Archive | November, 2010

November 30th – The Secret of Being a Saint

Today is St. Andrew’s Day -and we began a few days ago to lead up to today. Not that Andrew, the Apostle, is recorded as having accomplished very much, apart from being one member of the first and greatest Christian leadership team, which we call the Apostles of Jesus. The three places where he is referred to by name, in his own right, however do reveal the secret of a personal faith. He ‘discovered’ Jesus for himself, told his brother, and then took a back seat to let Jesus deal with his brother face-to-face. Andrew’s insignificant part in the feeding of the 5,000 does reveal the secret of a practical faith. No matter how small is your offering, it’s always a miracle to see what Jesus can do with it.
The world’s vast ‘us and them’ problem – summarised in scripture as ‘Jews and Gentiles’, was stumbled on by Andrew and Philip, who discovered that it is met by the secret of a prolific faith in which the all-conquering God shows his hand. His hand does not contain a sword to subdue, but a handful of seeds which produce a harvest, but only when they are first buried as if they were dead: like the Son of Man himself. Andrew’s role is at the heart of things after all. Names are very important in scripture, and always have a meaning. For example:
Jesus means- ‘Saviour’, from the Hebrew Yshua or Joshua – ‘deliverer’.
Sarah means-Princess, counterpart of the masculine of Shar, or Czar.
Mary means- Bitter
Naomi means- Sweet
Peter means- Rocky
Paul means- Little fellow
Stephen means-A crown.
But Andrew means -Manly – like a real man: just as Andrea, its feminine counterpart, also means ‘as a real human being’.
Thus we do have saints who are unlike the great stars of history. In fact Andrew truly could be called “Saint Everyman” – one of us.Here are those twelve names again:
He appointed twelve – designating them apostles – that they might be with him and that he might send them out to preach and to have authority to drive out demons.
These are the twelve he appointed: Simon (to whom he gave the name Peter); James son of Zebedee and his brother John (to them he gave the name Boanerges, which means Sons of Thunder); Andrew, Philip, Bartholomew, Matthew, Thomas, James son of Alphaeus, Thaddaeus, Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him. Mark 3: 14-19
When God begins to change stony-hearted men and women, according to Ezekiel 36:26 he removes the heart of stone and replaces it with a heart of flesh – a truly human heart!
A Prayer:
“O Lord, let us not live to be useless, for Christ’s sake” (John Wesley -1703)
Now read Man-Woman, I Kings 3: 16-28, and ‘Superman’ Proverbs 31:10-31.

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November 29th – The Secret of Prolific Faith

During these last few days we’ve been looking at the most unremarkable events recorded in the New Testament which include Andrew, who was one of Jesus’s disciples. There are only three places where he is mentioned in his own right, and this is the third of them. Remember that Philip and Andrew were the closest of friends, so when in doubt, they conferred:
Now there were some Greeks among those who went up to worship at the Feast. They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, with a request. “Sir” they said, “we would like to see Jesus”. Philip went to tell Andrew; Andrew and Philip in turn told Jesus.
Jesus replied, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. I tell you the truth, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. …” John 12: 20-24
Now hang on a minute. What’s going on here? Surely not something racial? The Greeks who wanted to see Jesus were Hellenists. They represented a culture foreign to the strict Hebrew faith of the Holy Land. Perhaps this Jesus had nothing to offer people like them. They were from another part of the world: perhaps they’d better tread gently. So they asked Philip – “Can we see Jesus?” Philip reflects the hesitancy. Such a lot would hang on it. “I’ll talk to Andrew, see what he says”.
After discussing it, Philip and Andrew go and tell Jesus about this request. You see, they may not have been Hellenistic Jews, but pagan Greeks up for the feast – like a curious Christian might want to experience the Islamic pilgrimages in Mecca, if he dare risk his life, or visit the Ganges holy places at a Hindu festival. Jerusalem was not supposed to be like that because the outer court was open to non-Jews. It was a place of refuge, when not cluttered with lean-to shacks of the market traders, and their stalls. So Andrew and Philip were merely links in a chain -that’s all! They took the problem to Jesus. But remember, that the strongest chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Andrew, for one, had the Christian sense to ‘take it to the Lord’. The response of Jesus was world-shaking. The glory day! “His hour” John calls it, was not one of a world-conquering warrior Messiah, smashing all pagan nations to pulp, but the glory was to be shown in a dying and rising Saviour of the world. Seed preserved remains seed – seed buried in the soil creates harvests. Andrew would not understand it, but he was already part of it. The Greek world, the Roman world, the whole world, would see Jesus – but this glory would only come from the cross and resurrection. All that had to come first.
A Prayer: Lord, I do not understand, but I know I am part of your wondrous story. Now read Luke 24: 13-35, and meditate on verses 25-27.

