Tuesday, May 10, 2011

New Blog

I'm consolidating this site and Every Day's An Adventure into a brand new one over at Stevangelical. Whether I'm more prolific in posting or not is another matter entirely...
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Saturday, September 4, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #26: "God's Welfare System, part 4: Prayer and Purpose"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

One final look at God's instructions to His people through the prophet Jeremiah! We have thus far studied the welfare, seeking and sending aspects of this verse and this month we will concentrate on the lifeblood of our mission here on earth: prayer.

As God's people placed here and now, we are called to be the best members of this community as possible. Seeking the welfare (the wholeness, prosperity and well-being) of our town bears a responsibility to work for peace, encourage good practice, prosper safety, challenge injustice and promote reconciliation. Sounds utopian? Not when it's uttered in the light of our very own Prince of Peace, Jesus. Sounds like hard work? Absolutely.

Jesus Himself said that "The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few", which means plenty of overtime! Exhausting just to think about it, I know. But Jesus knew that, which is why He continued to say, "...therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out labourers into his harvest." (Matt 9.37-38). He was not saying that it means we pray for someone else to do the work! Read the following passage and you see He sends the apostles themselves out straight away! What He was saying was how much prayer is important for mission. We must pray for each other. An academic gospel (merely debating and philosophising) is not the Gospel. A social gospel (deeds but no Truth preached alongside) is not the Gospel. Both fail and both dishonour God. Words without works are dead. Works without the Word are dead. Which is why we must pray. Prayer brings us into communion with the Father. Prayer changes us. Prayer moulds our hearts to be more like His. Prayer lifts loved ones and lost souls to the great God of Grace, to our Saviour Jesus.

If we have no prayer, we lose purpose. If we lose purpose, we lose a heart for prayer. Which is why we must never let go of prayer in our Beacon family. Be it early mornings on Wednesday and Saturday, be it in our new Family Connections meetings, be it on Sundays, be it in our own rooms behind closed doors, be it in our cars and as we walk: never let go of prayer. It pumps the lifeblood of the Father through our hearts, inspiring us, reviving us and more importantly seeing breakthrough in the spiritual realm and in the community around us.

Martin Luther understood this completely, so I leave you with a profound quote from the man: "I have so much business I cannot get on without spending three hours daily in prayer". May it fuel our preaching by word AND deed.

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Monday, August 30, 2010

Real Faith: Blessing the Sons - sermon notes for 29/08/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

READ Heb 11.20-21:

What does this have to do with Real Faith? Why not “By faith, Isaac trusted his father up the mountain”, or “By faith, Isaac prayed to God about his and his wife’s inability to conceive, and they had twins (Gen 25.21)”, or “By faith, Jacob served diligently for 14 years in order to marry the woman he loved, despite knowing father-in-law’s deceptive heart”? Why say this instead?

FIRST: let's understand what is meant by the cultural formalities of the time in which fathers BLESSED their sons:
  • Blessing = n. the act of invoking divine protection or aid; the bestowal of a divine gift or favour ("Blessed" = to be favoured by your father/God)
  • Biblical def = "the prophetic announcement by which the head of the family passed on favours to his children"
  • The idea behind bless is to speak a good word over someone (eg Ps 29.11)
  • Here today, we tend to avoid talking about death - almost taboo - and don't have the formality of "Blessings". Back then, they understood reality of how binding they could be.
READ Gen 27

v41: "Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him"

[Esau Sold His Birthright for some stew!] (Gen 25:29-34 ESV) "Birthright" = Inheritance/ privileges of firstborn son (The Nuzi texts from the 15th century BC. in Mesopotamia give evidence for transferable birthrights, mentioning one particular case in which a man sells his birthright for a sheep.)

So Esau has been "usurped" twice. His reaction/response? No humility or grace. Bitterness, hatred, revenge. NOTE: these aren't children/teenagers we're talking about! They were in their 70's at this time(*)! How would you have reacted? Your colleague gets promotion, or someone gets chosen for worship leader etc while you're still to be asked into the band? Others invited to dinner over you? "Always the bridesmaid, never the bride"? For Esau, years were wasted in unforgiveness!!!

