinary goodness and beauty of God.

Which brings us to verses 9-13: ‘And I tell you’, said Jesus, make friends for yourselves by means of dishonest wealth, so that when it is gone they may welcome you into the eternal homes.

The And I say… indicates a new subject that is linked back to the parable. Unlike the manager in the parable, the people to whom Jesus now speaks have financial resources. Instead of simply serving their own needs, they are in a position to assist others.

The theme of an existential crisis about the future continues, but this time it is in the context of Jesus’ followers. Jesus wants us all to consider our own future and how we should live in the light of it. In particular he wants us to think about how we might use our resources – our money and possessions.

In Luke chapter 12, verse 33 Jesus urges his followers to lay up treasure in heaven. Here in verse 9 he is saying, ‘win friends now so that they may welcome you into the eternal homes.’

The they Jesus is speaking about, are people who have heard and responded to God’s good news because of the generosity of God’s people funding gospel ministries.

‘Life is short,’ Jesus is saying. ‘Ask yourself how you will use your material resources, for the time will come when you won’t need your money.’ It will happen when we die or when Jesus returns – whichever occurs first.

Costly Giving? Are you willing to use the resources you have at your disposal for the salvation of others – even those who in your view don’t deserve to be saved?

In the dark parable of the Dishonest Manager, God uses his resources to pay the price of the rescue of fallen humanity. Now Jesus is asking, ‘Are you willing to use your resources sacrificially so that the unlovely and the unjust can come to know him as their Lord and Savior? If you do, the day will come when there will be a welcome cheer for you in heaven.’

‘Don’t live for this world and its wealth. It is absurd to make money and possessions your life’s goal. Live for the world that is to come,’ Jesus is saying.

As now, so then.  In verses 10-11 he illustrates his point by setting down a principle regarding faithfulness. To be found trustworthy in the small matters of life is a measure of trustworthiness in matters that are great. How we use money and possessions now is a measure of our fitness for the greater wealth of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.

“And if you have not been faithful in what belongs to another, who will give you what is your own?” Jesus asks in v.12.

Worldly wealth is a temporary trust and a test of faithfulness. Entry into the coming kingdom is permanent wealth. Jesus is not an ascetic who sees the material world as evil. He knows money is temporary, but nevertheless useful stuff when properly used.  He is also realistic for he knows how often the purse-strings control our heart-strings. He knows how easy it is to love money and the power it seems to give us.

So he warns in verse 13: “No slave can serve two masters; for a slave will either hate the one and love the other, or be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and wealth.”

The word hate was a common expression in Jesus’ day. It underlines the point that of two alternatives one is preferred over the other.  There is no place for compromise. Jesus wants us to put him first.

Jesus was speaking then to people living in the 1st century Roman society, but he might just as well be speaking to us today. The way we continue to consume goods is surely nothing short of idolatry. Our shopping malls look more and more like temples.

There are many practical ways we can apply this principle:

Adopt the Scriptural pattern of percentage giving: ten percent is the guide.

Support the ministry of the local church as a first commitment. We may not always agree with all the policies of the church – no church is perfect – but if the Bible is being taught and the gospel proclaimed we should have no hesitation in supporting it financially; local churches are fundamental to building people into God’s kingdom.

Invest in the training of ministers: the future of the church depends on this.

Support mission in the wider world and include Christian ministries that care for the poor.

You may also want to support the Anglican Connection – equipping and supporting church leaders in effective discipling and gospel ministry.

Many of God’s people understand the lessons of Jesus’ words here – making generous donations in support Christian ministry at home and mission work overseas, or in supporting foundations for the relief of the poor.

Jesus wants us to know that we are stewards, not owners of the resources we have. We should invest in the future laying up for ourselves, not treasures on earth, but in the home where we will live forever. Jesus is not saying we can buy our way there. Rather, in this instance, we are to enable others to hear the gospel by using our resources for ministry now.

The question he asks us is this: ‘Will you?’ It means trusting his promises about the future. It means trusting that the ministry of his Word will change lives forever.

A prayer for the gospel. Lord Christ, eternal Word and Light of the Father’s glory: send your light and your truth so that we may both know and proclaim your word of life, to the glory of God the Father; for you now live and reign, God for all eternity. Amen.

You may like to listen to the hymn, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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Mercy – So Undeserved https://anglicanconnection.com/mercy-so-undeserved/ Wed, 14 Sep 2022 02:08:20 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30933 The post ’Mercy – So Undeserved’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Many millions throughout the world are mourning the death of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. The longest reigning monarch in British history, she was respected for her life-long commitment to leadership through service. She reigned with dignity and graciousness, providing stability in a chaotic world.

In previous Word on Wednesday writing I have touched on her witness to her faith in her Christmas Messages. In 2011 she said:‘…Although we are capable of great acts of kindness, history teaches us that we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed. God sent into the world a unique person – neither a philosopher nor a general, important though they are, but a Saviour, with the power to forgive…’

Her words, ‘we sometimes need saving from ourselves – from our recklessness or our greed’ call to my mind Jesus’ parable, ‘The Parable of the Shrewd Manager’ found in Luke chapter 16. Two themes stand out: a Dishonest Manager; and a Generous Owner.

A Dishonest Manager. The parable takes us into the world of property and business. It’s the story of a rich man who has his affairs looked after by a property manager, who enjoyed a great deal of delegated power. He could negotiate financial deals and sign contracts. His position commanded a great deal of respect.

However, as with any position of financial responsibility, he could mismanage funds. And this seems to have been the case, for at short notice his master issued him with a dismissal notice: Charges were brought to the owner that his manager was squandering his property.

The silence of the manager is significant. He was street-smart and was clearly unsure of the details of the charges. To speak might give the master even more reason to charge him. But his silence condemned him. He was fired, but significantly not immediately sent to prison. He had time to plan, but he needed to act quickly.

Knowing he didn’t have either the physical stamina or the heart to work as a laborer, and not wanting to beg, he worked on a strategy to win friends who would look after him.

One by one he called in those who owed money to the owner. He halved the debt of the first debtor who owed the equivalent of 900 gallons (lit. 100 barrels) of oil. He also reduced the sum owed by a second debtor who owed the equivalent of two and a half tons of wheat (lit. 100 containers).  In today’s money both reductions were in the order of $10,000.

While much ink has been spilled in debating the meaning of this parable, we can make several observations. The manager’s action in reducing the outstanding accounts is conceivable. In a bad season an owner could reduce the yearly rent in advance. But the feature here is the secrecy and the speed of the adjustments.

Furthermore, there is an all-important underlying theme: the owner’s character. The manager knew him to be just and upright. And because the owner hadn’t promptly sent the manager to prison, it was evident he could temper justice with mercy.

This is the key: the manager risked everything on his perception of the owner’s mercy.

A generous owner. The owner had two options: he could call in the debtors and point out that the updated rental agreements weren’t binding. Or he could remain silent and personally absorb the pain and the price of the deception. In which case he would be the one who paid the cost of his manager’s tactic.

To interpret the parable this way puts a dark construction on its meaning. Could Jesus really be saying this? Consider verse 8 where we read: And his master commended the dishonest manager because he had acted shrewdly.

Shrewdness. The placing and force of the word shrewdly is significant. The owner is not commending his manager for his deception, but rather is complementing his shrewdness.

The usual Greek word for wisdom is sophia. But here another word is used – meaning cleverness in self-preservation. The manager is commended for his shrewdness in looking out for his future.

The parable speaks of an existential moment in the manager’s life. He faced a future without hope. The movement of the story and the motif of shrewdness means this is a parable about life and death matters.

Furthermore, as one commentator has noted, the better reading of the phrase in 16:8 is not, the unrighteous manager but rather the manager of unrighteousness. This phrase is a figure or metaphor for the world of men and women whose lives are characterized by unrighteousness before the owner – God.

In the parable Jesus is drawing together a complex cluster of ideas. The owner is a figure for God who is both just and yet incredibly merciful. The dishonest manager is a figure for us all.

A parable for us all. In the story the manager is caught in his sinful actions and called to account. Knowing he is guilty, he entrusts his future completely to the kindness and mercy of the owner. Having experienced his master’s goodness at the beginning (he wasn’t jailed) he is confident his master will bear the full cost of his rescue. This is the shrewdness the master commends.

Shrewdness about life, death and the future is what Jesus wants us all to think about. Verse 8b is the climax of the parable: “The children of this age are more shrewd in dealing with their own generation than are the children of light,” Jesus comments.

Kenneth Bailey, who lived in the Middle East for decades observes: ‘the parable provides an unforgettable insight into the nature of God, the predicament of men and women, and the ground of salvation’ (Bailey, p.110).

This is a ‘dark’ parable in that Jesus teaches us lessons about God and ourselves, the present and the future, through a situation of corruption, injustice and pain. It is ‘dark’ in that it is the owner who has to pay the price for human failure. As Luke’s narrative unfolds, the shadow of the cross of Calvary looms ever larger.

The parable challenges us all (disciples 16:1) to be shrewd in preparing for our future beyond the grave, and wise in trusting God with our life now. Men and women (the children of this age) make smart decisions about life, looking after and protecting their interests

However, Jesus is saying, the children of light (his followers, 16:1) are not necessarily clever about heavenly things. They know there is a future world but they don’t prepare for it, nor do they live in the light of that knowledge.

‘In what do you trust?’ is Jesus’ question. Have you understood that the only hope of rescue for sinful men and women is found in the mercy of God? Yes, that mercy is undeserved, he is saying, but the day will come when you will see that God, the owner, is willing to pay the full price of your rescue.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory.  Amen.

You may like to listen to the hymn, In Christ Alone from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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Lost… https://anglicanconnection.com/lost/ Tue, 06 Sep 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30925 The post ’Lost…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Divisions between groups of people is a feature of every age. These days the divisions are being redefined – based especially on race and gender.

In Luke chapter 15 we find two very different groups amongst Jesus’ hearers: what we might call the ‘sinners’ and the ‘saints’. In the eyes of contemporary Judaism, prostitutes and tax collectors were ‘sinners’ – outcasts of respectable society. The religious elite, who viewed themselves as the shepherds of Israel, considered that they were the righteous, the ‘saints’.

By dining with outsiders Jesus implied that he treated them equally as men and women and welcomed them. Indeed, in the previous section Luke records Jesus’ words about true discipleship: “Let anyone with ears to hear, listen!” (14:35). It was the outsiders rather than the religious elite who heard.

In Luke chapter 15 three parables alert sinners to the reality of God’s grace, while at the same time challenging the self-satisfied saints to repentance. In all great literature there are purple passages: Luke chapter 15 stands supreme.

The lost sheep (15:3-7). David Penman, one time theologian and missionary in the Middle East and a former Anglican archbishop, once pointed out to me that ‘no-one in the Middle-East loses anything; things are simply lost. One is never ‘bad’, they are simply not ‘good’. The outcasts in Jesus’ audience would have listened intently because he spoke about the lost.

In our city life we often lose sight of the risks to the shepherd and the price he would have paid to rescue the sheep. His action stands in stark contrast to the ‘shepherds’ in Israel who were losing sheep and not bothering about rescuing and restoring them. All they did was sit on the sidelines, criticizing anyone committed to rescuing the lost.

Does this sound like today? How many progressive church leaders are committed to going out and rescuing the lost with the clear statement of God’s good news?

Grace, freely and sacrificially offered, is the dominant theme of the parable. The sheep was lost and unable to find its way home. Showing grace or mercy, the shepherd was pro-active in searching for it. The lost sheep could offer no assistance: its restoration was a gift from beginning to end. With joy in his heart the shepherd slung the sheep over his shoulder and carried it home. So great was his joy that he called in his neighbors to share in it (15:5-6).

Jesus’ comment in verse 7 provides the interpretative key for the parable: “Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.”

Jesus made a clear link between the lost sheep and sinners: men and women who are lost in terms of their relationship with God. For many, Christianity means rules and regulations set by a cold and aloof God whose only interest is impossible perfection and retributive justice.

The tax collectors and sinners in Jesus’ audience may have been tempted to think this way too, for their religious leaders taught and held out to them an impossible standard. They knew all too well that they were lost. This parable, with its focus on the extravagant goodness and grace of God, gave them the hope that God was sending his shepherd to rescue them.

Further, the parable is about the cost of the rescue. We are aware of the cost in rescuing people in the aftermath of a major disaster – a hurricane, earthquake or tsunami. Here Jesus points to the cost of the rescue of humanity; the shepherd is not burdened by the weight of a lamb, but by the load of the full-grown sheep that he carries back through the wilderness.

Luke wants us to become aware of the dark shadow of the cross looming over Jesus’ life. There is also an implied repentance – the recognition of need – in the sheep’s acceptance of its rescue.

Through the lens of this parable we see the shape of God’s good news. Jesus himself is the good shepherd who has come to the rescue of fallen, lost humanity. Ironically, the outcasts, the irreligious are aware of their state, but the religious aren’t. A further parable develops this conundrum.

The lost coin (15:8-10). Jesus’ attack on the failure of the religious leaders continued with the opening line of the second parable – a woman and a lost a coin. It may have been one of ten coins in her purse, or it may have been a coin on a string of coins. Significantly, it is the responsibility of the person who lost the coin to find it. Unlike the Pharisees and their scribes who were indifferent to the lost, the woman started searching.

The price of her search and recovery was high, for she needed to get down on her hands and knees and go over every inch of her house, looking in every nook and cranny. Clearly the coin could not find or restore itself. Jesus’ theme of rescue and restoration continued with the successful recovery of the coin.

Men and women are likened to lifeless coins, lost and almost hidden in the darkness of a chaotic, confused world. Rescue and restoration are entirely dependent on the initiative and action of an external actor – someone who is totally committed to finding them.

The first parable presented Jesus as the ‘good shepherd’; this parable presents him as ‘a good woman’ – a responsible householder doing everything to take care of what is theirs. The unexpected theme of grace dominates. God himself is willing to do everything he needs to do to reach out and restore what is very precious to him.

Again, there is joy. How ironic that those who were so critical of Jesus and of his obvious care and compassion for the lost, would dare sit in judgment on him. Heaven itself rejoices over one sinner who repents (15:10).

A prayer. Almighty God, you are always more ready to hear than we are to pray, and constantly give more than either we desire or deserve: pour down on us the abundance of your mercy, forgiving us those things of which our conscience is afraid, and giving us those good things for which we are not worthy to ask, except through the merits and mediation of Jesus Christ, your Son our Lord. Amen.

You may like to listen to Magnificent, Marvelous, Matchless Love from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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Expectations… https://anglicanconnection.com/expectations/ Tue, 30 Aug 2022 22:22:04 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30920 The post ’Expectations…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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These days the success of a church or minister is usually measured in numbers: the bigger the crowds the more successful the ministry.

But numbers never impressed Jesus. He was much more interested in disciples – people who were ready to be taught by him and be guided by his good counsel throughout life, no matter the cost.

In Luke chapter 14, verses 26 through 33, we find that huge crowds were following him. Turning to them he said: “Whoever comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters, yes, even life itself, cannot be my disciple. Whoever does not carry the cross and follow me cannot be my disciple…”

The choice between family affection and our loyalty to him is the first of two expectations Jesus sets out for all who would follow him.

The startling word hatred with respect to family members lays out a principle: namely the need to subordinate every relationship, including our relationship with dearly loved ones, and even life itself, to loyalty to Jesus Christ.

This is not fanaticism. Rather, Jesus’ focus here is rooted in the first commandment: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul and strength’ (Deuteronomy 6:6).

Now, it is vital not to build doctrine on just one verse. True disciples, instructed by the counsel of God’s Word, will also be aware of the importance of family life – as we find for example, in Deuteronomy 5:16, 18; Matthew 5:27ff; Ephesians 5:3-5, and Ephesians 5:22-6:4.

Furthermore, elsewhere in his ministry Jesus even commands his followers to love their enemies, not destroy them (Luke 6:27).

In any age – and not least today – there are many who claim to be followers of Jesus Christ. But Jesus is telling us that unless our loyalty to him is not front and center in our lives, our claim is meaningless – “they cannot be my disciple”, he says (Luke 14:27b).

Bearing one’s cross is another expectation (14:27). The sight of someone carrying a cross would have been familiar to many of Luke’s first readers. Hundreds were crucified in Galilee at the time. Speaking figuratively, Jesus requires that any of us who would follow him must put aside anything that stands in the way of their loyalty to him and honoring him.

JC Ryle (Luke: Expository Thoughts, pp167f) comments: ‘The demand which our Lord makes upon us here is particularly stringent and heart-searching. Yet it is a wise and necessary one … Ungodly fathers cannot bear to see their sons ‘taking up new views’ of religion; worldly mothers are vexed to see their daughters unwilling to enter into the gaieties of the world …

‘It is a heavy cross to disagree with those we love, and especially about spiritual things; but if this cross is to be laid upon us, we must remember that firmness and decision are true kindness.’

How often has a firm but gracious resolve to follow Christ spurred family members to take Christ seriously?

Two parables illustrate the need to count the cost – the tower builder and the warring king.

Anyone who decides to build a tower – it is their choice – will want to calculate the cost. To do otherwise is to invite the scorn of others and even threaten the success of the enterprise.

Furthermore, it is a foolish leader (king) who goes to war without evaluating the resources needed for victory. It is the wise king who, realizing he does not have the necessary resources, finds a way to secure a peace.

To follow Christ truly is costly. It’s something that God’s people in every age should consider.

With the pandemic over the last two and a half years, many good Bible-believing churches are finding there is a renewed interest in the Christian faith. How important it is that when introducing men and women to the wonders of God’s grace and the hope of glory, they do not neglect to explain the cost of commitment. Too often people come into the life of a church with their own dreams and expectations – prosperity, or ‘God will let me live life the way I want’.

Salt – a warning. Jesus concludes his words here with the analogy of salt. Anyone who says they are his follower and yet who lacks the qualities of true discipleship is like salt that has lost it flavor. “Salt is good,” Jesus says. However, “if salt has lost its taste how can its saltiness be restored?” he asks (14:34).

Pure salt is one of the most stable compounds and therefore doesn’t lose its taste. However it is generally agreed that the common salt used in Jesus’ day was impure. It was therefore possible that the sodium chloride in the material called salt could be washed out and thus lose its salty taste. It became useless: “It is fit neither for the soil nor for the manure pile…”

‘True discipleship,’ Jesus is saying, ‘both preserves and adds flavor.’ True disciples are not bland and insipid. Rather they have a cutting edge to their lives – living a life of discipleship, no matter the cost; praying for and looking for ways to introduce others to the Lord Jesus Christ.

A prayer. Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Attending the upcoming Getty Music ‘Sing’ Conference: September 5-7?

Look for the Anglican Connection booth and sign up for our breakout session: ‘The Gospel Shape of Reformation Anglican Liturgy’.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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The Dinner Party… https://anglicanconnection.com/the-dinner-party/ Wed, 24 Aug 2022 01:07:31 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30915 The post ’The Dinner Party…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Everyone loves a party, especially if we like the hosts and the interesting guests they always invite. Throughout his narrative Luke observes that Jesus of Nazareth was someone hosts and hostesses liked to have on their guest list.

Jesus has always intrigued people. Even today people indicate they would love to have him on their guest list. But Jesus often proved to be an unpredictable guest, saying the unexpected in the course of a meal. And while the religious establishment were threatened by him, they kept him on their guest list – in the hope of trapping him during conversation.

In Luke chapter 14 we find Jesus at a dinner party in the home of a synagogue ruler, who may also have been a member of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) and a Pharisee. It was another occasion when the issue of Sabbath observance arose and the Pharisees there were watching him (Jesus) closely (14:1). The appearance of a man with edema (dropsy) could well have been a trap.

In the same way that hosts today often have place cards for seating their guests, so too protocols existed in the ancient world – including amongst the Jewish people. And, in the same way people today sometimes try and reposition their seating to be seen with the ‘right’ people, people then maneuvered their seats (14:7).

Observing this, Jesus did what he often did in a controversial setting: he told a parable. ‘Beware,’ he warned, ‘of taking a more prestigious position, only to find yourself relocated to a lower position by the host. It is better,’ he observed, ‘to take a lowly position first, so that if the host invites you to a higher position, you will receive the greater honor’ (14:8-10).

He also used the situation to return to his overall theme of the last day and observed that on that day there will be many unexpected reversals: “All those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (14:11).

Having started to speak he continued with yet another observation, this time to his host: “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or relatives, or rich neighbors; but when you give a banquet invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous” (14:12b-14).

This must have been a conversation stopper. We can imagine that as they were just about to eat their next mouthful, Jesus reminded them of the poor and the hungry. ‘How dare he?’ some may have thought. ‘You arrogant upstart,’ others may have said.

One man tried to salvage the situation. Latching on to the idea of the ultimate party in heaven, he responded, “Blessed is the one who will eat bread in the kingdom of God” (14:15).

It was the kind of statement made by someone who liked to think he was good at conflict resolution. We get the impression that the speaker believed in life after death and was pretty sure of where he was going.

But Jesus, knowing that this comment reflected religious apathy, told another story: “Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is ready now’” (14:16).

In Jesus’ day two invitations were sent out to potential guests prior to an upcoming celebration. No refrigeration meant that hostesses could not always be sure of the availability of the meat they wanted; nor could they stock up at home. Hence, two invitations: the first sent out some weeks prior to the party, the second, twenty-four hours before the event.

Jesus’ audience would have easily decoded that he was speaking about God’s kingdom. The Old Testament prophets had issued the first invitation to Abraham’s vast family. And doubtless his hearers expected him to tell them how they would all be part of it.

But the parable took an unexpected turn with the second invitation: “Come, everything is now ready.” But there was more: “They all alike began to make excuses”. ‘The first said, “I have just bought an investment property: I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’ Another said, “I have just bought five new oxen and I need to test them: please excuse me.” Another said, “I’m on my honeymoon, so I can’t come.”’

At first glance the excuses seem plausible. But they’re not. It would have been unlikely then, as today, to purchase land without first seeing it and knowing the details. Second, to purchase oxen without first testing them in a field was again most unlikely. The third excuse is the rudest. In a village community everyone would have known in advance about major events such as banquets and weddings. Furthermore, it was the height of rudeness in the Middle East to speak on social occasions about intimate relationships between men and women.

The parable exposes the way that people in every age are so focused on the interests and cares of the material world that they have no time for God. How attracted we are by the desires of our hearts and so fail to realize that there is a much richer dimension to our existence: we are creatures, designed to know the deep love of our Creator and the rich joy, beauty and delights of his eternal kingdom.

A prayer. God our Father, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Attending the upcoming Getty Music ‘Sing’ Conference: September 5-7?

Look for the Anglican Connection booth and sign up for our breakout session: ‘The Gospel Shape of Reformation Anglican Liturgy’.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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Hypocrisy… https://anglicanconnection.com/hypocrisy/ Wed, 17 Aug 2022 05:30:54 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30906 The post ’Hypocrisy…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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No one likes a hypocrite. The English word hypocrite has its origin in the Greek word for actor and like actors, hypocrites typically love the applause of the crowd – as they say one thing and do the opposite

Come with me to a scene we find in Luke’s Gospel as Jesus traveled towards Jerusalem. The details speak of its historical authenticity – a woman crippled with an incurable sickness and a pompous leader of a synagogue with his high-minded rule-keeping. The scene unfolds in Luke chapter 13, verses 10 following.

Teaching in a synagogue one Sabbath, Jesus noticed a badly crippled woman, bowed and helpless – possibly with spondylitis deformans. It may be her infirmity itself drew attention or she may have used it as an excuse to be noticed. Certainly she had a problem.

Luke the physician tells us that a spirit – an evil spirit – had caused this physical infirmity for eighteen years. Inviting her to come over to him, no doubt so that everyone could see, Jesus said to her, “Woman you are set free from your ailment” (13:12). Luke tells us that Jesus laid his hands on her and immediately she was able to stand up straight again. Feeling strength and health in her body, the woman’s first response was to praise, glorify God (13:13).

The moment of joy, however, was brought to an abrupt halt when the synagogue ruler angrily stepped in: ‘You have six other days in the week for work. You are not to practice medicine on the Sabbath,’ was the force of his harsh words (13:14).

But Jesus was not deterred. “You hypocrites!” he said. “Does not each of you on the Sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water? Ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the Sabbath day?”

For Jesus, her healing symbolized something more than God’s power and compassion at work. It symbolized her release from the power of sin and evil. Furthermore, in saying that it was right to heal on the Sabbath, Jesus was pointing out that the Sabbath was consecrated for the ‘good and proper end’ of creation.

Two parables that follow underline this (13:18-20). Both highlight the prolific and pervasive growth of God’s kingdom. The parable of the mustard seed shows how, from a tiny insignificant beginning, God’s kingdom would become immense. From the modest beginning of twelve men, and one of them a traitor, in a tiny province in the Roman Empire, would grow a group numbering millions upon millions. The final return of God’s king is in mind.

If you have ever made bread, you will know how the yeast finds its way through the dough, doubling its size or more, if left long enough. Similarly, God’s kingdom will find its way right through society, into the lives of insignificant men and women as well as into the corridors of political and economic power.

The healing of the crippled woman was a sign of God’s power and of Jesus’ authority. It was a sign of the decision God had made: to liberate men and women from their bondage to sickness, to sin and to Satan. This was God’s purpose.

It was the choice Jesus had made. He had come to liberate men and women from their slavery to self and to sin. And God’s vision is big. Countless millions will be affected. We can be completely confident about this.

And look how Jesus treated this crippled woman. She was a nobody, an outcast, and yet he was prepared to put his reputation on the line for her. Ignoring the potential reaction of the religious elite, he made available for her the benefits of the kingdom of God.

What an encouragement this is for us. Everyone is acceptable. It doesn’t matter who we are: there are no exceptions. And that is why there will be many surprises on the final day.

Prayer. Lord God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many great dangers that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

Attending the upcoming Getty Music ‘Sing’ Conference: September 5-7?

Look for the Anglican Connection booth and sign up for our breakout session: ‘The Gospel Shape of Reformation Anglican Liturgy’.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

Support the Word on Wednesday ministry – Mid-year gift here.

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’The Hinge of History…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/the-hinge-of-history/ Tue, 09 Aug 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30900 The post ’The Hinge of History…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In The Weekend Australian (August 6-7, 2022), Dr Greg Sheridan, well-respected foreign affairs writer, observed: ‘The world moved a few steps closer to war this week – war of unimaginable consequences between the world’s two superpowers. We’re still probably a long way from war, but war got closer, more possible, more imaginable’.

Is a day coming when the decades-long relative peace we have enjoyed in the West is broken?

In every age people are looking for meaning and security. Jesus of Nazareth understands our needs, our longings, and not least our desire for peace. Yet in Luke chapter 12, verses 49 though 56 we encounter some of his toughest words.

In verse 49 we read: “I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Fire and water were symbols of judgment in the Old Testament. Water devoured the people of Noah’s day and fire destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. Jesus is saying that with his coming amongst us the time of divine judgment is set. Our cry for justice will be answered.

But we have to understand that all of us are the problem. Humanity has made incredible strides in the fields of science and technology. We can communicate with one another in nano-seconds, but we still have problems in our relationships – the tension and conflict, between nations, between ideologies and philosophies, between the sexes and amongst family members.

William Golding, the author of Lord of the Flies, was once asked why he wrote it. He responded: I believed then, that humanity was sick – not exceptional men and women, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of humanity was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.

Is there a God who will clean up the mess? Jean Paul Sartre commented: ‘That God does not exist, I cannot deny; that my whole being cries out for God, I cannot forget’.

In Luke’s narrative we find teachings that many agree are the finest in history. We encounter a debater who outclassed the finest minds around him. We also discover the most impressive miracle worker the world has known: he could heal the sick, still a storm, and even raise the dead to life.

Jesus’ life reveals a God who stands at the heart of the universe.

But there is something much more: “I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!” he says (12:50). His baptism is a metaphor for the event that would totally consume him – his crucifixion.

Now it’s important we think this through: why did Jesus die?

In his First Letter to the Corinthians, the Apostle Paul speaks of Jesus’ death:  For the message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart” (1 Corinthians 1:18f).

In the cross of Christ the power of God is at work. Paul is saying that God, in his wisdom, has used his power to provide a solution to our dilemma in a way that nothing else could.

We are not here by chance simply to make the best of our fleeting life.

The Western nations at present don’t seem to be able to govern themselves. The problem is none of us want others to govern us. We want to be in charge.

And our natural inclination is to have the same attitude towards God. ‘God,’ we say, ‘if you are there, don’t call us, we’ll call you when we need you’. But you see what we are doing? We’re breaking the first commandment: ‘You shall love the Lord your God …’.

“…What stress I am under, or, how I am straightened, until it is accomplished”, Jesus said. His death supremely reveals God’s selfless love, for it opens the door to life for a lost and unlovely world. To use the language of the Prayer Book, Jesus’ death is ‘the one perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world’.

Having died the death we deserve from God, Jesus Christ is now the defense barrister who never loses the case for anyone who turns to him and belongs to him. Jesus has an infinite willingness to hear our prayers of confession.

How easy it is in the busy-ness of life to overlook Jesus’ deep desire to serve us. It’s worth etching in our minds his words, I have a baptism with which to be baptized… for they remind us of his deep love for us. They will also awaken us and alert us when we are tempted to drift away from the good that he would have us do.

So then, what should we do? Look at vv.54-56: He also said to the people: “When you see a cloud rising in the west, you immediately say, ‘It is going to rain’; and so it happens. And when you see the south wind blowing, you say, ‘There will be scorching heat’; and it happens. You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?” (12:54-56).

As a child I learned the lines: ‘Red sky in the morning sailors’ warning; red sky at night sailors’ delight’. While weather forecasters don’t always get their predictions as accurate as we might like, there are certain principles that are timeless.

‘Why is it’, Jesus asks, ‘that you can forecast the weather, but you fail to understand the signs of the times in which you live? You fail to discern events in your midst that impact the deeper realities of your life’. People either choose to ignore or fail to understand events that point to the reality that we are not just material beings, but that our existence has come about through the work of a Creator.

So many fail to see the significance of Jesus’ life and death and resurrection. Revealing God to us in person he is the turning point, the hinge of history.

Jesus’ words here are challenging and yet encouraging. They tell us that there is a God who has started a process that will lead to a final day of judgement. But the good news is that God is not only committed to justice he has done everything needed to restore our broken relationship with him. Turning to Jesus Christ is the key.

We need to pay careful attention: The message about the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the discernment of the discerning I will thwart.”

Let me encourage you not to rest until you have found forgiveness and life in Jesus Christ who is our one true hope.

A prayer. God our Father, you have prepared for those who love you such good things as pass our understanding: pour into our hearts such love towards you, that we, loving you above all things, may obtain your promises which exceed all that we can desire; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

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Don’t Waste Your Life https://anglicanconnection.com/dont-waste-your-life/ Tue, 02 Aug 2022 14:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30891 The post ’Don’t Waste Your Life’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Don’t Waste Your Life is the title of a book John Piper wrote in 2003. Recounting something of his own teenage and early adult experiences in the late 1960s, he observes, ‘existentialism was the air we breathed. And the meaning of existentialism was that “existence precedes essence”. That is, you first exist and then, by existing, you create your essence. You make your essence by freely choosing to be what you will be. There is no essence outside you to conform to. Call it “God” or “Meaning” or “Purpose” – it is not there until you create it by your own courageous existence’ (p.14).

Today, almost 20 years later, I echo Piper’s 2003 comment, ‘this sounds strangely like our own day…’.

In the Gospel of Luke chapter 12, verses 35-40 Jesus of Nazareth draws out a bigger picture of our existence: “You must also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour”, he says (12:40).

In speaking about an unexpected hour of his coming, that is, his return, Jesus implies that we are much more than the sum of our parts – that we exist, not by happenstance, but by design. Despite the voices in the western world today, there is something, no, someone, far greater than we can imagine – who has given us life (existence) and who gives our life meaning (essence).

Contrary to many in our society who refuse to take Jesus seriously, eminent historians such as Dr. Edwin Judge comment:

‘An ancient historian has no problem seeing the phenomenon of Jesus as an historical one. His many surprising aspects only help anchor him in history. Myth or legend would have created a more predictable figure. The writings that sprang up about Jesus also reveal to us a movement of thought and an experience of life so unusual that something much more substantial than the imagination is needed to explain it’ (EA Judge, emeritus professor of history and director of ancient history at Macquarie University, Sydney).

To treat the four Gospel accounts of Jesus as authentic is key to understanding who we are.

Today and over the coming Wednesdays we’ll be looking in advance at the lectionary Gospel readings for the upcoming Sundays – all from the ‘travel narrative’ in the Gospel of Luke. So come with me to Luke 12:35-40.

Be prepared. In speaking about a day of his coming Jesus uses the metaphor of a wealthy man who was away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus says, must be ready for his return no matter how late the hour: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him when he comes and knocks” (12:35-36).

It’s easy to miss the force of these words. In the same way the servants needed to be ready for the return of their master, we need to be prepared for Jesus’ return.

There is something special here we often overlook: “Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes,” Jesus says. “Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them” (12:37). To be blessed by God is to be the beneficiary of his goodness and open-handed generosity.

Furthermore, Jesus is saying that on his return, he himself will serve his faithful people who are alert and actively preparing for his coming. “If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!” (12:38)

Deep Joy. We can only begin to imagine the deep joy that we will experience if Christ finds us faithful when he returns.

