come and see

John 1:46 “Can anything good come from Nazareth?” Nathanael asked.“Come and see,” answered Philip.


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The Road Cones of Faith

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The reading from Ephesians 6:10-18 is the one about the Armour of God. We have spoken on this reading before, but this time we were particularly inspired by a picture from Desert Island Church. Do check out their website – I particularly like some of the cartoons, but that may be my English sense of humour!

Anyway, with that bit of inspiration, some borrowed builders clothing, and some small helpers, we came up with our own version of “The Road Cones of Faith”
 
 

The Message
armor(We started with the reading from Ephesians)
Well, I don’t know about you, but after listening to that reading I have a feeling that we are all dressed incorrectly. I mean, shouldn’t we all be looking a bit like this!

But is this really about what we should wear? Well, of course not. It is about equipping ourselves for battle – not a battle with each other or other nations or countries, but a battle of the Spirit; the battle between good and evil, right and wrong – the battle between God and Satan that has been happening right from the beginning of time.

We are in a battle for our souls. Jesus came so that we have life through him. Satan lost big time when Jesus died on the cross for us, but Satan keeps on fighting and is still causing problems for God’s people. Satan is sneaky. He wants nothing more than to take us away from God, and he will use every trick that he can to do so. Like a great warrior we need to put on our armour, and because our enemy is a spirit, God has given us spiritual armour.

Now, the writer of the letter to the Ephesians, this morning’s reading, was Paul, and he was likening the equipment needed for this Spiritual battle to things that would have been familiar to the people he was writing to – that is, the armour worn by the Roman soldiers of the time.

"Road Cones of Faith" from Desert Island Church (http://www.desertislandchurch.co.uk/visual_aids_01a_road_cones_of_faith.htm)

“Road Cones of Faith” from Desert Island Church (http://www.desertislandchurch.co.uk/visual_aids_01a_road_cones_of_faith.htm)

Well I personally haven’t seen any Roman soldiers around here lately, so how about we illustrate this reading with some things that are probably a lot more familiar to we Cantabrians nowadays? That’s right Builder’s safety gear. And to make it a bit more interesting, I need a volunteer to model how it is used.

So let’s put on the builder’s Personal Protective Equipment of God!

The tool belt of truth (v14)
“Stand firm then, with the belt of truth buckled around your waist”
The tool belt is used to keep everything together that is needed on the job. When confronted with something that needs fixing our builder doesn’t have to go off to find the equipment he needs, it is right there at hand. When we keep God’s truth with us – in our hearts and minds, and living it in our daily lives – we won’t get confused about what is real and what are lies from the enemy. And the way that we know what the truth is, is by listening to, and reading and learning, God’s word.

The reflective jacket of righteousness (v14)
“with the breastplate of righteousness in place”

Righteousness means being right with God.
The reflective jacket is used so that our builder can easily be seen. If he wanted to hide he would need to take it off – I don’t know, maybe he didn’t really want to climb that scaffolding, so he was hoping his foreman wouldn’t see him.
We know that God sees us always. This is a reminder to us to guard our hearts and attitudes so that we are always right with God and not ashamed to be seen by Him.

Gospel steel toe-capped boots (v15)
“with your feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”

It’s much easier to walk with a good pair of shoes or boots on. Be ready to go wherever, and to whoever, God sends you, to tell the good news of God’s amazing love for us.

The road cones of faith (v16)
“take up the shield of faith, with which you can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one”

Well, road cones might not be much good against flaming arrows, but there aren’t that many of those around Christchurch either. There are a lot of cars though, and the road cones will ward them off from around the areas our builder is working so he’s not going to get knocked over. Road cones don’t have a lot of material compared to cars, but the builder trusts that they will do their job and keep him safe. In the same way, faith in God is trusting in Him even when you do not understand why some bad things happen. Faith means believing in God and His plan for us, even when we cannot see where the road we are on is taking us. Satan will try to plant seeds of doubt and fear in our hearts and minds, but those seeds of doubt can never take root if we have faith in Jesus. When we choose to believe God, and not Satan’s lies, the road cones of faith block the doubts that Satan drives at us.

The hard hat of salvation (v17)
“Take the helmet of salvation”

The purpose of the hard hat is, of course to protect the head from injury. Satan tries to injure our minds, discouraging us by pointing to our failures, our sins, our unresolved problems – whatever seems negative in our lives – in order to make us lose confidence in the love and care of God.
But we have the knowledge that, by God’s Grace and the sacrifice of Jesus, we are saved. We are God’s children. Satan has already lost, and nothing can ever take you away from God. And that knowledge protects us from the blows that Satan directs against our security and assurance in Christ.

The saw of the Spirit(v17)
“and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God.”

A sword can attack or defend. A saw can be used to cut things down, but also to ready material for building. God’s Holy Word is a powerful tool against Satan. It can cut Satan’s lies to pieces. And God’s Word builds us up, and readies us for building His kingdom in this world.
The words of the Bible are our saws.

Let me finish with the last few verses of the reading, taken this time from The Message translation:

“Be prepared. You’re up against far more than you can handle on your own. Take all the help you can get, every weapon God has issued, so that when it’s all over but the shouting you’ll still be on your feet. Truth, righteousness, peace, faith, and salvation are more than words. Learn how to apply them. You’ll need them throughout your life. God’s Word is an indispensable weapon. In the same way, prayer is essential in this ongoing warfare. Pray hard and long. Pray for your brothers and sisters. Keep your eyes open. Keep each other’s spirits up so that no one falls behind or drops out.”

