Scripture Reading: That day when evening came, he said to his disciples, “Let us go over to the other side.” Leaving the crowd behind, they took him along, just as he was, in the boat. There were also other boats with him. A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke him and said to him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?” He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm. He said to his disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?” They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!” Mark 4:35-41
During all the seasons of our life, whenever things go wrong, such as the current pandemic or when other personal troubles come our way, it is easy to feel like we are losing control. We get stressed because we feel like we should always be in control of our circumstances. We look around and see others who look like they’ve got their lives under control and we feel even more stressed. But the truth is that we were not created to carry the burden or responsibility of being in control. Only God is great enough to carry all that weight.
There are all kinds of examples of people getting stressed over things they cannot control. People sitting in a plane on the tarmac just short of the gate waiting to disembark because there is no gate agent available. They might miss their connection. Someone just had to replace the family car due to an accident. It wiped out their savings and now they wonder if they’ll be able to pay all their bills. An office manager is getting very frustrated because the project they are responsible for has only just started to gain some traction, but suddenly everything seems to be going wrong. As a result, he’s getting irritable with his children.
When you read the scripture reading above in its full context in Mark 4:35–5:43, we see Jesus displaying his complete control over the natural world, over the spirit world, over sickness, and even over death. These stories highlight Jesus’ complete authority over all creation. Each time Jesus addresses a calamity, He shows us the difference between fear and faith.
The disciples are afraid in the storm and they are all experienced fishermen, so we know that this is not an irrational fear. Yet Jesus rebukes them saying: “Why are you so afraid? Have you still no faith?” When the sick woman comes before Jesus with “fear and trembling”, He doesn’t reject her, but instead speaks a word of peace to her. Jesus’ comforting words to Jairus when word came that his daughter had just died is meant for all of us to hear: “Do not fear, only believe”.
These miracle stories of Jesus acknowledge that we all face personal difficulties, sickness and even death. But, they also teach us that we needn’t fear the circumstances of life because God is in control. He works for the good of all of us in every circumstance. He will bring us safely home to glory. Death is not the last word: the last word is “Talitha koum!” – “Little girl, I say to you, get up”.
We often associate the sovereignty of God with theological debates. But for all of us it’s a daily practical choice. It is a choice over control. We have to choose between a fantasy in which we are in control and the real world in which God is in control, between our false sense of sovereignty and God’s real sovereignty.
Praise be to our Almighty God!
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
James 1: 12
James 1: 9-12
We will all have experienced boasting, whether we have heard and disliked it in another or found ourselves guilty of it. In the main we probably do not like this trend in others or ourselves as it holds echoes of arrogance. Sometimes though it may feel good or even right to boast of what a loved one has achieved or for example the results of your team (what right minded individual could not help but boast about Liverpool Football Club – European Champions, World Club Champions and Premier League Champions all at once!). We find these truths in Scripture. On one hand we are warned against boasting and how it effects the Church (Rom. 3: 27 & 1 Cor. 5: 6), on the other hand we are encouraged that there are legitimate reasons to boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1: 31).
In today’s passage James is encouraging the rich and poor alike to ‘take pride’ in their different positions. Is he contradicting himself or other passages of Scripture; what does he mean? Remember that James here is giving guidance on how to view, consider and deal with the trials we face. As we face these trials James is saying that rich and poor alike can take pride in their positions. James is talking to believers. He is explaining that whatever their position in this world they are in an excellent standing because of the Gospel, because of the Good News of Jesus Christ. The poor are raised to an exalted position in the Gospel, the rich have been humbled by it (vs. 9-11). As individuals we are made equal in the Gospel, both just as rich in God’s grace.
The global situation will hit poor and rich alike but in different ways. Foundations will be shaken and very real trials faced. If we understand God’s grace to us and have entered a rich and wonderful relationship with Him we will indeed be in an amazing position. Through repentance and faith, by God’s grace, we can be forgiven and blessed with new life; new life that stretches into eternity. We are adopted into His family and given the right to be called children of God (John 1: 12). Understanding the depth of this incredible blessing can help us face and persevere in trials understanding the ‘crown of life’ that we will receive. Our view of difficulties is seen through the lens of God’s perspective which can change our thinking and transform our living. This is a legitimate ‘boast’ because we are boasting about God’s love and grace; it can truly help us in times of trial.
