Monthly Archives: September 2015

Sunday sermon 27 September 2015 – Loyal Encourager

Readings: Acts 4:23-37; Romans 15:1-7; John 14:25-27;

MESSAGE

  1. Are you a son/daughter of encouragement? 

There are many Bible people – like Barnabus (Acts 4:36), Tychicus (Acts 13:15; 20:2) and others, who are very encouraging people. Barnabus gets our main attention today. Luke introduces him in the reading from Acts 4:

Act 4:36  Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means Son of Encouragement), Act 4:37  sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.

Barnabus’ name means “son of prophecy” in Aramaic. In Luke’s Greek it becomes “son of encouragement”.

Lloyd Ogilvie, during his tenure as Senior Pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Hollywood, California (a church noted for more than half a century as a centre for biblical preaching and exposition) writes this in his commentary on Acts:

In two brief verses we are introduced to one of the most admirable personalities of the New Testament. If all we had to enable us to know this man’s character were these two verses, we’d still have enough to stand in admiration and then desire to be like him.

I think one of our home groups should be telling the story of Barnabus. They have been studying him in detail.

My attention to him is with mixed motives. I want us to be like him – yes. But I also would like us to understand the significance of groups that use his name – like the Barnabus Fund – as we approach our World Mission Sunday focussing on the persecuted church around the world.

This man is Joses – or Joseph. He is from Cyprus where there was a colony of Jews. A Levite. And a cousin of John Mark – so he had connections in the Jerusalem church. (Mark was mentored by Peter of course).

Ogilvie suggests that if Joses aka Joseph from Cyprus, names Barnabus by the apostles, would have been in Jerusalem at Pentecost, or at least after that when the Holy Spirit came in power. His life was changed. By the Holy Spirit – became committed in full to God’s work – hence his generosity. (Churches today that give, give fully in response to the prompting of the Holy Spirit and a passion for God’s work!).

Here’s the wonderful thing.

I wonder if you picked up on the link between the readings today?

Lurking beneath the words in English (and not beneath the surface of our murky dams that we spoke about last week) – are treasures and gems.

Encouragement is a key word in the reading from Acts and Romans. In Acts 4 we are introduced to Barnabus. In Romans 15 encouragement comes from God – with endurance – in Paul’s prayer for a spirit of unity amongst the Roman believers.

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus

The Gospel passage is the one in which the word treasures are hidden!

Listen again:

Joh 14:25  “All this I have spoken while still with you. Joh 14:26  But the Counsellor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. Joh 14:27  Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. 

So what is the link?

  • Yes – peace is encouraging.
  • Not letting your hearts be troubled is an encouragement to be steady in faith and feelings.
  • The power word?

Verse 26. the Counsellor.

Here’s the lovely truth. Ogilvie puts it best really:

The apostles, who spoke Aramaic, named him Barnabas. The name is power-packed, having the meaning “son of prophecy,” from bar, “son of,” combined with nebū‘ā, “prophecy.” Some scholars have given it a slightly different emphasis, “son of refreshment.” In Luke’s Greek, however, we have the reflection not just of translation into another language, but the intimate personal observation by the physician of Joses of Cyprus. In a powerful parenthesis, Luke uses huiòs paraklḗseōs, which can be rendered “son of consolation, exhortation, or encouragement.” It is exciting to understand that the same basic word was used to translate Jesus’ Aramaic promise of the ministry of the Holy Spirit:

“And I will pray the Father, and He will give you another Helper, that He may abide with you forever—the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees Him nor knows Him; but you know Him, for He dwells with you and will be in you. I will not leave you orphans; I will come to you” (Joh_14:16-18).

In this case the Greek word for “Helper,” or as it is in the RSV “Counselor,” paráklētos, means one who is called to one’s side to help who strengthens and helps us to stand. Joses had clearly displayed inherent inclination toward being that kind of person.

huiòs paraklḗseōs and paráklētos are the two key words.

Barnabus got his name because he was emulating the work of the Comforter – the helper – the Holy Spirit. He was empowered by the spirit! Clearly!

And of course it’s not a trick. Comfort and encourage are very close to each other in meaning.

