If there is a theme that might join our two readings together it might be said to be this: Develop an attitude of Gratitude.
Moses is reminding the people that they should be a people full of thanksgiving and gratitude and Jesus speaks of the importance of recognising the blessings we have and of living a life of gratitude and contentment. Being grateful is a characteristic we like to see in others and certainly to develop in our children, isn’t it? But there is something deeper and greater taking place here that goes beyond ‘good manners’. Thankful, grateful people have a different perspective on life. The Bible tells us to: ‘Rejoice always. Pray without ceasing and give thanks in all circumstances. For this is the will of Christ Jesus for you’ 1 Thes. 5:16-18
Why? Because when we do, our lives have a different focus – a different perspective – when we ‘frontload’ our lives with God things appear differently. Have you ever noticed the fact that we rarely need any help or practice in being grumpy? We do however, need to be ever mindful about being thankful.
I love it when scientific research finally catches up with what the Bible has been saying for thousands of years; for example: I was recently reading an article on some research that had revealed that an ‘attitude of gratitude’ generates better physical and mental health, develops relationships, reduces anger and aggression and helps you sleep better. Wonderful, if a little late in discovery. How great it is to know that God loves us and cares for us so much that these truths were laid down so long ago. They also help to create what might be called a ‘genuine church’ – a Happy, Praying and Thankful church.
Even amongst the turbulent and uncertain world we live in at the moment, we still have a great deal to be thankful for – when we thank God for all He has given us, we feel better, God receives praise and the enemy hates it. There is nothing the enemy despises more than a happy, thankful rejoicing Christian, so let’s help to shut him up and praise God more and more regularly.
The Christian Pastor and writer John Ortberg puts it like this: ‘Gratitude is more than making sure that God knows how much trouble He’s gone to for us – it’s so much more than that. It’s the gift God gives us that enables us to be blessed by all His other gifts. Without gratitude our lives degenerate into envy, dissatisfaction and complaints – taking what we have and always wanting more.’
Our lives will always have times of challenge, difficulty and sadness; times when life’s shadow will fall across our path, but here’s a truth; when you look to the sun, the shadow is always behind you but when you turn your back to the sun the shadow is always there in front of you – covering every step you take. I encourage you then, to look towards God’s Son with thanksgiving and to keep the shadows of life behind you. Let us free ourselves up, live the lives God intended us to and be known as a people of gratitude – Praising God, trusting Him and serving those around us. For when we look to God we will always see things differently.
Our children may all be adults and even with children of their own, but they still take great delight when opening cards together at Christmas to suggest that they have been the recipient of an act of greater generosity than any of the others. “Wow.” cries one when opening a card from an Aunt, “She’s given me £20!”. “£20?” enquires another … “She’s given me £30!”
Human nature loves a generous heart and instinctively warms towards acts of generosity, but less so if those acts of generosity are not directed towards ourselves. Consider how Jonah responds to God’s generosity over Nineveh. The story Jesus tells in Matthew, is one in which conventional thinking and understanding is turned upside down, for it is the account of an act of scandalous generosity, and in that, it is an account that serves to illustrate God’s wonderful heart of love towards both you and me.
As hired labourers, these men were already living at the mercy of chance employment. A day’s lost wages meant empty stomachs for the family at the end of the day and so they would stand in the market place seeking work.
Those who began their work for the landowner at the start of the day and those who were hired soon after, do so under a contract. They know what their reward will be. The world’s system of justice would see that anyone working for less than the full day, have their pay incrementally adjusted downwards, but here, we encounter the heart of the landowner. The days wage would just about cover the cost of a meal for their family so anything less would result in a worried wife and hungry children. The landowner goes way beyond accepted justice and provides them with far more than they were due, and in so doing, reveals the true heart of the men hired at the start of the day. They are not happy at all and let it be known.
They think that they are worth more. ‘Beware when drawn to compare; for it can lead to despair.’
In these few verses, Jesus communicates the compassion and the generosity of God to mankind. The men are rewarded out of the grace of the landowner. They did not deserve to be treated the same, but were none the less. But surely, ‘that’s not fair?’. To arrive at such a statement is, however, to reveal our desire to judge God by our own standards, for the startling truth is that fairness has nothing to do with it. If God was being fair, we would be left in a situation of eternal separation from His presence. We cannot earn what God gives us and we most surely don’t deserve it.
