Sunday 16th December 2012  – Faith, Not Fear…

The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Luke 3:7-18 (NRSV)

7 John said to the crowds that came out to be baptized by him, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8 Bear fruits worthy of repentance. Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham. 9 Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’

10 And the crowds asked him, ‘What then should we do?’ 11 In reply he said to them, ‘Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise.’ 12 Even tax-collectors came to be baptized, and they asked him, ‘Teacher, what should we do?’ 13 He said to them, ‘Collect no more than the amount prescribed for you.’ 14 Soldiers also asked him, ‘And we, what should we do?’ He said to them, ‘Do not extort money from anyone by threats or false accusation, and be satisfied with your wages.’

15 As the people were filled with expectation, and all were questioning in their hearts concerning John, whether he might be the Messiah, 16 John answered all of them by saying, ‘I baptize you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 17 His winnowing-fork is in his hand, to clear his threshing-floor and to gather the wheat into his granary; but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.’

18 So, with many other exhortations, he proclaimed the good news to the people.

I have often been involved in conversations with people over the course of my life and particularly over the last several years who have this idea that Christianity teaches that in order to get to heaven all they have to do is be baptised and be ‘good’.  It is especially frustrating when the person expressing this view is someone who claims to be a Christian.  Now I am not saying these people are insincere in their belief, I have found most are very sincere – they are however dead wrong.  Another favourite often extolled by atheist evangelists is that people only believe in the Christian concept of God because they are afraid of going to hell – that Christianity’s main recruiting strategy is to scare people into the Kingdom.

John the Baptist certainly didn’t believe that fear was an acceptable reason to come to repentance and enter God’s good graces… Lets examine what John has to say to this crowd who had come – apparently to repent and be baptised.  John opens his address to the crowd rather scathingly… ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  Bear fruits worthy of repentance.  John knows that those who have come to him are not there out of a genuine will to repent and come closer to God – they are there to simply avoid ‘ the wrath to come’. This is simply not good enough, and John demands genuine repentance, and a genuine changing of the heart which will bear the fruit of repentance.  John demands not that they simply go through the ritual and be ‘good’, he demands that they genuinely turn away from their sin and display their new found faith in the way that they live.  John’s warning is clear, you can go through the ritual if you want, but if you aren’t living your faith genuinely then… Do not begin to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our ancestor”; for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children to Abraham.  Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.’  You see John is warning them that if they repent to save themselves only, and don’t live a life of faith, that they are wasting their time – they will end up in the same place.  It is similar is it not to the message that James gives us in his letter – faith without works is dead.

Now like James, John isn’t preaching that we can earn our way to salvation, rather he teaches us that when our motivation is right – when we are focused on God and not on ourselves, then we will bear fruit in our lives.  When we are focused on God, we will share our spare shirt with the one with none, we will provide food for the needy, we will not extort and rob from those around us in order to serve our own needs.  No, when we are focused on God and His Kingdom we see the futility of storing up wealth for ourselves at the expense of others, after all when we understand God’s purpose and goal for humanity we also begin to understand his love for us, his forgiveness, and his generosity. 

We are called by our creator and our saviour to live our lives in relationship with him.  We cannot be in relationship with him if we are not living lives in alignment with his nature.  We cannot be in relationship with God if we ignore the needy, for God teaches us to care for them.  We cannot be in relationship with God if we ignore injustice – for God is just.  John as he prepares the way for the Lord, is telling us something very very important about our salvation.  Our salvation cannot be bought, and it cannot be earned.  We will not be saved by being baptised if we don’t have faith to accompany it.  We will not be saved through turning up to church each week, or as so many do now by turning up at Christmas.  We are saved by the grace of God through faith.  Faith that is genuine (not a get out of jail free card) and which has its focus on God – and not on us. 