  • Encourage from French into Middle English. It means to “make strong” or “hearten”. Or to put in courage! To spur on. To help.
  • Comfort is stolen from Latin. Com-forte means to strengthen much! Fortis is Latin for strong! Forte is the Italian term for loud or strong in music! (Piano means soft! Pianoforte means a soft loud – as it has a pedal I suppose!)

Encouraging people come along side you and sustain, strengthen and uplift you.

Is that you? Am I always like that? Great questions.

We will revisit Barnabus again. I encourage you (in the very ordinary sense of urge, prompt and suggest to you) that you look him up in your bibles through the week.

For today a couple of important matters.  Are you a son/daughter of encouragement – was our first question or point today.

The second is this – how do we become like this? Point 2 is simple – the Bible and encouragement.

  1. The bible and encouragement

Listen to Romans 15 again – in case you missed it. We focussed on verse 5. Listen to verse 4 again:

Rom 15:4  For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.

Rom 15:5  May the God who gives endurance and encouragement give you a spirit of unity among yourselves as you follow Christ Jesus.

You can’t be encouraging unless you know the truths of scripture. Like you can’t know God’s character without knowing your bible – and you can’t get to know and trust God without knowing his character!

The endurance and ENCOURAGEMENT of the Scriptures brings hope!

Barnabus’ name is close to the name of the Holy Spirit – and the two go hand in in hand – the Bible, the word of God, and the work of the Spirit!

Here’s a good biblical reason to illustrate that they are two sides of the same coin.

Letting the Word of God make its home in us, and being filled with the Spirit!

Two of Paul’s letters show this clearly. Colossians and Ephesians.

Col 3:16  Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. Col 3:17  And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

 Eph 5:18  Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery. Instead, be filled with the Spirit, Eph 5:19  speaking to one another with psalms, hymns and songs from the Spirit. Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, Eph 5:20  always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The outcome of the input of both word and Spirit is worship, praise and thanksgiving and gratitude.

And people like that are very encouraging to have around.

A further thought today about people who are like God and speak God’s word to us in a prophetic sense. And so our third point:

  1. Prophecy

We saw that Barnabus in Aramaic meant “son of prophecy”.

It’s interesting that prophecy is the most desirable gift in 1 Corinthians 14. But this is not like the Old Testament prophets’ way. Paul writes this;

1 Corinthians 14:3 – But everyone who prophesies speaks to men for their strengthening, encouragement and comfort.

God wants to speak into our lives  – through his word, his Spirit, and the proclamation of preaching and prophecy (or prophetic preaching) to build us up.

We need to be strong. The battle is tough!  How much more for the persecuted church!

But finally, our last point:

  1. God and Jesus encourage us.

If figures really. The Holy Spirit the comforter/encourager is just like them!

Listen to Paul in 2 Thessalonians: 2Th 2:16  May our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and by his grace gave us eternal encouragement and good hope, 2Th 2:17  encourage your hearts and strengthen you in every good deed and word.

What a lovely blessing!  

Lloyd Ogilvie shares about the Barnabus name again in this way. A good way to end our thoughts today: He talks about Luke – and suggests that Luke may have known Paul’s letter to the Ephesians or heard him dictate it and understood his desire for the church to be like Christ in chapter 4. He says this of this passage: “It is a charter and guide for a challenging Order of Saint Barnabas in any congregation today.”

I, therefore, the prisoner of the Lord, beseech you to walk worthy of the calling with which you were called, with all lowliness and gentleness, with longsuffering, bearing with one another in love, endeavouring to keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.

And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice. And be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Christ forgave you (Eph_4:1-3, Eph_4:30-32).

He concludes: “ Only the indwelling Lord could produce an affirmer and encourager like Barnabas. And it all was focused in his stable loyalty to the Lord, to his friends, and to new believers. What would we do without the Barnabases? And with the Paraklētos in us, can’t we go beyond just emulating Barnabas, and become the Lord’s own unique miracle of an encourager? Whatever our name is now, it can be loyal encourager.”

Amen.

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Sunday sermon 20 September 2015 – What lurks beneath?

Readings: Jeremiah 31:31-34;  Luke 22:19-27; 1 Corinthians 5:7-8; 1 Corinthians 11:23-26.