What God gives us is not pay, but a gift. Not a reward, but a grace. A scandalous grace.
The reality is that the life of a disciple of Jesus is spent in an atmosphere of grace from its very start to its finish. All mankind, no matter when they come to God, are equally precious to Him. Peter and Paul both remind us that the Father’s heart is that none should perish and that everyone should live their lives with the knowledge of His love. My cousin came to faith in her early 20’s, lived and walked her life as a disciple of Jesus and died a year later. My mother came to faith in her early 20’s, lived and walked her life as a disciple of Jesus and lived another 60. Their gift is the same. Eternity in the presence of God himself. All service ranks the same with God as it is the heart with which it is undertaken that matters. ‘Are you envious because I am generous?’ asks the landowner. Praise God, that He is precisely that.
With the Lord’s Blessing
A Sunday School teacher had just concluded her session with the children and wanted to check that the group had understood her and so she asked:
‘So .. who can tell me what we must do before we can receive forgiveness of sin?” There was a short pause and then, from the back of the room a small boy spoke up. “Sin!” he said.
We don’t usually have a problem with sinning, do we? I wonder how many of us are upset or angry with someone right now? Left unresolved, unforgiveness has the power to destroy relationships and break up communities. Jesus is directing us towards a successful way of resolving conflict and dealing with offence and it’s a way that avoids self-righteous vindication.
Perhaps the first thing to understand is that forgiveness is not a feeling we have but a decision we must make. Our readings today all deal with the reality that God wants us to live in love and freedom and to experience the fullness of His life within us, but we cannot do this or experience this whilst holding onto a grievance. In Matthew’s Gospel, we read of the need for it to work in both directions. Matthew 5:23-24 directs what we should do when we realise we have upset someone, and here in chapter 18, what we should do when someone has upset us. The objective is the same; reconciliation and in both instances, we are directed to take the initiative.
At the time that this account was being written, the church was experiencing persecution from outside of its body and from within it. There is a concern for the well being of the individual, yes, but also for the survival of the Church itself. The Church must be seen to behave differently and to deal with conflict resolution differently. I often repeat a saying that I heard many years ago; that the Church must not have any ‘lumpy carpets’. Hiding a difficulty does not make it go away, it just creates a trip hazard for later.
God’s way of doing things is different to the world’s and we are meant to be different. The world tends to focus on encouraging our own personal rights and if followed through this can often result in relationships being broken far too easily as a response to a feeling of our individual freedom being restricted by someone else. I have known of many church congregations being blighted and broken by just such a response. The enemy seeks to divide us as what he can divide he can then begin to dominate and we must seek to never give him any such satisfaction. David reminds us in Psalm 133 how much God loves unity, for it is there that He commands a blessing.
The process Jesus directs us to, begins with the opportunity to retain personal integrity and avoid public embarrassment by speaking privately together. Not writing or sending a text or an email. These can always be misinterpreted. A face to face encounter is always the very best way forward. If this fails to resolve the situation then we are encouraged to gradually increase the level of response but always, as Paul writes in Romans and in Galatians 6, in love and in gentleness. The reference to the tax collectors can be seen as Jesus acknowledging that sometimes people are just not ready to live in peace and as a result they may become distant, but reminding us that no one is beyond hope.
If they will not listen, then pray for them and move on as you will have done all that can be done at present and, in effect, it is they who are removing themselves from you. But, in all things … work from a principle of Love. I encourage you, if you are aware of any unforgiven grievances to seek Christlike resolution and reconciliation for your own personal freedom and the life that Jesus has promised, but also for the sake of the Kingdom, that nothing shall divide us.
With the Lord’s Blessing
The song ‘I am what I am’ became a huge hit for Gloria Gaynor back in 1983. It’s a song that proclaims individual liberty and freedom by focussing on self. Self-help and self-affirmation groups are incredibly popular and one quick internet search released 112 million sites designated to the concept. Perhaps their popularity lies in the assertion of a positive identity over ourselves and that’s good and right but in doing so, apparently denies the positive identity we have already been given in and by God himself. It is when we forget this that so many problems can arise. Take a look at Genesis 3 to see where that ignorance can take you.
