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Word on Wednesday with John Mason
14 minutes | Jul 28, 2021
As I write just under 200 million people throughout the world have been infected by Covid-19 and over 4 million have died. Yet in the midst of this pandemic some who claim to be Christian insist that God will look after them – they don’t need to wear a mask, let alone be vaccinated. Rightly, we pray for ourselves and for the millions whose health and welfare is at stake, and for the millions who grieve. What expectations can we have when we pray? In Ephesians chapter 3, verses 14 through 21 we read one of the rich prayers of the Bible. Paul the Apostle begins, I kneel before the Father, from whom every family in heaven and on earth takes its name. While Genesis 1 says that God created all men and women in his image, the Bible reveals a special relationship between God and those who turn to him. Paul is taking up what Jesus says to his people: we can call God, ‘Father’. What an extraordinary privilege! There is no higher honour God could give us. It means that we stand in a very special relationship with the supreme Lord who transcends space and time. Significantly in his prayer, Paul prays that we might increasingly experience this reality in our lives. We can identify three great expectations. 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,… (3:16). The work of the Spirit goes to the heart of our being. Despite what cosmetologists 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 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, and success – there’s no need to wear a mask or be vaccinated. However, Paul is praying that the Holy Spirit will strengthen our appetite for God. He prays that in the riches of his glory the Spirit will so strengthen our relationship with the Lord, that our confidence and loyalty to him will grow. We see evidence of this power at work when God’s people cope with life’s stresses and pressures with serenity, wisdom and grace. 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 God’s people 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. Now these changes can hurt, for the Holy Spirit uses the Word of God as a scalpel to cut through to our thoughts, words and actions. For as we read in 2 Corinthians 3:16-17, God is committed to change us into the likeness of the Lord Jesus Christ— from one degree of glory to another. And to follow this through, it means having a neighbor love that with the Covid-19 pandemic we will want to be vaccinated and, as needed, wear a mask. Grounded in 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). Early in the 19th century Napoleon’s army opened prisons used in the Spanish Inquisition. They discovered the remains of a prisoner in a deep underground dungeon. The prisoner had suffered a grim death, but he had left a witness. On the wall a cross had been sketched and words written at each corner. At the top of the cross was the word, height, at the bottom, depth, on one side, length, on the other, breadth. In his great suffering this man had known and felt God’s love. 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. Benediction. 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. To return to our expectations in prayer. 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, crystal 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. The post ‘Great Expectations…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | Jul 20, 2021
The Mystery Unveiled…
Most people sense that beyond the visible and material world another world exists. The attraction of Star Wars and the level of interest in Harry Potter, especially amongst the young, are indicators that the notion of the supernatural abounds. Despite what cultural voices and social media insist, there are a significant number of research scientists and mathematicians who believe in the existence of a supreme being, a creator God. Dr. John Lennox, Professor of Mathematics (Emeritus), University of Oxford, and Dr. H.F. (Fritz) Schaefer III, Graham Perdue Professor of Chemistry, Director of the Center for Computational Quantum Chemistry at UGA, speakers at this year’s Anglican Connection Online Conference, are two. The question arises: ‘What is God like?’ Can we penetrate the veil and unlock the secrets that lie beyond? Over the centuries, people in the West have reckoned they could find God by using their minds. In the East, mysticism is said to be the key: we can find the energy or force behind the universe through religious experience such as meditation and yoga. In the Letter to the Ephesians, chapter 3, we find another option. We can come to know God, not through reasoning nor by mystical experience, but though revelation. God himself has chosen to open a window on the mystery of his great cosmic plan. Consider verse 1: This is the reason that I Paul am a prisoner for Christ Jesus for the sake of you Gentiles … and how the mystery was made known to me by revelation,… The Letter was written in a culture where mystery referred to the pagan secret religious teachings into which a spiritual elite was admitted. Christianity never espouses secret teachings known only to a spiritual elite. Ephesians uses mystery in much the same way as we do in English today – something previously hidden and unknown, but now revealed and open to everyone. What then is the mystery that Ephesians tells us had been hidden for so long? Verse 4 indicates that it is bound up with the person and work of Jesus Christ – something more fully explained in verse 6: the Gentiles have become fellow heirs, members of the same body, sharers in the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel. The mystery has to do with the complete union in Christ of both the Jewish and non-Jewish believers. This was radical. And it has far-reaching implications today when ‘critical race theory’ is being promulgated and promoted. Almost two millennia ago St Paul the Apostle was saying that there is now available a unique union between us and Jesus Christ, and between believing men and women across the nations. We sometimes forget that in New Testament times the divide between the Jewish and the non-Jewish peoples was huge. If a Jewish man or woman married a Gentile, the Jewish family would often declare such a family member dead. Yes, the Jewish people knew that through them God would bless the nations. This was the promise to Abraham (Genesis 12:3). And Isaiah 49:6 tells us that Israel would be the light to the nations. Furthermore, in Matthew 28:19, Jesus commissioned his followers to make disciples of all nations. There is no hint in the Old Testament or in Jesus’ teaching that God’s radical plan involved moving beyond his unique relationship with just one nation group. Yet here Paul explains that God’s plan involved the development of an international community under the rule of Jesus Christ. This new society, the church, would include Jewish and non-Jewish believers, on equal terms. This was the mystery that had been hidden but was now open for everyone to see. Understanding that all men and women are created equal under God, and knowing that God is building a new community across the nations, at the end of the 19th century leaders in England, such as William Wilberforce, worked at and achieved the abolition of the slave trade. In similar fashion, both black and white Christians in South Africa prayed for and played a part in ending Apartheid. Indeed, some commentators consider that the transition was achieved relatively peacefully because of the involvement of God’s people. Revelation and commission. In verse 7 we have Paul’s testimony: 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. There is a development of thought here. In verse 6 Paul speaks of the mystery. Now in verse 7 he speaks of the mystery as this gospel – God’s good news. Furthermore, he understood that it was by God’s gift of grace, that he was to proclaim the gospel through the work of God’s power. He was to preach to the Gentiles the news of the boundless riches of Christ,… (3:8). Preach translates the word from which we get ‘evangel’ – the announcement of good news. God’s good news is the announcement of the boundless riches of Christ. And, while our English translators find it challenging to express the meaning of the phrase, boundless riches of Christ, it is best understood as the unsearchable, inexhaustible, and incalculable riches of Christ. We shall never come to the end of the wealth of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is an important theme throughout these verses as Paul brings together the ideas of revelation and commission. God’s truth is to be passed on through the ages! John Stott once commented, if scientists cannot keep their discoveries to themselves, how much less should we keep to ourselves what God has made known to us? We need to recover the assurance of God’s truth and the commitment to share Christ’s riches. Just think: if we were sure that the gospel is God’s truth and the riches of Christ are for all men and women, nobody would be able to keep us quiet. Let me ask, what was the difference between the first Christians and us today? They believed and their lives were changed; they lived and talked their faith! The question is, ‘Do we?’ 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. The post ‘The Mystery Unveiled…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | Jul 14, 2021
Alienation is a word often used to describe our human plight. Everywhere relationships are broken. While people may speak of ‘the power of love’, there is often no substance to it, for love is subjectively defined. It has more to do with your love for me – whoever and whatever I choose to be. It is a love that has little or no interest in or compassion for others, let alone serving them. There is no place for apology or forgiveness. A worldview that some hold follows the French philosopher, Rousseau, who reckoned that men and women were inherently good before the corrupting influences of civilization took over. The remedy, it’s said today, requires the removal of constraints that are considered to be ‘supremacist’. The unfolding narrative of the Bible paints a very different picture. Yes, men and women in their original state were ‘good’ – the glory of God’s creation (Genesis 1:26-30). However, the tragedy Genesis 3 reveals is a rebellion against God that has had cosmic implications. Indeed, such is this brokenness that, as we read in The Letter to the Ephesians, only God could address it. In Ephesians 2:1-2 we read: You were dead through the trespasses and sins in which you once lived, following 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… In our natural state, we are subject to oppressive influences – from outside, the prevailing secular culture; from within, our flawed, self-centered, twisted nature. Beyond both, but actively working through both, is the Ruler of the kingdom of darkness who holds us in captivity. All of us are by nature children of wrath,.. (verse 3). But God, who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which he loved us…(v.4). The contrast between these verses is astonishing. It is completely at odds with what is understood by love today. God’s just anger in condemning us is not incompatible with his love. The two can be held together because giving life and loving, even the unloveable, are at the heart of God’s