Messiah: For unto us a child is born

posted 14 Nov 2018, 07:57 by Stephen Childs

Newborn"For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace." Isaiah 9:6

Every show has its "big tunes" - showstoppers that get feet tapping and audiences humming along. One of the "big tunes" in the first part of the Messiah is "For unto us a child is born." It is sung by the whole choir, joyfully accompanied by the orchestra. And what more joyful subject is there?

The birth of a baby is an extraordinary time - the proud parents often have such high hopes for their tiny screaming bundle of joy. And yet whether we imagine the new-born as one day being president, or playing for Ireland, or playing sell-out concerts at Croke Park, these hopes pale into insignificance compared to the expectations raised here.

The words come again from Isaiah, who wrote them 700 years before the birth of Jesus. He looks forward to that birth but makes extraordinary claims: this child will be a ruler, a wonderful ruler; and he will be a "Counseller", someone incredibly wise. Then he goes off the scales, claiming that this baby will be no less than "Mighty God"! A claim so astounding that it could get you put to death in Jesus' day. And yet he continues, calling him "everlasting Father" and "Prince of Peace". This baby will be more than great, he will be God himself in the flesh.

Jesus' friend John walked the dusty roads with him for three years, and yet became convinced that Isaiah was right. This man was indeed God. When he came to write his account down, he described his friend like this:

"In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth." John 1:1,14

As you hum along, ask yourself, "is this really true? is Jesus really God?" Because if it is true, then Jesus is more important than we can imagine.

Meaning of the Messiah

posted 7 Nov 2018, 07:51 by Stephen Childs

November is Messiah month in Mayo, with performances taking place at Knock on Nov 3 and in Castlebar on Nov 25. There are strong Irish connections with Handel's Messiah - the first performance took place in Dublin in 1742. Many of us have attended performances over the years, especially in the run-up to Christmas and Easter. The work includes 53 pieces, including big choir numbers such as the "Hallelujah Chorus" and beautiful solos like "I know that my Redeemer liveth". It's easy to sit back and let the beautiful music wash over you. But let's take a minute and ask what does it all mean?

Handel's Messiah is an "oratorio", i.e. a large-scale musical piece featuring choir, solo singers, and orchestra. Oratorios typically have religious or historical themes. In the case of the Messiah, the subject matter is the Bible, with the lyrics being taken from the King James Bible and the Book of Common Prayer. But the Messiah isn't just a jumble of unconnected texts - it tells a story from beginning to end.

The story it tells is of "the Messiah" - this is Hebrew for the "Anointed one". "The Messiah" focusses on Jesus Christ, starting with prophecies made 700 years before his birth, and ending in the distant future as Jesus returns to the earth. One of the first pieces is "Behold, a virgin shall conceive", a solo for alto voice. It features words written by the prophet Isaiah 700 years before Jesus' birth, when he predicted that a virgin would give birth - as extraordinary then as now. This moves into "O Thou who tellest", which speaks of the "good tidings (news)" that was coming for Zion (Jerusalem). The good news was that one day a saviour would come!

It is amazing that the birth of Jesus was accurately predicted 700 years in advance - throughout the generations many have seen this as proof that he was no ordinary baby, but the Son of God. What about you?

You can read the parts of the bible referred to here: Isaiah 7:14; Matthew 1:23; Isaiah 40; Isaiah 60.

Handel's Messiah

equip: Sat March 12th

posted 7 Mar 2016, 09:12 by Stephen Childs

All welcome on Sunday - bring a Bible and a pen!

Listen, understand, respond

posted 29 Feb 2016, 11:51 by Stephen Childs

Life has its seasons. Sometimes it's a non-stop rush of challenges, every day a frantic quest to keep on top of things. But then come the slower times, the times when you have the chance to ask the question, what is my life about? What is going to direct me and motivate me? Nehemiah 8 describes such a time. God's people have rebuilt the city walls in just 52 days. It's been a time of hard work, danger, and tension. But now it's over. What comes next?

First of all the people gather round and listen to God's word. They ask Ezra the priest to read the words Moses had brought from God hundreds of years before. He reads for seven hours. They listen to every word, praising their great God. But listening is not enough. God's words are not mantras to be chanted mindlessly. The people want to understand God's word. So Ezra's fellow-teachers help them, "making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people understood what was being read" (8:8). And because they understand, they start to respond. First with grief, presumably as they become aware of falling short of God's law (8:9). But then with joy, as Nehemiah reminds them: "the joy of the Lord is your strength" (8:9). Their great and holy God is also the saviour who led them out of Egypt and who pours out his grace on them.

It's a pattern for life. The foundation is listening to God's word: do you make time to do this? Not just a verse or devotion snatched here or there, but enough time to let it sink in. Do you work hard at understanding, digging deep until you get what God is saying? Do you look for help as you do this? And are you ready to respond? To let God change your heart, moving you to tears and smiles? To let God change your life, moving you to obey even when it costs you. Listen, understand, respond.

Bible references from NIV UK 2011

Facing a Task Unfinished

posted 22 Feb 2016, 04:48 by Stephen Childs   [ updated 22 Feb 2016, 04:54 ]

On Sunday February 21st we joined with around 5000 groups from all over the world to sing the song "Facing a Task Unfinished" and to think about the work of telling people all over the world about Jesus. The song was written in 1931 by Frank Houghton of Overseas Missionary Fellowship to encourage people to consider going abroad to spread the good news. You can watch the song below and also a video on the history of OMF.
Our Story Begins from OMF International Media on Vimeo.

The Task Unfinished (We Go To All The World) by Keith & Kristyn Getty (Official lyrics video) from OMF International Media on Vimeo.

What can I get? No, what can I give?

posted 16 Feb 2016, 10:22 by Stephen Childs

So often we deal with each other according to the law of "tit-for-tat". We make sure we get what we feel we deserve, and only help those who have helped us. When we do this, we're thinking of our relationships in terms of business, not brotherhood. 2500 years ago, Nehemiah faced the same problem. Although the community of Jewish people was small, it was being torn apart. The rich were exploiting the poor, even though they shared the same challenges and faced the same enemies. In Nehemiah 5, Nehemiah said that what they were doing was "not right" - because they were family, and because it was not what God wanted. He told them to stop exploiting each other, and to write off the debts of the poor people. Not good business, but it is good brotherhood.

He also showed them a better way. Although he was governor, he hadn't been taking his full allocation of food. He wasn't lording it over them or lining his own pockets. On the contrary he was hosting hundreds of people for meals every day! He dedicated himself to the work of rebuilding the wall that would protect them. He wasn't out to get, he was out to give. In a small way, he was pointing forward to the extraordinary generosity of Jesus. As Paul described it in Philippians 2, Jesus didn't cling on to his "rights", although he was seated in heaven itself. He gave it all up for us.

Nehemiah showed them how to stop thinking of what they could get from each other, and to start thinking of what they could give to each other. Jesus shows us that a million times more.

As we trust in his perfect goodness and generosity, how can we follow Jesus' lead? Paul talks about it in terms of considering the interests of others, something we often fail to do. Think of the sentences starting "I ..." that stop you from serving others: "I deserve a break." "I've done so much already." "I can't solve all the world's problems." And replace them with sentences starting "He", "She", or "They": "He's going through a tough time, I wonder if I could take him out for dinner." "She's been struggling lately, perhaps I'll pop over with a meal." "They're strapped for cash, could I send them an anonymous gift?" Reflect on Jesus' kindness to you; stop thinking about what you can get from others, and start thinking about what you can give.

EQUIP: Digging Deeper

posted 9 Feb 2016, 04:03 by Stephen Childs

How to interpret the Bible accurately
so we hear God's voice clearly

Saturday February 13th
10 am - 1 pm

Lough Lannagh Village, Castlebar

Bring your own sandwiches and share lunch afterwards!

Joint Meeting Feb 7

posted 5 Feb 2016, 07:05 by Stephen Childs   [ updated 5 Feb 2016, 07:08 ]

Joint Service
On Sunday February 7th we will be joined in Castlebar by friends from Calvary groups in Ballina, Charlestown, Claremorris, and Westport. As always, we'll be singing, praying, and hearing from the Bible together. A great opportunity to praise God together, and get to know other Christians from around the county.

The meeting takes place at the TF Hotel, starting from 11 am.

TF Royal Hotel Castlebar

Overwhelmed by opposition?

posted 31 Jan 2016, 08:51 by Stephen Childs

Prince Arikankharer Slaying His Enemies.
Christians are ridiculous. At least if TV is anything to go by. Ned Flanders. Rev. Lovejoy. The Vicar of Dibley. Christians are often portrayed as out-dated, weak, and just a bit pathetic. Some would go further and say that not only are Christians ridiculous - they are dangerous and need to be stopped. Perhaps you've experienced just a little bit of this yourself? The raised eyebrow on Monday morning when you say you went to church. The frosty atmosphere when the discussion turns to other religions and you mention that Jesus said he is the only way to God.

We all face some kind of opposition as Christians. The question is, how will we respond? Depending on your personality, you'll be tempted either to hit back or hide away. Nehemiah 4 shows us a better way. It describes the opposition that came Nehemiah's way as he was rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. A powerful coalition of local officials made fun of him (verses 1-3), then started making some nasty threats (7-12). But Nehemiah neither hits back nor hides away. Instead he does three things:
Put it in perspective (1-6)
Instead of hitting back, he took it to God. Instead of throwing his own insults back, he prayed. He entrusted the situation to God.

