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Fear Of Failure

3rd August 2017

Dear Friends

On three separate occasions I remember as a teenager, at school, trying out on the athletics field the art of javelin throwing. This always looked to me like a fun thing to do as well as being an ancient athletic challenge dating back to games (even earlier it was used as a weapon) in Greece before Christ. So as I made my attempts to hurl the several feet of grey metal through the air I was recreating history. The only problem was that each time I tried to propel the missile all I managed to hit was the back of my head. Three painful failures were enough for me to go back onto the track and try my luck elsewhere.

 Failure is something every human being knows about, sooner or later and The Bible is full of examples of even the greatest of it's heroes succumbing to the challenges of life. No doubt in my mind the greatest of these is the failure of Peter to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus. In John 18 we read of how, as Jesus had predicted, Peter three times denied his friend and Lord. So why did he do this?

 There are a few reasons that could be suggested for the denials by Peter yet I believe the main one is that he feared people more than God. Kahneman has said that people fear loss twice as much as they prefer gains. Peter seems to fear the loss of face, the fear of being outcast from mainstream society. With Jesus about to depart this life his confidence was no longer in the one he had called Lord. We often fail to overcome temptation because we fear people with the loss of face as we go against the flow seeming too much of a loss.

 Perhaps we can explain Peter's actions as this sense of fear. The promise of eternal life; the everlasting relationship with God seemed at that moment not worth losing the things he had grown up with all his, short, life to date. Moreover it is this fear that I see as the number one reason why people don't follow Jesus in the first place! It is true that people look at what Jesus did, said, promised etc., and are more afraid to lose what they know, however bad, than to reach out for the promise of eternal life.

 Last week we marvelled at the supreme aquatic efforts of Adam Peaty as he broke world records on his way to winning gold medals. When asked about the sacrifices he has had to make to overcome his fear of water and become a champion he said this; "It's not a sacrifice. It's a choice. You make two choices in life, one that makes you faster, one that makes you slower. I choose faster."

 Peter we see takes the wrong path choosing to cling to this world in fear of what even strangers think. Yet in chapter twenty-one of John we see the risen Christ restoring Peter. The Apostle then realises that he really does want to follow Jesus (see John 21:9 as Jesus repeats his original call to 'follow me') and takes up that call once again on his life but now he knows that this is the right way to go. Many people have stopped following Christ, wavered, felt a failure but Jesus calls all to commit their lives to him in spite of what they might think it will cost. "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." 1 John 1:8-9

 Jesus does not waver in his love and neither does his call of 'follow me' fade down the annals of time. Are you prepared to leave failure behind and trust Jesus to carry you through, despite the consequences?

Sharing The Excitement

28th July 2017

Dear Friends

On three separate occasions I remember as a teenager, at school, trying out on the athletics field the art of javelin throwing. This always looked to me like a fun thing to do as well as being an ancient athletic challenge dating back to games (even earlier it was used as a weapon) in Greece before Christ. So as I made my attempts to hurl the several feet of grey metal through the air I was recreating history. The only problem was that each time I tried to propel the missile all I managed to hit was the back of my head. Three painful failures were enough for me to go back onto the track and try my luck elsewhere.

 Failure is something every human being knows about, sooner or later and The Bible is full of examples of even the greatest of it's heroes succumbing to the challenges of life. No doubt in my mind the greatest of these is the failure of Peter to acknowledge that he even knew Jesus. In John 18 we read of how, as Jesus had predicted, Peter three times denied his friend and Lord. So why did he do this?

 There are a few reasons that could be suggested for the denials by Peter yet I believe the main one is that he feared people more than God. Kahneman has said that people fear loss twice as much as they prefer gains. Peter seems to fear the loss of face, the fear of being outcast from mainstream society. With Jesus about to depart this life his confidence was no longer in the one he had called Lord. We often fail to overcome temptation because we fear people with the loss of face as we go against the flow seeming too much of a loss.

 Perhaps we can explain Peter's actions as this sense of fear. The promise of eternal life; the everlasting relationship with God seemed at that moment not worth losing the things he had grown up with all his, short, life to date. Moreover it is this fear that I see as the number one reason why people don't follow Jesus in the first place! It is true that people look at what Jesus did, said, promised etc., and are more afraid to lose what they know, however bad, than to reach out for the promise of eternal life.

