17 September 2017 Sunday Message: Triangles and forgiveness. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings:  Romans 13:8; Matthew 18:15-20

Message:

How were you with triangles? Not the musical instrument you played in the primary school orchestra. That usually meant you had limited musical skills. 😊

I was thinking geometry. Equilateral triangles are the only type I remember off hand.

And then there are the triangles you see in soap operas. They are usually more complicated.

Most of us avoid those.

School kids sometimes have friendship problems that involve triangles. Friend A likes you but then likes friend B more, and the poor kid who is friend C gets ditched by A.

So how are your friendships doing? Hopefully well. We do value friendships that are long-lasting and steadfast.

In this modern generation people have on-line friends too – because people are so mobile the internet helps us to keep connected.

On Facebook, you can unfriend them when you are fed up. Just a click of a button. Mind you, his generation of school kids break up by text anyway. Crazy world. No more Dear John letters.

In my generation, people are more likely to neglect people and just drift away. Or more move away. Usually to another continent.

Communities and families.

In close communities like a family or church there is a good chance that people can fall out over something rather trivial that grows and grows out of all proportion.

Or worse still, something really bad happens and it’s a painful separation or estrangement.

Jesus gives this method in Matt 18 to fix that. It obviously mattered to him when people wronged each other.

We fail in this most times. It’s the triangle that we often slip into.

  • We don’t go to the person directly when things have gone wrong.
  • We tell someone else.

If someone complains about someone, the first question we should ask is simply this: have you spoken to them directly? If not, its gossip.  (I’m sure you’ve NEVER had that happen to you.)

There’s a saying that goes – “don’t allow someone rest their gun on your shoulder.”

If you do:

  • Suddenly there are three people.
  • Your friend – their friend they are fed up with – and you.
  • And your friend drags you into something the two of them need to fix.

Of-course Jesus gives a way to sort it out if the person doesn’t respond.

The real challenge is for us not to get sucked into triangles.

Ironically – whether there are two or three who come together in His name – what does He say in verse 20? He is in the midst – with them. Where Christians are – Jesus is.

And if we took that seriously, we would watch what we said about people in general. We would certainly avoid gossip. Or scandal.

COMING TO THE TABLE

When we come to the Lord’s table it’s a good idea to reflect on relationships and perhaps resolve to make things right.

Paul in the reading from Roman 13 puts it like this:

Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law.(vs8).

And this is even more important:

Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (vs.10)

So what is the way forward? This is what Jesus says:

Mat 18:15  “If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. Mat 18:16  But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ Mat 18:17  If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

There is a place for a triangle or a quadrilateral setup. If they don’t respond to you appeal to sort out something that is wrong, you can take one or two others along to show it is serious. If they are unrepentant, you tell the whole community – mainly I think so they can pray about it and realize that it matters. If that doesn’t help -you cut them off. Treat them as you would a pagan or a tax collector.

The wonderful thing is that Jesus always kept the door open for tax collectors.

The hope was always reconciliation and restoration.

Like a family, you’d want the estranged member to come back so when you have those family meals they are at the table.

  • For most things, I reckon we can resolve things.
  • The little foxes that cause trouble are often things we can compromise on. Or at least forgive.

And so – if I hear you mutter about anyone, I will probably not say – “have you applied Matthew 18 sister?” That’s a bit too weird.

I might say “please don’t rest your gun on my shoulder” just to remind you of today.

Paul goes on to say:

Rom 13:11  And do this, understanding the present time. The hour has come for you to wake up from your slumber, because our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed.

Rom 13:12  The night is nearly over; the day is almost here. So let us put aside the deeds of darkness and put on the armour of light.

You might think – ah this is not so bad. Probably not considering what he deals with in the next verse: Rom 13:13 Let us behave decently, as in the daytime, not in orgies and drunkenness, not in sexual immorality and debauchery…

Good point.

But he also adds at the end of verse 13: not in dissension and jealousy.

He ends this passage with this: Rom 13:14  Rather, clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ, and do not think about how to gratify the desires of the sinful nature.

That’s quite good really. Jesus becomes our covering. It along with Colossians 3:12:  Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.

Clothe yourselves with the Lord Jesus Christ. After all – whatever you do to the least of his brothers you do unto him (Matthew 25).

That includes taking pot shots at each other.

Best have the right kind of triangles or groups with the right focus: “For where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.”  

Amen.

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10 September 2017 Sunday Message: God and Government. (Romans series ctd.)

Readings: 1 Tim 2:1-8; Romans 13:1-7;  1 Peter 2:13-17

Message:

About this time 40 years ago this was me:

robin army

Hard to believe really. The uniform tells a story too. We were fighting a war that we didn’t believe in. The government of the day was not my preferred choice. I campaigned for the opposition. It didn’t help.

And the choice of being in the army or not was a choice between conscription or jail really. Conscientious objection was a painful third way.

During those two years I am sure I heard more than a few occasions a military chaplain reading Romans 13:1-2 as a reminder.

PW Botha who became president was the then minister of defence. His photo was on the wall in the various military buildings we used. (In fact, we had to entertain people at a party for his wife for her birthday party. At the end of the event, the cabinet ministers’ wives went around the tables collecting the free cameo cigarettes that they used to have on the tables in those days and stuffed them into their handbags. We did find that very funny.)

When PW Botha did become president, he was visited in 1985 by Michael Cassidy who represented the churches trying to broker a peace deal. As this esteemed Christian leader walked into the president’s office, the old crocodile as we called him was reading his bible out aloud in his oval office. From Romans 13.

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves.

When he had finished reading he said to Michael Cassidy: “What can I do for you?” Just a bit of intimidation really.

The president was right. But his government wasn’t necessarily right.

Obviously we have a problem here.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer is a case in point. When Hitler, the elected leader, abused his power, the Lutheran Church struggled with the idea that you should disobey or worse still try to get rid of the Chancellor by any means, let alone by assassination. Bonhoeffer did participate in that movement. His ethics, put simply – were based on these kinds of ideas: “It is better to do evil than to be evil.” The Gestapo hanged him of course.

Martin Luther called on the German princes to crush the peasants when they revolted. The ensuing violence after the peasants’ revolt created a real crisis for him.

Simon Ponsonby writes that “Luther spoke of the Zwei-Reiche-Lehre, the two-kingdoms rule, arguing that God rules through the church as well as through kings and their governments. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Our decisions may not have the same drastic consequences as Bonhoeffer’s or Luther’s, but as Christians it is getting harder to manage the tension between the State and our faith.

