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Emerge Brighter - Week 1

Matt Barlow - 13 April 2021

What will the history books say of how the Covid pandemic impacted the UK church?

Will it be the death nell?

Or will it be the new life resurrection moment we had all been waiting for?

And just as importantly, what will your personal history book say of what the pandemic did to your faith?

We can choose death, or we can choose resurrection! That’s the amazing part, we get to choose! Which will you choose?

Over the coming months we are going to be exploring various people and stories in the bible that will inspire us, provoke us and challenge us to emerge brighter. We are starting by spending 4 weeks in the story of the raising of Lazarus, and I’m so excited to be preaching them and sharing them with you here in the blog.

The story of Lazarus speaks deeply into the hearts of all of us. We have all experienced a grave of some sorts and we have all experienced the need for resurrection in some form or another.

When I read the scriptures I like to allow my imagination to wander, to try and fill in some of the gaps from what is often just the bare bones of a story. When I read the story of Lazarus, I wonder if there was any sense that he was waiting for resurrection. We’ve all heard stories of people who have died, met Jesus and been ’sent back.’ I wonder if he had one of those stories.

I also wonder when and how life came back into him. Was it instant? Did he instantly come out when Jesus told him to? Did the life maybe begin to flow back into him as Jesus entered the village of Bethany, and he gradually thawed back to life? Or was it a lightning bolt, at the words of Jesus? Then, did he come out of the tomb straight away? Or was there a wait of a few minutes as his rigormortis left him and he started to bend his limbs again! I know how hard it is to get out of bed when I’ve slept more than my usual 7.5 hours!!

However he was resurrected the main point of it is this - he was resurrected!! And however you are going to emerge out of the pandemic, the main point is, you need to emerge! You can choose to allow God’s power to help you emerge brighter! Brighter than when you went in to the Covid tomb. Brighter than you’ve been for the last 13 months. Or you can allow the covid grave clothes to cling to you and emerge duller, not brighter. You choose!

The picture we had in preparing for this series was that of the caterpillar entering the cocoon. The social isolation of Covid has been our cocoon. As the time comes for the cocoon to be shed, what will emerge? A beautiful butterfly or a dull brown pupa that never made the transition?

Jesus is standing outside the Covid ‘Cocoon tomb’ of each of us. Yes he knows we’ve all had to isolate, he knows the impact that has had on us all and just as he cared about Lazarus family to the point of weeping, he cares about you and yours as well. But he cares enough not to leave us in the tomb. Which means that right now he has ordered that the stone be rolled away and he is calling you out. (And he’s fine if you take your time - more on that next week!)

Lazarus heard the voice of Jesus and came out. Even though he had no idea what was going on. He couldn’t see, he could barely walk and he was wrapped in linen cloth. He didn’t let anything stand in the way of hearing Jesus call to leave the grave behind, and step into new life.

Will you do the same?

It is my prayer that this Covid pandemic will be a turning point for the church in the UK. I might be ‘doing an Abraham’ as it says in Romans 4:18

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed.’ But as Pete Greig so inspired me by saying: ‘I’d rather be proved wrong as an optimist than proven right as a pessimist!’

So, come on Light church, let’s choose to Emerge Brighter back into our calling of loving our city and bringing the kingdom to hurt, lost and broken generation.

Survive or Thrive? Remain or Abide?

Matt Barlow - 28 January 2021

I have to admit, I’m a bit of a word nerd. Especially when it comes to the bible. I’m always keen to know how certain original Greek or Hebrew words were interpreted or in what other contexts were they used? ESPECIALLY when different versions of the bible seem to translate things so differently.

As we’ve been hearing and responding to God’s call to us from John 15, my wordy nerdiness has been on full alert. And I believe that within that there is something key that God has to say to each of us that call the Light church our home.

As Rachel unpacked for us, Jesus called on his disciples, to remain/abide in him. For example in John 15:5 ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain/abide in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’

The Greek word, as Rachel taught us, is menō. This word menō has lots of different uses throughout the New Testament, but mostly it means to stay somewhere, to not leave somewhere, and at times to live somewhere. Here are a few examples:

1. Mark 14:34 ‘My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,’ he said to them. ‘Stay here and keep watch.’ - Stay is the word menō

2. John 4:40 ‘So when the Samaritans came to him, they urged him to stay with them, and he stayed two days.’ - again the words stay and stayed are the word menō

3. Luke 1:56 ‘Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months and then returned home.’

4. John 11:6 ‘So when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed where he was two more days’

So you can see why it was translated as both Remain - to stay somewhere, to not leave (no Brexit jokes please!) and also as Abide - which means to live somewhere.

When we think about it in relation to the vine - both are true, we need to remain attached, but we also need to be very knitted in/grafted in. Grafting in, is a horticultural term where one plant is joined to another, such that you can barely tell where the branch stops and the vine begins. A good reflection is to ask, “Is it obvious where I stop and God begins, when I look over my life?”

It was as I was thinking about this that I felt that in this there is a word for some people.

For some of you, as we go through the final months of this pandemic, and at least another month of lockdown, you simply need to make ‘remaining’ or ‘staying put’ your goal. In other words, you simply need to ‘hang on!’ Hang on for dear life, don’t walk away from the Vine, that is Jesus, and also don’t walk away from the church, even if you feel incredibly disconnected, walking away won’t help the situation, staying put, hanging on and remaining is the way to weather the storm.

If all you decide to do is simply SURVIVE - that’s ok. God’s grace is more than sufficient for that, and actually for you that will be what success looks like. Sometimes simply surviving is success. Sometimes getting through a storm still clinging onto the vine, even if you feel you’ve not produced any fruit for ages, is success. Most of you parents of young children really need to hear that, as well as others. And if you’re still connected, his word remains true that those days of fruitfulness will return. SIMPLY……REMAIN!

For others, this time, this space, is actually a call to THRIVE, not simply survive. God has a work to do in you, that this extra time you have, this extra space and quiet that is yours is going to be the training ground for future fruitfulness. Go deeper in prayer, spend more time with Him, read those books, or study your bible in a way you haven’t done before. Your invitation is ABIDE!

There are winter times where the branches simply need to dig deep into the vine to hold on for dear life and not be taken out by the frost. There are spring and summer, where the branch draws deeply on the vine’s nutrients, as it bursts into flower then produces the fruit that follows. Whether you are in Winter and need to survive, or entering into Spring/Summer and it’s time to thrive - both are achieved by remaining and abiding.

So draw near now, and cling on for dear life. He won’t fail you.

Selfishness to Selflessness

Matt Barlow - 20 December 2020

Thanks for heading over to our blog to find out a little bit more, and think a bit more deeply about selfishness, and how Jesus is the antidote and even the vaccine.

Definition of selfish

1: concerned excessively or exclusively with oneself : seeking or concentrating on one’s own advantage, pleasure, or well-being without regard for others

It is widely considered that we are the most individual focussed generation, and when I say ‘we’, I mean those of us who live in the materially more affluent west. Community is widely dispersed and often really quite broken compared to what it used to be. It is not uncommon nowadays that our primary concern is for ourselves as an individual, for our own personal needs and rights, with less and less concern for the wider community or even the wider world.

If you don’t believe, just cast your mind back to the days when the shelves were empty of toilet rolls and you couldn’t buy pasta nor flour for love nor money. The world looked after number one. Sure, not exclusively, we can report that donations to Foodbanks continued, and some people will have taken enough loo roll or pasta for a week, but let’s face it, it was a stark wake up call.

You can take almost every ill in society and you will find a strain of selfishness there, be that massive crime or tiny micro aggressions.
You get my point, I won’t labour it. Pretty much everything that destroys the fabric of society comes down to selfishness on the part of someone, my needs, my wants, my desires are more important than someone else’s.

  • Drug dealing - I care more about making some money than about your future health and life prospects
  • Sexual Abuse - I care more about my depraved kicks than I do about your wellbeing
  • Relationship breakdown - ok, this one is complicated, but be that the need to be right in an argument, an unwillingness to put the other person’s needs before my own, or whatever, you will find it there
  • Breaking the speed limit - I care more about me getting there quickly than about the safety of others on the road

So, what has Jesus got to do with all of this?

Well, let’s start with the meaning of this whole world from a Christian perspective. Here’s my best really simplistic take on the big story:

  • God created this wonderful world, and he created it brilliantly
  • He created humans because he wanted a relationship with us
  • It was his plan that we would enjoy this world, living in harmony with him, with each other, and with the creation
  • However, by creating us with the freewill to choose, he took the risk that we might choose not to live in that harmony.
  • And yes, we have all fallen short of that brilliant harmony God had planned for us. We often call this fallen short ’sin’, which simply means ’to fall short’ or ‘miss the mark’
  • So what was the mark? The mark was to love God and to love others, as ourselves. Yep, you can see how we’ve all fallen short.
  • Jesus came into this world (and forgive me for repeating my talk) to show us we are loved, to die that we might be able to receive forgiveness and to teach us how to live.
  • Jesus clearly promises eternal life for those who choose him and the eternal life he offers
  • Yep, I know that was really quick and each one of these could be a week long seminar!

So, that’s the big story. Selfishness, ie. putting me first, is the opposite of the harmony God had planned.

  • If I put me first, I don’t put God first, yet he is our creator who created us for relationship with him, so we must start there.
  • If I put me first, I don’t put others first, yet God knows that this world is at its most beautiful when we care for one another, and put the needs of others first.
  • If I put me first, I don’t put the wider creation first, I live and consume in such a way that abuses the planet and the people on it, and the people to come.

Whilst we will never ever end up perfect this side of the grave, Jesus has the power to heal us and lead us into greater selflessness. If we welcome him in as the son of God he says he is. If we say we are sorry for our prior selfishness and sin and we commit to live a different way, then he comes and makes his home in us, and gives us his power, the power of the Holy Spirit to live differently. Having done that, we commit to building the kingdom of God, which is basically driving our self centred ness and leading people into relationship with God, with others and this wonderful world he has given us.

You can do that now if you want, simply by praying this prayer:

Dear God,

I believe in you. I believe that Jesus was God in flesh who came to rescue me.

I want to turn away from my old life, and want to start a new life with Jesus.

I am sorry for the things I have done wrong, that have caused pain to you God, to others and to myself.

Please forgive me.

Thank Jesus that your death on the cross has made that forgiveness possible to receive. I receive it now.

I give you my life, please take it and use it to bring in your kingdom wherever I am.

Fill me with your spirit so I may know your love in my heart, may know your presence within me and the power to live differently.

Thank you for accepting me. I receive this as a gift, not as something I could earn, but freely given.

Today I have truly become your child.

Amen.

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