February 2016

February 11th 2016: Galatians 2:11-21

You can follow today’s reading by clicking on this sentence.

If you’re a Christian, and you have been for any length of time, you’ll probably know this passage. It’s one of Paul’s most famous ‘explanations’ of the insufficiency of the Old Testament Law for salvation. I use inverted commas because his explanation is closely-argued and takes some teasing out. It’s a rich banquet of hope which reveals more and more tender morsels of delight with each fresh reading. This is definitely not a passage to skim read once and move on!

As I reflect on it today, the challenge it presents to me is this: I’ve been freed from the demands of the Old Testament law, because they were fulfilled by Jesus. I’ve been freed, made new, made alive, by the Spirit of God, which dwells within me. All things are possible with God. All things are permissible, even as many things are not helpful for me, for all people.

So, I need to stop living as if there is any other law but love. I do not benefit from exchanging one crippling law code, the one of the Old Testament, for another, the weight of expectation I place on myself and allow others to place on me. In fact I suffer. Grievously. So, more to the point, do those around me. Even more to the point, this was never, as far as I can see, God’s intention. Freedom is freedom. Freedom with caveats or constraints is no kind of freedom at all, it is the exchange of one set of barriers for another. That’s the point of the good news Jesus came to tell and to live out for us. Every barrier between God and man is now broken down. We might try and build them up again to make ourselves more comfortable – after all, most of us like to, actually, give control to others, most of us are used to and prefer to carry an element of caution in the way we live, which quickly morphs into fear and anxiety if given the chance. Freedom is freedom is freedom is freedom, is….freedom. Jesus did not die and rise that we might seek to enslave ourselves again.If our approaches to faith, the way our Churches or faith communities function, force us into a way of being and existing which stipulates the possibility of condemnation, we have missed the point. Where the spirit of the Lord, there is freedom.

Of course, we are to live responsibly in the way we love God, others and ourselves. We’re to make good use of the gifts we are given in seeking to serve others, build others up, building the kingdom of God. By no means do we have carte blanche to live just as we please to the detriment of anyone else. We are freed for lives of joyful obedience. Obedience to the law of love, to live the way of the master, the way of the cross, the way that leads to life, the way that glorifies God.

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September 18th 2014: Acts 12:1-17

Read Acts 12:1-17 here

Just as King Herod turned against the followers of Christ, those who are frightened of the commitment, compassion and conviction of those who have felt called to follow Jesus have, throughout Christian history, attempted to silence, or even destroy them. The temptation for those of us who experience anything like this (not that we do often in the Western world) is to prove the righteous nature of our cause, and the truth of our beliefs, by “showing the strength of God’s arm”. We fight back. We argue, we rely on apologetics to diminish the thoughts and beliefs of others. We use military strength to prove that we are right by destroying others, and so much more besides.

God does not need or require us to do this. God asks of us that we turn the other cheek. We stand for justice, pursue all that makes for peace and builds up our common life, but if our confidence is truly in The Lord, our hope and our salvation, as scripture, and many songs we sing, encourage us, it is disingenuous for us, in the next breath, to use the things of the world to protect ourselves and justify the “right” of our position. What would the world look like if we as Christians truly chose to turn the other cheek in the face of injustice and persecution?

How can we be people that walk humbly with our God rather than walking arrogantly or in an entitled fashion? God has His glory. We don’t need any for ourselves.

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September 16th 2014: Acts 11:1-18

Read Acts 11:1-18 hereĀ 

Continuing the story of the coming of the Gospel to non-Jewish believers which we began yesterday, I am again struck by the short-sightedness of the disciples. According to the NIV, they praised God for His goodness only once their objections to the action He had decided to take had been exhausted. Here we have to respect Peter as having been able to speak well enough to answer all of their many concerns and gripes. It is important, too, to realise that part of the concern of the believers might have very easily been for their own safety. The more people welcomed in to their inner circle, the more chance there would be for persecution and all that came with it. Most likely though is a theological mis-understanding of what God sought to do in the life, death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. In effect, the believers limited the scope of what they thought God’s purpose could be or what Jesus could achieve.

How often do we do this? We ask God for things we can imagine, or things which are just beyond the reach or scope of our hoping, but that we can just about dare to dream for. How small our faith is! God has done more than we can ever dream of, and will continue to do so. Our faith exists merely to be blown out of the water and enlarged day by day. Every single time we put a limit on what God is allowed to do, who He is allowed to welcome in to His kingdom, He will prove us wrong, selfish, sinful, unworthy ourselves. The task of the Christian is to love, it is not to mediate or referee salvation. God does this. Rest in His presence and your security, and love other people so that they might know Him too.

