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

Monthly Message Mar 2018

An Easter encouragement – part one

Two disciples were walking home from Jerusalem to Emmaus on the evening of the day Jesus rose from the dead.  They were dejected, disillusioned, disappointed.  They had invested a lot in following the man whom they had believed to be the Messiah. He had been quite unique, so wonderful, so hopeful, so promising, so mighty, so effective.  But the chief priests and rulers had handed him over to be sentenced to death, and he had been crucified.  So here were two disillusioned men who had lost faith in their object of hope, for they had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel.

That’s despair for you, that’s abject disappointment and there are many today who suffer like that.  Maybe some of us can identify with those two on their way home to Emmaus.  If so, there is a glimmer of hope.  There was for them for they had heard rumours! They had heard reports that Jesus was alive. Was what they had heard actually true, or perhaps too good to be true, or too true to be ignored?  No doubt they wanted to believe what they were hearing but as yet they had nothing to encourage them to do so. What of us today? Maybe there is hope after all, maybe Jesus is real, even actually alive today.

Then amazingly “Jesus himself came up and walked along with them”. As they got into conversation with this ‘stranger’ they told him what had happened to their Master in Jerusalem, and then gently, but firmly, Jesus rebuked their slowness to believe everything the prophets had said about the Messiah and then he showed them from the Scriptures the things about himself they should have known.

Jesus came to these two disciples at the point of their extremity.  They had nowhere to go and no-one to hope in. Jesus is not an additive to life, another satisfaction to place alongside other rival satisfactions. He is life itself, he is satisfaction itself, and it is only when he is allowed to mean everything that he can mean anything at all.  He challenged their slowness to believe by drawing their attention to the prophecies about himself in all the Prophets and in all the Scriptures. They had been among his followers and yet their understanding of him was so shallow.  This challenges us to ask if we play with our faith, picking and choosing the aspects we like or find comfortable, or do we have hearts and minds that are open to receive everything that he wants to give us of his truth, his power, his life?

Warmest greetings in Christ,

Tony Mason

 

Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus