11.2.18 – A Body United By God – Peter Cheyne

Last week we started talking about the biblical image of the church being a body. One of the main emphases in those passages is unity. Notice the emphasis on oneness in these verse we read last week:

1 Cor 12:12-13   Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its parts form one body, so it is with Christ. For we are all baptised by one Spirit so as to form one body – whether Jews or Gentiles, slave or free – and we were given one Spirit to drink.

Many parts form one body. That includes parts as divided from each other as Jews and gentiles, slaves and free. Jews did not even associate with Gentiles. There was hostility between them. Slaves did not mix with free people. But, in the church, Jews and Gentiles were brothers and sisters, and slaves were served by their masters. The church was an unbelievable revolution – a different sort of society radically different from the society around it.

Romans 12:4-5    4 For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, 5 so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Though we are many, we form one body and each member belongs to all of the others. The picture is of huge diversity and yet unity – unity that would leave the watching world amazed. It is a picture of the many and the one. We will be looking at the many – the diverse gifts within the body – but first we will look at the other side of the equation: the one. The many is about you but the one is about us. This scriptural emphasis on unity is clearly important to us. Think, for example, about Jesus’ prayer for unity in the church, at the Last Supper, in John 17. God puts huge stress on unity and the body analogy pictures that unity; the body has many parts but it is one body.

Let me try to show you why unity in the church is so important to God. We are going to look at Ephesians which also uses the body analogy extensively, but it also talks a lot about unity, referring in particular to the new unity, in Christ, of Jews and Gentiles.

Eph 1:8b-10        8 …With all wisdom and understanding, 9 he made known to us the mystery of his will according to his good pleasure, which he purposed in Christ, 10 to be put into effect when the times reach their fulfilment – to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

Verse 10 tells us God’s master plan. God’s master plan is to bring unity to all things in heaven and on earth under Christ.

The opposite of unity is division, being scattered, separated, antagonism, warfare. Think about the history of division and separation in the Bible:

  • the broken relationships because of Adam and Eve’s sin and their being driven from the Garden of Eden;
  • one of their sons, Cain, murdering another of their sons, Abel;
  • the nations being scattered after the Tower of Babel and the ongoing tensions and warfare between different nations and different people’s;
  • Israel dividing into two kingdoms, often at war with one another
  • Etc

The world is divided. Think of the deep chasm in American politics between conservatives and liberals; the fact that Korea is divided and technically at war, and a million other examples. But God’s master plan is to bring unity under Christ. It is in Christ and in Christ alone that there can be this unity. It will not be achieved by the United Nations. It will not be achieved by people of good will. It is Christ who can unite former enemies.

Keep God’s master plan in mind. The reconciliation of Jews and Gentiles was a glowing example of this new unity.

READ Ephesians 2:11-22

The Gentiles had been separated from Christ, not citizens of Israel, foreigners to the covenant, without hope and without God. They were “far away” (v.13) but in Christ Jesus they had been brought near. Jesus made the two one and destroyed the dividing wall of hostility. Do you see how God’s master plan to bring unity to all things was being worked out in real, down-to-earth ways? Jews and Gentiles were made one. Amazing! His master plan is repeated in

Eph 15b-16          His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility.

The two become one, reconciled in one body. This is reiterated in

Eph 3:6                This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

The word “together” is used three times in that verse. This is the body of Christ: many diverse people, including former enemies, together. All this is through the gospel. Again, it is not human effort and good will. We are sinful people. We will always find reasons to be divided. It is the gospel that unites. The gospel makes us children of one Father. Whether we are Jews or Gentiles, rich or poor, male or female, through Jesus we are children of God and brothers and sisters of one another.

Now look at 3:10-11! This is important.

Eph 3:10-11        10 His intent was that now, through the church, the manifold wisdom of God should be made known to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly realms, 11 according to his eternal purpose that he accomplished in Christ Jesus our Lord.

God’s expectation is that the church will reveal this new unity. The wisdom of God and the purpose of God will be seen in the church. Let the whole world – even the spiritual powers – see and marvel. When they see us loving one another, they will know that we are Jesus’ disciples.

And yet, churches are famous for their splits and divisions and bickering and criticism. At the local level, people are divided from one another and churches split. It is sometimes quoted that there are 30 to 40,000 different Christian denominations, illustrating the propensity of the church to split and split and split. If you research that, you will find that it is wildly inaccurate. There are only perhaps a handful of thousands. So that is some good news. Maybe the church isn’t doing so badly. Maybe the church is modelling unity. But, even a few thousand denominations shows that the church is failing God. The very thing we are meant to model is what we are not modelling. Do we need to repent? I am not pointing the finger at this church in particular. By the same token, are we demonstrating the degree of unity that God expects in His church? If we know that this is God’s plan, how can we more and more be what God wants us to be?

Ephesians 4:3-6  3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

This unity – diverse people forming one body – is a unity of the Spirit. God unites us but we are to work very hard to maintain that unity. “Every effort”. If there is more we could have done, then we haven’t made every effort. We are to do everything we possibly can to maintain unity.

Are you following this?

  1. The world is marked by division
  2. God’s master plan is to unite all things under Christ
  3. He has done that, uniting diverse people in the church
  4. So the church is to model to the world this new unity in Christ
  5. And so we have the responsibility to do everything we can to maintain the unity God has created

Here’s a little test to help us get a sense of where we are at: four very simple, practical unity questions.

  1. In this church, how many people’s birthdays do you know?
  2. How many people in this church have you had into your home?
  3. How many people in this church have you given money to?
  4. Do you feel negatively towards anyone in this church?

Are they fair questions? I think so. Those were the practical things that happened in the Acts church and that demonstrated their togetherness and their love for one another.

How can we be that model of unity? The verse prior to the one about making every effort to maintain unity says…

Eph 4:2                Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.

Of course, there are many, many passages like that about relationships within the church. There is a whole collection of “one another” commands: love one another, forgive one another, be at peace with one another, encourage one another, seek good for one another, confess your sins to one another, etc. There are many because this is so important to God. But even just those four in that verse are profound, are they not? Humility, gentleness, patience, bearing with one another in love.

Much of the nastiness in some churches arises from exactly the opposite of those things: lack of humility (not being willing to serve one another), treating people harshly rather than gently, impatience (criticism of people who don’t get things quite right), rejection of people who make mistakes or don’t do things the way we want them done. Jesus demands of us to something much better than simply mirroring the pettiness we see in the world.

