Monthly Archives: February 2019
Readings: Psalm 139:1-12; 23-4; Phil 4:4-8; John 14:15-27
Once of my favourite movies is “Keeping the Faith” – where a rabbi and a priest fall in love with the same girl. The rabbi is fired for doing different and unusual things in his attempt to modernize. This scene is his farewell sermon:
I often think about that sermon.
How much of yourself do you share with your congregation? It’s a great challenge if you are a minister.
After all, preaching is about the Word of God – and should always lead people to Jesus, and not to the preacher.
That’s one of the reasons why Presbyterian ministers wore black – it was meant to not draw attention to themselves. I think these days if you wore black all the time people might think you’re an alien who was supposed to land in Wellington. After all they wear black there. A lot.
Sometimes I’m probably a bit too transparent. But today I don’t have a choice.
If we’re talking about anxiety and peace – they are very personal things.
Anxiety by definition is individual first. Human beings get anxious. We worry. And we don’t have peace of mind in a personal sense.
Peace on the other hand could be looked at from a broader worldwide point of view – peace between nations, tribes, families, gangs and so on.
God’s SHALOM is a social and personal idea – we area meant to find peace together. We make peace with each other. We pray for peace between nations and rightly so. And we seek and have internal peace.
Did you notice the rabbi’s first word in his sermon? SHALOM. Peace.
They didn’t respond. I’m not sure if they were supposed to, like churches passing the peace. It reminds me of the minister who was trying to get his laptop working at the beginning of the service and forgot that his radio mike was on. He muttered to himself “there’s something wrong with this mouse” – to which the congregation replied without thinking: “and also with you!”
Peace can be contrasted with anxiety therefore.Let’s look at anxiety first. The verse I want us to look at from the readings today is this one: Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. (Psalm 139:23)
It’s found a famous song by J Edwin Orr written to the well known Maori tune after a mission at Ngaruawahia in 1936 – Search me oh God – when young Maori girls sang farewell to him. We know it as “now is the hour”
E moea iho nei
E haere ana
Koe ki pämamao
Ka hoki mai anö
Ki i te tau
E tangi atu nei
(On a moonlit night
I see in a dream
You going away
To a distant land
But return again
To your loved one,
I love the Hebrew language. It’s so rich.
Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
“Anxious thoughts” is one word in Hebrew. Some translations just say: “test me and know my thoughts”. Thoughts here is not just a little bit of thinking about something.
The mind is a mine field isn’t it. Our thought life. Worry worry. Sleepless nights thinking thinking thinking.
Rene Descartes in his “Discourse on method” introduced us to that famous line:
COGITO ERGO SUM – I think, therefor I am – a philosophical statement which led him ultimately to postulate a view of humanity or human beings.
I think it was the Moody Blues in the song “In the beginning – lovely to see you” who used the line and added some doubt to it: “I think am, therefore I am… I think.”. It’s a creation image with a crescendo – and then these thoughts:
I think, I think I am, therefore I am, I think.
The song includes the words about people who: Face piles – And piles – Of trials – With smiles.
“Anxious thoughts” could also translated be as “cogitations” from that same Latin word Cogito.
Cogitate means: think deeply about something; meditate or reflect. Synonyms include: think (about), contemplate, consider, give thought to, give consideration to, mull over, meditate (on), muse (on), ponder (on/over), reflect (on), deliberate (about/on), ruminate (about/on/over), dwell on, brood (on/over), agonize (over), worry (about), chew over, puzzle (over), speculate about, weigh up, revolve, turn over in one’s mind
Ruminate, dwell on, brood over, chew over – is only one small step to grinding your teeth and being restless and anxious. Mr. worry pot.
The new translation of Psalm 139:23 in Afrikaans captures it beautifully:
“… ondersoek my, sien tog my onrus raak.” – examine me, see my unease.
Onrus – unrest – back in the day, meant political upheaval with violence. Really disturbing things.
Like the rabbi in that Yom Kippur sermon, its hard for me to know where to start when it comes to sharing my life with people in the area of anxiety and stress. I’ve suffered from some post-traumatic stress symptoms including anxiety attacks. Panic attacks. They still lurk when I hear an ambulance siren.
Many times these verses have applied to me: Psa 139:23 Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. Psa 139:24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.
Sometimes my anxious thoughts are linked to some offensive way in me. I am sometimes feeling off because I need to sort myself out. The problem can be with me.
But many times serious anxiety is beyond our control due to outside circumstances and events that are traumatic or challenging.
I can’t tell you the whole story in my journey today. But I can testify to the peace of God that passes all understanding. It’s as real as the chair you’re sitting on.
Paul in our second reading in Phil 4:7 speaks of this “peace of God, which transcends all understanding”, which will “guard (y)our hearts and (y)our minds in Christ Jesus”
It’s worth memorizing this verse 7 – seven is a perfect number – you may remember it as it rhymes with heaven. What leads us to this “seven – heaven” state of peace?
Why verse 6 of course: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
Don’t be anxious about “anything”.
Easier said than done of course. Post-traumatic stress disorder is an automatic response from the brain designed to protect you from danger.
What I had to do was to pray through the anxiety and after some years it eased – together with the transformation of my thinking to realize after some years that it could have been much worse.
So when someone close to me experienced real anxiety this this week I said the same thing that the counsellor said at the time – which I didn’t receive easily. It was too early. The counsellor said this to me – you’re going to be okay and nobody died.
I don’t agonize over a lot of things any more. No more serious cogitating.
Paul tells us not be anxious about stuff and events – anything. Writing from jail (he wasn’t a prison chaplain but an inmate) he says: Php 4:6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
“with thanksgiving” means that thanksgiving is a foundational attitude in prayer.
Some people battle to pray out loud initially. You can. Say thank you for something and you will have the foundation for other prayers – petitions and requests.
Yes, there are times for silence.
But when we pray together we need to really pray.
Prayer and petition. “gebed en smeking” again using the Afrikaans; “prayer and supplication”. There is as begging almost, a pleading, and a passion that seems to be involved.
It’s captured in some of the Psalms. These two are good ones from David and the sons of Korah:
Psalm 61:1 Hear my cry, O God; listen to my prayer. Psa 61:2 From the ends of the earth I call to you, I call as my heart grows faint; lead me to the rock that is higher than I. Psa 61:3 For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. Psa 61:4 I long to dwell in your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings. Psa 84:1 How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty!
Psa 84:2 My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. (Psa 84:3 Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Psa 84:4 Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you.)
My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.
You can see the parallels with passages that talk about thirst.
This is a longing for his presence. We shared last week about living water welling up from within the depths of our being – that he is with us and in us.
Listen again to verses 16 and 17 of our final reading in John 14: Joh 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Counsellor to be with you forever— Joh 14:17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.
The gospel reading goes on to say that the peace is linked again to the presence of God through His Holy Spirit:
Joh 14:26 But the Counselor, 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.
We need to focus and listen and not be distracted as we pray and plead, bringing our prayers and petitions to our Father. He is here.
At Presbytery we had some workshops yesterday. I went to one about expecting more from God.…
The teaching was brilliant. It was really a series of bible passages reminding us of his presence with stories about God being in situations and really working in people’s lives in power – that’s when the peace he offers becomes tangible.
The neat thing is that the presenter spoke last year at the New Wine retreat I went to in August up at Coatesville. As she shared yesterday, you could sense something happening in the room – as people’s faith began to increase. At the end she asked people individually what they were expecting from God. It was good to hear. And inspiring.
You have to know this peace to be effective in any kind of ministry.
You can’t give what you don’t have really effectively.
I believe he wants you to have his peace today
Jesus’ peace is not as the world gives.
- Not total tranquility, or the absence of troubles or challenges… – but peace in the storms
- Not a perfect life or complete healing (though some are fully healed)… but courage to face what comes our way (I’m happy to talk to you on another occasion about my health – for now be at peace about it as I am doing very well.)
- Not an exemption from thinking through issues – remember “I think, therefore I am” – but at least peace of heart AND MIND. Remember the heaven in verse seven of Phil 4: Php 4:7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
- Not a life where everything is for free or without cost. Have a look at this sign: “I pay, therefore I am…” The notice said: PLEASE PAY YOUR PARKING FEE BEFORE EXISTING. Jesus’ peace involves knowing he provides as well.
- Not a life dominated by trauma and anxiety – post traumatic recovery is possible. He really can heal us from damaging experiences.
In conclusion remember Jesus words about anxiety in Matthew:
Mat 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. (NIV)
Or in another good translation: “Therefore do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble. (ESV)
Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers.
Psa 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night.
Psa 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers.
Jer 17:5 This is what the LORD says: “Cursed is the one who trusts in man, who depends on flesh for his strength and whose heart turns away from the LORD.
Jer 17:6 He will be like a bush in the wastelands; he will not see prosperity when it comes. He will dwell in the parched places of the desert, in a salt land where no one lives.
Jer 17:7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
Jer 17:8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
Jer 17:10 “I the LORD search the heart and examine the mind, to reward a man according to his conduct, according to what his deeds deserve.”
Joh 7:37 On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink.
Joh 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
Joh 7:39 By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.
Joh 7:40 On hearing his words, some of the people said, “Surely this man is the Prophet.”
Joh 7:41 Others said, “He is the Christ.” Still others asked, “How can the Christ come from Galilee?
Joh 7:42 Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?”
Joh 7:43 Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.
Joh 7:44 Some wanted to seize him, but no one laid a hand on him
As a child I wasn’t sure really what a Pentecostal was. As teens we had neighbours below us who went to a Pentecostal church – it was called “Living Waters: church. I should have made the connection.
I do remember once we were making a noise and the dad banged a broom stick on his ceiling so we could hear the knocking below.
- Living Waters church.
- It has a nice sound to it.
- As opposed to stagnant waters church.
- Or the dead sea fellowship.
(I remember when we had a swimming pool in the last Manse we lived in back in Africa – what is was like when that thing went green. A pool was supposed to be bright and blue. Mind you there was a snake who lived in the pool pump – not everyone got involved in pool maintenance.)
- We’ve talked this year about covenant and commitment.
- About transformation of our city
- About transformation of our nation.
- About the transformation of our selves through simply loving people – and earning the right to be heard.
That fits in with our current mission statement – always be ready to give a reason for the HOPE YOU HAVE. We are the ones in mission. We’ve talked about the hungry and homeless, and the prisoners. The lonely who need family – and how this family here is part of what we offer. It actually fits with what Jim taught us couple of years ago about being relevant to our demographic – the people who live here ae our mission field.
By the way the context of our Mission statement in 1 Peter 3 is really significant. Listen to the whole passage; 1Pe 3:15 But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, 1Pe 3:16 keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.
My personal challenge – in the sense that I am challenged by this – is that often I am too absorbed with my own life and issues. And there are things in my life that are not always helpful or hopeful.
I choose to be on the lookout for the needs of others though. I’m finding that spending Friday morning with the mainly music families is a great start. They’re right here. Listening to their stories and getting to know the names of their children opens doors of all kinds.
I’ll be visiting prisoners on Tuesday again. I told some people about that this week – and their immediate response was almost an incredulous “why do you want to do that?”
Well because of Matthew 25. And John 3:16. And a host of other bible verses.
It’s a choice to connect with people. Sadly, we are actually quite selfish as a default setting. Self-absorbed. Too busy.
I suppose I have a lower view of human kind as it were – theologically speaking. The lectionary readings today include one of those famous Jeremiah passages –
Jer 17:9 The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?
A bit like the Isaiah one that says our righteousness is as filthy rags.
- Jesus didn’t die for nothing. If we could have saved ourselves – why on earth would he come to die?
- The wonderful thing is that he died for all our sins. (In Colossians 2 Paul says quite directly: “He forgave us all our sins”.)
- The residue of our sinful nature lurks of course.
I was in a mortuary this week. The smell of presence of death always lurks there in the cold.
In Colossians Paul explains that we die in him, and are raised with him – but he hastens to add in chapter 3 verse 5: Col 3:5 Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry.
The heart is beyond cure – says Jeremiah.
It’s not a good prognosis.
Ye in the scriptures there are these glimpses of a source of healing and life.
The very first Psalm alludes to this. Like me with my choices, they had choices too.
Listen again: Psa 1:1 Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. Psa 1:2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD, and on his law he meditates day and night. Psa 1:3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers. אשׁרי־האישׁ אשׁר לא הלך בעצת רשׁעים (v1) כי אם בתורת יהוה חפצו ובתורתו יהגה יומם ולילה׃ (v2)
They had the law – which was God’s word – his revelation to them. Our view of law is tainted by reformation theology.
They delighted in it – meditated on it day and night – and there was life there described in verse 3 – he one who does this is like a tree planted by streams of water. The result – fruitfulness, prosperity – BLESSING.
Jeremiah – just before his prognosis of a sick human heart – says this similar thing to the Psalmist: Jer 17:7 “But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him. Jer 17:8 He will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Again a tree – a stream – fruitfulness and NO WORRIES this time. This is not just the Law that is delighted in and meditated on – this is what happens when people TRUST IN THE LORD.
(It sounds so like Psalm 37: 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: Psa 37:6 He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun.
This is gospel – good news – in the New Testament – remember that the new is in the old concealed, and the Old is in the new revealed.)
WHAT IS DIFFERENT IN JESUS?
In John 7 today we heard Jesus’ announcement on the last and greatest day of the feast – this is the feast of tabernacles.
Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, “If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Joh 7:38 Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
We’ve already read about this kind of water In John 4 – the famous Samaritan who was a serial polygamist. Remember the story – how they miss each other – he is offering her something spiritual – she is looking for his bucket? There Jesus said:
Joh 4:14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
- Here in John 7 he says to the thirsty – come to me and drink
- This is not the law in Psalm 1- that helps us to be watered and given life.
- This is not trusting in God in Jeremiah 17 – that brings life from a river.
- People need to come to Jesus. It’s another claim by Jesus to be God. It explains why they try to grab him again later in this passage.
This is not water from outside of us.
Rather he gives us drink when we are thirsty – and the living water – the streams – will flow up within us.
You’ve got/ You’ll get your bottle of water today. The bible verse on it is verse 38.
Don’t say we never give you anything.
- A few weeks ago, it was an edible Auckland bridge with carrot cake celebrating Auckland anniversary.
- Today your own kiwi water.
- Just to remind you that the source is Jesus.
- He has the cure for everything – including the heart.
And he moves in as it were – taking occupation through His Holy Spirit – who is the source of life and blessing and prosperity and fruitfulness.
Sometimes our hearts are hard and hurting – they become like a hardened sponge or hardened like a rock – and need soaking in his love and power again.
He gives us a new heart.
Some translations of John 7:38 say that the streams of living water will flow out of the believer’s heart – others his belly. The word means a cavity – the abdomen – so it means a number of things. Heart, belly, womb. All nice words as they involve life.
- You sometimes we can be in church for decades and be bone dry. You see it when people can’t worship – or pray – when they just go through the motions.
- You need the living water.
- It’s the Holy Spirit who brings this life.
In John’s gospel so far – Jesus turns water into wine – there is water in the new birth – living water for the woman at the well – and now living water for those who believe in Jesus.
When Jesus cried out this invitation on that last day of the feast – he had to call it out really loudly. It was a major celebration. Very noisy indeed.
We have to call out too – come to Jesus!
We do that in worship each week – declaring that he is the way, the truth and he life.
WHAT TO DO IF YOU ARE DRY
- You have to be thirsty.
- You have to really want this.
- It requires an open heart.
And then ask him for the life – the living water – the fulness of the Spirit – who if you are a believer is already in you.
Let the living water flow.