Sermon

I went for a walk in Bayside yesterday – there is this dam – dogs and kids walking happily around. A man was cleaning his high windows with an extended brush. Others were enjoying their upgraded houses and pools and trampolines in the back garden.

Like the vicious dog on the corner – hidden behind high walls – you don’t know what’s on the inside of those houses.

And on the water you find ducks and in season their ducklings. Pukekos in and out of the bush. Tuis in the trees and no one playing dangerous games on the green overlooking the water. Like rugby or football.

But under the water? What’s really there? Not big enough for a Nessie. But there are fish and eels. And who knows what lurks down there?

You just don’t know what’s underneath – or what’s on the inside of people. Jesus knew. He spoke to religious people in a scathing onslaught – comparing them to whitewashed tombstones – clean on the outside but full of dead men’s bones beneath.

Mat_23:27  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean.

1. So what have we been saved from?

When the Israelites celebrated liberation from slavery – they knew what they were saved from.

When the angel passed over Egypt the blood of the Passover lamb on the lintels and doorframes of their houses saved them from death. And then they were rescued from slavery – set free!

They knew what they were saved from.

Do we? This Sin?

Sin is pernicious. Malicious, wicked, evil and malevolent. As God said to Cain before he killed Able – when he was so enraged because God rejected his thoughtless offering (does he reject our shoddy little offerings when they too are second best? Great question!) “Sin is crouching at your door!”

Gen 4:3  In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the LORD. Gen 4:4  But Abel brought fat portions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The LORD looked with favor on Abel and his offering, Gen 4:5  but on Cain and his offering he did not look with favor. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast. Gen 4:6  Then the LORD said to Cain, “Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? Gen 4:7  If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.”

That’s what we are saved from! Something that can send us into the wilderness far from God and life!

Gen 4:9  Then the LORD said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” “I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Gen 4:10  The LORD said, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Gen 4:11  Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand. Gen 4:12  When you work the ground, it will no longer yield its crops for you. You will be a restless wanderer on the earth.”

At this meal – this communion meal – this new Passover in Christ -there is much to be thankful for! This is no McDonalds Happy Meal! This is a major coup! A huge victory! The liberation of a greater concentration camp than Auschwitz-Birkenau, Dachau, Buchenwald (there were more than 70 of them) of all the refugee camps and war zones, and of all places where people are enslaved – more than all of these across the world combined! (John 3:16 – “God so loved the world that he gave…”. 2 Corinthians 5:14 – “one died for all”. 1 Peter 3:18 – “For Christ died for sins once for all”).

When the commandments are given in Exodus 20 – this is how they begin: Exo 20:1  And God spoke all these words: Exo 20:2  “I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery. Exo 20:3  “You shall have no other gods before me.

When we gather we should always declare that through CHRIST’S DEATH we have been brought out of our slavery and darkness into His wonderful light! (1 Peter 2:9)

But wait! And there’s more! There’s freedom from slavery to sin. The transformation means we become slaves to righteousness, with an addiction to truth and holiness.

And if you remember anything from our study of Galatians you may remember this: Gal 5:1 – It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.

And then Romans 6 reminds us: Rom 6:18 You have been set free from sin and have become slaves to righteousness.  Rom 6:19 I put this in human terms because you are weak in your natural selves. Just as you used to offer the parts of your body in slavery to impurity and to ever-increasing wickedness, so now offer them in slavery to righteousness leading to holiness.

Our salvation is through Christ the Passover Lamb. (Remember those words: “Behold the Lamb of God…” – spoken by John the Baptist in John 1:29,36).

We are rescued! We should know what we were saved from!

And were are baptised into Christ (Galatians 3:27) – into his death (Romans 6:3)– and by the Spirit into his body ( 1 Corinthians 12:13) which is the new family of God in which we are meant to die to sin. (Gal_5:24)  Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires.

SIN IN CHURCH

So when Paul talks about the problem of sin in the church – you can see where he is coming from when he wants it removed like a cancer that lurks beneath, or an infection that eventually spreads through the whole body.

Which brings us to that marvellous passage of 1 Corinthians 5.

2.     Christ our Passover is sacrificed for us – the bread of sincerity and truth

This is what characterises a Christian church and community. Paul talks about what’s on the inside when he talks about yeast. Leaven. Something that works on the inside unseen in itself but obvious when the bread rises.

