Daily Update #249

Ecclesiastes 1:1-11
Life is meaningful! Today we depart from the lectionary after more than a year and start to delve into the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes. It feels a bit like going out of the frying pan and into the fire! This oft-ignored book, nestling in the middle of the Old Testament, within the section referred to as ‘wisdom books’, seems to be very negative. Perhaps it echoes the temperament of many weighed down by the long period of lockdown we are experiencing. But the book shows that the Bible and God himself, recognise true feelings we have, and allows us to be honest and truthful to him and ourselves. Yet if we read on, and realise what he has in store for us, we can face life with confidence.

 Everything is meaningless

The words of the Teacher, son of David, king of Jerusalem:
‘Meaningless! Meaningless!’
    says the Teacher.
‘Utterly meaningless!
    Everything is meaningless.’
What do people gain from all their labours
    at which they toil under the sun?
Generations come and generations go,
    but the earth remains for ever.
The sun rises and the sun sets,
    and hurries back to where it rises.
The wind blows to the south
    and turns to the north;
round and round it goes,
    ever returning on its course.
All streams flow into the sea,
    yet the sea is never full.
To the place the streams come from,
    there they return again.
All things are wearisome,
    more than one can say.
The eye never has enough of seeing,
    nor the ear its fill of hearing.
What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.
10 Is there anything of which one can say,
    ‘Look! This is something new’?
It was here already, long ago;
    it was here before our time.
11 No one remembers the former generations,
    and even those yet to come
will not be remembered
    by those who follow them.
 
The author is either Solomon, or someone who wants us to believe he is. Solomon was the king of Israel who was the internationally recognised wisest man. He had everything, and yet study of the Bible and his supposed words here, do not make him someone to be envied. On the face of it, life is meaningless, we toil and overall, it doesn’t seem to amount to much. The word ‘meaningless’ used could be translated as ‘emptiness’, or something transitory and unsatisfactory. If you want to believe this teacher, as he describes himself (verse 1), our efforts count for nothing. These are real feelings we sometimes have, yet we need to hold on to our faith. Jesus did not advocate this philosophy. He said, “I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.” John 10:10.
So, any doubts we have, should be the classrooms of learning to drive us to God to receive the answers we need to reach a new level of faith.
Like the book of Job, we need to read on and not stop here. So, as we start to swim in the deep waters of these challenging scriptures in the weeks ahead, let us keep our eyes on our eternal lifeguard, Jesus. Amen
 
Prayer
Dear Lord,
You know how I feel today, allow me to see you and your saving power in my circumstances and my life. Reveal to us the rich treasures of a fulfilled life in you and help us to be a light to those around us, to bring the truth of your gospel to those we meet. In your precious name, Jesus.
Amen

Daily Update #248

Friday April 9th.  Today’s Reflection is from David Poulter:

Pause:  Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever.  
              Let those who fear the Lord say: ‘His love endures for ever.’ 
              Psalm 118 : 1, 4

Readings:  Acts 4 : 1 – 12; Psalm 118 : 1 – 4, 22 – 26;  John 21 : 1 – 14

Last Sunday Matt preached about the different resurrection appearances of Jesus, which varied from meeting with just a couple of disciples on the road to Emmaus to meeting with over 500 believers on another occasion.  Today’s reading from John’s Gospel tells us about one of those meetings, on the beach by the Sea of Galilee.

John tells us that seven of the disciples had gone out for a night’s fishing, but had not had any luck and were making their way back to shore.  Someone who was standing on the shore called to them to cast out their nets on the right-hand side of the boat, they did so, and they immediately caught a huge number of fish.  Initially they didn’t realise that it was Jesus on the shore, but when John recognised him Peter immediately jumped into the water to make his way as quickly as he could to the risen Jesus.  When they got to land, they found Jesus already preparing their breakfast, fish on a fire and some bread to go with the fish.

One of the things I find intriguing about this story is that Jesus must have met some other fishermen on the shore, who had been more fortunate with their night’s work than Peter and his friends, and Jesus got the makings of the breakfast from them.  Whoever they were, they are not normally listed among those to whom Jesus appeared, and yet their part in this story is important because it gives Jesus time to meet again with these seven disciples.  Our reading today ends with the disciples and Jesus enjoying breakfast together, but if we had read on until the end of the chapter we would have seen that during this time Jesus speaks to Peter about “feeding my sheep”, which is usually taken as commissioning Peter for what lay ahead, when he would become the leader both of the other disciples and of the early church.
These other fishermen that Jesus met that morning may seem insignificant, they aren’t even mentioned in the reading, and yet they contribute to an important moment or two in the life of Peter and the other seven disciples. After all, what a thrill it must have been for these seven fishermen to share a meal with their risen Lord. 