Jacob and Rebekah are motivated by selfishness, greed, jealousy - she didn't need to have done any of this: it had already been decreed/announced by God: And the LORD said to (Rebekah), “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you shall be divided; the one shall be stronger than the other, the older shall serve the younger.” (Gen 25:23 ESV)

MAIN POINT HERE: Why is it that Isaac blessed “By Faith” here? Because he did not revoke the blessing over Jacob once he realised he’d been conned, but stuck to his original pronouncement IN FAITH , and REINFORCED IT TOO WHEN SENDING HIM AWAY!! (Gen 28.3-4!) - He trusted that God was sovereign and would work through this (here is the prophecy over Jacob coming true)

Now READ Gen 48

MAIN POINT HERE: Just as Jacob’s father Isaac had blessed IN FAITH, Jacob here too blesses by faith because he was prompted by God to swap hands and make a prophetic blessing over his grandsons as further demonstration BY GOD of HIS plans for election.

Jacob knew how he had personally received his own blessing - undeserved and thoroughly sinful - and acted this time in a righteous manner. He became a changed man just prior to the moment he's reconciled with Esau for the first time in 20 years - he wrestled with God and finally stood in faith, trusting in the promise over him and being called Israel for first time = from MUMMY's BOY to PROPHETIC FATHER.

THUS: implications for us today = IRREVOCABLE BLESSINGS OVER US = IF saved, always saved; perseverance of the saints... SIGNED, SEALED, DELIVERED

God chose Jacob, regardless of his selfishness, greed, jealousy, and willingness to be manipulated by his mum. He chooses US despite our sin, our weaknesses. What is our response? Do we step into these promises? Really?

By faith, we need to understand God’s sovereignty, His will, our standing in Him, our future hope, etc....

JESUS is our blessing - in Him is the key to receiving co-heirship, our inheritance of eternal life with God - He became a curse for us - Gal 3.10 - "For all who rely on works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed be everyone who does not abide by all things written in the Book of the Law, and do them.", then v13 - "Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us - for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree""

THUS, BY FAITH, [Steve] can pronounce blessing over those with whom he has influence - because he is chosen despite his sin, he is blessed beyond comprehension, because God has a purpose for him - Eph 1.3 and 1 Pet 3.9.

  • Sinful, weak, devious
  • bestowed with grace upon grace (God's favour/election, not just that of his earthly father's)
  • used by God to bestow further blessing
= you and me!!!

[PAY IT FORWARD film] = Trevor = paying a favour not back, but forward -- instead of them paying him back he asks them to “pay it forward” by themselves doing a good deed for 3 more people. Trevor's efforts to make good on his idea bring a revolution. The original author has set up the Pay It Forward Foundation which educates and inspires students and teachers to do exactly that...

We, as God's people, should not bless others in order to be blessed (approval, obligation, or moral duty) but simply BECAUSE WE HAVE BEEN BLESSED. We give because we've been given; we pour grace upon others (UNDESERVED) because grace has been poured over us; we love because we're loved (1 Jn 4.19 - we love because He 1st loved us); forgive because we're forgiven. PAYING IT FORWARD...

LUKE 6.27-36

By Faith, we know we have been blessed beyond our imagination, so by faith we can go on to bless Him and bless anyone and everyone around us - despite their manipulation or undeserving nature or behaviour, simply because God has bestowed immeasurable blessing upon us as his sons and daughters...

Cell Q's:
  1. How easy do you find it to forgive? What is your natural response and how do you deal with it?
  2. Discuss the consequences/implications of "paying forward" blessings. What is actually happening?
* The age of Isaac is thus ascertained: When Joseph stood before Pharaoh (Genesis 41:46), he was thirty years old, and hence thirty-nine when Jacob came into Egypt. But at that time Jacob was one hundred and thirty years of age (Genesis 47:9). Hence, Jacob must have been ninety-one years old when Joseph was born; and as this happened in the fourteenth year of Jacob's stay with Laban, Jacob's flight from his home must have taken place in the seventy-seventh year of his own, and the one hundred and thirty-seventh of his father Isaac's life. - http://gospelhall.org/bible-teaching/old-testament-history/old-testament-history--1-16--isaac-jacob-esau.html

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Saturday, July 31, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #25: "God's Welfare System, part 3: Sent for a Purpose"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

So far, we've looked at the welfare (= "Shalom": peace, wholeness) and seek (= discerning the needs around us) aspects of God's command to His people through Jeremiah. This month, we will understand what He meant by "sent".

