Our Faithful God (2 Timothy 2:8-15)

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Lots of people make us promises. For example, people who are close to us might make promises to us such as they will be home at a certain time, take the bins out, pick up groceries from the shops, and other every-day things. Then there are people and organizations in our wider society who promise us big things like secure and profitable superannuation investments, a more attractive appearance, a better quality of life if we purchase their product, and so on.

What happens, though, when people don’t live up to their promises and fail to be faithful to us and to their promises? What does that do to our ability to trust others? How, then, does that influence our ability to trust God? If we find it hard to trust the people around us who we can see and touch, how much harder is it to trust in a God that we can’t physically see or touch?

Faith in God and God’s promises to us in Jesus doesn’t come naturally to us. That’s why faith is the first and most important gift of the Holy Spirit to us and the primary work of the Holy Spirit in us. It’s only by the grace of God working through the dynamic power of the Spirit of God that we are able to trust in the good and gracious promises God makes us in Jesus. That’s why I never judge anyone who is struggling with faith. Especially in a world where we can be skeptical and cynical about what the promises people make to us, trusting in God’s promises to us can be really difficult for us.

A promise from God Paul gives us in 2 Timothy 2:8-15, however, is that God is always faithful and can be trusted. There are a few different ways we can understand the word ‘faithful’ but when I read 2 Timothy 2:13, as well as different places in the Bible, I hear ‘faithful’ meaning two main things. Firstly, being faithful means that God always keeps the promises he makes to his people. Secondly, faithful also means that so we can trust God to do what he says he will.

It’s a similar way of understanding faithfulness in marriage. When two people are married, they make promises to each other. To be faithful in marriage means both keeping the promises we make to our spouse in our wedding vows and trusting that our partner will keep her or his promises to us. Being faithful, like keeping any promises including the promises we make to God, can be difficult. We can struggle to be faithful to the promises we make for a whole range of reasons, just like it can be hard for us to trust in the promises others make to us. God understands that, but is doesn’t change his faithfulness to us.

The whole story of the Bible tells is that God is faithful. God makes promises to his people all the way through Scripture. The greatest promises God makes is that he would send a Saviour to free the world from sin and restore creation and everything in it to its original, perfect state. Ultimately, God keeps his promises and shows that he can be trusted in the person of Jesus. Through his life, death and resurrection, God fulfils his promises to liberate us from sin, to restore our relationship with him as his children whom he loves and with whom he is pleased, and give us a life that is stronger than death.

That is why Paul wants Timothy, as well as subsequent readers of his letter including us, to ‘always remember that Jesus Christ … was raised from the dead’ (v8 NLT). The resurrection of Jesus is the ultimate good news for us because it gives us God’s promise of life with him now and forever, and shows us once and for all that God can and will always keep his promises. We can trust that God is faithful because he has done what he said he would when he raised his Son from the grave, never to die again.

Because God has been faithful in keeping that promise, he will also be faithful in the other promises he gives us throughout Scripture. The main promises we hear throughout the Bible are the forgiveness of sins and eternal life with God, but there are so many other promises that he gives us as well. There are too many to mention here and now but God promises to us include love, joy, peace, hope, comfort, courage, and so much more. It is so important for us as God’s people to continually be in his Word by reading our Bibles because as we read the stories of Gods faithfulness in the past, they help us to trust that God will also be faithful to us. By remaining in God’s promises, the Holy Spirit will give us the capacity to trust in God’s promises to us. Then, when it gets hard for us to believe God’s promises and trust that he can do what he says he will, the promise from 2 Timothy 2:13 will always be there for us – that even if we are unfaithful to each other or to God, God remains faithful to us because that’s who he is. God always keeps his promises. If God says he will do something, he will do it. God is faithful, just as Jesus’ resurrection show us.

This week, I encourage you to open God’s word and listen for his promises to you. Sometimes they’re not easy to find, but through careful reading and ongoing reflection or meditation on his word, God’s promises are there for us. Imagine what life could be like if we were trusting those promises, and living like what God promises us was true. Even if they are hard to believe, still God tells us that he will do what he says, because he is faithful!

More to think about:

  • Do you usually find it easy or hard to trust people when they make promises to you? Can you explain why that is?
  • What are some of the promises you hear from God through his Word?
  • Do you find it easy or difficult to trust God’s promises to you? Why is that the case for you?
  • I’m suggesting that Jesus’ resurrection shows us that God will always keep his promises to us? What is your reaction to that? Would you agree or disagree? Can you explain why…?
  • Paul writes (v13) that even if we are unfaithful (we find it hard to trust God and his promises), God remains faithful to us (and will still keep his promises to us). What questions, reactions or thoughts do you have to that? Do you find it easy or difficult to trust that promise? Why?
  • What difference might it make to your life if you were able to live like what God promises you is true?

