Friday, 26 June 2015

The challenge of a shrinking church

This summer will see Grace Church shrink by a sixth as two families leave us.  One family is our assistant and family who came for 3 years to be trained in pastoral ministry and having been trained is taking up a pastorate of his own even further north (Yes southerners, Doncaster is in the North but there is more north beyond it - that may have come as shock!).  The other is family who have been with us about 5 years who are relocating down south to be nearer family.

It's interesting thinking about the challenges such movement poses to a small church.  If everyone was there on a given Sunday - which never happens - we'd be about 60, which means we are losing a sixth of our church family.  And that will be immediately obvious as from September if everyone is there we'll be slightly less than 50.  That's quite a big change.  But God is sovereign even over that change, God knows the challenges and opportunities that this summer poses to us as a church.  God knows and cares about them too, because it's His Church.  And here's the thing they aren't leaving the kingdom, just moving to serve in a different part of it.

It will mean we feel smaller, especially on weeks when others are away too.  It will mean we are more stretched than we currently are, but that will simply open up opportunities for others to serve, as well as opening up new ways of doing things for us as a church.

It will be sad to see them go and it should make us sad and we need to acknowledge that.  I'd worry more if it didn't.  When part of your family moves away there is a right sense of loss.  But God knows what he has in store for us and for them.  God is at work growing his kingdom in their going as he was in their joining us.

Monday, 22 June 2015

John 5v1-18 Jesus: the Father's Son?

If I had to ask you to use one word to sum up the emotional mood of Britain what would it be? What about of Doncaster? What about of this Hayfield area? Ipsos Mori’s research in more than 20 countries discovered that “most young adults in Europe, North America, Japan and Australia fear that their nations best days are behind them.” My hunch is if that poll was of young Christian adults it would produce similar findings about the church. We live in a world of negatives, where 24 hour news channels and the internet beam into our homes the destructive and the deadly. Where disease, disaster, death and despair dominate the headlines, where optimism is greeted with a cynical shrug or a world-weary sigh. We’re trained to be quick to critique, spot the negative, find the flaw, focus on the mistake.

It means that joyful people stand out. Positive, happy people are obvious against the morose masses. God’s people are called to be joyful, to find their joy in God not circumstance. But sometimes life can seem short of joy, sometimes circumstances in life can rob us of our joy. As we come to this passage in John 5 we meet two people who are joyless in life.  Both the man and the religious leaders are focused on the negatives. One has had his joy robbed by suffering and sin, the other by a stifling do and don’t religion. But Jesus shows that he comes to bring life and joy.

Jesus is the one the redeemed meet with joy

Jesus goes up to Jerusalem from Galilee for a feast. Whilst there he goes to Bethesda. Round the pool he finds loads of disabled people – the blind, lame and paralysed. Just lying there. Think of the worst pictures you’ve seen of overcrowded hospitals with patients lying on trolleys in the hallways and then take away the trolleys and that’s the scene. These people live a shadowy kind of half-life. No benefits, no blue badges, no mobility scooters, occupational health, or support. Cut off, cast aside, isolated, dependent and looked down upon. But, the people gathered round this pool aren’t without hope; their hope is healing. If only they can make it into the pool first they might receive a miraculous healing, they might be made whole, but only on a first come first served basis.

As Jesus looks around this sea of need he zeroes in on one man. Just as Jesus knew the woman at the well so Jesus supernaturally knows this man and his need. But it poses the question why him? Why only heal one man not everyone? This is the third of the seven signs in John. The purpose of the sign is to point to a greater reality beyond itself. And we’ve just seen the danger in signs, miracles themselves don’t automatically produce faith, just the longing for more miracles. This healing of the man is going to reveal something about who Jesus is, his glory.

Given what Jesus knows about the man his question is a strange one isn’t it? (6)“Do you want to get well?” The obvious answer is yes, but I wonder if Jesus is doing more, if he isn’t exposing the man’s hope for that becoming a reality. The man is hoping for a miraculous stirring of the water and to be first in to be healed. If only he had someone to help him get quickly(7), do you see his negative outlook. His hope is not in Jesus, he hasn’t been looking and longing for Jesus to come. He wants to be well, to be whole, to be healed, to have life, but he’s looking to the pool for that not to Jesus. But as Jesus asks the question the man’s attention is taken off the pool and fixed on Jesus.

(8)“Then Jesus said to him, ‘Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.’ At once the man was cured; he picked up his mat and walked.” Jesus doesn’t help the man into the pool he simply speaks and heals the man instantly and totally. In an instant this man goes from being a burden to carrying his burden. This isn’t a gradual improvement with months of physio. This is instanteous wholeness.

It’s a sign, but a sign of what? Turn to Isaiah 35(p683). Isaiah 35 gives Israel a picture of what it’ll be like when God in all his glory comes to redeem his people. When God comes (5)“the eyes of the blind will be opened and the ears of the deaf unstopped. Then the lame will leap like deer, and the mute tongue shout for joy.” Israel should be looking for signs like this so that they can see the Messiah and rejoice(10) that he’s come.  Seeing the Messiah brings joy for the redeemed.  But are they joyful?