(Gail)

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Jonah

We just had to have a prop for the story of Jonah, so invited this whale to join us. And “thank you” to Sally for her placard – a timely reminder that God cares for all his creation.
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Telling the Story
Now although the Book of Jonah is only 4 chapters, it is still a bit long to read out in one go at a service, so we paraphrased it in a poem:

When God looked down on Nineveh town
He saw their wicked ways and He said, with a frown,
“They really must repent – I’ll send them a warning.
Jonah, my prophet, you can leave in the morning.”
Well Jonah made haste, and he left the next day,
Moving very fast – but he went the other way!
Visiting Nineveh wasn’t on his wish-list,
so he boarded a boat and headed for Tarshish.

A storm came up and the winds grew stronger –
the sailors said the boat wouldn’t last much longer.
Why did this happen – whose fault could it be?
Jonah took the blame and said “throw me in the sea.”
They threw him in the water and again set sail
But Jonah didn’t drown – he was swallowed by a whale!
Three days and nights he was in the whale’s belly,
Then was vomited out – boy! he was smelly!

This time Jonah headed in the right direction,
Taking to the Ninevites God’s message of correction
“Forty days is all you’ve got, then Nineveh is finished”
The people said “we’ll change our ways – we don’t want to perish”
The King himself heard Jonah’s words and made a proclamation
“Dress in sackcloth; eat no food; maybe that will spare this nation.
If we turn away from wicked ways God may be forgiving.”
And God, whose mercy knows no bounds, let them go on living.
(by Gail Weaver)

The Craft
IMG_1183We made this clothes peg fishes craft, and if you look closely you will see that Jonah is hiding just inside the fish’s belly. It is really simple – clothes pegs, pictures of big fish/whales, and small pictures of Jonah. Cut all the way through the fish’s body; glue the two halves to the peg – one to the top half, one to the bottom; glue Jonah on the back of the peg, but where he will be seen when the mouth is opened.

 

 

The Message
One of the books in the Old Testament part of the Bible is Jonah. The more I looked into the story of Jonah the more I giggled. He was a prophet – someone given the words of God to speak, but he didn’t want to. The hero, Jonah doesn’t want to obey God, and when he finally does he gets upset that God saved the people of Nineveh. How backwards is that! A whole book in the Bible talks about a man of God who doesn’t want to do what God has told him to – and even does the complete opposite. So I thought to myself, why would there be a whole book dedicated to someone who got stroppy with God?

God says go, Jonah says no, and heads in the opposite direction. Every step he took was a step further away from Nineveh. In the Bible it says Jonah ran away from God. Can we ever hide from our all-seeing all-knowing God? He see it all: the good, and the bad. He sees it all.

While still on the run Jonah was on a ship when a raging storm comes up, and Jonah is fast asleep. Everyone else is afraid and they wake Jonah up. He tells them in v12 “Pick me up and throw me into the sea, and it will become calm. I know that it is my fault that this great storm has come upon you.” The other sailors ask God for his forgiveness before throwing Jonah overboard to what they thought would be his death, but then the raging sea grew calm. Jonah must have thought this would be end of his life too, and then he couldn’t go to Nineveh. The perfect excuse not to do God’s calling – die!

But God really wanted Jonah to go to Nineveh, and so he sends another form of transport to get him there- a whale, which swallows him whole. God can even see Jonah in the stomach of a whale that was swimming in the sea. That truly is an all-seeing God with X-ray vision. We learn there is nowhere we can hide from God. In that smelly darkness, Jonah finally prays to God saying sorry for running away, and he will go and do what he was asked to. And so it says “and the Lord commanded the fish, and it vomited Jonah onto dry land.” Yuk, Yuk, Yuk. The Bible has some really amazing stories in it doesn’t it.

So Jonah goes to Nineveh telling the people “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” And then Jonah went away to watch would happen to the city. This was no great sermon, just 8 words. But the spirit of God is in those words. And all the people, including the king, turn from the wrong they were doing – just as God hoped they would. Jonah should be happy with such great results, but he isn’t. He didn’t want the people of Nineveh to be saved and despite his best efforts to do it badly, the people heard God in those words. God wanted to save them, even if Jonah didn’t want him to. God’s grace goes out to everyone, not just the ones we want it to.
Do we, like Jonah, want to keep God’s love from those we don’t like?
Do we hope for our enemies to get what’s coming to them?
For those who we don’t like and are doing well, do we hope that they might fail and lose it all?
Do we judge others harshly when we should be forgiving them?

As Jesus said in Matthew “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” Give them love not hate.

Sometimes we don’t exactly rush out to answer God’s call either. Sometimes because we don’t believe it, sometimes because we don’t recognise it and, as in case of Jonah, sometimes because we do.

We have all been called by God. The call may be moving in a new direction, it may be doing something new or stop doing something old. Your journey with God is as unique as you are. And I truly believe that whatever God has called you to, God will go with you every step of your new journey. It’s your choice — you can do it God’s way or Jonah’s way.
(Vanessa)


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What if God was one of us?

This is one from a while back, when we were exploring the concept of waiting for God in the form of Jesus. The video was played as part of our contemplation/prayer time.

We wait a lot in this busy world. Yet we wait less today than before. We travel at high speed to arrive at a distant destination – think of travelling on a boat to far off lands compared with the time it would take on an aeroplane, even with waiting to go through Customs.  What about letters which took days, even weeks to arrive, and which are now completed in seconds on the computer. Meals which used to take hours to cook are now done in minutes in microwave ovens.