Easter 2019

 

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Maundy Thursday: ‘As I Have Loved You’ (John 13:1-17,31b-35)

This year’s Maundy Thursday service was held in our hall. The chairs were arranged in the round with a table in the centre on which was placed the bread and wine for Holy Communion. As people entered, they were offered the opportunity to have their feet washed. I always find it interesting to watch people’s reactions to the offer. Some accept and are thankful to have someone wash their feet. Others, however, are not comfortable with it and decline the invitation.

I can understand why they do that. we can be very sensitive about our feet. We often think of them as unattractive, dirty, smelly or something we just don’t like other people seeing or holding. We are can feel shame because of our feet and so don’t like others to be close to them or to see them as they really are.

We often think of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet before their last meal together (John 13:1-17) as an example of how we should serve each other. I wonder whether there was more to it. As I reflected on how reluctant people often are about others seeing or touching their feet, I thought about the areas of our lives which we don’t like others knowing about. We carry things in our hearts and lives that are unclean, or unacceptable, or shameful. They might be things we’ve done, things that have been done to us, either sins we’ve committed or that have been committed against us. We can try to keep them hidden from others like smelly feet, but they’re still there and we carry them with us everywhere we go.

When Jesus washed his disciples’ feet, he was showing that he is able to make the dirtiest, smelliest, most shameful parts of our lives clean and fragrant again. Jesus’ death and resurrection for us removes all our guilt and shame so we are able to live in God’s presence as his holy children. Jesus is able to do this because he knows everything about us – all the things we try to keep secret, we don’t want anyone else knowing, or we are ashamed to admit even to ourselves. We can’t hide anything from him. But he sees who we are, he takes our guilt, our shame, our dirt to the cross and puts it to death. Then he washes us clean in his blood so we can be clean, righteous and good people through faith in him.

Imagine what it would be like to be in a community of people who knew everything about you, even the things that you’d prefer to keep secret, and who still loved you unconditionally. I wonder if that’s what Jesus meant when he gave his new command, to love each other like he loves us (John 13:34; 15:12,17). We experience real grace when we reveal our ‘dirty feet’ to each other and still continue to accept, forgive and love each other in the same way that Jesus accepts, forgives and loves us. If we aren’t honest with each other about our flaws, wrongs or wounds, then we won’t experience the full healing and life-giving power of the grace Jesus extends to us in his death and resurrection. To love each other like he loves us means being real about the dirty, smelly, shameful parts of our lives, and then accepting, forgiving and loving others who are really just the same as we are.

That’s when Jesus’ love becomes real for all of us.

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Good Friday: ‘Listening to Jesus from the Cross’ (Luke 22:39-23:56)

On Good Friday morning we gathered in the church to listen to the story of Jesus’ suffering, death and burial from Luke’s gospel. As part of the reading, three people from the congregation shared personal reflections on what they heard when Jesus spoke from the cross. Luke tells us that Jesus said three things as he was being crucified:

  • “Father, forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34 NLT)
  • “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43 NLT)
  • “Father, I entrust my spirit into your hands!” (Luke 23:46 NLT)

When we listen to Jesus’ words from the cross in Luke’s gospel, we can hear him praying for forgiveness, promising Paradise, and trusting God to take care of him. These words amaze me, because so often we don’t do what Jesus did. When people hurt us, how often do we want to do the same or worse to them as they have done to us? When we are suffering or in pain, how often are we critical or judgmental of others? When life is out of our control and going badly, how often do we try to take control ourselves?

Jesus’ words of forgiveness, promise and trust from the cross show me that he was much more than just an ordinary bloke. I don’t think any of us could have done what he did. That’s why it’s important to remember that Jesus doesn’t just give us an example of how to live our lives. It would be easy to turn these words into a morality message like, ‘We should all forgive, promise and trust like Jesus did.’ While there’s some truth in that, the reality is that it’s hard, sometimes even impossible, for us to do that. We need to acknowledge that our natural tendencies are to do to others like they do to us, to criticise and condemn, or to try to control those things around us that are making life hard.

We need to listen the words Jesus says as though he was saying them to us. When we are treating others badly because of something they’ve done to us, Jesus prays for us to be forgiven. When we are suffering or have been hurt by others, Jesus promises us a place in Paradise with him. When our lives are out of control or going in directions we don’t want them to go, Jesus entrusts us and everything in our lives in the safe and loving hands of our heavenly Father. Grace means that Jesus does for us what we can’t do for ourselves, and then gives us the benefit as a free gift. So when he prays for forgiveness, promises paradise and trusts God with his future, we can hear him speaking to us, saying and doing for us what we often can’t say or do ourselves because of our human condition.

