Monthly Archives: March 2014

When not If


In our reading from Matthew 6 today Jesus talks about giving, praying and fasting. I don’t know if you noticed that in each of these passages Jesus says “When you give” “When you pray” and “When you fast.”

Jesus doesn’t say “if you give/pray/fast” – Jesus just assumes that all of us will give, pray and fast. All three are basic disciplines for a Christian. That means they need us to be disciplined in order to do them.

One question that is sometimes asked is how often should I give, pray or fast? Many years ago I heard a sermon preached about this passage and the preacher said this:

“When” means I can remember the last time and I’m planning the next time.

This Lent can you remember the last time you gave to the needy and are you planning the next time?

This lent can you remember the last time you prayed and are you planning the next time?

This Lent can you remember the last time you fasted and can you remember the next time?




Are you coming to our service at St Paul’s tomorrow? If so come ready to answer the following questions:

  • Thinking about the passages you have read/listened to this week, which one has had the most impact & why?
  • What challenged you, including anything didn’t you understand or troubled you?
  • What do you now know that you didn’t before?


Here is an extract from a blog by Mike Breen about Lent that you may find helpful as it deals with dot ay’s passage from Matthew:

Mike: Lent is a Season of Repentance…but not repentance in the way we understand it a lot of times. Repentance,Metanoia, in Greek really means an inner change of the heart. In Hebrew it’s the word Teshuva, which means “to return home.” What a beautiful picture, isn’t?! So to understand repentance, it is about re-orienting our hearts towards God…towards home! So what we are looking at in Lent is this: More than likely this past year your Identity has taken some specific hits and it’s paramount that we re-orient our hearts home, that we place all of our Identity in our Father’s loving care. Lent gives us the space to examine and explore this.

Aidan: What would be some helpful, practical ways we can do this?

Mike: I don’t think you have to look much further than the Temptations. The Tempter goes at Jesus in three different ways and I think our enemy uses very similar advances:
1) Appetite
2) Affirmation/Attention
3) Ambition

Aidan: Very nice alliteration there!

Mike: Can’t imagine I’d be a proper Englishman without alliteration!

But just look at these.

Appetite is very much like a child…it’s always clambering for attention. It’s about what our body or mind craves in a way that says: I don’t trust that my Father can give me a good life, I don’t trust the Identity he has for me. But I think this craving, this Appetite, at this moment, will give me what I want since I’m not sure my Father will. As you can see Appetite is often about control. And this can be any number of things. Sex, food, obsessive body image issues that force us to the gym, TV, internet/Facebook. What do you crave in a way that controls you?

Aidan: So if that was the way the Tempter is going after us, what would a Lenten response look like?

Mike: I say go with the ancient response: If you say no to one Appetite you can say no to another. Dallas Willard puts it this way: “Do the things you can so you can do the things you can’t.”

In other words, go at it indirectly. Learn to use your will to give something up so that the door of your heart are crowbarred open just enough so God’s Spirit will give you His power over the other Appetite.

Obviously this is where the tradition of giving something up for Lent began.

Aidan: What about the other two? What about for Affirmation/Attention?

Mike: Right. I think this is an easy one to understand. Our Identity has to come from somewhere outside of us. And it can be easy to seek the approval of others in lots of ways and let what they say dictate how we see ourselves…as either someone who is worth something or someone who isn’t. So instead of resting and being confidant as our Father’s child, which is an unshakable reality…we look for quick hits of Affirmation. There are plenty of ways we do this. Asking someone what they think of us when we already know the response, putting ourselves in places only so they praise us, doing something for the sole reason of someone saying we did a good job or to think we’re someone special. It creeps up everywhere in our lives.

Aidan: So what would the Lenten response be for this one?

Mike: What we have to understand is the Tempter will use the addictive process of Affirmation to cripple us. We want to live for our Father’s smile by being obedient, not in people telling me how wonderful I am. So you have to remove yourself from the places and the cycles whether that addiction starts.