Advent is the time of waiting and we are in Advent now which is the four Sundays before Christmas.

In the Old Testament people started to wait for their Messiah, their Saviour, from as early as Genesis 49:10.  Jacob blessed his son Judah with these words “the sceptre will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations be his.” From then until the birth of Christ was a long time – a very long time. I mean a very very long time – let’s say about 1,800 years according to some theologians – to wait for Jesus.

During Jesus’ ministry he tells his disciples that he will go but will return. In Matthew 24:3 “the disciples came to him privately. ‘Tell us’ they said ‘when will this happen and what will be the sign of your coming?’” So since then 2000 or so years ago we have been waiting once again a long time. A very long time. I mean a very very long time for his return.

So we are going to have to wait until the time, only God knows when, when Jesus will return.

So my question is WHAT are we going to do to fill in this time until Jesus comes again. OR let me throw this out – has Jesus already returned?

God is in all of us. God is in ALL of us. So He is here, in me, in you. And when we treat another human being with love, we are showing our love to God.

In Matthew 25: 34-40 Jesus talks about those who need help with the very basics of life: food and water, shelter and clothes, and company.
There are people needing our help with these things right now in the world: overseas, in New Zealand, in Canterbury and here in Governors Bay– even in our church.

Okay so this a very large problem with so many needing these basic necessities – what are we do about it? Why can’t God just fix it? I think there are many solutions but God needs us to help. And God will use us, if we are willing, to do different things. It may be donations to organisations that help people in need overseas, it may be taking our surplus blankets and food to local organisations, it may be spending time with someone who feels they live in a prison and so on. What he might ask me to do may not be what he asks you to do. We need to ask God what we can do to help – and then we need to listen.

What is important to God, and should be important to us is that we love him and love each other.

Let me tell you what happened to me this week.  I had finished writing what you have just heard and I thought about putting those words into action. So I gathered up some things I knew would be needed and took them to the City Mission. When I pulled up in my car with my 3 year old son with me, I saw some heavily tattooed, untidy men hanging around outside. So I got Luke out, locked the car, held my handbag tightly close to my body, made no eye contact and quickly went inside to finish what I had set out to do. As we came out, Luke stopped to watch a crane working on the other side of the road. One of the men spoke “Do you like cranes?” Luke turned, looked him in the eyes and beamed “Oh yes, Cranky the Crane is my favourite.” Another man spoke “You must like Thomas the Tank Engine then.”
“I like Thomas, and I like Percy too – he’s the green one.”
And then we stood silent for a few more moments as we all watched the crane and I quietly cried. Although I took material goods, it was my 3 year old boy who showed them acceptance and love.

By helping someone else, in the way God has asked you, by showing a practical love to someone else, you are showing them God’s love as well.

So while we wait for however long it will be, let us fill in our time by doing to each other what we would do if God were one of us.

Vanessa


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Why we don’t go on Retreats

We don’t do Retreats. Just not our thing.

In a couple of weeks three of us are going away overnight to Te Waiora House –a Christian Retreat Centre in Hororata.

But we’re not going on Retreat.

We will spend time – individually and collectively – in prayer, immersing ourselves in God’s presence, and seeking His will for us.
But we’re not going on Retreat.

We will have some time working on an outline of the services over the next few months, and planning and fine-tuning the children’s Christmas Service (because that’s not too far away!)
But we’re not going on Retreat.

We hope that this time will refresh us, and renew us to continue the work God has called us for in our community.
But we’re not going on Retreat.

Let me explain: the first time we went away on such a weekend, we set a date, then conferred with our husbands to ensure that there were no clashes and that they were happy for us to go away then. Vanessa told her husband “this is the weekend we are planning to go away on Retreat – is that okay with you?” And he said “No”!
He said “you should never Retreat, or look backwards. You should always look to the future and go forwards.”

So we don’t go on a Retreat – we go on an Advance. And we are so looking forward to the future God has planned for us!


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Joshua and the Battle of Jericho

Luke enthusiastically blowing to make the walls fall down!

Luke enthusiastically blowing to make the walls fall down!

Joshua 6: 1-27

For our telling of the story of the Battle of Jericho last week, we looked at it from the point of view of some of those involved.

We built “City Walls” from building blocks on a piece of board, and walked around this after hearing from each person. For the final “day”, after we had gone around  seven times, we banged on the board that the “City Walls” were on so that they fell down. We also made “trumpets” to be blown whilst walking around the walls, and you can find those instructions at the end of this post.

We started and ended with Joshua speaking; the other parts can be in any order.

Day 1: Joshua
Now, I know I’m new to this leading armies lark, but these are the strangest instructions I’ve ever come across for defeating a city! But still, you know what they say, “the Lord works in mysterious ways”.

So, all the fighting men, fully armed. Check.
The Ark of the Covenant carried in front of the soldiers. Check.
Seven Priest blowing trumpets in front of them. Check.  

Now remember, you men, do not give a war cry, do not raise your voices, do not say a word until the day I tell you to shout. Then shout! Once round the city, then back to camp for the night.  

Day 2: Soldier
Well, I must admit this wasn’t quite what I had in mind when I signed up to be a soldier. I was expecting lots of fighting – you know, swishing swords, clashing shields, that sort of thing, but there’s not been any sign of that recently.

