ASPECTS OF FAITH - PART THREE

MISSION.
At Acts 1: 6-8. we find the Lord Jesus commissioning his disciples, and saying: ‘and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth'.
 
What a wonderfully commonsense way in which to undertake mission! The disciples were told to begin at the place where they were, Jerusalem; only then, from the place where they were, would they be able to reach out. First, they had to reach out to Judea, which lay all around them. After that, they could reach out that bit farther, to the ‘foreign country’ of Samaria, and then, farther yet, to the big, wide world beyond.
     True mission is more than work done on our behalf by those whom we appoint to do it. True mission is an integral part of faith's expression, and should be natural to all of God's people. True mission begins at the places where we are, at the 'Jerusalem' of each believer's life, and of each local church. Only then can it effectively move out to the 'Judea’ of the near-to-hand places all around the church; to the Samaria beyond, and on again, into the big, wide world.
 
Each believer: each church; stands at the centre of a personal mission field.
 
 
MORE THAN  CONQUERORS.
At Romans 8:37, St. Paul wrote of Christians being ‘more than conquerors’. Few commentaries on 'Romans' actually comment on what St. Paul might have meant. Perhaps he meant something like this,
     The history of mankind is, largely, the story of struggles, wars and the conquest of nations. Many conquerors were mere destroyers. The Goths and Vandals ravaged much of Europe in the 5th century A.D. The killing of Christians, and the destruction of property, seemed to be their main aim.
     In the 13th century A.D., Ghenghis Khan conquered most of eastern Asia; great areas of central Asia and Asia Minor, and much of North Africa and Europe. Wherever his armies went, death and destruction followed. It has been said that, in Eastern Europe and Southern Russia, the destruction was on such a scale that nearly two centuries were to pass, before it could be said that things had been restored to normal.
     Some conquerors destroyed much and built nothing. Others were different. The Romans, for example, might be said to have been 'more than conquerors'. They conquered in order to control and settle countries, and build them into the Roman Empire. 'Empire' dictated an ordered way of life. Therefore, apart from what was lost in the initial conquest, or in maintaining control, the Romans destroyed little. Instead, they added to what they found. Great numbers of civil servants; builders; engineers; architects; doctors; mathematicians; road-builders; teachers, astronomers and so on, followed the conquering armies.
     The Romans spread the influence of their culture throughout vast areas of Europe, Asia Minor and North Africa. In a very positive way, the Romans built far more than they destroyed. Could St. Paul have had something like that in mind when he said that Christians should be ‘… more than conquerors..'?
 
OPINIONS.
A fairly old saying; puts one aspect of Jewish social life, this way: “Listen to any two Jews talking together, and you will hear three opinions”.
     It is much the same within the congregation of almost any Christian church. Wherever groups, and factions occur, there is a tendency to nurture a wide spread of opinions. Some of the views held, are likely to differ considerably, or even radically, from the tenets of mainline Christian faith. Nevertheless, it is all too often the case, that some of those opinions will not only be held, but also disseminated, and defended; regardless of the greater claims of theology; doctrine, logic and common sense.
     Within a fairly large, growing and developing parish church congregation: there existed a die-hard group of elderly, middle-class, and conservative people. They seemed to feel called to resist evangelically minded spirituality; and to re-establish ‘the old-fashioned, proper way of doing things; that pertained before all these changes took place’.
 
At a special meeting, to pray for yet greater fervour, in evangelical outreach; an elderly woman member of ‘the conservative wing’; sat tense and eager, like a terrier over a rat-hole. She listened to statements about the need to hold the town and its people before God, in consistent prayer; then interrupted the leader of the meeting, and said: ‘Of course, I believe in prayer: but I like the old-fashioned sort, that so many of us are used to. My dear uncle; the vice-admiral, of course; and not the cabinet minister; right up to the day he died: aged ninety-two: always said the prayers he had learned at his mother’s knee. Sweet, isn’t it’.
      The leader asked: ‘How can any mature, Christian person pray ‘Christopher Robin’ prayers; throughout his life?’ He soon regretted his question; because the purpose of the meeting became lost; as debate set in; then began to give way to argument.
 
Let all church leaders; ordained and lay; be wary of set opinions; and the right-or-wrong; come-what-may, defenders of them. 
 
PASTORAL CARE.
Some notes presented at a Circuit Ministries Meeting
 
It may be said that Ezekiel, 34, established the principle upon which all biblical pastoral care is based. The teaching within that chapter, is both an indictment of bad pastors, or shepherds, who failed in every part of their given task; and a prophetic word about God himself taking up the task of shepherding his flock, and; through Christ; being the 'Good Shepherd'.
 
The failure of the bad shepherds is emphasized in three main ways:
 
·      They failed to feed the sheep in their care. (Verses 2b. 8b. & 10a) because they were too busy looking after their own interests (verses 2. 3. & 8b.)
 
·      They failed to search for those sheep that had strayed. (Verses 4. 6b. & 8) Not only did they fail to search for the ‘lost’ sheep; they also, through neglect, allowed the flock to become scattered, and a prey to whoever, or whatever, came against it (Verses 5. 6. & 7.).
 
·       They failed to tend those sheep that had needs other than those relating to being fed, or to being found and restored to the flock. (Verse 4a).
 
In the 'Good Shepherd' teachings, at Ezekiel 34:11-31, and at John 10:1-18, God himself, in Christ, will fulfil all of the requirements of the office of shepherd, through undertaking all aspects of caring for the flock.
     In his instructions to Peter: at John 21:15-17. Jesus placed the emphases of good pastoral care upon 'feeding’ and ‘tending’. Pastoral care is a far greater thing than friendly oversight, and the giving of help when needed; although it must include these things as well. Guided by the principle established in Ezekiel 34., pastoral care continues to involve itself in practical matters, but, at the same time, it becomes more involved in spiritual concerns.
     To pursue the scriptural images; the local church must develop a level of pastoral care that undertakes the 'feeding' of the 'flock' with the 'Word' that is the Bible, and the 'Living Bread' which is Christ; without seeing these functions as being the responsibility of the minister and preachers alone. It must also concern itself with seeking those who have, for whatever reason, strayed from the fellowship of the Church; and with the tending necessary to the secure, healthy and on-going life of the flock.
     To consider the quality of our present pastoral care; is not to stress how we might have failed in the past; but to explore how we might become yet more effective, in the future. At its best, pastoral care, more than any other aspect of the life of the 'flock', brings into being that sense of security which attracts the 'sheep' to stay within it. Pastoral care helps establish a sense of belonging, and of place and purpose within the plans of the Shepherd. All of this helps give the flock an essential unity, as well as an on-going sense of direction, as it observes, and responds to, the leadership given.
 
In Christ, and alongside Peter, we are all under-shepherds with our own God-given responsibilities. There may be the apparent conflict of images where, in Christ, we are both sheep and under-shepherds at the same time, but the emphases remain where Christ placed them, upon seeking; finding; restoring; healing, tending and feeding. Do we believe that our understanding of, and application of, pastoral care; fulfils Christ’s requirements of us, as a church?
 
PERSPECTIVE.
When walking on mountains; or similar high and rugged ground; much of the time is spent looking for safe places to plant the feet; ready for the next step upwards; onward, or even downward. If such care is not taken; there is the danger of treading on a loose rock or stone, and falling over; or else of sliding in loose earth, or shale; and losing control; or even, all unwittingly, stepping too near an edge, and having a serious accident.
     In order to fulfil the purpose of the walk; and enjoy the scenery; it is necessary to stop, now and again; making sure that the stopping-place, itself, is safe. Having stopped; a wider view is obtained; a better perspective enjoyed; and a clearer idea given, of distance and direction. Without such ‘stopovers’, it is possible to get lost; and even to wander in circles: getting nowhere in particular. Also, it is usually the case; with mountains; that the higher the climber goes, the more rugged and difficult the terrain becomes.
     So it is, with the Christian life. It often seems that, the farther we get along the ‘Way’, the more difficult the going becomes. This being so; spiritual ‘stopovers’ become essential to safe journeying: because they give a wider view of where we are: make us more aware of the difficulties and dangers around us; and illumine the path before us, so that the direction it takes, is more clearly seen.
 
 
POSSESSIONS.
It is not so much what we possess; but more, what we are possessed by, that counts in our lives.
 