Last week’s reading focused on the new name and heavenly identity that Jesus gave Simon once he had realised and declared the truth of who Jesus is. Simon became Peter; a name loaded with significance for his future and for the life that God had ordained for him to live. Today we are reminded of the name of God himself and how, like Simon, once we know it and own it for ourselves it has the power to transform our lives for ever.
Like Moses, sometimes God does things in our lives to gain our attention. It’s interesting to ponder just how many times we may have missed those appointments with God or ignored His voice or His intervention. Look at how Moses responds. He investigates. We might choose to ignore it but Moses chooses to seek it out – ‘I will go over’. As soon as God sees his response He moves up a level and speaks to Moses and Moses responds. The fact that Moses listens is very significant as it suggests a lifetime of being taught about God and the heritage that Moses and the Hebrew people have in Him. Be mindful then of how important it is that our children are introduced and matured in that critical truth.
God reveals His mission for Moses and it is at that point that Moses hesitates and enters into his first expression of reluctance, for there are several more to come, but notice why that occurs. ‘Who am I, that I should go …’ It is as soon as Moses focuses on himself rather than on who God has made him to be that fear and doubt begin to take hold. The truth is that in God, Moses is everything he needs to be otherwise God would not have trusted this mission to him. God has made Moses and knows and sees his destiny but for that to be released Moses must understand the truth behind the one who asks him. Note the promise God gives him. God promises to be with Moses … (Yeah!) but the sign of that being so will be at the end when everything is accomplished. Hmmmm – maybe not quite what Moses was wanting to hear! God is asking Moses to trust Him, to work with Him, to walk with Him into victory; and that trust and that faith must be rooted in the identity of God himself.
‘I AM who I AM’. God identifies himself as ‘I AM’ 719 times in the Bible – 508 of those in the Old Testament. ‘I AM: …. The God of your father … the Lord …The one who comforts you … the one who is … I AM God … In the New Testament Jesus states: ‘I AM’: … the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth, the true vine, the beginning and the end, your salvation, … I am with you always.
Basically … I AM everything you need … I’ve got it covered, now and always and if the answer doesn’t exist .. I’ll create it!
I wonder where you need God to be the great ‘I AM’ in your lives today. Seek Him. Talk to Him. Trust Him. For in Him, we are who we were created to be & have everything we need.
With the Lord’s Blessing
Jesus is once again tackling the issue of religious rules and the Pharisees fixation on their observance instead of focussing on the attitude of the heart. I wonder how many times this week you and I have done something because we thought we should rather than because we wanted to? I can often find myself falling into this situation all too easily. How many times have I said “I’ve got to go to … ” or, “I’ve got to do this ”or, “I’ve got to do that.” If the person I was on my way to visit heard me speaking like that, they may end up thinking that I didn’t want to be with them and that just wouldn’t be the case at all.
The truth is that when we do something out of love rather than out of compulsion, we respond in a different way. Negative thoughts and attitudes are replaced with positive ones. Our attitude is right. Our desire is right. When these things are right we begin to live our lives in a different way, for, as Jesus tells us, what comes out of our mouth matters as that is a reflection of what is taking place on the inside of our heart; and the state of our heart comes down to what we decide to feed it – what we focus and build our lives upon.
It was the French scientist Anthelme Brillat-Savarin in 1826 who first made the connection between our diet and our behaviour. "Dis-moi ce que tu manges, je te dirai ce que tu es." [Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are]. But as Jesus reminds us, physical food is eaten and then it is discarded. Its benefits are temporary. What truly matters is what we feed our spirits on. We need to feed upon God himself and this will change the way we live fundamentally.
The attitude of the Canaanite woman is attractive to Jesus. She is sincere, passionate, honest, persistent and full of faith. Notice what happens to her during her conversation. She begins by pursuing Jesus yet ends by worshipping Him. She begins with a demand yet ends with a prayer.
She begins by grabbing his attention yet ends on her knees.
Jesus’ words may seem harsh here, but the term ‘dogs’ in this context is ‘Kunaria’ which refers to a household pet and not the scavenging, diseased animals of the street. I see the compassion in his eyes and his smile as he speaks to her and the delight at her typically Greek, quick witted response.