And the passage after that verse talks about each part of the body ministering to the other parts so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ (vv.12-13). We will talk about that more on future occasions when we talk about using the gifts that God has given us. But for the moment, notice that it is through our various ministries that we reach unity. It is as we grow in our knowledge of the Son of God and as we become more Christ-like (“attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ”), that we reach greater unity. That is obvious. As we become more like Jesus, we relate to each other with the compassion and patience and forgiveness of Jesus.

The unfortunate things we sometimes see in churches result from one of two things:

  1. Those people have not been born again.

This unity is in Christ. Just pulling a bunch of unsaved people together and telling them to behave well will not work. We are not capable of it.

  1. Or, those people have been born again but are still immature

You know what a mission it is teaching children to share. If toddlers want a toy that another toddler has, they feel they can go and snatch it off him. Likewise, spiritual children have not developed those Christ-like relationship skills (humility, gentleness, patience…) and we end up with fights in the church.

But God has designed the church to consist of many parts with many different gifts which are to be used to build up the body of Christ. That is what we will look at in the weeks ahead.

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4.2.18 – A Body Designed By God – Peter Cheyne

There are some people here who have studied anatomy in great detail and passed exams in it. They know the name of every bone in the body, every muscle, every organ and gland and whatever. And they know the function of each part. And they know what happens if a part isn’t working very well,

But all of us have at least some knowledge of the body. We all have one. We all know the names of at least some of the parts. Even I can probably identify my head and my elbow and a few other bits. We are all very conscious of our bodies, when we are concerned about how well they are working or concerned about how they look. Some bits we might be proud of; some bits we are embarrassed by.

A husband and wife were getting ready for bed. The wife was standing in front of a full-length mirror taking a hard look at herself.

“You know, love” she said, “I look in the mirror and I see an old woman. My face is all wrinkled, my chest sags to my waist, my rear is hanging out a mile. I’ve got fat legs and my arms are all flabby.”

She turned to her husband and said, “Tell me something positive to make me feel better about myself.”

He thought about it for a bit and then said, “Well…there’s nothing wrong with your eyesight.”

As you know, the Bible uses the body as an image of the church. There are other pictures. The church is also said to be a family, an army, a building, a flock, a bride. All of them tell us something about the nature of the church. But the one that receives the most attention is “the body of Christ”. What does that mean and what does it tell us about the church? How are we meant to function? Can we name the various parts? What part are you? Is the body healthy or sick? Today is just the introduction to a series we might call “How The Body Works” or “Ecclesiastical Anatomy”.

The body analogy is used quite a number of times. There are some longish passages about the body and other times there are just passing references. Sometimes the church is simply referred to as “the body of Christ” without any further development of that theme. It is an image that only Paul uses – none of the other biblical writers – but Paul uses it quiet often. There are various references in 1 Corinthians but chapter 12 explores it more extensively. Romans 12 also has an extended treatment and is somewhat similar to 1 Corinthians 12. Ephesians is largely about the church and uses the body language a number of times. Likewise, Colossians. It is a rich image that has a lot to say to us about how God views the church, and how God expects the church to work.

In Romans 12 and 1 Corinthians 12, Paul talks about spiritual gifts. In that context, he uses the body image to explain some things about spiritual gifts.

Today, I would like to look at “A Body Designed By God”. I am going to read parts of 1 Corinthians 12. Listen for verses that say that God puts the body together in the way that He wants it to be.

READ 1 Corinthians 12:1, 4-14, 18, 24b, 27-31a

I am sure you noticed the strong emphasis that says God puts the body together; God decides which bits there will be; God distributes the various gifts.

Just by the way, it is probably a bit informal to talk about the “bits” of the body. A much better word for a limb or organ of the body is “member” and that should ring bells for you in connection to the church. That is a word the Bible uses and that we use both in relation to the body and to organisations.

A few years ago, Chris and I witnessed an accident in which six people were killed. Later we had to give evidence it the coroner’s court. The police had photos of the accident scene that they wouldn’t show us because they were too horrific. The phrase that they used was that the people were “dismembered and scattered”. Dismembered. Body bits were all over the place!

In 1 Corinthians 12, verse 4 to 6 say, three times, that there are different gifts, different ways of serving, different ways of working but it is the Spirit who distributes those gifts; it is the Lord who is served or who enables that serving; it is God who is at work in the members of the church as they work.

Again, by the way, notice how the three persons of the Trinity are mentioned there. People sometimes say that the Bible never talks about the Trinity. It is true that it never uses the word “Trinity”. That is a later word. But there are many places, like this one, that talk about the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

In vv.7-11, the role of the Holy Spirit is mentioned six times (and implied several more). Paul hammered home the role of the Holy Spirit in all of this. V.7 talks about each person in the church receiving a manifestation of the Spirit. A manifestation is the way something is revealed or made visible. In each person in a church, there is (or should be according to God’s design) a way that the Holy Spirit is made visible for the common good. The gifts of the Spirit make the Spirit (make God) visible.

We will talk about the gifts of the Spirit another time but let’s use the first example here, in v.8, “a message of wisdom”. Let us say that you have this gift. God enables you to say wise things that you could never say if you were relying on your own ability. God gives you profoundly wise words and, because it is beyond your natural ability, people see it as coming from God. God is revealed through your use of this gift. When people realise that this wisdom comes out of your relationship with God, they might say, “Wow!”. When we use our spiritual gifts, people will be amazed at God.

V.7 says that to every Christian – to every member of the church – some manifestation of the Holy Spirit is given. Every member of the church. “Is given”. That is passive. We receive it… from whom? It is given by whom? God. It is God who gives the gift; who gives this supernatural ability; who decides what particular gift each person will have. God is in control. God designs how the body will be.

In vv.8-10, Paul lists nine spiritual gifts: wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, miracles, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues and interpretation of tongues. After the first four he keeps on saying “given through the Spirit”, “by means of the same Spirit”, “by the same Spirit”, “by that one Spirit”. For the last five, he doesn’t. Does that mean that miracles and prophecy etc are not given by the Spirit? No! All of these are gifts of the Spirit. Having said it four time, he hopes that we will realise that it is true of all of the gifts. All of these manifestations are the work of the Holy Spirit.

In fact, just to make sure we haven’t missed the point, Paul says it again in v.11: All of these are the work of one and the same Spirit, and He distributes them to each one, just as He determines. This is God’s work; He distributes; He decides how He will distribute; He decides who will have what gift and how many of each are needed in any church.

But again, notice that He distributes to each one. This is about every one of us. God has chosen to place us in His church and to give us a certain gift or gifts. Every one of us has at least one spiritual gift that God expects us to use for the common good. For the good of everybody. These gifts are to be used for the good of the whole church – indeed, for the good of people beyond the church. People will be converted through our use of our spiritual gifts because that is how they encounter God. You have a role to play because God has chosen what parts He needs in the body, and He needs you to use the gifts that you have been given by Him.

Clearly, in this passage, there is an emphasis on the sovereign work of God. He is in control; He is Lord. In fact, both Colossians and Ephesians, when using this image of the church being a body, say that Jesus is the head. We will come back to that another time. The point at the moment is that God designs His church. God decides what part each of us will play and gives us gifts accordingly. Paul keeps on saying it. It must be really important that we get it.

1 Cor 12:13         we are baptised by the Spirit into the body

1 Cor 12:18         But, in fact, God has placed the parts in the body, every one of them, just as He wants them to be.

1 Cor 12:24b       But God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lack it.

1 Cor 12:28a       And God has placed in the church first of all apostles, second prophets…

The church is a body designed by God. Each one of us has been chosen and allocated a role and placed in the body where God wants us to be and given spiritual gifts to enable us to function for the good of the whole body.

This has a number of really important, practical implications.

  1. You are uniquely important in God’s plan.

God has chosen you and given you a particular role. Your role is different from other people’s. There are different gifts and different ways of serving. Other people can do other things but only you can be whom God has called you to be. In God’s plan, your role is crucial to the whole church.

  1. If this is how God designed His church to operate, we need to comply with His plan.

We cannot ignore God’s plan. He expects us to take this body teaching seriously. God expects us to be a body with all that that means for how we relate to one another and how we function in the role God has chosen for us. God expects us to do it.

  1. If this is God’s design, let’s rejoice in His decisions (not resent them).

You know how sometimes we don’t like our own bodies and we think that God didn’t do a very good job of designing us? Sometimes, it helps to remember that God doesn’t make mistakes. God designed us and God love us just the way we are.

The same applies to the way God has designed the church. He is infinitely wise. He knows what He is doing. His decisions are always good. We might think, “I wish I had another gift, not the one I have got. I wish I was more important in the church or I was more visible and more appreciated. Why did God decide I should be an eyelash? I’d rather be the eye. Or, why can’t I be the heart?”

We can easily look at others and be envious. But, if we know that God loves us and He knows exactly what is best for us – and also what is best for others and how we can make a real difference for others – can we trust His wisdom? Can we submit to His design and rejoice in what He has called us to do?

  1. There are practical questions for each of us to answer

Do you know what part of the body you are? Do you know what gifts you have been given, and why? Are you using your gifts? Are you being the part God has asked you to be?

We will be looking at these questions, and others, in the weeks ahead. Hopefully, we can help each other discover our gifts (if we don’t already know what they are) and help each other use those gifts. “Help each other”. That’s what being a body means. We need all of the parts. We need the gifts that we don’t have but others do.

And hopefully, as we understand more of this body analogy, God will be delighted as He sees His church operating as He always wanted it to, and other people will be blessed as we use our gifts for the common good.

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29.1.18 – How To Be Amazing, Part 2 – Peter Cheyne

Last week I reflected on the fact that so many times in the Bible we are told that the people were amazed, astounded, left open-mouthed and open-eyed, stunned. Miracles, words of amazing authority or wisdom, and people’s character, or change of character, left people amazed. Should that still be true? Should people still be amazed by us? How can we leave people flabbergasted?

In 1 Corinthians 14, Paul talks about worship services, and particularly the use of spiritual gifts in worship. In v.25 he talks about unbelievers in worship falling down and worshipping God, exclaiming “God is really among you.” What caused them to do that? People were prophesying. They were speaking words that God was giving them. The unbelievers heard these God-given words and they were convicted of sin and brought under judgement. They concluded that God was present.

It is easy to think that if we have drum kits and smoke machines and strobe lighting, people will be blown away by how amazing the church is but that is not what Paul says. There is nothing wrong with those things and they help reach a certain generation. Go for it. But there is a difference between attending church and concluding that you are at a rock concert and attending church and concluding that you are in the presence of God. Christians are amazing when the presence of God is visible in our lives.

Prophecy is a miracle. It is a supernatural God-thing. It is also, of course, an example of powerful words. But I think we can break those categories (miracles, words and character) down and see that there are all sorts of ways that we can be amazing.

What about amazing love?

John 13:34-35     34 ‘A new command I give you: love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. 35 By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.’

Apparently, there is a type of love that that is so extraordinary that people will conclude that those who love like this must be disciples of Jesus. There are people who are naturally very loving. But this love is different altogether. People don’t conclude that these people are loving; they conclude that they are Christians. This is a God-given type of love.

In society, you have ordinary people and they act in an ordinary way. It is unremarkable. Nobody is blown away by the normal. There are also good people who are extraordinary. And people admire them. But then there are those who love like Christ. Notice that Jesus said, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another”. We are commanded to love like Christ. His love blew people away. He was known as the friend of sinner. He touched lepers and loved prostitutes and tax-collectors. It was mind-boggling love. And when His followers love like that – miraculously enabled by God to love like that – people are blown away and they conclude that this is a God-thing. These must be followers of Jesus.

You might have heard the quote that came out of the early church: Look how these Christians love one another. The love demonstrated by Christians astounded people. It wasn’t normal. It wasn’t even exceptional and admirable. It was astounding.

Or, think about amazing forgiveness. Sometimes we hear, for example, stories of parents who have forgiven the murderer of their daughter. Sometimes they have even befriended the murderer. I heard this week, three of the young women victims of the USA gymnastics doctor, say, in their victim impact reports, that they want to forgive him. Jennifer Rood Bedford, while not minimising the evil of what had happened or the horrific impact on her, said, “Dr. Nassar, I want you to know that I pray for you… Please know my forgiveness towards you is sincere. Especially in the light… of the forgiveness that’s been granted to me, that I should be called a child of God… There is hope that transcends all understanding… You can choose to be a better man, and to be a different person… Seek Him [Jesus] and find that.”

Is forgiveness like that normal? No. Some of the women said they would never forgive him. Is it even what good people do? No, it is bigger than that. It is a God-thing. It is staggering. I encourage you to watch the statement of Rachael Denhollander who spoke of God’s wrath and judgement on Larry Nassar’s evil but pleaded with him to seek forgiveness – and she offered him her forgiveness.

We could list a whole lot of things in the Christian life that have the potential to be amazing.

  • Love
  • Forgiveness – Father, forgive them for they do not know what they are doing
  • Community – which is love for one another
  • Compassion – love for those in need
  • Generosity
  • Perseverance
  • Holiness
  • Power
  • Sacrifice
  • Humility
  • Faith
  • Conversions

We could add more but let us consider those ones. They are all big themes in the Bible. They are all what we are called to as disciples of Jesus Christ. They are all true of Jesus Himself. They are all characteristics of the Kingdom of God. This is what God’s Kingdom is like. Your Kingdom come.

We are called to be like Jesus. And any anyone who is, will be amazing.

There is a story that I like to tell so you have possibly heard it before. But I tell it because it is so simple. It is about a family who invited a young woman for a meal. Afterwards, she said she had been blown away because it was the first time she had sat down for a meal without everybody arguing. There is nothing profound about inviting someone for a meal but, if we have walked with Jesus, and we have been transformed by the Holy Spirit, what is natural for us, is amazing to others. Our discipleship – our following Jesus – has the potential to amaze.

If you look at that list, is there one aspect where you would love to be amazing. I am not suggesting it is limited to one but is there one? Would you like to stand out as being amazingly compassionate, or amazingly humble or have amazing power, or…?

How can you be? Last week, when we looked at the story of the healing of the lame man in the temple, I suggested that we are meant to be amazing and that ordinary Christians can be amazing but what made Peter and John amazing?

  1. They spent time with Jesus
  2. They were filled with the Holy Spirit
  3. They imitated Jesus
  4. They trusted God enough to be obedient

When you look at that list, is there a next step that God is calling you to? To be amazing, do you need more of God? Does He need more of you?

What if you have done all of those things and God doesn’t seem to have answered? We hear that God is doing incredible things in other parts of the world but He doesn’t seem to be doing those things in New Zealand. How can we be amazing if God is quiet?

READ 1 Samuel 3

Samuel was just a boy who, we are told, did not yet know the Lord. “In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions”. Samuel didn’t know God and lived in a time when God was essentially silent. He wasn’t used to God talking. And yet God spoke to him and God used him. Samuel became a mighty prophet. God spoke to him regularly and, through him, to the nation. God was in this. And God let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. Every word reached its target.

How did that happen? What can we learn from Samuel?

  1. Samuel was in the house of the Lord

Samuel could have said, “Blow this! What’s the point? God is not speaking. I’m going to go somewhere else.”  But he didn’t. He lived and slept in the house of the Lord at Shiloh. 2:21 says that the boy Samuel grew up in the presence of the Lord.

It would be possible for us to be disenchanted and disappointed with God and to give up. But the lesson from Samuel is: no, stay in the presence of God. Keep praying; keep reading the scriptures; keep worshipping; keep faithfully serving, keep ministering before the Lord, like Samuel.

  1. Samuels’ spiritual ears were open

The implication is that Samuel wasn’t expecting to hear God. When it is rare you don’t expect it. Do we expect miracles? Was he eager to hear God? I don’t know. But when God spoke, Samuel heard. He didn’t recognise it or understand it but he heard it. He was sensitive to the things of God.

  1. Samuel was responsive to God

Again, he was not yet an expert. He didn’t understand what was happening. But he immediately responded.

  1. Samuel listened to the advice of his spiritual mentor

Eli wasn’t a great man of God but he was nevertheless the mentor God had given Samuel and Samuel was humble enough to listen to him and to take his advice. Do you have more mature Christians speaking into your life? Maybe there are people around who know much more about hearing the voice of God or about healing, say. Are we students of the things of God, learning from those who know?

  1. Samuel submitted himself to God

Eli gave good advice. And Samuel followed it. He asked God to speak and he submitted himself to whatever God would say. “I am your servant, and I am listening.”

If we pray for God to act, it is equally important that we have submitted ourselves to whatever God might do. We can say “Lord, speak” but we must also be willing to obey. We can say, “Lord, make me more like Jesus” but will we let God change us? We can say, “Lord, You promised that I would receive power when the Holy Spirit came on me” but are we willing to exercise the power of God?

If the answer is “yes”, we will be like Samuel.

  1. Samuel was obedient

God gave him a very severe judgement on the house of Eli, his mentor and priest! Would the young Samuel faithfully pass on what God had said? If he was going to be a prophet, this was a test of his willingness to speak God’s truth without fear of people. He passed the test.

Samuel’s example, for any time when we might be disappointed with God, is to remain faithful anyway. It takes us back to last week’s list. Keep spending time with Jesus. Don’t give up. Keep seeking the infilling of the Holy Spirit. Don’t ever think that you are wasting your time. Keep choosing to imitate Jesus. There isn’t a better way. Keep trusting God and keep being obedient to His every word.

That faithfulness, in itself, will be amazing. And who knows when God might, in response to your faithfulness, do something even more amazing through you?

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21.1.18 – How To Be Amazing – Peter Cheyne

Before Christmas I was writing a story about the wonder of Christmas. I discovered that the word “amazed” occurs 45 times in the New Testament. I was amazed! Frequently, people were left with their mouths hanging open and their eyes wide, saying “Wow!” They saw things – very wonderful things – that they had not expected. They were gob-smacked. They were astonished, a word that is used another 20 times, so that is 65 times. On many other occasions people were amazed but no specific word was used to tell us that. There was a lot of amazement going on.

Sometimes we see magicians on TV who do tricks for people on the streets and leave them looking at each other in wonder and saying, “What? How on earth did he/she do that?” There is a magician in Acts 8 whom the people of Samaria followed because he amazed them with his magic – so much so that they called him “The Great Power of God”. He had powers that took their breath away. But then Philip came preaching the good news of the Kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ. Now the amazing magician was amazed by the great signs and miracles he saw, and he followed Philip everywhere.

In the gospels, of course, it is Jesus who amazes. His miracles stunned people – the healing of the man lowered through the roof, and the demoniac, the raising of the dead girl, the calming of the storm. Each time, we are told that the crowds were amazed and said things like, “We have never seen anything like this before. Who is this man; even the wind and waves obey Him? Could this be the Son of David?”

When Jesus taught, people were amazed at His wisdom and at His authority. “We have never heard anyone teach like this before.” When the leaders tried to trap Him with trick questions, they, and the crowds, were astounded by His wisdom. It was so unexpected. “Where did He get this wisdom? Isn’t this Joseph and Mary’s son?”

John 7:15            The Jews there (in the Temple) were amazed and asked, “How did this man get such learning without having been taught?

Jesus hadn’t been trained by a rabbi; or trained to be a rabbi. Where had His learning come from?

His miracles, His words but also His character amazed people. Mary and Joseph were amazed when they saw their son in the Temple – in His Father’s house – discussing with the teachers (Lk 2:48). Luke says, “Everyone who heard Him was amazed at His understanding and His answers.” (2:47) Later, the disciples were astonished that Jesus was heading to Jerusalem despite His predictions that He would be delivered over to the leaders and killed (Mk 10:32). Pilate was amazed that Jesus did not answer the accusations made against Him (Mt 27:14). What sort of man is this? So, miracles. Words. Character.

In Acts – the story of the church – there are fewer references to amazement but they are still there and the same sorts of things amaze. Miracles: people were amazed on the Day of Pentecost when the disciples spoke languages from all over the world. We read about the reaction to the healing of the lame man at the Temple. The believers were astonished when they answered the knocking at the door and found Peter standing there, when they thought he was locked in prison. Philip’s signs and wonders astonished Simon the Sorcerer. The people on Malta were amazed that Paul simply shook a snake off his hand and did not swell up and die – so amazed that they concluded he was a god. Actually, there is no word in that story like “amazed” or “astounded” or “astonished” or “blown away”, so, even in passages where it is not stated, there was still a lot of amazement going on.

Words: The Cyprian proconsul was amazed at the teaching about the Lord (Acts 13:12). There are examples of amazement because of a person’s character, or change of character. There’s one we will come to in a moment but another example is the amazement of the people of Damascus that Paul, who had persecuted the church, was now preaching that Jesus was the Son of God (Ac 9:21). Etc, Etc, Etc.

Discovering all this amazement raised a question for me: Should we be equally amazing? Should people be blown away by the church? The church is the body of Christ – the presence of Christ in the world. Should the presence of Christ still amaze people? If amazement was such a regular feature of the life of Christ and the life of the church, should it continue to be that way today?

Then a second question occurred to me: Is the church amazing? Well, there is so much variety in the church, isn’t there? There might be lots of amazing churches but I suspect most people in our communities do not find the church amazing. On the contrary, they view the church as being boring, irrelevant and a relic from a bygone age that will eventually just fizzle out. Few people are spreading gossip about the amazing, incredible, fantastic things happening amongst the local Christians.

A third question occurs to me: Why is the church (in general) today such an insipid shadow of what we see in the Bible? And a fourth question: Can we do anything about it? Can the church be amazing again?

It seems to me that what the Bible shows is that it is the presence of God that makes people’s jaws drop. It is when people see something beyond what they see anywhere else in society. It is the supernatural, not the natural. I suggested the biblical examples fall primarily into three categories: miracles, words (of incredible wisdom or incredible authority), and transformed character. All of that is supernatural. Miracles, by definition, are the work of God. That sort of wisdom and authority is beyond anything human. When the people were amazed by Jesus teaching it was because He taught not like the teachers of the Law (Mt 7:28-29). When the people questioned where Jesus (not trained by a rabbi) got such learning, Jesus replied, “My teaching is not my own. It comes from the One who sent me” (Jn 7:16). Some people are clever with words than others but words that come from God have extraordinary power.

The fact that the crowds often were amazed and praised God, indicates that they knew they had just experienced God. Sometimes they even concluded that the human involved was a god.

The third category was “transformed character”. It was the sort of radical change (Saul the persecutor to Paul the evangelist) or the unbelievable character qualities (Jesus’ willingness to walk the path of obedience to His death in Jerusalem or his silence before Pilate) that amazed. We could label those three categories “the power of God”, “the word of God” and “the people of God”.

Too often our churches are simply human and our communities are unimpressed. They don’t even notice the church, or care. We cannot rival the entertainment the world provides. People will not be blown away by our services or our buildings or our fairs or potluck lunches. The world can do better in all of those areas. Even in the areas of caring for the disadvantaged or for the environment, the world often does much better than the church. What is there about the church that leaves people speechless with wonder?

The Acts 3 account of the healing of the man at the Temple talks four times about people being amazed.

Acts 3:9-10          When all the people saw him walking and praising God, they recognised him as the same man who used to sit begging at the temple gate called Beautiful, and they were filled with wonder and amazement at what had happened to him.

Acts 3:11             While the man held onto Peter and John, all the people were astonished and came running to them in the place called Solomon’s Colonnade.

Acts 3:12             When Peter saw this, he said to them: “People of Israel, why does this surprise you? Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk?

The forth one is part of this story but comes in the next chapter. Peter and John were arrested and taken before the Sanhedrin. “By what power or what name did you do this?”

Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said that the man had been healed by the name of Jesus, whom these leaders had crucified. Peter accused them of having crucified the Messiah. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.

Acts 4:13             When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realised they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.

In this one incident we have a miracle; we have the Holy Spirit inspired words of Peter, and we have a reference to their transformed character. What can we learn from this? How can we be amazing?

  1. The church is meant to be amazing

Peter questioned why the crowd was surprised. Wouldn’t you be amazed if a man lame from birth had been healed? But Peter says, “No, this is normal. Jesus has been healing people for the last three years. Why wouldn’t his church just carry on doing the same things? Don’t be amazed if the church of Jesus Christ is amazing. Being amazing is normal. Why are you surprised?”

  1. Ordinary Christians can be amazing

Peter and John were nothing special. In fact, if we have read the gospels, we have seen how ordinary they were. They say to this crowd, “Why do you stare at us as if by our own power or godliness we made this man walk? We didn’t do it. Jesus did.” The power is not in the people but in Jesus so even ordinary people can be amazing.

And yet, in other ways, they were anything but normal, of course. What made them different?

  1. They imitated Jesus

They simply did what Jesus had done. Jesus had healed people so they healed people. The Christian who imitates Jesus will be very different from the run-of-the-mill church member. But imitating is exactly what we are commanded to do. Followers follow. Disciples become like their teacher. Who knows what might happen if Christians imitated Jesus. Peter and John did. How about we imitate Jesus?

  1. They were filled with the Holy Spirit

We might be inclined to say that being like Jesus is impossible, and it is except for one thing: the Holy Spirit makes it possible. This incident happened soon after Pentecost. Peter and John were filled with the Spirit. They would not have said, “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, walk” prior to their having received power when the Holy Spirit had come on them. The church needs to be filled with the Holy Spirit if it is to be more than a human organisation.

  1. They had faith

They believed that God would act. They took a huge risk. They risked looking like fools. They risked their lives, but there is a not a hint of fear here. They believed God was going to heal and they trusted Him to keep them safe. God has given every Christian at least one spiritual gift – a supernatural gift – but how many have the faith to use their gifts? And yet, it is those gifts that are likely to amaze.

  1. They had been with Jesus

The leaders were astonished that these uneducated men spoke with such courage and authority. The thing they noted was that they had been with Jesus. What had made them who they were? Being with Jesus.

I suspect that, to survive, the church needs to be more than ordinary. It needs to be amazing. The church needs to be where people are stunned because they encounter God Himself. What do you think?

What if the people of a church asked “How can we be amazing?” Maybe they would conclude:

  1. We can be amazing. The church is meant to be amazing
  2. Ordinary Christians can be amazing. You and I can be amazing – because God is amazing.
  3. We can be amazing, if we imitate Jesus
  4. We can be amazing, if we are filled with the Holy Spirit
  5. We can be amazing if we have faith and we exercise it
  6. We will be amazing if we have spent time with Jesus. That is where it started for Peter and John.
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25.12.17 – Has He Made Any Difference? – Peter Cheyne

READ Luke 2:1-20

I have serious doubts that Jesus’ coming has made any difference at all!

Look at the world. It is a complete mess. Are things any better now than before Jesus came? Well, we do have the obvious advances in medical science and technology and transport and communications. Life expectancy is greater but people still die. We can communicate at lightning speed and around the world – even into space – but loneliness is one of our society’s greatest problems. We can communicate online but we cannot communicate face-to-face.

You don’t need me to tell you this. You see it yourself every time you turn on the news. The world is a crazy place of violence, disaster and selfishness. You don’t want me to tell you this. There’s enough bad news without my adding to it. Can we not, on this one day of the year, focus on the positives?

You’re right! Let’s do that. Ummm… The positives…

Of course there are lots of things that are positive. Lots of things are absolutely wonderful. But I am still left with doubts about whether God has kept His promises. Think of some of the ancient promises about Jesus. In Isaiah 9 we read: Light has broken into the darkness and there is huge rejoicing among the people. Why? For to us a child is born. To us a son is given… He will be called Wonderful Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end. He will reign upholding justice and righteousness forever.

Really? Where is this peace and justice and righteousness? We see the opposite: violence, injustice and wrongdoing. If Jesus is reigning over His Kingdom, He is not doing a very good job of it. Is He?

Or the message of the angels to the shepherds: news of great joy for all people… peace on earth. Really? People are not filled with great joy. Look at the stresses and the sadness. Look at the conditions people live in and the way we treat each other. Has Jesus made any difference?

You could understand people thinking like that, couldn’t you? There seem to be huge promises in the Bible that don’t seem to be realistic.

Has Jesus made a difference? Do those biblical promises mean anything at all? Despite what we see on our devices, the answer is an emphatic yes. For millions and millions of individuals Jesus has made all the difference. Millions of people can tell stories about the peace that they now have and the joy that they now have. For them the angels “good news” isn’t hollow at all. It is full of meaning.

You might have heard of the movie, I, Tonya, that is in theatres at the moment. It tells the story of Tonya Harding, an American figure-skater, who, in conjunction with her ex-husband, conspired to have a skating rival, Nancy Kerrigan, attacked. On January 6 1994, a hit-man, Shane Stant, whacked Kerrigan across the knee with a rod, attempting to break her leg and end her hopes of skating in the Olympics.

That is appalling! Who could have any sympathy for a man who would do such a thing? But, for Shane Stant, Jesus has made the difference. He has said, “”The big thing for me is I became a Christian. It sounds really cliche-ish. But it really changed me. I had an opportunity when I was in prison to sit there and go, ‘Man, what kind of person do you want to be? What kind of legacy do you want to leave for your family and your children? What kind of man do you want to be?'” Even wanting to be different, he couldn’t change himself, but Jesus changed him. I’m guessing you won’t see that in the movie.

You probably know the story of the man walking along a beach after a storm when thousands of starfish had been washed up. He came across a little boy throwing some of them back into the sea. The man said, “Sonny, look how many there are. Your little effort is not going to make any difference.”

The boy looked at him and said, “Well, sir, it made a difference for that one.”

Jesus has made a difference for “that one” – for individual people millions of times over.

But Jesus has changed the world as well. An article by John Ortberg, in the Huffington Post, lists six ways Jesus changed the world. The ancient world has little regard for children. They were routinely exposed to the elements to die (especially if they were girls) and were sold into slavery. Jesus’ love for children led to such practices being outlawed, as well as to orphanages and godparents.

Jesus modelled education being available to everybody, not just the elite, as was the practice of the time. That love of education led Christians to establish monasteries and then universities. The great universities like Oxford and Cambridge and Harvard were all established as Christian institutions.

The ancient world could be very brutal. People were killed or discarded virtually on a whim. But Jesus modelled compassion for the poor and the sick. That led to institutions for lepers that later became the first hospitals.

So, children, education, compassion.

Fourthly, humility was not considered a virtue in the ancient world. Virtues included courage and wisdom, but not humility, until Jesus washed the feet of his disciples and talked about servants being first in the Kingdom of God. Historian John Dickson has written, “it is unlikely that any of us would aspire to this virtue were it not for the historical impact of his crucifixion… Our culture remains cruciform long after it stopped being Christian.” In other words, our society remains shaped by the Cross even though we don’t call ourselves Christians.

The ancient world worked on the basis of revenge and of punishing your enemies. Jesus taught something very different: Love your enemies and do good to them. Seek reconciliation. Forgive.

