Foundations of Love

Love is always seeking the best

Not for yourself, but for all the rest

It is kind and patient, willing to forgive

Always prepared second chances to give

It flows from a spirit that is with God in touch

Remembering that He loved and forgave us so much

Love is in the end not about what we can get

But more about giving to all we’ve met


Padre

Pastor Vince gave an inspiring yet challenging message drawn from Romans 13 and I Corinthians 13 which serve as the theme of this post.

The Waysiders

As you go about your day-to-day life with the rush to work, or to the market, do you pay much attention to those you pass by on the way? We must cross paths with thousands of people in our lives, maybe ten or hundreds of thousands. But do we see them, really see them?

Jesus in His travels passed by people, but we are given the accounts how three (that I am looking at here) individuals which were both figuratively and actually at the side of life were brought into focus by Him.

In Mark 10:46-52, Jesus is called from His journey by the pleas of Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar. He called for Jesus’ help. While there were those who tried to silence him, Jesus calls the man to Him. The healing of Bartimaeus’ blindness was quite public, but that isn’t the issue. Jesus had time for the man. Do we hear the pleas of those calling for our help? Do we take the time to respond?

Luke 19:1-10 relates Jesus’ encounter with a tax collector named Zacchaeus. This man was a social outcast (a waysider) because of his service to the Roman authorities. He was also, we are told, a short man. We can reasonably infer that he was literally easy to overlook especially in a crowd. This man however wanted to have a look at Jesus. No calling out like in Bartimaeus’ case, but a discrete climb into a nearby tree to get a look. It was from that position that he heard Jesus’ call: “Hurry down, Zacchaeus, because I must stay in your house today.” He was not only noticed, but interacted with in a surprising way. The social outcast was called to the social interaction of a meal. Do we engage with those others have moved to the wayside? Jesus did.

In Matthew 9:20–22, Jesus is moving through the crowds, when a woman with a medical condition reaches out to touch the edge of His clothing. He stops and asks who had touched Him. His disciples see this as a strange question as they are in a crowd and many people would have bumped or touched Him. But he notes that there was more to the encounter, for power went out from Him. The woman confesses to being the one, and that she was embarrassed to address Him directly with her need. He affirms her faith, and tells her she is healed. He doesn’t scold her for bringing her “uncleanness” to Him, or for touching Him. He accepts her at the level she initiates. Do we?

There are many other places where outcasts and misfits are engaged by Jesus. What these waysiders offer is a challenge to keep our eyes open for those who may be overlooked by us. We too were once waysiders, but we were seen and called.


Padre

Spiritual Couch Potato

The Americans claim to crown the “world champions” in baseball, basketball, and NFL football. Elsewhere in the world “the beautiful game” captures the hearts of millions. But if we are honest, the biggest spectator sport in the world is judging others. Various “reality” programmes and talent competitions catch our attention, not for the positives, but often for the chance to judge and ridicule those on screen. Gossip columns and TikTok channels abound with “constructive” criticism of the lives, or socio-political views of others. Being “woke” is to be a referee to the views of anyone less awake than one’s self.

This spectator criticism is a spiritual equivalent of being a sporting couch potato. We armchair referees love to show how everyone else is wrong. It is easy to comment on sporting figure’s play when we are in the couch. But do we get up and pick up the ball ourselves. Of course not. Neither do we examine our own spiritual lives and actively fix those.

Jesus said: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?  How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?  You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye (Matthew 7:3-5).”

Let’s go get some spiritual exercise and lift a few planks.


Padre

Word

Be prepared an answer to give

Allow the Word in your heart to live

Not carried about superficially

But empowering you forever spiritually

It is about a relationship deep

A sword two-edged with which to sweep

Away all fabrications and deceits

Thus prepared in and out of season

Of your hope to give a reason


Padre

2 Timothy 2:15, 1 Peter 3:15, 2 Timothy 4:2, Hebrews 4:12

Be Not Troubled

With a heart not troubled

With a spirit relieved

Assured in the promise

Of blessings to receive

For a place is prepared

To which to go home

As a child of God

Before the throne


Padre

Thank you pastor Vince for the message from John 14

Commanded

The rabbis tell us there are 613 commandments in the Torah. These include 365 “Don’ts” and 248 “dos.” There can be roughly categorised and summed up in the Ten Commandments of Sinai.

Exodus 20 :

1 And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses his name. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy. 12 “Honor your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. 13 “You shall not murder. 14 “You shall not commit adultery. 15 “You shall not steal. 16 “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. 17 “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male or female servant, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.”

This list can be divided in a few ways, but it is generally accepted that the first four pertain to our relationship with God, and the remaining six with our relationship with other people. An interesting alternative view is that the fifth is a transitional command, as it can apply to our relationship with “the Father” or authority in general terms. This view then notes that the tenth is a consolidating command for the fifth through ninth commandments as if you do not covet possessions, you want be tempted to steal, or not coveting a neighbour’s spouse will remove the temptation to adultery, etc.