So, what does this teach us? That we need to pursue all that will make for a clean heart.
We need to pursue Jesus. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman experiences a revelation and moves from an academic understanding to a spiritual one. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from accosting attention to worship. We need to know more fully who He is – the woman moves from demand to prayer. Persistence in pursuing God’s influence on our lives is critical to our fruitfulness and prayer is a crucial factor.
When everything seems to go wrong … just P.U.S.H
When the job gets you down … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t react the way you think they should … just P.U.S.H.
When your money is gone and the bills are due … just P.U.S.H.
When people don’t understand you … just P.U.S.H.
P = Pray, U = Until, S = Something, H = Happens
With the Lord’s Blessing
I wonder how many times you’ve been asked for your identity this summer? Purchasing tickets, checking in at hotels, writing name tags for your suitcase or perhaps presenting your passport at the security gate. Names are important. Letting people know who we are and what belongs to us is important. I’ve always liked giving names to things I own. My cars have all had names; Penny, Elsie, Lara, Hattie and ‘Looby Loo’ (my present old Freelander) to name a few.
It is in Matthews Gospel that we discover that we have two names; an earthly one and a heavenly one and the two are crucially linked. A name may identify us but do we truly know who we are? It is only when Simon understands, acknowledges and declares the identity of Jesus that he then begins to understand who he – Peter - really is.
Jesus asks his disciples a crucial question: who am I? It is a question that every human being during their lifetime is given to answer. We could ignore it, but until and unless we address it, we will miss out on the possibility of living life in all the fullness that God intended us to and that scripture and Jesus promises us is possible. Once Simon identifies Jesus for who he really is, then Jesus bestows his heavenly name and identity upon him. ‘You are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church.’ Jesus is using two words for rock. The Greek word ‘petros’ refers to a stone or a pebble, whereas ‘petra’ (rock), is the mass of connected rock to which the pebble belongs. We may pick up a stone or a pebble from the beach or a hillside, but it doesn’t exist on its own, it belongs to something much bigger. When that is identified we know much more about it; where it came from, how it was created, its properties and qualities etc. In a similar way, once we recognise and receive Jesus for who He is, then and only then, do we begin the process of learning who we truly are and all the possibilities and potential that God our creator has placed within us.
Paul in his letter to the church in Rome states, that once we have recognised the truth about Jesus, our identity is changed and as such we need no longer conform to the pressures that the world places upon us, but instead, our lives can be, ‘transformed by the renewing of your, (our) minds’. What a wonderful thought and promise, that with God’s help, a new way of living is possible.
One way of helping with this, is to soak our minds in the word of God, to know the truth about Him and to speak this to ourselves when we need to hear it. We might be facing a difficult time with tough choices, challenges or temptation, but declaring God’s word over our lives at that moment fills us (and the situation) with the truth God has for us and it has the power to transform the place we are in and how we are feeling about it. For example; the last verse of Psalm 124 reminds us that, ‘Our help is in name of the Lord’, or 2 Timothy 1, v7 declares that, ‘the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline.’
May your lives be filled with the knowledge and the truth of Jesus Christ as Saviour, enabling you to enjoy and live your life in freedom and with the power and joy that God intended was always yours to know.
With the Lord’s Blessing
Some theologians feel that this is perhaps one of the most practical parables that Jesus ever told. It tells us that there is a hostile power in the world and that this power can skilfully camouflage itself as it goes about its business of destroying ‘good seed’, it warns us to be careful about making swift judgements on others and reminds us that God himself is the judge and a time is coming when he will exercise that right. What matters is how we will stand before Him.
Jesus speaks of an enemy so let’s not be hoodwinked into thinking that there isn’t one – that’s the greatest tactic he has – that he doesn’t exist. There is an enemy and he seeks to undermine, confuse and destroy all that God is about and doing in our lives and in the world today. The weed mentioned in the parable is ‘Darnel’. In its early stages Darnel so closely resembles wheat that it is very difficult to tell them apart. It is only when the heads appear that they can be identified, but by then the damage has been done, it has deceived the farmer and it is now too late to separate them out as the roots have become intertwined with the wheat. It must wait for the harvest.