Of course I knew there was going to be lots of marching – how else are we to get from one place to the next? But that’s just it – marching is for going from here to there – from point A to point B, if you like – not for going round and round in circles. Sorry, make that circle, singular.
But no, it’s “Hey ho lads – up before dawn, one quick march around the city, then that’s it for the day.”

Day 3: Jericho Citizen
So, that’s the famous Israelite army is it? A sight to strike fear into all our hearts? I don’t think so! You know, it’s only a couple of weeks ago that we heard that the whole Israelite nation had managed to cross over the River

Jordan without getting their feet wet. Rumour has it that their God dried up the river totally – and this is when it was in flood. Definitely gave us pause for thought – I mean, if they really had a God that powerful on their side, you could hardly blame a person for a bit of the old “hearts melting in fear” reaction.

But, if they really had a God that powerful on their side, why aren’t they attacking us instead of indulging in a daily stroll? No, definitely don’t think too much of their tactics. What do they think they’re going to do – walk the city into surrender?

Day 4: Child
Mum, Mum, look. It’s the soldiers again.
Why do they come so early? They woke me up!
Why are they just walking round and round the city?  

Day 5: Priest
Excuse me if I have a bit of trouble making myself understood – mouth’s a bit sore from all the trumpet blowing, don’t you know. What was that? Am I in a marching band? Ha, ha, very funny.

You must admit we make quite a sight, all dressed up in our priestly robes, leading the procession around Jericho. And not just anyone can play those Ram’s horn trumpets you know – there is quite a technique involved in getting the sound just right.

Actually, I was quite honoured when I learnt that I’d been chosen as one of the seven trumpeters. What no-one told me was we’d be playing the same tune all the way around, every single day. Now, don’t get me wrong, I like the traditional music as much as anyone else –but surely a bit of variety wouldn’t do any harm!  

Day 6: Rahab
There they go again. Another day, another march past. I just hope those Israelite spies that I helped managed to get back to their camp – and most of all I hope they keep their promise to make sure me and my family are safe from harm.

I know it might seem strange that I am siding with the very people who want to destroy the city I have lived in all my life, but I’ve heard all about that God of theirs, how powerful he is, and how much he has done for his people, and I so long to be able to receive the same blessings for myself.

I’ve got Mum & Dad here, my brothers and the sisters-in-law, and all the nephews and nieces. Surely they must be taking the city soon. I’ll just tie this scarlet cord in the window like the spies told me to, so the soldiers know which is my house.

Day 7: Joshua
Listen up men! I’m sure you must all be thinking that this is a strange way to win a city, but I think we should all have got used to the fact by now that God has his own ways of getting things done. I am proud of you all for your unquestioning obedience over the last six days – and especially pleased with you all managing to keep silence during our daily marches. You will all be pleased to know that today is the day!

Today, instead of once round Jericho, we go round seven times. You still need to keep quiet when you’re marching, and the Priests will still be blowing on their trumpets. But, at the end of our seventh time around the Priests will blow a long blast on the trumpets, and that’s the cue for you all to let rip with your voices. Shout out loud – praise the Lord with all the strength of your lungs because He has given you the city!

 

Conclusion:

The Battle of Jericho is the first battle of the Israelites during their conquest of the land of Canaan. The army was ready. They had been training to get into battle mode. They had the right fighting stuff – armour, swords, shields, bows and arrows. And this was the first battle of the campaign. There was  anticipation and there was excitement…Now let’s get ready to rumble!

It starts out normal enough – send in spies to see what the enemy is up to before going into battle. Find out where the guards were placed, whether anyone disliked the king and could help them, what weapons and armour the guards had, when the guards changed shifts, how much food, water, and other supplies the city had, and the height and width of the walls to determine how to overcome the city. I would say that is very normal battle tactics, and those tactics are still used today.

God had given specific instructions for battle to Joshua. We have just read and even been and acted out that battle. And I can’t think of any part of that battle that is normal battle tactics! When you were pretending to be a soldier all ready for battle and then had to be quiet and walk around the city you were ready to fight, what did you think?

I have spent a while thinking about this reading and realised our God is not a “normal” God. He likes to mix it up, do it different. I think we tend to put our human expectations and limitations on Him. He enters a city by walking around it for seven days so that the walls fall down with a shout. Not normal.

God likes to do the unexpected but it always takes something on our part first, – then in the Bible and now today. Faith and obedience. Joshua and his army obeyed God’s word, trusted in God’s promises, and were rewarded with the fulfilment of God’s promises to them.

If you are getting ready for battle, are fighting with something – simply ask God for instructions, have faith it will happen and obey Him. It may not be what YOU think will happen, but, hey, remember our God is not a normal God restricted by our understanding and limitations.

 

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Make a “Trumpet”

You will need:IMG_0698

Drinking straws
Baking paper
Card/advertising flyers
Sellotape
Scissors

For each “trumpet” cut the straw to about 4 or 5 cm long; cut a piece oIMG_0700f baking paper 4mm wide and 14 cm long. Fold this in half, ensuring that if the paper curls at all, the two loose ends curl towards each other. Feed the baking paper into the piece of straw so that the loose ends are just inside the end of the straw and the folded end sticks out. Bend the folded end over the end of the straw and tape it down. Now, blow through the straw from the end where the paper is taped down – the loose ends vibrating inside the straw will make a noise.

Now make a cone shape out of card, or recycle by using stiff paper advertising flyers. Push the straw into the narrow end of the cone and blow – the noise is amplified, and you have a “trumpet”!

