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.

 

 

 

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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.

Sunday 23 July 2017 – The Word of God on Bible Sunday

Readings: Col 3:12-17; Matt 13:1-9; 18-23

MESSAGE

So how many bibles do you have in your house?

And how many do you actually read?

If you’re a preacher like me it’s useful to have various translations.

But the truth is we only need one – one that we read and that we can easily understand.

Otherwise we’re just decorating our bookcases.

Back in the day when I visited people at home they used to bring out a large family bible and leave it in a conspicuous place.

There are two readings today.

The one in Colossians by Paul suggests that we need to let the Word of Christ “dwell in us richly” as we teach and admonish one another with all wisdom.

This incorporates the Gospel about Jesus, the teaching of Jesus, and the same principle applies to the whole of Scripture which is our source of faith, life, truth, values and wisdom.

We need to use all of this for our teaching which includes “admonition”. What do you think that means?  Words like correct, exhort, instruct, counsel come to mind. Note that it involves admonishing EACH OTHER. It means that there is a responsibility for all to know the word.

The Bible reading challenge we are taking up today is a great opportunity for ONE ANOTHER conversations – as we check on each other as the weeks go by, and as we share our thoughts on what we have read as we read through the New Testament in six months.

In the booklet which gives your daily passages, you will also find a helpful guide for your reading:

PRAY – ask God to help you understand what you’re about to read.

READ AND LISTEN – read the passage slowly and carefully. Think about the parts that stand out for you. Read those verses again.

THINK / REFLECT – ask yourself some questions:

  • What’s the main point of the passage?
  • What does it say about God? Does it say anything about what God wants for me?
  • Is there something I need to learn? Is there an example to follow, or a warning? Is God giving me a promise?
  • How does God want me to respond in my thoughts, words and actions?

WRITE / JOURNAL – it’s also good to write down your thoughts and the verses that really stood out for you in a journal so you can look back on what you’ve learned.

PRAISE – thank God for his Word and what you’ve learned today.

If you want the Word of Christ to make its home in you richly – I think that means a kind of saturation.

Sheilagh was telling me about a cake the kids made this week where she works. It was a pineapple cake – but despite reminders the children forgot to pour out the pineapple juice.

So they got pineapple pudding – yummy because that juice soaked right through the ingredients. Gooey – sticky – and very pineapply.

We need that kind of drenching of the word – of the truth – of Jesus’ teachings – of all the wisdom of the writers – to soak right in – as we let the Holy Spirit fill us too. Word and Spirit always work together.

THE SECOND READING YOU KNOW

The parable of the sower – well Jesus’ explains it well.

The sower is God really – and he is reckless and generous with the seed – even though there are risks. I think poor farmers listening would have been amazed and shocked all at once.

The real point of the parable is the soil.

Sowing on the path shows extensive generosity.

The rocky ground – well there is a bit of soil and there is life there. The trouble and persecution that comes and destroys the plants was real for them in those days, and is real for many around the world today.

And faith is snuffed out in our country too.  The Bible Society’s 2017 New Zealand research found that 34% of 15-18 year olds identified as Christian, but just 15% of 19-24 year olds did. The trend was repeated for measures of church attendance, Bible reading, discussing the Bible with others, and allowing the Bible to influence your life.

So there is work to do to add some soil in the lives of those who are at risk of falling away. There is a challenge – give some thought to it. They are falling away at university and in the work place. Social pressure, different world views – all these factors mean we need more support for our young people to help build a faith that lasts.

THE THORNS – Well that is closer to home for adults. “… the worries of this life and the deceitfulness of wealth choke it, making it unfruitful.”

There is life there – but it is unfruitful. (In fact, the next parable that Jesus teaches indicates that the plants and the weeds actually can live together until judgement when they are weeded out and burnt.)

Backsliding – complacency – whatever you call it, people are distracted and the life is drained from them. They are choked by the thorns. They don’t grow – in faith, prayer, worship and witness.

That is a worry – and we need to be on our guard. And using Paul’s words we need to admonish them – correct, warn, remind, encourage. Point them back to the word.

THE GOOD SOIL – well there is a softness, and openness in the heart for the word to take root. It can soak in richly – like that pineapple cake. (FAT people – my preference).

The farmers listening would have been amazed by the results –  they were far greater than you would get even in a good harvest. You might get a harvest of 20 or 30 grains from a wheat seed. But not 60 or 100.

Jesus explains that these are people who hear and understand the word. The fruit bearing is not just the fruit of a changed life and character, but more seed – the word sown by them into the lives of others. They pass the life on (see 2 Timothy 2:2).

There is life in New Zealand – sometimes we get discouraged when we look at the big picture.

The Bible society’s research indicates that “seventeen percent of kiwis aged 13 or over and 30% of all 15 to 18 year olds attend church monthly or more often. Fourteen percent of all kiwis aged 13 or over read the Bible at least monthly, most of those weekly or daily.”

We need to share the story to that we can add to that number those who follow Jesus and read the Bible in this nation.