Jesus’ imagery here indicates three things about the timing of his coming. It is imminent, the master could return at any time; there is delay, the master seems to be taking his time. And there is a third element: surprise. In 12:39 Jesus references a householder not knowing when the thief will come.

We are seriously mistaken if we think we know the time of this. Yes, some who profess to be God’s people are constantly looking for signs. Some even set a date and give away all their possessions. But they ignore Jesus’ words: ‘When the day comes, it will come as a surprise’.

The reality is that one day all men and women will stand before God. While this is a frightening thought, it is also encouraging, for it means that justice will be done and all wrongs in the world throughout the centuries will be perfectly addressed.

But this is not Jesus’ focus here: he is addressing his people. The sobering thought here is that all of us who profess to be his followers are answerable to him – not just for the things we have done, but also for the things we have not done.

He is challenging us all to ask, What kind of life am I living? Am I growing in the faith? Am I simply serving my own interests in life or am I honoring the Lord in my thoughts, my words and my actions? How do I use the gifts, skills and material resources the Lord has given me? And what about my relationships – with my family and my friends, my colleagues and in the wider community?

Am I prepared for the Lord’s return? And am I helping others to prepare for the return of the King – using the opportunity to introduce them to him before it’s too late? How am I using the time the Lord has given me? Will I find on that final day that I have lived a wasted life?

A prayer. Lord God, you know that we cannot put our trust in anything that we do: help us to have faith in you alone, and mercifully defend us by your power against all adversity as, through your grace, we endeavor to serve you faithfully throughout our life; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my book in the ‘Reading the Bible Today’ series, Luke: An Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2018.

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’The LORD Reigns’ https://anglicanconnection.com/the-lord-reigns-2/ Wed, 27 Jul 2022 05:59:06 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30884 The post ’The LORD Reigns’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Introduction – John Mason

Psalm 96 is set in a cluster of psalms that form a celebration of joyful praise to God. Announcing God’s reign over his creation, Psalm 96 alerts us to God’s justice and the mystery of his mercy, even in the face of our unfaithfulness. Nothing can stop the LORD from being himself: slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.

At the Anglican Connection Conference last year, Dr. Jim Salladin, Senior Minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, New York City, gave two Bible talks on Psalm 96 – morning and afternoon. Here is his second Reflection with the title, ‘The LORD Reigns’. While his notes were prepared for a spoken rather than a written presentation, we are grateful for his permission to use them for this week’s ‘Word on Wednesday’.

Reflection: Psalm 96 (2) – Jim Salladin

We are picking up where we left this morning. Psalm 96, verses 7-13. Now, you remember this morning we looked at the first 6 verses of the Psalm. And we said that worship animates evangelism. Worship motivates gospel ministry.

So the Israelite Psalmist stands up, looks out on to the whole Gentile world and says, “Hey, whole world, listen up! Join me. Get on board with declaring God’s glory. Evangelize and tell everyone about the Lord of Israel!

And do you know why you should do that? Because he is surpassingly worthy, glorious, beautiful. Worship drives gospel ministry. That was this morning. But there is still a bit of a nagging question. Here is the question: What produces worship?

Do you see the question? If we will only really evangelize when we worship the LORD, then what is it that will get us to worship the LORD? Now we hinted at the answer this morning, but now Psalm 96 gives us more details. And here is what I want you to see: the Gospel imparts the joy of worship.

Let me explain. Look at verse 10. Now verse 10 is important because it gives us the Gospel. What I mean is that verse 10 is the message that Psalm 96 wants us to proclaim. And the Gospel of Psalm 96 might surprise you: Say among the nations, the LORD reigns! Yes, the world is established; it shall never be moved; he will judge the nations with equity.

There is it is. That is the Gospel. The LORD reigns as King. He is coming to judge the world! Is that the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word ‘Gospel’? It sort of surprises me, but we’ll come back to it.

First, watch the joy that breaks forth. Verse 11:

Let the heavens be glad, and let the earth rejoice; let the sea roar and all that fills it;

Let the field exult, and everything in it! Then shall all the trees of the forest sing for joy before the LORD, for he comes, to judge the earth…

Did you catch that? The Gospel is: ‘The LORD is King. He is coming to judge! The response is: The crowd goes wild; the universe explodes in cosmic joy. The Gospel ignites the world in the joy of worship.

This is how God brings the human heart to a place of worship. Remember the question from this morning: How can I get my heart to worship? This is the answer. The human heart ignites with worship when we internalize the Gospel.

The Gospel of the LORD’s reign & judgement ignites the cosmos to worship and it also ignites the human heart. Which explains why it is so important that as Gospel proclaimers we apply the gospel to ourselves before we apply it to others.

But go back to the reading because I want to know why does God’s reign and God’s judgment produce joy. God’s reign and God’s judgment do not seem like happy things. Why does that Gospel produce joy? I think this might be easier for a lot of people to grasp now than it was just a few years ago.

When I was younger it was vogue to deny the existence of evil. But I don’t know anyone doing that much now. It seems like everyone knows that something is really messed up. Now no one agrees what is causing the problem but everyone thinks something is wrong. And everyone wants someone to set it right. Democrats think the Republicans are the problem; Republicans think the Democrats are the problem, but the one thing everyone can agree on is that we need a good leader who will set things in order.

Now the Bible goes way deeper. It is not just the Republicans; it is not just the Democrats who are the problem. It is Sin. All of us have repudiated God’s Kingship. All of us have staged an insurrection against God and we have enthroned ourselves. But it ends up that we are horrible kings. In fact, we are so awful at running the world that we end up ruining not only our own lives, not only each other, not only the nations, but we have ruined the whole universe in a deep and profound way.

We are in a hopeless state of insurrection and we really need a good leader who will set things in order. And that is why when the Cosmos hears the Gospel, that the King is returning, that the LORD will judge – even the trees start to rejoice.

But slow down. If the King is returning, if the King will judge, then where does that leave the insurrectionists? You see this is why the Gospel makes me nervous. This is why the Gospel sort of scares me, because I am an insurrectionist. And if the LORD reigns then it means I don’t. And if the LORD judges, then it means I am condemned.

‘Twas grace that taught my heart to fear…’ You see, this why verse 10 leads us to the Cross. Because it ends up a long time later the LORD was enthroned on a Cross. And while Jesus, the LORD was dying on the Cross, God the Father was judging my insurrection. Jesus was voluntarily taking my place suffering my penalty so that I could be declared ‘NOT guilty’.

And when Jesus rose from the dead, he proved first, that the time of amnesty had begun, and second that he would one day judge all who refused the amnesty. Now friends, look at Jesus. He is the LORD who reigns. He is the LORD who judges. And when you are an insurrectionist who has now received mercy, you can’t help but rejoice.

I mean, verse 11 says, the heavens and the earth and the sea and even the trees rejoice, but no one rejoices like a forgiven sinner, those who have been forgiven much, love much and only a forgiven sinner can appreciate the glory of the Gospel and the glory of God. The Gospel imparts the joy of worship and worship drives Gospel proclamation.

So, how does all this apply? It applies in all sorts of ways, but at least it gives us motivation, confidence and something of a method. We already said this morning that this gives us motivation. We will be bold in our proclamation when our hearts are warmed with the glory of the LORD. But it also gives us confidence if the LORD really is more glorious than any other competitor. Then who ever we talk to we can know without doubt that Jesus is precisely what they need.

And finally it gives us some help toward a method. Psalm 96 tells us to lift up the glory of Jesus and show how he is greater than everything else. And when the Spirit makes Jesus’ glory clear, people will drop their idols and turn to Christ.

But in another way, the best application is verse 7: Ascribe to the LORD, O families of the peoples; Ascribe to the LORD, glory and strength; Ascribe to the LORD, the glory due his name; bring an offering, and come into his courts! Worship the LORD in the splendor of holiness; tremble before him, all the earth.

And then, with heart filled with worship, go and declare his glory among the nations. Amen.

© Dr. Jim Salladin

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’Worship Animates Evangelism’ https://anglicanconnection.com/worship-animates-evangelism-2/ Wed, 20 Jul 2022 02:36:35 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30881 The post ’Worship Animates Evangelism’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Introduction – John Mason

William Temple, Archbishop of Canterbury during the Second World War, remarked: ‘The Church is the only society that exists for the benefit of those who are not its members.’ How often we put aside the missional nature of Christianity that bubbles throughout the Bible – and not least that we find in the Psalms.

At the Anglican Connection Conference last year, Dr. Jim Salladin, Senior Minister of Emmanuel Anglican Church, New York City, gave two Bible Reflections, morning and afternoon, on Psalm 96. He spoke on the missional focus of the Psalm’s theme that there is only one LORD.

Here is the first of Jim’s reflections with the title, ‘Worship Animates Evangelism’. While his notes were prepared for a spoken rather than a written presentation, we are grateful for his permission to use them for this week’s ‘Word on Wednesday’.

Reflection: Psalm 19 (#2) – John Yates III

Well good morning everyone. It is great to be part of the conference today. Let’s get to it. We are looking at Psalm 96 this morning and this afternoon.

Right now the focus is verses 1-6 And I want to talk about motivation for evangelism. What motivates us to proclaim the Gospel? What motivates evangelism?

Now this is a huge issue isn’t it? I mean most Bible believing Christians know we should all do evangelism. But the reality is evangelism is scary – a lot of our people are ashamed and let’s face it, aren’t you ashamed sometimes?

So, what motivates evangelism? What animates evangelism? What moves it from duty to delight? Answer: According to Psalm 96 it is worship. Worship animates evangelism. You will proclaim the Gospel when you are captivated by God’s glory. Let me show you.

Psalm 96 is super strange for a bunch of reasons. Here is one reason it is strange. It is a worship song packed full of commandments. Look at the first few verses. The Psalm is quivering with commands: Sing! Sing! Sing! Bless! Tell! Declare! That is just the first 3 verses.

Clearly this Psalm wants us to do something. What does it want us to do? We find out in verse 3: Declare [the LORD’s] glory among the nations. There it is:

This Psalm is a commission to proclaim, tell and declare the LORD’s glory. Or in verse 2, the LORD’s salvation to all nations. It is a little bit like the Great Commission:

Psalm 96 says: “Hey, whole world, listen up! Join me. Get on board with declaring God’s glory among all nations. Proclaim his glory, evangelize and tell everyone about the LORD of Israel! Now that is surprising. Does that surprise you? Did you know the Great Commission is anticipated in the Old Testament?

But again my question is why? Why does this Psalm think that we should proclaim the LORD among all the nations? And he answers that question in verse 4. Why should we proclaim the LORD among the nations? What is the motivation for Gospel ministry?

Verse 4: For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised; he is to be feared above all gods. For all the gods of the peoples are worthless idols, but the LORD made the heavens.

The Psalmist is convinced that the LORD is great, so great and so magnificent, so powerful and so glorious that he outshines every other god any nation could imagine. The Psalmist is driven by the conviction that the LORD is glorious. His proclamation is driven by worship.

Look with me more closely at verse 5. Do you see the contrast between worthless idols and the LORD who made the heavens? His argument there is sort of interesting. I expect the Psalm to say: The LORD is real. The idols are fake.

That is true, but that is not the Psalm’s point. The argument is: ‘The LORD is way more valuable than idols. The argument is: The LORD is more worthy of worship than idols. Idols are stupid and worthless. And when you really see the glory of the LORD, when you see the LORD who created everything, then you will drop your idols like a bad habit.

Can you see it is an argument animated by worship. It is an argument that only works if you really think that the LORD is supremely valuable. And we can fill in a bit more detail here.

In verse 5 the LORD is valuable because he created everything. In verse 2, the LORD is glorious because of his works of salvation. The LORD is glorious because of both creation & redemption. The Psalmist says: Look at all God did in creation – all the beauty of this world, the sky, the mountains, works of art, humanity itself. God made it all. So all you find compelling in this world, is just a shadow of his glory.

But then add to that all God did in redemption and in salvation, all God did for Israel – the Passover and the Exodus, the Mana in the Wilderness, all of it – put all that together and you will see that the LORD’S glory dwarfs all possible competitors.

Now friends, that conviction, that heart worship is what drives boldness in evangelism, when you can see (verse 6) the splendor and majesty, the strength and beauty that are before the LORD. That is when it makes sense to obey the commands to sing and sing, and sing and bless, tell, declare his glory among the nations. Worship drives evangelism.

Does it drive you? Many of us are pastors. You know how sometimes you get people;

they are pretty moral. Maybe their hearts are cold; they might not be converted; they are not driven by love yet. Well, what do they need? They need the gospel. They need verse 3; they need the glory of God to be declared to their hearts.

But guess what? It’s possible to is possible to be a preacher. It is possible to be a pretty good preacher, an expositor of the Bible. It is possible to say all the right things and yet still to have a cold heart.

Can you (verse 6) see something of the LORD’s splendor and majesty, his strength and beauty? When you say (verse 4) that the LORD is great, is that mainly a correct statement, or is it also the conviction of your soul? Well, if you look at your heart and find it cold, what do you need?

I think you are orthodox enough to know the answer: you need the Gospel. You need verse 3, the glory of God declared to you. And you know that you see the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. He died so that our heart of stone could be replaced with a heart of flesh. He became sin so that we might become the righteousness of God.

Look at him. Receive his mercy again and you will see his splendor. Jesus was glorified when he was lifted up on the Cross. He was lifted up so that we could be lifted out of our sin. Sing his glory among the nations. Amen.

© Dr. John Yates III

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’The Word of God …’ https://anglicanconnection.com/the-word-of-god-2/ Tue, 12 Jul 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30857 The post ’The Word of God …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Introduction – John Mason

Last year the Anglican Connection held an online conference with the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to remind us or to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. With John’s permission, here is his second reflection.

Reflection: Psalm 19 (#2) – John Yates III

This morning we listened in to the silent song of heaven in the opening verses of Psalm 19. Bruce Waltke and Jim Houston wonderfully summarize the impact of that song when they write that, “The firmament’s uninterrupted proclamation of God’s glory is copious, extravagant, powerful, and inescapable.” (Houston & Waltke, p.360). It’s an apt description, isn’t it?

But the testimony of the heavens takes up only the first 6 verses of this Psalm. From v.7 on, no longer is it the sun, moon and stars singing God’s praise. Now it is David’s turn, and in taking up the song he shifts his attention to another source of divine knowledge: God’s law.

With this new focus David changes his language. In vv.1-6, the term he used for God was the Hebrew word El, which is a general term affirming that God is supreme and all-powerful. But from v.7 on David uses Yahweh, a personal and particular name given by God himself and shared with his people. Yahweh is the name of the covenant-maker, the God who reaches down into creation in order to make himself known by direct revelation to his people. And David carefully uses this name 7 times – the number of completion and perfection.

While the grandeur of the heavens elicits awe in the opening lines, the intimacy of direct and personal revelation draws forth devotion in the verses that follow. David writes,

The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul;

the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple;

8 the precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart;

the commandment of the Lord is pure, enlightening the eyes;

9 the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever;

the rules of the Lord are true, and righteous altogether.

In vv.7-9 David uses 6 different terms for God’s revealed word. He speaks of law, testimony, precepts, commandments, and rules or decrees – covering every aspect of God’s self-revelation. He also speaks of the purifying fear of the Lord, which is the attitude of every heart that rightly encounters God’s word.

What does this polyvalent word from God accomplish? David explains in rapid-fire succession. First it revives – it gives new life. Second, it takes the simple, the ill-equipped, the ignorant and makes them wise. Third, it brings forth deep-seated joy. Fourth, it makes the eyes of those who read and obey it sparkle with righteousness. Fifth, it produces pure, single-hearted, fearful devotion to God himself. Finally, it sets all who hear it on a firm and unalterable foundation – the eternal and unchanging character of God.

While the heavens declare the glory of God, it is the law of Yahweh that reveals his love and goodness. The heavens tell us that there is a sovereign, powerful God who created all things in a precise and orderly manner. But only God’s law can convince us that this God is good and loving and so concerned for the people he created that he invites them to call on him by name.

In vv.10-11 David’s exploration of the goodness of God’s word continues as he offers insight into the value, desirability and effectiveness of this word.

More to be desired are they than gold, even much fine gold;

sweeter also than honey and drippings of the honeycomb.

11 Moreover, by them is your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.

God’s word is more valuable than even the most well-refined gold. In other words, there is nothing on earth that surpasses it in value. God’s word is also desirable, sweeter even than the sweetest honey left trapped in the honeycomb. There is nothing that tastes as good as God’s word or is as deeply satisfying to consume. As Thomas Cranmer wrote in his preface to the Great Bible, “in the Scriptures are the fat pastures of the soul.”

Finally, the one who heeds God’s word and obeys it is warned of dangers and rewarded by faithfulness. God’s revelation to us accomplishes something. It is powerfully effective to rescue and to bless those who keep it.

Back in v. 4 David invited us to consider the sun: 1.3 million times the size of earth, containing 98% of the mass in our solar system, and burning at a temperature of 27 million degrees Fahrenheit at its core. This blazing sphere cries out “glory” like no other star in the sky. But the power of it’s testimony pales in comparison to the words of God himself. This is what David is trying to show us in vv.7-11.

No wonder Spurgeon once said of God’s word: “it is a crime to add to it, treason to alter it, and felony to take from it.” (See Houston & Waltke, p.365).

With this torrent of praise for the goodness of God’s word we might expect the psalm to end. But it doesn’t. There is one more section, one more change in focus – this time it is a shift inward. Verse 12,

Who can discern his errors? Declare me innocent from hidden faults.

Keep back your servant also from presumptuous sins; let them not have dominion over me!

Then I shall be blameless, and innocent of great transgression.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart

be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer.

The shift is abrupt and superficially surprising. We want David’s poem to end on a high. Instead it concludes with a plea rooted in the humility of one who has stood beneath the glories of heaven and reveled in the love of God’s revealed law. For David, this is the natural and necessary conclusion to his reflections.

He knows that his wanderings, his errors, his hidden faults and flaws make no sense at all in light of what he has seen and said. But he knows they are there and that he is ultimately powerless in the face of them. So he pleads not just for mercy but for protection and purification. He asks the all-powerful God who made the heavens, and the loving Lord who revealed his law, to reign in his life and strengthen him for obedience.

The whole psalm progresses with the logic of grace, and comes to its quiet climax in v.14 when David refers to God as his redeemer. The term is pregnant with meaning in the context of God’s law. It comes from the verb that describes the work of a near relative whose obligation is to rescue, protect, and restore life and liberty when a family member has strayed or been enslaved or abused.

The God whose glory fills the skies is David’s kinsman redeemer. How? David likely doesn’t fully understand himself. But we do. We know that the ultimate revelation of God’s glory and God’s love is not the stars that dazzle or the word that reveals. It is the only-begotten Son, slain from the foundation of the world. For Jesus came as our kinsman redeemer and laid down his own life that we might be restored to God our father.

Though the song of glory sung by the heavens echoes over us, and the revelation of divine love pours forth from God’s word, we cannot comprehend him until we meet his Son. Only in Jesus, our kinsman redeemer, do we see the full extent of God’s glory and love. And it is only through Jesus that we can hear the song of heaven and rightly read his word.

So we pray with David: Let the words of our mouths and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

© Dr. John Yates III

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’The Glory of God…’ https://anglicanconnection.com/the-glory-of-god-2/ Tue, 05 Jul 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30851 The post ’The Glory of God…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Introduction – John Mason

Last year the Anglican Connection held an online conference addressing the theme, ‘The Unchanging God in a World of Change’. As the Bible provides timeless answers to questions about life various speakers brought us reflections on the Scriptures to help us learn of God and the world in which we live.

Dr. John Yates, Senior Minister of Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Raleigh, NC, gave us two meditations on Psalm 19. With John’s permission, here is his first reflection.

Psalm 19 Reflection (1) – John Yates III

Psalm 19 is well-known to all of us, and for good reason.  As CS Lewis unabashedly wrote, “I take this to be the greatest poem in the Psalter and one of the greatest lyrics in the world.”  (Reflections on the Psalms, London 1958, p.63).

This psalm of David begins with an emphatic declaration of the glory of God in the heavens in vv.1-6, pivots to a profound proclamation of the gifts of God in scripture in vv.7-11, and then concludes with a heartfelt confession and plea in vv.12-14.

As we focus on the first 6 verses this morning I want to ask two rather simple questions.  The first is this: What exactly are the heavens doing?  Verse 1,

The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork.

2 Day to day pours out speech, and night to night reveals knowledge.

3 There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard.

4 Their voice goes out through all the earth, and their words to the end of the world.

To put it simply, the heavens are praising God.  But this is no normal song of praise.

The first thing to notice about it is that it is continuous.  “Day to day” and “night to night” signify that the song is unending.  The heavens never pause for breath.  They never take a rest, which means that a melody of praise has played in the heavens since God first separated the firmaments and named them.  Every age, epoch and season has been serenaded by it.

The second thing to notice about the heavens’ praise is that it is inaudible.  It is nonetheless intelligible.  It reveals the vast storehouses of God’s knowledge, which unlike human knowledge cannot be taught but is simply possessed by God.  His knowledge and understanding is so vast it can only be displayed in the infinitude of space.

The third thing to notice is that this song is totally unconstrained.  It knows no national borders or physical barriers.  It covers every nook and cranny of the earth, and is therefore inescapable.  It is everywhere all at once.

These are the first things we notice about the song of the heavens as the poem begins.  In the second half of v.4, then, a shift takes place.  David narrows the focus of his reflection, moving from the broad expanse of the cosmos to the more familiar track of the sun.  David writes,

In them [the heavens] he has set a tent for the sun,

5 which comes out like a bridegroom leaving his chamber,

    and like a strong man, runs its course with joy.

6 Its rising is from the end of the heavens, and its circuit to the end of them,

   and there is nothing hidden from its heat.

In that last phrase, the unconstrained and inescapable nature of heaven’s witness is illustrated by the searching heat of the sun – something every Jew living in the land of Israel would have experienced first-hand on the long, hot days of a Mediterranean summer.

But David is doing more than repeating his opening theme here.  By likening the sun to a happy bridegroom he is painting a more complete picture of the character of heaven’s praise.

The sun is like a man in the fullness of life who strides across the heavens in a demonstration of strength, full of the joy of his exertion.  The sun is doing what it was made to do and loving every minute of it.  We get a hint here of the profound truth that the praise of the heavens is not an accident; it is essential to the vocation of creation.

Not to be lost in this wonderful imagery is the fact that the sun is simply part of God’s creation.  In David’s world the pagans worshiped the sun as a god.  The Babylonians even referred to the sun-god as a bridegroom.  For David, however, the sun gives worship rather than receiving it.  It is a powerful witness – but only a witness – to the far greater glory of its creator.

The subtle polemic of this portrayal is reinforced in the second half of the psalm when Yahweh is named as the one who gives the law and establishes righteousness.  Among the pagans that was the work of the sun-god.  We know this from the stele that contains Hammurabi’s law code, where the sun-god, Shamash, is portrayed as giving the law to the king.  As David will soon explain, however, the sun only heralds the one true God who alone reveals his law directly to Moses.

What are the heavens doing?  They are bearing incessant and unconstrained witness to the glory of God over every inch of creation.  In doing so they are joyfully manifesting part of their very purpose in creation.

But what is the content of their revelation?  What knowledge, exactly, do the heavens reveal?  This, our second question, needs to be addressed briefly before we conclude.

There is a noticeable lack of content in the proclamation of the heavens.  We are told of the vastness of God’s knowledge and his incomparable glory, but little is actually said about God.  Quite a bit, however, is implied in David’s description.

First we see order and intent.  The heavens are well organized; the sun skillfully sent on its daily circuit.  The “handiwork” of God is evident across the expanse of the firmament.  The God whose glory the heavens’ proclaim is orderly and intentional in all that he creates.

Second, we see engagement and accessibility.  God is involved in his creation.  He has not simply wound the spring and walked away.  He sets a tent for the sun, and daily guides its course.  He is also accessible – meaning that he has chosen to make himself known and to reveal his glory.  The extent to which he can be known, and by whom he can be known, is left a mystery at this point, but will soon be revealed in the latter half of the psalm.

Finally, we see distance.  Even though he is active and engaged, the God of David still stands apart from his creation.  He is un-created, and he alone.  The song of the heavens is a declaration of his unique glory – his weightiness, dignity and authority.

The content of heaven’s declaration may be limited, but it is still substantial.  This is a god unlike any other known to the ancient world.

As we conclude I want to leave you with a brief thought about David himself.

A psalm like this requires a lot of staring up into space: head high, shoulders back, mouth agape, mind spinning.  It is the fruit of observing the glories of the heavenly spheres, attending to their silent speech and contemplating divine intent.  Only a man looking up and outside of himself could pen a poem like this.  Only a man keen to see God’s glory and to name it could explore creation in this way.

In asking us to consider the glory of the heavens David invites us to do the same.  He invites us to stop looking at our feet or gazing at our navels, to straighten our backs, and to throw back our heads in wonder.  He invites us to see the heavens from a fresh perspective, to seek out and name God’s glory wherever we see it.

In David’s delightful description the heavens fulfill their vocation by proclaiming the glory of God – by giving him praise.  This vocation is not unique to the sun, moon and stars.  It is ours as well.  And while we may never write a poem like this, we are right to seek out God’s glory and to proclaim it boldly to the world around us.

© Dr. John Yates III

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Ambition … https://anglicanconnection.com/ambition/ Tue, 28 Jun 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30847 The post ’Ambition …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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I have a simple question: What is your ambition in life?

With the celebration of the seventy-year reign of Queen Elizabeth II, attention has been given to her commitment to serve her people. Service, not self-service, has been a characteristic of her reign.

The themes of royalty and service stand out in Dr. Luke’s record of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. One of the constant features of Jesus’ public life is his service. Although, he is God’s king, he never used his divine powers out of self-interest or self-aggrandizement, but for the good of others.

In the opening lines of Luke chapter 10, we read that Jesus sent out seventy (or seventy-two) of his followers on a training mission so they could experience first-hand what ministry in his name means. Three themes stand out.

1. Prayer. In sending out the seventy Jesus wanted his disciples to involve others in their ministry. Because God’s good news is for all peoples, many more than the disciples would be needed. The harvest is plentiful, Jesus said, ‘but the laborers are few; pray the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into his harvest field’ (10:2).

The Book of Revelation tells us that in the last day the Kingdom of God will include a huge multitude, drawn from every nation and tribe and from every generation. It will be as countless in size as the sands on the seashore and the stars in the sky.

A vast international company like this will require the involvement of thousands – people who are willing to leave their comfort zones and commit to serving the cause of Jesus Christ; people who, left to themselves, would sit comfortably in church on Sundays and in front of the television during the week.

In Reformation Anglicanism Archbishop Ben Kwashi writes, ‘In much of the world today there are churches seemingly everywhere and very many Christians, yet with little positive impact on society’.

How important it is that we pray the Lord of the harvest to stir up amongst his people a gospel mindset and the resources that are needed for the work of gospel ministry.

2. Partnership. Jesus’ instructions Luke records here were specific to a particular mission. The seventy were to ‘carry no purse, no bag, no sandals’ (10:5). Rather they were to trust God to provide for their material needs.

Jesus also impressed on them the urgency of their work: ‘Greet no one on the road,’ he said (10:5). Saying Hello to someone in the Middle East can be time-consuming. Jesus is saying that someone with a job to do can’t let themselves be caught up in small talk with everyone they meet. It doesn’t mean God’s people are to be dismissive and discourteous. Rather, Jesus draws attention to how easily we can be distracted from the ministry he is passionate about – namely rescuing the lost, giving them new life and hope in his name.

How then were the seventy to find bed and board? Jesus answered by saying: ‘Whatever house you enter, first say, ‘Peace to this house!’ And if anyone is there who shares in peace, your peace will rest on that person; but if not, it will return to you. Remain in the same house, eating and drinking whatever they provide, for the laborer deserves to be paid. Do not move about from house to house. Whenever you enter a town and its people welcome you, eat what is set before you; cure the sick who are there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near to you.’’ (10:5-8).

People who are involved in ‘full-time ministry’ are to receive their support from others who are not so called. But ministers are not charity cases: ‘They work as hard as anyone,’ Jesus is saying, ‘and they deserve their wages’.

However, he also sounds a warning. Our ministry may be rejected: But whenever you enter a town and they do not welcome you, go out into its streets and say, ‘Even the dust of your town that clings to our feet, we wipe off in protest against you. Yet know this: the kingdom of God has come near” (10:10-11).

None of us likes rejection. But Jesus warns this is a real possibility. Christian ministry can be unpopular, even dangerous work. ‘I send you out as lambs amongst wolves,’ he says elsewhere. ‘Not everyone will want your message: in some places whole societies will reject you.’ And, Jesus adds: ‘You are to accept the rejection; but warn those who reject you that the kingdom of God is near.

Ministry is about life and death issues. Men and women can reject other views about life with impunity, but when we reject God’s Messiah we put our souls in jeopardy. The stakes are high when we hear God’s gospel and when we open a Bible.  We are given a choice: will we reject or accept the message? “He who listens to you, listens to me” Jesus said; “He who rejects you, rejects me; and he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (10:16).

3. Warning. The seventy returned from their mission trip and were enthusiastic about the way God had changed lives. Their ministry was authenticated as they saw people from all walks of life receiving the message of God’s kingdom. Who wouldn’t be excited?

But Jesus has some sobering words. He not only alerts his young followers to times of ministry disappointment, he also alerts them to the perils of ministry success. Taking them aside he points out that the arrival of God’s kingdom heralded the downfall of the evil powers. ‘Ministers of God’s good news will see signs of my greater power and lives being changed for good. But don’t let this success go to your head. Remember Satan himself fell because of spiritual pride. Your greatest reason for joy is that your names are written in heaven’ (10:20).

Three very important themes emerge in 10:1-20. We see that God’s ambition is to draw into his kingdom countless numbers of people from all walks of life. We also see the conjunction of ministry and prayer. Alongside the ministry of God’s Word is the ministry of prayer.

What is your ambition? Jesus challenges us to ask how can we serve in God’s plan to rescue men and women and bring them into his kingdom.

A prayer. Lord, give your people grace to withstand the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil, and with pure hearts and minds to follow you, the only true God; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Teach us, gracious Lord, to begin our works with reverence, to go on in obedience, and finish them with love; and then to wait patiently in hope, and with cheerful countenance to look up to you, whose promises are faithful and rewards infinite; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may enjoy listening to Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

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In A Call to Spiritual Reformation Dr. Don Carson comments: ‘When it comes to knowing God, we are a culture of the spiritually stunted. So much of our religion is packaged to address our felt needs­­ – and these are almost uniformly anchored in our pursuit of our own happiness and fulfilment.  God simply becomes the Great Being who, potentially at least, meets our needs and fulfils our aspirations. We think rather little of what he is like, what he expects of us, what he seeks in us’ (pp.15f).

Three brief scenes in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth alert us to some surprising aspects of God’s nature and his expectations of all who call themselves his people.

In Luke’s record a significant turning point occurs in Jesus’ ministry: when the days drew near for him (Jesus) to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem (Luke 9:51). We feel the graphic power of Luke’s words. Jesus was not to be dissuaded from the task ahead as he transitioned in his work from the region of Galilee to Jerusalem. His determination to see his mission through was evident in the flint-like set of his face. This provides the context for what follows.

Scene 1. As they were going along the road, someone said to him (Jesus), ‘I will follow you wherever you go.’ And Jesus said to him, ‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’ (9:57-58).

The man’s words looked promising: ‘I will follow you wherever you go’. What more would a leader want? But Jesus was aware that the man was not truly committed: ‘Have you really thought about this? Do you understand what’s involved?’ Jesus was aware the man would have expected security and even privilege because he was offering to join the company of a celebrity. But Jesus indicates that the road ahead for his people will not be easy: ‘Come with me and you will have no guarantee of home comforts and security’, he is saying.

One of the misconceptions Jesus needed to correct was the Jewish view of the Messiah. Even his closest followers considered Messiah to be primarily a political figure who would bring the nations under his rule. They had rightly recognized Jesus as God’s Messiah, but it may be that they had taken this to another level: they would be nobles in Jesus’ court.

Jesus uses a powerful metaphor to shatter the man’s dreams, as well as instruct his disciples: ‘the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head’. Jesus was born in a manger and died on a cross and in between had no fixed home, let alone a palace, where he could lay his head. So he challenges us, ‘How important are comfort and security, and even celebrity to you?’

Scene 2. A second man’s request to Jesus seems reasonable: ‘Lord, let me first go and bury my father’ (9:59). Middle Eastern society required a son to remain at home to care for aging parents. Clearly this man’s parents were still alive for if his father had died, to be true to his word, he would have immediately returned home to attend to the burial.

More likely the man’s parents had some years to live, but he was using their ultimate demise as an excuse. And so Jesus challenged him, ‘Let the dead bury the dead,’ implying that the spiritually dead can attend to the family or cultural expectations. ‘But as for you, go and proclaim the kingdom of God’, he said (9:60).

Jesus’ words may seem heartless, but he saw through the man’s request. Children do have responsibilities to parents. The Scriptures command us to honour them and care for them, but we should not allow such care to distract us from the walk with Christ.

Jesus is a demanding leader to follow, as we see even more in a third scene.

