"Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus." Philippians 4:4-7

A new year has begun. In one sense, new years are exciting. It's a new start, a fresh page. But it's also true that a new year brings with it a lot to think about, perhaps to get ready for, perhaps plenty of unknowns and questions. I have spoken to a couple of people this week who have said to me that they are just feeling overwhelmed with all they have to do as the year kicks off, they can't sleep and their minds are just "go, go, go". So what do we do in these kind of situations?

Paul's instruction to the Philippians seems to pretty pertinent. The Philippians too were facing uncertainty. Their "pressures" had less to do with busyness and more to do with persecution and relational conflict- but the principles remain the same for the anxious heart and mind. So what does Paul say- he calls us to "rejoice in the Lord". But what does that mean? It means to park our mind and racing thoughts in the greatness of our God. Instead of churning through our anxieties, our fears, our list of "to do's", we are to worship and celebrate our God. Perhaps the most important part of what Paul has to say here is just this simple reminder- "the Lord is near". We do not know the future, but the one who does has promised that he is near. So let's choose to trust in him, let's rejoice in him, let's celebrate him- let's remember the infinite resourcefulness of our ever present God.

Grace and peace from Marcus

Meditate and pray on: Psalm 8, Psalm 46, Psalm 139, Joshua 1, Matthew 6:25-34 & Philippians 4

“The son of man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners.’ ” (Luke 7:34)

At Christmas we celebrate the incarnation or that moment in time when God, put on human flesh and came and lived among us, as one of us. His was a thoroughly human experience and in him we see the image of God revealed to us in such a way that we can relate to him, and absolutely identify with.

When Christ came he no doubt accomplished extraordinary things, amazing deeds of power. However, he also performed very ordinary things that in the end, because of who he is and why he is doing it, become for me- extraordinary. One of those things is eating. Eating in some ways is one of the most mundane of things, it is part of the everyday. Yet in Jesus hands, even eating becomes awesomely redemptive. So at times in the gospels; meals become the context of transformational encounters with the Son of God.

The Pharisees and teachers of the law were appalled at Jesus choice of company- but Jesus did not care. He used his eating and drinking to befriend and redeem sinners. Jesus in the verse above is ridiculed because of the company he kept. He is aware of what others think of him; “here is a glutton and a drunkard,” but even so, Jesus would sooner risk his reputation in pursuit of sinners, then stay at a distance and please the religious establishment.

At this time of year we celebrate the Emmanuel; God come near to us. His outstretched arm reaches and in toward us. I for one am glad that this Jesus is “the friend of sinners.”

Grace and peace from Marcus

 Pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you.

To him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.

Twice in his letter to the Ephesians (Eph 1:15-18 & 3:14-21), Paul turns from reflecting on the wonder and awe of the very full salvation that we have in Christ, to prayers and petitions for the Ephesian Christians. So what does Paul pray for?

In Ephesians 1 Paul prays for the believers to be given a Spirit of wisdom and revelation in order that they might know God better. In short he is asking God to give the Ephesian believers a revelation of God himself. But this is not all he asks for, he also asks that the hope of eternity might flood the believers hearts now in order that they might be able to endure all kinds of hardship with joy and hope, because of what is laid up for them in Christ Jesus.

In chapter 3 on the other hand Paul turns in his prayer to a request that the Ephesians believers might be given resurrection type power to comprehend the inexhaustible love of God expressed in Christ. He also asks that Christ might dwell in the hearts of the Ephesians through faith.

What strikes you about these prayers that Paul prays? To me I am struck by the grand nature of them. For Paul you see- "to live is Christ," is his life motto and his prayers take on that priority accordingly. Our prayers are often very small in comparison (health, employment and escaping trails) (well mine are anyway), but this insight into Paul’s petitions is a good encouragement about what really matters, big salvation matters. To be sure we can pray about anything and everything big or small but let's like Paul move beyond the small things to praying big bold, Christ centred prayers over our church, our family and our world.

Grace and peace from Marcus

"Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power." - Ephesians 6:1

The Christian life, according to Paul is like a wrestling match. It involves struggle and not just struggle with flesh and blood (although it includes that), but spiritual struggle against spiritual enemies. Paul recognises the overwhelming nature of the struggle and he says to the Ephesians that in order to stand they must strengthen themselves in the Lord, or be strong in the Lord & his mighty power.

This idea of strengthening oneself in the Lord is one that has a long biblical heritage. So David in 1 Samuel 30 is in all kinds of trouble, Saul is pursuing him and wanting to take his life, his families town has been ransacked and his own men are ready to stone him to death because of their situation and we are told- that David regathers and strengthens himself in the Lord. I'm not 100%- as to what that looked like but it was a game changer, David was enabled to rally his men and focus them again on their mission.

Joshua also found himself in a difficult position. He was called to follow on from Moses after he died and lead his people into the ‘promised land’. He was no doubt daunted by the task ahead of him, but we are told that the Lord instructs him to be strong and courageous. Why was he to be strong and courageous? Not because he was a hero on the inside and if he only reached down into his own well of resource he would shine but rather because the Lord had called him and the Lord had promised to go with him.

All that to say; strengthen yourself in the Lord. Remind yourself of your great salvation in Christ press into him, remembering every blessing, and every hope. Don't lose hope or despair- remember who you are and the God who is for you.

Grace and peace from Marcus

For you know that we dealt with each of you as a father deals with his own children, encouraging, comforting and urging you to live lives worthy of God, who calls you into his kingdom and glory. (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

Paul loved the church at Thessalonica and they were, it seems, drifting from recognising his authority among them. This grieved Paul deeply and he sort to win them back by reminding them of the nature of he and his team's ministry among them. It is here that he reaches for the rich image of fatherhood. He says- his ministry to them was reflective of the way in which a father deals with his children. Of course- in reaching for this imagery he is reaching for the best versions of such a relationship and thankfully he gives us a picture of what "the best versions" might look like. So what did it look like? Well- his ministry and by implication, his ideal picture of fatherhood, was a relationship that consisted of encouragement, comforting and urging ones children to live lives worthy of God. This for Paul is the "mission of fatherhood".

Jacques talked about remodelling our marriages by embracing the mindset of Christ from Philippians last week. Paul likewise here is, by implication wanting to remodel fatherhood/ministry and in doing so he articulates the goal- "a life worthy of God", and something of the pathway to that goal; encouragement, comfort, and urging. Many Christian parents prepare their children for many worthy things in life; things like the workforce, a place at university, for friendships- but our "chief task" as fathers is surely discipleship. We are called to pastor our children and help to live lives worthy of God.

May God grant you grace to encourage, comfort and urge your children to live lives worthy of the Lord- this after all is God's will for you.

Grace and peace from Marcus