The Communion Festival celebrates Christ our Passover sacrifices for us. He says:

1Co 5:7  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. 1Co 5:8  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

Leaven initially about leaving in a hurry? No time to wait. What is this leaven story?

Kenneth Chafin’s Commentary is really helpful here: The analogy of the leaven, used by Paul in verses 1Co_5:6-8, came from the process of preparation for the Passover. Here he compares the immorality that cannot be tolerated and must be rooted out from the church with the leaven that had to be discovered and gotten rid of before the time of the Jewish Passover.

On the first day of Passover all leaven must be removed as a symbol of Israel’s liberation from the sins of Egypt. No leaven could be present in the bread that was eaten in the Passover meal lest there be risk of contamination.

Paul was saying, “If this is not handled promptly and incisively, it will eventually permeate the whole church.” Paul had learned that a church will eventually adjust to what it tolerates, and he had a dream of a different kind of church. (The Preacher Commentary – Kenneth Chafin).

We see this today! It’s not okay! And what a great picture – a dream of a DIFFERENT kind of church indeed.

And of course if you read the whole of 1 Corinthians 5 you will see how bad the sin in that community was at the time.

A final story from my life: I was first elected onto a Board of management in a church almost 40 years ago I think. My minister wanted a youth representative there. And I learned what happens when you put things off that are festering underneath. The church hall was a massive place – bigger than the massive church. The board was often afraid that God wouldn’t provide – so they didn’t always fix things or attend to what was beneath.

It was either wood borer or wood rot that did them in years later. One night – by God’s grace when no one was in the building – the hall roof fell in.

You have to deal with what’s going on within – underneath the veneer.

As we draw this to a close we hear from TOM WRIGHT – these final thoughts from this amazing New Testament thinker are really powerful, especially when he shows that leaven here represents our old behaviour (from which we have been rescued):

At the first Passover, each family slaughtered a lamb for their evening meal, and put its blood on the doorposts of the house so that the angel of death would ‘pass over’ them and spare them, while the firstborn of the Egyptians were killed. When Jews of Paul’s day kept the Passover festival, they sacrificed lambs in the Temple, continuing the tradition and keeping fresh the memory of God’s great deliverance. The early Christians saw Jesus’ own death as the climax, the culmination, of this whole tradition. He was the real Passover lamb, and his death had won deliverance for the whole world.

The whole Christian life, from this point of view, becomes one long Passover-celebration! That’s what it’s all about. Every breath a Christian takes is a silent Passover-hymn of gratitude to the God who has acted to save the world through Jesus, the true Passover lamb. Every action a Christian performs is part of the endless ceremonial of the Passover-celebration.

And at this Passover there must be no leaven. Paul does not, of course, mean that Christians must not eat leavened bread. It’s picture-language. The equivalent of leaven within this new Passover-life that Jesus’ people are called to live is the behaviour which goes with the old way of life: ‘the leaven of the old life’ is the kind of behaviour that pagans engage in before conversion, and ‘the leaven of depravity and wickedness’ is the kind of behaviour that Christians can be lured back into if they aren’t careful.

Leave old behaviour

What they need instead, Paul insists, is the ‘unleavened bread’ of genuine Christian living. We might have expected him to explain that as ‘holiness’ or ‘purity’, but instead he speaks of ‘sincerity’ and ‘truth’. ‘Sincerity’ doesn’t just mean ‘doing what you really want to do’; some of the wickedest things in the world have been done by completely ‘sincere’ people in that sense. No one was more sincere than Adolf Hitler.

The word Paul uses speaks of a purity of motive. It isn’t just that motive and action must be in tune with each other; that’s true of most criminals. Both alike must spring from the purified source of a will realigned to the purity of God himself. The mention of ‘truth’ indicates that at the heart of all misbehaviour there is a lie: the lie that says God doesn’t mind, the lie that pretends this one time doesn’t matter, the easy but deadly lie that imagines that this was after all how humans were supposed to behave. (Wright, Tom (2003-03-21). Paul for Everyone: 1 Corinthians (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 61). SPCK. Kindle Edition.)

In my words – it’s not okay!

Finally – in summary – watch out for:

  • What lurks beneath
  • Sin is crouching at your door
  • That we go for the bread of sincerity and truth!

Amen!

 

 

(The rest of the message not shared on Sunday follows in summary)

3.  The New covenant

I love the passage from Jeremiah 31 – “they will all know me” – in the church.

How well do you know him? (Last week we talked about how knowledge about God’s character helps us live it out).

And knowing him is allowing him to speak into our lives and clean out the leaven.

Servanthood is it in this new Covenant celebrated in the New Passover – Christ our Passover. There is nothing surprising that we should serve.

So just after the institution of the Communion meal it’s  no surprise that this takes place;

Luk 22:24 Also a dispute arose among them as to which of them was considered to be greatest.
Luk 22:25 Jesus said to them, “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them; and those who exercise authority over them call themselves Benefactors.
Luk 22:26 But you are not to be like that. Instead, the greatest among you should be like the youngest, and the one who rules like the one who serves.
Luk 22:27 For who is greater, the one who is at the table or the one who serves? Is it not the one who is at the table? But I am among you as one who serves.

It all fits together with the example of the lamb of God Jesus. Remember Mark 10:45:  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

4.  The visible gospel in the bread and wine.

The meal of this New Passover  proclaims the message of the good news of Christ’s death as the Passover lamb.

This is a visible gospel sacrament. We heard this well known verse read to us today:

1 Cor 11:26:  For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

This is action and proclamation. This is about our alliance with Him. Our loyalty to Him. Our public support of the Gospel cause.

The visible sign represents not just servanthood but sacrifice.  “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.”

Sunday sermon 13 September 2015 – How good is the God we adore

Readings: Psalm 37:1-6   Mark 10:17-31  1 Thessalonians 5:12-24

SERMON

We had some fun figuring out the words of Lynda’s song she asked us to sing today.

The two versions are really saying the same thing – but it helps to sing the same thing on the same day. We talk about “being on the same page”! Here they are:

 Verse 1

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

Verse 2

For Christ is the First and the Last
His Spirit will guide us safe home
We’ll praise Him for all that is past
And trust Him for all that’s to come

Verse 1 (the second version)

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

Whose love is as great as His power,

And neither knows measure nor end.

Verse 2

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

The one version starts like this:

How good is the God we adore
Our faithful unchangeable Friend
His love is as great as His power
And knows neither measure nor end

It got me thinking (yes I do think… ) about Jesus’ comment to the Rich Young Ruler in Mark 10:

Mar 10:17  As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

Mar 10:18  “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. What an amazing statement – the Son deferring to the Father.

WHAT’S HE LIKE THEN?

Do you remember when you met someone and fell in love? It was probably a while back! And you told you best friend about him or her. And you got this response – “so what’s he like then?” (Of course if you told your dad and mum, they would also ask “what’s he do then? (For a living I suppose)”. These days they would be asking all kinds of other questions as well.

What God is like is fundamental to who we say we are as Christians and how we share this story – this Gospel or good News.

Our faith is stronger – our witness is more powerful – in fact the Holy Spirit can work more powerfully in us- when we know what God is like! The Holy Spirit brings things to our remembrance (John 14:26).

I chose some other passages today for the readings to illustrate this – of course the whole Bible is filled with stuff about the character of God!

When we know what he’s like – it is also reflected in our prayers! And we have things to say, truths to share with people as we pray for them – we can say as in the first line of the song:

“This, this is the God we adore!”

Psalm 37 is one of them – one of our passages for today. It’s a great Psalm:

Listen again to the juxtaposition of these three verses. That’s a fancy way of saying – look how these three verses hang together:

Psa 37:3  Trust in the LORD and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture.

Psa 37:4  Delight yourself in the LORD and he will give you the desires of your heart.

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

  • Trust (in the Lord) and do good
  • Delight (yourself in the Lord) – and he will give you the desires of your heart.
  • Commit (your way to the Lord) – trust in him and he will do this

Psa 37:5  Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it

Psa 37:5  Commit your way to the LORD; trust in him and he will do this:

Psa 37:6  He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.

Sounds good to me!