Who is the greatest missionary that ever lived? Take a moment from reading this and come up with your own answer.

Was it William Carey, with his great work in India and his translation of the Bible into Bengali, Sanskrit and many other languages and dialects? Or perhaps Hudson Taylor? He spent 51 years in China, and his labours resulted in 800 Christians arriving in that country, starting 125 schools, directly resulting in 18,000 turning to Jesus! Or could it be Jackie Pullinger? Or David Livingstone? Gladys Aylward? Not forgetting the Apostle Paul of course!

Might I suggest... Jesus? He reminds us no less than 39 times(*) that He was a missionary sent from heaven to minister among us here on earth. His calling here on earth was to fulfil the mission God had placed before Him - to live a life that worships the Father above all things, to engage with the culture(s) around Him, demonstrating God's love for humanity despite our sin, and proved that by laying down His life in our place so that we don't have to. And in His resurrection and ascension to the Father's side, He secured our hope for eternity through victory over sin and death, sealing that within those of us who accept His Lordship by His Holy Spirit. He came with a mission. He fulfilled it. And He's passed that same legacy on to you and me. We've a job to do.

Remember that verse from our first Touchpaper on this subject? About how when we read in John's gospel (20:21) that Jesus saying "Peace be with you" meant "Shalom" and all its intended meaning? Read on. Jesus took it to the next step: “Peace be with you. As the Father has sent me, even so I am sending you.” (John 20:21, ESV) Jesus, the Sent One, is now the Sender. God the Father had reminded His people in exile in Babylon that they were not somewhere alien by accident, nor by evil man's doing, but by HIS design. And then, 600 years later, Jesus the Son reminded His people exactly the same thing. And here, 2000 years on yet again, our great God still says this same thing to you and me: "You are not where you are by chance nor by man's choice, but by design. I have a job for you. Seek the welfare of the people around you, that they might be saved and I might be glorified." Let's get to work!

(*if you want proof, I can email you the list of verses! Also found in Mark Driscoll's Vintage Church, p20)

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Monday, July 12, 2010

"Real Faith: Pleases God (Enoch)" - sermon notes for 11/07/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

Enoch is well known for one of the greatest disappearing acts in history. One moment he was, the next he was not.

Read Gen 5.21-24 - Enoch is well-known for one curious fact, but if we focus on that to the detriment of another facet to his story, we miss out in a big way...

In the centuries prior to Christ's arrival, the Jews were increasingly interested in heaven/angels/afterlife. Subsequently there was a lot of interest in this little-mentioned man called Enoch. He became popular in Jewish writings in few centuries before and after Jesus. His strange apparent escape from death seemed to grant him a certain mystique. Books were written in his name which were increasingly mystical (Jude 1.14 also quotes from 1st of these - not as authoritative but as example!); the 3rd even claims that he's an angel called Metatron. But Hebrews turns from this aspect of his story and zooms in on what really matters::::

Heb 11.5-6: = walked, pleased, rewarded by...

1. The PACE And The PLACE (The walk itself)

"The 11th chapter of Hebrews is not about ultimate achievement in the world's eyes; it's about holding to faith, even when the world thinks you're ridiculous" Steve Ayers

Knowledge vs faith: "knowledge puffs up, but love builds up". DEMONS WILL BEAT YOU HANDS DOWN IN A BIBLE QUIZ! Needs to be centred on and in faith. Applied. Worked out. Why was Enoch commended as one who pleased God? Twice the Genesis text says He walked with God = commended as pleasing God BECAUSE he walked with God.

God "walked" in the garden Gen 3.8 and Noah "walked with God" Gen 6.9 (=generational family values!)

