Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Colin: The Ministry of Reconciliation

“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new. Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation." (2 Cor 5:17-18)

This is one of my favourite sections of the Bible because it sums up so much about who we are and what we are here for. If we’re truly to understand it, we have to understand who Jesus was: why He lived, died and was resurrected.

The life of Jesus was both ordinary and incredible! Ordinary in as much as He didn’t appear to achieve much: no books, no wealth, not many followers and no obvious kingdom. Incredible because of what He did and said: the sick were healed, the dead were raised, lepers were cleansed, demons and even storms obeyed Him. Not only that, but all were welcomed by Him, the sinner and the saint, the oppressor and the downtrodden, the wealthy and the poor, the Jew and the Gentile, young and old, men and women. He revealed the Father’s heart, not to judge, but to save, not to restrict, but to set free, not to smite, but to heal and not for a few, but for all! Few, if any, understood Him, but many listened to and wondered at Him. His life represented nice ideas, but are they true and could we trust Him?

It has often been noted that the crucifixion of Jesus, His death, without the resurrection, would simply have been a failure, just one more movement that promised much only to end in disappointment. It would have been just one more story of the powerful crushing those who resist them. The end of the dream His followers had of justice, that the oppressive kingdoms of the world would end and the Kingdom of God be established. 

But have you ever wondered what the resurrection without the life and death of Jesus would have meant? It would certainly have been weird, a story to entertain, a mystery to be explored or an interesting piece of gossip, but it would probably have been quickly forgotten and would not have been world changing. 

Combined, they represent a tremendously powerful story! The life, death and resurrection of Jesus are the fulfilment of two thousand year old promises made by God to Abraham and his descendants. Despite man’s rebellion, our insistence on independence from the one who made us, and the tragic results that ensued (the story of Genesis 1-11), God would find a way of blessing every family on earth. This blessing would come through Abraham, because he trusted God. It would come through one of his descendants, who would trust God to the utmost and would turn out to be God Himself bringing salvation! That was the beginning of the kingdom of God on earth, which grows as His followers are empowered by the Spirit of Jesus to live free and represent heaven in begging others to be reconciled to God. It comes through those who show themselves to be Abraham’s seed by also choosing to trust God and this kingdom will continue to grow until it fills the earth! (Isaiah 9:7, Daniel 2:44)

I’m excited about the forthcoming week of prayer, Thy Kingdom Come for a few reasons. Firstly, it is leading reconciliation by bringing churches together who have been separated. Incredibly, the church streams involved represent about 1000 years of church splits! It’s exciting because Jesus said that when we accept and honour one another, it would be a sign to the world that God sent Him. Secondly, it is a call for us to be bold and to invite/plead/beg others to be reconciled to God, the way we work with God to bring His kingdom and salvation to the earth. 

Donald Trump may build walls to separate nations, Nicola Sturgeon may attempt to break up the United Kingdom, Theresa May may be taking the UK out of Europe, but God’s kingdom will continue to grow, He will continue to work, tearing down the walls that divide and bringing all things together under Christ (Ephesians 1:10), and that fills me with great hope! 

Thursday, 9 February 2017

Colin: Planted By The River

I was recently asked what makes River so special and it’s clear to me that it is not one attribute that makes it so. Rather it is the combination of many attributes that makes River such a wonderful community to be a part of.

We glimpse something of it when meals are provided for a new-born’s family to help them through the early weeks; when a festival is run for the community at the cost of the church; in the readiness with which many speak prophetic words to comfort, exhort and strengthen the heart of the hearer; and in the ease with which the sick are prayed for in faith to make them well. You can see the heart of it in the deeply committed relationships that have bound friends together through thick and thin for decades.

Yes, I thank God our Father for River, but how did we get here? A few thoughts will help us live in the good of where we find ourselves and help propel us into the next season He has for us.
Firstly, the church was begun by an experience of the presence of God through His Holy Spirit. A group of youngsters were boating on the Thames and were overwhelmed by God and started speaking in tongues and prophesying. Over the years, adventuring in the gifts of the Spirit has been a hallmark of our community, sometimes dynamic and ecstatic, at other times gentle but just as powerful.

Secondly, we have come to know God as our loving Father. His heart is to bless us and through us to bless the world. He is for us, He is always working for good in all things, He is patient and willing to walk at our speed, He’s not controlling but allows our choices to influence His plans, He asks us to partner with Him in ways we could never have dreamed, knowing we will mess up some times but will grow through the work. In short, we know we are the apple of His eye (Zech 8:2), and that fills us with joy!