He is a God who calls us into a relationship of faith – trust – relationship in which we delight ourselves in him – he is known and experienced as a reality who not only knows the desires of our hearts but seeks to bless us by meeting those desires.

We are to commit our ways to him and again TRUST HIM. Verse 5 in the Bible in Basic English says this: “Put your life in the hands of the Lord; have faith in him and he will do it.” (BBE)

You get this idea of the faithfulness of God – of one who acts- who does it! Who hears our prayers, who acts for our cause.

It comes up in the reading from 1 Thessalonians which we shared in our Alpha group this week. We were actually talking about the work of the Holy Spirit – through whom God acts, and works in power in our lives.

There are a whole list of injunctions, or strong suggestions, given by Paul to the Christians in Thessalonica. The truth is they are not new commands – but just the natural outcome of this relationship of trust.

1Th 5:16  Be joyful always; (delighting ourselves in Him)

1Th 5:17  pray continually; (trusting Him)

1Th 5:18  give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (rejoicing in Him – always grateful rather than grumpy)

1Th 5:19  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire;

1Th 5:20  do not treat prophecies with contempt.  (He speaks truth!)

1Th 5:21  Test everything. Hold on to the good. (Because God is good!)

1Th 5:22  Avoid every kind of evil. (Because God is good! All the time!)

Paul goes on in these beautiful verses:

1Th 5:23  May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.

1Th 5:24  The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

You can see where this takes us. It’s about endurance. About trusting Him through thick and thin. (The context of so many passages in the New Testament is challenging to say the least.) Paul – writing about rejoicing in the Lord always (Tuesday’s discussion from Philippians) – was in prison.  In that same letter he writes in the first chapter:.

Php 1:2  Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Php 1:3  I thank my God every time I remember you.

Php 1:4  In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy

Php 1:5  because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now,

Php 1:6  being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Because God is good!

Later in the letter there is this favourite passage:

Php 4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!   (Again – delight yourselves in the Lord!)

Php 4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

Php 4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

On Tuesday I shared this reflection: John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June (December here, or January!); a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November (June in the Southern Hemisphere!). One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.

It’s all about this faithful and good God who does not change! (James 1:17; Hebrews 13:8)

This, this is the faithful God we adore –

This, this is the God we adore

Our faithful unchangeable Friend;

‘Tis Jesus, the First and the Last

Whose Spirit shall guide us safe home;

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

One final thing about this faithful God in whom we trust so fully and rejoice always.

The Gospel reading where we started – where Jesus makes it clear that God is so good! God alone!

Mar 10:25  It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”

Mar 10:26  The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”

Mar 10:27  Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!”

Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel

Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

“With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (v27)

What a good reminder. Peter of course seems to be having one of his moments – a pity party of some sort about the price they paid to follow Jesus. Jesus reminds him of the blessings and rewards now (in the church family as in Acts 2:45) and in the age to come. Of course there is always a warning: “and persecutions”. We get the same troubles as Jesus, but in the words of Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:

2Co 4:16 Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day.
2Co 4:17 For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all.
2Co 4:18 So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal. 

The great benefit is there – of serving Him – to the end. Here it is again::

Mar 10:28  Peter said to him, “We have left everything to follow you!” Mar 10:29  “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel Mar 10:30  will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life.

We’ll praise Him for all that is past,

And trust Him for all that’s to come.

Amen.

Tuesday Church 8 September 2015 – lessons from Paul’s letter to the Philippians

Reading: PHILIPPIANS 4.2– 9

4:1  Therefore, my brothers, you whom I love and long for, my joy and crown, that is how you should stand firm in the Lord, dear friends!

4:2  I plead with Euodia and I plead with Syntyche to agree with each other in the Lord.

4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

4:4  Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!

4:5  Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near.

4:6  Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.

4:7  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus

Sermon

Two or three thoughts (maybe more) at our service this Tuesday. First of all the two women mentioned in 4:2.

  1. The two women – the need for unity

There are different theories about these ladies – especially the meaning of their names. Perhaps Euodia (with the long o), means fragrance; but we are told the correct reading is with the short o, the meaning being prosperous journey. Syntyche means happy chance.  Others suggest that Euodia means literally “prosperous journey” (eu, hodos). Syntyche  they say means “to meet with” and so “pleasant acquaintance” or “good-luck” Either way it would have been better for them to get on together. Paul has to get the team motivated as co-workers in the cause of the Gospel. (See John 17 on Jesus’ prayer for unity and its impact on mission).