Ray Stedman = "Enoch used to take long walks with God. One day he walked so far God said, 'It's too far to go back; come on home with me.'"

Ever since the Fall there's been a need to walk WITH God that has been absent. There is a value to be found in walking with God so naturally and so genuinely that we can find ourselves closer to His place than to ours. Walking = lifestyle. He walked with Adam and Eve in the garden - and that relationship was broken - but now that kingdom is at hand, we are under an open heaven, it is available to us. Right here, right now. Through Jesus.

Our sin - the things we should do but don't, shouldn't but do, and more importantly the state of our selfish heart that causes that - this sin has separated us from the perfect, one-of-a-kind, HOLY God & made us subject to the judgement that that bears. Forever. EXCEPT by His Son Jesus... Once more we can walk WITH God. No shame. No hindrance. Perfect union. Through Jesus. Walking with Him: sometimes it's a walk, a run, a climb. Wrestling or resting.

2. the PERSON:

TOM WRIGHT: without faith, you can't begin to please God... you may have a general sense that there is a supreme divine being, and you may even have an idea that this being wants people to seek Him out. But unless you have faith, unless you really believe that God exists and that he does indeed want people to seek Him, and will reward them when they do, you can't actually begin to worship Him.

Why did Enoch please God? Because his heart & his mind were in step with God. He acknowledged God as THE context. And so, He ultimately found his pleasure IN God. Finding your joy in something gives it worth. So wherever you find most joy is what you consider of greatest worth. Is that Him? Or stuff/people/dreams?

God was not Enoch's means to an end. "Loving God means I get saved, ticket to heaven/ means I can ask Him for things/ means I'm not alone". Are we loving the walk/walking more than the One we're walking with?


(John Piper illustration of 3-year old on edge of pool and Dad says, "Jump! Trust me!" It makes HIM look good, not us. And the harder it seems for him to fulfil his promise, the better he looks when you trust him.)

We give glory to God when we trust him to do what he has promised to do – especially when all human possibilities are exhausted. Faith glorifies God.

THUS: what is faith? = more than facts/knowledge. It is trust. It is more than simply knowing someone, it is whether you trust them. We cannot rely on someone else's faith or trust.

2 Cor 5.7 = memory verse! = "For we walk by faith, not by sight"

Do you have any promises God has given you that you need to act upon? Not just prophetic promises given to you, but also trusting the promises in the Bible?

Is He clearly saying something to You and you have yet to step out in faith upon it? eg giving/ commitment/ prophetic gift/ baptism/ sharing your faith with your neighbour? YOU'RE ON THE DIVING BOARD; GOD SAYS JUMP!

...walk with Him. It pleases Him. And there lies the greatest reward. Christ walked among us. Let that continue to be a reality as demonstrated in our lives, in step with him, through His Holy Spirit.

Cell Q's:

  1. How do we really know we're walking in step with God? What clarifies or endorses that? Give Biblical examples.
  2. Share stories of when you've trusted God and the lessons the rest of us can learn from that.
  3. Jesus says in John 10.10, "I came that they may have life and have it abundantly"
    • What are the common misconceptions of that promise?
    • What does it really look like?
    • What is your personal response to that?

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Thursday, July 1, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #24: "God's Welfare System, part 2: Seeking to Sow"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jer 29.7, ESV)

Shalom! Last month we considered what is meant by "welfare" when God told His people, through the prophet Jeremiah, to seek it on behalf of the city they were living in: Shalom. Wholeness, completeness, well-being... and now we'll look at why God instructed them to actively seek it.

Who springs to mind when you think of the term "unreached people groups"? Is it people who live thousands of miles away from you? Is it people who live in a remote land, or under a communist regime, or who worship strange-looking idols? And who springs to mind when you think of the poor? Would that be people with less money than you? People who can't afford a certain lifestyle? Those who live on the streets? Might I suggest that "the poor" could also be those with money: those who drive posh cars, live in big houses, play on golf courses... Because being poor is not simply being without money. It can also be those without the Spirit.

