Looking Forward (Dec 31st 2017)
Next Saturday is the traditional date when we celebrate the visit of the Wise Men to present their gifts to Jesus. It doesn’t matter that maybe this meeting didn’t actually take place around the Christmas manger, for we read in
Nor does it matter how many wise men there might have been. I like to imagine a big crowd of them, hardly room for them to squeeze into the home, bursting with enthusiasm to see the child, and to present their three gifts.
Mark their determination, but most importantly, mark the nature of their gifts.
We suspect they were rich, partly because their presents were so expensive, but they must also have been well off enough to give up their day jobs to make such a long journey.
No widow’s mite for them. They were well off, and there was nothing to be ashamed of in that.
Remember that Jesus later applauded the outpouring of expensive perfume.
But what I want to first think about this morning briefly are those three gifts.
For those wise men saw not a mere baby in this house, they were rejoicing in Jesus’ potential.
As well as looking back, giving thanks for His birth, they were looking forward to what Jesus would become.
χρυσὸν καὶ λίβανον καὶ σμύρναν.
Melchior, who has long white hair and a white beard, wears a gold cloak. He is the King of Arabia. Melchior presents the Gold brought to Jesus. A symbol of his kingship/divinity, even though as a baby He hardly looks it.
Perhaps there was also a practical use for this gold,- it might have paid for Joseph and Mary’s flight to Egypt.
Caspar, has brown hair and a brown beard (or sometimes no beard!) and wears a green cloak and a gold crown with green jewels on it. He is the King of Sheba. He represents the Frankincense brought to Jesus. Frankincense was the sign of holiness. sweet smelling perfume used in Israelite worship. Worshipping a small baby might have seemed strange, but Caspar was looking forward to the day when many from many lands will worship Him.
Balthazar, who is black and bearded (or no beard!) wears a purple cloak. He is the King of Egypt. Balthazar represents the gift of Myrrh that was brought to Jesus. This was prophetic of Jesus’ death. It’s a spice used in embalming. it tasted bitter, like the wine Jesus was offered as He hung on the cross.
Great caravans of camels will come, from Midian and Ephah.
They will come from Sheba, bringing gold and incense.
People will tell the good news of what the Lord has done!
This we read in Isaiah 60:6, so maybe even Isaiah looked forward to these wise men.
But the important thing I want you to notice is that these wise men were looking forward.
At the end of the year it is right to look back and reflect, it is right to look back as we did last week in our enjoyment of Christmas, Jesus’ birth.
But God calls us as Christians to look forward.
We cannot simply live in the past.
For example, on Remembrance Sunday we rightly remembered those who have sacrificed their lives, dying for our country. But we also prayed that lessons are learned, that we do not make the same mistakes again.
Yes we look forward-
in Luke 10:62 Jesus said,
“Anyone who starts to plough and then keeps looking back is of
no use for the Kingdom of God.”
Phillippians 2: 14 Paul writes,
the one thing I do, however, is to forget what is behind me and do my best to reach what is ahead. So I run straight toward the goal in order to win the prize, which is God’s call through Christ Jesus to the life above.
That is what we must do as Christians here in Neatishead, always keeping in mind our heavenly goal, but also as we move in to 2018, building on what we have started in 2017.
So where do we go in 2018?
In the Old Testament, the prophets, rather like some modern day Chancellor of The Exchequer, reflected on the current state of the nation and drew lessons for the future.
I do not claim to be a prophet.
But I will offer you some reflections on where we are as a church, and where I believe we ought to go.
What we did in 2017.
1 Improvements to church – tidy up, notice board, screen
2 We appointed a new pastor in May 2017.
3 We revived our monthly prayer meetings in September 2017.
Earlier, I showed you pictures of how one woman was inspired to paint the ceiling in her church in Huntingfield. At great personal cost to herself.
Now I am not necessarily suggesting that you volunteer to redecorate our own ceiling, however much it needs attention, but I am urging you to consider not what you MIGHT do, but what you believe you MUST do for this fellowship in 2018.
What is God inspiring you to do for Him? Let me throw out a few ideas, and some different ones to those I have scattered here before.
E … Expectant
Our vision can be entirely blinkered by our own situation. We need to ask God to show us ourselves, as we look to outsiders. How about inviting our new regional minister to look over our building and offer her observations, as a newcomer, on our ambience and even our worship?
Tim Lovejoy at our conference last month Small is Beautiful offered this telling ambition of many churches, it applies to us, “we’ll just do what we’re safe doing.”
Just before Chrtist,as both Val and ian talked about our Expectations for Chrtistmas. Ian also challenged us what we expect from our church.
We need to look and wait for God expectantly.
That means the obvious: Praying for our church, but also
Listening to what God is saying to you, maybe right now….!
Is our expectation more on survival than lifting our vision to God and expecting Him to renew us?
I want to see a church of all ages. The worldwide church certainly is. But we are not. Now that does not matter to God, but the church is a family, and a family is not just an old people’s home. Neatishead Baptist is an old people’s home. A nice one, a comfortable one, but are we called to move out of comfort? A Church Without Walls- years ago we endlessly talked about that, but can we become it?
At present we are in effect excluding younger people and children from the Good News of Jesus, indeed anyone under about 50. I want to challenge you to be more inclusive!
What does that mean in practice?
It would mean holding church, not always in this building,
Miost essentially, it certainly means having services suited to those who are not familiar with church life.
I believe we are actually moving in this direction, yet can we make more steps, to make our services attractive to those whose background is not in Victorian hymns and long sermons?
Time is short so imagine yourself what G represents… generosity perhaps. And
So let me move on to
T … Targetting
We have a Neatishead Baptist Mission Statement.
What does it say? (read it elsewhere on this site.)
From our Mission Statement come our
Aims, which were discussed at our September meeting.
Maybe you recall a few ideas that were floated around.
However Aims are general, not specific, not too demanding, unlike
I want you all to pray about specific targets for members to consider, that we will agree on at our next Annual Meeting.
What sort of targets?
On the one hand, it is easy to suggest targets that are easily achievable, like
Ensure The Coffee Rota is kept up to date.
On the other hand, there is no point in having targets that are unrealistic:
Each Sunday Neatishead Baptist will be full.
But we do need to be bold and here are some suggestions of targets that we could adopt, that flow from our long term vision, which we will be formulating when our Regional Minister visits us next year.
Statement: We have had one baptism in the past ten years.
In 2018 we will hold a Baptism service.
Statement: We had one new member in 2017.
In 2018 we will welcome three (more) new members.
Statement: Our congregation averages 20 in 2017.
By the end of 2018 it will average 25.
Along with such targets, we also need to give an indication of how these targets can be achieved, apart from by prayer.
For example, Ian will be preaching shortly on Church membership, so that’s easy. As to raising the size of our congregation, perhaps hosting some outreach events are the best way forward?
So what targets do you believe ought to be set by us next year?
Think and pray about this, and before our annual meeting, sorry Ian, bombard Ian with your prayerful offerings of vision for our future.