Monthly Archives: January 2013

New Year sermon – A balm in Gilead

NEW YEAR

Readings: Jeremiah 8: 4-22  Revelation 22:1-21

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there? Why then is there no healing for the wound of my people.

 And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Here we stand in the first month of a new year. Perhaps you’ve already stopped reflecting on it – seeing that some of us only make resolutions on the 31st December and forget them by the 2nd January.

Perhaps you may be asking yourself the question – what is in store for me? What is in store for us? You probably would like a year of relative peace in your family, your community, and the world in general.

You know of course that there are always going to be problems when it comes to human relationships. Peace comes often only at a price – swallowing the lump of pride that can choke you, and realising that you can’t always blame others – you are the problem in most situations.

Jeremiah had to deal with a stubborn people in Israel as well.  That was his work as a prophet – calling a proud people to turn away from their selfish desires and stubborn ways.

The prophet asks this embarrassing question:

Is there no balm in Gilead? Is there no physician there?

Its like asking the question in a room full of doctors – is there a doctor amongst you?

Gilead was a region across the Jordan from which a famous ointment from a certain tree was obtained. The balm of Gilead was known far and wide.

Is there a Balm in Gilead? Yes there was. This was the place for healing and it was within easy reach.

And so why were the people not healed? What was the wound of the people of Israel that could not be healed?

Perhaps you can guess the answer. Jeremiah diagnoses this ailment elsewhere in his writings when he says:

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it? (17:9)

The sickness is that of the human heart – separated from God – embroiled in its own stony concerns – hard hearts.

Friends – there is a balm in Gilead – Jesus is our healing. He is the source of life for the nations, as recorded in Revelation 22:

And the leaves of the tree (of life) are for the healing of the nations.

Jesus is the tree of life for the nations – yes for the whole world. But the hardness of the human heart is a stumbling block to faith and acceptance of the healing in Gilead.

He is the balm of Gilead – the ointment for our healing and restoration.

But we resist Him.

And we too – like Israel – have had Gilead within our reach. We have heard the gospel so often about Jesus the healer.

  • He restores our relationship with the Creator – so that we have peace with God.
  • He restores our relationship with others – so there is true peace on earth.
  • He restores our relationship with our own souls – so that we have true inner peace of heart and mind.

It is we who keep our distance from the God of love. It is we who hold grudges against friends and family – keeping rocks in our hearts rather than our heads, although I suspect there are rocks in our heads as well.

It is we who have hard hearts in every area – especially in our generosity. We are so selfish – so afraid that we may lose our little securities in life that we cling to our wealth, our abilities, and our time, rather than investing it in the things that really matter.

We love ourselves and the things of this world too much – and much more than God. And we love ourselves much more than we love our neighbour.

And so – living in the cramped boxes of our own making – boxes that are no different from coffins just as rut is no different from a grave if you get stuck in it – we live and yet we are dead.

Dead to the real life that could be ours. Dead to the goodness that is potentially ours – dead to the things of the spirit and alive to the things of the world.

And God says to us today – is there a balm in Gilead? Is there a solution to this mess?

The answer is yes – Jesus, and total trust in Him for the woes of the world. He is the true peace in our nations, in our homes, our places of work and even in the Church where human pride and indifference cause havoc and deception.

Is there a physician here? Yes – Jesus. He cures the sickness of the human heart and soul – his name is as ointment poured forth – Jesus, Jesus.

But we don’t love Him – not much, not enough. If we did, we would do what He commands – to love, to give, to serve, to tell, to minister His grace with zeal and joy. We would love Him so that we worship Him on every given opportunity – and we would give to Him all that is rightfully His. Our time, talents, and our wealth. And yet we choose to rob God of all these things.

Rob Him if we like – but we are robbing ourselves of the healing balm. Until we do what He commands there will be no peace and no blessing.

For if we really believed we would pray as if everything depended on it – and give as if everything depended on it – and work hard for Him as if everything depended on our effort.

Is there a balm in Gilead? Yes there is – but His people do not believe. What will it take to make them believe?

Its as a bad as a sick man with an easy cure – yet he resists the medicine, spitting it our on the floor like a petulant child or a cantankerous old man throwing a fit of rage in a hospital bed. “I will not take this medicine – I’m not sick” you hear Him scream, as he goes into eternity with a heart of stone, unwilling to change his mind.

God says – repent. Change your ways. Stop complaining about the world – you’re not making in any better. Start believing that Jesus is the balm of Gilead – He can put our lives together again, take away the bitterness and loneliness – and make all things new.

Amen.

(A message from the archives of 1994)

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Sunday sermon 13 January – Tell them I love them

Preacher: Ann Martin

Readings:  Isaiah 43:1-7;  Psalm 29;  Luke 3:15-17, 21 & 22

“Tell them I love them”

When I was preparing for today;  I read the readings supplied in the Lectionary and asked God,“What would You have me say?”

The words just jumped off the page, “Tell them I love them”.

So “God loves you”    Shortest sermon in History?

We all know the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know for the Bible tells me so.”

But Love is more than a song we sing or something we talk about.    It’s a way of life.

But not everyone is secure in God’s Love for them.    In fact, Joyce Meyer says, “there is an epidemic of

insecurity in our society and I believe it is because people just don’t know how much they are loved by God.

The Bible says God is Love.    It’s not just something He does;  it’s who He is.

Everything He does is based on Love.    His mercy and grace are poured out on us every single day because of His Love.    He comforts us when we’re hurting and corrects us when we need it because He loves us.    Even when He doesn’t give us something we think we really want or need, it is because He loves us and knows what is best for us according to His purpose and plan for our lives.

Galatians 6 v 10 encourages us to look for ways and opportunities to be a blessing to people and I believe that’s what God had in mind when He said, “Tell them I love them.”    It starts with a simple truth.

“God loves you”    It couldn’t be any more simple.

As people start to believe, trust and grow more secure in this truth, they want to share His great Love.

Love is expressed in words and actions.    So “tell them I love them”, and find as many ways as you can to say it.

Dr Martyn Lloyd Jones said, “Though you are one of the teeming millions in this world, and though the world would have you believe that you do not count and that you are but a speck in the mass, God says, “I know you”    How wonderful is that?

Have you noticed how everyone seems to have an opinion about you?    And how so many people are quick to drag you down?    Sometimes it’s too hard to ignore what they say and we let their words rob us of our self-worth.    Take a moment and consider the things in life that rob us of self-esteem.    Words such as “I don’t want you”,   I don’t love you anymore” or “You’re unsuitable for the job, sorry but we’ll have to let you go” or “You keep making the same stupid mistakes.    You’ll never get it right”.    “You’re stupid, you’re useless” or “Why can’t you be like your brother, or your sister, or?”  and they leave us feeling like old bubblegum that’s been scraped off the bottom of a shoe.

Understand this 1. Your self-esteem cannot be based on what you do for a living because when you can no longer do it you’ll feel worthless.    Think about some of the famous people you know,  athletes, artists.

speakers, etc.    When they can no longer do what they do they often get depressed, even suicidal.

2. Your self-esteem cannot be based on what you own.    Recently, during the world recession, the housing market for many lost up to 40% of it’s value in one year.    Millions of people saw their social status go down and their financial security go up in smoke.

3. Your self-esteem cannot be based on other people’s opinion because it will always make you vulnerable to rejection.

So!   What’s the solution?    Discover what God thinks about you and build your life on it.    “thus says the Lord, who created you, who redeemed you.    I have called you by name.    You are mine.    Isaiah 43 v 1

It doesn’t get any better than that!

You need to know your identity in order to determine what you’ll do.    It won’t work the other way around, because if what you do is taken away or you fail doing it, you’ll feel like a nobody.

So where does your identity come from?    Not from your driver’s license, which is fortunate for most of us!    Not from your passport, that just shows where you’ve been.   And it doesn’t come from your school records—which is good, because many of us still battle the negative messages we got back then!

How about you?- does your identity depend solely on what you do?    If so, it’s time to seek God’s face and find out who you really are.    God says “I’ve called you by name you are Mine.”    That means when you can no longer do what you do, you’ll still be who you are in God’s eyes.    What could be better?

