Sometimes we human beings get it spectacularly right.
We often get it wrong and the wise know it deeply. If you know the Easter story feel free to compile a list of people who got it spectacularly wrong. Start with Judas and take it from there.
But the Easter story also tells us about people who got it spectacularly right:
"I don't feel strong. I don't feel courageous. And it doesn't help if you tell me that I ought to be."
This week's 'awkward text' comes from Joshua 1, where Joshua is told to be strong and very courageous. It becomes awkward when we feel scared and we can't do what it says, or maybe we don't want to.
So let's get one thought out of the way quickly: these words were spoken to Joshua when he had a specific job to do and when God had promised him success. It requires a different sort of bravery when we don't know know how things will turn out. And that's the bravery that is usually required of us.
It takes a different sort of bravery to be like Jesus the son of Mary rather than Joshua the son of Nun.
Christian bravery is always about strength in weakness. It is about finding God's strength when we have none of our own. It is about following the one who was crucified in weakness and raised in power. It's about courage to announce a gospel of peace, not the Joshua-like news of warfare.
More on Sunday ...
"You say the Lord heals the broken-hearted, but he doesn't seem to be healing me."
This week's 'awkward text' (Psalm 147:3) seems to put God in the dock. Does God really live up to this amazing claim? What does this text say to those whose heart is broken?
Many of us can tell stories of times when we were broken hearted but slowly, gradually, God comforted us and restored us. Some will say that they are now in a better and deeper place than they were when everything went wrong. We need to hear these valuable stories.
This Psalm does not tell us to believe so that our hearts will not break; it tells us that God is there when it all goes wrong. It tells us to look up and to look out. It says that God lives and dwells in his creation. He dwells in outer space, in weather systems, in the food chain, in the growth of plants and animals. He lives in things we think are unclean.* He is there when our hearts break.
This Psalm says that God has ultimate understanding. A city, once crushed, is being rebuilt. This is part of God's plan to put everything right. This is the bigger story that the Bible tells us, which we believe.
More on Sunday ...
* That may be the point of verse 9, as ravens were considered unclean according to the Law of Moses.
"Is it really possible to pray continually?"
I once went to an event where the (well-known) preacher urged pastors that they should commit to praying a minimum of one hour a day. It was a passionate address and I was caught up in the emotion. When he asked for responses I, along with many others, stood. A few days letter I told the Lord that he was going to have to let me off. I wanted to pray, but one hour a day seven days a week was not going to happen.
I think most of us could improve our prayer lives. If you want some resources I suggest you check out www.24-7prayer.com/prayer where there are many useful ideas. But this week's 'awkward text' seems to suggest that we should be praying all the time, and that seems beyond many of us.
Let's be encouraged. 'Pray continually' doesn't mean that we should stop doing everything else. The same letter tells us to work so that our daily life will win the respect of outsiders and so we won't be dependent on anybody*. It means that we should be committed to prayer and that we should not give up. It means that we do what Jesus said, that we take time to pray on our own without worrying about whether or not we've done 'enough.' Jesus warned us that God will not hear us because our prayers are long.
Here's what I think: if we learn to pray on our own we may find that our prayer becomes more continual than we thought it would. If the resources help, great. But maybe the best starting place is to go somewhere on your own for a while and start talking to your Father in heaven. Tell him what's on your mind. Don't hold back. Jesus says your Father in heaven will reward you.
* And since that could also be an 'awkward text,' let me point out that it refers to those who are able to work.
"It's ok for you to say that we walk by faith, but it's hard when I have so many doubts."
This Sunday we look at our next 'awkward text,' that we walk by faith and not by sight. It's awkward because our faith can fail, and texts like this can make us feel like we are failures.
But faith has never been straight forward. Think of Peter, one moment walking on the water and the next sinking. Or Thomas, who just can't believe the crazy story that Jesus is alive.
God doesn't expect us to have perfect faith straight away. If Peter and Thomas struggled, so will we. There will be many times when, like them we could have done better. This is normal, not a mark of failure. Like children we have to learn to walk.
Sometimes our faith hits an unexpected crisis. Sometimes we come out with a stronger but very different faith.
Faith is about seeking God, it's not the end of our search.