When we hear Jesus speaking to us and for us, that’s when we find new and better words to say to others. When we hear Jesus speak words of forgiveness, promise and trust, then we, with Jesus, can pray for forgiveness, promise a better future to others, and entrust everything into the Father’s gracious and loving care.

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Resurrection Sunday: ‘A Strange New Word’ (Luke 24:1-12)

One of the things we can look forward to at Easter is the giving and receiving of chocolate eggs. Christians often use the hollow egg as a symbol of Jesus’ empty tomb. However, for most people, Easter eggs just taste good, especially if we have given up chocolate for Lent.

Imagine waking up on Easter Sunday morning and finding that your largest, most delicious egg was broken. What would you think, though, if you put it away in a cupboard while you ate the rest of your chocolate, then, few days later, you went back to the cupboard and found that the egg had been made whole again? What would your reaction be if what was broken had been made whole again?

Even as I write this, the idea sounds like nonsense. Broken things don’t spontaneously become whole again. It’s not the way the world works! Some things can heal over time, such as broken bones, and the human body has an amazing capacity to mend itself. But most things can’t be restored to their original condition once they have been broken. To suggest they do sounds like nonsense.

One thing I love about Luke’s telling of the resurrection story in Luke 24:1-12 is the amount of confusion. When the women arrive at Jesus’ tomb early on the first day of the week, ‘they stood there puzzled’ (v4) because the body they had expected to be there wasn’t. Then, when they told Jesus’ remaining disciples about his resurrection, ‘the story sounded like nonsense to the men, so they didn’t believe it’ (v11 NLT). For the women to tell Jesus’ disciples that he was risen from the grave would kind of be like me telling someone that their broken Easter egg had been made whole again. It doesn’t make sense because it’s not part of our regular experience.

How much sense does the message of Jesus’ resurrection make to us? We might connect the story with the promise of eternal life in heaven, but, there is a lot more to it than that for us. For example, Paul writes that through baptism we have been united with Jesus in his death and resurrection, so we ‘should consider (our)selves to be dead to the power of sin and alive to God through Jesus Christ’ (Romans 6:11 NLT). Paul is saying that the resurrection of Jesus makes a difference in our lives now! We have already been raised with Jesus and we live as people whose defining reality is not the brokenness of this world, but the healing and wholeness that Jesus gives through his Spirit in the promise of his resurrection.

An important part of living as Jesus’ followers means making sense of the resurrection in whatever is happening in our lives right now. We all suffer from brokenness – in our bodies, minds or hearts, in our relationships and community, in our world. The burning of Notre Dame in Paris and the bombing attacks in Sri Lanka are recent examples of that. In Jesus’ resurrection, God makes his mission known to us. God’s plan of salvation is to put the broken pieces of this world, our relationships and our lives back together again, restoring all of creation to its original condition. God’s mission to bring healing and wholeness was put into effect with the resurrection of Jesus and will continue until the last day. Then his saving work will be completed as the dead are raised with new, imperishable bodies and creation is returned to the way God intended from the beginning.

Until that day we can participate with God in his mission to bring healing and wholeness to our broken world in two ways. The first is to make sense of the resurrection in our own lives by looking for God to heal us and make us whole from our brokenness. Our wholeness will be completed when Jesus returns, but the healing can start how through Jesus’ resurrection power. The second way we can participate in God’s mission to restore a broken world is by looking for ways to bring his healing and wholeness to others. As I read the Scriptures, it seems to me that the mission of the church is less about converting people to our way of thinking, and more about bringing the life-giving message of Jesus’ resurrection to broken people living in a broken world in all we say and do.

This message might make about as much sense as a broken Easter egg becoming whole again after a few days in the cupboard, but it didn’t make sense to Jesus’ disciples when they first heard it either. The more we make sense of Jesus’ resurrection as the defining reality of our own lives, the more it will make sense to others as they see Jesus’ healing and wholeness in us.

More to think about:

  • Do you think the idea of someone washing your feet? Why? Why not?
  • What do you think it would be like for someone to know everything about you and still love you? How is that like Jesus’ love for you?
  • Who can you show this kind of love to in your life?
  • What do you hear Jesus saying to you when he prays for forgiveness, promises Paradise and entrusts himself into God’s hands?
  • What is it like to think he says these words to & for you?
  • To whom in your life can you speak a word of forgiveness, promise or trust?
  • What doesn’t make sense to you about the resurrection of Jesus?
  • Where do you experience brokenness in your life?
  • How might the resurrection of Jesus bring you healing or wholeness?