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Elijah & the Prophets of Baal – 1 Kings 18

Last week we looked a the story of the Contest on Mount Carmel between Elijah and the Prophets of Baal. We illustrated our retelling of the story with two “altars” made out of cardboard boxes with cellophane flames. The altar for God had a hidden container into which we could pour water, before the flames were lit up from inside the box by a couple of torches being waved about.

The Story:
Well, we have been having an awful lot of rain recently, although I’m pleased to see that we actually have sun shining today. It is nice when the rain holds off for a bit – how long do you think would be good for us to go without rain? A week; a month; 2 months; a year?

How about 3 years? – would that be good? What sort of problems could that cause?

Well, I have a story about a time when there had been no rain in Israel for over 3 years. And why had there been no rain? Because the King, and most of the people, of Israel had turned away from God, worshipping false foreign gods. Most specifically they worshipped Baal, who was supposedly the god in charge of the rains. Now the prophet Elijah was sent by God to the King – King Ahab – to tell him that there would be no more rain – not even any dew on the ground – until the Lord God said so. So, three and a half years later and there has been no rain. The people have got fantastic suntans, but the food’s not growing very well, and there’s certainly no lounging around the pool – no pools!

Time for Elijah to put in another appearance:
“Hey, King Ahab. You getting thirsty yet? Are you ready to admit that there is only one true God and turn away from worshipping Baal?”

The answer was a definite NO!

“And what about you people of Israel? You can’t seem to make up your minds at all – if the Lord is God, follow him. If Baal is god, follow him. You can’t have it both ways”

The people just mumbled and looked the other way.

So Elijah proposed a contest “let’s see who is the real deal – Baal, or the Lord God. Only one of them is the true God, so lets get them to show us which one it is! This is what we’ll do. We’ll go up to the top of Mount Carmel – all the prophets of Baal, and all the prophets of the Lord God. Now how many prophets have you got? 450. Okay, and how many prophets of the Lord God are there? Oh, that’s right, I’m the last one left. I do enjoy a fair challenge!”

The prophets of Baal built an altar. They piled it high with plenty of wood, then they chose a bull as a sacrifice, killed it and put it on top of the wood. What they didn’t bring was any matches, or lighters (they didn’t have them in those days), not even any flint to strike sparks with. Remember, this was to be a show down between Baal and the real God, so they had to get their god to light the fire. Feeling very confident they called out to Baal “Light the fire! Light the fire!” All 450 of them. All at the same time. But no flames appeared.

So they threw in a bit more showmanship – shouting out; dancing and leaping about; singing; they even started cutting themselves with knives! But, still no flames.

This went on for about three hours. Round about lunchtime Elijah started ribbing them about the lack of progress. “What? Can’t he hear you? Could be he’s gone out for the day. Maybe he’s sleeping and you need to wake him up! Or perhaps he’s a bit hard of hearing – shout louder!

The 450 prophets redoubled their efforts – more noise! More dancing! More shouting! But still, no flames.

The evening came and they were all getting a bit hoarse – probably cold as well because, guess what? Still no flames!

Now it was Elijah’s turn. Just Elijah, all by himself. “People of Israel,” he said. “Come here and pay attention to me.” He took 12 stones – one for each of the 12 tribes of Israel – and repaired the altar of the Lord God, which was in ruins. He piled wood on the altar; he dug a trench around the altar; he killed his own bull and put that on top of the wood. And then…. well, he asked for water. Four large jars of it. And what did he do with the water? He had it poured all over the wood. Then he asked for four more jars and did the same with them. And then four more jars.

So there he is, with this soaking wet sacrifice on top of a soaking wet pile of wood on top of a soaking wet stone altar. Elijah lifted his arms and prayed “O Lord, God of Abraham, Isaac and Israel, let it be known today that you are God in Israel, and that I am your servant and have done all these things at your command. Answer me, O Lord, so that these people will know that you are God, and turn their hearts back to you again.”

And the flames came. The fire of the Lord God burnt so fiercely that not only the sacrifice and the wood were destroyed, but the stones vapourised in the heat; the earth all around was scorched, and the water in the trench surrounding the altar evaporated.

The people fell to the ground in fear and amazement – they now knew the truth, and cried out “The Lord – he is God! The Lord – he is God!”

But what about the rain?

Elijah sent his servant to look towards the sea. And all that he could see was blue skies – far into the distance, and as far as the horizon; blue skies.

Elijah sent him back for another look. Still nothing. Seven times Elijah sent him to look towards the sea, and the seventh time the servant reported “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.” And the sky grew black with clouds, the wind rose, and the Lord God sent a heavy rain on to the land of Israel, where the people had now turned away from Baal, proclaiming the Lord God to be the one true God.

 

The Message:
This was a story from the Bible I don’t remember hearing before  – and I loooove it, laugh out loud love it. I love the story of the challenge, one for God, 450 for Baal. I love how Elijah drenched  everything in water just to make it interesting, prove a point, push the limits, and how God didn’t just light the fire it was such an over-the-top bonfire the water evaporated and burnt everything to a cinder – and in my head I hear na na na na na.  I love this story it appeals to my sense of humour. And yes it is a good story but that is not why we chose to share it with you today.

So from this story – what can we learn about God? What can we learn about ourselves?

Elijah said “If the Lord is God follow him. If Baal is god, follow him. You can’t have it both ways.The first Commandment: You shall have NO other Gods but me.

