Godly Character

If the links don’t work for you, here is Chris’s video presentation Jusus and the Centurion, Our God is a Great Big God and Do It Again.

Todays reading is Colossians 3:12-17Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Gaby.

Hello I am Gaby Doherty your squeaky new curate. Hopefully less squeaky as the sermon continues. I am speaking about Godly character today as part of our Fruitfulness on the Frontline series. Last week Ian challenged us to consider what our frontline actually is. Two weeks ago I would have struggled with that question. I don’t think I had one side, I was more like an octagon with lots of sides facing out and where that is not a problem because our lives are often multi sided, for the purpose of this series I had to pick one frontline.

What is your frontline?

If you don’t know the answer to this then you need to work this out quite quickly. Why don’t you stop for a moment and ask God to reveal your frontline to you.

Please do come back though when you’ve decided or I’ll be in trouble with Ian for pushing people away in my first sermon … probably doesn’t look good on my ratings … although as we’ll discuss later Godly character doesn’t care about ratings, godly character would care more about the individual and the importance of you finding your frontline.

So now you have your frontline. For a long time my frontline has been summarised by cleaning the toilet. I was at home and even though I knew I had amazing gifts to share, fabulous sermons in me to preach, I was at home looking after children, tidying the house and cleaning the toilet … although Sean would probably say I didn’t do much of that, you see cleaning always used to make me angry and ferocious. This was probably because I had bad character and thought I was too good to scrub the loo and I was called by God for better things. God has clearly done some work in me since then, though because it no longer makes me angry. Maybe that’s why my frontline was able to change to full time ministry because I proved that I wasn’t above scrubbing the lav.

In the Bible, Godly character is the thing we know about people. We don’t know much about their personalities but we do know about their generosity, courage, faith, perseverance, selflessness etc.

In our passage we are instructed what we should do, “Put on” suggests an element of choice doesn’t it? So put on a:

  • Compassionate heart
  • Kindness
  • Humility
  • Meekness
  • Patience
  • Bearing with one another
  • And if one has a complaint against each other forgiving each other as the Lord has forgiven you

Put on love, Peace of God in your hearts and let the Word of Christ dwell in you.

This is a list long enough for a lifetimes work. I could maybe think about adding one of those to my New year resolutions but all of them? Too hard.

But that’s the joy … we don’t need to work on it grinding away, we need to allow the Holy Spirit to work on and in us to develop these gifts, perhaps growing them like trees in the garden of our life.

Personality is the person you present but your character is who you are when no one is watching. Only God really knows your character, the rest of us mostly see your personality with glimpses of your character.

When you go home do you kick the dog, or speak or act unkindly to your family, do you act with bravado at work and lie like everyone else does? Do you constantly moan and complain? Who are you when you’re away from church or even away from others? Have you got a secret addiction that is running your life? Maybe this is a time to repent of the ungodliness within us and ask for God’s help!

You see Godly character is letting fruits of the Holy Spirit grow in your life but if it is the fruit of the spirit, you have to be filled with the spirit to be able to grow and therefore exhibit the fruit. More simply put You can’t grow fruits of the spirit without the spirit!

The frontline isn’t just a primary place for mission it’s a primary place for Jesus to teach us about how to become more like him … we might feel tested and stretched but that is the time when we see our true character coming forth.

Godly character prioritises :

  • Character over gifting
  • Humility over pride
  • Selflessness over selfishness

These are the tests of Godly character. Character is not just visible through actions but through emotional posture. Sometimes we do the right thing through gritted teeth but the next time we might do the same thing but with a smile.

Stories: Chris speaking in front of 2000 people then hoovering the Venue he just spoke at.
Mixed economy church … the preacher doesn’t collect his fee and go home, he or she moves chairs, wipes coffee spills and tries to have deep and meaningful conversations at the same time.

Godly character looks like:
Explaining the same thing over and over again to the person with dementia.

Godly character looks like:
My old church leader Mark biting his tongue when he could have given a witty retort.

Godly character:
Allowing someone that doesn’t have dementia to tell the same story over and over that they love telling without snapping at them and hurting their feelings.

Godly character:
Giving appropriate sanctions for a child when they did something wrong, not too harsh not too soft … ooh that’s hard.

Godly character:
Keeping others secrets that they are ashamed of and have confided in you.