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November 28th – The Secret of a Practical Faith

There are only three places in the New Testament where Andrew, one of Jesus’s disciples, is named in his own right. This is the second of them. As you see, the scene set before you, now watch out for Andrew’s part – but don’t blink or you’ll miss it.
When Jesus looked up and saw a great crowd coming towards him, he said to Philip, “Where shall we buy bread for these people to eat?” He asked this only to test him, for he already had in mind what he was going to do. Philip answered him, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite”. Another of his disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?”. John 6:5-9
Philip and Andrew are often named together, as if in their friendship they were inseparable. Where there was one there was always the other. Well here Jesus, eyes twinkling, puts a poser to Philip. Philip is bewildered and answers “We couldn’t raise enough money in eight months work to feed this lot just one meal”. Andrew, his mate, spoke up “There’s a lad here with bread rolls and fish for his lunch …”, and then wished he’d kept his mouth shut. He felt so stupid. After all, come on, can a couple of fish sandwiches feed a football crowd? He must have wished that the ground would open up and eat him! But you know the end of this event – Jesus took that small offering of bread and fish offered by the young lad (it wasn’t even Andrew’s food!) and fed the multitude with it. Don’t ever try to explain the miracle away. When we offer our insignificant offerings to Jesus, it’s simply beyond rational expectations what he does with them.
Although I personally have not seen this particular miracle, I have seen little old ladies sewing and knitting and selling their paltry offerings, and on the strength of such insignificant offerings entire third-world communities have been fed and cared for. I’ve seen children’s pennies used to heal the sick: I’ve seen one solitary Christian life buried alive in an alien culture, transform the culture of millions of people. Never be ashamed of offering your ‘poor little nothings’ to Jesus. Never say “I daren’t offer God my two-pennyworth”, because if that’s all you’ve got, then put it into the hands of Jesus and see what he does with it – even now. That’s the secret of a practical faith.
A Prayer:
Thank you Lord that I am never so poor that I have nothing to offer you, for the people in need. Thank you also that it is not what I offer you that matters, but what you do with it that makes the miracle.
Now read Judges Chapter 7.

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November 27th – Playing Second Fiddle

Andrew did nothing very remarkable or world-shaking, so that history would give him star billing, but what he did do was crucial.
He went personally, to find out about Jesus for himself. He didn’t take even John the Baptist’s word for it. He followed Jesus and got to know him personally, and part of that discovery was that he immediately told his brother of the one he had found. His brother was none other than Simon, the big fisherman – a rough, tough, man’s man, a natural born leader. And Andrew’s first act as a Christian was to tell his brother and bring him to Jesus. Then an even more telling thing, he immediately took a back seat! He got out of the way and let Jesus and Simon meet face-to-face. And he brought him to Jesus. Jesus looked at him and said “You are Simon son of John. You will be called Cephas” (which, when translated, is Peter). John 1:42
Can I be personal? Does that make you want to spit? You do all the work, you were there first, and immediately it is your brother who gets the limelight. You are pushed into the back seat and the one you went to the trouble of introducing to Jesus now gets all the star billing. If you agree with that, you are in real need of help. You have missed the whole point of Andrew’s model of a Christian. Simon was the responsibility of Jesus now – not Andrew. When people are brought to Jesus it’s not you who deserve the praise and the limelight – it’s Jesus. Jesus knew that Simon was more like quicksand, so in a superb joke he re-named Simon ‘Rocky’ (there never was a less rock-like man!). But one day he would be – Jesus would see to that – not Andrew.
Most power struggles in Christian churches and communities arise from ignoring this one simple thing which Andrew put into practice – Point to Christ, and get your own little self out of the way! “It takes more grace than man can tell To play a second fiddle well.”
God doesn’t call all his servants to be leaders or soloists, and there are fewer prima donnas than ever they dream. God calls us to play our part and create harmony.
A Prayer:
I lay before you, Lord, all my relationships this day.Let all dis-harmony, rivalry, and jealousy, be washed clean out of me. By your humble love for
them, and for me.
Now read Peter’s words about it in I Peter 3:8 to 4:19