Rejecting Jesus is rejecting rest (9b-13)

John like all great storytellers keeps a key detail back until now, a twist that changes everything. (9)“The day on which this took place was the Sabbath.” It was one of the ten commandments(Exodus 20), God commanded Israel to do no work on the Sabbath, they were to rest from their normal work just as God rested from his work of creating. But by Jesus time the religious leaders had added layer on layer of extra rules, all designed to ensure you didn’t break the law or go anywhere near doing so. Can and can’t do’s. As part of that they’d classified 39 types of forbidden work. What’s the man doing that they find offensive? He’s picked up and carries his mat(10,11,12). That was one of the 39 classes of work, carrying something from one domain to another.

But what have they missed? They’ve missed the miracle that enabled the man to carry his mat. Their rules and regulations haven’t opened their eyes they’ve blinded them and walled off their hearts. This isn’t his normal work, it’s the first time in 38 years he’s been able to carry his mat from one place to another. This isn’t work it’s a joy. They shouldn’t be asking who did it in order to find the person who incited this law breaking. They should be asking who healed him so that they can find the Messiah. They should be excitedly, joyfully searching for God’s rescuer and redeemer.

The action of healing an invalid and sending him home rejoicing doesn’t bear the fingerprints of a lawbreaker but of the Messiah. They not only miss the miracle but they refuse to rejoice with this man or at the sign and what it points to. They’re fixated on regulations regarding the day of rest rather than on the one it points to. The one who brings rest for all people. Rest was lost at the fall, the Sabbath was designed as a pointer to God and his work to bring all of creation into his rest again. The Sabbath spoke of the promise of rescue and redemption and an eternal rest enjoying relationship with God.

Jesus is like the master artist who strips away the layers of grime and paint that others have put over his masterpiece as he deals with the law, so that people can glimpse the beauty of the original painting. This healing shows us the nature of the promise Sabbath, not restriction and regulation but joy, wholeness, life and restoration.

Just as the man(13) has lost Jesus in the crowd so the religious leaders miss the signs – the one who brings rest, rejoicing and redemption is rejected. Duty and legalism has robbed them of the joy of knowing God, of finding God’s Messiah.

We need ask if there’s a similar danger for us? We’re creatures of habit, we like routines, we like things comfortable and familiar, to operate within a set of rules – this is how things work, this is what we do, this is what I’m comfortable with. But Jesus isn’t in the business of making us comfortable he’s in the business of making us holy. The laws and regulations of the Jews defined the parameters in which God worked. Jesus explodes those parameters; he has not changed! There is not a single inch of your and my life over which Jesus does not claim lordship. Jesus concern isn’t our comfort, it’s not working within our boundaries it’s our holiness.

I wonder how you think of that word holiness? We think of it negatively, in terms of the Pharisees do’s and don’ts – be honest primarily don’ts, we certainly don’t associate it with joy. These leaders have become fixated on the negative on obeying dutiful not responding joyfully, on not doing anything that would anger God. Have we fallen into the same trap? Are we joyless? To do so is to fatally misunderstand holiness. Holiness is growing in our ability and awareness and capacity to grasp the joy of knowing a holy God. Jesus shows us what holiness looks like and the joy of knowing the Father. These leaders are missing any sense of joy, they’re so bound by their rules that they cannot see past them to Jesus as Messiah and they cannot rejoice or have joy at his coming and what he comes to do.

Are we missing joy? Has our faith become about do’s and don’ts. Knowing Jesus is about joy, it’s as if joy and rejoicing are the fragrance that follows Jesus. The Samaritan woman joyfully running back to town, the Samaritan villagers joy in meeting the Saviour of the world. The royal official’s joy in the healing of his son, this man’s joy in his healing.

Jesus brings joy. Jesus comes to bring rest and rejoicing. But it’s possible to reject him, have we? Are we? Don’t snub Jesus for the joyless boundaries of rules.

Jesus secures rest and redemption by dealing with sin (14-15)

Later on Jesus seeks out the man, why? Because he wants the man to understand what has happened and the consequences of the healing. “See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.”

The Bible teaches that sin is a result of the fall, our rejection of God and determination to live life our way. We live in a world dislocated and broken. And God’s people aren’t immune from that brokenness, the pain, suffering, illness, death. But that isn’t the only thing the bible teaches about pain. Jesus isn’t saying to the man your illness is the result of living in a broken world. Jesus says that the man’s suffering is directly connected to his sin. His sin caused his suffering though we’re not told how.

It’s not an isolated incident in the Bible. Think of Jonah, Jonah suffers during the storm and as he drowns. Why? Because of his sin, he rejected God’s word and hates others in his heart. Or think of David. David’s suffering is a direct result of his sins of adultery and murder.

It’s the same today the alcoholic who has chronic liver disease through his drunkenness. The violent person who gets badly injured in a fight. Some sin has physical consequences.

