Sunday, December 04, 2011

Clinging to the cross

4th December 2011
7pm ETC, St Hugh's

I opened this talk with Ps 145 v3-7, which is the psalm that will be read at my last service 22nd January. I wanted to say goodbye to ETC with this preach about passing on God's word while they have the greatest opportunity... Christmas.

There’s a song written by Tim Hughes which is called “Clinging to the Cross”. When I first heard this song I was immediately struck by the depth of such an easy to say sentence. When I think of the literal interpretation of this, I imagine myself like this. (PPT) Absolutely 100% holding on; as tight as possible; as though I’m on an out of control rollercoaster. And some days that is exactly how my life feels, and I’m sure that we all have that at some point. On those sorts of days, all I can do is hold on to the one thing I know is solid, Jesus.

When life isn’t so hectic, clinging to the cross isn’t so much of a white knuckle ride, more like a gentle reminder every day that God has done something astounding that is for everyone. Jesus dying on the cross means that God is available to us every moment.

It goes much deeper than that too. Clinging to someone or something isn’t something that can be done half-heartedly. The reality is, you only have two hands, so you can cling to a maximum of two things, but to be truly holding on to something you’d ideally need both hands. That way you can be certain to never let it go or slip or run away from you. The more I simply hold on to the cross the more I realise I cannot do this and be distracted by other things, other possessions, they make it too complicated.

Suddenly the thought of doing something simply means that a whole lot of other things have to disappear.
“I’ll cling as long as it’s a happy kind of clinging”
“I’ll cling, but only on Sundays, whilst I’m in worship”
“I’ll cling so I look ‘holy’ at church”
These are all things I have to let go of in order to cling to the cross simply and without distraction. Not easily done, we all have things which get in the way, but because of the cross we can drop everything else and know that we will still be ok.

I didn’t think that I would be able to get through today without changing it all up a bit and thinking about Christmas. I know that it’s a radical thought to have this time of year! I thought it would be important to mention the upcoming event which everyone enjoys, but we seem to know so little about.

There’s a famous phrase out there, “Christmas maybe here, but it doesn’t make sense without Easter”. Pretty much everyone you know will be celebrating Christmas in some form or another. Whether you are the person who buys all the presents or the one who receives them all, we all have our traditions and created busyness.

Whilst I enjoy the Christmas lights and the presents, we all know that the meaning of Christmas isn’t about how much you can eat, or about whether you’ve got the most presents. It’s really about the tiny baby Jesus, having the biggest impact ever.

Jesus steps down from eternity, gives up all he knows, to become a tiny human being completely dependant upon the Humans who are to be known as his parents. That’s just part of the amazing story of Jesus, one part of the restoration of the relationship between us and God.

Our last value of ETC is ‘Commissioned’. Commissioned means being sent out to share the news that we have. How many conversations do you think you’ll have about Christmas in the next 3 weeks? It’ll be at least one per week. How about rather than exclaiming how much hate there is for this over busy, over used holiday, you begin to spread the hope of the cross, you begin to talk about Easter.

I don’t mean literally, I mean, cling to the cross, cling to the crib. Spend time used for complaining to open up a conversation of hope and coming light. Throughout the bible people are prepared to share stories as opportunities arise, Jesus always used stories, he never missed a chance. Our task is a little different, but we still have perfect opportunities, this time of year is one of them. The bible says this about our task:

1 Peter 3v15 “Through thick and thin, keep your hearts at attention, in adoration before Christ, your Master. Be ready to speak up and tell anyone who asks why you're living the way you are, and always with the utmost courtesy. Keep a clear conscience before God so that when people throw mud at you, none of it will stick.”

As the stress of Christmas can over take us, we need to be focussed even more on the task in hand, ready to answer the question 'what are you doing for Christmas?' in a way that truly reflects why we celebrate Christmas.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

cost of being a disciple - luke 14v25-34 (19th september 2010 9am service)

This was much better when I annotated it with my stories and illustrations. The text feels static and meaningless. God was speaking to me at the same time as delivering it.

