Monthly Message May 2019

A further reflection from SWBF Chairman, Tony Mason

“The peace of God, which transcends all understanding” Phil 4:7

“The pursuit of peace”, wrote the late John Stott, “is a universal human obsession, whether it is international, industrial, domestic or personal peace”. [1] There is abundant evidence of this pursuit in our society today: in recent days both the Government and members of the Royal Family and parts of the media have focused attention on mental health issues; people’s worries, disappointments and sense of injustice often feature in TV programmes; news coverage brings the devastation, suffering and horror of war and conflict right into our living rooms day by day. In fact, one has the impression that, overall, people are rather unhappy and that unhappiness is fuelled so often by gloomy pronouncements about Brexit, climate change, plastic pollution and so on. Does the media reflect our unhappiness or contribute to it, or both?

The ways in which people try to obliterate anxiety tend to be short-lived, empty and even positively harmful. Some will take to ‘recreational’ drugs; or try to obtain more money through the false promises of gambling; others imagine that to indulge in sex, without the commitment of marriage, will lead to being valued and recognised. But not only are these quests for some kind of peace short-lived, they are thoroughly deceitful, vain and empty promises and grow out of a failure to consider the nature, and the promises, of God. To seek peace anywhere but in God is to do so on our own terms, in ways under our own control and, therefore, in ways that are within the scope of our own understanding. But God offers a peace that “transcends understanding” (Philippians 4:7) – because it is all of grace.

The Hebrew idea of peace is a precious and positive thing. ‘Shalom’ is not peace in the sense of the absence of trouble, disturbance or conflict. It is the presence of, and the fullness of, every blessing that God can bestow. When Jewish people greet one another with: “Shalom!” they are saying, in effect, “God bless you abundantly and fill you with every conceivable blessing, every good thing!” Now wouldn’t that be peace?

Paul writes, in Romans 5 that “since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ”. ‘Justified’ means we are declared not guilty, but not because we are sinless but because God has laid on Christ the iniquity of us all and all the unsearchable riches of that justification are ours when we put our trust in him for full and free salvation.

We don’t need to, indeed we cannot, justify ourselves; we turn our back on the empty, deceptive promises of money, drugs and illicit sex; we do not place our ultimate hope in politicians and scientists, nor even in our own success and popularity but in God who has saved us from the past, keeps us in the present and will preserve us for a glorious eternity – and all that is in Christ! He and he alone is our peace.

“Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ” (Rom 1:7)

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[1] John Stott: “The Message of Romans”  (BST) IVP 1994 p139

Monthly Message Apr-2019

A Reflection for after Easter from SWBF Chairman, Tony Mason

“Easter’s late this year”, they were saying.  Actually, it wasn’t; and I’m not referring to any astronomical calculations for the date of Passover and so on.  No, Easter came at just the right time, for it gave us a break from the confusion, uncertainty and frustration of Brexit.  Everyone for whom Easter was about the death and resurrection of Jesus had their hearts and minds lifted high above the human tangle that had engulfed us for so many months.

Some 2,800 years ago God spoke through his prophet, Isaiah, about One who was to come.  He would be despised and rejected, a man of sorrows.  He would bear our griefs and be pierced for our transgressions.  Upon him the Lord would lay the iniquities of us all. Furthermore, he would see his offspring and prolong his days.  This Redeemer would die and rise again and continue to make intercession for transgressors. And it came to pass – but not for a further 800 years or so!  Even so, that first Easter did not come late for “when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son…” (Gal 4:4).

Will the UK ever leave the EU, and if so, how long will it take, and on what, if any, terms?  Crucial though they seem, those are not the most important questions to be asking, are they? Rather, we might well be asking: How far has the UK drifted away from God?  Have we ‘drifted’ or have we deliberately ‘turned – every one – to his own way’?  Has God forsaken us or is he patiently giving us one ‘extension’ after another so that we might return to him in repentance?

Oh, and by the way, it is not only Brexit that worries us, there’s also climate change and whether it spells the approaching end of the human race.  We have certain responsibilities in both areas but our hope does not lie in what we can do but what the Lord has already determined to do. “The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient towards you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed”  (II Peter 3:9,10).