Go to the source.

Many of us do things just so people will affirm us and for no other reason, myself included. You have to dig down, find the source, find the motivation and remove yourself from that cycle. Give up the Affirmation.

Aidan: Can you give us a real life example?

Mike: When I was at St. Toms I noticed I was really struggling with this. Of course I liked when people told me what a wonderful sermon I had given or how powerful my prayer was…you know…the normal stuff for any pastor. But it became part of the addictive cycle for me. So we would often have a response time after the sermon and we would sing and people could receive prayer and I’d stay to the side for that, but as it was winding down, my assistant would make sure she got my attention and give me the sign that it was time to quietly exit (someone else would close out the service). That way, my involvement in the service was simply me being obedient to what God had put on my heart to say, not waiting for people to say how wonderful it was. You have to go to the source!

Aidan: It seems like each of these things deals with a type of addiction.

Mike: It does!

Addiction to a type of Appetite.
Addiction to Affirmation.
And lastly, addiction to Ambition.

Ambition is really about an addiction to winning or having to be successful. And it isn’t that winning or being successful is wrong, it’s when we need it to give us our Identity that it really creates problems. If I lose, if I don’t get that promotion, if I don’t get that raise, if I don’t get that job, if that person doesn’t want to date me, if that person beats me at that game…it’s not that I have failed so much as I see myself as a Failure. And that will become my Identity: Failure. Or at least until I win again.

And when the Tempter has that, we are practically useless to God. We can’t be Agents of his Kingdom when we are seeking our own success first. Just can’t. We’re useless to him.

Aidan: So what response is appropriate here?

Mike: Pretty simple: Choose to lose.

If an argument is going a certain way with your spouse, choose not to have the last word. Lose the argument for the sake of the relationship.

If you’re playing a board game or basketball or any kind of game, make the point of playing to bless your opponent and don’t care whether you win or lose. I’m not saying don’t play hard, I’m saying know when your obsession to win takes over. Change the motivation from winning to blessing.

Go above and beyond at work but don’t let anyone know. Choose to lose the opportunity of that something extra being in the back of your boss’ mind when your annual review has come.

Quoted from:





Matthew 4:17 “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.

Repent – what does that word mean to you? In my mind it is normally associated with sin and confession. However in it’s original context it meant something wider. It is from the greek metanoeō to change one’s mind or purpose. The Amplified Bible renders this passage as: “Repent ( change your mind for the better, …), for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”

Repentance is not just about sin and turning from the bad things in our lives. It is about a reorientation of our mindset to realise that God’s Kingdom is at hand. The Kingdom of God is so close we can touch it, feel it and live in it today. But to do so we need to train our minds to be aware of it. Today all the resources, power, love, joy peace and goodness of God in His Kingdom are open to us if we will reach out our hands to embrace them.

Matthew 3 – Baptism


As I read Matthew 3 the words that stood out for me are in v 11:

“I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

In particular the last words, Jesus was to baptise in the Holy Spirit and fire. There is something entirely different about baptism with Jesus, it isn’t just about repentance of sin. That is part of it, yes. But is has an entirely different dimension. Just as Jesus was full of the Holy Spirit we have the same privilege.

We are to be baptised, immersed, surrounded by, filled with, the Holy Spirit.

I remember an illustration I sometimes use when I preach of pouring water into a glass so that it is full. I then drop the glass into a jug of water so that it is surrounded by water. Is the glass now in the water, or is the water in the glass? Both. That is the invitation that Jesus offers us.

John said that Jesus would baptise with the Holy Spirit and fire. Fire can mean cleansing and purification, but as I read this passage today the picture I have is fire as passion. God wants us to be baptised, immersed, surrounded by and willed with a passionate relationship with him. A passionate relationship that we can’t hold in and that will be naturally seen by others.

My prayer today is that at the start of this day Jesus might once again baptise me with Holy Spirit and Fire.