Godly character is:
Not boasting or name dropping or trying to make yourself look better than you are…..so easy as a church leader to do that….be over spiritual not humble ….

I am one of those frustrating people whose brain moves very fast and I assume I know how your sentence will finish so sometimes I cut in … apparently that’s really annoying and puts people off what they were saying. Who knew? (That is a joke!) The challenge for me is to listen to what people have to say and not assume I know it already because I am often wrong. For me Godly character is listening before I speak.

So as we are ambassadors for Christ people judge Jesus on what they see in me … if I’m kind they might think Jesus is kind.

If I am …
Preachy, annoying, judgemental
then that’s how they might see Jesus.
And if I am …
Kind caring thoughtful generous
the same rule applies

You are all now my frontline, so the challenge for me is to be filled and overflowing with the Holy spirit so that his love and the love and character of Jesus pours from me. As you all ask God to work on your character you will see my godly character and the lack of it displayed in front of you; but it’s not a competition it’s more like the Olympics where each of us participates in our chosen sport to make the country of Christ look good.

As we seek God and rely on the Holy Spirit to help and fill us we will over time see Godly character displayed on our frontline … hope you didn’t cheat and read all of this unless you knew where your frontline was.

Holy Spirit, Please fill us with your love and power and change us so you can grow the fruit of Godly character in us.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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What is Your Frontline

If the links don’t work for you, here is John’s video presentation Christmas in the Summer, Spy Kids 2, Away in a Manger and Our God is a Great Big God.

Todays reading is 2 Kings 5:1-19Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Ian.

The Christian pastor and author John Wimber said, ‘The Church is not the building, it’s the people; it’s not just the gathering, it’s also the scattering’.

In my lifetime, the reality of this statement has never been more apparent for Christian ‘Church’ communities than during these past few months of a worldwide pandemic.

Like God’s people in the Old Testament and in the early Christian church, we have been scattered full time (in other words, with no option during this period to gather together in a church building on Sundays). Though unlike the early church, thankfully our scattering back into our homes, and into the streets where we live, has not been as a result of persecution.

But the miracle of God’s grace and goodness in the midst of the scattering of the early church, meant that those followers of Jesus Christ gave witness to God’s love for them, shown completely in the death and resurrection of Jesus—in the places where they had been dispersed to. Because of the way they lived their lives, in their sharing of the Good News of Jesus Christ for all people, on the frontline of their lives, the Christian faith spread throughout the world, and more and more men, women and children came to know God’s saving love for them.

The word ‘Church’ comes from the Greek word, ‘Ekklesia’, and more accurately means a body of people, a ‘congregation’, who follow Jesus Christ. So the meaning is all about the people. Over time, and especially as large and splendid buildings have been created through the ages, the word ‘Church’ became associated with the place where the people of God met together—to be taught, to pray together, to be encouraged, before then going back out into their daily lives, to the ‘frontline of their lives.

But though associated in common parlance with a building, it is vital to remember that ‘church’ in its true form, is the people. Yes it is the people gathered, but it is also the people scattered, as John Wimber said. The reality for most people is that our scattered time, usually Monday to Saturdays, is much more than our gathered time, Sundays.

I say this as an introduction to a new sermon series over the next few weeks, ‘Fruitfulness on the Frontline—making a Difference where you are’. This is drawn from and inspired by Mark Greene’s book of the same title, and some of you may have this book. I warmly commend it.

St Matthews Church looked in detail at this material and thinking in 2018, just before I became vicar. We believe it is the right time to re-visit it, or for others, to freshly introduce it for the first time.

This is a picture of a dwarf apple tree in my garden, full this year of fruit which is growing and which in a few weeks, will be beautiful to taste and enjoy.

You and I are created to bear fruit in our lives every day of our lives, for Jesus, for the glory of God. Because when God is glorified, then our world and the people of our world know wholeness, healing, beauty, hope and love. Fruitfulness is mentioned many times in the Bible, starting in Genesis. And the foundation for our fruitfulness, the motivation for our care and love for others, is the ‘overwhelming, never-ending reckless love of God’, as that song goes, for you and for me. ‘We love, because He first loved us’, says the apostle John in the Bible.

At school, I always wanted to learn to dive well. I managed to learn really quite good diving from the side of pool, or from high up on steady boards. But I never got around to learning how to do a great dive from a springboard, and I always wanted to. When you watch those Olympic swimmers do amazing springboard dives, it is a thing of strength and beauty, and it is extraordinary how much they can do, having bounced on that board and soared into the air. God’s love for you—and for me, is like that springboard. It can send us soaring. The closer we come to Jesus, to knowing that God loves us, the more we shall want to leap from that springboard of his love into the frontline of our lives, wherever that may be, and share that love. In his book, Mark Greene says, ‘Fruitfulness is the result of righteous living, of being planted in the house of God, of having one’s roots in God.’ ‘I am the vine, and you are the branches’, says Jesus.

So what is the frontline of your life? It’s easy to fall into the trap of thinking that our own frontline is always somewhere else—a specific place or time, or to think that where we are most of the time, isn’t as important or as obvious a frontline as someone else’s, who might be ‘at work’, or in a specific role. We all have a frontline.

We just read a passage from 2 Kings Chapter 5, about as man called Naaman, who was healed of leprosy by a man of God called Elisha. I encourage you to go back to this reading and read it again. A girl, who is a believer in God, is captured by a raiding party of a pagan king and ends up as a servant in Naaman’s house. Naaman has leprosy. This young girl, on the frontline of her difficult life, has compassion for her master and her captor, and suggests to her mistress that he see a prophet of God called Elisha. She is not seeking vengeance or punishment for him. Her intent is that Naaman should be blessed. Naaman is healed. God is glorified, and Naaman and his family become believers of God.

An intentional act of love and compassion, on the frontline of this person’s life, in hugely difficult circumstances, motivated by the knowledge of God’s love for her, brings others into the knowledge of God’s love for them. Lives are healed and transformed in a multitude of ways.
Over the next few weeks, my colleagues will be speaking about how we can develop a simple ‘Framework for fruitfulness’, to help and encourage us, starting next week when Goby Doherty speaks about ‘Modelling Godly Character’.

But in the meantime, as we begin another week, another Monday, I leave you with the questions, ‘Where is your frontline, now, and on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday? We all have one. And, how can we be fruitful for God and make a difference for good and for God on our frontline, in the lives of those around us.

To God be the glory. Amen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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The Prayer of Faith

If the links don’t work for you, here is Sam’s video presentation Prayer, The Dinosaur Song and No Longer Slaves.

Todays reading is James 5:13-20Open Link in New Window

Here is today’s reflection by Richard.

When I was at college, all new students were given a booklet called First Resort.

The reason it was called First Resort is that the Student Union wanted new students to turn to it first to find information about college and what was available in the city and it was actually pretty good. Of course some 40 years on it looks pretty quaint as these days most people go straight to the internet.

In our reading from James his overriding theme is that prayer should be our first resort but sadly it is often our last resort when all other things haven’t worked. His message is very clear

  1. In trouble—pray
  2. Are you cheerful—praise—another form of prayer
  3. Sick—get others to pray for you
  4. Struggling with sin—confess and pray
  5. Pray fervently because it is effective—God really does answer prayer just look at Elijah he was an ordinary person but God did incredible things through him
  6. Finally bring others who have wandered from faith back to God—we can’t of course do this on our own, we need to be praying for the person

In some ways I could end here but you may be disappointed with a 1 minute talk. In essence this is today’s message: Pray, pray, pray, pray, pray and then pray some more.

I will, however, expand in this short time together.

  1. Suffering comes in many forms. In James’ time persecution was the lot of many early Christians which brought immense suffering, imprisonment and death. In our country we generally do not suffer persecution but like every other human being there are times when we go through some real challenges; the death or sickness of a loved one, the loss of employment, for some, poverty and of course suffering brought on by illness, physical or mental. Sometimes it is challenging to pray when we are struggling but James exhorts us to pray in the bad times. Over these couple of weeks following my dad’s death I have tried to maintain my daily Bible reading and prayer time. In doing so I have found myself asking God for simple things, to please help me get through the day. He is our heavenly Father and we can be assured He is there for us.
  2. Praise when cheerful—I hope you all have times of joy in your lives. Often it is the simple things, being with family and friends, an encouraging phone call or having time out to relax. Last week we were able to see John Stillwell our Children and Families Minister—it was his birthday and throughout the week he met up with family and a few of his friends at a safe distance. He told us he had had a wonderful week—he was beaming, and it was a delight to see. He also praised God in his conversation with us for the lovely week he had had. It is so easy to forget to praise God and pray when things are going well. Like many of us I love going to the seaside and getting into the sea, it is a real treat. When I get in and I feel those waves coming across me I always praise God and thank him for the opportunity. Is there something particular that you like to do? —perhaps next time, you can praise God for being able to do it.
  3. Illness is another area to bring to prayer and James exhorts his readers to bring the sick person before the elders to be prayed over and anointed with oil. The early church came from Judaism and inherited many of its customs. If you were a faithful Jew and were ill the first person you would turn to would be the Rabbi who would anoint you with oil. Going to the Rabbi served two purposes, firstly it brought your health issue before God, a spiritual need; and secondly oil was widely used as a medicine. In Luke 10:34-35Open Link in New Window Jesus tells the story of the Good Samaritan binding the injured man’s wounds and pouring oil on him. Isaiah 1:6Open Link in New Window mentions oil as a method of soothing for wounds. As one commentator put it—It is prayer and medicine.

    Who are the elders in this passage? —they would have been wise and Godly people in the church community. We are blessed with such people in our church communities and I have often found myself sharing a prayer need with them. There is real power in others praying for us. I think perhaps we are sometimes a bit reticent to ask for prayer, it can feel self indulgent or the issue not worthy of prayer. It perhaps comes from our culture of ‘soldiering on’ through difficult times but I would encourage us to stop thinking like that and seek prayer for healing both for physical and mental health needs. Jesus says come to me all who are weary and heavily laden and I will give you rest. (Matthew 11:28Open Link in New Window). Last week Ian our Vicar invited us to be in touch if we have prayer needs—please do take that offer up and we will pray for you.

  4. Is sin a problem in our life? If we’ve said no, then I suggest we think again! We all struggle with sin. In Romans 7Open Link in New Window verses 21 onwards, St Paul describes his battle with sin:

    I have discovered this principle of life—that when I want to do what is right, I inevitably do what is wrong. I love God’s law with all my heart. But there is another power within me that is at war with my mind. This power makes me a slave to the sin that is still within me. Oh, what a miserable person I am!

    James says—share your failings with others. I really like the confession within the Anglican liturgy—each week it gives us the opportunity to realign ourselves with God. Although we don’t itemise our sins to each other we do declare publicly that we have fallen short in our Christian walk. It is a very good discipline.

  5. If you are in any doubt by now that prayer is an essential part of Christian living, James illustrates the point the example of Elijah. James describes Elijah, considered a titan of faith as an ordinary man but it was through prayer that God used him mightily. Prayer is therefore a game changer. Do we really believe our prayers can change things? Well, all of us have had answers to prayer in our own lives or the lives of others but so often we limit our view of prayer.

    In the Second World War hundreds of thousands of allied troops were trapped at Dunkirk facing annihilation at the hands of the Nazi forces. King George VI called the nation to prayer and millions of people went to Cathedral’s and churches on Sunday 26 May 1940 to pray for the safe return of our soldiers. The estimate from the Prime Minister Winston Churchill was that 20-30,000 might survive—in fact over 300,000 troops made it back. Of course we know of the bravery of thousands of people with small boats who took part in the rescue but the sheer numbers rescued was beyond what had been hoped for. It was described as a miracle.

There is a children’s song—our God is a great big God—so often we make him out to be so small. We need to be praying big prayers and be praying with an expectation that they will bring change.

If you are struggling with your prayer life then here are a few suggesting to re-engage meaningfully: back:

  1. Just do it—God listens to your prayer
  2. Lord’s prayer
  3. Pray before meals
  4. Use Daily Prayer from the Church of England
  5. Believe that prayers make a difference.

Finally I would to thank all those many members of the St Matthews Church family and other friends for praying for us. It has made a huge difference to know that we are lifted up in prayer.

Amen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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Boasting About Tomorrow

If the links don’t work for you, here is 10 Silver Coins and The Panda Song

Todays reading is James 4Open Link in New Window: 13-17

Here is today’s reflection by Helen.

We’re moving on this morning through the letter of James. It was most likely written to members of the early Jewish Christian church who had been scattered throughout the region after the stoning of Stephen. We know from the book of Acts that James was a leader in the Jerusalem Council. And the historian Josephus records that in AD 62, he was martyred.