Jesus said: Love the Lord God with ALL your heart, mind and soul. This is the greatest and the most important commandment.

We don’t put God first. I don’t put God first – not all the time, that’s the truth. I think I will have time to read the Bible, or have some time with him later, but the day disappears before I get to it, and that’s OK because I will do it tomorrow, really I will. Sometimes I don’t.

I have been thinking…. what is it that we are putting before God. In today’s society there is more emphasis on Jesus’s second commandment “You shall love others as you love yourself“ than on the first. You are taught to show respect, be kind to one another and to have good morals, but there is a growing resistance to having the Bible taught in schools. There is a resurgence of people looking for God in all kinds of spiritual ways – but not Jesus. And what is this new thing that at Christmas as a society we are starting to say Happy Holidays to each other instead of Merry Christmas. Why? because it refers to Christ and we don’t want to offend anyone who isn’t a Christian. It is Christmas – it has Jesus’ name in it, not to mention it celebrates the day he was born.

Where has God gone? We can’t change society or our community, we can’t change our friends, or our husband, wife, or children. Don’t look at anyone else – look up at God and then look in the mirror. That is who God wants to know and that is who he wants to change. And then, it is only through God that everything can change.

In this moment, lets stop and ask if there is anything in your life that takes precedence over God, where God doesn’t come first – you can’t have it both ways.

Elijah soaked everything in water so it would be so impossible to light a fire – it would take an act of God; it would take a miracle. There are symbols in the Bible that represent the Holy Spirit – a dove, wind, water and fire. Water and fire. Elijah was soaking the whole moment in the Holy Spirit. When you are praying for God to show himself and feeling outnumbered or alone – do an Elijah and soak that moment in the Holy Spirit, stand back and get ready for a miracle. Hey – even expect a miracle, it can get quite exciting. God likes to do the hard stuff, it shows that he is the one true God.

And so all the people turn fully towards God, not sharing him with any other worship. Then after a 3 year draught, the rain came, just like that – no. Elijah sent his servant out seven times to look for clouds. For the big bonfire moment, Elijah prayed and BOOM – action. Rain – that took time. Sometimes the miracle is BOOM just like that, sometimes it takes time, it just always happens in God’s perfect timing.

Vanessa

The Prayers:
Amidst the noise around us, the crying out in desperation for answers from today’s false gods, let us be still.

Let us lift our eyes to the Lord God and send our cries and pleas to the only one who can answer us. Let us wait in confident expectation of a miracle.

We cry to you Lord God, for those afflicted with an abundance of rain, and those afflicted with not enough. Work your miracles through us, that all may have sufficient food and safe shelter.

We cry to you Lord God, for those who suffer at the hands of their own governments – the very people who should uphold their rights and welfare. Work your miracles, that all peoples may know freedom and security.

We cry to you Lord God, for all who suffer in body, mind, or spirit. Work your miracles that they may find the healing they need, in you, and through those who are your hands in this world.

We cry to you Lord God, for those who do not know you; those who do not know that they are lost, who do not know who to cry out to. Work your miracles through us Lord, that we will shine as beacons, leading them to you.

Let us lift our eyes to the Lord God and send our cries and pleas to the only one who can answer us. Let us wait in confident expectation of a miracle.

Amen

Gail


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Mansions

The service at the beginning of this month was inspired by the following quote from C S Lewis:
“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on; you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts and does not seem to make any sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of – throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were being made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace.”

Readings we used were from Jeremiah 29:11 ““For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” And Ephesians 3:20 “With God’s power working in us, God can do much much more than anything we can ask or imagine.”

IMG_0599IMG_0598For a game we used a sets of cards which, when put together properly, showed a picture of a house, giving one set each to small groups of 3 or 4 people. The twist here is that we didn’t give them a guide picture, but left them to put it together as well as they could manage, using this to reinforce the theme that what is being built in us is more than we can ask or imagine. The cards we used are an old set that I have had in my household for many years, but it would be easy enough to make your own version by printing off pictures of houses and cutting them into squares.

Vanessa started her message by reading the quote from C S Lewis, and then continued:
“Imagine yourself as a living house.”
In the Bible our body is talked about as a temple. 1 Corinthians 3:16: “Do you not know that your body is a temple of God and that God’s Spirit lives within you?”

That’s right we have our very own builder, the Holy Spirit, living in us 24/7, every hour of every day. When we become Christians, we accept and realise there are parts of us that are not right with God – as C S Lewis put it “the leaky roof and drains.”  My building jobs: the works in progress or the things on the to-do list will be different to yours. What God is hammering out with me at the moment, will be different to you. That’s because I am special …… and so are you. The important thing is to accept and embrace that we are a building site that gets a bit messy, uncertain, and certainly painful. And also please remember that we are the building, a living house, a temple – NOT the project manager or the architect.

Life is challenging – that’s life. Christians don’t have it easy. Change can be hard.  Letting go of things we are familiar and comfortable with, even if these things hurt us, can be scary. The only thing I know stronger than fear is faith. Have faith in God. He loves you and His plans for you are for good. And to quote C S Lewis again: “I would rather be what God chose to make than the most glorious creature that I could think of. For to have been thought about, born in God’s thought and then made by God is the dearest, grandest and most precious thing in all thinking.”

But wait – there’s more. Our God is an amazing overflowing God. “I came so you could have life in all its abundance.” (John 10:10) “Jesus told the men to cast their net on the other side of the boat and it overflowed.” (John 21:1-14).