To Ponder: Do you consider yourself rich or poor in the world’s perspective? Does your understanding of your position help or hinder you when facing difficulties? How might seeing yourself as a child of God, blessed by the Gospel, change your attitude and assist you?
Pray: Almighty and merciful God, from whom comes all that is good, we praise you for all your mercies: for your goodness that has created us; your grace that has sustained us; your wisdom that has challenged us; your patience that has borne with us; and your love that has redeemed us. Help us to love you and all your children and to be thankful for all your gifts, by serving you and delighting to do your will. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen
Praise: What Wondrous Love is this
10,000 Reasons by Matt Redman
“It is because of him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God – that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption.”
1 Corinthians 1: 30
James 1: 5-8
Picture the scene, a big solid Super Tanker ploughing a straight route through turbulent, ferocious seas, oblivious to the conditions. Picture a second scene, a rudderless, Captain-less sea going yacht in the same conditions bouncing from one wave to another, being turned in every direction by winds and swells alike. This is the picture that these verses in James conjure up in relation to wisdom and decision making. Are we like the Super Tanker that knows our course in life or are we like the yacht bouncing from one indecision to the next? In truth we are all probably a mixture dependent on the issue and circumstance. We must remember though that these verses link to the previous and connect with consideration of and navigation through trials. When facing trials what route are we to take, how can wisdom guide us?
The answer says James is simple; ask God. James then makes some very clear points: God gives generously; we are to ask for wisdom; we are to ask with belief; and we are not to doubt. God wants us to ask and seek Him, He is a generous and loving God and wants the trials we face to work for our good and His glory. He will answer even if the answers are not what we expect or even in some cases want. The wisdom He will give links directly to the object of our faith, the Lord Jesus. Jesus has become for us wisdom from God, the source of our righteousness, holiness and redemption (1 Cor. 1: 30). The good that God will bring out of trials will conform us to the likeness of Jesus so the guidance He gives will take us deeper into righteousness and holiness, into understanding the depths of the Gospel. We need therefore to look at trials from this perspective and with this belief in our hearts. The worst thing we can do when asking God for His wisdom is then to doubt. Allowing other voices and ideas into our hearts and minds will take us down a confused and choppy course.
Practically, prayer, bible study and counsel with other trusted Christians provide the main, but not exclusive, means for us to hear God’s voice. Personally, I look to understand the circumstance, I meditate on God’s Word and I seek Him in prayer. When the Holy Spirit lines up all three sources and I sense His confirmation, I make my decision or follow a certain route. It is almost like triangulating the direction of a course. The more this discipline is adopted the easier it becomes to hear and discern God’s Wisdom.
To Ponder: Consider a difficulty or trial you are facing. Unpack the circumstances; what are all the issues that exist? Turn to a Scripture that connects with the circumstances (if in doubt ask a trusted Christian friend for help in identifying a relevant passage). Meditate on the Word and pray. Do you sense the Holy Spirit confirming God’s truth and directing you? Write down your conclusions supported by the Scripture then hold onto that course without doubt or doublemindedness. Build in a future time to review and seek God again
Pray: Dear Lord our lives can be full of storms, demands and decisions. In your Grace grant us the wisdom of the Lord Jesus to walk in His steps, the way of the Gospel. Teach us to listen to, understand and heed your Word along with the courage to obey. Thank you, Lord, that you have walked before us and walk with us now and every day. Amen
Praise: Trust in You by Lauren Daigle
How Firm a Foundation
The Israelites were suffering in exile under the Babylonians. They felt hopeless and were tempted to believe that God no longer cared about them. Then God told them through the prophet Isaiah:
Jerusalem says “The Lord has deserted us; the Lord has forgotten us.” “Never! Can a mother forget her nursing child? Can she feel no love for the child she has borne? But even if that were possible, I would not forget you! See, I have written you name on the palms of my hands. Always in my mind is a picture of Jerusalem’s walls in ruins.” (Isaiah 49: 14-16)
Of course, the real issue was not that God had forgotten his people but that God’s people too often forgot their God. They forgot the goodness of his abundant provision and the gladness of walking in his ways. It was not God who had deserted them, but they who had deserted God.
Jesus had the same heart toward God’s faithless people as his Father in heaven. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones God’s messengers! How often I have wanted to gather your children together as a hen protects her chicks beneath her wings, but you wouldn’t let me,”(Matthew 23:37).
To express the committed and affectionate love God has for his fear-filled and faithless people, the prophet Isaiah pictured God opening up his hands to reveal their names written there. Jesus also showed his hands to reveal the lengths his love had gone for those who were fearful and faithless:
Eight days later the disciples were together again, and this time Thomas was with them. The doors were locked; but suddenly, as before, Jesus was standing among them. “Peace be with you,” he said. Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and look at my hands. Put your hand into the wound in my side. Don’t be faithless any longer. Believe!” (John 20: 26-27)
Whenever we doubt, let us remember His wounds.
Prayer – Lord Jesus, forgive me for ever doubting your care and concern for me. When I begin to wonder, I need only to look at the palm of your hand where I see the marks of your love, faithfulness and goodness. I will walk in gladness knowing your patient love for me.
Song: By His Wounds (Glory Revealed)
“Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him.”
James 1: 12
James 1: 2-4
In some contexts I enjoy trials I enjoy testing myself and pushing the limits. This in the main has been in sport and outward bound activities, for instance training for Athletics (the 800m) or football and completing long distance walks. When I walked the Camino a few years ago and the North Shore of Lake Superior more recently I genuinely relished the challenges and persevering through difficulties to the end; there was a real sense of achievement and lessons learnt along the way. James though, in these two verses of focus today, tells us that we should consider it ‘pure joy’ when we face trials of many kinds. Even if you share with me the aforementioned appreciation of challenges, considering trials pure joy is another step altogether. At least in the former circumstances I’ve described those challenges were my choice, in the latter class we can face truly horrendous situations. What are we to do when we lose a loved one, face serious illness ourselves, have a major breakdown in a relationship, deal with unemployment or simply have to cope with outrageous demands in life? Consider it pure joy?
Notice firstly the way James writes, the implication is that trials will come, not may come. Trials are part of life, we will all face them to some degree. So in a sense we are not to live in denial of their reality or in a false hope that they will never come or even with a mistaken view that because we are Christians God will not let us face trials. No the reality is that they are a reality. With this being the case we have to make a decision; how do we deal with them? I often think that if we have a bad, fearful or even disproportionate view of trials we have two problems; the trials AND our feelings. This is why what James shares can be truly helpful. He counsels us how to ‘consider’ our trials. He is not encouraging us to have a forced happiness during a trial or to feel ecstatic that we are going through difficult times. He is teaching us how to think about them.
Trials in God’s providence have a purpose. God will use them to refine and perfect us. As the eternal silversmith He will burn off the ‘dross’ of our lives and conform us to the likeness of Jesus; making us into what we were always intended to be. Trials develop trust, character and hope within us building up our relationship with God and one another in the Body. Persevering to the end holds rich rewards; the crown of life and the love of God (vs. 12). He moves on to help us have wisdom in trials, we will consider this next.
To Ponder: In today’s climate and your personal situation how do these truths help? Consider also Romans 5: 1-5 and 1 Peter 1: 3-9.
Pray: Lord Jesus, in love you faced many trials and overcame them so that we may have life. Please guide us so that, following you our Savior, we may walk through the joys, trials and challenges of this world toward the glory of the world to come. This we ask through you Jesus Christ, our Lord and Saviour. Amen
Praise: Take my Life and Let it be by Brian Doerksen
Refiners Fire by Hillsong
Bible Verse: “So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen.”
Have you ever been with your friends, co-workers, or family to an Escape Room? It can be a fun way to spend an evening. A group of up to 6 people can choose the level of difficulty for the room they will try to escape from by solving various clues, and then the clock starts ticking. Everyone’s deductive reasoning abilities are put to the test as you try to figure out the answers to the solution that will allow you to escape in time. As time wound down people started thinking, “How will we ever get out of here?” The tension was high even though we knew that we would be let out, whether we found the exit solution or not.
The apostle Paul tells us how God reveals himself through all the things He made in Creation, and how He has placed the knowledge of this truth inside us. Paul also reminds us that as sinners, we have chosen to suppress this truth about our Creator, and raised our own flag of independence in an act of treason.
The consequences of our sinful actions are far-reaching. They reveal to us how we have decided that we know better the things we want, and in essence, we have placed ourselves ahead of God. In practice, it means that we have exchanged worshipping Him for something or someone else, a false idol. And idols can never deliver on their perceived promises. It’s no wonder that people often feel disappointed or trapped in their circumstances. No matter how many life puzzles we try to solve in our own wisdom and strength, how can we possibly escape from this self-imposed prison room?
In Paul’s letter to the Romans, he provides us with a clue. The first thing we must do, if we want to escape the idols of our heart and the hardening that comes with them, is to make good use of our disappointments. Why? Because the worst thing God can do to us is to give whatever we desire, without thought for whether they are beneficial or harmful to us or others. Moreover, it is usually in the bad times that we most clearly can see our idols. It’s usually then that we can see that what we have been looking for in the things of this world, only Jesus can give us. Besides making good use of our troubles, the second thing we must do to escape the idols of our heart is to do what the angels do, which is to endlessly praise God. The only way to get our heart to stop worshiping the wrong things is to start worshipping the right thing, which is our heavenly Father. The deepest passions of angels’ hearts are satisfied by looking at the love, beauty, and wisdom of Jesus Christ (1 Peter 1:11-12). Revelling in Him, rejoicing in Him, singing praises to Him. When your heart’s deepest passions are satisfied by praising and adoring Jesus Christ, then all other passions are put in their place. Praise be to our Lord, Jesus Christ!
“My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus…….”
James 2: 1
James 1: 1
‘How To…..’ books. We will all have read one or two in our time. How to….be a parent, build a deck, lose weight, bake a cake (the latter listed nicely next to how to lose weight!); the list goes on. As a nineteen year old proud owner of my first car (a Ford Escort) I bought a ‘Haines Manual,’ which was a ‘How To’ look after the car book. It literally told me anything and everything I needed to know and do. The trick was not just to read the manual but to act on what it said. I genuinely tried the latter approach and in the main got things right. There were a couple of times though, even with following the guidance, that I needed the help of a trained mechanic.
I share this because the book of James is in a way a “How To..’ book for living out our Christian faith. James tells us ‘as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus,’ how to practically live as children of God (2: 1). This book is sometimes maligned even by such as Martin Luther who called it an ‘epistle of straw.’ It is often misunderstood, some claiming that James goes against the doctrine of justification. The truth though is that James writes a very practical letter. It is almost a ‘circular’ that James sends to the early Church scattered among the Nations (1: 1) in a style that is almost like the book of Proverbs: lots of succinct wisdom. The guidance covers such matters as: control of the tongue; care for the poor; wealth; purity; times of trial; and unity in the Church.
James was Jesus’ half-brother. He, with Jesus’ other brothers, did not at first believe in Christ (John 7: 5). He is later found in Acts worshiping alongside the first disciples and giving influential advice to the early Church (Acts 15: 13-21; 21: 17-18). He was clearly held in high esteem. The change in James occurred because of belief, because of faith. The resurrected Jesus appeared to many after His death and resurrection; James is named amongst these individuals (1 Corinthians 15: 5-7). For James unbelief became belief which translated to faith with action. So much so that he called himself “a servant of God and of the Lord Jesus Christ,” (1:1).
At St. Aidan’s we say that we want to know the Real God so much that we become a Real Church filled with God’s Children who live Real Lives for Him. Not just spoken faith but faith with action. This book of James will enable us to have Real Faith that can result in such lives. A very relevant book for us in our context; after all truth is timeless. May the Lord bless, guide, teach and encourage us as we study this book together.
To Ponder: What do we say we believe and what does our life prove we believe? As we start studying this Scripture what area in your life do you think may be challenged; how will James’ example help you?
Pray: Merciful God, your Son came to save us and bore our sins on the cross: may we trust in your mercy and know your love, rejoicing in the righteousness that is ours through Jesus Christ our Lord. May these truths be evident in our lives as we live by faith and not by sight to your glory and joy. Amen
Praise: Come Alive by Lauren Daigle
Trust and Obey by the Vagle Brothers
“In this way they will lay up treasure for themselves as a firm foundation for the coming age, so that they may take hold of the life that is truly life.”
1 Timothy 6: 11-12a
1 Timothy 6: 17-21
One of my pastimes for a while was rock climbing. A friend introduced me to the sport and taught me. I had a harness, rope, protection (various pieces of equipment that secured me to the rock face) and climbing shoes, the soles of which were made of the rubber used for aircraft tires, so they really gripped. My major early problem was that I didn't trust this equipment, I wanted to trust myself. I would hold on to the rock with everything I could even considering using my teeth at one point! This tired me quickly and put me at risk on the cliffs; it was false security. It was also a desire for self-control. I had to learn to obey his instruction, to let go and trust the gear to find real freedom and enjoyment in true rock climbing.
In the closing remarks of this letter there are strong words for Timothy. He is to 'command' the rich and 'guard' his faith. Both directives have at their heart warnings against self-sufficiency and arrogance; trusting false foundations. They encourage ‘true life.’ The rich are not to falsely feel superior because of their wealth which in reality gives no lasting hope. Affluence can disappear in an instance and provides no answer to death and eternity. Instead they are to put their hope in God, enjoy the life He has given and bless others with their fortune (vs. 17-18). Timothy is to watch over his faith and responsibilities. He is to avoid self-promotion through 'godless chatter' and false truths which argue a superior knowledge to God (vs.20-21). These commands are given in love so that the recipients may enjoy the life God has given and ensure they have true eternal life (vs. 19).
This ancient letter is so relevant for us today. It warned the early church against false truths, trusting in foundations other than God and gave practical encouragements to the body of believers. The same issues and principles are at play today in different guises. Self-sufficiency is promoted and explanations other than God are offered. These cause a person to put their trust in themselves, wealth or knowledge to the exclusion of God; life, freedom and true enjoyment are not found in these sources. The sadness here is that God offers exactly this and the path to true living and eternal life. We gain this life by losing ours, trusting Him and being part of the Body of Christ. May we heed the warnings within, follow the encouragements and jump into the loving arms of Almighty God to receive this life. The means for such fulfillment are found in the gift of God recorded in the closing blessing of the letter, grace; may ‘Grace be with you all!’
To Ponder: What do you trust before you put your trust in God? What do you need to let go of to enjoy true living in Him; how will you do this?
Pray: Almighty God through your Son our Saviour you have opened for us a new and living way into your presence and life eternal. In your grace enable us to fully trust you, follow and obey you, that we may worship you in spirit and in truth. Keep our hearts pure and steadfast. This we ask in the name of Jesus Christ. Amen
Praise: O Spirit of the Living God
Spirit Lead Me by Michael Ketterer & Influence Music
We see in the gospel of Luke that Jesus had been speaking in the synagogues and people were drawn to his teaching. Then he did something stunning and perplexing. Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth, the town where he had grown up, to read a passage from the scroll of the prophet Isaiah: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to preach good news to the poor” (Isaiah 61:1). Then he sat down and said, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21).
In this action, Jesus was saying that he – the son of Joseph, who had grown up in their backyard – was the Anointed One God had promised to send so long ago to “preach good news to the poor.” The listeners must have wondered – what message could this son of a carpenter who has no wealth or power of his own possibly have that would be considered good news?
The people during this time were hoping the Messiah would bring them into material wealth and freedom from oppression. They longed for the promised King who would end their struggle under the heavy taxation of the Romans. But that is not at all the message Jesus brought. Instead, Jesus began perhaps his most significant sermon, the Sermon on the Mount, with these words: “God blesses those are poor and realize their need for him, for the Kingdom of heaven is theirs” (Matthew 5:3). Jesus wanted them to see that to be poor in spirit – to be keenly aware that they are powerless and bankrupt and have nothing to offer God to get in his good graces – is what would prepare them to receive God’s riches and blessings.
The “good news” Jesus announced was his own coming – offering himself to us and for us. Paul wrote about Jesus: “Though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, so that you through his poverty might become rich” (2 Corinthians 8:9).
Jesus’ good news for the poor (then and now) is that he had come to make us rich – not financially or materially or even temporarily, but spiritually and eternally. This good news for the poor was that he would pay the debt for sin owed to God, the debt we have no resources to pay on our own no matter how hard we work or try.
Prayer – I hear and believe that God will meet all of my needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. Now I see that you, Jesus, are the Good News for someone like me who is destitute and empty and needy. I come to you with my poverty, and in you I am rich.
Song: The Gospel (By Ryan Stevenson)
“But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith.”
1 Timothy 6: 11-12a
1 Timothy 6: 11-16 – Part 2
As a Police Officer over the years I managed many an evacuation and the cordoning off, of an area. This for many reasons: unexploded World War II bombs; major crashes; fire; siege situations; and so on. The evacuation was for the safety of folk, for their good. Most heeded the directive but some refused. Many would come to the cordon to see what they could see. Motives for this behaviour varied but a general truth was present, people are drawn to matters they do not understand that may well be dangerous for them.
In this letter Paul has been warning the young Church of dangers that they were being drawn towards, dangers that they did not understand and that were hurting them. In the opening verses of this section a Royal Charter is issued; a commission that if followed would bless the Church and individual children of God. When facing danger there exists a physiological response called ‘fight or flight,’ (also known as the acute stress response). In these verses Timothy, the Church, and we, are called to adopt both responses. We are to flee that which is dangerous pursuing that which is beneficial; the latter pursuit is how we fight the good fight of faith. Fleeing untruth, false teachers and culture opposed to God, Timothy and the Church, were to pursue righteousness, godliness, faith and love in gentle endurance. These virtues can be translated as being right with God through faith whereby reverence and love are present in a persistent lifestyle and gentleness is evident. These are virtues worth fighting for and by necessity they have to be fought for; the battle is against principalities and powers opposed to God (Eph. 6: 12), the world (things not of God) and our old nature. The ‘fight of faith’ enables us to take hold of the eternal life we have been called to (vs. 12b).
The dangers the early Church faced are not dissimilar to that which the Church faces today. With differing motives we may find ourselves drawn to untruths and cultural beliefs that we do not fully understand and which could be dangerous to our faith and harm the Church. Let us flee such perils and pursue the virtues that lead to eternal life, bless others and glorify God. In Jesus’ words, let us, “Seek first His Kingdom (of God) and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to us as well,” (Matt 6: 33). This is indeed a Royal Charter.
To Ponder: Bring to mind the matters we have covered as we have studied this letter, the matters that Paul warns the Church about. How do these compare with that which the Church faces today? How might individual and Church wide pursuit of the Christlike virtues we looked at today be the answer?
Pray: Lord Jesus you have taught us that the night is far spent and the day is at hand. Keep us awake and alert, seeking and watching for your Kingdom. Help us to flee that which is not of you and to pursue your virtues. Make us strong in faith, so that when Christ comes in glory to judge the earth, we may joyfully give him praise; He who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Praise: All my hope on God is founded
Seek ye first the Kingdom of God
In 2023, each week's blog is a follow-up reflection written by the preceding Sunday’s preacher to dig deeper into the sermon topic and explore engaging discussion questions.