- Bearing Fruit
Jesus was a big-time fan of metaphors and imagery. He was able to captivate the attention of the crowds that gathered to hear him speak, by using imagery to paint a deeper picture than words ever could.
In John 15:4 Jesus says;
“Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.”
Jesus isn’t just passionately talking about gardening. In fact, Jesus is communicating a foundational statement of faith.
He is reminding us that if we are to grow, survive and bear fruit we need to remain in him. Jesus is talking about the connection we have with him. Connection with Jesus is easier said than done and for many of us we find it hard to work out what connecting with him looks like in our lives.
This is where Jesus’ use of imagery takes us to a deeper level.
Why did Jesus pick a vine? Just like the countless variety of vines, there are countless ways we can connect with Jesus. A vine has numerous branches, that have interesting ways of growing everywhere and anywhere. They show creativity in the way they do that and they can be relentless in their pursuit of light. The very attribute that makes a vine different from any other plant is that it ‘trails’ or ‘clings’. It is a reminder to us that we should exhibit that same tenacity and creativity in connecting or ‘clinging’ to Jesus.
If we removed a branch from the vine what would happen? There is nothing we can do as human beings to make that branch bear fruit. We can prolong that separation, by watering and caring for it but without being reunited with the vine, it will eventually wither away. The only way that branch will ever be fruitful is when it is grafted back in.
But let’s be honest, however good the image of a vine is sometimes, we can lose that tenacity and eagerness to cling to Jesus. The lack of things to look forward to, ongoing restrictions and lack of human interaction can discourage and cause us to wither within ourselves. This has a real impact on our willingness to respond to this challenge. The solution is found in remaining connected with Jesus (the vine).
There is something we haven’t mentioned, probably the most important part! Jesus says that we should remain in Him, as he remains in us. This is a promise that he does and will remain in us. We can take great courage in this. However, we are feeling, whatever is going on, this is a promise from God that He is with us.
That same tenacity a vine shows in its growth, Jesus shows us in our relationship with Him. He is asking us to cling to him as he clings to us. Let us connect with him and like the variety of vines we see let’s be creative in the way we do that.
Take encouragement from the truth that he is with you. That is a promise!
- The Blessing
Over the past year, many of us have come to love “The Blessing”.
The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace. (Numbers 6:24-26)
Recently, Richie sent me this article which gives an insight into its place in our history:
“More than thirty years ago, at a site just south of Jerusalem, archaeologists unearthed two rolled-up pieces of pliable silver, about the size of a credit card. Delicately etched on each plaque were words from this priestly blessing.
These small silver plaques predating 700 BC hold the earliest written citations of Scripture ever found. Perhaps they also bear witness to what must surely have been a primordial longing of our species—the desire for peace.
But what exactly is peace? When most of us think of peace, we think of an absence of conflict or the sense of tranquillity we sometimes feel after a walk in the park or a day at the beach. But the Hebrew word “shalom” is far brawnier than the English word “peace“, encompassing these ideas and more. Shalom contains the idea of completeness. It is the sum of all the blessings God can bestow—healing, prosperity, soundness, well-being, good relationships, perfection. It is what happens when God shines his face on you, when he turns toward you in all his greatness and brings you good.
After the daily sacrifice, the Israelite priests would extend their hands to pray this blessing over the people. As the priests prayed, it became customary for them to leave an opening in their fingers and for the people to cover their heads with their prayer shawls. They did this to express their reverence, believing the cloud of God’s presence was hovering over their heads and its light was streaming through the open fingers of the priests.”
For the Jews, a blessing was not just a wish that things would go well, but “a solemn, deliberate act through which specific and concrete advantages are conveyed“. The Blessing is not only spoken by a priest. It is something God himself gives to us in very tangible ways.
It is easy to gloss over the words when we hear them rather than fully receive God’s truth in our hearts by faith. But when we give ourselves time to reflect on the words, we recognise the many blessings of God contained in these three simple phrases. God chooses to keep us in His love, acting as our strong defender. His face shines on us with pleasure. His grace is sufficient for us – through Jesus, all our wrongdoing and shortcomings are forgiven when we turn to Him. The “God who sees” looks down at us and pours out His shalom – that complete peace that comes as we wait in His presence.
It’s worth looking at the next verse too; the Voice translation puts it well. “Whenever Aaron and his sons bless the people of Israel in my name, I myself will bless them.” In the New Testament, we are called God’s holy priesthood, so as we bless others in the name of the Lord, we can be assured that God will look down at them and bless them too. What a privilege to share in God’s work of blessing.
This week, “may the Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord lift up His countenance upon you and give you peace.” And may we, as a royal priesthood, pronounce blessing on our families, our friends, our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, and have the joy of seeing what God will do as a result.
7 March 2021
- You are still standing!
What a different week – from freezing to almost mild in seven days! The weather has been like a metaphor for our lives since last March! Many have been coping with continuous change since then and it can be tiring. Others have lived with 11 months of severe constraint and restraint – living lives that are smaller than they were before Covid. Whilst others have lived and continue living with increased levels of stress in their work either because of the changed working conditions, increased responsibilities, or difficult family situations. Challenging situations in which we can easily wonder where God’s presence is.