Unreached people groups are moving into our nation in increasing numbers. They are coming to us. Opportunity knocks! From the Middle East, Asia, Eastern Europe, these people are coming here to live in huge numbers. In our town and our region. Should we be moaning about that, or seeing it as opportunity to share the Gospel? Many Iranians, for example, are being saved across the UK, and determining to return home to Iran to take the Gospel back there. See? Exciting!

And yet... the phrase "unreached people group" goes even further: it can also include the disabled - over a quarter of the UK population have a long-standing health problem or disability*. How many of them are hindered in hearing the Gospel as a result? Do you know who the world's largest unreached people group actually are? It's the Deaf.

Jesus referred to words from Deuteronomy 15.11 when talking to His followers and friends in Bethany: "For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.'" IN YOUR LAND. They're here. Which is why we have a responsibility to participate in seeking the welfare - the shalom - of those around us. Look around you. Up your street. In your local shops. Where you work. Where you play. And see opportunity - amongst the poor in spirit, the unreached, the broken and the lonely - to share the wonderful news of our Jesus with those who may well have not met Him before.

*27.2% - Eurostat research results (2003), cited in OSSATE Accessibility Market and Stakeholder Analysis 2005

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Sunday, June 6, 2010

"Christ's Bride: the Betrothal and the Feast" - sermon notes for 06/06/10

(You can hear the sermon audio here)

Matt 26.26-29 and Rev 19.6-9

David showed us last week that God calls himself Israel's husband: Isaiah 54, "...your Maker is your Husband". The image of mankind being either in or out of a marriage with God, or cheating on Him, is presented throughout the Old Testament, and it continues into the New Testament when just as God the Father called himself the Husband, so Christ calls Himself the Bridegroom (Jn 3, also Matt 9 and 25). Paul continues the theme calling earthly husbands to follow Christ's eg (Eph 5.25-27).

The great climax of history as we enter new heaven/earth is described amongst other things as our groom returning for His bride (Rev 19). But first, there's another New Testament passage I'd like us to look at that seems to bear no relevance to the pic of Bride. Or does it?

Read Matt 26.26-29. Some manuscripts insert "new" = NEW COVENANT. A new marriage proposal. What does this have to do with the bride pic? Let me explain:

The Betrothal:

Jewish marriages focus on 2 separate parts: BETROTHAL and MARRIAGE. Nowadays it usually occurs together, but in ancient times these were separate: the betrothal itself was as good as declaring the couple married but they did not live together immediately as man and wife. Unfaithfulness within an engagement was considered as adultery. When Jewish man makes a betrothal, he presents the KETUVAH (written notice of the covenant being made). This protects the woman's rights. It is the written vows (Scripture!). If she accepts, she drinks from a cup of wine her bridegroom has poured out for her. The groom says: "I will not drink of this cup until we are reunited".Sound familiar? If he did, he'd be proposing to somebody else! He then goes away for a set period of time (up to 1 year; to prepare a place) when they are then brought together for the marriage ceremony.

Betrothal for us = an absolute promise by Christ that He asks for our hand for eternity. Absolute security, the promise of everything that matters, made possible by Him. And He didn't just humble Himself to get on one knee to propose this, but humbled Himself to death on a cross so that chasm between us and God might be bridged by Him. And he has now gone away to prepare a place for us (Jn 14.2-3)

At the Last Supper, Christ confirmed His betrothal: "Here's the cup, will you marry me?". And once He'd finished His work on the Cross, He went to prepare a home. One day he'll return to take those who said "Yes" back home with Him forever.

Do you know His security? Do you have confidence in His absolute promise to you? (Josh 1.5, Heb 13.5, 2 Cor 1.20a)

So we're between betrothal (as good as married, secure) and the wedding feast itself...

The Feast:

Rev 19.6-9

Looking forward to that great party with our King as everything is consummated, we mustn't lose sight of the fact that there's so much to enjoy now. Until our great wedding feast with Christ, we can find great excitement in knowing we can never know Him enough. We should be never having enough of Him! Are you enjoying the great romance?

Are you betrothed to Christ? Or are you only dating Him? Are you merely flirting with Him? Don't miss out on the great romance that is available to you, RIGHT NOW.

Equally important: are you betrothed to Him, but flirting with another? My marriage = not just a promise in 1994, but a daily promise. Same here. Secure in betrothal, FOREVER, but also a daily walk here and now.

...CHOSEN: v9: “invited” = who? = the Bride. No one gets in as a guest. You can't slip in as a friend of the church. You don't come to the feast as a distant relative. You're in or you're out. You are invited to accept His marriage proposal. It's up to you.

...ADORNED: v7b-8: What are those righteous deeds? Didn't Isa 64.6 say they were like bloody rags?
  • But, in HIM = Bride/Church's gown of righteous deeds is her groom's gift of grace
  • Eph 5.25-27: “sanctify”, “cleansed”, “present... to Himself in splendour” - our righteous deeds (Rev 19.7b-8) are a co-labouring, a responsibility, but only made possible in the first place by HIS cleansing.
Who are you adorning yourself for? Who are you trying to change for? Yourself? Others? Christ? Who are you trying to please? Flirting elsewhere?

Note: the gown of fine linen/righteous deeds is provided by Him, and meant for Him: Esther, as she was preparing herself for presentation to King Xerxes - when he chose her as wife - she was GIVEN the things she needed for adornment. She didn't bring her own make-up bags and fancy outfits she'd been able to afford from the Next sale: HE provided the cosmetics, perfumes and "Anything she wanted" (Esther 2.13).

The Betrothal:
  • Have you accepted His proposal? Are you only dating Him? Or merely flirting?
  • Have you been drinking from another cup/unfaithful?
  • Are you secure in His absolute betrothal/promise?
 The Feast:
  • Who are you adorning yourself for?
  • Are your deeds (linen) what He has provided, or purely legalistic WORKS?
 Cell Questions:
1.What aspects of life can we be in danger of flirting with? How can we be unfaithful to Christ as our groom?
2.How can we keep our eyes from straying away from our Groom?
3.Does anybody struggle with the security that Christ's betrothal promises? How can we help each other know this truth more and more?
4.Pray for each other, and share if appropriate, regarding our motivations: who are we trying to please? Ourselves? Others? Him?

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Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Beacon Touchpaper #23: "God's Welfare System, part 1: Shalom"

"But seek the welfare of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to the Lord on its behalf, for in its welfare you will find your welfare." (Jeremiah 29.7, ESV)

"Shalom" is a Hebrew word uttered by Jewish people as a greeting everywhere. Its basic translation is "peace", but it has a far greater meaning than some simple truce or state of mind. SHALOM encapsulates wholeness, completeness, health, fullness, rest, harmony, well-being... When Jesus often greeted the disciples with "Peace be with you" ("Shalom aleichem", John 20.19, 21, 26), He was not merely hoping they'd be calm and happy; He fully intended that they receive complete fullness through Him as Saviour. Shalom is the process of restoration to wholeness. Jewish people in their greetings are expressing a yearning for something that only their promised Messiah could bring. And He did.

We live in a broken world, where the once-perfect, FULL relationship between God and man has been fractured by the chasm of sin. And yet in Christ we find the complete restoration of that relationship once again. In His perfect life, death and resurrection, Christ has made it possible for us to be reunited with God the Father: whole and complete. Christ is also known as "Sar Shalom", the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9.6): His shalom extends beyond salvation to the ultimate restoration of all things to how they were first intended. And that restoration begins right here, right now, through us as His people.

In our nation, the concept of a "welfare system" guarantees minimum standards, social protection and provision of services. But these can only go so far in healing the cracks we see around us in "Broken Britain": abuse, anger, addiction, hurt, sickness... Nothing will ultimately heal these except for Christ's shalom. And in the same context, when God spoke to the Jewish people through the prophet Jeremiah about their place of exile, He told them to "seek the welfare of the city". That very same word translated as welfare is... "shalom".

We too are called to seek the shalom - wholeness - of those around us through meeting their needs and expressing Christ's love for them. Look for the needs around you and be Christ to them. That's God's welfare system. We will continue to study this verse in depth over future Touchpapers but in the meantime, "Shalom aleichem". Peace be upon you and our town.


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