This morning I would like to explore two ideas, which I cannot credit to myself, but which in fact comes from numerous discussions with others. After all we are all in the same boat, with very similar struggles to each other, if not exactly the same.

The first one is this: where do we stand when we are crowded around Jesus? What is our position in regards to the Son of the living God? As we have talked and discussed, we can see two possible questions to help us identify the answer. Are you a follower? Or are you a disciple?

When we take a step back and look at the conditions which Jesus demands of us in this passage, where do we really stand? He is literally posing the question of a lifetime to a large number of people who maybe following him because of the miracles they've seen, or stories they have heard of the miracles or because they've heard he's this great speaker at synagogue and want to try and catch a glimpse of this man for themselves. They are followers. A crowd of unidentified faces, with unidentified reasons and motives, from our point of view anyway. Is that you? Can you see yourself as a crowd member?

I know that being a member of a crowd has it's good points and it's bad points. Take Soul Survivor as an example. We were in a crowd of 8,500 people, all in a big marquee, all worshipping this one Almighty God. I loved it. God created us to be in companionship, in community, in a crowd. Another example is a football fans, or concert goers. There is something really special about watching football or any sport with other fans. We cheer each other on as much as we are cheering for the team, we can be swept up in a great moment. The bad points can make crowds become a force of unimaginable destruction. In a crowd we can remain anonymous and begin to blame the crowd for the bad things which are seemingly out of our control. Peaceful demonstrations and carnival atmospheres turning to violent riots, a crowd baying for an innocent man's blood. There are times when we are crowded together and we wish we hadn't been.

To be a part of a crowd does not cost us anything. The way a crowd behaves is known as “herd mentality” – it is something that allows the individual in the crowd to remain blameless and anonymous when a crowd behaves badly. In Jesus terms, this means that crowd members have sacrificed nothing in order to partake. So Jesus, being Jesus, challenges them. I think maybe at this point Jesus might be getting a little frustrated. He's just come from dinner at a Pharisee's house, and told all who were their to invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind to their house for dinner, and he's illustrated it with a story of a banquet. As if they didn't get it the first time. It's almost as if they have had their chance, their invite. So the challenge is laid down. There maybe mutterings in this crowd of who can call themselves a disciple, what are the things you need to do to be called a disciple.

Here Jesus is as plain as he can be, which only makes life more complicated! “if anyone comes to me and does not hate is father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes, even his own life – he cannot be my disciple.” Hate is a strong word and I think it is here deliberately to show us how much it does cost to be a disciple. If we “strongly dislike” or “have a mild aversion to” then there is still a chance those things could creep into the top spot of our priority list. Hate is the strongest feeling. It'll help us to put God first, and not let anything else creep in. Be jealous for God. Do not stand for it when you and God are interrupted in your time together. After all God is a jealous God for you. The cost of becoming a disciple is great. We are to lose everything in order to gain everything. Though we may not actually hate our families, our relationship with God should look like we hate all else.

Jesus is calling us out of the crowd into discipleship with him. And there is a sense of it being one or the other. In the Revelation passage the church is called “lukewarm”. We cannot float as a crowd member forever, it just won't do. Jesus wants all of us, all of the time. And that should never been too much to ask. Sacrifice everything and follow Jesus. So I ask again, are you a follower or a disciple?

My second point might help us to make that decision. What is our focus? If we are a follower our focus might be too much on now, this very moment. Whilst it is important to live in the moment, we also should think that as very short-sighted of us. If we can't live beyond the moment we are in, how do we understand what God has done, is doing and will do?

So we need to shift the focus of our relationship with Jesus. In giving up everything for Jesus; we gain everything. We have to have an eternal focus. By being Jesus' disciple we are focusing on him, the cross and the eternal life. If we get caught up in the present, all we see is us making mistakes, living vicariously day-by-day and living life half-full or half-empty. If we live with the future goal in mind all the time, we begin to live life in all it's fullness, and an understanding of our inheritance of the kingdom of God.