Thirdly, we have found that Jesus always treats us better than we deserve! We can all think of a hundred reasons why God shouldn’t accept us, why we’re not worthy to be used by Him to bless others, and why we deserve to be punished or to have misfortune, but when we come to Jesus we receive grace. We find He is gentle and humble and accepts us just as we are, whilst promising to transform us. He speaks words over us that lift us from the hum-drum to the highest places, things like, “You are the light of the world”, “I chose you to bear much fruit and glorify your Father” and “You will do the works I do and even greater works than these.”

Yes, this community is underpinned and watered by its theology, its understanding of who God is, which in turn shapes our thinking around life’s biggest questions: why the world is like it is, who are we and why are we here? That’s effectively what Psalm 1:1-3 says, “Blessed is the one who… delights in the law of the LORD, and in His law they meditate day and night. They shall be like a tree planted by rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever they do shall prosper.”

So whatever other resolution we may have made for 2017, let’s add a determination to make reading the Bible a delight and to ponder on what we’ve read. The Bible is the Word of God to us, it is given to lead us to Jesus and is the best way of learning who God is and what He wants of us. Don’t be put off by feelings of inadequacy or by thinking you’ll never understand it all… the truth is none of us understands it all and we are all inadequate, but God has promised to teach us by His Holy Spirit, to lead us in paths that are good for our souls, producing fruit in our lives that brings glory to Him!

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen”  2 Corinthians 13:14

Saturday, 26 November 2016

Colin: Carrying Hope

We are certainly living in uncertain times. There has been a growing dissatisfaction with the status quo, whether with religion as it has been, or established political unions (old & new), or governing parties. The growing desire for change has reached a tipping point as 51% have decided enough is enough, things can’t go on as they are.

Some blame immigration for our troubles, while others complain the rich are getting richer and the poor, poorer, whilst multinational companies avoid paying taxes… Democracy itself is being tested by this uncertainty; the change appears too great for the 49% who wanted reform not revolution. There is more anger and frustration being demonstrated than we have witnessed for some time. We have voted for change, but what will the future shaped by Brexit look like? How will the world be affected by an America led by Donald Trump? The truth is, none of us really knows!

How should we live in these days? I think the church has a key role to play, one we’ve always had, to be a light in the darkness, a beacon of hope in an uncertain world. Biblical authors had a distinct way of describing times like these, times of change in the world order. They announced that the unshakable things are being shaken: the sun will be darkened or turn black, the stars will fall from heaven, the moon will turn blood red or no longer shed any light. None of these ‘signs’ was supposed to be interpreted literally, they were just a way of saying that an established order, an empire or way of life, would be swept away by great change. 

Jesus himself told us there’d be times like these, along with wars, rumours of wars, famines & earthquakes. He told us because He didn’t want us to be shaken. He wanted us to expect these times of uncertainty and distress so that we’d be ready, not taken by surprise. The Kingdom is coming, but that doesn’t mean that everything will be rosy. It comes in the midst of troubles, of trials and of persecutions. In fact, Jesus says these are not signs of the end, but just signs that things are not as they should be. He says that if we’re looking for a sign that the end might come, when God finally makes all things new, then it will only come once the Good News has been preached in all the world! 

Knowing this, we can be filled with peace and joy despite the uncertainty and the trials. No matter what we see or hear, we know that “of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end” (Isaiah 9:7). That means we can shine like stars in the darkness, we can be beacons of hope. We know that God is love and that He is for us, that He still sits on His throne, that He laughs at the machinations of those who plot evil, and that His Kingdom will fill the whole earth. We also know that His Kingdom only comes as His people step out in faith and do the things He asks of us. As His children, we are to become like Him; as His ambassadors, we are to represent Him; and as His co-workers, we are to work along with Him to bring peace, healing and hope to the world. We are too weak to accomplish this by ourselves, so He gives us His Spirit to guide us, teach us, encourage us, comfort us and empower us. 

Let the words of Jesus fill and refresh our hearts again today: “I have spoken these things to you, that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble, but take heart, I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33) 

As we enter the Christmas season again, let’s fill ourselves up with the Good News the angels announced, peace and goodwill toward men & women, joy for all people. A Saviour has been born and His kingdom will grow to fill the earth. So let’s keep our eyes on Jesus, love everyone, and demonstrate that heaven is close.