‘I love you too Dad!’

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If you ever wondered whether Jesus loves you, Easter should convince you beyond a shadow of doubt. God the Father screams throughout the Easter story for all to hear, ‘I love you, and will do anything for you!’ Good Friday reminds us God so loved the world that He came to earth through His Son Jesus Christ (John 3:16) not to live but to lay down His life for His friends (John 15:13). On the cross Jesus demonstrates His lavish love for you and me willingly dying while we were still sinners, refusing to recognise who He was and rejecting His purpose (Romans 5:8). At Easter Jesus’ love should not be in question, but His love should challenge us daily to ask ourselves the most important question: How much do I love Jesus? If I asked how many loved Jesus in our church I’m sure the majority would say they did! But loving Jesus isn’t enough; do we love Jesus more than anyone or anything else?
I love my family and they know how to take advantage of it. Love is an action, it is more than a feeling and my wife and two girls know how to use their eyes to melt my heart so I will demonstrate my love by doing almost anything for them. You won’t be surprised to know not everyone’s eyes have the same effect simply because I don’t love them as much as I love my family. Love is an incredible motivation to action. This is what Jesus meant when He said to His followers: ‘If you love me, keep my commands.’ (John 14:15). We can measure how much we love Jesus by how closely we keep His commands. Now stop. Reflect on all you did last week. Now, how much did you love Jesus?
In Revelation we read a letter to the church in Ephesus telling them they have forsaken their first love. They are still a busy church and complemented for their hard work, perseverance through hardship and for not growing weary, yet they had lost their first and most important love for Jesus. From the outside they were a great church but their inner motivation was wrong, they were serving out of duty, instead of responding out of love for Jesus.
We are a busy and successful church but how much do we love Jesus? This Easter as we hear the Father scream, ‘I love you’ will He hear us scream back, ‘I love you too, Dad?’

Don’t believe the lie!

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During January, our month of prayer, I tried to engage in conversation with those who think and believe differently to me. My aim was not to preach but to listen, to learn, to gauge how others perceive Christians and the Church. Sadly, one thing soon became clear, many see the Church as divided and unloving and I began to understand their point of view. Jesus said His followers would be identified by their love for each other (John 13:35) yet we seem to be failing miserably. Some argue there are now between 30,000 and 40,000 Christian denominations, different groups often with the same core beliefs but differentiating themselves in style and practise. We don’t present a united front; it seems we can’t even love each other. The Anglican Church is again in the spotlight as they decide how to respond to an open letter ‘calling on the Church of England to repent of its ‘second class citizen’ treatment of Christians over issues of sexuality’ and to act in ‘Christ-like love towards those who have been ignored and vilified for too long’. However they choose to respond, not everyone will agree and sooner or later a split seems inevitable and those looking in from outside the Church just don’t get it. They do not see the problem; to them it demonstrates a lack of love, a contradiction to the way followers of Jesus are supposed to act and so Christians are labelled hypocrites. But don’t believe the lie: disagreement and love are not mutually exclusive. This will shock you, but my wife doesn’t always agree with me. I never doubt her love or question our marriage but we see and do things differently. Disagreement doesn’t have to end in divorce and being different doesn’t mean we can’t be united. Christians believe in one Church under one Lord, Jesus Christ. The Church is not a building it is a community of unique, diverse and imperfect people. We are passionate, devoted and desperately trying to love as Jesus loved us but flawed people sometimes get it wrong. The standard is high! True love is not uniformity it embraces those who are different, subdues personal preference and can hold together diversity. Love doesn’t point the finger, keep a record of wrongs, give up at the first obstacle or silence the truth. I understand why people view the Church as divided and unloving and sometimes we are, but perhaps it depends on the definition of love used to measure the Church against?

Walk to freedom

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I love January, not just because it’s my birthday but because it feels like a brand new start.  I’m not keen on making New Year resolutions, I can’t keep them, but I do like the opportunity to leave the past behind.  I’m a born optimist, I enjoy change, and I like a fresh challenge because I easily get bored.  I always believe that bigger and better is within my grasp and don’t mind working hard to get there.  January feels like an empty book waiting to be written the beginning of a brand new adventure.  However, I do realise not everyone sees a New Year in the same way.