We need a simple recipe really:

  1. Love and nurture the fruit-bearers amongst us… building one another up in faith.
  2. Examine ourselves to see we are not getting the life choked out of us by worries and the lure of wealth or just stuff. Things. We need to disentangle ourselves if this is the case, and help others to do so as well.
  3. We can build resilience in the lives of those who have no roots – putting soil on the rocks of hardship and resistance. We need to nurture our young people especially and prepare them well for life after school.
  4. And where the path is hard and the word bounces off, we need to pray for wisdom as we are always ready to give a reason for the hope that we have  (Remember this key verse:  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…)  – as we are light and salt along those paths, bearing witness to the truth of Jesus. We should be showing that the Kingdom of God has come through Jesus, and that it is a better option for all. And if there is no understanding on the part of those we speak to – bring them along to an Alpha course where they can find out more!

Amen.

Sources: New Zealand Bible Society.

https://biblesociety.org.nz/discover-the-bible/the-bible-good-for-life/bible-challenge/

 

Sunday Message 25 June 2017: Sparrows and things…

READINGS:  Psalm 84:1-4; 10-12;  Matthew 10:24-39

I drove in here on Thursday morning – and guess who was in my parking space?

Yes – you got it right.

A whole lot of sparrows. Scurrying around as they do.

Not quite sure if there was really anything for them to eat there.

I actually think that God was reminding me again of how loved we are.

I love this picture in scripture:

Listen again: Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

In the light of this, consider the local cafe in Browns Bay where the man killed off the sparrows because of their enthusiasm for people’s leftovers.

A worse story is this one. 

It’s a story about a sparrow that somehow got into the rafters of St. Helen’s Parish Church in the English town of Brant Broughton. At the time of the intrusion, they were recording a guitar recital for later broadcast on the radio. The chirping bird didn’t exactly chirp with the beat. So the pastor, Rev. Robin Clark (ironically) asked the congregation to leave and then asked a friend to bring his pellet gun over to the church to shoot the intruding sparrow.

The killing of the sparrow became front page news in Great Britain. The London Daily Telegraph ran a clever headline that said, “Rev. Robin Orders Death of Sparrow.”

Editorials and letters to the editor flowed, chastising the cruel and unusual punishment for this lowly bird. People who hadn’t darkened the door of a church in decades suddenly remembered Psalm 84 in which it is declared that even sparrows are welcome in the house of the Lord (84:3). 

We heard Psalm 84:3 today:  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.

Poor Rev Robin. Poor little sparrow. We can easily sentimentalise things.

The comparison of course means we are more valuable than sparrows. And nothing happens to us either that he does not allow or care about – that’s the implication.

What it doesn’t say is that the sparrow will be spared – or that we will be spared. *They were sold two for a penny – probably to be eaten.)

Persecution is the background to this passage. The cost for some people is jail and execution – more in this generation than ever before. There is often a price to pay. And many are not spared. Martyrdom is rife today in many parts of the world. And if we escape this, there is no guarantee we will escape some other suffering.

And yet he still cares.

John Wimber tells the story of the man who led him to Christ – whose daughter had been raped and murdered, how he got his family together at the end of that terrible day and said: “Father, I don’t understand, but I trust you.” His forgiveness of the perpetrator was a great witness, and many came to Christ through him, including Wimber, who in turn impacted hundreds of thousands through the Vineyard Church movement.

Wimber speaks about the man’s character development and how he was prepared to be an evangelist through heartache. He writes: “if we are going to pursue the things of the Lord, we will often not understand what he is doing.” He quotes a friend who says: “Sometimes he offends our minds to reveal our hearts.”

After the sparrow story comes these lines which challenge us again:

Mat 10:32  “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven. Mat 10:33  But whoever disowns me before men, I will disown him before my Father in heaven.

We do that in church – in public profession of faith with baptism that formalises our membership of the church – that speaks of our belonging to Christ, of being in Christ.

And if people were baptised and made a public profession of faith in another congregation our Session can resolve to admit them to membership of this one.

By the way – we plan to welcome people next month who have made that public declaration along the line and now find themselves here in this local church. We would love to include you in that special day if you have made this church family your family.

The context of Matthew 10 is different though. It’s an acknowledgement in the face of risk. Is a pubic admission that we follow Jesus – in society.

It has to mean that we identify ourselves out there in our daily lives.

And then the rest of the Gospel passage which we did not read today makes sense but is even more challenging:

Mat 10:34  “Do not suppose that I have come to bring peace to the earth. I did not come to bring peace, but a sword.  Mat 10:35  For I have come to turn “‘a man against his father, a daughter against her mother, a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—  Mat 10:36  a man’s enemies will be the members of his own household.’  Mat 10:37  “Anyone who loves his father or mother more than me is not worthy of me; anyone who loves his son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me; Mat 10:38  and anyone who does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me.  Mat 10:39  Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.

It’s almost as if today we are quite disconnected from this early discipleship.

It is radical – and requires huge commitment. And Jesus comes first before everyone else. And you have to take up your cross and follow – otherwise you’re not worthy of Jesus. And this is not the kind of self-punishing “cross I have to bear.” It’s a death to self. It’s that we are Christians – little Christs – and his cross is our cross.

It’s risky and illogical in a sense– if it’s about you, then you lose. If you surrender your life for Jesus’ sake – you win!

How about that?

And how about us?

  • Do we acknowledge Christ in the rest of our lives (outside of Church life)?
  • Or are we living a double life? Secret Christians?
  • Do we love Him more than all those listed? Father, mother, son or daughter? (v37)
  • Are we radical enough?
  • Do we take our crosses and follow Christ? (Admittedly some of us have crosses thrust upon us that we would not choose).
  • Are we worthy of Jesus?

Great questions these! It’s up to us really!

BUT THE THING I WANT YOU TO TAKE HOME more than anything else – is that you don’t have to be afraid as you follow Jesus.

Last week we threw our anxieties at Jesus – do you remember my worry pot?

The kids wrote their worries on bits of paper and chucked them in.

Today I invite you to give your fears to him.

Mat 10:29  Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. Mat 10:30  And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. Mat 10:31  So don’t be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.

And I pray that a sparrow crosses your path each day – to remind you that you are worth infinitely more as a child of God.

To end – listen to the song: no longer a slave to fear – I am a child of God. Receive his peace.

 

AMEN

 

11 June 2017 message – What we do in the name of the Trinity…

READINGS: Acts 1:1-8; Matthew 28:16-20

 Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen. Act 1:3  After his suffering, he showed himself to these men and gave many convincing proofs that he was alive. He appeared to them over a period of forty days and spoke about the kingdom of God. 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.”

Mat 28:16  Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. Mat 28:17  When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Mat 28:18  Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

MESSAGE:

Last week was Pentecost Sunday. Today is Trinity Sunday. The church has these days on which we are reminded of the foundation of our faith.

The passages we heard this evening are both to do with the last instructions that Jesus gave to his followers.

A number of things strike you when you read them. Luke’s first words in Acts are a good place to begin. Listen again:

Act 1:1  In my former book, Theophilus, I wrote about all that Jesus began to do and to teach Act 1:2  until the day he was taken up to heaven, after giving instructions through the Holy Spirit to the apostles he had chosen.

And he records the direct words of Jesus too: 

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.”

And then the words of Jesus in Matthew 28: Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Mat 28:20  and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

Instructions and commands are not words we are used to. Except when you’ve been in the military – I know from experience that you simply act on instructions and commands when in the defence force. Or the police for example – or fire brigade.

But when it comes to church – we’re a bit more democratic. We love to debate and discuss things – to the extent that we sometimes miss our actual calling. We’re often too busy writing minutes and reports.

The key tasks remain. Pentecost Sunday and Trinity Sunday remind us of them again:

  • You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.

It’s more like a statement of fact!  – the natural consequence of the power of the Holy Spirit.

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.”

  • And of course Mathew 28:19 – about making disciples of all nations

Mat 28:19  Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, (baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit).

The church is a missionary church – not only does it send people as missionaries to the ends of the earth – but in its Jerusalem – its home town – it is on a Mission:

One of the great theologians of the 20th century – Emil Brunner – had this to day about the mission of the church:

The Word and the World (1931)

The Word of God which was given in Jesus Christ is a unique historical fact, and everything Christian is dependent on it; hence every one who receives this Word, and by it salvation, receives along with it the duty of passing this Word on; just as a man who might have discovered a remedy for cancer which saved himself, would be in duty bound to make this remedy accessible to all. Mission work does not arise from any arrogance in the Christian Church; mission is its cause and its life. The Church exists by mission, just as a fire exists by burning. Where there is no mission, there is no Church; and where there is neither Church nor mission, there is no faith.

He goes on to talk about how this works:

It is a secondary question whether by that we mean Foreign Missions, or simply the preaching of the Gospel in the home Church. Mission, Gospel preaching, is the spreading out of the fire which Christ has thrown upon the earth. He who does not propagate this fire shows that he is not burning. He who burns propagates the fire. This ‘must’ is both things – an urge and a command. An urge, because living faith feels God’s purpose as its own.

And he reminds us about Paul who said: ‘Woe is unto me, if I preach not the gospel.’ Brunner goes on to say:  Necessity is laid upon him. But also he ought to preach; with the gift he receives the obligation. ‘Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel’. 

So how are our churches doing with these instructions from Jesus?

Here’s the truth. Most of our churches are more like clubs really. More energy is often spent on the places where we meet than the mission we’re on. Much more money too.

A story – a modern parable –  by Theodore Wedel illustrates our situation:

It was written in 1953 by the Rev. Dr. Theodore O. Wedel, a canon of the National Cathedral and one-time President of the House of Deputies of The Episcopal Church. Like all good parables, though fictional, it is entirely truth-filled:

“On a dangerous sea coast where shipwrecks often occur, there was once a crude little life-saving station. The building was just a hut, and there was only one boat, but the few devoted members kept a constant watch over the sea, and with no thought for themselves, went out day and night tirelessly searching for the lost. Some of those who were saved and various others in the surrounding area wanted to become associated with the station and gave of their time and money and effort for the support of its work. New boats were bought and new crews trained. The little life-saving station grew.

“Some of the members of the life-saving station were unhappy that the building was so crude and poorly equipped. They felt that a more comfortable place should be provided as the first refuge of those saved from the sea. They replaced the emergency cots with beds and put better furniture in the enlarged building.

“Now the life-saving station became a popular gathering place for its members, and they decorated it beautifully because they used it as a sort of club. Fewer members were now interested in going to sea on life-saving missions, so they hired lifeboat crews to do this work. The life-saving motif still prevailed in the club’s decorations, and there was a liturgical life-boat in the room where the club’s initiations were held. About this time a large ship wrecked off the coast, and the hired crews brought in boat loads of cold, wet and half-drowned people. They were dirty and sick. The beautiful new club was in chaos. So the property committee immediately had a shower house built outside the club where victims of shipwrecks could be cleaned up before coming inside.

“At the next meeting, there was a split among the club membership. Most of the members wanted to stop the club’s life-saving activities as being unpleasant and a hindrance to the normal social life of the club. Some members insisted upon life-saving as their primary purpose and pointed out that they were still called a life-saving station. But they were finally voted down and told that if they wanted to save the lives of all the various kinds of people who were shipwrecked in those waters, they could begin their own life-saving station. So they did.

 “As the years went by, the new station experienced the same changes that had occurred in the old. It evolved into a club, and yet another life-saving station was founded. History continued to repeat itself, and if you visit that sea coast today, you will find a number of exclusive clubs along that shore. Shipwrecks are frequent in those waters, but most of the people drown.”

So what does that mean for us? For you and me?

It means that whoever we are and whatever stage of life we are at – we’re in Mission.

We are witnesses – one way or the other. Sometimes we are silent – which makes us rather poor bearers of the Good News. Sometimes we ourselves are bad news – which makes our testimony a little incongruous. We are bad witnesses.

I heard a great story at our Tuesday church last week of a woman who was stuck in traffic and got really mad at drivers cutting in in front of her – she was hooting her hooter and yelling and showing particular hand signals out the window. She did not notice the policeman in the car behind her who promptly arrested her. After some hours in jail the officer came and spoke to her apologetically. “Madam” he said, “with the stickers on your car that announced that Jesus is the way, and that God is love – and looking at your behaviour, I assumed you had stolen the car!”

Not a great witness!

If however we live in the fullness of the power of God – through the Father who pours out his gifts on us – through the Son who showed compassion and mercy and courage as He died for us – and through the Holy Spirit who transforms and empowers us – the natural outcome is that we are a witness.

  • We shine – we are portable lighthouses if you were – giving natural guidance.
  • God uses us to be a source of courage and faith to others – as we pray for them.
  • And most of all we are hopeful people – and hopeful people are very attractive.

Peter knew this – writing in His letter to a persecuted church:

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.

  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.
  • Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have.

May this be true of us.

 Amen.

 

Sunday message 4 June 2017 – 7 things about Pentecost

READINGS AT FAMILY SERVICE: Acts 2:1-4; Galatians 4:6-7; 5:16-26

LISTEN AGAIN to  the Acts reading from the LIVING BIBLE today:

Act 2:1  Seven weeks had gone by since Jesus’ death and resurrection, and the Day of Pentecost had now arrived. As the believers met together that day, Act 2:2  suddenly there was a sound like the roaring of a mighty windstorm in the skies above them and it filled the house where they were meeting. Act 2:3  Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on their heads. Act 2:4  And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in languages they didn’t know, for the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. 

Here are 7 things about Pentecost worth mentioning today:

1. IT WAS THE BIRTHDAY OF CHURCH – yes – it was a serious launch of 3000 people believing and being baptized. Big by any standards. Jerusalem may have had 20, 30 or 40 000 people living there and up to 80 000 during the festivals

2. IT  WAS A JEWISH FEAST – 50 DAYS AFTER PASSOVER (7 weeks = 49). Shavuot was the feast of weeks (see Leviticus 23:16) – which started as a harvest festival (which we were planning by the way) and after the destruction of the temple became a celebration of the giving of the Law on Mount Sinai. (“Pentecost” is from the Greek). Jesus of course fulfils both these aspects of the original festivals as he brings in a new harvest, AND is the new lawgiver bring in the law of love.

3. The Spirit came on all on that day – as promised – and the church was born by the Spirit’s power. Before that the Spirit came upon prophets, priests, kings, judges and certain artists. Now all would receive.

The prophecy of Joel in the Old Testament was fulfilled: Joel 2:28 “And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Joel 2:29 Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

We looked at John 3 in the children’s talk– about the spiritual rebirth.  In John 3:3 the word for “again” means “from above” – meaning born of God.

The birthday of the church is not just about the numbers –  the 3000. It’s about the new birth in each and every one of us as individuals: Joh 3:3 In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.”

And we heard this read for us from Galatians 4: Gal 4:6 Because you are sons, God sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit who calls out, “Abba, Father.” Gal 4:7 So you are no longer a slave, but a son; and since you are a son, God has made you also an heir.

4. OUR CONFESSION OF JESUS AS LORD – is because of the work of the holy Spirit.

Paul says in 1Co_12:3 Therefore I tell you that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.

The same passage in the LIVING BIBLE:  1Co_12:3 But now you are meeting people who claim to speak messages from the Spirit of God. How can you know whether they are really inspired by God or whether they are fakes? Here is the test: no one speaking by the power of the Spirit of God can curse Jesus, and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” and really mean it, unless the Holy Spirit is helping him.

5. THEY WERE EMPOWERED by the Holy Spirit. That was the promise of Jesus before his Ascension: 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.”

Power to witness – with boldness – is seen throughout the book of Acts. We’ve looked at this in the life of Stephen, Philip, and Peter and John in particular.

With this came signs, wonders, miracles, healings, tongues, prophecy and more – 1 Corinthians 12 lists the “spirituals” – the spiritual gifts. I recommend Bill Johnson’s books in our library and the Auckland library to discover more about this. The gifts of the Spirit were to bless others – and ultimately bring them to Jesus and set them free from the powers of darkness. And they still are.

We should use them  – that’s why they were given!

6. THE FRUIT OF THE SPIRIT CHANGED THEIR CHARACTER

The fruit of the Spirit is the most well-known of His works. Listen again to Galatians 5:  Gal 5:22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, Gal 5:23 gentleness and self-control.

This is not the soft option or Christianity light. The fruit doesn’t come without a cost.

Jesus dies for our sins – you heard the list of bad things before these nice fruits. And after Galatians 5:23 there is the small matter of verse 24:

Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the sinful nature with its passions and desires. Or as the Living Bible puts it: Gal 5:24 Those who belong to Christ have nailed their natural evil desires to his cross and crucified them there.

7. HERE’S THE CHALLENGE TO END WITH TODAY:  Gal 5:25 If we are living now by the Holy Spirit’s power, let us follow the Holy Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives. Gal 5:26 Then we won’t need to look for honors and popularity, which lead to jealousy and hard feelings.

PENTECOST IS EVERYTHING TO US – BECAUSE THERE IS NO CHRISTIAN LIFE WITHOUT THE SPIRIT.  And we are to be led by the Spirit!

We give thanks to God His Spirit and for these amazing gifts.  Let’s appropriate them fully.

Amen.

Sunday 28 May Ascension Sunday – the anxieties of the age

READINGS: 1 Peter 5:6-11;  Acts 4:1-14;  John 17:1-3

MESSAGE

I’ve been working on this for a couple of days now. That sense of wrestling with God – what do you REALLY want to say to us today Lord?

It’s easy to follow the texts for the day – and get enthusiastic about something that arises from those readings.

Or a theme – like today is Ascension Day Sunday. It’s the in-between period we remember – 40 days after Easter the resurrection appearances end – and He’s gone.

I think what also grabbed me is what I’ve written about already in the newsletter. It’s about waiting. They were told to wait. 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.

We’re not good at that really. The waiting.

And then there’s the constant prayer theme. That nibbled – asking for a bite. You know the verse I mean? Act 1:14  They all joined together constantly in prayer, along with the women and Mary the mother of Jesus, and with his brothers. There have been plenty of sermons on the power of praying together. There’s also a redemptive line there too about his family – who though he was mad. Are these the actual brothers?

AND THEN OUR PERSONAL STORY SPEAKS

We had a great weekend away. There are some funny stories attached to the weekend. And the fact that I slept better when away speaks volumes. The truth is that a lot of people don’t sleep. In a world characterized by terror and fear, anxiety is a dominant power that controls or at least shapes our lives.

Peter’s line speaks to us today in the light of this human condition: 1Pe 5:7  Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

How do we get that message across?

When Ascension day comes and goes, even though we would like it to be a public holiday like the good old days (and it was in parts of Europe and more close to us in Vanuatu – where they still call people to prayer at 4.00am during the week just in case you missed Sunday) – most people don’t have a clue who Jesus is anyway.

And if they have heard about him, they certainly find the idea of him taking off like the latest rocket that Rocket Lab has launched from Mahia Peninsula in Hawke’s Bay quite strange – as this cartoon shows us from the revised comic lectionary:

ascension RCOMICL

Although I have to say that my favourite cartoon on the Ascension is this one:

ascension

Those of us with experience of attention deficit disorder will immediately sympathize.

The point is – are we really noticing the real issues that people are facing? Or are we inattentive to what is happening.

I was reading something I wrote just over 30 years ago this week. When you go back you wonder if it really was you – it all seems so far away. It was a study of the thinking of Viktor Frankl, who developed logotherapy.  (If you are interested in reading about it see the link below).

The key question is about the meaning of our lives. What holds us together?

If you look at the things that dominate the news today – people’s lives are shaped by that search for meaning. And where do they find it? Often in unhelpful places or movements. Here are some possibilities:

Totalitarianism – people are becoming more nationalistic and following strong right-wing leaders. Political trends around the world bear this out. The group becomes more important than the individual. Frankl certainly experienced that in Nazy Germany, beinge a survivor of the holocaust. Nothing has changed.

Terrorism – the extreme violence of individuals and groups trying to force their world view or ideology on people through terror and threat and fear. Fanaticism makes the views of a cause more important than the value of the individual. The Manchester massacre this week is a clear example of this. The Queen said it was “wicked” – and good for her. It was.

And those who can afford to – although you can do this at home too –

To avoid Totalitarianism and Terrorism – and all the other kinds of troubles of the age – what’s the biggest source of foreign exchange income in our economy?