John exemplifies this kind of faith, in all he does he takes no glory for himself, John understands that it is not about him.  When the people begin to wonder at John’s teaching and question whether he might be the messiah, John does not think to himself ‘oh I must be doing a good job – I’m sure to get my ticket to heaven now!’ … No, John when the people begin to place their focus on him, to praise him, rather does what he always did – what he and all of us are called to do – he pointed to God.  He even went so far as to say he is not worthy to untie the sandal of the one who is coming after him… this may seem a small thing in our eyes, but to John and his audience it had big implications.  John was saying that he was not even worthy to be treated as a lowest ranking servant.  Rather than thinking he should be rewarded for his work, John acknowledged that he was not worthy of the gift that was coming.

As we approach Christmas, it is a time for all of us to examine our own faith.  Are we living out our faith in such a way as to bear fruit? Do others look at us and see people of faith or just ‘nice people’? If John the Baptist were standing in front of you and you asked him what must I do?… what would he say to you?

John taught us that our focus, our lives and our faith must always be directed to God – and not to ourselves.  We cannot earn our way to heaven through rituals and being ‘good people’, we must live a genuine faith, we must walk in accordance to the will of God and bear fruit for the kingdom. So as we approach this time of Christmas let us keep our focus on God and the coming of his Kingdom.

I pray that you will be richly blessed in the coming week,


Sunday 16th September 2012 – Take up your cross


The Word This Week:

Thoughts on the Word:

Mark 8:27-38

Jesus went on with his disciples to the villages of Caesarea Philippi; and on the way he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that I am?” And they answered him, “John the Baptist; and others, Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.” He asked them, “But who do you say that I am?” Peter answered him, “You are the Messiah.” And he sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him.

Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him. But turning and looking at his disciples, he rebuked Peter and said, “Get behind me, Satan! For you are setting your mind not on divine things but on human things.”

He called the crowd with his disciples, and said to them, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake, and for the sake of the gospel, will save it. For what will it profit them to gain the whole world and forfeit their life? Indeed, what can they give in return for their life? Those who are ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of them the Son of Man will also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.”

This week I want us to continue our focus from last week on the idea of faith as an active and living thing.  Last Sunday we focused on the words of James and his warning that faith without works is dead. We learnt in our reflection on these words that James wasn’t claiming that works in and of themselves are able to save us – we are not justified by works – rather what James is trying to teach us is that Jesus in calling us to faith is not asking us simply to ‘believe’.  We are called to a living and active faith, and in this week’s readings (especially those from Isaiah, James and Mark) we see what active and living faith looks like.
For this short reflection however I will focus on Mark.  

Mark sets the scene for us in this reading, he recounts Peter’s declaration of Jesus as the Messiah, and then moves directly into Jesus explaining what must happen to him.  We shouldn’t miss the importance of this framing of the story – the Jews were (and still are) expecting a messiah who would be a conquering king, who would rule the Jewish nation in the world.  Jesus, though after establishing that the disciples knew that he was the promised messiah, begins to explain to them that he will be rejected by the religious leaders, and killed – how then could he be the messiah? Can you understand Peter’s frustration and fear? He had given up everything, to follow this Jesus character in the firm belief that he was the promised Jewish Messiah – and now, this guy was declaring not that he was going to rule over Israel, and restore the nation, and faith of the people – rather he was going to be rejected by the very people who in Peter’s mind would be the ones to endorse the messiah.  Then of course there was the fact this bloke was carrying on about rising from the dead as well – what would people think? No this had to stop! So Peter takes Jesus to task for his claims that he would be rejected, be killed and rise again. 

Jesus, calls Peter out for what he is doing – he has his focus not on heavenly things, but on human things – Peter is concerned about what Jesus says not because he has his focus on God, but because he is concerned about how this will reflect on him.  Jesus then speaks to the crowd and his disciples after his rebuke of Peter – he declares where people who would be his followers must put their faith, and how they are to live. 