There are many thousands, millions really, of people around the world who play what might seem to be an insignificant role in the life of the church, and yet without them the work of spreading the Good News of Jesus would surely fail.  In Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, chapter 12 verse 27, he writes, “Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.”  Paul then follows with a list of roles with the church, including teachers, helpers, guides etc., but his list is by no means exhaustive.  There is something each one of us can do to help with the work of both the local church and the world-wide church.  I remember the story, probably apocryphal, of the Vicar who called on one of his elderly parishioners, and over a cup of tea (naturally) asked the elderly lady how she was.  “Oh, I’m well, although I’m quite tired this morning.  I’ve been all round the parish today.”  Knowing that the lady was virtually house-bound the Vicar asked how she had managed that.  Her reply, “Well, I’ve prayed my way right round the whole Parish today.”  She couldn’t help by knocking on doors, but what a blessing her prayers must have been both for the Vicar and for the Parish.

Despite the limitations of lock-down it has been a real joy to see how St. John’s has continued to function over the past weeks and months.  We have had online services, Zoom meetings, activities for families on Zoom and around the church, a free bookstall and shop, and through Praying Friends and phone calls etc. we have been able to keep in touch with one another.  As restrictions lift perhaps it would be a good time for each one of us to ask the Lord whether or not there is something that we could be doing to help God’s work here in Southbourne.  We may feel that we are insignificant, but I’m fairly sure that as we get back to some sort of normality there will be opportunities to help in some way; you could find out more by speaking to Matt, to Susie our Administrator, or to one of the Churchwardens.

A prayer:  O Lord our God, you call us all to be a part of your continuing work.  You have a purpose for each one of us; open our ears to your call, open our hearts to your love, open our minds to your purpose, that we may know you and give ourselves fully in your service, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  Amen.

Daily Update #247

Today’s readings:         Psalm 8,  Acts 3:11-end

Today’s passage follows Matt’s from yesterday when he spoke of Jesus’ appearance on the Emmaus Road.    

Luke: 24:36
…….Jesus Himself stood among them and said to them, “Peace be with you.”

Luke 24:44-48
He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.”
Then He opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures.  He told them, “This is what is written: the Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in His Name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem.  You are witnesses of these things.

On Palm Sunday, rather like an adult on a child’s bike, Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, his feet just off the ground!     About the same time, the Romans with their military might arrived to take charge of things during the Jewish Passover festival.   The crowds, enthusiastically waving palm branches, hoped that in Jesus they had found someone to deliver them from the occupying power.

Meanwhile, around the Temple area the Jewish leaders were plotting how to get rid of Jesus for good.  They felt threatened by His popularity.

A few nights later in a garden, the unarmed Jesus handed Himself over when the Temple Guard arrived with their clumsy weapons to arrest Him.

The next day, following political manoeuvres by the Jewish leaders, the Romans efficiently despatched this public nuisance.  Obviously, He was no match for their combined power.

BUT three days later rumours of a resurrection were circulating among the disciples!
……….

I think that most of us would relate to the struggles that Jesus’ first followers had in making sense of all that happened over that first Easter weekend.  It was a complete emotional roller-coaster.  They still had much to learn through tears and laughter.

No-one understood the concept of a suffering Messiah.   In spite of many Old Testament references (written hundreds of years earlier) attesting to Him and His sufferings, as well as the occasions when Jesus had tried to warn His disciples beforehand, they did not understand and so were unprepared.    Like many of us, when faced with something too painful to contemplate, they were in denial about it and taken by surprise when it happened.

Hard as it was living under occupation, they hadn’t understood that their real enemy was within them, hearts and minds given over to the dictates of the devil and not submitted to God.  Hearts that needed changing and redeeming.  People needed a Saviour.   

..……
The world’s answer to problems is force…….political manoeuvres, military power, financial control, withholding of human rights, spiritual abuse.  Or on a personal level – relationship abuse, control etc. etc.   
Force is not the answer to our deepest problems.  It takes great strength of character sometimes to choose another way.  In the late 1980s the Archbishop of Canterbury’s special envoy, Terry Waite, was captured by Hezbollah militants and held in solitary confinement in Beirut for almost five years.  On one occasion, by accident he found himself in possession of a gun belonging to one of his guards.  He could have shot himself out of prison.  Instead he handed it back to its owner and stayed there.