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November 26th – The Secret of a Personal Faith

There are just three places where Andrew, a disciple of Jesus, is mentioned in his own right, as distinct from being listed on the Jesus Team Sheet, but even those three places are not all that world-shaking. They are all three in John’s Gospel. One place is in the first chapter. The next day John was there again with two of his disciples. When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, “Look, the Lamb of God!”. When the two disciples heard him say this, they followed Jesus. Turning round, Jesus saw them following and asked, “What do you want?”. They said “Rabbi” (which means Teacher), “where are you staying?” “Come”, he replied “and you will see”. So they went and saw where he was staying, and spent the day with him . It was about the tenth hour. Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, was one of the two who heard what John had said and who had followed Jesus. John 1: 35-40
So Andrew is my working model for ‘Saint Man in the Street’. The first thing he did was that he went to Jesus and found out for himself. He came to Jesus to discover who he is. We call that personal experience. He was so impressed by Jesus, so overwhelmed, he simply had to tell someone. It is like when you fall in love, the whole world has changed for you.
Part and parcel of a saving faith is that you believe in your heart and confess with your lips – First you find Jesus, then you tell. Too many Christians are like secret agents who never blow their cover, and so they remain unrecognised and are more concerned about their own image than the eternal life of their brothers and sisters.
There’s even more to this secret of a personal faith which is all part of Andrew’s first mention in Scripture, but for today ponder Paul’s words:
For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Romans 10:10
A Prayer:
Your church, O Lord, was bold in its proclamation of Jesus – the Name above all names. Grant me the simple courage to confess with my lips and my life the things I believe in my heart.
Now read II Kings Chapter 5 – what you do when someone has truly touched your heart.

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November 25th – Part of a Team

I don’t know about you, but I sometimes get exasperated by preachers who hold up the great saints, heroes, heroines and martyrs for the Christian faith, as working models for me to follow. Why do I get exasperated? I’ll tell you. It’s as if they are saying Paul was a wondrous mystic and activist. He preached, taught, wrote and remained on fire for his Lord. The implication is, why aren’t you like that? Mother Theresa is also a popular example. So why don’t I go and wash the feet of the poor in Calcutta? Then there is St. Peter, the working man who led from the front: there is St. John who walked and breathed so close to Christ, and again the implication – Why don’t you if you are a Christian? It is like Sir Edmund Hillary saying “I’ve climbed Everest – now come on, you do it”. Or Martin Luther saying “I changed the world – why don’t you?” I want to cry out “Is there no ordinary Christian who, like me, is not star quality – just mediocre?” Is there no working model I can call “Saint Man in the Street”? or better still “Saint Everyman”? Well the answer is ‘Yes’, there are thousands of them – millions in fact, whose lives are so ordinary no-one ever writes of them. They have no status to their name. Well I have one name; a saint’s at that, whose special day is celebrated this week, on the 30th November – the last day in the church’s year. If I asked you, like a quiz master, ‘Can you name him?’, especially if you are not a Scot, could you? No, he’s not a Scot, but he is the Patron Saint of Scotland, and this week we will look at this man’s life in the New Testament. There are twelve places in the Gospels where he is named. In nine of them he is simply one in a list of names, like one on the discipleship team sheet. But in three places he is briefly mentioned in his own right which we will begin to look at tomorrow, but for now, just being one of Jesus’s men, one of ‘Jesus’s gang’ is notable in itself. I may do nothing great in my little life, but I do belong to a most glorious team of fellow Christians.
Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison.They were stoned; they were sawn in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and ill-treated – the world was not worthy of them.These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together
A Prayer:
Thank you Lord that, like a mighty army moves the Church of God, and in Christ me and mine are living parts of it. We are content to belong to it, especially if we are not qualified to help lead it.
Now read Psalm 84.

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November 24th – Walking by Faith in a Dark World

The genius of great worship is that its songs teach people the deep truths of God. The Psalms is the greatest hymn and prayer book ever written. The Psalms were all chanted or sung in worship, and taken away in memories so that God-centred thinking went with people into their busy lives in the world. All true revivals teach the deep truths of Christian theology in song. Martin Luther wrote songs which thousands of young people, in his day, sang as ‘Top of the Pops’. The Wesleys wrote and sang ecstatic praise, but in the words of wondrous theology. “He breaks the power of cancelled sin and sets the prisoners free” is one line from a hymn that educated thousands of searching people.
On these last two days we have been looking, albeit too briefly, at the three chapters which, in the Bible is “The Book of the Prophet Habakkuk”. Well, the third chapter is a hymn or psalm which puts to music the theology and teaching which can stick to their minds like wet paint. How do you pray about the world? How can we ask God to intervene in a greedy, crooked and violent society? How do genuine believers pray in a land full of idols? How do I trust him in a world like this? How do I express it, my faith in believing prayer?
That’s why Chapter 3 is in the prophecies of Habakkuk. How do you walk with God by faith when everything has gone wrong?
Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour. Habakkuk 3: 17-18
You may prefer the words from another Psalm, the best known one, and that line which says: “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for Thou art with me.”
Oh, by the way, that psalm in Habakkuk has two musical instructions, telling people how to sing and play it. One is ’sela’ – three times it appears, and it means ‘intermezzo’ – stop singing and listen to the music, as you ponder what you’ve just sung.The other is ’shigionoth’ which comes from the root word ‘Shagah’, which means ‘Gone off the rails’, ‘wandering off’. Thus a shigionoth means, like a drunken reel, or when you sing this ‘let your hair down’ and stamp, or even dance to the beat. That’s how to teach theology!
A Prayer:
In submission to your will we bend our purposes, work and play, and when we are exhausted we continue putting our trust in you, through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Now read Habakkuk Chapter 2 from verse 6 (his ’six woes’), and Chapter 3 (his hymn).

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November 23rd – The Root of the Good Life

For fifty years the most famous teacher and thinker in ancient Greece was Socrates. He spent his life asking ordinary citizens such questions as: ‘What is justice?, What is right?, What is fair?, What is the good life?’ – in a word, ‘What is the just society?’. Among the many young thinkers attracted to him were Alcibiades, Xenaphon, Critas, and his greatest pupil of all, Plato. When most of us began studying philosophy – the science of attempting to discover ultimate reality – we were directed to the great genius, Plato. His ‘Republic’ is a superb piece of thinking in any age, and remember, he lived about 400 years before the Christian era.
Now you would not expect me to try to set out thumbnail edition of Plato’s and Socrates’ answers to the big issue ‘What is the just society’”. All I have space to mention here is that to these great minds justice was supreme and justice was an essence from an ideal world which could only be distilled by the minds of philosopher kings. Now compare that idea of justice, or the just society, with the words of Habakkuk, who could well have lived over two centuries before Plato was even born.
The Hebrew prophet grappled with this vast issue, and was shown that the just life, the good life, the ideal society, was not some intangible essence, but was a personal characteristic. God is just. Only God is just and fair and good – and the only way we can glimpse, let alone enjoy, the good life, the just society, is by walking in living faith with God. In that relationship it rubs off. Like Father – like sons and like daughters. “The Just shall live by faith” – the good news of Christian salvation: the text of the entire letter of the Romans: the great watchword of the Reformation: the Gospel in a nutshell. Only our restored relationship with God produces fidelity, integrity – in a word ‘faith’, and only that can produce the ‘Good Life’. That’s why Habakkuk is so important in religious world history. He wrestled with God, and was shown a truth so profound, that it has affected human life on earth for over two and a half millennia. Paul’s monumental Letter to the Romans is an exposition of Habakkuk 2:4
I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel, a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith”. Romans 1: 16-17
A Prayer: For myself, for all those I love, for all your people throughout the world: Lord enable me to walk with you by faith each step of the way.
Now read Romans Chapter 4.

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November 22nd – The Cure for the Unjust Society

There is one little book in the Old Testament which has an importance way beyond its size. It is the book of the prophet Habakkuk. The reason it is so monumental is the revelation which came to this prophet when he was grappling with the ever-present, world-wide problem of the unjust society. ‘Grappling’ is a good word for what he did, because his very name means ‘one who grapples, or wrestles’. The entire book consists of but three chapters. In the first two he wrestles with the great imponderable problem of the unjust human society, and in the third chapter the lessons that he learned are set out liturgically, as a psalm or hymn, to teach ordinary people to sing it. After all the Wesleys were not the first people to teach the crowds to sing good theology. Well, Habakkuk begins by opening his huge burden for the unjust society, of which he complains so bitterly. Why does God allow violence and tolerate brutality, lying, corruption and even bribery in the justice system? Perhaps war will teach us a lesson, he ponders (after all, my own generation can still be heard singing the praises of people who ‘came together’ under the bombardment of the Luftwaffer!). The most efficiently ruthless army which the world had then seen had invaded Israel. The Babylonian Army was like a towering human tide of steel. Suddenly the prophet saw that this was more unjust, more evil than anything that his own corrupt nation had perpetrated. This enemy behaved as natural-born killers – heartless, worshippers of naked force, whose God was Mars. If war were a social ‘cure’, it was worse than the disease. So Habakkuk goes into his watch tower to ponder and pray, to wrestle with God – for this watch tower was not merely a city’s early-warning system, but a world-view. So he wrestles with God, as did his ancestor Jacob.
Then the Lord replied: “Write down the revelation and make it plain on tablets so that a herald may run with it. For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, wait for it; it will certainly come and will not delay. .. Habakkuk 2: 2-3
In other words,when you see God’s point, put it simply, so that those who can’t read the small print, those who can only read the headlines, may grasp it; and if you find this difficult, wait and work at it, because that’s what a prophet is called to do, namely to speak the mind of God clearly, so that even the illiterate can understand it.
A Prayer:
Deliver us all, O Lord, from the pride which corrupts everything we are, and do, and say, as individuals, communities, families and nations.
Now read Habakkuk 2: 1-5, and wrestle hard with v.4. The Good Life is Faith.

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November 21st – To Whom Can We Turn?

Peter, the big fisherman, is not portrayed in the New Testament as a great star. The character profile is far from flattering. Loud-mouthed, ill-educated, uncultured, cowardly, slow to grasp the point and, as some have said, every time he opens his mouth he puts his foot in it. Now I have no brief to defend Peter’s record, even though I remember that much of this self-revelation comes from Peter’s own public admissions (for Mark’s Gospel reflects the preaching of Peter over twenty years – and no one could ever accuse the gospel writers of trying to do a whitewash job on Peter, or on anyone else). But there is one superb word of Peter which I am thinking about today, which reveals more of Peter’s insight into our human condition than many a library of books. It occurs towards the end of Chapter 6 in John’s Gospel, which, you remember, deals with such images repellent to anyone, but especially to Jews, about ‘eating his flesh and drinking his blood’. This vivid, and in some ways startlingly horrific image, he later explained was not meant literally:
“It is the Spirit that gives life.The flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and life.” (John 6:63).
As a result of all this: From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. “You do not want to leave too, do you?” Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. We believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.” John 6: 66-69
There you have the crux of the human dilemma. If not to Jesus, to whom shall we turn? He alone is the way and the goal. He alone is why we are here on earth. To whom else can we go when we are sick of ourselves, when we know we are lost, when we are homesick for God? When we cry “There’s got to be something better than this!”, then where do we go if not to Jesus the Messiah, the Son of God? who knows us through and through and knows our deepest needs. We are so privileged and so blessed that we can turn to Jesus.
A Prayer (from St. Augustine, as old as 354 A.D., and new as today) Watch then dear Lord, with those who wake or watch or weep tonight, and give thine angels charge over those who sleep.Tend thy sick ones, O Lord Christ Rest thy weary ones. Bless thy dying ones. Soothe thy suffering ones. Pity thine afflicted ones. Shield thy joyous ones. And all for thy love’s sake. Amen.
Now read John 1: 43-57.

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Thought 4 The Day

It is not great men who change the world, but weak men in the hands of a great God. (The Heavenly Man)

Through the year calendar

December 2010
« Nov «-»  

Click on any previous date in the above calendar to read the relevant Through The Year post
Believe it or Not
Sometimes you just can't believe it's true!
A Word in Time
Life has a funny way of connecting us all!
Cooke's Tour of The Bible
Frank Cooke's journey through the Old and New Testaments
Take 2
Some useful life lessons
Mind Stretchers
An open mind is a healthy mind!
Bible Bloopers
Even the Bible has its funnies!