We who would be followers of Jesus must do exactly that –  follow him – we are to ‘take up our cross’.  Now lets be clear here, Jesus isn’t asking all of us to volunteer for crucifixion – nor is he asking us to cart around a lump of wood for the rest of our lives.  However what he is saying is that being a Christian will mean that you are looked down on, you are ridiculed and judged for your beliefs and your behaviour.  When this happens your response though isn’t to retaliate, rather we are to respond with love and compassion, we are to follow Jesus and emulate him to the best of our ability.  WHen we are ridiculed or condemned for our faith we are to proclaim it all the more, for if we are ashamed of it, if we hide from the persecution we only show ourselves to be believers, and not followers – and Jesus will be ashamed us – just as we were ashamed of Him and the Gospel.

Be strong in your faith, be a beacon of love, of compassion and hope.  I know I fail at this every day, but my failure doesn’t dishearten me, when I see my failings I look to Jesus and give thanks that those failures are forgiven and that I can move on with courage to the next day, and try again to be the best follower I can be. I pray that you can do likewise.

I pray that God will richly bless you and yours this week.

If you would like to learn more about Jesus and why I and so many others are so keen to talk about him please shoot me an email using the Contact Us page.

Sunday 17th June 2012 – 3rd Sunday After Pentecost

The Word This Week

Thoughts on the Word:

It has been another of those weeks for me! I haven’t had a chance to write a sermon or reflection for this week, so I have provided below a fantastic reflection on this week’s readings from Dr. Bruce Epperly, which was originally posted here.  In big news though I will be moving into full time theological study in July as I discern a calling to ordained ministry – your prayers during this time would be greatly appreciated!


This Sunday’s lectionary readings describe the surprising and unexpected revelations of God.  God is not a homogenous force, evenly distributing revelation across the universe.  Rather, divine revelation and inspiration are contextual, historical, and personal.  God has a vision just as we do.  While no one is left out in the interplay of call and response, God’s revelation is always personal and variable.  A shepherd boy is chosen as king; a mustard seed grows into a great plant; and a small child grows into the Christ.  God takes initiative, but our response and a supportive environment help God’s dreams come to fruition and new dreams emerge.  Where is God moving uniquely and intimately in your life?  What is God’s dream for you, right now and over the long haul?  Moreover, what are God’s dreams for you and for your congregation, and loved ones?  How can we open to God’s dream for ourselves and God’s dream for others?

The reading from I Samuel describes Samuel’s covert operation to choose a new king.  Saul has lost the spirit and the people need a new spiritual-political leader.  The choice will come from one of Jesse’s sons.  The most likely candidates are passed over until Samuel comes upon the youngest and least equipped, David, who becomes God’s choice for king.  God sees deeper into the heart than humans do.  Beyond appearances, there are deeper gifts and possibilities, hidden to the untrained eye.  God uses small and unexpected events – and unlikely people – to be great agents of revelation.  Where might you discover God’s hidden work in your life in your community, and among your acquaintances?  Could you be “chosen” or “called” for a particular divine task?  What great calling are you hiding, even from yourself?

Psalm 20 is a hymn of protection and affirmation of the king.  God chooses, supports, protects, and guides the nation’s leader.  While we no longer live in a monarchy or theocracy, we can honor our leaders, praying that they are guided by divine wisdom.  Yet, in light of the universalism of revelation, is it possible that this Psalm relates to everyone?  Is everyone anointed in some way?  If so, this has profound spiritual and ethical consequences?   On the one hand, we need to awaken to God’s anointing of our lives – where is the King David or Queen Esther hidden in our lives?  Further, we need to care for all whom God has anointed.  That means doing the impossible – seeking the well-being and spiritual growth of all of God’s anointed ones – that is everyone, friend and foe?  Where are leaders, teachers, mentors, healers hidden – in the generosity of revelation, everywhere!

The passage from II Corinthians is complex and can be problematic, if taken literally and, frankly, as Paul may have intended it!  The good news in this passage is that we walk by faith and not by sight: we are called to awaken prayerfully to a deeper realism, undergirding the obvious.  God is at work – seeking in all things, God’s vision – despite appearances.  No one is God-forsaken.  Possibility is present even in the most dire circumstances, but we need to open to it and to cultivate a deeper vision and, then, faithful action to bring forth divine possibilities in unexpected and adverse contexts.

There is a touch of otherworldliness in the passage that can tempt the listener to turn away from the responsibilities of embodiment and earthiness.  Our true home is elsewhere, Paul claims.  We would rather be away from the body than alive in this world.  Perhaps, like Socrates in Plato’s Phaedo, Paul is yearning to escape the burdens of aging, imprisonment, or the infirmities that have come as a result of previous beatings.  Yet, if taken literally, this “Gnosticism” is not helpful in a world of mass starvation, political conflict, economic inequality, and global climate change.  While it is true that we live by ideals, by a vision of Shalom and personal and planetary healing, experiencing God begins right where we are as concrete persons in concrete situations with concrete responsibilities.

We do not need to flee the world but transform it! Our calling is to be spiritual explorers, looking for more than meets the eye, discovering treasures in unlikely places.  We are called to be new creations, and to bring together old and new, tradition and novelty, heaven and earth for the transformation of ourselves and the world.  As theologian John Cobb says, Christ is the principle and source of creative transformation.  Christ is already here working within us, but if anyone is “in Christ,” that is, aligns her or himself with Christ’s constantly living and evolving vision, he or she is a new creation.  “New things have arrived,” as the Common English Bible proclaims.  Keep awake for the new things coming!

Serendipity and synchronicity abound in the parables of the scattered seed and the mustard seed. (Mark 4:26-34)  Seed is scattered and its sprouts, growing into a great harvest.  Beneath the randomness of life, there is a gentle providence seeking growth, new creation, wholeness, and transformation.  Possibilities appear to emerge from nowhere – a way is made where is no way forward -and chance encounters change lives.  This is the often unseen and subtle of God who works for good in all things.  Even the least obvious, the mustard seed, can grow into great things, bringing sustenance and comfort to all around.

There is a quiet movement of grace in our lives. Unheralded, and mostly unobserved, changing the world not by bravado or coercion, or even celebrity status or miraculous demonstrations, but by constantly growing grace and emerging presence.  The miracle is in the moment – every moment.  Mustard seeds abound, seeds of grace are scattered broadly, children grow into leaders, and new creation bursts forth out of ashes.  Look deeply, feel sensitively, and pray constantly.  Awaken your heart, train your senses.  God is moving providentially in subtle moments of growth and surprise.

Bruce Epperly is a theologian, spiritual guide, pastor, and author of twenty two books, including Process Theology: A Guide to the Perplexed, Holy Adventure: 41 Days of Audacious Living,  Philippians: An Interactive Bible Study, and The Center is Everywhere: Celtic Spirituality for the Postmodern Age.  His most recent text is Emerging Process: Adventurous Theology for a Missional Church. He also writes regularly for the Process and Faith lectionary. He may be reached at for lectures, workshops, and retreats.

This reflection was originally posted at

A prayer challenge

Today’s post is a hijack of another blog.  I stumbled across it today on Pinterest.  Oh how I love Pinterest!  This post is not the last time you’re going to hear me mention Pinterest!!

The image below is one I found on Keeping It PersonalIt’s a site I haven’t come across before, but I look forward to spending time checking them out more thoroughly.  You can download a printable copy, and read the original post here.

If you’re anything like me, prayers are mostly inserted in between business.  Arrow prayers.  Shoot one up quickly when the thought is there.  Some days I slow down and make the time to really spend time talking with God, but honestly, it doesn’t happen nearly enough. 

In an effort to begin a new habit, I’m going to schedule prayer time for the next 31 days, and I’m challenging you to join me.  I’ll be using the image below to give me a starting point.  My prayers often revolve around my children, but rarely this sort of intentional praying.  I’m also going to share this with my family and discuss what each of these virtues means.  I know they won’t understand it all, but they’re smart kids and I don’t want to under estimate them!

It doesn’t matter how old your children are, or even if they’re not your children, you can pray for any child you love and care, even one’s who haven’t been born yet.  You can be praying for their future spouse as well.  It is NEVER too early to be praying for anyone, even people you haven’t met yet.

So will you join me?  Will you pray for the children in your life and see how God reveals himself?

Please let me know if you’re in on this challenge by way of a comment below.  Lets encourage each other.

Sunday 20th May 2012 – …so that they may be one…

The Word This Week:

Acts 1:15-17, 21-26

Psalm 1

1 John 5:9-13

John 17:6-19

Thoughts on the Word:

John 17:6-19

”I have made your name known to those whom you gave me from the world. They were yours, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. Now they know that everything you have given me is from you; for the words that you gave to me I have given to them, and they have received them and know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. I am asking on their behalf; I am not asking on behalf of the world, but on behalf of those whom you gave me, because they are yours. All mine are yours, and yours are mine; and I have been glorified in them.

And now I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, protect them in your name that you have given me, so that they may be one, as we are one. While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and I speak these things in the world so that they may have my joy made complete in themselves. I have given them your word, and the world has hated them because they do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world. I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but I ask you to protect them from the evil one. They do not belong to the world, just as I do not belong to the world.

Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you have sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. And for their sakes I sanctify myself, so that they also may be sanctified in truth.

Todays Gospel reading is a prayer.  It is not just any prayer either, it is a prayer said by Jesus himself.  So lets take a journey through this prayer – the last one we have recorded that all of his disciples would have heard.  After all they were asleep in the Garden when he prayed for the cup to pass from him, and all but the beloved disciple St John had abandoned him at the cross for fear of their own lives when he prayed to the father to ‘forgive them, they know not what they do’ and asked ‘why have you forsaken me?’   This then is something of a last will and testament of Jesus, where he puts forward his wishes for his ‘estate’ the treasures that he has built in his life on earth (His followers!).

So what does Jesus include in his last will and testament? He calls on His Father to fortify us and protect us.  He makes the great statement that as His followers we are in the world but we don’t belong to the world.  We belong to something much greater, we belong to the eternal kingdom.  It is important however that we take the time to understand Jesus’ prayer.  He didn’t ask the Father to take us out of the world, he didn’t say protect them from pain and suffering, or defeat their enemies.  No, what Jesus said was very much the opposite, the only thing that he asks His Father to protect us from is the evil one.  So how do we interpret that?  Well we need to interpret it in the context of the rest of the passage. 

Jesus says “While I was with them, I protected them in your name that you have given me. I guarded them, and not one of them was lost except the one destined to be lost, so that the scripture might be fulfilled.” So when we read Jesus’ words asking the Father for our protection – from the evil one – we can understand that the protection he seeks from the Father is protection for our salvation.  Judas, was one of the 12, he was assured his salvation if he held true to his faith in Christ.  However that was not to be, and Judas having forsaken his faith in order to gain materially, was lost.  It is both a sad story and a warning to us that we too can fall into the trap of Judas if we take our eyes off of God.  In that instant that we turn away the evil one is in waiting and eager to prevent us from turning back to Jesus, just as he did with Judas.

However that is not all that Jesus prays for.  He also asks that we be one with each other, just as He and the Father are one.  He prays for a unified body of Christ, a Church of believers who are united and strong.  Sadly this payer is not yet fulfilled.  The Church of Christ has been separated since the Great Schism of the 11th century, when the Eastern Orthodox Churches and the Roman Catholic Church separated.  Then around 500 years later, the Church split again, however this second fracture has been much more catastrophic for the body of Christ in terms of harmonious Christian ‘oneness’.

Some sources now suggest that there are over 30,000 different Christian denominations or faith groups.  Now of course we could probably group these into broader theological groups, such as Pentecostals, Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Evangelical, Anglican, ‘non-denominational’ etc. however the very fact that this large amount of different church groups exist – often with groups of the same theological persuasion in the same town we have to concede that they exist because of disagreement.  After all if they all agreed, they wouldn’t need to be a separate group – they would merge, they would become one!

Now if we are honest we must admit that the biggest reason that there are 30 thousand or more denominations is our own pride and self importance.  A lot of groups are founded on nothing more than a relatively minor disagreement over the interpretation of scripture (and sometimes just one passage!) which if we were honest wouldn’t affect our salvation anyway! The truth is that the vast majority of groups calling themselves Christian can agree on all the very basics of the faith such as:

1. God is a Trinity of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
2. Jesus is the Son of God, begotten by God in his humanity, but eternally existent with the Father in the Godhead.
3. Jesus was born of a virgin named Mary, who was betrothed to Joseph, but did not have sexual intercourse with him prior to the birth of Jesus.
4. All humans are in a fallen sinful state, and cannot enter the Kingdom of Heaven except through faith in Jesus Christ.
5. Through putting faith in Jesus we receive the grace of God by which we are forgiven our sins, and are thus able to enter eternal life with God.

It is when we delve deeper that we run into disagreements – for instance.  One of the biggest disagreements within the Christian faith lies with the idea of the predestination of Christians to salvation – some interpret it as meaning that God only calls those he has predestined to save to be a Christian, we cannot resist that call and we will be saved, and of course once we are saved we are always saved.  The other view is that God calls all people, and gives us the opportunity to respond to that call of our own free will. This view of predestination also allows for people to choose to turn away from God and thus lose their salvation.   The two major proponents of these opposing views were John Calvin (hence the term Calvinist) and a man named Jacobus Arminius.  A more well know figure from the Arminian camp is John Wesley who of course founded the (original) Methodist denomination.

The most disappointing thing though is that whether you are Calvinist in your theology or Arminian/Wesleyan will never have any affect on your salvation.  As long as you have put your faith in Jesus you are saved.  You may have however picked up a hint of which side of the fence I sit in this debate from my comments on Judas forsaking his salvation in Jesus’ prayer a moment ago.

Of course the point of my rambling on about different theological positions and denominations is to point out the foolishness of it all.  We are all believers in the redeeming work of Jesus on the cross, and as a result Jesus says that we don’t belong to this world… and yet we have allowed the world, to separate us.  For this desire to break apart and form separate groups on matters that do not affect our salvation is certainly not something that comes from God, but is rooted in our own worldly views.

So let us focus on this prayer of Jesus in our reading today.  Let  us put aside the animosity we bear our fellow Christians, and seek to find common ground with each other.  Even a devout Roman Catholic and an ultra fundamentalist evangelical agree on the most impotant issue in our faith, that faith in Jesus is what saves us – let us focus on that key to our common faith (Jesus) and seek to rebuild and unite the body of Christ.

I am going to ask that you do something this week – some homework! I want you to think of the Christian denomination or group that you or you branch of Christianity believe to be most flawed or flat out wrong.  What I want you to do is to seek out some information on that denomination and in particular the beliefs you most believe to be wrong, and decide for yourself if these things that separate us are things that really matter, or whether they are simply disagreements over the ‘extras’ that we add to the core of the Christian faith. I want to add one rule to this though – you must seek your information from a source within that other denomination, and not simply go and discuss with your current minister or friends all the horrible things those ‘others’ do.  You can contact a minister in the other group, or source the information from official web sites or books from that group, but it is very important for you to understand the beliefs of others from their perspective as well as your own and you can’t do that if you only source information from people you know agree with your current views!

From now on I am also going to be praying a blessing for all of you that read my ramblings! I pray this blessing on you directly from the Word of God and ask that you would all pray this or a similar blessing for all who read here and for the growth of this ministry.

The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up his countenance upon you, and give you peace (Numbers 6:23-26 NRSV)