This is not just about voting, but also about our own moral and ethical choices. For example, as a marriage officer, there is obvious tension when the State changes the law about marriage, and the law differs from one’s understanding of Christian marriage.

There are many other ethical issues including abortion, euthanasia, stem cell research and others which create tensions in various ways. Christian doctors, nurses and researchers all have to work through some of these things.

WHAT DOES PAUL REALLY SAY?

Well here’s the thing. Chapter 13 follow chapter 12. And it seems that the 9-21 factor still applies here. Remember that from last week?

12:9 Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

12:21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God gives government. It’s for our good. Anarchy is not good. None of us would be safe without law. (Remember my children’s story about Rob Bell wanting to take revenge with a golf ball – throwing it out of the sunroof of the car to hit the car behind which cut him off? The kids loved that last week. Without law, he could simply drive him off the road or shoot him – so that our highways could look like a mad max movie.)

God gives government. Paul doesn’t specify which kind. That’s not the point. Democracy is a very modern thing anyway.

If we are not to be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good – then we are to be a good example in our behaviour in our wider lives too.

When Paul writes to Timothy he makes it clear that prayer for the authorities is our essential responsibility. And the outcome is good for society – for all us. Government is a gift from God – according to Emil Brunner – God’s involvement in government is called “preserving grace” – it is grace that preserves the good.

We need to add to that good – clinging to it (12:9) and overcoming evil with it (12:21).

The second-century church father Tertullian once declared that “Caesar is more ours than yours, for our God has appointed him” and that, because of their prayers for those in authority, “Christians do more than you [Romans] for his welfare”. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 364). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So Paul says:

Rom 13:1  Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Rom 13:2  Consequently, he who rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves. Rom 13:4  For he is God’s servant to do you good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword for nothing. He is God’s servant, an agent of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Rom 13:6  This is also why you pay taxes, for the authorities are God’s servants, who give their full time to governing.

Look at the repeated words:

  • Authorities and authority (exousisa – powers)
  • Servant and servants (diakonos – minister)
  • God (theos)

It is no coincidence that cabinet ministers are called ministers. The word is translated as servants. Admittedly they get paid a tad more than ministers in our churches. But the idea is the same.

They serve God – even if they don’t believe in God or know this. And they serve people.

And we are to pray for them with some intensity and unity – and give them the honour that is due. Verse 7 ends this passage with these words: Rom 13:7  Give everyone what you owe him: If you owe taxes, pay taxes; if revenue, then revenue; if respect, then respect; if honour, then honour.

So, in short:

  • We submit
  • We pray

And at times

  • we do disobey.

Simon Ponsonby gives great examples when he writes:

Sometimes civil disobedience will be patently obviously required:

  • Daniel refused to obey the edict to pray only to King Darius for thirty days, and was thrown in the lions’ den (Daniel 6).
  • Peter and the apostles were forbidden by the Sanhedrin to preach the gospel, but they refused on the grounds that they should obey God not men (Acts 5: 29).
  • Many Christians in the early centuries of the Roman empire chose martyrdom rather than hand over their sacred scrolls to be burned or blaspheme by declaring Caesar as lord.
  • Some Christians, all too few, hid Jews in Nazi-occupied Europe, rather than comply with the wicked law and hand them over to be exterminated. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 368). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby goes on:

The rule of the state is part of God’s economy in this age. God gives, the church lives under good government, and the church sieves government.

Meanwhile we wait expectantly for the coming rule of Christ’s kingdom at his return, as Isaiah prophesied: “Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and for evermore” (Isaiah 9: 7). (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 369). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So keep praying and obeying in the meantime.

Amen.

3 September 2017 Sunday Message – Hate what is evil, cling to what is good. (Romans series ctd.)

Reading: Romans 12:9-21

Message:

Do you like reading letters?. In the case of the bible’s letters, the people who chose these readings in our Lectionary usually leave the difficult bits out and choose the good bits to be read.

Well they were real letters. And when I look back on some family letters, in some cases there are always some difficult bits.

We’re back in Romans 12 today. We will get to Romans 13 – the first part is left out from the lectionary because it is challenging. It’s about God and government. And yes, my mother also taught me that you didn’t discuss religion and politics at the dinner table. No wonder people avoid Romans 13 when it brings those two together. We will get there before the election. Something to look forward to.

We’ve looked at Romans 12 on leadership. I’ve suggested that if you have gifts, best not leave them in a cupboard somewhere. Use them. And as a church we are listening to Paul who says – let people use them in accordance with their faith. The door is open to you.

There are two key verses today that may well be overlooked by preachers.

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

We’ll call them the 921 factor.

In between is a verse you would have heard before which quotes from Proverbs 25:22

Rom 12:19  Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. Rom 12:20  On the contrary: “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

The early church lived under the power of the Roman empire. So in other places the New Testament encourages Christians who are persecuted.

The enemies that Paul refers to are more likely people in individuals lives who did bad things to them.

Paul reminds us: Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord.

The 921 factor is more interesting. Listen again:

Rom 12:9  Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

Rom 12:21  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

 Have a chat to the person next to you about the ‘evil’ here that Paul speaks of. What it could be that we should hate it and also overcome it with good.

So what do you think? Let’s make a list.

….

This week the things that have bothered me the most that have been really horrible in the news have been family related things.

The pain in families – those 600 plus in this last year – who have lost someone who has ended their own life.

And the children who have been abused. There was a report about that little guy – Moko – who was killed – a coroner’s report saying how terrible it was – worse than the previously worse case of a little girl called Nia.

The source of evil in Scripture is very clearly the Evil one. He seeks – says Jesus – to steal, kill and destroy. Contrast what Jesus comes to do in John 10:10: The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.

We need to do everything to help people whose lives are lost or stolen in some way.

How do we hate evil in this context and cling to what is good?  And not be overcome by evil but overcome evil with good?

Well we need a lot more time than this sermon slot to talk about that.

To hate the pain and mess that this causes in so many families every year probably means doing something helpful wherever you can to work against the horrible things. It may mean protesting, signing a petition, donating, writing letters to the authorities to get them to improve mental health care. Two brave people spoke on TV he other morning about their own experience of suicide in the family. That took enormous courage.

I must say we are not good at the petition thing. We tried to get people sign a petition about churches being persecuted – the results weren’t fabulous really.

If you know families who have loved ones who struggle with depression and anxiety, and who have kids at school who are going to face bullying which creates huge stress and anxiety (and that’s where the kids are harming themselves – in the face of school or on-line bulling or both) – give those parents support and talk to each other. Get informed. Get involved. And challenge the schools when they don’ get it right.

Family violence also stirs me up – churns away on the inside. There’s a song we’re going to listen to shortly by one of our own ministers – and the closing song about New Zealand is a prayer for this nation eh also wrote.

Am I so invisible 
That my tears can’t catch your eye? 
Am I so unloveable 
No one out there hears my cry 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour…
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy 

Would you greet and welcome me 
If you found me at your door 
Would you pray that I’ll be free 
And find a life that’s so much more 

I have heard the whispering of hope calling 
That I might mind a hand to hold 
And restore me 

Hey stranger, hey neighbour… 
Just hear me, just see me 
Let me know that I am truly worthy

credits

released October 2, 2014
Music and lyrics by Malcolm Gordon
Produced by Geoff Duncan

If you think you can do nothing – you’re wrong. You can help overcome evil with good.

It’s not about being indignant. Or saying – “that’s sad”.

It’s about starting with the children in your life. On your doorstep. In the church, here on Sundays. Do you ever talk to them? Your grandchildren and kids – how much time are you really giving to listen and be there with them?

And again – getting informed and equipped as you do when something really matters.

We’re not particularly good with kids really. When we agreed years ago to combine our two morning services into one, one of the reasons was that the adults miss out on seeing the children.

But you know – they are not here for our entertainment. They need relationships with significant adults. That’s what makes messy church such a blessing – because there is time and opportunity to sit with kids and share their lives.

These are big matters. This nation has so much – and people are so desperate.

Prayer remains our best weapon. Come along on Wednesday morning and pray with the group here. And our witness as Christians takes us back to a key verse that I often remind you of: 1Pe_3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have

And if you encounter people who need some help and probably can’t afford to pay for counselling, encourage them to get help here where there is no charge. What we can’t do is do nothing.

Let’s close with Malcolm Gordon’s song for this nation. – Beneath the Southern Cross. He writes: “Held and healed, in Christ we find our place”  The song was written to mark 200 years of the Christian Gospel in Aotearoa NZ.

 

lyrics

Beneath the Southern Cross. (By Cate Burton and Malcolm Gordon)

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born 

This whenua 
on which we stand 
This holy ground made by God’s hand
Marred and scarred 
Yet marked by grace 
Held and healed, in Christ we find our place 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

God of nations 
At thy feet In the bonds of love we meet 
Strangers once 
Now called as one 
Aotearoa, wake to greet this love 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From the ends of the earth we will sing 
God is here, the Kingdom is near 
In the land of the long white cloud 
Christ to dwell, Emmanuel 

From north and south 
From east and west 
Beneath the Southern Cross we rest. 
Found by One 
Who came for all 
In this tale of spacious love we’re born

credits

released October 22, 2014
Written by Malcolm Gordon and Catherine Williams (nee Burton)
Produced by Matt Chapman

 

 

 

Sunday message 27 August 2017 – Romans series Part 5 – Let them use their gifts

READING: Romans 12:3-18

MESSAGE

So –  you’ve been waiting for the winner of the competition for shortest sermon of the year.

Me too. The thing is I get excited about the treasures we find in Scripture. Psalm 19 makes it clear – this is gold. Look at the number of words describing how rich God’s word to us is: Psa 19:7  The law of the LORD is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the LORD are trustworthy, making wise the simple. Psa 19:8  The precepts of the LORD are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the LORD are radiant, giving light to the eyes. Psa 19:9  The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever. The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous. Psa 19:10  They are more precious than gold, than much pure gold; they are sweeter than honey, than honey from the comb.

So what do we glean today from Romans 12? What new  treasures. Sweetness. Richness.

Quite a lot really.

Those who offer themselves as living sacrifices (see last week’s message) – in service or 24/7 worship – giving glory to – God, acknowledging his worth –  that He is worthy of all recognition and praise, have all kinds of options to make this practical.

In relation to God’s infinite greatness in rescuing us and receiving the credit in or praise and thanksgiving, we must however look out that we don’t make ourselves as important as God. That after all is the Adam and Eve trap – wanting to be like God. Or making ourselves equal to God (compare Jesus in Phil 2 – Php 2:5  Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: Php 2:6  Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, Php 2:7  but made himself nothing ).

So – verse 3 could keep us busy today: Rom 12:3  For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.

You could lay this alongside Philippians 2 again:

Php 2:3  Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Php 2:4  Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others

While we are living sacrifices worshipping God every day at work and play, we are to put ourselves into perspective in the context of the body of Christ – the church.

Rom 12:4  Just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, Rom 12:5  so in Christ we who are many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others.

Paul then proceeds to talk about giftedness. You see this humility is not self-loathing or hiding one’s light under a bushel or a bowl because the tall poppy syndrome makes you think your light is useless.

We have gifts, he says. Use them.

That’s why churches put people to use. Not because we are obsessed with our programs. People then become commodities.

No, rather because we are obsessed with the generous grace of God. “Grace” means “gift”.

Charismata – from which we get the word “charismatic” is the word for “gifts” in the plural.

Ephesians 4 lists people gifts. Pastor, teacher, evangelist, apostle and prophet. 1 Corinthians 12 lists “spirituals” including tongues, prophecy, healing etc.

Romans 12 lists people’s gifting. Simply put – if a person has gift A, then let him use it in proportion to his faith. In other words as he or she trusts God to make that gift fruitful.

The list is there:

Rom 12:6  We have different gifts, according to the grace given us. If a man’s gift is prophesying, let him use it in proportion to his faith.

Rom 12:7  If it is serving, let him serve; if it is teaching, let him teach;

Rom 12:8  if it is encouraging, let him encourage; if it is contributing to the needs of others, let him give generously; if it is leadership, let him govern diligently; if it is showing mercy, let him do it cheerfully.

What do you notice about these gifts?

They are all for the benefit of others.

Prophecy – in 1 Corinthians 14 terms needs three things to be genuine. (Everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort. 1 Cor 14:3)

Serving – serves others. (versus self-serving)

Teaching is about the learners learning. (Tired teachers miss this! “School is so nice when the kids are on holiday!”)

Encouragement obviously helps the recipients to keep going! They need to be helped not to give up!

Contributing to the needs of others is obviously for others.

Leadership – is meant to help people follow! It’s for the group, not the leader. (As the saying goes – if you’re out front leading and no one is following you’re – you’re really just out for a walk.)