As disciples we do know what is in our future. We have eternal life. I can't tell you what your sacrifices are, because for me they are individual. What can you sacrifice everyday in order to be a disciple of Jesus? What are we doing to prove ourselves to be the best disciples ever?

To be a disciple of Jesus is to be in the innermost circle, to know what's going on, to be given the meanings behind the parables and to be with Jesus at the best and worst of times. When you are there you are salty. The people who are disciples can be told by their saltiness. They bring flavour in a bland world. Our closeness to God and God drawing close to us helps us to be salt and light.

So what are we choosing? Follower? Disciple?

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Predicitve Text - St Mary's 6th December 2009

Predictive Text - Isaiah 9: 2-7

Good evening. For those of you who don't know me I'm Karen, I'm a youth worker at St Hugh's and a member here at St Mary's. I have to admit right now that I'm not a biblical scholar. I didn't study theology at University. But please don't hold that against me as we begin to explore the Old Testament, what it said about Jesus and how the New Testament looks different in light of Jesus. Also as we approach Christmas how do the biblical text's inform our waiting and anticipation of Jesus coming again.

As I said I'm not a biblical scholar, however that doesn't stop me having a passion for the living word of God and trying to understand our historical context as Christians. I love the Old Testament, about 4 years ago there was some light shed on it for me, I lived in a dark world where I just read the New Testament. I think once it is put into a little bit of context we might start to look at it as a more relevant book to us than once imagined. It is often sold as the book of the Jews, text which has some lovely stories and poems, as well as the record of the judges and kings who ruled over the Jewish nation. If we start from this premise, we miss the point of the Old Testament and we won't get to the heart of what God is saying through the stories, poems and records.

So as with every good story lets start at the beginning. God creates the universe, the earth and Man, and He says “It's good”, then Man messes up big time and gets thrown out of the place where he can be in God's presence constantly. Of course, God is not going to give up that quickly on something he has created, there are various things that happen throughout the Old Testament which show us God's plan for restoring the relationship between God and Us. I'm just going to pick on a few, because if I could show you every one we'd probably be here all night.

The first one we'll look at is the story of Abraham and Isaac. This can be found in Genesis 22. God tests Abraham, who is very old, and asks him to sacrifice his only son. They travel for three days to a place where God had told them to go. Isaac is not stupid, he has a very wise father, recognises the set up for a sacrificial offering and quite rightly asks “where is the lamb for the burnt offering?” to which Abraham replies, somewhat cryptically “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son”. At this point, Abraham ties up Isaac and places him on the altar. This is how we often misinterpret the text, there's no elaboration and emotion. You can't imagine for a second that this wasn't done without some sort of a struggle, tears and utter pain on Abraham's part. He had given God years of faithful service and been so obedient, and this is how God repays him? At the very last moment God saves Isaac and a ram is provided to sacrifice instead. And Abraham's fear and obedience are rewarded by a promise from God, his descendants will be as numerous as the stars in the sky and sand on the beach.

The parallels between this story and Jesus dying on the cross are plain to see, especially when they are laid side by side. We often teach Old Testament as just a story to interest young children, or as a story for the Jewish people, but the meaning for us today is clear. John 3:16 reflects this: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son”. Isaac was given out of choice and obedience. Jesus was given out of choice and love for us that we might live and have eternal life. We begin to see God's salvation plan unfolding before our eyes with massive hints towards what will happen.

Another person who's life can be seen as a parallel for the life of Jesus is David, the shepherd boy born in Bethlehem and chosen as King even though he's the runt of the family. David defeated giants and won many wars and for all intents and purposes was a good king. The Jewish people expected their Messiah to resemble David. Well, we know now that he didn't, at least not in the way they expected. Jesus quoted David's Psalms several times throughout his ministry, Jesus knew his scriptures so well, they were woven into everyday speech. Again, when stories from the Old Testament and New Testament are laid side by side, we see things we may never have seen reading the stories separately.

In Jesus birth, life, death and resurrection he fulfils over 300 Old Testament prophecies. I choose one Isaiah passage because it's one of the verses used during advent. Verses 6-7 are used during this time of advent to show that Jesus is King over all and that for hundreds of years the Jews were waiting for someone to come and sit on the throne in Jerusalem and rule as a proper king should. This is one prediction they missed the point about. It's almost like when you get a text message from some one who has used predictive text, but they've forgotten to switch the word. I'm sure we each have a little bug bears with predictive text on a mobile phone. For me it's the shortening of “I have” I get “H've” every single time and it drive me up the wall. And believe me I've tried to teach my phone the right letters. If you know how to use predictive text it makes life easier and faster, if you don't it can be the most confusing and frustrating thing you've ever come across!

We find the same problem with the Bible, if we know how to use it and can begin to link all the pieces together we start to see with clarity and understanding of the wider picture, but if we miss a verse, or spell something wrong then we will struggle greatly and can change the meaning of the passage. A great way to do this is to grab a bible overview book that's really easy to read. I'm currently reading BOOK!

Back to the Isaiah passage, the Jews went down the line of the great kings and saw their Messiah as someone who would fit into their picture, but we know that's not the case. Jesus flipped the world on it's head, just by being born. There was nothing majestic about his birth, the first people to see him were the shepherds who spent their time away from any other human beings, they may well have been viewed as outcasts, not the kind of people you'd expect to be in the presence of a King.

This is not the only prophecy declaring the majesty of Jesus Daniel 7:13-14 and Zechariah 9:9, and there are the other prophets who told about the kind of king and person Jesus would be. So as the Jewish people miss the arrival of the coming King, everything for then on is a struggle. They've painted a wrong picture.

So here we see all the Old Testament points towards the coming of Jesus and the New Testament charts the life of Jesus, his death and resurrection, the restoring of God and Man into relationship again, and we have to live in the light.

Still today we get the interpretation of the text wrong. We take things said and done out of context and place them into our context where they can be more harmful than helpful. I'm just as guilty of this as anyone else. I was teaching the other day on 1 Timothy 4:12, which says “don't let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example to other believers in speech, in love, in life, in faith and in purity”. This verse has been underlined in my Bible for ages, but I'd only learnt the first part! How different does this whole verse sound, when you know that the example you set comes from Jesus, but also has wider implications for all the believers you come across. It's important for us to look at a verse in it's context, looking at who wrote it and who it was written for, and even the most basic knowledge can begin to help you see a bigger and clearer picture.

So I urge you to look deeper into the Bible this advent, as we await Jesus coming, we need to keep the main thing the main thing. We go back to John 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only son, that whoever believes in him will not die but have eternal life” If we start from that point, we can't go far wrong. We need to take the bible as a whole book, as we apply it to our lives. We do love predicting stuff, whether it's Strictly, Xfactor or the Christmas number one. Lets not let our love of predicting things cloud our view of the Bible.

We know for certain that Jesus is coming! If we spend all our time trying to predict his return, we might miss it, just like some of the Jews did the first time around!

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Back To Church Sunday - Genesis 2 v4-25

Hello everyone, my name is Karen and I'm the youth worker here at St Hugh's. We've just started our series right at the beginning of the bible, in the book of Genesis. This morning I will be talking about what it means for us as God's people to be part of a community and how we are called to be a part of God's plan. Before I delve into this, would you join me in praying?


When I began to look at this passage, I thought, “why have we got two accounts of creation?” We have the 6 days spelled out before it and a day of rest, and then the picture begins to be filled in a bit more with some more details. It's almost as if the writer of Genesis realises that we need a little bit extra to really get to grips on how God created the earth.

Today we are going to focus on one verse, verse 18 Then the Lord God said “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him”. I believe this verse speaks of a God who recognises the importance of humans being in some sort of community. If we look back at Chapter 1 v27 we find that God has made male and female in his image. Here we see more detail and a hint of the reasons behind God creating male and female, not just one, but two, designed to work as one in partnership.

Lets have a quick look at the rest of creation, and what we have created this morning.

So here we have a magnificent tree. And now comes you doing some work again. Can you think of some of the things trees offer us or other animals?
pretty colours in autumn
conversion of co2 to o2
place for animals to nest
wood for fire/carpentry
entertainment, something to hang your swing from
Self-sustaining community in itself

Fantastic! It in itself is a community too, the different parts of a tree benefit the entire tree. Can you feel your science lessons flooding back in?! The roots go down into the ground to stabilise the tree and get water, which is sucked up the trunk, to the leaves who spread out to catch the sunlight, to bring the nutrients from the sun, to the branches and roots so they can grow bigger, to find more water.

Earlier on we had the animals who came to be named by Adam. We could have a pride of Lions, or a herd of elephants or a colony of ants or a host of sparrow, or a flock of sheep and a pack of wolves. Each of the animals that God created works in a community to get food, find water, to protect themselves and the young of their own kind.

I think as humans we are also designed to be in a community. Focussing on the phrase God uses “It is not good for the man to be alone” God recognises the importance of giving man a helper. He created us to be His friends, as well as friends with each other. A man who is alone cannot achieve much, but a man who is in community and has the support of that community can do much more. I've noticed over the last three years as I've studied and continued to grow in a community that I certainly cannot live alone, outside of a community. I have come to realise the value of the church community and how individuals often do better when they are part of a community and doing what God wants them to do.

I believe that we are taking up this calling less and less, it's sadly getting more common that we do not know our neighbours. I've lived in my house for three years and I know my neighbours well enough that we can talk for hours over the fence and if I see them in town I'll offer them a lift home. I only know the ones either side of me well, and the people further down the road will wave hi to me. But it's better than being isolated totally. The neighbours cut my grass and will offer to fix broken things me and my house mate can't fix, we'll ask their advice and they'll ask us to look out for their houses when they go away. I am still getting to know them, but they are really good, and it's good to be known too.

One person who was called from a life of possible loneliness back into community was Zacchaeus. His story can be found in the New Testament in Luke 19. Zach was a tax collector, and in Jesus' time they weren't very popular, thought of as swindlers and liars, they were typically quite rich and not many people befriended them. In this story, every one grumbles about him being a “sinner”. Zach is called down from a tree, which he has climbed in order to see Jesus better, and Jesus invites himself for dinner! How cheeky of Jesus?! But by his invite, he brings Zach back in to the community and Zach promises to give away half his possessions and return all the money he's taken four times over. Jesus invites us into community too. Wherever we are there is a church community we can be part of, so I wanted us to think for a bit what is God calling us to do in that community, whether it is church or not.

So what are the consequences of living in community and responding to God's calling for that community? I think we develop better as people, individuals, but as we do that we also have a stronger sense of community identity. Your response might be like Zach's, to give away what you own, or it might be more like Adam's, to work at the earth and look after creation, or it could really be anywhere in between. Maybe you need to hear from God what you are called to be doing, or you need some one else to identify your strengths and abilities. The community performs better when every one is playing to their strengths and not focussing on their weaknesses.

We leave this story in a good place, there is a lot to be done in the Garden of Eden, lots to be worked on, and plenty of getting to know each other from God, Adam and Eve. For a while Adam and Eve lived in the Garden of Eden doing God's work. The man was not alone and he was pretty happy, creation was happy. Everyone was doing exactly as God had asked them to do.

In conclusion I believe that creation can teach us that God wants us to be in community and we can do better! This might mean living and working in a community and rather than seeing it as a burden, we should be seeing it as a way of helping others to grow and develop, to identify strengths and work towards being a stronger community. So get thinking and doing, how can we become more like the community God calls us to be?

Monday, June 15, 2009

Discipline of Watching - 14th June 2009

Discipline of Watching
1 Corinthians 10 v 11-13
Sunday 14th June

When we learn together on a Monday night, there is always room for discussion and questions. And whilst I do not pretend to be an expert I think it is really important for us to be able to discuss what we are learning. That's why I also think it is important to have a memory verse. Even if just one part of it sticks, it can become the beginning of something much bigger. The young people have been learning about the gifts of the spirit. We are learning of Love, Joy, Peace, Patience, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control. And our memory verse today picks up on the last one. With the help of the Holy Spirit, discipline becomes more achieveable. Matthew 26 v 41 Jesus says,“Watch and pray so that you do not fall into temptation. For the spirit is willing but the body is weak.”

So lets start as we mean to go on: PRAY

We are coming very close to the end of our series on the Discipline of Grace and as always Jesus has the ultimate say on how we should be living our lives. I think as a church we have become more aware that when Jesus talks, not only should we be listening, but we should also take action. It seems that Jesus rarely speaks words of passivity and more of activity. We have the Living Word Of God and an active faith. Bridges picks up on this activeness when it comes to the discipline of watching.

Imagine with me for a moment sitting in a coffee shop, or a canteen, what are you watching? Are you watching the staff, the customers, the passers by out of the window? On Friday I was doing this exact thing. I was watching, taking in lots of different things happening around me. I learnt that if you work in town you get 10% off at Costa! Watching teaches us so much about the world around us. If you've made eye contact with a small child recently you might remember the intensity of their stare, they are taking everything in through their eyes. But Jesus' call is not just to watch the world, but to also 'watch yourself'.

Bridges shares a personal story of late night TV watching to show a way of how we can know our weaknesses and know how the devil might tempt us. So what I would like you to do, is take a few moments, write temptations in the middle of your bit of paper and get down some ideas. We'll have some music playing in the background whilst you do it. Sharing

Gather Sharing on flip chart

These verses in 1 Corinthians remind us that God is with us through all the temptations, and the best thing to do to counteract it is to know where you are strong. The Discipline of watching is about knowing yourself well enough to be wary of temptation and not become comfortable with sin, whilst being free enough to live as God created you to be. 1 Corinthians 10 v 23 sums this up perfectly “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial”. It's up to us to know what is beneficial to us.

We are told not to worry, we could spend our whole lives worrying about falling to temptation that we miss out on some great opportunities. This is where the grace bit comes in, that though God will not test us beyond what we can bear, He will welcome us with open arms when we do fall and say sorry. Because after all we are only human. His grace is sufficient.

Monday, March 09, 2009

We Died to Sin

Our latest sermon series at St Hugh's is based on "The Discipline of Grace" by Jerry Bridges - Here's my input, delivered on 8th March 2009

Well, we spent last week preaching the good news to ourselves, so I hope you've been living in the good news and not the bad news for the past week. I also hope we've been sharing the good news with other people, it's a bit rude to keep good news to yourself!

As Bridges says in his book, the good news doesn't stop there. We know Jesus died on the cross, took on all the sin ever, and we are declared perfect and righteous in God's eyes. Jesus restored our relationship with God and not only we should be eternally grateful for that, but this news should also have a massive effect on the way in which we behave.

The extra great news is that we are free from sin AND free from the dominion of sin. This simply means that we are free from the power that sin has had over us since the day we were born. I don't think I can move on from that point... I'd be a liar if I said I lived with a permanent feeling of freedom from sin. Sometimes I feel like sin is still very much in control of the way I act and behave. It might be much the same for you. To hear and know that you are forgiven and free might be a real struggle, but it's a truth we need to tell ourselves each day, each time we start to doubt who we really are and who we really belong to, we need to be reminded of this amazing gift of grace.

