Monthly Archives: August 2017

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

READING: Romans 12:3-18

MESSAGE

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

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

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

Quite a lot really.

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

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

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

You could lay this alongside Philippians 2 again:

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

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

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

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

We have gifts, he says. Use them.

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

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

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

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

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

The list is there:

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

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

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

What do you notice about these gifts?

They are all for the benefit of others.

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

Serving – serves others. (versus self-serving)

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

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

Contributing to the needs of others is obviously for others.

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

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

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

Strangely obvious really.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE PAST

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

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

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

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

THE FUTURE

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

 

Advertisements

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

READINGS: Romans 12:1- 8

MESSAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Unlikely.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

AN NEW WAY TO START THE DAY

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

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

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

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

And the next verse shows us how. Verse 2. 

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

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

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

There we go.

Amen.

 

 

____________________________________

Note 1: George Herbert’s poem on work:

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

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

A servant with this clause, Makes drudgery Divine;

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

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

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

MESSAGE

So where did it all start?

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

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

But where did it start?

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

Somewhere your faith must have begun.

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

Or at least they didn’t stop you.

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

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

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

But there is a message there.

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

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

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

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

I love this passage.

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

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

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

But today is not about my feet.

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

  1. The mouth

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Paul writes to Timothy:

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

This probably happened at his baptism.

In fact in the next verse Paul says this:

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

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

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

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

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

Of course – he doesn’t believe it.

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

Why?

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

     2.  The heart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amen.

 

 

 

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

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

MESSAGE

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

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

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

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

Here’s Psalm 139 – listen again:

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

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

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

Take a minute to think about that.

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

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

But that is enough for us.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It spoke to Martin Luther and changed history through Him.

The Roman road starts at Romans 1:16:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Go read Romans 8!

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

Nothing can put it out.

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

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

Amen.

 

 

 

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

READINGS:

2 Timothy 3:10-17;  Romans 8:26-39

MESSAGE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In fact Simon Ponsonby in his commentary on Romans writes:

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

Ponsonby talks about:

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

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

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

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

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

Point 1.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And that’s exactly what the Spirit does.

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

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

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

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

Point 2

is simpler: It’s verse 28:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Isaiah 55 comes to mind:

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

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

AND God learn verse 28 off by heart!

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

Amen.