In 1990, Nelson Mandela was released from Victor Verster prison after 27 years.  I still vividly
remember the televised ‘walk to freedom’ that was shown around the world.  I was inspired by the way he took Winnie Mandela’s hand as he took those first steps and raised their fists in victory to the crowds that  lined the streets.
Nelson Mandela had a new beginning and within a year he was the leader of the African National Congress (ANC) and within five years Nelson Mandela became South Africa’s first black president.  The best was still to come but how did he deal with his past? 18 years of his prison sentence were spent on Robben Island where Mandela was made to do hard labour.  He was incarcerated for standing up to a white government who had introduced ‘apartheid’, a system written in law to keep white and black people apart.  Mandela believed in liberty and equality for all, regardless of skin colour and belief but it cost him his freedom.  When I listen to his first speech, I don’t remember words of anger, a desire to take revenge or bitterness towards those who had put him in prison.  Somehow Mandela didn’t allow his past to influence his future.  He was able to move on, to let go and find a better future.

For some a New Year can be filled with sadness, regret or frustration.  Looking back on bad decisions or life’s unexpected turns brings pain, anxiety and a sense of hopelessness.  But this New Year is your opportunity to take a ‘walk to freedom’?  When Nelson Mandela made those first few steps he wasn’t wearing his old prison clothes and he wasn’t carrying any luggage, he left it all in the past where it belonged.  Why don’t we do the same?

So What Can You Give?

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lovePeaceHopeJoyPresentMerry Christmas everyone! So what can you give this Christmas? No, I’m not asking for a special offering, don’t worry. But take a moment and think; what can you afford to give this Christmas? How much are you willing to spend? Every gift costs, but not every gift costs money. If the only measure of our giving is the amount of money we spend, then we all have a limit. None of us have an unlimited budget; none of us have cultivated a money tree or found the pot at the end of the rainbow, so if giving is measured in pennies and pounds, we all have a limit. Don’t you ever wonder what it would be like to have no limit, where money is no object and we could spend whatever we wanted? Surely, that would be the best Christmas ever; or would it?

There are gifts that can’t be bought or sold or given a monetary value. The supply is unlimited but the cost is high. They will never need upgrading, be outdated or forgotten. They are top of the range, the perfect gift and this year’s ‘must have’. Before you choose how many you give there’s no need to check your bank balance. They will be treasured by all ages and can be given by all. Your budget is safe, the price is fair but their value is sky high. The potential to give is in reach of us all but what will we pay to give the ultimate gift?

To give these presents we must humble ourselves; instead of what we want, it is others we must serve. Giving up our desire to be top, to be heard, to be right, to be first – we must choose to be second, third or even last! We must surrender, be vulnerable and weak, to be right at the bottom of the heap. Jesus came and did just that, instead of holding on to position, he gave it all up to offer us the gifts that we can now offer this Christmas. Firstly He gave love but not love that was human, but love that was divine; not simply a soft spoken word but a decisive action that changed the world. We can receive this love, be filled and overflow with it and give it to others, modelled on His perfect example; not man-made, weak and feeble but strong, victorious, dependable, total, tender and unstoppable. Secondly He gave peace to a world that was divided. Where anxiety and fear were the currency of life, Jesus spoke and brought calm through the storms of life. As we unload all our burdens on to the back of our King, we can receive His deep and lasting peace. We can be ready to give that gift of peace when tension is rising and the storms are brewing and families start to feud; we can give peace and calm. Thirdly He gave hope to a world that was hopeless with no future, ambition, direction or plan. Knowing His Father was Lord and had all in His hands, Jesus gave hope to live in our hearts, to whisper our future and declare His return. Hearts full of hope overflow with Good News and a hope that the best is still ahead. Fourthly he gave joy, the strength for each day, a song in our hearts and praise on our lips to honour our King. A gift not subject to the circumstances we face but a lifestyle in response to knowing Jesus and all that He has done. It is a gift we can give where ever we go if we lift our heads high, stay focussed on Jesus and not on ourselves, but rejoice at all times and give joy away.

This Christmas, why not give gifts that money can’t buy. Love, peace, hope and joy, have an unlimited supply but are we prepared to pay the cost. Are we willing to follow Jesus and humble ourselves so we can give gifts that are needed and lasting? What can you give this Christmas?

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