This division of the commands into “divine” and “human” is seen in Jesus’ further consolidation of the expectations. In Matthew 22, Jesus says the following about the greatest commandment of the law:

Jesus replied: “`Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: `Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

Here we see the “God – Man” divide again. Jesus is presenting the words of the Shema (Deuteronomy 6: 4-5) as the greatest command. The loving here is the Hebrew term “Ahavah” which means affection, but more than that was well. It unlike the Greek “love” which has many forms – agape, philos, etc., it can encompass all of them much as our English word “love” does. Our love of God is built on in Deuteronomy 10 where we are told it involves walking with Him, serving Him, and keeping His commands (see how this comes full circle). We can also deduce that we owe these “loves” to our fellows as well.

This obligation of Love of God and of man is recurrent in the New Testament. First Corinthians 13 tells us that of all the gifts we can receive from God, love is the greatest. Paul notes:

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

He further notes that when all else passes away – love will endure.

John then takes this command or obligation to love, and very nicely:

Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. 

So we complete our journey – 613 commands to 10. The 10 to two. The two the a central word: Love.

Let’s do as we are commanded.


Padre

Such A Time As This

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Many people have looked down on the book of Esther, or even questioned its place in the canon of scripture. This rests on the fact that God is not directly named or even referenced in the text. But many rabbis over time have come to the book’s defence saying that “the fingerprints of God” are all over it.

Today’s piece will not be an exhaustive study of the book, but will focus on one of those finger prints.

In Chapter we find that Esther’s kinsman,  Mordecai, has discovered the minister Haman’s plan to have the Jews killed. He covers himself in sackcloth and ashes, and fasts and mourns the arrival of the edict’s enforcement. Esther, who has recently been elevated to the status of a Persian queen hears of Mordecai’s actions and sends to enquire about what it all means.

Her servant is told of the edict, and of a request from Mordecai for her to use her status to plead for mercy for the Jews of the land. In response Esther notes (verse 11) “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death . . . .”

Mordecai replies in verse 13, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”

The abbreviate the rest of the narrative, Esther after fasting and prayer takes the risk, and approaches the king. She is spared and indeed uses her influence, and some clever manoeuvring to achieve deliverance of the Jews, and to bring about the downfall of Haman.

You might have noticed that I have highlighted the “such a time as this” passage. It is an interesting parallel to a passage in the New Testament. The Jewish people are condemned to perish. There is little, if any hope for their rescue by any ordinary means. Yet, Mordecai calls into question the nature of Esther’s elevation. Is it a coincidence that Queen Vashti falls from Xerxe’s favour, and that Esther is selected to succeed her, just as this crisis arises for God’s people? Is not God’s fingerprint there?

The wording is also important: “such a time as this.” May I suggest that Esther is a type or parallel to the Messiah. All humanity was facing condemnation because of sin. We are condemned to perish. There is little, if any hope of rescue by any ordinary means. “But, when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law, to redeem those who were under the law, so that we might receive adoption as sons (Galatians 4: 4-5).” We “in the fullness of time” (Such a time as this) were sent a deliverer, Jesus.

Esther’s deliverance of her people was a foreshadowing of humanities deliverance by Jesus. The book that bears her name is an important testimony of how God works. Sending salvation at an appointed time. Let’s not question this book, but marvel at God’s fingerprints instead.


Padre

Citizen

With the Queen’s Jubilee just passed and Independence Day tomorrow, the idea of citizenship seemed a good fit for today.

In an interesting address, the Apostle Paul spoke of his citizenship of a not insignificant city.   This is a multi-layered statement coming from Paul.  Which city was he speaking of?

Tarsus:

Citizen of no mean city: Acts 21: 39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no mean city. Please let me speak to the people.” 40 After receiving the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic.

Paul was born in this city in Roman Cilicia.  As such he can make claim to it.  But while this was an important city of its time, could he have meant more by the statement?

Jeruaslem:

22: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. I was just as zealous for God as any of you are today.

He builds on this in Philippians 3:

5 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for righteousness based on the law, faultless.

Here Paul notes his Hebrew lineage and citizenship.  He was educated and came to some prominence in the city of God’s Temple.

Rome:

22: 24 the commander ordered that Paul be taken into the barracks. He directed that he be flogged and interrogated in order to find out why the people were shouting at him like this. 25 As they stretched him out to flog him, Paul said to the centurion standing there, “Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasn’t even been found guilty?”26 When the centurion heard this, he went to the commander and reported it. “What are you going to do?” he asked. “This man is a Roman citizen.” 27 The commander went to Paul and asked, “Tell me, are you a Roman citizen?”  “Yes, I am,” he answered. 28 Then the commander said, “I had to pay a lot of money for my citizenship.” “But I was born a citizen,” Paul replied. 29 Those who were about to interrogate him withdrew immediately. The commander himself was alarmed when he realized that he had put Paul, a Roman citizen, in chains.

Today there are discussions of relative value of passports.  Where can it get you?  What protections can it provide.  Are you American, British, Irish?  Well, in the first century it was citizenship of Rome that was the one to have.  It is clear that Paul had citizenship by birth.  

But what did that mean?

Not everyone living in the First Century Roman Empire was a citizen.  There were slaves, freemen, people from client states, and citizens.

Slaves were everywhere.  Different types included civic specialist (often Greeks), gladiators, prisoners of war, house slaves, artisans, and the list goes on.  It should be noted that if the slave of a Roman citizen was freed, they themselves would become citizens.

Most citizens were Roman and Latin lower and middle classes.   Some of these Plebians were ex-auxiliary soldiers who were issued diplomas, others were wealthier or skilled freed slaves.  Others, those granted citizenship on their cities or tribes being absorbed into the Empire.

Above these were the Patricians including the Knights and Senators, Pilate was of the knight class.

There were rights and benefits associated with citizenship.  At Philippi in Acts 16: 37 we can see how Paul’s Roman  citizenship impacted his treatment. “But Paul said to the officers: ‘They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out.” 38 The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. 39 They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.’

And many of you may know Paul later used the right to have his case heard directly by Caesar. 

But I would like to suggest while all these citizenships were held by Paul, the greatest was as a citizen of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Kingdom of God:

In Acts 28, we are told that Paul stayed in Rome two full years in his own rented house, welcoming all who came to visit him. 31 Boldly and freely he proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ.

Yes, above all Paul was a citizen of the kingdom of heaven.  The Passport beyond all others and eternal.  

Matthew 13:44-46

“The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in the field, which a man found and hid again; and from joy over it he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field. “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

Matthew 19:14

But Jesus said, “Let the children alone, and do not hinder them from coming to Me; for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these.”

Jesus speaks of the kingdom being made up of souls that childlike turn to him.  It isn’t about being a Hebrew of Hebrews, but about an open willingness to follow, and to repent.  We are all welcomed into this kingdom not made by hands.

For those that embrace the invitation we can get our Heaven passport.  For there is neither jew nor Greek, slave or free, male or female, for we are all one in Christ.

Jesus the Son of God:

For God so loved the world that he gave His only begotten son — the firstborn of faith, but He is ready for adoption as well!  John 1:12. 12 – “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.”

Galatians 3:26 tells us “for in Christ Jesus you are all sons of God, through faith.”

For those that turn to God we are not only citizens of the Kingdom but members of the royal family for God allows us to call Him father. 

Look at the Lord’s Prayer – Jesus taught us to say: “Our Father” and as His kingdom comes (for which we are citizens) that His will be done.  For His Kingdom will be forever.

So, what is our citizenship?

1 John 3:1 “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

No matter what your earthly passport says, this world is not our home.  We are only passing through. Our citizenship is in the Kingdom of God, and ultimately with the Father Himself.  Jesus said that in His father’s house there are many rooms, and he has gone to prepare one for you.


Padre

Based on today’s sermon.

Sacred Space

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground (Exodus 3:5).”

When Moses came into the presence of God, he was told that the place was holy. It was a sacred space. The idea of sacred spaces is widely found in human societies. These might be places related to significant spiritual events of the past (such as Jerusalem) or places of numinous (such a forest glade or sparkling spring).

What then makes a place holy? In popular religious language – terms like “House of God,” are often used. This, however, seems to be based on the function of the place. I found it interesting when I visited one of our English cathedrals and the priest officiating made the comment that the space was “a holy place.” He went on to explain that the building was the product of the faith of centuries of devout builders and artisans, and “the stones themselves have absorbed the thousands of prayers said within them.” This is an interesting take, and one which I like at least on a figurative level.

Similar spaces in Spain and Israel, which I have visited, have become places of pilgrimage owing to the associations to persons and events that happened at or near them. The Holy Sepulchre and the Garden of Gethsemane are such “sacred spaces.”

But is that all there is to a holy place?

If we examine the Exodus citation we can see that the holiness of the place is not necessarily intrinsic, but is the result of its proximity to God. Further examination of the tabernacle and the later temple shows that it was the presence of God that made the place holy, from the court of the people, to the holy place, to the most holy place, each coming progressively nearer to the mercy seat of God.

This proximity to God then makes for an interesting take of the idea of which spaces are sacred. Jesus said that whenever two or three are gathered in His name, He will be there in our midst. So yes, “church” structures are such gathering places, but so are our homes, or communities, and above all our hearts.


Padre

Afire

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One came baptising in Spirit and fire

Filling you with dynamic power

Purging you of your ways old

Tempering and changing you for missions bold

Transformed to be ablaze yourself

A light brilliant eschewing self

And like the flaming bush of long pasts

Your flame will draw others to God’s path


Padre

Thank you Pastor Vince for the message today.