Countless other Christians before and since have faced similar hard choices.

Jesus chose to submit to God.  His life involved complete trust and obedience – even to death on the cross.   He was a suffering Messiah who stopped at nothing in submitting to God’s will.   
………
Because Jesus trusted and obeyed –  God vindicated Him and raised Him up on the third day.    
Because Jesus trusted and obeyed –  He opened the way of forgiveness and salvation for penitent sinners.   
Because Jesus trusted and obeyed –  His witnesses were commissioned to take the message of hope into the world.  Many of them would die doing so.   

……..
Where are we on our journey?  

Have we accepted that Jesus truly is God’s Messiah – the One who is able to meet our deepest needs by dying in our place on the cross?

Have we understood that there is free forgiveness for penitent sinners because of His death?  Or are we still holding onto things we shouldn’t?

Have we chosen to live God’s way, resisting temptations to conform to secular thinking and ways of doing things?  The choices for Christians are getting harder.  

It may be Southbourne or South Africa – have we responded to His commission to go and tell others about Him wherever He leads.  Even if the way involves pain and loss?

“When I survey the wondrous cross
On which the Prince of Glory died,
My richest gain I count but loss,
And pour contempt on all my pride.”  
(Isaac Watts, 1674-1748)

Tomorrow’s readings:  Acts 4:1-12, Psalm 118:1-4, 22-26,  John 21:1-14

Daily Update #246

In this familiar and charming story two discipleshave the enormous privilege of having Jesus himself explain the scriptures and break bread with them.But the story doesn’t begin there. They are confused and dejected, walking downcast to Emmaus. They relay the events of the weekend to this traveller who joins them but does not announce himself.

What prompts discussion is the two disciples’ faces. They stood still, ‘looking sad,’ verse 17.

Jesus’ question about what they are discussing prompts the recounting of the events in Jerusalem, the arrest, trial, crucifixion of Jesus Christ. ‘We had hoped he was the one to redeem Israel.’ The events surrounding the empty tomb seem not to have helped them understand or brought them comfort. The scale of the weekend’s horror and what looked so much like failure have overwhelmed them.
‘We had hoped.’ Those words alone could describe so much of life. Surprisingly this feels like a very everyday story. So often we have expectations that are not realised, we feel lost and lonely. Sometimes events beyond our control and understanding are the cause and, sometimes our own high hopes are a factor. We cannot actually see much beyond what is before us, especially in these days. But we do not navigate life alone. We have a guide ,a reliable shepherd.

Sometimes this is because our expectations of God rather than what he is actually doing. Something has not worked out as we expected, or dare I say wanted. I expect we all have moments like that. Like Cleopas, are unaware of God’s presence with us. It is interesting that Jesus, still ‘disguised’ first admonishes them and then begins with Moses.

First, he admonishes them, because everything that he said would happen has happened. Faith requires us to come under his authority, to trust what he has done, which is not necessarily the same as our expectations. I am sure we all have stories of something that didn’t happen as expected, but that greater fruit resulted.

Second, Jesus teaches them, beginning with Moses ,who taught the people that “the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart” (Deuteronomy30:11-14). Jesus is close, even when they do not realise it. These travellers had also forgotten the promises of God, which help us stand firm.

Perhaps it would be good to practice remembering Jesus’ words, ‘Behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.’ Don’t leave prayer and study until you’re already feeling overwhelmed. He never leaves us or forsakes us, he was forsaken for us so that we could always be near him so that whatever happens cannot shake us.

Prayer of St Richard of Chichester:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
for all the benefits thou hast given me,
for all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful redeemer, friend and brother,
may I know thee more clearly, love thee more dearly,
and follow thee more nearly, day by day.

Amen.

Daily Update #245

St. John’s SouthbourneDaily Reflection by Mike WilsonToday’s Readings – Acts 2:36-41.   Psalm 33:4-5, 18-22. John 20:11-1811 Mary stood outside the tomb crying. As she wept, she bent over to look into the tomb 12 and saw two angels in white, seated where Jesus’ body had been, one at the head and the other at the foot. 13 They asked her, “Woman, why are you crying?” “They have taken my Lord away,” she said, “and I don’t know where they have put him.” 14 At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. 15 “Woman”, he said, “why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?” Thinking he was the gardener, she said, “Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.” 16Jesus said to her, “Mary.” She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, “Rabboni!” (which means Teacher). 17Jesus said, “Do not hold on to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father. Go instead to my brothers and tell them, ‘I am returning to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’ ”. 18 Mary Magdalene went to the disciples with the news: “I have seen the Lord!” And she told them that he had said these things to her.‘In John 20:11-18 we have one of the most dramatic, personal and moving stories in the New Testament. Here we see Mary in her ultimate time of crisis. Unlike some of the disciples, she had been at the foot of the cross when she had seen her Lord unjustly and cruelly crucified. Now his body has disappeared from the garden tomb. Mary, who had left her chequered past to become one of Jesus’s most loyal and devoted followers, is totally without hope. She is bereaved, bereft and bewildered. Suddenly, the person Mary had taken to be the gardener and who had already spoken to her, speaks to her by name and instantly she knows it is Jesus. Having seen and heard her risen Lord, Mary’s time of intense and hope-less crisis was over’.Today’s lectionary reading is the same it was for 7th April 2020! So I am sure you all recall well the above paragraph from my third Daily Reflection (out of 41 so far)! That reflection began with a quote from G. Campbell Morgan: “What we do in the crisis always depends on whether we see the difficulties in the light of God, or God in the shadow of the difficulties”. How well we have done since last Easter? Better than we once feared? Today’s focus is upon Jesus’s words in verse 17 – “I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.” Last year I had not appreciated just how much Jesus includes us in His relationship with God, His Father. All disciples share in this very special privilege. St Augustine pointed out that “Jesus says not Our Father’: in one sense therefore, He is mine, in another sense He is yours; by nature mine, by grace yours... my God, under whom I also am as a man; your God, between whom and you I am a mediator. As a result of that first Easter we can all be restored children, no longer separated by our sins from Yahweh, our loving Father and our God. This has all been achieved by Jesus’s obedient death and victorious resurrection.In Romans 8 St Paul wrote “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Now if we are children, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (v16-17). God’s roadmap out of futility and fear, and out of the consequences of our sins, is not tentative and subject to change. It is solid, true and centred upon Jesus who has gone before us as our Lord, brother and friend.   Today’s Prayer: We thank you Lord Jesus for all the suffering you willingly endured for us during that first Easter. Help us to show our gratitude for this in the way we walk with you each day. Thank you Father for welcoming us back with forgiveness and joy as your restored children, for ever. Amen.                            (Mike W)

Daily Update #244

Acts 2:14,22-32        Psalm 16:1-2, 6-end          Matthew 28:8-15

We are the Easter people!

Easter Monday has no significant religious celebration. Some countries in central Europe, especially Poland call today ‘Dyngus Day’. For some reason, lost through the centuries, it is a day when boys throw water over girls, or gently beat them with pussy willow branches! I advise you do not do this! Whereas, it would appear in western culture this is a day of regret from the over indulgence of eating chocolate eggs after the Lenten period of abstinence.

I am particularly drawn to the Messianic Psalm 16, with the New Testament future echoes in the reading from Acts chapter 2.

Keep me safe, my God,
    for in you I take refuge.
I say to the Lord, ‘You are my Lord;
    apart from you I have no good thing.’

The boundary lines have fallen for me in pleasant places;
    surely I have a delightful inheritance.
I will praise the Lord, who counsels me;
    even at night my heart instructs me.
I keep my eyes always on the Lord.
    With him at my right hand, I shall not be shaken.
Therefore my heart is glad and my tongue rejoices;
    my body also will rest secure,
10 because you will not abandon me to the realm of the dead,
    nor will you let your faithful one see decay.
11 You make known to me the path of life;
    you will fill me with joy in your presence,
    with eternal pleasures at your right hand.
 
I find King David’s psalms inspirational, and despite his human flaws, his perception and dedication to God was ahead of his time. For example, in verses 1 & 2, he uses three words for God. Verse one, “God” – the Hebrew word ‘El’ signifying God’s majesty. In verse two, our English translation shows “LORD” and “Lord”, which are ‘Yehhovaw’, which is God’s pre-existent name, whereas the second ‘Lord’ is ‘Adoney’ acknowledging God’s sovereignty. In these two short verses David, asks for protection and acknowledges his sin, as well as offering up threefold praise.

The core message, which David prophesised just over a thousand years before Jesus fulfilled it, was that God would not abandon him to the grave. That is what we are celebrating this Eastertide. But it’s not just for Jesus, the resurrection was the pioneering act for us all to follow. When we ultimately receive our resurrection bodies, having been bought at the cost of the cross by Jesus, we will follow his path of life and be filled with the joy of being in his presence (verse 11). 

So, if we rightly celebrate our eternal king’s salvation act for us and the demonstration of the resurrection, shall we see what we can do for him?

God didn’t abandon Jesus and he has promised never to abandon us too. 
 

Prayer

Dear Lord,
We thank you for sending your son to reinstate us to a true relationship with you. Help us to live and work for you in the true realisation of the promise of resurrection and the future prospect of worshipping in your eternal presence. Make known to us the path of life today, that we may walk in it. Hallelujah.
Amen

Tomorrow’s Readings:  Acts 2:36-41,     Psalm 33:4-5;18-end,   John 20:11-18

Good Friday Service

Online Service for Friday, 2nd April 2021

This service is now available here:

John 3:13-21 – Matt Luff

Our Easter Day online service will be made available on this site shortly. We are also holding an outdoor service in the grounds of St. John’s Church on Easter Day, please contact Susie on admin@stjohnssouthbourne.com if you would like to book a place.

Daily Update #243

12 The Lord said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, 2 “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. 3 Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. 4 If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbour, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. 6 Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the members of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. 7 Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. 8 That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. 9 Do not eat the meat raw or boiled in water, but roast it over a fire—with the head, legs and internal organs. 10 Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. 11 This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the Lord’s Passover.

12 “On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn of both people and animals, and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the Lord. 13 The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are, and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.

14 “This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the Lord—a lasting ordinance.

Exodus 12:1-14

Slaughtering lambs, daubing blood on the doorframes, roasting and eating the lambs, the Lord striking down the firstborn of all the Egyptians….!  This is certainly one of those Old Testament passages which needs a bit of explaining to children and grandchildren today, with all our sensitivities over animal welfare, etc.  Yet the Passover is arguably the most important celebration of the people of Israel as they move out from the slavery of Egypt to the freedom and all the good things which await them in the promised land.  

As often happens in the Old Testament, this event is a foreshadowing of God’s ultimate plan for his people.  

The situation in Egypt is that God’s people are enslaved, oppressed and they have cried out to God for deliverance.  God has a plan to free them so that they can leave Egypt and become a free people.  Their destiny is to reside in the land of Canaan, which the Lord promised to Abraham and his descendants.  

This plan involves the death of an animal (instead of the firstborn of the Israelites) and the marking of the doorframes with blood so that the firstborn of the Israelites can be passed over.  The lamb dies, instead of the death of God’s people.  The result of this plague on the firstborn of Egypt is that God’s people are released by Pharaoh and given their freedom to leave.  

All of this foreshadows a bigger problem which is affecting all of God’s people.  Our situation was that all of us were enslaved by sin, unable to help ourselves and destined to die as the just penalty for rebelling against God.  In response to our cries for deliverance, God put into action his plan to deliver us from our sins and from death.  

This plan involves the death of his son, the Lord Jesus Christ, on the cross.  He dies instead of each one of us.  He takes upon himself the penalty for our sin, and gives us his righteousness so that we can be reconciled to God.  God looks at each one of us and sees the righteousness of Jesus, he declares us righteous in his sight.  

The foreshadowing was a sign and involved an unblemished lamb dying in place of God’s people.  The reality is that God’s perfect Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, died in our place, in order that we might be reconciled to God, be forgiven and live forever!

Can you see how the foreshadowing helps us to see the impact and meaning of the reality?  I am an eldest son and I sometimes think about what it would have been like to be an Israelite at the time of the first Passover, particularly for the firstborn.  I think I would have been checking that doorpost very carefully.  “Dad – I think you missed a bit over here, pass me the hyssop…”  While I would have been a bit sad about the lamb, I would have been amazingly grateful that it died in my place.  

If we scroll forward to the reality, I’m struck by so many things.  The seriousness of our predicament, mired in sin and destined for death, judgement and condemnation.  The glorious solution which God himself provides through the amazing sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son.  The willingness of the Lord Jesus to go to this horrific death, this estrangement from God as he bears the sins of the whole world in his body on the cross.  The amazing debt we owe him, and the huge gratitude we should all feel towards him as we benefit from his death through the perfect freedom and eternal life which faith in Jesus bring.  He truly is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, praise God!   

29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’ 31 I myself did not know him, but the reason I came baptising with water was that he might be revealed to Israel.”

John 1:29-31

Daily Update will be taking a break over Easter, back on Monday, 5th April when the passages will be: 
Acts 2:14,22-32    Psalm 16:1-2, 6-end    Matthew 28:8-15