And so in closing let’s once again hear and dwell on these words from Ephesians 3:20  “With God’s power working in us, God can do much much more than anything we can ask or imagine.”
The Amplified Bible version says “God is able to do superabundantly, far over and above all that we dare, ask or think, infinitely beyond our highest prayers, desires, thoughts, hopes or dreams.”


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God – Here and Now (Malachi 3:6)

I heard a term the other day “Change fatigue.” It is the inability to cope with constant change which goes against the common saying “the only constant in life is change.” Change fatigue is becoming more prevalent in Christchurch as we continue to live post-quake. An example is the constant changes to roading with detours and road blocks that seem to last forever, or appear and disappear overnight. I have tried to be clever and beat the system by taking the long way round to avoid roadworks only to encounter bigger ones, and then find out the one I avoided had been finished. Changes in where we live as we have repairs, or feel our lives are on hold as we wait for outcomes so that any change can then eventually happen. There is such a blanket of uncertainty over so much of our lives, more so now than ever before.

Personally I have changed a lot in my 44 years. Of course I have, I am no longer a new born baby, toddler or teenager. I am a middle-aged woman with some grey hair and even more wrinkles. I am a wife and mother. I have had many experiences that have formed me to be who I am today – some good, some bad, some menial and some profound.  And the process is not complete, I will continue to change over the next year, the next 10 years – right up to the day I die.

And God – has He aged? Has He changed?  “I am the Lord, and I do not change”(Malachi 3:6)

When my father died, I couldn’t find God. I prayed, but the God I knew wasn’t there….. why would God leave me in my time of raw grief? Or had I changed?  And here is something I read at that time called “Footsteps”:

FOOTSTEPS…..
One night a man had a dream. He dreamed he was walking along the beach with the Lord. Across the sky flashed scenes from his life. For each scene, he noticed two sets of footprints in the sand: one belonging to him, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of his life flashed before him, he looked back at the footprints in the sand.

He noticed that many times along the path of his life there was only one set of footprints. He also noticed that it happened at the very lowest and saddest times in his life. This really bothered him and he questioned the Lord about it.

“Lord, You said that once I decided to follow you, You’d walk with me all the way. But I have noticed that during the most troublesome times in my life, there is only one set of footprints. I don’t understand why when I needed you most you would leave me.”

The Lord replied, “My son, My precious child, I love you and I would never leave you. During your times of trial and suffering, when you see only one set of footprints, it was then that I carried you.”

I had never been in this place before… I just needed to learn to be carried. Our relationship changed and as a result is now different.

These changes are given to us so that we can grow spiritual.
So we learn to have the confidence and courage to lay our burdens with God so He can give us rest -and that does mean putting them down and not going back to pick them up.
So that as our patience is tested, we learn how to wait in God’s timing.
So by loving the difficult people in our lives, loving the unpleasant parts of ourselves we can experience more of God’s love for ourselves and those around us.

The challenge you are having now (because I know we are all facing something – that’s life) is about us changing to be more like God, more like Jesus, and the Holy Spirit is the one who shows us what needs to be done, and gives us the strength and peace to do it.

Sometimes we learn these lessons quickly, sometimes it takes a bit longer, sometimes we think we passed it, only to find out we have a whole other level to master. And yes, that is life – it changes constantly.

In the midst of change and uncertainly, we can trust in God who never changes. Situations in our lives often change, but God’s promise never changes. Our feelings and emotions can change, sometimes quickly, but God never changes.

The only constant in life is God, and He is here and now. In this present moment, and every present moment. In the calm and the storm, in the noise and the quiet, in the crowd and in your solitude. He is here, he is now. He is in our present moment and our future. Your choice is if you want to be with Him.

Vanessa


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Game/Puzzle for The Bread of Life

We searched and searched for a game/puzzle/object lesson for the bread of life, but could not find anything that we liked that was suitable for our particular group and meeting place, so we made one up. It’s fairly basic, but maybe of use or inspiration to someone else.

We took a picture which had on it the quote from John 6 – Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall never hunger and he who believes in me shall never thirst.” This was cut into six pieces, each of which was placed inside a toilet roll tube. We then wrapped the tubes with illustrations of the various ingredients needed to make bread – using, where possible, actual packaging from the ingredients. The packages were hidden around our worship space.

We started by talking through what was needed to make bread, and then got the children to search for the hidden “ingredients” and, once found, to make up the picture hidden inside.


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Fruit of the Spirit (2) – Patience, Kindness, Goodness

Continuing on the subject of the Fruit of the Spirit, this week we looked at Patience, Kindness and Goodness.

We started with a Fruit of the Spirit game – “Fruit in the Bowl”.IMG_0318
You will need:
Mandarins
Marker Pen
Fruit bowls (not the best glass or china one – something sturdy and reasonably unbreakable!)

Using the marker pen write the name of one of the nine Fruit of the Spirit on each of the mandarins (strangely enough the letter sizes got smaller as we got further down the list!). You will need one complete set of “Mandarins of the Spirit” for each team.
Set one fruit bowl for each team either on the floor or a chair a few feet away from the players and get them to take turns throwing the mandarins into the bowls, then see who has received the most Fruit of the Spirit! And later on you can use the fruit for your morning tea!
(A variation would be to get someone to hold each bowl and move it around whilst the mandarins are being thrown.)