And of course Paul is in prison – the next thing that challenges us as he calls us to rejoice always!

  1. Paul in prison – rejoicing in every situation

John Henry Jowett (b1863 – 1923) shares his experience regarding Christian joy:

Christian joy is a mood independent of our immediate circumstances. If it were dependent on our surroundings, then, indeed, it would be as uncertain as an unprotected candle burning on a gusty night. One moment the candle burns clear and steady, the next moment the blaze leaps to the very edge of the wick, and affords little or no light. But Christian joy has no relationship to the transient setting of the life, and therefore it is not the victim of the passing day. At one time my conditions arrange themselves like a sunny day in June; a little later they rearrange themselves like a gloomy day in November. One day I am at the wedding; the next day I stand by an open grave. One day, in my ministry, I win ten converts for the Lord; and then, for a long stretch of days, I never win one. Yes, the days are as changeable as the weather, and yet the Christian joy can be persistent. Where lies the secret of its glorious persistency?

Here is the secret. “Lo! I am with you all the days.” In all the changing days, “He changeth not, neither is weary.” He is no fairweather Companion, leaving me when the year grows dark and cold. He does not choose my days of prosperous festival, though not to be found in my days of impoverishment and defeat.

I think we get his point. And then thirdly, we are challenged by our commitment – are we those who strive for the Gospel to reach others?

  1. Contending – striving for the main thing

The image in Greek is drawn from athletic contests. Usually, athletes competed one against another; in Php 1:27 Paul asks the church at Philippi to compete together as a team of athletes to help advance the faith that comes through the preaching of the gospel.  (We saw that he also mentions Euodia and Syntyche as those who were contending for the gospel side by side with himself.)

In the first chapter of this letter he writes this: Php 1:27  Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in one spirit, contending as one man for the faith of the gospel.

And in this passage when trying to get them to get along. he says: Php 4:3  Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life.

What a challenge. Do we strive for these things?

And of course the rest of this well known passage lists other things we should do as a consequence of following Christ. (On this Sunday coming we will look at a similar list in 1 Thessalonians 5):

  1. Paul’s exhortation to strive after other Christian virtues as well

Paul exhorts the Philippians to strive after four basic Christian virtues: (1) “rejoice in the Lord always” (v. Php_4:4), (2) be gentle to all people (v. Php_4:5), (3) be prayerful, not anxious (v. Php_4:6), and (4) meditate on excellent things (v. Php_4:8).

I encourage you to read this passage a number of times as you reflect on your journey with Christ.

Tom Wright’s translation of Philippians 4 is helpful as we close:

Celebrate in the Lord!

2 I have a special appeal which goes jointly to Euodia and Syntyche: please, please, come to a common mind in the Lord.

3 (And here’s a request for you too, my loyal comrade: please help these women. They have struggled hard in the gospel alongside me, as have Clement and my other fellow-workers, whose names are in the book of life.)

4 Celebrate joyfully in the Lord, all the time. I’ll say it again: celebrate!

5 Let everybody know how gentle and gracious you are. The Lord is near.

6 Don’t worry about anything. Rather, in every area of life let God know what you want, as you pray and make requests, and give thanks as well.

7 And God’s peace, which is greater than we can ever understand, will keep guard over your hearts and minds in King Jesus.

Wright, Tom (2011-11-30). Paul for Everyone: The Prison Letters – Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon (New Testament for Everyone) (p. 128). SPCK. Kindle Edition.

Amen.

 

Sunday Sermon 6 September 2015 – Heart, Mind and Wallet

Readings

Deuteronomy 6:4-9
Luke 11:1-13
2 Corinthians 8:1-7

Sunday Sermon

There are at least three conversions in the Christian faith and experience.

Here they are.

1.    Conversion of the heart.

The powerful reading from the Old Testament today is clear:

Deu 6:5  Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. Deu 6:6  These commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.