Tourism.

It’s a kind of escapism for the wealthy –  you can get away from it all. Although you have to check the travel advisories about countries where there is totalitarianism (some kind of nationalistic uprising) or terrorism. When you are on the way home you are planning the next trip!

Those who can’t afford to travel can watch it all on TV. It’s called armchair travel! It’s all an escape from the anxieties of the age.

Other trajectories.

And there are other routes people take in their quest for meaning or purpose in this generation.

  • The millennials and others say “whatever” in the face of too much authoritarianism or fanaticism – they bounce from job to job with a shruggy look if they find bosses that are too dictatorial.
  • The artists and creative people escape in the confusion of bizarre creativity (for us non-artistic mortals) – just look at what passes as modern art today. A classic case was just over a year ago when a teenager who clearly did go to Spec Savers left his specs on the floor in San Francisco’s Museum of Modern art as a prank with a friend. The oohs and aahs were prolific.

glasses art in gallery

On Twitter on 26 May last year one person tweeted: “it’s really just an exacerbated metaphor of society’s perpetual blindness to those cognitive of us #art”

People are looking for meaning in interesting places.

  • And then there are the Christians!

How do you and Ideal with the challenges of this age?

Jesus offers us a lot really. Today’s readings had some gems.

  • The power of His presence – the Holy Spirit 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.”

The permanent presence and power of God through his Spirit would be there for all.

  • The power of prayer – 1Pe 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

There’s another brilliant passage on prayer (from the Message) here:

Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns.
Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the center of your life. (Phil 4:7-8).

  • The power of a relationship that outlasts the chaos of this life – Joh 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

In our song before communion – which is the place where we find our identity (not in totalitarian nationalism) and our security (in the face of terror and fear) – we find the words of David in Psalm 23 which are expressed powerfully by Stuart Townend:

The Lord’s my shepherd, I’ll not want; He makes me lie in pastures green. He leads me by the still, still waters, His goodness restores my soul.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

He guides my ways in righteousness, And He anoints my head with oil, And my cup, it overflows with joy, I feast on His pure delights.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home.

And though I walk the darkest path, I will not fear the evil one, For You are with me, and Your rod and staff ,Are the comfort I need to know.

And I will trust in You alone, And I will trust in You alone, For Your endless mercy follows me, Your goodness will lead me home

Well do you trust in Him alone?

Can people see that you trust in Him alone through the week? At home? At work?

Great question to ponder on this week.

Amen.

Footnote: The link to my very old bit of research on Viktor Frankl is here:

http://researchspace.ukzn.ac.za/bitstream/handle/10413/6828/Palmer_Robin_Ernest_1987.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s sing that song now.

 

Sunday message 14 May 2017 – “Meanwhile… lights and voices…”

READINGS:  Galatians 1:11-24;  Acts 9:1-31

SERMON

So we’ve been through 12 disciples, 13 apostles and 7 deacons.

Two of the deacons – Stephen and Philip – are key to the expansion of the gospel.

But the Acts of the Holy Spirit (better name than the Acts of the apostles) suddenly has a key character.

Philip is whisked off to a new place to tell the story, and chapter 9 of Acts begins with an enticing “Meanwhile, ….”

This Jewish Pharisee who approved of Stephen’s stoning, is on the war path wanting to lock up the Christians – “breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples…”

He’s on the road to Damascus in Syria, that same beautiful country that has been so badly bombed in this generation.

His name is Saul of course. Saul is his Hebrew name. Paul his Greek name. Like immigrants today have an original name from their home country and a New Zealand English name.

By the way – there is no evidence in the Bible that God gave him a new Christian name “Paul”. Luke begins to use that name when he is talking about ministry to Greeks. And as the apostle to the Gentiles (i.e. Greeks mainly) it makes sense that he used his Greek name. He seems to have done this on his 1st Missionary journey when on Cyprus (Acts 13:9).

So when he sees the light – on the Damascus road – the Lord addresses him as Saul, This is how Luke describes it:

Act 9:4  He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

That certainly got his attention. It was probably the only way. You may have heard the expression “being knocked off his high horse”. One has to say that there is no mention of a horse in the text – artists have contributed to this idea. At noon Paul was more likely praying – that being a set prayer time in the day.

It’s the “Damascus road experience” that interests me… People talk about their “Damascus road experience.”

As if it were a template for everyone.

Well maybe if you were pharisaical persecutor of Christians. Or highly intelligent. Or brainwashed.

Nothing compares to this encounter. You can see it in the special arrangement lined up. Ananias is given instructions to go to a specific house and ask for Saul of Tarsus.

He response is classic: Act 9:13  “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. Act 9:14  And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.

One can only imagine what he was thinking. Seriously God? Saul of Tarsus?

The Lord spells out the gravity of this mission: Act 9:15  But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. Act 9:16  I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

The narrative is brilliant. Ananias, like Stephen and Philip – does what He is instructed to do. Act 9:17  Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Act 9:18  Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, Act 9:19  and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus.

Once again baptism is immediate and almost incidental to the events. The next thing Saul is preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God.

Is that your experience? Damascus road – lights and voices – straight into action – after being blinded for three days? Probably not.

In Paul’s own words in Galatians 2 we heard how he saw things. A lot happens for him to become apostle number 13 – especially since to be an apostle you had to have been a witness to the physical resurrection of Jesus.

There’s always an exception. Like Stephen and Philip not conforming to the expectation they would be food bearers. They are open – God uses them in his own divine and sovereign way.

And Saul is the one who will swing this whole thing. This fledgling group of Jewish followers of Jesus will find that the “Way” is open to all people – the whole world.

It’s no coincidence that Paul writes the bulk of the New Testament epistles.

That his amazing intellect and heart for God blesses us with so much today.

BUT – and here’s my simple message for today.

Does Paul look for people just like him? Do they have to follow his template for salvation – a major conversion experience –  the “Damascus road” people? Certainly many come to faith through his preaching – sometimes through conviction, sometimes after a time of reflection and re-engagement with Paul.

But his team does not have to be the same in terms of their conversion.

Who would you say is Paul’s main disciple? Or at least his favourite?

Well perhaps his letters to Timothy give that away. Listen to the opening verses: 1Ti 1:1  Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Savior and of Christ Jesus our hope, 1Ti 1:2  To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

One of the most beautiful passages – showing a side of Paul that we might not appreciate – is found in 2 Timothy 1: Ti 1:3  I thank God, whom I serve, as my forefathers did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers.

2Ti 1:4  Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. 2Ti 1:5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also.

But look at this:  2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands. 2Ti 1:7  For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.

Yes Timothy’s faith was something that shaped his whole life. v5  I have been reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also…

This is a man who has learned about faith from two generations in his family. What a heritage.

And you meet people like this today all over the place. If you ask them whether they had a Damascus road experience – or when they first met Jesus –  they might say something like this: “You know, I can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in my life – when I didn’t pray and know his presence”.

Ring any bells? There is no one formula. And what matters is that they land up in that place of completely  trusting Jesus. The Holy Spirit of course gives us that certainly of who we are as God’s children. Paul writes this in Romans 8: 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. 

But there’s more.

Verse 6 in 2 Timothy that we have looked at already is instructive too: 2Ti 1:6  For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God, which is in you through the laying on of my hands.

Even for those who can’t remember when they didn’t know the Lord – if you want to really be used by God – an impartation of his gifts and power is more than useful… It’s essential. (Paul too received ministry from Ananias through the laying on of hands.)

Elsewhere Paul writes:  Do not put out the Spirit’s fire. (1 Thess 5:19)

And for many of us – although we know about his gifts – we don’t actually appropriate them.

God has hopes and dreams for us –  to be really effective through His power.

It’s up to you whether you seek him with all your heart. (That book by Simon Ponsonby on holiness is still on the library table outside. It’s a challenge for you to take up.)

There are other books today by Bill Johnson that are worth reading. And more to come. About appropriating the gifts God has given us.

It’s challenge for all of us to really be open to God’s leading – to be a Stephen, a Philip, a Paul or a Timothy…  They were all filled with the Spirit.

Our challenge is to continue the acts of the Holy Spirit in this generation…

How about it then?

At the end of Acts 9 there is this welcomed pause:

Act 9:31  Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace. It was strengthened; and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it grew in numbers, living in the fear of the Lord.

It didn’t happen by chance. Nor did it happen without cost. Or risk taking.

Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

Sunday 7 May 2017 – Unless someone explains it to me…

READINGS: Isaiah 56:1-8; Acts 8:4-8; 26-40

MESSAGE

We talked about ministry last week. How pastor/teacher is the primary ministry in our church in line with the people gifts of Ephesians 4.

And we saw in Acts 6 that the apostles wanted to focus their attention on preaching and prayer, so the set apart 7 spiritual men – deacons – to wait on tables – to attend to the distribution of food in the church.

When you look at the first of these – Stephen – and you read Acts 7 – he was an amazing man of God and a preacher. He didn’t get to do the things they thought he should – he has a power ministry and get killed for his preaching.

The early fathers wrote that the blood of the martyrs was the seed of the church.

Persecution followed Stephen’s death – and remember Saul was there and approved of this death.  The believers are scattered to Judea and Samaria. It’s part of God’s plan. Amazing.

But wait there’s more. There’s more in Acts 8 because deacon number 2 is also not doing what they thought he should be doing.

You see you can’t stop the Holy Spirit using people who are open. And that includes you and me.

Acts 8: 4 tells us:

Act 8:4  Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went. Act 8:5  Philip went down to a city in Samaria and proclaimed the Christ there. Act 8:6  When the crowds heard Philip and saw the miraculous signs he did, they all paid close attention to what he said. Act 8:7  With shrieks, evil spirits came out of many, and many paralytics and cripples were healed. Act 8:8  So there was great joy in that city.

There are signs and wonders that get people’s attention. And they listen to the message – and there is success.

So Philip buys a house and settles there and caries on a lovely ministry until his retirement. Hardly!

This city in Samaria is not the only part of the plan.

We skip the bit about Simon the magician –  that’s for reading through the week for you.