Yet as I have talked to so many of you over the months you have one thing in common – You are all still standing! Trusting in the unchanging love that our Father God has for us. He doesn’t just call His children (1 John 3:1) – He makes us His children (Ephesians 1:5) and then gives us the Holy Spirit so we can know we are His children (Galatians 4:6). It takes faith to live in this truth.
In Isaiah 49 God promises to bring his people out of a place of captivity and darkness and to comfort them so that they will shout for joy. In the same passage Isaiah asks the rhetorical question “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! …. See I have engraved you on the palm of my hands“. Whatever our lockdown situation and however we may feel, God has not forgotten us – He has a picture of each of us on the palm of His hands and He will release us into a place of joy.
Pippa Coghlan sent me this poem a few days ago which sums up that place between truth and feelings where we stand and exercise faith.
It’s cold and grey, but He calls my name
It’s a winter day, but He’s still my flame……
We’re in lockdown still, but He’s here with me
There’s no holidays, but at least I’m free.
My dog is muddy, but she loves to run
God calls my name, shows me life is fun.
I can grump and groan, but He still loves me…
And He gives me flowers, and skies and sea.
Thank you Father, You are still with me
Help me feel your love, let me know I’m free
Because You’re the best, You’re the one who cares
You’re my Heavenly Father and you hear my prayers.
I have heard similar thoughts from many of you. Thinking about the FCC family earlier in the week, I sensed a resounding “Well done!” from heaven to you all. You have and continue to “keep the faith”. Despite our scatteredness you have and continue to support one another. Despite being locked down you have and continue to reach out to those around you, as incarnations of the Father’s love. And heaven says, “Well done”!
Facing ongoing constant change, no matter how we feel, may we all live by faith, trusting and experiencing the truth of God’s promise in Isaiah 41 “I have chosen you and have not rejected you. So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” May God be near you and bless you as you continue to faithfully walk with Him.
- We need to Stand
As I was wondering what to write this week and how to link it to Ephesians, Caroline, writing our Christmas letter, was saying that after all the challenges that this year had brought, we were still standing! Which is part of our testimony to God’s goodness in 2020.
Earlier I had a chat with Martin D (not Jnr !), who is a pharmacist. He told me about a lady who, while he was giving her a flu jab, opened up about her fears over some breast cancer treatment she was going to have a few weeks later. Martin suddenly found himself saying, “You need to stand”. Surprised by what he said, she asked him to explain. Martin asked if she was a Christian, to which she replied, “Very much so”. He then spoke about Ephesians 6:13, Put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand – and that she didn’t need to be in fear. Some weeks later the lady returned. She told Martin that she had gone home and read Ephesians 6 and it had made all the difference to her!!!
What a great testimony to the truth of some of the things we have been talking about over the past few weeks. And what a testimony to God’s goodness that the Holy Spirit, within Martin, gave him words to speak that would point the lady to Jesus and lead to her being strengthened and sustained. And what a clear example of how the Holy Spirit’s gifts to us can lead to mission and ministry in the middle of everyday lives.
Ephesians may be full of biblical and theological truth, but also describes the practical reality of living in and by the Spirit, and simply put – it works!
I know that many of us have similar stories to tell. Stories of sudden thoughts to call someone, that result in an answer to prayer. Stories of timely encounters, that result in meeting someone’s need. Or other stories, like Martin’s, of words which come out unexpectedly, and make a real difference to someone’s life. We need to be sharing these stories with one other. Individually, we may not have a story each week, but together, there will be plenty. Wouldn’t it be great to be sharing these as they happen? So, over to us all!
Living out the truth of Ephesians – being doers of the word not just hearers – is part of the normal Christian life that demonstrates God’s goodness and brings hope and life to a world that needs it. During Advent may we all take the opportunities God gives us to encourage all those we meet.
- Our True Rescuer
On Sunday, Richard will round off our study of Ephesians. We do hope that as we have been looking at this book over the last couple of months even those who are familiar with it will have learned something new. And we pray it has encouraged you to keep pressing on and growing in your faith. The Spirit has certainly challenged me as I have been preparing my talks – now it’s up to me to do something about it! May God continue to produce fruit in all our lives as we read his Word and put it into practice.
Sunday is also the start of Advent and we will be lighting the candle of hope, something we all need in these difficult times. Isaiah 9:2 seems more relevant than ever this year: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned.” We’ve seen some light this week with at least three vaccines looking so promising, with political certainty being re-established in the States and with the possibility of being allowed to be together as family and friends over Christmas. Richard remarked today that the Dow Jones index had shot up with the renewed optimism around.
But the real light is none of these. It’s Christ! He is our true rescuer. May this advent season cause us to look up again to Him so that we find light in the darkness every day, for ourselves and to share with others. We have good news to bring this season and I pray for all of us, that we will take the opportunities God gives us to share the real reason for our hope this Christmas.
With this rather lofty goal in mind, we have produced an Advent Calendar for FCC! We have a window to open every day, sometimes to service, sometimes to meditation, a poem, a song, sometimes to something downright silly. It’s been a lot of work and we’re grateful to all those who have taken up the challenge of putting it together. We hope you will enjoy it and that maybe it will be a daily reminder, not only of the light Christ brings at Christmas but also of the joy of being family together as FCC.
Bless you this week and throughout this wonderful Christmas season,