At that time, some people in society were very much second class – maybe not even considered worthy members of the society – slaves (obviously), women, the poor. But Jesus taught that everybody matters. He included women as equals. He reached out to the despised. He healed slaves. In the early church a slave could go to worship and his master would wash his feet, as an act of humble service. Children, education, compassion, humility, forgiveness and valuing all people.

We look around and we might wonder if Jesus has made any difference. He has on every level. But that truth is in tension with the mess that we see as we look at the world.

Can I suggest that where Jesus is welcomed, He makes a massive difference? He truly is good news for all people. He truly is the Prince of Peace. The coming of the Saviour is a message of great joy.

But, where Jesus is not welcomed, then the world more and more resembles the ancient world with its brutality, revenge, selfishness and some people being thrown on the rubbish heap so that others can prosper. When we despair at the state of the world, it should reinforce for us not that Jesus has failed but that a world without Jesus will inevitably fail. A world without Jesus will be little different from the world before Jesus.

On more thing: one day Jesus will return and will establish His Kingdom. Remember that reading from Isaiah? He will reign on David’s throne and over his Kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this.”

God has not yet fulfilled that promise but He will. One day, Jesus will reign. All that is wrong in the world will be purged out and His Kingdom will be perfect. Jesus is making a difference now but one day, He will make all the difference. In the meantime, let’s be sure that we are among those who receive Him and follow Him. Jesus makes a massive difference for those who welcome Him.

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10.12.17 – A Christmas Rap – Peter Cheyne

We all know the story of the babe in Bethlehem
And I guess we also know what happened to Him.
His mum and His dad took part in a census
They travelled to the town of David’s ancestors.

There in a manger little Jesus was laid
The world was changed by that first Christmas Day
Angels came from heaven as a massive choir
Singing of His glory, their voices rose higher.

(Wait 4 beats)

Out in the fields, some shepherds were sleeping
The angels woke them up with their trumpets beeping
The shepherds quaked in fear; their eyes were staring
The angels sang louder and their trumpets kept blaring

“Don’t be afraid, you are not in danger
The Saviour has been born; you’ll find Him in a manger.”
The shepherds rushed to town, this Saviour to see
Then ran through the streets, praising God with glee

(Wait 4 beats)

They weren’t paragons of godliness
But now they knew they could confess
God had provided a Saviour for the world
And that included them. They were so thrilled.

They didn’t go to temple or to the synagogue
But now they knew they were not far from God
He had come near; He had chosen them
All they had to do was believe. Amen!

(Wait 4 beats)

It’s the same for us ‘cos of Christmas Day
Jesus is the Saviour who’ll wash our sins away.
His life was amazing. It showed the people there
That the Kingdom of God had at last come near

The blind could see; the lame could walk
Lepers were cleansed and the dumb could talk
The Son of God walked on the earth
God had come through a humble birth

Right before their eyes the people could see
The nature of God in this Man from Galilee.
The crazy thing is that even so
Some hated Him and said He must go

(Wait 4 beats)

He’d done nothing wrong but they didn’t care
They simply told lies. The trial wasn’t fair.
Soon He was condemned to be crucified
Just as the scriptures had prophesied.

They didn’t know it, but their evil scheme
Fulfilled God’s word and its central theme.
God, in His grace, sent His precious Son
Who laid down His life and said, “It’s done!”

(Wait 4 beats)

Three days later the tomb was bare
They looked in vain but Jesus wasn’t there
He met His disciples; He had beaten death
He gives eternal life to those who have faith

(Wait 4 beats)

We are rebellious but He took our sin.
We deserve to die, but instead it was Him.
Thank you, Jesus. We trust in You.
We’ll follow You, your work to do.

God, You gave Your Son, that first Christmas Eve
We cannot repay; we can only receive.
But we wanna show our love in the things we do
We give our lives to glorify You.
We give our lives to glorify You.
All of our lives to glorify You.

(c) Peter Cheyne

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17.12.17 – Wonder Lost – Peter Cheyne

READING Luke 1:26-38

It was a tradition in the Williams home that there was always a large nativity scene in their lounge. Mark and Julie, and their children, loved Jesus and wanted Him to be the centre of their celebrations.

Another tradition was that the Christmas tree, beside the nativity, went up on Christmas Eve after the kids had gone to bed. That way, the first time they saw it was on Christmas morning.

And a third tradition was that Grandad Steve always came to stay. Steve didn’t sleep very well so, on Christmas morning, he was up, and sitting in the chair in the corner of the lounge before the children stirred. It wasn’t long though until he heard them moving and their excited chatter, before footsteps ran down the hall. All three of them burst into the lounge and stopped dead in their tracks, their mouths wide open. They stared at the tree. It was beautiful. They edged closer, pointing out the things that were different from last year. There were little squeals of delight and excited giggles.

They then turned to the manger. “Wow! Look at baby Jesus! Look at his tiny hands! And look at Mary’s beautiful clothes! Look how she is looking at him with such love in her eyes. Oh wow! Thank you, Jesus for coming into the world at Christmas.” The children joined hands and danced around in a circle, singing and giggling.

“Hi, Grandad”, they called when they saw him, and broke out of the circle to give him a hug. They then ran out of the room but Steve could still hear the sounds of excitement coming from other parts of the house. He smiled, thinking about their enthusiasm.

It wasn’t long before Mark and Julie were also up. They came into the lounge smiling. “Hi Grandad” they said before each giving him a hug. Then the children burst back in. “Get the Bible, Lukey”, Mark said, and Luke raced off to the bedroom. When he returned, Mark and Julie sat on the floor and the children sat around them, pulling in close to hear the story. They read from Matthew and Luke so as to get the whole story.

When they heard about the angel visiting Mary, their eyes and mouths were wide open imagining what it would have been like to be visited by an angel but even more so, imagining what it would be like to be told you were going to have a baby – a miracle baby – not just a baby but God’s baby. “Do you think it would be funny walking around knowing you had God in your tummy?”, Emma asked, and everyone laughed. Luke added, “What I think is amazing is that this baby was going to be the Messiah. Imagine being the girl who was told she was going to be the mother of the Messiah! How amazing would that be?”

“Mummy,” Sophie said, “how long was it between Adam and Eve and Mary?

“I don’t know, Honey.” Julie replied. “Why do you ask?”

“I was just thinking that God told Adam and Eve about the Messiah, didn’t He?

“Well, yes. He didn’t call Him the Messiah at that point but He said that Eve would have a descendant who would crush Satan. He was obviously talking about Jesus.”

“Yeah, that’s what I was thinking,” Sophie continued, “so when was that?”

Julie laughed. “Good question, Honey. I don’t know. It’s kind-of before recorded history even started. Some people would say a few thousand years. Others would say it was millions of years. What are you thinking?”

“I’m thinking how amazing it must have been after all those thousands or millions of years, and all those prophecies of a Messiah, that it was actually happening. This was perhaps the biggest event in the history of the world. Generation after generation after generation had heard God’s promises but nothing had happened. And now suddenly it was! That is awesome! Yay God!”

“Yeah, true!” Luke shouted. “That is amazing! God kept His promise even after thousands or millions of years. And, one day, Jesus is coming back. People might think it is never going to happen but God will keep that promise too, won’t He. Imagine how history is going to change when that happens!”

“What’s the matter, Wee One,” Mark asked suddenly concerned. Emma was crying. Everyone looked.

“I don’t want Jesus to die.”

“Oh wow,” Mark said. “It is horrible to think that this little baby would be hated and killed, isn’t it? People didn’t treat Jesus very well. It’s horrible, horrible, horrible. But you know what? God was still in control. This was all part of God’s plan. The angel had said to Joseph that the baby was to be called Jesus because he would save His people from their sins. He had to die to save us. But remember… He rose again. Jesus had to die. It looked like death defeated Jesus but, in the end, Jesus defeated death.”

Emma smiled and the children jumped up and down chanting, “Jesus wins! Jesus wins!”

They had heard this story many times before, of course. They knew the details well, but every time it seemed to fill them with wonder.

Steve was delighted seeing his grandchildren so engrossed in the story and understanding it so. Oh to be a child again and have that sort of wide-eyed awe. But then he wondered why you had to be a child. Why couldn’t he be equally amazed? The story contained many amazing things – truly incredible things – why did they no longer cause him to dance and sing? What happens when we become adults? What do we lose?

Steve began to wonder about wonder. He loved Jesus but he was hardly ever blown away by the wonder of it all in that wide-eyed sort of way. He couldn’t remember the last time he had sat with His mouth open when he had realised something of the magnificence of Jesus.

He thought about some of the reactions of the personalities in the actual Christmas story. Mary was deeply troubled when the angel appeared and was told not to be afraid. When had Steve felt the fear of being in the presence of God? Was He taking God for granted? John the Baptist had leapt in the womb of Elizabeth when Mary, with her baby in utero, had entered the house. My goodness, imagine the power of the presence of God when one unborn baby can have that effect on another unborn baby! Mary had broken into a magnificent song of praise and prophesied about the nature of the Kingdom of God.

Even John the Baptist caused extraordinary reactions. The neighbours were filled with astonishment when he was named John. Zechariah, when he was able to talk again, praised God and the people were filled with awe. When had Steve – or actually, anyone in his church – last been astonished or filled with awe?

When the angels had appeared, the shepherds had been terrified but, after having seen Jesus, they glorified and praised God and told everybody about this child. And, again, the people were amazed. Simeon took the baby Jesus in his arms and praised God. Anna likewise. And Mary and Joseph marvelled at what was said about Jesus. They were blown away by it. The Magi were overjoyed when they knew they were in the right place to see Jesus and they bowed down and worshipped Him.

Yeah, but all of these people were excitable Mediterranean types. Steve was a Kiwi and an introvert; they were just more expressive people. But suddenly “introvert” sounded cold and passion-less. He could jump up and down and scream at the TV when the All Blacks were playing. Was he really passion-less when it came to Jesus? As he understood it too, the same personality types existed in all cultures. Did even the introverts in the Christmas story still sense the awe?

Being an introvert, maybe he was less likely to express it but did he even feel it? Even if it wasn’t visible on the outside, did he feel it on the inside?

Steve thought about the fact that when Jesus taught, the crowds were amazed. There was something so different… so authentic… so true… so powerful about Him that the people were blown away. Jesus was different. Jesus was – is – God. Demons screamed in His presence and pleaded for mercy. When Jesus healed the lame man lowered through the roof, the people were filled with awe and praised God.

Steve picked up his iPad and started searching the Bible for words like “awe” and “wonder” and “amazed”. He was surprised how many there were. People were constantly blown away by Jesus. He didn’t find “blown away” or “gobsmacked” (although he thought God-smacked might have been appropriate.) But the word “amazed” occurs 45 times in the New Testament. Jesus (and even the disciples after Him) did things that took their breath away. “We have never seen anything like this!” they said shaking their heads. And Steve realised why signs and wonders are called wonders.

He was particularly troubled though by

Hebrews 12:28-29      Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our “God is a consuming fire.

Acceptable worship involves reverence and awe. Steve began to wonder if his relationship with Jesus had become too ordinary… too boring. He knew about Jesus; he appreciated Jesus; he talked to Jesus, but why was he no longer in awe of Jesus? If the real Jesus was constantly amazing people, was Steve even relating to the real Jesus – or just to a domesticated, safe, no-longer stunning, replica of Jesus?

Steve did not want his relationship to be just boring. He wanted it to be a walk with the real Jesus. “God, please give me again a sense of wonder. When I was first saved, I was amazed that you could love someone like me. I was amazed that You cared enough about us to send Your Son. I was amazed that the immortal God would become a man and would suffer and die. But now that is just routine. I talk about it with no sense of wonder. I am not stunned by it. Lord, please touch my heart again. Please open my eyes again to the wonder of it all.”

He felt a little hand on his leg and he opened his eyes. Emma, the youngest one, had come back into the room. “Grandad, do you see it?”

“See what, Wee One?”

“Look at the manger, Grandad.”

His eyes opened wide and he spun around to see the cause. True enough, it was just the way the sun was shining through the exposed beams at that moment, but on the manger there was a very distinct, brightly-lit cross. And, although he knew it was impossible, he was convinced that the doll was looking directly at him and smiling.

He swept Emma into his arms, holding her tight, and started crying.

“What’s the matter, Grandad?”

“Honey, I think God has just answered a prayer for me, and you were part of it. You and Luke and Sophie were a big part of it. I think God just showed me that He is a lot bigger – a lot more amazing – than I had remembered. Do you know that song “Our God is a great big God”?”

Hearing the sounds, the rest of the family came back into the lounge and saw Grandad and Emma singing together at the top of their voices, tears streaming down both of their faces.

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