It’s important that I say the Bible is clear that not every instance of suffering is the result of our sin. Some is the result of the sin of others, some is because of loss, some is because of persecution, and some is that mysterious result of living in a broken world.

Jesus says to this man that his suffering is a wake up call to make him aware of his sin. It’s an important call because there’s something worse than suffering and that is eternal separation from God. But notice the wonderful thing here, don’t let the issue of suffering cause you to miss the wonder of what Jesus says. If the man’s sin caused his invalidity then Jesus has to have dealt with his sin in order to heal him. Jesus hasn’t just healed the man of his suffering but of his sin.

Jesus brings life, wholeness, rest to this man by dealing with sin. This healing points us to the cross where Jesus will pay the price for forgiveness. He bears the punishment because this man couldn’t, we can’t. (24)When we trust Jesus we cross over from facing death to eternal life. How? Because Jesus bears the punishment for our sin. Sin robs us of joy but Jesus can forgive our sin and restore our joy.

Jesus has authority to forgive sin and give life if we believe in him. Having experienced that forgiveness Jesus call to us to go and sin no more. Jesus saves us so we stop sinning. That isn’t Jesus being a killjoy that’s the way to rest and life and joy, what it means to repent of our sin when we trust Jesus. Can I ask have you done that this morning?

Jesus is his Father’s Son (15-18)

The man goes and tells the Jewish leaders who Jesus was. How should the Jewish leaders react? Isaiah 35 tells us that the Messiah’s coming would be visible through healings and miracles, signs that he was here. Yet they react by persecuting Jesus for inciting breaking the Sabbath. But what does Jesus do? Jesus responds to their accusation by raising the bar. (17)“My Father is always at his work to this very day, and I too am working.” That’s a staggering statement and the Jewish leaders get what Jesus means(18). Jesus isn’t saying God is his Father in a vague way, but he makes himself equal with God.

God doesn’t rest from everything on the seventh day, he rests from creating but still sustains everything. Have you ever thought about that? Every day God sustains the universe; orbits, water cycle, sun, and so on. Post fall God is also sovereignly working out his purpose and plan of redemption to restore and reconcile all things and deal once for all with sin. Jesus is just like the Father – he’s working in the same way and therefore his work on the Sabbath isn’t law breaking but law fulfilling. Jesus is dealing with sin, bringing rest and life to the full.

Jesus claims the right to work just like his Father because he is God the Son. He claims sovereignty and divinity and they understand that. Do we? How big is your Jesus? John is all about the glory of God seen in the glory of the Son. Jesus, God the Son made man. Jesus sovereign over the universe dying for us, and when we repent and believe becoming our Lord. Sovereign over us, not having to abide by the limits we place on him. And he is sovereignly working to fulfil the Father’s plan.

This miracle is a sign of who Jesus is and therefore of what he comes to do. We’ll see more next week in the following verses. Jesus comes to bring eternal life. Life for eternity with God. This miracle is a sign, a glimpse of the future in Jesus. Sin conquered and it’s effects undone. And us restored to right relationship with the Father and that’s where we will find joy.

Jesus comes to bring life and joy. When we believe in him we cross over from death to eternal life. Don’t miss out.  Don't let sin, suffering or legalism drain you of your joy.  Look and keep on looking to Jesus.

Sunday, 14 June 2015

John 4v27-54

Here's this morning's notes:

You are a natural evangelist. You may not realise it but you naturally evangelise people all the time. ‘No, I’m not’ and ‘No, I don’t’ you say. But actually some of you have been doing it this morning over coffee and you’ll be doing it after the service. Announcing the news. The news of your week at work, the news of your children’s week in school, of England’s one day performance in the cricket and so on.

We’re all passionate news carriers. Especially about things we value or treasure. We engage others, we convey excitement and love for something, we’re full of it’s joys, it’s glories, our voices ring with conviction. And that’s good, that’s right, we’re not meant to be misery guts. When we are excited and enthused by something, when we see it’s worth, it’s glory, we tell others because we want them to share in it too.

Here’s the question though; are we like that when we talk about Jesus? When I described you as a natural evangelist did you think “No, I’m not!’ I get tongue-tied, I hesitate, I keep quiet. Why is it that we find sharing the good news about Jesus so hard when we can readily talk about the latest film, or show, or achievement, or sporting thing? There are a number of reasons why, but this morning I want to suggest that at the very heart of it all is that we need to be captivated again by the glory of Jesus.

As we look at John 4 this morning we’ll see that this Samaritan woman having had her hopeless hope exposed and seen who Jesus is and what he offers is captivated by Jesus glory and just can’t keep quiet. We see the nature and need of mission and the possible responses to our announcing the news about Jesus.

Seeing God’s glory in the face of Jesus

We left the story last week at(26). Jesus has offered the woman living water – life, love, satisfaction, purpose, meaning by revealing who he is having exposed the wrong places she’s been looking for those things. When she asks how she can know God, how she can have living water Jesus has revealed that he’s the Messiah, the one who has come to make us right with God and pour out the Spirit so that we go on living now as what we were made to be.

She’s seen the glory of God in Jesus; that Jesus is God come to save a lost world because of love. What will she do? How will she react? Will she reject Jesus like some have done? Will she go away to think it over like Nicodemus, or will she believe? (27-30)As the disciples arrive back at the well she leaves, in her hurry to get back to town leaving her water jar. Forgetting about what she’d come for because she’s found something so much more important than water. And whatever made her come to the well alone and in isolation is forgotten as she rushes back to town to tell others all about Jesus. To get them to come and see this man who has just astounded her, who knew everything about her, whose glory she has begun to grasp. Could he be the Messiah?

Seeing the glory of God in Jesus leads naturally to sharing Jesus with others. Seeing who Jesus is, what he reveals the problem to be, our lostness, and his promises of freedom, meaning, love, and purpose creates overflowing joy. This woman is full of it, she tells everyone – come and see. When you see God’s glory in Jesus, when you realise that he’s the Son of God and Messiah come to save you, you can’t keep it to yourself.

This isn’t unique. In Ch1 John the Baptist, Andrew and Nathanael see Jesus glory, the glory of the one and only son, and they can’t keep it to themselves either. It enthuses, excites and overflows.

What is it they glimpse? What is Jesus glory? It is God the Son, equal with the Father, sharing in his attributes and power and rule and majesty laying all that aside to become man. God made man to sit at a dusty well and help a woman see her broken hopes and dreams and recognise that her need, her longing is for him. It’s seen as that same man, innocent yet condemned climbs a hill weary and thirsty, dust sticking to the lacerations in his back and the drying blood on his forehead. As he’s nailed to a wooden cross which is then raised into place. Glory seen as he’s mocked yet refuses to call down the angels who’ve worshipped him from eternity to take him off the cross. As he hangs there and bears the wrath of God Father, Son and Spirit against sin. God taking on himself the punishment we deserve, not for a general world, not for faceless masses, but for Nicodemus, for this woman at the well, for me, for you. People, names, faces he knew, loved and called from eternity to know him.

People, names, faces that deserved nothing but judgement. That had nothing about them to make them attractive. Whose hearts had been pursuing every other thing imaginable, taking and twisting God’s creation into an object of ultimate worth rather than a lens through which we see God’s fatherly love and generosity. Jesus glory is seen at the cross, in what he does for the hopeless, helpless and undeserving, for you and me. When we glimpse that how can it not excite and enthuse us?

But what does it mean for us if we’ve lost that excitement, that enthusiasm that naturally wants others to come see Jesus? The problem isn’t a skills or courage gap. The problem is a glory gap. We’ve begun to take Jesus for granted. To lose a sense of wonder at what we were given in place of what we deserve.

How do you plug a glory gap? Look again at Jesus. Set aside some time and read again, study who Jesus is. Read through John’s gospel or if that seems to daunting somewhere like Philippians 2 is a good place to start. Don’t skim read it, live in it, camp out in it, think through the consequences of each sentence. Our hearts are captivated by what we put before them, by the glory we behold. See the contrast between what we were and what Jesus makes us and realise afresh that it was totally undeserved and unmerited and simply the result of loving grace. And as we recapture that sense of God’s glory in Jesus, Jesus glory at the cross our excitement and joy will flow back into our hearts.

See the worlds need and the Father’s will are the same thing(31-38)

Sometimes people don’t see what they need. There are times when as a parent you have to give your child some unpleasant tasting medicine because you know they need it. They’ll tell you they don’t, but they do. You don’t enjoy giving it to them, though the faces they pull can be quite funny, but you know they need it so you give it to them.

We live in a world like that, that doesn’t think it needs God. That’s quite happy going from dry well to dry well in search of meaning. But we need to see that God’s will is to satisfy the worlds need even if it doesn’t recognise it. How? By showing his glory in Jesus, by people realising his love seen in salvation from wrath and reconciliation with God. That’s what Jesus explains to his disciples.

(31-34)In answer to their confusion about whether he’s eaten or not, Jesus reply seems cryptic “My food, is to do the will of him who sent me and to finish his work.” Jesus finds satisfaction in doing his Father’s will, what has he done that’s satisfied that hunger? He’s spoken to the Samaritan woman, helped her see her misplaced search for hope and shown her who he is. That’s God’s will, that people see their lostness and trust in Jesus. That people believe in him as Son of God and Messiah and have eternal life. And God’s will is the world’s greatest need(35-38). As Jesus looks out at the world what does he see? Fields ready to harvest, people who need God and are ready to trust in him. People tired of the search for meaning, purpose and love, who know they were made for more. Who are ready to hear about Jesus. Just like the woman at the well they are hungry for eternal life even if they don’t realise it yet. So Jesus calls them to reap.

Don’t believe the lie that the world is content. That people are happy. They are desperately searching, moving restlessly from one thing to another to another hoping it will fulfil them. The world is searching. That’s what the divorce rate, the drive to innovate, searching spirituality, atheists having a worship service, and a determined drive to postpone death tell us.

The world needs Jesus, God’s will is that Jesus is known and believed in. God’s will is that we help people see the pointlessness of what they are living for and how only in Jesus can they find what they need; purpose, hope, reconnection, rescue, life knowing God. But we can only do that if we see the world as God does, as Jesus does. It’s need, it’s hunger, it’s searching in the wrong places and that the only answer to its thirst is Jesus. Is that how we see the world?

Recognise there will be two reactions(39-54)

The danger is we get that and we go out and tell someone about Jesus all that he offers and get rejected and then feel crushed. And think but the harvest is ripe, I should just be reaping. Either I’m doing it all wrong or Jesus was wrong about the harvest being ripe. What follows this conversation is so helpful, we see two distinct responses to Jesus. Reactions that John has told us we should expect(1:10-13) some will receive, believe and become God’s children. Others will reject Jesus, they’ll refuse to recognise him in all his glory.

(39-42)We see the harvest reaped. The woman’s glimpse of the glory of God in Jesus is contagious. (39)Many believe, Jesus stays for two more days and (41) “many more believed because of his word.” What do they believe? “we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the world.”

(43-45)Sets up the contrast when Jesus heads back to Galilee. (44)Gives us the key to what’s about to happen “Now Jesus himself had pointed out that prophets have no honour in their own country.” Jesus is going back to his own, to Cana in Galilee. Initially (45)looks promising doesn’t it? “the Galilean welcomed him” But why do they welcome him? Because they’ve seen what he’s done in Jerusalem, what had he done? (2:23)“signs”. This is fake faith, weak welcome, miracle mongering. They don’t believe he’s the Saviour of the World they want more miracles.

And as the royal official comes he’s a great example of that. We go from a scene where Jesus is called “Saviour of the world”, to one where it’s just “Sir, come down before my child dies.” This is an approach to Jesus the problem solver, the healer, the fixer. Jesus rebuke (48)set between the two requests exposes the problem “Unless you people see signs and wonders, you will never believe.”

But graciously Jesus gives this man more than he asks for. Initially he just wants a miracle(48), but when he realises the extent of Jesus power, when his glory is seen as the boy is healed at a distance at the exact time (53)“He himself believed, and all his household.”

But the contrasts are stark. In Samaria no miracles but revival, as a whole town believes in Jesus because of his word. In Galilee a miracle but only one family find genuine faith. In Samaria a confession of Jesus as Saviour of the World in Cana a failure to see what the signs show about Jesus.

We should expect these two reactions. Sometimes people will struggle to see beyond Jesus as what they want him to be – miracle maker, prophet, historical figure. The challenge is for us to help them to see Jesus is all his glory. Not to shrink him down but to magnify him in all his power and authority and love. How do we do that? Not by craving an external miraculous lightshow or spectacular but by helping them hear and believe his words.

As we look at the world what do we see? Hostility? Yes. Opposition? Yes. But a world desperately searching, a world looking for God without realising it, but looking to the wrong things. A world which needs Jesus. And God calls us to go out into that world and reap his harvest, to help people see their need, their wrong hopes and the rescue that is available in Jesus alone. And we hold out the rescue to everyone.

Which looked the more promising field, Sychar in Samaria – little Bible knowledge, a shadowy picture of the Messiah at best, historical conflict with the Jews, regarded as unclean. Or Cana – place of a miracle, full Old Testament scriptures, and expectation of a coming Messiah? Cana or Sychar? Jew or Samaritan? Royal official or socially excluded serial sinner? The gospel is for all. Our Father’s will is that all hear about Jesus, we are to share the good news of Jesus not try to work out what type of field it is, whether it’s ready for harvest or not.

How do we have and maintain a heart for the lost? We see again the glory of Jesus. God in splendour made man, eternally worshipped made flesh, God the Son in love contracting himself into human form. Living, speaking, crucified, suffering, judged, resurrected, ascended, reigning to reveal God’s love that meets his justice and bears his wrath against our sin. Be amazed and wonder at such love. Drink deep on such grace. As we behold his glory, as it fills our hearts with love and praise it will become our passion, as we behold his glory we won’t be able to contain it, it will spill out and over as we call others to come see Jesus. To come know love, peace, rescue and life to the full.

Wednesday, 10 June 2015

The Samaritan Problem

As we were studying John 4 last night someone asked so why the Samaritans and Jews didn't get on?  Why were they so antagonistic to one another?

Geography was partly why this hostility was such a problem.  As Jesus travels back to Galilee from Jerusalem he goes through Samaria.  As you can see from the map they were close to one another, you had to go through one to get to the other.

Samaria was the capital city of the Northern kingdom of Israel after the split in kingship.  This population is largely carried into exile by the king of Assyria after the fall of Samaria.  Samaria's inhabitants after that were a mix of races, including those who were hostile to the rebuilding of Jerusalem and the temple under Nehemiah and Ezra.  Not all of the inhabitants of the Northern kingdom were exiled however (2 Chronicles 30) and there was assimilation between the newcomers and those established there already.  Both in terms of marriage and worship.

When Jews returned from exile to rebuild the opposition of their Northern neighbours hardened their attitude towards those they already regarded with bitterness due to their mixed marriages and mixed worship.  Those feelings of bitterness were only solidified by subsequent events.  The Samaritans built a temple on Mount Gerizim, but it was destroyed in 128BC.  Friction continued with various outbreaks further fermenting the bitterness between the two nations.  The Samaritans also did not recognise the writings or any other scripture bar the Pentateuch as canonical.

By the time Jesus sat by the well with the Samaritan woman it is unsurprising that she is shocked by his request for water.

Tuesday, 9 June 2015

Grabbed by glory

As we've been working our way through John's gospel I've been struck again and again and again by Jesus revealing his glory and peoples reactions to it.  Jesus (1:14) dwells among us and "we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father."  John the baptist responds to it, as do Andrew, and Philip.  In Chapter 2 Jesus performs his first sign at the wedding in Cana and through it he manifests his glory to his disciples.  Everywhere you look in John Jesus is making the glory of God manifest, he is revealing God, he is unveiling his nature as Messiah and son of God.

And seeing that glory captivates people.  With the disciples it draws them to follow Jesus, to grow in their belief in him.  With the woman at the well it leads her to forget all about her water jar, the purpose of her visit and rush back to town to tell everyone about Jesus.  Seeing God's glory in Jesus fuels growing faith, discipleship, obedience and mission.

So when we are struggling with our faith, discipleship, obedience and mission it might be worth asking is it because we have stopped seeing God's glory in Jesus?  Have we become distracted from it?  Have we stopped mining it in search of more understanding of who Jesus is and the Father he brings us to know?

Monday, 8 June 2015

Facing discouragement

If you are in ministry for any significant time you will come across discouragement.  Everything seems to be fine and then something happens which just sets back all the progress you feel that has previously been made. It may be a pastoral crisis, it may be illness, it may be someone leaving or moving, or it may be an accusation against one of the leadership.  However, discouragement doesn't necessarily follow any one of these, it is not inevitable.  But when it is more likely to hit is when there is a combination of some or all of these.  Or when there is just a growing feeling of helplessness, a lack of vision, or a frustration of vision which leads us to think that things are just pointless or hopeless.

There are a number of ways we react to discouragement depending on a variety of factors; age, personality type, outlook, health, tiredness, and circumstances.  We may get down, just struggling due to a lowness of spirit that leads to a lethargy, or we may get angry, bitterness invades our soul and effects everything manifesting itself in a resentment of others, a desire for sympathy and a criticism or blaming of other ministries.

I guess I write this because I know all of the above.  I recognise the sin that lies behind it; sins of pride, desiring reputation and significance, failing to trust in the sovereignty of God, having my view of what my ministry should look like rather than trusting God knows what he is doing.  My reason for writing this post is to try to think through how we help one another during these times, because in ministry in a fallen world we will face discouragement and I've found that people are singularly clueless in how to help me when I am discouraged.  In fact sometimes their "help" actually adds fuel to the fire of frustration and helplessness.

Here are some things that don't help:

  • Sympathy - don't feed the monster.
  • Platitudes - at least show you have experienced and thought about this and are dealing with a real hurting person who is personally struggling with real issues or simply shut up!
  • Doctrinal lectures - the issue here isn't not knowing the truths it is a struggle to rub them into our lives, to see them in our situation.
Things that do help:
  • Presence - isolation only magnifies things but presence, even if it is just silent presence, helps.
  • Space - This may sound counter to the first help, but when discouraged we need time to process and do the talking to ourselves that needs to be done.
  • Food - I'm not making this up.  When Elijah is discouraged God provides him with food.
  • Rest - The second things God provides Elijah with is rest.  Sleep is restorative.
  • Biblical narrative - it's helpful to spend time in God's word seeing how God deals with his discouraged servants.  So I've mentioned Elijah twice already from 1 Kings 19, just seeing how tenderly God loves and cares for him restores my soul, it reminds me God cares more about his mission than I do, and that he has plans to grow the gospel beyond my capability or ministry or lifetime.  That perspective matters both on God, self and ministry

Sunday, 7 June 2015

John 4 - Jesus - the Living water for thirsty souls?

Bear Grylls in ‘The Island’ talks about the rule of 3. You can’t survive more than 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water and 3 weeks without food. But we rarely face any of those situations. Think about water, when we want water we go run the tap, or buy a bottle of it. When we’re thirsty we aren’t talking about dehydration or serious thirst because we can always quench it. And like anything readily available we take water for granted. But even today in most of our world water is treasured, it’s precious, people walk hours to get it because life depends on it. It is literally a matter of life and death.

In Jesus day water was like that, it was precious, it was life giving. It required daily effort to fetch. As Jesus leaves Judea and for Galilee and heads through Samaria we see Jesus use the image of water to help a lady see what she is really longing for, thirsting for, made for and reveal who he is and what that means.

As a thirsty Jesus weary from a long walks rests by the well, a woman comes to draw water(5-7). Jesus asks her for a drink, as he does Jesus is crossing boundaries, that’s made clear in her reply isn’t it(9). Jews looked down on Samaritans, Samaritans had intermarried with the nations round about them during the exile, they only had the Pentateuch –the first 5 books of the Old Testament, and they didn’t worship at the temple in Jerusalem. Jews regarded Samaritans as unclean, especially Samaritan women.

But Jesus cross that divide and asks for a drink, he isn’t restricted by social conventions. Jesus isn’t worried about contagious uncleanness because he is contagiously clean. Jesus will talk to and teach a Samarian woman by a well just as he’ll teach a Nicodemus at night or a royal official. Jesus knows that sin isn’t a racial, class or gender problem, it’s a universal condition one no-one escapes. And he knows what each heart needs, what it’s searching for, where rest and forgiveness and cleansing is found.

As we begin we need to ask ourselves do we understand that? Do I understand that sin is universal, it affects everyone, and that Jesus is the answer to every sinners need? And if so how has that truth impacted my attitudes and actions? Would I have sat where Jesus sat, with whom he sat? The gospel doesn’t recognise social conventions or norms just as sin doesn’t, neither does Jesus and neither should we. Having seen that, lets see what Jesus teaches this woman.

Finding what we were all made for(1-18)

(10)Jesus responds to this woman’s question by telling her he’s the one who can offer her “living water”. That phrase has a rich Old Testament background. Turn to Jeremiah 2. There’s a link here to John the Baptists wedding imagery in (2)Israel was God’s bride, but (5f)they were unfaithful, exchanging (11)their “glorious God for worthless idols”. In (13)the picture changes though the theme of forsaking continues:

“They have forsaken me,
the spring of living water,
and have dug their own cisterns,
broken cisterns that cannot hold water.”

God is the spring of living water, the one who satisfies, provides life, sustains, enriches and brings joy, but Israel have forsaken him. But notice that they don’t just give up God they replace him, they make a stupid exchange. Instead of coming to the one who is the spring of living water they build their own cisterns. They look for meaning, love, life, elsewhere, they try to make it themselves rather than finding it in God.

It’s the same for the Samaritan woman, it’s the same for us. We’re made to know, enjoy and glorify God, that is living water; life giving, satisfying, refreshing, sustaining, joy bringing. Yet we look for that elsewhere, we make that same stupid exchange. What has the Samaritan woman exchanged God for? Jesus in love shows her(16-18)“Go, call your husband and come back.” Relationships – she has sought meaning, life, love, worth, purpose, contentment in relationship with a man. Has she found it? No. “You are right when you say you have no husband. The fact is you have had five husbands and the man you now have is not your husband.” Relationships have been where she has been looking for what only God can give her. And they cannot take that pressure because they were never designed to bear that load, they will collapse under it, again, and again, and again.

We live in a relationship obsessed culture. Firstly in terms of having one, but then having a better one, or a different one if that one isn’t working for you. What are we doing? Searching for meaning, purpose, love, worth, and contentment in it. But it cannot bear that load. No other person, no husband or wife, no relationship can ever bring you meaning in life. Marriage, relationships are only ever a pointer to God as the satisfaction, the lover, the relationship we need. Marriage is important but we mustn’t make it an idol, it’s a picture of the greater reality of a perfect relationship with God. God the bridegroom, his people the bride.

But it’s not just relationships is it? We do it with anything. Our hearts are little idol making factories, churning out idol after idol. Career, money, education, ministry, reputation, significance, parenthood, success, education, popularity, fame… Good things, precious gifts from God for us to enjoy and through them to see and praise him. But tragically sometimes we stop at the thing and never move on to seeing God through them.

Apparently I need glasses at certain times to be able to see clearly. But I have to use them rightly don’t I. I’m not supposed to take them off and marvel at them as if the glasses were an end in themselves. I’m to look through to see things in greater focus. To stop at the glasses is to miss their purpose.

It’s the same with all the good things we’re tempted to make our source of significance or purpose or love. Good gifts but given to us not so we depend on or marvel at or worship them but so that through them we see, praise and marvel at God. What is God lovingly putting his finger on in your life where you are making that same stupid exchange? What are you pursuing for meaning? What is your life geared up to achieving, because that is your cistern, where you are looking for love, meaning, purpose, life? How do you know? Use the diagnostic tools; look at your diary, your bank account, your goals, your dreams to find out. Or maybe answer this; what if it was taken away would lead you to feel life was no longer worth living?

Jesus says to this Samaritan woman that’s your broken cistern and you know it doesn’t hold water, it cannot satisfy. But he doesn’t just expose her problem he offers her living water. As he does Jesus is revealing himself. In Jeremiah 2 who gives the living water? God. Here Jesus, God the Son made man, reveals himself as he offers her water.

And look at this water. Look at what Jesus gives, what it brings. (13-14)Jesus offers eternal satisfaction, it doesn’t need topping up or refilling, those who drink it never thirst again. “The water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” Jesus isn’t offering a cup of water, a temporary experience of God, he’s offering relationship with God, he’s offering to reconnect us with what we were made for. Turn to John 7 where Jesus picks up the water imagery again(37-39), Jesus promises that by believing in him, by faith, God the Holy Spirit comes to live in us, making our relationship with God a daily reality. Enabling us to enjoy eternal life now, made real by the Spirit indwelling us, God in us.

But something has to happen first. In order to receive and believe you have to repent of your searching for meaning, life, satisfaction elsewhere. That’s what Jesus is calling the woman to (16-18)as he unmasks her broken cisterns. In Isaiah 55 God promises water to the thirsty, a life of abundance, joy, and satisfaction in God. But in order to achieve it the wicked must forsake their way and turn to God for mercy and pardon. Searching for life anywhere but in God is sin, and leaves us guilty before God. We need to repent of our sin in searching for meaning, satisfaction, love in anything but God before we will turn to God. You can’t have both you have to forsake one in order to have the other.

Maybe this morning you’ve recognised that just like this woman you’ve been searching for love, life, meaning, satisfaction in something other than God. Only Jesus offers a way for us to know God, only Jesus can give us life that satisfies, no more searching, no more failed promises of satisfaction and love, not a broken cistern but a life sustaining spring. God in us. Will you repent, will you forsake everything else?

For those of us who’ve been following Jesus for a while we need to ask ourselves where might we have begun forsaking God for something else? Our culture is an idol pushing culture, which of those are we in danger of buying into? Where am I believing the lie that anything other than God can satisfy? And we need to repent of it this morning.

Beholding Jesus leads us to worship God

We think of worship as a religious thing. It’s what people do in churches or temples, or on their prayer mat or pilgrimage. It’s praying, reading, singing, liturgy etc. The Bible has a different view of worship. It tells us that we’re all worshippers, and worship happens when we behold the glory of something, when we’re shaped by and pursue what we behold. For example we might worship money when we are captivated by it, when we behold it’s glory by pouring over the stock market or our bank balance or saving goals, or working hour after hour pursuing what others have, when we constantly worry about what we have or might have, or when we spend time contemplating and envying what others have and what it’s done for them. We worship something when we behold its glory and long to experience it.

(19)As the Samaritan woman asks Jesus about worship she isn’t trying to side track him. We had a teacher at school who you could always get side tracked onto her hobby horse so that you didn’t have to do any work. A quick question and 20 minutes later the bell would ring and you’d be free having done no work. But that isn’t what’s going on here. This question about worship is connected to Jesus unveiling her search for fulfilment, life, purpose in relationships. The Samaritans worshipped God on Mount Gerizim but the temple there had been destroyed by the Jews, and if she went to the temple in Jerusalem to make sacrifice for sin she wouldn’t get very far because she was a Samaritan woman she had restricted access. I think she’s raising the question of how she can be made right with God. How can a Samaritan woman repent and obtain forgiveness? You’ve shown me my need, how can I be made right with God?

Jesus answer cuts to the very heart of what worship is. It cuts through religion and rite and worship is changing it’s not about where it’s about who and how. (21)With Jesus coming worship is now not centred on Jerusalem, the Messiah’s coming changes everything. (23-24)God is spirit and his worshippers must worship him in Spirit and truth.

What does Jesus mean? Truth – there is a right way to worship God, a right way to come to him, to know him, to behold him and respond to him. God has revealed himself to the Jews in scripture but now he fully reveals himself in Jesus. We aren’t free to imagine either God or worship however we like, worship is responding to the revelation of God supremely in Jesus.

Spirit – We also worship God in spirit as God is spirit. God is divine and other, you can’t tie him to a place or limit him. Therefore our worship is like that, it involves our whole being without limit. But there’s more to it. In Jesus we see what it means to worship in Spirit and Truth. Jesus reveals God to us in all his glory so that we know God and can share in the life of God, that promise of living water, the Spirit in us, making worship natural as we behold God. God the Spirit causing us to love and live in response to God and in love and awe at what he has done for us and made us in Jesus.

This woman began by wondering what sort of Jew asked a Samaritan woman for a drink, then she wondered if he was the prophet(19), now she wonders if he is the Messiah, and Jesus declares “I, the one speaking to you – I am he.” Do you see what Jesus is saying to her, I am God’s coming anointed king, the rescuer, I am God made man. She doesn’t need to worry about where to worship, how to get right with God, which temple, what sacrifice. God the Son has come to her to make her right with God if she will repent of her sin and believe in him.

It’s that simple. Will you trust Jesus? Will you repent and believe in him? His sacrifice will forgive, atone, and transform worship. Because he will send the spirit to live in his people, so that as they behold God in Jesus they will be transformed, to live seeking God, to live reflecting Jesus glory. ‘Do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ don’t transform our worship, beholding God in Jesus does.

How do we find freedom from our broken cisterns? We look to Jesus and see our idols for what they are. How do we worship God in Spirit and Truth? We behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, and now our idols are transformed so that we look through them not to them and see the glory and love of God, Father, Son and Spirit for us.