Your identity comes from God.    He gives it before He sends you on an assignment.    Before Abram became great, God changed his name to Abraham which means “father of many nations”

Gideon was the least in his family.    But when God commissioned him to build an army to defeat Midian, He changed Gideon’s identity and gave him a new self-image.

“The Lord is with you, you mighty man of Valour”  Judges 6 v 12.    What credentials!

No matter what opinions others may form of you, it’s only God’s opinion of you that really matters.

God wants you to know how precious, how valuable, how important you are to Him.    You matter—He loves you just as you are.    Find out from God’s word some of the things God says about you and never lose sight of your true value, your true worth!

If you’re struggling with feelings of unworthiness then praying longer, working harder and vowing to do better won’t necessarily change how you feel.    You’ve got to address the foundation.    To do that, you must begin seeing yourself as God sees you.    Only then will you experience the stability and security you seek.

Have you any idea how God feels about you?

He sees you as:

1. Loveable…”You are precious to Me.    You are honoured and I love you.    Do not be afraid for I am with you…Isaiah 43 v 4-5.    What assurance!

2. Valuable;    if you grew up feeling unwanted, you got the wrong message.    God established your worth at the cross…”the Son of God, who loved you and gave Himself for you. Galatians 2 v 20.    The slogan on Hallmark cards says,    “When you care enough to send the very best.”    That’s what God did for you at the Cross.

3. Capable.    Without a supportive environment to grow up in, you can end up with a diminished sense of

Ability.    It’s why we compensate by overachieving.    But God know that you are capable because He’s given you special abilities.   1 Peter 4 v 10.    Furthermore He has us with Him in His Heavenly Kingdom.    So stay in your seat, and don’t let anybody tell you that your life doesn’t matter, it does, because God says so!

God knew every flaw and weakness you would have and every mistake you would make when He called you into relationship with Himself.    Nothing about you surprises Him.     God knows—and has always known

everything about you.    He knows what you will think, do and say every day for the rest of your life on earth.    He also knows hoe He will help you, teach, you, correct and encourage you, and give you grace for all your faults and failures.    He is always for you, never against you, no matter what you do.    This truth should set you free to lighten up, enjoy being who God made you to be and have a laugh at yourself.

You are who you are.    You do what you do, and it’s not always perfect.    In fact, sometimes you really mess up!    That’s part of being human.    But if you also love God, have a heart to change, and ask Him to help you, then you can relax.    God is working on you, changing you every day, helping you grow.    God is not mad at you.    Enjoy Him and enjoy yourself even though you are not perfected yet.

After all, the first question in the Catechism is “What is the chief end of men?”    To glorify God and enjoy Him forever.

You are destined to be moulded into the image of Christ and nothing can stop that from happening if you will simply co-operate with the Holy Spirit and spend time with God.    You don’t have to clean up your act first.    You can come as you are, and God will make you what you ought to be.    When people come as they are, God will work miracles.

God loves us unconditionally, and that means He accepts us the way we are and then helps us to be all we can be.

I hope you also know how pleased and delighted God is with you.    Can you imagine walking around your house or driving in your car singing, “God is pleased with me and He delights in me”    Do you have that kind of confidence?    We should believe what God says in His word about how He feels toward us.    God may not be pleased with all our behaviour, but He is pleased with us if we love Him and want to make progress.

Jesus says that there is one way people will know whether we belong to Him or not, and that is our love for one another.    Love is the distinguishing sign or characteristic of a Christian.

It’s what sets us apart from the rest of the world.    The world is looking for something to believe in, something real, something tangible.    They are looking for love.    And God is love. 1 John 4 v 8. “Whoever does not love does not know God for God is love”    We need to show them Jesus.    We do that by walking in His love and demonstrating that love to others.    What we do for others does not always need to be a big thing.    It is often little acts of kindness that mean the most.

Charles Spurgeon said that Faith goes up the stairs that love has built.    “Faith works by love”    Love provides the energy for our faith.    Knowing God’s love for us as individuals and learning to allow His love to flow through us to others is the power behind our faith.    Just as a car needs petrol in order to move, our faith needs love in order to take us where we need to go.

