Monthly Message Jun 2018

Fear or faith for the future?

 Moses had a hard time, to put it mildly, leading the Israelites for forty years through the desert as they made their way to Canaan, the land God had promised to them.  Many times they rebelled and hankered after the life that they had had in Egypt, strangely forgetting all the misery, suffering and hardship they had endured there.  Their recollection of the luscious fruit and vegetables they had enjoyed seems to have blocked from their memory the more traumatic things. But however uncongenial they might have found the desert to be, and however much they grew bored and dissatisfied with the daily manna, actually entering Canaan would have its problems too.  Since God had promised them that land, they could be absolutely assured of their eventual possession of it.   But it was a hostile land, occupied by peoples none too welcoming and, in some cases, positively formidable.  God knew that, on approaching the border, they would need some special encouragement.  He therefore instructed Moses to send ten people to reconnoitre the territory and bring back a report of it.  These spies returned saying how fruitful the land was but also how fearsome some of the inhabitants were.  One of them, Caleb, confidently declared that they “should go up and take possession of the land, for we can certainly do it”.  But others were afraid.  “We can’t attack those people; they are stronger than we are”.  But those same spies had also brought back grapes, pomegranates and figs, samples of the abundant fruitfulness of the land which lived up to the reputation of “flowing with milk and honey”.  Fear overruled faith as the people weighed up the two sides of the report.  It was not that there was no encouragement for them. But they missed the encouragement (Caleb’s positive words and the fruit-sample) because they looked at the obstacle (the powerful tribes).

If we are honest, perhaps we would admit that, had we been in their shoes we might have reacted in a similar way.  After all, what consolation is a bowl of fruit when it looks as if you’re about to be massacred? Had we reacted as they did we would, however, have been as wrong as they were.  The promise of God, backed by the positive report and samples of the produce of the land ought to have served as an encouragement because they represented and symbolised the future that God had in store for his people.  The Amalekites, Hittites, Jebusites and Amorites all symbolised the present, a present that God was well able to handle.  But they ought to have seen in that fruit, the symbol of the promised future, that victory was at hand, a victory that would enable their future to be realised.

”Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.  So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen.  For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal”. 

[II Corinthians 4:16-18]

 

Warmest greetings in Christ,

Tony Mason

Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus

Monthly Message May 2018

An encouragement from Pentecost

It goes without saying that you can tell that a tree is an apple tree as soon as it produces apples. Once that happens there is no doubt at all as to the true nature of the tree. Paul, in Galatians 5, lists a number of things that he calls “acts of the sinful nature”. Among these acts are sexual immorality, idolatry, hatred, discord, envy, drunkenness and so on. Such things indicate that the dynamic at work in the life of a person who is living like that is “the sinful nature”, not the new nature that one receives when one becomes a believer. Now that old, sinful nature is not completely eradicated when one becomes a Christian, but the Holy Spirit begins and continues a process whereby the believer becomes more and more like Christ in character and attitude. However, there is a constant struggle between that old nature and the newly bestowed divine nature. Paul puts it like this: “For the sinful nature desires what is contrary to the Spirit, and the Spirit what is contrary to the sinful nature. They are in conflict with each other, so that you do not do what you want. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law.” (Galatians 5:17,18). The answer to spiritual growth and maturity (the key to sanctification) is not in our strength to live holy lives, but in our willingness to submit ourselves to the work of the indwelling Holy Spirit, giving us a deeper, richer love for Jesus and thus turning our thoughts and attention away from those values that stand in complete opposition to the values and truth of Christ. All this sounds fine, but how do we know that God is doing this transforming work in us, how do we know we are becoming closer to Christ and, indeed, more like him? In just the same way as we know an apple tree is an apple tree.

Here’s a simple checklist:
• am I aware of being more loving now than when I first became a Christian?
• is there somewhere deep down within me a joy and peace that keeps me going through times of disappointment and difficulty, assuring me of being accepted by God even when I am aware of having let him down?
• am I more patient and kind or, at least, wanting to be?
• is there a solid goodness about me that possibly replaces a certain lack of integrity or purity?
• am I loyal to people, and more ready to trust God than I once was?
• can I detect a certain gentleness and self-control in my dealings with others and also with myself?

If I can say yes to most of those questions, (even if only in a whisper!) then what I am observing is the fruit of the Spirit being produced in my life. (Gal 5:22) That is encouraging!

Warmest greetings in Christ,

Tony Mason

Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus

Monthly Message Apr 2018

Last month I wrote about the two disciples who encountered Jesus on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection. It must have been exciting to listen to Jesus as he opened up the Scriptures as they walked (even though they didn’t know it was Jesus!). Indeed, they later remarked how their hearts had “burned within” them as he spoke to them. But all the while he had been pointing to himself; he presented no philosophy, no ideology, no fad or fashion. He presented a person, the person of the Son of the living God. We can talk and discuss, and it is good to do so, but in so doing it is possible to fail to realize that the Christian faith is a relationship with a person, Jesus.

When the three arrived at Emmaus it was late and so the two disciples invited Jesus in to stay the night. They still had not recognized him but during the meal, as he broke the bread,“ their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight”. A few hours ago they had been deeply dejected and disillusioned but now, in a simple, familiar act, they recognized him. Jesus took bread, gave thanks, broke it and gave it to them. Those four elements of taking, breaking, giving thanks for, and giving bread form the same structure in the gospel stories of the feeding of the four thousand, the feeding of the five thousand and the last supper that Jesus shared with his disciples in the upper room before his death. They may very well have observed Jesus feeding the crowds and possibly even presiding over other meals when he followed the same formula. In any event, God enabled them to recognize Jesus at this point, following a familiar procedure in a familiar setting. The more familiar we become with the character and person of Jesus the more readily we shall recognize him in those times of disappointment, reversal and perplexity when everything seems to suggest his absence rather than his presence.

They now discovered that the truth was the opposite of what they had supposed. Not only was Jesus not dead but very much alive, but also he had not let them down nor failed to deliver on his promises. He was who he said he was, he had done what he said he would do and, far from having abandoned them, he was there for them. Now they had something to share with love, urgency and joy in fellowship with other believers and seekers after the truth.

• They had something to share with love because, as Jesus had been speaking with them their hearts had been burning within them.

• They had something to share with urgency because they got up and returned at once to Jerusalem.

• They had something to share with joy and fellowship because on arriving at Jerusalem they found the other disciples had made the same discovery: Jesus was alive and had appeared to Simon. Adding their own testimonial evidence must have intensified the joy and celebration even further.

The Emmaus story is a story of encouragement within a context of disappointment, and is further evidence of how, despite the worst take we may have on a situation, we can discover that God has a better plan and a more glorious revelation to make than ever we could have dreamed of. So often we are disappointed because we are looking in the wrong direction, just as those two men, after the events of Good Friday, set off in the wrong direction. Even so, the Lord is well able to meet us on the wrong road and set us on the right one – and that’s encouragement!

Warmest greetings in Christ,

Tony Mason

Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus