Posted on: 17th December 2018
“For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counsellor, the mighty God, the everlasting Father, the Prince of Peace.”
What is the greatest gift you have ever received? When you got it, did it fulfil everything you hoped it would? My son really wanted a step counter last year. I found it at the back of the card drawer last week, unused. Frustratingly, he has asked for a step counter again this year.
As I grew up there was one gift I always wanted – Subbuteo. Last year I managed to fulfil my childhood ambition. I didn’t get it directly, I bought it for my son. Having played it only three times this year I can confirm that it wasn’t the life changing gift I had built it up to be.
Scholars and religious leaders had read the books of the prophets and were waiting in expectation for the Messiah to be born. Thirty years after the birth of Jesus, one of those scholars had questions that he was afraid to ask in the open, so he came to Jesus at night. His name was Nicodemus. I love the conversation he had with Jesus. He approaches Jesus and says “Rabbi, we know you are a teacher who has come from God. For no-one could perform the miraculous signs you are doing if God were not with him.”
Jesus’ response is exceptional and is definitely worth reading over the festive period. In John chapter 3 verse 16, Jesus announces himself as the greatest gift ever. Imagine a gift that begins today and last for eternity.
“For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him.”
In preparation for Christmas celebrations, please consider the words of Jesus. If believing in him can lead to eternal life, as well as life to the full here, isn’t that the greatest gift ever given. If a gift like that was offered to you, how would you respond?
Posted on: 10th December 2018
“And she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no guest room available for them.”
When I read in the gospels the story of the birth of Jesus, I read a verse like “Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem”, without stopping to consider the implication. Have you ever stopped to question how far that was, what the route was like or how long it would have taken? Let’s just say, it wasn’t close, easy or quick! Factor in the pregnancy and you must come to the conclusion that Mary knew what it was like to face adversity.
Compare this to the opening verses in the book of James 1:2, “Consider it pure joy when you face trials of many kinds.” I wonder if that is the sort of encouragement that spurred Mary on to the stable in Bethlehem. Interestingly, the book of James was written by Jesus’ brother, another son of Mary. I wonder if the story of Jesus’ birth as well as his death were in his mind as he wrote those words.
I heard a story once about a lump of rock that made me consider the meaning of James 1:2. In a busy museum there was a beautiful marble statue that people in their thousands would come and admire. The statue was magnificently crafted and showed the expertise of the sculptor. A marble tile from the floor looked up and grumbled at the statue, “It’s alright for you, everyone loves you and admires you. All I get is walked all over and trodden on each day.” The statue looked down at the tile and replied, “My friend, we were once the same but when the sculptor came at me with his tools, I allowed him to break me and shape me in the way he saw best. There were times when I wanted to crack and give in, but I trusted his workmanship.”
Maybe the reason Mary was able to face her adversity was because she clung to the promise in Isaiah 7:14, “The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” During this season as advent, let us consider how we can be thankful for adversity, clinging to the promises we have been given.
Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
Posted on: 3rd December 2018
“A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
What are you like at receiving a gift? What is Christmas like in your home when it comes to exchanging presents? I love watching my children open their presents. I have to be honest, I have little knowledge of what the gift is before it is opened, but we have an amazing elf that seems to turn up every year and satisfy the children with exactly what they want. But there is an awkwardness I feel when a present under the tree is addressed to me and I haven’t given that person something. I feel guilt and become anxious about meeting that person the next time. Is that just me?
King Solomon was known for being the wealthiest king ever. He was blessed with great wisdom and wealth by God, so surely it was easy for him to be generous. How easy it must be to give to others when all your needs have been met.
Contrast this to the widow in Luke chapter 21. Being a widow meant that she had no known source of provision. She would have to rely on the generosity of others for care and support. But she was noted by Jesus for being generous as she gave all that she had. How generous.
I once heard of a story of a man who had two bottles of water. As he walked down the street he saw a homeless man who looked thirsty. The man with the water prayed, “God what should I do?” Some might say that it is obvious – give a bottle of water away. The man believed it was right for him to walk along with both bottles in his hand. Later, the homeless man met up with the man and thanked him for not offering him the water. Puzzled by this, he asked why. The man replied, “Behind you came a young lady who only had one bottle. She gave it to me and helped me get my life back on track”.
This week I pray that you will be generous and refreshed. But I also pray that you have the courage to be obedient to the needs that God is leading you to meet.
Posted on: 26th November 2018
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.”
When was the last time you received a blessing? When did you last give a blessing? Would you know a blessing if it was given? Would you know if you had blessed someone else?
Jesus was a blessing. In Matthew 4 we read that everywhere he went he preached Good News about the Kingdom of Heaven and healed all the people who were brought to him. I love our mission statement that calls us to prepare our students to be citizens of this life and the next. Sometimes I have such an earthly perspective that I want everything to be sorted in this life. Jesus brought Good News of a heavenly future and comfort for those who were suffering now.
Does it surprise you that a great crowd followed Jesus? In Matthew 5 he begins teaching. The gospel writer takes three chapters to recall what was told. If you have time this week, please look it up and see how the Kingdom of Heaven challenges some of the ways we live as citizens of this world.
If you were going to write an entry requirement for ’seeing God’, what would be on it? Would it be a level of success? Would it be based on acts of service? Would it be status?
Jesus asks the crowds to consider their heart. I wonder how many of those who were following Jesus were doing it from a motive of what they could get from Jesus. I have to question my own motives when I pray, asking if it is “Your will be done”, or “My will be done”. When you consider your blessings this week, check your heart and identify ways you can be a blessing to others.
Posted on: 19th November 2018
“Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ.”
What is the link between 2004 and 2016?
One link I would like to consider this week is unexpected success. The stage was set for Portugal, in Portugal, to secure the European Championship against an unexpected opponent. But the domination of possession and shots could not overcome the single goal scored in that game. But who were the winners?
5000-1 were the odds given to Leicester City at the start of the season. Reports praise the efforts of the three stars of the team, but I would like to suggest it was everyone connected to the team that brought the victory.
In Judges 7 we read the story of the defeat of Midian. Gideon was called a ‘Mighty Man of Valour’ by God, who found him hiding. The story strikes me as odd that the mighty man was hiding, but God knows how to pick them. Gideon was probably feeling like the odds were in his favour as he had an army of 32,000. God had other plans.
The first stage of fine tuning the army involved asking those who were afraid to leave. The remaining 10,000 faced the second stage, drinking water at the river. 9,700 drank like dogs and were asked to go home. The story ends with 300 men defeating the Midianites with trumpet, empty jars and burning torches. Now that is an underdog story!
As we consider the power of team and the difference supporting each other brings this week, remember the encouragement the Apostle Paul offers in Galatians 6:2. If you are to fulfil the law of Christ, look for opportunities to support and help those in your team. Having people around you who offer support really is a gift from God and a game changer.
Posted on: 5th November 2018
“It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.”
This half term our theme is being thankful and content. We will look at the challenge of always being thankful and learning what it means to be content in every situation.
I write this devotional at 2:30am after an amazing time at the annual swim gala. Watching the swimmers give their all, I am so thankful for their efforts and content with the result. Your house may not have won every race; no one can. But one swimmer in particular stood out for me as a true hero in every sense of the word. Due to illness, he was the only representative in his age group. He swam two individual races and a relay. He picked up four points to help the team to secure second place overall. Two years ago, this student couldn’t swim and learned because he wanted to take part in the swim gala. What has someone done recently that you are thankful for? Take time today to reflect and share it with them.
The children of Israel journey is recorded in the first five books of the bible. In Exodus, their journey from slavery to wandering in the wilderness, to eventual freedom is detailed. There is also recounts of their grumblings and discontentment that their new found freedom cost them. Their freedom involved facing and fighting new problems. When they looked back to their old way of life they remembered the ease of being a slave, but they forgot how they were desperate to change. Have you ever wished for your old life, when things were less busy, complicated or challenging? Take time to remember the discontentment you felt back then and the desire you had to chase what you have now.
As we remember the 100th year since the end of World War I, let us take time to be thankful for the battles that others faced and fought for our freedom. May we find new ways to be thankful for what we have and pray for strength to face our own battle with hope.
Posted on: 22nd October 2018
“Go near and listen to all that the Lord our God says. Then tell us whatever the Lord our God tells you. We will listen and obey.”
Remember. That was the word that Moses shared with the people of Israel after he came down from the mountain. He had been in God’s presence and was sharing with them the standard that God had set.
What do you think of when someone talks about rules? I love listening to my children playing games. Some games are easier to play than others, because they have less rules. Hide and seek is easy – everyone hides, somebody seeks. The only issue arises when you have to decide what you have to count to before you can begin to search. But it is the made up games that cause the trouble, because no one knows the rules and therefore anyone is free to suggest an improvement to the game. We started car journeys looking for yellow cars. We now count cheese on wheels, minis and soft tops! The rules continue to grow.
Re-reading the 10 commandments in Deuteronomy 5, I am reminded again at the sense and purpose of the law. I was brought up ‘having’ to rest on a Sunday. This felt like I was restricted from doing what I normally do. But the law was set to bring freedom. There was a period in the history of the children of Israel that ‘choosing’ to rest was never an option. Imagine the luxury for a slave to be able to have a day off every week! Maybe this week is a chance for you to take a rule that has been set and see the freedom it brings.
We have been considering respect this half term. My prayer is that, as you reflect on the devotions and scriptures we have looked at, that you challenge yourself to respond positively. Respect is not a list of rules that we expect everyone to keep. It is an attitude that we pray that all will choose. Respect can result in different responses to different people. Will you listen to something that has been said and obey?
Posted on: 15th October 2018
“The Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
The gospel writer records a wonderful account of an encounter with Jesus and the impact that can have.
Zacchaeus was a tax collector. To the Jews, there were sinners and below sinners there were tax collectors. Tax collectors raised funds for the enemy, Rome. They also took a tidy sum themselves as their cut. Zacchaeus was rich and that must have upset everyone around.
But Jesus defies the expectation of the crowd. They would have expected Jesus to chastise the corruption and greed that he lived by. But Jesus invited himself to his house for tea. Oh to be a fly on the wall at that tea party, for whatever was said brought transformation. Jesus changed the whole situation by meeting Zacchaeus where he was. This brought life and health, not only to him but to everyone he had ever cheated.
What chances will you have this week to respond in a way to someone else that would defy the expectation? This might be an opportunity for you to speak life. I pray that you will have courage and patience to make a Jesus style response to someone who has wronged you. Could this be a new way to show respect, in difficult situations?
Posted on: 8th October 2018
“Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven…”
Verses like this in Matthew deserve making into fridge magnets, bumper stickers and t-shirts. What a fantastic encouragement to all who need encouragement. But we do not present the gospel fully if we just cherry pick the best bits. The whole verse reads, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
When we look into the life of Saint Wilfrid, we see a saint who lived to establish the church in the north of England against many oppositions. His determination and strong confidence in his beliefs led him to face lots of opposition from all sides. But he showed resilience and character and stood strong for what he felt was right. Through our assemblies and form worships this week we will be looking more into the life and achievements of Saint Wilfrid.
James, the writer in the New Testament offers a gift money cannot buy. In James 1:4 it says, “…so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
What an offer! Who wouldn’t want some of that maturity, completeness and a life without lack? James precedes this offer with what it takes to achieve such rewards by saying,
“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
Are you facing a trial at the moment? Whatever you are up against, my prayer is that you will see the fruit of your determination as you grow perseverance that leads to completion. If it is persecution from others because of your determination to do what is right, then take heart, rejoice and be glad, because God has reserved a reward for you.
Posted on: 1st October 2018
“For the wages of sin is death…”
Last week in our theme we asked the question, ‘Is respect earned or deserved?’ We considered that when we work for something then the reward is earned, but when something is given for something we do as part of our character or as a result of an action, then we say it is deserved.
The writer in Romans makes it clear to the readers that there is something that is earned by us all because of sin – death. This seems a harsh, bleak prospect, but please read on, as the rest of the verse offers hope and salvation to all!
Looking at characters in the Bible, I found someone described as, ‘A man after God’s own heart’ (1 Sam 13:14). The character is David the shepherd boy, who went on to become King David. But David’s life is riddled with incidences of how he ‘fell short of the glory of God’, like Paul described in Romans 3:23. Paul says that all have sinned, including me and you.
David’s sins were many. That’s not me judging him but that is his own admittance in the Psalms. In 2 Samuel 12, the prophet Nathan is responsible for telling him that he shouldn’t have sent a commander to the front line in his army, to guarantee he dies, so that he could take his wife for himself. Nathan does this in a parable. He describes a rich man who had many sheep and a poor man who had just one sheep, that he loved and cared for like a child. When the rich man had a visitor he decided that he would rather sacrifice the poor man’s sheep than his own. Is that ok? David was outraged by this story, until he realised he was the rich man and Bathsheba was the sheep. 2 Samuel 12:13 says that Nathan admitted his sin. 2 Samuel 12:14 says that ‘The Lord has taken away your sin.’
I take hope from David’s story. Yes, the wages of sin are death, but admitting our sin (repentance) and receiving forgiveness (salvation) results in us receiving God’s gift…
“… but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.”