Hear us, our God, for we are despised. Turn their insults back on their own heads. Give them over as plunder in a land of captivity. Do not cover up their guilt or blot out their sins from your sight, for they have thrown insults in the face of the builders. Nehemiah 4:4-5 (NIV)

Prepare for battle (7-15)

Having prayed, Nehemiah doesn't sit back. Verse 9 sums up his attitude throughout: "But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat." He prayed and prepared. He trusts God and works hard. He unites the people in the weakest locations, arms them, and motivates them. He reminds them of who God is and what's at stake:
‘Don’t be afraid of them. Remember the Lord, who is great and awesome, and fight for your families, your sons and your daughters, your wives and your homes.’ Nehemiah 4:14 (NIV)
Ephesians 6 reminds us of the battle we're in. Not against people, but against the devil and his evil schemes. And it reminds us of the armour we need: truth, righteousness, salvation, the gospel of peace, faith, and the word of God. The basics, understood and lived out in the most difficult situations.

Prioritise the building

Although there seemed to be a real threat, Nehemiah does not get obsessed by the enemy. He remains focussed on the work of rebuilding. They continue the work, swords in one hand, and trowels in the other. Likewise we need to take care we don't get so distracted by the million challenges out there that we forget to actually do what we're hear to do. Again, Paul puts it well in Ephesians - chapter 4 this time:
speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. 16 From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. Ephesians 4:15-16 (NIV)
That's our building project: speaking the truth in love to each other so the church grows. Nothing should distract us from it.

Sad news? Get involved, get on your knees, get moving!

posted 27 Jan 2016, 09:50 by Stephen Childs

A recent article on the Church in Chains website warned that Christianity in the Middle East could be wiped out in the next few years. Christians represented 14% of the region's population in 1910, but just 4% and falling now. Civil war, ISIS, and mass migration have taken a heavy toll. How do you feel when you hear news from far away (or close at hand) about the desperate situation of fellow Christians? What do you do?

Nehemiah was an exiled Jew living in the great Persian city of Susa. He was safe and well provided for. He had a good job. But one day he heard some news that turned his world upside down. The book that bears his name opens like this:

"In the month of Kislev in the twentieth year, while I was in the citadel of Susa, Hanani, one of my brothers, came from Judah with some other men, and I questioned them about the Jewish remnant that had survived the exile, and also about Jerusalem.
They said to me, ‘Those who survived the exile and are back in the province are in great trouble and disgrace. The wall of Jerusalem is broken down, and its gates have been burned with fire.’" (Nehemiah 1:1-3 NIV)

His people were in a desperate state. What was he to do? We see him do three things:

Get involved (1:1-3)

Nehemiah was safe in the great Persian city of Susa. And yet when he heard of the desperate situation of his fellow Jews back in Jerusalem, he stopped everything and mourned, apparently for months: "When I heard these things, I sat down and wept. For some days I mourned and fasted and prayed before the God of heaven." (1:4) When we hear tragic news, do we quickly change the channel? Or do we stop, even for a few minutes, and recognise the horror of what we've just heard. Are we willing to get involved?

Get on your knees (1:4-11)
Nehemiah proves to be a man of action, never happier than with a trowel, measuring line, or sword in his hand. Yet his first response is lengthy, intense prayer (1:4-10). He praises his great and awesome God. He confesses his people's sin, not ducking the blame himself. He "reminds" God of his promises not to abandon his people. And finally he pleads for success as he seeks to improve the situation. Do we pray like this? When we hear of millions being exploited by false teaching claiming to be Christian, do we cry out to God to set people free with his truth? When Jesus' church seems to be crumbling, do we remind ourselves of his promise to build his church, no matter what stands against it?

Get moving (2:1-10)

Nehemiah isn't content to grieve and pray. He knows he has a role to play. He's been given a unique position, and he uses it. He approaches the king, speaking tactfully about the subject on his heart. God grants him success, and he is immediately ready to put a detailed plan into action. Too often we have a vague concern about a problem, but put very little thought into what we could do to solve it. Nehemiah soaks the situation in prayer, and then acts decisively, confident that God is with him. What unique situation has God put you in? What difference could you make if you stepped out courageously? If you opened your mouth to tell someone else about Jesus? If you spoke challenging words that just might turn someone back from a disastrous decision.

God is still building today. Not with bricks and mortar but with living stones (1 Peter 2:5)- people like you and me who are connected together by Christ. In many parts of the world, his church looks to be in ruins. But he has promised to build it, and we can help, if we are ready to get involved, get on our knees, and get moving.

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