Man’s love fails and gives up, but God’s love does not.    Man’s love is finite and comes to an end, but God’s love is infinite and eternal.    Man’s love is dependent on favourable behaviour and circumstances,  God’s love is not.     People place conditions on their, but God’s love is unconditional.

Loving people unconditionally is a very big challenge.    I am tempted to say it is impossible.    But God tells us to do it, and He never commands us to do something and then leaves us to perform it on our own.    His grace,, His power, His ability and favour is sufficient for us, which means He enables us to do what He has called us to do.    Sometimes God actually sends some people into our lives to function as ‘sandpaper’ to help smooth our rough edges.

Learning to walk in love with ‘unlovely’ people is one of the most important tools God uses to develop our spiritual maturity.    Romans 5 v 8 says “He loved us before the world was formed, before we loved Him or believed in Him”
God does not require us to earn His love.    We couldn’t anyway.    Love is something we are to become’  it is not something we do and then don’t do.

As followers of Jesus Christ, the love we are to show to the world is the unconditional love of God flowing through us to them.    When we have God’s love in us, we can give it away.

It is like the waves on the beach.    We use up one but there is always another on the way so we will never run out.

We can choose to love others lavishly and unconditionally, as He has loved us.

The love of God is the most wonderful gift we are given.    It flows to us, and then it should flow through us to others.    Loving God, yourself and other people should be our focus in life.    Remember what Don said a week or two ago.    He said about JOY.    “Jesus first, yourself last, and others in between”.    Receive God’s amazing unconditional love, then you can love yourself and live to give the love away that God has given to you.

Jesus gave us the command to love in Matthew 22 v 37—39    “You should love one another, just as I have loved you”    By this shall all men know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”

You cannot give away something you don’t have.    And unless we possess love for ourselves, we can never progress in the will of God, which is to love other people.    We all need to accept ourselves, knowing that although we are not where we need to be, we are making progress.    Jesus died for us because we have weaknesses and imperfections, and we don’t have to reject ourselves while we are letting Him work in us.    Choose to believe what God says about you!

You train others to treat you by how your treat yourself.    So go to God today, and ask Him to tell you who you are and what you’re worth.    He will say, “You are precious to Me.   You are honoured and I love you.”    That’s God’s opinion—make it yours!    You can make your life an experiment of living in the love of God.    Every morning when you wake up let your first words be “I’m loved by God.”

Write these words on a card and carry them with you.    When you’re tempted to despair because you’ve blown it, take out the card and look at it.    When you’re overwhelmed by all you have to do, read it over and over to yourself.    Take it out when you’re tempted to sin, to dishonour God, to lash out in anger and hurt someone, or deceive someone, or use someone.     When you’re afraid, when you’re anxious, when you’re alone, remember and feast on the words that give life.    “I’m loved by God.”

God loves you.                        Believe it.

To Him be the glory.

Amen!

Sunday Sermon 6 January – The revelation

Readings:  Ephesians 3:1-12; Matthew 2:1-112

So have you had any major revelations recently? I’m not talking about a sudden realisation that you are getting older – or that you have to pack up that Christmas tree as it is 12 days since Christmas day today and Christmas as a season is officially over!

I’m talking about revelation! Seeing the light maybe – like the wise men who followed the light of that star!

For Paul – in the reading from Ephesians – the revelation he received was the unveiling of a mystery. Verse 6 tells us the details:

6 This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus.

For Him – as a Jew and a Pharisee – he needed a revelation! Like Peter needed a vision when it came to changing his mind about associating with Gentiles.

You have to understand that they had nothing to do with Gentiles! Like we in our own way don’t associate with people who are different.

This was a radical shift – and the shift is seen at the time of Jesus’ birth – the wise men – the magi who come to worship Jesus – are Gentiles, perhaps Gentile kings – and they are worshipping a Jewish baby.

What really grabs me in the Ephesians reading today is verse 12:

12 In him and through faith in him we may approach God with freedom and confidence.

The NRSV gives us this translation of verse 11 and 12:

3:11  This was in accordance with the eternal purpose that he has carried out in Christ Jesus our Lord,

3:12  in whom we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.

I prefer this version.

The key word which resonates with modern people is the word ACCESS.

Think of all the times you get the message ACCESS DENIED – on your modern phone, internet, on an ATM – if you don’t have the right password access is denied.

In Christ we have access to God!  Great news! And Paul expands this by saying – “with boldness and confidence through faith in him!”

The idea that non-Jewish people could have access to God is radical! And we are non- Jewish Gentile people too!

This is stunning news – …we have access to God in boldness and confidence through faith in him.. . This is the mystery that was revealed to Paul – the revelation from God that shifts the foundation of everything.

Paul also says this in Galatians 3:27-28 As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.

All these barriers come tumbling down!

And – sadly – we keep putting them up again! We create new ones or reinterpret the ones we read about in Galatians 3.

The idea that God wants people of all backgrounds and cultures to be part of his family should not be a major surprise for us.  It does not take a revelation to figure out the basics. If you think about it – the fundamental teachings of Jesus are about breaking down barriers.

Think of his teaching in a nutshell –

  • a new commandment I give unto you – that you love one another as I have loved you. (John 13:34 – repeated in John 15:12 & 17)
  • He reinforces the Old Testament teaching – love your neighbour as yourself. (Lev 19:18 repeated in Matt 19:19  & 22:39 and Mark 12:31)
  • He takes it further by telling us to love our enemies. (Matt 5:44 & Luke 6:27,35)

And the most famous parable that undergirds his teaching? I’m not sure what you would choose – I would say the Good Samaritan.

A friend of mine wrote about this from a different perspective this week. In short, Jesus was a great story teller. The idea of someone walking from Jerusalem to Jericho is absurd. That they would get mugged is quite likely.

The real issue is the question that churches like to pose – who are our neighbours exactly? And the contrast between the failure of the religious men to help with the kindness of the Samaritan is radical! More than that, the Samaritan would have been expected to finish the guy off.

They (Jews and Samaritans) would have despised each other. My friend concluded:

A “good Samaritan” is NOT simply someone who does something good. A Good Samaritan goes the extra mile for someone whom he himself could legitimately despise.

 And his application:

1. Find and serve your enemies.

2. Visit your prejudices and repent of them

Some great challenges for the New Year then?

As we celebrate the amazing access we have to God – let’s not be selfish! We have a treasure that is meant to share – the Good News of Jesus.

Let’s really ask God to shine a little light on our lives – revealing to us a new sense of urgency to be obedient – and to reach people that are on His heart.

  • To deal with our prejudices
  • To step out into new adventures as we reach people who are different this year.
  • And as we reach out to people we don’t like or who don’t like us – and serve them.

A WORD ABOUT PASSION

Here’s a thought. Paul is writing from jail. He’s in jail for proclaiming what had been revealed to him.

That’s passion. He writes this profound letter from prison. And – to top it all – this whole letter is not an essay on theology. Yes it is an essential letter for us to understand what we are meant to be as the church.

These passages are in the context of a prayer –are bracketed by prayer.

That’s what made him who he was. That’s his heart. He was compelled to share the revelation that God wanted all people in His family – and that he made this possible through Jesus. Hence his prayer and his appeal for his readers’ prayers for him!

 HERE’S MY NEW YEAR’S VISION and DREAM!

Are we going to politely listen to another 52 sermons this year untouched?

Going from here saying – well that was interesting?

Or will there be an impact on our lives, our lifestyle, our passion and our prayer life – which is the same thing as our relationship with God. A revelation! Will we get it? Will you get it??

Is your view of God big enough to grasp the potential for real transformation of yourself and this community.

Read Ephesians 1:15- 19 – does this not grab your attention? People’s prayers reveal their passion!

And then read Ephesians 3:13- 21 – and get a sense of the expectation Paul had as he prayed.

And the letter ends with his teaching on the armour of God:

It ends with this in chapter 6, verses 18 to 20:

Pray in the Spirit at all times in every prayer and supplication. To that end keep alert and always persevere in supplication for all the saints. Pray also for me, so that when I speak, a message may be given to me to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel, for which I am an ambassador in chains. Pray that I may declare it boldly, as I must speak.

Being in Jail did not deter Paul when it came to passion to proclaim this revelation!

Roll on 2013!

May God speak to you and fill you with a taste of this passion and excitement!