New hearts  – changed and softened hearts, come up through the scriptures.For example here are some of these passages:

Jeremiah:
Jer_24:7  I will give them a heart to know me, that I am the LORD. They will be my people, and I will be their God, for they will return to me with all their heart.
Jer_29:13  You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
Ezekiel:
Eze_11:19  I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh.
Epistles:
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.
Eph_1:18  I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints,
Eph_5:19  Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord,
Gospels:
Mar_12:30  Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’
Mar_12:33  To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
Luk_6:45  The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.
Acts:
Acts_2:37  When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

We need our hearts changed!

2.    Conversion of the mind

A well known passage from Paul us this one:

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.

I loved the reminder at Alpha this week – from St Anselm – “I believe in order to understand.” Reformed tradition has often focussed on the mind first.

The Creeds begin with “I believe…” Not “I am passionate about” or “I love”…

And the Creed has a list of intellectual propositions:

  • Who God is (Father, Son Holy Spirit)
  • What he did (incarnation, death, resurrection, Ascension)
  • When he will come again
  • What he will do (judge)
  • Where we make sure that people understand these teachings (the church)

Those same passages about the heart also include the transformation of our minds, and our engaging of our thoughts and reasoning in our love and service of God.

Gospels:
Mat_22:37  Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’
Luk_10:27 
He answered: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.'”
Romans:
Rom_8:6  The mind of sinful man is death, but the mind controlled by the Spirit is life and peace; Rom_8:7  the sinful mind is hostile to God. It does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.

The mind, not just the heart, is to be transformed by the Spirit.

Interestingly there is a third conversion to consider:

  1. The conversion of the purse, or wallet.

Greg Laurie writes this about our third reading 2 Corinthians 8:7 – about giving. here is the main verse: 2 Co 8:7  But just as you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in your love for us—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.

The story is told of Sam Houston, hero of Texas history, who gave his life to the Lord in the later years of life and asked to be baptized. He was taken down to a little country stream, and the pastor said, “General Houston, you should take your glasses off because I am going to immerse you in water.” There also were some papers in General Houston’s pocket, so he took those out as well.

Then, just as he was getting ready to go into the water, the pastor noticed that General Houston still had his wallet in his pants. He said, “Well, General, you might want to take that wallet out of your pants. It is going to get wet.”

Houston responded, “If there is any part of me that needs baptizing, it is my wallet.” So Houston was baptized, wallet and all.

Maybe some of us need our wallet or cheque book or credit cards baptized. As Martin Luther said, “There are three conversions necessary: the conversion of the heart, mind, and the purse.”

The Bible speaks a lot about money. Greatest hot topic. You can’t avoid it.

  • How’s your heart?
  • What is your mind focussed on?
  • And is God and his kingdom at the top of your list when you open your purse? Or log on your internet bank account, or get out your cheque book?

The Epistle reading (letters) about the church in Macedonia is one of many passages about giving.

Paul admonishes them to “excel in the this grace of giving” (verse 8)

What does grace mean? Gift! Excel in the gift of giving.

Jesus said, “Give, and it will be given to you: good measure, pressed down, shaken together, and running over. . . . For with the same measure that you use, it will be measured back to you” (Luke 6:38).

The Gospel of Luke continues in chapter 11 – reminding us that God is Father – with all the best connotations of that word and role for us as his children:

Luk 11:1  One day Jesus was praying in a certain place. When he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, just as John taught his disciples.” Luk 11:2  He said to them, “When you pray, say: “‘Father, hallowed be your name, your kingdom come.

The best is yet to come from this generous giving God – after whom we model our lives. We take after him!

Luk 11:9  “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. Luk 11:10  For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened.
Luk 11:11  “Which of you fathers, if your son asks for a fish, will give him a snake instead? Luk 11:12  Or if he asks for an egg, will give him a scorpion?
Luk 11:13  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!”

The best gift – the gift of the Holy Spirit – is given by this Father. The gift of his presence and power to make a difference in the world.

The first chapter of Acts is worth hearing again: Act 1:4  On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. Act 1:5  For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.” Act 1:6  So when they met together, they asked him, “Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?” Act 1:7  He said to them: “It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. Act 1:8  But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”

Are you fully converted?

Heart, mind, wallet – a life for the Father, the Kingdom, and the Good news!

Amen.