nature. Release. When Jesus Christ died, God provided the means whereby he could forgive us and release us from the powers of evil and death. In verses 8 and 9 we read: 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. Reconciliation. Furthermore, Jesus’ voluntary self-sacrifice on the cross not only provided the means of reconciliation with God, but also reconciliation across human divisions. Verse 12 is specifically for 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. Because non-Jewish people were once without Christ, without God, and without hope, they had no love for people who were not one of them. It’s what we are like before God’s love touches and transforms us. Barriers of colour and race, culture and class cause division in every part of the world. There is no community across the divide. But, in Christ, God has broken down the barriers: But now in Christ Jesus, we read, you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ. For he is our peace;… And verse 16 tells us: that he might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death that hostility through it. A new society. Christ is creating a new society in which hostility gives way to harmony; alienation gives way to reconciliation. Of all the great teachers, prophets, and mystics, of 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. Furthermore, 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 a wonderful 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 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 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, 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. Almighty God, our heavenly Father, like lost sheep we have gone our own way, not loving you as we ought, nor loving our neighbors as ourselves. We have done what we ought not to have done, and we have not done what we ought to have done. 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. The post ‘Reconciliation…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | Jul 6, 2021
Caught Up in God’s Epic…
Everyone loves a story. Stories grab our attention and draw us in. Some stories don’t satisfy – perhaps because there’s no conclusion, or injustice and evil succeed. Great epics, such as Tolkein’s Lord of the Rings stir our imagination and touch our inner longings for a better world. We don’t want epics like this to end: we become involved with the characters and the plot. But they do end, and we have to come back to earth. Significantly, in a world that is crying out for identity, there’s a very real interest in the ‘story’ of family forebears, or culture. The Bible has been described as the greatest story ever told. But it is an epic with a difference – it is set in the context of real events that point to a future. Consider the opening lines of The Letter to the Ephesians. In one long sentence, from verses 3 through 14, we glimpse God’s awe-inspiring epic – his plan and purpose to draw us into it. The themes of God’s love and grace are palpable. God is the subject of almost every main verb – for example: It is he who has blessed us… ’; He has freely bestowed upon us his grace (1:6); He has made known his will and purpose which he set forth in Christ… to unite all things’ (1:9f); He accomplishes all things according to the counsel of his will (1:11). The God of the Bible is a big life-giving, warm-hearted, loving God – so different from the cold, impersonal force of Star Wars, and the ruthless rule of human dictatorships. A costly love. In verses 5 through 8 we learn of what that love 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. In our western world today there’s a complex mix of victimhood that says others are at fault, while I’m OK. Any sense of personal failure is rejected, as is also the need to forgive. The truth is that in turning away from our creator God and our need for his forgiveness, we also fail one another. King David, when confronted with his adultery with Bathsheba and Uriah’s murder, wrote in his prayer of confession, Against you only Lord have I sinned (Psalm 51:4) David understood that his real guilt lay in breaking the first commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your mind and with all your soul. Our real failure is in not loving God. And because God requires that all his just requirements are met, the supreme sentence is to be carried out on all who have failed the test. That said, God has offered and has provided a way forward: someone who is without sin, could stand in our place. Only Jesus Christ, God’s Son could do this for us. It is because God’s nature is to love and to give life that he pursued the costly path required. As we read in John 3:16, God so loved the world that he gave his One and Only Son so that whoever believes in him, should not perish but have life everlasting. The tragedy. Many churches have not grasped the real significance of this. They insist that Christianity is about love – loving your neighbour, caring about the injustices of the world – but they do not have a vocabulary of a love for God. They don’t have a ministry or a liturgy that calls for repentance and for the forgiveness of sins by God. 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. The New Testament reveals that the Spirit is a Person, having his own identity. On the night Jesus was arrested, he told his disciples he would not leave them bereft. He would send them a Comforter who, as we learn from John 16, is another Person in the Godhead. God seals us as his own by putting his Spirit within us. Long before he had promised his people that he would personally live with them (Jeremiah 31:31ff). Ephesians tells us that the presence of God’s Spirit in our lives is a down-payment on our future inheritance. What should my answer be when one day I am asked why I should be given entrance into God’s presence? I will ask that the Register of names, the Book of Life be checked. And when that great Register is opened, the presence of the Holy Spirit within me assures me that my name will be found there – 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. 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. The post ‘Caught Up in God’s Epic…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
13 minutes | Jun 29, 2021
Thorn in the Flesh…
What on earth does God promise us? Health, wealth, success? Confusion often arises amongst God’s people, as well as in the wider community, because many of us think we have a right to expect to be healed and blessed with material riches and success. And there are preachers who reinforce this idea. Paul the Apostle experienced an affliction that in 2 Corinthians 12:7 he speaks of as a thorn in the flesh. To understand why Paul writes about this, we need to consider how some of the Corinthians regarded him. His Letters reveal that some treated him as weak because he lacked oratorical skills and spiritual experiences. And he had a recurring sickness. ‘How can a man like that be an apostle?’ they asked. ‘Spirituality means presence, power, mystique.’ Paul faced a dilemma. How could he puncture their self-opinionated spiritual disdain? It’s evident that he was uncomfortable in making a response: he didn’t want to boast. But he saw he had no option. In chapter 11 we see that his boasting or self-promotion has an unexpected focus. His response identifies principles that begin to answer our question: ‘What on earth does God promise us?’ Paul’s boast. In 2 Corinthians 11:23 – 28 he writes about the various challenges and afflictions he experienced. He doesn’t refer to the number of churches he has started, or the number of books and articles he has written. Rather, he sets out the persecutions and dangers he faced. He also speaks of the sense of responsibility that daily pressed on him. In verse 30 he concludes: If I must boast, I will boast of the things that show my weakness. The God and Father of the Lord Jesus, he who is blessed for ever, knows that I do not lie…. Paul turns upside down the glamorous image of Christian spirituality the Corinthians were being fed by teachers who insisted that spiritual leaders were superheroes. True Christian leaders experience hardship. They have a sense of their own unworthiness and inadequacy. An autobiographical note. That said, in chapter 12 Paul touches on an experience he once had. He writes: I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows…. and he heard things that cannot be told, which man may not utter. On behalf of this man I will boast, but on my own behalf I will not boast, except of my weaknesses (12: 2, 4, 5). This very special, personal and private experience happened only once. And that Paul does not elaborate is very important. He wanted his reputation to be based only on what others could observe of his character, his life, and his teaching. A thorn in the flesh. Paul continues: And to keep me from being too elated by the abundance of revelations, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan, to harass me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I besought the Lord about this, that it should leave me;… (12:7-9a). Much ink has been spilled in discussing the nature of Paul’s thorn in the flesh. Was it depression, an eye issue, or something else? Certainly it wasn’t insignificant. Three times I besought the Lord, he said. But consider the Lord’s response: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (12:9). God used the thorn to prevent any conceit in Paul. His ministry wouldn’t suffer. Rather it would become more effective, not because people saw Paul as some impressive, super-spiritual leader, but because the grace of God could be seen at work in him. From our human perspective true spirituality looks ordinary and weak. The Son of God looks weak and ordinary when he lies in a manger and hangs on the cross. Paul’s testimony contrasts with that of Christian leaders who surround themselves with an aura of spiritual power and mystery. Sadly, a number of them have fallen into disgrace. Paul’s testimony brings us back to the question: ‘What on earth does God promise us?’ He shows us that the prayers of the greatest saints are sometimes not answered in the way they desire. Prayer is not a wish to be granted unconditionally. God, who is our Father is not going to give us something he knows is not good for us, no matter how much we press him. Even Jesus prayed, ‘Take this cup from me’ and received the answer, ‘No!’ True Christian spirituality acknowledges and accepts weakness. Indeed, it is only when we recognize and confess our weakness that we find the supernatural grace of God flowing to meet our need. In speaking like this I am not wanting to make light of the harsh realities of sickness and suffering, of loss and grief. Nor am I wanting to gloss over the tough questions posed by the Bible’s teaching that God is all-powerful, good and loving. Yet, only in humiliation do we find God exalting us. Only in dying to self do we find God making us alive. Only in throwing our lives away do we find God giving life back to us. Only when I am weak, am I strong. When we are pressed by some thorn in the flesh in our own lives, let’s never forget God’s words to Paul the Apostle: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”. 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. The post ‘Thorn in the Flesh…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
13 minutes | Jun 23, 2021
Hopeless or Hopeful…?