And mercy – well that too is to be shown cheerfully. Interesting idea – you can’ really show mercy with a gloomy grumpy attitude. Would seem a bit strange if we said: “Ah well I suppose I’d better be merciful. Sigh. You don’t deserve it and i don’t feel like it, but there it is””

In a word –  this is not all about you and me! And your and my needs. It’s about the needs of others.

Strangely obvious really.

But for some reason people don’t pick up on it.

They are locked into the thinking of the age – their minds are clearly not transformed (Romans 12:2) – because it’s all about them. Consumer Christianity abounds.

So much time wasted because people are “not having their needs met”.

Now don’t get me wrong. We should be helping people grow in faith. But they should be able to feed themselves too – like children learn to feed themselves physically.

Serving, teaching and encouraging should be working for people’s good.

But note that this is a letter to the church in Rome. Not to Timothy or some individual – or to elders or pastors.

These people gifts are, to put it bluntly, often hiding in the pew. As the story goes – church is a bit like football (aka soccer) – 22 people charging around on the field in great need of a rests, and 22 000 others in the stands in great need of exercise.

THE PAST

So when we have our ACM today and receive reports about what we have managed to do through the past year – remember that we are looking back.

And let’s be honest financial accountability is a key part of this – with a dose of transparency. And a lot of gratitude for the resources we have. And that especially includes people.

When we meet at this meeting today – whether you stay or not this applies. If for some reason you have been left out in the long lists of thanks. Please remember – it’s probably just an oversight.

Remember this too – it’s not about me. Or you. It’s about giving glory to God. And being a blessing to others. And as Jesus taught in Luke 17: Luk 17:10  So you also, when you have done everything you were told to do, should say, ‘We are unworthy servants; we have only done our duty.’

THE FUTURE

Point 2 of the sermon is really a question. How are you doing when it comes to using the gifts God has given you?

Sometimes the only one stopping you using your gifts is you.

If you have a desire to be part of the future teams making things work here so that we can reach people here and beyond with good news, and help care for those who do need encouragement and mercy because life can be tough – please use the gifts God has given you in proportion to your faith.

As you step out and have a go, your faith will become stronger too.

It’s a wonderful ride and great to be part of a team of which it can be said – we are working on Romans 12:9-18. Sincere love, brotherly love and devotion, harmony and peace – well you can read the rest of those verses. We don’t get it all right. But we really do have a heart for His Kingdom to come and His will to be done in this place. (I recommend that you read Romans 12:11-18 as you reflect on this through the week.)

Amen.

 

 

Sunday message 20 August 2017 – Romans series Part 4 – Living sacrifices who worship 24/7

READINGS: Romans 12:1- 8

MESSAGE

I wonder what the first word is you found in Matthew’s gospel that relates to feet? It’s probably when the wise men bow down to worship the boy Jesus.  (Mat 2:11  On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him.)  The word ‘worship” there means to prostrate oneself and kiss the feet of another.

Last week we mentioned feet too – remember – how beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news…

And then at the resurrection of Jesus in the same Matthew’s gospel –  at verse 28:9 – we read:  Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him.

Matthew’s gospel is bookended by these two physical acts of worship.

Romans 12 is about worship too. In a broader sense though.

Worship is the natural consequence of everything we read in chapters 1-11 – about what God has done to save us. It follows that it begins with that wonderful link word – THEREFORE.

In the light of all these things God has done – in the light of who we are IN CHRIST

– what are we to do? Carry on with our lives – indifferent – unmoved?

Unlikely.

And this isn’t just what one of my NT lecturers called “hints and tips for the Christian life” either. It’s stronger than that.

12:1 THEREFORE I URGE YOU – urge, beseech or beg…

In the light of God’s mercy (which we have speaking about these weeks by the way) – I strongly urge you to DO SOMETHING in response to what God has done:

offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual (or reasonable) act of worship.

  • O dear.
  • Your bodies.
  • Our bodies.

We prefer to spiritualize it all. And not talk about our bodies. Our addictions. Our habits. Our health. Our dates with the refrigerator at night. Often a bit too late at night.

We are to offer as a living sacrifice – make available – all of who we are.

We are meant to be a sweet aroma to God. In terms of who we are and what we say  – as we read in Hebrews 13: Heb 13:15  Through Jesus, therefore, let us continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips that confess his name.

  • Last week we were to confess with our mouths – stomata (stoma)
  • This week we are also to offer our bodies – somata (soma).

It’s the same word that Paul uses in 1 Corinthians when he says:

1Co 6:19  Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 1Co 6:20  you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body.

So – it seems okay then to offer our bodies –  they are already made holy by the presence of the Holy Spirit.

It’s the worship that interests me. We have so compartmentalized our worship. We talk about a “service” of worship and within that time slots of “praise and worship”.

Jesus didn’t save us to have us here for an hour or two once a week when we are not sailing or working or sleeping or whatever… As if we can pop into a spiritual bubble for that short time. And then pop out of it again.

Look at the rest of the verse: we are to offer our bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship.

Our WHOLE life is our worship – this is not the “worship” word that involves bowing down and kissing the feet of another. This is another word – λατρεία -Latreia

It Is a word implicating being in service to Godevery day  – in addition to what we do when we gather together to honour God in worship each week (as ecclesia – those who are called out and called to assemble).

It has implications for the whole week. So – I propose –

AN NEW WAY TO START THE DAY

Here’s my practical suggestion. Start the day in a new way.

Perhaps say ‘Good morning Lord’ rather than ‘good lord it’s morning’.

Then look at what awaits you with a shout of delight (a sacrifice of praise) rather than a groan or a moan and say:

  • It’s me, God. Hi Jesus. You died for me. Today I live for you!
  • I have confessed you as Lord in principle. Let me live fully for you, not in a cloister, but in the world of work and life. (NB: I recognise by the way that we can make sanctuaries in that world of work and life as we step out of the rush when we need to into a safe place in God’s presence).
  • ALL that I do today is for your glory. ESPECIALLY my work. ( NB: Read 1 Cor 7:17 and Colossians 3:23 here – and George Herbert’s poem below).
  • I want to have a Romans 12 day – in view of your mercy and grace – I am going to live totally for you each moment. Sacrificially – dedicated – devoted – set apart for you.

And the next verse shows us how. Verse 2. 

Rom 12:2  Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

And I will say Romans 12: 2 as my mantra or motto:

  • I won’t be conformed to the pattern of people’s thinking around me.
  • I will be changed by the transformation of my mind (renewing of my mind – metamorphosis)
  • I look forward to this day as you show me your will – each moment.
  • I am going to be the butterfly – not the caterpillar! Yay God!
  • And God – even when this body seems a bit of a crock – It’s yours. Take me.

There we go.

Amen.

 

 

____________________________________

Note 1: George Herbert’s poem on work:

Teach me my God and King, In all things thee to see;

And what I do in everything, To do it as for thee.  

A servant with this clause, Makes drudgery Divine;

Who sweeps a room, as for Thy laws, Makes that and the action fine.

Sunday message 13 August 2017 – Romans series part 3 – Things we confess with our mouths

READINGS: 1 Timothy 6:11 – 21; Romans 10:5-15

MESSAGE

So where did it all start?

I mean the fact that you are a Christian – or learning about becoming a Christian – a seeker, or a believer.

You sometimes talk to people who are content that they know these things –  are part of the faith family – they enjoy them, and like to think about all that God has done.

But where did it start?

You know the old joke that if you were born in a garage it doesn’t make you a car. (The kids like the one about a hamburger – if you’re born in a McDonalds etc.)

Somewhere your faith must have begun.

  • And I suspect that someone would have told you the story.
  • Perhaps you were in a Christian school like some here.
  • Perhaps Bible in schools still happened where you were.
  • Or your parents were at least nominally Christian and dropped you off at Sunday School. Maybe your dad read the paper out in the car.

Or at least they didn’t stop you.

The point is – wherever that happened, SOMEONE would have told you about God and Jesus. Christmas and Easter. If you were lucky, Ascension and Pentecost. The Bible stories. At least.

And in all those places there was probably a preacher. Or at least a Sunday School teacher.

News is passed on. Chines whispers (what we called broken down telephones) means it can get muddled.

But there is a message there.

In the Bible, it is the GOSPEL – meaning good news.

Or a pronouncement. Like the guy ringing the bell and saying “Hear ye, hear ye”.

Just to be different, we will start at the end of the reading from Romans today and work backwards. Because the last verses are profound:

Rom 10:14  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Rom 10:15  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

I love this passage.

I have been an official preacher for over 30 years. The journey started 40 years ago with my first paper in Biblical studies – my first sermon attempt was not long after that really. I still have that sermon text in a file – about walking in the light as he is in the light.

My 30th anniversary of final ordination as a minister of word and sacraments is on 10 December this year. I hope you’ll come along to the thanksgiving service. You can see it took me 10 years to get to that point. Lots of work and some years of resistance.

And I’ve always liked the idea that I have beautiful feet. After all Romans 10:15 says: As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

But today is not about my feet.

It’s about different parts of the body if you like.

  1. The mouth

On Sunday night we were talking about St Chrysostom. He was the bishop of Constantinople in the late 4th C. He wrote:

“Preaching improves me. When I begin to speak, weariness disappears; when I begin to teach, fatigue too disappears.”

Chrysostom means “golden mouth”. His preaching got him killed eventually.

What you say can get you into trouble. Less dramatically – what you promise when you don’t keep those promises for example can also get you into trouble – in marriage and life generally.

What do you think the most important things are you say in life?

Before you get into trouble in marriage for not keeping your promises there are these;

  1. Will you marry me?
  2. I do
  3. And then for a long time after that – sorry!

There is something else that we say that should be on our list of the big things that come out of our mouths!

It’s the good confession (cf. Watchman Nee).

Paul writes to Timothy:

1Ti 6:12  Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.

This probably happened at his baptism.

In fact in the next verse Paul says this:

1Ti 6:13  In the sight of God, who gives life to everything, and of Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession, I charge you

This is not so much saying the right words to become a Christian. Jesus didn’t need to. So what was Jesus saying to Pilate?

The conversation between them was about who Jesus was. Was he a King?

It reaches this point in John 18: Joh 18:37  “You are a king, then!” said Pilate. Jesus answered, “You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.” Joh 18:38  “What is truth?” Pilate asked.

Pilate puts up a sign in three languages at the cross; King of the Jews.

Of course – he doesn’t believe it.

Timothy on the other hand – when he makes his good confession – has his life turned around.

Why?

Because of what Paul explains in Romans 10: Rom 10:6  But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'” (that is, to bring Christ down) Rom 10:7  “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?'” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). Rom 10:8  But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the word of faith we are proclaiming: Rom 10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. Rom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.”

     2.  The heart

Confessing that “Jesus is Lord” is a game changer. It goes with the heart of course. You can’t just say the words. The heart is involved, but not just in an emotional sense – there is content there too:

Rom 10:9  That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

It kind of excludes people who claim to be Christians and don’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus, don’t you think?

Verse 10:10 is the key. (not 10 80)

Rom 10:10  For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

In the whole Roman road journey we talked about recently, we land here again.

We are justified – made righteous – just as if we never sinned.

And people can’t reach this point without someone else using their mouths and telling the story Paul continues then:

Rom 10:11  As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” Rom 10:12  For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, Rom 10:13  for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Rom 10:14  How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Rom 10:15  And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!”

So –  if you want to be a preacher then – you have to have this as your desired outcome – that people call on the name of the Lord and are saved.

How can they call – says Paul – if they don’t believe – if no one preaches to them – and how can people preach if they are not sent!

This is still our mission. As our ACM comes up and you get your reports this week – that one question remains. Are people coming to make the good confession that Jesus is Lord, believing in their hearts that he is raised from the dead?

If they trust in Him – they will never be put to shame.

Have you trusted in Christ for this salvation? Did you once? Have you forgotten? Do you need to go back to your first love?

Perhaps you need to make that commitmeet, or recommit yourself to Him today.

“Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday message 6 August 2017 – Romans series part 2 – Nothing can put out the light

READINGS: Psalm 139: 1-14; Romans 8: 18-39

MESSAGE

  • We talked about suffering last week.
  • And about praying – and knowing that he hears. Like the persistent widow with the unjust judge – keep knock – knock – knocking on heaven’s door.
  • About Jesus and the Spirit interceding for us
  • And we talked about God’s purpose – His ways being higher than our ways.

Psalm 139 works for us today as we also unravel a bit more of Romans 8.

We are far from home and family. Many of us. At my first job in NZ as Chaplain at a College in Wellington the choir sang his amazing song for me at my induction – it’s called “All the ends of the earth”:

It happens to be a Jesuit song. It certainly resonated for me as I had travelled a long long way to get to that first service. It did feel like the ends of the earth.

Here’s Psalm 139 – listen again:

Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. (Psalm 139:7-10)

Boy did He have to hold us fast – within a few months all hell broke loose. It was the darkest thing you could ever experience. And the very next verses say this:

Psa 139:11  If I say, “Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,” Psa 139:12  even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.

