In our early years of marriage we only had 1 car. I would usually walk to work and my wife would have the car, but on the occasional days I needed the car, I’d have to drive her to work before I went on with my day. I remember one day I couldn’t find my keys anywhere. I’d looked high and low and had to use my wife’s keys to drop her off at work than came home again to find them. I was getting really frustrated and after some time of looking I paused, prayed and then immediately thought, have I looked under the coffee table? Low and behold, there they were.
The story of Jesus’ temptation in the desert is one of resistance that leads to true contentment. Jesus is tempted to turn stones to bread to satisfy his physical needs (v3), to worship the devil to gain power and authority (v7), to test God’s promises by throwing himself off the top of the temple to see if angels will save him (v9-10).
Take a look at Jesus’ response to each of these temptations (v4, 8, 12). See how at each point Jesus resists these temptations by responding with quotes from scripture. Each time Jesus speaks, he speaks words which remind us to resist the allure of worldly demands for the sake of a strengthened relationship with God –offering us fulness of life, true contentment and unconditional love.
As we begin again our journey through Lent, may we each begin by being reminded to resist the temptations of this world, and to rest in God’s truths.
Follow Up: Take some time this week to read some of your favourite passages of scripture. How do they or have they helped you resist worldly temptations in your life?
Today’s reflection is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
The idea of being in a crowd pressing in on one another is one we will not have countenanced over the last couple years. But think back to the last time you crowded into a concert hall, rock concert, theatre or cinema. Bodies close together, all anticipating the experience you have come to witness. Your eagerness to hear and see leads you to adjust your head position to get the best view.
The crowd was not pressing in to get into the mosh pit. We are not told they were competing and tussling to get the best view. We are told they were pressing in because they were ‘eager to hear the word of God’ (v1).
What does your eagerness to hear the word of God lead you to do? How do you seek to listen to Jesus? Where has hearing from Jesus lead you to experience transformation?
In Jesus, his life, his words, his attitude and example, we meet and experience the goodness, grace and glory of God. Oh how eager we should be to encounter Jesus today! Whether in a crowd, where a few are gathered, or on our own – let us all position ourselves day by day to press in, and encounter Jesus.
Follow up: Take some time this week to read the rest of Luke 5. As you read, be eager to hear; how is God speaking to you day by day this week through these words of scripture?
Today’s thought for the day is also available in Worshipping Together, a monthly worship at home resource.
With ‘freedom day’ upon us, I’ve been thinking a bit about the word freedom and what we may mean by it. I typed ‘freedom’ into an open source image site and found it quite ironic that freedom was depicted almost entirely in terms of isolated individuals in nature – not a crowded bar or theatre in sight! (a sample of the images offered to me above!)
Words like freedom are a bit like onions with layers of meaning… but perhaps also like a kinder egg… because if we unpack what it may mean for us we may be surprised at the diversity of meaning among us.
Freedom is a deeply theological concept for us as Christians, strongly driven by scriptures story. Much of the bible comes from people and communities seeking freedom, but restricted from it by the geo-political and social structures of the day. Ruth and Naomi restricted by famine and grief yet subverting the cultural restrictions of the day. The Israelites enslaved in Egypt , longing for the promised land. Paul, Peter and many others imprisoned writing to inspire the early church…
Some parts of the Old Testament are packed with rules for the community of God; don’t eat unclean animals, no mixed fibre clothes, rules for bathing… there is even an instruction not to boil a baby goat in its mothers milk. There’s all sorts of ways to explain why these rules may have been necessary at the time, some very practical – for example some rules may have helped stop the spread of disease.
By the time Jesus came, these rules had become so restrictive to the people of God they had become a mill stone around the people’s neck, and the religiosity of the system had taken away any sense of freedom. So Jesus comes and turns everything upside down, freeing God’s people and all the world from restriction –God did not send the son into the world to condemn it, but that it might be saved(John 3:17) , and offering freedom‘if the Son makes you free, you are free indeed’ (John 8:36).
But what do we do with that freedom? Do we go off and do whatsoever we like? That is the choice we have. That is the personal responsibility we bear. But how do we bear it? What does Christian personal responsibility look like?
These quesitons are not new questions – it seems that the early church asked them too, and while maybe not in the context of a pandemic, Paul writes to the Galatians that as God’s people we are called into freedom. Not merely earthly freedom (e.g. from mask wearing and social distancing), but to the Spiritual freedom of belonging not to the kingdoms of earth but the kingdom of God. To be called into freedom is to embrace the liberating, redeeming power of salvation we find through belonging to God’s kingdom.
But, says Paul, we are also called to choose use our freedom responsibly – to take personal responsibility and not keep our freedom for self-indulgence, but to live out God’s law that Paul and Jesus both sum up in one phrase ‘love your neighbour as yourself.’
For you were called to freedom, brothers and sisters; only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for self-indulgence, but through love become slaves to one another. For the whole law is summed up in a single commandment, ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ If, however, you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.
In light of the emphasis on ‘personal responsibility’ for mitigating covid risk, moving away from laws that dierct us, I’m minded that personal responsibility is not about only thinking about self, but also taking personal resposibility for ensuring our personal actions also love our neighbours.
As we enter this new phase of pandemic, I encourage you to reflect on 2 things: 1, reflect spiritually and on your relationship with God: what does Christian freedom mean for you? 2. reflect practically, how do you demonstrate to the world the personal responsibility we are called to exercise?
My prayer life is Rubbish. There isn’t enough of it. I never know what to say, or how to say it. My prayer list is always so long, and I never feel like I ever get to the end of it. I don’t know what to pray, or if I’m praying right. I don’t know if God is doing anything anyway.
Ok – so that may not be how you expect me to start, but I wonder, can you relate? Do you have similar self-depreciating thoughts that make you feel guilty about your prayer life, or lack of it.
If you have thoughts like I do, then I also want to suggest to you, that like me, there’s a mistake in your understanding of prayer.
The mistake comes when we assume there is a right and wrong way to pray.
But there is no definitive right and wrong way to pray – there are simply lots of ways to pray, and we each find different combinations of those ways are what works for us as individuals.
Prayer is, for us, conversation with God and seeking God’s kingdom, listening to God and looking out for the signs of God’s kingdom responding to God and living for God’s kingdom.
When I was training as a local preacher I remember going through different types of prayer…
intercession and petition – prayers for others and the world
adoration, praise and worship – words to adore God
confession – recognising the fragility of our humanity
thanksgiving – giving thanks for who God is
And at times I felt as if there was this list of ingredients that, if all were included in the recipe of a service, it meant the service worked and would successfully bake a good cake for the congregation.
But actually, thinking about forms and types of prayer is not about a recipe to success at all.
I wonder if we’ve failed ourselves by overthinking prayer – and not grasping it’s joy, it’s flexibility, it’s breadth and depth, and its uniqueness for each of us as individuals.
What all those types of prayer do helpfully remind us of though, is that they, along with many others, are tools in our toolbox to resources us in our relationship with God, as worshippers and as disicples.
You see, prayer is not following a recipe to make a successful cake for others, prayer is a tool from the disciple making toolbox that we used to help us as disciples to nurture a relationship with God. To make our relationship with God a good cake.
And for prayer, it’s not actually the ingredients that matter, but the heart from which they come, and to which God speaks and responds.
I wonder, if prayer sometimes too easily becomes a list of wants and desires. Well-meant and good to be prayed, but if wants and desires for others and the world is all prayer is to us, then prayer becomes so focused on the earthly kingdom and asking God to intervene, that we miss out so much more.
Because if we are too focused on the earthly kingdom our attention is drawn away from also seeking God’s kingdom – the kingdom and way of living that God calls us to seek and live out in the world…
When Jesus was asked by his disicples how to pray, he begins: ‘Our Father in heaven, you are holy, your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as in heaven.’
Prayer is a mutli-resourced way of life with a heart focused first on seeking God, and God’s kingdom, and partnering with God in bringing about that kingdom on earth.
Prayer can be conversation, it can be thoughts and feelings, prayer can come while we’re shopping or talking, cycling or swimming, using a prayer book or a mobile phone app, it can be when we are alone of with others, with other disicples, or with those who have not yet met Jesus, via podcast, Youtube video, facebook or a paper book.
May prayer be a tool for us, not to fill us with guilt and shame, but to empower us and nurture us as worshippers and disicples. That we will seek first God, and God’s kingdom.
You may or may not be like me, in sometimes wondering why we use certain words for things… and this week I was wondering why today is ‘shrove’ Tuesday.
A quick bit of research (Thank God for Google!) has discovered ‘shrove’ is another form of the word ‘shrive’, meaning to be absolved of sins through confession and penance. We talk little about penance these days, because we’ve come to understand more of the faithful, loving character of God, rather than one who wants us to suffer for our missteps and misgivings.
But one thing this meaning may highlight for us is that Shrove Tuesday is a reminder to us reflect to on our own lives and ask God to guide us in how to live our lives differently that we may further grow spiritually.
Lent as a season of the Christian year holds within an important emphasis on self-examination of our life lived with God, and our shared discipleship as communities of faith. That’s why Lent courses are often common place (remember our Lent course is coming up! – please do sign up if you can, we’d love to see you!)
Our girls have ben asking for about a fortnight for pancakes, they have been counting down the days in anticipation. I wonder if we approach Lent with that same anticipation? Are we excited to reflect ourselves on how God may be speaking to us, challenging us and encouraging us?
However your shrove today, I pray that as we enter Lent 2021 you will know yourself shriven – covered in God’s grace and absolution, and feel the strength of God’s Spirit as you continue your journey of faith.
2020 has challenged our understanding of what it means to worship and to be church. I’ve talked a lot of about church and our worship being practiced in both gathered and scattered ways. Encouraging my congregations to worship where they are, as who they are, despite the challenges we have faced in seeking to gather together.
Whole Life WORSHIP is a really helpful tool in understanding more fully this approach to worship as being every part of our day; week; lives. The book challenges the idea that our gathered worship (services, house groups, meetings) is divided and cut off from our scattered living (our frontlines of parenthood, volunteering, working… ) – arguing that our scattered living is equally our worship and in fact is that place we live as disciples – on the frontline. Thus our gathered worship should do all it can to resource disciples for living whole lives of worship.
“Whole Life Worship is not another fad or crackpot theory. It is a passionate call to allow God to expand our view of worship: to take a step back and be amazed by the scope of God’s engagement with us, his love for the world he has made, and his plans for our lives.
It is an invitation to assess church worship less by style and preference or how it made us feel and more by how it revealed God, who it formed us to be ad how it empowers us to be disciples of Jesus in our daily lives.”
p.xvii, Whole Life Worship, Sam and Sarah Hargreaves
I’d recommend the book as a must read to any person who is involved in leading worship. In fact, I think any worshipper who was ready and willing to be challenged to think more deeply and carefully about what worship means to them, both in services, and their lives.
A word of warning, you will truly benefit from reading this book if you’re ready and willing to reflect on your own approach to worship, be it as a a member of a congregation, or one who leads worship. I found many of the pages challenging me to think more carefully and creatively about the content of worship and the language and resources I use. but overall, I felt empowered and encouraged. The books is easy to read, with lots of short chapters and brimming with resources and ideas.
The book is framed in 2 parts. Part 1 presents the concept of worship being both gathered and scattered, and presents a framework to help reflect on ways to structure gathered worship to resource and empower people in their scattered worship. This framework revolves around a simple concept, that worship should be 3 dimensional:
UP: relationship between us and God
IN: relationships as a community
OUT: relationship with our community and the world
The second part of the book takes us on a journey through many of the ingredients of worship, prayer and music, gathering and sending, communion and the offering. Throughout this journey we are encouraged to reflect on how each ingredient can support and empower people for Whole Life Worship and discipleship. This section is brimming with ideas and pointers to other resources.
Prepare to be challenged and empowered as a whole life worshipper, and as a leader of disciples in whole life worship.
Whole Life Worship Authors: Sam & Sara Hargreaves Publisher: IVP
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;he restores my soul. He leads me in right pathsfor his name’s sake.
Psalm 23:1-3, NRSV
At zoom family church last week, we thought about stories in the Bible about animals. Donkeys, foxes, sheep, goats, pigs, ox, frogs, locusts and more.
Then we thought about shepherds and sheep. Along with playing hide and seek the sheep in each of our homes, puzzles, games and songs, we watched a video clip which I found enlightening and challenged some of my assumptions about the meaning of Psalm 23.
The video clip is set in the wilderness, mid barr, also known as Green Pastures. Whenever I read Psalm 23, I would picture one particular field of lush green grass on my grandparents farm – the field we always knew as Meadow.
But, it seemed obvious once the video had pointed it out, that there was not such lush green grass at the time Psalm 23 was written. The Green pastures of the Psalms are the not lush green fields Cornish meadow of my grandparents.
Green pastures were brown, rocky, wilderness hillsides. Yet they were places where some moisture was present, enough to allow small tufts of grass to grow up from the edges of rocks with seeds and moisture are both caught. To graze in green pastures, shepherd and sheep are always on the move, a tuft here, a tuft there. Seeking food for the day, and finding just enough.
To graze in green pastures is not to sit down in one spot, forever, with every bite of sustenance we need at our fingertips. Life as a disciple is not a bed of roses where everything is sorted for us from the comfort of our homes without us having to do anything.
To graze in green pastures, is to keep moving, searching for the more that could be growing behind the next rock. To be a disciple is to learn that God will provide for todays needs, and to trust in God for enough for tomorrow.
‘give us today our daily bread’
The Lords Prayer
I find that all gives helpful meaning to ‘give us today our daily bread’. There were no supermarket shelves stacked with Hovis and Kingsmill! Bread making was a daily activity of providing enough for the now, and trusting for tomorrow.
I find this a helpful encouragement to me to keep journeying. That being a disciples is not about having everything sorted, a banqueting table before us or the answers to all of life’s questions.
It is to keep trusting, and through trusting to keep journeying and searching, because I never know what God has in store for me behind the next rock.
What about you? What do you think? How do you respond to the suggestion that green pastures may not be the image western society has often assumed?
Please watch the clip and reflect for yourself, and comment with your reflections below.