Deciding to Change

“Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth,
no one can enter the kingdom of God
unless he is born of water and the Spirit”
(John 3:5)

Reflection:
God warned Adam and Eve that if they disobeyed Him and ate of the forbidden fruit they would die. Satan tempted them by casting doubt upon God’s integrity and told them “you will not surely die.”  Eve considered the matter and ate of the fruit, giving some also to Adam who was with her. Physically they did not immediately die – but spiritually they did. Their spiritual union with God was broken and the consequences vividly demonstrated in their expulsion from the Garden of His presence. Jesus was to illustrate this truth in another way when He taught about His being the Vine and believers the branches. If a branch became separated from the Vine, and so from its life force, it would die.

This action of Adam and Eve’s was not just one of naughtiness but a deliberate rebellion. They listened to the voice of the opposition and then acted on what they had heard – even although they clearly knew what God had told them. In effect they changed sides – and went into the camp of God’s enemy. A consequence of this act of rebellion was that every person born to them and their descendants was born like them – in the wrong camp and with a body and soul but no Godly spirit.

  • “For as in Adam all die” (1 Corinthians 15:22)
  • “As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins” (Ephesians 2:1)

It is for this reason that Jesus taught Nicodemus that a new spiritual birth was essential for anyone to be able to enter the kingdom of God. It is also the reason for all four Gospels emphasising the point that an indispensable part of Jesus ministry was to ‘baptize with the Holy Spirit’ (John 1:33).

Jesus made it clear that we cannot serve two masters, we have to choose. And so to become a follower of Jesus, and a child of God, we must be prepared to change camps and then to live accordingly.

“The work of God is this: to believe in the one He has sent.”(John 6:29)

We only realise our spiritual poverty through the ministry of the Holy Spirit – which becomes a real blessing! (hence the first Beatitude). As we do so the Lord leads us away from the world’s camp (and from the ‘prince of this world’) – having overcome the power of death and the enemy – and into His own presence and Life. In doing so He gives us the gift of the Holy Spirit of God who revitalises our spirits and re-establishes us in a living relationship with God Himself.

Response:
Have I got both feet in the right camp?

Prayer:

Lord God, once again I decide for You. Help me please to draw closer and closer to You and give me the discernment and strength to avoid the temptations of Your enemy. Amen.

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Change for Blessing


“Then Jesus said to him,
“Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”
(John 5:8)

Reflection:
Sometimes it seems easier to stay as we are than to accept the challenge of change.

The man was paralyzed – unable to move himself around or to provide for himself. He was dependent on others for everything.  Now Jesus was offering him the possibility of a new way of life – of being able to walk and to therefor begin to provide for himself.

The man immediately accepted and obeyed the instruction to get up and walk – and was no doubt delighted with this amazing gift. The challenge of using this new ability to provide for himself was still to come – for now he could no longer beg or continue to receive aid from others.  His new found freedom came with new responsibilities. To have decided to stay as he was would have been an unthinkable tragedy. He would have missed out on so many blessings and the opportunity of leading a new and enriched life.

When Jesus calls us to follow Him He offers us a new life and a new and fruitful way of living – directed and empowered by the Holy Spirit. To hold back would be the equivalent of remaining a spiritual cripple and missing out on the blessings He has in mind for us. To accept the challenge of the call is to take on new responsibilities as well as the promise of growth, development and significance in ways that we would not have imagined possible.

“I can do everything through him who gives me strength”  (Philippians 4:13)

Response:
Am I holding back and saying ‘I can’t do it’ in any way?

Prayer:

Lord You have called me to follow You. Please help me to get up and walk in any area where I may be holding back – and to trust You for all that I will need along the way. Amen.

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Peace be with you

“On the evening of that first day of the week,
when the disciples were together,
with the doors locked for fear of the Jews,
Jesus came and stood among them and said,
“Peace be with you!”
(John 20:19)

 

Reflection:
This really was the peace of God that passes all understanding. And although it was a common greeting of the time no words of Jesus are without meaning and significance. So it has three important elements included in it as He speaks this peace into their lives.

There is Peace between Himself and them. These were the ones who had boasted of being willing to die for Him – but who had fled before the armed guards and the crowd who had arrested Him. Jesus was clearing away the desertion and guilt that would have lain heavily on and between them –and reinstating them into relationship with Him, this time in a deeper, stronger and humbler way.

There is Peace between God and them. Jesus represented the Father and said specifically that those who had seen Him had seen the Father also. Now He makes it quite clear that their relationship with the Father had been restored as well. The sin and guilt of separation that had come about through Adam and been perpetuated by fallen humankind had been dealt with on the Cross. New life was established in the Resurrection.  The way to God was open once more and they were included.

They could now be at peace with themselves. As the daughters and sons of God their individual and corporate identities were established and secured. No matter what the future might hold nothing could separate them from God’s love and presence. The Holy Spirit would affirm them in their identity and develop them in their uniqueness.

They had done nothing to deserve this peace from the Lord, except to love and trust Him. As God blessed Jesus with acknowledgement and affirmation at His Baptism – that is before His ministry commenced – so He now blessed His disciples. He blesses us in the same way too. It is the undeserved, unconditional and unending love and grace of God.

Response:
Believe it and receive it

Prayer:

Lord Jesus I do not deserve such love and blessing, but I cannot deny Your great love and provision for me. Please help me to believe, receive and live in the Peace that You offer to even me right now. Amen.

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Fruit of the Spirit

“I am the vine; you are the branches.
If a man remains in me and I in him,
he will bear much fruit;
apart from me you can do nothing”
 (John 15:5)

Reflection:
The fruit of the Spirit is the fruit produced by the Spirit, not by us. It is fruit that is developed within us and not imported from the outside – rather like a Christmas tree. It reveals who we are and not the appearance that we are trying to display.

The most important three segments of the fruit are the first three – love, joy and peace – that we have looked at this week. The others are self-explanatory.

The key question of course is, if they are the work of the Spirit and not my own work, how do I encourage and facilitate their growth and development? Jesus Himself gives us the answer in His description of the Vine. Our fruit will appear as we become and then remain rooted in Him. The life that is within Him will flows into us causing us to develop and grow. Fruit will then appear ‘naturally.’ The stronger and more open the connection between us the stronger and more vital the life-flow of the Spirit, and the more abundant the fruit.

Jesus went on to say that the way we ‘remain in Him’ is to receive, honour and live out His words and directives. Very clearly if we do not then it becomes a rejection and our connection and relationship are weakened. This should not surprise us because in all our relationships we find that if we reject people or keep them at a distance our relationship will not develop and prosper.

Vital to our relationship with the Lord are a deepening and intimate Prayer life, a regular and prayerful reading and study of Scripture and an Application of God’s word in our everyday lives and living. As we invite and allow Him to live in and through us then changes begin to take place within us.

It is a journey in which God is building not instant flowers but long-standing ‘oaks of righteousness.’ And very often those around us will see the fruit as it develops more quickly and readily than we will – which is as it should be. However, prayer for the fruit should become a regular part of our prayers because it is important to God’s work and ministry.

Response:
Lord please give me patience – NOW!!

Prayer:

Lord a fruit tree in blossom and then covered with fruit is a lovely sight and often a fragrant blessing. Bless me Lord that I may be so close to You that Your life will pour into me and result in an abundance of fruit for Your glory. Amen.

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New Identity – 1

“Yet to all who received him,
to those who believed in his name,
He gave the right to become children of God–
children born not of natural descent,
nor of human decision or a husband’s will,
but born of God”
(John 1:12-13)

Reflection:
Jesus came to offer to us a new identity – in line with God’s original intention in creation.

No longer children of the Fall with all its consequences, through faith in Christ we become children of the Lord God Almighty Himself. John made it clear at the beginning of his gospel that this was not a natural but a supernatural event.