As disciples of Jesus we need to be mindful of the spiritual soil we are in and what is growing around us and influencing our environment. It’s all too easy to suddenly find ourselves in a situation where the culture around us is beginning to dictate our growth and our spiritual health rather than the other way around. Things that at first we thought quite harmless, may suddenly reveal themselves as a threat to our spiritual health and our relationship with God himself.
When my wife left her teaching post last year she was given an apple tree from her class as a gift. A few weeks ago, I cleared and prepared some land in the back-garden ready to plant it but then events took over and the tree remained in its pot until this week when I had an opportunity to place it in its new home. When I re-approached the ground, it was completely covered with weeds, thistles, grass and nettles. All the good work had been undone because I had left the ground unattended and had ignored its need. I then had to spend many more hours of very slow labour digging up the weeds by the root, in an attempt to ensure that they would not reappear.
The weeds had taken over the good soil and if we’re not vigilant the same can happen in our lives. We can allow negative attitudes such as greed, bitterness, envy, selfishness etc, attitudes that have got nothing to do with God’s desire for our lives, to take hold and to begin to suffocate God’s best for us; for many, the enemy smothers out the very reality of God’s existence and His love for us. We can become swift to pass judgement on one another and lethargic to the idea of prayer, worship and studying His word; anaesthetised to the reality that one day we will all meet God, and it is He and He alone who will pass judgement on our lives.
What will matter then is whether we lived our lives in and for Christ and have been made righteous (right) with God through his son Jesus. It’s a decision we make and this is the hope that Paul refers to in his letter to the church in Rome.
Every day is a good day to check over our lives and to ask God’s Holy Spirit to reveal where there may be weeds encroaching and threatening the health of our relationship with God. Once identified, we need to ask for His help to remove them and to keep our spirits free from their influence in the future.
I remember being told that there are three statements everyone likes to hear.
The Jewish tradition was that when you received a person’s envoy or ambassador it was as if you were receiving the person themselves. To pay respect to the ambassador was to pay respect to the King who had sent him. Conversely, if you failed to treat the ambassador with respect and honour then you were showing great contempt and disrespect to their master.
This was particularly so for those who taught God’s truth.
Jesus’ call is for us to recognise and respect his presence in one another, to support and to encourage one another in our walk with Him and to reveal His love to those around us as we demonstrate His love in us. We’re reminded that we are ambassadors for Jesus and should behave and be seen as such. There are plenty of examples in scripture where we are reminded about the importance of sharing hospitality as a witness to the love of God in our lives, eg - James 2:15-17, Romans 12:13 – and that we may even entertain Angels by doing so – Hebrews 13:2
Our simple acts of hospitality can create a pleasant atmosphere in our homes, in our lives and very importantly, in our places of worship.
I love walking amongst the perfume counters in department stores or sampling the scents coming from the different diffusers and sprays on the various counters. Smells matter, (ask any parent of a teenager) but our actions also have the power to change the ‘aroma’ of a place or a situation for good or for bad. We may have to identify and remove something negative in our lives that’s preventing a good atmosphere from developing and taking hold. A bad attitude, a misunderstanding or a prejudice of some kind can create considerable problems in our own lives as well as the lives of those around us.
Last week I offered my wife Sarah a lift in the car (I’m all heart!) but as we got into the car we were faced with a dreadful smell. It caused immediate comment from her (blokes, you’ll know what I mean) and certainly made my nose curl. I drove with the windows open but it was still there. I emptied the contents of a can of air freshener into the cab, but it was still there. It wasn’t until I discovered the source of the problem - a plastic bag in the boot, full of rotting flowers – that I was able to begin to change the atmosphere. Once they were removed, the car could begin to offer the welcome and hospitality that I initially intended and desired it to. In a similar vein, we need to be vigilant of anything that might be tainting the aroma of Jesus in our lives and affecting the spirit of his generosity and welcome.
We sang ‘King of Kings, majesty’ by Jarrod Cooper this week. The line: ‘God of Heaven, living in me’ reminds us that our actions should be a response to his love at work in our lives. Simple acts of kindness and thoughtfulness matter and can make a great deal of difference to the lives of others. I wonder who we might be able to bless with our welcome and hospitality in the days that lie ahead?
