Monthly Archives: August 2014

Three Minutes with Jesus

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIn my role as a Church of England vicar, I meet a lot of busy people, some of whom would like to know more about the Christian faith, but in a way which is real and yet free from the fear of pressure to conform; a way which respects their integrity and intelligence.

The idea for Three Minutes with Jesus originated with these thoughts in mind.

It is a collection of 50 short reflections based mostly on the life and the words of Jesus as recorded in the New Testament.

I hope you find them useful. If you think that they may be of use to others, please feel free to re-blog or share them on your social media networks.

Follow the link to the Three Minutes with Jesus title page here.

Every blessing,

Nigel.

Please Pray for Iraq

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Pastor Martin Niemöller (1892–1984)

Please pray for the Yazidi and Christian communities of Iraq, whose people are facing genocide, and for the governments of the West, who have the power to act before its loo late.

Thank you.

Pray for the courage to do what is right: to protect those who cannot protect themselves.

Nigel

A New Beginning?

The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.
(Mark 1:1 NRSV)

That’s it! That’s how Mark does it. The shortest and earliest written of the four Gospels (good news) telling the story of Jesus begins with no fanfare, no preliminaries and not an angel or a shepherd in sight; just a straight message that what follows is good news, life-changing news. There are many people around the world today who would share that view: that in Jesus of Nazareth God has done something new, and as a result the world is a different place.

There is still scope, though, for that good news to be heard by fresh generations, or for it to be heard again as the radical truth which it should be.

We live in a time which is, in one sense at least, not unlike the time in which the gospels were written. In a similar manner to the First Century AD (or CE if you prefer) the Christian message must take its place in the great market-place of ideas which is the modern world. That’s fair enough. If the message has validity then people will listen. In addition, just as the Roman roads of the First Century facilitated a huge improvement in communication, our age is experiencing a communication revolution of its own. There has never been a better time to share the Gospel message.

In each of the reflections in Three Minutes with Jesus you will have the opportunity to think about some aspect of the Christian faith via a short passage from the New Testament. They are not “bible studies” as such, but perhaps a starting point for a conversation or an exploration.

The coming of Jesus did herald a new era: the Coming of the Kingdom of God – the Kingdom of love, justice, forgiveness and peace. Even if the followers of Jesus have often failed to live up to those Kingdom values that doesn’t change the basic truth.

But perhaps it is better to say that the coming of Jesus enabled not so much a new start, as a new opportunity for our lives to be lived as God always intended; less of a new beginning, more of a new way to be.

Jesus,
show me that your story is still Good News:
for me, for those I love, for my community
and ultimately for God’s world.
Amen.

Tell it like it is . . .

At three o’clock Jesus cried out with a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?” which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
(Mark 15:34 NRSV)

What’s the sign of a close relationship?

Well, no-doubt there are many, but surely one of the hallmarks of a close relationship is honesty. Friends and acquaintances usually receive an edited transcript of our feelings. Our loved ones occasionally experience them in Technicolor and surround-sound!

Sadly, we quite often treat God as if he were an elderly relative or a friend from a genteel neighbourhood. It’s as if we don’t feel able to tell God just how we are feeling.

But it is ok to shake your fist at God in times of grief and anguish: first of all because the Creator of all that exists can cope with our tantrums; secondly because there is an honourable history of those who have shouted at God in their suffering; and thirdly because being honest with God is a sign of a close relationship, not a weak faith.

The collection of poems, hymns and prayers in the Old Testament Book of Psalms has many examples of people expressing their anger at God, from a position of deep faith. Jesus would have known well the words of Psalm 22, from which his own words are taken. It is a prayer which begins with complaints of bitter anguish and deep depression, but it ends as a hymn of praise.

As Jesus shared the human experience of agonising desolation it would be natural for him to turn to familiar words to cry out in pain.

But God had not abandoned him in his hour of need, as the resurrection demonstrates. Nor does God abandon us in our times of desperation either. He is present despite the sense of isolation, of crucifixion.

I hope that you never experience such times; but let’s face it, most of us do. For many, it is that close relationship with God, expressed in raw words of pain at the darkest moments, which helps them to see the dawn light later on.

Jesus,
You shared our humanity
in all its fullness
and its limitations.
Teach us, me,
to grow in faith
and in honesty of relationship with you,
the human face of God.
Amen

Just Ask

If in my name you ask me for anything, I will do it.
(John 14:14 NRSV)

At the heart of a living relationship with God is prayer.

The problem is that so many of us take such an individualistic consumer approach to prayer that when things don’t go our way, we assume that prayer doesn’t work and we give up.

But I have seen prayer work, and I have seen lives changed by prayer, including my own.

But what is prayer, and why bother to pray? Well, many books continue to be written on the subject and there are a whole range of prayer and spiritual disciplines.

In a nutshell, though, prayer is our conversation with God. In healthy prayer, just as in a healthy conversation with other people, we talk and we listen. If I am having a conversation with my wife, I don’t think I would be all that popular if I am doing all the talking. That’s especially true if all my talk is about the list of things I want her to do for me!

No, if our relationship means all that it should, we will talk, listen, and sometimes just sit quietly and enjoy each other’s company. And If I want our relationship to continue to grow and develop I will make sure that I take an interest in the things that are important to her. Finally, neither of us would ask the other to do something which was clearly not right for them, or not in character.

Our prayer life can be similar. Through it each of us can grow in our spiritual relationship with God. Yes, we can lay our burdens before him, and we can make our requests in prayer, but how much better it is to take God seriously enough to want to get to know him better along the way.

Just talk to God, anywhere, any time. Don’t use religious language; just tell him what’s on your heart. And take the time to listen, too.

Jesus said, “Ask anything in my name.” – and the clue is in those words: “in my name.”

Prayer is not the presentation of a shopping list of demands to God. It is the cornerstone of our relationship with him, and a means by which our lives can be transformed.

Jesus,
teach me to pray,
teach me to talk, to listen and to keep silent.
Amen.

God’s Vineyard

I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing.
(John 15:5 NRSV)

The age of individualism is passing, or so we are told. The “crowd” is everything for the millennial generation. However, I’m not sure that the crowd is the same as the community. A crowd may go to a concert, but it may still be a bunch of individuals gathered in one place. A community is something entirely different.

So many of us today think of the Church either as a formal and hierarchical institution, or a place where we go to (as individuals) on a Sunday; or for a wedding or funeral. There is truth in both these concepts, but neither is what Jesus means when he speaks of the community of Christians. Jesus talks about his followers as being part of a vine.

I have a vine growing up the wall of my house and, if I neglect to prune it and trim it, it really can send out shoots in every direction. But it is entirely dependent upon a single stem to connect it to its source of nourishment.

Jesus does not seek followers who are super men or women; or with holier-than-thou pomposity, or who are cleverer or more religious than everyone else. Rather he seeks those who will be the shoots of his vine that will spread and bear fruit. A clergyman who helped me greatly on my journey once said, “God does not call us to be successful. He calls us to be fruitful.”

Bearing fruit happens when we seek to live the values of the Kingdom of God, in the places where we find ourselves from day to day. But the concept of the vine is very important here because, being frail human beings, the best way for us to seek to live out those Kingdom values, is to remain united to the King through worship, prayer, fellowship and discipleship.

The Church is neither a religious building, nor a religious institution; and it has nothing to do with denomination. At its best the Church is the (global) community of people seeking to bear fruit for the Kingdom through its unity with Jesus.

Jesus,
when I forget my need of you,
and neglect my relationship with the people you love,
draw me to the vine.
Amen.

Crowds

And those who ate were about five thousand men, besides women and children.
(Matthew 14:21 NRSV)

The story of the “feeding of the five thousand” must be one of the most famous of all the stories of Jesus. It is certainly referred to by all four gospel writers so it was clearly a significant event which people remembered of Jesus’ life.

At one level it points to the popularity of Jesus amongst the ordinary people of his day. After a while, wherever he went crowds began to gather, often in large numbers. They were drawn, not just by his words, but by his actions too.

This huge and miraculous catering event raises some questions including: Why were the people there? What is the significance of the miracle? What does it say about Jesus’ response to the people?

Though the gospel writers each use the story in slightly different ways, it is clear that people gathered around Jesus because they saw something special about him. Many will disagree but, for me, that something special was his miraculous power, especially his ability to heal the sick.

Many people came to Jesus for healing from dreadful diseases, and having been given their lives back they stopped to hear what he had to say. They learned about the Kingdom and what John’s Gospel calls “Life in all its fullness”.

In the astonishing story of the feeding of the five thousand (or was it ten thousand, or more?) we see Jesus once again providing for the physical needs of the people. In doing so he also provides for their spiritual needs, and teaches his disciples to do the same.

This was not cold charity, nor the means to get people to sit and listen to a sermon. Rather, this was Jesus caring holistically for everyone there. It is a sign of his deep love and compassion, of divine hospitality.

And although this is a heart-warming tale as we read it, this story also serves as a challenge to those of us who say we follow Jesus. The challenge is to get our priorities right. It brings us back, once again to the truth that love of neighbour is the beginning of Christian mission.

Jesus,
You met the needs of all who came to you.
Guide and strengthen me when I struggle to do the same.
Amen.

Some Help Along the Way

“If you love me, you will keep my commandments. And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever.
(John 14:15-16 NRSV)

The concept of the Holy Trinity is firmly established in Christian understanding about the Nature of God: Father, Son and Holy Spirit (or, if you prefer, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer) is the shorthand for a way of understanding the God who was there before all things, who entered into relationship with his own Creation and who ultimately pervades every aspect of life.

I find it to be mind-boggling stuff and prefer to leave it to those who are experts in various “-ologies” to argue things through.

That’s not intended to be an act of inverted snobbery but rather an acknowledgement that we can get so caught up in the finer details of a topic that we might miss what God is saying to us. We need to stand back from the trees to see the forest.

When Jesus talks about “the advocate” he is referring, of course, to the Holy Spirit, whose role is to enlighten, inspire and empower us as we seek to follow his teachings. The Spirit is the helper and guide, symbolised by the dove and by flames.

Jesus knew that for the Kingdom to grow he would have to leave his disciples to carry on and carry forward his work. Shortly before his arrest he tells them that after he has gone they will be given another helper for the task ahead. They couldn’t do it alone.

It was that special gift of God’s Holy Spirit which enabled Jesus’s followers (a motley bunch of ordinary people) to get up and proclaim the Gospel of God’s love right across the known world. That special gift continues to be at work in our time and is the one who, if I may be so bold as to say so, is at work in you as you explore your own questions of faith.

Jesus,
Thank you for the gift of the Holy Spirit.
May I be empowered to serve your Kingdom,
inspired to proclaim your love
and enlightened to know your truth.
Amen.

A Friend on the Journey

When he was at the table with them, he took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened, and they recognized him; and he vanished from their sight.
(Luke 24:30-31 NRSV)

I must admit that my favourite story about Jesus, from the time after he had risen, is the account of the “Walk to Emmaus” from Luke’s Gospel.

It is Easter Day and two of Jesus’ bewildered disciples are taking the afternoon walk from Jerusalem to the village of Emmaus when a stranger joins them. Luke informs the reader that the stranger is the risen Jesus, but his friends don’t recognise him.

As he walks with them he lifts their hearts with his explanation of why all these things had taken place. When they get to their destination it is dusk so they invite the stranger in to eat with them.

As they recognise him in the blessing and breaking of bread, they are astonished but, even as he disappears from them, they suddenly understand the depth of meaning in their encounter. Hearts ablaze with joy and enthusiasm, they ignore the dangers of a night-time journey and rush back to Jerusalem to tell their friends.

Jesus’ friends had thought that it had all gone horribly wrong for them; that all in which they had put their hope and trust had turned to dust; had been an illusion. Even as reports of Jesus’ resurrection began to emerge some of them (quite understandably!) struggled to take it in.

The encounter with the risen Christ changed that.

We have the benefit of the New Testament to explain this to us, and many have encountered the risen Christ starting with a tentative exploration of the Gospels.

But Luke, in his vivid account, gives us another clue. It was in the breaking of bread that his friends recognised Jesus with them; and for twenty centuries countless worshippers have discovered the same.

There are several names for it and numerous ways to understand it, but it remains true that many continue to find strength, inner healing, peace, forgiveness, renewal, enthusiasm, commitment and a deep sense of relationship with Jesus through worship which includes the breaking of bread.

Jesus,
Set my heart ablaze with love for you
and my neighbour.
Guide me to your truth
and enthuse me by your Spirit.
Amen.

The Power of the Cross

When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.
(John 19:30 NRSV)

Why is the cross such a powerful symbol?

Some see the cross and it lifts their spirits or offers them hope. Others despise it and all that they see it standing for. Whichever way, the cross tends to evoke quite a strong response. I remember, many years ago now, seeing a letter in a journal from someone who was complaining because she had sat a university examination in a church which had been converted for the occasion. She felt that being surrounded by crosses was quite “creepy.”

But for Christians the cross is the ultimate symbol of Jesus Christ. It speaks of humanity’s reconciliation with God through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus.

Some will look at the cross and see God’s forgiveness in the sacrifice of his sinless Son for the sins of the whole world, for all time.

Others will look upon the image of Christ crucified and see him bearing our burdens, standing with us in our darkest moments: God knows your pain because he has endured it.

Many will see, in the empty cross of Easter Day, the mighty power of God at work in the resurrection of Jesus.

For me, the cross is the symbol of God’s overwhelming love. It was not inevitable, though Jesus knew it would happen. He could have walked away from it at any time but he chose to accept it, such was his love.

There, on the cross, we witness pure, divine, self-emptying, subversive love facing the evil that the world can throw at it. From the cross, Christ looks at me (and you) and the look says, “I did this for you.”

And the world is changed, because ultimately (and despite what we may see around us) evil has no voice when confronted by such powerful love. That love has conquered even death itself.

The cross is, for good or ill, many things to many people; but despite the fact that it has been a much abused and misused symbol it is supremely the symbol of God’s love for his world.

Jesus,
Your cross evokes many layers of meaning,
but I thank you
that it is, first and foremost,
the symbol of love.
Amen.