PROTECTION. 
There is a certain conflict, which affects some part of Christian thinking, on at least some occasions. The conflict arises out of the belief that, on the one hand, our faith protects us from temptation and evil; and, on the other hand, a belief that our faith makes us a target for temptation and evil.
     Some Christians get quite concerned, and even a bit confused, about this. On one occasion, they will feel quite confident, because of their faith. On another occasion, they will feel under attack and a little helpless, for exactly the same reason, because of their faith.
     There need be no such conflict; for the position in which we find ourselves, is not one of either/or, but of both, and together. Our faith does protect us while, at the very same time, it is the context of this or that form of spiritual attack. Both and together, seems to be what St. Paul had in mind at Ephesians 6:16. There, he speaks of Christians taking 'the shield of faith', which does two things at the same time. It protects from, and so keeps the bearer safe, in a general sort of way; and it wards off, and so prevents a particular spiritual attack being effective.
 
REAL, OR IMITATION?
A talk given at a ‘Youth Club’
We can get so used to imitation things, that they soon take the place of the real; and the real can get so put to one side, as to become largely forgotten.
 
Every few years, throughout the U.K, there is a big drive, and an expensive advertising campaign, to promote ‘Real Ale', but, surely, all of the ale brewed is real, otherwise it is not ale.
 
I once saw a butcher 'dressing' his shop window. He put a large, plastic tray at the centre, with plastic tomatoes and plastic parsley to decorate it. I asked him. ‘When are you going to put a plastic joint on the tray’? He was not pleased.
 
The manse that I live in; has been described as 'Cottage-style'; but I have never seen a real cottage looking even remotely like the ugly, three-storey, cement-rendered 'box' that we call home.
 
On stage, screen and radio, impersonators imitate Harold Wilson, or Maggie Thatcher. Most people have seen the imitations, and are content with them; and hardly likely ever to want to see, let alone actually see, the originals.
 
For practical, ‘all-seasons-playable-surface' reasons, many football clubs are considering installing imitation-grass pitches.
 
At least two companies in Britain, at the moment, are selling 'Imitation Old Master' pictures, with textured surfaces, and built-in cracks in the paint.
 
Some pretentious people have what appear to be extensive libraries of good books which, on closer examination, prove to be no more that leather spines stuck on wooden blocks, in imitation of actual, old and valuable books.
 
Advertisements in the Sunday newspapers offer 'Imitation diamonds... so real- looking that even the experts cannot tell the difference'.
 
 
THE PARTLY-REAL IS OFTEN DEFENDED.
A company; rather cross about another company stepping in on its market, placed an advertisement in a trade magazine, with this surprising and mildly-funny headline: ‘Genuine artificial pearls - Ours are the real thing!’
 
Similar advertisements were placed in newspapers, when a 'battle for the market’ was being fought over women’s stockings and tights. 'Real nylon tights’ said the headline. An imitation of silk was, itself, being imitated; and the original imitation was being expensively defended and promoted as real.
     Half-truths and 'white lies' are, quite often, not only expected and accepted, but also widely promoted, and this, so intensely and convincingly, that the imitation becomes ‘real’, and the actual real thing ignored.
      Through certain twists in emphasis, when demonstrating the ‘genuine article', as against simulations: promoters subtly change the usual and well-known contrast between 'real’ and ‘false’, and appear to convert it to 'real’ and ‘unreal’. For example, posters on huge billboards tell us that: 'Real men smoke Old Holborn tobacco'. Do they? If so, what does an unreal man look like; and what is he smoking these days?
     The script of an American film about life in the highest echelons of commerce and industry, gave particular emphasis to the power that money can have, when used as a means to obtain a questionable end. Having destroyed a rival company, one of the characters in the story; seated at table in an ultra-exclusive restaurant, and boasting to a companion, about how he actually put the other company out of business; said: ‘Man! This is real living'.
         What is reality? What is real life? Although the words 'real’ and 'imitation' do not appear in scripture; the Bible makes powerful contrasts between true/untrue; righteous/unrighteous; good/evil, right/wrong and alive/dead.
 
On the basis of ‘What is real; and what is an imitation’; what are your understandings of what Jesus meant, in saying: ‘I came that you might have life, and have it more abundantly'.
 
RECOGNIZING A PROBLEM
is one thing: doing something about it, can be entirely different.
Samuel Pepys kept a diary, in which he recorded his daily activities. He held several government posts; and it was said of him that he displayed great administrative ability and reforming zeal in his work. He combined the characters of the ‘man of business’ and the ‘man of pleasure’. He was skilled in music; was a collector of books, manuscripts and pictures; and was, for two years, the President of the Royal Society.
 
He was a man of many interests and talents and, as his ‘Diary’ records; he was often out and about, talking to all sorts of people. It appears that he was seldom at home. In one particular diary-entry, he admits to knowing about a problem regarding his relationship with his wife. He wrote that he was concerned about how things were going at the time; that he wanted to do something about the situation, but that he is not quite sure how to set about things. The greater application of love and duty within his marriage, would have supplied much, if not most, of the answer; but he showed no sign, then or later, of such application.
 
The entry is dated the 16th of December 1662, part of which says: ‘Home, a little displeased with my wife who, poor wretch, is troubled with her lonely life; which I know not how, without great trouble, to help as yet; but I will study how to do it’. This entry is rather telling. It indicates that Pepys knew just what the problem was, and that he knew the answer to it as well; but that he was not at all prepared to give up any part of his selfish preoccupation with his own affairs.
 
A further indication of his selfishness is that he records himself as being displeased with his wife’s reaction to the lonely life, which he forced her to lead. He knew what to do about the situation; to be less selfish, and to spend more time with his wife. Despite his written intention to ‘study how to do it’, it is unlikely that he did anything worthwhile about the situation, because one of the last entries in his ‘Diary’, in 1669, closes with these words: ‘And so home late’.
 
REDEMPTION.
Christ not only redeems sinners from their sins; but also; where possible; and where those concerned allow; he redeems their situations. New Testament examples, from the gospels, are:
 

  • ‘The Woman at the Well’. Almost certainly, her adulterous-style relationships; would have made her unacceptable to the people of the near-by town, from which she came; and she would have been rather hesitant in approaching them, especially the men, about anything. However, Christ’s surprising acceptance of her; appears to have, immediately, changed her thinking about faith; and her willingness to stand-up-and-get-counted. By their own statement, the men of that town appear to have changed their attitude to her: for they accepted her testimony and witness, to Christ; and found it to be true. Thus, to a large extent, her situation had been redeemed.

 

  • Zacchaeus. Christ’s surprising acceptance of him, made this man, too, rethink aspects of his life and actions: so much so, that he repented; declared his changed understanding, and entered into a different life-style. Christ’s reaction to what Zacchaeus said and did; made it clear that both the man, and his situation, had been redeemed.

 

  • At Luke 5: 17-26. Jesus forgave the paralytic’s sins (v. 20) and thus spiritually redeemed him. Later (v. 24) the man was physically healed: and thus his situation became so radically changed, that it can be said that it, too, had been redeemed.

 
 
 
CHRIST IS ALIVE TODAY! What do you consider to be the very essence of the Christian religion? It is important that each of us should be able to express, clearly and simply, what is fundamental to our faith, so that we can make what St. Paul calls 'The good confession' to others. (See 1.Timothy 6:13).
 
The great and basic truth of the Christian religion is, that Jesus Christ is God, manifested in the flesh; that he not only lived a truly human life, many years ago, and was cruelly put to death; but that he rose again from the dead and is alive in our midst today. If, as we believe, this is so, then we can ask ourselves afresh: ’What is this truth effecting in me?"
         The most-hoped-for thing is that good change should be effected in us. When the Lord Jesus lived in the flesh among men, it was not so much what he taught that changed men's lives, wonderful though his teaching was. Rather, it was much more the very fact of his friendship. Jesus accepted people as they were. Many were so stirred by his acceptance of them that they changed in natural response towards him. Those who began to experience the friendship of Jesus, could also begin to receive the teaching that he offered.
 
Long ago, in Jerusalem and Galilee, and many other places, men and women were changed. Simple peasants, fishermen and housewives became so different, that the world around them could not help but notice. The only explanation that the world could find; to account for the good change; is stated in Acts 4:13, where it says: 'They had been with Jesus'. Something had 'rubbed off' on those people, not only of what Christ taught, but of who he was.
As in the days of his earthly ministry, the alive-in-our-midst Christ continues to accept us as we are. Whether or not his acceptance effects good change in us depends upon our response to him. At its best, our response will contain within itself, a vision of good being fulfilled in us; and the assurance that our God, who began a work of faith in us, will complete it.
 
As we, through a continuing and deepening response to the Lord, experience more fully God's acceptance of us in Christ; so the very essence of our faith will be the more clearly seen in us. It will be seen by ourselves; to our own joy and strengthening: and it will be seen by others as we effect a quite natural witness that, Christ is alive - in us! When the world around us can look upon the Church and say: ‘We know the Lord Jesus Christ lives: we see him with our own eyes; we see him in the lives of you Christians’, then we exercise the finest possible witness to our faith.
 
May Easter Day always be far more than a date on our church calendars; and the true meaning of it, be more than a weekly celebration, in our Sunday services of worship. Instead, may the resurrection power of Easter Day be our continual, spiritual experience.                                                                                   
RICHNESS OF SPIRIT AND POVERTY OF SPIRIT.
At 2. Samuel 6: I2ff we read that King David, naked (so it seems) except for a linen ephod, 'danced before the Lord with all his might'. In so doing, he expressed immediate and great joy, that the Ark of the Covenant of God; with all its significance; and lost to the nation for so long; was back with the people of God.
 
David's wife, Michal, daughter of Saul, watched him dancing, from her window, and 'despised him in her heart'. David appears to have been an impulsive man, rich in spirit, and blessed of God. God Himself spoke most highly of David when He said, to later kings and generations, 'Walk in My ways ... do what is right in my eyes ... keep my statutes and my commandments ...as David my servant did...’ (1.Kings 11: 38ff).
         Of Michal, little more is written, save that she was barren, and bore no child. Her attitude towards David, at that moment of great and expressive joy, when he 'danced before the Lord with all his might'; seems to suggest that she was not only barren in her body, but also barren in her spirit.                                                                                                                      
 
‘SEEKING AND FINDING’ IN THE SPIRITUAL LIFE.
Anyone who seeks, has, to a certain extent, already found; otherwise, he would not seek. This statement is not paradoxical, nor a contradiction of terms. Instead, I believe it to be a plain fact: for no man seeks God without at least some knowledge of him; and a desire for more, which promotes the search: and that knowledge, no matter how small, is already a ‘finding’.
 
AN ASPECT OF SPIRITUAL DOUBT.
        You doubt, and say to yourself: ‘The fire in me is
going out’; but you were not the one who lit that
fire. Your faith does not create God; and your
doubts cannot banish him to nothingness.  Brother Roger, of Taize.
 

THE SPIRITUAL POWER TO DO THINGS.
 Imagine a house that was fully-wired for electricity, with the ‘main’ turned on, and with every necessary part of the system, and every appliance, in its proper place, and ready for use. Then it begins to get dark, or cold. So, the householder makes a telephone call to the Electricity Board office, and says to the manager: ‘Come to my house, and turn on the lights and the heaters’. The manager would, of course, refuse to do anything of the sort: expecting the householder to utilise what is already provided, and awaiting use.
         Something along these lines is likely to apply in various situations existing within the life of the Church, within our land. Often, a lack of spirituality is experienced, and many prayers appear never to be answered, not because of the unwillingness of God, but because of the attitude of approach on the part of the ‘spiritual householder’, in asking God to do that which they are required and enabled to do. So many prayer-approaches to God ask him to do this thing, or that thing, where, all along, if we really listened, we would hear the Lord say: ‘No! I expect you to do that; using the means already provided’.
         There is a worldly saying: ‘I don’t expect to buy a dog, and then have to do the barking myself’; and something like this can have application in the Christian life of service. It may well be that Christ does not expect to appoint servants, and then have to do their work for them. His word to us in the matter would not be judgementally critical, but it would be direct to the point, as he says: ‘You do it, just as I told you to: in my Name, and, therefore, in my power’.
 
NARCISSUS - AND THE PERILS OF SUBJECTIVE THINKING.
When we consider the old Greek fable of Narcissus; the beautiful young man who was utterly 'wrapped-up' in self; we see that his self-worship; his absorption in his own physical perfection, and his entirely subjective thinking, led to his downfall as a man; for he became, eventually, something that he was never intended to be - a flower. We may dismiss this as no more than a silly story; but it may be that there is a lesson in it for the Christian. As long as the individual Christian is 'wrapped-up' in self; and not necessarily from the point of view of self-love, as with Narcissus; but also from such things as disliking, despising and even hating self; which can be even more destructive; then he is ever in danger of developing into something he was never intended to be by God.
         The man who loves himself unduly, or who is caught up in the toils of self-rejection, is introspective and subjective in all his attitudes. Like Bunyan's 'man with the muck-rake', his gaze becomes so fixed, that he sees little or nothing else. The self-loving man elevates himself in his own eyes, sees all in terms of self; becomes critical of others. His self-seeking affects most of his judgements. He measures anything and everything against self, and accepts or rejects things, according to whether they add to, or detract from himself. He becomes something that he was never intended to be, utterly selfish. He is intended to be self-denying; 'Let him deny himself; take up his cross and follow me', says Jesus.
 
The introspective and self-loathing man; is just as subjective in his thinking, and equally as selfish; though for reasons different from those of the self-loving man. Objective thinking is the beginning of the remedy here, with 'self' seen in the light of God’s truth, love and grace.
 
If I stand at the edge of a puddle and see myself clearly reflected then I can indulge in some subjective and whimsical thinking by seeing the 'upside-down' man beneath my feet as more real than myself. This is because I can see more detail in the reflection that I can in my real self. With enough whimsy and subjective thought, I could, for a moment, think that the reflection is more real than the substance. This is the sort of situation in which a Christian can very easily find himself; though there is usually little of whimsy in it. He can stand so close to a problem, that the reflected details of the apparent truth of the matter, seem to be more real than the actual truth of the matter. The man at the edge of the puddle can take a deliberate step away from it, and then view things once again - objectively. So it must be with the man having the spiritual problem. He must step away from it, with all of the deliberation he can, and view it in the light of God's truth - objectively!
 
TESTIMONY.
Christian testimony tells about what Jesus Christ has done for us; and Christian witness is about us telling others what the Lord can do for them.
 
THOUGHTS AND ACTIONS.
At Matthew 5: 27+28; Jesus equates an adulterous thought, with an adulterous action. This very brief teaching implies that the one equates with the other because, given the opportunity, the thought would have been translated into action. From this, it is possible to argue that; should the need for such a teaching have arisen; Jesus would have stated that, in God’s sight, a good thought equates with a good action?
 
A NOTE ON TIME AND ETERNITY.
I once had lunch with a Christian who had been a churchman all his life; a member of the parochial church council, vicar's warden, and so on; but who had what he called: “A secret fear, that has become a secret shame”.  As we ate, he confessed that he could not bear the idea of eternal life. As he put it: “I am plain appalled at the thought of living for ever (hence my fear) and, as a committed Christian, I feel guilty about being afraid (hence my shame)”.
         There are, perhaps, many Christians whose feelings are similar to those of my lunchtime companion. They, too, may be unhappy with the concept of 'for ever and ever', and be more than a little troubled, as they try to reconcile any unhappiness, with the statements of the Bible. Much depends on their approach to biblical concepts of ‘eternal life’.
         Almost the last great word that God speaks about Himself in the Old Testament is found in Malachi 3:6. “I the Lord do not change...” and, in the New Testament, a similar statement is made about Jesus Christ, at Hebrews 13:8. The same yesterday; today, and for ever” Unchanging!
 
All of our ideas, and experience of time, are related to change within three-dimensional space, both in the world around us, and in stellar space. The movement of the earth in relation to the sun, in terms of both axis and orbit, is a change in space. The hands of a clock move, and there is change in space on the face of the clock. Experiments to see whether a man could completely lose his sense of time, have been undertaken, with the experimenter being left completely alone in a deep cave, with no communication with others for weeks, or even months. Such experiments have failed, because there is always some change in space to mark the passage of time. The gas in a cylinder lasts so many hours at such-and-such a rate of release. So, there is change in space, within the cylinder, and the controlled release of the gas, enables time to be measured. Water drips from the ceiling of the cave, to the puddle on the floor, at a steady rate; and this continual change in space can be used to measure the passage of time. Even such things as a once-full stomach slowly emptying, and sleeping and waking cycles, are indications of change in space and the passing of time.
 
However, if we could be utterly unaware of change in space (impossible in this world) then we should be equally unaware of what we call 'time'. God says: “I, the Lord, do not change”, and Jesus is: “The same yesterday, today and for ever”. If, one day, we are with God; who, we believe, is both unchanging and unchangeable; then we should have no awareness at all of 'time’; but what of 'eternity'? At John 17:3, Jesus may be said to have defined ‘eternity’ as having little or nothing to do with time, and everything to do with relationship with God.  He said: “Now this is eternal life; that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent”.
 
TIME ALLOWS NO CREDIT BALANCE.
Imagine having a bank account where 86,400 pennies were gradually credited to it, throughout each and every day; but where, at midnight, the account would be closed, all credit balances cancelled, leaving nothing to be carried forward to the next day. With such a system, we would want to make maximum use of the facility, in order not to lose what had been made available to us.
 
This is something like time. Each day starts anew, with 86,400 seconds to be 'credited’ to us during the day. We cannot overdraw our account, nor can we extend any credit balance from one day to the next. Each moment of every day must be spent as we go along. Do we really use these moments to the full? If, at the end of the day, when all outstanding amounts, unused, are struck off the books, we were to be asked, 'How did you spend your time?’ could we answer that it was well spent?
 
WHY THE DEAD SEA IS ‘DEAD’.
It is 'dead' in that sense, because it is always receiving into itself, but it never gives, in terms of outflow. The surface of the water is about I,280 feet below sea-level, and the deepest point of the bed, is some I,300 feet lower still. Four streams run into the Dead Sea, as well as the main flow of water from the Jordan. However, the rate of evaporation is such (temperatures reach 11O degrees Fahrenheit in summer) that the in-flow serves only to keep the surface-level constant. Along the rivers and streams that flow into the Dead Sea, luxuriant vegetation is to be found; but the chemical deposits in the Dead Sea itself (salt; potash; magnesium, calcium chlorides and bromide) are, by their concentrated richness, poisonous to fish and to plant life.
 
Some Christians can gradually develop like that; always taking in whatever is going, and never giving out, so that they become clogged up.               
 
WITNESSING.
Our courts of justice have established a basic principle; that any man or woman giving evidence as a witness, must speak from first-hand experience. Anyone found offering ‘hear-say’ testimony would be stopped; cautioned by the magistrates or judges, and instructed as to what was; and what was not, acceptable in terms of the law. If the one giving evidence continued to ignore the instruction given, then it is likely that he or she would be removed from the court, and that the ‘hear-say’ part of the evidence given, would be struck from the record.
 
In terms of the Christian faith, a man or woman becomes a ‘witness to Christ’, only when he or she has entered into a first-hand experience of Christ. Then, able to speak from that first-hand experience, that man or woman becomes an acceptable witness. However, despite the obvious and good example given by those who are appointed to administer secular law: Christians usually choose to do things a different way. So many of those who are appointed by Christ to administer the faith (and that means all who are called to follow Jesus) seem content with the more-than-second-hand, received tradition, and the rag-bag of ‘hear-say’, that has moulded their own lives; and fail to see that, in offering this to others, they are invalid witnesses.                              
 
WORSHIP.
We use quite a number of 'religious' words, and can get so set in our ways in our use of them, as to risk losing much of their meaning. This can be true of the word 'Worship', so let us remind ourselves of something of its meaning. It has the basic meaning of 'worth-ship', and what we do as worship, is our response to our understanding of the worth of God.
 
The nature of our worship tends to reflect who we are, and our religious understanding and attitudes. With this in mind, worship should be central to our individual lives, and central also to the life of our church. If it is not, then a question arises: 'Is God himself central?'
         The regular attendance of worshippers at our services and meetings; marks our concern for the continuity of our church's life. It also expresses our need and desire to meet together in mutual encouragement and fellowship.
         Dignity in worship has its proper place in what we do: as it highlights our respect for God, and helps mark our sense of perspective; that is, of ourselves in relation to the Lord. Joy in worship is our response to a sense of belonging to the Lord, and of having been given place and purpose in his great scheme of things. Beauty in worship helps guide us into a deeper understanding of God's own nature; and into a closer experience of his presence. Enthusiasm in worship, tells of faithful and thankful hearts exploring their God-given freedoms.
       New forms of worship represent a faith that is not chained to the past, but which is alive, and open, to what God is doing in today's world. A sense of mystery in worship, acknowledges God as being far greater than even our best understanding of him at the moment, yet points to the on-going, spiritual adventure of further discovery.
         Every church has some understanding of the underlying purposes of worship. Each church can do much to ensure that the corporate understanding of what it is all about, should be encouraged, and built up. Each church member can give positive shape and direction to their church's life and attitudes. Each member can help express these things in ways which are honouring to God; satisfying to their own souls, and very attractive to the world all around.
         At its highest and best, worship has an unsurpassable magnificence and beauty that lifts the human spirit to otherwise unattainable heights. May the Lord our God enable us to so worship him in spirit and in truth, that our yearning towards him may be fulfilled in our experience of his presence.        
                                                                              
                                                                                                             
A BRIEF NOTE ON WORSHIP.
 
Services should include ‘slots’ for teaching and learning
 
Worship must, at all times, be just that, worship.
 
Too often, much of what is done in our ‘services of worship’ tends towards entertainment, and 'keeping the troops happy'
 
Too often, 'Family Services’ are nothing of the sort. They are, instead, largely aimed at one segment of the congregation, the children; who may well be expected to do a 'party piece', as their contribution to what goes on. Again, too often, 'Family Services' are very light in content; with little, or even nothing for the adults. How can people grow in spiritual stature, if the 'Bread of Life' is not being offered to them?
 
It is well said that: 'God makes, converts, and the Church makes disciples of them', but the making-of-disciples requires the regular and disciplined teaching and learning of the things of the faith.
There are some who cannot, and many who will not, avail themselves of mid-week bible-study and fellowship. For such people, Sunday may be the only opportunity to offer them what they need, in order to grow in love and faith.
 
ASPECTS OF WORSHIP.
Worship is, essentially a meeting with God. A meeting with any person means involvement, which includes give and take. So it is in our worship of God.
 
We give to Him our praise and thanksgiving; and, at our best, we do this with heart; soul, mind and strength, because this is our God-given way of meeting with Him. And we receive from him, spiritual cleansing, through forgiveness, uplift and renewal, and many other blessings.
         Obviously, worship in church involves others; therefore, it should also mean a meeting with them, as well as with God. This is because Christianity is not a 'private' religion, but a way of life, based on corporate faith in a Living Lord, who is Head of the Church. If we truly believe the church to be the 'Body of Christ', made up of many parts, then no one part can possibly see itself as being independent, and following its own 'private' way.
       The ‘mechanics’ of worship, include the danger that the structures and rituals can so catch our minds and attention, that we lose sight of the One whom we have met to worship. Such over-concern with the ‘mechanics’ of worship, can be likened to being content with an X-ray picture of a man's skeleton, where all that can be seen, are the bones and vague overtones of grey; instead of moving beyond the picture; in order to discover the person to whom those bones belong.
 
WORSHIPPING TOGETHER.  It should be just that - together.
Just as it is possible to be lonely in a crowd, so it is possible to be 'separated' in the midst of the 'togetherness' of Sunday worship. For a variety of reasons (usually related to background and early training) many of God’s people have come to see their faith and its expression as being private to them. Where such a 'separation' exists; in place of the full 'togetherness' to which we are called in Christ; then two things become lost, within any particular service of worship.
         The first is the loss to the 'separated' worshipper, of that which he or she might have received, had there been the greater 'togetherness'. The second thing, and just as important, is the loss to the congregation of the ‘tuppence-worth’ that the ‘separated’ worshipper could have added to what was going on, had there been full ‘togetherness'.
 
A number is the sum of the individual parts that go to make it up; that, and no more. But things are different in the life of the Church, especially in its services of worship. There, at its best, the congregation is far more than the sum of the individual parts that go to make up the number of those present. There is also that extra, mysterious 'something', which, primarily, is a sense of the presence of the Spirit of God, but which also includes unity and purpose in Christ; fellowship in the Spirit, and so much more.
         Christ taught, and lived out, a soul stirring 'togetherness' between God and man, and between God's people. Christ raised up St. Paul, to underline that teaching, and to encourage us to live in that same way. Where there is in us, a tendency towards 'separateness’, then, thanks be to God, we don't have to leave things at that. We may have to overcome something of own background and early training; but, as we believe, all things are possible in Christ. In him, true ‘togetherness’ is possible.
         The full value of 'togetherness' is almost beyond description, and the full power and effectiveness of it, is almost beyond measure. Our wedding service says: ‘Those whom God has joined together let no man put assunder’ Very similar words can be spoken about the Church's life, work and witness, and especially about its shared worship: ‘Those whom God has called together, let no man or woman put asunder, through concepts of 'separateness'.
 
 
THE END OF THESE ‘ASPECTS OF FAITH’ NOTES.