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September 6th 2014: Acts 8:4-25

Read Acts 8:4-25 here

It’s easy for us to be seduced by the trappings of success, or to chase after it. This is what seems to happen to Simon the Sorcerer here. Having seen what has happened in Samaaria, believed and been baptised. He fundamentally misunderstands the gift of the Spirit, offering to pay to receive them. As is normal, Peter reacts gruffly, abruptly and without much grace at all. It’s easy for us to identify with him. A lot of us have known, or even been ourselves, a wolf in sheep’s clothing, someone who wants the glory but doesn’t want to make the heart commitment, or sacrifice, or suffer. We can judge them. Most of us can probably think of “celebrity pastors”. A lot of them end up falling or failing publicly. Often, I have caught myself enjoying this failure. What a terrible thing to have to admit.

Peter’s retort to Simon is that his heart isn’t in the right place, and so he has no place in the inheritance of the kingdom. How Peter is able to make such a statement with impunity I’m not sure. I don’t quite understand how his heart was in the right place and Simon’s wasn’t, but that’s probably a debate for another day. We must fight against taking the moral high ground in issues of faith, morality and ethics. Our task is to love God, love our neighbours and love ourselves, not judge or decry the lives of others.

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August 26th 2014: Acts 4:1-12

Read Acts 4:1-12 here

Perhaps unsurprisingly, healing and proclaiming so forthrightly in the name of Jesus lands Peter and John in trouble. Luke would have us believe it is because the Jewish rulers were deeply troubled. No wonder1 This was a time of huge upheaval and social unrest. Whether it be true or not, any claim such as this that could incite people to riot was to be quashed as quickly as possible, for the good of all concerned. It is easy for us to look down on the Jewish leaders as misguided or worse, with the benefit of hindsight, but it is hard not to have some sympathy with them here. Jesus had proved pretty awkward, and now His followers were proving equally troublesome, just when it was thought they should have been crushed and would disperse quietly, as usually happened when false “Messiahs” were dealt with.

But this time it is different. Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit (a key detail) claims that Jesus’s is the only name under heaven by which people can be saved, bold, certainly. We’ll have to return tomorrow to see what the upshot of it is, but there’s no denying the bravery and intensity of Peter’s defiance. He now appears to have an unshakeable belief in the “right” of what he says about the power and story of Jesus Christ, only a few short days after denying Him, and being certain that he, Peter, would be rejected permanently by his Lord. What had happened to bring about this tremendous change? Jesus’s acceptance of him over breakfast certainly helped, but I would wager that as well as this, seeing 5000 men flock to the cause of Christ as he preached in His name might have bolstered Peter’s confidence a bit too! We know that he wasn’t an eloquent speaker, but he did make himself available to God for use as God saw fit. Are we willing to do the same today?

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August 25th 2014: Acts 3:11-26

Read Acts 3:11-26 here

As we’ve seen in the previous post, Peter and John have just undertaken a great healing work in the Colonnade, in the sight of many people. Now we see Peter’s opportunism at work, as he is able to give a powerful lecture in historical theology to explain the purpose and context of this miracle – it is complete healing brought about by faith in Jesus, and for HIs glory, much more so than simply for the good of the man himself. The onlookers, and the readers/hearers of the story from Luke Acts, are to be in no doubt, it is not Peter’s ministry of healing that has brought this about, it is God’s ministry of salvation and reconciliation, which will not be thwarted by anything, least of all, the inadvertent killing of the Messiah.

This, to me, is a comforting story. God is in control, He has the power and all the cards. I don’t have much power in ministry, and if I ever get too far ahead of myself, I just have to look at a story like this. Peter is quick to point to Jesus as the source of healing and salvation. It is important for us as people, for the integrity of our witness to the gospel, and for the growth of mature Christians and strong, unified Churches, that we take the same line when taking about the power and the glory of life and ministry.

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August 21st 2014: Acts 2:22-36

Read Acts 2:22-36 here

Writing this in a fog of headache/tiredness/bug and all that goes with it (hence the delay). Sorry if it’s incoherent


Peter’s impassioned preaching here is designed to show the Israelites amongst his audience that, whatever they think, however much control they think they have had over their lives, God has seen the present circumstances from the beginning, just as He sees the end. The crucifixion of Jesus was not an end, it was not even a disaster, it was part of the plan of God to bring about His purposes. Whatever else might have been at play, God’s purposes would not be stifled, and David had foreseen how things would be.

So often we mistake the gift of free will and choice that God gives us for control of our own destiny. We can make choices each day (those of us who are free enough to by the grace of God) but we cannot affect our destiny. “The Earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it”. He is working His purpose out. His purpose is life, love, hope, freedom. His purpose is relationship with us. It always has been. He will not be denied.

Don’t fall into the trap of thinking that you are in control. Rejoice in the fact that you are not.