Helpless. Over the last seventeen months millions have watched helplessly as loved ones have died from Covid-19. For many there has been no comfort or hope. In recent times our culture has made a habit of setting aside the wisdom of the past, and especially the wisdom of the Bible. But, as we touched on last week, when we are facing catastrophe and are confronted with the realities of the human experience, the words of the Bible come through with immense power and wisdom, truth and compassion. For here there is comfort for the broken-hearted and hope for the bereaved. In the Book of Job, chapter 19 we read Job’s words: ‘I know that my redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another’ (19:25ff). And through the words and works of Jesus Christ we see the evidence of God’s life-giving power, providing a sure hope of life beyond the grave. A dying girl. In chapter 5 of his record, St Mark tells of a 12-year-old girl who was dying. Her father, Jairus, a synagogue ruler had ignored the usual Jewish religious leadership opposition to Jesus and begged him for help. And, while Jesus agreed to go with Jairus, he hadn’t hurried. In fact, when he realized that a woman had been cured by touching his clothing, Jesus had stopped to speak with her. We can imagine Jairus’ further sense of helplessness. It’s worth pausing to consider Jesus’ lack of urgency here. Often we’re anxious because we think God doesn’t understand the urgency of our need. It’s helpful to realize that Jesus knows our situation. Don’t fear, only believe. During the delay a messenger brought Jairus the news that his daughter had died. Overhearing a comment to Jairus: “Why trouble the teacher any further?” Jesus’ reassuring response is remarkable: “Do not fear, only believe” (5:35f). Jesus’ words underline a theme we have already observed: With his coming, fear can give way to faith, not just any faith, or faith in faith, but faith in him. It was a test of Jairus’ faith. The delay not only heightened the drama of the miracle, but shows us that we can trust God to be working out his good purposes for us at all times, even in tough times when he seems to be doing nothing. So far in Mark’s narrative there is very little evidence of this kind of faith. Yet it is something he wants to press on us, his readers, as he moves on to the climax of this event. God’s compassion. By noting that Jesus took with him into the house, Peter and John and James (the three who would later witness his transfiguration), Mark affirms their credibility as witnesses to Jesus. Furthermore, by describing the scene at Jairus’ house where people were weeping and wailing loudly, Mark heightens the drama of the scene (5:38). With Jesus’ words, “Why are you making a commotion and weeping? The child is not dead but sleeping”, the crowds laughed (5:39). They knew the girl was dead, otherwise they would not have been there, and they certainly didn’t believe that Jesus could do anything for her now. But in saying that the girl was sleeping, a word that could signify either physical sleep or death, Jesus indicated the situation was not as hopeless as they thought. Are there not times when we are downcast because we don’t expect God to do the unexpected? Taking the girl’s parents and the three disciples with him to her bedside, he took the girl’s hand and without any fuss or incantation, said, “Talitha cumi” which means, “Little girl, I say to you, arise” (5:41). In touching the dead girl Jesus had technically become impure and ritually unclean. Yet he had not hesitated to do this for her sake. New life. At his words, immediately the girl got up and began walking… (5:42). Understandably the parents were amazed (8:56) at this extraordinary act of Jesus. Directing that they should give her something to eat (5:43), Jesus not only showed his understanding of the girl’s need, he wanted everyone to know she was not an apparition. She was truly alive. No one but God could raise the dead. There is no other word to describe what Jesus had: power. Power over death itself; power to turn a day of mourning into a day of joy. New hope. An event such as this awakens us to where hope is to be found. According to the Bible we are all helpless. We try to hide this or simply ignore it, but the reality is that we are not in charge of our destiny. Our world is subject to titanic forces far beyond our control. Consider the power of fires, floods and earthquakes; consider the evil in the world and the atrocities that are perpetrated for the sake of human power; consider the power of a pandemic and the harsh reality of death. CS Lewis spoke of suffering as God’s megaphone. It can awaken us to the realities of our helplessness and therefore our need for God. Sometimes it is only when face the realities of life and death that we come to our senses and turn to Jesus. Whatever our cry is, Mark wants us to know that our cry will be heard. We can also point people we know who have lost loved ones through Covid or for some other reason, to the God of all hope. In Christ Jesus alone, helplessness can be changed into hopefulness. A prayer. Heavenly Father, keep your people continually in a true faith in you; 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. The post ‘Hopeless or Hopeful…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
15 minutes | Jun 15, 2021
Faith, NOT Fear…
There are times in life when we feel utterly helpless. The morning of September 11, 2001 in Downtown New York City close to the twin towers, was one such moment for me. You may have experienced such a moment in your own life – a moment when you felt alone and helpless. Come with me to a scene in the Gospel of St Mark, chapter 4, verses 35 through 41: On that day, when evening had come, Jesus (he) said to his disciples (them), “Let us go across to the other side” (of the lake). And leaving the crowd, they took him with them on the boat, just as he was. And other boats were with him. And a great windstorm arose, and the waves were breaking into the boat so that the boat was already filling. But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion… For centuries the Jewish people feared the sea. They associated its unpredictable forces with the primordial powers of creation that God needed to bring under his control. It raised the kind of anxiety and fear that the word nuclear raises in the minds of many people today. The sea symbolized those unpredictable and untameable energies that exist beneath the world – the kind of energies that defy all of humanity’s attempts to harness them. Fear. We can begin to understand the fear that overcame the disciples when a sudden squall blew up. The Sea of Galilee, some seven hundred feet below sea level, is shallow and set between high hills. As every sailor knows, this combination can be highly dangerous in a storm. Rapidly moving air streams can quickly cause the waters to rise, making it choppy and turbulent. On this occasion the storm quickly turned the comparatively quiet waters into huge waves. The gale force winds and turbulent waters threatened to capsize the boat. Even though some of the disciples were professional fishermen, they felt totally helpless. Fearing for their lives, they woke the sleeping Jesus and said to him: “Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?” (4:38). A cry for help. Their cry for help was driven by fear. It was not a prayer let alone an expression of faith in Jesus. Behind their question is the implied thought that he had led them into this situation: he was the one who had suggested the trip over the lake. And here he was, calm and asleep on a cushion in the stern of the boat – a detail that underscores the historical veracity of the event – seemingly oblivious to their danger. A command. Jesus’ response is revealing and encouraging: He awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm. Jesus’ words are a clear, authoritative rebuke, without histrionics or grandstanding. Only one word can describe Jesus’ action: power. There was no process in the storm’s abatement. Instantly the wind ceased, and the sea was calm. When we pause to think about this, we can only be awed by the power at work here. And if we think a little more, we will want to ask, as the disciples asked, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” Those men knew their Bible. They knew that only God had this kind of power. Psalms 104:3 and 107:28-29 speak of God’s control over his creation. No ordinary man could have done this extraordinary thing. Only someone who wielded the power of God could do it. Faith…? Immediately Jesus questioned his disciples: “Where is your faith?” he asked. The ball was in their court – as it is in ours! Up until this point in his narrative, Mark has shown us that Jesus displayed the kind of supernatural power that could restore order in a world where there is sickness and evil. He is someone to be trusted in the crises of life. In the western world today many, having turned aside from the Christian faith, are inclined to look for human ideas and political solutions to the world’s problems and their own fears. Gone is an awareness of the existence of the God of love and beauty, goodness, justice, and compassion – the God who has supremely revealed himself in the words and works of his unique Son. When the disciples looked back at their experiences with Jesus, they came to understand that they were uniquely privileged: in Jesus, God was with them in person. To return to the crossing of the Lake, Jesus’ sleep in the boat shows us that he experienced physical exhaustion: he is one of us. Yet his sleep indicates his lack of fear: he knew he could trust God with his life. As Alan Cole commented, ‘Faith and fear are mutual exclusives in the Bible: it was because of lack of faith that the disciples feared that they were about to drown, and so it was for their lack of faith that they were rebuked. No command is more often reiterated in the Bible than the simple, ‘Do not fear’ (see Exodus 14:13, 20:20)’ (Mark: IVP, 1989, p.155). But in their consternation the disciples continued to be fearful, saying to one another, “Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?” (4:41). It would seem they wanted the warm, friendly presence of Jesus as they knew him, not someone who, in revealing his supernatural powers, was beyond their understanding and comfort zone. Yet it is because Jesus is uniquely God in the flesh that, come what may, we need not fear when we put our faith in him. A prayer. Lord of all power and might, the author and giver of all good things, graft in our hearts the love of your Name, increase in us a true faith, nourish us with all goodness, and so by your mercy keep us; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. The post ‘Faith, NOT Fear…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | Jun 9, 2021
Personal identity is the subject of much robust discussion today. Is our identity defined by what we feel about our color or gender or something else? There are white people who say they ‘feel’ black. And I recently heard of someone who didn’t ‘feel’ their legs were theirs. The capacity for choice is one of the most exciting and yet most frightening things about our humanity. For with the power to choose there is the moral responsibility to choose well. If we were robots, we could say our decisions were the outcome of the way we were programmed. If we were animals, we could say our decisions were shaped by our genetic code. But we are neither robots nor animals: we are human beings, and the matter of choice is in our hands. When we think about it, our decisions are dependent upon assumptions we have made about life. And these assumptions include the spiritual values we might have. Come with me to a parable that opens up a very big picture about life. It is found only in the Gospel of St Mark: Jesus also said, “The kingdom of God is as if someone would scatter seed on the ground, and would sleep and rise night and day, and the seed would sprout and grow, he does not know how. The earth produces of itself, first the stalk, then the head, then the full grain in the head. But when the grain is ripe, at once he goes in with his sickle, because the harvest has come” (Mark 4:26-29). This fascinating parable focuses on the reality of God and the supernatural activity of his kingdom – the sowing of seed and the harvest. To understand the parable, we need to read it in the context of Jesus’ ministry. In Mark 1:15 he proclaims: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent and believe in the good news.” With Jesus’ coming God’s kingdom or rule is now present in a new and vital way. God’s king or ruler has come in person. His mission, spoken of in the parable as seedtime and harvest, brings the supernatural realm into human affairs. But, just as a seed remains hidden, so is the seed of God’s kingdom hidden. The parable helps us begin to understand God’s greater purposes and his way of working. The evidence of his existence is around us in the nature of the universe, but the proofs of this and his supernatural rule in Jesus Christ remain hidden. Yet, in the same way that Jesus’ predictions concerning his arrest and trial, crucifixion and resurrection were fulfilled, we can be sure that the prediction of his return and bringing in the harvest of his people will also be revealed. Paul the Apostle in writing to God’s people in Colossae tells us that with the coming of Jesus Christ the new age of God’s kingdom dawned. This new age co-exists with the old which the New Testament refers to as the world. For the present a door is open, allowing people to pass from the old age to the new. In Colossians 1:13 Paul writes of God’s hidden supernatural work: God has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and has transferred us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… In turning to Jesus as the Lord, our whole relationship with God changes. Paul speaks of everyone who turns to Christ as dying with him (Colossians 2:20). And in Colossians 3:1, he says: So if you have been raised with Christ… While physically we are still in the old world, God’s people now move in the sphere of resurrection life. We should let the light of this sphere of eternity fall on all we think and feel, say and do. ‘Live,’ Paul is saying, ‘as though you belong, not on the earth, but in heaven.’ This means sitting at the feet of the enthroned Jesus Christ and letting our minds and hearts be instructed by his word – not least on matters such as our identity, gender and relationships. It’s understandable that we hear the voices of those around us asking us ‘how we feel’. But Paul urges everyone of us who has this new life in the Lord Jesus to see ourselves and our identity, the challenges and troubles of life, through the lens of the glory of our life to come. Paul develops this: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God… (Coloss 3:3). For the present others only see our physical bodies. The reality of our new and eternal life is hidden. However, what is now hidden will one day be disclosed. Everyone will see the harvest of which Jesus speaks in his parable. So Paul writes: When Christ who is our life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory (Coloss 3:4). 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 that the final outcome will be the return of God’s king. In recent times there has been a revival of interest in 16th Century England, and especially the reigns of Henry VIII and Elizabeth I. Writing on Thomas Cranmer’s response to the news of Anne Boleyn’s execution (May 19, 1536) on false charges, Diarmaid MacCulloch records Cranmer’s words to a close friend: ‘She who has been the Queen of England on earth will today become a Queen of heaven’ (Diarmaid MacCulloch, Thomas Cranmer, 1996, p.159). In Revelation 21 we read the words of St John: Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them as their God; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away” (21:1-4). © John G. Mason 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. The post ‘Identity Matters…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
13 minutes | Jun 1, 2021
Is It Just All Relative…?
As we start a new season we will be addressing contemporary questions in the light of the life and work of Jesus of Nazareth. In recent decades the uncertainty of postmodernism has echoed throughout the West – in academia, the media, the school classroom and in the political arena. Because we are here by chance, we’re told, there is no God and no external objective truth. Your truth is just as valid as my truth. Increasingly political correctness, framed by our feelings, informs our decisions and relationships. For it’s all relative, of course. Indeed, we’re told that anyone who expresses belief in a sovereign God, is too immature, too insecure, to enjoy the freedoms of the brave new order. It’s all relative, of course. When we think about it, the talk of relativism, freedom, and maturity, reflects Adam and Eve’s attempts to throw off what they came to view as God’s constraints. And certainly, it’s much easier to go through life thinking we are part of a giant cosmic accident. That said, let me explore three themes we find in the closing section of Mark, chapter 3. Mark focuses on two groups of people: Jesus’ family who thought that he was out of his mind; and some Jewish leaders from Jerusalem who said that Jesus exorcised demons because he himself was from Satan (3:20-22). Unanswerable questions. Mark tells us that Jesus called the Jewish leaders over and raised some pointed questions: “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand”. ‘What you’re saying is illogical,’ Jesus is saying. ‘If I am from Satan or from Beelzebub, and I am releasing people from his power, that’s mutiny.’ It would be like a political party imploding because of internal divisions. Jesus’ questions were unanswerable. And Jesus presses his critics with a second theme: Undeniable power. In verse 27 we read: But no one can enter a strong man’s house and plunder his property without first tying up the strong man; then indeed the house can be plundered. Many in Jesus’ day suffered from demon possession. Perhaps they had played with the occult and subsequently were possessed by a force far beyond their own power to overthrow. But Jesus’ coming revealed a superior power. It was like the beginning of spring in Narnia when the snow, brought about by the white witch, began to thaw. People could see for themselves that Jesus wielded a far greater power than the forces of evil. And the Jewish leaders could see it too. In Mark chapter 3 we discern the reality of a cosmic power struggle. In comparing himself to the stronger man who has come to plunder the strong man’s house, Jesus is likening the force of evil to a medieval baron, locking men and women away from their true heritage. But with Jesus, someone stronger has come to plunder the strong man’s house. The powerbase of the evil one is under attack and the fortifications are crumbling. The exorcisms that Jesus carried out reveal his superior power. Now it’s important to note that Christianity is not dualism with a conflict between equals, the power of good and the power of evil. The question is, ‘How then should we respond to this man who wields such divine authority?’ Will we simply echo the mantra: ‘It’s all relative of course’? Unforgiveable sin is a third theme. “Truly I tell you, people will be forgiven for their sins and whatever blasphemies they utter;” Jesus said. “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin” (3:28-29). Jesus’ words about the unforgiveable sin are amongst some of most misunderstood in the Bible. We need to remember that verse 28 precedes verse 29. In verse 28 we learn that Jesus holds out forgiveness for all our sins. This is amongst the most glorious and freeing promises in the whole of Scripture. There are times when we all feel the weight of a serious thing we have done, and we wonder, ‘Can God really find it within himself to forgive me for this?’ There may be someone reading this who feels such a burden. Be assured, when we truly turn to Jesus in repentance and faith, our sins are wiped clean from God’s memory. That said, a chilling warning follows: “But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit can never have forgiveness but is guilty of an eternal sin”. Mark 1:10 tells us that the Holy Spirit came upon Jesus at his baptism equipping him for his unique ministry. And throughout his ministry we see the continued work of the Spirit – not just in Jesus’ miracles but also in his teaching and preaching. Indeed, throughout the Bible we see the Spirit of God and the Word of God working together. To reject the ministry of God’s Word is to reject the ministry of the Holy Spirit. Now, Jesus is not condemning our questions and doubts. Professor Charles Cranfield wrote in his definitive commentary on Mark’s Gospel: ‘It is a matter of great importance pastorally that we can say with absolute confidence to anyone who is overwhelmed by the fear that he/she has committed this sin, that the fact that he/she is so troubled is itself a sure proof that he/she has not committed it’ (CEB Cranfield, Mark, p.142). How sad it is when people reject the Holy Spirit’s work as the gospel is brought to them. It can happen when they observe the glory of the universe around us, and yet insist that it has all come together by chance; or when they follow politically correct stereotypes, refusing to accept the Bible as God’s special revelation. We are not adrift in a sea of moral uncertainty. Right and wrong mean something. Good and bad, true and false, mean something, because Jesus is there to give these words meaning. “I am the truth,” he says in another place. At the end of it all, the absolute nature of these fundamental values and truths will assert themselves over every single human life. We shall be placed against God’s plumbline, and that plumbline will be Jesus himself. Then we will discover how ridiculous is the cliche, ‘It’s all relative of course’. © John G. Mason 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. The post ‘Is It Just All Relative…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
15 minutes | May 25, 2021
Delighting in the Triune God…
Robert Letham in The Holy Trinity (2004) commented on the impact of postmodernism on society: ‘In terms of instability and diversity, he said, ‘the postmodern world of constant flux is seeing insecurity, breakdown, and the rise of various forms of terrorism… As diversity rules, subgroups are divided against each other… A cult of the victim develops, and responsibility declines. This is a recipe for social breakdown, instability, and the unravelling of any cohesion that once existed’, he said (p.453). Let me touch on some key words in Paul the Apostle’s prayer of thanksgiving for the church in Colossae. In Colossians 1:3 we read: In our prayers for you we always thank God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,… Paul begins by thanking God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. Significantly, the sentence construction tells us that Jesus Christ is just as much God as God the Father. Let’s think about this: The essential nature of a perfect father is to love and give life. Paul’s understanding is that God the Father delights to love and give life. From eternity God the Father has given life to a Son. A water fountain, whose very nature is to pour out water, helps us with this idea. For Paul’s words are consistent with what we read in the opening line of John’s Gospel: In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And in Jeremiah 2:13, the Lord says of himself that he is the ‘spring of living water’. From eternity, before the creation of the universe, God the Father was loving and begetting his Son. God did not become a father at some point. In the same way that a fountain is not a fountain if it doesn’t pour out water, so God the Father would not be who he is, unless he was giving life to his Son. 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. This is important, for it tells us that Paul is giving thanks to the God whose existence is not simply as a powerful intelligence behind the observable universe, but to God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ. The Colossians’ faith in Christ Jesus was real and personal, expressing itself in their love and care for one another. The Colossian church was a place where there was genuine community. People accepted one another, treated one another as equals across the social and racial divide. Their love for one another led to compassion and practical care for those in need. Significantly, Paul goes on to tell us that the faith and love the Colossians enjoyed, was inspired by a third Person of the Godhead – the Holy Spirit. In verse 8 he writes that Epaphras had told him of the Colossians’ love in the Spirit. In John chapter 14 we learn that on the eve of his arrest, Jesus promised his disciples he would send the Holy Spirit to comfort and equip them. And in John 16:8 we learn that the Holy Spirit would also convict the world of sin and righteousness and judgment:… An important part of the Spirit’s work is to convict our consciences of our failure to honor and love Jesus as Lord. One day God will ask us all: ‘What did you do with my Son?’ In The Bondage of the Will Martin Luther addressed what he saw as the fundamental question regarding salvation. He pointed out that so distorted and flawed is the human heart, that no one has a free will when it comes to our relationship with God. The desires of our hearts lock us into self-worship and vainglory, rather than the rightful worship and glory of the one true God who is Lord of heaven and earth. Thomas Cranmer, archbishop of canterbury in the reign of Henry VIII, held a similar view of humanity. Dr. Ashley Null sums up Cranmer’s anthropology this way: ‘What the heart loves, the will chooses, and the mind justifies… For Cranmer the mind is actually captive to what the will wants, and the will itself, in turn, is captive to what the heart wants’. So how are hearts changed? From his rich understanding of Scripture Cranmer’s prayer books stress the need for God to intervene in our minds and hearts. And so, the 1552 Service of the Lord’s Supper begins with a Prayer for Purity: Almighty God, to whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden: cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, so that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen. It is a prayer for the outpouring, the coming down of the Spirit of God, significantly not on the bread and wine on the Holy Table, but on the minds and hearts of everyone present. As Ashley Null points out, the prayer is saying that we cannot truly love God unless God supernaturally changes our hearts. A careful reading of Cranmer’s liturgies reveals that his prayer is that the Holy Spirit will work through the Scripture to change the hearts of the worshippers. For Cranmer, with all the English Reformers, believed in a living God whose delight is to answer prayer. To return to Paul the Apostle’s prayer of thanksgiving in his Letter to the Colossians, we see the One God who exists in Three Persons, delighting to give life to his people. Our broken world needs to hear afresh the good news of this Triune God. If we grieve for our world, we need to pray that God will act with compassion and send his Spirit to soften hearts, turning them, as they hear the gospel, to Jesus Christ as Lord. (c) John G. Mason 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. The post ‘Delighting in the Triune God…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | May 18, 2021