With His blessings
This is one of those readings where you ask yourself; have I read that right? and then go and read it again to make sure. Doesn’t the prophet Isaiah speak of the Messiah as ‘Prince of Peace’, so why is Jesus saying that he will not bring peace? There are some strong words here from Jesus and they should grab our attention. The Messiah brought the opportunity for man and God to be at peace once more, but the focus of Jesus’ teaching here is all about choice.
Where do we, where are we, placing Jesus in our lives? It’s about putting him first in every area of our lives and as we do so, being mindful of the wonderful gifts he brings; eternal salvation, restored relationship, grace, mercy, forgiveness, freedom from guilt, freedom from shame etc and the power of the Holy Spirit in our lives. But when we do place him first we must expect opposition for there is no such thing as a neutral reaction to Jesus. His spirit challenges each and every one of us and the way we choose to live our lives so often for ourselves.
It’s not as if he is saying, ‘I’m here to take away all the fun from your lives’ but he is challenging our priorities. ‘Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things shall be added unto you’ (Matthew 6:33) says Jesus. God’s desire is to bless us with good things but for that to happen we must ensure that we place God in his rightful place; at the head of all things, for there we will find ‘life.’ We must then, put God F.I.R.S.T. Maybe this will help as an aide memoire to some of those key areas to give to him.
Jesus first in our F inances
Jesus first in our I nterests
Jesus first in our R elationships
Jesus first in our S chedules
Jesus first in our T hanksgivings and Troubles.
With God’s blessings
Last year this country produced over 777,000 tonnes of soft fruit with a value of nearly £700 million. Strawberries alone accounted for £284 million of sales. The soft fruit industry is growing with an increase of 3:5% in 12 months  but there are challenges. The fruit needs care and attention; protection from pest and disease that would damage it, nourishment from a good soil, adequate water and a healthy environment. But there is a problem. With an increased expectation in the quality of working conditions, changes to the law and an unknown future surrounding Brexit, farmers are struggling to find the labourers to harvest their valuable crops. At present, mechanisation can only go so far and the picking of the delicate fruit must be done by hand with sensitivity and with careful attention given to individual situations and condition if it is to be brought in successfully. Those willing to engage in the work are becoming harder to find.
In our reading from Matthew, Jesus draws a close parallel as he identifies a similar problem; ‘The harvest is great, but the workers are few.’
We’re told that he had ‘compassion’ on the crowd as they needed care and attention and leadership; ‘like sheep without a shepherd.’ They were not receiving the spiritual nourishment they required from their religious leaders who saw the common people as a problem. Jesus saw them as people in need, people who needed guidance, people for whom he was prepared to give everything to help and to save.
What a very special sight it was to view the sheep following a lead down through the village of Askrigg in April with the tractor in front and James and Heather at the rear steering them to the ‘maternity wing’ for lambing.
Most followed the others easily enough but there were some who looked confused and unsure, raising their heads for guidance and here the onlookers gave a gentle signal with an arm outstretched to which the ewe duly responded and moved back into the safety and care of the flock. A lead had been given but the combined efforts of the team and their faithful dogs ensured that all went well.
It is one of the great Christian truths and supreme Christian challenges that the sheep will not be shepherded, nor the harvest reaped unless there are enough workers in the field to ensure that it takes place. Jesus Christ draws us into the incredible privilege of working with him to transform lives and we can all play our part.
It doesn’t necessarily mean that we have to stand on a street corner with a placard calling out to those passing by, but it does mean we take opportunities where we can to witness to his love and his life and the joy that there is in knowing him. It may be a simple act of love or kindness – a phone call, a visit, a meal taken to a housebound neighbour or it may be a conversation, a comment, the offer of praying for someone in need or inviting to accompany them to a service. Every such act is participating in the harvest that Jesus is drawing us into.
It’s worth remembering that if we know Jesus it’s because someone, somewhere at some time blessed us by responding to his words and telling us about him.
Why not ask God’s Holy Spirit to show you where you’re needed today, enjoy the privilege of responding and feel the joy of the Spirit in your heart when you do.
With God’s blessing
 DEFRA 2015 statistics.
Rev Dave Clark
Vicar of the Benefice of Upper Wensleydale