Scene 3. Another said, ‘I will follow you, Lord; but first let me say farewell to those at my home’ (9:61). Once again, the request seems reasonable: ‘I need to go and say goodbye to the folks before I come and follow you’. However, Jesus knew how a lengthy Middle Eastern family farewell could be used to overturn the man’s resolve to leave home and follow an unlettered rabbi like Jesus. ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God’, Jesus responded (9:62)

Many today might be impressed with Jesus and greatly attracted to him. They may even want to follow him but are not always willing to do so – just yet. Augustine, the 5th century bishop of Hippo said, O Lord, grant me chastity and continence, but not yet.

Jesus wants our total commitment. He calls us to be willing to leave the security of a home, of family and friends, and of status. We have to make a choice.

Jesus sometimes creates tensions in families where adult family members have no regard for him. It may not be a parent, but a husband or boyfriend, a wife or girlfriend, who prevents us from hearing and obeying Jesus’ call to follow him. Jesus calls on us to join him on his rescue mission of a lost humanity.

Through the centuries God’s people have often been seduced by the attractions of privilege and prestige. Churches and denominations are often cluttered with celebrated office bearers and wealth. We need leadership and order, but celebrity and power can become more important than serving Jesus Christ.

If we adopt the principles that lie behind Jesus’ words, our relationships with one another as God’s people and in the wider community will be turned upside down. Are we known for our willingness to reach out to newcomers at church, for our care for the sick and suffering, the lonely and the bereaved? And, in our world where everyone is encouraged to bring their ‘full self’ to work, are we willing to bring our ‘Christ-centered self’?

As Jesus says elsewhere, ‘What does it profit a man or a woman to gain the whole world yet lose their own soul?’

A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people in the truth of your Word; so that those who lean only on the hope of your heavenly grace may always be defended by your mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may like to listen to For the Cause from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 109 109 Surprising Expectations full false 11:40 30844
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In a world of turmoil and injustice, conflict and suffering, we long for a day when all will be put right.

A scene in the public ministry of Jesus of Nazareth helps us.

They arrived at the country of the Gerasenes, which is opposite Galilee. As he (Jesus) stepped out on land, a man of the city who had demons met him. For a long time he had worn no clothes, and he did not live in a house but in the tombs… (Luke 8:26-27).

While today the man would be probably diagnosed with some form of psychosis, Luke, the physician, says he was demon-possessed.

Alien powers. Which raises an interesting question for us. The world of the Bible did not have the fields of psychiatry and psychology, yet the Bible does teach that we human beings are strange creatures who live on the boundary of two worlds – the physical and the spiritual. Sickness can invade this psychosomatic unity from either of those spheres. And when it does, it can cause symptoms that affect both the physical and the spiritual, the mind and the body.

Furthermore, just as illness can invade us from either source, so healing can come from either source. And when it is successful it can bring both spiritual and physical relief. We recognise this, for example, when we bring prayer and medicine to bear on cancer. In the same way, we can bring prayer and psychiatry together for a person who is mentally ill.

Luke’s record provides a helpful clue to our question of diagnosis: the man fell down at Jesus’ feet, not in worship but in recognition of Jesus’ superior power. He shouted, ‘What have you to do with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I beseech you, do not torment me’ (8:28).

The man was suffering from more than mental illness or uncontrolled behaviour through alcoholism or drug addiction. Markers of his condition were the length of time he had been disturbed and his awareness of the supernatural.

His response to Jesus’ question, ‘What is your name?’ shows how true this was. ‘Legion,’ he said. The powers within him knew they were confronted by someone greater, for Jesus was commanding them to leave the man (Luke 8:29-30).

A greater power. Fearing the abyss, the restriction of their movement, these alien forces asked Jesus to let them enter a large herd of swine. They may have thought this would allow them to move around. Receiving Jesus’ permission, they entered the pigs and the herd rushed down the steep bank into the lake and were drowned (Luke 8:33).

The destruction of the pigs graphically captures the ultimate purpose of such cosmic powers. They are hell-bent on the destruction of God’s creation.

Luke’s juxtaposition of the before and after scenes reinforces this. Under the influence of dark powers, the man had no shame. He was naked and couldn’t live in normal society – only amongst the dead. He couldn’t be restrained and was unable to enjoy meaningful human relationships, let alone relationship with God. He was alienated and alone, an outcast. The powers of darkness are intent on defacing and destroying the image of God in us.

However, released from the dark powers through Jesus’ greater power, the man’s life was dramatically changed: the towns people found him sitting at the feet of Jesus, clothed and in his right mind (Luke 8:35). Whereas previously he hadn’t wanted companionship, now he wanted to be with Jesus. Whereas previously he had lived amongst the dead, now Jesus told him to return …home (Luke 8:38-39a).

Jesus holds out to us the promise of restoration and hope.

The picture the New Testament paints is that the Creator’s rightful rule has been usurped by a coup – by what the Letter to the Ephesians calls the rulers of this present darkness (Ephesians 6:12). Currently there is a conflict between two distinct spheres of existence – the heavenly and the earthly. However, the scene in the land of the Gerasenes points us to the supremacy of Jesus Christ.

For the present, we are naïve if we ignore the reality that there are dark forces in the cosmos intent on controlling the lives of men and women. As the scene in Luke 8 reveals, and as we read in Ephesians chapter 6, our struggle is not simply against flesh and blood. God’s people are caught up in a struggle with the powers of darkness.

However, the Bible assures us that the day is coming when everything will be brought under the manifest rule of Jesus Christ – as we read for example, in Ephesians 1:10. Christianity is not a dualistic faith. God’s king is supreme. Jesus’ restoration of the man in the land of the Gerasenes points to this reality.

A commission. There’s something else in the scene in Luke chapter 8. Despite the good Jesus had done for the man, the local property owners and townspeople didn’t want him to stay. They feared him (Luke 8:35, 37). But Jesus didn’t leave this non-Jewish world without a witness. He commissioned the man to stay and let everyone know what God had done for him (Luke 8:39). His presence and testimony would be a constant reminder of the extraordinary Jewish man who had visited and brought about an amazing transformation to his life.

From the way Luke has recorded this event, it is clear he wants us not only to grasp the impact of Jesus’ power, but also to feel the extent of his care and compassion – and not least to those who are outside Israel.

God’s good news is that a remarkable intervention has occurred in world events. The true king of the universe himself has come amongst us, not with great fanfare, let alone with an army. That was not his strategy. Rather, single-handedly, he has mortally wounded the prince of darkness and is now gathering from all over the world people who are loyal to him.

To achieve his purposes, he involves us – to pray for God’s mercy and to introduce our family and connections to the compassionate and all-powerful Lord Jesus Christ. He is the one who will put all things right.

A prayer. Lord God, the unfailing helper and guide of those whom you bring up in your steadfast fear and love, keep us, we pray, under the protection of your good providence, and give us a continual reverence and love for your holy name; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may want to listen to Christ is our Hope in Life and Death from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

The post ’Two Powers…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 108 108 Two Powers… full false 13:20 30837
The Trinity – The God Who is Love https://anglicanconnection.com/the-trinity-the-god-who-is-love/ Tue, 07 Jun 2022 15:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30829 The post ’The Trinity – The God Who is Love’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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It’s often said that God is love. I suggest this is glibly said because for God to love he must have someone else to love throughout eternity.

In a highly patterned and repetitive piece of writing, the first book of the Bible introduces six stages of God’s creating work with, ‘And God said, “Let there be…”’ However, in the second part of verse 26 of Genesis chapter 1 this symmetry is broken. A significant plural verb is introduced, “Let us make…”. The break is emphatic. The us is not simply a royal plural. The decision to create men and women is the outcome of a conversation within the Godhead.

The Old Testament consistently says there is only one God. Yet, there is constant reference to the Spirit of the Lord. Furthermore, in the New Testament, the Gospel records speak of Jesus of Nazareth as the Son of God. John the Gospel writer speaks of the Word, who was with God and who is God, coming amongst us in human form (John 1:14).

Which brings us to Jesus’ words to his disciples as he walked with them towards the Garden of Gethsemane before his arrest. Jesus knew they dreaded the very idea of his departure. As so often happens, self-pity blinded them to the hidden, but greater purposes of God.

‘Nevertheless I tell you the truth’ he said, ‘it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you’ (16:7). One of the Spirit’s tasks would be to awaken and convict men and women to the reality of their broken relationship with their creator – the God who is just in all his ways.

Furthermore, Jesus continued, ‘The prince of this world stands condemned’. Satan’s attempt to usurp God’s throne was confounded when Jesus was crucified (Colossians 2:15). The Spirit convicts us of sin, of the standard and triumph of righteousness, and of Satan’s defeat.

One God in three persons. We begin to see something of the significance of God being one, in three persons. He is a God of love who, in his love for us, is passionate about us loving him.

Can we be sure of this? ‘I still have many things to say to you,’ Jesus said, ‘but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth; for he will not speak on his own, but will speak whatever he hears, and he will declare to you the things that are to come. He will glorify me, because he will take what is mine and declare it to you. All that the Father has is mine. For this reason I said that he will take what is mine and declare it to you’ (John 16:12-15).)

These words explain why Jesus never wrote anything down. Most of the Old Testament prophets wrote up their messages, but Jesus didn’t. He didn’t pick up a pen because he knew that the Spirit would ensure that the special revelation he had brought would not be forgotten or muddled.

Earlier Jesus had said, ‘He, the Advocate or Helper, will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (John 14:26). The Spirit inspired the first disciples, the apostles, with accurate recall and a clear and correct interpretation of Jesus’ person and work.

Now, in chapter 16, Jesus says the Spirit would guide the disciples into all the truth – not some of it. Subsequent generations would not be inspired to fill out more of the picture. Jesus promises that the Holy Spirit would ensure that the apostles would receive and rightly interpret all the truth about the person and work of the Christ.

Significantly, at the end of their ministry, we don’t find them telling God’s people to look for other apostles and prophets to reveal new truth. Rather, they warned their readers against false prophets and urged God’s people to transmit faithfully what they, the apostles, had taught and delivered to God’s people (Jude 1:3).

The speaking God. We can see the logic of all this. If we are made in the image of God, if Jesus is God in human form, then God is not just a remote, powerful intelligence. He is a speaking God. He is about building relationships in the way that we do – through verbal communication.

All this helps us in our study of knowledge (epistemology). It means that amongst the sources of knowledge there is revelation as well as human discovery.

A Chinese English professor who was in Tiananmen Square on June 4, 1989, told me that when he saw the guns of the people’s army turned on the people, Marxism and Maoism within him died. ‘If there is such a thing as truth,’ he said, ‘I realized it had to come from outside human inspiration and thought’. That night, he told me, he went home and read the New Testament from cover to cover. ‘Here is the truth’, he said.

How then does God’s Spirit work within us today? We need to distinguish inspiration and illumination. The Spirit inspired the apostles to preach and write God’s truth. He now illuminates our minds as we read what the apostles have written – hence Paul: All Scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness… (2 Timothy 3:16); and Peter: …No prophecy of scripture is a matter of one’s own interpretation,… but men and women moved by the Holy Spirit spoke from God (2 Peter 1:20f).

The God who is love. Can we be sure that God delights in us knowing him? The answer is found in our understanding that God is love because he is a Trinity. Throughout eternity the three persons in the one Godhead love one another. When we begin to understand this we will sense the beauty and goodness, the generosity and overflowing love of God. Our life and our relationships, our lifestyle and our future hang on loving the one, ever true and eternal God who exists in three persons.

A prayer. Almighty and everlasting God, you have given us your servants grace by the confession of a true faith to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and by your divine power to worship you as One: we pray that you would keep us steadfast in this faith and evermore defend us from all adversities; through Christ our Lord. Amen.

© John G. Mason

The post ’The Trinity – The God Who is Love’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 107 107 The Trinity – The God Who is Love full false 14:43 30829
Pentecost – the Helper and Hope … https://anglicanconnection.com/pentecost-the-helper-and-hope/ Wed, 01 Jun 2022 04:30:17 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30822 The post ’Pentecost – the Helper and Hope …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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With disturbing events in the world such as the invasion of Ukraine and the shooting at the school in Uvalde, Texas, we feel the pain of the suffering and wonder where we can find help.

At the beginning of John chapter 14 a dark cloud was hanging over Jesus’ disciples. For three years they had been with him and had come to believe he is God’s Son. All their hopes were focused on what they felt would be his victory over the powers of evil and injustice in the world. But now he was telling them that within a matter of hours he was going away. ‘Where are you going?’ they asked. ‘Can’t we come too?’

And Philip, one of the disciples said, ‘Lord show us the Father. That’s all we need’ (John 14:8). He wanted some tangible experience of God to sweep away his doubts and provide hope for the future.

God with Us. We would not have been surprised if Jesus had said, ‘Don’t be so silly, Philip. You’re asking the impossible: everyone knows God is invisible’. But consider Jesus’ response: ‘Don’t you know me Philip, even after I’ve been among you for such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father’ (John 14:9).

To know Jesus is to know the living God.

We can only imagine how Philip and the others would have reacted. They believed there is only one God who created and controls the entire universe. Yet Jesus is saying that knowing him is the same as knowing the Creator.

‘Believe me that I am in the Father and the Father is in me; but if you do not, then believe me because of the works themselves’, Jesus continues (14:11). ‘You’ve seen me turn water into first-class wine, cure a twelve-year old boy at a distance, enable a man paralyzed for thirty-eight years to walk, provide food for thousands at a word, heal a man blind from birth, and even bring another man back to life.’

Jesus’ life is the picture that tells a thousand words about God.

Greater Works. Very truly, I tell you,’ Jesus says, ‘the one who believes in me will also do the works that I do and, in fact, will do greater works than these, because I am going to the Father’ (John 14:12).

No-one today is performing miracles in the same way Jesus did two millennia ago. If they were, the media would let us know in nanoseconds. The greater works of which Jesus speaks are something more than the healing of physical and mental ailments.

John’s Gospel records times when Jesus lifted people’s understanding of life beyond their felt needs. Initiating a conversation with a woman at a well in Samaria, he spoke of the living water he offers, springing up into eternal life (4:7-15). And in an ensuing conversation with a man born blind whom he had healed, he introduced himself as the Son of God, to which the man responded, ‘Lord, I believe’ (9:35-39).

John’s Gospel begins by introducing the Word who is with God and is God. He is the source of light and life (John 1:1-4). John testifies to the reality that the Word became flesh, living amongst us as one of us (John 1:14). He goes on to record seven signs which point to Jesus’ divine nature. Furthermore, the Wordthe Son of God, the man Jesus, spoke of the day when he would be lifted up – that is, his crucifixion (John 3:14f, 12:31-33). Everyone who turns to him will find forgiveness and new life.

Significantly, John draws together the essential purpose of Jesus’ life amongst us: These things are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name (John 20:31).

Given the movement of John’s Gospel, the greater works of which Jesus spoke is the ministry of the disciples and subsequent generations in taking God’s good news to the world and the changes that would ensue – lives being transformed and consequently, compassion and care for the needy, education and higher standards of justice.

The Helper and Hope‘If you love me you will keep my commandments,’ Jesus continues, ‘and I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you…’ (14:15-17).

From John 14:15 through John 16, Jesus promises he would not leave his disciples, or his people through the ages, without divine help.

For many people, Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed they must mindlessly recite. For them, Christianity is legalistic and dull. But Jesus is saying, ‘I want you to understand that the faith of which I speak, in its deepest essence, is about a relationship, a relationship with the triune God – the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. When you know me, you will know the Father, and have our Spirit living within you’.

Furthermore, Jesus explains, ‘the Spirit will enable you (the disciples) to remember and explain all I taught and did’ (14:25). These words have a secondary application for all God’s people – enabling us to understand God’s Word and, because the Spirit is present within us, to apply it to the decisions we make and the words we utter.

‘I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth,’ Jesus says. When we know Jesus, the Holy Spirit provides us with the help and strength, the wisdom, the words, and the hope we need in a world where bad things happen.

A prayer. Almighty God, who taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit: enable us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things and always to rejoice in his holy comfort; through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Holy Spirit, Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

The post ’Pentecost – the Helper and Hope …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 106 106 Pentecost – the Helper and Hope … full false 9:21 30822
What, Me…? https://anglicanconnection.com/what-me/ Wed, 25 May 2022 02:00:00 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30815 The post ’What, Me…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Over the last twenty years or so God’s people have been increasingly put on the defensive about their faith. In a climate where people of faith are dismissed as intellectually inept, many are fearful of speaking up about what they believe.

Come with me to a very important scene that occurred on the day Jesus rose from the dead, recorded by John the Gospel writer (John 20:19-23). That Sunday evening, the first day of the week, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. John doesn’t explain how Jesus came to be there. He simply records, Jesus stood.

Last time the disciples had seen him, he was wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying on a cross. When they had seen a spear thrust in Jesus’ side and the fluid that had flowed, they knew he was truly dead. Yet here he was, not weak and limp, but tall and erect, standing, speaking the very words he had uttered at the Passover meal, ‘Peace be with you’. And to prove he was physically alive and not a ghost, significantly he showed them his hands and his side.

Bewildered and confused though they doubtless were, they knew, utterly amazing miracle though it was, that Jesus was truly alive again. ‘Peace be with you’, he repeated. At the Passover meal he had promised, ‘My peace I leave with you… Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Believe in me’ (John 14:27). In a world of turmoil and injustice, the peace he held out to his followers had not been meaningless comfort. His resurrection was now proof of that.

Overjoyed, they still couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was so surreal it was like a dream. But then, as GK Chesterton once rightly observed, Truth is stranger than fiction.

The Commission: As the Father has sent me, so I am sending you…’ (20:21). These were challenging words to men who moments before were bewildered and fearful.

More than once they had heard Jesus say, ‘As the Father has sent me…’ But now he was drawing them into this work as well. ‘What, me …?’ they may have immediately thought. He was giving them a job to do: ‘As I was sent, so now I am sending you…’

Jesus had been sent to speak God’s words in person to the world. Supremely he had been sent to be lifted up on a cross at Calvary to rescue humanity (John 12:32). Now, he was sending his disciples and, in turn his people, to announce his life-giving news to the world. But they would not be alone. They need not be fearful. They would experience the peace of Christ at every twist and turn along the way.

The Gift. And, with this commission John tells us, Jesus breathed and said to them, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit. If you forgive the sins of anyone, they are forgiven, if they are retained they are retained’ (20:22).

There are two very different interpretations of Jesus’ words here. The Roman Catholic Church understands they apply only to priests: they alone have the power to forgive sins through the confessional. However, the Protestant church teaches that any Christian can hold out God’s forgiveness by encouraging others to turn to Jesus Christ in repentance, asking for his forgiveness.

John’s record of Jesus’ words and actions here is important. We should notice that Thomas wasn’t present, and that John’s Gospel doesn’t record the events of Pentecost and the specific coming of the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, it is very significant that the verb, breathed does not have an object – despite many English translations.

This indicates that Jesus’ action in giving the Spirit was not just for the disciples, nor just for ministers, but also for all his people throughout time. It suggests that in the same way that God breathed life into all men and women in creation (Genesis 2:7), Jesus, the Word of God, the life-giver (John 1:1-4), now breathes his Spirit, the Spirit of his Father, into the life of all who turn to him. Paul the apostle draws this out when he says, Anyone who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him (Romans 8:9b).

To return to sins retained and forgiven. Jesus’ words retained and forgiven are verb forms that indicate decisions with a fixed and final outcome. Further, being in the passive voice, the verbs indicate that it is not humanity, but God, who retains or forgives sin.

John’s Gospel announces the news that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, so that anyone who believes in him will have life in his name (John 20:31). This draws together the narrative theme that Jesus was sent to be lifted up for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life for all who believe (John 3:14-15, 12:32, 35-36). People of the first century needed to hear the news – as do all of us in the twenty-first century.

John’s record of Jesus’ resurrected appearance and his promise of peace, his commissioning of his disciples and the gifting of his Spirit, is most important. From the time of Jesus’ arrest and crucifixion, the disciples had been terrified. Now, he was commissioning them, empowering them with his peace, and equipping them through his Spirit for the task of announcing the good news of God’s offer of forgiveness and with it, life eternal.

It is a section we cannot ignore. We all have the wonderful privilege of being sent by Jesus to play our part in announcing his good news. ‘What me…?’ you say. Yes: all of us. Because Jesus is the risen Lord, we have no reason to fear: we have his peace. We also have his Spirit at work within us and at work in the world, unstopping deaf ears, opening blind eyes, and softening hard hearts. Do you really believe this?

We need to pray – for ourselves and for our family and friends. Let me also encourage you to check out TheWord121 – an annotated version of John’s Gospel that anyone can use to introduce others to God’s good news – perhaps over coffee: www.TheWord121.com.

A Prayer. O God, the King of glory, you have exalted your only Son Jesus Christ with great triumph to your kingdom in heaven: do not leave us desolate, but send your Holy Spirit to strengthen us, and exalt us to where our Savior Christ has gone before, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

The post ’What, Me…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 105 105 What, Me…? full false 11:19 30815
Prayer – Relationships and Mission … https://anglicanconnection.com/prayer-relationships-and-mission/ Wed, 18 May 2022 02:34:13 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30811 The post ’Prayer – Relationships and Mission …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Sometimes one person’s life has a great and lasting impact for good. This is certainly true of the man who made an extraordinary impact on his immediate world in the three short years of his public life. The effects of Jesus’ life didn’t cease when he was put to death. In fact, the reverse occurred, for some two millennia later, the impact of his words and actions, his death and resurrection, continue to grow throughout the world.

The closing chapters of the Gospel of John focus on Jesus’ words to his followers at the ‘Last Supper’. We might think that his ‘story’ is coming to an end. But while we learn that Jesus was going away, we find this would mean the beginning of the next stage in God’s great plan.

Jesus’ prayer on the night of his arrest (John chapter 17) opens another window on this. ‘Father,’ Jesus prayed, ‘the hour has come; glorify your Son so that the Son may glorify you’ (17:1). His death was now a certainty: Judas had gone out into the night to betray him.

And now as Jesus reckoned with the darkness of this evil, he was facing the greatest test of all – to remain faithful to God the Father when he was lifted up on the cross at Calvary bearing in himself the sin of the whole world.

Thomas Cranmer, Archbishop of Canterbury in the Reigns of Henry VIII and Edward VI understood, as Ashley Null has observed, that ‘the glory of God is God’s love for the unworthy’.

Jesus not only prayed for himself. The greater part of his prayer was for his close followers and for all his people throughout the ages.

Prayer for the disciples: ‘Father,I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word’ (17:6).

The disciples were to be the bridge between himself and the rest of humanity. Their ministry was essential for the future. If they failed, if they denied the truth that Jesus is God’s king sent to rescue the world from its narcissism, Christianity would die at its birth.

So Jesus prayed that God would keep them and protect them as one in the Father’s name (17:11f); that God would keep them from the evil one and make them holy in the truth he had revealed (17:15, 17).

Prayer for all who believe: ‘Father, … I ask … also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their (the disciples’) word’ (17:20).

The heart of the disciples’ mission would be the ministry of God’s Word. From Pentecost, following Jesus’ resurrection, the disciples began preaching, urging their hearers to turn to Jesus as the Messiah in repentance and faith. And over the following fifty years, thousands turned to Jesus Christ as Lord through this word ministry.

‘I ask’, Jesus prayed, ‘… that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me...’ (John 17: 21a).

Unity. Jesus prayed that the unity of profound love and fellowship he enjoyed with God the Father, would be true of the relationship between God and all his people, and that they in turn, would be united in their love and fellowship with one another – ‘so that the world may believe that you have sent me’.

So that the world may know. In our fallen state all of us are in revolt against God and the Son he has sent. Yet God has so loved the world that he is committed to drawing people from everywhere to the Son he gave … so that all who believe in him would be saved (John 3:16).

Jesus is not praying here for the amalgamation of denominations. Denominations are humanly devised structures. Yes, bringing like-minded churches together might be desirable, especially where buildings and services are often duplicated with a loss of efficiency. However, Jesus is praying for a more fundamental union of hearts and minds that flows from a united and personal faith in him.

Doctrine, grounded in God’s written, self-revelation is essential for real and authentic relationships. Without truth, relationships have no meaning or substance. So, Jesus prayed for the unity of all who share this common confession of faith: Jesus Christ is the Lord (1 Corinthians 12:4).

Jesus’ prayer is breathtaking and profound. It tells us so much about him – his glory, his suffering and death – to glorify God and to serve a fallen humanity. It speaks of the significant word ministry of the disciples. If they had messed up, we would have no knowledge of God’s love and the forgiveness he holds out to us in Jesus Christ.

The prayer also tells us about us – that we can enjoy a personal relationship with God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. Furthermore, because of our united faith, we are to live in unity with one another as God’s people – a unity God uses to testify to others the depths of his love.

From the time of Pentecost, the word ministry of the disciples, whom Jesus appointed as his apostles, has been and continues to be the key in bringing people from all races and nations to faith and unity in Christ.

Furthermore, the ministry of God’s Word draws us ever deeper into a personal relationship with God, equipping us with an ever better understanding of how he wants us to live for his glory and our eternal good.

In Jesus, we have the man from heaven who has impacted the world, not through a political or economic system, nor at the end of a gun, but through his self-sacrificial love that draws us into a personal relationship with the one, true God, who is Lord of all.

Let me ask, when you wake-up in the morning, have you considered praying, ‘Good morning God the Father; Good morning Lord Jesus; Good morning God the Holy Spirit’? And, if you do, have you shared this with others?

A prayer. Almighty God, we thank you for the gift of your holy word. May it be a lantern to our feet, a light to our paths, and strength to our lives. Take us and use us to love and serve all people in the power of the Holy Spirit and in the name of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

You may want to listen to the song, Across the Lands from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

The post ’Prayer – Relationships and Mission …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 104 104 Prayer – Relationships and Mission … full false 10:52 30811
Promises … https://anglicanconnection.com/promises-2/ Tue, 10 May 2022 23:50:27 +0000 https://anglicanconnection.com/?p=30805 The post ’Promises …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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Have you ever wondered why you sometimes feel God is distant and doesn’t seem to care?

Come with me to John chapter 14. The chapter forms part of the record of Jesus’ final hours before his arrest and crucifixion. The meal he had with his friends that night was the last meal with them before his death. The reality that a separation was about to occur was hanging like a pall over them.

The disciples were puzzled and frightened. On the one hand Jesus was saying that he was soon to be ‘glorified’, but at the same time he was saying he was ‘going away’: ‘Where I am going you cannot come,’ he said (14:3).

In the same way a dying parent tries to warn their children of their going, so Jesus, with great tenderness was preparing his friends for his departure.

 However, from verse 15 of John 14, we read that his going would mean the coming of someone else. He was not going to leave them bereft.

 Verses 15 through 17 read: ‘If you love me you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper to be with you forever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.’

With his reference to the Spirit, we might think Jesus is speaking of an impersonal power or force. However, the personal pronouns him and he in reference to the Spirit, tell us that he was not speaking of a ‘force’ but a ‘person’. Indeed, in referring to the Spirit this way Jesus breaks the rules of grammar, for in the original language spirit is a neuter noun. The him and he in the verse are emphasized pronouns: He dwells with you

The moment we think of the Holy Spirit as an ‘it’, we miss the point of Jesus’ promise: he, Jesus, is going away. But he is to be replaced, not by an it, but a he, the Spirit, the Helper. Into this time of deep loss with Jesus’ departure, comes the promise that the Holy Spirit perfectly matches the need for a Helper, a Comforter.

The Helper or Comforter is not like Linus’s blanket, nor is it a hot water bottle for cold, hard times. He comes to strengthen God’s people – not just with a pat on the head, but rather to put new life, resolve and vitality into our hearts.

Relationships. ‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, ‘they will keep my word, and my Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them’ (14:23).

Jesus knows better than anyone that relationships can only be meaningful when they are based on truth. So he continues, ‘But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you’ (14:26).

The Spirit, who caused the Scriptures to be written (2 Peter 1:21), will teach us through the written Word of the Bible. We can be sure the Bible is true!

What the disciples preached and what they wrote, comes with this authentication: they were promised accurate recall of all Jesus said and did, as well as the true interpretation of these events.

This promise is not primarily for us. We arrived too late to see and hear Jesus. But we do have the assurance that the disciples got it right. Their preaching, teaching, and writing is true because the Spirit of God was at work through them. He was inspiring them, breathing into them God’s Word of truth.

This is so encouraging, for it means that we are being brought into a true, authentic relationship with the living God. Our faith is not some vague, mystical experience.

The Bible is more than memories of a long-dead hero, more than following the wisest teachings the world has known. The Bible enables us to listen to what God is saying and to what Jesus says, so that we can grow in the riches of that relationship. If we ignore the Scriptures, our relationship with God will grow weary and weak.

‘If anyone loves me,’ Jesus says, we will come and make our home with them’ (14:23). What a wonderful promise and privilege, a wonderful experience: God in us. Or, as Paul the Apostle writes in Colossians 1:27: Christ in you, the hope of glory. There’s nothing second rate about this. Jesus couldn’t make it clearer.

Yes, there will be times we feel God is distant. But we need to remind ourselves, and one another, that God has not forgotten us. It can happen when we’re so focused on our own interests that we forget that the Spirit speaks to us and makes his presence known to us through the Word of God. Sometimes the Spirit will prompt us to take up and read our Bible, perhaps starting with a Psalm.

Peace. Jesus also promises, ‘My peace I give you, not as the world gives…’ In the midst of the turmoil and conflict of the world God’s people can experience God’s peace.

Others will notice our changing lives as the Spirit works within us. They will also notice how we cope with the challenges of life in an unjust and unpredictable world.

Jesus’ words to his disciples on the eve of his arrest and crucifixion, tell us that God is passionate about people of all ages and cultures knowing him, loving him and enjoying his peace. The promises were not just to the disciples but also to you and me today.

A Prayer. Almighty God, you show to those who are in error the light of your truth so that they may return into the way of righteousness: grant to all who are admitted into the fellowship of Christ’s service that we may renounce those things that are contrary to our profession and follow all such things as are agreeable to it; through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

You might like to listen to, Holy Spirit Living Breath of God from Keith and Kristyn Getty and Stuart Townend.

© John G. Mason

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Occasionally someone says, ‘Show me proof that God exists and I will believe’. But will they? Frederick Buechner in The Magnificent Defeat (1966) wrote: ‘We all want to be certain, we all want proof, but the kind of proof we tend to want – scientifically and philosophically demonstrable proof that would silence all doubts once and for all – would not in the long run, I think, answer the fearful depths of our need at all.

‘For what we need to know is not just that God exists, but that there is a God right here in the thick of our day-to-day lives as we move around knee-deep in the fragrant muck and misery and marvel of this world. It is not objective proof of God’s existence we want, but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after – and that also, I think, is the miracle we really get.’

In John chapter 10, verse 24 we read that the Jewish leaders pressed Jesus to answer their question: ‘If you are the Christ, tell us plainly’.

John tells us that Jesus was in Jerusalem for the Feast of Dedication. The Jewish Feast of Dedication, Hanukkah, is an eight-day festival celebrating the rededication of the Temple after it had been desecrated by Antiochus Epiphanes in 168BC. Furthermore, because candles that had been lit at the first festival had oil for just one day and yet kept burning for eight, it also was called the Festival of Lights, a time of rededication to God.

The question the Jewish leaders put to Jesus was one that was causing division in Jerusalem at the time (John 7:25ff). John writes that while there were those who believed in Jesus most of the Jewish leaders were antipathetic towards him (John 10:19-21).

But Jesus refused to be drawn. He knew a direct answer would not be heard by those who had already made up their minds and refused to acknowledge the true significance of the things he was doing – not least his recent giving sight to a man born blind (John 9:1-7).

‘I told you, and you do not believeThe works that I do in my Father’s name bear witness about me, but you do not believe because you are not among my sheep’ (John 10:25f).

Jesus identifies the emergence of two groups of people. There are those who are satisfied with their view of life and therefore don’t believe in Jesus: they refuse to look to the signs that point to his transcendental nature. On the other hand, there are those who view themselves and life very differently. They know their lives are empty and don’t measure up to their expectations. They are looking for life that is not just physically but spiritually satisfying, the kind of life that Jesus says he can offer; he promised the woman at a well in Samaria living water, welling up into eternal life (John 4:10, 14). Here in chapter 10, he calls this second group his sheep. He is the good shepherd who is willing to give his life for them.

As Jesus continues, he references what we might describe as three tests that reveal whether we are members of his flock.

‘My sheep hear my voice’ (10:27). Today there are all kinds of voices raising fears for the future. But many realize their concerns are not going to address the deeper needs of our souls. Another voice beckons – one that speaks to our hearts and opens up a personal relationship with the Good Shepherd who knows our name. He is the one to whom John the Apostle bears witness when he says: We beheld his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:14).

‘They follow me’ (10:27). John chapter 10 reveals Jesus’ words that he is the good shepherd who knows his sheep and cares for them. Furthermore and significantly, he is also known by the sheep (10:14). The imagery Jesus uses is that of a shepherd in the ancient world – one who guides and protects the sheep. Unlike the Australian ‘drover’ who drives a mob of sheep from behind with dogs keeping them together, the shepherd of Israel led the sheep to find good pasture and springs of water. The shepherd not only led but went amongst the sheep, keeping them together, protecting them from marauding animals.

It’s often said that God’s people are shut into a joyless lifestyle without freedom and fun. How different this is from Jesus’ imagery: his sheep follow him freely. They are not driven and beaten. Rather, their choice to follow is voluntary. They perceive that true life is to be found only in relationship with the Lord who loves them dearly. To quote Buechner again, ‘It is not objective proof of God’s existence we want, but the experience of God’s presence. That is the miracle we are really after …’

‘I give them eternal life’ (10:28). With the unprovoked war in Ukraine and injustices perpetrated in varying ways throughout the world, many are anxious about the future. Furthermore, with the pandemic that has been sweeping the world over the last two years, many are experiencing greater uncertainty and loneliness, and with it have become cynical about all forms of authority.

How comforting and truly strengthening it is to know that we can put our hand in the sure hand of the Lord. He not only knows us by name, he understands our concerns and our needs. With the American withdrawal of its troops from Afghanistan in August last year and the sudden rise to power of the Taliban, stories are emerging of the miraculous way the Lord has cared for and is providing for his people.

Yes, some have died for their faith. But the uncertainties and injustices of this world awaken us to the greater depth of Jesus’ words, I give them eternal life, and they will never perish’ (10:38). No one can ever remove Jesus’ people from the security of their relationship with him. Why? Jesus answers: ‘My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (10:29).

None of us knows where life with the Lord will take us. The path may not always be easy. But we can be assured of this, life with Jesus, even though it is eternal, will not be boring. Far from it. It will be a life unimaginable, far beyond anything we have ever dreamed: a life of beauty and goodness, love, laughter and joy.

A prayer. Almighty God, you alone can order the unruly wills and passions of sinful men and women. Help us so to love what you command and desire what you promise, that among the many and varied changes of this world, our hearts may surely there be fixed where true joys may be found; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

You may like to listen to He Will Hold Me Fast from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

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In this Easter Season it’s helpful to reflect on the deeper significance of Jesus’ resurrection. Indeed, so life changing is it, that it’s also useful to be equipped with answers to questions about it.

Ken Handley, a retired Justice of the Court of Appeal in New South Wales, Australia, has commented: ‘Most people who reject the resurrection do so with a closed mind without looking at the evidence. This is irrational and foolish. Jesus, the Son of God, who died to make us right with God, is calling each of us into a relationship with him which will involve faith, repentance, forgiveness and obedience. The Christian answers to those nagging personal questions make sense of the Cosmos and our place and purpose in it…’

In the opening segment of John 21 we learn that seven of Jesus’ disciples, including Simon Peter, went fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Sea of Galilee) in the aftermath of Jesus’ resurrection. However, as they were returning to shore a voice called out asking if they had caught anything. Receiving a negative answer, the voice encouraged them to cast their nets on the right-hand side of the boat. Even though they didn’t know who it was, they followed the advice and quickly found that the nets were overfull with fish. ‘It is the Lord!’ John quietly said to Peter (21:7). Keen to see Jesus once again, Peter threw himself into the water.

As an eyewitness John the Gospel writer provides precise details: the boat was in shallow water, being only 100 yards offshore, and the catch of large fish numbered 153 (21:11). Fabricated accounts don’t give such unexpected detail. They found Jesus by a charcoal fire with fish laid out, as well as some bread. ‘Bring some of the fish that you have just caught’, Jesus said … ‘Come and have breakfast’ (21:12). Jesus not only turned out to be their provider that morning but cooked and served them breakfast – something apparitions cannot do (21:13).

John records: it was the third time that Jesus was revealed to the disciples after he was raised from the dead (21:14). And as we read on, we find that Jesus had a special word for Peter that day.

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, ‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ When Peter had first encountered the power of Jesus’ words, he had said, ‘Depart from me; for I am a sinful man, O Lord’ (Luke 5:8). And on the night of the Last Supper Peter had said, ‘Lord I am ready to go with you both to prison and to death’ only then to deny Jesus three times, as Jesus had predicted (Luke 22:33f).

Like us, Peter was a sinner, in need of forgiveness. He sorely wanted Jesus’ assurance. He knew that without Jesus’ forgiveness their relationship would be broken; it would also mean that he could never be what Jesus had said he would be one day, ‘catching men and women’ – with God’s good news. (Luke 5:10).

‘Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?’ Jesus asked him. Three times Jesus asked the question. Three times Peter had denied the Lord, and now, three times Peter responded, ‘Yes, Lord; you know that I love you’. Humbled and grieved for his failures, Peter felt the force of Jesus’ questioning. So much so that his third response reveals the depth of his contrition, ‘Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you’ (21:17). The thrice repeated questions and Peter’s answers, assure Peter, in front of the other disciples, that the Lord had fully and freely forgiven him. It was a special word for Peter and for us all.

Furthermore, Jesus now had work for him to do. For with his response to Jesus’ three questions, he is commissioned with, ‘Feed my lambs’, ‘feed my sheep’ – God’s people, the children and the adults, the young in the faith as well as those who are mature in their faith.

The imagery of shepherd and sheep bubbles throughout the Bible. In Psalm 23 David speaks of the Lord as his shepherd and John chapter 10 records Jesus’ words, ‘I am the Good Shepherd (10:11, 14). Psalm 100 says, Know the Lord, he is God! It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture. Isaiah chapter 40, verse 11 tells us, He will tend his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms; he will carry them in his bosom, and gently lead those that are with young.

Verse 6 of Isaiah chapter 53 begins with a sobering note about everyone of us, All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to our own way; and then foreshadows what God will do, And the Lord has laid on him (the suffering servant – the Son of God) the iniquity of us all. It is a prophetic word about the significance of the death of Jesus: Christ died in our place (Romans 5:6, 8).

Jeremiah chapter 3, verse 15 sets out another facet of God’s plans for his people, ‘I will give you shepherds after my own heart, who will feed you with knowledge and understanding’. These words stand behind Jesus’ charge to Peter as well as those of Paul the Apostle in his Letter to the Ephesians when he speaks of God giving various ministries to his people – some as apostles (the foundational ministries), some as prophets, some as evangelists, and others as pastors and teachers to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ (Ephesians 4:11f).

The ministry of God’s Word is the key to effective pastoral care and the growth of God’s people. Without announcing God’s good news, how will people be rescued? (Romans 10:14f) Unless God’s people are taught God’s truth, how will they grow in their love for the Lord? (Colossians 3:16f). How will we know that all men and women, created equal in God’s eyes, are designed to know and love him, and enjoy him forever? How will we know what true compassion and justice are? Without God’s external written revelation, how will understand that our reasoning and decisions are so often flawed? God alone can teach us the wisdom we need for life in a self-centered world until the day of the return of his King.

In his First Letter, Peter says, shepherd the flock of God among you … And when the chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the unfading crown of glory (1 Peter 5:2, 4).

Do you love me? the risen Jesus asks. Feed my sheep – children and teenagers, unmarried and married, and the elderly.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have given your only Son to be for us both a sacrifice for sin and also an example of godly living; give us grace so that we may always thankfully receive the immeasurable benefit of his sacrifice, and also daily endeavor to follow in the blessed steps of his most holy life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for evermore. Amen.

You may like to listen to Facing the Task Unfinished from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

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The story is told of an Easter dawn in a Russian prison camp in the days of the USSR. A voice called out, ‘Christ is risen!’ and, despite the command for silence, a chorus of voices responded, ‘He is risen indeed!’

The events of the first Easter Day awakened the world to the dawning of a new era and with it the assurance that there is more to life than our experiences now.

In our troubled, conflicted and war-ravaged world, how encouraging this is. The resurrection of Jesus reveals that death need not be the end, but the door to life in all its fullness and joy.

Now you may dismiss the resurrection as fake news because it conflicts with the natural laws, the regularities scientists observe about the operation of the universe. However, such laws don’t prevent God from intervening and overruling whenever he chooses – bringing about an event that we speak of as a miracle.

In the opening lines of Luke 24 we read: But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they (the women) came to the tomb, taking the spices that they had prepared. They found the stone rolled away from the tomb, but when they went in, they did not find the body.

The first witnesses. There would have been no joy in the hearts of those women in that early morning. They had watched as Jesus died. Now, filled with grief as they trudged to his grave, laden with heavy spices and ointments for his burial, they were confused and despairing.

But more disquieting news was to come. When they arrived at the grave, they found the massive stone that had closed the grave entrance, had been rolled away. What could have happened? Was it thieves? Was it some underhand action on the part of the authorities? They were totally out of their depth.

While they were perplexed about this, suddenly two men in dazzling clothes stood beside them. And as they were terrified and bowed their faces to the ground, the men said to them, “Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here, but has risen…” (24:4-6a).

‘If you want to find Jesus, you’ve come to the wrong place,’ the angels said. Remember how he told you while he was still with you in Galilee: ‘the Son of Man must be delivered into the hands of sinful men and be crucified and on the third day rise again…’” (24:6b,7).

The angels themselves could have explained the empty tomb. But instead, they focussed on the weight and authority of Jesus’ own words: ‘Remember what he told you,’ they said.

How important this is. The gospel writers want us to hear Jesus’ explanation of what he did and why. He had spoken of the events that had now come to pass. He had already explained why it had to happen. And, with this reminder, the women remembered (24:8).

It is easy for us today to forget Jesus’ words when we learn troubling news. We forget that Jesus not only predicted his death and resurrection, as well as the fall of Jerusalem (which occurred in 70AD), but he also spoke of earthquakes, conflicts and wars that would occur before his return.

As Paul in his Letter to the Romans writes, We know that the whole of creation has been groaning in labor pains until now; and not only creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. For in hope we were saved … But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Romans 8:22-24a, 25).

During his ministry, Jesus had spoken twice about his death and resurrection. He had come as the savior who would address our greatest human need. He would deliver us from God’s just judgement and open the great doors into God’s kingdom.

Jesus’ words at the Last Supper are key: ‘This is my body given for you,’ he said. ‘This is my blood shed for you.’ Scholars agree that these words are probably the most reliably preserved statements of earliest Christianity. We find them in First Corinthians, written around 50AD, and also in Matthew, Mark and Luke, written no later than the 60s.

‘Love it or hate it, the evidence that Jesus thought of his death as a sacrifice or ransom for sins is strong.’ In fact, when we read Luke as a whole we see that his emphasis on Jesus’ death is so strong we begin to understand that the crucifixion is about God’s justice and love. It was why Jesus came.

Love and justice both matter to God. To say, as some do, that Jesus death was some kind of cosmic child abuse, is to forget that the New Testament insists that he was not coerced into dying at Calvary. Jesus laid down his life voluntarily. In John chapter 10, verse 18 we read Jesus’ words: ‘No one takes it (my life) from me, but I lay it down of my own accord…’

The New Testament is clear. In the case of men and women God is the wronged party. Yet, in his love, he chose to enter the world in person and bear the punishment that we, the wrong-doers deserve. He, the judge has paid the fine owed to him by us.

Jesus’ resurrection confirms for us the truth and trustworthiness of what he has done.

The women who went to the tomb did remember Jesus’ words. And what a difference it made. They didn’t stay at the tomb. Suddenly energised with new vitality and joy they rushed off to tell their friends the breaking news. Who doesn’t want to share good news?

And Dr Luke, that very careful historian, wants us to know that even though the first witnesses to the empty tomb were women, their witness is true. It’s one of the reasons he identifies them by name: Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James (Luke 24:10). They were perfectly sane and sensible people, people of integrity. In fact, Luke implies, if you want to find out for yourself, go and talk to them.

How important remembering is for us. How often we forget the words of Scripture. In good times we forget because things are going well. But we also forget God’s words of comfort and assurance when life gets tough – in times of drought or flood, injustice and war. Or you may be single, longing for a partner; you may be in a loveless marriage; you may be longing for a job; you may have a sick or dying loved one.

We need to remember that we are never alone. We have a secure hope. Through his death and resurrection Jesus is the pioneer who leads us into life in a new era in all its fullness and joy.

A prayer. Almighty God, you have conquered death through your dearly beloved Son Jesus Christ and have opened to us the gate of everlasting life: grant us by your grace to set our mind on things above, so that by your continual help our whole life may be transformed; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit in everlasting glory.  Amen.

You may want to listen to Christ is Risen, He’s Risen Indeed from Keith and Kristyn Getty.

© John G. Mason

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A Maundy Thursday / Good Friday Reflection

Why? Why, despite all the hopes and dreams that with globalization the world would become a better place, is there an aggressive and intrusive war against a peaceful neighbor, Ukraine? Why is it that the four freedoms defined by FD Roosevelt in 1941, ‘freedom of speech, freedom of worship, freedom from want and freedom from fear’, are in danger of being subverted in varying ways in the spheres of politics, the media and social media, education and family life?

Why, two millennia ago, did Jesus of Nazareth die? He lived a life of unquestionable purity: he was never accused of lying. He showed compassion for the needy and the outcast, and revealed his unique divine power and authority in his care, his teaching and debating. And when Pilate, the Roman governor in Judea, asked him at his trial what he had done, he had responded, “My kingdom is not of this world…, implying there is more to life than our present experience (John 18:36).

Luke chapter 22 records Jesus’ words at a Passover meal with his disciples – what became known as The Last Supper. When he broke the bread and gave it to his disciples he said: ‘This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me’ (Luke 22:19).

Passover is a special occasion for the Jewish people as they remember the time God had passed over their homes when they were enslaved in Egypt around 1200BC bringing about their release. Passover became the annual celebration of God’s goodness and grace and the freedom they came to enjoy.

The Passover looks back. On the night of the first Passover, God decreed that every Hebrew household should take an unblemished lamb, slaughter it, and sprinkle the blood on the door posts of their homes. Each household was to have roast lamb for their evening meal. God promised that his angel of death would pass over every household where the blood of a lamb was on the doorposts.

But it also looks forward. Twelve centuries later, Luke records that Jesus carefully prepared a Passover meal with his disciples on the night before his death. It was a time when the Jewish people had once again lost their political freedom. For some six centuries they had been puppets to super-powers and now they lived at the pleasure of the Roman emperor.

Passover signified freedom. And even the gloomiest of Israel’s prophets, Jeremiah, spoke of a new day of hope: The days are coming when I (God) will make a new covenant with the house of Israel … I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people… for I will forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more (Jeremiah 31:31-34).

When Jesus prepared to celebrate Passover with his friends, patriotic feelings were running high. Believing people in Jerusalem would have been remembering the exodus from Egypt. When Jewish families gathered for Passover they would say, ‘Today we are slaves. Perhaps next Passover we shall be free.’

At his Last Supper with his disciples Jesus dropped a thunderbolt. For when he took the bread, gave thanks, and broke it, he gave it to them and saying, ‘This is my body, given for you’.

The breaking of the unleavened bread is a vital part of the Passover. Every Jewish family member around the table knew by heart the words the host would recite: ‘This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate in the land of Egypt. All who hunger, let them come and eat, All who are in need and let them celebrate the Passover…’

But Jesus words are electrifying. He didn’t say: ‘This is the bread of affliction,’ but rather, ‘This bread is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance…’ not of the Passover but, ‘of me’. He has made his body, his dead body, the focus of the Passover meal.

And that raises something else that was strange about this Passover meal. Roast lamb would have been the center-piece of the meal. Peter and John may have prepared the meal, but there is no mention of lamb in any of the Gospel records. Jesus was telling them, and is telling us now, that he is the sacrificial lamb around which the new Passover feast must revolve.

This is reinforced with his further surprising words. For when he took the cup of wine at the end of the meal, he said; ‘This cup is the cup of the new covenant’ (Luke 22:20).

‘The Passovers you have been celebrating over the years,’ Jesus is saying, ‘look forward to God’s new covenant. Well, Passover is about to find its fulfilment. This is the last Passover of the old age and the first Passover of the new age.’

Jeremiah said of the new covenant that God will forgive their wicked ways and remember their sin no more. The self-focused desires of people’s hearts had ruined the old covenant relationship with God. Jesus had not come to save his people from Roman oppression.

Neither did he come simply to restore peace – safety and security, prosperity and a good lifestyle. No. Jesus came to save his first followers, and you and me today, from our deepest need – our love of self and our indifference to God. And he has done it in exactly the same way that the lamb had saved the Hebrews on that first Passover night. As he said at the Last Supper, he gave his body and he shed his blood as the Passover lamb to rescue us from death.

Responding to a question about his reason for writing The Lord of the Flies, William Golding reportedly said, I believed then, that men and women were sick – not exceptional humanity, but average men and women. I believed that the condition of men and women was to be a morally diseased creation and that the best job I could do at the time was to trace the connection between their diseased nature and the international mess they get themselves into.

Imagine for a moment you were the first-born in a Hebrew family at that first Passover. A lamb had been slaughtered, the blood sprinkled on the doorposts, and you awoke the next day to the sound of wailing from every Egyptian household. For in each home someone had died. You thought for a moment, and then you really woke up: ‘That lamb died instead of me! Because that lamb died, God spared me’.

‘This is my body, given for you.’ ‘This cup that is poured out for you is the new covenant in my blood, Jesus said. (Luke 22:19-20). ‘I chose to die in your place, to save you from the second death, God’s just condemnation,’ he is saying.

Elsewhere Jesus speaks of wars and rumors of wars in this world. And in another place he says: ‘I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him, who after he has killed, has authority to cast you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him! (Luke 12:4-5).

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead authenticates all his words and actions.

At The Lord’s Supper, Archbishop Thomas Cranmer sets out Jesus’ death as the one oblation of himself, once offered, a full, perfect and sufficient sacrifice, oblation, and satisfaction for the sins of the whole world.

When we come to Communion we are called upon to truly and earnestly repent of our sins…  with the intention of leading a new life, … walking in the Lord’s holy ways. We are to draw near with faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, our one and only Savior. He is our only hope in life and death. (1662 Book of Common Prayer, Service of The Lord’s Supper or Holy Communion).

A Prayer for Maundy Thursday / Good Friday. Almighty Father, look graciously upon your people, for which our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed and given up into the hands of wicked men, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Addendum:

Below is a revised form for the concluding segment of the Thanksgiving before taking communion, that is found in A Service for Today’s Church – Communion. The section is adapted from the Passover prayers filtered through the lens of the New Testament. A Service for Today’s Church was developed in consultation with others and is approved for use in the Anglican Diocese of Sydney and at Christ Church New York City.

– – –

The minister addresses the congregation: On the night he was betrayed, our Lord Jesus Christ took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, “This is my body given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup saying, “This cup is the new covenant sealed by my blood.  Do this as often as you drink it in remembrance of me.”

Taking the bread the minister gives thanks: Almighty God, we thank you for this bread, and for all you provide to sustain us. Above all, merciful Father, we thank you for Christ your Son, given for the life of the world.  Amen.

Breaking the bread in the sight of all, the minister says: This bread we break is a participation in the body of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us one with Christ.

Taking the cup the minister gives thanks. Almighty God, we thank you for this fruit of the vine, and for every good gift that gives us joy. We thank you above all for Christ our Lord, by whose blood you have bought us and bound us to be your people in an everlasting covenant.  Amen.

Indicating the cup, the minister says: This cup for which we give thanks is a participation in the blood of Christ.

All respond: Thank you, Father, for making us yours forever.

Come, let us take this holy sacrament of the body and blood of Christ in remembrance that he died for us, and feed on him in our hearts by faith with thanksgiving.

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

© John G. Mason

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Eleven years ago this month the world watched William and Kate’s wedding. More than 2 billion people took time out to view this royal event with its rich pageantry and ceremony. It was all that we would expect of a royal occasion.

How different was Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem on the first Palm Sunday.

As Luke’s narrative unfolds, we find that Jesus’ mission has been a movement towards Jerusalem – the city where the Temple symbolized God’s presence with his people. It was inevitable that Jesus’ work would reach its climax there.

But how would the city receive him? During his three years of public ministry Jesus had been confronted by representatives from Jerusalem who had quizzed him and opposed him.

Preparation. When Jesus had come near Bethphage and Bethany, at the place called the Mount of Olives, he sent two of the disciples, saying, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and as you enter it you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden. Untie it and bring it here.  If anyone asks you, ‘Why are you untying it?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it’ (Luke 19:29-31).

The path Jesus trod with thousands of others on their way to Jerusalem for Passover involved a long climb from Jericho, the lowest city in the world, through the villages of Bethphage and Bethany, up to the Mount of Olives. From there, Jerusalem comes into view, and for most Jewish people, the end of the journey – Passover in the city of God.

For Jesus this was a moment for which he had prepared. He sent two of his disciples to a village to fetch a donkey, telling anyone who asked, ‘The Lord has need of it’.

Jesus was deliberately fulfilling the words of the prophet Zechariah, who had spoken some 500 years earlier about God’s king riding on the foal of a donkey. It was always said that no one but the king was permitted to ride his horse. This colt had never been ridden. Throwing their cloaks on to the colt, the disciples set Jesus on it.

Great Expectations. As Jesus journeyed down the steep path from the Mount of Olives into the Kidron Valley that day, people not only spread their cloaks on the road, but also started singing from Psalm 118, one of the festival psalms: ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’ The cloaks on the road and the singing suggested that a king was entering his city. Psalm 118 is a song of victory.

There’s something here that is quite often overlooked. The crowds that joyfully sang that day were people from the provinces who had seen and heard Jesus outside the city. Now these people saw Jesus coming in fulfillment of their hopes, answering their longings for a king who would bring peace to earth from heaven itself.

The words they sang echoed the words of Jesus earlier in his ministry: ‘If Israel will repent and greet with blessing the One who comes in the name of the Lord, then Israel will experience the advent of salvation’ (Luke 13:35).

A Discordant Note. However, there was an irony here that the crowds in their enthusiasm seemed to have missed. This king was not riding a warrior horse. This was no royal or presidential motorcade with armed security. This king was riding a donkey, fulfilling for anyone who knew the Scriptures, the words of Zechariah 9:9.

Indeed, some of the Pharisees going along with the crowd appear to have become anxious about how the authorities in Jerusalem would respond. ‘Tell these people to keep quiet’, they said to Jesus. But, contrary to his call for silence when Peter had confessed him as the Christ (Luke 9:20), now he said: ‘If I tell these people to be quiet, even the very stones would sing out…’ He is anticipating the day when even the inanimate elements of creation will respond with joy – the day of the full and final redemption of God’s people.

It was time to sing out: God’s king was coming to the city to bring about God’s rescue for his people. Jesus’ work would provide the greater exodus, not just for Israel but for all people, through his own Passover act when he was crucified.

Tears for the City. As Jesus came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, ‘If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes…’ (Luke 19:41-42).

The people thought Jesus was coming to take up his kingship in Jerusalem. But Jesus went on to predict that because Jerusalem had failed to see and welcome him as God’s long-promised king, it would become a smoking, desolate ruin.

With this description of Jesus’ entry into the city of David, Luke turns our attention away from the glory of the kingdom to focus on the suffering the king would endure before the week was out. There would be no glory without his suffering; no crown without his cross.

There is a lesson here for us. Luke wants us to understand that God’s king will come one day in awesome power and glory. Yes, without a doubt that will happen. Jesus’ death and resurrection and the fall of Jerusalem in 70AD, point to the reality of divine intervention in human affairs.

But Luke also wants us to turn our eyes from the political transformation of society to the greatest need of everyone – the spiritual transformation of our souls. Before we experience our great expectations of Jesus’ kingdom in all its fullness and glory, we must first receive him into our hearts.

In every age preachers have wept for the people in the towns and cities where they have ministered God’s truth. I know I have – wept for those who have come and walked away because they didn’t want to hear about what CS Lewis called the divine interferer. Without Jesus, God’s king in our lives we are lost.

A PrayerAlmighty ever living God, you have given to all men and women Jesus Christ our Savior as a model of humility. He fulfilled your will by choosing to take on human form and give his life for us on the cross. Turn our hearts to you and help us bear witness to you by following his example of suffering; make us worthy to share in his resurrection. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may want to listen to In Christ Alone from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Alison Kraus.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 98 98 Carpe Diem … full false 14:18 30771
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In the 1989 film Dead Poets Society a young English master at a New England Prep School is portrayed pointing out photos of past students to his class. ‘They’re all dead now,’ he says. ‘Carpe diem, seize the day,’ he advises. ‘Seize the opportunities you have before it’s too late.’

Moving from his report of the events surrounding Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:1-44) and the ensuing plot of the Jewish religious leaders to kill Jesus (11:45-57), John the Gospel-writer records that some six days before the Passover Jesus and his followers went to Bethany – which is roughly 3kms (2miles) outside Jerusalem. There Jesus dined with his friends, Martha and Mary, and their brother Lazarus (12:1-8).

During the course of the meal prepared by Martha, where Jesus was guest of honor with Lazarus, Mary opened a jar of very expensive perfume, oil of pure nard from Northern India, and poured it over Jesus’ feet. Diners at that time reclined on couches around a dining table, typically leaning on their left elbow with their feet curled out behind them.

Extravagant devotion. Mary, who had wept and said to Jesus when Lazarus died, ‘Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died’ (11:32f), now not only anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume, valued at more than a year’s income, but also wiped them with her hair. Against the norms of polite society, she would have let down her hair to do this (12:3). Her act was one of humility for she anointed Jesus’ feet, not his head. She had seized the moment to thank Jesus with a most generous and extravagant devotion.

However Judas, one of the disciples, was unimpressed. John tells us that Judas’s comment was not, ‘How thoughtful,’ or even ‘What a mess’, but ‘What a waste’. ‘Why wasn’t the perfume sold and the money given to the poor?’ he had asked (12:4-5). John comments that Judas said this, not because he cared about the poor, but because he was a thief,… (12:6).

Hypocrisy and betrayal. Judas’ concern for the poor was nothing but hypocrisy. Underneath, Judas was greedy. And that’s why, in the end, his love for Jesus proved to be conditional. Indeed, all four Gospel writers report that Judas negotiated a deal with the Jewish leadership to betray Jesus (see, Mark 14:10f, Luke 22:4-6).

It’s said that everyone has their price, and this was certainly the case with Judas. Matthew’s Gospel tersely tells us that Judas asked the religious leaders, “How much will you give me if I betray him?” (Matthew 26:15)

Judas’s kiss in the Garden of Gethsemane (Luke 22:47-48) turned out to be a treacherous kiss, for he was the kind of follower who supported Jesus as long as he thought there was something in it for him. When he realized Jesus was not fulfilling his expectations, he cast him off. How money and material things can deceive us.

Seizing the moment can be used for both ill and for good.

Anointing for burial. How different is Jesus’ response to Mary’s extravagance: ‘Leave her alone, so that she may keep it for the day of my burial. The poor you always have with you, but you do not always have me’ (12:7-8).

Jesus’ words about his burial and the fact that he would not always be with his disciples, echo a deeper theme he introduced in his conversation with Nicodemus. A time would come when he must be lifted up – an allusion to the cross (3:14-15).

As John’s Gospel unfolds it is increasingly evident that those who believe see that Jesus is not only the Son of God incarnate (1:14) but also God’s king. Mary’s anointing of him shows that she understood this. Jesus’ comment that the anointing is for his burial reveals the deeper theme – that before he could take up his kingship, he would first be laid in a tomb. Humanly speaking, his death would be brought about by Judas.

There is something else behind Jesus’ commendation of Mary’s action. She understood the meaning of the first commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might (Deuteronomy 6:5).

Yes, Jesus implies, the poor need to be cared for. But to fulfill the meaning and practice of the second commandment – love your neighbor – we need first to love the Lord, which is what Mary was doing.

Seize the day. Mary seized the opportunity to express in an extravagant way her heart-felt devotion to Jesus. She awakens us to the vital and intimate love and joy we can experience with Jesus.

Luke, in his Gospel tells us of on another occasion when Jesus was dining with Martha, Mary and Lazarus: Mary chose to sit at Jesus’ feet listening to him. And when Martha who was in the kitchen burst in on the gathering asking for Mary’s help, he responded: ‘Mary has chosen the better portion’ (Luke 10:41-42).

How often do we seize the opportunity to sit at Jesus’ feet, reading and reflecting on the Words of Scripture? How often do we pause to pray, asking his Spirit to draw us into Jesus’ presence? How often do we go to church forgetting that we gather, first and foremost, to come into the Lord’s presence as his people? How often do we go out from church with no sense of having met with him, unchanged from the attitudes that we took in?

Let me suggest that before going to bed tonight, read John 12:1-8 and pray over it, asking the Lord to draw you afresh into the riches of his love. Seize the time to offer or re-offer your life in heart-felt devotion, love and loyalty, as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to the Lord. Seize the day while there is time.

A prayer. We beseech you, almighty God, to look in mercy on your people; that by your overwhelming goodness we may be governed and preserved evermore; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

You may want to listen to Christ Our Hope in Life and Death from Keith & Kristyn Getty and Matt Papa.

The post ’Carpe Diem …’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 98 98 Carpe Diem … full false 14:18 30767
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Eugene Ionesco’s, Exit the King is a clever play about life and death. Reportedly, the Romanian-French Ionesco who died in 1994, said about the play: I told myself that one could learn to die, that I could learn to die, that one can also help other people to die. This seems to me the most important thing we can do, since we’re all of us dying men who refuse to die. The play is an attempt at an apprenticeship in dying.

Now I don’t want to be morbid, but I raise the subject for two reasons. First, Ionesco understood that because life is fleeting – as Ukranians know all too well right now – we need to consider our values and priorities. Second, in Jesus’ parable of the prodigal (Luke 15:11-24) a key theme is our lostness: we look for life in the wrong places.

Throughout his ministry Jesus of Nazareth challenges us all to consider our hearts’ desires.

The opening lines of Luke chapter 15 reveal that two very different groups of people were in Jesus’ audience at that time – what we might call the sinners and the saints. The sinners were society’s outcasts, the fraudsters and the immoral; the saints were the religious establishment. The first group needed to learn that at the heart of God’s nature is mercy and forgiveness; the second needed to be shocked out of their self-righteousness. The two groups had two very different views about life and death.

Knowing that mindsets are very hard to shift, Jesus didn’t preach a sermon nor engage in debate. He simply told three stories – about a shepherd who had lost a sheep, about a woman who had lost a coin, and about a father who had lost two sons. I’ll focus here on the father and his younger son.

The clever story opens with the younger son asking his father for his inheritance. The son, by asking this implies that he wished his father were dead. Nevertheless, the father gave him what he wanted. But it was not long before the money was gone. Having no friends or credit line, the son was soon without food and homeless. Worse followed. With a drought and a crash in primary industry, the best he could do was become a day-laborer, feeding pigs. Even so, he starved. His thoughts turned to home – to his father, the farm, and the food.

The son weighed the odds. ‘Here I am, feeding pigs,’ he reflected. ‘The casual-workers on Dad’s farm are better off than me. I’m a fool. I’ll have to bury my pride and go home. I’ll have to tell Dad I’m really sorry I messed up and don’t deserve a thing. I’ll ask him to take me in as one of the hired-workers.’

Jesus’ story would have captured everyone’s attention. Some hearers would have been saying to themselves, ‘That’s me.’ Another group would have said, ‘That son doesn’t deserve to be forgiven’.

How would the father react? That is the question.

Like most fathers, he knew what his son was like and what he would do. But he still loved him. In fact, he’d been on the lookout for his return. And when word came that his son was on his way home, he immediately raced out to greet him.

We need to feel the impact of Jesus’ story. No self-respecting citizen in that culture would ever run down the street. He would walk with dignity and deliberation. Furthermore, this father wasn’t racing out to greet a son who had graduated with a doctorate and made his first million before he was twenty-five. The father’s action came at a personal public humiliation.

Yet the father not only ran but threw his arms around his son and kissed him. The son, no doubt overwhelmed, was honest and expressed his sorrow and deep repentance: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son.’  Period. Full stop.

He had planned to add, ‘Treat me as one of your hired servants.’ But he now realized this was not appropriate. For the first time he understood that he’d never really known his father, nor how much his father loved him. He had never appreciated the privilege of being a son.

What was the younger son’s problem? He wanted his father’s wealth so he could enjoy all the pleasures that took his fancy without accountability.

Here is heart of the human dilemma. We think that our possessions and the pleasures we pursue are the be-all and end-all of life. Reckoning they are secure we find they aren’t secure at all. We look for life in the wrong places because we’ve left God out of the equation of the meaning of life.

Jesus’ great longing is for us to be honest and humble enough to say, ‘Lord, I know you are true and I know everything I have comes from you. Please forgive me for turning my back on you. Help me to honor you above all else in life.’

Can God find it in his heart to forgive us? Jesus also answers this. In verse 22 we read that before the younger son could catch his breath, his father was busy ordering new clothes, shoes, and a ring – the best of everything. The most elaborate and expensive feast was prepared, and the father tells us why: ‘For this my son was dead, now he is alive, he was lost but now he has been found.’

The Prayer of Humble Access takes up the principle of God’s willingness to forgive the repentant heart when it says the Lord’s nature is always to have mercy.

We easily miss the force of the father’s words in Jesus’ story, ‘For this my son was dead, now he is alive…’ We may have everything the world offers, but until we have turned to Jesus Christ, in God’s sight we are the walking dead.

How good it is that Jesus came to seek and to save the lost (Luke 19:10). And how good it is to have gospel ministries such as TheWord121 to introduce family and friends to him so that they may not die but have life forevermore.

A prayer. Almighty God, grant that we, who justly deserve to be punished for our sinful deeds, may in your mercy and kindness be pardoned and restored; through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

© John G. Mason

(Note: Today’s Word is adapted from my Luke: The Unexpected God, 2nd Edition, Aquila: 2019)

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In these dramatically changed times the Word on Wednesday provides a mid-week ministry of Bible reading, reflection and prayer, turning hearts back to God. How do we respond to this changing world that denies the sacrificial practice of Christianity? John Mason 97 97 Looking for Life … ? full false 17:09 30762
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