This new birth is important for us to acknowledge, to believe and to own. In coming to faith in Jesus Christ we are no longer to see ourselves as a product of our past – our human genealogy, our culture and our lives – but instead, and in all humility, as a daughter or son of God. This comes about not by our own actions but by the action of God Himself, and through the agency of the Holy Spirit. It is one of the reasons for the Church’s celebration of Pentecost – observed yesterday.

This has enormous implications for the way in which we see ourselves and other Christians and, vitally, the way in which we see God and our relationship with Him.

We will explore this further during the week.

Response:
For today as a Christian – live with the truth that ‘I am a child of God’

Prayer:

Heavenly Father – our Father – my Father – thank You for adopting me as Your own son/daughter. By Your Holy Spirit please help me to believe and receive the wonder of this truth and to live within it. Amen.

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My heart not my deeds

 

“Peter asked,
“Lord, why can’t I follow you now?
I will lay down my life for you.”
(John 13:37)

Reflection:
It can be easy to be brave when there is no immediate threat. Sometimes it is just bragging and sometimes it is sincere. There is probably an element of both in Peter’s statement.

It seems clear that He was really committed to the Lord. And he was no doubt disappointed to be told that he could not now go wherever Jesus was heading. So he expresses his attachment in the strongest possible terms – only to be told that he will fail to carry out his boast. And to give him his due he did follow the Lord right into the courtyard of the high priest’s house – only to end up denying his relationship with Jesus when questioned by those around him.

However, the glorious truth would later be revealed – that instead of rejecting Peter as unworthy the Lord re-affirmed and re-instated him. And this would be because, unlike Judas, Peter really did want to be the sort of person who would give up everything for his Lord – and his Lord knew it! What Peter was to learn was that laying down his life for the Lord had more to do with his living than his dying!

If you have ever wept over your failures and failings – if like Paul you have cried out –

“I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do” (Romans 7:15)

then take encouragement from the fact that the Lord does not merely consider your actions but He knows your heart as well. And it is your heart that He wants most of all – for if we give Him our hearts then all things become possible.

Jesus very next words to Peter and the others, after predicting Petr’s denials, were astounding.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”  (John 14:1)

He knew even then that they would all desert Him, but He also knew their hearts and that they would return. He knows your heart and He knows mine, far better than we know them ourselves, and so He asks us to just trust Him in all the ups and downs, the successes and failings, the joy and the pain, of our lives with Him.

“Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me.”

Response:
Look to the Lord at all times – He will never look away from you.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, I really do want to trust You with all my heart all of the time – it’s just that I don’t trust me! Please help me to keep my focus on You even when I foul up. Amen.

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Drink Deeply

“For God so loved the world
that He gave His one and only Son,
that whoever believes in Him
shall not perish but have eternal life”

(John 3:16)

Reflection:
Food does no good whilst it remains on the plate. If anything it increases our hunger. It must be taken into our systems and absorbed there before we receive the benefit.

So it is with the word of God. Jesus told us that

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4)

The word of God needs to travel from our eyes and ears into our minds and from there to our hearts and spirits. Intellectual knowledge and assent does not of itself change lives. As James reminds us,

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder”  (James 2:19)

To put our belief and trust in something is to make it an essential and central part of our lives. It is to change direction with the expressed intent that ‘I am going this way now.’ Such decisions are not taken lightly but because something has resonated at a deep level within us. For the word of God to excite and stimulate us and cause us to change the way we live it must have sparked at our very core – otherwise it may just become another legalism.

I find that I need to keep chewing on the Word – examining it again, personalising it, extracting its meaning and implications and praying over it. I begin to understand how and why David was so passionate about it. It brings not only a deeper understanding but flowers into new life inside me, causing me to pause in wonder, praise and gratitude.

Response:
Read the Bible as a banquet of revelation – not a dead history

Prayer:

Lord God help me like David to become increasingly excited and passionate about Your revelation of Yourself and Your love revealed in Your word – and to drink deeply from its truth and message. Amen.

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