How urgent the need is to proclaim God’s Word to our generation.  Thank you for all your support and encouragement of Saffron Walden Bible Focus.  The Lord bless you for that.  And, even though Easter was a little late this year, Bible Focus won’t be – Saturday 21st September!   Printed details will be with you shortly.

Grace and peace from God the Father and our Lord Jesus Christ be with you all,

Your brother in Christ,

Tony

Monthly Message Mar-2019

A Reflection on II Corinthians 13:14

 Do you, like me, find it difficult to know how best to end a letter or an e-mail to a Christian friend?  Yours sincerely or Yours faithfully may be a bit too formal, while Lots of love might be too familiar!  I often use Every blessing, but does that sound paternalistic? Your brother in Christ says what I want to say.

Paul had an excellent way to end what we call II Corinthians; it is a great prayer and summarises all the richness of the Christian faith. Yet they are words with which we have possibly become almost too familiar.  They are words with which we conclude most, if not all, services; but what do they mean?

“May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all”.

 A few verses earlier Paul wrote: “our prayer is for your perfection (literally: ‘mending’)”.

This ‘benediction’ is a prayer for completion, for mending!

1  “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ”.

“grace” means God’s undeserved love; God’s love in action; God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense.  This grace, culminating in the cross, makes reconciliation with God possible.

II Cor 5:19 “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them.”

Our nation is divided over Brexit; Parliament is divided over Brexit; nations are torn apart by civil unrest and war; knife-carrying youths are alienated from their families, their schools, their peers. Many individuals suffer mental illness, or crippling guilt; single parents feel helpless against the system; tenants are made miserable by uncaring landlords; some people bear the scars of sexual or domestic abuse, or suffer bitterness because of marital unfaithfulness.  And so one might go on.

Secular-humanist society has no room for God, therefore no higher point of reference or authority than itself. Self-interest and pride lurks in the hearts of the very best and noblest of us.  So our great need is to be reconciled to God.  And he has himself provided that for us!

On the cross Christ “took up our infirmities and carried our sorrows…he was pierced for our transgressions…the punishment that brought us peace was upon him”  (Isaiah 53).

That is the amazing grace of our Lord Jesus Christ!

We can do nothing to improve, or ‘mend’ ourselves or to earn God’s approval or acceptance.

We come to him on the merits of what Christ has already done; we are accepted in him.

2  “the love of God”

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ shows us the love of God, the love which longs that rebels be reconciled, defiled sinners restored. This is a message for our times if ever there was one.

So many feel they are insignificant cogs in an impersonal machine; those who sleep in shop doorways have no-one to love or cherish them; imagine being a young person excluded from school in case their exam failure spoils the school’s achievement record; or the divorcee trying to come to terms with being rejected by the one they thought loved them.

Can we, for one moment, put ourselves in the shoes of the refugee fleeing a cruel regime or an old person who has outlived all their relatives and friends, and about whom no-one cares?

What does the cross of Christ say to such? God loves them, with an active love; he has a place in his heart for them. But even the loved need the love of God, for only that love can meet the deepest of needs.

3  “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.

Finding the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ opens up for us the experience of the love of God and that brings us into “the fellowship of the Holy Spirit”.

‘Fellowship’ means sharing with, having something in common; in this case, the Holy Spirit.

So, far from God being non-existent or irrelevant we are united with him in the Holy Spirit!

This has at least two important and encouraging implications:

a  “The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children”  (Rom 8:16)

b  “you yourselves are God’s temple and…God’s Spirit lives in you” (I Cor 3:16).

Christians are ‘mended’ people, or rather, we are in the process of being mended.

What a timely encouragement that “we are God’s children” with all that that implies!

If we are God’s children then we are also brothers and sisters to each other, because the same Holy Spirit lives in each one.

 

The aim and substance of our prayer as we pray for one another should be for our perfection (mending).  It is my prayer that the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with us all – now and always.  Amen

Warmest greetings in Christ,

Tony Mason

Chairman, Saffron Walden Bible Focus