This morning I want to pick up on two really significant things from this: We died to sin and we are alive to God. Pretty simple on the face of it all, but if you will wander with me for a few moments I hope you might find something that will inspire/challenge/remind you of who God is and what He has done for us.

“We died to sin”

The first part of our sentence is a concept I don't have a deep understanding of. There are plenty of phrases out there that wash over me and I don't really grasp what they mean, until you have to sit down with them and tackle them full on. So here goes...

Let's start at the beginning, what is sin? Sin is when we go against God's will for us and the laws he has set.

We need to expand our passage a little bit to understand where Paul is coming from when explaining dying to sin. Verse 5-10 of Romans 6 goes on to talk about how we are united with Christ in life, death and resurrection (coming back to life). This union isn't to be taken lightly. It's like super gluing your fingers to together or attempting to distinguish my right hand from my mobile phone, or as Jesus puts it, like the Vine and the Branches. You cannot see where one begins and the other ends and if you pull them apart it'll hurt (even to the point of death). We are joined with Jesus in everything he has done. When he died on the cross, death and sin were defeated. Jesus died to break the reign of sin. Let's ponder on that a moment. Though we are still sinners, we have a Saviour who was not only able to free us from sin's penalty (death) but also from its dominion. And that's what's so amazing about Grace. The Message version puts it this way: “When it's sin vs grace, grace wins hands down”.

My cousin moved to Milton Keynes from his mum's home in Hadleigh, Essex about 2 years ago. We were chatting about where he thought home was in the early part of his move, he started off with Hadleigh. We talked about how he'd brought his house in MK, worked hard on it, and worked just down the road, yet he still saw home as his Mum's house. I think we can use this as a great illustration to show that in actual fact we often live in a place, but it is not 'home' to us, the same is true with sin. If we live in a place of grace and but still call sin 'home', then we are not truly accepting that we have died to sin. In my own context, I have effectively died to Essex, and now live in Luton. There is no practical way I can live at my parents house, I have to make a home here. We cannot make a home in Sin if we truly believe in all that Jesus has done for us, and the grace we have received because of his actions.

So, in acknowledging our dying to sin, what does this mean for us?

“Alive to God”
We are alive to God. We have been brought out of the darkness, into God's glorious light. We are rescued from death, and like the person who has been 'given a second chance' we should be living as though sin is a threat to our lives, not a death sentence.

Bridges highlights the Vine and Branches example when talking about how our relationship with Jesus can be. You can't tell where one ends and the other begins, closer than friends. Being in Christ and having Christ in you are intertwined, spiritual and alive. The Holy Spirit dwells within us, takes every step with us and knows all that we do. To be alive to God is to live in assurance and hope. To be free to be in relationship with God, and know that HE wants to be in relationship and communication with you.

We can only die once, and in this passage that death is in the past we died to sin, we have been raised into new life with Christ. God sees us in the light of what Jesus has done, alive and well.

“So what do we do? Keep on sinning so God can keep forgiving?”

I recently had a conversation with a young person who was describing how her friends responded when she mentioned that we are forgiven of all the wrong things we do. Her friends said “well, I'll just keep on sinning then, and keep saying sorry”. The friend had the no idea of all the love and grace it takes to forgive someone and not remember their sin. It's almost as though we respond in a selfish way... we don't fully comprehend grace, or unconditional love, and so are irresponsible and reckless with these gifts. Or we treat our forgiveness so lightly that it is diluted beyond being able to grasp the reality of it?

We all still sin, in action at least, though we are not under the reign of sin. We don't come from a place of sin. We have to live in a place which grace allows. And with this overwhelming grace, I don't know about you, but I am compelled to respond. God's unconditional love for each of us doesn't demand a response, but even if we hold on to a little glimpse the Holy Spirit can change us, we will not go on sinning if we understand a small part of God's grace for us.

I grew up in Essex, I have an affinity with people from Essex, but I no longer live there. Essex is not my home, Luton is my home. I'm the same Karen. I have died to what was before and embrace what is new, in doing so I have not lost any part of who I am. And it's the same with Sin and grace. Do we find ourselves answering to something which has no authority over us? Or are we responding to the gift of grace, living in Christ, with Christ in us, freely?

Bridges ends his chapter on this subject with these words: page 77

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Epiphany 4/1/09

Revealing Jesus as King

Happy New Year everyone! I hope you all had a really good Christmas and New Year celebrations. As you may or may not know today is the day where we traditionally celebrate Epiphany. We are already two Sunday's away from Christmas, and I'm not wishing the year away just yet. Epiphany helps us to remember the arrival of the Wise Men, or the Magi, to the house where Joseph, Mary and Jesus now live.

Matthew doesn't tell us where the family were staying, but we know that they were well settled in a little house and that the star had followed them there. Mary and Joseph probably had a few friendly neighbours who had helped them out and Jesus was growing up like any normal child. Theologians and historians believe that Jesus could have been about two by the time the wise men arrived at Joseph's house. I wonder what kind of two year old Jesus might have been? Just a thought...

More and more we are throwing out the idea of the nativity scene where all the figures arrive on or just after Christmas night, in favour of a more accurate representation of the story. However we need to remember the significance of the different characters in the story.

If you were here on Christmas Eve for the Crib service you would have heard the story from the shepherds point of view. Those poor lowly shepherds, who spent their lives in the fields, with only each other, sheep, goats and wolves for company. Joseph was eventually noble, but his first thought was one of splitting up with Mary so there would be no disgrace for either of them. And Mary herself, just a girl. Nothing special about her, but God look at the heart and He saw Mary to be beautiful. Each character plays a significant part in the story, and each character reveals a different aspect of who Jesus is to the people of the world.

So what was the significance of the Wise Men in this story? If you have a quick flick through the first four books of the New Testament you'll notice that the Wise Men only appear in Matthew's version. Mark and John are full on action, and Luke is writing to an audience which could well have been made up of people who thought Jesus would never go anywhere near them, hence the Shepherds in his account.

Matthew was writing to the Jewish people from a Jewish perspective. And he certainly has a grasp on Jewish history. Do you know anyone who can recite Jesus' family tree from beginning to end? Matthew can, all 42 generations, that's 1680 years give or take a few. And in Jesus family tree there are plenty of kings and other people of note which the Jewish people would have been able to reminisce about. Some pretty impressive stories too! Matthew is almost certainly trying to convince the Jewish people that Jesus isn't just some guy to listen too, he is, in fact, the King they have been looking for, the one which has be prophesied about for years. If you had read the openers for the other gospels you'd have plenty of ideas of who Jesus is, but the King aspect comes across most clearly in this one I think.

The Wise Men were no doubt important people. They probably had a large entourage following them across the countries and entering the cities. It's unclear why they started their journey, and where “the East” really is. But they are wise, they knew what they were doing. They had read the prophecies and seen the star, everything was falling into place, so they went.

On the way they met Herod and though he was a king, there is no record of the wise men bowing to him. Herod tried to trick them, but they are wise... they didn't fall for Herod's thin veiled attempts to wipe his competition off the face of the earth. When they eventually made their way back home they completely avoided Herod's palace, and once Herod had caught on to this fact Joseph and Mary were well on their way to Egypt and the toddler Jesus was safe from harm.

As I said before Jesus is clearly revealed as king through this passage. The wise men had travelled miles and miles to see a baby whom they treated as a king first and foremost, bringing him the finest gifts they could muster. I wonder how we treat Jesus. Do we bow to him and show him the respect He deserves? We have been talking about God's glory all Christmas and will continue to talk about over the next few weeks. But will we recognise God's glory in the things which we do. Even the wise men recognised God's glory and they only met him in his infant years.

So as we start 2009, have you made any resolutions? Or maybe you don't believe in resolutions... so what about receiving a revelation, as the wise men did.