Pentecost and Speaking Up…
Is there anything that can really make us different, that can shake us out of our apathy and anxieties? That can inject enthusiasm and joy, confidence and courage into our lives? Come with me to the events of Pentecost that we read about in Acts chapter 2. It was six-weeks after Jesus’ resurrection. Three questions emerge. What happened? When the day of Pentecost came, the disciples were together in an upper room in Jerusalem. ‘Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came… Divided tongues, as of fire, appeared among them… All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.’ Pentecost is the Jewish festival celebrating the giving of the Ten Commandments. In Exodus 19:18 we read that violent wind and tongues of fire had enveloped Mt Sinai at the time God gave Moses the law. However, as Israel’s prophets had said, the law failed to change the world because the law failed to change people. Now at Pentecost some twelve hundred years later, God was coming with fire and wind, not to impart more law, but to impart his Spirit. The mighty wind symbolised the power of Jesus; the fire symbolised his purifying and cleansing work; and speech pointed to the good news of Jesus reaching every nation. Luke, the author of Acts focuses on speech. He tells us: Now there were devout Jews from every nation under heaven living in Jerusalem. … And everyone was bewildered because each one heard them speaking in the native language of each (2:5). The crowd came from the Caspian Sea in the east to Rome in the west; from modern Turkey in the north to Africa in the south. ‘How is it?’ they asked, ‘That we can understand them in our own native language?’ The cynics in the crowd mocked, saying the disciples were drunk. But Peter wasn’t silenced: ‘The bars aren’t open yet,’ he said. ‘It’s only nine o’clock in the morning’. This was the ultimate Author of speech reversing Babel. The disciples, previously demoralised and defeated, had a new enthusiasm, confidence and joy. Peter, who had denied Jesus, was no longer a coward but a courageous preacher. What made that difference? It was the Spirit, ‘Another Helper’ whom Jesus had promised. For many, Christianity is little more than a moral code they must struggle to observe, or a creed recited mindlessly every week. But in John 14 Jesus had spoken of ‘a Companion’ who would enable his people to experience a life-changing personal relationship with him. What did it mean? The Holy Spirit was turning cowardly disciples into intrepid apostles. From verse 22 Luke records Peter’s speech: “Men of Israel, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. …And you, …put him to death …but God raised him from the dead, …” People today mock the idea of Jesus’ miracles. Yet first-century historians such as Josephus, agreed that Jesus was a miracle-worker. Peter called the miracles signs. Just as a sign-post points to the road we might follow, so Jesus’ works pointed to the power and authority he wielded. “If I by the finger of God cast out demons,” Jesus had said, “then the kingdom of God is come upon you.” The climax of his speech is in verse 36: “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this, God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Peter had a logically developed progression of ideas – not a frenzied set of phrases. He explains that Jesus’ cross and resurrection reveal God’s extraordinary love. The Son of God had put aside the glory of heaven and come amongst us, giving his life as the one perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world. Human authorities had judged Jesus a threat and guilty, and nailed him to a cross. From his supreme court, God overturned that judgement and raised Jesus to life. Does all this matter? It happened so long ago. Peter’s hearers were cut to the heart…, “Brothers, what should we do?” they asked (2:37f). Peter’s words cut through to their hearts. They were utterly ashamed. Previously they had mocked the dying Jesus. Now they knew the truth. God’s Spirit was at work. Peter’s response is one we all need to hear: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven (Acts 2:38). He didn’t tell his hearers they needed to turn over a new leaf and start living moral lives. Rather, he focused on their relationship with Jesus. Repent. ‘Come to your senses about Jesus,’ Peter is saying. ‘Turn to him and ask him for his forgiveness.’ Three thousand responded to Peter’s call that day. God’s Spirit was taking up the work of Jesus the Messiah in the world, opening blind eyes and changing hearts. Significantly Peter continued: And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him (Acts 2:38f). From now on God’s Spirit would come into the lives of all God’s people (see also Romans 8:9). What God did that day, and what he has been doing ever since, matters. God’s delight is to draw men and women from all over the world, from every culture and walk of life – people like you and me – into a personal, living relationship with himself. And we have a part to play. Let’s not be fearful. Rather, let’s pray for the Spirit’s strength and wisdom to take up opportunities we have, to introduce people we know to Jesus. Why not invite a friend to join you in exploring John’s Gospel through ‘The Word One-to-One’? It is available online free of charge at: www.theword121.com. The post ‘Pentecost and Speaking Up…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
14 minutes | May 11, 2021
The Ascension and Two Kingdoms…
Welcome to this Word on Wednesday for Ascension Day. It is great to have you with us. In his article in The Spectator (UK), ‘The China model: Why is the West imitating Beijing?’ (May 8, 2021), Niall Ferguson writes: ‘In a revealing essay published last year, the Chinese political theorist Jiang Shi-gong, a professor at Peking University Law School, spelled out the corollary of American decline. ‘The history of humanity is surely the history of competition for imperial hegemony,’ Jiang wrote, ‘which has gradually propelled the form of empires from their original local nature toward the current tendency toward global empires, and finally toward a single world empire.’ ‘The globalisation of our time, according to Jiang, is the “single world empire” 1.0, the model of world empire established by England and the United States. But that Anglo-American empire is ‘unravelling’ internally, because of ‘three great unsolvable problems: the ever-increasing inequality created by the liberal economy… ineffective governance caused by political liberalism, and decadence and nihilism created by cultural liberalism’. Moreover, the western empire is under external attack from ‘Russian resistance and Chinese competition’. This is not a bid to create an alternative Eurasian empire, but ‘a struggle to become the heart of the world empire’.’ It is not my purpose to explore these issues, but rather to touch on the significance of Jesus’ physical departure from the world recorded in Acts chapter 1. In verses 9-11 we read: While Jesus (he) was going and the disciples were gazing up toward heaven, suddenly two men in white robes stood by them. They said, “Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? This Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come in the same way as you saw him go into heaven.” It reads like sci-fi. In his book Miracles CS Lewis asks, ‘… what precisely should we expect the onlookers to see? Perhaps mere instantaneous vanishing would make us feel most comfortable. A sudden break between the perceptible and the imperceptible would worry us less than any kind of joint. But if the spectators say they saw first a short vertical movement and then a vague luminosity (… ‘cloud’) and then nothing – have we any reason to object?’ (pp.177f). Clearly Christ moved from the space and time dimensions that we know into another beyond our comprehension. Further references in the New Testament help us understand. Philippians 2:9f tell us that God the Father has highly exalted Jesus and given him the name which is above every name. And Colossians 3:1 speaks of Christ as seated at the right hand of God. And, back in the opening lines of Acts chapter 1, Luke tells us that during the forty days between Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, Jesus spoke of the kingdom of God (1:3). The age of God’s Messiah had dawned. From their question, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” the disciples were excited and thought that at last Jesus was going to reveal his true power and position as Israel’s true king. They were thinking in political and nationalistic categories. And through the ages many have thought in similar terms. But it’s important that we focus on Jesus’ response: “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority (1:7). ‘You’re not to worry about times and end-times,’ Jesus is saying. ‘I’ve got something much more important for you to do with your time and energy: “You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Jesus had a very specific agenda for his disciples. Witnesses. In commissioning his disciples as witnesses, Jesus wants us to know that what they passed on is nothing but the truth. This is so important because the Bible makes it plain that Christianity is not a religion, involving rules, rituals, and regulations. At its heart is a relationship with Jesus Christ. And because meaningful and lasting relationships can only be built on truth, we need to know the truth. Relationships within families are only meaningful where there is truth and honesty. Without truth there can be no trust. Now, it’s important to make a distinction here. Jesus is not saying that his followers down through the ages are witnesses as were the original disciples. We can’t be. We weren’t there. But we are called upon to testify to the good news he brings. Two kingdoms. For the present God’s kingdom, the rule of the Messiah remains hidden. Indeed, in his Letter to the Colossians Paul the Apostle tells us that the new age of God’s rule co-exists with the old – which the New Testament speaks of as the world. Currently a door is open, allowing people to pass from the old age to the new. So, while we see around us the movement of human kingdoms and powers, God, in his mercy is rescuing people throughout the world from the dominion of darkness, transferring us into the kingdom of the Son he loves… (Colossians 1:13). We live in an uncertain and troubled world. We need to pray for the leaders of the nations and play our part in contributing to the welfare of people in need around us. Above all, let’s pray that God in his mercy will use the good examples of our lives and our testimony to draw many to the Lord Jesus Christ. His physical resurrection and the angels’ words at his ascension assure us that his return is certain. But there’s something else we need – which we’ll talk about next week! The post ‘The Ascension and Two Kingdoms…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
18 minutes | May 4, 2021
Mother’s Day and a Word to Husbands…
