Which are you more likely to say: “Dear God, my problem is bigger than me” or “Dear Problem, my God is bigger than you” ?
It’s so easy for our picture of God to diminish – especially when faced with the challenges of life.
Starting this Sunday, we’re looking at the book of Isaiah – which presents a portrait of the immensity of God. So prepare for your mind and heart to be enlarged and encouraged and stirred to worship the awesomeness of God. “Do you not know? Have you not heard? The LORD is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth …” (Isaiah 40.28).
Now, not many of us feel confident when delving into the Old Testament - and Isaiah was written 700 years before Jesus’ birth. Yet there's so much great stuff in Isaiah - including incredible prophecies about Jesus that help us understand who he is and why he came - that it's worth making an effort to get to grips with Isaiah.
So if you want to get up to speed, The Bible Project have some excellent resources, including this video:
Think what happens over a simple meal table - in your kitchen or in a cafe: the meal table is where you share stories, laugh at jokes, have debates, poke fun at each other, develop arguments, tell uncomfortable truths, ask forgiveness, discuss important decisions, shed tears, celebrate birthdays. Meals aren’t just about food. They’re about relationships.
Jesus ate loads of meals. So many that his opponents labelled him a glutton and a drunkard! But he ate so many meals with people because he wanted to get to know people, and he wanted people to get to know him.
Meals with Jesus almost always included a surprise - like who was on the guest list ("tax collectors and sinners"), how to feed 5000+ people with one packed lunch, what the bread and wine represented. Over the summer, we're looking at various 'meals with Jesus' from Luke's gospel.
But I don't just want us to sit and learn about Jesus. I want us to put it into practise.
Would you eat like Jesus?
I don’t mean eating reclining on your side as they often did in those days.
I mean - would you eat meals with other people? One person wryly observed that Jesus’ mission strategy was to eat and drink with others.
As I look around our church at the groups which work well - the common feature is often that they share food together. The walking groups inevitably stop for a pint, or for tea and cake. The 18-30s group often share meals together. Allsorts and Beacon host regular meals. Superstars starts with breakfast. The men’s cell goes for a curry together. Meals bond us, they deepen friendships - they leave us with more rounded stomachs - and more rounded characters for having spent time with others.
Over the summer, lots of our regular church activities and groups take a break. But none of us are going to stop eating over the summer. So let’s eat with each other, and invite others along, too.
It doesn’t need to be a posh meal - it can be beans on toast.
Your home doesn’t need to be spotless.
Your kids don’t need to be perfect – ours aren’t!
You just need to spend time with people, like Jesus did! One writer says this, “If every Christian household regularly invited a stranger or a poor person into their home for a meal once a week, we would literally change the world by eating!”
So ... eat like Jesus. Invite others around; accept invitations. Invite people you wouldn’t normally think of inviting. Change the world – by eating.
The night before Jesus died, he startled his disciples when he said, “It is for your good that I am going away.” Then he explained why - he said, “unless I go away, the Holy Spirit will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.” [Jn 16.7] In other words, the Holy Spirit is no poor substitute for Jesus. In some ways, having the Holy Spirit is even better than having Jesus. How does that work?
The Bible says that the Spirit lives in us [Rom 8.9, 11], and that we are temples of the Holy Spirit. Isn’t that incredible?
He’s in us 24/7 - whilst driving to work, whilst sitting in a classroom, whilst changing nappies or waiting for a medical appointment, whilst in a difficult meeting or serving an awkward customer. That was why Jesus said it was better for him to go, so the Spirit could come. He can now be with each of us, all the time.
But what does the Holy Spirit do? We’ve started a sermon series which will begin to answer that question, and as usual, we’ll follow it up in our midweek small groups.
Some people are wary of the Holy Spirit or get worried when people start talking about the Holy Spirit too much. Some people want to steer clear of the Holy Spirit - for them, it sounds a bit spooky or weird-and-probably-not-wonderful.
There are people who make unhealthy and unbiblical claims about the Spirit’s work. That’s why in the Bible, God urges us to test the spirits [1 Jn 4.1] - we have to use our brains to see whether something that is claimed to be the Spirit’s work really is the Holy Spirit. But God also urges us the Bible not to quench the Spirit. [1 These 5.9] So we mustn’t write off everything that sounds a bit out-of-the-ordinary. Over the years, I’ve had to go on a journey to become much more open and desiring of the Spirit’s work.
Some people say, “The Holy Spirit isn’t really for me – I’m not that sort of Christian.” But Romans 8.9 says, “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he does not belong to Christ.” In other words, you can’t be a Christian without the Holy Spirit. It’s simply impossible.
And the Spirit is really not to be feared. You see, if Jesus is the most loving man who ever lived, and this is the Spirit of Jesus, then of course we’ve nothing to be scared of. The Spirit’s presence brings love.
Jesus said, “If you know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him.” [Lk 11.13] Our heavenly Father longs to give us his Spirit because he knows the Spirit is the best possible gift he could give us.
My prayer through this series is that we’ll all open ourselves up to the Spirit’s work in our lives more. I don’t know what that will look like - sometimes he acts obviously and quickly; more often he works slowly and in a hidden way. But let’s welcome his work among us, whatever he chooses to do.