More on Sunday ...
On Sunday the pool is open again. It's going to be a great day.
Almost two thousand years ago a man saw some water, ordered that his chariot stop, and asked if there if there was any reason why he shouldn't be baptised. There was no reason why not, so the man was baptised and went away rejoicing.
This man, previously an outsider, had discovered Jesus, the one who died and rose from the dead, the one who was led like a lamb to the slaughter but proved to be greatest of all. There is no better news than this.
You are invited to join the celebration.
"Can I really be completely confident? I doubt sometimes. Life is hard. Sometimes I feel that my faith is hanging by a thread."
This week's "awkward text" is 2 Corinthians 5:6 where Paul seems to express a confidence that is way beyond us. If that is what is required we might be tempted to give up.
Well, here's what I think. It's a bit like listening to an accomplished pianist or watching an elite athlete. I see these people and I know that they got why they are by hard, persistent work. I also know that I could never get quite where they have got, but if I work hard and am careful to avoid injury I might just beat my Parkrun personal best.
Paul got to this place of confidence by going through a series of events that tested his faith to the limit. He found that God was there every time. In the end Paul knew that God is the God who raises the dead and he learned to rely on him. So Paul learned to be confident that the resurrection is real. He learned to live in God's forgiveness. And he learned that he was part of God's new creation that began when God raised Jesus from the dead.
Here's my suggestion: don't focus on Paul's confidence. Focus on the God that Paul believed in. And as Paul said, make it your aim to please him.
"The Bible tells us to be completely humble, gentle and patient, but it's hard when you're mad with someone.'
When I heard that sentence I had to agree. People tell me there is such a thing as godly anger, but if it does exist it is an endangered species. Human anger does not bring about God's purposes, as the Bible says. We see its devastating results every day.
Patience is about being prepared for the long haul. It's about hope that things will not always be as they are now, whilst being realistic about the way things are. It's about working passionately for change whilst accepting that it will take a long time.
The church is a training ground for patience. You see, it is God's plan to fill everything and he wants to fill us so the world can see what he is up to. He wants us to experience the unity that he has with his Son. If we are going to get there we are going to have a lot of patience.
So here's today's challenge: pick something that makes you angry. Ask yourself what you can do to express hope that things will change and what can you do to make sure that you stay patient if this doesn't happen quickly. Be practical. If world hunger makes you feel angry ask what changes you can make to your life. Can you present an example of how things could be different? Can you do this and pray passionately that the kingdom will come? Can you see what you need to do or say next? Can you do this and stay patient?
More on Sunday .....
The Apostle Peter tells us to cast all our anxiety upon God, because he cares for us.
Some of us find this hard to do. We get anxious. We find that we can't just throw this anxiety away. A text that is meant to encourage us becomes an awkward text and it seems to hurt us more than help us.
The first thing I want to say is that mental illness is not a sin. It happens to many of us and could happen to any of us. This text is not there to tell us off when we have mental health issues.
The main thing I want to say is that this text is about more than the thing we call 'anxiety.' I think the older translations get it better when they talk of casting our cares upon God. It means something like, 'cast everything you care about upon God.'
So what are things we care about? Our families? Our jobs? Our finances? Our health? These things matter but they can all distract us from seeking God. This is the idea behind the word that Peter uses. This isn't just about the times we feel anxious. It's about the times we feel excited, the times we feel determined, the times we are working hard and many other times. It's about all the times when the things we care about become more important than God.
These are the times when we need to trust that God cares for us and we need to know that God is bigger than us.
More on Sunday ....
This Sunday we are going to celebrate.
We've been thinking quite deeply the last few weeks. If you don't feel joyful there's a sermon about that on the Talks page of the website. We'll do more of those 'awkward texts' soon,' but this Sunday we are going to celebrate.
We'll start with Psalm 33: Sing joyfully ... praise the Lord ... make music ... play skilfully (we'll try). We'll have fun doing some activities that help us speak out our praise. And we'll sing a new song (well the psalm does tell us to.)
The eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him ... he is our help and shield,
May your unfailing love rest upon us O Lord (Psalm 33:18-22, NIV)
Let's see if we can come all ready to praise God.