Being Mother’s Day this Sunday (May 9), let me highlight little-known or oft-forgotten words to men in their relationship with women. It’s most important that we keep before us biblical principles in our relationships. In setting out features of the marriage relationship in 1 Peter chapter 3, Peter has some challenging words for believing husbands in verse 7: … In the same way be considerate as you live with your wives…, he says. To first century ears these words were revolutionary. The idea that men should be considerate towards their wives was totally new. Despite liberation movements amongst first century Roman women, the reality was that they were still treated as second class citizens. Be considerate. We can only begin to imagine the relief and joy of women as they read Peter’s exhoration here. No more would they be exploited. No more would they be chattels to be used and abused. And with the almost daily news items of the abuse of women, we see the timeless relevance of Peter’s words to men. For today there is many a wife who fears her husband – his selfishness, his control, his unfaithfulness. Many wives live in marital uncertainty and loneliness. Show respect or honor, captures the meaning of considerate. ‘Get to know the woman you live with’, is another way this could be translated. Yet in far too many relationships this is ignored. A counselor often hears a woman say, ‘I don’t feel my husband cares about me. He doesn’t understand me. I’m a stranger to him. He doesn’t listen’. ‘He’s always running me down,’ is another comment. ‘Whatever I do, he’s sarcastic or critical. He loves to make me feel a failure,’ is yet another. Too often men don’t understand their life-partner because they haven’t bothered to take the time. A supreme example of this disinterest is Henry Higgins’ line in My Fair Lady: “Why can’t a woman be more like a man?” Peter’s further words, live with, imply being aware of and sensitive to his wife’s sexual needs. It also refers to the issue of self-esteem: Treat them with respect, he says. One of the persistent causes of marriage breakdown is low self-esteem on the part of either a husband or a wife. Women often need the security of being cared for and appreciated. Men, we need to be considerate of our wife’s feelings. We need to tell her how wonderful she is and what a privilege it is to enjoy the closest of all human relationships with her. We need to say this often. We need to say it when our children and others will hear. And don’t forget regular expressions of love that please her; it might be chocolate, flowers and the unexpected date. Why should we do all this? Peter tells us why: Honor. Paying honor to the woman as the weaker sex,.. Nowhere in the Bible does it state that a woman is spiritually, morally or intellectually weaker than a man. Yes, a woman is physically different – it is right to separate men’s and women’s sporting competitions. The strength Peter has in mind is the implied reference to a woman becoming a victim of male exploitation. Men must be considerate and show respect. Far from taking advantage of a woman in the closest of all human relationships, husbands are to recognize their honor-bound responsibility under God. With his words to men here, Peter is introducing a virtue that the ancient world knew nothing about – chivalry. Nobody had thought about this before. In Christian ethics a humble state of mind is required of everybody: the king as well as the slave, the parent as well as the child, the husband as well as the wife. In the same way. Peter tells us in chapter 2 verse 24, Christ Jesus, although Lord of the universe, humbled himself and died on the cross to pay the penalty for our sins. Equality: Since they too are also heirs of the gracious gift of life— Equality is a fundamental biblical principle – across the sexes, across nations and races. And here Peter is not just saying that we are equal as created beings, but now as redeemed beings. We share together all the benefits of God’s promise. A woman is not any less worthy, nor does she have any less status. Both men and women are dependent upon God’s grace – even for life itself. We are equally entitled to all the benefits of heaven. Men must treat their wives as fellow-heirs. Prayer: So that nothing may hinder your prayers. How can our prayers be hindered? The Bible is quite clear that God does not hear our prayers when relationships with people around us are not right. Matthew 6 records Jesus’ comment about our need to forgive others if we expect God to forgive us. The effectiveness of our prayer life depends to a certain extent on the quality of our relationships. In the same way God doesn’t listen to the prayers of a selfish, inconsiderate husband. Men, honor and respect your wife – and not just on Mother’s Day. Under God, serve her: she is an equal beneficiary with you of all God’s promises. Pray for the Lord’s forgiveness, for none of us is perfect. May the Lord equip you to be the loving, selfless husband in your wife’s life. The post ‘Mother’s Day and a Word to Husbands…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
18 minutes | Apr 27, 2021
Fruitful outcomes are something we normally expect from worthwhile endeavors. So, we look for measures of productivity in the corporate world – a measure of life and growth. Why then do we often overlook the fact that Jesus is concerned with productivity? He lived in an agrarian culture and on one occasion used grape-growing as a metaphor for the productivity to which he is committed. Vineyard owners work hard to develop the quality and the output of each vine. They know that to get maximum output, judicious pruning is required: good growers don’t confuse short-term profitability with long-term viability. Indeed, Jesus makes the point that a good vine-grower treats low-producing branches quite differently from non-productive ones. In John 15:1-2 Jesus says: “I am the true vine, and my Father is the vine-grower. He removes every branch in me that bears no fruit. Every branch that bears fruit he prunes to make it bear more fruit.” To understand his reference to fruit, we need to consider the context of his words. John Chapter 14 concludes with Jesus’ expectation that his people will love him and keep his commands. And in John 15:9 we read: ‘If you obey my commands you will remain in my love’. There are times in the Old Testament when Israel was likened to a vine, planted and tended by God. Psalm 80:8-9 says of God, ‘You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. By the time of Jesus, the grapevine was close to being a national symbol for Israel – a little like the Big Apple for New York. But there’s an irony: wherever we find the metaphor of the vine in the Old Testament it is usually associated with the moral and spiritual degradation of Israel. Isaiah 5, for example, tells us that instead of producing good grapes, Israel yielded sour grapes. For all the blessing God showered upon his people, he looked in vain for the harvest of righteousness he wanted to see. For his part Ezekiel commented that Israel was a useless vine. With his words, ‘I am the true vine’, Jesus challenges Israel. Israel may say it is a vine, he says, but I am the true vine. ‘You are the branches’, he continues. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5). These tough words weren’t just for Israel. They are words to everyone who says they are ‘Christian’, but for whom Christianity is no more than a Survey box to check. Jesus warns us that he expects visible evidence of our loyalty to Him. In the absence of such evidence, we cannot be assured of his friendship. It is said that the philosopher CEM Joad, was once asked at a university high table: ‘Tell me, what do you think of God?’ To which he replied, ‘My greater concern is what God thinks of me’. Israel’s mistake was to assume that because they had the temple, because they had the Scriptures, because they had the right pedigree, they would be immune from judgment. We today can say, ‘I’ve been baptized and married in the church’, and, ‘I attend church at Christmas and Easter’, thinking that all will be well when we pass from this world to the next. But, according to Jesus, the mark of everyone who is part of the true vine is fruitfulness. Where fruitfulness is absent, so is true faith. Fruitfulness. So he continues: “Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers;…” (John 15: 6). There is a dramatic change in the tense of the verbs here. Literally he is saying, ‘whoever is not remaining in me’ (present tense), ‘has been thrown away’ (past tense). This strange counterpoint of tenses suggests that the severance of the branch and its consequent decay are not the result of its sterility, but the cause. It is because it never really belonged to the vine that it never produced fruit. So, when he speaks of branches ‘in me’ being cut off, he is referring to people who have superficially called themselves ‘Christian’. Love in response to his love, prayer, and loyalty to his commands is what Jesus expects of us. As we reflect on what this fruit-bearing love and obedience looks like, we see that it refers to the reality of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, the quality of our life measured by the Ten Commandments and the exhortations of the New Testament; it also involves sharing God’s passion for the lost. Fruitfulness is seen in Godly love and living, prayer, and drawing others to know Christ Jesus. Let’s pray for God’s grace in these troubling times, enabling us to lead fruitful lives in Christ. So urgent is the need for fruitful gospel living today, so ill-equipped are many of God’s people, that I ask you to join with me in praying that many more will take up the current opportunity of accessing the Anglican Connection gospel-focused online conference. It’s not just for ministers or even Anglicans. Available until May 31 at www.anglicanconnection.com, it is for everyone who is committed to the priority of God’s gospel. Keynote speakers include Dr. John Lennox, Richard Borgonon (‘Word One-to-One’), Dr. Liam Goligher, Keith Getty. © John G. Mason Note: Today’s ‘Word’ is adapted from my Word on Wednesday, April 26, 2017 The post ‘Fruitfulness…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
20 minutes | Apr 20, 2021
Life to the Full…
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 the 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 their 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. Though poor and often treated as outcasts, shepherds played an important 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. Jesus is good in the very best sense of the word. He is genuinely concerned about the interests of others and, no matter the cost to himself, he is committed to provide life in all its fullness for his people. 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 true life and real 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 Jesus’ words here, we discern their application for 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 former hostilities between races and nations be resolved and humanity be able to develop its full potential. ‘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 for what? No perfect peaceful and just society has emerged. ‘I am the door; I am the good shepherd’, Jesus says. Only those who 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. The post ‘Life to the Full…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
18 minutes | Apr 13, 2021
I’m told that the golden arches of McDonald’s and the swirling script of Coca Cola’s logo are more widely recognized throughout the world today than the Christian cross. Millions around the world have never heard of Jesus Christ. Is the cancel culture that is keen to silence any talk of Jesus, succeeding? Indeed, there seems to a lack of urgency amongst God’s people about reaching others with God’s gospel. If they do speak up, they fear what others will think. They also fear they won’t have the right words. I’ll come back to this later. Promise. But first, come with me to Luke 24. Luke’s ‘resurrection chapter’ sets out three scenes – Scene 1: Angels remind the women who visited Jesus’ tomb early on the Sunday morning following his crucifixion of what he had said: “… and on the third day (I will) rise again” (24:7). In Scene 2, Jesus walked as a stranger with two of his followers on the road to Emmaus and explained what the Scriptures had predicted and promised about the Messiah. In Scene 3 Jesus spoke in person to his disciples of the promises and the fulfillment of the Scriptures concerning his death and resurrection. Moses had foreshadowed the need for a perfect sacrifice (Leviticus 17:11; Hebrews 9:22). Isaiah had spoken about God’s servant who would suffer for the people, bearing our guilt, dying for our sins (Isaiah 52:13-53:12). Jesus wanted his perplexed, grief-stricken followers to understand they were to interpret all that had happened to him in the light of the Scriptures. He is saying, ‘The Bible says…’ Five words express the essence of what he was saying: He (the Christ) died for our sins. It’s a simple statement. The first two words have to do with facts – history: Christ died. Without explanation the event could mean almost anything – one thing for the Christian and another for the Muslim. The meaning is provided with three further words: … for our sins. Christ died is not good news. Whereas Christ died for our sins is. When people ask, ‘How does Christ’s death benefit me?’ our response should be, ‘We need to go to the Scriptures, for they give us the interpretation’. The Scriptures provide the meaning: the New Testament interprets the Old Testament and the Old interprets the New. The idea that both Testaments interpret one another may seem strange, but that is the nature of the unity of the Scriptures. Indeed, a passage such as Isaiah 52:13-53:12 in providing us with a clear interpretation, also reveals God’s masterplan of rescue. Fulfillment. Jesus’ words in Luke 24:46 are electrifying for in telling us that Christ had to suffer and die, and rise again, they reveal the depths of God’s love for us: “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day,…” Jesus’ death and resurrection is not the story of a dead man who came back to life, nor the story of a dying and rising god. Nor is it a romantic story that tells us that death is not the end. It is the story of Messiah’s shameful death by crucifixion, suffering the pains of God-forsakenness on behalf of men and women who had broken God’s good and perfect law. Jesus’ resurrection is God’s answer to the innocent man who had cried out, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Without his death, Jesus’ resurrection has no significance for fallen men and women. Unless sin has first been dealt with, resurrection cannot point to forgiveness and new life. The resurrection is now a glorious message because it has made sense of Jesus’ death. Jesus, for his part, would be crowned with the highest honours and given the greatest glory. But there is much more – that involves you and me today! In verse 47 we read: “…and repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations… You are witnesses of these things.” Repentance translates a Greek word which speaks of ‘a change of mind and lifestyle’. Unless we have a change of mind and heart towards Jesus Christ, asking for his forgiveness and committing to a new attitude and lifestyle, there is no forgiveness. These truths are to be proclaimed to the nations! Jesus commissioned his first disciples – not just one or two – as his witnesses. And, as God’s good news must be taken to all nations, we are caught up in this partnership today. We can’t be witnesses in the strict sense, but we can introduce others to the God of love and compassion. One way we can do this is to turn the pages of ‘The Word One-to-One’ with friends over coffee. ‘The Word One-to-One’ has the text of John’s Gospel with helpful explanatory notes. You can find out more at: www.theword121.com. Furthermore, the February Anglican Connection Online Conference included talks from Dr. John Lennox and Richard Borgonon. Both spoke of the advantages of this ministry. For US$30.00 you can access this conference at www.anglicanconnection.com. Not Alone… Jesus knew that even his close followers who had seen him risen from the dead didn’t have the inner resources to go out and tell the nations God’s good news. They needed the Holy Spirit, to clothe them (24:49). They needed then, as we do today, a clear understanding of the truth, wisdom and inner resolve to talk with others – especially when faced with opposing voices. The encouraging news is that the regenerative power of God’s Spirit is now actively at work in us and in the world. Because people’s eternal lives are at stake, let’s not be silenced by the voices around us. Rather, let’s pray that God’s Spirit will so fill our lives that our faith spills over into our conversations enabling others to find life and joy in all its fullness in Christ forever. © John G. Mason 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. The post ‘Silenced…?’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
18 minutes | Apr 6, 2021
Christ is Risen…!
Writing in The Weekend Australian (April 3-4, 2021), John Carroll, emeritus professor of sociology at La Trobe University, Australia, comments ‘Immortality has become the great question mark… For the secular modern age, belief in any form of life after death is in doubt … Most no longer believe in a supernatural being – whether providential, guiding, punishing, or forgiving. God has become a figment of the archaic imagination…’ What then does life have to offer? The sub-text of today’s elites are the words of the 5th century BC philosopher, Protagoras: In all things man (humanity) is the measure. Men and women determine what is of value and what is not. Voices today pronounce on race and gender, equality and rights. Interestingly, in the same way that 5th Greek philosophers drew aspects of their moral teaching from Moses, so there are aspects today that reflect Judaeo-Christian values – such as the abolition of slavery. That said, aspects of today’s agenda stand in clear contrast to those virtues. Given that life and death matters are at stake, it’s imperative we ask whether the account of Jesus’ resurrection is an invention. I say this because the resurrection is foundational for Christianity. If it’s false, let’s eat, drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die. If it’s true, it’s life-changing. The words of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus are apt: ‘Unless you expect the unexpected you will never find truth, for it is hard to discover and hard to attain’. And last century G.K. Chesterton remarked, ‘Truth is stranger than fiction, for fiction is the creation of the human mind and therefore congenial to it.’ The first witnesses. In the opening lines of John 20, the Apostle relates his experience on the morning of the third day following Jesus’ crucifixion. Mary of Magdala, one of the women who went to the 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 treated as unreliable and insignificant in first century Judaism, women were the first witnesses of the empty tomb. No Jewish writer would have written this if the account were fiction. Furthermore, John the Apostle’s own testimony rings true. He tells us that 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 that he saw and believed (20:8). But in the next sentence he tells us that neither he nor Peter understood it. Like Martha who had told Jesus she knew her brother Lazarus would rise from the dead on the last day (John 11:24), John reasoned that Jesus had gone to be with God the Father, as he had said (John 14:2-4). Neither he nor Peter understood what Jesus meant when he said they would see him again, physically risen from the dead. We need to grasp this, for it emphasises the unexpectedness and authenticity of what happened. Despair. We need to appreciate how Jesus’ first friends 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 shout of victory, “It is finished” – ‘My work is done’ – as he died (John 19:30). Their minds were numb with the shock that such an innocent man who had used his powers to serve others, should die a common criminal. No wonder they hid behind locked doors, fearing for their own lives. John records that on that Sunday evening, Jesus suddenly stood in the midst of his disciples. His words, Jesus stood, contrast with the time they had last seen him – hanging on a cross, wounded and bleeding, wracked with pain, dying. And when they had seen the spear thrust in his side, they knew he was dead. Yet 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 that Jesus 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 was proof of that. They were overjoyed, but their minds couldn’t fully grasp what was happening. It was like a dream. But, as Chesterton observed, Truth is stranger than fiction. As I have remarked before, 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 the ’natural laws’, intervening with his awesome, supernatural power (Romans 6:4b). And no-one has been able to prove conclusively that it didn’t happen. 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’. 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. (BCP, Easter Day – adapted) The post ‘Christ is Risen…!’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
20 minutes | Mar 30, 2021
No one likes failure. You may not have experienced it, but it happens, even to the smartest of people. We can experience failure when we let others down or when we fail to meet our own expectations. It can happen in unexpected moments when we like to feel we are in control. In whatever form it takes, none of us likes to feel a failure. We are embarrassed and it can wound us deeply. Departure. Come with me to the scene that John records of Jesus’ closing hours with his disciples on the eve of his crucifixion. There is an air of gloom as Jesus tells them he is going away (John 13). In verse 33 we read Jesus’ words: Little children, I am with you only a little longer. You will look for me; and as I said to the Jews so now I say to you, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come…’ Grief. The idea of Jesus going away left them grief-stricken. Over three years they had come to see that he is God incarnate. It was all too much for Peter: “Lord, where are you going?” he said. To which Jesus answered, “Where I am going, you cannot follow me now; but you will follow afterward.” Peter said to him, “Lord, why can I not follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.” Peter’s plea is like that of a distressed child: ‘Why can’t I come with you now?’ And, next moment, he insisted that only over his dead body would anything happen to Jesus. Clearly Peter was devoted to Jesus. His grief-stricken response is understandable. But let’s think about his words, “…I will lay down my life for you.” It was not long since Jesus had said that he was the Good Shepherd who would lay down his life for the sheep (John 10:11). To ensure that everyone had heard him, he had said it again (John 10:15-18). And now that the time had come, ironically Peter was saying said he wanted to reverse the roles: “I will lay down my life for you”. I wonder if there was the suggestion of a smile on Jesus’ lips as he replied, ‘Will you really?’ At first Peter’s words seem courageous. However, they reveal his underlying pride. His response is similar to his words a little earlier when he had said to Jesus who was about to wash his feet: “You will never wash my feet”. To which Jesus had responded: “Unless I wash you, you will have no share with me” (John 13:8). Pride. Clearly Peter had not understood the import of these words. And now, the ever-impetuous Peter, still prideful, was saying: ‘I won’t let you die for me Jesus. I’m not like the others’. Jesus’ response is gentle, but clear: ‘Peter, courageous though you may think you are, a time will come shortly when you will need to let someone else do for you what you can’t do. You will have to accept someone else’s generosity. You can’t put yourself in my debt.’ This is important. Jesus owes none of us anything. We are the ones who are totally dependent on him for his charity. Devastating though it may be for our egos, we need to get to the point where we are willing to see it that way. Pride is the one passion Jesus won’t allow his disciples to have, not least on the eve of Good Friday. Nor will he allow anyone of us to have such pride. Jesus’ warning to Peter is prophetic: “I tell you the truth, the cock will not crow, till you have denied me three times” (John 13:38). And before dawn, Peter did deny Jesus three times. As we read elsewhere, Peter came to grieve with deep sorrow and self-reproach. This proud disciple came to despise his cowardice and turn in heartfelt repentance to the Lord. Christ Alone. Peter had to learn the hard lesson we all have to learn. Jesus doesn’t love us because we are faithful to him, let alone prepared to die for him. He loves us in spite of all our failures. Our allegiance to him must be based on this. It’s humbling and it hurts, but there’s no other way. There will be times when we are like Peter. We don’t want to give in to Jesus. And there may also be times when we feel that others are so much more spiritual than we are. But remember this: Jesus is not impressed by super-spirituality. He knows there are those who like to give the impression that they are first-class followers. They talk about their spiritual experiences, or their certainty of the Lord’s leading them to do this or to do that. They are always active, doing ‘Christian’ work. But Jesus knows when this is done to impress others. Jesus urges everyone who would follow him to trust him – as we see in the opening words of John 14: “Let not your hearts be troubled, believe in God, believe also me”, he says. Humility and Trust. ‘Trust me Peter’, Jesus insists. ‘Before the next twenty-four hours are over, you will all feel failures. But your faithlessness won’t mean the end of everything. ‘The faith, or trust, that I am talking about is not based upon on what you can do for me, but rather in what I alone can do for you.’ It’s easy for some of us to be like impetuous, proud Peter. But we should never forget the wisdom and prophecy of The Book of Proverbs: Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall… (16:18-19). Jesus urges us to learn the lesson of humility and believe in God. We can be very confident that he is committed to us, no matter what. The events of the first Good Friday and Easter Day assure us that this is true. The post ‘Peter’s Pride…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
19 minutes | Mar 24, 2021
The God Who Suffered...
Towards the end of his finest book, The Cross of Christ, John Stott draws from the playlet, ‘The Long Silence’. At the end of time billions of people are found in the presence of God’s throne. While the majority stand back against the brilliant light, various groups at the front are listing their complaints against God. ‘How can God judge us?’ they ask. ‘How can he know about suffering?’ Having assembled their complaint, representatives of the various groups meet – someone from Auschwitz, an African American, an abused woman, someone from Hiroshima, a thalidomide child, and many others. On reaching agreement, they presented their case that before God could be qualified to judge, he must endure what they endured: God should be sentenced to live on earth as a man. ‘…Let him be betrayed, face false charges, be tried by a prejudiced jury and convicted by a cowardly judge. Let him be tortured and die, horribly and alone…’ With these thoughts in mind 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 would be through Jesus’ death that God’s kingdom would be 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 – his death. ‘And what should I say – “Father, save me from this hour?” No, it is for this reason that I have come to this hour’, we read in John 12:27. Jesus knew the day would come when he would die. His expectation was not the same as ours – that one day we will die. Sin-bearer. We get glimpses of Jesus’ understanding of the purpose of his life throughout the four Gospel records. The words of Isaiah 52:13-53:12 provide the key. Indeed, Luke 22:37 records Jesus’ direct quote from Isaiah 53:12 – He was numbered with the transgressors. In keeping with a Jewish interpretative approach, we should note the larger context of Jesus’ quote – all of Isaiah 53, and especially all of v.12 which concludes: Yet he bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors. Jesus, the Word of God incarnate, was born to suffer and die for human sin – the perfect for the imperfect. The hidden nature of the depths of God’s love was revealed in the crucifixion – where the Son of God was glorified. Glory speaks of the outward manifestation of inner character. RVG Tasker (The Gospel According to St John) makes the important point that Jesus’ words, “Father, save me from this hour” are a prayer that God will bring him safely (literally) out of (not from) this hour. Tasker quotes Alford’s paraphrase: ‘The going into and exhausting this hour, this cup, is the very appointed way of my (Jesus’) glorification’ (p.149). 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 12:28 we read God’s words: ‘I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again’ – which we see in Jesus’ raising Lazarus from death, 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 humanity as the image of God. 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. The cross was not a heartless God punishing a hapless Son. Jesus tells us himself: it was his choice – his voluntary sacrifice (John 10:14-15) – because both he and the Father love the world and are intent on its rescue, no matter the cost. When we come to see that Jesus’ cross reveals ‘the invincible power of God’s love’, we are drawn to put our trust in him. Come what may in this world, because God in Christ is victorious over sin and the powers of evil, we have the hope of a future far beyond our imagination. Returning to John Stott’s reference to The Long Silence. As each of the speakers laid out their complaint against God, loud murmurs of approval rose from the great crowd. When the last speaker finished, there was silence. A very long silence… No one spoke. No one moved. ‘Suddenly everyone knew that God had served his sentence’ (pp.336f). ‘While you have the light, believe in the light, so that you may become children of light,’ Jesus warns (John 12:36). © John G. Mason The post ‘The God Who Suffered…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
17 minutes | Mar 17, 2021
God so loved the world…
In today’s world, God is not so much dead. He is cancelled. He is not to be spoken about. If he is, there’s nothing good to say about him: ‘he is uncaring and grim’. 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). For God so loved the world… God… Yes, he does exist. At the recent Anglican Connection Online Conference, Dr. Henry F. (Fritz) Schaefer, one of the world’s leading quantum chemists, commented: “The laws of nature look just as if they have been selected as the most simple and elegant principles of understandable change by a wise creator. Belief in the decipherability of nature strongly suggests the existence of a cosmic mind, who can construct nature in accordance with rational laws.” Dr. Schaefer also drew attention to the words of Francis Collins, Scientific director of the (US) government’s Human Genome Project, on the discovery of the human genome: “It is humbling for me and awe-inspiring to realize that we have caught the first glimpse of our own instruction book, previously known only to God.” 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 – self-centered us. 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 gave the world a 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. In the first instance this means the Son personally reveals what God is like to us. 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 and respond to him. But God did not only give his Son to shine his light of revelation into a dark world. The gift was to reach its climax and fulfillment with the Son’s crucifixion. God’s love is seen not so much in the coming of his Son, but in the death of the Son, the Word of God incarnate, Jesus Christ. This was the action of a holy and just God whose love found a way to forgive, rescue and restore men and women who had shown no love for him. Extraordinarily, God in and through his Son, was willing to make great sacrifices for undeserving people. We needed a Saviour because we are sinners. And God himself was willing to take the initiative to do it at great cost to himself. It is here we see the immeasurable depth of God’s love. And John tells us of the offer that God holds out – So that 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 it 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. The perishing won’t be perpetually partying on with friends. They will lose everything that is good, beautiful and true. T.S. Elliot put it this way, Hell is oneself. Hell is alone… Life eternal, on the other hand, is the experience and joy of a life that is appropriate in the coming age. It will be a life of perfection and beauty, where there will be no more pain or suffering, self-interest or injustice; rather it will be the fullness of joy in the glory of the Lord. And 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. Have you turned to Christ? Are you aware that at least one-in-five people around us are open to an invitation to explore Christianity? Pray. The fields are white unto harvest. God can’t be cancelled. The post ‘God so loved the world…’ appeared first on The Anglican Connection.
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