IMG_0310

The girls team play the “Fruit in a Bowl” game

Read Vanessa’s message below, and at the end of this entry there is a link to the “Fruit of the Spirit” song on YouTube – quite a tongue twister due to its speed, but a good way to remember the nine Fruit

PATIENCE, KINDNESS, GOODNESS – FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT 2
16 June 2013

PATIENCE
Means the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble or suffering without getting frustrated, fearful, angry or upset, or in the words of Elmo from Sesame Street it is waiting calmly.

It is so easy to be patient when the going is good. When the delay, trouble and suffering we are facing is bearable – we can cope OK.  When it gets tough, it is only God who can give us the patience to accept what we are going through. White knuckling it, holding on tight to keep calm, is not patience. The image of a swimming duck comes to mind– what people see is composure, when in reality there is a lot of action going on under the water, out of view, to give us that image of calm patience.

I want to share  James 5:10-11 from two translations/versions: (readings)

(Good News) My friends, remember the prophets who spoke in the name of the Lord. Take them as examples of patient endurance under suffering. You have heard of Job’s patience, and you know how the Lord provided for him in the end. For the Lord is full of mercy and compassion.

(Amplified) Take the old prophets as your mentors. They put up with anything, went through everything, and never once quit, all the time honouring God. You’ve heard of Job’s staying power, and you know how God brought it all together for him at the end. That’s because God cares, cares right down to the last detail.

And so this is God-given patience. In one version: patient endurance: in the other: it is to put up with anything, went through everything, never once quit, all the time honouring God. Job’s patience is explained as Job’s staying power. Even as I am trying to write this, my patience is being tested by constant interruptions.

True patience is quiet, peaceful, unwavering and strong. Patience reveals our faith in God’s timing, almighty power and love. Patience does not develop overnight. Colossians 1:11 tells us that we are strengthened by Him to “great endurance and patience,” while James 1:3-4 encourages us to know that trials are His way of perfecting our patience. It‘s a process as the fruit of patience develops from a flower, into a fruit that grows and ripens into maturity.

I think there is only one thing about patience and the lack of it – how much faith and trust we (you and me) have in God’s plans for us. Romans 8:28  tells us that “in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.” The “all things” include the things that try our patience. Sometimes God puts us in difficult situations so that we can be a witness to others. Other times, He might allow a trial for strengthening our character. Whatever the reason, God is the one who knows why and He wants us to have an abundant life, made possible through us accepting Jesus as our saviour and having a personal one-on-one relationship with him

KINDNESS
If you want to find out about kindness go to the source of kindness for examples. Kindness is God giving us green pastures, quiet waters, and restoring our souls when we’re weary (Psalm 23:2-3). Kindness is God’s tender care when He gathers us under His wings, to protect us and keep us close to Him (Psalm 17:8; 36:7; 61:4; Matthew 23:37). Kindness is Jesus stopping what He was doing to help others in need (Mark 6:34; Mark 7:29; Mark 10:46-52). Kindness is the Good Shepherd rescuing us when we stray (Luke 15:3-7). And the ultimate kindness is the God given gift of salvation.

We were once foolish, disobedient, and wrong. We were slaves to passions and pleasures of all types.  But when God, our kind and loving Saviour God, stepped in, He saved us from all that. It was all His doing; we had nothing to do with it. It was not because of any good things that we had done, but because of His  own mercy that He saved us, through the Holy Spirit, who gives us new birth and new life. God poured out the Holy Spirit generously on us through Jesus Christ our Saviour so that by His grace our relationship with him is restored. (Titus 3:3-7)

Kindness is a verb, a doing word. You need to act to be kind, you need to do – or even in some cases not do –  to be kind.

How do I see kindness in the humdrum of our busy lives. It is the little things – the very many little things in a day. If you can’t think of anything that you can do to be kind to someone else or yourself (you count too), here’s a tip. Pray, ask God to give you eyes to see, ears to hear what you can do to be kind. Then – and this is important – be quiet and listen and He will answer. Sometimes when we pray we do too much talking, and not enough listening. Maybe we might be afraid of what God might say to us. But, as I said in the beginning about kindness, our God is a kind God who loves us so much, so very very much. And once God has shown, maybe right then you get an idea, maybe later, as it is all in God’s timing, it is then your choice to be kind….. or not. And the test of being kind when you are tired, when you are busy, or to someone you don’t like, is one of the hardest things of all and that is why it is a fruit of the Spirit. Because to do it at these times, we need the strength of Holy Spirit

GOODNESS
This one is the one I have really struggled with. And here are my thoughts: Feeling good and being good are not the same thing. There are things that make us feel good that are not good for us: one chocolate too many, saying something we shouldn’t, and to be honest sometimes I enjoy being naughty.

As I said feeling good is not the same as being good. And we have all fallen short, and continue to fall short of being good enough for God. Nothing we can ever do will be good enough because it is only by the grace of God and the death of Jesus for our wrongs that we then become more than good enough, we become perfect to be in God’s presence. Likewise there is nothing bad enough to keep us apart for God’s love.

Goodness is not a quality we can manufacture on our own. James 1:17 says, “Every good thing given and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father.”

As I said I struggled with this so I ask all of you what do think goodness is?

The seed of the spirit is meant to produce a harvest. So stop comparing, stop searching for self-improvement by doing it in your own strength, and stop trying to impress. Instead START developing what is already in your heart, because the seeds for the fruit were planted there as soon as you became a Christian and accepted Jesus into your heart.

(Vanessa)

Fruit of the Spirit song: