Monthly Archives: October 2013
New International Version – UK (NIVUK)
9 To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed: “God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
14 ‘I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’
It’s Reformation Sunday! By all rights I should be speaking about FAITH ALONE, THE BIBLE ALONE, AND GRACE ALONE! The text could be Romans 3 – how all have sinned. And how we are saved by faith.
Instead we’re back to prayer!
In a sense prayer is everything – the outcome of all the issues that the reformers fought over – add up to this one thing. You and I have direct access to God.
And the conflict of Luther with the Catholic church of his day is neatly portrayed in these two characters:
- The Pharisee
- The Publican (or tax collector).
The one basis his relationship with God on his achievements. The other has nothing to offer – except to plead for mercy. The first is about salvation by works – the second salvation by faith, through grace.
Over the past couple of weeks we have looked at the loving kindness of God – his mercies that are new every morning. And we have looked at that persistent widow knock, knock, knocking on heaven’s door.
Today’s parable takes this further. We loved the story of the widow – because we like supporting the outsider, the underdog. Kiwis love this – they don’t like people who are too full of themselves – like the judge who didn’t care too hoots about God or people.
But we are stretched today.
Because the guy who walks away from the prayer time justified is a pretty bad guy really.
A publican. A tax collector. In a modern version of the story it would be like some terrible occupying army from Australia or the old Soviet Russia controlling our lives from day to day and taking our money. And one of our own working for the occupiers – and people from your own side would come knocking at your door to take your money – and extra for themselves.
This is a recipe for valid resentment, rejection, revolt, revision of your values – I mean why should you give these kinds of people time of day?
Think of other teachings of Jesus – like walking the extra mile. The contrast is equally radical! A Roman soldier had every right to make you carry his heavy pack for a mile. No more. And you would hate that – that sense of powerlessness and being trapped by other peoples’ rules.
Jesus says – carry the pack two miles! This is extending grace to an enemy and an occupier – one who threatened all you stand for and believe!
So the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican praying is also radical.
It’s a church goer who shows up and does the stuff – paying their 10 percent (we could do with more faithful people paying their ten percent here! ) and a rotten deceptive sneaky embezzler coming into church – like one of those guys who sold you a great investment – only for you to see your retirement money gone in a flash.
Everything in us wants to punish those horrible people.
Lucky for us this is Reformation Sunday! All have sinned (Romans 3:23) – that’s the point. Romans 6:23 talks about the gift of God. Romans 8:1 declares those in Christ to be free from condemnation.
It’s actually about grace! Unmerited favour and lots of forgiveness.
How good to see our mayor in the local paper this week – saying that he has received real compassion from Christians in Auckland.
Oh we should be careful not to judge!
THE DETAILS OF THE CONTRAST
Look at Luke again:
To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable
Well that’s a good warning – as self-righteousness is a serious problem. So too looking down on everyone else. I guess that’s pride or arrogance.
The prayer itself needs examination:
God, I thank you that I am not like other people – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. 12 I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.”
We may think – gosh these Pharisees were bad – what a bad attitude?
And yet we are equally dismissive of the three categories
- Robbers – creative bunch. We’ve opened our home to homeless people – and they’ve wandered off with our things! (Tell the story of the Smiths in Witbank – or the thief that came back after being prayed for… )
- Evildoers – nice broad category really. We tut tut and the terrible things people do these days – forgetting that this is nothing new. Sometimes you read these historical quotes about bad people and you think it’s something written yesterday – only to find it came of some Pharaoh’s tomb or the writing was found on the wall of a cave dating back thousands of years!
- Adulterers – gosh Auckland has been really in a tailspin about this one and our mayor. Trouble is Jesus again – look at what he said:
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Matthew 5:27-28).
Tricky one isn’t it?
And of course the Pharisee lists his strengths! And they show discipline and generosity don’t they.
But it’s this line that gives away the arrogance: God, I thank you that I am not like other people…
And that’s exactly how Luke introduces this story: To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everyone else, Jesus told this parable.
What we need to really examine is verse 13:
13 ‘But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
The heart of the matter is humility. I have real issues with this. Humility is the virtue, the attitude that enables people to follow leadership, to trust others’ judgement, and to be teachable.
Being teachable – just by the way – is the thing that I look for in people – especially leaders. You may remember the acronym FAT – I’m looking for Fat people. Faithful, available and teachable!
What can we say about humility?
Lack of humility – its antithesis – is probably pride. Its part of every marriage argument, every case of broken relationships. And its there in the hearts of people who can’t for the life of anyone see the need to have God in their lives.
Because they are self-sufficient!
The longer I serve Him – the more inadequate I feel in myself.
Sin is there because we are sinners by nature.
And the inner battle goes on until the day Jesus takes us home.
So how is your prayer life going?
Persistence (last week – from the story of the unjust judge who got a black eye from a little old widow).
Be careful that persistence doesn’t come from a sense of entitlement and pride – that you think you actual deserve your prayers to be answered.
Luke 18:14 “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
Too many of us get the words of the song confused – the one that goes like this… I’m thinking of the Michael Smith Song – It’s all about you Jesus. It’s called “The heart of worship”. The chorus goes like this:
I’m coming back to the heart of worship
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
I’m sorry, Lord, for the thing I’ve made it
And it’s all about You,
It’s all about You, Jesus
Too many of us change the words and sing” And it’s all about me, it’s all about me Jesus…”
You get the point. Bruce Larson gives us this formula to help us get the humility thing right. We’ll end with this:
Being a new being in Christ means reversing our natural tendencies. Someone once said to me, “Larson, do you know what’s wrong with you? You judge other people by their actions and yourself by your intentions. If you could reverse that, it would change your life.” Since then I’ve been trying to judge others not by what they do, but by what they meant to do. Try judging yourself not by what you meant, but by what you did—which is how people perceive you. That’s a giant step on the way to humility.
And on this Reformation Sunday there is one extra thing – central concept – that is here:
The humble man “went home justified before God”. (v14)
Justification is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in his letters, especially His letter to the Roman church.
He was made righteous because his sin was blotted out! Pardoned.
That’s the heart of it.
It’s a dangerous parable. I last preached on it on the Sunday I came here with a view to a call. I did a pretty bad job of the sermon. And some of the people rated me badly and voted against me coming!
You see you rated me and decide whether I was okay or not. Clearly that is the grace of God (if it was based on the rating of that sermon!) Most – almost all -voted to have me as pastor here! 🙂
We’re always rating each other.
And on that Sunday I preached I warned of the danger here.
That all too easily we might say – “I thank God that I am a repentant sinner and not like that arrogant Pharisee!”
Justification by faith – the heart of the reformation – is what it is. We don’t deserve God’s love – and it is bounteous. I once tried to quantify it in a children’s chapel. We had glasses, then buckets, then wheely bins to answer the question – how much love is there?
The answer is – it reaches to the heavens – and to the end of the universe – to the multiverses out there – and beyond – way beyond where the Star Ship Enterprise and Captain Kirk will ever go.
What a relief! Enjoy this love today and always!
God bless you as you seek Him.
2 Timothy 3:14-4:2
18 Then Jesus told his disciples a parable to show them that they should always pray and not give up.
It really makes it easy when the bible explains the purpose of a parable. What a nice start today!
We tend to see this parable as a simple matter of persistence. Fair enough – always pray and don’t give up – is Luke’s comment here.
In short – if an unjust judge gives in to a nagging widow – how much more will God hear our prayers when and if we persist.
Don’t give up! Winston Churchill comes to mind! Never never never give up – was one of his famed speeches at a school prize giving, if I recall. At Harrow in 1941 at the height of the battle of Britain. And yes – dealing with the Nazis was a matter of justice. If the just war theory holds water it seems to when you have world domination by a man who does ethnic and other cleansing on a grand scale.
The parable itself has more in it that Luke alleges. Listen to it on its own.
2 He said: ‘In a certain town there was a judge who neither feared God nor cared what people thought. 3 And there was a widow in that town who kept coming to him with the plea, “Grant me justice against my adversary.” 4 ‘For some time he refused. But finally he said to himself, “Even though I don’t fear God or care what people think, 5 yet because this widow keeps bothering me, I will see that she gets justice, so that she won’t eventually come and attack me!”’
Jesus explains further: 6 And the Lord said, ‘Listen to what the unjust judge says. 7 And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off? 8 I tell you, he will see that they get justice, and quickly.
And then Jesus has this to say – in what is a separate issue about the Son of Man returning:
However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’
Which involves a separate sermon altogether.
In the reading from Timothy today we read:
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful (profitable) for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness…”
“preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction – says Paul to Timothy.
So what does the word have to say to us today? About
Is it about prayer? Yes
Is it saying God is unjust? He is being compared to a pretty horrible judge. No, although some say he is. Remember those long polar nights we spoke about – for some the sun never seems to rise. There are some who mistake the long lesson of waiting for an uncaring God.
This is one of those “how much more” parables.
Like Jesus in Luke 11 when teaching on prayer there. You may remember that message – or you could read it here: https://bbpsermons.wordpress.com/2013/07/28/sunday-sermon-28-july-when-you-pray/
It’s the Lord’s Prayer on that occasion. And after sharing that prayer Jesus also said: 9 ‘So I say to you: ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. 10 For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. 11 ‘Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? 12 Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion? 13 If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!’
If an unjust judge can surrender to an apparently powerless woman and grant her request – how much more a Good Father – a Good God – who by the way – says Jesus in Luke 11 – will give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!
Great verse – the Holy Spirit is the presence and power and life changing love of God in action! You need to ask in order to receive! That helps! In fact there is no other way! “Seek the Lord while he made be found” says the prophet Isaiah (chapter 55). “Call on him while he is near!”
So return to Luke 18 – again about asking. In this story – fact or fiction – or fiction based on fact – the woman has no power! This also is about injustice – a sombre reminder of how people are abused. She is in her own strength quite powerless.
In fact at best she is a squeaky wheel – and “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the oil”.
Pressing in on God is the key.
We had a taste of that yesterday at our leaders’ retreat – a few hours that went quickly. And not all those hours were prayer hours – but we have to press in! It was a start.
So is it about persistence and constancy? Yes.
But not a silent stoic waiting – here a riotous old widow woman who presses the buttons of this guy – literally “giving him a black eye” – so that he wants to shut her up (or close her campaign down). The term the judge uses is very funny! A black eye indeed – this little widow with no father or husband or son or brother to plead her cause in a man’s world and an unjust judicial system of the day!
So if the bible is useful (profitable) for
The lesson to be learned is persistence.
The rebuke to be issued is this – at the worst extreme you can never pray – never ask God for anything because you’ve given up! That way you get nothing! That would be a rebuke! Don’t be daft! There is treasure here!
The correction – and the rebuke probably belong together. There is an interesting twist at the end of the passage. The broader context is the return of Jesus: and so we read: ‘However, when the Son of Man comes, will he find faith on the earth?’ – the implied answer seems to be a bit dubious!
The rebuke – the correction from this story and teaching of Jesus – is a warning against prayerlessness. Faith dies when the praying stops.
It is said that if God was not present and many churches today – many people would not notice.
Here’s my rebuke! And I say this with all sincerity! Chatty noise and riotous friendliness is no substitute for prayer. We are often quite noisy on a Sunday before worship. But prayer is more important than just fun and fellowship. It’s the prayerful congregation which will win the cause! Which will reach people – and which will still be here in years to come – sharing the love of Jesus!
P.T. Forsyth was England ‘s greatest preacher in the nineteenth century and an authority on the power of prayer. Forsyth notes that the worst sin is prayerlessness. “Overt sin,” he writes, “crime or the glaring inconsistencies which often surprise us in Christian people are the effect of this or its punishment. We are left by God for lack of seeking God.”
And then he gives this advice on how to pray:
Go into your chamber, shut the door and cultivate the habit of praying. Pay no attention to literary form… Read a passage of Scripture and then sit down and turn it into a prayer. Learn to be particular, specific, and detailed in your prayer… Let prayer be concrete, actual, a direct product of life’s experiences.
The training – read your bible and practice what it says about prayer! Do it! Pray the bible – pray the Psalms! They are powerful prayers and hymns themselves and we can easily relate to the cries of the writers.
Come and do it here together! Wednesday morning – Thursday evening – Sunday before church. In the meeting room! There’s even a prayer box there – pop in and write a note requesting prayer! Sign up for our email prayer list!
The encouraging – that’s always easy. Especially if you are powerless! Persist. And sometimes you have to be a squeaky wheel. Keep reminding God of the situation – the need – the challenge – the pain – the injustice of your situation. Cry out to God!
Martin Luther, we are told, used his dog as an illustration about our passion for God. He once dangled some meat in front of the dog – showing observers the dogs persistent barking and leaping. His comment was that he wished he could pray with similar passion, desire and longing – with the dog’s intensity and concentration. He went on to tell his onlookers that with that kind of single mindedness his heart and soul would look only to Christ.
How much more us and God! We don’t need high clever language as we pray. We wouldn’t speak to our friends in fancy English. Our approach to God ois more like that of children and their parents! We do need to persist and not lose heart as we bring our prayers to God!
Never, never, never give up!
Readings: Lamentations 3:19-26; Luke 17: 1-10; 2 Timothy 1:1-14
I read this weekend that I should – well let me read it for you. This pastor wrote: I think the single most important thing a pastor can do is wake up each day and focus his energy on enjoying Jesus and having as much fun as possible. This is the only thing I know of that will protect you from the burnout most pastors experience from the relentless strain of preaching and leading a church. I don’t think there’s much power in preaching grace if you yourself are not revelling in grace. (30 September 2013 by Justin Buzzard)
But I thought today’s reading was about faith – you say.
Actually no. Both really!
All the readings today are also about God’s grace!
From the depressing state of Jeremiah lamenting over a destroyed city of Jerusalem – to the perplexed disciples who are told not to be a stumbling block to other Christians – and to keep forgiving others (together with all the other things Jesus told them to give up or hate as they learn to love him) to the young Timothy who learned like some of us about the love of God from His granny – all the characters, the speakers in these passages and those listening to Jesus’ words or hearing Paul’s letters – none of them – NOT ONE – could save themselves or work up enough faith to qualify for a Nobel Peace prize or the meekest of human trophies.
For Jeremiah – deep in the depths of despair and depression – listen to him again:
Lam 3:19 I remember my affliction and my wandering, the bitterness and the gall.
Lam 3:20 I well remember them, and my soul is downcast within me.
There is a word of Hope:
Lam 3:21 Yet this I call to mind and therefore I have hope:
Lam 3:22 Because of the LORD’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail.
Lam 3:23 They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.
And the key word here? Chesed – meaning mercy or loving kindness. The LORD’s “great love” is the one to look out for in the NIV.
The loving kindness of God is at the heart of it all. Mercy is right there.
With that the endless forgiveness that Jesus talks about in Luke 17:
Luk 17:3 So watch yourselves. “If your brother sins, rebuke him, and if he repents, forgive him.
Luk 17:4 If he sins against you seven times in a day, and seven times comes back to you and says, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”
Of course the Lord’s prayer backs this up. There is only one line in the Lord’s prayer about what we do:
Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us!
It’s the heart of it all – it’s built into the loving kindness and mercy of God!
By the way – what do you think of the disciples response to this challenge? It follows hard on the heels of the warning against causing others t sin in verse 1: “Things that cause people to sin are bound to come, but woe to that person through whom they come.”
Their response is simple: Luk 17:5 The apostles said to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”
He replies: “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.
Jesus’ response has been interpreted in a couple of ways:
1. A rebuke – chiding them for not having enough faith. Can you think of other times when he did this?
(In the context of worry) (O Ye of little faith?) Mat_6:30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is alive and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you, O you of little faith?
(In the context – a storm) Mat_8:26 And he said to them, “Why are you afraid, O you of little faith?” Then he rose and rebuked the winds and the sea, and there was a great calm.
(In the context of Peter walking on the water) Mat_14:31 Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
(When they were discussing bread) Mat_16:8 But Jesus, aware of this, said, “O you of little faith, why are you discussing among yourselves the fact that you have no bread?
(In the context of a demon they could not cast out – although in an extra verse (textural variant) he adds prayer and fasting as a requirement for recalcitrant demons). Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
So he says on this occasion: (In Luke 17:6) “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. This could be a rebuke – if you had just a tiny particle of faith – if you only had that tiny speck of faith like a mustard seed).
2. Humorous – there is an amusing angle – in the piucture of this mulberry tree
Luke 17:6 He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you. There is an amusing angle to this too. The particular mulberry tree was known to have a very complex root system. It was a sycamine tree -a kind of mulberry, with a root system so intricate that it would take six hundred years to untangle it, according to the rabbis. The idea of it being planted in the sea is odd – almost a joke. It would look a bit strange.
3. The main focus is on the faithfulness of God in impossible situations!
In Matthew we read the mountain version of this. Mat_17:20 He said to them, “Because of your little faith. For truly, I say to you, if you have faith like a grain of mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.”
Some of our problems are like mountains. We say things are insurmountable. Basically that means impossible. Overwhelming.
Something like the destruction of Jerusalem – the wasted city of Lamentations. Think of any bombed-out city in the world. Everything gone. Think of hurricanes, tsunamis, earthquakes and the mess that you land with.
How do you find hope in that situation?
In your relationship with God, there are some key responses – prayer (pray the Bible) and worship (sing the Bible) especially – both of which build faith!
As an example we used to sing years back: “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases – his mercies never come to an end – they are new every morning, new every morning, Great is they faithfulness Oh Lord! Great is Thy faithfulness!”
It is hard to find hope, though – especially in the face of wholesale destruction as Jeremiah had faced with the people of God. Those of you who have seen terribly traumatic things – or even have lost a loved on under less horrible situations – or those who battle with depression – understand how hard it is to find hope.
Consider this picture – a sculpture from 1894 by William Wetmore Story – carved for his wife’s tombstone and ultimately his. It is called the “Angel of Grief”. Have a look:
It’s the angel mourning on the tomb! It’s a picture for many of the darkest day of the year – linked by Christians to Holy Saturday – Easter Saturday – where Jesus himself is remembered as dead.
The gloomy mood of all of Lamentations captures these terrible feelings of loss. And yet there is hope in this passage!
The truth is we often have to grieve first – as did Jeremiah. His poetry is gloomy and sad. That must happen in bereavement and loss of all kinds.
There’s a great moment in the movie “Four weddings and a Funeral” – not at the weddings but at the funeral where the dead man’s friend recites W H Auden’s poem “Funeral Blues”. It will resonate with those of you who are grieving. It certainly does for me. It goes like this:
W. H. Auden (Wystan Hugh 21 February 1907 – 29 September 1973) Funeral Blues
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message He Is Dead,
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Brilliant and real. And that kind of grieving is normal and important – as it shows the extent of love and loss in a powerful way.
Depressed people can get stuck in the desperation of hopelessness and persistent loss. People can get a kind of frozen grief. I have encountered that with the losses of immigration – you find it with refugees too.
In that kind of desperation another drum begins to beat out a different song:
“The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases…”
Or if you like:
“ Great is thy faithfulness oh God my father, there is no shadow of turning with thee….”
Morning by morning new mercies I see!
The morning prayer time seems significant as we tackle the day. Think of the beauty in the KJV of Psalm 5: Give ear to my words, O LORD, consider my meditation. Psa 5:2 Hearken unto the voice of my cry, my King, and my God: for unto thee will I pray. Psa 5:3 My voice shalt thou hear in the morning, O LORD; in the morning will I direct my prayer unto thee, and will look up.
It is important to start the day well like that – recognizing his mercies and looking up, because
“All I have needed they hand hath provided!”
The point is – the bottom line is – you can’t work up your faith.
You only need a tiny bit – like the size of a mustard seed – to move that mountain or cast the tree into the sea!
It’s about the greatness and faithfulness of God.
Let’s close by listening to this song – sing along as we declare these truths.
Song: Who alone could save themselves?
Have a listen and as you do ask God to birth new hope in your heart: we all need faith and grace!
Click on the link and listen:
Reading: Psalm 91:1 – 6 ; 14 –16 Preacher: Ann Martin
Part 1 verses 1-6
(Story) John was struggling with failing health, financial concerns and depression. In desperation he made an appointment to see the Vicar, wary of platitudes and dubious about the prospect of relief from his troubles. The young pastor listened to John’s concerns before opening the Bible at Psalm 91. The Word of God proceeded to provide healing and hope to John in a way that no medicine and indeed no minister ever could. John was like a different man afterwards because God had spoken directly to him. On the surface nothing had changed, but the knowledge that God was with him in the “deadly diseases” and ”the terror of the night” was enough to bring comfort.
Psalm 90 reminds us that the Lord is ”a dwelling place” throughout all generations (v1). Now Psalm 91 reminds us that He is also a ’shelter’ from the storms of life’ a ‘refuge’ when we are frightened and a ‘fortress’ that keeps us safe from attack.
Exodus 14 v 13-14 tells us: Fear not, stand still (firm, confident, undismayed) and see the salvation of the Lord which He will work for you today…The Lord will fight for you, and you shall hold your peace and remain at rest.
When troubled times come our way, one of our biggest challenges is to stay calm. Our natural tendencies are to fear, to worry and to try to do something to fix the situation or solve the problem. But we must learn to get our emotions under control, so we can think clearly, act wisely and pray in faith.
Moses often had to help the Israelites calm down. When Pharaoh’s army was gaining ground on them, they kept running, but knew they were headed straight for the Red Sea. Death seemed certain. Exodus tells us the people were frightened and angry with Moses, and they decided they would have been better off as slaves to the Egyptians than trying to outrun Pharaoh’s soldiers. Moses said “Stop it! I know the situation looks hopeless, but don’t be afraid. Just be still for a minute and watch what God is going to do for you”. Before Pharaoh’s army reached the Israelites, God rolled back the waters of the Red Sea so His people could cross over on dry land. When they were all on the other side, the sea closed again and Pharaoh’s fighters were drowned.
This same miracle working God is on our side still. He still fights for His people. Our job, if we belong to Him is to “hold our peace and remain at rest.
There are some things in the Christian life that we do not need to ask for—they are part and parcel of God’s provision for us as His children. And the continued presence of Jesus Christ in our lives is one of them. But concerning some things in life, we would have to say in all honesty that we are not sure if we know the mind of God about them. Thus, before we can proceed, we pray for light and direction. But no Christian need be unsure of God’s promise to dwell in the hearts of those who are His children. He has put the issue beyond all possible doubt by assuring us that He is always with us.
Why then do we find ourselves so often praying for God to be with us, instead of simply affirming it? We need this to be a deep conviction so that, when adverse conditions develop, we will not be left wondering if He is still with us.
Opinions are something we hold. Convictions are something that hold us. So drop your anchor into the depths of this reassuring and encouraging revelation and never again raise the anchor. God is with you always. Let the truth pass from being an opinion, into a firmly held conviction. Behind it lies all the authority of heaven.
Psalm 91 v 2 tells us this: “I will say of the Lord, He is my Refuge and my Fortress, my God; on Him I lean and rely, and in Him I (confidently) trust”
When we are frustrated, it is often because we are trying to do something in our own strength, instead of putting our faith in God and receiving His grace and help.
Little faith can become great faith when we see the faithfulness of God as He meets our needs. You can become a person who enjoys great peace by trusting God.
One thing that is clear about the area of relationships is this, ”relationships can hurt”. A friend of mine says “God calls us to relate to people who are guaranteed to hurt us and fail us”. Which is why we must find a source of security that is not in people, but in God, the unfailing One. This does not mean we must withdraw from people, but that we do not use them as the source of our life. Once we see that God and God alone is our true security then when earthly relationships fail we are shaken but not shattered. There will be a 5 foot drop and not a 1000 foot one.
How will secure people behave when in the midst of a broken relationship? Having reminded themselves that God’s grace is ever sufficient and having looked at any way in which they may have contributed to the difficulty and thrown themselves in utter dependency upon God, they will be strong enough to sit back and wait for God to show them exactly what to do. Once you move your point of dependency from horizontal to vertical and are following God’s direction and guidance in all things, then, though you may still hurt, you will not be destroyed.
Psychiatrist Leonard Zunin said: ”Loneliness is mankind’s biggest problem” and is the main reason behind the many and varied symptoms I see in the people who present themselves before me day after day. By loneliness I don’t mean aloneness. There is a great difference. It is possible to be alone and yet not lonely.It is also possible to be lonely in a crowd.
What is loneliness? It is the feeling we get when we are denied meaningful human companionship. It is a sense of isolation, of inner emptiness, deprivation and worthlessness. The poet Rupert Brooke tells how, when he first set sail from Liverpool to New York on 22nd May,1913, he felt terribly lonely because no one had come to see him off. Everyone else had friends waving then goodbye– but not he. Looking down from the deck, he saw a scruffy little boy and swift as thought he ran down the gangway and said to him “Will you wave to me if I give you sixpence”? “Why yes” said the little boy. The sixpence changed hands and that day Rupert Brooke wrote in his diary “I got my sixpence worth in an enthusiastic farewell.
Those who have never felt the pangs of loneliness will find it hard to understand a story like that. But to others it will carry a world of meaning. It is a desolating experience to be lonely. Yet the Presence of God can become so real as to dispel all feelings of loneliness. We need never feel lonely, or in danger or afraid because God’s Word assures us of His protection and company whenever and wherever we are.
Deuteronomy 31 v 6 “Be strong, courageous and firm; fear not nor be in terror,…….. for it is the Lord your God who goes with you. He will not fail you or forsake you”.
If we know by faith that God is with us, we can take on any challenge with confidence and courage. We may not always feel God’s presence, but we can trust His Word and remember that He said He would never leave us or forsake us.
God encouraged Joshua again, saying, ”Be strong, vigorous, and very courageous. Be not afraid, neither be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”
Basically, God was saying to Joshua, ”You have a big job to do, but don’t let it intimidate you. Fear not. Do not be afraid, because I will be with you.”
In the Bible, the basis for not fearing is simply this; God is with us. And if we know God’s character and nature, we know He is trustworthy. We do not have to know what He is going to do; simply knowing He is with us is more than enough.
Isaiah 41 v 10 Fear not, (there is nothing to fear) for I am with you, do not look around you in terror and be dismayed, for I am your God, and I will strengthen and harden you to difficulties.
What does this mean? It means God makes us stronger and stronger as we go through things. It means that over time, we become less affected by the difficulties and challenges we face. It is like exercise. When we first do it, we get sore, but as we press through the soreness, we build muscle and gain strength. We must go through the pain to get the gain.
If God removed all challenges, we would never grow and overcome obstacles. He often permits difficulty in our lives because He is trying to reveal something that needs to be strengthened or changed in us. Our weaknesses are never revealed in good times, but they quickly show up in times of trial and stress. Sometimes He shows us what we are afraid of because He wants to deliver us from that fear and strengthen us for things that will come in the future. In those times, we need to say, ”Thank You God, for allowing me to see that fear in my life. It reveals an area that needs to be dealt with in me.” Once that particular area of fear is dealt with, the enemy will have a very hard time bothering you—and succeeding—in that area again.
Think of a situation that once made you fearful but you now handle without fear. Some things you go through in life may not feel good initially, but they will work out for your good if you keep going forward and trust God to strengthen you each step of the way.
The Psalms are full of references to God’s saving grace, His presence and protection. I did a little study and before I had gotten halfway through the book of Psalms, I had found more than 24 places that tell of God being with us to save and to protect us and to be a fortress for us.
Let me read Psalm 91 verses 1– 6 again, but this time in the first person. “If I go to the Lord for safety, if I remain under the protection of the Almighty, I can say to Him, ”You are my defender and protector. You are my God, in You I trust. You will keep me safe from all hidden dangers and from all deadly diseases. You will cover me with Your wings and I will be safe in Your care. Your faithfulness will protect and Defend me. I need not fear any dangers at night or sudden attacks during the day.”
An incident, while on holiday recently, illustrates God’s care rather well. We were staying by the Lake at McLaren Falls Park near Tauranga. We saw several families of ducks. One mother had fourteen ducklings. Brian picked one up. The Mother duck made such a fuss. When Brian put it down it made straight for Mother and she fussed over it and kept it close under her wings.
Part 2 Verses 14-16.
This portion of Psalm 91 is like an echo of the first part but this time from God’s point of view.
(story) On a chilly March afternoon (Northern Hemisphere) before going home for dinner Pastor Walter Klempel fired up the church furnace in preparation for Choir Practice. When it was time to return to Church with his family they were delayed because his daughter changed her clothes. At the same time student Ladona Vadergrift was struggling with a geometry problem and stayed at home to work on it. Sisters Sadie and Royena Estes’ car wouldn’t start. Herbert Kipf lingered over a letter he’d put off writing. Pianist Marilyn Paul fell asleep after dinner and her Mum the Choir director had trouble waking her. Pals Lucille Jones and Dorothy Wood were late because of a radio broadcast. Every single choir member was late; something that’s never happened before or since. Was it just a fluke? No! At 7.30pm that night the West Side Church was flattened by an explosion from a gas leak ignited by the furnace….directly below the EMPTY Choir Seats.
God’s looking out for you, when you don’t even know you’re in danger! As His child you, ”live within the shadow of the Almighty”…..sheltered by …God…He rescues you from every trap. He will shield you with His wings….His promises are your armour….He orders His angels to protect you wherever you go (Ps 91 v 1-11). The Bible says, “the Angel of the Lord guards and rescues all who reverence Him (Psalm 34 v7) To trust in God means safety (Psalm29 v 25)
You can call it coincidence, chance, fate or you can call it what it really is—divine protection.
After the September 11th Twin Tower disaster many people told of why they were late that day and so survived. And I am sure you have heard of other occasions when God demonstrated His protection over us.
The film “Bruce Almighty” is mainly an excuse for a series of plastic explosions from Jim Carrey, but there is some pretty good sermon material in there too. Bruce keeps hearing voices building up. He discovers they are people’s prayers waiting for an answer. He attempts to answer them individually through email, but finds he just can’t keep up with the demand, until finally he sets his email to automatically respond, ”Yes” for every request. Good idea he thinks. Everybody gets what they want. The film goes on to illustrate the pandemonium this care-free, couldn’t-care -less approach to prayer has. It makes an important point. Prayer is not about having God as your personal ’genie in a bottle’. Prayer is about living in a relationship with God. Prayer is a gift, not a duty. Prayer is about getting close to God. Yes, sometimes He will give us what we want, but sometimes He won’t. God loves us so much that sometimes He gives us what we need and not what we ask.
Sometimes, it will seem like He’s not even answering. God is your Father, and the time you spend with Him is the point.
Psalm 145 v 18 reminds us: “The Lord is close to everyone who prays to Him, to all who truly pray to Him.
Similarly, Bill Gates, founder of Microsoft, is hooked up to the Internet. Using the Internet, subscribers can send email to other internet users. So when “The New Yorker” magazine published Bill Gates email address, he quickly got into Trouble with email overload. Now, anyone on the Internet was able to email the computer genius. In no time he was swamped with thousands of messages– he simply couldn’t handle it. So he armed his computer with software that filtered his email, allowing important messages through and sending all the others to electronic oblivion.
We are limited, we can handle only so much and do only so much— God on the other hand, never tires of Smail, (spirit mail). His ear is always open to our prayers. And He has an unlimited capacity to help. You’ll never hear Him say. “Due to an unusually high call volume I am unable to take your message at this time. Please call back or leave a message.” No! The Bible says, ”he shall call upon Me, and I will answer him. I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him. Psalm 91 v 15.
“The desire of the righteous will be gratified (Proverbs 10 v 24)
“The prayer of the upright is His delight” (Proverbs 15 v 8)
“Call to me and I will answer you, and show you great and mighty things, which you do not know (Jeremiah 33 v 3)
“If you abide in Me, and My Words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you. (John 15 v 7)
It’s impossible to be a healthy Christian without a good prayer life.
So let’s check:
- How’s my consistency? If you can’t remember when you last took time to pray, you need to do something about it. Without prayer you’re uncovered and unprotected.
- How’s my sincerity? Are my prayers more liturgy (ritual) than life? Daily, but dull and dry? That’s because you don’t know enough about who you’re talking to, or how He feels about you. The better you know Him, the more time you’ll want to spend with Him.
3. How’s my faith? Do you wonder if prayer really changes anything? Or why on earth a God in Heaven would want to talk to you, or hear anything you had to say? (If He already knows it all, what can you tell Him anyway? And if He decides everything, why even bother?
Prayer is not for God’s benefit—it’s for ours. Where else can we go to bare our souls without fear, and walk away cleansed, comforted, counselled and corrected? Our Prayers work, not because of how well we say them, but because of how well He hears them.
We don’t have to understand prayer to enjoy it’s benefits, any more than we have to understand aerodynamics in order to fly. Just do it! Pray! Get on the plane and trust the Pilot to take you where you need to go. Forget about the wrapping, and just give the gift. It’s better to pray awkwardly, than not at all.
“He will call upon Me, and I will answer Him” (Psalm 91 v 15) There it is in black and white. God’s invitation to ask and His promise to answer. What more do you need?
Prayer is an unnatural activity! From birth we’re taught the rules of self-reliance. Growing up we struggle to achieve self-sufficiency. Prayer flies in the face of those deep-seated values! It’s an indictment of independent living.
To people in the fast lane, prayer is an embarrassing interruption, totally alien to our proud human nature. Yet all of us reach the point of falling on our knees and praying. We may look both ways to be sure nobody’s watching; we may even blush’ but in spite of the foreignness of the activity—we pray. Why? Because the most intimate communion with God comes only with prayer! Ask people who’ve faced tragedy or trial, heartbreak or grief, failure or fear, loneliness or discrimination. Ask what happened in their souls when they finally fell on their knees and poured out their hearts to the Lord; ”I can’t explain it, but I felt like God understood me. I felt a comfort and peace I’d never known before.”
And isn’t that what God promised? (Philippians 4v6-7) “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God and the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds.” You won’t believe the changes that will occur in your life once you are convinced to the core of your being, that God is willing, that He is able, and that He has invited you to come before His throne to do business in prayer.
We love to be generous to our children. That’s why Jesus said (Matthew 7 v 11) “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him?” Think how brutal this would be if it represented your attitude as a parent, (a) I’m too busy, I don’t want to hear about your lost bike, or your school problem. (b) don’t bother me with your personal requests. I’ll take care of everyone else but you. If you love me you’ll survive on bread and water. (c) sure I’m rich, but why should I give you anything –back off! Good parents don’t talk like that because they don’t feel that way about their children; they want only the best for them. So take a good parent’s feeling for his or her child, multiply it hugely, and you’ll have a slight idea of how your Heavenly Father feels about you. Nobody’s voice sounds sweeter to Him than yours. Nothing in the world would keep Him from directing His full attention to your requests. So come to Him every day in prayer.
An enemy had just arrived, intent on wiping out Israel. So Moses says to Joshua. ”Take your best soldiers and go out to meet them. I’m taking two men and I’m going to climb that hill that overlooks the planes, raise my hands toward heaven and pray for victory.” As Moses hands stretched heaven ward, Joshua’s troops prevailed in battle. But when Moses’ arms grew weary, and he dropped them to his side the tide of battle shifted before his eyes. Joshua’s troops were being struck down. Again Moses stretched his arms towards heaven bringing the matter before the Lord. Immediately, the battle’s momentum shifts back to Joshua. Then Moses realises—if he wants to open the door to God’s supernatural intervention here on earth, he must keep his arms stretched toward heaven in prayer.
So, If you’re willing to invite God to involve Himself in your daily living, you’ll experience His power in your home, your relationships, your career, and wherever else it’s needed.
But the other side of the equation is sobering, it is hard for God to release His power in your life when you put your hands in your pockets and say, ”I can handle this on my own.”
If you do that, don’t be surprised if you get the nagging feeling that the tide of battle has shifted against you. And that you’re powerless to do anything about it. Too many of us are willing to settle for lives like that. Are you one of them? In Psalm 91 we read of a God who responds to us. Check this out, (verse 15) ”When they call on Me, I will answer” Wow! That’s a wonderful promise!
Who is this God who will answer us? The psalmist tells us that He is the ”Most High the Almighty (v1) Both terms stress His position and limitless power. And in verse 2 we read that He is Yahweh, the great ”I am”, who is our Lord.
Psalm 91 calls for us to take shelter in the Lord. It assures us that God will protect us from danger.
In verses 3 & 4 it features the metaphors of a mother bird and of armour as our protection as it details the fullness of His power and presence. The picture of a mother bird safely tucking her young under her wings. There they are secure. There is a very tender touch stressing the warmth of God’s love and concern. But not only is there a tenderness in God’s care, there is also a toughness as is seen in the imagery of the armour. God Himself promises to keep in safety those who love Him and call to Him. He does reply and watch over us.
You must make a Choice to take a Chance or your life will never Change.
Do you know the ABBA song “Take a chance on me”? Well! I challenge you to take a chance on God.
Make the choice to take a chance on God and Your life will change for the better.
I leave you with Jeremiah 33 v 3: “Call on me and I will answer you. I will tell you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about.”
God bless you.