We are one.

Psalm 85 P art 1

The notion of a community lament probably seems an alien concept in modern western culture. Firstly, with a twentieth and twenty first century emphasis on individualism it is difficult to imagine local communities being genuinely united enough in any respect to lament together let alone a nation as a whole. In part this reflects western societies having been on a fairly steady line of economic and technological growth albeit with fluctuations along the way. It is also difficult to conceive of a nation having a unified enough view to collectively share a lament. It feels as if this division within society has been markedly increased over the last decade in the UK and the USA particularly around such issues as the Republican and Democratic divide, Brexit, nationalism, race and migration. However following a year-long pandemic, with the end still not having been reached, it is imaginable that a community lament could take place. There have been stand out incidents of mass grief, examples of which include the Aberfan disaster, the death of Princess Dianna and very recently the killing of George Floyd in Minnesota. Biblical community lament differs from grief in that it involves repentance. It is more than feeling sorry and sad it involves a breaking of a covenant with God.

Psalm 85 is a community lament for the whole of Israel. One might dismiss it and say a nation no longer has a covenantal relationship with God. However, the church does and so the application of Psalm 85 relates not just to an individual follower of Jesus who entered into a covenant relationship when they committed their life to Christ, publicly confessed through baptism, it relates to the local church as a community of God. This is an aspect sometimes shied away from by modern churches but it is firmly asserted in the New Testament. Revelation chapters 2 and 3 is a series of judgments on local churches where they are held responsible and called to account by the Spirit. The local church is seen by God as a body. We often concentrate on being a finger or nose ignoring the fact that without the rest of the body we are purposeless through an over emphasis on individualism.

Psalm 85 can act for a modern church as a form of relationship health assessment. Verses 1-3 look back at what God has done for his people. Verses 4-7 appeal to God’s compassion for a restored relationship while verses 8-9 declare God’s patience with his wayward people. Verse 9 longs for God’s glory to be with his people. The psalm concludes with confidence in God’s faithfulness and righteousness, expressing a desire to live in peace with him. Part 2 will look closer at the detail of the Psalm.

Do we believe we have been bound together by God to be a community of his people?

Do we accept that we have responsibilities to the community of the people of God?

Do we consider we are in a covenantal relationship with God?

We are one in the Spirit

What I really, really want.

Mark 10:36

Jesus’ question to James and John, ‘What do you want me to do for you?’ Mark 10:36 exposed their hearts. Would it expose your heart as well? What would your request be and why would you ask it? It is worth taking a few minutes to quietly search your heart to sift out what you might publicly say rather than your true desire. I think our requests may well change over the course of our life. James and John wanted to be the most honoured disciples and to rule with Jesus in heaven. They were after eternal status. But they wanted to get there the easy way. Their request showed up a deep spiritual misunderstanding about what both ruling and status in the kingdom of God is about. They were still firmly fixed in a worldly perspective.

So very often Christians maintain a worldly view of status, leadership and relationships within the kingdom of God even if the words used they use seem scriptural, attitudes and behaviour can deny them. Where leaders inwardly crave praise and personal loyalty or positions of influence, where people are intolerant of being questioned. A look back at church architecture reveals how those with worldly wealth and power sought recognition and accolades with reserved pews, windows named after them, prominent tombs and the power of patronage in their gift. Power, influence and prominence are seen as the hallmarks of leadership.

Contrast this with the character of the true king of the kingdom of God. He asks James and John if they are able to drink the cup or be baptized with his baptism. Biblically the cup normally refers to the cup of God’s wrath and his baptism was his death by crucifixion. Being raised up for Jesus was not a matter of being gratified by the praise and honour of crowds it was being nailed to a cross and dying in the most painful and humiliating way for the sake of others. The mocking crowd considered Jesus’ death on the cross was evidence of him being a fraud and failure not a person of supreme importance.

Jesus made very clear to James, John and the other disciples that his way and the way of his disciples was to be utterly different from the world’s way. If we are to aspire to follow Christ there should be a fundamental and evident difference in the way we live our lives to the world’s way. It is to be one of service to the Lord and others without seeking status for ourselves above others.

‘Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’ Mark 10:42-45

In the light of Jesus’ words, what would you ask him for?

Is the church you know radically different from the world?

The Servant King 

The Kingdom of God is like this.

Mark 4:30-34

Mark places the parable of the mustard seed at the end of a series of parables that compare the word of God to a seed. Parables come in various forms, some have a developed plot, others take the form of an analogy or similitude. The mustard seed parable is a similitude. When Jesus was teaching about the kingdom of God he was not usually teaching of something that we have to wait for beyond death. He was teaching about the kingdom of God in the present. Life may be perfected in heaven but we are to experience his kingdom now as he transforms our lives, as the Spirit is at work in the present. He establishes his kingdom and kingship through his death, resurrection and ascension.

At the core of his kingdom is the word of God. The word of God is like the mustard seed, it may seem small and without power but it is very powerful and causes incredible growth increasing the kingdom. As members of the kingdom of God we need to learn to trust in the word as an agent of the kingdom’s growth.

