Our most recent family pic with only Andrew missing

Thursday, February 27, 2014

Lent Pastoral Letter

Lent Pastoral Letter

                                                                  image sourced here

Dear  AMC Family and wider congregation,

The cross, O the wonderful cross
What Glory, what victory, I've found
I'll come to the wonderful cross
And my whole life I lay down

These words from The Wonder of the Cross by Robin Mark are a wonderful reminder of one of the reasons for the season of Lent: Over a period of 40 days, starting on Ash Wednesday, we undertake a spiritual journey deep into ourselves but with our eyes focussed on the Cross, and hopefully rediscover or perhaps even discover for the first time, the glory and the victory which are ours because of what Jesus did and then lay our whole lives down for Him again….or, perhaps, for the first time. I really hope that is what Lent 2014 will be for us all at AMC.

Lent is the span of time in the church calendar that starts with Ash Wednesday on 5th March this year and ends with Easter Sunday, which is on 20th April. Ash Wednesday commemorates the beginning of Jesus’ 40-day fasting and temptation in the desert, and Easter Sunday commemorates Jesus’ resurrection from the grave after His crucifixion.

Lent, then, is generally observed as a time for Christians to reflect, repent, and pray as a way of preparing our hearts for Easter. It is observed by many different Christian denominations, although not every Christian church or denomination does so. Because Lent is not officially instituted in Scripture, observing it isn’t in any way a “requirement” of Christianity. Nonetheless, Christians from many different backgrounds choose to observe it as a way of focusing their thoughts on Jesus Christ during the Easter season.
How does one observe Lent? It differs from person to person and church to church, but some of the things Christians might do to observe Lent include:

    On the first day of Lent (Ash Wednesday is 5th March and our service will be at 18:30), some Christians mark their foreheads with ash as a symbol of sorrow and mourning over their sin. (See Job 42 for an example of ash used as a symbol of repentance.)

     Some Christians choose to give up a habit or behavior during Lent as an exercise in prayerful self-denial. This might range from something as simple as not drinking your favourite cold or hot beverage during Lent to a full-blown program of fasting.

    Some Christians commit to a special devotional activity during Lent—for example, daily Scripture reading, regular prayer for a specific person or topic throughout Lent, or volunteer work in their community. I am making a booklet available as a Lenten resource called Let Us Hold Fast. If you don’t yet have any specific Lenten devotional material, please contact me at or, if you don’t have e-mail, phone the office at 011 907 2807 and they will print one for you to collect (ask for normal or large print). There will be some in the Info Stand, but if we can send it to you electronically, it will save a great deal in printing costs. Perhaps you'd like to join the excellent Faith as Wesley Lived it course on Wednesday evenings at AMC for the duration of Lent.

The choice to observe Lent is a personal one—the whole point is to focus your heart and mind on Jesus during the journey to Easter. There’s no requirement to observe it, nor should you feel forced into participating. However, millions of Christians around the world do observe Lent each year; if you’ve never done so, why not give it a try? Whether you observe Lent in a small or major way, you’ll be amazed at what happens when you devote a part of each day to reflecting on Jesus Christ and God’s Word.

The above hymn begins with the following verse:

The wonder of your cross shall be our meditation
To gather in that shadow when the sun went down
To weep with those who thought that you were leaving,
You were leaving, Jesus
The humble King who never wore an earthly crown.

May this season be one of spiritual wonder, spiritual meditation, spiritual gathering, spiritual weeping as we worship the humble King who never wore an earthly crown.

Much, much love,


Thursday, February 6, 2014

Parable of the Sower: Understanding, understanding and understanding.

This parable is sometimes called the parable of the sower, but more often it is called the parable of the soils, because it speaks of four different types of “soil”: hard, shallow, weed-filled and good……and you have no doubt heard more sermons than you care to remember about the four different soils and, depending on the preacher, you will have been made to feel varying degrees of guilt about your hard soil hard heartedness, or your shallow soil fickleness, or your weedy soil sinfulness and then,....... dangled at the end,..... the promise of, or the challenge to…….be perfect……to be good soil, with no hardness in you, no shallowness, no weedy sin, just good, perfect soil bring forth an abundance of fruit to the Glory of God.  And when read or preached this way, the feeling we are left with (if you are anything like me) is that I’m not good, perfect soil, so I’m not bearing the full crop that God wants me to, and perhaps I never will, ....and it's this attitude or even belief that then leads to complacency……and when we become complacent, we no longer find ourselves sickened to the core by our hardness of heart, the shallowness of our faith and the sinfulness in us and around us.

Complacency!  O Lord……have mercy.

But I don’t think this parable is primarily about soil.  You may have noticed as we read through it that the most commonly recurring word in the parable and in Jesus’ explanation is “seed.
The word repeated most after seed is “understand.”
Only then follows “soil.

But the major recurring idea in both the parable and Jesus’ explanation is the idea of seeing..... but not seeing, hearing....... but not hearing and therefore never really understanding the Good News

And the sin confronted in this parable is the failure to understand, the refusal to understand, the hard heartedness that doesn’t even try to hear and see and understand.  What is it that we are meant to understand, to see and to hear? 

Listen to Jesus:
“When anyone hears the message about the Kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what was sown in their heart.  That is the seed sown along the path.”

Notice that this is the only seed mentioned that actually reaches and gets into the heart and from the heart it is plucked away by the evil one……why……because there is a failure to see……and hear……and understand the message of the Kingdom, that God’s Kingdom is near, that God’s Kingdom is at hand, that God’s Kingdom is at work, in our midst, here and now.

The greatest sin of the people of Jesus’ day was that God, Yahweh, the Lord was in their midst but they refused to see Him, even as they saw Him, they refused to hear Him even as they heard Him, and they therefore failed to understand the good news, the seed, which is the Gospel.

Can you imagine having God in our midst, at work, but refusing to see Him and hear Him and therefore never understanding. If you and I have been or are tempted to say things like: God's work is not happening here...or....God has left this place.....or.....I don't find or hear God there....then we are as blind and deaf and hard-hearted as the people we love to hate in the gospel stories.

And these can be the most surprising people……Yes, it was the Scribes, Pharisees, Teachers of the Law, and all the religious hypocrites of the day……but listen to this story from the end of Luke’s gospel.  It’s known as the Road to Emmaus, in Luke 24:13-35 and it shows us, frighteningly I think, how it is possible, even as a lover of Christ, to be the person described in the hard soil, who refuses to see Him at work, hear Him at work, in our very midst.

They had seen Him at work, they had heard His teaching, especially that He would come back from the dead, they had heard the women say “He is alive” ……but well, that’s the women you know, and the one shouting the loudest about Him being alive used to be a prostitute you know.....that's rock hard heart in disciples who love Jesus.

The former prostitute was good soil, the two disciples who loved Jesus, perhaps even with all their heart……were hard soil.  Love for Jesus doesn’t make you good soil.  Church history (eg: Crusades) is full of people who loved the Lord and did the most atrocious things in his Name, because they did not understand.

Seeing, but actually blind, hearing, but actually deaf, therefore never understanding……understanding what……the Good News that Jesus is in your midst, working as hard as He ever has.
This is Good News.

God is at work in your midst, in your family, in your workplace, in your school, in your marriage, in your nation, very especially He is present in your church which of course is actually His church, not yours or mine……if you are not seeing Him or hearing Him it is NOT because He is not there……Pray for eyes that see and ears that hear……only you can do that because  the desire has to be on your part……and then comes the understanding, and it is the understanding that provides good soil for the seed.

Pray for understanding regarding how God is actually at work in your midst, in your suffering, in your fears, in your mourning, in every aspect of your life……and He will give it as long as you do not refuse to believe that He is mightily at work in your midst.

And be warned, and I seldom, unlike the prophets and Jesus himself who often closed with warnings, I seldom do, but hear this: 

Don’t mock God......for God will not be mocked.
Do not say, “God is not working in our midst.”

We generally say this when God is not behaving as we think He should, or when God is not behaving as He “used to.”  That was the problem with the people who loved God in Jesus’ day……yes they loved Him, but they didn't see Him or hear Him in their midst because He was NOT doing and saying what they wanted Him to do and say....He wasn't doing things the way He had done them in the past....He wasn't behaving as God ought to behave, so in their minds and according to their understanding, God was quite obviously NOT in their midst.

Don’t mock God……He is as busy as He has ever been……even right here in our midst……if you refuse to see that or demand to be shown it before you believe it……repent, for the Kingdom of God is near.