 Last week we marvelled at the supreme aquatic efforts of Adam Peaty as he broke world records on his way to winning gold medals. When asked about the sacrifices he has had to make to overcome his fear of water and become a champion he said this; "It's not a sacrifice. It's a choice. You make two choices in life, one that makes you faster, one that makes you slower. I choose faster."

 Peter we see takes the wrong path choosing to cling to this world in fear of what even strangers think. Yet in chapter twenty-one of John we see the risen Christ restoring Peter. The Apostle then realises that he really does want to follow Jesus (see John 21:9 as Jesus repeats his original call to 'follow me') and takes up that call once again on his life but now he knows that this is the right way to go. Many people have stopped following Christ, wavered, felt a failure but Jesus calls all to commit their lives to him in spite of what they might think it will cost. "If we claim we have no sin, we are only fooling ourselves and not living in the truth. But if we confess our sins to him, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all wickedness." 1 John 1:8-9

 Jesus does not waver in his love and neither does his call of 'follow me' fade down the annals of time. Are you prepared to leave failure behind and trust Jesus to carry you through, despite the consequences?

Decisions, Decisions, Decisions

8th July 2017

Dear Friends

Decisions, decisions, decisions. Life is full of them. Recently we were out for a family lunch and there was a menu to choose from. No one had a starter; easy choice then, neither would I. Main course time, what to choose. I had no experience of the restaurant so unlike most places I visit regularly there was no 'usual' to make choosing easy. Daily deciding what clothes to wear is tough but some people have that sorted – they have a number of shirts all the same, suits all the same, socks all the same! Making decisions is draining so choosing the same thing makes life much easier.  

Some people have been surprised that churches, Christians responded so instantly to the recent tragic events in North Kensington. Yet they shouldn't. Early Church history shows how in Roman times it was the church who fed the poor, cared for the vulnerable and stood against state excesses and control, as typified by Emperor worship. In Britain science, education, healthcare and more owe their development to Christians taking seriously the decision to follow the example of Jesus.  

John wrote his Gospel so that people might believe; "But these are written so that you may continue to believethat Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing in him you will have life by the power of his name." (John 20:31) John has been very helpful. He has done the research, gathered the evidence into one place, made clear his view of who Jesus is and lays it before us in a structured way. All we have to do is respond ... decisions, decisions, decisions.  

If any passage sums up the fact that Jesus, fully God and fully man, was faced with hard choices it is this. "Now my soul is deeply troubled. Should I pray, 'Father, save me from this hour'? But this is the very reason I came! Father, bring glory to your name." (John 12:27-28)  

Jesus thinks about praying for God to take him away from all this but is swayed not by the thought of the real anguish, suffering, rejection he faced but by the chosen path; by his decision to do the will of the Father. This is the choice before him ... his will or the Fathers' will! Jesus dies to self before he dies on the cross. This is the way ("I am the way, the truth and the life") for all his followers to go.  

Faced with the evidence of the life and accomplishments of Jesus. Faced with the evidence of the enduring nature and influence of the church for good in society perhaps the decision as to whether to follow Jesus or not is not really a hard one to make.

Jesus Feeds The Hungry

28th June 2017

Dear Friends

In the Gospel of John, chapter 6 (v1-15), we read of a remarkable occasion in the life of Jesus. A miracle takes place which all four evangelists record. Jesus faced with a hungry crowd of around 20,000 wants to feed them there and then. His followers were perplexed because there was nowhere to buy food and anyway they had no money to even begin to feed the crowds.

One boy offered Jesus his lunch of barley cakes and fish. Barley was the food of the masses, the poor. Bread made from wheat and flour was beyond the means of most people. Wheat needed rich, fertile soil to thrive in but barley was common. Amazingly Jesus took this one picnic and fed the masses! 

On June 14 when fire broke out in North Kensington tower block, God took the little in terms of people and resources of the churches; Latymer, the Methodist church, St Clements, Tabernacle, NHCC etc., to meet the needs of the crowds. 

In one of the richest, if not the richest, most resourced parts of one of the wealthiest cities on the planet the authorities were nowhere to be seen. National leaders were not able to do anything. But these churches with their small congregations and one or two staff members opened their doors, their hearts, showed their compassion and gave of themselves as they stood with the victims. People flooded in for help and to help others. Like so many places across the world in times of crisis it was the Church that were on the scene to help.

The Church remains God's plan to touch the world, to spread the Gospel. Whatever happens the church can never outsource its mission to reach the lost. To be salt in the community, to be the light of Jesus's witness in the world. The church is not a megaphone, nor a media outlet, still less a TV station. It is not even an advertising campaign to promote Jesus. No, it is the hands, feet and heart of the man from Galilee. Jesus was incarnate, God in human form interacting with the world. The Church must always interact with ordinary people wherever it is found. Anything less is unauthentic.

God Is Prime

1st June 2017

Dear Friends

How to vote? That is the number one question as we face our third big vote in three years. To vote or not to vote? Whoever wins will they make a positive difference to the country?

The truth is, sorry to (mis)use the word in the context of politics, there is probably not a person alive who knows what type of actual government we will end up with. I suspect many of us have looked at the policies in the light of the last few elections and how in order to get into government parties, and individuals, appeared willing to ditch anything to get a taste of power.

So my thoughts switch off this subject easily as I consider the words of The Apostle Paul in Philippians 2:3-8;

Don't be selfish; don't try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves.

Don't look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too.

You must have the same attitude that Christ Jesus had.

Though he was God, he did not think of equality with God as something to cling to.

Instead, he gave up his divine privileges; he took the humble position of a slave and was born as a human being.

When he appeared in human form, he humbled himself in obedience to God and died a criminal's death on a cross.

It still staggers me when I try to contemplate this passage of Scripture. I don't have any real frame of reference to understand it. Sure I have visited some troubled places, walked the garbage filled pathways of the slums in the heat of a city, spent time with people on the streets and in prisons yet none of this even begins to compare with the incredible gulf bridged by the humility of the God of the universe. My prayer is that we could all know him better, be more like him.

What a contrast, as I have commented on before, with the party calls to vote primarily according to our own interests, aspirations, fears and prejudices.

Not wanting to be too prejudiced myself I will, as I usually do, set about the task of finding out who my local candidates are, what their backgrounds are, what have they done and what their views are. It can be a revealing, sometimes, but hard task. Are they the sort of people who in the melting pot of deals done in the corridors of power will ditch everything to grasp the slippery pole of position? Can I realistically expect to discover the answer to this question?

Well I am unclear still but I have ruled some candidates out so now it's a case of asking God for wisdom which seems sensible since he knows ... unlike any person ... the future. "If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking." (James 1:5 - one of my favourite Bible verses, as it seems the older I get the less I know)

So happy voting but rest easy in the assurance that God is Prime.

Views From A Different Plane

13th May 2017

Dear Friends

"In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" is the statement that opens the Bible. Whatever the later discussions as how he did this the declaration is unequivocal. 

In writing the Gospel of John the author starts off in just the same way; "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made." He, speaking of Jesus, declares who this mystery man is as he writes to make this very fact known to the world.

I love the clarity of this Gospel. Here there are no political fudges, no hiding intentions. No doubt you have had those cold calls over the phone where the caller speak to you like a long lost friend trying to win your attention well before ever getting around to the reason for the call. I love the directness of John as he gives his message without any spin. Jesus is God! Jesus is the Saviour of all people! Jesus is eternal! Jesus loves and cares for all people everywhere! You and I need to believe in him! And so we could go on.

It is this different way of approach, this higher perspective that for me we need to grasp as we look at the question of belief. We are too used to examining things for a view from below but John shows us that Jesus let's us in on the view from above. The perspective of seeing central London from the Eye or the expansive and often dramatic views from the height of an aeroplane bring a new understanding of your surroundings. Seeing life from God's view changes everything!

We have started a series on Sunday in the Fourth Gospel so let me encourage you to read it thoroughly and prayerfully and gain new insight.

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