The word of God brings about faith and new birth.
Paul tells us it is the word of God that brings about the growth of faith which is why Christianity Explored concentrates on looking in depth at a complete gospel, the gospel of Mark. ‘So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.’ Romans 10:17 Peter tells us it is the living word of God generating new birth and abides in us as we continue our life in the kingdom bringing about a growth in holiness and love. ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.[a] 23 For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’ 1 Peter 1:22-23

The word of God convicts us of our sin and God’s righteousness.
Hebrews describes how the word of God penetrates our conscience with, ‘For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’ Hebrews 4:12 Paul when writing to Timothy is less poetic and more down to earth in expressing similar sentiments, ‘All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness.’ 1 Timothy 3:16

The word of God is life sustaining for those in the kingdom of God.
It was Jesus himself who compared the word of God to staple food, essential for healthy spiritual life, as he rebuked the devil. ‘But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.”’ Mathew 4:4 Jeremiah expressed how God’s word was a constant source of joy in his life. ‘Your words were found, and I ate them, and your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart, for I am called by your name, O Lord, God of hosts.’ Jeremiah 15:16

The word of God causes the kingdom to multiply.
The Acts of the Apostles is an extended account of how the early church continued to grow in numbers and across the world. It did so as the early Christians devoted themselves to the ministry of the word of God. It started with Peter’s first sermon as he described how the whole of the Old Testament pointed to the coming of Jesus and how the hearers should repent and believe in Jesus for their salvation. This continued throughout Acts. In Ephesus Paul spent two years, three months preaching, teaching and debating. Many were healed and alongside this great opposition arose following when some Jews who practised sorcery repented and destroyed their valuable scrolls used in sorcery. Luke records, ‘So the word of the Lord continued to increase and prevail mightily.’ Acts 19.20
How much do we value and include the word of God in our life?

Have we seen the word of God cause ourselves to grow and flourish?

How devoted is our church to the ministry of the word?

Amy Grant – Thy Word

A hundred times more

Mark 4:20

‘Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop – some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.’ Mark 4:20

Jesus’ explanation and promise of the impact of the gospel on a person’s life when it brings about transformed life is full of hope. It is like a seed planted that grows up to a hundred times its own measure. Imagine one small potato growing in twelve weeks a hundred potatoes. But in real life what does such a harvest involve in an individual’s life? To discover that we need to place it in the context of the rest of biblical teaching. To do that justice is probably a very large book but here are some starters.

A new relationship with Jesus.
A fruitful Christian life is one intimately connected to the living resurrected Christ.
‘Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2 Corinthians 5:17 ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ 1 John 1:12 The word of God leads to repentance and trust in Christ that gives the believer spiritual new birth as a child of God. It Is a step that cannot be missed out.

Dying to sinful motivation.
To live a fruitful Christian life, it is necessary to connect one’s old passions and motivations to the cross of Christ and have them die there. ‘Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.’ John 12:24 ‘So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.’ Romans 6:11

Living a life that is an act of worship to God.
When Paul wrote in Romans 12 that we ought to offer our bodies as a living sacrifice he was talking about Christians’ whole lives being one unified act of worship in our families, at work, in our friendships, in our thought life and in all our interactions. Each part being an expression of our love for Jesus. ‘But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him.’ John 4:23 ‘Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.’ Hebrews 12:28-29

Having started as the product of one seed we should be seed bearers to others.
We have heard a lot about the “R” or reproduction number in the current pandemic. Christians are called to have an R number and take the word of God to the whole world. All Christians have a role in this ministry starting with our own lifestyle and people we know. It is not something we should be anxious about as Christ has given us his peace. Jesus said to them again, “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” John 20:21 ‘Declare his glory among the nations, his marvellous works among all the peoples!’ Psalm 96:3 ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.’ Acts 1:8

Is there anything in the way of your life being fruitful?

Do you continue to, ‘hear the word, accept it and produce a crop’?

Lauren Daigle – Look Up Child

Missing my first love.

Mark 4:19

‘Still others, like seed sown among thorns, hear the word; but the worries of this life, the deceitfulness of wealth and the desires for other things come in and choke the word, making it unfruitful.’ Mark 4>19

Jim was a keen Christian at university. He attended the Christian Union and regularly went to one of the “Student Churches” on a Sunday. He was well known as a Christian and well liked with plenty of friends. He was one of the organizers of the university mission and generally involved in student and university life. When his course finished he moved into his chosen career back near home.

Jim became career focused, it was important to him to succeed, make a good income and be well thought of at work. To start with he still found time to go to church on Sundays but gradually life got more complicated. Once he found a woman, Clara, he wanted to live with and she was not keen on church it became more important to him to spend time with her when not working. He suggested marriage but she said what was the point, most marriages broke up and then it was loads more difficult to separate. A couple of years later and she was pregnant and Jim decided it was now time to get a bigger house and mortgage. He hadn’t been inside a church for over a year. His old friends, especially his Christian ones, had largely dropped off and now he and Clara only saw friends they had made together. Life had somehow got too full to be an active Christian. He hadn’t stopped believing deep down but there were no outward signs of his faith, he swore more, he drank more and he had stopped worrying about ethics at work and was prepared to do whatever was needed to close a deal even though he sometimes knew it would hurt the other party. He had a brief affair with a colleague’s wife whom he met at a work social event. Sometimes when he was entirely on his own he tried to pray but now it felt false.

For the sake of this bible reflection Jim’s story is an amalgam of several different people. However, it is similar to that of many who find they drift away from their first love of Jesus one stage at a time.

What other choices could Jim have made?

Who did Jim progressively strive to be like?

Who or what did Jim love most?

How did Jim’s choices impact the Christian fruitfulness of his life?

What was the impact of sin on Jim’s relationship with Jesus?

Please listen to Chris Tomlin’s song.

Chris Tomlin – Lord I Need You