Take a minute to think about that.

  • What does it mean to you?
  • The deepest gloom – is not beyond his light.

And if His Word is a lamp unto our feet, and a light to our path, it may mean we only get enough light to see a few feet ahead.

But that is enough for us.

Paul after all says: (NIV84)  We live by faith, not by sight. ((NKJV)  For we walk by faith, not by sight.)

And if darkness is as light to God, He can certainly see what is ahead. We can trust Him. After all – as we heard last week: Rom 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

BUT WAIT. There is more. You can’ r read Romans only as a devotional – self-help encouragement letter – picking out the 8:28 verses.

  • There is theology in this book through and through.
  • It’s foundational to our faith.
  • It’s key to the reformation.

It’s so powerful that Wesley was converted through hearing something read from a preface to Romans.

On this day, May 24th, 1738 he opened his Bible at about five in the morning and came across these words, “There are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises, even that ye should partakers of the divine nature.” He read similar words in other places.

That evening he reluctantly attended a meeting in Aldersgate. Someone read from Luther’s Preface to the Epistle to Romans. About 8:45 p.m. “while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.”

It spoke to Martin Luther and changed history through Him.

The Roman road starts at Romans 1:16:

Rom 1:16  I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. Rom 1:17  For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

The Roman road – of course – is a series of key verses which are turning points through the letter.

First Romans 1:16-17  – not ashamed of hte gospel

Then Romans 3:23 – for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God

Then Romans 5:1 – Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ

Then Romans 6:23 – For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Then Romans 8:1 – Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus

Then Romans 12:1 – Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship

If you’re doing the bible reading challenge you will get to these in good time.

But in Romans 8 there are a couple of verses that are not a road, but more like a cable car up a mountain.

You know 8:28 of course?  Yes – God works all things together for good for those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (That was from memory.)

Here’re the next two verses. Luther must have loved this when he got the hang of it:

Rom 8:29  For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers.Rom 8:30  And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Man that’s good. Paul – you genius. Look at these concepts in just one verse:

  • Foreknew – he knows us before we are even thought about
  • Predestined – how Presbyterian
  • Conformed to be like Jesus
  • Born again – because Jesus is the firstborn of many brothers – us)
  • Called – you don’t start this – he starts it
  • Justified – made righteous by faith (not paying money)
  • Glorified – the glory we spoke about last week! It’s ours now in terms of status – and when we go home we will soar!

When Paul comes down Table Mountain on that cable car it’s almost as if he has to pinch himself:

Rom 8:31  What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? Rom 8:32  He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

You know where this ends: Rom 8:35  Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? Rom 8:36  As it is written: “For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” Rom 8:37  No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

Rom 8:38  For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, Rom 8:39  neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

That’s why the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness will never put it out.

To celebrate this today – let’s listen to this put in song.

And while we do – if you’d like to come up and light a candle symbolically – you can do that.

When we do – we’re saying in action to that thing in our lives that seeks to overwhelm us – whatever it is – that tries to extinguish our light with gloom and doom:

Go read Romans 8!

And remember that I was baptized into Christ – that the light of Christ shines in me and my life.

Nothing can put it out.

Nothing can separate me from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus my Lord.

  • trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword…
  • life or death…

Amen.

 

 

 

Sunday message 30 July 2017 – Romans series Part 1 – From sufferings to glory

READINGS:

2 Timothy 3:10-17;  Romans 8:26-39

MESSAGE

It’s great to have Shine TV on free to view these days. I hope you watch it. Do yourselves a favour and record the worship sessions – so you can play them back while you rest or work or whatever the case is. It will save me teaching you new songs. And it will strengthen your relationship with God as you worship at home. And soak in His presence and pray. Of course, you also have to read your bible chapters from Tuesday if you are taking up the challenge.

I was listening to some recommendations – slots with people’s thanks to Shine – for being so positive a channel – compared to all the others that only have bad news –the man said. Shine offers hope while the other channels are depressing.

Fair comment – I also fast-forward the news – but how do we connect the hope to the people who have only bad news – I thought. What is the bridge across which the gospel travels – into the world that needs good news. Is the news always good?

It’s a pain having a questioning mind. It was racing after that. I thought about people sending their kids to Christian schools to save them from the rot they get elsewhere in terms of bad behaviour and language. My mind was asking itself – who will be a witness to the kids who don’t know Jesus?

The real question that came out of the man’s comment on Shine TV – is about suffering. It’s suffering that makes the news depressing. And the evil that causes it. Way back – ten verses back – in Romans 8 before today’s reading is this verse:

Rom 8:18  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

In fact before that Paul writes these marvellous words in verse 15:

Rom 8:15  For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” Rom 8:16  The Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children. Rom 8:17  Now if we are children, then we are heirs—heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.

The truth is – no matter what we see on TV – we as Christians are not exempt from suffering.

In fact Simon Ponsonby in his commentary on Romans writes:

Many may be surprised to see this emphasis on suffering in the context of being the adopted sons and heirs of God. But divinity is no stranger to suffering. Sonship and suffering go hand in hand. Being a Christian, far from exempting you from suffering, actually qualifies you for it. In fact, one can almost say that if you are not suffering your sonship is called into question. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 244). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

Ponsonby talks about:

  • General suffering – natural events like earthquakes and droughts – for example 36 people will die every 10 seconds from starvation around the world during this service – as an example.
  • Human evil that causes suffering – like the 30 million plus people enslaved in this generation. Or that 2.4 trillion dollars are spent on the defense and war industry annually when $175 billion could wipe out poverty.
  • And then there is suffering particular to Christians. Being a disciple of Christ invites hardships, from discrimination to persecution. In all except thirty of the world’s 200 nation states Christians face oppressive measures, ranging from deprived economic or human rights to actual threat to life. And we must add to this the bitter war waged by the enemy of our souls, who aims well his targeted temptations, torments, and trials because we follow Christ. (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 245). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

So that puts to bed the objection that being a Christian is a crutch for weak people doesn’t it.

And it means we can make sense of verse 18: Rom 8:18  I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

Our suffering will end with death – and we will be translated into glory. And the world’s suffering will end when Jesus returns, Simon Ponsonby reminds us.

In verses 19 to 25 Paul talks about the whole world groaning and waiting for its redemption. It’s a wonderful passage. Read it at home.

Point 1.

In today’s reading from verse 26 here’s the first point to encourage us in our personal suffering:

Rom 8:26  In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express. Rom 8:27  And he who searches our hearts knows the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints in accordance with God’s will.

I remember listening to a Scottish lady called Andrea Wigglesworth speaking at New Wine one year about prayer. I don’t remember all the words she referred to, but one of the words – one word prayer words – was simply this – HELP!

Paul tells us here that deeper than that cry for help  – is a groan.

  • We know that Jesus intercedes for us.
  • Here the Holy Spirit intercedes for us.

Verse 26 is amazing. We don’t know what we ought to pray for. Ring any bells? It’s such a mess – what on earth do we pray? The Spirit intercedes for us with GROANS THAT WORDS CANNOT EXPRESS.

Sounds like my prayers to be honest. We groan too – as in verses 22 and 23

Rom 8:22  We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Rom 8:23  Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies.

Many of us have experienced the most horrendous things – that could shatter hope and wound our hearts to the point of desperation. My response when this happens – is a deep sighing or groaning. A moaning in my spirit because the pain is beyond words.

And that’s exactly what the Spirit does.

The groan of God’s people in Egypt in slavery was the same – and God heard their cry and rescued them. If you are crying to God for someone or something – don’t despair. He hears you.

Did you know that John Bunyan, author of The Pilgrim’s Progress, spent a total of twelve years in jail for preaching the gospel – something prohibited to all but licensed and ordained Anglican vicars! He wrote, “The best prayers have often more groans than words.” (Ponsonby, Simon. God Is For Us (p. 248). Monarch Books. Kindle Edition.)

That’s the first point in the face of suffering. God hears your groaning, your cries, your sighing. And Jesus and the Holy Spirit pray for you too – and the Holy Spirit shares your cry.

It’s taken me a while to finish point 1. Don’t give up. The Father hears your cry. The Son and the Spirit are praying.

Point 2

is simpler: It’s verse 28:

Rom 8:28  And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (NIV)

If you don’t like that translation, then go for the other common option as the original is quite difficult:

(NRSV)  We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.

I prefer the first – that God works all things for good for his people. It puts Him in control.

It means that it’s not just a question of things panning out on their own.

It doesn’t mean that it will all come out in the wash.

His purpose is often different. His glory is not the same as human glory like that on “America’s Got talent” – fame and fortune.

Isaiah 55 comes to mind:

Isa 55:8  “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the LORD. Isa 55:9  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Don’t despair. Keep crying out to God. Two out of the three of the Trinity are praying with you!

AND God learn verse 28 off by heart!

And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

Amen.

Sunday 23 July 2017 – The Word of God on Bible Sunday

Readings: Col 3:12-17; Matt 13:1-9; 18-23

MESSAGE

So how many bibles do you have in your house?

And how many do you actually read?

If you’re a preacher like me it’s useful to have various translations.

But the truth is we only need one – one that we read and that we can easily understand.

Otherwise we’re just decorating our bookcases.

Back in the day when I visited people at home they used to bring out a large family bible and leave it in a conspicuous place.

There are two readings today.

The one in Colossians by Paul suggests that we need to let the Word of Christ “dwell in us richly” as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

This incorporates the Gospel about Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the same principle applies to the whole of Scripture which is our source of faith, life, truth, values and wisdom.

We need to use all of this for our teaching which includes “admonition”. What do you think that means?  Words like correct, exhort, instruct, counsel come to mind. Note that it involves admonishing EACH OTHER. It means that there is a responsibility for all to know the word.

The Bible reading challenge we are taking up today is a great opportunity for ONE ANOTHER conversations – as we check on each other as the weeks go by, and as we share our thoughts on what we have read as we read through the New Testament in six months.

In the booklet which gives your daily passages, you will also find a helpful guide for your reading:

PRAY – ask God to help you understand what you’re about to read.

READ AND LISTEN – read the passage slowly and carefully. Think about the parts that stand out for you. Read those verses again.

THINK / REFLECT – ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s the main point of the passage?
  • What does it say about God? Does it say anything about what God wants for me?
  • Is there something I need to learn? Is there an example to follow, or a warning? Is God giving me a promise?
  • How does God want me to respond in my thoughts, words and actions?

WRITE / JOURNAL – it’s also good to write down your thoughts and the verses that really stood out for you in a journal so you can look back on what you’ve learned.

PRAISE – thank God for his Word and what you’ve learned today.

If you want the Word of Christ to make its home in you richly – I think that means a kind of saturation.

Sheilagh was telling me about a cake the kids made this week where she works. It was a pineapple cake – but despite reminders the children forgot to pour out the pineapple juice.

So they got pineapple pudding – yummy because that juice soaked right through the ingredients. Gooey – sticky – and very pineapply.

We need that kind of drenching of the word – of the truth – of Jesus’ teachings – of all the wisdom of the writers – to soak right in – as we let the Holy Spirit fill us too. Word and Spirit always work together.

THE SECOND READING YOU KNOW

The parable of the sower – well Jesus’ explains it well.

The sower is God really – and he is reckless and generous with the seed – even though there are risks. I think poor farmers listening would have been amazed and shocked all at once.

The real point of the parable is the soil.

Sowing on the path shows extensive generosity.

The rocky ground – well there is a bit of soil and there is life there. The trouble and persecution that comes and destroys the plants was real for them in those days, and is real for many around the world today.

And faith is snuffed out in our country too.  The Bible Society’s 2017 New Zealand research found that 34% of 15-18 year olds identified as Christian, but just 15% of 19-24 year olds did. The trend was repeated for measures of church attendance, Bible reading, discussing the Bible with others, and allowing the Bible to influence your life.

So there is work to do to add some soil in the lives of those who are at risk of falling away. There is a challenge – give some thought to it. They are falling away at university and in the work place. Social pressure, different world views – all these factors mean we need more support for our young people to help build a faith that lasts.

THE THORNS – Well that is closer to home for adults. “… the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

There is life there – but it is unfruitful. (In fact, the next parable that Jesus teaches indicates that the plants and the weeds actually can live together until judgement when they are weeded out and burnt.)

Backsliding – complacency – whatever you call it, people are distracted and the life is drained from them. They are choked by the thorns. They don’t grow – in faith, prayer, worship and witness.

That is a worry – and we need to be on our guard. And using Paul’s words we need to admonish them – correct, warn, remind, encourage. Point them back to the word.

THE GOOD SOIL – well there is a softness, and openness in the heart for the word to take root. It can soak in richly – like that pineapple cake. (FAT people – my preference).

The farmers listening would have been amazed by the results –  they were far greater than you would get even in a good harvest. You might get a harvest of 20 or 30 grains from a wheat seed. But not 60 or 100.

Jesus explains that these are people who hear and understand the word. The fruit bearing is not just the fruit of a changed life and character, but more seed – the word sown by them into the lives of others. They pass the life on (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

There is life in New Zealand – sometimes we get discouraged when we look at the big picture.

The Bible society’s research indicates that “seventeen percent of kiwis aged 13 or over and 30% of all 15 to 18 year olds attend church monthly or more often. Fourteen percent of all kiwis aged 13 or over read the Bible at least monthly, most of those weekly or daily.”

We need to share the story to that we can add to that number those who follow Jesus and read the Bible in this nation.

We need a simple recipe really:

  1. Love and nurture the fruit-bearers amongst us… building one another up in faith.
  2. Examine ourselves to see we are not getting the life choked out of us by worries and the lure of wealth or just stuff. Things. We need to disentangle ourselves if this is the case, and help others to do so as well.
  3. We can build resilience in the lives of those who have no roots – putting soil on the rocks of hardship and resistance. We need to nurture our young people especially and prepare them well for life after school.
  4. And where the path is hard and the word bounces off, we need to pray for wisdom as we are always ready to give a reason for the hope that we have  (Remember this key verse:  1Pe 3:15  But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…)  – as we are light and salt along those paths, bearing witness to the truth of Jesus. We should be showing that the Kingdom of God has come through Jesus, and that it is a better option for all. And if there is no understanding on the part of those we speak to – bring them along to an Alpha course where they can find out more!

Amen.

Sources: New Zealand Bible Society.

https://biblesociety.org.nz/discover-the-bible/the-bible-good-for-life/bible-challenge/

 

Sunday Message 25 June 2017: Sparrows and things…

READINGS:  Psalm 84:1-4; 10-12;  Matthew 10:24-39

I drove in here on Thursday morning – and guess who was in my parking space?

Yes – you got it right.

A whole lot of sparrows. Scurrying around as they do.

Not quite sure if there was really anything for them to eat there.

I actually think that God was reminding me again of how loved we are.

I love this picture in scripture:

Listen again: Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

In the light of this, consider the local cafe in Browns Bay where the man killed off the sparrows because of their enthusiasm for people’s leftovers.

A worse story is this one. 

It’s a story about a sparrow that somehow got into the rafters of St. Helen’s Parish Church in the English town of Brant Broughton. At the time of the intrusion, they were recording a guitar recital for later broadcast on the radio. The chirping bird didn’t exactly chirp with the beat. So the pastor, Rev. Robin Clark (ironically) asked the congregation to leave and then asked a friend to bring his pellet gun over to the church to shoot the intruding sparrow.

The killing of the sparrow became front page news in Great Britain. The London Daily Telegraph ran a clever headline that said, “Rev. Robin Orders Death of Sparrow.”

Editorials and letters to the editor flowed, chastising the cruel and unusual punishment for this lowly bird. People who hadn’t darkened the door of a church in decades suddenly remembered Psalm 84 in which it is declared that even sparrows are welcome in the house of the Lord (84:3). 

We heard Psalm 84:3 today:  Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God.

Poor Rev Robin. Poor little sparrow. We can easily sentimentalise things.

The comparison of course means we are more valuable than sparrows. And nothing happens to us either that he does not allow or care about – that’s the implication.

What it doesn’t say is that the sparrow will be spared – or that we will be spared. *They were sold two for a penny – probably to be eaten.)

Persecution is the background to this passage. The cost for some people is jail and execution – more in this generation than ever before. There is often a price to pay. And many are not spared. Martyrdom is rife today in many parts of the world. And if we escape this, there is no guarantee we will escape some other suffering.

And yet he still cares.

John Wimber tells the story of the man who led him to Christ – whose daughter had been raped and murdered, how he got his family together at the end of that terrible day and said: “Father, I don’t understand, but I trust you.” His forgiveness of the perpetrator was a great witness, and many came to Christ through him, including Wimber, who in turn impacted hundreds of thousands through the Vineyard Church movement.

Wimber speaks about the man’s character development and how he was prepared to be an evangelist through heartache. He writes: “if we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what he is doing.” He quotes a friend who says: “Sometimes he offends our minds to reveal our hearts.”

After the sparrow story comes these lines which challenge us again:

Mat 10:32  “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

We do that in church – in public profession of faith with baptism that formalises our membership of the church – that speaks of our belonging to Christ, of being in Christ.

And if people were baptised and made a public profession of faith in another congregation our Session can resolve to admit them to membership of this one.

By the way – we plan to welcome people next month who have made that public declaration along the line and now find themselves here in this local church. We would love to include you in that special day if you have made this church family your family.

The context of Matthew 10 is different though. It’s an acknowledgement in the face of risk. Is a pubic admission that we follow Jesus – in society.

It has to mean that we identify ourselves out there in our daily lives.

And then the rest of the Gospel passage which we did not read today makes sense but is even more challenging:

Mat 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  Mat 10:35  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—  Mat 10:36  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’  Mat 10:37  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; Mat 10:38  and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Mat 10:39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

It’s almost as if today we are quite disconnected from this early discipleship.

It is radical – and requires huge commitment. And Jesus comes first before everyone else. And you have to take up your cross and follow – otherwise you’re not worthy of Jesus. And this is not the kind of self-punishing “cross I have to bear.” It’s a death to self. It’s that we are Christians – little Christs – and his cross is our cross.

It’s risky and illogical in a sense– if it’s about you, then you lose. If you surrender your life for Jesus’ sake – you win!

How about that?

And how about us?

  • Do we acknowledge Christ in the rest of our lives (outside of Church life)?
  • Or are we living a double life? Secret Christians?
  • Do we love Him more than all those listed? Father, mother, son or daughter? (v37)
  • Are we radical enough?
  • Do we take our crosses and follow Christ? (Admittedly some of us have crosses thrust upon us that we would not choose).
  • Are we worthy of Jesus?

Great questions these! It’s up to us really!

BUT THE THING I WANT YOU TO TAKE HOME more than anything else – is that you don’t have to be afraid as you follow Jesus.

Last week we threw our anxieties at Jesus – do you remember my worry pot?

The kids wrote their worries on bits of paper and chucked them in.

Today I invite you to give your fears to him.

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And I pray that a sparrow crosses your path each day – to remind you that you are worth infinitely more as a child of God.

To end – listen to the song: no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God. Receive his peace.

 

AMEN