We pick up Phillip in verse 26. Look carefully at what happens to this deacon who was supposed to be helping feed the widows back home – the deacons today are the equivalent of our board – charged with so called practical things.

Act 8:26  Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Go south to the road—the desert road—that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” Act 8:27  So he started out, and on his way he met an Ethiopian eunuch, an important official in charge of all the treasury of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians. This man had gone to Jerusalem to worship, Act 8:28  and on his way home was sitting in his chariot reading the book of Isaiah the prophet. Act 8:29  The Spirit told Philip, “Go to that chariot and stay near it.”

If you don’t know this story, you’ve missed something very special.

This Ethiopian we are told would not be from modern Ethiopia but the land of Cush, in central Sudan today.

He is reading from Isaiah 53, the great servant song. The servant in the passage would not have been understood as referring to a Messiah in those days, but possibly a new Elijah figure. They would not have expected a suffering Messiah.

The journey from Jerusalem where he would have been back to the Sudan would have taken 5 months. Gaza would have been the last place to stop for water before the road turned south into the Egyptian desert.

I love the idea of Philip running alongside the chariot.

This deacon – ordained to feed widows in the daily food bank programme, like Stephen, finds that you can’t be constrained by one role when the Holy Spirit is at work. When you’re open.

And God was at work in this Eunuch’s life. Philip has to intersect with him. For the sake of the Gospel. Which he would take back to Africa.

The church in Africa is very old. It makes sense that the word would have reached Egypt too. The Coptic church is very old there too.

As an aside, the Palm Sunday massacres have had an amazing witness and testimony to other Egyptians. I think I mentioned that last week. Here is one example released by the Bible Society in Egypt of a TV interview which is very powerful:

https://vimeo.com/212755977

The impact of this story is profound. Just three chapters after the bit that the man was reading in his chariot is the amazing bit we read today from Isaiah 56 – and when Jesus was cleansing the temple THIS was the bible passage he had in mind.

Jesus did not shy away from these issues and the place of eunuchs. In a discussion on marriage in Matthew 19 he talks about them. Listen to this:

Mat 19:8  Jesus replied, “Moses permitted you to divorce your wives because your hearts were hard. But it was not this way from the beginning. Mat 19:9  I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for marital unfaithfulness, and marries another woman commits adultery.”

Mat 19:10  The disciples said to him, “If this is the situation between a husband and wife, it is better not to marry.”  Mat 19:11  Jesus replied, “Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given.

Mat 19:12  For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.”

It actually hints at a preferred life of celibacy that Jesus seems to favour. Like Paul.

Jesus would have known Isaiah 56 which included all in a prophetic statement of a new acceptance of people who would have been rejected before.

Isa 56:3  Let no foreigner who has bound himself to the LORD say, “The LORD will surely exclude me from his people.” And let not any eunuch complain, “I am only a dry tree.” Isa 56:4  For this is what the LORD says: “To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths, who choose what pleases me and hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:5  to them I will give within my temple and its walls a memorial and a name better than sons and daughters; I will give them an everlasting name that will not be cut off.

And then Isaiah includes with the eunuchs the foreigners:

Isa 56:6  And foreigners who bind themselves to the LORD to serve him, to love the name of the LORD, and to worship him, all who keep the Sabbath without desecrating it and who hold fast to my covenant— Isa 56:7  these I will bring to my holy mountain and give them joy in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted on my altar; for my house will be called a house of prayer for all nations.”

Because all nations were called to come into a relationship with God.

It’s a powerful piece – especially in the light of xenophobia and the modern debates about nationalism in the world – the French presidential election today and the British one in a few weeks.

Philip does his world master’s games job – racing a chariot – and the story ends really well. Listen to verse 36: Act 8:36  As they traveled along the road, they came to some water and the eunuch said, “Look, here is water. Why shouldn’t I be baptized?”

Like other accounts – the day of Pentecost, the story of Paul and Silas in the Philippian jail, baptism is a pretty normal and immediate thing. And in Peter’s Pentecost sermon when they are cut to the heart and ask; “Brothers, what shall we do?”

he says this: Act 2:38  Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. Act 2:39  The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.”

Act 16:30  He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Act 16:31  They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.” Act 16:32  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. Act 16:33  At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized.

That observation about baptism is a bonus.

Philip doesn’t say – “well you’d better go on a course”. The early church clearly wanted him to say that – did you notice there’s a verse missing?

Most manuscripts – the oldest ones – have the man being baptized without any issue. Somewhere along the line this verse crept in: Act 8:37  [Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” The eunuch answered, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”] You find it in the footnotes in the NIV.

Someone wanted it to be more organized and formulaic.

For us the key passage – well what would you say it is?

I think it’s this one:

Act 8:30  Then Philip ran up to the chariot and heard the man reading Isaiah the prophet. “Do you understand what you are reading?” Philip asked. Act 8:31  “How can I,” he said, “unless someone explains it to me?” So he invited Philip to come up and sit with him.

You can be a someone who explains this whole Christian story to others – if you are open and available. God can use you.

At the end of this account – I have no idea how – Philip is moved on. It doesn’t matter how – the why is that he has fulfilled his purpose and there is more work to do.

For Jesus.

Amen.