For those of you who have been following the talks on this letter, we know that it challenges us to walk the walk in the Christian life. Persevere in your faith, be slow to anger, watch your tongue, help the needy, be a peace-maker, seek the true wisdom which comes from God. Today we’re talking about plans. A topical issue as I am sure that over the last 3 months we have experienced the frustration of many cancelled plans.

Today’s passage is addressed to travelling merchants who travelled round the region, their camels laden with goods to buy and sell. And the letter implies that they are doing pretty well, financially.

Nothing wrong with that, I hear you say. We have to make plans. It’s good to make plans.

But James points to the problem in verses 15-16. “Instead, you ought to say, ‘If it is the Lord’s will, we will do this or that’ As it is, you boast and brag”. James is rebuking the kind of heart which lives and makes its plans apart from an awareness and acknowledge God. And an arrogance of heart which says ‘I’m in control, I do it my way’

In Luke 12Open Link in New Window Jesus tell us about a rich man with a great retirement plan. In verse 18, we read: “This is what I’ll do. I’ll tear down my barns and build bigger ones and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I’ll say to myself, You have plenty of good things laid up for many years. Take life easy—eat, drink and be merry”. But God said to him: “You fool. This very night your soul will be demanded of you. Then who will get what you have prepared for yourself. This is how it will be with whoever stores up things for themselves, but is not rich toward God”.

What a contrast to Abraham and Moses who were ready to listen and let their plans be changed by God, for his purpose and glory.

I’m not Moses and I don’t think I will be called to lead 2 million people out of oppression. Sometimes in my life, I have not been sure what God’s plans are for me. And sometimes I slip into wanting to leave God out of the equation. I am tempted to set my plans in the concrete of my won strength rather than in the more rubbery openness to the Holy Spirit. So I’m being reminded here to bring my day with its plans before God, to acknowledge his sovereignty in my life and to be willing to be used for his glory and not my own. To pray each day that I would be a faithful servant of Christ even if that means disruption of my plans. Brother Andrew said this: The real calling is not to a certain place or career, but to everyday obedience, and that call is extended to every Christian, not a select few.

So back to 14. A reminder that life is 100% terminal. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes. We don’t like to think about death, so we? The author Ernest Becker wrote a book called The Denial of Death. His thesis was that the idea of death , the fear of it haunts the human animal like nothing else. He said that we arrange our lives around ignoring or avoiding or repressing the most irrefutable fact in the world, which is that we are going to die. The desire to deny death is the reason for our workaholism and obsession with security. Becker’s book was published in 1974 to great acclaim. That year he won the Pulitzer prize and became famous. That year he also found out he had cancer and that year he turned to God. That year he died.

One day, when Jesus’ friend Lazarus had died, Jesus showed up at Mary and Martha’s request, but he was 4 days late. And Mary through her tears said what is so often said when death has come ’If only…’ ‘if only you had come sooner my brother would not have died. Jesus said to her ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me will live, even though he dies… Do you believe this? A staggering claim—I think it has lost some of it’s shock value through being intoned meaninglessly at gravesides in TV dramas when someone has died, well usually been murdered. I am the resurrection and the life. No religious leader has ever made such a claim—ever. Jesus insisted that death would be have the last word. He stood at Lazarus’ tomb, and he said ‘take away the stone… Lazarus, come out—and Lazarus did’.

A short while afterwards Jesus went to Jerusalem. The authorities tried him, whipped him beat him, mocked him, hung him on a cross to die and threw him into a tomb to rot like every other dead body. And they said—OK folks, that’s all, show over, time to go home. But they were so wrong.

I am the resurrection and the life… do you believe this? It’s a question for all of us. My answer is yes. It’s a glorious truth. The truth that a man who claimed to be god walked out of a tomb 2,000 years ago, proving that he was who he claimed to be. Many years ago, after a lot of soul searching and examining the evidence, I knelt by my bed in my university hall of residence a long time ago, and the truth of it hit me like wave in a way it never had before. And through life’s ups and downs and through my walk with Jesus which is sometimes a hesitant and stumbling one, I know that He has been with me ever since and I have an assurance that one day I will go home and spend eternity with him. Let’s end with a prayer.

I am the resurrection and the life… Do you believe this? Yes, Lord we believe. We ask that we may commit all our plans to you day by day and live in the light of your glorious eternity.

Helen

There will be a video version of the service and a podcast of the sermon.

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