Thursday, February 28, 2013

Practising the Presence of God

Lent Day 16

Psa 121:1-8  A Song of Ascents. I lift up my eyes to the hills--from where will my help come? My help comes from the LORD, who made heaven and earth. He will not let your foot be moved; he who keeps you will not slumber. He who keeps Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.  The LORD is your keeper; the LORD is your shade at your right hand.  The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night. The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.  The LORD will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore.

This psalm is the second in a collection of 15 psalms with essentially the same title – “A Song of Ascents”.  They begin with a prayer of distress from one who is far from home (Ps 120) and concludes with a call to praise in the sanctuary of Zion (Ps 134). While this title has led to a variety of interpretations and approaches to this collection of psalms, it seems that there is consensus that the title points to songs of pilgrimage. Three times each year the men of Israel (yes I know I said men) were to come to the temple in Jerusalem and present themselves before the Lord (Deuteronomy 16:16). These fifteen Psalms, called the songs of degrees (elevation, journey to a higher place, go up), were to be sung as they ascended the temple mount.

Despite all the distractions of the noise and bustle of the city, the pilgrims wind their way up the hill to the temple, in constant conversation with God. At another time in history Brother Lawrence writes of practicing an awareness of the presence of God in the midst of our busy lives: “In the noise and clatter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the blessed sacrament”. [1]  As we journey towards Easter, perhaps this idea can become part of our own spiritual pilgrimage. As we go about our daily lives, let us learn to be in constant conversation with God.
Prayer: God, I want to give you every minute…I shall try to keep you in mind every moment of my waking hours….I shall try to let you be the speaker and direct every word. I shall try to let you direct my acts. I shall try to learn your language”.  
Frank Charles Laubach[2]


The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Protected by God
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.95




[1] Brother Lawrence The Practice of the Presence of God (Radford VA, Wilder Publications 2008), 25.
[2] Frank Charles Laubach Learning the Vocabulary of God, (Martino Fine Books, 2012), 5.

Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Don't Worry - Trust

Lent Day 15

Luk 12:22-34  He said to his disciples, "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or about your body, what you will wear.  For life is more than food, and the body more than clothing.  Consider the ravens: they neither sow nor reap, they have neither storehouse nor barn, and yet God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds!  And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?  If then you are not able to do so small a thing as that, why do you worry about the rest?  Consider the lilies, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these.  But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, how much more will he clothe you--you of little faith!  And do not keep striving for what you are to eat and what you are to drink, and do not keep worrying.  For it is the nations of the world that strive after all these things, and your Father knows that you need them.   Instead, strive for his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well.   "Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom.   Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

“Do not not be afraid”.

When I read these words of Jesus I hear the voice in my head saying – “easier said than done”. Worry and fear are a staple of human existence. When we get together we talk about the things that frighten us. We share stories of crime, of financial pressure, and of illness. These are the things that fill our news reports, and the things that want to keep us awake at night.

Jesus knows this and suggests an antidote:  Sell your possessions, and give alms (Luke 12:33). This is an act of positive trust in God. Become generous as a sign that we choose to trust the care of God rather than trust in the wealth we have collected. I know that some may scoff in this “foolishness”. However, accumulated wealth does not give peace of mind either. Either we worry that we will be robbed of it, or we worry that it is not enough!

Lent is a time that we choose to give up / to fast as a way of spiritual purification. Perhaps for today you might give up your trust in possessions and choose, instead, to trust the Creator. Begin by giving away something to someone in need.

The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Protected by God
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.95


Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Old Friends

Lent Day 14
Luk 15:1-7  Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him.  And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, "This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them."  So he told them this parable:  "Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices.  And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, 'Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.'  Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.

Eugene Petersen  suggests that the first few verses of this passage could read as follows[1]: The religious people were not at all pleased that Jesus was treating men and women of doubtful reputation as old friends.  This is the key to the nature of Jesus. Unlike most of us, he does not treat people as “suspect until proven otherwise”. He welcomes anyone!

This does not mean that Jesus is blind to the faults of other people. It just means that he is willing to welcome people – faults and all. While this offers me the possibility of friendship with Jesus, it also challenges me when I begin to think that there might be some who Jesus might not welcome. The essence of being truly Christian is the capacity to offer love and friendship indiscriminately.

Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see

John Newton (1725-1807)


The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Protected by God
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.95


Monday, February 25, 2013

A Welcoming Shepherd

John 10:11-18  "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.  I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,  just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.  I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.  For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.  No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."

 The illustration of a shepherd saving sheep is etched deep in our spiritual psyche. The depiction of God as a shepherd in Psalm 23 has comforted countless people through many generations. The Good Shepherd periscope in John 10: 1-21 – of Jesus laying down his life to keep his sheep safe - is a similarly popular portion of scripture. There are also other good shepherds in human story telling – the most famous of which was the ancient Greek story of kriophoros (Κριοφόρος). This tells of Hermes, portrayed as a shepherd who saved the city of Tanagra, a municipality north of Athens in Boeotia, Greece.    

The good news of John’s Gospel is that Jesus is not exclusive about the sheep he saves. All sheep are welcome: I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also (Joh 10:16). This reassures me that I too am welcome in Jesus’ flock. The challenge of this lies in the insistence that Jesus also welcomes sheep ‘other than me’. We love being Jesus’ sheep. The question is whether we love “other sheep” of Jesus too?

“.... red and yellow, black and white
All are precious in his sight
Jesus love the little children of the world”    


The Eighth Sunday after Epiphany
Protected by God
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.95



Sunday, February 24, 2013

Another Way of Life

Lent day 12
Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Lectionary Cycle C
Luk 6:27-38 "But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away your coat do not withhold even your shirt.  Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods, do not ask for them again.  Do to others as you would have them do to you.  "If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them.  If you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners do the same.  If you lend to those from whom you hope to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to receive as much again.  But love your enemies, do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return. Your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High; for he is kind to the ungrateful and the wicked.   Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.  "Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven;  give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back."

Jesus seeks to establish a culture diametrically opposed to the prevailing norms of his society. His was a world where the strong ruled the weak, the angry cursed the timid, and the powerful took whatever they could from the powerless. Oh ... why does this sound so familiar? Perhaps because while technology might have changed, human nature is driven by the same, sinful, greedy, self-interested impulse from generation to generation.

Jesus’ teaching invites every generation to become counter-cultural. Sociologists define this as “any group of people whose beliefs, values, styles, and attitudes differ from that of the prevailing culture”.  Here is the invitation to refuse the angry, selfish values of our culture, and to choose to be people who stand for a higher truth. Danish philosopher Søren Kierkegaard argues that change begins when there is just one person who is courageous enough to become the “lonely individual in the crowd”.

Lent can become the moment when we choose to give up old values. Perhaps this Sunday in Lent you and I can choose to take on new values..... even if there are only one or two of us who are courageous enough to put them into practice. Let us become the Jesus culture in our society.   

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Take the Mask off Me

Lent day 11
Mat 7:13-23  "Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the road is easy that leads to destruction, and there are many who take it.  For the gate is narrow and the road is hard that leads to life, and there are few who find it. "Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves.  You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles?  In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit.  A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.  Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.  Thus you will know them by their fruits.  "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven.  On that day many will say to me, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many deeds of power in your name?'  Then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you; go away from me, you evildoers.'

We live in a world where we are tempted protect ourselves by hiding in the crowd. Our actions are determined by the majority opinion; our ethics, our morality; our political choices.... even our ways of dressing are determined by what everyone else is doing. In the above passage Jesus points to the “wide gate” and the “easy road” that is the choice of “many who take it”. Instead, says Jesus, choose to live life according to the inner spiritual values that produce good fruit.  He warns that this will not be popular or easy, but it is the road that leads to life.
As I reflect on this I see that the same can hold true even for Christian living. There are popular Christian trends that attract large crowds of followers, and which generate lucrative careers for preachers/teachers with charisma.  In recent memory we have seen the crowds flock to learn about ecstatic manifestations of the Holy Spirit, to obtain new ways of church management guaranteed to grow bigger membership, and sing songs written by Christian rock stars. Jesus says that the test is not people crying “Lord, Lord”, but rather whether this can generate fruit: which St Paul describes as “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22).    

Please take the mask off me
Make me what I should be
Someone who’s all for Thee, O Lord
Please take the mask off me

(Roger Tinsley)


The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90


Friday, February 22, 2013

Do as I say, not as I do[1]

Lent Day 10
Mat 23:1-12  Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the Pharisees sit on Moses' seat;  therefore, do whatever they teach you and follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move them.  They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make their phylacteries broad and their fringes long.   They love to have the place of honour at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,   and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people call them rabbi.  But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one teacher, and you are all students.  And call no one your father on earth, for you have one Father--the one in heaven.  Nor are you to be called instructors, for you have one instructor, the Messiah.   The greatest among you will be your servant.   All who exalt themselves will be humbled, and all who humble themselves will be exalted.

People generally become critical of those people who do not practice the goodness they preach. This is most evident when a policeman is caught breaking the law, or politician is found to have been less than honest in a public speech, or a preacher exhibits moral failure.

The enduring problem of life is that we are all caught in this paradigm. We, who criticise the hypocrisy in other people, are subject to our own inconsistent behaviour. St Paul described the dilemma of knowing what is right but being unable to do it:  For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do (Romans 7:19).  Jesus seems to suggest that the key to living an honest life is to be humble. This is the humility that admits to our own failings, while refusing to allow our shortcomings to limit our expectations of ourselves.

Challenge for today: to allow latitude for the failings in the people around me, while constantly expecting better of myself. 


The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90




[1] This order first appeared in John Selden's Table-Talk (c. 1654): "Preachers say, 'Do as I say, not as I do.”

Thursday, February 21, 2013


Lent day 9
Php 3:12-21  Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you.  Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.   Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.   For many live as enemies of the cross of Christ; I have often told you of them, and now I tell you even with tears.  Their end is destruction; their god is the belly; and their glory is in their shame; their minds are set on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven, and it is from there that we are expecting a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ. He will transform the body of our humiliation that it may be conformed to the body of his glory, by the power that also enables him to make all things subject to himself.

The Philippians had sent Epaphroditus with a financial gift for Paul as an expression of their "partnership" and "concern". Paul writes to thank them, and drawing on a running metaphor, he encourages them to keep going. He refers to a runner in a race who shows signs of flagging, and in the process of looking over a shoulder will often be passed by the others. Instead, says Paul, do not look back, but look forward, straining to reach the goal.
I wonder how often we glance fearfully over our shoulders. We see the difficult road we have travelled; we see the sacrifices we have made; we see the problems of life overtaking us; and in the process we lose sight of the Saviour who waits at the finishing line to welcome us. Allow your daily devotions, your corporate worship, and the accountability of friends to keep you focussed on the One who calls us into each day.

Turn your eyes upon Jesus,
Look full in His wonderful face,
And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,
In the light of His glory and grace.

Helen H. Lemmel, 1922

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90


Wednesday, February 20, 2013

The Cornerstone

Lent Day 8

1Pe 2:7-12  To you then who believe, he is precious; but for those who do not believe, "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner,"   and "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." They stumble because they disobey the word, as they were destined to do.  But you are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people, in order that you may proclaim the mighty acts of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.  Once you were not a people, but now you are God's people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy.  Beloved, I urge you as aliens and exiles to abstain from the desires of the flesh that wage war against the soul.  Conduct yourselves honorably among the Gentiles, so that, though they malign you as evildoers, they may see your honourable deeds and glorify God when he comes to judge.

The foundations for the new building are being prepared. There are stone masons on site, who are choosing the foundation stones. Because these stones anchor the whole building, the selection process is critical. Some stones are put in place, others are tossed aside. One of their rejects lies on the edge of the site, and from time to time the busy builders curse it as they trip over it.

Finally the foundations are ready – except for one thing: the masons have not found a perfect fit for the cornerstone. This is the most important stone in the building, as it anchors the whole building.  And then they remember the rock “that makes them fall”. On fetching it, it is obvious that this was The One.  "The stone that the builders rejected has become the very head of the corner" This building is now secure.

As you build your ideas, your career, and your relationships – do you have a foundation stone that will keep you securely grounded? I have found stability in building my life on the values of Jesus.  

Build on the Rock, the Rock that ever stands,
Oh, build on the Rock, and not upon the sands;
You need not fear the storm, or the earthquake shock,
You're safe for evermore if you build on the Rock.


The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90


Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Coping with Difficulty

Lent day 7
Heb 12:1-4  Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross, disregarding its shame, and has taken his seat at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such hostility against himself from sinners, so that you may not grow weary or lose heart.  In your struggle against sin you have not yet resisted to the point of shedding your blood.............
Heb 12:12-15  Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint, but rather be healed.  Pursue peace with everyone, and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and through it many become defiled.

Some Christian teachers seem to imply that following Jesus will result in prosperity, blessing and abundance. This passage from Hebrews contradicts this. We are told quite bluntly that following Jesus will be difficult and disheartening.  Nevertheless, the readers are encouraged to “run with perseverance” (vs 1) and to “lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees” (vs 12). Our Christian living should not be poisoned by bitterness and disturbance. Instead – despite the difficulties – “pursue peace with everyone” (vs14). We are told that they key to doing this is through the grace of God (vs 15).

Today pray that God’s Graceful strength will bring a new spring to your step, and a new lightness to your spirit.     

Thought: “Let us throw off whatever weighs us down, or damps the vigour of our Soul.” (John Wesley)[1]


The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90



[1] John Wesley’s Explanatory Notes on Hebrews Chapter 12.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Stand Firm

Lent Day 6

Eph 6:10-17  Finally, be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his power. Put on the whole armour of God, so that you may be able to stand against the wiles of the devil. For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.  Therefore take up the whole armor of God, so that you may be able to withstand on that evil day, and having done everything, to stand firm.  Stand therefore, and fasten the belt of truth around your waist, and put on the breastplate of righteousness.  As shoes for your feet put on whatever will make you ready to proclaim the gospel of peace.  With all of these, take the shield of faith, with which you will be able to quench all the flaming arrows of the evil one.   Take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.

This passage from the letter to the Ephesians probably has a military context. While I acknowledge the dispute about authorship of this letter, I like to think that it was written by Paul from Rome soon after his arrival in the year 62. This is four years after he had taken leave of the leadership of the Ephesian church in Miletus. Paul is under house arrest, guarded by a Roman centurion.  It is therefore perfectly logical for him to use the armour of his guard as an illustration for the Christian way of life.
The key word in this extended metaphor is “stand” (histēmi) – Ephesians 6:11. This is the term used to command a soldier to take up a position against the enemy. In other words – “do not turn your back / do not run away / do not retreat”. This metaphor asks the followers of Jesus to “take a stand” against that which is evil. It is not enough to refrain from doing evil. The expectation is that a Christian will actively oppose evil.

Stand up, stand up for Jesus, stand in His strength alone;
The arm of flesh will fail you, ye dare not trust your own.
Put on the Gospel armor, each piece put on with prayer;
Where duty calls or danger, be never wanting there.

George Duffield

The Seventh Sunday after Epiphany
Unchanging Truths
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.90


Saturday, February 16, 2013

Joining those who are stripped of their power.

I have left a comment on the Gospel reading from Sunday 17 February 2013 on my other blog:

United with Christ

Lent Day 4

Rom 6:1-11  What then are we to say? Should we continue in sin in order that grace may abound?  By no means! How can we who died to sin go on living in it?  Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?  Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.  For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his.  We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin.  For whoever has died is freed from sin.  But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.  We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.  The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God.  So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.

Paul writes to the Roman Christians about sin. He begins the letter by inviting his readers to escape the consequences of sin through faith in Jesus (Justification).[1] He now discusses life after forgiveness (Sanctification). He has moved from freedom from the penalty of sin, to freedom from the power of sin.
Paul offers an invitation to live a forgiven life that is “no longer enslaved to sin”. He explains that this is possible when “we have been united with him” (suvmfutoi, sumphutoi). This union is not our achievement, but is the gift of God, gained through faith in Jesus. When I surrender my life to the way of Jesus, I discover that Jesus chooses to walk alongside me. Instead of me attempting to avoid the “potholes” of sin in the road, it is Jesus with me who enables me to spot them before I even get there.

Thought: Let us focus on growing our friendship with Jesus, and allow him to guide us away from the potholes of a sinful life.        


The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
The Rewards of Ministry
Scripture reading taken from A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.84


[1] Rom 1:18 – 5:21

Friday, February 15, 2013

Fidei Defensor

Lent Day 3

2Ti 1:8-14  Do not be ashamed, then, of the testimony about our Lord or of me his prisoner, but join with me in suffering for the gospel, relying on the power of God, who saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works but according to his own purpose and grace. This grace was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, but it has now been revealed through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel. For this gospel I was appointed a herald and an apostle and a teacher, and for this reason I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know the one in whom I have put my trust, and I am sure that he is able to guard until that day what I have entrusted to him. Hold to the standard of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. Guard the good treasure entrusted to you, with the help of the Holy Spirit living in us.

 “Hold to the standard ... guard the treasure”: these are military terms, used by the writer of 2 Timothy to encourage the Jesus-follower to stand firm against anything threatening the gospel of Jesus Christ. The student is challenged to become a defender of the faith. Sadly the term “Defender of the Faith” (Fidei defensor  /feminine: Fidei defensatrix) has become one of the subsidiary  titles of the British monarchy, and has historically had more to do with using Christian faith to prop up the power of the Monarch than with upholding true Christ-like standards of teaching and behaviour. At its worst, defending the faith resulted in Crusading Knights rampaging across Europe and North Africa in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries, killing people in the name of Jesus.
Perhaps we can recover the term for ourselves, and become defenders of the faith as originally intended – by living our lives according to the “holy calling” of Jesus. The writer of 2 Timothy suggests that this has nothing to do with power and might, and everything to do with suffering and humiliation. This is a life which risks reputation, status and ambition for “the testimony about our Lord” (2 Ti 1:8). Let us allow our Lenten journey towards Easter to become a time when we rediscover our role as defenders of the faith.

When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.

Forbid it, Lord, that I should boast,
Save in the death of Christ my God!
All the vain things that charm me most,
I sacrifice them to His blood.

See from His head, His hands, His feet,
Sorrow and love flow mingled down!
Did e’er such love and sorrow meet,
Or thorns compose so rich a crown?

His dying crimson, like a robe,
Spreads o’er His body on the tree;
Then I am dead to all the globe,
And all the globe is dead to me.

Were the whole realm of nature mine,
That were a present far too small;
Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all.

Words: Isaac Watts, Hymns and Spir­it­u­al Songs, 1707. Charles Wes­ley re­port­ed­ly said he would give up all his other hymns to have writ­ten this one.
The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
The Rewards of Ministry
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.84

Thursday, February 14, 2013

The Entertainer

Lent Day 2

Eze 33:30-33  As for you, mortal, your people who talk together about you by the walls, and at the doors of the houses, say to one another, each to a neighbor, "Come and hear what the word is that comes from the LORD."  They come to you as people come, and they sit before you as my people, and they hear your words, but they will not obey them. For flattery is on their lips, but their heart is set on their gain. To them you are like a singer of love songs, one who has a beautiful voice and plays well on an instrument; they hear what you say, but they will not do it.  When this comes--and come it will!--then they shall know that a prophet has been among them.

Laurence Olivier was honoured as one of the best actors of the 20th Century. A three time Golden Globe and BAFTA winner, he was also awarded two Oscars, five Emmy’s, and a knighthood. Yet despite the accolades he identified most with his role as Archie Rice in The Entertainer - a kind of fake who, as Archie says, can be warm and smiling and feel nothing. "It's all tricks," Olivier told writer Jack Kroll[1].

As a preacher I completely understand this. I get up week by week to preach to people who seek religious entertainment. The temptation is to look for better tricks to keep the attention of the audience, because, as written in Ezekiel “they hear what you say, but they will not do it (Eze 33:32). I suspect that this is our besetting failure as human beings: we want our religion to entertain us rather than to change our lives.

Lent becomes an opportunity for change. Lent asks us to abstain from entertainment. It is a time when we are challenged to give up the things that we use to distract us from our inner spiritual journey. Allow this Lenten season to remind you of a faith that is impervious to tricks.     

Cheer up love, life isn't as bad as all that, and even if it is, there's nothing we can do about it
Frank Rice: in The Entertainer.


The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
The Rewards of Ministry
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.84


[1] blanche-2

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


Php 3:1  Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord. To write the same things to you is not troublesome to me, and for you it is a safeguard......
Php 3:10-17  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his sufferings by becoming like him in his death, if somehow I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or have already reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Beloved, I do not consider that I have made it my own; but this one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us then who are mature be of the same mind; and if you think differently about anything, this too God will reveal to you. Only let us hold fast to what we have attained.  Brothers and sisters, join in imitating me, and observe those who live according to the example you have in us.

Paul invites the Philippians to “have attitude” (Php 3:15). The verb phroneo translates as “mind” or “perspective”, or “point of view” – but I like the Good News translation that uses “attitude”: here is the invitation to develop an attitude towards life. Paul says this is an attitude that lets go of the past, and looks to the future.

In Philippians Chapter Three he suggests that past achievements do not make anyone more important in the present. Neither do past failures prevent future success. As we learn to let go of the past, we are able to discover a new future that is shaped by the call of God on our lives. His suggestion is that we take hold of life, trusting that Jesus has already taken hold of me. In other words, I will not fall if I reach out to the future – because Jesus has hold of me.

Prayer thought:
Simply trusting every day;
Trusting through a stormy way;
Even when my faith is small,
Trusting Jesus, that is all.

            Trusting as the moments fly,
            Trusting as the days go by,
            Trusting Him, whate’er befall,
            Trusting Jesus, that is all.

Edgar Page Stites (1836-1921)

The Sixth Sunday after Epiphany
The Rewards of Ministry
A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants p.84